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Save your loving arms for a rainy day

Chapter Text

“Got a light, pop star?”

The voice was slow and deep and melted into the spaces between the raindrops in the dark alley behind the club. Louis thought the words might be raindrops, the way they tumbled from the man’s mouth and splashed against the pavement.

Shit. When was the last time he’d slept? Had it been days? He ran a hand over his eyes. Weeks? Probably not weeks.

The man was staring at him. The man. The man. Louis swept his gaze over him. Maybe in some other life Louis would have tried to pull him. Maybe definitely. The light from the single bare bulb above the exit door cast a soft yellow glow and shadows into the valleys of the man’s face. It was all angles and juts and contrasts. Sharp jaw and soft lips. Bold lines that somehow became vulnerable in the shifting darkness. Wide eyes, but a smirk of someone who was not quite as naive as he looked.

The hair, though. That would have been Louis’ weakness. Once upon a time. Luscious curls that just begged to be tugged hard from behind. Jesus. He shifted back, as far as the little awning would allow.

“I’m not going to fuck you,” Louis said.

The man blinked at him, twice. And then he barked out a laugh. It was an ugly thing, the noise. It ripped through the hush that had fallen over both of them, and slapped against Louis. He wanted to hear it again.

“Nothing wrong with your ego is there, mate?” the man said, but he was smiling. And life was really un-fucking-fair because he looked like a Renaissance painting, dimple and everything, and Louis just couldn’t care. “Don’t recall asking you to.”

Louis shrugged, his shoulders hunched against the bite in the air. It was spring and California, so it wasn’t as cold as it could be. But Louis rarely felt warm enough. “You would have.”

He tossed him his lighter anyway. The man tried to snatch it from the air, but his hands grabbed at nothing as the little white Bic hit the ground and bounced between his gold sparkly boots. “Wanker,” the man said, but his voice had no heat in it and he simply bent down to scoop it up.

A cigarette materialized from behind one of the man’s ears, and he held it loosely between long fingers, just turning it over and over. Louis wasn’t watching him. Or he was and he didn’t want to be. He looked out into the night instead and took a long drag from his own Marlboro. The nicotine slid into his bloodstream and the buzz that had been making all the particles in the air shimmey settled a bit.

“My dad died from these,” the man said because of course he wanted to talk. He couldn’t just light up like a normal fucking person and leave Louis the hell alone. All he wanted was five minutes of peace. Just to be able to stand still and not have to answer questions and not have to think and not have to keep himself from falling apart for five fucking minutes. “Mum asks me to quit at least twice a week.”

Louis’ fingertips dug into the soft flesh beneath his hip bones. He should just go back inside. But he couldn’t face the wall of music and voices and sweaty bodies grinding into each other. Trying to grind into him. Trying to grind his bones down until there was nothing left.

The man finally lit his cigarette and Louis couldn’t look away when he pursed his lips to blow the smoke from the side of his mouth. It shouldn’t look like sex. It still did.

“Yet you smoke anyway,” Louis said, his voice just a rasp. It wouldn't surprise him if the man hadn’t even heard.

But he smiled before taking another pull.

“Just when I’m trying to proposition strung out pop stars in filthy alleys,” he said, doing that thing with his mouth again as he exhaled. For the first time in a long time, Louis felt a sliver of arousal nudge at his cock. Nothing he couldn’t easily ignore. But it made him turn just a bit toward the man.

“Something you do often, then?” Louis asked, his eyes tracing over his body once more. He was in all black but it was far from boring. The shirt was sheer and barely buttoned. There was some winged creature poised to take flight between his ribs, and Louis wanted to lick along the dark ink lines of the tattoo. His cock gave another twitch and he shifted his eyes to the dusty nipples that were beaded against the cold night air. That was no better. But he couldn’t stop himself from following the loose fabric down to the hint of softness at the man’s hips, the narrow waist, the low-slung black jeans that revealed a strip of briefs Louis didn’t want to think about.

His eyes snapped back to the man’s and he saw humor there. “Only you, baby.” The seductive tone slunk along Louis’ spine, but he knew it was facetious. The amusement was still there. It was in the crease of one dark, raised eyebrow, it was in the uneven tilt of his lips. It was in the way he popped out his hip in a caricature of coyness.

“Oi, fuck off,” Louis said, but he was laughing. The way it scratched up his esophagus and throat startled him. Had it been that long since he’d laughed? Probably not. Probably he was being dramatic. Probably he needed fucking sleep.

The man leaned back against the exposed brick wall behind him, his eyes lazily touching on Louis’ lips, his shoulders, his wrists, his knees. It wasn’t sexual, just curious. And his face was open with it, the way he absorbed the little nuances of Louis’ body.

Louis held still for the inspection, fighting the desire to fiddle with his fringe that wasn’t even a fringe at the moment. It was a nervous habit he had that he’d watched on countless playbacks of interviews. His fans new the gesture well, knew what it meant. He had the feeling this man would know, too.

“What’s got your panties in a twist, then, pop star?” the man finally asked, his gaze returning to Louis’ face.

Something pressed against Louis’ chest and for a moment Louis let himself wonder what it would be like to let all his secret spill out. To fall into the space between them and be devoured by this stranger. Terror mingled with bliss, tangling into a sharp throb he had to swallow hard against.

“Absolutely nothing,” Louis said instead. “Happy days, yeah?”

The man clicked his tongue once, a disappointed, wet tetch that Louis felt. Actually felt.

“My mistake.”

Louis turned desperate eyes on him, blinking too fast. He could see his own lashes flutter. “I’m living the dream, mate” he said and even he could hear the way his voice cracked along the edges. “What would I have to be upset about?”

The man pushed off the wall and slowly, so slowly, stepped into Louis’ personal space. Strangers did it all the time. Touching him, his stomach, his back, the top swell of his ass. Fingers lingering along his skin, brushing into the dip in his elbow, trailing through the delicate hair at the nape of his neck.

He’d learned to live with it, those little invasions. It didn’t mean they got easier.

But this. This didn’t feel predatory. The man was breathing his air. His energy pulsed against Louis’ so that he could see the colors flirt and caress each other. Louis didn’t want to back away, though. He didn’t want to break the fragile web that had softened the air around them so much so that Louis felt like he could wrap it around his shoulders like a warm blanket.

Fuck, he needed sleep. Or more alcohol. Or anything really. Anything that would let him turn his mind off for a minute and stop seeing words as raindrops and energies as kaleidoscopes.

There was a tug at the front of his jeans and he realized the man was sliding the lighter into his pocket, not lingering, just quick and efficient. But he leaned down close, so that Louis could feel the warmth of his breath against the shell of his ear. “Keep telling yourself that, pop star. Maybe one day you’ll believe it.”

Louis’ body went rigid, his tongue went sharp ready to cut this person down for daring to see behind the mask. But the stranger stepped back before Louis could lash out. He turned away without even a last look to see if his quiet taunt had hit its mark and Louis did nothing but watch him swing back through the door. Into the club. Into the noise and flashing lights and air drenched with the promise of sex.

Then it was just Louis, left slumped into himself on the very outskirts of the little circle of light coming from the lonely bulb. Maybe the stranger had been a hallucination. He wouldn’t be surprised.

But when he dipped his hand into his pocket to finger the lighter, he brushed against a sharp, crisp point. A business card.

It was pretty. Like the man who’d slipped it to him. Ivory and dark black with hints of purple. He ran his thumb over the raised letters. And then very carefully tucked it back into his pocket.

Chapter Text

“I’m still not going to fuck you,” Louis said.

The man from the club -- Harry his card had informed Louis -- looked up from where he lounged behind the counter. He looked different in the light of day. Less like an enigma come to life. More like a person.

Louis wondered what he himself looked like now that he wasn’t hugged by shadows and rain and the kindness of alcohol.

Harry dimpled, a deep groove slicing into those long narrow cheeks. Something about them hinted at once being round and Louis wondered if he’d been a cherub just a few years ago. Louis also wondered what it would have been like to meet him then. Before Louis had learned that he couldn’t have boys like this.

“You’re really doing wonders for my self-esteem, pop star,” Harry said, his teeth a flash of white as he gnawed on his gum. “Makes me want to keep you around.”

It had been a week since the night at the club. Louis hadn’t even gone back inside. Instead he’d called a driver and stumbled back to his dark, empty house. He hadn’t left any lights on, so he’d careened blindly into the living room, too desperate for the relief the whiskey could bring to do much more than fumble for the bottle. He hadn’t even bothered with a glass, just wrapped his lips around it and swallowed, chasing oblivion. The burn had been so good.

It took him three days of staring at the card, holding it, feeling the weight of it in his hands before he’d googled the place.

For The Record. It was a shop in a hipster district in LA that Louis avoided like the plague. Old records. Pink Floyd and the Beatles and Black Sabbath, the simple but professional site had promised.

The idea of it perfectly aligned with Louis’ memories of Harry. Quirky but classic.

He’d put the address in his phone, but it still took him another four days to go looking for it. The card had mocked him. The card had tugged at him. The card had drawn his glance, his fingers, his touch over and over again. And he didn’t know why.

He wanted to know why.

So he’d come. Come to see the shop. Come to see Harry. Even though he shouldn’t have.

The shop was cute. He tore his eyes off Harry and looked around, taking it in. There was a vintage popcorn maker in the corner and the air was buttery because of it.

Beside that it was exactly what he’d expected, except for the amount of natural light that poured through the glass storefront. It was rows and rows of vinyl records. It was classic posters hung reverently on walls. It was Joni Mitchell’s honey-whiskey voice oozing from discrete speakers throughout the room.

Quirky but classic.

Harry was watching him. Louis could feel his gaze on his back, like an actual touch. It was another normal in Louis’ life. Being watched. In the beginning it had made him preen. Then it had made him paranoid. Then he’d learned to brush it aside.

This time it didn’t bother him. But he also didn’t put a little swing in his hips like he might have in the early days. When he’d felt a hot boy’s eyes on his arse. Instead he just moved around the room, taking in each detail, before he ended up in front of Harry.

He leaned his forearm on the counter, resting against the glass. “It’s nice,” he said.

Harry batted long eyelashes at him. “You flatter me, sir” he said, his voice high and breathy as he clutched at his throat. “These excessive compliments will go straight to my head.”

The corner of Louis’ lip tugged up. Years ago he might have sassed him back. Something about Harry made him want to again. He was out of practice, though. Jason had been particularly sensitive to what Louis had thought was wit. By the end he hadn’t been able to say much without his boyfriend’s eyes filling with hateful tears that spilled over dark lashes with a mastery that made Louis always wonder just how much he was being manipulated.

Harry cracked his gum. It was obnoxious. Louis liked it. Louis liked all of it. He really liked the way Harry was grinning up at him, all dimples and too-big teeth and a hint of a pink tongue. He really liked the way the light caught the mischief in those deep green eyes. He really liked the way a single curl had escaped the bounds of Harry’s bun and tickled against the faint rose blush of his cheeks. He even liked the stupid white alien glasses that perched atop his head and the appalling blue Hawaiian shirt Harry wore with the confidence of Gucci.

“So did you just come in to damn me with faint praise, pop star?” Harry asked, with another snap of his gum.

“It’s Louis,” he said, and he turned a bit, unable to stare at all the prettiness directly head on any longer.

Harry breathed out an almost laugh because of course it was absurd. He clearly knew who Louis was. But it had always been one thing Louis clung to in an effort to maintain normalcy. Introductions.

But Harry didn’t call him on it like he could have. “Harry Styles,” is all he said. Louis nodded once. He knew that as well.

“So looking for anything in particular, pop star?” Harry asked again.

They both knew if Louis were being honest he would say, “you.”

He had no interest in being honest. “Just browsing.”

There was that quirk to Harry’s mouth again. A lip tipped up, a dimple exposed. A light in the eyes that wasn’t mocking but edged closed to it.

“What do you listen to? What kind of music do you like?” he asked. Which made sense to ask of course. It shouldn’t feel like an attack. The fingers that always held his chest in a loose grasp began to tighten. The air would go away next. And then the light.

“I … I don’t know,” he managed to get out. It was a ghost of his normal voice, but he managed to say the words. A victory.

Harry heard the vulnerability in the spaces between, though. Or read it on Louis’ face. Harry straightened, no longer the indolent frat boy or the coquette idly flirting to pass a nice spring day. His eyes were sharp and aware. But kind, too. Louis latched onto it and breathed. When the air caught in his throat he just continued to catalogue every shade of green that turned Harry's irises into a summer field after a thunderstorm.

“Let’s get ice cream,” Harry suddenly said, and the surprise of it alone was enough to jolt Louis out of whatever spiral he’d been about to plunge into.

“Ice cream?” He repeated.

“I know a place,” Harry came around the counter, patting the pockets of his skin-tight black skinny jeans.

“Ice cream.”

“Keep up, pop star,” Harry said, barely glancing at him as he flipped the closed sign on the door.

Louis moved forward, still not quite able to grasp what was happening. “You can just close?”

There was that Harry smirk again. “I own the shop, can do what I want, yeah?”

Oh. Louis had nothing to say to that. Or maybe he had a lot to say.

Harry paused, his fingers curling around Louis’ bicep to draw him to a stop on the sidewalk. “Shit. Do you have to worry about,” he waved at Louis’ general appearance. “Being recognized?”

Always. “We’ll be okay,” he said, adjusting the purple beanie so that he didn’t touch his fringe.

There was a beat of silence, while Harry considered. But he took Louis’ word for it and dropped his hand. Louis wanted it back.

“It’s not far.”

Louis thought they’d walk in silence. Something about the slow, methodical way Harry spoke had led him to believe he wouldn’t be a chatter. Louis was wrong. He was so wrong. Harry filled the air with words and hands and passionate monologues on football lineups and commentary on the very best breed of cat and musings on the way the ocean smelled different here and interjections about the best banana smoothie he’d ever had just at that place around the corner.

It was perfect. With each sentence, the ground became more steady beneath Louis’ feet. The panic that tugged like a hook beneath his belly button started to fade.

By the time they’d gotten their ice cream -- mint chocolate chip for Louis and sea salt caramel for Harry -- the tension that had held him paralyzed in Harry’s store had all but disappeared.

Harry must have sensed the shift in him. He hadn’t exactly been babbling before, but he’d filled the silence that might have become overwhelming, and he’d done it on purpose. The entire time he’d spoken as if he were soothing a skittish, wild animal.

Now though. Well, that glint was back. “So pop star,” he said, swirling his bubblegum pink tongue into the golden ice cream. It was obscene. “Not to set my fragile ego up for another bruising, but why exactly are you so insistent you’re not going to fuck me?”

Louis stumbled over a crack in the sidewalk, choking on nothing. Hearing “fuck me” from Harry’s mouth as he fellated his cone was. A lot. “Um.” He coughed.

And goddamn Harry Styles knew exactly what he was doing. The smugness all but radiated off him as he bobbed his head down again. Louis looked away.

“I mean, for all you know I could have a boyfriend,” Harry continued as if Louis’ brain hadn’t just exploded.

But that caught his attention. This wasn’t a date. This definitely wasn’t a date. It was something more than strangers sharing ice cream though. It was probably more than Louis could really handle. Still. “Do you?”

Something softened around Harry’s eyes. Maybe he’d been expecting a different response. “I have a cat.”

“Well, for both your sakes, I hope that wasn’t the answer to my boyfriend question.”

Harry barked out that ugly laugh again.

It was actually quite beautiful. Not the sound. But the way it was torn from his body as if he didn’t want it to escape but couldn’t contain it. It was beautiful in the way he tipped his head back and the long length of his throat was pale and lovely in the afternoon light. It was beautiful in that Louis had caused it. Even though it hadn’t been that funny.

Harry nudged him, his shoulder against Louis’, still giggling off his amusement. “Why?”

There were answers to that, of course. Louis probed at them like he would the sore spot of a just-pulled tooth. They ached.

So he chose the easy route. “I just got out of a relationship.”

“Ah,” Harry said as if he understood. Perhaps he did. Perhaps he could explain it to Louis.

There was a beat of silence. The first one really since they’d left the shop. Louis wondered if that was it then. If the fragile thing between them, the thing that he didn’t even want, was crushed. And all of a sudden he didn’t want that. He didn’t want this to go away even if he didn’t know what this was.

“He didn’t like…” Louis trailed off. Because Harry wouldn’t want to hear the rest of it. Louis didn’t particularly want to hear the rest of it.

But Harry nudged him again, that shoulder thing. This time he didn’t move away and they walked for a moment pressed against each other. Just a bit. Just at the spot. “Didn’t like?”

“Me,” Louis said. And he was thankful for the sunny day. He was thankful for the dark Ray Bans that hid his eyes. He was thankful that For The Record was right there and he wouldn’t have to hold it together for much longer.

“Hmmm,” Harry hummed around the last mouthful of ice cream as he unlocked the door. He stepped back to let Louis go in first.

“What?”

They just stood there in the middle of the shop staring at each other. Louis drank in the sight of him in case this was the last time. It felt far more dramatic than was warranted, but he couldn’t stop his eyes from tracing the curve of his ear, the stretch of his shoulders, the swell of his thighs beneath dark fabric.

“I don’t believe that,” Harry finally said, breaking the moment that had gone taut and electric between them.

Louis shrugged.

Harry’s expression turned thoughtful, but Louis couldn’t read behind his eyes. “So what do you want from me, pop star?”

And wasn’t that the question. Louis wanted a lot of things. Things he couldn’t have.

He shouldn’t have come. And if he had, he shouldn’t have went for ice cream. And if he had gone for ice cream, he shouldn’t have shared confidences that weren’t actually that deep but felt like a vulnerability anyway.

He had nothing to lose. “I want to not have to answer that question,” he said. It was the most honest he’d been in a while.

Maybe Harry would be flippant. Say, you can’t always get what you want, pop star, and flip his hair as if it were down around his shoulder instead of up tight in a bun. Maybe it would allow Louis to forget how he’d been feeling at peace for the first time in months just being in Harry’s space. Just listening to the way he talked. Figuring out the way he thought. Maybe if Harry pushed then this connection, this thing, would turn sour in Louis’ mouth.

But Harry just smiled. It wasn’t that full, dimpled smile, or the one that lingered after that ugly laugh. It was more contained, but fond all the same. “That can work,” he said, low and slow, nodding to himself. “For now.”

Chapter Text

The little black flecks floated in Louis’ eyes. He blinked to get rid of them but it didn’t work, so he just curled up tighter against the wall and dropped his forehead to his knees.

“Louis,” the voice was far off coming from the end of a long tunnel. “Mate. Louis.” It was concerned. He should probably look up, reassure, comfort. Deflect. He couldn’t bring himself to move though.

A warm hand dropped heavy on the nape of his neck, fingers thick and sweaty, but grounding. He focused on the hand instead of the sirens that were screaming in his head.

“Hey, it’s okay,” the voice said. Liam. His new manager. The one Louis had hired three weeks ago after he’d fired Russell. The move had been the first step of his plan.

Louis wondered how hard Liam was freaking out. It probably wasn’t the most reassuring moment in the world to find your client hunched in a darkened hallway after fleeing from a business meeting.

“Here we go,” Liam muttered, and Louis was startled as his hands slipped beneath Louis’ armpits to heave him to his feet. The blood rush did nothing to help the spots in his eyes. “We’re just gonna…” he trailed off as he maneuvered a mostly pliant and stunned Louis into the closest empty office.

Liam pushed him into the chair and then leaned back against the closed door, his puppy dog eyes wide and searching. “What happened in there Louis?”

For some reason Louis thought about Harry. It had been almost a week since he’d sought out the boy in the record shop. In that span of days, Louis had found himself driving in the direction of hipster LA only to stop himself a few blocks from the store.

He was just thinking about Harry because of the questions. Harry had asked questions, too. But he hadn’t pushed. Liam would have to push. That’s what he was there for, that’s why Louis had hired him. If he couldn’t trust LIam, what hope did he have?

He just needed a minute. “I couldn’t take them anymore.”

Liam nodded, the earnestness painful on his face. “Those meetings can be pretty boring. But necessary.” It was a reminder. A gentle scolding. Like Louis wasn’t professional enough to recognize it on his own.

That wasn’t fair to Liam, though. Liam didn’t know. He didn’t realize. Because Louis hadn’t told him it all yet.

So he just nodded. “I know. I’m sorry, and I’ll apologize to them,” he said. Everything had stopped going hazy at the edges, so he thought he might be able to do it without losing his shit again. “They’re just…”

“Wankers?” Liam supplied, ever the helpful pup. Louis laughed and remembered. He remembered why he’d hired Liam in the first place. After months of searching for the right fit. He hadn’t been willing to settle, again.

“Wankers, yeah,” Louis said. “Ignorant jackoffs in suits who wouldn’t know good music if it came streaming out of their arses.”

Liam’s entire face scrunched up when he laughed. Then he sobered, and pushed off the door, his body tight with energy. “You don’t like them.”

Louis knew his brows were somewhere under his fringe. Liam had to know that at least. But it sounded like a realization. “No.”

“Then why…” Liam stopped, seeming to gather his thoughts into a coherent question. “Why are we working with them?”

Because. Because. Because that’s how it was. “We have a deal.”

Liam was shaking his head, though. “No. Russell was in talks with them, but nothing’s signed Louis. You don’t have to do this. I mean, if you want to, we should. But if it’s not what you want…”

If it’s not what you want. The words rang foreign in the sudden quiet of the office. No one had ever cared what Louis wanted. No one.

“You don’t need to decide now,” Liam continued on in a rush, not familiar with Louis enough to read the stillness in his posture. “Actually, you probably shouldn’t decide now, what with the …” he waved his hand in the direction of Louis.

“Panic attack and everything?” Louis supplied.

Liam seemed to swallow an awkward laugh. “Erm. Yes. That. Look, why don’t we regroup tomorrow? Go get some air. But Louis?”

“Yeah?”

“If the answer you come back with is fuck these wankers … that’s okay. It’s going to be okay,” Liam said.

And for the first time in years, Louis actually believed that could be true.

***

Louis lingered in front of the coffeeshop next to For The Record. He didn’t know why he was here. Or he did, but didn’t want to admit to it.

The store actually had customers in it, and he didn’t want to deal with that. So he hovered. And he drank his rapidly cooling tea. It sat bitter on his tongue, but he didn’t mind. He’d been wandering about since he’d left the meeting earlier. Just driving around LA, without much purpose. He’d ended up three blocks away from For The Record, and wasn’t surprised at all.

The bell above Harry’s store chimed as the last couple swung out onto the street, and Louis ducked his head so that the shadows of his snapback fell along his face. He waited a moment to make sure no one else was heading in.

When he stepped into the store the little ball of tension that had been sitting beneath his clavicle all day relaxed. It shouldn’t be like that. But it was.

Harry was slotting a record into a space toward the back, his long body stretched, slightly bent over. Even though the door had chimed its silly little wind chimes Harry hadn’t turned around, just called out some nonsensical greeting. So Louis just watched him.

He wanted to lay a palm along Harry’s spine, between his shoulder blades, and fit his body to Harry’s. Let his hips rock against Harry’s little ass. Let his chest rest against that broad back until his lips could find the soft skin of his neck.

But more than anything, he wanted to see Harry’s face again. He cleared his throat. “Hi.”

Harry swung around, still holding multiple records which he proceeded to drop all over the floor. “Fuck. Shit.” Then he disappeared and Louis bit his lip to keep from smiling.

When Harry popped up it was clear he was back to trying to pull off his sexy, mysterious hippie routine. Maybe there was more to it than that. Louis wanted to know if there was.

“Pop star,” Harry said, cocking his hip. But then he met Louis’ eyes and the smirk slid from his lips. “Oh.”

Just like that. Harry had read him just like that. It should probably scare him that this stranger could so easily see what he was so easily able to hide from so many people.

“Hi,” Louis said again.

Harry gnawed on his bottom lip as he considered Louis, then his gaze slipped to the storefront window and then back to Louis. “You wanna go to the beach?”

In that moment it didn’t matter what Harry would have suggested. Louis would have gone. So he simply nodded, past the point of feeling guilty for interrupting Harry’s day.

“Okay, give me a second, yeah?” Harry was already turning away. It took a few minutes to gather his things and put everything to rights, and Louis thumbed through the records as he waited. Not as interested as perhaps he should be.

Then Harry’s hand was on the small of his back, guiding him to the front of the shop, pushing him out onto the sidewalk and then locking up. Touching Louis the whole time.

Harry nudged him over to the intimidating motorcycle that was parked in front of the store. “You don’t seem the type to ride a hog,” Louis said, taking the proffered helmet. He handed his snapback over to Harry to deal with.

“Oh baby, why do you tease me with such softballs, when you’re clearly not in the mood?” Harry said, swinging one of his long legs over the burly machine.

It was hot. And Louis didn’t even like motorcycles.

He also doubted he looked as graceful, but thankfully Harry wasn’t watching him.

He settled against Harry’s back, their hips flushed against each other, his hands pressed against Harry’s taut stomach. Louis dug his chin into one of Harry’s shoulder blades and tried to breathe normally.

“Shall I save it for later, so you can use whatever comeback you just came up with?” Louis asked into the soft material of his T-shirt. Harry’s body rumbled against his as he chuckled.

“That would be much appreciated,” Harry said over the roar of the engine. “Wouldn’t want my wit to go to waste.”

Louis’ smile pressed into Harry, and he squeezed tighter as they pulled into traffic.

The ride should have been tedious. It wasn’t. It was freeing. It was calming. It was arousing.

The heat of the day had burned off long ago, just leaving a pleasant coolness in the air that slipped over Louis’ hot skin, which was mostly protected by Harry’s broad frame. The sun was sinking ever so slowly toward the horizon, coloring the sky golden and rose. And Harry’s body was powerful and commanding beneath Louis’ as he dodged and weaved through the heaviest of the traffic.

By the time they got to the beach Louis was sporting a semi that Harry would be hard pressed to miss. Louis almost voiced the thought just to see Harry’s appreciation of the word play.

He didn’t say anything, though. And Harry didn’t say anything. So they just walked in silence to the water’s edge. They’d both toed off their shoes when they’d gotten to the sand, and so the water lapped at their bare feet.

The ocean stretched forever. Louis always felt so small standing before it. Everything else disappeared, meaningless. Louis breathed deep and the empty places within him filled with the salt-laden air.

“Why’d you suggest coming here?” Louis asked. Because it was perfect.

Harry wasn’t looking at him. “You had sad eyes, pop star.”

“So naturally, the beach,” Louis said, amused by the logic. Pleased by it.

“Beach don’t kill my vibe,” Harry said, somewhat nonsensically. Except that it was very Harry to say.

Louis laughed. “I was sad.”

There was a pause, and Louis could tell Harry was gnawing on that lip again, even without watching him. “Why?”

The question didn’t rub as raw as it usually did. Louis dug his heel into the wet sand, rocking back a bit. “I should be happy.”

Harry turned at that. “Why should you be happy?”

Louis studied his face to see if he was taking the piss. “I’m famous. Rich. Living my dream. Should be fun, right?”

“Not necessarily,” Harry said it so simply. So simply.

“Yeah, poor little pop star me,” Louis shifted so that he wouldn’t have to meet Harry’s searching gaze. Looking back at the water, at the way the waves lashed out at the ground as if angry they had to break.

“Louis,” Harry touched his arm. It was the first time he’d said Louis’ name. That seemed important. “You’re allowed to be sad. Talk to me?”

Louis rolled his shoulders, trying to relieve the tightness there. “Can we walk?”

He didn’t wait for an answer, just turned to start along the beach toward the pier. Harry had picked a somewhat less popular stretch, and there were only a few people out soaking up the last of the day’s rays. Harry fell into step beside him.

“I had a meeting with my record label today,” Louis started. He wondered at the recklessness that had him sharing personal information with a stranger. In this day in age. It still felt right. If Harry wanted to sell him out to the tabs, well, then it would be a lesson learned. Nothing could stop the flood of confessions that waited at the tip of his tongue though. “I haven’t had the … best … relationship with them.”

“They,” Harry started. Then stopped himself. Then glanced at Louis, licking his lips. “They closeted you.”

So he followed Louis’ career. That shouldn’t mean anything. Still, maybe it was nice. “Yeah. The only way I was able to come out was because a friend agreed to out me ‘by accident.’”

“I’m glad you were able to,” Harry said, knocking his shoulder against Louis in that way he did.

“It was a disaster, but they didn’t sue me at least,” Louis shrugged. It hadn’t been fun, but he’d made it through. “They were back to their arsehole selves today. I’m… We’re in negotiations for my fourth album.”

Harry clapped his hands a little bit, in a giddy, young way that had Louis smiling. “What was that?” he jabbed Harry’s stomach.

“Um. Shit. I should probably tell you now. I’m a huge fan,” Harry said, a blush sitting at the tops of his cheekbones.

Something sweet and golden sparked within Louis. “What? Doesn’t that undermine your cool kid cred?”

“Your music is really good,” Harry said, in the odd position of defending Louis to Louis. He wanted to laugh. “The snobbery directed toward pop music like yours has a lot to do with inherent misogyny based on your core demographic being young women. But young females are the tastemakers of our economy with untold buying power. Writing that off is foolish and seixst.”

“Holy shit,” Louis said as Harry stumbled to a stop realizing Louis wasn’t keeping up. He was just staring at Harry mouth slightly agape.

“Plus it’s really fun to like your music,” Harry shrugged, looking a little bashful and self-righteous at the same time.

“That’s really hot.”

Harry licked his lips. “Um.”

Right. Not smart. Louis brushed by him, his eyes back on the pier. “So I’m working on my fourth album,” he cut his eyes to Harry for a reaction. There was just a little smile tugging at the corners of his lips. “And I’m in this meeting and they’re doing it again. Not the closeting, obviously. Cat’s out of the bag on that one, boys.”

Harry’s smile grew at that.

“But, the controlling thing. Like my image has always been very … dictated. What I wear. What I say. What my music is,” Louis said. That was the hardest part. The music.

“You’re a brand,” Harry said, and though it sounded harsh the gentleness with which we said it undercut the sting.

“More than anything, yeah,” Louis nodded. “To them.”

“So why are you signing with them?”

Louis huffed out a breath. “That’s what my manager asked me.”

“Sounds like a smart guy,” Harry said.

Louis bumped into him. “He is,” he said, letting it hang. Then he gulped in air. Because this would be the first time he said it out loud. “I think I’m going to tell them to fuck off.”

Harry pumped an arm into the air. “Wooohooooo! Yes!” And then his limbs were everywhere as he broke out into an impromptu dance.

Louis couldn’t take his eyes off him, mesmerized by the shape of his body against the setting sun. “Why do you care?” He couldn’t help but ask.

That put an abrupt halt to the celebration, and Harry was caught off-balance, one leg still in the air. He steadied himself. “They made you have sad eyes, pop star.”

And maybe it was as simple as that.

Louis surged forward, gripping Harry by the front of his shirt, his fingers curling into the baby soft fabric. His other hand wrapped around Harry’s neck, pulling his head down.

Despite Louis’ urgency they paused right before lips met lips. Their eyes locked, and Louis could see the dark emerald circle around the moss green and Louis wanted. He wanted so much.

Then they abandoned caution. Harry’s mouth was on his and he didn’t know which one of them had closed the final distance, and he didn’t care. It wasn’t smooth and it wasn’t romantic. It was teeth and tongues and wet and hot and slick and everything Louis had ever wanted narrowed down to this boy on this beach.

Desire thrummed in time with his pulse as Harry licked into his mouth, his hands coming around Louis to settle at the top of his arse. Louis rocked his hips against Harry’s and groaned at the contact. Harry’s fingers slipped lower until he was cupping Louis’ ass, holding him in place as he ravaged his mouth.

Louis buried his own fingers in Harry’s hair, the silkiness of the curls sliding against his palm. He tugged on them, and Harry moaned, just a soft little sound at the back of his throat, and Louis wanted to hear it again. And again. And again.

When he felt himself starting to grow heavy, he ripped himself away. That was the only way he’d be able to stop, to violently pull back.

He put distance between them as Harry gasped for air, his pupils blown, his chest heaving, his cock hard against the confining material of his jeans. “Fuck,” he breathed.

“I’m...sorry,” Louis said. But he wasn’t really. “I… You…”

Harry’s eyes closed on a deep breath. And all Louis wanted to do was kiss him again. To take him apart. To have him take Louis apart. Then they would put each other back together.

But life didn’t work like that.

“It’s okay,” Harry said, pressing a hand to his crotch, once, adjusting. Louis wished it was his own. He barely kept his fingers from reaching out to touch, to explore, to trace over the hard length of him.

“It’s not, I’m sorry,” Louis said again.

“Don’t,” Harry said, and the word was torn from his mouth, ragged and broken. “Don’t say you’re sorry.”

Louis pressed his lips together to stop the apology that rested there. He hated himself. But that was nothing new.

“Can we pretend this didn’t happen?” It was unfair. Louis knew it was. Still, he had to ask.

Harry opened his eyes, and Louis couldn’t read what was in them. The moment stretched as Harry studied his face and Louis didn’t know what he was looking for there. He must have seen something. Something that was about to shatter if Harry said the wrong thing, made the wrong move.

“At some point we’re going to have to deal with this,” Harry finally said, waving a hand between them.

“I know,” Louis said, searching for the words Harry had used before. “But, for now?”

Harry looked out at the ocean for a long time, before turning those green eyes on Louis. “For now, we can pretend.”

Chapter Text

“Why?”

The silence pulsed against Louis’ ear. He shouldn’t have called. He didn’t even know what time it was in LA. It was late in New York. Or early. Some people might call 4 a.m. early.

“Louis?” Harry’s voice was scratchy and confused. Louis had woken him up. He should probably feel bad. But he was a selfish asshole. So he didn’t.

“Why did you make me this?” Harry could have no idea what Louis was talking about. Because the conversation he wanted to have was already ten minutes in progress. The buzzing in his bloodstream made him impatient. Demanding. Irrationally so.

But Harry knew. Because he was Harry. “The mixtape?”

Of course the mix tape. What else could he be talking about? What else had he been thinking about for the past six days since Harry had handed it over with such nonchalance. Here, you might like some of these songs, he’d told Louis, sliding the little cassette across the counter. It had been three days after the beach and Louis hadn’t been able to stay away. He hadn’t even been able to come up with an excuse other than he wanted to see Harry.

They’d spent the afternoon sorting records and at the end of it Harry had given it to him. The mix tape.

“Yeah,” is all Louis said, now. When Louis had protested he had nothing to play the cassette on, Harry had slapped the glass counter and then disappeared without a word into the back. He’d emerged three minutes later with a decades old Walkman. “You can borrow it,” he’d said, completely earnest.

“Do you like it?” Harry asked now, the words heavy and lethargic. Louis had definitely woken him up.

“Why did you give it to me?”

There was a soft rustle coming from the line as if Harry was pushing up to a sitting position against his headboard. Louis rested his chin on his knees and waited.

“You didn’t know,” Harry murmured, still waking up. The vulnerability of the conversation crashed into Louis all at once. They were stipped of their defenses, both of them. Harry because of the way sleep had made him soft and easy; and Louis because of the way the alcohol loosened his tongue. And his emotions.

“Didn’t know what?”

There was a beat of silence. “What kind of music you liked,” Harry said in that gentle way of his when he was soothing Louis while trying not to be obvious about it.

Louis thought back to that moment when Harry had asked him. And he’d panicked.

“Do you like it?” Harry asked again, his voice stronger this time.

“Yes,” Louis breathed and it felt like a confession. In his mind he could see Harry smiling, the sheets pooled around his waist, the shadows of the night caressing his pale skin.

“Which ones?”

“Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” Louis said without even thinking.

“That’s my favorite too.”

It would be. “When I…” he started. How to say all this? Why did he think Harry wanted to know? Why did he need to tell him? Harry just waited for him to continue. That made it easier. “When I first went on the show, X-Factor, I was so stupid.”

Harry made a low noise, a protest.

“No, I was,” Louis rushed on. “I was very loud. And flamboyant. Very … me. That’s not the stupid part. The stupid part is I thought that was okay. It didn’t take long to realize they had different ideas. The sound they wanted for me…well they needed a persona to sell it with.”

There had been media training. And stylists. And coaches to get him to stop touching his hip just so or using that inflection. Don’t ever laugh at a male interviewer’s joke too hard. Degrade women on camera. It was trash, it wall all trash. He didn’t want to go into details.

“They were slowly erasing who I was, Harry,” Louis said.

Harry breathed out a soft “Oh, Lou.” He was there. He was listening. He cared.

“I fought. Not at the beginning because I didn’t know what was happening,” Louis pushed on. “But I wanted to write. I wanted to have a voice. My first album is shite because of them.”

He ran a hand over his face, through his hair. “I kind of got some control back for the next two, but God, Harry, it was a war. I can’t do that again.”

“You don’t have to, baby,” Harry murmured and the endearment shot a pang through Louis’ heart.

“But now…”

Again, Harry was quiet. Patient.

“I’ve lost my voice,” Louis said in a rush because he hadn’t admitted it to anyone else. It hurt. The words were barbed things slashing at the soft tissue of his throat, disrupting the stillness of the hotel room. “I don’t even know what kind of fucking music I like anymore. How am I supposed to make an album? How am I supposed to top the last one? How many people are just waiting for me to fail? And I’m going to prove them right.”

His breathing was ragged. He was sure Harry could hear it.

“Hey, Lou,” Harry finally said. “What other songs did you like on the tape?”

***

Louis: Please. Please. Please tell me you did not actually put Shaggy on here.

Harry: That’s my jammmmm, pop star!

Louis: Oh, Harry. No.

Harry: CAN’T BE A FOOL SON, WHAT ABOUT THE LONG RUN

Louis: Good point, good point

Louis: May I counter with “shooby shooby dooby shooby”

Harry: …

Harry: So what you’re saying is MORE shaggy on the next one

***

Louis: so is Baha Men supposed to be an upgrade from shaggy?

Harry: it’s the masterpiece of our generation

Louis: the worst part though is they never answer the question

Harry: metaphor, pop star

Harry: for LIFE

Harry: because we never know who actually lets the dogs out

***

Louis: THE THONG SONG

Harry: :)

***
Louis: OK I can get behind Shania

Harry: an underappreciated goddess

Louis: we might have took the long way

Harry: we’d knew we’d get there someday

***

Louis: I wrote a song today

Harry: Call me?

***

Harry had sent the text four hours ago and Louis couldn’t stop staring at it.

It wasn’t that late. For once they were even in the same time zone. Only Louis was in Las Vegas. He’d had to make an appearance at a club but when he’d gotten there, all he could think about was Harry’s text. He so rarely made requests or demands on Louis.

Louis had left without even getting a drink. He’d made sure he’d been seen then had gotten in his car and driven out. Out to the desert. Out underneath the velvet sky and champagne moon where the lights from the city faded in a soft, neon glow behind him.

He’d pulled to the side of the road, out of the way. Then stretched out on the still-warm hood of his rented sedan.

Then he pressed call.

“Lou?” It was loud wherever Harry was. Laughter. Noise. Voices. Louis wasn’t even sure if Harry could hear him if he did talk. So he didn’t.

There was some shuffling on the other line, and then a door closed and it was almost quiet.

“Sorry. Lou? Are you...?”

“I’m still here,” Louis said, relief crashing into him so that it almost came out on a sob. He really wanted to talk to Harry.

“Baby, are you okay?” The concern was palpable. Louis could feel it hundreds of miles away.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m the one who’s sorry. I’m interrupting your night,” Louis said, though prayed Harry wouldn’t take the easy out.

“Nope,” Harry said, his “p” popping. Perhaps he was a little tipsy already. “Just out with Niall. Karaoke night. You should come next time.” And then he giggled as if he’d told a hilarious joke.

“Oh, pet. You’re drunk,” Louis smiled. He’d yet to see Harry imbibe. The time they’d spent together was mostly during the day, at the record shop. Louis had been traveling for the past month, wrapping up commitments from his last contract. But he always made time when he was in LA to see Harry. Even if it was just to help him sort records, or pick up his latest mixtape.

“Your face is drunk.” Harry giggled again. Louis was tickled.

“What are you singing?”

“I wanted to do Still The One in your honor, but Nialler refused,” Harry said. “So we’re doing Spice Girls instead.”

“Oh my god,” Louis said, and he wanted to be there. God he wanted to be there. “Singing all the parts?”

“Of course,” Harry sounded insulted. “I’m doing Posh and Baby’s parts.”

“You go rock it, pet,” Louis said. “Break a leg.”

“But you wrote a song, Lou,” Harry stopped him before he could hang up. “I want to hear it.”

Louis didn’t know if he was ready for that. Thank god Harry was drunk, otherwise he might have read it to him. Then where would they be? “Maybe.”

There was silence then, and they just breathed together over the phone and Louis watched the stars and something settled into place inside him.

“I’m really proud of you Lou.”

It was only after they hung up that the first tear rolled down his cheek.

Chapter Text

“I’m pretty sure v-l-a-x-x-e-r is not a word,” Harry was leaning over Louis.

Louis hunched over the Scrabble tiles and turned to glare over his shoulder at Harry.

“I’m pretty sure you’re a traitor, Harry Styles,” Louis said, and the old man sitting across from him laughed, a deep rattle from the depths of his chest. “And it so is a word. You, in fact, are vlaxxing me right now.”

“You gotta keep an eye on this one, Mr. Garrison,” Harry said, all big eyes and dimples. Such a flirt. Mr. Garrison was lapping it up. “He’s a dirty cheater.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Harry. I often get vlaxxed at my son-in-law,” Mr. Garrison said, winking. Louis preened, shooting a triumphant look at Harry.

Harry had that fond smile as he looked back and forth between them. Then he sniffed, wrinkling his nose to cover the affection.

His thumb was resting against the bone at the top of Louis’ spine, just stroking the skin there lightly. The warmth from that caress combined with Harry’s expression sent shivers through Louis.

“I can see when I’m outnumbered,” Harry said, though he sounded happy. So happy. “I guess I’ll just get the vlax out of here.”

“That’s not the correct use of the word,” Louis called after him and Harry just shook his little arse at him, without looking back. He turned back to his Scrabble opponent. “You’re all right, Mr. Garrison.”

Some of the amusement had faded from the old man’s basset hound face. “What intentions do you have toward Harry?”

Louis choked on air. “Um.”

“He’s a good boy, Harry is,” Mr. Garrison continued, his dark eyes pining Louis. “A lot of people here would not be pleased if he’s hurt.”

If anyone had told Louis two months ago he’d be spending his first Saturday back after traveling at a senior’s center playing Scrabble with cotton-heads he would have laughed. But here he was. And not only was he here, but he was being threatened by an 87-year-old over his relationship with Harry. It was … endearing.

“I would never intentionally hurt Harry,” Louis said. Because that was the best he could do. He was too selfish to stay away from the boy, and that’s the only way he could actually promise he wouldn’t hurt him.

“That’s not good enough,” Mr. Garrison said, his thick tree trunk arms still a threat despite the wrinkles that saged on the skin there.

“I know,” he said, quietly, wondering if he should go. He didn’t want to.

Mr. Garrison continued to stare him down for a moment before finally he nodded. Once. Then he laid down an o-d-a-h off of Louis’ “r.” He sat back again, a challenge on his face.

“Ah yes,” Louis said. “I get a little rodah when I don’t get me morning tea.”

***
Harry: i know it’s last minute but will you come out with us tonight?

Louis: out with who, where?

Harry: Karaoke, pop star

Harry: we’re going to show you how it’s done

Louis: those are big words from someone who thought … dancing queen, feel the beat from the tangerine … were the actual lyrics to an abba song

Harry: my version’s better

Harry: will you come?

Harry: you don’t have to sing

Harry: please?

Louis: what time?

***
The pub was a hole in the wall, but Louis loved it the moment he stepped through the door. It was dark, and the floor was sticky, but the beer selection was vast and the noise was friendly and welcoming.

“Feels like home,” Liam said from beside him, his English accent heavier than usual. That amused Louis.

“Aye, lad, we’ll have to get a pint of Boddington’s, yeah,” Louis said, leaning heavy on the northerner in his voice. The gentle ribbing went right over Liam’s head.

He’d brought Liam to watch his back. Videos and pictures could be easy to control if he knew the environment, but this was a strange place with strange people and not being careful had cost him before.

They pushed their way through to the bar, leaning on it as they waited to get the attention of the ginger working the taps behind the long slab of mahogany.

“You came.” The voice was close, almost whispering in Louis’ ear and he turned toward it as a hand came to rest on his hip.

It was Nighttime Harry. Louis had come to realize there was a difference between For The Record Harry and Nighttime Harry. For The Record Harry wore patterned dad t-shirts he found at thrift stores; he made stupid knock-knock jokes; ate hamburgers tongue first; and had a collection of strange geometric sunglasses he wore as headbands.

Nighttime Harry on the other hand. Well. He was what was standing in front of Louis, looking like sex. He was wearing a lacy yellow shirt that revealed all the tattoos it should have been hiding. The skinny jeans he must have poured himself into hugged the thick outline of his thighs and would leave very little to the imagination if he got hard. A silver cross hung from one ear and his nails were painted black.

Louis swallowed hard, all of a sudden very aware of his tongue and his pulse and his cock.

The thing was, he couldn’t get enough of either Harry.

“Someone has to show you how it’s actually done,” Louis said, and God it felt good to flirt. It had been a while. With Jason at the beginning they had, probably. But that had dropped off quickly once the resentment had taken hold. To Jason, Louis’ teasing was actually bitchy attacks that just proved his own fucked up narrative right.

He didn’t want to think about that now. Not now when Harry’s face lit with pure delight. Louis added it to his Harry’s smile list.

“You’re going to sing?”

“We’re going to sing,” Louis corrected with nod toward Liam who had been watching their exchange with his big puppy dog eyes. He snapped to attention once he realized he’d been addressed.

“We’re going to do…” Liam said, eager to join in the fun.

“Hey,” Louis cut him off, slapping a hand to his chest. “It’s a surprise.”

Liam’s face crumpled. “Oh shit, I forgot.”

“I can keep a secret,” Harry winked, but he was looking between the two men. And there was something curious in his eyes, a little frown at the corners.

That’s when Louis realized he hadn’t introduced them. “No colluding you two,” Louis said, pointing between them. “The manager-client relationship is sacred.”

Louis thought that might have been relief as Harry picked up on who exactly Liam was. “I would never dream of coming between you two. I’m Harry by the way.”

“Liam,” his manager shook Harry’s hand.

Just then a tiny, blonde pixie of man popped up at Harry’s elbow. “Harry we’re the third round. Oh hi, I’m Niall.”

After the introductions, they found a table in the back of the room. Visibility didn’t matter anymore considering he was about to get up on that little stage, but if he forgot himself, if he let his eyes linger on Harry, well it would be harder to capture all the way back here.

It wasn’t long before Harry and Niall were called up and Louis couldn’t take his eyes off Harry. They belted out an old Journey song that was made for karaoke and the way Harry worked the stage, worked the room, was indecent. He strutted, he thrust, he sank to his goddamn fucking knees at one point. He owned that song. He owned everyone in the pub.

Louis was hard just from watching him.

Niall was quite the contrast. He bounced around Harry like a puppy around a sleek panther, pale white arms and legs flailing in what looked a bit like an Irish jig. It was insane. It was hilarious. It was perfect.

When they came back to the table, Louis and Liam were still clapping and Harry’s face was flushed. He looked so happy. So fucking happy. Louis wished he could just take a picture of him like that, in that exact moment. So he could remember it always.

He wanted to remember it always.

“Oi, rockstar, you’re going to put me out of business,” Louis said, unable to keep his hand from settling on Harry’s thigh.

Harry just laughed, still riding the high, and leaned back so he could drape an arm over the back of Louis’ chair. “Baby, we wouldn’t compete. We’d be the greatest team the world has ever seen.”

It was a joke. But something about it rang true in the depths of Louis’ soul. “Of course it’s not a competition because Liam and I are going to kick your asses, lads.”

“But first, nachos,” Niall cried out, then took off toward the bar.

“I’ll, uh, help,” Liam muttered, glancing at the spot where Harry’s fingers were toying with Louis’ hair, then followed Niall.

“Such subtlety,” Louis said and Harry giggled, completely disrupting his sex god image.

Harry shifted so that he was facing Louis, creating a space for just the two of them. Everything else blurred at the edges. “Hi, pop star,” Harry said.

Louis smiled, and reached up to rub his thumb over Harry’s bottom lip. “Hi, pet.”

“When are you going to show me the song you wrote,” Harry asked. Louis let his arm drop.

“I …” he trailed off, looking away.

“Shit, sorry, shit. I’m sorry. Forget I asked,” Harry rushed out. “You were having such a good time. I’m sorry.”

“No, Harry,” Louis met his eyes. He wouldn’t have Harry feeling bad because his own cowardice. “No. You’re allowed to ask. You can ask me anything. I just… I don’t know if it’s any good is the thing.”

The tightness fell from Harry’s shoulders. “Oh, baby. It’s good. I know it is.”

Louis sucked in air, maybe to say something, maybe to kiss him. But that’s when Niall and Liam plopped back in their seats.

Both he and Harry were reluctant to look away from each other, to break the fragile moment. Liam was jabbing him in the ribs though, and Niall was holding a nacho up to Harry’s face and it was gone. Whatever it had been, it dissolved into the air.

That’s when Louis and Liam were called to the stage. A few people must have recognized him once he stepped into the spotlight because he heard the gasps, the chatter. He ignored them and tried to find Harry’s shape in the shadows. Imagined he was looking into his eyes.

Then he smiled as the opening notes of Still The One started blasting from the speakers.

Chapter Text

Louis knew he shouldn’t have come.

He’d been ignoring the ramifications of this thing between him and Harry because he liked it. He liked the way Harry made him feel. He liked the smiles that flitted across his face, and Louis really liked being able to differentiate between them. He liked Harry’s taste in music. He liked that he looked like a Gucci model but played Scrabble and sung Spice Girls at karaoke.

Every time he learned something new about Harry he cherished it, tucking it away carefully. Each piece that fit into place painted an even more beautiful picture of the man that Louis was becoming far too attached to.

He stood in front of Harry’s door, debating if he should turn away. Text him that something came up. If he went in there, they would talk. He knew they would.

He knocked.

Harry was wearing a fucking apron. It had big pink and purple flowers all over it and frills at the edges. He was beaming, his hair down around his shoulders, and Louis wanted to fuck him so bad. Or be fucked by him. Didn’t really matter.

A bell dinged from the depths of the apartment, and Harry held up the wooden spoon Louis hadn’t noticed was in his hand. Then he was gone, the door still open, his back disappearing down the long hallway.

When Louis felt like he had sufficient control of his tongue once more, he followed.

The kitchen smelled delicious. It was cute, too. All buttery yellow with black and white accents. Welcoming and clearly well-used. He set the bottle of red he’d brought with him on the counter.

“Hi, pet,” Louis said, leaning back to watch Harry at work. It was erotic, the way he moved through the kitchen, a combination of grace and clumsiness that defied all logic. Harry’s small, pleased smile that came out when Louis was affectionate popped the dimple in his cheek.

“I hope you like salmon,” Harry said, nudging Louis out of his way so he could stir something on the stove. It was all very domestic. Louis waited for the tightness in his chest. It didn’t come.

“Love it,” Louis assured him, then went searching for wine glasses. “This song is nice. I was beginning to wonder how the person with the worst musical taste in the world came to own a record shop.”

Harry pouted. “You like my tapes.”

Louis tugged one of the chocolate curls that bounced around Harry’s pretty face. “I do,” he said, handing him one of the glasses. And then he put space between them, because he could smell the vanilla shampoo Harry had used and he wanted to live there and just never leave.

“How did you end up with your shop?” Louis asked, leaning back against the counter again to watch the lovely ballet that was Harry making dinner. They didn’t talk much about their pasts. Except for the handful of times, and that had mostly been about Louis panicking.

They talked about their days, and stupid links they saw on the internet, and songs they’d heard, and what they were eating for breakfast. They went deep too. Philosophy. Religion. Politics. But whenever it got too personal, they both shied away.

In the beginning, it was because Louis didn’t have the emotional capacity to deal with someone else’s feelings. He’d been exhausted, worn down, so tired of fighting for control of his life. He’d been bruised from Jason leaving, and Matthew before him. Maybe he’d never even recovered fully from Daniel.

Lately he’d been hesitant to dive deeper because he knew if he did he wouldn’t want to stop. He wanted to know every centimeter of Harry’s soul. Every piece of it.

“I came here for uni,” Harry said, and it seemed like he was wrapping up the cooking portion of the evening. He slid the fish on the plates and handed one to Louis with a nod to the next room. Louis grabbed what he could, but it still took several trips to the dining room before they were settled.

There were candles. And seeing Harry bathed in the soft glow was a sight Louis would keep with him for a long time.

“So you stayed,” Louis prompted because otherwise he would lunge across the table just to get his lips on that soft skin by his temple, to taste those lips, to drag his tongue along the bit of stubble creating a 5 o'clock shadow on his jaw.

Harry licked his lips, as if he could read Louis’ thoughts. He probably could, they must be written on his face.

“I like it here. The sun, the people, the ocean.”

“So, the shop?”

“When I was a kid, my grandpa used to take me out to the garage and he had this little set up out there,” Harry leaned back in his chair, his glass in one hand. He had a faraway smile that was loving but tinged with some sadness. Louis catalogued it. “Like old, comfy chairs and a stash of liquor he thought he hid from my grandma but she knew about it. And he had all these old records. We would listen to them for hours, just him and me in that dark garage.

“He died when I was here,” Harry continued and Louis shifted out of his seat to take the one next to him. Just to be closer. “I didn’t get to say goodbye.”

Louis brushed his thumb over Harry’s knuckle, letting it slide into the dips and grooves and rest atop the mountains. “I’m so sorry.”

Harry dragged in a broken breath. “It’s been a few years. He…left me money. But I didn’t know what to do with it at first. I kind of wanted to burn it all. I would have traded it in a heartbeat for one more day with him. One more hour.”

“I know. I know.”

“But that’s not what he would have wanted,” Harry’s eyes were wet in the the low light. But the tears didn’t slip from behind his long lashes. “I have a degree in poetry, so that wasn’t really useful in anyway.”

It startled a small laugh out of Louis. Harry’s lip tipped up at the corner, rueful, as he rolled his eyes.

“I um, kind of spiraled a little after that,” Harry said, and Louis understood. He understood how Harry could look at him with those thoughtful eyes and drag him off for ice cream. Or the beach. He understood why Harry always seemed to make time for him when he needed him to. He understood why Harry was the one person who made Louis feel calm while standing in the path of an oncoming storm. Because he’d been there. “It was not… great. I was just really self-destructive. I was bored and I was in pain. And I had money, so.”

He shrugged up one lazy shoulder as if it were nothing. Louis kept stroking his hand.

“Then one day I was at this bar and a Queen song came on. One of their lesser-known ones and I knew every line. Because it had been one of my grandpa’s favorites. He loved Freddie Mercury. I was sat in that stupid pub bawling my eyes out at like 2 in the afternoon trying to sing that fucking song.”

Louis couldn’t take it anymore. It rang too true. He pushed out of his chair, and slid onto Harry’s lap. Apart from a soft exhalation of surprise, Harry didn’t seem upset by the move, so Louis settled in.

His bum was snugged up against Harry’s groin, his head in the nook of Harry’s neck, his arm wrapped around Harry’s waist.

Harry’s free hand came up to Louis’ back, his fingers trailing along his vertebrae. “I went home and in the back of my closet there was this box that mum had sent me and I had known what it was and I had wanted to throw them all away, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’m so thankful I didn’t. I listened to the records all night long.”

Louis’ lips were pressed right next to Harry’s Adam’s Apple and all he could feel was warmth and sadness and Harry’s arms around him, and all he could smell was the vanilla and God he just wanted to sink. Sink into this boy, sink into this moment.

“The next day I came up with idea for the shop,” Harry said. “The building was the first one I looked at and it felt so right. Nothing had ever felt that right before.”

Wanting to see his eyes, Louis pulled away a bit. “Harry.”

“You feel right, Lou. This feels right.”

It was slow. So slow. Louis could see it coming, could stop it if he wanted to. But he didn’t.

Harry’s mouth brushed against his. Gentle so gentle. Louis sighed into it, digging his fingers into Harry’s hair, tugging him closer. Then there was nothing gentle about it.

Louis opened his mouth for Harry, their tongues sliding against each other. He tasted of red wine and promises. Louis wanted more. So much more. His lips found Harry’s jaw, his neck, his cheek, as Louis shifted so that he was straddling him.

They both moaned as he slotted into Harry’s body. He rolled his hips and could feel the hard line of Harry’s cock against his. Louis desperately sought Harry’s lips once more.

Harry’s hands covered Louis’ ass, then his legs bunched beneath Louis. And then he stood up. Louis squeaked into his mouth and clutched at his neck as he wrapped his legs around Harry’s waist. He could feel Harry’s smile against his lips.

“Oh my god, don’t drop me,” he said, laughing the words into Harry’s mouth.

“You weigh like six ounces,” Harry countered, that smirk-smile coming out as he maneuvered them through the hallway. He shifted Louis’ weight to one hand to open the door of the bedroom.

“Show off,” Louis nipped at Harry’s bottom lip.

Before he could get a proper look around, he was tossed on the bed. He was about to complain about the treatment just to complain, but then Harry’s body was on his, pressing him into the soft mattress. Their legs tangled, as Harry found Louis’ mouth again.

Louis gasped as Harry rolled his hips down and their cocks dragged against each other. Then he shifted so one of his beautiful thighs slotted between Louis’. The pressure was just what Louis needed and he grinded himself down onto it, the friction providing such sweet relief.

Harry pulled away from his mouth to rest his forehead against Louis’. The night wrapped around them and the air became taut with their ragged breathing. “Is this alright?” Harry asked, his voice strained.

To answer, Louis grabbed Harry’s wrist and brought his hand down to Louis’ throbbing cock. “Yes, pet.” Harry’s fingers tightened around the hard length and Louis tipped his head back, overcome. It put his neck on display, and Harry’s teeth sunk into the soft flesh just above his collarbone.

“You’re so goddamn gorgeous,” Harry murmured against the bruise that was already forming. His tongue lapped at the spot, before he nipped at it again. The bite sent a pulse straight to Louis’ cock. “So fucking pretty.”

Harry’s hands were everywhere -- butterfly touches along his hip bones, his nipples, his thighs -- as his lips closed over Louis’ Adam’s apple and sucked. Louis cried out his fingers digging into Harry’s back. “That’s it, baby,” Harry said, his mouth hot and open against Louis’ ear. “Want to hear you.”

And then Harry was gone. Louis reached out blindly, immediately shivering from the loss of Harry’s heat surrounding him.

“It’s okay, baby, I’ve got you,” Harry said from somewhere above him. And then there were hands pushing his shirt up and over his head. Harry’s thumbnail traced over one of Louis’ nipples and he stopped caring about holding back. There was no reason to. He was Harry’s. Completely.

He tried rocking up again but Harry just chuckled and pinned his hips to the mattress, his thumbs working at the button on Louis’ jeans. He hooked his fingers into the waistband and then pulled, leaving Louis in just his dark gray boxer briefs. Exposed.

Harry’s eyes roved over his body and all Louis could do was pant under his gaze. Then Harry’s mouth was on him again, his lips closing over one of his nipples, his teeth scraping against the delicate bud. After laving it with attention, he pulled off just a fraction to blow gently and Louis gasped at the sensation.

Harry’s still-clothed thigh was pressing up tight against Louis cock and Louis rode it. Mindlessly seeking pleasure. One of Harry’s hands came to Louis’ hips, steadying him as he rutted down against his leg.

“So hot,” Harry said his open mouth trailing along Louis ribcage moving downward. By the time he settled between Louis’ splayed legs, Louis couldn’t think straight. Desire pulsed through his bloodstream and all he could think was Harry and mine and now and love. And his mind skittered away from that.

It didn’t matter though because everything went blank when Harry nuzzled up against his cock. Louis was so hard the head of it was peeping out over the waistband of his briefs but Harry paid it no mind. Instead he concentrated on the length of Louis, his open mouth dampening the fabric as he worked over the bulge begging for freedom.

“God I’ve wanted to taste you since the moment I saw you,” Harry whispered directly to his cock.

“Harry…” Louis said, caught between a sob and a laugh. Harry glanced up at him from beneath those long, gorgeous lashes looking like every fantasy come true.

“Shhh, I’m trying to have a conversation here,” Harry said, barely biting back the glee over finding himself hilarious.

“By all means, don’t let me interrupt,” Louis said waving at him to get on with it. That silly smile turned devious.

“Now where were we,” Harry murmured to his cock. “Oh yes.” And then in one smooth gesture he pulled Louis’ briefs down below his balls and swallowed the head of his cock.

Louis arched back, his fingers digging into the sheets. “Fuck. Oh Christ. Harry.”

It was hot and warm and slick and Harry, and Louis couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t fucking breathe.

Harry pulled off a bit just to suck at the sensitive tip, one hand snaking beneath Louis’ cock to cup his balls. Then he glanced up at Louis and their eyes met and Louis couldn’t keep his hips from thrusting.

“Naughty,” Harry whispered to his cock. “So eager.”

Louis choked out a laugh. “You think?”

“This doesn’t involve you,” Harry said to Louis this time. Then his lips nuzzled into the base of Louis’ cock. “I’ll give you what you need, baby.”

God he was ridiculous. Louis should have expected it. He just hadn’t expect it to be so hot and so perfect and so Harry.

And then Harry took him down again, his cock nudging at the back of Harry’s throat and Louis’ saw stars. He whimpered as white hot desire pulsed along his spine, and it took all of his willpower not to thrust. “Harry.” It was a broken plea for something. He didn’t even know what.

But Harry did. He started moving and it was so wet and tight and Louis reached down to touch the smooth expanse of Harry’s throat where he was swallowing Louis’ cock and almost came. He wasn’t even embarrassed. Harry, gorgeous, sweet, funny sex dream Harry, had his lips wrapped around Louis’ cock. It was a miracle he’d lasted this long.

“Harry, ‘m gonna…” Louis warned and Harry popped off, one hand wrapped around the base.

“Not yet, baby,” Harry said, crawling up the length of Louis’ body. His mouth was hot on Louis’ ear, his tongue dipping in to lick along the sensitive skin. “You’re going to come on my cock.”

Oh god. “Yesss.” The only reason he didn’t come on the spot at those words was because Harry was still holding him.

That’s when he realized Harry had way too many clothes on. “Harry, off, off,” his hands were mindlessly pushing at the fabric of his shirt. “I want to see. I want to see.”

“Mmmk,” Harry pushed up again, so that he was straddling Louis and then tugged at the hem of his shirt. Slowly, so slowly, pulling it up. “Is this what you want?”

“Yes, yes you fucking wanker,” Louis tried taking matters into his own hands, but Harry dropped the shirt and wrapped his fingers around Louis’ wrists, directing them over Louis’ head.

“Uh uh,” Harry tsked, pressing them down once so Louis got the message. Then he went back to his shirt. “Baby, you look so gorgeous like that,” he said all the while inching the fabric up over his abs. It was just a glimpse, but God Louis wanted to lick them, touch them, worship them. “So tight. Ready to shatter into a million pieces.”

He was. He was about to shatter. Just from Harry’s words. Louis had never needed it like this before. In this way. If anything, he controlled the situation more often than not. But he was at Harry’s mercy. It was freeing.

By the time Harry finally got his shirt off, Louis was panting for it. His eyes traced over Harry’s belly, his soft hips, his nipples, his armpits, his shoulders. He wanted to touch every inch of it, to taste it. He would. He promised himself he would. But for now he just watched as Harry’s big hand splayed on his own stomach, his pinky finger edging close to the waistband of his black jeans.

“Please,” Louis whispered. At that, the devious smile was back. And instead of inching lower to free his cock, Harry’s hands moved up, touching just like Louis had wished he could. When Harry tweaked his own nipple, Louis’ hips jerked up almost unseating Harry.

Harry, the goddamn bastard, grinned as he resettled and then tossed his head back with a groan as he pinched and tugged at the nub until it was puffy and pink and begging for lips to be wrapped around it.

“Fuck, fuck,” Louis babbled and couldn’t keep still. He was writhing beneath Harry and he wasn’t even being touched. “Harry.”

It could have been the desperation in his voice, or Harry was just ready to move on to a new form of torture, but he finally climbed off Louis to strip out of his jeans. He didn’t toy with him this time, just shucked out of pants and then he was naked. Gloriously naked.

Louis mouth watered and any sanity he’d been holding onto was gone. Harry’s cock was just as beautiful as the rest of him. Hard, flushed and curving slightly to the right. Louis wanted to slide off the bed and sink down to his knees. Take it in his mouth and just hold it there while Harry fucked his face.

But Harry had different plans. He was already back, covering Louis. Touching him everywhere. Hands. His hands were so big. So gentle. They were on Louis’ knees pushing them up and out, so that he was spread open for Harry. Vulnerable.

“There we go, baby,” Harry murmured. “Just get you nice and open for me.” His hands had spread Louis’ cheeks so he was completely on display. Louis cried out as Harry pressed a wet kiss right against his rim. “So pretty, Lou. So pretty.”

At some point, Harry must have grabbed lube, because Louis heard the snick of the cap open and then Harry’s finger was on him, just tracing the ring of muscle. Not pushing in, yet. He wanted Louis to beg for it. It’s what he’d been doing this whole time, Louis realized.

Louis didn’t care. He didn’t care that he was stripping himself bare of every defense so that his pure want was on shameless display. Harry would never, ever use it against him. If was certain of nothing else, it was that.

“Please Harry, please. I need…” and that was enough. Harry turned his head to kiss Louis’ thigh and then pushed in. Louis arched against the burn of it. It had been a while. Before Jason.

“You’re so tight, sweetheart,” Harry said. “So tight and so good. So, so good.”

It did something to Louis. The way Harry kept up the stream of whispered praise as he worked another finger in, opening Louis up. He hadn’t known what it could do to him to hear those words.

“M ready,” Louis finally slurred. God he wanted it. Now.

“Just one more,” Harry said, his voice gone a little shaky. Thank god. Because Louis didn’t want to be the only one out of control. “You can do that for me, can’t you?”

Fuck. He didn’t know. But yes, he could. For Harry. He hummed back in his throat, and twitched his hips.

Louis felt Harry’s smile against his thigh. And then as Harry added a third finger he bit down on the sensitive flesh there.

“Ahhhh,” Louis pressed his feet hard against the mattress and focused on not coming. Harry’s tongue was there, at the mark he’d just made, laving over it like he’d done with the bruise on Louis’ neck.

“Delicious,” Harry said, still smiling.

“Harry now.” Louis tried to put all the authority he could into his voice. It wasn’t much. In fact, it came out more as a sob than anything else. But Harry got the message.

He was chuckling as he moved up Louis’ body and covered Louis lips with his own. Their tongues tangled and everything in Louis’ world narrowed down to this. This man. This feeling. This need.

Harry pulled away to slip on a condom, and then he was there at Louis’ rim. His mouth was back on Louis’ as he pressed in so slowly. Achingly so. They weren’t kissing, it was too much. But Harry was there, his eyes so close Louis could count his lashes, his hands cradling Louis’ face, his thumb tracing over Louis’ cheekbone. “So gorgeous. So pretty for me. So tight. So hot.”

Louis had never felt so cherished, and he cried out as Harry sunk completely into his body.

“Baby,” Harry’s voice was strained. “Louis.”

It took a few moments to adjust to the fullness of it, the pressure, the burn. But once he did, he dug his fingers into Harry’s shoulder blades. “Move.”

If Louis thought Harry would continue to torture Louis with the slow, aching pace, he was wrong. Harry’s hips slammed against Louis’ as he began fucking him into the mattress. Louis pushed up to meet every thrust. They were murmuring broken encouragements and praise, mouths panting, wet and open against each other.

And then just when Louis didn’t think he could take anymore, Harry shifted, changing the angle and his cock slammed into Louis’ prostate. Sparks danced in Louis’ eyes as sensation crashed through his body.

“There we go, baby,” Harry said, his hand reaching between them to wrap around Louis’ neglected cock. “Now come for me.”

It took two strokes and then Louis was falling apart. Absolutely shattering. Pulse after pulse of pleasure wracked his body as his cum spilled over Harry’s fist, smeared on Louis’ belly, up his chest. There were tears leaking from the corners of his eyes and he didn’t even know why.

“That was so fucking hot Lou you don’t even…” Harry’s thrusting became erratic as he chased his own orgasm. Louis was boneless, floating. But he tried to clench around Harry, make it good for him. It didn’t take long before Harry was crying out, burying his head in Louis’ neck.

Louis’ hands smoothed over his back, stroking him, petting him, making sure he was real and there and okay. He drifted off to sleep without another thought. Harry would take care of the rest of it.

Chapter Text

Louis woke to an empty bed and tried not to be disappointed. His fingers reached out to touch the spot where Harry had been sleeping. It was warm.

And the heat where you lay, I could stay right here and burn in it all day

It was happening to him more often. Lyrics coming to him at random times like they used to. Crowding into his head and begging to be written down. It had started around the time he’d met Harry. He didn’t think it was a coincidence.

He grabbed his briefs off the floor, hopping into them as he made his way toward the kitchen. The table had been cleared of their forgotten dinner from the night before, and that’s when he realized he was starving.

Which is why the sight of Harry in a tiny pair of black briefs standing over the stove and the smell of bacon in the air was almost too much for Louis to take. There was a pretty Ed Sheeran song playing from his iPhone, and Louis wondered if he should tell Harry he was good friends with the man.

Louis was smiling at the thought as he wrapped his arms around Harry from the back, his fingers finally getting to trail over those perfect abs. He rested his cheek against Harry’s spine and let their bodies fit together as he murmured “good morning, pet.”

“Louis,” one of Harry’s big hands came up to cover Louis’. There was something in his voice that made Louis want to see his face, but Harry kept it ducked when Louis peered around him to try to catch a glimpse.

Louis stepped back, in case he was reading the situation wrong. As much as it scared him, last night had felt like a beginning of sorts. But perhaps it was just a friends with benefits thing for Harry. A good shag with a good friend. Louis turned to start his search for coffee.

“I thought you might be hungry,” Harry said, his back still toward Louis.

“Hmm, famished,” Louis agreed, finally locating the mugs. He glanced over to make sure Harry had his own, before grabbing one for himself.

Once he had a few sips, he leaned back to study the tense line of Harry’s shoulders. “Pet, what’s wrong?”

Harry didn’t answer, just started plating the breakfast. There was a little table in the kitchen itself, just big enough for two chairs. Louis found the silverware and napkins and brought them over to it. Then he tucked himself into one of the chairs, holding his coffee between his hands, waiting.

The breakfast Harry slid in front of him looked professional. It was a full English spread, with eggs and sausage and bacon and potatoes. “Jesus, Harry.” Louis’ mouth was gaping in appreciation and when he lifted his gaze to Harry’s face there was a pleased blush spreading along his cheeks. A bashful smile tugged at his lips. That was a new one.

They ate in silence and the ball of dread tangled tighter in Louis’ belly. He tried to figure out of if he’d said something wrong last night. But anything that had been coherent was pretty much just him begging Harry to get on with it.

Louis pushed away his plate, and pulled one leg up against his chest, just watching Harry. He knew Harry could feel his gaze, but he didn’t look up to meet Louis’ eyes.

Shit. This was not good. Louis didn’t know what to do, but he could feel the claws of panic scratching at his throat, razor sharp and deadly. He reached a hand across the table, tentative. “Harry…”

It was that that finally got a reaction. Harry avoided Louis’ hand and slid out of his chair to grab his phone from the counter. When he came back to the table he was holding it out for Louis. Louis took it but his eyes were still on Harry’s face. It was a mask, except where he was gnawing on his bottom lip. Last night it had been so expressive, loving, lit with laughter and lust and happiness. Louis wanted that back.

So he looked at the phone. And understood. Fuck. “It’s not real.” The denial was on his lips almost even before he thought the words. They were the pap pictures from yesterday, already posted with a few articles to boot.

Louis had almost forgotten about it, to be honest. It had been an hour-long lunch to seed some gossip about him and the latest singer-songwriter bloke out of London. He was about to drop his second album and was hungry for the publicity a fake relationship with Louis Tomlinson could bring. Louis had had his own reasons to jump at the deal, in spite of Liam’s sad puppy dog eyes asking repeatedly if he was sure.

“I know they’re not real,” Harry said, surprising Louis. He’d been about to launch into explanation mode full of details about PR stunts and contracts and the music industry. That shut him up though.

“Um,” Louis said, then cleared his throat because really what else was he supposed to say?

“You didn’t think you should tell me about it though?” Harry asked, finally meeting Louis’ eyes. God. They were so green in the morning light. Why was this happening? He just wanted to sink into Harry again and forget the outside world. “How do you think I felt this morning waking up to that garbage?”

Like shit. Like Louis felt right now, except worse because Harry had been blindsided. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think…”

“Didn’t think what Louis? That I’d care you were dating someone?”

Louis licked his lips. “It’s not real.”

Harry ran a frustrated hand through his curls. “I know it’s not fucking real.”

Swallowing words he didn’t actually want to say was easy. Knowing what he should actually say was harder. Nothing seemed right. Harry was pacing, his long, lean legs eating the small space of the kitchen and all Louis could do was watch. Helpless to make it better.

 

Then Harry stopped mid-stride. “Why? Why are you doing this?”

At least that he could answer. “You.”

Harry huffed out a doubtful breath. “What?”

Louis put the phone on the table after he realized he was still gripping it. “I wanted to protect you. If people think I’m dating this guy, they won’t dig for you. It’s a smokescreen.”

“What? I don’t want to be protected. What, Louis?” The confusion was at least better than anger. Louis hadn’t seen Harry mad before and he didn’t like it. It made his chest tight.

“You don’t understand how hard it is,” Louis started and realized immediately it was the wrong thing. Harry’s face hardened back into that scary mask.

“You’re right, I don’t understand, Louis, because you didn’t tell me” Harry said. “Your life is just so goddamn hard isn’t it? Everyone’s out to get you. God, Louis. Take some responsibility for your actions. Not everything has to be as hard as you’ve made it.”

The words slashed at Louis like a knife. And the wounds were bleeding. God it hurt. How did it go so wrong, so quickly.

He pushed to his feet blindly, needing to leave. To get away. Before he broke down.

“Louis…” he heard Harry behind him as he made his way to the bedroom, his voice softer than it had been all morning. Louis scrambled to try to find all his clothes. Unsteady, he shoved his jeans on, then pulled his shirt over his head.

Harry leaned against the doorjamb, watching him. “Louis.”

“No,” Louis held his hand up. “You got to slap at me, and now I want to go.”

Those stormy green eyes disappeared behind his lids as Harry clenched his eyes shut. “I didn’t mean it to come out so harsh, Lou. I just…”

“You think I don’t take responsibility for my life? Is that what you really think?”

There wasn’t even a pause. “Of course not.”

“Then why did you say it?”

Harry took a deep breath, then pressed his lips together, as if thinking through the words. “I was angry and hurt,” Harry said. “I woke up this morning convinced you were going to regret this whole thing.” He waved a hand toward the bed. “Like the kiss. And I was trying to tell myself that no, you’re in a better place now.”

“I am,” Louis said. “Because of you.”

“No, Louis, not because of me,” Harry shook his head. “Because of you. You did this. You got yourself out of a shitty situation. What I said in the kitchen...I meant that you’re not realizing it. How good your life could be right now.”

Louis stepped back, needing as much distance as possible. “You think I don’t realize how good my life is right now?”

Harry shrugged. It was answer enough.

“Do you know what I was like when I met you, Harry?” Louis asked. “Do you remember that first night? In the alley? That was my life. I wasn’t sleeping. I was drinking too much. I hated myself and everyone around me. And then you…”

A little strangled sound came from the back of Harry’s throat when he heard Louis’ voice catch. “You didn’t save me, Harry. But being around you reminded me that not everything in life is shit.”

Louis dropped his head, blinking fast. “Except apparently it is.”

“Lou.”

“Fame makes relationships fall apart, Harry,” Louis said, still looking at the ground. “It does. That’s not me being...whatever you were accusing me of being. My ex will tell you all about it. I was just trying to…”

“Protect us.”

Louis looked up. “Yeah. Protect us.”

“You thought there was going to be an us to protect,” Harry said, a little bit of awe in his voice.

“I’ve thought it since you bought me ice cream because I had sad eyes,” Louis said. “I’ve thought a lot of things since then.”

“Can you tell me some of them?” Harry asked. And for the first time Louis thought he might not have been as open as he’d imagined he was. He’d shared so much of himself with Harry, but he hadn’t actually told him that. Maybe he didn’t realize. But this, this moment wasn’t the right time. They both had cut. They were both nursing wounds.

“I really like you Harry,” Louis said.

“But?”

“No but,” Louis promised, but started moving toward the door. He stopped right in front of Harry bringing his hand up to lay against Harry’s chest. Then he stopped himself, and let it drop. “I do think I need to go now, though.”

“No,” there was a tinge of panic to Harry’s voice and Louis dropped his forehead to his chest. Fuck it.

“Not for good, I promise. Just need some air, okay?”

“You’re still running Lou,” Harry mumbled into Louis’ hair. Louis couldn’t find any words so he just shook his head. He wasn’t.

Harry stepped back, though giving him space to move out into the hallway. Louis searched Harry’s face once more before turning and walking away. The tears he’d been blinking back during the fight finally spilled over onto his cheeks.

***

Harry: I really like you too Louis.

Harry: I didn’t get to say that

Chapter Text

It had been six days since the fight. Six awful days. Louis didn’t realize how much he’d become used to Harry’s presence in his life. Even when he’d been traveling they’d texted and called enough for it to become routine.

But Louis was also glad he’d taken the space. He was glad he gave it to Harry.

Now, though. Now he had a plan. If only Harry would get his ass down here, he could launch his perfect plan.

Louis had texted him ten minutes ago that he was here, but Harry was making him wait. Which was fine. It wasn’t helping the nervousness that buzzed along his skin though.

Just when he was about to start pacing the sidewalk, Harry pushed through the door of his building. God he was gorgeous. His curls were down around his shoulders, gleaming in the sunlight. He was wearing a blue and purple patterned blouse and black skinny jeans and Louis wanted to kiss him. All over his face. Just never stop even as Harry grinned and tried to push him off without actually trying.

But Louis couldn’t. Not yet, at least. So he just watched Harry amble up to him, his sunglasses hiding his eyes and thus, his feelings. Louis wanted to see them. He desperately wanted to see them.

“Hi pet,” he said, clenching his fingers into his forearms to stop himself from touching Harry.

Harry was back to the lazy flirt he’d been when they’d first met, and it hurt. It hurt that he was being treated as casually as a stranger.

“Pop star,” Harry said, cocking his hip. Louis wondered if his eyes slid behind Louis to check out the monstrosity he was leaning against. He wouldn’t ask. That Louis was sure about.

So he stepped away from the car and waved his arms. “Your chariot awaits, my good sir.” There was a pause, but then Harry almost visibly shrugged before sliding into the passenger seat.

Louis hurried around to the other side. Once there, he turned to Harry and swallowed every ounce of pride he had. Harry was worth it. “So I found the oldest rental car I could because…” he took a deep breath and dug in the pocket of his hoodie. “It had a cassette player.”

Harry straightened in his seat, every muscle in his body going on alert. He didn’t say anything though.

“Harry, when I met you I hadn’t written a song in six months,” it was difficult to admit. But he kept going. “I was trying so hard. But I’d sit down and nothing would come out. All that was in my head was doubt and fear and insecurity. Because I was trying to break free from everything I’d always been told was the only way I could be successful. And that was fucking terrifying.”

There was a quick aborted movement from the passenger side. Louis wondered if Harry had been about to reach out for him. It didn’t matter. What he needed to say was important whether Harry forgave him or not.

“Remember, when I didn’t even know what kind of music I liked?” Louis continued. “I was so lost. And then you kept making me those ridiculous mixtapes. And it was funny. It was also so, so important. Because I listened to them. I really listened to them. The songs I’d never heard, the ones I always had loved, the ones I hated. I … I started hearing music again.”

This time Harry did reach out. His thumb coming to rest on the bone at the nape of Louis’ neck.

“It wasn’t just that I started hearing music again, though. I also started hearing lyrics. And then I started writing lyrics,” Louis said. Harry knew this, but he wasn’t sure Harry knew the part he’d played. Louis needed to make sure. “You gave me my voice back, Harry. You gave me my voice back.”

Harry made a strangled little sound and then pulled Louis to him. They were kissing then, lips and teeth and tongue and Louis didn’t ever want anything but this. He pulled back anyway.

“Wait, I have a plan,” he said.

“Oh sorry,” Harry laughed. “Don’t want to derail The Plan.”

“Hey I put a lot of thought into this,” Louis promised, drawing back a little further because if he didn’t he might just crawl into Harry’s lap and then where would they be? “Okay, so you’ve made me a bunch of mixtapes. I thought it was my turn, now.”

Harry smiled -- his pleased smile -- and settled back into his seat.

Louis smirked and popped the cassette into the player. Then he pulled into traffic as Shania began to serenade them.

“Oh come on, Louis, this one was a gimme,” Harry said, all judgmental. But there was a little blush along his cheeks and Louis thought he might not be as unaffected as he was pretending.

“Well it was a little obvious, but I was warming up. Just buckle up, pet,” he said. He had a plan. He could only hope traffic would cooperate so he could time it just right.

So they drove. The sun was setting, turning the world golden. Buildings and freeways faded into the single two-lane highway that hugged the coast and it was just them and the ocean and the cliffs and the stars that popped out to help light their way. And the music.

Louis had spent hours crafting the playlist. And while doing it he realized how much time and thought Harry had put into all those mixtapes he’d made for Louis. It made him love him all the more.

Shania faded into Beach Boys.

I was living like half a man, then I couldn’t love but now I can. You pick me up when I’m feeling sad, more soul than I ever had …”

Which faded into Joni Mitchell.

Rows and floes of angel hair, and ice cream castles in the air, and feather canyons everywhere. I’ve looked at clouds that way.

Which faded into Ed Sheeran.

And your heart’s against my chest, your lips pressed to my neck. I’m falling for your eyes, but they don’t know me yet.

Louis glanced over to Harry on that one, and there were tear tracks along his cheeks, glimmering in the last rays of the sun. They drove like that for the better part of an hour. With everyone singing the words Louis wished he had to tell Harry.

He got lucky with timing. Just as he was pulling into the spot he’d been driving toward, the tape crackled. He cut the engine, but kept the radio on as the first notes of the guitar filled the car.

Harry could tell this was different. Just from the lower quality of the recording. He’d had his feet propped on the dash, but he dropped them, sitting up straight in his seat, staring hard at the stereo. Louis wasn’t even sure if he noticed they’d stopped.

Then Louis’ voice filled the quiet car.

Waves try to break it, I’d do anything to save it. Why is it so hard to say it?

Harry pushed up his sunglasses, his eyes locking on Louis’.

Pages between us, written with no end. So many words we’re not saying, don’t want to wait til it’s gone. You make me strong.

It felt like neither of them was breathing. Neither of them was moving.

Need you to keep me from falling apart. I’ll always hold. Cause you make me strong.

The notes drifted off and Louis couldn’t move. It was as if he’d sliced his chest open to show Harry his still beating heart. Suddenly he knew he couldn’t stay in the car. He wrenched the door open and fell out into the cool air of the night. Breathing deep he tried to get control of his racing pulse.

He heard the passenger side door open but he couldn’t look over. He couldn’t face the vulnerability of it all.

It didn’t matter what he did, though, because Harry was there. His body was pressing Louis back into the car. His hands were running over Louis’ arms, his hips, his ass. His thigh was pressing in between Louis’ leg as he crushed his mouth to Louis’.

Everything had happened so quickly Louis didn’t have time to process, but that was okay. His hands were in Harry’s curls, his body was fit up against Harry’s strong, broad chest, his scent wrapped around Louis like an old friend.

It ended just as fast it had started, leaving Louis panting and Harry pacing away from him to the edge of the cliff where they’d stopped. The waves crashed hundreds of feet below them, and Harry was stood silhouetted against the dark blue night sky.

“That was the song you wrote,” Harry finally said, his voice ragged.

“Yes,” Louis said, still sprawled out against the side of the car.

“For me.”

“Yes.”

“Tell me the things,” Harry said. “Tell me the things you’ve been thinking.”

Louis had known this was coming. It didn’t make it easier. But knowing what it would mean to Harry did.

“I told you my ex could tell you about how fame ruins relationships,” Louis started, and Harry went tense. He still didn’t turn back toward Louis. “Jason. It was lovely at first, obviously. But then the rumors in the tabs started getting to him. He stopped trusting me when I said I was going out with friends because The Sun printed that I was on the lash with my latest boy toy. After that it just … got worse. Everything became something to fight about. How much time I was in the studio. How I expected him to drop everything to come to awards shows. How I spent more time with fans than with him. Which was absurd of course. But you know.”

Harry didn’t say anything, but he was listening. Louis could tell.

“I said you didn’t understand how hard it was, not because I think I’m a poor little pop star, but because I’ve had me being famous destroy literally every single one of my relationships. Power plays, jealousy, money. You name it,” Louis said. “Then I met you.”

“It doesn’t matter to me that you’re famous,” Harry finally said, and his voice was almost lost along the wind.

“Pet,” Louis said. “Don’t you think I know that? If it mattered, we wouldn’t be here. I would never have talked to you past that first night.”

“Then why?”

“Because I’d convinced myself I couldn’t have someone like you,” Louis admitted. “Pure and lovely and untouched by this kind of life. Everytime I try, I get crushed. On top of all that I was trying to figure out who I was without my label dictating it.”

“And then I came along.”

“And then you came along,” Louis confirmed. “I wanted to forget you. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t forget the way you smiled. You have so many, you know that right?”

“Know what?” Harry finally turned to look at him and it felt like a victory.

“How many smiles you have,” Louis said, with a little one of his own now. “When you’re happy. When you’re plotting something. When you’re about to kiss me. When you tell a joke that you think is hilarious. When you’re teasing me. When you’re fucking me. They’re all different.”

Harry stepped closer. But still stopped himself.

“I missed your smiles the most,” Louis said. “You know when I knew I was in love with you?”

This time Harry went completely still.

“I couldn’t even see you but I heard the smile in your voice,” Louis said, locking eyes with Harry. “I’d called you after I wrote that song. And you were drunk and happy and I knew. I knew I’d written that song for you and I knew I’d called you when I was sad and wanted to be happy because I knew you’d make me happy. And I knew even though we only talked about what you were singing for karaoke that you made my night better just from that. That you would always make it better, just by being you.”

“Lou,” Harry whispered. But Louis held up a hand. He wanted to get it all out.

“I ended the contract with that guy,” Louis said. “I’d only did it because I thought it was easier. And I only forgot to tell you because I hadn’t been thinking about it when all I could see was you. If it hurts you though, it’s gone. I would never want to hurt you Harry. I’m so sorry I did.”

He dropped his hand to let Harry know he was done. It was all out there now, sitting between them, heavy and ladden.

Harry crossed the small distance to Louis and captured the back of his head. Louis braced for a crushing kiss but it didn’t come. Instead Harry’s lips found his temples, his nose, his jaw. Then they rested ever so briefly against his lips. Just a whisper. Just a promise.

“I love you too, Louis,” Harry murmured the words against his lips. “My pop star with the sad eyes that aren’t so sad anymore.”

“Not sad at all,” Louis said, pulling Harry closer so they were properly snogging.

They startled apart when a long honk broke the soft bubble they’d wrapped around themselves. Louis giggled nervously, fixing his fringe, then they both settled, Harry’s weight heavy against his hips.

His hand cupped Louis’ jaw, tracing along it idly.

“So I noticed a distinct lack of Shaggy on your mixtape,” Harry finally said and Louis burst out laughing.

“God I love you,” Louis said.

Harry grinned and Louis caught his breath. It was a new one.

Louis catalogued it as the smile Harry had after Louis told him he loved him.