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Speaking of Marvels

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South Orange is the very last place that Harry wants to be spending his summer and yet, coincidentally, he’s experienced precisely twenty-one in the very same location. The thought alone is evocative of countless trips to Coney Island, eating greasy diner food with his friends, and nights spent sneaking in and out of his bedroom window.

His entire past is encompassed within 3 square miles and there aren’t many places he can go that don’t already have a memory attached. It should be comforting and, in some ways, it is -- he’ll always be rooted there and it feels like nestling himself in a worn, childhood blanket when he arrives, but stagnancy is one of his greatest fears and the idea of an entire lifetime in one place feels stifling.

He doesn’t hate New Jersey or his hometown or the people in it -- far from, but having been away at college in Santa Barbara for three years already, he thought that maybe once, once he might actually get to reap the benefits of summertime in California. He’d had big dreams of escaping the familiar eastern humidity and wasting time at the artisan market at La Cumbre Plaza, maybe even passing a discreet bottle of wine back and forth with his friends while combing the beach at Channel Islands.

The idea sounds decadent in his head even still, 2,865 miles away from it all.

But his mom envisioned something different for him, and in the interest of saving money, he agreed to live at home for his last summer as an undergrad. The deal isn’t so bad. He’s given free reign over the pool house and the vintage Jag his stepdad has been restoring for years, and he knows it’s important to his mom that he stay with her for at least his last summer as an undergrad, because she has no say in where he ends up after he graduates.

Waking up on the lumpy mattress in the pool house, Harry reminds himself of that. It’s just one more summer of what he’s already so used to and by the next he’ll be spending it however he pleases. The world is his, really, even if it might be a feat to put his English degree to good use, and he doesn’t even want to think about concepts like starting his career and settling down that make him feel older than he is. There are still opportunities -- maybe he’ll spend some time traveling or find an apartment in New York. Nothing needs to be set in stone. He can just take it all as it comes and not be so hyper-concerned about plans like everyone else in his life seems to be. He doesn’t always want to know what’s going to happen before it happens.

It’s like a mantra that he repeats while tugging on jogging shorts and an old cross country t-shirt -- this might be your last summer here, it’ll never be like this again, at least try and enjoy it.

He draws up the blinds and tries to gauge how much he’s over-slept in by the position of the sun in the sky. It’s early Summer, the first day of June, and that familiar humidity hasn’t quite set in yet. Outside, everything is fresh-smelling and the sun is still too low to do anything other than cast pretty, leafy shadows on the patio.

Harry ties his shoes on the step outside of the pool house and looks around. The landscape is inherently familiar but so different from what he sees everyday in California, and even the thought makes him dimly aware of how annoying it probably is for him to constantly make that comparison. He’s been home for thirty six hours and he knows from experience those intrusive thoughts have another few weeks before they stop being instinctual.

The grass around the pool stretches up to the back deck of his house, and a glance to his left shows a few houses, not even separated by fences, just expanses of yards with playgrounds and grills, decks, pool noodles neglected and pressed up against the sides of garages.

It's early, still quiet. Harry stands up and stretches his arms overhead, fixes the headband he's wearing to push his hair back from his forehead, and just goes.

There's a route he normally follows, the one they used to run when he was on the cross country team back in high school, and he sticks to it without even considering another way. It's six miles, total, and he's not thinking through most of it, just going, breathing, pushing himself through the burn in his hamstrings and that familiar twinge in his back that reintroduces itself each time he runs uphill.

By the time he’s on his way back to his neighborhood there are kids being ushered onto buses and he thinks, almost excited for them, that it’s got to be the last day of school, or close to it. The run used to take him less than an hour with his team, but he checks his watch and he’s just a little over that by the time he starts walking for the last block.

It’s half past nine when he strolls, panting, back into his yard. He waves to Mr.Tyler next door, who’s letting his dog back into the house, and turns on the hose by the driveway, splashing his face with cool water and twisting it off again with a squeak.

It’s not until he’s at the door that he realizes: his keys.

Back in Santa Barbara, he’d become so accustomed to always having roommates around to let him in that he’s gotten out of the habit of bringing keys with him everywhere. Of course that’s coming back to bite him in the ass now, because his parents have already left for work -- both cars are gone from the driveway, and he knows his mom stopped leaving the back-door unlocked years ago after she’d gone to some Family Watchdog seminar that Mrs. Tyler put on.

He considers his options, feeling like he’s casing the place as he looks for open windows and twists the door handle in an exercise of futility, like it might have changed from locked to open since five minutes ago.

There isn’t any way that he can break in without actually breaking in and it’s too early in the morning to set off the alarm system and contend with cops showing up and asking him a million questions. Luckily, he has some vague memory of his mom telling him she’d left a spare key with the neighbors, for all the times when they’d been on vacation and one of the Woods had been in charge of watering her plants and feeding Dusty.

It all seems a bit pitiful as he walks across his yard and into the neighbor’s, sweaty and slightly embarrassed that he’s twenty-two and his path to adulthood is stunted by forgetting such necessary items in his daily life. The house seems quiet at first glance and it makes sense, Harry thinks, because they’ve likely already gone to work, too.

Still, he finds himself ringing the bell twice more when no one answers at first and he’s right on the verge of giving up, doing the walk of shame back to his house to call and make his mom come back from work just to let him inside, when he hears some rumbling on the other side of the door. It’s all muffled, but Harry can make out a distinct chorus of shit, shit, shit and the sound of footsteps padding closer to him.

There’s a bit of a fuss and then the door is pulled away, leaving him face to face with someone who is definitely not Mr. or Mrs. Wood. The guy in front of him is attractive even in his present state, wet and hurried and balancing a baby in a frilly pink bathing suit against his hip. Harry thinks he might be a few years older than him, at most, but it’s hard to tell when he’s trying so hard not to notice the beads of water skimming down his chest, sunkissed like he’d already spent a few weeks poolside.

Noticing the expectant look that he’s receiving, Harry perks up, standing straighter and trying to sort out his thoughts.

“Yes? What can I do for you?”

The guy looks a bit impatient with him, if only because the baby is starting to become fussy in his arms and he has to to reposition her, smiling and speaking encouragements to her until she settles once again.

“Sorry. I live next door,” Harry starts, gesturing in the general direction of his house before turning back to him. “I sort locked out,” he says that part quicker, like it’ll be less embarrassing if he hurries through it. “Anyway, I think my parents keep a spare key here. I mean, the Woods still live here, right?”

The guy stares at him for a second, brows furrowed before he answers with a slowly delivered, "Yeah, they do."

"I grew up next door," Harry points with his thumb, and he's still sort of panting, and the air conditioning from inside the open door is enough to make him want to stand there indefinitely. The guy nods, and Harry continues. "I'm Anne's son," he offers, as though that might mean something to him. "Harry? I just need my key, they won't be back until tonight, I know where they keep it--"

"Okay, dude, calm down," the guy says, holding up his hand as if to tell him to take it easy, and Harry's surprised when he starts laughing. It's kind of unbelievable, actually, how much it changes his face, and it feels contagious. Harry grins back, feeling sheepish when he nods, and the guy backs up enough to let him through the threshold.

The baby he's bouncing on his hip makes a happy sort of screeching noise and Harry can't help reaching out to poke his finger into her tiny palm. She grabs it immediately, like the cutest venus flytrap in the world, and Harry lets her hold onto it as he follows them both through the living room and into the kitchen.

"Liz and Scott are at work," he explains over his shoulder. The hair at the nape of his neck is damp and dark, and the bead that drips slowly down the middle of his spine is more than a little distracting. Harry stubs his toe on the door frame to the kitchen and damns himself for having so little control of his limbs, always. "I'm taking care of the kids."

"Oh, like a nanny," Harry supplies, eyeing the key rack on the wall next to the refrigerator. Because it is apparently his lucky day, they appear to have keys from every single house on the block, and not one of them is labeled. "What's your name, again?"

"Louis," he answers. He's not looking at Harry, but when he does, his expression is deadpan. "But I prefer 'The Nanny', if you don’t mind."

Harry considers himself to be pretty good at reading people and for some reason, he’s not at all surprised by the immediate intrigue he feels for the shirtless, baby-wielding stranger in front of him -- or Louis, he should say. He’s funny, even while frazzled and rifling through an endless rack of keys. Honestly, he’s exactly the type of person that Harry is drawn to in any situation, someone who can keep up with him or even out-do him because Harry lives for being challenged. There’s a give and take about it that pulls him in, makes him curious for what will come next, and he already feels that way in their five minute exchange.

“I dunno. I’m not sure if it suits you the way Louis does,” Harry says, making a hum of consideration and bending his arm behind him to scratch at the back of his neck, unable to hide his smile when Louis gives him a not so subtle roll of the eyes. “I’m Harry, by the way. I think I already said that, but,” Harry cuts himself off when Louis abruptly passes the baby into his arms.

“Yes, you did. Well, Harry, this is Annie and I need you to hold her for me, if you don’t mind. As you can see, Liz and Scott aren’t exactly the biggest fans of organization.” Louis lets out an exasperated sigh, helping Annie get situated in Harry’s arms and meeting his eyes quickly, like he’s trying to judge whether or not he can trust him not to drop her or possibly run out the front door with her in tow. Next door neighbor or not, he’s still a stranger.

Harry returns the look with an eye roll of his own. “I’m fine! I know how to hold a baby.”

Annie has big, slate gray eyes that squint the slightest bit in consideration when he secures his arms around her, cradling her against his chest.

“Hi,” Harry raises his voice to a higher pitch and beams at her, bringing one of his hands up, pleased when she latches onto one of his fingers again. To his surprise, this time she brings it all the way to her mouth, trying to bite down at it.

“ this normal?”

Louis shoots a brief glance in their direction and laughs, immediately going back to his task of sorting through keys. He seems to know well enough which ones actually belong to the Woods in some capacity and he’s taking the wrong ones systematically off of the hooks, narrowing down the search. “She’s teething again. Everything is her chew toy right now.”

In a matter of seconds Harry’s got drool rolling down his finger, but the cute factor far outweighs the gross factor and he only pulls away once she seems to have gotten bored with the momentary distraction. He fixes the loose strap of her bathing suit and watches Louis’ back as he goes through more keys.

“I didn’t think the Woods had a pool,” he frowns, adjusting Annie in his arms until she’s less squirmy. Her fingers tangle in the chain of his necklace and he doesn’t stop her when she tries to put the charm in her mouth, too.

“Just a kiddie pool. It’s got, like, a total four inches of water -- oh, finally.” Louis holds up a key, triumphant, and walks it back over to Harry, his hand extended. “Here you go.”

It sounds sort of final, the way he says it, like -- here, I found the key, kindly see yourself out. It makes sense, he thinks, because he is at work and he probably hadn’t expected a sweaty neighbor to come barging in demanding a house key. Harry takes it from him, nods, murmurs a thanks.

“No problem,” Louis says, reaching out to grasp Annie beneath her arms. Harry’s got a million questions and he’s no good at biting his tongue when he’s curious but something tells him Louis might not take well to Harry asking out-right how old he is and where he’s from and why he’s never seen him before.

He’s the kind of person Harry just wants to be liked by, right away; he exudes a certain self confidence that Harry’s drawn to, kind of a take-no-shit attitude without being a total asshole, either.

Louis doesn’t seem like he would hand many parts of himself over freely, and Harry likes that, the thought of being good at learning someone, and already he feels like Louis is a lock he can pick with a little effort.

Their eyes meet once Annie is out of his arms and back into Louis’, and it’s so strange, but Harry can’t help the smile on his face and he struggles to fight the urge to actually laugh, even though there’s nothing funny, except for the fact that Harry’s dripping with sweat and probably smells worse than he looks and the neighbor’s male nanny looks like a fucking model.

Louis looks away, pressing his tongue to the inside of his cheek, but Harry swears he can see the corner of his mouth turning up as he walks toward the back of the house.

“You can follow me out this way,” he says, and Harry does.

They head onto the back deck and down the stairs and onto the lawn, where there’s a swing set and a tee ball bat next to the garage and a kickball at the bottom of the steps and, finally, the kiddie pool in the middle of it all. Louis steps into it and Harry laughs when he sees the water come not much higher than the middle of his calves. Louis looks down and wiggles his toes.

“I’d invite you for a swim, but.” Louis grins, pulls a pair of aviators down from his head and over his nose, making his expression even more unreadable as he sits cross-legged in the shallow water, placing Annie on his lap. Almost immediately she removes the glasses and throws them into the water, giggling, and Louis’ face goes soft, like he just can’t help it.

“Well,” Harry says, pointing over his shoulder toward his own yard, separated only by a driveway. “Thanks.” He starts walking backward, taking one or two steps and returning the wave he receives from Louis.

“Are you here all the time?” Harry calls, still backing up, apparently unable to keep himself asking questions even as he’s trying to leave.

“Monday to Friday. Why, you plan on forgetting your keys everyday?”

Harry throws his head back and laughs at that, big and loud, and he’s a bit too far away to see for sure with the sun beaming on his face, but he thinks Louis grins, too.

“I might,” he counters as he walks another few steps back toward his house. “Good to have a backup plan.”

Louis throws him a thumbs up, and Harry returns it.

“See you tomorrow, Nanny.”


When Louis first took his job with the Woods, he’d been somewhat afraid of what it would do to his social life. All his friends from college who have been lucky enough to already land steady work in their respective fields are able to interact with their peers on a daily basis, and Louis -- well. He spends the majority of his time with three people who have the combined age of eleven.

His friends tell him all about who’s hooking up with who in the break room and which co-worker has mysteriously been out sick after facing paralyzing embarrassment due to whatever, the story changes every time, and what he has to offer back is how Annie spit up all over his favorite t-shirt and updates on the twins’ on-going quest to emphasize their individuality. It sets him apart sometimes, but they humor him, anyway, knowing it’s just a temporary gig until he finds a teaching position.

The thing is, even if it’s not always the most exciting thing in the world, Louis loves his job. Sure, he hasn’t lost hope that he’ll find a position somewhere in the area so he can actually do what he spent four years racking up debt for, but he couldn’t ask for better in the meantime. He loves the kids and he knows he’s great with them. Growing up with four little sisters had prepared him well for how emotional and unpredictable children can be, but they still never fail to surprise him.

Mostly, though, he lives for making them laugh and teaching them new things and being someone in their lives that can help foster their creativity. Their parents are big on that - fostering creativity. He loves it.

If he has a complaint at all, it’s that things can get a bit monotonous at times. He’s sat through the same episodes of every cartoon at least ten times and he doesn’t see a lot of fresh faces -- just the mailman and the occasional religious solicitor with a handful of pamphlets to offer him.

That’s why meeting Harry has been sort of wonderful. He’s a new element in his day to day; the promise of a neighbor closer to his age than any of the others on the block, and he knows they’ll cross paths eventually, and it’s sort of fun, the thought of it.

He doesn't actually expect to see him the next day, but as if on cue, it's ten thirty and he's there, this time wearing a pair of jeans so tight Louis' not even sure how he got them on considering the humidity. His hair is longer than it looked before, and dry this time, swooping over his forehead.

Louis doesn't trust that he just wakes up like that, but he also sort of gets the feeling that he does, because Harry is one of the most effortlessly good looking people he's ever seen, and he gets absolutely no satisfaction out of admitting that to himself.

He's wearing yet another old cross-country t-shirt and looking better than he has any right to, dangling the spare key out for Louis to take.

"I think I preferred you with the headband," Louis lies, and Harry grins, pushes past him to get inside the house.

"Want me to go put it on?"

So it's easy, yeah, to fall into this weird little habit of going to work with the expectation of seeing someone other than the three kids he's in charge of feeding and keeping occupied. They love Harry, though, and Louis is okay with having him around even though his excuses for coming over keep getting more and more far-fetched.

First it was to return the spare key, which -- okay. Then it was to ask if Louis had an extra iPhone charger. The next day it was to bring Miles a shoebox full of Harry's old Matchbox cars, and, Louis has to hand it to him, because entertaining the kids is pretty good way of getting on his good side.

Harry doesn’t really need to try, though, because they’re already there. Like, it only takes a few days before they start speaking in annoying voices to each other, each of them trying to get weirder and weirder until Harry inevitably laughs first and makes Louis feel like the funniest person in the world, which is Louis’ very favorite quality in any person. It’s why he likes kids so much, maybe. They think he’s hilarious.

After four days, Louis considers his knowledge of Harry to be minimal, but adequate.

He’s in college. He’s getting an English degree. He talks about it a lot, about school and his friends there, about how eager he is to get back to it, which Louis understands. It’s his final year of magical thinking, and he sort of misses it, himself -- that freedom from responsibility, from paying rent, from cooking his own meals.

He has an awful lot of tattoos, he is very careful with babies, and he has the most infectious laugh of anyone Louis has ever met.

He’s okay. Harry is fine. That’s what he says when Zayn asks about his new “quote-friend-unquote,” and Louis shuts him down almost immediately, and Zayn says he’s just asking the pertinent questions, and Louis stops answering him on Facebook even though Zayn can clearly see that he read his message.

On Friday, Louis takes the kids for ice cream at a mom and pop creamery just a few blocks from the house. It’s warm out, but doesn’t feel sweltering and so they decide to walk, loading Annie up in her stroller and securing the visor over the top to shield her from the sun.

Miles and Charlotte walk one on each side of him and Charlotte talks the entire way there, rambling on with some fanciful story that she’s instated herself as princess in. She’s dressed accordingly, leotard and puffy purple and teal tutu in place and a crepe paper crown on her head. Miles seems bored, heaving out a sigh every so often and pointing out inaccuracies in his sister’s on-the-spot fairytale.

Louis just laughs and ruffles his hair and they make it to their destination after twenty minutes, all covered in a light sheen of sweat from the humidity.

“What kind are you gonna get, huh?” He asks, the bell on the door chiming loudly as he tries to push it open while simultaneously getting the stroller through. Someone catches the edge of it, holding it open so that they can maneuver the rest of the way inside, and when he looks up to offer his thanks, he doesn’t know why he feels so dumbstruck. They live in the same town, of course they’re bound to run into each other away from their own homes from time to time.

“Louis!” Harry beams, not even attempting to try and hide what appears to be unadulterated joy at the sight of him, which Louis doesn’t exactly want to think too hard about.

Charlotte runs up to him, practically lunging into his arms and Harry catches her easily, lifting her up and earning a giggle in return. “Looking awfully pretty today, Princess Charlotte.”

Apparently pleased at that, Charlotte shoots a glance over to her brother, like the most obvious thing in the world has just been confirmed and she wants to make sure he’s heard. “See, Harry says I’m a princess!” She throws her arms around his neck in a quick hug then pats at his chest for him to let her down, suddenly more interested in running over to look at the line of different ice cream flavors to choose from.

Louis realizes, belatedly, that he’s been staring the whole time and maybe paying a little too much attention to the way the muscles in Harry’s arms flexed when he bent down to set Charlotte back on solid ground. He’s almost positive that Harry catches him, but it apparently hasn’t deterred him at all because he’s still making eye contact, still smiling and confident and obviously delighted that they walked in just as he was about to leave.

Harry parks himself at one of the little tiny kids’ tables, looking even more gigantic than he already is while surrounded by a dozen little kids in the ice cream shop. When Louis looks over his shoulder to check that he’s still there, Harry is staring right at him, fingers clasped on the table, looking both very juvenile and very ridiculous and smirking like he knows exactly what he’s doing.

“I’m sitting next to Harry!” Miles shouts and sprints toward the table at an alarming speed.

“Louis, tell Miles that I called it,” Charlotte, whines, tugging on his fingers. Louis laughs and Harry pipes up before he can say anything, telling her that she’s got the spot reserved the next time they get ice cream. Louis tries not to think about the implications of that, that again Harry seems to be dead-set on sticking around for the remainder of the summer.

He’s glad to see him, though. It’s been a weird week, having company at work, having actual adult interaction instead of heading out front to force a chit-chat with the mail carrier just so he wouldn’t have to listen to the Spongebob theme song one more time.

“So what happened?” he asks Harry, who shakes his head, confused.

“What do you mean?”

“I guess you ran out of reasons to harass me while I’m on the clock,” Louis says, licking mint chocolate chip from the corner of his mouth. “It’s a shame, actually. I thought you had more fight in you.”

Harry grins, like it’s a challenge he’s accepted. “I didn’t want you to get the wrong idea,” he says.

Louis watches ice cream drip down Miles’ face and wordlessly shoves a napkin into his hands. “What’s that?”

And Harry, because he’s the worst, just shrugs and slow smiles, dimple and all.

Louis rolls his eyes and devours the top part of his ice cream because he’s not sure what else to do with his mouth and he’s sure as hell not giving in to that face.

They’re flirting, is what’s happening -- they’ve been at it all week -- but the thing is that Louis just sort of liked him right away, anyway, which makes it easier to tease him and joke around with him even though he’s known him all of five days. It’s a friendship borne partially out of boredom, and he understands that, but it doesn’t make it any less fun to have Harry around, crawling across the floor with Charlotte on his back and chatting easily with Louis about everything, anything.

“Did you guys do anything fun today?” Harry asks, and Miles pipes up immediately, launching into an exhaustive account of their day while they all finish off their cones, and Louis passes around more napkins. The kids are amped up on sugar and are quite literally bouncing, except for Annie, who has blissfully remained asleep in her stroller through all of it.

They all leave together and start the lazy walk back to the Woods’ house. It’s late in the afternoon so Liz and Scott ought to be back by the time they return, and Louis can go home and wash the kid smell off of him and do...nothing, probably.

Harry jogs up to walk beside him and bumps him on the shoulder. “I watched that episode of One Tree Hill you were raving about.”

Louis laughs at that, turning to meet his eyes. “Did you? What’d you think?”

“That show is fuck-- oops, sorry,” he claps a hand over his mouth and tries again, speaking in a quieter voice. “That show is terrible, man. You gotta watch The Sopranos. I can’t believe you haven’t seen it. I do the best impression of Christopher.”

Louis blinks, shaking his head. He has no idea who Christopher is, but he’s pretty sure he’d watch Harry make an ass out of himself doing an impression of anyone. “Do you have it on DVD?”

“I do.”

“You should let me borrow it. Hey! Wait for me to cross the street,” he calls out, and Miles and Charlotte halt at the curb, checking to make sure Louis is behind them before they all cross.

“What, you don’t want to watch it with me in my parents’ house?” Harry’s voice is sarcastic, and even when Charlotte smacks him on the hip to give her a piggy back ride, he still keeps his eyes trained on Louis. He can’t figure out if he’s serious or not, but the idea of sitting and watching anything while Harry’s next to him seems...challenging.

He’s bailed out of an answer because they’re back in front of the Woods’ house and, judging by the cars in the driveway, both Liz and Scott are home.

“Mom and dad are back, guys,” Louis tells them, and the words are barely out of his mouth before Charlotte practically dives out of Harry’s arms and she and Miles are bounding toward the front porch, trying to beat each other to the door. Louis collects Annie from the stroller and holds her against his chest, turning to look at Harry, who’s squinting against the sun behind Louis’ head, holding his hand against his forehead like a visor.

“So tomorrow’s Saturday,” he says.

Louis frowns and pretends to deliberate on that for a moment. “Wait, does Saturday come after Friday? Is that how it--” But he’s cut off when Harry knocks him on the shin with the toe of his white All-Stars, telling him to shut up.

“So you won’t be here until Monday,” he continues.

“Right again.”

“So but you’ll be here on Monday.”

Louis tries not to smile. He really does, but fuck, he’s cute. “Will you be here on Monday?”

Harry grins and drops his hand from his forehead to brush his hair away from his face as he starts to back up in the direction of his house. “Yep."


When Harry boarded the plane for South Orange a few weeks prior, he made a promise of sorts to himself.

In between bouts of conversation with the forty-something businessman to his left and pressing his earbuds in to turn up a Ray Lamontagne album at full volume, he’d assured himself that he would absolutely not, by any means, take interest in someone. Like that, anyway.

This summer is supposed to be about self discovery and being lazy and preparing himself for his last year of college, and he can’t be so free if he’s tied up with someone else. It’s his last year before everything will inevitably change, and his freedom will be snatched away the second he’s handed a diploma, and it’s fine, it’s the natural course of the college student, and he accepts it.

But Harry’s never been great keeping resolutions, especially utterly unrealistic ones. He’s a people person and the thought of going months without being drawn to someone is nothing if not absurd. One of his biggest downfalls is how fickle he is; it’s easy for someone to reel him in, to mention a song that they like or a piece of art that they admire and for him to immediately think they have some kind of unbelievable, unheard of connection.

His last date was with a girl who loved Polly Morgan’s work as much as him and who worked at a dark little bar on the wrong side of town. It was a good time, but Harry had forgone a second date because he got asked to hang out by a DJ whose sets he’d been admiring for weeks and whose record collection he desperately wanted to rifle through.

It’s just fun. He meets a lot of different people and it just works for him because even with all of his friends attached at the hip with their girlfriends and boyfriends, he can’t envision himself in that role. He hasn’t been anyone’s boyfriend since he was seventeen and he really kind of likes it that way.

Louis being his colossal promise breaker was an accident. The first trip next door had been entirely justified and it was easy to play it off like every time after that was because he just liked hanging out with the kids, which is sort of true, but...well.

The initial attraction he felt for Louis only seems to be amplified with every day that they spend together and he really doesn’t have a choice but to admit to himself that he wants him. Louis is a few years older, a hell of a lot more settled, and he’s so effortlessly witty and kind-hearted and just good that how could Harry not be interested in him?

It’s probably a bad idea, but he feels like Louis might be on the same page, and if he is, he doesn’t see anything wrong with them having a bit of fun together. Their connection was immediate and the intrigue is too strong to consider drowning it out completely, promise be damned.

He figures he’ll just play it by ear, see what happens, but he knows it’s something worth going for because he can’t seem to let go of the idea. Louis is one of the most attractive people he’s ever been around and Harry can’t help but to wonder what it would be like to get his hands on him, to kiss along the defined curve of his jaw and over his high cheekbones and to get him spread out in his bed to wreak havoc on.

His body is riddled with contradictions -- all soft and strong at once -- and Harry really, really just wants to take him apart.

Those are exactly the sort of thoughts that he needs to avoid at all costs when they take the kids on an impromptu trip to the park on Monday afternoon.

Annie is sitting up in the sandbox not more than a foot away from the bench Harry and Louis are occupying, dumping sand into a yellow bucket with a toy shovel. The twins are farther off, but still in their line of view, taking turns climbing up the slide instead of going down the right way.

“You wanna hear something funny?” Harry asks, handing over half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from the cooler they’d packed before biting into the other. Louis looks at him with raised eyebrows, like he’s expecting one of Harry’s awful animal jokes that he pretends not to love.

“I mean, if I absolutely have to.” There’s the hint of a smile on Louis’ lips and he hides it by stuffing part of the sandwich in his mouth, ripping off the end with his teeth.

“You’ll appreciate this, I think,” Harry finishes chewing, licking away a few crumbs from his lips before continuing. “My first kiss was actually on this same bench. I was in the first, no, wait... second grade, and this girl from my class had her birthday party here. I guess I didn’t feel like the doll my mom picked out for her was a cool enough gift so I laid one on her,” Harry laughs, shaking his head a little and shooting a glance over at the kids before looking in Louis’ direction again, obviously curious if he’s as tickled by the story and the strange coincidence of it all as he is.

Louis scoffs, feigning indignation and trying in vain not to let his smirk show. “Nice, Harold. What kind of child were you? Poor girl just wanted to enjoy her cake and presents and you go and slobber all over her.”

At that moment, Louis reaches for his aviators that are at the edge of the bench and they accidentally go sailing into the sand beneath their feet in the process. They both reach down to fetch them at the same time and on the way down, Harry feels the side of Louis’ body brush up against his, their forearms sort of sliding together as they go for the same target.

Harry gets ahold of them first and sits up again, passing them into Louis’ hand with a lopsided grin.  “Careful there. Wouldn’t want to lose those. They look good on you.”

Louis’ face does a thing he’s never seen it do before, where his mouth sort of twists and his brow furrows and he seems like he’s trying not to react. Harry pretends not to notice as Louis brushes the sand away from his glasses.

“Everything looks good on me,” he shrugs, slipping them over the bridge of his nose and pulling a face when he looks back at him, his tongue sticking out and his mouth contorted in a failed attempt to appear ‘ugly.’

“Hmm.” Harry considers it, wrinkling his nose like he’s not entirely sure that’s true even though it’s probably the most factual statement either of them have spoken all day. “I can think of a few exceptions.”

Louis finishes the last bite of his sandwich and brushes his hands together, swinging his leg around so he’s straddling the bench and facing Harry. “Like what?”

“Like shirts,” Harry says, levelly, staring straight at Louis because watching him squirm is just a little satisfying. For the moment he can see his mouth drop open, but he has to give him credit for recovering quickly. Harry barks out a laugh before he speaks again and barely holds it together, knowing how ridiculous he’s being. “Might as well just skip it next time, you know?”

“I’m scandalized,” Louis says, completely failing to sound disgusted.

He turns and Harry follows his line of vision to where Annie is sitting and flinging sand over her own legs, making a mess and appearing to be perfectly happy about it. Louis smiles and looks back at Harry. “I think this counts as exploration, doesn’t it? Liz is always telling me not to hinder her exploratory tendencies.”

And Harry’s just not sure why or how he can go from wanting to tear him apart to finding him admirable in a matter of minutes, but he realizes he’s staring after an extended few seconds and sighs, curling his shoulders in as he looks down and picks at the wood on the bench because he’s not entirely sure what to say.

“Where’s the lucky girl now?”

Harry looks up, confused. “Who?”

“Your first kiss. The one you christened this bench with.” Louis taps it reverently, and Harry laughs, and reminds himself of how horribly inappropriate it’d be to kiss him in the middle of a park full of playing children.

“No idea,” he shrugs, glancing over at Annie again. “She moved away in fourth grade. Whoa, watch--” Annie’s wobbly legs have her near to toppling over when she tries to get to her feet, and Harry puts out a hand to break her fall.

“Nice save,” Louis says, stuffing the last bit of his sandwich into his mouth and getting to his feet to put the empty zip-loc bag back into the cooler they’d packed. “Will you please let me pay you?”

It’s a conversation they’ve had before and Harry still refuses to accept it, immediately shaking his head and telling Louis to shut up before he can get another word out.

“I told you, man. You’re the one who changes diapers. Annie’s just too cute to resist, that’s all.” He presses a smacking kiss to her cheek and she giggles and reaches up to stick her sandy fingers on his nose, to which he sputters dramatically, making her squeal and try it again.

Louis walks away to gather Miles and Charlotte and Harry watches him as he goes, his narrow frame and his tan calves and he actually grumbles, has to force himself to look away because there’s not one pure thought in his head and he knows that antsy feeling won’t quit until he does something about it.

It was a stupid promise, anyway.


The grass is still wet with dew when Louis walks across the lawn at ten past eight on Friday morning, a full twenty minutes earlier than he usually shows up at the Woods' house. He agreed yesterday to pick up season two of The Sopranos from Harry in the morning before work, which is the reason he's at the door to Harry's pool house with hair still damp from his shower, yawning into the back of his hand.

It's nice, he thinks, looking around at the dappled sunlight across the familiar yards and at the slow breeze ruffling the trees. It's been nice all week, and he doesn't think the four days he's spent flirting mercilessly with one Harry Styles has had any effect whatsoever on his perception of the disgustingly hot and humid weather which has been repeatedly complained about from literally every person he comes across.

Harry's going away for two nights, which doesn't matter, really, because it's not like he ever sees him on the weekends, anyway. He made a point to tell Louis the day before, though, like Louis might beg him not to go to Point Pleasant with his family even though he has plans of his own. Or he will have plans, if Zayn decides to answer his phone at least once in the next twenty four hours. There's not much more than a fifty percent chance of that happening, but Louis remains hopeful.

The pool house looks more like a renovated shed, but it's shaded by a huge oak tree behind it, which gives it the look of a little cottage. He’s never been inside before.

Louis stands at the step and knocks twice on the door, scaring away a bird that's apparently built a nest in the eave of the roof. He sighs and rocks back onto his heels, holding the season one box in his hands and tapping it idly onto his palm as he waits for an answer.

The door swings open and Harry's got a toothbrush sticking out of his mouth.

"He's alive," Louis says, and Harry nods, attempting to smile, and dribbles a bit of toothpaste down the corner of his lip in the process. He looks adorable.

"Come in," he says, waving his hand.

Louis walks over the threshold and closes the door behind him, watching Harry as he bends over a sink attached to the wall. He's in a pair of black running shorts that are pretty dangerously close to slipping down his narrow hips, and a t-shirt so thin it's almost transparent; it may have been white at some point in the last ten years, but Louis can't tell. The sleeves are cut off and and Louis appreciates the way Harry's arms flex as he cups his hand around the stream of water, gulping some of it down before he stands up straight and wipes his mouth with his thumb and forefinger.

“Season two’s right there,” he points behind Louis and onto the small table beside the bed, where there’s a copy of American Pastoral underneath the box of DVDs. Louis picks it up, murmuring a thanks, clearing his throat just to make some sort of sound in the quiet room.

They’ve never been alone, really. Not outside of the Woods’ house, and never behind a closed door without the risk of a child running in at any given moment. There’s no reason for Louis to stay and he can’t think of anything to say, for once in his life, so he places down the first season set of DVDs and glances up at him.

“Leaving today?” he asks, resting his back up against the door.

“Yeah, right after I finish running,” Harry says, and crosses the room to sit on the edge of his bed. His bends over to tie his shoelaces, which gives Louis a distracting view of his broad back and shoulders.

It’s weird, because it feels like -- and there’s no reason for it, really, not that he can figure out -- but it feels like one of them should do something. It’s just that he’s very much aware of it being the first time they’re alone and the room is so silent and neither of them are saying much and Louis can’t think of anything to say because his mind is occupied with a mental image of pressing Harry back into the sheets and just touching, exploring, figuring out what the fuck it is about this kid that makes him want to implode if he looks at him the right way.

Harry seems perfectly calm, though. He finishes off the double knot of his second shoe and sits up straight, coughs into his hand and flicks his hair out of his face. Louis knows he’s staring.

They do that a lot. Sometimes it feels like a game because they’re so obvious and Louis wonders when, if ever, one of them will speak up about it. With the way that Harry is eyeing him from the bed, he almost considers that he might say something now.

“So, what will you be up to this weekend? Got a hot date?” Harry asks, wiggling his eyebrows and Louis levels him with a look because they don’t talk about their love lives often, but Harry knows he isn’t seeing anyone. That he hasn’t seen anyone in awhile.

He finds it strange that when they do have those conversations, Harry doesn’t seem to have a lot of input. Like, there are dozens of different people that he talks about, but none of them play a recurring role throughout his stories. Part of him admires the fact that Harry apparently doesn’t settle with anyone for too long, but Louis can’t really relate. He can count the number of people he’s dated on one hand and he still sees every single one of them from time to time. They didn’t just disappear from the picture like the people that Harry talks about seem to.

“No, ‘fraid not. I thought I mentioned it to you. I’m just getting drinks with my friend Zayn.” Louis shrugs, leaving out the maybe and the the fact that Zayn will probably want to leave after an hour because...he always does.

“Oh yeah, the hot one you showed me.”

There’s a self-satisfied grin on Harry’s face that Louis kind of desperately wants to claw off because apparently he doesn’t like the way Harry sounds when he’s calling someone who isn’t him hot. And, yeah, there is a difference, because Harry’s called him hot more times and in more ways than he can begin to keep track of and Louis loves the way it sounds then.

“Whatever you say,” Louis grits out, giving his best most obviously forced smile and gripping tighter at the DVD set in his hand. It feels like there’s tension in the air and he doesn’t know why exactly because Harry’s still smiling easily and Louis can’t decide if he wants to kiss him or strangle him.

Harry must be a little more sure of himself because he stands up straight and as Louis expects him to walk past him and start for the door, Harry moves directly in front of him, instead, and eases their bodies close together. He brings one hand up to rest in the space between his neck and shoulder, holding him there and bowing his head enough so that their eyes can meet.

Louis feels still, like he’s just waiting for something to happen and he’s not even sure if he’s breathing when Harry inches his face in and starts speaking close to his lips. “I’m gonna kiss you now.”

There’s something so fucking self assured about it and Louis’ honestly not surprised that Harry would tell him what he was going to do rather than asking first if he could. He assumes that Harry would be that way in bed, too, that he would go after what he wanted and manipulate someone’s body until they felt inside out, that he would be so sure and thorough and eager that he would leave someone wrecked and take pleasure in building them back up again.

Not that he’s thought about it at length, or anything. Maybe once.

It should feel sudden and out of place, but it doesn’t. Louis just nods, feeling like he’d beg if Harry would just close off the distance between them, anything so he can stop feeling the tease of Harry’s warm breath against his mouth.

He doesn’t have to reduce himself to that, though, because Harry moves his hand further up along his jawline and catches his lips. He’s almost expecting it to be quick and frantic, but it’s not -- it’s slow, the way Louis likes to be kissed, and Harry just takes his time, moving their lips together until his part to kiss him deeper. His mouth feels just as good as it looks; better, though, and he can’t even remember what he imagined it to be like because the reality is unbelievably good.

He makes a little hum of pleasure, finally out of shock enough to respond. His free hand moves to clutch at Harry’s waist and it’s thrilling, how long and sturdy his body feels under his touch as his fingers ascend to his ribcage.

Louis thinks that he should have known that a first kiss with Harry would feel like a last one, that he would be so interchangeably tender and aggressive that it would leave him shaky on his feet, having to press against his chest and his stupid threadbare t-shirt just to stay upright.

When it fades out, they’re out of breath, and he can feel it both under his touch and against his body when Harry’s lungs expand to inhale deeply. They stay like that for a moment before Harry steps back, and Louis feels like he should say something, maybe even ask him what the hell that was about. The words don’t come in time, though, and Harry just smiles at him while Louis’ still awestruck and panting and trying to process the fact that, yeah, that really just happened.

“Should really get to my run. We’re gonna be leaving soon.”

Harry opens the door and leans against the frame, bracing one hand on each side and rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet. Louis can’t think of anything to say, so he just presses his lips together in something close to a smile.

“Have a good weekend, alright?” Still grinning, Harry gives him a little wave and a thumbs up and turns on his heels, starting down the pathway out to the street.

Louis’ still standing in the middle of the room, holding the DVD with kiss swollen lips and flushed cheeks and he really, really hates Harry Styles. He kissed him and then quite literally ran away before Louis had a chance to say anything and it’s way too fucking early in the day for this.

He shuts the door in a rush before starting back toward the Woods’, trying hard not to keep thinking about what just happened, which is fucking impossible because he can practically still feel the shape of Harry’s lips on his own and he can remember too vividly how much taller and broader Harry seems when he’s pressed right up against him.

It’s a thing he’s only seen people do in movies, but Louis actually gives himself a slap on the cheek as he stands on the front step of the Woods’ house, telling himself to snap the fuck out of it. He’s still clutching the DVD in sweaty palms and he can’t fathom that it was the original, innocent purpose for his visit to Harry’s that morning. They’ve spent a few weeks together now, flirting like crazy and getting to know each other and laughing harder than Louis can even comprehend, so he’s not sure why the kiss is so surprising.

The only thing that doesn’t surprise him is that he felt like he’d been hit by a fucking truck as soon as Harry left, and that’s what he’s been afraid of; that it would be more than just some kiss.


To Louis’ surprise, Zayn actually follows through with hanging out on Saturday night. They go to Louis’ favorite Mexican restaurant and then settle in at a dive that’s a short walk from both of their apartments. It’s good being out with him because it’s been too long -- it always feels like too long -- and Louis’ sort of antsy to tell someone about what happened with Harry even if he doesn’t know how to breach the subject.

Over their first beer, Zayn asks if there’s anything new going on his life or with his new friend and Louis thinks it might not be an awful thing to mention their most recent developments. Louis slides his palm down the neck of his beer bottle, looking over Zayn’s shoulder at the group of guys playing darts in one corner of the bar as he considers how much he should say.

“Harry’s fine. He’s the same, you know? He comes over pretty much every day and the kids love him. He tells them stupid jokes and let’s Char put makeup on him. It’s kinda nice to have someone else helping out.” There’s obviously something left over, and Zayn’s too smart and knows Louis well enough to know that he’s barely skimmed the surface.

Rolling his eyes up, Zayn turns his pack of cigarettes down against his palm and hits against it a few times before taking one out and slipping it behind his ear. “And?”

He combs three fingers lightly through the front of his hair, pushing some strands back up into his quiff as if there aren’t already enough eyes on him as it is. He’s looking at Louis like it’s obvious that there’s more to the story and Louis sighs as he feels himself start to concede.

“We kissed. Well, he kissed me. I went over to his place yesterday morning to pick up a DVD and he was just tying his shoes and he...just kissed me. Like he’d done it a million times before.”

Zayn raises his eyebrows slightly and Louis can tell that he’s trying really hard not to smirk. “Don’t tell me you just stood there. Did you at least kiss him back? What happened?” Zayn’s been politely listening to him talk about the kids all night but Louis can tell that his interest is actually genuine now.

“Yes, I kissed back,” he says, exasperated, and stops to take another long swig of his beer before he feels like he can keep talking. “It was just weird, though. Like, he took off right after and now I don’t know what it’s going to be like when I see him on Monday. I don’t know if I’m supposed to say anything or if we can just go back to we were before, or what.”

That’s the part that Louis’ the most hung up on because he’s not used to things working the way they apparently do with Harry. Everything is so unpredictable with him that he can’t honestly tell whether it was just an isolated incident that they’ll never mention again. Like, maybe after all the flirtation and build up, Harry just wanted to see what it was like and that was it -- which, yeah, might not be the worst thing in the world. It was a good kiss and he could probably live with it being a one time thing if that’s what Harry had intended.

Zayn must be able to tell that he’s zoning out because he smiles reassuringly and reaches over to knock his fist lightly against Louis’ jaw. “Just wait and see what happens when he gets back, man. If you’re going to keep seeing him so often then he has to say something eventually, right? Just play it cool. You know what you’re doing.”

It’s apparently already time for Zayn to use up that smoke and he leaves Louis at the table with a squeeze to the shoulders as he passes by. Louis sighs, putting down his beer and letting his eyes skim around the bar. Zayn’s usually spot on with his advice, but he was wrong about that last part. He feels like he doesn’t have a single clue as to what he’s doing. Everything just seems kind of experimental for Harry, which is...whatever, it’s fine, but it has the potential to fuck up the nice little dynamic they’ve had going for a couple of weeks.

One of the guys playing darts beckons him over when he loses his teammate and Louis sighs, finishing off his beer and migrating in that direction. Zayn’s mostly right, he thinks. There isn’t anything that he can do besides wait for Monday.

Narrowing his eyes, he lines up his first shot, trying to focus and to avoid thoughts of long legs and headbands and curls as he circles in on the bullseye and pulling his hand back a few inches before shooting. He’s so far off center and the stranger who chose him as a teammate grumbles off to his left when the dart misses the board altogether and falls pitifully down the wall. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere, he thinks, he’s just hasn’t figured it out yet.


Louis is so rushed on Monday morning that he can’t really dwell on whether or not Harry’s back yet when he pulls up at the Woods’ for work. He steals a glance over at the pool house on his way inside, but it still appears to be locked up, no tell-tale windows flung open and music pouring out the way that it usually is when Harry’s around. He figures he must not be back yet and he’s almost sort of relieved because it buys him more time to do the same thing he has been since Friday -- doing the worst job ever at not obsessing over what happened.

Liz and Scott have plans to go to a local theatre production that evening and so Louis agrees to stay overtime, which means a particularly long day for him, but the extra pay can never hurt and all he really has to do is get Annie settled in and pop in a DVD for Miles and Charlotte to watch until they get sleepy enough for him to carry them up to their beds.

It pours rain all day, so most of it is spent building a blanket fort in the living room and watching two movies in a row, eating popcorn and generally making a mess that the twins promise to clean up before they go to sleep. He drapes a blanket over himself and pretends to be a monster for the better part of an hour, which positively delights all three of them and he’s out of breath by the end of it, laid out flat underneath the canopy made of dinosaur sheets.

When Louis eventually clambers up from his cocoon of blankets to get a late lunch together, Annie’s a little more fussy than usual. He cradles her against the crook of his arm, bouncing her a few times, then sets her into the highchair in the kitchen so that she can watch him prepare sandwiches for the twins while he speaks to her in soft tones until she settles down. After chopping a banana into tiny pieces, he sets it out on the tray in front of her, and as he drops a kiss to her forehead he glances up and notices two things: the first is Harry’s car in the driveway, which he can see from the window over the kitchen sink, and the second is how warm Annie’s forehead feels against his lips.

“You okay, angel?” he asks her in a soft voice, brushing away fluffy blonde curls from her temples and inspecting her ruddy little face. “Please don’t be sick.” He kisses her forehead again, feeling as though someone’s dropped an anvil on his chest at the mere thought of it.

After making sure she at least eats a piece of banana, Louis goes to the sink to wash his hands and watches with interest as Harry shuts the door of his car. He’s in neon pink swim trunks and a t-shirt and even from the blurred view of his profile in the rain, Louis can see he’s gotten some color over the weekend. He looks so good that it’s almost annoying, how every built-up image Louis keeps of him in his head actually pales in comparison to the real thing.

Louis turns the faucet off after Harry shuts the door of the pool house and turns away from the sink with an actual reason to stop himself from thinking about Harry because he’s worried about Annie and the fact that she’s got a tiny bit of something running from her nose and, Christ, he really didn’t expect her to get sick while on his watch. He feels ridiculously guilty about it already.

Trying to stay calm, he picks her up again and, yeah, she’s definitely too warm. With a bit of searching he finds the thermometer in the medicine cabinet drawer and Googles furiously to figure out how hot is too hot for a 13 month old child. She’s at 102.4, and that’s officially high enough to treat, he reads. It’s another four hours before Liz and Scott are due to come home from their date, and he hates to pester them during the middle of a play, but he tries calling them, anyway. They don’t answer, which doesn’t surprise him, but he receives a what’s up? text from Liz a few minutes later.

She’s surprisingly collected after Louis explains, which is good -- maybe it’s not as big of a deal as he’s making it out to be, he thinks. He’s sure that they’ve probably been through it before, with Annie and earlier on with the twins. She tells him to keep an eye on her, to keep monitoring her temperature and if it raises any higher to let them know and they’ll come back and make a call to her pediatrician.

When he sets his phone back down again, he still feels too antsy to just let it go. It’s good that they don’t think it’s an extreme cause for concern, but he can’t help beating himself up over it, wondering if maybe there was something he could have done to prevent it. It’s pointless to even consider because...babies get colds, it happens, but he still feels like kind of a fuck up.

Charlotte intercepts him on the way to take Annie to her crib, tilting her head back to look at the two of them curiously. She’s wearing a pair of lensless glasses she uses when she pretends to be the President, looking cute and concerned.

“Is something wrong with Annie?”

Louis gives her a half-hearted shake of his head. “She’ll be alright, babe. She just has a cold, I think.”

At that exact moment, Miles races past, plucking the glasses off of Charlotte’s face and sliding them onto his own as he keeps running down the length of the hall, artfully dodging furniture as he tries to put some distance between them.

“Miiiiiiiiiles! Give those back!” Charlotte screeches, chasing after him and Louis hears a crash almost the second they both leave his sight. Annie is fussing again in his arms and Louis lets out a little sigh of frustration, bouncing her in his arms gently.

“What was that?” he calls.

There’s a moment of complete silence before he hears Miles’ voice, guilty and hesitant to fess up. “Um... mommy’s vase.”

Louis can’t do much more than close his eyes for a few seconds before responding, running his hand soothingly up and down Annie’s back when she lets out a quiet whine. “Whatever you do, don’t move. I don’t want the two of you stepping on glass. Just... I’m going to put Annie down and come clean it up so stay where you are, okay?”

He hears their quiet confirmation and then the muffled sounds of Charlotte and Miles bickering back and forth over who actually broke the vase. By Charlotte’s logic, Miles is the one who actually hit it. By Miles’, Charlotte is responsible for chasing him in the first place. Louis has no choice but to leave them to it temporarily because he can tell Annie’s on the verge of breaking into tears and he wants to try to get her settled in before she works herself up too much.

He switches on the light in her nursery and takes some of the bigger stuffed animals out of the crib and tosses them into her playpen before laying her down, trying to get her situated comfortably. Her nose is still sniffly and he grabs a tissue from the changing table to wipe it for her, humming down at her comfortingly and tracing his fingertips over her forehead again. She feels warm -- about the same as before -- and he’s almost afraid to let her out of his sight for even a few minutes, imagining all the terrible things that could happen in the meantime.

“Poor little thing. I’m going to be right back in to check on you.” He strokes over her cheek once before leaving the room with a sigh, not looking forward to what’s awaiting him.

To their credit, the twins listened enough to stay in one place and they’re both kind of frozen where they stand, obviously having taken his direction very literally. Louis would have found it hilarious at any other time, the way they were acting like there was some invisible force field around them, but there are thin bits of red and gold glass strewn out all around them.

“Mom’s not gonna be happy about this. What have I told you about chasing after one another?”

Charlotte huffs out an indignant sound, shooting a scowl in Miles’ direction. “He’s the one who stole my glasses!”

That launches them into another argument and Louis carefully steps past them, getting the broom and dustpan out of the closet in the hall and sweeping up all the glass he can find. He does his best to get them all into a pile, leaving the room safe enough for them to move around again once he’s poured the shards out into the trash can.

“They looked stupid on you, anyway!” Louis hears, and he can almost count it down... 3... 2...1... and Charlotte’s bursting into tears at the same moment he hears cries coming from the baby monitor. He needs to console Charlotte and explain to Miles why he can’t say things like that to his sister, but he really, really needs to go check on Annie and well... it’s a lot. He could use a second pair of hands, but the thought of texting Liz again feels like admitting defeat, especially since she didn’t seem particularly worried in the first place.

There’s one other person that he can think to call on, but he doesn’t really want to burden him, either. Harry just got back from his trip not even an hour prior and he probably wants to relax, not spend the rest of his evening babysitting and diffusing fights between two rowdy five year olds. Annie and Charlotte are both still crying, though, and he feels backed into a corner.

He takes out his phone, types out a quick can you come next door? and hits send before he has time to second guess himself.

“Char, you don’t look stupid in your glasses, alright? Miles, you need to apologize to your sister. You hurt her feelings.”

It’s as much as he can say in the meantime, but Miles seems to sense there’s something bigger going on and mutters out an apology in Charlotte’s general direction. The exchange seems to bandage things enough so that he can slip back down the hall, into Annie’s room where she’s sitting up, red faced and with tears streaming down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry, baby,” he coos, moving over to lift her back up again. She’s one of the happiest babies he’s ever met, really, and it kills him to see her crying and trying to rest her head down against his chest, obviously uncomfortable and restless. He reaches for a pacifier and she takes it willingly, which seems to break some of her sobs, and he soothes his hand around the back of her head, hoping to calm her down as he bounces her gently in his arms.

The doorbell rings after a few minutes, and before he can even react he hears Charlotte shout, “I’ll get it!”

Louis sighs, carrying Annie down the hall so he can get there at the same time as she does on the off chance it’s someone other than who he’s expecting. He gives Charlotte the nod to go ahead and she tugs the door open, bouncing on her heels when she sees that it’s Harry.

Louis doesn’t know why, but he feels an overwhelming sense of relief just having his eyes on him. Harry has changed out of what Louis saw him in earlier, wearing tight black jeans and a Ramones t-shirt that was probably black at one point but now is more of a faded gray. His skin is still a little flushed like he’s fresh from the shower and Louis feels his heart rate start to pick up when he takes him all in, like if he didn’t have the baby in his arms then he probably would rush up and fling his arms around him. The thought doesn’t make much sense to him, but he attributes it to how overwhelmed he feels -- like he needs to be hugged and told that everything is alright, that he’s not fucking anything up.

“Harry, Harry!” Charlotte chimes, wrapping herself around one of his ridiculously long legs and Harry smiles, reaching down to stroke down her hair before shooting a curious look over at Louis.

“Is everything alright?” There’s a tender, concerned quality to his voice that sort of makes Louis want to break down, but instead he just gives a half-hearted nod.

“Yeah, I just...sorry to call you over. I know you just got back and everything, but Annie is running a fever and...” Louis realizes he’s rushing through his words and pauses to take a breath and Harry just seems to get it. His face softens in understanding and he waves Louis off toward the hall.

“Go ahead. I’ll keep an eye on these two for you.”

As much as Louis wants to go without protest, he feels guilty because it’s really, really not Harry’s job to have to do that. For all Louis knows, he could be interrupting Harry’s plans for the night. “Are you sure?”

Harry nods eagerly, already going over to sit down on the floor in front of the couch while Charlotte digs around in their toy chest and produces a board game. Miles rushes over to take his seat beside her. “Louis, it’s cool, don’t worry about it. I would have come over if I knew you were still here, anyway.”

The way Harry says it is nonchalant, like it’s no big deal that his first thought arriving home was to come see him if he was around. It probably isn’t a big deal, but Louis likes the feeling that it gives him, likes knowing that Harry thinks about him, in general.

It’s all a little too heavy for him to think about when there are more pressing matters that he needs to tend to and he just locks his eyes with Harry’s for a moment and mouths a ‘thank you’ that Harry responds to with an easy smile, like it’s nothing, like he’s not totally saving Louis’ life at the moment.

Harry makes some comment about Princess Frostine looking just like Charlotte, and Louis can’t help but to feel a rush of affection toward him as he walks back toward the nursery. He texts Liz again to ask if it’s okay to give Annie something for the fever, and while he waits for an answer he gives her a lukewarm bath, which seems to cool her down slightly -- and calm her down, too, because though her nose is still pink and runny, she’s smiling a little at Louis, responding when he bops her gently in the nose with her rubber bath toys. He curls her up into a blanket and gets a text from Liz that says he can give her some Motrin, so he does that, too, and it’s nearly eight by the time he’s through with it all.

The living room seems far more quiet than before and Louis can hear a movie playing as he changes and dresses Annie, still speaking to her in soft tones to keep her calm, kissing her belly and squeezing her tiny foot until she squeals. She’s sleepy when he picks her up again and he keeps a hand on her back, whispering little encouragements when she uses his chest as a pillow.

It’s kind of unbelievable to him that Harry’s out there and that the kids are behaving for him, and he almost expects something to be horribly awry when he walks into the living room again, but immediately he’s proven wrong.

Three faces turn to look at him -- Miles, then Harry, then Charlotte, in that order on the couch, and Louis raises a finger to his lips, because he can see the questions on the twins’ lips before they’ve even asked them.

“Harry, can you come here for a second?” he asks, voice still quiet so as not to disturb the baby, who’s only been asleep for a few minutes.

Harry sorts out his hair as he gets up from the couch and Louis watches him for a second until they’re side by side, walking into the kitchen. Before he can even get out a word of thanks, Harry’s reaching out to touch Annie’s back, covering Louis’ hand with his own and he’s not sure if he’s trying to comfort him or the baby but whatever it is, it’s okay, and it works.

Once they’re in the kitchen, Louis turns to face him, and Harry drops his hand, but stays close. It’s the first time he’s had more than one second to really see him since Friday morning, and he’s just -- Louis feels calm looking at him and it’s sort of miraculous because it doesn’t happen often. He’s always everyone’s rock, keeping himself together for the sake of other peoples’ sanity, and Harry’s looking at him like no matter what he says or does, he’ll be okay with it.

“Thank you for dealing with them,” Louis breathes, keeping his voice low. “Sorry, I just...I didn’t want to ask you to come, but she’s still got a fever and I feel like a fuck-up for letting it happen even though I guess there’s nothing I could do, and then Miles broke a vase and it’s just like, shit, everything happened at once. She’s...I think she’s okay, though,” he finishes, drawing a shaky breath as he turns to check on Annie, brushing a bit of hair away from her face.

“Louis, I told you, don’t worry about it.” Harry’s voice is gentler and more quiet than he’s ever heard it, and again Louis feels this uncanny instinct to just lean into him, to press his forehead against his neck and take a deep breath, but he just nods his thanks. Harry places a hand on his shoulder and gives it a squeeze, and rests it there, casual, like the touch has no thought whatsoever behind it, but Louis just wants to crumple.

“They’ll be home soon,” he tells Harry. “You don’t have to stay, like, if you have something else--”

“Hey, no,” Harry cuts him off with a wave and nothing more, shaking his head. “Felt like seeing you, anyway.”

Louis just sighs and tries for a subject change. “Did you have a good weekend?”

Harry gives a sort of half-shrug-half-nod thing, noncommittal. “It was okay.”

“Just okay?”

“I had a lot on my mind.”

Louis swallows and clenches his jaw. Harry’s looking at him like he wants to be asked why, even if Louis is pretty sure he knows the answer. “Like what?”

Harry squeezes his shoulder again and then drops his hand to Louis’ hip, exhaling softly and then taking a breath like he might launch into an explanation, but the alarm beeps three times, signalling that someone opened the door. They both take steps back from each other and Louis looks at Harry one last time and then makes for the living room, where Liz and Scott are giving hugs to the twins and looking at Louis with concern.

“How’s she doing?” Liz asks, obviously concerned as she reaches out for her.

“Little better now,” he explains, dragging a hand through his hair. “I don’t think her fever broke, but the Motrin definitely helped.”

Liz asks a few more questions and Louis does his best to recount everything while Harry talks to Scott behind him. He beckons Miles and Charlotte and asks them to explain what happened to their mom’s vase, which they do, their eyes cast steadily downward as they fess up.

“As long as nobody got hurt,” Liz says, and it’s the sort of mindset Louis hopes he has as a parent, because she’s right -- it all could’ve been a lot worse.


It’s dark out, after 9:00 when they leave the Woods’ house and Harry can’t stop himself from stealing a glance up at the sky as they walk toward the driveway that separates the two yards. Despite the rain from earlier, there seems to be an inordinate amount of stars out and they’re sparkling prettily, lighting their walk and serving as a replacement for the burnt out porchlight of the pool house. It’s still humid, but it’s not as sticky as it had been in the late afternoon and everything just feels really nice, really settled. He thinks that has more to do with being back in Louis’ presence than the two and a half days he just spent in Point Pleasant.

It was nice, parking himself in the sand and bending back the pages of a beat up old copy of Naked Lunch while the sun bathed over him. It would have been perfectly relaxing if he’d been able to turn his thoughts off for more than a few minutes at a time, but they were persistent the entire time he was gone, consistently moving back to Louis even when he made a conscious effort to try and stop himself.

It’s not like him to be hung up on anything for too long, let alone to put that much thought into one person, but Louis just keeps finding ways to break in. He thinks about him at the most adventitious moments, relating things back to him to the point where it’s a stretch -- like, there’s no obvious reason why he’d seen someone parasailing and thought oh hey, I wonder if Louis’ been parasailing before. Harry tries to rationalize it away, but that just results in a whole lot of lying to himself.

Since it’s been such a hectic night, he almost expects that he’ll be anxious to rush off, to get in his car and drive back to his apartment so that he can sleep away the tension that built up amidst dealing with a sick baby and two rowdy five year olds. Louis looks sort of restless, though, and Harry wonders if maybe he’s not ready for that and needs a respite between point a and point b.

“You gonna head home now?” Harry asks, shaking his curls out and pushing a mess of them to the side of his forehead so that he can get a better look at him. He doesn’t want to miss the look that plays out on his face because he’s trying to get a good read on him, trying to follow the signals he’s being given even if there’s nothing blatant about them.

“Dunno, I might do that.” Louis just shrugs in response, the picture of noncommittal and that, Harry thinks, is exactly what he’s been looking for as a final push to ask what’s been at the forefront of his mind since they first stepped out of the Woods’ backdoor.

“Why don’t you come over?”

He doesn’t mean for it to sound like a suggestion rather than a question, but Louis nods and Harry has to bite back his sigh of relief, following him over to the door of the pool house as he gets his keys out of his pocket.

On a normal day, Harry knows Louis' answer would've been delivered amidst a string of sarcastic comments. Tonight feels different, though, because he can feel the weight of the night on his own shoulders and imagines how much worse it has to be for Louis. Harry's never seen him so wound up, and he's relieved when he agrees to come over; he might've begged had Louis said no.

Harry shuts the door behind him once they're inside, and toes off his All-Stars before flicking on the light next to the bed. The glow it casts is warm and shadowy over the few small rooms, and the smell reminds him of summer, of nights spent out there with his friends after stealing booze from parents' liquor cabinets when he was far too young to be drinking sloe gin.  It's strange having Louis there, and it feels different at night. The context of his visit is far different than it was a few days ago on that Friday morning when Louis had been damp from a shower and a little bit bleary eyed and so unbelievably fucking lovely that Harry didn't know what else to do besides kiss him.

Louis looks particularly tiny and kind of fragile as he tucks one bare foot underneath himself as the other dangles off the bed, not even reaching the floor. Harry knows he's not, he knows he's the total opposite, actually, but the idea still makes him antsy, like he wants to fix it, or at least work out how he’s feeling because he knows he’ll tell twenty jokes before he comes straight out with it.

Sitting down next to Louis, he leans in enough to knock their shoulders together and smiles, hoping that it will elicit the same out of Louis. To his credit, Louis tries and the corners of his lips curve up in the makings of one, but it doesn’t reach his eyes or light up his face the way his smiles typically do.

“Rough night, huh?”

Louis does this thing with his face where it sort of twists, like he’s annoyed at Harry pointing out the obvious the way he always does. “Definitely wouldn’t make the top five, that’s for sure.”

“It’s over now, though, right? Annie’s gonna be fine.” It’s obviously not as simple as that, but Harry’s aiming for something between comfort and some sort of reverse psychology -- like, maybe if he downplays everything then Louis will be frustrated enough to just fess up to what’s going through his mind.

“Yeah, I know she’s fine, Harry,” Louis says, exasperatedly, and shoots a look in his direction. His face softens not more than a few seconds later and he gives a quick, apologetic wave of his hand. “Sorry, it’s just... it freaks me out when things get like that. I feel responsible for things getting out of control in the first place and then I had to call on you to come help me. I shouldn’t have had to do that and, like, what’s it going to be like when I’m a teacher? If I can’t handle three kids at once then how am I going to manage thirty?” Louis pauses to push a hand through his hair before running both over his face like he’s trying to calm himself down. “God, why am I even telling you all this? As if tonight wasn’t embarrassing enough as it is.”

In a way, it almost makes sense to be hearing it because Louis has made passing comments before about how long it’s taking him to find a steady teaching position and Harry can always hear hints of it in his voice, like he’s starting to doubt whether or not he’s even cut out for it. That, of course, is absolutely ridiculous to him because he’s never seen someone who’s better with kids, who is so compassionate and eager to help them achieve things. Louis brags more about Miles’ fifth grade reading level than his own parents do.

Harry sighs quietly, folding his hands in his lap and looking straight ahead. He’s wants to figure out the best course of action because he thinks he knows Louis well enough by now to know he’s not the type who responds well to trite consolation.

“Did you know that in the Kingdom of Bhutan they have this thing they go by...gross national happiness?”

Louis shoots him an odd look, obviously confused as to what the hell that has to do with the topic at hand or why he should care, but he just shakes his head, so Harry continues.

“Well, like, instead of just measuring their progress and quality of life based on how much money the country has or economic growth or whatever, they adopted this other approach where they consider how well they’re doing based on everyone’s wellness and happiness. It’s kinda confusing, but they have these four pillars they judge by, right? Sustainability, culture, the environment, good leadership...”

Clearly wondering where he’s going with this, Louis turns more toward Harry and raises his eyebrows at him, giving him an expectant look that Harry can’t help but smile at. “What the fuck does any of this have to do with anything?”

“Nothing. I just wanted you to think about something else so you would stop beating yourself up. Or maybe annoy you enough for it to have the same effect.”

Louis’ mouth actually drops open slightly at that, like he’s trying to figure out something cutting to say, but he eventually just settles on, “You are the weirdest person I’ve ever met.”

Harry smiles even bigger, pleased with himself, and he lifts his shoulders in a quick shrug. “Dunno about that. I do know that you’re going to make an amazing teacher, though, and that you’re so fucking great with those kids. They love you.”

There’s a long moment where Louis just stares at him -- hard, like he’s considering whether to just accept the compliment or to unload on him some more. Maybe punch him, Harry doesn’t know for sure.

In the end, he just kisses him. He kisses him like it’s the very last thing on Earth that he can do to shut Harry up, to quiet the maddening little facts that he pours out with that could have come from under the cap of a Snapple bottle for all Louis knows. It’s more than that, though. He kisses like he desperately wants to, like he’s been wanting to since the last time they did this and Harry lets that thought cycle through his mind, infiltrating alongside the mess of things that turn around in his brain at any given moment and he can’t help basking in the way it makes him feel -- warm and alight from all the far-off hopes he’s been hanging on.

It’s different this time. It feels less like an experiment or some innocuous exercise of curiosity. Louis has his fists balled up in the fabric of Harry’s t-shirt, keeping their bodies angled together with a surprising amount of strength and Harry doesn’t resist, just helps him along by shifting closer and bringing his hands up to frame around Louis’ neck, thumbs meeting the center -- light over his adam’s apple.

There’s a frantic quality to it up until that point, a clash of teeth and tongues and two sets of hands holding on for dear life -- like the moment might slip away from a more feeble grasp. Things start to slow and Harry knows why, knows that they both want to take in all the details of it, the way a shiver works its way from his shoulders down as Louis licks hotly inside his mouth, easing his tongue alongside Harry’s, and the way Louis sinks his fingers just past the neck of Harry’s t-shirt to clutch over his collarbones when Harry digs his teeth against his bottom lip.

It’s needy and messy and Harry likes that, likes the thought of Louis taking his frustrations out on his body, of letting him use him as a vessel to pour them into. He thinks he’d let him work him over for hours if that’s what it takes.

The otherwise quiet room is polluted with heartbeats and heavy breaths and Harry moves his hands down from Louis’ throat, down over his pecs and finally to hold him by the inward curve of waist. He’s thought about touching all the same places from the very first day they met, when he made a map of Louis’ body in his mind, and every touch is like a revelation that, god, he’s so much softer, so much better than in Harry’s imagination.

The kiss slows and Harry can almost feel Louis’ eyes open before they actually do, lashes fluttering up to reveal a darker blue than what he’s used to and Louis looks so awestruck that Harry can’t stop himself from bringing his hand up again, stroking the backs of his fingers over the highest point of his cheekbone. “Better, right?”

Louis opens his mouth like he’s ready to speak and he’s so close, still so close that Harry can feel the little puff of breath that comes before he decides to forego what he was initially going to say and smirks at him instead. “You know, I’m not quite sure... I mean, it was a good kiss, Harry, but it was a really, really bad night.”

“Bold,” Harry grins, slipping his hands under Louis’ shirt to just feel him, down from his sternum to his hips. Louis shrugs at that, looking impressed with himself and he leans in closer, pressing his lips to the spot Harry loves to be kissed the most, just behind his ear, and Louis doesn’t even know that, but it drives him crazy when he can feel him start to speak against the suddenly damp skin. “Thought you’d like that.”

"I mean, I think you can do better," Harry says. He swallows hard and keeps his neck tilted back to give Louis access to the side of his throat. "But it's a start."

He foresees it being a problem, the way he absolutely cannot stop touching Louis, his fingers obsess over the sharp shoulder blades and the soft, sparse patch of hair at the center of his chest, the way his little torso expands and, perhaps most satisfying, the noise he makes as Harry presses him back onto the bed. It takes Louis a second to recover after being caught off-guard, and as someone who's made it a point to do that as often as possible over the last few weeks, Harry expects it when he frowns a little after bouncing onto the springy old mattress.

"Your bed's making noises," Louis points out, reaching up to twist his fingers into the hem of Harry's t-shirt and tug him forward, and he likes it, the way Louis sort of just reaches out and grabs for whatever he wants. Harry gets to his hands and knees and crawls over the top of him, leaving a few inches between them.

"It does that," he murmurs in agreement, smirking slightly. "It means it likes you."

Pressing his thumb up against Louis' jaw, he licks his lips when he sees his head tilted back and his neck exposed, feeling like it's just for him and he doesn't even fucking know where to begin or what to say or how to communicate the overwhelming, unbelievably strong desire he has to deconstruct Louis, piece by piece.

Harry lowers himself down, wedging his knee between the v of his legs as he runs his hand up and under Louis' shirt again. If he's going to keep himself from potentially coming on too strong, he knows he's gotta get him to talk, to give him a hard time or speak up or something, because maybe it's not such a good idea to take advantage of their alone time like this, and he doesn't want to fuck it up so soon.

"So you went to Gaslight on Saturday, you said?" he asks, nudging his nose up against Louis' jaw as he presses a kiss just there.

"Yeah, we…" Louis starts to answer, and Harry doesn't need to look at him to know exactly which face he's making. "Why?"

"I know the bartender there," he replies, dragging his other hand down Louis' side and resting it just above the waistband of his jeans. Louis is doing something insane with his fingers in Harry's hair, twisting and knotting and occasionally raking his nails over the sunburnt back of his neck, making him shiver against the touch, intermittently losing his composure.

"She's got red hair… really gorgeous," he continues, glancing up to see Louis' eyes, which are narrowed down at him and the not-so-gentle tug to his strands doesn't seem to be entirely accidental. They both know how ridiculous it is every time Harry brings up anyone else, mostly because he doesn't even try to hide the fact that he does it solely to make Louis squirm, which it does, every single time.

"You look like her type, that's all. Kind of unfair, though," he adds, still speaking against Louis' neck, which he's been pressing a series of kisses down, savoring every patch of skin there.

"Unfair?" Louis' voice breaks, Harry swears it does, and he digs his fingers into Louis hip, using his grip as leverage to angle himself above him again, and it's been three minutes, tops, but Harry already misses kissing him.

"Yeah, because who wouldn't want you? I mean, look at you," Harry breathes, taking in every perfect angle of Louis' tanned face, the sort of blue in his eyes that Harry's only ever seen on fucking Disney princesses, or something, except it's better, because it all contrasts so perfectly and his face is more trusting and less guarded and Harry thinks, I did that. He fits his lips over Louis', and it takes them all of three seconds before it gets a little messy, reaching that familiar level of desperation that Harry's not even trying for but it just seems to happen, like flicking a switch.

Harry shifts his hips down more, nudging Louis’ legs apart further so he can ease his body between them, lining them up properly because he feels like he can’t get close enough. Louis chokes off a quiet whine when Harry moves over him, long and lithe and accidentally colliding their hips. There’s a noticeable strain in his voice when he puts his hands on Harry’s shoulders, pushing him back just enough so that he can get a good look at him. “Do you?”

The question almost stuns him because he think it has to be obvious in so many ways, in all the looks he’s freely handed over since the very first day and the way he’s looking at him now, flushed just from making out and half-heartedly rocking together like a pair of teenagers. It occurs to him that he hasn’t felt this way in a long time, like he just wants to completely devour the person he’s with, because his boredom extends across the board to so many things and Louis just...he makes him feel anything but.

There are a lot of different ways that he could react, things that he could say, but Harry just starts to push his hands over Louis’ thighs and up under his t-shirt, rucking it up until he can see most of his chest and Louis takes the hint and arches off the bed enough to get it the rest of the way off. Harry can’t help but stare even though he can tell Louis’ uncomfortable, suddenly fidgeting below him, and he pulls off his own shirt to level the playing field.

“Simple answer would be yes,” he muses, walking his fingers down the front of Louis’ body until they’re playing over the zipper of his jeans. Louis’ already hard for him, cock swollen under the fabric and even just feeling with the tips of his fingers makes Harry’s mouth feel dry.

“And what’s the complicated one?”

That’s all Harry needs, really, an invitation that sets him off and there’s an almost feral look in his eyes when he lies flush against Louis, cupping his chin between his thumb and forefinger and pressing a single kiss against his lips before tilting his face back so that he can look down at him intently -- as if Louis would have any doubt how earnest he is.

“I’ve wanted all of this,” he starts, letting go so that he can touch a kiss along his jaw, warm and wet but fleeting, letting him know that it’s just a precursor. “Wanted to have you in my bed...” It’s not more than a whisper and he continues his descent, teeth grazing Louis’ adam’s apple before migrating off to the side to give the same treatment to his neck. He lingers there, though, biting and working over the same spot with kisses until a bruise is already starting to form, leaving Louis’ skin angry looking from the blood drawing toward the surface.

“Thought about it so often... feeling you pressed up hard against me like this.” Harry hips rock down for emphasis and fuck, they’re both so hard that he can feel the heat between them and it’s so far from being enough. “Making you come... I bet you look so fucking pretty,” he finishes, ending with a kiss over the mark he left, reclaiming it all over again like he’s cocky about it, like he doesn’t want Louis to forget for a second that it’s there even though he has to be able to feel the ache.

“God, Harry... c’mon, need you to just. Do something,” Louis whines, needy and high in his throat. He gets his hands on Harry’s chest, raking down from the swallows and all the way to the spot above his navel, rough enough that red welts flare up over Harry’s skin and it’s like fire the way it stings and Harry’s body curves into the pain like a moth to a flame.

"Ah, shit," he murmurs, his voice thick with the pleasure of it, the way his skin burns and the way Louis just reaches and claws for Harry to make a move that he's been putting off with teases instead. He pops open the button on Louis’ jeans and comes close to wrecking the zipper when he tries to tear it down with hasty fingers, and he gets the waistband over his ass with a little difficulty.

Harry's good at this; he's been told before, and he has a confidence about it that makes him just really like it, too, but he can't remember if he's ever quite felt the need to prove himself to anyone like he really badly wants to prove himself to Louis. It doesn't hurt that he looks unbelievably gorgeous laid out underneath him, and the angle is even better when Harry shifts down to kiss the skin just above the waistband of his boxer briefs. He keeps him in place by slipping a hand between Louis' ass and the mattress, kneading at him while he mouths the fabric just over the swell of his cock, dragging his lips slow against him while he exhales.

"This okay?" he asks, like he doesn't already know the answer, like Louis' body isn't ridiculously responsive to every single touch, and Louis chokes out a, “Yes, fuck.” He uses his free hand to roll down the waistband just an inch, where Louis' cock is pressed flat beneath it, lying hard against his belly, so flushed and tempting that it’s almost too much. Harry can't help himself, he actually sighs when he sees it, his voice almost inaudible as he murmurs a fuck that he's not entirely sure Louis can hear. He palms him, circling his fingers around the base while he works him up, looking at him again.

There's a question on his lips but Louis is already nodding and Harry finally brushes the head of his cock against his bottom lip before he darts out his tongue and takes him down, far down, enough to make Louis choke out a breath and rock his hips up. Harry has to pull back then, getting his mouth slick before he takes him in again, lips wrapped tight around him. Louis feels so good and heavy in his mouth and he can taste him already, leaking against his tongue every time he pulls off to catch his breath. Louis' got both hands on Harry now, and one's fisting a bunch of hair off of his forehead, presumably so he can watch.

"God, you're like, fucking--" Louis might have more to say but he cuts himself off like he just can't find the words, and he rocks his hips up, making Harry sputter slightly when he feels him at the back of his throat.

It feels like a challenge, even though he’s sure Louis didn’t intend it that way, and Harry drags his mouth slowly off of Louis’ cock with a wet sound, still pumping from his base and halfway down his shaft. His eyes shoot up to watch Louis’ face and the way that Louis is looking back at him makes him feel greedy, like every time his lips part around a whimper it’s a reward to him. He taps the head of Louis’ cock against his lips -- red and full and already swollen.

“You want it?” he whispers, eyes unwavering from their gaze up to Louis’.

“Jesus Christ, Harry, please.” Louis’ hand shoots down, circling around the base of his own cock, over Harry’s, helping to tap it against Harry’s lips and Harry lets him for a few seconds before getting ahold of both of Louis’ wrists, rough enough to tuck them under his back so he can’t touch. He’s just on display for him, at Harry’s mercy, and Harry goes dizzy at the power he feels from it.

Louis chokes out a sound and Harry thinks that this has to be something different for him, the he probably doesn’t relinquish control often because he’s so fiercely independent, so set on making things happen without any help. It just makes Harry want to keep stripping away layers, to break away whatever protective shell he’s built around himself so he can just fucking let go, of any pessimistic thoughts left plaguing his mind, of all of it.

“Take what you want, then,” Harry mutters, drawing his tongue in a slow line up the underside before lowering his mouth over Louis again, getting his hands back under him to hold at his ass, both to digs his fingers against the soft flesh and to urge Louis’ hips to rock up into his mouth. They’re both so eager for it that Harry loses track of which sounds are coming from him and which from Louis and everything goes off like an echo, like rapid fire through his ears and the only confirmation that any of it is even coming from him is because Louis seems to like the feel of Harry moaning around his cock, making him fuck up harder against it until Harry’s eyes start to water from all the effort he’s making to relax his throat enough to take it.

Harry’s eyes course the length of Louis’ body again and it’s just... Louis’ back is curved off the bed, pushing up into how good it feels and the way his face looks is something that Harry knows he’ll commit to his poetic memory in candid detail, that he’ll file back to time and time again because there’s a line of red down each of his cheekbones and every muscle in his body is undulating with the exertion it takes to hold back.

He doesn’t have to move his mouth over Louis for much longer until he feels the change, feels the way Louis’ hips start to stutter and his body shakes like he’s finally broken down. Harry steels himself for it, drawing back to stretch long fingers around Louis’ shaft, eyes on his face as he holds him steady and Louis just... breaks, pushing up against Harry’s mouth as he gives into it, choking off a cry of Harry’s name because Harry’s still relentless, licking him clean until Louis whines with how over-sensitive he is.

“Harry... Harry, fuck, come up here.” Louis’ voice is wrecked and he takes his hands out from under himself, looking to Harry like he’s waiting for permission and when no protest comes, he gets ahold of Harry by the biceps to drag him back up to him. “Kiss me.”

He crawls up to him and he does, he kisses him, his lips still damp and almost swollen and his jaw is sore but Louis very nearly makes him forget about it as their tongues collide just as soon as their lips meet. Harry's aware that Louis can most definitely taste himself but doesn't seem to care, and the thought makes Harry drop his hips down against Louis' thigh, an accidental reminder of his just how hard he is from watching him get off. He pulls back and takes Louis' bottom lip between his teeth, staring down at his face. Louis is…he's just ethereal, he's the physical equivalent of a combination of everything Harry has ever loved in other people, and then some.

"Let me," Louis starts in a rasp, reaching down for him, making a frustrated noise as his fingers brush the fly of Harry' jeans. "Just get these off, at least, I wanna…"

Harry gets the hint, and he rocks back onto his heels, undoing his jeans and tugging them down with his briefs in the same go. His cock is painfully hard and sensitive when it slaps up against his belly, and he wraps his fist around it as soon as he has it out, his jeans still uncomfortably tight around his thighs but he just…he doesn't care at all, and the way Louis is watching him makes it that much better. He's on his knees between Louis' legs, staring down at him and only at him, not even watching his own hand as strokes himself and brushes his thumb over the head before he picks up the pace.

Louis tries to sit up, his abs flexing with the effort, but Harry shakes his head immediately and presses him back down with his other hand. He keeps it flat over Louis' sternum, holding him lightly down on the bed while he grinds into his hand, hovering over him. Harry is so on display that it shouldn't feel so good, but Louis' reaction is worth it -- his lips are parted and his head is tilted back and he's watching Harry like he doesn't even believe he's real, and Harry just nods, letting him know it's okay to just keep watching him, that he wants him to.

Their eyes meet and Harry's gaze is unbreakable when he gives himself one more stroke that takes him over the edge, finally. He chokes on nothing and makes a sound that’s closest to a growl as he comes all over Louis' stomach, the little patch of hair just below his navel and above it.

"Fuck," he whispers and squints his eyes shut for a moment. It feels like he should take a second to collect himself but there's nothing confusing about what just happened, nothing to reflect on besides how fucking incredible it felt, still feels. He opens his eyes and looks at Louis again, who’s reaching over to the nightstand to grab a few tissues. Louis’ breathing still hasn’t leveled out and Harry feels transfixed, stuck in a daze while Louis cleans up his stomach and tosses the tissues off the side of the bed.

“Christ, that was... interesting,” Louis mumbles, hoarsely, and then he does something that Harry isn’t really expecting -- he smiles, lazy and content and maybe with a hint of awkwardness that neither of them are going to acknowledge.

Harry shifts out from between Louis’ legs, rolling off to his side and maneuvering around enough so that he can drag his boxer briefs back up and kick his jeans the rest of the way off. They don’t bother pretending like it doesn’t all feel a bit silly, like it’s not fucking bizarre to be tugging their underwear back on and collapsing side by side when they see each other every day in such a friendly context.

“Interesting? I’m gonna have a sore jaw for days and you give me interesting,” Harry teases, still out of breath but laughing quietly as he reaches over to pinch at Louis’ side. It earns him a half-hearted smack to the shoulder in return and he’s still grinning, blissed out when Louis rolls over more to face him, propping his head against his hand and drinking in the sight of Harry curiously, like he suddenly doesn’t know what to make of him. Harry understands. It’s weird, like everything is colored in a different shade.

Louis keeps touching him, prodding his chest like he’s trying to learn him from scratch and his eyebrows quirk up suddenly, raising his eyes up to meet Harry’s. “You have four nipples.”

The way he points it out makes Harry laugh, bringing both hands up to cover his face even though he’s nodding behind them. “My secret shame.”

“What other secrets do you have, Harold? Please don’t tell me you have a tail hiding somewhere back there.” Louis feels around Harry’s back and he squirms under the touch, pounding a hand against Louis’ chest half-heartedly.

“M’gonna kick you out of my bed in a about five seconds here, pal.”

“Pal,” Louis echos back around a scoff.

He probably thinks he’s being discreet about it, but Harry catches him staring at the door and he doesn’t know how he should feel about the fact that one of Louis’ first thoughts is to leave. There isn’t time to consider it because the next thing that Louis says is what Harry already knew was coming. “I should probably get home, anyway. Work in the morning.”

Harry grunts and holds Louis’ wrist to keep him in place when he starts to make a move to get out of bed. “Your work is literally, like, twenty paces from here. Just stay.”

He does his best to make it sound as though the proximity of his work place is the main reason for him to spend the night and not the surprising realization that he actually just...doesn’t want him to leave, doesn’t like the idea of an empty bed when he’s already got someone inside of it. Louis huffs, but he drops his head back onto the extra pillow, apparently defeated.

“That didn’t take much,” Harry points out with a smirk, and props himself up with one arm so he can lean over Louis to shut off the lamp on his side of the bed. It brings them close again, chests brushing together, and Harry steals a glance down at him just before the light goes off, pressing his lips together to keep himself from grinning, or laughing. Louis looks back at him, too, but it’s different; Harry can’t decipher his expression in those two seconds before his finger switches the lamp off, and it’s what he’s picturing in the dark when they try to fall asleep, a few inches of distance between their spent bodies.


"Hey, you're on my--Harry, move your--" Louis has to give him a shove before he opens his eyes and rolls out of his way with a whine, revealing Louis' phone, which has apparently been sandwiched underneath his stomach for the last seven hours. It's burning hot when he scoops it up and switches off the alarm, and he's got a series of alerts he should probably look at, but it can wait.

He feels completely out of sorts, vivid memories of the night before rushing back to him as he looks around the room at his clothes on the floor. It’s fucking surreal that it all happened, that he not only got one hell of a blowjob from Harry but that he then stayed over in his bed, something he hasn't done since…he can't even remember.

Harry's already gone back to sleep and Louis grumbles at that, annoyed that he has the option to keep snoozing. He gets to his feet and pads to the tiny bathroom, scratching the back of his neck as he yawns and nearly walks into the door frame before he turns on the light.

He's fucked. There's a hickey the size of a golfball on the underside of his jaw and his eyes are puffy and his hair's a total wreck and he has ten minutes to make himself look presentable to the two adults who trust him with their children. He's never shown up looking so disheveled, but he supposes there's a first time for everything and he tries not to worry too much about it, probably because he can't seem to stop looking at the mark on him, touching over it with the pad of his fingertip. His mouth feels dry and his stomach practically somersaults at the memory of it. It's been a while since he's been touched like that, he reasons. It's not necessarily the Harry effect. He won't give him that satisfaction.

When he's finished in the bathroom he shuts the door to it a bit harder than is strictly necessary, which makes Harry jolt and fling his eyes open.

"Wouldja keep it down?" he grumbles, his voice deep and raspy, slower than usual.

"Sorry, college student, not all of us can sleep in until noon," he says, not sorry in the least as he reaches for his jeans and his t-shirt, standing just a few inches from Harry as he digs around for them on the floor. Harry looks at him with only one eye open, staring him up and down and he actually licks his lips, which is just. Unfair.

"Sure you can't stay?" he asks, sounding somewhat pathetic. Louis clears his throat, thinks: do not give in to his sleepy green eyes, do not think about blowjobs, do not look at him for too long.

"Don't you have a run to go on, or something?" Louis does up the fly of his jeans and then tugs on the t-shirt he'd worn the night before, which is a fairly distinct shade of heather red. He hopes like hell no one notices, but five years old notice everything, so of course they will.

Harry makes a noise that Louis takes as a 'no' and buries himself further against the pillow, hiding his face so that when Louis stares openly he feels a lot less shameful about it. The sheet is around his ankles and Harry's long limbs are flopped all over the bed and Louis bites back a sigh because he looks too inviting, all tanned and a little sunburnt and sleepy amidst soft white sheets on his creaky old bed.

"I'm heading out," he tells him, his hand on the doorknob as he waits for an answer. Harry's head pokes up and he looks at him properly, giving him another once over as he nods.

"Got a thing on your neck," he points out, the corner of his mouth lifting in a lopsided grin that Louis wants to throttle him for.

"I fucking know that, asshole." Louis touches it and turns away, trying to hide his face before Harry sees just how widely he's smiling.

"See you at lunch," he calls out, and Louis waves before he closes the door and traipses across the dewy lawn to the Woods' front porch, hoping he can play off his obvious exhaustion and the enormous love bite on his neck. He knocks on their door, feeling kind of silly but also -- weirdly, and there's pleasure in it -- like he got away with something, like he can't quite help himself from smiling just a little wider when Scott greets him and lets him inside.

It's all much easier once Liz and Scott head to work, because it means he no longer has to keep his neck bent down to keep them noticing his disheveled state. Annie's fever broke overnight, thankfully, but she still has a bit of a cold, so he allows Miles and Charlotte play with a group of kids across the street. He stretches out on the couch and lets Annie sit on his belly with a few of her toys and he tries his best to focus on the television or on meaningless little conversations with the baby but inevitably it all goes back to Harry.

Now that he’s had a few hours to think about it, the entire night just seems more and more surreal. It reminds him of dreams he’s had, where the more he thinks about them the less he seems to remember, except that occasionally he’ll have an incredibly vivid flashback of something dumb, a noise he made or the way his hand splayed out over Louis’ chest.

And when he comes over for lunch it’s...surprisingly normal, except for one or two shared glances, but overall Louis finds that it’s easy to fall back into their normal banter and their normal wordless exchanges.

They’re in sync, and they have been since day one, actually; Louis takes out the peanut butter and Harry’s handing him a knife before he even asks for it. When they settle down on the sofa again, sandwiches in hand, Harry scoots close enough for their thighs to touch and Louis figures that if they’re making no big deal out of their normal, platonic touches, then last night must have just been something they may be able to move on from, at some point.

The thing is, he’s not entirely convinced that he wants that. Part of him wants to bring it up, to ask Harry all the whys and hows because even with all their easy flirtation and the way things have been building, he wasn’t expecting it, and he wonders if they were on the same page. He can’t work out whether Harry was waiting for the right time, a moment that was somehow different from all the rest that they spent together, or if it was just the kind of spontaneity that wouldn’t be out of character for him.

Either way, he figures he’ll be left wondering because he knows he doesn’t have the guts to just ask, not when Harry is sitting next to him licking peanut butter off his fingers and laughing at an episode of The Simpsons like he doesn’t have a concern in the world.

There’s a knock at the door at precisely the same moment Harry’s phone goes off and Louis starts to get up while Harry points at his phone and then toward the kitchen, letting him know he’s going to take it in there.

Mrs. Byrne from across the street is waiting with Miles and Charlotte when Louis tugs the door open and he smiles his gratitude, letting the twins back in the house and thanking her for keeping an eye on them.

When he closes the door behind her, Charlotte looks slightly glum, not her usual spirited self and Louis lowers himself down to her level to take hold of both of her hands. “What is it, love?”

Immediately she launches into how Katy Byrne hadn’t invited her to her birthday party at Field Station Dinosaurs and now everyone will be seeing life-sized dinosaurs except her and she’s already on the verge of tears when Harry comes in, still laughing from his call as he tucks his phone into his back pocket.

His face changes when he sees that Charlotte’s upset and he comes over to her, reaching down to stroke her hair while she buries her face against Louis’ chest.

“What’s going on?” He frowns, directing his question more to Louis and Louis explains, having to stop every so often for Charlotte to interject something when she doesn’t think he’s telling the story right.

“Forget about Katy Byrne. I’ll take you. It’s in Secaucus, right? That’s only twenty minutes from here.”

Charlotte lifts her head up at that, wiping a few tears from the corner of her eyes and looking hopefully between them. “Really?”

“Sure, as long as your parents say it’s alright. We’ll go sometime before I go back to California.”

Miles has been petting his sister’s shoulder reassuringly, telling her that he won’t go with Katy out of solidarity, which...Louis looks at him strangely, like, how does he even know that word, but he looks slightly frantic at the mention of Harry’s time in South Orange having an expiration date.

“You’re leaving?”

“Well, yeah, but not until the end of August,” he assures Miles, giving him a smile that seems to appease him enough before turning his attention more toward Louis. “That was actually my roommate, Niall, on the phone. He was telling me about all the parties he’s been going to and they sound fu-,” he catches himself in time, smiling sheepishly before continuing, “sound pretty sick. I can’t wait to get back.”

The way he says it hits Louis hard, like...Harry just sounds so ecstatic and eager to leave and it shouldn’t matter to him, he should be happy Harry has so much to look forward to, but it doesn’t stop him from taking offense. It’s like a punch to the gut and he doesn’t know why, because he’s always known that Harry’s only in town for the summer. South Orange isn’t his home anymore. Soon enough it’ll just be somewhere he returns for holidays because his role is done there and he’s made that much clear.

Charlotte bursts into a fresh round of tears and Harry looks confused, wondering what set it off, but Louis just lets her slump against him again, wrapping his arms around her little body to hug her back because he gets it. He knows exactly how she feels.


In the week after Louis spent the night at Harry's, things more or less go back to normal between them, if not for a few notable changes.

No matter how hard Harry tries to pretend like what happened between them was just bound to happen, or something, he can feel that it's more than that, because he knows they're closer friends than just two random people looking to get off on a midsummer night. If he wanted that, he could have found any number of random guys or girls willing enough -- hell, New York City is a thirty minute train ride away, rife with opportunity and full of sweaty clubs and hipstery bars for him to stalk if he was looking for that.


Instead, he spends his days sleeping in and going for runs and doing the grocery shopping for his mom, all of it just a precursor to winding up at Louis' place of employment to see him for a couple of hours before they part ways again. Louis seems to keep finding reasons to head home immediately after work and he doesn't really question it because he figures it must mean that Louis isn't really into the whole casual sex thing which, okay, whatever, it's not for everyone.

It's just that there's a difference in the way Louis looks at him when Harry catches him staring and neither of them seem in any particular hurry to break that eye contact, to shy away from acknowledging that something happened even if they don't speak directly about it. They acted on their feelings, sure, but for Harry, at least, he knows he's just holding back and waiting for another opportunity to get his hands on Louis again. Every knowing look and belly laugh he gets from him just makes him want it more.

But for the most part it's back to normal for them, back to the same dumb voices they use on each other and the same stupid inside jokes they've cultivated and their somewhat uncanny silent means of communication. It's a week after their first and only hookup that anything changes, and it's when they're at the county 4-H fair, staring at farm animals amidst an overwhelming smell of cow shit.

“It’s hot out here,” Miles whines, trying to shade his eyes from the setting sun with both hands. Harry plucks the snapback from off his own head and sets it down on Miles’ -- letting the bill of it actually face forward because the sun really is bearing down heavily even though it’s only an hour away from setting.

“Better?” He’s given a smile as confirmation and they all make their way over to the pen of baby goats, maneuvering through the crowd with Annie’s stroller and each with a twin clutching one of their hands.

The owner is a man who must be in his 60’s or 70’s and Harry can’t help but think that he looks like Roy Rogers or Hopalong Cassidy or any other incarnation of the type of stereotypical gunslinging, horseback riding cowboy that he remembers from when he was a kid. The size of his hat is almost comical, but Harry still kind of likes the sight of him.

“Wanna pet the kids?” he asks, tipping his hat forward.

Charlotte steals a curious glance up at Louis, obviously confused. “Why would anyone want to pet kids?”

Louis snorts, shaking his head. “No, Char... that’s what you call baby goats. Kids.”

Charlotte hums out an ohhhh and her and Miles both start inside the pen with the older man, listening to him explain about how old they are and how often they’re fed while they very carefully pet between their ears.

Harry and Louis stand near the railing to watch them, leaning their bodies up against it -- both hot and tired from already having been out in the sun for a couple of hours and Harry can’t help but to steal a few glances to his left. Louis’ paying close attention to the twins and he can only really admire his profile, but there’s a bit of sweat that runs from the underside of his jaw and down his neck that’s distracting him, to the point where he doesn’t notice just how much of a daze he’s in until Louis snaps his fingers in front of his face.

“Earth to Harry. Is the cow shit getting to you?”

“I’m here. Think I may have had a sun stroke or something.” It’s easy enough to play off, but Louis looks at him like Harry is his very own looking glass and he knows exactly when Harry’s holding something back.

“I’m gonna go get us a snowcone,” he says, pointing toward a guy strolling by with a cart behind Louis. He steals off without another word and goes to pay for five snow cones -- one in a cup that can be fed to Annie, and silently curses himself as he waits for his change because he has no clue what he’s doing. Hooking up with Louis was probably a terrible idea since he never had any intention of detaching himself from their friendship afterward and it’s just... things between them are so easy that it’s almost maddening. He tries to tell himself it’s all just some romanticized notion of a summer fling, more about the place and the atmosphere itself. Everything is ripe with life and heat and he just needs somewhere to channel it.

Maybe anyone else could inspire those same feelings in him in that situation. Maybe it’s not just Louis.

When he turns back to them, he’s balancing everything in his hands and he can feel his forearms getting sticky with the syrup that’s melting over. It all sort of mixes on his arm and looks distinctly like the colors that are passing through the evening sky above them -- all gold and pink and purple.

“Look at you. You are an absolute mess,” Louis laughs, relieving him from two of the cones and handing them over to Charlotte and Miles as they run back toward them.

“What’dyou say, guys?”

The twins cry out a chorus of ‘Thank you Harry’ that makes him smile, and then Louis turns back to him, smirking. He takes his cone from Harry and licks some off the top and Harry almost fucking moans at the sight of it, and totally doesn’t register that Charlotte is speaking to him. Louis whacks him on the stomach lightly to get his attention.

“What is with you? You’re so distracted.” Louis still looks amused despite what he says, like he probably knows exactly where Harry’s mind is because when he takes another lick off his snow cone, he’s looking him dead in the eyes.

Harry shakes his head, fighting a smirk that still meets his eyes. "You're being inappropriate."

"How am I inappropriate?" Louis' face is the portrait of faux-innocence, his eyebrows raised like he genuinely wants Harry to give him an answer as he licks a bit of syrup from the inside of his wrist, smacking his lips together when he looks back at him. “Just enjoying my frozen treat.”

Harry barks out a laugh and has to strongly resist the urge to tell him that he’s being a little shit, but he’s been trying to keep his swearing to a minimum.

"As if you don't know.” He gives him a once-over that doesn't even try to be subtle and then turns his attention to Miles, who’s tapping him on the thigh and reeling off facts about goats.

“What do you say we get going?” Louis asks to a chorus of agreement, even from Charlotte, who’s been practically bouncing with energy all day. They’re all a sticky, hot, saw-dusty mess by the time they finish their snow cones on the walk back to Louis’ car.

The drive home is fairly quiet ,and even though the kids are close to snoozing in the back seat, Harry feels wired, stealing glances at Louis as he chews his bottom lip and thinks about how he just can’t seem to not want him, in some capacity, and how that wasn’t supposed to happen. That promise seems like a joke now.

If Louis notices, he doesn’t acknowledge it, but the way he scratches the side of his neck at a red light makes Harry guess there’s something under his skin, too, fighting to get out.

It’s dark when they pull up to the Woods’ house, and the entire street is blinking prettily with fireflies. When the car door opens they take a collective deep breath to inhale the greenery and the smell of someone’s grill and the distinct lack of animal feces. Scott and Liz are on the front porch having drinks and seem somewhat unprepared for the layer of dirt and dust on their children, and they thank Harry and Louis with a wave as they retreat back into the house.

The kids have been a distraction for them all day but Harry knows he’s probably being more obvious than he has over the last week. He's not sure what it is, exactly; maybe he thought that seven days was enough time for him to get over it, to realize that he'd scratched the Louis itch and that he didn't need to be anything more than friends with him. That night he spent in Harry's pool house would've been enough with anyone else, it would’ve been plenty, but Louis has depths that Harry can't even begin to fathom, and he just...he wants more.

“Fuck, I really need a shower,” Harry laughs, holding out his forearms to reveal the remains of the syrups that dripped there. “When I was, like, seven years old, this guy used to make homemade snow cones at the baseball field -- like, the kind where you scrape the ice, he had this huge block of ice, and it was so good, but I always wondered how his fingers didn’t get completely frozen by the end of the night, you know?”

When he turns to look at Louis, he’s giving him the look he’s gotten used to by now, the one where people aren’t sure why it takes him so long to tell stories that sort of have no point.

“Uh huh, definitely,” Louis nods and humors him with a grin as they reach the bottom of the Woods’ porch steps. “I remember that guy, actually.”

His car is parked in front of a tree that breaks up the sidewalk just a few steps away and there’s officially no good excuse for them to be standing there when each of them desperately needs to shower and Louis needs to drive home. But there’s something that’s keeping the day from feeling like it has a clear-cut ending and so Harry says he’ll walk Louis to his car.

It’s almost dark out and when Louis opens up the door of his car and leans back against it, Harry stands close, not more than two steps in front of him. Looking at Louis that close, in the post-sunset calm, it strikes him just how much he’s become an integral part of his day, as necessary as waking up and falling asleep and all the spaces in between. There are so many things that he still doesn’t know about him, but what he does know is that Louis smells like the first intake of fresh, morningtime air and that he radiates warmth and is practically blooming with life. He’s the physical embodiment of summer and Harry wants to just grab hold of him.

“So, today was good, huh?” Louis asks, cupping the top of the car door in one hand and Harry holds the very edge of it along with him, nodding his response.

“One of the best. Didn’t think Charlotte would ever want to leave.”

“Uh, just Charlotte? Obviously you didn’t see yourself with those lambs then. I thought you were going to try and sneak one in the back of the car after the guy let you feed one of them. The kids probably would have covered for you.”

Even just the look on Louis’ face makes him blush, going slightly sheepish under the attention. Louis seems to pick up on it because he smiles brighter, reaching out to hit him lightly on the chest. “Aww, did someone actually make Harry Styles blush? Hell has officially frozen over.”

Harry just laughs at that, shaking his head and reaching out to push a strand of Louis’ hair off his forehead. It’s sort of matted down with sweat and Louis scrunches up his face, slapping his hand away playfully.

“I didn’t think it was possible. Guess it just took you to do the job.” After Harry says it, Louis makes sort of an exasperated sound in his throat, rocking back on his heels like he’s suddenly a hundred times more antsy to drive off. It doesn’t come as a surprise, really, because that’s the way it’s been for them -- flirting mercilessly and skirting the surface, but when things start to seem too heavy, one of them makes the decision to break away.

They’ve probably exhausted all possible excuses by then, but Louis goes with a classic.

“Alright, I’m fucking tired. I should probably get back so that you can shower.” There’s something in his voice, a sort of reverie as he turns to go. They usually spend more time pestering each other before they say goodbye for the day.

Without even thinking, Harry catches him by the arm and when Louis turns around, he doesn’t even ask why Harry’s stopping him. Instead, he walks further out from the doorway so that he can set both hands on his chest and he leans up, standing up on his tiptoes so that he can press his lips against Harry’s.

It’s more chaste than the last time they kissed because there’s no expectation of it leading to something, which makes it even sweeter. Harry’s arms weave around Louis’ waist and he crushes his body against him, and bows his head in enough to keep it going -- just a slow, continuous brush of their lips for no other reason but that it feels so good to have each other that close.

When they pull back from it, Harry feels almost dizzy. It’s always that way when he stops kissing Louis, like he’s just stepped off a merry-go-round and he hasn’t yet found steady footing.

Maybe that's why he's been putting it off so long, he thinks. Because the idea of feeling so ridiculously floored every time they kiss seems exhausting in its consistent exhilaration, like stepping onto that merry-go-round more than once a week will almost certainly screw up Harry's balance beyond repair.

It's so fucking good, though, and he knows Louis feels it, too, can practically touch the tension radiating between them. He's been absently running his thumbs down Louis' sides and Louis has his shirt gripped up in his fists and they loosen when Harry leans in for one more, brushing their lips together before he pulls back and takes one big step, nudging Louis away and shaking his head.

"Alright, go ahead, get outta here," he murmurs, smiling through the words, mostly at himself more than anything else because it's been a while since the word smitten has popped into his head, but he can't think of anything else when Louis smiles back at him. It's not that he wants him to go, either, it's just that he knows he's not going to stay and he can't just keep kissing him in front of the house across the street from the Woods'.

Louis licks his lips and nods, flushed cheeks visible even through his tanned skin.

"Tomorrow?" he asks.

Harry clears his throat and feels his heart race just a little at the promise of more. "Yeah, for sure. Tomorrow."

He pushes the door shut for Louis, who's already rolling down the window, like he just needs one more look at him. Harry swears he hears him make something close to a strangled noise as he puts the car in drive and says something about running him over, but Harry can't hear him, not with the noise of the engine, certainly not with the way his heart's pounding in his ears.


So Harry is throwing a party, and in the week following the 4-H fair -- also known in Louis' head as the night he very nearly considered asking to be fucked against the side of his car, also known as the night that sort of…changed things, weirdly -- it's all Harry can talk about. The party, that is. Not the kiss, because there's no reason to talk about it when they can just steal a few here and there, which is a thing they do now. Apparently.

It sort of feels like they're working in reverse -- like, they haven't even come close to sex again, but there's still something satisfying about letting Harry crowd him up against the kitchen counter in the two seconds they're alone, kissing him hard enough to leave Louis slightly rumpled, and then immediately going back to normal when one of the kids comes back in to ask them to please judge their baby painting competition, which is exactly how it sounds. The paint takes an hour to wash off of Annie’s arms and cheeks.

The party, though, will be their first opportunity to be out together, sort of, except that “out” really just means “hanging out with a group of ten other people in a living room.” Harry's mom and step-dad are at the shore house for the weekend and, in what Louis teases him as being a true indicator of his young age, Harry's throwing a party.

In a shocking twist, Zayn actually comes, and they find out that Louis' friend Liam is actually also Harry's friend Liam and that Zayn sort of knows him, too, and the four of them spend the better part of the night crowded onto one very small loveseat, profusely denying any offers of the larger couch.

Harry’s on the end, his leg draped over Louis’ thigh, which is pressed up against Zayn, who’s got his body turned toward Liam, who’s wedged against the opposite arm of the sofa, listening intently as Zayn goes on about how he really wants to be an illustrator, but instead he’s stuck making PowerPoint presentations and being called a graphic designer.

Louis had sort of hoped to catch up with Zayn when he found out he was going to be there, but when Harry’s got a hand curled around the back of his neck and uses any opportunity at all to whisper something to him instead of saying it out loud for everyone to hear, Louis sort of forgets about everyone else.

At the moment, Harry is whispering something to him about how he’s got a lot of nerve looking so good in a room full of people, and Louis doesn’t think it’s whatever concoction he’s drinking from a red plastic cup that’s making him say it. Louis can’t do much apart from listening because there’s already nothing discreet about it and his cheeks are practically flaming when he notices Zayn looking at them with curiously raised brows.

“Would you look at these two?” Zayn sounds grouchy, but half of his mouth is lifted in a grin, tongue pressed between his teeth in the way that Louis knows means he’s absolutely pleased about something. He’s not surprised, really, because Zayn has been cheering him on since he first met Harry. Their last conversation had ended with a just fuck him already and shut up about it followed by a dial-tone.

“I think it’s sweet, actually.” Liam is looking fondly between the two of them, like he’s staring at a batch of puppies or something.

“You two do know we’re sitting right here?” Harry grumbles, but there’s nothing legitimately annoyed about his tone. He actually smirks, like he enjoys being mercilessly teased about how shamelessly handsy they’re being. Who is Louis kidding -- it’s Harry, so of course he’s enjoying it.

A pretty blonde that must be one of Harry’s friends from back in high-school makes her way over to the couch and gets ahold of Harry by both wrists, dragging him up and over to the middle of the floor while practically knocking the cup out of his hand in the process. Some of it sloshes over the top and onto the floor below and Harry makes a face, looking sort of reluctant when she starts dancing with him. Louis bites back a laugh -- there’s no one else dancing and it’s not really that kind of party.

Louis’ seen pictures of a couple of Harry’s exes on Facebook and she’s clearly his type -- hell, she may even be one of them for all he knows, but it’s hard to be jealous when Harry is shimmying around half-heartedly while still sipping at his drink and looking over the lip of it, straight at him.

He heaves a sigh that Zayn and Liam pick up on and it’s almost funny, the way they both lean forward at the same time to glance over at him to judge his reaction. He levels them with a look that makes them sit back up straight against the loveseat, fighting to keep straight faces.

It’s funny, because everyone, literally, everyone wants Harry’s attention because he just has that sort of personality, magnetic and charming enough to make whoever has his focus feel like the only person in the universe. To be the one he’s staring at from across the room makes Louis feel indescribably good and dizzy with how badly he wants to take advantage of it.

By the time Harry makes his way back to him, the liquor cabinet has been sufficiently raided and it’s hard to feel anything other than warm and just really, really good when he wraps his arms around him from behind. “Hiiii,” he drawls, “I’m back.”

There’s kind of a slurred, sing-song quality to Harry’s voice and he must be more wasted than he looks because he turns Louis around in his arms, draping both over his shoulders and kissing him once.

“Hi,” Louis grins, taking his hand. “Come on.”

They end up pressed against the wall near the staircase while everyone carries on around them and Harry points upward, grinning lopsidedly at Louis and tugging him along without another word.

“This way,” he murmurs once they finally reach the top, breathless and loose-limbed and hot. Harry loops their fingers together and pushes open a door in the dark hallway. The lights are off but there’s a streetlight right outside of his window that casts a blue glow around the room, and it’s bright enough for Louis to take it in -- a twin sized bed, a bookshelf, a shitty 13-inch tv. It’s clear that all of his nicest things made it out to California with him, so the room’s a little empty, but lived-in, and Louis’ little survey of it ends abruptly as Harry uses his body to shut the door and holds his hand around the back of his neck. They kiss like they’ve been dying to do all night, and Louis barely has a chance to breathe once they’ve started, can only really focus on getting his hands all over Harry.

“I’m fucking drunk,” Louis slurs.

Harry laughs and nods against him. “Feel good, though.”

They back up and fall onto Harry’s bed so hard that it would hurt if he was sober, but the accidental elbow to his chest just makes Louis laugh. He climbs over Harry’s thighs and leans over him, his hands pressing into the mattress on either side of his head. Harry rakes his hands up Louis’ shirt with a sense of purpose, his fingers so sure that there’s no way he hasn’t been planning exactly how he wants to touch him. The streetlight is beaming through the window and just over Harry’s face, and he is beautiful.

“Your eyes are so green,” Louis points out, reaching down to brush his thumb across one of Harry’s eyebrows. He must be drunk if he’s making really obvious, half-assed compliments, but Harry grins, his smile lazy and crooked and more than a little pleased.

“Did you just figure that out?”

Louis huffs. “No.” He squeezes Harry’s cheek, hard, and Harry uses his big hands to his advantage, tugging him down with not much effort until their lips collide again and Louis’ drunken observations are cut short, which is probably for the best.

The bed is so small and Louis doesn’t know if there’s an end point for this, and he’s not thinking at all about the twenty people still downstairs, and he’s not thinking about anything other than Harry’s mixed-drink lips and the faded smell of cologne and the way he’s got his arm curled around the back of Louis’ neck as they kiss, keeping him close and rocking them together with no rhythm, just an almost frantic desperation for anything at all. Louis doesn’t realize until then just how much he’s been wanting and wanting and wanting him all week, and Harry’s making needy little whines each time Louis nips his bottom lip, and he knows he must feel the same.

But they really are so fucking drunk, and it’s messy, and Louis is dizzy. The bed is definitely spinning, and he’s just about to pull back to sit up on his heels when there’s a horrible sound from downstairs--

A thud, and then a crash, and then a chorus of oooooooooohs. Harry’s entire body stiffens and he holds tight onto Louis’ biceps, eyes wide when he looks up at him.

“Shit, shit, shit,” he whispers, pressing one last kiss to Louis’ lips before getting to his feet. Louis can see the hard outline of his cock through his jeans and emits a sound somewhere between a laugh and a groan as Harry tries to palm it down, like it might help.

“What the fuck was that?” Louis clambers off the bed, and they nearly tumble down the stairs in their haste.

They stop at the bottom, because Liam’s slipped and fell right on the landing, his beer bottle in a million pieces on the floor, which explains the thud and the crash. There’s a circle of people around him, all laughing and trying not to. Zayn’s already got a broom and a dust pan in hand, shooing the cat out of the way and being the most helpful person in the room and, judging by the way he’s looking at Liam, the only one concerned for his well-being.

It takes a minute to clean up everything, and Louis hangs back while Harry tries his best to be coordinated and make sure everyone’s okay despite how flustered and drunk he is. By the time it’s all sorted, the party breaks up and everyone heads out besides Zayn and Liam, who’s got a softball sized bruise on his lower back. While finding him a bag of frozen corn to put on it, Louis decides to prepare the bag of tater tots he finds in the freezer, and they eat them in the middle of the living room floor, right off the pan, watching reruns of Fresh Prince and laughing hard.

And it’s good. It feels really, really good.

Louis has every intention of insisting he and Harry go back upstairs to finish what they started, but after they finish eating they climb onto the couch and Harry’s lying behind Louis and Louis is using his bicep as a pillow and it’s so fucking nice that he can’t imagine moving. Zayn and Liam have passed out sitting up straight on the love seat, already snoring.

“You okay?” Harry murmurs against Louis’ ear, and squeezes his waist beneath his t-shirt.

“Mm. Comfy.” Louis turns to look at him, rolling his body so that Harry’s got both arms around him and they’re close enough for their lips to brush together when they speak. “We should get Zayn and Liam to go to the shore next weekend.”

They’ve been talking about it for a couple of days; gathering some people to take advantage of Harry’s beach house and making a weekend of it. Harry hums some sort of affirmative and then kisses Louis, slow, reverent.

He’s not sure how long it goes on or when they finally decide to give in to sleep, but he knows it feels different. The last time he slept with Harry there were inches between them, but they couldn’t be closer now, sharing breath and holding tight, pressing kisses to foreheads and cheekbones and nuzzling against each others’ necks and collarbones, and the worst part is that Louis loves it.


It’s just before five o’clock on Friday evening when Harry starts to pile his overnight bag into the trunk of the Jag, leaving it open because Louis is set to meet him in his driveway at any minute. He’s already gassed up the tank and stuffed a cooler full of snacks in the backseat and he can’t help his excitement at heading back to the shore house already. It’s not just the lure of being at the beach again, lying in the sand and letting the sun beat down on him, but the thought of being alone with Louis for the entire weekend, away from all the mechanisms of day to day. Even just the idea of it feels freeing, like they have all the time in the world for once, even though Harry knows that’s far from the truth. They still only have a small allotment of it, just like they have from the very beginning.

The brilliant plan of going as a group fell apart before it had even been set into motion because Harry... well, he was supposed to ask Liam, but the second he heard from Louis that Zayn probably wouldn’t be able to make it, the prospect of it being just the two of them for a few days was too much to pass up.

Trying to make sense of everything happening between them feels like an impossible feat because despite how easy it is for them to communicate about literally everything else, neither of them has ever questioned out loud what they are to each other or where they’re headed. It just doesn’t seem pressing when everything about them is so easy and simple.  Thinking too hard about it or demanding explanations feels hazardous, like it might mess up the dynamic they’ve cultivated.

Louis shows up a few minutes before the time they’ve agreed on and Harry doesn’t even think twice about circling his arms around his waist, dragging him up on his tiptoes to catch his lips, humming against them and actually having to fight not to vocalize the fact that he’s missed it. He kissed him just this morning when Louis stopped over to bring him a thermos full of iced tea after his run, but Harry was so busy with errands before the trip that he hadn’t made it over to the Woods’ in the afternoon the way he usually does...and even going that amount of time without seeing him apparently makes a difference in his day and Harry almost can’t fathom that.

They finish packing up the car and get on the road, leaving the top down so they can enjoy miles and miles of blue sky and try to stay cool while getting down closer to the water. When Harry steals a glance to his right, he can see Louis’ t-shirt sticking to his chest even with the air conditioner on full blast and he has his arm out the window, making waves with his hand as they go.

The Jag only has a cassette player so Harry spent three hours the night before individually transferring songs from CDs onto a cassette, making them a mixtape for the road. He sings along and Louis joins him on a few songs that he already knows from the constant stream of music Harry’s always sending him.

The drive’s not more than an hour, and Harry’s done it so many times he’s on autopilot as he takes the last few turns toward the house. They’ve had it since he was a child, and he feels like he needs to explain to Louis that real estate was cheaper then, because he can see on his face that he’s more than a little impressed. It’s in the southern part of the town, several blocks from the noisy boardwalk. The backyard is the ocean, and when they walk out onto the back deck, he watches Louis’ face instead of the waves.

“Fuck yeah, this is awesome,” Louis says, grinning when he looks back at him, and Harry’s not expecting it when he leans in to kiss him, intense and quick. “Let’s go get dinner.”

Point Pleasant’s food option is standard shore fare: bars that serve food, seafood restaurants with bars in them, pizza joints, and an expensive steakhouse no one really goes to. Louis’ in the mood for burgers so they settle on a pub that’s too early for the drinking crowd but is bustling with mostly couples eating in wooden booths and loud classic rock playing over a tinny stereo. The sign at the door says Seat Yourself, so they do, choosing the only table left, which is a high-top near the bar.

As they open the enormous laminated menus, it occurs to Harry that it’s the first time they’ve been out together without the kids, and he wasn’t sure if he’d expected it to feel weird or uncomfortable but seeing Louis sitting across from him makes Harry feel almost proud, or something. He just -- he really likes Louis, even as just a friend, he thinks he’s fucking funny and goofy and kind and he makes him smile a lot and why wouldn’t he want to be associated with someone like that? Louis pulls a face at him from over the top of the menu and Harry smiles so wide his cheeks hurt even though it was...barely funny, by anyone else’s standards.

“Dare you to order one of these ridiculous drinks,” he says, pointing down to the menu. The cocktails have names like Sex on Point Pleasant Beach and Sexy, Dark, and Stormy, and Harry laughs as their server walks over.

“Drinks?” she asks, pulling a pen from behind her ear and offering no eye contact let alone a smile.

Louis clears his throat. “Can I get the, uh, Sexy, Dark, and Stormy?” he pauses for what Harry assumes is dramatic effect. “And I’m going to ask you to make that extra sexy, if you don’t mind.”

The server doesn’t even blink, and Harry is chewing so hard on his bottom lip to keep from laughing that it actually starts to hurt. She turns her attention to him, eyebrow raised expectantly.

“I’ll take a Breezy Bikini, please.” He smiles his sweetest smile at her and she walks away with a truly impressive eye roll that has them both in stitches.

The cocktails look even worse than they sound, but the burgers are delicious, big and messy and almost difficult to bite into. Louis has his ankles hooked around Harry’s under the table and they stay like that while they munch on their fries and order another round of sexys and bikinis, as they’ve started calling them.

“So we’ll do the beach all day tomorrow,” Harry says, slurping down a sip of his wildly fruity cocktail.

“And then you’re cooking me dinner, you said,” Louis reminds him.

“Whatever you want.”


“Yeah, tacos.”

Louis seems pleased, like he’d expected more resistance, and smiles around his straw when he takes another sip. Harry thinks he must be doing it on purpose when he keeps it between his teeth, looking straight at him even when Harry’s eyes have to be on the verge of crossing just from the sight of it.

It’s almost amazing, really, that neither of them have so much as made an attempt to take things beyond making out against every available surface since that night in the pool house. It’s not for a lack of working each other up, because they do to the point where their teasing is almost merciless, but they also really haven’t had the opportunity.

“This is my favorite place in the world,” Harry says, if just to break himself out of the lust haze that he’s been stuck in since life had been cruel enough to combine Louis’ lips and ridiculous neon pink straw.

“What, the...” Louis leans out of his chair enough so that can read the sign near the door, craning his neck far enough over that he almost falls out off his seat in the process. “The, ahem, Captain’s Shack?”

Harry just shakes his head, grinning as he rakes his own straw through the remainder of his drink. “No, smartass, I mean Point Pleasant. Like, nowhere compares to here. That might just be because of all the memories I have, though, cause they go back as far as I can remember. When I was a kid, I always used to imagine what it would be like to live here full-time, but I think it would have been completely different. Not as special, you know?”

Louis nods in understanding, looking around the pub, trying his hardest to take it all in. He has to be keenly aware that they’re in the process of making a memory of their own in Harry’s favorite place -- one that they’ll both think back to years later, no matter what happens between them.

“It’s always that way, I think. Would anyone give a shit about Disney World if they lived smack dab in the middle of the park? It’s kind of a bad analogy because I actually fucking hate Disney World, but you know what I mean. Some places you have to take in small doses because it keeps their magic intact.”

What? You hate Disneyworld? What is wrong with you?”

“Here I give you my amazing pearl of wisdom and all I get back is you judging me for not enjoying the land of five dollar sodas and three hour lines. Where dreams come true, my ass, Harold.”

“Your ass is where dreams come true?”

Having just sucked down a long drink, Louis sputters, going red even though Harry’s only sign of wavering is the way his lips quirk up at the corners as he tries to fend off a grin.

“You’re awful. On that note, I’m going to the bathroom. Don’t steal my fries.” Louis pats him on the shoulder as he passes him and Harry can’t help but to turn back, watching behind him as Louis’ body disappears into the crowd of people that have congregated closer to the bar. There’s something on television that they’re all watching raptly -- probably a game, because every so often the volume of the pub seems to swell.

The waitress comes back around in the meantime and asks if they want a third round of drinks, and Harry shakes his head, because three sexys and bikinis might have them both on the floor. He orders them two beers instead and, yes, steals some of Louis’ fries since he’s already plowed through his own.

Their beers come and it seems like it’s been a strangely long time since Louis left the table, so Harry shifts around in his seat to be able to look and see if he had been intercepted by someone on the way back. He’s almost expecting to have to go and rescue him, to give him an out, but when his eyes finally land on him that ends up being far from his first instinct. Something about his body language reads that he doesn’t really want to be saved, anyway.

Louis is standing with his hip pressed up against the bar and Harry can see the side profile of the guy standing with him and even without the details, he can tell that he’s good looking. He’s tall and broad with dark hair and apparently he’s funny, too, because whatever he just said is making Louis laugh.

The conversation doesn’t last long and Harry tries to keep himself from openly staring, but he catches the end of it and the guy taking Louis’ phone from him, entering his number before handing it back over with a smirk. It’s hard to decipher what exactly Louis is thinking because his face is relatively neutral, but there’s still the hint of a smile on his lips and it’s enough to make Harry see red.

It’s absolutely unreasonable for him to be reacting the way he is, he knows. All of their cautious skirting of things like what they are has been even more his doing than Louis’ and yet it takes significant effort on his part not to start up with questions the second Louis sits back down in front of him.

“Sorry that took so long, babe.” Typically the term of endearment would delight Harry, but for some reason it just makes him feel betrayed. There’s an emptiness in having someone be so easily sweet when you’ve just been reminded that you have no claim over them.

Harry’s always been under the impression that it’s a good thing not to tie himself too tight to anything. He’s spent years cutting knots loose and it’s utterly terrifying, the way his perspective is able to change in five seconds flat. Now all he wants is to get out of the pub, to crowd Louis up against the cold brick of the building once they’re outside and to kiss him until he forgets whatever it was the guy said to make him laugh. Maybe until he forgets everyone who made him laugh before him.

“It’s fine. You were distracted.”

Louis is reaching for his beer and the only crack in his demeanor shows in his furrowed brow when he flicks his eyes up to Harry’s. “Oh yeah. That guy.”

The back of Harry’s neck feels hot, and he’s agitated and frustrated at himself almost more than he is at Louis for not giving him even the slightest explanation. He can’t think of anything to say, and Louis seems to pick up on it, even if his face still reads innocence.

“He has a jetski,” he says, and then looks down at his plate. “Hey, thanks for stealing my fries, dick.”

“A jetski?” Harry almost can’t believe what a fucking douche this guy must be if that’s his pick-up line.

“Uh, yeah. He was telling me I could use it if I wanted. Sounds pretty sick, actually.”

Harry snorts and curls his hand around his pint, wrinkling his nose in disgust. The thought of Louis on the back of that guy’s jetski is almost comical and also incredibly irritating. He takes a breath and tries to keep his voice steady and not accusatory because he’s got no reason to sound anything other than curious, even if he feels the exact opposite.

“So that’s why you took his number, then.”

“Eh,” Louis starts, noncommittal, like he’s already starting to forget about the guy that’s making Harry’s head spin. “Just wanted to be polite.”

The most aggravating bit is that Louis...he genuinely does think taking the guy’s number was the polite thing to do. Harry laughs, then picks up his beer and downs the last half of it in three gulps, resulting in a stunned look from Louis.

“Louis, be honest,” he says, leaning forward on his elbows. Already he can feel the effects of the beer creeping up on him, drawing out his words until they’re deliberate and slow. “Are you upset that I don’t have my very own personal watercraft?”

Louis folds his arms over his chest, eying up Harry in a way that makes him want to climb across the table and kiss that fucking smirk off of his lips.

“You’re a dumbass,” is all he says, then reaches for his drink and hops to his feet. “Let’s get you another beer.”

They wander over toward the bar and Harry’s already mapped out exactly where Jetski Man is standing -- somewhere at the opposite end, and Louis isn’t even looking at him but Harry is, staring him down in a way that has to be off-putting considering he is a complete stranger, but he doesn’t care at all.

Louis has his elbows pressed into the bar and he’s on his tiptoes, trying to get the bartender’s attention. His shirt’s bunched up in the front and wrapped so tight around him that Harry can practically see the notches in his spine. He can’t resist it; he stands behind him and places a hand on Louis’ hip as though to steady him, and feels Louis back up against his chest after he places his order for two more beers.

The swarm of people around them is so thick that Harry can’t just step back even if he wants to, so he takes advantage of their close proximity. His hand slips from Louis’ hip and under his t-shirt, long fingers splaying out over his belly as he dips his face in to set a line of kisses down the back of his neck. Louis hums into it, putting more of his weight back against him and Harry can’t help but to notice that they still have a set of eyes on them.

The guy has to be jealous, Harry thinks, because he gets to have his hands and his lips all over Louis and who wouldn’t envy that? He sees all the same things in Louis -- even more of them than a stranger can because he doesn’t just get to witness firsthand how absolutely gorgeous he is, he also gets his quirks and nuances and all the other little details that he couldn’t explain to someone if he tried. It hasn’t been more than a month, and he knows him.

He knows his top five everything, what the house he was raised in looked like, how fast he had to grow up to help with his sisters, how cheerful he looks carrying in cups of coffee and pastries in the mornings, and the more intricate things, too. He listens raptly to every single word Louis says to him, even when Louis probably thinks they’re all just throwaway facts that Harry will just as soon forget.

“Get the feeling we’re putting on a show,” Louis comments, nodding his thanks at the waitress when she sets their drinks down on the bar-top in front of him. He turns around in Harry’s arms, staring up at him.

“Maybe we are.”

“At least do it right then.” There a tinge of annoyance in Louis’ voice and he doesn’t so much as waver his eyes from Harry’s, and that’s what makes him break.

His body curves into Louis without another thought and he snakes his hand around the back of his neck, holding him there as their lips meet. It’s rough and intense from the onset, both parting their lips to try and get more of each other, like they’re wringing everything that they can out of the kiss even though there are people on all sides of them.

“Do you even fucking know what you do to me?” Harry’s voice is close to a growl, sounding out against Louis’ lips and he’s nearly trembling from how worked up he is. He feels selfish and greedy, and Louis is either legitimately oblivious or just playing that card. He thinks it’s the former and he finds it so endearing that it actually pisses him off more -- that in the height of him throwing a possessive fit, he still finds everything about Louis so frustratingly perfect.

“Don’t tell me... not right now, I can’t...” Louis shudders as Harry bites into his bottom lip and grips at his chest, like he might manage to get his nails all the way through the fabric to be able to dig into him. Harry can just barely feel the drag of his nails and his eyes almost roll back, pushing his body tighter against Louis’ until he’s pinned up against the counter of the bar.

Louis pulls back first, breathless and flushed and Harry’s lips feel raw from their kiss, so tender that he can’t stop himself from reaching up to touch. He watches Louis’ chest heaving as he grabs both of their pints and walks past him, stalking back to their table without another word.

They end up spending about another hour in the pub and Jetski Man stays, too, stealing looks in their direction so often that it’s a surprise when he doesn’t actually come over to their table to try and interrupt them, or maybe to try and join them. The funny thing is that they’re not even really talking. Harry can count on one hand the number of words that Louis says in the last hour and it’s just to tell him he’s ready to go.

Once they’re out on the sidewalk, Louis shakes his head, walking faster than him but there’s still not much vitriol in his voice when he speaks. “Can’t believe you got so fucking jealous over nothing.”

“Nothing? You were flirting with that guy right in front of my face while you were out with me.” Harry follows behind him, taking big steps to keep up and Louis stops abruptly, spinning around to look him square in the eyes.

“I was not flirting! And how was I supposed to know that we were out, out.”

Harry throws his arms out to the side, exasperated and fully prepared to defend himself despite knowing he doesn’t have much of an excuse for acting the way he did. “I don’t know, because we were sitting together? Because you came here with me? Because you’re staying with me?”

Louis just rolls his eyes and starts walking again, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans. Annoying. He’s being so annoying.

“Are you really this oblivious?” Harry asks, walking a bit faster until they’re side by side. He’s a little drunk, and he’s by no means an angry drunk, but it’s making him more desperate for an explanation.

“I was oblivious to the fact that you’d make a huge fucking deal out of it,” Louis says, turning to look at him after they round the corner. He’s about to keep walking but Harry grabs his arm and jerks his head toward the left -- they’re in front of the house, and Louis lets out a small oh, and follows Harry up to the front porch.

“I didn’t make --” Harry sorts through his key ring with fingers that feel as though they’re moving in slow motion, and he figures he’s probably a little drunker than he feels, if that’s any indication. “It’s not like I went over and tried to start a fight with him, or anything, I just...”

He gets the door unlocked and it’s hardly even shut before they’re inside and Louis is knocking the keys from his hand and cutting him off with a kiss. Harry folds into it immediately, circling a hand around the back of Louis’ neck while they stumble blindly in the direction of the couch. He can’t even protest when he’s being maneuvered like that, like Louis has just been waiting to get him alone before he could get him to shut the fuck up in the most efficient way possible.

For a few minutes they’re a mess, all grabbing hands and wet kisses as that have them panting against each others’ lips. Louis is folded into the corner of the couch, his t-shirt wrinkled and rucked up halfway to his chest. He can’t seem to decide whether he wants to be further or closer away from Harry, because his hands alternate shoving and pulling him nearer, but he’s got his legs wrapped around Harry’s calves, and they’re stuck, they can barely even move.  Harry just wants and wants and wants Louis, everything about him, his cocky little mouth and the look he saw on his face when Mr. Jetski made him laugh.

“You could’ve just asked,” Harry says, the words a hot whisper against Louis’ lips.

Louis’ teeth are latched onto the skin just under Harry’s jaw like he’s trying to prove a point, though Harry’s not entirely sure what that might be.

“What?” he asks, a delayed reaction that makes it clear he wasn’t listening.

Harry combs his fingers back through Louis’ hair, moving it away from his face so he can look down at him. He doesn’t speak until he looks back, and he nearly laughs at Louis’ comically petulant expression, like he’d rather not know what if Harry’s going to make him guess.

“If I’d get jealous,” Harry says. He lowers his lips until they’re nearly touching Louis’ when he speaks again.

“That’s not the sort of thing that you just ask someone, Harry,” Louis scoffs, balling his fists up in Harry’s shirt and clinging to him in frustration while Harry’s hands move down from his hair and to cup along the line of his jaw, fingers walking inward along his cheekbones. “God, what reason would you ever have to be jealous, anyway?”

The way he says it doesn’t imply that there’s no one who could compete with him, and if Harry were any less drunk, he would probably get hung up on just how much he’s not prepared for that in any capacity.

“Cause it’s you. You make me so fucking crazy.”

It’s intense, more of a bold statement than Harry’s usually willing to give, and Louis’ grip on him stutters and he goes slack against the arm of the couch. He pulls Harry down further over him, desperate, like he wants to be pinned down by the weight.

Harry understands because he feels like nothing is close enough, like he might crawl inside Louis if he could and fill up all the empty spaces where he feels like he should be. He wants to sink inside and leave traces of himself, mark deeper than his flesh because even just looking at Louis sets off unfamiliar sparks of mineminemine. They don’t seem to fade out, only blazing brighter and losing control;  Louis really, really makes him feel like he’s losing control.

“I’m ready for you to tell me now.”

Harry’s brows furrow in confusion, moving his hand down to hold the side of his neck, getting him to dip his head back even further so that their eyes are set square on one another. “Tell you what?”

“At the bar. Tell me what I do to you.”

Louis swallows hard, his Adam’s apple moving in his throat and Harry stares too hard at him, because he’s just become really fucking scared.

It’s a cop-out, he knows, but he’s always been better at showing than telling and so he distracts Louis with another kiss, this time not letting up while they get out of their shirts and take turns opening up each other’s jeans. Harry gets his hand around Louis’ cock first and there isn’t much room, with his boxer briefs just tucked down his hips, but he curves his fingers up and teases him, brushing the tips of them along the crown and easing the pad of his thumb over the head until he’s leaking.

He’s not expecting it when Louis grabs hold of his wrist and Harry steals a glance down between their bodies, at Louis’ thin fingers hooked around him, stilling his hand then looking up at him. Harry doesn’t even have to have his eyes on him to know that he’s staring through him, trying to turn him inside out.

“No, Harry. I want you to say it.” His voice is whisper soft and Harry almost panics, feeling his neck go hot because there’s suddenly so much pressure on him and he doesn’t know what to say that he actually feels prepared to admit to himself, let alone Louis.

It must be taking him too long to come out with anything and Harry knows Louis must be frustrated, that he’ll probably push him off because Harry can’t even deliver on something that he first brought up himself.

Instead, though, Louis just lets go of his hand, murmurs something like just do it and they get each other off like that, fisting each other’s cocks right there on the couch until they’re breathing so hard it’s like the first gulps of air after being underwater. Harry’s lost on the details -- doesn’t know who comes first or who initiates the kiss when it’s over, just the sense of release that comes after. And the fact that it isn’t even half of the release they still need.

They don’t say much, after. The tension has more or less dissipated but there’s still something, that drunken neediness so familiar to Harry, the inability to just let anything go even though he knows it’ll be fixed by a good night’s sleep and a cup of coffee in the morning. He presses a kiss to the center of Louis’ forehead and excuses himself to the bathroom, where he splashes cold water on his face and cleans himself up. He’s too drunk for self-reflection and he flicks off the light before he can even catch a glimpse of the mirror on his way out.

When he opens the door, Louis’ clothes are in a pile on the wood floor of the hallway, a pair of black Vans toed off by the entrance to the master bedroom. Harry walks in and he wishes he was a photographer, or something, or that he had any way to accurately capture Louis’ tan skin against the white sheets, tangled up between his legs like he couldn’t decide if he wanted to be under or over them. There’s a pillow under his head and he’s clutching one in his arms, too, which is...Harry can’t comprehend why that’s so endearing.

He undresses himself at the edge of the bed and in the dark it looks like Louis is already asleep, but he can’t tell, not until he climbs in and Louis throws away the pillow he’s holding and reaches for Harry, instead. He reaches back, pulling him close with one arm under his neck and the other circling around his side. For a second he thinks Louis might roll over so they can slot together, back to chest, but he stays that way, just presses his forehead against Harry’s sternum until they doze off.



Louis squints, then blinks. “Hmm?”

There’s a hand around his ankle, tugging him down the bed and away from his warm pillow and away from all that is good and right in the world, and he opens his eyes to see Harry standing in his tiny black boxer briefs at the foot of the bed, holding Louis’ ankle in one hand, shaking it around, puffy-eyed and grinning.

“Fuck off, you’re annoying,” Louis mumbles, wrenching his foot away from Harry’s grasp. He tries to crawl back up toward the pillow again but he sort of gets the feeling that Harry’s been trying to get him out of bed for a while, because he lunges forward and grabs each of Louis’ thighs in his hands, pulling him back before he can make it another inch.

“Come on, I made coffee,” Harry says, pleading now in a voice so raspy that Louis knows he can’t have been awake for longer than five minutes.

“Liar,” Louis says, rolling over to look at him.

“Well, I’m about to. Come on, get up. It’s already ten.”

It’s when Louis sits upright that he feels it, the pounding in his forehead that makes climbing out of bed seem like the greatest obstacle of his life. He only feels capable of opening one eye as he stumbles after Harry, and Harry doesn’t even say anything, just thrusts his hand behind his back for Louis to take. They loop their fingers together and Harry leads him through the house with only minor protest on Louis’ end.

The kitchen is flooded with light and even though he wants to curse it for being so bright in the face of his fruity drink hangover, Louis can still admit that it is beautiful, almost luxurious. He sits himself down directly in the path of a sunbeam at the kitchen island, straddling a bench and then yawning into the crook of his arm.

Harry is on his tiptoes, the length of his back somehow made even longer when he reaches up for the bag of coffee in the top shelf of the cabinet. There’s a scratch on his back and Louis doesn’t remember doing it, but he knows it was his doing when he recalls random details of their short tryst on the couch after coming home from from the bar.

It’s difficult to think about the night before without flushing; their sort-of argument, Harry’s surprising jealousy, Louis’ somewhat fucked-up desire to see him like that. He’s had jealous guys before, boyfriends or flings or otherwise, but he’s always rolled his eyes at them, and it’s not like the way Harry acted was at all justified, or anything, but he can tell there’s something different about it. That if things were even just a little more transparent between them, he wouldn’t have been quite so riled up by Louis talking to that guy.

Harry turns around and from his smile alone, Louis can tell he’s not going over the details of the night before the way that he is. It’s almost a shock, because Harry was so quick to react and Louis didn’t expect that to just dissipate overnight. He seems perfectly content, though, getting the coffee started and setting out two cups on the counter while it begins to brew.

“Do you want some toast? Eggs, maybe?”

Harry gets to work without really waiting for a response, making quick work of scrambled eggs and heavily buttered toast as Louis pours two mugs of coffee.

They move over to the little nook by the window so they can intermittently look out at the water and they pass a newspaper back and forth, stopping every so often to read little bits out loud to one another. It’s so, so comfortable, and the strangest mix of different and familiar. Like, every morning he spends by himself at his own apartment is fine, and it’s his home, so he likes it -- but it doesn’t feel half as lived-in and cozy as it does sitting with Harry, which makes no sense at all because he’s never even been there before.

“Ready to hit the beach?” Harry asks, reaching across the table to flick a crumb off of Louis’ collarbone. He traces his finger there for a second and Louis shivers, watching as Harry’s eyes go intense for a second before he pulls away.

“Yeah, just gotta go get my Speedo,” he grins, waggling his eyebrows at Harry before he jogs off toward the bedroom.

“You do not have a Speedo,” Harry calls after him, but his voice sounds doubtful, and Louis cackles as he shuts the door behind him. After he brushes his teeth, he changes into a pair of blue trunks, and Harry barges in just as he’s pulling them up over his ass. He quite literally lunges forward to smack him there and raises his arms in triumph after he makes contact and then sprints away, only just dodging Louis’ attempt to get him back.

Breakfast and coffee seems to be the cure for any leftover weirdness from last night, because Louis doesn’t feel it at all, anymore. There’s just a mutual sense of contentedness that’s so fucking nice that he almost doesn’t realize how calm he feels until they’re just about ready to head out.

The moment should be unremarkable, but it’s somehow not: Harry’s got a blanket tucked under one arm and two towels under the other, and Louis is carrying a small cooler with a whole mess of fruit in it, per Harry’s request. He shuts the sliding door behind them and, before Louis can make it further than a step toward the stairs of the deck, Harry says his name.

“Yeah?” Louis turns to look at Harry, who’s wearing nothing but his ridiculous pink trunks and a pair of Clubmasters.

“C’mere,” he says.

Louis does, and instead of asking why, he gets onto his tip toes and kisses him, warm and lingering just long enough to make his heart race. Harry smiles when he pulls away.

“Was all I wanted.” He shrugs and taps Louis on the hip. “Let’s go.”

Louis has never stayed at a beach house that it quite literally on the beach, but he thinks he could get used to it. He follows Harry through the hot, dry sand and once they’re close enough to the waves, the breeze is cool and delicious and sticky when it sprays water at their bodies. Harry throws down a nubby old blanket and chucks their towels on top of them and then runs, literally sprints into the ocean, arms flung out to the sides as a guttural scream comes from deep in his chest. Louis places down the cooler and runs after him, chasing after that same burst of energy Harry left trailing behind him.

They swim out past the breaking point to where the waves are just big, soft swells, sending their bodies bobbing up every time one passes them by. Harry can float perfectly on his back, toes sticking up from the water, the picture of serenity as he takes deep breaths with his belly up to the clouds. Louis loves watching him like that, drags him around by the ankles and pretends he’s going to drown him whenever a wave comes.

He tries to float, too, at Harry’s suggestion, but he fails every time, and they come to the reasonable conclusion that Louis’ ass is just too buoyant to stay underwater.

It’s been months since Louis has used a day off to do something other than just catch up on sleep, and it’s so good to just float out there until their fingers go pruny, sun reflecting off the water and giving them each a matching pink flush across their cheeks. He loses track of time and only thinks about going in when Harry pops out from under the water just behind him and hooks his forearm across Louis’ collarbone.

“Think those grapes are calling my name,” he says, pressing a wet kiss against Louis’ cheek.

They let the waves wash them back ashore and come trudging out of the ocean, heavy-limbed and chilly once the wind hits their skin. Harry’s covered in goosebumps and shivering as he tugs his soaked swim trunks away from his thighs, looking like the gawky modern version of a Baywatch guard.

“Heads up, Hasselhoff,” Louis calls out, tossing a towel at him. He drapes his own around his neck and shakes his entire body, flinging droplets of salt water from himself like a dog.

He watches Harry use the towel to dab at his chest and along his arms before draping it around his shoulders in the same fashion and Harry catches him, raising a curious eyebrow in his direction. “See something you like?”

“It’s a nice towel. It’s very...fluffy.” Louis plays it off and Harry laughs, slinging an arm around Louis’ waist and leading him along. It feels good, having Harry’s warm body cradled up against his and Louis hums contentedly, wrapping one of his own arms around Harry’s hip and holding onto him.

Harry detaches himself first once they’re in front of the blanket, and stretches out immediately, lying flat on his back and letting the sun pound down against his skin. The drops of water drying slowly on his chest leave him practically glistening.

There haven’t been many moments where Louis felt like he could fully take in all the details of him, to look long and hard without backing down, but everything that’s been happening between them has made it seem a bit safer. There’s a sort of entitlement that comes with having someone constantly want to kiss you and be in your presence and get jealous over you, he thinks. It makes him feel more assured and freer around Harry because he knows it’s not even just welcome, but actually wanted.

He traces his eyes down Harry’s long limbs and the subtle definition of his abdomen and the array of tattoos that litter his body. He already has so many for someone his age and Louis hasn’t asked the meaning of any of them nor does he intend to, but he hopes he’ll find out someday -- that Harry will offer that information over willingly amidst one of his stories.

Pushing his sunglasses down his nose, Harry meets Louis’ eyes and lolls his head to the side, stretching one arm out invitingly until Louis gets the hint and lies down next to him. He rests his head down against Harry’s chest, his shoulders pinning his arm down against the towel, but Harry doesn’t seem to mind. He just circles it tighter around Louis and traces patterns over his bicep with the tips of his fingers. Louis thinks he can feel him spelling out words even, little strings of things that are hard to decipher, but he smiles at all the H’s and L’s that he can clearly make out.

“There’s Santa Claus riding a skateboard.”

Louis tilts his face up enough to give Harry a funny look, muffling a laugh against his collarbone because he has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. That’s... not unusual when it comes to listening to Harry, but he humors him anyway. “What are you even talking about?”

A smile tugs at Harry’s lips and he pats at Louis’ arm before pointing upward with the other hand until Louis takes the hint and rests his head back enough to follow Harry’s line of vision. “The clouds. Doesn’t that look like it?”

“No way. It looks more like an old lady in a rocking chair. Think you need to get your eyes checked,” Louis teases, reaching over Harry and into the cooler for the bag of grapes set on top. Harry intercepts them halfway and shifts out from under Louis to sit up, crossing his legs and prodding at Louis until he does the same.

“Let me see if I can make one in your mouth,” Harry grins, fishing a grape out of the bag and holding it up like he’s lining it up to aim.

“Bring it.” Louis opens wide in anticipation and a second later a grape bounces off of his cheek and lands onto the sand beside their blanket. Louis snickers at Harry’s failure and and faces him again, getting ready for another shot. “C’mon, second time’s a charm.”

Harry aims and it lands on Louis’ tongue this time, and they go in for a high five at the exact same moment, laughing because it’s so instinctual and not the first time they’ve done it, either. He chews around a grin and leans over to dig into the bag for more, cradling a bunch of grapes in his palm.

He notices Harry looking over his shoulder, and he cranes his neck to follow his gaze. There’s guy running along the water, so beefy and fake-tanned it’s actually comical. Louis snorts and turns back to Harry, popping another grape into his mouth.

“Just watching my dream man go for a run,” Harry grins.

Louis raises his eyebrows and jerks his thumb toward the guy. “I was just gonna go hit on him, actually. Do you think he has a jetski?”

His straight face lasts all of three seconds before he bursts into a cackle and Harry throws an entire bunch of grapes at him, laughing despite the fact that he’s blushing, clearly a little bashful about the way he acted the night before.

“Didn’t expect me to go there, did you?”

“Fuck you, Louis,” Harry laughs, covering his eyes with his hand. Louis reaches out and brushes his hand away to see him properly, and when Harry looks at him again there’s an honesty in his gaze that’s actually the opposite of ashamed -- it’s like he’s just admitting something, owning up to the way he acted the night before. “And fuck Jetski, too.”

Louis laughs again and reaches out to press his thumb into Harry’s dimple, forcing him to look back at him. “Awww, Harry. You like me.”

He does this thing when he’s happy being touched, Louis has noticed, where he slow-blinks and presses his lips together in one of a million different smiles he has for every single mood, and he’s doing it now.

“I dooo,” he whines, brushing Louis’ hand out of the way and looping their fingers together instead. “Quit teasing me about it.”

Louis didn’t expect him to agree so readily and he searches his expression, trying to decipher whether or not he’s completely serious. It seems a little too easy, that he could quiet Louis’ fears and thrill him in the same breath, but he’s staring back at him steadily, an expression Louis likes to pretend Harry reserves just for him, the one where he stares so hard it’s like he’s looking into him. It is so candid and adoring that it makes Louis blush.

“I just wanted to hear you say it first.”

Harry raises his eyebrows at that. “Why?”

“Because I thought about telling you a few weeks ago.” Louis shrugs and brushes his thumb over the back of Harry’s knuckles, glancing down to watch the way their fingers intertwine before he looks back up at him. It’s simple, for him: he’s generally so picky that the people he’s drawn to are so few and he’s known since the time he spent the weekend agonizing over a kiss that it’s just a shade more than platonic, the way he feels about Harry. “Didn’t wanna scare you, though. Wasn’t sure how you’d take it.”

“Probably better you made me wait, actually.”

“Why’s that?”

Harry grins, shrugs. “Because I would’ve done something stupid like, I dunno. Get handsy in public, or something.”

Louis rolls his eyes and flings sand on Harry’s chest, which he bats away nonchalantly. “Pretty sure the neighborhood has seen us making out next to your car at least once.”

“I know, and I’m sure everyone is scandalized.”

Harry laughs and lets go of his hand to pull Louis closer to him. They spend a few seconds rearranging themselves before they settle on Louis between Harry’s legs, back pressed up against his chest while Harry circles his arms around him.

Louis drops his head back, looking up at him, and Harry touches their lips together, like he knows instinctively that just talking about kissing would make Louis want another. It’s still warm outside, but Louis fights the urge to shiver.

“I really, really like you,” Louis mumbles, changing the subject back and frowning, because it’s like he’s fully realizing the extent of it all at once, having said it out loud. It’s not as scary now that Harry’s vocalized that he feels the same way, but he hasn’t felt this way about anyone in a long time, and part of him clenches up with embarrassment after he says it.

Harry keeps his head bowed down, grazing his lips against Louis’ forehead and moving his hands slowly up and down his sides, from his ribcage all the way down to his hips where he squeezes lightly each time.

“Let’s go inside, babe.”

There’s something new between them, a levity that Louis supposes comes from admitting to each other their mutual like, which seems so juvenile, except that it’s also one of the best feelings ever. To like and to be liked -- what is more satisfying, truly, even if it’s fleeting?

Louis doesn’t think at all about the expiration date to Harry’s existence on the east coast, doesn’t think about anything other than the hand resting at the small of his back as they walk back toward Harry’s house, towels flung over their shoulders, their skin saltwater sticky.

Halfway there, the sky cracks above them, making a sound like thousands of bowling pins crashing down at once. Louis follows Harry’s lead when he steals a look up. The sky has turned overcast, washing gray light over everything and making the water in the distance look far more grim and tumultuous than it had just minutes ago.

They barely make it to the covered back deck by the time it starts raining, only getting pelted with fat drops of water for a handful of seconds. Harry laughs, throwing his arms up triumphantly like they’ve just won some sort of game. The way he’s grinning is so childlike and ecstatic that Louis almost thinks he might dart back out into the sand and run around in the downpour, but Harry just slips his arms around his waist and drags their bodies together, holding him close and tight.

“Looks like we made it,” he mumbles.

“Look how far we’ve come, my baby?” Louis offers, reaching up to sort Harry’s hair back with his fingertips and muffle his laughter by pressing his lips over his Adam’s apple. Harry makes an amused sound, nudging at him until he gets Louis to tilt his head back so that he can get a good look at him.

“Thought for sure you’d go for Barry. Louis Tomlinson, the secret Shania fanboy.” Harry’s smile settles into something softer and his eyes follow suit, looking at him in a way that’s so adoring it’s a struggle just to stay upright.

Louis has already seen the look he gets when he’s pleased Louis has picked up on some obscure reference, and the concentrated one that crosses his features when they’re watching a particularly intense episode of the Sopranos. This one is new to him, though.

It’s dumbfounding, and Louis knows that absolutely nothing would come out if he opened his mouth to speak. It’s not unusual for Harry to make him trip over his words, but rarely does a single look render him speechless. He’s thankful when Harry suggests they get out of the rain and go watch a movie. Louis nods, knowing it’ll likely be some saccharine rom-com since Harry loves those so much. He references Love, Actually at least twice a week.

They head inside amidst a loud crack of thunder, ditching the cooler in the kitchen. Harry’s just about to go into the living room to pick a DVD when Louis stops him with a hand looped around his wrist.

“Come here, I just--” Louis starts, and Harry slides his hand into his hair and shakes his head to cut him off, says, “No, I know,” and they collide, separated only by their swim trunks as their chests press together and Louis winds his arms tight around Harry’s sides.

They kiss messily and Harry is still clutching Louis’ face and Louis can’t stop dragging his nails down the center of Harry’s back because the reaction he gets is so delicious and shivery. Harry’s body curls into him, shoulders hunched as he walks him back so they’re shuffling toward the closest nearest surface, which turns out to be the kitchen island.

Harry braces Louis’ hips with his hands to keep him from hitting the surface of the counter too hard but it doesn’t really work and he just leans into it, anyway, angling his face up for another kiss that’s cut off by a crack of lightning that must be so, so close, because it’s roars through the room as the overhead lights flicker. He feels Harry laugh against his lips and kiss him one more time before he pulls away, his eyes more delighted than worried.

“How’re we supposed to watch a movie if the electricity goes off, Lou?”

They laugh into a kiss just as lightning hits again, and if Harry wasn’t kneading his fingers against Louis’ ass he might care enough to peek out the window just to see the way it looks as it hits the water.

“Shame,” Louis murmurs, pressing up onto his toes to get a better angle at Harry’s lips when he speaks and kisses against them. “I was really excited to watch When Harry Met Sally, or whatever.”

Heyyy,” Harry whines, and Louis rubs his thumb over his hipbone, soothing him, a silent apology.

Another flash, and the thunder that follows is so loud that Louis can feel it in his chest. The lights flicker twice then finally go off completely, along with the humming of the fridge and the air conditioner until they’re left in actual silence, just rain pelting down and their breathing. The light coming through the window is dim and grey, but Louis can still see Harry’s eyes when he draws back just a little.

“Shit,” Harry says, brows furrowed as he glances over his shoulder.


“We left the bedroom window open.”

“Fuck,” Louis grimaces, and Harry nudges him to walk ahead on their way up to the bedroom, keeping a hand on his bicep like Louis might stray out of his reach even for a second.


The windowsills are soaked, but there doesn’t seem to be any lasting damage, just a small puddle on the wood floor. Even after they close the windows the room still smells fresh and damp, a mingling mixture of sea air and rain and something that smells like Harry, too; maybe his t-shirt strewn across the foot of the bed, or maybe Louis is imagining it, but it’s intoxicating.

Harry drops a towel on the floor to soak up the water and they stand behind it, staring out of the window in awe. It’s raining so hard that the view is blurred and the ocean is only barely visible through it all, but for a minute they stare in silence, stunned by the quick change in weather.

It’s like being broken out of a daze when Harry slips his arms around him and eases their bodies together. Louis shifts so that they’re facing each other, tangling himself with Harry and setting both hands on his chest. They kiss again, and there’s a fervency to it that’s different from all the other times they’ve kissed, like Harry wants something and Louis understands because he does, too.


“You are so fucking hot,” Harry whispers, right against Louis’ lips as he presses his fingers into his waist to emphasizing exactly what he means, and it makes him shiver. He’s fucked if he wanted to resist this at all; there’s no way Harry’s ever said that to someone and had them not sleep with him. He clutches harder at Harry’s chest and looks up at him, reluctant to break the kiss but needing to see his eyes.

He can’t tell if it’s just the dim light, but they’re shiny, practically glowing, and it hits Louis hard that he’s the one who’s caused that, that he gets to Harry that much because it’s all he’s wanted since practically the day they first met. He hasn’t been able to get him out of his head since, not in any capacity, filtering back to him at even the most inopportune moments. He can’t even count the number of times he’s gone home from a day spent with Harry and had to get himself off, coming with Harry’s name burned into his brain after just a few strokes. It’s easy, when he’s alone, to imagine all of the suave things he wants to say to him when they’re together, but now he can’t do more than just offer short spurts of truth, hoping for the best.

“Just want you,” Louis’ chokes out, and he kisses him immediately, crashing their lips back together before Harry can even respond because the thought of suddenly hitting the brakes feels like the most awful prospect in the world.

Since Harry can’t vocalize what he’s thinking, he translates it into the way he touches him, both hands running over his shoulderblades and down the length of his back, finally coming down to rest over the curve of his ass, using the hold he has on him to press their bodies even tighter together. Louis lets out a little hum of approval at the touch, already half hard from the anticipation alone and Harry has to feel it, taking it as encouragement to keep going because he turns their bodies and nudges Louis back against the bed.

Louis shifts himself backward until his head drops against the pillows and Harry follows suit, lying over him and lining their bodies up until their chests are pressed tight and Louis can feel that Harry’s already hard, too. Just knowing that they’re on the same page, that they’re both so eager, makes Louis feel crazy for it, and despite all the times he’s wanted Harry, it’s never been quite so urgent.

He slips his hand down in the space between their bodies, pressing the heel of his palm against the front of Harry’s trunks. He needs to be touching him and Harry just lets him work him up further while pressing his lips in the dip between his neck and shoulder. Louis can feel his breath hitch against his skin and shivers because it’s already so damp from Harry digging his teeth in and then working over the same spot with his tongue, torturous and persistent.

“God, Louis,” Harry mumbles, rocking his hips forward against Louis’ touch as both hands ease up his chest, pressing down hard like he’s afraid he might vanish out from under him if he doesn’t hold on tight enough, and it makes Louis dizzy to think Harry -- Harry -- could want him so badly.

“Wanna fuck you. Do you want that?” Harry’s voice is husky, no louder than a whisper, and Louis’ not sure if it’s the question itself or the way the words feel being muffled against his Adam’s apple that make him shake.

Yeah, god yeah, please.”

Possibly he should feel ashamed for being so close to begging already, but he can’t seem to give a fuck when Harry shifts back on his heels and hooks his fingertips in the waistband of his trunks to start rolling them down his hips. Louis takes over halfway, kicking them from his ankles and whispering a string of off off off until Harry gets the hint and peels his own away from his body, too.

There’s a moment after they’re both undressed that Harry seems so fixated on him, looking so openly and with such genuine awe that Louis flushes, watching Harry’s eyes while he makes a map of him in his mind.

“You’re so beautiful,” he marvels, working his hands from the curve of his ribcage inward, dragging down along the v of his hips until his thumbs meet at the bit of skin just above the base of his cock. The way he’s touching him is so thorough and careful and it’s so sexy Louis can barely stand to watch, but it’s also all he wants to do, ever -- watch Harry’s big, deliberate hands walk over every inch of his body.

“One to talk,” Louis counters, letting out a frustrated little hum when Harry gets off the bed because suddenly he’s not touching him and it feels like the world has dropped away.

He glances over to the side of the bed and it’s still so dark that he can only just make out Harry rummaging around in his bag.

“Would it kill you to hurry up, or do you only have one speed?”

“Patience is a virtue, Louis.”

The first thing he sees as Harry crawls back toward him is the lopsided smirk on his face while he sets a condom and bottle of lube down beside them. He taps at the outside of Louis’ leg until he gets the hint and spreads himself out more, legs falling apart in a way he doesn’t even want to imagine because he’s almost embarrassed about how much he wants it.

“Somehow I don’t think now is the time to be worrying about my vir-- oh my god.”

Louis learned the first time Harry had his mouth wrapped around his cock just how eager he was about it, how it seemed like he got off just as hard on making Louis fall apart under him as he would if the tables were turned, but somehow this feels even better. He pushes himself up on his elbows so he can watch, so he can take in the sight of Harry’s long fingers wrapped around his shaft while he licks at the head. He goes at it like Louis is the sweetest thing in the world and it’s so hot that Louis gives up on watching not more than a minute later to fall back against the mattress.

“Fuck, you don’t know how much I wanted this,” Louis chokes out, one hand weaving through Harry’s curls, pushing them off his forehead and reaching the other up to fist at the duvet when Harry takes him in deeper, easing his mouth over the length of him a few times before pulling off, licking at the bit of pre-come that’s pooled at the head.

It feels like a lot, to admit it to him all at once, and he sort of hates Harry for making him say it, but he finds that he really wants to. He wants him to know, and it’s strange, because there’s not much Louis can say without masking it in a joke and he just can’t seem to find it in himself to do anything but tell the truth, not in this moment.

“Since that night...haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.”

“Yeah? What did you think about?” Harry looks up at him, eyes big and glassy and lit up by a sinfully bright grin in the pale light. He almost looks innocent, Louis thinks, which is the biggest contradiction in the world.

“Thought about feeling you--doing that--” Louis starts, gasping when Harry starts stroking him again, working his palm too slow along his cock while he flicks open the cap of the lube.

It’s maddening how not enough it is and Louis already feels strained, so painfully hard that he makes a frustrated sound when Harry stops completely to get his fingers coated.

“What else?” Harry has to know he’s torturing him by that point, making him keep speaking when everything just keeps getting caught in his throat. He’s not touching him at all, and Louis knows he’s supposed to be taking a hint, because Harry is clearly rewarding him for letting things slip.

“I thought about you fucking me,” he whispers, and pauses to smirk just slightly. “Wondered if you’d be any good.”

Harry stops completely and grins up at him. “Oh. Thanks, Louis.”

“I’m joking, hey, c’mon, I knew you’d be good, please just--”

Harry grumbles and drops kisses between the sharp jut of his hipbones while he spreads out the lube, messy, and moves the pad of one of his fingers over him, teasing until Louis is clenching around nothing. He gives in not more than a few seconds later, working a finger inside him and fucking him slowly until he’s met with less resistance and adds another.

It’s been awhile -- too long, really -- and Louis cries out, his back curving off the bed and his hips rolling down for more. He’s imagined this more times than he would ever admit, playing over all the details in his mind, but it was never even close to as good as how it feels to have Harry’s long fingers opening him up, making him feel dizzy and warm and so fucking needy that he has to bite hard at his lips just to stifle a constant stream of whimpers.

“Babe, stop. I wanna hear you,” Harry whispers, and Louis realizes only then that there’s a metallic taste in his mouth from biting at his own lips, and his wall finally breaks down when Harry works a third finger inside him, easing up to brush against his prostate. It aches, and it’s so good, and he’s literally going cross-eyed when he decides he can’t take it anymore.

“Jesus fuck, Harry, please,” he whines, reaching down for his own cock, but Harry bats his hand away before he has the chance to touch, and Louis whines, shameless. “I need--”

There’s a second where Harry’s composure seems to break, where he can only press his face against Louis’ thigh to collect himself. Louis might find it sort of endearing if it felt like enough, but it’s not, and he clenches around Harry’s fingers as if to remind him of his plea, and of what Harry wants, too. He crooks his fingers once last time and pulls them out, dripping when he drags them over Louis’ stomach on his way up to kiss him.

"You've no idea," Harry breathes hot against Louis’ mouth, rocking his hips down. "I can't even look at you sometimes--just makes me--”

What?” Louis urges, and Harry explains, desperately, “Louis, you made me jealous of a fucking snowcone,” and Louis just snorts, reaching down for his cock again.

“Did that on purpose.”

“Yeah, well, your mouth,” Harry says, like it’s a complete and meaningful sentence.

He apparently gives up trying to form words and lets out a noise close to a growl that sends a shiver through Louis; it reaches his toes, making them curl into the duvet in his effort to grind up into him as they kiss again. He can feel Harry reaching beside him, feeling around for the condom until he eventually just sits back onto his heels.

Lightning brightens the room for a split second, and then it’s dim again, the rain even louder than before.

Louis watches his hands shake as he rips it open, and he gets up onto his elbows to watch, his chest heaving. Harry is just so -- he can’t explain it, he’s just never been so attracted to someone before, and even that seems like putting it lightly, the way every single inch of him feels like it’s burning for him, inside and out. He looks so good that Louis doesn’t know what to do with his hands unless they’re all over Harry’s body, wonders how he ever got off to the idea of anyone else after a month straight of fantasies about him and only him.

“Let me,” Louis says, finally, leaning up to grab the condom from his hands, and Harry just nods, says, "Yeah, okay," and leans back onto his palms to give Louis some room. He chucks the wrapper to the floor and rolls it down over Harry’s cock, hard and heavy in his hand. Harry is watching Louis’ fingers as they curl around the base, and he looks like he might lose it, so Louis lets go and lies back, drops his leg out to the side, an invitation. Harry runs his hand up the inside of his thigh, pressing him flat against the mattress and stretching him out wider so he can settle down just there.

Harry coats himself quickly and leans over him with a hand pressed into the mattress beside Louis’ head -- the muscles in his arms flexing with the effort it takes to support his weight. They’re so close all at once and for a second it’s all he can focus on: Harry’s eyes, and the mole next to his lip and the way he’s looking at him, like he’s really something else, and Louis might even believe him.

Louis holds his breath, just waiting for it, but Harry apparently still hasn’t teased him enough because he just drags the head against him and this time he does whimper -- helpless to keep it in. He just needs Harry to just get inside him already, to fill him up and fuck him until he forgets his own name.

“Harry, you’re killing me.”

Louis can see the changes in Harry’s body, how shaky his arm gets and the tremor that wracks down the front of him when he starts to press inside. The stretch is more than Louis could have imagined and he turns his face so that he can dig his teeth into the inside of Harry’s bicep, right over one of the tattoos there.

“God, you feel amazing,” Harry gets out, his words dissolving into a choked off moan at the end.

Louis can tell he’s trying hard to take his time, to let their bodies learn to fit with each other, but the way they both gasp when he finally bottoms out is evidence enough that they’re both done with waiting, and he knows there wasn’t ever hope for them taking it slow, not when there’s so much between them to work through and break down, a month’s worth of want making its way to the surface.

And for a minute that’s all there is -- just Harry filling him up, finding a shaky rhythm as he draws himself out and then back, twice and a third time until Louis stops keeping track and maybe stops breathing altogether and their eyes lock with an intensity he can’t even comprehend. Louis whines and Harry gasps when he lifts Louis’ leg from underneath his knee and opens him up just a little wider, making him ache, but he’s met with a new sort of pleasure that outweighs everything else, and all he can think is finally.

“Like that?” Harry asks, like he doesn’t already know, and Louis nods, frantic, “Yeah, just--” and rakes his nails down the length of Harry’s back to push against his ass and drive him in harder. Harry likes that, he can see it in his face, and he nods at Louis so he does it again, and Harry sounds wrecked when he groans, fucking into Louis a little faster.

It’s a subtle shift but the angle is unbelievable, and Louis says, “I know,” even though he received nothing more than a look from Harry, because he understands. Because he was expecting good but he wasn’t expecting earth shattering, and because it’s a lot to cope with, the surprise of it all, the pleasure of finding that his own body works so perfectly with someone else’s, and that it’s Harry.

The lightning strikes again outside and washes them with shadows and gold light and Louis almost feels for a second like they’re out in it, like they’re a part of the storm -- the way they crash together, then retract.

Louis can’t stop raking his nails down Harry’s spine and he knows he must be leaving angry red welts all down his skin, but the sting of it seems to just encourage him. He shifts himself back so that he’s kneeling between Louis’ legs without having to separate their bodies and his long fingers curve down his thighs, like he just needs to have his hands on him even when they’re already connected in so many ways.

It’s intrinsic, which is a heavy thought, but Harry just fits him, and when he sets his eyes on Louis’, he has that sensation that comes just before sleep, when you jolt back awake with the inexplicable feeling of falling.

The only thing that brings him out of it is Harry over him again -- practically covering him given the contrast from broad to narrow. He brushes his lips over Louis’ twice, getting caught up on the third and kissing him so thoroughly that both of their mouths ache by the time it ends. Somehow it all just keeps getting better and better and Louis gasps, reaching down to feel where Harry has stretched him taut around his cock.

“Are you gonna come for me, Louis?” Harry whispers, right there against his swollen mouth, and if he hadn’t already been right at the edge, then just the feeling of Harry’s breath as he spoke those words would’ve made him lose it.

And he does, all at once; he whines, circling his legs around Harry’s hips and just holding him in, making it so Harry can’t do more than just keep rocking against his prostate. He reaches down, covering Harry’s hand on his cock, and they finish bringing him off together by the third stroke, and there’s a moment where he means to say Harry’s name but he’s not sure anything comes out other than a sharp cry as he squints his eyes shut and his body shivers and contracts, shaking from head to toe as he spills out over their fingers and his belly.

“Oh my god,” Harry gasps, and he’s staring down at Louis, splaying his fingers out onto his stomach, “Fuck,” he whispers, pushing down into the mess he’s made there. He picks up his pace after a second where he seems to only be able to nudge into Louis half-heartedly, but then it’s fast, really fast, and Louis gulps for air and his abs hurt from straining and he feels completely and totally wrecked. Harry mutters something unintelligible before he pushes one more time and pulses inside of him and, fuck, even the way he comes is so hot, the way it changes every inch of his body into something more impossibly beautiful than it already is.

Louis tangles his hand into the hair at the back of Harry’s neck and gives him a squeeze because he wants to look at him and also Harry is the size of a great dane and Louis’ chest might cave in if he doesn’t move in the next ten seconds. Harry groans with the effort it takes to lift his head to stare down at Louis.

He looks like he’s just finished a marathon and Louis realizes he must be the same way, which makes him grin, and Harry laughs, and they kiss like that, their lips barely touching because their smiles are too wide.

Drawing himself back, Harry planks above Louis and stares down between them. “Fuck,” he mutters, wincing at the sensitivity as he pulls out of Louis and sits back on his heels to pull off and tie up the condom. He chucks it into the wastebin on the other side of the bed and then flops down next to him, and they roll toward each other, limbs tangling.

“There’s so much sand in this bed right now,” Louis says, glancing down between them and brushing his hand over the sheet so he can feel it.

“Don’t care,” Harry murmurs, ducking closer to Louis so he can press his mouth to his jaw.

Louis frowns and curls his arm around Harry’s neck because he can tell it’s what he wants, to be coddled, and as he pets at his hair he swears he almost purrs into his throat. They’re silent for a minute, trying to catch their breath as they come down from it all.

“This is a lot better than the last time I was here,” he murmurs, draping his arm across Louis’ waist, pressing his fingers into the dimples in Louis’ lower back.

“When was that?”

“Fourth of July.”

Louis scratches his short nails over the top of Harry’s shoulders, and he shivers at the touch, presses a kiss on Louis’ collarbone.

“Because you missed me, right?”

No,” Harry protests, and looks at Louis, sharing his pillow even though there’s barely room for two. He considers the accusation for a moment, then shrugs. “Well, yeah, but that’s not the only reason why. They always light fireworks right over there,” he points toward the beach, “and you can see them perfectly from the deck, but this year they said the weather was too bad so they had a rain date the next day, but I was already home by then.”

“Why didn’t you stay?”

Harry frowns, like it’s obvious. “Because you asked me to go to the 4-H fair.”

Louis heart races at that and the admission is a reminder of exactly why it’s such a big deal that the finally did this, because there’s a lot he has to give and there’s a lot he’s sick of trying to hold back and when Harry says stuff like that he just wants to kiss his entire eager, beautiful, honest face. Harry seems to feel it, too, because he squeezes his ribs and his eyes are so affectionate that it takes Louis a second to recover before he can speak again.

“What if I’d asked you to shovel horse shit, would you still have come?”

“Hmm. Think so, yeah.”

“What about...” Louis taps his fingers on Harry’s hip, enjoying this game. “If I asked you to just walk around on a wet floor while wearing socks?”

“That fucking sucks, doesn’t it? But yeah, I would’ve come.”

“What if I just wanted you me do my laundry?”

“Louis.” Harry mumbles against his cheek, pressing his lips there, and it’s only when Harry really starts to get sick of his pestering that Louis is fueled to keep going.

“Okay, okay, but what if I was like, come over so we can fuck?”

Harry’s jaw drops open in mock horror, and Louis laughs, because it’s the reaction he wanted, and he keeps up the act, and Louis is delighted. “I’m appalled, Lewis.”

“I know, I’m sorry.”


Louis has to stifle something closer to a giggle than a laugh, but he comes close to letting it bubble out. “You’d never, right?”

Harry cranes his neck forward, sucking a lazy kiss against the side of Louis’ neck and rubbing circles over the swell of his rib. “Never even thought about it. Definitely didn’t dream about it, or anything.”

“No,” Louis lies. “Me neither.”

Harry looks at him, amused. “Dreamt about it so fucking much,” he admits, and Louis nods, and Harry kisses him on the mouth, once.

“You’re so much better than I--” he starts, and Louis watches his expression, because it falters for a second before their eyes meet and Harry gets brave, decides just to say it. “Like, I can’t fucking believe’re was a lot, wasn’t it?”

Louis knows exactly what he means, no matter how fragmented his sentences are, no matter how little sense they make. He nods, needs no further explanation. “Next year,” he says.

“Next year what?”

“Fireworks,” Louis says. “We’ll see them next year.”

Harry blinks and for once his expression is, if only for a second, unreadable to Louis. He drags him closer and kisses Louis hard enough to remind him he’d given himself a bit of a swollen lip earlier, but even when Harry nibbles over it before he pulls away it just feels good, like he could just keep going and going and Louis thinks, vaguely, that Harry might be the most fun to kiss out of anyone in the entire world, and it doesn’t even seem like hyperbole.


It’s Sunday -- their last day in Point Pleasant -- and Harry insists on taking Louis out along the boardwalk to roam around and weave in and out of all the tacky little shops before they pile into the Jag and drive back home. They’ve already been through a few and after sorting through dozens of ugly screen printed t-shirts and displays of gaudy crystal dolphins, they decide to make a game of it. They’re on hot pursuit of the most ridiculous novelty item that they can find and the process turns out to be hilarious -- holding up keychains and singing fish to gawk at only to move onto the next monstrosity and then the next and so on.

Harry feels giddy as they walk into the last shop along the line of them and he doesn’t know if it’s more from how much they’ve been laughing or the fact that they’ve had their hands tangled up together for most of the afternoon. It’s something so simple, but he hasn’t walked down the street holding someone’s hand in as long as he can remember and it feels better than he would have expected -- like, it’s not even about showing some sort of claim over Louis. It’s just sweet and he feels endeared by it.

Even though he’d been strategic in making sure the trip turned out to be just the two of them, he couldn’t have fathomed that it would end up feeling like some big, defining moment for them. Realistically, he knows that he should be afraid of how deep things are getting when it’s very much a reality that he’s leaving in just over a month, but he just isn’t... he can’t be when they’re both this happy.

Things had been changing between them slowly, building up in increments as Harry was distracted from his initial hesitation, but the night before had turned everything on its head all at once. He didn’t even realize how much they’d been holding back before because after they’d fallen down against the mattress and kissed and talked for the better part of an hour, it still didn’t feel like enough. He’d always been sexual and uninhibited about things, but everything felt on a different level with Louis -- like the chemistry was just there and it made everything so insanely good that Harry felt like he needed him all over again right when they finished.

It had been late when they made their way out to try and find something to eat in the dark kitchen, laughing and barking out pained sounds whenever one of their hips collided with the edge of the island or they miscalculated the distance from one point to another and ended up walking head first into a hard surface. There was just enough light to see when Louis stood up on his tiptoes, pulling out a box of crackers from the cupboard with a triumphant a-ha! and Harry had just felt a rush of things being too much, of feeling too much, and he’d closed off the distance between them to get ahold of Louis by the waist.

Louis had dropped the box immediately and Harry just turned him around, cupping his hands around his waist and hoisting him up on the counter. They ended up fucking like that, barefoot in the muggy room and Louis only in Harry’s ratty B-52’s shirt, gripping at his hair and knocking things off the counter as they moved together so fervently that there was bound to be some wreckage.

The lights had flickered back on just after they came and they were both laughing, practically in hysterics from the timing and how somehow it was even better the second time around. They’d ended up taking chips and hummus back into the bedroom and eating and talking until they both passed out and when they woke up the next morning, the traces of awkwardness that Harry had been afraid of just weren’t there -- not even close.

He’s been expecting it to set in all day, that feeling like he’s doing something wrong or like he needs to put the brakes on things before the situation becomes more complicated, but his mood doesn’t even show signs of faltering. He thinks maybe he should just take that for what it is, to trust his instincts and let it all continue because he doesn’t think he could stop it if he tried.

“Harry... Harry, oh my god, check out these bracelets,” Louis laughs, reaching for his arm and tugging him over to the rack of silicone nameplate bracelets in the corner of the shop. He immediately picks one up and starts laughing, too, because they’re absolutely hideous. The letters are surrounded by shells and the font is literally comic sans. Who the hell would want to introduce themselves to the world in comic sans?

They’re sort of the best thing Harry has ever seen.

“I think we’ve found our winner,” Harry grins, dangling one of the bracelets over his head before hanging it back up and bending down to search through the H’s for Harry. “Noooo,” he whines, shaking his fists dramatically at the air like he’s Braveheart or something when he finds that particular prong empty. Twisting it around more, he smirks when his eyes land on Louis’ name instead and before he even has a chance to say anything, Louis crosses his arms over his chest and shakes his head.

“I am not wearing that.”

Harry huffs out indignantly, setting his hands on his knees as he pushes himself back up to stand. He rolls the bracelet down over his hand and to his wrist, holding it out to investigate the way it looks on him.

It is hot pink. There’s a dolphin on it. Ridiculous isn’t a strong enough word, and yet he’s absolutely delighted by it -- comic sans and all.

“Nope. I am.”

He likes the way it looks, and he likes the way Louis looks when he sees it on him -- reluctantly appreciative. He still insists on paying for it before Harry can reach the cash register, and he throws in a few blow up sharks and fish for the kids, too, like he can’t help himself, and the entire transaction is a lot sweeter than it has any right to be.

“Ready?” Harry asks, holding out his hand, the one with Louis’ bracelet on it.

“I think I want ice cream,” Louis says, tangling their fingers together on the way out of the shop.

They’d agreed before that they would head home after their trip to the boardwalk, but Harry thinks that maybe they both just want to buy some time, that they’re not quite ready for the weekend to be over.

Once they’ve walked down to the ice cream shop, they stand in front of the glass case of different flavors and Harry looks up at the list of specials, pointing to get Louis to read all the desserts that are written on the chalkboard in swirly letters. He makes an appreciative noise because the list is impressive, to say the least.

“Double chocolate lava cake with vanilla bean ice cream and caramel drizzle,” Harry reads. “Shit, I think I’m at half-mast just reading that.”

Louis clears his throat and nods over his shoulder, and Harry frowns before turning to see that the girl behind the counter overheard him talking about getting off to ice cream flavors. He claps both hands over his mouth and laughs, feeling sheepish even though she only looks amused.

“Sorry,” he offers.

“Don’t worry, we get that a lot. Nice bracelet.”

“Isn’t it?” Harry holds out his wrist to admire it, then slings his arm over Louis’ shoulder. “She likes your bracelet, Louis.”

“It’s your--”

“We’ll take one of the lava things,” Harry cuts him off, turning back to the girl as Louis wriggles out from his grasp and knocks him in the balls with the back of his hand.

The lava thing turns out to be so rich they both feel sick by the time they finish it. Louis complains of ‘chocolate sweats’ on the walk back to Harry’s house, and it’s actually a relief when they get in the car because they can at least sit down for an hour and attempt to digest the mass of dairy and sugar they’ve just consumed.

The wind in their hair feels incredible, and Harry wonders aloud if there’s a word for that, because there ought to be, and Louis looks like a picture in his aviators on the passenger’s seat with one leg bent up in front of him and he humors Harry by spouting off made up words, each one sillier than the last.

They spend the last half hour of the drive quiet, playing one of Harry’s cassettes even though most of the words are drowned out with the top down. He lets his head loll to the side when Louis reaches over and lets his hand rest at the back of his neck while he drives; it feels special, or something, that he’s earned attention from someone who doesn’t seem to give it away too freely.

Louis’ car is parked in front of his house when they pull up, and Harry wracks his brain when they get out of the car, wondering if it will be overkill to ask Louis to stay for a little longer.

They’re pulling their bags out of the back seat when Anne calls from the front step, a towel in her hands as she waves and makes her way toward the sidewalk in bare feet.

“Hi, guys,” she says, looking between them. “Have a good weekend? Everything okay at the house?”

Louis speaks up first, nodding. “Yeah, it’s great. Can’t believe it’s right on the beach, too, Harry didn’t even mention that, I loved it. Thanks for letting us stay.”

Oh, please,” she smiles, waving the towel like it’s nothing, and drapes it over her shoulder. “We’re making steaks on the grill in about an hour. You’re welcome to stay, if you want.”

Harry looks over at him, expectant, and Louis looks back, shrugs. “Yeah,” he says, glancing back to Anne. “Yeah, I’d love to stay, thanks.”

Turning to shut the door, Harry’s mouth twitches in an attempt to mask how pleased he is at the thought of another few hours together, and he’s fucked, he thinks, he’s done for, if that’s something to get legitimately excited about after spending three days with him.

“Let us know if you want some help, alright?” He leans down and drops a kiss to his mom’s cheek, and she pats him on the shoulder, turning back to the house and shooing Dusty inside as they trek through the driveway to the pool house.

Harry flops onto the bed before his shoes are even off, and Louis climbs in without a word, lifting up Harry’s arm and tucking himself against his chest. He wonders vaguely if this is how it’s going to be, then; if Louis will arrange Harry’s body to cuddle him as he sees fit and if that’s going to be appropriate now and if it’s too soon to start worrying about the fact that he’s heading back to school in thirty days.

It’s just that, as Louis mumbles an unintelligible something into the crook of Harry’s neck, Harry can’t muster a single sad feeling, and maybe it’s something he’ll regret later, how selfish he’s being with Louis, but he’s never been good at denying himself something good. And this is really, really, good.

Louis sinks his teeth into Harry’s neck, making him yelp. “You’re not even listening.”

“Hmm?” Harry draws back a few inches so he can look at Louis’ eyes, which seem even bluer now that he’s freshly tan. He seems to forget whatever he’d just been about to say and kisses him instead, slipping his hand up the side of his shirt, and Harry doesn’t ask him to repeat it.



“What kind of name is Niall, anyway?”

Harry bounces on his toes and stares down the driveway, grinning, watching impatiently for the taxi.

“It’s Irish,” he says, with all the affection in the world. “His parents are from this place called...shit, what’s it called? Mullingar, maybe? But he grew up in California. He’s the best, you’re gonna love him.”

Louis has only seen pictures of Niall on Harry’s facebook, where they’ve listed each other as brothers and are tagged in nearly every photo together, looking like babies at age eighteen and getting progressively more drunk throughout their three years of college. Over the last week he’s been reassured more than once that he’s going to love him, and Harry’s excitement is contagious; despite having never met him, he’s impatient for his arrival, too.

He’s due to show up any minute, now, right on time for the barbecue.

The real occasion is Miles and Charlottes' sixth birthday, which has also happened to fall on the same night as Anne’s book club meeting, which has turned into an excuse for ‘drinks on the deck’, which means there are going to be a hell of a lot of tipsy adults and at least twenty children in the backyard over the next couple of hours.

Louis planned to be there, anyway, but it sweetened the deal when, over the last week, the birthday party turned into something closer to a block party. He and Harry invited Zayn and Liam, too; they showed up early, and have spent the last half hour lobbing a soccer ball and back and forth with beers in hand, stopping occasionally to allow one of Charlotte’s friends steal the ball from them.

“I think I see a cab,” Louis says, pointing down the block, and Harry practically sprints toward the curb, flagging down the driver with all of his limbs flailing.

The car door opens before the driver’s even stopped the car, and Niall tumbles out, and for a second he and Harry are just shouting at each other, just yelling without any words as they hug, laughing hard. Louis hangs back for a second until Harry turns around, like he’s checking to make sure he’s there, flinging an arm around his shoulder to dragging him forward.

“Niall, this is Louis,” he says, beaming.

“Nice to meet you, man,” Louis says, offering his hand, and Niall grins wide, knocking his hand out of the way so he can hug him instead.

“You’re the nanny guy, right?” he asks, and Louis shoots a look at Harry, who just shrugs, his stupid dimple getting deeper as he fights a smile.

“That would be me,” he nods, “yes. Can I get you a drink? Beer?”

Harry tells them he’s going to put Niall’s bags inside, and they wave him off as they head into the yard. He was right -- Louis likes him right away. He’s just so friendly, introducing himself to everyone and anyone as he pushes a snap-back away from his forehead and adjusts it over his blonde hair. He gratefully accepts the bottle Louis gives him while they talk about his flight and his summer so far.

“I’ve come to visit Harry every year since we started school,” he’s saying, which explains why he definitely recognizes Liam when he sees him approaching, and they hug, exchanging hellos and slaps on the back and they clink their glasses together, taking a collective sip.

“Right, and this is my friend Zayn.”

“Our friend,” Liam corrects him.

“Our friend Zayn,” Louis says, grinning, and they shake hands just as Harry comes out of the house. It’s only been five minutes without him but it just feels better with him there, and it’s like a puzzle piece locking into place when he stands next to Louis and rests his hand over the back of his neck. Louis leans into it, pleased, relaxed.

Harry looks between all of them, obviously delighted that his separate friend groups have melded into one. “You guys all ready for the most intense game of water balloon dodge ball you’ll ever play?”

Zayn goes mock-serious, holding out his hand. “Do you think we need a game plan?”

“Huddle up,” Liam deadpans, and they all circle around each other purely for the benefit of Charlotte, who is giggling behind them.

“Come on,” she whines, and Louis counts a 1-2-3-break before they split up and head over toward where she and Miles’ friends have divided themselves into two small teams, a laundry basket full of water balloons on each side.

Louis holds out his hands, prepared to give some kind of quick direction on the rules of the game, but he doesn’t manage a single word before a water balloon hits him in the chest and explodes in his face.

There’s a moment of silence and then Harry cackles, and after that it’s more or less just a free-for-all, kids and adults alike just lobbing balloons to the opposite end without much of a plan. Niall and Harry are a lethal combination, but with Liam on his side Louis has a chance at winning, if there can even be a winning team. It’s just chaos, and it’s hilarious, and at one point he hears Miles say that it’s the best birthday ever, which is really all that matters.

The entire game lasts no more than ten minutes before the balloons are gone and everyone is dripping wet, and the only person left miraculously unscathed is Zayn. When Louis asks him how, he just shrugs and reaches for the beer he’d planted on the grass. “I just dodged them, man, I don’t know.”

Harry is particularly soaked when he comes over, making a face at how dry Zayn is and proceeding to shake his hair out right in his direction, sending droplets flying across at him. It’s barely enough to even dampen his shirt, but Zayn huffs indignantly anyway and Liam gives Harry a very paternal lecture about not doing anything to risk messing with Zayn’s perfectly quiffed hair.

Scott and Harry’s step-dad, Robin, have been barbecuing hot dogs and hamburgers and veggie burgers (per Liz’s request) on the desk amidst all the madness and before anyone in the little group they’ve assembled can say anything else, Liz cups her hands around her mouth and lets out some kind of call that would probably be more efficient at herding sheep than a bunch of sugar-intoxicated children.

Still, the smell of the food is enough to lure everyone over to start piling macaroni salad and chips and fresh fruit on their plates. While they’re making their way down the line, Harry steals a strawberry off Niall’s plate and there’s a distinct moment where Louis thinks Niall might actually jab a fork into Harry’s hand and Harry must be wary of that, too, because he sets it back down innocently and takes the one Louis offers over to him instead -- shooting him a pleased grin. “At least someone knows how to share.”

“Sharing is caring, Niall,” Louis comments, giving his shoulders a quick squeeze. He shoves Harry along when he holds up the line by talking across the table with a pretty woman with ombre hair and a tight floral sundress.

Once they starts moving again and the woman sits down with her plate of food, Liam comes up alongside Harry and prods him in the waist until Harry shoots him a look. “That was a nice dress Caroline was wearing, wasn’t it?”

“Shut up,” Harry grumbles and the whole exchange makes Louis perk up.

“Who’s Caroline?”

“Caroline... Ms. Flack was our History teacher senior year,” Liam supplies, taking a step back to avoid being swatted at further before continuing. “Seventeen year old Harry had the hots for her.”

“I did not have ‘the hots’ for her, grandpa. She’s just a nice person! Her class was interesting,” Harry protests.

“What did you learn then, Harold?” Louis asks, raising his eyebrows expectantly. Harry’s pause is comical, like he’s trying to wrack his brain for any answer that he can supply, but he’s flustered and drawing a blank and just lets out a little whine instead.

“You’re suppose to be on my side!”

Louis scoffs. “I am on your side. Just trying to determine whether or not I have anything to worry about.” It’s a joke, even though there might be traces of a genuine question, because even with everything that has changed between the two of them, he doesn’t exactly know what the rules are.

“She does have nice legs,” he throws in, just to ensure that things stay light.

“Yours are better.” His heart flutters at the way Harry looks at him, like he’s probably already picked up on his concern even if he would never embarrass him by acknowledging it out loud. There isn’t any room left for protest with the way he says it; Harry just looks like he wants to devour him.

If there weren’t hoards of people around, Louis is sure that he’d be doing exactly that, but Harry just settles for tickling at his lower back gently while they wait, keeping their bodies a little closer.

Parents start showing up to collect their kids after dinner and birthday cake and Anne and Liz’s group dissipates, too, everyone starting to pack up so the Woods can congregate inside to get the twins ready for bed. Harry suggests that the five of them take whatever is left in the cooler full of beers and head over to the pool house so Niall can finish telling them all about summer back in Santa Barbara and all the parties that he’s thrown at his and Harry’s place.

They tug lawn chairs and even the porch swing over from Harry’s parents’ backyard and make themselves comfortable outside, sitting around a table with lit citronella candles and a bucket of brightly colored markers. Zayn has a pad of construction paper out on his lap and is taking turns drawing all of them in unflattering caricatures as they get progressively drunker.

The smell of barbecued food is still thick in the air and the mosquitoes are wicked, but Louis is happy tucked up under Harry’s arm, feet up on the swing while Harry keeps one of his against the ground to rock them slowly back and forth.

“Louis, sit still.” Zayn has the pad of paper held up in front of him, eying Louis very seriously from over the top of it. Louis pulls his worst cross-eyed face, and Harry snorts.

“You’re buying Charlotte another pack of construction paper,” Louis says.

Zayn rolls his eyes. “I’ll buy her three. Voila!” He flips the pad around to reveal a pretty awful rendition of Louis’ cartoon face, which delights everyone.

“Bullshit! How come Liam’s was so good?” Louis points to the ripped off piece of paper on the ground in front of Liam, which shows an impressive -- and handsome -- version of Liam’s smiling face. Zayn shrugs and tells him to shut up. Liam preens.

Louis leans forward and grabs a marker from the bucket, taking the cap off and touching the tip of it with his finger. To his left, Harry’s attention is on Niall’s phone, where he’s scrolling through and occasionally holding it up to share pictures of his new guitar and the ‘jam setup’ he has in their living room.

Harry’s hand is still on Louis’ thigh and Louis picks it up, tangling their fingers together. He’s not even really thinking about it when he draws an L in black marker on the outside of Harry’s palm, going over it a few times until it’s a perfect and dark right angle.

He chucks down the marker and a half hour later Harry notices his little tattoo, at which point he leans in and mumbles something unintelligible and inappropriate against the side of Louis’ neck, and a minute later Harry crowds behind him as they walk toward the pool house, only just getting the door shut before they’re breathing hot and heavy into each others’ mouths, trying to make room for a kiss as Harry’s hands do their best to cover every inch of skin on Louis’ torso.

“You look so good right now,” Harry mumbles, finally parting his lips so that Louis can properly kiss him and he’s still touching all down the front of his body, like he can’t stop himself and Louis doesn’t want him to anyway -- not when Harry’s shirt is damp and still sort of clinging to him from the water balloons earlier. It’s the kind of thing they say to each other a lot, it’s safe, it’s not deep or meaningful, necessarily, but it does a hell of a lot coming from Harry’s mouth.

The door is left foolishly unlocked, but he doesn’t have it in him to care, sliding one hand between their bodies so that he can cup over Harry’s zipper and whisper right up against his mouth what he wants them to do. Harry just encourages it, bucking his hips forward against Louis’ palm and kissing him until they’re both breathless and Louis’ walking them backward toward the bed, every step like a promise of what’s to come.

Harry hits the mattress first, his body springing forward a little from the impact, but he just shifts himself further toward the headboard and gives Louis a look that can only be interpreted as get the fuck over here now.

Louis is more than happy to oblige and he kicks off his shoes before climbing up between Harry’s legs, slotting their bodies together and lying kisses up the side of his neck.

“Uh, sorry guys. Need some sleep.”

There’s a moment of sheer panic where Louis scrambles off of Harry, moving to sit at his side as if they haven’t already been caught. It’s just Niall, so there’s really no reason to be so alarmed, but he clutches his hand over his heart anyway.

“You could have knocked!” There’s no real anger in his voice, just a frantic sort of defensiveness that makes Niall snicker, walking past the bed and slipping into the bathroom, leaving the door wide open as he squirts too much toothpaste on his brush.

“I didn’t really think I’d walk in on you two going at it. Then again, it’s Harry, so I probably should’ve.” He stuffs the toothbrush into his mouth, hiding his grin and Harry finally perks up, pushing his body up off the pillows and shooting a peevish look in the general direction of the bathroom.

“Hey, I resent that.”

Niall just stands in the doorway and shoots them both a thumbs up that makes Louis groan and hide his head under the pillow, not coming out until Harry resorts to tickling him in that spot just below his underarm that always sends him into a fit.

“Okay, okay. I’m out. Stop tickling me, I’m too tired to fight back,” Louis laughs, pushing Harry’s hands away and sitting up again. His head swims and he knows he’s a bit too far gone to drive himself home, but there’s only one bed in the pool house, which presents a dilemma he definitely didn’t expect to be having that night. “Where am I sleeping?”

Niall spits out his toothpaste and pokes his head back out. “No way are you two sleeping in the same bed, uh uh,” he says. “You’re sleeping with me, Harry, it’ll be like freshman year all over again.”

“What happened in freshman year?” Louis frowns, glancing between them.

“One night we pushed our beds together as a joke, just to see what it would be like to sleep in a king size,” Harry explains.

“And then we just left them like that for, like...had to be a month, right?” Niall laughs. “Couldn’t figure out why girls didn’t wanna sleep with us.”

Harry’s practically shaking with laughter and Louis can’t help laughing, too, because having met Niall, all of the stories he’s heard about him just become that much more entertaining. He yawns and grumbles and climbs off of the bed, excusing himself to the bathroom so he can brush his teeth with the tip of his finger. When he comes back out, Harry’s set up a pillow and a blanket on the little sofa and is wearing a t-shirt and his boxers, looking far too inviting for someone who’s not going to be sleeping in the same bed as him tonight.

“Night,” Harry murmurs, resting his hand over Louis’ hip as he brushes their lips together. “We’ll go to the diner whenever we get up, yeah?”

Louis nods and looks at Harry, willing him to go in for another kiss, and he’s getting pretty good at reading Louis because it works after only a second and he leans into him again, this time lingering just a moment longer before they pull away. “Okay,” Louis mumbles, sighing. “See you in the morning.”

There’s stuff he wants to say -- like thanks for helping him with everything and that he looks really good and that he wishes they could’ve finished what they started -- but it’s not the time. Niall’s on the other side of the room, drunkenly singing Hotel California to himself, and Harry gives Louis one more look before he turns and dives onto the bed.

The couch is about a foot too small even for Louis’ rather short frame, so he curls up as best he can and tucks the blanket over his shoulder and settles in, trying to get comfortable despite how cramped he feels.

Harry and Niall whisper back and forth for a bit, directing things over at Louis every so often until his answers become more and more grumbly and short and he stops bothering looking over at them because his eyes feel so heavy.

They must assume that he’s fallen asleep because their conversation remains just the two of them from that point on and Louis listens, half out of it, as they talk about the last semester and their crazy next door neighbor, laughing at inside jokes that he doesn’t understand because Harry doesn’t tell him too much about everything back in Santa Barbara. Louis knows the basic framework of his life there, but none of the specifics, and listening to him talk to Niall adds some detail but it also makes Louis feel almost disconnected from that aspect of Harry’s life -- like maybe Harry doesn’t share it with him because it’s something he’ll never be a part of.

Before he has a chance to consider that further, he makes out something that Niall has whispered in Harry’s direction and, okay, he feels like what he’s doing probably qualifies as eavesdropping but it’s impossible to tune out Niall’s voice asking, “You really like him, don’t you?” when it’s him that he means and he suddenly feels desperate to hear what Harry has to say in response.

It’s not that Louis doubts that Harry feels something for him -- he’s already told him that he does, but the thought of Harry vocalizing it to someone else makes everything feel a lot more real.

Harry exhales audibly, and Louis can almost sense him looking in his direction.

“Yeah, I do. He’s just different from everyone else I’ve ever met. He feels different.”

“He’s a good guy. You seem happy around him.”

“No, I know. I am. He really is good, y’know. A good person.” Harry cuts himself off with a quiet yawn, then continues. “That sounds kind of basic to say about someone, but he’s...he’s so much fun, man, and a really good listener. Can talk to him about anything. It’s weird, like, I just feel like we’ve known each other for so much longer.”

Louis’ heart is racing and he has a terrible mosquito bite on the back of his leg but he’s too scared to move, too afraid Harry might notice he’s awake, so he stays put, trying to steady his breathing into something more manageable.

Niall says something muffled in response and Harry laughs quietly, and he can hear them shifting around on the bed, getting comfortable before their conversation turns even quieter and eventually stops altogether.

Validation isn’t something that Louis even realized he wanted, but it’s thrilling to hear all the things that Harry has to say about him and how not just affirming, but how sweet they are. He already knows he’s been in Harry’s life longer than most people, and as he finally lets himself settle down again in spite of his racing heart, he feels like he’s just made it over an important hurdle. Like maybe keeping Harry isn’t an impossibility.