here there be louis tomlinson.
I Just Want To Know You

I Just Want To Know You | Sequel to For A While | Harry/Louis | ~30k | Harry likes Louis, but it’s kind of hard being in a boy band and everything.

It’s nearing the end of their UK concert tour, and it’s remarkable how not over it Harry is. Granted, it’s only been two weeks all in all, Christmas holidays not included, but he’s not ready for it to be finished. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever be.

They’re at their hotel in Glasgow with an early flight to Liverpool in the morning. The fans at tonight’s show were somehow louder than they were only twenty-four hours ago, and even more so than the ones in London several nights ago. It’s all still kind of fresh and incredible — not just to Harry, but to all of the boys — and it’s almost ridiculous that they get to do this.

Harry plays with his mobile in his lap, not quite paying attention to a rerun of Grey’s Anatomy on the television. It’s one of the rare nights that they actually use all four rooms they pay for, and just as well. Niall’s knackered, Zayn’s brought back a girl (Paul won’t be happy), and Liam has a Skype date with Danielle. And Harry —

The thing is, he could be busy. Rather easily, if he wanted to. Perhaps just as much as the tabloids have made him out to be, leaving a different club with a different girl every night. It’s not that hard, and he’s not being cocky. 

He doesn’t know if he’s — well, he knows that he isn’t taken or anything stupid like that. Liam is the only one that’s taken, and the boys give him enough shit for it. After all, how do you properly enjoy the boy band lifestyle in a steady relationship? You don’t, not really, not if you ask Zayn. 

But Harry’s still holding onto something he shouldn’t, holding onto that weekend from a few months ago that shouldn’t have left as much of an impact as it actually did. 

He sighs. For a moment, he considers breaking into the mini-bar and having a properly pathetic night, like some forlorn schoolgirl pining away with her phone at her side — not that there’s anything to pine after, really. But he remembers their 6 AM wake-up call and that’s not the best idea. 

He mutes the television for no apparent reason and slumps against the headboard of the bed, deciding whether or not now would be an appropriate time to sleep. When he checks the clock, it’s nearly 2 in the morning. He should have been asleep hours ago. 

Figuring that nothing really counts at this time of night (or is it morning?), he pulls up the contact book on his phone and scrolls to the name he’s highlighted once, twice, countless times over the last couple of weeks. The blue light flickers there momentarily, almost as if to say well, any day now.

They’ve talked before, is the thing. It’s not like it was one and done once they’d parted ways at Leeds. Against all expectation that Louis would sell their story to the magazines or, even worse, pretend like nothing had happened and not even acknowledge Harry’s number in his phone, he actually didn’t, and Harry found himself talking to Louis more often than he could have ever dreamed. 

The whole way through, however, Louis had always been the one to reach out first and never the other way around. Harry wasn’t trying to be a prick or anything, like he was above texting Louis for a change. On the contrary, he didn’t want to be transparent — or at least, any more transparent than he’d undoubtedly been at the festival. Louis must have only given his number out of sympathy or something like that. 

Over the course of time that followed, Harry convinced himself as much, and refrained from ever reaching out to Louis first. He was probably busy anyway, what with work and uni. And yet Louis had the uncanny talent of texting Harry at just the right time: after a performance, just before sound check, or during a break from a photo shoot. If Louis had grown tired of keeping in contact with Harry, then he certainly showed no indication of it. 

Harry sighs again, this time with Louis’ contact page open and his finger hovering over ‘send message.’ It shouldn’t be this difficult; it’s been enough time and nothing has gotten weird or anything so really, there’s nothing to be afraid of, is there. 

Before the slightest flicker of confidence can elude him once more, he presses down and types the first message he can think of, and sends it. 

eventually, wouldn’t you think to leave seattle grace? i think a gunman would do it for me.

He — he doesn’t even know if Louis watches Grey’s Anatomy, doesn’t know if he’s ever mentioned it during one of their ‘conversations’ from the past couple of months. Better yet, he doesn’t know if Louis is in any state to reply at 2 in the morning, when most reasonable people, university students especially, are either pissed out of their minds or sleeping. Harry wishes he fell into either category. 

But it’s barely been a minute when his phone vibrates with a response. 

but mcdreamy.

Harry smiles, in spite of himself. Louis is awake — Louis is awake at 2 in the morning and responding on time and sounding very Louis-like, not that Harry has enough experience to really know what that entails. Though he’d like to think he does. 

i’m more of a mcsteamy kind of man.

And he outright guffaws when he sees the next message. 

don’t really think you can call yourself a man after that kind of confession x

He ignores the little ‘x’ at the end of the message because it’s probably safest that way. But that doesn’t mean his chest doesn’t flutter in the slightest when he glances over it one last time. 

can’t sleep :(

have you actually tried?

…no.

you’re a child.

says you, old man.

But then Harry practically jumps out of his skin when his phone actually starts ringing and — well, that’s new. Not that new, really, because he’d actually missed one of Louis’ calls before, left instead with a voicemail of Louis obnoxiously screaming a One Direction song he’d heard in the car. Other than that, they’ve never really ventured out of texting. 

He just doesn’t think it’s a thing they do. 

Yet when his phone doesn’t stop ringing, he figures it’s a thing they do now. And at 2 in the morning, he might as well just answer. 

His throat is scratchy and deeper than usual from a night of singing when he answers.  “‘Lo?” 

There’s a beat, and then, “I am not an old man.”

Harry grins and hopes it doesn’t register through to the other line. “You’re 20 now. I think that’s sufficiently old.” 

“Twenteen,” Louis corrects. “Twenteen years young.” 

He chuckles. “You’re ridiculous.” 

“And you’re awake. What gives? Not tired enough from a night of performing for screaming girls?” 

“Hey now,” Harry intones. “Those screaming girls are our fans.” 

“I’m a fan.” And Harry definitely hears the defensive pout in Louis’ voice. 

“So you claim,” Harry says, shrugging. “Have you even bought our CD?” 

“Of course.” 

“Buying it for one of your sisters doesn’t count, Lou.” 

“Who says? Sales are sales. Besides,” Louis adds, “I bought two, for two sisters. I’m so fucking dedicated, you don’t even understand.” 

“Lottie?” Harry guesses. “And Fizz?” 

“Bingo.” 

Harry bites down on his lip, immensely pleased with himself for remembering his sisters’ names. Then again, not like Fizz is a common enough name to forget. 

“Okay, well, regardless, I don’t think you’ve ever been to one of our shows.” 

“Guilty as charged, mate.” 

“So there you go,” Harry says, a little more emphatically than necessary. “Not a fan.” 

“Yeah, well.” 

There’s a pause in which Harry — he knows what he wants to say, but he can’t quite figure out how to say it. It’s not like the thought never occurred to him before, but he figured he was just being ridiculous. But now…it almost makes sense to bring it up. 

Or not. Worst that happens, Louis will say no, and that’ll be that. 

“Hey, Lou?” 

“That’s me.” 

Harry rolls his eyes, but he’s still smiling anyway. “You’re — Sheffield isn’t too far from Doncaster, is it?” 

Louis hums on the other line and for whatever reason, it makes Harry nervous. 

“Lou?” 

“I — I actually go to uni in Sheffield. It’s thirty minutes out, give or take. Why?” 

He thinks perfect, and has to bite his tongue from actually saying it and embarrassing himself. Instead, he goes for aloof, but probably misses the mark. 

“Oh. Well,” he says carefully. “We’ve got a show there in, like, five days, basically. You — d’you want to come?” 

“I — oh.” For once, Louis seems surprised. There’s another break before, “Isn’t it, like, sold out, or something?” 

Harry sits up straighter. “I mean, kind of? But I can — I’ll take care of that.” 

“Dubious,” Louis says playfully. Then,  a little quieter, “Do I have to…pay? Not that — it’s just, student’s salary and all, which doesn’t exist, so — ” 

“Oh god, no, don’t even worry about that!” Harry probably sounds way too eager right now, totally shattering the illusion of nonchalance he’d probably ruined earlier, anyway. “Just, like, come. You can hang out backstage or whatever, so you don’t get trampled by the masses.” 

“You mean your fans?” Louis asks with a hint of mirth. 

“Oh, shut up,” Harry warns. “But — does that mean yeah?” 

“Do I bring flowers or something? Like, I don’t understand what protocol is.” 

“Oh my god,” Harry says, finally laughing. “Just bring yourself.” 

“You’re demanding. Pop star.” And he says it in the way that he knows gets under Harry’s skin. But — he doesn’t mind it, not really. 

“Whatever. I’ll see you, yeah? Like, definitely?” 

On the other end, Louis sighs in feigned exasperation. “I mean, I guess. I’m sure I can spare the time for a free concert.” 

“Har, har,” Harry says, yawning at the end. “Wow, I’m sleepy now.” 

“Thanks,” Louis replies flatly. 

“That’s not what — ” He huffs, laughing lightly. “I need to wake up early, that’s all. I…Thanks for calling, yeah? I’ll see you in Sheffield?” He tries to mask the blatant hopefulness. 

“Yeah, yeah,” Louis grumbles. “I’ll be waiting and all that.” 

“Excellent. Goodnight, Lou.” 

“Night, pop star.”

***

Five days is a long time, or so Harry thinks, and it definitely feels like it by the time the Sheffield show comes around. And he’s a little nervous, mostly because the 16-year-old in him that got nauseous before shows never really disappeared. 

He just doesn’t throw up as much. 

But another part of him, much larger than he’d really care to acknowledge, is responsible for the way he’s pacing up and down the changing room, with fists stuffed into his pockets and jaw clenched so tightly it’ll be a miracle if he can even sing a word onstage tonight. 

“You need to sit down,” Liam says worriedly from his stool. “Drink water or something.” 

“Where could he be, though?” He pauses his pacing long enough for Liam to sigh exasperatedly. “I told him when to get here — ” 

“Why don’t you text him?” Zayn asks absently from the couch where he’s checking Twitter on his phone. “It’s entirely possible that he’s just running late.” 

“But if he misses us,” Harry barrels on, raising his voice over Niall’s munching. “If he misses us, then he won’t know where to go or where to meet us.” 

“I’m sure he’ll be able to pick us out from the crowd. You know, with the spotlight and stage and everything.” Niall grins, pleased with himself, and veers out of the way when Harry attempts to swat the bag of crisps from his hands. 

“I’m just saying — ” 

“Boys.” They all turn to where Paul has suddenly appeared in their doorway, with a very sheepish looking Louis peeking out from behind him. “You’ve got a visitor.” 

“Louis,” Harry says, and it rushes out of him in a breath of relief. He doesn’t even care that the rest of the boys are watching him, gauging his reaction. 

“Hey, fellas,” Louis greets, sidestepping so Paul can shut the door as he leaves. 

He’s smaller than Harry remembers, or maybe his posture is off tonight or something. Regardless, he looks as good as, if not better than, he did in Leeds; he’s cleaner, at any rate, which is definitely a strange thought for Harry to have right now. He’s also holding a bouquet of flowers, which, huh. 

“Louis,” Harry repeats dumbly, and he’s almost certain he can hear Zayn sniggering. 

“Erm.” Louis hands the flowers over to Harry, looking entirely regretful about the whole thing. “You never said yes or no on the flowers. And parking was a nightmare, so…yeah. ‘S why I’m late.” 

But Harry finds he doesn’t really care why Louis was late, doesn’t even remember him being late in the first place. All that matters is that Louis is here, finally and really here, after months of sporadic communication and sort-of friendship. He didn’t know if they’d actually see each other again, or if they should’ve just said goodbye and left it at that, but any doubt that Harry might have had about what he felt all those months ago back in Leeds — well, it all feels real now, anyway. 

He takes the flowers and, in an utterly clichéd move, breathes them in deeply. They smell wonderful. 

“Thanks, mate,” Harry says, feeling maybe a little too exposed in front of his band mates. “So — you’ve met the boys before, yeah?” 

Louis looks visibly surprised by the change in topic, like he’d forgotten about or maybe hadn’t even noticed the other boys in the room. 

“Oh, yeah!” He reaches into his rucksack, mumbling quietly to himself. “I’ve — brought things for you all…” 

“You didn’t have to,” Liam, Zayn, and Niall say together, although they’re already peering over at where Louis is standing. 

“Nonsense. It’s — ” He sets two Tesco plastic bags on the nearest table. “Just some waters and a thing of biscuits. For, y’know, whenever.” 

“Excellent!” Niall beams as he rushes over, grabbing the biscuits with one hand and holding his crisps in the other. “Thanks, mate. You didn’t have to.” 

“Cheers,” Zayn says, reaching for a water bottle. “My throat’s killing me.” 

Liam nods gratefully in Louis’ direction before crowding Zayn’s side, fruitlessly descending into another mini-lecture regarding his smoking habit and its effect on his singing. Really, even after all this time.   

Louis looks pleased with himself, or perhaps mostly relieved that he’s here and in one piece. Harry understands well enough; Paul’s decently intimidating the first time you meet him. Hopefully he didn’t scare Louis too much.

“Seriously though, you didn’t have to,” Harry says quietly, sidling up close to Louis. They’re still near the door and he’s holding the bouquet awkwardly, but Louis smells faintly of cologne and it’s just really nice. 

“Figured it was the least I could do, since I didn’t have to pay for a ticket and all.” 

“True,” Harry muses, nudging Louis in the side. “Can’t let you freeload, can we?”

Louis quirks an eyebrow. “Weren’t you the one practically begging me to come tonight?” 

Harry shrugs, busying himself with the flowers and placing them in a nearby vase, conveniently empty. “Don’t remember, actually.” 

“Rude.” Louis kicks Harry’s foot, but he’s smirking as he does so. 

The other boys are busy — or at least, they’re doing an excellent job of pretending like they’re not actually listening to them —when Harry presses closer to Louis so that their arms are touching and their hips are barely bumping. 

“Hey there,” Harry says huskily. 

Louis lets out a low laugh. “Hey yourself.” 

“‘S not weird, is it?” Harry figures, might as well. “This, I mean.” 

Louis looks over at him curiously and for that moment, Harry worries that everything is exposed, that the past months’ worth of simmering anxiety are on full display. It doesn’t help that his eyes almost have flecks of gold in this lighting. 

“No,” he answers finally, slowly. “No, I don’t think so.” 

Harry can’t help but smile. 

“Thanks for coming.” He’s not sure if he sounds too earnest, or if that’s even a problem worth worrying over. 

But Louis smiles back at Harry, all rosy-cheeked and genuine enough for the both of them. 

“Yeah. Of course.” 

Later, during the show, Harry can’t keep concentrated on the crowd. He’ll be singing his verse or answering a Twitter question, entirely consumed with awareness for the pair of blue eyes watching him from backstage. 

***

Louis’ in stitches by the time Harry finds him right after the show. He doesn’t need to ask why; his bum is still pretty sore, and it doesn’t help that there’ll be videos and gifs all over the Internet within the hour, if not sooner. 

“Twat,” Harry grumbles, failing at hiding his smile in the changing room. 

“You fell!” Louis practically screams it as he attempts a reenactment of Harry’s earlier accident, flailing arms and all, and Niall’s subsequent laughter borders on maniacal. “Your face — you should have seen your fucking face when you fell on your arse. It went a bit like — ” 

This time, Liam and Zayn laugh along with him, and it’s nowhere nearly as annoying as Harry knows it should be. Instead, he’s more focused on the way Louis seems to have lit up the room, scrunching his face up in a way that’s meant to ridicule Harry, but instead leaves him with this warm feeling of acknowledgement and attention. 

He’s almost eighteen and should’ve outgrown that by now, but — Louis. 

“You’re so mean,” Harry grumbles without really meaning it. 

“Oh, Hazza.” He’s still laughing when he puts a hand on Harry’s shoulder, just high enough that his fingers can tangle in his lower curls. “I’m trying so hard not to laugh, but…that face.” 

That sends them into another bout of laughter, making Harry pout in spite of the blush threatening his cheeks. 

“Really, you’re all comedians,” Harry says dryly. 

“Good,” Louis replies, still a little breathless. None of the boys are looking when he kisses Harry’s cheek, fast and sudden like it never even happened. “I like making people laugh.” 

Harry wants to say something else, but he opts to change out of his shirt instead, his face so red it’d actually be embarrassing if anyone saw. 

***

“Goodnight, boys!” Louis calls, waving after them. “Excellent show!” Liam and Zayn beam after him while Niall waves back as they head to the van.  

“Was it really?” Harry asks once they’ve disappeared. “The show…was it good?” 

Louis nods without missing a beat. He beams and starts walking in the direction of the car park. 

“Yeah, definitely,” he says, walking in tandem with Harry. “I can kind of understand it now.” 

“What do you mean?” Harry looks around, maybe for a stray group of fans or an overzealous photographer. But there’s no one around, and Louis promised Paul he’d get him back to the hotel in one piece. Plus, it wouldn’t really matter anyway, not while he’s hiding under the hood of his sweatshirt like this. It reminds him of Leeds, in a way. 

“The whole…boy band thing,” Louis says thoughtfully. “I mean. It’s not my cuppa, never really was, but you guys were brilliant. Are brilliant, rather.” 

“Well, I’m glad we could meet your lofty standards.” 

“Now, I wouldn’t say that,” Louis says, grinning cheekily. “‘S not like I’d throw my knickers onstage. Not even for you, Harry Styles.” 

“Oi.” Harry elbows Louis in his rib. “You would so throw your knickers onstage for me.” 

“Not these,” Louis protests, patting his hips once for effect. “These come off for no one.” 

“That’s not what you said this summer,” Harry says without thinking. He stops walking at that, suddenly worried he’s crossed a boundary or something; it’s not like they’ve ever explicitly discussed exactly what they were after Leeds. 

But Louis just shrugs, looking unperturbed altogether. “Just a Leeds thing, we said.” 

“Oh.” Harry stares down and kicks at the gravel beneath him, trying very hard to ignore the little sting of rejection, which. He shouldn’t feel, anyway. 

“Christ, Hazza.” But Louis doesn’t sound upset or anything. Mostly, he just sounds a bit incredulous. 

Harry looks up, surprised to see Louis smiling a little like he can’t believe Harry right now, and Harry doesn’t know what to make of it. 

“What?” 

“You’re so — if you want to ask me out, then do it.” Louis folds his arms, and Harry suddenly feels so very ridiculous and exposed standing in this empty alleyway behind the venue. 

“What?” he asks again, because he’s always been a bit slow on the uptake. 

Louis sighs exasperatedly. “Look, it’s simple. Louis, do you want to hang out sometime?” And Harry nearly chokes when he hears Louis’ high-pitched impersonation of him. “You’re so irresistible, that’s all. Why, Harry, of course I would, gladly! Oh, wonderful, I can hardly contain myself! See?” 

Harry stares at him blank-faced, and Louis just looks at him expectantly, his eyebrows so high that they might as well fly off his head altogether. 

He doesn’t know where to begin, or what to address, but the first thing that comes out of his mouth is, 

“Why do I sound like Barbie?” 

Louis rolls his eyes. “Because I’m Ken, obviously.” 

“I — wait, what just happened?” 

“I believe you just asked me out.” 

“Did I really?” 

But Louis only laughs, but Harry’s certain he’s not being made fun of this time. He willingly leans into Louis’ side when the he drapes an arm around his shoulders, drawing him in close as they walk off together. 

“That wasn’t so hard, was it?” 

Harry scoffs. “I’m not even entirely sure that I did anything.” 

“Don’t worry. I figured it out for both of us.” 

“So when are we — I believe you said ‘hanging out,’ yeah?” 

Louis chuckles. “Yeah, hanging out. And not until your tour is over, pop star. Sorry, but I don’t feel like sharing your attention with a thousand girls. That’s just the mood I’m in.” 

Harry shakes his head, still a little in disbelief. “That’s — in a week. I’ll be done in a week.” 

“In a week then,” Louis decides with a nod. “Now, let’s get you to your hotel. I have a paper to write.” 

***

Being back in London a week later is better than he expected; he didn’t even realize he’d been that tired. 

It’s nice waking up in his own bed again, and even nicer with the knowledge that now, he’s living on his own time more or less, and that means being able to see Louis again soon. They haven’t discussed anything officially, since they’ve both been busy, but Harry plans on going up to Sheffield really soon. It probably wouldn’t hurt to say hi to Gemma either. 

First, however, is a visit to Nick’s breakfast show, because he’d promised to drop by a few weeks ago. It means not being able to sleep in on his first morning back, but he doesn’t mind, really. The sooner he gets through the rest of his obligations in London, the sooner he’ll be able to coordinate that date with Louis. 

Or that hang out, whatever. 

Still, it feels too early to be met with fans and photographers swarmed outside the BBC studio, and even earlier yet when someone nearly whacks his much-needed coffee out of his hands. He’s suddenly jealous of the boys — Liam on holiday with Danielle, Niall off in Mullingar with his family, and Zayn probably sleeping for three days straight. If only, if only. 

“And how was the tour, Harry? Last we heard, you fell on your bum onstage last week.” Nick is smirking at him from across the console and monitors, and Harry rolls his eyes. 

“That was, uh, some clumsiness on my part,” Harry admits, ignoring the way Nick is pulling up a gif of the incident on his phone. “But the tour was really, really good.” It’s too early to form longer responses. 

“So what’s next for 1D?” 

Harry sips from his coffee and winces at the bitterness; he should have added more milk, and maybe another sugar. 

“We’re preparing things for the new album — ” 

Already?” 

“Yep. Then we’ll be in Australia for two weeks in April as part of our tour.” 

“Off to Oz, then. I hear they’re a different breed of crazy down under.” Nick laughs. “Well then, we’ve got Harry Styles on-air with us and he’s here to shamelessly promote One Direction’s newest single — after the break.” 

Once they’re off the air, they take off their headphones and Harry leans back in his chair, his back cracking as he stretches his arms over his head. 

“What about you?” Nick asks. “What’re you up to now? Wanna go out this weekend?” 

“Ah, probably not,” Harry says, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “I think I’ll be busy, actually.” 

Nick raises a brow. “Doing what?” 

“Visiting — someone. In Sheffield.” 

“Wh — oh.” Nick’s face darkens in realization. “You’ve kept in contact, then?”

Harry shrugs. “More or less.” 

“Oh,” Nick repeats. 

Harry doesn’t want to deal with that right now; he would much rather deal with Nick when he’s being friendlier and when they’re more awake. 

Plus, he’s excited to see Louis — more so than he probably should be, but he doesn’t really feel like ruining any of that right now. It was and still is the only thing getting him through most parts of the day. 

So he puts his headphones back on and closes his eyes, waiting for the show to go on. 

***

By mid-afternoon, he’s napped and he’s decidedly more awake than he had been on Nick’s show, so he contemplates texting Louis and asking if it’s too early to head up to Sheffield tonight. But before he can do that, his phone is already ringing. 

“Hello?” 

“Harry.” And he’s not surprised to hear Alan’s voice; it’s been a while since the label called, and he is home, after all. “You alright?” 

“Yeah. You?” 

“Yeah. Listen.” There’s a pause on the other end, even though Harry already knows what’s coming. “Zayn is going out tonight.” 

“Is he?” He already knew that, but he feels like being difficult right now, especially when a couple of days away seem well within reach. 

“With one of the girls from The X Factor,” Alan explains. “She’s bringing a friend from home — wouldn’t you like to join?” 

Harry resists the urge to groan, resists the urge to hang up and just drive up north like he wants to. The thing is, he knows that this comes with the territory, more so for him and the image that the label wants to create. It wasn’t so much of a problem before, back when he was wide-eyed and ready to accept any offer that came his way. But now…well, it’s a bit different now. Besides, there’s no point in saying anything otherwise, because he knows he’ll be at that club with Zayn regardless tonight. 

“Sounds great. I’ll text Zayn for details.” 

“Perfect.” 

And when Alan hangs up, Harry just falls onto his bed, trying to be as in love with everything as he used to be, even though it’s gotten so hard

***

“You look miserable, mate.” 

Zayn hands Harry another beer, which he takes willingly. 

“Just wanna…” But his voice trails off into the staccato bass of the club, not entirely capable of saying anything else, anyway. 

“He’ll understand.” Zayn rubs Harry’s lower back in a display of comfort that’s usually effective. “‘S all part of the job, innit?” 

“Yeah,” Harry says, drinking from his bottle. “I know.” 

“We’re back,” Perrie says, sliding into the booth with them. Her blond hair looks fluorescent under the black and neon lights. “The line for the toilets was so long.” 

“So long,” her friend confirms, sitting right next to Harry. He knows that she’s the one that’s meant for him, meant to be photographed on his arm later on just like they were earlier tonight. He should feel bad, really, that he can’t remember her name for the life of him right now. 

“Sounds horrible,” Zayn says absently, sitting closer to Perrie and making her giggle when he nudges her with his knee. 

Harry watches carefully. Zayn’s actually looks like he’s having a good time tonight. He usually does, but only ever in the way that arranged nights with X Factor girls ever go. It’s not like he ever complains about it, being a 19-year-old male with, you know, needs, but tonight’s interest actually seems genuine. 

Which, huh. Harry’s not used to that, not from Zayn, and it’s not what he’d been expecting tonight. 

“Want to dance?” Perrie offers, waggling her eyebrows. 

“Yeah, definitely.” Zayn follows her out of the booth, their fingers twined lightly together. 

Perrie’s friend — Chloe? Kelly? She’s a model, he remembers that much — looks at him, smiling from behind her cocktail. 

“Wanna follow?” 

Harry can’t think of any real reason to say no, and can’t really fathom what sort of boy would pass up on an opportunity like this, staged though it may be. He might as well enjoy if he can’t be where he wants to be. 

“Sure,” he says, and downs the remainder of his beer before following her out onto the floor. 

***

As it turns out, exhaustion catches up with him the next day — and the day after. He sleeps most of the next two days away, rising only for the toilet and for an occasional bowl of cereal. He really needs to go grocery shopping soon. 

When he finally decides to text Louis, it’s Friday and almost dark outside and he really hasn’t done anything productive with his time. But he figures it’s all in the name of recovery, so just as well. 

so about that hang out.

It takes over an hour before Louis gets to respond, and Harry briefly wonders if he’s waited too long. Apparently, he isn’t the only one. 

i thought you’d forgotten about me :(

never! just busy getting ready for you, lou ;)

you’ve been sleeping the whole time, haven’t you?

Harry snorts; it’s either scary or pretty cool how intuitive Louis can be.

i’ve been properly knackered. can you blame me?

no…i suppose not. what’re you up to?

wondering if you’ll let me come up this weekend.

He waits for a couple minutes, and he shouldn’t be surprised, but he still jumps a little when his phone rings with Louis’ name blinking across his screen. 

“You just had to hear my voice, didn’t you?” Harry asks, bypassing all greetings and tucking his phone between his ear and shoulder. 

Louis scoffs. “Please. I’m just one for actually calling people. It’s a lost art, really, and your voice isn’t that great, you know.” 

“Pop star, remember?” Harry smirks. 

“Ooh, cocky,” Louis says with a hint of amusement. “I don’t think I like it.” 

“You love it.” 

“So.” Louis pauses. “This weekend?” 

Harry swallows; he doesn’t remember dating being this hard. Dating — if that’s what this even is. 

“If you’ll have me?” 

Louis laughs. “You’re such a girl, Hazza, honestly. Yeah, this weekend works, just that — well, I’ve got a party at my place, and it’d be, like, cool if you came or whatever. ‘S not a big deal if you’d rather not be around people, though, because I get it.” 

Harry shakes his head, forgetting that Louis can’t see him. 

“No, that — party sounds good.” 

Party sounds good?” He can hear Louis straining to keep from laughing. “Have we descended into caveman speak?”

“You know, I’m really starting to hate these phone calls with you,” Harry says, twiddling with his fingers. 

“Lies. Utter and horrible lies. I’m ashamed for you, Harry.” Louis sighs contentedly on the other end, and Harry can relate. “Anyway, it’s tomorrow night. Come whenever, and I’ll tell everyone not to ask for your autograph or anything. I mean, you’ve met Stan and the lot of them already, but yeah, just in case.” 

“Thanks,” Harry says quietly. 

“Alright, well. I’ve got a paper to write.” 

“Still?”

“There are many papers to write,” Louis says very seriously. “We can’t all flit off to Australia when we feel like it.” 

Harry smiles widely. “You — you listened to my interview?” 

“It was on,” Louis says casually. 

“At 7 in the morning?” he asks flatly. 

“Details, details. Listen, I’m very busy, Harry darling, so ta for now, yeah?” 

Harry laughs into his hand. “You’re so crazy.” 

“You love it. See you, Hazza.” 

“Tomorrow, Lou.” 

***

The drive from London to Sheffield isn’t too bad, even though driving through and out of the city is always the worst part. But by the time he hits M1 for the longest stretch of his trip, it’s smooth sailing from there. 

He takes Louis’ advice and finds parking in a small, hidden lot apparently just down the street from his flat. Harry loves London, but during moments like these, he’s grateful for the lack of heavy traffic around him. And dressed in a simple tee and jeans with his hair hidden in a beanie, he could easily pass for any of the other uni students walking up and down the street. 

It’s pretty easy to distinguish Louis’ flat from the rest of them, if only because he can already hear the music and conversation filtering out the open door. He’s obviously been in more crowded gatherings, some decidedly more overwhelming than this one, but he’s suddenly very self-conscious — even with nobody actually paying attention to him. 

He walks inside the dimly lit flat, which already smells of body heat and beer and it reminds Harry of parties long before The X Factor, not that he’d actually gone to enough at 15 to really get a feel for them. But still, he imagines that this is what his life might look like in another world, apart from One Direction. 

He sees Louis immediately, even before Louis sees him. He’s standing by the speakers, sandwiched between Stan and two other boys — one with light, floppy hair and another with a shorter, darker cut. Harry doesn’t want to interrupt or anything, but Louis spots him from across the room and — too late. 

“Harry!” Louis’ voice is bright and somehow louder than the music, and Harry flushes in spite of himself.  “C’mere!” 

It’s not that weird, Harry convinces himself, as he settles into the space between Louis and Stan. Louis must have given prior warning to everyone else, because there aren’t as many people watching him as he’d expected. There are a few following eyes, sure, but that’s to be expected. They’ll forget he’s even here in time. 

“Alright, mate?” Stan greets Harry warmly, clapping him on the back like they’re old friends. Harry figures that, in this context, they might as well be. 

Harry nods, wishing he had a drink to hide behind like the rest of them. 

“You remember Stan,” Louis says. “I live with him and Aiden over here.” He gestures at the lighter haired boy, who nods at Harry in acknowledgement. “And this is his sorry boyfriend, Matt.” 

“Oi.” But Matt is smiling when he says it, and Harry just figures that no one ever gets angry with Louis, not seriously, at least. 

“Help yourself to anything, beers or whatever,” Aiden offers kindly. “This is probably nothing compared to what you’re used to, but —” 

“No, this is — ” Harry interrupts quickly. “I mean — this is great. Thanks for having me over. I haven’t been to a party like this in forever.” 

“Yeah, Harry here is a bit sheltered, wouldn’t you say?” Louis’ eyes sparkle when he ribs Harry gently in the side. “He’s never had to get drunk on absolute piss before.”

“Hey.” Harry frowns slightly. 

“Only joking, love.” Louis pats Harry’s hip. “I love how posh you are.” 

“‘M not posh,” Harry grouses, but he’s fighting off a smile. 

“Yes, you are,” Louis decides, leaning in closer to him. “The poshest of the posh.” 

“That doesn’t even — that’s not a word. You’re ridiculous.” 

“Yeah…oh, well.” Louis squeezes Harry’s thigh, and Harry doesn’t even remember Louis’ hand wandering down that far. Harry grins back at him, all teeth and cheek. 

“That’ll be our cue to leave, boys.” Stan nods over at Aiden and Matt. They mutter their respective ‘nice to meet you’s at Harry before wandering off to join the rest of the party. Just out of the corner of his eye, Harry catches Stan giving Louis a very pointed look, to which Louis responds by flipping him the finger. 

“What was that about?” Harry asks, curious. 

Louis shrugs. “Stan being a twat. He’s under the impression I’ve only invited you to end my rather nasty dry spell.” 

“Oh?” Harry blushes, and somehow the knowledge that Louis has been going through a dry spell of his own is comforting in a very strange sense. 

“Apparently,” Louis says loftily. 

“Is he right?” He feels like being a little shit right now, if only because it makes Louis’ eyes widen in the most entertaining way. “Is that the only reason you’ve invited me?” 

Louis gasps theatrically, affronted. “Harry! How dare you assume such things about my virtue!” 

Harry snorts. “I wasn’t aware there was any virtue left to assume about.” 

Louis considers this. “Touché. Well, unfortunately for you, I haven’t invited you with any ulterior motives in mind. You’re really just here for the party.” 

“Mm-hmm,” Harry murmurs, still smirking. 

“Oh, you’re — frustrating,” Louis sighs, though his eyes are brighter than they have any right to be in this dim lighting. “But I think I’ll keep you. Now, what do you say to a drink? I think you’ll need it to meet more of my shit-headed friends.” 

He laughs and follows Louis’ lead, just happy to be here. 

***

A few hours later, Harry’s several beers in and feeling pleasantly lighter and looser than he’d been when he first arrived. He doesn’t really want to drink more than he already has; he doesn’t feel up to the task of making a fool of himself in front of Louis and all his friends. 

He recognizes several of them from Louis’ camp at Leeds over the summer, and they all nod their acknowledgement at him. It’s strange seeing Louis in an environment as intimate as this. Harry has seen him drunk before — he remembers the first time they met all too well — but this is nothing like that. He’s more in control, more in his element, and without a doubt the center of attention. He lights up the fucking room with his cheap parlor tricks and his deliberately shitty jokes and it makes Harry warm under his collar. 

“Take your top off!” Harry yells at one point when Louis takes to dancing on a tabletop with one of his girl friends. 

Louis casts him a reproachful look. “Shush, you. This isn’t a free show.” 

But if Louis waggles his arse in Harry’s direction more times than one, then he pretends not to notice. 

It’s about an hour later when Harry’s deep in conversation with Aiden and Matt about The X Factor and telling them “Yeah, you should definitely audition!” when he notices Louis talking to someone across the room — a very tall, and a very handsome someone. And apparently, he’s been leering, because Aiden and Matt look over in the same direction and share a knowing glance. 

“Who’s that?” Harry finally asks. 

“Greg James,” Aiden supplies helpfully. “He’s — I guess he’s sort of friends with Louis? They mostly know each other through a class they had together last term, but everyone else here seems to know him.” 

“Oh.” Harry clears his throat. “Are they — have they — ” He doesn’t know how to go about asking this, doesn’t even really know what he’s trying to ask. 

But Aiden shakes his head and Harry’s not sure if he’s seeing things, but he’s smiling kind of ruefully. 

“No. But Greg…isn’t very subtle, either.” And when Harry furrows his brow in confusion, he adds, “He has a thing for Lou. Anyone with working eyes can see that.”

“Oh,” Harry repeats, glancing back to where Louis is leaning against the wall and looking up at Greg, who’s wearing a red zip-up and a striped tee to match Louis’ and — yeah, he’s definitely taller than Harry is.

He doesn’t know how long it takes him — time stops meaning anything once he has even the slightest bit of alcohol in his system — but he finally breaks away from Aiden and Matt and finds himself walking over to the other side of the room, the side where Louis and Greg are standing.

“Hazza!” Louis calls fondly, tugging him in by the arm. “This is Greg.” 

“Harry,” he says, and he doesn’t really know what to do with the way Greg is just…watching him, eyes wide and jaw sort of slack. 

“You’re real,” Greg says at last, a little awed and it makes Harry feel oddly exposed. “Like — Lou had said, but I didn’t think you’d — I play your music all the time.” 

Harry blinks and Louis snorts. 

“Sorry about Greg,” Louis apologizes, chest rumbling with pent up laughter. “His social skills leave something to be desired.” 

Greg chuckles and punches Louis in the shoulder, and Harry shifts uncomfortably on his feet. 

“Sorry, you — play my music, you said?” 

“Oh, god, I mean.” Greg shakes his head, flustered. “What I mean is that I’m a radio DJ. For the uni station, actually, and I — yeah. You guys are brilliant.” 

“Thanks?” Harry can’t help but smile, if only because Greg sounds so earnest and dazed and Louis is laughing quietly into his shoulder, which — good. 

Greg inhales deeply. “Okay, let me redo this. I’m Greg, hi, and I’ve got a radio show.” 

Not dedicated to One Direction, right?” Harry teases. 

Greg frowns and Louis adds, “Not if Greg has anything to say about it. They have to keep telling him to tone down on the 1D.” 

“Thanks, mate.” But Greg doesn’t look too bothered. “Actually, I was just talking to Louis over here and asking him if he wanted to guest host on the show tomorrow. He’d be good for it.” 

Louis pulls a face. “Nah. Probably not.” 

Harry nudges him in the side. “Really? Why not?” 

“I dunno.” Louis shrugs. “Not really my purview, I don’t think. ‘S more for your thing. Or Greg’s.” 

“I think anything is your thing,” Greg offers sincerely. “You should do it. It gets kind of lonely in the booth and I could use the company.” 

Louis looks like he’s about to protest again, but Harry cuts him off. 

“I agree. You should try it, even once.” 

Louis fixes him with a considering look. “You think?”

“I do.” It’s a nice thought, thinking of Louis in that sort of environment. He’s just good with people; he’d be good at it.

Louis blinks, the gears in his mind very obviously hard at work. Harry meets Greg’s eyes once, and he doesn’t even look like he’s breathing. 

“Alright,” Louis concedes, smiling softly. “I’ll try it out. Tomorrow afternoon, you said?” 

Greg nods, a little too excitedly, and Harry feels like he’s going to have a hard time disliking him — not that he has any reason to, in the first place. His beer isn’t settling well with him, or something like that. 

“Yeah,” he says, grinning widely. “And you could drop by, too, Harry. If you’re still here, that is.” 

“I think I will be.” And out of the corner of his eye, Harry thinks he can see Louis smiling. “That’d be — yeah, thanks, mate.”

Later that night, after the flat has cleared out and Greg has stayed longer than necessary to help with the clean up, Louis bids Aiden and Stan goodnight and drags Harry into his room, drawing him in by his wrist and practically throwing him onto his bed, where Louis collapses on top of his tired body. 

“Hello there,” Harry says, amused. 

“Shh,” Louis whispers, putting a finger up to Harry’s lips. He buries his head into his chest. “Sleep now.” 

“Really?” They’re still in their clothes and Harry’s feet are dangling off the edge of the bed. 

“Mm-hmm. Tired,” he murmurs, yawning for punctuated effect. 

“But Lou,” Harry pouts, keeping his voice quiet. He drags his fingers down Louis’ back, inching tactfully under the hem of his shirt and massaging the warm skin underneath. “Your dry spell and your virtue and all that…” 

His hands are halfway up Louis’ back when he grabs him by his arms and pulls them away. 

“Wha — ” 

“None of that until after you’ve taken me on our date,” Louis mutters from where he’s settled back into Harry’s collarbone. 

What?”

“I told you: you were only here for the party.” 

“But — ” 

“No sex until after our date,” Louis says firmly. “Sorry, I’m old-fashioned that way, I guess.” 

Harry fishmouths, staring up at the ceiling in the darkness, but he can’t bring himself to say anything. He shouldn’t have assumed anything, really, but in fairness, he thought Louis had been joking

“So…” he breathes slowly. “No sex?” 

Louis chuckles, his body shaking on top of Harry’s. 

“You’ve gone this long without seeing my bits,” Louis reminds him. “You can go a little longer, just until after our date.” 

“After our date,” Harry repeats lamely. 

“And only if it’s a good date,” Louis says sleepily. “I don’t put out for just anything.” 

Harry thinks about saying something else, but Louis is asleep within seconds and with his smaller frame curled up on top of Harry’s…it’s different, but it’s nice, too. 

***

The next morning, Harry forgets where he is momentarily and wakes up to an empty bed and a sticky note on his forehead. Huh. 

Sorry, had to go to the lib for a quick group meeting. Text me when you’re up? Help yourself to anything — except Stan’s protein shakes. He’ll kill you x

Somehow, the idea of Stan and protein shakes seems incompatible, but he makes a mental note of it, anyway. He throws his trousers on — he doesn’t remember kicking them off in the middle of the night — and stumbles out of Louis’ room into the kitchenette. No one else seems home. 

He fishes for his phone in his pocket and texts Louis. 

thanks for abandoning me. i feel cheap.

why? we didn’t even do anything last night

Harry rolls his eyes. and whose fault is that?

guilty as charged :) sorry, meeting is going longer than usual

that’s ok. i might meet up with my sister, actually. He doesn’t remember if he ever mentioned that he and Gemma went to the same uni, but Louis doesn’t seem fazed. 

alright. i’ll text you directions to the studio. have fun x

Harry helps himself to a cereal bar and a quick shower before texting Gemma. She makes a big deal of him not warning her in advance, but she skips one of her classes anyway to meet him at a coffee shop just down the street from Louis’ flat. In the daylight, he takes extra precaution and steals a pair of Louis’ sunglasses — just in case. 

“You look ridiculous,” is the first thing Gemma says to him once they’ve sat down with their lattes. 

“Can never be too careful,” Harry tells her. 

“No one will care,” she says, rolling her eyes. But she looks around warily and adds, “Well, best be safe, anyway.” 

“Thought so,” Harry says, grinning cheekily. 

“So, are you going to tell me why you’re in Sheffield — at my uni, of all places?” 

Harry shrugs. “Maybe I wanted to visit you.”

She fixes him with a withering stare. 

“Okay, okay,” he says, holding his hands up in placation. “I’ve — met someone. Kind of.” 

Gemma raises a brow, fingers folded together patiently. That’s just one of her qualities that Harry loves so much: she never gets shrill, never makes a bigger deal of things than they actually are. She’s levelheaded, and it seriously makes sharing things with her that much easier. 

“It’s a he,” Harry explains at the outset. “He actually goes here. I met him at Leeds.” 

“At Leeds?” She frowns. “You’ve gone this long without telling me?” 

“It’s not — anything, really.” He’s staring hard at his steaming mug. “I was…we were both busy, you know? And we’ve only just now got to hang out properly. So I don’t even know what we’re doing, exactly.” 

“You’re dating,” she supplies. “Right?” 

Harry shrugs. “Yeah, maybe. It was supposed to be a Leeds-only thing, at first. I didn’t think we’d actually keep in touch this long.” 

She sips from her drink. “You like him, then?” 

He’s not really being forced to answer either way or anything and this is Gemma, after all, so it’s a safe space. What he says here is theirs and theirs alone.

Still, he can only drink his coffee and nod from behind his mug. 

“Okay,” she says thoughtfully. “He’s not, like — he won’t…talk to anyone, will he?”

Harry nearly burns his throat in his hurry to answer. “No!” he defends. “No, he’s been really good about all of that.” 

She nods, seemingly more at peace with the whole thing. “That’s good. Just making sure. Baby brother, and all.” 

Harry laughs dryly. “Thanks. You’d like him, probably.” 

“Probably,” she agrees. “I tend to like everyone better than I like you, at any rate.” 

He scowls, sticking his tongue out. 

***

When he gets to the studio, perhaps a little bit later than he’d originally promised, he hears Greg before he even sees him. There’s a girl walking by, and her eyes widen comically when she spots Harry standing in the doorway, looking a little like a deer caught in headlights. She flits down the hallway without a word, however, leaving Harry to follow Greg’s voice into the next room over. 

“That was ‘The Thong Song’ by Sisqó, chosen by none other than Louis Tomlinson, who’s been in somewhat of a nostalgic mood, wouldn’t you say?” Greg smiles at Louis over all of the equipment. 

Louis leans into his microphone. “Britney and Christina have always been fool-proof choices, in my experience.” 

“Very true, that,” Greg concedes. “Now, we’ve got one more song for all of you to round out our throwback hour. What’ll it be, Lou?” 

“A personal favorite,” Louis says brightly, smiling over at Harry when he notices him walk in through the door. “This is ‘The Call’ by the Backstreet Boys, which should be more than enough to settle your stance on the whole ‘NSYNC versus BSB debate. Enjoy, loves!” 

Louis takes off his headphones and pushes his microphone away, swiveling toward Harry in his rolling chairs. Greg waves over at him, smiling sunnily. 

“You missed it.” Louis attempts to sulk, but ultimately fails when Harry unceremoniously topples over into his lap. “D’you have fun with your sister?” 

“Yeah.” He pats Louis’ head, mollifying him. “How’d it go?”

“Brilliantly,” Greg fills in for him. He’s beaming at Louis and — does he ever not smile? — it makes Harry tighten his grip around Louis’ shoulders. “He was a fucking riot.” 

“I’m tired, and he’s being nice,” Louis murmurs, and it tickles when he noses against Harry’s chest. 

“I’m really not,” Greg assures him. “You should consider applying for a show of your own. Or staying on full-time with me. I’m sure we can convince the producers.” 

“Probably not.” Louis flushes, and he doesn’t meet Greg’s eyes when he adds, “Maybe.” 

“It’s a serious offer.” Greg leans back in his chair and turns to Harry. “What’re you two up to now? Want to grab a celebratory drink? On me, obviously.” 

He expects Louis to agree because, well, it’s not like they’d made plans for tonight or anything. Besides, he figures that spending some extra time with Greg will be enough to help him with whatever irrational — thing he’s feeling toward him. After all, Greg hasn’t sold him out yet and he seems actually nice and Louis likes him and he’s not about to begrudge Louis for his friendships, of all things, so there’s really no point. 

So Harry’s about to say yes, but Louis gets there first and just shakes his head. 

“Maybe not tonight, mate. This one’s going to take me on a date, a proper one.” 

Harry blinks, and before he can gauge Greg’s reaction, he’s already standing up and pulling his rucksack over his shoulder. 

“Another time, then,” he says, smiling winningly. “Have fun, you two.” 

Harry shakes hair from out of his eyes. “Cheers, mate.”

Greg claps them each on the shoulder on his way out. But in the doorway, he turns around and pauses thoughtfully. “Thanks for helping, Lou. It was a good show, seriously.” 

Louis smiles politely and presses in close to Harry once Greg is gone. 

“So. That date?” 

Harry swallows. “If you’re tired…” 

“Oh, no.” Louis sits back and looks him straight in the eye. “Nope, you are not getting out of this.” 

Harry gapes. “I’m not getting out of anything! Just that — ” 

But Louis shakes his head and pulls himself up from under Harry, forcing him off his lap. “C’mon, there’s a cheap cinema down the street and we can sneak food in. Honestly, Hazza, making me do all the work…” 

“You’re just about the worst,” Harry pouts. But he has no choice other than to follow Louis out of the studio, head bowed in shame. 

***

Harry doesn’t even know what they end up watching. The cinema is cheap for a reason, and all he can remember from the movie are a haunted clock tower, a pair of Siamese twins, and an uncanny David Cameron lookalike. Otherwise, he’d been mostly focused on the way Louis would steal pepperoni off his pizza only to throw it at the screen of their empty movie theater. That, and their experiment to try mixing different candies in their sodas. 

(It didn’t end with favorable results.) 

By the time they walk out of the cinema, Louis is still breathless from laughing so hard as Harry tries to dry Coca Cola from his shirtfront, a result of an ill-timed slap fight just before the credits. It doesn’t work and it leaves a splotchy brown stain on his white Topman shirt, but it’s worth it to see the way Louis’ eyes crinkle when he smiles. 

“You’re a decent date, pop star,” Louis says, bumping their elbows together. The sun is setting, and it’ll be a few hours yet before everyone heads to the local pubs. 

“Yeah?” He knows he didn’t really do anything other than pay for the movie and pizzas, and even then, Louis had chosen the film and their pizza toppings for them. 

Louis smiles down at the ground. “I mean. You were pretty much useless…” 

“I knew that was coming.” Harry stumbles forward and lets the back of their hands brush together. 

“But.” Louis reaches over and grabs Harry’s hand. “I like it when you’re useless. You’re an easy audience. You laugh at all my jokes.” 

Harry looks down where their fingers are twined lightly in the space between them. He can’t help it when his cheeks turn a light shade of pink. 

“I don’t laugh at all your jokes.” 

Louis snorts, trailing Harry behind him. It helps that there aren’t a lot of people around and they can walk down the street like this. He knows that if it were anywhere else, or if anyone had even let slip that he was here, they wouldn’t be able to do this, so he wants to take advantage of it. 

“You laugh at enough of them. Even my mum tells me when I’m being an arsehole.” 

Harry shrugs and takes the opportunity to slip his fingers further between Louis’. “You’re not an arsehole. You’re just funny, I guess.” 

“You guess?” 

Harry rolls his eyes and brings himself closer to Louis so that their palms are finally flush together. “You’re a decent date, too, you know.” 

“Oh, I know,” Louis says, smirking. But a second later, his face turns a shade more serious. “It’s…been a while, actually. So thanks for making it easier.” 

Harry hums, swinging their hands gently. Louis’ flat is coming up just around the corner. 

“Been a while, then?” He tries to keep his voice casual. This is casual conversation, after all. 

“Yeah, kind of,” Louis admits. “The last time was…” He laughs a little, kind of like he can’t believe himself. “The last time was with Aiden actually.” 

That stops Harry, who has to pause in the middle of the sidewalk as Louis looks over at him expectantly. “Aiden? Aiden, as in, Aiden who lives with you?” 

Louis nods. “Yep. That Aiden.” 

“You’re — but.” Harry closes his eyes, breathing in evenly. He thinks he hears Louis stifle a laugh. “And you’re…okay? I mean, what?” 

Louis swipes a consoling thumb over Harry’s knuckles. “We were dating and all of a sudden, we weren’t. It was always different between him and me, though. We were always friends first, so it just…didn’t work out. I’m not going to say it didn’t suck, because it did, but — I think we always knew?” 

“Always knew?” 

Louis sighs, and Harry really doesn’t want to press but. He wants to know. He doesn’t even know what’s happening between him and Louis, exactly, but he’d like to know. For future reference, or something. 

“That it wasn’t going to last. It was — imagine realizing you’re gay around the same time that one of your friends realizes the same thing.” He shakes his head like he’s trying to forget a memory. “If it had been Stan, I’m almost positive it would’ve gone the same way. Except I would’ve killed him, because he’s an utter twat.” 

“Oh.” 

“We’re good now, though,” Louis reassures him. “Like, we can live together and it’s not weird for him or me or Matt, for that matter, because they’re really good together. We’re back to the way we used to be, more or less, and he can tell me things about Matt and I can tell him things about my love life and it’s strangely okay. It’s okay.” 

They’re almost at Louis’ now, and Harry’s mind is still reeling somewhat from the revelation. 

“So like, how long ago was this?” 

“Beginning of uni,” Louis says, furrowing his brows in remembrance. “He was the first person I met outside of Stan, who I grew up with.” 

“That long?” 

Louis smirks this time, squeezing Harry’s hand. “It’s not like I’ve been a monk since then. I have experience now.” 

Harry frowns. “Experience?” 

Louis rolls his eyes and turns the key in the lock, which — Harry doesn’t even remember walking up to the front door. 

“Yes,” he says once they’re inside. He kicks off his shoes and Harry follows suit. “Leeds, remember? You can’t honestly tell me that after all of that, you still thought, ‘wow, he must be new at this.’” 

Harry blushes, looking down at the floor and chewing on his bottom lip in lieu of answering. When he looks up, Louis is closer than he remembers, and his breath is warm against his cheek when he speaks. 

“D’you need me to remind you?” 

Harry raises a brow in confusion. 

“First date officially over,” Louis tells him rather pointedly. “I — can remind you now.” 

Oh. 

Oh.

“Yeah,” Harry croaks, throat suddenly dry. “Yes, please.” 

Louis laughs, but soon, he’s laughing into Harry’s mouth because they’re kissing and — this is so much better than Harry remembers it being, and he’s fairly sure that it’s not because he’s gone so long without. It doesn’t take long for his lips to part under Harry’s, and he tastes faintly of Coca Cola and pizza, which is surprisingly not as bad as it sounds. It’s strangely hot, actually, and Harry’s knuckles have turned white from grabbing onto Louis’ shirt. 

They start stumbling through the flat, and it’s a good thing that everyone is out because they’re making so much noise and such a mess of things, bumping into the sofa and into the coffee table, sending a pile of magazines across the floor. Louis huffs a laugh against Harry’s mouth, but he steals it away with a swipe of his tongue. 

Harry wants — he doesn’t want to move things too quickly, but it’s been such a long time and he’s really missed Louis, in more ways than one, and so he can’t really help it when he reaches down between them and starts rubbing at the front of Louis’ trousers. 

Louis pulls away and chuckles against Harry’s cheek. “You — ah. We haven’t even reached the bedroom, love.” 

“Yeah,” Harry manages absently. “Okay, room.” 

Louis laughs again, rocking his hips once more into Harry’s hand before dragging him backward by the collar. Harry kicks the door shut behind them and from there, he’s ready to go. 

He doesn’t mind kissing, not really, if only because he and Louis do such an excellent job of it, but he needs something else right now, something more. So he unabashedly slides his hands beneath the hem of Louis’ shirt, roaming the soft, warm skin underneath. Louis moans into his neck. 

“You — you first.” 

Harry obliges, peeling off his shirt and his trousers as Louis fumbles through the nightstand, throwing a packet of lube and some condoms onto the bed. He gives Harry a once-over, licking his lips in a way that makes Harry flush from anticipation. But then he’s there again, crowding Harry’s space and kissing his shoulder. 

“What…what do you want?” 

Harry can’t think clearly right now, and the question is much more than he can handle in this state. “I…” 

“Yeah?” And it’s amazing because Louis sounds just as dazed as him. 

He clears his throat. “Suck me off.” 

There’s a twinkle of mischief in Louis’ eyes and it’s the last thing Harry sees before he drops down before him, on his knees and tugging at the elastic of Harry’s pants. He throws his head back and moans; this is too much. 

Louis pulls Harry’s pants down to his thighs and mutters a fond, “Hello, there.” Harry wants to laugh, but can’t even manage it once Louis sucks the head of his cock into his mouth. 

Yeah, Harry has missed this, and he’s forgotten just how good at this Louis is. It’s still a bit awkward, standing in the middle of the room like this, and it’s all he can do to bunch his hands into tightly-clenched fists to keep from bucking forward, to keep from ending all of this too quickly. 

But he can really only manage another minute or two before it becomes too much, before the combined sensation of Louis’ finger petting his hole surreptitiously becomes too much to bear. He tugs lightly on Louis’ hair and he looks up, eyes glassy and lips swollen and Harry wishes he could keep this image forever. 

“I need — ” He doesn’t get the rest of it out, but Louis seems to understand all the same. 

“Okay, yeah, okay.” 

He stands up and he skins out of his clothes faster than Harry’s ever seen. Louis grabs Harry by the hips once they’re both naked, rolling up teasingly against him once and smirking when he pushes Harry back onto the mattress. 

There’s a moment of clarity for both of them when Louis looks down at Harry, eyes swimming with uncertainty and for that brief period, it’s like they’re on level playing ground. 

“How d’you…what do you want?” 

Harry thinks for a moment before reaching up, kissing Louis’ slack mouth once, and turning over onto his knees with his arse up in the air. He hasn’t been fucked properly in forever and he’ll get Louis back eventually, he just knows it. He hears Louis laugh under his breath, but it sounds a little bit awed and — good

“Christ, Harry,” Louis says breathlessly. “Okay, okay, hold up — ” 

Harry bites down on his bottom lip at the maddening sensation of Louis’ hot fingers, slicked with cool lube, pressing against his entrance. His breath hitches and he works through the feeling of Louis inside of him, rolling his hips backward experimentally before convincing Louis he’s ready for another one. 

“Sure?” 

“Yeah,” Harry pants. “C’mon, another one, go.” 

Louis whistles lowly and indulges him, pressing a second finger in and crooking them in a way that makes Harry bury his face into the pillows. He works on a steady rhythm and by the end of it, Harry is breathing erratically and his cock is so hard that it actually hurts and he needs Louis in him right fucking now. 

“Lou…” He inhales sharply. “I’m ready.” 

“Are you — ?” 

Yes,” and he shoves his hips backward toward Louis. “Yes, I swear.” 

That’s about all it takes to convince Louis, who pulls his fingers out. Harry whimpers slightly at the loss of contact, but he hears the tear of the foil packet and before he knows it, he can feel Louis nudging into him. 

He gasps, can’t help it, and clutches at the sheets on either side of him as Louis pushes in steadily, slow and teasing until he’s in all the way.

Harry — feels so full now, and he needs friction, needs Louis to move, otherwise he might sob or something. 

“Need — Louis, please — ” 

It’s the least Louis can do for him, and so he starts thrusting in earnest, barely giving Harry time to recover before he’s slamming back in and making him take it. It’s rougher than usual and Harry figures that it has to do with how long they’ve waited, but he likes it this way and it makes his head swim with the intensity of it all. 

He wants to scream out but he knows it’s probably not the best idea, not if Stan or Aiden (how awkward would that be) were to come into the flat right about now. So when Louis reaches under Harry and firmly grabs his cock, stroking and harshly twisting and dragging, he comes with a low, staccato sob, and his spent body collapses onto the bed. 

Louis doesn’t take long after that, pulling the condom off and wanking himself furiously until he splatters across Harry’s pale arse. 

They’re both so exhausted afterward, and Harry shifts over so that Louis can collapse next to him. They’re sticky and sweaty and messy, but neither of them really cares right now. 

“Fuck,” Louis moans into the pillow. 

Harry can’t help from smiling, even when his eyelids droop dangerously. “Yeah.” He nudges Louis in the arm. “Hi there.” 

Louis snorts but lifts his arm so that Harry can roll underneath. 

“Sleep first. Talk later.”

***

Being back in London is harder the second time around, if only because having to say goodbye to Louis is also harder the second time around. It had been — tougher on him, Harry thinks, than it had been on Louis. After all, Louis could just go back to life as he had always known it, a normal uni life with a normal uni routine. But without a tour and without a Louis to occupy his time, Harry thinks it’ll be more of a challenge for him. 

Right now, however, he’s back for several photo shoots with the boys. And whether it’s from having lived in each other’s pockets for such a long time or because he’s being incredibly transparent with his emotions, they try their best to distract him during down time in between shoots. It’s moments like these that make him really feel like the youngest of the group and, for once, he doesn’t mind. 

Liam comes up with the idea of taking Harry’s phone away from him, saving him the trouble of checking it every few minutes and wondering why Louis hadn’t called or, at the very least, texted. But it’s about fifteen minutes into the next shoot when Harry notices Zayn standing against the wall, grinning and typing away furiously on his phone. 

“What’s he doing?” Harry asks Niall in low tones. 

Niall turns to where Zayn is standing and shrugs. “Dunno. It’s none of mine.” 

Harry frowns and goes over to where Liam is grazing on carrots from a sparse vegetable tray. 

“Not fair,” he grumbles. “I don’t have my phone and Zayn is rubbing my face in it.” 

“He’s not rubbing your face in anything,” Liam replies calmly, taking another bite from his carrot stick. “Just because you can’t be trusted with your phone doesn’t mean the rest of us have to go without.” 

But Harry isn’t satisfied with that. “Oi, Zayn! Can’t your bird of the week wait? Entertain me or something.” 

Zayn doesn’t look up from his phone. “It’s not my bird of the week, you twat. It’s Perrie.” 

Harry frowns. “Perrie? Little Mix Perrie?”

“Yeah. We’ve been talking.”

It feels like something is out of place, but before Harry can ask anything else, Liam pulls a phone out of his pocket — Harry’s phone. 

“It’s ringing,” Liam says, squinting down at the screen. 

“Who is it?” Harry asks, trying his best to keep his voice as even as possible. 

Liam’s eyebrows furrow in concern and Harry already knows the answer before he says it. Instead, he just takes the phone from the Liam’s hand in resignation. 

“Hello?” 

“Harry,” Alan greets. “It’s your birthday tomorrow.” 

Harry blinks. How had he forgotten? Between the chaos of the tour and spending the weekend with Louis, it had slipped his mind completely. And it’s kind of a big deal, turning eighteen finally, and now here’s a relative stranger reminding him — no, telling him, that it’s his birthday tomorrow. 

In the end, all he can manage is an, “Oh. Right.” 

“So we have an arrangement for an appearance at a club tomorrow night, for you and the boys. A birthday party.” It sounds rueful almost, and Alan clears his throat on the other end. “There have been leaked photos — iPhone photos, mostly — of your weekend in Sheffield. With a boy.” There’s a pause, and Harry knows it’s intentional. 

“I was there to see my sister,” he says, his cheeks going warm. It’s not exactly a lie, anyway. 

“Yes, but.” Alan sighs, almost as if he doesn’t want to this conversation, but they both know that this is how it goes. “Those aren’t the pictures on the Internet, anyway. As such — ” 

“You need photos, I get it.” 

There’s a beat, and then, “Tomorrow then. I’ll be in touch with further details.” 

Harry nods, nevermind the fact that Alan can’t see him. When Alan hangs up without another word, the boys swarm around him, reaching out and finding whatever point of contact they can. 

“It’s not actually a big deal,” Harry murmurs, leaning into Zayn’s comforting touch on his neck. “I’m just being a prat. It’s a birthday party, not a prison sentence.” 

“‘S okay if it is a big deal though,” Niall reminds him, rubbing his arm reassuringly. 

Harry doesn’t say anything to that, and he doesn’t pay particular attention to the knowing glance that Liam and Zayn share out of the corner of his eye, either. It’s not like he was planning on seeing Louis tomorrow anyway — though it would’ve been a nice way to spend his birthday, now that he’s remembered it — and he’s not some lovelorn teenager needing constant attention. 

It’s just the inconvenience of it all, Harry tells himself. After all, it’d be nice if every night out weren’t simultaneously used as a photo opportunity. 

But he’s young and he’s famous, so he figures there’s not much to complain about. 

***

The photos don’t look too staged, thankfully. They’re grainy and taken from far away, and if it weren’t for Niall, Zayn, and Liam’s unmistakable figures walking ahead of him, they might not be of Harry at all — just some bloke with a girl on his arm. 

Or at least, that’s what he tells himself several days later on his drive back to Sheffield to see Louis. He’s probably seen the pictures already, and if their phone call last night (where Louis had kept his responses mostly quick and clipped) is anything to go by, then he definitely has. 

“Harry!” Aiden’s eyes widen in shock when he opens the door to their flat. “Lou didn’t say you were coming over.” 

In that moment, it’s kind of hard to remember that Aiden is technically Louis’ ex-boyfriend, especially when he’s being warmer and far more accommodating than anyone with an unexpected pop star on their front step has any right to be. Harry shifts awkwardly and his feet cobble inward. 

“Sorry,” he mumbles, rubbing his wrist with his other hand. “I thought he might’ve — is this okay?” 

“Yeah, yeah, definitely.” Aiden scrunches his nose when he smiles, stepping out of the way to let Harry in and shutting the door closed. “So, I guess I owe you a happy belated birthday.” 

Harry tries his best not to wince; if Aiden has seen the pictures, then Louis certainly has. 

“Thanks.” He chews on his bottom lip. “Erm, is — Louis?” 

Aiden nods. “He’s in his room. While you’re in there, could you remind him it’s his night to do dishes?” 

Harry chuckles. “Yeah, I’ll let him know.” 

“You’re a legend,” Aiden says with a wink before disappearing into his bedroom down the hall. 

Harry swallows on his way to Louis’ room. He has nothing to apologize for really; he hadn’t actually done anything, and even if he had, they’d never discussed whether or not that was something to be sorry for in the first place. Dating is always fun, fresh and exciting, but not exactly exclusive, either. 

Still, he figures it’s safest to knock one, two, three times on Louis’ door rather than coming in unannounced. 

“If you’re still on about the bloody dishes, I’ll get to them later!” comes Louis’ impatient voice from behind the door. 

Harry stifles a chuckle behind his hand and instead says, “Lou, it’s me. Harry.” 

There’s a pause wherein Louis doesn’t immediately tell him to come in, and for whatever reason, that makes Harry uneasy. It also makes one of his palms go sweaty.

But then, “Yeah, come in.”

Louis is sitting on his bed when Harry walks in, sitting against the headboard and surrounded by open textbooks and sheets of paper spread out with no real organization. As such, Harry doesn’t sit down next to him, but he hasn’t been invited to sit in the desk chair, either, so he stays standing. 

“Hi,” he says, rather lamely. 

“Hi,” Louis replies slowly, watching carefully from behind a pair of glasses that Harry’s never seen before, and he makes a mental note to compliment them when it’s appropriate to do so. “I didn’t hear you come in.” 

“Aiden let me in,” he explains, shrugging with one elbow. “I forgot to call to say that I was close, and so I just knocked on the door and he was there and — are you upset with me?” 

Louis blinks like he hadn’t expected Harry to cut to the chase straightaway. But Harry holds his stare and Louis sighs, taking off his glasses and rubbing the tiredness from his eyes. 

“No,” he says finally. “No, I’m — sit down, won’t you?” 

Harry does as he’s told and pushes Louis’ schoolwork aside to settle into the spot right next to him. Louis hasn’t pushed him away yet, so that’s a good sign. 

“I’m not,” Louis repeats, though it seems more for his own benefit than Harry’s. “It’s just — I dunno. Happy birthday, I guess.” 

But Harry shakes his head; he doesn’t want the greeting. 

“Lou, you have to understand that it’s all part of the job. It’s…one girl one night, and another girl the next. I’d actually forgotten it was my birthday until they called and told me to meet up with her. I don’t even remember her name, quite honestly.” 

“Maya, if the Express online is anything to go by,” Louis mumbles. “And what kind of twat doesn’t remember his own birthday?” 

Harry tries his best to keep a straight face, but the corner of his lips tilt upward anyway. “To be fair, you didn’t know it was my birthday, either.” 

“You didn’t tell me,” Louis says flatly.

He has the decency to look chastened. “Right. Sorry.” 

Louis groans and it sounds rough in his throat. “I don’t want you to feel sorry for anything, yeah? I’m not — I know that it’s all part of the job. It’s just something else to actually see it, you know? I know you don’t have a choice.” 

Harry wants to reach out and take hold of Louis, to draw him in however he can. But he doesn’t. 

“I don’t,” he concedes. 

“Right.” 

“But I do get to choose who I see away from all of that. So…here I am.” 

Louis thinks about that and it settles like a storm cloud across his face. This time, Harry can’t help but grab one of Louis’ hands and hold them between his own. He wants to offer reassurance, even though he’s not really sure what else he can offer right now. 

“To be fair…” Louis sighs again. His face is brighter, but there’s something else there, something that Harry can’t be too sure of. “I could have just gone onto Wikipedia to search for your birthday.” 

Harry has to bite on the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling. It almost seems too easy, like there’s a whole other part to this conversation that they need to have. But Louis is giving him a way out, and he’ll take it; things like this aren’t supposed to be hard, anyway. 

“That’s right,” he agrees. “You could have. How do you plan on making it up to me?” 

Louis gasps, putting on a face of mock horror. “Make it up to you?”

Harry grins and, in one fell swoop, shoves the rest of Louis’ books and papers off the mattress and into multiple heaps on the floor. But when he looks up, Louis is staring at him blankly, his blue eyes unreadable. 

“Oh. Shit,” Harry curses, shifting off the bed and wondering why he thought he could possibly ever be that smooth. “I thought — fuck, sorry — ” 

But Louis grabs him by the wrist and pulls him back down so that he’s sprawled haphazardly across Louis’ supine body. 

“You’re adorable when you get all guilty like that.” 

Between that and the stupid smirk on Louis’ face, it doesn’t take long for Harry to process. He narrows his eyes into slits that has Louis rumbling with laughter underneath him. 

“Oh — you — utter — prat — ” He digs one hand into Louis’ side and uses the other to draw their mouths together in a wheezing kiss. “I’m fucking adorable always.” 

***

The next month flies by quickly for Harry. 

He spends most of it in London, which wouldn’t have been a problem before, but he’s gotten used to seeing someone a few hours away (and it doesn’t help that Gemma demands to see him all the time now that he can find it in himself to visit the area more often). But he’s busy in a way he can appreciate, meaning he’s with the boys all the time, instead of with some flavor-of-the-week arm candy.

They’re between legs of the tour, so there shouldn’t actually be much to do. But with plans to record soon, he and the boys kick it into high gear, spending more time with Savan and the rest of the team to help shape the focus for the new album. They want to try their hand at heavier things and with different instruments, maybe more strings and some drums. Most afternoons end with Niall pulling out his guitar for a session of brainstorming and general lyric vetoing. 

And Harry doesn’t know how he’s forgotten, but now that they’re on break from concerts for the time being, it’s time for a quick album promotional tour in the US in preparation for the North American release of the CD next month. He texts Louis to let him know he’ll be gone for a little bit, and he’s almost disappointed when Louis replies with, ‘have fun. bring me something american x’

He doesn’t know what he was expecting from him anyway, so he reminds himself that it’s not a big deal.

Being in America is like getting a sample of the massive tour they’ll be headlining this summer, and it makes them all excited and a little sick to their stomachs at the same time. Things get better after stopping at a few malls and a few morning talk shows, because that’s when it hits them that people actually know and maybe even care who they are over here. It’s different back home, where it’s localized and it’s easier to convince themselves that all of this isn’t really happening. 

But then they drop their first single on Valentine’s Day and it’s a massive hit, quickly climbing the charts until it’s within the top ten just days after its release. They have to celebrate, but because they’re underage by American standards, they take to raiding the mini bar in their hotel room and no one asks questions. 

Harry even texts Louis in a slur of drunken excitement, and he doesn’t get a response until much later because of the time difference. But somehow, Louis telling him just how happy and proud he is…it grounds him and brings it back home and it’s just about the best feeling ever. 

By the time they have to return home a week and a half later, they’ve officially booked a spot on The Today Show and Saturday Night Live to coincide with their album’s North American release date. By then, it’s just another excuse to get drunk and celebrate — this time on an airplane flying high over the Atlantic. 

Once they’re back, they have the rest of the month to themselves and Harry doesn’t waste any time. He calls Louis only an hour before jumping into his Range Rover and driving up to Sheffield, where he brushes past an unfazed Stan and Aiden and a still-bemused Matt right into Louis’ room, where he tosses him a decidedly American US flag shirt before fucking into him so slowly and deeply that he can’t even see straight by the end of it. 

“You’re very handsy today,” Louis points out afterward. They’re still a little shaky, pressed close together in Louis’ bed with the duvet pulled up over them. 

Harry doesn’t look up from where he’s stroking absently over Louis’ collarbone. “I’ve missed — this.” 

Louis quirks a smile. “Yeah. I’ve missed sex, too.” 

Harry groans and pinches Louis’ nipple, causing him to yelp. 

“You’re the worst.” 

“Basically,” Louis agrees, and he’s still smiling at Harry but it’s softer this time. “You’re decent company, pop star.” 

“Only decent?” 

Louis thinks for a moment, his eyes sparkling unknowingly. “We’ll see how your album does overseas first.”

Harry swats at him, but Louis catches his hand first and draws it tightly against his chest. It makes Harry’s stomach flutter. 

“We’re on the US charts,” Harry reminds him. 

“True.” Louis pulls playfully on Harry’s fingers. “Does this mean I can call you superstar now?” 

Harry smirks. “I am rather super.” 

Louis drops Harry’s hand and rolls over onto his side, away from Harry. “Nevermind,” he says. “Nevermind. I take it all back.” 

Harry laughs and pastes himself along Louis’ back so that they’re aligned perfectly, bone for bone and bit for bit. He lays a soft, warm kiss on the his shoulder. 

“You can’t. It’s too late.”

Louis grumbles, but doesn’t actually say anything in protest. “Hey. How long are you thinking of staying for?” 

Harry kisses his neck this time. “Dunno. I’m free for the rest of the month.” 

“Is that a hint?” 

He shrugs and winds an arm around Louis’ waist. It’s still sunny outside, but he could actually do with some sleep right now. Maybe a nap or something. 

“I’ll stay for however long you’ll have me.” He pauses, then, “And however long management lets me.” 

Louis twists in Harry’s arms until they’re facing each other again. His blue eyes search through Harry’s green ones, and Harry can’t help but hold his breath. 

“You can stay…” Louis says carefully, taking in the slow smile stretching across Harry’s lips. “Only on the condition that you’ll cook for me. And bake. I hear you’re excellent with both.” 

Harry raises a brow. “You’ve been reading my interviews, have you?” 

“Specious claims,” Louis says quickly, pressing a finger to Harry’s lips. “What do you say?” 

Harry doesn’t have to think; he kisses Louis’ finger instead.

“Okay.” 

***

Harry doesn’t leave for a week and a half. He spends most of his time in Louis’ flat, leaving only to meet up with Gemma or to roam the campus during Louis’ class times. He’s even mastered the art of blending in with the rest of the student body, saving him from ever getting recognized. 

It’s a taste of a different kind of life and Harry loves it. 

He walks down to the local grocery almost every day, whether to grab a quick three-pound meal or to grab ingredients for the dinner he’s planned on making for Louis and his flatmates. By the first dinner he’s made (spaghetti Bolognese), he’s completely won them over with his cooking expertise.

“You can never leave,” Stan declares one evening with red sauce still dribbling out of the corner of his mouth. “Sorry, mate, but you’re ours now.” 

Harry laughs from where he’s sitting pressed up against Louis on the couch, both of them balancing bowls of pasta on their knees. 

“No, seriously,” Aiden agrees. Matt nods next to him, not really saying anything since he doesn’t actually live in the flat. “Lou, this one’s for keeps.” 

Harry ducks his head down to hide the uncontrollable grin on his face. Louis just throws an arm around his shoulders and Harry can hear the smile in his voice when he speaks. 

“He can bake, too, y’know.” 

Stan and Aiden gasp and sputter on and on about needing proof and ‘why have we never known this’ and ‘can you make us brownies, please, please’ and Harry has to hide his pleased smile into Louis’ neck. 

But if there’s one thing that bothers Harry even slightly, it’s Louis and his increasingly frequent visits to Greg’s radio show to the point where he’s almost become a regular by now. 

Harry knows that Louis has mentioned it in passing, maybe once or twice when they were texting and emailing earlier in the month, but it’s something else to actually hear Louis talk about Greg and the show so often. It’s not like Harry’s jealous or anything (not that he would have any reason to be jealous, in the first place), and he can’t exactly begrudge Louis for getting everything he’s ever wanted out of uni. After all, if Harry can have an excellent month, then he figures Louis can do the same. 

And as the month winds down to a close, Harry figures it’s nothing to worry himself over. So long as he can spend every night getting fucked by Louis and eating cookies in bed with him, then it’s okay. 

***

“Don’t let me leave.” 

Louis laughs, leaning up against the doorjamb and watching Harry toss his stick of deodorant into his rucksack. Harry should’ve been on the road an hour ago, but they’d gotten distracted (Louis’ legs still feel like pins and needles, like they’ve fallen asleep and won’t wake up). 

Harry frowns with the reaction he gets. “Seriously. I don’t want to go.” 

This time, Louis scoffs and kicks over a rolled up bundle of socks he’s forgotten to pack. “You have to go, Hazza. You’re a superstar, remember? Superstars make songs.” 

Harry rolls his eyes, tucks the socks away and pulls himself up from the floor. “I’ve gotten used to being here.” 

Louis nods solemnly. “So have Stan and Aiden. But between you and me, I think it’s best you leave. They’ve developed somewhat of a gut, you see.” 

Harry snorts and walks over to Louis, resting his forehead against his shoulder. Louis instinctively runs a hand along Harry’s back, feeling out the bumps of his spine and the dimples just above his waist. 

“I — I’d invite you if I could,” Harry murmurs, glad he can’t meet Louis’ eyes right now. “To the studio, I mean.” 

“Mmm.” Louis rubs his side consolingly. “Sad that it’s all the way in Stockholm.” 

“That’s why I can’t.”

“I know. ‘M afraid my Swedish isn’t up to snuff, either.” 

Harry shuts his eyes and breathes Louis in. It’s only for two weeks (one for recording, another for a new round of US promotions), which doesn’t really compare to other stretches of time they’ve spent apart, but things feel different now — different in a way that Harry can’t really comprehend, much less label. 

Then again, he doesn’t know if there’s anything to label in the first place. 

Louis isn’t an open book, not quite the way that Harry is. The boys tell him all the time that he’s so easy to read, that he’s handily the worst liar they’ve ever met. And so Louis knows — he has to know — just how difficult this is for Harry, how difficult it is to have gotten so accustomed to being in Louis’ life only to suddenly have to leave again. And the worst part is that it all seems okay for Louis, and he’s so confident that it’ll stay okay. 

But at the same time, Harry doesn’t want to push anything and doesn’t want to ask more from Louis than what he’s prepared to give. He understands that this is a lot for Louis, having Harry and his lifestyle around all the time. And if keeping quiet and keeping mostly unaware of the thoughts in Louis’ head is the price to pay for keeping things as perfect as they’ve been, then he’s willing to pay it. 

For now, it’s enough. 

“You’re going to go.” And the way Louis says it, it isn’t a question. It’s more like reassurance — reassurance that he somehow understands Harry needs. 

Harry sighs, resigned. “Yeah. I know.” 

This time, Louis lifts Harry’s chin with two, delicate fingers. Harry blinks to find Louis’ eyes staring clearly into his own. 

“Hey,” Louis whispers softly. “It’ll be fine, y’know? We’ll be fine and all. We’ll text and email and all of that. It’s nothing we haven’t done before.” 

Harry swallows, only capable of nodding. 

“Now go on,” Louis insists, kissing him once on the cheek. “Before Liam texts me again and has a coronary.” 

“Liam has your number?” 

Louis chuckles. “I’m friends with your friends, too. This goes both ways.” 

Somehow, that makes Harry feel better, and the knot he wasn’t even aware of in his chest untangles just a little bit. 

“Okay,” Harry says, standing straight and squaring his shoulders. “Now, kiss me properly and I’ll leave. Promise.”

Louis winks and grins. “Happy to oblige.”

***

As it turns out, texting and emailing is nearly impossible while they’re apart. 

During that first week in Stockholm, recording goes incredibly. It’s just amazing to be back in the studio with the rest of them, almost like they’re picking up right where they left off. Except this time, they’re a little more experienced, a little more confident, and somehow even more in love with what they’re doing. All of that translates into material for an album that they’re even prouder of this time around; it sounds and it feels more like them. 

They’re in the studio every morning for long sessions broken up with small breaks in between. Harry tries taking advantage of his downtime by trying to get into contact with Louis, but it just isn’t working. Louis has a group project due Friday evening that’s taking up most of his time, and when he’s not at the library meeting with the other students in his group, he’s in the studio with Greg. And Harry ignores it as best as he can. 

When they do find time to talk, it’s usually for a quick exchange lasting around five minutes: a ‘hello’ with a requisite ‘how’re you doing’ often followed by a rushed ‘have to go x’ or a ‘international rates are going to kill me — we’ll talk later.’ 

It’s not ideal. 

Somehow, Zayn catches onto all of this on his way back from a quick smoke break. 

“Y’alright, mate?” 

Harry shrugs, drinking from his water bottle and wishing desperately that it were coffee instead. 

“Mostly, yeah.” 

Zayn sits down beside Harry on the bench right outside the recording booth. He smells of tobacco and fabric conditioner. 

“Is it Louis?”

He sighs. “It’s just hard. We’re not like — I dunno, together or anything, but still. Talking to him is nice and it’s…yeah, it’s hard.” 

Zayn nods knowingly, hooking his ankles together. “Same. For me and Perrie, I mean.” 

Harry looks up at Zayn and for the first time, recognizes the same frustration there that he’s felt the last couple of days. It clicks. 

“You and Perrie?”

Zayn nods again. “We’re not — together, but, well, I think we might be, actually. A little.”

“A little?” Harry refrains from laughing; this feels like a moment, anyway. 

“Well, we are, I guess,” Zayn concedes, and he rolls his eyes when Harry can’t help chuckling at him. “We’re taking it slow, mostly. But I miss her. I miss…talking to her, even though that’s lame of me because, what, it’s only been three days? Four? Pathetic.” 

Harry pauses, taking a moment to absorb all of this before speaking. Zayn’s situation is different from his and yet — Harry understands him all too well. 

“So, you’re like…in a proper relationship, then?” 

Zayn tilts his head from side to side, considering it. “Yeah…I suppose. Yes.” 

Harry grins, laughing a little disbelievingly. He wraps an arm around Zayn’s shoulders and draws him in. “Didn’t think I’d see the day.” 

Zayn scoffs but he leans into Harry’s embrace all the same. 

“Dunno, mate. Guess you eventually meet a person that helps it all make sense.” 

But he’s smiling as he says it, almost like he’s shared a secret and he’s so sure of himself. Unable to say anything in response, Harry pulls a sip from his water bottle, and thinks. 

***

It’s even harder in America, with their schedules switched and Harry spending nearly every waking hour flitting from one promotional event to the next while Louis, finally, has some time off. It’s taxing and it starts taking a toll on him. 

The boys even notice. They don’t say anything, of course, but Harry can tell how grumpy he’s been getting as of late, and the impatience is pretty much evident all across their faces. He feels bad and he wants to apologize, but he’s frustrated — with the situation, with his attitude, and with the fact that he can’t seem to go this long without speaking to Louis in any sort of capacity. 

Barely half a year ago, he didn’t even know Louis, and it makes him hollow to think about. 

It all comes to a head in the middle of their week in America, only days away from their make-or-break performance on Saturday Night Live. They’d done decently on the Today show and their team seems positive about the effect their appearances will have on album sales, but everyone is still so bloody nervous and Harry needs to take the edge off once and for all. 

They have a free afternoon and they’re all just lounging about the hotel, so he rings Louis, not really thinking about how astronomical the cost might be from his mobile. It’ll be fine, he thinks. Modest! can deal. 

The line rings four times before Louis answers and Harry can breathe a sigh of relief. 

“Hello?” 

“Lou.” His chest already feels lighter. 

“Harry? What’s going on? Isn’t it, like, day there, or something? Don’t you have things to do?” 

Harry shakes his head, not caring that Louis can’t see. “No. I’m — we’re off for the day.” 

“Don’t you have things to see, like the whole proper tourist bit and all?” 

He laughs, not really sure if there’s anything to laugh at in the first place; it’s just so nice to hear Louis’ voice again, is all. 

“Are you trying to get rid of me?” 

There’s a pause and if Harry listens carefully enough, he can hear Louis’ mouth turn up into a smile. 

“No,” he decides. “I don’t think I am.” 

“Good,” Harry says, sliding down the headboard and resting his head on a pillow. “I’ll have time to be a proper tourist, anyway. Got the tour ahead of us, after all.” 

“Right. That’s coming up, isn’t it?” 

“It’s still a while away.” He frowns. 

“Australia and New Zealand first, innit?” 

Harry sighs. “I don’t want to think about that. I just — what’re you wearing?” 

Louis laughs and it’s like vindication for him somehow. “Harry Styles, king of the non sequiturs.” 

He shrugs. “It’s important. Vital to my health and all of that.” 

“I’m sure,” Louis says with the slightest hint of a tease. “If you must know…I’m wearing a ratty jumper and pyjama bottoms. Devastatingly sexy, if I say so myself. Hobo chic, some might call it.” 

Harry snorts, his chest rumbling with silent laughter. “You’re — absolutely ridiculous. Mental.” 

“Yeah, yeah.” He can hear Louis rustling around; he must be in bed, too. “And what’re you wearing, superstar? Can’t imagine that you’re freezing off your arse in sunny and wonderful New York.” 

“Just a pair of shorts. It’s rather warm for March.”

Louis snorts. “Meanwhile, I’m bundled up and looking like an Eskimo.” 

“A sexy Eskimo,” Harry corrects. He bites down on his lip because — he doesn’t know that he can do this, but. He’s willing to try, and he doesn’t think Louis will hate him too much if things go wrong. “I’d — like to take your clothes off for you, if I could.” 

There’s a pause on the other line, one that makes Harry’s heart race in his ears. He doesn’t even know if he’ll be able to hear anything Louis says when there’s the sound of quiet, disbelieving laughter. 

“What?” Harry asks, suddenly defensive. 

“Oh my god.” Louis is laughing in earnest now. “Are we really doing this?” 

Harry knits his brows together in frustration. “Well, I was. If you don’t want to — ” 

“No, no,” Louis clips. “I want to, don’t get me wrong. It’s just — Christ, you need to work on your sexy talk, Styles. ‘I’d like to take your clothes off for you, if I could.’ What’s next, speaking in RP?” 

Harry groans. “Then let me practice, won’t you?” 

“Okay, okay,” Louis says, laughter finally dying down. “I’m just. Wouldn’t have taken you for a phone sex kind of man, that’s all.” 

Harry smirks, emboldened. “Would it change your mind if I told you that I just really, really want to get on my knees for you? Take the whole of you into my mouth.” 

If Louis was laughing before, he’s certainly not laughing now. In fact, Harry feels quite pleased with himself to hear only a rattle of breath on the other line. Good.

“Y-Yeah, actually. That’d change my mind quite a bit. What else?”

Harry sighs, shifting around for a more comfortable position on the bed. He peels his shorts off for good measure, although he’s still constrained by the Topman boxers he’s left on.

“I’d want you to fuck my mouth,” he whispers fiercely. “Fuck my mouth so hard that I couldn’t even sing the next day. Get my voice all hoarse the way I know you love.”

Louis moans on the other end and Harry can definitely hear him stroking himself off. He wriggles out of his boxers soon enough and follows suit. He gasps into his mobile, relief so sweet at last.

“I do — I love it so much,” Louis admits, sounding wrecked.

“What…what d’you wanna do next?” Harry slows down, not wanting to end this when they’ve only just begun. “I’m all yours, Lou. All yours always.” 

It’s too earnest a confession to make right now, and Harry knows it, but Louis either doesn’t hear or he chooses to ignore it; it’s probably best that way. 

“I’d wanna come down your throat,” Louis says without pause. “I’d make you swallow and…and I’d get hard again so I could fuck you. Fuck you so that you couldn’t walk either.” 

Harry’s eyes roll into the back of his skull, the mere imagery of it nearly too much for him to handle. He misses Louis, misses his hands digging into his hips and his lips against his ear and his breath against his skin. 

“Yeah…?” 

“You’d be so good at it…you’re always so good at it. I just wanna make you feel good, Haz, wanna make you come — ” 

And it’s over before Harry even knows it. He nearly shouts when he comes hard, splashing against his collarbone and some on his neck. He trembles through the aftershocks, and it isn’t long before he hears Louis riding his own orgasm on the other end, whispering sweet nonsense that Harry wants nothing more than to memorize and file away forever. 

They both lay there, sweaty in bed, breathing heavily with mobiles pressed against their ears. It isn’t until five — or maybe even more — minutes later that one of them can even manage to speak. 

“I’ve never done that before,” Harry admits weakly. 

“Me either,” Louis says shakily. “I’m a fan.” 

Harry smiles. “Me, too. Maybe now the boys can stand to be in the same room as me.” 

“Poor Hazza, taking his sexual frustration out on the band.” 

Harry pouts even though his chest is warm and tight. “Thankfully, I’ve got you for that.” 

Louis laughs. “Isn’t that right.” He yawns, spurring Harry into an exhausted one of his own. “Well, now that I’m properly knackered…I might head to bed. Early morning and all.” 

“Yeah,” Harry agrees absently. 

“Thanks for calling, Haz.” Louis’ voice is soft and genuine and Harry doesn’t know what to do with it. “I’ll see you soon.” 

“And I’ll talk to you even sooner,” Harry promises. 

“It’s a date.” 

***

They’re a hit on Saturday Night Live, with online video play counts astronomical and their names a trending topic on Twitter for hours after the performance. And as if things couldn’t get any better, their album debuts at #1 in the US — the first time ever for a British band’s debut album. They don’t really have time to celebrate in America, but on the first night they’re back home, Harry blacks out completely. 

By the time Zayn kicks him awake the next day, it’s mid-afternoon and he’s on his back with no recollection of how he could have made it from the club to Zayn’s bathroom floor. He spends the next hour or two dry heaving and nibbling on cream crackers before he remembers to call Louis. He can vaguely recall wishing Louis were at his side last night. And even if he’d only made it up…well, he still wants Louis at his side, anyway. 

“You can’t go a day without calling him,” Zayn points out, not taking his eyes off the television. 

“Yeah, and where’s Perrie?” Harry asks, sticking his tongue out. 

“Went back to hers,” he points out calmly. “Needed the loo after you’d fallen asleep in mine.” 

Harry has the decency to look embarrassed, and so he stands up while clutching his phone to his chest like a lifeline. 

“Right. Well…I’ll just take this into the kitchen, then.” 

“Mm-hmm,” Zayn muses, smirking. 

“Tosser,” Harry grumbles, padding off into the kitchen and disregarding the way his head seems to pound in tandem with his footsteps. 

He dials immediately and very pointedly ignores the fact that he has Louis’ number memorized. It doesn’t mean anything (not that he can remember Liam’s number for the life of him). 

“Back in the UK, are we?” Louis’ voice is light and playful and it makes Harry feel warm inside. 

“Miss me?” he tries, winding a finger through one of his curls. 

“I’ve managed,” Louis dismisses. “How hungover are you right now?”

Harry smiles; Louis is good at that, good at reading him. Either that, or he’s just good at reading this week’s sales report. 

“Very,” he answers honestly, and Louis hums in sympathy. 

“You’d hate me if I started clattering pots and pans right now, wouldn’t you?” 

“Yes. Hate you. Loads.” 

“I’ll refrain then,” Louis says with a chuckle. “So, what’s up? Or do you plan on regaling me with tales of your drunken adventures?” 

Harry laughs dryly. “I would if I could. I don’t remember any of it, honestly. Woke up in Zayn’s bathroom.”

Louis tsks. “For an international pop star, you have the alcohol tolerance level of a squirrel.” 

Harry furrows his brow. “Do squirrels have particularly high tolerance levels?” 

“Have you never seen the YouTube video?” 

“No,” Harry replies, shaking his head. “But — hey, I have a question.” 

“Ask away, Hazza.” 

“Are you — what’re you doing this weekend?” 

“Dunno. Why, were you planning on coming up again?” 

“No, actually.” Harry bites the edge of his thumb. “I was wondering…if maybe you’d want to come down to London, maybe? Stay with — stay at my flat, basically. With, erm, me. Yeah.” 

There’s a pause wherein Harry can only hear Louis’ intake of breath and he can’t tell if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. They’ve never discussed this before, but Harry’s been over at Louis’ so often, he figures the least he can do is extend the invite. But still, it seemed like a better idea last night when he had multiple shots guiding him to courage. 

“I mean — ” 

“Yeah, okay,” Louis says easily. “I have a paper due Friday at noon, but I could head down after that if you want. M’car’s in the shop right now, though, so I’ll have to take a train, if you don’t mind picking me up. Or, actually, you can just tell me how to get — ” 

“No, I’ll pick you up,” Harry clips eagerly. “I’ll — just tell me which station to meet you at and I’ll be there.” 

“Wouldn’t that be bad, though? Being seen with me, I mean.”

“Shit.” Harry hadn’t thought of that, and he can practically hear Alan telling him which dates to go on next. “I should have — shit.” 

“Hey, listen.” Louis’ voice is level and consoling. “Tell me how to get there instead. You don’t have to get me, seriously. I can find my way well enough on my own. No one’s going to want my ugly mug on the cover of The Sun anyway.”

“It’s not ugly,” Harry pouts. It’s all he can say, since he feels so useless right now. 

Louis chuckles. “Well, thanks. We’ll figure it out. Friday, yeah?” 

Harry breathes in, breathes out through his nose. He closes his eyes. “Friday. Thanks for…yeah.” 

“Any time,” Louis says brightly. “Thanks for inviting me.” 

And before he can say anything else, the line goes head. 

***

Harry feels like shit for the rest of the week, if only because he can’t think of a situation in which going out with Louis this weekend would seem okay. He had been so happy, so excited when the idea first popped into his head. And now, he feels absolutely horrible when he realizes he’ll have no choice other than to hide him at his flat. 

“Shut up,” Niall finally says the day before Louis gets in. They’re all at Harry’s flat, hanging out over a few beers because they can’t seem to spend more than a few days apart — even after spending an entire tour together. 

Harry looks up from his phone, confused. “I…didn’t say anything.” 

“Yeah, but you’re being obvious,” Niall says knowingly, and Zayn and Liam nod from where they’re sitting on the opposite sofa. “You’re thinking of ways to cancel your weekend with Louis. You look like you’re about to hurt yourself, honestly.” 

Harry frowns. “I have to. It’s not fair to him.” 

“No,” Liam adds. “Cancelling wouldn’t be fair to him. Besides, did you really think we wouldn’t help you out?” 

He blinks. “What?” 

“We can all hang out one day,” Zayn explains, shaking his head like he can’t believe Harry is that dense. “We can show him around the studio and maybe even go out at night, if you want. If he wants. That way, no one can say anything if we’re all together.” 

“Really? You wouldn’t mind?” 

No,” Zayn replies, and this time, it’s with an obvious undercurrent of ‘you’re being stupid.’ “We like Louis.” 

“We do,” Liam and Niall agree in unison. 

It sounds something like approval and support all in one, and Harry feels the swell of appreciation for these boys — his boys — growing in his chest. He can’t help from grinning. 

“You’re all the best,” he says earnestly. “Seriously.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Niall says, returning his attention to the bowl of popcorn in his lap. “But if you run out of condoms or anything like that, you’re shit out of luck, mate.” 

***

Louis, as it turns out, comes prepared. So they don’t have to worry about any embarrassing trips to the nearest Superdrug — thankfully. 

“How are you so bendy?” Louis asks breathlessly, rolling off of Harry. He’d barely made it through the front door before Harry pounced on him. Now they’re lying naked and sprawled across the living room rug, too busy and too impatient to have made it any further into one of the bedrooms. 

Harry wipes the thin sheet of sweat off his forehead. “Dunno. ‘S a bit strange, really. Been that way since I was a kid.”

“I’m not complaining,” Louis assures him, and they both start laughing. It’s ridiculous and really, really nice. 

“The train was all right, though?” Harry asks in between laughs. They didn’t really have time to discuss anything in the last hour, least of all Louis’ trip there. 

Louis nods. “Got the window seat and everything. I should take the train more often.” 

“Yeah, you should,” Harry says, voice soft. “Sorry for not being able to get you. I wish I could’ve — ” 

“Hey,” Louis says sharply. But he must see the mild shock in Harry’s face and rolls over, kissing his shoulder and then the corner of his eye. “I told you, it’s not a big deal. I get it.” 

“But — ”

I get it.” 

Every time he wants to apologize for roping Louis into all of this and for making everything so much more complicated than it needs to be, Louis won’t hear it. He refuses to talk about it, refuses to acknowledge it. And though it should come as some sort of comfort that he gets it, that he understands and doesn’t begrudge Harry for any of it, Harry can’t help but feel like they’re missing something here. Like there’s something they need to discuss or define or settle. 

Harry sighs; at any rate, that’s not happening tonight. 

“Okay,” he says simply.

Louis looks at him appraisingly, but if he has something to say, he doesn’t. Instead, he shifts up onto one of his elbows and glances around the living room. 

“Now that I can really look around, I have to say: your place is nice, Hazza.” 

“Anything is better than your tiny hole of a flat.” 

Louis glares at him. “Bendy, yes. Modest? No.” 

Harry barks out in laughter and, can’t help it, reaches out to draw Louis in by the neck for a slow, gentle kiss. Louis fusses against his lips for a moment but eventually melts into it. 

When they pull apart, Harry winks. “All I’m saying is that you should come over here more often. There’s space.” 

Louis is still looking at him through narrowed eyes, but he shrugs. “Maybe. What’re we doing for the rest of the day?” 

Harry sits up, suddenly cold from his lack of clothing; he reminds himself to turn on the heat. 

“I was thinking…pizza and movies?” He kicks the giant box of condoms beside Louis’ leg. “And probably go through a few of those. If we’re lucky, you’ll still have enough to last you the decade.” 

Louis snorts and shakes his head. “I wasn’t sure if you’d have stuff.” 

But Harry laughs again and leans forward, kissing Louis’ lips once more. It’s hard not to, he realizes. If given the chance to do so, he’d take it each time. 

“Let’s have a shower,” he says, standing and reaching out to pull Louis up. “And after, what do you say to sausage pizza and The Inbetweeners?” 

Louis grabs Harry’s hand and stretches his back, bones cracking in the best way. 

“Make it pepperoni and we’ve got a deal.” 

***

Saturday comes around and Louis falls in all too easily again with the rest of the boys and somehow, Harry can breathe easier. If he can’t be alone with Louis in public, then at least he can have him with the people that matter most. 

They go out for lunch at a little café just down the road from the studio. Photographers — less than they’re used to but enough for Harry to wonder if Louis might feel overwhelmed — swarm the area outside along with several fans looking to snap pictures of their own through the window and into the dim interior. They laugh and keep to themselves in a booth in the corner, and all of them order some fruit smoothie except for Louis, who would rather stick with tea. 

Harry orders a southwest chicken wrap while Louis orders a cranberry and brie panini — and they discreetly trade halfway through. 

They arrive at the studio an hour later, after signing some autographs and after Louis’ lips have turned a pale orange from Harry’s leftover mango smoothie. A few people ask about Louis, but Liam is quick to call him a ‘close mate.’ And once they’re inside, Harry doesn’t hesitate: he winds an arm around Louis’ waist and pulls him close, breathing him in and very pointedly ignoring the smirk that Zayn is throwing his way. 

Louis looks surprised, but he just smiles at Harry and doesn’t say anything. 

There’s not much to show around the studio, Harry realizes. It’s probably more fun and intriguing on the other end of it, getting to use the equipment and all of that. But Louis remains wide-eyed and rather enthralled with everything around him, like he couldn’t have ever fathomed walking into one. Harry keeps his distance, if only to downplay the fond grin threatening his features. 

“This is cool,” Louis decides eventually, sitting on one of the plush seats right between Harry and Zayn. “Like, this is amazing. Seriously, if you ever need a fifth member…” He waggles his eyebrows in a way that makes all the boys laugh. 

“D’you sing?” Liam asks, curious. “I mean, do you like to?” 

Harry listens carefully; he’s never asked him before. 

“In passing,” Louis tells them casually. “More when I was younger. Some friends told me to try out for X Factor once — the year that you lot were on, actually.” 

No one says anything right away. Louis just sits there, tapping his feet to some nonexistent tune, and it’s like someone has turned a light on to everything else that Harry couldn’t possibly know about him. The fact that they could have been there together, could have met there instead of at Leeds… 

Zayn breaks the silence first. “Why didn’t you?” 

Louis shrugs. “My mum — things weren’t going so well back home. Couldn’t leave her and my sisters like that.” 

“Even to audition?” Niall asks. 

“Nah,” Louis says, shaking his head. He smiles, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “Knowing my luck, I would’ve ended up with you sorry lot and I’d’ve been away from home much longer.” 

Even though they’re already sitting pressed together, Harry wants to reach out and hold Louis, or something. They show affection with each other — kisses on the cheek in passing, playful ass grabbing just to be cheeky — but Harry doesn’t know where they stand with something like that: touching just to touch, holding just to comfort. For all Harry knows, Louis doesn’t want it, doesn’t need the comfort. 

Harry can’t say the same for himself, sometimes. 

“Right.” Louis interrupts the second silence in a minute. He stands up and walks over to a guitar propped against the wall, picking it up without asking. “I think you should sing one of your songs for me. It’s the least you can do for dragging me along on this uneventful tour, honestly.” 

Niall is more than ready, grabbing the guitar from Louis and patting the seat beside him invitingly. Louis settles next to him and winks at Harry from across their small semi-circle. 

They sing a new song — one they haven’t finished recording yet — and if Harry listens hard enough, he thinks he can hear Louis harmonizing softly. 

***

Nick texts them — well, Harry, specifically — and before any of them realize what’s happening, they’re meeting him at a club for some drinks. 

“Nick?” Louis whispers to Harry in the car. “Isn’t he…he’s the one who didn’t like me, right?” 

Harry swallows; at their last encounter, Louis very purposefully kissed Harry in front of Nick at Leeds. They hadn’t exchanged any actual words, but that had been enough to settle Nick’s opinion of him. 

“Erm,” Harry hedges. “He warms up easily to people. Trust me.” 

Louis snorts, not entirely convinced. “If you say so.” 

Harry hums and drapes a large hand over Louis’ thigh. “I like you,” he says with a filthy smirk. 

“None of that,” Liam interrupts sternly, his eyebrows seemingly working on overtime. “The windows aren’t tinted all the way and — just remember there’ll be cameras when we get out.” 

Harry sobers up and nods sullenly, and Louis raises a brow but keeps any questions to himself; he seems to understand.

It’s as much of a frenzy as it ever is when they get out of the car, and it’s just as frantic indoors but for entirely different reasons. The music is loud, the bass hammering in his bones. And even though no one is really paying them any attention, bodies are still crashing into one another and Harry has to remind himself to keep from putting his hand protectively on Louis’ lower back the way he’d like to. Instead, he watches as Niall enlists Louis’ help with getting drinks, leaving him to find Nick’s booth with the other boys. 

Later — much later, if Harry’s empty glasses are anything to go by — Niall is out on the dance floor with a few of Nick’s girl friends while Liam and Zayn look on almost wistfully from the bar; Harry knows they’d rather be with their girlfriends right now, and so he’s more than thankful that they’re here with him, allowing him to spend time with Louis in public. 

But Harry’s attention, hazy and blurry though it may be, is focused entirely on Louis and his loud and bright voice, which seems to have only grown louder and brighter with alcohol in his system. He’s chatting to Nick about how he’s gotten into radio at uni, and Harry has to stifle his laugh into Louis’ shoulder because he can see just how bored and unimpressed Nick is acting. 

If he were of clearer presence, he’d pull Nick aside and remind him to play nice. But — Louis’ hair and smell and laugh and everything are making it so difficult for him right now. 

When Nick stands up to join the dance floor with another of his friends (he has a lot of those, Harry notes), Louis smiles at him with all of his teeth. 

“I think he likes me,” he says rather proudly. 

But Harry can only laugh in his face, his entire body buzzing with energy. “‘Fraid not, mate. He hates you. Sorry.” 

Louis stares, almost as if this is an outcome he hadn’t considered. But he just swallows the remainder of his drink, electric blue and sweet-looking and definitely more than halfway full, and grins again. 

“Well, I don’t care.” 

Harry’s cheeks are warm and his feet are fidgety and his hands are a little bit disgustingly sweaty, but he wants nothing more than to kiss Louis right now, just to see what he’ll do and to see if his drink tastes as sweet as it seemed. So he looks around in every direction, figures it’s dark enough anyway, and leans in to catch Louis’ lips in his. 

It’s quick and chaste, but it has Harry’s mind reeling from the riskiness of it all. Louis blinks at him and Harry groans in frustration. 

“What?” Louis asks, surprised. 

“It’s — nothing,” Harry insists. “Just…god, your face.” 

He catches Louis off-guard with that one and draws a loud, unexpected laugh out of him. There’s something like sympathy and disbelief and…maybe affection in the way that Louis looks at him then. 

“You’re a silly drunk,” he decides. 

Harry frowns. “And you’re not nearly drunk enough.” 

“No, I’m not,” Louis agrees. He looks to the dance floor behind him and looks back at Harry. “Wanna dance?” 

“Erm. I — we probably shouldn’t.” It’s one thing to kiss for half a second, but another thing entirely to dance together, to put his body in a position of temptation it might not be able to resist. “People might — yeah, probably not. Sorry.” 

Louis tilts his head to the side and Harry feels a little bare being looked at like that. He watches as Louis’ expression transforms from thoughtfulness to uncertainty to… 

But then Louis is in his space, breathing hot air against his cheek before his lips ghost against the shell of his ear and he’s shivering even though it’s sweltering in here. 

“Wanna go to the toilet?” There it is. Harry can hear it, the hunger

And it’s so incredibly cliché and it might also just be the alcohol, but his throat goes dry and his vision goes a little blurry at the proposition. Because that’s definitely what this is — there’s no way he’s misconstruing Louis’ words, Louis’ tone, Louis’ intention. 

Before he can really answer any other way, he breathes out a shaky ‘yes’ and suddenly, they’re tearing through the crowd none too inconspicuously before crashing into the bathroom and into one of the stalls in the back. 

Harry doesn’t think he saw anyone out there, though he could be wrong. But it’s the furthest thing from his mind when Louis drops to his knees without warning and digs his fingers behind his waistband. 

“I’ve — never done this,” Louis croaks, already palming Harry roughly through his underwear. “In public, I mean.” Harry hisses. 

“Okay,” he says lamely, not really in response to anything and Louis laughs, puffing hot air against the cotton. He’s done this before, only once, but he’d been nervous and young and it pretty much ended before it even began. 

The first two still hold true here and though he hopes the third won’t be a problem this time around, he already feels more than wrecked just staring at Louis and his glassy eyes and pink cheeks and wet lips. His cock twitches under Louis’ palm. 

“Can’t believe I’m about to do this,” Louis mutters softly as he tugs down on Harry’s underwear, exposing him. 

“You’re amazing,” Harry says without thinking, throwing his head back and crashing it almost painfully against the stall. 

Louis hums. “Then I should do this for Nick. Maybe he’ll like me then.” 

It’s a joke, sure, but something red, hot and spiky flares in Harry’s stomach all the same. “Shut the fuck up and just get started already,” he growls. 

When he peeks at Louis from behind one of his eyelids, he sees him staring back, looking mildly impressed and thoroughly amused. 

He smirks. “As you wish, superstar.” 

And Harry swears he can see stars, too. 

***

They wake up late Sunday morning. It feels like something big and heavy has taken permanent residence in Harry’s head, and judging from the way Louis rumble-groans into his neck with every little movement, he’s not alone. When they finally roll out of bed to share a lazy albeit pleasant shower (Harry makes a mental note to get a padded mat for his knees next time), the world is already alive and moving outside. 

He fries up a very late breakfast as Louis prepares the tea to take with their paracetamol. Harry’s in a worse state than Louis, having had more to drink the night before, but he already feels better as they fall into easy conversation. They flirt shamelessly, and when Louis tangles their ankles together under the table, Harry has to look down into his plate of eggs to keep from smiling so hard. 

They curl up together on the couch to watch the new Muppets movie, and Louis doesn’t seem to mind when Harry dozes off into his neck midway through. 

When Louis finally has to leave late afternoon, Harry doesn’t hesitate in wrapping himself tightly around Louis, all octopus limbs and needy whispers. He’d be more embarrassed if he actually gave it any thought. 

“No,” he pouts childishly. “No.” 

Louis laughs and Harry’s front shakes with it. “Hazza, you can’t keep me here to be your sex slave.” And when Harry opens his mouth to protest, he adds, “You can’t. And I won’t.” 

Harry harrumphs and finally lets go of Louis, but not before leaving one, two, three light kisses along the back of his neck, where gooseflesh pop up from the attention. 

Harry harrumphs and finally lets go of Louis, but not before leaving one, two, three light kisses along the back of his neck, where gooseflesh pop up from the attention. 

“I’m taking this though,” he says, tugging at the hem of Louis’ white cable knit jumper until he has no choice but to take it off. 

Louis raises a brow, but he hands the jumper over willingly. 

“I need one while I’m there,” Harry explains easily. “Consider it collateral.”

“That doesn’t make sense, but all right,” Louis says, rolling his eyes but looking amused anyway.  

“Okay, but really, when am I going to see you again?”

Louis thinks for a moment, mentally working through his schedule. “I…don’t know? I have exams coming up. Not to mention that I’ll be spending even more time in the studio now.” 

“Even more?” 

Louis nods shyly. “Greg texted me earlier. He wants be to be his official co-host starting next week, and I said yes.” 

“Oh,” Harry says, pushing out every other conflicting emotion in his mind. This is good news, especially if the soft smile on Louis’ face is anything to go by. “That’s — brilliant! Shit, congratulations.” 

Louis shrugs but allows himself to be pulled into Harry’s crushing embrace all the same. When they part, Harry pats his cheek clumsily. 

“Official co-host Louis Tomlinson. I like the sound of that,” he says, beaming. “You’ll be too busy for me now, won’t you?” 

Louis scoffs and shoves Harry’s shoulder. “Please. You’ll be busy yourself, what with your stupid boy band album and your stupid boy band tour and your stupid boy band Australia. You won’t even have time to miss the sex.” 

“Excuse you, but I always miss sex,” Harry corrects. He bites his lip and wrings his wrist nervously. “So…” 

Rather than saying anything, Louis simply draws Harry in by the waist and gently presses their lips together. Harry immediately brings one hand to Louis’ hair and another to his neck to deepen the kiss, parting Louis’ lips with his tongue and leaving little reminders that he hopes will last for however long they need to. Louis takes him in, takes everything he has to offer, and by the time they break apart, they’re swaying in the living room, flushed and breathless. 

“So.” Louis kisses Harry’s eyelid, his cheek, the corner of his mouth. “We’ll figure it out. Play it by ear, as it were.” And for good measure, he tugs on Harry’s ear. He’d frown or yowl or something, but he can’t find it in himself to care. Louis’ the only one that gets to see his ears, anyway. 

“Okay,” he says slowly, searching through Louis’ eyes for some hidden message there. But when he can’t seem to find it, he sighs. “I’m gonna miss you. Honestly.” 

Louis stares for a moment, considering. Harry holds his breath, just because. 

“I’ll miss you, too,” Louis finally says. “We’ll text or something. Have fun in Australia and New Zealand, won’t you?” 

“It’ll be hard,” he replies, but it doesn’t come out nearly as cheekily as he would have liked. 

Louis smiles with closed-lips and leans forward to kiss Harry’s nose once. “All right. I’m off.” 

They kiss once more — twice, actually, because Harry can’t help himself — and as soon as Louis is out the door and off to some train station all on his own, Harry wonders when goodbyes got to be so impossible. 

***

There’s no time to visit — or talk, really. 

Louis is too busy with preparing for exams and papers due at the end of the month as well as increased studio time. Harry tells him to text over all of the songs he plays each day, and he compiles a playlist to bring with him for the next month. It’s not like having a piece of Louis with him at all times, except for the fact that it really is. 

They’re off to America only for a few days for another round of appearances and signings, and from there, they fly directly to Sydney for the tour. In between talk show and radio appearances, they have a couple days to themselves, which they spend sightseeing and getting sun-kissed on the beach. 

They even spend a day on a yacht off Sydney Harbor and in spite of the photographers bobbing around everywhere, it’s a great way of unwinding in preparation for the next week or so of performances. Harry sends a picture of himself in his nearly indecent shorts to Louis, and he gets a response telling him to stop being such a cheeky bastard.

The fans here are rather overzealous, forcing them into a few early nights in the hotel. It’s nothing that they’re not already somewhat used to, but it’s still incredible to see in person even after all this time. At any rate, it’s enough to remind Harry how much he loves what he does, and definitely enough to distract him from the empty space he feels beside him every time he goes to bed.

***

“Do you have a girlfriend?” 

The woman interviewing them in Melbourne is very nice and very objectively pretty and very into him — or Niall. Harry can’t decide. It’s just them for this interview, and he has to remind himself that it’s his first time in this country and even though this isn’t his first time getting asked such questions, it certainly won’t be the last. 

“No,” he confirms, smiling winningly as he says it. “Just — no. Not really anything right now, honestly.” 

“What about here?” she asks, blue eyes twinkling at him. “Any Australian prospects? There are those new photos of you leaving a club in Sydney with a pretty blond girl.” 

“Harry loves Australians,” Niall clips, winking at the interviewer in a way that’s enough to distract her from Harry. Harry nods, hoping that it’s a decent enough sign of gratitude. 

Even here, he has to be photographed with girls and frustrating though it may be, he can’t really do anything else. They’re nice enough, really, and the last girl was actually a very good dancer with a decent sense of humor. But she wasn’t —

Well, she just wasn’t who Harry wanted her to be. 

“Right,” the interviewer says, tossing her hair to the side and — come on. She turns to Niall. “And what about you? I’m fond of the Irish accent, myself.” 

Harry sighs, bracing himself for the day’s remaining interviews.

***

He goes out with Niall one night in Brisbane, leaving Liam and Zayn to sulk about their girlfriends back at the hotel. In all honesty, Harry would rather stay behind, too, watching movies and ordering room service and raiding the mini bar. But Niall is restless and so full of energy the way he has been during this entire leg of the tour — it must be something in the water, Harry thinks — so he bites the bullet and goes to the club with him. 

On the way there, Paul tells them that there’s a no-camera rule at the club, and Harry briefly wishes the rule extended to every other part of his life, too. 

As it turns out, it’s also the first time in a long while that he isn’t expected to bring a girl with him for the sake of photos and somehow, that makes the night that much more bearable. And after they’ve been there for an hour, Harry reckons this is the most fun he’s had at a club in forever. 

He feels great with a few drinks in his system, utterly loose and relaxed. In a way, it’s almost like it used to be: back before the tour, back before the summer, back before Leeds when everything seemed to change for him. He walked away from the festival thinking nothing of it. He’d held absolutely no expectations and he planned to go on living the rest of his life with all of it behind him — nothing more than a great weekend. 

But now, with whiskey in his mind and in his veins, he can almost laugh at himself. Louis is everywhere, it seems: in his dreams on the plane, in his phone in saved messages, and in his suitcase back at the hotel. Even when he’s here, more than halfway around the world, it’s like he’s closer than ever. 

And it’s very nearly terrifying. 

“Wanna go back to my place?” He doesn’t even remember how this girl — with her heavy eye shadow and her long, red hair — ended up dancing in front of him, but here she is, looking at him expectantly. He looks around the area; Niall is nowhere to be found. 

“Erm — ” 

“It’s okay,” she says, squeezing his arm reassuringly. “No hard feelings. One more dance, yeah?” 

He nods, rendered speechless with his hands gripping loosely at her hips. And as the song transitions into something newer and faster, he wonders what the tabs would say if they could see him now. 

***

At their final show in Wellington, he decides at the last minute to throw on Louis’ jumper for the winter portion of their performance. It’s hot as fuck and he’s sweating beneath his fringe, but he smells like something familiar and if he sings louder and brighter than he has the past couple of days, then so be it. 

And if pictures of him wearing the white cable knit sweater end up all over the Internet…then so be it, too. 

***

London is cloudy and rainy when they get back, but it’s a breath of fresh air all the same. Harry loved Australia and New Zealand while they were there, but even now, while they’re meandering precariously through the crowd waiting for them at Heathrow, he can already breathe a little easier. 

Louis is the first and only person he wants to see, but he sleeps for an entire day before he’s alive to the world again. When he goes to dial Louis’ number, his finger hovers over the keypad in contemplation. 

He’d emailed Louis right after the show in Wellington hoping that somehow, he might have seen all the pictures of Harry onstage singing “Use Somebody” in the white jumper. And though he’d been disappointed with the response — ‘no, sorry, i’ve been busy, bet you were cute though :) — he waited for a moment of vindication. 

And this seems like the right time. So instead of calling Louis like he normally would, he throws a few things haphazardly into a bag (he can’t really tell what’s clean or not, post-tour) and jumps onto the highway, grinning stupidly at the mere idea of surprising Louis. 

The drive seems longer than usual, and that’s when it hits Harry that missing Louis is becoming an issue — if only because it never used to be an issue to begin with. He’s never been one to miss people: even on The X Factor, he’d ‘missed’ his family, obviously, but never with the need to call or text or contact them every single minute apart.   

It’s why he doesn’t get involved with people, or so he reckons. It’s not that he doesn’t want the intimacy or the companionship of a relationship, but recording albums and going on tour is much easier when there isn’t some emotional tie back to home. So it always made sense to want, but never to have. 

He thinks of Louis momentarily and pretends that the tumult in the pit of his stomach isn’t directly related. 

His nerves regarding the whole surprise situation hit him too late and all at once when he’s standing right outside Louis’ door later that evening. He wonders how many more times he’ll find himself here with the same sloshed-out feeling inside of him, acting like some sort of teenager on the precipice of something new. 

This is sex, he tells himself. And sex is nothing new. 

When Louis answers the door, his eyes are wide as coins and it’s all Harry can do to smile sheepishly, feet shuffling awkward beneath him. 

“I’m back?” he tries. 

“I can see that,” Louis says slowly, still coming to terms with Harry’s sudden arrival at his doorstep. “I — you didn’t call?” 

“I know,” Harry concedes weakly, feeling more and more deflated with every passing second. “I thought it would’ve — I didn’t — maybe I should just go, yeah? I’m sorry, this is stupid — ” 

“No,” Louis interrupts quickly, grabbing Harry by the arm when he’s already turned to the side. “I’m — I didn’t know, obviously, but you can always come in, Hazza. Don’t be stupid. I’m not about to turn away a pop star from my doorstep.” 

Harry is too embarrassed and exhausted from his thoughts in the car to argue. He follows Louis lamely, thankful that at least Stan and Aiden aren’t here to play witness to his shame. Or to throw him out for being here too goddamn much. 

“Thirsty?” Louis offers, already walking down the hall. 

Harry takes careful note of Louis’ glasses, his messy bed hair, and his crumpled clothing and chides himself for finding him ridiculously attractive — even when he very obviously hasn’t bathed all day. 

“No,” he croaks out. He’s still standing uncomfortably in the living room. 

“C’mon then.” Louis is smiling and nodding into his room, indicating for Harry to follow along. 

When he sees that Louis’ bed is covered in more textbooks and papers than ever before, he takes his usual seat at the desk while watching Louis settle into the middle of his mess. This must be what Louis looks like after doing battle with his schoolwork. 

“Sorry about all this,” Louis says, gesturing wildly at everything around him. “I’m in the middle of revision and it’s just…” He sighs wearily. “A lot.” 

“Shit, I’m sorry,” Harry repeats, ignoring the bubbling need to say it at least thrice over. “It was just — I was home and I wanted to see you and I didn’t think and so…yeah. I didn’t think you’d be studying tonight.” 

Louis smiles at him softly, peering over the edge of his glasses. Harry still feels like he shouldn’t be here. 

“It’s been a long, long night,” Louis agrees. “But at least you’re here now.” 

***

Louis is so very obviously busy over the next month of Harry’s break, but he never kicks Harry out or turns him away from his flat. And as horrible as it makes Harry feel, he doesn’t plan on keeping away until explicitly told to do so. 

The least he can do, however, is limit his time in Sheffield to two nights the following week. But the week after that, when Louis is very near tears with his three papers and two presentations and very popular radio show, Harry doesn’t even bother staying overnight and instead takes a long overdue trip back home with Gemma. 

He follows the pattern for the rest of the month, spending the first half of the week in London, and the second half with days in Louis’ flat and nights at his mum’s house. She never asks why he comes up so often, and she certainly doesn’t ask why he spends so much time in Sheffield to begin with. It’s a decent distance to drive every week, but he figures it’s worth it one way or another. 

When he’s in Sheffield with Louis, he tries his best to ignore the frustration and restlessness building in him. It’s not like it’s Louis’ fault that he’s so busy. And though Harry would like to believe otherwise, it’s also not Louis’ fault that he has to spend so much time with Greg every week. 

Greg’s name comes up in conversation more often than Harry would care for, and though it’s almost always related to the radio show (that one time Louis couldn’t stop talking about one of Greg’s striped T-shirts notwithstanding), there’s a small part of Harry that wishes Louis’ attention wasn’t so fractured during their time together. Besides, Louis is already stretched so thinly that the most they can make of their days together are a lazy hand job or a quick blowjob here and there. 

It’s not ideal — far from it — but Harry can’t think of any other way to spend his break. And with the big North American leg of the tour fast approaching, meaning more time apart and for greater lengths on top of that, he’s not sure he’d want to think of other ways to begin with. 

***

But time still moves too quickly, their month is up before they know it, and America is right around the corner. 

“I know you like cars and stuff, so if you drive over there, you’ll have to drive on the other side of the road,” Louis tells him. “On the other side of the car.” 

Harry rolls his eyes. “That’s true of mostly everywhere else we’ve toured.” 

“Right. That’s right.” 

They’re walking to Harry’s car for the last time until July, and the discussion has been perched at the edge of his tongue all day. He’d been distracted, however, since it’d been their first opportunity in a long while to actually do more than just a quick fix. But now that they’re already in the car park, reality hits him even harder. 

“So.” Harry leans against his car and Louis pauses, catching onto the fact that there’s more conversation here than he’d let on. 

Louis kicks him playfully. “So?” 

Harry sighs and sticks a finger through his belt loop. “I’m leaving. For a month and a half.” 

Louis’ face falls. “I — know. That’s a long time.”

“Innit.” Harry chews on his bottom lip, not quite making eye contact with Louis. 

“Haz? What’s up?” 

Harry sighs again and that’s when Louis’ eyebrow raises. He’s not sure what to ask, exactly. Not that he has a right to ask anything in the first place. The boundaries of their…whatever have always been murky, and they’re even more so right now when Harry’s trying to chase them and pin them down. 

“What are we — ” He inhales sharply, scrunching his face up. “What are we doing, Louis? I’m, like, basically, I don’t know where we stand.” It’s melodramatic and it’s incredibly adolescent, but he can’t bring himself to care right now. 

Louis frowns. “Where we…stand?” 

“Like, we’ve been doing this or whatever for a long time now,” he explains slowly, though more for his benefit than Louis’. “I don’t — I still feel like I’m talking to you too much when I’m gone, and I don’t want you to get…tired of me, or anything either, so I don’t know.” 

Louis stares at him, processing. And Harry wants him to say something, to say anything, but the silence is getting too much for him to handle.

“I don’t know,” he repeats a little desperately. “I never know, I guess.” 

Louis exhales, closing his eyes “Erm. It’s never been…an issue before?” 

Harry feels his chest tighten. “What do you mean? I’m just wondering what this is supposed to be. Like, I want to hear what you think. About everything. I get photographed with random girls all the time and it’s going to keep happening and I need to know if that bothers you or not.” 

“Harry, I — ” 

“I don’t know how to conduct myself when I’m away and I know I can’t say anything in interviews or whatever, but I want to know these things and it drives me mad that I don’t.” His fingers are shaking at his sides and they don’t listen when he wills them to stop. “And I’m going to be gone until July on a fucking massive tour in America and the only thing I can think about is whether or not I should miss you while I’m there.” 

This time, Louis’ eyes widen and search for something more in the silence that follows. But already, Harry wants to get into his car and drive away for as long as he can. 

“I don’t…” Louis shakes his head and he fishmouths for several moments, a string of empty words. “I don’t want you to feel like that, Harry. I really don’t. You’ve got — so many other things, so many more important things to worry about and that’s not — you shouldn’t — ” He breathes deeply. “D’you need a break or something? From, erm, us?” 

His words hit Harry all at once, more meaningful and more painful than they have any right to be. And combined with the way Louis is staring at him brokenly, almost like he can’t even believe they’re having this conversation, Harry wants to disappear into nothingness. 

He swallows hard and it burns on the way down. “A break?” 

“I mean, it’s not — just that if you need it — ” 

And he doesn’t, god, he doesn’t.  A break was the last thing Harry could have expected or wanted when he’d spent the past several nights running this conversation on repeat in his head. But it’s here and it’s on the table and the fact that Louis even suggested it to begin with… 

Harry lets his fingers brush over the door handle. “I think…we have to do what’ll make us happy,” he concedes quietly. Even as he says it, he feels his stomach bottoming out. “I don’t know. You’re right. A month and a half is a long time. And you — should be able to do what you want, yeah?” 

“Haz — ” 

“Do what you want, Lou,” he says a little more forcefully this time, his eyes fixed on the asphalt at his feet. “Just…yeah. I’m gonna go.”

He opens the door, but not before chancing a peek at Louis. What he sees is unexpected: a vulnerability to Louis’ face that he’s never seen before, mingled with something a little like a flash of hurt. But it lasts for all of a second before his expression is unreadable, almost stony, and just about as impenetrable as everything else these past few weeks. 

He doesn’t say anything beyond that, and it isn’t until he’s on the highway and his eyes are blinking back stinging heat that he feels the hollowness — and not just the hollowness, but also the incredible loss of time and energy and utter devotion wasted on something that had been in his mind all along. 

***

Harry has never had his heart broken before, and he’s pretty sure that’s not what this is, but it sucks all the same. 

There had been that one girl before X Factor and though he’d gotten a little weepy after they’d ended things, it was mostly because he felt he had to; being sad went hand in hand with breaking up. After that, it was always easier to keep things physical with others, all of his walls and guards up. The busier they got during and between recording and touring, it just didn’t make sense to pursue anything further. 

It became his rule. 

But now, several performances into their tour and sitting in his hotel room in some east coast state, his stupid rule can’t account for the tightness in his chest or the uneasiness in his belly. He wants to go for a run but Paul won’t let them leave the hotel, something about American fans being a breed all their own. Go figure. 

“Y’alright mate?” Niall collapses on the couch beside him, a slice of pizza in hand. Liam and Zayn have gone off to their own rooms, but Niall always stays where the food is — Harry’s room tonight. 

Harry nods absently. “Why?” 

“You’ve got a face on,” he explains, scrunching up his features together. “You’re not sick are you?” 

Harry could laugh. He hasn’t mentioned anything to the boys, so this is kind of a long time coming. 

“I’m not — sick. I’m okay.” 

Niall stares at him from behind his pizza. “You’ve been off lately. No offense.” 

Thanks, Nailfile.” 

“No, but really.” Niall straightens up on the couch, his eyebrows knit together in concern. “What’s going on? You didn’t eat your crusts.” 

Harry rolls his eyes because — well, Niall and food, and of course that’s where his attention goes first. But he can also tell that this conversation is going to happen one way or the other, and he’s actually rather surprised it’s taken this long to begin with. 

“Louis and I are. On a break?” He laughs disbelievingly and knots his fingers together. “God, that sounds so ridiculous.” 

Niall doesn’t laugh with him. “Why is that ridiculous? Haz, I’m sor — ” 

“It’s ridiculous because.” he clips wearily. “Because we’re not, like, taking a break from anything, really? We shagged. That was about it. It made sense because of the tour and everything.” 

But Harry knows he’s not telling the whole truth, and judging from the way that Niall is looking at him, unimpressed, he can tell, too. 

“You’re into him,” Niall says plainly. “Like — are you just realizing this now?” 

Harry wants to deny it, and if it were in any other context, he probably would until he couldn’t breathe anymore. But he can’t do much else, so he just doesn’t say anything. 

“You’re — sorry mate, but you’re a right twat,” Niall says, completely disregarding Harry’s squawk of protest. “Have you told him? Like, actually told him?” 

Harry blinks. “I — he suggested the break. So what does that say, exactly?” 

“That he’s just as stupid as you are.” Niall sighs, rolling his eyes. “Look — ” 

“No,” Harry clips, shaking his head. “It’s not like that. And it’s not supposed to be like that. It’s easier to just — mess around, anyway. Alan would probably kill me otherwise, anyway.”

“Harry — ” 

“I’m going for a wee,” Harry decides, standing up and walking over to the ensuite. “And when I’m out, we’re either watching a film or you’re going back to your room. Those are the only choices.” 

Niall falls silent, but Harry knows they’re not finished yet. 

***

It actually takes a week and a half before Niall brings it up again. But this time, they have a free day in Mexico, of all places, and he comes armed with Liam and Zayn on his way into Harry’s hotel room. 

“Well, hello all of you,” Harry says dryly from the bed. He mutes the television. “How do you have a key into my room.”

But Niall ignores him. “You didn’t come down to the pool with us.” 

“Thought I didn’t need the tan,” he replies, glancing down once at his arm. He winces at how pale he is. 

“They know,” Niall says, and he sounds apologetic but not all at once. 

Harry frowns. “They know…?” 

The three of them occupy the foot of Harry’s bed, and it’s the first time in a year and a half that he feels crowded. He instinctively inches backward, his back falling flush with the headboard. 

“Mate, why didn’t you tell us?” Zayn asks. His brown eyes are dark with worry. 

Harry shakes his head. “There’s nothing to tell. Louis and I are finished. Another flavor of the week, if the tabs had anything to say about it.” 

“Harry…” Liam looks so wounded, and Harry wonders how he gets off looking as hurt as he does. 

“No,” he says firmly, feeling bile rising to the back of his throat. “I’m not doing this. We’re on tour — ” 

“Exactly,” Zayn interrupts. 

“What?” 

“We can’t — ” Liam sighs, choosing his words carefully. “If you’re off, then we’re all off. And we have a month left before you can see him again — ” 

“Stop,” Harry says, and their eyes widen collectively at how harsh he sounds. “I’m not — look, I’m not going to be off. I promise. Don’t worry about that.” 

“That’s not all we’re worried about,” Niall explains pointedly. 

“Well, that’s all that matters.” Harry could kick himself for how shitty of a friend he’s being, but they’re early in their tour yet, and he’d rather not think about anything else for the time being. “I’m knackered. I think I’m going to turn in early.” 

Liam blinks. “But — dinner?” 

“Not hungry,” he lies. “Night.” 

He lets out a breath he didn’t even know he was holding as soon as they’re out of his room, but it doesn’t do anything to ease the weight in his chest. 

***

The fact that he’s wasting such an incredible opportunity isn’t lost on him. And it’s not like he doesn’t want to make the most of the tour so far, but it mostly just feels like going through the motions. 

He spends most of the drive along the west coast curled up in his bunk, pointedly ignoring conversation he can hear from the lounge of the tour bus. He knows they mean well and he loves them that much more for it, but he doesn’t want them making sense of something he can’t make sense of himself. 

More often than he’d admit to, he finds his fingers hovering over the keypad of his phone, prepared to write an email he’ll never send. The urge is almost secondhand to him, innate and natural ever since late August, and he hates himself for it. 

It takes until the night after the Oakland show for him to finally dig through his suitcase and pull out the white jumper that he’s spent so long avoiding. He claims that it’s too cold in the tour bus, that it’s the warmest thing he owns, but it’s so blatantly transparent that no one can even say anything in response. 

He climbs into his bunk and flicks through Twitter against his better judgment; he’s learned not to take too much stock in what he finds there. 

One tweet reads: was it jst me or was @Harry_Styles really quite tonight? Another: @Harry_Styles was high tonight #confirmed

He finds at least thirty more of those, and falls asleep that way. 

***

They’ve got an extra night in LA when Zayn hauls him out of bed, muttering something about “if you won’t eat, then you’ll fucking drink.” 

And it’s just about the best proposition he’s received in weeks.

Liam seems highly disapproving of their decision to go out for the night, but Niall just seems so goddamn happy to see Harry outside at all, so it all balances out. It’s a small and exclusive enough club that Harry doesn’t feel too overwhelmed, even when the idea of being swallowed up by a crowd seems oddly appealing right now. 

The boys haven’t said anything to him recently — most of their conversations have been in hushed tones, under the impression that he’s been sleeping the whole time — and tonight, they let their actions do the talking for them. He lets them buy him drinks, lets them drag him onto the floor during one Katy Perry song, lets them act like parents — parents intent on fixing him and getting him drunk all at once. 

At one point, he falls onto the dance floor with a pretty blonde wound between his arms. People are watching them and he shrugs it off, figuring this is the kind of publicity that Alan’s after, anyway. He hasn’t been hounded for photos lately (he figures he’ll thank Liam for that later), but this should make them happy; there are enough iPhones pointed at him for a detailed center spread in Hello! magazine. 

She’s all legs and smiles under the lights, and his huge hands span the width of her back before settling on her hips and — yeah, she’s all hips, too. She moves in time with the music, her hair swaying wildly and her body rolling into his in a way that makes him breathless, feeling a little out of his element. 

This isn’t like Brisbane, where it had been too much all at once. Instead, it feels a little more like courage and something like a chance to make right on everything he’s done wrong. She’s breathing heavily against his collarbone, and he suddenly wants to prove that he can do it — that he can still mess around and have it not mean anything. 

He doesn’t want anything to mean anything

“You’re good at this,” he breathes and her laugh fades away into bass of the club. “What?” 

She curves against him and rolls her eyes. “You’re not very good at this. But that’s fine. I can work with it.” 

He’d say something else, but he figures the mystery and intrigue is probably better, anyway. 

They dance together for a song and a half — he sees the boys knotted together at the bar, watching carefully — before he turns her around to look her in the eye. She looks halfway impressed. 

“Yeah?” she asks.

He coughs, his mind and his periphery going cloudy. “Erm. Wanna…” He can’t even remember how far the hotel is from here. 

She shakes her head and pats his cheek fondly. There’s a light layer of sweat on her face and her chest and it’s starting to feel like more than he can handle. 

“Afraid not,” she says a little regretfully. “No strange nights with strange pop stars.” 

He winces at the end because — well. 

She stands on her toes and breathes against his ear. “But I don’t mind fooling around here. Bathroom?” 

He’s apparently in no fit position to say anything otherwise, because he’s being pulled through the dance floor and his mind races with a thousand different images of another night similar to this one, something so achingly familiar. 

She’s already fumbling with his belt buckle in some toilet stall when he hears two girls talking outside and feels even more out of his element than before. He swallows hard and she grins up at him. 

“Everything okay up there?” And she sounds so goddamn confident to be doing this, so completely unlike —

He doesn’t know when it happens, but his back slides down the stall and before he knows it, he’s sitting on the questionable bathroom tile with his trousers halfway pulled down his legs. If she’s confused, which, how could she not be, then she doesn’t say anything. Instead, she watches carefully, like she’s deciding what to do next. 

“Fuck,” he groans into his hands. 

“Sorry?” she tries. 

“No, god, no, it’s not you,” he says quickly and she laughs, not unkindly. “I’m just — ” 

“A strange pop star?” she offers, and they share another laugh, even when it doesn’t sound right coming out of his mouth. “We don’t have to, you know. I was just being nice.” 

Thanks,” he says dryly and she shrugs. He thinks, in another context, they could’ve been friends. Maybe. But in this life, she’ll just play spectator to his spectacular meltdown. 

“Do bathroom stalls traumatize you, or something?” She’s joking, but there’s a tinge of concern in her voice when she says it. 

He shakes his head, because what is his life. “You know, funnily enough, they do. Unresolved issues and all.” 

She sighs dramatically. “Those are the worst.” 

“Tell me about it.” 

She hums. “You can. Tell me about it, I mean. If you want to. I don’t mind.” 

He shakes his head; he doesn’t want to take up any more of her night than he already has.  

“No, that’s fine. You’ve helped me already tonight, so thanks.” 

She smiles, tucks a loose strand of hair behind her ear, and stands up with her hand outstretched to him. “Buy me a drink and we’ll call it even.” 

***

The night at the club is more than enough to convince Harry that, yeah, he’s gone for Louis. And as much of an effort as he should be making to move past it, he can’t quite seem to get over the fact that Louis wasn’t gone for him, too. 

However, having resigned himself to his emotions is actually enough to help him socialize more, to be more of a presence when he’s onstage and out and about with the boys. They don’t understand the change, but they’re not complaining either. He’s very obviously not completely better, but he’s working toward it. 

Maybe. 

It takes until they’re out of Texas for him to feel the complete weight of the situation, the complete weight of Louis still sitting on his heart. And after a rather convincing display of stomach illness, he narrowly avoids dinner with the boys in favor of a night alone in his hotel room. They’re more trusting of him now, anyway, so they don’t ask anything else about it. 

He collapses on his bed, a bottle of vodka from the mini bar in one hand and his mobile in the other. He scrolls through the messages — thirteen in all — he never found it in himself to send to Louis. They sit there, decaying and mocking. 

Several bottles and chocolate bars later, he finally finds the courage to call — but not the person he knows he should call. 

“Hello?” Nick’s voice is hoarse with sleepiness. 

Harry giggles. “Did I wake you?”

“Harry? Is that you? Christ, d’you know what time it is?” He pauses. “How much am I paying for this phone call right now?” 

“I’m boiling,” he replies uselessly. “I think my air conditioning is broken. Or something.” 

“Harry — ” 

“D’you think he’s off at clubs?” he interrupts, his voice taking a darker tone. His heart is beating furiously in his ears, so he doesn’t even know if Nick has responded. “Probably not, right? Not when he’s too busy writing papers and reading books and talking to Greg and fuck all.” 

“Liam told me,” Nick sighs, like this is something he doesn’t want to get involved with. Not like Harry can blame him, exactly. “Fan of drinking though I am, I don’t think this is — ” 

“Tell me you love me.” 

Nick is quiet for the longest while. “What?” 

Harry sits up in bed, his eyes burning. “Tell me you love me. Nick, just say it. Tell me.” 

“Harry. What the fuck — ” 

“Grim — Nick.” He can’t seem to find his breath. “Please. Just — fucking say it. Tell me you love me.” 

“No.” Nick’s voice is harsh and cold and it cuts through Harry. “I fucking won’t. Christ, Harry, what the fuck are you even doing?” 

He swallows hard and his throat feels like sandpaper. “What do you mean?” 

“There are a lot of ways to deal,” Nick says evenly. “But waking me up and begging — ” 

“I’m not — ” 

Begging for fucking attention is childish and not one of them.” Nick exhales deeply. “So stop it and fix it instead.” 

Harry doesn’t know what to say, doesn’t know if he can say anything. So he crumples up into a heap on his bed, drawing his knees into his chest and breathing raggedly over the other line. He figures he’s already embarrassed himself in front of Nick — what’s a little dry heaving? 

Several moments pass before Nick sighs again and speaks, softer this time. 

“Harry…I’m not the person you want to hear that from, yeah?” His voice is patient and kind. “And if Liam’s e-mail is anything to go by, you’ve been a right mess this whole tour. Thank god I haven’t had you phone in.” 

He laughs, but it comes out rough and not sounding like him at all. 

“You need to fix it,” Nick says finally. “You know it and even I fucking know it. You just need to get your shit together and figure it out with him. Soon. As in, when you get home. That’s in, what, two weeks?” 

Harry swallows. “One.” 

“Right. You need to, mate. I can’t have you slobbering all over my shoulder because of it, yeah? Talk to him. It’ll work out.” 

He closes his eyes, counting the time in between breaths. Thankfully, Nick never hangs up. 

“It might not work out. It — probably won’t.” 

Nick chuckles. “You’re a proper twat, Styles. I’m going to bed, you arsehole. You should do the same. And tell Payne to use spell check now and again while you’re at it, won’t you?” 

“Thanks, Grimmy,” he says softly, pulling the duvet up over his middle. 

“You singer types are the worst,” Nick replies lightly and Harry actually laughs in earnest. 

“Yeah, we are.” 

***

His conversation with Nick is enough to tell him how much of a pathetic mess he’s been, so he avoids the mini bars after that and decides that enough is enough. And even though he doesn’t tell the boys anything, he knows they can sense his resolve.

It’s enough for now. 

After their final performance in America — somewhere called Sunrise, appropriately and strangely enough — he goes to Twitter. He’s been better about paying particular attention to what people think there, but he figures tonight is as good a night as any to say something. Anything. 

Even after talking to Nick, he doesn’t know what to do with Louis. He wants to reach out, now more than ever, but the night before returning to the UK just doesn’t seem like the right time. He doesn’t even know if he might be too late. Possibly, but he doesn’t want to think about that too much. 

After skimming through a few mentions and ignoring some particularly nasty tweets (he’s gotten better at that), he tucks under the sheets and prepares for dreams of home.

He turns over in bed, but not before typing out a quick tweet to the rest of the world. 

reckon it’s time to do something, innit? .x

***

They’re all exhausted when they get home and per usual, they sleep for a few days straight before even contemplating what to do with the stretch of newfound free time ahead of them. 

Granted, there’s much to look forward to on the horizon: the second album, the new round of promotion, their recently announced iTunes Festival performance, and even their new tour way, way down the line. But it’s a lot, especially now, so they push it out of their minds for the time being and focus on the immediate tasks at hand, namely visiting their friends and families. 

Niall is off on what must be the first flight back to Mullingar, while Liam and Zayn are off on respective holidays with their girlfriends. Harry figures he should go somewhere exotic or, at the very least, visit his mum. But London feels like enough of a security blanket for now, so he putters around his flat for several days afterward, getting photographed only on the odd trip to Tesco or Boots. He smiles at the fans and paps kindly before driving off. 

There are pictures of their Heathrow homecoming all over the Internet, and he knows that at least one of them must have made it into Louis’ periphery. He wants to call or text to make sure, but doesn’t even know if it would be appropriate at this point; when does a ‘break’ stop sounding so temporary? 

Still, Harry can’t help but wonder if the urge to reach out is as strong for Louis as it is for him. 

So when he finally gets into his car nearly a week later, he drives without really knowing where to go. It’s a quiet drive up because even music can’t distract him from his thoughts, and it isn’t until he’s driving past a familiar row of houses that he even realizes he’s been driving home this whole time. 

Whether she’s always known or she just somehow understands, his mum welcomes him with a crushing hug, whispering into his ear and telling him that he can stay for as long as he needs. It’s almost scary, how much she knows and doesn’t let on, but he’s grateful for it all the same. 

Home always happens to be the perfect remedy, even when he thinks it won’t help. He’s eighteen now, but it’s a miracle what a good night’s sleep and an even better pancake breakfast can accomplish. 

True to form, she doesn’t press and doesn’t ask anything too on the nose. Instead, she’ll ask how the boys are, how the tour was, or how long he’ll be staying for this time. They’re all loaded questions, he knows, but he can’t bring it in himself to lie now. Not here. 

Three days pass, and she must sense his blooming restlessness of being at home because she kisses his curls and pats his hand consolingly after bringing him his tea.  

“Whatever it is,” she says, “it’s nothing you can’t fix.” 

He doesn’t move, instead keeping his eyes trained on the ground. 

“D’you really think?” 

“Yes,” she answers instantly, and she’s smiling warmly when he looks up. 

“Okay,” he sighs, closing his eyes and massaging his temple. “If you think so. If you think I can.” 

She stands up, laughing on her way back to the kitchen. 

“I always do.” 

***

He’s never been one for big romantic gestures, and he doesn’t think that’s about to change now. So when he finds himself in Sheffield the next day, it’s standing outside Louis’ door, empty-handed and at a loss for what to do next. For all her riddles of encouragement, his mum never actually tells him exactly what to do. 

His being here is another surprise, of course, but mostly because he doesn’t know what he would have done if Louis had told him not to come or, worse, ignored him altogether. There’s no guarantee that this’ll end any better than that, but he figures in person, he has a fighting chance. 

No one answers right away when he knocks on the door, and he wonders if Aiden and Stan have been instructed not to open it for him. He’s about to knock again or just walk away altogether when the door swings open slowly. 

“Oh.” 

Harry can’t even say anything else when he sees Greg standing in the doorway, eyes wide and arms hanging uselessly at his side. 

“Harry.” He looks behind him, like he’s not sure what to do right now. 

“Who is it?” comes Louis’ voice from — well, his bedroom. 

Harry bites down on his lip, hard enough to draw blood, trying his best to fight the sick twisting in his gut. And Greg’s eyes fly open even wider, like he’s caught onto Harry’s thought process and he looks panicked and unsure all at once. He’s about to say something when Louis appears behind him. 

It’s only been little over a month, so Louis looks just the same, floppy hair and bare feet and all. But at the same time, it’s been little over a month, and so Harry doesn’t know what he’s walked into, if anything at all. Louis must be thinking the same thing, because he just stares at Harry, unmoving and his expression unreadable. 

“Hey,” Harry tries, but his voice betrays him and breaks. “I didn’t — I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done this again. I’ll just. Yeah.” 

And it’s not Louis who stops him, but Greg, who grabs him by his arm and practically pulls him through the doorway and toward Louis. 

“No, I’ll — I’m going to go.” Greg grabs his shoes from beside the door. “You guys talk and I’ll — I’ll come around tomorrow, Lou.” 

Louis nods. Harry isn’t looking straight at him, but he can feel Louis’ stare fixed on him all the same. 

“Okay,” Greg says with a sheepish smile. “I’ll — yeah.” 

Greg leaves without another word, shutting the door behind him and leaving Harry with a sense of helplessness that sits like a weight at the bottom of his stomach. 

“I’m sorry,” he says at last, finally meeting Louis’ eyes and wishing he hadn’t because they’re so blue. “I didn’t mean to interrupt or anything.” 

“You didn’t. We were just. Hanging out, that’s all.” 

“Hanging out.” Harry nods. “Right.” 

“We aren’t…Greg and I. We’re not,” Louis sighs, almost uncertain. “You’re here, though.” 

Harry shrugs. “It’s okay, Lou. If you guys — ” He swallows hard. “If you guys are.” 

Louis looks properly wrecked at that and shakes his head furiously. “We’re not, I promise. I mean, we — there was a party two weeks ago and we were both so sloshed and I — there was a kiss but we barely lasted ten seconds before I wanted to throw up.” 

Harry tries laughing, but it comes out a sob instead. “That bad?” 

Louis smiles. “Didn’t feel right. For him, either. Friends and co-hosts from now on.” 

“Right.” Harry inhales deeply. “It’s okay. I had a meltdown in the toilet of a club in LA.” 

Louis laughs that time, loud and shocked and achingly familiar. “Did you really?”

He nods and he realizes that he’s laughing, too, for real this time. “It was horrible. I told her that toilet stalls traumatized me.” 

“That bad?” 

“Yeah,” he replies without missing a beat. “Yeah, that bad.” 

They’re still standing in the middle of the living room with a few feet in between them, but it’s just enough space to give Harry the courage he needs to see this through.

“We’ve been stupid,” he decides. “Or, I’ve been stupid.” 

“No,” Louis says quickly. “We. Yeah, we’ve.” 

Harry sighs and it feels like now or never. “I meant to call or something. I missed you — fuck, I still miss you and I’m kind of stupid for you, Louis.” 

It starts off slow and gradual until Louis’s face is entirely alight with the smile on his lips. His eyes are glassy and his cheeks flushed brightly, but it’s hard to focus on any of that when he’s looking at Harry like that

“Like, properly,” Harry adds, as if Louis could miss that. “I like you and — I probably more than like you, really, and I’ve fucking hated the last month.” 

“Me too. Absolutely hated it. I — ” He breathes slowly and Harry’s prepared to give him all the time he needs. “You were supposed to get tired of me. Or you were supposed to find someone else that you could actually go out in public with, someone better. So I didn’t want to — invest? Yeah, that’s the word. I didn’t want to invest because you’d eventually see that you were a fucking pop star and just…yeah.” 

And Harry is there, in Louis’ space and enveloping him in his arms. He smells the same and it feels a lot more like coming home than anything else this past week. Louis doesn’t hesitate in burying his face in Harry’s neck and he’s wet and warm and just so wonderful. 

“Your pop star,” Harry says into Louis’ hair. “Your pop star completely.” 

“Yeah?” Louis’ breath tickles his skin. 

“Fucking — ” He pulls away slightly just to look Louis straight in the eye. “Fucking completely. I’m — ” He takes in a breath, sort of like the one he’d taken when they’d gone bungee jumping in Auckland. “I’m pretty in love with you, so yeah. Completely.” 

Louis blinks before giving a watery laugh and digging his face back into Harry’s neck, nipping there slightly and making him yelp. 

“Mine, then?” 

Harry shakes his head at how ridiculous they’re being. At least Aiden and Stan aren’t here to see. 

“Yours.” 

And after they’ve fallen onto Louis’ bed — entirely absent of schoolwork for once, since it’s summer holiday — and fallen into each other with tangled limbs and slow, languid kisses, Louis curls up into Harry’s side, sighing dramatically as his fingers dance absently across Harry’s sternum. 

“I’m not normally one for pop stars, you know.” 

Harry snorts. He’s seen Louis’ iTunes. “That’s a lie.” 

Louis shoves him lightly on the shoulder. “Just go with it, won’t you?” 

Harry rolls his eyes. “Okay. You’re normally not one for pop stars, but…?” 

Louis smiles softly. “I reckon I kind of love them now.” 

Harry watches him carefully, waiting for another cheeky remark, another punch line. But it never comes.

“That okay?” Louis asks warily. 

He leans forward and captures Louis’ lips in his, quickly but surely. He’d laugh, but Louis kind of takes his breath away. 

“I’ll allow it.” 

***

It’s a relatively quiet summer for them, one spent mostly in Louis’ flat (and a couple of times in Holmes Chapel because Gemma just couldn’t keep her mouth shut and because his mum said ‘you owe me’ in a decidedly un-joking manner) to avoid the attention in the city. 

He gets photographed only a handful of times when he’s back in London, and Louis makes up for it by marking him up as soon as they’re alone again. The boys are more than happy that everything’s sorted out, and Harry can’t help but laugh at the way Greg gets all moony when he finally meets them. Aiden and Stan never complain when they’re all packed in the tiny flat, and it all just seems to fit. 

When the end of August rolls around, marking the anniversary of when they first met in that muddy field all those months ago, Louis traps Harry in his bedroom and doesn’t let him out for the entire weekend. 

It’s easily the best break of Harry’s life, and though he’s normally too exhausted to curl up on the couch and watch an entire movie after some particularly exhausting sex, he figures he can’t complain too much. 

But uni is starting up again soon, and so is the entire promotional tour for their second album. They’ve spent the past several weeks pointedly avoiding the subject and even though it’ll be nowhere near as bad as it was before they’d made things official (Harry still can’t get over ‘boyfriend’ and its novelty), it still means they’ll be apart. 

It’s about a week and a half before they’re set to perform at the iTunes Festival, just shy of having to fly out to different countries and having to answer the same questions over and over again. It’s a new album, a new relationship, and a new phase in Harry’s life — he figures something has to change.

He’s given it some thought already, with or without Louis’ knowledge (mostly without). Although he’s brought it up once or twice, Louis only ever says the same things — “only when you’re ready” or “I’m happy the way things are.” It’s sweet and supportive and undeniably Louis, but incredibly frustrating nonetheless.

He wakes Louis up one morning by rolling on top of him, attacking him with a playful gust of morning breath that earns him a sharp nudge in the side. 

“‘S too early for you to be on top of me.” 

“C’mon,” he says eagerly. “I want to get coffee.” 

“But Haz — ” 

“I know.” 

And that wakes Louis up properly, because — well. 

It’s been about half a month since photographers finally realized he’d been flitting off to Sheffield all summer. And though Alan didn’t seem to mind as much as he’d initially believed, he’d also stressed discretion, which meant only getting photographed in public with Gemma, and not with Louis. 

Louis hasn’t complained about it, but it eats away at Harry. They’ve been so careful these past few weeks to never get photographed together, and he hates that he can make Louis feel trapped in his own home. And he’s about to leave again anyway, so he figures now’s as good a time as any. 

“You sure?” 

“I’m sure.” 

They go out together, keeping a respectable distance apart all the way there. It’s not as busy as it usually is when classes are in session, but there are still people on the street who double take whenever they see him. Besides, getting followed by a swarm of photographers isn’t exactly subtle to begin with.

They drink their coffee mostly in silence, pressed in the far corner of the café where no one can really see them, much less snap any gratuitous photos. He figures there’ll be enough of them this time tomorrow, anyway. 

Louis seems to understand his nerves, because he tangles their feet together under the table and sticks his tongue out in the way only Louis can ever get away with. 

“All of this — you’ve been fucking amazing, Harry.” The corners of his eyes crinkle fondly at him.

Harry can’t help but frown. “Why does this sound like you’re ending things?” 

Louis rolls his eyes and kicks one of Harry’s shins for his sheer stupidity. “I’m not. It’s just. Things are gonna be different now, aren’t they?” 

Harry shrugs. “Maybe. Hopefully not. You might have to change your mobile number, though.” 

Louis holds a fist to his heart and groans. “I’m sure I’ll manage.” 

“You don’t mind though, right?” Harry stares at the contents of his mug. “I mean, I’m not like…forcing you, yeah?” 

When he looks up again, Louis is grinning over at him in a manner that seems to say ‘you’re a fucking twat…but you’re my fucking twat.’ He hides his face away; it’s hard to keep any sort of mystery and intrigue alive in their relationship when his face fucking spells everything out for him. 

“I’m with you,” Louis says easily. “Whatever you do.” 

Harry nods, setting his jaw. “I don’t think things will be different. Not the things that matter anyway.” 

Louis’ eyes sparkle. “I don’t think so, either.” 

So when they leave together, the photographers are still there — not as many as in London, but enough to be considered a crowd. But with Louis there and his warmth at his side, it’s like they’re all alone anyway.

“Ready?” Harry asks, turning the corner. 

“What do you — ” 

But Louis’ words die in his mouth, trapped against Harry’s lips. Shutters are going off wildly now, but it doesn’t matter when Harry has him pressed against the wall, eyes shut tightly and fingers laced absently at their sides. It’s not terribly romantic but…it’s enough to get his heart racing all the same. He figures that with Louis, it’s a problem that’ll never go away. 

When Harry pulls back, he takes in the glassy, blissed-out expression across Louis’ face. His cheeks are bright pink, but Harry assumes he’s no different. Even with everyone hollering around them, they’re all alone, right here. 

“What’d you think?” he asks, catching his breath. 

Louis laughs like he can’t believe it. “I’ve had better.” 

Harry pinches him in the side, earning an indignant yowl and kissing it right out of his mouth — once more, for good measure.

Notes
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  2. fifty-shades-of-larrystylinson reblogged this from brownheadedstranger and added:
    Okay..this was freaking amazing like I don’t have words to describe how FANTASTIC it was
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  7. larryruinedmylifeforever reblogged this from brownheadedstranger and added:
    You were not allowed to do this to me, especially since I’m meant to be off to bed now…
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