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Louis cannot remember his life before Harry. He had one- Harry is, after all, two years younger than he is- but he cannot pull up even one memory that is not somehow intertwined with Harry.

He knew Harry’s sister- her almond eyes and wild laugh- before he knew his own, and each night Harry’s mum’s raspy lullabies mingled with the sound of those sung by his own mother.

By six years of age, he knew the crunch and then shooting pain of a broken arm and the wet tickle-scratch of a puppy’s tongue on his face, even though he’s never broken his arm or cuddled a puppy. He knew because three months ago Harry fell out of a tree and onto his wrist and because Harry’s dad, whom he visits on weekends, owns a small, energetic dog who is always trying to smother Harry with kisses.

Still, the day Louis first sees Harry’s big green eyes clearly, lit by the bright afternoon sun, and not fuzzy and dim, reflected through a foggy mirror in the back of his mind, Louis’ world turns upside down.

Louis knows his name of course, has heard him addressed by it thousands of times and he knows that he plays often in this particular sandbox, and that these are his armymen lining its edges, guarding it from would-be attackers.

More importantly, Louis knows that he and Harry are probably ‘soul brothers.’ At least, that’s what his mum had said, happy tears in her eyes, when he’d first been able to come up with words to explain the things he sees and thinks and feels about the other little boy who lives in his head and yet also lives somewhere else entirely.

And so he knows he needs to say something when his eyes finally meet Harry’s, when they are within shouting distance of one another for the very first time, and yet he cannot move. His arms and legs are stuck still and his mouth, though open, is not forming any words.

Harry’s in a similar position, his whole body frozen, just like Louis’. Louis knows this because he can feel it, can feel even Harry struggling against it.

And then, suddenly, they’re both laughing. Because it’s funny, being frozen like this, despite all the time they’ve spent longing for each other. The sound of their laughter seems to free them so that they’re able to run into each other’s arms.

Harry’s body feels skinny and hot underneath Louis’ hands. And it’s strange to touch him, overwhelming, because, like with anyone else, he can feel the press of Harry’s ribs under his fingers and the tight pull of Harry’s arms around his waist, but he can also feel what Harry’s feeling- the echo of his own touch on Harry’s back and the warmth of his own body against Harry’s fingertips.

He gasps and pulls back. They’re both having trouble catching their breath.

“That felt good,” Harry says. His voice sounds different than Louis expects it to, higher pitched and softer. He’s right, though, and Louis pulls him close again for another hug.

Harry smells like dirt and maybe a little like apples, and Louis closes his eyes and breathes in deeply. Against his eyelids, Louis sees a big brown teddy bear, the one that Harry sleeps with and it makes him think of his own well-worn satin bunny.

Harry pulls back and says, “I like Patrick. I want to meet him.”

Patrick is the name of Louis’ bunny and Louis is glad that Harry knows him and likes him. However, “He’s a stuffed animal. You can’t meet him.”

Harry frowns and Louis feels his heart swoop down into his belly. Standing this close to Harry makes it difficult to tell if the sadness is Harry’s or his own. He thinks it’s Harry’s though, he’s felt it before- the weight of Harry’s bad feelings pressing down heavily on his own chest- and he hates it so much that he huffs out a loud puff of air, angry.

Harry winces and wilts, turning into himself and away from Louis, and Louis decides that he’s never ever going to let Harry feel sad again. Never.

“I’m not mad at you,” Louis clarifies because he knows that Harry thinks that he is. “And I think that you should come over to mine.” Then, as loud as he can, he calls out, “Muuuu-ummm!”

He’s too loud, he realizes too late, as Harry covers his ears and a little tremor runs through Louis’ body, echoing what must be going through Harry’s.

“Sorry,” he says.

Harry bites his lip. “I already knew you’d be loud.”

His mum has run over, the newspaper she’d been reading folded messily in her hands. “What is it, boo bear?” She crouches down to Louis’ level as she speaks. “Are you alright?”

Louis nods, his eyes on the other woman approaching them, her own magazine forgotten on the bench where she’d been sitting. Harry’s mum is very pretty in person, like a movie star.

“Who’s this?” Louis’ mum asks. “Did you boys need something?”

Harry smiles at her and Louis watches, fascinated, as dimples appear in his cheeks. Louis wants to poke them with his finger, but he doesn’t. Plenty of time for that later.

“I’m Harry.”

“Oh,” says Louis’ mum. And then again, louder this time. “Oh!” And then, finally, voice faint, “Like, Harry Harry.”

Louis nods. He wants to say more, to explain how urgent it is that he bring Harry home with him right now and how important it is that from now on, they are part of each other’s every day, but his tongue is stuck in place again.

Harry’s mum finally arrives and places a hand on Harry’s shoulder.

“Who’ve you just met, darling?” Her voice sounds exactly as he’s always heard it in his head, warm and low and rough.

Louis looks away from her to beam at Harry who replies, “We didn’t just meet. We already knew each other.” He reaches out to touch Louis’ chest. “In here.”

“Louis!” Harry’s mum, exclaims, crouching down to his level and opening her arms. “I’ve been hearing about you for a long time.”

Louis doesn’t hesitate to hug her. It’s nice, but not nearly as nice as hugging Harry. Pulling away, he links hands with Harry and turns to his mum.

“Harry needs to come over.” Louis meets Harry’s eyes. “Patrick wants to meet him.”

~

“When was the bond most powerful for you this week, Louis?”

Julia opens the session with the same question every week. She has for the last five years. Sometimes she’ll mix it up and ask Harry first, but usually she starts just like this.

He looks at Harry who nods. They hadn’t been able to this week, but they try to check in with each other before therapy, go over their answers, make sure they’re not going to share anything with Julia that the other one wouldn’t want said. Their instincts are usually pretty good, but one week two years back Harry shared that Louis had gotten in a fight at school and Julia had told his mum and he’d been grounded for a whole month.

“When Harry’s teacher made him sit out of recess because he’d been late to school. It wasn’t his fault,” Louis explains. “His stupid sister’s just learned to do make-up, which is alright I guess, only it takes her so long in the morning.”

Julia nods. “Yeah, I can see how that would be very upsetting. For both of you.”

Louis leans forward in his seat. “Harry was supposed to be a captain and pick teams for football. It was his turn. Except he lost it because he wasn’t allowed to play.”

“How did you feel about that, Louis?”

“Upset,” he tells her. He knows it’s not a good enough answer, but sometimes she’ll let him cop out, especially if thinks Harry’s got something juicy to share.

“What kind of upset?” Julia presses. No luck, then.

“Angry, I guess. I was mad at his teacher for not understanding and I was mad his friends for not letting him have his turn the next recess and-” He stops and looks at Harry.

“And?” Julia asks.

Louis looks down at his hands. “And I was mad at him for not standing up for himself.” He looks up at Harry. “You should have said something. Told her about your stupid sister.”

Harry shrugs. He doesn’t look too upset that Louis was angry at him. And, well, Louis wasn’t really that angry. More than anything, Louis wishes he could have been there to make his teacher get it and tell off those stupid other boys.Unfortunately they don’t go to the same school anymore and Louis can’t protect him like he used to.

Louis is ready for Julia’s next question. “And how did Harry feel?”

“He wasn’t angry,” Louis says. “That was just me. He was just a little disappointed.” He thinks back to the moment and then looks at Harry again. Harry smiles. This part of the session always feels really good, he and Harry’s experiences and emotions snapping together like puzzle pieces. It’s the same way he feels when they cuddle. “I don’t think he really wanted to choose a team anyway.”

“I didn’t,” Harry confirms.

“You guys are really good at this. Especially for being so young.” Julia says this a lot, almost every session. “Your turn, Harry.”

Harry doesn’t answer for a long moment and Louis can’t help himself, he peeks in to see what Harry’s thinking.

Julia’s working with them to create and maintain boundaries, but Louis doesn’t really like them. He’d much prefer to know every inch of Harry’s mind, just as he’d like Harry to know every corner of his own. He doesn’t have anything to hide from Harry. Julia says that will eventually change; you don’t want your siblings to know everything about your life, even your soul siblings.

Harry’s not very good at putting up mental walls. Well, he’s better than Louis, but that isn’t saying much and as soon Louis looks, he’s able to see.

In the forefront of Harry’s mind is an image of Elena, a girl in Louis’ French class. A very pretty girl in Louis’ French class. A very pretty girl in Louis’ French class that Zoe says has a crush on him.

Harry’s picturing her walking beside Louis yesterday, when Louis carried her books to class for her.

It was exciting, to be sure, partially because he’d been trying to think of the best way to ask her to be his girlfriend. He’d chickened out, though.

And he has no idea why that moment would stand out to Harry. Just three days ago, while they were watching television, Harry’d confessed that he thought kissing a girl would be so gross.

Louis’d stammered a mild disagreement. He wasn’t sure about the spit and stuff, but he thought it might be alright. Older kids and adults seemed to really enjoy it.

If he’s honest, he wants to try it out. With Elena.

Harry opens his mouth and Louis panics. He suddenly doesn’t want to talk about that little walk. Not here, not with Julia, not even with Harry. It seems private in a way that nothing else ever has.

He doesn’t know how to tell Harry not to say it. He and Harry aren’t very good at using language in their minds, even though it’s the only way most soul siblings are able communicate with each other.

Julia’s explained that they’re too close, that they share too much. If they want to be more clear in their communication, they need to close some parts off to each other, to quiet their minds. And, yeah, keeping each other out isn’t really a thing they do.

Harry says, “For me it was when the neighbor’s dog chased Fizzy.”

Julia nods. “How did you feel?”

Harry shrugs. He’s been doing that a lot these days. Louis thinks one of his other friends does it a lot. Maybe Niall. Or Liam. He’s not sure and he doesn’t like that he doesn’t know.

“I didn’t really think much of it. It’s a nice dog. But it scared Louis, that’s for sure.”

Julia frowns at this. “This is supposed to be about when you felt something because of the bond. That’s the whole point of the exercise. There must’ve been a time when you felt upset or frustrated or happy; there always is.”

Julia’s right. Sometimes Louis has a difficult time naming a time when the bond made him feel something, not because he doesn’t feel things, but because, well, he doesn’t like talking about it.

Harry almost always has an experience or two that he’s ready to share. It’s usually something nice. Louis likes to hear his stories, relive happier parts of his week.

Curious, he pokes again. The image of Elena is still right there, right in front and Louis’ pulse spikes and he thinks, as loudly and as clearly as he can, “Don’t say anything about her.”

Harry glares at him and crosses his arms. He doesn’t say anything at all.

“What’s going on in there boys?” Julia asks.

“Can we practice setting up mental boundaries again?” Louis asks, hoping to distract her.

She looks between them. They don’t really fight. They’ve only been seriously angry at each other three times, in Louis’ memory, and they never told Julia.

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea right now.” Julia’s always said that it’d be normal if they did fight, that like all brothers, soul brothers make each other angry every now and then.

Louis thinks she needs to let them have this, if it’s so normal.

“I want that, too,” Harry agrees, but his lip trembles as he speaks and Louis knows that he’s lying.

Julia sighs. “Alright.”

~

“Goodnight boys,” Anne says with a wink. “Sleep well. And when I say ‘sleep,’ I mean it. Big day tomorrow.”

As soon as the door clicks shut, Louis sits up, letting the blankets fall off of him onto the air mattress beside Harry’s bed.

Harry lifts his duvet and gestures for Louis to climb in. He does, hesitating for only a second before he settles against Harry.

At 14 and 16, they’re too old for sleepovers, especially when they live only a block away from each other, and they’re definitely too old to be sharing Harry’s tiny twin bed.

But tomorrow is a special occasion. Harry’s mum is driving them to a music festival early in the morning so they can get a good spot right in front of the stage. So the sleepover bit makes sense.

As for spending the nights pressed close in a tiny bed, even though they’ve been doing it ten years, it’s still a thrill to touch each other. These days, skin to skin contact with Harry zips down his spine and settles somewhere uncomfortably close to his groin. Sometimes if he hasn’t jerked off in the last twelve hours or so he gets hard, but not urgently so, and the same thing happens to Harry, so he enjoys the sensation and tries not to think too much about it.

Like, he’s a teenage boy. His dick is wild. Even about his soul brother. Whatever. No big deal.

What he does think about, the excuse he gives himself and Harry, what he’s prepared to tell their mums or their sisters, should they ask, is that sleeping beside Harry is better than an orgasm and warm glass of milk. He’s out like a light and always, always well rested in the morning.

Touch is an important part of any soul bond, Julia had always said so.

He wraps his arms around Harry, spooning him from behind. Harry relaxes into the touch and Louis smiles because he knows this is Harry’s favorite way to fall asleep.

Harry’s bum wiggles against him as he settles and, thankfully, Louis’ cock behaves itself.

(He might have jerked off in the shower right before he’d headed over, anticipating these exact circumstances.)

Into the darkness, Harry says. “It’d be fun, wouldn’t it?”

Instead of asking what he means, Louis closes his eyes and peeks into Harry’s mind. Harry’s ready for him, pushing forward an image of the two of them onstage with guitars and mics in front of a crowd of roaring fans.

He nods into Harry’s neck. But then he stills and says, “Which part would you like best? The audience? The free booze? The ladies?”

Harry laughs. “The music, of course, oh my god, Lou.” He’s using his fake annoyed voice. “I’m a musician!”

Louis pinches one of his nipples and Harry squirms again. This time his ass grinds hard against Louis’ cock. Louis closes his eyes and wills himself not to get hard.

Probably sensing the tension, but hopefully not the reason, Harry stills.

“You know I’m not interested in the girls, though, right Lou?” Louis stifles a laugh. Harry’s been clear about this fact forever. At first, Louis thought that he was simply too young, but now Louis knows that something else is going on.

Harry likes boys. Probably. And he’s about to say so, in bed with his bum tucked close against Louis dick, which is continuing to thicken against Louis’ will.

“You like boys,” Louis says before Harry has a chance.

Harry turns around in Louis’ arms, thank fuck. He’s shaking and Louis tries to look in, to see what’s wrong, but he can’t. Harry’s become better at keeping Louis out than Louis is at breaking in.

After a moment, he realizes that Harry’s laughing.

“What’s so funny?”

“Just like, of course, you’d know already,” Harry murmurs. “I don’t know why I was so nervous to tell you.”

Louis runs a hand down his arm. He means for it to be comforting, but instead it sends energy sizzling through both of them. Louis’ now achingly hard and Harry has to know, he must feel it.

Harry leans forward, pressing their foreheads together.

“Though, like, I don’t think I’d want anything serious ever. Not even with a boy.” Harry’s whispering and Louis can feel his breath against his own lips.

“That’ll change,” he says. He wants something serious. He’s always wanted something serious. He’s seen how lonely his mother’s been on her own and he desperately wants a partner, a spouse.

“Maybe,” Harry agrees easily. But then he adds, “I don’t think so, though. Like, it’d be weird, with, you know, you, with us like how we are, I mean.”

Louis considers this. He hasn’t really thought about it before. He’s never heard of any soul brother or sister getting in the way of a relationship, at least no more or less than any blood sibling.

But he supposes Harry’s right. He wouldn’t want to give up the intimacy he has with Harry, would still need the occasional cuddle. And he knows he’d be jealous if his spouse shared that kind of closeness with another person.

“I’m sure it’ll get easier, like, less weird. Lots of people do it,” he says, to Harry and himself.

Harry tucks his head into Louis’ neck.

“Have you ever thought…” Harry begins to say. Then he pushes a picture into Louis’ head. It’s of couple of current reality show stars in America- they’re soul mates. “Like have you thought that we might be….?”

Harry doesn’t finish the thought, but Louis gets it.

“No way,” he says. “We’re definitely soul brothers. Soul mates are so rare. Like, what... ten have come forward in the last century? Maybe fifteen. Soul mates are...special. They know each other perfectly. Their feelings for each other are so big and so plain. If we were soul mates, we'd know.”

Harry makes a noise and Louis can feel his shoulders tensing and the protest forming on his lips.

“Also,” Louis continues. “Soul mates always meet later in life. Like, so they don’t know each other when from when they’re disgusting munchkins. Thinking about the all the times you pissed in the pool really kills the mood, you know?”

Harry turns away from him, shoulders still tense. “Okay, yeah. I get it,” Harry mutters. “We’re brothers. You’re not attracted to me.”

Louis’ cock’s gone mostly soft again, so he’s able to convince himself that he’s not really lying when he says, “Yeah.” But, then, because that doesn’t seem to satisfy Harry, he adds, “Soul brothers though. The best kind of brothers.”

Harry relaxes a little and opens up his mind enough for Louis to see a few flashes of Harry’s favorite memories. He knows them all by heart. Meeting at the sandbox. The lip sync routine they’d put on for the whole school when they’d been eight and ten. Learning to sail two summers back.

“You’re right, Louis,” Harry says with a yawn. “I’m sure you’re right.”

Louis yawns in return. It’s quiet between them for a minute or two. When Harry’s breathing finally evens out, Louis takes a deep breath, filling his lungs with Harry’s apple-scented perfume. “Bedtime for me,” he exhales.

Harry doesn’t hear him, of course. He’s already asleep with slightly blurred pictures of guitars and shouting crowds and a sweaty, dancing Louis flitting through his mind.

~

Louis’ pauses his game seconds before the knock comes. Three taps on his bedroom door. “Who is it?”

“Just me.”

Which, of course it is. This afternoon, he’d pushed into Louis’ mind a memory from last summer of the two of them, here at the end of Louis’ bed, shoulders pressed together playing Mario Kart.

Louis’ been expecting him for hours and when he’d entered Louis house, minutes earlier, Louis felt prickly all over, all his nerves perking up in anticipation.

Still, he considers sending Harry away, begging off because of a headache or homework.

It’s not- Louis hasn’t been avoiding Harry. He can’t, not really, because Harry’s always there, in the back of his mind. Earlier this morning Harry stubbed his toe rushing to school and Louis’ own toe had throbbed in empathy, the pain strong enough to wake him up.

But Louis is not sure he’s ready to see Harry again. Things are weird between them right now is the thing, weirder than they’ve ever been.

Harry opens the door and Louis turns to watch him enter. His hair is so curly these days. Louis fights the urge to run his fingers through it.

Harry moves toward him slowly, not speaking, mind carefully guarded. When he sits down, he places his hands at his sides and his right pinky brushes Louis’ left.

Louis is instantly, painfully hard. He tries to stifle his gasp. Harry’s mind is carefully blank. Louis doesn't know if he heard, if he’s aware of Louis’ arousal.

Harry's chin is up and he’s staring intently at the screen where Louis’ character is paused mid-jump. Harry’s got his bottom lip tight between his teeth and Louis knows he’s preparing to say something.

“Been a long time.” Louis speaks first. He always does.

Harry nods. It has been a long time since they’ve seen each other. Two months and three days since Harry helped Louis unload the last of his stuff into his dorm room.

The longer they’re away from each other, the more intense Louis’ physical reaction is to seeing Harry again. It’s been that way from the beginning, and so it shouldn’t be a surprise now.

After family vacations, their reunion hugs had always set Louis’ nerves tingling and his skin aflame. And now they’ve been apart longer than ever before and Louis’ a healthy young man with a healthy sexual appetite (that hasn’t been satisfied in far too long). It’s no wonder his cock has taken an interest.

“How’s school? You have a lot of studying to do over the break?” Harry’s voice is rougher and deeper than Louis remembered it.

It sucks being so far from you, Louis doesn’t say. “I don’t know,” he replies.

Harry turns toward him and his curls brush Louis’ cheek. When the fuck did his hair turn to corkscrews and his voice to molasses? Louis has missed so much.

“You don’t know,” Harry replies, drawing out each word. Louis hears the humor behind his voice. “Meaning you don’t want to think about it.”

“Yeah,” Louis agrees, hoping Harry will leave it. School, the studying and classes part at least, is terrible. Louis has always had difficulty concentrating and especially without Harry nearby to ground him, sitting down for even an hour of reading is nearly impossible. So he’s pretty much stopped trying to complete his assignments. He can’t keep still through the lectures and his notes are always total shit. He rarely goes to class anymore.

Basically, he’s going to fail out of University. No one knows. Not his mum, not his suitemate, and new friends. Not even Harry.

At least, he doesn’t think Harry knows.

“It’s going to be okay,” Harry says, pressing their hands closer together so that their fingers sort of overlap.

“What about for you? Been too busy to visit?” As soon as the words are out his mouth, he pushes an apology to Harry, a desperate Sorrysorrysorry!

He hadn’t meant to ask. He knows Harry’s really involved in the fall musical- that’s why he’s made the time to come home after all.

And, anyway, after things went to shit with Louis’ last would-be girlfriend, he’d been the one to suggest they take some time apart. It had seemed like a good idea, at the time. He’d been making out with her, hand slipping up underneath her shirt and into her bra, when Harry’d sent him a memory of Niall eating dirt on his new trick bike.

Louis’d laughed, of course. Niall’s spill was funny, and the high pitched “Oh no, Niall!” from the pretty girl Niall had been trying to impress even funnier.

Louis’ girl hadn’t liked Louis laughing in between heated kisses and she really hadn’t liked the idea that Harry was interrupting their date.

“I thought you’d let him know. You said you guys are good at keeping each other out of the sex-stuff.” She’d been shouting and crying at the same time, her shirt all rucked up around her middle.

Louis hadn’t replied. Harry had known, was the thing. He’d even encouraged Louis, sending him a ‘good luck getting laid’ text just a few minutes earlier.

Later, Harry’d said he’d forgotten and that he was sorry. But ‘sorry’ hadn’t saved Louis’ fledgling relationship. They needed to get better about those things, Louis’d insisted. He planned on meeting the girl of his dreams at University and Harry needed to learn to stay in his lane in order for that to happen.

They’d agreed to keep contact to a minimum those first couple months, to see how it felt, if they could handle it, if it made things better.

It didn’t make things better. And Louis wanted it to stop. But he wasn’t sure how to say that.

“I’ve missed you a lot,” Harry says, twisting his fingers together with Louis’ more firmly. “I didn’t think you wanted me to come visit.”

Louis rests his head against the headboard behind him and sighs.

“Have you found a girlfriend?” Harry asks, grip tightening.

“No,” Louis answers. He’s mostly found porn and video games and a couple of guys who know how to get quality weed.

“Me either.” Harry’s finger is rubbing circles on the back of Louis’ hand. It’s nice and Louis doesn’t want him to stop, even though the tickle of it is not helping his dick settle down at all.

“What about Taylor?” Louis asks. He’s seen so many images of her, laughing, singing, leaning in for a kiss. She’s playing opposite Harry in the musical, so it’s probably all part of rehearsals. But, well, maybe it isn’t. He and Harry haven’t talked much. They could be a thing.

“Louis,” Harry sounds exasperated. Louis looks at him. “She doesn’t have a dick.”

Louis’ tries desperately not to think about his own dick, even as it jumps in his trousers.“You sure?” He pushes Harry an image of Taylor wearing a strap-on.

Harry laughs. “Okay, I’m not sure. But there’s really nothing between us. I’ve mostly just been missing you.”

Louis rests his head on Harry’s shoulder. “I know,” he says. “Me too.”

“School’s shit, isn’t it?” Harry asks. “I’ve seen how much you hate it.”

Louis nods. Harry smells so good. It’s always been like this: Louis breaths in the smell of Harry’s apple shampoo and suddenly feels better.

“I don’t want to study,” Louis murmurs. “I want to go into music. Like, write and sing and stuff.”

Harry’s fingers tighten around his again. “You should. You’re so good. You could be famous! You should come home and work on it. I have a friend whose brother has a recording equipment set-up in their basement.”

Louis can see it- the mics and the instruments strewn haphazardly around the carpeted room- as Harry pushes the image at him. “Come home,” Harry says again.

“Okay,” he agrees. Louis has no idea how he’s going to tell his mum, but he knows he can’t be parted from Harry any longer. It’s not good for either of them and he’s got to figure it out.

“You gotten any better at this game?” he asks, needing to lighten the mood.

Harry shakes his head.

“We’d better practice, then,” Louis tells him.

And they do. Even though Harry’s got school and dress rehearsal the next day, they stay up all night playing games and talking, pushing pictures and stories at each other, memories mostly from before they’d separated.

To Louis’s surprise, neither of their mothers interrupt. The first thing his mum had asked when he’d arrived home the day before was when she should expect Harry to come over. She might have some idea about how the separation has been for him.

As soon as Harry leaves his house the next morning, just before dawn and long before Louis needs to be awake, Louis hops into the shower. There, he erects the strongest mental wall he’s capable of, wraps a fist around his cock, and pulls himself off, slow and sure. If it’s Harry’s eyes he imagines meeting, right as he comes, that’s no one’s business but his own.

Anyway, they’d just spent the last ten hours together. That kind of thing probably happens between soul brothers all the time. Louis’ sure of it.

~

The car jerks to a stop and Louis’ eyes blink open. They’re at a standstill, Harry's front end only inches away from the tiny blue car ahead of them.

“Sorry,” Harry says, eyes flicking over to meet Louis’. Louis smiles. Harry’s not the best driver, but this morning Louis is grateful that Harry offered (well, insisted, really).

He’s got some sort of interview for a summer job in Manchester and he’d really wanted Louis to come along. His nerves are always better when Louis’ with him. For the last few semesters, Louis has done his best to clear his work schedule so he can sit in the hall during Harry’s final exams.

Louis closes his eyes again, but he doesn’t feel nearly as sleepy as he had when they’d first climbed into the car twenty minutes ago, while it was still completely dark outside.

“What is this job you’re applying for anyway?” Louis asks. Harry’s been very vague about the whole thing, suspiciously so. He thinks that if he catches him while he’s distracted with driving, he might be able to pull the truth out of him.

Actually, he’s surprised he hasn’t gotten so much as a glimpse. Usually, when Harry’s this nervous about something, he lets all kinds of anxious pictures slip for Louis to see.

“Seriously. Tell me. Maybe I can help you prepare,” Louis prods because Harry hasn’t responded. “You’re going to have to tell me eventually.”

The car begins to move again and Harry says, “A bakery.”

“You already work at a bakery,” Louis reminds him. Louis knows it’s hard for him to get the shifts he wants during the school term because of his lengthy commute. He’d thought Harry’d been looking forward to the summer, actually, when he’d be able to do more of the waiting on customers and working the cash register.

“This is a special bakery,” Harry explains. His shoulders are tense and Louis realizes he’s lying and not just about the bakery.

“Where are we going?” Louis asks. “Where are you taking me?”

“To Manchester,” Harry says, very, very slowly.

“Why?” Louis presses.

Harry bites his lip and now, suddenly, his stomach is turning over, nerves out in full force. Louis doesn’t think he’s ever been the one to make Harry nervous before. He doesn’t like it.

“Harry what’s going on? You’ve got to tell me,” he pleads. The more he thinks about it, the more he’s sure something’s going on. His mum had been weird about the whole thing, too. Before he’d left yesterday, she’d ruffled his hair and kissed his cheek and wished him luck, as though he were the one going to the interview. And, yeah, sometimes even other people mix up Harry and Louis’ feelings and achievements and struggles- their experiences are so intertwined.

But usually his mum manages to keep them separate.

Harry sighs. “Okay,” he says. “But I did it for your own good.”

“Oh my god,” Louis groans. Harry’s butterflies are giving Louis butterflies of his own. Whatever’s happening, it’s a Big Deal.

“Your mum helped. And Hannah,” Harry adds. Louis feels his eyebrows shoot up. Harry usually goes out of his way so he never has to be in the same room as Hannah.

“With what?” Louis huffs.

“Getting your X Factor paperwork together. We’re driving to the initial auditions.” The words come out slowly- Harry never talks very quickly- but they’re all stuck together and Louis is only able to make sense of them because he’s very, very fluent in Harryspeak.

“Oh my god. Oh. my. god.” Louis’ heart feels like it’s about to fly out of his chest.

“Don’t freak out,” Harry says. Louis stares at him for a long, quiet moment.

Of course, he’s going to freak out.

“What am I going to sing? Harry!” He reaches out to smack his shoulder. “I haven’t rehearsed. How am I supposed to walk in there totally unprepared? This is why I didn’t want to sign up in the first place. I’m terrible and without work, they’ll never let me through. Harry Edward Styles. What were you thinking? You dick! You asshole! Behind my back. I can’t believe you call yourself my soul brother!”

Harry laughs. “You’ve done nothing but rehearse for the last, like, year. You’ve put out those videos on youtube and you’ve been practicing with your band. And don’t lie, you’ve dreamed of being on the X Factor since the very first season. If not now, when?”

When you’re ready to come with me, Louis does not say because Harry’s made it very clear that, while he loves to sing, he wants a more practical career, like law. And he’s good enough at school to make that happen.

Louis, on the other hand, can’t do much besides sing. Well, that and make Harry laugh.

“I was thinking you could sing something from Grease,” Harry tells him and he immediately nods. Louis would be embarrassed to count the hours the two of them have spent singing Grease karaoke. “But Hannah thinks you’re best at ‘Hey There Delilah,” so that’s what I put down.”

Louis' first thought is loud and angry. Why would you think Hannah would know better than you?!

“Sorry,” Harry says. “I just thought, since you’ve been spending so much time together and she’s been to all your band practices.”

Louis hadn’t meant to send the thought to Harry. Or maybe he had.

“You’re more important than she is. You know me better.” Louis has said it before and he’ll probably say it again. He wants to live a normal life, have a spouse and family, but he’s come to terms with the fact that he’ll never be normal. His relationship with Harry will always have top priority and everyone else in his life will have to be able to live with that.

Hannah is surprisingly understanding, more so than any other girl he’s been with. No, the problem is Harry and his inability to see and be confident in his place in Louis’ life.

Harry pushes at Louis a picture of himself and Louis’ mum and Hannah sitting round Louis’ kitchen table each with a cup of tea. Harry’s got the application open on his laptop and the other two are helping him fill in the answers.

“I really want you to do this,” Harry says. “You’re a star.”

Louis punches him in the shoulder. “You’re the star,” he says.

Harry giggles, shaking his head and flushing. Louis feels the heat of Harry’s pleasure in his own face, as Harry replies, “I’m just a baker. You’re going to be a pop sensation.”

Oh right, the auditions. “That’s very sweet of you, Harry,” Louis tells him. “But I’m going to need you to turn this car around right now.”

Harry doesn’t answer. But he does keep on driving. Louis thinks he sees Harry’s fingers tighten around the wheel.

“I’m serious. I’m not doing this,” Louis insists. Because it’s true. He’s not ready. He’s not good enough and while he can appreciate the effort that Harry’s put into this, he’s really, really not X Factor material and they both know that.

“Yes, you are,” Harry says.

“I’m not. I’m just a mediocre singer from Doncaster. I don’t even have a good story to get me through to the filmed auditions,” Louis can hear the whine in his own voice as well as he hears the steel in Harry’s.

He knows who’s going to win this argument and, unfortunately, it’s not him.

“Excuse you. You have a fantastic voice and a fantastic story!”

Louis leaves the voice bit alone- the two of them have been going back and forth on this for ages. He does say, “Yeah? What’s my story?”

Harry bites his lip. “That your soul brother, whose mind you can read, somehow managed to trick you into showing up.”

Louis has to admit he has a point. That is a good story. Lots of people are really taken by empaths and especially by bonded pairs- there’s tons of reality shows about them. Their ability to know each other, to see into each other’s minds, is fascinating for normal, unbonded people.

“You did do that, didn’t you?” Louis says, not even trying to hide the wonder in his voice. “You’re pretty amazing. We do make a great story.”

They pull off the motorway and Harry says, grinning, “Almost there.” His dimples stay firmly in place for the remainder of the drive. Louis knows because he can’t take his eyes off him.

~

The camera is rolling and Louis’ whole family is behind him, on the other side of a barrier. They’re trying to be quiet, sort of, while the interviewer, Caroline Flack, oh god, asks him questions.

Harry’s closest. Louis can feel the heat of his body just behind his left shoulder. He’s nervous and focused, in Louis’ head. Sometimes the weight of his thoughts up against Louis’ can be distracting, but not right now. Right now, it’s comforting.

Louis has made it to the taped auditions. Even if he doesn’t make it through to Bootcamp, he might make it on television, which would put him just that much closer to a break.

It’s been an ordeal, especially with Harry trying to wrap up his term and be present as moral support at all of Louis’ auditions. Harry also signed Louis up for a few lessons with a vocal coach, spending almost all of savings from the bakery. Louis hadn’t known about the exorbitant price until afterward or he wouldn’t have gone. Harry was supposed to have used that money to get them to the Leeds Festival this summer.

Nonetheless, he’s gotten this far by some Harry-shaped miracle and he’s not about to quit, not yet.

“So,” Caroline’s teeth flash with her smile. “How did you end up here? When did you decide you wanted to audition?”

Louis chuckles. He’s practiced an answer to this question- something about watching every season of the show and being encouraged by his mum and siblings and Harry, but the exact wording of it flies out of his mind and before Harry can push it to him, he hears himself turning to Harry and saying instead, “He tricked me into it.”

“Who’s this? Your best friend?” She asks, throwing Harry a wink.

Louis stammers. “Best friend” barely begins to cover his relationship with Harry. “Yeah, but like, we’re, um, bonded,” he corrects.

They’d discussed this beforehand. Harry’d given him the 'Okay' to talk about their bond, to sell it if he wanted. But Louis’d thought to draw it out- maybe keep people guessing a bit.

Caroline looks between them thoughtfully. “Nice. And he tricked you? How’d he manage that?”

Louis laughs at the memory. “He filled out all the paperwork. Which he can obviously do easily, what with knowing me better than I know myself. And then he drove me to the audition, telling me that we were going to a job interview for him at a bakery. He said he needed me there for moral support.” He meets Harry’s eyes and says, “Dickhead.”

Louis must sound more affectionate than pissy because Harry blushes and cackles and keeps his eyes trained right on Louis, as though he’s completely forgotten that they’re in the middle of crowd being interviewed by one of the most beautiful women in England.

Louis sees easily that Harry’s mind is full-up with himself- LouisLouisLouis. It’s affirming and unnerving all at once and Louis doesn’t want to look away.

“You guys are like, the real deal, aren’t you?” Caroline asks, cutting into their intertwined thoughts and pulling the attention back to herself.

Louis nods, glancing at her, and then meets Harry’s eyes again. He forgets that soul siblings aren’t all that common. Julia said that less than one percent of the population has one. It’s a pretty rare and special bond, highly coveted by many (though not nearly rare nor as special nor as highly coveted as the bond of true soul mates).

“Wow,” Caroline says. “I don’t ever think I’ve met a pair of soul mates in person before. We’ve definitely never had any on the show.”

Harry blinks and Louis whirls to face her again. She’s still talking, though. “Like, I’ve seen them on television before. ‘Mated for Life’ is one of my favorite shows. You guys were lucky to meet and make a connection so young. Do you have plans for a wedding?”

She thinks they’re in love, Louis realizes. She thinks they’re soul mates.

Which is crazy. Soul mates are thought to be a one in one hundred million kind of thing. Real people don’t have soul mates.

The Metro had recently reported on a scientific study suggesting that soul mates are just weirdly incestuous soul siblings, that there’s nothing different or special about them, despite their claims to contrary. But Louis' seen the kind of glances soul mates exchange, has heard interview after interview about how they can anticipate each other's feelings and needs. Those quotes and images straight from the source hold a lot more weight for him than any stupid scientific study.

He and Harry aren't soul mates.

.

Caroline’s watching him expectantly, waiting for a response. He looks at Harry and suddenly, plain as day, he hears Harry’s voice in his head. I’ll play along, if you will. It’d definitely sell you.

Louis takes a breath and lets it out. “Actually, Caroline.” He takes another breath and then barrels forward. “I’m really surprised you caught on. We’ve known each other forever and we’ve always told everyone that we were soul brothers, cause it felt, like, easier that way. Less pressure.”

He looks at Harry who bites his lip and nods. “But we’re definitely in love. Definitely soul mates. We’re planning to marry when Harry finishes school.”

As soon as he says it, his heart begins to pound. What if this goes on TV. No, it will definitely go on TV, if she buys it. That’s how rare soul mates are; they’re big news. On a national scale. On an international scale. Scientists and sociologists and psychologists will want to meet with them. People will want to write scholarly articles about them.

Shitshitshitshit. People will see through the lie. And if they don’t, then he’ll be stuck in it. Forever. Because soul mates don’t break up.

“Oh Louis!” His mother coos. “I thought maybe, but you never said…” As she speaks, his eyes fall on Hannah whose top lip is curling.

Caroline throws the mic in her face, mouthing ‘perfect’ to the cameraman, “So, you’re Louis’ mum, right? Is this the first time you’re hearing about this?”

Louis’ mum has tears in her eyes, as she nods. Fuck. He glares at Harry. Why in the world did he think that at Louis? He’s never ever going to be able to tell her the truth.

The only solution is to die. Or kill Harry. Or both. Or run away to Antarctica before they get famous. They could totally learn to live off penguin meat.

Harry bursts out laughing. Through giggles, he says to Caroline, “Sorry. Louis’ thinking ridiculous stuff. We didn’t really plan to tell anyone yet.”

“You guys are too cute. I’m sure his love will carry you far in this competition,” Caroline says.

Louis finds himself nodding and, despite their perhaps fatal lie, saying honestly, “It already has.”

He loves Harry. He does. Just not like that.

Chapter Text

The moment the cameras have moved away, Louis grabs Harry’s arm and drags him toward the loo. His mum is shouting at them to come back, but Louis ignores her.

They need to talk.

Louis locks the door to the room and slams Harry up against it. Harry’s eyes are glassy and his breath is short.

Fuck. He’s aroused.

Louis doesn’t even take the time to consider how or why. It’s just sort of how things go with Harry. The boy is and always has been a bit of a sex fiend, in Louis’ opinion, and Louis does his best to ignore it.

“Louis,” Harry says, voice low and little rough. God, he sounds like he’s on the pull. Fucking hell.

“Fucking hell, Harry,” Louis says, stepping back. “I need you to focus.”

Harry shakes his head. “Yeah, okay.” He does not sound focused.

“Why did you suggest that I say that? We’re going to have to act like we’re soul mates in front of everyone. Forever. Because that’s how soul mates work. Oh my god.” Louis flicks a piece of hair out of his eyes.

“Well, it got you onto the show,” Harry mutters, looking away. His voice is still breathy with arousal.

“Great. Just what I always wanted. To get onto the X Factor not because I’m talented, but because my shithead soul brother is telling lies about our relationship.”

Harry looks up. “You’re definitely talented enough. But this isn’t a talent show. It’s the X Factor. You need star power.”

“God, Harry, listen to yourself,” Louis leans into his space.

“You’re the one that said it. You didn’t have to,” Harry reasons.

He’s right, of course. But it had made sense in the moment. And Harry had thought it so clearly and so forcefully. And Caroline had believed it. Hell, his own mother had believed it. “There’s a test, isn’t there? There’s some sort of scientific evaluation, like a brainscan that can tell if we’re actually soul mates.”

Harry shakes his head. “Not really. They have a bunch of little activities and then they evaluate us based on how well we do at reading each other, I think. The main difference between soul siblings and soul mates is that soul mates are, like, wildly attracted to each other. I’ve read some accounts, from different people. When they meet it’s like they need to have sex right away, they’re suddenly so aroused. And also they can read each other’s minds, like us.”

“So there’s no way people will be able to tell if we’re lying,” Louis says.

Harry shakes his head. “I don’t think so. I mean, we have to make it believable. People need to think that we want to jump each other’s bones all the time.” He chuckles. “Shouldn’t be too difficult of an act to pull off.”

Louis’ eyebrows fly up, but he says, “I guess not. But soul mates don’t break-up. What about when we meet people we want to marry? Fuck, what about Hannah?”

Harry winces. “I didn’t think about Hannah. Sorry.”

Louis finds himself shrugging. They were only on again, off again, after all. But then again, “I don’t know what to say to her.”

“Just say that you’re sorry. That we weren’t ready to let people know yet. Maybe that we wanted to let each other play the field a little bit before settling down forever. That seems believable.”

Louis nods. Cruel, but believable.

And Harry adds, “We can stop. I’d go out there and say that you lied, if that’s what you want. But I think we should try it. I think it could really launch you into a career, into superstardom. Then, when things are good and you’ve become wildly successful and every man, woman, and child in England is horribly jealous of me, you can say that it was a scam the whole time. The papers will love that.”

Louis nods. It sounds awful. Well, just the ending bit. He does want to make it big.

“Okay,” he says, searching Harry’s eyes, Harry’s mind, Harry’s heart, for any ounce of reservation. Harry opens himself fully to Louis’ prodding and all Louis finds is excitement and a few left over (and distracting) shivers of arousal. “Let’s do it.”

Harry pulls him into a tight hug. “I’ll make it good,” he murmurs. “I promise. You won’t regret this.”

They’re leaping off a cliff with no idea what’s below, but they’re doing it together and that’s enough for Louis.

~

“You were right, Anne,” Louis’ mum says as soon as Harry’s mum opens the door. “You were right. They’re soul mates.”

Harry’s mum is in her pajamas even though it’s the middle of the afternoon and Louis thinks she must’ve been coming off an overnight shift at the hospital. She blinks groggily at the van load of people on her front steps. “What?”

“If you’re working tonight, call in,” Louis’ mum orders, pushing inside. Louis came by his bossy streak honestly, ask anyone. “We’re celebrating. Our sons are getting married. I’ll put on the kettle.”

Anne’s eyes narrow and seek out Harry. This is it, Louis thinks, she’ll know and it’ll be over. “What’s all this, love?”

Her words aren’t angry or even confused. She’s speaking softly, using the gentle tone reserved for comforting her children when they’ve burnt themselves on the stove or played poorly in a footie match. Louis’ had it directed at himself a fair few times over the years.

She’s looking at Harry, now, though, eyes wide and arms open.

Louis doesn’t know whether to follow his mum into the kitchen to help with tea or to stay where he’s at to help Harry explain the situation.

“I’m sorry I-” Harry begins, grabbing her wrist and wrapping his fingers around it. Then he shakes his head. “We just sorted things out, like a few days ago.”

Harry’s bright red and Louis doesn’t think he’s ever seen him embarrassed in front of his mother before.

“Oh, Harry.” There are tears in Anne’s eyes as she reaches for her son and wraps her arms around him. “I’m so happy for you. I told you Louis’d come around.”

Louis feels out of place, like he doesn’t belong here, an unusual feeling where Harry’s concerned. He’s not sure what Anne’s talking about, what he’d supposedly come around to. Harry had seemed sincere in his insistence that the thought he’d sent to Louis was totally unplanned.

Anne looks up at him, suddenly, over Harry’s shoulder. Her smile is so wide and her eyes so happy and, seeing her delight, Louis is overwhelmed with sadness. He wants it to be true, but it’s not. He wants to be Harry’s soul mate, but he isn’t, and he wants for her joy to be aimed at something genuine, instead of at the lie they’ve concocted.

“Come on, then,” she murmurs, tone still intent and warm, as she beckons him into the hug alongside Harry.

His skin begins to hum the moment he’s close enough to touch Harry. When they do press together, arms and legs and cheeks bumping, Louis’ breath escapes him.

Louis is caught off guard when Harry pushes a memory at him. He sees Harry and his mother sitting at their kitchen table, Harry’s laptop open to a YouTube video of Louis brushing the fringe out of his eyes and beginning to sing.

A blue ceramic kettle sits beside Anne, and Louis knows the conversation he’s watching is serious. In the Styles’ household, the good kettle only comes out when something’s gone wrong. Louis wants to know what they’re saying, but Harry hides the picture again before he has a chance to listen in.

“We’re going to be family. Finally. Can you believe?” Louis’ mum has reappeared from the kitchen. She’s watching them hug, tea kettle all but forgotten in her hand.

Lottie, who’d followed them back into the house, calls out, “When is the wedding? You’d better make me maid of honor.”

Felicite shouts, “You guys are going to be famous.”

Louis looks at his mum. She looks as happy as Anne, happier maybe. “I reckon they’re both right, don’t you?”

~

It’s late and Louis’ sat on the floor of Harry’s room wearing only a pair of Harry’s threadbare track shorts.

It’s hot, even with the breeze coming in through the open window, and they haven’t spoken to each other all night. As far as Louis can tell, Harry’s erected a firm wall between Louis’ thoughts and his own.

Both their mums had insisted, with an awkward directness, that Louis stay over. “After all,” his own mum had stated. “You haven’t got anything to hide anymore. We’re happy for you.”

The irony stung, but Louis didn’t see any way around the inevitable. They’d have to live together from now on. It’d be too painful for real soul mates to live apart.

“Look,” Harry whispers, more to the ceiling than to Louis. “I’ve done my research…”

“About that,” Louis cuts in. “Why have you looked so deeply into soul mates, anyway?”

Harry picks at his duvet cover. Louis really wishes Harry’d let him into his mind. Unfiltered pictures and memories and feelings could get this uncomfortable mess between them sorted out so much more quickly.

“Remember, in high school, when I asked you if you thought that we might be soul mates?” He asks the question so slowly that Louis almost loses track of it.

“Yeah,” he replies, though the memory is vague.

“I really thought we might be. I looked it up then. That’s what the whole thing with my mum was about. She knew I thought that we were, you know, and then when I told her otherwise, like, after we’d talked, she didn’t believe me.” Harry’s choosing his words so carefully, Louis thinks, but they still don’t make sense.

The memory of him and his mum that Harry’d pushed to him had been recent, not from high school or even shortly thereafter, but from the last couple of months. Harry’s hair was long, past his chin, and Louis’d only put that YouTube video up around Christmas.

Louis wants to ask Harry about the discrepancy, but he doesn’t dare. Harry only hides things from him purposefully and he doesn’t want to start a fight, not now, not with Harry’s mum and stepdad across the hall under the false assumption that he and Harry are having wild sex.

“So, yeah, I’ve done my research, and we’ll need to touch and, like, kiss and stuff. Probably, a lot. Soul mates are apparently given to lots of PDA.” Harry slides off his bed to sit beside Louis with a thud and, carefully, lays his hand on top of Louis’.

His touch is light and he doesn’t even intertwine their fingers, but it doesn’t matter. It burns a path straight to Louis’ dick, which jumps in his shorts.

The thing is, this is getting worse, not better, Louis’ reaction to Harry’s body, to touching him, skin to skin. He’d thought, when he’d moved home two and half years back, that physical proximity would return them to some kind of normal. Or, at least, he thought he’d stop getting a boner when their elbows so much as brushed. When that hadn’t been the case, he’d started avoiding contact. Harry hadn’t seemed to mind, had even seemed to silently encourage the physical distance, most of the time.

They still cuddled every once in awhile. Louis needed it, was the thing, boner or no. He needed feel Harry pressed up against him, to breathe in his shampoo, still the same tearless formula he’d used as a child, in order to ward off the deep, hollow well of anxiety that often threatened to pull him down and down and down. So they’ve cuddled recently, yes, but not very often, and not for very long.

In the last eight hours, Louis has touched Harry more than he has in the last eight months and now, with this new sample to added the collection of touches he’s been storing up in his memory, he can safely say that Harry’s touch has become more charged than ever, sending these little sparks through him, lighting him up, quick and intense.

Louis has been hard on and off all fucking day. In the dark heat of Harry’s bedroom, with Harry breathing heavily beside him, Louis is fit to burst.

“I got that much from ‘Mated for Life’ commercials. Everyone knows that.”

Harry’s looking at him, but Louis’ not looking back. He’s keeping his eyes straight ahead.

“Well, I think we should practice.” The words come out rough and Louis has the impression that Harry is imagining them doing just that as he speaks, even though Harry’s mind remains closed off to him.

Louis pictures it, too. He pictures Harry climbing into his lap, straddling him, sinking his fingers into his hair, and pressing their lips together.

“I don’t-” he begins to say, but Harry pushes a different image toward him before he can finish. They’re standing, toe to toe, and Harry tilts his head just so. Their lips brush and the softness of the touch has every hair on his body standing on end.

As if on puppet strings, Louis rises, and Harry follows. Then, they’re standing, just like they were in Harry’s mind, so close Louis can feel the heat of Harry’s body and the wet of his breath. Louis’ own breaths is coming in shallow, too loud gasps. He’s panting, he realizes, and so is Harry.

Harry reaches up to slide a hand up Louis’ neck and into his hair. As he tilts his head closer, he asks, “Yeah?”

The soft rasp sends heat pooling in Louis’ gut. He’s so hard, he’s afraid that if they touch, he’ll come in his pants instantaneously.

Just before their lips meet, Louis pulls away. Harry’s fingertips slide over his shoulder and then slip down his arm. Louis shivers and looks down, avoiding Harry’s eyes.

His gaze lands on the line of Harry’s erection, straining the fabric of his boxers, a small, dark spot of precome at its tip.

And, oh, Louis thinks. Oh.

When Harry nicks himself shaving, Louis can feel the sting of it in his own jaw, so why wouldn’t the throb of Harry’s arousal thicken his own dick? Sure, Julia never warned them about it, but, then again, it’s an awkward thing to tell teenage boys, isn’t it?

The more he thinks about it, the more it makes sense. He feels years of shame melt away. Their mutual arousal is natural; it must be.

“This is weird,” Louis murmurs, stepping back. “I think it’s the bond making us…” He gestures between them, his hand at waist level.

Harry doesn’t answer and his mind is so, so quiet. Louis looks up at his face. His pupils are huge and still trained on Louis’ mouth. He’s chewed his own lips raw and swollen.

Louis dick twitches again, so, so hard as, unbidden, he sees an image of those fat pink lips wrapped around his dick.

Harry gasps and steps closer, again. “Come on, Lou,” he murmurs. “It’ll only help, I promise.”

Louis closes his eyes and pushes the lustful thoughts out of the forefront of his mind. Keeping his eyes shut, he walks backward to the door, willing Harry to stay.

When he finally feels able to open his eyes again, his hand is on the door knob and Harry, frozen in place, is watching him, lips slightly parted.

“We need to--” Harry says.

“We’re not animals, Harry. We don’t need to do anything. And I’m sure we’ll be able to pull off a couple of public kisses without any trouble.” The words tumble over each other in hard, eager rush.

If he’s honest, Louis is having difficulty paying much attention to them. His mind is already on the shower he’s about to take, on the way his hand is going to pull--

“Fuck, okay, yeah,” Harry agrees, falling back against his bed. Louis watches the way Harry’s boxers move, watches the head of his cock, pink and glistening, poke out of the hole, begging for attention.

Louis turns and hightails it to the bathroom. He slams the door, not bothering to lock it in his rush to twist the knob above the tub. Water begins to gush out of the showerhead and he steps underneath it, even though it’s still freezing and tugs at his cock.

All it takes is one pull and he’s coming with a horse cry. He’s gasping and shivering, something is wrong with the temperature controls, probably, but Louis can’t figure it out right now. He can only stare at the cool water washing his spunk down the drain, though barely registers it. He’s picturing Harry’s pink lips and the pink tip of his dick.

~

Lines mar the once smooth contours of Julia’s face and her eyes droop, at once more sad and more happy than Louis’ ever seen them.

She’s smiling, of course, and Louis wonders for the first time if they’d made a mistake asking their mums to discontinue therapy as soon as they’d mastered the art of erecting impenetrable mental walls. (Well, Harry’d mastered it, at least.)

Harry hugs her, whispering to her in a low voice. Louis can’t quite make out his words, but he can tell that Harry’s excited to see her. He enjoyed therapy more than Louis. Probably because he was better at it, more willing to sit still and practice the techniques that Julia was always trying to teach them.

The door to the small lounge room opens again and a man walks in wearing a white coat, with the words Dr. Nott embroidered on the breast pocket. He smiles, but it’s a cool smile.

Julia gestures for Louis and Harry to sit on the loveseat as she introduces everyone. Louis settles a couple inches away from Harry, but it barely makes a difference; the left side of his body tingles with anticipation just from the proximity.

“I know it might be a little a weird, but we really want you to relax and, like, be a couple around us.” Julia winks at Louis and he has to force himself not to move further away from Harry.

“Actually,” Dr. Nott says. “We need to see you as a couple. That’s the point of all this. I’m the only English-speaking soul mate specialist this side of the pond, so I do most of the registration work for the UK.”

Julia clears her throat. “I’ve handed over to Todd all the records I kept during our sessions and, of course, he’s seen all your initial tests. Your bond has already been proven and registered. So this interview is really just procedural, so that we can move your papers from one pile to the other.”

“Not really a pile, is it?” Louis asks. Beside him, Harry scoots closer and for a moment Louis loses track of everything but the heat of his skin.

Dr. Nott smiles and folds his arms over his chest, “Actually, your addition makes it fourteen living couples currently in the UK. I’d say that’s a pile.”

“What?” Louis blinks at him. He’d never heard of any soul mates in England. According to the history books, the last known pair had died off before the first world war.

“Most keep it a secret.” Julia smiles.

Harry slips an arm over Louis’ shoulders and Louis shivers into the touch before relaxing against him. Maybe he’ll be able to handle himself, keep a rein on his libido, at least for the length of the session.

“I can see why,” Harry murmurs. And, there it is, with rough brush of Harry’s words and the heat of his breath, Louis’ hard. He closes his eyes. “It’s so intense and so personal.”

Dr. Nott jots something down on a tiny yellow notepad. “Can you say a little bit more about that?”

Louis tenses. He’s nervous about this. Their mums and sisters believed without hesitation, but he’s not sure they’ll be able to fool bond specialists.

He’d wanted to plan out responses, prepare for the questions they might ask, but Harry didn’t want the conversation to appear forced. He assured Louis that he could handle all the explanations.

Harry’s fingertips dig into Louis shoulder, pulling him back into the moment and Dr. Nott’s curious gaze. “Well, you see, we can’t even touch each other without becoming aroused.”

It’s not a lie.

Dr. Nott nods as though Harry’d just relayed a mundane detail about the weather. “You only recently consummated the bond, then?”

Dr. Nott glances meaningfully Julia who shrugs.

“What?” Harry asks.

“That wildness you’re experiencing? It should decrease rapidly. All the other couples I’ve worked with said it went away within a month or so of meeting. Obviously, you’ve known each other much longer than that, but I assume then, that you only became sexual partners within that time?”

“We tiptoed around our attraction for, like, years...” Harry smiles at Louis and pushes him a memory of the two of the cuddled up in his bed, horny teenagers, trying their hardest to ignore their dicks. In it, Louis can feel the urgency of Harry’s want in a way he never has before and his breath catches in his throat.

Louis looks down at the carpeting. This conversation doesn’t feel like a rouse. That memory is real.

“What changed?” Julia’s voice is soft.

Louis meets Harry’s gaze again, trying not to panic. Without looking away, Harry says, “I was scared of losing him. I’d thought we were soul mates for so long and when it began to look like he might make it onto the show, I had to know for sure before it was too late.”

“Louis-”

Harry cuts off Julia’s question, for which Louis is grateful. “So I just put it out there. I told him that I thought we were soul mates. I felt that attraction and I thought he did, too.” “And I did,” Louis says. “I do.” He tries to make it sound final. Like that’s all there is to it.

Julia stares between them. “I’d always suspected.” Her eyes are tearing up. “I’ve worked with so many bondmates, but none of them have known one another the way you two seem to.”

Louis thinks about all the things Harry’s been keeping from him, the way he can throw up walls Louis doesn’t even begin to know how to scale. Harry’s nails dig into his bicep and into Louis’ mind he sends warmth.

“My only real question is about University. You spent two months apart a couple of years back, when Louis went off to school. From my research, that would be impossible for soul mates to withstand, after meeting one another, of course.”

Louis’ stomach twists. This is it. The moment of truth. They’ve been found out.

Harry chokes out a hoarse laugh. “We survived, yeah. But that was the worst two months of our lives. Louis almost failed out of school and I was a wreck. We hadn’t- what’s the word you used?- ‘consummated’ our bond yet, so I bet that might have made things a little easier, physically. But, yeah, it sucked.” Harry pauses. He’s thinking of something, but he doesn’t send it to Louis and Louis doesn’t prod. “That was one of the biggest clues for me, actually.”

“You are a unique situation. All the other Soul Mates on record have met after they were past puberty,” Dr. Nott concedes.

“I told you they reported a physical connection, even as boys,” Julia says. “That’s not a usual part of bonding, even for soul siblings.”

Louis wants to stop the conversation, ask Julia to explain, but he doesn’t dare lengthen the time spent in this room.

Dr. Knott nods and taps the tip of his pen to the yellow pad. “Do you have any concerns about the bond? I’m making a recommendation to the X Factor to allow Harry to stay on site with you as much as possible, Louis. Especially in these early months of consummation, separation can be a challenge.”

“No questions here.” Louis rubs his hands on his thighs and prepares to stand.

“I have a question,” Harry murmurs.

Dr. Nott stares at him and Julia nods and sends him an encouraging smile.

“Can soul mates break up? Like, is there any record of that happening?” Harry’s brows are drawn tight together. It doesn’t matter, of course. They’re not soul mates. But it is an interesting question.

Dr. Nott nods. “Of course, they can. They rarely do. The physical and emotional project of separating from one another is often a very large disincentive. People usually do a lot of work to save troubled Bonds. But you know as well as I do that you’re two distinct people and you both have all kinds of faults. Just because you can know each other’s minds doesn’t mean living together and being partners in the world is always easy.”

“But I always thought soul mates were brought together by God or the Universe or Fate. That they were made for each other?” Louis’ fully engaged in the conversation now.

Dr. Nott shakes his head and stands. “Actually, those are myths. We have no proof that any of that is true. What we know is what I said. You’re two separate people. And living in any kind of partnership is difficult.”

Louis makes a face, but he doesn’t respond. He wants to argue with the man. Soul mates are perfect for each other. He’s seen the shows. He’s read the books. They are meant to be. Fated. That’s what it means to be soul mates. Everyone knows that.

But he doesn’t think this doctor in his white coat with his endless supply of ‘actually’s would listen.

On the way to the car, Louis replays the session in his mind. He’s aware of Harry beside him, can feel the anticipation he’s holding, knows that means he wants to talk about what happened. But Louis isn’t ready yet. He wants to think it through.

Harry and Julia’s easy familiarity. The snide jut of Dr. Nott’s chin as he’d shaken Louis’ hand. The admission that no tests were needed; no one suspected them to be lying. The weight of Harry’s arm around his shoulder. The easy answers Harry had for their questions.

Remembering Harry’s words touches a nerve and Louis finds himself breaking the silence as they buckle in.

“You weren’t lying!” Louis’ voice is loud and sharp. He doesn’t mean for it to be. But what the fuck.

Harry’s mouth opens and then closes.

Louis turns the key in the ignition and the engine roars to life. “You were telling the truth. You sent me that thought to lie because you were scared it was the only way to keep me.”

“That’s not-”

But Louis isn’t finished. “I’ve promised you I wouldn’t leave you behind! You are the most important person in my life. You always will be. No reality tv show, no fame, no other person will ever change that. You didn’t have to sacrifice your life, your possibilities for love and relationships to make that so! You didn’t have to do that!”

Tears sting at the corners of his eyes. He’s angry at Harry for not trusting him and he’s angry at himself for not communicating clearly enough his love for Harry. How could Harry not know how Louis feels for him?

“I love you,” he says. And then, in case it isn’t clear, he pushes to Harry one of their most cherished memories, the last night of summer when Louis was fourteen and Harry twelve. They’d snuck out of their homes, laid on the footie pitch in the neighborhood park, and watched the stars, hand in hand, dreaming of the summer after next when Harry’d be preparing to join Louis in high school.

That night, Louis promised he’d never leave Harry behind. He meant it. He still does.

“I know,” Harry says. He’s still unhappy, his dissatisfaction so intense that it’s radiating through the fortress he’s built up around whatever’s going on in his head. “I just…”

Louis pulls the car onto the street. He doesn’t know how to smooth things over between them.

“Don’t you ever wonder, like… maybe we are soul mates.”

“No, I don’t,” Louis replies. “If we were, we’d know.”

“How?” Harry presses.

“We’d just know, you know? Something would be different between us. Special. We’d be in love.

Harry reaches over and puts a hand on Louis’ arm. From the spot, a warmth radiates through him and he winces, pulling away.

“That’s something, right?” Harry asks. “Maybe it’s like the doctor said. Maybe there’s nothing magical about it.”

Through gritted teeth, Louis says, “We aren’t. You know that’s not us. The doctor said we wouldn’t’ve survived being apart for so long when I was at school. For fuck’s sake, let it go.”

Harry doesn’t speak on the matter any further that night, but Louis knows he hasn’t let it go.

~

Louis’ shoulders and feet ache from his choreography sessions earlier in the day. During his elevator ride up to the special off-site suite he’s sharing with Harry during Bootcamp, all he can think about is taking a hot shower, calling his mum, and then sucking up his pride and begging Harry for a cuddle.

Harry’s been distant with him, refraining from touch, except for the occasional brush or squeeze in public. The last two nights, they’ve had a large hotel room all to themselves and he and Harry have slept in separate beds.

Well, Louis hasn’t really slept at all.

Except when he enters the suite, Harry’s not there. His suitcase sits open, but his wallet and phone are nowhere in sight. Louis closes his eyes and focuses on Harry, searching for him.

He’s nearby and safe, but that’s as much as Louis’ able to discern. At him, Louis pushes the thought, come home, and then an image of the two of them curled up one of the hotel beds.

He doesn’t receive a response, so he keeps his mind as open as possible and begins to disrobe.

The water is hot and thrums against his scalp and shoulders. He wonders if Harry’s at dinner or, perhaps, having a drink. Maybe some very busy businessmen has taken off his wedding ring and is trying to woo Harry back up to his hotel room.

Louis doesn’t think Harry would go. He’s never had a boyfriend before. Hell, Louis doesn’t know if he’s ever been kissed.

Harry’s question rises to mind, as it has dozens of times over the last couple of weeks. What if they are soul mates, he and Harry?

They can’t be. He’s heard the stories that soul mates tell. Their worlds shift the moment they set eyes on each other. During their first meeting, the urge to touch each other overwhelms all their other instincts. It’s physically painful for them to be apart.

A pounding on the bathroom door pulls Louis from his thoughts. It’s Harry. Louis can feel the sting of the wood against Harry’s knuckles and the worried, are you alright?, he’s sending Louis.

“It’s unlocked,” Louis shouts and before he’s finished the word, the door is opening.

Louis pulls back the shower curtain, only vaguely aware of the water sluicing down his chest as he takes Harry in, sweaty and a little out of breath, wearing nothing but headphones and running shorts.

“Are you okay?” Harry demands.

Relief washes over Louis, Harry’s proximity easing the aches in his body more quickly and effectively than any shower ever has.

“Yes,” he says. “Now, I am.”

Harry’s shoulders sag and he runs a hand through his hair.

“Rough day?” Harry’s eyes travel over Louis’ body. They’ve seen each other naked hundreds, no, thousands of times, a result of living in and out of each other’s pockets. And as children, before they perfected the art of setting up mental walls, they’d known each other’s bodies as well as their own.

But this is different. This isn’t a casual peak while changing, nor is Harry a curious child. Louis’ cock knows it, too.

“Lots of dancing.” Louis answers Harry’s question.

“You like dancing. You’re good at it.” Harry begins to strip off his headphones and shorts and nods at the shower, at Louis. “Can I?”

Louis gapes at him. The words have fallen from his lips and the clothes from his body, so smooth and easy an outsider might have assumed they showered together regularly.

But they don’t.

This is new, being naked and hard and wet, at the same time, in the same place.

Harry pushes him a thought: please.

Louis steps back and lets him in.

Harry stands under the spray, eyes closed, as water runs down his scalp, neck, back. He asks, “What was hard?”

Louis’ eyes dart down to Harry’s cock, standing out from his body, fully erect. He wants to touch it.

Harry chokes out a rough laugh. “About dancing, I mean.”

Louis places a hand on the tile wall, grounding himself. He sends Harry pictures of the choreographer shouting directions almost too quickly for Louis to keep up and memories of the way his shoulders ached holding some of the poses far longer than will ever be necessary during an actual show.

Julia used to chastise Louis for relying too much on images and memories to communicate with Harry. She told him he needed to be able to clarify himself using words; picture-thoughts could be confusing. Louis thinks she must never have been on the receiving end of such a thing. It’s the clearest form of communication that he’s ever experienced.

Harry hums. Harry’s not so reliant on images and memories as Louis and so Louis expects him to say something.

He doesn’t.

Instead, he sends Louis an image. In it, Harry’s washing Louis’ back and hair, fingers forceful as he massages the soap into Louis’ skin and scalp.

Louis can’t catch the moan before it’s out of his mouth. He nods and then Harry’s hands are on him, turning him around and maneuvering him to stand under the warm spray. Somehow, Harry’s hands are even more deft and sure than they’d been in his mind.

Louis finds his body relaxing, his muscles melting to from hard rock to malleable clay which Harry molds with care. As his eyes blink closed, he realizes that he can’t tell where his skin ends and Harry’s begins.

One of Harry’s hands has left his lower back to crawl across his hips. It hovers just below Louis’ belly button. Into Louis’ ear, Harry murmurs, “May I? Please?”

The image he shares is so sharp that, in contrast, everything around Louis blurs and suddenly Louis doesn’t know what is real, the world where Harry is holding his cock tight or the world where he isn’t.

Louis soft whimper must be the answer for which Harry’s been searching because Harry grasps the length of him and the two worlds become one again.

Harry’s rhythm and grip are perfect, exactly what Louis wants and needs in the moment, what he would have done for himself had his hands been the ones wrapped round his cock. But, of course, it’s better because it’s not his hands and he can feel Harry’s breath on his neck, as well as the swirl of pleasure low in Harry’s own belly.

Louis falls into Harry’s mind, feels the tug of Harry’s other hand around Harry’s cock, the way his balls tighten up and his belly swoops down to meet them. Harry’s rhythm turns erratic as he comes, the image of his seed washing over Louis’ ass and thighs imprinted on both of their minds.

Harry’s hand stills on Louis as he works to catch his breath. But Louis’ close, too, and he wants to follow Harry over the edge so desperately that he allows his own hand to cover Harry’s and pull and pull and pull.

The orgasm sets him rocking, hard, onto his toes. He groans with the force of it.

God, fuck.

He hasn’t come in days, not since they’d moved into this tiny hotel room together, but even so the magnitude, the way it rattles him to his very core, surprises him.

Harry hums and pulls Louis’s back tight to his chest. Into Louis’ ear, he rumbles, “Thank you.”

Louis tries to reply, but his thoughts are too jumbled with Harry’s own, the aftershocks of pleasure still fucking him up badly enough that he can’t pick out words or even images to send to Harry.

But he doesn’t really need to, he realizes. Harry can see. They’re so close, minds and bodies and feelings nearly one and the same.

A wave of nostalgia washes over Louis. He knows this feeling; he’s felt it before, when they were young. As boys, they’d never closed their minds when they got off, eagerly sharing with each other the newly discovered pleasures of their bodies.

Even though he was significantly younger, Harry’d discovered the thrill of a hand on his cock and the sweet waterfall of an orgasm before Louis- two minutes before Louis to be exact.

However, they soon learned the shame associated with sex, the way you were meant to keep ‘what happened in the bedroom’ private, and, more importantly, the way people shuddered at the taboo of sharing such pleasures with your siblings, soul siblings or otherwise.

This alone had been enough for Louis to double down in therapy, to do his best to keep his feelings to himself and to erect walls around these kinds of experiences.

The intensity of their closeness, the one and the sameness- it never returned. And Louis’d often wondered if it was a fair price to pay for fitting in.

Harry begins to untangle their bodies and the act serves to untangle their thoughts, as well. Harry reaches around Louis to turn off the water and the sudden quiet, the weight of what they’d done settles onto Louis’ shoulders.

Harry steps out of the shower. Louis follows, taking the towel Harry hands him and wiping the drops of water off his face.

Eyes clear, Louis says, “That was confusing.”

Harry freezes, white linen pressed to his chest. “How?”

Louis sends him a dagger of anger. He doesn’t want to explain. Harry must already know.

“I don’t,” Harry says, reading his thoughts.

“We’re brothers, not lovers.”

Harry smirks. “We’re not literally brothers, Louis. We’re not even step brothers.”

Louis sighs. “I can’t do that again. It’s like-“ He searches for the words. “It’s like we’re the same. When we do that, all the lines between us blur.”

Harry unfreezes, moving the towel over his stomach and hips and thighs. “I like it.”

“It’s confusing, Louis reiterates. “I don’t think we should do it again.”

Harry hums. Louis can’t tell whether it’s a hum of agreement or disagreement and he reaches out to Harry’s mind only to discover that Harry’s already replaced the wall between them.

Within the space of moments, Harry’s reestablished the distance between them and they are as separate as they’ve ever been; Louis chest tightens with the loss of what had briefly been.

He knows it’s for the best.

~

The weight of Harry’s hand on Louis’ thigh isn’t doing much to clear the mist of confusion that seems to have settled permanently in and around Louis’ head.

If he’s being honest, he doesn’t hate the mist. He kind of likes it. In fact, post-bootcamp, Louis likes nearly all of his life. He likes meeting celebrities and he likes being in the spotlight, the interest he’s drumming up on Twitter and in the press. He likes rehearsing and dressing up and performing, but more than anything else, he loves this: showing Harry off to the world.

The Sun’s running a general story about all the candidates who’ve made it to the Judge’s Houses and Louis will be a part of that, but they’re running a special spread on him and Harry.

Louis’ seen Selene’s face by her column in the paper many times, but she’s a bit more… sparkly in person, as she’s wearing a shimmery top and a half dozen or more glittering rings on her fingers.

“I like your style,” Harry says, voice coy.

Louis twists. He can feel the truth of the statement, but it surprises him. The Harry he knows has modes: plain jane, goofy to the absurd, and naked.

“So you’re into style now, Styles?” Louis teases.

Harry blinks back at him and licks his lips. He pushes Louis an image of himself superimposed into a Mick Jagger-esque suit and they both laugh.

“Were you two just communicating telepathically?”

Without looking away from Harry’s face, Louis nods.

“What’s that like, then? I’m an empath, but I’ve heard it’s different for soul mates.” She taps ringed finger against her chin as she waits for the answer.

Louis isn’t exactly sure how to answer. Supposedly empaths can communicate particular words and phrases with other empaths, after they’ve been trained and with a great deal of effort and concentration. To him, that doesn’t even sound like a distant cousin of the gift he and Harry share.

“I just sent Louis an image of my next capital-‘L’ look,” Harry says. “That’s the easiest way to communicate clearly and intentionally, at least for us. With pictures, I mean.”

The woman’s eyes narrows. “That doesn’t sound all that different from my experience.”

Louis’ stomach clenches. They aren’t meant to be soul siblings, after all. Maybe it’s different still for soul mates.

Harry remains relaxed and his fingers squeeze Louis’ knee, sending a shot of warmth straight through him. It passes his groin, but the effect is more comforting than arousing.

“I don’t want to sound like a dick, but it’s not like your gift at all. To put it really simply, whereas you have to work to get into your partner’s head, we have to work to stay out.” Harry’s tone is light and his smile, playful. If he weren’t plastered to his ‘soul mate’s’ side right now, an onlooker might think he were flirting with the woman.

But he is plastered to Louis’ side and he isn’t lying about the way they communicate.

The interviewer’s eyes dart between them and her smile darkens. “I bet that makes sex interesting.”

Louis’ mind flashes to the two them in the shower, to Harry’s firm hold around his dick. “That’s private.” He glances to the X Factor suit sitting in the corner. It’s his job to oversee the interview, make sure that the interviewer asks the right questions and that Louis and Harry provide the right answers.

And Louis doesn’t think this counts as a ‘right’ question.

Sure enough, the suit stands and says, “We have to wrap up, Amy. Louis’ got the stage booked for rehearsal in a half an hour.”

Louis doesn’t like the man. His eyes linger a little too long on Harry and he wrinkles his nose whenever the two of them touch. If anyone suspects them to be faking, it’s this guy, who appears to hold power over Louis’ success or failure in the entertainment industry.

The interviewer is still holding her pose, body alert, eyes curious and focused on Harry-

-Harry who is saying, “Yes. It does make for interesting sex.”

Louis’ breath rushes out of his chest.

Harry continues, “Better sex than you can imagine, really.”

The suit clears his throat. “You’re not using that.”

Louis takes in Harry’s soft smile and faraway stare. The suggestiveness in Harry’s tone- it should be a show. It’s supposed to be a show.

But, unlike the interviewer and the suit, Louis doesn’t have to wonder what Harry’s thinking about; Harry’s sent him the image of the two of them toe to toe in his bedroom, kissing for the first time.

Chapter Text

Louis can’t stand still. He feels like this feet are on fire, like there’s lightning zipping through his veins.

His mum pinches his side and mutters in his ear, “Calm down, love. You’ll do well. You’re a star.”

He pulls away from her with a groan. “Millions of people. I’m going to be performing in front of millions of people. Live.” That’s not even counting the online viewers who’ll tune in the weeks, months, and, if he’s lucky, years to come.

“They’re gonna love you.” Tears form in the corners of his mum’s eyes and Louis’ heart aches. He’s glad she loves him. He’s glad she’s here.

A young woman with a clipboard inserts herself between them. “Louis? They want to do one more make-up check before you go on.”

As they walk over the well-lit, mirror laden space across the room, his mum asks, “Where’s Harry?”

It’s a good question, one Louis’ been avoiding.

When Louis’d left their room five hours ago, Harry’d promised to meet him backstage before the show. Louis doesn’t want to be a drama queen, but he his body itches with a need to touch Harry, to be grounded by his presence, just for a moment, before he steps onstage.

He shrugs, but he can feel his expression shatter.

“Chin up.” Louis’ chest tightens at the instruction and he glances at the floor. Cool fingers lift his chin. “Chin up!”

The make-up artist’s hair is falling loose around her face and her own mascara is smudged. She might be having a worse day than Louis.

“Have you texted him?” his mum asks.

Louis nods, even though he hasn’t. His phone doesn’t work on set, not with the crowds and cinderblock.

Louis’ tried to peer into Harry’s mind, and he thinks he’s gotten there, but it’s hard to piece apart Harry’s panic from his own. Harry wants to be here. Of that much Louis is certain. But Harry’s trying to protect from Louis the details of what’s keeping him away. He doesn’t want Louis to worry about him.

“All done,” the make-up artist tells him with a forced smile and overzealous wink. “And not a moment too soon.”

She pushes him toward a stagehand who’s all dressed in black.

“You can do this, darling!” His mum calls as the stagehand directs him toward the door. There’s a small crowd blocking it. Louis’ stomach drops as he imagines being prepped and powdered again.

“Wait!”

The hard pulse that’s been throbbing in Louis’ neck stutters and he whirls around to see Harry. Everything falls away. Suddenly he’s seeing and feeling and hearing and thinking Harry’s I’m sorry.

When they reach each other, Harry stops inches away and pushes him a picture of a security barring his way. “They were debating whether or not I counted as family, since we aren’t married yet.”

Louis’ brows draw together. “Of course, you’re family. You’re my soul mate.”

Not everyone’s been receptive to the special accommodations Louis’ received on account of having a soul mate. They say it’s giving him an unfair advantage. Louis empathizes with this sentiment, he’s even felt a little guilty about all of it. Especially because they’re not actually soul mates.

But he doesn’t feel guilty now. He needs Harry close.

Harry clasps Louis’ head between his open palms and pulls him in for a searing kiss. Harry’s mouth is open, pouring fire into Louis. Into Louis’ mind he sends the words, light it up out there.

When they step apart, Harry sends him a feeling. Forcibly sharing emotions can be tricky, overwhelming and confusing. As boys, Julie forbade it, and, having already lived through the Angry Birthday Cake Incident of February ‘99, they obeyed as best they could.

So, now, when Harry very deliberately and forcefully sends him a feeling, Louis shudders a little with surprise.

Harry’s given him two things all twisted together- pride and love- and they float in and around Louis, buoying him out onto stage.

The next morning, the Guardian’s review claims, Louis Tomlinson’s performance positively glowed.

~

Louis’ on a carnival ride. The room spins around him, blurry and beautiful, and his limbs are heavy and the grin he’s wearing has been plastered in place for hours.

Fourth live show and he’d won the set. Been on the top. Polled better than any contestant in the history of the X Factor.

Early in the day, before the show where they announced the final results, a suit had called Louis and Harry into a meeting and set in front of them twin stacks of paper. Merchandising contracts. Louis’d already signed his own soul away to the show, but Harry hadn’t.

According to the suits, their relationship would be immensely profitable for everyone involved. Which, Harry’d said so all along. That’s why they were pretending to be something they weren’t, after all. But it was different coming from someone in a suit, someone with a lawyer and documents to sign.

This was for real.

He’d be leaving the show with a recording contract. He might even win.

‘The Way You Look Tonight’ had been exactly the right song this week, especially with Harry sitting front row, eyes hot on Louis. Louis hadn’t been able to see him, hadn’t been able to see beyond the blinding lights, but the camera’d caught Harry’s dark, open-mouthed stare and broadcast it to the whole of the UK.

And the whole of the UK loved it.

But nobody loved it as much as Louis. When he’d watched the playback of his performance, he’d replayed that two second clip of Harry’s face fourteen times. His cock throbs at the memory and he’s reminded of the low level arousal he’s been nursing all night.

The win, the drinks, Harry pressed tight to his side- it’s a lot.

Which is why he’s decided to sleep right here tonight, on the couch in the outer room of their suite. Harry taunted him for being too lazy and too drunk to make it any farther. But Harry’s wrong. Louis’ confident in his ability make it to the other room. He’s not confident in his ability to keep his hands off Harry.

It’s so fucked up. The line between reality- that they are soul siblings- and the story- that they are soul mates- has become so blurry Louis can’t barely see it, let alone stay on the right side of it, especially not when he’s this drunk. It’s so fucked up.

He closes his eyes and breathes deeply. Sleep, which seemed so close at hand during the cab ride back to the hotel, does not come.

He reaches down, rests a hand on his half-hard cock, and squeezes. Then, he stops himself. He’s told himself that he’s not going to do this, not with Harry so close. He’s not an animal; he can wait.

He closes his eyes. An image flashes before him: he’s got Harry backed up against the door to the bathroom, breathless, his thigh tight between Harry’s legs, rubbing up and down on Harry’s cock.

Louis grabs his cock again, meaning to still it, command it to behave. He tries to push the image out of his mind by thinking of something else- the stress of choosing a song for his next performance, the anxiety of he and Harry’s follow-up appointment with the soul mate specialist, the dread that’s slowly building in his shoulders and back as he anticipates having to publicly break it off with Harry.

Another image appears: it’s him and Harry again, but now they’re naked, laid out on the bed in the adjacent room. Harry looms over him, hands wild on Louis’ skin- covering his shoulders, his pecs, his stomach, his thighs- like he’s desperate to touch as much of Louis as he can, all at once.

Louis moans. It’s a soft noise, but he’s certain it carries through the wall. The barrier between the rooms in the suite is paper thin.

The image changes and suddenly he’s the one on top, stroking Harry with quick, hard jerks of his fist. Pleasure shudders through him and his cock leaks onto his stomach.

He realizes that these are not his thoughts. Harry’s sending them to him.

Which is surprising and- and it’s wrong.

He’d been very clear with Harry. He can’t do this. Not now. Not with Harry. They’re not meant for each other, not in this way.

Another image, then: Harry’s lips on the tip of his cock and then Harry’s mouth sinking down around him.

“Harry,” Louis calls. He’s pleased with how clear his voice sounds.

The image doesn’t disappear, though. Instead, Louis’s hands tighten in Harry’s hair and Harry’s mouth tightens around Louis’ cock. Outside of the vision, Louis’ chokes back a whine and pushes his body off the couch.

He bangs on the door to the room. No answer, only the shuffling of fabric.

Louis’ body is hot all over, and the cool metal of the door handle sends a shudder through him as he twists it open.

A floor lamp illuminates Harry’s nude body sprawled out across the still-made bed. Louis takes in the length of his calves, the breadth of his thighs, his hand clasped around his cock. The heat builds in Louis, anger in his chest and, lower, in the pit of his stomach, in his groin, arousal.

“What are you doing?” He means to sound firm, but he doesn’t think that’s the way the words come out.

Harry hums in answer.

Louis hasn’t met Harry’s eyes yet, too mesmerised by the movement of of his fist to look any farther.

Why are you doing this?” His voice crackles over the words and, now, he definitely doesn’t sound firm.

 

Harry says, “Louis.”

It’s not an answer. Louis finally pulls his gaze upward, over Harry’s chest, past his puckered nipples, by his throat and jaw. Their eyes meet.

Harry’s are glassy and dark. The thoughts ring clear in Louis’ mind, I want you, and come here.

Louis expects anger to bubble up. Harry knows he’s asking Louis to cross a line he doesn’t want to cross. And he’s asking late at night, after Louis’ most spectacular success yet, when they’re both drunk enough to let loose, but not drunk enough to be confused about what’s happening between them. Louis has every right to be angry.

Yet, when he tries to draw up a little heat, even just a twinge of bitterness, he can’t do it.

Harry’s heart pounds with nerves as well as lust and his eyes are wet from sadness as much as desperation.

Louis takes two more steps into the room.

Despite the depth of their connection to each other and the certainty of their place in each other’s lives, in the face of these feelings bubbling and brewing between them, Harry- lips parted in a silent plea- is as lonely and as frightened as Louis feels.

The difference is this: Harry is willing to place everything on the line- all their years of life together- for what might only be a few minutes of pleasure.

Louis uncrosses his arms, letting them drop to his side.

“Please,” Harry says. His hand remains wrapped around his cock, but it’s still now.

For a long moment, neither of them breathe.

Blood rushes in Louis’ ears and he remembers Harry’s hug as he’d rushed off stage, the hot press of Harry’s chest against his own and the tight grip of Harry’s hands on his back.

He takes two more steps, and then a third. A fourth and fifth and he’s standing within inches of the bed and Harry’s bare body.

“What do you want from me?” Louis isn’t sure whether or not he speaks the words aloud. He thinks not, but Harry hears them all the same.

The picture he receives in answer is hazy, his body and Harry’s moving together, Harry’s cock heavy and hot between Louis’ thighs. He wants it, too, and nothing is stopping them from making it so but Louis’ anxious thoughts.

He sets these worries- what will happen to them if they keep doing this? what happens when they break up and everyone knows that they were never soul mates to begin with? is this wrong?- aside with the care of a mother tucking her children into bed, securing the blankets around them and shutting their door behind her, but not leaving them behind, not entirely, never entirely.

Harry must see him do it because he says, “Thank you,” and reaches out to wrap his hand around Louis’ arm and pull him in. Louis’ not ready for the force behind the tug and he falls clumsily across Harry.

Harry’s laugh and then his own cut through the tension between them. A roll and a push and then Harry’s grinning face hovers above Louis’ own.

“You were incredible this week.” It’s not the first time Harry’s said and it probably won’t be the last. “I love watching you on stage. I’m so proud to be bonded to you.”

Louis doesn’t know how to respond, but it doesn’t matter. Harry doesn’t give him a chance.

The kiss starts soft, softer than Louis would’ve thought possible in their drunken state. Harry’s lips butterfly across his before floating over his jaw and throat.

The images Harry’d been sending, the flashes of pleasure, they’d been nothing compared to this sweet press of lips. Louis’ so hard and so desperate he feels blind with it. Harry settles atop him and Louis can’t help himself, he arches his cock into the hard line of Harry’s thigh.

Louis’ never thought much about the smell of sex. The sounds of it, the rub and pull, tend to capture his attention and hold it tightly. He’s thinking of the smell now: the bitter tang of sweat, the soft chemical scent of the make-up he never quite finished removing, the musky tease of precome.

“You smell so good,” Harry murmurs, roughly.

Louis realizes that he isn’t sure who’s feeling which feelings or smelling which smells, and he moans with a tightness that lodges in his chest.

A gentle shift of Harry’s hips sends his mind spinning. Harry’s dick slides between his thighs, hard and wet.

Lube. On the side table. Louis’ not sure if he’s realized it or if Harry’s answered an unasked question.

It doesn’t really matter.

What matters is the rhythm of Harry’s hips, the friction of the fine hairs on Harry’s leg rubbing on Louis’ cock, and the hot, heaving breaths Harry drops against Louis’ cheek.

Louis tenses the muscles of his thighs, revelling in the contours of Harry’s cock tight between them. Harry gasps. Or maybe that’s Louis’ own sharp intake of breath.

He can feel Harry’s orgasm coming, rumbling up from his balls, making its way to the base of his cock.

“Harry,” he says, coaxing him onward.

When Harry comes, Louis’ whole body shakes with it. Harry writhes and so does Louis. Then, they collapse at the very same moment.

“Louis.” Harry’s voice is rough and filled with a wonder that Louis already feels.

“Hmm,” Louis replies.

“That was incredible,” Harry says, grinning at the ceiling. He’s speaking aloud, still, and the sound of it sends a shiver through Louis.

Harry’s dimples deepen. “That takes simultaneous orgasms to a different level.”

He’s not wrong. And, as Louis slides off him and burrows into his side, he decides he’s not going to dwell on why. For now, at least.

~

Louis angles his face so that the harsh lights over the bathroom sink accent his cheekbones and not the spot on his chin. He’s tried to style his hair the way the stylist had for his performance two weeks back, the one where he’d come out on top.

He’s not been totally successful- one strand in particular keeps falling out of place- but it’s alright.

Harry wraps lightly on the door. “You’ve just a got a text that the photographer is waiting for us downstairs.”

Louis sighs. He unbuttons the second button on his shirt and it falls back revealing the top of his undershirt.

He rebuttons it.

“You look great, Lou,” Harry reassures him from the other side of the door. “Come on.”

Louis pushes the door open. “Hey now,” he says. “It’s our first official date. I wanted to impress you.”

Harry flushes and Louis reaches out, curious about the source of his embarrassment, but his mental wall is firmly in place.

“It’s not our first date,” Harry says. “Everyone thinks we’ve been going out for nearly a year now.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “Details, details.”

Harry huffs out a breath. “We need to act natural, like we do this all the time.” He’s turning toward the door and slipping on his shoes.

“We’re just going out to dinner. Which we actually do do all the time,” Louis reminds him, eyes scanning the room for his own pair of shoes.

“We’ll probably have to kiss,” Harry says, brows pinching together.

Louis thinks of the night they’d gotten off together, the heated kisses they’d shared then, the soft kisses they’ve exchanged since. Most of the latter have been in public, beneath the watchful gaze of friends and co-workers and family. Most, but not all.

“That’s alright. I like kissing you,” Louis tells him as he laces up his vans. He feels Harry’s surprise like the twang of an out of tune guitar string.

When he looks up, Harry’s gaping at him, one shoe on and one shoe off.

Louis’ feels his cheeks heat and he looks down again. “Don’t like- obviously, you already knew that. I mean, you can feel my pleasure just like I can feel yours.”

On the dresser Louis’ phone begins to vibrate.

“That’s probably Lisa. She’s the one who texted for us to come down like ten minutes ago. We’re always late to everything. I don’t know how long they’re gonna put up with it. I mean, I know you don’t mind being an entitled popstar or whatever, but I-”

Louis finishes with his shoes and strides across the room toward Harry.

Harry freezes, mouth open, words clearly forgotten, and Louis pushes him up against the door and kisses him. Harry tastes like the mint toothpaste they’ve been sharing and he hums into the kiss.

Louis’ fingers sink into his hair, roughing up his curls. Then, he slides his mouth down to Harry’s jaw and bites hard. Harry squirms against him and Louis’ not sure who’s erection he’s feeling throb between them.

Louis breaks the kiss. His phone is vibrating again.

Harry pants, eyes dark and locked on Louis’ lips. “Why-- what-” he stammers.

Louis touches a finger to the bruise blossoming on Harry’s jaw. “Now, everyone will know why we were late.”

~

Louis presses his knee against Harry’s and Harry leans into him. They’ve been waiting for ten minutes and the server still hasn’t brought them their change.

A flashbulb goes off in a nearby booth.

“I still think we’re gonna look stupid.” Harry mutters the words underneath his breath and Louis pinches his thigh.

Harry stiffens and Louis can feel the low level of arousal he’s been nursing spike.

“I like sitting next to you,” Louis says. “But I guess the feeling isn’t mutual.” He presses a kiss to Harry’s cheek.

He’s not lying. He does like this. He likes Harry’s hot body beside his, Harry’s low voice in his ear, Harry’s curls brushing his cheek, Harry’s plate close enough to steal from. And, yeah, it’s all for show, better lighting, better photographs and all that. But he still likes it.

Harry grabs Louis’ hand and laces their fingers together. “You know I like sitting beside you. It’s just not normal. People will think it’s all faked.”

Louis sighs. “It is all faked.”

As soon as the words are out he regrets them. They’re not true and they hit Harry like a punch in the gut.

Harry pushes out of the booth and Louis chases after.

“Hey,” he says. “Harry.”

Harry continues walking and when Louis catches up to him, he speeds up his pace. Louis reaches out to grab his wrist, but he pulls it away.

“I didn’t mean it,” Louis says, but Harry keeps going like he hasn’t heard.

The handler who’s come with them is sitting near the front door and she jumps up to open the door for them. If she notices anything off between them, she doesn’t say.

When they’re in the car, Louis tries again. “I didn’t mean it like that and you know it.”

Harry stares out the window. Louis runs at his mental wall, throwing all the force he’s got at it in hopes of breaking it down. Nothing happens.

“I know what you meant,” Harry says, finally.

“Then why are you still so angry?” Louis asks. He hates not knowing. Though he and Harry have been closer than ever these last two months, sometimes he feels like the chasm between them- what started as a crack during puberty, really- has only widened.

Harry swallows. “It’s just hard, okay?”

Louis nods and opens his arms and Harry softs and then collapses against him. “I know,” Louis murmurs the words against the crown of Harry’s head. “It’s confusing and my heart hurts a little bit about it, too.”

Harry nods into Louis’ neck. “Sometimes it feels like..” Harry stops. “You had fun tonight, right? On the date?”

“I did.”

“Me, too. I’m sorry for ruining it just now,” Harry says.

Louis tangles his fingers in Harry’s hair. He’s not sure what just happened between them, but he knows this: “You haven’t ruined anything. I had a lovely time. Best date I’ve ever been on.”

Harry huffs out a laugh. “We literally had dinner in a fancy restaurant while some creepo took photos of us. So I know that can’t be true.”

“I was with you,” Louis says, as though that’s explanation enough. Maybe it is.

~

The digital melody of Harry’s alarm pulls him out of a half sleep. Harry’s body is pressed up beside him and he can feel Harry’s sleepy presence in his mind.

Today’s the day, Louis thinks and they both stiffen.

Today, Louis’ fate will be delivered on national television. Live. He’ll be humiliated or vindicated.

Vindicated, Harry affirms. You’re going to win. He scoots backward, deeper into Louis’ embrace and Louis tightens his arms around Harry’s middle.

Nuzzling into Harry’s curls, Louis passes him an image, the two of them being interviewed by Caroline, after he’s won.

Harry says, “Yes.” His rough voice rumbles through Louis, landing in his groin.

Louis moves his hands lower and lower, past Harry’s ribs, over his stomach and waist, so that they cover his groin. He’s aroused, too, and Louis begins to stroke him. It still sucks the air out of his chest and threatens to overcome him, the way in which he experiences Harry’s pleasure in his own body, the intensity of it.

Harry’s sighs build into groans. He’s so close. Louis can feel the tension between his fingers and in his own balls.

A banging on the door to the room jars them loose, Louis’ hand falling away.

“Louis! You were supposed to be down in the lobby three minutes ago. You’ve already set the whole day behind schedule.”

Harry moans, rolling around to face Louis and burrow into him.

“Don’t go,” he says.

Louis presses a kiss to his head.

“Okay.” He’d post naked photos of his mum online if Harry asked him to in that same sleepy tone.

Harry shakes his head. “No, you have to go.” He pauses and Louis can feel excitement bubble up in his belly. “You’re about to win the X Factor.”

“You really think I might win?” Louis asks.

Harry’s grinning. Louis can’t see, but he knows.

“Yes,” Harry says. Or thinks. Or feels. Maybe all three.

“I love you,” Louis hears himself say. And he does love Harry. He’s said it many times over the years, but the words carry a different weight today, with their bodies wrapped up together, on the verge of the most exciting moment of their lives.

A warm rush of relief floods Harry and he relaxes, suddenly heavier in Louis’ arms. “That’s- thank god. I love you, too, Louis. I really, really do.”

Louis doesn’t quite understand the relief, nor does he know what Harry’d stopped himself from saying.

“Louis!” The person outside shouts again, fist pounding against the heavy door. “Are you even awake? Am I going to have to have the front desk give me the key?”

“Two minutes,” Louis shouts.

Louis moves to get out of bed, but Harry twists so that they’re facing each other and Louis finds himself frozen in place by the intensity of Harry’s gaze.

“I mean it,” Harry says. “I love you. No matter what happens, I love you.”

Louis’ heart pounds, harder than it did last night under the lights of his live performance in the finals, harder than it ever has. He closes the inches of space between them with a soft kiss.

Harry believes they’re soul mates. It’s not something he wonders about sometimes. It’s not something he hopes for or dreams about. It’s something he really, truly believes.

And that realization, more than the vocal competition, more than votes that are still coming, more than announcement of victory or defeat rolling closer with each passing moment, makes this the most important day of Louis’ life.

~

The crowd is so loud, but no louder than the roar of blood pounding in Louis’ ears.

Louis knows he’s not going to win. He’s not the most talented vocalist on the stage, nor the most charismatic. He knows that the only reason he made past bootcamp, past the initial audition was his status as a soul mate. It’s good for ratings.

So he tells himself that he’s not going to win, shoves his expectations low, down past the chest, past the pit of his stomach, down and down to the bottoms of his feet. He tries to let go of them entirely, but he can’t.

Not with the image of his mum’s hopeful, tear-streaked cheeks flashing before him. Not with Harry’s whispered, “You’ve got this,” ringing in his head.

When he’s announced as second runner-up- third place, the bottom- Harry cries. Louis feels him shatter.

It’s okay, he thinks at Harry as hard as he can. When he watches the playback a few days later, he sees that he mouthed the words, maybe even spoke them aloud.

He says it again a few minutes later, when Harry runs into his arms backstage. They’re still on camera, of course.

And the Sun the next day will feature an opinion piece arguing that Harry should have been the one to comfort him. But the author of it clearly doesn’t understand bonds (something Louis alerts him of in a nasty tweet).

“Louis,” Harry says. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry made you go through all this and you didn’t even win. I thought that we, that you--” His voice breaks and he doesn’t continue.

But Louis knows.

He thinks we’re soul mates. The thought surprises Louis and he feels Harry still against him. Harry knows, now, that he knows.

~

On a monitor in the corner of the room, the host of the late night show can barely contain his glee as he cracks another joke about the American political climate. It’s the third in as many minutes.

Louis turns to find Harry watching him, mind carefully blocked.

Silently, Louis asks, What are you thinking?

Harry replies aloud. “You.”

Louis kisses him. He’s been doing that a lot lately. Not because the cameras are on them, but because he wants to.

What they have is good. He can’t deny that. He doesn’t want to.

Harry returns his kiss with unmistakable tenderness. Louis recognizes the emotion behind it, now, clear as day. A deep warmth, just for Louis, run through with a twist of desire and a thick thread of contentment.

It’s love.

And Louis feels it, too.

“You think we’re soul mates.” The words that Louis’ been thinking for days slip out. It’s the wrong time for this conversation. They’re minutes away from a very public appearance. Harry takes the bait anyway.

“We are soul mates, Louis. I know we are. We always have been. We just got lucky and met as kids.”

“How can you be so sure?”

Harry pulls Louis’ hand to his chest and holds it against heart. Louis can feel it thumping against his palm and inside of Harry’s chest. “I just feel it. Don’t you?”

Louis swallows, ducking his forehead so it’s pressed against Harry’s. “I think so. I just… I thought it would be more obvious. We disagree and misunderstand each other and fight. Things aren’t perfect for us.”

Harry pulls back and Louis’ feels the distance like a slap to the face. “You do make me angry. You’re making me angry right now.”

Harry leans in again, their lips inches away. Eyes wide, he says, “But I love you. And I know you love me, too. I can feel it, in my brain, in my heart.” He swallows. “I don’t think anything could be more perfect than that.”

“You’re on in five.” The stagehand who pokes her head in smirks when she catches sight of them, still half-naked cuddled together on the couch. “Make-up will want another go at you, so get to!”

~

The host grins at them. “You two look very loved up.”

“We are,” Louis finds himself saying. He can’t help that it’s on his mind; Harry’s thinking (very loudly) about the couch and the gentle kiss in the dressing room.

The host looks down at his cards, smile fading. Not a good sign. “Now this may not be a very polite question to ask-”

“I’ll take some of the pressure off, so you don’t have to finish: we, erm… share that really,” Harry replies with a wink to the camera.

The host chokes out a laugh. Now, at least, he’s looking at them again and not at his notes. “Not the question I was going to ask, but good to know.”

Louis stretches his arm across the back of the loveseat and Harry slips tighter to him. He can practically feel the audience melt.

The host opens his mouth, but Harry cuts him off again. “What were you going to ask? I like answering impolite questions, clearly.”

The audience laughs and Louis thinks- not for the first time- that Harry should have been the one in the spotlight. He’s got the charisma, the X Factor.

“A study came out recently, from China, that suggests that soul mates actually have higher divorce rates than the general population. Researchers are positing that the intensity of the bond can actually hurt relationships. Do you think that might be true?”

The studio is quiet for a long moment, long enough that the offstage producers begin to whisper.

“All I know is that if it doesn’t work out with Louis, it’s not going to work out with anyone. He’s it for me.” The green of Harry’s eyes is startling, even after all these years.

Louis opens his mouth to agree, but instead he says, “The science behind the phenomena raises more questions than it answers, that’s for sure. Some scientists even say that the only difference between soul siblings and soul mates is sexual attraction.”

Harry stiffens, and Louis drops his arm down and grips Harry’s biceps.

“So you believe the study, then?” The host asks, clearly taken aback by Louis’ answer.

“I don’t know. I’m not a scientist, so I can’t really say one way or the other,” Louis says. “But what I do know is that no matter what the science says, I love Harry and I am committed to spending the rest of my life letting him know, using every tool at my disposal.”

Harry doesn’t relax and Louis feels his question before he hears it.

“Really?” Harry’s spoken the word aloud and an odd hush falls over the room, hundreds here and millions around the world, holding their breath.

Louis nods. Into Harry’s head, he pushes the words, whether science or God or the universe intended it or not, you’re my soul mate.

“Me too,” Harry says. His eyes are on Louis and Louis sees an image of the two of them in shiny, black tuxes standing in front of their friends and family, leaning in to share a kiss. He’s not sure if it’s something his brain thought up or Harry’s.