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Maybe I'm A Little Confused

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“So, mate,” Zayn begins, “I have this friend.”

It's a Sunday afternoon and Louis' in the middle of his weekly cleaning. He vacuums and dusts the flat, tidies the kitchen from top to bottom, and sanitizes every single item in the bathroom every Sunday from 10:00AM 'til 1:00PM. It's common knowledge that he is not to be interrupted during the several hours it takes him to complete those tasks, but today, Zayn has apparently decided to ignore the rules. It's like being at yoga during the chanting, eyes-closed bit and having someone just come up from behind and give you an atomic wedgie.

Louis raises an eyebrow as he lowers his feather duster. “Okay. You have a friend.”

“And he needs a place to stay for a while.”

“Please do not tell me he's another junkie that needs somewhere to withdraw because he can't 'afford' rehab,” Louis says, exasperated already.

Zayn grimaces, shakes his head. “That was one time.”

“One time too many, Zayn.”

“Right. You're right. I'm sorry.”

“Sorry for …”

Zayn sighs deeply. “I'm sorry for letting my coke-head friend sleep on our couch for a whole week and I'm sorry for letting him steal your favorite beanie and -”

“He didn't even steal my wallet, Zayn!” Louis cuts in, too loud. “He stole my beanie! That my mum knitted for me! It was one of a kind!”

Zayn looks baffled now. “Louis, your mum knits you one every Christmas, do you really -”

“Don't,” Louis says, putting up one finger to stop Zayn in mid-sentence. “Don't you say another word because you will come to regret it.”

“Back to the issue at hand,” Zayn says with barely stifled frustration. “My mate.”

“Yeah, who is he?” Louis asks suspiciously. He resumes dusting the top of the telly with focused, even strokes.

“It's Harry.”

Louis lets out a bark of laughter. “We've talked about this. You are not mates with Harry fucking Styles.”

Zayn frowns and looks a bit hurt. “Lou, yes, I am.”

“You have yet to prove it.”

“I've shown you texts from him! And several photos of us together!”

Louis rolls his eyes and turns to level a steady gaze at his roommate and best friend. “Those texts could come from anyone. And how do I know those photos aren't just fan photos? Maybe you stalk him around London and ask to take a pic with him every time you catch him? Or maybe you've taken some classes on Photoshop lately?”

“You've known me for fourteen years, Louis. Do you actually have such a low opinion of me?”

Louis hates when Zayn gets like this, all pouty and sulky. Sometimes he thinks Zayn does it on purpose just so he can look more model-like than normal. Even though he will never say so, Louis is convinced that Zayn would go to any length to be given an excuse to furrow his brows and purse his lips. It's not enough that Zayn is an actual model, he has to pose away from the camera as well. It's enough to drive Louis, who is most definitely not a model, up the wall.

“Fine, bring Harry Styles to this flat and let me see if you're telling the truth,” Louis concedes, going back to his dusting. “Good thing I'm cleaning the flat. If not for me, this place would be a pigsty.”

*****

“Zayn says that Harry Styles is coming to stay at our flat,” Louis tells Liam over a beer later that week.

Liam's eyes widen and his lips turn up into an amused smile. “Really, now? He's still on about being mates with him, then?”

“Yes. It's worrisome, really. I don't remember him being a compulsive liar when we were younger,” Louis says, genuine concern in his voice.

Louis and Zayn had met at the tender age of eight, after Zayn moved to Doncaster. He'd shown up to school one day wearing a button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a pair of dark blue jeans and cool sneakers. Nobody had looked at him and thought, “Wow, what an odd outfit for an eight-year-old child.” No, even the teacher had mentioned how stylish Zayn was. Louis'd been automatically jealous, of course, because his mum was still dressing him up in argyle jumpers and jeans that just barely hit his ankles.

But then it turned out that for all of his trendiness, Zayn had zero to little social skills and seemed to care even less about this shortcoming of his. He'd seemed to enjoy sitting by himself at lunch, flipping through comic books and slowly eating the sandwich his mum packed him each day. For about a week Louis'd just sat across the room watching him with hungry eyes. Then he'd spent a grueling month trying to win Zayn over. It took a bit of bribery in the form of sweets, and he'd spent hours looking up the best jokes, but since then they'd been forever friends.

On the other hand, he and Liam had met their first year of uni nearly four years ago, a fraction of the length of Louis and Zayn's friendship. Louis had had high hopes, thinking the three of them could become a golden trio, a bit like Harry, Ron and Hermione but with less magic and more partying. Unfortunately, Liam and Zayn hadn't hit it off quite so beautifully and to this day, they still circle each other like two dogs sniffing the other out.

To be fair, Zayn had made a mess of things the first time they'd met by saying about Liam, “He seems like a nice bloke, but too nice. Like he'd lick an elephant's bumhole if it asked him to.” And incidentally, Liam had overheard Zayn's words. They'd also all been drunk, meaning Liam got weepy while Zayn waved his arms around, repeating,”Wot? Wot? Have I said something?” and Louis just stood off to the side and puked up all twelve shots he'd consumed that night.

Liam still politely refuses to acknowledge Zayn's presence and Zayn still calls Liam 'bumhole licker'.

“Well, Zayn's a model and Harry's a – what – socialite? They may know each other after all,” Liam reasons.

“Yeah, I thought about that, Liam,” Louis retorts, “but let's be honest, Zayn has no charm. How would he ever get into Harry Styles' crowd? The only person he's managed to enchant is himself.”

Liam gives Louis a chastising look. “Everyone has a charming side to them.”

This is what Zayn meant about Liam being too nice; it's very suffocating sometimes. Having no reply, Louis just waves at the bartender then points at his bottle, which is enough to get the message across. A minute later, a full bottle comes skittering Louis' way. It's become routine for him to come out on Fridays after work and have some subdued fun with Liam at their favorite bar. Zayn hits up all the “happening clubs” on the weekends while accountant Liam and teacher Louis lay low and “act like grandmums”, according to Zayn.

“What should I do if one day I walk in and Harry Styles is standing in my flat?” Louis asks, a bit dreamily.

To be quite honest, he has no idea why Harry Styles is as famous as he is. Okay, so his father had been the lead singer of a wildly popular rock n' roll band from the 80's and his mother had been a well-known runway model from France, but Harry himself has done nothing notable that Louis can figure out. The family had a reality TV show for a few seasons until Harry's older sister got into a bit of legal trouble as a rebellious teen and the Styles parents decided to call off the show. They'd been a pretty family, Louis remembers. Sort of grungy and unkempt, but the look had worked for them.

“I suppose you'd owe Zayn an apology for doubting his ability to make friends.”

“Well, you've ruined that scenario for me.”

Liam chuckles and gestures at the bartender for another beer as well. “You could ask him if his dad really snorted coke with Mick Jagger.”

“Mm, sounds like a fantastic way to start off any relationship.”

“Just say hello, what a surprise, you're Louis Tomlinson, etc.”

Liam is basically humoring Louis at this point but Louis is thankful for it. Zayn rarely ever goes along with him when he's being ridiculous; he tends to just give Louis a look like he's stepped in some especially fresh dog shite and the smell is invading his senses. Apparently, after over a decade of friendship, you're no longer contractually obligated to put up with your best friend's fuckery, which Louis thinks is stupid. How many hours had he spent with Zayn throughout their friendship, standing next to him in front of mirrors and saying utter rubbish like, “Angle your head a bit to the left, yeah? No, not that bloody far, you idiot!”?

“I guess I could start shrieking,” Louis says. “Maybe it'll scare him off.”

“Not a fan of Harry Styles, I'm gathering?” Liam says with a suppressed grin.

“Not not a fan, exactly. Just not a fan of some celebrity living in my flat. I'll have to clean it twice a week instead of once to keep it up to his standards.”

“How do you work with children?” Liam shakes his head as he takes a swig from his bottle.

“I make them clean up their own messes, of course. The best part of my day, telling them to tidy up as I just sit back.”

“Then tell Harry Styles to clean up after himself.”

Louis balks. “He's a socialite, Li. They don't know how to clean.”

*****

Harry watches with bright, alert green eyes as Zayn paces the length of the small living room, hands jammed into the black leather jacket he's yet to take off.

“He won't be angry or anything, right?” Harry asks meekly, sticking his hands underneath his thighs.

He'd showed up at Zayn's door about twenty minutes ago and although Zayn had been genuinely thrilled to see him at first, he's since slid into some sort of agitated state over what Louis, his roommate, will do once he gets home from work. Apparently, this Louis doesn't believe that he and Zayn are actual friends.

“Not angry, no,” Zayn says carefully, “but you never know with Louis.”

“What's he like?” Harry asks, curious.

But then the door opens and he springs off the couch to his feet, just as Zayn halts in his tracks. A cheerful whistling comes from the entrance way and announces Louis' presence before he even shows himself. There's a minute of what sounds like struggling before a slight man with honey brown hair comes around the corner. He freezes right in the doorway to the living area, his eyes glued to Harry. Even from where he stands Harry can see that his eyes are a bright blue.

A tense moment passes as they all wait on Louis to say something.

“Zayn, I'm sorry,” is the first thing that Louis says.

Harry looks over at Zayn, confused.

Zayn looks just as baffled. “What?”

“I'm sorry for doubting you. For thinking you were a compulsive liar. For thinking you incapable of making friends.”

Harry can't help but start laughing despite the wounded look on Zayn's face. He likes the way Louis' eyes are wide and expressive, transmitting his shock to the entire room. He likes people who are open like that, who aren't afraid to show their emotions. It's why Zayn can often times be too much for him, with his detached, lofty attitude.

“I'm Louis Tomlinson,” Louis says, advancing towards Harry with one hand outstretched.

Harry takes the hand, completely engulfing it with his own. They both look down at their joined hands with matching expressions of awe. Louis has delicate little hands and fingers, well-made, unlike Harry's, which are large and knobby. There's glitter under Louis' fingernails and Harry almost asks why but changes his mind at the last second. He takes his hand back quickly, a bit self-conscious for some reason.

“I'm Harry Styles,” he replies weakly.

“Yeah, I know,” Louis says. “I've seen your show.”

Harry smiles shyly. “Oh, yeah? What'd you think?”

“Pity it got cancelled. I especially liked the episode where your mum sat you down and explained how sex -”

“Okay, then,” Zayn interrupts, striding over and throwing an arm around Louis' slim shoulders. “Sometimes Lou can't shut his big mouth.”

Harry watches on as the two men exchange fond looks. This is clearly a friendship that has gone on for some time. Harry would've been able to tell even if Zayn hadn't said as much beforehand. His thoughts flicker to Niall and he decides that he'll have to make sure his Irish friend meets Zayn and Harry. He'd love them right off.

“This might be a bit rude of me to ask, but why do you need a place to stay?” Louis asks, too boldly to actually be at all worried about sounding impolite. “You're not a … coke-head, are you?”

Harry stares at Louis for a moment, then blinks. “Er, no. Do I look like one?” He starts patting at his hair.

Louis breaks out into high, delighted laughter that gets Harry's heart thumping. He can't help but smile himself, one of those big, goofy grins that his mum always loves. Says it makes him look like he's five again. He bites his lip and glances over at Zayn, who's looking at Louis with the same warm expression of patient love. Harry hasn't ever really seen Zayn look that way at anyone, and so he decides that Louis must be very, very special. He can already sort of see that, anyway. Something about Louis … glows.

“Someone actually broke into my flat a week ago,,” Harry says. “My parents thought it'd be best if I moved out and looked for a new place. Safety and all that. Which I'm doing. But I don't want to live with them in the mean time and Niall lives with his girlfriend, so.”

“Who's Niall?” Louis asks, which Harry thinks is a weird detail to be interested in out of all the other details he'd given.

Harry grins. “My best mate.”

“Is he a celebrity?” Louis asks, cocking his head in an all-too adorable way. “I haven't ever heard of him, I don't think.”

“To be fair,” Zayn interjects, “Louis doesn't follow entertainment news. He sits around reading mags on gardening and cooking and whatnot.”

Louis grimaces up at Zayn. “I do not! I can't cook, for one thing. Bloody awful at it, actually.”

Harry perks up at this. “I can cook wonderfully!”

Both sets of eyes swivel over to focus on him and he flushes. He wonders if he's said too much, been a bit too cocky. He tends to do that, say things in a manner that makes him sound conceited and overconfident when really, he doesn't mean anything by it. Usually his enthusiasm smoothes everything out and people realize he's just really fucking excited about stuff.

Sure enough, Louis' beaming at him with a row of perfectly white, straight teeth and he feels his worry melt away.

“Well, perfect! You can teach Louis!” Zayn says, patting Louis on the back. “And Lou, Niall's not famous. He is to Harry what you are to me.”

Louis rolls his eyes in a deliciously sassy manner (well, Harry thinks it's rather delicious, in any case, whatever that might mean in this context). “You aren't famous, Zayn. Just because people can see you half-naked all around London does not mean you are a household name.”

“People recognize him on the street,” Harry pipes up. “They ask to take pictures with him.”

Louis' grimace is impressive. “Christ, what have people become?”

Without waiting for a comeback, Louis heads off towards the kitchen, whistling again. Harry watches him with eager, captivated eyes until he disappears. When he looks back at Zayn, he sees that the other man has caught on - he's smirking with his arms crossed and he's got Harry pinned down with his steady gaze.

“You fancy Lou already, do you?”

Harry shrugs half-heartedly. “Don't really know him. He seems nice, though?” His voice is too airy, unusually high for its trademark tone.

“It's difficult not to like him,” Zayn says with a shrug. “Everyone starts to fancy him eventually.”

Harry eyes Zayn. “Is he dating anyone, then?”

Zayn gets that speculative look on his face again. “Why, you interested?”

“Like I said, I don't really know him. I don't even know if he … you know, goes for blokes.”

Harry's cheeks are turning pink, betraying the nonchalance in his voice. Zayn's only known him for a couple of years but it's been enough time to figure Harry out. They'd met during Zayn's first serious modeling job, when Zayn was in his second year of uni. The photographer had been a family friend of the Styles' and Harry had been wandering around the studio, just watching him work. The moment he'd laid eyes on Zayn – all dark clothing and tattoos and smoldering gazes – he'd fallen for the boy.

But that's Harry. Harry falls for everyone a little. He's the guy who walks down the street, sees someone, and falls in love with any one part of them.

“He's single and it doesn't matter what you've got in your pants, as far as he's concerned,” Zayn says as he moves toward the kitchen as well. “You are far too obvious, Styles.”

*****

The next morning is a Friday, and Louis has work. For once, he doesn't want to go. He's not quite sure why. Well, okay, that's a lie.

He pads down the hallway and into the kitchen, where he puts on the kettle and pulls out three mugs. Zayn has an early shoot this morning and Louis'd already stopped by his room to wake him up. Apparently, Zayn's alarm clock had just “stopped working” at some point, but Louis suspects that he just likes having a person wake him up, instead of the impersonal trilling of an alarm. He might act aloof and unsociable, but Louis knows that Zayn's just as needy of attention as the next person.

As for Harry … well, Louis' not exactly a quiet person, even when his mouth is shut, so their guest is sure to be woken up within the hour. Especially since the flat doesn't have a guest room and Harry's currently parked out on the couch, having refused to take either Zayn or Louis' bed.

“Morning,” Zayn mumbles as he enters the kitchen, his hair flat against his head and stubble dark.

Louis bumps him with his hip and gives him a cheeky grin. “How's my model this morning?”

It's an aspect of their relationship that never fails to amuse Louis. The fact that he's a teacher to a bunch of six-year-olds while Zayn models high end clothing for a living just tickles Louis to no end. He's never been jealous of Zayn's job and of course Zayn isn't jealous of his, and that seems to keep everything in balance. Despite his flamboyant, outrageous nature, Louis isn't the type to crave the spotlight; he likes putting people in the spotlight instead, if that makes any sense. He likes making people happy and seeing them smile because of something he's done, not the other way around. It might be a selfish thing, but it doesn't hurt anyone. Quite the opposite, really.

“Tired,” Zayn says shortly as he takes the kettle off the stovetop and begins to pour water into the mugs. “Go check on Harry, will you?”

Louis does what he's asked without complaint, which is odd for him. It's not uncommon for Zayn to order him around like he's his pet, but it's also normal for Louis to whine and moan and give Zayn a generally hard time. But this time, he just does as he's told, and walks into the living room. He cranes his head over the couch and sees that Harry is still asleep, curled up under a blanket with his head pillowed by his own arm. His bottom lip is moving a bit, like he's pouting in his dream and Louis can't help but smile at how cute he looks with his curly hair all messed up against his forehead.

“Harry,” he whispers rather loudly. “Harry, wake up.”

The younger man stirs but doesn't wake, just tucks his head into the crook of his elbow like he's a cat trying to hide its face from the sunshine as it naps. Grinning mischievously, Louis goes around the side of the couch and crouches down so his face is looming right next to Harry's. He studies Harry up close, marveling at the lines and curves. Harry's got a face that is made up of interesting parts that are maybe not breathtakingly beautiful apart but together, make up a fairly striking face. He isn't the fittest bloke Louis' ever seen (that designation will always goes to Zayn) but he's the most interesting looking one.

Louis bites his lip, resists just reaching out and running his fingers along the other man's cheek.

“I've made tea,” Louis murmurs, biting his lip as he holds back a smile. “Teaaaaaa.”

Harry lets out a groan and rolls onto his back, throwing an arm over his eyes. Bright, early morning sunlight streams through the window right into the living room and Harry is coated in the golden warmth. Louis laughs and rolls back until he's firmly seated on the floor. He likes new people, especially new people with fascinating backgrounds. And Harry fills both of those conditions. Louis wants to ask him what it was like growing up in a famous family, what it's like walking down the street and being recognized, and what all the tattoos scattered across his skin stand for.

He'd use a precious sick day just to stay home and ask Harry all those questions.

“Good morning,” Harry says, voice raspy.

Louis raises himself back onto his haunches and casts a shadow over Harry, giving him a respite from the blinding sunlight. Harry lowers his arm and blinks up at Louis with sleepy, green eyes. His lips stretch into a smile as he gazes up at Louis.

Louis winks at him. “Not sure what your favorite tea is, so come into the kitchen?”

He springs lithely to his feet and steps back, watching as Harry swings his impossibly long legs off the couch and hauls himself to his feet. He's all big, sweeping motions that take up space but make no noise. Louis turns on his heel and floats into the kitchen (because he, in contrast, moves gracefully yet does so in a way that's loud).

In the kitchen, Zayn is sipping his tea. He looks at them over the rim of his mug, dark eyes unfathomable. Louis rummages through a cupboard and starts pulling out boxes and tins and bags of tea, tossing them onto the counter in front of a wide-eyed Harry. By the time he's finished, Louis has created a sizable pile. He looks at Harry with hopeful eyes. Something about Harry makes him want to please, please, please. He likes making the people who expect to be indulged the least the happiest.

“See something you like?”

Harry's thin fingers wrap around a small tin and he hands it over to Louis, who pops it open and takes out a small bag, which he plops into the mug that has a tabby cat's face on it, winking. He chooses to ignore the steady gaze Harry has set on him, but he feels a heat crawl up the back of his neck. The remaining mug, which he'd already put his tea of choice in, has a matching cat painted on, but this cat has its little button nose scrunched up in a comical smile. Zayn had bought the set for him last Christmas, saying he didn't know what else to buy the “boy who has everything including a fit best mate”.

“Thank you,” Harry says as he takes his mug from Louis.

Their hands brush and they smile at each other before Louis takes a step away and leans back against the sink next to Zayn. The three of them sip their tea in the peaceful quiet, not thinking about the day ahead.

*****

“Mum?”

“Lou? Shouldn't you be at work?”

“I'm at lunch. I've got news to tell you.”

“Harry Styles has moved into your flat.”

“Bloody hell, Mum, how do you do that?”

“Like I've said countless times before, Boobear, as soon as a person becomes a mother, they are given magical powers that allow them to spy into the lives of their children until the day they die.”

“Does that mean you see me having sex, then?”

“No, I turn off my powers when that happens.”

“That's a relief. How'd you know about Harry, though?”

“I know that you're not famous, dear, but Harry is. Don't you think the media would be interested in what he's up to after that unfortunate flat break-in?”

Fuck, I haven't even thought about that. I never read gossip magazines, you know?”

“Yes, I'm aware.”

“He's fit, Mum.”

“I'm aware of that also. Is he nice?”

“It's sickening how nice he is. I've only known him for a day, but I can tell … he's just one of those nice people.”

“Are you going to play nicely with him, then? You know how you can get.”

“Oh, Zayn's got an eye on me.”

“Good. Also, thank Zayn for sending me the latest Gucci ad. He looks absolutely stunning it in, even though the female model's tooth gap is … unfortunate. Have you seen it?”

“Yes, Mum, it's probably framed and up in the living room by now. Spotlight and everything.”

*****

That evening, Louis comes home to find another visitor on their couch.

The blonde man jumps up when Louis comes into the room and hops over Harry (who's inexplicably stretched out on the floor on his back) and sticks out an enthusiastic hand. Louis takes it and lets out a little chuckle as the other man pulls him hard against his chest in a half-hug before releasing him.

“Non-famous best mates gotta stick together, yeah?” the man says in a thick Irish accent. “I'm Niall.”

“Ah, you're Niall,” Louis says, with one raised eyebrow. “Harry said you were a right wanker. You seem like a nice bloke so far, though.”

Niall turns his head and shoots a glare down at Harry, whose eyes widen to the size of saucers.

“That's not true! You're trying to muddy my name, Lou!”

Louis purses his lips and directs an inquisitive gaze at the man laid out on the floor. “We're on nickname basis after two days, are we?”

Harry immediately turns red and Louis' not sure if he's ever seen a more endearing sight. How old is Harry? Like twenty or twenty-one? And he can still blush like a little schoolboy. It's adorable, really.

“Sorry, did I go too far?” Harry asks, sitting up.

Louis waits for a few moments, letting the tension build up, before breaking out into laughter. “You've got to relax, Harry. I thought socialites went around doing whatever the bloody hell they want?”

Niall shakes his head. “It's true, for the most part. Just last month Harry talked me into streaking through his parents' neighborhood. Some old rich lady saw us. Thought she was going to throw her own dog at us, knit jumper and all.”

Harry rolls his eyes and laughs a bit nervously. “Niall likes to exaggerate.”

“No, no,” Louis interjects. “I could see you stirring up trouble.”

Harry shrugs and smiles, teeth hidden behind his petal pink lips. Louis just stares at him, taking in the bashful look in those green eyes. He wonders if Harry is really that shy, or if it's just a facade he puts on to charm people. Because it's working. It's really bloody working right now.

Louis will be the first to admit that he's got a control-freak tendency in him. The relationships where he'd been the one with less power had never lasted long. Although he's only known Harry for two days, he can already tell that he's the type that's easily persuaded and convinced. It might sound a bit bad and all, but Louis craves those traits in a significant other.

“So Zayn wants to go out tonight,” Harry says, hauling himself up via the couch.

Niall lets out a strange whoop of excitement around a biscuit that he's just shoved into his mouth. Louis cannot remember having bought biscuits in the recent past, and he does all the grocery shopping. Zayn's completely useless at it; he comes home with the strangest items and with none of the ones Louis meticulously lists out for him. One time, he'd come home absolutely distraught, dragging a bag full of canned corn in behind him as he wailed, 'Lou, Lou! I lost the shopping list and I didn't want to call you because you were at work and so I bought all this corn because it was on sale! Don't be angry with me!' It'd been the first and last time Louis had ever seen Zayn so full of anxiety.

“Does he?” Louis asks, his eyes on Niall as the blonde man swallows the biscuit like a snake devouring a mouse. “He always wants to go out. You should know that by now.”

Harry shrugs. “I don't actually go out to the clubs with him. I don't go out to them at all, to be honest.”

Louis' eyes shoot over to Harry, an expression bordering on insulted on his face.

“What? How are you a socialite?”

“I'm more than a socialite!” Harry argues. “Think about it, have you ever seen me on any of those gossip rags, stumbling out of some place pissed off my face?”

Louis contemplates this for a solid minute before shrugging.

“I guess you're right. But I don't really stay updated on celebs. Zayn told you that.”

Harry sighs and reaches out to place a large hand (it's almost like a paw, Louis thinks) on Louis' shoulder. His green eyes are serious, set on Louis with an unwavering focus.

“Just make sure Zayn doesn't corrupt me tonight,” Harry says, still poker-faced.

*****

Everything goes to shit, if you want to look at it pessimistically.

Zayn manages to throw roughly five shots down Harry's throat by the time ten o'clock rolls around, and the curly-haired man is effectively “corrupted” before anyone can stop it from happening. Louis watches, amused, as Harry struggles to center himself on a bar stool, his eyes narrowed in concentration. Niall is on the other side of him, completely ignoring his best friend as he chats animatedly with the bartender. Zayn has disappeared off to the dance floor, leaving Louis to keep an eye on everyone. He's not much of a drinker and his closest friends know that he becomes a veritable shit-show when he's drunk. It's just not a good scene all around, so he keeps himself in check. For his sake and for others'.

“Harry,” Louis says, a bit exasperated, “let me help you.”

Harry mumbles out an incoherent response as Louis reaches out and holds the stool steady with one hand and guides Harry down by the hip with the other. The next few moments are taken up by Harry taking a hold of the edge of the counter and attempting to steady himself on his own. Louis wants to laugh but mostly he's a bit disappointed in Zayn for doing exactly what Harry had begged him not to (in the cab over, Harry had spent a full ten minutes pleading with Zayn not to make him drink; Zayn had just laughed cruelly from the passenger seat).

“I'm … drunk,” Harry manages to choke out, letting his forehead collide with the surface of the counter.

Louis winces and places a hand on the back of Harry's hot neck. “I know.”

“Are you upset with me?” Harry turns his head so that his cheek is pressed against the counter and he can see Louis.

Louis is a bit entranced by the glowing green eyes staring up at him. For someone so wrecked, Harry looks … beautiful. And young. Louis knows that it's not the alcohol creating these absurd thoughts because he's had exactly one mixed drink and yeah, okay, so it had an umbrella in it and those are always the ones that fuck you up the hardest, but still. His words hold truth.

“No, of course not,” Louis says, furrowing his brows. “Why would I be upset?”

Before Harry can reply, a hand slides onto Louis' shoulder and then Liam's grinning face appears.

“Hey, boys!” Liam squeezes Louis' shoulder before shooting his hand out towards Harry. “You must be Harry! I'm Liam!”

Harry struggles to get upright and Louis immediately grabs a hold of him to keep him from tumbling onto the floor.

“Liam!” Harry crows, oddly enthusiastic as he grabs onto Liam's hand (it looks a bit like he's using it as a second support - he's less shaking it than he is just clinging to it). “Louis, he's – uh – mentioned you!”

Liam beams, not at all fazed by the fact that his hand is being held in a death grip by a piss drunk stranger. “Oh, really? How kind of him!”

Louis scoffs, and reaches out to pull their hands apart. “Alright, Harry, no more drinks for you.”

Harry slumps forward again, his cheek coming to rest back onto the counter. Niall appears around him, a toothy grin splitting his face as he reaches out to offer a hand to Liam. Another round of cheerful introductions are made and then they all settle down on their respective stools. Liam orders a beer and engages Niall in a conversation about Ireland, neither of them bothered by the fact they are talking over Harry (who may or may not be passed out with his eyes open at this point) and Louis, who is just sitting there awkwardly smiling.

“Oi!” Zayn comes bopping up out of nowhere and collides with Louis' back, pressing himself flush up against his best mate as he waves down the bartender.

Louis cringes, feeling Zayn's sticky heat encompass his back. He tries to arch himself away but Zayn seems unwilling to let him escape because he immediately leans forward with him. Louis' not very touchy-feely, which strikes some people as odd. He's a bit flamboyant at times, yeah, and he can be rather loud, but getting handsy in public, no matter who it's with, has never been very comfortable for him. He still remembers graduating from college and how it'd been the most awkward day of his life, having to allow every single person under the sun to hug him and pat him and … ugh.

The only person who usually gets away with touching Louis unnecessarily is Zayn but not if it means Louis' going to have a Zayn-shaped sweat stain on his nice maroon shirt.

“Zayn,” Louis whines, wriggling forward on his bar stool.

“What, Lou?” Zayn huffs, reaching out for the bottle the bartender hands him. “Why are you – oh. Hi, Liam.”

Liam stiffens but smiles at Zayn, ever the polite one. “Hi, Zayn.”

“Didn't know we invited you.”

Liam falters. “Louis did.”

“Don't be such a twat, Zayn,” Harry pipes up suddenly, causing everyone to look down at him. He's eyeing Zayn blearily, a little crease between his brows. “There's no need to keep hiding, it's quite obvious you fancy -”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Zayn yells, just as he tips his bottle and accidentally (more like conveniently) spills a good amount of beer onto Louis' lap.

Louis lets out a little wail as the cold liquid hits his crotch, the front of his khakis immediately soaked. He shuts his eyes and throws his head back (the situation calls for some dramatic flair), letting out another sound that mimics a baby animal without its mum. There's a flurry of activity as Liam grabs a handful of napkins and begins fervently patting at Louis' crotch while Zayn inexplicably begins to chug the rest of the bottle and Harry slides sideways to wrap Louis up in a bear hug. Niall just laughs from a safe distance away.

“Zayn, you wanker,” Louis cries out, looking with horror at the brown wet patch on the front of his pants.

“Don't fret, Lou,” Harry mumbles drunkenly, running a hand through Louis' hair, “Liam will sort you out.”

It's quite obvious that Liam's doing a shit job at “sorting things out”, but Louis' mostly focused on how nice it feels to have Harry petting his hair in that way. He actually forgets about the beer all over the front of his pants (okay, almost forgets) and just leans into Harry's touch, missing the look of delight that crosses Harry's face. He leans his head against Louis' shoulder, too tired to keep upright himself, but his hand never leaves Louis' hair.

By the time Liam pulls away, clearly satisfied with the job he's done, Zayn and Niall are gone and Harry is still slumped against Louis, his head wedged against Louis' shoulder and jaw.

“We should get him home,” Louis says with a sigh, wrapping an arm around Harry's shoulders.

Liam nods and smiles, despite the fact that he's been at the bar for less than twenty minutes and he's already being forced out. Between the two of them, they drag Harry out of the sweltering club and out into the cooler night air. There are a few flashes as cameras go off around them but they make a beeline to the nearest cab, trying to shield Harry from the paps. Liam slides in first and grabs a hold of Harry after Louis practically tosses him into the vehicle.

So it wasn't a perfect night. But it could've been worse, if you want to look at it optimistically.

*****

The next morning, Harry wakes up in a strange bed, his head at the wrong end and his legs literally entangled in the sheet that had somehow come off the mattress.

He lies there for a full five minutes, face pressed into the mattress as he tries to stop his head from exploding into a million pieces with only his sheer willpower as support. He finally budges when someone starts shrieking somewhere in the flat, shrill and panicked. It sounds an awful lot like Louis so Harry rolls himself off the bed, fights the sheet off and hurries (as fast as he possibly can without fainting or hurling) out of the room. As he rushes down the hallway, he notices a trail of clothing leading from one end to the other, as if someone had skipped down the hall stripping themselves naked (it may very well have been him because he's clad only in his boxer briefs).

Harry lopes into the living room just as Zayn sends Louis to the floor in one swift move, not looking unlike a pro-wrestler. Louis lets out another animal-like screech as he grabs onto Zayn's ankles and attempts to drag him down onto the floor with him. Zayn yelps as his joggers are pulled down to his knees, exposing his bright red boxers with kissy lips on them, and grabs onto the arm of the couch, trying to wrench himself free from Louis' vice-like grip. Harry watches, flabbergasted, at the scene in front of him. Is this normal? Do they do this often? Is this some sort of weird mating ritual and had he totally missed the sexual tension between the two?

“You twat,” Zayn yells out as Louis manages to completely take off his pants, “let go of me!”

Louis flings the joggers to the side and scrambles to his feet, immediately wrapping his arms around Zayn's middle and tackling him onto the couch. They fall quite heavily, both letting out pained grunts as Louis lands right on top of Zayn. The position they're in is rather compromising, Harry thinks; Louis is laid out against Zayn's back, and Zayn is bent over the arm of the couch so that there's no way Louis' crotch isn't right up against his arse.

“Why didn't you tell me?” Louis asks, high and reedy. “Why didn't you tell me?

Zayn groans and Harry feels rather uncomfortable with this whole thing, especially when Louis grinds his hips down against Zayn. That could not have been necessary. Something (okay, so it's jealousy, Harry won't deny it) sparks deep down in Harry's gut and he wants to look away from the two best mates, but he can’t seem to tear his eyes away.

“Lou, are you just using this as an excuse to get off?” Zayn asks, incredulous, trying to twist his head around to look at Louis. “I think I feel your cock right up against my -”

No,” Louis interrupts, clearly impatient, “I am genuinely offended that you told Harry about your burning desire for Liam but you didn't tell me, your best mate.”

Zayn groans again and Louis pushes down onto his shoulders, smashing his face up against the worn leather upholstery of the cushion. Zayn sincerely looks close to tears and Harry wonders if he should maybe step in before someone gets hurt. Or before they suddenly start tearing each others' clothes off. He really doesn't want to witness either scenario.

“I don't even remember telling Harry!” Zayn cries out. “He probably just guessed! Maybe he's got clairvoyant gifts!”

Louis doesn't look at all satisfied with the weak answer but lifts himself up off of Zayn. He leaves his hands pressed against Zayn's shoulders though, leaning over him so that he can keep his best friend pinned to the couch. His lips are screwed up in disappointment but his blue eyes are flashing with something Harry can easily recognize as mischief.

“So do you, then? Fancy Liam?”

Zayn shuts his eyes tightly. He's clearly unwilling to answer the question. Louis releases one shoulder, brings his hand up and then brings it back down to smack Zayn's arse so hard the resulting sound might actually have echoed. Harry winces as Zayn lets out a pitiful little wail.

“Louis, you little twat!”

Louis tuts like a disgruntled mum. “Be honest, Zayn. You owe me at least that.”

“I owe you nothing!” Zayn argues feebly. “You've been manhandling me all morning. This isn't fair!”

“What isn't fair is that you've been hiding your deepest, darkest secrets from me!”

“I don't have to tell you everything!” Zayn shouts, just as he pushes himself up off the couch and sends Louis flying backwards. “I get to have my own life, too!”

Louis actually looks hurt from where he's sitting on the floor on his arse. Harry feels bad for him and wants to wipe that little frown off his face so he clears his throat loudly, immediately attracting the attention of the other two. Zayn looks a bit mortified but Louis' fallen expression doesn't change. Harry takes a step into the room, smiling sheepishly.

“Sorry,” he mumbles, his voice low and raspy. “I'm not interrupting anything, am I?”

Louis shoots to his feet and approaches Harry rather aggressively, not uttering one word in warning. Harry holds his ground and tries not to show surprise as Louis grabs onto his shoulders (he's seeing a pattern) and gives the other man a slight shake.

“Are you trying to steal my best mate, Harry?” Louis asks, trying to sound intimidating but not quite hiding the amusement in his eyes. “Because I will have you know that I won't just sit back and allow it.”

Harry lets out one of his trademark cackles then immediately brings his hand up to cover his mouth, nearly smacking Louis in the process. Zayn chuckles from somewhere behind Louis but the blue-eyed man looks quite shocked at the strange noise that Harry has just emitted. After a few moments of Harry just staring down at Louis and Louis looking up at Harry with wide eyes, Louis lets out a soft laugh and before anyone knows what's about to happen, he leans up on his tippy-toes and presses a kiss against Harry's lips.

*****

Dinner is tense but only because of Zayn and Liam.

Harry and Louis are quite good, actually. Better than good, Louis would argue, but for the sake of everybody else he keeps that thought to himself. He feels the need to reel in his enthusiasm for life right now because Zayn looks about a hair away from pitching an almighty fit and Liam looks like he's in physical pain. It'd been Harry's idea to invite Liam and Niall over for dinner. The only reason his suggestion had turned into reality was because he'd given Zayn his dimple-y smile and Louis had managed to break Zayn down all the way by grabbing onto the back of his boxers and yanking up hard enough that Zayn actually begged for mercy.

“So,” Louis begins, stabbing at a piece of lettuce, “last night was fun.”

Harry nods in agreement. “Much more fun than I'd been expecting.”

“You spent most of the night completely pissed,” Zayn mutters.

“And good on him!” Niall chirps, giving Harry a wide grin. “I don't think he's been drunk since his eighteenth!”

Harry grimaces. “I never got drunk, Niall. I was the only one at my birthday party sober.”

The conversation goes off on a tangent as Niall and Harry begin arguing about this memorable party from two years ago. Zayn keeps somberly dragging his fork around his plate like he's raking his own mini zen garden while Liam listens politely and Louis keeps dissolving into laughter. Niall and Harry mesh perfectly together, like a comedic duo that have been practicing together for years. Louis and Zayn are just as compatible, but their completely different personalities shine through much more than Harry and Niall's. Their contrasting characters intertwine and complement while Louis and Zayn's perpetually bounce off of each other, separating then coming back together.

“So I have a question for you, Harry Styles,” Louis pipes up during a lull in conversation. “You said someone broke into your flat. What'd they steal?”

Harry hesitates, biting down on his full lower lip. “Well -”

“His toothbrush, for one,” Niall announces, practically giddy. “And we think maybe some of his pants, yeah? Also the Magic Bullet his mum bought him for his birthday.”

There's a spattering of chuckles (mostly from Liam, who was apparently born to alleviate awkward silences or at least try) but there's a collective moment of silence as Niall's words sink in. Zayn's still picking at his dinner, head bowed. Louis is staring at Harry.

“What?” he asks, looking over at Niall next. “I get the toothbrush and pants, yeah, but the Magic Bullet?”

“My mum bought it for me because I like making smoothies on the weekends,” Harry says, looking mournful. “It was special.”

Louis perks up. “Oh, I know what you mean. One of Zayn's crackhead mates stole a beanie my mum made me. Almost broke my heart.”

Harry nods. “Life's not fair, is it? I can knit, though. I could make you a replacement beanie?”

Louis thinks he might be in love with the boy.

*****

That night, Louis can't sleep.

He keeps thinking about Harry and his lips and the way his eyes had widened a split second before their kiss. It hadn't been a scandalous kiss by any means, just a quick peck if anything, but that had been enough. Louis wants to kiss him again. He wants to understand Harry and all of his little quirks. He even wants to see a bad side to Harry because so far, all he's gotten to know is the sweet, quiet, rather naïve side of the boy - man, technically. Nobody is like that all the time. Louis wants to see Harry throw a fit and get angry or belch or piss against a public building like a normal person.

As quietly as he can, Louis gets out of bed and pads down the hallway and into the kitchen, deciding not to look into the living room (he does not need to get a glimpse of Harry, asleep - he just doesn't). He turns on the dim light over the oven and puts the kettle on, leaving the whistle off so it doesn't wake up the entire complex. As he waits, Louis leans against the sink and stares out into the dark London night, wondering why life works out the way it does. It feels so cliché, getting all deep like this at the dead of night, but it's less philosophical and more thoughtful, because there is a definite difference between the two.

As an afterthought, Louis reaches over and turns on the little iPod dock plugged in next to the toaster. It's Zayn's iPod, loaded up with Usher and the Weeknd and Drake but Louis' managed to infiltrate nearly all parts of Zayn's life. He scrolls through the artists until he finds the M section. He smiles to himself as the opening melody of his favorite song begins to play, quiet and hushed. Nobody else will be able to hear it, he's sure, so he just lets himself listen to the lyrics and appreciate the song.

You're never gonna love me, so what's the use?
What's the point in playing a game you're gonna lose?
What's the point of saying you love me like a friend?
What's the point of saying it's never gonna end?

You're too proud to say that you've made a mistake
You're a coward to the end
I don't wanna admit, but we're not gonna fit
No, I'm not the type that you like
Why don't we just pretend?

The truth of the matter is, Louis' never been great at relationships. He's always been too controlling, too tight-arsed about things that apparently don't matter all that much other people but matter quite a bit to him. Tidiness, good manners, schedules, etc. It isn't that he starts off in the relationship like that. It's just that - after the honeymoon period fades out - Louis slides into his routine habits and expects his partner to adjust to it. He knows it's rather deceiving, making himself out to be a fun, free-spirited person only to become a raging monster with a feather duster in one hand and a bottle of bleach in the other. He is a fun, free-spirited person. But with responsibilities.

His last boyfriend, Arthur, had been a nice bloke but had the cleaning skills of a toddler and had always left Louis and Zayn's flat a mess after he went home to his own. It'd driven Louis absolutely mad and eventually, after a year and a half together, they'd gotten into a huge blow-up that had led to them calling things off. Louis had been far from heartbroken (or so he'd told himself as he stood in his bedroom, a t-shirt of Arthur's clutched in his hands) but he had started wondering if he'd been the one to fuck things up. If maybe it was always him.

“Lost in thought?”

Louis feels a breath get caught in his throat, startled by the sudden intrusion. Harry is behind him, standing in the doorway with a meek but knowing smile. He's wearing a pair of joggers and a loose forest green t-shirt that looks impossibly soft. Louis wants to reach out and run his hand over it. Then under it. And then take it off compl -

“Oh, yeah, couldn’t sleep,” Louis says with a shrug, wrapping his hands around his mug to control the overwhelming need to wrap them around Harry.

Harry studies him for a few seconds before nodding. “I could practically feel you stressing out in here.”

“Did that really wake you up?” Louis asks, a little bit concerned and a lot more flattered that Harry would get up just to check on him.

“Mostly had to piss but ...” Harry's smile turns into a full-blown grin that has Louis' gut doing strange things.

“I'm not making you tea now,” Louis says, pouting and crossing his arms, mug still in one hand.

Harry closes the gap between them and stops about a foot away from Louis, so close that Louis can smell him. Harry uses surprisingly cheap shampoo, stuff you can buy at any Tesco's. As far as the hair product hierarchy goes in the flat, Harry ranks firmly at the bottom, with Zayn as the crowned winner. But for some reason, Louis loves the smell of Harry's shampoo, that clean smell that isn't flowery or fruity. It's a no frills, fresh sort of scent that he much prefers over Zayn's spicy, cloying shampoo that he buys for a ridiculous price at salons.

“That's alright,” Harry murmurs, his eyes flickering down to Louis' lips.

Louis wonders if Harry's talking about something else now.

“What were you thinking about?” Harry asks next, eyes meeting Louis'.

Louis hesitates, not sure if he should break this tenuous moment of sexual tension by being honest. It could be a test though, airing out all of his self-conscious thoughts and his relationship insecurities to Harry, and then seeing if Harry just backs away, overwhelmed. It'd definitely reveal another side to Harry.

“Just thinking about how maybe I need to relax a bit more, sometimes,” Louis says, stumbling a bit because he hasn't planned his words out at all.

Harry crinkles his eyebrows. “Relax a bit more? You?”

“Yeah. Zayn always tells me that I worry too much about stuff. Like cleaning and keeping on schedule and … I haven't got OCD or anything, it's just … I like order in my life.”

Louis looks down at the mug in his hands.

“That isn't a bad thing,” Harry replies.

“No, but when does it become too much? I've messed up loads of relationships because of it,” Louis confesses, finally getting to his point. “I've been told that I'm too controlling, that I have to have things my way and if I don't, then ...”

Harry stays quiet for what seems like forever, long enough that Louis feels forced to look up. There's a contemplative look on Harry's face, head slightly tilted as he studies Louis. He doesn't look amused or bemused. He looks almost … fond.

“Sometimes people in relationships forget that the other person is an actual person, you know, and always will be,” Harry finally says. “It's not like two people get together and then merge into one person who think the same thoughts and want the same things. You can rarely ever change a person. People forget that. And it isn't love that makes them blind to that, yeah? It's fear. Fear that the person they're with isn't compatible with them, that the relationship they've put so much time into isn't going to work out. It makes both people miserable in the end.”

Louis' not sure if the rush of emotion that hits him is comfort or anxiety or something else. Because he knows Harry's right, but in being right, it also means that Louis' probably never going to find a relationship that works for him because he'll always be too rigid, too unwilling to compromise to make anything last.

“Do you spend a lot of time reading books about how to improve relationships,” Louis jokes, a half-hearted attempt to lighten the mood - his mood.

Harry laughs softly. “My mum and dad went to couple's therapy for a while and thought it best to teach me and Gemma all the wisdom they'd gained.”

“Lovely,” Louis chokes out, unable to think of anything else to say.

Harry smiles, that dimple indenting his cheek, and reaches out. Louis watches, fascinated, as Harry brushes the back of his hand against Louis' jaw, his knuckles dragging achingly slow. Louis wants to look away from Harry, break the eye contact, but Harry's eyes are too green and too mesmerizing. He feels like a real idiot thinking that, and as if he knows exactly what Louis' thinking, Harry smirks.

“Have you given up on relationships all together then?” Harry murmurs.

Louis swallows thickly as he contemplates Harry's question. Has he? He had. Before Harry. Now, with Harry's smirk melting into a candy sweet smile, he's not quite sure of anything. And in that moment, Louis thinks that maybe - maybe - he has the potential to let himself go, just a bit, and prove himself wrong.

Louis tries his best to return the smile. “We'll see, I suppose.”

I can't let you go, can't let you go, oh
I just want it to be perfect
To believe it's all been worth the fight
Lies, don't wanna know, don't wanna know.

*****

A few days later, the same group of five lounge in Zayn and Louis' living room, waiting for the clock to strike nine, which, according to Zayn, is an “appropriate hour to go out and start drinking”. Louis think he's full of bullshit because he's seen Zayn passed out on the kitchen floor at two o'clock in the afternoon before. If he remembers correctly, Zayn's pants had also been around his knees and he'd begged Louis to go find his missing sock before starting to weep against the cold linoleum.

When Louis says as much, Zayn just grimaces at him and scoffs.

“That was private, at-home drinking, Lou. There are indoor and outdoor rules. No drinking in public until nine, at the earliest.”

As they argue about the rules of alcohol consumption, the other three sit complacently on the couch, just observing the two best mates as they squabble. Liam looks fond as his eyes drift back and forth between Louis and Zayn (mostly lingering on the latter), while Niall and Harry just watch on, amused. By the time they leave, it's already ten o'clock because Louis and Zayn had to actually do an in-depth Google search on the social mandates of drinking.

After about twenty minutes of walking, they get to the place Zayn had recommended. The “bar” that Zayn had described is more a club than anything else, which sends everyone but Zayn into hysterics. “Hysterics” really just means a lot of groaning and whining and alternative suggestions, but Zayn just waltzes in, ignoring the rest of them as they straggle in behind him like a flock of ducklings.

“He said we were going to a nice, laid-back bar,” Liam mutters into Louis' ear as they squeeze past a group of people dancing. “This is anything but. Bars don't usually allow public displays of sex.”

“He's just using this as an excuse to grind up on you,” Louis says, just to be a twat. “Beware of Zayn Malik when he's out on the dance floor. He will destroy your world.”

Liam is silent all the way up to the bar. When he speaks next, he sounds mildly intrigued. “Destroy? In a good or bad way?”

“You'll just have to see,” Louis says, waving a hand at one of the bartenders.

Harry and Niall pop up on either side of him within a couple of minutes, both looking a bit ruffled but generally unharmed. Louis nudges Harry's elbow with his and slides over the rum and coke he'd ordered for him. Harry immediately grins and takes a huge swallow before directing the glowing smile at Louis.

“Thanks, Lou,” he says, his deep voice somehow carrying over the pounding music and the shrill voice of the girl on his other side who is currently asking every single one of her friends if they have a tampon she can use. “Rum and cokes are my favorite!”

“Are they?” Louis asks rhetorically, raising an eyebrow. “A man of simple tastes. I'm impressed.”

“What do you like, then?”

“Oh, you know, those drinks that have like five different liquors in them? They get you spectacularly pissed.”

Harry chuckles before finishing off his glass, letting it rest back on the counter with a loud clink. Louis reaches over and puts his hand over Harry's, marveling again in the size difference. He's not sure what motivated him to do that, but he doesn't think he minds all that much. Harry's skin is pleasantly warm. Harry lays his hand flat, palm upward, and intertwines his fingers with Louis'.

“You already pissed?” Harry asks, voice a bit deeper than normal.

“Nah,” Louis says, hoping his voice sounds as coy as he's trying to make it. “Just wondering how a person can have such monstrous hands.”

Harry's pouting when Louis looks up, lips pursed together and eyes glimmering with pretend hurt. Louis smiles and takes back his hand before sliding off his bar stool and onto his feet. He sees Harry open his mouth to say something but he disappears into the crowd of dancing bodies before anything can be said (he's not really trying to be elusive, he just really needs to use the loo. He's sort of outgrown the cat and mouse game that he used to play back in uni when he had the time and energy to tease and lead people on). A few people attempt to grab at him as he pushes past but he's well versed in the nature of clubs and manages to navigate his way safely off the dance floor.

“Ah, Louis Tomlinson, fancy seeing you here.”

Louis looks up from where he's pissing at a urinal, eyebrows lowered in confusion as he glances behind him. He's pretty sure it's fairly bad etiquette to address someone when they've got their cock out and doing their business, but the voice is familiar so he chooses not to ignore it. His eyebrows go back to their normal position when he sees who it is – Nick Grimshaw. Nick is the music teacher at the same school that Louis teaches at, although Louis is convinced that Nick really doesn't do anything more than teach half-assed lessons on how to play the recorder badly.

“Do you say that to everyone you meet out in public?” Louis asks as he joins Nick at the sinks.

Nick grins as their eyes meet in the mirror. “Nope, just when I see you.”

Louis is two hundred percent certain that Nick has a crush on him but neither of them have ever broached the subject. Actually, they've never gotten within ten yards of it. Nick might be a complete idiot most of the time but he still understands the rules of workplace relationships and the like. He's a fairly nice guy, really, but Louis knows there's no way he could keep up with Nick. Nick's older than him by a good five or six years but he parties harder than Louis did when he was eighteen.

“I see that you're out with the socialite,” Nick says, waggling his eyebrows at Louis as they scrub at their hands.

Louis grimaces. “His name is Harry.”

“Yes, but if I'd said his name instead of 'socialite', my message would not have come across the same,” Nick shoots back.

If Louis can appreciate anything about Nick, it's the fact that he can keep up with Louis' quick, sometimes scathing wit. He's sure it'd be a disaster if they ever dated; they'd just end up trying to one-up each other constantly, a verbal arm wrestling competition that never ended. No, he likes control. Nick wouldn't give him that in a relationship. It's a deal breaker, really.

As soon as he thinks that, Louis' mind flashes to Harry and what he might be doing as Louis stands here, washing foul-smelling soap off his hands.

“He's nice,” Louis says as he shuts off the faucet. “Very un-socialite-like if you're wondering.”

“I was actually wondering how big his cock is, I've heard rumors -”

“Alright,” Louis interrupts as he dries his hands and throws the wad of paper towel in the trash.

“Louis, wait.”

Louis does just that, halting with his hand stretched towards the doorknob. He looks over his shoulder at Nick, who's got a facial expression on that says he means business now. Something like dread shoots through Louis and it takes all of his willpower not to just open the door and flee far, far away. He's never been all that good at dealing with real confrontation. He can manage a five-year-old wailing at him and demanding to know why he or she can't have another juice box at snack time, but he's not sure what to do when it comes to people his own age expecting something out of him.

“Yes?”

“I know we've danced around this for ages now, but …” Nick falters, a rare occasion. “I'd really like to go out with you sometime.”

Louis wants to laugh, poke Nick in the ribs and say 'good one', but it'd be entirely inappropriate and Louis isn't cruel. He just stares at Nick for what seems like several minutes, trying to problem solve his way out of the situation but instead just hitting a wall of complete ineptitude. He knows his mouth is probably open in bewilderment. Nick looks uncomfortable now, wet hands making awkward palm prints on the dark denim of his jeans.

“We're co-workers,” Louis manages to spit out. “There's got to be a law about that.”

Nick tilts his head. “A law?”

“Yeah, like no dating your co-workers?” Louis is grasping at straws, it's painfully obvious.

“You could've just said no, would've been a little less -”

Louis' losing control of the situation, he feels it.

“No! I mean, yes. Yes, we can go out. One time. That's it.”

Nick's grin is like a taser, tearing into skin and administering a painful jolt, Louis thinks dumbly. There's so much hope in that grin that it unsteadies him, is what Louis is trying to get at. But Louis just smiles and they walk out of the bathroom together, not saying anything except for a quick good-bye when Nick veers away to meet up with his mates and Louis starts towards the bar. He can see Harry and Liam still sat there, heads bent slightly as they talk.

“Where've you been?” Liam asks, a crease of curiosity between his bountiful eyebrows.

“The loo,” Louis answers curtly, gesturing at the nearest bartender to grab her attention.

Liam doesn't give up. “You were in there for like – ten minutes.”

Louis glances over at Harry, whose head is drooped over a full drink. He's tracing the misty edges of the glass with one finger, eyes unfocused. He doesn't like that glazed look on Harry; he's used to the other lad looking alert and on top of everything, green eyes flitting here and there, taking everything in with fascination or quiet curiosity.

Sighing, Louis redirects his gaze to Liam. “I wasn't getting sucked off in there, if that's what you're getting at.”

“What? No, of course not,” Liam splutters, although the rose-hued blush on his cheeks give him away.

Louis smirks but says nothing, just shrugging. He wonders if Harry had heard him.

*****

He'd been hoping that Nick would forget all about him saying yes to a date, but alas, Louis is only so lucky.

The next Monday, Nick catches him in the hallway. He grins and slips a note into Louis' pocket like they're two teenagers in secondary school before galloping away after a line of unruly children, never having said one word. The note just says: Marco's, Sat. @ 7pm. Louis stuffs it back into the pocket of his trousers before going on his way. He berates himself the entire way back to his classroom because why? Why had he been so bloody stupid? He hadn't even been drunk. He'd just lost his mind in that split second and his mouth had run off on him, saying yes before he could even realize it.

The rest of the week seems to fly by and Louis' apprehension only increases as the days, then hours tick down to his date with Nick. He hasn't told anyone about it and isn't planning on it, but knows that he'll have to come up with an excuse sooner than later because Zayn is talking about taking a weekend trip to Bradford with the whole crew – even Liam – and everyone assumes that Louis will be along for the ride. He's good at lying and knows that he'll be able to pull it off, but he doesn't like lying to his friends, especially Zayn. He can only imagine how disappointed his best mate would be if he found out that Louis had kept something from him.

By the time Friday morning rolls around, Louis is a wreck in a way that is unprecedented. Usually, he is fairly good with keeping calm about tough situations but for some reason, he can barely look anyone in the eye, as if he's hiding an unforgivable secret. It's gotten to the point where any time he finds himself in the same room with Harry, he has to leave. Because really, if he digs down deep, most of the guilt stems from Harry. Harry Styles, who's still looking for a flat to move into but has slipped into their daily lives easily and comfortably. Harry Styles, who smiles at Louis like the sun shines out of his arsehole and is his reason for getting off their lumpy as fuck couch in the morning.

It isn't like they're together, though. They'd snogged drunkenly a few times and shared that one sober kiss, but besides that, they haven't discussed a relationship of any sort. Sure, Louis always comes straight home after work with a strange feeling of excitement, and yes, the sight of Harry making them dinner is more endearing than it should be, and okay, Louis spends his weekends on the couch watching dumb telly shows with Harry but still, they aren't together. They're just … fond of each other. Your typical bromance with not enough bro to make it heterosexual.

“Lou?”

Louis blinks rapidly several times before focusing in on the person in front of him, who's staring intently into his face.

“Hi, Haz,” Louis replies, smiling weakly. “You alright?”

“Yeah, you?” Harry asks, eyebrows furrowed. “You seem a bit off.”

“It's just -” Louis knows he's going to say something he'll regret before he says it. “I can't go to Bradford this weekend.”

Harry frowns. “Oh. Why?”

“We're having a – um, school event and I have to chaperone.” It's a bold-faced lie but Louis reasons that Harry has no idea what goes on at Louis' work so it's safe enough.

“You just found out about it today?” There's an edge of skepticism in Harry's voice.

“Well, I didn't know I had to be there until today. Danielle came down with a nasty case of food poisoning so I have to fill in for her.” The words just come slipping out and if he didn't feel so bad about lying to Harry, Louis would feel rather proud of himself. He's doing a bang-up job at this lying thing.

“That's too bad,” Harry says, nodding. “We'll miss you.”

“Yeah,” Louis replies softly, looking away.

*****

“This is a nice place,” Louis remarks as he looks around Marco's, the Italian restaurant Nick had chosen.

Nick nods as he scans the menu. “The wine list is indecipherable, though.”

“It's in Italian, I'd guess?” Louis says, trying not to be too amused but failing.

“Chardonnay … I know that one,” Nick murmurs, just as the waitress appears at the table.

All in all, it's not an unpleasant time. Which frustrates Louis to no end. He'd hoped that it would be a complete disaster so he'd have an excuse to turn down a second date with no remorse. But he finds himself laughing at Nick's quirky sense of humor, which is much less irritating outside of the workplace. They talk about their shared love of teaching children and their common dislike for Mrs. Andrews, the librarian who glares at them like they're pedophiles. Maybe it's the wine, but Louis feels loose and happy during the date instead of tense and uncomfortable, like he thought he'd be.

He hadn't planned on inviting Nick up to his flat but he does, because he feels like he owes Nick a drink at the very least. Plus, they're in the middle of a hilarious story about stink bombs in the school canteen when they reach Louis's flat and it seems like a travesty to just end the discussion. So Nick trails up the stairs behind him, huffing and puffing, and whining about how his body doesn't understand the concept of exercise at his age. Louis just laughs – at Nick, at himself, at the world for putting him in this position.

By the time Nick looms over him on the couch, warm lips pressed against his neck, Louis' sure that he's going to come to regret this the next morning. But not even that thought stops him from going through with it because before he knows it, Nick's hand plunges down his trousers and he's moaning like he's in a porno. They don't even bother moving into the bedroom; Nick strips Louis down so fast it makes Louis' head spin and then he's crouching between Nick's spread legs, tugging the other man's trousers down like his life depends on it.

“I'm gonna suck you off, yeah?” Louis rasps out, grabbing the edge of Nick's briefs and tugging them down.

“Wow, so you're always mouthy, then,” Nick says, breathless and in awe instead of sassy for once.

Louis smirks as he wraps a fist around Nick's fully hard cock. “I've been talking dirty since secondary school.”

Nick groans as Louis' lips circle around the tip, throwing his head against the back of the couch. “Okay, no more talking about secondary school.”

Louis chuckles around Nick's dick, which just makes the other man whimper in a deliciously wrecked manner. He's been sucking dick for ages now and he's got it down pretty well, if he says so himself. Nick seems to be in agreement; he's obviously utilizing an insane amount of willpower in order not to thrust into Louis' mouth. He lets out a mewl of disappointment when Louis pulls away. He wipes the back of his hand over his mouth and grins at Nick, biting down on his bottom lip coyly.

“Not sure how you do it, but I can go either way,” Louis says, getting to his feet and standing over Nick, shameless as his cock bobs out in plain sight.

Nick just studies Louis for a moment, a calculating look on his face before he says, “I wanna see you bent over for me, to be bloody honest.”

That's that, then.

*****

Nick ends up staying the night and then through Sunday morning, even though the others are supposed to be back the same day.

Louis blames it on Nick and his insatiable appetite for sex. And chocolate, which he'd found out about when Nick asked if he could drizzle chocolate sauce over Louis' dick and then suck it off (Louis' immediate answer had been, “We're not sixteen anymore, Grimshaw, you're at no age to be kinky” but had eventually acquiesced to the request). There'd been a round of shower sex and farewell bedroom sex before Nick left.

Louis' lying in bed, dozing, when the door slams open and the sound of four young men crashing into the flat shatters the tranquility. Louis groans and rolls onto his stomach before shoving his head under a pillow. He hopes desperately that he'd remembered to lock his bedroom door. He's given an answer when the door flies open seconds later and someone starts crawling towards him on the bed, knees on either side of Louis' hips. He freezes, listening to the sound of someone breathing over him. He knows it's Zayn.

“Smells like sex in here,” Zayn says in the way of a greeting.

“Wanked off all weekend,” Louis replies, muffled by the pillow. “Missed you lads.”

“I've known you for ages now and I know what it smells like when you wank.”

Louis rips the pillow off his head and cranes his neck at an uncomfortable angle to glare at Zayn.

“You disgust me.”

“You always use that lemon cheesecake lotion. And the whole flat smells like sex.”

“Okay, sex is not like burning incense or spraying Febreze, Zayn. It does not leave that strong of a scent.”

“Well, something feels off. I feel a foreign presence.”

Louis groans and rolls over, knocking Zayn off to the side.

“Did you all really go to Bradford or did you just hide out in an opium den all weekend getting high?”

“Even if we did, we would've been up to a lot less trouble than you, Louis Tomlinson.”

There's a knowing glint in Zayn's eyes and Louis sighs in defeat, wishing he could become one with the mattress.

“Alright, alright, I had sex.”

Zayn purses his lips and sits back, eyeing Louis.

“With who?”

“Nick Grimshaw.”

“The music teacher twat from work?”

“Yes, the one and only.”

“The one who's been dying to suck your cock since he laid eyes on you?”

“Well, if you'd like to know, he's quite talented at it.”

“Lovely, do you think he'd be up for sucking mine?”

Louis rolls his eyes at Zayn's snarky comment, choosing not to say anything more. He knows Zayn's disappointed in him. He feels it crushing him like a three hundred pound man already. Zayn's disappointment has always been the worst; you know you've royally fucked up when not even Zayn Malik can just shrug it off and laugh about it in that carefree way of his.

“What, he just showed up at the flat and propositioned you?” Zayn's rubbing the bridge of his nose now. “Explain to me how this happened, Louis.”

“We went out on a date Saturday.”

Zayn's eyes grow big and his jaw actually drops. Louis smiles sheepishly.

“You bloody liar!”

“You have to understand -”

“No, no, I don't! You could've just told me, you know! You could've been honest instead of telling us that you had some made-up work thing to go to!”

“Really, could I have?” Louis retorts, struggling to sit up. “Seeing as your opinion of Nick is so glowing and everything!”

“Bloody hell, Louis, that isn't the point.” Zayn sighs so deeply it takes a full ten seconds for him to empty his lungs.

Louis looks down at his hands intertwined in his lap, genuinely chastised. He feels bad, he really does. He's sassy and quick with his mouth but it doesn't mean he's impervious to harsh words and disapproval. He knows how badly words hurt.

“What about Haz?” Zayn sounds so sad, his voice soft and questioning.

Louis tenses up, teeth clamping down on his lip. It doesn't help that Zayn had used Harry's pet name.

“I … we're not together.”

Zayn nods once, twice and then gets up. The door shuts gently behind him.

*****

Perhaps I had a wicked childhood
Perhaps I had a miserable youth
But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past
There must've been a moment of truth

For here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not, you should
So somewhere in my youth, or childhood
I must have done something good

Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth, or childhood
I must have done something good.

Louis takes a shaky breath as Maria and Captain Von Trapp's eyes stay locked and she sings in her beautiful, lilting voice to him. Damn Julie Andrews. If he was straight and she was about 50 years younger, he'd sell all four of his sisters to the Devil to have her sing him a love song. Right after shagging him, of course, because not many women can make a pixie cut look sexy. He doesn't realize he's frozen up and gone all starry-eyed until Zayn snorts beside him. The other man has his head balanced on one fist with an unimpressed look on his face. Louis turns to look at him, eyes icy.

“He fell in love with her when she sat on the pine cone? Clearly, that's a lie. He obviously thought she was a daft -”

“Really, Zayn? Are you doing this to me?”

Zayn shrugs one shoulder and quirks up the corner of his mouth in that 'whatever, man' look.

Louis pauses the film. “You're still mad at me.”

“Yep.”

“This whole Nick thing is not even your business, Zayn.”

“Harry is a good friend of mine, Lou. Just because you're my best mate doesn't mean I can't be protective of my other mates.” Zayn sighs. “I'm also disappointed in you.”

Louis' heart sinks. The disappointment again.

“I know you're shit at relationships and you can be a snarky little twat but you're not a cold-hearted person,” Zayn says, softer now. “You care about people. You care about Harry.”

Louis grits his teeth. “I don't want to be having this conversation over The Sound of Music.”

“You won't ever want to have it.”

“Harry doesn't even know I'm sort of seeing Nick! He's been his happy, dimple-y little self all week!”

Louis doesn't meant to sound as combative as he does, but fuck. He's only telling the truth. It's not Zayn's business and Harry has no idea, anyway. It'd been almost an entire week since Zayn had found out and he'd obviously not told Harry because there'd been no noticeable fall out or hurt looks or dramatic 'I've found a flat, I'm moving out' announcements. Louis'd been doing his best to avoid Nick at work but it'd been difficult, seeing as the other man had clearly made it his life goal to corner Louis at any opportunity he was given. So far, Louis had been able to evade any second date invitations but he could feel it coming over the horizon, as assured as the sun.

“What, you think he won't find out when Nick starts popping up around the flat? I'm not going to cover for you,” Zayn snaps.

Before Louis can say anything in reply, the door to the flat flies open and Harry comes stumbling in, shopping bags lined up along his thin forearms. He looks up, catches Louis and Zayn staring at him and grins so wide it's heartbreaking. Louis has to turn back around and latch his eyes on the frozen face of a lovestruck Julie Andrews in order to get his heart to stop hammering.

“So I know I've overstayed my welcome,” Harry begins as he walks around the couch to stand in front of the other two men. “But I've bought presents!”

Zayn claps his hand childishly, grinning as Harry plops two enormous bags on the coffee table in front of him. Louis watches, bemused, as Zayn practically shoves his head into one, digging through the tissue paper eagerly. On the side of the black bag is emblazoned 'Emporio Armani'.

“Holy fuck,” Zayn breathes, pulling out a button-up shirt the color of a cobalt blue convertible and made of a material Louis is not sophisticated enough to identify. “You remembered!”

Louis just watches as Zayn pulls out a tie from the same bag and then hugs Harry tightly, acting more enthusiastic than normal. Louis' not really sure what the big deal is – Zayn works with clothing. He gets free clothing all the time. However, he keeps quiet as Zayn rifles through the next bag and emerges with a framed photo of the exact Gucci ad that he'd sent Louis' mother. Except the ad is blown up to poster size and is held within the nicest frame Louis has ever seen. He leans his head back against the couch and closes his eyes, trying to block out the sounds of joy Zayn is making as he skips off down the hallway to his room.

“You're next.”

Harry's voice brings Louis out of his self-pity. He blinks a few times before settling his eyes on Harry, who's holding a bag out to him with a small smile. Louis takes the bag, silent, and gently parts the excessive amount of tissue. Inside a small box is a square black leather wallet that has 'Boss' stamped discreetly in one corner. Louis quirks an eyebrow, confused. He'd never mentioned a need for a new wallet to Harry and surely not one from bloody Hugo Boss but when he opens up the wallet, he understands.

Nestled in the compartment for paper money are two tickets for an upcoming Marina and the Diamonds concert at one of the best venues in London.

Harry's looking at him with an unreadable look. “Go with me.”

Louis glances down at the tickets, then back up. “How'd you know she's my favorite?”

“You were listening to her in the kitchen that one night.”

“Yeah, but … that doesn't mean anything.” Louis' throat is tight and he's having some trouble breathing properly.

“I just knew, okay. You just … know when something is important to someone.” Harry sounds so genuine, so convinced with his words.

Louis frowns but decides not to fight him on it, even though he could point out so many flaws and holes in Harry's reasoning.

He just says, “Okay.”

*****

“I had a lot of fun with you, Louis,” Nick says. “I'd love to do it again.”

Louis takes a deep breath as he get up from his chair. He'd seen this coming.

“Listen, Nick,” Louis starts, already lost for words. “I can't – I'm not looking for anything serious.”

“Something casual, then?”

There's a knowing smirk on Nick's face that simultaneously pisses off and frightens Louis.

“If by casual you mean a shag here and there, sure,” Louis says, voice joking.

Nick raises an eyebrow. “Aright, then. Wanna start tonight? My place?”

Louis stares at Nick for a good minute, mouth agape unattractively.

“You're joking.”

“Not really, no,” Nick replies with a nonchalant shrug.

And that's that, then.

*****

Harry drives them to the concert, refusing to allow Marina and the Diamonds to play in the car, and instead puts on Imagine Dragons. Louis tries not to stare as Harry drums his fingers on the steering wheel and sings along under his breath. He's a safe, capable driver but Louis' not really surprised. That's another trait he likes in a significant other – confidence behind the wheel. His boyfriend before Arthur – Xavier – had been a neurotic, nervous driver who could never choose parking spots and had a tendency to use his horn far more than necessary.

The venue is absolutely packed and Louis feels his skin immediately begin to crawl. Harry just puts a steadying hand on the small of his back and leads him around the edge of the crowd towards one side. It's closer to the stage but they're not entrenched in the middle of the crowd, which Louis' not sure if he could deal with. Maybe back in uni when he and his mates got drunk regularly (which had not been that long ago yet felt like decades in the past), he'd be able to deal with the press of people but nowadays, he's used to his quiet flat and the less than intimidating presence of children. He's way out of practice for this but he sees an excited light in Harry's eyes as he glances around.

“I've never seen her live!” Harry says loudly in Louis' ear, stooped over so his lips are right up against Louis' skin.

Louis nods, grinning back at Harry.

The concert is everything Louis could've ever hoped for, to be cliché and stupid about it. Marina and the band do a fantastic job and she's gorgeous and everyone is so into the music it seems wrong that it can't just go on forever like this. Harry never leaves Louis' side, pressed up against close, but Louis finds that he doesn't really mind. He feels safe and that deep-seated feeling of loneliness fades away when Harry's next to him. It's cheesy and definitely not anything Louis would actually put into words, but it feels rather okay to just think.

On the way out to Harry's car, Harry asks, “So did you have a 'Teen Idle' sort of adolescence?”

Louis snickers at the off-beat question. “No, unfortunately. I feel like I would've had a far more interesting time in secondary school if I had.”

Harry shrugs. “Maybe, maybe not. I'm sure it was interesting enough.”

The ride home is quiet but not uncomfortably so. Harry hums along to the radio, the ethereal melody of “Starlight” by Muse filling the silence, while Louis leans his temple against the glass and watches the city lights flash by. He flinches only a bit when Harry's right hand covers his left, encompassing it in warmth. Louis has to fight the urge to look over at Harry, to gauge the other man's expression. He wants to just stay in this moment, watching the scenery outside flicker past with Harry's skin against his. Everything seems so entrancing and hypnotic, like life could go on exactly in this manner and never get old.

“I had a nice time tonight,” Louis says, his breath fogging up the glass.

“I'm glad,” Harry murmurs back.

The flat is empty and dark when they walk through the door, but neither of them wonder where Zayn is, not for a second. As soon as the front door is shut, Harry just pushes Louis up against the nearest wall and presses his lips against his. There's no warning at all, but Louis doesn't care. Because he'd seen this coming, it wasn't unexpected, really. He just wraps his arms around Harry's neck and pulls the other man in closer until they're pressed flush up against each other. He feels that rush of overwhelming emotion - a rush of excitement, awe, nervousness, and agitation – and his nerve endings feel like they're sparking, fizzing.

“Wanna know the truth?” Harry mumbles into Louis' ear before sucking a hot, wet mark onto the soft skin of Louis' throat. “I asked Zayn who your favorite band was.”

Louis nearly stops in mid-groan at the confession. He pushes Harry back far enough so that they can meet eyes.

“So you didn't 'just know'?” He asks, raising an eyebrow and making obnoxious air quotes.

“No, I'm not a bloody clairvoyant.”

Louis can't help it; he snorts so loudly it actually hurts his nasal passages.

“So you remembered that – uh … conversation Zayn and I had.” He grins up at Harry, who's grinning back.

No other words are spoken on the matter. Louis grips Harry by the hips and leads him backwards down the hallway and into Louis' room, their mouths attached the entire way. It's an Olympic feat but they manage it without any serious stumbles, although Harry does slam the back of his heel against the doorjamb on the way in and moans pitifully into Louis' mouth. Louis just chuckles and pushes Harry backwards onto the bed. For a long moment, they just stare at each other, take in the way the streetlamps outside cast shadows on each others' faces.

“Is this going to happen?” Louis asks.

Harry raises himself onto his elbows and tucks his chin towards his chest slightly and looks up at Louis. His eyes are so big and alluring when he does that, for some reason. Louis wants to pin him to the bed, ravish him until he comes undone. The urge is so strong Louis' pretty sure his hands are trembling.

“Yeah, I think so,” Harry says, but there is no ounce of uncertainty in his voice. He knows, knows quite well that they're taking this a step further.

Louis nods once before he climbs onto the bed and straddles Harry. Harry grabs Louis' hips and immediately raises his own, grinding himself against Louis. Louis bites down into his own lip, hard, stifling the groan that claws its way up his throat. Harry grabs the back of his neck and pulls him down so they can kiss. If it can be called a kiss – the word seems too sweet and innocent to describe what they’re doing with their lips and their tongues.

“I'd suck you off but I really have no patience for that,” Louis murmurs into Harry's ear before pulling away.

Still straddling Harry, Louis grabs the hem of his shirt and skims it off easily and tosses it onto the ground (he feels bloody sexy doing it, too, like he's a femme fatale in a movie getting undressed for the hunky protagonist). Harry's eyes are glued to him, gaze unwavering and Louis can't help it; he smirks at Harry, gives the look his all, and he's pretty sure the pupils of Harry's eyes triple in size within a split second.

Louis' on his back before he can even blink, but he's not really complaining, not when Harry's looming over him. They spend another few seconds just smiling at each other and then Harry's fumbling with the zipper of Louis' trousers. They're off in a flash and Louis sort of wants to applaud Harry for his dexterity, but the sight of Harry getting to his feet to shimmy out of his own jeans renders Louis immobile. There's something about the way Harry pushes the jeans over his slim hips and then bends to slide them down further that makes Louis' palms sweat. He's sure he's going into cardiac arrest when Harry raises his head, still bent over, to shoot Louis a smug smile.

“Yeah, yeah, you're bloody gorgeous,” Louis groans restlessly. “Get your arse over here.”

Harry listens obediently, crawls up the bed until he's suspended over Louis again. They move at the same time, meet in the middle and press their lips together with admirable synchronicity. They have to break apart within seconds; they're both panting so hard they both break out into disbelieving laughter. Louis has never felt so turned on, has never been so overwhelmed by another human being.

“Get naked and then get in me,” Louis demands, voice hoarse.

Harry licks his already shimmering pink lips before sliding his pants off (rather ungracefully in his haste, Louis must say, yet he's absolutely adorable) and then grabbing the waistband of Louis' and tugging his off. Louis' not sure if he's mentally prepared for this, for the sight of Harry completely naked in front of him. For someone who's not all that outwardly confident normally, Harry seems absolutely unabashed with his nudity or at being eyed by another person. He just stays there, kneeling over Louis, letting the other man look him up and down.

“What are you waiting for?”

Louis wishes he'd sounded a bit more demanding but his nerves are stretched out too tightly. His mind is swimming with desire, need, astonishment.

Harry nods again and reaches for the bottle of lube that is sitting on the top of Louis' nightstand like a faithful little soldier. No questions are asked about the fact that its out in plain sight and half-used (Louis' mind flickers to Nick but he uses all of his willpower to drown him out). Harry's slick fingers against his entrance is like a white hot spark and Louis immediately arches up, a moan erupting form between his lips. Harry's fingers are sure and deft, like he was born to do exactly this. Louis' nearly broken by the time Harry has three fingers inside of him, stretching and prodding mercilessly.

“Fuck, Lou,” Harry mumbles as he leans down to press a quick, hot kiss against Louis' lips.

“Okay, okay, okay,” Louis gasps.

Harry draws out his fingers and then hesitates, glancing over at the nightstand with a furrowed brow. Louis realizes within a second what he's looking for and reaches over to yank the drawer of his nightstand out. Harry rustles around inside of it until he comes out with a condom between two fingers with a triumphant smile. Louis watches, heart thundering inside his chest, as Harry carefully tears open the packet and then proceeds to roll the condom down his cock.

Harry guides himself to Louis' hole and pushes the head in.

Christ.”

Louis can't tell if he or Harry had uttered the curse, not that it matters, because within seconds Harry is sliding into him and there are far dirtier thing spewing out of Louis' mouth.

For a moment, Harry seems stunned, his eyes flickering over Louis' face.

“Fucking move,” Louis snaps, wrapping his legs around Harry's waist and using every single muscle in his legs to violently yank Harry towards him.

“Bloody hell,” Harry moans out as he bottoms out completely.

It just takes that for Harry to do exactly as Louis wants, thrusting so hard Louis has to brace his hands flat against the headboard in order not to go smashing headfirst into it. Their hips slam together furiously and at some point, Louis lets out a choked sob. Harry folds himself over Louis, so close Louis' cock gets trapped between them and Harry's damn torso rubs against it at every thrust. Their are few words uttered, just guttural grunts and punched out moans that surely carry through the walls, possibly the floorboards.

Louis comes first, body going rigid and lips parting wide, but Harry is right behind him, biting into the skin of Louis' neck as he tries to rein in a wild moan. When they both come down from their highs, they sink against one another and just lie there for several minutes, breathing harshly.

Louis' sure his mind is wiped clean. He's not certain if he'll ever be able to think, speak, or even breathe properly again.

*****

Louis wakes up the next morning to his phone, shrilly letting him know that he has a text.

Groggy, he reaches over and grabs it, nearly fumbling it once. He slides it open and reads the text, eyes narrowed into tired slits, but becomes alert when he rereads it. It's from Nick, asking him if he's free tonight for a 'casual date ;)'. Louis deletes it quickly before resting back on his pillow. Beside him, Harry is stirring. The arm he'd had thrown over Louis' torso retracts and he raises himself up on his elbows. Louis watches as Harry grinds his eyes against his fists like a child. Their eyes meet as soon as Harry turns his head.

“Good morning.” Harry's voice is so soft, his gaze so reverent, and his smile so sweet.

Louis' heart is revolting against him, he's sure. He feels like a piece of shit, to be honest.

“Harry. I -”

Harry shakes his head, smile dropping. “Wait, I need to say something.”

Louis pushes himself up until he's sitting up against the headboard.

“Okay.”

“It's just ...” Harry sighs and runs a hand through his tousled hair. “I haven't been completely honest. Not to you, anyway.”

The blood flowing through his veins has turned into slush, Louis' a hundred percent certain. He wants to rewind time now, go back to a time when they weren't suddenly plunging into serious conversation.

“I … nobody actually broke into my flat.”

Harry raises his head and he looks so fucking guilty Louis' torn between kissing that look off his face and demanding that Harry spill out the truth already. Instead of doing either, Louis just sits there, eyes frozen on Harry's upturned face.

Harry takes a deep breath.

“You see ...”