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Pour Your Heart Out

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I might have been afraid that if I really loved someone and needed her, one day she might suddenly disappear without a word, and I’d be left all alone.

- Haruki Murakami

 

He smiled, but his eyes said pray for me.

- Unknown

 

Louis.

The name etched permanently into skin. The name that caused his dad to leave, the name that caused his mum to cry. The name that Harry has tried scrubbing, itching, scraping off his skin. The name that Harry hides from the world, the name that causes him the most shame. The one name that Harry Styles hates with his whole being.

Louis.

Every night as Harry lies in bed, staring at the offending word, he prays that Fate made a mistake. He wishes, wishes hard, that it’s a spelling error and one day Louise is going to appear and make his life so much easier. He wishes that Louise would appear and make his dad come back and make his mum stop crying. He wishes Louise would appear so he can stop hating himself.

But Harry knows he is stuck with the name etched into his arm forever.

Forever.

Harry wishes it would just disappear. He’s never going to seek out his soulmate; he’d rather have no soulmate over Louis. There’s no way he’s going to disappoint his family like that.

Harry used to have large, grandiose, beautiful dreams about his love life and how one day everything would be perfect. He would have his wife, the love of his life, his soulmate, in his arms, surrounded by their gorgeous, energetic bunch of children.

Harry used to wonder what his soulmate would look like. If she would have long or short hair, whether she’d be lean and muscled, or curvy and soft. Harry often came to the conclusion that he didn’t care what she looked like as long as their love was endless.

But now Harry doesn’t know what to do. His plans for the future have crumbled, his hopes for a happily ever after have vanished. He doesn’t know what to do because the name on the inside of his left wrist is Louis. A guy’s name.

before

“Niall!” Harry laughs loudly, trying to fight off his best friend’s hands. “Stop it—oh my god! Niall Horan, we’re going to be caught!”

Niall cackles, but doesn’t stop his hands from attacking Harry’s head of hair. “I’m trying to make it look better, Haz. If you quit squirming around and squealing, then we won’t get caught.”

Harry knows his attempts to escape are pointless so he stops putting up a fight and lets his best friend style his curls to his liking. He slumps against the lockers and allows his eyes to scan the hallway. The tiled floors reflect the bright fluorescent ceiling lights, bright enough to blind someone, probably. The cream walls are dressed up with various posters for the End of the Year dance and flyers for brand new student-run clubs that will be coming to the school next year. Classes let out ten minutes ago and there are only a few students left milling the halls. Some are wandering around, looking for trouble to cause, others are trying to find their friends.

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry sees Serge running his hands against the wall of flyers above the water fountain, tearing down the posters that lived there. He looks full of rage and hate as he stuffs the papers into the nearest trashcan, hatefully spitting out the words “stupid fags” as he walks away.

Harry swallows hard and tears his eyes away, being careful not to make eye contact with him as he passes Harry and Niall. Harry doesn’t see it, but he hears Serge and his army of minions celebrating the “selfless” act of good Serge just did, tearing down the posters advertising the new LGBT club.

Harry decides to ignore it. Serge may be big and intimidating, but he’s never had any problem to pick on Harry and Harry hopes it says that way. Instead, he lets his eyes wander to the group of girls further down the hallway. As his eyes sweep over the group, butterflies erupt in his stomach. His eyes catch onto Devon and he sends a shy smile at her. Harry swears his heart explodes when she smiles back.

Niall snaps his fingers in front of Harry’s face, causing Harry to jump and slip out of his trance. “They’re leaving! Go talk to her.”

Niall’s words urge Harry on and his legs start working, carrying him over to the group of girls. Most of them are already slipping out the door, but Devon stays behind, waiting for Harry.

Harry rubs his sweaty palms against his thighs. He quickly does a mental checklist. Hair is good to go, Niall already having fixed the messy bunch of curls. Breath is minty fresh thanks to the piece of gum he’s been working on. The white t-shirt and khakis he’s wearing are as clean as they can be after a week of school.

This is the moment Harry’s been waiting for, a chance to talk to Devon Miller. He sits next to her in bio, sharing the same lab bench. She’s a great lab partner, very smart and studious, but her concentration in class doesn’t slip once, no matter how many time Harry’s tried to get a word in. He’s tried after class too, but she’s out the door the second that the bell rings.

For a for weeks, however, Harry feels that there has been a mutual silent flirting going back and forth and Harry doesn’t want to waste the opportunity.

“Hi, Harry,” Devon cheerfully greets, biting her bottom lip as she smiles.

Harry blushes. “How was your day?”

“Oh it was great, thank you. But I think it’s about to get much better.”

Harry chuckles. “Are you free tomorrow night?” he asks, right to the point. “Can I take you out for some burgers maybe, at that American-style diner?”

“Dev!” Harry hears someone yell from behind. Suddenly he gets more nervous, thinking that Devon will ditch Harry for her friends before she even confirms the date.

Devon can tell Harry’s nerves have risen, so she smiles, eyes soft, and lays a comforting hand on his bicep. “I’d love to, Harry. Text me when you’re coming to pick me up, okay?”

Harry nods, speechless that she agreed to go out with him.

Devon nervously looks over Harry’s shoulder, probably at her group of friends. “Listen, Harry, I gotta go, but I’m looking forward to tomorrow night.” She shifts her weight to her tippy toes and places a delicate kiss to his cheek before she’s gone in a flash of long blonde hair, leaving behind the scent of strawberries.

Harry must still be in shock because the next thing he knows, Niall’s behind him, patting his back hard. The action causes Harry to choke on his own spit before he turns to face his best friend.

Niall’s face is lit up like a Christmas tree, smile wide, blue eyes shining. His face is red, overexcited that Harry finally built up the nerve to ask Devon on. His brown hair flops over his forehead, his white t-shirt not properly tucked into his khakis.

“Wey-hey, lad!” he cheers, Irish accent thick. “I’m guessing she agreed since you’re standing in the middle of an empty hallway like an absolute knob.”

Harry falls out of his trance and rolls his eyes at his best friend. “You’re such a wanker.”

Niall sticks his tongue out and throws his arm over Harry’s shoulder, dragging him in the direction of the exit. “Yeah, but you love me. Now let’s get you home, loverboy. We gotta pick out an outfit for you for tomorrow night.”

The kitchen is quiet, the only sounds filling the air are the clinking and clanking coming from silverware hitting plates, and food being chewed.

Harry doesn’t know why, but the atmosphere during dinner tonight isn’t a good one. Usually the tiny, yellow-walled kitchen is a happy, calm place. Stories about each family member’s day usually fills the space and warms it, but tonight Harry can feel a shift in the air. He hopes it’s not something he’s done, so he keeps his eyes trained on his roast, trying to concentrate and enjoy the taste.

“Anne, please pass me the salt,” Harry’s dad grumbles towards his mum.

“Of course, Richard,” she pleasantly replies, handing him the salt.

Quiet descends over the table again, the tension rising.

“So, Harry baby, anything new?” Anne questions, actual curiosity in her tone.

Harry fidgets in his seat and eyes his parents before stammering out, “Uh, yeah. I actually asked Devon Miller out. We’re going, uh, out tomorrow night.”

Richard nods approvingly and Anne smiles. “Oh that’s so nice, sweetie.”

Harry nods. “May I be excused?” he asks, already halfway out of his chair. His dad only grunts in acknowledgement, whereas his mum nods. “Thanks for dinner, mum, love you,” he whispers as he walks by her seat on his way to the sink, kissing the top of her head as he goes.

Harry trudges up the stairs to his bedroom. He flops down onto his mattress, listening to it as it creaks under his weight. Harry doesn’t bother turning on the light as he quickly strips out of his clothes down to his pants. He relaxes against the cool fabric of his pillow. He stares at his blank white bedroom walls and just lets himself think.

At eighteen years old Harry hasn’t received his soulmark yet. It’s a little unnerving, not knowing when the name of the person he’s supposed to spend forever with is going to show up. But it’s also calming, not knowing. The absence of the mark means he doesn’t have to stress himself out looking for the girl just yet. Even if he did have his mark, it’s not law that you have to marry the person.

Soulmarks exist because Fate knows that these two people could do amazing things together, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t do amazing things with someone whose name is not etched into the skin of your left wrist. Harry’s own mum married a man whose name isn’t on her wrist.

Most traditionalists and romantics are wary of the people who don’t find their soulmate, but Harry’s always thought of it as a choice. You are able to choose what makes you happy and that can be your soulmate or not. Anne made sure to teach Harry at a young age that love his choice and his only.

Harry likes to think he’s a romantic. He wants to find his soulmate, the beautiful, lovely girl that Fate wants him to be with. Harry wants it so much. He has dreamed of being domestic, with a large home and a family to fill it. So that’s why it’s a little disappointing he hasn’t woken up to find his soulmark yet.

Anne stress the importance of patience, reminding Harry the soulmark appears randomly. His own mum didn’t get her soulmark until she was twenty-one, whereas his dad got his at five. Some people never receive their soulmark, but that situation is a rare occurrence.

Harry likes to believe that your soulmark appears during a significant life event. He’s read many scientific journals and essays that link one specific event to the appearance of your soulmate’s name. Harry read an essay by some guy named Russell Watson who said his soulmark appeared when he was on an airplane. Later, when he finally found his soulmate, it turned out that both and his soulmate were on the same flight when the mark appeared.

Another paper Harry read described how a teenage girl received her soulmark when she kissed her boyfriend for the first time. The name on her wrist wasn’t her boyfriend’s name, it was Fate’s way of letting her know that there’s someone better out there for her.

Everything Harry reads always makes him feel dizzy. The concept of true love and happiness is truly intoxicating and Harry wants to find it. He wants to find it so, so, so bad.

A intense vibration against Harry’s thigh pulls him out of his daydreaming. He tears his eyes off of the blank wall he has been staring at and blinks at his phone, caller ID indicating his best friend is ringing him.

“Hey mate, what’s up?”

Niall chats endlessly to Harry and Harry absorbs the words as they spill out of Niall’s mouth and into Harry’s ear. He mhm’s and uh-huh’s at the important parts, but he’s still staring at his empty bedroom wall, distant and detached from the conversation.

“Is there something bothering ya, Haz?” Niall questions as his ranting comes to a close.

Harry sighs and flops on to his back, rearranging his body. The springs in his mattress protest loudly.

“Mum and Dad were weird at dinner tonight. Dad was withdrawn from conversation and Mum seemed really reserved. It was really weird. Do you think it was something I did, Ni?”

Niall scoffs. “You’re an angel, Haz. I bet you did nothing.”

“But—”

“They probably just miss Gemma, ‘s all,” Niall suggests. Harry can hear the shrug in his voice.

Harry does understand where Niall’s coming from though. He misses his big sister a lot, but he knows she’s out there at university being successful and amazing so he knows it’s all worth it. They text regularly, updating each other on life stuff, but it’s not the same.

“I guess you’re right, Ni,” Harry sighs. “I miss her a lot. I know she hasn’t been living here for a few years, but it’s still a weird feeling that hasn’t gone away.”

“You’ll be alright, Haz. You’re ‘rents will be back to normal in no time.”

Harry rolls back onto his side, back to staring at the wall. “Yeah… I’m gonna catch some sleep now. Talk to you tomorrow.”

After the friends say their goodbyes, Harry buries himself under his duvet and lets out a sigh. As he drifts off to sleep, he thinks about the indescribable happiness he’ll feel when he eventually receives his soulmark. He goes to bed with a hint of a smile on his face and with his fingers gently brushing over the skin of his left wrist.

It’s merely seven p.m. and Harry is already on the edge of seat, nervous as all hell. His leg is unconsciously bouncing up and down under the table, his palms are sweaty, and his hair is a little greasy from running his hands through his curls repeatedly.

The American-style diner is cute and one of Harry’s favorite places to be. It’s homey, gives off a nostalgic feel, and the milkshakes are amazing. He thought bringing Devon here would be a good move, but the familiar atmosphere of his favorite restaurant is making him more anxious to make a good impression.

It’s not like Harry’s never had a girlfriend before, it’s just that Devon feels different. All the girls Harry had dated in the past either asked him out or they already had their soulmark so the brief relationship was just something casual. This time around, Harry’s the one who asked Devon out and neither of them have their soulmark.

Tonight feels significant. Harry doesn’t know why, but he’s not going to question his gut.

Harry spends the next five minutes fidgeting in his seat in the booth, staring at the milkshake menu, and compulsively checking his text messages for anything .

The sun outside the window is starting to set and Harry feels like everything is in fast forward and he just wants to slow down.

He looks around the diner and lets himself people watch to pass the time.

There’s an old couple sitting in the corner opposite where Harry’s sitting and they look like they’re wrapped up in their own world, eyes never straying from one another. Harry takes in the sight, their hands clasped together, their feet tangled under the table. The kind of undying love Harry wants.

At the raised counter around the bar is a group of friends. They appear slightly older than Harry and he can tell they’re the type of friend group that will stay together forever. The small group has an equal mix of boys and girls, but Harry can tell the two girls at the end of the line are closer than the others if the way they’re touching each other’s thighs indicates anything. One of the girl whispers something into the other girl’s ear, which causes her to giggle and her cheeks to turn bright pink. Harry diverts his eyes quickly, searching for someone new to focus on.

There’s a family sitting adjacent to Harry. He smiles softly to himself, imagining how that could be him one day. The two children are well behaved eating their meal as their parents talked quietly between themselves. Harry’s heart melts as he looks closer and notices that the husband is softly circling his wife’s soulmark with his thumb.

As Harry looks over at the couple, he feels a phantom touch against his own wrist. He doesn’t look though, disappointed that if he does, he’ll see what he always sees—nothing. His wrist warms with the invisible touch, a persistent heat making the skin itch.

Harry ignores it. He ignores it and the burn gets hotter, and hotter, and hot—

“Hiya, Harry!”

The burning stops. Harry’s leg stops bouncing. His sweaty palms dry up. He gapes at Devon as she sits down across from him in the booth.

“You okay?” she asks, large smile turning into a worried expression.

Harry knocks himself out of his headspace and stops staring at her like he’s a startled deer.

Be smooth, he reminds himself.

“Heeeyy! Sorry, you caught me off guard,” he smiles, turning on his charm. “Wanna order? I’m hungry.”

Devon nods, smile returning. “Sorry for being a little late. My dad drove me over and he made us stop for petrol.” She rolls her eyes and picks up her own menu, looking over the options. Harry’s been sitting here for quite some time, a mixture of him showing up earlier than their designated meeting time because of his nerves and Devon being late, so he already knows what he wants.

They drink milkshakes, laugh together, and talk about whatever comes to their minds as they wait for the arrival of their meal.

“Wait,” Devon exclaims, “that was Niall who painted a bunch of dicks on the wall of the second floor boys toilets?”

“Yes!” Harry laughs, throwing his head back. “Literally everyone knows, yet nobody snitched because it’s actually the greatest thing ever.” Harry’s laughs so hard he snorts.

Devon laughs back, only calming down once their meals arrive.

They sit in silence as they begin eating their dinner, enjoying their first bites.

Harry is genuinely enjoying the date. He enjoys Devon’s company, he enjoys his food, he enjoys the atmosphere. The phantom burning in his wrist has gone away; it’s completely out of his mind. Instead, Harry’s thinking about how he’d like to do this again with Devon, maybe go see a movie next time or walk around the park. He smiles to himself. He’d like that quite a lot.

“Hey, Haz, pass me the ketchup, please?”

Harry nods and reaches to pass the ketchup with his left hand, his right occupied, holding his milkshake as he drinks from it. He’s not paying attention to Devon, eyes having drifted back to the cute old couple from earlier during the lull in their conversation, so he doesn’t notice Devon’s tiny gasp of shock.

He does, however, notice her icy fingertips grasping his wrist rather than the ketchup bottle. Her nails dig into his skin, hard, causing him to gasp in pain. He drops the ketchup bottle onto the table, causing a loud clang to ring out.

He finally tears his eyes away from old couple who are now looking at Harry and Devon, trying to figure out who is causing the ruckus. He looks up at Devon, trying to figure out what’s wrong, but she’s not looking at him. Her eyes are glued to his wrist.

Swallowing hard, Harry tries pulling his arm out of her grasp, too afraid to look at what she’s looking at. Her grip tightens and he whimpers in pain.

“What the fuck, Harry!” she yells. “When the fuck did you get your soulmark?”

Harry feels like he’s going to faint. Soulmark. What soulmark?

He finally allows his eyes to travel to his wrist and once he sees what’s there, he can’t look away.

“Who the fuck is Louis?” Devon whispers, voice hard and icy.

“Devon. I, I don’t—I? Fuck, I—” he stammers out quickly.

“What the fuck. I didn’t know you were a fag,” she screams for the whole restaurant to hear. “What the actual fuck, Harry! Fuck. This is disgusting. You like boys and you asked me on a date?”

Harry shrinks in his seat, her hateful speech pushing him down rather and rather. Out of the corner of his eye he can see the two girls from the friend group holding each other and looking scared. The old couple in the corner looks disgusted. Harry doesn’t even want to chance a look at the family, too scared to see their reactions.

Harry’s head is spinning. He doesn’t know where he is or what he’s doing. He’s just sitting in the same booth he’s been sitting in for over an hour now, but his date, which was going so, so good is ruined now. Because of him. This is his fault. He’s ruined it, he’s ruined Devon’s night.

“You’re such a freak, Harry! I knew it. Angie told me to stay away from you, the little nerdy boy I sit next to in bio. But I thought you were nice, so I thought why not give it a chance. Ugh,” she groans. “You’re a fag! I should’ve known.” She sends one last hateful look in his direction, gathers her belongings and exits the restaurant promptly.

Harry’s frozen in his seat. His heart is beating fast, his head feels like it’s underwater. His arm, where her fingers dug into his skin, hurts with an indescribable pain. His eyes itch and Harry realizes he’s been crying.

The worst thing, though, is that his wrist burns .

His arm is still suspended in the air as if Devon was still there holding it in her claws. He holds it there until it becomes numb, still in too much shock to control his limbs.

He half expects himself to sit here in this booth in this diner all night, paralyzed in fear, but that’s not what happens.

The old couple that Harry had taken a liking to watching over the course of the evening is walking in his direction. Their face still show signs of disgust and it causes Harry more pain, it makes him more scared. As they approach, his body finally gets a kick of adrenaline and he retracts his arm, pulling it close to his chest, not letting his eyes look the name embedded there. Harry thinks he remembers hearing Devon speak the name, but if she did, he doesn’t know what it is.

He curls his all his limbs closer to torso, almost has a protective barrier, as the older couple sit down across from him. He casts his eyes down, preferring to stare at his and Devon’s abandoned meals rather than the disgusted expressions of the couple.

“That young lady was absolutely repulsive,” the wife spits out. Her words shock Harry, causing him to burst into tears.

“Oh, sweetheart,” she sighs. She slides out of her side of the booth and moves in next to Harry. He flinches as she settles in next to him, afraid of what she’s going to do. He tenses as her arms wrap around his shoulders, but the comforting action makes Harry relax his shoulders. He’s still crying and the small, comforting words she’s whispering into his ears aren’t registering. His whole head just feels clogged and his wrist burns and it’s too much all at once.

“You know, it’s okay,” he hears from behind the fog. She stops talking, as if she noticed that Harry was finally hearing her words. He silently urges her to continue what she was going to say. Thankfully she does.

“It’s okay to love whoever you. You’re allowed to love the person who’s attached to the name on your wrist, whether it’s a boy or a girl, it’s okay, love. Love is love.”

Harry hears the words but doesn’t digest them.

From across the table, he can hear the husband speak up. “Is there someone we can call to come get you? Mum or Dad, maybe?”

Harry shakes his head. He can’t let his mum or dad see him like this, especially not after last night.

“A friend, maybe?”

Harry nods at his and pulls his phone of his his pocket, pushing it across the table. He sniffs. “Can you call Niall.” Sniff. “He has a car. The passcode is,” sniff, “two-one-nine-four. Please don’t tell him what happened.”

Harry sees his phone being picked up and the husband exits the booth to hopefully call Niall.

“You’re okay, love. Everything’ll be fine,” the wife comforts. Her words are nice and Harry nods, but he doesn’t actually believe what she’s saying.

How can everything be okay after that shit show? He ruined this wonderfully nice couple’s dinner because they’re now taking care of his crying, snot-faced child. He ruined Devon’s night. He ruined the two girl who were sitting at the bar’s night. He mostly definitely ruined the family’s night and scarred their children for life.

“What’s the name say, dear?” she asks softly. Harry shuts his eyes tightly as he lets her look at the name. He doesn’t want to see it just yet.

“Louis,” she breathes. Harry’s breath hitches. “Such a beautiful name.” Harry agrees, wholeheartedly.

“He sounds like such a lucky boy. Congratulations.”

He.

Harry’s heart withers in his chest. He’s not gay. He doesn’t like boys. He can’t like boys.

Maybe he can like boys?

Harry’s not gay. Why is there a boy’s name on his wrist? He was going to find a beautiful, lovely wife and have wonderful children with her. Now he can’t. He promised himself so many years ago that his spouse was going to be his soulmate and only his soulmate. He can’t allow himself anyone else. Fate did pick this person, after all.

Harry opens his eyes, just the tiniest amount to see if the old lady was looking at the right name. And there it is. Louis. It’s printed neatly and delicately on the inner skin of his left wrist. He wishes it wasn’t. He uses his right hand to trace over the letters and the skin where the name lives start to burn. The nerve endings explode and he starts to feel and it feels like a lot and he wants it to stop. He starts rubbing at the skin, then starts scratching it, digging his nails into the skin to just make it stop. Stop the burning. Stop the feeling. Stop everything. Stop!

“Oh, love, don’t do that,” the old lady gasps. She pulls away Harry’s right hand from his left wrist, stopping the self-destructive action.

The husband slides back into the booth. “Your friend’s here. Came as soon as I called and wouldn’t let me get off the phone with him till he arrived. Take care, lad.”

Harry takes his phone back and slides his limp body out of the booth, whimpering a small “Thank you,” to the couple as he shuffles out of the diner.

He spots Niall’s car straight away and dejectedly slides into the passenger seat, arms clinging to his chest.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Niall questions, voice quiet, as if Harry is a wild animal that he is trying not to scare away. Harry thinks it’s a pretty accurate description.

Harry doesn’t remember the last time he spoke, but his mouth is dry and throat thick so the only response he gives Niall is a shake of his head. He doesn’t want to about it. He doesn’t even want to think about it, let alone talk about it,

He hopes to never think of it. He doesn’t want to think about Louis .

Harry hasn’t slept in three days. He’s taken to wearing long sleeve shirts, watches, bracelets, jackets, anything to cover his wrist. He’s hyperaware of everything happening around him at any moment, afraid someone will call him out because of the name on his wrist. It doesn’t feel like Devon has said anything about it yet, and Harry prays every night that she never will. Niall’s noticed that he has been jumpy, but being the good friend he is, he hasn’t said anything about it.

His eyes burn as his laptop’s screen illuminates his face, the only source of light in his dark bedroom. Sometimes, he thinks he sees a figure moving across his wall out of the corner of his eye, but it’s always a trick of the light, a shadow of his unruly, greasy curls that he can’t stop harshly pulling at.

For the past few nights where sleep has been escaping him, Harry’s tried researching more about his soulmark. He has tried typing various keyword combinations into the search engine, but every result that appears is something he has already read.

With no new information being presented to Harry, takes to search forum boards and watching YouTube videos, but none of them help him the way he wants them to.

You see, Harry thinks Fate might’ve spelled his soulmate’s name wrong. It’s a possibility, right? Fate probably doesn’t have spell check, so it can make mistakes. Harry knows that vein of thinking is only hokey-pokey, a dead end.

Harry closes his eyes briefly, the burn becoming to much to handle. He doesn’t reopen them until his alarm clock goes off the next morning.

The week is almost over and Harry can not wait. It’s Friday afternoon and he’s survived almost the whole school week without anyone noticing his behavior. It’s a big sigh of release.

Harry’s just finished a meeting with his maths teacher, talking about a recent test score and how he could improve it. He’s promised Niall to meet him outside by his car, in ten minutes tops, so he’s rushing down the hall to the stairwell so he can stop by his locker and use the toilets before he finds Niall.

“Hey, Styles.” Harry jumps at the sudden deep voice coming from next to him. He keeps walking towards the door to the stairs, but turns his head, curious to see who’s talking to him.

“Oh hey Serge,” Harry greets, not as pleasantly as he should, but it’s still fairly neutral.

“How’d you do on the physics quiz?”

Harry pushes open the door the stairs and starts descending them, Serge still at his side. Harry narrows his eyes at Serge’s comment, internally questioning why he’s talking to Harry.

“Uh, could’ve done better.” Serge nods at this.

They reach the ground floor and Harry continues briskly walking down the hallway, towards his locker to put away his maths book, but Serge keeps up, not even breaking a sweat trying to match Harry’s long strides.

“How about that English paper?”

Harry perks up at this. Personally, he thinks Mr. Block’s class could use a little bit of a revamp, being too boring for his own taste, but their latest essay assignment was one of best things Harry’s ever written.

“It actually went really well!” Harry laughs, trading his maths book for his copy of The Great Gatsby. He closes his locker and starts trudging towards the toilets. “Mr. Block loved the feminist approach I took to analyzing the character’s relationships. I had a lot of fun doing research for it. Feminism isn’t talked about enough in my opinion. I think it’s a conversation we need to have in regards to literature more often.”

Harry pushes open the door the boy’s restroom and comes face to face with Jaime and Kevin, Serge’s minions. Harry swallows, not knowing what to expect.

Serge scoffs. “Of course you’re interested in that shit. What a fag.”

Harry’s mouth goes dry and his eyebrows shoot up to meet his hairline. The stammers and mumbles, not able to form words.

Jaime laughs. “Look at ‘em, Serge! You scared the little sissy shitless! You should see his face, it’s white as a sheet.”

“How? How do you…” Harry whispers, looking back and forth between the two intimidating boys in front of him.

“How do we know?” Serge, who is standing behind Harry, laughs. “You know how, fag.”

Devon.

Next thing Harry knows there’s something hard hitting his back, making him fall to his hands and knees, the bones hitting the tiled floor hard enough to feel the shockwaves of pain tingle across his scalp. He’s slumped over, palms numb. Harry whimpers, not able to contain the hurt he’s feeling. He hears another laugh erupt out of Serge as he feels a boot meeting his side, once, twice. His arms gives out and he falls forward, close to hitting the floor face first, but something—someone grabs onto the collar of his shirt and pulls him back up to his feet.

He meets Jaime face to face, the bully’s hands still gripping onto his shirt. The hand he’s not using to hold up Harry’s weak body finds Harry’s left arm and pulls back his long sleeve, revealing the shameful Louis that’s permanently carved into his.

“You think you could hide this from us?” Jaime laughs and spits onto Harry’s face. Harry cringes, feeling absolutely bruised and disgusted. Jamie lets go of his shirt and pushes him back. Harry slips and scrambles, but luckily stays on his feet. He desperately tries to orient himself and leap for the door, but Serge grabs his backpack, pulling Harry right into his space. He must’ve decided Harry hasn’t suffered enough because the next thing Harry knows, there’s a fist meeting his left eye.

Harry holds in his shouts of pain, not wanting to give them the satisfaction of hurting him. However, his plan backfires.

Kevin delivers another hit to Harry’s face, this time his cheekbones. The throw wasn’t as hard as Serge’s, but it still hurts nonetheless.

“He’s not whining yet, lads! He can take some more,” Kevin sneers.

Harry gets pushed to the ground again, but this time he’s sure the skin on his hands and knees has broken and blood is now escaping. His face is numb, but he’s lucky he can still breathe.

They kick him while he’s down, continuing to laugh at his whimpering form, calling him derogatory names. Harry doesn’t know how long it’s been before their assault ends and he’s lying alone on the floor is a snotty, bloody heap.

When he’s sure the bullies are gone and not coming back, he lets out a loud sob, crying loudly instead of holding it all him. He lets himself simply feel the pain. His head is pounding and he can’t open his left eye. He knows blood is, or was, flowing from his nose at one point. It hurts to inhale and exhale, breathing becoming laboursome. His fingernails and indenting the already bruised skin of his palm, making the pain escalated. His boney, knobby knees can’t hold his weight anymore, too swollen from crashing onto the tiled floor repeatedly.

Harry knows he can’t lie here on the nasty floor, that he needs help. Niall’s probably wondering if he ditched him.

Niall!

Harry gingerly reaches for his phone is his pocket, careful not to jostle his body too much, the simplest move causing too much pain. When he pulls the phone out the screen is cracked, the tiny lines originating in the center and spreading outward like some sick kind of spiderweb.

Harry cries louder in disappointment and slams his phone against the tiled floor, angry with himself for letting this happen. Harry’s angry that Louis happened. Angry that this stupid boy is causing him all this pain and agony.

Just as Harry’s on the brink of giving up, about to let himself drown in the overwhelming sensation of pain that’s taken over his whole being, he hear something being called out, echoing through the hallway. The familiar Irish accent awakens something in Harry and he cries out. There’s no words, just sound, but surprising it works.

“Harry!” The voice gets louder and louder until the door bursts open. The natural light that spill into the dark room hurts Harry’s eyes, causing him to shrink back and whimper.

“Fuck,” Niall whispers, shocked beyond belief. “Mate, is that really you?”

All Harry can do is whimper in reply. His head is spinning from his light movements, dots dancing across what little eyesight he does have. His mouth is full of a tangy, disgusting copper taste. He wants to tell Niall he’s fine, that it’s just a few bruises, but the fact that he can’t even speak indicates differently.

All Harry feels before he blacks out is Niall’s arms wrapping around his body and his best friend’s tears falling onto his swollen face. Harry wants to comfort his best friend, to say sorry for putting him in this position. Harry doesn’t deserve his best friend’s love and support.

Harry just knows that his dad knows and that feeling is truly sickening.

A few days have passed, the swelling has decreased significantly, but the scars are forever. He’s finally back in his own home, in his own bed, the bright lights, stiff fabrics, and pungent smell of the hospital all in the past now. It’s nice to be back in his own bed, but that means he’ll have to talk soon and he doesn’t want to. Harry’s afraid that if he opens up his mouth the only thing that’ll come out is either a ear-piercing scream or heartbreaking sob. He hasn’t spoken since that Friday afternoon, not to his mum, not to the nurses, not even to Niall, and he doesn’t intend to change that.

He knows the questions will come soon. He doesn’t want them to.

His dad is sitting in his desk chair across from where Harry is lying in his bed. Harry can’t read the looks that pass over his face in the shadows and it’s frightening. Harry feels sick to his stomach. He doesn’t know what his parents are thinking about him right now. Do they still love their son? Their gay son?

Harry closes his eyes tightly, trying to fend off a wave of sudden nausea. His fucking soulmark outed him before he was even out to himself. It’s unfair. Harry hates it. He hates himself. He should’ve hidden it better, taken more safety measures into consideration if he didn’t want anyone to know about Louis.

Harry takes a chance, reopening his eyes once he feels grounded, once his head feels like it’s finally reattached to his shoulders. The first thing he sees is Richard’s cold eyes boring into his own and he just breaks .

He cries and cries, letting it all out while his father watches. The tears sting his bruised eye, the pain feeling otherworldly, but Harry knows he deserves it. He deserves as much pain as the world can give him right now.

He hiccups a few times, trying to calm, attempting to get his voice to work after not using it for so long.

He takes a deep breath and finally goes for it. “I’m not gay,” he croaks out, looking his dad in the eye. His soulmark burns as the words leave his mouth.


Richard huffs, removes himself from Harry’s desk chair, removes himself from Harry’s room, removes himself from Harry’s life.

Chapter Text

He talks about you in his sleep and there’s nothing I can do to keep from crying when he calls your name.

- Jolene, Dolly Parton

I'd be lying if I said I never thought of dying alone, but I'm so vulnerable to just about everyone.

- Care, Bry

 

after

If you asked Harry where he would be two years ago, he would never have seen himself here. He doesn’t even believe he’s here right now. It’s all a bit surreal.

“Harry Edward Styles.”

This is a huge step. It’s new, it’s life-changing. It’s a giant leap into the future, a giant leap into creating a new future of new possibilities for himself. It’s scary. Very, very, most definitely scary. It’s scarier than sleeping on the streets of Paris in the winter. It’s scarier than hopping from different hostel to different hostel in Amsterdam. Asking complete strangers for money for a train ticket on the streets of Barcelona wasn’t even as scary as this.

Harry swallows thickly, quietly fiddling with his fingernails as the director of admissions types his name into her computer. Her office is a tiny little room, smaller than the financial aid office he was just in prior. The walls are an off-white color and promotional posters for the school decorate them. It’s a little intimidating. Harry feels very claustrophobic in the office, everything he owns packed into the duffel bag and backpack currently sitting at his feet.

The director looks up from her screen and smiles at Harry, probably noticing the tension in his shoulders and the fear on his face. This lady can either welcome Harry with open arms or send him away with one dismissive sentence. She doesn’t look threatening with her short blonde hair, that easily sways when she talks, falling over the sleeves of her pale pink blouse, but looks can be deceiving. Harry knows from experience.

“Hello Harry, I’m Krista Mulligan. It’s a pleasure to have you joining us. Welcome.” Her voice is calm and soothing. The knot in Harry’s stomach loosens just that tiniest bit.

“Thank you,” he says, voice deep and quiet. “It’s a pleasure to be here.”

“Are you nervous, Harry?” she asks, smile soft.

Harry just nods in reply, biting his lower lip as he feels his face heat up.

“It’s okay, you know, to be a little hesitant when first entering university, especially after a gap year or two. Your advisor Pamela McCarthy and I promise to make this transition as smooth as possible, so if you ever have any troubles please do not hesitate to ask for help.” Harry nods, urging her to continue.

“Now, I have your class schedule here for you. Usually, we allow our students to pick their own courses, but since you were quite a recent admittance, we wanted to enroll you into some core classes before they filled up. If there are any classes you want to drop or pick up you can work out the details out with Dr. McCarthy.

“Like I said, we want to give you a smooth and easy transition so we placed you in the second year dorms with another gap year student, so you’ll be the same age.”

Harry gapes at her, genuinely surprised and touched by her actions. “Thank you… That’s. That’s really considerate of you, I appreciate it.”

“It’s the least we can do, Harry. We’re glad you chose to study here and want make to help you succeed,” she clears her throat, changing the topic. She pulls out an envelope out from her desk drawer and hands it to Harry, who eyes the package suspiciously. “In there you will find a map that has the location of your residence hall circled. There’s a slip of paper with your room number and your key attached to it. Also, your ID card is in there. Please use it to swipe in and out of the dormitories and for your meals.”

The information overload continued as Harry was handed paper after paper. Papers that explained academic policies, papers that listed his courses and their descriptions, papers that listed his school email and password. There were even directions on how to find a work study job.

Harry felt relieved when he could tell Krista was starting to wrap-up her rambling. She excused him politely, finally letting him free to explore the campus himself. He definitely wanted to stop by his dorm so he could drop off his belongings, extremely tired from carrying the combined weight of them throughout the day.

Honestly, Harry was looking forward to having a dorm, not so much a roommate, but he’d finally have a place to call his after not having that for the past two years. He’ll have his own space where he can eat, sleep, and study without an invisible threat of being kicked out looming over his head.

He’s a bit hesitant to meet his roommate. Krista assured him that he was a great student athlete and told him that he was on the Dean’s List. But the only image Harry could create in his head was a large, scary jock who would take one look at Harry and laugh in his face. Obviously that is worst-case scenario, but Harry knows better than to raise his expectations. It hurts less when the expectations that aren’t met are lower rather than higher.

Harry bids goodbye to Krista, but as he’s walking out her office door he hears his name being called. He turns around to find Krista standing behind her desk holding out a piece of paper for him to take.

“I know you have a busy afternoon, but please consider going to this event. It starts soon so I suggest heading over there right now.” She smiles at him, an almost sad tilt to her lips. “I think it’ll help you transition more. Maybe meet some friends.”

He makes his way out of the administration building, finally free of long meetings, and walks straight into a beautiful British afternoon. He adjusts his backpack’s straps on his shoulders and grips his duffel bag’s straps tightly as he lets himself soak up the atmosphere of the bustling campus.

He steps towards the side of the path, making sure he’s not in anybody’s way as he reads over the flyer Krista gave him as he was walking out the door. He wrinkles his nose as he sees the words “meet and greet”. He furrows his eyebrows, finally understanding that a meet and greet for incoming gap year students is going to begin in, he checks the time on his phone, ten minutes.

Harry bites his lower lip, debating whether or not to show up to the event. It might be too soon for Harry to be in such a small space with so many people at once, but he figures he might as well get used to it before classes start. Harry pushes it out of his mind, not wanting to have a nervous breakdown in the middle of one of the outdoor common areas. He looks at his phone one more time, deciding that he should probably get his arse in gear if he wants to make it to this meet and greet.

Out of breath, from lugging his crap across campus, and from speed-walking his way towards the building listed on the flyer, Harry shuffles into the classroom. He settles into an empty chair in the back, trying to settle his panting. He shoves his two bags under the table, slides further down his chair in hopes of not being noticed, and prepares himself to listen to the three people standing at the front of the room.

The room is pretty full, attendance high. Harry lets his eyes slide across the crowd and the room. There seems to be a large mix of people, a fairly diverse group, which Harry appreciates. The room is a classic classroom, tables in rows with wheely office chairs pushed underneath the edge. The whiteboard at the front of the room would be empty if the giant “WELCOME!” wasn’t spanning its whole length.

Harry eyes the three people at the front of the room critically. They’re too young to be faculty or staff of the school, yet too old to be first years themselves. The lad in the center, with slightly tan skin and muscled arms, appears to be in charge. He seems like a very genuine person, his soft brown eyes making him look very approachable. On his left is another guy, darker skin and even darker hair. With his stiff posture and cold eyes, he looks much less approachable than the first guy. His leather jacket and combat boots are a striking contrast to the other lad’s neat button-up that’s tucked into his jeans. The third person is a girl, whose blonde hair is wavy over her shoulders. Her smile is bright and Harry finds himself smiling just looking at her.

“Hello! Welcome to our first year gap year students meet and greet,” the guy in the middle calls out. “Everyone in this room has taken a gap year, some people have even taken two, at some point. This is a student organized event so all the volunteers you see here tonight have offered up their time to chat with you and make you feel welcome here at uni.”

“I’m Liam Payne,” he continues. “I am a second year and I took a gap year before starting uni to explore whether or not I wanted to be firefighter.” He crinkles his nose. “Let’s just say it didn’t work out. I’m an education major and you can ask me anything you want. I’m here to help.”

Harry ends up drifting off after Liam’s little speech, missing the girl’s introduction. He tunes back into the conversation in time to hear the other lad introduce himself. He’s soft spoken, quiet, and probably very shy. Harry chuckles to himself thinking that Liam probably made him volunteer for this thing against his will.

“I’m Zayn,” he greets, a grimace on his face, but a hint of a smile hidden in his eyes. “Second year and an art major.” He simply nods once to end his speech and steps into the background again, letting Liam take over.

“Alright everyone! Please go mingle and ask questions,” Liam takes over, trying to rile up the group of first years. “We have enough refreshments up here for everyone to enjoy. Whenever you decide to leave, please make sure you pick up a folder of helpful information. They’re on the table by the door. Now everyone, please enjoy!”

The room erupts into chaos as everyone starts moving around and talking. Harry fidgets nervously in his seat, wanting to get up and get something to eat—he’s starving, but too afraid to step into the mass of people. He shoves his left wrist in-between his legs, a nervous habit he picked up over the past two years, and starts to seriously debate getting up and leaving without talking to anyone.

As he’s reaching for his backpack, readying himself to stealthily and guiltily escape, Liam and Zayn decide to sit down right across from him. Liam’s smiling wide as he enthusiastically pushes a paper plate in Harry’s direction. He looks down and finds a slice of vanilla cake with chocolate icing. Harry lifts his eyes, looking at Liam questioningly. Liam’s composure doesn’t break under Harry’s harsh stare so he looks over at Zayn who just shrugs and smiles lazily.

“Uh,” Harry stammers, very confused and a little uncomfortable.

“I’m Liam,” Liam chirps, pointing to himself, as if Harry didn’t understand. He points to Zayn. “This is Zayn.” Harry nods. Liam points to the plate he slid in front of you. “That’s cake. For you. Here, have a fork.” Liam pulls a fork out of nowhere and places it next to the plate.

Zayn rolls his eyes. “Liam, cut it out. You’re weirding him out. What’s your name, mate?”

“Harry.”

Silence fills the air and Harry drops his eyes to the cake. His stomach growls, as if on cue, and honestly it’s such a traitor. He lifts his eyes and look back up at Liam who is nodding encouragingly. Harry sighs, picks up the fork, and starts devouring the cake. He moans around his fork at how delicious and moist the sponge is, finally realizing just how hungry he really is.

“So Harry, what’re you studying?” Zayn asks, actually curious.

Harry shrugs in response. “Not really decided. Gonna just fill some requirements and core classes in the meantime. Was considering English literature? Dunno.” He ends with another shrug, eyes firmly on his slice of cake.

“Oh, that’s totally fine! Our mate was undecided when he came in and now he’s like a super dedicated to his major cause he found what he wanted to do and he runs one of the most successful clubs on campus,” Liam gushes.

Harry hums, barely paying attention. “That’s nice.”

“Sure is! You’d probably make good mates. He’s great. So where you living at?”

Harry finally lifts his eyes and looks at the two boys across from him. However, he doesn’t respond to Liam’s question because he’s too focused on Zayn and Liam’s linked hands, Zayn’s hand lightly rubbing over the skin of Liam’s knuckles. Harry’s eyes flicker to Liam’s wrist and his heart drops as he eyes the faint letters etched into the thin skin. Zayn.

Harry’s eyes frantically skip over to Zayn’s wrist, searching the dark skin for any evidence of a name. His throat goes dries when he sees nothing there.

“Haven’t gotten mine yet,” Zayn mumbles, breaking Harry out of his trance and scaring the absolute fuck out of him. Zayn chuckles as Harry almost jumps out of his seat. He extends his empty wrist forward for Harry to inspect. Harry cringes away from it, his automatic response to hide away his own wrist, pushing it deep between his thigh so no one has the chance to inspect the offending name found there. “But I don’t mind. It’ll show up when it wants to.”

Harry simply nods, dizzy. He ignores the nausea brewing in his gut and stands up fast, making sure to hug his arm tight to his chest to not reveal his dirty secret. He grabs his two bags in a haste and spits out, “I’m sorry, I’ve got somewhere to be,” as a poor excuse to Liam and Zayn and basically runs out of the classroom. He skips down the stairs, wanting to make it outside into the fresh air before the cake he just ate has a chance to resurface.

The sunlight feels like a slap to the face when he finally pushes the doors open. It hurts but centers him. He gulps down breath fulls of fresh air, calming his churning stomach, bile sliding back down his throat rather than up it.

He starts slowly making his way towards his dorm, repeating the same phrase in his head over and over again. A phrase he has become very familiar with over the last two years.

It’s okay to be gay. It’s okay to be gay. It’s okay to be gay. It’s okay to be gay. It’s okay to be gay.  

Finally calmed down and back in his proper headspace, Harry slips in through the front door of his residence hall. Coming face to face with the security desk and an unimpressed security guard he realizes he has to swipe his ID.

“Oh! I’m sorry,” he blushes. “First time… moving in and all… that. Yeah.” The security guard side-eyes him as he stammers through his explanation and riffles through his pockets looking for his ID card. Once he finds it, drops it (because “stupid fucking clumsy hands”), picks up it, he finally swipes in, the security grunts dismissing the dumb first year.

Harry looks around the lobby. The walls are painted a lime green that luckily isn’t vibrant enough to blind him, but is bright enough to open the space. The carpet under his feet is rough, but Harry considers it does its job fine. The layout is very simple, a lift and staircase directly across from the front desk and across from the front doors is a doorway leading further into the building where he suspects the student lounge and laundry rooms are hidden.  

Harry slips a tiny rectangular paper out of his pocket, referring to it so he can find his room. 2122. Second floor—not so bad. He won’t have to take the lift up and down then, the climb being easy enough. However, he does hop into the lift this time around, bags too heavy and shoulders too tired to drag himself up the stairs.

He’s shocked by the niceness of the lift as he steps inside and pushes the button for the second floor. He expected the interior to be totally mangled and decrepit, maybe a bit smelly, and definitely loud and scary as it starts to ascend. But it’s not destroyed, the smell is neutral, and it’s eerily quiet. Harry hums to himself. It’s a good start.

He exits the lift onto his floor, the same rough carpet texture covering the hallway. The walls are a very pale blue and are decorated with posters for clubs and meetings. He doesn’t waste his energy looking at them, already having decided ahead of time, before he got to uni, that he was going to just stick to himself for his first year. No clubs, no meetings, no information sessions.

Every door has a little rectangle placard displaying the room number in the top middle of the door above a peephole. Some doors are decorated with the inhabitants’ names, some have whiteboards attached to them, and some are wide open, letting Harry sneak a peek at others setting up their new homes.

When Harry stops in front of 2122, the door is completely bare and closed. He tests the handle, finding out it’s locked. He shuffles the items in his hands until he’s able to reach into his pocket to retrieve his faded gold-colored key. He slips it into the lock with a tiny zip sound and turns the key, finally unlocking the door to the first permanent home he’s had in over two years.

Tears well in his eyes at the mere thought of something being his, something becoming his home. He takes a deep breath, not allowing the tears to spill over the edge. He swallows thickly and gives the door a shove, taking his first steps into his (and his roommate’s) space. It’s a wonderful feeling.

The lights are switched off but the room is illuminated by the bright white light that is filtering in through the open window blinds that are opposite the door. The right side of the room is sparsely decorated, but mostly just full of unpacked boxes. Harry drops his bags on the left side of the room, officially claiming it. There’s a desk at the foot of his bed, and one at the head of his roommate’s bed. There’s an empty space next to Harry’s bed, in front of the windowsills, and he briefly wonders if his roommate will bring a futon or a telly to place there. Harry definitely doesn’t have the money for that kind of stuff. He secretly hopes his roommate does.

His bed is raised just high enough for a chest of three drawers to fit underneath, creating more storage room too. He jumps up onto the mattress thinking about how uncomfortable it’s going to be sleeping without sheets for a few weeks before he earns his first work study check. At least he has one pillow and one blanket that have stuck with him throughout his travels that he can use on top of the bare mattress.

Shifting his weight, Harry pulls his phone out of his back pocket to check the time. He press the home button but all that appears on the screen is a dead battery symbol. He groans, pushing himself off his bed and onto the floor. He searches through his backpack for his charging cable. Once he finds it, he goes on a mission to find an actual wall plug.

Musing that there must be one under his bed, Harry gets on his hands and knees and crawls underneath. He lets out a tiny “Ah-ha!” when he comes face to face with a plug. He starts charging his phone, half his body still under the bed.

The sound of the dorm door opening and banging against the wall behind it causes Harry to screech and jump, totally caught off guard. He hits his head on the underside of his bed and the new person in the room, who he guesses is his roommate, starts laughing his ass off. Harry wants to hide under his bed forever in embarrassment.

This is not how he planned to meet his roommate: arse sticking up in the air and torso hidden underneath his bed frame as he desperately tries to recharge his phone.

“Mate… oh my god!” his roommate laughs. Harry feels his face heat up in embarrassment. His roommate is probably bent at the waist, hands on his knees, face bright red from laughing loudly. Harry doesn’t want to pull out from under the bed to confirm his suspicions.

Reluctantly, he does end up wiggling his way out from under his bed to finally come face to face with the person he’s been assigned to live with. As a precaution, he hides his left arm behind his back.

He stands slowly, carefully observing his roommate (who is, in fact, bent over, still heaving from his laughter). The lad is lanky, long legs and arms, but Harry can tell he has strength hidden in the muscles. His hair, a bright blonde color, is styled high, up and off his face. The color causes Harry to chuckle in his head as he assumes it’s probably box-dyed. He’s wearing a simple white t-shirt, light wash jean shorts, and white trainers. He gives off a carefree and happy vibe and Harry lets himself relax a little bit.

“Hey mate,” Harry laughs. “Sorry ‘bout that. Was trying to charge my phone. Guess we’re roommates.” He extends his right hand, signaling for a shake. “‘M Harry.”

His roommate’s laughter abruptly stops and he takes in a gasp of air. His head shoots up, his bright blue eyes piercing as his eyes flick around Harry’s face. He unbends his knees and stands up straight, jaw going slack, mouth open wide in shock. He totally ignores Harry’s outstretched hand so Harry just lets it drop. All the staring his roommate is doing is causing him to feel a little uncomfortable so he shuffles from foot to foot, biting his lower lip. The nails of his left hand curl against the skin of his palm, the tingles of pain trying to comfort him.

“Harry…” he breathes out, eyes wide. Harry can detect a tiny hint of an accent in his voice. “Fuck. Mate. Is it really you?”

Now Harry’s confused. “Uhh… I don’t think I—”

“Harry Styles?” Harry nods slowly, confirming his name to his roommate. “Fuck,” he breathes out.

The next thing he knows he’s being squeezed into an all-encompassing hug by his roommate, who is still a stranger to Harry. The embrace is so tight it hurts. Harry’s shocked by how nice it feels. It feels familiar, it feels warm and friendly. It’s been awhile since he’s been properly hugged, but he’s still confused by everything.

“Mate… Do I know you?” Harry squeaks out, still being crushed by his roommate’s arms.

The lad breaks the hug and he stares at Harry’s face, tears dampening his face. He’s crying, but also laughing, a wide smile stretching across his face. Perfectly straight teeth shine at Harry and if Harry had to provide a definition for pure happiness it would be his roommate’s face right in this moment.

He closes his eyes tight and laughs right in Harry’s face. It’s a loud, joyful laugh. “Harry. Oh, mate. You don’t even recognize me? I guess it’s cause it’s been two years, I mean, and my hair is blonde now and the braces are gone and all… Mate.”

Harry’s heart starts beating faster as he puts all the clues together, the Irish accent gluing together the pieces. Harry casts his eyes downwards as he thinks, brain a jumbled mess trying to put two and two together.

He gasps, eyes quickly returning to his roommate’s face, taking in the tiny details: bright, happy blue eyes and a wide nose. He swallows hard.

He feels like he’s on a pirate ship, waiting to be pushed off the plank into the dark blue turbulent sea underneath. He doesn’t wait to be pushed, though. He takes the leap all by himself, straight down into the brand new, unknown world. It’s a little disorienting, a little scary. His life from two years ago reuniting with the life he’s presently living. Harry doesn’t know if it’s worth it, but he makes the decision and jumps anyway.

“Niall?” he whispers.

“Harry!”

“Niall.”

“Harry!” Niall rushes forward again and hugs Harry tight, both of them overemotional in the moment.

Harry laughs, loud and bright, happy to be in the arms of his best friend. “I thought that was an Irish flag I saw on your bed! You fucking bleached your hair?” He laughs again, totally blown away. “And your braces are gone! Mate your teeth looking amazing! Oh my god, Niall, I’ve missed you so much.”

Niall pulls out of the hug, laughing. The atmosphere of the room is bright, full of energy and happiness. Niall’s joy has always been infectious, but right now it’s invading every cell of Harry’s body, making him feel like he’s floating in the clouds. His limbs tingle, his eyes wet with tears, a smile stretching his lips.

“Your hair’s so long, H! And what’s this?” Niall asks, playfully tugging at the headscarf wrapped around Harry’s head that is keeping his curls in place.

They laugh until they’re out of breath. The room fills with silence as they both sober up and a series expression ghosts over Niall’s face.

“Why’d you leave, Harry?”

Harry looks away, ashamed. He really doesn’t want to talk about this, but he knows he is going to have to if Niall’s going to be his roommate. It’s a small world though, innit? Niall, his best friend in an older lifetime, is now his roommate in this new reality.

“Don’t,” Niall warns, voice cold and expression hard. “Don’t do this to me, Harry. Don’t ignore me. Tell me.”

Harry turns his back, shuffling back over to his bed. He jumps onto the mattress, back against the wall, legs folded. Niall joins him, deciding to sit next to Harry, mirroring his position. Harry appreciates the action; it would be harder to explain everything if Niall’s eyes were boring into him.

Harry knows Niall already knows, he was there to see the aftermath, but Harry still instinctively sits with his left wrist tucked under his thigh.

His temples throb in pain, a headache approaching. His throat burns, bile climbing its way up, but thankfully not escaping. He pulls a loose thread at the fabric over the ripped knee of his skinny jeans. His foot bounces up and down from his nerves, shaking the mattress. Niall calmly places a supportive palm on Harry’s thigh, causing the nervous tick to stop. Harry breathes, reminding himself that Niall is on his side and that he deserves to know what happened.

“I just… I needed to get away,” he whispers, the floodgates breaking.

Harry knows he’s all out of tears. It was a pretty emotional afternoon, answering the questions Niall had for him. But now, as he lays on the borrowed extra set of sheets Niall brought with him, he can feel his heart start to swell again. His eyes are heavy and crusty, wanting to slip shut so badly, but Harry won’t let them. He’s not tired.

With his left wrist lying limply on his mattress at eye level, he can’t help but trace the neat lines etched into his thin skin. It has become sort of a tradition. Over the past two years, whenever Harry was feeling truly alone, he would look at his wrist as he drifted off to sleep. The name that caused Harry to feel the most pain he’s ever felt in his whole life also has the power to make him feel the most calm. The name has the power to make him feel wanted, in some weirdly twisted way. It reminds him that he’s the only reason he feels as lonely as he does. He’s holding himself back.

These five simple letters make up the most beautiful name in the world, but Harry knows he can never let himself love Louis. He’s holding himself back for a reason. How can he ever love Louis if he can’t love himself?

Harry finally submits to his exhaustion. His duffel bag and backpack are finally empty, his body is for once sleeping in a real bed, and real food is settling in his belly.

“Hi, are you Stephanie?” Harry asks the lady sitting behind the desk. She looks up, unimpressed, glasses sitting on her nose. She’s really young, mid to late twenties probably, which is why Harry’s double checking she’s actually his boss. He thought that person in charge of the mailroom would be an old, wrinkled lady who would tell years and years worth of stories of mailroom drama. The person Harry’s talking to now, and who he’s slightly intimidated by, has long, voluminous chestnut brown hair and is wearing a Manchester United jersey.

“Yeah?” she asks, eyebrow quirked.

“I’m Harry, we talked over email?”

Her eyes light up, harsh forehead lines gone, smile taking over her face. “Oh, hi Harry! Welcome to the mailroom!” she greets excitedly.

Okay so maybe Harry was overreacting. He blushes, “Thank you.”

“I’m so excited you wanted to work down here. It’s the easiest job ever, I promise.” She stands up from the desk and motions for Harry to join her behind the desk.

The mailroom is small. Out in the main lobby of it is all the faculty and staff mailboxes as well as bins for outgoing mail. The mailboxes hug the perimeter of the room and Harry’s sure he’d go dizzy if he tried counting all of them. The desk is positioned right in front of the door and has a desktop computer and printer on it.

“You can use the computer and printer whenever you want, don’t worry about it. I know the library charges you to print things so consider this a mailroom job perk,” she winks, laughing. Harry likes her already.

Behind the desk is the mail machine that prints postage on outgoing department mail and Stephanie teaches Harry how to use it. She shows him where the stamp book is so students can buy stamps and where he puts the money. There’s a door directly next to the desk and the machine that’s labeled “Mailroom Staff Only” and leads into a tiny room where he can access the student mailboxes. Each box is labeled with a number and the corresponding name.

She teaches Harry some more basic rules, tips, and tricks on how to retrieve packages and what to tell students when they ask certain questions.

“So when do I start?” he asks once they enter the main section of the mailroom.

“Now!” she laughs. “You’re okay with working the closing shift everyday, right? No class interferences?”

“Nope, one-thirty to four-thirty is great for everyday,” he confirms. “Do you need someone to work weekends?”

“Actually, if you want to, you can work ten to two on Saturdays. You’d have to sort the mail, but what you can’t sort and put away you could always leave for me. If you want to do that, then just text me on Friday afternoon so I know you’d be here Saturday.”

Harry grins. “Thank you so much. I need as many hours as possible. I appreciate it.”

“It’s no big deal, Harry. You’re going to do great.” Harry blushes, biting his lower lips. Stephanie grabs her bag and phone and starts making her way out of the mailroom. “If you need any help, text me. It’s pretty slow in the afternoons so you probably won’t need me, but still. Also don’t forget to lock up. Keys are in the top drawer. Thank you so much, Harry!”

Next thing Harry knows, he’s left alone in the mailroom as Stephanie races out the door. He plops himself down onto the spinny chair and smiles to himself thinking how his first job is going to be a piece of cake.

Harry likes his job. It’s in the basement, where the pipes in the ceiling are exposed and it’s always hotter than it should be, but it’s comfortable and he loves talking to the people that come through. Most of the professors are shocked when Harry greets them, asking how they are. He’s roped himself into many, many conversations with the various staff members that travel in and out throughout his shift. He loves hearing about what the professors teach and how long they’ve been doing it for. Harry also appreciates it when they ask him in return what he’s studying. One day, Professor Scully, who teaches Shakespeare, came through to pick up some mail that had accumulated in her mailbox and she ended up staying for 15 minutes as they discussed the role of women in Shakespeare’s plays, especially Lady Macbeth from Macbeth and Ophelia from Hamlet.

Sometimes, he can’t help but roll his eyes at the ridiculous students that come in.

“How do I open my mailbox?” one boy had asked Harry, his hat backwards on his head and stains on his white t-shirt.

“With your key,” Harry replied calmly.

It seriously baffles Harry how people do not realize they were given a key on the first day of school that corresponds with their pre-existing mailbox. It also confuses him how people lose their key. It drives him crazy when someone comes into the mailroom to retrieve a package and when he asks them what their mailbox number is, they tell him their room number. Sometimes Harry thinks he’s going to explode.

But still, the good moments outweigh the doofuses he has to deal with. Like that time a box of flowers was delivered for a student. The box was still cold, so it must have just been taken off a refrigerated truck. Harry thought it was the sweetest gesture ever and quickly emailed the student the package was addressed to.

He debated whether or not to tell her was a box of flowers, not wanting to ruin the surprise, but he figured he should tell her so she can pick them up as soon as possible.

Not even ten minutes after sending the email, the student appeared to retrieve her flowers and she was so overwhelmed and surprised, guessing it was probably her boyfriend who sent them to her from back home. She was so happy.

So working in the mailroom does have it perks.

Harry’s sitting at the desk twiddling his thumbs, watching the people that walk by the open mailroom door. It’s been a slow shift so far. He has already ate the multigrain muffin he brought with him to snack on and he is slowly running out of water to drink.

The first full week of the semester is finally over and Harry’s grateful. He’s settled into his dorm nicely with Niall, slowly rekindling their old friendship and relearning each other’s habits and what makes them tick. He loves the simple classes he’s taking. They’re not hard, which is surprising, but it’s also very comforting knowing that he’s able to take it easy in his classes so he can focus on work and study at a pace he can control. After being out of school for two years, returning to this kind of routine is a bit challenging, and his study skills have gone down the drain, but Harry knows he can easily get right back on track.

The hallway has been deserted for the past five minutes or so, causing Harry to stare blankly at the wall on the other side of the hallway out the door. However, his lazy gazing is soon broken by a boy walking by.

Harry tilts his head, intrigued. The boy is smiling, has an energy about his that Harry can’t quite place. He’s wearing a solid black t-shirt and light wash jean shorts. Not the most stunning of outfits, but Harry appreciates the simplicity. Harry pauses his train of thought and looks down, taking in his own outfit. He chuckles at himself and his own simple long sleeve black shirt and jean shorts.

He looks up, back at the boy, and notices that he’s walking towards Harry. He’s walking towards the mailroom. Harry celebrates in his own head at the simple thought of human interaction. He just hopes he’s not some idiot asking how to open his mailbox.

The walks through the door, takes one look at Harry’s welcoming smile, and gives a short wave. “Hey you must be the new work-study. I’m Louis.”

Harry’s smile is wiped off his face. His breath catches in his throat, his fingers start to shake, a weird burst of adrenaline courses through his body. The jerk reaction Harry has to hearing that name, the one name he both loathes and loves more than anything else, spoken out loud is to cower, to hide, to curl up in a ball to protect his heart since his rib cage did a shitty job at that the first time around.

Harry doesn’t cower though, and even though it feels like time has slowed down, and even though it feels like Harry has gone through fifty different emotions, it has been mere seconds.

Louis smiles, Harry not being able to tell if it’s real, fake, or just a courtesy. He brushes by Harry’s desk and Harry finally unfreezes, breaks out of his trance. He tries to speak, opening mouth to form words, but nothing comes out.

He tries again, reminding himself that this is his job and one stupid boy who just so happens to have the same name as his soulmark is not going to stop him.

“Hey, you can’t go back there. Those are staff and faculty mailboxes!” Harry warns Louis, irritation clear in his tone.

Louis scoffs, standing on his tippy-toes in front of the mailboxes designated for clubs. “Of course I can go back here, Curly.” Harry’s eyes narrow at the nickname. He does not like it one bit, but he’s not going to correct him.

“And why is that?” Harry spits out, words practically venomous.

Louis reaches into one of the mailboxes, pulling out a stack magazines and letters. He doesn’t give Harry the satisfaction of an answer to his question until he’s walking out the door, a playful look on his face. “Because I can.” He leaves with a smirk and flick of his wrist in Harry’s direction. “Ta for now. See you soon, Curly.”

Harry is absolutely fuming. He wasn’t even paying attention to what mailbox Louis took from. Angry with himself and angry with this stranger coming in and walking around like he owns the place, Harry buries his head into his arms and screams into the crook of his elbow, trying to release his pent up energy.

He hears someone clearing their throat above him and he startles, jumping in his seat. He looks up and finds some girl with a slip of paper in her hand and an unimpressed look on her face. She holds out the paper for Harry to take and rolls her eyes while spitting out an impatient, “I have a package. Box 105.”

Harry nods, feeling numb for letting Louis affect him like that and for making a fool of himself at work. He finds the package for 105 and brings it back out to her. She signs the binder open on the desk, confirming that she retrieved it, and turns away huffing, not even one goodbye spoken between the pair.

Harry drops back into his spinny chair. He so badly wants to just shout out “WHY ME!?” but he has a job to do and he’s going to do it correctly.

So. A recent development in Harry’s life is that Louis stops by the mailroom everyday. Every single day he walks in, greets Harry with a simple “Hey Curly!” and strides over to the mysterious mailbox that just so happens to always have something in it.

Harry can never deduce what mailbox he takes from, which irritates the living hell out of him. He spits snide comments at Louis, rolls his eyes whenever he says something, and always frowns in response to his smiles. Louis is never deterred though and his constant niceness just creates more of a fire in Harry.

The offhand, practically rude, comments that Harry occasionally makes never waver Louis’ disposition. Sometimes Harry can tell Louis has a hopeful aura as he skips through the mailroom door, but his shoulders always inflate when Harry scoffs at him.

Harry knows it’s a defense mechanism. He does not want to get too close to Louis. The boy who has the same name that’s on his wrist. He doesn’t want to like Louis and he doesn’t want Louis to like him. Harry’s life has been on a good course since he arrived here at university and he won’t dare let it go down hill. He can’t go back to those dark places he just escaped from.

So he’s confrontational. He tries everything to make Louis hate him, but it never works. Louis is tough and it’s like he practically sees right through Harry’s fakeness and it’s not fair. Harry doesn’t want Louis to like him. If Louis likes him, very, very bad things can happen. Nonetheless, Louis’ infectious energy wears away at Harry’s exterior defenses, it weakens his armor, leaving him tired after every interaction.

As day after day passes, Harry finds himself looking forward to Louis’ presence. He’s finally been broken down so much that he’s now wishing Louis’ boisterous energy would fill the small mailroom. It makes Harry oddly happy to see Louis walk in with a smile, a wave, and a “Hey Curly!”. Harry can’t explain the warm fuzziness that swirls throughout his belly and clouds over his eyes when Louis walks in the door.

Louis has definitely noticed Harry’s change in attitude, but being the good soul he must be, he doesn’t say anything. He starts to slip in little bits of conversation here or there during his brief visit, though. He makes offhand comments like: “How’s the weather, Curly?” or “Have you had the pizza in the dining hall today? It’s delicious!”. He’s always trying to pull a smile or laugh or comment or anything out of Harry, but he never succeeds. Harry just lets himself sit there and observe, completely passive.

Harry’s moved past his blind hatred for Louis, but now he’s just scared. He’s frightened of Louis. This tiny boy in shorts and a t-shirt who carries a happy atmosphere with him wherever he goes, scares the absolute shit out of Harry. It’s disorienting, to say the least.

Harry’s so, so scared of Louis. Louis. The name on his wrist that has caused him unbelievable amounts of pain in his life could possibly be the same boy that brightens Harry’s afternoon mailroom shift. Harry doesn’t allow himself to look at Louis’ wrist. He resists giving into his curiosity, knowing that whatever he could find there would cause him immeasurable pain.

Louis could have no soulmark yet, making Harry question everything. Louis could have Harry as his soulmark, which Harry doesn’t allow himself to think about. It makes him sick, thinking that his name could possibly be etched into Louis’ skin. He would weep for Louis if that were the truth for Harry can not allow himself to love that boy. But Louis could also have any other name on his wrist. He could have a girl name, another boy name. Anything. Harry doesn’t like to admit it, but that line of thought also makes him queasy.

“Here ya go, Curly,” Louis chirps one day, standing in front of the desk in the mailroom, arm extended, piece of paper in his hand for Harry to take. His smile is bright, jaw covered in a light dusting of hair. He looks absolutely soft in his grey sweatshorts and black t-shirt, but Harry doesn’t let himself focus too much on that.

He eyes the paper in front of his face critically, instead. “What’s this?” he asks hesitantly. He takes the paper anyway, curiosity winning out.

“It’s a flyer for Q&A.”

Harry furrows his eyebrows and glances between the giant “Q&A” in the middle of the paper and Louis’ hopeful expression. “Elaborate, please?”

Louis smiles wide. “Of course, Curly. As you may or may not know—I’m guessing you don’t know, I’m the president of Q&A, Queer and Allies. We’re the only LGBTQ+ club on campus. This is a flyer for our weekly meetings,” he shrugs. “They’re hung up all over school and I thought I should maybe give one to you.” Louis smiles sweetly at Harry, although Harry sees a hint of shyness hidden in it.

“The meetings are just meant to be a safe space for queer kids, ya know? And the people that want to support them, of course. We talk about contemporary issues, we talk about personal issues. We plan trips and fundraisers. Sometimes put on presentations to educate or generate discussion.” Harry swears that if Louis were to smile any harder, his face would break. “We even have rainbow themed snacks!”

Harry is feeling so many things. He doesn’t know how he feels, actually. Louis has always evoked a kind of fear in Harry, but the distress that’s filling his gut right now is completely new. He starts panicking, feeling like he might be slipping into a the same sea of pain that Serge pushed him down into all those years ago. His heart races, not wanting to repeat those painful experiences. Harry knows the meetings are a safe space, but if people know he’s there… it might not be so safe outside of the walls of the classroom where the meeting’s held.

“Don’t worry, Curly. You don’t have to come. It was just a suggestion, if you were free and all,” Louis shrugs, rubbing the back of his neck nervously. And Louis is nervous to ask Harry to come? Harry doesn’t believe it. Harry tells himself that Louis is probably wishing Harry won’t come. Harry persuades his mind that Louis doesn’t want him there and that he’s only doing this as a courtesy.

Harry frowns. “Sorry, I can’t make it. Work and studying. You know how it is.”

Louis nods, mirroring Harry’s frown. “Yeah, it’s okay,” he mumbles, sounding regretful. “I gotta head out now, but you can keep the flyer, Curly. Have a great afternoon.” Louis skips out the door before Harry’s able to formulate a response.

Chapter Text

I never want to see you unhappy, I thought you'd want the same for me.

- Almost Lover, A Fine Frenzy

 

I want someone who will destroy and be destroyed by me.

- Jeanette Winterson

 

Harry loves studying in his room. The library has its perks, things such as the endless knowledge that is contained within the walls, the always quiet atmosphere, the steady wifi connection. But Harry loves studying in his room. He loves being comfortable, knowing no one is going to be looking over his shoulder, judging how little work he’s accomplishing, or how much more work he’s accomplished over them.

His room offers this comfort that no other space recently has. He can sit in his desk chair, leaning over the textbooks piled on the wooden surface. He can sit in his bed on his brand new sheets and duvet that he purchased with his own money, surrounded by papers, pens, and books. He can lounge on their futon, back relaxed, feet propped up on Niall’s storage container full of food like it’s an ottoman.

The futon is his favorite place, he thinks. With its position right in front of the windows, when the blinds are open, the bright white sunlight illuminates his schoolwork. Harry’s considered buying some potted plants, maybe succulents and wildflowers too, to decorate their currently empty windowsill. It’s a beautiful and calm space and when Harry’s not working, he loves sitting in the rays of the sunlight that filter through the panes.

Harry’s Ecology textbook is spread out over his lap, feet resting on the bin of food in front of him. His laptop is next to him on the futon, spotify currently open on his browser. He’s chosen to listen to his favorite playlist “Harry’s French Jamz”, the foreign language allowing him to not pay attention to the words, but rather the feeling and beat of the songs. It helps him focus, creating a beautiful background mood. Sometimes he likes to pretend he’s back in Paris, like he was so many months ago, sitting in front of a cute little bakery, the cobblestone street beneath his feet alive with the energy of the city.

La foule by Édith Piaf starts filling the room, the open window letting in a breeze that sends Harry’s hair into his eyes and shivers down his spine. His eyes slip shut, totally tired of doing homework, and lets the music wash over him. He feels at peace in this moment and there’s nothing that can ruin it.

When he wakes up, it is to their door banging open, hitting the wall behind it and Et Pourtant by Charles Aznavour filling the air. Harry startles, knocking his forgotten Ecology textbook off his lap, causing it to slap shut loudly.

“What the fuck, Niall?” Harry groans groggily. “You gotta stop opening up the door like a madman.”

Niall snorts. “Are you studying in the dark, with the window open and French music playing?”

Harry groans and stretches as Niall flicks their light on. Harry stands, his joints cracking loudly as he bends his back. He quiets his music and closes the window. He pulls off his restricting skinny jeans, impression lines in his stomach from the waistband already irritating his skin. He makes a mental note to change into sweatpants next time he wants to accidently fall asleep while studying.

He shuffles into his bed and buries himself beneath his duvet, pulling up Facebook on his phone to do some light browsing.

“Uh… what are you doing, H?”

Harry turns on his side, facing Niall, eyebrows furrowing. “What do you mean? I’m settling down for bed. Had a long, hard day studying.”

Niall rolls his eyes. “Li, Tommo, Zayn, and I are going out for drinks. You’ve yet to join us, mate! C’mon, come this time.”

It’s Harry’s turn to rolls his eyes. “Niall, you know I’m not that type of person. I’m not a people person.”

“One day, Styles. One day I’ll get you to go out with us,” Niall swears. His statement is a little less convincing since he’s hopping around on one foot, trying to squeeze his legs into a fresh pair of skinny jeans.

“Yeah, yeah,” Harry yawns. “Just be quiet whenever the fuck you decide to come back.”

Niall rushes to finish gathering his items, and is out the door in no time, but before he locks the door behind himself, Harry calls out one last sentiment.

“Be safe, mate, please.”

Niall sticks his head back in, smiling softly at Harry. “Of course, H. Sleep tight.” He hits the lights, drowning Harry in darkness, exiting their room.

Niall won’t stop. Everyday he asks Harry to join him, Liam, Zayn, and Tommo for drinks, video games, social interaction. Harry always declines. He’s a busy boy. He has work and when he’s not working he studies. Niall just doesn’t understand.

Harry has considered telling Niall about what’s really happening. Harry knows Niall thinks that he has reunited with his mum and she’s helping him pay for uni, but it’s quite the opposite. Harry’s mum doesn’t even know he’s back in England and it’s going to stay that way. Harry is only able to go to school on a scholarship, which he needs to keep his grades high for—hence all the studying, but he is also paying for what the scholarship doesn’t cover with his work-study money. He works harder and longer so he can make enough money to pay his bills but also support himself at the same time. Growing little (twenty year old) boys need to eat, you know.

It’s hard hearing Niall heckle him, telling him he’s a buzzkill and that he’s no fun. Harry has to do what he has to do though. He’s spent way too long being a disappointment. He wants to be able to show himself how strong he is and that he can make a life for himself and he doesn’t need any help doing so.

“Hey Curly, you’re working today?” Louis says as he makes his way the mailroom.

Harry sighs, eyes heavy, brain tired. He’s been trying to work out his Calculus homework for the past two hours and it’s giving him a very, very heavy headache.

His mood perks up with the addition of Louis’ presence though. It’s become a nice little daily tradition. Harry often wonders how much mail that boy must get to come in every single day and always leave with something in his hand. Harry doesn’t question it too much, he secretly likes seeing the smiling boy everyday. Don’t quote Harry on this, but it’s usually his favorite part of the day.

“Yeah, needed to pick up the extra hours so I decided to work on Saturday,” he shrugs. “I’m also trying to hide from my roommate. He’s been trying to persuade me to go out partying with him and his friends. He just doesn’t understand how much partying and drinking makes me uncomfortable. He also doesn’t get that I’m always tired from work and studying.”

Louis leans against the side of the desk. He looks at Harry’s slumped form in the spinny chair and smiles softly. “You do look very tired. You should go to bed early tonight, Curly. You need your beauty rest.”

Harry smiles weakly and nods. “Yeah. Turn in early… good idea.” His phone starts violently vibrating against the polished wood of the desk, indicating a phone call. It’s Niall and Harry’s not in the mood so he declines. He sighs loudly, wishing it would just stop already.

“Roommate?” Louis guesses. Harry nods. “Lemme guess. He keeps texting and calling you? Trying to convince you to go out tonight?” Harry nods. “Eh,” Louis shrugs. “You do you, Curly. Get that sleep. You probably deserve it.”

“Thank you, Louis. Have a good weekend.”

Louis leaves with a parting smile that is so beautiful and soft that it causes Harry’s face to warm up a little bit. Thank god Louis’ back was turned and he didn’t see.

Harry was so caught up on chatting with Louis and worrying about Niall that he didn’t even notice Louis didn’t check his mailbox, that he walked away without envelopes and magazines tucked under his arm. He didn’t notice that the boy only came through to say hi to Harry. He didn’t notice the subtle way Louis kept inching closer and closer to him during their conversation. He couldn’t tell that Louis was dying to lay a comforting hand on Harry’s tensed shoulders.

Harry closes his eyes briefly, clearing Louis out of his mind, trying to get back into the mood to focus on Calculus rather than ocean blue eyes.

After a long day of work, work, work, a deep sleep is exactly what Harry needs. After Louis bowed out the mailroom, Harry diligently worked on his Calculus homework until someone from the admissions office came down with a stack of two-hundred envelopes that needed to be sealed and stamped.

Harry had frowned at the distraction but knew he had to do his job. The machine sealed and printed the postage on the envelopes mechanically, the loud noise worsening Harry’s headache. It stopped being all fun and games after the machine ran out of ran at around envelope seventy. He had to manually stop the machine and open it up to insert the new ink cartridge. It was a giant mess of ink by the time Harry finally got the machine to cooperate. Then the machine stopped sealing envelopes so he had to replace the sealing juice stuff. It seemed like once he solved one problem, another one arose.

By the time his shift was over, he finally ran all two-hundred envelopes through the machine, but his Calculus homework had gotten nowhere. He spent the rest of the evening working through indefinite derivatives, wanting to tear his hair out.

So his anger from being woken up from his deep sleep is most definitely validated.

“Harry. Harry, wake up.”

“Mmmnuuhhh,” mumbles Harry, the sound muffled by the fabric of his pillow.

Something pokes hard into Harry’s side. He grunts louder.

“Harry, mate, wake up.”

Harry is not happy right now. He tosses his body around and sneaks open on eyelid to see that it’s exactly eleven-thirty at night. “Go the fuck away, Niall,” Harry spits out, shutting his eyes tight.

Niall jostles Harry’s body. “Mate, get the fuck up. We’re going out. We just pregamed in Liam’s room and now we’re going to go out clubbing. Let’s go fuck shit up, H!”

“Niall. Leave. Me. Alone.” Niall’s drunk enthusiasm is not wanted nor needed right now.

Harry hears Niall retreating and he sighs, sinking farther into the mattress, hoping sleep with return quickly. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen.

Bright lights suddenly blind Harry through his closed eyelids, causing a trob to run across his pupils as they quickly try to adjust to the unexpected change of light.

“What the fuck, Niall?!”

Niall’s feet pound on the floor as he stomps back over to Harry’s bed. He tears the duvet off Harry’s sleeping body. “Get the fuck up!”

Harry bolts up, sitting in his bed, eyes wide, mouth gaping open. He’s completely and utterly shocked by Niall’s lack of respect. “Niall!”

“Get up, you lazy piece of shit! You haven’t been out once this whole semester so far. Let go! We’re getting drunk. I’m getting you drunk.”

Harry swings his legs over the side of the bed and jumps onto the floor. He stands in only his pants opposite from his best friend who looks fully dressed for a night out with his lads.

Niall goes riffling through Harry’s drawers and pulls out a pair of skinny jeans and a flannel shirt. Harry just openly gapes at him, downright blown away by his friend’s actions. Niall pushes the clothes into his arms. “Put those on.”

Harry drops the clothes onto the futon. “I’m not getting dressed Niall! I was sleeping.”

“Put them on, Harry. We’re going out. You can’t hide inside forever! You’re such a hermit.”

Harry throws his hands into the air, exasperated. He doesn’t know how to fight Niall on this. It’s way too late to think, it’s way too late to be awake, especially after the horrible day Harry had to live through. He opens his mouth, argument dying on his tongue. Suddenly, what Louis told Harry earlier flashes back into Harry’s head. He deserves this, that’s what Louis said. What Louis says is good, he muses sleepily. “I’m tired! I worked and studied all day. I deserve to rest, Niall. I don’t need to go out partying.”

“You have no friends, Harry!” Niall practically yells. Harry freezes, shocked at how loud his friend’s voice is. He’s also stunned by the reality of the statement. “No friends! I’m your only friend, H! You need to socialize!”

“I don’t need to do anything, Niall!” he fights back. Harry starts breathing heavy, getting worked up over Niall’s comments. He feels his hands start to shake, his face starts to tingle. “Leave me alone! You know I don’t do people—or crowds!”

“Oh fuck off, Haz!” Niall shoots back. “You’re just being a fucking cunt!”

“Niall! You’re drunk. You need to shut the fuck up and leave.”

“Me? Leave? Harry! You need to leave and go find a proper fucking life! I can’t babysit you all four years of uni. Get the fuck out of this cave and make friends!”

“Don’t,” Harry warns, feeling his eyes starting to well up. His throat is thick, his head is a mess, temples throbbing in pain. The floor underneath his bare feet is cold and bone chilling after being wrapped in his duvet for the past few hours or so. Goosebumps appear all over his skin, from the chill in the air or from Niall’s words—Harry can’t tell.

“You need a life, Harry! You can’t just hide away with the postage! What is wrong with you. The fucking mailroom, I swear to god. Envelopes and stamps are not proper friends!” Niall’s face is bright red, voice hoarse from screaming, chest heaving. His voice’s volume drops though, almost becoming sinister. The look in his eyes is hard and cold and Harry feels like he’s going to throw up. “You even fucking ran away for two fucking years because you didn’t want to find your fucking soulmate. You’re going to die alone, Harry.”

Harry realizes that all of Niall’s harshness and anger has to be coming from somewhere. Niall has never, ever been this horrible to him before. Harry and Niall are best friends, two peas in a pod. Well, they were. They were best friends, until Harry disappeared without one word for two years. Harry hates himself as he beings to understand that Niall probably still harbors some bitterness from when Harry left. His drunken state is only digging up and heightening all these hurt feelings that were once buried.

The words still hurt, no matter how misguided and untrue they might be. They still sting because if Niall’s drunken self is saying them, then his sober self must be feeling them. Tears spill over, running down Harry’s cheeks, leaving wet, salty traces on his dry skin.

Harry breaks eye contact, searching the floor for his discarded sweatpants and long sleeve shirt that he had removed before jumping into bed hours earlier. He slips the clothes on fast, tears quickening their production the longer it takes. It’s a struggle to put his legs through the holes, stumbling around, angry and upset with Niall for his accusations, but also angry and upset with himself for being such a fucking screw up all the time. He can’t even put sweatpants on the right way.

Harry leaves the room once he’s fully dressed. He doesn’t take his keys or phone, he doesn’t put on shoes, he doesn’t say a word to Niall as he rushes by him. He just leaves, slamming the door shut behind him as he goes. He doesn’t know where he’s going, but he knows he had to leave. The environment was becoming way to hostile for his liking. His room is supposed to be his haven, his safe space, his home. Now it’s full of toxic energy.

He stumbles down the two flights of stairs that take him to the lobby of the residence hall. The lobby is bright, lights always turned on, illuminating the front door, the security guard’s desk, and the stairwell. He panics and rushes through the doors that lead into the lounge, looking for somewhere where the light won’t touch him, where he can be alone, where no one can find his bruised body, heart, and mind.

His heart is beating fast, he’s practically hyperventilating, and his face is numb. He can no longer tell if tears are running down his face or if they’re just simply staying behind his eyelids, blurring his vision. He can barely feel his legs as he blindly stumbles his way into the shared sitting area.

The couches in the lounge are deserted, the tellies are turned off, as well as any source of light, everything abandoned for the night. The usually calming blue walls look sinister in the dark. Harry makes his way over to the corner of the room and drops his tired body to the ground, heaving out a sob.

Everything Niall said is true. He hides in the mailroom, he hides in their room. He has no friends other than Niall, but he doesn’t truly count. There’s Louis. Sweet, sweet, lovely Louis, but Harry can’t count him. He can’t get close to Louis for obvious reasons. Louis is the reason Harry ran all those years ago. Now he’s the reason Harry’s still hiding today. The damn name on his wrist burns at the thought. Harry doesn’t want to believe that Niall is right, but he knows deep down inside that he is, undoubtedly. He is going to die alone. No friends, no family, no soulmate.

He cries. He lets the tears flow. He wouldn’t be able to stop them if he wanted to. He pulls his knees up to his chest, hugging them tight. His ribs and back ache from his poor posture, but the pain that the slouch temporarily provides feels good and almost takes away some of the hurt that’s clouding over his mind.

He bites the inside of cheek, searching for more pain. The more he hurts himself, the more it takes away from the real pain he’s feeling. It’s a trick he learned years ago when his dad first left. The more he would irritate the skin of his wrist, by scratching and pulling at it, then the less obvious the pain of his dad’s missing presence would seem. Soon, a coppery, metallic taste fills his mouth and he gags, hating the memories that the taste unleash. He cowers on the floor in the corner of his residence hall’s lounge as scenes of him lying bloody on the floor of the toilets flash through his mind.

He sobs harder and harder. He doesn’t know how long he sits there. He doesn’t notice when his tears stop coming and he starts sobbing into the crook of his elbow. His face hurts from the intensity of emotion.

His sobs have started to slow, his breathing slowly evening out. Then he hears the voices. Loud yelling, joking around, laughter, coming from some boys who just entered the lobby. He doesn’t know what they’re saying but fear courses through him, rattling his body. He sobs, tears returning. It’s probably loud enough for whoever is walking through the lobby to hear but he desperately prays that it’s not. He can’t face them right now.

What if they found out about his soulmark? Harry panics. They’re probably here to heckle him and beat him up. Harry can’t have that; he tries swallowing his cries, but it only causes him to cry harder. His chest heaves, not able to catch his breath, panicking over the thought of Serge, Jamie, and Kevin returning to finish him off. Two years later, it’s finally their chance to end what they started. Paranoia courses through his body.

He calms down a tiny bit as he hears the voices disappear but that’s when he hears footsteps. He whimpers, out of tears, eyes clenched shut, not wanting to see the face of his potential attacker. He whimpers again and the footsteps cease. Hesitantly they start up again.

“Curly?” a soft voice asks. Harry almost gasps, completely shocked. He recognizes the beautiful voice and the nickname he hates but secretly loves. His chest starts rapidly expanding, getting worked up over the idea of Louis saving him, but also scared of Louis finding him in this position. He doesn’t speak again so Harry desperately wishes that it was a figment of his imagination.

Then he hears it again, even softer this time. “Curly, is that you?”

Harry whimpers. He slowly lifts his head and opens his eyes. His eyes are oversaturated yet dry at the same time, making them extremely itchy. Thank god Louis didn’t turn the lights on because Harry thinks he’d become permanently blind if his pupils had to fight to adjust again. The light coming from the windows is just enough to illuminate the squatting Louis who is merely a few feet from Harry, an extremely worried expression on his face.

“What,” Harry tries, throat dry. “What are you doing here?” he finally manages to croak out.

Louis shrugs, looking guilty. “Couldn’t sleep so was playing some footie to release some energy. Bumped into Zayn smoking on my way back and we just came back inside together. He went upstairs and I heard something.” He gestures vaguely to Harry’s folded figure that’s cowering in the corner. “Came to investigate. Are you okay?”

Harry shakes his head no.

“Are you hurt?”

Harry shakes his head no.

Louis breathes out, probably relieved. “That’s a good start, innit, Curly?”

Harry smiles weakly at the nickname, liking the way Louis says it when he’s all soft and tired.

“Do you want to tell me what happened?”

Harry’s instincts tell him to shake his head no, to repress his feelings, to not get close to Louis. But Harry’s done putting up a fight. He’s exhausted, tired, and feeling extremely vulnerable right now. He decides to let his guard drop. He lets himself feel his pain, but he also allows himself to feel the supportive energy rolling off of Louis.

“I don’t feel safe in my room right now.” He blinks slowly, trying to organize his thoughts. “I have nowhere to sleep. I’m not going back there.”

Louis quietly considers Harry’s whispered words. Harry realizes this is where Louis is probably going to get up and walk away, leaving with a small frown. Or he’ll ask questions Harry does not want to provide the answers to, putting Harry in an even more uncomfortable position. Louis surprises Harry, though. He reaches out and softly rests his hand on Harry’s shoulder. Harry flinches away at first, but then settles into the sweet touch, loving the comfort it’s delivering to his rattled body.

“You can sleep with me?” Louis shyly offers.

Harry’s eyes go wide and he starts to panic. He can’t sleep with Louis. Sharing a bed?! One, it’s a little forward, and two, he’s currently trying to ignore Louis and not get too close to him. He can’t.

Louis must realize his mistake and see the panic in Harry’s eyes because he quickly mirrors Harry’s wide eyes and rushes to fix what he said. “No, no, no, no! Not like that Curly, I promise,” he chuckles. “I mean I have an empty bed in my room. Zayn’s my roommate, but he always sleeps in his boyfriend’s room because he has a single. You can sleep in Zayn’s bed. Don’t worry. No bed sharing.”

Harry’s panic calms down and he starts to actually consider Louis’ proposal. Harry can’t go back to his room. Louis has an extra bed. Louis makes Harry feel at ease. Making this decision feels all too easy.

Harry nods. “Please. If it’s no trouble.”

Louis stands, smiling wide, offering his hand to Harry. “I would not have offered if it was. I promise.”

Harry takes Louis’ hand and slowly unfolds his body, standing up. His joints ache, his back particularly. He stumbles, but Louis luckily catches him before his face becomes best friends with the carpeted floor of the residence hall lounge.

Louis slowly and carefully guides Harry out of the lounge and towards the elevator. His hand never leaves Harry’s back, a sure presence making sure he doesn’t take another tumble. It’s comforting, Louis’ palm warm against his thin shirt. Harry’s about to protest taking the elevator but he can see Louis already shutting him down through the look in his eyes.

Harry casts his eyes down and boards the elevator partially in Louis’ arms. He’s glad Louis insisted on the elevator, Harry now realizing that he wouldn’t have the energy to pick his legs up to climb the two flights of stairs.

Louis’ dorm isn’t too far from Harry’s dorm, but it’s far enough to never have recognized they live so close together until this moment.

The layout of Louis’ dorm is the exact same as Harry’s. The only things missing are the giant Irish flag hanging on the right wall, the futon, and the beautiful window garden that Harry’s dorm possesses.

Louis lazily gestures to the fully made bed on the right side of the room. “That’s Zayn’s bed. Go ahead and tuck yourself in. You’re probably knackered.”

Harry does as he’s told without a word, lavishing in the warmth the sheets provide once they’re pulled over his achy shoulders. Harry averts his eyes as Louis strips out of his sweaty clothes and replaces them with a clean pair of sweatpants. Louis climbs into bed quickly, exhausted himself.

Harry settles into the bed. The lights are off, the curtains pulled shut, blocking out most light. A little sliver escapes and illuminates Louis’ sleeping form. Harry finds himself starting at Louis from across the room. Absent-mindedly, he starts running his fingers over his soulmark as he sleepily gazes at Louis. He begins to wonder what it would feel like to have Louis officially be his. It feels nice to be taken care of by Louis, even though the only gesture he’s provided is lending him an empty bed. It makes Harry think about what other nice gestures Louis is capable of. If Louis was Harry’s soulmate, how gently would he cuddle up to him in bed? Would he run his own fingers against his name that’s forever branded on Harry’s skin? Would he place delicate kisses to the thin skin?

He scolds himself for thinking up such fantasies. Louis could never love Harry. Harry definitely can’t allow himself to love Louis like that. It’s impossible. Harry can’t disappoint himself anymore. He doesn’t want to disappoint his family anymore.

He stuffs his wrist under his pillow and falls asleep dreaming about Louis’ blue eyes, wishing for the unwishable.

Thank you, Louis. I truly appreciate your kind gesture. I’ve gone back to my room—didn’t want to be a bother to you. Curly xx

Harry contemplates sticking the sticky note on Louis’ forehead but he is way too peaceful looking and Harry would hate to ruin the soft expression Louis has in his sleep. Instead, Harry is overcome with an urge to bend down and place a soft kiss to the wrinkle-free skin. The sudden temptation scares Harry. He lets his eyes wander up and down Louis’ sleeping body before he forces himself to back away and turn towards the bed he inhabited for the night. He double checks that the bed is made to perfection, not wanting to inconvenience Louis any further with left-behind messes, and places the sticky note on the pillow.

Clad in only the pyjamas Harry rushed to pull on last night, he quietly exits Louis’ dorm and shuffles down the hallway towards his own. He comes face to face with his door and realizes that he doesn’t have his keys. He instantly regrets his rash thinking from the night before because he and Niall always keep the door locked. He sighs and tries the handle anyway, and by a stroke of luck, Harry’s met with no resistance, the door easily swinging open.

He shuts the door as quietly as possible but the latch clicking into place startles Niall from where he’s sitting on top of his unkempt bed, making him instantly remove his head from its spot on his kneecaps. His back is ramrod straight against the wall, his feet are pushing down into the mattress, and he’s hugging his knees to his chest as if he would fall apart if he let go.

Harry freezes just a few footsteps into the room when he makes eye contact with his roommate.

Niall’s face breaks, relief washing over his features. “Harry,” he sobs, voice broken.

Harry stares. Niall’s complexion is extremely pale, his eyes are bloodshot, the skin beneath them deep blue in color. Harry looks away, too afraid to look his best friend in the eyes, as he shuffles into the room. He hops up onto his own bed, feet dangling off the edge, lightly swaying. The only noise in their shared room is Harry’s light, barely there breathing and Niall’s gasps for air in-between tears.

“I’m so sorry,” Niall chokes out, eyes fixed on Harry’s face, trying to make his friend see how genuine his words are. “I was angry that you never spend time out with us and I drank a little too much and I… I didn’t want to force you or anything, Harry. Please know that. I regret every word and action.” He pauses, gasping for after his rushed words. “After you left I froze. I didn’t know where you went and I was so scared. I paced for hours. I was so worried about you H. So fucking scared something—or some one —would happen to you. Last time I left you alone—” Niall breaks, tears running on his face.

Harry quietly slides off his bed and joins Niall on his. He wraps his arms around his friend, holding him tight. Harry knows the exact day and event Niall is talking about. Harry’s own tears glide down his skin.

He’s seriously tired of crying all the time. It seems like it’s all he does.

“Do you think it’s because… you’re still, I don’t know, mad at me for leaving you two years ago? Maybe all this unreleased anger and sadness just, I don’t know, maybe it was triggered?” Harry tries rationalizing.

Niall simply shrugs. Harry doesn’t know if Niall doesn’t have an answer or if Niall’s hiding the answer from him. Harry lets his lack of an answer slide anyway.

“I didn’t sleep,” Niall whispers. “Too worried about you because you never came back. Made sure I kept the door unlocked.” Silence fills the air until Niall finds what he’s trying to say. “Where’d you go, H? Did someone hurt you?”

Harry contemplates his answers to Niall’s questions. Obviously he’s not hurt. But he doesn’t know how to explain Louis. He wants to keep this weird friendship slash acquaintanceship just to himself for the time being. A little secret for him and himself only; a little glimmer of hope that flutters deep in his gut that he suppresses with each passing day. Niall knows the significance of Louis and Harry’s afraid that if he told Niall he met someone who bears the same name as his soulmark, then his friend would try to convince him to go for it, which Harry decidedly does not want to do.  

He doesn’t want to lie to his friend about his whereabouts last night, but he doesn’t want to reveal the truth. He knows the lie will pain his friend further, but Harry needs to be aware of his own pain too.

“I slept in the student lounge,” Harry lies.

Niall whimpers. “But your back, H.”

“It’s okay, Niall. Let’s just sleep, yeah? You’re looking haggard.” Harry squeezes his friend one last time before removing himself from Niall’s bed. He coaxes Niall to lie down and covers him. As he makes his way over to the door to lock it, he can already hear Niall’s breaths evening out.

Harry silently forgives Niall for his harsh words as he strips himself of his thrown on clothes and climbs into his own bed.

He sinks into the familiar mattress and sighs as the soft fabric of his sheets caress his skin. Harry’s tired himself, probably still exhausted from his emotional night. He closes his eyes and drifts off into dreamland. Everything is perfect.

But, if everything’s perfect, then why does he find himself missing the small, soft snoring sounds he’s only ever heard once?

Niall and Harry’s lives go back to normal. No huff, no fluff, just a hug and an “I love you.”

Harry goes through the motions. He goes to class, he goes to work, he goes to the library. He studies, still struggling with his endless Calculus homework, he runs mail and retrieves packages for teachers and students, and no, he can not get your mail for you—find your key and get it yourself, you lazy piece of shit.

He still ignores Niall’s endless stream of invitations to parties and pub nights with his “squad.” He still politely declines Louis’ occasional invitation to the odd Q&A meeting here and there, always coming up with a fake excuse as to why he can’t make it off the top of his head.

Sometimes Harry gets a little twitchy after Louis hands him a flyer with a wink as he exits the mailroom in a flourish because how does Louis even know he’s gay? Sometimes Harry panics because he assumes Louis has seen his soulmark and that’s how he knows he’s gay, but then the rational side of his brain reminds him he’s always, always had it covered either with a long sleeve or the wristwatch he’s taken a liking to wearing. He’s become a pro at hiding his soulmark.

It is clear to see that moral beliefs can be influenced and swayed by culture. Sympathies, on the other hand, aren’t easily swayed and depend on a person’s relationship and interaction with groups of people. Moral beliefs and sympathies sometimes differ, making a person choose to follow one over the other. Bennett’s belief that when confronted with conflict cases of moral beliefs and sympathies, one should be in favor of obeying their sympathies, which when shown through example seems to be the most correct way to act if the moral belief is inherently wrong, no matter if the person believes so or not.

Harry stretches in his chair, head falling back, eyes shut. He’s absolutely exhausted from writing his ethics essay last minute. Honestly does anyone care about moral beliefs versus sympathies? Well, anyone besides philosophers, that is.

He takes a break from his boring word document and decides to scroll through Buzzfeed, taking random quizzes such as “This Grocery Quiz Will Determine How Tall You Are” and “Which Houseplant Is Actually Your Zodiac Soulmate?”

Obviously the grocery quiz was a bust, but the houseplant one… You got: Pancake Plant. Like you, Aquarius, this plant will sometimes grow in random and unconventional ways. Be ready for this one to take over any plant nook just as you like to take center stage in every conversation! Harry doesn’t want to be that person that overanalyzes their Buzzfeed quiz results, but there’s something about this one that just makes him think.

He shrugs the feeling away and keeps taking whatever random, shitty quiz is suggested to waste away the time. Louis should be coming in soon for his daily mail pick up and to uselessly flirt with Harry.

However, when the clock reads four-fifteen, Harry starts worrying. Louis should’ve been here by now. Like, he should’ve been here at least thirty minutes ago. Harry starts to think worst-case scenario.

Was it something he did? Was it something he said? They were a little extra flirty yesterday, maybe Louis was uncomfortable with Harry participating in the banter a little more than usual, making quick comments about the messy state of Louis’ room. Perhaps he crossed a few boundaries he should not have. It was their first time mentioning the night Harry slept over and Louis didn’t seemed phased in the moment, but maybe he is just a good actor.

Harry’s heart is suddenly in his throat. What if Louis accidently saw his soulmark? Harry desperately tries to remember what he wore the other day. He relaxes when he realizes he wore both his watch and a longsleeve shirt.

Now Harry’s stumped. The mailroom closes in ten minutes and Louis is nowhere to be seen.

He’s a bit fidgety, hopefully waiting for Louis’ appearance. He packs his laptop away into his bookbag and cleans up his trash from his mid-shift snack just so he can have something to do with his hands.

Seven minutes.

Harry startles, butt lifting off the chair in surprise as someone walks into the mailroom. The world wants to see Harry in pain, though, because this person has cropped graying hair and is wearing a not very flattering pink dress. He grudgingly mumbles a greeting to the staff member who only shoots him a courtesy smile on her way out the door.

Three minutes.

Harry sighs, waiting his shift out all the way to four-thirty. He turns the lights off and locks the backroom. He gathers his items and exits the front door, flipping the sign from “Open” to “Closed” and shutting the door firmly, making sure it’s locked.

“Curly!” someone behind him calls. “Curly, wait! Curly!” The voice seems to get closer and closer each second and Harry turns around and sees a bent-over Louis, resting his hands on his knees, out of breath and panting like he just ran a marathon. “Can I,” he heaves out, gulping in more air, “get my mail? Please?”

Harry looks down at the floor, suddenly finding his shoelaces more interesting than the slightly sweaty and flushed Louis standing in front of him. He frowns, biting his lip. “I closed the door already.”

“Please, please, please. I’ll do anything, Curly! Anything. Please? I’ll buy you ice cream or something? Please?”

Harry looks up, blushing from Louis’ begging, finding it extremely adorable. The look on Louis’ face is what breaks Harry, though. He’s working his baby blue eyes and his pout to death. He seriously considers opening the door for Louis without anymore hesitation, but then he realizes he likes seeing Louis squirm a little bit and now he has the power to do so.

“What if I don’t want ice cream?” he asks, tapping his chin with his pointer finger.

“What?” Louis asks dumbly.

Harry shrugs, a smirk ghosting over his lips. “You heard me.”

Louis huffs out a breath, realizing Harry’s playing games with him. “Anything, Curly! I’ll buy you anything you want. Just after you let me get the mail?” He smiles sweetly at Harry, like he’s asking his mum for a cookie before dinnertime.

“Hmm… I don’t know.”

Harry rolls his eyes again. Probably for the one hundredth time or so. He doesn’t have a problem that causes him to do it, and he’s probably grossly overestimating, but it just seems like a proper response for the shit that just keeps coming out of Louis’ mouth.

Across from Harry, Louis swallows another spoonful of his pistachio frozen yogurt. On their short walk together to the nearby frozen yogurt shop off campus that Harry frequented regularly, Louis could not shut up and stop mocking frozen yogurt. He was going on and on about how ice cream is so much better tasting and fun than boring, nasty frozen yogurt. Now he’s eating his words, literally. He’s shoveling the treat down his throat, enjoying every bit of it.

“I still can’t believe you made me open up the mailroom door for you,” Harry deadpans, trying hard to not roll his eyes again. “You knew you had no mail in that dang mailbox. You know I can get in trouble for breaking the rules.”

Louis scoffs. “You know Stephanie doesn’t care. You’re her favorite work-study student,” Louis points out, in a matter of fact fashion.

Harry’s demeanor changes instantly as he blushes at Louis’ indirect compliment. “Shut up. You still made me get my student ID out of my pocket, swipe it, push open the door and hold the door open for you. Just for you skip over to your empty mailbox, take a quick peek, and skip right back out the door. It was the most ridiculously extra thing I’ve ever witnessed.”

“Oh, get over yourself, Curly,” Louis sasses, sticking his tongue out. Harry mirrors the action, pouting ridiculously, stilting the flow of conversation.

They return to eating their yogurt in front of them when silence finally settles over their table, Harry greatly enjoying his favorite flavor, banana islander. He’s also enjoying Louis’ presence. A lot. But the weird tension that’s in the air now is unsettling. Harry keeps trying to sneak glances at Louis across from him and after a few tries Louis notices, judging by the smirk on his face.

“Geez, Curly, take a picture it’ll last longer,” Louis teases. Harry mopes, feeling petulant. He decides to keep his eyes planted firmly on his yogurt, pretending like he’s more interested in it than he is with Louis’ company, even though that fact is totally incorrect.

“So Curly, what’s so great about frozen yogurt?”

Harry rolls his eyes. Louis still isn’t over it and he’s trying to rope Harry into conversation.

“I don’t know. I think it’s lower in fat than regular ice cream or something,” Harry shrugs, finally making eye contact. “I like the taste better. The tartness makes your lips pucker and all.”

Louis smirks, leaning in closer towards Harry from across the table. “I know other ways to make lips pucker.” Harry blushes furiously, eyes darting back to his yogurt. “But seriously, this stuff is no fun! What if I wanted it in a cone? And all these pastel colors? Really?”

“But all the toppings, Lou! It’s more fun than ice cream. You can put whatever you want on top,” Harry insists.

“Who wants a bunch of fruit on a frozen treat?” Harry opens his mouth to answer, but Louis cuts him off with a pointed look. “Weird people, that’s who. Hey, hey, don’t try to fight me on that Curly. You definitely are weird,” Louis points out, reaching across the table to tug on one of Harry’s curls that has gone wayward and escaped his headscarf, making it only look worse. “The more superior toppings are obviously sprinkles and hot fudge!”

“‘M not weird,” Harry pouts.

“Aw, come off it, Curly. You’re a good weird,” Louis smiles, biting his lower lip. “So are you like one of those health obsessed dorks? Do ya drink those nasty green smoothies and do yoga and run in the mornings? Is your room covered in lame houseplants that are meant to purify the atmosphere and dispel negative energy?” Louis snorts, thinking he’s getting more and more extreme as he continues listing things, but in actuality, he’s getting more and more correct.

Harry feels his face turn practically turn bright red and Louis’ eyes widen.

“You can not be serious!? No… please don’t tell me everything I said was right!” Louis more or less squeals. “No! You do not wake up at the asscrack of dawn to go running around campus in tiny little shorts. There’s no way. You’re having me on, mate.”

Harry cackles. He can’t believe he’s letting himself have so much fun, especially around Louis. Harry’s easily bantering and flirting with someone. A someone named Louis. Deep down Harry’s frightened, but right now he’s enjoying Louis’ company way too much to pretend to be shy, reserved, or guarded. Harry is fun and quirky at heart and he wants to show that to Louis. He even let Louis touch his hair and he liked it! It’s like Louis’ extreme personality is drawing Harry out of his shell and Harry is starting to actually like the feeling of it.

“I do wake up and run almost every morning! Not lying, Lou. It’s great for your body. So are those green smoothies. Absolutely delicious.”

Louis groans, head falling into his folded arms on the table. “I had so much hope for you.” Harry’s brain whirls a mile a minute at Louis’ statement, frantically trying to figure out what he meant by it. “We could’ve become bestest friends, but you’re just a monster. A healthy, psychotic, well-eating monster.” Harry relaxes. He likes the idea of becoming best friends with Louis even though he just proclaimed him to be a monster.

“Sorry, Lou,” Harry shrugs. “If you wanna be friends you just gotta put up with all the weird.”

Louis pauses, his face turning soft as he gazes at Harry. Harry tries not to wiggle and squirm under such a soft expression. Louis’ lips tilt up in the corner, hinting at small flirty smile.

“I think it’s worth it, putting up with all the weird.”

The cage of butterflies that is Harry’s insides opens, the insects taking flight, fluttering relentlessly. It tickles him from the inside out, makes him squirm and feel all types of things. Louis’ words wash over him, like a key, opening something Harry never knew existed. Harry’s excited to find out what Louis is releasing in him, why he feels just so unexplainably happy and calm around the unique boy who is always so full of life. Maybe that’s what Louis is doing; maybe he’s sharing some of his life and energy with Harry, making him come alive again after so many years of not wanting to be.

Harry feels overwhelmed in every possible way he could be and it’s a great feeling. He stays quiet, listening to Louis’ endless chatter, already on a new topic, wildly gesticulating as he describes things. Harry lets himself take it all in, the atmosphere, the feeling, the happiness. Louis’ blue eyes are bright and he focuses solely on Harry, like he’s the only thing in the whole frozen yogurt shop that matters. Right here, right now, in this moment, Harry feels special and it’s all because of Louis.

Despite all the happiness Harry is feeling in the moment with Louis, his chest twinges painfully as he feels a faint heat spreading around his left wrist. It’s almost as if the touch of temperature is caressing the skin there, like someone's actual fingers are wrapping around the bones and holding on tight, not wanting to let go of Harry just yet. Harry’s heart stops in his chest. He doesn’t know what any of it means, and he doesn’t want to know. All he knows is that Louis can’t be his soulmate. He won’t allow it.

Chapter Text

Now I am battling through the walls of your thick skin.

- Disarm, Bry

Pour your heart out, watch your blues turn gold.

- Grigio Girls, Lady Gaga

So it becomes a little routine. An hour or so after work, some frozen yogurt, and Louis. It doesn’t happen a lot, but it happens often enough for it to become a little thing. Louis shows up ten minutes before closing, sits on the edge of Harry’s desk and tell him about his day. He locks up with Harry and they go from there.

It’s nice. Harry can feel like he actually has a friend now and it was totally without Niall’s intervention. It feels good that Louis keeps coming back, keeps wanting to spend time with and talk to Harry. Harry had made a few friends over the last two years. He met some interesting people like Nick and Aiden, Isabella and Erin, and Riz. But none of them were ever permanent. Riz had the potential to be, but Harry left. He always left.

Harry can’t leave now, though. He’s at uni and Louis always knows when and where to exactly find him. It’s a nice feeling Harry likes to experience; having someone who actually wants to seek him out and spend time with him in environment he’s comfortable in.

So Frozen Yogurt Friday becomes a weekly tradition and it’s honestly the only thing Harry ever looks forward to. He clears his schedule and always makes sure he has a few pounds to spend in his pocket—if he doesn’t, Louis doesn’t mind sharing.  

Although Harry is having fun and actually becoming friends with Louis, he reminds himself as he falls asleep every night that he can’t get too close to Louis. Only bad things are associated with his soulmark. He doesn’t want Louis to become another bad thing. Only bad things would happen if he were to be in a relationship with a boy. He doesn’t want bad things to happen to Louis, the sweet, happy boy that willingly spends his free time with Harry.

It’s a nice day out, a little chilly, but the sun is shining bright and there’s not a single cloud in the sky. It’s a beautiful sight. Which is depressing. Harry wanted it to rain, wanted the city to drown beneath sheaths of never ending water. Floods would’ve been nice, maybe the apocalypse—anything to get Harry out of having lunch with Gemma Styles would’ve been a nice welcome when he woke up this morning.

But nope. Here he is, walking down side streets to get to the tiny little cafe he and Gemma agreed to meet at. His worn brown Chelsea boots reluctantly drag his feet across the pavement towards the front door.

When he finally mustered up enough confidence to text his sister that he had returned to England, he was not expecting her to instantly demand him to meet up with her for lunch so they could talk face to face. He was a little bit blown away by the force of her command and in the moment hadn’t had the heart to turn her down. Now he’s wishing he was brave enough to. His heart has left his chest and taken up current residency in the bottom of his stomach and he’s choking on the tight ball of nerves stuck in his throat.

He walks through the front doors, easily bypassing the front desk, seeing his sister’s short platinum blonde hair sitting at a table by one of the windows on the right side of the cafe. He takes a deep breath to settle his emotions and to give himself much needed strength as he pulls of the chair across from Gemma. He falls into the seat gracefully and comes face to face with—a menu. Gemma’s covering her face with a menu. How rude.

She lifts one perfectly filled in eyebrow over the top of the menu, her eye peeking over the edge as well, critically observing her younger brother. She lets the menu fall from her hands, mouth stretched comically wide into an overjoyed smile.

“Harry, I’ve missed you so much!” she gushes.

Harry just stares at his older sister, frozen in his seat. His sweaty palms rest against his thighs, his fingers itching to reach out in front of him to make sure what he’s seeing is indeed real and not a figment of his imagination. This is Harry’s first time seeing his sister face to face in person and it’s a little overwhelming.

“Gems,” he whispers, trying to stop his eyes from developing tears. “I’ve missed you too.” He swallows down the intense emotions as Gemma slides out of her chair, rounding the table. Harry stands, instantly knowing Gemma’s going for a hug. They hold each other tight, loving the feeling of their sibling’s arms around them. Harry doesn’t know why he denied himself this opportunity for so long. He’s finally getting a little piece of his home, his life before everything had happened, before he made all the bad decisions that led him to where he is now.

Gemma breaks the hug, holding Harry at arms length to fully examine her grown, twenty year old brother in person. “You’ve grown so much, H,” she whispers reverently.

“You too, you know, Gems. You’ve changed a lot. You’re a proper professional grown women and all that. It’s amazing.”

Gemma blushes, lightly hitting Harry’s shoulder in mock offense. “Are you saying I’m getting old? How dare you! Now let’s sit and have a proper talk, hm?”

They finally return to their seats and browse the menu.

Harry feels more at ease after the hug, knowing for sure that Gemma wants him here, that Gemma actually wants to know about his life right now. Harry’s relieved that Gemma has an actual, genuine curiosity in who he is as a person after a disappearing act and two years of almost complete silence on his part. It’s a nice feeling, having unconditional love for your sibling and having it returned.

After speaking to their waiter and ordering their meals, Gemma doesn’t hesitate, diving right into her sea of questions. Harry feels a lot, overwhelmed with the sheer amount of questions Gemma wants answers to. He’s drowning under her inquisitive gaze as they cover a lot of surface information. Stuff like how Harry has taken a liking to English literature and how it may become his major, or how Niall, by an absolute magical coincidence, became his roommate. They share a good laugh over that tidbit. He plays up his barely non-existent friendship that he has with Liam and Zayn, even though he has only spoken to them a handful of times since their first meeting during the first year gap year students information session. He describes his day to day activities, his classes, how the food in the dining hall tastes, and his job in the mailroom. Which is exactly where he fucks everything up.

“Yeah it’s pretty boring. I just run mail, sometimes sort it into mailboxes, and retrieve packages for students,” he shrugs, distracted by his delicious plate of tomato and garlic zucchini noodles. “I do homework sometimes, but my highlight of the day is when Lou comes in to get mail.” Harry freezes, eyes growing wide as he realizes what just slipped out of his mouth by accident. Damn distractions.

“Lou?” Gemma questions, absolutely not distracted by her plate of food, hanging on to every word Harry utters.

“Yeah. Uh, I. He’s,” Harry stammers, panicking a bit. He tries to calm himself down before speaking again, hoping Gemma doesn’t pick up on how shifty he’s acting. He takes a deep breath. If he talks about it with nonchalance, she won’t notice—right?

Harry cringes and decides to just go for it. Maybe Gemma doesn’t remember. “Um, uh, Louis. He always comes in under the act of getting his mail, but some days I know he doesn’t even have mail yet he comes in just to bug me and ask me how my day was. It’s annoying,” Harry chuckles to himself, talking with his hands in hopes of distracting his sister, “but I think we’re on the road to becoming friends, ya know?”

Gemma freezes, openly gaping at her brother. Harry finally looks up at his sister and eyes her suspiciously.

“What? Is there something on my face? Is it something I said?” Harry asks worriedly, brows furrowing, forehead creasing. He prays she didn’t pick up on the whole Louis thing because he genuinely wants to talk about his friend and their possible friendship, all soulmark shit pushed to the side.

Gemma doesn’t say word. Instead her hand whips out across the table, capturing Harry’s left arm in a death grip that would be impossible to free himself of. She pushes up his sleeve and he immediately knows what she’s looking for. He tries and tries to break free of her tight hold but it’s obvious she’s much stronger, her fingers not even twitching once against his inferior strength. Harry instantly regrets not wearing his watch today, cringing at how he thought just a long sleeve shirt would be enough.

Once Louis is uncovered, Gemma stares at it blankly. She knows what the name means to him. She knows what the name implies. And yet Harry still rambled on and on about his Louis from school, not realizing what consequences might come from the minor detail he decided to share.

Gemma’s eyes travel to Harry’s face and she gives him this look. Harry can’t tell what she’s feeling. He can’t tell if it’s pity and sorrow or happiness and hope in her eyes. Gemma’s the only one who has been able to put one and one together, the only person who knows about his soulmark and his friendship with Louis. It’s a dizzying feeling. He can’t tell if he likes it or loathes it.

“There’s a lot of people named Louis in the world,” he mumbles unconvincing, finally snatching his own arm out of Gemma’s clutches once her grip loosens a bit.

“How do you feel about him?”

Harry avoids looking at Gemma’s eyes.

“Is he the one, H?”

Harry knows if Gemma looked into his eyes, all her questions would instantly be answered by what she would find hidden in his irises. Harry’s tried so hard to push it down and to deny it, but Harry’s tiny little crush that he has on Louis burns so deeply in his gut that it’s hard to suppress it sometimes. It’s hard to suppress it right now. Harry doesn’t want to have a crush on Louis, but the boy is absolutely magnetic. His presence bends time and captivates Harry at every possible moment. He hates it.

She speaks her last question quieter than the others, like it’s more dangerous. “Do you want him to be the one?”

Harry swallows hard and closes his eyes. He pretends to think over his answer, acting as if he’s trying to consider the situation from every angle even though he has already known the answer to the question before Gemma even asked it. He’s not fooling his sister, but he’s glad she’s letting him pretend to.

“Yeah. I think I would like Louis to be my Louis,” Harry admits quietly.

It pains Harry to say it. It pains Harry to think about it. But if Harry had to have a soulmate, he would like it to this Louis. Someone so kind and understanding. Someone so beautiful and otherworldly. In the darkness of night, Harry would let himself think about it. He would let his mind wander and dream about what his future might look like. It’s an amazing looking future, but Harry knows it’s completely out of reach. Harry knows Louis is completely out of reach, not matter if he wants him or not. He can’t want him. Harry’s not allowed to want him.

Gemma nods, thinking over Harry’s words. “Have you seen his soulmark?”

Harry shakes his head halfway through her questions, already anticipating what she was going to ask. He frowns and averts his eyes to the table top. “No,” he whispers. “I don’t want to hurt myself like that. And besides, Louis doesn’t even know my name. He started calling my Curly and has stopped. I’ve never told him name, he’s never asked,” Harry shrugs, “‘s just how it is.” He would prefer it to be kept this way too.

Gemma visibly deflates as she lets out a sigh. “Being gay is okay, Harry,” she says as gently as possible.

Harry snorts, rolling his eyes. “Yeah, I know that. I don’t care that I’m gay.” Gemma raises her eyebrow at this, urging him to continue, ignoring his little white lie. “I just can’t love Louis because if I do then I’ll continue ruining our family. Dad will definitely never come back if I actually find and pursue my soulmate. I can’t do that to our family, to Mum.”

Harry knows deep down inside himself that he made their dad leave. It was totally and completely unfair to Anne and Gemma that Harry, the problem child who was forced to come out before he even explored that side of himself, forced their dad to hit the road. Harry understands though. He’s hoping once his dad sees that Harry’s going to ignore Louis for the rest of his life, that’ll he finally come back and take care of them again.

Gemma sighs, her expression deeply sad. “Is that why you’re holding yourself back, Harry? Is that why you’re denying yourself happiness? You’re hoping Dad will come back?”

“Yeah,” he confirms, extremely sincere in his affirmation. “Of course.”

“Oh Harry,” Gemma whispers, heartbreak flashing across her face. She reaches across the table to hold Harry’s hand, but he flinches away. He looks up to see the sadness on her face so he placates himself, letting her hold his left hand. She gently swipes her thumb over his soulmark, the caress feeling loving and careful. “Harry. Please call Mum. Talk to her, tell her what’s going on. There’s a lot you don’t know, H, and there’s a lot she doesn’t know. She’d love to hear from you. Please talk to her,” Gemma urges. “For me, at least. Please.”

Harry considers Gemma’s words. He doesn’t know if he’s able to complete her request but he’ll consider it and that’s better than doing nothing, he guesses.

“Hey Curly!” Louis greets loudly as he walks through the mailroom door.

“Hey Lou,” Harry replies distractedly, currently reading an article on his laptop about beautiful house plants that can actually purify your living space.

Louis, who actually has mail in his mailbox today, sits his arse on the empty space on the desk to Harry’s right. He looks down at Harry from his perch and snorts. “Oi, Curly! Pay attention.” Louis snaps in front of Harry’s face, trying to break him out of his trance.

“Wah? Oh!” squeaks, finally noticing Louis’ presence. “Sorry Lou, was reading an article. Quite interesting. I’ve been wanting to get more house plants for my dorm. I really like spider plants. It’ll make it feel more homey. I bought a new carpet and it’s white and really soft, but we need more green in the room. I’ve also been thinking flowers too. I really like roses. Anyways, maybe flower are a bad idea; they can be a bit picky and I wouldn’t want them to die,” Harry pouts, imaging how gutted he’d feel if he or Niall let one of their plants die.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever, Curly. Super interesting.” Louis claps his hands together, startling Harry. “Now let’s talk about me!”

Harry rolls his eyes fondly, shutting the lid of his laptop to give Louis his full undivided attention. “Go on,” Harry urges, gesturing for Louis to continue.

“So, first things first,” Louis chirps, handing a piece of paper to Harry. Harry takes the paper from him and scans the words as Louis continues babbling. “It’s another flyer for the Q&A meetings. Thought maybe you’d come whenever you’re free—no pressure or anything, I swear! It’s just they’re always crowded and the room we use fills up pretty fast so if you’re considering coming sometime soon, I thought it’d be smart to give you the details ahead of time so you can actually get a good seat and not be overwhelmed by the large amount of people,” Louis rushes. He’s out of breath and blushing slightly from his fast words. He looks at Harry with wide, kind eyes. Harry thinks he can see a little bit of hope floating around in there too but he can’t be sure.

Harry looks down at the flyer one last time. “Thanks for letting me know, Lou. I’ll see how it fits into my schedule. You’ll be the first to know if I decide to show up.”

Louis beams at his, smile bright, white teeth breaking through the soft pink of his lips. “That sounds great Curly! Okay. Now, next thing on the agenda…”

Louis continues talking Harry’s ear off for the next forty minutes until closing time. Harry never finishes reading his article about house plants and, in fact, he forgets about it altogether, too wrapped up in Louis’ energy to think about anything else.

When he’s finally back in his dorm, laying on his bed, he feels the aftershocks of Louis’ presence. His face is warm and his cheeks ache from the constant stretching of his mouth from always smiling and laughing around Louis. His head is fuzzy, rewinding and replaying clips of his conversations with the bright boy. Harry knows they’re flirting, or at least Louis is flirting with him. He knows it’s a bad idea, but he keeps doing it. It feels too nice to stop.

It’s late. Not super late, but late enough that Harry just wants to fall into his bed already and sleep away the day.

Today was pretty intense. Harry had a full day of classes, a large Calculus test, and the machine that runs mail in the mailroom had malfunctioned mid print job. So it’s been a crazy day. So crazy that he wasn’t even able to get his proper fulfillment of Louis Time. Maybe that’s why he’s so tired. He spent barely anytime with his friend, missing the chance to have some of Louis’ high energy rub off on Harry.

Harry’s close to falling asleep with his head in his Ecology textbook, his head bouncing in bobble-head fashion over the back edge of the futon. The room is dark, which probably causing more harm to his current state than anything else.

Harry hates studying.

Next thing he knows, their dorm door is swinging open and the lights flick on. Niall runs in and throws his backpack down on top of his desk. He shimmies his way next to Harry on the futon, grabbing the Ecology book right out of his hands, slamming it shut and tossing it on the floor.

“Heeyyy,” Harry whines, “I was studying!”

“I know, H! But you’ve had a long hard day. I heard you stayed extra hours in the mailroom today to fix that machine problem. I think what you need right now is unwind—wait. Are you already in your pyjamas?” Niall gives Harry a hard look, not liking what he’s seeing.

Harry shrugs. “I’m going to bed soon.” He removes himself from Niall’s side and picks up his textbook off the ground and places it gently on his desk. He raises his arms, reaching for the ceiling, stretching. The satisfying feeling of popping and cracking his bones settles over Harry’s aching back from sitting in such a bad position for so long.

“Come out tonight, H.”

Harry scowls at Niall from his side of the room, airs still above his head. “I thought we’ve been over his, Ni,” Harry warns.

Niall stands up and pouts. “C’mon, Harry! You’ve had a really rough day and you should relax. Come hang with me and the lads.”

“Niall,” Harry urges, trying to get him to stop talking while he’s ahead. Harry is really, really not in the mood for another argument over this.

Niall grunts, frustrated. He pulls at his hair and rubs his hands over his face, patience totally evaporated by now.

“Harry,” he whines. “You’re always working, mate. Please come out with us—Zayn and Liam miss you, and I bet Tommo will love you! I know we talked about this, but it might be nice to spend just one night with some friends? I know the plans are last minute, but can we have some fun together? Just for once?” Niall begs, eyes pleading.

Harry’s glad Niall’s words are soft and calm this time, like he’s trying to be rational, instead of the harsh shouts that drove him to a panic attack last time. Harry doesn’t exit their room in a furious rush of emotions like he did the first time. No, he just calmly grabs his keys and his phone and walks out with a “I’m sleeping somewhere else tonight,” tossed over his shoulder as he slams the door behind him.

Harry pretends he doesn’t hear Niall cursing as he walks away from his dorm, his bare feet padding on the carpeted hallways. When he decided to abandon Niall for the second time, he didn’t even think of where he would go but now that he’s finally in the hallway he knows exactly where his feet are carrying him to.

He stops in front of Louis’ door and raises his fist to knock against the wood. As he waits for an answer a rush of bad thoughts start pouring into his head. What if Louis isn’t even in his room? What if he has a friend over? What if he’s busying doing homework and Harry’s bothering him?

“Gimme a sec!” Louis calls out from behind the door, his voice halting Harry’s toxic thoughts.

In the next moment, Louis is pulling his door open, rolling his eyes and saying, “A bit early, aren’t you?” When he finds a crestfallen Harry in front of his door rather than the friend he was probably expecting, his face falls. “Oh. Curly. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Harry can tell Louis’ voice a little wobbly, from what, he can’t tell, but he has a feeling that Louis is probably busy and doesn’t want a dejected Harry ruining his night.

Harry bites his lips and lets his gaze fall to floor. “I, um,” he starts, voice low and a little broken, “I was wondering if I can sleep here again. Had another fight with my roommate.”

“Curly—”

“Nevermind. You seem busy, Lou. You’re probably getting ready for a night out with your mates or something. Please don’t let me bother you. I’m sorry for showing up. I’ll go now. Have fun tonight,” Harry rushes, words coming out extremely fast and unplanned.

He goes to turn away, but Louis grabs him by the wrist. His left wrist. Harry freezes, not wanting his sleeve to slide up his arm. He sends a silent prayer to the heavens to whatever god is up there that Louis won’t accidentally uncover Harry’s best kept secret. The skin under the fabric of his sleeve itches, so close to touching Louis’ own skin, but so far away at the same time.

Harry’s green eyes meet Louis’ blue ones. “No, Curly. Stay, please. I don’t have to go out with my friends. Please stay here with me. You deserve somewhere safe to lay your head.” He releases Harry’s wrist, allowing Harry decide what he wants to do now. Whether he wants to stay or go.

Harry gives Louis a tiny nod. Louis steps aside, giving Harry room to walk into his dorm. Harry goes straight for the empty bed, seeing it’s in the same neat condition he left it in last time, now just sans the note he left. He makes himself comfortable right away, heavy emotions weighing him down, making him tired.

Louis slowly undresses out of his amazingly tight skinny jeans and t-shirt and into some soft pyjamas. He turns out the light and climbs into his own bed.

“What about your friends? I don’t want you to miss out on anything.”

Louis snorts. “They’ll be fine. I texted them saying something came up and I can’t make it. They’ll understand. Hopefully. If they don’t, oh well. They’ll move past it.”

Harry nods, accepting Louis’ answer. He closes his eyes and tries to fall asleep but Louis’ words keeps him awake.

“Why does your roommate get so mad at you, Curly?”

Harry opens his eyes and finds Louis laying on his side, his eyes focused on Harry from across the dark room. Harry debates whether or not to unload his crap onto Louis but he decides he should. He knows he can trust Louis and for once Harry considers it okay to feel vulnerable. Maybe he needs to vulnerable and open every once in awhile.

“He says I work way too much and that I don’t have any friends.” Harry attempts to shrug it off, even though he’s laying down and under a duvet. “He invites me to party with him and his mates but that’s just not my scene. I don’t feel comfortable going out.”

Louis considers Harry’s words. “Well, I agree that you work too much. I disagree that you don’t have any friends.”

“What do you mean?”

“Aren’t I your friend, Curly?”

Harry blushes and turns to shove his face into the pillow. He smiles to himself, smiles so hard it hurts his face. He removes his face from the pillow and looks at Louis, finding him smiling just as hard. “Yeah Lou, you are my friend.”

“Good because all that money I spent on trashy froyo would’ve just been a waste otherwise.”

Harry snorts. “You love the ‘trashy froyo’ though. Don’t act like you don’t.”

“Anyway, back on topic,” Louis directs. “Does your roommate know that you’re not the most comfortable going out and partying?” Harry nods, Niall does know this—they’ve been best friends their whole lives. “Hmm. I don’t know, Curly… Hey, why do you work so much?”

Harry takes a deep breath. He’s already decided he would share this with Louis. No backing out now.

“Well… I’m paying for school all by myself.” Louis takes in a sharp breath of air at this fact. “I’m actually on a scholarship, but it doesn’t fully cover everything. I had a meeting with the financial aid office in the beginning of the year and they said doing a work-study job would cover the rest of the fees. So. I work a lot to pay for school but I also want my own spending money, you know, so I can buy food and clothes and books, and, ya know, froyo. That’s why I work so much.”

Harry’s confession hangs heavy in the air. He’s not prepared for Louis to judge him. He doesn’t know what to expect Louis’ reaction to be, but he’s scared nonetheless.

The words Louis speaks softly into the quiet night air shock Harry. “That’s real admirable of you. I’m proud of your hard work and strength. Thank you for sharing that with me. I know money can be a difficult subject for some people.”

Harry closes his eyes, demanding his eyes to not let tears form. He lets out a shaky breath. “Thanks, Lou.”

“No problem, Curly.” He pauses, probably trying to figure out how to word his question. “You know froyo costs a lot, though, right?”

Harry blushes and nods. It does cost a lot, but putting aside some money every week to spend time with Louis if worth every penny. Harry’s glad when Louis continues, changing the topic.

“Does your roommate know about this? Maybe he just thinks you’re a hermit who hates him when in fact you have a valid reason for always being tired and worn-down. If you’re as close as you say you are, maybe he would like to know this information.”

Harry considers Louis’ suggestion. The room returns to silence as Harry thinks. Just as Harry’s about to fall asleep he whispers a small “okay” into the darkness, confirming that he will talk to Niall about his situation. It’s about time he knew the whole story, anyway.

Harry returns to his dorm the next day after work to find Niall laying on his bed with a pillow over his face. Sad music is loudly playing, filling the room with depressive crooning and loud musical sobs. It’s loud enough that it covers the sound of Harry unlocking, opening, and closing their door.

Harry finds Niall’s phone plugged into his speaker system, immediately turning the depressing music off.

“Hey!” Niall whines.

“Niall, what in the world are you doing? Aren’t you supposed to be at Chemistry right now?”

Niall groans, turning in his bed to face the wall. “I haven’t left this room all day and I don’t want to. I’m a shitty friend, Harry.”

Harry deflates, sighing loudly. “I think I should finally have a proper talk to you, Niall.”

“What do ya mean?” Niall mumbles.

Harry goes into his school bag and pulls out two slightly chilled bottles of chocolate milk that he bought after lunch earlier in the day knowing that this conversation with Niall was inevitable. “Come ‘ere, Ni. Yes, come here. Get your ass over here, we’re gonna cuddle,” Harry demands, pulling Niall off his bed and onto the futon. He pulls his duvet off his own bed and covers him and his best friend with it. Harry hands Niall the bottled chocolate milk and he looks back up at Harry with awe in his eyes, knowing exactly what the chocolate milk symbolizes.

When they were younger, all the way back in the days of primary school, they would spend weekends at each other’s houses drinking chocolate milk, playing videos games, and talking nonsense with one another. It’s a staple of their childhood and friendship and evidently, it’s choking Niall up a little bit.

“Don’t cry, Horan.”

Niall nods. Harry takes a deep breath.

He can do this. If he can tell Louis, he can tell Niall.

“So,” he starts, biting his lower lip, concentrating on his speech. “I work a lot.”

“Psh, understatement,” Niall snidely comments.

“Niall! Sh!”

“Sorry, continue.”

“So I work a lot. And I work a lot because I need money. Yes, I know. Before you say anything, I know everyone needs money. But I need it because I’m paying for school all on my own.”

“Wait? What about your mum?”

Harry swallows hard. “She doesn’t know I’m back in England.”

“Shit, H. You know she would help you out.”

“I know. But I wanted to do it all myself. I actually had lunch with Gemma a little while ago so Mum probably knows by now because Gemma wouldn’t keep it a secret, but yeah. I’m here on a scholarship and I have to pay for what the scholarship doesn’t cover myself. It’s not a lot so I don’t have to do loans or anything, but it’s enough that I need to work a lot to cover what I owe and to also earn money for myself so I can buy other stuff like food, clothes, and books.”

“Shit, H,” Niall exhaled. “I’ve been hounding you this whole time for being a bad friend when in fact I was being the crappy friend.”

“Niall,” Harry sighs.

“No Harry. Don’t say that it’s okay, because it isn’t.” He sits up straighter, no longer slumped against Harry. “I’m so deeply sorry. I was so insensitive.”

Harry shakes his head. “You didn’t know any better, it’s fine, honestly.”

Niall frowns. “I don’t care that I didn’t know any better. I had no right to push or heckle you, no matter if I knew your reasons or not. A best friend shouldn’t treat his best friend like that, no matter the circumstances,” he insists. “I’m sorry, Harry.”

Harry pulls Niall into a tight embrace, burrowing his face into the crook of his next. “I accept your apology, Ni. Just please don’t put me in that kind of situation again. I don’t mind hanging out with your friends, but when it’s late at night after a stressful day, I don’t want to go out drinking and clubbing. You know I have a little bit of an aversion to large, anonymous crowds.”

Niall holds onto Harry equally as tight, squeezing one last time before pulling away. “Let’s do some good ol best friend bonding tonight, okay?” Niall launches himself off the futon in the direction of his closet. He rifles around before dragging out a tote bag. “I think we’re in need of some best friend and roommate bonding time.” He pulls out a bottle of beer and waves it in the air, eyes glinting mischievously.

A grin spreads across Harry’s face. He likes this idea. A quiet night in, some beers, some bonding. The perfect atmosphere Harry needs to unwind.

The don’t leave their dorm for the rest of the evening, ingesting bottle after bottle of beer and bags of junk food for dinner. They decided to pile all their pillows and blankets onto Niall’s bed so they could cuddle together while they finish off Niall’s stash of beer and watch cute cat videos on YouTube.

The night passes faster than either of them expected it to. They fell down the YouTube video rabbit hole, going from watching cute cat and dog videos that caused tears to prickle in the corner of their eyes to watching videos of people randomly falling that made Niall laugh so hard he had to launch himself off his bed and run down the hallway before he pissed his pants. After that he swore he was done with drinking, but encouraged Harry to help himself. And he did.

It’s a very, very bad idea for Niall to egg Harry on. He keeps handing him beer after beer, causing Harry to get very tipsy. Which is not a good thing, not at all.

Harry’s face feels very warm, his cheeks a delightful shade of red. Every video they watch, no matter what, makes him giggle an absurd amount. Niall secretly loves seeing his best friend so relaxed like this, yet Harry has no idea that his current state is all due to his best friend wanting to see him let loose for once.

“Oh! Click on this video!” Harry slurs, dragging his greasy finger against the surface of Niall’s laptop screen.

Niall rolls his eyes at his slightly inebriated best friend, yet listens to him anyway and clicks on the video he is excited pointing at. As soon as the video loads, Harry squeals, the cute hedgehog on screen causing Harry to melt into a puddle of goo.

“Niall,” Harry giggles. “It’s so cute! Oh it looks look Lou,” Harry slurs. “Lou Lou. It’s cute! Has the same noise and cute little arms and the little spikes could be Lou’s lil spikey hair that’s so cute. Loooooooo—”

“Lou?” Niall questions, raising his eyebrow. “Who’s Lou?”

“Niall! Lou’s my friend,” Harry insists. Niall would take his friend serious if it weren’t for the giant burp he lets out right after his answer.

The video ends and Harry is still talking about how Lou is totally a very cute and cuddly hedgehog. “I’m gonna tell Lou tomorrow, Ni. Lou’s cute.”

Niall chuckles and pulls Harry off his bed as gently as he can. “Okay buddy. Time to get ready for bed. You’ve had enough fun tonight.”

Now that Niall mentions it, Harry does feel tired and sluggish. His limbs are heavier than he remembers them being and he can’t seem to keep his eyelids open. “I’m not tired,” Harry whines, a yawn interrupting his mumbling.

Niall gets his friend to stand steady for a few moments and then helps undress Harry so he’s not going to bed in jeans. He gently starts pushing him in the direction of his bed, urging the sleepy Harry onto his mattress and under his duvet.

“Goodnight mate,” Niall whispers when Harry’s curly hair hits his pillow. “Thanks for talking to me, I appreciate it.”

Harry’s ready to fall asleep, he wants to sleep the night and emotions away, but Niall’s words strike a familiar chord in his gut. Suddenly, he’s transported back to the lunch he had with Gemma days ago, remembering her begging Harry to talk to their mum.

Harry considers Gemma’s words, what he can remember of them. He thinks about Louis and Niall and how nice it felt to finally talk to them about his personal situation and how supportive they were once they found out. Maybe Harry’s mum would be just as, if not, even more, supportive.

Harry thinks about it as he falls asleep, but when he wakes up in the morning the only thing he can think about is the pounding in his head, all thoughts of his mum washing away as he swallows glassful after glassful of water and pain relievers.

It’s a week or so later and Niall and Harry have been pretty tight since their night of cuddling. Niall kept apologizing to Harry for all the mean things he said which got really tiring after awhile so Harry had to force Niall to stop apologizing, threatening to hurt him if he didn’t. Harry’s been working a lot more too, now that Niall knows and won’t judge him for all the extra hours he’s picking up. Niall also stopped begging Harry to go out at night. He still throws out statements like “The boys and I are going to the pub tonight,” but Harry will always just nod his head and say “Have fun and be safe.” Niall never fights him on it.

Harry walks through the front door of his residence hall, swiping his ID at the security desk. He throws a cursory glance towards the lounge where some girls are playing a game of pool as he heads towards the stairwell. His legs carry him easily up the flights to his floor which is deserted of all people. He can hear music coming from behind certain doors but the hallway is devoid of any activity.

He hikes his backpack’s strap farther up onto his shoulder as he reaches into his pocket for his key. He freezes in front of his door when he doesn’t feel it in his pocket. He checks all the other pockets on his jeans, but only finds lint and discarded gum wrappers. He inwardly groans, praying he hasn’t left his key in the library after his study session, way too tired to make the trek back to the building.

Harry drops to his knees in front of 2122 and pulls his bag in front of him, rifling through each pocket for his keys. He almost gives up, wanting to fall to the floor in a pile of tears when his hand finally brushes against the cool metal of his key. Confetti cannons go off in his head, celebrating his victory. He rises to his feet and finally pushes his key through the lock, opening his door.

After all that stress and searching, Harry’s a bit worried that the room he just walked into is not the same room he walked out of earlier that morning.

There’s a modest sized flat screen sitting in the middle of the room on top of Niall’s snack container as a makeshift TV stand. Cords are strewn all over the room, one powering the TV itself, other cords connecting the screen to some type of game console.

Harry continues surveying the room from inside the door frame, handle still in his grip. On Niall’s desk, which is closest to the futon, is a wide variety of snacks. He sees crisps, pretzels, doritos, but also carrots, almonds, and celery sticks and peanut butter. Harry eyes the setup critically, confused by what could possibly be happening in his tiny dorm room.

“Hey,” a voice randomly greets, causing Harry to squeak in surprise.

“Oh. Zayn,” Harry blurts, shocked by his presence. “Where’s Niall?”

Zayn shrugs, gaze falling back down to the phone in his lap, ignoring Harry and ending the conversation.

Harry goes to finally shut the door, but then Niall comes up behind him, ecstatic to find Harry there. “H! You’re here, finally. Come on, come on. Get in here,” he says, pushing Harry into the room.

“So… What’s going on Niall? What are you scheming?” Harry narrows his eyes at his friend, removing his bag and shoes.

Niall simply walks over to the mini fridge and retrieves a beer, handing the chilled bottle to Harry. “Well, we have games, we have snacks. I got snacks for you specifically. I know you love eating healthy,” Niall fakes gags, “so I made sure to get you some snacks I knew you’d like.”

“Why?”

Niall shrugs. “I wanna be on your good side and I want you stay.”

Harry furrows his eyebrows, not getting what his best friend is talking about and he tells him so.

Niall cackles at Harry’s confusion. “We’re having a makeshift party, mate! I know you were just at the library so I thought if you don’t want to go out and party, we can have an equally good time here.”

Harry’s hackles rise, anger coursing through his veins, ready to chew Niall out for forcing this upon Harry but then he thinks it through. Niall obviously noticed how much Harry enjoyed their night in together so he decided to plan out a slightly larger night in just for Harry. Just so Harry could still have a good time with some friends, food, and beer, but still be comfortable doing so. Harry could cry. He’s not going to, but he mentally promises to give his best friend a big hug later. Harry’s touched by how much thought had to have gone into this.

“If you can’t go out with me when I invite you out, I’ll just bring the party to you, Haz!”

Harry giggles. “Okay, okay. I’ll stay and try to enjoy myself.” He sits down in the middle of the futon, on Zayn’s right. “Is it just going to be Zayn joining us?” Harry inquires, raising his eyebrow at his silent friend.

“Nah,” Niall says offhandedly. “Tommo and Liam are on there way.”

Harry silently nods, then realizes he’s never met the mysterious Tommo. He’s about to ask who he is when their door opens and in comes Liam.

“Hey guys! Oh hey, Harry! Long time no see,” Liam smiles, making his way across the room to shake Harry’s hand. Harry blushes at the formality of it but next to him Zayn just rolls his eyes.

“No need to shake the poor lad’s hand, Liam. That’s just weird.”

Liam blushes, now equally as red faced as Harry. He turns his back, grabbing a beer from the fridge and the bag of pretzels. He sits on the floor in-between Zayn’s legs and silently kisses the side of his boyfriend’s knee in greeting.

Zayn’s left hand relocates from his thigh to Liam’s hair, carding his fingers through the soft brown waves.

Harry feels butterflies flutter in his stomach, witnessing such small, soft acts of love and devotion, but it also makes him a little uncomfortable, causing him to avert his eyes in embarrassment.

The group makes small talk while waiting for the mysterious fifth member of the group to join, everyone munching on crisps while Harry enjoys celery sticks with some peanut butter, happily chewing away.

Niall laughs loud at a joke Harry makes, but it’s cut off by their door swinging open, loudly hitting the wall behind it. In the doorway is a short boy, bent over panting. His hair is brown and ruffled and looks extremely soft. His black jeans hug his thighs and calves sinfully, the sight making Harry’s mouth go dry.

“Sorry!” he huffs out, trying to regain his breath. “Sorry! I’m so late, I know.” His voice tingles Harry’s ears, soft and raspy, oddly familiar, but a little faint from his hard breathing. He finally lifts his head and walks into Harry’s dorm room, surveying the interior.

Harry’s breath catches in his throat, knowing exactly who the newcomer is.

“Tommo!” Niall exclaims at the exact moment Harry questions “Louis?”

Everyone in the room goes silent, either looking at Louis confusedly or Harry, not sure where the answers lie to the current confusion spreading among the group.

“Curly?!” Louis questions directly at Harry, totally ignoring Niall, voice excited yet expression confused.

Harry’s jaw drops. He whips his head around the room, eyes finally settling on Niall. “Wait Tommo is Louis?”

“Wait.” Niall squints his eyes, observing Harry and Louis. “Lou, you know Harry?”

Louis gasps. “You’re Harry?!”

Harry blushes, realizing this is the first time Louis is ever learning Harry’s actual name. “Sorry I never told you. Kinda forgot in the end.” He blushes hard, whispering the next part, too embarrassed. “Liked being called Curly too much.”

A smile spreads across Louis’ face, fond coloring his cheeks a rosy red that matches the current color of Harry’s own flushed skin.

“Wait… What?” Niall exclaims, confusion written across his face. Zayn and Liam making similar facial expressions.

Harry shyly giggles to himself, trying to think of a way to explain this whole mess, whereas Louis cackles loudly and not so gently throws himself on the futon next to Harry on the his right side.

Harry’s body instantly reacts to the presence of Louis’ so close to his own. Their thighs are barely touching, yet he feels the heat radiating off of him, making him blush even more. He likes the look of their bodies being so close together but he quickly averts his eyes, not wanting to seem weird or obsessive over the little touches being made.

Since Harry know Louis won’t, he decides to explain the whole predicament to the still confused Zayn, Liam, and Niall. He goes through their beginning escapades with the mailroom and how it has kinda evolved into a friendship where Harry sleeps in Zayn’s empty bed when Niall and him fight. They all find it hilarious that Louis never knew Harry’s actual name so when Niall talked about Harry, Louis didn’t actually know it was his Harry and that Niall only called Louis “Tommo” so Harry never realized it was his Louis that Niall was talking about.

“Tommo?” Harry asks, finally realizing he doesn’t understand the meaning behind the nickname.

“Oh. It’s my name. Louis Tomlinson,” Louis laughs, a grin covering his face.

Harry giggles shyly, sticking out his hand for Louis to shake. “Nice to meet you, Louis Tomlinson. I’m Harry Styles.”

“Harry… It’s a nice name,” Louis teases. He finally takes hold of Harry’s hand, their skin touching each others for the first time. Harry swears sparks fly and fireworks explode above his head. The simple action of touching the soft skin of Louis’ hand makes him go dizzy, bright spots of light flashing across his vision. He feels like the handshake lasts for eternity when it’s only a few seconds of pure, innocent contact. Harry instantly regrets letting go of Louis’ hand as soon as he does, missing its warmth and the odd comfort it gave him.

The rest of the night is spent playing Fifa, eating, and drinking. Niall forces Harry and Louis to team up, wanting them to prove their level of friendship.

“If you’ve known each other for as long as you say you have then you should be a perfect match for each other,” Niall teases.

The comment makes Harry blush, but Louis instantly takes the challenge head on.

“Oi! We’ll be amazing together, Neil. Harry and I. We’re the Dream Team, right Curly?” Louis’ shoulder nudges Harry, trying to get him to play along.

Harry bites his lower lip, too overwhelmed by the emotions flowing through him to say much. He nods his head wildly though and agrees, declaring him and Louis “the Dream Team.”

And they are the Dream Team. Together, they continue to win and win. Soon their constant victories become intolerable, causing Niall and Liam to whine and pout the whole time. Louis showboats a little, annoying the rest of the group but endearing Harry immensely.

“Here, Niall,” Harry says with a yawn when he and Louis finally reach another win. “You can be Louis’ partner now and Zayn can be Liam’s. I’m getting pretty tired so I wanna sit the next rounds out.”

“You sure?” Louis asks, looking down at Harry, concern written all over his face.

Harry nods, stretching his body to reach his favorite blanket and pull it over his shoulders. He smacks his lips a few times and burrows down into the futon, closing his eyes. He must fall asleep for a few minutes because Louis’ jostling wakes him up and he finds himself leaning against Louis’ shoulder.

“Sorry, sorry,” Harry sleepily apologizes, trying to remove himself from Louis, appalled by the fact he fell asleep on him.

“No,” Louis quietly says, halting Harry’s actions. “It’s okay, I was just moving around so you could be more comfortable.” Harry eyes him warily. “Go ahead,” he urges. “You can lean on me, it’s okay. Go back to sleep babe.” Louis whispers the last part as he guides Harry’s head back down onto his shoulder. Harry would whisper thank you back, but he’s already back to being fast asleep, the soft nickname Louis gave him ringing through his mind as he drifts off. A smile curls around his lips as he dreams about Louis.

When Harry wakes up next, his back is sore, his mind is foggy, and everything vaguely smells like… Louis? When he finally pries his eyes open, he notices that the TV, game console, and all his friends are gone. He’s curled up on the futon, his favorite blanket draped over him. He inhales deeply, confirming that the slightly earthy—pine scent is in fact Louis’ own and Harry’s totally okay with that fact.

He closes his eyes again, not knowing nor caring what time it is, and fully immerses himself into the alluring smell of his friend, loving the feeling it gives him.

Harry’s not disappointed. He’s not. He swears.

It’s just that Louis hasn’t shown up yet.

It’s no big deal. Harry has other things to do rather than wonder where Louis is. He shouldn’t waste his time worrying whether or not he’ll show up at the time he usually does. He can use this opportunity to focus on his Ecology project. That’s something productive. It isn’t due until next week but it’s always a good thing to get ahead of the game. He could even get it peer reviewed if he finishes early. Not like he needs to be peer reviewed… he is the highest scoring student in the class. But it’s always a good thing to have another set of eyes on something written for a large grade.

Instead of frantically eyeing the door every time someone walks by, Harry could be working on his Calculus problem set. He started working on it after he finished his Ecology project, and has most of it finished, but there are a few problems that could use his full attention.

In-between nervously working on and completing every possible homework assignment he could and anxiously glancing at the mailroom doors, time passes slowly, and Louis still hasn’t shown up yet. Harry doesn’t know what to do. He forgets what he did before Louis became a permanent fixture in his everyday life. It’s very boring now. Was it this boring before?

Harry thinks back to the last time he saw Louis. It wasn’t even a full day ago, it was last night! Harry’s eyes widen as he remembers endlessly flirting with Louis while playing Fifa and then falling asleep on shoulder. Louis also finally learned Harry’s name last night. Shit. He probably hates Harry for 1) never telling him his name, 2) for being disgustingly flirty, 3) for rudely falling asleep on top of him, and 4) not waking up to say sorry or goodbye when he left. Harry’s such a horrible human.

For the next half hour Harry stares at the blank wall across from him, reevaluating his whole life. Louis probably didn’t show up together because he hates Harry and he doesn’t want to be his friend anymore after all the weirdness.

That should be a good thing, right? If Louis isn’t friends with Harry anymore, then that means there’s a lesser chance of that whole soulmark secret being revealed. Harry can live with that. It makes life simpler for Harry.

Harry desperately tries convincing himself it’s a good thing that Louis doesn’t want to be friends with Harry. It’s a great thing. He can start to breathe easier now, he doesn’t always have to be on guard around him. He doesn’t have to try to remove himself, withdraw himself, when he feels like they’re becoming too friendly because Louis has done him the favor of totally erasing anything in-between them with this single action.

If Louis not showing up today is supposed to be a good thing, something that should put Harry at ease, then why does Harry feel so on edge? Why does he feel betrayed? Upset? Lonely?

The clock strikes the hour and Harry reluctantly removes himself from his chair to gather his scattered items and to lock up the backroom.

Sighing, he closes the door behind him. He stops to take a deep breath, mentally scolding himself for letting Louis’ absence get to him. He leans against the door, shifting his weight onto the glass panes as he closes his eyes trying to hold in the tears he doesn’t want to feel run down his cheeks and trying absorb the pain he’s feeling.

He hears footsteps running down the hallway, but makes nothing of it. He’s trying to work through his emotions, both the positive and negative ones, that revolve around Louis’ absence. He doesn’t care about some loser who’s late to class and has to run there.

However, the footsteps only get louder, as if they’re approaching Harry and not just passing by. Confused, Harry opens his eyes and comes face to face with a frantic Louis running full speed towards him.

Louis and Harry finally make eye contact, spurring Louis to move his legs even harder. He finally skids to a stop in front of Harry, bent at the waist, hands on his knees, breathing heavy. “Sor… sorry,” he pants.

Harry stands wide eyed, back still against the locked door of the mailroom, as Louis catches his breath in the silence of the hallway.

“Oh my god, Harry. I’m sorry,” Louis breathes, lungs finally calm enough to form proper sentences. “I was at a meeting for Q&A for a pretty big lecture/presentation thing we want to put on next semester and the meeting ran over and I had to talk to a lot of the members and make lists and.” Louis pauses, back to trying to catch his breathe after his lengthy explanation. “Sorry.”

Harry’s eyes drop to the floor, guilt washing over him. How could he think so low of Louis? How could he think such a nice, pure human being would be cruel enough to just dump a friendship that’s been in the making for months.

“I… I thought you didn’t wanna,” Harry mumbles, sentence trailing off. “Since you didn’t…” Harry lets his thoughts run off, letting Louis come to his own conclusions.

Louis furrows his eyebrows. “You thought, since I didn’t show when I normally do, that I ditched you?”

Harry shrugs, a weak response.

“Is this because you never told me your name and you feel… you thought maybe I’d be mad about that?”

“Well when you put it that way,” Harry sighs.

“Look at me, Curly,” Louis whispers. Harry does as told, locking his green eyes onto Louis’ blues. He finds pity, sorrow, but also hope within the swirls and flakes of his irises. “It doesn’t bother me. Why do you think I never asked? You’re a private person right?” Harry shrugs. “I got that vibe from you so I wanted to wait until you were ready, but by then we both took a liking to the name Curly so it was pointless, huh?”

Harry blushes knowing that Louis is totally correct in the assumption.

“Anyway, Curly,” Louis winks, warming Harry’s cheeks even further, “wanna go get some tea? I reckon it’s too cold out for your nasty frozen yogurt and I want to show you my favorite place to go.”

“Lead the way,” Harry says, reaching out to grasp Louis’ hand in his. The boldness of the action shocks him; he didn’t put any thought into what he was doing before he did it. He panics and goes to remove his hand, but Louis squeezes in response first, soothing Harry’s nerves.

Louis doesn’t let go of Harry’s hand the entire walk to the tiny cozy tea shop off campus. Harry doesn’t want to think about what the gesture implies, he’d rather not get into a fight with himself when he could be spending the time sitting and admiring what Louis is like.

Louis knows exactly what he wants to drink before they even reach the front doors of the shop, but Harry has no idea. He doesn’t know what’s good, what’s bad, what he’ll like or not like. He voices his concerns to Louis who gladly takes on the challenge of ordering the most perfect tea for Harry.

When they enter the shop, Louis pushes Harry towards the seating area, telling him to keep himself busy while he orders them teas and pastries.

The shop is small, the inside of it warm and homey. The aroma in the air is rich and deep from all the teas and coffees being brewed, but a hint of sweetness lingers in the middle, most likely from the baked goods being offered.

The furniture in the seating area is a mix-match of textures, textiles, colors, and comfort. There are large couches, love seats, single plush chairs, but also wooden tables and counters that serve as work spaces for students and professionals with stools and painted wooden chairs tucked under them.

Harry loves every single little thing about the shop.

Bookshelves line the wall adjacent to the large windows that look out over the pavement and street. On the shelves live little knick-knacks, collectibles, and, of course, books. New books, old books, fiction, encyclopedias.

Harry runs his fingers along the spines of the books and walks along the wall until he reaches the end. Harry smiles widely to himself as he comes across a stack of board games living on one of the shelves at the level of his waist. He surveys the options and mentally celebrates as his eyes skim over the red box that houses Scrabble. He smirks to himself as he removes it from the shelf and makes his way back over to the seating options.

He bites his lips, considering his options. He doesn’t want to sit on the couch, playing Scrabble like that is completely illogical. He doesn’t necessarily want to sit on the regular wooden chairs either, especially if he and Louis will be here for an extended period of time; he doesn’t want to hurt his back.

The single plush chairs seem to be his best option. He notices a tiny wooden side table that would be perfect to place the gameboard on along with their food and beverages. He starts rearranging the furniture to his liking, hoping he’s not accidently pissing off the owners as he’s doing so.

He readies the board, setting up their wooden stands on each side. He folds his legs and settles into the maroon velvet fabric, loving the cushioning the seat is providing. He closes his eyes, totally at peace, as he waits for Louis’ return.

“Geez Harry, I said keep yourself busy, not make yourself at home, grandpa.” Louis’ voice startles Harry, causing him to squeak in surprise, eyes flying open.

“Louis!” Harry gasps. “Don’t scare a man like that!”

Louis cackles, setting down each tea on the proper sides of the table. “I got us some pastries. Nothing specific, just a mix, so we can share.” Louis smiles softly at Harry as he surveys the Scrabble board and the way Harry is cozily curled up in his armchair.

“Scrabble?” Louis asks, raising his eyebrows.

Harry shrugs. “It’s my favorite. Was hoping we could play.” He reaches into the bag of letters and retrieves seven, passing the bag to Louis to do so too. He tells Louis to go first too, always hating having to play the first word.

As Louis is picking out his tiles and brainstorming his word options, it hits Harry that he owes Louis. He scooches his arse into the air a tiny bit so he can retrieve his wallet from his back pocket. He pulls out two fivers, offering them to Louis, hoping they would cover his tea and some of the pastries.

“What are you doing, Harry? Put that away. It’s your turn anyway,” Louis scoffs, eyeing the money being offered.

“I’m paying you back. It was rude of me not to give you something to cover my food,” Harry pouts.

Louis rolls his eyes. “Put it away I’m not taking it.” Harry scowls, putting his money back in his wallet.

He turns to face the board, ready to see what word Louis has played.

Curly.

“Double word score, and double letter score on the Y. Twenty-eight points, Curly,” Louis winks. Harry instantly blushes, averting his eyes. “And you wanted to pay me back for your food,” he snorts. “That’s so not how a date works, Curly.”

Chapter Text

The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.

- Thomas Merton

 

You fall away from your past, but it’s following you.

- Fall Away, The Fray

 

“Remember class,” Dr. Latimer says, voice raised above the noise of Harry’s Calculus class packing up for the day. “We have three classes left before our final.” Harry’s barely paying attention to his professor’s words, too occupied with putting away his notes and thinking about the essay he needs to have written for Ethics.

“I want to stress the importance of studying and practicing,” he continues. “It’ll help immensely on the final and don’t we all want to be confident when it comes to taking our finals so we can have a nice, calm, relaxing holiday?” Dr. Latimer’s words pull Harry out of his bubble, eyes widening in realization that winter break is fast approaching. “You are dismissed, have a nice afternoon.”

Harry walks out of his class in a daze, mind whirling around the fact that winter break is soon. He pulls his jacket closer around his torso as he steps out into the early December air, heading towards the library. He’s planned for himself to have a good, solid two hours of studying among the bookcases in his favorite nook on the third floor before he has to start work. In the beginning of the school year, Harry chose the third floor as His Spot because nobody ever bothered to climb the stairs to the third floor so it was always quiet. Harry actually enjoys climbing the three flights of stairs; it allows him to clear his head from whatever class he just came from, processing what he was told and what he needs to do next.

But today, Harry can’t get the idea of winter break out of his mind. He makes his way towards his favorite desk and plushy chair, which is pushed up against one of the biggest and brightest windows that overlooks the hub of the campus. With each step he takes his mind becomes more and more obsessed with winter break and he finds himself unable to focus on anything else.

Harry finally reaches His Spot, luckily before he goes certifiably insane with worry. He allows himself to take deep, calming breaths as he settles into the library’s atmosphere.

The view out the window is truly beautiful and if Harry had not been outside earlier, he would not have been able to guess how chilly it is. The sun is burning bright, lighting up the clear and cloudless blue skies perfectly. The actual footpaths on the hub don’t have much activity, the weather keeping students inside with their friends rather than the soft grassy areas that are everywhere.

Harry doesn’t pay attention to the beautiful scenery though, his mind currently preoccupied with panicking about his lack of winter break plans.

Everyone has to go home over winter break, they must leave their dorms, unless they have specific permission or they are an international student. Harry isn’t an international student. His mum doesn’t live too far away, a couple of hours by car or train. But the drawback is that he hasn’t talked to him mum in two years and he’s not going to now, just because he needs somewhere go.

He is in no shape to afford to stay at a hotel or inn or whatever. His only real friend is Niall and he already knows he won’t be able to stay with his Irish mate over break.

So Harry spends his two hour library session panicking rather than studying. It’s stupid, but at least when he walks out the front door on his way to work, he does have an inkling of a plan for what he’s going to do. He just hopes and prays that it works out in his favor.

Name: Harry Styles

Student ID Number: 8402954

Room Number: 2122

Request: Staying in the dorms over winter break.

Comments: I’m submitting this request form to stay on campus over break. I know the spots are limited and are mostly for international students who live very far away, but I was hoping I’d be able to stay over break. I do not talk to my parents so there’s no possible way I can go home over break and I can’t afford to go or stay anywhere else. My roommate can’t take me with him either. Please consider my request. Thank you, Harry Styles.

After typing in his home address, his cell phone number, and some other useless information, Harry reluctantly clicks the submit button, praying to any god listening that he’ll be accepted to stay in the dorms over break. He slumps over on his desk, burying his head into his arms, wishing that his situation wasn’t the way it is so he could have a good, wholesome family Christmas like everyone else.

Niall slides up next to him and rests a comforting hand on his shoulder. “I really wish you could come with me, H.”

“You’re going back to Ireland, Niall. I couldn’t possibly afford that plane ticket and I don’t feel like they’d be very welcoming after, you know, I abandoned their son two years ago.”

“Nah, Mum would welcome you no matter what.”

After Niall finally started uni, his mum, dad, and brother moved back to Ireland so they could be closer to their extended family. Harry unfortunately can’t tag along with Niall, which is bummer, but is also a little relieving. From what Harry could remember, Niall’s family is a handful and he doesn’t think he would be ready to face the chaos of the Horan clan.

So sending in a request to stay in the dorms over break is his only option. Now Harry has to play the waiting game, hoping a reply will come fast.

Once the request is in the system, Harry can’t stop compulsively checking his email for a reply of any kind. It becomes a really, really big distraction. Finals are under two weeks away and all Harry can focus on is the spinning wheel that pops up every time he goes to refresh his email. He had to leave his phone in his room, under his pillow, as he studied in the library, but that only made him open a new tab on his laptop to check his emails instead of annotating the articles he should have been reading.

It’s even worse in the mailroom because no one is there to stop him from checking his email on his phone, laptop, and the desktop computer all at the same time. It’s a bit of a problem.

“Why are you all twitchy?” Harry removes his eyes from his laptop screen for the first time in almost an hour and finds Louis standing in front of his desk, hip cocked, hand on his waist, and head tilted in confusion.

“I’m not twitchy,” Harry pouts.

Louis raises his eyebrow. Harry races to exit out of the email tabs as Louis rounds the table, trying to erase any evidence that would give away the reason for his twitchiness. Louis stands next to Harry, narrowing his eyes.

“You’re up to something, Harry. I’ll get to the bottom of it.”

Harry smiles sweetly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Lou.”

Harry is usually in bed as soon as he can be, his long days usually making him extremely exhausted. He has his own personal rule that he uses to cut down the time he spends on his phone before falling asleep because of how unhealthy it is, but Harry is currently breaking every rule.

It’s been a solid five days since he’s submitted his request to stay on campus during break and he’s yet to hear back from anyone. There’s no confirmation nor denial in his inbox and it’s seriously driving Harry crazy. It’s also giving him major anxiety. The more time it takes for a reply to come, the less time he has available to find a Plan B if this Plan A does not go through.

Between compulsively refreshing his email, playing the few games on his phone, and scrolling mindlessly through Instagram, Harry barely recognizes that it’s almost two in the morning and that Niall is snoring away in his own bed like a little baby.

His eyes finally do flick to the time when he feels his phone vibrate in his hand, no notification popping up at the top, meaning it must be an email. He nearly freaks out as he notices it’s 2:03 AM—he should be dead asleep by now, but his excitement pushes his worries to the side. His fingers quickly navigate him to his mail app, opening it up like he’s done so many times by now.

His breath catches in his throat as he sees RE: Staying in the dorms over winter break at the top of his unread emails. He taps on the email with so much vigor and excitement that he’s shocked he doesn’t accidentally break his screen. He sits, preparing himself for whatever answer he has finally received.

RE: Staying in the dorms over winter break

Hello Mr. Styles. We regret to inform you that your request for staying on campus over the holiday has been denied. We only have a small, specific number of allotted slots for students to stay on campus. The system is first-come, first served, with our international students as a top priority. All the leftover space has already been distributed. We are deeply sorry. Have a enjoyable holiday and we will see you back on campus in the new year!

- Residence Life Team

Harry rereads the message four times before he lets the dread wash over his body. His whole demeanor crumples. Panic and deep sadness seep into his veins and rush throughout his body, numbing every nerve ending, making his head spin faster and faster. His mouth goes dry, every urge to scream coming and going all at once. His mind whirls a mile a minute, not knowing what to think and thinking way too many things. Harry thinks his fingers are trembling, can’t really tell, until he drops his phone onto his lap, the screen going dark, all light in the dorm disappearing, plunging Harry into an eerie void where his emotions are overwhelming and he can’t find the exit.

Harry can’t go home. Harry can’t stay in the dorms. Where is he going to go?

His face is so numb that he can’t feel the initial break of tears sliding slowly down his face. The tear travels down the curve of his pale cheek, falling off his jaw with a disturbing elegance to only drip down onto his phone’s screen. Once the dam has been broken, the tears come faster and faster, breathing escalating as he becomes more panicked. He tries to suppress his sobs and screams of frustration, not wanting to wake up Niall. Harry desperately wants to be held by someone in this moment, to hold someone, but he hasn’t had any physical intimate touch of any kind in a long, long time and he surely hasn’t had any physical intimate touch from someone who loves him in over two years. Niall’s always been a good fall back, a comfortable unwavering presence, but in this moment, Harry doesn’t feel like it’s enough. He needs more. He craves more.

He tries to slow his tears, hold them in. Once his eyes go blurry from all the unshed water, he swings his legs off the side of his bed, removing himself from his cocoon that is his duvet. He doesn’t bother bringing anything with him, no shoes, no key, no phone. He remembers to at least shove a pair of sweatpants on before he’s slipping out the door as quietly as possible.

Harry drags his sockless feet down the carpet of his hallway, trying to find his way to the one place, the one person who he knows will be able to calm him down. Harry thinks he’s crazy, needing the one person he’s cursed and hated relentlessly throughout the past few years as an emotional crutch. How can a person who has indirectly caused him so much unwarranted pain bring Harry the most calming sensations?

He lifts his fist to knock and as soon as his knuckles make contact with the door, he sobs. The dam breaks and the tears release, flowing with no end down his already salty and saturated skin. He hopes the knock was loud enough but he also wishes it wasn’t. He doesn’t want to face Louis looking like this, but he has no choice. He doesn’t know what he wants more: to be ignored or to have the door open.

Harry doesn’t know how long he stands in front of Louis’ door, but his anxiety and dread only escalate. His heart his beating fast, lungs working hard to carry air in and out of his body. His eyes sting with the tears that seem to be endless. He lets himself be loud, doesn’t hold in any of the pain he’s feeling.

Harry’s actually shocked when the door opens, finding a slightly grumpy, sleep rumpled Louis on the other side. All anger and annoyance washes away from Louis’ face when he realizes it’s Harry standing in front of his door.

“I’m sorry,” Harry sobs, voice breaking, more tears flowing. He sniffles, trying to hold in the snot that’s clogging his nose. He knows he’s an ugly crier.

Louis’ face breaks, his features twisting to show how concerned and confused he is. He gently reaches out for one of Harry’s hands, both of which are curled against his bare chest. Harry lets Louis take his right hand, still careful to not reveal his soulmark despite how drowsy and lost he feels right now.

Once Harry’s hand is in Louis’, Louis twines their fingers together, interlocking them. He guides Harry into his room and Harry thinks he’ll just be shoved onto Zayn’s old bed to be forgotten about until morning, but Louis takes him towards his own bed.

“Up ya go, Curly, c’mon,” Louis whispers, carefully helping Harry into his bed. Harry’s confused when Louis climbs in after him, arranging their bodies so they’re lying side by side, sharing the same pillow, face to face.

Louis’ sheets are warm against the skin of Harry’s bare chest. Harry lets himself absorb the warmth and comfort, breathing in Louis’ earthy scent. It’s not a dirty smell, more like a forest with pine trees and fresh dew on every surface. It’s clean and homey.

At this point Harry’s tears have ceased, but he’s still breathing heavy. He knows more tears are at the ready, welling up in his eyes, leaving his sight blurry. Harry stares into Louis’ beautiful blue eyes, loving how the crystal clear color shines even in the darkest of rooms.

Louis tentatively reaches out to soothingly run his hand up and down Harry’s arm. Harry’s eyelids flutter shut, loving the feeling, even though goosebumps prickle to the surface. The light skin on skin contact makes Harry feel dizzy, but in a good way. He tries to calm his breathing, loving the way Louis is tenderly touching him. Harry honestly feels like he could break at any moment, but under Louis’ sure hands, he feels invincible, like nothing can hurt him.

“C’mere Curly,” Louis whispers. “Let it all out, don’t hold it in.”

Harry nods, letting the tears return. It was starting to hurt, holding in his tears. He didn’t want to freak out Louis anymore than he already has, but Louis wants him to cry, so he will. The tears are silent this time, Harry letting them flow without restraint.

Harry jumps a little, surprised, when Louis starts pulling Harry’s body closer to his. He arranges them so Harry’s head is pillowed on top of Louis’ chest, the shirt covering his skin soft against Harry’s raw face. Harry loves feeling of being so close to Louis, cuddled up and being held and cared for. He wishes he could do this every night, even though he knows he can’t.

“You can tell me about it, if you want.”

Harry has nothing to lose, so he does. He tells Louis about not being able to go back to his mum’s house for winter break, about his request to stay on campus being denied, about his lack of a plan for what he’s going to do and where he’s going to stay over the holiday.

Louis lets him talk, never interrupting, paying close attention to every word. Harry falls asleep and Louis lets him, the warm cocoon of his arms feeling like the safest place in the world to Harry.

The room is quiet, the bed is warm, and Harry feels utterly exhausted. He knows he’s reached consciousness, but he refuses to open his eyes and start his day. He burrows further into the pillow under his head, hugging the duvet that’s wrapped around his shoulders closer, relishing in the heat. There’s the faint noise of fingers tapping against a keyboard in the background, but Harry just assumes it’s Niall doing some homework. Harry inhales deeply, loving the smell of pine that floods his senses.

Pine.

Everything that happened last night rushes back to Harry, causing his eyes to fly open. The early morning light is flowing in through the open blinds, illuminating the room in tones of orange and yellow. Louis is at his desk, back turned to Harry.

Harry realizes he slept in Louis’ bed last night. With Louis. He mentally berates himself for doing something so stupid and so reckless. He was so emotional last night he didn’t even know what he was doing. He squeezes his eyes shut, realizing how dry they are. His mouth tastes stale and his neck feels stiff.

Harry attempts to stretch, letting his back crack. The noise alerts Louis and the clicks of his typing immediately cease as he turns to check on Harry. Louis smiles softly at Harry, his hair still messy from sleep. He quietly removes himself from his desk and crosses the room to Zayn’s desk where Harry notices an electric kettle and mugs. He slowly sits up and watches as Louis makes him a cup of tea.

“I’m sorry,” Harry whispers. He avoids looking at Louis, hands in his lap, fingers picking at his nails and the skin around them.

Louis chuckles quietly.

“I shouldn’t have come to your room at like… two in the morning, knocking on your door and crying. I woke you up and cried on you and slept in your bed. I’m sorry, Lou. That’s like a huge invasion of privacy and I would be pretty mad if someone woke me up. I’m so, so, sor—”

“Are you quite finished yet, Curly?” Louis teases. Harry lifts his head and finds Louis standing right in front of him, cup of tea being offered. “Go on, take it,” he nods.

Harry tentatively reaches out for the warm beverage and takes a sip, loving the warmth that spreads throughout his limbs.

Louis hops onto the mattress, joining Harry on his bed.

“You can tell me to leave, I don’t mind,” Harry mumbles.

Louis scoffs. “Harry. You’ve got to be kidding me.” Harry furrows his eyes, shooting a questioning look at Louis. Louis rolls his eyes, like everything he’s about to say should be obvious. “You’re welcome here at any time, Harry. We’re friends, yeah? I want to take care of you and make sure you’re okay, especially when you’re panicking like you were last night. There’s no need to be sorry. I’m the one who opened the door, I’m the one who let you share my bed, I’m the one who most definitely is not going to kick you out or hurt you.”

“Thank you,” Harry whispers, stunned by the sincerity in Louis’ voice.

“Of course, Curly. And, you know, you’re a great cuddler,” Louis winks.

Harry blushes.

They sit in silence as Harry continues to fully come to his senses, finishing his cup of tea. As Harry drinks out of the white mug with a simple arched rainbow on it, he lets himself observe Louis. He’s scrolling through his phone, his baggy hoodie slipping over his fingertips, giving him sweater paws. The bottom of his sweatpants are rolled up, revealing his tiny, delicate ankles that flow perfectly into his bare feet. The tiny triangle tattoo on his ankle catches Harry’s eyes and he smiles secretly to himself.

The warm light filling the room shines perfectly over Louis, making his golden skin glow and radiate. His jaw is speckled with his unshaven stubble, his eyelashes fan out across his high cheekbones. Louis’ lips look soft and Harry’s stomach suddenly turns in on itself as the realization sinks in that Harry would very much like to kiss Louis’ lips.

Harry frantically looks at something else other than Louis, trying to calm his heart rate. Suddenly, Harry’s very self aware that he’s shirtless, that his soulmark is exposed. He subtly tries to shift his body so he hides his wrist under his thigh, praying that Louis hasn’t seen it.

Harry drifts, his mind going somewhere else, thinking about all the possibilities of Louis seeing his soulmark. Harry is so stupid.

Louis clearing his throat pulls Harry back to reality. He looks nervous, Harry notices. Harry tries his best to look supportive, wanting to hear whatever Louis has to say. His green eyes meet Louis’ blues and his breath catches in his throat as he registers all the emotions hidden deep in Louis’ eyes. There is so much in his gaze, Harry can barely start to understand what his eyes want to say when the words he speaking are just as heavy and meaningful.

“Come home with me for winter break,” Louis breathes out.

Harry tries to register the words, but his brain isn’t working. He shakes his head, not understanding, too confused. He wonders if the words Louis said are even real. They don’t feel real. They don’t sound real.

“Harry,” Louis urges, “please come back to Doncaster with me for the holiday.” His eyes are so sincere, so beautiful, so calming.

Harry doesn’t know what to say other than a big, fat no. He can’t intrude on Louis’ family time like that. If anyone understand how precious and important time with your family is, it’s Harry. He’s gone without his family for two years and he can’t steal the spotlight during the Tomlinson’s Christmas, it just isn’t fair.

“I know you’re going to say no,” Louis says, taking Harry’s right hand in his. He softly rubs the skin on the back of his hand, the sensation instantly calming Harry’s escalating nerves. “But, please, H. You have nowhere to go and I’m inviting you. If I’m inviting you, then that obviously means I want you there, right?”

Harry looks into his eyes and sees the truth. Harry could vehemently deny Louis’ offer but he sees something in his eyes that he can’t pinpoint, something more than honesty. He wants to trust Louis to take care of him and Louis is fully willingly to offer up his family and his home for Harry to have a place to stay over the holiday.

Harry opens his mouth, ready to speak, yet not ready to answer.

“Yes, I’m sure,” Louis implores, stealing the exact words right out of Harry’s mouth. Harry looks away out of shame, picking at the fabric of Louis’ duvet.

Harry mulls it over, tries to find a fault in Louis’ plan, but he simply can not. “Okay,” he whispers, resolved. “I’ll spend the holiday with you.” He glances up at Louis and finds him smiling, mouth wide, teeth showing, eyes crinkling in the corner. The feeling Harry gets when he sees Louis grinning like this is all the satisfaction he needs to know he made the right decision.

Jeans, joggers, pants, long sleeve shirts, sweaters, socks, maybe a fancy shirt or two.

Maybe a hoodie or two, definitely his favorite blanket that he hasn’t dared to part with at all in the past two years.

Laptop, phone, respective chargers.

Coat, scarf, gloves, beanie.

“Oi, mate, don’t forget shoes,” Niall reminds.

Harry simply nods.

Sneakers, ankle boots.

Toothbrush, toothpaste. Skin care, hair care.

Harry’s like a tornado around the dorm room, carefully folding his clothes into his duffel bag and making sure that he packs everything he’ll need, not wanting to forget something and become a nuisance if he has to ask Louis to borrow something.

Ever since Harry agreed to go home with Louis over break, all thoughts on the matter had simply fallen out of his head. Finals pushed every non-school related thought straight out of his brain, making him almost go crazy with how much knowledge he’s tried jamming into his head. Which meant all thoughts pertaining to his winter break plans had disappeared. Harry didn’t allow himself to worry about whether or not this was a good idea and so he totally forgot he had to pack. But now, finals week is done and over with for Harry, having had his last final this morning, letting the panic finally flow into his system. Louis had his last final two days ago, but he stayed on campus to wait for Harry. They’re leaving tomorrow, driving up to Doncaster in the car Harry didn’t even know Louis owned.

Harry mentally questions his motives as he flitters around his room packing everything he thinks he’ll need. What if Harry’s subconscious allowed himself to agree to go with Louis because he wants to grow closer to his friend? Or is it Fate trying to persuade him to actually pursue his soulmark? Harry hopes not. He knows he can’t become more than a casual friend with Louis or everything will go downhill. He’s been doing so good so far, he can’t give up strength now.

“Are you going to tell him?” Niall questions from where he’s lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling.

Harry, who is too focused on his own task to listen to whatever Niall says, simply hums and continues folding his jeans.

“Harry.”

Exasperated, Harry finally decides to stop what he’s doing and actually listen to Niall’s nonsense so he can continue with packing. He turns around to face his friend and so he can also see Harry roll his eyes. “What, Ni?”

“Are you going to tell Louis?”

“Tell him what?”

Niall raises his eyebrows like it’s obvious. “Your soulmark.”

Harry reflexively wraps his right hand around his bare left wrist, hiding the simple Louis that has lived there for almost three years of his life now.

“No.”

“Harry—”

“No.”

Harry goes back to packing, ignoring Niall and ignoring every stupid thought he has about his soulmark and Louis. Harry already has a Louis and he’s not the same as Louis. Harry and Louis are friends. Harry and Louis are soulmates and Harry has already promised himself he will never, ever find his soulmate, no matter what.

They’ve only been driving for five minutes, the campus still visible in the sideview mirrors. Soon enough though, the campus has disappeared from Harry’s sight and the roads lined with shops turn into endless rows of trees. He keeps his eyes out the window, too afraid to face Louis. He knows he shouldn’t be afraid of Louis, but he still feels like an intruder in his car, in his family, in his life. He can’t help it. He slides down in the passenger seat, shrinking himself, trying to disappear just like the campus did. He keeps his sweaty palms flat against his thighs, fingers picking at the loose threads fraying from the seams and rips against his knees.

“Harry, are you okay?” Louis asks, chancing a nervous glance at Harry. “Please talk to me. Are you nervous?” His voice is thick with worry and Harry instantly regrets trying to hide himself in plain sight and for avoiding conversation.

“Sorry,” Harry sighs, shifting his body in the seat, straightening his back and regaining his posture. “And yeah, I actually am a little nervous. I just… I don’t wanna ruin your Christmas with your family, ya know?”

Louis scoffs. “Don’t worry Harry, Mum and all the kids will love you.”

Harry swallows hard, not bothering to reply to Louis as his mind obsesses over all the kids. Does Louis have siblings and how many? What about his dad? He mentioned his mum, but not his dad.

Harry realizes that he knows nothing about Louis. He doesn’t know if he has brother or sisters. He doesn’t even know Louis’ favorite color. The realization shocks him, almost as if he had jumped into the deep end of a pool, freezing cold water enveloping him from head to toe.

“What’s your favorite color?” Harry suddenly asks.

Louis flicks the turn signal on, merging into the lane on his left. “Uh, green. You?”

“Blue.”

Louis nods, the silence between them returning. Harry’s can’t stop thinking about Louis’ family, though. They’ve been friends for a few good months now. They’ve hung out multiple times, with each other and with the rest of the group. They’ve had plenty of conversations, but Harry still feels like Louis is an enigma to him.

“Lou? Can you tell me about your family?” Harry shyly asks, keeping his eyes trained on Louis’ face, watching his expression carefully. A smile instantly takes over Louis’ face and the underlying tension in his shoulders disappear, his grip relaxing on the steering wheel.

“Of course, Curly. What would you like to know?” he chuckles.

Harry shrugs, turning his eyes onto the road in front of him. “Maybe tell me about your siblings and what they’re like. I am going to be meeting them soon,” he points out, secretly wanting to prepared for whatever he’s about to step into.

“Well, I have five sisters and one brother.” Harry’s jaw drops open in shock as he turns to face Louis, not believing what he’s saying. “Crazy, I know,” Louis laughs. “Charlotte—Lottie—is eighteen, Félicité—Fizzy—is fifteen, the first set of twins, Daisy and Phoebe, are twelve, and the other set of twins, Doris and Ernest, are three.”

“Oh wow,” Harry chuckles. “They sound like a handful.”

Louis smiles hard enough for the skin by the corners of his eyes to crinkle. The pure happiness that overtakes Louis’ expression whenever he smiles like this makes Harry warm on the inside. Louis’ pure joy is infectious, sending waves of it through Harry with a simple flash of his teeth.

“They most definitely are, but I love them all so much. Lottie is so, so successful. She wants a career in makeup. I remember when we were little, she would always practice on me,” Louis chuckles.

“Like lipstick and eyeshadow and all that?” Harry giggles.

Louis rolls his eyes. “Yeah it was so annoying at first. She would do a full face of makeup. Literally everything—foundation, concealer, contours. It was really, really messy.”

Harry can’t stop his giggles from spilling out of his mouth, a fabricated image of Louis fully decked out in makeup floating around his head. He tries to continue the conversation, but his laughs shake through his whole body, making it impossible to speak.

“Okay, okay, Curly. Get your laughs out,” Louis huffs, rolling his eyes.

Harry’s giggles quiet to almost nothing, but his chest his still rattling with the aftershocks.

“Have you quite finished, Harold?”

“Harold?”

“Yes, Harold. Have you finished?”

Harry nods, biting his lower lip, trying to hold in his returning giggles. “Yes I have. So… when I can see you in a full face of makeup?”

Louis rolls his eyes. “You’d like that wouldn’t you,” he teases, chancing a glance at Harry’s now bright red blushing face. “I think I’d like to see you in a full face of makeup. Your pretty curls would go perfectly.” Louis quickly reaches across the middle console to playfully tug one of Harry’s loose curls.

Harry swallows hard, loving Louis’ indirect compliment and the attention he’s giving him. He’s a bit embarrassed by the idea of wearing makeup, but he thinks he’s a bit more embarrassed that it’s something he wouldn’t mind trying out, especially if Louis wants to see it.

And. Where did that come from?

Harry clears his head before he’s able to pinpoint the origin of that trail of thought, not wanting to think too hard about what it implies.

Harry changes the subject and asks about Louis’ other sisters and what they are into. He mentions that Fizzy loves reading and writing, which catches Harry’s attention. He makes a plan in the back of his head to sit down with her sometime during the holiday to ask her about her favorite authors and genres. Daisy and Phoebe are also now into makeup and fashion, Louis confessing that he’s glad he’s away at college so he doesn’t have to sit through yet another teenage girl using his face as a blank canvas.

“Doris and Ernie are the cutest little babies in the world. They’re not even babies anymore, I guess, but still. I love ‘em to death,” Louis gushes.

Harry’s heart melts as Louis talks about his siblings and his mum, the deep, passionate love he has for them evident in the way his lips spread across his face and eyes crinkle in delight.

“If you don’t mind me asking,” Harry attempts during a lull in the conversation, “what about your dad?”

Louis takes a shaky breath, like he wasn’t expecting Harry to even ask such a heavy question. Harry wasn’t expecting himself to actually ask it, either.

“You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. I’m sorry,” Harry whispers, afraid he broke the magical bond he was starting to feel as he learned more and more about the boy next to him.

“No, no. It’s—uh, it’s okay, Harry.” Louis removes one hand from the wheel to run it through his hair and rub the skin at the back of his neck, obviously nervous and on edge sharing this kind of personal history. Harry lets Louis take as long as he needs to gather his thoughts.

“My dad, well the man who I share my DNA with, left before I was born, so,” Louis shrugs. “Mum found Mark soon after that and he was basically my dad and everything. Mum had Lottie, Fizzy, and the twins with him. I even took his last name because Mum thought he would last forever.” He swallows hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing. “They were soulmates, but I guess that wasn’t enough for him to stick around once he found out I was gay.”

“Oh, Louis,” Harry gasps, tears filling his eyes. Harry knows the exact pain Louis must have felt. He must have been much younger, though, and he had younger siblings. Harry curses Mark silently. Someone with a soul as beautiful as Louis’ should never have to experience the pain of a father leaving. It’s bad enough that Harry himself had to suffer the pain, but Louis should never in a million years be hurt that way. It’s unfair.

Louis breathes loudly, trying to center himself, Harry guesses, before he continues. “Mum found Dan though and they’re really good together. They treat each other well. Got married and had Doris and Ernest. He’s a good man and he loves us all as if we were his own children. It’s nice.”

Harry nods and shoots the most sincere and supportive smile he can muster up in Louis’ direction, afraid that if he speaks he won’t be able to stop himself from talking about his own problems and he’s not ready for that yet.

“How about you? Siblings?”

Harry gives Louis a small smile. “Yeah, her name is Gemma. She’s just a few years older than me but she’s the smartest person I know. I hadn’t seen her in a few years until recently. She’s been texting me nonstop since then though,” he rolls his eyes, feigning annoyance. He secretly loves Gemma’s texts, he loves feeling like she wants to talk to him even after he disappeared randomly without a goodbye all those years ago.

As they drive, conversation is steady. They start to get to know each past the surface level information they have already learned about each other over the last few months. Their frozen yogurt and tea shop hangouts were always filled to the brim with conversation, but Harry knows this feels different. They stick with important, personal topics rather than bantering about their classes or current events. Harry feels drawn to Louis through the way he talks and tells stories. He’s captivating and Harry hangs off of every word that comes out of his mouth.

“I joined Q&A my first year because it’s always nice to have a support system, right? My dad hurt me and my family and I felt alone. I didn’t want other people to feel alone. I ended up being super involved and invested in everything the club did. I had a hand in meetings, fundraisers, and informational sessions. The club was pretty large too—there are a lot of queer kids and allies on campus, and I loved the environment so much.

“I hadn’t thought about a major, I was kinda just going with the flow, not caring or taking responsibilities, but then Gabby, who was the last Q&A president, took me under her wing. She became my mentor and showed me how to run the club before she graduated. It’s because of her that I chose to study communications and major in gender studies. I want to work at an LGBT+ Center when I graduate and then eventually one day run one.

“I wanna help kids, you know? I’ve always wanted to help and I’ve always been super protective over me siblings and Mum. I think I’ve always had a bit of a savior complex; always had this feeling that I’ve gotta help everyone and save them and protect them from the dangers of the outside world.” Louis sighs, rubbing hand over his face, quickly so he doesn’t lose focus on the road ahead of them. “I just want to take care of people, Haz.”

“Haz?” Harry asks raising his eyebrow. So many new nicknames. Harry doesn’t mind at all.

Louis rolls his eyes. “I heard Niall calling you it and I like it, okay,” he confesses, a pout bending his lips.

“I think that’s very admirable of you, though, Lou. Wanting to help people? That’s… It’s pretty amazing that you want to dedicate yourself to that,” Harry chokes out, his throat tightening over the words. Harry’s not sure if Louis recognizes the current distress he’s under, but if he does, Harry’s glad he’s not asking about it.

Harry wants to cry hearing Louis’ words. He wishes he had someone like Louis when he was young and confused about his sexuality. He wishes he had Louis when all he wanted to do was scratch and cut his skin off his wrist because of the not-female name that lived there. He wishes he had Louis to tell him everything was okay and that Harry shouldn’t hate himself. Instead, Harry had to find that all out on his own, alone, traveling Europe nonstop for two years, with a broken heart and a broken spirit.

“It’s hard sometimes, though,” Louis whispers. The mood in the car changes instantly. Harry stills his body, trying not to make any noise, not wanting to interrupt Louis’ moment. “I’ve struggled with my own insecurities and lack of confidence. I can help every person in this world, give them the best advice I can think of, but I’m a fucking hypocrite.” Louis raises his voice the more tense he gets, but he drops his shoulders and regret flashes across his face. He shoots a look of apology at Harry. Harry understands though. It can be hard to listen to the same advice you give others.

“You’re not a hypocrite, Lou,” Harry whispers. “A lot of people struggle with following their own advice. You’re not perfect and no one expects you to be. It’s okay to have flaws, to make mistakes.”

“I’m scared sometimes, Haz.”

“Scared of what, Lou?”

“I’m scared that I’ll never be able to have a future. I’m afraid I’m never going to find a husband that I can take care of and be taken care of in return. I’m afraid that I’ll be abandoned, like my mum. I’m afraid that I’ll be too preoccupied with taking care of questioning kids at the center and I won’t remember to take care of my spouse,” Louis’ voice waivers.

Harry’s heart twists as he quietly discovers Louis’ insecurities. The atmosphere in the car is intimate and Harry loves that Louis has put so much trust into him.

The conversation starts winding down, becomes less serious, and Harry eventually falls asleep listening to Louis talk about his friends from secondary school. Harry loves Louis’ voice, the soft rasp, the unique inflections, the calming lilt. Harry loses consciousness as he thinks about wanting to hear Louis talk forever.

Harry regains his consciousness the same way he fell asleep, Louis lightly speaking to him.

“Hey, Curly, wake up. We’re almost home and I think I should prepare you for the family,” Louis chuckles, poking at Harry’s bicep.

Harry slowly opens his eyes and peeks around at his surroundings as he stretches in his seat under the seat belt. They’re currently stopped at a red light on what appears to be a busy commercial area, almost like a main street. Not many people are wandering the streets, probably too cold even with the sun shining in the clear blue sky.

Harry turns his body to his right, cracking and popping his back as he goes. His eyes settle over Louis who is smiling softly at Harry, his eyes warm and full of emotion. Harry returns the smile, just as meaningful and soft as Louis’.

“Mornin’,” he slurs, a yawn escaping before he can catch it.

Louis snorts. “Sleep good, princess?”

“Of course. Why’d you wake me up?” Harry grumbles.

“We’re about twenty minutes away and you’re gonna need to be fully alert when meeting that rambunctious group. Also thought I should warn you of some things.”

Harry raises his eyebrows. “Warn me?” He bites his lower lip, not sure what Louis was about to say.

“Well, I told Mum you were joining us, and she insisted that you take apart in every Christmas tradition.”

“Aw that’s cute Lou—”

“Oh, just wait,” Louis chuckles, eyes flicking back to the road and his foot finally pressing down on the gas pedal as the light switches over to green. “Don’t be shocked when she hands you your own pair of ugly Christmas themed pyjamas. And don’t tell her she shouldn’t’ve because she will tell you she most definitely had to buy them. Also you’re going to have to wear them and sit through the worst photoshoot ever.”

“Oh Lou, don’t sound so bitter. That sounds absolutely adorable. And I’m so down for wearing matching pyjamas with your entire family,” Harry beams. He is smiling so big that his cheeks ache, but he’s absolutely thrilled for this family tradition.

His own family had their own little tiny traditions, but Harry considers them long forgotten, seeing he hasn’t actually celebrated Christmas with his own family in his own home in over two years. He’s excited to finally experience the magic that Christmas brings to young children and families this time of year from a whole new perspective.

“Wait… you’re actually excited for this?” Louis questions, head whipping around to stare confusedly at Harry, sounding outraged over his excitement.  

“Of course, Lou! Now keep your eyes on the road,” Harry reprimands.

Louis pouts, but turns back to the road in front of him.

The house is very quaint. On the outside it looks tiny and homey and as Louis pulls up onto the worn-down pavement of the driveway, Harry can see the obvious signs that a well-loved and energetic family lives here. On the lawn are forgotten toys that haven’t been put away yet and the driveway has fading chalk drawings of flowers and stick people decorating it.

Louis shifts the gear into park and shuts the engine off. He turns to Harry and smiles. “Ready, Curly?”

Harry takes a deep breath, preparing himself for Louis’ family. It doesn’t help, but the attempt was worth a try. He gives Louis a short nod.

Louis opens his door and swings his legs out, loudly closing the door behind him. He walks around the car to retrieve their bags from the back, but Harry still hasn’t moved. His seat belt hasn’t moved from where it’s snugly wrapped against his chest, body still molded to the car seat like it has been the whole journey. His fingers tap restlessly against his thighs, but his body doesn’t make any other movement to exit to the car.

Something taps on the glass of Harry’s window, startling him out of his trance. He turns and finds Louis looking at him worriedly. Louis raises his eyebrows and Harry hears his muffled voice ask “Are you okay?” through the glass.

Harry swallows the lump forming in his throat and nods slowly. He unbuckles his belt as Louis opens the door for him. He swings his out of the car and shakily stands up, afraid his knees are going to buckle.

“You’ll be fine, Haz, I promise. They might seem like a handful, but they’re angels. If you feel overwhelmed let me know and I’ll tell them to shoo. You can step outside whenever you want to too. I want you to be comfortable.”

Harry’s heart grows three sizes bigger in his chest, painfully pushing against his ribcage. Louis’ neverending kindness and support he gives people has always been one of Harry’s favorite things about him, but actually receiving Louis’ kindness and support firsthand is dizzying. He shows obvious care for Harry and his wellbeing and it’s something Harry hasn’t personally experienced in quite a few years. It feels good.

“I can do this,” Harry announces, trying valiantly to keep his voice from wavering. He’s not sure whether it’s a failure or success.

Harry takes his duffel bag from Louis’ hand, hiking it onto his shoulder. He squares his shoulders, ready to face Louis’ family.

Louis starts walking towards the front door, anticipating that Harry would follow him; however, Harry falters and stays stuck in his spot next to the now closed car door. When Louis realizes Harry isn’t following him, he turns around, eyebrows furrowed. He rolls his eyes as he observes Harry’s panic-stricken expression. Louis doubles back and grabs Harry’s right hand, interlocking their fingers, and starts pulling him towards the front door. Harry’s feet finally decide to start working and he begins to follow Louis, secretly loving how Louis’ slightly cold palm is cooling his warm, clammy palms.

The pair don’t slow down once they reach the door, Louis turning the knob and flinging the door open being the the only indication that they have arrived at the Tomlinson-Deakin household.

The inside of the house is loud, in volume and in decoration. The first thing Harry sees upon entering the house is a staircase the leads the second floor. He thinks he can see the doorway to kitchen at the end of the hallway if he peeks around the steps just so. To his left is a doorway that leads to a sitting room where he can hear a telly on, loudly playing children’s cartoons. On his right is an arched doorway that leads to a dining room. From where Harry’s standing, he can tell that the dining room also has access to the kitchen with its own doorway.

The walls of the main hallway are painted a bright white, making the space seem bigger and brighter than it really. Some walls are painted other colors; the walls in the dining room a beautiful, deep wine red and the living room walls a calming, placid baby blue. There are picture frames hanging on every wall, sitting on every table. Little knick-knacks and trinkets are displayed and tell stories of family vacations and monumental achievements.

As soon as Louis closes the door behind them, screaming erupts from upstairs, feet pounding against the hardwood floors echoing all around the house. A group of three girls come bounding down the stairs, faster than racecars whipping around a track.

“Lou! Lou! Lou!” they shout.

“Girls, no screaming, and please walk,” a voice calls from the direction of the kitchen. Harry assumes it’s Louis’ mum.

“Louis is here?!” someone yells from the living room.

The girls running down the stairs finally reach the bottom and instantly fling their bodies against Louis’. He drop his own duffel bag and kneels down to hug the girls tight. They’re both young and look exactly the same, so Harry presumes it’s Daisy and Phoebe who are currently squeezing Louis to death in their embrace. The other girl that came down the stairs with them looks older, but not old enough. Harry guess that it’s Fizzy is who is currently standing on the bottom step, leaning against the railing with a fond smile taking over her face as she watches her siblings embrace.

Daisy and Phoebe finally release their brother, promising to tell him all about what they’ve been up to the last couple of months since Louis’ last visit at a later time. They run into the living room, paying no mind to Harry who is still anxiously stiff standing next to Louis. As they enter the living room, another sister exits. As Fizzy and Louis hug and talk, Lottie smirks. She’s not looking at Louis though, her eyes are glued on Harry.

“I’m Lottie. You must be Harry,” she smiles, a mischievous glint in her eyes. Harry’s a bit blown away by how similar she looks to Louis.

Harry smiles his best, charming smile, his dimple deepening his cheek. He sticks out his hand for Lottie to shake. “‘M Harry. It’s nice to meet you, I’ve heard a lot.”

Lottie rolls her eyes—a very Louis thing—and bypasses Harry’s outstretched hand to hug him.

They break apart and Lottie laughs straight in Harry’s face. “It’s nice to meet you too. And Louis was right, you are an adorable weirdo.”

“Heyyyy,” Harry whines, pouting.

“Oi!” Louis shouts. “That was meant to stay just between me and you, little girl! Don’t drive Harry away, he just got here! Now come here and hug me, you menace.” Harry smiles as Lottie and Louis hug each other tightly. They whisper some things in each other’s ears that Harry doesn’t pick up on, but the reunion is touching nonetheless.

Fizzy gives Harry a quick, shy wave as she passes by him to join the other girls in the living room.

Finally Harry and Louis are left alone in the small foyer. Louis removes his shoes and tosses them in the pile that already exists. Harry follows, but neatly places his ankle boots next to the pile rather than adding to it. Louis dumps his duffel bag at the bottom of the stairs, telling Harry to do so too and that they’ll take them upstairs later. Louis scoffs as Harry neatly places his bag next to his and, just in spite, decides to knock over Harry’s shoes as he walks by them towards the kitchen.

Harry rolls his eyes at Louis’ childishness but follows him down the hallway towards the kitchen anyway.

The kitchen is white and brown with accents of yellow. The whole space seems like a center for activity. There’s a door along the back wall that leads to the backyard next to the tiny breakfast nook. Plants decorate the window sills that accompany the many windows that line the room, which instantly draws in Harry’s attention, his own love for houseplants making his eyes gravitate to them right away.

“Hello boys,” Louis’ mum greets warmly, drying her hands off on a teatowel. “Sorry for not greeting you at the front door. You sounded pretty occupied by the girls and I was elbow deep in dirty dishes.”

“It’s fine, Mum,” Louis chuckles, finally being pulled into a crushing hug. “I love you. Thanks for having us.”

“Anytime, love,” she says, arms squeezing tighter before she releases her son. She turns to Harry and smiles softly at her new guest.

Harry offers his hand, shy smile attempting to grow on his face. “Thank you for having me, Mrs.—”

“I’ll stop you right there, Harry,” she says, pushing Harry’s hand to the side and pulling him for his own bone-crushing hug. “Call me Jay, love.”

Harry’s body tenses as Jay’s arms pull him close to her body. He relaxes though, finding simple comfort in the gesture. Harry knows Jay notices his reaction, but she doesn’t mention it. He hasn’t felt his own Mum’s arms around him in over two years and it’s a lot to handle such an intimate touch from someone who is not Niall Horan or his sister.

“It’s okay to hug me back, love. It’ll make you feel better, I promise,” Jay whispers low enough for only Harry to hear and he’s eternally grateful for her Mum Intuition. He does as she says and hugs her equally as tight, loving the instant happiness and peace that floods his system. His shoulders drop, his back loosens, his bones melt as he breathes in the scent of honeysuckle that is attached to Jay.

“Thank you,” Harry whispers before pulling apart, trying to hold back tears.

Louis and Harry sit down together at the breakfast table as Jay asks them about their Fall semester. It’s easy, there’s no pressure to talk about things he doesn’t want to, and he loves that Louis’ thigh is pushed against his own under the table.

The rest of the night is easy and calm. Harry is introduced formally to each of the girls and the babies, who he absolutely adores. Ernest and Doris are the cutest little things in the world and they took an instant liking to Harry, climbing all over him, trying to talk to him, and playing with his hair. He sat on the living room floor and let himself be used as a jungle gym, loving the attention that all the Tomlinson-Deakin children were giving him. Lottie already plans on painting Harry’s nails—something he’s always wanted to try, but was too hesitant to go through with because of how very gay it seemed. He feels much more comfortable doing it now. Harry doesn’t really know what changed here, but he thinks it came from spending so much time with Louis. He feels more comfortable, he feels like he can be himself. Louis lets him be himself and Harry wants that. It feels like a step in the right direction.

Fizzy and Harry bond over their mutual love for writing and books and Daisy and Phoebe fight over who gets to plait Harry’s hair. It’s quite hilarious because this is the longest Harry’s ever had his hair. He even decided to stop wearing headscarves after the first few weeks of uni just because of the alarming rate that it was growing at.

Dan, Jay’s husband and Doris and Ernest’s father, comes home with pizza for the whole family (a family which Louis declared Harry is now a part of, “and you can’t fight me on that, Curly!”). The girls go to bed soon afterwards, having one more week of school left before their own winter holiday. Harry and Louis don’t stay up much later than them, too tired from their long day of driving to mindlessly watch telly.

They go about their nighttime routines quietly, only speaking when they simply decide to share Louis’ bed. It’s wide enough to fit both of them comfortably, and without touching, which Harry is happy about. Harry wouldn’t mind snuggling up to Louis, but seeing him shirtless and up close would not have a good ending for Harry.

Louis is already in bed when Harry comes back from the bathroom, his eyes already closed and his breathing even. Harry goes to remove his own shirt but hesitates, the thought of his soulmark crossing his mind for the first time this whole day. Harry is a little shocked that he forgot about it, almost as the blemish didn’t even exist. He’s usually extremely cautious when it comes to his soulmark, especially around new people, but he didn’t feel the need to tug his sleeve down to cover his entire left hand or sit with his wrist tucked under his thigh the whole day.

It’s a bit monumental, if you think about it. Harry’s usual obsessive paranoia had disappeared the whole day, making him feel at ease around a family he’s never met before. Being with the Tomlinson-Deakins felt like being in a home he could spend forever in, with a family he wants to be apart of.

Harry decides to strip off his jeans, keeping just his pants on, and slips on a clean long sleeve shirt, one of his favorites that’s super soft and has been worn many, many times. He slides into bed next to Louis, who’s dressed opposite of Harry with sweatpants on and no shirt.

Harry lays on his side, facing Louis’ back, but his eyes aren’t on his friend, they’re glued to his wrist where Louis is delicately etched into his skin. His eyes trace the letters of the name as his eyes slowly drift closed. He goes to bed with Louis on his mind, as usual, but this time it’s a look into a hopeful future where Harry can permanently become part of the family.

All of Louis’ siblings are finally on their winter break now, leaving Harry and Louis the job of entertaining them everyday up until Christmas. It’s a little overwhelming, having to occupy the minds of three and twelve year olds, and occasionally Lottie and Fizzy when they’re not hanging out with friends. There are a lot of walks to parks, despite the cold weather, and movie marathons in-between board games.

“Harry, can we please plait your hair today?” Phoebe asks, hands behind her back, rocking from her heels to her toes, seemingly nervous with her bottom lip in-between her teeth.

“I know we played with it yesterday,” Daisy adds, looking equally as nervous, “but we wanna keep practicing. Lou told us not to bother you, but we really, really wanna.”

Harry’s heart melts a little at the older twins’ request. They did plait his hair yesterday and they were a bit harsh too, tugging on his curls unnecessarily, but he understands that they don’t have much practice and that they were a bit too over excited to finally have someone who would let them play with their hair.

Harry wants to indulge the girls, he really does, but he’s currently sitting on the floor, back against the couch with Doris asleep, curled up in his lap. Ernest is passed out on the cushions of the loveseat that’s adjacent to the large couch. Tangled, what the twins and Harry were watching before they fell asleep, is playing on the telly, volume low. Lottie and Fizzy are out running errands and Christmas shopping with Louis, leaving Harry to babysit both set of twins while Dan and Jay are at work. Harry didn’t mind at all when Jay asked him last night to take care of them for a day, already having formed a bond with each of the Tomlinson-Deakin children. He loves their energy, kindness, and creativity, something each and every single one of them share with Louis.

“You can play with me hair, if, ” Harry warns, already seeing the girls spark with excitement, “and only if, you keep quiet and don’t wake up your siblings. And I’m not moving, so you have to be creative.”

Daisy nods, head bobbing up and down fast enough to look like it hurts. Phoebe quietly squeals, trying to keep her excitement contained.

“Thank you so much, Harry! And we’ll make it work,” Daisy says.

“Yeah, we can sit on the couch behind you,” her sister adds.

They rearrange themselves behind him, starting to carefully card their fingers through his soft hair. Harry’s happy that there’s minimal tugging and whenever Daisy and Phoebe softly hum along to any of the songs from the movie, he smiles like a fool, happy to be surrounded by such cuties.

After Tangled, Daisy, Phoebe, and Harry all agree on watching Princess and the Frog. Daisy is the first to fall asleep on the couch so Phoebe joins Harry on the floor. They sit with their thighs pressed together, impossibly close, and sing the songs quietly. Phoebe falls asleep sooner rather than later, though, head resting against Harry’s shoulder.

Harry smiles to himself the whole time, feeling beyond loved and trusted. He attempts to cherish this moment as best as possible, wanting to remember this peaceful moment forever. For once Harry doesn’t have to worry about his soulmark and its implications, nor does he have to worry about bullies, school work, or his own familial problems. For once Harry is allowed to just sit and do nothing. He’s allowed to enjoy the moment. He’s allowed to wish and dream of his own future family he knows he’ll never have.

Harry decides to wake up both sets of twins, not wanting them to get too much rest so that it would affect them falling asleep later that night. They all decide to color, Harry trying to teach Doris and Ernest to draw specific objects, such as flowers, cats, and Louis himself.

“You sure you want to know how to draw Louis?” Harry asks Doris, a little confused by her request.

She nods, offended by Harry’s question. “Yes! I wanna draw you and Lou together. You two are cute.”

Harry stares at her blankly, not understanding what she’s implying. “Uh. Thank you?”

Doris gives him a tiny scowl. “So? Are you gonna help?”

Harry nods and starts describing Louis in great detail to the three year old currently in his lap. He might spend way too long describing Louis’ soft hair and ocean blue eyes, but that information is only for the two sets of twins to know.

In the end, Doris creates the most adorable stick figures in the world, perfectly illustrating Harry’s curls and his and Louis’ height difference. It’s one of the most adorable things anyone has ever made for him and he treats it like it’s the most precious present he has ever received. And it totally is. If he had a refrigerator, he’d most definitely display it right in the middle of the door.

“We were living in really shitty flats—”

“Louis! Language,” Jay reprimands.

“Sorry Mum. We were living in some really bad flats at the time. I was young and so were Lottie and Fizzy and we just gotten a pet bird. We really wanted a pet.”

“I wouldn’t let them have an actual cat or dog—too much responsibility. Also our landlord didn’t allow pets, so we got them the canary in secret,” Jay butts in, adding to the story her son is currently telling around the dinner table.

They’re all eating a lovely lasagne Jay made. Harry loves having her home cooked meals. They’re always filling, delicious, and made with love. Everyone around the table is enjoying it, not one complain to speak of.

Harry isn’t sure how they got on the topic of funny Christmas stories, but he’s loving the trip down memory lane, learning little bits and pieces of Louis’ past life. Each story makes him giggle until he’s red in the face and Harry always notices Louis’ beaming smile, as if he’s proud of himself for generating such a strong reaction from Harry.

“So we had this really cute little yellow canary named Lex. She was the sweetest little bird ever and we were obsessed with each other. I think we got her in the beginning of November, but in the end of we only had her until Christmas Eve.”

“Christmas Eve?” Harry cries out. “What happened?!”

Jay chuckles as she takes another bite of her cheesy lasagne, knowing what happens next.

“Well I was playing with Lex and my little self was having a good ‘ol time, but then she just falls off her perch. I was so scared and confused because she wasn’t moving so I called Mum over and it turned out Lex was dead.”

“What, you killed your canary, Lou?!” Louis laughs. “How is this funny?!” Harry cries out.

“We ended up having to evacuate the flat, the whole block of flats had to. There was a gas leak. On Christmas Eve! You know the old stories about canaries being used in mines because toxic gases affect them before us? Well, yeah, that’s what happened.”

Harry openly gapes at Louis. Everyone around the table is trying to hold in their giggles, already having heard this story multiple times. Harry’s absolutely devastated though. He doesn’t understand how everyone is red faced and laughing.

“Poor Lex! That’s horrible,” Harry groans, burying his face in his hands.

Louis rests a hand on Harry’s back and soothingly rubs up and down his spine. “It’s fine, Haz,” he chuckles. “Little Lex saved our, and everybody else’s, lives! She was a great little bird.”

“I guess that’s good, but I still feel bad for her,” he pouts.

“We ended up getting kicked out of the flat anyway just because we had a pet. Good thing though, the place ended up having a history of gas leaks. It was a dump,” Louis adds, laughs shaking his body.

They continue telling stories, less morbid ones, laughs filling the dining room. The house is warm, happiness and love in the air. And by dessert time, a handmade pie from the bakery a few streets over, Harry even manages to share his own favorite past Christmas story.

“We were visiting some random aunt and uncle on my dad’s side one Christmas. They live in Florida in this really safe, gated neighborhood. It was a cul-de-sac!” Harry laughs. “It’s really warm in winter in Florida, it was weird to experience, but we were all outside enjoying the night with my cousins and some other weird family members I had never met before. Dinner was like a barbeque. It’s a tradition for them? Stuff like sausages, grilled vegetables.

“Anyway, we were winding down from eating dinner and this random teenage girl comes bursting into the backyard where we are all sitting and she demands to know why she’s only now hearing about the summer sausage we had for dinner. And the weirdest part, she was only in a towel!”

Everyone around the table breaks out into confused laughter. Harry’s proud of himself for being able to tell such an entertaining story, even though it brings back memories of his dad. He laughs along with them.

“The look on everyone’s face was priceless. No one knew who she was or why she was there or how she knew about the sausages we had. I think she was their neighbor? I don’t know!”

Laughter continues to ring throughout the dining room, everyone enjoying themselves and the stories. Harry smiles to himself, his cheeks aching from the constant grinning. He loves that he was able to generate this kind of response from Louis’ family. Harry feels like he belongs, especially when Louis places his hand on Harry’s knee and squeezes lightly, giving him a private smile when their eyes meet.

Harry’s sitting on his and Louis’ couch. They’re cuddling, arms around each other, eyes fighting to stay open as they watch a rerun of the Great British Bake Off. Louis pretended he didn’t want to watch it earlier when Harry asked if they could. He always does that. Harry knows that his husband could never say no to him, though.

“Janice should’ve won that challenge,” Louis mumbles into Harry’s chest.

“Mhm,” Harry hums, not really comprehending what Louis said, just agreeing with anyway.

“Babe, you’re not even listening,” Louis sighs.

Harry’s too tired to reply, body sinking in the cushions of the couch even further. He’s warm and comfortable, feeling loved being wrapped up in Louis’ embrace. Louis’ warmth soon disappears as he shifts to straddle Harry. Suddenly, Harry’s drowsiness vanishes, taking interest in Louis’ new position.

Louis starts placing tiny kisses all over Harry’s face and neck. Harry hums in appreciation, loving the soft, tickling presses. The dusting of scruff covering Louis’ jaw rubs against Harry’s skin in all the right ways, just enough pain and pleasure for Harry to let out a tiny moan of approval.

Harry feels his arm left rise, Louis gently picking it up and cradling it in his arms. Louis’ soft fingertips find the skin of Harry’s wrist as they gently trace over the Louis scrawled there.

“I’ve always loved this,” Louis whispers. “A little piece of me on you. I’m so happy you chose me, that Fate chose me for you.”

Harry closes his eyes and lets his head fall back against the couch cushion behind him. His favorite thing ever to feel is Louis’ fingers as they trail over his name. It brings Harry such indescribable happiness and pleasure, making his insides swirl and his groin take interest.

“Lou,” Harry moans.

“It’s okay, baby,” Louis whispers against Harry’s neck. “I’ll take care of you.”

Harry’s eyes flutter. Louis always makes him feel loved and taken care of.

“Lou,” a voice that’s not Harry’s calls out through their apartment. Louis doesn’t hear it, though, as he continues his ministrations on Harry’s neck.

“Lou, wake up!”

“He is awake?” Harry mumbles back, suppressing a groan as Louis moves his lips to Harry’s ear lobe.

“Lou, wake up! Wake up!”

Harry rolls over in bed, emerging from his dream, realizing that the unrecognizable voice was in fact Louis’ siblings, not some disembodied voice ringing throughout their flat.

Harry jolts up, realizing what his dream was implying. Then, he notices a little problem in his pants. He’s hard, really hard. He whips his head to his left, noticing that Louis is still asleep, with his back turned to Harry. He lets out a short breath of relaxation, happy to see that Louis hadn’t been awake to see his morning wood. The girls call out for Louis one more time, causing him to startle in his sleep, but thankfully not wake up.

“We’re awake!” Harry says, just loud enough for them to hear, but hopefully not loud enough to wake his friend.

“It snowed! We wanna play in the snow with Haz!”

Harry smiles, loving that the girls are requesting specifically for him. “We’ll be out soon, get dressed and wait for us downstairs!” he calls back.

Harry hears tiny footsteps running down the hallway and stairs, leaving them alone. He falls back against the bed, breathing a sigh of relief. His dick decided to behave halfway through his conversation with the girls, obviously not interested anymore, but Harry can’t help but think of his overactive imagine and dreams. How could he really dream about that? Harry knows he can’t have Louis. Now if only his subconscious could catch up on the memo, that’d be stellar.

Harry collects him, wakes up Louis, and exits to the bathroom to go through his morning routine. When he comes back, Louis is fully dressed, dread covering his features.

“Do we really have to play in the snow with them?” Louis pouts.

Harry rolls his eyes. “ I’m going to play with them. You can stay inside and pout as you watch us have all the fun. Lottie and Fizzy are even going to join in.”

Louis scoffs, too stubborn to give Harry a response as he makes his way to the bathroom. Harry quickly gets dressed in warm clothes while Louis is not in the room so he’s ready to head downstairs to face the energetic Tomlinson-Deakin kids once Louis returns.

The backyard is absolutely gorgeous. Every inch of every surface is covered in a brilliant white. It feels like Harry stepped out of the Tomlinson-Deakin house and walked straight into a fairytale world. He feels isolated from the world, the neighboring houses hidden by white fog. The tiny tree that stands tall in the corner of the yard is totally bare except for the blanket of snow.

Everything is pure, stark, and cold. It almost feels menacing, a little bit intimidating. The fantasy is broken, though, by screaming children running out of the backdoor. They fill the crisp, silent air with their voices, yelling back and forth at each other, screaming in delight. They jump down the steps of the back porch, throwing their bundled bodies into the mounds of untouched snow. They instantly ruin the pure beauty that the landscape held, but now they bring life to  what had just felt lifeless seconds ago.

Daisy and Phoebe compete against one another to create the prettiest snow angel, each one they make not good enough, moving on to find a new area of untouched snow. Lottie is holding onto both Doris and Ernest’s hands, helping them walk across the snowy yard. Fizzy runs straight past Harry, who is still standing on the porch observing everyone, and joins Lottie to take cute photographs of the youngest twins with her phone.

“You gonna stand there all day, Curly?” a voice asks from behind Harry.

He turns and finds Louis all bundled up aswell, thick jacket hugging his torso and arms tightly, gloves keeping his beautiful fingers warm, and a ridiculously cute beanie flattening his hair against his forehead and ears.

“Cute hat, Lou,” Harry beams.

Louis rolls his eyes and brushes against Harry as he passes him, hopping down the steps to join the others in the snow. Harry’s eyes are glued to him. Louis moves through the snow elegantly, short legs carrying his body more gracefully than Harry’s long legs do on regular ground. Louis’ simple beauty has always grabbed Harry’s attention, but seeing him surrounded by the bright snow only enhances his features.

“Alright kiddos!” Louis announces, pulling Harry out of his trance. “Split into teams, we’re gonna have a snowball fight!”

Harry cackles, head falling back to let out the loud laugh. He smiles wide, letting the grin dominate his face. Harry doesn’t think he’s been this excited to play in the snow for a long, long time. He follows Louis’ path down the steps onto the yard, only way less elegant and with way more stumbling, and joins the family for a day of fun. The snow may be wet and cold, but his heart is warm and happy.

“Is everyone warm enough?”

Harry sees Louis roll his eyes at his mum’s constant worrying out of the corner of his eye. He tries to suppress a smile, burying his chin into the scarf wrapped around his neck. Seeing Louis and Jay interact is the most pure thing to witness. Their fierce love for each other is so blatantly obvious and sometimes it makes Harry’s chest ache for his own mum, but he always pushes those thoughts far, far away whenever they decide to spring up.

“Yes, Mummy! We’re fine, we promise,” Phoebe whines. Her own gloved hand is holding on tight to Daisy’s, just like Lottie and Fizzy are holding hands. The twins insisted that they were only going to hold hands if all the adults did.

“Can we go look at the lights now?” Daisy pleas, jumping up and down where she’s standing.

Christmas is only a small week away and all the houses on the block where the Tomlinson-Deakin family live are now glowing on the outside, string lights illuminating the roof edges and window perimeters. Louis told Harry it had always been a tradition to go see the lights and that this year they might not be able to do it because of Dan’s crazy work schedule and not having anyone to take care the younger twins. Harry instantly suggested that him and Louis take the four girls, even though Lottie and Fizzy were technically too old to tag along. When Harry brought up the idea to the family, everyone rejoiced and Harry took pride in being able to join in with yet another Tomlinson-Deakin Christmas Tradition.

After everyone says their goodbyes to Jay, they pile out the door and turn to the right once they reach the end of the driveway. All the houses, most of them similar in construction and look to the Tomlinson-Deakin home, are glowing with Christmas decorations. Some are more minimal than others, simple string lights lining windows and doors, but some houses have gone crazy with giant blow-up snow globes or waving Father Christmas lawn decorations.

Daisy and Phoebe lead the group, hand in hand, because they’re the only two truly interested in seeing the lights besides Harry. Lottie and Fizzy are trailing behind them, their hands still together, chatting aimlessly about makeup or school, or something. Harry and Louis are quite a distance from the others, trying to gain their own privacy. Harry continues to catch Louis looking at him fondly, which causes Harry to blush a deep red every single time. Harry can’t help but be fascinated by the display of white and colored lights. After being out of your home country for two Christmases in a row, you almost forget about the grandeur.

Throughout their walk, Harry keeps his eyes wide and observant the whole time, not only looking after the girls, but also trying to internalize the beauty of the night, photographing it with his brain to remember this precious moment forever.

“Harry!” someone calls. Harry almost trips, being pulled out of his daydreaming too fast. Louis’ arms flies from his side to lightly grip Harry’s bicep so he doesn’t fall.

“Yes?” Harry finds Daisy and Phoebe looking at him critically, eyebrows furrowed in disappointment.

“You and Louis need to hold hands,” Daisy demands.

“Oh, we do?” Louis asks, a mischievous smirk tilting his lips.

The twins nod together. “It’s only fair,” Phoebe adds.

“Yeah, Mum said we each need a partner and we need to hold their hand. You two are the only ones without a partner.” And with that, they both turn around with an air of finality, trusting that Harry and Louis would do as told.

Harry’s eyes are wide, his left hand hidden in his coat pocket suddenly becomes sweaty. He looks at Louis, fishmouthing, not knowing what to do or say.

Louis only shrugs and offers his right hand for Harry’s left hand to hold. He raises his eyebrows at Harry’s hand that’s still burrowed in his pocket. “Well, Curly?”

Harry breaks eye contact, hating that he decided to walk on Louis’ right when they left the house. His soulmark lives on his left wrist, which is attached to his left hand. He’s never spoken about his soulmark to Louis and he doesn’t want some childish handholding to ruin his best kept secret. Louis tries to casually clear his throat, but Harry doesn’t budge, eyes still stubbornly trained on the pavement in front of him. He balls his hand in his pocket into a fist, digging his fingernails into the skin of his palm, stopping himself from rashly deciding to reach out and actually grasp Louis’ offered hand.

Harry doesn’t notice, but Louis disappears from his left side. He’s only aware of this small change when Louis grasps his right hand, which is hanging limply at his side, totally free and available for handholding.

Harry’s shocked that Louis would go through so much trouble just to be able to hold Harry’s hand. When Harry looks at him questioningly, all Louis does is shrug, smile softly, and squeeze Harry’s hand in his.

Everything is so sweet and soft and Harry kind of wishes that it was just him and Louis taking this late night walk through the streets of Doncaster under the beautiful white lights of the Christmas decorations. The glowing makes everything feel unreal, like a fairytale. Louis looks radiant under the shine and Harry desperately wishes that this fairytale could end with a kiss and a happy ending, but he knows that it is impossible, so he settles for squeezing Louis’ hand back. It’s all he has right now and he promises himself it’s all he needs, even if he knows he is lying to himself.

Today is just not Harry’s day. He thought after such a wonderful evening out with Louis and his siblings, followed by accidental cuddling while sleeping, that today would be easy. It has been everything but. Lottie stole Harry away from Louis first thing this morning, demanding that Louis needs to spend time with his Doncaster friends, like Stan and Oli, and that she wants to spend quality time with Harry, claiming that they need to go shopping.

“What are we shopping for?” Harry asks, once he’s settled into the passenger seat, Lottie at the wheel of Louis’ car.

“Don’tcha need to buy a birthday present for Lou?” she shrugs casually, turning to look behind her as she pulls out of the driveway.

Harry sputters, not knowing what to say. “B-birthday?!”

Lottie laughs. “I knew it. He didn’t even tell you.”

Harry starts to go a little crazy. “Birthday! He didn’t tell me his birthday! Is it soon?” he rambles. “Oh no! Did it pass already? Was I a dick and not even notice everyone else wishing him a happy birthday? What do I get him? I’m such a horrible friend, Lottie. I’m so, so bad. He fucking takes care of me and gave me a place to call home over winter holiday and I just go and be a giant dick and not even know it’s his birthday!”

Harry has to stop, heart beating too fast and lungs not working fast enough. He’s gasping for air, on the edge of panic attack. Lottie smooths a palm up and down Harry’s spine, the comforting motion instantly calming him.

“It’s on Christmas Eve,” Lottie sighs. “Calm down, H. You’ll be fine.”

Lottie helps Harry find the perfect gift for Louis, but the day only gets worse from there.

The house is totally deserted when they get back, everyone either out with friends, at work, or running a long list of errands. Harry doesn’t mind spending the afternoon bonding with Lottie, but he really wanted to hug and cuddle Louis. He’s been feeling really down on himself all day and Louis’ smiles and hugs usually bring him back up.

They sit on the couch mindlessly talking about life and sharing embarrassing stories about Louis until everyone comes home, but Harry finds himself sticking to Lottie for the rest of the night. Louis shoots him curious, questioning looks, but Harry always shakes his head, signaling that he’ll tell Louis later.

The thing is, after spending the whole day with Lottie, everything started feeling better. He found that talking with Lottie was like talking with Gemma. He also couldn’t help but notice her soulmark proudly displayed on her left wrist. Harry stared hard at the Elizabeth printed neatly onto Lottie’s skin all day and promised himself to talk to her about it whenever they were alone.

After everyone drifts off to bed, even Louis with some coaxing from Harry, Lottie and Harry are finally left alone, quietly watching whatever random film is playing on the telly.

“Lottie,” Harry whispers, finally having built up enough courage to ask, “can I see your soulmark?”

Lottie smiles at Harry softly, a little sympathetically, like she knew he was dying to ask about it the whole night. She simply offers her left wrist to him without any word. Harry goes to touch it, but hesitates, pulling back his hand last minute. Lottie nods, giving him permission to touch.

Harry reverently lets his fingertips glide over the skin of her inner wrist. It’s soft and blemish free, unlike his own wrists, which have seen better days.

Harry tries to process his thoughts. Lottie’s soulmark is a girl name. A girl name.

He realizes that he has an opportunity to ask Lottie a lot of questions. What? He doesn’t know, specifically, but he does know that he can start to figure out his own fucked up mind and maybe get some stuff off his chest that she, of all people, would hopefully be able to understand.

“Did the name out you before you were out to yourself?” he blurts right away, without thinking first. He flinches at how insensitive it could sound, if taken the wrong way. Lottie doesn’t look offended, though, so he counts it as a win, but she does smile sadly at Harry.

“Yeah,” she shrugs. “I got it really young though, so I didn’t really know anything different. I didn’t find growing up with a female soulmark hard because it helped me identify as bisexual at a young age, which was great.”

Harry nods and swallows hard. He tries his best to look supportive and interested in what Lottie’s saying, but he feels disappointment weighing down on his shoulders. He thought maybe this would be his chance to finally feel not alone, to feel like he’s not the only person who has been outed by their soulmark before they were prepared.

“H? Are you okay?” Lottie asks, picking up on Harry’s disappointment and instant mood drop. “Is there something you want to talk about? You can talk to me. I promise I won’t tell Louis.”

Harry chuckles, albeit humorless. “I’m just really happy for you Lottie. My fucking soulmark outed me and I was not ready and it did not go over well.” Harry shyly lifts up his olive green shirt to reveal the bare skin of his ribcage. The smoothness of his skin is interrupted by the scars left over from the heels and toes of different pairs of trainers and boots.

Lottie audibly gasps as her eyes trail over the signs of abuse on Harry’s body.

Harry swallows hard, trying to pass the lump in his throat. “I’ve never showed anyone these scars before. Never really wanted to.” He closes his eyes, holding in the tears he definitely does not want falling down his cheeks. “But talking to you has just felt so easy and it feels good finally letting someone other than my mum and best friend know.”

“Thank you for sharing with me, Harry,” Lottie whispers. She leans in close and pulls Harry into a tight hug. He wraps his arms around his, reciprocating the energy she’s exuding.

They sit in silence, digesting their conversation until Lottie decides to speak again. She asks to see Harry’s soulmark. Of course, Harry is very hesitant, his gut reaction tells him to not let the sister of his soulmate see his soulmark when his own soulmate hasn’t even seen it yet. But there’s something in Harry that’s telling him to show her. He isn’t sure if it’s because he’s feeling extra vulnerable in this moment, or if it’s that he simply trusts Lottie.

He pulls up his sleeve and removes his watch, the two things that have always guarded his secret from the rest of the world, and reveals it Lottie.

“Oh, Harry,” she gasps. Her fingers instantly shoot out toward his wrist, her manicured nails trace over simple letters that make up Louis. She looks at him, profound sadness in her eyes—eyes that look so much like Louis’ that it hurts.

“Please don’t say anything,” he whispers, his eyes avoiding Lottie’s. He feels like if he were to catch her all-too-familiar blue eyes, he’d simply crumble, and he can’t handle that kind of emotional breakdown right now, six days before Christmas and five days before Louis’ birthday.

“I promise I won’t,” Lottie whispers, voice fierce and believable. “Thank you for telling me.” She doesn’t go any farther than that, doesn’t ask any more questions, doesn’t want to know why Harry hasn’t told Louis, and Harry’s grateful for that.

When Harry crawls into bed shortly after, he cuddles closer to Louis than he usually would, wanting to feel the specific type of safety only Louis can make him feel.

In the morning, they don’t talk about their lack of interaction from the day before and they definitely don’t talk about how they woke up with their arms around each other. It looks like Louis wants to, but Harry escapes to the kitchen before anything happens. The day passes by easily, everything back to normal, except for the fact that Harry feels like he’s walking a little lighter now.

Harry quietly closes Doris and Ernest’s bedroom door behind him as he makes his exit, trying his best not to disturb them as they drift off to sleep. They had a very exciting day and are absolutely exhausted from all the festivities of the day. He looks over his shoulder one last time, lingering in the doorway, before the door latches. The younger twins look their most angelic when they’re still and peaceful like this, their baby-soft skin illuminated under the glow of the dim night light plugged into the wall between their two beds. Doris is tightly wrapped in her duvet, corners tucked under her like the cutest and tiniest burrito ever. Ernest, on the other hand, has his limbs spread across his mattress, like a starfish, duvet simply resting on top of his body.

Harry sighs, gives himself one more second to fully appreciate the calm scene, and then finally closes the door behind him. He makes his way down the stairs to join Louis and the rest of his family before the older twins have to get ready for bed.

Earlier, when the younger twins asked if Harry could tuck them in and read them a bedtime story, Harry was genuinely touched. At first he hesitated, not wanting to ruin any Christmas Eve nighttime traditions that Jay does with her children, but she insisted that Harry should put them to bed because it left her with more time to cuddle up next to her husband on the couch with a full mug of eggnog.

“Did the little ones put up a fuss, Harry?” Jay asks when Harry returns and situates himself next to Louis on the loveseat. He doesn’t miss the way the corner of Louis’ lips tilt up as he shuffles closer to him. Louis takes the blanket that’s overtop his lap and drapes half of it over Harry, drawing him in closer so they can share each other’s warmth.

“Not at all,” Harry smiles.

Everyone refocuses their attention back to the telly where Elf is playing. Harry’s not a huge fan of the film, he appreciates the humor, but he’d rather bask in the Christmas atmosphere of the Tomlinson-Deakin household than keep his eyes glued to the telly.

Everyone is piled up close together on the couches and floor, many blankets and pillows being shared. Harry is snuggled up with Louis on the tiny loveseat, Jay and Dan are wrapped together in a white, fluffy afghan, sharing the couch with Fizzy who has her own pink fleece blanket around her shoulders. On the floor, backs against the couch, is Lottie in the middle of Daisy and Phoebe, both her arms thrown over their shoulders, holding their yawning, tired bodies close.

Harry quietly appreciates the fact that everyone is in matching Christmas themed pyjamas, from Jay and Dan to Doris and Ernest. Earlier, Jay gave a wrapped up box to each of her children after dinner, even the younger twins. Harry was unaware of what was happening, unfamiliar with their traditions, until Jay gave Harry his own boxed, wrapped in the same paper as everyone else’s. He looked at her questioningly, but all she did was wink.

Louis counted down from three and when he hit zero, everyone ripped through the paper and tore open the boxes. Harry lagged a little bit behind the others, but soon found his own set of Christmas pyjamas neatly folded inside the package. His instant reaction was to tell Jay how unnecessary this was, that he’s not really a part of the family and doesn’t deserve matching pyjamas with everyone, but then he remembered Louis’ words from the car ride. He resigned himself and simply hugged and thanked her, voice as sincere as he could possibly manage.

Now as he looks around the living room and finds everyone in the same long sleeve green shirt featuring a giant polar bear on the front of it, with red plaid flannel pants, he feels like he’s really a part of the family.

The Christmas tree in the corner of the living room is the only source of light in the room besides the telly and the multitude of burning scented candles sitting on various surfaces.

Soon enough though, it’s Daisy and Phoebe’s bedtime. They reluctantly head towards their bedroom after saying goodnight to their mum and Dan. They also drag Fizzy and Lottie upstairs and to bed with them after complaining that it’s not fair that they’re able to stay up.

Once everyone is in bed, hopefully on their way to being sound asleep, and the house is quiet, only Dan, Jay, Harry and Louis are left in the living room.

“Well, Curly,” Louis yawns as he stretches, pulling himself off of the couch. “Now the fun begins!”

Harry looks at Louis, confusion probably written all over his face, but all Louis does is offer his hand to Harry, which he takes, and pulls him up off the couch.

“We’re gonna get the presents for everyone and set them up under the tree. I usually help Mum and Dan, but since you’re here I figured we could give them a break this year.”

Harry shrugs and follows Louis around the house, doing whatever he’s told to do. They travel downstairs to the basement, retrieving the gifts hidden down there. It’s an easy process… until Louis wants Harry to go to the attic.

“I’m not going up there, Louis!” Harry angrily whispers, trying to keep his voice’s volume to its absolute minimum, not wanting to wake up the sleeping Tomlinson-Deakin children.

“You’re such a crybaby, Haz!” Louis bickers back, voice equally as harsh and quiet as Harry’s.

“You know I have poor coordination, Louis!” he hisses. “What if I fall?”

Harry can just barely make out Louis rolling his eyes in the dark of the hallway. They’re currently standing in front of the door that leads the attic, fighting over who will climb the steep steps to retrieve the presents hidden at the top. From an outsider’s perspective, they look absolutely ridiculous. They are both dressed in the matching pyjamas, Harry wearing a pair of bright pink fuzzy socks on his feet that he’s borrowed from Lottie, and Louis wearing his own giant moose slippers.

“You won’t fall, you dork!”

“Louis!”

“Harry!”

Harry wants to scream, but he doesn’t want to wake everyone up so he settles for stomping his foot and crossing his arms over his chest, trying his hardest to give Louis a stink eye. He stares at Louis hard, but Louis’ own glare soon transforms into a soft pout, his lips tilting down and his eyes going big and round. Harry is defenseless against Louis when he pouts like this, and he instantly breaks, having no chance of winning after that move.

“Fine,” Harry scowls. He whips around and slowly opens the attic door, conscious of any squeaking it might make. He slowly makes his way up the staircase, his arms spread out on either side of him, fingertips connected the walls so he can somewhat tell where he’s going as his eyes adjust to the almost total darkness.

When he reaches the top, he sees the sack of presents and starts hauling it down the stairs. The bundle is cradled in his arms, blocking his line of sight as he attempts to descend the steps. He goes slowly, one foot at a time, trying his hardest to keep his balance on the hardwood flooring. He thinks he has succeeded at reaching the halfway point and starts to let his confidence rise, decided on changing his rhythm, taking the stairs a little faster now.

Which, to put it simply, was a stupid mistake. The second he thinks he won’t fall, his fuzzy socks cause him to lose his footing, his feet flying out from under his body and into the air. Next thing Harry knows, he’s at the bottom of the staircase, bum aching and presents covering his body. Louis is in the doorway bent over, hands on his knees, laughing as quietly as possible, probably redfaced.

Harry groans in pain as he shifts his body, trying to stand up.

“Oh my god,” Louis wheezes, laughs still shaking his body. “Your squeal! That was the loudest, most funniest thing ever! Oh! My! God!”

Harry groans, hoping his accident didn’t wake everyone up. He told Louis he would fall. He knew he would. He shouldn’t have gone up to the attic. But then again, Louis did ask him to.

The things he does for that boy.

They finally make their way downstairs, Harry scowling at Louis the whole time. They kneel in front of the tree together and carefully arrange the presents. Louis tries to find his gifts in the bunch, but whenever Harry comes across one addressed to him, he hides it right away, not wanting Louis to gain any hints at what his gifts will be, wanting to save the magic of unwrapping presents for tomorrow morning.

“Louis…” Jay calls from the kitchen. Harry and Louis instantly turn towards each other, eyebrows furrowed. They obviously both picked up Jay’s worried sounding tone. They rise to their feet and make their way into the kitchen where Jay and Dan are standing together, both looking very despondent.

“What’s wrong, Mum?” Louis asks, worried about what Jay’s about to say.

“You know our orange tradition, Lou?” Jay says.

Louis nods. “Yeah, of course.” He turns to Harry to quickly explain. “We always get oranges in our Christmas stockings because it means that Father Christmas was here. As a kid, my belief in Santa basically depended on getting an orange in my stocking.” Louis turns back to his mum, confusion clear as day on his face. “What about it, Mum?”

Dan sighs and speaks instead. “We forgot to go buy oranges for everyone. Everything was so hectic this week and we totally forgot.”

Harry’s eyes widen, automatically realizing what this implies.

“Oh no,” Louis groans. “You forgot the oranges? Doris and Ernest will be absolutely gutted if we don’t all have oranges in our stockings!”

“I know, love,” Jay sighs. “We don’t know what to do.”

Harry has an idea, it might not work, but he has an idea. “What if Lou and I go out and look for oranges?”

Jay sighs. “Oh sweetheart, we can’t have you do that. It’s basically eleven at night.”

Louis shrugs. “Harry’s right, Mum. We can go looking for oranges. I bet some shop is open around here.”

“I don’t want to see anyone’s belief in Santa to be ruined,” Harry pouts.

And with that, Harry and Louis bundle up for the cold outside air. They don’t change out of their matching pyjamas, but they do put on snow boots along with their coats, scarves, beanies, and gloves.

They wander the streets on foot, snow falling down around them, just enough cash in their pockets for a bunch of oranges. The bare tree branches around them are covered only in fluffy white. It’s difficult to tell the street from the pavement, a fresh coat of snow making them blend together. With every house they pass, more and more lights are turned off, the bright windows fading into darkness, the houses falling asleep alongside their owners.

The only sounds filling the empty night air are Harry and Louis’ heavy breathing and their crunching footsteps. The puffs of air that escape from the gap in-between their lips and scarves indicates exactly how frigid the temperature is. The night is calm and still, the sky slowly letting snowflakes drift to the ground. The stars that are visible between the sparse clouds shine down over them, keeping watch as the pair travels.

Their bodies are so close they can almost touch; their arms, swinging down by their sides, occasionally do. Harry desperately wants to reach out and hold Louis’ hand, he wants to feel Louis’ gloved fingers wrap around his own. His heart beats slightly faster in his chest, recognizing how unintentionally romantic everything feels. The moon, when it finally does break free of the overcast, seems to wink at Harry, telling him to go for it. Harry hesitates, though, too afraid to touch Louis, feeling like if he did, he’d blow away in the breeze, revealing himself as only a figment of Harry’s imagination.

Harry occasionally sneaks glances at Louis to confirm that yes, Louis is real. The snow delicately settling over Louis’ hair and eyelashes is real. Louis’ beauty under the dim, yellow streetlights is real. The safety Harry feels walking beside Louis is real. The urge to turn and kiss Louis is real.

Harry’s lips burn with want.

“It’s a beautiful night,” Louis whispers, breaking the silence as delicately as possible.

You’re beautiful. “Yeah, it is,” Harry whispers back, swallowing the lump blocking his throat. He decides to keep his eyes strictly on the ground in front of him for the rest of their walk.

All sense of calmness breaks as soon as the automatic doors of the supermarket slide open. Louis cheers, glad they found a shop still open this late on Christmas Eve on their first try. They both break out into running starts, racing each other through the aisles, hollering and laughing, as they search for the fresh produce.

Harry almost trips as he runs away from Louis down the bread aisle, a loose coupon nearly sending him into a fixture promoting wheat rolls on sale. Louis quickly makes sure Harry’s okay before he’s abandoning him, gaining a lead start as he turns at the end of the row and rushes down the canned food section.

“Hey, not fair!” Harry calls after him, no malice in his voice. Once he regains his footing, he takes off, but bypasses the aisle Louis went down, trying to find a shortcut that would put him in the lead.

It’s close to midnight, the supermarket completely and eerily empty besides Harry and Louis and not even a handful of workers. It’s totally dark outside, the overhead lights in the parking lot barely doing their job of illuminating the asphalt, but inside it’s a different world. Christmas music softly crackles over the speaker system, Bing Crosby crooning about a white Christmas is the only other sound besides Harry’s heavy, labored breathing and his snow boots hitting the squeaky tiles.

Harry turns one more corner and comes face to face with Louis at the other end. They both have wild looks in their eyes and wide smiles stretching across their face. Harry’s dimple makes an appearance deep in his cheek and the corners of Louis’ eyes crinkle in delight.

They break eye contact to turn to look at the center of the room. Louis cheers as they look out over tables full of produce. They both spot the oranges right away and run towards them, almost colliding when they reach them at the same time.

“I got here first, Curly! Move!”

“Nuh-uh, Lou! We got here at the same time, ” Harry tries to fight back.

“I win, I win,” Louis taunts and continues to taunt as they walk through checkout, paying for their giant bag full of oranges. Their foolishness gains them dirty looks from the cashier, but both Harry and Louis are too wrapped up in each other to notice.

Louis’ victory cries continue as they make their way outside. Harry looks for someway, anyway to get him to shut up, already overwhelmingly exhausted by Louis’ endless stream of praise for himself.

“Look at me! I won! Guess who didn’t win, you—” Louis’ own gasp cuts off his boasting, the icy cold now clinging to his calf making him lose his voice.

Harry giggles into his scarf, already forming another snowball in his hands, as Louis’ composure slips away from him.

Louis is still frozen in place where he stopped walking, a few feet ahead of Harry. Harry takes aim while his target is still immobile and lets go of his perfectly shaped snowball, watching as it collides with Louis’ left shoulder blade. The impact is pretty significant, the snow exploding out of its form, leaving some ice behind, clinging to the back of Louis' jacket. Harry can tell some snow even dropped down Louis’ shirt collar.

Louis shivers and Harry laughs. He laughs and laughs. He bends over, wrapping his arm around his belly as he lets out giggle after giggle. However, his one fault is that he’s not paying attention to Louis, who ends up nailing Harry in the side of the face with a well aimed snowball.

“You better run, Styles,” Louis announces. “I’m the current reigning Tomlinson Snowball Master.”

Harry lets out girlish scream as Louis rains down snowball after snowball on him.

They race all the way back to the Tomlinson-Deakin house. They never stop running, not even hesitating at street corners to look both ways before crossing. Louis is on Harry’s tail the whole time, occasionally pelting his back with snowballs.

Harry yells out into the clear night air. The snow had stopped while they were on the hunt for oranges inside the supermarket, the clouds finally disappearing, leaving the sky open to the stars and the moon. The air is cold and burns whenever Harry breathes deeply, but it fuels him, makes his legs work harder to escape Louis’ tirade. His face hurts, both from the cold wind whipping against it and his smile that never falters, continually pulling his cheek muscles.

When they finally, finally reach the Tomlinson-Deakin house, Harry collapses onto the snowy lawn, too exhausted and out of breath to care about the wetness seeping into his clothes. Louis joins him on the ground, limbs splayed in all kinds of different directions. Their chests rise and fall rapidly, heart and lungs working overtime to calm their bodies.

Harry keeps his eyes glued on the sky, trying to find constellations in the stars above him, instead of looking over at Louis. If he were to look over at Louis he knows he would not be able to stop himself from kissing him until they were breathless again. He closes his eyes instead, as his breathing evens out and lets himself feel. He can feel the frigid coldness of the wet snow saturating the fabric of his pyjamas that still cover his legs and arse. He can feel his pulse slowing down, his chest not rising and falling as quick as it was moments ago. He can feel Louis’ presence beside him.

Unfortunately, he knows they can’t stay out on the lawn all night—Jay and Dan are still expecting them to bring the oranges back—and, oh, the oranges.

“You have the oranges right?” Harry asks, worriedly biting his bottom lip, hoping Louis didn’t lose them all on their race back home.

Louis cackles in reply and quickly jumps to his feet, offering Harry his gloved hand in place of a reply.

When they finally make it inside, Jay orders them to remove their pyjama bottoms immediately so she can toss them in the dryer to, well, dry. She makes them each sip warm mugs of hot chocolate, which Louis complains about, saying he wanted tea. Jay scolds her son, telling him he shouldn’t be having caffeine this late at night.

Harry and Louis sit in the kitchen, only in the top half of their matching pyjamas and their pants. They don’t speak, but they smile at each other from across the table, finally coming down from the high of their late night adventure.

When their pyjamas are finally dry, they head to bed, utterly exhausted. But in the morning, when Harry sees the pure joy on the younger twins’ faces when they realize everyone, even Harry, got an orange in their stocking, he knows the exhaustion was all worth it.

He feels paralyzed, his body immobile under a duvet that feels like it weighs tons. His limbs could be super glued to the sheets and he wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Sweat drips down his forehead and back. He can feel the material of his shirt sticking to his skin.

Harry doesn’t know what’s happening to him, broken out of his fitful slumber by the rigid trembling of his body. He feels trapped in his mind and in his body, unable of break himself free of this invisible cage.

All Harry wants to do is call out to Louis, who is peacefully sleeping away next to Harry on the same mattress, under the same duvet, but who is also unaware of Harry’s panic. Harry can’t wake him up, too beautiful in his state of rest to be disturbed.

Harry tries to cope with the pain he’s feeling and lets tears stream down his cheeks.

As he lays there, trembling in his own skin, he thinks about all the mistakes that have lead him to where he is now. Harry has loved his time with Louis’ family. He would honestly spend every holiday with them if it were possible. But he can’t help but think about the past few weeks, can’t help but think about how fucked up he is.

Firstly, Louis is his soulmate. Or at least Harry thinks he is. Louis feels the same as Louis. But there are a lot of people named Louis in the world and this Louis might not be the Louis. It’s besides the point though, because Harry knows he can’t allow himself to get close to any boys. He just can’t and he’s told himself this multiple times throughout the semester; he has fought with himself to simply stay away from Louis Tomlinson. But he can’t. Harry Styles can never stay away from Louis Tomlinson. It’s physically impossible for him to.

And it fucking sucks because Harry knows everything he’s doing is wrong. There have been these little changes in him over the past few months that he can see, changes that are noticeable, changes that are bad. He’s openly flirting with Louis, he’s letting his brain call Louis words like beautiful, he’s allowing his mind to conjure up dreams that solely revolve around Louis, he finds himself wanting to kiss Louis. He wants to kiss him a lot.

And it’s not okay. Harry’s not allowed to have a soulmate. He’s set rules for himself. He can’t hurt his family, he has to fix everything. If Harry doesn’t pursue his soulmate, or any kind of mate, then his dad will come back. And that’s the most important thing to Harry right now.

Harry has gotten way too close to Louis’ family, he’s gotten way too close to Louis. It’s not fair to himself or to Louis and now he’s having a panic attack over it.

Secondly, being around Jay and her children has become way too overwhelming for Harry. It’s so obvious how much she loves them all, how much she cares for them. She wants all her children to succeed and she makes sure she has a helping hand in each step of the process. She dotes over her children, almost overbearingly, but each and every single one of them love it. They love that they love her and they take advantage of it.

It hurts.

It hurts because Harry knows that he could be doing the same exact thing with his mother right now. But he isn’t. And that’s all his fault.

The pain Harry feels as he’s laying in bed right now isn’t because of Louis and his soulmark, it’s because of how much Harry has failed as a son. It’s been so evident during this whole winter holiday how horrible he is.

Harry wants his mum so much it hurts. He wants her arms around him, he wants to feel her kissing him as she whispers sweet praises into his ears. Don’t get Harry wrong, he’s loved every single hug Jay has given him, but he misses his own Mum’s arms wrapped around his shoulders, giving comfort and safety that only one’s mother can give.

Louis’ bedroom suddenly becomes too hot to handle and Harry is peeling his tired body off of the bed and quietly flinging his body towards the door. He’s only in his long sleeve sleep shirt and his pants, but doesn’t care. He needs to feel the cold outside air on his skin right now.

He tries his hardest to run down the stairs as quietly and as quickly as possible, his brain not even registering if he’s making any noise at all. The only thing in his head right now is outside, outside, outside, on a repeating loop.

Harry finally makes it passed the front door, after unlocking it as fast as his trembling fingers would allow. He steps out onto the front porches and collapses. The December air is bitterly cold, but Harry doesn’t let it affect him. He doesn’t care if his toes go numb, he doesn’t care if he can’t feel the tip of his nose.

He wishes he wasn’t here right now. He wishes he were anywhere else than the Tomlinson-Deakin house right now. Harry hates, absolutely despises the fact that Jay loving her children had triggered Harry as hard as it did. He feels like a petulant child, running out of the house because he simply didn’t want to be inside it anymore.

Harry hates himself.

He hates himself for leaving his mum two and some years ago. He hates himself for having Louis as his soulmark, because if he wasn’t, then none of this would have ever of happened.

In a moment of weakness, Harry pulls his left sleeve up, reveals the name permanently settled into his skin, and starts picking at it. He hasn’t done harm to his soulmark like this in years, but right now, in his particularly unsettled state, it feels like the best thing to do, even though he knows it isn’t. He dig his uncut nails into the skin and picks, pulls, and scratches at the mark until it’s gone red and hot.

Once he’s satisfied by the level of self-inflicted pain, he returns his sleeve back to its original length and promptly bursts into tears.

He sobs and sobs. His chest aches, feeling empty, wishing he could feel something.

The porch behind him creaks, the wood sighing underneath the weight of a new person. Harry quickly tries to dry his tears and sniffle away any signs of his suffering, but it’s useless.

He turns and finds Jay standing behind him with a blanket in her arms. And god, Harry realizes what a pitiful sight he must make. A crying twenty year old boy sitting on a porch in the middle of a frigidly cold December night in nothing but a shirt and pants must surely be the saddest thing she’s ever seen.

“Sorry for waking you,” Harry sniffles, voice cracking and deep from its disuse. He feels deep shame sitting in front of her. He feels shame for taking advantage of her and her son’s kindness and hospitality. He feels shame for the wishes he made just minutes prior, wanting to not be here. He feels shame for simply ruining her night by waking her up because of his own unrest.

Jay doesn’t say anything as she joins Harry on the porch ground, sitting next to him. She wraps the blanket around his shoulders and gives him a stern look the moment he’s about to stop her from doing so.

They sit in silence. Harry wallows in his sadness, sniffling occasionally. Jay simply observes the sleeping, snow-covered houses across the road from her own.

“You didn’t wake me up, love. Was already in the kitchen, couldn’t sleep myself.”

“Oh,” Harry sighs, a little shocked by her confession.

Harry wonders what was keeping Jay awake. But before his mind can wander too far, she brings him back to the present with her own musings.

“What’s wrong, love? Why are you out here in just your pants? You’re shivering.”

Harry swallows hard, stuck between keeping his lips sealed and wanting to spill his guts out. He decides to stay silent, hoping she wouldn’t prod anymore. However, Louis has to get his own prodding skill from someone, and Harry learns in this moment that it’s definitely a traits he got from his mum.

“C’mon, love,” she sighs. “What’s on your mind? I can hear you thinking real hard from all the way over here.”

Harry opens his mouth to tell her everything is fine, but the words that come tumbling out are nowhere close to what he planned to say. He spills his guts, writes out the whole story, sobs as he tells Jay why he couldn’t go home for Christmas, why he hasn’t talked to his mum in over two years.

“You should talk to her, Harry,” Jay says firmly, her eyes boring into Harry’s.

Harry knows this. Gemma has told him time after time that he’s got everything wrong and that he needs to talk to Mum, but he just can’t.

“I can’t.” He breaks eye contact and stares down at his cold bare toes.

“You can, Harry Styles, and you will.” Jay’s tones commands attention and Harry reattaches her eyes to hers. Once she’s captured him, her eyes hold on tight. “Promise me you’ll talk to your mum. It doesn’t have to be tomorrow, it doesn’t have to be a week from now. But promise me you’ll talk to her as soon as you can and as soon as you’re ready to.”

Harry’s not going to lie, he’s a bit frightened by Jay’s intensity, but he finds himself nodding along to her words. He swallows the lump in his throat and says the words he doesn’t want to say, but means with his whole entire heart.

“I promise.”

Now he just has to decide when exactly he’ll follow through on the promise.

Chapter Text

Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.

- Kurt Vonnegut

 

Please don't see just a boy caught up in dreams and fantasies. Please see me reaching out for someone I can't see.

- Lost Stars , Adam Levine

 

New courses, new professors, a whole new semester.

It feels a bit refreshing for Harry, being back at university. He missed Niall, he missed having lads nights with the others, he missed his windowsill full of house plants.

“Oh, babies,” is the first thing out of Harry’s mouth when he unlocks his dorm door. His eyes find his plants and he observes their weepy state. He mindlessly tosses his bags aside and goes straight for his plants, rehydrating them with water he had set aside.

He talks to his plants as he unpacks his backpack and duffel bag. He talks about his winter holiday, tells them all about Louis and his wonderful siblings. He describes the adventures he went on and how much he learned about himself while doing so. The plants are good listeners and they don’t interrupt him once as he folds and hangs his clothes, putting them back in their original homes. When he finishes unpacking, he decides the tidy up the room, cleaning and dusting before Niall returns.

Once Harry feels like he has cleaned every inch of the dorm room, he finally decides to just lay in bed and scroll through his instagram feed. But that becomes boring after awhile.

He huffs, not knowing what to do, letting his phone fall to the space on the mattress next to his thigh. He stays on his back and looks up at the ceiling, hands folded neatly over his stomach. The silence in the room makes him uncomfortable so he allows himself to think so he can fill the quiet somehow.

He thinks about how, even though it’s refreshing, it’s a bit sad being back at university. He misses Daisy and Phoebe fighting over who is going to braid his hair, he misses Jay’s home cooked meals, he misses the intelligent discusses he would have with Fizzy as Lottie would sit beside them, rolling her eyes, yet participating nonetheless. But most of all, Harry misses Louis. He misses being around him constantly, he misses simply looking at him, he misses talking nonsense with him whenever it felt right. He misses falling into bed beside Louis every night.

He’s still going to see Louis almost everyday; they do go to the same school and they are definitely not going to stop their mailroom and after work traditions and excursions. It’s just, it feels different now. Harry knows something has shifted in them and their dynamic. He’s not sure exactly what it is, but he’s not so sure he’s willing to find out.

Harry settles down next to Louis on his bed, settling the popcorn bowl in-between them so they can both share, not because Harry has to physically separate himself from his friend so he’s not tempted to cuddle into his side. Louis’ laptop is also in-between them, raised up on a pillow for optimal viewing experience.

“Movie theater butter?” Louis asks, holding a single piece of popcorn in front of his face, eyeing it critically.

Harry rolls his eyes. “Of course.”

That seems to placate Louis, who starts shoveling handfuls of popcorn into his mouth. It’s a good thing Harry made two bags.

Louis’ dorm room is warm and comfortable. All the lights are turned out except for the string lights that hang above his windows. They add just enough light to see and maneuver, but are dim enough not to be too interruptive or bothersome. They create the perfect ambience for how Harry feels whenever he’s around Louis: protected, content, and cozy.

“What do you wanna watch?”

Louis hums, stretching forward to open up Netflix on his browser. “Let’s watch Shameless. I’ve been meaning to restart it anyway. I think you’d really like it.”

Harry nods along with Louis’ words, considering his suggestion. “Never heard of it, to be honest. How about Finding Dory? That’s cute and fun,” he smiles, hoping his charm and dimples will get Louis to say yes in an instant.

Louis crinkles his nose rather harshly. “Nooooo,” he whines. “That’s for little kids. Shameless is so good. It’s about this family that lives on Chicago’s south side.”

Rolling his eyes, Harry adds, “Yeah, but Finding Dory is about Dory finding her family. And it most definitely is not for little kids,” he insists. “It was made for our generation. We grew up watching Finding Nemo so Finding Dory was literally made for us.”

Shameless was made for our generation. It’s about these six kids of this alcoholic dad who are basically taking care of themselves. They have to worry about things like not being able to go to college and dealing with shit like that people our age deal with—like the real stuff—like drugs and alcohol and sex and shit. It makes you really care about it.”

Harry pauses. In Louis’ defense, it does sound really interesting. But Harry was really hoping to finish this bowl of popcorn fast and end up glued against Louis’ side with his head resting on his shoulder and he doesn’t think Shameless would be a good show to cuddle to. Shameless sounds like it would spark debates and deep conversations between the viewers and Harry just wants to shamelessly curl up to a soft Disney film right now and cuddle with his best friend. Is that too much to ask for?

“Okay… so yeah, it sounds good,” Harry quietly admits, ignoring the smirk taking over Louis’ lips. “But, I’m not really in the mood for all that… existential stuff right now, Lou. Can we please just watch Finding Dory?” he pouts, trying his best to look pathetic as can so Louis can just give in to just appease him.

“No.”

Harry pouts harder, trying to up his game. “Why do you hate me?”

“I don’t hate you,” Louis simply states.

Harry rolls his eyes, dropping his pout which obviously wasn’t working. “Okay, but you obviously do.”

“Okay, but I obviously don’t.”

“So. Finding Dory?”

“No.”

“But Lou,” he whines. Suddenly, he perks up, a devilish smile taking over his face. He clears his throat and starts obnoxiously sing-talking, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep—”

Louis narrows his eyes and interrupts Harry’s beautiful vocal capabilities. “What does that even mean?”

Harry leaves his jaw hanging open, puzzled by Louis’ question. “What do you mean what does that even mean?” he scoffs, totally blown away by Louis’ absurdity. “It’s from Finding Nemo!”

Louis adverts his eyes and shrugs, looking guilty. “I totally knew that. I was just testing you.” Harry narrows his eyes, feeling like Louis is not telling the whole truth, but ignores it, not quite sure what his gut is trying to tell him.

“Okay. So can we watch it now?”

“No.”

Harry groans, knocking his head against the wall behind him. “Whhhyyy noootttt?!”

Louis huffs and stays silent. Harry pokes at his knee repeatedly with his pointer finger, trying to get a reaction of him as he keeps asking “Why not?” over and over again.

Louis finally breaks, shouting, “Because I’ve never seen Finding Nemo! Okay?!”

Harry fishmouths, totally blown away by Louis’ confession. He was not prepared for that to be the reason Louis didn’t want to watch Finding Dory. “You’ve never seen Finding Nemo? Not even with all those younger sisters?!”

Louis just sullenly shakes his head.

“What kind of monster are you?”

Louis gasps. “I am not a monster, Harold! How could you be so cruel?!”

Harry rolls his eyes, both at Louis dramatics and his words. “You are so a monster! I can’t believe you’ve never seen the best Pixar movie ever created!”

Louis fake sobs against the back of his hand. “I allowed you to see me in an extremely vulnerable moment and this is how you treat me? Yelling at me? Slandering my name?” He lets out another gasping sob for emphasis.

Harry’s completely lost now. “But—you, I!” he stumbles over his words. “You’re overreacting! And this just gives us an even bigger reason now to watch Finding Nemo and Finding Dory. We can do a double feature!” Now that idea has Harry giddy with excitement. Double the amount of cute, cuddle-worthy movies leads to double the amount of actual cuddle time.

“I just shared one of my most deepest of secrets with you, Harold, and you called me a monster,” Louis cries. “I don’t even know if I wanna watch this with you anymore,” he sniffles. “You’ll probably laugh if I cry.”

Harry puts his hands up in surrender and shakes his head quickly, trying to dispel those thoughts away from Louis as quickly as possible. “No! No, no, no, no, no. I would never laugh at you, Lou! I’d be too busy crying myself to even laugh at you.”

Louis ignores Harry’s words and dramatically throws his hands into the air. “How will I ever trust you again?!” he wails.

Harry crosses his arms over his chest and rolls his eyes, and finally decides to stop indulging Louis in his dramatics. “You’re ridiculous.”

Louis doesn’t let up though, and raises his voice even louder, closing his eyes and fake sobbing “I’m ridiculous?!”

Harry just sits next to his friend, expression completely unamused.

Louis finally opens up one eye to peek at Harry. Harry raises his eyebrows questioningly when they make eye contact. Louis drops his arms and shrugs his shoulders, returning to original position of leaning his back against the wall. “Okay, maybe a little,” he giggles, a light, barely noticeable blush highlighting the tips of his cheeks.

Harry rolls his eyes. “So… Finding Nemo?” he teases, wiggling his eyebrows and playfully bumping against Louis’ shoulder.

“I guess so…” Louis sighs.

Harry squeals, smile stretching his lips wide. “You’re the best!”

“A minute ago I was a monster for not having seen it,” Louis grumbles.

“What was that?” Harry asks, knowing exactly what Louis had said, but daring him to have the guts to say it again.

“Shut up and put the movie on.”

Harry simply smiles his biggest smile in response, dimple deepening his cheek as he leans forwards to search for somewhere to watch Finding Nemo in full for free on Google since Netflix doesn’t have it.

Louis pouts, pretending to be upset for the first two minutes or so until he is actually upset. “Oh my god, why did you make me watch his?” he whines, valiantly trying to hold back tiny little tears.

“Do you not want to watch it?”

“Sh, Curly!” Louis hisses. “I’m trying to pay attention. You’ve got me hooked now.”

Harry slyly smiles and decides to watch Louis’ reactions for the first few minutes of the film rather than the film itself. His eyes only go back to the screen once they’ve finished the popcorn and Louis pulls Harry into his side, feigning a need for moral support. Harry doesn’t fight him and easily burrows into Louis’ warm side left, his left arm wrapping protectively around Harry’s shoulders. Harry wishes he could do this every night.

January seems to be passing by just fine. Harry’s pushed his memories of the winter holiday out of his head, both the good and the bad. He doesn’t like thinking about it, especially the good bits, because then he wants to go back and he knows he can’t go back. Louis is his friend and that’s it. He needs to stop wishing that they were more because he knows that’s not a possibility.

So he blocks it out as best as possible, diving straight into his new course load and working more hours. His life right now is basically study, work, eat, sleep, and repeat. Harry really misses traveling so he’s trying to gather some extra money into his savings for a future trip. It feels good to be in one solid place for a long period of time, but Harry misses exploring unknown cities and cultures.

But it’s been difficult, saving money that is, because Louis gathers Harry from work everyday and they always go out somewhere, do something. They usually go get frozen yogurt, despite the cold temperature, which Harry is very smug about, because Louis adamantly hated froyo several months ago, but now he just can’t stop. Harry tells Louis he’s obsessed. Louis tells Harry to fuck off.

They also spend time a lot of time at the tea shop Louis took Harry to that one time. It’s way more cozy than the frozen yogurt shop and Harry thinks he’s starting to like it more and more, especially on the days when he and Louis cuddle together on one of the couches. They sit and enjoy each other’s silence, Harry studying from his textbooks and Louis typing up meeting agendas for Q&A.

Harry sometimes peeks over at Louis’ screen, curious about what he’s reading and researching for his next meeting, but he doesn’t try too hard to read the words.

That’s also something else that has changed. Louis has stopped trying to get Harry to come to a Q&A meeting. Harry’s a little bit disappointed, because whenever Louis used to talk to him about the topic for his next meeting, he was always so passionate about it, wildly gesticulating as he described the topics he wanted to cover and the information he thinks is important. Since Louis has stopped convincing Harry to tag along to meetings, he hasn’t seen Louis’ extremely passionate leader side in a while. He misses it.

“Aww, look at the cute little Harry!” Louis coos.

“Louis,” Harry warns.

“Ooh!” he squeals.

“Give it back, Louis,” Harry whines.

“So cute!

Harry flushes and squirms, trying to break free. “Louis…” he groans, embarrassed, in more ways than one.

They’re at Augie’s, Louis’, and now Harry’s, favorite tea shop. It’s a cold, snowy Saturday and Louis didn’t want to be shut in his dorm all day so he knocked on Harry’s door at nine in the morning—which Niall absolutely hated —and dragged him along to the tea shop. The shop is empty, save for a few employees behind the counter, diehard patrons sitting at the counter doing work with headphones in, and Harry and Louis. The boys have the mix-matched furniture section all to themselves and have even self-declared themselves the Kings of the Couches.

It is warm inside, the windows fogged just a touch from the cold air outside. Harry has already finished all his homework, which kind of was the point of this outing with Louis, but Louis didn’t want to leave as soon as they finished, so they played a few rounds of Scrabble, which had Harry blushing as he remembered the first time they came here. But Louis got tired of playing Scrabble, so they sat close for a while and talked. They talked about everything they could and Harry loved every second of it. Louis’ attention was constantly on him and his attention never strayed from Louis. Even if something exploded, Harry’s pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to look away from Louis.

It was fun, it was simple, it was easy. They were simply having a conversation, but no, apparently Louis can’t simply have a conversation without causing a little trouble. Or without annoying the hell out of Harry. He always blames it on growing up with his sisters, but Harry knows Louis is just mischievous at heart, sisters or not.

That’s how they ended up in their current position. Harry on the couch, head by one armrest, feet by the other, taking up every available inch of space which Louis straddling his chest, hanging over Harry’s head with Harry’s phone in his hand.

Harry tries to squirm free again, but Louis simply clenches his thighs tighter on either side of Harry’s chest, which causes him to halt his actions instantly.

“Stop going through my old Facebook photos, Louis,” Harry pleads, pouting.

“Look at this! You were adorable!” Louis flips are Harry’s phone to show him the photo he’s currently looking at.

Harry thinks he dies a little on the inside as he’s faced with a photo of himself, fifteen years old, hair a fluffy, curly almost-afro, with his mum at a farmer’s market. Why must Louis torture him like this.

“What happened?”

Harry furrows his eyebrows. “What do you mean what happened?”

“You were adorable. What happened?” Louis teases, biting his bottom lip, trying to keep his mouth from stretching into a wide smile. He can’t fool Harry though, it’s obvious from the crinkles by his eyes how much he’s enjoying this.

Louis’ words have no malice, Harry can tell he’s flirting. He likes it. Which he shouldn’t, but he does, and he wants to see more of this Louis, even if, in the end, Harry’s not allowed to have him. He’ll take anything he can get while he can.

Harry doesn’t particularly remember how he ended up here, but it’s warm and cozy and there’s nowhere else he’d rather be. The mattress feels softer than it normally does, like he’s sinking into the cushion more than the usual. The pillow is also thicker, which is weird. He ignores it though, his sleepy haze only allowing him to concentrate on the blackness of the back his eyelids.

He sighs contentedly and drifts back asleep, dreaming of a cold night not too many weeks before this one currently. He doesn’t know how his mind does it, but he’s transported back onto the same porch from that same night. The words swirling around his head in the air, like they’re the most obvious things ever.

“You can, Harry Styles, and you will.”

“Promise me…as soon as you’re ready to.”

Harry wakes with a start, body suddenly chilled, goosebumps rising on the skin of his arms and legs, Jay’s voice echoing in his mind. He flinches, hearing her softs words repeated in the deep recesses of his mind, but his body doesn’t go far, movements halted by an arm slung over his waist.

Harry realizes he’s not in his own bed. He realizes he never made it back to his own room. He realizes he must have fallen asleep with Louis while they were watching Finding Nemo. Again. Because now it’s Louis’ favorite movie. Go figure.

He searches in the dark for his phone, feeling for the cold screen in the folds of Louis’ duvet. Once it’s in his hand, he checks for the time.

2:21

Wednesday, February 1

Harry drops his phone as if it burned his hand. His heart starts beating faster, which Louis’ unconsciousness must pick up on since he squeezes his arm tighter against Harry’s waist, pulling him in closer as he sniffles against the back of his neck. If Harry weren’t so on edge right now, he’d find the action unbearably cute, and he’d fall right back asleep in the comfort of Louis’ arms. But instead of feeling protected, he feels caged in, like he’s suffocating under the light weight of Louis’ forearm. The pressure Louis is putting over his abdomen feels like it can crush him at any given moment. And he hates it. He needs to be free.

Wednesday, February 1

Harry thinks he’s ready, and if he’s not, he’s going to have to suck it up and deal with it. Any other day of the year Harry could muster up the strength to ignore his mum, but not today. He can’t ignore his mum on his birthday.

He slowly lifts Louis’ arm, trying to slip away from his warm embrace. Once his bare feet hit the cold tile flooring of Louis’ dorm room, he knows his escape is successful. He gathers what little possessions he brought with him the night before—his phone, keys, socks and shoes—and quietly slips out of Louis’ room without once looking back.

Harry unlocks his own dorm door as quietly as possible, so he doesn’t disturb Niall. Using his phone flashlight, he quickly shoves some extra clothes and pants into his bookbag, not sure how long he’ll be gone. The only noise filling the quiet room is Niall’s loud, peaceful snores, which makes Harry feel so guilty because of his next action.

“Niall,” he whispers, loud enough for his roommate to hopefully hear, but not too loud that he disturbs the quiet of the room. When Niall doesn’t register his name being called, Harry tries again, just a touch louder. And he shakes his shoulder for good measure.

“Whaaa,” Niall growls, his snores halting.

“Hey Niall, can I use your car?” Harry asks fast, trying to get all his words in before Niall drifts off again.

“Fuck off, ‘m sleepin’,” he mumbles, snoring resuming immediately.

Harry shrugs and whispers to himself, “Good enough for me.” He locates Niall’s lanyard that has his room key, mailbox, and car key hanging from it on his desk, and quickly unclips the car key from it.

By the time he’s out of his dorm room, has located Niall’s car in the student parking lot, and has settled himself into the driver’s seat, it’s just past three in the morning. If he has no interruptions while driving, he should hopefully reach his mum’s house around five.

The radio is on, but Harry doesn’t know what’s playing, or who is talking. He just needed some sound, any sound besides his own heavy breathing and the tires crunching along the asphalt, to fill the empty space.

Harry feels like he’s in an alternate universe where he’s the only person alive and he’s doomed to drive along the highway for an eternity with no destination in sight. He doesn’t feel like he’s chasing or being chased by anything. He simply feels as if he’s drifting. Which is an odd feeling because Harry knows exactly where he’s going, but maybe it’s his fear of the destination that is making him this delusional. He’s stuck here now, though, driving towards one of his biggest fears. He can’t turn back, he’s already a coward and doing such a cowardly act would simply crumple any morale he thinks he has. He even goes low enough to wish he were back in Louis’ arms, though he knows it would have been impossible for him to stay there feeling the way he does.

The sky is dark, perfectly reflecting what he’s feeling on the inside. Harry chuckles humorlessly to himself over his dramatics. Perhaps he’s picked that up from Louis.

He’s not surprised when the rain starts, though. It only seems fitting. Once he finally figures out how Niall’s wipers work, they’re moving fast, pushing away the sheets of water that cover the car.

As he drives, Harry tries to think of what to say.

Should he say sorry for disappearing over two years ago? Should he simply give her a hug and tell her he’s back?

What if he knocks on the door and no one answers? What if his mum is disgusted with him?

Harry’s own snoring jostles him awake, scaring himself. He panics for a brief moment when he opens his eyes and finds a steering wheel in front of him, hoping he hasn’t fallen asleep behind the wheel and killed himself. His memory floods back to him fast enough, reminding him that as soon as he pulled up to his mum’s house at half-past five he promptly fell asleep, still buckled in behind the wheel.

He removes his seatbelt and attempts to stretch his sore back, twisting from side to side.

The street where Harry grew up looks deserted this early in the morning, some neighbors already gone and off to work, and others just starting out their day, waking up with the sun.

The clock on the dashboard reads a quarter to eight and Harry hums to himself as he watches the sky transform from a dark milky midnight blue into a golden orange. It illuminates the empty street and Harry suddenly feels intense waves of nostalgia as he pictures his younger, soulmark-free self walking down the same street at sunrise to meet Niall at his house so they could walk to school together after sharing a large Irish breakfast that his mum cooked minutes before he walked through the front door.

Harry pushes aside those thoughts and returns to the present. He takes a deep breath, realizing that it’s now or never. He knows Anne is already awake, the kitchen light turned on, illuminating the windows that wrap around the right corner of the house. All Harry has to do is get himself out of his best friend’s car, drag his sorry arse up to the front step, and knock.

It’s a weird feeling, knocking on the door of the house you grew up in, like some stranger visiting for the first time rather than someone who called this house a home for eighteen years of their life.

Harry holds his breath and waits. He doesn’t know what to expect. His mum is probably wondering who in their right mind would be knocking on her door at eight in the morning. There’s no possible way she would ever think it to be her absent son, that’s for sure.

The door creaks, just like it always had, which puts a watery smile on Harry’s face. He hated the noise as a child, but now it warms his heart.

The creaking ceases and standing in front of Harry, in person, for the first time in over two fucking years is his mum Anne Cox. She’s just as beautiful as Harry remembers her and his body instantly aches with want; the want to be held by his mother. If he could, he would leap at her right now and pull her into a crushing embrace, but he’s not sure if he’s allowed to. Not yet, at least.

They stare at each other in silence, Anne’s mouth hanging open in shock, not sure if the person in front of her is real or a side effect of not yet having her morning tea. Harry can only return her look with his own attempt at a smile. Everything hurts. His eyes are filled with tears and all he wants to is to cry into his mummy’s shoulder, but he puts on a brave face, trying not to be the same broken boy who ran away from home at eighteen that he knows he still is.

“Hi Mum,” Harry tries, voice deep and scratchy from being unused. He knows he looks a mess, still in the same joggers and thin long sleeve shirt that he wore to watch Netflix with Louis; the same clothes he slept in, twice by now—once with Louis and once in his car. His hair is definitely longer than it’s ever been, than his mum’s ever seen it, and it’s probably a mess of tangled curls right now.

Without preamble, Anne’s arms shoot out lightning fast and pull Harry into her chest. She wraps her arms fiercely around her son, fearing that if her grip were any looser, he’d vanish like the apparition she thought he was.

“Baby,” she whispers, “you’ve come home.” Her voice is thick with emotion, which finally knocks Harry out of his shock. He reciprocates her hug as best as possible with his arms being trapped by hers. He settles his chin over her shoulder and inhales the smell of Mum and home and happiness.

Everything is okay until it isn’t. Everything’s okay until an unknown man walks down the steps of Harry’s home in what appear to be flannel pyjamas. Once he reaches the bottom of the staircase, he and Harry make instant eye contact and they both freeze.

Anne notice’s Harry sudden stiffness and pull away from her son to study his face. She follows his eyes to find what—or who —he’s staring at.

“Mum?” Harry asks cautiously, eyes never straying from the stranger.

Anne sighs sadly, unshed tears filling her eyes. “We have a lot to talk about, baby.” And with that, she pulls him into the house and closes the door behind him.

Bacon sizzles and pops in its pan, the kettle whistles loudly, mugs, plates, and silverware clink and clank against one another as they’re carried over to the table and placed on the wood surface. The walls aren’t painted yellow anymore and the feelings that the new mint green paint evokes are overwhelming. It’s a bit relieving to look at—Harry doesn’t have to pretend like he’s trying to fit back into his old life, like he never left, but it’s also a bit sad because it’s something new that Harry never got to experience. It breaks his heart thinking about all the milestones, achievements, and downfalls he’s missed over the past two years.

Harry sits motionless at the table, staring at the wall, trying to remember the exact shade of yellow is used to be. It’s pointless, though, because no matter how hard he tries to burn a hole through the wall with his glare, the new paint will never burn away.

“Painted it a year after you left. To the day,” Anne says as she starts setting the table for herself, Robin, and Harry. Her words sound happy, but her face looks sad. “Gemma said it would’ve been a healthy coping mechanism. All it did, though, was make me miss both you and the color yellow,” she chuckles. Her attempt at a joke unfortunately falls flat.

Harry hangs his head in shame, not knowing exactly what to say or do.

He feels out of place, even though he fell right back into the same routine eighteen year old Harry had: walk in, take your shoes off and put them under the table next to the front door, put your bags by the steps, go to the kitchen to turn the kettle on, and sit in the slightly darker brown chair that somehow didn’t match the other three that surrounded the square kitchen table.  

Once breakfast is finished, everything is placed in the center of the table and Anne sits to Harry’s right, like she always had, Robin sits across from Harry in what used to be Richard’s chair, and the chair to Harry’s right, Gemma’s chair, is left empty.

After Harry’s initial shock of finding Robin in his house’s living room wore off, Anne did simple introductions, careful not to reveal who exactly the man was before they all had the chance to sit down and have a proper conversation.

Harry could instantly tell that Robin was a good soul. He gave off the feeling of a jolly disposition, which Harry instantly approved of. He’s an older man, with a round smiling face, decorated with facial hair and glasses. After a few quiet seconds of observing his mum interacting with Robin, he knew exactly what was going on, but he tried to keep his large smile from overtaking his face, wanting his mum to be the bearer of the good news instead of ruining it and asking questions right away.

Harry had always known that his parents weren’t soulmates; it didn’t matter to them, so it didn’t matter to him. It was never a big deal to their family. Anne and Richard raised Harry and Gemma to think that it was their choice of who they wanted to spend their lives with, whether it be the name on your left wrist or not.

Anne tells Harry about the beautiful spring day, not too long after his nineteenth birthday, when she bumped into Robin at the farmer’s market. She spares him the cute, embarrassing details of how Robin attempted to ask her out for lunch and failed, and how she recovered the moment by asking him if he wanted to grab coffee together at the nearest Starbucks.

Which Harry snorts at.

“What?” Anne indignantly scoffs at.

“Nothing, nothing,” Harry chuckles. “It’s just that. What an obvious move to find out each other’s names, right? You hadn’t introduced yourselves yet and you didn’t want to be too nosey, but wanted to find out if his name was Robin, yeah? Cause that’s what you got on your wrist, Mum. You’ve always had Robin on your left wrist.” Harry shrugs, like everything was so clearly obvious.

Robin chuckles at Harry’s deduction skills and Anne’s face of shock.

“Well… yeah, I guess. I mean. Yeah,” his mum stammers, flushing bright pink.

“So you’re soulmates, yeah?” Harry asks, directing the question at Robin, pairing it with a nice smile so he doesn’t look too threatening. Harry’s genuinely happy for his mum and Robin.

Robin nods, returning the smile.

Harry removes himself from his chair, the back legs of it scraping against the kitchen tile. He rounds the table and pulls his mum into a tight hug. “I’m so happy for you, Mum. You deserve all the happiness in the world.”

“So do you, baby,” she whispers back. “Thank you, but so do you.”

She pulls apart from the hug, unaware of the chaos that that has started to brew in Harry’s mind because of her words. It’s mind-numbing and fear-inducing all at the same time. She joins Robin in clearing breakfast away from the table as Harry stands frozen in the middle of the kitchen, the mint green walls suddenly feeling suffocating. He isn’t sure how fast time is moving, he isn’t sure if he’s even breathing. All he can do is repeat those three tiny little words, the seven letters, over and over and over again in his head until they’re the only thing he knows.

So do you.

Does Harry Styles deserve all the happiness in the world?

Anne leads Harry back to the table with a hand on the small of his back, and urges him to sit back down in his seat, conversation obviously unfinished. This time, though, Robin doesn’t join them. He stays at the kitchen sink cleaning the mess leftover from breakfast. The constant running water and activity of the dishes give Harry and Anne the illusion of privacy.

They sit quietly for a few minutes, the air thick with silence. Harry doesn’t want to speak first so he chooses one spot on the table to stare at until his mum speaks first or until the gaze tears the woodgrain in half.

“Why’d you leave?” she asks, voice delicate and afraid.

Why did Harry leave? More like, why did Harry runaway?

Because he’s a coward. A coward who doesn’t want to see his family in pain; a coward who runs away from his own pain.

“Dad left because of me.” Harry’s voice trembles, weaker than he wants it to be. “And, and you never stopped crying. I wanted to make you stop crying, Mum. I needed you to stop crying.” He takes a deep breath. “I didn’t want to cause you pain. Dad left because of my soulmark, what would keep you from not leaving because of my soulmark? Obviously it hurt Dad so much that he had to leave and I didn’t want you to feel so disgusted and so hurt that you had to leave because of it too.”

Anne’s eyebrows are deeply furrowed, her frown is so hard it looks permanent. “Is that why you left baby? Your soulmark?”

Harry nods, eyes closed tightly, too afraid to see the open disgust on his mother’s face.

“Baby,” she whispers so, so softly. It is so soft that it shocks Harry enough to open his eyes, and when he does, he doesn’t find disgust on Anne’s face, only sadness and regret. “Baby, I don’t care who you love. I mean, I care if you find true love in your life—I want that for you, I truly do, but I will never, never judge you or leave you because of who you love. You can love a boy. I don’t care.”

“Harry, your dad and I were trying to get a divorce for many, many months before you got your soulmark. You just never knew it, baby,” Anne sighs. “Yeah, you getting your soulmark might’ve pushed his decision to leave sooner than we were ready for, but honestly, I’m glad he left. If he didn’t love and accept you like a father is supposed to, then I’m glad he got out of our lives as soon as possible.”

Harry doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know what to do. He’s absolutely and completely blown away by his mother’s words. He’s flabbergasted. It feels fake. He must be dreaming, there’s no way in this whole entire world that what Anne just said is the truth.

He rubs at his eyes, trying to wake up from this dream; from this nightmare? There’s no plausible way for the one thing, the one biggest thing in Harry’s life that’s been holding him back for so, so many years, that’s been causing him enormous amounts of shame and guilt the past two years of his life, to be false. There’s no way. It’s not possible.

Harry must’ve spoken his thoughts out loud because his mother tenderly whispers, “It is possible.”

That’s when Harry loses it. He cries and cries and cries. He lets out all his feelings, all the feelings that have been locked inside of him for years, all the new, scary feelings that have been locked inside of him that have developed over the past few months.

He feels bad for abandoning his mum and not contacting her. He feels bad for going ghost and worrying her as much as he did. He never wanted to cause her pain, that’s why he left, but all his leaving did was cause her pain.

Harry feels bad for himself. He feels bad for the amount of times he told himself that he wasn’t good enough for love, or that he didn’t deserve it. He feels bad for hating himself, he feels bad for hating the name that has been permanently etched into his skin. He hates that he denied himself happiness for so long because he was holding on hope that he could bring his father back and make his mum happy again. But that’s all moot. His father isn’t coming back no matter what, no matter if he pursued his soulmate or not—he’s gone, never to be heard from again. And his mum. She’s already happy. Harry didn’t need to create that happiness for her, she found it all by herself.

He feels stupid. Stupid for being so naive and dumb. He feels so stupid that he’s sitting in his mum’s kitchen crying his eyes out. He feels so stupid that he needs his mum to sit here and coddle and soothe him through his emotional breakdown.

Once his most violent waves of tears has passed, and Harry’s breathing is way more calm, Anne simply asks if she can see it.

At first, Harry’s confused, not knowing what it is, but then he realizes she wants to see it. She wants to see his soulmark.

He slowly pulls up his long sleeve and removes his watch.

She looks at him sadly as he performs this detailed ritual of removal just to make his soulmark visible. Once it is, she takes his wrist in her hands. Her fingers are cold against his skin as she slowly traces over the letters, causing his skin to tingle in the best way possible.

“Louis,” she reads in a whisper. “A very beautiful name. I’ve always thought it was beautiful, from the first moment I saw it on your skin. A very beautiful name, probably for a very beautiful boy,” she sighs.

Harry blushes so hard he can practically feel his face flushing a deep fuschia. “Yeah, he’s beautiful.”

Anne squeezes Harry’s wrist impossibly hard in-between her fingers, her eyes gone wide and mouth hanging open. “You’ve met your soulmate?” she squeals.

“Well,” Harry blushes, a shy smile overtaking his face, “his name is Louis, but I don’t know if he’s my soulmate. I hope he is. I care about him a lot, but I’ve never seen his soulmark. I’ve been too afraid to look. I always have mine hidden too because I’m still too afraid to show it because of what happened when everyone found out last time,” he quietly admits, head hung in shame.

“Oh, baby, Harry. You can’t live in fear. You’ve experienced something traumatic in your life and you have the scars to show for it. This doesn’t mean you are weak, it shows exactly how strong you are. It shows exactly how strong you have been for the past two years. It’s something you struggle with, but you keep functioning anyway. Resilience is not the ability to escape unharmed, it’s walking through life with your head held higher. And Harry Styles, I know you are strong and resilient enough to do just that.

“Baby, you’re not going to magically heal one day and suddenly have no more fear. You’ll still carry that fear with you, you’ll still feel the hurt from that day, but you have the power to rise above that fear. You’re able to share your scars with the ones you love so you can learn how to heal and learn how to manage your fear. Don’t hide from people who are willing to help you.”

Harry nods along with every word his mum says, internalizing and taking it to heart. He just doesn’t want to shrug off her words, he wants to process and analyze them so he’s able to apply them to his life so he can start to build a better future for himself. Maybe a future that includes happiness in the shape of a soulmate. The soulmate he’s been denying himself from having for years.

By the end of their conversation, Harry feels absolutely dead tired. He drove all night to get here, and his short power nap in the car earlier might’ve been useful earlier in the morning, but right now, he’s absolutely drained. He gives a quick kiss and a meaningful thank you to his mum as he exits the kitchen, ready to fall asleep in his own bed. Not his or Louis’ dorm bed, not a one night stand’s bed, not a hostel bed. His own bed.

He drags his feet through the house as he makes his way to the stairs. As he lifts one heavy foot onto the first stair, Robin stops him with a hand to his arm.

Harry’s a bit too tired to understand what Robin’s rambling on about, but as soon as his weary mind registers the word marriage , Harry realizes Robin is asking if he has Harry’s blessing to marry Anne.

It’s a scary thought, and Robin admits he’s been thinking about it for a while, but that he wanted to meet Harry first. Harry can easily see how happy his mum is with Robin and how they genuinely care for one another; plus, they’re soulmates.

Harry holds in his tears as he says yes, as he tells Robin that he does have Harry’s blessing to marry his mum.

And finally, after a long and exhausting morning, Harry makes his way upstairs and into his bed.

His room hasn’t changed, not one bit. It brings Harry joy, seeing everything where he left it that one day he ran away. But it’s also sad because it’s obvious that Anne couldn’t bring herself to touch or move one thing that belonged to her missing son.

As Harry drifts off to sleep, his dreams are magnificent.

Everything is beautiful and bright and he’s in a large field, surrounded by every flower imaginable. Despite all the flowers, it smells overwhelmingly like pine trees and fresh dew. He notices that on the outskirts of his meadow are tall, protective pine trees. Harry takes one look at them and smiles to himself, instantly feeling safe and protected by their simple larger-than-life presence.

In his dream, Harry lies on his back on a quilt the colors of the sky and the grass. The crushed flowers under the blanket create a comfy resting spot for his often achy back. His head is cushioned on something soft, yet firm, but he’s too busy to check exactly what it is he’s resting on, his mind too engrossed in the journal in his hands that features his own creations in his own handwriting.

The leather journal in his hand is full, cover to cover, with not one blank page. The book is soft against his palms, like it’s lasted a lifetime. He’s too afraid to read the words on the page, too afraid to see exactly what his own handwriting has written out for him. Instead, he turns to the front cover to see if this completed work has a title.

He finds the words Story of My Life engraved in black text on the cover followed by a short by Harry Styles.

His mind spins as he realizes that the journal currently in his hand is his complete life story, from birth to death, from the beginning, all the way to the end. Harry doesn’t dare open the book, too afraid to explore what it says, not wanting to know how it will all end.

Fingers carding through his long, curly hair cause his jump a little, spooked by the sudden soft gesture. He looks up, the sun momentarily blinding him before Louis comes into focus. Harry realizes that his head has been resting on Louis’ thigh this entire time.

“Don’t worry, Harry, we’ll figure out the ending together,” Louis promises.

“Harry,” a voice that’s distinctly not his own, nor Louis’, calls out.

“Harry,” it repeats.

Harry is woken from his dream by his mother standing over him, a worried expression on her face. “Come downstairs and eat some lunch, love. Also you left your phone in the kitchen and it's been ringing nonstop. Missed calls, missed texts, everything.”

Harry mumbles out a thanks and lets himself wake up before heading downstairs. After digesting half a ham and cheese sandwich, he finally decides to check his phone.

His stomach swoops, not in a good way, as he bypasses copious amounts of texts, and scrolls through his nineteen missed call notifications; sixteen from Louis, and three from Niall.

Chapter Text

The sun himself is weak when he first rises, and gathers strength and courage as the day gets on.

- Charles Dickens

 

Sometimes the hardest part of the journey is believing you’re worthy of the trip.

- Glenn Beck

 

Harry relocates to the living room so he can properly call Louis back. He realizes how bad this must seem; his sudden disappearance from Louis’ bed in the middle of the night with no note left indicating his whereabouts. Harry instantly feels guilty about his abrupt departure. Louis must’ve been so worried when he woke up and no one knew where Harry was.

He folds his body in the corner of the couch and makes himself comfortable. His mum is sitting at the dining room table, working on her laptop, but she has Harry in her line of vision, perfect enough to spy and eavesdrop on his conversation. Harry knows she’s just trying to look out for him, so he lets it pass and decides not to call her out for being not as sly as she thinks she is.

After staring at Louis’ contact card for a good few minutes and trying to calm himself down, Harry finally rings Louis back.

Hesitantly, he presses his phone against his ear and waits for something to happen. He doesn’t have to wait long, the other line connecting not even half way through the first tone of the ring.

Louis’ voice comes through the speaker, breathless and frantic. “Harry? Harry! Where are you, babe? Are you okay? Are you hurt, are you safe? Did you have a panic attack again Harry? Why didn’t you wake me up, I could’ve helped, you know I would’ve helped you, Haz. I don’t care about sleep. Where are yo—”

Harry cuts Louis off before he faints from how fast he’s talking. “Louis! Louis, calm down. I’m okay, I promise.”

Louis pauses, breathing heavy into the microphone. “You’re okay?”

Harry chuckles. “Yeah, I’m fine. I’m at my mum’s house.”

“Oh.”

“Are you… okay, Lou?” Harry asks, worriedly biting his lip, not liking the way Louis’ voice is wobbling. Harry sneakily casts a look at Anne who quickly flicks her eyes back to her computer screen like she wasn’t just watching her son with hawk eyes.

“Yeah, H,” Louis whispers. “I was just worried or something. I know that wasn’t the first time we’ve accidentally fallen asleep together, but I thought maybe I crossed some line? Or something happened again to make you panic. It’s was just scary waking up and not finding you there and when I checked with Niall he said you weren’t there and then you weren’t answering your phone and I just got more and more worried and—”

“Lou.”

“Yeah?”

“You’re rambling again,” Harry giggles.

“Oh,” Louis chuckles, trying to cover up his awkwardness. “I was just worried about you.”

Harry’s heart must grow five sizes bigger because his chest simply aches hearing Louis’ words. Harry feels bad about abandoning Louis like that, but he knows they will be okay. It was just a misunderstanding.

“I woke up super early in the morning and felt all out of sorts that I wasn’t celebrating my birthday with Mum so I decided to come home and finally talk with her.” He looks over at Anne and even though her eyes are trained on her laptop’s screen, they have a slight mist to them and the corner of her lips are trying their hardest to not twitch up into a smile. “We worked a lot out and I think we still have some talking to do, but I’m glad I decided to come home. I feel so much better.”

“Oh, Harry. Babe, that’s amazing.” Harry bites his lip, hoping he’s not blushing too hard for his mum to notice. “I’m so proud of you, Curly. I knew you could do it, you’re so strong. Just, next time, don’t scare the fuck out of me.”

Harry’s teeth dig deeper into his lip, feeling like he’s about to actually explore. Next time .

“I won’t,” he whispers.

“Good, I like the sound of that.”

Louis has class to get to so they hang up shortly after. Harry’s face absolutely aches from the giant smile that’s currently overtaking it.

From where she’s sitting at the dining table, Anne gives her son a knowing look. Harry blushes under the attention. He’s feeling absolutely delighted though, knowing exactly how much Louis cares for him. Harry has always felt loved, protected, and safe with Louis and now that feeling has only escalated.

He sits next to his mum at the dining table and burrows his face against her shoulder. He sighs, totally overwhelmed by everything he feels.

“Go for it.”

Harry pulls back and furrows his eyebrows, not quite sure what his mum’s words mean.

“Go for Louis.” Harry knows his face goes absolutely bright red as she nods towards the door. “I can tell how much you feel for him. It’s a lot, right?”

Harry slowly nods. He’s not sure he fully understands his feelings for Louis Tomlinson yet, but they’re there, he knows that for a fact. They might be slightly hidden under all the hate he piled on himself over the past two years, but he feels that, with some help, he could finally allow himself to entertain the idea of actually being allowed to have a soulmate.

Ever since Harry received his soulmark, he knew he would never be able to find his Louis because of his dad. However, now that his mum has helped clarify that situation, he feels like he finally can allow himself to, maybe, start loving Louis the he always has wanted to.

“I want you to follow your heart, baby. Do what’s best for you; not for me, not for your father, not for anyone. I want you to be happy, and if Louis makes you happy, then I want you to find that happiness.”

“Louis! Louis!” Harry knocks his fist against the door, way more hyped up than he should be. “Open up! I know you’re in there!”

Louis opens the door, a panicked expression on his face. “What’s wrong—”

Harry walks into the dorm room, cutting Louis off. He’s full of energy and he just needs to do something right now, preferably with Louis. “Get a coat and put some shoes on. We’re going out, Lou.”

Louis is stunned, still standing in the doorway, mouth hanging open in shock. Harry feels a bit prideful that he was able to get this kind of reaction out of Louis, but he doesn’t have time for Louis’ strange hesitation.

“Well?” Harry pushes.

That causes Louis to finally close the door behind him and get his arse in gear. He changes out of his trackies into jeans, slips on a pair of trainers that have seen better days, and pulls on a coat warm enough to brave the winter air.

On his way back to campus, Harry did a lot of thinking. He thought about what his mum said about his dad. He thought a lot about what he himself actually wanted from his life. After so many years hiding from happiness and suppressing how he feels, Harry didn’t know what it is that he wanted from life.

He thought back to when he was younger, and tried to reconjure all the expectations and dreams he had for himself and his future. It was hard going that far back into his memory; it was hard getting passed all the painful memories that are so deeply ingrained in him that it feels like nothing came before that. But good things did happened before all the bad things. He had to retrain himself to believe that he is allowed access to the good things. He’s allowed to move on from all the pain he felt and he’s allowed to experience the good things life has to offer him.

Harry used to have large, grandiose, beautiful dreams about his love life and how one day everything would be perfect. He would have his wife, the love of his life, his soulmate, in his arms, surrounded by their gorgeous, energetic bunch of children.

Harry wants to have those same large, grandiose, beautiful dreams. He wants to the love of his life in his arms one day. He wants his spouse, the love of his life, soulmate or not, in his arms. He wants children; he wants to feel the happiness and pride that comes along with raising gorgeous, energetic children.

Harry used to wonder what his soulmate would look like. If she would have long or short hair, whether she’d be lean and muscled, or curvy and soft. Harry often came to the conclusion that he didn’t care what she looked like as long as their love was endless.

Harry thinks he has finally found his soulmate. He knows his soulmate has short, brown hair that swoops over his forehead in a fringe. He knows his soulmate is strong and structured, but curvy and soft at the same time. Harry loves everything about his soulmate, but he knows the looks are only a bonus. As long as their love is endless, that’s all that matters.

Harry didn’t know what to do when he first got his soulmark. He thought that his plans for the future were crumbled, that his hopes for a happily ever after had vanished. He didn’t know what to do with that fact that the name on the inside of his left wrist is Louis. A guy’s name.

Harry was scared. He was scared of himself, but he was more afraid of his parents. His fear lead him to hate himself. He was thrown into his sexuality without even knowing it. He didn’t have time to figure it out for himself, to learn who he was and what his identity meant. It all lead to running away; running away from his mum, running away from his responsibilities, running away from himself.

He tried his best to learn, even though what he did wasn’t healthy. He made a lot of mistakes. He made mistakes with his money, with his health, with his body, with his life. It was all that he thought he deserved. He learned quick enough how to handle himself and he became more comfortable with his identity the more he was forced to confront it.

The hate for his identity and the hate for his sexuality disappeared, but transformed into a hate for who he was as a person.

Harry feels like a new person now, though. He feels transformed, in a way, like he is a fully formed butterfly who has escaped its cocoon. He knows his confidence, self-esteem, and self-compassion still need to be worked on, among other things, but Harry now thinks he’s brave enough to follow his dreams.

So, on his way back to campus, Harry did a lot of thinking. He thought about what his mum said. He thought a lot about what he wanted from his life. Harry didn’t know what he wanted, but now he thinks he has a pretty clear picture of it. He wants to live a happy life, and if he can live that happy life with Louis one day, then everything would be perfect.

Harry grabs Louis’ hand as soon as he’s ready, interlocks their fingers, and promptly pulls him out the door. Harry knows he probably looks like a right fool, a manic grin taking over his face. But he just feels so happy. He feels confident, he feels sure, he feels himself—for the first time in a very, very long time.

“Where are we going?” Louis calls out from behind Harry, basically being pulled down the street by Harry at this point. “You seem so happy, H. I don’t know what happened, but happiness looks good on you.”

Harry knows exactly where he’s going and it seemed like such a good idea at first, but the closer he gets to the building, the more he realizes how stupid it might end up being. He pushes away his insecurities, though. He can do this. He is allowed to do what he wants, he can make his own decisions. He can be choose his happiness.

Harry has dragged Louis to the frozen yogurt shop they went to together, the first time they ever spent time together. It was the first place Harry took Louis all that long time ago. It feels significant, standing in front the tiny little store all over again, but with more strength and a bigger sense of who he is. The memory of being here with Louis for that first time is so very much important and significant to Harry, and he hopes that Louis understands, or at least respects that importance, no matter how silly it seems in the grand scheme.

“Harry,” Louis gasps, small and quiet. He squeezes Harry’s hand once and that’s all the confirmation Harry needs to know that Louis find this particular memory just as momentous.

They go inside and order their favorite frozen yogurts, despite the cold weather outside. They sit in their corner, the same table and chairs they have sat in every time they’ve been here, and they talk.

Louis talks about his morning classes and how the girl he sits next to in one of his lectures was so poorly hungover. He talks about silly stuff, filling the air until Harry is ready to finally share what’s making him feel as light as air. It’s one of Harry’s most favorite things about Louis; he’s able to read Harry and his emotions perfectly, easily adapting to how Harry feels and playing off of the signals he gives and his body language. Harry always feels so safe around Louis because Louis cares about how Harry feels and he actually caters to Harry’s feelings. Louis wants Harry to feel safe, wants him to feel like someone out there in the world cares about him because he can see that Harry needs that kind of person.

When Harry’s finally ready, he talks about his trip home. Louis’ full attention is directed at Harry the entire time and he’s fully participating in the conversation. Harry shares what he and his mum talked about. He even tells Louis about Robin and how happy he is for Anne.

They talk for ages and Harry goes back to his dorm feeling even happier than he was when he first knocked on Louis’ door earlier, if that is even possible.

The hallway is eerily quiet, devoid of the students and professors that would normally be running around. All the doors Harry has walked by so far are closed and locked up, the lights turned off. Most of the fluorescent ceiling lights in the hallway aren’t even on, the ones that are, are dimmed just enough to allow for visibility. It feels very weird to be walking around the building after hours, passing by empty classrooms.

When Harry finally reaches the only lecture hall with its lights on, he hesitates. He knows he’s late and he really doesn’t want to interrupt the whole entire meeting. Harry starts thinking that this was a bad, bad idea. He thought he was ready for this, but he really isn’t.

Harry scolds himself in his head. He is ready for this, he just needs to stop being so paranoid and scared of everything. He takes a deep breath, reaches for the doorknob, and, as quietly as possible, he turns it and pushes the door open.

Louis and Harry didn’t have their regular hangout after Harry closed the mailroom earlier in the day because Louis had to prepare for his Q&A meeting tonight. Harry’s watched him work on the meeting itinerary all week and he knows Louis has tried really hard to perfect it. Every time Harry tried asking Louis about the topic, he wouldn’t really elaborate, but Harry knew it was very important to him. He spent a lot of his time researching, reading articles, and watching documentaries to prepare for tonight’s presentation.

After Harry locked up after his shift, he headed back to his room alone, without Louis by his side for once. He had felt a little dejected. He already finished his homework and put in a good amount of time studying so now he would have nothing productive to do once he returned to his dorm room. Niall texted him earlier in the day informing him that he wouldn’t be back until late, so Harry was going to be totally alone. He realizes how much of his time is spent in Louis’ presence, and it’s quite a lot, but Harry wouldn’t have it any other way.

So as he walked passed the security desk on the ground floor of his residence hall he decided to take a peek at the bulletin board to see if any cool activities were happening on campus or if the local theater was showing any good films.

He was about to step away from the board when a flyer on the right side of board caught his eyes, the header large, bold, and colored in with a rainbow gradient.

Q&A MEETING - TONIGHT!

Martino Hall 326

Come learn about Queer Identity and Soulmarks.

7:00 P.M.

Harry reread the poster a few times over, biting his bottom lip, unsure if he actually read queer and soulmarks in the same sentence together.

He didn’t necessarily run away from the bulletin board and up the stairs to his room, but maybe his footsteps were a little quicker than normal. It’s just. It was a lot for him to process and think about. Harry paced his room as he did so. He thought about Louis’ obsession with trying to get Harry to come to a Q&A meeting and how Harry had turned him down each time. He tried to reason with himself trying to figure out why Louis stopped trying to convince him to come. Maybe Louis felt defeated? Maybe he thought Harry was too insecure or scared to actually show up to and participate in an LGBTQ+ space. Harry thought about Louis’ dedication to the presentation that was being shown tonight; a presentation that reflects and impacts Harry way more than Louis knows about.

Harry’s done his own fair share of research on queer identity and soulmarks, and from his readings, it’s pretty rare to get your soulmark before you are even aware of your sexuality. Most people use their soulmarks to validate their sexuality; Harry just so happens to be the rare case of when a soulmark makes a person question and reevaluate their sexuality. Harry’s still learning about his identity and sexuality to this day, and, no matter how confident he likes to think he’s becoming, he thinks it’ll always be a bit difficult.

After pacing around his room for a good chunk of time, Harry made his decision to go to the meeting. Louis had always said the meetings get pretty crowded, so he hoped he could possibly get lost in the crowd. Harry’s also a bit glad Louis had stopped trying to get Harry to come to a meeting because going to this meeting, it’s now Harry’s decision to do so. He’s not going because Louis asked him to, he’s not going to support his friend, he’s going so he can learn about himself and possibly use what he learns as a tool to grow himself and explore his sexuality further.

Which leads Harry to where he is now: frozen in the back of Martino Hall lecture hall 326 at a quarter past seven, hidden behind rows and rows of chairs, which are all pretty much all filled. The lights are dimmed and everyone’s attention is focused on the projections on the wall. He breaths out a large, yet quiet, sigh of relief when the door does not make one sound and no one has turned around or noticed his presence. He quickly settles into the closest empty seat he sees, which is luckily right in front of him, on the end of the back row. He slouches down far in his seat, wanting to keep his presence unknown for the duration of the talk.

The moment Harry’s brain registers Louis’ voice, he is blown away.

Harry’s not stupid, he knows Louis is the president of Q&A, but he didn’t really register that the Louis would be giving the presentation himself. Harry thought Louis made just be making the presentation and fact-checking things for someone else to speak about. He doesn’t know why he never put two and two together. But, god, Harry is beyond glad Louis is the one giving this presentation.

Louis’ voice is clear and commanding and it fills the entire lecture hall, without the use of a microphone. He looks professional, but not pretentious or like a know-it-all. He doesn’t seem superior, he feels like he’s on the same level as the audience; the same level as the rest of the Q&A club members and the people who came to hear him speak. His knowledge on the topic is evident. He’s engaging the audience with eye contact while eloquently speaking about queer identity without even needing to reference notes or the projections.

Harry listens as Louis gives a brief history of the LGBTQ+ community and as he speaks about soulmarks. He doesn’t do what Harry is the most curious to hear about yet: he doesn’t talk about them in relation to one another. Harry’s dying to hear what Louis has to say about soulmarks and the LGBTQ+ community and, silently, in his head, he’s egging Louis on, telling him to get to it already!

“Before I move on to the topic you’ve all came here to hear me speak about,” Harry sighs in relief, finally happy with the turn in the conversation, “I have to give a brief disclaimer.” Louis clears his throat, signaling that what he’s going to say next is important. “I do not have personal experience with what I am about to talk about. Usually, I prefer the topics spoken about at Q&A meetings to be spoken about by someone who has personally experienced what they’re speaking about. It gives an authentic feeling to the conversation and the information. However, I don’t know anyone who has ever received their soulmark before they were fully able to realize their seaxuality.”

You know me, Harry thinks to himself, heart pounding in his chest.

“So I researched hard, and I researched a lot. I wanted to educate myself and I want to educate everyone here as best as possible on this topic, because we all know how scary it can be to be outed before you’re ready. When we chose to come out, or when some of us choose to come out, it was or will ultimately be your choice. For some kids, they don’t have that choice because their soulmark is already there proclaiming their sexuality to the world.”

Harry clenches his fists tight, his nails digging into the skin of his palm. He breathes heavy, trying to be quiet, and trying not to let his tears escape his waterline. The words hurt. They physically pain him because it’s so real. Louis is up there, informing people, telling everyone in this packed room about the sheer pain Harry went through, and he’s doing it without even realizing it. It’s sensational. It’s freeing, cathartic. Harry’s stomach flutters with a weird feeling, but he doesn’t pay attention to it, too enraptured by Louis’ voice to pay attention to anything else.

Louis spends the rest of the evening discussing everything he’s learned from his reading and research. He opens the floor to questions and the conversation and dialogue that flows between him and the audience is truly spectacular to witness. Harry hears Louis repeat some of the stuff that he already knew from his own personal research, but he also learns new stuff too.

“To wind down the conversation, I’m going to show a clip from a documentary I watched called Giants . The documentary focuses on different kinds of queer kids and how they live with their soulmark. We’ll only be watching a clip that correlates with what we talked about tonight, but please, be free to watch it in your spare time on Netflix.”

Harry’s heart flutters. He’s watched the same documentary. It was the first thing he ever watched on Netflix—it was the reason he actually got Netflix for himself—and he’s watched it many times since.

The lights are completely dimmed as the video starts playing and Harry finds it the perfect moment to make his exit. He really, really wants to stick around to hug and congratulate Louis. He wants to thank him for speaking about a topic that is so extremely personal to Harry. He wants to kiss Louis.

Which.

That’s a thought for another day.

But Harry does none of that. He still needs to process this information before he makes any decisions. He wants to work through it himself, internalize it all, have the information mingle with everything that his mum had talked to him about. So he decides to leave early, with no trace of his presence.

The one thing Harry does decide on before going to bed though, is that he wants to tell Louis. He wants to tell Louis everything. It’s a scary thought, but as he lies in bed and softly traces over the five letter name etched into the delicate skin of his left wrist, he comes to the conclusion that even though it’s scary, Louis gives him the courage to face his fears. Louis has always been with Harry, every moment, every second, of the past two years of his life. If anyone can make Harry feel stronger than he is, it’s Louis.

Chapter Text

I'm gonna break down these walls I built around myself. I wanna fall so in love with you and no one else.

- Walls, All Time Low

 

I want to tell you everything, the words I never got to say the first time around.

- This Town, Niall Horan

“I think I want to tell him, Niall.”

The first day of spring seems pretty fitting. Spring’s about rebirth and renewal. Spring brings love, hope, and growth. The weather is getting warmer, the flowers are blooming, everyone seems to be in high spirits. Spring feels like the perfect time to finally embrace the change that Harry wants to make in his life. Spring is a fresh start.

Harry’s starting to open the windows in his and Niall’s dorm room more often and the houseplants covering the windowsill are loving it, their leaves turning a bright, vibrant green. Harry is simply loving the weather. Back home, he started to explore wearing more colorful shirts and blouses, but it became increasingly difficult to embrace his fashion goals when he constantly wants to hide his soulmark with a long sleeve.

Which kinda led him to his decision.

“Tell who what, Haz?”

After almost a month of contemplation, reflection, research, secretly attending Q&A meetings, and even one trip home to talk to his mum, Harry thinks he’s ready to tell Louis that he thinks Louis is his soulmate. There’s always the possibility that Louis isn’t the same as Louis, but the more Harry spends time with him, it’s getting harder and harder to separate the two people.

Harry is simply happy around Louis. Harry hasn’t been this inexplicably happy around any one person in a very long time. Their friendship is a strong bond that seems to have grown from almost nothing. On Harry’s side the bond definitely grew from hatred; hatred for the man who shared the same name as his soulmark. His soulmark was, up until this point in time, a faceless person whom Harry hated, but then he finally had a face to put to the name, even if they weren’t the same people. Harry finally had a way to channel all his years of anger, and it just so happened to channeled into Louis for some stupid reason. Looking back on the situation, Harry might’ve overreacted when it came to Louis’ mail, but the other reasons seem valid enough.

But Louis continued to break down Harry’s walls and they became friends and Harry is so, so glad for that.

Over the last handful of months, Louis has taught Harry how to enjoy his life. He basically taught Harry how to live. They’ve had so many conversations, so many bonding moments. Louis brought Harry out of his shell, forced him to go outside his comfort zone and enjoy simple things. But he also respected Harry’s boundaries while doing so. Harry made friends with Zayn and Liam as well.

But one of the most important aspects of Harry and Louis’ friendship is how protected and safe Harry feels around Louis. Louis cares for Harry’s well being and it’s one of the oddest feelings in the world, because Harry hasn’t let anyone care for him like that in over two years.

Everyday Harry feels like he’s getting closer and closer to telling Louis. He wants to pull him in close and kiss him. He wants to know Louis on an even deeper level, a level that goes beyond friendship. Harry has felt so sure of himself for the past month. He feels strong, he feels confident, he feels like himself.

But the constant niggling feeling in the back of his mind reminds him that he’s keeping a secret from Louis—a pretty big one, too.

It makes Harry feels scared and insecure. Harry doesn’t know if Louis has a soulmark, and if he does, what if it doesn’t say Harry? What if Louis doesn’t like Harry that way? What if—

“Harry, I can hear you thinking from over here. Spill the beans, mate.”

The room, and Harry’s mind, fill with silence. It’s thick and impatient. The silence feels like it’s trying to pull the words straight out of Harry’s throat, wanting to clear the air as soon as possible.

“I want to tell Louis he’s my soulmate. Or that I think he’s my soulmate. I want to show him my soulmark.”

“Oh,” Niall gasps, small and full of surprise. “Well. That’s. Why’s that, H? What’s changed your mind finally?”

Harry shrugs and nervously run a hand through his lengthening curls. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot for the past month or so. Do you think I shouldn’t talk to him?” Harry bites his lip, anxiously anticipating Niall’s response.

“No, no! No, H!” Niall’s eyes almost pop out of his head and he sits up in his bed to fully face Harry who’s lounging on the futon. “I didn’t mean it like that. I want you to talk to him. I’m so happy you’re making this decision. I’m so proud of you, sweetheart, and I fully support your decisions. I’m just curious as to why now.”

Harry’s mouth attempts to curl in a smile, pleased with Niall’s reaction, but he tries to hide it. “It feels right, I don’t know. For the first time since I was fucking beat to a pulp by Serge and those assholes, it finally feels right to claim who I am and to claim my soulmark.” Harry punctuates his rather impressive statement with a tiny shrug of his shoulders.

Niall hops off his bed and joins Harry on the futon, instantly wrapping his arms around his best friend. “I’m so, so, so proud of you, Harry Styles. That’s amazing. You’re amazing. Do you think telling Louis is the first step you need to take?”

Harry nods thoughtfully. “I think. I’ve weighed the pros and cons and I think it’ll just be better if I came clean about it. The more comfortable I start feeling with myself, the more uncomfortable I become around him, ya know? It’s because I feel like I’m keeping such a huge secret from him and I hate it. We’re best friends and I think I could possibly have deeper feelings for him, Ni. It’s scary, but I think I’m ready.”

Niall squeezes Harry even tighter between his arms. “I’m so happy. I support you, H. You’re amazing. Proud of you for accepting yourself for who you truly are.” Niall plants an obnoxious kiss on the top of Harry’s head, causing Harry to giggle and squirm in his embrace.

They spend the rest of the afternoon in the dorm cuddling, the windows letting in a slight breeze and the lights turned off so the sunset bathes them and the room in golden hues. It’s perfect for how Harry feels.

He feels golden.

Today’s the day. Today’s the day. Today’s the day.

Today is the day.

Harry woke up this morning feeling happy. Happy with himself, happy with where his life is right now, just happy. The beautiful spring sun tried its best to peek through the blinds and tickle Harry awake as he lied starfished on his bed. He just knew from the feeling in his gut that today was the day. It all made sense. It felt perfect. Why should he continue holding himself back?

It’s hard to break yourself out of a habit. Nail biting, for example, was an extremely hard habit for Harry to break when he was younger, but breaking the habit of nail biting didn’t come with a long list of pros and cons, it was just a bad habit he needed to break so he could have healthy nails. Now though, this habit is a little harder to break. It’s not as simple as nail biting. Breaking this habit would have many implications; it would make Harry feel more insecure, make him be more fidgety and aware of his surroundings all day, it would put him on edge. But Harry knows it’s a habit he needs to break if he wants to start embracing who he is.

So when Harry got out of bed this morning and got changed, he ignored his watch. He didn’t fiddle with trying to strap it around his boney left wrist, he didn’t even touch it. He neglected it completely. It’s one less barrier between the world and his soulmark. And it’s frightening, but it’s also freeing at the same time. His wrist feels lighter, but also heavy with meaning. He knows it’s the step in the right direction and it’s a habit he wants to—needs to break.

So, today is the day he wants to finally tell Louis.

Louis has become a very important person in Harry’s life. One of Harry’s best and closest friends. They know so much about each other and they’ve experienced so much together since the beginning of the year. Harry knows Louis loves footie and his family—not necessarily in that order. He loves cuddling and watching Netflix. He loves helping people through his work with Q&A and other community-based LGBTQ+ centers around the city. He knows that Louis works so hard with Q&A because his dad left when he came out, so he fights for and helps other kids. He knows Louis loves drinking and dancing and letting loose sometimes. Louis is expressive, loud, and fun. He’s optimistic, protective, and confident. He’s witty, motivated, and annoying.

Louis Tomlinson is also beautiful. He’s charming, flamboyant, and absolutely captivating. His skin is golden and his cheekbones make Harry swoon. His blue eyes roll like the waves of the ocean and they reflect the beauty of his soul. Harry can get lost in them, float around in them for days. He can drown in them too, when his insecurities weigh him down, push on his chest so hard that he can’t breathe, but Louis always dives in to save him, to protect him. Always.

Harry wants to kiss Louis. Really the only thing stopping him from doing so is himself and his own demons.

Today’s the day.

“Hey Lou, how are you?” Harry smiles from behind his desk in the mailroom. He sneaks a peek at the time in the corner of his laptop and his chest clenches when he notices he only has thirty more minutes until closing time.

Louis walks through the door and towards Q&A’s mailbox. He balances on his tiptoes to peek inside the cubby even though Harry knows there’s nothing in it. But something is off with Louis, Harry can tell. It’s making him a little nervous. He was hoping Louis would be his normal energetic, enthusiastic self. It would make coming clean about his soulmark so much easier. But he’s not backing down now, despite Louis’ somber mood.

“I’m alright Curly, and you?” Louis smiles. It’s tiny and his eyes aren’t crinkling. It’s obvious something’s off with him. He seems almost…nervous?

Harry’s too nice to bring it up though. “I’m great! It’s absolutely beautiful out and I wish I could just walk around for a little instead of being cooped upside inside, ya know?”

Louis simply hums in agreement and sits in the empty chair next to Harry’s desk like he usually does. He much quieter, though, which isn’t like usual.

Despite Louis’ subdued mood, they do hold a normal conversation and still banter and laugh with each other. The only difference is that Louis’ smile doesn’t quite reach his eyes, his body language is a little stiff and hesitant, and his laugh is the tiniest bit quieter. It’s driving Harry crazy. He doesn’t know what to do.

When it’s finally time to lock up the both quietly exit out the door one after the other. Harry turns his back on Louis to lock the door up.

“So I was thinking… maybe we can watch the next few episodes of Shameless? I have to say you’ve gotten me quite obsessed, Lou,” Harry laughs, wanting to fill the silence

After making sure the door is locked, Harry turns around to face Louis who is staring resolutely at his feet, his shoulders hunched in. Harry’s very familiar with this posture; Louis is trying to hide himself. It’s a trick Harry’s tried using before and it’s definitely not working.  

“Lou…?”

“H?” Louis lets out a deep, ragged breath. He looks up and meets Harry’s eyes. The blue in his irises is cold and piercing and Harry himself almost as breathless as Louis is, just from the eye contact.

“Can I… C-can I take. May I take y-you on a date? Please? Please, Harry?” Louis stutters. His body is vibrating with energy and nerves and Harry is absolutely thrown for a loop by what Louis has asked. But he doesn’t take a break in-between his words, not letting Harry answer before he rambles on. “We have this connection? I feel it. You have to feel it. Please tell me you feel it, Harry. We’re so good together and I just feel things when I’m with you. The kinds of things I’ve never felt before. I don’t know what I feel, but I feel so something so different and so unique. I’m drawn to you somehow. And I feel so much for you Harry. Your presence is just… I feel so different around you. A good different. You make me feel more me—the better me. It’s intoxicating and Harry.”

Harry’s head is spinning. He wants to yell and scream. He wants to shout yes, yes, yes! A million yeses! But his mind won’t work. His body won’t work. He’s frozen to the spot, mouth hanging open, shocked by Louis’ continuous stream of words. He feels dizzy and he can’t truly believe that these words are coming out of Louis’ words.

Harry’s frustrated with himself that his mouth can’t just simply form the word YES and shut up the rambling boy standing in front of him.

“I really, really want to take you out on a date. Or something. We can go for a walk… it’s really beautiful out? I really just wanna take you out—”

Harry’s body finally responds and he pulls Louis toward him by his biceps. His grip is hard around Louis’ muscles and he keeps talking until Harry cuts him off by pressing their lips together.

Louis tenses, surprised by Harry’s soft pink lips touching his own, but Harry simply melts into it, loving the way the simple touch makes sparks happen. He gently slides his palms up Louis’ shoulders and up his neck to carefully cradle Louis’ jaw in his hands. Each tilt of Harry’s head and each caress of his hand is soft and full of emotion. Harry is sure to handle Louis with the utmost care and diligence, too hesitant to take anything farther or rougher.  

Louis eventually reacts and opens his mouth to let Harry in. The tension in his shoulders disappears and he pulls his body snug against Harry’s own, wrapping his arms around his neck. He slides a hand through Harry’s long curls and holds on tightly. Harry whimpers, loving the pressure. It spurs Louis on and he takes over the kiss and turns it more passionate. As passionate as kiss could be for standing in the hallway out front of your university’s mailroom.

Louis’ lips are slightly chapped, the little bit of scruff on his face brushing against Harry’s jaw. Harry’s eyes are closed, enjoying everything Louis is making him feel. He becomes pliant in Louis’ arms, his body flushed against Louis’, his mouth open and slack to allow Louis’ tongue to explore his mouth.

Running through Harry’s mind is every time over the past few months where Harry just wanted to kiss Louis. And he’s finally doing it. He’s finally kissing Louis Tomlinson and it feels absolutely amazing and nothing like Harry could’ve imagined it feeling like. It’s overwhelming, it’s tantalizing, it’s dream-worthy. It’s everything.

Harry pulls his lips away from Louis’, panting hard, trying to regain this breath. He keeps his body pressed against Louis’, shifting most of his weight against him. Louis giggles as he wobbles under the sudden change of weight and tries to steady both his and Harry’s bodies. Harry leans his head on Louis’ shoulder and greedily breathes in his scent. The earth and pine smell make Harry feel light headed and happy.

“Yes,” Harry sighs against Louis’ neck.

“Yes what, babe?”

“Yes you can take me out on a date. Please,” Harry whispers, pressing a tiny kiss against the column of Louis’ throat.

Harry’s feet hurt, his palm is most definitely very, very sweaty right now, and the ground is a little damp under his arse, the dirt probably staining his already pretty disgusting favorite pair of black skinny jeans. But Harry wouldn’t change one thing about this moment if he could. It’s perfect.

His and Louis’ date has just been them, together, wandering around campus. They’ve done this exact thing before, but this time they held hands the entire time and exchanged flirty looks in-between witty comments and banter. They talked about the same stuff they would normally talk about, but there was this layer of more on top of it all. A layer that Harry would gladly explore farther.

After walking aimlessly for hours they reach a park. Louis suggests sitting down and taking a break to watch the sunset, which Harry wholeheartedly agrees to. Watching the sunset is one of Harry’s favorite things to do, especially during the spring season when the afternoon’s golden light filters into his dorm’s windows at just the right angle. He always makes sure he stops what he’s doing to watch the sunset if he’s able to. It’s a simple daily reminder to himself that every day does end and that a new day will be coming and will bring new feelings, opportunities, and experiences. There’s no need to feel like you’re trapped in one day when the next can bring so much more.

As they sit on the slightly damp grass of the park they’re in, hands still clasped tightly together, Harry shares this with Louis. Louis doesn’t say much, but the way he looks and smiles at Harry spells it all out instead. Louis rests his head on Harry’s shoulder and looks at the horizon in front of them as he runs his thumb over Harry’s knuckles lightly.

The sunset is stunning, as it usually is, but Harry’s more interested in seeing it reflected in the blues of Louis’ eyes rather than looking at it on the actual horizon. The oranges and pinks of the descending sun mix and swirl with the pools of blue and Harry wants to dive right in with them and swim amongst the colors.

“Stop staring at me,” Louis softly mumbles against Harry’s shoulder.

“Can’t,” Harry whispers in response, equally as soft.

Louis lethargically picks up his head from Harry’s shoulder and squints his eyes critically at him. He turns his body slightly so he’s facing Harry fully so he can study Harry’s face. After what feels like an hour of silence to Harry, which in reality was probably a minute or so, Louis’ face breaks into a soft smile.

Louis’ smile turns mischievous within an instant and he leaps forward, knocking Harry onto his back and knocking the air out of his chest. His back dampens straightway, the moist ground soaking into the fabric of his long sleeve shirt. Louis swings his legs over Harry’s waist and settles on top of his hips.

Everything happens so fast Harry barely has anytime to process their new position before Louis is leaning down and pressing their lips together.

Alarms go off in Harry’s head, screaming LOUIS IS KISSING YOU! LOUIS IS KISSING YOU! Harry ignores them and instead lets himself feel Louis kissing him, rather than thinking about it. He moans against Louis’ mouth. Harry arches his back to lift his hips, chasing after any friction that Louis’ own hips could provide him with. Louis’ hands slides up and down Harry’s shoulders and into his hair. He gently tugs at the strands, but keeps the kiss soft and slow. Harry’s own hands decide to be brave and wrap themselves around Louis’ arched back. He holds on tight and occasionally pets at his back in appreciation for what his mouth is doing.

Harry starts to run out of breath, which he weirdly enjoys—struggling for air as Louis obsessively nips and licks at his lips, but Louis notices his struggle and instead slides his lips against Harry’s jaw. Harry’s chest heaves, rapidly rising and falling as he tries to regain his breath. Louis trails tiny, wet kisses along his jaw and neck as he wills his heart to slow down, and occasionally nips at the skin with his teeth, which pulls a small hitch of breath out of Harry’s mouth every time.

Harry slides his left hand under Louis’ shirt so he can feel the soft skin of Louis’ back, but as he’s doing so, his sleeve slides up his arm, exposing the skin of his left wrist. Without even registering his movements, he presses his soulmark against Louis’ skin.

Harry lightly gasps, the skin to skin contact intoxicating. The soft brushes against Harry’s sensitive skin rises goosebumps all along his body as he psychically shivers from the sensation.

Louis continues to press his lips against Harry’s neck and collarbones, daring to dip below his shirt’s collar every few kisses. Harry has to take a few deep breaths to calm himself and not let the tears fall down his cheeks. Everything feels so fantastic. Their bodies together, Louis’ lips on his overheated skin, his soulmark repeatedly pressing against Louis’ soft skin. It’s overwhelming.

The sun has finally disappeared and the moon makes an appearance above the pair in the night sky. They lay together, Harry against the grass, Louis against his chest, as they unwind from the rush of kisses they just shared.

Darkness surrounds them as they walk back to their residence hall. Their hands are still locked together, swinging slightly in-between their bodies with each stride. Harry’s back and bum are a bit cold from being wet, the night time spring breeze carrying a chill with it, but his hand and heart are warm, and that’s all that matters in this moment.

They talk as they walk, but Harry barely focuses on the words. He doesn’t even think before he speaks, just lets his words flow uncensored and unedited. Instead, he focuses on what he’s feeling. He focuses on what it feels like to be with Louis, to talk to Louis, to have Louis’ full attention on him, and giving Louis his full attention in return. What Harry is feeling is momentous, is dizzying.

Harry and Louis have always had a connection. Their friendship was built fast, but had strong foundations that stuck right away. Harry knows that they have this connection and he can always feel it. But right now, as they walk back together, he can feel it growing and growing with each footstep. Harry feels like he’s walking on air. He feels truly blessed to be in Louis’ presence. Harry’s not scared of Louis anymore; he’s not scared of Louis anymore. He wants to embrace what he feels; he wants to embrace this connection. He wants to embrace Louis. He wants to give Louis a chance.

They ride the elevator up to their floor. Harry wants to put up a fight, usually preferring to climb the stairs, but the heaviness in the air, the blatant tension between them, weighs too much to carry up the stairs along with their bodies.

And Harry’s not dumb. He knows what he’s feeling is sexual. It’s primal. Maybe not as strong as the word primal suggests, but he feels like he needs it and he needs it now. Preferably Louis. He preferably needs Louis and needs him now.

The feeling increases and increases with each footstep they take towards Louis’ room. Harry wants to throw Louis, or wants himself to be thrown, against the closest wall as soon as fucking possible. He chides himself, reminding his clouded and hazy horny brain that they’re in the hallway of their residence hall and there are cameras and people that could walk out and see them at any moment.

Energy stirs between them, thick and heavy, as Louis’ trembling hand attempts to unlock his door. Harry’s can’t stand still and he has to catch himself multiple times from reaching out and grabbing anywhere on Louis’ body. He justs wants to feel everything. Once the door clicks open, they crash through into the room, hands gripping biceps and hips tightly, lips, tongue, and teeth clashing as they kiss hurriedly. They can’t take their hands off each other, the need to touch driving each caress and squeeze.

Harry closes the door behind them and immediately throws Louis’ body against it. Harry’s senses are heightened and every drag of his lips against Louis’ feels absolutely euphoric. Harry controls the kiss, standing over Louis, head bending down to meet Louis’ tilted up mouth. Louis lets Harry explore the roof of his mouth as he stands there and takes it. Harry wants to kiss Louis senseless and he pretty sure he’s halfway there if the quickness of Louis’ breath is any sign.

Louis’ hands sweep up and down Harry’s back, but Harry wants to feel his hands on his skin. He whines against Louis’ mouth, hoping he understands what he’s trying to ask.

Louis’ fingers dance around the hem of Harry’s shirt and Harry whines even louder and kisses even fiercer, indicating that Louis has permission to touch him. Louis has the permission to touch him whenever he pleases. Harry wouldn’t mind.

His cold fingers skirt under the fabric of Harry’s shirt and hesitantly press against the hot skin of Harry’s back. It feels so good, Harry can’t help but pull away from Louis’ mouth to let his head fall back and moan into the darkness of the room. Louis’ moan in response is soft and needy and Harry doesn’t want Louis to be needy so he attaches his lips to his neck and starts sucking on the skin.

“H-Harry,” Louis pants. “More, babe, please.”

Harry nips over Louis’ Adam’s apple and drops soft kisses along the length of his skin from his jaw to the base of his neck, before sucking one last bruise against his collarbone.

“Harry.” Louis sounds closes to tears and he desperately starts rotating his hips against Harry’s thigh, causing Harry to choke out a moan of his own.

Harry drops to his knees without warning, pulling the zipper of Louis’ jeans down as he goes. Louis helps and pushes his jeans down his legs until they’re around his knees. Harry would rather much prefer for them to both be naked, but his need to get Louis in his mouth right this instant is way too overwhelming. He runs his fingertips over Louis’ straining bulge and moans as he feels Louis shiver above him from the delicate touch.

“Turn the lights on, please,” Harry pants, breathless and overwhelmed by the simple reactions he can pull out of Louis. “I want to see how beautiful you are.”

Louis’ arm searches the wall frantically looking for the light switch. When he does hit it, light fills the room and the sudden brightness hurts Harry’s eyes. The hard tile under his knees hurts even more, but all the pain is worth it for the sight of seeing Louis’ hard, flushed cock being freed from his tight, constraining pants.

Harry is so glad he asked Louis to turn the lights on because, god, his dick is gorgeous. It’s heavy in Harry’s hand when he holds it and even heavier against his tongue.

Louis is a mess above Harry, his entire weight being supported by the door, too overwhelmed to even stand up straight. His hands are clawing at the wood of the door and he isn’t even trying to hold his cries of pleasure in. Harry is so turned on by the noises spilling out of Louis’ mouth. He’s so turned on by the fact that Louis isn’t even trying to hide said noises. Their neighbors definitely hear what’s going on, no thanks to the paper-thin dorm walls. But that thought only spurs Harry on harder; it makes him want to make Louis even louder so everyone knows what's happening, so everyone knows that Harry Styles is able to take Louis Tomlinson apart and put him back together perfectly.

Harry bobs his head up and down fast, focusing on the tip because Louis seems to like it. But he can’t help but feel like he’s missing something.

He pulls off Louis’ dick and gives it one long lick from its base to its tip before croaking, “Touch me, please.”

Louis gasps hearing how broken Harry sounds. He listens to Harry’s plea and buries his fingertips into Harry’s wild halo of curls. Louis scrapes his nails against Harry’s scalp as Harry begins to suckle on the tip of his cock. Harry swallows more of Louis’ length and hums around it, pulling cry after cry out of him.

“Harry. Harry. Please.” He pauses to moan as Harry begins humming more intensely against his dick. “Please. I don’t want to come yet. Baby, stop.” Louis drops his head back against the wood of the door with a thunk, trying to slow his heartbeat and will his dick not to come yet. He doesn’t want to come until he can touch Harry.

Harry slowly drags his mouth off of Louis and leaves a tiny kiss against his slit. He leans back and looks up at Louis, patiently waiting for him to tell him what to do.

God,” Louis moans as he makes eye contact with Harry. “You’re so beautiful. Your eyes, all big and blown out. You fucking mouth is pink and so, so sinful looking. And it’s all just for me, babe, isn’t it?”

Harry flushes under the attention and quickly nods. The nodding causes his scalp to tingle and he realizes Louis’ fingers are still tightly wrapped around his curls. Harry purposefully nods his head again, this time even harder, so he can feel the tiny blasts of pain wash over him. He moans, loving the pleasure that comes with the pain.

“Hey now,” Louis chastises, “that’s enough of that.” Harry pouts, but listens to Louis.

Louis slowly guides Harry back to his feet, steadying him with a helpful hand when he almost falls over from how numb his legs feel from being folded underneath him. Louis holds Harry close and they kiss sensually for a few minutes, their tongues slowly exploring each other’s mouths. Harry whines thinking about how Louis can probably still taste himself of his tongue.

“You taste so good,” Louis whispers into Harry’s ear, basically reading his mind, when they break apart to catch their breath. Chills run throughout Harry’s body as Louis’ words tickle his ears. “Taste like a mixture of me and you. So good. Now can you undress for me, babe?”

Harry nods and slowly starts to remove his clothes, starting with his shoes and socks. He takes his time, relishing in the feeling of Louis watching him even though he can’t see Louis watching him. The skin of Harry’s broad bare back prickles; just knowing Louis’ eyes are sweeping over his skin causes Harry to flush all over, his cock included.

“Haz, turn the lights out please?” Louis says from somewhere across the room.

Harry is hesitant to turn the lights off, wanting to see Louis in his full naked glory, but he listens. As soon as he hits the lightswitch, the harsh fluorescence disappears and is immediately replaced by the soft glow of the string lights that frame the window of Louis’ dorm room. Harry gasps as he swings his head around to find Louis, completely nude, standing by the window, under the warmth of the string lights. The glow compliments Louis’ skin perfectly, making him shine like the star he truly is.

They stare at each other from across the room, Harry by the door, Louis by the window. Harry realizes that this is their first time ever being completely vulnerable in front of each other. They’ve had conversations where they had crossed topics that brought up their own vulnerabilities, but seeing each other naked in such a soft and intimate setting brings them to a whole new level.

They just look, staring at each other’s full naked bodies. Their eyes try to catalogue every detail, every line.

Suddenly, Harry feels way too vulnerable. He remembers the scars that mar the skin over his ribs. The marks of hatred that are forever embedded in his skin. He doesn’t want to look disgusting to Louis; he can’t look disgusting to Louis. Harry doesn’t want to have any flaws that will cause Louis be disgusted. Harry knows his scars will cause Louis to be disgusted.

He curls in on himself and turns his imperfections away from Louis’ eyes. The vulnerability suddenly becomes way too much for Harry to handle. How could Louis want to do something so intimate with someone who is so broken?

Louis notices Harry closing himself off and is standing in front of him within an instant, pulling him in closer and closer until their naked bodies are touching at every possible point of contact. Louis drops small kiss after small kiss across Harry’s face, from his forehead, to his cheek, from his jaw, to the tip of his nose.

Louis gently guides Harry to his bed, laying him down and making him comfortable on top of the duvet.

Harry avoids eye contact the whole time, arms still wrapped around his torso hiding his battle scars, teeth gnawing on his bottom lip in fear of rejection. His head is placed gently on the propped up pillows of Louis’ bed. The smell of pine that invades his senses is so intense and immediate, it’s overwhelming. It’s everything. Harry thinks he might cry. He wants to smell the homely and earthly smell of Louis everyday, but he’s afraid that becoming completely bare with him will only bring rejection.

Louis straddles over Harry’s groin. He lightly grips at Harry’s hips, his thumbs trying to rub gentle circles into the skin over the jut of his bone. He looks down at Harry with his eyebrows furrowed, worry plain on his face.

“Haz, babe, what’s wrong?”

Harry closes his eyes and shakes his head in a firm no.

“Please tell me, Harry. I want you. Are you afraid that I don’t? That I won’t?” Harry can’t see Louis’ face but he bets that the man sitting on top of him looks absolutely devastated. “I want you, Harry. I will want you no matter what. I won’t ask questions. I just want to see your beautiful self.”

Louis’ words shake Harry, give him enough confidence to slowly remove his arms from around his torso. He exposes the skin of his chest and ribs one inch at a time, keeping his eyes shut tight. His arms fall limply to his sides, his skin now exposed to the open air, the glow of the string lights, and Louis’ eyes.

Harry waits and waits. He feels Louis shift above him. If he was feeling as good as he was earlier, the drag of skin against skin would have felt amazing, but Harry’s now flagged erection doesn’t care, his vulnerability making him soft in more ways than one.

The first thing Harry feels is a soft kiss over his heart, causing it to jump in his chest. Louis continues to press kiss after kiss to Harry’s skin. He kisses everywhere: his scars, his wounds, the unblemished parts, everywhere. He gives kitten licks to Harry’s nipples, just to test, before he starts nibbling and sucking on them.

Harry squirms under the attention, loving the treatment his sensitive nipples are receiving. Louis’ mouth is hooked to his right nipple and his pointer finger and thumb gently roll and pinch his left one. Harry’s breathing escalates quickly and soon he forgets all about his insecurities and his scars. He enjoys the pleasure Louis is giving him, rolling his hips upwards so his and Louis’ cocks rub together in a sweet, sweet, satisfying way.

Harry’s cock has returned to full hardness and he just wants something. He thinks he’s been waiting long enough, but Louis seems to be having way too much fun with Harry’s nipples to stop. He’s been playing with them long enough for any brush over them to be painful, but Harry loves every single zap of pain. He’s reeling from it.

“M-more. Louis,” he breathes heavily, panting from the neverending mix of pleasure and pain. “Please, can I have more, Louis?”

Louis crawls forward just enough to meet Harry face to face. He leans down close enough to whisper dirtily into his ear, “Never thought you’d ask, sweetheart,” before biting on his ear lobe and pulling away. He kisses Harry briefly before crawling down his body so his mouth is level with Harry’s groin.

Harry whines, wishing the kiss was longer. He whines, wishing that Louis could please put his mouth on him already. He whines when Louis finally does envelope Harry’s cock with his mouth. Harry whines even louder when Louis firmly holds his hips down against the bed when he starts to buck up, chasing the feeling of Louis’ wet, sinful mouth.

It feels amazing, like nothing he’s experienced before. Louis’ mouth doesn’t even compare to anyone who’s had Harry like this before. Harry loves everything Louis is making him feel, from the tingles in his groin, to the shaking of his thighs, to his shortness of breath and rapidly beating heart.

Harry holds his noises in, keeping his squeaks and moans as quiet as possible, too shy to let their neighbors hear how much he’s being pleasured by Louis. However, when his cock starts slipping down Louis’ throat, Harry can’t help but moan as loud as possible. His chest is rising and falling impossibly fast and he knows his orgasm is approaching even faster.

“Louis,” he pants, “I-I’m gonna. O-oh, god. L-Lou, I’m—” Harry moans as he releases down Louis’ throat. Louis moans right alongside Harry, his own hand under him, pulling himself to orgasm right alongside Harry.

Harry blanks out, his orgasm too intense for him to fully pay attention to his surroundings. When he finally does realize what’s going on, he finds himself curled up to Louis’ side, his head resting on the bare skin of his chest. Louis must’ve pulled the duvet over their bodies because Harry’s bare skin feels pleasantly warm, but it might just be the after effects of his mindblowing orgasm. He looks up and catches Louis’ eyes, the blues reflecting the soft glow of the string lights that illuminate the room with an intimate warmth. Harry feels safe looking into Louis eyes and being in Louis’ arms.

“That was…” Harry tries, but can’t find the words, too overwhelmed by everything that had just happened.

“Yeah,” Louis agrees, a soft smile tugging at his petal pink lips. “I feel like I’m burning. Like. I’m actually burning. My limbs are tingling. My skin is warm and itchy? It feels… magical.”

Harry thinks his heart stops beating. He can’t help but think of how familiar Louis’ words sound in his head.

Harry feels a phantom touch against his own wrist. His wrist warms with the invisible touch, a persistent heat making the skin itch.

Louis giggles. “Am I just talking shit, H? It feels like I can feel… like. Oh, I don’t know. It feels like I can feel your hands all over me, babe, but I see your hands right here. Have you ever felt like that, Haz?”

Harry has definitely felt that before. It’s the feeling he associates with his soulmark, with Louis. Everything Louis is feeling in this moment, Harry felt years ago during that date with that one girl. The moment his soulmark appeared and ruined his life.

Harry scolds himself for saying that Louis ruined his life. He knows better than that now. Everything was just very unfortunately timed. Louis was the best thing to happen to Harry, probably, and he should stop thinking of his soulmate otherwise.

It’s a shot in the dark, but if Harry felt those weird phantom touches when he first got his soulmark, then it is very possible that Louis just got his own. It could also be very possible that Louis already has his soulmark and it’s reacting negatively to the activities they just participated in together. Honestly, it’s all up in the air and it scares Harry more than anything. But the only way to find out is by biting the bullet and simply asking.

“Louis?” Harry whispers, his voice breaking halfway through the same. “Do you have your soulmark yet?” Harry’s eyes stay connected to Louis’ the whole time. The fear curling in his stomach wants him to look away, but his heart tells him he shouldn’t. His heart knows something important is about to happen. His heart knows he needs to pay close attention to those bright baby blues.

Louis pauses, his eyes holding onto Harry’s. He must not want to look away either. Maybe his heart has the same intuition that Harry’s has.

“No.” The word is small and quiet, two things Louis is not.

This is it, then. This is where Harry finds out whether Fate wants him and Louis together or not. There could very possibly be a entirely different Louis out there in the world for Harry, but Harry wants this Louis.

Harry swallows hard. “Take a look now,” he whispers. His resolve finally breaks and he buries his face in Louis’ neck, too afraid to see Louis’ reaction to finding his brand new soulmark etched into his left wrist.

Harry waits and waits until he hears Louis gasp as he finally looks at his soulmark for the first in the dim glow of his university dorm room. The room is dead quiet and the silence is so overwhelming and heavy, Harry is almost unable to handle it.

Harry is just so tired. He’s tired of hiding himself from himself, he’s tired of hiding his soulmark from Louis and from the world. He’s tired of being tired. But he’s just so tired that he can’t hold on to hope anymore. He thinks he’s spent all the hope he has. He knows he’s spent all the hope he has when he feels tear drops silently rolling down his cheeks. He silently cries into Louis shoulder because this is where he find out if Louis is his soulmate or not.

Harry decides to let Louis know first. He wants Louis to know that Harry has Louis on his wrist first before Harry finds out who is on Louis’ wrist.

He quietly shifts his body weight, just so, so that he’s able to display his left wrist for Louis.

This is it, Harry thinks. This is the moment you’ve been both dreading and looking forward for over two years now.

Louis is now able to see his name on Harry’s wrist.

The room is quiet. It feels too quiet. Harry is desperate to fill the quiet. It’s suffocating, it’s scary, it’s—

Harry feels the barest hint of the softest touch ever. He wants to shy away from it, but he’s frozen in place. He feels Louis skim his thumb across his name on Harry’s wrist. The soft skin of his fingertips trace the L, then the O, and so on. Harry, who’s still crying, only sobs harder at the delicate and loving touch.

“Harry, please look at me.”

Harry doesn’t want to look at Louis, but the emotion in his voice make it impossible to ignore. He slowly lifts his head and meets Louis’ eyes. When Harry’s green eyes lock onto Louis’ blues, he doesn’t know what he feel or what he sees, but he does know that this is it. He’s home. Louis is his home. No matter what Louis’ wrist says, Louis is Harry’s home. No matter what.

Harry takes a deep breath and turns his head slowly to look at their left wrists, side by side. He sees the Louis that he’s known for almost three years now, that doesn’t faze him, but when looks at Louis’ wrist, his whole world stops.

Harry.

It’s clear as day. Simple and beautiful. Elegant and bold. And it’s written on Louis’ wrist.

Side by side, they read Harry and Louis and Harry thinks that he would like to see that for the rest of his life.

Harry can’t help but cry even harder. Years of pain, years of not wanting his soulmate, years of running from the truth, years of hiding who he truly wanted to be; it’s all too much at once. Louis simply holds onto Harry, he wraps his arms around him, and holds on tight. Louis does what he does best. He protects Harry, makes him feel safe, makes him feel like he’s strong.

“You’re okay, babe. You’re beautiful, you deserve to be loved. I look up to you so much, Harry. I admire you and your strength. I’m unbelievably infatuated and obsessed with you.” Each sentence is full of emotion and love and feeling. Louis rolls Harry off his chest and onto his back. He returns to his earlier position of straddling his hips, but it doesn’t feel sexual at all and Harry loves how comfortable he can be with Louis, no matter what situation.

Louis keeps the duvet pulled up around his shoulders as he lays down on top of Harry’s body, placing little kisses everywhere he can. He covers his face and neck with as many kisses as he can before he starts moving down the rest of his body. He comes face to face with Harry’s chest again. They’re not in the heat of sex anymore so Harry starts panicking about what Louis will truly think about the scars now that he get an upclose look at them.

Harry closes his eyes tightly, afraid to know what is going through Louis’ head as his eyes rake over the faint scars that live on his chest and rib cage. He holds in his breath, stilling the movements of his chest, trying to disappear into the mattress so Louis doesn’t have to see the imperfections that mar Harry’s skin and past.

Louis’ hand gently rests against Harry’s sternum. The warmth from his palm running up and down his torso in soothing motions coaxes Harry to breathe again. “You’re okay, babe, please breathe.”

Harry nods slightly, eyes still closed, throat thick with all his unspoken words. Louis’ fingertips gently drag along the length of one of the biggest scars on Harry’s left side. Goosebumps prick up all over Harry’s arms and legs, the hair on his thighs standing up straight.

“Can you tell me about them? Would you like to tell me about?” Louis asks, voice soft.

Harry hesitantly opens his eyes and finds Louis’ face right above his. His eyebrows are furrowed, lips downturned. Harry’s eyes search Louis’, looking for any sign that he’s disinterested, but Harry only finds open curiosity and something more, something that looks a lot like… love?

Harry closes his eyes, afraid to find more secrets hidden in Louis’, and nods resolutely. He takes a deep breath to center himself and gather his thoughts.

“I was on a date with some girl when I got my soulmark. She noticed it before I did and freaked out,” Harry quietly chuckles, unamused. Louis slides off of Harry’s lap, laying on his side to face Harry. Harry stays on his back, not feeling confident enough to look Louis in the eyes as he bares his heart and scars. He doesn’t want to see the rejection that will probably paint Louis’ face once he realizes how much Harry fucks up other people’s lives.

“She, uh, made a scene in this diner we were in and called me a bunch of names. It wasn’t fun.”

“Oh Harry…”

“Niall had to come pick me up. He didn’t know why, my parents didn’t know why. I kept it hidden for a good amount of time. It… it scared me so much. It wasn’t what I wanted.” His breath becomes heavy so he pauses, allowing his heart to calm the fuck down. Louis’ hand slides across Harry’s pec and rests his palm over Harry’s heart. The small gesture slows the wild beating.

“I think it was a week and she hadn’t told anyone yet and I was so relieved, but on Friday the leader of the group of bullies followed me into the loo after last class. The building was basically deserted; I had a meeting with my teacher and was going to meet Niall outside by his car, but I was basically lead into a trap. All of Serge’s friends were there. And I was so scared, Lou.

“They were always so blatantly homophobic too,” Harry scoffs. “I should’ve seen it coming. They hit me. They kicked me. I was just lying on the ground and they hurt me so much.” Harry’s voice cracks, tears sliding down his face. He decides to turn on his side and face Louis to look into his eyes, just to be sure his words are heard. Louis’ hand that was resting over Harry’s heart relocates to his hip.

“I had dreams and aspirations. I wanted a wife, kids, a whole entire life. I planned a whole entire life for myself and I didn’t even know I was gay until my soulmark fucking outed me to my date, who outed me to the whole entire fucking school. Everything was ruined. I was so ruined. Their shoes and fists hurt so much. The pain was so intolerable, but I became numb and I just took it. I felt like I deserved it.

“Niall found me after they left. I don’t know how long I was on the floor in a pile of my own blood and tears. It was horrible.” He swallows hard, voice becoming softer, more scared to share the next piece of the story. “That’s how my parents found out. I stayed in bed for awhile, trying to recover.” He pauses. “I remember one morning I woke up and I could see the disappointment just radiating out of my dad. In that moment I knew what was wrong; I knew he didn’t want me to be gay. I told him,” Harry chuckles, “I told him I wasn’t gay. He stood up and left my room. That was the last time I ever saw him.”

Louis surges forward and presses his lips to Harry’s. The liplock is soft and Louis is careful as he sweetly kisses Harry, his hand now cradling Harry’s jaw. Harry cries throughout the short duration of the kiss, overwhelmed by all the emotions coursing through his body. Everything is too much at once, but Louis helps him calm down as he gently swipes the tears off his cheeks.

“There’s more,” Harry whispers. Louis solemnly nods, indicating for Harry to continue. His hand slides down Harry’s side, caressing the skin, as he resettles his palm over his hip.

“I blamed myself for my dad leaving. I knew that it was my fault. I’m gay, so he left. My soulmark was a guy’s name, so he left. I always thought he would come back if my soulmark miraculously turned into a girl’s name or I ended up with a girl, or with no one.

“It felt so bad being outed that I just couldn’t stand being in Cheshire anymore and so after we graduated I left. I wanted to explore the country and I wanted to explore who I am, since I didn’t get to find out for myself. I left a day or two after graduation. No goodbye to my mum or to Gemma. I just grabbed a few things and all my money—I also took some cash from Mum and Gemma, admittedly. I just ran. I was so, so scared. I needed to figure out who I was. I was so lost.”

Louis gives a short, sweet peck to Harry’s lips. His hand finds Harry’s and he intertwines their fingers, bringing their joined hands towards his mouth so he can place a small kiss to each of Harry’s knuckles. “You’re so strong, baby. You have been through so, so much.”

“I didn’t want to love you, Louis. I hated you. I blamed you for all my misfortunes in life. I blamed the most beautiful, sweetest man I have ever met for all the bad things that have ever happened to me. I was scared and I thought I didn’t deserve love. I ran away, I left the country because I didn’t want to find you, because I knew I wouldn’t be allowed to love you.”

“You’re,” Louis delivers a kiss to Harry’s right cheek, “so,” a kiss to his left cheek, “strong,” a kiss to his forehead.

“I’m not strong, though Louis,” Harry fiercely confesses, voice cracking. “I ran away like a scared child. I took two gap years because I just wanted to escape life, reality, responsibilities. I didn’t want to be here anymore.”

“Well you’re here now,” Louis affirms, his words strong and sure. “Tell me about it, Harry. Tell me what you did in those two years. The highlights, the lowlights. What scared you, what you loved. Please, I want to know about your past. I want to know as much about you as possible.”

Harry looks into Louis’ blue eyes, feeling himself melt into the endless ocean that the irises have a striking resemblance to. Harry has never had the confidence to unlock his memories, the secrets, the experiences. Everything that happened over those two years were locked up tight and Harry never wanted to revisit them. He wanted to suppress the bad things he did, but along the way he always hid away all the good things that happened to him, everything blurring into one giant mess. He decided back before the school year started that he didn’t want those memories to be apart of who he is, but now he realizes he can’t run away from his past. His past has made him who he is today and he should embrace it and he wants to take that first step with Louis by his side, holding onto his hand with a loving fierceness.

“I traveled a lot,” Harry starts. “I went to France, Italy, Greece, Spain, everywhere I could. I stayed in hostels, I slept on the streets. I did a lot of walking and a lot of begging for money. I worked under the table jobs just to get enough cash to make it to the next country.”

“That sounds amazing,” Louis breathes.

Harry sighs. “It was. I saw a lot of amazing things, met a lot of awesome people, but I was so seriously lonely. So lonely it hurt some days.

“I made some friends. I met Nick and Aiden in Amsterdam. They were on vacation, something about celebrating their anniversary. They let me party with them. We went to lots of gay bars, it was like a whole new world to me. I guess there’s something about me that just screams ‘gay’ because there was an endless stream of boys coming up to me and buying drinks. I got so fucking wasted, but was so overwhelmed by everything. I remember waking up under an oak tree out by one of the canals and I was barefoot,” Harry laughs. “I don’t know how I lost my shoes, I only remember being tired enough to fucking fall asleep under a tree.”

Louis smirks, trying to hold in his giggles.

“I was so fucking hungover, too. I hailed a cab and then threw up in the back seat. I was obviously kicked out right away.”

Louis’ laugh finally makes it passed his lips. “Oh my god, H. You were proper fucking smashed. How old were you? Eighteen?”

Harry blushes, “Yeah I was eighteen.”

Harry did drink way too much that night. So many boys bought him so many drinks in hopes of getting into his pants. It was Harry’s first destination, the first foreign country and city he had visited, and he wasn’t ready to start exploring his sexuality just yet. So he got very drunk, very fast and left. Luckily none of the men got violent with him in response to his denials.

“It was raining too. I made it back to the hostel, packed my bags, and left. I was wasn’t even in the Netherlands for week yet and I needed to escape. So I left. I always left.”

Harry tells Louis about Germany and Austria. He talks about Italy.

Harry stayed in Italy for a while. He became friends with Isabella and Erin, who were native to Verona, the first city Harry decided to stay put in. He loved the culture and the sights of the city. He saw Juliet’s House, which is what peaked his interest in Shakespeare’s works. Harry developed a unique connection to Shakespeare’s works while in Verona, a passion that drew him towards Isabella and Erin. He saw them discussing Henry IV in a tiny cafe one early morning and he inserted himself into the conversation, wanting to share his thoughts on the historical drama. The two girls took him in instantly, letting him use the guest room in their flat. It was the first time in many, many months that Harry had slept in a clean bed, alone in his own room.

Harry ended up traveling all over Italy with the two girls. They visited Milan, Florence, Rome, Naples. He loved the sunflower fields he saw, the wine he tasted, the ancient monuments he visited.

“We planned on going to Greece together, and I was excited, but I was growing too attached to these girls. I couldn’t be around them anymore. I had lost myself again. The point was trying find who I was and around them I blended in too much. So I left. One day I was there and then the next day I wasn’t.” Harry closes his eyes, hating himself for abandoning the sweetest girls he had ever met. “I wasn’t myself, I wanted to be me, but I didn’t know who that person was.”

Louis whimpers at hearing Harry’s words. “I hate that you were in so much pain.”

Harry shrugs off Louis’ comment and continues his train of thought, not wanting to think too hard about what Louis’ words implied about him, about them.

“I had enough money saved to make it to France. So I went straight to Paris. It was winter and it was hard. I slept on the streets most nights. I was so lonely and, oh god this is so ironic, but I found comfort in my soulmark. At nights, when I just felt so alone, I would stare at my soulmark, your name, until I feel asleep. It reminded me that I would never be alone, that I would have this other name, this other person, attached to me wherever I went. I hated you yet I loved everything you stood for.

“I finally decided to allow myself to explore my identity. It felt right. I was lonely and after spending weeks, months, with only Erin and Isabella by my side I realized I wasn’t into girls as much as I wanted to be,” he chuckles, thinking back to how Erin tried making a move on Harry one late night while they were in Naples after too many glasses of wine. Harry tried to like it, tried to enjoy touching her and being touched by her, but it just didn’t work that way.

It oddly felt like he was betraying Louis.

“It was my first time going to a gay bar alone, no Nick and Aiden to look after me. The men in Paris were simply irresistible and they felt the same way about me, I guess. I got so lonely and started making too many mistakes too often. I drank a lot and started remembering less and less, but all I knew is that I regretted it. Those nasty blowjobs, handjobs, in those nasty bathroom stalls. It was horrible.

“Every morning I would wake up with several texts in my phone from boys I don’t remember meeting, from boys I’ve never met.” Harry pauses, taking a deep breath. As he closes his eyes, violent flashbacks of Paris nightclubs paint the backs of his eyelids. He reopens his eyes as fast as possible, not wanting to relive his mistakes. He looks into Louis’ calming blue eyes and finds serenity, instantly making him feel at peace.

“They were disgustingly handsy, but the alcohol that coursed through my veins made me brave enough to dance like no one was watching even though everyone was. I enjoyed finally being touched by another guy even though I sometimes felt extremely violated.

“I met this guy named Riz one night. I was sitting at the bar, just arrived, so I didn’t have any alcohol in me and he started chatting me up. He was beautiful,” Harry laughs, blushing. Louis narrows his eyes, probably preparing himself for the what Harry’s going to say next. He doesn’t want to say it, but he knows that Louis needs to know every piece of him, even this. “We talked for a long time and it felt nice. It felt nice to have a connection with someone. In the back of my mind I knew it could never evolve into something more, but I let myself live in the moment and experience a type of attraction I had never felt before.”

Harry explains how they spent that first night was spent exploring the streets of Paris. Riz was British like Harry, but had spent most of his life in France. He was fluent in French and knew the city like the back of his hand. He showed Harry places he never knew existed and made him feel a happiness he didn’t know he was capable of feeling.

When Riz asked if he could walk Harry home, he had to admit he wasn’t staying anywhere, that the cold concrete of the Paris pavements were his final resting places each and every night. Riz insisted that Harry take his guest room and the temptation of a clean, soft bed and a shower were way too delightful to turn down.

Harry knew Riz was into him, but he didn’t want to make the first move, too afraid to. When Riz finally did, it was welcomed by Harry, though. The kissing was nice, it was sweet, totally unlike the harsh biting kisses from the nameless boys in the club. The sex, though, Harry didn’t like. He wasn’t prepared for that kind of intimacy. He felt like he didn’t deserve the words of praise Riz whispered into his ear as he pushed in and out of Harry. Harry didn’t have the heart to tell him he didn’t enjoy it, that he just sat there and took it, detached from the act.

“I started feeling lonely again, even though I was in bed with a man every single night. I wanted to like it, so bad, but it felt like my heart was breaking at the seams and I was coming apart. Riz and I had potential at one point, but I just wasn’t ready. One night he told me he was developing deeper feelings for me. The next morning I was gone. I never turned back.

“I finally traveled to back to Greece, this time with some money I had saved up that Riz had given me over our time together. In Athens I slept with a lot of men. I wasn’t proud of it, but it helped me come to terms with the fact that I was gay and that I liked being gay. I didn’t hate myself for being gay anymore, like I originally had. I hated myself because I made my dad leave and my mom cry. I hated myself because I didn’t want to love you, Louis, because I didn’t want to hurt you. I hated myself because I knew if I loved you I’d hurt my family like I already had. All I ended up doing was hurt myself instead.

“I came to terms with my sexuality and learned what I liked. I decided, after Greece, that I was done fooling around and that it was time to be more responsible. I didn’t want nameless and faceless boys to use me anymore and I had to stop using them.” Harry pauses, trying to regather his thoughts. “I tried really hard to separate myself from those memories, so much so that it shocked me to see gay couples. I know that sounds ridiculous but I tried so hard to block out those memories that I sometimes forgot about what I learned from those experiences.”

The room finally floods with silence. Louis flips onto his back to stare at the ceiling to start to process all the information Harry had just unloaded onto him. Harry repositions himself, laying his head down on Louis’ bare chest, ear pressed right above his steady, beating heart. Louis’ arm wraps around Harry’s bare back, holding him to his side. Harry closes his eyes in content, loving that he’s able to be so close to someone he cherishes so much.

As they lay together, Harry allows himself to process everything he just confessed as well. It’s the first time he has spoke about everything that had happened in his two gap years. He’s told snippets to Niall and his mum, but Louis is the first and only to know about Riz and everything, everyone, he did in Greece. He feels relieved. It’s not just his dirty secret anymore, it’s a piece of the puzzle that makes up who he is and now Louis is able to be a part of it.

“Thank you for telling me, babe,” Louis says, voice ringing in the silence of the dorm room. “I just want to let you know I’ll always be there for you and choosing me is ultimately your choice. You’re allowed to not want me.”

Harry thinks about his words. He thinks hard about them. He goes through everything he’s learned about himself since the winter holiday and he thinks he knows exactly what he wants.

“I want you, Louis.”

And it’s true.

Chapter Text

“My mouth hasn't shut up about you since you kissed it. The idea that you may kiss it again is stuck in my brain, which hasn't stopped thinking about you since, before any kiss.”

- Unknown

 

“When I look in your eyes I'm bigger than the night sky. As high as the sun, high as a storm. We are giants.”

- Giants, Take That

 

The contents of Harry’s closet are currently all over the floor of his and Niall’s dorm room. The mess is killing him, but his indecision might actually cause him to jump off a cliff. For some reason he can’t make a decision for shit and it’s going to drive him mad.

“Niall, just pick one for me, please!” he whines to his best friend.

“Uh huh,” Niall grunts from his bed, headphones in his ears and eyes focused on the laptop that is perched on his stomach. Harry rolls his eyes and stumbles across the room, trying not to step on his clean clothes that are currently littering the floor.

When he finally reaches his friend’s bed, he snags his headphones and pulls them out of his ears. “Help me,” Harry begs.

“Heyyyy,” Niall whines. “I’m watching something very important.”

Harry raises his eyebrow and shoots a glance at Niall’s screen to see Meryl Streep singing in overalls. “Mamma Mia?”

Niall shrugs. “Louis made me listen to ABBA and who doesn’t love Meryl?”

Harry ignores Niall and pouts, holding up a shirt in each hand. “Pink feathers or pink polka dots?”

Niall crinkles his nose. “Neither.”

Harry throws his arms into the air, shirts flying from his hands, exasperated. “Well fine. Then you choose a shirt for me.”

Harry bites his lip as Louis’ eye roam over his body. He tries his hardest not to blush too much, a bit embarrassed by how much he loves Louis looking at him with that look. Harry can see Louis trying to hide how affected he is, and it makes Harry a little smug knowing that he can make Louis feel just as overwhelmed as Louis makes him feel.

Louis clears his throat, his stunned face transforming into a smirk. “Cheetah print. Really, Curly?” He pokes at Harry’s stomach, referencing the button-up shirt that Niall ended up picking out for him. It’s a piece of clothing Harry bought on a whim when he was in France a year or so ago, and he never really wore it, but he did know it looked good on him, especially when paired his tight black skinny jeans and a long black peacoat. The coat is a little overkill, but it makes his already long and lean body look even taller.

Harry takes his turn surveying Louis’ choice of outfit, making him finally squirm instead. He’s wearing a wonderful pair of black jeans that hug his thighs perfectly, or at least Harry thinks they do, because his tan oversized sweaters falls halfway down his muscular thighs. Harry has the urge to fall to his knees in front of Louis just so he could get his hands back on those beautiful legs.

He looks up at Louis’ face again, immediately flushing bright pink and hanging his head in embarrassment and shame when he meets his eyes. Harry knows that Louis could tell exactly what he was thinking about, going by the look on his face.

Harry flinches a tiny bit when Louis cards his hand through his hair, gently guiding his head back up so his face level with Louis’.

“You’re gorgeous,” he whispers.

Something in Harry’s chest flutters at Louis’ words. It’s an overwhelming feeling that takes over his insides and makes him feel things he has never ever felt before. It’s weird, it’s new, but it’s something he wouldn’t be upset with feeling for the rest of his life.

This always happens to Harry. He swears he cursed. He has the worst luck ever. Or he’s just really, really bad at making decisions for himself. He swears he’s a grown man—just a grown man who can’t make choices. He’s trying, it’s just hard.

“Zayn, will you please help me?”

“God, H, you sound like a child. I don’t understand why you need my help?”

“Niall walked out on me. He’s tired of helping me,” Harry pouts, even though Zayn can’t see him through his phone.

Zayn sighs as the background noise changes. “Listen, Harry. I just got to work, I can’t really chat right now.”

“No!” Harry whines. “Please, please just help me pick out an outfit for tonight. I have no clue what to wear. Can I text you a few options?”

“Harry, how many dates have you been on with Louis?”

Harry shrugs. “Dunno. Lost count a while ago.”

“Exactly. He doesn’t care about what you wear, just show up and you’ll be golden.”

“He always looks so effortlessly good, Zayn. I need to look good enough to stand next to him.”

“Harry—”

“Zayn,” Harry pleads, “please.”

“I got to go, Harry,” Zayn groans. “This needs to stop. I’m with Niall on this one. Don’t text me the pictures, I won’t answer. Bye.” Zayn hangs up on Harry before he can even protest.

Harry dramatically falls to the ground, sitting down next to his three outfit choices. He doesn’t really know why, but he always feels so lost when it comes to going out with Louis. He knows Louis wants to be with him, he’s sure of it, but he never knows if he’s enough or if he’s doing enough.

Also, Harry’s trying to wear short sleeved shirts now, so there are a lot more wardrobe options. It took some getting used to, always having his soulmark out in the open, but he’s been taking it day by day and Louis is always so supportive. Louis understands Harry’s hesitations, he knows Harry’s fears and recognizes them. He helps Harry fight the demons that torture him on the bad days.

Anyway. Harry still can’t choose what he’s going to wear.

He returns to his feet, snatches this three shirt options and his key, and exits his room. He stalks down the hallway, on a mission, until he reaches one of the single rooms on the floor. He knocks on the wood impatiently until it finally opens.

What do you want, Harry?” Liam groans.

Harry pushes right past him, walking into Liam’s room. He ignores Liam’s sighs as he spreads out his three shirts on the bed.

“Which one, Li?”

“Zayn warned me about this,” he mumbles, arms folded against his chest.

“Please Liam,” Harry begs. “You know how self-conscious I am about this. Please help me out.”

Liam smiles at Harry sadly and pushes Harry’s shirts to the side as he climbs on top of the bed. He pats the space next to him, indicating for Harry to join him. Harry goes easily, too tired and desperate to put up a fight. He sits next to Liam, their thighs touching in friendly comfort. Liam wraps his arm around Harry’s shoulder and pulls him in close.

Liam’s always been a good friend. Harry’s been lucky to have him in his inner circle. Harry knows he’s the closest to Louis and Niall, but Zayn and Liam have always been a great support system for him, as a gap year student and now as one of their best friend’s soulmate. He’s grateful for the people in his life.

Silence fills the air as they cuddle. It’s making Harry a little uncomfortable, though, especially since he came here for help picking out a shirt. He wants to get rid of the stale air, hating the way it feels like it’s suffocating him, so he says the first thing that pops into his mind.

“Remember when you gave me cake?”

Liam bursts out laughing, Harry joining along. It’s a really sweet moment and Liam holds Harry even tighter as they reminisce about the first day they met.

Liam, the ever serious one out of their little group, just has to bring the conversation back around to the hard stuff. Oh well, it was good while it lasted.

“What are you so afraid of, Harry?” Liam asks softly. “Like, what about Louis is scaring you so much that you have to obsess over what you’re wearing instead of facing the issue head-on?”

Harry can’t believe Liam noticed. Niall hadn’t noticed and neither had Zayn, but Liam picked up on it right away. He knows exactly what Harry’s doing.

Harry sighs, realizing it wouldn’t be such a good idea to not talk about it when Liam can already tell something is wrong.

“I’m scared,” Harry whispers. “I’m afraid that he won’t…love me, in the end. I’m afraid he’ll just leave me because I’m not good or perfect enough. I’m afraid that I’ll get too scared and I’ll be the one that ends up leaving him. I’ve done it before, what’s there stopping me from doing it this time?”

“Can I tell you what’s stopping you from leaving this time around?” Harry nods, confused, but still curious to hear what Liam has to say.

Liam pulls his arm away from Harry’s shoulders and repositions his body so he’s looking at Harry completely. He carefully takes hold of Harry’s left arm and turns it over. The bold letters that spell out Louis contrast against Harry’s skin and, as his eyes trace over each letter, Harry thinks he knows what Liam’s going to say.

This is what is stopping you from leaving. He’s your soulmate, Harry. I know you enough to know that you would never leave someone like your soulmate—someone like Louis. You would never leave someone that you love so deeply. And you do, don’t you? You love him.”

“We’re only dating,” Harry mumbles. “We haven’t gone much farther and we haven’t decided to label anything.”

Liam squeezes Harry’s forearm supportively. “And that’s okay, Haz. Let it all fall in place naturally. You’ll be happier if you take your time.”

When Harry makes it back to his room, he realizes he still doesn’t have a shirt picked out for his date tonight. He looks over his three choices, a black long sleeved, slightly see-through shirt, a white t-shirt, and a button-up flannel, and with no hesitation he picks the white t-shirt.

They lay in the dark, the dimmed brightness of the laptop sitting on Louis’ lap the only source of light. They’re watching The Office, volume down impossibly low because, to be honest, they’re not even pay attention. They’ve been languidly snogging for the past hour and a half, lying comfortably under Louis’ duvet, both shirtless. They don’t go any farther than kissing, the mood simply not right for any other extracurricular activities.

Rain constantly knocks against the window panes, filling the silence that Netflix isn’t. Harry is warm and cuddled close against Louis. His lips hurt from kissing Louis non-stop and the skin of his jaw is a little irritated from Louis’ stubble, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. All the little imperfect details make it perfect.

Harry’s been staying in Louis’ room a lot recently. He spends the night more often than not, simply wrapped up in Louis’ arms in his bed. Tonight is one of those nights and he doesn’t know how it could get any better—

Louis suddenly stops in the middle of their kiss, Harry automatically thinking he’d done something wrong. But Louis only pulls back a few centimeters, his lips still close enough to brush against Harry’s. He takes a deep breath and then whispers, “Harry? Will you please be my boyfriend?”

Harry doesn’t panic, he doesn’t run, he doesn’t even need to stop and think it over before he whispers back, “It would be my pleasure,” before returning his lips back to Louis’.

“From London to Milan, stilettos are an ism, in red and neon life…”

Harry huffs in annoyance and tries to concentrate harder on the textbook in his lap. He has a paper due soon and he really needs to do more research if he wants to get a good grade.

“New York, Paris, Hong Kong—live it like an ism. Seduction amplified…”

Harry tries, he really, really does try to block it out. He squints harder at the tiny words resting against his thighs, tapping the highlighter he’s holding against the thick stack of pages.

It’s a beautiful spring day to be outside. Harry loves spreading out on a blanket on one of the many green grassy sections of their university campus, just soaking up the sunlight and warmer weather. It never fails to make Harry feel happier and Louis tells him that he always looks like he’s glowing after they spend time outside cuddling. Which. That’s something new. Harry and Louis cuddle a lot: outside—in the grass, inside—in each other’s beds, on Niall and Harry’s futon during lads nights. They kiss a lot too, but the details of that always cause Harry to blush.

It’s a beautiful spring day to be outside, but Harry is cooped up inside. And it sucks. He’s moody, touchy, and has little concentration. He could go outside, but his hay fever is acting up and going outside would simply be pointless because he wouldn’t be able to do his research and reading through all the tears in his eyes and the constant stream of sneezes that would be shaking his body. So Harry is stuck indoors with Louis, sitting on his ass in his dorm room on his and Niall’s futon.

Being stuck indoors with Louis can be both a blessing and curse and right fucking now Harry wants to strangle his boyfriend.

“From London to Milan, stilettos are an ism—in red and neon life. Gimme big red boo, boo, boo, boo, boo, boo, boots!”

“LOUIS!” Harry practically screams. “Could you possibly please stop singing and humming? It’s driving me fucking mad.”

Louis pouts at Harry’s outburst, looking like a disgruntled kitten. “But the sex is in the heel, Harold.”

Harry closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. His textbook is already driving him crazy, he doesn’t need Louis speaking in riddles. “What are you even talking about?” he sighs, irritated.

Sex Is in the Heel ,” Louis rolls his eyes, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “From Kinky Boots?”

Kinky Boots ?” Harry questions, still highly confused.

Louis groans in frustration. “You’re so uncultured, babe. It’s a Broadway show and it’s quite amazing. We’ll have to listen to the full original cast recording sometime.” Louis pauses, his face squinting, indicating that he’s thinking. His face breaks as he gasps and grabs Harry’s bicep, turning his body towards him. “We should listen to the full original cast recording now ! Brilliant idea, if I do say so myself,” he winks.

“Louis,” Harry groans, throwing his head back. “I need to study and read and research and take notes. I don’t have time for a whole entire Broadway production!”

Louis cackles and jumps up off of the futon into the center of the room. “We always have time for a whole entire Broadway production, Curly! Who do you think I am? Some boring straight man who doesn’t appreciate the complexities and nuances of Lola?”

Louis closes his eyes, put his hands on his hips, and starts humming and tapping his foot along to a beat that is unfamiliar to Harry. Louis swings his hips slowly to go along with the tune and oh. This is something Harry is possibly interested in. Very interested in. Then Louis starts singing. Not the little humming and quiet talk-singing he was doing minutes ago, but actual full-on singing.

“Leave expectations at the door—just let your eyes explore my cinematic flair from my boot to derrière.” Louis dramatically folds his body in half and trails a flourished hand from his ankle all the way up his leg, punctuating the movement with a mild slap to his arse.

He performs for Harry in the center of the dorm room before sashaying towards the front door, pressing his body up against it, still singing the whole time, not missing a single word or beat. He sways his hips side to side, hypnotizing Harry with his sinful curves.

He throws his body off the wood and struts his way back over to Harry on the futon, looking absolutely seductive and dominating. Harry can’t take his eyes off of him.

“Leave that humdrum place of glum behind. Once you walk inside these doors,” he points devilishly at Harry, “you’re mine.”

Harry swallows hard, looking up and finding Louis standing above him. It doesn’t stay that way for long before Louis removes Harry’s textbook from his lap and straddles his hips.

“Now let me blow your mind. And like Shazam! and Bam!” With each exclamation, Louis grinds his groin against Harry’s. He leans in closer and drops the volume of his voice to sing into Harry’s ear, “Here I am, yes Ma'am. I am Lola.” He punctuates his singing by biting Harry’s earlobe, pulling a moan deep out of Harry’s chest.

Louis drags his lips across the skin of Harry’s jaw, nipping occasionally with his teeth before he reaches his lips. When their mouths meet, Harry’s automatically opens, ready and willing for Louis to slide his tongue inside. Harry loves the way Louis kisses him and he has to give his boyfriend some credit—if every spontaneous dorm Broadway performance ends this way, Harry will most definitely be learning more musicals in the future.  

Louis grinds his hips down and Harry has to break the kiss to moan loudly. It’s a really good grind.

A loud ringing startles Harry, but Louis continues sucking on his neck. Harry decides to ignore the loud noise, enjoying Louis’ attention much more than whatever his cell phone could offer. However, the ringing simply doesn’t stop and it’s starting to kill the mood so Harry picks his phone up and answers it without even checking to see who is ringing him.

“Hello?” he greets, uninterested. It’s probably some automated response machine thing who is trying to sell Harry a fake cruise vacation.

“Harry?” the unknown voice asks. Louis continues kissing up and down Harry’s neck, unaware of the stranger on the other side of the phone.

“Yes?” he answers cautiously.

“It’s your dad.”

Harry’s body instantly tenses, his muscles tighten, his heart starts beating faster, his mind is screaming horrible things at him. Louis can immediately tell something is wrong and climbs off of Harry to sit beside him on the futon. He takes Harry’s left hand in his own and starts softly tracing over Harry’s soulmark, a gesture that normally brings calm and peace to Harry’s mind, but as Harry hears his father’s voice, the loving gesture makes everything ten times worse. Harry snatches his hand away from Louis and tries to ignore the blatant look of hurt on his boyfriend’s face. He can worry about apologizing later, he has more important things to attend to like his—

“Dad?” he whispers in a mixture of disgust and disbelief. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Louis’ own body go rigid.

“Yeah. Your mum told me you were at university now. How are you doing? What’re you studying?” His tone is very conversational, almost like he didn’t walk out on Harry, Gemma, and Anne years ago, leaving them alone and powerless, and leaving Harry beyond damaged.

He swallows hard, trying to take this conversation at face value, trying to forget the past so he can move forward into the future. “I’m, uh, okay. And maybe English literature. Haven’t committed yet, but it’s going in that direction.”

“Oh.” Harry’s heart shrinks at the disappointment his dad’s voice is dripping with.

“Yeah,” he tries to confirm with confidence, but he can feel his shell cracking. Harry closes his eyes and prays that Richard doesn’t try to berate him and his choices or attempt to knock against the shell anymore than he already has. Harry doesn’t think he’d be able to stand more cracks tearing through his thin walls.

“I was hoping you would study business, or mathematics, you know,” he huffs.

Harry shatters. “What?” he chokes out.

Harry’s lived through his dad and the bullies at school beating him up for his sexuality and soulmark, but hearing one of your parents, no matter how distant and removed from your life they are, bash your life choices and career path hurts.

“You know, something strong and stable. Something to get you a good job so one day you can support the wife and kids you always wanted.”

Harry wants to throw up. He can see Louis visibly flinch next to him, probably overhearing his dad’s words. He can’t believe this. His life was going so well and Richard’s back to fuck it up. How’d he even get Harry’s number? Is this going to be a reoccurring theme in Harry’s life? Will everything be fine and dandy until his dad fucks it up, disappears, only to reappear to fuck it all up again once Harry’s somewhat healed?

Harry needs to take a stand. He’s an adult now. He’s twenty-one. He knows how to handle himself, his life, and his relationships. He doesn’t need his fucking absent father to fuck it all up. He’s angry that Richard even had the nerve to think of Harry, to call him and speak with him.

Harry turns to Louis to look for some confidence, but Louis only looks frightened. Harry decides to link his hand with Louis’, for both their sakes. He’s pretty sure they both need strength right now. Everything is starting to feel way too fresh, for the both of them. Their similars pasts coming back to life just through one shitty phone call.

Harry takes a deep breath to settle his thoughts and then decides to let his father have it. Harry’s beyond angry right now. He shouldn’t sit here and just take this kind of abuse. He’s angry and he has every right to be. He needs to do something about it. He can’t be a wet rag anymore. He’s so angry that it feels like his skin is thrumming with hatred and his blood is boiling with despise.

“What the fuck ? You’ve been out of my life for almost three years. Now you want to tell me how to live my fucking life, dad? What a joke! Who do you think you are? Honestly,” Harry scoffs. He squeezes Louis’ hand harder, trying to usurp some of the energy and confidence that Louis always seems to carry with him everywhere. “You remember Louis, Dad? My soulmark? It’s a guy! There’s never going to be wife. I’m gay. You know how long it took me to get over you leaving me because I was gay?”

Richard snorts on the other side of the phone, which only angers Harry even further. He’s so sick and tired of being pushed around.

“It took for-fucking-ever, Dad. It took me forever to get over it. But I am. I’m over it and I’m over you. Don’t come spouting your bullshit at me now. I’m very happy with Louis—”

“You’ve found your soulmate?” Richard asks, genuinely surprised.

“Yeah and he’s great to me. He knows I’ve got scars, the scars that you’ve left, that can’t always been seen. And pain gets hard some days and it hurts a lot, but now Louis is here and I don’t feel a thing. I wish I knew two years ago that it is okay to accept myself. I wish my dad told me it was okay to accept myself. I had to figure that out all on my own. The hard way. There’s no room for you anymore.”

“Harry—”

“Goodbye.”

Harry hangs up and removes himself from futon. He paces the length of the dorm room, angry and fuming. He wants to scream, he wants to shout. Everything hurts. He’s tried so hard and this one little stupid phone call just has to go and blow up all his hard work. He’s tired of crying, he’s tired of hurting, he’s tired of trying so hard. Why can’t he just be?

Harry falls to his knees in the middle of the room, the same place Louis was standing, swinging his hips for Harry’s entertainment mere minutes ago. It feels like a lifetime ago. He wishes he never would’ve pick up the phone. He hangs his head and sobs, his chest racks with the anguished sounds he making, yet no tears fall. He doesn’t let his eyes get watery, he refuses to cry over Richard Styles anymore.

Harry flinches when a hand starts soothingly rubbing up and down his back. He lifts his head and finds Louis kneeling next to him.

“I’m so proud of you, Harry,” he whispers, voice so sincere and face so soft. Harry is eternally grateful for having this man in his life. He gives Harry hope and strength. He makes Harry feel loved and Harry loves Louis right back.

Harry loves Louis.

Harry moves fast and pulls Louis into a tight, bone-crushing hug. He buries his face in the crook of Louis’ neck as he wraps his arms around Harry just as tight.

Harry pulls away and grabs at Louis’ face, smashing their lips together. The kiss is anything but gentle and sweet. It’s dirty and rough and it’s exactly what Harry needs right now. He lets Louis takeover and control their movements. He bites at Harry’s bottom lip, only to swipe over it with his tongue. Louis explores his mouth even more, moving his lips against Harry’s like magic.

Louis finally pulls away, breathing hard against Harry’s neck. Harry’s own breathing is ragged and hard, his eyes closed and head tilted back in pleasure.

“You’re Lola,” Louis whispers against Harry’s neck.

“What?” Harry asks, too out of it to try to make sense of Louis’ words. Instead, he chases after his boyfriend’s mouth, looking for more kisses.

Louis giggles and pecks him once on the lips before returning back to his neck, sucking lightly on the skin. “Lola, from Kinky Boots, she stands for freedom, acceptance, being who you want to be,” he breathes against Harry’s neck. “That’s what you’ve done, baby. You’re free, you’ve accepted yourself, you are exactly who you want to be.”

Harry moans, overwhelmed by the meaning behind Louis’ words. “Louis,” he whines, starting to rut his groin against Louis’ thigh.

“I’m so proud of you, Harry. Let’s move to the bed. Is that okay, babe?”

Harry only whines in response, eyes tightly squeezed closed from how much he wants Louis. His cock is hard and heavy, trapped in his jeans. He just wants to be free, he wants Louis to touch him.

Louis helps Harry get to his feet. They stand in the middle of the room kissing slow, deep, and dirty. Harry’s hands roam up and down Louis’ back, under his shirt, his nails grazing the skin. Louis’ hands are spread out to cover each of Harry’s arse cheeks. He squeezes each globe and pulls Harry impossibly closer, rotating his groin against Harry’s, creating a tantalizing sensation of friction. The move causes Harry to bite his lower lip harshly, holding in the moan that wants to rip through him.

Harry can’t wait any longer and starts hiking Louis’ t-shirt up his chest, trying to get him to take the evil piece of fabric off to reveal his beautiful torso. Louis chuckles and pulls his shirt off, tossing it somewhere behind him. He slides his hands up Harry’s chest, underneath his own shirt, and drags his palms against his nipples.

The rough friction causes Harry to keen and beg, “Please, Louis. Take it off, please”

“Sh, it’s okay,” Louis placates. “I’ll take care of you.”

Louis slowly removes the rest of their clothes, taking care of Harry first, kissing every inch of skin he can as he goes. He quickly takes off his own joggers and pants. He then grabs his hard cock in his hand, squeezing it to grant himself some quick relief, sliding his hand up his shaft one, two, three times. Harry stands in his place, wanting to be good, and watches Louis touch himself. He really wishes Louis would be touching him instead.

He gets his wish when Louis pulls his body close to his own. He places his palms just below Harry’s armpits and slowly slides them all the way down Harry’s sides, ending at his hips. Louis squeezes the extra skin that cushion Harry’s hips, causing him to shiver, his nipples visibly hardening in reaction. Louis leans down slightly to lick at Harry’s right nub, lathering it with his spit, making the skin wet and slippery as he swipes his tongue up, down, left, and right. Harry feels like crying, the simple stimulation making him go crazy. He rotates his groin against Louis’ thigh, his bare erection searching for any kind of friction. Louis slides his hands further down and wraps them around Harry to grab at his arse.

“God, this is so nice,” Louis moans, squeezing the skin impossibly harder.

“Please, Louis,” Harry pants. His breathing has been quickening and he feels like he’s about to pass out from how hard his chest is working to move up and down. He wants to be laid out on his bed right now, with Louis preferably on top of him.

He gets his wish, thank god, as Louis carefully guides him over to his bed. He helps Harry onto the mattress and lays him out perfectly, fitting himself over top. He sits just perfectly on top of Harry that their flushed, hard cocks rub together. Harry cries, wanting more.

“You want me to touch you, babe?” Louis innocently asks.

Harry’s pretty sure his hands are shaking, so eager for Louis to finally touch his cock for the first time this night. He waits and waits for Louis’ fingers to wrap around his throbbing cock, but when the touch doesn’t come, he starts squirming. He’s restless and so wound up, he wants it, he needs it, he’s aching for it. He cries out, confused as to why Louis isn’t touching him yet.

Louis leans forward just enough to growl into Harry’s ear, “I asked you a question.” He arches his back perfectly so his stomach doesn’t accidently rub against Harry’s cock, his hands tightly gripping Harry’s hips so he doesn’t buck up to search for the friction he desperately wants.

“Yes, yes. Yes!” Harry cries. “P-please touch me, Louis.”

“Anything for you, sweetheart,” Louis whispers, biting Harry’s earlobe and pressing one small kiss to the junction of his neck and shoulder before pulling away.

Harry lays breathless on his bed, staring up at Louis who has the perfect view of Harry’s body from where he’s sitting. Harry can see Louis’ eye flickering around every inch of Harry’s skin, taking in each and every detail. The attention causes him to flush, the skin of his face, neck, and chest probably already bright pink, if how hot he feels is any indication. His dick twitches as Louis’ eyes graze over it, thirsty for attention, ready to be touched.

“Actually, can I try something, H?” Louis asks, sweetly, gently running his fingers through the light dusting of hair on Harry’s thigh.

“Looouuuu,” Harry whines, wanting more than anything right now to just be touched by his boyfriend.

“Shh. I’ll touch you, don’t worry. I just want to try something. Am I allowed to, Harry? Can we try something?”

Harry sniffles, but nods his head anyway, giving his permission to let Louis try whatever it is he wants to do.

“Please use your words, babe,” Louis says, voice stern but still kind. He drags his fingers lightly over the skin of Harry’s groin, closer and closer to his cock without actually touching it. Harry wants to scream and cry, desperate for it.

“Yes, Lou. We can try whatever.”

Louis smiles at Harry, trailing his fingers back down his his thighs. “Can I see it, Harry?” he whispers.

The sudden change of topic throws Harry off and he looks up at Louis confused, unsure of what he’s talking about. Then it hits him. He slowly turns his left wrist over, which was previously facedown against the mattress, revealing the beautiful Louis that lives there. Louis’ reaction to seeing his name on Harry’s body is purely magic. He lights up like a star in the night sky, exploding with what Harry thinks to be what pure, unadulterated love looks like. His cheeks flush, his smile dominates his face, and the corners of his eyes crinkle in happiness. He’s gorgeous.

“Can I see?” Harry whispers, afraid to ask and break the moment, but too desperate not to speak up.

“Of course,” Louis whispers right back, pulling his hand away from Harry’s thigh to turn his wrist over, revealing the brand new Harry that’s sketched into his golden skin. Harry whines as his eyes trace over every single letter of his name slowly. He still can’t get over the fact that Louis is his soulmate and he is Louis’.

Louis slides down and off of Harry’s body, making him shiver as his body heat disappears and is replaced by the chill in the air. Louis quickly hops off the bed, Harry whining as he walks away, but he returns quickly, settling in-between Harry’s spread legs with a pillow in one hand and lube and a condom in the other.

He taps a hand lightly against Harry’s hip, motioning for him to lift his arse up off the bed. He fits the pillow underneath Harry so it props his arse up. He winks and whispers, “Don’t tell Niall.”

Harry lets out a loud cackle and Louis laughs along with him. The mood shifts fast though as Louis settles himself close to Harry’ cock. It twitches as Louis blows hot air out of his mouth over the sensitive skin of the head.

“Lou,” Harry breathes out.

“It’s okay, Harry. I’ll make you feel good. If I don’t, let me know, babe.”

“I will, I will,” he pants.

“Good boy.” Louis ducks his head and pulls his tongue up Harry’s dick from the base to the head.

Harry cries out, finally receiving the sweet, sweet contact he’s been yearning for. His thighs twitch and the muscles tighten as Louis envelopes the head of his cock in his warm mouth. His tongue swipes over the slit, causing Harry to squirm even more. Louis pulls off after a few more messy licks, making Harry’s dick wet enough so his hand can easily slide up and down. His fingers focus on the tip, giving it the most attention.

Harry bites his lip, holding in the screams of pleasure he wants to let go of so bad.

As Louis’ hand works over Harry’s dick, he ducks his head even further in-between Harry’s legs to start kitten-licking and sucking at the skin of his balls. Harry lets a tiny moan escape, loving everything he’s feeling. The hand that’s not on Harry’s dick finally decides to trace all the way up his torso to his nipples. Louis pinches and rubs over Harry’s already bright red and abused nipples.

After a few minutes of non-stop touching, all contact Louis has with Harry’s body disappears, causing Harry to whimper uncontrollably.

Louis stretches up Harry’s body and kisses his face all over until he stops his cries of frustration. He finally places his lips over Harry’s own and slips his tongue inside, giving Harry a good snog before he pulls away. “Gonna try that new thing now, babe. If you don’t like it we can stop,” Louis whispers against his mouth.

Harry only grunts in response and closes his eyes tightly, calming himself down, preparing for what Louis has planned.

Louis shuffles down the mattress, his face in-between Harry’s thighs. He spread Harry’s legs impossibly wide and it only serves to turn Harry on even more, being in such a vulnerable and intimate position in front of Louis. Harry doesn’t know what to expect until Louis licks his lips and oh. Louis is really going to do that.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Louis darts forward and traces the ring of Harry’s hole with the very tip of his tongue. It feels a little odd at first, a new sensation Harry’s never before experienced, but as soon as Louis flattens his tongue and drags it from the bottom to the top, pulling it over Harry’s hole fully, Harry comes apart.

His legs instantly lose feeling and he doesn’t think he can feel his toes. His dick squirts precome from the tip as Harry whines and whimpers over Louis’ continual licks and flicks.

Harry can’t help but loudly moan the first time Louis attempts to delicately press his tongue into his hole. He knows he’s not loose enough, but he wants his tongue inside of him right now. He wants to feel it so bad. Harry pants so hard, so excited by everything Louis is doing, excited by every move Louis is making to make Harry simply come apart on his tongue.

Louis tries it again, this time successfully slipping his wet tongue into Harry’s hot hole. Harry tries his best not to clench, wanting to keep Louis’ tongue in him forever. Louis starts moving his tongue in and out, slowly at first, but soon speeding up to punch moan after moan out of Harry even faster. He pulls away to broadly lick over Harry’s hole a few more times before diving right back in.

Harry’s head is spinning, his breathing completely uneven, as he goes through what he thinks is a religious experience. He feels so amazing, the amount of pleasure thrumming through his veins seems like the only thing keeping him alive. He’s completely on edge, so ready to come, and he really, really wants to come, but he really, really wants to come with Louis’ cock up his arse instead of his tongue.

“Lou-Louis,” he whimpers and begs. “I’m gonna come. Oh my god. Louis. P-please stop, I want your cock, please.”

Louis pulls away, with one last feather-light kiss to Harry’s fluttering hole, and crawls up the bed to lay on top of Harry’s chest. Harry opens his mouth, already expecting Louis to lean down and kiss him. Harry moans as Louis swipes his tongue around Harry’s mouth—the same tongue that was just in his own arse moments ago. Harry never would’ve thought he’d be so turned on by that, but, god, he so is.

“Love tasting yourself, H?”

“Yes, yes, yes,” Harry pants, breath still heavy and uneven.

“I’m gonna fuck you now, is that ok—”

“Yes! Please,” Harry whines, near tears. He feels empty now that Louis’ tongue isn’t playing with his hole anymore and he really wants to be full of Louis as soon as humanly possible.

“I got you, babe, it’s all gonna be okay,” Louis whispers, placing kisses against Harry’s cheeks before he slides back down the bed, kneeling in-between Harry’s spread legs, his feet still flat on the bed, his knees bent towards the ceiling. Harry hopes he looks good in this position, hopes he looks good for Louis.

Harry’s breath hitches as Louis starts spreading a generous amount of lube over his fingers.

Louis slowly circles Harry’s rim with the tip of his finger, just like he did with his tongue, before ever so slowly pushing it past the tight ring of muscle. Harry mewls at the feeling and it’s not long before he’s crying out yet again as Louis eagerly slides in a second finger.

Louis pushes and pulls his fingers in and out of Harry’s body, the feeling of them dragging across his rim so delicate yet so overwhelming all at the same time. He enjoys every single second of Louis slowly opening him up. He rotates his fingers as they go in and he separates them in a scissoring motion as he pulls out. Despite how good it all feels, Harry’s starting to get restless, and he needs more, he wants to feel more.

Right as Harry’s about to complain and whine, Louis pushes in a fraction of an inch more, finally causing Harry’s body to explode with pure pleasure. Stars dance in front of his eyes and he lets out the roaring moan he’s been holding in since they began. It’s loud and throaty and Harry’s pretty sure he sees Louis smirking. From there, Louis doesn’t stop rubbing up against Harry’s prostate with every chance he can get. Soon though, Harry can’t take it. Louis brings him to the edge of orgasm yet again, causing Harry to cry for him to stop before he comes all over himself without Louis’ cock in him.

Louis removes his fingers from Harry, leaving his hole open and aching. Harry hates the feeling of being empty but he knows something better is about to come.

Louis wipes his lube-covered fingers against Harry’s stomach to clean them off before rolls a condom down the length of his cock. Harry’s stomach flips as he watches Louis prepare himself. He takes a deep breath and shuffles forward until his hips are aligned with Harry’s. Louis squeezes the base of dick, granting himself some much needed relief. Harry closes his eyes and prepares himself for the beautiful feeling of Louis entering him, but he waits and waits and the only thing he feels is the bed dipping over his shoulder.

He opens his eyes to see what’s wrong and finds Louis hovering above him, a ridiculously happy smile stretching across his gorgeous, perfect face. They hold each other’s eye contact for what feels like hours. They just look at each other and appreciate the sights they see before them. Harry feels safe and protected and loved by Louis. Harry hopes that when Louis looks into his eyes that he feels the same things. He hopes Louis feels loved when he looks into Harry’s eyes because. Fuck. Harry loves Louis. He loves him so, so much.

Some people think it’s an automatic given, that you’ll love your soulmate, but just because Fate says you could be good together, it doesn’t mean you can love each other. But Harry is so glad that he loves his soulmate. He hopes that his soulmate loves him back.

“You’re so beautiful,” Louis whispers before leaning down and sealing his lips to Harry’s. They kiss slow and steamy for a few hot seconds before Harry starts whining against Louis’ lips, still upset that his hole is empty and waiting.

Louis pulls away with one last kiss and returns to his position. He spreads more lube along his shaft, just to be safe, and then finally starts inching his way into Harry.

Harry’s thighs quiver as he eagerly waits for Louis to bottom out. It feels like a spiritual awakening, like he’s seeing the light, every time Louis fucks him. Once Harry gives him the okay to move, Harry can’t help but moan as loud as possible. Louis starts off slow and careful, but they both know Harry’s body can handle more. So Harry bucks his hips up, trying fuck himself faster on Louis’ dick. Louis simply chuckles and holds down Harry’s hips.

“Looouuu,” Harry whines.

“You want more don’t you?”

“Yes,” Harry begs. “More, please. Go faster and go harder. Pleeeaaasssee!”

Louis gradually starts moving his hips faster and faster, but not fast enough. It’s just not fast enough. He would reach the point where Harry would finally deem it an acceptable speed, but then he would stop and start all over, never letting his hips reach the speed at which Harry would like him to fuck him at. It’s very frustrating.

The fourth time in a row that Louis repeats this pattern, Harry can’t handle it anymore. He whines and squirms, feeling a bit unsatisfied and upset by Louis’ relentless teasing.

“Do you not like how I’m fucking you, Harry?”

Harry whimpers, upset over not being fucked the way he wants to be, but also upset over upsetting Louis. “I-I don’t know,” he stutters, struggling to find his words.

“I’m trying to make this good for you, Harry. Guess I’m not trying hard enough?” Louis spits out.

Harry almost screams as Louis quickly pulls out of his hole, the stark contrast of being empty after being so full is earth-shattering. He didn’t want this to happen, anything but this.

Suddenly, two hands are gripping Harry’s hips and flipping him over onto his stomach.

“Hands and knees,” Louis demands.

And oh. Harry knows exactly where this is going now. He complies to Louis’ orders, situating himself perfectly for Louis, spreading his legs nice and wide.

Without any notice, Louis is back inside Harry’s body, causing a deafening moan to fill the quiet air.

“If you didn’t like what I was doing before, you better like this,” Louis growls.

He starts pounding his hips in and out of Harry with the speed Harry was yearning for earlier. It’s hard, it’s fast, it’s everything Harry wants to feel. Louis constantly rocks up against Harry’s prostate, making him feel continually pleasured. He loves it when he can hear not only his own panting, but Louis’ too. The sounds of their skin slapping together causes chills to run throughout Harry’s body. And Louis never slows down either. He simply continues his brutal pace until Harry is ready to come.

“L-Louis,” Harry moans. His body feels warm all over and his cock aches with the need to let go and orgasm. His thighs and ass tighten and he really, really wants to come.

Louis can tell Harry’s close so he slows down and starts dirtily grinding his hips against Harry’s ass. He lays down on top of Harry’s back so almost every inch of their skin is connected. Harry loves when Louis does this, it makes him feel safe in this very vulnerable and intimate moment. Harry thinks Louis is the only human on the earth who could possibly make him feel like this and he honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We’re going to come together, okay?” Louis whispers into Harry’s ear.

Harry stays on his hands and knees, his whole body shaking, as Louis pulls his orgasm from him. His body feels impossibly hot and everything tingles as Louis’ hand slides up and down his cock in the same rhythm that he’s being fucked to. Louis whispers into his ear the whole time, probably some kind of dirty talk, but Harry blanks out as he feels Louis come inside him in the condom. He’s so exhausted and so overworked, yet so happy and so satisfied.

After cleaning up, the couple settle down underneath Harry’s duvet.

Harry’s on the edge of sleep, Louis’ soft caresses against his soulmark making him impossibly drowsy and warm. It will never stop feeling so liberating to finally be sharing this piece of himself with Louis and share a piece of Louis in return. Harry wants to feel like this everyday. He wants Louis next to him in bed, he wants to share soft moments with him, he wants to kiss Louis’ soulmark every morning and have his soulmark kissed by Louis every night. He wants Louis singing Broadway songs obnoxiously to him for the rest of his, hopefully, very long life.

“The most beautiful thing in the world… The most beautiful thing in the world…”  

Chapter Text

In the summer, as the lilacs bloom 
Love flows deeper than the river 
Every moment that I spend with you 
We were sat upon our best friend's roof 
I had both of my arms round you 
Watching the sunrise replace the moon 

How Would You Feel (Paean), Ed Sheeran

 

The semester is almost over. It’s so close to being done. It’s a very bittersweet feeling. On one hand, Harry will be able to go home. Like, his real home. With his mum, and maybe even Gemma, and now Robin, too. No more nomadic lifestyle for Harry Styles. He will finally be able to eat his mum’s cooking, sleep in his own bed, and visit the bakery he used to work at. He’ll be able to watch the sunset from his favorite fields in Holmes Chapel just like he used to do when he was younger.

On the other hand, though, Harry will be without Louis for…basically the whole summer. They haven’t really talked about it yet, but Harry knows Louis will want to spend time with his family. Harry understands. He does. He wouldn’t like Louis pulling him away from his family for long periods of time, so why should Harry do that to Louis? They may be soulmates (Harry still gets chills just thinking about it) and boyfriends (even more chills), but it doesn’t mean that they have to spend every moment with each other.

It would be ideal to spend every moment with each other. But. It just probably won’t work out that way.

“Hey love,” Harry greets as he walks into his dorm and finds Louis sitting on the futon with a hard, pensive expression buried in a textbook.

Finals are coming, and soon, and it seems like everyone on this whole damn campus is studying. Louis’ nose has been in his textbooks the most out of their little group, his set of finals coming faster than everyone else’s. Harry knows Louis is brilliant though and he truly doesn’t need to stress as much as he is.

Harry plops down on the futon next to his boyfriend, placing a sweet kiss to his left temple. He folds his legs under himself, getting comfortable, as he quietly watches Louis’ eyes read line after line of text. After a few minutes of just sitting and admiring what Louis is like, Harry is starting to get a little bored. He takes Louis’ left wrist in his hands, removing it from where it’s hiding under the cover of the thick textbook. Louis doesn’t even flinch at the contact and Harry starts to occupy himself by tracing over the Harry marked into Louis’ soft skin.

Louis turns the page of his book and continues reading. Harry is content with just sitting by his boyfriend’s side, as a quiet companion, repeatedly stroking the skin of Louis’ wrist.

Another few page turns later, Louis finally sighs. He closes his textbook and drops it on the empty space next to him on the futon. Closing his eyes, he allows his body to slouch and sink into the cushions, leaning into Harry’s side. He looks exhausted. Cute and exhausted. Harry wants to kiss him.

So he does.

He gives Louis’ slightly chapped lips a small, chaste kiss before pulling away and pulling Louis even further into his body. “How was your day,” he whispers, fingers soothingly running through Louis’ soft, feathery hair.

Louis hums, eyes still closed, melting into Harry’s touch. “It was alright.”

“Missed you in the mailroom today,” Harry mumbles.

“Of course you did, you sap.”

Harry kisses the top of Louis’ head in response. A comfortable silence stretches between them as they simply soak up each other’s presence.

It has been truly painful for Louis not to be able to visit Harry in the mailroom the past week. Louis has been using every bit of free time to study, which means no more bothering Harry in the mailroom and no more after work excursions and dates. It sucks, but Harry understands. They still try to spend every second of their days together, even if they are just simply sitting in silence or sleeping together in each other’s arms.

One of Harry’s favorite things to do is take naps in the middle of the day with Louis. He’s very much like a cat, especially with how much he enjoys cuddling. Louis peacefully napping, curled up on Harry’s bed, wearing Harry’s too large joggers and nothing else, is one of the cutest—and most arousing—things Harry has ever seen.

“Oh hey,” Harry laughs, breaking the silence. “You actually got mail today.”

“Hmm?”

Harry pulls himself away from an extra cuddly and extra exhausted Louis to retrieve the small little envelope addressed to him. He returns to Louis’ side, placing the cream envelope in hands, as he pulls out his phone to scroll through so he doesn’t accidently read Louis’ mail over his shoulder.

Next to Harry, Louis hums in surprise. Harry keeps his eyes on his phone though, minding his own business, no matter how curious he is.

“Here, babe.” Louis nudges Harry and hands him one of the two squares of cardstock.

It’s a simple cream color and Harry notices his mom’s handwriting right away. He furrows his eyebrows and shoots a curious look at Louis. Louis shrugs innocently and gestures for him to read the small letter.

Hello Louis,

This is for both you and Harry so please open it up with him. It’s been great chatting with you, love. Thank you.

Take care, Anne xx

“You’ve spoken with my mum?!” Harry stutters. “Wha-what? How?”

Louis simply winks and wiggles the other piece of cardstock in his hand. It’s the same cream, but instead of being a single square, it’s folded in half like an actual card. On the front is a simple, yet elegant illustration of flowers and doves. Harry’s curiosity is instantly piqued.

They sit impossibly close to one another, eyes glued to the card so they can read it at the exact same time. Giant, cursive font dominates most of the card, a smaller description filling the rest of the empty space underneath it.

Anne & Robin

Request the pleasure of your company

at the Celebration of their Marriage

on Saturday, the Twenty-Seventh of May,

Two-Thousand Seventeen,

at One o’Clock in the Afternoon.

Harry gapes at the card—a fucking wedding invitation. He rereads the message over and over again, not sure if his mind is able to process all of the words.

He finally notices the tiny note at the end of the printed invitation, scrawled out in his mum’s handwriting.

Bring Louis! Xx

“What the fuck?”

“Oh, wow, congrats to your mum, and Robin.”

“I’m so confused?”

Louis giggles. “About what, babe?” He closes his eyes and snuggles closer into Harry’s side.

“Well… I knew Robin wanted to marry Mum, but. He asked me about back on my birthday so it’s not like they planned it this fast. Do you think they’ve had it planned for a while and just waited for me to reconnect before they went through with it?”

Louis hums. “Maybe.”

“And why was this addressed to you, not me?” Harry feels Louis shrug. “And ‘It’s been great chatting with you, love.’ What does that mean? How have you spoken with my mom?”

“Niall gave my number to her.”

“Oh my fuck—”

“She wanted to make sure I didn’t have any plans with my family that would interfere,” Louis interrupts, shutting Harry up right away. “Your mum is the sweetest in the world. I can’t wait to meet her.”

“What?” Harry’s dumbfounded.

“She’s the sweet—”

“No, no. The family part.”

“Oh. I told her I see my family enough that I wouldn’t mind spending a few weeks with the Styles family. Well. The Styles-Twist family now, I guess.”

“Weeks?!”

Louis huffs. Harry bets if his eyes were open, he’d be rolling them right now. “Do keep up, Harold.”

“Wait. So you’re coming home with me for the beginning of the summer?”

“Yup.”

“Your mum’s okay with it?”

“Mhm.”

“You’re coming to Holmes Chapel with me? To meet my mum and sister? To see my mum get married? You’re going to—”

Louis sighs the most exaggerated sigh ever. He shifts his body until he’s straddling Harry’s lap. Both his hands cup Harry’s jaw, shutting his boyfriend up.

“Yes. A million yeses. Now please shut up.”

Louis and Harry lazily kiss on the futon until their lips go numb. And even much later after that. It’s full of meaning and it’s full of passion. They touch each other with soft palms and curious fingers. Harry feels fireworks going off in his stomach and he sees stars erupting behind his closed eyelids.

They finally move to Harry’s bed once the room grows dark, neither too bothered to turn on the lights. They keep their lips pressed together as they transition to lying down.

Long after their kissing stops, and Louis is sound asleep with his arms holding Harry close to his chest, Harry realizes he loves Louis. He loves Louis a lot. He wants to show him just how much he loves him.

He’s so excited he’s going to be able to take his boy back home with him.

“How did I,” Louis grunts, “accumulate this much crap?! Who let me?”

Harry watches Louis as he tries to stuff his boxes and boxes of belongings into the back of his car. All of Harry’s stuff is already neatly stacked up in the backseat of his boyfriend’s car so instead of helping said boyfriend, but just stands to the side and giggles.

“Why do you have so little belongings, H? Fuck, ” he heaves, shoving one of the last remaining boxes into the boot, which is now packed. “So unfair.” He surveys the remaining boxes at his feet, probably trying to plan for how he is going to fit the rest of his stuff into the backseat. Harry is so entertained by Louis’ struggle.

“I traveled for two whole years, alone. Remember, love? The habit of keeping my possessions to a minimum hasn’t worn off yet.” Harry kicks himself off the wall where he has been casually leaning and decides to finally help Louis with his last few boxes, knowing how worn out he’s getting. Louis still has to drive all the way to Holmes Chapel.

Louis collapses onto ground as he sees Harry heading over to him. He sits on the warm pavement out front of their residence hall as Harry begins to put the rest of Louis’ junk from his dorm room into his car. After a handful of minutes, everything is finally packed up.

Harry’s a bit nervous. His first year at university is finally over and he’s about to return home. His mum’s home. He’s not even sure if it’s his home anymore—he hasn’t lived there in three years now. He’s scared how he’ll fit in with his family, if everything will be awkward, or if he’ll just fall right back into place. It’s going to be different, it has to be, and Harry doesn’t know how to prepare himself for it.

He’s grateful that Louis is going to be with him; his presence will make the transition smoother, that’s for sure. Harry would be more nervous if Louis wasn’t by his side. It might be a little selfish, but. He’s not ready to let go of his soulmate yet.

They say one last goodbye to Niall, Zayn, and Liam, with the promise of getting together for a lads beach trip sometime over the summer holiday, and then climb into Louis’ car.

“You ready?” Louis asks, turned to towards Harry in the passenger seat. Harry buckles himself in and looks up and finds a small smile on Louis’ face. Over the last couple of months that they’ve been together, Harry’s learned that that smile is a precious look purely reserved for him. It always sets off fireworks in his chest and make him see stars. He feels special when Louis looks at him like that.

But now Harry’s going home and he’s staying—for at least three months. His mum is getting married to her soulmate. Harry’s family is going to meet his soulmate. Is he really ready for all of this?

“Yeah. I think I am.”

It’s scary, thinking about everything that’s coming. It’s all coming so fast, but Harry has Louis by his side. He never fails to feel safe when Louis is there.

The drive takes longer than expected. There is way too much traffic, way too many stops to use a restrooms—“What?! I have a squirrel blatter, Harry!”—and way too many one-man Broadway shows Louis is attempting to perform from behind the steering wheel.

“How long is this musical,” Harry groans, slouching even further down in his seat, as Louis sings his little heart out. Honestly, how does he even breathe in-between these verses?

“But Alexander,” Louis’ voice soars with the high note, “I’ll never forget the first time I saw your face. I have never been the same. Intelligent eyes in a hunger-pang frame, and when you said “Hi,” I forgot my dang name. Set my heart aflame, ev’ry part aflame, this is not a game…”

Harry snorts to himself. He can relate to that. Louis most definitely sets his heart aflame.

He looks out the window at the side of the highway, green hills and empty landscapes rolling by them. They are not too far from Holmes Chapel now and Harry can feel his nerves starting to prickle to closer and closer they get.

Louis’ (attempt at) rapping keeps Harry’s mind occupied, though. It’s hilarious watching Louis trying to spit bars about, what Harry thinks are, the Founding Fathers of the United States. Musicals are very peculiar. No matter how weird it is, Harry’s loving every second of it. Whatever this song is about, it’s most definitely firing Louis up, making him bounce in his seat and sing with his whole heart.

If Harry weren’t so entertained he’d be fearing for his life right now as Louis speeds down the (now) empty highway. Thank god the traffic cleared away.

“Harry! Hey—Harry! Pay attention babe, this part is about you!” Louis squeals, trying to get Harry to listen to the next words he sings.

“Handsome, boy does he know it! Peach fuzz, and he can’t even grow it! I wanna take him far away from this place,” Louis sings loudly, face scrunched up so tight with a smile that Harry wonders if he can even see through his squinted eyes. He loves when Louis smiles this hard though, the crinkles by the side of his eyes giving his beauty a timeless feel.

When Harry’s brain finally registers the words that Louis sang along with, he cackles, bright and loud. “Lou! Stop it,” he blushes, referencing the handsome part. “But also quit making fun of me for my lack of facial hair! It’s not fair,” he pouts.

“Aw babe,” Louis teases before continuing to show off his impressive vocal range like he’s standing on a stage in a theater in New York City rather than sitting behind a steering wheel on the highway on his way to meet Harry’s family.

“Harry you okay? You look a bit pale.”

He’s staring at the front door to the house. It seems really intimidating all of a sudden. Just looking at the white paint is a bit dizzying.

God. Why is he even here? Does he even belong here anymore? His mum is getting married. This house is going to be Anne and Robin’s. It’s not Anne, Richard, Gemma, and Harry like it was all those years ago. They’ve all split up now, gone their separate ways. Harry thinks he’s insane if he thinks he could ever reconsider this house his home. He hates himself for even believing it was a possibility.

“I don’t belong here,” he whispers, eyes falling to his shoes.

“What are you talking about, H?”

Harry wills the tears in his eyes to stop. He’s cried way, way too much since the beginning of uni. He doesn’t deserve to spill anymore tears.

“What am I doing here, Louis?” Harry sighs, looking up at Louis’ face, feeling completely and utterly helpless.

Harry doesn’t really know anymore. He feels lost in his mind, lost in his purpose, a little lost in the world. He doesn’t know where these sudden onslaught of emotions are coming from but they’re starting to weigh him down and he feels like he could lose touch with reality any second from now.

“Harry. I am so proud of you, you know that, right?” Louis asks, voice so soft and sincere it almost hurts to hear. Harry feels his head nod in response though. “Good. Now are you proud of yourself?”

Louis’ words cause Harry to pause, but he doesn’t put much thought into his answer, too afraid to look deep into his self to find out how he actually feels. He doesn’t know if he’s proud of himself or not. With the lack of answer, all he does is quickly shrug.

He doesn’t feel strong enough to think that hard. He doesn’t feel strong enough to face his actual emotions. He feels weak, but as soon as Louis’ hand grasps his own, he feels a rush of love and strength flood his body.

“You should be proud of yourself, babe. You traveled for two years on your own, searching for your true self. You put yourself through uni. You worked through your painful past and you’ve embraced the things that once scared you. Are you proud of yourself?” Louis stresses.

The words pierce Harry’s chest like a bullet, a sharp pain that makes him feel wide awake. His head clears up and he does a complete one-eighty. He lets himself take Louis’ words into consideration. He thinks about where he started and where he is now. He was struggling for what felt like such a long, long time—he sniffles just thinking about it—but in an even shorter amount of time, he’s been able to find his true self and embrace the things he wants in life. That is something Harry most definitely should be proud of. But there’s one other thing he’s extremely proud of that Louis isn’t even aware of.

He looks into Louis’ eyes bravely, takes a deep breath to prepare himself, and courageously confesses: “I’ve been going to Q&A meetings.”

Harry wants to laugh at Louis’ outrageously confused face, his eyebrows furrowed so hard it looks like he could have a unibrow. He probably didn’t expect Harry to say that. “What?” he asks dumbly.

This is it. This is where Harry owns his bravery. This is where he can start taking responsibility for his actions. He wants to share his bravery with his soulmate. He’s ready to.

“I’ve been going to Q&A meetings. You remember that presentation you did on soulmarks and soulmates and queer kids?” Louis nods, eyebrows slightly less, but still, furrowed. “I was there. I snuck in and listened to you talk. I was so inspired and I was just so…I felt so empowered. Your words stuck with me and I went to every meeting I could after that.”

“You… You?” Louis fishmouths.

“Yeah,” Harry shrugs.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I dunno. You were always trying to convince me to go so often that it kinda just made me want to go less. But when I saw the poster about the soulmark presentation…I just knew I had to go. I didn’t want to tell you because I was going to these meetings for myself, you know? I wasn’t going because you asked me to. I was going because I felt like they could personally help me as a gay man.”

“Wow. Harry, I don’t know what to say.”

Harry smiles softly, his heart feeling so full. “You don’t have to say anything, love. Your hand in my own is just enough sometimes.” He takes a deep breath and lowers his voice. “Sometimes I’m not proud of myself and then I think about you. I think about how much meeting you has impacted my life. Thinking about you reminds me how far I’ve come. Then I’m proud of myself.”

They smile at each other like lunatics, happiness in the air.

Quietly, Louis asks, “Hey H, can I answer your question now?”

Harry raises his eyebrow, confused.

“You asked,” he clears his throat, “‘Whut am I doin’ ‘ere, Lou-ee?’”

Harry cackles loudly at the worst imitation of his accent that he’s ever heard. “That is not how I sound, Louis!”

Louis giggles. “It so is, babe!”

Harry scoffs.

Louis sighs and pulls Harry into a hug. He whispers into his ear, causing a shiver to run through Harry’s body, “You’re here because you belong here.”

His bed is soft and warm, but the Louis curled up next to him is even more soft and warm. Harry feels absolutely exhausted. It’s been a long day; he moved out of his dorm room, he spent a long period of time trapped in a car with Louis Tomlinson, and he’s been moved back into his mum’s house, like it’s his own again.

Louis and Harry arrived just in time for dinner to be served, which made introductions short and sweet, but made dinner-time conversation a long interrogation. Luckily, Louis didn’t seem to mind all the questions and he charmed Anne, Robin, and Gemma almost as quickly as he had charmed Harry when they first met so many months ago.

They decided to turn in after dessert, too tired from talking about themselves and school, and going over wedding details. Harry honestly just wants to lie down with Louis and forget all about his final grades and flower arrangements for the rest of the night.

As Harry lays beside Louis in his bed, he can’t help but feel so grateful. Louis is curled up next to him perfectly, his wrist delicately positioned against Harry’s chest so Harry can keep his eyes glued to his soulmark easily. He feels extra sappy and he just can’t stop touching the Harry embedded in Louis’ skin. He traces the lines and curves of each letter repeatedly, his thumb slowly circling the faint raised veins.

As he continues his ministrations, he can’t help but feel so, so happy.

Harry saw the sadness in his mum when Richard left them. Now, Anne is so beyond happy, and Harry can see it. It’s real and it’s beautiful. She is finally happy and at peace with her soulmate.

It really makes Harry think about how grateful he is that he found Louis right away. He didn’t have to search and fail. He didn’t have to commit himself to someone who would inevitably walk out on him one day like his dad did. Louis is his first and only love that he’s ever had and it feels so fucking special. Harry feels special. He feels lucky that he’s able to share his life with Louis.

Harry turns in the sheets, loving the warm morning sun heating up his bare skin. He rolls around to his other side and finds the peaceful, sleeping face of Louis inches from his own. Harry smiles to himself, loving how beautiful and at ease his soulmate looks.

Something stirs inside Harry’s chest.

He’s so lucky to have someone like Louis in his life. He doesn’t know what he did to deserve him, and he doesn’t know what he continues to do to be able to keep him, but he’ll be forever grateful. Harry won the soulmark lottery. He’s beyond blessed to be able to stare into Louis beautiful ocean blue eyes every morning. He can’t believe that he can touch and kiss Louis’ golden skin whenever he wants, whenever Louis wants him to.

Louis’ face twitches into a smile in the midst of his slumber and a smile of Harry’s own stretches wide across his face. Louis brings the light into Harry’s life. The warmth Harry feels is the rays of the sun, but not the one in the sky. The sun that illuminates Harry’s life is Louis. Louis shines brighter than anyone or anything Harry has ever come across in his life.

Harry cranes his neck to peek at the alarm clock, noticing that they should start waking up if they want breakfast.

Harry frowns. He really doesn’t want to rouse his own personal sunshine from it’s slumber. Louis looks way too soft and way too at peace to be bothered. Oh well.

Harry hesitates, his hand hovering inches above Louis’ shoulder. He suddenly has a better way to wake Louis up rather than just shaking him until he shakes off his sleep.

He clears his throat and starts humming a familiar tune. One of his favorites, one he grew up listening to, one that makes him feel impossibly warm. A tune that could be easily paired with a human the likes of Louis Tomlinson.

“Here comes the sun,” he softly croons. “Doo, doo, doo, doo.”

Louis rustles and mumbles. Harry chuckles at Louis’ adorable disgruntlement. He decides to have another go, this time slightly louder.

“Here comes the sun, doo, doo, doo, doo. Here comes the sun, and I say: it's all right.”

“Harold,” Louis groans, shoving his face in his pillow. “Stop.”

Harry giggles quietly to himself, scrunching his face up to try to hold it all in.  

“Here comes the sun, and I say: it's all right. And I say: it’s all Lou.”

“Stop singing,” Louis sighs, voice muffled by the pillow he’s currently attempting to suffocate himself with. “You’re fucking annoying and I’m awake. Leave me alone.”

Louis is the most endearing human ever. The cutest. The brightest. The most sun-shiniest. Sun-shiniest? Yes. Louis is the most sun-shiniest. The literal embodiment of the sun.

“Here comes the sun. Here comes the sun, and I say: it's all right. It's all right.”

“Okay. Okay. That’s it.” Louis jumps out of bed, and exits Harry’s room hastily in only his pants, probably in search of the bathroom. Harry giggles to himself, sliding out from under his duvet to get dressed for the day.

Louis returns shortly, greeting Harry with a soft, chaste kiss. They head downstairs after Harry brushes his teeth and pees, ready for Anne’s homemade pancakes.

“What are you planning on doing today, boys?” Anne asks from behind the stove, artfully flipping pancakes. Harry wants to cry with how good it all smells, reminding him of his childhood.

“Think we’re just gonna explore some places,” Harry smiles, taking a seat at the table. “Maybe visit Olympias.”

“Olympias?”

“Don’t worry about it, love. You’ll love her.”

The building looks exactly the same, the brick exterior just a bit more faded than it was three years ago. The logo hanging above the big front windows is as bright as ever, a mix of blue and brown paint coloring the namesake. The interior is still a deep red with yellow accents. Everything is so familiar to Harry and he couldn’t be happier.

“Oh my, Harry!” a grey-haired, apron-wearing woman calls out from behind the counter as soon as Harry leads Louis through the door of King Alexander’s Bakery.

The older woman looks like she could be Harry’s great nan. He grew up working alongside Olympias and her husband Philip here at their bakery for most of his teenage years. They taught him to make bread, pastries, cakes—basically anything that fit in the glass case next to the register. They also taught Harry so much about the world. Olympias and Philip used to travel a lot in their youth, before they had their son Alexander. Their favorite places to visit were mostly Asian countries and their stories had always left an impression on the younger Harry. They are the main reason Harry chose to travel so much after he ran away from home; their stories installing immense wanderlust in his soul.

Olympias may look old and frail, but after years of working her muscles while kneading dough and lifting sacks of flour, she can truly pack a punch. This is the reason Harry flinches as she comes rushing forward to pull him into a tight hug. She wraps her arms around him and nearly squeezes him to death.

“My boy, have you been eating?!” Olympias screeches as she lets go of the hug, leaning back to inspect every inch of Harry’s body. “You’re a twig!”

“Hi Olympias. And yes, of course I’ve been eating,” Harry laughs.

“Don’t worry, love, I’ll send you home with a bunch of goodies,” she winks. She turns, finally noticing Louis’ presence besides Harry and her eyes go wide. “Who may you be, my boy?” Olympias ignores Harry’s existence, like he wasn’t even there to begin with, as she takes total interest in Louis.

“It’s nice to meet you. I’m Louis,” he greets, biting his lips nervously.

“My boyfriend,” Harry tacks on.

Louis blushes and mumbles, “His boyfriend.”

“Oh, Louis! What a gorgeous name for a gorgeous boy!” Olympias grabs Louis and crushes him in a hug, squeezing him close to death. She pauses and looks at Louis curiously, like she can see right through his eyes to his soul. “You remind me of my Alexander. You two look so alike, wouldn’t you say, Harry?”

Louis blushes hard. “Alexander?” he asks.

“My son! I named this bakery after him, if you couldn’t tell,” she laughs. “King Alexander. He was always such a headstrong and smart boy—a true king. I’m so proud of him.”

“Hmm,” Harry hums. “They do look similar. I haven’t seen Alex in many, many years, though.”

Olympias sighs. “Holmes Chapel was too small of world for my Alexander. He always had big ideas and big plans, which is why we called this tiny little place King Alexander. He could take over countries, continents, if he wanted to. I bet you could too, Louis, if you wanted to,” she winks.

Harry watches as Louis blushes a beautiful deep red, the compliments turning him permanently flushed. “He sounds great,” Louis squeaks out under all the attention.

“Oh trust me,” Olympias sighs, “he is. He’s moved to Idaho, though. The United States! I was heartbroken when he told me, but I’m glad he’s out there living his life. He deserves it.”

A beeping noise from the rear of the bakery starts filling the air and a different voice calls out for Olympias.

“I must go finish baking now, my dears. This is a bakery, after all. If you boys want anything, I’ll have someone come out and serve you, on the house.”

“Oh you don’t have to—”

Olympias cuts Harry off with a scoff. “Be quiet, boy. I will do whatever I wish.” She turns to Louis, smile soft as she pulls him back into a hug. “It was nice to meet you.”

“Likewise,” Louis blushes.

Olympias pulls Harry into his own hug, tighter and longer than the one Louis received. She whispers into his ear. “Is this… Louis?” she asks, referring to his soulmark. Olympias was one of the small number of people who knew about Harry’s soulmark in Holmes Chapel before he ran away.

Harry nods the smallest amount.

“I’m proud of you, my boy,” she whispers fiercely.

And then she’s gone, back to the kitchen and back to her job.  

Louis looks at Harry, then down at his hand, and then back at his face. He smiles brightly, like an excited child, and links his hand with Harry’s. Louis pulls him towards the glass case, excited to pick out some treats. Totally free treats.

“How may I help you today?” someone behind the counter asks.

Harry lifts his head up, ready to pick and choose his favorites, when his whole body suddenly tenses, his eyes growing wide, every body part going on defense mode.

“Harry!” the employee smiles wide, but his demeanor changes instantly. His smile falls and he shrinks in on himself. “Harry.” His voice is quieter, shocked and almost scared.

Louis must notice Harry’s change in demeanor because he squeezes Harry’s hand and looks frantically between the man behind the counter and his soulmate, eyebrows furrowed with worry.

“Serge—” Harry warns.

Serge puts his hands up in front of him, cutting Harry off. He looks nervous, scared, and panicked. He looks absolutely nothing like the guy who beat the shit out of Harry three years ago.

“Hey Harry,” Serge mumbles, a hand nervously rubbing the back of his neck. “I-I just like to say, before you say anything, that I’m sorry.” He takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry for the way I behaved all those years ago. I behaved like that all my youth. I-I had a lot of self-doubt and was very insecure.”

Harry raises his eyebrow, cautiously taking Serge’s words at face value until he’s proven otherwise that this isn’t some sick trick.

“It manifested itself in the form of unchecked rage and aggression. M-my therapist really helped me and I’ve seen the errors of my way, the mistakes—the horrible things I’ve done to you and others, H-Harry. All that anger is a part of me, my past, but I’m so deeply sorry for the pain I have c-caused you. I was a major arsehole.”

Harry deflates. He was not expecting this. Not at all. He’s staring at the source of his emotional pain, for the past three years, in the eyes. And he’s saying he’s sorry. Harry doesn’t know how to feel. He’s confused, he feels jittery, but deep down, he feels…relieved. He feels a sense of calm and what he thinks might be closure.

He picks his next words carefully. “I accept your apology. But Serge, you’re not forgiven. I don’t think I could ever,” he swallows the lump in his throat, Louis squeezing his hand harder, “forgive you for that kind of pain—that emotional scarring. But I accept your apology and I thank you for apologizing.”

It feels like a business exchange. It’s cold, impersonal, but it’s exactly what Harry wants. Harry didn’t crumble under his former-bully’s gaze. They acted like the adults they are and handled it professionally. Harry’s still in a bit of a shock though, so they order a bunch of items from under the class case, shout a quick goodbye to Olympias and exit King Alexander’s Bakery as soon as possible.

They walk quietly until they find an empty bench near a bus stop a block away from the bakery. Louis seems to be stunned into silence, but when they finally sit down and start eating, he surprises Harry by speaking up first.

“I’m so, so proud of you, Harry Styles.”

The sky is the brightest at the horizon, bright whites and yellows glowing against the treeline in the distance. Dark oranges blend into light blues and hot pinks. The brilliance of the colors taper off into darks blues and almost blacks. The clouds are dreamlike and look as soft as a pillow.

They’re surrounded by yellow flowers. Harry was once told by a friend that they were yellow loosestrife, but he doesn’t think his source was very reliable. She did skip plant bio, so… They look beautiful in the light of the sunset, though, their color almost a golden orange.

Harry’s wearing one of his favorite sweaters, navy with red stripes running behind white diamonds. He knew once the sun would go down, he’d feel cold in the open air of his favorite field in Holmes Chapel. He’s been to this same meadow multiple times throughout his childhood and it’s always been one of his favorite places to be. Now, visiting with Louis, he feels like he’s come full circle. He feels impossibly soft, cozy, and in love, as he sits beside Louis on a large random blanket they found in the basement of his mum’s house.

Harry keeps his eyes glued to the sunset. He loves to watch how to colors transition. He loves the simple tranquility that floods his body when he empties his mind for a little bit and just stares at the sky. Harry hoped Louis would enjoy losing himself in the beauty as much as he does, but every time he takes a quick slide glance at his boyfriend, he’s never looking at the sunset. No, every time Harry sneaks a peek at Louis, his eyes are stuck on Harry. It makes Harry blush, simply thinking about how Louis finds Harry more magnetic to look at than the beautiful act of nature happening right before their very eyes.

The third time Harry tries to stealthily catch Louis staring at him, Louis notices and calls him out.

It causes Harry to blush even more. “Stop staring at me, Lou. The sun is setting. You should look at that. It’s so pretty.”

Louis scoots impossibly closer, his face ridiculously close to Harry’s own. “You’re so much prettier, though.” He closes the distance between his lips and Harry’s, pulling him into a deep kiss.

Harry’s breath hitches as they make contact, his mouth opening right away to let Louis’ tongue slip in. The kiss is both soft and hard, their lips molding together with a perfect fluidity. Their kisses get deeper and deeper as the sun gets lower and lower in the sky. Soon they’re shrouded in perfect darkness, but Harry doesn’t care. He’s lying on his back in the middle of his favorite meadow being kissed by the favorite boy—he doesn’t have the concentration to care about his current lack of vision.

Louis’ cold hands crawl under Harry’s sweater, sending shivers throughout his whole body as he pets the impossibly warm skin of Harry’s soft belly. He purposefully runs his frigid fingertips over Harry’s nipples, who moans extremely loud at the barest hint of contact. Harry feels Louis smirk against his lips as he repeats the same action, causing another moan to rip through Harry’s chest.

Harry’s dick is impossibly hard and is trapped in his jeans and under the weight of Louis’ body. He feels absolutely restless as he continues to kiss Louis. His hands slide down Louis’ back until they settle over his bum. He squeezes Louis’ cheeks as hard as he can as he tries to lift his hips off the ground, searching for any kind of friction.

Louis pulls away from the kiss to laugh against Harry’s neck. This causes Harry to whine pitifully. He wants Louis to keep kissing him. He wouldn’t mind dry humping his way to an orgasm in the middle of this fucking field, but Louis not kissing him anymore is definitely throwing a wrench in those plans.

“What are you laughing about,” Harry pouts, his mouth trying to search for Louis’ in the darkness.

“I’m laughing cause,” Louis’ voice drops in volume, “I can’t believe I’m about to give you a fucking blow job in the middle of a meadow.”

Harry gasps, followed by a loud moan. He nods his head excitedly, “Please, please. Suck me off, please. I want you to.” This sounds so much better than simply dry humping.

When Louis finally gets his lips around Harry’s cock, Harry can’t help but let every single inhibition go. They’re in the middle of a fucking field, for crying out loud, so Harry lets himself go. He squirms around on the blanket, legs twitching and arms grabbing for anything to hold on to, as Louis swallows down as much as he can. His throat burns as he moans as loud as he can, no one around for miles that could possibly hear his screams of pleasure.

His reactions might be a little too extra for just receiving a blowjob, but both he and Louis get so into it. No matter what kind of sex they have, it’s always explosive and it’s always mind blowing.

Louis knows exactly how to use his mouth and he slides further and further down Harry’s dick until his nose is pressed against the hair of Harry’s groin. Louis moans around Harry’s dick, his throat twitching around the head. Harry can’t help but cry, actual tears welling in his eyes the closer and closer he gets to his orgasm.

Louis pulls all the way off of Harry and then swallows him all the way back down within one quick, nonstop motion. Harry can’t handle the simulation and comes down Louis’ throat with an strangled cry of pleasure.

Harry’s hazy for a little bit, mind totally shrouded by his release. The next thing he knows, Louis is shaking him awake. “Harry you can’t fall asleep here, babe. We’re in the middle of a field.”

“A field?” he groggily asks. “Shit. We just had field sex, huh?”

Louis giggles. “Yeah. I guess we did.” He tries to pull Harry up off the ground with him, getting him to stand on his own two feet with only a little bit of trouble. “C’mon, let’s get you home,” he grunts, wrapping his arm around his exhausted boy.

“You’re my home, Lou,” Harry sleepily slurs against Louis’ shoulder as Louis drags them back to his car at the edge of the field.

Louis buckles an unconscious Harry into the passenger seat when they make it back to the car. Once Harry’s ready, Louis presses a small kiss to his forehead and closes the door as quietly as possible. “You’re my home too.”

That every night I'll kiss you you'll say in my ear, “Oh, we're in love, aren't we?”

They sway back and forth together on the dim dance floor, feeling like the only people in the room—the only people in the world. Harry can’t help but drown in the beautiful blues of Louis’ eyes as he rocks back and forth with his soulmate in his arms.

Hands in your hair, fingers and thumbs, baby.

Louis’ hands are locked on Harry’s hips and he’s holding him so, so close. Harry closes his eyes and rests his forehead against Louis’. He breathes in, the overwhelming smell of Louis invading his senses, the earthy, pine scents making him feel comfortable and warm. Harry’s arms are wrapped around Louis’ neck and his fingers play with the bit of long hair at the base of it.

I feel safe when you're holding me near, love the way that you conquer your fear. You know hearts don’t break around here.

Harry lightly kisses Louis’ lips. It’s only a slight touch, but Louis can’t help but grin wildly at Harry. Harry’s heart beats harder because Louis is just too pretty to be looking at Harry like that.

“It was such a beautiful wedding,” Louis whispers.

“It was,” Harry whispers back. Harry searches for his mum over Louis’ shoulder. When his eyes finally catch her in her stunning white dress, Harry can’t help but tear up a little bit.

The wedding was a tiny, joyous celebration. Both Anne and Robin’s family came together to celebrate the love that the couple shares. It was one of the most blissful things Harry had ever seen in his life. Louis shed a few tears, grasping tightly to Harry’s hand, but Harry was crying waterfalls, using Louis’ hand as an anchor to keep himself from floating away in the stream of his tears.

He watches his mum and Robin dance, just like the rest of the couples on the dance floor are doing, but they seem to floating on air. Their happiness and love carrying them above everyone in the room. Harry wants to cry again.

“I love Mum so much. She looks so beautiful and so happy. Pure happiness.”

“You too,” Louis breathes.

“What?”

“You look so beautiful and so happy.” He kisses Harry’s right cheek. “Just like your mum.” He kiss his left cheek. “Pure happiness.”

Harry shivers, his whole entire body reacting to Louis’ words.

They spend the rest of the night blissfully wrapped up in each other, forgetting that everyone else exists. Louis already charmed most of Harry’s extended family earlier in the night, when the reception first began, so he doesn’t have to worry about ignoring any needy family members trying to chat to them as they get increasingly tipsier and tipsier.

They sip champagne like water, happy to be together and happy to be surrounded by so much love in one room.

They make a smooth exit from the party and fall into Harry’s bed together, high off of each other’s presence. They kiss slow and languidly, like they have all the time in the world to explore each other’s mouths.

The song they were dancing to earlier at the wedding suddenly dances into Harry’s head and he can’t shake the words.

Every night I'll kiss you you'll say in my ear, “Oh, we're in love, aren't we?”

He pulls away from the kiss slowly, letting it end gradual and naturally. He looks Louis in the eyes and whispers, his voice extremely delicate, “We’re in love, aren’t we?”

Louis nods, lips slightly parted in shock by the suddenness of Harry’s words.

“I love you, Louis.”

Louis closes his mouth and swallows quickly. He whispers right back, “I love you, Harry.”

Summer at the Styles (now the Twist) household is always one of Harry’s favorite things. The change in the season gives him such a sense of nostalgia, his body and mind happy to experience some of his most fond childhood memories for the first time in a long time.

It always feels like Harry’s in a whole new world during the summertime. Everything feels slow and magical, like it’s sprinkled with a special type of pixie dust. The warm air rolls through the house and causes the powder blue curtains to dance to an unheard rhythm. The natural sunlight illuminates each room no matter the time of day. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel real, much too perfect and too beautiful.  

In the summer the lilacs in Anne’s garden bloom. The garden is the perfect place to lie down with a blanket and book as the sun beats down on exposed skin. The subtle scent of the lilacs get carried across the backyard on the breeze, mixing with the delicate smell of the freshwater stream that’s nearby.

When Harry and Gemma were younger they would spend a majority of the summer outside playing in the yard. Since Gemma was older than Harry, everything she did was automatically cooler. Harry wanted to be like his sister as much as he possibly could. She was his inspiration, his confidant, and his partner-in-crime until Niall Horan came around. Their extreme closeness, however, led to some bickering and petty fights some of the times, especially when they were shut in the house on rainy days with not being allowed to watch any telly.

Whenever they did fight, Anne would sit them down in the kitchen and point out the window at the stream that is visible from their backyard. She would gently, but sternly, remind them that, “Love flows deeper than that stream—deeper than any river.”

After that Harry and Gemma would quickly make up and continue on with their summertime shenanigans.

When Harry and Niall finally became friends, they spent most of their time in Harry’s backyard. They would kick a footie back and forth between each other, or try fishing for the nonexistent fish that lived in the stream. They earned many scrapes and bruises from attempting to climb trees and that one time they thought learning to skateboard would be a good idea.

One of Harry’s favorite things to do with Niall in the summer though, was to sit on the roof. They would climb out through Harry’s window onto the roof of the garage and just sit there for hours and hours talking to each other. It was the best place to let their minds explore and dream about what the future held for them.

It’s where Harry did a lot of dreaming about his future and his soulmate. Sitting on that rooftop evokes a lot of memories of Harry describing his perfect wife, kids, and house to Niall, to himself, to no one. He would talk to birds and the clouds when Niall wasn’t there.

Harry finds it funny how much has changed from the last time he sat on this roof to now.

He sat on this roof when he decided he wanted to leave right after graduation. He talked to himself for hours, staring at the lilacs and listening to the distant gurgling of the stream, as he debated the pros and cons of running away.

Now Harry has returned. He’s back on the same roof where he dreamed up his most perfect life, the same roof where he made the most life-changing decision ever. He is sitting on the same roof with his soulmate, someone so different and someone so much better than anyone he could have ever dreamed up.

He’s sitting on this roof, both his arms wrapped around Louis who is sitting in-between his spread legs. They sit together as Harry quietly tells Louis each and every one of those stories he can remember. He wants Louis to know and understand where he comes from. He wants to share every piece of his past with Louis and give every piece of his future to him. Harry talks throughout the cold air of the summer night as they watch the sunrise replace the moon.

Harry tells Louis he loves him. He’s already said it before, at the wedding reception as they danced in each other’s arms, but it feels more significant saying it from where he’s sitting on top of the roof. It feels like every significant aspect of his life has been decided on this roof so it feels only right to say it while sitting up there.

Harry doesn’t remember how, but they find some wine and drink the bottles empty as they watch as the sun rises above the horizon. They giggle quietly into each other’s mouths as they kiss slowly. Everything is soft and pure and so deeply full of love.

Louis tells Harry he loves him. He’s already said it before, but every time feels like the first time to Harry.

The morning is full of silly, drunken love declarations and they eventually fall asleep curled around each other on top of the roof of the garage as the world wakes up around them.

Harry wakes up slowly before Louis does, his stomach grumbling as his nose picks up the smell of food cooking from somewhere. His head hurts a little bit from the alcohol and his back twinges from the lack of a proper mattress under him.

He watches Louis as he sleeps, ignoring his current aches and pains in favor of keeping his mind occupied on his soulmate. He trails his fingers up and down Louis’ arm, his eyes tracing over the multiple tattoos inked into the skin. Harry’s always loved looking at Louis’ tattoos; they’re beautiful and they make Louis special and one of a kind. Some tattoos mean things to him and some don’t, but Harry doesn’t care. They’re a part of Louis and anything that’s apart of Louis is automatically beautiful and captivating.  

Harry thinks about what a tattoo would look like on his own skin. He’s thought about it before and he’s thought about what to get. He never really brought it up to Louis because he’s admittedly too afraid to, but as he lays here, facing Louis’ tattooed skin, he thinks he wants one. He wants something meaningful. He wants something beautiful. He wants something Louis.

Technically, he already has a piece of Louis on him, his name for crying out loud, but he wants a deeper and more symbolic image of his love for Louis to be embedded into his skin so everyone knows. He wants everyone to know how much he loves Louis.

When they get tattooed together the next day, Harry finds that the emotional pain hurts more than the needle. It’s not a bad hurt; it’s cathartic. It feels amazing to share something so monumental and physical with Louis. They’ll always have each other’s names on their wrists proving their love for each other, but the images on their arms will always declare their love for each other to the world.

Harry gets a rose for Louis. Louis is as soft as the petals that stem from red beauties, but he also has his thorns hidden underneath. The color of roses are typically red. Red is loud and in your face—it’s the most obvious. But roses come in a variety of different colors. Roses aren’t always loud and intense, they can be sweet, gentle, and provide feelings of safety. Louis may seem loud and in your face at first, but the more you learn about him, the more you know he comes in more colors other than red.

Louis gets a dagger for Harry. Harry has scars. He always has and he always will, but Louis is willing to be there for him to protect him. Louis would fight hundreds of battles for Harry, no matter the consequences. Louis wants to keep Harry for as long as possible, and that will hopefully be forever.  

Harry and Louis are the rose and the dagger. Their relationship grew out of the beautiful things in life such as love and friendship, and it’s also been born from some more painful experiences such as war and betrayal. The only thing Harry knew in his life before he met Louis was the war that wagered on inside of him from all the betrayal he had faced. Louis brought friendship and love into Harry’s life, giving him something he wants to live for, someone he wants to live with for the rest of his life.