That’s Not Our Deal | Harry/Louis (Liam/Zayn) | NC-17 | 14.3k | Louis is a writer, mostly, and Harry doesn’t know the difference between a journal and a diary.
Notes: a.k.a. lots of self-deprecating Louis and a shitty ending, but it’s a happy one because I like those, apparently.
“Well, I hate everything today.”
Louis doesn’t wait until he’s inside the flat to kick off his shoes and hurl his keys onto the side table. He thinks about doing the same with his rucksack until he remembers his laptop is inside, so he settles for putting it on the carpet and slamming the door instead. Zayn doesn’t move from the couch.
“What happened now?” he asks, not bothering to lift his head from his book.
Louis marches into the kitchen, hardly two steps away, where he grabs the bag of bread and shoves as many slices as possible into their toaster. Two. Fuck everything.
Zayn looks up. “You hate everything today because you’re hungry?”
Louis turns around to glare at him. “You’re not being funny. Or cute, for that matter.”
“Hmm.” Zayn shrugs and goes back to his reading. “You can’t fix everything with a sandwich, you know.”
“I know — ” Louis stops and looks down at himself. The hors d’oeuvres at the reading were either some kind of goat cheese or anchovy that he hated, so he can justify eating thirty cheese sandwiches. “I know that. What the fuck are you even reading anyway?”
“Joyce. It’s good. He’s good.”
Louis makes a face. “I hate Joyce. I hate the Irish.”
Zayn half-laughs. “I’ll be sure to tell Niall.”
“I don’t actually — ” He sputters, frustrated, and checks the toaster again. Not done. Maybe he’ll have cereal first. “Aren’t you going to ask me what happened?” he asks when he spins back around.
“I thought I did,” Zayn says, still reading.
“Yeah, but you did that thing.” Louis ignores the telling pop of the toaster. “That thing where you ask but you’re not really asking, you know?” Zayn doesn’t look up. “I can’t tell if you really care or not. Zayn, do you care?”
“Jesus Christ, Lou.” Zayn slams his book shut and stares straight at Louis. “I do care. I obviously care if I bothered to ask at all, but I’m not about to sit here and wait for you to stop being cryptic when we both know that you’re going to get to the point eventually.”
Louis flinches at that, forgetting how mean Zayn can be with his words. “Okay.”
“Don’t do that,” Zayn says tiredly. “Don’t act like I’ve said something wrong.”
“Yeah, but — ”
He sighs and moves to the opposite couch, tucking away his hunger for later. “The reading was shit.”
“The reading was shit?”
Louis nods. “Half of them were these middle-aged fucks who all wrote about the same damn thing. Parenthood and failed relationships and the like. One bloke wrote about his toe fungus.”
“Lovely.” Zayn wrinkles his nose. “What about the other half?”
“The other half,” Louis starts with a long-suffering sigh, “were people our age. But they wrote about realthings, you know? One girl wrote about her mum dropping her off at a bus station and never seeing her again. Another one wrote about stealing codeine from her parents’ cabinet since she was nine. Nine, Zayn. How the fuck am I supposed to compete?”
“What did you read?”
Louis groans. “The one about the time I got stuck in a snow storm with that improv group at the local theatre.”
Zayn blinks slowly. “I like that one.”
“I know you do,” Louis says. “But where’s my drug problem, hmm? Where’s my heroin addiction?”
Zayn leans back against the couch. “You could write about how you still owe me last month’s rent.”
“Shut up,” he says dismissively. “I just wish I had things better, y’know? Like, it’s not fair that my mum wasn’t an absent parent, or that she didn’t do lines off the bathroom tile at least.”
“You’re a miserable fucking twat, you know that?”
He flips Zayn off for peace of mind. But adds, “Yeah, I know.”
There’s a pause in conversation during which Louis contemplates ordering a pizza instead. But then Zayn clears his throat and says, “I’m going on a date tomorrow night.”
Louis’ head snaps up. “With who?”
Zayn is almost smiling when he says, “With Liam.”
“The dishwasher I told you about?”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
Louis shakes his head. “Nothing. Or, well. You’re great…that’s all, Z.”
Zayn’s face darkens. “So is Liam. You’ve never even met him.”
“Yeah, but.” Louis moves his hands around in the air to indicate some meaning. “It’s like I said when you first got this hosting job. You can do better.”
“I like him,” Zayn says simply. “And I like my job. Can you say that about yours?”
“You honestly like your job?”
“It makes me feel good about myself.”
Louis snorts. “You mean it makes you feel hot.”
Zayn’s eyes narrow to slits, but he’s standing up and heading to his room before Louis can get a better look. “You’re a cunt, Louis.”
“Hey, wait,” he says, calling after him. Zayn spins around, impatient. “Kiss?”
Zayn sighs low and deep, shoulder slumping tiredly, but he’s walking over anyway.
“I — just want you to be happy,” Louis says when Zayn is hovering over him.
“And I want you to mean it.” Then he’s kissing him, quiet and restrained, until Louis flicks his tongue over his lips and then he’s pulling back. “Fuck you.”
Louis grins devilishly. “You’d love to.”
Zayn flips him off and walks away.
The next morning, Louis finds himself at work.
Normally he can stand the earlier hours of his shift, the ones when the store is empty and he can have some peace of mind without someone breathing down his neck about finding a dress size. But today is different and all the registers are open by half past ten, which is when he’d usually be sneaking off to the break room for some coffee. Instead, he’s running around and wishing he knew just what the fuck ‘houndstooth’ looked like.
He’s in a mood and not because of the work, but because Zayn had made a point last night and Louis hates that. It’s been a point of contention between them: his job at the thrift shop and Zayn’s job at the restaurant. Here, he’s proud of the money he makes. It pays little, sure, but it’s clean and honest. But Zayn only knows what it means to get paid based on his looks, which, whatever, to each his own, but it just seems wrong.
Or, at least, that’s what Louis would write in his journal.
Which is the same and only place he’d ever admit to some sort of dissatisfaction here. It’s not horrible, but being a writer is his actual career and livelihood, whereas tagging and hanging used clothes is a means to eating and having a roof over his head. There’s a very fundamental difference.
So fuck Zayn, really, and his holier-than-thou attitude. Louis likes that he can afford to live in central London — isn’t that the same thing as liking his job?
At any rate, his coworkers and the hipster-fucks who walk through the store provide him with enough material to fill several collections of personal essays, so it all works out.
At 12:30, he leaves for his lunch break and almost kicks himself after digging through his rucksack and realizing that he’s left his cigarettes at home. And seeing as he’s not about to bum one off the people working with him, he just pulls on the drawstrings of his hoodie and crosses the street. It’s upsetting that his favourite lunch spot is barely a streetlight away from work, but they have the best paninis within walking distance, so.
He orders a southwestern along with a fizzy lemonade and finds a table in the back. There’s a boy sitting at the table over, concentrated on his iPhone. He’s wearing his hair under a beanie as well as a shirt that’s easily two sizes too large for him. Louis thinks he’s seen it at the thrift shop before.
His food disappears too quickly and when he checks his phone, he still has twenty minutes left on his break. So he pulls out his journal and a pen, writing quick blurbs about the people he’s seen so far today. Bald man with a nose ring…Teen mum with drawn-on eyebrows…
“Are you writing?”
Louis looks up and sees the boy from the next table looking over at him. He’s smiling.
“I mean, obviously you’re writing,” the boy amends, voice husky. “What’re you writing?”
He glances down at his journal, suddenly self-aware. He looks up again. “It’s nothing.”
The boy raises an eyebrow. “Is that a diary?”
And of course this boy, who’s actually rather good-looking, is a wonderful idiot. “It’s a journal,” Louis says.
“What’s the difference?”
“I’m not a thirteen-year-old girl,” he says flatly.
The boy brings a fist up to his chest. “That’s not fair because I write in a diary and I’m not a thirteen-year-old girl.” He grins.
Louis reminds himself not to roll his eyes. “Do you really write in a diary?”
“No,” the boy says, smirking. “Is that really a journal?”
“Oh. Well, are you a writer?”
Louis loves and hates that question, so he settles for an ambiguous, “Mostly.”
The boy seems satisfied, however, and looks over at empty plates on Louis’ table that match his own. “Finished, then?”
“Sure.” He looks back down at his journal, mentally preparing for the little blurb he’ll write once the boy leaves. If he leaves.
But then he’s there, standing and taking his plates from his table. When Louis looks up in confusion, the boy sends him another smile. Idiot.
Louis sets his pen down. “I…do.”
He’s already walking off. “C’mon then.”
That’s how Louis finds himself in an alleyway between two buildings leaning against a wall and sharing a cigarette with this boy named Harry who works at a record store around the corner.
“What are your plans for the day?” Harry asks in a slow voice.
Louis breathes out a cloud of smoke. “Work.”
“No. Something else.”
Harry laughs. “For a writer, you’re not really big on words.”
“I’m big on words,” Louis says, passing him the cigarette. “I just don’t know you.”
Harry hums around the cigarette, breathing in. Louis watches him. He thinks he could fill a page with Harry’s green eyes, his milky skin, his raw lips.
“You’re cute, Louis,” Harry says finally, and Louis feels something wringing inside of him, something threatening to send bile running to his throat. At least Zayn is obligated by the sanctity of friendship to feed him such lies. But Harry is a stranger.
“And you’re a liar, Harry.”
Harry frowns this time and even then, with downturned lips and a wrinkled chin, he’s still ridiculously gorgeous. “‘M not a liar. It’s the truth. You’re cute. Beautiful, even.”
Louis snorts. “Beautiful. You’re like Jim Carrey in that one movie.”
Harry winks. “It’s a good movie.”
They don’t speak for a while, only exchanging the cigarette between them, and Louis realizes he should probably head back to work soon. But it’s only a thirty-second walk away, not even, so he can wait.
Eventually, Harry fills the silence.
“Do you want to go get a drink with me sometime?”
Louis fights back a laugh and thinks of the liquor cabinet he has back home. Then he looks over at Harry, who looks like he could probably break several dozen hearts with that kind of face and those tattoos that he can see peeking through from under his shirt. He’d make a good story, Louis is positive of it, but it’s not the kind of story he wants to write right now. He needs to focus on himself.
“I don’t really do drinks,” he explains.
Harry laughs again, eyes bright. “What do you mean, you don’t do drinks? Are you a lunchtime-only kind of girl?”
Louis bites down on his lip to keep from smiling. “I have to get back to work.”
“All right,” Harry concedes, dropping the cigarette and putting it out with his shoe. “Maybe a panini another time.”
“Maybe,” Louis says when he’s already out of the alleyway.
Louis stops by Niall’s after work, riding the tube across town like a sardine with the rest of London’s workforce. But Niall always has pizza and video games and this thing where he says what he’s thinking without tiptoeing around Louis’ feelings, and it’s nice. Sometimes, Louis thinks Niall might be the best friend he’s ever had.
“So, let me get this straight,” Niall says, eyes still glued to the television. “You’re upset because your mum loved you too much? You’re mad.”
Louis throws his pizza crust on the table. “That’s — you’re twisting my words. I’m saying that she never gave me anything to work with. You’d probably be a better writer than me.”
Niall perks up. “You reckon? How come?”
“Because,” Louis says, feeling bloated. “You have something interesting to write about. You came over from Ireland, for fuck’s sake. At least there’s some fucking drama in that.”
“There really isn’t,” Niall snorts. “But I’m flattered anyway.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re happy.”
“You’re happy, too,” Niall assures him, pausing the game to get another beer from the kitchen. When he gets back, he says, “You’re not unhappy. You’re just letting your head get all fucked up.”
“‘M not fucked up yet,” Louis says, snatching Niall’s beer and ducking when a hand comes flying his way.
They play several more rounds of FIFA before Niall sets his controller down and curls close to Louis on the couch, his head resting in the space between his shoulder and neck. Even though Louis knows Niall isn’t gay — he’s walked in on him, a girl and a can of whipped cream before — he wonders how his straightest friend is somehow also the cuddliest. They’ve taken a bath together once, though he’s not sure if Niall remembered that through the haze of tequila.
“You smell nice, Nailfile,” he says, running a finger through blond hair.
“And you’re getting fresh, Tommo,” Niall replies, pinching his gut.
“Hey,” he says warningly.
“Where’s Zayn tonight?”
“Who fucking knows,” Louis says, running a hand over his eyes. “Out on some date, last I heard.”
“Oh, he’s shagging that dishwasher, then?”
Louis shrugs, bouncing Niall’s head. “Must be.”
“And, what, you’re not happy about that? Weren’t you the one that said Zayn turns into a right bitch when he isn’t getting laid?”
“No, you’re right, but.” He licks his lips. “Don’t you think he deserves more?”
He huffs a sigh. “Better, then. Better.”
Niall laughs and hauls himself off Louis. “We all deserve better, mate. That’s why we drink, yeah?” When Louis doesn’t respond, he says, “I’m kidding. About the drinking part, anyway.”
Louis doesn’t look up from where he’s picking at his nail bed. “I know. I just…” He exhales in slow, measured breaths. “I think I miss being with someone. Not like a relationship, because god knows I can’t remember anniversaries for shit, but…yeah, someone.”
When he risks a glance at Niall, he’s somewhat disheartened to see his face go soft, almost pitying. That’s not what he wants — not from anyone and least of all from Niall. He’d rather get shot in the face.
He shakes his head, batting the thought away. “I miss a lot of things, I guess.”
There’s a hand on his shoulder and if it weren’t Niall, he’d consider it patronizing, maybe. “Like Greg?”
Louis swallows. “Like…Greg, yeah. And Aiden.” The only ones who stuck around long enough for him to scare them off, who are just journal entries now.
Niall just makes a low noise of agreement and that’s fine, because Louis wouldn’t know what to say, either.
“Mostly though,” he continues, “I just miss having fun and having something to do at night.”
“You mean you miss sex,” Niall says impassively.
Louis inhales sharply. He doesn’t know what he means, honestly, but he’s already laughing and making light of the situation — for now.
“You’re a twat,” Niall says fondly through a yawn. “You could get anyone to have sex with you.”
“That’s a lie.” Louis draws him in again with an arm around his shoulder. “But as long as we’re talking, are you offering, Horan?”
“If I was drunk enough.” Niall shrugs, nuzzles his head into the cave of Louis’ chest. “Maybe, sure.”
“Christ,” Louis says, still chuckling. Suddenly, he remembers, “You know what, I think I actually almost got an offer today.”
Niall grumbles something that suspiciously sounds like I told you so.
“Yeah,” he goes on. “We shared a smoke in an alleyway.”
“You going to see him again?”
Louis frowns. “I’m not going to marry him just because he shared his fag with me. I’m too good for that.”
He expects more of Niall’s laughter, but instead, he gets a thoughtful pause followed by a slow, “I can never tell what you think of yourself, Lou.”
And it’s not meant to hurt, right, but Niall probably doesn’t realize that, doesn’t realize that he’s prodding at something inside of Louis that he wants to control, wants to keep at bay. He could probably throw up right now, though that’s probably from the wicked combination of pizza and beer sloshing around in his stomach. Probably.
He smiles even though no one’s watching. “You’ll find out when I release my tell-all.”
When there’s no answer, he figures Niall must be sleeping.
The lights are off in the flat when he gets back and he’s about to walk into his bedroom when Zayn’s voice stops him from his own.
He really just wants to sleep, but if Zayn’s alone in his room and calling for him, then he should go. Maybe his date went to shit. Maybe they can be single together, again. Maybe Zayn should stop reading Joyce.
“Hey,” he says, shoulder against the doorjamb.
“Hey.” Zayn shuts his book. “Where’d you go?”
“Niall’s. Had to physically shove him off to leave,” he says. “How was your date?”
Zayn gives him a suspicious look. “Do you mean that?”
But Zayn still replies, “It was good. He — I really like him, Lou. I think he could be really good for me.”
“Like you could fall in love with him?”
He’s smiling now, this private little thing that’s curling around his lips, and just as he’s saying, “Maybe. Yeah,” Louis is already asking, “Do you think I’ll ever fall in love?”
Zayn stares back, only mildly surprised. “I thought we were talking about my love life?”
“What — oh, fuck, sorry, yeah.” Louis moves to sit at the edge of Zayn’s bed. “Go on.”
“Nah,” Zayn says, switching his bedside lamp off. “It’s fine. C’mere.”
Louis complies easily, kicking off his shoes and shuffling into the space beneath the covers. They rustle momentarily in the darkness until it’s completely quiet and he hasn’t even asked Zayn for a cuddle yet when he’s already there, pulling Louis close to him like he already knows what he needs. The thing is, he probably does.
“You’ll fall in love,” Zayn whispers.
“And what if I don’t?” Louis asks, drawing Zayn’s arm tighter around his waist. “How stupid would you feel if you said that and, years later, I find out that it’s some myth for me? That all my friends will fall in love and I’ll be sad and alone with a cat and a crack habit while I’m still trying to write my first book? A book about you twats, to boot.”
“First off, you’d love to have a cat and a crack habit, so don’t even pretend otherwise.” Zayn shifts over so his cold toes brush against Louis’ ankles. “Second, you would never write a book about us, at least not entirely and not your first time out. And third, you’re going to fall in love. Now go to fucking sleep.”
He watches the shadows play on the ceiling. “You think?”
It’s the second time that night he goes unanswered.
A week later, he sees Harry again.
In that time, he’s eaten all the Jaffa Cakes in the flat and he’s written absolutely nothing new. But he found a pack of gum in his jeans this morning, so he’ll take what he can get.
He’s working a night shift this time, meaning he’s had to deal with last minute stragglers who think showing up five minutes before closing time is cute. But once he’s made the time abundantly clear — first by dimming the lights and second by actually telling one of the girls to either pay or get the fuck out — they’re rushing out and he’s free to rejoin the world with them.
That’s when he sees Harry waiting outside, hip resting against a litterbin. There’s something hygienically wrong with that, he’s sure, but he’s more focused on the pretty boy smirking outside his goddamn place of work.
“I’m sorry,” are the first words out of his mouth. “But how the fuck do you know where I work?”
“I have my ways,” Harry says back, and maybe the smirk on his lips is a little more sinister now.
So Louis’ instinct is to reach into his pocket for his mobile. But then he’s asking, “Are you a murderer?” and that’s probably not the right away to go about doing that.
“Would you believe me if I said I was?”
Louis narrows his eyes. Are the police even open at this time of night?
Harry’s face falls, though, when the silence lasts a beat too long. “Wait, do you really think I’m a murderer?”
Louis guiltily drops his mobile back in his pocket. “…No?”
“I was only kidding,” Harry says, eyes wide. “I was walking back from someone’s house and I saw you through the window.”
“That’s a likely story,” Louis says, but his feet are already moving until he’s standing right in front of Harry. He’s wearing another beanie tonight and he’s sporting some scruff that seems at odds with his boyish features. There’s also a hickey on the side of his jaw, dark and glaring, and Louis can’t help but think that wasn’t there last time. “So you saw me through the window and…waited?”
Harry nods, almost proudly. “I wanted to surprise you.”
Louis blinks. “You don’t know me.”
“I know that.” Harry seems confused. “But I wanted to say hello. Hello.”
“Hello,” Louis mimes without thinking. “I mean — what?”
“I didn’t know you worked here. I walk by every day.”
“You’re not very attentive.”
“Must not be,” Harry agrees, smiling. He gives Louis a rather obvious once-over. “Want to get dinner with me?”
“It’s ten.” He checks his watch and curses that last group of girls. “Thirty. And I’d rather eat at my flat.”
Harry’s eyes light up. “Your place, then?”
They don’t go back to his place, at least not immediately, because there’s still this lingering fear in the back of Louis’ mind that Harry is a murderer or at the very least someone who collects hair, and he’s not really sure how to deal with that should the situation arise, so they’re at the Tesco down the street. Start off somewhere public, right?
“I hate this,” Louis says, staring at his egg salad and watercress sandwich accusingly.
“Should’ve gone to yours instead,” Harry says, winking from behind a wrap.
Louis pouts. “Don’t you owe me a panini?” He tosses his sandwich in the nearest bin and pulls out a cigarette instead.
“Yeah,” Harry says slowly. “I do.
“Another time.” Louis lights up, relief filling his lungs.
Harry takes another bite and asks, “You written anything new?”
Louis exhales. “No.” He pauses with the cigarette between his lips. “I can only write about things that piss me off — myself, usually — but I haven’t even been able to do that. Not to mention I felt really bloated the other night, so that didn’t help. And the whole thing is so aggravating and it pisses me off, right, but I still can’t fucking write a thing.”
“That’s irony,” Harry says.
“Or just a great fucking shit show.”
Harry tilts his head, considering, before laughing. “You’re funny, y’know. I’d read your stuff.”
Harry finishes his wrap and Louis takes the opportunity to pull another cigarette out of his pocket. But before he can even light it, Harry is grabbing it and holding it out between his lips — pink and chapped from wind — and looking at him expectantly.
“You get comfortable easily.” But Louis lights it for him anyway.
“Mmm,” Harry mumbles, streetlights dancing in his eyes.
Suddenly, Louis is incredibly aware of his back against the wall and it doesn’t help that the height difference makes it so that Harry is practically looming over him. They smoke in silence for the second time since meeting each other, this time never breaking eye contact.
“‘M going to kiss you,” Harry says after.
“No you’re not.” But his voice comes out half broken.
Harry leans closer. “Then take me back to yours.”
They’ve barely taken their coats off — and really, it’s a miracle they’ve managed to do that after spending the entire tube ride gnawing on their bottom lips — when Harry grabs Louis by the waist with huge, commanding hands to bring their mouths together.
He never uses tongue on the first kiss, at least not sober like this, but Harry’s already there, one hand gripping the back of Louis’ neck and licking deeply into his mouth, tasting like smoke and maybe like Caesar dressing. But it’s hard to mind when it’s messy like this, when their feet trip over each other and his knees hit the back of the couch.
“Fuck.” Louis breaks free to steady Harry, all glassy eyes and limp coordination. “Y’alright?”
Harry nods. “You?”
The lights are off and Zayn is out with Liam, leaving the apartment blessedly empty. So he doesn’t answer, just wraps his arms around Harry’s neck to pull him in for another bruising kiss.
It doesn’t take long until they find their way to Louis’ bedroom, panting into each other’s mouths. He pulls away long enough to flick the light on and when he turns around, Harry is staring curiously at the empty Jaffa Cake boxes on the floor.
“Oh, don’t — ” He kicks them to the corner. “Don’t pay those any mind,” he sighs, shoulders slumping.
But then reassuring hands are on his shoulders, guiding him toward the bed where he falls on his back. Harry is there, murmuring and climbing on top to kneel on either side of him. He’s kissing Louis again just as he’s reaching under Louis’ shirt, fingertips grazing the sensitive skin along his ribs until they find a nipple. Louis whimpers into his smiling mouth.
“Is this all right?” Harry asks, breath hot against his cheek. “We can…don’t have to, if you don’t want.”
Louis laughs breathlessly. “You’re a liar.”
Harry backs away just enough to smirk, but his cheeks are flushed bright pink. “D’you have stuff?”
Louis directs him to the nightstand. Harry reaches over and fumbles around before throwing the lube and condom onto the comforter. He comes back, resting on Louis’ thighs and staring at him like he’s the one who’s out of his depth here.
“You’ll — ” He rolls the lube his way. “And clothes. Clothes off.”
They make fast work of it, trousers and sneakers and shirts piling up on the side of the bed until they’re only in pants. Louis is caged in under Harry’s weight, arms bracketing his head as Harry leans down for a slower kiss, curious and probing. It goes on for so long that Louis has to roll his hips once, testing, and Harry moans into the hollow of his neck shamelessly.
“Fuck,” he breathes.
“Soon,” Louis promises. He wriggles from underneath Harry and strains his neck up for a kiss. Harry obliges, giving him more this time and kissing Louis like he wants to devour him. They stay like that for a while with their hips grinding together uselessly.
Harry sucks his bottom lip once more before sitting back on his haunches, panting. “Okay. Okay, okay,” he repeats like he’s trying to calm himself down and Louis can’t help but watch, captivated. He also can’t help when his eyes trail lower to the hollow of his neck, where he spots several other hickeys to match the one higher up, the one he’d seen earlier. He’s beautiful, even bruised like this.
“Harry,” he says, drawing him out of his mind. He doesn’t want to rush, but he’s straining his pants as it is.
“Right,” Harry mutters, backing away and pulling down his and Louis’ pants in one fluid motion. Louis gasps at Harry’s touch, pumping him once with this awed expression. Harry must really love sex to remain this fascinated with all those bruises littering his neck.
He crawls over to leave a trail of open-mouthed kisses across Louis’ chest, lingering over a particular spot just above his belly and leaving a bruise in his wake. He crawls down, doing the same with his thighs, licking and sucking until Louis is writhing under him. Satisfied, he pulls back with the filthiest grin Louis’ ever seen.
“You good?” he asks, already fumbling with the lube and spreading Louis’ thighs apart. When Louis nods dazedly, he says, “Good.”
Louis decides Harry’s fingers are amazing, keening from the mounting confidence in his touch and crying aloud one of them — then eventually two, then three — curls in a particularly sweet way. He’s sweating, and so is Harry, just from the intensity of it and Louis loves that even as he’s getting worked on like this, he’s responsible for the blown out pupils in Harry’s eyes. Sex looks good on him.
He pulls out and Louis mourns the absence long enough for Harry to roll the condom on and slick up, fitting himself between Louis’ thighs. He nudges against his entrance and Louis’ eyes flutter, breath catching. “Fuck,” they say together.”
Harry pushes in carefully and Louis drags his nails across the bedspread, every part of him alive. He can feel a roaring in his chest, shooting his veins with fire and making his back arch as Harry moves deeper. Harry’s eyes are screwed shut by the time he’s down to the root and they pause to breathe.
They move together gradually, Harry’s thrusts alternating with the drumming in Louis’ head. Harry drops down to kiss at Louis’ mouth messily, keening when Louis clenches around him. Louis can see those other bruises clearly now, and he’s gripped with a flare of need and desire to leave a mark of his own. So he reaches up and latches down, ignoring Harry’s gasp at contact. The spot is bright red when he’s finished, something inside swells with pride.
Harry’s breathing is erratic now, harsh against Louis’ ear. He reaches in between them to pull at his cock and then Harry’s joining him, their fingers working slickly together.
“Ha — fuck.” He exhales harshly. “I’m about to — ”
“Go on,” Harry pants, twisting his grip on the upstroke and making Louis sob as he releases all over Harry’s fist. “God, Louis — ” he’s saying before his features screw together and his hips stutter, body collapsing heavily and his face finding a home in Louis’ shoulder, entirely spent. Louis kisses Harry’s hair once.
Harry eventually finds the wherewithal to roll away, tying the condom up and tossing it into an empty Jaffa box just to spite Louis. They clean up silently, pulling on their clothes with their backs to each other.
“Smoke?” Harry asks.
Louis falters. Usually he’d say yes, but he sees the mark he left on Harry’s neck, one among the many others, and he’s suddenly not in the mood for company.
“I’m knackered,” he says, hoping to get the point across. “Sorry.”
Harry doesn’t seem bothered though. “All right.” He picks up his jumper and slides it on. “I’ll see you?”
Louis leads him out of the flat, hand on the small of his back. It’s the least he can do. “Good night, Harry.”
“Night, Lou,” Harry says softly, eyes on his until the door closes.
They’re at some party a week later at Zayn’s coworker’s house, and Louis just wants to leave because it’s so goddamn loud.
However, he’s already been told that leaving isn’t an option, not when it’s been ages since he, Niall and Zayn have gone out together and certainly not when it’s his opportunity to finally meet Liam. Just Liam, and not Liam the Dishwasher, Louis has to remind himself beforehand.
As it stands, Liam is actually decent company. He’s fit — fit enough that Louis would almost certainly pick him up at a club if he’d seen him first — and he distracts Zayn from his usual task of keeping Louis from getting pissed out of his mind, so it works out.
“Hello!” he shouts into Niall’s ear sometime later. He’s drunk enough that he can join the noise rather than hate it.
Niall wraps an arm around Louis’ waist. “Hey, Lou.”
Louis leans over to nose at Niall’s neck. There are people everywhere and he just wants a cigarette.
“And sex,” he thinks aloud. “I want to have sex, Niall.”
Niall laughs and Louis hates how solid he is. “Maybe later, mate.”
Louis wrinkles his nose. “Not with you.”
“I know that,” he says, head bobbing to the music. “Hey, maybe you could join them.”
Louis looks over to where Niall’s pointing and sees Zayn and Liam pressed up against a wall, legs slotted together and violently snogging. There’s a poor girl standing next to them and Louis wants to give her a balloon, or at least show her the way out.
“Ew,” Louis says, detaching himself from Niall. “I’m going to find some coke. The drug, not the beverage.”
“Speaking of beverages, I’m out,” Niall says, watching his bottle sadly. “Be safe, Lou.” Then he’s lost in the crowd.
Louis sets off on his mission, but he’s cut short when he hears Destiny’s Child blasting from the next room. So he meanders over, braving the drunk yelling and the smell of piss, and ends up with his back pasted to another bloke’s front in record time. He doesn’t get a good look at his face, but he’s a good dancer if Louis’ breathlessness afterward is anything to go by. He gives his number out twice, which means he’s probably too drunk now, and he finds himself on the back porch, fumbling for a smoke.
He’s halfway finished when he notices that there’s a couple out on the porch with him, and it takes another beat before he recognizes those curls and those massive hands skillfully working their way up the girl’s shirt.
And of course it’s Harry because one moment he’s snogging this girl and the next, he’s looking at Louis through heavy eyelids and a dopey half-smile. Louis wants to eat his hand.
“Lou!” He’s pushing the girl aside to give him a one-armed hug and she stares at them, affronted, before marching back into the house. Harry has the decency to look ashamed. “Oops.”
“She seemed nice,” Louis notes absently.
Harry rubs the back of his neck. “Sure. What’re you doing here? You know Tim?”
He throws his cigarette over the porch. “No.”
“I see.” Harry smiles and Louis thinks, dimple. “Do you want to get out of here?”
Louis looks once at the house. He’ll just text Zayn — no, Niall — his goodbyes.
They end up back in his room with both of them propped against the headboard. And, sometime between getting there and pulling out a small baggy of weed, Harry’s also taken his shirt off. Now they’re lighting up, taking turns with the small, yellow glass bowl. Louis thinks Harry is his favourite person to smoke with.
“Your room is nice,” Harry says, voice slower than usual. “Didn’t get a chance to take it in last time.”
Louis looks around. The room is plain, he thinks.
“You’re pretty,” he says in spite of himself, and Harry laughs. Louis frowns because it’s not like he’s lying. Even through the smoke and the bloodshot eyes, it’s obvious. Plus, he doesn’t have any bruises on his neck this time and that’s even better.
“No way,” Harry rasps. “You’re prettier. Like, unbelievably.”
Louis stares, his brain cells working overtime.
Harry cocks his head to the side. “Oh, have all the boys said that already?”
“Not really,” Louis says, frowning now.
“Lies.” Harry sets the bowl on the nightstand. Louis watches the shadows play across the tattoos beneath his collarbones. “Your hips, too.”
“What?” Louis glances down at himself.
“They’re nice,” Harry adds, running a finger against the bit of skin exposed at his waist.
Louis is about to tell him off for taking the piss but then Harry’s on top of him and mouthing at his throat, shutting him up instantly. He’s eager, can’t help it, and spans his hands across the fever-warm skin of Harry’s chest. Harry groans and catches Louis’ lips in his own, tongue slipping in easily. Louis’ fingers roam freely, memorizing everything from the nubs of his wrists to the curve of his bum. It’s good, this.
“We…” Harry draws back to catch his breath. “D’you want…?”
There’s a wriggling in his chest from the way Harry is just looking at him like that, like he’s being careful with something here. He breathes in deep, insides pounding against his ribcage.
He just shakes his head and reaches into the top drawer of the nightstand, hoping that Harry’ll learn to keep from asking stupid questions ever again.
Harry keeps popping up in his life after that. There are usually days in between each run-in, but he quickly becomes a part of Louis’ routine.
Since he’s cottoned on to Louis’ favourite lunch spot, they see each other at the sandwich shop more often than not. Sometimes they’ll share a table and other times, they’ll sit separately: him with his journal and Harry with a girl — or boy — that Louis has never before and will never see again.
It’s intriguing and not at all bothersome; after all, they’ve only fucked a few times and smoked together twice as much.
But then Harry will do things, like wait for him after work and follow him home after having gone days without seeing each other. And Louis won’t think twice of it, years of knowing Niall having conditioned him to friends kipping at his hole of a flat. In fact, it isn’t until Zayn brings it up one morning after Harry’s hasty exit that it even strikes him as odd.
“I didn’t realize we were allowed to bring boyfriends over,” Zayn says at the kitchen table.
Louis finishes his last bit of cereal. “What’re you on about?”
Arching his eyebrows, Zayn nods at Harry’s jumper still draped on the couch from the night before. “Harry.”
With an exaggerated eye roll, Louis sets his bowl in the sink and pointedly ignores Zayn’s smug expression. They’ve come a long way from two weeks ago, when Zayn first met Harry by walking in on him half-naked on their couch, fiddling with papers. But then Harry shared rolled one for Zayn and there haven’t been problems ever since.
“Harry’s not my boyfriend,” Louis reminds him. “And you bring Liam over all the time.”
“Yes.” Zayn nods. “But Harry sleeps over. Liam never sleeps over.”
Louis reaches into the fridge for something else to munch on. “Yes, well, that’s nothing some couples therapy won’t fix.”
Zayn makes a sound of garbled frustration and Louis takes it as a victory.
Liam starts sleeping over, much to Louis’ happiness. This way, it’s not too weird that Harry comes over all the time. But that doesn’t keep Louis from bringing it up.
“Do you even have a place of your own?” he asks one night. He hears someone moan from Zayn’s room and puts it out of his mind.
They’re in the lounge and he’s propped lazily on the couch. Harry is spread across the carpet with his attention on a textbook. He’s a part-time student, apparently.
“First you think I’m a murderer, and now you think I’m homeless?” He doesn’t look up at Louis.
“You have tendencies of both,” Louis explains simply.
Harry spares a quick glance from his book. “I have murderous tendencies?”
Louis just grins at him.
Harry snorts and goes back to his book. “Of course I have a place of my own, you twat.”
“I’m only asking,” Louis yawns. “You can never be sure with you record store types.”
“I won’t even pretend to know what that means,” Harry says with a laugh. “Have you finished writing?”
Louis glances over at his journal covered in half-written thoughts and crossed-out scratches. “Not quite.”
Harry closes his textbook and comes to the couch, crowding at Louis’ side. Louis doesn’t even blink when a head of curls falls into his lap, demanding attention.
“D’you have anything in mind?” Harry asks once Louis’ fingers have found their way to his scalp.
“Not really,” he admits. “A few things, but nothing good enough.”
He sighs, going over the list in his mind. “Like…my shoddy job, for instance, or my parents’ divorce. Or my online television addiction. Or maybe the fact that I’ve had cake for dinner for three nights in a row and I don’t feel guilty about it — ”
“You don’t?” Harry asks, laughing.
“Not at all,” Louis confirms. “So, yeah. It’s just the same shit that everyone else writes. Nothing new.”
Harry hums under Louis’ ministrations. “Is there anything really new, though? Doesn’t it just depend on you and how you write it?”
Louis makes a noncommittal sound, still playing carefully with Harry’s hair. Brushing aside an errant curl, he notices a mark — a bruise, really, low on his neck, beneath his ear. It’s a bit too dark to be his when they haven’t seen each other in half a week, and it looks like it might sting if he were to poke and draw attention to it. But today, Harry smells like himself instead of someone else like he usually does, so he sweeps some hair over it until it disappears.
“D’you need something to piss you off?” Harry asks sleepily, remembering their conversation from that first night together.
“I don’t know.” Louis stills his fingers, only for Harry to mewl pathetically afterward. “You’re the worst,” he says, but continues massaging anyway.
“You’re disgusting,” comes Zayn’s voice from behind them. He’s heading to the bathroom in only his pants, eyeing them carefully on the couch. “Have some decency. This is the lounge.”
Louis ignores him and instead yells in the direction of Zayn’s room. “All right in there, Liam?”
He smirks at a scowling Zayn as Harry rumble-laughs in his lap.
“Welcome to — Lou? What’re you doing here?”
Harry’s bent over a table and filing through a box of ratty-looking records, but his face lights up when he sees Louis walk into the store. He shrugs, not entirely sure himself.
“You didn’t show up,” Louis says. Normally, he would’ve excused it as another day without seeing each other, but they’d made plans to meet up for lunch, so. It’s not like he was looking for Harry’s record store or anything.
“Why, what time — ” Harry checks the clock on the wall. “Fuck. Sorry. There was a rush and I lost track of time. Sorry.”
Louis shakes his head. “It’s all right. Got some writing done while I was waiting for you, though, something new.”
Harry still looks apologetic. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. Nothing much, but I think I’ll have it finished by the end of the week. Unless I go crazy and decide to shave off all my hair.”
“I’ll bring the clippers,” Harry says, smiling finally.
Louis grins back. “That’s what I like to hear. Are you coming over tonight?”
“I’m not sure.” Harry tilts his head. “Did you want me to?”
“You don’t have to,” Louis says. “Not if it’s a school night.”
Harry’s eyes darken. “It’s not a school night — ”
“Only joking, love.” Louis reaches out to pat Harry’s wrist consolingly. A smirk threatens to break Harry’s mutinous expression. “I’ve got one of those posh pizzas from Waitrose, that’s all.”
“How romantic,” Harry says flatly, but his lips twitch upward all the same.
“Suit yourself.” Louis makes to turn around. “You’ve already abandoned me once today and here I am, offering a second chance — ”
“Yes, fine, fine,” Harry clips, all impatience, but there’s a hint of fondness there. “I’ll share the damn pizza.”
Louis turns back around, eyes narrowed. “I never said anything about sharing the pizza — ”
“Oh my god.”
They dissolve into a fit of laughter hunched over the box of old records, and Louis can’t believe he’s never been here before. It’s not his scene at all, but it’s the least he could’ve done to visit when Harry’s waited for him outside the thrift shop multiple times.
“Okay, well,” Louis says, standing straight and clearing his throat. “Nice as this was, I’d best be off. Can’t have the shop thinking I’ve abandoned them full stop.”
“No.” Harry feigns seriousness, eyebrows drawn and face stony. “Can’t have that.”
“Oh, wait — ” Louis reaches into his rucksack and pulls out a brown bag. “Here. A cookie, since I like you, apparently.”
Harry eyes go wide before rounding the table and drawing Louis into a full-bodied hug. Louis makes a small squeak of surprise as Harry’s arms find their way to his lower back. He scoffs into Harry’s shoulder, but when the moment lingers, he melts into it and hugs back.
“‘S just a cookie, Haz,” he mumbles against Harry’s shirt.
Harry pulls away, gratitude written all over his face. He drops his hands from Louis’ back and grabs the cookie from him.
“I’m starving,” he explains, peering into the bag, awed. “You’re the best.”
“And you’re a dork.” He checks the clock. “Okay, really, I need to leave. I’ll see you tonight.”
“Miss you already,” Harry says, words genuine through a mouthful of cookie.
Louis’ given up on Harry coming over when his phone rings minutes before midnight. When he sees the caller ID, he’s tempted not to answer. But a second later, his fingers betray his instincts.
“It’s nearly midnight,” Louis says, scrubbing a fist over his eyes. “Are you serious right now?”
“Sorry,” comes Harry’s voice a beat later. “I’m turning the corner. Will you let me in?”
He knows he shouldn’t, but Harry’s already here and he’s not going to be a dick about it. And, looking over at the reruns of TOWIE playing on the telly, it’s not like he’s about to sleep, either.
Harry is breathless by the time he walks through the door, hair matted down like he’s been sweating through it, and he’s got a light flush riding on his cheeks. Other than that, he looks kind of amazing, wearing all black in a pair of tight trousers and a shirt barely hiding the birds on his chest and a large bruise on his neck. He’s rather stunning, actually.
“What the fuck,” Louis asks.
“Sorry,” Harry says again, wiping at his forehead with the back of his hand. “I just came from a club.”
Louis levels him with a stare. “A club?”
“My coworker invited me out and wouldn’t let me say no,” Harry explains, rifling through the cabinets for a glass for water. “Anyway, I went out with Nick and his mates and I wasn’t planning on staying long, I swear. But then I got caught up dancing with this bloke and by the time I got back to check my phone, it was late.”
“It was late,” Louis repeats blankly. “Then why come? I could’ve been sleeping, for all you know.”
Harry grins. “I can hear Amy Childs in your room, Lou.”
Louis mentally kicks himself. “Where are they now?”
“Dunno.” Harry sips from his water, his throat bobbing. After he’s swallowed, “I think they’ve gone off to an orgy. That’s what Nick said, at least.”
Harry nods seriously.
“Are you kidding?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Harry says slowly. “Nick’s tried showing me pictures before.”
Louis scoffs. “You passed up an orgy to come here? I would have killed somebody to go to an orgy, just to write about it.”
“And you say I have the murderous tendencies,” Harry quips, setting the glass in the sink. “Anyway, yes, I passed up an orgy to come here.”
“You’re mental,” Louis says, having forgotten his earlier irritation.
“Yes, well.” Harry holds his arms up and twirls around, once. “I wasn’t interested and I’m here now and I’m all yours.”
“Joy,” Louis says dryly, walking back to his room.
When he drops back onto his bed, Louis watches as Harry follows behind and tugs off his shirt, trousers, and socks. His fingers dance over the waistline of his pants, contemplative, before pulling them off and throwing them to the side in one fluid move. He lifts a corner of the duvet and climbs in next to Louis, pleased.
“I hate you.” Louis screws up his nose at the sight of Harry’s bare shoulders peeking out from under his blanket. “You’re not allowed to sleep in my bed naked.”
Harry gasps. “I’ve done it before.”
“Yes, but after we’ve had sex.” Louis pokes him in the nose. “And we haven’t done that, have we?”
Harry makes to bite his finger, but Louis is quicker and pulls away. “We could, if you want.”
“No, thanks,” Louis says easily, leaning against the headboard. “I’ll just burn the sheets in the morning.”
“There’s a lad,” Harry mumbles, twisting to rest his head against Louis’ chest and winding an arm around his waist. From the corner of his eye, Louis can read I can’t change. “How’d writing go?”
“Wrote a bit more.” Louis reaches over for the remote and lowers the volume on the telly.
“What’s it about?”
“‘S about my coworkers.” He shrugs. “Dunno. I like it, though. Might bring it to a reading next week.”
Harry yawns. “I’ll come.”
Louis blinks, surprised. “Yeah. Okay.”
They’re quiet for a while, watching a scripted argument between Mark Wright and Lauren Goodger unfold onscreen. He thinks Harry might have dozed off, but then he’s shifting against Louis’ belly and suddenly looking up at him with curious eyes.
“What?” Louis asks.
“Why don’t you write about relationships like most writers?”
Louis looks away, not really sure where this is going. “I do, though. Like, my relationships with my mum and my sisters and Zayn — ”
“Not those,” Harry interrupts. “But like…lovers.”
“Lovers,” Louis mimics, mildly bemused. “Word choice, Hazza, honestly.”
But Harry just head butts his chest. “Seriously. Any fun ex-boyfriends or scorned lovers?”
Louis frowns but thinks it over. Aiden and Greg come to mind as expected, and maybe the two times that he and Zayn hooked up in uni, but that’s it. Everyone else a nameless face, some sort of empty encounter.
“Not really,” he says eventually. “I’ve only ever seriously dated twice. Both went to shit, obviously.” He chuckles at the end, but Harry doesn’t join him.
Harry’s breath is seeping through his shirt and he really doesn’t want to have this conversation right now. But he’s trapped, quite literally, in Harry’s grip and he doesn’t see a way out of it. “It stopped being fun,” he offers.
“Seriously,” he says quite honestly. “It did. I didn’t fall in love and it stopped being exciting, so…why bother?”
Harry doesn’t answer right away. But Louis can practically hear the cogs whirring in Harry’s mind and it makes him nervous.
“I haven’t fallen in love either,” Harry admits quietly. “Not for real, at least.”
Louis clears his throat and squirms; Harry’s head doesn’t leave its spot. “Well, that’s because you’re sexy and it’d be some crime against humanity to trap you in monogamous bonds. Sex was made for heartbreakers like you.”
Harry makes a muffled sound in an attempt to respond, but Louis shushes him.
“Don’t try to convince me otherwise, for I have seen the truth,” Louis says imperiously, winding a finger through a curl. Then, some time later, “That’s why I don’t write about relationships. When people write about them, they write about love. Can’t do that when you’ve never felt it.”
Harry doesn’t say anything and, for that moment, Louis is grateful he understands.
Louis once tried — drunkenly — making toasted cheese with his mum’s flat iron in sixth form. Since then, he’d sworn off cooking and vowed to find friends and partners in life based on the sole criterion that they could cook and cook well.
Which is why, unsurprisingly, his valiant attempt at making dinner for his friends has gone spectacularly wrong. He might even be sweating.
“Lou,” Harry pleads from the kitchen table. “Please let me help.”
“You’ll do no such thing, Curly.” Louis plates the noodles and sets them in front of Harry, who eyes them suspiciously. “You don’t think these look burnt, do you? Can you burn pad ba mee?”
“Don’t know what that is,” Zayn calls from the couch, arm wound across Liam’s shoulders. “But it smells like the answer is ‘yes.’”
“Oh, fuck off,” Louis says, but his shoulders slump in defeat.
“No, this is fine.” Harry stands up and grabs sprouts of coriander from the counter, tearing them apart and throwing them on top of Louis’ noodles. “See? You can barely tell.”
“Yes, let’s just turn everything into salad,” he says dryly.
“I told you not to cook,” Harry scolds, but his dimple is poking out. “What was wrong with pizza?”
“A relic not of this time,” Louis explains wearily, dismissing him with a wave of his hand. “Won’t you just sit down or something and keep from distracting me?”
Harry looks genuinely hurt at that, so Louis pokes him in his dimple just how he knows he hates. Harry glares at him, but the subsequent smile betrays any real heat behind it.
“Go sit with Niall or something,” Louis suggests gently. “He has beer.”
“Aye,” Niall responds from the couch.
“See?” Louis asks smugly, swatting Harry’s bum as he walks away.
Dinner is more or less salvageable and Niall’s sheer enthusiasm after having been kept waiting for so long is more than enough to boost Louis’ ego. Even Harry, who’s sitting next to him on the couch, bumps their knees together and flashes him a quick thumbs up, which he returns with a smile. Across the way, Zayn and Liam are watching him carefully, and Louis reminds himself to find their supply of lube and dump it down the sink.
“That wasn’t so bad,” Zayn says afterwards, earning a smack on the head from Liam. “What the hell was that for?”
But Liam ignores him. “Thanks for dinner, Louis. It was really nice.”
He could kiss Liam in that moment — so he does, right on the forehead, and runs away before Zayn can successfully hit him. Harry and Niall laugh from where they’re discussing their favourite DJs on the other couch.
“Don’t thank me just yet,” Louis says, running quickly into his room. He comes back out with an armful of papers, stapled together into packets, and hands them out. At Liam’s confused expression, he adds, “You’ve all been randomly selected to read my essay. Congratulations.”
Zayn arches an eyebrow at the packet in his hands. “Randomly, is it?”
“Randomly for them.” Louis nods at the others. “You’re bound by whatever laws apply to friends who’ve made other friends clean their vomit out of an antique vase over Christmas hols.”
“That was one time,” Zayn grumbles, but his face brightens when Liam kisses his cheek.
“Technically twice in one night, mate,” Niall says, looking pleased as fuck. Harry smiles slowly like he’s received an early birthday present.
“Read,” Louis interjects, waving his hands frantically. “Read, read, read. I expect nothing more than unyielding honesty afterward.”
The room goes quiet and Louis feels oddly in control from where he’s standing in the middle of the room and looming over all of them. He reads along with his own copy, all the while keeping careful measure of their expressions during important parts. But by the end, the most he’s gotten is a half-smile from Niall. Everyone else is unusually silent.
“Erm,” he starts awkwardly. “What did everyone think?” He turns first to Niall, since he was the only one who bothered with having a reaction at all.
“Oh,” Niall says, blinking rapidly. “I thought it was very well-written. But, you know.” He shakes his head. “I’m not really an expert on these things. It was really well-written, though.”
“Okay,” Louis says slowly, switching over to Liam. Liam is new. Liam can’t lie. Liam, he can still impress. “What did you think, Liam?”
For someone who had just defended Louis’ honour earlier, Liam is surprisingly startled at the mention of his name. He looks from Louis to the essay and back, eyes growing wider with each cycle. “I — you’re a very good writer, Lou.” He turns to Zayn this time and there’s an unspoken exchange between them before Liam excuses himself to the loo, face red.
“What,” Louis asks blankly.
Zayn sighs. “I think Liam is just a bit uncomfortable giving advice when he doesn’t really know you that well. Not yet, anyway.”
“Advice?” Louis folds the essay in half, just to do something with his hands. “I was only asking for a reaction. Didn’t know I needed advice.” Folds it in fourths.
“Lou.” Zayn sets his copy down in his lap. “You know I support you one hundred percent.”
Louis makes a vague noise of agreement.
“Right. So.” Zayn lifts a hand and drops it again. “It’s just…it’s not as good as some of your other things.”
“Not as good?” He’s down to eighths now.
“Like, nothing happened,” Zayn explains almost like it pains him. “Or that’s what it seemed like. There was no — erm, it felt like you were complaining for most of it.”
Louis inhales deeply once, twice. “Okay. But like, that’s how I normally write. And you normally like what I write.”
“I do!” Zayn agrees quickly, fiddling with his fingers now. “And I still do. But maybe if it were funnier it wouldn’t seem so aggressive — ”
“It wasn’t funny?” Louis tosses the folded up mess that was once his essay onto the coffee table. He swings over to Harry. He needs to hear what Harry thinks. “H?”
At least Harry has the decency to look him in the eye. But Louis doesn’t miss the way he shifts in his seat, toes cobbled inward the way Louis has inadvertently memorized.
“I think,” he starts carefully, biting his lip but maintaining eye contact. “You’re fucking talented, right, and I’m like Zayn and I love what you write — at least, whatever you’ve shown me before.” This time, he glances down at the essay in his hands and Louis can already sense what’s coming before it happens. “Just like — ”
“You agree with Zayn.” It’s not a question.
Harry looks pained. “I think — I loved the piece you wrote about the time you took your sister to the hospital. Like, people can relate to that. This, I don’t know, might not be for everyone?”
Louis doesn’t even bother anymore. “That’s the point, it’s supposed to be for everyone. But, you know, thanks.”
“Lou, you asked for unyielding honesty — ”
“Yeah, but I didn’t ask to get fucked from behind, either.” Louis walks off toward his room and nearly runs into Liam on his way back from the bathroom. “Leave the mess behind and I’ll get it in the morning.”
“Louis,” several people chime in at once, but he snaps the bedroom door shut behind him and falls into bed.
He waits there for a while; maybe for some sign that Zayn finally kicked everyone out, or maybe that he’s left with them. Louis doesn’t really feel like doing dishes with company.
Instead, he hears the door open carefully and Harry’s there, closing it just as quickly and hovering at the end of the bed like he’s not sure he’s allowed. Even in the dim lighting, he can see the soft remorse in Harry’s features and he wonders when this became a thing, when Zayn stopped being that person and Harry took his place.
“You’re better than this,” Harry says. His voice is firm, but there’s a note of worry there that Louis catches all the same.
Rather than say anything outright, he shifts over and leaves space next to him on the bed. Harry toes off his shoes and climbs in, breathing in shakily. Louis pats his wrist once, not really sure what he’s trying to say, and closes his eyes.
Outside, the traffic hums past his window.
“I know,” he says finally, and he hears Harry exhale.
The next day, Louis finds himself in Doncaster.
It wasn’t planned, obviously, but he’d woken up with his bed cold and Harry gone. Outside, the dishes were washed and the lounge sprayed with some sort of air freshener to mask last night’s burning smell. And when Harry’s text came half an hour later — guessing you’re awake now, had to get ready for work!! see you soon .x — he figured, why not?
He gets to the station at half past one, only somewhat still peeved at having had to pay such an inordinate fare for a two-hour train ride. But it’s a nice day out, surprisingly nicer than it had been in London, and he really just needs the weekend away. The last time he’d gone through a writing funk like this, he’d flitted off to Edinburgh for a week and depleted his savings. This time, home sounds better.
Just as he’s finished texting Zayn his whereabouts so as not to worry him, he spots Stan waiting near the exit.
“You tit,” Stan says, grabbing Louis for a proper hug. “Could’ve warned me in advance.”
“Thought I did,” Louis replies, grinning as they pull apart.
“A text saying ‘I’ll be in Donny in an hour’ does not count.” But he grins back and they walk to his car together.
“I’m just lucky you saw fit to get off the couch for once,” Louis says once they’re inside.
“Ha fucking ha.” Stan turns the engine over and backs out carefully. “Where am I taking you? Your mum’s?”
Louis shifts in his seat and brings the window down for some air. “Actually, she doesn’t know I’m home. Could I kip at yours for the night?”
“Sure,” Stan says easily. “So long as you don’t touch the sausage rolls in the freezer.”
“Mate, I’d be doing you a favour,” Louis laughs, punching Stan in the gut.
“Oi,” Stan says warningly. When he turns the corner, he asks, “No plans tonight, then?”
“I’d planned on finding Bridget Jones’s Diary online for inspiration and, you know, Colin Firth.” Louis shrugs. “Unless you have a better offer.”
Stan chuckles. “There’s a party at Gazza’s tonight. You in?”
Louis watches the buildings outside, the pedestrians on the pavement. He’s glad to have left this place, really, especially as the only one of his friends who managed to do so; London is home, and will most likely stay that way. It’s a dangerous train of thought, but he’s better than this place. He could never write the way he needs to here, and he knows that now.
But then some days, usually days convenient for his mental welfare, he likes remembering home, likes being a Yorkshire boy. Days like today, for instance.
His mobile vibrates that night and he’s quick to grab it from the nightstand, where it might wake up the pretty blond boy that’s fallen asleep next to Louis. He slides out of bed and pulls on his clothes that are crumpled in a pile on the floor. Before leaving, he checks once more behind his shoulder to make sure the boy is asleep and in no fit condition to ask for a second round; he needs to find Stan, anyway.
He slips out of the room and clicks the door shut carefully. Outside, the party is still going on. There are significantly less people now, some of them having gone home while the others undoubtedly split off the same way as Louis had earlier, but the ones that are still in the hallway and the kitchen are just as loud and drunk as he’d left them before.
Louis checks his mobile, expecting a text from Stan. Instead, he finds Harry’s name onscreen.
showed up at your place tnight — zayn said you’re home?
He looks around, checking for Stan nearby. He’d seen him earlier with a girl sat on his lap. Slipping out the front door and into the yard, he pulls his mobile out, figuring Stan will find him when the time is right.
The other end rings twice before he hears Harry clearing his throat. “Hello?”
Louis pulls his coat tighter around his waist. “Yeah, I’m home.”
Harry laughs. “Could’ve told me that, you twat.”
“It was a spur of the moment kind of thing,” he says, shivering. “Besides, you left me first when you slipped out of bed this morning.”
“But I texted you at least.” Louis can practically see the pout on Harry’s face. If they were together, he’d poke his chin where it wrinkles most.
“Yeah, well, sucks to your assmar,” he says, fighting a smile. But there’s no one else out here, so he figures he’ll let it go.
“Book snob,” Harry huffs.
“One of my many irresistible qualities, ‘m afraid.”
“What are you up to?”
Louis looks around at the empty front yard. From out here, the house looks unsuspecting, and not like the dingy pit of people he’s only just escaped.
“At a party with my best mate from home,” he explains. “I had sex with someone tonight, actually.” There’s a beat, and then he follows with, “Shit, was that weird to tell you that?”
But instead, he gets an earful of Harry’s throaty chuckle, the one that usually makes his eyes go all squinty. It’s almost frightening how well he can imagine having this conversation in person.
“No,” Harry says, still coming down from his high. “Why would that be weird? I had sex the other night. Is that weird to tell you?”
Louis shrugs, forgetting that Harry can’t see him. “No, not really. Dunno. I don’t know protocol for things like this.”
“Things like what?”
“Dunno,” he says again. “Anyway. Yeah. Had sex with someone.”
There’s a beat, and then, “Who was he?”
Louis smiles into the mouthpiece. “Didn’t learn his name. Something with one syllable, I think. Personally, I was more interested in the way he was practically humping me while we were dancing.”
Harry hitches another laugh. “And what’d you have to offer?”
“My sparkling personality and cultured-ness. I am from London, after all, so everything I had to say was interesting.”
“So full of yourself,” Harry mutters fondly. “And I don’t actually think cultured-ness is a word.”
“You’re not the writer, so you wouldn’t know,” Louis says, sticking his tongue out to nobody. “Hey, what’s it like in London?”
“It’s…what do you mean? You know what London is like.”
Louis groans. “Yeah, but — look, there are no clouds in the sky in Donny, and I can see the stars. What can you see?”
“My bedroom wall,” Harry says flatly.
“Christ, okay, okay.” He hears Harry mutter a curse on the other line, followed by a smack that leaves him confused until Harry’s back and saying, “Fuck, well, now that I’ve tripped and dropped my phone, I’m at my window. Aaaand — nothing. There’s nothing outside.”
“Tell me about this nothing,” Louis says, grinning stupidly.
“Fuck off,” Harry says. But then, a moment later, “I can’t see stars. But I can see the tube station that I’d normally take to get to work. And to yours.”
Harry sighs. “Lights. Lights are pretty, I guess.”
Louis giggles against the phone. “You’re ridiculous. Thanks for humouring me, Styles.”
“Yeah, yeah. You owe me dinner when you get back. I haven’t eaten yet.”
“You do realize you don’t actually live at my flat and therefore, I’m under no obligation to look after you?”
“Good night, Harry.”
Louis thinks he can hear Harry’s hair rustle as he shakes his head. “G’night.”
He hangs up and leans against the fence, staring up at the stars.
Louis shows up to the reading ten minutes late, arriving just in time to hear the woman at the podium tell the audience about her recurrent hemorrhoid. Lovely.
He files away in the back with the rest of the writers, some of whom he’s met before and others who look so noticeably nervous that they must be new. Tonight’s turnout is larger than usual and he feels his throat go dry. He’s used to reading in front of crowds, has been doing it since that café basement in uni. But his confidence level is admittedly not where it needs to be, and if he grabs one champagne flute too many before his turn, then that’s his business.
“Louis Tomlinson,” someone announces from somewhere in the room, and that’s it. Louis steels his nerves and sets his essay down on the podium with sweaty fingers.
From his periphery, he can see the table of hors d’oeuvres to the side and it looks like the same spread from every other reading he’s ever been to. One day, he’ll write an essay entirely about fucking goat cheese and anchovies and everyone will get it, and everyone will laugh.
“Hi,” he says into the mic. “I’m Louis and this is about a time I took my baby sister to the hospital. This is called ‘Dr. Feelgood.’” There are a few scattered laughs in the audience, which he takes as a good sign.
Reading out loud is always a challenge, and the experience always skirts on the edge of just too personal for Louis to be entirely comfortable with it. But it’s a light enough subject — not that he’d ever read anything too dark or too intimate out loud and in public — that he can barrel through it.
It helps that tonight’s audience is receptive: awwing when he recounts how Phoebe had broken her arm on the schoolyard, laughing when he introduces the doctor and his hair piece, and cringing visibly when he brings up the first time Dr. Gregory stroked his knee in the exam room. All in all, it’s one of the better readings he’s been to.
He’s just about finished when his eyes trail off to somewhere in the back and he notices a telltale head of curls popping up from above the crowd. Harry is grinning at him with green eyes barely visible from behind smile-happy slits and a dimple begging to be poked. Louis can’t help but smile back, fighting through the last sentence before he can make a total fool of himself.
The applause is loud and wonderful, and it seems fitting that Harry would be here for the essay he’d always advocated. There are a few handshakes and pats on the back on his way from the podium. When he gets to the back, Harry is beaming at him.
“You read my favourite one,” he says, barely waiting to pull Louis into a rough one-armed embrace.
“That I did, Hazza.” Louis tilts his chin up and smiles back at Harry.
Harry blinks down at him, corners of his mouth still upturned pleasantly. He looks around briefly and, without warning, drops down to kiss Louis right on the lips.
It’s quick but reassuring, and when he pulls away, he’s smiling again.
“So proud of you,” Harry says, hugging Louis once more. “You did an excellent job.”
“Yeah?” Louis asks once they’ve separated. There are a few people watching them, but he’s just read an essay about a very married and a very male doctor hitting on him — he thinks they can deal.
“D’you have to stay the whole time?” Harry asks.
“No,” he says, looking around. “I don’t think so.”
“Good.” Harry grabs him by the wrist and leads him out of the room. “Let’s get some shitty takeout. I hate anchovies and I’m starving.”
Zayn must be out with Liam because the flat is empty when they get back. They kick their shoes off into a corner and pile onto Louis’ bed, spreading the Chinese takeaway between them. Louis could cry, he’s so hungry.
“Chinese chicken is my favourite chicken,” Louis says afterward, stomach bulging. They’re lying down now, sated and lazy, their legs piled together at the end of the bed. “Like, you don’t even know if you’re eating chicken, really. But the sauce is good and I don’t need real chicken, I don’t think.”
Harry yawns. “Why don’t you write about it?”
“Twat.” Louis pinches his side, earning a satisfying yelp. “Better questionable chicken than you.”
Harry squirms and turns on to his side, propping himself up on one arm. “Hey, now that you mention it, why don’t you write about me? I’m interesting. I’m fun. I’m better than Dr. Feelgood, at any rate.”
Louis snorts. “Dr. Gregory was the love of my life, thank you very much. Don’t demean him.”
Harry frowns. “He has a hairpiece, Lou. Hairpiece.”
“Yes, well.” Louis reaches up and tugs on one of Harry’s curls. “Not everyone is as naturally endowed as you. Some of us mortals have to pay for bird’s nests such as yours.”
He swats Louis’ hand away with a laugh. “Leave m’ hair alone,” he grumbles, eventually setting his head on Louis’ chest. He pats Louis’ tummy playfully.
“You might want to stop that,” Louis says sleepily. “Any harder, and I might throw up into your pretty mane.”
Harry makes a gagging noise but stops all the same. Instead, he lets his hand sit softly on Louis’ stomach, just resting there. It’s nice.
They lie like that for several minutes. Louis stares at the ceiling, fingers finding their way behind Harry’s ear and his eyelids drooping the way they only ever do after a particularly good meal. It’s late but not too late, so he figures he can nap and wake up for a round of FIFA later with Harry and maybe even Zayn, if he bothers to show up, that is.
He’s drifting off when he hears a sharp inhale.
Louis doesn’t open his eyes. “Yeah, H?”
Harry’s fingers go back to their earlier tapping but lighter this time, almost secretive. Louis can feel the warmth of his breath when he hears, “Louis. I love you.”
Louis opens his eyes, stills his fingers. He thinks he can feel Harry stop breathing. “What?”
Harry draws away at that, hand still on Louis’ stomach but eyes searching his in the dark. “I love you. Like, actual love. I’m in love with you, and I think I have been for a while now.”
“Wait.” Louis sits up this time, foot accidentally jutting out to kick an empty carton to the floor. He sits against the headboard and stares at Harry. “What are you saying?”
“I love you,” Harry repeats easily. It almost scares Louis how quickly he can say it — four times, now. “And, like, I needed to tell you. So I’m telling you, like how Zayn and Liam told each other last week.”
“Yeah, but Zayn and Liam are — ” Louis closes his eyes, massages his temples. He feels Harry’s hand encircle his ankle and that’s not helping matters. He rattles a breath and looks at him again. “Zayn and Liam are in a relationship, or something. They — fuck, I don’t know, they talk about things like this. They say words like that because they feel them and because they’re supposed to.”
Harry’s face darkens. “And what about us? Are we not supposed to?”
Louis scrubs his face with his palm. “I — you said it wasn’t weird that I told you I had sex with someone. And you told me you had sex with someone, too. People who love each other or fall in love or whatever the fuck don’t have sex with other people and tell each other. That’s not love, Harry.”
“There’s no rule book or anything.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t realize that’s what we were doing here,” Louis says desperately. “I thought it was a smoke here and a shag there. You come over with marks on your neck all the time and it’s fine. I don’t say anything because I know what’s happening here. And then you say things like this and — this wasn’t what we were doing! I didn’t realize we were supposed to fall in love!”
Harry blinks slowly, studying Louis’ face. They watch each other in silence before Harry shrugs. “I don’t know. I didn’t think so, either, but it happened. I had sex with someone to see if it meant the same as having sex with you and it didn’t. I wanted to be here all the time, so I stopped going other places. And then one morning I woke up and I figured, hey, what if this is love? And it is.”
Not I think it is. Just it is. And there’s a certainty there that Louis can’t wrap his mind around, can’t see past.
“Harry — ”
“I’m committed,” Harry says simply, eyes blazing. “I don’t do it that often, not for a lot of things in my life. But I’m here and I’m committed and once I do that, I’m stuck. I can’t help it.”
For whatever reason, that’s the last bit that sets Louis off. He feels his face heat up.
“That’s not fucking fair,” he says, his voice shaking. “You’re pushing this on me from out of fucking nowhere and you know that I don’t have time for this right now. I’m — there’s so much more I have to focus on and so much more I have to do. I’m too busy trying to become myself or whoever the fuck I’m supposed to be. Not falling in love.”
Harry drops his hand from Louis’ ankle, his face crumpling. But the next moment, he’s drawn back together, face hard and impenetrable.
“You’re the worst,” Harry says lowly. “You’re so in love with yourself and your writing, you can’t fucking see past it or accept when other people love you, too.”
“I don’t love my — ”
And then he’s up and out of the room, faster than anything Louis could say to stop him. It isn’t until he hears the front door slam that he realizes he’s alone.
Louis doesn’t see Harry and that’s fine.
Zayn doesn’t pick up on it until two days later and even then, it’s a longer period of time than he’s used to not seeing Harry in their flat. He wheedles it out of Louis eventually, and once he’s told the whole story, he’s distinctly unimpressed.
“You’re fucked up.” And hearing it, especially from Zayn, stings.
“What the fuck, Zayn.”
Zayn groans, propping his head up with both arms at the kitchen table. Louis is silently thankful that Liam didn’t spend the night, because he’s not sure how he would’ve been able to handle this conversation with two pairs of Judgmental Eyes watching him through breakfast.
“Weren’t you the one climbing into my bed and asking me if you’d ever fall in love?”
Louis hates when Zayn uses rhetorical questions, so he makes a face and says, “Yes.”
Zayn blinks at him, like he’s waiting for more. “And?”
“What?” Louis sighs. “He doesn’t even know what he means when he says that.”
“And you do?”
“No. And that’s why I didn’t say it back,” Louis says smugly. “He isn’t in love. He wants to be in love, maybe, but then he’ll come to his senses when he sees that I don’t exercise or that I eat all the food in the cabinets. He hasn’t seen that yet and when he does, he’ll know I was right.”
He goes back to his cereal, but not before hearing Zayn mutter such an idiot under his breath. But idiot is better than fucked up, so he’ll take it.
Lunch breaks become a depressing occasion when Louis stops seeing Harry at the sandwich shop. He thought a week would be enough for Harry to get over the whole thing, but the table next to his is still empty and so are the pages in his journal.
Louis tries writing whenever he can, which is more often than usual ever since his evenings freed up. He writes about himself — of course, he finds himself thinking — but each attempt turns out worse than the last. Nothing feels honest enough and when he finally shows something to Zayn, he doesn’t sugarcoat his words.
“You’re writing around your feelings,” he says bluntly. “Call Harry and stop being a cunt.”
The thing is, Louis’ never been the one to start a dialogue. His essays normally begin with someone else’s mistake, and he’s not about to change everything now. Besides, Harry hasn’t tried calling or bothered showing up for lunch, so it’s not like he’s the one that’s hiding.
He momentarily entertains the idea of showing up on Harry’s doorstep in an act of role reversal before remembering that he’s never actually been to Harry’s flat, and he thinks that’s telling.
It doesn’t hit until nearly three weeks after the argument in Louis’ room and he very nearly laughs when he sees how stupid he’s been. There’s nothing remarkable about it: just an empty spot in bed one morning, a realization over toast and an exaggerated eye roll from Zayn, which, that’s fine.
But Harry still hasn’t called, and so maybe that’s that.
Coldplay comes up on shuffle just as he hears a knock at the front door. He’s on his bedroom floor with two boxes of pizza in front of him — one missing a third and the other one halfway finished. It’s not his proudest moment but Zayn’s off for the weekend with Liam, so might as well.
He wipes his hands on his trousers and makes a mental note to do laundry tomorrow. When he opens the door, he finds Harry standing there, not quite meeting his eyes.
“Can I come in?”
There’s a moment where his mind short-circuits and Harry must notice because he’s poking at Louis’ shoulder, biting down on a smile. “Lou?”
Louis steps aside and lets Harry through. Harry follows him back into his room, his eyes widening at the sight of two pizzas — really just one, at this point — laid out on the carpet. Louis feels his face flush.
“Sorry,” he says absently. It’s the first thing he’s said to Harry in weeks and it seems — lacking. So he follows up with, “Want a slice?”
But it must sound as stupid to Harry as it does to him, because he’s smiling in that ridiculous way that has all of his teeth showing. “Maybe later,” he says, hands shoving into his pockets.
“I love you,” Louis blurts out. Then he catches himself and makes a strangled noise, staring at the floor. “I mean. Fuck. Sorry, that wasn’t supposed to come out.”
Harry raises a brow. “Did you mean it?”
Louis glances over at Harry then back down. “Yeah. But it wasn’t — not like that — ”
Without a moment’s hesitation, Harry moves in and his hands find their way to Louis’ jaw, tilting it up so he can press a quick kiss to his slack lips. Louis releases a breath.
Harry smirks. “Zayn told me.”
Tentative relief fills Louis’ chest, but then, “Wait. Zayn told you?”
He kisses the scruff on Louis’ chin, the corner of his eye. “He said that you’d figured it out yourself but that you were too self-absorbed to tell me.”
“Sounds about right.” Louis laughs shakily, mentally thanking Zayn. But for now, he settles for enjoying the feel of Harry’s lips against his neck. “Remember when I wouldn’t get drinks with you?”
“You still haven’t,” Harry murmurs into his skin. “Not properly.”
“Mmm.” His hands find their way to Harry’s shoulders, prying him off gently. He uses his thumb to smooth out the crinkle of confusion between Harry’s brows. “Haz,” he says, and Harry’s watching him with these intense, earnest eyes. It’s nearly terrifying. “A lot of what you said still holds. I’m not like you. It’s — not as easy for me to commit.”
Harry nods slowly. “I know. But I still mean what I think. I love you. This is love.”
Louis fights back the swell of emotion and too much inside of him. Harry made the first move again; he can do this.
“You’re going to see me eat a lot of things I probably shouldn’t. And not just pizzas,” he says lowly. Harry laughs helplessly into the crook of his neck and it calms him. “And I’m going to be difficult with my writing. I’m going to think that I shouldn’t be in love with you, even though I am. Because I don’t want to be boring, like everyone else who writes and falls in love. I’m going to think that, and you’re just going to have to talk me down.”
“Gladly.” Harry hums against the shell of his ear. “Speaking of, have you written anything since? Anything about me?”
Louis chuckles, weaving his fingers through Harry’s hair. “No,” he admits. “I probably should have. But I can only write things that piss me off, remember?”
Harry kisses him again and lingers long enough for Louis to kiss back. “I’ll piss you off,” Harry whispers against his mouth.
“You promise?” Louis asks softly.
“Yeah,” Harry says. “I promise.”