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Roots

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Prologue

The first time Harry Styles steps on stage to sing, he’s 19 years old, a little bit tipsy, and he thinks he might actually heave from all the nerves.

He’s always enjoyed singing, always enjoying putting on a show, but it’s usually in front of friends or family. He’s never really had the desire to get up on a platform under an array of hot lights, push the mass of sweaty curls off his forehead, and grip the microphone stand like a lifeline, just like he’s doing now. He knows that the crowd - no more than 100 people, give or take - is hardly paying attention to him, giving him less of a reason to be so nervous, and to be blunt, why would they be focusing on him? He’s an inexperienced college sophomore in southwestern Michigan, he most definitely has zero stage presence, and the amount of times he’s already said, “Um, so, yeah,” into the microphone is humiliating. Honestly, he wouldn’t pay attention if he was any of them, either.

It’s a small gig - he’ll only make around $100 at the end of the night - with a set consisting of four covers and one original. It’ll be over with soon enough, as long as his fingers keep cooperating against the strings of his guitar and his voice would quit wobbling, but in the back of his mind, his brain is only focusing on chanting kill Niall Horan, fucking kill him. He’s the one who’d signed Harry up for the night, promising he’s more than skilled to take on such a small show, and he’d be great at it. Harry told him no almost instantly, shaking his head, saying he wasn’t interested. But then Niall made a face, paused, twisted his hands together, and that’s when Harry realized he’d already committed him.

So here he is, nearly sweating through his white t-shirt, even in the cool October weather, doing his best to not botch his version of “Unsteady” by X Ambassadors. He’s still painfully nervous, the lights are still too fucking bright, but the energy is nearly palpable and someone in the back whistles, impressed, when he hits his high note. Goddamnit Niall, this is starting to actually be fun.

By the time he starts “Mess is Mine” by Vance Joy, he’s loose, he’s smiling, he can’t stop his foot from tapping against the scuffed floorboards beneath him, and even though he can only see the first two rows of people in front of him, he imagines that the crowd is much bigger, that everyone is clapping and cheering along, that he has an actual setlist to perform. He feels incredible, and when he closes with “Jumper” by Third Eye Blind, everyone actually does sing along.

Harry hops off the stage after the crowd gives a polite, semi weak round of applause, and he finds Niall at the back of the room, shaking his head and smiling.

Told you that you’d nail it,” he says, patting Harry on the back.

He nods, biting on his bottom lip. “Okay, you win. I’m totally doing that again.”

Niall laughs. “A born natural.”

Harry beams. “It felt good. Really good. Like…”

“Really good?” Niall supplies, clearly mocking.

“Alright, shush, I need another drink. Keep the buzz going.”

Niall hums. “Madge is off duty. I dunno this bartender but she for sure won’t serve us like Madge does.”

He frowns. “Shit. Guess ‘m gonna have to find someone to help me out with that.” He looks around the back of the room, searching for a familiar, legal face. His frown deepens when he comes up short.

“Harry.” Niall nudges him. “That girl over there definitely looks interested.”

Harry looks up; a gorgeous girl with wild red hair cut just below her shoulders is staring, gaze unwavering, smiling playfully. Yes, definitely interested. He smiles back, waving stupidly, holding a drink in her hand. She laughs and gestures for him to come over.

He starts to make his way through the crowd, weaving in and out of the bar’s patrons, but stops short when someone grabs his shoulder, yanking him back before he gets a chance to approach Red. He turns, surprised, and finds himself looking down at a boy around his age with blue eyes, red lips, and hair sweeping across his forehead. He takes a sip of his drink, looking up at Harry over the top of his drink, but still doesn’t say a word.

Harry puts his hand on his hip. “Can I help you?”

Blue Eyes blinks lazily. “Just wanted to say you did an adequate job, Curly.”

He laughs, shaking out his hair. “Hey, thanks. I think.”

“Especially for a first timer.”

His smile drops. “Wait, you could tell it was my first time?”

“I mean, yeah.” He shrugs. “You were shaking like a leaf throughout the entire first song. And then you fucked up part of ‘Ho Hey.’”

“I did not!” Harry argues, even though he knows his guy is right; he was hoping it had been overlooked, but, alas.

He nods. “Eh. No one noticed.”

You did, apparently!”

He waves his free hand around. “You did good, regardless. Seems like you wooed most of the crowd, anyway.” He nods over in the direction of Red, who now looks extremely irritated. “Maybe not her, though.”

Harry laughs. “I was heading over there to talk to her but then someone stopped me in my tracks.”

“She’s cute,” he hums.

“I know.”

“The person who stopped you must be even cuter, seeing as you haven’t walked away yet.”

Okay, Blue is flirting. Harry smirks slightly. “He is . But do you think I should be polite? Go over to her?”

“You could. Or. You could buy the cute boy a drink instead.”

Harry snorts at the irony. “I, uh, I’m 19.”

Blue laughs, pinching Harry’s cheek. “Aw, little baby.”

He bats Blue’s hand away, can feel himself blushing. “Rude.”

“Okay, I’ll tell you what. We’ll make a deal. I’ll buy this round, and if I find you interesting enough, I’ll let you buy the next.”

“How is that a deal?”

“Believe me.” Blue winks. “It is.” He starts to make his way over to the bar, not bothering to ask Harry what he wants and Harry just shakes his head, realizing he doesn’t even know this guy’s name yet.

“Hey, I’m Harry, by the way!” he calls out after him, wondering if Blue can hear over the noise from the band following Harry’s set on stage.

Blue looks over his shoulder. “I’m Louis,” he yells back.

Mmm. Louis. Blue. Blouis. Harry laughs out loud to himself, stumbling over nothing. Blouis.

On second thought, maybe he doesn’t need more alcohol.

 

Harry and Louis spend the rest of the night holed up together at the back of the room, Harry accepting drink after drink, ignoring the heaviness he’s starting to feel in his limbs and in his head, ignoring how he’s gotten progressively more stupid since the start of the night. The floor is sticky beneath his boots, the suede slightly darker than it was when he first entered the bar earlier, and every time he shifts from his left foot to his right, he can feel the floorboards creaking beneath his weight. It’s a complete dive, this hole in the wall called Jana’s, but Harry isn’t paying attention to any of that. Rather, he’s only focused on the way Louis licks his lips every time he’s about to say something, or how his eyes crinkle at the corners when he laughs, or how he leans back against the brick wall, eyes bright even in the dim lighting of the room when he looks up at Harry. He can’t be half assed to care what happened to Red (or Niall), not while he has Louis in front of him, hand grazing Harry’s hip or bicep every so often, playful and easy.

He learns that Louis is also a student at Western Michigan University, but unlike Harry, he’s a senior, graduating in the spring. He’s from Columbus, Ohio, about four and a half hours from campus, and Harry raises a brow in surprise.

“Really? And you chose to come to… Kalamazoo?”

Louis takes a long sip of his drink. “I got a full scholarship, not that it’s any of your business, and I happen to love this school. I bleed gold.”

Harry laughs. “I’m not judging!”

“Sounds like it.”

“I’m not. I like it here, too.” He swirls his drink around, watching the diluted liquid slosh over the edge. “I’ve never left Michigan, really, though. A few vacations to Florida and one big trip to California when I was younger, but other than that, I haven’t left the Midwest.”

Louis hums. “Do you live in Kalamazoo?”

He shakes his head. “Ubly.”

“Am I supposed to know where that is?”

“Probably not,” he laughs. “It’s in the thumb.”

“Where all the nut jobs live.”

“Gee, thanks.”

Louis smirks. “Big town?”

“If you consider 800 people big, then yes.”

He chokes on his drink. “Christ. Are you all related?”

“I’ve never asked around, but I always thought the librarian and I shared similar eyes.”

Louis laughs. “Do you ever think about leaving?”

Harry moves in a little closer, doesn’t want to have to strain to hear Louis. Someone brushes up against his back. He doesn’t turn around to look. “Sometimes I think about moving somewhere else,” he replies slowly, “but never in a serious way. It’s more out of curiosity. I love where I’m from.”

“Too much to ever go somewhere else?”

He shrugs, sipping the last of his drink, the burn in his throat less noticeable from all the melted ice. “Probably.”

Louis blinks slowly. “Not sure you’ll ever make it big in Michigan, Mr. Popstar.”

“Who said anything about making it big?”

He smiles. “I told you. You were good up there on that stage.”

“If I’m remembering correctly, you used the term ‘adequate.’”

“You’re drunk, don’t trust your memory.”

Harry laughs. “‘m definitely drunk.” He traces his finger along the rim of his glass, eyeing Louis’ tattoos littered across his skin. “Don’t think I’ll ever try to actually sing, though. This was just for fun, something my friend asked me to do. Hey.” He presses his thumb into the tiny skateboard tattoo drawn on the inside of his forearm. “Do you skate?”

Louis snorts. “Attention span is not your strong suit, I see.”

“It really isn’t.” He drags his thumb up and down Louis’ arm. “Can you do a 360 wheelie flip kick?”

“None of that means anything…”

“So you do skate. Able to call me out on my bullshit.”

He rolls his eyes. “I mostly just liked the way the tattoo looked. I mean, I can skate. Sort of. I learned when I was much younger, but I haven't in a long time.” He takes another sip of his drink. “It’s not my sole means of transportation, or anything.”

“You mean you don’t skate home?”

“Are you asking me if I skate from Michigan to Ohio?”

“I don’t know what I’m asking.”

Louis laughs. “No more alcohol for you.”

Harry pouts. “I just really like the idea of you being a skater.”

“And why is that.”

“Boys who skate are better at grinding.” The second the words are out of his mouth, he instantly regrets them, face heating up, mortified. “Oh my God. Pretend I didn’t just say that.”

Louis nearly chokes he laughs so hard. “You should be so embarrassed,” he wheezes out. “Jesus Christ, that was awful.

“I know, shut up,” Harry whines, closing his eyes. “I told you, I’m drunk . Someone kept serving me alcohol.”

“He sounds like a fun time, actually. You lucked out tonight.”

He pushes his hair out of his eyes. “I definitely lucked out tonight.”

Louis takes a long sip from his drink, looking up at Harry from under his lashes, and Harry’s stomach starts squirming. He hasn’t been nervous flirting with someone since high school, probably, but right now, his palms are sweaty and he can’t seem to get his breathing under control.

“So, like, when you do become big and famous,” Louis teases, touching the hem of Harry’s shirt, “you gonna write a song about me?”

Harry swallows, leaning into Louis’ hands. “I probably would,” he mumbles, half playing along, half completely serious.

Louis bites at his bottom lip. “Coming on a little strong, I think. I wouldn’t write a song about you .”

He huffs out a laugh, stepping in even closer. “Guess I’m just nicer.”

“Guess so.” His cheeks are pink, his smile is soft, and Harry just.

He wants to kiss him. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s drunkenly kissed a stranger; hell, it wouldn’t even be the first time he’s drunkenly kissed a stranger in this very room. But it would be the first time he’d kissed a guy. He’s thought about it - he’s thought about it a lot - but he’s never entertained the idea enough to actually follow through. He wants to now, though. Louis is looking at him intently, lips practically begging to be kissed, and Harry is horribly, embarrassingly attracted to him. It’s his smile, his arms, the way he cocks his hips, the sarcasm, the gentle yet insistent way he’s held Harry’s attention for the past two hours.

He ignores the way his stomach clenches and the way his throat goes dry as he starts to lean in, Louis already on the same page, winding his arms up and around Harry’s neck. He’s never been nervous to kiss someone before, never had any issues to do so, really, but here he is, painfully aware of how loudly he’s breathing, how he can’t stop staring at Louis’ mouth, how his fingertips are restless against Louis’ hips.

Louis ends up being the one to close the gap between them, clearly more experienced and confident than Harry is, and presses their mouths together, twisting his fingers up into Harry’s curls. The stubble from his chin rubs against Harry’s face - different than what he’s used to, but not unpleasant - and when their tongues slide together, Harry tastes lime, and something sweet that he can’t quite identify. Regardless, it spurs him on to push in closer, sliding his hand up Louis’ sides and up to his jaw, cupping it in his palm, living for the way Louis inhales sharply, opening his mouth wider, biting at Harry’s bottom lip playfully, teasingly.

It’s a really good kiss, he thinks, one that leaves Harry impossibly dizzier when they break apart, hands restless and breathing unsteady. He drags his pointer finger across Louis’ collarbones, defined and essentially asking to be touched, trying to come up with something to say that isn’t, Whatever you want, I’ll fucking do it.

Louis gets there first, though, smirking slightly, hair falling in front of his eyes. “I think we need more shots.”

It’s the last thing either of them need, really, but Harry is pretty sure he would follow Louis anywhere. He nods, mind hazy and eyelids heavy, smile bright. “Yeah. More shots.”

The rest of the night is a blur, filled with a lot of laughter, a lot of touching, a lot of kissing. It ends there, though, both of them somehow separating before the night ends, getting lost in the rowdy crowds. Harry’s frantically searching throughout the sea of patrons when Niall grabs his arm.

“Where the hell have you been?! Jesus, I thought I lost you forever.”

Harry’s distracted when he answers, still looking over the tops of everyone’s heads to try to catch a glimpse of Louis. “Yeah, lost forever,” he echoes.

“It’s last call. Let’s get going. Everything’s closing down.”

He looks at the clock on the wall, seeing it reads two in the morning, and he clenches his fists. The bartender is wiping down the counter, people are starting to file out through the exit, and Louis is nowhere. He sighs.

“Yeah, alright.”

Harry stumbles home alone, ripping off his t-shirt and peeling his jeans off of him, kicking them in the corner to deal with later. And as he lays on his back, sheets pulled up around his waist, it’s then that it occurs to him that he never got Louis’ phone number or his last name.

Shit.

He tries to search for him on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, the school’s database, and desperately logs into Goddamn MySpace before he realizes he’s being insane. Instead of continuing the search, he nearly throws his phone onto the other end of the bed, tosses and turns for the next hour or two, and tries his best to get the image of ice blue eyes and a single skateboard tattoo out of his mind.

He’s horribly unsuccessful.

 

Harry never ends up finding Louis again; he frequents the same bar throughout the duration of the school year, hoping to bump into him, eyes darting across the room in search of Louis whenever he’s on stage, but he comes up empty handed every time. He looks for him in cafes, restaurants, lecture halls. Nothing. None of his friends have heard of anyone named Louis - none of his professors have, either - and by the time he’s ringing in the New Year, Harry is convinced he may have made the entire encounter up. As spring rolls around, flowers breaking through the thawed Michigan ground and sun a little hotter, Harry has stopped thinking about Blouis from the bar all together.

For the most part.

 

It takes three years for them to run into each other once more, and in that timespan, everything changes.


Three Years Later

Harry smiles against the microphone as he belts out the chorus to the third song in his set, ignoring the way the beads of sweat are starting to roll down his temples. It’s his favorite place, being on stage, and it never ceases to amaze him that there are people who have memorized his words, his thoughts, and sing them alongside him. The first time it happened, he was taken aback by it, surprised that there were strangers out there who had listened to his EP and actually liked it enough to learn the verses and bring them to life alongside him. He expects it now, a few years into the game, but it always makes his chest feel a little bit tight, like right now.

By the end of his sophomore year at WMU, he’d become a regular performer at the dive bar he’d first stepped on stage at that October night less than a year prior. The more confident he became, the more the crowds would grow. And he’d truly never had so much fun in his life , his excitement contagious . It didn’t take long for peers to begin stopping him on campus, telling him they’d caught his Tuesday night show, that he was fantastic, and began to request specific songs for his Friday night set. Eventually, he was booked three times a week, and was always guaranteed the popular time slots over the weekend.

Niall was the one - of course - who recorded his rendition of “Mirrors” by Justin Timberlake, and put it up on YouTube. It got a surprising number of hits, and the comments ranged anywhere from, “The vocals on this kid are unreal,” to “I want him to sit on my face.” The latter made Harry choke, but now, with a fairly successful channel and an abundance of subscribers, those comments make him laugh instead of blush; he’s used to them now. Besides, it was that video that drew in his label, and the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s been two years since the release of his first album. It’s a short record, consisting of only eight songs, but he put his heart and soul into the combined 37 minutes of music and lyrics, and that album was what put him on the map. The second album, however, was the one that really took off. It’s been out for a mere seven months, but in that amount of time, he’s sold 250,000 copies - and counting - with his single reaching the number four spot on the Billboard charts, remaining there for nine weeks.

To the contrary of his family, friends, and almost every entertainment media outlet, he doesn’t feel like what one would define as “famous.” People tend to almost always recognize him when he’s out grocery shopping or walking through the mall, and he’s been successful enough to have more than enough money to pay off his student loans - the loans that helped him earn the degree he hasn’t once needed to use. Sure, he’s proud of his Bachelor’s in psychology, but the idea of doing anything but this - tapping his foot to the music, holding the microphone out for the audience, jumping around and flipping his hair around - is laughable. This is what he was made for; how did he not know it the entire time? It makes being caught off guard by a stranger with a camera in his face the first thing on a Sunday morning in line at Starbucks with pajama pants on completely worth it. And, of course, the luxury cars with his name on the title don’t hurt.

Harry looks around the room he knows like the back of his hand, and it all feels so comfortable and nostalgic at once. He never toured his first album, in favor of finishing up college instead, but after graduation, he spent the following months showing off his second album at small arenas all around the United States. This is his last stop of the tour, tacked on at the end as Harry’s request. His management didn’t think it was the best idea to set up such a small show, not after he’d been performing at arenas holding up to 20,000 people. Besides, they argued, who wanted to attend a show the Saturday after Thanksgiving? No one would be around. Harry stuck to his guns, though.

“They’ll come,” he argued. “I have friends from there, and they’ll come to see me. And even if they don’t, even if it’s just me and the bartender, I want to play on that stage again. That’s where I started. I want to go back. It’s my roots, you know?”

They’d rolled their eyes because they didn’t know, but they booked it, anyway, and Harry is beyond thrilled they did.

Here he stands at Jana’s the weekend after Thanksgiving, the room fucking packed , people spilling out through the exit onto the street outside. He recognizes quite a few people - some employees working behind the scenes, some peers in the crowd - and it feels like magic , being back here on this familiar stage. The air smells stale like always, two sets of stage lights are burned out, the microphone stand won’t stay up all the way so he has to keep hunching over, and it feels so, so right. He can’t stop smiling.

The 17 songs he’s been playing in his typical set takes way longer than it does during every other show. It probably has to do with the fact that he keeps stopping in between songs to talk to people in the audience more than he normally does, joking with the couple in the front row, taking two additional requests from some people in the back, and once he pulls a girl up on stage to dance with him during the encore, he realizes he’s gone way over his 90-minute slot. No one seems to be complaining, though, so he keeps going, happy to.

He’s sweaty and his throat is sore by the time he’s done, but he’s satisfied with how the show went; everyone seemed to have fun, himself included. He says it at most shows, but this time he means it: this is his favorite stop on the tour.

“There’s nothing quite like coming home,” he says into the microphone, pausing to smile as everyone in the room breaks out into applause, a few of the rowdier people whooping. “I love this stage. It’s where I learned how to do everything, basically.” Harry taps his foot against the stage. “This is the first spot I ever lost my voice singing. My throat hurt so badly, I thought I was going to throw up on the spot.” He laughs thinking about it, shaking his head. “You’ve all been amazing. Thank you so much for having me, Jana’s. I’ll come back. I already can’t wait.”

He hops off the stage while everyone is still cheering, heading backstage, and though there are a lot of perks of having his name out there, this isn’t one of them. He misses the days of walking directly down the stage’s stairs, threading in and out throughout the crowd, talking with anyone and everyone. Now, it’s often too hectic, and becomes overwhelming rather quickly. In one instance, the crowd around him became hostile, and that was when his security decided for him that that wasn’t allowed anymore. Backstage he goes, no if’s, and’s or but’s.

Niall pokes his head in through the door while Harry’s applying more deodorant, and makes a face.

“Thank you from all of us for fixing your stink.”

Harry laughs, flipping him off. “You can’t even smell me from there.”

“Just a hunch.” He sits down on the folding chair by the door, beer in hand. “It’s already starting to clear out. Security is kicking out some of the rowdier people. Wanna go back out in a few? Nate and Kat are both out there.”

He nods. “Yeah, definitely. Darts?”

“Sure, as long as you don’t drink. Last thing we need is your coordination, impaired, with flying, pointed metal leaving your hands.”

“Okay, relax, I’ll be fine.” And as if on cue, Harry trips over his own feet, catching himself before he hits the ground. He looks up at Niall. “That was a fluke, I swear.”

Niall stares at him, unamused. “Like I said, no drinks for you. Actually, maybe no darts in general. You can keep score.”

“Um, rude. I’m perfectly capable playing a round of darts. I’m 22, not 12.”

“Yeah, we’ll see.”

They head back out to the bar area together, Harry biting back a smile when Madge waves from behind the bar, her eyes lighting up. He goes over, resting his elbows on the sticky counter.

“Madge!” He leans over and pulls her in for an awkward hug. “Sorry, hard to reach you over the bar.”

“Oh, it’s so good to see you!” she croons into his shoulder. She pats him on the back before she pulls away, and immediately starts filling up a glass with a concoction of vodka mixed with something dark red. “I don’t think you’ve been around since your 21st birthday!”

He pulls out his wallet and she rolls her eyes. “I’ve definitely been here since then,” he protests, handing over a $20 bill as she scoffs.

“Not that I recall! You’ve been busy traveling around the world.”

“Nuh uh. Just around the U.S.”

“Same thing.”

They chat for a little while longer, Harry asking Madge about her husband and son, Madge asking Harry what LA is like, and by the time they’re wrapping up their conversation, Harry has willingly taken three more drinks. The banners up against the back wall are the same, the barstools still squeak when he spins to the left, and the alcohol certainly isn’t helping with the bittersweet nostalgia. He forces himself to pull away from his spot at the counter, promising Madge he’d be back, and saunters off through the thinning crowd to find Niall.

He stops for a picture four times before he makes it to Niall and the rest of the group, wrapping his arms around a girl around his age who bursts into tears the moment she spots him. He can hear Niall laughing throughout the entire ordeal, clearly used to the attention Harry receives after going on tour with him for three months, and Harry has to politely tell her to let go, otherwise he’ll never make it to the other end of the room.

Niall is still chuckling once Harry is finally freed, and Harry scoffs. “Don’t make fun of me.”

“I’m not,” he laughs, taking a sip of his drink. “It’s just so funny that people fawn over you .”

“Gee, thanks.”

“Do they know you can’t say the words ‘cinnamon’ or ‘synonym’ without sounding like you’re choking on your own tongue?”

“Those are hard words to say!” he says defensively.

Niall snorts. “You’re just the same ol’ boy. Still tell awful jokes and talk super slowly and wear the same suede boots. Except now, you have a record deal, you can’t stay in one place for more than a week, you have way less hair, and I can’t turn on the radio without hearing your fucking song.”

Heat creeps up the back of Harry’s neck. “Okay, yeah, but I’m still exactly the same. You just said it.”

You might be the same. But a lot has changed.”

He furrows his brows together, reaching for a dart. “No, it hasn’t.”

“For someone living the life, you’re kind of in denial, dude.”

“No. I’m not.”

Niall stares blankly for a second. “Okay, good chat. Can we play darts now?”

Harry sighs. “Yeah, whatever, I just don’t want you to think anything about me is different. You know me. You’ve been traveling with me since the summer. You know better than anyone, probably.”

“I know. I wasn’t, like, trying to insult you… Touchy subject, I guess. Sorry.”

“No, it’s not that. It’s…” He trails off, feeling someone’s gaze on him to his right. He’s become strangely attuned to people staring at him or trying to sneak photos over the past year, and right now, he feels a set of eyes on him, unwavering and nearly burning. He looks over and freezes.

“It’s good to see your attention span hasn’t changed, either,” Niall mumbles. “Okay, let’s do this. I’m getting bored.”

“Niall.” Harry licks his lips. “I’ll be right back.”

“What?! No, you’re not going anywhere.”

Harry ignores him, shaking his head, and swallows heavily. The crowd has thinned out significantly, all of the more intense fans already escorted out of the bar, no one in his path to stop him now. He makes his way over to the other side of the room, trying to figure out if his eyes are playing tricks on him. But then he’s standing directly in front of Louis, whose own eyes are wide and unblinking, and he feels hot all over. Suddenly, Harry isn’t the man with the record deal, the fans, the highrise apartment in LA. He’s the 19-year-old college student, palms sweaty, curls a little too tight.

His eyes travel across Louis’ face. “Blouis from the bar,” he murmurs under his breath before he can stop himself.

Louis raises his brows, smile soft. “Who?”

Harry can feel himself blushing. “Uh, that’s what I’ve kind of been calling you for the past three years. Because of your eyes. And your name…” He makes a face, trying to find out a way to backtrack. He comes up with nothing.

“You’ve been talking about me for the past three years? Wow.”

He blushes more. “No, just, like, in my head. Sometimes.”

“That’s called ‘thinking,’ which is apparently a new term for you.”

“Okay, stop.”

Louis laughs and looks down, eyeing the dart. “Did you come here to stab me?”

“Shit, I forgot I was still holding this. I, uh.” He attempts to smoothly push his curls out of his face, but forgets they’re not there anymore due to his very recent hair massacre, and he ends up accidentally poking his finger directly into his eye. “Ow, fuck.”

He laughs again, harder this time. “Christ, you are exactly the same as you were the last time I saw you.”

Harry knows he visibly brightens at the fact that Louis remembers him, remembers their encounter from three years ago. “And what was I like last time? Beautiful? Funny? Witty?” he offers jokingly, twisting the dart around in his hand.

Louis shrugs, taking another sip of his drink. “More like a complete and utter mess.”

He bursts out laughing. “You see right through me.”

“I do.” Louis smiles. “Caught the end of your show, though. You did good, Styles. You’re a natural.”

“Yeah?” Praise coming from Louis actually means a lot, seeing as he was one of the first people that ever watched Harry perform live. Harry has grown a lot, and he likes that Louis has a comparison. And clearly, Louis is nothing but extremely and brutally honest. Harry can tell he means it. “Better than last time?”

He swirls his drink around, nodding. “You’re more confident. You can tell you’re having fun up there.”

“I am .”

“That’s good. Although.” Louis licks his lips. “I’m kinda pissed at you.”

“Huh? Why?”

“My friends and I have come back here to this bar every Thanksgiving weekend since we graduated. Kind of like, a mini reunion type deal. And someone had to book our venue and take over. And I could barely find a place to park because of all the cars out front with ‘I heart Harry Styles’ written all over the windows.”

Harry rocks up on the balls of his feet, clearing his throat. “Uh, yeah, sometimes that happens. Sorry.”

“Had to fight my way in here to see Oh Great One.”

He blushes. “Stop.”

“Got bitchslapped by some girl wearing a t-shirt with your face on it.”

“Oh my God.”

“Harry.” Louis grabs him by the shoulder, grips him tightly, eyes crazy and wild. “She threatened to cut me,” he whispers.

Harry laughs so hard he chokes. “Okay, it’s not that bad.”

He drops his hand, smirking. “No, it wasn’t. I wasn’t kidding about finding parking, though. I had to park half a mile away. I didn’t know what was going on until I walked in the door. I didn’t even realize it was you at first. You’re almost unrecognizable.” He touches the end of Harry’s hair, Harry stilling at the movement. “You lost the curls, my man.”

He nods. “Yeah, I lost a bet.”

“Seriously?”

“Mhm. I always keep my word. Couldn’t back out. So off went the curls.”

“That’s a shame. I liked ‘em. You’re ugly now.”

Harry snorts. “Good confidence booster, you are.”

“You don’t need confidence from me. Have you ever searched your name on Twitter before? It’s like reading thousands of 140 character pornos.”

He laughs, rubbing his eyes. “Sometimes it gets a little crazy. Wait.” He freezes. “Have you searched my name on Twitter before?”

“Yup,” Louis replies without hesitation. “I follow you, too.”

“What?!”

“Why do you sound so shocked by that. It seems like half the world follows you. Besides,” he adds with a smirk, “we used to be in love, remember? Had to keep track of my ex-boyfriend online.”

Harry’s face heats up at that. “You stalking me?”

“Hey, you’re the one who sought me out tonight. Came running over like I was the finish line of a 5k.”

He smiles, because it’s true. “Whatever. Five million people hardly counts as half the world, though.”

“You keepin’ track?”

“I mean.” Harry looks down at his feet. “I check once in a while…”

Louis laughs. “Don’t be ashamed of success, Harry. You’re going well. It’s why I follow you. And I like the music you come out with. It’s nice. That fucking catchy as all hell single. It’s on every radio station 24 hours a day it seems. Did you write it?”

He chews on his bottom lip. “Most of it, yeah. Had some help.”

“Don’t be modest…”

Harry pauses. “Yeah, I wrote it.”

Louis smiles. “There you go.”

He takes the last few sips of his drink, the alcohol starting to take its toll. He’s having a hard time not reaching out to touch any piece of Louis he can see. He’s 22, he’s 22 , he has to keep reminding himself, and not a sputtering sophomore . Jesus, he’s nervous and he knows he’s staring too much and why the hell is he still holding this dart like a murder weapon. “Hey, Louis.”

“Yes?”

“What’s your last name?”

He laughs. “Tomlinson.”

“Tomlinson,” he echoes. “Mine’s Styles.”

Louis stares blankly. “I know.”

“Oh. Right.” Harry rubs the back of his neck. “Hey, Louis,” he repeats.

He laughs again. “What.”

“Wanna play darts? My friend Niall is over there, probably outrageously pissed that I took a game piece.” He holds up the dart. “If you want to win, pick someone other than me to be your partner.”

“An honest boy. I like that. Yeah, sure, let’s go play darts. I can ditch my friends for a while.”

Harry feels stupidly proud as he directs Louis over to his group of people. Louis is essentially a stranger - Harry is more familiar with the bartender behind the counter, to be completely honest - but he’s drawn to him in a way he doesn’t know how to explain without sounding absolutely absurd, completely crazy. And yet, all he wants to do is show off the man beside him. He’s not subtle about it, either, based on the way Niall rolls his eyes at Harry as he holds out his own hand to shake Louis’.

They form teams - Niall and Louis against Kat and Harry, Nate opting out once he realizes he’d have to be paired with Harry - and they play for the next hour, long enough for almost the entire crowd to clear out, leaving behind the usuals, most of whom don’t know who Harry is. He drinks with his friends alone in peace, enjoying how regular it seems in the mass chaos that has become his life over the past year or two.

Madge continues to bring drinks over, and though Harry sticks to beer and avoids all hard liquor, he’s teetering on the line of tipsy and drunk. It feels good to be this loose in an environment so familiar to him. Typically, he ends up celebrating with drinks backstage after big shows, the venues all blending together, Harry unable to remember which arena is which when he looks back on it. But this venue feels like home. It’s safe and warm and there’s a hole in the wall by the door from when Carl Lister got pissed at Riley O’Brien during junior year, and when he swung at Riley, he missed. He knows the stories of this place. He knows the people, the energy, the way the men’s restroom door sticks. He’s so happy to be here.

And feeling at peace isn’t the only reason he can’t stop smiling.

Louis is a fucking riot. He’s funnier than Harry remembered him being, cracking inappropriate jokes left and right, dominating the conversation no matter the topic. His blue eyes are bright in the dim, smoky room, his laugh contagious, and the way he cocks his hips has Harry staring in a way that can only be described as “uncomfortably lingering.” And it’s not as though Harry has been pining for the past three years - that would be completely and utterly ridiculous, even for him - but he can admit that his mind has wandered from time to time to what the boy from the bar had been up to. Tonight, though, it all floods back in the best way. It’s natural, it’s light, it’s simple, and Harry is a Goddamn international sensation with his back pressed up against the grimy wall of a bar, tour and record deal nearly forgotten, just happy to be .

Harry and Kat lose the game of darts - due to an obvious combination of Harry’s lack of grace and the way Louis keeps whispering disgusting obscenities in his ear to get him to fuck up - and Kat takes the loss a lot better than Harry does. He pouts for five solid minutes, crossing his arms, pretending to ignore the way Niall and Louis have been doing nothing but make fun of him.

“Get a load of this guy,” Niall says, pointing to Harry, “this is the same face he made after he wasn’t a nominee for ‘best new artist’ but this time, it’s over a game of fucking darts.

Louis barks out a laugh, pinching Harry’s cheek. “Think you’ll be okay, baby?”

Harry bats his hand away. “No, I hate you.”

“Do you want another drink? From a bottle, maybe?”

“Stop.”

Louis laughs again, his voice loud and shrill. “Another beer?”

Harry sighs. “Yes, please.” He watches Louis saunter off, stopping to talk with a group of people before making his way to the bar, and Niall slaps Harry on the back.

“Now I know why you were obsessed with him for the better part of our sophomore year.”

He makes a face. “I was not .”

“Harry, I had to stop you from putting up fliers around campus.”

“That’s not true!”

Niall smirks. “It’s okay. He’s a great guy. I get it.”

He takes a deep breath and nods. “Yeah, I think he is. Unfortunate it took so long to meet again, though. A lot has changed.”

“You’re still you. We just had this conversation earlier.”

“I know. I just. I won’t be here for long. I’m writing like crazy and I have a ton of promo coming up at the start of the year…”

“Don’t dismiss new people just because of a unique schedule and career, Harry. That’s nuts.”

Harry furrows his brows. “I guess you’re right.”

“Of course I am. And if you were worried about it, Louis is definitely one of the genuine ones. He’s not hanging around us tonight for a picture with Harry Styles.”

“I wasn’t concerned. I can tell. He’s good.”

“He is,” Niall agrees. “You know how I know?”

“How.”

“He met you when you were a creepy 19-year-old, before you were famous, and he still wanted to hang out with you again,” Niall laughs. “And he’s not a kiss ass. It seems like most of the people you meet these days are major ass kissers,” he says with the wave of his hand, as if he’s dismissing them.

“Understatement of the year,” Harry mutters under his breath, smiling. “This is dumb, right? That I drunkenly met some guy three years ago and then I run into him again and I’m about ready to handcuff myself to him.”

He snorts. “Probably dumb.”

“That’s what I figured.”

“You’re gonna go propose to him now, aren’t you.”

“Basically.”

“God speed.”

 

Harry doesn’t propose, but he does engage in conversation with Louis’ group of friends. They’re all curious about Harry’s newfound fame, and he indulges them, used to the attention, but remains humble to not come off cocky. They ask questions, complementing Harry on his well deserved ratings, Harry blushing furiously, and eventually, the conversation tapers off. Louis pulls Harry to the side, backing up against the wall, and Harry realizes they’re in the exact same position as they were in over three years ago. He doesn’t say anything, but he smiles over the top of his beer bottle.

“You’re making that horrible face again,” Louis says.

“‘m not making any face,” Harry counters.

“Whatever you say,” he winks.

They talk for a long time, Harry watching the way Louis’ throat bobs as he swallows his drink, the way he steadily drums his fingers on his glass while he tells stories about Detroit, the way he throws his head back when he laughs at Harry’s God awful jokes. Louis is attractive - that much is obvious - but Harry finds himself being drawn to the way he holds himself, the way he’s looking at Harry, the way he keeps flicking his hair out of his eyes. He watches the way Louis’ mouth curls around his words, telling Harry about his new life in Chicago, his boring desk job, his Corgi named Stacy.

Harry forces his tongue to function. “Wait. You have a dog named Stacy? That’s…” He scratches his jaw. “Weird.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “Yeah, I know. She was supposed to be Stella, but then my dumbass friend Bill kept calling me her mom, which turned into an endless round of ‘Stacy’s Mom’ by Fountains of Wayne. And then the dog started responding to Stacy. And now I have a fucking dog named Stacy.”

“Oh my God,” Harry laughs. “So now you really are Stacy’s mom.”

“It’s alright. I’ve got it going on.”

He laughs again. “All I want, and I’ve waited for so long.”

“You can stop there.”

“You sure?”

Louis nods, cheeks pink, laughter in his eyes. “Positive.”

They talk for another hour, the conversation never awkward, the flow never choppy, and by the time it’s last call, Harry is drunk and smiling too much and all he wants to do is touch Louis. He swallows and takes a step forward, the toes of his boots touching Louis’.

“Hey, can I tell you a secret?”

Louis licks his lips, cocking his head to the side. “Go ahead.”

“You were my first kiss with a boy.”

He laughs. “That makes a lot sense, actually.”

“What does?”

“As to why the kiss was so terrible.”

“What?!” Harry sputters. “What do you mean?!”

“It wasn’t good. At all.” Louis smirks, pinching Harry’s side. “It’s okay, I could tell you were nervous.”

“Louis!” he whines, laughing. “I thought about that kiss for weeks. I thought it was amazing. That’s so embarrassing!”

No , what would be embarrassing is if I sold your shitty kissing skills to a tabloid. I’m sure a ton of girls would be devastated to know hunk Harry Styles sucks at frenching. Or maybe they’d think it was cute.” He shrugs. “Or maybe I’d just get death threats.”

Harry puts his face in his hand. “I hate you.”

“I’m sure you’d be better now.”

“Well, now I feel like I’m on the spot.”

“I’m not asking you to show me, Christ.”

He laughs and looks up to the ceiling. “You make me crazy.”

Louis squeezes Harry’s hip. “My best quality.”

Harry looks back at Louis, biting back another smile. He can hear what’s left of the crowd shuffling out of the bar behind him, both of their groups of friends long forgotten. Tonight, this isn’t vulnerable, high-off-energy Harry, desperate to kiss the beautiful senior who touched him and looked at him in all the right ways. Instead, it’s experienced, well traveled Harry, who has been with plenty of men, who has been to plenty of places, since the last time he kissed Louis. He spent the past year in and out of hotels, airplanes, arenas, interviews, tasting the world and growing into himself. And he can scream until he’s blue in the face that everything is the same, but in reality, he knows how much of a lifestyle change this has been. It’s different. It’s all so painfully different. This , though - looking at Louis, listening to Louis’ breath hitching in front of him, in disbelief that his irises are actually that shade of blue - isn’t.

He reaches out to drag his thumb across Louis’ jaw, Louis letting him, and Harry stares directly at him for only three or four seconds before he gives in, starts to lean forward, eyes already closing. Redemption . But then Louis’ hands are on his chest, halting his movements.

“Whoa, hey, this isn’t college now. I don’t just kiss random guys anymore. I don’t even know if I like you.”

Louis’ tone is light and he’s obviously teasing, but he isn’t leaning forward, his hands at his sides. Harry freezes, breath caught in his throat. “I, uh.” He can’t tell if Louis is completely serious, but then he sees the look on Louis’ face and he sees that he is most definitely not kidding. “But I’m not random. You follow me on Twitter,” he says stupidly.

Louis barks out a laugh. “By that logic, Barack Obama and I are best friends, too.”

“Did you hear about the rumor that I’m secretly having an affair with him?”

“No, but that’s a good one.” He pauses. “Hobama.”

Harry laughs, squeezing his eyes shut. “Are you making jokes to soften the blow that you just completely and totally rejected me?”

Louis hums. “Pretty much, yeah.”

He whines, feeling like a total idiot. He got too caught up in a moment in his own head, and while that’s good for his profession, it’s not good when he’s trying to impress the skater from Ohio. Is he a skater? Harry doesn’t entirely remember that small detail. He sighs. “Sorry.”

“It’s all good. You just gotta work harder next time.”

He perks up at that. “Next time?”

“Yeah. If you actually remember to get my number this time.”

Harry nods quickly. “Yes. Number. Yours. I want it.”

Louis laughs. “You got some time in between shows to hang out with Blouis?”

“Fuck,” he laughs. “Maybe one day my brain to mouth filter will turn on and I won’t blurt out things that only seem to work against me.”

“Probably not.”

“Probably not,” Harry agrees. “But, yes, I’m done touring for a while. Got the next couple of months to myself.”

“And you’ll be around?”

“I’ll be back and forth between Ubly and Chicago. With family here, recording there. I have an apartment I’m currently renting in the city, so I’ll definitely be around a lot.”

Louis pulls his phone out of his back pocket, unlocks it, and hands it over to Harry. “Here. Now you’ll know where to find me.”

Harry texts himself from Louis’ phone, feeling it vibrate in his back pocket. “Thank God, finally.”

“You gonna wait another three years to track me down?” Louis teases.

“You’re out of your mind if you think I’m not going to force you to hang out with me by this time next week .”

He laughs, rolling his eyes, but Harry can tell he’s pleased. “Alright, well. Let’s see if you’re a man of your word, Styles.”

“I am, I told you. I cut my hair because of a bet, remember?”

“Ah, yes.” Louis winks, and Harry thinks he might be on fire.

They walk outside together, Harry yelling his goodbye’s to Madge over his shoulder, promising he’ll be back soon. The air is cold, his breath coming out in wispy puffs, and he jams his hands in is pockets, body trembling.

“I’ll be in Chicago by next weekend,” he says, teeth chattering. “Can we do something then?”

Louis nods, his own body wracked with shakes. “Yeah, we can. Should I expect to hear from you before then?”

“Oh, you will. Believe me.”

He smirks. “Should I regret giving you my number already?”

“Yeah, because I’m gonna text you at seven tomorrow morning. Be ready.”

“Oh, boy.” Louis flicks Harry across the nose; it doesn’t hurt, and it makes Harry laugh. “I’m sure you can wait until tomorrow night, at least.”

“Eh.” He shrugs. “Maybe.”

 

Harry doesn’t make it until tomorrow night. He doesn’t even make it before he slides into the driver’s seat of his fucking car.

Miss me yet? he sends.

Louis’ response is instant: You lasted longer than I thought you would. And no. I don't miss you. I just turned on the radio and your stupid voice is playing. I can't escape you.


 

Harry calls Louis the moment he crosses the Illinois border a week later. He’s embarrassingly giddy to meet up with him, excited to test their chemistry in a sober light, eager to stare at his face some more until Louis is telling him to cut it out, which he most likely would. And Harry is ready for it. He’s been counting down the days - the hours, even - since they parted ways in Kalamazoo. He knows he sounds like an absolute madman, but the last time he was this excited about a potential date was… Never.

He tried not to read too much into the fact that Louis was extremely hesitant to get together when Harry asked if they could meet up at Louis’ apartment, not understanding Louis’ uneasy tone, and had to force himself not to ask. Louis had suggested they get coffee down the block, or drinks in the center, obviously trying to steer clear of staying in his home.

“Louis, it’s too cold to go out walking around,” Harry argued. “It’s, like, 18 degrees this weekend. I don’t have a problem ordering food and just watching a movie. In fact, I want to do that. These past few weeks have been crazy busy. It’s nice to just relax.” He paused, trying to figure out how candid he wanted to be. “And honestly, I just want to see you .”

Louis sighed, stalling. “Alright, fine, but I get to pick the movie.”

Now, as he heads to Louis’ neighborhood, he’s glad he convinced Louis to stay put. It’s below freezing out, the windchill agonizing, and the idea of walking around in this is actually laughable. The heavy winter jacket, scarf, hat, and gloves are doing next to nothing to protect him from the chill, and his eyes won’t stop watering from the cold. The exposed parts of his face are bright red and raw, and he can’t get inside the lobby of Louis’ building quick enough. It’s in a surprisingly quiet part of the city, the street lined with small shops and stores, a well manicured dog park on the corner. It’s quaint and simple; Harry nearly laughs at the juxtaposition between the location and the noisy boy who lives inside.

He finds Louis’ name on the intercom - Tomlinson , followed by Payne and Fritz - and presses the buzzer. Louis comes through a moment later, staticky and loud.

“Who is it?”

Harry cracks his knuckles through his gloves, stomach twisting at the sound of Louis’ voice. “Harry.”

“Harry who?” he sings through the speaker.

He rolls his eyes, butterflies still kicking up inside him. “Potter.”

“Ooo, magical .”

“Louis, c’mon! I’m freezing!”

Louis laughs. “Do wizards even get cold?”

“Have you ever actually seen Harry Potter ?”

“I’m an American. Obviously.”

“It’s… None of the people in the film are American.”

“So?”

Harry wants to bash his head against the wall. “Can you just let me up, please? It’s fucking cold.”

“Pushy, Jesus.” His tone is teasing, though, and Harry listens as the door in front of him unlocks. “Two flights up, first door on your right.”

“Got it.” Harry pushes through the door and heads up the stairs, surprised at the twinkling Christmas lights lining the stairwell. It’s inviting and cozy, leading him directly to Louis’ door, which is adorned by a holiday wreath that nearly takes over the entire entrance. He looks down and realizes he’s standing on a door mat with a snowman on it.

Hm. Interesting choice for three men in their twenties. Nice, but interesting.

He knocks twice on the door, standing back for Louis to open it, but instead, Louis’ voice comes through on the other side of the wall.

“I just want you to be prepared for what you’re about to walk into,” he says.

Harry makes a face. “What’s that supposed to mean? You got an orgy going on in there?”

Louis snorts. “Something like that.” The doorknob twists and then there’s Louis standing in front of him. His hair is messily swept across his forehead, his glasses are sliding down the bridge of his nose, his sweatshirt is baggy and nearly swallowing him whole, and the fact that he didn’t dress up for Harry is somehow more endearing than he can comprehend. He’s about to comment on it, his palms already a little damp and his mouth a little dry, nervous yet pleased, but then he gets a glance of what’s going on behind Louis and that’s suddenly all he can focus on.

“Louis.” Harry clears his throat. “What the hell is in your apartment?”

He rolls his eyes. “I told you to be prepared.”

Harry gestures inside. “How could I have been prepared for this? It’s like The North Pole threw up in here.”

“Okay, Potter, you can leave.”

Harry scoffs and pushes the door open more. He steps inside, pulls off his scarf, and his eyes go wide as he looks around. “Louis, seriously. Why are you living inside a Christmas snow globe.”

There are multiple Christmas trees crammed inside the tiny space, each one with more ornaments than the last, tinsel draped across the green, twinkling lights, and snowflakes hanging from nearly every branch. Pictures of reindeer and elves are plastered around the room, cinnamon and peppermint candles line multiple surfaces, and a toy train is going around in circles along the skirt of the biggest tree, whistling every so often. There are too many holiday knick knacks to count, and as Harry takes another step forward, he accidentally steps on a dog toy, appropriately red and green and in the shape of a present.

Louis sighs. “Stacy won’t be happy you’re mangling her toy.”

“Remind me to apologize to her.” Harry touches the throw pillow on the couch, the one with Happy holidays written in sequined scripture across it. “I had no idea you were so into Christmas.”

He closes and locks the door behind him, sighing again as he slumps on the couch, wrapping himself in a blanket with Santa hats all over it. “I’m not.”

Harry sits down next to Louis. “Is your roommate…?”

“No, neither of them are.”

“Alright, help me out, because I’ve never seen anything like this, not even in a mall.”

Louis pushes his hair off his forehead. “My birthday is Christmas Eve.”

He nods. “Okay…”

“And my freshman year at WMU, I moved in on August 29th, which happens to be my roommate’s birthday. And he was complaining that he had the worst birthday in the world. No one wants to celebrate someone’s birthday on the first day of school.”

“Makes sense.”

“Yeah, but then I countered with how my birthday is worse, because, like, who the hell is even free to hang out on Christmas Eve?”

Harry purses his lips together. “That's true.”

“And when I told him I didn’t really even like Christmas because of it, he was appalled, telling me only murderers and sociopaths don’t like the holidays. So, that first year, I think he tried to change my mind by making the room extra festive with filling our dorm room with any and every holiday decoration he could get his fucking hands on.”

He tries and fails to bite back a smile. “Did it work? Are you in the holiday spirit?”

Louis stares at him with a blank look on his face. “Does it look like I am.”

Harry chokes out a laugh. “Sounds like it backfired.”

“Christmas has basically turned into a time to drive me fucking crazy. I can tell you, I have never once come home to this pile of shit and wanted to go caroling.”

He shakes his head, laughing again, settling deeper into the couch cushions. It’s comfortable. “And how long does all this stuff stay up?”

Louis rubs his eyes under his lenses. “The day after Thanksgiving until the day after Christmas, usually. I learned in college that if I take it down, he’ll just put it all back up again. It’s a waste of energy to fight with him. And every year he seems to find more junk to put up. I don’t know when he has the time to do it. I’ve learned to roll with it. It’s a horrible tradition but.” He shrugs. “Merry Christmas.”

“Which roommate is in charge of this? Payne or Fritz?”

“You memorized the names on the mailbox downstairs?” he asks with the raise of an eyebrow.

“I did.”

Louis smirks. “Payne. Liam Payne.”

“So, is this why you were so weird about having me over? Because you live with Rudolph?”

“Mhm.”

“I didn’t realize you were such a grinch. I think it’d be fun to have all this going on.”

“Um, excuse me. I am not a grinch. I just don't want to live and breathe Santa for five weeks straight, and I think I’m allowed to say I'd like to come home without worrying about slipping on tinsel as soon as I walk through the door.”

“Okay, yeah, fair enough,” he snorts. “You’re right. Your roommate sounds unbelievable, though.”

“Yeah, an unbelievable pain in the ass.”

Harry laughs. “Is he around?”

“Probably in his room,” he hums, nodding. “I told him to leave us alone. It’s bad enough you’re stuck inside of an actual scene of Home Alone . Y’know, minus the burglars. I didn’t need him hanging around, being his typical annoying self.”

“See, I think he’s a riot.”

Louis points to the door. “Exit is that way. Feel free to see yourself out.”

Harry forcefully pushes himself deeper into the couch cushions. “Make me.”

He rolls his eyes, smirk on his face, and retaliates by elbowing Harry in the stomach. Hard.

 

Louis orders a casual meal of sandwiches and way too many French fries, offering Harry a beer, which he gladly takes. They barely move from their spots on the couch all evening, Louis only getting up to pay the food delivery boy and then again to take Stacy out. He comes back inside with red cheeks, teeth chattering, muttering under his breath, “You were fucking right. Too cold to walk around. Good call, Styles.”

They talk in between bites of their meatball subs, Harry asking about Louis’ job, Louis asking about Harry’s tour life, and it never seems like they’re comparing. Often, in these types of situations, Harry feels embarrassed, almost, talking about his success. He seems so… Not normal, or like he’s bragging. Louis doesn’t make it feel that way, though. He simply nods along as if it’s a typical scenario for a 22-year-old to fly first class to and from various sold out arenas, and Harry relaxes, being honest when he talks about the past several months. It’s all good: the food, the twinkling Christmas lights, the company. And when Harry says, “Hey, I have a serious question. Do you pronounce gif with the hard ‘g’ sound or the soft?” Louis just pinches his cheek, laughs, and calls him a total idiot. It’s not at all funny, it’s stupid, really, and yes, it’s very good.

Considering this is the first time they’ve hung out other than in a dingy bar, drunk and stupid, Harry is weirdly comfortable to be in Louis’ presence, posters of Mr. and Mrs. Claus on every wall and all. It feels like visiting an old friend - one he’s horribly attracted to - rather than getting to know the crazy, brilliant boy from Jana’s. And though his stomach keeps twisting with first date nerves - is this even a date? - and he’s unnaturally aware of his loud his breathing is, he’s having fun . Louis is hilarious, even without tequila shots, poking gentle fun at Harry throughout the night, only scoffing for about 15 minutes when he puts on the original Jurassic Park and Harry admits he’s never seen it before. He drapes his legs across Harry’s lap halfway through the movie, tossing a soggy fry at him, laughing when Harry sticks his tongue out to catch it and misses, and when Louis starts going on about a story from the time his mom threw him an embarrassing dinosaur themed birthday party when he was in “Goddamn fucking high school, Harry,” Harry puts his hand on Louis’ knee. Louis doesn’t nudge him away. He actually appears to look pleased.

They’re sober, chemistry is present, and Harry is relieved.

Or, at least, he thinks the chemistry is present.

Louis has made no move, really, to initiate any physical contact, sans stretching out over Harry’s legs, but Harry has done that with his friends before, too, not necessarily indicating he wanted to take it any further than that. And the more the night goes on, Harry isn’t even sure if Louis wants this to be a date. Harry’s desperately grasping onto the fact that this is more than just a casual friend hangout, mind screaming to not be an idiot and muck it all up, and all the while, Louis is scratching behind Stacy’s ears from her position on the end of the sofa, scoffing when the clock on the wall chimes every half hour, spitting out an obnoxious verse of “Frosty the Snowman.” It feels all too much not like a date, and that makes Harry feel even dumber for wanting to pull Louis up against him, kissing and biting at the patch of skin under his jaw that’s practically begging for Harry’s attention.

Yeah, he probably shouldn’t do that.

He must be visibly tense, because Louis drums his fingers along the edge of Harry’s jaw, obviously aware that something’s going on in his mind. He smiles when Harry turns to look at him.

“Dinosaurs scary, Styles?”

Harry blushes, leaning into Louis’ touch, just slightly. “Something like that, yeah.”

He loosens up significantly after that, Louis close enough for Harry to be able to hear him swallow. He could easily pull Louis up into his lap, could easily bend down and slot their mouths together. He doesn’t, though, just stares at the TV, pretends not to notice how nice Louis feels against his thigh. It doesn’t go any further than that all night.

It’s nearly midnight by the time Harry forces himself to get up off the couch, missing the warmth from Louis’ legs already. Stacy trots behind him to the door, and he squats down to rub her back, stalling, not wanting to head into the cold, not wanting to leave Louis.

“Sorry this was kind of lame,” Louis says from a few feet behind him, rubbing the back of his neck, “but you picked it.”

He smiles. “I did. But it wasn’t lame at all. I liked Jurassic Park . Good choice.”

“Thank you. Means you’re human.”

Harry opens his mouth to respond, but then footsteps come from around the corner, and in front of him stands, presumably, one of Louis’ roommates. He’s in elf slippers, wearing a red and white striped sweater, and Harry knows immediately that this guy is Liam. He stands up, trying his best to keep his laughter from breaking, and holds out his hand.

“You must be Liam Payne. ‘m Harry.”

Liam’s eyes light up, shaking Harry’s hand. “Hey, man. Yeah, I’m Liam. Heard a lot about you. From Louis and otherwise.” He smiles. “You’re super talented.”

“Thank you.” Harry gestures around the apartment. “Loving Santa’s workshop, by the way.”

He laughs. “At least someone appreciates it.”

“I’m sure he secretly loves it.”

“I think so, too. Especially when I decorate the entire room on Christmas Eve with balloons and banners and streamers and sing ‘Happy Birthday’ for eight and a half hours straight.”

Louis clears his throat. “Why are you both talking like I’m not here.”

Harry shakes his head, smiling, ignoring Louis. “Can’t let his birthday be overshadowed by his hatred for Christmas.”

“Absolutely not. See, you get the concept of holidays and celebrating.”

“Yeah, I love it. Oh, I didn’t happen to see any mistletoe anywhere, by the way,” he says, winking exaggeratedly. “Where’s that at?”

Liam laughs, his eyes crinkling, and Louis smacks Harry in between the shoulder blades. “Alright, buddy, that’s enough out of you. Out you go.”

Harry lets Louis push him to the exit, Liam still laughing behind him, and over his shoulder, Harry yells, “Hey, I want in on the eight and a half hours of singing ‘Happy Birthday’ this year.”

“Done,” Liam agrees.

“Okay, good night, Harry,” Louis says, still shoving Harry through the door. “Come again soon.”

He keeps his hands on the door frame, halting any further movement, and he turns around. “Can I?”

“Can you what?”

“Come again soon.”

Louis rolls his eyes, but his cheeks are pink and he’s biting on his bottom lip, obviously trying not to break his front. “Do you want to?”

“Yes,” he replies without hesitation, hands itching to reach out.

“You want to come back to this hell?”

“Yes,” he repeats, more firmly this time. He jams his hands into his pockets.

“Alrighty, Popstar, if that’s what you really want.”

Harry nods. “I want.”

“Okay. Call me, then.”

“I will.”

“Awesome.”

“I know.”

Louis bends down to pick up Stacy. “You can leave now.”

Harry laughs. “Okay, I’m going. Bye, Stacy.”

 

He doesn’t bother trying to kiss Louis this time, especially not with an audience of both Liam and a Corgi, but that doesn’t mean he stops thinking about it the entire way home. In fact, he drives himself to the brink of insanity thinking about it, sliding into his bed an hour later with the image of a bright smile and black framed glasses and God, he might honestly break if this is one sided.


 

Over the next several days, conversation between Harry and Louis is nonstop. It’s all very friendly, very flirty, leaving Harry feeling good throughout the day, trying and failing to bite back a dimpled smile whenever he sees his phone light up beside him.

He still isn’t quite sure where Louis stands, if he views this as more than a friendship, or if he truly just enjoys Harry’s company and nothing more than that. Harry would love for it to progress, but he’s okay for now, even if it means he’s constantly in a state of limbo wondering whether or not Louis is just naturally the most frustratingly flirtatious person alive, or if he’s actually interested.

They go the first week of December without making any plans to reunite again, Louis seemingly content to simply drive Harry up a wall with nerves from incessant texts and phone calls, never once initiating a second hang out date. And it leaves Harry feelings impossibly on edge, trying to find the best way to work “Hey, I love you, wanna get dinner?” into a conversation organically.

 

Maybe it’s for the best that they haven’t seen each other since.

 

Harry caves the following Thursday night. Nothing good is on TV, his refrigerator is embarrassingly stark, and if he lets himself think of Louis in sweatpants one more time, he actually might lay down in traffic on the highway.

He grabs his jacket and slips on his boots, barely remembering to lock the door behind him, and hails a cab before he can change his mind. Inside the taxi, the heat is blaring from the vents, warm and welcoming, and Harry sinks back against the leather seats as he gives the driver Louis’ address. He taps his foot mindlessly against the carpeted floor, watching the city streets whiz by him, suddenly extremely nervous to surprise Louis. What if he isn’t happy to see Harry? What if he doesn’t want to go out, and Harry looks like a complete idiot? What if Louis isn’t even home? Harry’s eyes go wide. What if Louis is out on a date with someone else.

His phone vibrates in his pocket; it’s Louis, arguing against Harry’s prior statement that John Lennon might actually be more famous than The Beatles ever were as a group. He swallows and tries not to believe that Louis could potentially be out on a Goddamn date - surely, he would have mentioned it, right? - and texting Harry at the same time. He unsuccessfully ignores the pit forming in the bottom of his stomach, foot tapping more incessantly now. The fact that Louis makes him this nervous is pathetic, it’s bordering on sad, it’s…

“Here you go,” the driver says, coming to a rough stop outside of Louis’ building.

Harry clears his throat, wondering if he should ask the man to stay on the off chance Louis doesn’t want him there. He decides against it; how embarrassing would that be. “Thank you, sir,” he mumbles, handing over a handful of cash, immediately wincing as he opens the car door when the cold air hits his exposed skin. He jogs to the entrance of the building, teeth chattering as he buzzes Louis’ apartment.

A beat passes. Then: “Santa’s workshop, how can I help?”

Harry snorts. “Hey, Liam. It’s Harry. Is Louis up there?”

“Ah! Hey! Yeah, hold on.” The line cuts out, and then Louis’ voice picks up.

“What’re you doing here, Styles? Came to fight with me about John Lennon to my face?”

He shifts his weight from his left foot to his right. “Nah, was kind of hoping you’d wanna go out with me.”

“And what makes you think I’d like to do that?”

Harry smiles. “Because I’m beautiful?”

“Try again.”

“Because I’ll pay?” he says, laughing.

“Better answer. Gimme two minutes.”

“You’re not going to let me up?”

“Nope.” The line clicks off, and Harry steps back, shaking his head.

It takes a little longer than two minutes for Louis to emerge - probably closer to 20 - and when he does, Harry notices that his hair is slightly damp at the nape of his neck, the rest of it fluffy and soft. Harry hides back his satisfied smirk when he realizes Louis showered for him.

Louis rubs his hands together, shrugging his coat into place. “It’s cold as fuck out there, so this had better be worth it.”

Harry nods, about to tell him that it will be, but then it dawns on him that he doesn’t have an actual plan. “Uh,” he stammers out, “I was thinking that, um.” He makes a face, panicked, hoping an idea will formulate immediately and fall out of his mouth. Nothing.

“Seriously, Harry?” Louis laughs. “You drag me out of my apartment for no reason?”

He pouts. “Okay, it’s not like you’re not happy to get out of your gingerbread house.”

He laughs again. “I’ll pick a place to go. You hungry?”

Harry raises a brow at that. “I am, actually. You gonna let me take you to dinner?”

“Kind of.”

“What… Does that mean.”

“It means, I’m not sure how much you’ll be eating.”

“I don’t get it,” he says slowly.

“Good.”

“You gonna explain?”

Louis winks and starts to make his way out of the building. “Nope. Makes life interesting.”

“Yeah, I’ll say,” Harry agrees, and follows him without another word onto the busy street.

 

Louis drags Harry two blocks over, the windchill nasty and bordering on unbearable, and he stops in front of a restaurant that looks like it holds no more than 12-15 people maximum.

“Get in,” Louis commands. “This place is warm. Hot, even.”

Harry doesn’t question the choice of words, just holds open the restaurant door for Louis to step inside. They take a seat by the window, amusement written all across Louis’ face as he hums and taps his fingers across the tabletop. Harry lets him have his fun for about 60 seconds until he breaks.

“Okay, seriously, what is this?! Why are you being so weird.”

Louis’ humming gets louder and he opens up the menu in front of him, eyes scanning the pages. “What kind of beer d’you want, darling?” he asks.

Harry sighs, giving in already. “Surprise me.”

“I intend to.”

When the waitress comes over moments later, Louis orders a round of drinks, followed by two glasses of milk. He doesn’t give Harry the chance to ask before he simply says, “Just trust me.”

“Okay. I will.”

 

And that is the statement that comes back to bite Harry in the ass.

Louis puts in an order for the fucking hottest wings Harry has ever put near his mouth in his entire life. In between each bite, he nearly chokes on the milk, trying to down it as quickly as possible. It’s not enjoyable, the temperature of these wings; his eyes are watering, he thinks he honestly might vomit, and now he understands Louis’ this place is warm, hot even and I’m not sure how much you’ll be eating references. He’s a piece of shit. He’s Satan’s spawn. He’s so fucking gorgeous that Harry is having trouble breathing.

Although that might be because of the wings. At this point, he isn’t entirely sure.

Louis hysterically laughs throughout the entire dinner, pointing at the tears streaming down Harry’s cheeks, at the way he keeps coughing and sputtering, at the way Harry continuously curses Louis’ name. Louis tells him to just give up, that it takes years of practice at this establishment to be able to eat wings of this caliber without gagging, to which Harry responds with sweat dripping down his forehead, “Mama didn’t raise no quitter.”

At the end of the meal - a meal which Harry has already started to repress - he puts down two $20 bills to cover the bill. Louis scoffs.

“I just made you eat lava. I can pay.”

“I promised you I would, though,” he counters.

“It’s okay. You graced me with your beauty. So we’re even.”

Harry knows he’s kidding, realizes that this is actually the first time he’s flirted all evening, but it’s a start, and he’ll take it. He laughs, tries to keep the heat from creeping up the back of his neck, and nods dumbly.

“Yeah, we’re even.”

Louis smiles, eyes crinkled. “The Beatles were way more famous than John.”

And Harry would be damned to not agree with that face. “Actually, I think you might be right.”

“Good man.”


 

The second week of December, Harry sees Louis another three times. The first time, they meet at a coffee shop halfway between their apartments, hanging out in the back of the room, ordering foamy drinks and wandering into the seemingly endless rows of books. Harry flips through yellowed pages, pointing out passages he thinks are interesting, and Louis nods along, sipping at his tea. If he finds it boring, he never says as much. Rather, he orders a couple of muffins for each of them to snack on, daring Harry to go to the “adult” section and read a descriptive passage out loud. Harry calls him a child, but he does it anyway, keeping his voice as low as it can possibly go as he reads about Derek and Emily having sex in a car, blushing, and Louis whistles through his laughter. He pats Harry on the back and calls him a good sport; Harry thinks the more accurate reasoning is that he’s whipped. When he gets home, he searches on Twitter for a minute or two until he finds Louis’ profile, sees that Louis is, indeed, already following him, and follows back, reading through his tweets until he realizes he’s scrolled through two and a half years. He sends out a tweet after that, tagging Louis in it: “ @Louis_Tomlinson’s favorite genre of literature is erotica. Or is it mine?” He knows it’ll cause a slight uproar from his fans, and potentially some lesser known tabloids who have nothing better to do than prod into Harry’s personal life, and he’s right. He wakes up the following morning with 11 texts, all from Louis, the first one in all capital letters: WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO AND WHY DO I HAVE 3,000 FOLLOWERS OUT OF FUCKING NOWHERE.

Non-date number two involves a little more alcohol and a little less dignity, if that’s even possible at this point in time. They meet at a bar after Louis gets out of work, Liam tagging along with them, and Harry nearly chokes on laughter when he realizes they’re at a cowboy themed bar. There are way too many people wearing cowboy hats and boots, an abundance of hay bales strewn about the room, and when he catches a glimpse of the mechanical bull, he already know it’s going to be all downhill from here. It takes four shots for him to agree to climb on, keeping one hand on the bull, one hand in the air, and he lasts about 90 seconds before he flies off, the room spinning around him. He finds his footing and makes his way over to Louis and Liam, both doubled over in laughter, and asks, “Okay, whose turn now?” Liam shakes his head, Louis calls Harry a chump, and Harry takes three more shots to cope with the fact that he was the only one stupid enough to drunkenly ride a fucking bull in front of 100 people. Later on, he tries to ignore the sinking feeling in his chest when he sees a tall, dark guy lacing his fingers through Louis’ belt loops, whispering something in Louis’ ear that Harry can’t hear, doesn’t want to hear. Harry clenches his fists and turns his back, ordering another shot at the bar, and while he waits, he feels someone’s hands on his own waist, fingers firm against his his skin where his t-shirt has risen up. It takes him about two seconds to realize it’s Louis, and the sinking feeling dissolves immediately. He leans into Louis’ hands, partially because the room is swaying, mostly because all he wants to do is let Louis touch him, and long after he goes home that night, he can still feel the ghost of Louis’ fingerprints against his overheated skin. And Louis is impossibly confusing, is the problem. He does things like that that leave Harry speechless and his throat dry and his heart beating like crazy, but then he drops Harry off at his apartment door without so much as a hug goodbye. Harry stumbles into bed, forcing himself not to puke, forcing himself not to think about Louis. He doesn’t end up throwing up, but he doesn’t stop thinking about Louis, either.

Hang out date number three comes Saturday afternoon. Harry invites Louis over to his place for the first time, which flings him into a frenzy of cleaning and attempting to hide every embarrassing picture of himself that he can get his hands on. Louis shows up right after lunch, giving Harry enough time to shove his collection of patterned slipper socks under his bed, and when Louis enters through the front door, his eyes go wide.

“Jesus, Styles, I knew you were rich, but shit.”

Harry blushes. “I’m not that rich.”

“Look at this kitchen. No one our age has a kitchen like this.”

He shrugs. “I like to cook.”

“Yeah, so do I, but you don’t see me with a $10,000 range.”

“You like to cook?”

Louis makes a face. “No, but I’m trying to make a point.”

Harry laughs. “Okay, get out of my kitchen.”

Or , instead, you can join me in here and get me a drink. Show off some of the fancy crystal I know you have behind these cabinet doors.”

“See, this is why I didn’t invite you here sooner,” he says with a pout, opening up the refrigerator. “It’s embarrassing.”

“As embarrassing as waking up to the sound of ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ every morning, courtesy of one’s lunatic roommate?”

Harry sighs and pulls out two bottles of water, handing one over to Louis. “It’s embarrassing in a different way. I feel stupid. Like, I’m 22 and I don’t even know how to use half of the stuff in my own apartment.”

Louis hops up on the kitchen counter, fingers tracing along the edge of the marble patterns. “The thing is, you’re humble. You’re not a dick about it. You have money, you have fame, and not once have I ever seen you flaunt it. That would be something to be embarrassed about.” He takes a long sip of water. “You’re a good guy, Styles.”

He leans against the cool metal of the refrigerator door. “I, um. I try. And I really appreciate you for saying that.”

“I promise. You’re decent.” Louis makes a face. “Even though you haven’t seen Elf before. I’m trying to overlook that small detail but, like… It’s Elf , Harry.”

Harry laughs. “Well of course you’re appalled by that. Liam plays Christmas movies 24/7 in your house.”

“That’s true. But that’s still not an excuse.” He points to the TV in the other room. “Put it on.”

“Now?”

“Yes. Now.”

Harry rolls his eyes, already walking toward the living room. “Bossy.”

Louis hums approvingly, following. “That’s me. Whoa.” He stops in front of Harry’s case of awards and whistles. “You’re very different from the boy who said he never wanted to leave the Midwest.”

“Same boy, just. Some people like me for some reason, I guess,” he says, going through the menu to rent a movie. “Keep givin’ me awards.”

“No idea why,” Louis teases, walking over to the couch and making himself comfortable in the center. “You clearly suck at what you do.”

“A critic once said that exact same thing.”

“Aw,” he laughs. “Maybe it was because he knew you’d never seen Elf.

“Are you ever going to let that go?”

“Probably not.”

Harry sits down on the couch beside him, turning up the volume. “Kind of annoying we didn’t just go to your apartment to watch it. You already have it. I just wasted $4.99.”

“Didn’t your last album just hit 500,000 in sales?”

He raises a brow in surprise. “Yes.”

“Then I think you can hack the five bucks.”

“Are you… Keeping tabs on me?”

Louis puts his hands in his lap. “Start the movie, Harry.”

He presses play , but he notices Louis’ blush creeping up the back of his neck, warming his cheeks, refusing to look in Harry’s direction. Harry reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone, quickly sending out a tweet.

Pick someone who’s supportive of your career AND loves the holidays. @Louis_Tomlinson

Louis looks down at his phone a moment later upon hearing the vibration, reads it, and snorts. Harry gets a notification less than a minute later, a reply from Louis.

Clearly you need to pick someone else. I can’t be both of those.

Harry laughs and puts his phone back in his pocket, doing a terrible job at being subtle as he slides closer to Louis. He opens his mouth to say something - something stupid, probably - but Louis stops him.

“Time to watch Will Ferrell in yellow tights. Be quiet.”

He smirks. “‘kay.”

 

They get about halfway through the movie - right around the part where Buddy is hurling a thousand and one snowballs at a herd of middle schoolers - when Harry’s phone starts ringing. He ignores it, doesn’t bother checking, but then it goes off again, and again.

He apologizes to Louis sheepishly, fishing for his phone, and looks down at the screen. “Ah, shit, it’s the recording studio.”

Louis waves his hand. “Go ahead. Buddy isn’t going anywhere.”

Harry nods and picks up. “Hey, Rob, how are you?”

“I hope you’re not busy right now. We need you to come down to the studio. The track you recorded last week. Needs some changes in the second verse.”

“Right now?” He looks over at Louis, who’s staring at the TV, but is obviously listening to Harry’s conversation. “I’m kind of in the middle of something right now.”

“It won’t take too long,” Rob argues through the speaker. “An hour. Two, tops.”

“Ugh.” Harry puts his hand on Louis’ knee and squeezes, mouthing Sorry . “It really needs to be quick,” he says into the phone.

“It will be.”

Harry hangs up the phone after another moment or two of discussion and turns to Louis, still keeping his hand firm on his leg. “They need me to go in and re-record something for the new album.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have fucked it up the first time.”

He laughs, shoulders slumping. “Good advice.”

“You gonna head out now?”

“Yeah.” He groans. “I don’t wanna.”

“Duty calls.”

“I guess so. Actually.” He taps his fingers against Louis’ thigh. “Wanna come?”

“What?”

“Do you want to come to the studio with me?”

Louis sits up straighter. “For real?”

“Yes.”

“Is that allowed?”

“Sure.”

He purses his lips together. “You’re not worried I’m gonna record you and leak it online?”

“I am now .”

Louis laughs. “You sure you want me to come?”

Harry nods. “Absolutely.”

“Alrighty, then. I guess Buddy will have to wait.”

He stands up and grabs his wallet off the table in front of him. “Sorry, Buddy.”

 

Being at the studio with Louis is much different than he expected it to be. He’s had friends and family members with him to record before, but this is not the same. To start, he’s riddled with nerves, which is very uncommon for him at this point in his career. It’s just the fact that Louis will be watching him, listening to him, live and in person. It’s not like he’s a critic by any means, but Harry still wants to impress him, doesn’t want to muck it all up.

And second, Louis is in the actual recording room, something none of his friends or family have ever done. He’d waltzed right in there, surprising both Harry and Rob, immediately tapping the microphone, stupidly asking, “Hey, is this thing on?” Now, he’s standing behind the recording equipment, headphones on, as if he’s going to lay down his own track, nearly jumping around. Harry’s sitting behind the glass, hysterically laughing, as Louis spits out a terrible rendition of “Baby Got Back,” and he sounds completely ridiculous, clearly not caring that he’s making a complete and utter fool out of himself. Rob seemed irritated at first that Harry isn’t doing what he came here to accomplish, but Louis is on a roll, and by the time he’s on the final chorus, Rob has tears in his eyes he’s laughing so hard.

“Who the hell is this kid?” he asks Harry, trying to catch his breath.

“A fucking lunatic, that’s who,” Harry replies, shaking his head, slumping back further into his chair as Louis exits the recording room, his smile making his eyes crinkle.

“How’d I do?” he asks, taking the seat next to Harry and spinning around in it.

“A beautiful angel,” Harry says as seriously as he can manage before he stands up, pats Louis on the head, and makes his way into the recording room.

Standing behind the recording equipment feels as natural as it always does, headphones fit snug, microphone hanging in front of him, but today, he can’t help the blush creeping up the back of his neck. Louis is watching, and suddenly, it feels very, very intimate. He’s recorded songs in front of plenty of people, sure, sometimes with lyrics that aren’t necessarily family friendly. But this is somehow worse. Louis’ eyes are glued to him, lips parted, and Harry is having a hard time remembering how to move his tongue, never mind the actual words. He takes a deep breath on Rob’s cue, keeping his voice as even as possible, and closes his eyes as he does his best to spit out the words. He can tell he sounds deeper than usual, rougher than usual, but he doesn’t stop, just works on the key change like Rob wanted him to.

It takes him four tries to hit the nail on the head, Rob finally satisfied based on the way he nods and claps his hands together in the room behind the glass. He waves Harry back over, smiling.

“Job well done,” he says as Harry closes the door behind him. “Exactly what we were looking for.”

Harry smirks, sitting back down next to Louis. “Thanks. What’d you think, Tomlinson?”

Louis licks his lips. “Adequate.”

He bursts out laughing. “That’s not the first time you’ve given me that heartfelt compliment.”

“Hm?”

Harry waits for Rob to leave the room before he turns back to Louis, leaning forward in his chair. “Yeah. The first time I played at Jana’s, you told me I was adequate.”

Louis raises a brow in surprise, amusement written all across his face. “You remember that?”

“Absolutely,” he nods. “This is embarrassing, but, uh. This is the studio I’ve written all my music in, actually, and on the first album, I spent weeks trying to write a song about that.”

“About what? About me ?” Louis asks incredulously.

Harry looks down at the ground, noticing that the tips of his shoes are touching Louis’. “Told you when I met you that I’d write a song about you.”

“Never thought you were serious.” He smiles. “Did you ever finish it?”

He shakes his head, putting his hand on Louis’ knee. “I had a hard time trying to find something that rhymed with ‘adequate.’” Harry shrugs. “And I felt like I was writing a cheesy country song every time I wrote down blue eyes, blue drink, I got drunk off both .”

Harry expects Louis to snort or hit him or scoff or do all three at once, but instead, he leans forward, close enough for Harry to hear him swallow. “I don’t think that’s so cheesy.”

“No?”

“No.” Louis bites down on his bottom lip. “Thank you for bringing me here.”

He clears his throat, sliding his hand further up Louis’ thigh, squeezing lightly. He doesn’t want to stop touching, but knows if he doesn’t force himself to, they won’t be leaving this damn studio. “I’m really glad I met you,” he murmurs. “Again.”

“Likewise.”

Harry is almost positive Louis can hear his heart thudding; it’s beating wildly , completely out of control. There’s no alcohol involved, no Corgis, no elves. Just them this time. He leans in a fraction of an inch to see how Louis reacts, and when his eyes flutter shut, Harry lets his eyes close, too. It’s finally just the two of them, just.

Footsteps from outside the door break them apart, Louis’ eyes wide and Harry’s breathing heavy. And he almost laughs at the absurdity of it, the fact that he’s wanted to taste Louis for weeks, how he can almost taste him right now, and it isn’t fucking happening, won’t be happening as long as Rob is on the other side of that door.

He squeezes his eyes shut as he says, “Ready to get going?”

Louis huffs out a laugh, sounding almost pained. “Yeah. Let’s go.”

 

When he drops Louis off at his apartment, he doesn’t text Louis that he already misses him like he’s itching to do. He wants the statement, the gesture, to be a little stronger than that. Instead, he sends out a tweet from the back of the cab, not bothering to think twice, not bothering to tag Louis before he posts it: He said, “You’re adequate.” Thought to myself, “You’re it.”

He gets a reply from Louis on Twitter half an hour later, a simple, Damn it, Rob.


 

They don’t talk about the almost kiss, but over the course of the following week, Harry and Louis become nearly inseparable. Whenever they’re together, the tension is palpable and bordering on excruciating, but the stars never quite align to go for it again. Or maybe Harry is just a giant chicken and turns into a puddle whenever he can feel Louis pressed up against him on the couch or in the cab on the way home from whatever painfully charged dinner they’re heading home from, which seems to be more accurate.

Before, Harry was obsessed with the idea of what could be. Now, he's obsessed with what is . Louis isn’t so farfetched like he was just weeks prior; to Harry’s delight, Louis seems to always be around, always pushing on all the right buttons, always close by and telling awful jokes and forcing Harry to put on Christmas movies, even if he’s just spent the past hour ranting and bitching about Liam. There isn’t just potential now, there’s real, honest to God chemistry, and Harry is going out of his mind with how badly he wants.

If only Louis would quit shying away from it whenever they get close enough; if only Harry could get the constant tremors out of his system whenever he worked up the nerve. Then they’d be golden.

Nine days before Christmas, they’re both lounging around Harry’s apartment, a light layer of snow blanketing the city outside. They take a break from the constant stream of holiday films and put on a marathon of Modern Family instead, Louis curled up inside of Harry’s fleece blanket, feet wedged under Harry’s thigh. He wiggles his toes.

“Harry. It’s freezing in here,” he complains.

Harry shrugs. “I think it’s fine.”

“I want coffee. Make me some.” He wiggles his toes around more. “C’mon, Styles.”

“You’re being annoying.”

No , I’m cold and grumpy and I want coffee. And Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I can’t believe you don’t buy it. It’s the best cereal out there.”

“Then go make some. You know where it is. And that shit will rot your brains out, I’m not buying it.”

Louis sighs loudly, ridiculous. “But I’m company.”

Harry snorts. “You’ve been in this apartment as much as I have in the past few weeks. I’m thinking of putting your name on the lease. You aren’t company anymore.”

He sighs again, most likely intentionally jabbing Harry in the stomach as he climbs across the couch, and he drags the blanket - still draped over his shoulders - behind him into the kitchen like a cape. It’s a pathetic sight, really, but Harry has to press his eyes into the palm of his hand, anyway, to get himself to stop staring.

He listens as Louis opens up cabinets, the clinking of glass unmistakable. “You all set in there?”

“No,” Louis calls out. “Harry, this mug collection is a monstrosity.”

Harry rolls his eyes and gets up to join Louis in the kitchen. “It’s eclectic, ” he corrects.

“It’s embarrassing .” He holds up a mug with a picture of Harry and Gemma on it, both of them toothless and smiling. “I can’t drink out of your and your sister’s heads.”

“Shit, I missed a picture.”

“What?”

Harry shakes his head. “Nothing. Just. Find another mug.”

“You have a beautiful, adult kitchen and it’s filled with tacky, ugly cups.”

“Nuh uh! They’re mementos and memories!”

“Okay, sure.” Louis pulls the blanket up around his shoulders, holding it closer. “Let’s go to Ikea.”

“Right now…?”

He nods. “Yes. We’ll get you new mugs. And plates. And silverware.”

“What’s wrong with my plates and silverware?!”

Louis makes a face. “What’s not wrong with them.”

Harry crosses his arms over his chest. “You are aware this is my apartment, right.”

He shrugs. “If I remember correctly, someone just said they were thinking of putting my name on the lease because I’m here so much…”

“Christ,” Harry says with a groan. “It’s snowing, Lou. I don’t wanna go outside. And the couch is so comfortable.” He looks longingly over his shoulder back at the living room, already knowing it’s a lost cause.

“Put on your boots.” Louis drop the blanket to the ground and grabs his jacket from the back of the kitchen chair. “Oh, and you’re nuts if you think you’re not stopping to buy me a coffee.”

 

Ikea is packed , hundreds of people milling around, looking for last minute items to purchase for the holidays. Harry shakes the snow off his hair, complaining as Louis weaves him in and out of the crowds whilst sipping at his coffee happily.

“I really hate that we’re here,” Harry grumbles. “If you really needed me to buy new mugs - for myself, might I add - I could have just bought them online. This place is madness.”

“That’s part of the fun ,” Louis quips. “Lighten up a little.”

“Says the boy who spit at his roommate yesterday morning for baking snickerdoodles for breakfast…”

“Okay, shh, time to buy some mugs.”

They wind through the crowds, following the arrows on the ground, stumbling into a section of loveseats. Louis drags his fingers up and down the back of a leather chair, then slides over the arm of it, holding his coffee in the air so it doesn’t spill. He wags his eyebrows up and down and Harry laughs.

“I’m not buying it.”

Louis snorts. “I didn’t ask you to buy it. ‘m just saying. It’s nice.

“We came for mugs, not a recliner.”

“Buzzkill.”

They continue to meander, stopping in every section for Louis to whine that Harry needs to redecorate, Harry laughing and throwing his hands in the air, nearly yelling, “We came here for plate ware , Tomlinson!” And typically, he’s on his game, knowing when there are people around who are staring, who are sneaking pictures, but right now, he’s too focused on Louis to notice the teenage girl behind him. He’s about to make a joke about how he’s not going to be able to fit all eight couches that Louis has pointed out in the back of the Uber when Louis pauses, looking over Harry’s shoulder.

“Hey,” he whispers, “I think you have a friend following us.”

“Hm?” Harry follows Louis’ gaze and sees a teenage girl peeking around the corner in the distance, eyes wide, phone in hand.

“Do you think she’s harmless?”

Harry hums. “Most likely. But we’re also at the risk of her posting about my whereabouts. Could ruin our afternoon.”

“Does that happen a lot?”

“Sometimes,” he says. “More when I’m touring and everyone knows where I am.”

Louis nods. “So… Should we keep standing here, then?”

“Probably don’t want to risk it.”

“Okay.” Louis pauses before he tosses his coffee cup into the trash can beside them. “I have an idea.”

“What’s that?”

He stares at Harry for a moment, eyes unblinking, then breaks out into a grin. “Run.” He takes off through the store, almost in a full sprint, yelling over his shoulder as he moves, “Let’s go!”

Harry doesn’t give it a second thought before he takes off after him, not checking to see if the girl is following. He darts in and out of patrons, following the arrows, diving out of the way of a family with a stroller. A few people curse, one laughs, but for the most part, Harry isn’t paying attention to a single thing that’s going on around him, just concentrated on chasing the crazy boy ahead of him. Louis takes a sharp turn left, towards the bathroom fixtures, and Harry follows, boots slipping on the melting snow on the ground as he rounds the same corner.

He pauses in bathroom land, catching his breath, frowning when he realizes Louis is gone. He steps around a family examining the ugliest bathroom light fixture he’s ever seen and hisses out, “Lou. Louis.

“In here,” Louis’ voice whispers back, seemingly out of nowhere, and Harry’s frown deepens.

“Where the hell are you?” he asks, spinning around. “I don’t see you.”

Louis’ head pops out from inside of a display shower stall, chevron patterned shower curtain covering his entire body. “That’s exactly the point of a hiding spot. C’mere.”

Harry snorts, sliding into the shower with him, pulling the curtain shut. It’s a tight squeeze, mere inches between them, definitely not made for two people, and he looks down at Louis, cheeks pink. “Think we lost her?”

“Was she even following to begin with?” Louis asks, laughing.

“I have no idea.” He swallows and takes a step closer. “I gotta say, whenever I imagined this scenario, it was never like this .”

Louis cocks his head. “You imagined hiding in a shower stall with me in Ikea?”

“No, I meant, like.” Harry gestures around them. “Being in a shower in general. Preferably not one in a department store surrounded by hundreds of shoppers.”

“Oh, even better. You imagined showering with me in your shower.”

“Uh.” He squeezes his eyes shut. “That brain to mouth filter is still broken, I think.”

Louis laughs again and grips Harry’s hip; his eyes flutter back open at that. “Apparently so.” He tips his head back, resting against the subway tiles. “We can. We can probably get out now.”

“Probably.” Harry sucks his cheeks in, about to pull the curtain back to step out of the shower stall, but then Louis’ hand is in his, reassuring, or maybe something else.

“We gotta find the kitchen section,” he says, his voice deep but quiet.

Harry swallows, rubbing the back of Louis’ knuckles with his thumb on instinct. It’s too natural, and he hates how possessive he suddenly feels. One touch and his legs are jelly. “Yeah, we.” He clears his throat. “Kitchen.”

They stand there for another five minutes (it’s probably five seconds but Harry’s mind is impossibly foggy and time is suddenly standing still) before Louis smirks and pulls back the shower curtain. He drops Harry’s hand as he steps out, the teenage girl from before thankfully nowhere to be seen, but an elderly couple checking out a brass faucet is present. They raise their brows in surprise, clearly unaware the two of them had been hiding.

Louis points over his shoulder, staring at the couple who are clearly horrified, and smiles sweetly. “Solid shower. We highly recommend it.” He saunters off without looking back, and Harry is left standing there, wondering if he should follow or just climb back into the stall.

The couple continues to glare and Harry looks down at his boots briefly before he inhales sharply and takes off after Louis, smile threatening to take over his entire face.

He lets it.

 

Harry finds Louis a minute or two later in the living room department, examining sectional couches and oak coffee tables, fluffing pillows as he goes along. He sits down on a funky yellow chair, just big enough for two, and puts his feet up on the stool in front of him.

“Nice living room,” Harry says, looking around.

Louis turns to the sound of his voice, brows raised. “Indeed. Come join me.”

He obeys and takes a seat next to Louis on the chair, smoothing his hand across the fabric. “Actually, this chair is kinda ugly.”

“Kinda like you.”

Harry smirks. “Exactly.”

They sit in comfortable silence, watching shoppers walk by, a few girls curiously eyeing Harry, but no one stops or says anything. Louis drums his fingers along the seam of fabric on the arm of the chair and sighs. “I’m getting hungry.”

“Do you want to go get something to eat?”

“Maybe. Or. We could make something.”

“Back at my place?”

“No. In our place.”

Harry doesn’t get the chance to ask what that means; Louis stands up abruptly and grabs Harry’s hand, dragging him along, heading toward the direction of the kitchen appliances. He gestures toward the kitchen in front of them, white cabinets, stainless steel appliances, and a table for four. Harry licks his lips, amused.

“What’re you doing, Lou?”

Louis drops Harry’s hand and sits down at the table, draping one of the stage napkins across his lap. “I’ve had a long, hard day, honey. I’d love a great meal right about now.”

Harry’s first instinct is to burst out laughing, but Louis is waiting patiently - for once - at the table, hands laced together, smile much too innocent. Harry is damned if he doesn’t play along, damned if he does. “What did you have in mind, dear?”

Louis taps his finger against his chin, as if he’s really thinking hard about it. “A roast would be nice. Maybe some mashed potatoes, too.”

“Okay. Roast it is.” He walks over to the oven, aware that Louis has his eyes glued to him, and he turns the knobs on the stove as if something will actually happen. “Darn, I don’t think potatoes are in the plans, baby,” he says, letting the pet name roll of his tongue with ease. “Seems like the stove is on the fritz.”

“What about the oven?”

He pulls open the oven door, putting his hand in to prove it’s - obviously - cold inside. “Think this is broken, too.”

“Well, it’s a good thing we bought a home with multiple kitchens, right?” Louis gets out of the chair, letting the napkin float to ground, and he nearly leaps into the adjoining kitchen on the other side of the temporary wall. “Oh, kitchen number two is just lovely !” Louis’ voice calls out.

Harry snorts, shaking his head as he bends down to pick up the napkin. He crosses into the next kitchen, this one with dark brown cabinetry and a backsplash that offsets it nicely. Same four-person table, though, which Louis is already perched behind.

“Let’s try that roast again,” he says, biting at his bottom lip.

Harry laughs and nods. “Okay, let’s try it.” He stands at the kitchen counter and pretends to chop up potatoes, mimics the motion of sliding them into a pot on the stove, and murmurs, “Only ten more minutes on the roast. This oven works wonderfully .”

“Excellent. I’m starved.”

Together, they have a delicious, nonexistent meal at the table, both using imaginary knives to cut their equally imaginary meat, Louis talking about his exhausting day in the office, Harry going along with it without question. He talks about his own eventful day at work, throwing around terms like merger and innovation and profits , as if his day consisted of businessmen in suits with briefcases and not with Louis, running throughout Ikea for the better part of three hours.

Harry’s in the middle of telling a story about Ryan from work (who’s Ryan?) when Louis interrupts him. He pushes his chair back and the legs drag across the kitchen floor.

“Listen, sweetheart,” Louis starts, “do you mind talking about this later on? I’m wiped. I just want to go to bed.”

Harry isn’t sure if Louis truly wants to leave or if this is still a part of the game, but he just nods. “Sure. Let’s go to bed.”

He smiles. “The dishes can soak overnight. We don’t have to do them right now.”

“Of course,” Harry laughs. “Just stick them in the sink.”

“I can do that.” Louis walks over to the counter, drops the invisible plates into the sink, and turns around with his hands on his hips. “Ready?”

“Mhm,” he agrees, still weary as to whether or not they’re actually gearing up to leave or not. But then Louis links his arm through Harry’s and Harry realizes it doesn’t matter, whatever Louis wants to do, wherever he wants to lead, Harry will follow.

Together they leave the kitchen and round the corner toward the perfectly set up bedrooms, empty framed pictures lining the walls, bedside lamps turned on and projecting a soft glow across the furniture. Louis pauses at the end of a bed with about a thousand and one throw pillows, stares, then shakes his head and pulls Harry with him to the next bedroom set. He seems more satisfied with this bedroom - a king sized bed with significantly less pillows - and climbs up onto the mattress, bouncing up and down on his knees. He looks up at Harry with wide eyes and smirks.

“Gonna join me?”

Harry scoffs, feigning annoyance, but he knows he’s completely transparent. “Baby,” he starts, swallowing, “you’re not supposed to jump on the bed. Rules.”

“No rules.” He kicks off his shoes and sits back against the pillows, settling in as if it’s his own Goddamn bedroom. “C’mere.”

“Okay,” he says, going easily, sliding onto the duvet and next to Louis. Their legs touch, pressed up against each other, and Harry can feel the heat from Louis’ body, even through two layers of material. “Comfortable mattress,” he says under his breath.

“Very.” Louis yawns, putting his hand on Harry’s thigh. “Today was fun.”

“It was,” he agrees.

He pauses, pursing his lips together. “It’s always fun with you.”

Harry sinks further down into the mattress, turning to look at Louis. It doesn’t feel much like a game anymore; it feels easy like a Sunday morning, wrapped up within one another, quiet, still, happy. It feels like it should . He looks down at Louis, gaze unwavering. “I just. I can’t believe how much I always want to be with you.” It occurs to him the second the words are out of his mouth that that wasn’t actually an appropriate response to what Louis said, and he immediately furrows his brows, trying to figure out how to backtrack. “What I mean is. I, uh. I always have fun with you, too.” He bites down on his bottom lip. “Shit.”

Louis doesn’t tease him like Harry expected him to, nor does he respond at all. Instead, he looks up at Harry, blinking heavily, pressing his finger into the spot on Harry’s cheek where his dimple tends to appear. “The roast was a little overcooked, babe,” he whispers.

Harry nods, bending down to trace Louis’ cheekbone with his thumb. “Sorry. Next time, it’ll be better.”

“Okay.”

He’s not sure exactly how any of the day’s events unfurled this way - from watching Modern Family in his apartment to kissing Louis on a bed in Ikea whilst playing house - but he is absolutely not complaining. Of all the weeks he’s been playing this moment over and over on repeat in his mind, it never went like this, but this is better.

They fit so well together, is the thing, and as Harry parts his lips, Louis biting at him in a way that only surges Harry forward, sliding his fingers into Harry’s hair, Harry is afraid this is all it’s going to take for him to spiral. He moves in closer, pulling Louis up against him, positively living for the way Louis inhales sharply, fingernails digging into his neck. It’s gentle, it’s a little possessive, it’s hard for Harry to think about anything other than the way Louis tastes and feels under his hands. The first time the two of them kissed was over three years ago, drunk and stupid and immune to heartbreak, and now, a thousand impossible forces between them, it’s infinitely better. Harry can’t seem to hold him close enough, and Louis seems to be feel the same, based on the way his hands are so restless, on the way he lets Harry maneuver him any way he tries. It’s too much and it’s not enough.

The kiss seems to break as quickly as it began, Harry desperately chasing Louis’ lips, in disbelief that the chemistry between them has somehow multiplied in a matter of seconds . He needs more, but Louis shakes his head when Harry leans back down, already craving the soft noises Louis makes when Harry’s got his mouth on his.

“Harry,” he warns, “stop.”

“Can’t,” Harry mutters pathetically. “You’re so good.”

“Harry,” Louis tries again, “I told you we needed a lock for our bedroom door.”

He brushes his lips against Louis’ cheek, the most Louis will allow him to do. “What’re you talking about,” he whispers against his skin.

“The kids keep coming in when we’re in bed together.”

“Wait, what kids.” Harry sits up and looks over to see two young girls blatantly staring, their parents most likely browsing in another section of the store. “Oh. Uh. Hi, girls.”

The girls wave awkwardly and he drags his hands across his face, Louis failing to stifle his laughter. Harry’s cheeks go red, and he wants to crawl under the bed and die when the older girl makes fun of the way his hair is sticking up, thanks to Louis’ wandering hands.

They leave the store after that, Harry not trusting himself to stay any longer, not trusting Louis , either, and right before they climb in the Uber together, snow falling harder, Louis’ eyelashes collecting snowflakes, it’s then that Harry realizes he forgot to purchase - or even look at - any mugs.

 

Harry walks Louis up to his apartment, and he knows the fact that he wants nothing more than to follow Louis inside is written all across his face. Louis ignores it, of course, but he does let Harry push him up against the hallway wall, holiday wreaths behind them be damned. Harry nearly falls pliant because of the way Louis keeps pressing their hips together, the way he wraps his arms up and around Harry’s neck, the way he breaks their contact to bite and kiss at his jaw, all uncertainty from weeks prior clearly abandoned.

One time wasn’t enough; none of this is enough.

He whines absurdly loudly when Louis finally pulls away completely, his head falling back against the wall, closing his eyes, breathing out of control.

“Harry,” he pants, “I gotta go inside.”

“No, you don’t,” Harry argues. “Stay out here with me. Or I’ll come in there with you.”

Louis huffs out a laugh, eyes still squeezed shut. “Not today.”

“Okay,” he says slowly, “alright, I hear you and I respect your wishes. But before I go, I think I should come inside and take a bath with you.”

“Oh my God ,” Louis says, dragging his hands across his face, miserably failing at trying to hold back a laugh. “No.”

“Maybe another day?” he tries.

“Mmm, maybe.”

Harry nods, sucking in his cheeks, forcing himself to even out his breathing and stop thinking about the way Louis’ ass looks in jeans, how it looks in sweatpants, how it would look with nothing. Jesus. He brushes Louis’ hair out of his eyes, waiting for Louis to open them before he speaks again. “Can I see you tomorrow?”

“Already miss me?”

“Yes,” he replies instantly, honestly.

Louis smiles. “Okay, sure.”

Harry drops his hands down to Louis’ hips and grips them loosely. “What’re you thinking right now.”

“You really wanna know?”

“I do.”

“Alright.” He smirks. “I’m thinking that your kissing skills have really improved since the last time. Really. Top notch.”

Harry takes a step back, gasping, mocking offense. “Louis Tomlinson, you wound me.”

“I’m complimenting you.”

“Backhandedly!”

Louis winks before he pulls Harry back in, slotting their mouths together for just a moment, one deliriously perfect moment, breaking their contact too quickly with a crooked smile on his face. Harry knows he should call for a cab or back away or do something other than stand there and stare.

Instead of doing any of those things, he pulls Louis into his arms, holding onto him, burying his face into the crook of Louis’ neck. He doesn’t kiss or bite like he wants to, he just breathes him in, content to keep him for another few minutes, pretend he isn’t already completely out of his mind for the boy in front of him. After God only knows how long, Louis whispers gently in a hushed tone, “Harry, hey.”

Harry nods, not saying anything.

“We fucking forgot to buy the mugs.”

He bursts out laughing at that, stepping back, letting his hands fall to his sides uselessly. “I know. You distracted me and I totally forgot.”

Louis bites at his bottom lip, smile bright. “That makes two of us.”

 

Harry’s only in the cab on his way home for about three minutes before he gets a call from Louis. He answers on the second ring, rolling his eyes as if Louis can see him.

“And you make fun of me for missing you so soon,” he says into the receiver.

“No, Harry, shut up, I just went on Twitter and that girl obviously posted about us. Us . How does anyone know who I am?!”

He sits up straighter in his seat. “Any pictures?”

“Yeah, one of you basically mounting me on a fucking bed.”

“What?!” he shouts, nearly choking.

“I’m kidding, no pictures, but seriously, this post says Harry and Louis Tomlinson. How is that possible!”

Harry clutches at his chest. “Oh my God, don’t do that. I almost just had a stroke.”

“Harry!” he whines through the phone, tone serious. “This is weird .”

He licks his lips, closing his eyes, heart dropping. “Weird enough that you want out? Is that what this phone call is?”

“No, absolutely not. I’m just… People know me, Harry. I wasn’t expecting that.”

“We can do whatever you want,” Harry replies. “If you want to keep anonymity, I’ll help you with that. We don’t have to go out in public as much, and I won’t tweet to you or anything. It’s okay. Really.”

“Well, that doesn’t seem fair to you,” Louis sighs, pausing. “How long did it take you to get used to it?”

“Used to what?”

“People you don’t know throwing your name around like they have a personal relationship with you.”

“I’m not.”

Louis laughs, a genuine one. “I know this is dumb because you’re the famous one and I’m just your… Something.” He coughs awkwardly, then continues. “But, like, do you have any advice.”

Harry smiles, sinking back down into his seat. “Yeah, don’t search shit on Twitter, for one. And just keep in mind that for the most part, everyone is harmless, just curious. But really, Lou, if you want me to avoid talking about you if it really makes you that uncomfortable, I will. I want to keep you my… Something.”

He laughs again. “It’s fine,” he says, “I’m panicking over nothing, probably. It’s just strange. Kind of like I’m being spied on.”

“I get it. I really do. Take some time to think about it, alright? We can go incognito for a bit, if that’s what you’d like. And it’s only for a few more weeks, anyway. Then I go back on the road for the second leg of the tour and everything will be super different in terms of how I can see and hang out with people, you know? Your name won’t be thrown around as much.”

Louis goes silent, clearing his throat after several beats too many. “Right, yeah. Okay, I’ll let you go. Have a good night, Styles.”

Harry purses his lips together, just then realizing how absolutely shitty that sounded. “Yeah, you, too.”

 

He doesn’t like the tone in Louis’ voice as he hangs up the phone, and it makes his stomach twist in a way that’s entirely too unpleasant. He tries not to dwell on it too much, not focus on how or when the switch flipped inside of Louis to make him question so many things, but Louis’ voice swirls around in his mind for the next hour and a half and he can’t stop thinking about it.

Right as he’s climbing into bed, his phone vibrates on the nightstand beside him, a text from Louis. It’s a screenshot of a confirmation page - an order for two new sets of mugs from Ikea - followed by, See you tomorrow.

Relief floods into Harry and he bites back a smile as he types and sends, You've outdone yourself, baby. He gets a reply back instantly.

You’re lucky you’re so hot because you’re kind of annoying.


 

It takes a pretend date at Ikea, a series of swollen kisses up against a holiday decorated wall, and a vulnerable phone call from Louis for Harry to realize the dam is completely broken, for him to realize that this is not a casual thing anymore, not for either of them. They’re both afraid, both want it badly.

It occurs to him that he knows Louis, really knows him. He knows beyond Louis’ career and roommates and birthday, he knows more than Louis’ favorite beer and movie and radio station. He knows extensively about Louis’ mom and siblings, his dreams, his hopes, his fears… It was gradual, learning about and understanding the depths of Louis’ mind, and it’s only been about a month, but Harry loves what he knows. The more he discovers, the more infatuated he is. And he’s okay with that.

The days that follow the infamous mug search, Harry finds it absolutely impossible to keep his hands off of Louis, and Louis seems to be on the same page. There’s only a week until Christmas and Harry is embarrassingly behind on his shopping, but he finds it hard to care when he’s finally allowed to pull Louis into his arms and kiss him like he’s been thinking about for weeks on end. It’s always scorching, Louis whining and panting against Harry’s lips, Harry unable to keep his hands and hips steady. It never goes beyond that, but it’s always deep and frantic and has Harry feeling a little crazy when they break apart, face hot and mind spinning a thousand miles an hour.

Four days post Ikea date, Harry is about ready to climb inside of Louis, kissing not cutting it anymore, desperate and wanting more. They just went out to grab coffee and tea two blocks over from Louis’ building, and now, standing in front of his front door, Harry is trying to find a way to say, “Hey, can I come in so I can get you naked?” without actually saying, “Hey, can I come in so I can get you naked?”

So far, he’s unsuccessful, and decides to just keep his mouth shut entirely.

Louis pushes the sleeves of his sweater up, exposing his forearms, and Harry stares stupidly, eyeing the array of tattoos littered across his skin. He swirls his drink around in its styrofoam cup.

“Still don’t understand half of these tattoos,” he says.

Louis shrugs, taking a sip of his tea. “Well, I didn’t get them for you, so.”

“That’s true.” Harry reaches out and presses his thumb into the skateboard ink. “Love this one, though.”

“I know. You’ve mentioned that before.” He raises a brow. “If I recall correctly, something about skaters being better at grinding.”

Harry smiles dopily. “Ah, good, you remember my terrible pickup line.”

“I tried to erase it from my memory, but, alas.”

He laughs, still stroking the tiny tattoo, Louis letting him. “My skater boy.”

“Harry, I don’t even skate.”

“According to me, you definitely skate. Let me pretend.”

“Logical.”

“I thought so.” Harry bites down on his bottom lip. “Hey, Lou.”

Louis nods, taking another sip of his tea. “Yes?”

“Can we, like, um.” He shakes his head, squinting. “Can I… Or when you…”

“Jesus, spit out, Styles.”

Harry clears his throat, nodding, his heart suddenly hammering. “I think I want to date you.”

Louis blinks, then blinks again. “You think ?”

“No, I know I want to. Only if you want to. But I really want you to. Wanna take you out. Tomorrow night. If you’re free though, obviously. If not, you can pick another day. Or morning. I don’t really care. I’m.” He winces at himself. “It’s okay if you don’t. It’s fine. We’re fine. I’m fine.”

“Okay. Are you done babbling?”

He nods. “Yes. Sorry.”

Louis loops his finger through the belt loop on Harry’s jeans, tugging him closer, Harry going willingly. “I watched you on The Today Show one time.”

“Wait, really?” he asks, surprised, and definitely confused.

“Mhm. Right after your song kind of took over the world. They did a quick interview and then you performed. I turned it on right at the end of your segment. It was the first time I’d seen you or heard about you since that time at Jana’s, and I remember thinking how thoroughly impressed I was with how professional and collected you were. Like, a total natural. So calm and easy. Followed you on Twitter about two hours later.”

“Thank you,” Harry responds slowly. “But…”

“If you can talk to Matt Lauer on live, national TV and not nearly choke to death on your own tongue,” Louis interrupts, “then you should be able to ask me out.”

Harry blushes furiously. “I really had no idea where you were going with that.” He combs his fingers through his hair. “You’re, like, the only thing that still makes me nervous.”

“I know, I can tell.” He winks and takes the last sip of his drink. “Anyway. Yes.”

“Yes, what?”

“Yes, you can take me out.”

“Wait, really?”

“No.”

“What?!”

Louis laughs. “I’m teasing. It’s so easy to mess with you.”

Harry’s shoulders sag. “Please let me take you out tomorrow night. On a real date. Not spicy wings or coffee or watching a dumb movie on HBO on my couch. An actual date, you and me, us ,” he says, forcing the words out.

“Mmm,” Louis hums. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Yes. Let’s do it. Sounds fine ,” he teases.

Harry smiles, relaxing. “Thank God.” He swallows heavily, pressing his finger into the row of ink along Louis’ forearm one more time before letting go. “Okay, I’m gonna go home and make a reservation before you make fun of me some more or change your mind.” He kisses Louis swiftly on the lips before he makes his exit and nearly trips down the stairs on his way out, Louis laughing hysterically behind him.

 

He ends up scoring reservations at a beautiful restaurant for the following night. It overlooks the city on one side, Lake Michigan on the other, and has a waiting list that spills into January. If he used his name as bribery to get in, then no one has to know.

He picks up Louis at six o’clock on the dot, his tie a little too tight and hair a little too stiff, but the second Louis emerges from the building, Harry stops overthinking it and focuses on the boy in front of him. He knows Louis probably spent more than five minutes getting ready for their date, but the way his hair is carefully, messily, swooped across his forehead appears so effortless, like he just so happened to roll out of bed that beautiful. He, too, has on a blazer, but he’s joining Harry sans tie in favor of a white t-shirt underneath. It looks like it was entirely too easy to get ready and Harry silently curses him; it took an hour on his end to deem himself decent enough to leave his apartment.

But then Harry catches Louis exhale deeply as he checks his reflection in his building’s glass door, and Harry relaxes into the leather seats for just a moment before he climbs out.

Louis smiles at Harry as he approaches the door, raising a brow when Harry opens the passenger door for him.

“I didn’t know you had a car,” he says, rubbing his hands together.

“Why would you think that?”

“Because you usually get here by Uber or cab or your own damn driver .”

Harry shrugs; that’s true. “Yeah, well, this is different.”

Louis slides into the passenger seat, Harry slamming the door behind him, and quickly makes his way over to his own side of the car. Louis looks over at him once they’re both settled. “How is this different?”

He eases out of his parking spot and onto the main road. “Because I want it to be just us. It’s a date.”

“It is ?”

Harry frowns. “Stop.”

Louis laughs and pinches Harry’s arm. “Where’re we going?”

“I made reservations for dinner. I hope that’s okay.”

“It’s okay,” he says, rolling his eyes. “Kind of early for dinner though?”

Harry puts on his blinker and merges into traffic. “Yeah, but it’s because I have something else planned for us afterward.”

“Gonna tell me what it is?”

“Hmm. Nope.”

“Mystery man.”

“That’s me.” Harry drums his fingers along the edge of the center console, pursing his lips together. “Wait. Shit.”

“What?”

“It just occurred to me that I reserved a table to overlook Lake Michigan and it’s fucking dark out. We’re not going to be able to see it.”

Louis laughs. “Damn. The whole night is ruined.”

“I know ,” Harry grumbles under his breath.

He absentmindedly touches the radio dial, twisting it back and forth, before settling back against his seat. “You look good, Styles.”

Harry slows to a stop at a red light and looks over at Louis, palm slippery against the steering wheel. “And you look gorgeous,” he breathes out.

“I know ,” Louis mocks, eyes crinkled in the corners, expression entirely too sweet, and that’s all it takes for Harry to deem himself a goner.

 

The restaurant isn’t completely filled yet; it’s clearly still soon in the evening for dinner, only a few tables occupied, a few people milling around the bar. But it’s pretty . Like Louis’ apartment, Santa made an obvious stop here in the decor department, but it’s a tad more subtle, with simple garland and twinkling lights lining the crown molding, poinsettias on the larger tables, candles flickering throughout the room, soft holiday music playing overhead. They approach the host, Harry keeping his hand on the small of Louis’ back, and a hostess directs them to their seats beside the floor to ceiling glass windows. As Harry drapes the cloth napkin across his lap, about to comment on the tranquility of the restaurant, Louis laughs, gesturing out the window.

“Wow. You really can’t see Lake Michigan.”

Harry drags his hands across his face, shoulders shaking. “I tried, okay?”

“Like, a big, black abyss out there.”

“I said I tried.”

“Kind of like space.”

“Louis!” Harry laughs.

“Beautiful view. How much did you pay to stare at nothing?”

“Oh my God.”

Louis takes a sip of his water, staring at Harry over the edge of the glass, amusement written all across his face. “This is nice, Harry.”

“Yeah? You done making fun of me?”

“For now.” He opens his menu, eyes scanning the page. “Fun to see what dating Harry is like.”

“I don’t think he’s much different than regular Harry. Just dressed nicer and a little sweatier.”

Louis snorts. “I think you’re nuts.”

“Why?!”

“Harry. I should be the one who’s nervous. You’re an up and coming globally known superstar. And I’m… A skateboarder from Ohio ,” he jokes, smirking.

Harry laughs. “No, it's way more than that. You’re. Just.” He waves his hand around, nearly knocking over an empty wine glass. “Overwhelming. And make me feel weird.”

“Yeah, you’re definitely weird.”

“Rude.”

“Are you usually this… Out of sync? On dates?” He raises his brow. “And always, actually.”

He’s about to say that’s offensive, but that’s honestly the best way to describe what’s happening right now. He sighs. “No. I’m not. It’s you .”

Louis barks out a laugh. “Haven’t you just spent the past several months standing alone on stage and singing in front of strangers?”

“Yes. I did.”

“And my guess is you don’t suck too badly at it.”

Harry rolls his eyes. “It’s been working out so well, I suppose.”

“Are you nervous on stage?”

“Not really, no.”

Louis nods. “Then why the fuck are you so nervous right now? It’s just me .”

“Yeah, and that’s the problem.”

“I’m the problem?”

Harry wants to jam the fork into his eye. “You make me question literally everything and I’ve never been so unsure about a guy before, and you shouldn’t have to give me pep talks anytime I’m seemingly lose my mind because that’s all the time and, like…” He trails off, scrunching up his nose. “I like you.”

Louis licks his lips, smirking. “You probably shouldn’t be allowed to drink with dinner.”

He drops his chin to his chest. “I think you’re right.”

They’re both silent for a moment or two, Louis going back to looking at the menu, Harry going back to looking at Louis, and while Louis is flipping back and forth between the wine list, without breaking eye contact from the page, he says, “God, this is so eighth grade, but. I like you, too. Happy?”

Harry bites his lip and laughs. “Never would’ve tricked you into liking me when I was in eighth grade. I was such a loser.”

Was ?”

He flips Louis off and laughs again, Louis joining in. “Yes, I am happy.”

 

They spend the night enjoying a delicious (expensive) meal, sharing a chocolate dessert at the end, and when they stand up to leave, Louis’ eyes go wide, his balance unsteady.

“Jesus, didn’t realize how much I had to drink until right now.”

Harry laughs. “Think you can handle part two?”

“As long as it doesn’t involve spinning. I’m so dizzy. Damn you, wine.”

“Where would I take you that would involve spinning.”

“I dunno. An amusement park. A relay race. A gymnastics competition.”

Harry shrugs his jacket back on, trying not to smile. “Alright, I’ll think of something else.”

 

When they pull up in front of their next destination 30 minutes later, Louis turns to Harry, confused, a little more sober. “What’s the plan, kid?”

Harry turns the car off. “Have you ever been here before?”

Louis cranes his neck to look at the entrance. “Adler Planetarium? No.”

“Cool. I haven’t, either.”

“Is it even open?”

Harry unbuckles his seatbelt, suddenly very self conscious. “No, it’s not.”

“Are we breaking and entering, like a Night at the Museum situation, because I gotta tell you, Harry, I don’t think I’d be able to handle a dinosaur coming to life.”

He snorts. “It’s a planetarium. There aren’t any dinosaurs.”

“Then what’s the point.”

“Please don’t spoil my fun,” Harry laughs.

“I’ll try not to.”

They walk across the parking lot together, Louis slipping his hand into Harry’s jacket pocket (“It’s cold , Styles”), and Harry finds it unbearably difficult to concentrate when they reach the front doors, a single employee there to greet them.

The man directs them down an empty corridor, the only sound to be heard the scuff of their shoes against the white, tiled floors, and when the employee bows out, leaving them alone, Harry pulls Louis’ hand out of his pocket and laces their fingers together.

“Alright,” Harry starts, “ideally, I would have liked to take you to the pier or the beach or somewhere quiet where we could be outside and you could make fun of me, probably, because that seems to be the theme when we hang out, and it’s nice to not be cooped up every time we’re together.”

Louis smiles, looking down. “It’s just so easy to pick on you.”

“But, the thing is, it’s fucking freezing out,” Harry continues, ignoring him, “and I wanted to do something different with you.”

“You mean, different than hiding in a shower stall in the middle of an international furniture emporium?”

“You can walk home.”

“Show me what’s behind those doors, Harry,” Louis laughs.

Harry keeps their hands linked together as he pushes open the door, presenting an enormous empty room with stadium seating and a dome ceiling. They walk in side by side, Louis squeezing Harry’s hand in his own, and Harry directs them to a couple of seats in the center of the room.

“What’s this,” Louis whispers, voice almost completely mute.

“Why’re you being so quiet,” Harry whispers back.

“I feel like we’re supposed to be. There’s no one in here.”

“I know. We’re here after hours.”

“Are you honestly special enough that you had pull with the planetarium and they allowed you to come in after everything else had already closed?”

“I didn’t think I was, but apparently, I am.”

Louis smirks. “Did you actually bribe them?”

“Yeah, and I’m super embarrassed about it.”

“Oh my God. Did you bribe the restaurant, too?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Harry,” he laughs, throwing his head back, “how many times have you put your name in for something before?!”

“I swear, this was the first!” Harry argues. “I’ve never done it before, and I don’t plan to again. It’s degrading, somehow.”

“Sure, sure.” Louis looks around. “You gonna tell me what we’re doing here?”

“We’re, um.” He drags his thumb across the back of Louis’ knuckles. “We’re gonna look at the stars.”

“We’re gonna look at the stars,” Louis repeats.

“Yes.”

“Because it’s too cold out to do that outside, so you made it happen inside.”

“Yes.”

“And you rented out the entire planetarium after hours so we wouldn’t be interrupted, giving me all the time in the world to make fun of you at my leisure?”

Harry groans, cheeks reddening. “Yes.”

“I have a roommate who decorates my apartment with pictures of puppies in Santa hats and he wears an elf onesie for a month straight and sings ‘Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas’ about 72,000 times a day and somehow , this is still the cheesiest thing anyone has ever done for me.”

He slumps down in his seat. “Sorry.”

“Whoa, no.” Louis looks up at him, eyes wide. “Cheesy is a good thing, sometimes. Like right now.” He clears his throat. “I love this. Like, I fucking love it. Liam, not so much. But this…”

“Yeah?” he asks, perking up.

“Mhm. Harry. You took me to look at the stars.”

Harry smiles. “Yeah, I did.”

“Good God.” He looks around as the ceiling above them begins to light up, a slow array of stars peeking out, dotting the black as ink makeshift sky, scarily realistic. “Very Ross and Rachel of you, by the way.”

“Does that mean I can make out with you on the floor?”

“I think they did more than that.”

“I think so, too.” He raises his brows up and down, suggesting, and Louis laughs.

“Good try, superstar.”

 

They sit under the stars together for nearly an hour, Harry twisting their hands together, Louis telling Harry the story of the time he went camping with his family and got poison ivy on every inch of his body (“ Every inch, Harry,”) and how he fell asleep to the sound of the owls in the distance with the stars shining above him, beautiful and real and so far away.

“It was a perfect vacation, really, poison ivy and all. But this ,” he says against Harry’s ear, “is better.”

Harry shivers, closing his eyes. “I’d have to agree with that.”

“You weren’t even there.”

“Still. Pretty sure this is better than most things. Everything, possibly.”

He’s close enough for Harry to hear him swallow. “Do you wanna go back to your place?” he asks, voice even.

“Sick of the stars?”

Louis shakes his head. “No. Just really wanna go back to your place.”

 

Harry can’t get back to the parking lot fast enough.

 

The entire ride back to Harry’s apartment is impossibly charged with things they haven’t said, things they don’t need to say, Louis’ hand resting dangerously high up on Harry’s thigh. He squeezes every so often, as if he’s proving he’s still there. Like Harry could forget.

He pulls the car into his building’s parking garage, happy to see there isn’t a single camera waiting to snap a photo of what’s obviously desperation written all over his face and body language. He makes his way to the elevator with Louis, movements a little unsteady as the door slides closed, and when Louis crosses his arms across his chest and bites his lip, Harry all but lunges right there.

After he unlocks his front door and steps inside, Louis right beside him, he suddenly can’t think of anything other than the need to get alcohol flowing through his veins immediately , something to settle his body and mind. He looks over at Louis, now in the living room and making himself comfortable.

“Lou? Want wine?”

Louis shrugs, taking off his blazer. “If you are, yes.”

“I am. White or red?”

“White.”

“I only have red.”

“Then why’d you ask?!”

“I don’t know,” Harry laughs, running his hands through his hair. “Is red okay?”

“Yes, Harry, red is fine,” he mocks.

“Good.” Harry forces himself to calm down, to stop staring at Louis, to pour the fucking wine without spazzy hands. He’s been with people - men and women, and quite a few of them, actually - but he’s never had a reaction like this before, never felt achy and too aware of his breathing and desperate with the need to impress and please. Even the first time he was with another guy, he wasn’t this out of his mind, neurotic, a complete embarrassment, wine now threatening to spill over the edge of the glass. He looks up at the couch, where Louis is sitting and waiting for Harry to return.

“You all set in there?” Louis asks.

He nods. “Good, all good, just downright peachy.”

“Okay…”

Harry makes his way into the living room, balancing the glasses of wine in his hands which he now realizes he probably didn’t have to fill to the brim, doing his best to keep the words on the tip of his tongue from falling out.

Louis shifts on the couch, the leather crinkling under him. “I’ve never seen someone so concentrated on holding wine glasses before. Not even my four-year-old twin sister and brother.”

He goes to reply, to say that’s unfair, and ask why the hell those four-year-olds are holding glasses of wine to begin with, but it’s that exact moment that his feet betray him, tripping over absolutely nothing. He doesn’t drop the glasses, but nearly all of the red wine spills out and onto the carpet below, soaking in instantly, turning the beige color into something more akin to maroon, or a putrid shade of brown.

“Fuck,” he mumbles, scrunching his face up. “Fucking fuck.”

Louis whistles. “Yup, Doris and Ernest would definitely never do that.”

“Shut up. Oh, God.” Harry spins around, looking in the kitchen for paper towels, cursing again when he sees the empty roll. “I’m gonna have to use real towels. ‘m all out of paper ones.”

“Who runs out of paper towels? That’s one of the first things I buy when I’m at the grocery store.”

“I haven’t been in a while! I’ve been preoccupied with a certain someone else. And sorry, not everyone can be Louis fucking Tomlinson!”

He laughs, standing up, making his way to the master bathroom. “C’mon. Don’t want this to stain.”

Harry looks down at the carpet and groans. “I think it’s too late for that.”

“I assume you have towels in your closet that you don’t care if they get ruined,” he calls over his shoulder. “Hopefully.”

“I’d rather ruin towels than a rug,” Harry says back, “so, yeah, just grab whichever ones you want.”

“Come and help me.”

“Right. Sorry.” he finds Louis in the bathroom, rummaging through the linen closet, holding up a yellow towel, and Harry shakes his head. “No, use the dark red ones. They’re super old.” Without thinking, he pulls one from the bottom of the pile, which causes every single towel to tumble out in front of him, followed by a poorly balanced bottle of shampoo. It drops to the ground, the seal promptly shattering upon impact, and liquid seeps across the marble floors, working its way into every crack and crevice.

Harry all but slinks down to the floor, right into the mess, ready to call it quits and tell Louis to go home. Instead, he drops the towel and puts his face in his hands, admitting defeat.

“I’m sorry,” he says, his voice muffled. “I’m a fucking mess, huh?”

Louis bursts out laughing, presumably holding it in for the better part of the last ten minutes, and pulls Harry’s hands away from his face. “You are,” he agrees.

“This is a nightmare.”

“Kind of.”

“Lou,” he whines, “I have $200 worth of shampoo all over my bathroom floor right now.”

“You spend $200 on shampoo? Who does that? You don’t even have that much hair anymore.”

“I don’t have that much dignity anymore, either.”

Louis laughs again, his entire body shaking with it, and Harry thinks he’d be happy if the floor miraculously opened up and swallowed him whole. No such luck. He closes his eyes, willing the embarrassment and piss poor attitude to die down, but before he can get himself back under control, Louis’ hands are on his hips, thumbs digging into his exposed skin at the hem of his shirt. His eyelids flutter open and he comes face to face with a now silent Louis, just a trace of a teasing smile on his face, and when they make direct eye contact, he licks his lips.

“Harry,” he murmurs, “loosen up.”

“What…” Harry whispers back, voice suddenly lost.

Louis’ hands are on Harry’s belt buckle, then, unfastening it, hands steady and eyes still on Harry’s face; he sucks in his cheeks, his swallow audible. “You’re overthinking everything. You okay?”

Harry nods quickly, sucking in his stomach as he feels Louis’ knuckles brush against his abs. “Yes,” he breathes out, body suddenly frozen.

He slides the belt out in one swift motion, dropping it to the floor, lips parted slightly. He looks up from under his lashes and Harry just about stops breathing and thinking altogether. “You don’t have to keep trying,” he whispers, blue eyes dark and focused. “You can relax. You have me.”

Harry desperately tries to come up with something adequate to say, something that’s an honest echo of the chaos ricocheting inside his mind. Instead, he just surges forward and kisses him, hard and deep, and Harry hopes Louis can taste the words, can feel them. He curls himself into it, Louis’ fingers firm against his hips, tongue already relentless against Harry’s.

Louis is the one to break the kiss after only God knows how long, breathless and chest heaving when he pulls back, hands still moving up and down against Harry’s sides, goosebumps raising in the wake of skin on skin. His cheeks are flushed and his hair is sweeping in front of his eyes and he’s impossibly gorgeous; Harry can’t believe he gets to touch him, know him.

“Your carpet,” Louis murmurs, voice rough, “is gonna be ruined.”

Harry steps forward, cupping Louis’ jaw in his hands. “I’ll buy another one. Fuck it, I’ll buy another damn apartment , I don’t care. Just.” He runs out of words after that and pulls Louis back into him, thoroughly loving the feel of Louis pressed up against him. It’s different than a kiss in the hallway before parting ways for the evening, even if it’s usually intense and all consuming; now, it’s heady and it’s going somewhere and Harry needs Louis in a way that’s downright pathetic.

He forces himself to snap out of it, to take charge and kiss Louis the way he knows he likes it best, and in turn, Louis inhales sharply, pushing himself further into Harry’s grip, sliding his hands up Harry’s sides and into his hair. Harry stumbles into Louis’ hands, wanting to get closer than this, needing more than a filthy make out session in his Goddamn bathroom. He rolls his hips forward, unable to stop himself, and Louis groans, pushing Harry away, eyes still closed and eyelashes dusting across his cheekbones. Harry can’t help himself when he drags his thumb across Louis’ bottom lip, now red and swollen, and Louis looks up at that, mind obviously turning as quickly as Harry’s.

“Do you…” Louis swallows, knocking Harry’s hand away, eyeing the bathtub. “Do you think we could fit in your shower better than the one at Ikea?”

Harry’s heart nearly stops. “What’re you implying.”

Instead of answering, he takes a step back, and in one fluid motion, pulls his t-shirt up and over his head, revealing an abundance of ink Harry had no idea was there. They’re neat and pristine, some darker than others, some larger than others, all unique and stunning. Louis pushes his hair out of his eyes, lips pursed, obviously waiting for Harry to say something, and Harry continues to stand there like an idiot, mouth hanging open, eyes wide.

“You’re… Lousy with tattoos,” is what he eventually comes up with, and Louis snorts.

“Observant.”

“They’re nice.” He takes a step closer, hands itching to reach out and drag his hands across Louis’ chest piece. “Really hot, actually.”

Louis’ cheeks redden, just slightly. “Thank you.”

“Jesus.” He feels unbearably possessive, needs to touch and taste and feel; when their lips slot together again, Harry can feel Louis starting to grow harder against him, and that’s enough to have him ripping off his own shirt, not caring if the buttons tear. And he knows he’s talking again, not bothering to register the words that are coming out of his mouth in between kisses, wants Louis too much to focus and too nervous to stand still. He won’t allow this to be a one time thing, he can’t even think of that, and puts all his energy into making this as good as possibly can.

Louis pulls back, panting, and reaches for the button on Harry’s pants. “You never stop talking, do you,” he whispers, no real hostility behind it.

Harry looks down at Louis’ hands, working at the zipper. “It’s just. It’s a lot to be wanted by you.”

He clears his throat as he pushes Harry’s pants all the way to the floor, leaving him standing there and tenting in his briefs. “Feeling’s mutual,” Louis murmurs, eyes flitting up to look at Harry, and Harry feels short of breath, can’t believe he gets to have .

Harry presses Louis up against the side of the glass sliding door, reaching inside the shower to turn it on without looking, then refocuses on the feel of Louis in front of him who can’t seem to keep his hands steady, either. The room fills up with steam slowly, the humidity seemingly urging both of them on to move more frantically, the heat between them a mirror of the temperature rising and billowing out of the shower. Harry sucks a mark into the side of Louis’ neck, Louis wiggling around from the pressure of it, and once they’re both fully undressed, Louis mumbles in between frantic kisses, “C’mon. In.”

And he means to say something like yeah or after you but then he gets his first full glance at Louis and he has to resist the urge to drop to his knees right then and there. He’s unfairly toned, athletic in all the right places, clearly wants Harry, and his ass.

Harry clenches his fists. “Your ass.”

Louis laughs. “Eloquent, Harry.”

He blushes as pulls open the door, watching as Louis steps in, and climbs in right behind him. The water is a little too hot, turning Harry’s skin a healthy shade of pink, but he doesn’t bother to change it. He leans down to lick at Louis’ collarbones, droplets of water already clinging to his skin, and murmurs, “You’re perfect.”

Louis winds his hands up around Harry’s neck. “Bold statement.”

“True statement.”

“Shut up .” And the way he says it makes it obvious that he’s just as overwhelmed as Harry is.

It’s like all the hesitancy and fervency from just moments ago is gone, and is instead replaced with something gentle, but stronger. He touches Louis like he’s getting to know him all over again, Louis encouraging him with soft whines and kneading hands, and when they kiss under the spray, it’s languid, practiced. Harry takes his time, his brain trying to convince his body that Louis isn’t going anywhere.

Not that he would let him, anyway.

The build up of this , of wondering and waiting, has felt nearly agonizing, excruciating; he’s been more focused on Louis than he’s ever been on anyone, really. It's like there’s a compelling force between them, one that he gave into one day one, Louis finally giving in, too, and every time Louis grinds against him or groans or kisses at the spot just below Harry’s ear that drives him to the brink of insanity, Harry is sure no one has ever worked this well together. It’d be impossible .

He doesn’t say anything, no warning or preamble, when he reaches down to grip at Louis’ cock, completely hard and heavy in his palm, and Louis lurches forward at the first touch. Harry goes slowly, pulling him off with practiced ease, eyes never leaving Louis’ face, afraid to catch the change in the way he’s rocking forward into it or biting at his bottom lip. His teeth leave tiny, white indents and Harry can’t help himself when he has to lick over them.

Louis’ breathing comes out a little less steady the more Harry manipulates him, both of them looking down at the way his cock disappears in and out of Harry’s fist. It’s too hot, being the one to have Louis like this, and when his hand bumps against his own cock, he hisses, the first stimulation he’s gotten since stepping under the water.

Louis looks up at him, hair matted down and lips parted, voice shaky when he says, “Too bad your shampoo is all over the floor. Could’ve actually done something productive in here.”

Harry chokes out a laugh against Louis’ neck, biting stupidly. He knows Louis is affected - it’s written all over the way he’s staring at Harry, eyes glassy and movements jerky - but leave it to Louis to pretend he isn’t.

“You mean this isn’t productive?” he asks on an upstroke, and Louis moans instantaneously.

“No,” Louis grits out. “I’ll show you productive.” He bats Harry’s hand away, taking a deep breath, and sinks down to his knees, looking up downright sinfully . Without another word, takes Harry deep into his mouth.

In the past, Harry has often times found that getting head can be somewhat boring, like a way to pass a few minutes before moving onto the next part, as if the motions are too textbook and expected. It always feels good, but it’s not always spectacular. Right now, however, with Louis gripping Harry’s base with his left hand and Harry’s hip with his right, it feels anything but boring. Exceptional, almost, and Harry has to attribute that to the chemistry between them, sexual and otherwise. Harry had no doubt that they would work this well together in this particular department, considering they're magnetic in every other situation, but he had no idea it would work this well. He has to reach down to grip at Louis’ soaking wet hair, just for something to hang onto, clawing at the cool tile behind him, instead, when he realizes he’s pulling too hard.

Louis twists his hand expertly, moves his mouth up and down in a way that has Harry swearing under the steady spray of water, Louis’ tongue all too perfect, moaning around Harry’s cock all too pleasantly. And he knows he sounds blissfully idiotic, murmuring out Louis’ name like a prayer, afraid to look down and get a visual, because if he does, that’ll be the end of that. So much time wondering and wishing and waiting and none of it prepared him for how enthusiastic Louis is, how incredible he is, how beautiful. The fact that someone else could have ever had Louis like this before is enough for Harry to see red, unintentionally thrusting into Louis’ mouth without any warning, and fuck, that feels incredible.

Louis coughs and sputters, pulling off, still moving his hand up and down, slick and hot. “Warn a boy,” he says under his breath, his voice completely shot, and Harry is the worst person on the planet for nearly coming at that .

“Sorry, I’m sorry,” he mutters, tracing his fingers along Louis’ jaw, feeling the muscles tense under his touch. “You’re just so fucking good. I couldn’t help it.”

Louis squeezes at the base, teasing. “Do you normally get this stupid from a little bit of sucking?”

Harry groans, thighs twitching as Louis licks up his entire length, up and down. “No,” he replies honestly. “I really don’t.” The look Louis gives in response makes his abs tighten, stomach swoop. “Lou,” he grits out, squeezing his eyes shut. “You’re gorgeous, so fucking hot. ‘m gonna come.”

“Don’t.” Louis stands up all the way, biting at Harry’s ear, hand still tight and firm around his cock. “Want you to fuck me.”

The way he says it, Harry knows, is meant to come off like he’s sure of himself, like he’s got this . But there’s just a slight tremor that Harry wouldn’t have caught if he hadn’t spent the past month memorizing every detail about the boy with the tattoos and sarcastic jokes and bigger than life heart, and the barely there wariness in his voice tells Harry that he’s close to spiraling out of control, just like Harry is. Instead of calling him out on it, he thrusts his hips up into Louis’ grip, pulling him in for a kiss, hot and all too sloppy, murmuring, “Yeah, wanna fuck you, ‘m so lucky, so fucking lucky.”

He turns off the water before he gets too carried away again, stepping out of the shower with Louis still nearly hanging off of him, not bothering to grab towels, turn off any lights, figure out the expensive shampoo explosion. They continue to kiss, stumbling over each other, as they walk out of the bathroom and into Harry’s bedroom, dark and city lights shining in through the massive windows. The glow from the street and the moon illuminates the room in soft shadows, gentle and an unbearable contrast to the way Louis is gripping him like a lifeline.

They tumble into bed together, Harry hovering above Louis, unable to stop himself from kissing every inch he can get to, whispering how unbearably attracted to him he is, his voice rough. Louis murmurs the same type of words back, body shaking, beads of water dripping off of his hair and down to his shoulders. And Harry knows he should turn up the heat, dry themselves off, do something other than grind down and match Louis’ panting breath for breath. He can’t, though, can’t look away, can’t stop touching, just lets the comforter soak up the excess water seeping off of them and pulls Louis in even closer.

He’s spent an embarrassing amount of time imagining what Louis would sound like with Harry’s name rolling off his tongue in this situation; Harry would whine into his sheets alone, thinking about the way Louis would react to Harry sliding his fingers inside of him, stretching him open. He’s always thought it would be needy, Louis being a little fresh and Harry being a little rough, and in that sense, he wasn’t wrong. Louis tells Harry to fucking get a move on, Harry tells him he’s beautiful in response, and they both have a hold on each other that’s bordering on dangerous. What he didn’t account for, though, was how in tune they would be to one another. It’s as though Louis can anticipate the way Harry’s going to move above him, kiss up and down his jaw, body going slack seconds before Harry’s lips drag across his skin; on Harry’s end, he swears he can feel Louis moments before Louis actually makes a move, back tingling with Louis’ scratching before it even happens, like a signature. It should feel weird, or freak him out. It doesn’t.

It’s been a month, merely four weeks, and Harry is never giving this up. He’d be absolutely moronic to.

When he slides the first slick finger into Louis, Louis arches his back off the mattress, chest already red and flushed. He bites on his bottom lip, eyes shut, and after a moment, rocks into it. He’s not giving anything away other than a few uncharacteristically soft moans, and when Harry slips a second finger in without a word, that’s when Louis’ front breaks.

“Warn your boy before you go and fucking stick multiple fingers in him, will you?” he grunts, hands gripping uselessly at the damp sheets.

Harry’s breath hitches ridiculously at your boy . “Yeah, you are mine.”

“That’s not the point of that sentence, you dick.”

“It definitely is.” He twists his fingers around, loving the way Louis’ body reacts to it.

“Fuck.” Louis plants his feet on the mattress and thrusts up into nothing. “I hate your hands.”

Harry smirks, tracing his mouth along Louis’ chest tattoo. “Seems like it.”

“Just…” He wiggles around, asking for less, asking for more, breath catching in his throat. “So good.”

“Sounds like you’re losing the plot a little bit, baby.”

Louis starts to laugh but the tail end of it comes out as a moan. “Hate your terrible mouth.”

“That’s a shame, because I love yours.” Harry pushes in a third finger right as he seals his lips against Louis’, almost as if he’s inhaling his groan, keeping it as a secret all to himself.

He spends a ridiculous amount of time opening Louis up - too much time, probably - but he refuses to miss a second of Louis coming undone. It’s the most relaxed, most tightly wound, Louis has ever been around Harry, and Harry is in awe. He’s been attracted to him from day one, day one being several weeks ago and three years prior, but this attraction is something different entirely. He’ll never be able to erase the image of Louis biting down on his wrist as Harry manipulates his body, and when he rubs against his prostate, his entire body shakes, and fuck, why would he ever want to erase that ?

Harry pulls his fingers out entirely once Louis’ pleading gets louder and his abs go taut, voice a little too high pitched as he demands Harry finally fucks into him. He swallows heavily as he rolls the condom down onto himself, staring at Louis’ body the entire time. He’s on his hands and knees, hair curling at the nape of his neck from not drying properly, and Harry wants every bit of him he can have.

The first push in is almost too much - it’s always a lot - but this time, he wants to drape himself over Louis’ back to get as close as he can. He closes his eyes and breathes deeply through his nose as he waits for Louis to adjust, to give him the okay to move, and it’s already so completely overwhelming. The way Louis sounds, feels… Harry refuses to look down, afraid all his stamina will fly out the fucking window.

He listens intently as Louis groans out for him to go, and as Harry inches forward, the tightness, the intensity, is almost too much to handle. He drags his hands up and down Louis’ sides as he begins to pick up a steady rhythm, watching as goosebumps raise all along Louis’ paled skin, and his own moans come out ragged when Louis clenches down around him.

“You’re so hot,” Harry murmurs, as if that’s enough, hands restless along Louis’ spine. “So gorgeous, I can’t fucking stand it.”

Louis pushes back onto Harry’s cock, head falling forward into the crook of his elbow. “Harry,” he says, coming out like a warning.

He continues to punch forward, angling his hips to reach the spot that makes Louis’ eyes roll to the back of his head and his body to go through a series of spasms; he knows he hits it dead on when Louis actually shouts, body clearly confused, trying to figure out if it should lean into it or shy away from it. He ends up choosing the former.

Harry can’t shut up, can’t stop praising him, telling him how good he looks, how good he’s taking it, how Harry feels like he’s going to come out of his Goddamn skin, all because of Louis. He stops making sense, he knows, but it seems to only encourage Louis, to urge him to let go. It only takes a series of a few more hard thrusts for Louis to reach down and pull himself off, breathing out of control, his own thoughts coming out like a jumbled mess that only Harry is allowed to sort through. He mouths at the back of Louis’ neck messily, telling him to do it, that he wants to see him come, that he’s fucking crazy for him, and when Louis finally breaks, an echo of Harry’s words on his tongue, it leaves Harry feeling like he’s coming out of his skin. He gives into the fire coiling in the pit of his own stomach less than a minute later, pulsing inside the condom until he can’t anymore, bone tired and spent.

Neither of them bother with clothes before Harry pulls the comforter up to their chins, Louis’ overheated forehead pressed against Harry’s shoulder, and while Harry’s trying to come up with the right words to say before they inevitably crash, Louis whispers, “I can’t believe you buy $200 bottles of shampoo.”

Harry bursts out laughing and pinches Louis’ back. “Go to sleep, Tomlinson.”

He laughs, too, voice scratchy. “Okay. I will.”

And they do.

 

Harry wakes up alone, head pounding and throat dry.

The side of the bed where Louis slept all night is rumpled, the sheets in disarray, but when Harry touches them, they’re still a little warm.

He slips on a pair of sweatpants he finds on the floor, not bothering with a shirt, and makes his way into the kitchen, rubbing his eyes as he goes, ignoring the ruined, wine stained carpet to his left. That’s where he finds Louis, rifling through the refrigerator in nothing but a pair of boxers. Harry’s, at that.

“Lou, what’re you doing?”

Louis turns to the sound of Harry’s voice, holding a carton. “Needed milk.”

“I can see that. Aren’t you cold? It’s like, three degrees, and you’re basically naked.”

“Yeah, I’m fucking freezing.”

Harry laughs. “Do you want some pants?”

He waves his free hand around. “I needed milk, H.”

“I know…” Harry responds, confused.

“Because I went in your cabinet to find coffee to make for us and found this instead.” Louis reaches for something behind him on the counter, and slams down a box of cereal in front of Harry.

“So?”

“It’s Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Harry. You hate this shit.”

“Yeah, but, you don’t.”

Louis stares for a beat too long, smile already threatening to slip. “When did you buy it?”

Harry shrugs. “The day after we went to Ikea.”

“You went out to the grocery store to buy a brand of cereal you hate but got it, anyway, because you know I like it?”

“Um. Yes?”

Louis places the milk on the counter next to the box of cereal and takes a step forward. “You like me.”

“I told you I did. Do ,” Harry corrects.

“I know .” His smile widens as he stands up on his tip toes, wrapping an arm around Harry’s neck. “Thank you.”

“Of course.” Harry bites back his own smile as he dips down slightly to brush his lips against Louis’. It’s quick and fleeting, a good good morning .

“Hey, Styles,” Louis whispers.

He smirks, glad that that part hasn’t changed. “Lou.”

“Go get me some pants.”

Harry laughs. “Will do.”


 

The morning of Louis’ birthday, Harry wakes him up slowly, kissing down his sternum, down his stomach, Louis groaning and restless, voice still soft with sleep. It’s a great morning, perfect, maybe, and when Louis comes with Harry’s name on his lips, hands fumbling to reach for Harry’s, thrusting up into Harry’s mouth like he can’t help himself, Harry can’t believe he found someone who wants him this much, who he wants even more.

It’s freezing outside - Harry knows that much without even so much as a glance out the window - and he keeps Louis warm, wrapped in his arms, no desire to leave this room, this bed . He drags his fingers up and down Louis’ spine, loving the way he shivers at the touch, and he asks Louis if he wants to get up and build a snowman, assuming there’s probably a fresh layer of snow lining the streets outside.

“Over my dead body are we moving from this very spot,” Louis mumbles, wiggling his way further into Harry’s embrace.

“Okay,” Harry replies, smiling, and he presses a kiss to Louis’ bare shoulder. “We’ll stay here all day.”

“Well, you have to go back to Ubly at some point, and I have to catch the train to Columbus at two.”

“Okay,” he repeats, “we’ll stay here until 1:30.”

Louis laughs, tugging on Harry’s hair. “Deal.”

 

They don’t actually stay in bed that long; Harry convinces Louis to get up around ten, giving him an oversized sweatshirt and sweatpants to wear.

“I wanna make you breakfast,” he says, sliding into his own hoodie. “Whatever you want. You’re the birthday boy.”

“Whatever I want?” Louis asks, smoothing down his hair unsuccessfully. “So, like, you’ll make me a turkey dinner? With stuffing and all the fixin’s?”

“I was thinking more along the lines of pancakes and bacon and eggs, because, you know, it’s ten in the morning, and not Thanksgiving.”

“But it’s my birthday . And that’s what I want.”

Harry cocks his hips, smirking. “Alrighty then, guess I gotta run to the grocery store.”

“Good boy,” Louis says, winking. “Pancakes and bacon and eggs sounds good. Throw in some cinnamon rolls and you won’t hear a peep out of me all day.”

“Unlikely, but cinnamon rolls it is.”

He laughs, tugging at Harry’s hoodie strings. “Best birthday.”

“Best? It’s still the morning. And nothing has really happened yet.”

“Not true. You’re offering to slave over a stove for me after you sucked me off for the better part of 30 minutes. That qualifies as a superb birthday, I think.”

Harry laughs. “Okay, point taken.”

And there’s no Liam to throw red and green glitter at me and sing ‘Happy Birthday’ over and over until my ears are bleeding.” He claps his hands together. “Like I said, best birthday.”

“Another valid point.” Harry points to the bedroom door. “‘kay, let’s get moving. Pancake time.”

“The best time.”

They make their way down the hall together, Harry leading, failing to hide his smile before he reaches the kitchen where Liam is perched on a bar stool, surrounded by streamers and balloons, confetti in hand, ready to pounce. When Louis sees him, he groans and rolls his eyes, already laughing, hiding his face in his hands.

“I should have fucking known,” he yells over the noise of Liam nearly screaming a horribly off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday,” throwing glitter around as he sings. “I’m truly the biggest idiot on the planet for thinking I was safe here.”

“Yes, you are,” Harry agrees, kissing Louis’ temple. “And I told him I wanted in on it this year, if you can recall correctly.”

“Yeah, see, I tried to forget that conversation.”

“Mmm, well, Liam remembered, and so did I.”

“Evidently.”

Harry squeezes Louis shoulder as he joins in with Liam during the third round, and Louis covers his ears while he sings his own version of the birthday song over Liam and Harry, which is basically just repeating “fuck you, Liam Payne,” to the same tune. It’s beyond stupid and completely ridiculous, but Harry is thrilled to be a part of their tradition, welcomed in and allowed to share Louis’ birthday as if he’s been there all along.

And over a massive breakfast of chocolate chip banana pancakes, bacon, sausage, eggs, waffles, fruit salad, cinnamon rolls, and a chocolate cake courtesy of Liam, Harry picks birthday confetti off his plate, closes his eyes at the warmth of Louis’ hand on his thigh, and thinks that somehow, impossibly, maybe he has been there all along.


 

Christmas day is nice ; Harry holds himself back and only texts Louis about 13 times, staring at his phone throughout all of dinner, desperately waiting for it to light up and come to life. Eventually, his sister pulls it out of his hands before he can protest and tosses it under the table, where his mom demands it needs to stay until they're done eating. When he’s allowed to pick it up an hour later, he has one single response: a picture of a topless Louis, laying on his bed on display for all (or hopefully only Harry) to see. You drive me nuts is what he writes underneath it, and Harry bites down on the inside of his cheeks as he sends back, Likewise.

Louis tells Harry he’s allowed to come down to Columbus a few days after the holiday if he’s interested - who is he kidding, of course Harry is interested - and on the afternoon of the 27th, Louis picks him up from the train station with chattering teeth and red cheeks.

“Get in the car,” he says the second he sees Harry. “Hurry.”

“Remember when you used to greet me nicely ? Like, a hug and everything?”

“It’s too cold out here to even pretend I want to touch you right now, Christ.”

“Bossy.” Harry follows Louis to his car, and when Louis slides in behind the steering wheel, Harry grabs his chin. “Hi. You look amazing today.”

Louis rolls his eyes and smiles, anyway, batting his hand away. “Such a kiss ass.”

“I’m serious. I missed you. Missed staring at your perfect face.”

“It’s been three days,” he scoffs as he backs out of the parking spot.

“Three lonely days. I cried myself to sleep last night.”

“I can’t tell if you’re kidding.”

“I am.” Harry makes a face. “Kind of.”

“Oh my God,” Louis laughs as he merges into traffic. They drive on the freeway for a moment or two in silence, Louis fiddling with the mirror, adjusting and readjusting it. He sighs. “Missed you, too.”

“Louis, Jesus, it was only three days ,” he mocks, and he can fully admit he deserves the punch in the stomach he gets in response.

 

Louis briefs Harry before they step inside his house, warning him that he has younger sisters who are, to put it lightly, obsessed with him. Harry snorts and quips, “They can’t possibly be any more obsessed than their brother is.”

“You wanna sleep outside, dick?”

He smirk and kisses Louis’ hair. “No way. ‘m staying with you.”

“Cute that you think that.”

Once inside, they go through the awkward introductions, two of Louis’ younger sisters blushing furiously, one actually tearing up, and by the time they make it upstairs to Louis’ room to drop off Harry’s bag, Louis has managed to apologize close to 20 times, clearly embarrassed at his sisters’ over the top behavior.

“Lou, it’s fine, they’re cute,” Harry says, looking around Louis’ bedroom, and eyes a picture of Louis and Liam from what appears to be freshman year of college. “Aw, little babies,” he croons, pointing.

“Mhm, can’t get away from him now. He knows too much.”

“Remind me to ask him what else he knows.”

“Yeah, good try.”

 

It’s so, so nice to spend the day with Louis’ entire family; they’re warm and welcoming and after the girls can get beyond their eager fascination with him, he finds out that they’re funny , making him genuinely laugh on several occasions. They make ice cream sundaes after dinner, making a complete disaster of the kitchen, and Harry’s apologizes profusely to Louis’ mom, Jay, for the trail of sprinkles and hot fudge sauce smeared across the counters. She laughs and pats him on the back, joking, “You must be new here.”

It’s late when when the two of them finally settle on the couch together, most of Louis’ siblings in bed, and Harry leans forward from his position next to Louis, listening and laughing at the way Jay tells stories of young Louis from her seat on the opposing chair, each one more embarrassing than the next. Louis doesn’t tell her to cut it out, though, like Harry figured he would; rather, he laughs, too, scoffing occasionally, and it’s abundantly clear that Harry has walked into a relationship that goes beyond just mother and son. She’s obviously protective - a mama bear - but just as obviously adores him. The way Louis refills her coffee cup, laughing as he says something that is clearly an inside joke between them, Harry knows it’s a mutual admiration. While Jay is in the middle of a story, something about last year’s Christmas, Harry places his hand on Louis’ knee, brushing his thumb softly across it, a silent Thank you for thinking I’m good enough to meet your mom . Louis doesn’t say anything in response, but he sighs at the touch, shifting into it. Harry feels warm, and it’s not because he and Louis are sharing an impossibly small love seat. More or less, it’s the feeling of comfort from being welcome into Louis’ home so easily, Jay’s voice and hugs soothing (not much different from his own mother’s), the furniture eclectic and happy, the butt naked baby pictures of Louis on the wall to die for. When she catches Harry eyeing the photos, she laughs and quips, “I’m so proud of that little, squishy butt.”

“Jesus Christ,” Louis groans, but he does so with a smirk, and Harry thinks, again, that it’s very clear not just anyone gets to come home with Louis.

As the night goes on, Jay brews a second pot of coffee and tells stories about what Louis was like in high school (“A damn punk,” she jokes), Harry patiently answers her questions about his upcoming tour and recording, eagerness in her voice evident. It makes Harry smile.

“Unfortunately, it’s back to reality really soon,” he says quietly, hand tightening around Louis’ knee.

“How soon is ‘soon’?” she asks.

“Uh. December 31st, I’m set to fly into Los Angeles.”

“Wait, what?!” Louis whips around to look at him. “Seriously?!”

He nods, frowning. “Yeah, I’ve mentioned a couple of times that I’m only off for a few weeks.”

Louis sucks his cheeks in. “Guess I should have asked you to clarify what that meant, exactly.” He squeezes his eyes shut. “What the hell, Harry.”

They both grow uncomfortably silent after that, Jay asking another couple of questions before sensing the tone of the room and standing up.

“It was great to finally meet you, Harry,” she says, smiling slightly. “Don’t be afraid to ask for anything if you need it. And don’t be a stranger.”

“Thank you,” he replies. “I’m so happy I got to spend some time here, and to meet you. Louis talks about you a lot .” He looks out of the corner of his eye at Louis’ reaction. Nothing.

She smiles again. “Have a good night, boys.”

“You, too,” they echo.

Harry waits for her to disappear out of sight before he turns to Louis. “Do you… Wanna go upstairs?”

“Yup,” Louis says sharply, and stands without looking back at Harry as he makes his way up the stairs. Harry winces at Louis’ tone and takes a deep breath. He counts to ten before he releases and follows.

Louis is sitting on his bed already, arms crossed, when Harry enters his bedroom. He closes the door behind him softly. “Lou…”

“No. You never gave me a date.”

He nods. “I know. I didn’t have a date until yesterday morning.”

“But you had an idea.

He nods again, despising the look Louis’ giving him. He’s never seen it before, he never wants to see it again. “Kind of, yeah. I told you though, Louis. You knew at some point in the winter I’d be leaving again. I've said a few times that I knew it would be just a few weeks longer.”

Louis inhales sharply, looking up at nothing at the ceiling. “So it’s my fault, then, for not knowing.”

“What, no. None of this is anyone’s fault. It's miscommunication.” Harry cautiously sits down on the bed beside Louis. He doesn’t know fight stance Louis yet, and doesn’t particularly want to. “Can you explain to me a little better what’s going on? You know what my career is. It’s a downfall, but you know this.”

He bites on his bottom lip, clenches and unclenches his fists. “Yeah, I know.”

“Then what is this.”

A beat passes before he answers. “I tried so hard,” Louis mumbles, still not looking at Harry, “to not date you.”

“What?”

“From day one you made it so obvious what you wanted.”

Harry nods, unashamed. “I wanted you, definitely.”

“I know. And I fucking resisted for weeks .”

He grabs Louis’ hand, not caring if Louis doesn’t want him to, but Louis doesn’t push him away. “Do you wanna tell me why?”

“I knew you’d be leaving,” he says simply. “I didn’t know when, but I also didn’t think it’d be so soon. And now I feel dumb. Really stupid, actually. I should have fucking asked, Jesus. Oblivion doesn't always work.”

“Whoa.” Harry squeezes Louis’ hand in his own, holding his attention. “Back up. Why would you feel stupid?”

“Why aren’t you listening. You’re leaving , Harry. For, like, another six months.”

“So?”

“So?!” Louis rips his hand away. “That’s relationship suicide. There won’t be anymore us ,” he says, gesturing between them, “once you’re gone.”

Ahh . It clicks. He takes a deep breath. “You have no idea how much I like you, do you.”

“What’s that have to do with anything…”

“You have no idea how much I want to be with you. Regardless of where I am.” He licks his lips. “Even when I’m on tour. If you’ll have me. I didn’t fight for a relentless and grueling month for nothing, Tomlinson.”

Louis snorts, shoulders sagging. “It won’t work.”

“What won’t?”

“Us.”

“It will.”

“No, it won’t.”

“God, such faith.”

He finally looks at Harry. “I didn’t want to get attached,” he says slowly, his voice low, “which was stupid, though, because I’ve basically been attached since the night you almost stabbed me with a fucking dart.”

Harry slides closer to Louis on the mattress and drops his forehead to Louis’ shoulder. “Really?”

Louis twists his hands together, humming. “I tried so hard not to date you,” he repeats. “I had to make you eat literal volcano buffalo wings so you wouldn’t try to kiss me. Because I knew if you did, I wouldn’t be able to say no. I wouldn't want to say no.”

He smirks against Louis’ sweater. “Didn’t work. I still wanted to kiss you. You knew it, too. Wanted to so badly. Wanted everything, really.”

“And, like.” He pauses, drumming his fingers along Harry’s knee. “I wanted us to be on the same page. I needed to make sure I wasn’t the only one in this. And that you knew I wasn’t trying to hang around you because you’re… You.”

“I never thought that,” Harry says. “Knew you were good.” He smiles. “Eh. Well. For the most part.”

Louis pinches his thigh. “And I kept up this stupid front that I wouldn’t care what happened but then you had to go and be Harry and I eventually stopped caring. Just. Stopped pretending I wouldn’t give into anything you wanted.” He makes a face and closes his eyes. “I want more time.”

It's more honest and candid than Louis typically is; he's squirming and can't look at Harry but his words are honest and Louis’ nervous . Harry doesn’t know where to start. “I’ll give you time. It might be from the other side of the country, but you have all my time. Every second.”

“That sounds unrealistic, Harry.”

“It’s not. If you think I’m leaving for the second leg of this tour without you in whatever way I can have you, then you’re fucking delusional.”

Louis laughs, a real one, and Harry relaxes into the sound of it. “Are we dating? Like, exclusive, no one else dating.”

“Yes,” Harry replies without hesitancy.

“Are you even gonna ask me?”

“You’re getting needier by the second, huh.”

“Fuck off,” he says, laughing again, and scrunches up his face. “Sorry I just babbled like an idiot.”

“It’s nice to not be the only one who’s a babbling idiot for once.”

“Nice.” Louis flops down onto the mattress, motioning for Harry to follow. He does, making himself comfortable as he blinks up at the ceiling. “This means I’ll have to get over my weird thing about not having privacy, probably.”

“Not necessarily,” Harry says. “It would make it easier, yeah, but I can pretend you don’t exist, if that’s what you want.”

“No, that sucks. You can talk about me.”

Harry laughs. “Alright. Just tell me what you want, and I’ll do it.”

“Thanks, servant.”

“No problem.” They lay side by side in silence, the only sounds to be heard from their breathing and the wind rustling through the trees outside. Harry slips his hand into Louis’, palm already open like he’s waiting for him. He brushes his thumb across Louis’ knuckles when he speaks again. “Hey. Sorry for not being more clear about my schedule. I should have talked about it more. I didn’t mean to blindside you. If it’s all too much, you can back out. I get it.”

“Are you asking me out and dumping me in the same day?”

Harry rolls his eyes. “I’m just saying…”

Louis shakes his head. “Well, don’t. And don’t apologize for anything. You’re good, Harry. Really good.”

“They say opposites attract.”

“Never mind, you’re terrible.”

He laughs, rolling over to press a kiss to the side of Louis’ temple. “Hey. Do you think we could stargaze together?”

“What the hell is it with you and stars? We already did th--”

Harry cuts him off by pointing at the ceiling. “Loving the array of plastic stars, Lou. Feels like I’m actually outside.”

“Fuck you. I put those up when I was, like, eight.”

“Love how they glow.”

“Stop.”

Look how they shine for you ,” he sings, batting Louis’ finger away when he pokes it into his dimple.

“Don’t know how you’ve sold any records. Worst voice I’ve ever heard.”

“Thanks, baby.” He licks his lips. “Do you think your mom likes me? Fuck, I hope she does.”

Louis snorts. “Yeah, you did good. And if I thought she hated you, I would’ve made you leave, honestly.”

“I believe that.”

They’re quiet again, Harry zoning in on the comforting rhythm of Louis’ analog clock ticking in the corner. He’s about to ask Louis if he’s ready for bed when Louis suddenly sits up, reaching for his phone on the nightstand.

“Think you could email me your tour schedule? I’ll add it into my calendar. Looks like I’m gonna be racking up some air miles.”

Harry doesn’t answer, just bats the phone out of Louis’ hand and kisses him. Hard.

 

It’s nearly three in the morning by the time Louis hovers over Harry, Harry’s chest red with marks from Louis’ nails, Louis’ hair matted to his forehead, and it’s heady when he finally sinks down onto Harry, a combination of Louis’ vulnerability and Harry’s desperation to fuck up into him. He tries to prepare himself for how ungodly good Louis feels, now that he knows, but then Louis is groaning and clenching down around him, but there’s no way to anticipate this, nothing he can do now other than ride out the waves.

“Can’t get enough of you,” he murmurs out, grabbing at Louis’ thighs uselessly. “You’re unreal.”

Louis whines and rocks down harder, eyes fluttering to the back of his head. “Gonna make me come.”

He thrusts up into Louis, moaning low in his throat, jerking Louis to the punching rhythm of his hips. “I can’t believe how good you feel, baby, so fucking good.”

“Christ,” Louis groans, entire body clenching, and Harry makes it his mission to hit that spot over and over again, anything to elicit that reaction. And when Louis comes across his abs, cursing and sweating through it, Harry swears it comes from a broken place that only he can get to.

His chest is heaving and his entire body is riddled with the need for a release. He pants into the pillow beside him, eyes squeezed shut. “Baby, I need. I need you to.” He shifts his hips restlessly, trying to catch his breath, and then Louis pulls off completely, lips red and hands shaking.

“Need me to…” he asks, prompting, but he’s already peeling the condom off and getting a hand around Harry, jerking torturously slowly.

Harry could scream; he’s so close, too close, and needs just the tiniest bit more to get there. He looks down just in time to watch as Louis takes him deep into his mouth, head touching the back of Louis’ throat, and all it takes is ten seconds of that for Harry to lose it, trembling and crying out as he comes. He tries to be quiet as he’s aware of Louis’ sisters in the room next over, he really does, but Louis’ mouth works over him in a way that almost hurts .

It takes an embarrassing amount of time for him to catch his breath, pulling Louis into his arms, breathing in deeply.

“Did you just… smell me?”

Harry nods. “Yes.”

“Why.”

“You smell good.”

“I smell like sweat. And sex.”

“Like I said, you smell good.”

Louis laughs. “Fucking weirdo.”

He traces his fingers up and down Louis’ bare arm, connecting the freckles and tattoos and scars like a dot-to-dot puzzle. “Mhm.”

It’s late, too late for any real conversation, and Harry is just barely awake enough to keep touching Louis, Louis letting him. Harry’s eyes are fluttering closed when Louis presses a kiss to his chest, right across his swallow tattoo.

“Hey, Harry,” he whispers, voice cutting through the darkness, breath hot against Harry’s skin.

Harry groans. “Lou, I’m so tired.”

“Okay.” Louis pauses for a moment. “Hey. Harry.”

“Ugh.” He rubs his eyes with the palm of his hand, seeing patterns of static and swirls behind his eyelids. “Yes?”

“Do you sleep with your socks on or off?”

“Are you serious?”

“As a heart attack.”

He groans again, louder this time. “Why.”

“Oh, God, you do , don’t you.”

“Sometimes. It doesn’t really make a difference, one way or the other.”

Louis sits up, Harry’s arms falling flat on the mattress. “It completely does!”

“Well, I don’t want my feet to get cold!” Harry argues.

“Holy mother of God. What happened to you as a child? Were you not loved? Or were you dropped on your head?”

“Yes, exactly. Now let me go to bed. Fucking you is exhausting.”

“Quite the hardship.” He slides back into Harry’s embrace, burrowing his face into the crook of his neck. “Hey, Harry.”

“Fuck,” Harry laughs, because he can’t help it. “What.”

“Did you ever think about the fact that animals don’t know it’s a holiday? Like, do you think Stacy gets confused when all the Christmas trees invade? She has no idea why outside is suddenly inside.”

“I don’t even know what to say to that.”

“Or, like, deer and raccoons and stuff. They’re just doing their woodland creature thing and have no clue about Yankee Swap.”

“Are you high?!”

Louis laughs hysterically at that, the most ridiculous sound Harry has ever heard, and it’s not an actual answer by any means. If Harry hadn’t spent the past 13.5 hours with Louis and knows he hasn’t smoked a single thing, he would honestly question whether or not he actually is high.

“Hey, Harry,” he chokes out in between laughter.

“Louis! I’m exhausted!” he nearly yells, stomach cramping from laughing.

And Louis goes on to ask how old Harry was when he stopped believing in Santa (nine), what his favorite sandwich at Subway is (ham and cheese with lettuce, mayonnaise, honey mustard, and spinach, if he’s feeling festive), and if he thinks astrology is legitimate (“Yes, you don’t fuck with the stars, Louis”). They talk about how they both used to vacation with their families on Lake Michigan when they were younger, and upon further discussion, realize they rented homes on the same beach, same week in July.

“Do you think we were ever on the beach together?” Louis asks, dragging his fingers across Harry’s hips.

“No, we weren’t.”

“How do you know?”

“Because you’re crazy if you think I wouldn’t have noticed you. I would have done anything to follow you around. I know it.”

Louis sucks in his cheeks, fighting a smile. “Did you ever skinny dip in the lake?”

“No.”

“Did you wear a Speedo?”

“No, what the hell.”

“Did you eat so many elephant ears, you barfed?”

Harry snorts. “No, I never did.”

“Oh, guess that was just me, then.”

By the time Louis wraps up his speed round of 20 questions, Harry is past the point of exhaustion and onto the if I focused hard enough right now, I could probably solve world hunger stage. So, he indulges in Louis, listening to him spew God awful stories, tell jokes without any punchlines, and desperately tries not to be annoyed when Louis loses his train of thought entirely four or five times and mumbles, “Wait, what?”

“I don’t know, you were the one talking,” Harry says, rolling his eyes, can’t believe how obnoxious Louis is, can’t believe how much he likes it.

“Interesting. So, anyway,” and continues on with a completely new topic.

When the sun starts peeking in through Louis’ curtains, the room changing from hues of blue to orange, Harry drags his fingers through Louis’ hair. “Hey, Louis,” he mocks.

Louis laughs, finally seemingly tired, eyes closing. “Yes, H.”

“I know we said we wouldn’t but I got you a little Christmas present.”

He groans. “Ugh, really?”

“I’ll take that as ‘you’re welcome.’”

“Sure, sure. Alright, let’s see it, then.”

Harry slowly climbs out of bed, the mattress creaking beneath his weight, squinting as the sun hits his face directly, and reaches into his bag on the floor. “It’s small.” He smirks. “Like you.”

“You’re not as cute as you think.”

“I beg to differ.” He hands Louis the gift - wrapped up in a laughably small package - and Louis tears into it, laughing so hard he chokes when it’s revealed.

“A finger skateboard?!”

Harry nods, satisfied. “Couldn’t fit a real one in duffel. Sorry.”

“Fuck, this is funny.” He drags it along Harry’s bare thigh, trying to make it flip, accidentally dropping it into Harry’s lap. “I’m a little rusty, I think.”

“It’s alright, you’re my skater boy, you’ll figure it out. Instinct, and all that.”

“Exactly.” Louis winks, twisting the skateboard around in his palm. “Hey, are you, like, nervous at all that we won’t work? Y’know… Distance and stuff.”

“No,” he replies firmly. “I’m not. We’ll figure it out. I’ll make it happen.”

He licks his lips, spinning the skateboard’s tiny wheels. “Okay. Good.” He looks up at Harry through his lashes, and for the thousandth and one time that night, Harry can’t believe how beautiful he is. “Are you excited?”

Harry smiles. “Yeah, I am.”

“I’m glad.”

 

They fall asleep after that, Harry’s head on Louis’ chest, calmed by the even beating of his heart, sunshine bright and in their eyes. They only sleep for about two hours, the sounds of the Tomlinson household loud enough to startle them both awake, but they get up with smiles on their faces, regardless.

 

Harry leaves Louis’ house a day later and heads to L.A. three days after that. Before he boards his flight, he sends out a tweet, a picture of two fingers with “28” tattooed on them, dragging a miniature skateboard across a comforter. Along with the photo, he writes, Sk8ed your way right into my heart, I miss you already . Louis’ reply comes nearly instantly:

That is the worst thing you have ever said. I’m so embarrassed for you. Miss you.


 

The first month drags agonizingly slowly. January feels sickeningly long, Harry spending most of his time in and out of the studio, trying to wrap up his next album, and when he’s not locked up behind a microphone and other various recording equipment, he’s in and out of different interviews. It’s exhausting, it’s redundant, it’s draining; Harry loves it.

His phone gets more use the first four weeks than it has in all the time he’s had it. He talks to Louis every night, sometimes FaceTiming, sometimes settling for a series of rapid fire texts back and forth, but it always ends in Harry’s chest hurting with how much he misses Louis, even after Louis tells him his L.A. apartment is too big and filled with too much useless junk. Coming from someone else, it might annoy him; coming from Louis, he laughs at the brutal honesty and promises to think about hiring a decorator.

He calls Louis late one night after a few too many drinks, and Louis answers after the fifth ring, voice riddled with sleep.

“Harry, what.”

“Lou, my Lou,” he murmurs into the phone. “Hi, baby.”

“Oh, Christ. Did you miss me enough to drink or did you drink enough to miss me?”

Harry scratches his head. “Uh. Both?” He whines. “I need to see you.”

“Don’t tempt me,” Louis replies, and he actually does sound tempted to hop on the next plane and make his way back into Harry’s arms.

Harry sighs. “This is hard.”

“I know,” he whispers back, soothingly, gently, before he hangs up for the night to go back to bed.

And fuck, he’s never doubted that he wanted to continue this relationship and power through, but he would be lying if he said he wasn’t nervous to create a solid foundation over two thousand miles away. It’s difficult - really difficult - and some days, he can tell Louis wants to say forget it, it’s not worth it. Sometimes he wants to give in, too. But the thing is, it is worth it. They both know it, can’t deny it, and whenever Harry thinks about Louis crammed inside that tiny Ikea shower with him, or the way he kisses, or how he has to keep the radio volume on an even number, just Louis , he’s reminded of why they’re doing this, reminded of why he’s falling faster for the boy from the Midwest faster than he’s ever fallen for anyone in his life. Louis, thankfully, seems to be on the same page.

His first show is set for February 3rd, two days after his birthday. It’s in San Diego at an arena he’s played at before, but as an opener, and he’s beyond excited to make the stage his own this time around. Niall, bless his heart, agreed to come back on the road as a form of sanity, joking, “I guess my part time job that pays minimum wage will have to wait. Damn .” The two of them trudge down to the arena the day before the show at Niall’s request, who seems just as eager as Harry is to get back into the rhythm of live shows.

As they walk around backstage, Harry has a hard time holding back his smile, adrenaline already coursing through his veins. It’s always nice to have a break, no matter how short, but this is where he wants to be, all the time.

Niall jumps around the stage, scuffing up the floor as he goes. “It’s good to be back,” he says in between hops.

Harry laughs. “Yeah, it is.”

“You ready for tomorrow? Hungover still, from the birthday bash?”

“Very ready. And I think tonight’s sleep will cure it fully.”

Niall hums. “That’s good. Sucks we couldn’t get Louis out here to celebrate, though.”

“Yeah, well.” He shrugs, frowning. “It happens. We both knew going into this that a long distance relationship would be tough. And he couldn’t get away from work.”

“Did you talk to him before we all went out?”

Harry blushes. “Uh, not before. After. I called him after, and. Yeah.”

Niall makes a face and gags. “Okay, gross.”

“I didn’t say anything!”

“The face you’re making is enough.”

He laughs. “Sorry. He said he sent a gift, though. And it should be here tonight or tomorrow.”

“I hope it’s more appropriate than disgusting phone sex.”

“It wasn’t disgusting.” He rubs the back of his neck. “Okay, it was a little disgusting.”

“That’s enough.” Niall looks out at the empty arena. “Lot of seats to fill, Styles.”

“I know.”

“Sold out show, in case you didn’t hear.”

Harry smirks. “I heard.”

“You did it.”

“Yup,” he says, still in disbelief, “I did.”

 

They stop for an early dinner at a restaurant near the hotel, Niall ordering a second burger to go - “I might be hungry later, don’t judge me, you dick,” - and as they head back up to Harry’s room for a round of FIFA before they turn in for the night, Harry yawns four times in a row, can’t help it.

“Niall, I’m not sure how long I’m gonna last,” he admits. “I slept about four hours last night. And I can’t feel crappy for tomorrow. Gonna have to be the shortest game of FIFA ever.”

“You’re gonna lose on purpose, aren’t you.”

“Probably.” He unlocks his hotel room door, holding it open for Niall, and follows him into the room, turning on lights as he goes.

And that’s when he sees a very tired looking Louis sitting at his sitting room table, glasses sliding down the bridge of his nose, sweatshirt hood pulled up over his head.

“Well, it’s about time ,” Louis says, slamming his hands down on the table. “I feel like I’ve been waiting for ages .”

Niall places the to-go box on the table in front of Louis. “Extra pickles, here y’go.”

“Thanks, dude.”

Harry shakes his head. “Wait, what’re you doing here?!”

Niall slaps Harry on the back. “Happy birthday.”

“Jesus.” He drags his hands across his face. “Lou, c’mere.”

“I can’t eat my dinner first? You guys took forever and I’m starving. I feel like Niall texted me that you were on your way back three hours ago.”

“It probably was three hours ago,” Niall scoffs. “This fucking guy takes a day and a half to eat a sandwich.

“Louis!” Harry laughs, stomping his foot.

“Okay, alright, hold your horses.” Louis gets out of his chair, feigning he’s uninterested, but then nearly leaps into Harry’s arms, knocking him down. “Hi,” he whispers, muffled into Harry’s chest.

“Hi,” he murmurs back, squeezing tightly. “Fuck, I missed you.”

“Missed you, too.” He grips tighter, burrowing his face in, and Harry doesn’t dare ask him to move.

Niall clasps his hands together. “Aw, you two are adorable. Makes me sick.”

Harry snorts, pulling in Louis impossibly closer, content to just hug him, hold him. “Did you do this, Ni?”

He shrugs. “I suggested it, Louis was on board. He’ll leave the night after the show. Short visit, but better than nothing.”

“Definitely.” He closes his eyes for a moment, didn’t realize how much he’d actually been missing Louis until this very second, and if he thought saying goodbye a month ago was hard, this is going to be a hell of a lot worse. Louis digs his nails in between Harry’s shoulder blades, sighing, and Harry can’t stand how crazy he is about him. He’s suddenly embarrassingly choked up, and mouths to Niall, Thank you so much.

Niall smiles. “I’ll head out. Let me know when you’re ready in the morning. We can head out and grab a quick breakfast before we have to head back to the arena.”

“I will,” he says, gently rubbing his hands up and down Louis’ back. “Wait. Is that why you wanted to stop there earlier? So Louis could get up here without ruining the surprise?”

He laughs, winks. “Goodnight, you two.”

“See ya, Niall,” Louis says without lifting his head, still burrowed into Harry.

Niall slips out of the room, closing the door softly behind him, humming “What’s Your Fantasy” as he goes, Louis pulling back at that to laugh and flip him off.

They stand there stupidly staring at each other for a moment or two, Harry unblinking, Louis’ cheeks flushed. Harry counts down from five to one in his head, waiting for Louis to say something fresh or rude or Louis .

“Jesus, Styles, take a picture, it’ll last longer.”

Bingo.

He leans in, smiling, and presses their foreheads together, cupping the back of Louis’ neck through his hoodie. “What time did you land?”

Louis hums. “Around six, I think.”

“We wasted one hour and seven minutes together.”

“I think you’ll survive.”

Harry blinks slowly, eyes crossing as he tries to focus on Louis’ face so close in front of him. “I’m so happy you’re here.”

“Yeah?”

He nods. “Yes. You get to come to one of my shows.”

“I’ve already been . Twice, now.”

“Okay,” Harry smiles, “true, but this is different.”

“I suppose so.” Louis places hands on Harry’s chest, and Harry can feel how warm his palms are, even though his shirt. “Harry.”

“Baby.”

Louis smirks. “Can I eat my burger now? I’m seriously so hungry.”

Harry barks out a laugh. “Yeah, just. Hold on. This first.” He leans in slowly, brushes their lips together just barely, and his stomach swoops at the feeling. “Can’t believe Niall bought you dinner and I paid for myself like some sort of chump,” he whispers against Louis’ cheekbone.

He steps back and smacks Harry playfully across the shoulder. “You can buy us all burgers, like, a thousand times over. Now shh , it’s dinnertime.”

They climb into Harry’s bed together, Louis with his burger, Harry with the gift Louis told him was in his suitcase (“ Duh , I brought you a birthday present, honestly, Styles, what do you think this is”), and as Louis digs into his dinner, Harry peels back the perfectly wrapped birthday paper.

“Oh. My God.” He pulls the gift out of the box. “I’m speechless.”

Louis snorts and takes another bite of his burger. “Seriously? You?” he asks, mouth full.

“This is amazing. Louis .” He bursts out laughing, can’t help it. “You had this made, didn’t you?”

“Mhm. Because rumor has it, guys who skate are better at grinding. Had to get that printed on a nice tank top for you to wear whenever you want.” He dips his fries into the pile of ketchup. “Almost got it printed on a pair of sweatpants, too. You know, right across the ass.”

“I would’ve made you wear them.”

“That’s why I didn’t add them to my order.”

He laughs again, tracing his fingers along the letters. “Can’t believe you stuck around after I used this fucking God awful pickup line on you.”

Louis smiles, finishing off the last of his fries. “I know. You lucked out, kid.”

He runs his hands through his hair, shaking his head. “I really did.”


 

The next night, Harry does his typical before show rituals, warming up his voice, doing his best to settle his nerves. It’s been a while since he’s been this apprehensive to get up on stage; his hands are sweaty, his stomach keeps twisting, and then he realizes why: Louis.

“Christ,” he groans, mindlessly playing with his guitar pick. “It’s been months. Why do you still torture me?”

Louis looks up over his cup of coffee. “Are you talking to me? And what about torture?”

“Yes, you! Who else would I be talking to!”

He shrugs, blowing the steam off from the top of his cup. “I dunno, but whining isn’t a cute trait, Harry. Get your shit together.”

“Ugh.” He slinks down further into his chair, listening as the opener finishes up their set on the other side of the stage. “‘m nervous.”

“You haven’t been on stage since November, so that makes sense, I suppose.”

“No, it has nothing to do with that. It’s you .”

Louis rolls his eyes. “Just don’t suck and I’ll have no reason to make fun of you.”

“But what if I fuck up and then you hate me.”

He stares blankly. “Yes, that is the most likely scenario.”

“I’m serious.”

“Okay, starting to get a little offended that you think so lowly of me…”

“Sorry.” Harry rubs the back of his neck. “Is it stupid if I say I just want you to be proud of me?”

“Yes, that is stupid.”

“Nice, thanks.”

Louis laughs, sets his coffee cup down, and gracelessly climbs onto Harry’s lap. He pokes him in the face and Harry bats his hand away. “You’re a born natural. People would die to have half the talent you have. I know I would.”

“Lou…”

“But also, at the same time, the idea of getting up on stage and singing is enough to make me want to heave. I don’t know how you do it.” He grabs at Harry’s necklace, tangling the chain around his middle finger. “Whatever you do up there will be incredible. Because you’re you. I’ll only be embarrassed of you if you cut all your hair off again.” He smirks and touches the ends of Harry’s hair. “Lovin’ the little bounce you’ve got going on now.” Louis winks. “It’s just me, H.”

Harry furrows his brows. “That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.”

“Well, you clearly have low standards.”

“You really think I’m a born natural?”

“Don’t act as if you haven’t heard that a thousand times.”

“I have, but it’s different coming from you. If you can’t tell, I dedicate most of my waking hours trying to impress you and win you over.”

Louis laughs, eyes crinkling in the corner, and Harry’s chest swells. “I know . I’m thinking of buying one of those chairs for you to hoist me up in the air and carry me around in.”

“I’d probably do that.”

He smirks before he bends down to kiss Harry, a quick one, very gentle and un-Louis, and Harry has a hard time not pulling him in for more. “Hey, are you wearing this on stage?” Louis asks when he pulls back, playing with Harry’s sweatshirt strings.

“No, I’d sweat to death.”

“Shouldn’t you go get ready, then?”

“I am. I’ve got something on underneath.”

“Lemme see.” Louis tugs at the neck of the sweatshirt, looking in. He bursts out laughing when he realizes what Harry has on and shakes his head. “You’re something else.”

“And you like me.”

“Weirdly, I do.”

 

The noise from the crowd is deafening when Harry takes his place on stage; he’s so excited to get going, he’s having trouble getting his fingers to cooperate against the strings of his guitar. He taps his foot in time to the beat, focusing on the atmosphere, the lights, the drums behind him. It feels impossibly good, almost like coming back home, and it just about makes up for the fact that he’s up there on stage wearing a fucking tank top that says Boys who skate are better at grinding.

 

Halfway through the set, Harry takes a short break on stage to drink water, wipe the sweat off his brow, tease a few of the girls in the front row. And this is his favorite part of the show, the part where he gets to interact, make people laugh, and cover a song. He loves playing originals - hearing people sing back his own words will never be tiring - but it’s fun to bring a different artist to life, to surprise the audience with a new song every time. A few of the fans in front scream out suggestions, eager at the concept of Harry playing their song.

“‘Sunday Morning’ by Maroon 5!” a teenager yells.

“No, do ‘Mirrors’ by Justin!” another calls out.

Harry ignores them, trying to keep his composure, and brings the microphone up close to his lips. “Someone I’m very fond of flew in last night for the show today,” he says, the audience cheering wildly. He smiles. “So, this cover is for them. Uh, for him.”

The cheering and screams intensifies, and when the drums behind him play the first few beats to “Stacy’s Mom,” Harry knows he can’t actually hear Louis laughing, but he imagines he can.

It's his favorite show to date.


 

Over the next few weeks, speculation of Harry and Louis’ relationship grows like wildfire, Harry doing nothing to confirm nor deny, but does make it worse every time he consciously tweets something that is clearly about Louis, or about being taken. Some of the more dedicated (nosier) fans start piecing together their personal puzzle, creating a timeline of what they think happened and when, catching onto their inside jokes. A few nasty people catch on to the fact that Louis followed Harry on Twitter a long time before Harry reciprocated, and call him out for being a gold digger, or using Harry. Harry desperately wants to protect Louis, even though he knows it’s mostly a lost cause, afraid it’ll make Louis want to run, or lash out. But the thing is, Louis doesn’t seem scared over the attention anymore, and he surprisingly isn’t angry over the negative attention, either; rather, he focuses on the positivity and actually seems to find it funny.

“Someone drew a picture of Stacy on a skateboard!” he screams into the phone one night, hysterically laughing. “My girl is famous . And she’s a fucking skater!”

Harry smiles. “You’re not concerned about how they know you own a dog?”

“Fuck no! Aren’t you listening?! I just saw fanart of my dog on a mother fucking skateboard! I’m printing it out and framing it! Wait. Oh my God. Harry .”

“What?!”

“There’s another picture of her wearing your tank top. Dude. It’s amazing.”

Harry bursts out laughing. “As long as you’re okay with it.”

“Who’re we kidding, I’m in love . Thank you, AssEaterStyles91 . Oh, what the hell, gross.”

He laughs again, balancing the phone on his shoulder. “You’re all set to fly into Houston tomorrow, right?”

“Yup, I land around noon.”

“I’ll be there to pick you up.”

“Awesome. But what if I forget what you look like? It’s been almost a month, Harry. You’re essentially a stranger now.”

“Yikes, then who did I have FaceTime phone sex with five days ago…?”

“Must not have been me because I have no recollection of that. Wasn’t memorable, I guess.”

“Forget it, I’ll send someone else to get you.”

Louis laughs. “You’ll be there if you know what’s good for you.”

 

Harry gets stuck at the hotel doing an interview over the phone the following afternoon. He tries to move it along as quickly as possible, but the radio station on the other line seems to be moving at snail speed, taking their sweet time asking what feels like an infinite amount of questions. Harry reluctantly texts Louis and Niall, telling them his situation, asking Niall to grab Louis from the airport, profusely apologizing to them both. Niall shoots back, No problem! See you soon, Tommo. Louis’ response, though, arrives outside of the group text. It’s a lot less positive than Niall’s message and a lot more sexual and it makes Harry choke.

Baby, don’t send me that kind of shit while I’m trying to give an interview , he types out as quickly as his thumbs will allow him to, and Louis’ response comes back instantly.

Planned to let you fuck me in the parking garage but now I have to sit in traffic for an hour with Niall. Now what am I supposed to do.

Harry clears his throat, murmuring shit , realizing he’s still on the phone, “Sorry, Ken, I spilled some coffee.”

“No worries, Harry! So, anyway, do you feel like this second part of your tour is different than the first part?”

He tries to come up with an answer that doesn’t sound strained while he types back, I can’t tell if you're kidding but please hang on until you get here.

Well I’m certainly not gonna let Niall fuck me.

“Jesus,” he mumbles, then catches himself. “I mean, it’s good. It’s all good. First part, second part, good, good.”

Ken pauses on the other line. “Well, that’s great, Harry. We’re happy you’re here visiting us in Texas and we wish you good luck on your show tomorrow night!”

“Thank you so much,” he mutters, palms sweating at Louis’ incoming text, which is descriptive and very graphic. “I’ll talk to you all later.”

He hangs up the phone, pretty sure Ken was still talking, and aimlessly starts wandering around his hotel room, too turned on for his own good just from a little bit of stupid teasing. He starts refolding clothes, flipping through the limited available channels on his TV, and brushes his teeth. Twice. He’s acting like he’s 16 and about to have sex for the first time, but he can’t fucking help it, not when he has the promise of Louis, sexy and desperate, after going without him for weeks.

It takes ages for Niall and Louis to arrive - probably closer to only half an hour - and when Louis barrels through the door, thankfully alone, Harry’s on him in seconds, pushing up him up against the wall, mouths already moving at a bruising pace. He pulls off of Louis’ lips and dips down to suck a healthy bruise into his neck, Louis whining and slamming his hands against the wall behind him.

“Are you gonna ask me how my flight was,” he grits out.

“How was your flight, baby,” Harry asks, rolling his hips into Louis’.

“Fuck. I don’t remember.”

He’s doing his best to turn Louis on, to bring him to the point of no return just like he is, but it’s backfiring, working against him. Every time he presses their hips together, Louis’ moans only encourage Harry to go faster, to get harder, and it doesn’t take much more than that for Harry to shove his hand down the front of Louis’ sweatpants, not bothering to pull them down at all.

He pulls off Louis quickly, using his precome to help with the glide, and Louis closes his eyes, groaning high in his throat, just letting Harry take .

“Your hands,” he slurs out, as if it’s a sentence in one way or the other, then arches his back as Harry drags his thumb across the head.

“You’re so fucking hot,” Harry punches out, biting at Louis’ collarbones. “Wanna see.”

Louis squirms under the attention, Harry’s words, Harry’s touch. He swallows heavily against Harry’s mouth as Harry yanks his pants down, and Harry loves nothing more than the way he’s shaking, wanting it.

He continues to jerk his hand over Louis’ cock, twisting and pulling the way he knows Louis likes, can’t stop staring at his face. The flush is rising up his neck to his cheeks, sitting high on his cheekbones, and Harry can’t help himself.

“Gorgeous,” he murmurs, moving his hand faster now, can tell Louis’ close. “Been wanting to watch you come for weeks. It’s the hottest thing I’ve ever seen. You have no idea what you…” He can’t come up with more words, just presses his own cock, hard and trapped inside his jeans, against Louis’ hip, the pressure not enough but it’s something. “Come on, baby.”

Louis’ breathing is out of control, shallow, his chest heaving, his hands grabbing for Harry’s zipper. “Get it out,” he rasps. “Need to get you off.”

Harry manages to get his jeans unbuttoned and unzipped one handed, miraculously, hissing when Louis’ spit slick palm reaches around his own cock. “You feel so good,” he tells Louis, thrusting into Louis’ hand, doing his best to keep his own hand steady, still wants to see Louis come apart.

“You’re big ,” Louis murmurs out, mouthing at Harry’s jaw helplessly. “Wanted you to fuck me but need to get off.”

“Fuck.” He’s only had his hand around Harry for a minute or two but the white hot heat is already curling up his spine. He clenches and unclenches his jaw, entire body electrified. “Still gonna fuck you. Climb over you and fuck into you and you won’t be able to do anything other than lay there and try not to come too quickly.”

“That’s…” Harry watches as Louis’ stomach muscles tighten. “What I want.”

Harry keeps murmuring promises, desperate to make them come true, and he’s not even sure what he’s saying anymore but it has Louis spilling into his hand, crying out, squeezing his hand around Harry’s cock too hard. It makes him leak out more precome, anyway, loving the roughness, and he thrusts up into Louis’ grip, biting at his shoulder as he comes less than a minute later.

Louis lowers himself down a few inches, still breathing hard; Harry has no idea when he even stood up on his tiptoes to begin with. “Think we can we actually make it past the entryway?” he asks, eyes closed.

Harry snorts into Louis’ neck, his own breathing still rapid and shaky. “Bed?”

“Yes.”

“Can I carry you there?”

“If you want to keep your kneecaps, no.”

He throws his head back and laughs. “Fine. After you.”

 

An hour later, the hotel’s duvet kicked off the mattress and their clothes strewn across the room, Harry kisses up Louis’ jaw, up into his hair. “Missed you,” he whispers.

“Yeah, you just made that abundantly clear.”

He smirks. “Thank you for coming to another show.”

Louis yawns, scratching Harry’s hair. “You make it pretty hard to say no when you offer to cover all the expenses and promise that it’s about 50 degrees warmer in Texas than it is in Chicago.”

“Wanna try that again?”

“I love nothing more than being here for you,” he replies, rolling his eyes, pinching the back of Harry’s neck. “So needy.”

“Mhm,” Harry agrees before he dips down to kiss Louis. It lets it drag on long enough for Louis to whimper, to slide his fingers into Harry’s hair, to start growing restless beneath Harry’s weight. Harry bites at Louis’ bottom lip, loving the way he always arches into it, and when he breaks their contact, he buries his face into Louis’ neck. “Don’t go home.”

Louis laughs, his voice strained. “I just got here, like, two hours ago. I don’t leave for three days.”

“Don’t go home,” he repeats. “Fuck, I hate when you’re not here.”

“Okay, but soon you’ll be doing a two-week leg in the Midwest. I can go to every show, and you can hang out with me in between.”

He nods. “Yeah, that’s true.”

“And then you take on New England, a few shows in Florida, and you’re done, right?”

“I think so.”

Louis squeezes Harry’s shoulder. “Don’t let me hold you back from wanting to tour.”

“You're not, I promise.”

“Okay, good.”

Harry presses another kiss, below his ear. “Hey, can I show you something?”

“If it requires getting out of bed, no.”

He laughs. “Please?”

“Mmm,” Louis groans. “Alright.”

 

They sneak out the back entrance, aware of the cluster of fans standing outside the hotel’s lobby, and when they’re parked outside of the arena 21 minutes later, Louis makes a face.

“Is this where you’re performing tomorrow?”

“Yup, let’s go in.”

“Why?”

“Just come on.”

Harry leads Louis through the side entrance, and instead of going onto the stage, he directs him to the center of the arena, sitting down in a chair dead center. Louis sits down beside him.

“What’re we doing?”

Harry puts his feet up on the chair in front of him, and Louis does the same. “The weirdest and best part of being on stage in front of a crowd this size is that it gets so loud, you can’t even hear yourself think. You just go . The nerves go away almost immediately. As soon as the lights turn on, they’re blinding and they’re hot and there are thousands of people out there who like you. It’s overwhelming. It’s amazing.”

Louis smiles. “Sounds like it.”

“But sometimes, most times, actually, I don’t get the chance to really reflect how big this all is. I can’t see the majority of the crowd when I’m up there, I can’t sit there and spell how how fortunate I feel. So.” He looks around. “I do it now.”

“You do this before every show?”

“I try to, yeah.” He taps the armrest. “I feel small right now.”

“Welcome to my life.”

Harry laughs. “When you’re on stage, it’s a powerful feeling. And it’s awesome. But I want to feel all of it. I want to sit on this side and remember what it looked like empty, what it sounded like when it was just you and me talking, no one else here. I just don’t want to take any of it for granted.”

“I can assure you, you definitely do not do that.”

“One day, this will all be over, and I would be so angry at myself if I couldn’t remember how big the stage looked, and how it somehow also felt very, very small.” He scrunches up his face. “I’m doing a bad job at explaining this.”

Louis shakes his head. “No, you’re not. Your mind is such a weird and interesting place and I love that I get to be a part of it.”

He smiles, dropping his head to Louis’ shoulder. It’s lower than he thought it was and he has to crane his neck but he doesn’t dare move. “ Love that I was able to trick you into thinking I’m interesting.”

“Jury’s still out, I’m just being generous,” Louis says.

“I figured.”

They sit there for a while, Louis asking more questions about how it feels to be on stage, how it feels to be off of it, and Harry answers eagerly, honestly. He tells Louis how daunting it feels from his current spot in this seat, but daunting changes to sublime once he takes his place on stage.

“And you love every bit of it,” Louis says, looking at Harry, eyes darting across his face.

Harry stares back, heart feeling like it’s going to burst out of his chest. “Yes,” he agrees, “I love every bit of it.”

 

Before they leave, they climb up onto the stage, Harry showing Louis the spots marked with tape where he’ll be standing tomorrow night. Louis nods along, eventually sitting on the edge, swinging his legs back and forth.

“You’re crazy, Styles, this stage does not feel small.”

Harry laughs and sits down next to him. “I guess it takes some time getting used to.”

“I guess.” He traces his fingers along the stage, collecting dust. “Hey, do you think you can cover ‘Unsteady’ by X Ambassadors tomorrow night?”

He shrugs. “I could. Why?”

“First song I ever heard you sing live.”

Harry tries to swallow the lump in his throat. “Want me to go back to our roots?”

Louis nods, smiling. “I do.”

“Then, yes. Absolutely.”

 

The next night, he belts out the lyrics to his now favorite song, closing his eyes through more than half of it. He hasn’t told Louis he’s in love with him yet - he’s been waiting for the right moment, even though he’s known it for months - but Louis has to know. There’s no way he could have been present during that performance and think otherwise, not with the way Harry threw himself into it, the way he sang the final chorus completely a capella, just his voice cutting through the harsh stage lights and into the crowds before him.

If you love me, don’t let go ,” he sings, gripping the microphone stand like a lifeline. “ Hold on to me, ‘cause I’m a little unsteady .” His heart is beating all too quickly, forcing his eyes open, staring at what he can see of the audience. Inhale. “Mama, come here. Approach, appear.” Exhale. “ 'Cause this house don’t feel like home. If you love me, don’t let go. Hold on, hold on to me.

It hurts, it feels good, and when Harry finishes the last verse, he feels raw and exposed, relieved and happy, alive .

When he goes back stage before he starts his encore, Louis is standing there with red cheeks, bright eyes, a smile so deep Harry can almost feel it, and he pulls Harry in for a hug that lasts way too long, not long enough. Harry breathes him in deep, kisses the top of his head, but as he starts to step away, needed back on stage, Louis refuses to let go. He holds on tighter, just the slightest tremor in his movements.

No words are needed; Louis loves him, too.


 

When Harry heads back to the Midwest, the ground is finally starting to thaw and he doesn’t have to wear a jacket to walk down the street. His first stop is in Detroit, and he’s being completely honest when he tells the crowd, “There’s nothing quite like being home.” He remembers saying something similar to the much more modest crowd at Jana’s back in November, and he bites back his smile when he thinks about that night, how far he’s come. How far they’ve come.

The best part about touring in his neck of the woods, though, is that Louis doesn’t have to hop on a plane to see him. He’s always there, just a cab or train ride away, and when Harry has a three-day gap in between shows, the first place he goes is Louis’ apartment.

Stacy greets him eagerly at the door, wagging her tail, excited to see him, and he picks her up as he makes his way inside. But something is different.

“Lou?” he calls out. “What’s going on in here?”

Louis appears from the kitchen, carrying a bag of pretzels. “What do you mean?”

“Your apartment is… Changed.” He places Stacy on the ground in front of him when she starts to wiggle, excited for food.

He looks around. “I don’t think so?”

“Yes, it definitely is. It looks massive.”

Louis laughs dropping a pretzel on the ground for Stacy. “Yeah, because you’ve only been in here during the holidays.” He gestures around. “No Christmas trees to take up half the space.”

“Oh, God, you’re right,” he says laughing. “I kind of miss them.”

“They’ll be back,” Louis says with an eye roll. He holds out the bag. “Pretzel?”

“Please.”

They snack before they head out, taking Stacy with them for a walk, and he likes that he can finally go back to doing regular stuff with Louis again instead of just holing up in hotels. It feels so good to go to the dog park down the street, to watch Louis reprimand Stacy when she starts obnoxiously chasing a puppy Golden retriever, to split an order of deep fried pickles at the sub shop down the street. In between bites, Harry tells Louis as much, and Louis flicks him across the nose.

“Such a simple man,” he quips, dunking his pickle into the cup of Ranch dip. “He travels across the country and his favorite day is a dog park and disgusting pickles.”

“These are delicious, what’re you talking about.” Harry takes a sip of his Coke. “Do you think you’ll be able to get off a few days from work to meet me down in Miami?”

“I’d like to, but I’m not sure with work.”

“That’s alright. Only 15 more days on the road after the Midwest leg is over, and then I’ll be back in Chicago for the rest of the spring and summer.”

“Recording?”

“Yup.”

“You gonna write about me?” Louis asks, raising his brows up and down.

“I think we’ve had this conversation before,” he laughs. “A few years ago.”

“That’s not an answer, Styles.”

Harry grabs the back of Louis’ hand and brings it to his mouth, presses a kiss to it. “Yeah, baby, I’m gonna write about you,” he murmurs.

“Good answer,” he replies, patting Harry’s thigh.

 

Harry’s next show is in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Louis waits for him back stage, congratulating him for another killer show, and surprises Harry when he asks if they can stay on the tour bus that night instead of heading back into Chicago.

“Why?” Harry asks, confused.

“Remember the time you took me to the planetarium?”

Harry rolls his eyes. “Vaguely.”

“Okay, I planned a date that’s just as memorable. For tomorrow. And Grand Rapids is already on the way. It wouldn’t make sense to drive all the way back to the city.”

“Wait, really?”

“Mhm. A date in which sneakers are required.”

“Are we gonna be outside? It’s kinda cold.”

“Buck up, kid.”

Harry doesn’t question it anymore than that, just makes sure to grab his pair of Nikes in his dressing room, ready for whatever Louis has up his sleeve.

The following morning, Harry wakes up from his cramped bunk on the tour bus to the sound of the bus’s door slamming, Louis evidently up to something.

“Lou?” he groans, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“Good morning,” Louis greets him, smile entirely too sweet. “You ready for the day?”

Harry sits up slowly, treading lightly; that’s always safest when Louis is in such a good mood before the sun is fully up. “Yes… Whatcha doin’, Tommo?”

“Oh, nothing. Just picked up some stuff to make us a little breakfast in bed.”

“Wait, really?” He hops off the bunk. “How? We’re on a bus.”

“I have my ways.”

Apparently, Louis’ ways consist of a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, the milk sloshing over the side and onto his lap, dampening the sheets, happily munching away as Harry pouts and pretends he hates it. But when he reluctantly reaches for the box to pour some more in, Louis pumps his fist in the air as victory, and Harry knows he’s lost. Or won. Definitely feels like winning.

But later on, after a two hour drive from Grand Rapids, the two of them are standing at the bottom of what appears to be 10,000 stairs, and Harry asks for the fifth time in two minutes, “You’re really expecting me to fucking walk up all of these?”

“Yes, I am. Welcome to Mt. Baldy.”

“Why?!”

“Because it’ll be memorable, I told you.”

“But this isn’t a good memory!”

“I didn’t say it was.”

Harry groans. “What’s at the top?”

“That’s for you to find out.”

“You have no idea, do you.”

“Nope,” Louis smiles, “I’ve never attempted it before. Just heard it has a nice view. Let’s do it.”

 

As it turns out, the top of the stairs leads them to a killer view of Lake Michigan, leaving them perched at the top of a sand dune so high, it feels like they're amongst the clouds. It takes them 15 minutes to walk up all 10,000 stairs - which is really just over 300 - and by the time they reach the top, Harry has sweat dripping down his face into his eyes and he’s convinced his muscles have actually transformed into Jell-o. He tries to get his breathing under control as he deals with the cramp on his right side.

“Well?” Louis asks, panting, expression mirroring Harry’s, radiating pain. “What do you think?”

“I think,” he pants out, “that we’re both horribly out of shape, and that this view wasn’t worth it. Fuck, I need an inhaler.”

“Do you even have asthma?”

“I do now.”

Louis laughs, sitting down at the top of the stairs, still trying to collect his breath. “Not sure that’s how that works.”

“Probably not,” Harry agrees, taking a seat beside him. “I’m kidding, though, it’s actually beautiful up here. And nice with no crowds. It’s not tourist season yet.”

“It’s definitely beautiful.” He points over his shoulder behind him, down the sand dune. “We could walk down that side of the hill.”

“No stairs on that side?”

Louis shakes his head. “Nope, no stairs on that side, but when you get to the bottom, you’re on the beach.”

“Of Lake Michigan?”

“Yup.”

“Oh, wow.” Harry looks behind him. “I bet the water is freezing .”

“It usually is.”

“Should we head down that way?”

“Sure, but keep in mind if we do that, the only way to get back to the car is to walk back up this giant sand mountain, and then back down all 300 stairs on this side.”

Harry pauses. “Yeah, maybe let’s not do that.”

He laughs, pinching Harry’s cheek. “You’re such a baby.”

“I am not. I just have no desire to do anything you just mentioned.”

Louis hums. “ Baby .”

 

They stay at the top for a while, talking about Harry’s upcoming shows in Boston and New Jersey, talking about the past several months, talking about these God awful stairs. Harry eventually convinces Louis to not carve a penis into the top step next to a series of other pornographic designs left behind from previous stair climbers, and before they work up the courage to make their way back down hell’s stairs, Harry pulls Louis in for a kiss, a little too obscene for public, even though there’s no one else around. Louis winds his hands up into Harry’s hair, dragging his nails along his scalp. When they break apart, Louis murmurs against Harry’s collarbone, “What was that for?”

Harry shrugs. “Thank you for this awful date.”

He laughs. “Don’t mention it.”

 

As it turns out, walking back down the steps proves to be exceptionally harder than walking up . Louis starts whining that his legs are going to give out by the second platform - about 290 more steps to go - convinced he’s going to tumble down the entire flight of stairs.

“This was your idea,” Harry argues.

“What’s your point,” Louis says back, voice flat.

Harry just about passes out when he reaches the final step, Louis on his back, hanging on like an actual monkey. He lays down on the gravel, unable to care, top drenched with sweat, and wheezes out, “You are never planning a date for us again.”

Louis just laughs in response, and Harry thinks it sounds downright maniacal .

“I’m actually looking forward to being back on the road,” he yells from his spot on the ground.

“Liar,” Louis calls over his shoulder as he makes his way back to the car, and damn it, Louis is right.


 

Miami is fucking hot, almost too hot for anything to be fun. Harry essentially has to drag himself to the radio station, his only motivation that this is his last interview of the season, and then he’s done for the foreseeable future. The station is air conditioned, thankfully, and he relaxes significantly once he starts to cool down, enjoying himself as co-hosts Emily and Aaron make jokes amongst the three of them.

“So, we’ve got Harry Styles down here with us,” Aaron starts. “Thanks for coming in, man.”

“No problem, thank you for having me.”

“Last stop of the tour!” Emily says.

“That’s right.”

“I’m sure you’re excited to get home,” she continues, “but first, let’s talk about future plans.”

They talk easily about Harry’s upcoming album, if he plans to expand his tour into Europe and beyond, and what kind of adjustments he’s had to make between the past couple of albums to transition into record number three.

“It’s all been such a natural progression,” Harry says. “I’ve never consciously thought about making major changes to fit an image, or anything like that.”

“You’ve grown so much as an artist in the past couple of years, though,” Aaron starts. “Have you noticed yourself growing even more, confidence wise? On stage, or in writing?”

“For sure, absolutely. I don’t hold back as much when I’m in the studio, and I’m definitely more relaxed when I’m on stage.” He thinks of Louis, and how he sometimes still worries about messing up in front of him. “Well, for the most part,” he says with a smile.

“What’s that mean? What’s with the face?” Emily laughs.

“I get nervous to perform once in a while, typically when I personally know people in the audience.”

“People? Or person?” Aaron teases, and Harry knows his blush gives him away completely.

“Okay, yeah, person ,” he admits. “I don’t think he’d want me dropping his name on a radio show, though, even though I think the majority of people know who he is at this point, anyway.”

“Does that mean he’s totally off limits to discuss?”

Harry bites on his bottom lip. “No, it’s okay, I think. I don’t typically talk about relationships, because it’s private for the most part, and I don’t know how it’ll affect the person on the other side of things. I never want to make anyone else uncomfortable. He’s just… Genuine. And so good. Too good not to talk about.”

Emily clutches her chest and Aaron laughs at her expense. “So he was never someone you worried about being in it for the fame or deals that come along with it?” he asks.

“Never,” Harry replies instantly. “I think I have a pretty good idea at this point, of who’s interested in me, and who’s interested in my name. This boy is the former.”

“How do you know?” Emily asks.

He smiles, choking on a laugh. “He wouldn't let me kiss him for weeks. He made me work for it. Like, humiliatingly so. He was thoroughly unimpressed by my L.A. apartment. He always tries to split the check. And at the beginning of all of this, he was utterly freaked out over the idea of people knowing his name, of being in the limelight. The idea of fame to him was foreign and uncomfortable. I think he’s adjusted to it now because if he wants to be with me, he doesn’t really have much wiggle room in that department. And he’s made it very clear he wants to be with me, using both words and actions. God, he sacrificed anonymity for me. For me .” Harry’s smile widens. “Can you believe that?”

“I can,” Emily says, laughing. “You’re obviously not a total loser.”

“You sound just like him, did you chat earlier?”

Aaron laughs, too. “ Wish we could have chatted with him! We could’ve brought him down to the station, had a party. I bet you two are fun together.”

“It took a while to get fun,” Harry says, rolling his eyes. “Spent the first month or so a nervous wreck, just didn’t want him to run. I wanted to keep him.” He makes a face at his choice of words. “Not in, like, a serial killer type way.”

“Didn’t think it sounded like that until you said it!” Emily says, accusing. “That’s sweet, though, that you were so nervous. It humanizes you.”

“Yeah, that and going through four cans of spray deodorant that first month. I was always sweating. He’s constantly telling me, ‘It’s just me. Why are you so nervous?’ It’s basically become our motto at this point. Our embarrassing, pathetic motto.”

She laughs again. “How did you two meet?”

“Ugh. I’m not going to get into the whole thing, but he was at a show of mine and I used a humiliating pickup line on him regarding a skateboarder and grinding.”

“Is that what the tank top is about?!” Aaron asks, clasping his hands together.

“Christ, yes,” he mumbles into the microphone. “That’s what I get for dating a fan. He makes fun of me and then turns my words into a tank top and makes me to wear it.”

Emily smiles, leaning in closer. “Do you consider him that? A fan?”

Harry purses his lips together, thinking. “He’s not just a fan. I mean, he scrolls through my Twitter and points out tweets and posts he's proud of, and he plays my music, even when I'm not around. And, like, all of my fans are motivating and encouraging and supportive. They want me to do well, want me to work hard. And he’s been like that from day one. But he’s not just that , y’know? He treats me like a regular person, he always has.” He pauses, face splitting into a grin again. “He’s my boy first, my fan second.”

“I think we can safely assume he might be the star of your next album?” Aaron guesses.

“I started writing on it before I met him, so not every song is about him. But. He’s definitely going to be making quite an appearance.”

“Is he in Miami now? Celebrating the end of the tour with you?”

“No, unfortunately. He couldn’t get away from work, so I’ll meet him back home to celebrate in a few days.”

“Any big plans?” Emily asks, taking a sip of her drink.

Harry shrugs. “He’ll probably want to go to some ridiculously fancy restaurant because he knows how much I hate wearing ties, but he says I look hot in them so I continue to wear them.”

Aaron laughs. “Sounds like you’ve got the short end of the stick, there, Harry.”

“Yeah, he’s lucky I love him so much.”

It’s out of his mouth before he can stop it, the first time he’s actually ever said the words out loud before, and instead of panicking, he realizes how organic and natural it feels, just like how it feels to love Louis. He has a hard time focusing on the rest of the interview, questions finally shifted back to music and typical promotional stuff, and he answers the best that he can, all the time thinking about how badly he wants to talk to Louis.

He leaves the studio half an hour later, thanking Emily and Aaron for having him, and a text from Niall coming through as he climbs into the back of his car: I dunno what the hell just happened on that radio show but you’re trending, Louis is trending, and so is #tanktop. Don’t know what that means, either, but I’m gonna assume you have something to do with it.

Harry laughs, rolling his eyes. He’ll answer Niall, but not yet. He can wait. Instead, he calls Louis on FaceTime, needs to see his face for this one.

Louis answers on the fourth ring, hair a mess and eyes bloodshot. “Caught me on my lunch break,” he says, voice strained.

“Are you okay?” he asks, frowning.

“Yeah, just had a huge client come in and everyone’s freaking out. Been a busy morning.” He blows his hair out of his eyes. “But tell me about your radio show first. I know you’ve been looking forward to this one.”

It’s been over half a year of knowing Louis, of laughing with him, of laughing at him, and if Harry’s being honest, he’s probably loved him the whole time. He’s selfless, he’s kind, he’s got cheekbones that just won’t fucking quit. Harry smiles. “Louis, I love you.”

Louis freezes. “What the hell happened at that radio show?”

He laughs, can’t help it. “I’m in love with you. Like, ridiculously so. I can’t even stand it. And I never planned to tell you that over a fucking phone call but I just couldn’t… not say it anymore. Shit.” He takes a deep breath. “I'm just so lucky that I get to I love you.”

“You keep saying that,” Louis whispers, eyes even more bloodshot now.

He smirks, because he knows. “Is that okay?”

“Yeah,” Louis says, nodding. “It’s okay.”

“Good.”

“Harry.”

He laughs again, giddy and stupid with it. “Lou.”

“I love you, too.” Louis drags his hand across his face, trying and failing to compose himself. “Kind of hate you for doing this over FaceTime on my lunch break, though, with no warning.”

“Sorry.”

“No, you’re not.”

His smile grows, and Christ, his dimple might actually come to life. “Yeah, you’re right, I’m not.”

“Typical,” Louis replies without a beat. He bites down on his bottom lip. “I can’t wait to see you.”

Harry nods, because he knows, he gets it. “Tuesday morning, first thing. I’ll drive right to your apartment.”

“Perfect.” He closes his eyes, smile breaking. “I love you.”

“You keep saying that,” Harry mocks, and he knows if Louis was here, he’d hit him.

But he’s not here, so all he can do is laugh, and Harry is romantic - corny - enough to admit that it might be his favorite sound.

 

When he arrives home three days later, ready to celebrate with his boy, and to his surprise, Louis doesn’t request an elaborate night out with dinner and drinks in Harry’s honor.

Instead, they go to Jana’s, back to their roots.


 

Epilogue

The third week of August, Harry’s wrapping up at the studio, very excited with how everything is turning out. Louis has been a frequent visitor when Harry’s been recording, but for the past several days, Harry hasn’t allowed him in, telling him he wanted to surprise him with the final few tracks. Louis reluctantly agreed, making Harry promise that those songs would “completely kick ass.”

“I’m doing my best,” he replied.

Today, though, Harry has off, and Louis requested the night before that they hang out in Kalamazoo for the afternoon.

“What’s in Kalamazoo, though, other than campus and Jana’s?” had Harry asked over the phone.

Louis laughed. “You’ll see. Meet me at 1502 Ravine Road. And don’t look it up. I’ll know if you do.”

Harry’s not sure if that’s a bluff or not, but he’s not willing to take the chance.

He makes his way into town, already hot with beads of sweat rolling down his face, and impossibly confused when his GPS takes him to a skate park. He parks his car and steps out, squinting against the hot sun, even with his pair of sunglasses perched on the bridge of his nose.

Louis’ the only one at the park, perched on a mini ramp, skateboard beneath his feet, and he looks like a complete jackass. It’s coming up on 88 degrees, even hotter in direct sunlight, and he’s in black skinny jeans, a loosely fitted tank top, a fucking beanie, and Vans.

“What the hell is this?” Harry asks as he walks over, slipping through the gate. “And what the fuck are you wearing?”

“I was thinking--”

“That’s never good.”

“--about that time in Houston, when you took me to the empty arena the day before the show.”

Harry smiles. “Loved that day.”

“Me, too. Made me want to take you to my own turf. You know, show you what I’m like, since that’s what you did for me. Loved seeing you in your element, so here’s me in mine.”

He sits down beside Louis. “But… You don’t really skate. Or, at least, you haven't skated in recent years.”

“Um, yes I do. You’ve been calling me ‘skater boy’ for years, now.”

“Oh, right, my mistake, that definitely means you can skate.”

“That’s what I’m saying. Okay.” He stands up and plants his right foot on the board. “You need to make sure you don’t put all your weight forward or backward. Forward, you’ll flip off. Backward, you’ll fall on your ass.”

“Newfangled concept called physics .”

Louis ignores him. “Now, the first time I got on a skateboard, I went down that ramp over there,” he says, pointing to one of the smaller ones. “It was really simple. Just kept my balance even in the center and glided all the way down.”

“Are you telling me I need to go do that right now.”

“You took me on your stage, so I’m taking you on mine .”

Harry rolls his eyes. “When was the last time you were even at a skatepark, other than right now?”

“That's neither here nor there. Show me your moves, kid.”

“Alright, fine, gimme the skateboard.” He makes his way over to the ramp, only two strides needed to reach the top, and he positions himself to dip over the edge. “Like this?” he asks, as if Louis knows what he should be doing.

“Yup, looking good, Styles,” he whistles.

He takes a deep breath. “‘kay. I’m going.”

“Doesn’t look like it.”

“Do not rush me.”

Louis laughs, throwing his head back. “Harry, it’s about three feet off the ground. Don’t be such a wiener.”

“Are you eight? This is the worst joke ever, Louis. I hate you.”

“Skate down here, you fucking pansy!”

“Fuck! Okay!” And realistically, he knows Louis knows as much about skateboarding as Harry does - which is next to nothing, seeing as Louis hasn't actively skateboarded in a very long time - but he’s still listening to his shit advice as he positions himself to skate down the side of the ramp. Stay firm in the center, keep an evenly distributed weight , he thinks to himself, followed by I cannot believe this pain in the ass made me come here to do this just to be funny. I hate him. I love him, too. But I mostly hate him.

Naturally, he does the opposite of Louis’ minimal instructions, leaning backward as he tips forward, because, hello, gravity, and falls on his ass instantly, elbows slamming against the ramp as he goes. It hurts , and he yelps out, “Fuck you, Tomlinson!”

Louis is completely doubled over in laughter - the bastard - as he makes his way over to Harry, now laying flat on his back. “Are you okay?” he asks in between bouts of shaking laughter.

“No, I want to kill you,” he whines.

“Can’t believe you actually attempted it.”

“Can’t believe you put on this fucking beanie in the dead middle of the summer just so you could look the part and have a reason to watch me eat shit. I’m surprised you didn’t get your lip pierced, too. It’s like you’re not dedicated to your craft, Tomlinson.”

“Excuse you,” he argues, hovering over Harry. “I wear this everyday.”

“Yeah, how stupid of me to forget what you wear on a daily basis. It’s not like I stare at you every waking moment.”

He sits down on the ground next to him, brushing his thumbs across Harry’s elbows. His smile is bright and Harry’s heart swells. “It’s been almost a year and you’re still humoring me,” Louis says. “You’re nuts.”

“You’re right, I think something is seriously wrong with me.” He sits up, wincing at the sun in his eyes, and at the dull ache in his tailbone. “I think you owe me dinner now.”

“I think so, too. How many more dinners do you think we can squeeze in before you have to go back to L.A.?”

Harry purses his lips together. “Nine. Unless you want to eat dinner for every meal, everyday. In that case, 27.”

“Sounds good.” He leans over and pulls Harry in for a kiss, slightly lingering. “Thank you for always playing along, even if that means falling off a ramp to appease me,” he says against Harry’s lips.

“Always gonna,” Harry replies honestly.

It’s been an insane year; he’s been all over the country, soon to be the world, and all with Louis by his side, as long as he can physically be there. And it’s hard. It’s so hard to want to be in two places at once - on stage, or with Louis - but they’re figuring it out, learning how to balance everything together. That’s the best part, Harry thinks as he watches Louis rip his beanie off and whip it across the park, complaining that it’s too fucking hot for this shit , that it’s always together. He always has someone to lean on, to love him, whom he loves with his whole being back.

“Ready for food?” Louis asks. “Or maybe a drink? Would love a beer. Or I can actually go get my lip pierced and you can come with. Hold my hand.”

Harry nods, rolling his eyes. “That sounds good. Really good. The beer. Not the lip thing. I can't watch that.”

“You have 36,000 tattoos and you can't watch a little needle go through my lip?”

“Okay, shh, no more.”

He smirks. “Anyway. You’ll tell me about recording? So, so excited to hear the entire thing.”

“Yeah, I’ll tell you,” he says, smiling. “And I need to hear about your meeting yesterday morning. With Mark, right? What’d he think of your pitch?”

“Oh, God, it’s a long story, and I spent the 30 minutes before you got here on the phone with my mom, telling her about it. Do I have to tell it again ?”

Harry smiles, biting his lip. “Mama’s boy.”

“Damn straight, I am.” He readjusts his tank top. “I’ll tell you when we get to the restaurant, after you pump me full of beer and food.”

“Deal.”

 

And no matter where they are, no matter what they’re doing, they both know they can always come back to this place, back to one another.