“Have I said thank you enough?” Gemma asked her lips still pressed against Louis’ cheeks.
“Gross, get off,” he shoved at her but smiled. “Stop throwing yourself at me, woman. How many times do I have to tell you I like cock?”
“My hero,” she batted long eyelashes him, but couldn’t hold back the laugh that sprung to her lips moments later.
She sobered quickly, though, laying a hand on his forearm. “Seriously, Lou. I’m really grateful.”
He shrugged it off, knowing he didn’t always react properly to true emotional moments. It was easier to make a joke, tease or embarrass the person into laughter. That he knew what to do with. But compliments, gratitude? He couldn’t trust himself around them.
“You realize I’m now picturing your family as monsters,” he said, nudging her to the passenger side of his car.
She slipped in, sliding sunglasses over her eyes. “They’re actually quite wonderful and you will love them. This is all about her. ”
“The evil cousin who isn’t really a cousin,” he confirmed, pulling into traffic.
“Horrid, horrid woman,” she said. “I would literally die before showing up at her wedding single. And my mother would kill me if I didn’t show up, so you see the position that puts me in.”
“Bribing your gay friend to pretend to be your boyfriend for the weekend,” he answered for her, smirking.
“Precisely,” she jabbed her finger into the space in front of her.
“This is real healthy, you know that Gem.”
“Shut it,” she turned on him, poking him in the ribs. He swatted her away. “You’re getting a beautiful weekend at an English manor and--more importantly--an open bar out of it.”
He sighed in pleasure. “An open bar for longer than that, babes.”
“Right, right,” she waved that away, propping her now-bare feet on the dash. “Drinks on me for two weeks.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Fine, a month.”
“There we go,” he resisted the urge to reach out a mum-hand when he had to stop short at a light. “Are you sure you don’t want to tell your family about our little...arrangement? It seems like it would be much easier if they are actually as wonderful as you say.”
“Don’t go soft on me now, Tomlinson.” Shifting to glare at him over the upper rims of her sunglasses.
“Not something I really have to worry about, babes,” he wiggled his eyebrows back at her.
She poked him again, finding that particularly sensitive spot between his ribs. “I’m serious. My mum would be fine, but my brother’s a shit actor. And if that horrid woman senses weakness, she’ll pounce. Absolutely pounce.”
“Harry,” Louis murmured. “And Anne’s your mum.”
“Gold star for Lou.”
“Watch the sass, Gem. I can turn this car right back around.”
She was immediately contrite. “Ah love, don’t be like that.”
“Tell me about them.” He knew the basics. The brother had just graduated and was looking for a photography job in London. The mum was a doll. The horrid cousin was horrid.
Gemma smiled a smile he could tell reached her eyes. It softened her entire expression. “Well Harry is the best. He’s the nicest soul you’ll ever meet. But not in an annoying way, you know?”
He did know. Sometimes you met someone that was just too good. And you had to watch what you said in front of them. You couldn’t ever shit talk even when it was warranted. “He’s not a prick about it?”
“Exactly,” she said, crossing her ankles and sinking deeper into the passenger seat. “He can hang. But also, like, the soul of an angel I swear to God. I don’t know where he came from because I certainly didn’t get any of that.”
“Well, I thought it rude to point that out …”
The London traffic was starting to thin out as the road opened into picturesque country lanes. He didn’t get out of the city nearly enough. He zipped past a dawdling van and Gemma squealed as he slid back into his lane just before the oncoming car swiped by them.
“My mum’s the best, too,” she continued after a few minutes of just the radio. “She’s like me. And you love me, so you’ll love her.”
“I’m not sure she’ll be so happy with me sharing a hotel room with her baby girl,” he said.
Gemma laughed, tipping her head back. “She’ll just be so thankful I’m dating someone she’ll probably slip some condoms under the door.”
“She’ll be in for such a disappointment,” he shook his head slowly. “She’ll be crushed when I exit stage right.”
Gemma slipped her fingers between his, and the warmth felt nice against his palm. It would be so much easier if it felt better than nice. But it didn’t.
“As if we could ever get you to get off stage,” she said, her hand tightening around his. “You bask in the limelight.”
“You’re right,” he said. “I was born for this role.”
It was the only thing that processed through the absolute mush his traitorous brain had decided to turn into. Fuck me. Fuck me. Fuck me.
It was a mantra that shot straight to his cock. He willed himself not to get hard as he watched his best friend’s brother nibble on his plush bottom lip.
“Uh, Harry,” the boy said for the second time. “Harry Styles. But you know that, duh, of course.”
They gripped sweaty palms and Louis pretended not to notice the electricity that shot between them at their first touch.
He cleared his throat. Manly manliness and all that. “Louis.”
They hadn’t let go of hands. They should probably let go of hands. But he didn’t want to.
Harry finally detached himself, a sharp canine still worrying at the soft flesh that Louis desperately wanted to dig into.
Louis coughed, and stepped back. Gemma was chatting with her mum so thankfully hadn’t witnessed the interaction. She would have known something was up.
They both broke off smiling goofy grins at each other. Harry waved a long-fingered hand at Louis, the universal gesture to get him to continue.
“So you just graduated?”
Harry tugged at the tiny, delicate earlobe that peeked out from under his luscious, curly locks. “Uh. Yeah. Uh. I’m applying to jobs in the city.”
“Gemma mentioned you were interested in photography?” Louis asked.
Louis wanted to press his mouth to the flush that bloomed on Harry’s cheeks at the question.
Rein it in, Tomlinson.
“Yeah,” Harry was answering. “I don’t really know what I’m going to find. There are a bunch of studio jobs, but I’d pretty much end up taking posed pictures of babies.”
“Nothing wrong with that,” Louis was quick to reassure him. Starting out in the city was rough. You took what jobs you could get, and you didn’t act the diva about it.
“Yeah,” Harry drawled once more in that deep, slow voice that traced its way along each vertebrae of Louis’ spine. “I just …”
If he’d been about to say something, he’d completely lost the train of thought.
“What would you do if you could do anything?” Lous surprised himself with asking.
The lip again. He gnawed it, sucked it into his mouth, released it. It was glistening and wet and all Louis could think about was pressing into him there, between those lips.
“I think newspapers. I’d love to take pictures that actually matter,” he finally answered.
“Ha!” Louis let out a bark of laughter he regretted immediately as Harry’s face crumpled. “No. No. I mean. I …”
“It’s OK, I know it’s silly of me to think…” Harry’s fingers tangled in his hair. Louis wanted to replace them with his own. But first, to clear up this little confusion.
“No. Harry. I’m not laughing at you.” His instinct was to place a hand on the boy’s shoulder, but he let it drop halfway between them. “I just. I might be able to help.”
Harry glanced back up, eyes bright. “Really?”
“Well, my flatmate works at the Times. I mean he’s just a sports reporter, but at least he would know if they’re hiring and who to put you in touch with,” Louis said, faltering a bit at the absolute gratitude that flooded Harry’s face. “He could make sure you don’t get pulled into the dark hole of internet job applications.”
“You haven’t even seen my stuff,” Harry said, his voice unsteady.
Louis was about to reassure him further when Gemma bounded back over to him, slipping a hand around his waist. Harry’s eyes followed the movement. And then that lip gnaw again. Christ. How was he supposed to survive this weekend?
He turned his attention to Gemma as her palm came to rest right above his heart. Laying it on a bit thick, dear. Or at least that’s what he hoped he’d conveyed with the simple tilt of an eyebrow.
In response, she went up on tiptoes and laid a noisy kiss on the hollow beneath his cheekbone. Louis didn’t take his eyes off Harry, who watched the scene play out with a blank expression. Once Gemma dropped back to the ground, Harry shifted away from them, his gaze dropping to his feet.
“What were you babes talking about?” Gemma wanted to know, lacing her fingers in Louis’ and tugging him forward.
“Nothing,” Harry murmured, leading the way.
Louis wasn’t going to let him off easily though. “Harry’s photography, actually. I was thinking Liam could help him out.”
“That’s brilliant, Lou.”
“As if you would expect anything less than brilliance from me, Gem.”
It earned him a small smirk from Harry, and a swat on the shoulder from her.
“But for real, that is such a good idea. I can’t believe I didn’t think about it. Harry, make sure to show Louis your portfolio. We can take it back with us.”
Harry blushed a pretty pink. “You don’t have to …”
“Do you have it with you?” Louis cut him off.
The boy nodded.
“Excellent. I’ll swing by your room after we check in, yeah?”
Harry’s eyes darted to his sister, then back to him. He coughed. “Yeah.”
The number on the door stared back at Louis and he wondered if he had lost his mind. Why. Why God why had he suggested he Swing. By. Harry’s. Room.
Where there would be a bed. And a gorgeous boy. With lips to die for.
His head dropped back before he took a deep breath and knocked.
The door swung open almost immediately and Louis’ life flashed before his eyes Because of course Harry was half-naked, curls still dripping wet from a shower, towel slipping just enough for Louis to be tempted by the shadow of dark hair there.
This was punishment. Karma for all the times he’d sinned in past lives. He hated his past lives.
Louis tore his eyes from Harry’s happy trail, but felt it snag on the pink, puffy nipples that just begged for a mouth to work them over. It took a moment longer to meet the boy’s eyes. He prayed his lust wasn’t written all over his face.
“Oh,” is all Harry had to say.
“Uh, yeah mate, sorry, didn’t mean to catch you, um…” Louis waved a hand at him unable to finish the thought.
“Oh,” Harry said again.
“Right,” Louis drawled out, tipping his head to the side to study the boy’s face, without letting it slide any lower. There was a pink blush resting on the apples of his cheeks, and he was back to sucking on that lower lip. His pupils were blown and his breathing was even a little … off.
Christ. He looked like he had just….wanked in the shower. Yup. Harry had definitely just wanked in the shower and Louis was going to die. Just right where he stood. He’d lived a good life, though he kind of wished he’d had more time. A few more years. Or minutes. Enough to fuck this boy into the mattress at least.
“Um, so I can come back?” His voice was raspy and broken.
Harry’s eyes widened and he reached out as if to hold on to Louis so he wouldn’t leave. Louis flinched, not sure he could be responsible for his actions if Harry touched him in this state.
Harry’s face went blank as he let his hand drop into the air between them. “Sorry, um. No don’t go. Just,” he looked back into the room behind him. “Give me a second?”
The door shut in his face and Louis thought about football. And cold showers. No not showers. War. Famine. Anything to get his mind off the now-naked Harry. The way that little rivulet of water dripped from his curls to glide over broad shoulders down to his chest, catching just a bit on his nipple before trailing lower. Christ. No. Sad kittens. His mum. His mum holding a sad kitten.
Louis was just congratulating himself for not getting hard when Harry -- now dressed in simple black skinny jeans and a white-nearly translucent t-shirt -- opened the door, gesturing him in.
He skirted around him to survey the room, but made sure not to stand too close to the bed. Harry followed him, then dug into the brown-leather messenger bag propped up against a chair.
“This is really nice of you, Louis,” Harry mumbled before powering on the slim laptop he’d pulled from the bag.
“To be honest, I don’t even know what I’m looking for,” Louis said, feeling guilty for the gratitude. “I’m sure you’re great though.”
Harry’s lips tipped up in a sweet, shy smile, that revealed a hint of the deep dimples Louis had seen earlier. He watched his own finger, horrified but unable to stop it, poke into the groove to bring them fully to life. It worked for a moment, a full-out grin spreading across the boy’s face. But then he seemed to shake himself and the mask fell again. He squinted down at Louis.
Fuck. He was supposed to be dating Gemma. He had no excuse for groping at her very probably straight brother. This shouldn’t be that hard. Don’t grope brother. Act the doting boyfriend. Drinks on Gemma for a month.
Apart from everything else, he must seem so skeevy to Harry. And that thought is what finally did it. He coughed, letting his hand drop. “Sorry, mate.” Keep it moving, making an excuse would just draw attention to it. “So, show me.”
Harry’s face lit up again as he turned the computer for Louis to take. Louis settled himself into the small, delicate writing desk in the corner of the room to swipe through the portfolio, Harry hovering at his shoulders.
Louis waited to say anything until he was through them all, even though he could tell Harry was a bundle of nervous energy behind him. “These are amazing, mate.” He glanced back and up to meet Harry’s eyes.
“Yeah?” There was hope in Harry’s voice even as uncertainty lingered in the tight corners of his lips.
Louis stood up, wanting to reassure him. This time he wasn’t a fucking idiot and actually remembered to keep his hands to himself. But he nodded and smiled. “I don’t know all the technical stuff, but the photos are incredible. Beautiful but emotional too. The one of the lady with her kid in the park? It could have been so boring. But the way you captured the perfect mix of frustration and love on her face? It’s so impressive.”
Harry turned shy at that again, his gaze dropping to his feet. But that sweet smile was there, his pleasure at the praise evident. “Thanks, Louis.”
“I’m not just bullshitting you either,” Louis said, desperate to see Harry’s greengreengreen eyes again. It did the trick. Harry huffed out an amused half-laugh and glanced up. And Louis recognized the mistake for what it was immediately. Because when their eyes locked, time seemed to stop, everything around them went a little dim, and the world narrowed down to just the two of them. In this moment.
A knock on the door was the only thing that saved Louis. He had been seconds away from tangling his fingers in that hair and pulling Harry flush up against him. But Harry stepped back at the noise, and they both dragged in ragged breaths.
There was guilt there, in those green eyes, and Louis realized he hadn’t been alone in that morass of tension and lust. So maybe the brother wasn’t 100% straight. It was strange Gemma hadn’t mentioned it.
His pulse was erratic but the thought calmed him more than he would have guessed. Crushing on straight boys was very 10-years ago and he had not been enjoying the trip back to those embarassing years.
When the pounding started again, he rose eyebrows at Harry who was still staring at him, an arms-length away. Harry jerked back at the movement, flushing. Then he ran across the room, tripping over air on the way there. Cute.
Of course he was still smiling fondly at the boy’s back when Harry flung open the door. And that’s how Gemma found them. Harry flustered and -- from what Louis could tell -- a bit turned on, and Louis affectionately gazing at him like he held the answers to all the mysteries of the world.