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rivers 'til i reach you

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It's early evening on the first truly humid day in June, and summer brings hazy nights spent smelling like grass and heat. Summer brings a lot of things, actually. Midnight boat rides and bonfires on the shore, cold showers that still steam up the dirty mirrors, fresh jasmine and sticky fingers and staying up late in hopes of sealing in this feeling of invincibility forever. But most importantly, summer brings Louis.

Harry's on his way to the airport before the sun has even had its chance to peek over the horizon, and his shirt still sticks to his skin from the humidity. Bon Iver hums quietly through his shitty speakers, but it's barely heard over the gentle rain pelting the windows and the muddled echoes of Harry's own mind. After five weeks, he's seeing Louis again within the hour, and if it weren't for the dimly lit road rolling underneath his wheels he'd be climbing the fucking walls.

See, Louis flies up to Boston every year when the last winds of April are coursing through. He takes a two-week astronomy program on the north shore (like summer camp for astronauts, he calls it. Louis isn’t even an astronaut; he studies the stars for fun and he's mostly just an idiot), then flies out to visit his family in England for the remaining three weeks, the only time he'll see them before Christmas. Every year it never fails to take a toll on Harry, ends up tiring him more than Louis' energetic presence ever could. However, it has exactly one upside, and that's the moment Louis comes stumbling out of the terminal with tired eyes and a suitcase tagged with Harry's name.

He carries himself like he's indifferent, but the moment he comes crashing into Harry's open arms Harry knows he's missed him just as much. Summer is Harry's favorite season. Thing is, summer never really starts until Louis rolls his eyes at the same creased, fading, albeit still embarrassingly glittery 'Tommo <3' sign that Harry greets him with every year. It gets crushed between their stomachs as they embrace, and Harry’s going to be washing glitter out of this sweatshirt for weeks, but he pays it no mind. Summer never really starts until Louis' breathing on his neck, clinging to his shoulders, and generally just...

Here.

*

They spend the first night in Harry's tiny lakeshore cabin; it’s become sort-of tradition. They drink cheap beer while Harry fries up fajitas in the cramped kitchen, Louis lounging against the island counter and picking bits of chicken and onions right from the pan. Harry can't be annoyed, not when Louis is speaking so animatedly of his time up north and overseas in a tattered singlet and Harry's boxer shorts. Harry's met his family exactly once, during an impromptu trip to the city for an overpriced dinner. It was nice, but it hadn't held the impact that it would now, because it was before he and Louis started this...thing.

This thing where they spend their summers entirely on the water, in Harry's houseboat, pointing out stars on clear nights and blowing each other on the deck on foggy ones.

Louis has stopped talking by now, and for the first time in months everything feels so private. Harry hasn't had him to himself in so long, and though he's truly trying to hold off for at least one night, his resolve is, admittedly, crumbling. His gaze follows Louis' greasy fingers plucking more chicken from the pan and pressing it to his tongue with an exaggerated moan. Harry cocks a grin and lifts his Corona to his lips, tipping back the last flat sip and tossing the empty bottle into the sink. It's all so quiet, save for insects hitting the window screens and the chicken sizzling on the oven top, so he leans over the countertop and fuck it - he licks the grease from Louis' lower lip to fill the silence. He feels Louis tense up immediately, like he wasn't expecting Harry to make a move before twenty-four hours has passed. It only takes a second for his shoulders to sag, though, and he's nosing into it.

Harry likes to be close, and they're not nearly close enough. He has enough mind to twist the knob on the stove and switch off the flame before he's edging himself around the corner of the counter and fitting himself between Louis' legs.

"What’s that for, hm?" Louis asks lowly, a little out of breath although Harry inhales every word.

“Missed you,” Harry responds, and he’s about to add duh but it’s lost between their mouths, because Louis is kissing him and it's hot and slow like they haven't been without for weeks. Like they've got all the time in the world, and they do.

Harry pays special attention to the taste. Louis tastes like smoke and energy, like pine needles and tobacco and heat. He's sending Harry mixed signals, resting his hands on his shoulders like he wants to keep it chaste and innocent, then squeezing his upper thighs and teasing his bottom lip with his teeth like he wants Harry to take him on the kitchen counter. It's anything but ceremonious, delirious and unorganized, and finally Harry gets fed up with the teasing. He's never rough about it, but he always lets Louis know exactly what he wants. He crowds further into Louis' space, very strategically placing a suggestive hand high on Louis' thigh while the other holds him in by the back of the neck. He keeps his kisses patient but drums a rhythm into Louis' thigh, a silent I want you; are you going to give me what I want?

It's then that Louis shies away and, as always, it only takes a beat for Harry's patience to run its course. His eyes turn pleading and his mouth insistent, chasing the slick warmth of Louis' own.

"I want a cigarette," is what Louis says instead of leaning back in. Harry smiles a little to cover up the disappointment he knows is written all over his face, but it always takes Louis a day or so to warm up to it. To him.

"Thought you quit," Harry hums. Louis doesn't uncurl his arms from around his neck, not even when Harry shuffles back a little to give him space, and that's enough to let him know that Louis isn’t saying no, but just making him wait. He does slide off his barstool eventually though, reaching around Harry for the nearly empty pack of smokes on the counter behind him.

"Picked it up again in Donny, I guess. Mum gave me a proper lashing, but it's her wedding planning that was stressing me out, after all," Louis says, shrugging. His accent's gone all thick again, the way it always does when he's just returning from a visit with his family. It’ll take a while for it to mellow out, but Harry can definitely wait.

"Been smoking, too," Harry admits. He wasn't stressed by anything, and that's exactly why he picked up such a filthy habit, restless and exhausted all at the same time for five weeks straight. He smokes when he's lonely, and the look Louis gives him, all longing and tired and affectionate, tells him he knows exactly what Harry means. He doesn’t say anything, though, just takes out a stick from the pack and raises an eyebrow.

“Wanna share?”

 

They sit on the back porch for a long time, smoking and talking and eating cold fajitas, although Harry loses his appetite for nicotine halfway through their second shared cigarette. He listens to Louis tell him stories about his family, pausing every few sentences to take a long pull from the fag, as Louis would call it. Harry likes those few seconds best, not because he doesn’t love listening to Louis talk, but because he gets to hear the river lap at the dock ten yards away and because Louis looks ethereal in the glow of his cigarette, in the fog of the smoke, in general.

“When’d you cut this?” Louis asks at one point, fingers combing through the front of Harry’s hair. It’s a little sweat-tacky and in need of a wash, so once he pulls his hand away Harry touches it himself a little self-consciously, following the tracks Louis’ fingers made.

“Um, middle of May, I think. Stuck to my neck too much,” Harry answers. The last time Louis had seen him it was grazing his shoulders, and now it barely covers his ears.

“So much for mermaid hair, then,” Louis jokes.

“Maybe next year,” Harry sighs longingly, Louis laughing and stubbing his cigarette out against the porch. He drops it in the coffee mug Harry had brought out, a makeshift ashtray, and leans back against the stairs.

“Well, I like it, anyway,” he says, and that’s the end of that. By the time they go back inside Harry’s shirt is sticking to his back from the humidity, and Louis’ hair is curling up at the ends. They shower together and they don’t fuck, lukewarm water slicking up their skin but never bringing them close enough. Later, once they're toweled off and dressing for bed, Louis insists the fan be on full blast, and Harry agrees even though he knows Louis is bound to get cold in the night and steal all the blankets. If anything, it’s just an excuse to pull him closer and tangle their bodies together.

Turns out, he doesn’t need an excuse at all, because twenty minutes after they’ve laid down, Louis scoots closer and nudges Harry’s legs apart so he can fit his between them. Harry, halfway between sleep and reality, just hums and leans into it. He doesn’t remember why they weren’t already cuddling, but he knows he likes it better this way.

Exactly thirty-seven days away, and all it takes is one short night for Louis to start smelling like Harry again - for him to smell like home.

 

When Harry wakes, it’s early, and Louis has himself twisted around in his arms, back to front, so he’s got a mouthful of hair and an ugly case of morning wood.

“Can feel that,” Louis mumbles into the pillow, probably still half asleep but shoving back against Harry as he tries to get him to move away. Consequently, it sort of has the opposite of the desired effect, instead making Harry grunt quietly at the subtle pressure and grip Louis tighter.

“You gonna do something about it?” he asks, not entirely awake himself, but enough to feel every point of contact. He takes Louis’ gentle elbow to the ribcage as his answer, sighing as he slowly extracts himself and throws his legs over the side of the bed.

“S’what I thought.”

Rubbing at his eyes, he quickly tugs some sweats over his underwear and ignores his hard-on as he stumbles the short distance to the kitchen. It’s gone down almost completely by the time Louis makes his way in, still in his underwear and yawning into his hand as he sits.

“Fruit or cereal?” Harry asks him, lazily peeling a banana for himself. He’d whip them up something more substantial, but most of his food is packed up and ready for the trip, so this will have to do.

“Is that even a question?” Louis grumbles, and Harry rolls his eyes as he passes over the milk and the disgusting chocolate cereal that Louis likes.

The two of them eat their respective breakfasts in comfortable silence. They both know they’ve got a long morning ahead of them, so it’s nice to have a quiet moment just to exist. Harry finishes first and begins to tidy up the kitchen, throwing their empty beer bottles from last night into the sink and washing any dishes they’ve dirtied in the past twenty-four hours. Louis eventually leaves the kitchen to get dressed and finish gathering all of his things, and from there it’s just the two of them moving around each other. Almost everything is already packed, some of it already loaded onto the boat. It’s not like they need a lot, in fact it’s sort of a necessity to keep things as minimal as possible. They each have only one suitcase of clothes (if it’s anything like last summer, they won’t be needing many of those anyway. It was not only the hottest summer since ‘79, but also, Louis had been insatiable). From there it’s food, toiletries, and a few books for rainy days.

While Louis finishes inside, Harry swaps his sweats for shorts and wanders out to the dock, where the boat waits. She’s just about forty feet long, cabin small but big enough to suit the two of them, with a tiny deck and fading blue script on the side that reads Silver Spoon. He’d done a thorough inspection a few nights ago, having not taken her out since last August, but for now he just rechecks the fluid levels one last time, does one more quick inspection for broken pipes, and makes sure the battery’s got a full charge. Mentally, he runs through his checklist to make sure they’ve got everything. If they got it all right, they can last roughly thirty days on the water without stops, but they won’t need that long. There’s a marina not too far from here off Sturgeon Bay, just about eight hour’s travel. If they play their cards right Harry can have them there before dusk, where they’ll stay for the first few days or so to get used to living aboard before they really set off.

Of course, there’s loads of marinas off the shore of the Loop. They’ll never be too far from refuge, should anything go wrong, but nothing beats the freedom of sailing the days away, of docking in some quiet cove and being lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the waves.

Eventually, Louis comes clambering out onto the dock, wearing denim shorts and an unbuttoned flannel. It’s already pretty muggy for barely eight in the morning, and Harry’s positive he’ll lose his own shirt long before they make it out properly.

“Everything looking good?” Louis asks, peeking over Harry shoulder as he messes with some valves.

“Yeah, just checking her out again,” Harry clears his throat when he feels Louis’ warm hand land on his shoulder, massaging lightly. “We should be good to leave just as soon as we get everything loaded up.”

“M’kay. Just tell me whatever you need me to do, I’ll do it,” Louis offers, his tone gentle and sincere. Harry smiles to himself, enjoying Louis’ thumb working soft circles into his shoulder blades, until he adds his other hand and begins to massage him properly. It makes Harry’s eyes flutter shut, and his fingers stop fiddling at their own accord, until Harry tips his head back and meets Louis’ cheeky grin.

“Need you to stop doing that, first off, or else we’re never leaving,” he says, his voice already throaty and weird from what little pleasure he allowed himself. There’s something in his tone that suggests Louis’ hands would be doing more than massaging, should he continue, and he doesn’t really mean for it to be that way but it makes Louis stop nonetheless. He holds his hands up in mock-surrender, using them instead to brush his sticky fringe from his eyes.

“You want a coffee before we go?” Louis asks, referring to the shitty instant coffee Harry just keeps in his kitchen cupboard because he’s too cheap to buy anything else.

“I’d love that,” he answers, squinting against the sun as he looks up at him. Louis nods and turns back toward the house, calling an “ay, ay, cap’n!” as he goes.

 

They reach Sturgeon before six, just like Harry intended, with no hiccups along the way. The first few days are always rough, requiring constant check-ups and maintenance to make sure everything's running smoothly until Harry can feel the exhaustion deep in his bones. He’s been sailing all his life, growing up in a fishing town just north of Chicago, but he’s always a little rusty when they first start off. Louis helps as much as he can, but he’s about as good of a shipmate as he is a chef, in which case he isn’t any good at all. It doesn’t bother Harry, though, because he knows enough for the both of them and Louis, in any case, is there to fall back on when it gets too much.

“Pass me that rope, would you?” Harry requests, in the midst of docking the boat at the harbor. Louis does easily, and soon enough Harry has it secure. He offers Louis his hand and helps him onto the dock, noticing the wobble in his step and quickly grabbing his waist to steady him. He knows how he feels, a bit unsteady like his legs aren’t his own, but the both of them will be used to it soon enough. They walk side by side toward the main building, and their hands keep knocking into one another until Louis finally tangles their fingers together.

“If you wanted to hold my hand so bad, you could’ve just asked,” he says, faking exasperation. Harry sticks his tongue out and tightens his grip, and that’s that. Once Harry registers them, they’ve got the night free, but even though it’s cooled down it’s too sticky-humid to do much, even for this late in the evening. Mostly they just stroll, down the docks past families and fishermen and wandering couples just like themselves. Not a couple, Harry amends, even though Louis’ hand is tight in his despite their sweaty palms.

He lights a cigarette as they go (God, he needs to stop that), and lets it hang loosely from his lips as they walk. Louis cocks an eyebrow but doesn’t comment, maybe because Harry raises one right back, or because he knows he’s going to pluck it from Harry’s mouth in a few minutes and take a couple drags of his own. When they first met, Louis smoked like a chimney, but he’d slowed down since then. In fact, before last night, Harry hadn’t seen him light a cigarette in months, not since Harry admitted that he didn’t like the way it tasted when he kissed him. He feels a bit hypocritical, now, but he shrugs it off and lets Louis finish off the stub. They always did pick up each other’s habits, anyway.

They walk until they reach Sally’s, the tiny cafe near the edge of the marina. They really should cook, use up their perishables while they still have access to all of the marina’s resources, but it smells so good that they find themselves in a corner booth, munching on the greasiest (best) mozzarella sticks Harry’s ever had.

“So. You haven’t told me what you’ve been doing since I left,” Louis comments between bites.

“You haven’t asked,” Harry says. Louis glares and nudges Harry’s foot with the toe of his sneaker. Leaves it there.

“I’m asking, twat.” Harry smiles at the insult, always amused by Louis’ lingo. “Well,” he begins, drawing out the word. “I backpacked across the country, wrote a novel, marathoned four seasons of Man vs. Wild - ” Louis cuts him off, then, and Harry can’t help the smirk that spreads across his face at Louis’ annoyed expression.

“You’re such a dick, honestly.”

“Okay, okay, sorry.” He’s not. “I, uh, didn’t do much, really. Kept myself busy, helped Liam and Soph remodel their kitchen. Ed and I went to see a couple shows at Martyrs’. I drove down to see my mum last weekend, met her new boyfriend. I really did watch four seasons of Man vs. Wild.”

Louis cracks a smile at that, lazily stirring his soda with his straw as he listens to Harry talk.

“Yeah? And how many times did you jerk off to Bear Grylls?”

Harry gapes, feigning shock. He can’t really help it when he responds, “What’d you expect? Couldn’t exactly help myself with someone almost a thousand miles away.”

For a split second Louis tenses, but it’s the only reaction Harry gets before he relaxes again, picking the last mozzarella stick from the basket and shrugging as he chews.

“Could’ve gone out and, y’know,” Louis says once he’s finished. He dusts the crumbs from his hands and goes straight into the marinara with his fingers. Harry doesn’t know what to do with him sometimes.

“Could’ve,” Harry agrees. The but I didn’t is implied. He hasn’t slept with anyone else in almost ten months. He doesn’t say so.

“How’s he?” Louis asks after a minute has passed in silence, and Harry furrows his eyebrows.

“Who, Bear Grylls?”

“Your mum’s boyfriend, idiot.” So Harry spends the next ten minutes talking about his trip to his mom’s, Robin and his baseball card collection, the garden he helped them both plant, and politely stops the waiter for the check when he passes.

It’s cooled off by the time they get back outside, still humid, but tolerable. They take their time walking back to the docks, and the air between them seems charged, somehow. It’s completely quiet for the first few moments, nothing except for the gravel path crunching beneath their feet, until Louis nudges Harry in the side.

“Hey, race you to the boat,” he says, and then takes off before Harry can even process the situation. Typical.

Louis is obviously going to win, probably would even if Harry had gotten a fair shot, but he chases after him anyway. He’s right, Louis beats him to their slip by a second, and Harry almost clambers right into him in an effort to slow back down.

“Woah, don’t hurt yourself,” Louis chuckles, earning both middle fingers as Harry clumsily jumps down onto the deck. He helps Louis down despite the fact that he’s laughing at him, pouting. He’s still laughing even as they make their way into the cabin, down the tiny staircase to the smallest bedroom Harry’s ever seen.

“C’mon, Lou, it’s not that funny,” he grumbles, scowling.

“No, but your face is.”

Harry scowls harder. “M’not making a face.”

Louis just laughs harder, collapsing onto the bed and kicking off his shoes and socks.

“You’re such a sore loser,” he says. Harry pouts, crawling up so he’s kneeling between Louis’ legs and spreading his palms over his kneecaps.

“I’m not! You got a head start, s’not fair,” he complains.

“Sore loser,” Louis sings.

“Twat,” Harry retorts. Louis gapes at that, sitting up higher so he can push at Harry’s shoulders. Harry doesn’t budge, smirking in triumph as Louis huffs at him.

“You can’t say that, you’re American!”

“Big bloody twat, you are, and a - and a tosser, huge tosser - "

Louis manages to wrestle Harry down onto his back, then, but only because Harry lets him. If Harry wanted to he could pin him so easily, but Louis likes to pretend he’s bigger than he is and Harry likes to enable him. The two of them swat at each other playfully for a moment, but then suddenly Louis is so close and he’s straddling Harry’s waist and the atmosphere turns electric, just like that. Harry’s chest heaves a little, partly from the energy he exerted during their play fight and partly because something is going to happen, he knows for sure this time. The press of Louis’ hips is intentional, insistent. He’s done holding out.

“So I won,” Louis murmurs, tracing a line down Harry’s jaw with his finger. Harry swallows, feels his Adam’s apple bob as he does so.

“You did,” he surrenders. His eyes flit down to Louis’ mouth. It looks inviting, and Harry wants to crane his neck and bite down on his bottom lip, but Louis is going somewhere with this and he doesn’t like being interrupted.

“What’s my prize?”

Harry shrugs, the best he can lying down, anyway. He tries to play it off like he’s nonchalant, but his pulse has skyrocketed, zero to sixty in mere seconds. For a few charged seconds it’s just them, staring and breathing in each other’s space. Harry’s anticipating something, but then suddenly Louis loses his stony composure, collapsing on top of Harry and burying his face into his neck as he dissolves into giggles. It’s all very overwhelming, feeling him close like that, so much that it has Harry laughing too, but it’s only a minute before Louis resurfaces with a wide grin.

“Your English accent is awful, by the way,” he says, not for the first time, and then he kisses Harry.

Harry’s hands find his waist immediately, fitting his large palms perfectly against Louis’ slim figure. The kiss is fervent this time, more like they’re making up for lost hours, and Harry gets lost in it easy as anything. Louis’ hands find Harry’s shoulders, squeezing gently as his slick tongue pushes past the barrier of his lips. Harry’s mouth gives easily, of course, he’s always so, so easy for him. Louis can’t say much differently about himself, though, because after barely three minutes of steady making out he pulls back, already panting.

“Haz,” he mutters, and it’s breathless, needy. His lips are red and a little swollen, slick with spit, and Harry absolutely can’t resist lifting his head to pull the bottom one between his teeth just like he’d wanted to earlier. Sucks. Louis is so close that Harry feels the way he shudders above him, and just like that, he’s putty in Harry’s hands, rutting his hips down helplessly. Harry feels so hot all of a sudden; he can’t remember the last time he’s been kissed like this. Well, he can, because it was two days before Louis left. They were at a bar with their friends, and it’d been in a corner where everyone could see. No one actually did, Harry’s pretty sure, because they were all well past drunk at that point and no one had commented. Then again, all of their close friends probably know there’s something going on behind closed doors. It has been for almost three years, anyhow, and they’re not too good at keeping secrets. Still, Harry has no trouble remembering the rush it’d given him. So, he can remember the last time he’d been kissed like this, he just can’t remember the last time that it was someone other than Louis.

He just prefers not to dwell on the facts too much.

Louis’ mouth is on his neck now, sucking gently on the pulse point just below his ear. Harry closes his eye, lets himself feel, his fingers gripping Louis so tightly it must hurt. Harry’s so caught up in it all that he kind of forgets about his cock, but then Louis’ hips roll down against the bulge in the denim he realizes, and yeah, he’s hard. He hisses a little when Louis repeats the movement, making Louis pull back in surprise.

“Okay?” he asks, thumb gently tracing Harry’s jaw. Harry swallows heavily and nods, hands sliding down to rest on Louis’ ass as some odd form of encouragement.

“Yeah, yeah, just - keep doing that,” he manages. He supposes he should expect it when Louis moves away completely instead, immediately stripping Harry of the warmth from his body and steady pressure on his dick.

“Wh - Louis,” he complains. Louis’ all the way up near the wall now, in the process of stripping his t-shirt over his head to reveal his flushed chest. Harry sits up, his own shirt falling back down from where it’d ridden up.

“I didn’t wait six weeks just to come back and dry hump you,” Louis justifies, shrugging. He reaches down to adjust the bulge in his shorts, but he makes sure Harry’s watching, eyes hungrily tracking the movement.

“I like that,” Harry blurts. Louis pauses and gives him a funny look, hand frozen in his lap.

“What? Me touching my cock?”

Harry swallows, shakes his head. “No. Yes. But I mean, like - "

“Like, like - " Louis mocks. Harry hates him.

“What you said. About waiting for me.”

“Mm, don’t flatter yourself, Styles. Plenty of fit twenty-somethings in Boston, y’know.” Louis raises his eyebrows, and Harry knows he’s just trying to rile him up, but he can’t really help the jealous strain in his voice when he responds.

“Yeah, but you’re not this easy for them, are you?” He licks his lips, scoots closer so that their noses are almost touching. “Look at you, all worked up just from kissing me.”

He gives Louis’ cock a squeeze for effect, watching the way his eyebrows pinch together for just a second, like he’s trying to keep a straight face but just. Can’t.

“Shut up, s’not like you’re doing any better,” Louis retorts, voice a little higher than normal. Harry ignores it, doesn’t remove his hand from Louis’ bulge and moves his head past Louis’ so that he’s speaking into his ear.

“Those Boston boys, they don’t know you like I do. Don’t know that you like it to hurt a little. Don’t know that I can make you come just from licking you out.”

“That was - uh, one time,” Louis huffs, squirming. Harry’s properly jerking him off through his shorts now, his cock a hard line underneath the denim.

“Because you only let me do it one time,” Harry points out, smirking.

“Yeah, and look what it did to your ego.”

“Will you let me? Again?”

“I’ll never hear the end of it. Your head’ll get so big it explodes and then what? I’m stranded at sea, is what - "

“Lou.”

Harry’s never been shy about sex. Despite anything Louis might say, he’s confident, not conceited. He’s not vulgar, either, or at least not at the wrong times, but he knows what he wants and he has no problem asking for it. Right now he wants to get his mouth on Louis, to lick and bite and suck until he has Louis falling apart right underneath him, and he’s not above begging even if it bruises his pride a little.

As it turns out, he doesn’t need to, because Louis cuts off his please with a slow kiss. It’s wet and hot, which only makes Harry want it more, so it sends a zip up his spine when Louis pulls back and nods at him with hooded eyes.

“Yeah?” Harry confirms, like he can’t even believe it.

“Yeah, but your grace period is running out, so.”

Harry gets Louis onto his belly, drapes himself over him so he can nose into his hair, presses a kiss to the shell of his ear. Louis is impatient by nature, but he should know by now that few things get Harry off better than taking his time. He won’t complain anyway, not once they really get started, because he knows it’s worth it in the end, when he comes so hard he can’t even see straight for the few seconds that follow. Harry’s good at reminding him.

Really though, Harry can’t fucking wait to get his mouth on him, so he doesn’t move as slowly as he would if he weren’t so eager. He wiggles down so that his face is level with Louis’ lower back and his legs are hanging nearly halfway off the bed, pressing the lightest ghost of a kiss right in the dip of Louis’ spine before moving to tug his shorts over his hips. Louis hisses, and Harry finds out why when he discovers that he’s not wearing any underwear and that the denim must’ve dragged right over his cock.

“Alright?” Harry asks, tossing the shorts aside, and Louis nods into his arms, so Harry shoves two pillows underneath his hips and gets to work.

He starts with slow, broad licks, tongue flat and wide like he’s warming Louis up. It’s more like he’s warming himself up, though, because it’s - it really has been a while, not just since he’s done this but since he's done anything, and he doesn't want to overwhelm himself too quickly.

He pulls back after a few long minutes, Louis’ spit-slick hole glistening in the dim light. Louis has been fairly unresponsive up to this point, the occasional hum and sigh, and it’s a little disconcerting considering he’d been a babbling mess the second Harry got his tongue on him the last time. Absentmindedly, he dips the tip of his middle finger inside, listening for a reaction. All he gets is a sharp huff of breath, and he frowns, pushing in all the way to the second knuckle and dipping his head to tongue messily around it.

“Awful quiet up there,” he comments, finally, but his voice shows more concern than anything else.

“Not really doing much, are you?” Louis counters, but Harry hears the strain in his voice, doesn’t miss the way he tries to subtly push back when Harry stops touching him, and it’s then Harry realizes he’s probably doing it on purpose. Riling Harry up has always been a hobby of his, and he’s good at it too, even Harry will admit that. The thing is, sometimes Harry takes it, and sometimes he gets him back, and he’s not feeling very pliant today.

“I could stop, if you like.” he offers.

“You want that even less than I do.” It sounds like praise to Harry, even if Louis called him on his bluff, but if it’s the closest he’ll get, then he’ll take it. It sounds even more like keep going, so Harry takes it in stride and ducks his head to finish what he started. He skips tentative this time, almost doubling his efforts as he licks and sucks until his jaw aches. He wonders briefly if that means he gave in to Louis’ complaints after all, but it doesn’t feel much like losing when he finally gets the responses he wants. It’s always the noises that turn him on most, and once Louis gets going he never disappoints. His voice goes all high and raspy, like it is now, muffled by the pillow he’s got his face shoved into.

Harry can’t get enough of it, the way he shouts every time Harry pushes his tongue past his rim. Harry’s been using his hands to keep him spread open, thumbs pressed hard into his skin, but that stops being enough. Occasionally Louis will tense up, to the point Harry can’t fuck his tongue into him at an even pace the way that he wants to, so eventually he tucks two fingers inside to keep him open instead. The loud whine he gets in response has Harry shuddering and licking into him messily, desperate to hear him again and again. His jaw’s going to ache for days.

Harry’s cock is sore and he’s starting to lose focus, he knows he is, because he can barely keep himself from rutting against the bed like some kind of frenzied animal. The whole ordeal gets sloppy fast, if it wasn’t already, Harry unable to contain the spit that keeps escaping and dribbling down to Louis’ balls. He’s so turned on that it hurts, and he wonders if Louis would let him fuck him, actually fuck him. Once the image presents itself he can’t shake it, and suddenly it’s all he wants.

Louis makes a frustrated noise when Harry pulls back, and it’s almost enough to make him go back in, but the incessant need to be inside of him keeps him from doing so.

“Harry, I swear to god - " Louis grits out, and he’s not even trying to be subtle this time when he pushes back toward Harry’s face.

“Can I fuck you, Lou?” He sits up a little straighter after he says it, doing the mental equivalent of crossing his fingers while he waits for Louis’ answer.

“Just full of requests tonight, aren’t we,” Louis finally hums, chest still visibly heaving a little when he twists to face Harry. He’s flushed and sweaty, gorgeously so, and his lips are bitten red. He darts his tongue out to lick them before nodding to the floor where their few unpacked bags are still piled up, neglected. “There’s condoms in my backpack. Front pocket.”

Harry bites back a grin and scrambles up, his shorts uncomfortably tight and the line of his cock obscene. He kneels down to dig through Louis’ bag, finding the condoms in the front pocket as described. He takes the whole strip, impatient, and shuffles around until he finds the lube, too. By the time he turns back to the bed, Louis has turned over onto his back, watching Harry as he strokes himself lazily. It sends a thrill up Harry’s spine, and he’s quick to dump his findings in a pile on the mattress before stripping off his shirt and shoving his shorts down to his ankles.

Once he’s rid himself of his clothes, he knees his way between Louis’ thighs, cock bobbing a little uncomfortably. He knocks Louis’ hand away from his cock and replaces it with his own, jerking him slowly as he leans down to kiss him. Louis opens his mouth for him immediately, despite the fact that Harry most definitely tastes like actual ass, and while they kiss Harry fumbles around for the lube. His finds it after a second, fingers wrapping loosely around the tube, but he doesn’t sit back just yet, indulging in Louis’ soft, pliant mouth for just a tad longer. It’s actually Louis that pulls away first, giving Harry’s ass a gentle pat as if to politely tell him to get on with it. Harry’s not going to argue, leaning back on his heels and flicking the cap of the lube.

Louis could probably take him like this, since Harry had taken his time loosening him up with his tongue, but he doesn’t know how long it’s been and the last thing he wants to do is hurt him, so he slicks up his fingers first and ignores the unpleasant throb of his neglected cock. He tucks two in right away, using his other hand to keep one of Louis’ legs pushed back and out of the way. He thrusts in twice and scissors them a little before adding a third. It’s a little bit of a squeeze, but Harry can tell Louis’ ready by the way he’s squirming. Still, he takes his time making sure, until finally Louis huffs impatiently.

“C’mon, H, you’re not that big,” he urges.

“Hey,” Harry protests, but he’s just as eager, so he pulls his fingers out and wipes them absently on the sheets. Putting the condom on is the first time he’s so much as touched his cock since they started, so he can’t help the shaky sigh that escapes as he rolls the rubber down onto his length. He’s so worked up, he knows he won’t last long, but Louis’ not doing much better. His cock is hard and curved against his belly, red and leaking at the tip. Harry makes quick work of slicking himself up, not letting himself get lost in the feeling of his hand around his dick.

“You want it like this?” he finds himself asking, for the novelty of it if anything.

“Yeah, Christ’s sake, just - unh.” Harry starts to push in before he even finishes, effectively cutting him off.

“Fuck,” Harry whispers, amazed by the pressure on his cock after being hard for so long. Louis’ tight as ever despite all the prep, and Harry has to squeeze his eyes shut to keep from pushing in all the way right then. It’s not long before he bottoms out, balls snug against Louis’ ass. He waits for a second, unsure, but then Louis hooks his ankles around his waist and gives him a nod.

“S’okay, go ‘head,” he mumbles, and Harry doesn't need any more convincing than that.

Harry likes to talk when he fucks, but right now he can’t find any words as he begins to thrust, slowly at first. Sometimes he likes to start and finish that way, with slow, grinding thrusts, but the friction feels too good to keep that pace. After only a minute or so he’s speeding up, knees digging into the mattress as his hips jerk forward.

“Yeah, babe, you can - faster,” Louis tells him, so Harry does, fucking him hard enough to make the mattress creak and thump under their weight. His arms are shaking with the effort of holding himself up, so he drops down onto his elbows even though it’ll be hell on his back. That, apparently, is invitation for Louis’ fingers to tangle in his sweaty curls, holding him there. He can’t thrust as hard this way, but it’s deeper, relentless. He hooks his hands up under Louis’ knees and presses his palms into the backs of his thighs, keeping his knees folded against the bed for leverage.

“Oh, god, H,” Louis pants on one particular thrust, hands grappling at Harry’s shoulders as he arches into it.

“There?” Harry asks, figuring he must have something right, and Louis nods, so Harry does it again and again, relishing in each moan he fucks out of him.

Louis cries out when Harry gets a hand on him, almost like he’d forgotten his cock was even there. Harry’s going to come soon, he can feel it building in the pit of his stomach, but in the end, it’s Louis who does first, spilling over Harry’s fist with a gasp and a shout. He keeps moaning even after he’s done, just these soft little whimpers, and that’s almost enough to finish Harry off, but it’s the “don’t stop, yes, come in me, babe,” that really gets him. His whole body seizes as he does, white-hot pleasure zipping up his spine and back down to his belly. It’s the kind of thigh-quaking orgasm that leaves him useless for entire minutes afterwards, his heart thumping so loud he feels the blood pumping in his ears, insides all hot and swimmy.

He doesn’t pull out right away, can’t muster up the strength in his arms, so for a minute they just lie there in a heap of sweat and come. It’s nice despite the mess, Louis’ fingers combing lazily through his hair, until -

“You’re a lot heavier than you think you are, you know.”

“Fuck off.” Harry finds it in him to sit up, pull out, and flop down onto his back. It’s a lot of steps, in his opinion, but still he manages to get rid of the dirty condom and find something to wipe them down with. Something happens to be his discarded t-shirt, not the best choice considering their laundry options are limited, and it leaves them sticky at best, but at least mostly free of bodily fluids.

Harry could use a drink of water, but he feels like he’s melting into the bed and getting up seems actually impossible. Even moreso when Louis noses into his neck and tangles their legs together.

There’s a poor excuse of a window near the corner of the cabin, small and rectangular. Harry peeks at it and sees that it’s dark out already, which means they missed the first sunset out on the water. He can’t find it in him to be the least bit disappointed, not when Louis snuffles a little and presses a barely-there kiss to his jaw. They’ve got tomorrow night, and the night after that, too.

*

Louis thinks it’s the heat that wakes him. It’s the first thing he registers - how fucking hot he is. He’s so sweaty that his skin is slick to the touch, and with a little difficulty he kicks away the comforter that has managed to bunch up on top of him and tangle between his legs. The second thing he registers is that it must be buttfuck early; there’s barely any light in the room. Louis might even think it’s still night if it weren’t for the lack of Harry’s presence. That’s the third thing.

He sits up, works out the cricks in his neck, and listens for Harry bustling around upstairs. It’s not unusual for him to be up and about at the crack of dawn, not when they’re out on the boat. Normally, when they’re in Harry’s cabin or Louis’ flat, Louis couldn’t wake him if he slapped him across the face and drenched him in ice water, probably. Harry is a different person on the water, though, at least in his habits. He fidgets more, has more energy in general, stops being the personification of tranquility. Louis loves him always, but this Harry - no one else gets to see it. This Harry is utterly and entirely Louis’, and it’s part of what makes this so special to him.

Louis’ got no idea where the fuck he is, though, so instead of sulking in bed he stumbles around until he finds his discarded shorts and wanders upstairs to find him.

He’s no where in the cabin, so that leaves either the deck or anywhere on the marina. Louis has half a mind to find his phone and ring him, if there’s even any battery left, but then he spots him, or rather, he spots his arse halfway in the air clad in his stupid yellow swim shorts.

“Sunrise yoga already, eh?” Louis comments, stepping out onto the deck where Harry’s spread out, clothing so minimal it’s almost indecent. “There are people around, you know.”

Harry lowers himself at Louis’ voice, clearly oblivious to his presence until now. If Louis were closer he’d see the bashful flush on his cheeks, but Harry never stays embarrassed for long. Louis crosses the deck and sits down next to him, cross-legged.

“Not at…” Harry lowers his chin to look at his watch, not on his wrist but lying flat on the deck next to the beach towel he’s using as a yoga mat. “5:26 am, there’s not.”

"Yeah, well. I’m sure they're somewhere,” Louis retorts weakly, because he can’t really argue with him - he’s right, there are no life forms in sight. Even the water is still.

Harry doesn’t say anything, instead resuming his position. For someone who trips over his own goddamn feet half the time, he’s awfully good at staying still. He’d tried to teach Louis his routine once - he ended up with a pinched nerve for days, and that was the last attempt he ever made at yoga. He’s content just watching anyway, the way Harry’s brows furrow like he’s concentrating really hard, and he is. The way he twists his body from one position to another, the only thing he’ll ever do gracefully.

They sit through the sunrise like that, the deck slowly getting hotter under Louis’ bare feet. At some point he gets up to make them a pot of coffee, and when he gets back Harry’s finished with his routine, toweling the sweat away from his hairline, legs folded to his chest and skin glowing under the sun.

One side of Louis regrets falling in love with him. The other tells him to shut up and take what he can get, especially when Louis hands Harry his mug and Harry knocks their foreheads together in silent thanks.

That side makes a damn good argument.

 

It never takes long for them to fall into a routine. In fact, Louis isn't sure they ever actually fell out of one - there were times he found himself searching through his mum’s kitchen, thinking about bloody instant coffee before remembering he fucking hates coffee and only drinks that when he’s with Harry, because Harry drinks that - it’s all besides the point, though. The point is, they settle in with each other just like breathing, and it’s always been as easy as that.

They leave Sturgeon on day four. Louis wakes up with Harry between his legs, and after he’s swallowed Louis’ come he says, “I think I’m ready to move.” They’re on the water within an hour.

“Do we have to listen to fucking River Country 101.7, Harry? Really?” Louis complains, for the third time in an hour. They’re coming up on the three-hour mark, and someone who wishes they were Dolly Parton croons through Harry’s battery-operated radio. It’s been well-loved by the both of them over the years, but Louis has never been so close to throwing it overboard.

“I’ve told you, it’s good sailing music.” Harry frowns from his perch. His chest is bare except for a handful of necklaces, and he’s got two different pairs of sunglasses on - one for his eyes and the other keeping his curls held back in all their stupid glory.

“Yeah, maybe if this were Huckleberry Finn,” Louis snorts. He’s being a tit, he knows he is, but Harry sets himself up for this kind of thing. Really.

Warn’t no home like a raft,” Harry muses, voice dropping to imitate a southern drawl.

Louis drops his head back onto his seat, partly to exaggerate his exasperation and partly to conceal the way his mouth quirks up at the edges. The last thing he needs to do is encourage him, Jesus.

“Wow,” he groans. “That one rivals your English accent, honestly. I think I’d make a better Tom Sawyer than you.”

“It’s not the same book, Louis. You should work on your references, instead of complaining so much.”

Louis rolls his eyes. He’s been idly snacking on a bag of grapes for the past twenty minutes. He throws one at Harry’s head. “You should work on not being a twat.”

Nevertheless, Louis only has to sit through one more song before Harry hands him the radio.

“If you put on Top 40 - "

“Just trust me, Harold.”

Louis puts on Top 40. Harry can fake indignance all he wants, but if he thinks Louis doesn’t notice him mouthing along to some boyband then he is sadly mistaken. Louis watches the water skip in their wake, feels the sun slowly pinking his shoulders and the tip of his nose, even though he has probably used half a bottle of sunblock today alone. He doesn't mind.

We said there warn’t no home like a raft, after all.

 

It’s getting dark by the time they anchor in some quiet bay, the humidity having gone down to something bearable. Harry turns to Louis after he’s successfully anchored them safely, his shirt collar hanging too far on one shoulder and this goofy smile on his face.

“Looks like it’s just you ‘n me, sailor.” It’s ridiculous, it’s been nothing but the two of them all day, all week in fact, but Louis is pretty sure his ability to take the piss out of Harry expires after so many uses. Or when he’s looking at Louis the way he is, all big teeth and floppy hair and just - genuine. So genuinely happy to be here with him, just you and me.

Or something like that.

Harry spares him a response, anyway, brushing past him into the cabin for a few seconds before reemerging with two beers and a bottle opener, all in one hand.

“You look tired,” Louis comments, a simple observation, his voice gone soft and quiet. Harry shrugs, situating himself next to Louis on the floor of the deck, their knees touching.

“So do you,” Harry says. He uncaps Louis’ beer and hands it to him, their fingers brushing in the midst. There’s something in the way it lingers a bit too long that makes Louis’ heart rate pick up, just a little. He is tired, is the thing, the sun and the heat can exhaust him like nothing else, but there’s this buzzing under his skin so persistent that he can’t even think about sleeping, and probably won’t for hours.

Louis tips his head back onto the cushion of the seat he’s leaning against, feels Harry’s calloused hand land on his bare knee. He looks at the stars scattered across the sky, unobstructed by light pollution or smog or anything, for once - just hundreds of thousands of them, right there and so, so clear.

“You can’t see them in London, you know,” Louis says. Harry looks at him curiously, absently tracing patterns with his index finger. Louis tilts his chin to the sky, and Harry follows his gaze, realization dawning on his face when he gets it.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. They’re the first thing I fell in love with when I came over here, made everything seem so much bigger. S’why I look forward to the summers so much.” He doesn’t even have to mention that Harry’s a part of what makes it that way, too.

He knows Harry understands that much anyway when he says, “Oh, so you’re just using me for the hot stargazing spots?” Louis snorts.

It’s true; the stars are the first thing he fell in love with. He definitely doesn’t mention that Harry is the second thing.

“Obviously.”

“Obviously,” Harry echoes, tsking and shaking his head. Louis laughs, taking a swig of his forgotten beer and reverting his gaze to the water. There’s something transfixing about the way the moonlight reflects off of it, this argent-silver shimmer dancing across the surface. There’s a lull in conversation, and then -

“What’s the current like?” The question tumbles out of Louis’ mouth before he can help it, a sudden thought sparking in his mind.

“Huh?” Harry asks, and when Louis turns back toward him he finds him already staring, flushing when he’s been caught.

“The current. Is it strong here?”

“Uh, no, not really. We’re not drifting, so...er, Louis?”

Louis already has his shirt off. Harry’s staring at him skeptically, if a little concerned, face scrunched up in that funny way that he does.

“Harry. Do you realize we’ve been doing this for three summers now and we’ve never been skinny dipping?”

Harry’s brows furrow, his gaze drifting to the bottle next to Louis’ opposite knee, barely half-gone. “I thought that was your first beer today?”

“I’m not drunk, idiot. Just feel like going for a swim, is that too much to ask?” Louis raises his brows, standing and dropping his shorts so he’s just left in his boxers. There’s a slow grin stretching on Harry’s face, if a little bit dubious still. Louis hooks his thumbs in the waistband of his pants and cocks his head.

“I might drown if I go in by myself. You’re gonna have to come after me,” Louis reasons, watching Harry’s internal conflict as he slowly sets his beer beside him on the deck, and smirking at him as he tries not to look when Louis finally drops his underwear.

“I’m not sure - "

Louis doesn’t even let him finish the thought before he throws himself overboard, hearing Harry’s discordant call of “Bastard!” just before he hits the water. The stillness of the water surprises him, as well as the cold. For all that he pants and moans about the stifling heat during the day, it sure is fucking freezing in here, and he has to shake himself when he resurfaces just to get over the shock of it. He shoves his hair out of his eyes, and back on the boat Harry’s cursing as he struggles to kick his shorts and boxers away from his ankles. He steps over the edge much less gracefully than Louis did, in what looks like an attempt at a dive. Emphasis on attempt - he practically belly flops, hitting the water with a splash and a smack so loud Louis winces.

He shakes his hair like a dog when he comes up, and Louis squawks in protest when he catches the spray. It’s not so deep, since they’re so close to the bank, and he can touch if he points his toes, so he uses the leverage to shove at Harry’s shoulders until he loses his balance. It’s both of them that end up toppling back under, in the end, but it’s worth the look on Harry’s face, of both shock and disbelief, when they resurface.

They splash around like idiots for a while, with the ultimate goal of getting as much dirty water in the other’s ears and mouth as possible. Louis doesn’t play fair, of course, using Harry’s clumsiness to his advantage until he’s got him squabbling and spitting river water from his mouth. It ends when Harry lurches forward and heaves Louis up by the thighs, with a frustrating amount of ease, at that. Instinctively, he yelps and wraps his legs around Harry’s waist, his first immediate thought being that Harry’s about to throw him to high heavens. Then he sees the look in Harry’s eyes.

He tightens his legs, eyes flicking down to Harry’s mouth. There’s a drop of water beading right in the center of his cupid’s bow and Louis wants to lick it away, so he does, and Harry’s mouth is cold and slippery against his. He just means it to be chaste, quick, but Harry’s not having that, slick mouth chasing Louis’ own as soon as he moves to pull back. Louis lets him have it.

It's not easy to snog when you can’t feel your lips, and the water makes it so he has to fight to keep Harry close enough, both hands gripping either side of his jaw, but they make it work. They kiss until their lips are numb from more than just the cold and until Louis has to actively think to keep his teeth from chattering in the midst of it. Christ, he can hardly feel his fingers, yet despite it all of course his cock still manages to stir, brushing against Harry’s stomach underneath the water, and he can definitely feel that. It has him whimpering a little into Harry’s mouth, craving friction even though there’s no way he can get any like this. Still, he rolls his hips forward subtly, cock bumping against Harry’s belly. He feels Harry’s blunt nails dig into the backs of his thighs a little, hears him sigh into the kiss, tastes his tongue as it gets messier, more desperate -

And then Harry throws him to high fucking heavens.

He doesn’t even realize it until it’s already happened, and suddenly he’s underwater, then sputtering as he reemerges.

“Fuck you! I can’t believe you just did that!” he manages to shout, still scrubbing water from his eyes. Harry comes into focus, cackling as he swims away and heaves himself back up onto the boat. Like that’s going to save him.

The adrenaline catches up to Louis then, and he swims back to the boat with renewed vigor, desperate to get Harry back. He’s disappeared into the cabin, presumably to hide. Rookie move, Louis thinks, cornering himself like that. He’s grateful for it, at least, as it spares him the embarrassment when he struggles to haul himself back up onto the deck after watching Harry do it so effortlessly. He lacks upper body, so what.

Eventually he makes it, a puddle steadily forming at his feet as soon as he so much as steps onto the boat. He’s too busy looking for something to dry off with to notice when Harry appears in front of him, a towel wrapped around his waist and a smug grin on his face as he offers Louis a matching one. Louis narrows his eyes and snatches it, squaring his shoulders as he ties it around his waist.

“You’re a filthy, filthy traitor, Styles,” he says, voice low and bitter.

“You’re not the only one who’s allowed to play dirty, y’know,” Harry responds, raising his brows.

“No, but there has to be some sort of unwritten rule against that - "

“You think there are rules here?”

Louis stares blankly. He hates how smug Harry looks, and worse, how good smug looks on him.

“I think you’re a dick.” Louis shoulders past him, keeping his eyes fixed on the water as he picks up his forgotten beer and takes a swig. It’s flat and sort of warm now, so he has to try his best not to wince, for the sake of theatrics. He won’t admit it, but now that the initial adrenaline has fizzled out, he’s more upset that Harry left him hanging than anything, still awkwardly turned on despite his cock having long since gone down.

“Louis, hey,” Harry sighs. Louis ignores it, fist wrapped loosely around his beer bottle as he thinks of ways he could try and shove him overboard. Harry’s stronger than him by a long shot, but if caught off guard he’ll trip over his own feet and knock his own self into the water, sparing Louis the fight. They might have to sacrifice the towel, no way either of them could save it from the river’s current if Harry goes under, but what’s one towel for the sake of Louis’ revenge? He hears Harry step closer, and he’s planning his move, except he feels a hand on his hip and hot breath on his neck and all of it dissipates - not just like that, because Jesus, Louis’ not that easy. More like it makes him tense up and hesitate too long, losing his chance.

It’s not like he ever stood one anyway. He forgot to factor in Harry’s uncanny ability to get the best of him.

“Louis,” Harry repeats, but this time his voice is right in Louis’ ear, and fuck, maybe Louis is that easy.

“Harry,” Louis echoes, flinching at the way his voice sounds in his own ears. Affected.

“I’m sorry,” Harry says, so sincere Louis almost believes him, and then, lower, “lemme make it up to you.”

Louis has to roll his eyes. “You can’t sweet-talk your way out of everything, you know.”

It doesn’t count for much, though, because when Harry makes to undo Louis’ towel, Louis doesn’t try to stop him. He’ll get him back some other time.

 

(And he does. That time comes the next morning, the two of them lingering in bed a little longer than usual. Louis’ blowing him, but he stops every time he gets close, until Harry’s a squirming, babbling mess. Louis has never heard the word “please” so many times in such a time span.

“Louis, c’mon, you’re being unfair,” Harry pants after forty-five minutes and counting of solid torture. Louis just smirks.

“You think there are rules here?” he mimicks, and makes it last almost another half hour, only letting him come once he’s sure his jaw will fall off if he goes any longer. His voice is hoarse all day afterwards, but it’s worth it. They're even.)

*

June turns to July. They stay up late most nights and wake up early most mornings; some days they fuck and some days they don’t. Nonetheless, every day is filled with Louis, each one warmer than the last, and when Harry runs out of cigarettes he doesn’t buy another pack. Maybe it’s melodramatic - Louis always did tell him he gets too hung up on semantics - but he doesn’t need anything to fill the space anymore. Tax on smokes is outrageous at the marinas, anyway.

The Fourth is always an unpredictable affair. It’s the fifth consecutive one Harry has spent with Louis, and nothing is ever typical. The first summer Harry knew Louis, he ended up with half the neighborhood in his backyard on the fourth of July after letting it slip that he and some friends were having a small get-together. The second, they made out in Harry’s driveway, all of their friends just around the corner hollering as they set off fireworks. It was far from the first time, but that was back when they only did it drunk, something they’d pretend they didn’t remember the next day, and wouldn’t acknowledge until it happened again. The next year was the year they first started the boat thing, and also the year they started fucking regularly. They just about forgot the Fourth entirely that year, and spent the whole day in bed, exchanging sloppy kisses and fucking until the sun went down, until Harry came inside Louis for the third time that day and finally realized, no, those fireworks weren’t just him. Last year was the opposite - they remembered, all right, and used it as an excuse to get wasted before noon, so much that Harry hardly recalls anything other than waking up at half past midnight with his head in a bucket.

This year, Harry wakes Louis up with his own rendition of “Born In The USA”, bouncing on the bed knee-first with his flag bandana tied proudly around his head. As far as renditions go, it’s a hideous one, but if it starts with Louis groaning and attempting to take him out by the backs of his knees, and ends with Harry rolling them over and slicking up their cocks until they both come, then it’s well-worth embarrassing himself as far as Harry’s concerned.

Harry makes them beans on toast for breakfast while Louis showers, and then it’s a three hour ride to the tiny marina in St. Joseph, where they plan to get day-drunk and celebrate the holiday. Well, Harry will celebrate, and Louis will complain about the stupidity of it all as if he doesn’t love any excuse to get drunk and light sparklers.

Harry catches Louis eyeing the boats in the surrounding slips when they arrive, almost all of them garishly decorated for the holiday. A couple stumbles past as Harry is tying up the boat, dressed in red, white and blue from head to toe and well on their way to wasted already, and Harry laughs as Louis scoffs at the sight of them.

“Bloody Americans, I tell you,” he grumbles, the very picture of judgement where he stands with his arms crossed and sunglasses perched atop his head.

“You are American, you know,” Harry points out. Louis waves him off.

“Am not. Well, only technically.”

“Yeah? Is that what you said when you applied for your green card?”

“I’m an awfully good liar, Harry, you know this. How else would I have pretended to like you all this time?”

That shuts Harry up. He does pick his battles, sometimes.

They break out the beer shortly after, and somehow “let’s actually eat a decent meal for once” turns into “let’s have a big-ass Fourth of July barbeque.”

They walk to the store, and Harry’s tipsy enough to let Louis load up the basket with whatever he desires, even if it ends with him spending a small fortune (it does).

The electric grill Harry has is small and old; he literally has to dust it off when he digs it out from under the kitchen sink, but for their purposes, it works. He lets Louis do deviled eggs while he fires it up, then sets to work on preparing the hamburger patties. By midday they’ve got a full on cookout rolling, and way too much fucking food. They could probably feed their entire group of mutual friends twice, except it’s just the two of them. Harry’s just starting to ponder what they’ll do with all the leftovers when someone passing by calls, “smells fucking fantastic, man!” He hears Louis respond, “well, come fucking have some, then!” and he’s not sure if it was meant to be a joke or not, but that’s how he ends up with eight or so strangers on his boat, all decked out in American flag-themed outfits and in varying stages of drunk.

Now, Harry is social. He’s always been a people person, and has never had a problem with finding himself a fairly large group of friends no matter where he went. Without being egotistical, he’d even go as far as to say he’s got a natural charm that draws people to him. Louis, though - Louis is on a whole other level of likeable. It’s almost fascinating to watch, especially after all this time alone with him, the way he just clicks immediately with everyone he speaks to. Hell, Harry should know. The first time Louis ever spoke to him it was quarter to five in the morning, and it was to explain that he had maybe, sort of drunkenly crashed a boat that he wasn’t licensed to drive into Harry’s backyard. Instead of being upset, he’d just been charmed by the cute boy defeatedly hunched over on his porch steps, incapable of looking Harry in the eye as he apologized profusely. It’s no surprise that Louis has taken on the role as host of this impromptu little party, easily drawing laughs from everyone even though he probably hasn’t learned a single one of their names. Harry finds himself watching him way more than he’d like to admit, and he can’t help the way he lets his palm linger on Louis’ hip too long every time they brush past one another, like some sort of subconscious stake of claim. He’s not even jealous.

Harry actually manages to pace himself pretty well, making each beer last over an hour. He’s tipsy for sure, clumsier and more easily entertained than usual, but it never tips over to drunk territory, and for that he’s thankful. It makes it much easier to pick up the beer cans and food that get left behind when people start to filter out, onto the next boat party to crash, or whatever.

One girl actually pulls Harry in for a hug before she goes. He thinks she told him her name a while back, but he can't be fucked to remember what it is. Rebecca? Rachel? Riley? He’ll call her Riley - she pulls him in for a hug, and she's beaming when she pulls back, swaying a little on her feet.

“Thank you so much for the food!” she tells him enthusiastically, then lowers her voice when she adds, “you two are so cute together.” She nods her head to Louis, who’s waving a sparkler around as he talks animatedly to a tall guy wearing nothing but cutoffs and an American flag as a cape. She stumbles off before Harry can even deny it, taking American flag boy with her. For some reason it gets under Harry’s skin, and he’s stumped for the next hour, until the last few people finally wander off and it’s just the two of them again.

“Hey. Y’alright?” Louis asks him, wandering over to where Harry’s sat near the nose of the boat, mouth pressed to the lip of his bottle but not actually taking a drink.

“Hm? Yeah, fine,” Harry assures him, setting his beer down next to him. He leans back a little and Louis seems to take it as an invitation to just kind of collapse into his lap, giggling as Harry’s hands come up to steady him.

“That was pretty fucking cool, innit?” he asks, eyes shining. “Never hosted a party before.”

“I find that hard to believe,” Harry mumbles, then, “wasn’t much of a party.” He feels sleepy all of the sudden, though it’s probably only around seven o’clock. The sun hasn’t even gone down yet.

“Oh yeah? It’s your fault you missed sparklers. Too busy talking to what’s-her-face,” Louis accuses, his hand resting idly on Harry’s chest, and it's lighthearted but there’s an obvious undertone of jealousy. Harry's eyes flare a little, and he can’t help the surprised little bark of laughter he lets out.

“What’s-her-face, is it?” he teases.

“What was her name then?” Louis challenges, raising an eyebrow.

“It was…” He clears his throat, and smirks. “Anyway, she just wanted to let me know that we’re a cute couple.”

Louis looks as taken aback as Harry was, but he recovers much quicker, scoffing. “Ridiculous. My standards are much higher than that.”

Hey,” Harry protests, and Louis soothes the blow with a kiss, soft and chaste.

“Anyway, I wasn’t finished,” he says when he pulls back. Harry’s eyes don’t leave his mouth until he leans back to dig into his back pocket, and then they shift out of curiosity. “That guy I was talking to, with the cape? His name was Nick - I think you’d really like him, actually, but uh, he felt bad for all his friends crashing our boat, so he gave me something.”

Finally Louis comes up with his same old pack of Marlboros, and Harry furrows his brows. Cigarettes? He never thought of cigarettes as a party favor, and he’s not sure what’s got Louis looking all smug, until he pulls something out and - oh. Not a cigarette.

“Nice,” Harry whispers, his initial confusion morphing into a kind of juvenile giddiness as Louis places the joint into his open palm. It’s been a couple months, probably, since the last time he smoked. It’s not something he actively seeks out anymore, but nevertheless, he’s always up for a surprise toke, and a pleasant surprise it is.

They light up right there on the deck, and for a second Harry wonders if they shouldn’t, but it’s not as if there are cops actively scouring the area. Well, maybe there are, but it might actually be legal here; Harry doesn’t remember, but he’s too tipsy to think about it for too long. He just accepts the lit joint when Louis passes it to him, taking a long drag and letting the smoke fill his lungs.

It’s been a couple months. His tolerance is fucking shot. Maybe the alcohol had something to do with it, but barely three or four hits in he’s definitely feeling it, giggly and head too heavy for his shoulders.

“‘Cause of all that fucking hair you’ve got,” Louis tells him when Harry mentions it out loud. It’s the funniest thing in the world.

He lets Louis finish off the joint, shotgunning a hit off him every once in awhile. Lazily blowing smoke into each other’s mouths turns to lazily making out which turns to Louis turning away to find the leftover sparklers Harry apparently missed out on, and they fuck around with them, definitely not drawing dicks in the air, until Louis burns his finger, and that’s the end of that. Eventually they end up sprawled out on the deck, close but not close enough. Louis’ rambling about Orion and supergiants and Harry’s trying to get it but the stars just look like a pool of tiny twinkling lights to him. Louis’ tried to teach him constellations, how to tell the difference between white dwarfs and blue giants, but Harry is a useless astronomer; he can hardly spot the Big Dipper without guidance. That’s just it, though - Louis can talk about the interstellar medium all day but he can’t read a map for shit and his knowledge of sailing the boat doesn't extend past turning the steering wheel, but if Harry got them lost Louis could probably get them home using just what he knows about the sky. That’s the glue between them, Harry thinks. Among other things.

“Louis, shh, hey, Lou,” Harry shushes, Louis slowly trailing off from his tangent on star charts and the Soviet Union. Harry had been genuinely interested, but a moving light in the sky had caught his eye so he’d sat up quickly, forced to interrupt when Louis didn’t notice.

“What is it?” Louis asks, and Harry points to the sky.

“Shooting star. We have to make a wish.” Louis follows his gaze, and he barks out a laugh so suddenly that it startles Harry a little.

“What? What’s funny?” he questions, eyebrows knitting together.

“It’s just a satellite, see? It’s moving too slowly to be a shooting star,” Louis answers. Harry narrows his eyes.

“Right...well, make a wish anyway. Louis. Make a wish,” Harry demands, trying to act aloof but he’s sure his toothy smile gives it away. He waits for Louis to resign, watching him close his eyes and counting to three before closing his own.

Harry makes his wish, and opens his eyes. Louis’ already looking at him.

“What’d you wish for, then?” Harry asks, leaning back on his elbows.

“I’m not saying,” Louis answers, mouth turned up at the corners.

“Why not?” Harry demands, affronted.

“Because it’s the rules, idiot. If I tell you it won’t come true.”

“Stupid fucking rule,” Harry mutters. There’s a beat of silence, and then he continues. “I wished to go down on you. But now I’ve told you, and since it’s the rules - "

It’s not exactly true, but it’s worth it for the way Louis sputters, face screwing up in contempt. “Well, I wished for you not to go down on me, and now I’ve just told you, so it cancels out.”

Harry gawks at him, reaching out to shove at his shoulder, but he’s too slow on the uptake and his target gets a chance to retaliate, so he ends up with a lapful of Louis instead.

“See, now that neither of our wishes will come true, it’s like we never made any wishes at all. You could just blow me out of your own free will.”

“That’s definitely not how it works,” Harry argues.

“Of course that’s how it works - "

“Nah, you’re screwing with fate, man, you’re gonna piss off the fucking - shooting star genie and get us killed. Wonderful.”

Louis seems to consider this, and while he does he messes with a stray curl on Harry’s forehead having escaped from the flag bandana he forgot he was wearing.

“Well. Good thing it was only a satellite,” he finally says. Harry opens his mouth to argue - how could he know for sure, anyways - but Louis cocks his head toward the cabin and makes a crude gesture involving his mouth, and Harry has enough good sense to shut it again. He’ll just have to take his word for it.

“Good thing.”

*

Somewhere, in his heart of hearts, Louis has come to accept the harsh reality. It comes in two parts: one is that, Harry isn’t his first love, but Louis wants him to be the last. Two is, Harry isn’t his, despite the wondrous illusion the summers seem to provide. Harry isn’t his, and he probably never will be.

Louis always fancied himself a hopeless romantic, after all.

Like most things, they were drunk the first time it happened. Louis likes to think it was something that had been building up gradually, before that - Harry’s attraction to him is one thing he’s never denied, even if Louis finds it hard to believe sometimes (like, look at him.) He could be right, or it could’ve been one of Harry’s many rash drunk decisions, such as yes, get a giant tattoo of a moth in the middle of your stomach or yeah, buy those swimming trunks even though they’re bright yellow and it’s February, only this time it was sure, kiss your best friend in the dark and leave him a pining idiot for the next indeterminable amount of years.

He tends to forget that Harry has a life outside of this, outside of him. It goes like this - Harry knows Louis can’t fall asleep without noise, so he installs a solar-powered aircon in that tiny niche of a window in the boat’s bedroom, and he keeps it on all night even though it gets cold usually and Louis’ a notorious blanket hog. Louis knows that Harry either takes his coffee black or as a hideous concoction of milk and sugar, flavored syrups and whipped cream. There’s no in between - so ever since the time he failed at making him a pumpkin-spiced latte, it’s been nothing but black, unflavored coffee that Louis can’t even stand the smell of. He makes it for Harry in the mornings anyway. It’s this constant tug and pull of yes, I listen to everything you say and I care enough to act on it, and oh yeah, we kiss sometimes, and somewhere along the road Louis convinced himself that that was enough. So yeah, he forgets sometimes. But the thing is, Harry makes it so goddamn easy to do just that.

It’s rare for Louis to wake up before him, unless it’s to tell him to stop fucking snoring, Jesus, but for once he does, and he almost wants to roll over and go back to sleep. He would have, probably, but his arm is dead from Harry lying on it, head pillowed on his bicep and lips pressed into the “Far” in Far Away. He looks youngest in the mornings, almost juvenile, all the harsh lines in his face smoothed out, hair splayed across his forehead like how he used to style it in high school. Louis didn’t know him then, but he remembers when Liam first showed him the photos from their senior prom, Harry blushing and trying to snatch them away while Louis held them out of his reach and cooed aw, no, you were so cute, babe, like best mates do.

Seventeen and baby-faced, that’s how he looks now, only he’s tan from all the time in the sun and he maybe grew shoulders, or something. Louis spends ten or so minutes watching the steady rise-and-fall of his chest, the soft sounds he makes when he exhales, before he can’t take the numbness in his arm anymore and he slowly extracts it from underneath his head. Harry stirs, only a little, and for half a second Louis expects him to stay asleep, almost wants him to, but then his eyes move beneath his lids and he’s blinking them open, meeting Louis’ immediately.

“Watchin’ me sleep?” he mumbles, and shit, no matter how many times he hears it, that throaty morning voice does something to Louis.

“Yeah,” Louis confesses, looking at Harry through his lashes. “You look like Susan Boyle. I’m sure her snores are prettier, though.”

If Harry were anything more than half awake, he’d probably shove at Louis, and take a beat too long to come up with some half-assed comeback, but as it is he just huffs and delivers a weak, “shut up,” before promptly rolling on top of Louis and crushing him under his weight. To give credit where credit is due, it’s effective, Louis’ cries of protest muffled against Harry’s bare shoulder.

“I can’t breathe, you animal,” he finally gets out, gasping exaggeratedly when Harry finally rolls off of him, craning his neck to glance at the alarm clock haphazardly crammed between a book and the wall. 10:18.

“It’s late,” Harry comments, and it kind of is, in their world. Louis hums noncommittally, absently twirling one of Harry’s curls around his index finger.

“I don’t wanna get up yet,” Harry murmurs, letting his head loll back over so he’s facing Louis full-on again. Louis lets his hand drop from Harry’s hair, but Harry immediately nudges his head towards it again, probably not even a conscious movement. Nonetheless, Louis gives in to the silent request, idly stroking his curls from his face, over and over again. He doesn’t catalogue the moment Harry scoots closer to him, but it happens somehow, and he ends up on top of Louis again, just a little less aggressively this time. Louis notices his stiffy almost immediately, and tenses, his hand faltering in Harry’s hair. He’s not sure if it’s a new development or if he was just too busy shouting and shoving at Harry’s shoulders to notice it the last time, but either way, it’s definitely not Harry’s finger that’s poking him in the thigh.

“Um, H?”

Harry opens his eyes and glances up at him, his palm warm on Louis’ stomach. “Hm?”

“You’re hard.”

“Oh. Sorry.” He doesn’t move an inch, seemingly unbothered, and closes his eyes again. Louis resumes playing with his hair and tries to forget about it, but he’s hypersensitized now, aware of every point of contact. Harry’s lips on his neck, not moving, just pressed there, his chin in the crook of Louis’ shoulder, his fingers splayed across Louis’ belly, and of course, the insistent press of his cock against Louis’ thigh that has no indication of going away anytime soon. Louis hears his own throat click when he swallows, turning his chin toward Harry so he’s breathing him in. Harry didn’t even have to do anything and he’s flipped the switch, from casual cuddling to a hot pit of want settling in Louis’ stomach.

“Harry?” he repeats, darting his tongue out to wet his lips. Harry keeps his eyes closed this time when he hums his acknowledgment, and Louis’ almost glad he does. He probably looks feral, he’s so easy.

“Mm?”

“You gonna do something about it?”

That gets Harry’s attention. His eyes flit up to Louis’ face, a wicked grin stretched across his face.

“Thought you’d never ask,” he says, and right, of course it was an act. Louis doesn’t know what’s worse; Harry pretending to be unfazed so that Louis would be forced to ask for it or the fact that it worked.

“Hustler,” Louis murmurs just before Harry kisses him, morning breath be damned.

“I’d never,” Harry whispers into his mouth, between dry, soft kisses. His dick is still digging into Louis’ thigh, but that just makes Louis hotter, impatient. He opens his mouth, not bothering to hide his eagerness. He learned to stop doing that a long time ago, because if he let Harry choose the pace, they'd be here all day. Not entirely a bad thing, but Louis wants to come within the next hour, so.

The kiss seems to last for ages anyway, despite Louis’ efforts. If he’s honest, he really isn't trying very hard - he's too caught up in the soft give of Harry’s mouth.

Harry's got Louis’ head tipped back at an almost uncomfortable angle and he’s using it to his advantage, each flick of his tongue layered with intent. He nudges a leg between Louis’ so they’re lined up properly, dicks rubbing together through nothing but two thin layers of boxer shorts. The friction has Louis reeling, Harry’s hips moving in slow, agonizing circles that are way too much and not nearly enough.

Harry’s mouth moves downward, Louis’ fingers threading through his hair as he sucks a dark bruise below Louis’ jaw. That’ll be a nice reminder, next time he looks in the dirty mirror in the bathroom, or when Harry catches sight of it in passing and shoots him a dirty smirk like he doesn’t know exactly what it’s the product of.

His kisses get progressively messier as he trails downward, leaving a wet trail down Louis’ chest and stomach. He stops when he reaches the top of Louis’ boxers, fingers snapping at the band. He’s such a fucking tease.

“You’re such a fucking tease,” Louis says out loud. His voice doesn’t even sound like his own.

“You’re gorgeous, you know that?” Harry comments, his eyes meeting Louis’ above him. Louis’ sure he flushes all the way down to his chest, and he can’t even attempt to hide it. Suave motherfucker.

“Of course I know that,” he quips weakly, and too late. If Harry notices how affected he so obviously is, he doesn’t say so, for once, instead acting affronted and bringing himself back up to eye level.

“You know, when a man compliments you -”

“Shut up,” Louis groans, fighting the urge to pull Harry down and hide his face in his neck. Harry laughs and kisses him, too much teeth, then shuffles back down. He snaps at the band of Louis’ boxers one more time before he actually takes them off, and Louis’ fully hard by the time Harry takes him down.

One day, Louis is going to write a thesis about Harry’s mouth and its relation to the seven wonders of the world. Right now, though, he watches himself disappear past Harry’s lips, over and over again. He’s got one hand anchored in his hair, holding it away from his forehead so he can see the way his eyelashes flutter every time he takes him deep.

“God, how are you so fucking good at that?” Louis wonders out loud, cursing when Harry’s nose brushes his stomach again. Harry doesn’t respond, for good reason, hand flattening on Louis’ stomach as he tongues messily down Louis’ shaft. Louis gives himself three more minutes.

It’s overestimating.

“Close,” he’s gasping barely a minute later, his grip tightening in Harry’s hair and his other hand balled into a fist at his side. He’s relatively quiet when he comes, just these little hitches of breath in the back of his throat, but he still shakes from the force of it.

“Fucking hell, H,” Louis groans, and makes the mistake of looking down. He makes eye contact with Harry just as he’s wiping at his swollen mouth with the back of his hand, and god, he looks - he looks positively fucked out, like he’s the one that just came, and it makes Louis’ dick twinge a little in sympathy.

“Well, c’mon. Up,” Louis says once he’s mostly regained his bearings, because Harry’s too far away and that’s no good, is it?

“S’good?” Harry mumbles after he’s complied, nose brushing against Louis’ as he drops a short, chaste kiss to his mouth.

“Were you there, or…?” Louis responds, and it’s not really attractive how Harry snorts into his mouth but Louis loves him, so. Louis’ hand finds the front of Harry’s boxers, his cock tenting them obscenely. He uses the heel of his palm to rub at the head until a wet patch starts to form, Harry’s breath picking up as he nips gently at Louis’ earlobe.

“Fuck, stop that, I wanna come inside you,” he murmurs, right at Louis’ ear.

“Who says you get to put it in me?” Louis asks, feigning indignance like his arsehole doesn’t clench up at just the thought of it.

“Lou,” Harry whines, lifting his head up to fix Louis with a look, eyes wide and pleading, and Louis shuts him up with a kiss, already fumbling for the lube.

“On your back,” Louis mumbles. He finds the bottle and sets it aside, watching Harry’s face light up instantaneously at his instruction.

“You’re gonna ride me?” he asks, a kind of childlike excitement in his voice like he’s giddy at the thought, like he’s a dog and Louis’ just asked him if he wants to go for a walk. Jesus, maybe Louis should do the work more often.

“Only if I can sit on your face first,” he says anyway, aloof, like it’s a trade, but if the idea of Louis riding him is exciting to Harry then this is a fucking treat. He loves anything he can do with his mouth, and Louis doesn’t feel bad for reaping the benefits.

“Yeah, yes. C’mere,” Harry says, rolling onto his back and tugging Louis on top of him. He pulls him down for a kiss, wet and sloppy this time, and he taste like come and stale breath but Louis’ legs still tighten around Harry’s hips as he lazily fucks his tongue into Louis’ mouth, like he’s trying to mimic the way he’d lick him out. Louis feels his dick twitch, and Harry’s hands are wandering, can’t decide where to settle. Up his chest, thumbs brushing idly at his nipples, down to his arse, squeezing, then back to his sides, fingertips digging in so hard it’s almost bruising. Louis is half hard again by the time Harry slows down the kiss, pulling back with a few soft pecks to his mouth.

“Five minutes. No teasing,” Louis murmurs against Harry’s lips just before he moves up to straddle his face, because it was always about Harry, wasn’t it.

Five minutes lasts a fucking lifetime. Louis’ a mess as soon as he lowers himself down to Harry’s mouth, Harry eagerly greeting him with a wet, open-mouthed kiss. He uses the headboard to support himself, his hand curled into a fist and pressing so hard against the old-fashioned wood panelling that it might leave imprints on his skin. He rolls his hips against Harry’s face, can’t get enough of his mouth and his tongue and him, and it’s a good thing he already came before this because he’d probably shoot off as soon as Harry pushes his tongue inside, turning him inside out. Sometimes Harry can make him feel exposed just by looking at him a certain way, but it doesn’t compare to the way this makes him feel, so open and stripped bare in both the literal and figurative senses. He only forces himself to bring an end to it when his eyes actually start to well up with how good it is, how much it is, because no, he’s not doing that today. Harry makes a noise of protest when Louis shuffles away on shaky legs, looking fucking obscene with his own spit shining all over his mouth and chin.

“Shh, babe, gonna ride you now,” Louis hushes softly, reaching for the lube he discarded on the sheets earlier and flicking it open. He’s sloppy when he fingers himself, probably not as thoroughly as he should, but he doesn’t care, he wants Harry inside and he wants to feel it for the rest of the day every time he moves. He lets Harry kiss him as he slowly extracts his fingers, clumsily reaching back to jerk Harry with a loose, lube-sticky fist. He almost decides to forget the condom and just sink right down, god, he wants to, but it’s a little bit of an ugly reminder that he doesn’t know who Harry is fucking in his spare time, or how often. It’s fine.

So he puts a condom on and tries not to think about it anymore as he sinks down, ducking his head so he can bury it in Harry’s neck while he works himself open on his cock, and for the most part, it works. It’s easy to feel like the only one when Harry’s filling him up like this, even easier when Harry’s murmuring shit like fuck, you feel so good and that’s it, baby, love it when you ride me like this right against the shell of his ear.

He starts with slow, lazy rolls of his hips, the sheets tangling up around their legs, and it’s good and intoxicating but after a few minutes it stops being enough. He needs a better angle, needs Harry to touch him more, to kiss him, he needs so fucking much that it’s making him dizzy, overwhelmed. He grips Harry’s shoulders as he rocks his hips back harder, whining a little bit pathetically into his neck, and like clockwork, large, warm hands settle on his hips.

“C’mon, sweetheart, just take it. Take whatever you need,” Harry murmurs, voice soft and just for him, and so Louis does. He leans back and fucks himself down on Harry’s cock, properly, until he’s found an angle and a rhythm that seems to work for both of them. Louis’ had Harry’s cock in him enough times to know that he’s big, the biggest he’s had, even, but he feels fucking huge like this, and it’s so much. Harry is so much.

“God, I wish you could see how fucking good you look right now, Lou.” Harry’s still talking, god, he won’t shut up, and the only reason Louis wants him to is because he’s going to fucking come if he doesn’t. He speeds up the pace a little and clenches hard around him, hoping it’ll either convey the message or just make Harry feel too good to keep up his rambling, but he didn’t stop to think about how that might affect him, and suddenly Harry’s cock is nudging up against his prostate perfectly on every thrust and it feels too fucking good to slow back down.

At one point Harry slips out in Louis’ haste, and Louis thinks nothing of it, just grips the base of his cock and fits him right back in, until it happens again right when Louis’ starting to feel close and his frustration must be apparent, because suddenly he’s being toppled over onto his back and Harry’s fucking pounding him into the mattress so hard he has to bite his own bicep just to keep from crying out. Harry’s got one hand pinning both of his wrists above his head, but Louis feels like he’s going to explode if he doesn’t touch himself. He tries to tell Harry as much but only manages a broken uh when Harry hits his prostate again, and Louis realizes too late that he’s going to come whether or not he gets a hand on his cock. He takes one look at Harry’s face, all sharp lines and bitten lips and piercing green eyes staring right back at him and that’s it, Louis is done. There’s no use trying to quiet himself as he falls apart, he comes so hard it fucking hurts, shooting off all over his and Harry’s belly while Harry fucks him through it.

“Holy shit, Lou, did you just - ” Harry looks dumbstruck as he swipes two fingers through the mess, but he doesn’t even slow down, eyebrows pinched together like he couldn’t stop if he tried.

Ngh.”

“Jesus, that’s so fucking hot, fuck, oh, f - ” Harry stills inside him as he comes, mouth caught open and fingers pressing into Louis’ wrists so hard it’s definitely going to bruise. Louis must miss the part where Harry pulls out and falls down beside him, but he’s definitely aware of it when he feels Harry’s fingers playing with the come cooling on his stomach. It makes Louis feel hot and squirmy, because Harry’s eyes are glassy and he’s so fucking hot and he looks utterly fascinated by it, by Louis, and if Louis hadn’t just had two of the best orgasms of his life he might be hard up for it again, but. As it is.

“What, you’ve never seen jizz before, mate?” Louis croaks, but it lacks bite because he’s still reeling from his orgasm, too fucked out to swat Harry’s curious hands away.

“I can’t believe I just made you come untouched,” Harry muses, smug.

“Don’t look so cocky, sweetheart,” Louis mumbles, and Harry finally looks away from the mess on his stomach to look at him, has enough decency to blush, ridiculous dimple cratering his cheek as he smirks. He leans down and plants a kiss high on Louis’ cheekbone, before swinging his legs over the edge of the bed and tugging on his discarded boxers. He’s got a hickey to rival Louis’ on the side of his neck, large and purple and obvious. It’s a good thing they don’t have to see any of their friends anytime soon.

“So. Eggs?”

 

The Loop happens to be, well, a loop, and they’re coming up on the halfway mark, though neither of them are in any hurry to get home. They’d spent the night anchored in a sheltered bay, counting the cattails just for something to do.

(“Did you know you can eat them?”

“No, but I’ll keep it in mind for the next time I’m stranded on a river isle and scrounging for food, Harry.”

“You never know.”

“You can use them as dildos, too, probably. Multipurpose.” Harry’d forbidden him to talk about cattails anymore after that.)

After they’d gone inside, Harry read half of Telegraph Avenue out loud while Louis listened, chin hooked over his shoulder, only stopping when he could no longer finish a sentence without yawning mid-word, and when Louis wakes up in the morning, they’re already moving.

The hum of the engine startles him at first, as well as the soft rocking of the boat underneath him, because the two of them usually decide when to move and when to stay together. Groggily, Louis extracts himself from bed and digs around until he finds a pair of threadbare trackies and a ratty t-shirt, both of which are decidedly Harry’s, if the way they hang off him awkwardly are anything to go by.

He stumbles his way up the small staircase to the upper level of the cabin, where he finds Harry behind the wheel, wearing nothing but boxers and a denim jacket draped over his shoulders as he hums along to Paint It Black quietly crackling through the speakers of his radio.

“Hey, sailor,” Louis greets, voice still muddled with sleep. Louis started calling him that ironically, at first, until he saw the way Harry preened every time, and it’s a little bit of a habit, now.

Harry glances at him over his shoulder, and scoots over on the bench so that Louis can sit next to him. It’s still not really big enough for the two of them, but Louis makes do, admiring the way the water disappears into the hazy orange horizon in front of them.

“Hey, you. Sleep well?” Harry asks, and Louis nods. “Good. I didn’t wanna wake you, but I read it’s supposed to rain in the afternoon so I wanted to get a headstart. Leydig’s not too far from here.”

Louis hums and drops his head onto Harry’s shoulder, and Harry continues his humming when the song changes over to Billie Jean, even quietly singing a lyric from time to time. Louis isn’t sure if it’s the vibrations against his ear or the sound of Harry’s voice that coaxes him into a doze. Whichever it is, he finds himself coming to with Harry’s jacket now balled up between his head and the window, and they’re not moving anymore.

Harry startles him a little when he comes clambering through the door from the deck, now dressed in cutoffs and a t-shirt from his high school basketball team that he’s cut the sleeves off of. Louis hates how his mouth waters at the sight of him, even in his sleepy haze, hair pushed back from his face with a thin headband. He doesn’t seem to notice that Louis’ awake, walks right past him, but he certainly isn’t bothering to be quiet as he clatters around in the kitchen. Louis sometimes wonders if he even has more than one volume, or like, any concept of noise control at all. Then, he remembers the time he blew Harry in a coat closet at someone’s house party, and the look he got from Zayn later on in the kitchen, even though he swears they were discreet going in and out. He’s instantly reminded that the answer is no.

“Wouldja keep it down, H?” he calls groggily, too lazy to stand up and Harry’s denim jacket makes a surprisingly good pillow. Harry’s head pokes around the corner not a second later, followed by his whole body as he takes in Louis’ annoyed, sleep-rumpled expression.

“Oh. You’re up,” he states, stupidly gorgeous and stupidly stupid.

“Not sure anyone would’ve slept through that, mate,” Louis grumbles, nuzzling further into Harry’s jacket. Harry steps closer, mumbling a half-assed apology even though Louis knows he’s not sorry, and bends down to kiss his cheek. It’s not Louis’ fault if he happens to turn his head a little, but Harry’s mouth lands on the corner of his and then slots them together properly.

“You’re so not subtle,” Harry says when he pulls back, still so close his lips move against Louis’ as he talks.

“What? I was trying to work out a crick in my neck, how was I supposed to know you’d come onto me like th - ”

Harry cuts him off with another kiss, and it turns into a snog rather quickly, Harry’s body half-wedged between the steering wheel and the seat, bent over awkwardly to accommodate Louis, who’s crowded up against the window. Harry stops it before it gets the chance to get steamy, which is probably a good thing, considering Harry’s got a bad back without being hunched over a seat and one of the buttons from his jacket is digging into the back of Louis’ head, but Louis still makes a noise of indignance when he pulls away.

“I made some grits, but they’re probably cold now, so…” Harry tells him, and Louis has to scoff because Harry’s probably the only person he knows who willingly eats grits.

“Fuck grits, let’s go back to bed,” Louis murmurs, trying to tilt his head up for another kiss, but Harry straight up dodges it this time, shaking his head.

“Uh-uh. We’ve got things to do today, Tomlinson,” he says, and Louis quirks a brow.

“Things that are more important than me sucking you into oblivion, or…”

Louis, listen. There’s an area roped off for fishing if we walk a bit. I think it’d be fun.”

Fishing?” Louis repeats. “Like sweating our balls off for hours in case something bites, only to release it back into the water right after, that kind of fishing?”

“Lou, please, come on. It’s been ages since we fished together - ”

“Because I hate fishing, Harry - ”

“Louis, I’ll - I’ll eat you out for an hour after, I swear. And it’ll only be for a little while, the rain’s due by three.”

Honestly, Harry had him at please, it’s just in Louis’ nature to argue his point after he’s already accepted defeat. Sometimes, it’s not the worst trait to have.

His voice is decidedly weaker when he asks, “Do you even have poles?”

“No, but you can rent them at the general store, I already checked. Come on, get dressed, I already packed sandwiches and stuff.”

Harry is already on his feet, looking at Louis expectantly. Louis stares at him for a second before he huffs dramatically and stands up, thrusting Harry’s jacket at his chest.

“Make it an hour and a half. And there better be alcohol.”

Fishing, decidedly, is not half as bad as Louis remembers it, even if he won’t say it out loud. Watching Harry hook himself repeatedly is entertaining in itself, especially when Louis has to unhook his bum at one point.

“My ass is on the line,” Harry cracks when Louis is on his knees behind him trying to get it unhooked from his shorts, and Louis has to stand up and high-five him because it’s not every day that he makes a good joke.

They share a couple beers between them, and the weather is surprisingly bearable, humidity down for the most part and the hot sun clouded over with the promise of rain later in the afternoon. For ages they don’t catch anything except for what appears to be the remains of a pair of swim shorts (Louis wonders what interesting story goes with that), but around the one-hour mark Harry manages to reel in an average-sized bass. He gloats pretty excessively for someone who’s caught a goddamn shark years prior, and only shuts up when Louis feels a tug on his line. It turns out to be an even smaller bass, but Harry still cheers him on, doting over Louis’ fish more than his own, and if Louis blushes a little at the praise, then no one has to know. They’re replenishing their bait when the rain sets in, an hour earlier than scheduled.

They barely make it back into the general store before the real downpour begins, swapping their fishing poles for another six-pack and the biggest bottle of cheap wine they can find, because quantity is quality, Harold.

They run back to their slip, clutching their purchases to their chests and shouting obscenities at the sky as the rain drenches them thoroughly. The first thing they do upon reaching the boat is put the wine away to chill, and after, Harry bends Louis over the tiny kitchen counter and makes good on his promise, bringing Louis off twice with just his tongue, and then again when he shoves his wet cutoffs down to his ankles and fucks him right against the cabinets while the rain pelts the foggy window. It’s a mess worth cleaning, and they don’t even bother putting on dry clothes after, or any clothes at all for that matter, before breaking out the wine and drinking straight from the bottle right there on the kitchen floor.

“I say,” Louis begins, pausing to tip the bottle back and take a long drink, sweat still drying at the nape of his neck. “We should go fishing more often.”

It’s not in any way a promise, but if Harry tries to hold him to it, well. Louis just might let him.

 

They finish the wine around six, and the rain clears up around seven. No matter what Harry Styles says, he is a lightweight, and Louis practically has to dress him himself when Harry insists they “move the party outside.”

It’s actually not a bad idea. The rain cooled everything down significantly, and it’s a lot less stifling than the cabin, where the air is still heavy with the smell of sex. They end up sitting themselves up against the seats near the nose of the boat, side by side and pressed together as close as possible without actually being on top of each other. They talk about everything and nothing at all, six-pack in Louis’ lap, some just drunken ramblings and some actual serious topics, ranging from when Louis broke his arm in the second grade and tried to tape his own bone back together to when Harry lost his dad and didn’t go to school for weeks. It never turns too somber, though, neither of them drunk enough to cry into each other’s laps, but both of them drunk enough to get distracted from their conversations by the sound of an owl, and spend the next ten minutes trying to spot it among the trees.

At one point, Harry turns toward Louis, or tries to, but he’s sloppy drunk, and it looks like his head just flops from resting on one shoulder to the other.

“So,” he starts, and Louis cocks an eyebrow. “Really, though. Any boys in Boston catch your fancy?” he slurs in his awful imitation of Louis’ accent that always makes his nose scrunch in annoyance. I don’t talk like that, he’d snort if he were sober, but he’s not sober and Harry’s smiling too wide for Louis to give him shit. He never knows how Harry will take it when he’s pissed like this, and Louis couldn’t stand watching the happy glow leave his face right now.

“I don’t kiss and tell,” he finally remembers to answer, twisting his mouth into what he hopes is a mysterious smirk and folding his hands in his lap. There were no boys in Boston, of course there weren’t, but he doesn’t say so because - because he wants Harry to keep asking. To interpret his words in a way that make him jealous, and that’s so selfish, Louis knows, but he fucking wants Harry to want him.

Harry doesn’t react, though, he’s still smiling in that goofy drunken way, like maybe he’d already forgotten his own question. Apparently he hadn’t, though, because as soon as the thought crosses Louis’ mind Harry speaks again.

“You do, though. Kiss and tell. So that means no.” He’s smirking, like he’s figured out some big secret, and Louis wants to tell him, of course I fucking didn’t, how could I, I only ever want you, but he can’t, so he shakes his head and mutters the next best thing.

“What would you say? If there was someone.”

It’s a lot less subtle than he usually goes for, when he wants an insight on whatever’s going on in Harry’s head. He doesn’t really inquire about it at all, actually, constantly terrified of giving Harry the wrong idea and scaring him away, as if he doesn’t know damn well how Louis feels about him. But now he’s drunk and Harry's still looking at him, smiling so bright and genuine like he's fucking Sirius itself.

“I’d say, I dunno, congrats on getting laid, man,” he answers, punctuated by a laugh like it’s the funniest thing in the world. There’s none of the familiar possessiveness Louis feels when they go out together and Harry’s chatting some girl up at the bar, or when he complains about his ex-boyfriend who still sends him dirty texts sometimes when he’s drunk, or even when he’s just smacking a playful kiss on someone’s cheek. Louis stares down into his bottle and tries to laugh with him, but it sounds forced, and luckily Harry’s too drunk to notice.

He makes the mistake of glancing up and catching Harry’s stare, eyes shining with both drunken happiness and fiery intensity and everything else, and Louis can’t look away no matter how much he wants to.

"God, what?" he asks, dreading Harry's answer before he even gives it. Harry keeps looking at him with that fervent gaze, reaching out to clap Louis on the shoulder, only he misses so badly it’d be comical if his hand didn’t clumsily land on Louis’ upper thigh instead.

"You're my best fuckin’ friend, Lou. I love you s’much." Harry’s presence is overwhelming sometimes. It’s a simple admission; of course Harry loves him, Louis knows that, but it’s fucking shattering to hear in the wrong context, so much that Louis wants to cry or scream or tell him how entirely sick he is of dancing around this, like they aren't arse over tits for each other with egos too high to admit it.

"You're so drunk,” is what he tells him instead.

“I am drunk,” Harry giggles. “But the thing is, Louis, is - is I’m not fuckin’ kidding, is the thing.” It’s so nonsensical it makes Louis laugh. He laughs, but there’s weight to it, this awful heaviness in his chest that he can’t shake. Because Harry might not be kidding but he’s still not fucking serious about this, about them. Louis can’t begin to understand how he’s always this close and still can’t manage to make Harry his. He stands up and gets another beer.

Louis loves every single second of these summers, from sunny afternoons to lukewarm beer to helping Harry rub sunscreen into all the spots he can’t reach on his back, to Harry Harry Harry, but sometimes he wishes he could fucking run away.

See, Louis fancies himself a hopeless romantic, and Harry, he’s discovered, is every hopeless romantic’s worst nightmare.

*

“Won’t start,” Louis repeats, like he’s testing the words on his tongue. Harry shakes his head and twists the key in the ignition again, and she makes the same revving noise, ugly and sputtering, before dying out into nothing again.

It’s the last thing Harry expected when he got up this morning. Somewhere between getting drunk and getting laid he actually does do regular check-ups to make sure everything’s running smoothly. The fuel level is fine, he’s just replaced the battery, nothing knocked into the kill switch, so it has to be an electrical issue, something not ventilating properly. It’s not anything serious, but it could set them off a day or two, only it’s the first time anything has gone wrong that wasn’t a quick fix, as well as the first time anything has gone wrong when they didn’t have access to the resources of a marina, and Louis seems to be reacting accordingly.

“Oh god, it’s like Castaway, except instead of a volleyball to keep me company all I have is you,” he’s complaining, arms waving dramatically.

“Hey, fuck you, man. I’m your only hope,” Harry protests, looking up from his fiddling to fix Louis with what he hopes is a somewhat convincing death stare.

“Shit, are we actually gonna have to eat cattails?”

Harry rolls his eyes. “It’s probably a simple fix, Lou, I just have to figure out what needs fixing. Next marina’s like, ten miles downstream, so if I can’t get her going by tonight I’ll put out a call on channel 16 and they’ll be here to tow us out by morning.”

“Everyone knows those sea radios are untrustworthy, haven’t you seen Titanic?” He’s backing away toward the stairs, not bothering to mask his teasing grin anymore, and Harry knows he’s just being a shit now, if he wasn’t all along.

He flips him the bird and gets to work.

 

It’s midday, and Harry is well and truly stumped. He hates putting out calls, partially because getting towed could be costly, but also because he does take pride in what he does, and it maybe bruises it a little. It feels stupid, and a little bit egotistical, but it goes like this: Louis’ the studious one, and even if he plays it off like it was a four-year party, he went to school for a bachelor’s in teaching and plans to go back for his master’s this fall. Harry’s not stupid by any means - his mother’s favorite story to tell to his extended family on holidays is how he applied to Columbia for the hell of it, and ended up actually getting in, and can you believe he didn’t go? - but he stuck to taking a couple classes in his hometown. Now he makes his living doing odd jobs for his friends and working at his uncle’s shop, even bartends at Tom’s and Lou’s place sometimes when he needs the extra cash, and maybe someday he’ll do something with the associate’s degree he’s got. The point is, he’s fine. Stable. Content. And it’s not that he needs to be the best at the boat stuff, but it’s his thing; he’s been doing it practically since he was born, for god’s sake. It’s just embarrassing, is all.

Nevertheless, he gets more doubtful with each minute that passes, and with every potential solution that loses its potential as soon as he tries it. Not to mention the sun is fucking ruthless, sweat beading at his brow instantly even after he’s wiped it away with an old t-shirt for what seems like the thousandth time.

Louis mostly keeps to himself throughout the day, except to bring Harry lunch (the egg salad sandwiches Harry had prepared for them that morning, Louis’ still useless in the kitchen) and the occasional glass of water even if Harry’s barely touched the last one. Maybe he’s just checking to make sure Harry hasn’t resorted to ripping his hair out yet, but it sort of feels like being taken care of, and Harry can’t help the little surge of affection in his chest every time he hears Louis bounding up the stairs.

Another hour passes, and for the first time Harry feels seasick without even having to move.

“What the fuck am I missing?” he wonders aloud, because surely there’s something he hasn’t thought of. For a few panicky moments he wonders if Silver Spoon has finally died out on him, and he fidgets with the radio before deciding no, that’s not right, she wouldn’t be making any noise at all if that were the case, and he gets back to fiddling with the valves or rechecking the vent only to groan out loud when he discovers it’s still open and functional.

Rubbing at his temples, he downs a glass of water even though it’s gone warm, and when it does nothing to clear his cluttered mind, he decides he’s going to have to put out the call. It feels like defeat, but at this point he’s so frustrated that it feels almost worse to keep facing a problem he can’t fix, especially since he still doesn’t know what the fuck the problem is. He’s just reaching for the radio again when he hears Louis shuffling up behind him, no life-sustaining substances on hand this time.

“What’s up?” Harry asks, facing him and letting the radio fall back into his lap.

“Not to jump to conclusions, but...nothing?” Louis asks tentatively as he sits cross-legged next to him, like he might offend him for making the assumption. Harry is the farthest thing from offended, endeared if anything, and he shakes his head, tight-lipped smile stretching across his face.

“Gonna have to start looking up cattail recipes,” Louis cracks, and Harry lets out a surprised cackle, even though it wasn’t that funny. He’s surprised by how much he missed him after just a couple hours of relative radio silence, and he doesn’t know how he ever made it five weeks. Maybe that’s it - he needs a distraction, a laugh; he’s been too far in his own head all afternoon and it’s hindering his ability to focus. He’s just about to suggest a drink break, god knows he could use it, but Louis starts talking again.

“I, uh, was doing some reading.”

Harry frowns. “You didn’t finish Telegraph Avenue without me, did you?”

“What do you take me for?” Louis scoffs, like the idea of such betrayal offends him. Harry smiles, a little bit bashfully, and Louis holds up his battered copy of Living Aboard for Dummies, something Louis had gotten him as a gag gift the first summer they took the boat out, but has actually proven to be highly useful.

“There’s a troubleshooting section, and I dunno, you probably already checked, but it said something about things being wired incorrectly? Or kinks in the wires, like, um. I took an introductory auto-mechanics course in secondary, and I remember something about how it’s not always just around the engine and the battery, but it could be - ”

“The ignition circuit.”

Louis’ face falls. “Fuck, sorry, of course you already tried that, you’re not stupid,” he backtracks, letting the book fall closed and drop to his side.

“No, holy shit, Louis. I’m so stupid. I’m a fucking idiot.” Harry stares at him for a second, wide-eyed and slack-jawed, before jumping into gear. It’s not the most obvious solution, because it’s rare for it to happen, but of course it’s the fucking ignition itself. Harry had been so busy digging for a root to the problem that he hadn’t even considered glancing at the fucking surface, but now that Louis mentions it he’s certain that’s what it is.

Sure enough, once he gets into the unit, he checks the voltage running to the coil. It’s too low, almost nonexistent, which means there’s a short circuit, so after a few minutes of digging for his kit, he gets to work on rewiring the unit. Louis hovers behind him, peeking over his shoulder, until Harry finishes and almost backs into him in his haste to fumble for the key. He prays to every god he doesn’t believe in as he twists it in the ignition, listening for the same revving sound and then for the ugly sputter that never comes because it starts.

She fucking starts.

The relief that floods Harry is immediate, hearing the engine hum just like it should. No sputter, no scratch, like nothing has ever been wrong in the first place.

“You are a fucking genius,” he tells Louis, spinning around to envelope him tightly. Louis lets out a startled laugh, shaking his head even as he hugs Harry back.

“I literally read a paragraph, Harry, I have no idea what you even did just now - "

“Shut up, Lou, you saved everything. Shit, I figured you were down there watching box sets of Suits, or something, not reading manuals.”

“Good to know you think so lowly of me.” They’re not hugging anymore, but Harry keeps him close, thumbing at a sliver of tanned skin just under the hem of his shirt.

“You know I don’t think lowly of you,” Harry murmurs. He’s the perfect height to rest his chin on top of Louis’ hair, and it’s always been like that. He takes advantage of it now, feeling Louis’ breath on his neck, his grin against his skin.

“Enough to make kebabs for dinner?” comes Louis’ voice, small and hopeful in a way he almost never lets it get.

“I’ll even cube fruit for you,” Harry answers, beaming into Louis’ hair. They don’t move for a long moment, until Harry thinks to reach around Louis and cut the engine. It’ll be dark in an hour; there’s no use moving now. One extra night never hurt a thing.

*

At first, Louis thinks of the boat’s short-circuit incident as unfortunate coincidence, as anyone might. Over the next few days, though, luck stays so far away from them that he begins to chalk it up to the start of some ridiculous omen set against him, because everything seems to go downhill from there. Nothing breaks the surface - it’s little things, like Harry burning the eggs at breakfast or Louis dropping an entire case of beer and shattering half the bottles, and then it’s the air conditioner breaking on what must be the hottest night of the summer, the two of them sweating so miserably that Louis has to move to the tiny sofa upstairs because he can’t stand to be so close to the human furnace that is Harry. Surely it’s karma; the world is pissed at him for walking past the bloke on the street who asked him for a dollar six months ago, or something. That morning he wakes in the worst mood he's had in ages, and it could be the ache in his neck or the three hours of shit sleep he got, or it could be Harry banging around at the crack of dawn as he always is, except this time he’s ten feet away with no notion of quiet whatsoever.

“H,” he tries, but it comes out an awful hack of a sound, like he’s trying to clear his throat. Harry doesn’t seem to hear him at all, still clattering around like a maniac as he goes in and out.

“Harry,” he calls, his tone sharper than he really means it to be, but it has the desired effect. Harry’s head pokes around the corner, muttering ‘sorry, Lou’ before disappearing again. Louis can tell he’s trying after that, he really is. But Christ, even his footsteps make Louis’ head throb at the temples, and he can’t really help the way he snatches up his pillow and storms downstairs to the bedroom, feet pounding down the steps audibly.

He figures another few hours of sleep will pull him out of this sour state, but sleep never really comes. It’s notably quieter downstairs, but there’s less ventilation, so the air feels thick and sweltering, the heat almost unbearable. As soon as he lies down he’s sticky and sweaty and the air is stifling, so much that he can’t stay in one spot. He spends hours tossing and turning, dozing in and out of a fitful sleep that’s sure to do absolutely nothing for his mood. Ironically, it only seems to cool down in the slightest after the sun comes up, but by then Louis has had it.

He drags himself into the shower, feeling something less than human as he turns the water on the coldest setting and stands underneath the spray until his fingers feel numb. He can’t say he feels infinitely better by the time he steps out, but his head feels a little less like a burden on his shoulders and his skin no longer like wax paper. He heads upstairs clad only in boxers and a t-shirt so long it almost covers them, fully prepared to offer Harry an apology for acting like such a twat earlier that morning.

He can’t find him at first, which seems to be the recurring narrative, but he never tends to go far without Louis at his side, no matter where they’re staying at the time. Today it’s Preston, a good-sized marina about seven hundred miles south of home, and Louis finds Harry on the lower part of the deck, feet dipped in the water and mouth turned down at his mobile in his lap. Louis wonders when he charged it. His has been dead for weeks now.

“Morning, H,” Louis greets quietly, lingering above him. Harry makes a noise of acknowledgement, tapping absently at the screen of his phone. He’s being weird, but Louis thinks nothing of it, doubting he slept well either. He doesn’t say anything for a while, dropping his phone into his lap and keeping his gaze fixed on the water.

“I just got off the phone with Niall,” he finally mutters, before Louis has the chance to launch into his justification for his cranky behavior, and it becomes obvious that wasn’t what was bothering Harry in the first place.

“Oh,” Louis says, and for a second it’s panic - something’s happened to Zayn, or Liam, and then in a poor lapse of utter selfishness it’s we’re going to have to cut this short, we’re going to have go back, please no. He finally has the sense to move, and possibly say something rather than standing there like a knob, leaning against the railing above Harry and murmuring, “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, fine. It’s just - ” he cuts himself off, and that’s when he finally looks at Louis. His expression makes Louis regret asking, almost, brows furrowed and mouth set in a tight line like he doesn’t know what to make of something.

“What is it?” Louis asks, tentatively, almost careful.

Harry stares at him, tongue swiping out to wet his lips, and then he shakes his head. “Nothing. It’s stupid.”

“Harry,” Louis urges, chest heavy with the need to know.

Harry is silent for a second, licking his lips again before saying,“He doesn’t know about this.”

“About what? Christ’s sake, H, it’s like pulling teeth with you.” Louis’ getting tetchy now, but it’s unsettling when Harry talks like this, in his own version of morse code that forces Louis to either figure it out or keep asking.

“That we’re - you know.”

“Fucking,” Louis finishes, wants to scoff because it’s all Louis thinks about, constantly analyzing everything Harry does or says and struggling to determine whether he means it or if he’s just saying it to get Louis to come faster, and Harry can’t even say it out loud. Fucking.

Harry starts fiddling with a small hole near the hem of his t-shirt, eyes cast down while Louis keeps his on the reflection of the sun on the water, wishing they were talking about anything else.

“Okay,” Louis says slowly, breaking the silence. “I don’t - what are you on about? Is Niall supposed to know?”

“No, but - but I was just thinking, like, nobody knows, Lou. How long are we supposed to keep it up for?”

Louis freezes. Until you want to stop, he wants to say, because that’s been his agreement with himself from the start. Harry holds the reigns, because Louis can’t help himself otherwise. He’s so in love with him he’s hard to look at sometimes. Only, he can’t say that, because he’s on the defense now and Harry might want to stop.

“You’re talking like you’re not the one who initiated it all,” Louis blurts. It’s the wrong thing to say, he knows before he even says it. Nothing pisses Harry off faster than when Louis shifts blame. But, nothing gets to Louis faster than when Harry asks stupid fucking questions neither of them can answer, causing panic to rise in his throat as he’s reminded how temporary it all is, and Harry knows that, too.

“I didn’t say that, Louis,” Harry responds, jaw tightening like clockwork, and okay, Louis supposes they’re doing this. Something tells him it isn’t going to end with soft kisses and I love you’s, but he’s not exactly known for going with his gut feeling.

“Okay, so you want to tell our friends we’re fucking? We could make it a whole ordeal, hey, guys, Harry and I just thought you should know we’re having meaningless sex on the side. Maybe we should pop champagne, write it on a fucking cake,” Louis spits, crossing his arms. He’s being a little vindictive, he knows, but he can’t stop. The only way to keep this from turning into a relationship talk is to turn it into the opposite.

“Y’know what, forget I said anything. You always do this, act like you don’t know what I mean so you can mock me. I just wanted to fucking talk.” Harry stands to make his way inside, eyes stormy and lips pressed in a tight line, and it’s a little rougher than necessary when he shoulders past Louis. Louis is quick on his heels, catching the door when Harry tries to slam it closed on him. People call Louis childish, but really, they’re just as good as each other.

“How am I supposed to know what you mean if you’re always talking in fucking riddles?” Louis demands, following Harry’s retreating backside past the living area and into the kitchen. “I don’t speak enigma, Harry. If you want to talk, then fucking talk to me!”

Harry rounds on him then, bringing his hands down hard against the counter.

“It’s not enigma, Louis, it was a simple fucking statement, which you took and turned into something else,” Harry says, tone so calm that Louis wouldn’t know they’re fighting if it weren’t for his tight jaw and furious gaze. He’d almost rather Harry shout at him.

“I didn’t turn it into anything! If you want to tell everyone that we fuck, then I can’t stop you. That’s what you want, isn’t it? I don’t care if you do.”

“That wasn’t my point! It’s not that I need them to know, it’s just a little weird to clean come off of each other and then go hang out with our friends like nothing happened, don’t you think? Clap you on the shoulder and get my ass kicked at FIFA like I didn’t just suck you off an hour before.”

Yeah, it’s called a relationship, people do it all the time, Louis thinks, but doesn’t say. He’s also pretty sure everyone knows about them, anyway, but he doesn’t say that, either.

“Why does it matter? It’s just sex, you said it yourself,” is what he does say, and it’s the closest thing to truth he’s spoken all morning, because Harry did, all that time ago. The first time it happened, when Louis was more drunk on Harry than anything else, on warm lips at his neck and a large hand down the front of his jeans.

Wait, H,” he’d said. “Is this - nothing’s gonna change, right?

S’just sex, Lou, course nothing’s gonna change.” It’s the biggest lie either of them have ever told.

“Why d’you keep saying it like that?” Harry demands, snapping Louis back to the present. “That we’re ‘fucking’, like - like - "

“Like what, Harry? Like we’re not in a relationship?” And no, that’s not right, that’s exactly the type of subject matter that Louis was trying to keep this conversation from hurtling toward, but now he’s already gone and said it, hasn’t he?

“But that’s what you want it to be, right?”

Louis’ heart jumps into his throat. Harry’s never brought it up so plainly before, but now as he does, he’s seething. Cold. He’s not saying it because he wants an answer; he’s saying it to make Louis feel small, to corner him, and the worst part is, it works. It’s like he’s flipped a switch, and Louis just…

Snaps.

“Fuck you,” he barks. “You’re so fucking full of yourself, you know that? I swear you can’t see past your own fucking nose sometimes. What’d you expect? You don’t get to spout bullshit first thing in the morning and then play victim. You don’t get to kiss me goodnight every day and then turn around and act like I’m keeping you somewhere you don’t want to be. It really is just sex, Harry!” Harry looks taken aback at his outburst, like he doesn’t have anything to say, for once, but Louis is fired up now, helpless but to keep going. “You know what I think? I think you get off on it, on the idea of people tripping over you. Well, I’ve got some fucking news for you. Not everyone wants you! I don’t want you!”

Louis wants to cut his own tongue out as soon as he’s said it. They’re best mates, they have spats, of course they do. Louis once went an entire three days without speaking to Harry for eating the last of the cookies his mum had sent back with him, oblivious to the fact. They argue, but they don’t outright insult each other, even if ninety percent of it was Louis lying through his teeth. Even the bits he did mean were all misplaced anger and insecurity as a product of an entirely different situation. They were Louis putting up his walls and self-destructing in the process.

It’s quiet for a long fucking time, and Louis doesn’t know what he expects, but he does not expect Harry to leave.

“That’s great, Louis. Really fucking great of you,” he says, dangerously quiet as he shuffles around for his shoes and his wallet.

“Where’re you going?” Louis asks, in the same defensive tone he’s been using, unable to help himself.

“We need milk.”

Louis is helpless to stop him as he finishes shoving his trainers on his feet, can hardly swallow around the lump in his throat enough to speak.

“To answer your question, I never expected anything from you,” Harry bites out just as he’s closing the door. Louis stares at it for a long time after it’s shut, trying to wrap his head around what the fuck just happened, almost expecting Harry to turn around and give him a chance to apologize, only he doesn’t. Some time later, when Louis opens the fridge just to give himself something to do, he sees there’s already half a gallon of milk sitting in the door.

The summers are supposed to be easy, is the thing.

 

Louis knows Harry well enough to know he could be gone anywhere from a half an hour to six - hell, he’s personable enough to even find a place to stay overnight if he really felt like avoiding Louis for that long. The thought makes him sick, but that’s just how Harry is. He’s always been on the “flight” spectrum of the fight-or-flight concept, always steering clear of conflict even if he knows damn well it won’t solve a thing. Louis knows because he’s always been the one Harry coops up with when he’s avoiding something, making him tea and listening to him complain and giving him shit advice. It’s just, well, Louis hasn’t ever been on the receiving end, and now he is and it feels unfair. Not undeserved, but just - unfair. It’s not fair that Harry’s off sulking, hating him, and Louis is just here, staring at the same page of some tabloid for thirty minutes straight and helpless to change anything.

Thankfully, Louis only twiddles his thumbs for a few hours, maybe more, before he hears the familiar creak of the hinges and Harry’s graceless footsteps. He’s on his feet in a second, trudging upstairs to meet him.

He’s not sure what he expects. In his head, he apologizes and Harry listens, perhaps offers an apology of his own, and then they embrace and eat fruit off each other’s naked bodies beneath the sunset. As it is, Harry meets his eyes across the room and breaks the gaze almost immediately, dumping the single grocery bag he’s returned with on the countertop and slinking past Louis like he’s not even there.

Alright, so he’s still upset. Maybe he thinks Louis still stands by what he said; God knows Louis is stubborn enough. He deserves that, probably, so he squares his shoulders and turns to follow Harry back to the bedroom where he’s retreated.

“Harry - ”

“I was going to make a chili for dinner but they were out of kidney beans at the store, so I think I’ll just make spaghetti instead. Alright?” Harry cuts him off. He says it nonchalantly, but his voice is strained and he’s obviously struggling to keep a neutral expression on his face. Louis blinks at him, frozen at the bottom of the steps. Right. Leave it to Harry to act like nothing happened at all.

Apparently he takes too long to speak up, because Harry seems to take his silence as approval, nodding to himself.

“Right. So I’ll get that made up for you and then I think I’m gonna go out,” he says coolly as he turns to the dresser, tugging out a clean shirt. Then he begins to whistle, and that’s what knocks Louis out of his stupor, crossing his arms and moving further into the room.

“Go out? Go out where?” he asks, fighting to keep himself from sounding demanding. It’s not as if there’s dance clubs lining the docks, maybe a bar if he manages to walk into town, but neither of them know the area well enough to confirm there even is a town.

“Girl I met at the store, she didn’t have enough change so I covered it for her. She’s out here with some friends and they’re having drinks in their slip. She invited me, I thought it’d be fun.” Harry shrugs, tugging his shirt over his head and reaching for his new one. Louis can’t help the hot flash of jealousy that surges through him, fingers digging into his own forearms as he tries to keep his expression neutral.

“Harry, I really think we should talk - ” he tries again, feeling hurt and tired and confused, but Harry levels him with a look that says drop it. The expression is fleeting, so fast that Louis might have missed it had he blinked, but Louis catches it and shuts up, snapping his jaw shut and pressing his lips into a tight line, annoyed. Harry regains his casual composure immediately, shrugging a flannel on over his t-shirt.

“I mean, you can come if you want, obviously. I just figured you’d rather stay here, get back to your magazine,” Harry continues passively, a little bit bitter as he gestures to the open tabloid on the bed that Louis stopped trying to read ages ago.

Louis considers it, staying behind and letting Harry ride out the rest of his fit so maybe they can talk properly in the morning. But, the longer he thinks about it - sitting around by himself and blindly waiting for Harry to come back - the sicker the whole idea makes him feel, so he snatches up a pair of cutoffs from the floor and tugs them up over his boxers.

“No. I’m coming,” he decides, haughtily meeting Harry’s stony gaze.

“Fine,” Harry says, curt. “I’ll make dinner and then we’ll go.”

“Fine.”

For the next hour the air stays thick and heavy with tension, and Louis despises every second of it. He hates how Harry pretends he isn’t upset but how incredibly obvious it is that he is, in the way that he mopes about the kitchen and finds every excuse not to look at Louis as he cooks. Dinner itself is a sorry affair, and while Harry’s cooking remains superior, Louis can’t bring himself to eat more than a few bites, resorting to absently twirling noodles around his fork and pushing sauce around his plate.

Louis has worked his apology over in his head a hundred times by now, on the off-chance that Harry will listen to it - but he never does. Every time Louis opens his mouth Harry seems to know what he’s about to say, effectively cutting him off with a meaningless question or statement. It’s driving Louis insane from the inside, anxiety bubbling in his stomach over the fact that he can’t see things going back to the way they were. He keeps his hands curled into fists on top of the table while Harry does the washing up, everything silent but for the clink of the plates and so, so tense.

When they do leave, the night is just beginning to wash over them, and Louis regrets not bringing a jacket. He shivers silently beside Harry as they walk, too much space between them.

“Cold?” Harry asks quietly, Louis’ eyes snapping up to look at him, and for the first time since this morning his expression is soft, the Harry that Louis knows. Louis says nothing, just shrugs noncommittally. It shouldn’t surprise him when Harry shrugs off his flannel and hands it over, and he should tell him to fuck off because that’s not fair, for Harry to be Harry in the midst of all this. Louis just takes it gingerly, eyes darting away from Harry’s face as he mutters, “thanks.”

For a moment it tricks Louis into thinking, this is it, he’s coming around, but then Harry says, “Slip fifty-two. It’s this one here,” and Louis loses any hope he had.

It’s a small boat, smaller than theirs, with a deck that spans most of the square footage and a tiny cabin near the forefront. There’s fairy lights intertwined along the rails and it’s all very impractical for living accommodations, so Louis assumes they’re just locals out for a ride. He hovers behind Harry as they’re approached by a petite, obviously tipsy girl in a sundress, a ratty jumper haphazardly hanging off her shoulder overtop of it. Louis fidgets uncomfortably as she greets Harry first, stumbling in surprise when she throws her arms around Harry’s shoulders and nearly sends him knocking straight into Louis. It’s all a bit too chummy for two people who supposedly met in the shop just hours ago, and Louis feels his stomach lurch.

“I didn’t think you’d actually come,” the girl is saying, and Louis fights the urge to glare at her. She’s fooling herself if she thinks that hopeful glimmer in her eye is anything but obvious, and he hates that he has no fucking claim over Harry yet all he can think is mine mine mine. God, he already wishes he hadn’t come. He didn’t want to be alone, but he hadn’t considered the fact that he would have to watch Harry interact, that he would have to interact himself, and that none of that interacting would be with each other.

“And you are?” the girl is asking now, and it takes Louis a second to realize she’s speaking to him. Her tone is sweet and genuine and anything but vindictive, so Louis feels a little bit bad when he answers, “Louis,” much too sharply. She must be too drunk to notice, anyway, because she just smiles and says, “Amanda,” before promptly whisking Harry away.

Well. She walks away and Harry follows her, but Louis really shouldn’t have expected anything less.

He decides the easiest thing to do is pretend Harry isn’t there at all, and possibly get drunk. The latter proves to be simple enough, as he’s offered a beer almost immediately, but even after he finds a small group of guys to talk to, he finds it impossible to just ignore Harry. After almost five years of living in each other’s back pockets, Louis is attuned to him now; it’s just second nature to search for him out of the corner of his eye and try not to lose sight, or to jump in recognition at that awful squawk of a laugh which Louis has taken to emitting from him as often as possible. The fact that Amanda seems to be hanging onto Harry’s every word makes it even harder to look away, even though he’s probably just telling some stupid fucking story about his family cat, or something.

Louis discovers rather quickly that he can’t actually drink away that niggling feeling of jealousy in the pit of his stomach, nor distract himself from it. By his third beer he does feel a little bit looser, but not necessarily better. He’s halfway through a fourth before someone offers him something stronger, and he downs it without a thought. Then he has another, and what’s one more after that? It’s not long before the world starts to go all swimmy, and he finds himself zoning in and out of the conversation he’s trying to have with the two guys he’s sat with. They’re easy to talk to, both of them on the stockier side with straight hair, one blonde and one red-headed, and neither of them anything like Harry at all.

Harry. Louis’ eyes drift away to find him again, stomach lurching dreadfully when he spots him leaning up against the railing, front side facing Louis but body angled towards Amanda’s petite figure. The rage that flares up in Louis’ chest is irrational - they’re just talking. He doesn’t even think they’re touching, even though it’s too dark to know for sure, but -

Harry’s got his chin tipped down as he nods along to whatever she’s saying, and his body language tells Louis everything he needs to know. All splayed out and relaxed, drink clutched to his chest, one elbow resting on the rail, shoulders lax and legs crossed at the ankles. Louis has seen that look in his eyes enough to recognize it. He wants her.

Louis realizes he’s been staring too long when one of the guys nudges him in the arm, and he reluctantly tears his eyes away from Harry and Amanda to see the redhead offering him a packed bowl.

“Spark up, man,” he says, waving a lighter in the air in his opposite hand.

“Y’know what, I’m - thanks, but I’m, um…” Louis trails off with an awkward wave of his hand, really too drunk and too upset to answer properly, but the guy only shrugs and takes a hit himself. Louis tries with everything in him not to scope out Harry again, but everything doesn't turn out to be much, because after only a minute or two his eyes dart to the spot where he’d just seen him, only he’s not there anymore.

There really aren’t many people here, maybe twelve at the very most, so it shouldn’t be hard to spot Harry amongst the crowd. Like, it really, really shouldn’t be hard, only Louis doesn’t see him, because he’s not amongst the crowd. It’s fine, he’s just gone to the bathroom, he tries to tell himself, but he’s not stupid. Amanda is nowhere to be seen, either. It doesn’t take a genius to put together two and two.

“Y’alright, man?” he hears, and he realizes he’s been chewing on the skin around his nails. He turns back again to see the blonde speaking to him this time, eyebrows pinched together in concern.

“Fine, just - sorry, I’m really fucking drunk. Think I should probably get going, actually,” he answers, although suddenly he feels so fucking sober. The two guys seem to take it, so Louis offers them a vague thank-you-goodbye before standing up on shaky legs. He at least looks the part as he makes his way back to the dock, stumbling and probably green in the face.

Harry doesn’t always like parties, even small ones. There have been times when he’s convinced Louis to sneak away just to be somewhere else, somewhere quiet, so Louis half-hopes to find him wandering, just like those times, as he stumbles alongside the docks. Hell, even if fucking Amanda is with him, anything to contradict Louis’ conclusion that Harry has gone and fucked someone else with Louis twenty feet away. It’s nothing but wishful thinking, and wishful fucking thinking never got anyone very far.

As it is, Louis tugs the sleeves of Harry’s flannel over his fists and doesn’t come across a soul, only having to stop and puke once on his way back to their slip. He considers that a victory.

 

Louis doesn’t even bother changing when he gets back, just kicks off his shoes and his shorts before collapsing into bed in the rest of his clothes. Logically, he has no right to be upset. He knows he has no claim over him, he knows Harry sees other people. Hell, Louis has slept with other people since this started, in the past six months, even. But the summer’s are theirs, the summers are when Harry gets Louis and Louis gets Harry and no one else does.

He also can’t help feeling like it’s his fault - he did tell Harry himself that he didn’t want him, after all - and the thought makes him want to throw up all over again. He doesn’t, though, and somewhere between thoughts of self-pity and thoughts of Harry being with someone who isn’t him, the alcohol catches up with him and he finds himself drifting off into a sleep he can only describe as restless.

At one point, he wakes to someone saying his name, in that deep, rumbling voice that he knows so well, and he thinks he’s dreaming at first. That is, until a warm, firm, and very real body plasters itself against his front, curls tickling his ears as Harry mumbles his name over and over again.

“M’sorry, Lou, Louis, ‘m so sorry about today, I love you s’much, miss you, Lou,” he’s slurring, so, so drunk that Louis picks up on it even in his sleep-disoriented state. It’s the attention he’s been craving all day, but it’s all wrong. They’re resilient, the two of them, but Harry doesn’t get to feel sorry for himself now. He doesn’t get to come crawling back to Louis just because he feels like he fucked up. It’s partly Louis’ fault too, he knows, but he shoves weakly at Harry anyway.

“Harry. Get the fuck off me, you smell like stale beer,” he hisses when Harry doesn’t budge, his voice rough even in his own ears.

Louis isn’t even sure if his words are anything more than meaningless, half-asleep blubbering, but something works because Harry moves out of his space. He mumbles something like, “sorry, sorry, love you, Lou,” as he goes, and there’s some rustling in the sheets before Harry presumably passes out.

He doesn’t smell like stale beer. He smells like someone else.

 

Louis wakes up to the buzz of the air conditioner. He’s not sure when or how it started working again, but he doesn’t have much time to contemplate, because his stomach gives an awful lurch and he barely makes it to the toilet before spilling out the contents of it. He doesn’t get hungover much anymore, but he’s also mostly past his hard liquor days. Missing Harry must bring out the worst of him, then.

He wipes the back of his mouth when he finishes, halfheartedly cleaning his teeth to get rid of the taste. It’s a little bit of a shock to find Harry waiting outside the door with a bottle of water, prominent bags under his eyes and hair sticking up in every direction.

“You look like shit,” Louis croaks, and tries to brush right past him, but Harry catches his arm. It’s not hard enough that Louis couldn’t tear himself away from his grip if he tried, but he won’t admit to that, letting Harry gently tug him back so they’re facing each other. Louis levels him with an expectant look, wishing he didn’t have to fucking look up at him.

“Can we talk, please?” Harry asks. He sounds like shit, too, voice throaty and wrecked.

“Oh, so now you want to talk, huh?” Louis blurts, cold. He can’t help it, he’s hurt and hungover and everything feels - fucked. It’s all fucked.

He watches Harry’s eyebrows knit together, like he’s trying to figure out how to make Louis stay. Louis can’t even come up with something himself.

“Louis,” he starts, swallowing, and Louis waits. “I don’t - I don’t know how to make this right. I was a dick yesterday and I’m sorry for that, but what you said really got to me, for some reason. It’s just, like, your opinion matters to me so much, and I don’t want you to think I don’t care about you, or something. At first it just pissed me off, that you could think that, but I realized shutting you out would only reinforce that mindset. It didn’t make me feel any better at all, and now I’m just - sorry. I’m so sorry, Lou. And I just want you to know that I care about you so much, like. I always think of you first.”

Christ, he always talks so fucking slowly. Louis wants to laugh, but he can’t even force the fakest of smiles, scrubbing his hand over his face before crossing his arms over his chest. Harry’s still dejectedly holding that stupid bottle of water he’d offered to Louis, and now he stands there looking so goddamn wide-eyed and innocent and Louis is supposed to, what? Pretend he’s okay? Pretend he believes him?

“You sure as hell have got a funny way of showing it,” Louis finally says, words slow and deliberate.

“Louis - ” Harry starts, but Louis doesn’t let him finish.

“Did you have fun last night, Harry?” he asks, eyes darting to what he can see of Harry’s neck. He notes that there aren’t any lovebites, at least above the collar of his shirt. So he was careful, then.

Harry shifts his weight, forehead wrinkled in confusion. He can’t be this dense, really.

“Are you mad about the party? You didn’t - you didn’t have to come - ”

Louis does laugh then, an ugly, bitter thing. “Just wondering, would you have still fucked her if I hadn’t come? Or did you only do it because you knew I was watching?”

He holds eye contact as he speaks, difficult as it is. If they were back home, if it were any generic club outing and Harry decided to pull, Louis would have gone home and drowned himself in his own sorrows, woken up the next morning, and let it be. He would feel inadequate, sure, the same nasty, lingering feeling of am I not enough that he feels now, but he’d never dare bring it to Harry’s attention. They aren’t exclusive, anyway, and Louis tries too hard to avoid these types of conversations to let it all go to waste over some petty jealousy. Something about last night feels deliberate, though, like Harry went about bursting their private little bubble just to provoke him, and the words are out before he can stop them. He watches Harry’s eyes flair at the accusation, lips parting in shock as he crosses and uncrosses his arms.

“Hold on - fuck, I think I’m still drunk. You think I fucked her?”

It’s not what Louis was expecting, to say the least. Harry doesn’t look guilty; he just looks surprised, and for some reason that makes Louis wish he could sink into the floor.

“I have eyes, Harry,” he mutters, but he’s not so sure now. He lets his gaze flit to the floor, staring intently at his socked feet.

“Louis. Look at me,” Harry demands so softly that Louis does. “I didn’t. I swear I didn’t.”

He bites his lip. He had been so sure; his mind is practically swimming now with the knowledge that he could have probably, actually been wrong. “You were all - and then you both disappeared. What was I meant to think?”

“Fuck, I thought you’d seen - she spilled her drink all over me, and it was like, bright orange all over my shirt, so we just went in to see if we could find something to clean it so it wouldn’t stain. But there wasn’t really anything, so we just ended up sitting down and smoking, and I was drunk and sad and I guess I talked her ear off about you, so she said I should go and apologize. But when I went to get you, you’d gone. I left right after. Nothing happened, Lou, promise.”

The relief that floods Louis is almost overwhelming. He scrubs a hand over his face, feeling all at once stupid for bringing it up and thankful for what it really is.

“Fuck - I thought - ” He doesn’t finish and he doesn’t have to, letting Harry gently tug him forward by the wrists and slumping against him when his arms wrap around Louis’ shoulders. For a moment it’s just them, finally breathing each other in again, before Louis realizes he still owes Harry his half.

“I don’t think you’re selfish. And I didn’t mean it about, um. Not wanting you,” he admits quietly. It’s not quite the elaborate apology he’s been working over in his head, but it’s simple enough. He knows Harry gets it, anyway, nodding against him and pressing a kiss to his hair.

Sometime later, they’re lounging about, trying and failing to sleep off their hangovers. Louis has got his head pillowed on Harry’s chest, Harry’s fingers gently combing through his slightly greasy hair.

He’s so drowsy he thinks he’s imagining it when Harry says, softly, “I haven’t, um. You’re the only person I’ve slept with since, like, last August, I think.”

Louis glances up at Harry, half-expecting to find him asleep, and that Louis had in fact dreamt it. But, sure enough, Harry’s staring down at him, expectant.

“How come?” is all Louis can think to say, his throat so dry that it’s hard to swallow.

Harry shrugs, as best he can lying down, darting his tongue out to wet his lips. “Dunno. Didn’t want to.”

Louis inhales shakily, pressing his face into Harry’s chest and trying not to ponder what it means.

It doesn’t matter, anyway. They go to sleep wrapped around each other that night, so close Louis can hardly tell where he ends and Harry begins. He sleeps for the first time in days.

*

Things go back to normal, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. They go back to whispering at each other in the mornings, to whipping each other with towels, to bickering over what to eat for dinner and what radio station to listen to and everything in between. But it’s limbo, it’s a distraction, the kind of awkward in-between where nothing has changed yet nothing is the same, and it’s only so long before one of them brings up the big picture.

“So. We just not gonna talk about it?” Louis asks one night, and yeah, there it is. The two of them are lying almost naked out on the deck, and they hadn’t had sex, but it feels like they had. It’s quiet, peaceful, slightly melancholy, like they’re coming down. Like Harry’s on fire and shivering at the same time, like he’s boneless and content, like he’s been deprived of oxygen for hours and now he’s breathing again.

“Talk about what?” Harry mumbles. It’s a stupid fucking question. He knows the answer, but somehow he doesn’t expect it.

“Talk about how I’ve studied those stars up there since I learned to read, but when I look at you, I can’t remember the name of a single fucking one.”

Harry doesn’t say anything. Louis had told him that he was in love with him, once, insanely drunkenly and much less eloquently than that statement, but. It was four months after they met, before any of this had even started, but Harry had been having a thing with a girl at the time and the declaration made him shake, and he’d told him no, he couldn’t.

That was three years ago. He’s still fucking shaking. “Do you still, um.”

“Yeah,” Louis answers softly. Harry stopped telling himself this was a fling a long time ago, because it’s not. He breathes, Louis breathes with him. It’s just not. “What about you? Still can’t?”

Harry turns his head to look at Louis, hint of a smile on his lips. He listens to the water lap at the edges of the boat for a second, before he takes a long breath and asks, “Did you know I joined the navy when I turned eighteen?”

Louis’ eyebrows are knitted together in confusion, but his mouth is set in a hard line like he’s pissed off. “Don’t change the subject.”

“I’m not. Did you? Know?” Harry repeats. He holds eye contact, unblinking.

“No.” A pause. “Why didn’t you ever tell me that?”

Harry ignores the question, sitting up on his elbows as he continues. “My dad, um. He was an ex-navy, and he had this tattoo. Nothing weird, or special, just a five-point star with some script underneath, in Latin.” Louis’ eyes flit to the similar one on Harry’s inner arm. “He just had the one, and before he - before he died, I used to ask him stuff about it. If it hurt. What it meant. He always gave the same answers: it only hurt if you let it, it only meant something if you wanted it to. My mom would like, roll her eyes and tell me he was talking shit, in less colorful language, but I was twelve and I thought it was so deep, ‘cause he was always so serious and he was my dad, y’know? I believed everything that he said.

“Anyway, he died when I was fourteen, you know that. I never got a real answer, but I did google what the tattoo said. You know what it said?” Harry asks, lip twitching upward as Louis shakes his head. “‘Boat on it.’ Like bet.” He starts laughing.

“What, is that your story? You don’t think you can boat on me, or something?” Louis asks, smiling vaguely.

Harry’s still laughing as he says, “No, no, I just think it’s funny. All that time I spent thinking it was something deep and it was a fucking pun. But, um. I signed up for the navy as soon as I was old enough. Made it through basic training and everything, learned all my tricks. And then, on my first go-round, I had three asthma attacks in two days and they medically discharged me.” He pauses, thumbing at his lip. “That was it, that was my tribute to the best person in my life, in with a bang and out with - not even a whimper, fucking - nothing.” He’s not laughing anymore, but he’s still shaking. Louis folds a hand over his trembling fingers, squeezing.

“So I went and I got this,” he points to the star, the script underneath, “and this,” the ship, “and this,” the skeleton, the hands, the mermaid - not the anchor, though. No, that one’s Louis’, even if he doesn’t know it.

“And I found out a couple of things: the meaning, for one. They’re just - they’re not for him. Because of him, maybe. But in the end, I get what he was saying. They’re just fucking pictures on my skin and they don’t have to mean anything. Most of mine don’t.”

“What about the other thing?” Louis asks curiously, fingers still wrapped around Harry’s.

“The pain? Oh, that one really was bullshit. I mean, it hurts, less for some than others, but it does, period. It has nothing to do with letting it hurt, letting anything hurt. Some things are about choice, and other things - other things just are. Y’know?” Harry’s free hand moves to trace the script on Louis’ chest, and Louis nods like he understands. Of course he understands.

“I guess I'm just saying. I'm glad he was so vague all the time, ‘cause it really helped me figure things out for myself, and I'm- I'm just talking shit, really, but Louis. You just are. You’re a part of my life, just like - like waking up in the morning, like knowing how to walk. And I don’t fucking know what that means. You say you look at me and can’t remember the stars, but when I look at you, I think you - God, this is so corny, but I think you kind of are the stars. To me, maybe,” Harry rambles, trying to wrap up his story and make sense and breathe all at the same time.

“So, yeah,” he concludes. “I'm in love with you. I think, maybe, that I was the first time you said it, and I think maybe I always will be. I just don’t really know what to do about it, I guess.”

“We’re kind of already doing everything, don’t you think?” Louis reasons. “I mean, you already have me. I’ve just been waiting for you to catch up.”

“Okay, well. I’m here. I’m sorry I made you wait so long, but Lou, I’m - ” Harry pauses, speaking quieter when he repeats, “I’m here.”

The water laps quietly at the bottom of the boat. Harry doesn’t know why he ever thought they could keep doing this, keep existing in each other’s space without reaching this point, but here they are. And now that they’ve reached it, Harry thinks to himself, he doesn’t ever want to go back.

 

The next week is one of the most blissful weeks of Harry’s life. It hits him, how they’ve always been so close to the precipice but too afraid to fall. And nothing really changes - he kisses Louis good morning and goodnight same as he always has, except this time it’s with I love you pressed into his lips. He doesn’t even have to say it (even though he does say it, over and over just to hear Louis say it back). It just feels nice to finally be on the ground.

Eventually, they’ve come full circle, literally. They're maybe two or three hours out, stopped at the final marina on their own little map before they’ll reach the little inlet that leads to Harry’s dock.

“Ready to go home?” Harry asks Louis over breakfast. Louis looks up at him over his mug, hooking their ankles together under their nook of a kitchen table. They could continue to drag it out, but there's really no need. It doesn't feel like the end of anything.

“Yeah. Yeah, I think so.”

 

Liam is breakdancing.

At first, going out seemed like a novelty more than a grand idea. It’s one of the first weekends they’re home and Louis starts his fall term in less than a month, so he’ll be in the city more often than not. It’s not far, maybe a twenty-minute drive from Harry’s place, so they’ll still see each other often as anything, but Niall was very insistent that they come out with them tonight.

Frankly, Harry would have been content staying in with Louis curled into his side, eating chips and catching up on all the Desperate Housewives they missed while they were away, but instead he’s drunk and sweaty and swaying gently to the music. Oh, and Liam is breakdancing, and he’s actually quite good at it, the patrons of the dancefloor parted in a circle around him and loudly having him on.

Harry wouldn’t miss this for the world.

Louis has to see this. Harry lost him quite a while ago, actually, somewhere between vodka shots and Jagerbombs, but it’s a gracious reminder that he misses him quite a bit. He stumbles off toward the bar, and then to the restrooms when he doesn’t find him there, and he’s just fumbling for his phone to see if he’s texted him when someone barrels into his side.

“Fuck, sorry - ” Harry starts apologizing, even though he was literally just standing there, but he recognizes the body pressed into his side.

“Oh, nice, I was just about to ring you. Niall wants us to meet someone,” Louis shouts, lips pressed against his ear so Harry can hear him over the music. Harry nods, letting Louis lead him back through the crowds with their fingers loosely tangled together.

They find Niall near the entryway, where the music is less pronounced and he’s stood with a beefy brunette. He waves them both over excitedly, face flushed red from the healthy amount of alcohol he’s no doubt been drinking.

“Harry! This is our new mate, we call him Bressie,” Niall introduces proudly, puffing his chest out like finding them a new friend is the greatest thing he’s ever done for their friendship. Harry would argue that going through with ordering the three-foot bong they had in college tops the list, actually, but this works too.

“You met Louis,” Niall says to Bressie. “This is Harry, his best friend.”

Harry doesn’t correct him right away, but he does have to let go of Louis’ fingers in order to shake Bressie’s hand, catching the way Niall eyes them suspiciously afterwards.

“Yes,” Harry confirms after graciously greeting this Bressie, directing his attention back to Niall. “It’s possible that the nature of our relationship has changed since the last time we spoke. Louis is my boyfriend now.”

Niall’s jaw drops. Harry wonders how he possibly missed the heavy make-out session he and Louis shared in the car on the way here.

“I knew it. I knew there was only so long you guys could do that boat shit before giving into the sexual tension.”

Harry doesn’t correct him at all that time, just smiles as he drags his fingers down the inside of Louis’ arm before taking his hand again.

“Oh!” he remembers shortly after, interrupting something that Niall has begun to say and almost spilling his drink in his haste to get the words out. “I almost forgot. Liam is breakdancing over there.”

“Oh, I have got to see this,” Niall and Louis say, almost in unison.

Going out was a grand idea.

*

Louis has never been one for finesse. It explains his lack of inhibition, his shitty apartment in Chicago he's not sure why he keeps leasing, how he hasn't trimmed his hair since January.

It explains why he's attempting to sail a Pontoon at four in the morning, after his friends fucked off in favor of smoking up on the deck and left him in charge.

Louis doesn't even know how to manage the speed, so he's fucking crawling in the middle of the river, with no idea where he is. Really, falling asleep at the wheel is inevitable. Louis doesn’t know the law about drinking and operating water-related machinery, but he does know he most definitely drank too much for this. So he dozes, and the next thing he knows he’s startled awake by a loud crack, which happens to be the front end of the boat barrelling into a motherfucking dock so suddenly the whole thing unhinges and starts floating away from the hooks it was attached to.

Oh shit oh shit oh shit, Louis thinks rapidly. Niall rushes into the cabin then, and bless him, cuts the engine.

Saving the detached dock is hopeless. It’s already floated nearly three meters away, Louis notes with horror. Someone has just turned on the porch light, a distant shadow emerging from the small lakeside cabin, Louis notes with even more horror. Niall shakes his head and begins tying up the boat to an adjacent dock, explaining that Zayn is passed out on the deck, having slept through the madness, and Liam’s so stoned he can’t form a sentence. That leaves Louis to approach the stranger, and even though he had napped, he’s so far from sober that he nearly falls into the water trying to exit the boat.

“Excuse me? What’s going on?” a deep, sleepy voice calls. Louis trudges up a few wooden stairs, staring at the ground as he rattles out a drunken explanation and apology.

“I can - I can build you a new dock, fuck, forget I said that, I only took one carpentry class in secondary - ” he’s cut off with a loud, sudden bark of laughter, startling him into finally looking up at the man’s face. He’s taller than Louis, but not ridiculously so. He’s hot. Even in the dim light Louis can make out his gorgeous features, face framed by a sleepy mess of dark curls.

“Sorry,” the stranger says. “It’s fine, really. I can build a new one, seriously, it’s not a big deal. You’d be surprised how often this happens.”

Louis’ tongue sticks to the roof of his mouth. He can’t stop staring, but after a moment he realizes he looks like even more of an idiot than before and he has to say something. Maybe thank him for his kindness, or another quick apology before he’s off on his way. Instead he blurts, stupidly, “I’m drunk.”

The boy laughs again, this time less of a startling bark and more of a calm, intoxicatingly low chuckle.

“Nice to meet you, Drunk, I’m Harry.” Louis never stood a fucking chance.

fin.