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Promise Not To Stop When I Say When

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and I wonder
when I sing along with you
if everything could ever feel this real forever
if anything could ever be this good again



Where you at love?he texts, standing on his toes to look across the crowded room, the other boys dispersing around him, going off for more drinks or hors d’oeuvres or to stand tongue-tied next to people much cooler than them.

Making new friends at the bar ;) she texts back, so Louis grabs Liam and heads in that direction.

They're having a laugh about something stupid when Liam's face changes and he puts a hand to Louis's chest, stopping him. "Er," Liam says, sounding perplexed, "Look who's got Eleanor's attention."

It’s almost cinematic, the way the crowd seems to part, so ten paces away he’s already got a clear view of her talking to fucking Max from the fucking Wanted. Louis plasters a smile on his face and leaves Liam behind so that he can put an arm around Eleanor’s waist and look straight into Max’s eyes. “Oh, dear,” he says jovially, “you’d be better off not talking to this one, El. A right menace to society he is.”

He's starting to pull her away when Eleanor tugs his arm. She's smiling like it's a joke when she says, "Oh, you two know each other?" Max laughs loudly and claps Louis on the shoulder. Louis glances down at his hand before shrugging it off and turning to leave without further comment.

"Oi, Tomlinson," Max says with a broad smile, like they're all jolly friends, "your friend is lovely. Can't believe she puts up with the likes of you."

Louis doesn't even recognize that he's spoken. He simply steers Eleanor off without saying a single word in response to Max, and she’s crowded tensely against him, frowning, and Louis can’t help thinking about that bloody winky face in her text. As though she didn’t know better than picking the absolute worst person at the party to have a drink with.

“What was that?” he asks under his breath.

“Yeah,” she replies. “That’s what I’d like to know.”

Eleanor doesn’t get angry often. It takes a lot to get her to this kind of seething silence, and Louis's rarely caused it himself. But right now it just makes him more irritated. “We don’t talk to them,” he tells her, glancing around for the handful of circulating photographers at the party, as well as anyone he knows. “They’re not people you want to be friends with.”

Eleanor’s eyes go wide. “They’re not people you want to be friends with. I can be friends with whoever I jolly well please. I’m a grown woman, Lou.”

“Yeah, and you’re only here because of me.” He sees Liam approaching over her shoulder and immediately calls out to him, ignoring Eleanor’s disbelieving face. “We’ll talk later,” he says.

“You’re right. We will.”

For the rest of the night he cracks jokes and tousles Niall’s hair and tickles Liam whenever he tries to talk to anyone who isn’t them, but inside he can’t help trying to put the pieces together. Eleanor knew about the feud. She’s seen the Twitter war and all the speculation, and all the shit Max and his friends have said about their band. She’s supposed to be on their side. And in spite of all that, she fucking sought him out at the party and then had to be flip about it, like it was nothing at all for Louis to walk up and see his girlfriend laughing with that absolute prick. And now she’s just chatting and laughing as though nothing happened, letting the other lads bring her drinks and point out who’s who in the crowd.

By the time they get back to the hotel, he feels about ready to explode. He closes the door to their room, but before he can say a word, Eleanor says, “What the fuck was that tonight?”

Louis raises his eyebrows. “You mean you chatting up someone you shouldn’t even be speaking to? Yeah, I wondered what the fuck that was myself.”

She kicks off her shoes so hard that one of them crashes into the wall and bounces. Neither of them look. “‘Someone I shouldn’t be speaking to’? What right could you possibly have to tell me who I can speak to?”

Louis shoves off his jacket and drops into a chair. “He’s not a nice person, El. They’ve talked so much shit about us at this point that it’s not… It’s not just a joke or whatever. It’s not just some game between us and them. They don’t wish us well, and if we ever ran into them somewhere without security, they wouldn’t hesitate for one second to mess with us for real.”

She actually laughs at that. Which, god, is so much worse. That even when he explains, she doesn’t get it. “You’re boy bands, for god’s sake. You’re not in bloody West Side Story. What kind of ridiculous fight is this? You could all just call it off anytime.”

“Not if you go round flirting with fucking Max we can’t.”

“I wasn’t flirting. I was talking, politely, just like people all over the world do at parties all the fucking time.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “Well, it’s going to look like flirting when it’s all over the bloody internet tomorrow morning. Is that what you want? More rumours? I thought you understood, how it was, how when we’re out, it’s not just you and me. It’s you and me and the whole bloody rest of the world watching.”

She takes a step closer to him, and he can see the angry flush of her cheeks, the tears standing in her eyes, all the more clearly. Her voice goes low and hurt. “You think I don’t understand that? You think I don’t know? God, Lou, every single day I still get email from girls who hate me, who tell me they wish I were dead. Even when I’m not with you, I can’t ever forget what being with you means. How could you even question that?” She wipes angrily at her eyes.

He shakes his head. It’s awful, seeing her cry, but more awful is the raw feeling in the pit of his stomach, imagining the gossip blogs, imagining having to defend himself all over again. “I’m just so tired of it,” he says, trying to explain. “I’m so tired of everyone mixing in and starting rumours. And now you just had to go and chat to Max George at a party, so I’ll never hear the end of it.”

Eleanor presses her lips together, opens her hands like she wants to plead with him and then balls them into fists instead. “Do you think I’m not tired of it? God, Lou, I didn’t ask for any of this. You’re great. You have been great, but every single time I said it was awful and the way everyone acted was awful, you said it didn’t matter at all because we know what’s true and fuck everyone else. Right? Isn’t that what you’ve told me over and over again?”

“Of course, but that’s… it’s different.”

“Yeah, and why’s it different? Just because it’s about me and not you? Why’s the image the important thing now? Why’s it matter if they think I’m a cheating slut instead of a beard?”

He flinches at the venom behind the words, but he can’t answer her. It is different, he knows it is, but he can’t explain it to her, the way it felt to see her with Max, her doing that to them—all of them, not just him—without even thinking about it.

After a long while she says softly, “Maybe that’s what it always is, when we’re out together. Part of the image. I really thought you meant all that about it not mattering what people thought if we knew the truth. But I guess… If you only want me as long as I’m a good little girl who fits into your publicity scheme, well.”

“I don’t,” Louis says helplessly. “I don’t. You just don’t understand.”

“Yeah,” she replies. “Actually, I do.”

Half an hour later, he’s standing in the hotel corridor, his whole body aching with grief, looking at the line of the other boys’ closed doors and wondering where on earth he should go.

He just needs a place to kip for the night, to give her some space. Probably.

It's not until the quiet after he knocks, the moments when he's waiting to see if anyone's heard him that he realizes that he should have bunked with Liam, of course. Zayn's got Perrie visiting, and Niall's got Bressie in his room, and Louis is not at all enthused about waking up such a large person. And Harry is very likely not to be alone. Or he might be on the phone to London, trying to catch Nick before work. It’s late/early enough for that. And Harry and Nick are odd enough for that.

But he's already knocked, so he waits. When he doesn't hear anything for a long moment he exhales loudly and looks down the corridor, trying to recall which room is Liam's.

But then the door is opening, and Harry is standing there, looking sleep-mussed and confused, wrapped in a sheet. Louis opens his mouth to say something, but he can’t. Words won’t come and he doesn’t know what he would say even if they would.

"Louis," Harry rasps, voice thick with sleep. "All right?" Louis nods at him in confirmation, but Harry just stands there, peering at him. Louis can't really look him in the face, can't explain himself, just wants Harry to let him in so he can sleep. Fortunately it's only a short moment before Harry steps aside and holds the door open for Louis, letting him pass through without a word.


+ + +

In the morning he wakes to find Harry watching him from the other bed. "Eleanor's gone back to Manchester," Harry says, voice still hoarse from the early hour, before Louis has a chance to blink fully awake.

Louis raises an eyebrow at him, and Harry lifts Louis's mobile from the nightstand as an explanation. Louis puts out his hand, and Harry tosses it to him. There's a text, not from Eleanor, but from Dana, who manages their itinerary. She'd arranged a car and flight for Eleanor early this morning. FYI, it reads.

So the space of separate hotel rooms was apparently insufficient. Louis chucks his phone back on the nightstand, closing his eyes again briefly.

"Morning," he says then, because factually that's what it is.

"Mm," Harry answers, still watching him with a bit more intensity than Louis would like.

Louis clears his throat, rasps out, “I need a shower." It occurs to him briefly that he's free to return to his own room, if Eleanor's gone. He lets the thought go. He doesn't need a reminder of how different things were twelve hours ago, not when being in Harry's room reminds him of how different things were twelve months ago. "You need the loo before I hop in?”

Harry shakes his head, says, “I ordered breakfast. It’ll be here when you get out.”

“Cheers,” Louis says, and stumbles to the toilet, thankful that Harry’s not asking him any questions.

He takes a long shower, letting himself enjoy the water pressure, and replays the situation from the previous night in his mind. There’s a tight feeling in his chest that threatens to creep up to his throat, so he hums a little, trying to loosen it all up.

When he gets out, Harry’s not there, and neither are Louis's clothes. Louis sighs, shakes his head and stares over at Harry’s bag, at the clothes folded neatly in view. A knock on the door startles him, and he ducks back into the toilet to pull on the hotel dressing gown.

A woman in a hotel staff uniform greets him as Mr. Tomlinson at the door, asks him politely if she can bring breakfast in for him. Louis fights the urge to wince that she knows who he is, and that he’s Mr. Tomlinson, nude save for a dressing gown in Mr. Styles’ suite.

Minutes after she's left, the phone rings. Louis picks it up in the bedroom. "Hello?"

"It's Harry."

"Harry?" Louis asks, bewildered.

"Styles," Harry says, sounding awkward.

Louis smiles into the phone without thinking, because for fuck's sake, Harry. "I think I've heard of you," he says. "Any reason you nicked my underpants, Harry Styles?"

Harry snorts into the phone. "Yeah, yes. I've fucked off back to England with your girlfriend and I've stolen your arse-warm pants as a memento."

It would be funny in any other situation, Louis supposes. "You probably would," Louis says, and it falls just as flat.

"I put your clothes in the laundry bag," Harry says after a pause that is just one beat too long to be comfortable. "Came to your room to pick up your things."

Well that was very fucking thoughtful, but Louis is still rattled by the girlfriend mention.

"Is there anything I need to get besides your suit, your bag, and the things in the bathroom?"

"That should do it," Louis says, and hangs up without saying thank you.

Harry returns short minutes later, also presumably nude under a hotel bathrobe, hotel monogrammed slippers on his feet, hair dripping and uncharacteristically combed away from his face in a way that makes him look older than his age. He's got Louis's bag slung over his shoulder, and looks wary, like he's afraid of setting Louis off.

"Showered at yours," he says. "Your stuff's all here, I think. Oh! Breakfast!"

Louis stares at him while he pulls the lids off the various plates of food. He watches Harry wiggle out of the sleeves of the robe, so that it drops away from his tattoo-spattered chest and clings to his hips. Harry bounces down onto the bed and pulls the wheeled-table so that it's close enough to eat from. He smiles up at Louis and pats the mattress next to him.

It's jarring that Harry looks so familiar like this, after all this time, and after all the ways in which Harry has become a stranger to Louis.

Louis raises an eyebrow. "You normally eat like this?"

Harry stares at him, glass of orange juice paused halfway to his mouth. "Naked?"

"Six courses," Louis clarifies, gesturing at the breakfast buffet Harry has ordered.

Harry shrugs. "Thought you'd be hungry." He juts his chin out, indicating the food. "Ordered banana pancakes," he says. He doesn't ask if they're still Louis's favorite thing about America, or add on that they're probably not as good as the breakfast Harry used to make for him, and Louis is grateful for that.

His shoulders droop suddenly, a release of tension he hadn't realized he'd been holding in. He shakes his head at Harry, and puts on his best incredulous expression. "Did you also think I'd turn into four people?"

"Louis," Harry whines, piercing a chunk of banana pancake with his fork and waving it in the air. "Banana pancakes," he sing-songs.

"Teenagers," Louis mutters with faux-exasperation as he leans over and accepts the bite.

Harry just grins at him, teeth full of blueberries.


+ + +

Everything after that is awful for a while.

+ + +

MaxTheWanted: great party last night! thx @justinbieber, u da man
zaynmalik:@MaxTheWanted party ended when you got there

MaxTheWanted: @zaynmalik can't help but notice u didn't say a peep to my face, chicken.
zaynmalik: @MaxTheWanted wait and see what I'm going to do to your face when I see you next

MaxTheWanted: don't know why the @onedirection lads are so rude. their lady friends are much nicer. very smiley. :D
zaynmalik: @MaxTheWanted they were laughing at you, mate
MaxTheWanted: @zaynmalik lol keep telling urself that
zaynmalik: @MaxTheWanted I'll tell you myself. Got your number from your publicist.
zaynmalik: 020 8431 7789
zaynmalik: For our American friends that's +44 20 8431 7789


+ + +

On Wednesday, Kirsten gives Louis a kind, slightly pitying smile, and asks if he’s ready. They’re sat at a conference table that is much too big for the two of them behind the frosted glass doors of the hotel business center. He isn’t ready, and he won’t be, but they’ve talked through all the options, and this is what’s left. She dials Eleanor on her iPhone and sets it in the centre of the table, ringing through the speaker. Louis folds his hands in his lap and feels very small. It’s been three days since she left without saying goodbye, and Louis has quietly fiddled with his phone and composed about a hundred texts he couldn’t send in the interim. He’s a bloody coward that he’s made management handle his breakup for him. But every time he remembers Eleanor saying he only wanted her for publicity, his stomach knots up and he can’t think of a single thing to say that would make it right, only a lot of things that would make it worse.

Eleanor picks up, and the sound of her voice, tentative and far away, makes him want to ring off immediately. But Kirsten is already talking to her. “Did you get the papers I sent?” she asks, and Louis knows she means the non-disclosure agreement he swore they wouldn’t need because whatever Eleanor may think of him just now, talking to a tabloid will be the last thing on her mind.

“Yeah,” says Eleanor. “They’re all signed. I just wasn’t sure whether to post them or…”

“I’ll email you the address,” says Kirsten. She looks up at Louis and smiles. “So I’ve got Louis with me here. And I thought we could talk about what the two of you are going to do next.”

“Hi, Eleanor,” Louis says awkwardly, looking at the phone.

“Hi, Lou,” she replies. She doesn’t sound angry now, just sad, tired, the way he must sound, too.

“I know this isn’t easy, but we can try to make it so at least it doesn’t get any worse. No one know has to know anything about the two of you except what you tell them.”

Why do we have to tell them anything? Louis had asked when she’d given him that line yesterday. And she’d looked at him like he was the thickest person who ever lived and said, Because you’re an international pop star, and people watch what you do and how you behave.

“Do I have to tell them anything?” Eleanor asks. “Do I have to give interviews or anything?”

“Not if you don’t want to. We can just release a statement, and that can be that. Although you know the agreement you signed says you’ll have to run anything you do want to say by us first.”

“Right. Yeah. I don’t think I really want to say anything, you know? I’d rather just put it behind me.”

Louis wishes he could see her face, see if she means it as cold as it sounds, like she’s ready to forget he ever existed. After four fucking days. He tries to be angry, but the feeling just slips away from him. He’s put her through a whole fucking lot.

“I was thinking,” she continues, when neither of them says anything, “I’d like to delete my twitter. Would that be all right?” Louis thinks about Zayn’s vicious tweets at The Wanted in the last few days, and he wonders what that looks like to her now that she’s not in it anymore, now that she’s not part of the band and their problems. Maybe his life is just too mad for anyone to really fit into it.

Kirsten makes a note of that. “If that would make you more comfortable, that’s fine. But you both know people will still talk.”

Eleanor gives a bitter little laugh. “That’s nothing new.”

He’s stupid. He’s so bloody stupid for getting her into this, with all the chatter, all the Larry Stylinson nonsense. “El,” he says, before he can even really think about it. “I’m really sorry.”

She’s quiet for a long time, and he looks around the room, at the light fixture on the ceiling, at the phone to make sure it’s even still on, everywhere but at Kirsten’s face because he doesn’t need anyone’s pity just now, thanks. “I know,” says Eleanor finally. “I know you are.”

Kirsten clears her throat in the thick silence. “I’ve put together a statement, which Louis's seen, just to say, look, this is what’s happened. You should have it in your email and you can take a look. Basically, it says the two of you have chosen to end your relationship, but you still care about each other very much and each think the other is a lovely person. Is that all right to say, Eleanor?”

“Yeah,” she says. “That’s all right.”

She’d asked Louis some more prying questions yesterday, how things had been between them in general, what they’d fought about that had her leaving so suddenly, whether either of them was involved with anyone else. “No,” he’d said. “I wouldn’t do that. She wouldn’t do that.” And he knows it’s true, which makes it worse that he’d got so worked up about her just talking to some arsehole at a party.

Kirsten doesn’t ask Eleanor any of that. She just nods and makes another note. “Do you plan to have much contact after this?”

“No,” says Eleanor, too quickly. “At least not for a while. I just need to stay out of all this madness, I think.”

Louis looks at his folded hands, fights the urge to fidget like he usually would. She was going to come for Christmas with his family, and now that’s just gone, even their friendship swept away. Kirsten is still talking to Eleanor, but he tunes them out, gets lost in his own head a bit until Kirsten says, “I think that’s about it then. Louis, is there anything else you want to say?”

He nods, leaning in closer to the phone. “I just. I hope it won’t always be like this.”

Eleanor says nothing until Kirsten prompts her. “Eleanor, what about you?”

“I guess just, goodbye. We should say that, right?”

And that’s it. That’s the end. When Kirsten rings off, Louis doesn’t move, even though he’d like to be anywhere else in the world rather than here. When he gets out of the conference room, he checks his phone and sees a text from Liam that they’re all watching a film in his room if Louis wants to join.

As soon as he knocks, the quiet in the room says they’ve all been waiting for him, strategizing around him, which is sweet at the same time it’s horrible.

“Hello, boys,” Louis says. “What are we watching?”

Dark Knight,” says Zayn. There’s a space between him and Harry on the bed that Louis fits right into, his head on Niall’s thigh, Liam curled around all of them. They’ve all seen the film before, so they talk over it, Zayn rhapsodizing about Batman like usual. Liam orders room service halfway through, and it’s like any other night off on the road, all five of them laughing and chatting. But when Liam boots them out at midnight, Louis hesitates. He doesn’t really want to be alone with his thoughts.

“Do you want to bunk here?” Liam asks, like he can sense it.

“Yeah. Yeah, I really do.”

In bed in the dark, Liam says, “Do you want to talk about it? You know, Eleanor?”

“No,” says Louis shortly. “I’d rather talk about anything else in the world.”

“So, um, sharks then?”

“Bitey,” says Louis.

“They’re fish, right? Not like dolphins and all?”

“Yeah, I think so.” Louis pauses, decides to go with it. “Dolphins can be pretty vicious, did you know?”

"I think there's an aquarium here," Liam says. "In Coney Island. Dat's in Brooklyn," he says, doing a horrible imitation of a New York accent.

Louis hums and presses his face into the pillow.

"We should go," Liam says. "Before we go home."

Louis sniffs but doesn't answer right away. He doesn't want to think about going home, about seeing his mum and sisters and the pitying faces they're going give him.

"Maybe we could see a dolphin fight," Liam offers. "Do they do that at aquariums?"

Louis can't fight down the smile. "Probably in Brooklyn."


+ + +

Real_Liam_Payne: cant believe theres no dolfin fights at ny aquariam the baby walrous was sickkkk tho

+ + +

By the time they land at Heathrow the news is out. He can tell by the way Harry looks up from his phone, face grim. "That bad?" Louis asks, even though he really doesn't want to know.

"It'll pass," Harry says.

Louis nods even though he knows it's going to be awful, all the speculation. He stares out of the window of the plane, waiting for Liam to finish gathering his things so that they can head into the airport and face the inevitable crowd.

He jumps a little, not expecting it when Harry's arms snake around his waist, pulling him into a backwards hug. It's good though. It's so good that Louis's eyes go a little wet, and he slumps back against Harry's chest. "You're good," Harry murmurs, face pressed against Louis's temple. "You're going to be fine."

"Yeah, I know," Louis says, nodding his head again and patting Harry's arm. It's not that big of a deal. He's not even the first of them to deal with a breakup publicly.

Harry doesn't let him go until they're off the plane, and even then it's not until Louis shakes him off.

Harry's face quickly goes blank, like he's been reprimanded. One of Harry's hands is still raised, like he doesn't know what to do with it now. Louis swallows and looks away from him as they start walking through the terminal. "Best not," he says, lifting his chin in the direction of the throng of fans and zoom-lensed paparazzi waiting for them just past security.

He doesn't look in Harry's direction again, making sure to stick close to Liam and laugh every now and then.


+ + +

There’s a period of time after they get back to London when Louis becomes acutely aware of how the people close to him are behaving. Nobody outright mentions Eleanor, not much, anyway, which is odd in itself, but the absence of her name, of her presence, sinks into almost every human interaction Louis has for about two weeks.

Zayn’s always been quiet and oddly not-present when they’re in London, and that doesn’t change. Louis doesn’t see Zayn at all until rehearsals begin, but Zayn seems to have taken up Louis's issues with the entirety of The Wanted, along with most of their fans.

It’s odd given Zayn’s general unwillingness to engage in his own celebrity, usually opting to stay quiet on Twitter and keep a low-key presence at events. But now Zayn is positively rabble-rousing, ringing Louis late at night from one of Perrie’s hotel rooms to read him tweets and giggle.

Liam steadily doesn’t ask about Eleanor, which would be fine if it didn’t also mean that Liam felt he shouldn’t talk about Danielle either, like the broad topic of girlfriends was simply off-limits. It becomes particularly difficult for Liam when things start getting good between him and Danielle again, and sometimes Louis will catch him looking like he’s about to burst, dying to tell Louis every detail about how she’d smiled this or that time, and so Louis makes sure to ask Liam about her every chance he gets. Every time he does, Liam’s face goes through this comically obvious transition from surprise to guilt to relief to absolutely fucking dopey.

Still, Liam seems to feel uncomfortable talking about it, and that’s perfectly fine by Louis. Instead, they fill a few days with increasingly adventurous adventures, starting with a trip to race Formula One cars in Valencia, which is absolutely sick. It helps, because then Liam can natter on about the tires and the noise and how they’d sung to each other via the in-helmet mics, rather than feeling tempted to talk about his too-big heart, or make Louis feel bad about his shriveled one.

It seems to work, up until Louis suggests a trip to St Moritz for luge lessons (“it’ll be just like Dr Evil!”) and their management team puts a stop to any further life-threatening activities.

The timing is probably convenient in the end, because the fun-embargo coincides with a break in Danielle’s touring schedule. Louis makes up all sorts of things to do so that Liam won’t feel guilty about spending time with her, instead of with Louis. It’s difficult, initially, because Liam is always so bloody helpful, so when Louis says he needs to clean his flat, Liam shows up with a few packs of Stella and a dust mop, which is lovely except for how it means that Louis actually has to clean his flat, which is a complete waste since the housecleaner had been by only two days prior.

The next day, Harry calls him, says he’s baking and wants Louis to come be his cake-taster. Louis isn’t all that keen on eating cake, but it sounds like something he can reasonably explain to Liam without Liam tagging along, so he says yes. He can practically hear Harry’s grin over his mobile.

The baking project seems to have no end in sight, however, and one day stretches into four consecutive days of endless sweets, dried batter under his fingernails and flour all over Harry’s ridiculous hair. On the fifth day, he shows up at Harry’s with an apron that has inflatable breasts that top off a drawing of a woman in lingerie. Harry squeaks with delight and refuses to take it off, even when the baking is long over and they’re curled up in the lounge playing FIFA.

In general, being at Harry’s is nice. Harry doesn’t have a girlfriend and while he tends to spend his time hopping from nightclub to nightclub, it's more from a desire to not be alone rather than enjoying the drinks and the music, so he’s happy to have Louis kip at his for the night, and doesn’t care if Louis has nowhere to go the next day. He doesn’t ask about Eleanor, but it’s not an abrupt change. His relationship with Harry has precluded discussions about relationships for a long while, certainly before Eleanor even entered the picture.

There are, however, two significant downsides to spending so much time with Harry. The first is the constant barrage of food. He’s not sure if cooking is Harry’s way to mother-hen him, but there is food everywhere, all the time, and a pout on Harry’s face if Louis pushes back and says, “I’m full, Hazza, can’t eat another bite,” or “Mind if we skip dinner? I’m still digesting lunch.” It’s all well and good for Harry, who’s built like a praying mantis with tight abs. Whatever Harry eats just seems to stretch out along his lean body, but Louis doesn’t have the advantage of a perpetual growth-spurt. Pasta and freshly baked breads and fruitcakes settle right on his belly, thicken his thighs, and plump up his bum in a way that doesn’t help to de-emphasize it.

On Tuesday, Harry answers the door holding a tray of still steaming berry scones. “Christ, Harry,” Louis groans. “What are you trying to do to me?”

Harry grins and steps aside, letting Louis brush past him into the house, which smells of butter and cinnamon. “Give you tea and then destroy you at FIFA Ultimate?”

“No, no,” Louis huffs, following Harry into the kitchen. “I see what you’re doing, and it’s rude, Harold.”

Harry hums while he arranges the scones on a plate and brings them to the counter, where there’s marmalade and tea waiting for them. “What am I doing, then?” he asks, shaking his hair and pushing it to the side. His cheeks are pink from the heat of the oven, and he’s looking at Louis with a half-smile, like he’s humoring him.

Louis points a finger at Harry’s chest and pokes him with it. “You’re making me fat,” he says, narrowing his eyes. “You keep stuffing me with food and pretending you’re being a good friend, but I see through you.”

Harry barks out a laugh. “You’re right,” he says. “You’ve caught me out. I’ve got a chubby fetish.”

“I believe you do,” Louis sniffs and spreads some marmalade on a scone anyway.

Harry leans over, then, giving Louis's backside an exaggerated leer. “Mmm, it does look like there’s more of you to love, actually,” he says with a smile. “Wait, maybe I’d better have a feel for myself. Could just be the lighting in here.” Louis gives him a dark look, but Harry just grins and wiggles his hands. “Come and let a mate have a squeeze, yeah? For old time’s sake?”

Louis chokes a bit at that, bits of scone crumbling down his windpipe. “Get away from my arse,” he manages, swiveling his hips out of the way and hoping that Harry doesn’t notice how his cheeks have gone hot.

Harry chuckles and smiles down at his own tea as he stirs it. They’re quiet for a bit, and Louis lets himself relax from the odd panic that had crept up when Harry had referenced old times. It’s ridiculous that it still rattles him when Harry flirts. It was so long ago that they were— whatever they were. It’s barely a memory now.

He looks up and catches Harry staring at him with a soft smile on his face. “Whuh?” Louis says around a mouthful of scone. Harry’s smile changes then, gets bigger and more familiar.

“I was just thinking,” Harry says, leaning down on his elbows. “I know you like to natter on about being fat—”

Louis swallows and grins, knowing there are likely berries in his teeth. “But you love my little things?”

It draws another loud bark of a laugh from Harry, and Louis chuckles along with him as Harry starts to gather up their plates. “I was just gonna say,” Harry says, over his shoulder as he heads to the sink. “That you look really good, Lou.” There’s a clatter of dishes and the sound of the tap, but none of it detracts from how serious Harry sounds all of a sudden. Serious and fond, really. “You always look really, really good.”

He’s turned away from Louis, but Louis can see how the back of Harry’s neck and ears have gone pink. It makes something flutter in his chest, but it doesn’t stop him from falling asleep on Harry’s sofa that night, or from hanging around the next day, or the day after. In fact, Louis might have stayed the full week had it not been for the second downside of spending so much time with Harry: Nick Grimshaw.

Of course he’d be around; Nick is one of Harry’s closest friends, the kind of friend he sleeps with sometimes if the love bites on Harry’s belly after he’s been at Nick’s are any indication. But to Louis, Nick is like a rash that won’t go away. For the first few days that Louis spends with Harry, Nick isn’t around, but slowly after that he starts popping up more and more.

Every text that pulls Harry’s attention away, making him pause the video game or cut off in the middle of a too-long, too-dull story is from Nick Grimshaw. Harry’s house is like a fortress, and Louis is able to relax there largely because nobody stops by unannounced. Except for Nick Grimshaw, apparently, because there he is at noon on a Saturday, bustling in with kindling wood for Harry's fireplace (Harry's gas-powered fireplace) and imposing ridiculous air-kisses on both of Louis's cheeks. There he is after dinner on Tuesday evening, drawing 'practice tattoos' on Harry's arm with eyeliner, and making Louis scuttle away when Nick turns in his direction, offering with a wink to draw on Louis's bum.

Nick’s an all right bloke, there’s nothing inherently unpleasant about him, but he makes Louis uncomfortable. Nick is a personified reminder of all of the things about Harry that Louis doesn’t know, inside jokes and stories, concert t-shirts and soft touches that tell their own tales of nights that Louis wasn’t a part of. Initially Harry seemed to schedule his Nick-time to coincide with the times when Louis actually went back to his own flat, but then it progressed to hushed conversations in the kitchen while Louis was sleeping upstairs, and eventually Nick was just sitting right there with them in the lounge, making conversation with Louis while Harry looked back and forth between them, smiling.

It's fine. There's no reason why it wouldn't be fine. But if it weren't for Nick and all of the food, Louis would be perfectly content spending most of his time with Harry.

The only person who doesn't act differently around Louis at all is Niall. Louis is honestly unsure if it's because Niall doesn't see a reason to treat him differently, or if he's actually forgotten about what had happened in New York. It's tough to tell with Niall sometimes.

Niall rings him up every few days, like he always has, and invites him for pints with his Irish ex-pat mates. Niall texts him when Anchorman comes on the telly, and then texts him funny lines from the film for the next two hours. Niall brings food over to Louis's flat, but ends up eating most of it. Niall likes watching football with Louis, cheers and boos at all of the right moments, and then rattles on about Bressie whenever Louis goes quiet for too long.

It's ironic, because Niall's completely normal behavior is what makes Louis love him all that much more. Niall is there for him now as he's always been, but there's none of Liam's pity, Zayn's rage or Harry's flirting or baking or hipster DJ infestation. It's not lost on Louis that he should probably be spending his days with Niall, but his capacity for suffering at the hand of Harry Styles is not to be underestimated. Eventually he finds a way to combine the two.

“Thank fuck you’re here,” Louis says on Thursday afternoon, throwing his arms around Niall and dragging him into Harry’s house. “There’s so much food,” he groans. “You’ve got to eat it.”

“Cheers,” Niall says happily and heads directly to Harry’s kitchen, not even pausing to give Louis a somber look and offer him a reassuring man-pat like the others have been doing every time they see him. “Christ, what’s Harry been up to? Throwing banquets?”

The kitchen is spotlessly clean, because Harry is neurotic, but you’d hardly be able to tell given that every single flat surface is covered with a baking dish or a platter of food. There are two cakes, a pot pie, a tray of pasta with sausages and vegetables, and three different types of muffins. “He’s gone absolutely mad,” Louis says, gesturing at all of it. “Every time I’m here, he cooks like some sort of psychopath.”

“Been here a lot, then?” Niall doesn’t seem bothered by Harry’s erratic behavior. He heaps a plate full, settles in at the kitchen counter.

“A bit,” Louis hedges. “Don’t feel like being at mine lately.”

Niall doesn’t press the issue. “Grab me a drink,” he mumbles, mouth full of pasta. Louis rifles through Harry’s fridge for a beer, only to have Niall shake it off. “Nah, not beer. Just had a bit of a toke before coming over.”

Louis raises an eyebrow with interest as he hands Niall some weird fruit-flavored fizzy drink instead. “You smoked?”

Niall grins, braces full of tomato bits. “Yeah, I’ll hook you up, Tommo. Don’t worry.”

Why hadn’t he thought of that? That’s exactly what he needs. A joint or two will relax him, get Eleanor off his mind, get him to stop fidgeting around Harry, set everything back in order.

“Where’s she at now?”

Louis looks up sharply. “How should I know? We aren’t exactly pen pals, are we?”

“Meant psychotic Nigella,” Niall says, waving around at the kitchen as he shovels another bite into his mouth.

“Ah,” Louis says, feeling his pulse slow down. He hasn’t made any Harry’s-a-girl jokes in awhile, but it was something he used to do all the time... before. Back when Harry was just a kid, more adorable than attractive in any real way and he would preen whenever Louis called him pretty, when Louis would stroke his hair and murmur little sweetheart, look at that pretty face. A memory flashes at him, a momentary little zap of Harry curled up with him on a couch, face too close. Pretty enough to kiss? Harry had asked him, murmuring into the side of Louis's face, and the tinge of hopefulness Louis remembers in his voice makes his stomach clench, sets his fingertips buzzing. He swallows down the memory, looks back at Niall. “Tesco run, if you can believe it. Ran out of butter.”

They’re quiet for a moment, Niall chewing and Louis staring dazedly out the window. He feels a little sheepish for nearly biting Niall’s head off, but he knows Niall doesn’t even remember, focused as he is on the mince pies.

“Oi,” Niall says suddenly. “Don’t just stand there. You’ve got some catching up to do.” He tosses Louis a zipped bag. Inside there’s a small pipe, and a couple of small baggies stuffed full of pungent weed.


+ + +

“You haven’t asked me about her,” Louis says. His voice comes out hoarse, throat burning. “Which I genuinely appreciate, you know.”

“I know,” Niall agrees, settling back into the couch, kicking his feet up on the coffee table.

Louis swats at him. “Get your dirty fucking shoes off. What were you, raised by wolves?”

“Better’n your stank feet,” Niall grumbles, but kicks off his trainers before stretching his legs out again.

“My feet are gorgeous. I should be a foot model.”

Niall laughs. “Yeah, maybe if the whole popstar thing doesn’t pan out.”

“It’s good to have a back-up plan,” Louis says seriously. He watches Niall take another hit, lighter flickering on and smoke filling the air. “You can, you know,” he offers after a moment, because Niall really is a great friend.

“Can I,” Niall asks, an amused look on his face.

“Ask me about her,” Louis clarifies. “If you want.”

Niall passes the pipe over, flips his hat around so that it’s backwards, too high up on his head. “Cool.”

Louis lights up, sucks down a deep breath, tries to make smoke rings and fails quite badly. A long moment of silence passes between them, during which Louis catches them watching each other intently.

“I meant now, Niall,” Louis says.

“Oh,” Niall says, not moving, not taking his eyes away from Louis's.

“Don’t you have any questions?”

“Questions?” Niall shakes his head slowly. “Nah, don’t think I do.”

“You don’t want to know what happened?”

“I know what happened.”

Louis laughs too loudly in Harry’s too-quiet house. “What do you think happened, then?”

“You broke up,” Niall says simply, still watching Louis lazily.

"Yep that about sums it up," Louis agrees. It's not like he wants to talk about it anyway.

"You're my mate," Niall says, then. "It doesn't matter what happened with you and your girlfriend. If you want to talk about it, I'm here for you. If you don't want to talk about it, I'm not gonna make you. Is that alright?"

"Very alright," Louis says. In fact, it's the best reaction he could have hoped for. "You're a really good friend, Nialler." Niall pulls him into a one-armed hug, and Louis turns to wrap both arms around Niall's waist, digging one arm between Niall and the couch cushions to do so.

Louis rubs his face against Niall's t-shirt. It's soft and warm, so he does it again. When he looks up, Niall’s just watching him, looking serene and high as a kite. “Do I have something on my face?” Louis asks.

“I was just thinking,” Niall says, ignoring the question. “Man, pot makes me horny as fuck. You think there’s any more of that quiche?”

Louis stares at him for a moment, then pushes his face into Niall's armpit. He laughs, rubbing his face there.

“Oi! Don't tickle me! I’m very delicate in this state,” Niall grumbles.

Louis pets at Niall's stomach, still laughing into his side because Niall is fucking hilarious. "And what state is that? Horny, or quiche-less?"

"Whassat? What's key-chliss?" Niall looks down at Louis and laughs. "You are really, really high, aren't you?"

Louis nods, smiling up at Niall happily. "I'm really, really high," he agrees. "And you're horny," he says, patting at Niall's stomach.

"I am horny," Niall says, as if he's just remembering that fact. He drops the hand that's not currently wrapped around Louis down to his crotch, curls a fist around himself through his trackies absently.

Louis drops his face a little so he can see. It's not like Niall is being shy about it. There's definitely a bulge there, hidden in Niall's baggy trousers. "You're a really good friend," Louis says again, slipping one hand down from Niall's waist so that he can feel him out, find out if Niall is hard somewhere under all of that fabric. "You never make me feel weird."

"Whoa," Niall says, but doesn't push Louis's hand away. He sounds a bit breathless. Louis presses down harder, feeling at him, trying to get a grip on Niall’s prick. He squeezes, rough, and sighs in sympathy when Niall curses under his breath.

“Not really helping, mate,” Niall says. He’s petting at Louis hair though, so it doesn’t seem like he really minds.

Louis looks up. “Did you want me to help, then?”

Niall watches him for a moment, cheeks gone pink. He doesn't look shocked, really. More hazily surprised in a pleased way. And that's convenient, because Louis is also feeling hazily surprised and pleased about the prospect of getting Niall off. It wasn't in his plan for the afternoon, but he's not at all averse to the opportunity. “Yeah?” Niall says, and now Louis can definitely feel him, warm and solid in his pants. “Cheers, yeah. If you're up for it."

Louis is absolutely up for it. And Niall's a mate, nice and warm and friendly and turned on, so this seems like a wonderful turn of events. Louis imagines that Niall's cock is pretty, wants to see if it's as pink and swollen as he pictures it, so he pushes his hand past the waist of Niall's joggers and pants and cups him, shaping his fingers around Niall and feeling the throb of warm, firm skin in his palm. Louis needs to see it though, so he straightens up, tucks a leg under his knee and tugs at Niall's clothes, pushing his t-shirt up and his trousers down.

His pants are striped, and the bulge of his cock is pushing them out awkwardly, stretching the fabric. Louis cups him there, feeling at the size of him. Niall's hand flits up, covers his and squeezes. "Impatient," Louis tuts, although he's just as eager to get at it.

“Sorry, sorry," Niall says, pulling his hand away quickly. "Feels good. You don't hafta—”

“I know,” Louis says, licking his lips. It’s fucked up how Louis's mouth is watering, full of saliva just at the sight of Niall’s prick poking up in his pants. It's an involuntary thirst, surely brought on by the weed, but all Louis can focus on is how much he wants to taste it, wants Niall to come down his throat, all over his tongue. “But I really bloody want to.” He ducks down and licks at the tip of Niall's prick, wetting the cotton there with his drool.

Niall’s eyes flash up at him, bullet-fast. “Jesus, Louis.”

Louis not sure what made him offer, but he knows he wants to get his mouth on Niall. He’s sucking on his own tongue, curled in his mouth like a phantom cock and he wants it. "All right?"

“Yeah, fuck,” Niall says, shoving his pants and joggers down to his knees, wiggling around so that he’s bare-arsed on the sofa, his dick flushed and poking straight up in the air. “Anything you want, s'all good."

It’s so good, when Louis gets his mouth around Niall. It’s probably better because he’s high, or maybe it’s better because he’s so wet, drooling down all over Niall’s cock as he bobs on him. Or maybe it’s so good because it’s been so long, and as much as Louis hates to admit it, he loves sucking dick.

And isn't that fucking ironic? Louis, who all these shitheads on the internet thought was fake-dating Eleanor because he was secretly gay, is now sucking a cock because he was actually arse over teakettle in love with Eleanor and he's fucked that all to hell and there's nothing he can do that makes him happy anymore except for get high with Niall and suck his dick. Because even though he's not really gay, he loves, loves, loves the feeling of a cock in his mouth, filling him up until he can barely breathe. He loves the taste of it, the salty softness of skin stretched over a swollen dick, the tartness of semen leaking from the tip. He's starving for it, pressing his face down fast, hungry to fit it all in his mouth and whining when he's full.

“Christ, your mouth is absofuckinglutely gorgeous,” Niall gasps. “You’re a gorgeous cocksucker.”

Louis moans then, can’t help himself. He feels like he’s been lit up, so fucking charged all over his body. His own dick throbs in his jeans, too tight to even adjust himself, but he ignores it, just goes at Niall even deeper, sloppier. The thrill from Niall's praise is soaked in humiliation, making the spike of arousal even more intense. He is a cocksucker. He's had a mouth full of cock before, he's doing it now, and he's bloody sure he'll do it again someday. He loves it, remembers shamefully feeling a weird sort of jealousy when Eleanor went down on him, wishing he could be the one on his knees, taking it, even as he fucked her mouth.

Niall’s a talker, which is good, because between Niall’s murmurs of fuck, and you love this, don't you, and the drug haze, Louis barely even registers Harry’s voice saying, “Whoa, shit,” or Niall’s gasped out, “cheers, mate. Al-almost done.”

His brain does finally processes the conversation and he fuzzily thinks, Oh, Harry’s home, and then it's so much more fucking intense all of a sudden, the idea that Harry is seeing him like this, all slutty, bent over Niall's lap, sucking his dick and loving it. Harry's no stranger to sucking cock, Louis knows. Louis remembers. He pushes down on Niall further, forcing Niall to fill his throat the way Harry used to and it's so fucking good that Louis holds himself there, swallowing around Niall and breathing hard through his nose.

With all of the blood rushing in his ears and weed circulating through his system, he can't focus on the sounds around him, although he strains to hear if Harry's stayed in the room, stayed to watch him suck Niall off. His own erection is sweet-painful, fattening up while still trapped in his tight jeans, and he thinks he might come like this, flushes with shame over how he would look to Harry, mouth full of cock and trousers wet with come just from sucking off his mate. Harry's seen him like that before, but never like this, never without being actively involved, never walking into his own house to find Louis on his knees, mouth stuffed full.

He groans at the thought, slurping down on Niall's dick desperately, feeling it swell up harder in his mouth. "Fuck, oh, swallow it," Niall says, pushing a hand into Louis's hair and holding him down, coming deep into Louis throat, groaning a string of filthy praises that make Louis's body burn.

He pulls off Niall's dick with a wet slurp, resting his flushed face against Niall’s thigh.

“Did— did Harry—?”

He can't see Niall, eyes squeezed shut and breath coming too hard, but he hears him say, “Yeah.”

“Fuck,” Louis whispers, scrabbling at his own jeans while keeping his eyes shut tight. He can't look at Harry, can't even look at Niall, too desperate to come. He can still taste Niall's jizz on his tongue, and his cock is pounding, making him panic that he's going to mess himself in front of them.

“Want me to—?” Niall is leaning over him but it’s too late, Louis is too far gone. He bats Niall’s hand away and grunts, covering his own dick with a loose palm, tugging rabbit-fast at the swollen head until he’s coming into the cup of his other hand, thick spurts filling his palm and making his abs clench, curling over with the force of it.

"Shit," Louis whispers, pressing his face harder into Niall's thigh. "Shit, fuck."

He feels Niall's hand petting at his hair. “That was a good one," Niall says.

Louis nods against Niall's leg, unable to speak. He hasn’t come that hard since— in a long time. He’s going to need a few minutes to recover.

When he finally opens his eyes and rolls his face over, peering around the room, he doesn't see Harry. He lifts his head and looks around, heart still hammering in his chest.

"Gorgeous," Niall mutters, and pushes Louis back against the couch. They're alone now, even if they weren't before, and Louis wants to know, needs to know when Harry came in, when he left, what he saw, what he thought. Niall grins at him and knocks him in the shoulder. "You all right there?" Louis nods, dazed, but doesn't say anything. “Wanted him to see, eh?"

If Louis wasn't massively high he'd probably have doubled over at the terrifying swoop in his belly that comes from being caught out, too transparent. He blinks at Niall and says, "What?" pretending to be confused at the question.

"Got you off really hard," Niall shrugs. "Nothin' to be ashamed of."

Louis frowns. "Not ashamed," he grumbles, but he can barely hold on to the train of thought, body going slack from weed and endorphins.

"Be right back,” Niall says, and Louis feels the couch shifting. There's a moment where Louis is sitting on Harry's couch, alone, limp cock out and a palm full of jizz, and he thinks, If someone came in, there's nothing I could do to hide this, but Niall is indeed right back as promised, carrying a damp flannel and two plates of food. He sets a plate in front of Louis, and then goes about wiping up the mess.

Louis pats at him, trying to express his gratitude without having the benefit of higher brain function.

“There you are,” Niall says, like Louis is a little baby. “Now have some ham.”

It's such a fucking ridiculous thing to say in the moment that Louis bursts out laughing, the combination of panic, drugs and orgasm making him giddy. "Thanks," he says, wiping at his face.

"For what?" Niall asks, mid-chew.

"Being you," Louis says breathily. Niall never gives him Liam's cow-eyes or interrupts his sleep to read him hostile tweets. Niall never makes Louis nervous like Harry does, or dull like Nick Grimshaw can. Niall just knows when a lad needs to get high and suck a dick, and Niall obliges. "You never make me feel weird," he says, patting Niall on the leg.

Niall looks over at him for a moment, chewing thoughtfully. "Wish I could say the same, Tommo," he says eventually, softly. "But you're somethin' else."


+ + +

He's sitting at Harry's kitchen counter, reading over the travel schedule and tour notes they've just got, even though they're not really going anywhere for a few weeks. Harry's mostly quiet, save for a few comments about things he wants to make sure they see and do, but it's good. Companionable.

“Hey, Lou,” says Harry, picking at the label on his beer. He sounds oddly tentative.

“Hey, Haz,” Louis replies.

“How long has it been since the split?”

Harry’s talked to him about Eleanor in fits and starts, and Louis minds it less with him than with Liam.

Louis looks up, thinks. Counts back to when they were in New York. “About five weeks.”

Harry doesn’t say anything after that, so Louis supposes that's the end of the conversation. He goes back to flipping through the promo schedule for Glasgow.

“Do you think you’re,” Harry starts, but seems to have some trouble finishing his thought. “Like, is that enough time to—” he makes a vague motion with his hand.

Louis raises an eyebrow. He doesn’t expect what Harry actually says.

“It’s just, you and Niall…”

Louis's heart kicks up so fast he feels light headed. He’d been so sure after three days that Harry was just going to not say anything about having seen Louis with Niall’s cock halfway down his throat. “I told him he had to come help me with your heaps of home cooking.”

“Yes, but,” Harry says, "I'm fairly certain I saw something else happening."

“We did also smoke,” Louis says. If Harry wants to talk about this, he’s going to have to work a little harder.

“I get that it’s none of my business,” Harry says, and something about the way Harry says it, like a child who's been reprimanded for eavesdropping, rubs Louis the wrong way. Even if Louis hadn't been sucking a dick in Harry's own house, it'd be his business. Everything is all of their business. That’s just the way it’s always been between them. And even though yeah, there have been periods of time when he and Harry have been closer than they are now, and also more estranged than they are now, Louis has never told Harry to get his nose out, or discouraged Harry from talking to him in any way, about anything. There's plenty they don't talk about, but not because either of them have ever said it's none of the other's business. Even now, after all of the time they've spent together since New York, Harry still acts oddly gunshy at times and it’s irritating, really.

“I tripped and fell on it,” Louis says, casual as he can. "Sometimes friends help friends have orgasms. It doesn't have to mean anything more than that."

Harry doesn't look up when he says, "Right," quietly. "I remember."

There's another feeling in Louis's stomach right now, not the same panicky nervous feeling as before, but something uncomfortable and squirmy. Once again, they're edging toward topics that have long been closed. It’s been more than a year since Louis decided he was well over his experimental phase and stopped messing around with Harry, but every time Harry so much as alludes to it Louis feels like it was yesterday.

But Harry isn't shying away from the subject. “It's just that I thought you weren’t going to trip and fall that way anymore. I thought you’d become less accident prone.” Harry doesn’t sound accusatory. Just curious.

“Yeah, well.” Louis shifts uncomfortably, swigs his beer. “Things can change, can’t they?”

“Yes,” says Harry. “Things change all the time.” He goes quiet again, staring off all spacey, and Louis finishes his beer. Louis thinks the topic's been dropped, until Harry asks, “Did it help?”

Louis cocks an eyebrow. “Did what help? The blowjob? I think it helped Niall a bit, yeah.”

“Did it help you, I mean? Did you feel better?” Louis is stumped for a moment, trying to decipher what it is that Harry's really asking him. “It's just," Harry presses on, "Grimmy says sex is the best distraction from a broken heart."

Louis's stomach does something odd as he imagines Harry talking to Nick about him and Nick advising him to get Louis laid. It’s not as though he doesn’t like Nick; Nick can be mad in the same way he is, brings it out in Harry the way Louis used to. But Nick’s also got things he shares with Harry that Louis can’t be a part of, and while he knows that’s nothing that should bother him, there’s still this little resentful part of him that (especially now) wants to spin time back until he’s the center of Harry’s universe again in a way that doesn’t involve endless amounts of quiche.

"Well I wouldn't take relationship advice from Nick Grimshaw," Louis says, making sure he doesn't come across sounding mean-spirited or...anything else. "But I suppose sex doesn't hurt."

Harry blinks once, slowly, and then grins cheekily. "Unless you're into that sort of thing," he says.

It's on the tip of Louis's tongue to find out if Harry is into that sort of thing, just for the sake of curiosity, when Harry's phone buzzes against the stool. Harry lifts his hips to pluck it out of his jeans and gets an oddly cagey look that makes Louis try to lean in to see. But Harry's typing too quickly for Louis to really get a good look. Whoever he's texting is getting quite an update.

"Who's that then?" asks Louis, after a good minute goes by with nothing but clicks coming from Harry.

"S' just Nick."

Speak of the devil. "How lovely. Has he sent over any further advice for us?"

Harry shrugs, but it comes across as shifty, rather than casual. "He, er," Harry pauses as his phone buzzes again. He reads the text and abruptly clicks the screen dark, fumbling the phone in his hand. "He wants to know if we want to come meet him down the pub tonight."

"Out with his lot?" Louis asks, trying (and maybe failing) to keep the reluctance from his voice. He doesn't know quite what to make of Nick's friends—Harry's new little social circle—and he always feels a bit outclassed in their company, something that seems never to have occurred to Harry.

"Nah, just us three." Harry is still playing with his phone, clearly waiting for an answer, although he hasn't rightly asked a question.

"Just us three?" Louis repeats. "No offence, Harry, but I'm not keen on being your third wheel."

Harry goes slightly red. "No, it's nothing like that. Nick just knows you've been down, and he, we," he fumbles for a pronoun, "I thought it might be nice. Have some drinks, have a laugh, get out a bit. Nothing third wheel about it."

"Yeah, all right," agrees Louis. He doesn't mention the part where spending nights at Harry's means Louis has heard more drunken groping in the corridor than he has any desire to remember (which is still better than the nights when Harry stays at Nick's, and the flat is empty of everything but leftover baked goods). He watches Harry texting Nick back from the corner of his eye, the way his eyebrows gather in at Nick's reply.

Louis's still a bit worried that there's something weird going on when they step out of a cab in front of a neighborhoody little pub in Camden, but Nick's there waiting at a table with their first round in front of him, looking like usual. He kisses Harry discreetly on the cheek, and they start off chatting about Nick's guests that morning, a subject with a minimum of inside jokes that go over Louis's head. After a while, Louis lets his guard down and gets in on ripping to shreds the dress sense of practically every person who comes through the door. Nick is in high spirits, and he and Harry keep touching each other in small, intimate ways, Nick brushing back Harry’s wild hair, Harry’s hand resting against the inside of Nick’s wrist.

Louis's just back from the bar with a fresh round of drinks—he thinks it’s four, but it might be five, and his fingers and toes are tingly—when he catches Nick giving him a long, speculative glance and shaking his head. “Well, look at you, Louis Tomlinson. You're especially pretty when you're single and pissed. I think I'm finally starting to see what it is about you that seems to charm people so."

Louis snorts, and passes the drinks around the table. "I can't tell you how flattered I am." He pretends he doesn't know who Nick means by 'people'.

Nick smiles like he knows exactly how flattered Louis isn't. He leans over the table though, and says, "Fancy a shag then, Tommo?"

Louis looks round as though that wasn’t blatantly a proposition directed at him, but his eyes just find Harry’s, dark and slightly startled, catch there so he can’t look away for a moment. “Thanks, mate,” he says. “But I think I’ll pass.”

"Can't blame a bloke for trying," says Nick.

Louis laughs it off. "Once you've given someone an award for being the least attractive in their group, they're less inclined to take you up on an offer like that."

"Still quite fit though, I said," Nick points out. "And anyway, that wasn't my opinion. If you're interested, Harry and I can show you just how fit we think you are."

Louis tries not to frown. It's the 'we' that's done it, the idea that maybe Harry and Nick have talked about him, all the things Harry might have told Nick. The whole evening feels like an ambush, suddenly. "Cheers," he says, with a small, fake laugh, and when he looks at Harry, Harry has his eyes firmly elsewhere.

"Have you ever done it?" asks Nick, and Louis stops trying not to frown, letting his eyebrows lift sardonically.

"Done what? Shagged a radio DJ who called me ugly? Can't say I have."

"A menage a trois," Nick says, pronouncing the words with an exaggerated flourish. "Harry loves them. That much more cock to go 'round."

Harry is turning redder by degrees, and Louis won't be so stupid as to say, Why didn't you tell me? because when was the last time they talked about things like that? He shrugs out a no, like it’s not big deal either way, but Nick keeps on.

“Sometimes Harry will pick out a bloke he likes at a club, but he always has me do the talking, discreetly, you know. You wouldn’t expect him to go shy like that, would you?”

Louis doesn’t respond. He imagines them out together, conspiring, Harry pointing out men on the dance floor like they’ve already said yes. And they will. Louis knows as well as anyone how hard Harry is to turn down.

Nick is still talking, and Louis is too shocked to stop him. “If he’s really keen he might even blow them in the cab before we make it to my flat. Have you ever had his mouth on you? If not, you absolutely should, it's heavenly.”

Harry makes a little noise, and Louis looks over to realize that Nick’s hand has now disappeared beneath the tabletop. He feels a little surge of anger, and he clenches his fist around his last empty glass, watching Harry’s expression shift as Nick touches him.

“Oh, look at him, getting off on me spilling his secrets,” Nick continues, as Harry’s eyes slip shut. “Did you know that when he’s really desperate, he couldn’t care less who sees him on his knees? A dangerous habit for a young man like Harold. Doing that sort of thing in public.” He must squeeze then because Louis recognizes Harry’s little shocked gasp, the shiver that runs through him. He always liked it a little rough.

Louis tears his eyes away from Harry’s face and looks at Nick. Nick is watching him in return, and Louis can’t stay expressionless. Nick knows how to interpret every one of Harry’s little noises, same as Louis does, and it’s a weird kind of connection, but there it is, looking at Nick and listening to Harry’s labored little breaths. Nick must actually have a hand on Harry’s cock; just rubbing him off through his jeans could never make him whimper like that. “You never fucked him though, did you, Lou? You don’t know how tight his arse is, how he begs when you’re well in him and you just stay there, hold deep and keep him right on the edge. He’s so gorgeous like that. Never more.” His voice is fond, and when he looks at Harry, there’s genuine affection in his eyes. It’s hard to resent him, impossible to hate him for talking like that, for touching Harry in the middle of a pub where anyone could see, for making Louis's blood boil with something that can’t be jealousy. It’s not obvious, most of the time, how much Nick cares for Harry, but it’s all over his face just now. Nick glances at Louis again. “What do you think? Should I make him come right here?”

Louis shifts on his stool, spreads his legs to make room for his swelling cock and winces as the stool creaks against the floor. “If that’s what Harry wants.”

“Tell him, love. Tell him it is.” Nick’s chin is on Harry’s shoulder, and Harry’s eyes flash open suddenly, enormous and bright, glazed with pleasure but darting to Louis's anyway.

“I want to,” says Harry, and for just a second Louis's eighteen again, breathlessly watching as Harry wanks in his narrow X Factor bed, right at the start when the tension had them both nearly vibrating.

“Of course you do,” says Nick, and he does something under the table that Louis can’t see, his elbow jogging upwards, and Harry gasps and grips at the tabletop, eyelids fluttering shut and cheeks deep pink as he comes. Louis wants to look away, but he can’t.

After he's stared longer than he ought to, Louis gets up and heads back to the bar. He orders another round of pints and a few shots this time. He makes sure to grab a handful of napkins, which Nick accepts with a wink.

"Look how helpful you are," Nick says. "We should have you around more often."


+ + +

Harry takes him home that night, kisses Nick messily on the cheek, and slings an arm around Louis to steer him into a cab. Louis curls into Harry's shoulder, and one of Harry's hands rests protectively against his thigh. In the morning, Louis doesn't remember how he got stripped to his pants and into Harry's bed, so he's grateful for the glass of water and several paracetamol on the nightstand, Harry still sprawled out asleep on the other side of the bed, his toes grazing Louis's calf. Memories of the previous night start to filter sluggishly back to him: Nick propositioning him for a threesome, Nick's hand on Harry's cock under the table, the look in Harry's eyes as he watched Louis watching him, the way he bit at his lips when he came.

Thinking about it now, Louis can't imagine why Harry brought him home, why Harry isn't at Nick's right now. He starts to feel vaguely ashamed of the space he's been taking up in Harry's life lately, and with maudlin hangover logic he gets on his clothes and slips out with waking Harry, lets the single photographer hanging round the gate catch him with his mussed hair and dark glasses in yesterday's clothes. He checks his phone in the cab back to his, tweets, Love you more, at Niall, who seems to have had a more boisterous night out and tweeted declarations of love to half the planet, with decreasing coherency. He thinks he should text Harry, but he can't stop thinking about the threesome thing, the invitation into something he shouldn't even want to be a part of.

Louis snaps to anger first when he realizes there's someone else in his flat when he gets there, a girl by the sound of the voice from his bedroom. No one's ever actually got as far as breaking in, although fans have tried, and he is ready to have whoever she is jailed and hopefully beheaded until he sees Eleanor's coat on the back of the sofa and freezes.

She comes round the corner from the bedroom carrying a shoebox, one of her uni friends behind her, and he can't imagine how he must look to make her flinch back like that. "Lou," she says. "I'm sorry. I didn't think you'd be here. I just wanted to pick up my things." She holds out the shoebox a little, like he might be planning to inspect it.

"Yeah," he says, nodding, trying a smile. "Should've sent 'em to you. I've just been..." At Harry's. Avoiding Liam. Blowing Niall. Pissed and sulking. "Busy."

"'Course." She tosses her coat over her arm. "All right?"

"Fit as a fiddle," says Louis. He wants to touch her, wants to go to her and hold her like everything still makes sense. Because since they broke up it bloody well hasn't.

"We'll just go then," says Eleanor's friend, and Louis tamps down the urge to snap at her because what business is this of hers anyway? And what made Eleanor think it was all right to bring someone else into his flat to go mucking about with his things?

Eleanor looks at him for a second too long, like she might say something else, then turns and walks to the door instead. "Keys?" he asks, even though it feels so final, like cutting her out completely once and for all. He'll never come home to find her waiting in his bed again. Her fingers brush his palm as she hands them over. "You can call," he says quietly, "if you need anything else."

"I will. Thanks." But she won't, and they both know it. At least she can't leave without saying goodbye this time. She squeezes his hand, gently. "Take care, Louis."

"You too, El."

After they've gone, he toes off his trainers, flings himself onto the sofa, turns on the telly for company. He doesn't really mean to fall asleep, but when he wakes up it's dark, watery city light from outside and everything else shadow. His phone is buzzing in his pocket, and he fumbles it out, blinded by the screen. He's relieved to realise it's his mum and not Harry checking up on him. He's not ready for Harry just now.

Did I scare you off? Harry texts the next day, when Louis has been totally incommunicado for over twenty-four hours, more counting the fact that Louis had snuck out of his flat while he was sleeping. Louis thinks Harry’s showed remarkable restraint on this one, all things considered.

Don't be daft, he sends back, hoping Harry will drop the subject and Louis can go back to trying to forget how Harry looks when he comes. Stopping @tesco on my way bk, do we need anything?


+ + +

Nick calls from the street and they can see him out the window, phone in one hand and a bag that clearly contains several bottles of wine in the other. "I thought you were going round to his later," says Louis, watching Harry pad to the door in his socks. He tries not to be greedy with Harry's time, but he'd thought they had at least another hour to laze around playing video games and smacking each other with sofa cushions before Harry disappeared for the night. It's barely even dark yet.

Harry opens the door to Nick grinning and saying, "It's your lucky day, lads. Uncle Grimmy's brought you a present."

"Isn't it a bit creepy to refer to yourself as Harry's uncle in this situation?" asks Louis, as Harry unloads the bag onto the kitchen counter.

Nick pulls an offended face.

"Better my uncle than my dad," says Harry over his shoulder.

Nick smacks his arm. "I thought we were never to speak of that again."

"You said we were never to speak of it again. I didn't sign anything binding."

"You know, Uncle Grimmy could just as easily take his present and go home. He doesn't have to take this sort of abuse."

"Except you've brought a load of mulling spices and I know you don't have anything bigger than a saucepan in your flat," says Harry. "You're really just using me for my cookware." He bends to retrieve a large pot from the cabinet and Nick's eyes follow him down.

He winks at Louis as though they're in on this together, and says, "Surely you don't think that's all I'm using you for."

Louis doesn't think he needs a stake in Nick conspiracy over Harry's bum, so he keeps his distance on the other side of the island. "Mulled wine though?" he says. "It's not even Christmas."

"That is not the spirit of the season, young Tomlinson. Don't be such a scrooge."

It's almost funny how Harry just goes on autopilot into the kitchen, pouring out a little of the wine and adding spices and sugar, heating it over a low flame. “Surely that’s not all the wine we’ll need?” says Nick, glancing skeptically into the pot.

“Jamie Oliver says you have to make a syrup first,” says Harry sagely. “It brings out the flavors of the wine.”

“God, people who can actually cook. Bizarre.” Nick looks like a hungry vulture with his eye on the open bottle of wine. “I didn’t think about the fact that mulling takes time away from drinking.”

“It’s twenty minutes,” Harry tells him, waving his whisk dismissively. “You are the worst adult I know.”

“Oh Harold, you do wound me.” He turns his attention to Louis. “How are you this evening, Louis? Tell me of your hopes and dreams while Harry keeps us in suspense.”

Louis doesn’t admit that he is currently dreaming of throwing Nick bodily out of Harry’s flat and going back to the simplicity of Playstation. He gives a sharp little smile and says, “Shouldn’t you save that sort of thing for the radio?”

“I just like to ask after my friends’ well being from time to time. I feel it is only sociable of me. But perhaps you were raised in a barn, possibly by wolves.”

“Perhaps both of you should get out of my kitchen for twenty minutes or no one but me is getting any wine.”

“That’s a serious threat, Grimmy,” says Louis, edging around the door into the lounge again.

They sit at opposite ends of the sofa, exchanging not-entirely-sincere smiles, and Louis thinks he used to be better at this, better at conversation with Nick, before he’d watched Harry come in Nick’s hand. “Do you have anything to say about your hopes and dreams then?” Louis asks finally.

Nick’s smile turns a shade cheekier. “I’ve a few hopes and dreams I’m not ready to share just yet.”

Louis feels a spark of heat low in his belly, as he thinks of Nick’s offer the last time they were out. He says nothing. They can hear Harry moving in the kitchen, and the scent of spice comes wafting out.

“Smells like Christmas, doesn’t it?” says Nick fondly.

“Yeah,” Louis agrees. “Harry knows his stuff.”

“That he does.”

By the time Harry leans out of the kitchen to tell them the wine is hot, they’re talking almost like civilized people, about Nick’s holiday and Louis's birthday and the sort of things people who aren’t likely to have sex with each other talk about. Harry serves the wine in his massive coffee mugs, and by the end of the first one, Louis is warm down to his toes and laughing easily.

Harry is sprawled out along the length of the sofa, one of Nick’s arms flung around his shoulders, Harry’s toes tucked under Louis's thigh. They’re both trying to tell him some story about a bloke who’d tried to chat them up in a bar a few days before. “I really thought Harry was going to shout, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ before we were through with him,” Nick says. “It was glorious.”

“Nick was laughing so much I’m sure the guy thought he was high. He was completely useless. Just standing there, laughing at me while I tried to keep this man from giving me his number.”

“Bald,” says Nick. “Did we mention bald? Not sexy shaved head bald, just sad wispy hair.”

Harry tugs on Nick’s quiff. “Like looking into Grimmy’s future it was.”

Nick slaps his hand. “How very dare you. I’ll have you know my granddad had all his luscious hair right up to the day of his death. I’ve got very good hair genes.”

“Your children will suffocate under the weight of their own curls,” Louis says. “Congratulations.”

“I had a fortune cookie that said that once,” says Harry, hooking one of feet all the way under Louis's thigh so his toes poke up between Louis's legs. Louis prods at a worn place in Harry’s sock with his fingertip, and Harry wiggles his toes in response.

“You seem cheerier today, young Tomlinson,” says Nick, as though that’s some sort of endearing nickname between them. “Are the storm clouds of your broken heart starting to clear?”

“Guess so,” says Louis, with a tight smile. He waits for the punchline, but it doesn’t come.

“I recall in my wayward youth,” Nick says.

“Lo these many years ago,” Harry interrupts.

Nick pinches one of his nipples without even looking down, and continues. “I had something almost like a relationship. We were at uni together, and he was devastatingly good looking and gave better head even than Harold here. And when it ended, quite suddenly and through no fault of my own, I was gutted. I cried to everyone I knew for a week until they were all sick to death of me. And then I put on my tightest top and I went to my favorite club, and I went home with the fittest bloke there. And after that I felt better, I really did.”

Harry’s looking steadily at Louis, and Louis looks back just as steadily, although he nods in the right places to Nick, knowing already where Nick’s going with this. He’s not too pissed to be in control of his faculties, and if he says yes now, it won’t be like blowing Niall while he was high. He won’t have any excuse, and Harry will be able to see everything.

“Well, guess I’m ahead of the game then, eh?” Louis says anyway. “I haven’t even had to leave the flat.”

Nick’s hand slides down Harry’s stomach, fingertips skirting the waist of his jeans. “Do you hear that, Harold?” he says. “I think he’s calling one of us the fittest bloke at the club. I wonder which one. Surely not his purely platonic best friend. Well, must be me, then.” His hand slips lower, and Harry’s hips rock up towards it, his eyes closing.

Louis's cheeks go hot at Nick’s little jab, the sort of thing everyone says sometimes without really meaning it, taking the piss out of Louis and Harry for their bromance and all the implications about it, such a tiny percentage of which are true. But Nick knows things, about Harry, even about Louis and Harry together, that no one was ever supposed to know. And Harry’s closer with Nick now than he is with Louis, and he’s only as close as he is with Louis now because Louis's just been dumped. It’s too bloody much.

“You don’t have to participate,” Nick says almost kindly as he opens the zip of Harry’s trousers tooth by tooth. “You can just watch a bit. We didn’t give you much of a view the last time. And Harry will love it.”

Louis's mouth goes dry as he watches Nick’s hand sliding into the open v of Harry’s jeans, rubbing at Harry through his pants. Harry moans, doesn’t try to hold it back like he did at the pub, arching his hips into Nick’s hand. Louis can’t see anything except the tangle of fabric and Nick’s stroking hand, but then Harry bats him away and wriggles his trousers and pants down nearly to his knees. And god, that’s Harry’s cock, and Louis swallows painfully. He remembers how it had felt, taking Harry all the way into the back of his throat, the way he’d shuddered and nearly choked, the way he’d wanted it anyway. Harry’s bigger than he was a year and a half ago, bigger than anyone who’s already so pretty has a right to be.

“Budge up,” Nick says, and then he’s sliding out from under Harry, down onto his knees in front of the sofa. He looks up at Louis, eyebrows quirked, and then Louis watches him take Harry into his mouth in one long swallow. Harry makes this little noise of relief, and sinks his head back onto the corner of the sofa. It’s the first time since he got there that Nick isn’t talking. Louis stares at Harry’s face, watches his expression unlock as Nick blows him, his mouth coming open as Nick takes him deep.

When Harry turns his head, their eyes meet, and although Harry’s hand is resting at the back of Nick’s neck and Nick’s sucking Harry’s cock, it might as well be only the two of them in the room. Louis's skin is hot, prickled with sweat suddenly, and he wants, god, he wants to touch Harry so badly. He feels it in his whole body, the urge to move closer, to slide a hand into Harry’s hair and kiss him, to push Nick away and open himself up on the length of Harry’s cock. But he doesn’t have the right to that, not without asking, and he can’t ask them for anything.

It doesn’t even take long before Harry’s eyes slam shut suddenly and Louis watches him come, listens to his low, pained moan as Nick keeps on sucking him, working Harry’s cock in his mouth until Harry must be painfully sensitive. Louis realizes that all three of them must know how much Harry likes that.

Nick comes up out of Harry's lap at last, nuzzling in to kiss him slow and deep, Harry's eyes fluttering shut. "That was lovely, darling," Nick says, and he and Harry smile at each other like this is some kind of familiar joke. Harry kisses the corner of Nick's mouth, and Nick's eyes are fond. It feels more intimate than watching Nick blow him, thinking that this must be what they're like when they're alone, that Nick knows how to be sweet to Harry, even if he doesn't show it in company. Louis bites his lip, feeling suddenly awkward. He's painfully hard, one hand clawed against his own thigh to keep from touching himself. He leans his head back on the sofa.

"He can do you too, if you like," Harry says.

Nick huffs. "Bit forward, aren't you? Offering up my services like that." He glances at Louis. "But I would." Nick is knelt over Harry's lap, straddling him, and it looks a bit awkward, Nick's long body hunched forward over Harry's. Louis tries not to think about how nicely he used to fit in Harry's lap. The thought of Nick sucking his cock is too much just now.

"Thanks anyway," says Louis, as though they've offered him a cup of tea. "But I'm all right."

Harry looks ready to protest, and in fact Louis's cock is tenting out the front of his sweats rather obscenely, but there's a line there he's not ready to cross yet. He throws an afghan across his lap as though that disguises anything.

Nick settles his hands on Harry’s shoulders, thumbs skating across his collarbones. “If Louis doesn’t want a turn, perhaps you could give me a hand, love?” He bobs his hips a little, and Harry reaches between them to undo Nick’s trousers.

Nick’s cock fits nicely in Harry’s big hand, and Louis watches him stroking up the length of it, squeezing a little just below the head. Nick leans into Harry, presses their foreheads together and whispers against Harry’s flushed cheek. “You came so fast, pet,” he says. “Is that because your boy’s here watching? Does he make you feel like a kid again? Like you can’t even control yourself?”

“Shh,” says Harry, but he must know Nick won’t. Louis is barely even breathing, listening to the low murmur of Nick’s voice.

“You like him watching, don’t you?” Nick says. “You little slut. Does he know? Does he know how you someti—” Harry cuts him off with a hard kiss, and Louis is left hanging on the jagged end of that sentence, curled forward to listen more closely in spite of himself.

Harry starts working Nick two-handed, and Nick thrusts into his grip, biting at his mouth and making pleased little noises as Harry rolls his balls in his palm. Harry has his eyes closed and his brows knit in concentration, and Louis wonders what Nick could possibly have said to make Harry shut him up, finally and decisively.

But he can’t find out, because a moment later, Harry’s catching thick spurts of Nick’s come between his fingers, the rest splattering the front of his t-shirt. Nick groans and rocks forward a few more times between Harry’s hands before leaning in to rest his forehead on Harry’s shoulder.

“Oh fuck,” Nick says after a moment. “My knees. My back. I am far too old for this sort of thing.”

Harry is licking Nick’s come from between his fingers, but he spares Louis a dimpled grin, including him in the joke. “Don’t worry. We’ll find a nice home for you, Grimmy. You can play bowls and reminisce about your youth.”

Louis suspects that Nick bites him in response because Harry yelps. Then Nick moves to kiss Harry’s neck, and Harry gives a little gasp as though they’re about to just start all over again.

“I should head off,” Louis announces to the room at large, and he hates how brittle his voice sounds, the way Harry’s eyes fly to him at once.

“You could stay,” says Harry, and Louis imagines the three of them in bed, Harry and Nick tangled together and him just a bit off to the side.

He shakes his head. “Nah, mate, but thanks. I’ve got to check on things at my flat anyway. You know.” He disentangles himself from the afghan, wishes he’d worn tighter trousers because his erection is not at all subtle, and he can see both of them looking. Louis calls for a cab and finds his coat and shoes, walking around as though his dick isn’t practically waving like a flag, and it would be funny if it weren’t happening to him.

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay?” Harry asks seriously, standing with him at the door, naked except for his come-stained t-shirt. He smells like sweat and failing cologne, and Louis wants him so much he thinks he might cry.

“Not tonight,” says Louis.

Harry kisses him on the cheek, lingering for a moment. “See you tomorrow, then?”

Louis licks his lips. “Maybe. I’ll text. Night, Grimmy.”

“Night, Tommo.” Nick’s got his chin resting on the back of the sofa, and he’s looking at them with a satisfied little smile. Louis turns away so the sudden surge of annoyance doesn’t show on his face. He’s got no right to feel annoyed. And he still thinks about them the whole cab ride home, about the two of them kissing and touching, about Nick’s mouth opened up on Harry’s cock. He barely makes it through his own front door before he’s got a hand down the front of his sweats, jerking frantically at his stiff dick. He gets off in a matter of seconds, slides two of his come-slick fingers into his mouth, thinking about Harry’s cock, ashamed and still hungry for it.


+ + +

He's up early the next morning, feeling productive. He exercises. Tidies his flat. Makes himself a good, healthy breakfast. Rings Liam to check in.

“That’s brilliant, Liam. I’m really happy for you.”

He's a perfect friend. Today is all about good choices.

“Well, I’m not sure it’s anything to celebrate just yet,” Liam sighs, ever cautious, and still sounding a bit guilty over the whole thing. “But it’s progress. I just, I really love her, you know?”

Louis nods. “I do,” he says into his mobile. “I know you do.”

“Hey maybe there’s hope for you and Eleanor,” Liam says, then. “I mean, I don’t know if that’s even something you want, but—”

“Nah,” Louis says, realising it’s true only at that very moment. “It’s really not. I love her still, probably always will, but,” he thinks it over before saying, “I don’t think we were really ready for each other. Or all of this.”

Liam hums in agreement, but Louis can tell he doesn’t really understand. Things with Liam and Danielle are different than they were between him and Eleanor. Liam’s a bit lost without her, and Louis feels like he’s finally finding his own two feet.

“Well, we’ll see how dinner goes,” Liam hedges, as if he has anything to be nervous about. “Fancy meeting up for a pint beforehand?”

He should. He should go meet Liam and have earnest conversations about true love and have one pint and then head home but he already knows that's not what he's going to choose.

“Thanks mate, but I told Harry I’d go see some band with him and Nick later on. Plus, you don’t want to win back your woman with beer on your breath.”

“Nick Grimshaw?” Louis can practically hear Liam’s face squinching up over the phone.

“The very one,” Louis agrees.

“I can only imagine what kind of band he’ll be dragging you to see.”

“Mmm, he did say something about naked dwarves,” Louis says, mostly for the squawk it brings out of Liam.

“I’d believe it,” Liam says. “I don’t understand how Harry can spend so much time with him.”

There’s a question in Liam’s voice, and it strikes Louis how odd it is that only a few weeks ago he’d have been gossiping with Liam like an old woman about Harry and his bizarre friendship with Nick, but now he feels strangely protective of them. An image of the way they'd kissed last night, not quite tender but absolutely fond, appears unbidden in Louis's mind, making him equal parts wistful and angry. “Yeah well, you know how Harry is,” is all that Louis says in response.

“What’s it like hanging out with them?” Liam's tone suggests that Louis has infiltrated enemy lines.

Louis pauses, because Liam's a mate, and frankly he'd wondered the same before he actually started spending time with Nick and Harry, but there's no way Louis could adequately describe what it's actually like. He's not even sure how he feels, knowing now without a doubt the way Nick and Harry touch, kiss and come. How they talk and laugh and joke and snipe in ways that make Louis feel at once smug for being included and insecure for being excluded.

“It’s not like I do it that often,” Louis eventually says. Liam doesn't know that he’s spent pretty much the last few weeks at Harry’s. “I’m just going with them to a show.”

“Right,” Liam says. He sounds a little disappointed. “It’s just. I can’t imagine what they get up to. Harry’s so secretive sometimes. And it’s not like they’re likely to take me out with them.”

Louis laughs then, trying to imagine how Liam would have reacted if he'd been offered a blowjob by Nick Grimshaw.

“It’s fairly normal, from what I gather,” Louis says, wondering if he sounds as casual as he means to. “Just banter and cooking, really.”

His mobile buzzes against his ear, and when he looks down, he sees he’s got an incoming call from Harry.

“Speak of the devil. It’s Harold. Ring you later.”

“Tell him I say hi,” Liam says before disconnecting.

“Go,” Louis says, once the line connects him to Harry.

“Fuck you, no,” Harry groans. “I hate when you answer like that.”

Louis grins. “And yet you called.”

It’s not awkward, and that’s good. It’s possible that Louis can pull this off.

“Still up for the show tonight?” he asks instead. “Grimmy needs to put our names on the list.”

“Yeah, fine,” Louis says, shrugging the phone against his shoulder so that he can shove some clothes into a bag for the dry cleaners. “You should remind him that we are international popstars and don’t need our names to be put on lists.”

“Good,” Harry says. “I wasn’t sure if you still wanted to, after last night.”

Louis bites his lip and says nothing. He may be entering into a perverse voyeuristic relationship with his best friend but that doesn’t mean he has to talk about it.

“It’s just, I can’t help noticing that you,” Harry pauses, then laughs quietly. “Whenever I come, you go. As it were.”

Louis can’t stop a surprised laugh from escaping his mouth. “God, that was awful,” he says.

“I’m hilarious,” Harry says, and Louis can hear the smile in his voice. “I just like it when you’re here.”

“You’re pathetic,” Louis sighs, but he knows that Harry can tell how pleased he is to hear it.

“Just promise me you’ll say something if you feel weird about it. Like if the, if the sex— stuff is too weird I can tell Nick—”

It's amazing how awkward they've become. When Harry was sixteen he had no trouble asking Louis to press a finger into his arsehole, and now he's stumbling over 'sex stuff'.

“I just had to pick up some clean clothes,” Louis says, valiantly ignoring how his stomach is clenched tight. “But I’ll make sure to pack enough to get me through several blow jobs and at least a handful of public orgasms, if that makes you happy.”

“Mm,” Harry agrees. “Very happy. Bring over that grey jumper with the sleeves, yeah?”

A few minutes later, Louis locks the door to his flat, a bag of dirty clothes over one shoulder and a bag of clean ones over the other. He tries not to think about what he’s agreed to.


+ + +

“Am I dropping you off or are you coming to mine?”

Louis flicks his eyes up to the rearview mirror and is surprised when he catches Grimmy looking at him expectantly. He darts a glance at Harry, but can’t read anything from the back of his head and the slouch of his shoulders.

“You’re asking me?”

“Well I already know what young Harold wants,” Nick answers cheerily, and why the fuck wouldn’t he be cheerful about it?

Fuck that, Louis is not getting dropped off while the two of them go have sex.

“I’d be up for another drink or two,” Louis offers.

“Brilliant,” Nick says, giving him a bright smile in the mirror. “Hope that’s not all you’re up for, though. Harry’s in a state already.” Nick leans over the gear shift to rub at Harry’s leg. Or dick. Or something.

Whatever he’s doing is making the nape of Harry’s neck flush pink.

“Does he not mind you talking about him like he’s not even here?”

Nick laughs. “No he loves it, I think. Especially when I say something that embarrasses him. Like how much I know he wants you to—oi!” Nick ducks out of the way of the hand Harry’s attempting to shove over his mouth. “Not while I’m driving!”

“Stop nattering on then,” Harry grumbles. “Haven’t you seen the adverts? It can wait.”

“That’s about texting while driving. I wasn’t texting Louis Tomlinson about how you’re gagging for his cock, was I? Give me some credit.”

“Your discretion deserves some credit as well,” Louis adds from the back seat.

“I am the very picture of subtlety,” Nick agrees, and the remainder of the short car ride is as relaxing as it can be, given that they're about to have sex together.

They’re not drunk. Nick has to be up early for work, so he drove them, claiming he’d never chance wrecking his Mercedes. Harry and Louis had drunk a few pints apiece, but it had never progressed to shots or anything harder than beer, so there’s nothing more than a simmering buzz to impair judgement or inspire poor choices.

Turns out that watching Nick and Harry together when they’re sober is far worse than when they’re pissed. As soon as they walk into the flat, Harry is tugging Nick’s jacket off and pulling Nick in by his belt loops for a long, lingering kiss.

Louis stills, standing awkwardly behind them. He knows they want him to see, they all know that’s why he’s here, but he wasn’t really expecting them to just go at it as soon as they walked in. But Louis can hear the clink-clink as Harry unfastens Nick’s belt, and he doesn’t know what else to do with himself but stand there. Watch.

Nick sighs and slides his fingers into Harry’s hair, murmurs, “Let me sit first, pet,” and pulls Harry away.

Louis can see how Harry’s eyes flutter open, how his mouth is red from kissing, how the front of Harry’s trousers frames his erection. And then Harry grins, and it's so Harry, so comfortable, even exposed like he is.

Nick settles onto one of the couches in the lounge, splaying his legs wide and patting at the adjacent seat. “C'mon, love," Nick says to Louis. "I've saved you a VIP seat."

Louis startles, false sense of invisibility abruptly shattered. For a brief moment he's tempted to remind Nick that he's seen Harry on his knees before, wants Harry to remember vividly the first time he'd taken Louis in his mouth, but instead he shrugs and sits right where Nick’s asked him to.

“Dear lord, I've got Harry Styles on his knees and Louis Tomlinson's bum on my couch," Nick sighs. "I knew that saving those elderly people from that burning building in my last life would pay off at some point."

Louis huffs out a laugh, but it catches in his throat when he sees Harry knee-walk over to them, stripped down to his pants and his t-shirt. He can feel Nick's eyes on him, but Louis keeps his eyes on Harry, watching as Harry tugs at Nick’s flies, dragging Nick’s jeans down his hips. “It's so lovely that Harry's so eager to suck dick," Nick says conversationally as Harry bares his cock. "His enthusiasm is so endearing, isn't it? Was he the same—ahh—for you?”

Louis ignores the question, focusing instead on the way Harry’s eyebrows crease in the middle when he gets his mouth around Nick’s cock, like he’d wanted it so much, and now it’s so good on his tongue.

There's a twinge in his gut, something painful about how easy it is for Harry to be like this with Nick, in a way it's never been easy for Louis. There's sex, and there's affection and there's friendship between Harry and Nick, but it's not complicated, and that is something that Louis can admit feeling envious about. Even with Eleanor it had been complicated. With Harry it had been terrifying.

“God, he’s ridiculously beautiful, isn’t he?”

There’s something surprising about Nick's tone just then, something in his sincerity that forces Louis to look over at him, maybe even begrudgingly empathize with him. Harry now is just as fascinating as he was when Louis first became smitten with him, even more so with his long, lean body, his boyish exuberance transformed into a quiet confidence. Louis knows perfectly well how Harry can seem out of reach, even when he's right there in your hands.

Of course Nick ruins the fleeting connection by continuing to blather on. “I’m sure you’ve seen Harry on his knees a million times, yeah? You’re probably bored with it by now, but it never gets old for me.”

Louis shakes his head slowly, eyes on Harry’s. “You keep talking about the things we’ve done,” he says, voice steady. “But you’ve got most of it wrong.”

He’s surprised when he feels Nick’s head resting on his shoulder, caught up as he was in watching Harry’s mouth. “Tell us a story then,” Nick says dreamily. “About the good old days.”

Louis can’t understand how calm Nick is, how easily he’s able to focus on anything other than the feel of Harry’s soft, wet mouth. It’s been awhile since he’s been with Harry like that, but Louis can still vividly recall the panic of intense arousal, the heart-pounding shock of feeling so good and the simultaneous terror that it’s all going to end much too fast. Every time they’d fall together, whenever Louis would give in and give up and let it happen, they’d been clumsy and frantic and each touch had felt like being electrocuted. Nothing like this lazy sucking, hair-stroking thing happening with Nick.

“Sorry to disappoint,” Louis says, voice gone a bit raspy. “It was just kid stuff.”

Harry’s eyes flash at him, and Louis wants to know what he’s thinking, if he’s remembering how fucking wild it was to want each other like they did, if he feels that same want for Nick Grimshaw now.

He thinks probably not. There’s no way Harry would have shared him with anyone back then.

“Just kid stuff,” Nick echoes, sounding a bit breathless now. “What, like, wanking each other in your little bunk beds? Rubbing your stiff pricks into each others bums and pretending you didn’t know what it meant?”

Harry’s eyes flutter closed. Louis swallows thickly.

“You’re awfully curious,” Louis says. Isn’t it enough that you have him now? he thinks.

“I am,” Nick agrees, sitting up and grabbing at Harry’s hair. He pulls Harry close, forcing him to take Nick deeper into his throat. “Can’t blame me for liking the idea of you two together,” he says, groaning a bit at the end. “Fairly certain I’m not the only one. Oh, that’s a good lad,” he says to Harry. “You’re doing so good, sweetheart.”

Harry’s eyes and chin have gone shiny wet, and he’s moving faster now, taking as much of Nick as he can. “Such a show off,” Nick murmurs. "Think he'll want to have a go next? If you swallow very nicely?"

Harry’s eyes squeeze shut, the crinkle between his eyebrows deepening as he moans around Nick’s cock.

“Christ, let’s see,” Nick says, and then pushes Harry’s head down and holds him still as he shoots off down Harry’s throat.

Harry’s nostrils flare. Louis can hear him breathing hard through his nose as he swallows it all down hungrily. Then wet sounds as Harry pulls back, mouths at the head of Nick’s prick.

“Mmm, perfect,” Nick breathes, and waves a hand lazily in Harry’s direction. Harry's pulled off, rested his flushed face against Nick’s knee, eyes fluttering as he fists his own cock. His hand is a blur, and Louis curls forward, straining to see the pink-red tip of Harry’s swollen cock appear and disappear in his hand as he wanks himself furiously.

Nick jiggles his knee, shaking Harry off. “No no no,” he tuts, and pushes at Harry’s arm with his other leg. “None of that, love. It’s not your turn yet.”

Harry draws a shuddery breath then and stills his arm. “Fuck,” he whispers, and presses his face down into Nick’s thigh.

“Can you hold it?”

Louis can’t fathom why Harry should hold off, especially when he himself is aching to see Harry come, but Harry nods shakily and says, “Yeah. M’good.”

“You sure?”

Harry nods again, surer this time. He’s let go of his dick, and Louis can see how it bobs when he moves, fat and flushed and Jesus but Louis wants to touch it.

“Okay then, sit back. A little farther,” he says, making a shooing motion as Harry slides back a bit more, so that he’s sprawled on the rug, leaning against Nick’s coffee table. “We’re going to get your housemate off now,” Nick says, all nonchalance. Louis nearly chokes then, swallowing his own spit too fast at the idea of Harry sucking him off in front of Nick. He's not sure if it's because Nick can somehow read his panic, or if it's dumb luck when Nick says, “and seeing how much he likes looking at you, you’re going to sit nicely and look extra pretty for him.” He turns to Louis. “Will that work for you, lovely Louis?”

Louis can’t answer. He can’t tear his eyes away from Harry, flushed and sweat-slick and hard, staring back at him.

Nick huffs. “Lovely Louis is a bit cockstruck at the moment,” he mutters, and then shifts around on the sofa until he's tugging Louis onto his lap.

It's unsettling, being hauled onto Nick Grimshaw's lap like a child, and he can feel where Nick's softening cock is rubbing up against his back, still wet from Harry's mouth. But when Nick murmurs, "Shh, that's a good lad, just you relax and let us help," Louis thinks, fuck it, and lets his hands fall to the side, lets himself slump back into Nick's long, slim body, because why shouldn't he have this? There's no one around to see, aside from Harry, and Louis can't lie to himself that Harry watching doesn't make this all so much hotter. "I've never met a bloke who isn't better off after an orgasm," Nick says, chin hooked over Louis's shoulder as his hands drift down to undo Louis's flies.

Before Louis has even got his bearings he’s got Nick’s hand in his pants, pulling him out and stroking him with a slow, steady rhythm, and Harry watching raptly from the floor. Nick arranges him so that Louis's knees bracket Nick's, so that when Nick opens his legs, Louis is spread even wider, on display for Harry. Louis immediately acknowledges the merit in Nick's argument because it feels bloody fantastic, and he knows it won't take much for him to come with Nick working him over and Harry stretched out naked and hard in front of him.

“My God, even your prick is tanned and gorgeous,” Nick says, and Louis shivers at the feeling of stubble brushing the back of his neck. Nick’s fingers are long and firm on his erection, stroking him like a man who knows his way around a cock. And that’s—Nick is gay. Not experimenting, not messing around, old enough to know exactly what it means. And he’s got Louis on his lap, cock pressed up against Louis's bum, Louis's dick throbbing in his hand, and Harry’s there, eyes darting hungrily from Louis's face to his cock. Louis has to close his eyes, can’t take the way Harry is staring, the way his mouth has fallen open. The spike of humiliation that zings through him makes him moan, makes him stiffen up further in Nick’s hand. “God, yes, that’s it,” Nick whispers. “What I wouldn’t give to get my mouth on you, love.”

There’s a noise, an abrupt sort of whine, from Harry, who is squirming prettily on the rug. He’s tightened his grip on himself and looks desperate to wank, his cock starting to dribble. He always was wet, Louis remembers, going drippy even after wrestling around together. And God the taste of him—

Louis's suddenly so grateful for Nick Grimshaw’s arms around him, keeping him from diving forward and crawling up Harry’s long, long legs and sinking his mouth down over Harry’s huge cock. There’s saliva collecting at the sides of his mouth, he’s so hungry for it.

“Can I—?” Harry pleads from the floor.

Nick speeds up, making Louis twist his body, kick out his feet with how painfully good it feels.

“What d’you think, Louis,” Nick says, mouthing at the shell of Louis's ear. “Should we let him touch?”

Louis keeps his eyes squeezed shut and shakes his head, not even fully knowing what they’re asking (touch who?), but knowing that the answer is no, no, no Harry can’t, not while Louis is—

"Mm, he wants you so much," Nick rumbles, voice lower like it's a secret, although there's no way Harry won't hear him in the silence of the room. "And he's trying so hard to be good, to wait until you're ready but Christ, Louis, you should hear how he moans for you when I fuck him."

Harry gasps then, loud and pained, and Louis can't look at him, can't fathom how Nick can offer that bit of information so casually. All he can do is blurt out, “Shit, shit,” even as he bites his lip to keep from reacting.

"Nick," Harry says, voice rough and urgent.

"He does, though," Nick continues. "That's why I'm always asking you how it was between you. It's why I'm so curious. He doesn't tell me about it, but when he loses control, when he's exhausted from taking my cock again and again and he needs to get off he'll just let it out. 'Louis,' he'll say."

"Liar," Louis mumbles weakly, but he opens his eyes, chances a look at Harry. Harry looks devastated, absolutely shattered. His face is mottled red and his eyes are wide and Louis suddenly wants to believe that Nick's telling the truth; that no matter how much more of Harry Nick's got, he'll always truly belong to Louis.

"'Fuck me, Louis,' he says. I swear he does. I'd ask him to tell you himself but I'm not sure he even realizes he does it."

Louis shakes his head jerkily and claws his hands into Nick's thighs to keep himself from reaching for Harry.

"Nick," Harry says again, begging this time.

"Shh, Styles," Nick says, only a little louder. "You'll get your turn. Right now we're focusing on Louis here. Say something sweet to him."

Harry bites his lip hard, and closes his eyes, like he needs to ground himself before he does or says anything. But then he's there, reaching for Louis's hand, pulling it away from Nick's leg and tangling their fingers together. “God, Louis,” he says, voice hoarse and shaky. “You look so—”

And Louis hangs there, cock swelling and hips jerking and wonders if he looks as transparent as he feels.

“You look so good,” Harry chokes out. "I want—"

“Uhn,” Louis says, unable to hold it all back. He needs so desperately to know what it is that Harry wants but suddenly he's coming, helpless to stop it. It pulses through him, hot spurts of come splattering Nick’s hand and forcing weak noises from his mouth.

Louis falls to the side, and then it’s all static for a long moment. He can’t focus on anything other than breathing until slowly, awareness comes back to him in increments. First he feels Nick's hand, still lazily wrapped around his softening cock, just holding it gently, warm and wet. Then he notices Harry, on his knees and closer now, eyes closed tight and wanking himself with a quick snap of his wrist as Nick kisses his sweat-slick temple, his jaw, his slack mouth.

It's both awful and fascinating to watch them kiss, a comfort with each other that Louis had never achieved with Harry. Harry's face is shaking at the same pace of his arm, barely able to brush his mouth against Nick's, but Nick is taking control, perhaps being so tender because he laid Harry so bare only moments ago.

Harry falters, knees wobbling and he's so close, Louis can tell. Louis leans forward to see, wanting to catalogue everything, but he's shocked when Nick brings his other hand, the hand that's still wet with Louis's come, up to grip the other side of Harry's face as he kisses him again.

Harry cries out when he feels Nick's sticky hand smearing Louis's come onto his skin.

"Shh, there you go, love," Nick whispers and Louis gapes as Harry turns his face to suck Nick's messy fingers into his mouth.

“Christ,” he says weakly, because he can’t unsee this, can’t imagine how he’s going to look at Harry and see anything other than this, ever.

He doesn’t even remember that he’s holding Harry’s other hand until he feels Harry squeeze, fingers crushing his in a tight grip and then Harry groans and stills, stomach going taut and then he's shooting all over his forearm and stomach.

All of a sudden, Harry sucking on Nick's fingers doesn't seem so shocking. It's all Louis can do not to slide off the couch and fasten his own mouth to the planes of Harry's abs where his spunk is spattered. Louis wants so fiercely to recapture the taste of him.

Louis doesn't, and eventually Harry slumps, loose and pliant, and Nick tips him over so that he’s lying opposite Louis on the couch. He raises an eyebrow when he sees how their fingers are still connected, and Louis quickly pulls his hand away, well-accustomed to the practice of not touching Harry in ways that could possibly be misconstrued by onlookers. Or by Harry, for that matter. He doesn't make a big show of it, but of course Nick notices anyway, as does Harry, based on the frown that flashes across his face. It feels like the wrong move, somehow, but it's done now.

“Well well, look at you two sleepy pups,” he says fondly. “Perhaps it’s bedtime for us all. Just don't touch anything until you're not filthy with each other’s spunk. I've just had my upholstery cleaned," he says seriously, "I'll be right back to tidy you up."

Suddenly Louis is alone with Harry, who is mostly naked curled up next to him on the sofa, hand still outstretched where Louis had let him go. It's quiet for a moment, and Louis closes his eyes, not wanting to see himself reflected in Harry's.

"You okay?"

Louis forces himself to look Harry in the eye and smile in what he hopes is a convincing way. "Cheers," he says quietly.

"That was—" Harry starts, but they're interrupted by the slap of a wet flannel, tossed at them from across the room.

"Wipe yourselves up, you dirty mongrels, and then we’re all for bed."

There's a moment of panic, Louis picturing the three of them squeezing together in Nick's bed, but he's relieved when Nick shuffles them both into what appears to be a guest room, muttering something about how he’s the only one with a real job that requires him to wake up early.

Harry looks exhausted as he strips down and flumps down onto the bed. He opens one eye from where his face is smashed into a pillow, sees Louis standing awkwardly on the other side of the bed. Harry shuffles over to make room without a word, but Louis's stomach clenches anyway at the idea of more exposure to Harry's naked skin, not at all sure he'll be able to keep himself from touching in ways that he shouldn't. But he shucks his jeans and slides in next to Harry, uncertain how much space between their bodies is just enough to be safe, but not enough to be awkward.

“All cozy then?” Nick says from the doorway. “I expect I won’t be seeing you in the morning, pop stars that you are, accustomed to your lie-ins.”

“I could get up,” Harry offers with a little frown.

“Oh Harold, you should get your rest. The next time we have one of these charming evenings in, someone’s getting a cock up his bum, and you’ll want to be in top form for that.” He gives a little smile that doesn’t convince Louis it's not a joke. Then he adds, “Sweet dreams,” and closes the door.

Harry seems unperturbed by thoughts of cocks in bums, must be used to it by now. He shifts around a bit, trying to get comfortable. He's careful not to bridge the carefully constructed space between their bodies, although Louis knows it's more of a struggle for Harry, given the way he prefers to sleep, spread all over the closest, warmest person. Still, Harry manages to settle eventually, and Louis thinks they'll just drift off to sleep when Harry's voice cuts through the quiet. "You're all right though?"

"Peachy," Louis answers straight away, pretending to yawn as a sign that he is indeed, completely relaxed and not at all fucked up over this whole situation.

"But, like. Is it helping you to not think about Eleanor?"

Louis inhales and holds it for a moment. It's not easy for him to shift from wanting to fuck Harry breathless to having heart-to-heart conversations about girlfriends. "Well it was," he hedges. "Until you brought her up."

Harry snickers. "Is mentioning your girlfriend not helping you forget about your girlfriend?"

"Very poor timing," Louis agrees. "Well done, Harry."

"I'll stop now," Harry says, and Louis can hear the grin in his voice. It's reassuring, like they've managed to find some level of normalcy even after what they've just done.

"I would appreciate that," Louis says lightly. "So I can get some sleep."

He thinks (hopes) he's done a passable job of acting the friend again, of pretending he can keep up with the volatility of his relationship with Harry, but he's not sure. It's not that he doesn't love Harry as a friend, or that he wouldn't talk to Harry about Eleanor, but he can barely uphold his end of the conversation without images flashing in his mind of Harry's naked belly, tight and defined, splattered with come and heaving and so close.

Harry's quiet after that, but Louis stays awake for a long while, thoughts swirling.


+ + +

What Nick said about someone getting fucked, and the way he’d said it, offhand but serious, seems to have settled into a loop in Louis's brain. It seems as though everything in his life just brings it sailing back, and he feels jittery when he thinks of it because his reaction isn’t a flat no. He can’t lie to himself and say he hasn’t thought about it, wondered what it would feel like, that he hasn’t been wondering for fucking years now. He hadn’t ever let Harry have that. Harry was already inside him in every other way, cleaved to Louis's fucking soul basically, and the thought of it was more than Louis could stand, when even kissing him was unbearably intense. But that hadn’t stopped him wanting it.

He wanks in the shower in the morning before rehearsal, and maybe his fingers drift, maybe he rubs them over his arsehole just to test the feeling. Maybe he does that for three days running, feeling dirtier about it because he’s in Harry’s bathroom, surrounded by Harry’s hair products, and Harry’s usually in the kitchen making tea and toast all the while. They don’t touch without Nick there, like there’s some sort of unspoken rule about it, and Louis doesn’t know how to stop the tension gripping his spine except in this furtive little morning ritual, touching himself in Harry’s shower, remembering how Harry had looked, desperate for it. For him.

And then there’s the fourth morning, where his curiosity hits him so hard it feels like it’s gnawing at his guts, and he soaps up his hand and presses one slicked finger into his arsehole. It’s intrusive and weird and nothing to write home about, he thinks, but still he slides it slowly in and out, and the pull of it is better, that slick drag. He thinks about Harry’s long fingers, presses his own more deeply into himself, and the sudden pleasure of it is startling, making him gasp and brace his other arm against the wall. And he knows that that’s how it’s supposed to feel, the aching pressure and then this. He rocks his finger inside himself, over that spot, struggles not to make a sound. The angle is awful, but he keeps trying to get in deeper, wanting more, picturing how it would be with Harry. Just him and Harry and their bodies sealed together as tight as they could be. He spares barely a thought for Nick.

Eventually he has to give up, rinse himself off and go about the rest of his morning, squirming a little when he thinks of it. He wants to do it properly, he realizes, embarrassed and fucking painfully turned on. He makes some inane excuse to go back to his flat that night, and as tempted as he is to stop at Boots and buy proper lube on the way, the thought of that splashed all over Twitter in thirty seconds deters him. Harry would know. Nick would bloody well know, and he might assume Louis was up for, well, a cock up his bum. And that’s not something Louis's ready to consider.

So all he’s got are two little sample packets of lube that came in the plain brown package with the vibrator he’d bought Eleanor for her birthday, and he squashes down his guilt about that. She took her things and left him with organic, lavender-scented lubricant; it’s a metaphor for his life, basically.

He has a shower and takes himself to bed naked, glad that no one’s around to see him spread out on top of his sheets, his nipples puckered into little points by the cool air in his barely-used flat. He realizes suddenly that for all the orgasms, he hasn’t even been properly naked with Nick and Harry, and that’s strange as well, a barrier he wouldn’t have expected, especially given how often Harry’s naked non-sexually. It makes it all a little less real.

Not that Harry hasn’t seen him naked either, not that he doesn’t remember—vividly, bloody constantly—how it had felt to be all tangled up skin to skin in a little X Factor bunk, pressing his lips to Harry’s sweat-slick throat, feeling him moan. Louis wraps a hand around his dick, squeezes a little at the base, and it’s less painful remembering it when Harry’s not right there, with him but not with him. Harry had only asked Louis to fuck him the once, the time when Louis turned him down, and Louis had never offered in return, even when he felt like he might itch out of his skin with how much he wanted more. But he can’t help thinking of Harry now, as he opens the first little packet of lube and squeezes some onto his fingers, rubs it into the crack of his arse, sliding back and forth across his tense hole.

The gel is thick and cool, and he doesn’t realize how easy it will be to tuck a fingertip inside himself, edge past the outer rim of his arsehole and slip in deep enough that it burns just a little. Louis gasps into the pillow, realizes that for once he’s actually alone, with no one to hear him or judge, and then he moans aloud. This is just one finger, hardly anything, but Louis can’t stop thinking about Harry, can’t stop remembering how Harry’s voice had cracked when he asked Louis to fuck him two years ago. He wonders if Harry felt as needy as he does right now. He wonders how Harry would feel seeing him like this, all splayed out and slutty and needing it so bad, even though he always told himself he didn’t.

He’s suddenly got his middle finger as deep inside himself as he can, pushed all the way up to the knuckle, and he works his hips back on it, bearing down a little and biting his lip as the pleasure of it shoots through him. He rubs the heel of his hand against the tensed sac of his balls, doesn’t even touch his dick again. He hooks his finger up, rubs it in slow circles until he’s squirming, until he needs more and his forefinger goes in so easy that the slide of it makes him moan out again. He wonders if he can come like this, just like this, just his slick fingers inside himself. And what would that say about him, then?

His thighs tremble, and he wants even more, thinks of how open he’d have to be to take a cock, thinks of Harry’s, how it had made his jaw ache just having it in his mouth. He tries to wedge a third finger into his arse, and even when he folds his fingers together, it hurts a little, more than he would have expected. It clears his head for a moment too, though, and he’s sure that it shouldn’t be so easy to fall into imagining Harry with him, fucking him. It’s not fair that Harry’s still his default.

Louis pours out more lube, and his slippery fingers dip and press again, sat deep and aching, rubbing at his insides. He tries not to think, tries to keep the vision of being fucked faceless, but all he wants is to look up at Harry, have Harry smile and tell him how good he feels, have Harry want him like he used to. He chokes back a sob, so guilty and so turned on he thinks he’ll have to come or he’ll break apart with the force of his own feelings. He ruined it, he was afraid and he gave up, and now Harry’s got something better than messing around with his stupid mate Louis.

He fucks himself hard and fast on his fingers, punishing, trying to drive all the thoughts out of his head, focus on the sensation, and it almost works, he’s almost there, and his cock is lying stiff against his belly, bobbing with his labored breath. And then he thinks of what Nick said about Harry calling his name, and that’s what shoves him over the edge. He comes so hard that a splatter of it hits his chin, and his arsehole clamps down like a vise. In that moment, he’s stripped so bare and there’s absolutely no denying what he really wants.

Louis lies there for a minute, catching his breath, before he drags his fingers out of his arsehole, winces at the hot, empty ache of it. When he rubs his fingertips over the mess of his hole, an echo of pleasure runs up his spine. He sort of thought that maybe doing it once properly would get it out of his system, but he sees now how badly wrong he was, and he wonders how he can get himself proper lube if he can’t go into a shop like a normal person.


+ + +

It feels like they’ve broken some sort of seal, now that they’ve all had orgasms in front of each other, like it’s removed some sort of filter in their minds and certainly in Nick’s mouth. Whenever he’s over there’s barely a moment for hellos before he’s talking about Harry’s cock, about the things they’ve done or are planning to do. And even though Nick’s generally inclusive of Louis, perhaps going too far in assuming the access he’ll have to Louis’s arse or cock, it still gets under Louis’s skin.

He can't stand any more stories, hates feeling inadequate as compared to Nick's extensive experiences with Harry and won't let himself remind Nick that he was the first one to kiss Harry through an orgasm, even if it was childish and unpracticed. Eventually Louis can't take anymore of Nick's outrageous sex adventure tales, and he blurts out, “Jesus, don’t you ever do it in a bed?”

He winces at how it sounds, bitter and petty, but it does the trick. Nick's mouth clicks shut, and Louis has never hated himself more. That is, until Harry speaks.

"M'first time was in a bed," he says quietly, fidgeting with the hem of his t-shirt.

It's like a punch to the gut, the way Louis's brain reels, alternating between flashes of the two of them, crawled into Harry's tiny bed in the X Factor house, trying so hard to keep quiet as they pressed together, felt how much they wanted each other, and then months later, how he'd turned down his chance at Harry's virginity when Harry, too shy to look him in the eye, had offered it to him with his face pushed into Louis's neck. He remembers feeling proud of himself for telling Harry that they didn't need to do that, like he'd done the right thing, but now he feels gutted as he wonders if it was Nick Grimshaw or someone else who eventually got there instead.

“My first time was in a covered wagon," Nick says, dreamily, abruptly dissolving any noticeable tension. "We didn't have cars back then, of course."

This makes Harry laugh and prod playfully at Nick's side with his foot. "Ow, my hip," Nick whines. "Don't forget about my osteoporosis."

“Let's do it now,” Harry says. He’s smiling but it’s a different kind of smile than his usual, wide-mouthed grin. It’s private, almost, and it’s directed right at Louis, which makes him abruptly forget whatever they had been talking about.

“What's that?” Nick asks, because apparently he's facing the same problem.

“Let's do it,” Harry says, still watching Louis intently. “In a bed. There’s one conveniently that way, I believe.”

It’s a pretty direct proposition, and it makes Louis's head spin. It’s usually Nick who gets things going, who pulls Harry like a puppet master and cajoles Louis into joining. But this time it’s Harry, smiling at him and suggesting—

God, what is he suggesting? All Louis can think about is Nick’s promise about someone getting fucked and how out of control he’d felt even with his own fingers in his arse and he can’t, he isn’t ready for them to see him like that. And yet, he knows without a doubt that he'd offer himself up to Harry in a heartbeat, that there's still a first-time that he can give.

“Insatiable,” he hears Nick say, but Louis doesn’t look away from Harry. He sees how Harry turns to grin at Nick, how Nick musses Harry’s hair and grins back with a fondness that makes Louis's gut ache.

“Up for it?”

Harry’s blatantly asking now, something hopeful in his voice. Louis opens his mouth to respond, but gets distracted by Harry’s hand, how it shifts down from his chest, down to press in between his own legs at the bulge of his swelling cock.

He means to come back with something clever, some way to agree and sound relatively indifferent rather than, Fuck yes I want every bit of you all the time in every place, or, Please don’t go without me, but all he can do is nod and mutter, “Yeah,” faintly.

They walk down the narrow corridor together, Harry pulling Nick by the hand, and Louis trailing. There’s an awful moment when he’s facing Nick’s back and Louis wonders if they’d even notice if he just turned back around and left the flat entirely, but he’s too selfish to find out.

When they get into Nick’s room, Louis is surprised to find it messy and lived-in, not professionally decorated like the rest of Nick’s place. The bed is low and rumpled, a jumper crushed in between two pillows and Louis immediately pictures Harry spread out in it, smiling up at Nick they way he used to smile at Louis.

It’s basically happening in front of him: Harry pulling off his t-shirt and tossing it on the ground like it belongs there, smiling and leaning up for a kiss from Nick as he works his jeans and pants off his narrow hips. Louis watches them kiss, standing awkwardly a few paces away, and immediately regrets his decision. He looks away, panicked, scrambles to think of an excuse to leave but then he feels someone grab his hand, and he startles because it’s Nick.

Harry’s crawled backwards onto the bed, apparently, propped up against the headboard with his legs sprawled out on the mattress. He’s pulling at his cock lazily, watching them with wide, dark eyes. There's a small bottle of lube next to him that wasn't there a moment ago, and of course Harry would know where Nick keeps it, probably feels right at home in Nick's bedroom.

“Come here, love,” Nick says, and tugs Louis over so that he’s standing in front of Nick, back to Nick’s chest, and facing Harry on the bed. “Let’s get you out of your shirt, yeah?”

Louis can’t speak, just lets Nick lift his arms and pull his top over his head. He feels Nick’s warm breath on his neck, sees how Harry’s eyes dart back and forth between them.

One of Nick’s hands strokes down Louis's stomach lightly, and he’s talking, talking, always talking.

“You’re so lovely,” he’s saying. “It’s almost unreal how lovely you are.”

He feels another hand trail down his spine, feels Nick press closer to his back.

“Christ, your bum,” he whispers, and despite all of the jokes and attention Louis has got over his backside, he’s never felt so thrillingly, filthily aware of it, of the way it feels to have a hard cock pressing up against it. He breathes out, feels how he can make his hole relax, starts to feel more hungry than afraid. “Do you even realize—?”

He doesn’t hear what Nick says, or if he says anything at all, ears attuned only to the increased pace of Harry’s breathing and wet sounds that come from the bed as Harry slicks up his hand and starts to stroke himself with purpose.

“Look how lucky I am,” Nick says, “look at you lads.”

Louis doesn’t need to be reminded to look; he can’t stop looking. He can't even remember a time when it wasn't an effort to see anything other than Harry.

And then Harry takes his breath away, pulling up his knees and tracing long fingers down to his arsehole. His fingers are shiny slick, and Louis barely even notices that Nick’s got his trousers open because the only thing he can focus on is the soft stretch of skin when Harry slides a finger inside himself.

Harry’s eyes go heavy-lidded and his teeth sink into his bottom lip, and he looks gorgeous and so, so turned on.

Louis nearly falls when he feels a tap to the back of his knee, just Nick nudging him to step out of his trousers and pants, and then, fuck there are lips at the base of his spine, Nick’s hands gripping at Louis's arse roughly and then pressing his mouth where his fingers dig in.

It’s too much, Louis has to grab his cock and tug, almost defensive against the assault on his senses. Harry groans then, and Nick stands, presses a kiss to Louis's shoulder and says, “I think he needs tending to.”

It’s a suggestion, Louis realizes a moment too late, after he’s hesitated too long and Nick’s stripped off and crawled onto the bed over Harry, slipping a long finger in right next to Harry's.

"Good," Harry breathes, arching his neck so that the top of his head is pushed into the pillow and Nick's mouth is attached to his jaw. "Another."

Nick's shoulder flexes and bunches as he presses his fingers into Harry, his hips starting to move in anticipation. His cock is hard, dragging stiffly against the palest part of Harry's inner thigh, where Louis can see Harry's fingertips digging in, spreading himself wide for Nick.

It's when Nick's got three fingers pressed deeply in Harry's arse that Louis hears Harry say his name.

"Louis," Harry breathes out, eyes closed and face flushed and sweaty, and then again, more frantic the second time. For a moment, Louis thinks it's how Nick had said, that Harry's calling for Louis unconsciously but then he sees Harry's free hand jerk against the sheets, fingers curling and uncurling in an unmistakable gesture.

"Yeah, Christ," Nick says, sounding a bit overwhelmed himself. "Louis, bring that gorgeous bottom of yours over here and hold Harry's hand."

Louis knees onto the bed, and Harry grabs him, gripping Louis's forearm and pulling him down. Louis doesn't know what to do, how to arrange himself, so he just lies down next to Harry awkwardly and pats at Harry's hand.

The squelching sound of Nick pulling his fingers out, of a condom wrapper being torn flit into the periphery of Louis's attention but it doesn't really register until Harry's groaning and squeezing Louis's arm that Harry is getting proper fucked, right in front of him.

"Oh God, that's it," Nick murmurs, hunching over and hooking one arm under Harry's knee. "So good for me, darling."

Louis feels torn, his eyes flickering from where he can see Nick's thick cock pushing into Harry's body and then back up to Harry's face, devastated and more beautiful than he's ever been. His brow is furrowed in concentration but his mouth is slack with pleasure, and Louis wants to touch him, wants to kiss him but he doesn't have the right.

He sees how Harry responds to Nick's gentling words though, like he needs it, so when Nick is worked up to the point where he can't give that to Harry any longer, Louis takes over.

"God, Hazza," he says, voice raspy and low. Harry's eyes flutter open for a moment, and he turns his face towards Louis, whines for him to keep talking. “You’re—you’re doing so good.”

Harry lets out a breath like a moan, like he'd been holding it.

"Yes," Nick says. "Keep—"

"So good," Louis says again. "Does it feel good? Because you look brilliant. You look perfect, my god, Harry."

He'd completely forgotten about his own dick until he feels Harry's fingers fumble to grasp it, squirming to get two fingers on the tip where Louis's skin is stretched tight. "Oh," Harry sighs suddenly, and he stops reaching for Louis, just murmurs, "You—you like it."

He sounds content, like he's happy to realize that Louis is hard while watching this, and the idea that Harry might have thought—that maybe back when Louis had turned Harry down, back when they were just messing around, the idea that Harry might have assumed that Louis simply wasn't interested is enough to propel Louis forward. He presses up against Harry's side, too tightly to be considered passive any longer, and pushes his face into the side of Harry's neck so that he can whisper in his ear, "I bloody love it, Hazza. Love—love seeing you like this. Don't ever think that I don't, fuck, I—you're going to make me come just from the way you fucking look."

"Do it," he hears Nick groan, and Harry nods quickly in agreement, letting his eyes fall shut again as Nick pounds into him. "Now."

Louis bites his lip and reaches out a trembling hand, tries to figure out how to get at Harry's cock where it is, pressed against Nick's belly.

"Not him," Nick pants, and Louis pulls back, bullet-fast. Of course that's not what— "He can," Nick gets out, strained. "Like this. You."

When Harry sighs, yesyesyes, Louis rolls over onto his back and exhales shakily, grasping his own dick and pulling on it quickly. He keeps his face pressed flat against the bed, turned to face Harry and watch as he's shoved further up the mattress with every thrust.

His mind is blank, there's nothing left to imagine. Harry's right here, close enough to taste his sweat. Harry's getting fucked and Nick's going to come and fill him up with come until it drips out and fuck the arousal and envy warring within him makes it even hotter. He's almost grateful that Harry's not watching because he comes embarrassingly fast, seizing up with how intense it feels.

"Give it to him," Nick groans, and Louis blinks. It's not registering until he feels Harry's face pressing against his shoulder, Harry's teeth digging in. "Give it, oh bollocks," Nick groans. "Now now now."

Louis lifts his hand, offering it uncertainly to Harry who whines and attacks it with his mouth, sucking two of Louis's spunk-covered fingers into his mouth and lashing them with his tongue. "Bloody hell," Louis whispers, and then Harry sucks in a deep breath and holds it, teeth cutting into Louis's knuckles.

When he looks down again he sees Harry's come dribbling down from where it's pooled in Harry's belly button, sliding down his hip onto the sheets and he says, "Oh you good lad," without even thinking.

Harry's gone absolutely pliant, like he may even be asleep except for the satisfied smile on his face, and Louis wants to smile like that, too, instead of feeling like he wants to punch himself for ever giving Harry up.

Nick's silent when he comes, hips snugging up deep against Harry's. He holds still for a long moment and then draws back, pushing in a few more languid times before pulling out and flopping to the other side of Harry's lax body.

He pats Harry on the belly, smearing his come there and says, "Well done."

Harry grins, and even with his eyes shut tight, says, "Bed's not bad, eh?"


+ + +

Tour rehearsals and promo are a godsend. Being with the lads, playing around and laughing is the only thing that makes Louis feel normal anymore. Like he’s still sort of the person he always was, one fifth of this band, part of this crazy experience and incredible friendship that hasn’t changed at all, despite the rest of his world going inverted over the past two months.

They still get the girlfriend question in nearly every interview, but it doesn’t bother him to keep his hand down, and nobody ever asks him directly about Eleanor anymore. He only has fleeting moments when he thinks about her, when Paul wears the orange shirt that Eleanor had made snide comments about, when they do a phone interview with a Manchester radio station who asks them if they'll get to spend any time in town when they come for their show.

On the afternoon of their first O2 performance, Harry locks himself in the loo and vomits. Afterwards, when he’s sitting on a couch backstage with bleary, red-rimmed eyes and Zayn is rubbing his shoulders, Louis has to smile at how normal everything feels, how Harry getting nervous makes the rest of them feel calmer somehow, reassured that things are going to go exactly as they expect.

And performing the new show is bloody brilliant. Standing on the stage of the O2, looking out into a sold out crowd and hearing 20,000 voices sing along is something Louis will never get used to, even though it happens four times that weekend, each show better than the last.

After the last home show on Sunday night, Sony throws them a party to kick off the tour. It’s at a posh restaurant with an ice sculpture of the 1D logo and passed appetizers but it quickly turns into a silly mess, with Louis tricking Niall into swallowing a hunk of wasabi the size of a golf ball by telling him it was a pistachio-flavored truffle, and then Niall choking and spitting it up all over Liam’s sister, Ruth, who shrieked and punched Niall so hard he fell over and wept.

“I didn’t think you would do it, Nialler,” Louis says, laughing but also feeling kind of bad because Niall’s face is scrunched up, like it actually really hurt. “I’m so sorry, mate.”

But Niall just wipes at his eyes and grins, flecks of green still showing in his teeth, and says, “Wait until we get to Dublin,” and Louis groans when he thinks about Bressie and all of Niall’s other ridiculously large friends coming after him for revenge.

He decides to stay away from Niall for the rest of the night, which proves rather inconvenient because it leaves him on his own, pretty much. It’s a school night, which means he’s already said goodbye to his mum so she could get the girls to bed at a decent hour, and the rest of the boys are busy: Harry chatting up one of Gemma’s friends, Zayn left early to go meet up with Perrie, and Liam is standing with his parents, looking endearingly proud to have his arm around Danielle again.

It takes less than a second for Louis to decide that he’d rather be a third wheel to Liam and Danielle than to Harry and the tall blonde he’s smiling at.

Danielle’s lovely, gives him a big, lingering hug, and Louis had forgotten how close they’d all become, a right foursome whenever the girls had come to visit them on the road. “Hi gorgeous,” he murmurs into her hair, grinning when she pulls away and calls him a flatterer.

“No flirting with my girlfriend,” Liam warns, but his wide, pleased smile says he’s just happy that he can call her that again.

“Better watch out,” Louis says with a wink. “Now that I’m single again.”

It’s meant to be funny, and Liam does laugh but Danielle’s face kind of falls in a way Louis hadn’t expected. “I was so gutted when she told me,” she’s saying. “You two were so good together,” and right, of course, Danielle would have the same useless but well-intentioned brand of guilt that comes from being happy in a relationship even though everyone else in the world isn't having the same wondrous experience. And Danielle is close with Eleanor so of course she would have heard the story. Or at least Eleanor’s version of the story.

“It was for the best,” he says, trying to cut the conversation off before Danielle can pity him any further.

She doesn’t press the issue, doesn’t tell him maybe they’ll get back together, probably because she knows that they won’t, knows how tired Eleanor was of the whole thing, how much happier Eleanor looks now that she doesn’t have to bear the weight of being Louis Tomlinson’s girlfriend any longer.

That day he’d found her in his flat he’d thought to himself that she looked so relaxed, pretty in a way he hadn't seen her in a long while, and that’s probably what it was. Ending it was probably the best thing for her and she hasn’t looked back once.

He hears Harry’s laugh, the kind of silly honking noise that surprises him and makes him slap a hand over his mouth, and Louis looks over to see him do just that. He smiles despite himself, and shakes his head.

“So you’re all right, then?”

He looks back at Danielle and wants to kick himself when he sees how closely she’s watching him, probably cataloguing the way he watches Harry and wondering if he’s not as heartbroken as he should be over his year-long relationship ending so abruptly.

“I’m great,” he lies. “Buzzing about the tour. You coming along to Glasgow?”

She isn’t, Liam brags, because she’s landed a brilliant gig dancing for some incredible show, and Louis kind of tunes the rest out, schooling his face into a friendly smile and counting the seconds until he can make an excuse to get away.

With nobody left to talk with, Louis drinks too much too fast and he doesn't relax until Liam and Danielle leave, because now there’s nobody there watching him too closely. It’s a good thing, because he’s so fucking transparent, the way he scurries over to Harry as soon as they’ve gone.

Harry’s still chatting with the girls but Louis doesn’t care. He’s too selfish and buzzed to stay away, or watch while Harry pulls. And anyway they’re leaving in a day and they won’t have Nick Grimshaw around while they’re on tour so there really won’t be any excuse for Louis to get Harry the way he wants him and fuck, he’s not ready to give that up just yet.

So he schools his face into a happy, drunken grin, slings an arm around Harry in what he hopes is a casual manner and says, "Ladies, please forgive me but I’m going to have to rob this scoundrel of your pleasant company.”

Harry widens his eyes in surprise, but it’s a happy one, and he giggles and wraps a long arm around Louis's waist, steadying him when Louis totters.

“Ah, I don’t think you’ve met Harry’s life partner,” Gemma says to the blonde. “Emily this is Louis. Louis, Emily.”

Louis grins and sticks out a hand, but he’s surprised at the coy smile Emily gives him, and the flirtatious way she says, “It’s really very nice to meet you,” and, “Harry’s a very lucky lad.”

“He is,” he agrees cheekily. “I am a brilliant caretaker.”

“It’s true,” Harry agrees, and pulls Louis close, planting a wet kiss high up on Louis's cheek.

Emily looks like she wants to stay, but Gemma, bless her, drags her off.

Harry keeps his arms around Louis, nuzzles in close and says, “I’m all yours,” in a way that makes Louis blush, makes him want to deny that this is what he’d wanted all along.

“The night is young,” Louis says, trying not to slur. He shakes Harry’s shoulder roughly. “Let's go out and do terrible things!"

Harry laughs, and Louis knows he’s not making sense but Harry is still smiling and nodding and saying, “Yeah, alright,” and so he steers Harry out of the party and hops into Harry’s car.

Louis fumbles with the radio, frowning when Harry pulls out onto the street and says, "So what, do you want to go to a club?"

Because no, Louis doesn’t want to go a to club, but he can’t very well say, No, I want to go home and suck you off, so he shrugs and says, "Clubs are lame."

“Your face is lame,” Harry says, laughing. “So what terrible things should we get up to?”

Louis is quiet for a moment, watching the city lights fly by the window. He knows what he wants: Harry, naked and hard and pressing him down. Harry, kissing him like he used to do, and looking at him like Louis was the best thing he'd ever seen. He wants Harry, but he doesn't know how to get him. Not without bloody Nick Grimshaw to put everything in motion and keep him from falling in as deep as he already knows he could.

Eventually he just faces the fact that he's going to have to ask for it, much as it makes him feel like a miserable, pathetic arsehole. So he sucks in a breath and tries to sound breezy when he asks, "What's Nick up to tonight?"

“Nick?” Harry asks, confused, like they haven’t been spending most of their nights with Nick lately. “Uh, dunno, want me to ring him?"

"Yeah, why not," Louis says, shrugging again. He can feel Harry giving him a funny look from the drivers' seat, and so he follows it with, "If you want."

Fuck fuck fuck, Louis thinks. He needs to tone it down, he knows, but he can’t figure out any other way to get what he needs. Tonight’s the last chance he’s going to have for a long while, maybe ever, and so he pushes, lets himself be more blatant than he should.

Finally Harry says, "Okay, yeah," and he tries to keep his breathing measured when Harry uses the Rover’s Bluetooth to ring Nick.

They pull in to Harry’s a few moments later. When Harry opens the door to the house, Louis slides by him, trying to ignore how Harry watches him when he does.

“You’re in a mood tonight,” Harry says, switching on the light.

Louis goes straight to the kitchen, looking for a beer. “Not in a mood,” he calls back to Harry. “Just need a bit of entertainment. Post-show rush and all.”

Harry ducks his head, and his smile comes a hair too late. “Didn’t realize I wouldn’t be entertaining enough for you.”

And that's not what Louis meant, not at all. Harry is, well, Harry’s too bloody much a lot of the time. But Harry's always just looking at him, waiting for him, and Louis doesn't know what to do about it. Nick knows how to make things happen.

"Grimmy should be here soon,” Harry says, rolling the beer that Louis had opened for him between his hands.

“You’ll always be entertaining enough for me,” Louis says after at least a beat too long.

“You too,” Harry replies, toasting Louis with his beer.

They’re still stood awkwardly in the kitchen when Nick lets himself in the side door.

“Is it Sunday already?” Nick says happily. “That’s our night to fuck, isn’t it? This is like a sexy bridge club. We should play strip canasta.”

Louis musters up a crooked smile and hands a beer to Nick, muttering, “Cheers.”

Nick clinks his beer against Louis's and takes a swig. He looks around happily, raises an eyebrow at the ensuing lack of conversation. "So what's going on?"

"I guess we should go upstairs?" Harry looks over at Louis, expression a mixture of hopefulness and uncertainty. Louis gives him what he hopes is a reassuring smile, never mind the way his own guts are churning with nerves.

"Hmm," Nick says, eyeing them curiously as they get to Harry's room. "Are we having angry sex tonight? I wish I'd known. I would have tempered my cheerfulness."

Louis chuckles as Harry flings off his shirt. "Nah mate," Louis says, "just, we played a show tonight."

Nick nods. Harry fidgets. The three of them stand awkwardly for a moment.

"I've always wondered what you lot were like after a show," Nick muses. "I must admit, this isn't exactly how I'd pictured it."

When another quiet moment passes, Nick rolls his eyes and says, "Come here, lads." In a moment he's got an arm around both Harry and Louis, bringing them in for a slightly smarmy hug. "You're leaving for tour, aren't you," he muses. "And you're going to miss dear old Grimmy. Is that it?"

"Reckon we both will," Harry says softly, and Nick huffs out a dubious laugh. “Louis might not let on, but he wanted you here tonight.”

Nick looks over at Louis with a raised eyebrow. "Is that so," he says, delighted.

He shifts behind Louis and wraps his arms around him, trapping Louis's arms by his side in a backwards hug. “I’m so pleased to have won over your little friend here, Harold.”

“Who are you calling little?” Louis says, meaning to joke but instead sounding petulant.

“You, darling,” Nick says, rumbling in Louis's ear. “You are a lovely little thing, with a lovely round little bum, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“I think you’re a bit fixated,” Louis replies, though the low murmur of Nick’s voice is more convincing than he’d like.

“I won’t even deny it,” Nick agrees. “But I dare say you don’t mind.”

Louis snorts, but before he can respond, Nick presses up close to his back and whispers, “We both know that what you want is a good, deep dicking, sweetheart.”

All of a sudden Louis is frozen, locked up with panic. Nick’s words zing through him, turning him on but also scaring the piss out of him because it’s true, and apparently it’s bloody obvious as well. And he can’t help but wonder who Nick means when he says, We both know.

He doesn’t look at Harry, afraid of giving any more away. Harry can't know how much Louis wants that, wants it from him. It's better to keep things with Harry under control, even if control is something Louis has very little of at the moment.

“I love how responsive your fit little body is,” Nick goes on, dropping a big hand to rub at Louis's erection. “Was he always like this, Harold? Even when you were wee babes messing each other about?”

“Yes,” Harry says, making Louis look up, surprised. His voice is rough, like he almost didn’t want to say, but he’s also turned on, thick cock poking up from between his legs.

“Did you ever lick him out, then?”

Harry’s hand shifts over to his own dick suddenly, and squeezes. He shakes his head, biting his lip, and Louis closes his eyes again, can’t let himself think about Harry wanting that.

“No? What a shame,” Nick says. And then to Louis, “I’d very much like to do that to you, love. Would you be up for it?”

Louis shudders. It’s so filthy, to think about Nick tonguing at his arsehole, and yet he wants it, feels himself clench up at the idea of it. He manages a nod and hears Harry gasp, wonders if it's because he wants to see, or if he's just surprised.

Louis lets Nick turn him around, thankful that Harry can’t see his face for a moment. He just—Harry overwhelms him.

Nick is tugging at his jumper, nudging at Louis to raise his arms so that he can pull it over his head. Louis crosses his arms over his chest, hooking his hands in his armpits. He's not shy, he's just chilly, hyper-aware of his bare skin, too pale now that it's winter in all the parts of the world he's been spending time in.

Nick ducks down to catch Louis's eye. “Does it bother you to hear how lovely you are?” He settles his hands on Louis's neck, then strokes very gently down his shoulders, his arms, until he can pull Louis's hands away from his chest.

“Your seduction techniques are crap,” Louis says in response, trying not to show Nick how much he’s getting to him. “If all you’re going to do is hold my hands and talk about my bum.”

Nick laughs then, surprised. “My god,” he murmurs as he unfastens Louis's jeans and pushes them down, along with his pants. “You are so very different than Harry was when he came to me with his broken heart.”

The words bounce around in Louis's brain for a moment, until he forces them out. He can't think about that, can't think about Harry, not while Nick turns him towards the bed and tips him down, holding his hips up so that his arse is in the air. He feels hands part his cheeks and Louis closes his eyes, his face burning at how exposed he is.

He maybe was expecting Nick to keep blathering on about something or other, so it’s a shock when he feels a tongue, wet and warm and soft, dipping in towards his hole.

“Shit,” Louis gasps, brings a knuckle up to his mouth so that he can sink his teeth into it to keep himself quiet.

It’s so wet, is the thing, wet tongue pushing wet saliva around, making his crack and his bollocks drip with it. It’s too much for Louis, feels too intense, and all he can do is clench his hole tight and try not to think about what he looks like to Harry, who’s still sitting quietly next to him on the bed, barely in his periphery when he makes the mistake of briefly opening his eyes.

The rough texture of Nick’s chin scrapes at him, makes Louis spread his legs open wider so that he can get Nick’s soft lips and firm tongue where he wants it. It’s awful and wonderful at once, and all of Louis's awareness is focused on the soft press at his arsehole, the heavy hang of his prick, and Harry, seeing it all.

“Mmm, you’re so delicious,” Nick says, kissing down low, just below Louis's hole. “But I need you to open up, love, so I can get a taste inside.”

Nick’s finger strokes at Louis then, rubbing his rim and trying to get him to relax. Louis opens his eyes when he feels a hand on his head, Harry stroking his hair away from his sweaty temple. Their eyes meet, and it's a shock of arousal when Louis sees how dark Harry's eyes are, how turned on he looks. Just at that moment, Nick slides a long finger inside of him, follows it with his tongue, lapping at the sensitive skin of Louis's rim. "Uhnnn," Louis moans despite his best efforts at silence, and Harry strokes his hair again.

"That's it," Harry says, voice rough and deep. "Just relax."

It's so good, so much better than when he had tried it on himself. The angle is better, Nick's fingers are long and relentless. It feels bloody incredible. Louis thinks about how pathetically wanton he looks, the way he pushes his arse up in the air and begs with his body for more. Harry keeps stroking his hair and soothing him, but there’s something intense in his expression, something that isn’t just arousal.

Nick pushes a second finger in and Louis has to bury his face in the sheets, try to hide the way he's helpless to the good feeling. He thrills at the feel of Nick’s fingers roughing him up inside, even as he’s humiliated at how much he enjoys it. He can feel how he’s loosening up, gone lax and slick and messy where Nick’s mouth and fingers are working inside him.

He doesn't even realize how he's rocking his hips back onto Nick, chasing the pressure, until Nick holds him still, hands gripping tight around his hips and Louis grunts, frustrated and wanting more.

“Now if I didn't know better, I'd think you wanted to get fucked,” Nick says, voice gone hoarse and breathless.

Louis sobs then, bites his lip hard and squeezes his eyes shut because he does, has been wanting it for weeks now. Nick keeps up the pressure of his fingers, and Louis has to press his face into the bed, slide one hand underneath his belly so that he can grab at his own dick. He wants to sound blasé and unconcerned with the idea of a cock in his arse, but all he can do is squirm and wank himself and nod his head jerkily.

He feels Harry’s hands go from soothing to tight in his hair, gripping so hard it makes Louis's eyes fly open. “You've—have you ever? Before this?"

They both know he hasn't, because if he had, he would have done it with Harry. He doesn’t say anything, won’t confirm it.

Nick pauses in the midst of slicking himself up, condom already on. He rests a slippery hand on Louis's spine. “Louis, love, is this what you want?"

What a horrid fucking question. He's so turned on and yes, he wants to feel the blunt push of a cock filling him up, but at the same time it feels so careless to have his first time be with Nick Grimshaw, who's not even really a mate. Especially with Harry looking at him, with Harry knowing that Louis hasn't ever, and more importantly Harry knows that Louis wouldn't with him, and when he looks up into Harry’s face, Harry’s gnawing his lip, his cheeks deep pink and his eyes too wide.

"There's no shame in it either way," Nick says, stroking his hip.

Louis looks away again, resting his cheek against the bed. “Yeah,” he whispers, "I want it." It's maybe the most honest thing he’s said all night.

Harry doesn’t say anything, and Louis is grateful for that.

Nick murmurs for him to relax, that it’s going to be so good for them both, but Louis's eyes still well up with tears when Nick pushes in, hard, unrelenting cock splitting Louis open. He keeps up a slow, steady pressure and every time Louis thinks he can’t possibly get in any deeper, there’s another nudge, another searing wave of pain. Eventually Nick gets in as far as he can, and Louis's mind clears enough for him to think, I’ve got a man’s cock in my arse, and the rest is static.

“All right,” Nick says, sounding overwhelmed himself. “God, you are every bit as lovely inside. Want me to move?”

Louis nods, noticing how Harry’s hand has gone still in his hair. He glances over at Harry and then immediately looks away, wishes he hadn’t.

Harry looks lost. He’s still hard, big hand wrapped tightly around his cock, but his eyes are flitting up and down the length of Louis's body, never resting, and his bitten mouth is turned down at the corners.

Louis breathes in and out shakily, tries to convince himself that this isn’t about Harry, that they’re just mates sharing an experience, that it’s good that Harry can be here with him while he tries something new.

“Fuck,” he hisses when Nick pulls back, dragging at his insides. He slaps the mattress with an open palm, needing some sort of release.

Nick slows then, stroking his hands down Louis's sides to cradle his hips gently and that’s— that’s worse. Louis doesn’t want tenderness. He doesn’t need Nick Grimshaw’s concern. He just wants to get fucked, damn it.
 “Harder,” he chokes out. “C’mon.”

He hears Harry gasp, but it’s immediately followed by the slick sounds of Harry wanking himself with a lubed-up hand, and Louis can't stop thinking about how it would feel to take Harry into his mouth right now, to be so full.

Nick does as he’s told, thrusting into Louis swiftly enough to take his breath away. It hurts, but the faster Nick goes, the harder he gives it to Louis, the more Louis loves it.

“Fuck,” Nick groans, picking up the pace. “The bum on you.” He digs his fingertips into Louis's arse cheeks, spreading him open even more, yanking his hips upward so that he can drive his cock down and in.

Louis wants to laugh and say, Don’t go on about it, but he can’t even catch his breath long enough to say a real word. Little grunts are being punched out of him every time Nick slams into him, and he can feel his cock fattening up even further, swelling with the shame of how much he loves being pounded in the arse.

“Oh you love it,” Nick pants. “You're going to love Harry's cock even more, darling. He's bigger than I am. He'll make it hurt, but it will feel delicious.”

Louis whines then, starts tugging faster on his cock. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s not the thought of Harry—it’s just the idea of getting passed around between them that does it for Louis, makes him feel slutty and desperate. He can’t look up, can only press his face further into bed, suck the sheets into his mouth to stifle his moans.

"Jesus your mouth,” Nick groans. “Harry, be a love and look after his needy little mouth, yeah? Maybe give him a little kiss?”

Louis keeps his eyes squeezed shut but the thrill that shivers through him is enough to push his mouth open against the bed. He wants it, wants Harry to kiss him so much, like he remembers they used to do, messy tongues and soft mouths all over each other until they had to come or they would just die from want. He wants to feel Harry kissing him while he's getting fucked; it's everything he wants. He feels the mattress shift as Harry shuffles closer, and he lifts his face, hungry for it.

He whines when Harry feeds him two fingers, pushing them down on Louis's tongue.

That's good, too, the way Harry's long fingers fill his mouth, giving him something to suck, but all Louis can focus on is the sting of rejection, how Harry usually does whatever Nick tells him to without question, but not this time. Harry who loves kissing, loves kissing Nick and used to love kissing Louis but apparently not fucking anymore, and Louis doesn’t even know where he went so wrong.

Tears start to well up in his eyes and he draws in a noisy, shuddery breath through his nose, flaring his nostrils as he seals his lips around Harry’s fingers. His arsehole is on fire and it hurts but then Nick shifts and he’s pounding into Louis in just a way that makes it also feel unbearably good, and it’s awful. A few hard thrusts like that and Louis is whimpering around Harry’s hand, coming into his fist, creaming up the sheets and somehow feeling even worse.

Nick pulls out, wanks himself until hot spurts of come spatter on Louis's back, and Louis slumps to the bed, feeling gross and dirty and ashamed. Nick pats him on the bum and asks if he’s all right, and Louis wants to answer but there are no words left inside him, so he just lies there with his arsehole burning and feels horrible. He winces when Nick strokes his hole and tells him that a nice hot shower will feel good, and he gets up to run the water for him, leaving Louis and Harry alone on the bed.

Harry's been sort of loosely wanking the whole time, a movement Louis can see from the corner of his eye, but now he slows and eventually stops, grabbing a t-shirt from the floor and pulling it over his head. Louis can see that he's still hard, but Harry's sliding his long legs under the duvet and pulling it up around his hips like he's done, and that makes Louis feel even worse, like this whole thing is ruining everything between them and not even fun anymore.

"Was that," Harry says suddenly, hoarse voice cutting through the silence. "Did you—did you enjoy that?"

And Louis can't answer that question, doesn't know how. He squeezes his eyes shut, like he can block Harry out entirely, make it so that he'll never have to see the look on Harry's face ever again. "Didn't you?" he eventually says.

"You were gorgeous," Harry says encouragingly. "But it was also, like, a little—dunno." His voice goes choked at the end like he’s going to cry, like he’s fighting to keep the emotion down, and Louis can’t do anything for him because this is all his fault. He’s the same idiot he’s always been, who treats sex like it doesn’t mean anything, who treats sex with Harry like it means even less, when really it's just the opposite.

“Shower’s ready,” Nick calls from the bathroom, and Louis sniffs, wipes at his eyes then rolls over and stares at Harry’s ceiling, taking a moment to adjust to the sharp pain in his bum.

“Lou,” Harry says, and Louis sits up, glances quickly over his shoulder. Harry looks small and pale and young all of a sudden, eerily like he did two years ago when Louis told him that they were getting too old, too famous to be getting each other off like kids.

“Sorry,” Louis says, because he is, about all of it.


+ + +

When he gets out of the shower, Nick hands him a towel from where he’s perched on the marble top of Harry’s double-sink.

Nick smiles at him kindly when he says, “Give you a lift?” and then he laughs at himself and says, “Now that I've given you a ride.”

It makes sense for Louis to go home. They’re leaving for Glasgow in a day and he needs to sort himself out.

He presses his face against the cool glass window of Nick’s car and thinks, Well, that’s that.

Nick spends the entire drive chattering on about his feelings on Ke$ha, letting Louis stare out the window and try to forget the stricken look on Harry’s face when he’d said yes to Nick, when he’d given Nick the one thing he wouldn’t give to Harry.

When they get to Louis's flat, Nick puts the car in neutral, shifts in his seat to face Louis.

“Thanks for the lift,” Louis says brusquely. He’s reaching for the door when he feels Nick press on his shoulder.

“You okay, then?” Nick says, eyeing him curiously.

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Louis says with what he hopes is a cheeky grin. “I may even be able to walk again one day.”

Nick smiles halfway, but keeps looking at Louis in a way that makes Louis want to dart out of the car right the fuck now, only he can’t likely pull that off without seeming rude or mental or both.

“Not what I meant, love,” Nick says.

Louis nods his head uselessly. “I’m good,” he says. “Genuinely.”

“Well I don’t believe you, but fortunately for us both, I’m quite accustomed to being lied to by my conquests, so I’ll let it pass.”

Louis laughs faintly, feeling like even more of a twat that he has nothing significant to say to his first fuck, especially when Nick’s generally being oddly sweet. He reckons a joke always works best, so he says, “You’ll never conquer me, mate.”

“Oh, I’m quite aware of that,” Nick says. “For what it’s worth, you were rather brilliant at taking my cock.”

“Something to be proud of, surely,” Louis says, cheeks flushing fast and hot.

“It is! An incredibly useful talent, if you ask me. I can’t tell you how many bad shags I’ve suffered through.” Nick sighs melodramatically. Louis doesn’t understand what they’re doing here, seems a bit late for pillow-talk.

“Well thank god for that. I do have to go on tour day after tomorrow.”

Nick chuckles and looks down at his own hands. “Promise me,” Nick starts, and Louis groans, wipes at his face.

“One shag and you’re asking for promises already? S'a bit clingy, innit?”

“Oh shut it, Tomlinson,” Nick says, swatting at him. “All I want is for you to promise me you’ll take good care of our boy while you’re off touring the world.”

Louis's fingers tighten on the door handle while his stomach swoops at the way Nick says our boy. Like Harry is someone they share, like they have more in common than orgasms. And while Louis is partially touched by the obvious affection that Nick has for Harry, his first and most intense reaction is to judge Nick rather harshly. Given the choice, he wouldn’t share Harry with anyone, and he can’t understand why Nick would. Why Nick does.

“Of course I made him promise the same about you,” Nick says casually. “I’m quite fond of One Direction, as it turns out. I'm very much looking forward to your third album.”

It’s sweet, really, but Louis can’t bring himself to say anything other than, “Cheers,” before he lets himself out of the car.

Of course Nick Grimshaw would turn out to be a lovely person who genuinely cares about Harry, about both of them. He can’t just be the tosser who replaced Louis in Harry’s life, someone he can convince himself that Harry would be better off without. Nick and Harry deserve each other, with their good intentions and open affection and endless ability to love and fuck and be fantastic mates without having to sacrifice any of it. They let him poison everything with his jealousy, his selfishness and they're still somehow gracious about it. Harry fucking stroked his hair while he gave his arse over to Nick, for fuck's sake. Louis can't understand either of them, hates the way they make him feel even more worthless than he would anyway.

Tour couldn’t come at a better time. A month away from this fucked up thing they’ve fallen into will do them all good.


+ + +

Tour feels like deja vu, the way Louis needs to learn how to act normal around Harry again. In the past two years, Louis has learned how to get too close to Harry and then how to distance himself and favor Liam or Zayn. Now he’s struggling once again, finding himself going back and forth between the two. He makes sure to put at least one of the other lads between them during interviews, grateful that they no longer have to share hotel rooms. Niall is always a good choice, given that he's still so normal about everything, but every now and again Louis gets a guilty twinge when he thinks about how he'd messed around with Niall and then essentially pretended it hadn't happened. The guilt is fleeting, however, when Niall pokes at him and makes him laugh and Louis realizes that Niall is perfectly fine with how things went. Or at the very least, Niall, as per usual, isn't letting it make things weird between them. The fact that he's so unruffled about the whole thing does make Louis wonder what other surprising things Niall gets up to in his spare time. He can't imagine that Niall's traded blowjobs with Liam or Zayn, but maybe Eoghan or Bressie? Probably Bressie. It's not a totally unsexy thought, but Louis tries to put it out of his mind. If Niall's not talking about it, he's not going to be the one to pry. Now he just needs to focus on keeping this thing with Harry under control.

But when Harry does things like answer a Twitter question on stage about his perfect date by saying,”I like staying in and cooking. Once I made mulled spiced wine and it was really lovely,” Louis can’t help himself. He has to say, “Did that work out for you, then?” and then watch Harry’s face break into a wide, cheeky smile as he says yes, he thinks the whole evening was a success, and twelve thousand girls scream.

The problem is, and always was, that they don’t live in a bubble anymore. The real world isn’t like the X Factor house, and even without a film crew following them around all the time, reality is much more invasive. Louis can’t resist Harry, even when he’s ignoring him he can’t keep his eyes off him, can’t stop Harry’s voice from pushing everything else into the periphery.

When Harry winks at him, he looks away, fights to force the smile off his own face.


+ + +

When they head off stage forty minutes later, Harry crowds up against Louis, warm, sweaty hand squeezing Louis's waist. “We should go out,” he says, smiling. He says it like it’s an innocent enough suggestion, because why shouldn’t they go out? They’ve got a travel day tomorrow and there are certainly enough bars and clubs in Manchester to choose from.

Niall seems to agree, swatting Louis in the belly and saying, “Fuckin’ right we should! Lads' night! Let’s get some pints!”

And Louis should just agree, should just plan to go out and blow off some steam and cling to Niall if things with Harry get too intense, but instead he flicks a glance back at Harry and says, “Thought you preferred staying in,” because he’s a shit person, and he wants to see how Harry’s eyes darken and his mouth goes slack in surprise.

Harry’s hand tightens on his skin, nails digging in, and Harry doesn’t let two seconds pass before he’s pressing closer and saying, “Yeah, Lou, we could—”

Louis catches Niall watching them, and something in Niall's expression makes Louis feel caught out, exposed. He wriggles away from Harry before Harry can even finish, shouting loudly, “I believe I’m the local expert here, so I pick where we go and I want no lip from any of you.”

Zayn groans, “Just not that one place where they played Barbie Girl fourteen times, yeah?”

Louis grins and musses Zayn’s carefully styled hair and says, “You’ll listen to Barbie Girl and you’ll like it, Malik.”

He can feel Harry watching him and that makes him feel equal parts nervous and excited. He pulls his shirt off quickly, feeling his nipples tighten and his skin prickle with goosepimples. He’s not going to do anything to mess things up any further, he just—he can’t deny that there’s an ugly, secret part of him that wants Harry to want him as badly now as he used to. As badly as Louis wants him now, has probably always wanted him.

The club turns out to be an awful idea. Girls are all over them, more aggressive with Louis now that he’s single, and he hasn’t quite got the hang of turning them down without having a girlfriend to blame his disinterest on. There's a lovely girl squeezed into the booth next to him, a pretty blonde whose friend is rather unsuccessfully flirting with Niall. She's pleasant enough, but Louis is only half-listening to her story about her recent trip to Reykjavik. He's nodding and smiling, laughing during the pauses when it seems like he should, but he's not really aware of anything other than Harry, staring at him intently from the bar.

Harry's focus is tangible, even as he's laughing and chatting with his own crowd of girls. It becomes a game of risk for Louis, to try to sneak a glance at Harry without getting caught, but Harry's eyes never seem to dart away. Feeling caught out, Louis leans towards the blonde, tilting his head so that she can talk directly in his ear. He's flirting, but it's defensive. He wants Harry to see, wants Harry to think he’s going to fuck this pretty girl because he can't stop seeing himself through Harry's eyes, face pressed into the bed and arse in the air, begging for dick. That and the way he and Harry have been dancing too closely around each other and somebody needs to draw a firmer line between them.

"Where are you staying, then?" the girl says in a hushed voice, like it’s any secret that she (or any of the other girls hovering around their table) would be up for a shag in their hotel after a concert. Louis just laughs and shakes his head. He's not taking her home, and he's not going to give her Twitter fodder when she figures that out.

So he says, “You know, I’m not even sure." He feels his phone vibrate in his pocket, and pats her on the bum to get her to move so he can reach it. She tries to discreetly reapply her lip gloss while he checks his phone and reads the text from Harry that says, need a save? He doesn’t look over at Harry, doesn’t want to see Harry’s hopeful face. "I just go where I'm told."

She presses closer, dropping a manicured hand to his thigh. “I can do that too,” she offers, leaning closer to speak into his ear as he pockets his phone without responding.

He feels his phone vibrate again, and then again in quick succession but he ignores it, deciding that fake-flirting with this girl is less dangerous than dealing with Harry any more tonight.

Of course that’s when everything goes to shit.

He should have known, should have remembered that his favorite place in Manchester would have been Eleanor's favorite place as well. But he’d become so good at putting her out of his mind that he’d simply forgotten, and so now of course she’s standing right there next to him, Liam at her side looking apologetic and rather nauseated.

“Look who I found,” Liam says, attempting to sound cheery, but Louis is already making excuses and gently nudging the blonde out of the booth so that he can stand.

“Oh don’t let me interrupt,” Eleanor says, not unkindly. “I just, I saw you lads over here and I thought it would be weird if I didn’t come and say hello.” She seems more awkward than angry, but Louis doesn’t want her to get the wrong idea. He tries to push away the reminder that he hasn’t been shagging random girls because he’s been blowing Niall and getting bumfucked by Nick Grimshaw, all while trying to deal with the crippling resurgence of his pathetic feelings for Harry.

“I’m glad you did,” he manages, and leans in to give her a kiss on each cheek.

“Yeah, I’m here with Sharon and Pav,” she says, nodding over her shoulder. Louis looks over and waves, understanding immediately that Sharon and Pav are no longer his friends, lost in the divorce.

“Give them my best,” Louis says dumbly.

Eleanor is nodding and backing away, but he’s grabbing her hand and pushing close to her and before he can think it through he blurts out, “I miss you.” She freezes, and he knows that the look on her face is more pitying than anything else but it’s the fucking truth. “I do,” he says desperately. “I mean, I know it’s over, I know that,” he says, drawing in a shaky breath. “But you were also my friend, El, and I just—”

He’s not sure what he means to say. Some less specific form of, Everything in my life has gone to shit since we split, or, I don’t know what I’m doing anymore and I haven’t got anyone to talk to, but in the end he just settles on, “—really miss you. It’s just good to see you, that’s all.”

There’s something in her eyes then, something soft, and Louis wants to bury his face in her hair, wants her to tell him everything’s going to be okay even though he knows he doesn't deserve that. Instead she squeezes his hand and says, “Good to see you as well, Lou. Take care of yourself.”

This time he lets her pull away, as much as he wants to say, But that’s the thing, I don’t know how, he lets her go.

For some reason she turns around. She’s got a look on her face like she knows it’s a mistake, but then she’s saying, “Lou, if you ever need to talk...” and he’s nodding before she’s even finished offering. “Okay,” she says. “Okay, let me just,” she looks over at the girls and sighs. “Think I’ve gotta deal with them first,” she says with a half-smile.

“Yeah, of course,” Louis says, relieved. “I’ll get security to send a car round the side, yeah?”

He can see the moment when it hits her: security, paparazzi, all of the craziness that she’s probably been so glad to be rid of for the past few months.

“Please,” he says. “We’ll just, we’ll go round to Theo’s for a bit.” He holds his hands up, palms out, and says, “Just to catch up. As friends.”

She nods and disappears into the crowd for a moment before meeting him at the door. Louis barely notices the camera flashes anymore.


+ + +

The next morning at the hotel is awful. They’ve got to be on the bus by five thirty in the morning so nobody is at their best, but Louis has the extra stress of dealing with Kirsten ringing him at half-four asking why he’s been photographed on a date with Eleanor (hadn’t they agreed not to see each other?), and Harry’s bruised expression as he’s the last one on the bus, iPhone clutched tightly in his fingers.

Harry gives Louis a tired smile as Liam claps Louis on the shoulder and asks how it went, but he doesn't sit next to Louis. And if Louis is louder than he needs to be when he says, “We just talked, nothing more,” it’s a waste, because Harry’s got his headphones on and his gaze fixed firmly on the road.

Later, when they’re piling into the van to head to the venue, Harry slings an arm around Louis's shoulders but there’s something stiff about the way he holds himself, like he thinks Louis might shrug him off. But they’re in the car, and the windows are dark, so Louis leans into Harry’s body, fits one hand above Harry’s knee and keeps it there for the entire ride. It’s the right move, apparently, because even though Harry’s still turned towards the window, Louis can see how his face breaks into a helpless smile, cheeks dimpling.

And if Louis can’t stop smiling while Harry strokes the back of his neck, well. Nobody's really looking except for Niall, crooked smile on his face when he winks at Louis.


+ + +

Harry’s mum and Gemma come to the show in Liverpool, so Harry spends most of his time with them, and while that’s not odd in itself, Louis is surprised when Harry doesn’t include him, or the other boys. Harry’s been strange lately, since Manchester, and Louis isn’t so thick that he can’t figure out what’s bothering him. Tumblr and Twitter had been flooded with pictures of him and Eleanor leaving the club together, and Harry hasn’t asked him any direct questions so Louis hasn’t had the occasion to explain that it was nothing more than it was. He just—he needed a friend who he wasn’t fucking or fucking in love with, and through the comic genius of the universe, Eleanor turned out to be that person.

Liverpool just makes him irritable in general. It irritates him that Harry would have absolutely invited Nick along for pre-show lunch with his family. It irritates him that he feels the need to explain himself to Harry, like he’s got to make excuses for going for fish and chips with the girl he went out with for more than a year, but every time he sees Harry’s smile falter when their eyes meet he wants to punch something.

When they're on the bus next, Harry curls around his phone, murmuring quietly into it so that anyone would have to make an obvious effort to try to hear, but Louis knows he's on with Nick. They talk for hours, and even while Louis watches films in the back he keeps an eye on Harry, wants to send him a text that says, You were mine first, but of course he doesn't.

In Sheffield he pushes into the seat next to Harry at an autograph session. Harry doesn’t look at him, just smiles warmly at every crying girl, takes their stuffed animals and condoms and phone numbers and gives them hugs. When Harry has to lean over him to get a bottle of water, Louis presses into him and asks, “You all right?” in his ear.

Harry shrugs, looks at him quickly, then away. “M’fine,” he says.

“You seem a bit quiet,” Louis says, trying for teasing, but the way Harry’s shoulders tense up tell him he’s missed the mark. “You’re not your usual cheerful self since Manchester." Calling it out like that is panic-inducing, because there's no way Harry won't pick up on exactly what he's referencing. "Just wondering what’s changed.”

Harry chews his lip for a moment, focusing intently on signing his name on an iPhone case. Then he looks up at Louis and says, “Nothing. Nothing’s changed for me.” He's uncharacteristically serious, and Louis has to work harder than usual to fight the simmering urge to kiss it better.

Instead, Louis lets himself look back, lets his eyes linger far longer than he would normally when there are girls and cameras around. He hates that he can't find his footing with Harry when Nick's not there. If he lets himself relax around Harry, they drift dangerously close. If he holds anything back, he ends up hurting Harry. It's like walking a tightrope every single day and it's exhausting, trying to decide which direction will hurt less if he falls.

“Nothing’s changed for me either, you know,” he says, hoping Harry will get the message. His face goes hot over his own clumsiness.

Harry nods, looking down, but he seems to understand what Louis is trying to say. He’s not back with Eleanor. He isn’t ending whatever it is he’d started with Harry and Nick.

“Good,” is all Harry says, and then he’s smiling widely at a pair of girls, leaning forward so that they can touch his hair.


+ + +

During a radio promo before the first Birmingham show an idiot DJ asks which of them is single, despite the fact that girlfriends are clearly on the interview blacklist. Louis answers honestly anyway, and by this time it doesn't feel unnatural for him to nod and lift his hand.

"Quite a few bachelors, then," the DJ crows, gesturing at Harry, Louis and Niall. "And does Harry here give you lads tips on how to pull the ladies? I hear that's his talent." The DJ smiles widely and nods at them, like joking about Harry like that is something they would all find hilarious.

Harry looks down with a frown, shaking his head ever so slightly, and Louis wants to slap the presenter. "I don't think the lads need any help in that area," Liam pipes up, defensive but still trying to diffuse the situation. "Not with Niall's pretty blue eyes."

"And Louis's bum," Zayn says.

"Harry's talent is his amazing voice," Louis blurts out, hoping he doesn't sound as angry as he feels. "And he's literally one of the best people I know. He's smart and he's kind and on the rare occasion he can be quite funny."

"So true, like yesterday, when we were messing about before the show—" Liam starts in on a story about Harry being silly and adorable. Louis can feel the heat of Harry's gaze on his face, the nudge of Harry's knuckles against his thigh, but he keeps his head tipped in the opposite direction, afraid that if he looks at Harry he won't be able to hide anything he's feeling.

So he looks at Niall instead, grins back when Niall gives him a thumbs-up.


+ + +

After they shower and change at the venue that night, Harry slips his fingers into Louis's belt loops as they walk down the corridor towards the waiting van.

“Wanna hang out in mine tonight?”

Harry’s voice is quiet, nearly drowned out by the squeaks of their trainers on the shiny floor. It’s clearly not an invitation for the group.

“We could order room service,” he says, and Louis tries to ignore the hopefulness in his voice.

“Already told Nialler I’d share with him,” Louis says, turning Harry down without even thinking about it. He’s so fucked up around Harry even on a stage in front of thousands of people; he has no idea how to act around Harry alone in a hotel room. Not anymore.

Niall looks over at them, surprised, but he doesn’t say anything.

“Yeah, okay,” Harry says, dropping his hand and shoving it in his pocket. “Maybe tomorrow.”

Louis hums, non-committal.

They don’t share a room tomorrow, or the next day, or the week after that. He still catches Harry staring from time to time, but even the shy smiles Harry offers don’t do much to break the thin skin of tension between them.


+ + +

They’re all wrecked when they get back to London, and even though it’s the middle of the afternoon, all Louis wants to do is sleep. He was dozing against Niall’s shoulder until Niall was dropped off at his flat, and now it’s just him and Harry in the car, awkward silence nearly tangible between them. They’ve been fumbling around each other for weeks now, and although they can just sit at opposite ends of the couch in interviews and rehash old stories for audiences who won’t care anyway, sometimes Louis looks at Harry and is filled with the clawing fear that he’s ruined everything.

“You could come back to mine,” Harry says, and Louis starts a little at the sound of his voice. “We could ask Nick over later. I bet he’d be glad to see us.”

“Bet he would,” Louis says. He doesn’t necessarily want to see Nick Grimshaw, but there’s no denying that he and Harry were getting along better with him than they have been without. “I need sleep,” he adds, but it’s weak.

“Yeah,” Harry agrees. “You can have my bed if you like.”

“I wouldn’t deprive you at a time like this.”

“But you're coming?”

Louis doesn't understand how Harry keeps reaching for him, even after Louis has pushed him away repeatedly. He can't pretend he doesn't want it, though, so he leans up to tell the driver there’s been a change of plans.


+ + +

Louis isn’t sure how he ends up in Harry’s bed, only that he kicks off his shoes and flops onto the nearest available flat surface, and when he wakes up, Harry’s hand is looped around his wrist and the sun is sliding low behind the buildings. He wants to curl in closer, wrap himself around Harry and tuck his head under Harry’s chin and have everything be all right. But it won’t be. They’ve gone too far for that. He folds his hand into Harry’s and falls back asleep.

The next time he wakes up, it’s to Harry’s voice, hushed as he leans into the phone tucked against his shoulder. The bedside lamp is on, and Louis flexes his fingers against the duvet, remembering the shape of Harry’s hand in his.

Harry ends his call and glances over. “Nick’s on his way. I told him to bring food.”

“What kind?”

“I didn’t specify.”

Louis pulls a face. “As long as he doesn’t try to cook again.”

“Oh, he doesn’t do that without my supervision anymore.”

Louis smiles, but it feels brittle, out of place. “Did you miss him?”

Harry nods. “Not the same just texting and phoning in on the radio.” He pauses. “Did you miss him?”

What Louis has missed is having permission to touch Harry, and he can’t help being a little grateful to Nick for giving him that. “Guess so,” he says. It seems like he shouldn’t have such mixed feelings about someone he’s sleeping with on a semi-regular basis. It’s not as though he dislikes Nick, not really, and he obviously makes Harry happier than Louis ever could.

Harry just stares at him for a minute before turning away and standing up. “Well, he’ll be here soon.”

Nick comes in with Nando’s half an hour later, and Louis hadn’t noticed idea how hungry he was, but the smell of chicken and spices makes his stomach growl. Louis focuses on that instead of the way his heartbeat kicks up when he thinks about what happened the last time they were here with Nick.

“Hello, lads,” says Nick, unpacking takeaway onto the dining room table. “You look like shit.”

“Charming,” Louis says. “Cheers, mate.” Harry laughs and fiddles with his hair, which is somehow sticking straight up off his forehead.

“I expected to find you lounging about in tiny pants, looking seductive. What kind of welcome home is this?”

“You didn’t go anywhere, you twat,” Louis says, elbowing him to get at the chips. Nick slaps at his bum in what’s probably supposed to be a friendly gesture, but it makes Louis tense up nonetheless.

“The tiny pants course is after the chicken course,” Harry says sagely.

“Continental,” Nick replies, and Harry gets a kiss on his cheek for his trouble.

Harry is the one who eschews the table in favor of sprawling on the sofa with his plate, and Nick and Louis follow his example. Nick asks disconcertingly polite and normal questions about the tour, and Louis gives normal and polite answers, and he finds himself breathing a little easier as the night goes on. Although sometimes he notices Harry looking at him sideways, with that same weird expression from last time, and Louis wonders what he’s thinking, whether the images of Louis moaning and desperate for Nick’s cock are replaying in Harry's mind like they are for Louis. Louis still remembers how it felt, the weight of Nick inside him, moving with him, Harry’s fingers pressed against his tongue. Louis's not sure he can handle another evening that ends like that, thinks he might just fall apart completely.

When the food’s down to bones and smears of perinaise, Harry settles his head into Nick’s lap and his feet across Louis's, heels digging into Louis's thigh as he gets comfortable. He stretches his arms over his head, and his t-shirt rides up, exposing a slice of pale belly. There's something different about Harry here and now—how relaxed he is when Nick's around is a stark contrast from the mood swings of tour. Louis is glad to see him happy, but he hates the prickle of awareness that it's Nick who does that for him. Feeling the need to remind Harry that he's still here, Louis pokes at him roughly, making Harry yelp and curl in on himself, long legs kicking.

Now this, this is something that Louis knows how to do. Louis grabs at one of his feet, runs a finger slowly up the curve of Harry’s arch, and Harry whines, “Stop,” but Louis won’t, stroking his finger up and down the most sensitive part of Harry’s foot, making him squirm and giggle and flex his toes.

“As endearing as this is,” Nick says, tugging a little at Harry’s hair, “I was promised tiny pants after my dinner. If you lads would like to go prepare the next course, I’ll very generously do the washing up.”

Louis goes into the downstairs toilet to wash his hands, and by the time he gets to Harry’s bedroom, Harry’s already naked on the bed, arms folded behind his head and dimples out in full force. Louis climbs onto the bed without even undressing, doesn’t even think about Nick’s instructions before he runs his hands up Harry’s sides again. He can’t help himself confronted himself with all of Harry’s pale, bare skin. Harry flails and tries to grab his hands, but Louis has years of practice evading him. He tucks his fingers into the slats of Harry’s ribs, makes small circles against the smooth skin. Harry barks out a helpless laugh and rolls sideways. Or tries to, before Louis straddles his thighs and holds him down, reaching up under his arms and dragging his fingers through the hair there.

Nick gives a little huff from the doorway, and Louis bends down protectively over Harry’s chest, as though Nick could take this away from him. Harry gets his breath back, and Louis thinks Harry’s going to tell him to stop, but he doesn’t, just staring up open mouthed. Louis pinches at his sides, and Harry bucks under him, so Louis does it again, making him squirm and gasp.

“Oi,” says Nick, kneeing up onto the bed. “This is not the pudding I was promised. I thought we were here for sex, not you two mucking about like toddlers.”

Louis jerks back like he’s been slapped by the disdain in Nick’s voice. But Harry makes a plaintive little noise like he doesn’t want Louis to stop, and Louis feels bold enough to scrub his knuckles up Harry’s sides again. He used to do this all the time in the X Factor house, digging his fingers into all of Harry’s most sensitive places, learning how fast he’d try to clench his arms down when you went for his armpits, stroking the soles of his feet and the slight softness at his waist and finally, sometimes, desperately, the insides of his thighs. Harry would always let him, and at first Louis pretended not to notice when Harry got hard because he was hard too, and that was just what happened with too much close physical contact amongst young lads like themselves. Except then one day Harry had kissed him, hot and messy and open-mouthed, and Louis had been completely distracted from tickling him by the softness of Harry’s lips. And after that the tickling had just been part of this other thing, the thing where they stole every possible moment to touch each other and kiss and press as close together as they could in their narrow beds.

The pretense for tickling Harry is exactly the same, two years later. He needs an excuse to get his hands on Harry, wants the instant gratification of Harry responding, wants the quick change from jerky giggles to breathless arousal. Louis drags his fingers across Harry’s belly and Harry’s breath hitches. He’s only half laughing now, and the arch of his spine as Louis tickles him is something else entirely. He’s full of a sudden desire to show Nick what toddlers they aren’t, show him that there are still a few things left that Nick doesn’t know about Harry. Maybe show Harry too, because he remembers, he thinks about it all the time, and he’s afraid maybe Harry doesn’t know that because Louis is crap at expressing it. He slides back off Harry’s hips, settles in between his legs, giving Harry more room to thrash and himself more space to move in. Then he goes straight for Harry’s thighs, right along the tendon, and Harry squawks out another laugh and starts a word that might be “stop” before it’s swallowed. He doesn’t really want Louis to stop, and all of them know it. He slides his fingers lightly along the crease of Harry’s groin, then upward again, always moving, never covering the same ground twice if he can help it. Harry’s laughter comes in hoarse waves, and his cock is bouncing against his belly. Louis wants to suck it, gnaws his lip to keep from going down on Harry right then and there.

Harry lifts his knees, trying to curl in tighter, gone silent around breathless laughter. And Louis's still tickling him but also looking down because with Harry’s legs drawn up he can see everything, his stiff prick and the flushed sac of his balls and the little crease of his arsehole.

“Put your fingers in him,” Nick says, and Louis startles, realizes Nick’s staring at him, following his gaze. “He’d love it. Wouldn’t you, darling?”

Harry manages a broken little sound, half moan, half whimper. He grabs at his own thighs, holds them apart with trembling hands.

Louis's gone still, leant over him, watching the dark flush of his cheeks. “Would you like that, Harry?” he asks, shocked at his own boldness.

Harry’s eyes open, meet Louis's dazed and heavy-lidded. “Yeah,” says Harry slowly. “Lou, please.”

Nick hands him a bottle of lube, and at first Louis just stares at it in his hand. He hasn’t ever touched Harry that way, but it’s not as if he doesn’t know the mechanics of it. So he drizzles some lube over Harry’s arsehole and smears it with his fingertips, working inward as carefully as he can around the edges of Harry’s hole. His other hand is just resting limply against Harry’s belly, and Louis isn’t sure this is a kind of multitasking he can handle.

“Go on then,” says Nick, watching over his shoulder as Louis's fingers open Harry up just a little for the first time.

Harry is so hot around his fingertips, slick but not easy, not yet, and Louis has to take a deep breath, imagining his cock pressed into this tight space. Harry’s watching him, looking up from under his eyelashes, and Louis can’t even deal with the expression on his face, stunned and wanting. He’s so hard too, his big cock slick at the head, and Louis stops resisting the urge to lean in and taste him, rub over Harry’s leaking slit with the flat of his tongue. He takes a deep breath in, sucks sloppily at the head of Harry’s cock as he presses his fingers more deeply into Harry’s arse.

He makes little circles on Harry’s belly with his other hand, feels the muscles go tight as Louis takes more of his cock into his mouth. Harry’s arsehole is opening up on his two fingers, letting him get in as deep as he can, and the taste of Harry’s cock is flooding over his tongue, musky and warm. He gives Harry slow, wet finger strokes, hears the sound of it and fidgets uncomfortably, wishing he didn’t have both his hands occupied because he’s so hard right now, and he wants to touch himself as much as he’s ever wanted anything.

“That’s it,” Nick says, as Louis pulls off for a deeper breath. He watches Harry’s cock blurting precome onto his belly, settles into a sloppy sort of rhythm, one hand crawling up Harry’s ribs again and the other down between his legs, working him open. Harry’s skin is flushed pink all over, and the arch of his back is fucking gorgeous as he offers himself up to Louis’s hands. “Oh, just look at him,” Nick whispers.

“I am looking at him,” Louis says softly. He can’t help it, with Harry sprawled out under him like this, flushed with wanting him. He can’t even go down on Harry again, greedier for the sight of him wrecked and desperate than he is for Harry’s cock in his mouth. Harry’s eyes open, and his lips curl up in a little bit of a smile.

And that little smile is so familiar, is the very same shy, hopeful smile he remembers from that time when Harry was all caught up in Louis, only Louis. It's his smile, and it makes Louis forget himself for a moment, makes him forget that he shouldn't lean in to kiss Harry, that Harry isn't really his anymore. Harry's eyes go wide, surprised, and that's what sparks the painful awareness that they don't do that anymore, causing Louis to falter and pause as he leans down.

But then Harry is whimpering and clutching at his neck and tugging him the rest of the way down and pressing their mouths together like Harry was waiting for him, like Harry needs this too. His hand clutches in Louis's hair, and Louis presses in closer, nuzzling at his lips as they part. Harry’s cock is rubbing wetly against the thin fabric of Louis's t-shirt, and Louis's own is trapped against Harry’s thigh, swaddled by his jogging bottoms.

Harry’s arsehole squeezes tight on Louis's knuckles, and Louis gasps, bites into Harry’s lip.

“You're dying to fuck him, aren't you?” Nick says from somewhere nearby. “I can feel it from here, how much you want him."

Louis moans but doesn’t open his eyes. He can’t help humping Harry’s thigh a little. “You could,” Harry whispers. But he doesn’t say, I want you to.

He can’t even imagine how good it would be to fuck Harry for real. But Louis's not sure he wants Nick to see him do that. He’s not sure he wants to give Nick any more of his first times. And god, he’s so close, just like this, rocking against Harry’s thigh, fucking his fingers into Harry with hard, steady strokes. He's not going to need anything else.

Everything seems to narrow down, until Louis can pretend it’s just the two of them there, until it’s just the movement of his fingers in Harry’s arsehole and the strain of Harry’s hips as he tries to get himself off on this alone. His soft little, “You could,” is still rattling around Louis's head as well, making Louis wonder how that would feel, how it would be if he let himself fuck Harry like he wants, and the tickling falls off completely as he works his hips against Harry’s thigh and fingers Harry to the gasping edge of his climax. He hasn’t even made it out of his own clothes.

“Come on, love,” Louis whispers, rutting against him, not even trying to hide it, and his fingers press deep and stay, stay as Harry comes, Louis's mouth open to catch Harry’s groan. He goes so tight, and Louis takes one last sobbing breath and comes in his pants, imagining Harry clutched like that on his cock. He presses his face into the side of Harry’s neck, working through every last aftershock, panting out desperately. He’s too breathless for kissing, although he rubs his lips down the sweat-damp skin of Harry’s throat as Harry arches back and whispers his name, so quietly, like it’s a secret. Louis remembers Nick saying Harry calls out for him, and he closes his eyes so tight, wondering if this is how Harry sounds when he does it.

“That was lovely, lads,” says Nick softly, maybe kindly. “Good show.”

Louis opens his eyes and looks up. He’s slumped against Harry’s shoulder, and Harry’s got both arms around his waist, holding him tight. Nick’s fingers are stroking through Harry’s hair, but his eyes are on Louis's. He’s got his cock out, cupped in his hand, and he’s stroking it lazily. But it’s the look on his face that makes Louis go still, the little knowing smile at the corners of his mouth, the lift of his eyebrows. Nick is seeing everything Louis ever tried to hide right now, in the way Louis's settled into Harry’s side, the way he feels totally relaxed for the first time in ages. You’re in love with him, you fool, his eyes say, and Louis is way too late with his poker face. Sad Louis Tomlinson pining for his best mate is written all over him.

He tries to wriggle out of Harry’s arms, but Harry makes a protesting noise and holds on tighter. “Sorry,” Louis says. “I just. I just realized what time it was and I think. I think I should go home and let you two, you know, settle in. Without me underfoot.” His voice comes out shaky and weird, but he has to go. He has to get the hell out before Nick says anything that will twist the knife deeper.

"You're acting like a nutter," Nick says, looking rather amused by how flustered Louis is all of a sudden.

It makes Louis droop a little, and he forces himself to slow down, if only so as to appear slightly more in control of himself. "I haven't been to my flat in a month," he says, hoping that makes at least marginal sense. He ignores the fact that he hasn't really thought of his London flat as home in much longer than that.

“Can I give you a lift?" Harry asks, as Louis scrambles out of bed. He sounds odd too, a little desperate, but Louis doesn’t turn to look. He’s got enough to worry about with the giant wet splotch on the front of his trackies.

“No, thanks. I’ll just get a cab. Cheers!” He has never left a place so fast without running. And even then, it’s all he can do not to turn around and throw himself back into Harry’s arms, Nick and all his knowing looks be damned. Louis is sure of it now, he is basically completely fucked.


+ + +

They’ve got just a few days in London, and Louis reckons he can avoid Harry for at least that long. And if he spends every single bloody minute remembering Harry kissing him, well, it’s his own fault for letting it happen. But then it’s Nick who texts him, a classic and unembellished, We need to talk.He doesn’t even make a joke of it, although Louis has to wonder if on some level that is the joke, if Nick’s just mocking him with solemnity, and if Louis responds he’ll laugh and gloat because Nick’s won, hasn’t he?

But Louis responds anyway, because he’s nothing if not a glutton for punishment, and anyway, if Nick’s said something to Harry, he’ll have to do some sort of damage control. Name a time and place, he texts back, feeling bold, and Nick names a restaurant far from the studio and either of their flats and says, Lunch. That night Louis dreams that he and Nick duel for Harry’s hand, and when Nick’s sword slices into his belly all that comes out is sand. It’s a more symbolic dream than he’d like, and he wishes he could tell his subconscious to fuck off. Niall DMs him in the morning to say, You all right?—because Niall can’t be bothered to send texts like a normal person—and Louis almost wants to tell him to fuck off too. But instead he says nothing, thinks he has leaned on other people enough to get himself into this mess.

Nick’s late, which shouldn’t be a surprise, but it gives Louis more time to fidget and stare at the potted plants on the restaurant’s windowsills. It’s a homey place, not sleek and trendy like Louis always expects of Nick, and it’s nearly empty at this time of the afternoon. He has a text from Harry, asking if he wants to go out tonight, and he realizes that his avoiding Harry hasn’t even gone on long enough for Harry to notice. He’s still staring at his phone when Nick slips into the chair across from him. “Well, Louis Tomlinson! What an unexpected pleasure,” says Nick.

“Hi, Grimmy,” says Louis, but his voice comes out tired.

“No opening barb, then?”

Louis shakes his head. “Not today, I think.”

Nick nods. “Have you ordered?”

“Not yet.” The truth is, he’s not really hungry, but when the waitress comes by, he orders soup because sitting in a restaurant not eating seems even more pathetic. Nick drinks coffee and looks at him, too kind for Nick Grimshaw.

“Louis,” says Nick. “Louis, Louis, Louis. Poor, lovely, stupid Louis.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “That’s not much of an opening barb either, mate.”

“Oh, I’ve barbed you quite enough, I think,” says Nick with a dirty smile, and Louis's cheeks go scarlet. He doesn’t want to talk about that. Actually can’t think of anything he’d rather talk about less, and that’s saying quite a lot.

“Look, you asked me here,” says Louis, thinking very hard about things that aren’t Nick’s cock in his arse. “Whatever you have to say, say it, and we can both be on our way.”

“He’s in love with you,” says Nick. Bluntly, as though he’s remarking on the weather.

Louis bites his lip, swallows. “He’s not,” he says steadily.

“He is,” Nick insists. “And you’re in love with him. And I’d like to suggest that you simply admit that to each other, so that we can all move past the teenage melodrama.”

“Not a teenager,” Louis protests because he can’t really argue the rest.

“Then act like a fucking adult, darling, or it’s still teenage melodrama. You’re making yourself miserable, and making Harry miserable, and by extension you’re making me miserable. And even your truly glorious bum is not enough to make up for that.” Nick goes silent as the waitress slides by with their food, orders a bottle of wine even though Louis has no intention of hanging round long enough to help him drink it.

“Me and my truly glorious bum are going to head back home then,” Louis snaps. “You and Harry can go back to being not-miserable without me mucking it up.”

“Can you actually be this thick?” Nick asks, peeling apart his sandwich and scraping half the mayo onto his plate. “Harry is gorgeous and kind and a fucking legend in bed and he keeps me from starving on a regular basis, but he isn’t my boyfriend. He came to me because you smashed that dear little heart he wears on his sleeve into a million pieces, and he needed someone to love him. Which I do. But I’m not in love with him," Nick finishes, looking smug. "You are.”

Louis dips his spoon into his soup, watching the smooth way the liquid envelopes it, pretending it’s fascinating. He debates saying, “I’m not,” but it’s not a lie he can defend just now. “It doesn’t matter now,” says Louis quietly. “I fucked it up.”

Nick puts his face in his hands and groans dramatically. “I do not belong in this conversation. I belong in some other conversation with some fit boy who has not been completely emotionally stunted by pop stardom.” He steeples his fingers under his chin and looks Louis straight in the eye. “Listen to me, pet. Really listen, for ten seconds, even if everything else I say is just blah blah prattle to you. Harry wants you. He loves you. He would do anything to have you, and I’ve known that from the very beginning. And if he wants me to shove off, he knows all he needs to do is ask.”

God, that just makes it worse. “He hasn’t asked though, has he?”

“Only because he doesn’t think you want him, you idiot. He thinks you fuck us and then go home to your own bed and tell yourself you’re not really into men.”

Louis bites his lip, considers that. It’s hard for him to believe, after the way Harry looked at him when Nick was fucking him, that wrecked disappointment on his face. The sting of it still feels fresh in his mind.

Nick takes a bite of his sandwich, still watching Louis's face. When he’s finished chewing he says, “I always sort of suspected there must be darkness beneath that sun-kissed facade of yours, but this deep well of self-loathing is a bit of a surprise.”

“I have layers,” Louis replies. “Loads of them.”

“Then peel yourself till you get to one that allows for something besides boundless misery. You’re a good lad, Tommo, and you deserve better than what you’re giving yourself right now. And,” he leans in close, across the table, one hand around his mouth as though this entire conversation hasn’t already been too intimate, “I’d like you to keep in mind, there’s nothing wrong with being a little bit of a slut for cock.”

Louis's flush crawls up his cheeks again. “Oh god, shut up.”

“I’m being perfectly serious. I’ve had plenty of fit lads in my long life, and none of them have ever needed it more prettily than you do.”

Louis shakes his head, laughs a little, but his heart is racing and his cock is not totally disinterested. “I don’t even know if that’s a compliment.”

“It is. It’s a massive compliment. I’d have you right here if I thought it wouldn’t drive you deeper into that well of self-loathing. But it would, so I won’t. Tragic.”

“Cheers,” says Louis, because he doesn’t know what else to say to a man who’s just offered to fuck him in public. He thinks about the other things too, the fact that Nick has seen him fucked out and delirious and doesn’t think less of him for it. He considers that he may just have to take Nick seriously here. He takes a few slow sips of soup while Nick goes back to his sandwich. He’s unsettled, but not as hopeless as he was, and part of him wants to phone Harry right now and have it out.

Nick catches him looking at his phone and lifts his eyebrows. “Thinking about running out on our lovely lunch? The wine hasn’t even got here yet.”

“Maybe I don’t want to be seen with you,” Louis replies cheekily. "I'd like to leave before any photographers arrive."

"Come now. Don't be that way, love." He looks as though he might be planning to say something else, but then the wine does arrive, and Louis has a glass poured for him before he can argue. And it’s not as though he wants it to go to waste.

Nick starts in talking about the songs he’s planning to play on his show next day, giving Louis a chance to just listen for a bit. He starts to think that he could actually be mates with Nick Grimshaw, that he’s not a bad chap after all really. And that’s not a bad feeling to have, considering.

When the wine is gone, Nick looks at his phone and says he should be going, and Louis says, “Thanks.”

“Just sort yourselves out, all right?” Nick replies. “I’ll get hashtag Larry is real trending the minute you do.”

“God, you wouldn’t.”

Nick shrugs. “No, probably not. I’ll see you around, Louis Tomlinson.”

“See you around, Nick Grimshaw.” Nick smacks a kiss on the top of Louis's head, and Louis gives a little squawk of protest, but it’s pointless. Nick’s already walking towards the door, and Louis isn’t about to call him back over just for a little peck on the top of his head. Instead he sits and stares at his unanswered text from Harry and wonders what the hell he’s going to do next.


+ + +

What he does is go back to being a fucking mess almost immediately. Nick can be charming, convincing, and even kind, but once Louis’s out of his presence, it’s harder to convince himself that Harry could really want him, that there’s anything left for them to sort out. He takes to having a cuddle with Niall anytime they’re in a car, snuggling in against his side because Niall, unlike Liam, never expects him to have ulterior motives. And for once in his life, Louis doesn’t.

He’s looking out the window of a hotel room [someplace], down on a cold wet street with a little pub on a corner. “If I buy you a pint,” says Niall, coming up behind him, “will you tell me what’s going on?”

Louis considers for a moment. “Might take more than one,” he replies.

Niall shrugs against his shoulder. “Ain't like I’m hurting for cash. Come on, Tommo.”

So he lets Niall drag him out, and they don’t say a word to anyone else about where they’re going. Inside the pub is dark and narrow, and Niall installs Louis at a table in the corner and goes for drinks. He returns with two pints of something that looks nearly black in the low light, thunks them down on the table and raises his eyebrows expectantly.

Louis shakes his head. “Not drunk enough for this yet.”

“Not working very hard to change that, are you?”

Louis rolls his eyes and slugs down half his pint at a go, works his way through the rest in short order and sighs. “Next round?”

Niall slides obediently out from the table and returns to the bar. After their second round is gone, Niall starts talking about football, draws Louis in easily like he nearly always can, like this is all they’re doing. Just two lads discussing next summer’s prospects. When they’ve finished their fourth round Louis is tipsy enough that he starts to feel sad. “I don’t know what to do,” he says, and Niall straightens up from a sprawl in his chair, leans in to listen.

“Yeah?” he says simply. But it’s still too much.

Louis swipes a hand across his face. “Fuck, Niall. One more round?”

“Right you are,” says Niall. But when he comes back and sets down Louis’s beer, he adds, “You don’t have to talk if you’d rather not.”

Louis nods. This is how Niall always gets to him so much, not asking for anything and making Louis want to give it regardless. “I’ve been sleeping with Harry,” he says. “And Nick Grimshaw.”

Niall just nods, doesn’t seem bothered that Louis’s sleeping with guys even when he’s not high. “Together or separate?”

“Together.” He pauses then, isn’t sure where to go next. He takes a gulp of his beer.

“Doesn’t sound too bad,” Niall prompts.

“It wasn’t. But I keep fucking it up because I.” He makes a vague gesture, folds his hands together on the table and grips them tight. After a moment, Niall slides one hand over his, squeezing gently. “I don’t want to be with both of them. I just thought, you know, I could handle it, and it would be a bit of fun and I could stop thinking about Eleanor if I was with someone else.” He gives Niall’s hand a little apologetic pat with his thumb because after all, he tested this theory on Niall first. “And I did stop thinking about Eleanor.”

He’s silent for a long time. Nick was absolutely right that he needs to admit his feelings, but he can’t, he just bloody can’t. Not when his feelings are, I’m totally fucking in love with Harry Styles.

“But you think about Harry instead,” Niall says him finally, squeezing a little tighter on Louis’s hands, like Louis might try to pull away.

“Yeah,” he says, and it’s not even a surprise that Niall knows. Sometimes Niall just gets things without being told.

“That’s all right though,” Niall tells him soothingly. “That’s fine, yeah? Harry loves you.” He pauses, squeezes Louis’s hands again, looking so earnest. “Don’t you know that?”

“Course,” says Louis, and he’s never been anything but a happy drunk, but right now Niall’s about to reduce him to tears. He shouldn’t need fucking Niall to tell him Harry loves him.

“You worried about cutting Grimmy out? He doesn’t seem the jealous type, I always thought.”

“He’s not. He told me I should be with Harry if I. If I wanted.”

“Then what the hell is your problem, man?” Niall smacks him gently on the arm.

“Dunno,” says Louis glumly.

“Harry looks at you like you hung the moon. Still. Probably always. He’s already fucking you, so he’s hardly going to turn you down cold there. Dunno what you could think to ask for that he’d say no to.”

Louis frowns at his most recent empty pint glass, sat sadly on the table. He hardly has an idea either. But the thought of just talking to Harry, putting himself on the line that way and hoping Harry will have him, it makes him sick just thinking about it. “It’s not like,” he begins. “It’s not really about asking for something. Well, it is, but it’s different. Because we’ve already got nearly everything. I’ve just never. Fuck.” He settles his head in his hands. The room’s starting to spin a little, and he’s pretty sure he’s not making any sense. Niall puts a hand out to stroke his hair, fingers gentle and clumsy.

“He loves you, mate. He does. Just count on that and you’ll be fine. Both of you. And if Grimmy says you should go for it, that’s a pretty good sign too. He’s a smart man.”

Louis looks up through his fingers. “He’s got a big cock too, if you’re interested.”

Niall yanks at his hair. “Not going to let you matchmake for me until you’ve got yourself sorted.” He goes back to petting Louis, squeezing a little at the back of his neck. “We could go back to the hotel,” he says. “Find Harry if you want to say anything to him. About anything.”

Louis groans, lifts his head so Niall can see as he draws his mouth into a dramatic grimace. “No.”

Niall doesn’t push. “All right then, not tonight. But you should. You should tell him how you feel. Bet you a pint it'll all work out just fine.”

“Going to need more than a pint if it doesn’t.”

“Okay, name your stakes. I’ll bet you whatever you like.”

Louis counts the empty glasses on the table. “Four pints and a groveling apology. Name yours.”

“I’ll have the satisfaction of winning. Nothing better than that. But I’ll take some pints too if you’re feeling so happy you want to spare some.”

Louis grins. “We’ll see about that.” He doesn’t want to be overdramatic, but it’s hard for him to imagine being that happy. Niall pulls him around the table into a rough hug, pressing his face into Louis’s shoulder.

“I love you, Tommo,” he says, one hand fisting in the collar of Louis’s jumper.

“Love you too, Nialler,” Louis replies, breathing in the scent of sweat and beer and boy off Niall’s skin. He thinks maybe he’d like to freeze this moment and keep it, before they go back to the hotel and he has to look at Harry again.


+ + +

Now that Louis has said the words out loud, even if only to Niall, he thinks everything should be easier. But for some reason it's actually worse, knowing that everything he wants is potentially in reach and that making it happen is entirely up to him. Acknowledging what he wants from Harry, what he wants to be to Harry, has only made Louis feel extra fucked up, because it's brought into focus for him the reason he stopped messing around with Harry in the first place. He has always known what he wanted. He's just never could understand a way to actually haveit, which isn't any easier this time around.

The only thing that is markedly different now is that no matter how hard he tries, Louis simply can't pretend that he's fine getting bits and pieces of Harry by way of Nick Grimshaw, can't pretend that he can be happy not having Harry be all his, all the time. And he doesn't want Harry to spend even one minute feeling whatever shitty feelings he'd struggled with after the run in with Eleanor in Manchester, or even, fuck, even after Harry had caught him with Niall, or watched Nick fuck him. Louis just, he's done enough to give Harry reason to doubt him.

So fine. He wants Harry to fuck him. He repeats the thought in his head for a whole day, trying to make it comfortable, rather than completely panic-inducing. It still scares the piss out of him, but the even scarier bit is that while he does want Harry to fuck him, very much actually, that’s not all he wants from Harry, and the rest of it is definitely too hard to say without knowing for sure where the lines are.

Louis just wants Harry. Wants to kiss him and wants to have sex with him and wants to hang out with him and eat his interminable cooking. He wants Harry back as his best mate, and he wants Harry back in his bed, but what does that really mean, in the scheme of real life? They aren't going to be boyfriends for fuck's sake, so what is he really offering Harry? Harry deserves more than to be Louis's clandestine fuck-buddy, but Louis can't see any other solution, and it makes his stomach ache, makes him keep looking away from Harry when Harry smiles in his direction or touches his arm.

It's all he can think about, though, as he paces his hotel room on an early afternoon in Newcastle when they’ve got a little down time before the bus call for the concert that evening. He pulls on a soft t-shirt and some old joggers, and flumps down on the bed, pulling out his phone. He stares at the last text he’d received from Harry, come cuddle, it says, followed by his room number.

It's the kind of plaintive, soul-baring request Harry makes all the time, nearly every day, even though Louis never agrees. He stares at his phone and thinks about what Niall had said. What Nick had said. Harry loves him. Harry wants him around for cuddles and for whatever else, and the primary reason it doesn't happen is because Louis refuses him nearly every time, has done for over a year. Today, Louis decides, is going to be different.

Louis's heart is in his teeth when he slips out of his room, bare feet padding down the carpeted corridor towards Harry’s. The elevator dings in the distance and Louis has to remind himself that nobody cares that he's in the hall in his pyjamas. They've rented out the entire floor anyway, so anyone who might see him sneaking into Harry's room wouldn't assume that he's doing it to confess his extremely ridiculous feelings. He knocks softly, but doesn’t wait long before letting himself in with the cardkey that Harry had slipped him earlier.

“Hazza,” he says, keeping his voice hushed in case Harry’s fallen asleep. Sure enough, Harry is sprawled on the bed in nothing but his pants, worn, faded Calvin Kleins riding low on his hips, looking like everything Louis ever remembers wanting.

Louis pads over to the far side of the bed and climbs on, making sure not to jostle the mattress too much as he settles in near Harry. Harry looks every bit as innocent asleep in the overstuffed hotel bed as he did squeezed into their IKEA bunks back in the X Factor house. His body is longer, leaner, marked with tattoos and crowded with sleek muscle, but his face is open, mouth young-looking and sweet, and Louis can’t stop thinking about how it would have all been different if he’d just held on to Harry then, if he’d surrendered to it.

He can’t help himself, has to reach over and stroke Harry’s mussed curls back from his face. His skin is warm and damp at the temples, hot when he sleeps. Harry snuffles a bit, nose wrinkling and tongue sliding out, wetting his lips. They’re flushed and extremely fucking tempting, and Louis is just tired of fighting what he really wants.

He leans over, curls into Harry’s space and whispers, “Wake up, Hazza.” Harry murmurs something unintelligible but presses closer to Louis on the bed. “Wake up, love,” Louis whispers, mouth moving over Harry’s cheek, tasting the warmth of Harry’s skin even as his own face heats in a blush. Harry’s eyes flutter open and then closed, like he’s chasing a dream, and Louis can’t stop himself from leaning over and pressing his mouth to Harry’s in a gentle kiss.

It’s what he’s wanted ever since Harry had kissed him the last time they were in London, ever since Louis had to watch Nick Grimshaw kissing Harry that first time and every time since. It’s what he’s wanted ever since Harry first kissed him two years ago, maybe even before that.

Harry blinks then, eyes opening in surprise. Louis pulls back slightly, giving Harry the chance to push him off, to tell Louis he’s too late, but that’s not what Harry does.

Instead, Harry breathes in shakily and slides a hand up into Louis's hair. Harry whispers, “God, Louis,” sounding hoarse and overcome. Harry pulls him down into an open-mouthed kiss, soft lips and slick tongue and warm hands.

Louis can’t stop and think about what’s happening, can’t focus on anything other than the sleep-stale taste of Harry’s mouth and the hot slither of Harry’s tongue. It’s quiet in the room, wet-mouth noises and the shuddery sound of their breath amplified like a soundtrack.

They kiss each other slowly, tentatively at first, keeping quiet and not touching anywhere other than mouths and hands and faces. But after a few shy swipes of Harry's tongue, Louis sucks, pulling Harry’s tongue into his mouth and forcing a loud moan from Harry.

Suddenly everything is way more intense, kisses going brutal, desperate and hungry. Harry’s hands clutch frantically at Louis's back, try to pull Louis on top of him, and yeah, Louis wants that, wants to grind against Harry and feel his cock, hard and fat and long, but that's not exactly the way he's been imagining it. Louis pulls back slightly, sighing at Harry’s disappointed little whimper, and slides his own body down next to Harry’s, so that his head is on the same pillow.

“C’mere,” he says, only his voice has gone all croaky and broken, so he has to repeat it. “C’mere, Harry,” he says again, reaching across Harry’s body and grabbing his shoulder, tugging him up and over.

It takes Harry a moment, confused at first, but then he figures out what Louis is asking for and he rolls over, settling himself on top of Louis and pressing Louis into the bed with strong arms and sharp hips. “Like this?” Harry asks breathlessly, arms straining as he holds himself over Louis. His hips are already circling, pressing his cock against Louis's in a way that’s making Louis unable to speak, so he just nods.

“Oh,” Harry breathes when Louis rocks back into him, when Louis lifts his knees even higher, getting Harry right where he wants him.

Harry presses Louis's wrists into the bed and kisses him and kisses him and kisses him like it’s his last chance and he needs to get his fill. Louis can’t keep up, even, has to twist his face to the side a few times, bury his nose into Harry’s neck and breathe because it’s too fucking good. Every time he does, though, Harry is there, nosing at him to get at his mouth again and again and again.

It's like their first kiss all over again, heady and all-consuming and tinged with panic. Only this time Harry is big and heavy and strong and Louis can pretend, even if only for a moment, that Harry's in charge, deciding this for them.

Harry’s rutting into him exactly right, fat cock pressing right up under Louis's bollocks, and Louis wants this, wants more, wants to beg Harry to fuck him. He can feel how wet his own prick has gone, how it slip-slides in his pants, slick from pre-come. Fuck me, he thinks, fuck me now or I’ll die from wanting it. The words are on the tip of his tongue when there's a frightening, high-pitched trilling noise splitting the silence, making them shake apart like reporters from the bloody Sun had charged into the room.

“S’just my alarm,” Harry says, fumbling for his iPhone with one hand until it clatters to the floor, still vibrating. He’s shifted over slightly so that he’s not in between Louis's thighs any longer, but Louis can still feel how hard Harry is, can see how his dick is stretching out the front of his pants. Just seeing how thick and swollen Harry is makes Louis's fingers twitch, his mouth water, and his arsehole clench, all suddenly too empty.

“Shit,” Louis breathes, wiping at his face and waiting for his heart to stop racing. He barely has a moment to breathe when his own phone is buzzing in his back pocket, making him yelp and push up in surprise. When he fumbles it out, it's a text from Liam: came by your room, were r ya? “Liam,” he sighs.

“No, no,” Harry groans, sliding a knee up towards Louis's erection. “No Liam. More kisses.”

And that’s just it right there, isn’t it? It’s not that Louis wouldn’t prefer to spend the rest of the afternoon kissing Harry breathless, he just can’t understand why it’s easier for Harry to just say what he wants, to go after it without worrying about the inevitable reality of the rest of their lives. How does Harry think this is going to work?

“How about,” Harry rumbles, mouth pressing low on Louis’s neck. “More kisses, please?”

Louis smiles despite himself. “I do like it when you’re polite,” he says, lifting Harry’s chin with one hand and drawing him in for a kiss. Harry makes a happy, mumbly noise and slides back down between Louis’s legs, kissing him softer now. Although his cock is still a stiff press against Louis's thigh, he’s less frantic and more...sweet. This kiss feels like a plea, like Harry offering Louis his heart and saying, Please, handle with care.

Louis’s phone buzzes again, and Harry groans. “I will kill him,” Harry growls. “We will find someone else who can sing falsetto. It can’t be that hard.”

“Don’t be foolish,” Louis says. “There’s enough of me to go around. Everyone just needs to wait their turn.” It reminds him of something he would have said back then, back when pushing boundaries and teasing was Louis’s dominion, not Harry’s.

He’s not expecting it when Harry shoves forward, slamming Louis back down on the pillow and setting his teeth to Louis’s neck, biting down viciously.

“Fuck!” Louis yelps, kicking out at Harry to get him to stop.

Harry looks up at him, eyes narrowed and fierce, and he hisses, “Don’t wanna share. M'sick of it.”

And that’s the crux of it, right there. Harry can just say that, and mean it. Whereas Louis just thinks it, vehemently mind you, but can’t get the fucking words out.

In either case, it’s exactly what he wants to hear. So he says, “Later,” with a soft smile, even as Harry groans and pouts. If they can do this, just the two of them alone without having to involve Nick, then all of a sudden the opportunities for more kissing increase exponentially.

It’s not until Louis cups Harry’s face with a serious expression and says, “I promise,” that Harry stops whining and rolls over, grin plastered all over his face.


+ + +

The last of the UK shows are embarrassingly giddy. There’s a charge thrumming through them, all of them, and it makes every silly choreography transition, every bit of banter, every slap on the bum somehow electric. It’s ridiculous to think it’s all because he’s finally snogged Harry but it is the most notable thing to have changed. Everything just works, and the moments backstage at the venues before they leave are nothing short of magical, clinging to each other and marveling at their lives, at their luck in finding success, in finding each other.

Louis loves it, so much that it frightens him. He forces the fear back, but it’s a concerted effort to remind himself that just because he fancies a cock in his arse from time to time, that just because he loves Harry in a different way than he loves most people, well, that doesn’t mean it’s all going to go away. He hasn't figured anything out yet, nothing that will make everything easy and clear, but he's not an idiot. He knows he's lying either way, lying about the things that get him off, lying about how much he wants Harry's attention, Harry's dick. He figures he can lie about that stuff and not get anything he wants (which he's done for quite some time now), or he can lie about all of it and allow himself to be happy with Harry.

And crowding him on every stage, hugging him in every green room, next to him in each van and pressing against him during every meal is Harry. Like an entitled house cat, Louis thinks, waiting to be petted. So maybe that makes Louis the crazy cat lady, because not only does he acquiesce and give in when Harry’s looking to be stroked, but he thrills at each opportunity, happily scritching at Harry’s curls or pressing on his nipple or pulling up his shirt in front of photographers. He can only imagine how others see them, like a pair of idiot school children with crushes.

They don’t indulge in kissing for the rest of the UK dates, although they do come close on a few occasions when Harry’s had too much to drink and can't show any restraint. Louis keeps telling him, “Later,” and once he promises, Harry settles down somewhat.

It doesn’t stop Harry from looking at him like he’s an oasis in the desert.

When they arrive back in London, the van ride is excruciating. Harry keeps looking over at him, knee vibrating like a drill While Liam chatters excitedly about the necklace he’d bought for Danielle, Harry leans over, nuzzles into Louis’s temple and murmurs, “Is it later yet?”

Louis bites his lip to keep from smiling. Instead he presses a palm to Harry’s knee and forces him to stay still.

When they get into Harry’s house, Harry asks him again, before they’ve even dropped their bags on the floor. “Is it later now?” Harry asks, still gripping the handle of his luggage. He looks like he’s about to jump out of his skin.

Louis grins.

“That’s a rather existential question, isn’t it,” he muses. “It is certainly later now than it was before, but also earlier than it will eventually be.” He stacks his bags neatly by the stairs and then leans back against the wall, watching Harry.

“Louis,” is all that Harry says. His voice cracks. Louis wants to devour him.


Harry blows a breath upwards, mussing his fringe. He sets his bags down carefully and then shakes out his hair and rearranges it, a sign that he's nervous. "I don't," Harry starts, voice gone hoarse, "M'not sure what to do now." He looks a little helpless, maybe a little afraid, and that's Louis's fault.

"C'mon," Louis says, tugging on his jumper. "We have a week off. Let's make the most of it by lying in bed and watching bad television."

Harry just stares at him with wide eyes, but he lets Louis drag him up the stairs and to the bedroom. There's a tense moment when they just stand there, facing the bed and not saying anything. It's fairly ridiculous, given the number of times they've fallen into this very bed together, not to mention all of the other beds around the world.

Harry's fingers curl tentatively around Louis's. “Should I," Harry pauses, and Louis hypothesizes various endings to that question, none of which are, "ring Nick?” but that's what Harry says. He was hoping that they’d moved past Nick, but now he’s not sure. Maybe Harry wants Nick here?

Or maybe Harry just needs to hear Louis say that he doesn’t.

Louis shakes his head. “Nah,” he says, trying for nonchalant when in reality every fiber of his being is trembling with a horrible cocktail of nerves, excitement and fear. “I’m rather sick of sharing m’self.”

He looks over at Harry, sees him nodding and chewing on his lip, and Louis wants to kiss him very badly but Harry seems so out of his grasp, even though he's right there, holding his hand.

"Although," he says, laughing quietly to himself. "This bit was always a bit easier with Grimshaw around, wasn't it?"

Harry looks at him quizzically for a moment, then understands, face unfolding into a shaky grin. "C'mere," he says, tugging Louis so that they're facing each other. He still looks mildly frightened, but it doesn’t stop him from reaching for Louis, from sliding long fingers around Louis’s neck and pulling their faces together, foreheads bumping gently. “M’gonna kiss you now,” he whispers, and Louis can hear how his breath trembles. "All right?"

“Yeah,” Louis whispers back, and then Harry is smiling and nudging his face upwards, ducking down to catch Louis’s top lip in a sucking kiss.

It’s slow, almost reverent, the way Harry kisses him. Louis slides a hand up and grips Harry’s wrist, doesn’t pull him away from where he’s cupping Louis’s face, just holds on. Harry’s mouth is soft and warm, and it’s so good in that same terrifying, intensely arousing way it always was.

He needs more, wants more. He skims his other hand up under Harry’s thin t-shirt, spreading his fingertips out over the hot skin of Harry’s belly. Harry’s always so warm, his skin so soft. It reminds Louis that Harry’s still so young, makes it impossible to separate the tall, fit version of Harry that’s kissing him now from the soft, wide-eyed version of Harry that Louis first fell for.

Harry groans then, quiet but unmistakable, and presses in closer, kisses Louis more aggressively, clumsy with it. Harry covers Louis’s wrist with his own hand, dragging upwards so that his shirt is rucked up to his armpit, and he presses Louis’s hand down over his nipple. Louis barely squeezes, barely has a moment to pinch when Harry is pulling his face away, burying it into Louis’s shoulder and whimpering.

“Ssh,” Louis whispers, even as he digs his fingernails in a bit and twists.

“Fuck,” Harry hisses, then drops his hands to Louis’s bum, kneading at him roughly. “Fuck you’re so—”

He doesn’t finish, seems to get distracted even further by Louis’s arse, spreading his big hands out and lifting Louis so that their hips align, so that their cocks press against each other. His thumbs press down, dig right in between Louis’s cheeks, pressing the fabric of his trousers in like if he works hard enough, they’ll just go away somehow.

He’s sweating already, Louis can feel dampness on the skin of Harry’s chest and on the hair nearest his face, can feel the heat radiating from under his arm, from the dip of his neck. It’s good to know that he can still rile Harry up like he used to, that even after who knows how long of expert treatment from Nick Grimshaw, Louis can still make Harry crazy.

Another harsh twist of Harry’s nipple has him flailing to reach his hands behind his head and tug his shirt off gracelessly fast. “You too,” he says breathlessly as he grabs at the hem of Louis’s t-shirt. By the time Louis is pulling the fabric over his head, Harry’s undone his trousers. They’re still on, just open at the flies so that the bulge of his cock is obvious through his pants. Harry’s hand cups the tip, trailing his fingers around the shaft restlessly as he watches Louis get undressed.

“You’re so—” Harry bites his lip to shut himself up, shaking his head like he’s disappointed in himself for speaking at all. But Louis wants to hear it, every word.

“I’m so—?” Louis prompts, stepping closer and sliding his hands up Harry’s chest to loop around his neck.

“So bloody fit,” Harry blurts out, then blushes bright pink. “I mean. That’s not what I—it’s just, you’re gorgeous. You’re—everything.”

Louis presses his smile into the damp spot where his neck meets his shoulders. “‘So bloody fit’ didn’t really require additional explanation, Harry, but thank you.”

Harry’s fingers trail down to Louis’s waistband. Louis shudders as they dip past his pants, squeeze his arse with something that feels like intent this time. “You are,” Harry says, voice quiet like it’s a secret. “But, like. More than that. You make me—”

“You too,” Louis says before Harry makes him blush any harder.

Harry looks up at him then, eyes a bit dazed and cheeks hectic. “Yeah?” he asks quietly, looking Louis straight in the eyes.

Louis has to look away, can’t handle the direct impact of Harry’s face, but he nods, because yeah. He pushes at Harry’s shoulders so that Harry stumbles back towards the bed, catching himself on his elbows as his arse hits the mattress. He sits up quickly, tugging Louis closer by his belt loops and, once Louis is standing between Harry’s legs, pressing his big hand up against Louis’s cock and rubbing up, making it fill out further in his jeans. After a few good rubs, Harry hooks a finger in the waist of Louis’s jeans and says, “Wanna see.”

Louis nods jerkily, but flicks Harry’s curious fingers away. He crowds in closer and unfastens his own flies, tugs his jeans and pants down together. He’s so exposed, naked and so close to Harry, but the vulnerability makes it hotter, probably hotter for Harry, too, judging by how turned on he looks. Louis wraps a hand around his dick and gives it a few good pulls, reaching down with his other hand to cup his sac, almost defensive over how good it feels.

“Shit,” Harry whimpers, struggling out of his own jeans and pants. “Fuck, the things I want to do to you.”

Harry’s desperation oddly makes Louis feel more in control, makes him brave. He shoves Harry back on the bed and knees up onto the mattress, legs straddling Harry’s lap. He keeps stroking his cock, mostly for show, too light to get himself off. “Tell me,” he says, settling his arse down onto Harry’s thighs, close enough where their cocks could touch if they leaned into it.

“Fuck,” Harry says again, and reaches back to squeeze Louis’s arse again. “I wanna suck you.” There’s a long pause while Harry buries his face into Louis’s neck, pressing wet kisses to Louis’s pulse. Louis lets Harry rock him forward by his bum, so that when Louis sits back down he’s pressed right up against Harry’s erection. “God,” Harry says again, sounding frantic this time. “I want you to, to come up here and ride my face. I want to lick you out for days, just keep my mouth on you until you push me off.”

Louis gasps, surprised. Yes, he’d liked it when Nick had eaten him out, but he hadn’t thought about it the way Harry said, with him sitting astride Harry’s face, working himself on Harry’s tongue. It makes him cringe and thrill at the same time, picturing himself being so wanton, so hot for it that he’d force it on Harry. The very idea of it makes him rock down onto Harry’s dick, work himself down hard so that it slides right up in between his cheeks.

And fuck, that’s what Louis wants.

He can’t quite bring himself to ask for it yet, though, so he kisses Harry instead, demanding, biting kisses that leave them both breathless. He slides his hands around Harry’s ribs and up his back, feeling at the imperfections in his skin, at the taut muscles shifting in his back. He thinks about what Harry’s back would look like as he presses Louis into the bed, fucks him good and hard. He wants Harry to hold him open and push into him, to fill him up and make it hurt enough for Louis to embarrass himself and beg for more.

Harry’s kneading at his bum, really working him over hard, and it’s fucking great, everything that Louis wants until he wants more. He raises his knees so that he’s spread wider and keeps grinding down on Harry, so slutty for it. “Christ,” Harry pants, gripping Louis’s hips and bucking up against him exactly where Louis wants to feel him. “What are we doing, here?”

Louis lets Harry haul him up and down on Harry’s prick a few times, feeling the drag of foreskin against the sensitive underside of his balls. “F-foreplay,” Louis gasps out when the blunt crown of Harry’s dick snags against his rim.

“Jesus,” Harry groans, and then before Louis knows what’s happened, Harry’s knocked him onto his back and shoved him up the bed. There’s a moment where Louis is staring at the ceiling, and then Harry’s settling in between his legs, snicking shut the bottle of lube. “Fingers okay?” he says, voice hoarse.

Louis raises his knees and grabs onto his ankles, spreading himself wide in answer. Harry licks his lips repeatedly, almost like he can’t stop as he stares down at the crease of Louis’s arsehole.

Harry’s fingers are clever and clumsy at once, long and eager and slick as they press inside, making Louis squirm, making Louis cry out.

He’s dimly aware of Harry pressing more and more slick into him with each finger, slippery sounds echoing in the quiet room and warm wetness sliding down onto the sheets. Eventually Harry slumps down half on top of Louis, leaving enough room for his arm to work Louis over while he ruts into Louis’s thigh. He gets a good rhythm going, rocking his hand into Louis’s arse at the same tempo that he pushes his hips into Louis. The synchronized motion makes it easy for Louis to pretend that Harry’s fucking him, makes him want it even more.

“Can you come like this,” Harry pants as he grinds into him even harder, crooking his fingers so that they drag on the way out. “I want it,” Harry says, shifting over so that Louis can feel how Harry’s erection throbs into the underside of his thigh. “Want you to do it on me.”

“Christ, Harry,” Louis moans, shaking his head into the pillow. Harry’s leaning over him now, rutting into his hip, dripping sweat down onto Louis’s shoulder and it’s only making Louis want him more. He reaches down and grabs Harry by the base of his cock, tugs him up so that his cock slaps into Louis’s palm, flushed and hot. “Will you fuck me?”

Harry makes a strange grunting noise and fucks down, hard, into Louis’s fist. “God, Louis, you can’t just say things like that.”

It’s funny, because up until fifteen seconds ago, Louis would have agreed that he indeed could not have just said anything like that, but now that he has, it’s all he wants to talk about.

“Harry, please,” he whines, not even caring how slutty he sounds. “Please fuck me.”

Harry slaps his other hand over Louis’s mouth, but he keeps fucking against him, dick sliding closer and closer each time. He pulls his fingers away, and Louis thinks, Yes, now because he’s plenty slick and Harry is right there and he’s waited, no, they’ve waited so long for this and god damn it—

“Okay,” Harry says, slowing down his thrusts. He’s still rutting against Louis, still making them both suck in quick breaths every time the head of his dick snubs up against Louis’s arsehole. “Okay, I can. I can do it, if that’s what you want.” He looks at Louis with wide eyes, drags his fingers away from Louis’s mouth so that he can answer.

“Yeah, yeah,” Louis breathes. “I want you to fuck me.”

Harry stares at him for a moment, then leans in and kisses him, mouth fierce and demanding even as he’s folding Louis in half. One of his hands presses on the underside of Louis’s thigh, holding him open and then he sits up and stares, eyes drawn to where Louis’s rim is undoubtedly shiny and stretched.

Louis reaches around, under his other leg and touches tentatively at the skin there, feeling how sensitive it is. He dips the tip of one finger inside as Harry watches, feels how effortlessly it slides in. He watches as Harry stares. He presses a second finger inside. “C’mon Hazza,” he whispers.

As if in slow motion, Harry crowds in closer, uses his hand to angle down the head of his cock so that he can rub it where Louis’s fingers are sliding into his arsehole. He just lets it slip over the skin for a bit, and then he knocks Louis’s fingers out of the way.

Louis pulls at his cheeks, opening himself up further and shifting his hips to force the tip inside.

“Fuck, Lou, wait,” Harry whines, but his voice is slow like syrup, like he doesn’t really want Louis to stop. “Just, just give me a second. Lemme get, oh god.”

It’s the slightest hint of a thrust that pushes the crown of Harry’s cock into him, gives them the taste that they both need. “Wait, wait,” Harry is saying, but Louis doesn’t want to wait. He wants Harry inside him now, wants Harry to fuck him hard and then come in him.

“Waited long enough,” he breathes, “c’mon, do it.” He claws at Harry’s back, trying to goad Harry into fucking him.

“Louis, wait,” Harry hisses, arms shaking as he holds himself still over Louis’s body, sweat-damp hair sticking to his temple. “We need a condom.”

“We don’t,” Louis says quietly. “We really don’t. I know exactly where you’ve been, remember?”

Harry’s eyes flutter shut, and he groans, fucking down into Louis just once, but good and deep. He holds himself there, pressing in but not moving. “We do,” he says desperately. “I can’t—you feel too—”

“Just fuck me, Hazza,” Louis begs. “I want you to, I’ve wanted you to for—oh, Christ.”

Something in Harry just gives at that moment, and he’s dragging his hips back and then pumping back in with a harsh grunt. “Oh,” he says, and then does it again, a long, slow pull back and then a violent shove forward, pitching them both up the bed.

“Oh, God,” Louis breathes, stroking Harry’s damp hair back from his face as Harry gives it to him again, and then again. “You’re so brilliant. Brilliant shagger, Harry Styles.”

“Quiet,” Harry hisses on an excruciatingly slow drag back out. He seems like he needs to concentrate, like focus is the key when in reality it's the power in his long legs, the force in his thrusts that are making it tough for Louis to breathe.

The next slam back in is wicked, smacking grunts out of the both of them as Harry's hips punch in and his cock drags back out after. Harry keeps at it, harder and deeper each time, but also frustratingly slower. Louis hasn't done much of this, but in his experience sex tends to speed up as it goes along, so he doesn't understand why Harry is going the other way. Louis digs his fingertips into Harry’s shoulders, trying to press him back down but Harry’s elbows are locked, holding him up, holding him still. “Don't. I can’t do this, if, if,” he groans, obviously flustered.

“No, no, no, don’t stop,” Louis whines. “You’re doing it so well, just, just keep going, c’mon.”

Harry shoves into him then, surprising him with the force of it. “Fuck,” Harry groans, holding himself deep inside Louis’s arse. His eyes are closed, eyebrows scrunched together like he’s in pain. “Bloody fucking shit fuck.”

Louis doesn’t understand why Harry’s holding back. It’s so good when Harry fucks into him, but he keeps stopping and it’s making Louis insane. “Harry, will you just fuck me, please,” he begs. “Please.”

“Oh god,” Harry cries out then, hips moving in wild, jerky thrusts. “Oh god, Louis. I’m, I can't, I. I’m sorry, I—” and then he’s slamming in again, once, twice, and then there’s a throbbing in Louis’s arse, and he feels Harry’s come pulsing inside him.

It feels, well it feels rather disgusting, truthfully, but it’s also incredibly fucking hot, the way Louis can feel Harry’s come slicking him up inside, how when Harry shifts and starts to pull out, he can feel the come slipping out with him.

“I’ve come inside you,” Harry says, sounding a bit spacey. He’s staring down in between Louis’s legs, no doubt watching as his jizz drips down onto the sheets.

“I noticed,” Louis says, trying for sarcastic but coming out breathless and turned on.

“Sorry,” Harry says, not looking sorry in the slightest. Louis feels what must be the tips of two of Harry’s fingers pressing lightly against his arsehole, smearing his come around.

It feels good, still so sensitive down there. Louis wants to come, but he’s afraid of wanking, doesn’t want to do anything to snap Harry out of whatever haze he’s in because Harry’s fingers on him feel good, and Harry’s come in him feels bloody amazing.

It’s when Harry slides a long finger inside that Louis can’t hold back a whimper, causing Harry’s eyes to flick up to his face. “Yeah?” Harry asks, hushed and sweaty.

“Yeah,” Louis whispers. “God, yeah.”

Harry nods, and shuffles down on the mattress until he can get his shoulders in between Louis’s slack thighs. He leans in close, and for a heart-stopping moment Louis thinks maybe Harry’s going to tongue him, dirty as he is, but Harry doesn’t, just gets uncomfortably close, watching intently as he pulls at Louis’s hole, forces another dribble of come to slide out.

“I wanna do it again,” Harry whispers, quiet like a confession. He doesn’t elaborate but Louis reels with the thought of Harry fucking him bare over and over again, until he’s brimming with come.

Louis can’t hold off, has to tug on his cock just a couple of times to relieve the pressure as Harry examines him. The movement catches Harry’s attention, and he drags a sloppy-wet hand up over Louis’s tight sac to grip his cock and point it down, towards him. Louis throws an arm over his face at the first kittenish lick, groans out loud when Harry sucks him down and keeps playing with the mess in between his legs, keeps prodding at Louis where he’s slick and tender. It’s barely a minute before Louis is coming down Harry’s throat, weak sounds forced from his lungs.

Harry swallows it all down, then ducks down and presses a sticky kiss to Louis's rim, tongue flicking out for a tiny taste. Louis pulls his knees together reflexively, over-sensitive now and frankly, a bit grossed out. "Augh," he complains, shoving Harry's face away.

Harry lets himself be shoved, rolls over onto his side and grins up at Louis, wiping his mouth in the filthiest way. "Hope you're not tired because there's more where that came from," he says, waggling his eyebrows.

Louis laughs aloud at that, kicks at Harry with one foot. "What, another two minutes? You're an animal, Styles. How will I ever survive?"

Harry squawks indignantly and smacks Louis on the thigh, hard. "I'll show you two minutes," he grumbles as he wrestles Louis into the sheets. "Just give me two minutes."

They spend the rest of the afternoon in bed. And then the next six days.


+ + +

They get to Paris on Saturday morning, and are quickly escorted to a massive, sunny hotel suite. People are bustling all around them, sorting their wardrobe into the appropriate adjoining rooms, giving directions and security clearance to their guests, and attempting to control the chaos. While Niall and Liam negotiate which of them should get Benny and which will be stuck with Martin as security detail, all Louis can think about is Harry’s hand at his waist, fingers curled against the small of his back, rucking up his shirt. They’ve barely been out of bed for a week, and yet all Louis wants to do is get back to it, get his mouth and hands on Harry’s skin. “Springtime in Paris,” says Harry, turning to nuzzle at Louis’s neck, catlike. “Romantic.”

“We’ll get mobbed if we go out like tourists,” Louis says, incredulous that Niall and Liam are even considering it. “The French police may not be prepared for us.”

“Safer to stay in,” Harry agrees.

Soon enough, sliding doors are being drawn shut, and the bedlam of the One Direction machine fades into a quiet hum. Zayn sits down on a sofa and throws his snapback so that it hits Harry in the side of the head. Harry frowns and says, "Heyyyyy," but he doesn't let go of Louis, and when Louis looks over at Zayn, Zayn just grins. Everyone is fucking grinning, and Louis feels like grinning back, and it’s stupid, it’s stupid that he ever thought he couldn’t have this.

“Well, Niall and I are going to see the sights,” Liam says, after clearing his throat. “Or I'll be escorting Danielle and Ruth to the shops, and Niall's escorting his hooligans to a pub. Zayn? Want to come along? Thought we’d have the car takes us down to the Arc de Triomphe, go down the Champs Elysees, then past the Eiffel Tower. Probably not up it.”

“You couldn’t get me in one of those lifts with all those people if you paid me in whisky,” Niall adds.

Zayn doesn't look particularly interested, but then again, disinterest is Zayn's default setting. “Think I’ll pass, mate. I'll wait for Perrie and try to get some alone time before my family gets in.” He burps and then makes a silly, leering face.

Liam looks crestfallen. “We could go somewhere else, if you like,” he offers. “The Louvre? Or there are loads of bookshops?”

“There’s a sex museum nine stories high,” Niall puts in, paging through the guidebook.

“Getting papped there would be good for our image, I’m sure,” Louis says.

Niall sticks his tongue out. “Not as good as getting papped doing whatever you and Harry have planned.”

Harry laughs, and Louis lets himself smile, thinks how good it is to be having sex he isn’t ashamed of again. “Which still might not top violently masturbating in Japan,” he replies.

Liam breaks into giggles like he does any time anyone says the word “masturbate,” and Louis has to find it charming. Zayn’s sticking with his choice of Perrie-time over sightseeing, and he asks which room Louis and Harry want before taking one on the opposite side of their little lounge and announcing that he's going to have a nap before shutting the door.

"Put your headphones on, just in case," Louis yells.

“Well,” says Liam. “Guess we’re off then. I would tell you lads to behave yourselves, but you won’t.”

Louis gives him a cheeky little salute. “No, sir.”

“Have a good time,” says Niall with a wink.

Harry tugs the shoulder of Louis’s shirt with his teeth and arches his eyebrows suggestively. Liam and Niall just look fond. “Party’s in eight hours,” Liam reminds them as he and Niall head towards the door. “You’ll have to be wearing clothes by then.”

As soon as they’re gone, Harry lays him out on the sofa and kisses him, nudges his tongue into Louis’s mouth and rolls his hips down against Louis’s. Louis brings his knees up around Harry’s waist and squeezes. “Don’t think Zayn would appreciate this, Hazza,” says Louis.

Harry hmms like he’s considering how much he cares about that, but Louis uses the leverage he has with his legs up to roll them off the sofa and onto the floor. Harry pouts at him as Louis sits up astride his hips. In this position, all Louis can think about is riding him, the slight, satisfying ache of Harry inside him. “Don’t think Zayn would appreciate this either,” Harry says, grinning up at him.

Louis makes himself stand and tugs Harry up with him. “There are real beds here. We should try them out before we’re too sloshed to appreciate comfort.”

The bed is so soft Louis can practically feel himself sinking into it, and he pulls Harry down with him, kissing him and tugging at his hair, which was shoved under a beanie all morning and snarls between Louis’s fingers. Harry’s dick is sitting heavy again Louis’s thigh, and Louis rubs himself against it, mouth practically watering. “Can I suck you?” he murmurs.

Harry gives a little moan and his eyelids flutter. “Is that what you want?” Harry asks.

“Yeah,” Louis replies honestly.

Harry sits up to fumble out of his clothes, and his skin in the sunlight is still winter pale, but that will change. Louis has the whole summer to learn the shades of it. Harry lies back naked, but when Louis leans into him, reaching for his cock, Harry grabs his hair, tugs a little. “Your turn,” he says.

They were never naked when they messed around in the X Factor days, clothes shoved out of the way just enough, and Louis usually managed to keep half his kit on even with Nick. But Harry seems to love undressing him. He goes for the buttons on Louis’s shirt first, kissing down his chest as he goes, sucking at one of Louis’s nipples like he can’t help himself. “Don’t tease,” says Louis, curling his toes in the duvet as he feels the graze of Harry’s teeth.

Harry’s quicker after that, lets Louis push his jeans down off his hips to help. Louis watches the bob of Harry’s naked cock all the while, hungry for the weight of it on his tongue.

When he finally has Harry pinned under him, hands spread on his hips holding him down, he takes Harry’s cock into his throat on one long swallow, Harry’s hand ruffling his hair. He’s not quite pulling, not yet, but he will if he gets desperate. And Louis wants to make him desperate. He pulls off, slow, to run his tongue along the edge of Harry’s foreskin, tasting the sensitive head of his cock. He bobs for a few moments, tasting the slick of precome there. Then Harry moans, goes tense beneath him for a moment, and Louis takes him back in deep. He closes his eyes, savors the stretch of his jaw around Harry’s cock.

Harry’s close, Louis can feel it in the way his thighs shake, the way he’s holding himself back from fucking Louis’s mouth hard, even though Louis would love that too. The words that spill out of Harry’s mouth are barely audible, praise and swearing and then, more clearly, “I think you should fuck me.”

Louis pulls off and licks his swollen lips. “What?”

Harry clears his throat. “I think you should fuck me. I’ve thought that for a while, but I… I think it should be now.”

Given how many times Louis’s had Harry’s cock inside him over the last few days, it only seems fair that he return the favor. Louis wraps a hand around Harry’s cock, giving it a firm stroke, slick with his spit. “Yeah?” he says, letting himself tease a little, watch the desperation build on Harry’s face. “That what you want?” His voice is wrecked from Harry’s cock down his throat, and he can see what that does to Harry, the way he shivers.

“So much,” says Harry. “Want you in me so much.”

“Okay. Gonna give it to you then.” It’s excruciating, having to get out of bed to paw through his bag for lube. He fumbles out a condom as well, but Harry shakes his head when he holds it up. "It’ll be messy,” Louis warns.

“I like messy,” replies Harry. “Messy is good.”

Louis can't really argue, just crawls up the bed to kiss him again. “Romantic,” he says, and then he’s slicking his fingers, sliding them wetly down the crack of Harry’s arse, just rubbing there, remembering the last time he did this, the way Harry had offered him more but not asked for it. He’s asking for it now, fucking begging with every sharp snap of his hips. He opens so easily on Louis’s fingers, arches into the stretch of two and then three, twisting his hips against Louis’s hand. “I’ll come,” he warns, toes curling in the duvet. “I don’t want to yet, but I…” A shudder runs down the length of his body and Louis watches the flex of his spread thighs, the thick smear of wetness at the tip of his cock, dragging against his belly.

Louis pulls his fingers out, gives Harry a moment to control himself and then settles their hips together. He guides the head of his cock against the rim of Harry’s hole, waits while Harry rubs himself against it, trying to get it inside. “Louis,” he says, low and plaintive, and Louis pushes, rocks his way inward until Harry just swallows him up.

Harry’s tight, but he’s so easy, slick on Louis’s next thrust, opening to him. Harry’s knees come up even higher, long legs awkwardly spread, and Louis gets one over his shoulder, marvels at the way Harry folds for him, the view he has of his cock seated deep in Harry’s arse, Harry’s hole flexing around it. Louis wants to kiss him, staring at the pink parting of Harry’s mouth, but the angle is wrong, so he presses his lips to the inside of Harry’s thigh instead, and Harry reaches up to touch his cheek, press his fingers against Louis’s lips like he knows what Louis’s thinking.

Louis finds a rhythm, briefly, then loses it again because Harry won’t stop squirming and he’s so close to coming anyway, just at the feel of Harry around him. He puts one hand on Harry’s belly, holding him down, wraps the other around the thick length of Harry’s cock. He gives a few firm strokes, and it’s easier to hold off coming when he’s focused on Harry, how Harry moans when Louis twists his wrist on the upstroke, the soft sob of his breath. He starts to come, and Louis can feel it, the way he tightens and his eyelids flutter the second before he starts to shoot. Louis watches him open-mouthed and suddenly on edge, his hips moving in jerky little thrusts out of his control. He starts to pull out, but Harry grabs his hip, says, “Don't. Stay.”

Louis nods, even as he's gasping and coming, filling Harry up with it until he’s slick and dripping, Louis’s hips still rocking forward, shaky with aftershocks. He tries to pull out again, but Harry’s still holding onto him, squeezing urgently with his hand. “Not yet,” he says. “Just…” His knee slips off Louis’s shoulder, and Louis settles against his chest, cradled in the sprawl of Harry’s legs. His dick is oversensitive and getting sticky, but he doesn’t move, listening to the thump of Harry’s heart and letting Harry settle an arm around his waist. He thinks about all the things he could say and how glad he is that he doesn’t need to say any of them.



He’s getting a beer from the bar when he spots Eleanor walking into the party, in tall heels and a floral dress, and it’s not that he feels nothing, seeing her, but for the first time in ages, he doesn’t need anything from her. And that’s good, that’s how it has to be if they’re going to be real friends. He asks for a glass of white wine and brings it to her with a grin. Her hair still smells the same, and in her heels she’s taller than he is, but that doesn’t matter anymore.

“I’m really glad you could come,” he says sincerely.

“I’m really glad you invited me.” There are loads of people she hasn’t seen in months milling about, and Louis doesn’t like to think he’s cut her off from anyone, but he probably has. So they chat for a bit, and then she’s off, smiling each time she catches his eye, kissing Liam on the cheek and hugging Danielle, laughing with Josh, fitting right back in.

Louis’s just debating whether he can drag Harry off to a dark corner and snog him for playing with the straw in his drink like that, when Nick Grimshaw walks up behind him and throws an arm around Louis’s shoulders. “You fucked him, didn’t you?” he says in Louis’s ear, as though that’s a totally reasonable form of greeting. “Harry doesn’t walk like that unless he’s had a cock up him recently.”

“Rude,” says Louis, but he can’t actually be angry, can’t do anything to hide his satisfied smile.

“Yes,” agrees Nick. “But accurate. I’m glad you lads have decided to indulge. You seem much less desolate than you did a month ago. And young Harold looks proper smug.” Harry glances over at them and breaks into an easy grin.

“Suppose he has enough to look smug about,” replies Louis.

“I don’t doubt it. But now tell me, Louis Tomlinson, where are all the single blokes at your party? I’m growing lonesome in my spinsterhood.” There are a lot of people packed into the hotel ballroom, mostly unfamiliar faces.

He waves a hand around. “Take your pick, mate. I’ll put in a good word for you.”

“Oh, you are sweet.” Nick drums his fingers against Louis’s shoulder. “Is our dear friend Niall available? Two out of the five of you hardly seems a good enough record. Finchy would probably fly into a jealous rage and have me sacked immediately, but it'd be worth it.” Niall’s at a table with Zayn and Perrie, Bressie’s arm slung over the back of his chair, fingers idly stroking Niall's neck, and it looks like Niall already has plans for the evening. A moment later, Niall's laughing as Bressie tightens his grip on the nape of Niall's neck and hooks his foot around the nearest leg of Niall's chair, dragging him closer. It makes an obnoxious noise, but when Niall flails, Bressie catches him, tucks him in against his side and grins as Niall turns back to Zayn, cheeks pinker than his usual booze flush.

“I honestly have no idea,” says Louis, feeling chagrined. Exactly what has he missed while he was wrapped up in his own drama the last few months? He’s always assumed Niall and Bressie had a kind of complicated friendship, but between Bressie’s smitten smile and Niall’s blush, he’s never seen a pair of people who look less like “just friends.” He poured his feelings out to Niall not three weeks ago, and Niall didn’t say a word about whatever is going on at that table right now. Louis’s not sure he would have heard it anyway. He’s been kind of a shit friend, asked a lot and not given much in return. But he can change that.

Nick tuts gently. “I’m sure I’ll get by. Will you be too horribly jealous if I go speak to Harry?”

“Never,” answers Louis, his smile getting the better of his face again. He can’t help it. Harry’s finally, finally his.

“I’m sure we’ll speak later,” says Nick, drawing back. He wags his eyebrows like he might mean something else by “speak”, but Louis shoves him off with a laugh. He doesn’t have anything to worry about as Nick walks over to Harry and pulls him into a hug.

He catches Eleanor’s eye as she steps out onto the balcony, and she nods like she wants him to follow. So he does, ruffling Niall’s hair as he goes past and admiring his newly braceless grin. Bressie watches him warily, but Louis’s no more a threat to Bressie than Nick is to Louis himself now.

Eleanor’s got her arms wrapped around herself, and if Louis had a shirt to offer her, he would. But all he can do is nudge up close next to her and say, “All right, El?”

“All right,” she replies. “You all right?”

“I’m splendid.”

She looks sideways at him, then casts her eyes down into the courtyard below. “There are cameras down there,” she says.

Even at this distance he can hear the occasional click, spaced out like maybe they think they’re subtle. He strikes a pose against the railing, bracing his arms and throwing his head back. “Yep.”

“I’m sorry,” she says, and that shocks him out of form, makes him look up at her, startled.

“For what?”

“For the things I said when we fought. I don’t know if you’ve changed or if I just couldn’t take it anymore and wasn’t seeing clearly, but they weren’t true. You don’t care more about image than you do, did, about…” she trails off, awkwardly. “You care a lot about people you love, and I’m sorry I doubted it.”

Louis nods, but he can’t just let that stand. “You weren’t all wrong though. I needed to get my head on straight about a lot of things. And I’m sorry I hurt you in the process.”

“We can be friends now, right? Properly? I miss just talking to you. You know, about normal stuff.” He remembers the odd, disjointed conversation they had in Manchester, Louis leaving everything out that actually mattered and stumbling over things that didn’t, Eleanor patient and trying to be kind.

“I can’t think of anything I’d like more.” He’s so bloody glad she doesn’t ask him for anything else, but then he and Eleanor have been on the same wavelength more often than not in the time they’ve known each other. They’re over, as a couple, and that gives them a chance to build something else.

He hugs her, wraps her tight in his arms and tucks his chin into her shoulder, lets the paps have a good, long look. Behind her he can see Harry through the glass doors, lit up and laughing, and when he looks outside and catches Louis’s eye his smile just gets bigger. And that’s his right there, the look on Harry’s face just for him, and at the end of the day, there’s really nothing else he needs.