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Track One of Stan's "Welcome Home, Harry" playlist was “Come On, Eileen” -- a contribution Louis was quite proud of and a tribute to Harry’s ever-present illustriousness (much like the subject of the song herself). Louis had his own playlist, simply titled, “Curly-Headed Cunt,” 100 songs deep, all of which he had listened to on repeat during the hours he missed Harry most.

The song started drifting from the speakers just as the front door opened. Nick and Ed were howling. Niall had started shaking the maracas he bought for this sole occasion. Liam was armed with a tambourine. Louis hung back, hand to his heart, which oddly enough had begun to beat double time. He remembered a tent pitched in the backyard, his joggers lost beneath the covers, Harry’s breath on his neck, and his hand on Louis’ thigh. He suddenly felt warm like he had that night.

At the door, Harry wore a black beanie pulled on just enough to leave his hairline exposed, and the curly ends of his hair draping his collarbones. He offered hugs to their friends, murmuring jokes and fond words in their ears. Louis ducked back into the kitchen and checked his fringe in the reflection of the pot on the hob. He stepped into the hallway again, taking a swig of his beer.

Harry's eyes found him over the shoulder of a friend while he was still trapped in a hug. He extracted himself when he could, bypassing everyone else to cross the short distance with about three slow, steady strides.

He threw his arms around Louis' hips and heaved him up. Louis complained, digging his fingers into Harry's shoulders. One of these days he would drop him and Louis would repay him with the full scope of his vengeance.

Harry returned him to the ground, still squeezing him tightly, pressing his face into Louis' neck. He drew back after a second, setting his hands on Louis' shoulders instead.

"Hi," he said, breathlessly.

"I wish I could give you an Oscar for that greeting," Louis said.

"Wasn't my best performance, to be honest. Should have given you a little twirl ‘round the room," Harry replied.

“Don’t sell yourself short.” Louis reached up and tugged on his hair. "Really feeling this Mick Jagger thing you've got going."

"Thank, God. If you'd said you weren't, I would have shaved my entire head bald."

"In that case, I detest it."

Harry turned to Stan and asked, "Have a razor I could borrow?"

Louis laughed, poking him in his side. Stan, as always, ignored them both. Harry smiled. His dimple, Louis' favourite token of grace on this God-forsaken earth, showed up on his left cheek. Louis stepped close, sliding his arms around Harry's waist and squeezing him. He inhaled the scent of his shirt, of detergent and faintly of leaves, like he'd been rolling around in them.

"I missed you," Louis said. "If I have to spend another summer without you, I'll start a fucking riot."

"We skyped almost every day," Harry murmured.

“Doesn’t count. Nothing counts except having you here,” Louis said, drawing away.

Harry sighed. "You're impossible."

"Did you forget that while you were in Melbourne?"

"No, never."

They grinned at each other. Louis pushed down the need to drag him into a kiss. He would eventually but not yet. Instead, he turned away, lifting his beer bottle for another sip. Someone else handed one to Harry. They joined their friends, sitting down on couches opposite each other. But their gazes were stuck.

Louis had to keep looking at him, noting changes that had sprung up in only a few months. Aside from the Mick Jagger hair, he’d grown taller too, and he must have been hitting up a gym over in Australia quite frequently, because his biceps had thickened out. He had a new tattoo: an eagle on his right arm.

Louis stuck his tongue out at him the twentieth time their eyes met, and Harry smiled, taking another swig of his beer, looking away. Louis wanted his attention on him. He wished they’d forgone the party idea and settled for a quiet night, just the two of them when Harry returned. He eased his gaze away, inserting himself into the conversation, and pretended otherwise.

Another two hours passed. Most of their friends had left, except for Stan’s girlfriend, who practically lived there, and another friend named Matt. And of course, Harry, but Louis didn’t consider him a guest either. Harry had claimed the other couch for himself, head cradled on a pillow. He looked soft, in spite of all the hard muscle that had materialized over the summer.

Louis wasn’t exactly sleepy but he’d done his share of socializing, and they were all starting to doze.

“Staying over, H?” Stan asked, while he and Ally stood, readying themselves for bed.

Harry didn’t look at Louis. He fluffed the pillow beneath his head. “Sure am.”

“Good to have you back, man,” Stan said, ruffling Harry’s hair.

Louis watched them go. He wondered when Matt would leave as well. No time soon, judging by how comfortable he looked.

Louis stood. "Going to head off to bed too," he announced, glancing at Harry. "Goodnight."

Matt nodded. Harry watched him. Louis felt his eyes on him.

Lying on his bed, he listened to Matt and Harry, soft rumbling chatter echoing through the thin walls. After another ten minutes, he heard the front door open and close.

Harry was alone in the living room.

Knock knock.

The text was like clockwork.

Is this your way of telling me you're outside my door?

No. This is my way of telling you a joke. Knock. Knock.

Who's there?

Olive.

Louis rolled his eyes. Olive who?

You! Olive you very much.

That might be your worst yet. But olive you too.

Louis drummed his fingers on the sides of his phone, waiting for a response, waiting for anything. He locked the phone and set it on his nightstand, swinging his legs off his bed. The phone buzzed again before he could stand.

Knock knock.

Louis hesitated, well beyond the point now of going into the living room and dragging Harry here. He lifted the phone again and typed, begrudgingly. Who's there?

Me.

Louis glanced at his bedroom door and then he stood, taking three quick steps to it, pulling it open. Harry stood there with his head leaning against the doorframe.

"Technically I gave you the idea for that one," Louis said.

"Nope. I had it all planned,” Harry replied.

Louis reached for the hem of Harry's shirt and tugged him inside. He shut the door behind him, turned the lock.

Harry smiled, looking pleased with himself, and he should be. Louis was pleased with him too. Because he was here, finally.

Harry leaned in, still smiling. Smiling into a kiss. Louis stepped as close as possible, so that his toes ended up atop Harry's. “Missed you,” he said again when they parted to get Harry’s shirt over his head. “You were gone for too long.”

The shirt pooled at their feet. Louis ran his fingers down Harry’s smooth back to the waistband of his joggers. He didn't try to remove them. He slipped his hands into the pockets, cupped Harry's bum through the cotton, and pulled him toward the bed.

“Let me make it up to you,” Harry murmured, climbing on top of him, caging him in. And then he did.

 

 

"Did you date anyone in Melbourne?" Louis asked, while they were in the library the next afternoon.

Harry's whole face wrinkled. "I tried. Fucked around a little but nothing stuck."

"That’s exactly what you don't want to happen after fucking someone," Louis said. "Are you using protection like I taught you?"

He dodged the paper clip Harry sent sailing at him.

"You never used protection," Harry reminded him.

Louis opened his mouth to object, but it was true. They'd read articles before Louis fucked him, but skipped the condoms for reasons he couldn't remember. "That's different," he said. "We were kids and it was just us."

"It's still just us," Harry argued.

Louis scoffed disbelievingly. "With a side of… what was his name?"

"It was a girl. Britannia," Harry offered.

Louis’ eyes widened. "You fucked the sister ship of the Titanic?"

"God, I hate you," Harry grumbled. "That's the Britannica."

Louis laughed, poking Harry in the dimple with the eraser end of his pencil. "Was she any good?"

Harry swatted at him. "She was a nice girl, yeah,” he said, which wasn't exactly what Louis had asked. “But you know..."

"She didn't stick," Louis echoed.

Harry looked at him, lips twitching. "Exactly.  How about you?"

“Oh, you know... I went on a date but the guy turned out to be an arse," Louis said, righting his notes. "And I was too busy missing you."

Harry smiled widely. “You flatter me.”

“Much more than you deserve, yeah.” 

 

 

"So, how would you feel if Harry suddenly had a boyfriend?" Zayn asked over pints after class.

"Perfectly fine," Louis said. "Or a girlfriend. He's bisexual."

Zayn noted that with an appreciative nod. "Perfectly fine?"

"Yes," Louis said emphatically.

"And he would feel the same way if you were dating someone?"

Louis tossed his fringe away from his eyes, sighing. "Yes, absolutely."

"How long have you two been like this?"

"I don't know. Forever."

"I just don't get it. How this works for you when it doesn't work for anyone else," Zayn said. "Friends with benefits doesn't work."

"Yeah but it's not that simple. Friends with benefits pretend they're friends but usually it's more about sex. It’s sex with a side of friendship. Whereas Harry is my best friend first and then sometimes we have sex. It's just different. It only works because it’s him."

Zayn considered him carefully. "Is the sex good?"

Louis rolled his eyes. Phenomenal, he nearly said. Even after a whole summer apart. "It would have to be, or we wouldn’t keep doing it," he said, lifting his beer. "And I taught him everything he knows."

Zayn shook his head slow. “I’m impressed.”

“As you should be,” Louis replied with a smug grin.

But the full truth wasn't as impressive.

When they were younger, the attraction was much the same: equal parts simple and complex, easy as breathing but confounding. Snuggling Harry led to erections. Wrestling Harry led to erections. Sometimes Harry stared at Louis with his big green eyes for too long and that led to erections. But a stiffy was easy enough to comprehend.

The difficulty and confusion came with the realization that not all boys responded the same way to other boys and that the ones who did weren't welcome to broadcast that information. But rather than fight what they felt, Harry and Louis clung more desperately to each other than ever. They surmised that if the world was truly as unforgiving and unaccepting as it seemed, at the very least they'd be there and care for each other. When Louis was moody, Harry listened to him fret. When Harry was lonely, Louis brought him Oreos and pet his hair until he fell asleep.

The kissing and the touching happened inevitably. Small towns full of bigoted people didn't provide much variety but Louis never wanted variety. Puberty hit and so did the understanding that Harry was the prettiest boy he was ever going to meet. Maybe that was why Louis proposed to him on Harry's fourteenth birthday. He used a blade of grass fashioned into a ring that didn't fit, making promises to him when they were children that he wholeheartedly meant but maybe didn't fully understand.

He just knew he wanted to keep him.

Even when adulthood snuck up on them in the theiving, blinding way it knew best, Louis wanted to keep Harry, wanted to kiss Harry and touch Harry for as long and as often as possible.

And he never had to make sense of that when Harry wanted the same things. He never thought too much of it. Never made a big deal of it. Even during the summer when Harry was away and Louis could hardly sleep, he never questioned the attachment. It just was. It just worked.

He couldn't say all of that to Zayn, though. Because how could Zayn understand a thing that Louis hardly understood himself?

 

 

Louis slipped under his duvet, sliding his arm around Harry's waist, and tucked himself close.

"Hi," Harry mumbled, his hand spreading over the small of his back.

"Hello," Louis replied, songfully.

"Question," Harry said.

"Answer," Louis replied.

Harry made a face, lips flat and unamused. "You and Zayn,” he said eventually. “Is that a thing?"

"I would have told you already if it was," Louis said. "He has a girlfriend."

"Do you like him anyway?"

Louis laughed softly. "No. I did fancy him for a bit but you know..."

"Didn't stick," Harry supplied.

"It never does," Louis said. He snuggled closer, his toes touching Harry's, seeking them out for warmth. He pressed the tip of his nose to Harry's collarbone. "How's it possible that you're even taller? I hate it." He dragged his hand over Harry's bicep. "And this . ‘Ave you got a permit for these?"

Harry pressed his face into his pillow and groaned. "The second-hand embarrassment is real,” he mumbled.

Louis chuckled. “How’d this even happen?”

“Started boxing,” Harry explained.

Louis lifted his brows. “Sick,” he said. He passed his fingertip over the ship on Harry's bicep. The one to match Louis’ compass. He squeezed Harry’s bicep, feeling the muscles shift against his palm. "We could do that move from Dirty Dancing now. You could pin someone to a wall like this…"

"Want me to pin you to a wall?" Harry answered.

Heat settled faintly in Louis' tummy. "Can't say I'd be opposed."

"Hm,” Harry hummed. “What about me pinning you to this bed?"

The heat flared. Louis licked his lips. "Not opposed to that either."

Harry’s hand slid lower and settled comfortably atop Louis’ bum. Like it belonged there. Harry had a way of touching parts of Louis’ body and leaving banners behind to mark his territory.

In the next second, Harry was atop him, strong hands secure around Louis’ wrists. He leaned in pressing a kiss to his cheek. “So lovely, Lou,” he murmured. “All I thought about while I was away.”

Louis laughed. “Poor Britannia. First she loses the Titanic, then you.”

“God, shut up,” Harry grumbled. “You’re killing the mood.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know we needed a mood,” Louis murmured. “Normally you just kind of stick it in.”

Harry thumped his forehead on Louis’ shoulder. “There’s always a mood.”

Louis pressed his mouth to Harry’s earlobe. “Let’s get it back then,” he said, rutting his hips up against Harry’s. “Tell me how much you thought about me.”

Harry looked at him, eyes bleary and bottomless in the darkness of Louis’ bedroom.

“Did you think about the tent?” Louis questioned. “You were missing me before you even left. Never been fucked like that in my life.”

Harry groaned softly, shifting, dragging their crotches together.

“You’re so spoiled, H. All those people over there you could have been with and you just wanted me. Just begging for me. So needy,” Louis gasped when Harry pushed their hips together roughly. “Get your cock out.”

Harry pushed his joggers to his knees while Louis did the same, moving quickly, desperately. Harry settled between Louis’ legs again, wrapping a hand around both of them. He kissed him, breath hot and quick against Louis’ tongue.

Louis hooked his legs over Harry’s waist. “Did you think about fucking me too?”

“You know I did,” Harry murmured breathlessly.

“Didn’t think about anything else did you? How’d you even get schoolwork done?”

“You know what I did during breaks sometimes?” Harry said.

“Tell me.”

“I wanked to that picture you sent me. With your bum in the air. Your finger in your mouth. Or the picture of your cock,” he groaned, snapping his hips down, squeezing around them.

“That desperate, huh?”

“Only for you,” Harry mumbled, tucking his face away. “Gonna come.”

“Already?” Louis said. “You’re disappointing me, H.”

Harry groaned, half in frustration, half something else. That humiliation kink they hadn’t talked enough about for Louis to fully understand. In bed, they were constantly warring with each other, both dominant in their own way, which never allowed for one person to have complete and utter control. Not at first.

But Louis had gotten Harry to points where he was lust-drunk and spewing nonsensical shit, points where he took several minutes to come back to himself. And in the same breath, Louis would surrender himself to Harry if he was feeling up to it. They both agreed: sometimes it was nice to let go, trusting that the other would be there to catch them.

Right now, it felt like Harry needed to let go.

Louis took Harry’s jaw between his hand. “You come when I tell you to,” he said. “Hear me?”

“Louis…”

“Do you hear me?” he repeated.

This time, Harry nodded. Louis gave him a kiss for it. He let Harry stroke them both, fist tightening and speeding up at random, hips canting each time the pressure got too good. He knew Harry was close, all the telltale signs revealed as much, and he was pleased to note that even after months of being apart, he could still exercise control here.

He came first, ignoring Harry’s murmured pleas, and flipped them over, sinking down Harry’s body. He wrapped his lips around him, sucked a few times while Harry whined and whimpered, and then he told him, voice broken like he was the one seeking release, “Go ahead.”

And Harry, on command, did as told.

 

 

Louis woke, curled around Harry’s back as usual. He peeled himself away, checking the time. Fifteen minutes until his first class. He shuffled out of bed and retrieved his toothbrush before waking Harry with a slap to his bum. He held up ten fingers. Ten minutes.

Harry groaned. He turned over and fell asleep. Louis pinched his bum the next time. He held up nine fingers.

Harry pulled himself out of bed, brushing quickly with the toothbrush he kept in Louis’ room. He pressed a kiss to Louis’ forehead, pulling his rucksack on. “See you.”

Louis pulled his door closed. “Lunch?”

“Yeah. Text me,” Harry said, sticking his granola bar back into his mouth. He shot a peace sign and pulled his hood up against the rain and then he started jogging off toward Lincoln Hall. Louis tugged his beanie over his hair and hurried off too.

 

 

Michael leaned against the counter beside Louis, plucking a tortilla chip from the bowl on the counter. He looked at him and then away, and then at him and away. After a minute of this, Louis laughed. “What?”

“Are you and Harry dating?” Michael asked.

“No,” Louis said, following with a sip of his beer. “Why?”

“He’s cute,” Michael said.

Louis snorted. “And that is the understatement of the year. Harry’s gorgeous .”

“He said the exact same about you. I mentioned that you two were cute together. And he said the exact same thing.”

Louis pressed a hand to his heart. “He loves me, truly.”

“You two are really weird,” Michael said.

“We know,” Louis replied with a shrug.

“But what you’re saying is that he’s single?” Michael questioned.

Louis narrowed his eyes. “Yeah, as far as I know…” And he would expect to know before anyone else.

“Okay,” Michael said, setting his beer down. “So you wouldn’t mind like maybe suggesting that me and him go out sometime?”

Louis plucked another crisp and ate it, buying himself some time before he had to answer. And then Harry stepped into the kitchen and approached the icebox sitting by the window. He got himself another beer, while Louis and Michael both watched. He knocked the cap off and put the rim to his pink mouth, Adam’s apple bobbing. Louis glanced at Michael with his hungry doe-like eyes, raking over Harry’s body, and Louis grinned. Being the self-righteous bastard he was, he felt proud.

Finally, Harry looked at them. “What?” he asked, wiping his mouth with his hand.

“Me and Michael were just talking about what a babe you are,” Louis said.

Harry pressed a hand to his heart like Louis did. “You love me,” he said, stepping closer. He pressed a kiss to Louis’ cheek.

“It’s true,” Louis said with resignation.

Harry shot a wink Michael’s way before leaving the kitchen.

“You’re definitely dating,” Michael said.

“We’re not, I swear,” Louis said.

“Then you’ll put in a good word?” Michael asked, brows raised.

Louis nodded, munching on another chip. “Sure,” he said, and then he left the kitchen, taking up a seat beside Harry on the couch. Harry threw his arm around his waist and tugged him closer, all the way into his lap. Michael watched them. But Louis wasn’t about to feel guilty for something that came naturally to him, something that he’d been doing for years. Harry’s space had always belonged in part to Louis, just as Louis’ belonged to him. That’s all it was.

“Michael fancies you,” Louis whispered while their friends were distracted with other conversations.

Harry was too busy studying Louis’ tattoos, running his thumb over Louis’ forearm. “Who?”

“The one in the kitchen I was just talking to,” Louis said.

“Oh, he’s cute,” Harry said.

Louis looked at him. “You should go on a date with him then.”

“Hm, maybe I will,” Harry said, while with his other hand, he brushed his thumb over a strip of skin on Louis’ waist.

Louis smiled, patting Harry’s cheek with a little more force than planned. “Good boy.”

The arousal lighting Harry's pretty eyes was instantaneous, but he played it off and tried to lick Louis’ hand. He settled on biting gently at his bare shoulder. Louis swatted at him, but only for a moment before he eventually, inevitably, surrendered himself to Harry’s arms. “Staying with me tonight?” Harry asked.

Louis took a furtive glance around at their friends, meeting eyes with Michael again. He flicked his fringe to the side and said quietly to Harry, “Want me to?”

“What do you think?” Harry asked.

“Yeah. Why not?” Louis replied, stroking Harry’s forearm. He didn’t feel guilty, just possessive. Like he wanted everyone to know: Yeah, Harry was single, but that didn’t make him any less Louis’ . He’d been Louis’ before he would be anyone else’s. He’d been Louis’ back when their bikes still bore training wheels, and the kids at school hadn’t yet pinged onto how cute he was. He’d been Louis’ when he sprung his first erection during a sleepover. And when they kissed for the first time hidden by trees in Harry’s backyard. And the first time Louis fucked him, and Harry repaid the deed a week later.

No, they weren’t together. But Harry was his. In a timeless, limitless, unyielding sort of way. And Louis wasn’t sorry about that.

So after their little get-together, he walked across the hall to Harry’s flat, slipped beneath the covers with him, and undressed. He spread for him, pressed his face to a pillow for him, and tried not to moan too loudly when Harry pushed his long fingers past his rim. It was late but not too late for Harry to get his cock in if he wanted. But he didn’t.

“Want you to come like this,” he was murmuring. He teased him though, leaning over Louis’ body and nudging the damp tip beside his fingers. As if to slip in bare. For one beer-addled second, Louis thought to ask him for it. Or even beg. He loved begging. He loved when Harry got him to the point where pride was a concept that didn't exist.

Harry’s fingers dived into him again, and curved against the sensitive bud of nerves, and Louis shuddered. “Fuck me,” he breathed. He hadn’t planned to ask but he never planned anything.

“No,” Harry said.

Louis pushed his face into the pillow, groaning as loudly as he wanted just for a second. If Nick woke up, so be it. “Please?”

“No,” Harry said again. “I know you’re close, baby. For me, will you?”

He pushed his fingers into him roughly. It was too late for this bullshit. Or too early, depending on how you looked at it. The numbers on Harry’s bedside clock read 2:37 and they had class in the morning. It was too late and too early for Louis’ usual mental debate when he was with Harry: submit or dominate. He always wanted both.

He could pull off Harry’s fingers, flip them over, and take his cock like he wanted to. Harry would let him without complaint.

Or he could let Harry tease the release from his body. He could settle down, give himself over to him, and come. He went with option B, and said, quietly, “Yes.”

He felt Harry’s mouth on the back of his neck, dropping soft kisses like raindrops on his fevered skin. “I love you so much.”

Louis moaned into his pillow, nodding his head because if he spoke, the words would come out in that whiny, needy way that Harry loved and Louis despised. Nodding meant I love you too. Coming when Harry pressed into him again meant I love you the most. Allowing Harry to spill over his lower back meant always.

Afterwards, when they were clean and curled around each other, Louis said it aloud. “Love you too,” and nothing more. Nothing before he fell asleep.

 

 

“Are you listening to me?”

Louis’ thumbs froze on his phone. He looked at Harry, wearing a wide-brimmed sunhat. “Cute,” he commented.

“You weren’t listening to me,” Harry said, removing and replacing the hat on the rack.

Louis finished his text message and sent it off. “I am now. Sorry.”

Harry eyed him suspiciously. “I asked if you wanted to have dinner with me and G tonight.”

“She already asked me this morning. I told her I couldn’t,” Louis said.

“Why?”

“Study group.”

Harry paused by the stand of sunglasses, a pink-framed pair in his hands. “Study group?”

“Yeah,” Louis said.

Harry huffed. “Who’s the guy involved?”

“I don’t have to answer your questions,” Louis said, sliding a pair of sunglasses onto his face and raising his nose haughtily. “In fact, I refuse.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Is that who you’re texting?”

“Maybe,” Louis said coyly. And then he had to blabber, “He’s being flirty. He told me I have nice eyes.”

“Whoa. Next thing you know he’ll be proposing marriage,” Harry said.

Louis pinched him on the ass, uncaring about the lady standing three feet away. “He’s classic. No one compliments me like that anymore.”

“I tell you your eyes are nice almost every day.”

“Doesn’t count,” Louis said. “At all.”

Harry’s mouth parted, looking affronted with a hand poised on his chest. “How rude.”

Louis smiled. “Are you actually planning to buy something or…?”

“I need black jeans,” Harry said.

“You mean...unlike the ones you have on right now?” Louis questioned, eying his jeans. “Perhaps a different shade of black? Pretentious fuck.”

“You’re pushing it today,” Harry told him, eyes narrowed.

Louis tipped his head forward, a fingertip pressed to the bridge of the sunglasses. “Planning to punish me for it? Maybe I should push a little harder.”

Harry’s lips twitched. He clenched his jaw. “You’d love that.”

“I'll neither confirm nor deny that to be true. I’m being bad though, aren’t I?” Louis questioned. “Wonder what happens to boys who behave badly…”

Harry’s dimple appeared against his will. “Want to find out?”

“I think that’s only fair,” Louis murmured, biting the corner of his lip, as a smile stretched from cheek to cheek. Five minutes later, when he found himself pinned to the wall of an H&M dressing room, he had no one to blame but himself. Although he did blame Harry a little for the massive love bite beneath his ear.

“You did that on purpose,” he said, eying the mark in the rearview mirror on their way back to campus.

Harry smiled. “I was provoked.”

 

 

He showed up Saturday morning at Harry’s with doughnuts -- a way of apologizing for his absence at dinner the night before. The door opened to Harry standing there in pyjama pants sitting low on his hips, enough to reveal the lack of briefs, light brown pubic hair, and the V of his hips. He also wasn’t wearing a shirt. Louis’ mouth actually watered. He swept his gaze over Harry’s body.

“Well, good morning to you too,” he said. “Very good…”

Harry grinned, smugly.

“I brought doughnuts,” Louis said, holding the box up. “Although I’m feeling hungry for something else now.”

“Always so honest,” Harry said.

Louis pressed his hand to Harry’s stomach and pushed him backwards so he could step inside.

“I actually have company,” Harry said, though he didn’t do anything to stop Louis from slipping in.

Louis took a look at him again. “Dressed like that…?”

The second he said it, he understood. And then he saw Michael, sitting up on the couch, also devoid of a shirt. Louis’ shoulders fell. “Oh.”

“Hey, Louis,” Michael said, cheeks flushed.

Louis swallowed. “Hi,” he said. He glanced at Harry. “I’m interrupting.”

“No, you’re okay,” Harry said.

Michael was already pulling on his jeans. “I actually have work, so. I’ll see you both around.”

Louis watched him tugging on his shirt.

“Call me,” he said to Harry on his way out. The door shut behind him.

“Probably should have texted,” Louis said, adjusting his fringe.

“It’s fine really,” Harry said. “Should have let you know we went out last night. After dinner with Gemma.”

“How was that?”

Harry shrugged. “Alright. Had a few beers and then just came back here.”

“Sounds like a blast,” Louis murmured.

Harry’s brows twitched. He scratched his tummy awkwardly.

“Let’s make tea,” Louis said, abruptly.

He removed his shoes by the door, setting the box of doughnuts on the counter. Harry pulled two mugs down from the cupboard. Louis glanced at the couch with a blanket thrown across it, an empty condom wrapper on the floor beside a bottle of lube. He looked away, swallowing around the weird lump in his throat. Really weird lump.

He’d walked in on Harry with other people before. He’d even gotten jealous before. In fact, he was always jealous. Always asked Harry later on if that person was as good as him. Harry always said no.

But this felt different for some reason. It ached in a place he was unaccustomed to.

Louis removed his laptop, tucking one leg beneath his thigh. “So, I got an email back about that internship. They offered me an interview for next week.”

“That’s great,” Harry said happily, placing a cup of tea down for Louis. He took the barstool beside him. “I’m proud of you.”

Louis smiled. “Thank you,” he said. “You have to help me pick out an outfit or something now.”

“Definitely. You can wear my lucky tie,” Harry said.

Louis laughed. “Of course.”

They had a doughnut each, and Harry started talking about Gemma’s new cat. She was at 3 now, and considering a 4th. Somewhere between that topic and the next, Harry’s hand ended up on Louis’s forearm, tracing tattoos the way he always did.

“How does Phoebs feel about that?” he murmured, while Louis recounted for him the twins’ hardships with choosing universities. For a while, the girls spoke of going to Manchester together. Now, Daisy favoured a school in Leeds.

Louis watched Harry’s hand on his skin. “She’ll get used to it, I think. It’s like when I went away to uni, you got over it eventually.”

“Wrong. I never did. It still pains me today thinking about that dark time in our history.”

Louis smiled. “Yeah but it was good for you. It helped us be more independent.”

“And that’s a good thing?” Harry wondered.

“I think so,” Louis said confusedly.

Harry nodded. His hand moved to Louis’ thigh and slid upward. Louis set his hand atop his. “You’re not serious.”

“What?” Harry questioned. He was confused. And he should be. Louis would be confused too if it were him.

“You just slept with Michael.”

“I slept with him last night,” Harry said. “Does it matter?”

It shouldn’t. This had happened before too. Louis had caught Harry in bed with a girl, freshly fucked and still in the process of catching his breath. Louis had responded the only way he knew how: He went on a rampage, pretending to be a jealous lover as he tossed Harry’s things about the room. The girl hauled ass, grabbing her shit half-naked, and fleeing. And while he and Harry cackled and snorted, Louis climbed atop him, rutted into his lap and pinched his nipples until Harry came again.

Those were wild times. Those were times only months in the past.

He had no idea why it should be any different now.

“I’m just not feeling it,” Louis said. “Not right now.”

Harry lifted his hand away and smiled. “Okay.”

“Maybe later,” Louis said, feeling guilty or something. Clearly, he needed a drink and a nap.

“Whenever you want,” Harry said. “It’s okay, I promise.”

He pressed a kiss to Louis’ cheek. “Tell me more about the girls?”

Louis’ ears felt hot. He craved attention, especially Harry's, but not like this. And even as they drifted into more talk about their families, he felt Harry's attention on him still, cautious and curious.

 

 

5 Months Prior - May

He threw himself into Harry’s body, as dramatically and as forcefully as he could. Part of it was his affinity for theatrics. The other, larger part, was that he’d already started to miss him, as he would miss the fraction of his heart Harry took with him when he left. He squeezed him between his arms and between his legs, and pressed his nose to Harry’s neck, inhaled deeply like that first deep breath in the morning.

“Again?” Harry said. “I haven’t gone anywhere yet, Louis.”

Louis grumbled, “It’s not too late to reconsider either.”

Harry laughed softly, the sound rumbling between their bodies. “What are you going to do when I’m actually boarding a plane?”

“I haven’t figured it out yet,” Louis said. “Maybe monologuing to myself about how much I love you. Or clinging to you like I’m doing now until you’re forced to take me with you.”

Harry cradled him securely in his arms, unbothered by the clinging bit. “Maybe I’ll sneak you into my duffle. You can live under my bed. Sure my roommates wouldn’t mind.”

“Or on your bed,” Louis murmured, wiggling his brows.

“Even better,” Harry said, smiling.

Gemma came out the front door, cradling one of the cats in her arms. “I’m sure the neighbours are enjoying your performance right now,” she mused.

Louis smiled. “But we haven’t even gotten to the good part.”

Gemma scoffed, her lips curling into a smile against her will. “Dinner’s ready,” she said, before sauntering into the house.

“I’m getting down now,” Louis told him. “But only so you can give me a piggyback ride.”

“So demanding,” Harry said, shaking his head.

“Don’t forget that while you’re in Australia,” Louis said, as he climbed onto Harry’s back. He tapped his heels to Harry’s thighs like a rider to a horse and shouted, “Ya!”

Harry, with his unfailing humour, answered with a neigh and broke into a sloppy gallop, nearly dislodging Louis along the way.

They had dinner around the telly with Harry’s family, watching evening sitcoms. Louis spent the majority of the time trying to remind himself that he still had another day left. Tomorrow, there was Harry’s cousin’s wedding and the reception afterwards, but he’d make the most of what time with him he could expunge in the next 24 hours. He spent the night, since it was an early drive to Manchester in the morning, curled up in bed while Harry showered. Harry joined him a second later with damp hair, wearing a loose gray jumper and black briefs. There was no time to seduce him like Louis had planned. Within minutes, Harry, with his head atop Louis’ chest, started snoring.

In the morning, they left for the wedding, which was a simple, charming affair. Harry looked lovely in all black. He said the same of Louis in his blue, his hand resting on Louis’ thigh throughout the reception. He’d said once, “We should have one of these.”

“We will,” Louis had murmured, taking a sip of his champagne.

Harry laughed, the way he always did when they joked about marriage. They proposed to each other once every month, and sometimes went so far as to speculate about the kinds of homes they’d like to live in, and names for their twenty children. Sriracha was a favourite of theirs. As was Magnolia and Persimmon. The goal, Louis always said, is to make our offspring memorable.

“I want an ice sculpture too,” Harry said, gesturing to the elaborate one near the wedding cake.

“For you, love, I’d purchase a hundred ice sculptures. One for each moment I fell more in love with you.”

They laughed into their champagne glasses. In the next minute, they were lured onto the dance floor to do a round of line dances, and took shots with the bride and groom, and pictures with Harry’s family. They bought a bag of weed off Harry’s uncle and then left for the drive back to Harry’s.

Still tipsy on champagne, Louis had the clever idea to drag Harry’s old tent into the backyard, and sleep out there. The weather was nice, a little muggy, but still nice. They changed out of their fancy clothes, stole a couple of Harry’s stepdad’s beers, and carried an armful of blankets and pillows back to the tent.

Harry sparked up, giving Louis the first hit. They were making out by the fourth, Louis seated comfortably in his lap. It was late. By now, Harry’s parents would be home, and perhaps fast asleep.

Harry exhaled his smoke into Louis’ mouth. Louis turned his head, breathing through pursed lips. They smoked until the blunt was a nub between their fingers and kissed until their lips were chapped.

“I miss you already,” Harry confessed, squeezing Louis close to his body.

“I bet you a million dollars I’ll miss you more.”

“You don’t even have a million dollars,” Harry replied.

“So you think,” Louis said. “You don’t know about my side hustles.”

Harry snorted, biting gently on Louis’ collarbone. Louis pushed his fingers through Harry’s hair. He went easily when Harry shifted them around, pushing Louis down against the blankets. Harry ran his hands up and down Louis’ thighs before leaning in, connecting their mouths. “Marry me,” he murmured.

“I plan to,” Louis said.

“I mean it,” Harry said.

Louis blinked at him, mouth curving. “You think I’ve been joking?”

“Lou, be serious,” Harry said. “Wait.”

Louis couldn’t follow this conversation, too high and too drunk to be having a conversation at all. He just wanted to keep Harry between his legs. Except to his horror, Harry was moving away, unzipping the door of the tent and leaning outside. Louis sat up, brows furrowed.

“Close your eyes,” Harry said.

Louis closed his eyes. “If you put a bug on my face or something, I’m going to kick your ass.”

Harry laughed. “Just keep your eyes closed.”

After a minute or so, he said, “Okay. Open your eyes.”

Louis’ eyes fluttered open lazily and he blinked, then laughed. Harry was holding a blade of grass, except it was no longer a blade, but a circle. A ring. Very similar to the one Louis had given him several years ago on a summer’s night like this one.

He met Harry’s gaze and his heart skipped an actual beat at the earnestness there.

“I’m serious,” Harry said, sliding the ring onto Louis’ finger. “One day, I’m going to marry you.”

Louis’ eyes narrowed. “You think that’s a good idea?”

“Best idea ever.”

“Just don’t forget who proposed first,” Louis said.

“Yeah but you were just joking. I’m serious.”

Louis was beyond confused. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.  I’m going to come back one day with real silver or gold, whichever you prefer, and I’m going to ask you again,” Harry said. “And you’re going to say yes, I think. I’m pretty sure.”

“Not if I beat you to it,” Louis said.

“You’re on,” Harry replied.

Louis smiled, with confusion still wrinkling his brows. He leaned in and kissed Harry again, sliding his hand into his hair. He tugged on the roots, waiting for the second when Harry’s lips parted around a soft gasp, and he pushed his tongue into his mouth.

Reaching down, his fingers slipped beneath Harry’s shirt and travelled up his back until the shirt was off and on the floor. “Know what I want?”

“I always do,” Harry said.

“Hm. Go ahead and tell me then.”

“You want my hands on you,” Harry supplied.

“I’ve already got that,” Louis said, running his fingers over Harry’s hands on his thighs. “You can do better, baby.”

Harry pressed his face into Louis’ neck, hiding away like he always did before saying something filthy. Louis could spew dirty talk like a horny sailor any given day. But Harry had to work up to it. He still laughed sometimes if you sprung the word cock on him. But he said it now, face hidden. He said it strongly, already intoxicated by liquor and lust, “You want my cock.”

Louis reached between them, pushing his hand into Harry’s shorts. He cupped him firmly, squeezing more tightly than was necessary. “That’s already mine too.”

Harry groaned. “You want me fucking you.”

Louis yanked on the back of his hair with his free hand, pulling him away from his neck. Harry groaned louder, eyes squeezed shut. “Say it again,” Louis said.

“You want me to fuck you,” Harry breathed.

Louis kissed him until neither of them could breathe. “Smart boy.”

Lucky he thought to snag Harry’s lube and condoms from the bedroom. He shoved them into Harry’s hands. They climbed beneath the covers, the humid summer air leaking into the tent and coating their skin. Harry spooned behind him and curled his hand around Louis’ thigh, holding him open. It was almost uncomfortably hot, in a way it never was around here. His t-shirt stuck to his skin and he wanted to pull it off but couldn’t stop to let that happen. He didn’t want to stop.

Quick puffs of warm air left Harry’s mouth. His fingers slipped on Louis’ thigh. It was messy and sticky and Louis never wanted to stop.

“I love you,” Harry told him. Not for the first time. Or the last.

“I love you more,” Louis replied.

Harry kissed him, body still shuddering in the aftermath of an orgasm. “I love you the most.”

 

 

He went to the gym with him earlier in the day, strapped on some gloves, and released a lot of pent-up frustration (and confusion) on the punching bag between Harry’s hands.

Harry was still hanging out with Michael. Not dating him, he said. Just hanging out. Sleeping together, probably. Which, again, wasn’t a particularly momentous occurrence. Except that it was, if only for the fact that it had gotten under Louis’ skin.

“What’s wrong?”

He wiped his forearm across his forehead. “Huh?”

“You’ve been tense all day,” Harry said. “For a few days, actually.”

“I’m fine,” Louis said, swallowing. He curled his fists and jabbed at the bag again. He spoke between the grunts and sighs each time he threw a punch. “Big exam coming up. I’m tired. Work sucks.”

And of course: I’m uncharacteristically bothered by you sleeping with someone else.

“You need dinner and a massage,” Harry said.

Louis snorted. “Are you offering?”

“Of course,” Harry said. “After this, we’ll head back to mine. Nick’s staying with his boyfriend tonight.”

Louis hesitated for a second. He didn’t mean to, especially not for Harry to witness. But the slight wrinkle of Harry’s brows said he had. “Walking Dead comes on tonight. You always distract me when I’m trying to watch it.”

Harry knew him too well. He wasn’t convinced for a second. Still, he smiled and said, “Promise I won’t this time,” he said.

Dinner, a massage, and his favorite person were a little too hard to pass up in the end.

Harry made pasta primavera, which by Louis’ standards, belonged in every restaurant in the world. He had seconds, then thirds, and when he thought he would burst, he settled back with a beer to watch the Walking Dead with his legs thrown comfortably over Harry’s lap.

“Pay attention,” Louis said. “You missed the last episode.”

“I am paying attention,” Harry argued.

“You aren’t. You’re looking at me.”

“I like looking at you,” Harry said, running his hand over Louis’ thigh. “You look good. Much better than that guy.” Harry nodded toward the TV screen where a decaying walker with several missing parts was snacking on his victim.

Louis rested his head on the back of the couch, shoulders trembling with laughter.

“Hey,” Harry said softly.

Louis turned to him and nearly melted when Harry’s mouth met his. It occurred to him then that they hadn’t kissed in a week, which was the longest stretch of time they’d gone without kissing since the summer. He felt Harry's mouth suddenly on his neck and then the corner of his mouth. And his first instinct was to part his lips and let the kiss deepen. He drew away.

"I can't," he said, pressing the tips of his fingers to Harry's sternum.

Harry pulled away, cheeks flushed. "What's wrong?"

Louis smiled. "I'm seeing someone actually. Like for the past week?"

Harry's brow furrowed. He was wearing a curious smile, the one he reserved for jokes he didn't quite get. And then the smile slipped away as understanding settled in. "Seriously?"

Louis nodded once. "Yes."

"Who?"

"The bloke from psychology class. Named Nate."

"Nate," Harry repeated dryly.

"Yes," Louis said with a laugh.

“Huh,” Harry grunted, looking away. He pushed his hand through his long hair. “Could have told me earlier.”

“You knew about him. He was the one I was texting. And it wasn’t serious enough to mention it anyway,” Louis said.

Harry looked at him again. “Is it now?”

“I mean, I don’t know. I’m sure it will be eventually.”

Harry looked away again. “Good luck.”

Louis removed his legs from Harry’s lap and leaned away from him, studying him closely. “Why don’t you try that again but sound like you mean it this time?” he suggested.

Harry actually pouted, arms crossed over his chest. “Think I’ll pass.”

“What’s the matter?” Louis asked, chest swelling with anxiety, and strangely, hope. Hope for what? He didn’t know and couldn’t pause to find out.

“You’ve been weird since last Saturday. And now you’re suddenly exclusive with someone. Just think that’s unfair,” Harry said. “We’ve never been like this with each other.”

Louis thought on all that, sirens shooting off in his brain. Each time he tried to speak, another warning popped up against his word choice, alerting him to lingo better left for lovers. And that was scary, wasn’t it? That he couldn’t explain how he was feeling without sounding lovesick.

“I haven’t been weird,” he settled on saying.

Harry looked thoroughly unimpressed. “You have. Do you not like Michael or what?”

“Michael’s my friend,” Louis reminded him.

“Then what’s the problem?”

“There isn’t a problem. I told you I’m tired and I’m stressed with school. I’m not exclusive with Nate. I’m just trying to be. Like to practice,” Louis said.

“That doesn’t even make any sense,” Harry argued.

“Of course, it does. There’s going to come a point when we can’t be like this. When we’re dating people seriously or we’re engaged to other people. Married, eventually. And we can’t do this.”

Harry wasn’t looking at him anymore. His gaze was on his hands in his lap. He circled his thumbs around themselves. His long hair fell over his face, making it hard to see every inch of his expression.

“You’re right,” Harry said.

Louis’ heart sunk, which didn’t make sense. Nothing made sense right now. He’d wanted Harry to protest, stomp his foot, flip a table. He’d wanted Harry to remind him that he’d proposed to him with a blade of grass and that Louis had done the same when Harry was fourteen.

He’d wanted Harry to tell him he was wrong. That there wasn’t anyone else and never would be. Just them. Always. Only them.

“I’m sorry,” Harry said, stroking Louis’ knee. Louis watched his Adam’s apple bob. “I’m sorry.”

Louis set his hand atop Harry’s. “Me too.”

Harry lifted his hand to his mouth and kissed his palm, before he set their joined hands in his lap. He released a heavy breath, resting his head to the back of the couch. Louis’ eyes lingered on him for a second, and then settled on the TV screen. They hadn’t missed much of the show, thanks to a commercial break. Louis explained a bit from the last episode.

“Hey,” Harry said. “How about that massage?”

“Um, yes?” Louis replied. He might have gone at that punching bag a little too excitedly. His biceps were killing him.

Harry shifted into the corner of the couch and directed Louis closer. He started at the back of his neck, running his thumbs up into Louis’ hair. “How’s that?”

“Better,” Louis said.

Harry worked his way to his shoulders, spending extra time there, working out the kinks and the tenseness he’d been carrying around for days. He leaned his weight into his fingers, eyes shutting.

Harry’s hands slipped down his spine, focusing special attention on each notch of Louis’ spine.

His lips brushed the back of his neck and Louis’ eyes fluttered open. He found himself tilting his head unconsciously to allow Harry more room, to run his tongue across his neck, up to his ear.

“Harry,” he murmured, turning. He pressed his hand to Harry’s chest again and balled his hands up in Harry’s shirt, warring with a thought to push him back.

Harry squeezed his thigh possessively. “Tell me to stop and I will,” he murmured, just as he sucked Louis’ earlobe into his mouth.

Louis shuddered, biting into his bottom lip. Harry pulled him backward until Louis’ bum met his crotch.

“So beautiful, Louis,” Harry whispered, the tip of his nose brushing behind Louis’ ear. He was good at this -- breaking Louis down with a few feather touches and soft words. “Whoever gets you will be the luckiest.”

Louis bit his lip harder, before he said something desperate and silly.

“But you’re mine right now.”

Harry slipped his hand beneath the waistband of his joggers. Louis groaned, the words hitting him just as the pressure of Harry’s hand did. He did the usual and gave in, never one for self-control in the first place. He turned completely and straddled Harry’s thighs, leaning in to kiss him deeply, unlike he had for much too long.

“Fuck me then,” he said. “While I’m still yours.”

 

 

Louis stepped into the restaurant and unlooped his scarf, looking around the waiting area for Nate. Instead he saw Harry, leaning against the wall by a koi fish fountain. His brows creased. “Hey,” he said.

“Hi,” Harry said, just as confused. “Are you meeting someone here?”

“Yeah. Nate invited me to meet some of his friends.”

Harry pursed his lips, face wrinkling with deep thought. “You’re seeing Nate Kearney?”

“Yes,” Louis said slowly. Realization set in. “Are you one of his friends?”

Harry sighed, raking a hand through his hair. “More like a friend of a friend. I’ve only met him twice.”

Louis nodded, sliding his hands into his back pockets and rocking backward. The air between them grew awkward. This weekend so far had unfolded drastically different from the last, considering that on Sunday night, a week prior, Louis had found himself riding Harry’s cock to the sounds of zombies and carnage. Six days since then was apparently all the time they needed to get here . To this stifling space where they couldn’t find words to speak.

“You didn’t answer my text last night,” Harry decided to say.

Louis sighed. “You wanted me to come over,” he said. “And it was late.”

“That’s your reasoning?”

Louis gave him a look. He glanced around and said quietly, “You know what would’ve happened.”

“Because that’s all we do when we’re together?” Harry wondered, his jaw clenched. 

“I’m not saying that," Louis argued. "We just had lunch on Wednesday."

“Yeah with everyone else there too,” Harry said.

“Hey,” Louis said. He nudged the toe of his Vans against Harry’s boot. “Don’t be mad at me. Please?”

“I’m not,” Harry replied. He opened his mouth to say more but then someone that Louis didn’t know approached Harry to greet him, another of Nate’s friends. Louis introduced himself.

“Let’s go find a table,” Hugh said. “There’ll be 8 of us, yeah?”

“I think Claire made reservations,” Harry replied. He looked at Louis, as if to ask, ‘Coming?’

“I’ll wait here for Nate,” Louis said, smiling. He looked away, waiting for Harry and Hugh to saunter off, and only when he had a second alone, did he release a breath. They were off with each other, he and Harry. They still spoke, of course. But Louis would be lying if he said he wasn’t avoiding him since Sunday.

It wasn't Harry he was worried about. He just wasn't sure he could control himself. He couldn't remember if it'd been this way before Melbourne, before the summer. If just a kiss or a whispered word from Harry could make him shuck his clothes into the abyss and forget himself as quickly as it had nights ago. Louis felt himself blush, just thinking about it. It'd been different somehow between them. Fraught with a tension that should've made it feel awkward and wrong, but Louis had never come harder in his life.

Nate showed up with four other friends. He gave Louis a kiss on his cheek and led him to the table where Harry and Hugh were already sitting. Harry gave a hug to the woman who must have been Claire, and introduced himself to everyone else. He shook Nate’s hand too. “Good to see you again,” he’d said.

Louis made his own introductions and took a seat beside Nate.

“I think I might have had an Anthropology class with you last semester,” Claire said to him, halfway through dinner.

“With Dr Mason?” Louis questioned.

“Yes! My God, that man drove me crazy.”

“I didn’t mind him. It was an 8 AM class, wasn’t it? I think I appreciated him being as ridiculous as he was because it kept me awake.”

Claire laughed. “ That is a very good point.”

Nate smiled at him, squeezing his knee, and Louis winked back. And then, of course, he looked at Harry, made eye contact, and looked away.

“You and Harry know each other too, right?” Hugh asked.

“Since we were 6,” Harry supplied, sounding proud. Louis looked at him again, this time with a smirk.

“You’re a first year, right, Harry?” Claire asked. “Did you come to Middlesex knowing Louis was here?”

Louis took a big sip of his water, peering at Harry over the rim of his glass.

“I came because he was here," Harry said. "Only school I applied to.”

Louis swallowed a whole cube of ice and coughed. Across the table, Claire’s gaze slid to him, then back to Harry, and back again. She wasn’t the only one. Hugh was making a study of him. In fact, the only one not studying Harry and Louis was Nate, who was busy clapping Louis on the back.

The waiter came by and asked if they needed more wine and Louis was the first to say yes.

He made it through the rest of the evening, trying hard not to look at Harry, which might have exacerbated Claire’s suspicions. She was always there to catch the glances they snuck at each other.

“Gonna run to the loo,” Louis said while the waiter came around to collect the cheque. He excused himself to the rest of the table and spent a few minutes in the loo, splashing cold water onto his face.

When he came out, the table was empty. His party lingered outside of the restaurant. Nate was holding his jacket and scarf. Harry was nowhere to be seen. The least he could have done was say bye.

“It was nice meeting you,” he said to Nate’s friends, waving goodbye.

He smiled when Nate looped his scarf around his neck for him. “Thanks.”

“Did you want to spend the night?” Nate asked.

Louis shook his head. “Honestly, I’m exhausted. Have an early class tomorrow.”

“Right. That’s okay. Maybe sometime this week?”

“Absolutely,” Louis said, with a smile. “I loved meeting your friends. They’re all great.”

“They love you too. Already told me to bring you around again soon,” Nate said. “Maybe for pool on Wednesday?”

“Sounds good,” Louis said, smiling. He accepted a quick kiss on his mouth and then started in the opposite direction to campus. He passed one of the brick columns surrounding the entrance to the restaurant and slowed to a stop. Harry stood there, against the brick with a cigarette to his lips. He’d burned through most of it, the tips of his fingers around the filter.

“Thought you quit,” Louis said.

Harry glanced at him. “I’m cheating.”

Which he only did when he was anxious. Louis stepped closer, leaning on the brick beside him. He took the cigarette from him, tiny as it was, and smoked the rest of it.

“Want to get a beer?” he asked, tossing the butt to the ground. “That place you like to go to is right on the corner.”

Harry slipped his hands into his pockets. "I’m feeling tired actually."

“Just one pint?” Louis asked. He would have settled for a milkshake from McDonald’s, so long as Harry was there.

“Didn't you just tell your friend that you were tired too?”

“Didn’t know I had an audience,” Louis said. “I can change my mind.”

“That's a little fucked up,” Harry noted.

Louis’ brows furrowed. “Sorry to offend your high morale.”

“I’m just keeping you honest,” Harry said, self-righteously. Louis’ annoyance fluttered like the wings of an angry bird and spread.

“I don't remember you complaining when we were fucking like a week ago.”

“Speaking of which,” Harry said. “Does he know about that?”

“He doesn’t need to,” Louis said.

Harry breathed condescendingly. “Really great way to start a relationship.”

“First, literally, stop being a dick,” Louis said. “And second, we weren’t in a relationship at the time.”

“I'm not being a dick” was all Harry had to say.

“You're being a massive dick,” Louis said.

Harry clenched his jaw and set his gaze on the road. He sighed, dragging a hand across his eyes. “I'm just having a bad day,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry.”

“Maybe just say that next time,” Louis suggested. “Like ‘I'm having a shit day.’ Or ‘caution: don't talk to me.’ Or tell me you need space or whatever. Just say so.”

“I don't,” Harry said quickly. “I don't need space from you. I don't want that.”

“Okay. Well, you probably weren't going to get it anyway, so.” Louis shrugged.

Harry smiled wryly, head ducked.

Louis sort of wanted to kiss him. He wanted them to get drunk and tumble home together. He tapped his shoe against Harry's. “Come on. Let's have us a pint on me. It'll cheer you up.”

Harry shook his head. “I have to pass. Really, I'm tired. Long day.”

Louis nodded. His stomach knotted and twisted. One could liken it to butterflies, if those butterflies were angry and fed on human flesh. "Okay. I hope you feel better then."

Harry smiled. “Yeah. I’ll see you around.”

“Hey,” Louis said, tugging Harry back before he could slip past him. “Can I at least have a hug?”

“Yeah,” Harry said, throwing his arm around Louis’ neck. Louis slid his arms around his waist and rested his forehead against Harry’s collarbone. He squeezed him tightly.

“We’re okay, right?” he asked.

Harry was quiet for a moment. He pulled back and pressed a kiss to Louis’ forehead. “More than, yeah. Love you, Louis.”

“I love you more,” Louis said.

Harry smiled, turning away. He waved and strolled off, head slightly down, hands sliding into his pockets. Something poked at Louis’ heart and tugged on his mind. It nagged him and nagged him as he started home. And only when he got to the door did he realize what it was.

Harry hadn’t said it. For the first time in forever, he hadn’t said it. His phone buzzed in his pocket and he stared at the screen, glowing brightly in the dark of his flat. Relief flooded him and he sank right there against the door.

It was a message from Harry, read simply: “I love you the most.”

 

 

12:06 PM "Hey, I just rang you twice. Wanted to see if you're free for lunch. Or dinner even. Call me when you can. I haven't seen you in days, which is illegal and I'm definitely planning to press charges. Bye."

1:35 PM Soooo I've called three times. If you don't call me in another hour, I'll assume you're lying in a ditch somewhere.

2:28 PM Nick says you're fine and in your room.

4:51 PM is this actually happening?

6:30 PM At least tell me what I did to piss you off???

7:00 PM HElp I think my best mate was left stranded in Australia

7:33 PM Nick says you're stood in the kitchen literally looking at your phone

8:44 PM know wot? fuck you too.

8:46 PM The Dickhead of the Year award definitely goes to you. You knocked all your competitors out of the race. That guy Sam who never called? You beat him by a fucking landslide.

10:00 PM Please talk to me.

10:10 PM “I'm sitting here thinking on the concept of you never speaking to me again and I feel like I'm going to be sick. And I had a really great steak and cheese sandwich for lunch so I don't want to do that. I'm sorry for whatever I did. I don't know what I could've possibly done. If this is about what I said to Michael a few days ago, you and I both know it's the truth. My blow jobs are ten times better then his will ever be. You even said it was funny. I know things have been weird but please just talk to me. Tell me what to do here. You want me to leave you alone? I'm not sure I can do that but I would try if you needed space, babe. I would. Harry… Please call me back. Please? I love you.”

11:12 PM Seriously fuck you.

 

 

By midnight, Louis' voicemails and copious texts and incessant calls remained unacknowledged and unanswered. Harry had never ignored him. Never in the long history of their friendship. Even when he was annoyed with Louis. Even when he was sick or hungover. He always answered him somehow.

And so it was a dramatic conclusion, but the only one Louis could make:

Everything was over.

"What was that you said about Michael earlier?" Zayn asked, returning to the couch with a bottle of water for Louis. (God knew why. Louis wanted hard liquor.) "I overheard you in the loo."

Louis was embarrassed just thinking about what he'd said to Michael. The last time he'd seen Harry was at the bar they all frequented after class. Zayn and Liam and Niall had been there, albeit engaged in other conversations. But Louis was too busy focused on Michael with his arm thrown permanently around Harry's shoulders. He sipped from Harry's glass and whispered in his ear and touched his curls. And Louis-- He drank, pint after pint after pint in an effort to keep his mouth shut.

But Louis never kept his mouth shut.

"My blow jobs are better than his," Louis had said to Harry, sliding up to his opposite side.

Harry looked at him, blinking slowly in that way that infuriated Louis and made him feel boneless at the same time. 

Michael poked his head forward. "What are you two talking about?" he asked as Harry lifted his drink to his mouth.

Louis smiled sweetly. "Just agreeing that I give better blow jobs than you."

Harry choked on his beer a little. To be fair, he should have known not to take a sip right then. Slowly, Michael looked at Harry, sternly, as if they were exclusive, as if he had some right to be mad at him. The only person who got to be mad at Harry was Louis.

And he was mad, he’d realised, for reasons he was too drunk to express at the time.

Harry released an awkward, breathy laugh. "Funny, isn't he?" he said stupidly.

Louis and Michael hadn't laughed with him. Louis hadn't said or done anything at all after that. Nothing that he could remember, anyway. Except hours later, in the middle of the night, he remembered wishing Harry had come home with him.

"It was nothing," Louis said to Zayn. "I was an idiot is all."

He peeked at his mobile sitting on the coffee table, the screen dark.

“You sure you don’t want me to stick around?” Zayn asked, eyeing Louis the way one might study an injured puppy. The pity was more than Louis could handle. He pitied himself quite enough already.

“I’m fine,” Louis said. “Thanks for coming by at all. But I swear I’m fine.”

“I still just don’t get it. I thought you two were fine,” Zayn said.

Louis rested his head on the back of his couch and shut his eyes. “So did I.”

But that wasn’t true. He’d known this was coming since the tent. He and Harry had been on the verge of collapse since May, since he spent nearly five months without him and thought the world was ending. He’d known things were different because they felt different. Every time Harry touched him a nerve ending blew apart, and whenever he felt off centre, it only took one touch to drag him back into focus.

It seemed ridiculous now when things had really truly fallen apart, that this was the moment Louis understood. What he had with Harry wasn’t the kind of thing you had with a friend. It was something you found with a soulmate. Something you found when you fell in love.

And he didn't even know when it began. When had he fallen in love with him? Was it when Harry was fourteen and he was sixteen, slipping a ring of grass onto his finger? Was it the first time they kissed while Harry still wore braces? Was it the day his dad left and Harry spent a whole week snuggling him and baking him biscuits and fixing his tea? Or was it earlier than that? Was it the first time they met in primary school and Harry wouldn't stop staring at Louis with his big, bright, beautiful green eyes? Was it even possible for it to have happened then? So young? Did it even matter when it came to a soulmate? Or was that a league of feeling outside the realm of time and space?

“Okay actually, before you go, I need you to make the strongest drink you can,” Louis said. “Something so potent it's possibly illegal.”

Zayn nodded. “I can do that.”

He stuck around after making his concoction, maybe a little worried that he'd end up killing Louis or something. And then he tucked the blanket around Louis’ feet and left him on the couch.

“It's only been one day, Lou,” he said. “See how it goes tomorrow.”

Louis mumbled something in reply. He didn't hear Zayn leave. Not before he'd fallen asleep.

 

 

He woke to someone trying to break his door down. That was how it sounded to his pulsing brain. He pressed a hand to his temple. “Stop,” he growled and groaned, pressing his face to a throw pillow.

The onslaught continued, the door rattling beneath someone’s fist. Louis tumbled off the couch. He reached for the baseball bat that he and Stan kept by the bookshelf and stumbled off to the door, hoping the person behind it was ready and willing to die.

He yanked it open, baseball bat raised.

“You've got to be fucking joking,” he groaned.

“Can we please talk?” Harry asked, panting.

He looked sort of ridiculous, with a bright yellow headband holding his hair back, and a tattered white shirt, a hole exposing a bit of his stomach and a nipple.

“About you putting your shirt in the blender?” Louis asked.

“Louis,” Harry said firmly.

What? ” Louis shot back. “It’s two in the fucking morning. You haven’t answered my calls or called me back, or texted me back. What could you possibly want to say now at two in the morning that you couldn’t just pick up the phone and say to me earlier?”

“I’ve been thinking. I had to think, Louis,” Harry babbled. “I just needed time to think.”

“Why didn’t you think about how shitty it is of you to cut me off like that? You told me you didn’t need space and then you bloody took it anyway. I would've given it to you, you fucking-- If you said you needed time or something, I would have given it to you.”

“I love you, Louis,” Harry said, his eyes swimming.

Louis ignored the urge to comfort him. “Yeah, you definitely proved it. I’m sleepy and possibly poisoned." He started to shut the door, though all his instincts said to drag Harry inside and fix him a cuppa. "I'm not doing this with you.”

Harry pushed his foot between the door and the frame. They wrestled with their shoulders pressed to the oak for a second, grunting and grappling.

“You’re being a fucking child,” Harry said.

“Fuck you,” Louis shot back, sweat popping on his neck. He groaned and let the door go, allowing Harry to step inside and shut the door behind him. Louis narrowed his eyes, crossing his arms.

“Please let me say this, okay? Please?” Harry begged. “I have to say this now or maybe I never will. I know I hurt you and I’m sorry. But I love you, Louis. And not just in the way we say that to each other sometimes. But in the I-want-to-be-with-you-forever kind of way. Only you. It's only ever been you. What we’ve had is great. It’s always been great. But it’s not enough. Not the sex. Not us being best mates. None of that’s enough anymore.”

Louis’ heart swelled, growing fifty sizes bigger. His eyes stung, but he refused to cry. “You’re saying all of this now because it’s me dating someone. You’re always the one dating someone and it’s clearly only okay when you do it,” he said. “You’re so full of shit.”

"I'm saying all of this now because I spent a whole summer without you and it was the worst summer of my life. And then I came back here expecting things to be normal but they haven't been at all. It's not enough anymore. I want more. I want all of you," Harry said with both hands over his heart. “I don’t even look at other people the way I look at you. They're all just in the way of seeing you. And, like, it doesn’t even matter 'cause I see you anyway."

“That doesn’t even make sense.” It sort of made sense. And it struck Louis’ heart like it was meant to. All of it struck Louis mercilessly. He'd never actually stood a chance.

“I’ve never dated anyone seriously because I never wanted to," Harry said. "Me and you both, we get into relationships for weeks or maybe a few months if we’re lucky, only to find some reason why it doesn’t work. Why it doesn’t stick. It’s because we never wanted it to. I never wanted anything serious with anyone but you." He took a step closer. “You don’t even like that guy, Nat or Newt, whatever the fuck he’s called -- you don’t even like him.”

“You know his name is Nate,” Louis said dryly.

“I don’t give a fuck what his name is. You don’t like him. You like me. Love me. You want me. Tell me I’m wrong. I know you better than your own mum, Louis. Look at me and tell me I’m wrong. Tell me it's going to feel like this with someone else.”

Louis clenched his jaw, and of course, he looked away.

“Louis.”

Louis pressed his palms to his face, skin burning. “I don’t know how to date you, Harry.”

“But you want to?” Harry asked.

“I hate when you ask questions you already know the answer to,” Louis said, massaging his temples. “I’m fucking mad at you. That shit you pulled today? That hurt.”

“I know. I’m so sorry,” Harry said. “I just got scared.”

“Why? It’s just me. You know me.”

“Not with this,” Harry said. He stood there with his toes turned into each other, shoulders slumped, and he did look scared, and young. “You’ve always been the one to do things first. You kissed me first when we were kids. You proposed first. I’ve always just been following your lead. I figured if you wanted this, you would have said it. But you never did.”

“I didn’t know I wanted it,” Louis said.

“Me neither,” Harry said.

Louis drummed his fingers on his thigh. For a moment, he looked everywhere but directly at Harry, standing there in his hallway, looking like the boy he’d shared his first kiss with again. He adjusted his fringe. “So, what do we do now?”

“Are you saying yes?”

“To what, exactly?” Louis asked.

Harry hesitated. “I don’t know…”

“We’re hopeless,” Louis decided.

Harry laughed softly. He licked his lips. “You love me?”

“The most,” Louis said simply.

Harry smiled, dimple returning after its long absence. “You want me?”

“More than anyone,” Louis said.

“You’ll break up with Newt?”

Louis narrowed his eyes. “On second thought, I hate you.”

Harry laughed. “Will you?”

“I already did,” Louis said. “Like three days ago.”

Harry looked like a kid with an ice cream cone, assuming the kid wasn’t lactose intolerant. “Then you’ll be with me? Like for real?”

“Yes,” Louis said.

Harry exhaled, scrubbing his face with his hands. “Okay. Should we like change our status on Facebook now?”

“Harry, please shut up, and get over here,” Louis said, pointing at the space in front of him. Harry stepped close and Louis grabbed hold of his already tattered shirt. “Don’t do that silent treatment shit to me again.”

“I won’t,” Harry said, resting his forehead against Louis’. “I promise.”

He lifted his hands to Louis’ face, stroking his thumbs back and forth. “Can I maybe kiss you now?”

“You’ve never had to ask before,” Louis told him.

“This is different,” Harry said, tapping his thumb on Louis’ bottom lip. “This'll be the first kiss I give you as your boyfriend.”

Louis scoffed, pretending his cheeks didn’t get a few degrees warmer. “I’ll take that note of sappiness and raise you this: It might be the first time as my boyfriend,” he said. “But I’m pretty sure you’re my soulmate or something, and that’s been true for ages."

Harry grinned. “You’re a sop.”

“You started it,” Louis said, pushing himself up on his tippy toes. “Now shut up and kiss me.”

 

 

They still farted around each other and sat around in their pants in lieu of going out. Louis still made it a habit to yank Harry’s trousers down to his ankles when they were with friends or hide his headbands and boots. Louis was still his best mate. Still his favorite nuisance.

But things had changed too. They went on dates and held hands and kissed until everyone was sick of them. Harry sent flowers on the first day of Louis’ internship with a ‘good luck’ note in his cursive. Louis hadn’t found a way to pay him back for that just yet, but he would.

They were moving in together, carving out a life with each other. When they talked about forever, this time they meant it. 

“I love you,” Louis said every night, regardless of where they were.

“I love you more,” Harry always answered.

Louis would smile. Lately, he never stopped smiling. “I love you most.”