here there be louis tomlinson.
FIC: and there’s no escaping it for you

And There’s No Escaping It For You | Harry/Louis (Greg/Louis) | ~12k | The one where Louis spends his time in back rooms with boys and Harry needs his space.

Notes: This is all over the place. But really, it’s more of a thanks for putting up with my flighty writing moods.

It’s a Monday afternoon, and Louis needs a good fuck. 

Maybe not an earth shattering, groundbreaking fuck — though those are always welcome — but something good enough to get him through this tedium. He tries not to think about it too much, but his section is rather empty and it’s pretty slow today, as much as weekday afternoons in a library ever are. So the need and the desire is just there, on his mind and in his groin, festering. 

He pulls a face. Festering might not be the right word to describe his groin. He should know; he just got tested last month. 

And that’s just the perfect kind of excuse to justify a proper fucking right now. What better way to celebrate a clean bill of health than by going at it like an animal in the back room, the one with a couch for people who might feel sick or woozy in the library? Though what, Louis thinks, could possibly make people dizzy in a library is beyond him. It’s not like they’re reading in a car. 

He gives a long-suffering sigh, one that puffs into nothingness in the stale air around him. He’s still very determined not to think about it. 

Instead, he wonders what Liam might be doing downstairs with all of his stupid books about dinosaurs and superheroes. At least there, there are parents and children and life. And though neither of them would ever pick somebody up in the children’s section, at least Liam has the option of a single parent if he ever wants it. Nobody wants to fuck in a room full of encyclopedias; it’s just not romantic enough. 

His mind wanders listlessly and randomly — from thinking about visiting Niall after work for a pint to wondering whether he can convince Harry to cook dinner in spite of last week’s row — and before he knows it, it’s an hour before his shift’s end. 

In that time, he notices, a beautiful boy has walked into his section. Louis observes him from his desk, tracking his movement up and down several aisles with pitying eyes. Poor thing, he must be lost. Nobody under the age of 50 and without a pension ever walks into his section. 

Still, Louis squirms in his seat because it’s impossible not to notice the golden hair or the freckles when this pretty boy-thing wanders close enough to the desk that he can reach out and touch. But, this being a mostly respectable place of work that coincidentally affords him his half of the rent, Louis settles for a gentle, 

“Can I help you?” Short, sweet, and classic. 

The boy-thing blinks in surprise and Louis wants to rip his pants off and jump into a vat of burning oil. Months of abstinence — all one and a half of them — come rushing back in an instant, and he needs nothing more than for this boy-thing to even be remotely interested in him. Though, if the styled part in his hair and the light-red-almost-salmon trousers are anything to go by, Louis figures he has a good shot. 

“Oh, I.” Boy-Thing smiles and goddamn, Louis gets enough toothpaste adverts on the telly at home. “I’m actually looking for this volume.” He slides Louis an index card across the desk. “For a research paper.” 

This time, it’s Louis’ turn to blink dumbly because this boy-thing’s accent is decidedly not English, and either it’s doing very heated things to him or he’s come down with a case of early onset menopause. If that’s even a thing. 

He slips the card between his fingers as sexily and seductively as he can manage without getting a paper cut. “Sorry to pry, but…are you an American?” 

Boy-Thing beams and Louis tries to remember whether or not there’s still a condom in his wallet. “Studying abroad, as a matter of fact.” 

Louis hums and straightens his back. He’s normally not one to do this, typically saving his pick-ups for the pub. But this is as good a chance as he’ll get any time soon, and if the situation happens to crash and burn, he can always find a way to get Boy-Thing deported. They’ll never see each other again. 

“When was the last time you got shagged?” 

Boy-Thing’s eyes are comically large as he lets out the weirdest noise and Louis has to hiss shh, this is a library. But as it is, Louis waits patiently for the question to settle, hoping that the extra time he took this morning to use a new whitening toothpaste and run product through his hair pays off. 

He should’ve worn his white scoop-neck tee today, the one that Harry squawks at whenever they go out for drinks. That would’ve surely sealed the deal. 

“Excuse me?” Boy-Thing squeaks, and Louis wants to pat his hip consolingly like at a petting zoo.

Louis clears his throat. “Maybe you call it something different…laid? When was the last time you got laid?” He says it like it’s the most important question he’s asked all month and, in a lot of ways, it kind of is. 

The initial shock over and done with, he notices something like a smile playing at the edges of Boy-Thing’s mouth. And what a wonderful mouth it is. 

“A few months, give or take,” he admits sheepishly. But it’s also honest and hopeful and undeniably sexy — a little too much like whenever Louis catches 90210 on the Internet. It’s going to be great. 

“There’s a room in the back,” Louis says in the same tone he uses when explaining where to find books to confused patrons. He mentions the couch, too, and asks him to go there and wait until he can leave his desk in five minutes. He can already see the story playing out on Boy-Thing’s face, the one he’ll tell his friends whenever he catches his flight back to the states. 

Everyone has a librarian fantasy, Louis reasons aloud, almost an explanation. Boy-Thing nods and stares, affording Louis a clear view of his hazel eyes. His aren’t green, but he can work with this. He shoos Boy-Thing away before either of them can second-guess the situation. This is going to happen. 

When they meet in the back, Louis pulls the shade down the window and props a stool against the door; there’s too much unnecessary furniture in this tiny room. For all his mousiness earlier, Boy-Thing is sure and forceful once they’re on the couch, making Louis question the whole ‘few months, give or take’ thing. He takes Louis easily by the waist, breathing hot against his neck and fucking deep into him, splitting him apart as his stomach starts to slip on Louis’ back from the sweat. Louis bites down hard on his lip, ostensibly to keep from shouting but also to keep from grinning like an idiot at the face Liam will undoubtedly make when he tells him about this after their shift. 

They finish quickly, within seconds of each other, and collapse into a heap of heated skin for a long minute. Louis is the first to get up, practiced as he is not so much with this as with spontaneous shags in general, and throws his clothes on hurriedly. He meets Boy-Thing’s eyes once, looking to see whether or not this’ll make as good a story for him as it’ll make for Louis. If the lazy, fucked-out cloudiness is a sign, then he figures yes

He kisses Boy-Thing once, a courtesy for not being forced to learn each other’s names, and walks out of the room. There are books to put away, and thirty minutes to spare. 

***

Louis’ keys rattle in the lock, which determinedly refuses to give. He kicks the door once in his frustration, swearing Satan’s hellfire as well as an early morning call to their landlord to get the damn thing fixed. 

When he gets in, he trips on a pair of white Converse near the doorway. 

“Fucking hell, Harry!” 

And just like ringing a servant’s bell, Harry’s head pops up dependably from behind the kitchen archway, eyes wide. 

“What? What is it?” 

Louis grumbles, at war with the irritation mingled with remorse for making Harry look like that. 

“Nothing,” he mumbles instead, tossing his rucksack onto the couch. “Just — move these next time, yeah?” 

There’s a moment when Louis’ heart drops just as Harry’s face falls, eyes landing on the shoes and he’s scrambling over in a heartbeat to pick up the offending footwear, muttering a string of apologies. But Louis hauls him up by the shoulders and attempts to look him square in the eye, which is proving more difficult than expected because Harry is looking everywhere but at him. 

“Sorry,” Harry repeats barely above a whisper. “Fuck, sorry.” 

“Hey,” Louis whispers, feeling like a complete twat. “Don’t be — I’m sorry. It was the damn lock again. We need to get that fixed. Put me in a right state.” 

Harry’s eyes finally land on him, watching him carefully. Things have been so weird between them lately, ever since their stupid fight last week, and there’s a knot forming in the pit of Louis’ stomach that he wants nothing more than to tug, tug, tug on until he’s an apologetic mound of flesh. It’s a weird and disgusting idea, but things in flat have been even weirder, so he could honestly care less. At least Harry can’t read minds. 

“The damn lock, huh?” Harry cracks a smile, but Louis can see the nervousness behind it. “The damn lock did it again?” 

Louis nods seriously, hands still cinched above Harry’s biceps. “The damn lock did it damn again, damn.” 

This time, Harry wiggles out of Louis’ grip with an earnest laugh. “That doesn’t even make sense.” 

Damn sense, Harold,” Louis corrects. 

Harry, Lewis,” he corrects in return as he disappears back into the kitchen. 

Louis shrugs, toeing off his own shoes and placing them carefully out of the way before trailing after Harry. He’d been so wrapped up in the lock and the shoes — the damn lock and the damn shoes, he thinks ridiculously — that he hadn’t even noticed the smell of black bean sauce, nor the sound of a sizzling wok. 

“You made dinner,” he says, genuinely awestruck. 

Harry nods, running his hands under the tap before returning to the stove. “Stir fry. Get the plates, will you? This is nearly ready.” 

He does as he’s told, as he’s done many other times. He and Harry fall into their respective roles easily, always reliable and efficient. Harry will come home from his classes, baby that he is, to cook dinner, and Louis will walk through the door just in time to set the table. There’s no point in switching things around, not when they’re good they way they are. 

They’re comfortable. 

Which is why it kills Louis, even now, that they fought. They never fight, is the thing, and though Louis could sense some building tension in the last several weeks — on Harry’s part, he thinks privately — it didn’t seem enough to warrant a row. It had merely been a case of bad timing, what with a particularly exhausting day of relabeling for Louis and revision for Harry. All it needed was one thing out of place, like the shoes earlier, and suddenly Louis was yelling at Harry for being so unfocused lately, and Harry at Louis for not being a supportive enough roommate and friend. 

They’re walking on eggshells around each other now, and Louis can feel it every time they’re in the same room together. There weren’t any formal apologies: only a day-after hug and a whispered we’re fine. And though it felt sufficient in the moment, he wonders if there’s more to be said. And even if there is, the last thing he wants to do is hurt. 

“This is delicious, Hazza,” he says earnestly over dinner. No matter how weird things get, he’ll always be able to compliment his best mate. He’ll always mean it, anyway. 

Harry smiles softly around a forkful of tofu. “Thanks.” 

Louis frowns when Harry doesn’t continue the conversation. This won’t do. “How was your day?” 

“Good.” But Harry’s brow creases in the middle like it always does when he catches himself. “I mean, it was actually kind of shit. I got my marks back for that paper I wrote two weeks ago.” 

“And?” 

He shrugs. “He wants me to rewrite it.” 

“Fuck.” Louis doesn’t mention how Harry’s never had to rewrite a paper before, nor does he mention how this is the same professor who once called Harry his brightest English student in years. Unfocused, he tells himself. “But that’s not — that’s not necessarily a bad thing, is it?” 

Harry sighs miserably and Louis recognizes this as the moment to let it go. There’s no use in pursuing conversation when Harry gets into one of his stroppy moods. It’s like having an adorable if not occasionally frustrating pet all the time. Still, he’d be Louis’ pet. 

“Who knows. What about you, how was your day?” 

Louis actually perks up at that, because this is news that’s bound to make Harry happy. For weeks, he’s had to deal with Louis’ sulking and climbing into his bed, bemoaning his inactive sex life. So this should definitely go a long way in improving Harry’s mood, if only for the next week until Louis’ cock gets impatient again. 

“Well, my sweet Harold — ” 

“Harry.” 

“ — I’ve got good news for you. Impressive news, actually.” 

Harry quirks an eyebrow, obviously attempting to downplay his interest. “Oh, yeah?” 

Yes,” Louis says, sitting up straighter like it’ll make a difference. “I shagged a Yank today.” 

“What?” 

“I shagged an American today.” He frowns when Harry can only stare blankly in return. He must be confused. He might have even forgotten what it means, poor lad. Louis makes a mental note to check the status of Harry’s sex life some time soon. But first things first, “He was blond, he was American, and we had sex.” 

“I understood that much,” Harry says impatiently, pieces still coming together on his face. “What I mean is — how? In the library?” 

“In the library,” he repeats proudly. “In the tiny back room, remember? The one you slept in when you came to work with me that one time, hungover.” 

“Oh.” Harry’s expression goes dark at that, his attention suddenly focused on a bit of broccoli. But Louis just takes it to mean that Harry remembers that morning just as well as he does; they’d had one snakebite too many the night before. But before he can say anything else, Harry cuts in, “Well, that’s brilliant. This way, I won’t have to hear about your dick for another week and a half.” 

Louis pauses before grinning, pleased. “That’s exactly what I was thinking! You know me too well, Hazza.” 

“I guess I do,” Harry says, head bowed. “Is it — is he…?” Sticking around, Louis assumes, and he’s quick to shake his head.

“No, jesus, no.” He laughs a little at that. “I’m still…not looking for anything. Just some fun.”

Harry nods, not smiling and looking down again. Instead, he’s swirling his fork through the silky brown sauce on his plate and Louis wants to head down to the nearest party supply store and buy some balloons or poppers because this dinner is turning into such a downer

They go on like that for the rest of the meal, in relative silence, save for the occasional grunts of acknowledgement Harry will give him when he describes today’s patrons, including a couple that looked up to no good in the E through F aisle and an old woman who towed her doll around in a baby carriage, of all things. He expects a laugh from that last one, but Harry only shrugs. 

It reaches a point where Louis would almost rather they were fighting again, just so he’d have an excuse to shout in frustration when Harry excuses himself to his room immediately after eating. 

“If you don’t mind doing the dishes…” he trails off, already walking away. “Or actually, just leave them, and I’ll take care of them later.” 

But Louis does them anyway, if only to do something other than sit in the silence of their flat. He almost suggested watching a movie together, since nights like those normally end with them curled up into each other on the couch, lazy and sleepy. But movies are reserved for happier nights, nights when Harry can bear to look at him for more than several seconds at a time. 

He goes into his room after that, changing into pajamas and rifling through the paperwork on his desk. He promised his mum on the phone last week that he’d have applied to three jobs by now, all at separate local community theatres. But the applications are still there, blank and unfilled on his desk. According to his mum, they’re promises of a new and better life. 

So you can afford better clothes, better furniture, and a better flat for you and Harry, she had said. 

But he likes his clothes and he likes his furniture. And he certainly likes their flat, his and Harry’s. It’s home — as much as a dingy hole with his best mate can ever really feel like home. 

An hour passes with Louis lying spread-eagle across his bed. It’s too early to fall asleep and he’s not exactly tired or happy enough to do so as it is. The flat has been strangely quiet since dinner, with none of Harry’s weird, garbled music playing on the other side of the wall. Louis takes it as a sign that he’s either sleeping or sulking. But because they’re more or less in the same mindset at any given time of day, it isn’t too hard to guess which one. 

He slumps out of bed and drags his bare feet over to Harry’s door. He’s walked in unannounced countless times before — once to puke into Harry’s lap after a rough night out with Niall — but doing so right now wouldn’t feel right. So he knocks, this stupid antsy feeling bubbling in his stomach. 

“Harry?” 

There’s a beat without an answer but Louis can see the light from Harry’s lamp peeking out underneath the door. 

He knocks again, twice and harder this time. “Harry? Harry, come on. Let me in. I’m bored and lonely. Harry.” 

A low, grumbled sound from inside the bedroom is about as much permission as Louis needs to let himself inside. Harry is lying down on his belly with his face in the pillows and his big feet dangling off the edge. He makes another disagreeable sound as the door shuts and Louis stands there awkward and frozen, staring at Harry in bed and wondering if he has the say-so to join. 

“Mmpf — ” Harry peers up at him with impatience in his eyes and curls stuck to his forehead. “Are you just standing there or what?” 

Louis doesn’t wait a second longer and climbs in with Harry, the mattress whining beneath his weight. He pulls at Harry’s arm and lifts it up, crawling underneath and tugging it around him so that they’re pressed together on the small bed. Harry rumble-groans but twists to accommodate Louis all the same, moving close enough that Louis’ face is right against his chest, could nuzzle into it if he wanted. 

They fall into several moments of silence, save for their breathing, and Louis is quietly thankful. As far as he’s concerned, things will never be so awkward that they can’t do this. It’s a true testament to their friendship, really. 

“Thanks, Hazza,” he says finally, voice soft. 

It takes a second, but Harry responds. “Of course,” he whispers into Louis’ hair. 

He sounds like he might want to sleep, but Louis would much rather talk. “I did the dishes, by the way.” 

“You didn’t have to,” Harry says. “I told you I’d do that.” 

“You’re tired.” He moves impossibly closer into Harry’s space. “And I don’t want you to hate me.” 

There’s a sharp intake of breath and Louis has to close his eyes, narrowing his focus to the feel of Harry’s warmth all around him. It isn’t the best way of bringing this up, whatever this is, but it has to happen somehow. 

At last, “I don’t hate you.” 

“You do,” Louis says, just to be difficult. “Or you’re still mad at me from last week.” 

Harry sighs. “I’m not mad. You make it impossible to be upset with you for very long.” 

Louis smiles privately into Harry’s chest, aiming for subtlety but probably failing. “Then what is it?” 

“What is what?” 

“You’ve…” Louis chooses his words carefully. “You’ve been quiet lately.” He pokes Harry in the rib, not sure of where he’d like the conversation to go. “And you never tuck the children into bed anymore. They’re starting to ask questions, you know.” 

Harry lets out a reluctant laugh, which Louis takes as a victory anyway. “I’ve just…had a lot on my mind.” 

“Yeah?” Louis pulls away, just enough to meet Harry’s eyes. “Like what?” 

Harry blinks, eyes huge and round. “I — erm. School things, for the most part.” 

“Care to elaborate?” 

“Well,” he starts slowly. “It’s mostly that I haven’t been doing so well lately. I haven’t been paying attention as much — you said it yourself, I’ve been unfocused — ” 

“Haz, I — ” 

But Harry shakes his head ruefully. “No, you were right. And now that my marks are coming out, I just…” He sighs again, long and weary. “I think it’s best if I’m closer to classes, y’know? So I’ve done some looking around and I’ve found this flat next to the school. It’s a shithole, basically, much smaller than this, but it’s dirt cheap and — ” 

“Wait.” Louis wrestles out of Harry’s grasp to sit up. “Wait, what?” 

Harry mirrors him and sits up, too, his features and his shoulders dragging heavily. “It might not be for long. Just until end of this term, or maybe next. I dunno yet.” 

Louis feels like he’s been hit with a bucket of ice water, which also sounds oddly appealing right now because his throat’s gone so dry

“You’re — moving out?” Seriously, it feels like sandpaper. 

But he’s still waiting for the punch line, for the fake out and the audience laugh track when Harry nods once, just quick enough that it might have gone unnoticed. 

“Thinking about it, yeah,” he admits grimly. He draws his arms awkwardly around his middle. “I’d still pay rent until then, if that’s what you’re worried about. I can help you find a new roommate, even.” 

Louis gapes because what the fuck even? At least Harry seems appropriately chastened. 

“That’s not what I’m worried about,” he says none too kindly, rolling off the bed in between his use of air quotes. “You want to move out and this is how you’re telling me?” 

Harry looks pained. “Lou…” 

“This is shit, Harry.” Louis backs away, already halfway out the door when he adds, “We’ll talk about it in the morning, when you’ve come back to your goddamn senses.” 

He slams the door behind him once he’s back in his own room. He pulls the blankets over his head and doesn’t sleep all night.

***

It’s a Wednesday afternoon, and Louis needs a good fuck. 

Two weeks have passed since he woke up to find Harry still very much wanting to move out, even having already made an offer on the shitty flat across town. They’ve hardly spoken since, save for their brief goodbyes on Monday morning when he left for work and Harry moved out officially. Even then, Louis couldn’t meet his eyes. 

As such, it’s also been two weeks since his back room escapade and he could really use a new Boy-Thing right about now. 

Liam shows up on his floor as he’s putting several books back on the shelf. He looks cautious, almost hesitant, and Louis has to keep himself from rolling his eyes because it’s not like this is a break up or anything. He doesn’t need a fruit basket or Liam’s patented doe-eyes, of all things. 

“What is it, Liam?” He winces, though, because Liam hasn’t even done anything to him. “Things all right in Picture Book Land?” 

“Yeah.” Liam forces a laugh. “How are things here?” 

Louis shrugs, shelving a particularly heavy tome. “Cold. Dusty. Boring. I’m thinking of starting a petition to get a Wii at my desk.” 

“Right,” Liam says, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Listen, Zayn asked me to talk to you.” 

Louis flips around. “Did he now?” He waggles his eyebrows suggestively. 

“Oh, stop.” But there’s a noticeable blush rising in Liam’s cheeks all the same. “He met up with Harry the other night.” 

He feels his face fall. “Liam…” 

Liam rolls his eyes. “No, shut up.” He looks like he’s struggling to find the right words. “They — we want to do dinner tonight. At Harry’s.” 

“At Harry’s?”

“As a housewarming sort of thing,” Liam explains quickly, hands up in placation. “Just pizzas and beers.”

He narrows his eyes now. “Pizzas and beers?” 

Liam shrugs. “Soda for me, whatever,” he explains tiredly. “Please come? It’s Niall’s only night off all week,” he adds pleadingly, like it’s supposed to be a selling point. 

Louis chuckles disbelievingly. It’s nearly impossible to ever say no to Liam, and Louis can silently appreciate why they’ve chosen him as their messenger boy. Out of the corner of his eye, he notices someone tall appear at the top of the stairs and he makes a mental note to look busy once he’s kicked Liam off his floor; he’s not really in the mood to help. 

“I’ll think about it,” he says. 

But Liam lingers, blinking widely and batting his eyelashes ineffectively at Louis. 

Ugh, stop.” Louis pretends to gag. “You’re making me feel cheap. Go away before I decide you’re not pretty enough for this — ” He gestures at Liam’s face. “ — to work anymore.” 

He finds his way back to his desk after Liam leaves with a smug smile on his face, the little shit. He ducks a little to avoid being seen, and goes back to filling out an order form on the computer when he notices somebody standing in front of him. 

“Um. Hello?” 

Louis looks up and almost chokes on his own spit because the guy standing in front of him is really cute. And he’s also obscenely tall, which makes him want to go back in time and kick Liam in the groin for distracting him from a potentially wonderful love-at-first-sight moment. Or lust-at-first-sight, whatever. 

“Hello,” he says, licking his lips without thinking. 

The guy smiles nervously above him. “Hi, erm, I’m looking for a book.” 

“Fresh out of those, I’m afraid.” Louis bites the inside of his cheek. Stupid. “I mean — ” 

But the guy is laughing before Louis can even apologize, and people don’t normally laugh at his jokes unless out of familial or friend-related obligation, so he counts this as a personal triumph. He grins warily. 

“That was…pretty dumb,” the guy says. Louis frowns, which only makes the guy’s eyes go brighter. “But a solid 10 for execution. You almost had me, mate.” 

He can’t think of a proper response to that, so he sticks out his tongue instead. Honestly, if there were ever a qualifying conversation to steal Liam’s position on the children’s floor, this is it. 

The guy laughs again. “Okay but seriously. About that book?” 

Louis scoffs because this is handily the strangest first encounter he’s ever had in the library, his back room indiscretion included. Which reminds him. 

This can’t turn into a new habit or some sick addiction. He’s only thinking about it because this guy is so tall and easily impressed and tall that it would be some kind of disservice on his part to not flirt with him. Not that suggesting a quick shag falls neatly into the category of ‘flirting,’ but still. It’s a now or never kind of thing. 

He coughs once. “When was the last time you got shagged?” 

The guy’s features contort momentarily in confusion before twisting into unabashed amusement, which, great. He’s laughing — again. 

Louis’ face goes hot. He can’t determine yet whether to laugh along or flee the building. He kicks his rucksack closer anyway, just in case. 

“You’re kidding, right?” This time, the guy is wiping at the corners of his eyes. 

“Erm — ” Shit. “I — ” Fuck. 

“Wow, does that work for you?” The guy’s tone is serious now, but he’s still smiling. “You’re not getting the answer to that until you take me out to dinner first.” 

Louis fishmouths mutely, apparently having lost his mastery over the English language. The guy reaches his hand across the desk. 

“I’m Greg. If you help me find my book, I’ll help you find my number. Cross my heart.” 

“Louis,” he manages, slipping his hand easily into Greg’s. 

“Excellent.” Greg chuckles. “That book, then?”

***

After taking several wrong turns from the library, Louis eventually finds his way to Harry’s new flat. The place isn’t in a particularly nice part of town and some of the pedestrians standing outside the complex look dodgy. One of them might even have a crack pipe though it may well be a normal cigarette, he doesn’t know. It’s hard to tell when the streetlights are drug-den-dark. 

But he tries not to make any premature judgments. 

He knocks on 3C with a case of beer under his arm. There’s the sound of hollering and some footsteps before the door opens to reveal Liam, looking blessedly relieved. 

“I know, I know,” Louis says, shoving his way in. “It’s like the second coming of Christ. What’s going on in here?” 

“Zayn just beat Niall playing Crash Bandicoot,” Liam explains. He nods at the other boys gathered around the telly and an ancient PlayStation. Zayn waves over proudly. Niall just looks stricken.

“Going old school. I approve.” Louis turns to Liam, crowding closer. “Where’s…?” 

“In the kitchen getting crisps and salsa or summat. Go say hi.” 

Louis tightens his vice grip on the beer. Liam, ever the annoying prat, nudges him along and he’s reminded of the overwhelming need to kick him in the balls. Later. 

It takes four steps — five at most — before he’s in the kitchen and holy shit, this is a tiny flat, much smaller than the ones they’d looked at when they first considered living together. Except they don’t live together anymore, Louis reminds himself, and he swallows hard. 

Harry doesn’t see him at first. Instead, he’s crouched low to the ground with his head plunged into the open refrigerator. Louis allows him a few more seconds of rummaging before he clears his throat, apparently incapable of making any sort of entrance other than an awkward one. 

“Shove off, Nialler, I’ve got the — oh.” Harry is standing up now, inexplicably holding out a jar of salsa between them. He doesn’t say anything else. 

“Hello,” Louis says slowly. But Harry is still just staring and holding onto the proffered salsa and he wants to laugh at the absurdity of the whole thing. “I’ve got more beer…?” 

Harry seems to snap out of whatever trance he’s in and gestures to the fridge. “Just throw it in. Here, let me…” He moves aside to let Louis in, but Louis has to squeeze through anyway. Fuck this goddamn space kitchen, seriously. 

“Thanks,” he says, closing the fridge door and turning to look at Harry. “Y’alright?” 

“Yeah.” Harry shrugs. “You?” 

Louis nods wordlessly, feeling perfectly inadequate. 

There’s more yelling coming from the living room and yet all he can focus on is how close they are right now. It’s the closest they’ve been in forever — two days, Louis reminds himself, but it feels longer than that — and it wouldn’t take much to tell Harry about his day, to tell him about Greg, or even to pull him into one of their easy, full-body embraces. 

But he thinks better of it. Harry moved out and though he never explicitly said it, he needed his space. Louis still knows him well enough to sense it and maybe that’s a good thing. Even if it is a bit fucked up. 

Louis sighs. “Crash Bandicoot?” 

Something flashes across Harry’s face, but he blinks and it’s gone. Weird. 

“I’ll smoke you,” he says instead, smirking. 

It sounds off, but Louis will take it. “You’re on, Styles.” 

They go back into the living room together, more space between them than usual but together nonetheless. He flings himself onto Liam, partly to be an asshole but mostly to avoid the awkwardness of squeezing onto the remaining sofa cushion with Harry. Liam huffs impatiently into his ear like he knows, but Louis could give two fucks. So he hums instead, settling down and making himself comfortable. 

The night improves from there, hitting its stride when Louis effectively obliterates Harry three times in a row. They team up together once, and though they’re no match for Liam and Zayn’s combined efforts, it’s just nice to have Harry on his side again. Niall mediates as best as he can with a slice of pizza in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other, but it all degenerates into their usual brand of fuckery and drunken reminiscing by the night’s end. 

“Admit it, Liam,” Louis demands. He’s somehow sat in Niall’s lap, brandishing half-eaten pizza crust in the air. “You were in love with Zayn from the moment you saw him. That first fucking moment in the uni bookstore.” 

Liam blushes through a sputtered protest, one that carries very little weight from the way he’s curled up into Zayn’s side on Harry’s ratty old beanbag. 

“Not from the first moment — ” 

“You said, and I quote, holy shit Louis, he’s so fit.” Louis puffs his chest out proudly and Niall grunts under his weight. “If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.” 

“Sexual frustration,” Harry offers slowly from where he’s sprawled on the carpet. “A severe case, at that.” 

“Oi,” Liam warns above their laughter. 

“A blushing virgin when you first met him, isn’t that right Liam?” Louis dodges the empty beer can hurled his way. He’s surprised at how gallant Zayn can be, protecting his boyfriend’s honor and all. “I’m only joking, of course. One of the most bloody romantic mating rituals I’ve ever seen.” 

“Seriously,” Niall groans. “Danced around each other for fucking weeks — ” 

“ — made disgusting heart eyes at each other in every room,” Harry adds. 

“You’re all twats,” Zayn says. 

“Shut up. You love us,” Louis reminds him. “All I can say is how happy I am that you two finally cottoned on. You better end up married or something because it was getting pathetic, quite honestly.” 

“That’s rich coming from you,” Zayn grumbles mutinously, at which Liam promptly swats him across the head. 

“What?” 

The room is weirdly quiet now, but Louis attributes it to drunken tunnel hearing or something. That’s a thing probably. Instead, Zayn is looking up at him with wide eyes, like he’s only remembered something. Huh. He may have had one beer too many to deal with this properly. 

“Nothing,” Zayn says finally. “I — it’s just…I mean, it’s funny how you’re saying all this when you haven’t even had a proper shag in months.” 

That should probably hurt, but Louis looks forward to the look on Zayn’s face when he’s proven wrong. “Actually — ” 

“He has,” Harry interrupts, sitting upright. He blinks at all the surprised stares directed toward him, Louis’ included. “He fucked a Yank in the library. Just the other week. Didn’t you, Lou?” 

Louis frowns, all smart responses suddenly wasted on his tongue. Instead, the other lads are shouting at him for more details. Even Liam seems genuinely interested, betraying the scandalized look on his face. But all Louis can focus on is the way that Harry stands up, knees wobbling slightly and expression stony. 

“I think I’m going to turn in,” Harry mumbles, just loud enough to cut through the chatter. “Tired…classes in the morning and such. Just lock the door when you lot leave, yeah?” 

He disappears into the kitchen without another word, leaving the room in stunned silence. Louis is still trying to catch up. 

“Uh — ”

But Liam and Zayn are standing, too, and even Niall is pushing Louis off his lap. Rude. 

“I, erm.” Liam runs a hand through his hair, which would probably be more effective if he had any hair. 

“I’m going to stay the night and help clean up,” Zayn decides. He exchanges a look with Liam that Louis can’t quite interpret, but it disappears before he can think about it too much. “Can you drive them home?” 

Louis raises a hand, feeling like a child left out. “My car?” 

Liam shakes his head. “I’ll pick you up and we can swing by before work tomorrow. C’mon, Niall.” 

There’s more he wants to ask, mostly along the lines of what the fuck even and can I finish my crust first, but Liam is already dragging him out toward the car with Niall trailing behind.

He slumps against the window, confused and mind spinning the whole way home.

***

It rains nonstop for the rest of the week and well into the next one. The fact that Louis finds himself trapped in the library the whole time somehow makes it worse, almost like a very specific brand of torture. 

There’s a girl who walks onto his floor talking on her mobile, and Louis doesn’t have time for this. He points to the sign on his desk, the one that very clearly bans speaking on mobiles on the second floor,and she sits down at one of the tables with a scowl on her face. 

Otherwise, everyone else in the world seems to have other and undoubtedly better places to be, leaving Louis with time to think, particularly about how he hasn’t seen or heard from Harry since his housewarming thing. And he doesn’t expect to hear from him, right, but it’s still something to get used to after having spent the last several years tied to each other’s hips, first as best mates and then as roommates. He’d had a bad first couple weeks of separation anxiety when he first went off to school, but those don’t even hold a candle to these couple weeks of being away from Harry. 

Louis loves his friends, really, and though he’s grateful to have found Liam, Zayn and Niall here, they don’t quite understand him the way Harry does. They’d gotten on so well from the beginning, ever since they met at that party, him the seasoned drama student and Harry the bright-eyed fresher. And they’d made it work somehow, made it through those nights that Harry couldn’t read another novella and those times that Louis panicked over not having a job — a perfect job — immediately out of uni. They fit into each other, carved space and room into each other until they were basically the same person, one hardly functioning without the other. 

So, yeah, it’s probably not healthy and that’s probably why this whole separation is that much more unbearable now. Liam had been the first one to point it out, the first one to question the real nature of their relationship. And it’s not like Louis’ never questioned it before himself, never wondered how they could sleep in each other’s beds night in and night out without it ever meaning anything in the morning. But it’s gone on far too long that if it were meant to happen, it would’ve happened by now. Besides, Harry has been around the block his fair share, sometimes with girls and sometimes with boys, and Louis will be damned if he lets his heart get broken by his fucking best friend. It’s better this way. 

Or at least, it was better this way. He doesn’t know what to think anymore, if Harry even wants to stay his friend. 

His mobile goes off, saving him from his train of thought. He reaches for it, pointedly ignoring the scathing look the girl at the table sends his way. She can use her phone all she wants once she graduates with a drama degree only to end up working in a city library. Until then, she can fuck off. 

He smiles when he realizes it’s Greg. remember me? i’m still waiting for that dinner date! 

of course i remember. made a fool of myself, didn’t i?

Greg texts back, you can make it up by going out with me tomorrow night xx

He thinks about that. It’s been a year since he promised not to get involved in anything too serious. But Greg had a nice smile and truly didn’t seem like an asshole, so why not?

are you driving or am i? :)

They text several more times, eventually making plans to go out the following night. He sets his phone down, feeling oddly accomplished. 

Another hour passes and Louis seriously considers leaving to get coffee across the street because, seriously, who would even notice? He’s already thrown his coat on and he’s reaching under his desk to get his wallet out of his rucksack when he hears footsteps stop just in front of his desk. 

“Hey.” 

Louis freezes, recognizing that voice anywhere. It’s Harry. 

He stands up slowly, his jackrabbit heart beating hollowly in his chest. Harry is in front of him, curls swept under a beanie and hands shoved into his coat pockets, looking absolutely wet and cold.

“Hi,” he says, a bit dazed. 

Harry frowns. “Are you leaving?”

“What? Oh.” Louis looks down at his coat, suddenly feeling very guilty. “No? I won’t tell if you don’t.” 

There’s a pause before Harry’s rolling his eyes and laughing in an achingly familiar way. It’s enough to melt some of Louis’ anxiety. “You’re ridiculous.” He sees the wallet in Louis’ hand. “Although I could’ve brought you coffee if I’d known you were planning on sneaking away from work.” 

It’s a bit scary how tuned into each other they still are. But Louis just peels off his coat, deliberately not thinking about it too much. 

“To be fair, I didn’t even know you were coming.” Louis sinks back into his seat. “What brings you here, anyway? Heard about the party, I’m assuming?” He looks around at the empty floor, save for the girl now shoving headphones into her ears. Good. 

“Dunno.” Harry shrugs, eyes flitting to random places around the room now. “Erm. To apologize, probably.” 

“To apologize? For what?” 

Harry sighs, his body getting impossibly smaller as his shoulders hunch up to his ears. “For being a miserable twat when you came over last week.” 

Louis’ face softens. “Hazza — ” 

“No, I was,” Harry clips. “I was — school and all, and I was stressed, I — ” He shakes his head, features screwed together. “Anyway. I wanted to apologize. Please let me apologize.” 

Louis just stares for a moment and it feels like that night again, his mind racing to keep up. But Harry’s got this sad, hopeful sort of expression on his face and Louis hates it, hates how it’s like looking at a stranger. Because this isn’t a stranger — it’s Harry. His Harry. 

“Yeah, of course, Haz,” Louis says earnestly. “Forget about it, yeah?” 

Harry nods, but he looks relieved all the same. He hovers for a moment, biting his lip and looking like he might say something else. 

“Haz?” 

“Wha — oh. Yeah.” Harry manages a weak smile. “I was going to ask if you wanted to come over sometime. To help paint the flat, I mean. I haven’t decided on any colors yet and I’m busy as fuck for the next week at least, but…if you want? We could get takeout and make a day of it.” 

Louis finds himself nodding before Harry’s even finished speaking. “That sounds great, yeah.” 

This time, Harry beams, so genuinely pleased that Louis can’t help but stand up and reach across the desk, pulling him in for a tight embrace. It’s a bit uncomfortable and awkwardly positioned, but it only takes a moment before Harry is hugging him back just as much. 

There are a thousand different things playing at the tip of Louis’ tongue, like I missed you and let’s stop doing this, but what comes out instead is, “I can’t wait.” 

Harry just breathes in deep, his arms almost a vice around Louis’ neck.

***

“Wow, I don’t know if we can keep doing this, then.” 

Greg puts the car into park, frowning. “Are you serious?” 

Louis nods, attempting but failing to hide the smile tucked into the corner of his mouth. “I’m pretty serious, yeah. You like Demi more than Selena. Did you even hear yourself when you said that?” 

“Oh my god.” Greg pulls a face. “You’re ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous, did you know that?” 

“Have you even seen the music video for ‘Love You Like A Love Song’? It’s spiritual fucking awakening, that.” And, for dramatic flair, he flings the car door open and tears out, slamming it behind him before climbing the front steps of his complex. 

Greg chases after him, of course. Louis privately thinks that Greg has done an excellent job of keeping up with him all night. 

“Not fair!” he exclaims when he gets to the top step. “Have you ever listened to ‘La La Land’?” 

But Louis waves him away dismissively, taking a deep breath and meeting his eyes. “Okay, shush. I have to know, for my sake…Britney or Christina?” 

Greg smiles slowly and slyly, like he already knows what the right answer is. “Britney,” he says assuredly. “Dressed as her for a costume party once.” 

Louis’ jaw drops, impressed but also intrigued by the imagery. “All right. There may be some redeeming quality in you yet.” 

It’s been a great night overall, one that started off on a high note when Greg offered to pick him up instead. They shared a basket of calamari at the restaurant and Greg didn’t even bat an eyelash when Louis reached over every other minute to steal chips from his plate, even letting him choose the flavor they shared when they stopped at an ice cream parlor for dessert. Evenings like this haven’t come by in a while, and Louis wouldn’t mind getting used to them. 

“Hey,” Greg says, voice suddenly low. 

Louis already knows where this is going but he just blinks innocently at him and god, he’s so tall. “Hey yourself.” 

“Mind if I steal a kiss?” Greg grins when Louis rolls his eyes. “You stole the cherry from our sundae, after all.” 

Louis gasps. “You let me!” 

Greg shrugs peaceably and draws Louis in by his waist, kissing him softly. It’s sweet and gentle and just very nice — much like the rest of their date has gone, and Louis doesn’t even mind when the kiss stays that way. There’s no urgency, no rush to get to the end. 

But that doesn’t stop Louis from pulling back slightly, arms still wound around his neck, and whispering, “Want to come upstairs?” 

Greg’s body rumbles when he laughs. He pecks Louis one, two more times before saying, “Nice try. Some more dinners first, yeah?” He pulls away entirely, but not before leaning in for one more kiss. “Goodnight, Louis.”

Louis watches Greg walk back to his car. Once the car disappears around the corner, he realizes he doesn’t mind.

***

They continue to see each other for the next week, a couple times for dinner and once for a movie beforehand. It’s been so long since Louis has dated and the whole experience is actually rather decent. It’s…yeah, it’s pretty nice. 

But it’s been several dates, right, and each night has ended without sex. And it’s not like Louis needs the sex — he’s gone for so long without it and waiting a little longer probably wouldn’t kill him, probably — to have a good time with Greg, but that’s just the thing. He doesn’t even want the sex, which…there’s probably something very wrong with him, something that some Russian physicians in the future will be able to write plenty about. 

Greg is nice and dating Greg is nice…but that’s about all it is. Nice. 

They work well together and Greg matches his banter blow for blow, but that’s not necessarily something he’s lacking in his life. He has the lads, after all: Zayn, Liam, Niall and…Harry. Sure, they don’t talk nearly as much as they used to, but he still has Harry. He’s pretty sure he does, anyway. And now, Greg. Greg, who is bright and funny and just so lovely that Louis has convinced himself that yeah, there’s probably something severely wrong with himself. A few more dates are all it’ll take and he’ll be able to appreciate Greg as more than just a new shiny friend, the way he knows he should.

It’s still bothering him, though, when he’s at Harry’s flat one night to help paint. But he pushes it out of his mind; this is quality Harry time, after all. 

“This turned out really well,” Louis says, looking around the finished room painted a soft green. It reminds him of Harry’s eyes. “Like, really well. Fuck Zayn and his fucking art degree. We don’t need him, never did.” 

Harry emerges from the kitchen with two cups of water. He hands one to Louis. “Any of them, for that matter.” 

Louis nods. “Can’t believe none of them could make it.” 

“Huh?” Harry blinks, feet shuffling awkwardly. “Oh…yeah. Same.” 

“They’re all shit friends,” Louis whispers conspiringly after a sip of water. “I’m all you need, Hazza.” 

Harry bites his lip. “Yeah, I s’pose.” 

“Dinner then?” Louis claps his hands once for emphasis. “I’m feeling like a kebab. Or shawarma.” 

“Anything for you, Lou,” Harry says, rolling his eyes. 

They eventually find a place that delivers from right around the corner, nearly falling on top of other on Harry’s bed with boxes of takeaway. There are episodes of The IT Crowd on the television as they bump shoulders and steal food from each other. It’s just like before. 

Later, when they’re too full and too tired and too lazy to move from Harry’s bedroom, Louis’ phone goes off. 

miss your cute face x, the text reads and Louis can’t help but snort. 

“Who’s that?” Harry mumbles, leaning over to see. But Louis turns away instinctively, moving much quicker than his exhaustion should allow. 

“Oh, erm — just someone from work,” he lies instantly, ignoring the confused look on Harry’s face. “Some scheduling thing.” 

Harry looks doubtful. “Right. Probably another one of your back room boys.” 

Louis doesn’t dignify that with an immediate response and sets the unanswered phone on the nightstand instead. He turns the light off and rolls over toward Harry, whose body seems to freeze at initial contact before melting next to him. 

“You’re the only boy here,” Louis murmurs. He pulls half the covers over him. “Turn the telly off? ‘M sleepy.” 

“You’re staying, are you?” Harry asks, mirth underlining his tone. But he turns it off anyway, sliding under the covers with Louis but maintaining a gap between them. “That’s fine.” 

Louis hums his agreement. It’s too early to sleep and he should probably go home or something, but painting is so exhausting. He’s knackered in his very bones, it feels like. Plus, Harry is giving off warmth in waves and this isn’t such a bad arrangement. 

A minute passes when Louis stretches and his ankle knocks against Harry’s. Without thinking, he curls up into Harry’s side, nosing at his bicep before Harry sighs like it’s such a burden, honestly, and lifts his arm to grant Louis access. Louis takes advantage instantly, drawing himself close and dropping his head heavily on Harry’s shoulder. 

“Ow,” he mutters. 

“You’re a prat,” Harry says fondly. 

Louis yawns in reply. 

So they lie together like that, silently and practically draped over each other. There’s a moment when Louis can hear Harry take a deep breath and he assumes he’s fallen asleep when —

“I think I want to paint the bedroom, too. Will you help me?” 

Louis reaches blindly in the dark, pressing a finger to Harry’s lips. He thinks he feels them press back, but he’s definitely imagining things. “Shh, no. I mean — no, I won’t, because I refuse to support this whole independent thing of yours any further, but also no, sleep first.” 

“But — ” 

“Sleep.” 

Harry chuckles but, other than that, falls silent. Louis tips his head up to press a goodnight kiss to his jaw, but then Harry’s moving at the same time and their lips meet. 

It’s light, barely even a thing, but they both pull apart with surprise in their eyes. Harry is looking at him, panic written all over his face, and Louis should’ve known better than to slide into their normal routine this quickly, to stay over like this. 

But fuck it, he decides. He’s too tired to apologize and Harry can get over it. So he reaches up again, hand gentle on Harry’s cheek, and kisses him once and chastely on the lips. He pulls away a second later, his head falling back to its earlier spot on Harry’s shoulder. 

Sleep,” he reiterates. But then, softer, “Goodnight, Hazza.” 

If Harry says anything back, then he doesn’t hear it.

***

The next week, Louis is half-awake at his desk and Liam’s just secretly texted him saying he’s about to come upstairs. He hates opening shifts. 

“You look miserable,” are Liam’s first words to him. 

“And you look like you’re going to get hit if you get too close to me,” Louis says darkly. But Liam disregards him and sits perched at the edge of his desk. 

“Long night?” he asks. 

Louis rubs what sleep he can from his eyes. “Sort of.” He’d actually just gone with Greg to the cinema for a late night showing. They’re still seeing each other regularly and still very much not having sex, which, honestly, might not help with Louis’ whole only seeing him as a friend sort of thing. But sure, abstinence works too. 

“Sort of?” Liam quirks a brow. 

“Shut up.” He needs caffeine. “Go away.” He needs caffeine now.

Liam grins. “No.” He’s too much of a shithead for this early in the morning. Louis wants to kill him. 

“I’m going to tell Zayn to snap your dick in half.”

“Eugh.” Liam pulls a face. “You’re a right charmer in the morning, Lou.” 

He’s about to tell Liam to fuck off when he notices someone walking toward his desk. And then he’s decidedly more awake than he was only a second ago when he realizes that it’s Greg. 

The first word out of his mouth is, “What?”

Liam follows his line of sight, his brow creasing when he lands on Greg. Greg with his beatific smile and his floppy hair and his two cups of coffee

“Is that for me?” Louis asks, already reaching over the desk with grabby hands. 

Greg laughs. “Thought I’d come round before work,” he says, handing him a cup. “It’s the least I could do for keeping you out late. Besides, someone wouldn’t stop grousing about work at 8 in the morning.”

Louis stares at his fingers wrapped around the styrofoam cup. “You paid attention to all that?” 

“Impossible not to, mate,” Greg says before turning to Liam and stretching out a hand. “Sorry, I’d’ve brought you some, too, if I’d known. I’m Greg, by the way.” 

Liam, for all his confusion, somehow manages to shake Greg’s hand. “Liam. And that’s all right. ‘M a morning person and all.” 

“Brilliant,” Greg says happily. “Lou’s told me about you. Partners in literary crime and such, yeah?” 

Louis groans but at least he’s smiling. The magic of coffee. “I never said that.” 

Greg sticks his tongue out. “I know. I came up with that all on my own,” he says proudly. Louis rolls his eyes but Liam actually laughs. Greg looks around the empty floor. “What’re you doing tonight?” 

“Dunno.” Louis shrugs. “Probably go out for a pint with the lads tonight. Haven’t seen them in a while.” He hasn’t talked to Harry since that night, save for a few texts here and there, and he can see Liam’s considering stare from the corner of his eye. It’s going to take way more coffee before he can deal with that.

Greg nods. “Okay. In that case — ” 

“You should come,” Liam interrupts. His eyes are big and round like he doesn’t know what he’s just done either. “Only if you’re free, I mean. But I’m sure the lads’ll want to meet you.” 

Louis cocks his head to the side and watches Liam carefully. What? 

But then Greg is nodding like it’s the easiest decision to make. “Oh — yeah, if you’re sure, definitely. Lou, I’ll text you?” 

He looks over from Greg to Liam and back before blinking once and nodding mutely. 

“Excellent.” Greg checks his watch. “Oh, bugger. I’ve got to go. Sorry. I’ll see you lot tonight.” He winks at Louis and smiles at Louis, and then he’s gone. 

Louis waits until Greg has disappeared down the stairs before turning to face Liam, expecting a full interrogation or some furrowed eyebrows at the very least. Instead, he’s already standing up and walking away, looking entirely unaffected. 

“Have to get back,” he says none too convincingly. “See you after work.” 

“After work,” Louis repeats quietly, fingers curling curiously around his coffee. 

***

They don’t see each other after work. Louis goes home instead to take a nap, only waking up when his phone buzzes with Greg’s text asking if he’d like a ride. He replies sure and spends the rest of the afternoon waiting in bed, oddly nervous. 

Greg shows up without a minute to spare and by the time they park the car, they’re only fifteen minutes late. They walk inside together, hand in hand, and Louis immediately sees Niall at the bar, where he’s waving and gesturing toward a rounded booth in the corner. Liam and Zayn are already sitting down and flagging them over. Harry is next to them…staring. Suddenly, Louis’ palms go sweaty, but Greg doesn’t say anything. 

“Thanks for waiting, you bunch of cunts,” he says, nodding at their drinks. 

“You’re late, you fuck.” But Zayn is smiling when he says it. 

Louis pouts and points at Greg. “It was his fault.” 

“Hey!” Greg drops his hand and frowns. 

“‘M only kidding, love,” Louis says, patting his arm consolingly. But they have an audience right now and he feels his neck growing warmer and his ears turning red. “Erm, right. You’ve already met Liam, but that’s Zayn, his better half — ” Zayn waves as Liam protests, “ — and that’s Harry, my best mate. And this is Greg, everyone.” 

Greg is reaching over and shaking everyone’s hand, even Liam’s again, and Louis doesn’t miss the way that Harry’s shoulders seem to tense when it’s his turn. 

“Right,” Louis says again, heart pounding in his chest. “I’ll go get drinks — ” 

“No, you stay,” Greg says, pushing him down next to Liam gently by his shoulders. “And I’ll go. Want to meet your mate Niall, anyway. What’ll you have?” 

Louis thinks. “Something fruity.” 

Greg smirks and winks suggestively. Honestly. “Coming right up. Refill for you lads?” 

The three of them shake their heads and Greg walks off. He’ll be a while, Louis reasons, especially if he’s going over to see Niall. 

They sit in relative silence for all of a second before Zayn is reaching across Liam and swatting him rather painfully on the shoulder. 

“Who the fuck is he and why haven’t you told us about him?” 

Louis rubs his shoulder helplessly. “He’s Greg.” And when Zayn looks like he might hit him again, he adds, “He’s just…someone I’m seeing.” 

“For how long?” Harry is staring at him, waiting, and his eyes are unusually intense. Must be the lighting. 

Louis turns away, looking at the scratches in the table instead. “We’ve been talking for about a month, but we’ve only been seeing each other properly for…two weeks?” He looks up finally and Harry’s still looking at him. “Yeah, two weeks.” 

Harry just nods, lips pursed. 

Louis looks to his left and Liam looks strangely nervous. But Zayn is just shaking his head looking somewhat in disbelief. 

“You’re such a shit,” Zayn says eventually, the ghost of a smile on his mouth. 

“Who’s such a shit?” Greg reappears, sliding into the booth next to Louis with two fluorescent cocktails. 

“I am, apparently,” Louis says, taking his drink. He can still feel the weight of Harry’s stare on him and the mood of the booth seems off in general, but he tries not to pay attention to it too much. He leans into Greg instead, seeking salvation wherever he can find it. 

The next hour, however, seems to move along rather easily. When Louis comes back with a second round, he finds the seating rearranged, with Zayn and Greg on one side of the booth debating music taste and Liam and Harry on the other side looking strangely plaintive. He sits next to Greg, just because, and Niall drops by every once in a while to tell a joke or steal from someone’s pint. Overall, it’s not so bad. 

By half past ten, Greg is stifling a yawn into his sleeve and Louis can see right through him. 

“Go ahead,” he says. “I’ll catch a ride with one of the lads.” He pointedly ignores the way Liam says no he won’t. 

“No, I’m — ” Greg starts, but Louis’ unimpressed look wears him down. “You sure?” 

“Yeah, I’m sure,” Louis says. “I’ll text you.” 

Greg hums and nods before leaning in, breath ghosting over Louis’ ear. “I kind of wanted to go home with you tonight.” 

Louis pulls back as his entire face goes red, and it doesn’t help that the other three are watching them. The offer is tempting, really, if only to avoid the inexplicable way that Harry’s been looking at him all night. But Greg has work early, and it probably wouldn’t help his case with Harry to leave abruptly, not when the rest of them seem ready for at least another round. 

“You’re tired, love,” he says instead, patting Greg’s face fondly. “Another time.” 

Greg just smiles at him stupidly before leaning in for a quick kiss at the corner of his mouth. “Okay. You owe me cuddles.” 

He’s about to respond to that when Harry stands up without warning, expression dark and coat in hand. 

“I’m leaving. Bye.” Then he’s gone. 

Louis stares after him. “What the fuck?” he gets out eventually. 

“Go.” Suddenly Liam is crowding next to him, practically shoving him out of the booth past Greg. “Louis, go.” 

He doesn’t even know what he’s doing, doesn’t even register the confusion on Greg’s face, but he’s going anyway, stumbling and meandering through the crowd of people to get outside before Harry’s gone, gone completely. When he’s out the door and into the cold, he sees Harry walking off several yards toward the car park.

“Harry!” 

But Harry doesn’t turn around. “Go away, Louis.” 

Louis catches up to him eventually, grabbing his coat and turning him around. “Harry — ” 

“What the fuck, Louis.” And Harry’s eyes are red, his lashes wet. “You didn’t even tell me about him.” 

He opens and closes his mouth uselessly, wanting to reach out and wipe the moisture from Harry’s eyes. “I — Greg?” 

“You were texting him the night you kissed me, right?” Harry’s voice is frantic. “Fuck, Lou.” 

“Kissed you…?” Louis blinks and he can feel Harry literally slipping past his fingertips. “Haz — ” 

“You said you weren’t looking for anything. Just some fun,” Harry reminds him brokenly. “You said you didn’t want a relationship. You fucking lied to me.”

Louis wants to hug him, to pull him in and hold him and reassure him — both of them — and tell him that he’s sorry. But he’s still frozen and still holding onto Harry, whose eyes have suddenly gone steely as he pulls away. 

“I’m going home,” he says, voice gravelly. “Leave me alone.” 

And that’s how he leaves Louis, alone on the street with a coat in his arms and words trapped in his throat.

***

Greg drops him off at home afterward with a brief kiss on the cheek goodnight. The air between them is so palpably strained that Louis can’t bring it in himself to invite him inside, and Greg seems to understand. 

The next time they see each other two days later, it’s to break up. 

“I’m sorry,” Louis says for about the fifth time. They’re sitting on a bench outside the library during his break and he can’t figure out why, but he can’t stop saying it. “I’m so sorry, Greg.” 

Greg smiles, something sad still lingering in the corners. “It’s honestly okay. We never even slept together.” 

Louis chokes on a laugh and punches him in the arm, perhaps a little too forcefully to be considered strictly playful. “I’m sorry about that, too.” 

“You don’t need to be sorry about everything, you know.” 

He stares out into the street, watching the cars drive by. “So Liam told you everything that night?” 

“As much as he could, I suppose.” Greg pauses. “He just said that Harry…and you hadn’t figured it out yet.” 

Louis laughs ruefully. “Yeah. I’m a bit dense.” 

“I’m not,” Greg says, and when Louis looks at him, confused, he adds, “I could tell he wanted to murder me the moment I sat down. Couldn’t figure out why, though.” 

“Oh.” Louis swallows. “That’s…I’m — ” 

“Say you’re sorry one more time and I might actually reconsider breaking up with you.” 

Louis smiles and sighs, the whole situation still too fresh to joke about. After all, Liam had only apologized yesterday for inviting Greg to meet them with hopes that Harry would actually do something about it, and Greg called at night asking to meet up today. The only person that hasn’t called is Harry. Figures. 

“Right,” he says eventually. “Fuck.” 

“Hey,” Greg says, gently draping his hand over Louis’ in the gap between them. “It’s really okay. Really, really.” 

Louis shakes his head, looking down in his lap. “Your ‘okay’ is starting to sound a lot like my ‘sorry.’” 

Greg shrugs. “As long as we both mean it. I do.” 

Louis finally looks at Greg — Greg, who would be so wonderful and so perfect and so right in any other situation. But today and from now on, he’s just Greg, the one too good to get in the way, the one who had to see it all happen like this. 

“I do, too.”

***

i have your coat.

please come get it.

i know it’s your only one so i know you’re freezing.

greg and i broke up, wasn’t going to work out. come please.

please.

He’s been texting Harry for three days now, each message going expectedly unanswered. And though he’d been okay at first, prepared to give Harry his space, he’s actually quite aggravated now. It was much easier to handle Harry avoiding him back when they lived together: all he had to do was knock his door down and climb into bed with him, pinning him down until he finally had to acknowledge him.

Which, he’s not above doing that now, if he only knew where Harry was. But showing up at his doorstep unexpected is probably overstepping some kind of line, not to mention a little too clichéd for Louis’ tastes. So here at the library he’ll stay, steadfast and stubborn, meeting Harry beat for beat and inch for inch. 

It’s another early morning at the library, but he brought coffee for himself this time, along with an extra one for Liam, just to tell him that everything is honestly all right and yes, I’ve been trying to reach him so could you please, leave me alone? 

His computer has crashed for the third time this morning and he’s considering throwing it down the stairs when he sees someone — a very tall, a very cute, and a very familiar someone — walking toward his desk. 

“I’m here,” Harry says, although his tone indicates he’d very much like not to be. “Happy?” 

Louis looks up at him, struggling to keep his face completely blank. 

“Can I have my coat back?” Harry huffs impatiently. But Louis sees the way his lips turn down at the corners. “Please?” 

He stands up and grabs Harry by the wrist, completely disregarding boundary issues. “Come with me.” 

“What — ” 

“It’s in the back room.” 

Harry says nothing on the walk there, all 30 seconds of it, and he walks in wordlessly as Louis shuts the door behind him. He goes around, completely disregarding Harry’s look of confusion as he checks the shades and props the small stool against the door. These are almost actions of habit. 

“Louis — ” 

“Look,” he says, turning around and finally meeting Harry in the eye. He seems to flinch and Louis reminds himself to tone down the intensity. “I’m going to talk and you’re going to listen. Then when I’m finished, you’ll have your turn, okay?” 

Harry rolls his eyes but nods anyway. 

“Right, so.” Louis inhales deeply. “You’re kind of an asshole.” 

Immediately, Harry’s eyes fly wide open and he’s about to protest when Louis holds up a hand. 

“My turn,” he reminds him. “Okay. So, you’re kind of an asshole, but that’s fine, because I am, too, and I’m also kind of a liar. The reason that you’re kind of an asshole is because you moved out. And that’s fair, that’s fine, but you made me realize things that I couldn’t see, or maybe things that I didn’t want to see. And that’s such a dick move of you, because I was perfectly fine just being your best mate until you moved out and made me realize that I was a liar.” He’s watching Harry’s reaction carefully now. “That I actually did want a relationship and that the reason I hadn’t been looking…was because you’d been with me the whole time. You dick,” he adds for good measure. 

He waits now, watching as Harry’s expression transitions into one of complete realization. His lips part just slightly, and Louis wants to fit his own in between. 

“Harry?” 

Harry just shakes his head. “Am I an asshole or a dick?” 

Louis can’t help it when he laughs, just laughs like his chest might burst until Harry is there and in his space, arms drawing him in until they’re flush together and a breath apart. 

“That would be the only thing you got from that,” Louis says, trying for stern but failing horribly. 

Harry hums, breath falling on his cheek. He whispers roughly, “I’m more of a dick, myself.” 

Louis shivers, his body reacting involuntarily to the implication of that. Rather than saying anything else smart, he just hovers his lips over Harry’s and says, “I love you.” 

Harry’s breath hitches and his eyes, green and alive, are staring straight into his. “I moved out to get away from you. It got too hard.”

“I love you,” Louis says again to reassure him, to let him know he understands and it’s okay. “Always have, I think.” 

That’s about all it takes before Harry’s lips are on his, warm and loose as his hands trail up and down his jaw. He melts into the touch, his body fitting against Harry’s like it does anywhere else, and that’s about all that takes before he’s sure that this is where he wants to be. 

“I love you, too,” Harry says suddenly, pulling back and brushing a strand of hair from Louis’ forehead. “I mean, obviously.” 

Louis laughs breathlessly and kisses his nose. “I mean…obviously.” 

Harry’s eyes go serious for a moment. “Lets — I don’t want to fight. Can we not fight anymore?” 

This boy. 

“Can’t promise that,” Louis says, nuzzling their noses together. “But I promise that you’ll have me, for however long you want.” 

Harry nods, satisfied. “That might be a long time.” 

Louis moves them until they’ve fallen onto the couch, his body very nearly crushing Harry’s. “I can deal with that.” 

“Good.” Harry is looking up at him with this sort of wonder, and Louis doesn’t know how they’ve gone so long without this. “Does this mean that I’m one of your back room boys now?” 

Hey,” Louis warns, ignoring Harry’s mad cackle and hitting him once on the cheek. “No. Never.” 

Harry draws him in by the collar, fitting their mouths together again. “More than that?” he mumbles against his lips. 

“Mm, yeah.” 

Louis sighs against Harry before breaking away. Beneath him, Harry looks so beautiful and so wrecked already. He can tell they’re going to have fun. 

“Actually,” he says wickedly, hoping that he’s remembered to lock the door. “Maybe just for today.”

Notes
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