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Sounds of you sounds like love

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There’s one spot in particular in Hackney Marshes that Louis always seems to find himself in; a little nook by the river, surrounded by bushes growing on the muddy bank - a spot that pulls him in as if it were magnetic. He finds himself sitting on the ground there quite often after having a walk around the area. His private nook is on the northern part of the marsh, so it’s a bit of a trek, but Louis reckons it’s worth it. It’s rare to find waterside in London that’s not full of houseboats nowadays, that actually has riverbanks at natural state and not with fences and paved walkways. The peacefulness and tranquillity Louis feels when staring at the river - knowing he’s in the middle of a metropole of millions of people and million different lives happening around him, yet he’s here alone, just him and his thoughts, it calms Louis.

There’s something about the way the nature surrounding him smells – not always pleasant, but rooting in the way it smells real. Being here, it almost feels as if he’s travelled back in time, back to being a young kid and then an older kid, still living on the outskirts of Warrington (not on the posh areas) and having had a similar waterside haven there, a place he escaped to for years to have some quiet from his loud home, loud friends, loud self. He needs the silence - it makes his own thoughts louder, as if he can listen to them more clearly. He can feel his breaths getting deeper, and the air he inhales travels through his veins and lungs – making him feel revived.

There’s something purifying about being there, in Louis’ very own private place. Every time he comes here, there’s a momentary fear of finding someone else here, someone else having invaded something very much his, tainting his sanctuary with their thoughts and voices and smells. And every time when the spot comes into vision empty of any other people, Louis feels relieved, knowing he’s still able to have time alone.

Louis breathes in the early evening air as he finds himself sitting in his spot once more, happy to have finished work early. He likes his work, even as hectic and busy and underappreciated being a runner is. Or well, maybe a few months internship isn’t actually proper work, but at least they pay him. It’s for a pretty big name production company though, which will hopefully result in Louis being able to network (he shivers even thinking about the word) and create contacts, benefitting him in the future. He’s not really up for the glitz and glamour, he just wants to tell stories and make amazing movies – creating stories that look good and sound good, and most of all, hopefully make someone feel good.

Louis watches a couple of ducks swim aimlessly in the river. He thinks about the bodies that surely have been both found and forever lost in the deep, murky waters. It could be a great premise for a dark thriller – maybe even set around the time Jack the Ripper was raving around. Or perhaps, it could provide an excellent backdrop to an angsty indie drama, something that would allow Louis to actually have a message in the movie. He’s not sure he really has a message worth telling, though, at least not one that he’s aware of.  

His phone beeps. It’s a text from his mum, wishing him a happy almost-weekend, asking if he has plans. Apparently his mum is having a ladies’ night right now with his two little sisters – which, based on Lottie’s Instagram video Louis checked a few hours earlier, involves a lot of boozy baking. He loves his women, as he jokingly refers to his mum and two little sisters (not that 18 and 17 are that little any more) and wishes he’d see them more, get to know them as people now, instead of the younger siblings he had to look after when their mum was working long hours to support the four of them. He still feels responsible for trying to protect them all from afar, but they’ve got their own issues. Louis sometimes feels a bit ashamed, guilty, at the idea that despite how much he truly loves his family, it sometimes seems like the physical distance might’ve added some emotional distance. He makes a mental note to travel north before uni starts again, hoping it’ll still be home to him, even though he sometimes feels like an outsider that’d be invading the three ladies’ house.

He watches the ducks some more, and briefly thinks that maybe the angsty indie drama could start from sisters trying to make it in the world, and failing.

---

They have one sauce pan, one single sauce pan in their most-of-the-time rank kitchen. And now the only sauce pan they’ve got, has something resembling beans on tomato sauce stuck to it, probably burnt on it at least three days ago.

Louis lets out a deep sigh and counts to ten.

“Niall,” he starts, too pissed to even use one of the various nicknames he has for his flatmate.

Niall makes a questioning grunt from where he’s sitting, currently shovelling cereal to his mouth, watching football on his laptop, with the volume unnecessarily loud.

“This might come as a shock, but it’s commonly considered a bit decent to wash up after you’ve cooked, or especially burned, something in a kitchen. Especially a shared kitchen.” Louis shows Niall the nasty looking sauce pan.

“Oh, sorry mate,” Niall starts with his mouth full, “totally forgot.” He gives Louis an apologetic smile and goes back to staring at the screen.

“Well could you do something about this? I need this.”

“What, now?”

“Yeah, it’s tea time.”

“Can’t you just pop some chips to the oven?”

“No, I wanted to make pasta.”

“Make pasta tomorrow? I’ll wash it tomorrow, promise.”

“Niall!” Louis snaps, exasperated. “Can you wash it now?” Without even realising it, Louis already opens the tap and squirts some Fairy on the sauce pan – he’s lived with Niall long enough to know that despite his best efforts (when he actually makes one), the result is better and happens quicker if he just does it himself.

“But I’m watching footie!”

“But this is literally so fucking annoying! We have agreed we’ll all tidy up after ourselves,” Louis points at the cleaning rota on the fridge door, held up by boob-shaped magnets.

Niall pauses the footie stream, gets up from the squeaky chair (they should really buy a new one or add more glue to keep the chair together) and walks to Louis, making puppy eyes. “Louis, mate. I’m sorry. I suck. Here, I’ll put it to soak and order us pizza. My treat.”

Louis considers the offer, looking at his best friend yet at times infuriating flatmate, and sighs, giving in. “I’ll want some dip with it, you know.”

“I know,” Niall winks as he taps his phone and raises it to his ear, “garlic. And I’ll get Liam his usual too, don’t want him bitching and moaning about feeling left out.”

“And for being hungry. Angry hungry.”

“God, especially that,” Niall rolls his eyes and then starts talking to the phone as the pizza place picks up.  

Liam, their third flatmate, makes it home just before the pizza arrives. He’s eyeing Niall and Louis suspiciously.

“Aw, geez guys, thanks for asking, yes I def wanted a pizza as well.”

“Shush, Payno, we learned from your bitch fit the last time.”

“Salami and olives, right?”

“Yes,” Liam practically drools at the words.

Louis raises one pizza box’s cover. “This must be yours then.”

Liam’s upset visibly melts away. “Aww, man, you didn’t have to.”

Louis and Niall share a knowing look.

“Someone must be well off again,” Liam looks at Niall. “Can’t believe you get paid so much for just playing online poker.”

“Luck of the Irish, innit?” Niall winks and taps his nose.

They slob on the couch, pizza boxes thrown around. Everyone’s feeling too tired to carry on with watching Black Mirror – sci-fi existentialism too much to brain with – so they put on Bojack Horseman for some mindless entertainment.

“Do you ever feel like… you’re Bojack?” Louis wonders out loud.

“What, a horse?”

“I do feel quite the stallion occasionally.”

Louis laughs. “I’m sure you do, Liam. No, I meant like… A bit… Like you’re lost. Not really liking yourself.”

Niall furrows his brows. “No?”

“You okay, Tommo?”

Niall whines. “I thought we agreed to stop referring to our last names as something that ends with an o!”

“Nope, it was just you, Horo. Not my fault it’s apparently what they call loose women in Iceland.”

“Finland.” 

“Right, that land. Anyway, Louis, you alright?”

Louis shrugs. “Yeah, just… Last year of uni coming up and I don’t…”

“Is this about your script?”

“Which one of them,” Louis lets out a dry chuckle that doesn’t sound quite amused.

“Another one that you’ve abandoned then, I guess.”

“No, or not exclusively. I just… You guys have it all sorted. What happens this time next year? I’ve got no idea. Aside from hopefully owning two sauce pans.”

“No one has it together, mate. We just pretend we do.”

“No, but… Like, you’ve got your DJing. You’ll probably be well connected in a year’s time and working in some event company or production or something. And Nialler, he’ll just be playing online poker still half naked by the kitchen table and rolling joints out of tenners.”

“Twenty quid notes,” Niall says quietly and chuckles.

“Right? And I’ll just be… I dunno. Existing.”

Liam puts his arm around Louis’ shoulders and gives him a brotherly pat. “You’ll figure it out. Everyone does.”

“Or maybe no one does,” Niall suggests. “You just get better at pretending.”

“Geez, thanks lads, very uplifting.” Louis rolls his eyes and nibbles on another slice of his pizza. “I’m just… unsure of like, everything.”

It’s not a surprise, really, that neither of his best friends really have any words to comfort him with, when Louis doesn’t really have words to explain how he’s been feeling, what he’s been growing increasingly restless about lately. They carry on eating their pizza. Louis ponders if he should write a lowbrow comedy about three lads sharing a flat in East London.

Louis wakes up the next morning, happy to see the bathroom free so he actually doesn’t have to run to work for once today. He takes a quick shower, spending a few slow moments to direct the running water stream to his forehead, just between his eyes to destress. Downstairs, he puts the kettle on, gets a mug of tea ready and can’t help but feel some sort of brotherly affection when he sees the sauce pan squeaky clean on the drying rack. His phone beeps; it’s an email notification from his university course leader. The subject field mentions ‘project’. Louis pockets his phone without reading the email.

---

Louis was 11 when it first happened.

His mother had been brushing his little sister’s long, golden blonde hair and Louis had been mesmerised by the slow, long strokes of the brush in his mother’s hand, whilst the other hand had been holding the hair up. Louis remembers how of all his surroundings had somehow dimmed, how the strokes of the brush and the shiny wisps running through the spikes of the brush had been the only thing he could see; how the strokes of the brush had been the only thing he could hear, could concentrate on. Nothing existed but the accentuated visuals and sounds of the hair brushing. His skin was suddenly full of goose bumps; something tingling in the back of his head, spreading from there down his neck and his spine. It made his upper arms feel chilly, but he wasn’t cold – he was just… stunned. Almost as if he were floating around, enjoying the pleasantly prickly sensations spreading all over his body. Louis remembers desperately hoping the feeling would never end. But it did. Lottie’s hair was still tangled in places, when the brushing stopped making Louis tingle; he had almost dozed off right there, though, from the feeling of heavy bones and a serene mind.

The feeling, luckily, made occasional comebacks. Louis remembers a history teacher from secondary school who used to draw historical turning points on the blackboard (that teacher was amazing). He remembers nights spent in, watching Nigella’s cooking show with his mum and sisters, feeling prickling in his neck when Nigella would be chopping an onion, maybe some red peppers. Louis remembers waiting, annoyed and huffing, for Lottie to get ready already and him leaning against her door as he watched her put make-up on - suddenly not caring if they were late from school as Lottie was putting powder on. The brushing sounds and the movement of her hand just made Louis… not care about anything but relish in feeling the familiar electricity spread on his upper arms.

Louis has never mentioned it to anyone. He’s pretty sure no one else feels it, that maybe it’s a fault in him somehow – and he doesn’t want to admit to being faulty, he’s had enough of feeling like that in his 21 years of life. Most of all, he’s afraid that maybe it’s a sign of a condition or a sickness – scared that if they’d have a cure for it someone would take feeling the tingles away from him. He wishes, more than anything really, that he could experience it more, to know what causes it so he could never stop feeling it.

Then, one awful night of restless tossing and turning in his squeaky bed, trying to find a position where maybe his back would hurt a little bit less, he’d gone onto searching videos of hair brushing, remembering the serene feeling from years ago. That awful night had eventually turned glorious. Apart from several hair brushing videos, he’d also come across the abbreviation ASMR. After a bit of googling, he’d finally found a name for the sensation that was a part of his being, something he’d thought no one else felt, something he feared made him feel wrong somehow yet made him feel so thoroughly good. He’d learned it was called ASMR and that many other people experienced it too; and instead of relying on random happenstances in real life to give him the exquisite tingly feelings, YouTube was full of relaxation videos made for the sole purpose of triggering the tingles. He’d found a place he felt he was welcomed into with open arms; a place that would provide him with non-stop tingles if he so wished, and no one could ever take that away from him.

Lately, Louis can’t seem to fall asleep without hours of lying in bed and getting lost in loud thoughts and worries overwhelming him. He probably wouldn’t sleep at all, if he hadn’t taken a habit of listening to ASMR videos in order to relax and feel pleasantly heavy and sated before giving in to dreamland. He stretches his legs and enjoys the fact that his squeaky bed at least has decent bedding, soft pillows and a warm duvet, that the sheets are wide enough so they don’t get all annoyingly piled up under him, everything feeling chilled after he’d kept the window open all day. It’s nights like these when Louis firmly decides he’ll just do a feature length movie about how much he loves his bed. He’s scrolling through his favourite videos on YouTube, miffed at seeing nothing new pop up. But on the front page, there’s a suggested video by a channel he hasn’t seen before. It doesn’t have too many views, but the thumbnail looks like decent enough quality.

The channel is called loveASMR and Louis’ cynical mind reckons it’s a bit cliché. It’s only got four videos so far, all from the last two weeks. The channel has an impressive 300 odd subscribers already, though. The suggested video is non-descriptively called ‘On the traces of the bestest’, but the video description says it’ll have tracing on the makers’ five favourite vinyl albums. The description ends in All the tingles, H. Not expecting much, and with nothing to lose but sleep, Louis clicks play.

He notices and feels several things at once. First; this is a guy. Louis prefers listening to woman artists, but something about this guy’s voice lulls him into a pleasant sort of drifting immediately. His voice is, to be cliché, like honey. He speaks slowly, his voice low and a little bit raspy, but not in a way that he’d had too many whiskies – more like an extremely soothing way, as if Louis is being wrapped in a warm blanket. His hands, drawing circles on the table, are very nice looking hands. Louis is normally picky about hands - feels weirdly put off by long fingernails on guys, but this person’s hands look soft, not hairy, nails neat but not long, fingers long and slender. They move in a deliberately slow way, both index fingers drawing circles on a black table cloth as the guy talks, his voice resonating in Louis’ headphones, causing the back of his head to spark up in a satisfyingly electric way as tingles spike down his neck.

Hello, lovers,” the guy speaks in a non-hurried voice, as if he has all the time in the world to focus on just doing this video and being here for Louis. Louis checks the duration of it – a brilliant 31 minutes. He shuffles around to make himself even more comfortable in his pleasantly cool bed, before focusing back on the video.

“First, I wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who has watched and commented my videos. I’m really chuffed with the warm welcome I’ve had, and you have no idea how…” The guy seems to lick his lips by the wet sounds, weighing his thoughts. “How incredibly happy it makes me feel to know that I can make someone else happy. So thank you, so much. Today, I wanted to do a bit of a show and tell, with my favourite albums. I love music, it means the world to me, and I especially love listening to music on vinyl. I’ve got five of my all time faves here, and some of them have stuck with me since I was a kid. My parents would always have music on, and I just… Well, guess you could say these albums literally stuck with me as I might’ve taken them as a departure gift when I left home.” The guy lets out a small chuckle, and it roams in Louis’ ears, up and down his spine, and suddenly he feels like knowing what this guy’s favourite music is might just be the most important thing he’ll ever know.

The guy grabs something off-screen. “So, this is probably the first piece of music I ever heard.” He is slowly tracing the outlines of an obnoxiously colourful and very 80’s looking album. “My dad absolutely loves Queen, and coincidentally, so do I. I know some of you might think it’s a bit old school and, well the cover is a bit hideous isn’t it?, but I think this album, A Kind of Magic, is still incredible. It has my most favourite Queen songs, but I can’t really listen to them too often, they always make me feel…” He goes quiet, tapping the corners of the album with his fingertips quickly, the rain-like sounds sending shivers through Louis’ arms. “Emotional. Or teary and sobbing, as some people might call it.” H chuckles again, sounding a little embarrassed, and the low rumble of his laughter turns Louis’ skin full of goose bumps.

As Louis listens to H ramble away about the next album – Lungs by Florence and The Machine, he realises there’s something very familiar, reminiscent of home, and it takes a few moments to pinpoint it to his accent. He sounds Mancunian, very similar to Louis and his family, and it makes Louis feel even more relaxed, hearing the familiar drawl in the way he pronounces certain words. H is tracing the swirly name of the band on the vinyl, his long finger following the swirly letters, and Louis can feel his eyes drooping close, fighting to keep them open. He's feeling hazy, very close to crossing the border between awake and asleep, only to be startled as his phone suddenly drops on his forehead, the hand holding it having gone lax. He opens his eyes, making them as wide as possible, hoping that the additional air hitting his vision will help him stay more awake.

“Now with this one, I get it’s a bit like cheating as it’s a compilation one,” H is showing a cover with a colourful tongue taking up almost half of the cover, text ‘Rolling Stones – Forty licks’ covering the rest. “But like, with the Stones, they’ve made the best songs in the world and also the shittiest ones so, I just… Well, felt like cheating. Not that I ever would, you know, in other things.” His voice sounds rushed, panicked suddenly, as if he hurriedly wants to ensure no one would ever think he’d hurt a fly. Louis is convinced this guy would never hurt any living creature, and probably no un-living ones either. “God, I’m sorry I ramble so much, I seriously can’t believe anyone would watch this, I’m ridiculous. Anyway, Angie, best song in the world of universes and existences that have ever existed in all of infinity…”

Louis wakes up the next morning, feeling choky as he finds the chord of his headphones wrapped around his neck. His phone, still with headphones plugged in, is right next to him, showing that the video he’d been watching last night has played in full. The last thing he can remember though, was the guy with the low voice like rugged honey talking about ‘Angie’. Louis grew up more to the soundtrack of The Smiths and the likes, with his mum occasionally blasting out Blondie when having her cackling pack of hens around and getting ready for a night out, the smell of hairspray lingering in the air. Louis does vaguely remember hearing ‘Angie’ though, thinks he probably likes it, and ends up listening to it the whole day. The song sounds like a movie, the title like a movie’s name. A movie about a doomed relationship, probably; a story about loss, the kind of movie that requires a whole lot of tissues.

At night, he makes himself comfortable in his bed once more, finding loveASMR’s channel and starts the same video again. He wakes up the following morning in the exact same position - with the headphones all over his face. He’s pretty sure he didn’t even make it to Florence this time.

On his most self-aware moment, Louis knows one of his biggest flaws of character is the utter imbalance between thinking too much about what he does or should do, and then again having moments when he really doesn’t think at all, just goes for it. He doesn’t even realise he’s made a comment before he sees it published under the video.

LTommo: Alright, I’ve tried to watch this for two nights in a row but you’ve put me to sleep before I reach the end. Please spoil me, I’ll never know what the last two records are otherwise.

It’s a good enough comment, to be fair, and Louis actually does want to know what this guy, H, loves to listen to. It doesn’t take much further consideration for him to hit the subscribe button. The bloke seems rather sincere, a bit funny – maybe unintentionally – and both the way he talks and the way he sounds make Louis feel all tingly. It’s a win, as far as watching relaxing videos whilst trying to fall asleep in the middle of this inexplicable restlessness can go.

Despite it being Saturday, time for having a lie-in, Louis fights the temptation of checking out the other three videos on loveASMR’s channel – he wants to keep the video watching solely as a bedtime activity, hoping his mind becomes accustomed and conditioned to relating bedtime always into feeling sated and relaxed and floaty. The weather outside looks lovely, like it’s going to be a very sunny and warm day, perfect for the BBQ he and the lads have planned for tonight. With the end of summer looming a mere few weeks away, they’d decided to take the most advantage they could of what was still left of sunny weather (and Tesco selling disposable BBQ’s with a two for one offer).

As soon as he makes his way downstairs from his room to the open kitchen/dining room/hallway/dancefloor area, Louis stops still and blinks.

“Am I hallucinating?”

Niall’s just pulling a cord off the hoover and is trying to locate a plug, whilst Liam is putting on music, a duster in his hand. The music starts playing - some garage rap with bouncy beats, but rhymes that leave a bit to desire.

“Funny, Louis, sounds like you’re suggesting you’ve never seen us clean before.”

“Not suggesting, stating.”

“You poor soul! Did you think we’d leave it all to you?”

“Again? Yeh, yeh I kinda did. What gives?” Louis puts the kettle on, raising his eyebrows in a question to Liam who nods and smiles, before shaking his head at Niall who seems to have finally found a plug. Louis stops himself from telling Niall that his unfamiliarity of the plugs in a place he’s lived for two years could be considered evidence of how little he’s ever touched the hoover. He takes two mugs out of the cupboard, checking the insides and deeming them clean enough to have tea out of.

“Just doing our bit, bro! This is our house and our party and of course we’ll all pitch in to clean,” Liam smiles as he bobs his head to the music. “How sick is this? It’s a friend from uni, I think he’s going to be the next next big thing.” He tries to rap to the lyrics, mumbling along with a focused look.

Louis scratches his stomach and squints his eyes. “What’s really going on?”

Niall sighs and Liam looks apologetic.

“It’s about girls, isn’t it?” Louis guesses.

Niall smiles and Liam looks embarrassed. 

“Alright, spill. You can just tell me stuff, you know. It’s not like I’m a house dictator, trying to stop anyone from ever having any fun, like.”

“It’s not really about girls in that sense…” Liam starts.

“Well, one part of it is,” Niall admits.

“Just that… Well, firstly, Lou said she’s not baking shit or doing fuck all to help out, if the kitchen is as rank as it was the last time…”

All the last times…”

“Yeh, and she also said Tom would not bring any green if we don’t get our shit together, her literal words…”

“Plus like, I may have expanded the guest list slightly with some really cute honeys, blonde and all…”

 “Expanded how much, exactly?” Louis bites his tongue, trying not to laugh. He literally feels like a mother who caught his sons doing something awful, even though it’s not that serious honestly. He’s all up for both a clean house and meeting new people - and especially eating whatever Lou bakes and getting comfortably high.

Niall looks sheepish. “You know, just like one or two, who may have friends, so maybe like six in total.”

“And then there’s one last girl thing…” Liam starts but is interrupted by a loud knock on the door. “Well, that might be the last thing. Maybe you should open the door, Tommo.”

Puzzled, Louis starts taking steps towards the front door, as another, louder and more demanding knock, happens. “I hope it’s not an actual girl for me, lads. You know I’m not going to just stop being gay if…” He stops as he opens the front door and is met by a high-pitched screech.

“Brother!” Lottie yells as she jumps on Louis, hugging him tight.

Louis is lost for words, lost for any thoughts really. Lottie smells like sweet perfume and hair products and a little bit like cigarettes. He immediately notices some changes, reminding him that his little sister isn’t that little anymore. Her braided hair with pastel pink highlights is probably not all her own, and her equally colourful nails definitely aren’t. Louis makes a mental note to not piss her off, to avoid a rerun of scratching matches they had when they were younger.

“Surprise!” Niall and Liam yell together, coming over to hug Lottie too.

“What… What is this? What’s going on?” Louis looks from one face to another, beaming but confused. He hasn’t seen Lottie in months.

“You’ve been so bummed lately, we thought a dive to the same gene pool might cheer you up!”

“That sounds… Not right,” Louis laughs and picks up Lottie’s duffel bag from outside, closing the door behind him.

“How is this place so tidy? I don’t remember it being like this the last time,” Lottie looks around the room.

“We’ve improved,” Liam says and straightens up his posture. “Your words of disgust were quite the motivation, really.”

Louis hangs an arm around Lottie’s neck and kisses the top of her head, then turning to look at Niall and Liam. “Lads, this is… This is honestly so nice, fucking brilliant. Thanks for sneaking behind my back. This is the kind of setting me up with girls I’m totally okay with.”

Louis takes out more tea mugs as Lottie brings out a box of cookies – home-made by their mum, much loved by both Niall and Liam – and sets it on the table.

“How long are you here for?”

“Just leaving tomorrow evening, or maybe Monday morning. It’s a bit of a quick one, soz.”

“Quality over quantity, eh?” Niall munches on a cookie. “Your mum’s the best,” he sighs happily.

They start making a list of shopping they need to do for the party, deciding to save everyone’s nerves and just go with disposable tableware for everything (Louis makes a mental note to put more than just copper coins in the charity collection box by the Tesco tills to quiet his conscience about being so unecological about tableware today).

Niall carries on hoovering whilst Lottie and Liam finish the dusting and tidying up, getting into a heated conversation about Liam’s music of choice and Lottie’s total dislike of it – it lacks sick, apparently. Louis is about to do the dishes, when his phone beeps. It’s from YouTube, a reply to his comment.

loveASMR: Haha sorry or maybe I should say you’re welcome! You missed [SPOILER ALERT] Adele’s 19 (could list all of hers but that’d be a tad boring) and, only the best album ever, Arctic Monkey’s first one.

Louis makes a subconscious nod, and taps out a comment.

LTommo: If you thought I’d disagree, you’d think wrong. It totally is the best album ever. Not too sold on Adele though, sure she’s great but top 5? Isn’t it a bit… sad? Appreciate the spoiler alert btw, totally didn’t see it coming after asking for spoilers.

He reads through the comment quickly, thinking he comes across bantery but realising it might come off as a tad cocky at least for someone who can’t hear his tone and also doesn’t know him, and amends it.

LTommo: Mate, if you thought I’d disagree, you’d think wrong. It definitely is the best album by the best band ever. Not sold on Adele, tho. Isn’t it a bit… sad? Thanks for both spoilers and alerting of them ;-)

---

The party is amazing. Louis finds himself looking around his home, seeing faces of friends, truly amazing people he adores, in every corner. He’s been making his way from the garden to the kitchen to get a refill of a drink for close to half an hour now, always seeing a new friend to chat with and hug and talk bullshit with. Liam’s course mate, Steve, another aspiring DJ has fully taken over the playlist and is raising the roof and the atmosphere in the kitchen, with people dancing on the floor. Niall had sadly only been rewarded with one blonde honey, but it looks like she’s well impressed with Niall’s show of all the accents he can do. It’s all a bit loud but it’s not even ten o’clock yet, so Louis isn’t worried about complaints. He compliments himself on having eaten just the right amount of delicious burgers and salads, and that amazing trifle Lou had done. He’s shared a few spliffs with Tom, who just might be the coolest person he knows. Louis is considering making a mockumentary of a rock band, possibly. The highs and the lows and the absolutely killing music. And tattoos, he’s got to cast a lot of tattooed people.

He loves moments like these, feeling like he’s surrounded by the best people; that his friends are truly brilliant and despite feeling a bit blue lately, he’s going to be fine. Just tonight he’s shared belly laughs that lasted until it hurt, weird conversations about subjects that are so out-there, and it’s just… He feels perfectly happy with himself and his life, right now. There’s a nagging sound in the back of his mind reminding him about that one unread email, but he shuts the voice by drowning it in alcohol. He takes a shot when Bleta, the always loud and laughing Bleta, challenges him to do – it’s Jägermeister; it’s amazing, it’s awful.

He’s raiding through the fridge, full of drinks everyone brought for themselves, finally digging out a can of Carling, as the feels his phone vibrate. Upon checking it, he sees it’s a reply to his comment on YouTube. He has to squint his eyes to make sense of the small text, but in true Louis style, he doesn’t consider for a moment that it might mean he’s a little too drunk for it to be a good idea to reply.

loveASMR: Is that sad as in it’s sad listening to Adele in which case, nice job at being a dickhead music snob, or sad as in Adele’s music is sad, in which case, true, but that’s why the first album which is less sad, is in this top 5 instead of the breakup song ones that make me want to move to Iceland and hug goats?

LTommo: GOats are grwat. Meant good dad as   in all the tears. You’re not sad. Sounfa like honey.

He sends the comment and goes back to the party, and has an absolutely legendary night. And when he sees Liam and Lottie who have admittedly acted rather flirty for a while now, snogging in a corner, he just thinks it makes sense and smiles.

--

A pounding head. A dry mouth. Throat feeling like sandpaper. Confused if he might actually be on a boat, as every minimal movement makes the whole world sway. Concerned, Louis opens one eye so he can take a peek at his surroundings – luckily finding himself in his own room, with no one lying next to him. He closes his eyes again, rubbing his fingers over his forehead in the hopes that it’ll be relaxing or relieving. When it doesn’t quite work, he blindly fumbles his hand next to his bed and sends his own self last night a heartfelt thank you, having had the common sense to stock up a water bottle when going to bed. Louis drinks almost the entire half a litre in one go, spilling water on his chin as he’s too scared to actually lift his head in case the boat he’s rocking in will turn fully upside down. Thankfully, he’s not one to feel sick when hungover, on the contrary; after satisfying his thirst, his mind wanders on to images of pizza, of candy, of a proper Sunday roast served to him right here in his bed.

He reaches to his phone, not bothering to check the few notifications, and calls Lottie. There’s no ringing in the house.

“So you’re alive?” A perky sound answers.

“Barely,” Louis croaks and coughs. “Where are you?”

“Just across the street, in the corner shop.”

Louis lets out a happy sound. “Could you maybe get stuff for your only brother?”

“Sure. Something sweet and salty and greasy, yeah?”

“Preferably separate, but yeah. Cheers Lotts, you’re an angel.”

“I know,” Lottie singsongs and hangs up.

Louis closes his eyes, feeling an imaginary clock ticking excruciatingly slow somewhere as he waits for Lottie to come bring him desperately needed hangover meds. He dozes off, not for long, until Lottie barges into his room and whacks his feet with a bag of Doritos, throwing the bag and two bags of jelly beans onto his stomach, then plopping down to lay next to him.

“Your pizza is on the fridge, sir. And you owe me a fiver.”

“You angel. I’ll give you a tenner.”

Lottie nods approvingly, trying to open the bag of jellybeans but struggling with her long nails.

“Give it here,” Louis takes the bag and opens it, pouring half of it on his chest and starting to separate them into pairs by colours.

“You still do that?” Lottie sounds amused as she takes a random scoop of all different ones from the bag and throws them into her mouth. That sort of rebelliousness makes Louis’ stomach turn.

“Old dog and all.”

“Come on, you’re like three years older than me.”

“Must make you an old dog then, too.”

He deserves the soft swat Lottie slaps on his forearm. They eat candy in a companionable silence, and Louis decides his idea of a script with a sibling murder is definitely not happening.

“How’s home?” Louis asks after a while.

Lottie makes a nonchalant sound. “You know. Same old.”

“Everyone good?”

“Yeah. Fizzy’s being a bit of a tit, though.”

“Why, what’s she done?”

“Nothing, that’s the thing, she just… I don’t know. Reads. Sulks.”

Louis turns to look at Lottie, serious. “You don’t think… Is she like, depressed or something?”

“Nah,” Lottie waves her hand, “she’s just… Quiet. It’s just, weird, with how loud you and me and mum are, and she’s…not. She’s boring.”

“Fizzy’s lovely,” Louis chuckles. “You’re just different. Just, let me know if she gets more…” Louis makes a mental note to call her today, as tedious as it usually is with having to drag out every word from her and drive the conversation.

“Yeah yeah,” Lottie sighs, bored. She reaches out to the bag of Doritos and hands it over to Louis to open it. Once opened, she takes a few crisps and nibbles them. “How are you, though?”

“Fine.”

Lottie groans. “God I hate it when people say that. No one ever says they’re fine if they’re fine. You don’t… Like, when Liam called me, talking about this weekend, it seemed… I don’t know, like you’re not doing that well?”

Louis feels like maybe he should get pissed off at his friends calling his sister behind his back, gossiping and telling lies and making her worry, but somehow it feels… nice. Warm, that someone noticed he hasn’t been feeling great lately and was concerned about him. That they did something, plotted to cheer him up.

“I don’t know, really. It’s just, last year of uni, and it’s like… Like it’s the make or break now, you know? I’ve got a year to figure out a future and I’m, just… It’s just a bit stressful.”

“But you’ve always been so good at uni, no? Like with your grades and stuff. You’ve written little movies since you were a kid, remember? Making me and Fiz act out whatever it was every time.”

“Yeah, I’m not like, stressed-stressed about uni, just the… Big black looming after it.”

Lottie nods and offers a sympathetic smile. “So life.”

“Yeah,” Louis sighs, “life.”

They’re quiet for a while again, until Louis notices something. He cracks up.

“For fuck’s sake, Lotts, is that a hickey?”

Lottie blushes and immediately covers her neck with her hand. “No!”

“It is,” Louis gloats and takes her hand and uncovers the purple spot, poking it with his finger. “So. You and Payno, then.”

Lottie blushes some more. “Oh please.”

“You were eating each other’s tongues last night, amongst other things apparently. Don’t oh please me.”

“I… It was just a bit of a snog. He’s cool. He thinks I’m cool. It’s cool.” Lottie looks at Louis from under her eyelashes. “Is it cool?”

“It’s cool,” Louis says earnestly. “A bit awkward, but I’ll get over that. Just like… Be nice to each other.”

“I don’t think it’s going to be like, anything serious. He’s here and I’m up in Warrington still. It’s just… some light fun.”

“Alright,” Louis says slowly, not quite convinced. “Enjoy your light fun then, sis.”

Lottie licks her lips, checking out her phone. “Speaking of… I need to get going. Liam’s taking me out to eat before my train leaves. I mean, if that’s okay? Think you’ll survive on your death bed if I leave your side?”

Louis clutches his heart dramatically. “Hoes over bros, I get it. Go. Have fun.” He carefully tries to move up, managing without the world toppling over, and gives Lottie a brotherly bear hug. “Say hi to mum.”

“Will do,” Lottie kisses his cheek and takes a few more jellybeans, waving goodbye and leaving Louis to die.

Of embarrassment, it turns out, as Louis finally checks his phone notifications and feels mortified. Apparently he’d sent another token typo Tommo message to the YouTube guy. He bites the bullet and checks the comment.

loveASMR: Are you sure you didn’t make another typo creating your account? LTohno would sound more suitable :D

Cringing, Louis checks his last comments from last night. It’s not that he doesn’t think the guy’s voice is honey, but he probably could’ve been a little less… intoxicated about it. The channel doesn’t have too many comments, most videos are just big in likes compared to the amount of comments. Louis takes a quick glance around as if worried that someone is about to see his stalking ways, before he goes to check the ‘about’ section on the channel.

It doesn’t give out much, stating that this H has been making videos since three weeks ago and hopes everyone enjoys them and wishing them ‘all the tingles’. Luckily, he seems to have an Instagram account as well. Louis clicks on it, and lands on loveASMR’s Instagram profile. It’s very… artistic, to think of a better word. There are a few black and white photos from somewhere exotic looking, one of an elephant a few months ago, close-ups of water droplets and an artsy picture of a cat’s outline of a shadow on concrete. The most recent pictures are all drawings, very good ones at that – some surreal swirly ones, mandalas Louis thinks they’re called; one of yet another cat, and the most recent one is a drawn collage of the five album covers. The whole profile is black and white, and it looks rather beautiful and a little bit edgy. The profile description has nothing but a link to his YouTube channel. Louis considers for a moment if he should follow the profile, then decides against it – he doesn’t want to explain to everyone why he’s following this strange account and what on earth is ASMR. Instead, Louis makes a quick check of his own profile – full of pictures of nice sunsets and a few rainbows, some drunken selfies, pictures of movie posters and some scribbled mindmaps of numerous script ideas.

He considers making a new profile for the sole purpose of messaging loveASMR a lot less time than he spent considering subscribing to his channel. Chuckling to himself, Louis names the account ohnotommo and takes a picture of a sad face that he quickly makes out of jelly beans on the duvet. He posts it to the new Instagram, and sends it to loveASMR as a direct message. There’s a brief thought in his mind wondering if he’s being too stalkery, but he figures the Instagram was public and they’ve exchanged a few comments now, plus he was a bit of a drunken arse so maybe a nice apology and laughing at himself is due.

ohnotommo: Hey mate, sorry about my ridiculous comment last night. Wasn’t trying to be weird or anything.

Louis sends the comment, and looks at it, suddenly feeling horrified.

ohnotommo: I mean I hope this isn’t weird right now. Just felt like apologizing.

ohnotommo: And this is LTommo from YT, in case you didn’t realize.

ohnotommo: Also I’m really not stalking you. This was on your about-page so I hope this isn’t weird.

Louis watches, horrified, as his fingers seem to move on their own accord, sending weird message after another, and great, now there’s four weird messages in a row. He groans, burying his phone under one of the spare pillows, simultaneously hoping he’ll get a reply and fretting over what that reply might be.

It’s weird, really, how he is intellectually aware that the guy is watched by hundreds of people and he knows literally nothing about him. Somehow, having watched him on his own, feeling comforted by his voice in the middle of a quiet night, just makes him almost consider him as a personal acquaintance. Which isn’t real, of course. Groaning again, Louis reaches out for his phone, set on deleting his new Instagram account and probably his YouTube as well, when he notices a message pop up from loveASMR.

loveASMR: Appreciate the dedication in ensuring you’re not weird. No harm done, it was funny. Hope the head isn’t too sore!

It’s… nice, friendly, but sort of sounds like a resolute end to the discussion, which Louis can totally understand and respect. Then, there’s another notification.

loveASMR: I noticed your sad face has no green jelly beans. Is that because you binned them all or are they your favourite?

Louis makes a happy hum.

ohnotommo: Def my fave. Long gone, all of them!

loveASMR: Good answer. Correct, even.

ohnotommo: Correct for what? What do I win?  

loveASMR: My approval of your taste in candy, I guess. Very important to have.

ohnotommo: Well done me, then.

Louis smiles, feeling relieved that the chat continued for a bit, making him feel less like a stalking weirdo. This H person seems fun and nice, and he wouldn’t want to make anyone who puts themselves out there to give something good to other people feel weirded out.

Louis gets up from his bed, leaving the phone behind as he goes downstairs to make himself a cup of coffee (with plenty of milk) and have a plate of whatever leftover trifle he can find. He goes to the garden, lights a cigarette and takes in the breezy air. He loves Sundays like these, where it’s quite cloudy; as if giving  permission to stay snuggled up in bed all day. It doesn’t demand people to go outside and do active stuff because the weather is so nice for once. Louis finishes his cigarette, makes another cup of coffee and goes back upstairs, digging through his shoulder bag to locate his headphones.

He finds himself scrolling through loveASMR’s channel again. The three videos he hasn’t watched yet – or tried to watch –seem to be right up his alley, with his favourite triggers. He’s found that the ASMR community is quite sparse and varied in what triggers their tingles, and he doesn’t personally like many popular ones. H seems to cater to his favourite ones, though. There’s a video of where he’s scratching and tapping a Scrabble board, and then one where he draws – Louis recognises the cat graphic from his Instagram account. It seems like it has just started raining outside, and Louis has a brief thought that hopefully Liam is being a gent and covering Lottie with his coat or something if they’re outside. He opts for the Scrabble board video, and snuggles in tight, sipping his coffee.

“Hello lovers,” H’s low whisper greets Louis’ ears as he starts the video. H is running his hands on a familiar black table cloth, the gentle swooshing sounds making the hair in Louis’ neck prickle. H’s fingers are moving deliberately slow, making wide half circles on both ends of the screen. The sound reminds Louis of waves a bit.

“Today, I’m going to show you my all-time favourite game. I’m not much for playing games in reality, not with other people, but I do enjoy board games a lot – apparently too much, especially if I win I’ve been told.” H chuckles lowly and Louis realises he’s chuckling too; there’s something so… captivating about H’s low rumble, how he apparently has a habit of rambling whatever comes to his mind on his videos, based on the few Louis has seen. H seems to start talking and then catch himself, laughing embarrassedly at realising he’s either sharing too much or just making himself sound a bit… Louis isn’t sure what word to use, but he knows ‘endearing’ is probably the word he feels. “Not that I always do,” H continues on the video. “Sadly. Am a bit of a sore loser. Or like, the sorest, if we’re being honest here.”

His hands vanish from the view, and his voice suddenly comes closer, a little louder, as he’s whispering scrabblescrabblescrabble to the microphone softly, the double b-sound sounding incredibly floaty. His hands reappear on the screen, now tracing the outlines of a Scrabble board, with the bag of letters on top of it. H is running his index fingers around the board’s outlines, then moving on to tap the board. It sounds a little like raindrops, falling gently – the sound intensified by the current actual raindrops hitting Louis’ window – and it sounds a little scratchy, manly and musky somehow. Louis realises his eyelids are drooping, and he takes another sip of his now lukewarm coffee.

“Scrabble is a family tradition, for us,” H is meandering as he’s tapping the board, the tapping going from fast sounds to slowing down, and then picking up pace again. “We play it on all family gatherings, especially on Christmas. This one here is my board, not very old, and I think it lacks a bit of… character. Memories.” H has now moved to smoothing the bag with the letters, playing with the loose ends of ribbon that the bag is tied with. “The one at my mum’s is an ancient one, probably older than me, and it’s a very strict rule to never play with any board other than that when we’re all together. It’s been taped together and we’ve had to buy more letters, and the colours are all faded, but it just… Doesn’t feel the same otherwise.” H is gently pulling at the ribbon ends now, opening the bag, and taking it into his hands to move it around, making the little plates inside clink and clank against each other. Softly and quietly, he turns the bag upside down on the table cloth, spreading the letters around. He then smooths the bag into a square, again tracing the outlines and almost petting the fabric, folding it into as little of a square as he can and putting it aside. He scratches the board before opening it, smoothing it over as if it were wrinkly.

“Scrabble is my absolute favourite game. You need to be a bit smart, a bit conniving, and I guess my favourite part is just… Not making up words, of course, but… Reinventing ways to call things.” Louis chuckles. That’s literally making up words. Or flat out lying. It’s also what Louis loves about Scrabble. “We got a cat when I was like five, and I wanted to call it Scrabble. Obviously I wasn’t a great player then, only recognising a few letters and stuff, but I would just make different images or like, forms, on the playing board then already.” H is concentrating clearly, though Louis can’t see his face, but the way his fingers seem to turn around different letter buttons and the way he wiggles his index finger before picking up a few buttons is telling. He starts placing them on the board, letters facing the camera. “My big sister said Scrabble sounds like something itchy, not a great name for a cat, and then they called it Fifi. Which is so daft, like, Fifi is a dog’s name. Everyone knows that.” H has now organised five buttons on the board, spelling out h-e-l-l-o. “Plus the cat was a boy.”

Louis lets out a laugh, imagining a white poodle with a pink bow, which is what a Fifi sounds like to him. He’s unsure how to un-see the cat actually being a spitting image of a dog.

H is picking out more letters, whilst his other hand is tapping the board again -  his hand is turned upwards so his fingers make a sharper clicking sound against the board. He has picked his letters and starts organising them below the hello-word. “I remember once, think I was ten or something, I got so angry at losing one game that I stuffed my mouth with maybe like ten letters, and then, because I couldn’t speak obviously, so I wouldn’t spill them and totally lose my dramatics, I wrote a letter saying I’d swallow them all if we didn’t play again and if I didn’t win. My mum told me to spit out half and we’d play again, but she wasn’t going to lose on purpose. I won though, and I’m honestly still not sure if she did or didn’t lose on purpose.”

Louis wonders if this is still a part of H’s playing tactics.

“And no, I haven’t done that since. Now I just mope and leave and maybe cry and curse. I’m joking, obviously. I don’t leave, I stay put and mope there.” He’s now done with spelling out the other word too, forming the word l-o-v-e-r-s. H goes quiet, seemingly contemplating, and then going back to the letters, picking up a few more buttons. He pulls the ‘hello’ up one line, and adds the new buttons between the two words, forming the word t-i-n-g-l-e. “Hello tingle lovers,” H then whispers to both mics on both ears, sending an intense wave of tingles down Louis spine. H taps the board a little bit more, making Louis drift away, almost falling asleep with the slow movements and the soft sounds. “And bye for now. I hope you enjoyed hearing about my dramatic me and traumatising childhood. Remember to love your cats.”

The video ends and Louis is feeling bone deep relaxation and drowsiness, like his bones weigh a ton. The rain outside continues, drops hitting his window like a continuum of H’s tapping. Louis, feeling too floaty to think much, starts typing out a comment to the video.

LTommo: I was so worried you’d write HELP ME as a secret message.

He reaches out to the last jellybeans, and cringes at realising he has two left and they’re different colours. Louis is nothing if not brave and adventurous, so he eats them both at the same time, only to see a notification pop up on his phone.

loveASMR: I wanted to but they would’ve seen that :(

Louis blinks once, and then shakes himself out of it, telling himself there’s no need to actually contemplate on calling the police. His phone beeps with an Instagram notification.

loveASMR: And I wasn’t held at gunpoint and forced to say that, you know.

ohnotommo: See that’s exactly what they’d tell you to say…

loveASMR: True. You need to ask me a secret question, I think. That always seems like what they do on crime series and stuff.

ohnotommo: Secret question?

loveASMR: Like something only I’d know.

ohnotommo: So what did Fifi look like?

It takes a while for his phone to light up again. Louis taps the screen impatiently as that obviously is a token way of speeding the process up.

loveASMR: He was a very ruggedly handsome black ball of a cat.

ohnotommo: How do I know you’re telling the truth? Fifi to me sounds like a white poodle. With a pink bow. A bit stuck-up.

Again, it takes a while for H to reply. When he does, it’s with a picture of a very majestic looking cat, in a grandad-type of way, a picture taken of an actual printed photo.

ohnotommo: Alright. I’ll cancel the police.

ohnotommo: That’s an excellent cat. Def looks like a Scrabble.

loveASMR: THANK YOU! I can’t believe it took all these years to finally get some kind of recognition for my cat naming skills.

ohnotommo: You approve of my taste in candy. I approve of your taste in cat names. We could take over the world, really.

loveASMR: Let’s.

---

It gets a bit relentless, after that.

It didn’t take longer than two nights for Louis to watch all videos loveASMR had up on his channel (truthfully Louis had to watch them all multiple times, as the videos seemed to knock him right off within the first five minutes). Louis comments on all of them; he goes with whatever comes to his mind first, albeit filtered a bit more so his humour doesn’t make him come off as bratty to someone who can’t hear his banter-y tone. And anyway, H seems to ramble without a filter on his videos too, so Louis is comfortable being on the same level. H comments on his comments and they usually exchange a few messages on Instagram privately. Somehow it has become a daily occurrence, hearing from H as he sends Louis a picture of something funny that he’s seen, or a picture of whatever candy he’s eating (he seems to be a bit of a candy mouse) and checking what Louis’ verdict on said candy is, or a totally random thought about how they can take over the world. Louis, of course, does the same.  

It’s… nice. Just honestly nice, Louis feels, not the kind of ‘nice enough’ or ‘nice’ when you don’t really know how to describe something that leaves you feeling unmoved or uncaring. Talking to H, the whole existence of this stranger Louis knows nothing about, except that his sense of humour is dry, his voice is like rough honey, he’s got nice hands and he’s good at drawing and his music taste isn’t awful, plus he seems to adore cats - it’s all just blatantly nice. Nice in a way that makes Louis feel like he’s talking to a good friend, no conditions or pretences, he’s just being him without having to think about what the other person thinks about him; what their preconceived thoughts of him might be. It sort of feels like… Like Louis felt as a kid, sitting alone on the banks of River Mersey, feeling like he was by himself but not alone. Talking with H feels easy and effortless, like watching water go wherever it needs to go, doing its own thing, or maybe feeling a gentle breeze of wind. Or a random meeting with a cuddly animal somewhere, just a few moments of thinking about nothing but enjoying something, feeling good about living in the moment without any stress or worry.

Louis isn’t an idiot. He may be in denial and escaping reality, but he’s not an idiot – he knows damn well what he’s doing. Finding a bit of respite in a stressful period in his life, putting more interest and energy into this new… friendship, he thinks he could call it, or at least something resembling as much. He’s escaping from actually sitting down and thinking about his future or getting down to the nitty gritty of why he’s feeling so detached of wanting to really even spend time on thinking about his life right now.

Amusing himself and letting his mind wander around his environment and surroundings looking for funny things to maybe send H, wondering what might amuse him, is a lot more pleasing than starting to make a list of what he needs to do in his final year of uni, or start looking for potential jobs and companies he’d like to work with after graduation. He doesn’t even know what he truly would want to do after graduation, unsure if he really has any talent to make his passion into a profession. Or if film really is his passion, anymore.

He plays around with a fleeting new script idea of a romantic comedy of two strangers meeting online, but refutes it rather quickly. It’s not really a crush that he has on H, how could it be – he has never met him, doesn’t know much about him. Their talks are just joking around, light stuff, nothing meaningful really and it’s not necessarily what could even be considered as flirty – Louis might have a bit of flirt in his messages, and the feeling he gets from H’s messages is the same, but it’s nothing too explicit. Plus, that’s just the way Louis is, in general, full of banter.  Based on his accent, H lives somewhere around Manchester and is probably around the same age as Louis, and… Shit. Louis suddenly realises he can’t really be sure how old H even is, he’s just assumed they’re around the same age but he doesn’t know, does he? H might be in his 40s or worse, he might actually be like, a minor. Shitshitshit. Come to think of it, Louis’ online name or profile pictures don’t even clearly disclose that he’s a bloke. More shitshitshitshit.

Louis’ frantic train of thought is interrupted by his phone beeping. Louis checks it immediately, out of habit, feeling the familiar instant joy seeing it’s a message from H, but then feels guilt flush over him and he puts his phone back to his pocket without reading the message. And just like that, something that brought him joy has become a nagging voice in the back of his mind, telling him to sort this out and clear his conscience, make sure he’s not potentially leading H on with whatever he might be imagining Louis to be.

“Alright, Tomlinson?”

Louis stirs, noticing another bloke enter the smoker’s corner. It’s one of the actual producers, James, way higher up from Louis meagre runner intern level. It’s a bit shocking that he even knows Louis’ name.

“Alright,” Louis nods and takes a drag of his cigarette, forgetting about his H issue. “And you?”

James shrugs. “Thought it was Thursday today. Shocking to realise it’s actually Tuesday.”

Louis laughs. “Yeah, if only every day were like Friday.”

James’ eyes lit up. “Not a Sunday?”

“I love the song, I mean, but after Sunday it’s always a Monday. Seems a bit deflating, to have that looming over every day.”

James lets out a big belly laugh and nods approvingly, patting Louis’ shoulder. “Hard working and has a great taste in music. I predict good things for you, Tomlinson. Keep it up.”

“I’ll try my best,” Louis smiles confused at such sudden praise from someone who is actually someone within the company. He stubs his cigarette, waves James goodbye and carries on with the last few hours of his work day.

He doesn’t check his phone until he gets home in the evening, feeling tired of another hectic day at work. The house is empty, luckily, Louis isn’t feeling like socialising at all tonight – he just wants to get his dinner ready and have an early night in. He is painfully aware that he needs to check in with H and make sure he’s aware of Louis being both a bloke and over 18; it’s been on his mind the whole day since he realised he hadn’t made it clear, but he just doesn’t know how to go on about it. All their conversations have been very light-hearted so far, and Louis feels a bit... unsure, about crossing the line and having an actual serious talk, or making their banter seem a bit more real, nodding towards them being real people on the other ends of the conversation thread. He empties his shopping bag on the counter, curses at seeing their one sauce pan dirty again, and puts the oven on, congratulating himself at also having bought a frozen pizza. He’d seen Niall cook something last night, and he knows his people.  

Sighing, he finally checks H’s message. It’s a picture of Bassett’s Allsorts liquorice; one round with with blue sprinkles covering it, another round one with yellow fruit filling around the black centre, and one three-layered one, with a black middle layer and a pink top and bottom.  

loveASMR: What do you see?

Louis bites his lip and starts typing.

ohnotommo: Something vile, something neutral, and something that if anyone eats it on one go instead of layer by layer, is no pal of mine.

He sends it, quickly typing in another message – he’s not really sure why, it’s not like he’s required to be at H’s beck and call and answer immediately, but that’s what he’s been doing thus far. He has manners.

ohnotommo: Sorry about the candy verdict delay – work was mental today.

Sure, Louis’ got manners, which occasionally includes dropping white lies whilst he tries to figure out how to go on about facing the more difficult truth. He’s not sure why it feels so big to him; it’s just smart to ensure he’s not engaging with a minor, or leading someone on falsely. Subconsciously, he is aware his biggest worry is H answering him by saying he doesn’t really want to keep chatting anymore – or worse, not even replying. Louis fucking hates ghosting. He’s a firm believer in closure with everything in life.

His phone beeps.

loveASMR: My take would be the good, the bad and the ugly. Also agree wholeheartedly, no treats are meant to be just munched on. They need to be broken apart and had in pieces.

Louis blinks at the message, trying very hard to not have his mind instantly filled with filthy double meanings about munching – sometimes he truly feels like his brain is just a gutter and he’s trash that floats in it. This is definitely flirty to him, suggestive even, and though he’s aware his mind is maybe a bit more filthy than H meant it, it’s the final straw in making him face the uncomfortable check-up.

ohnotommo: Right. Right?

ohnotommo:   So I need to clear up something and I’m not sure how to go about it so I’m just going to say it.

loveASMR: All sorts of alright.

Louis licks his lips, imagining how this might be the last message he sends H, the last one he sees from him. But he’s not going to be alright with the possibility of being predatory online of a minor who might think he’s a 16-year old girl or something. He feels a bit sad as he types and sends his message.

ohnotommo: Just want to make it clear that I’m a bloke too. And I’m over 18. So in case you’re not, I don’t think we should really be talking. Not that I’m trying to chat you up or anything.

Louis turns his phone on silent, puts it on the counter facing downwards, making sure he can’t see any lights lit up and puts his pizza into the oven. Immediately after, he checks up on his phone – no new notifications – and turns it around again, now putting the tea towel over the phone as well. He goes to the living room, putting the telly on, channel surfing mindlessly and finding nothing worth watching. He tries sorting through their pile of post on the kitchen table, full of ads and menus from their local chippy. He pins the menu to their fridge door with a magnet and stuffs the spam ads to the overflowing recycling bin. Louis even decides to take the recycling out.

He nearly has a heart attack as someone jumps on his back just as he’s closing the lid of the huge bin.

“Fucking hell, Liam, scared the bloody shit out of me!”

Liam laughs loudly, ruffling Louis’ hair. “Sorry mate, couldn’t resist.”

“You’re lucky I didn’t just blind punch you,” Louis says and tries to sound thuggish, as they walk to their door.

“You wouldn’t hit a face this pretty,” Liam pats his cheek with a few days’ beard on it. “Your sister would be so pissed.”

“Too much information,” Louis groans and checks on his pizza as he gets to the kitchen. “You’re both adults, you can do adult stuff together, I just don’t want to know about it.” He takes the tea towel off of his phone again and takes the pizza out of the oven, leaving it to cool for a bit. He resolutely refuses to look at his phone.

“Fair enough,” Liam says as he unwraps a ready meal and pops it into the microwave. He turns to look at Louis, a strange expression on his face. “How are you doing, mate?”

Louis frowns. “Alright. How are you doing? Or is this like a Joey from Friends type of ‘how are you doing’?”

Liam laughs. “No, this is a genuine friendly question. I don’t bend that way, man, and I’ve already got one Tomlinson so…”

Louis exaggeratedly puts his fingers in his ears and raises his brow at Liam.

“Alright, point taken.” The microwave beeps and Liam turns to take his food. “You got any plans for this weekend?”

“Nah, nothing that can’t be replaced with better plans,” Louis shrugs as he dishes up his pizza slices. “Was going to procrastinate but I’d rather have an actual reason to do it, so.”

“Excellent,” Liam dumps his meal onto a plate and blows on it to cool it down. “I’m thinking picnic. It’s supposed to be sunny. Saturday, early afternoon, the whole gang. Sun and fun. Boozy brunch.”

“Perfect,” Louis nods smiling as they sit down by the kitchen table to have their tea and plan the picnic and who to invite. Louis actually forgets to fret about what H might’ve answered, or not answered, for a bit, chatting to Liam and getting excited of having their group of friends together for a fun Saturday.

After they’re done with their dinner, Louis bids Liam good evening, still refusing to check his phone until he’s in the peace of his own room. He lets out a relieved sigh at seeing H has actually replied, a few messages apparently. At least he’ll get closure, if H is about to call it quits with his budding new friend. He guesses he’s lucky that H doesn’t seem the type to get mean about it.

loveASMR: That’s a bit decent of you. That’s nice, to make sure. I’m actually 19 and I did figure you’re a guy since the start, so not an issue. And as for the chatting up, I wasn’t really thinking you were and I’m not doing that either.

loveASMR: I don’t have many friends here so just been enjoying talking with someone who seems cool. And I’d like to continue that if it’s okay with you :)

Louis lets out a deep sigh of relief at hearing H is two years younger than him and aware he wasn’t talking to a girl. He’s feeling almost giddy, feeling the anxiety and stiffness he’d been withholding in his body all day, vanish. He has a fleeting thought of whether to tell H he himself is gay, but decides against it. It’s all on a friends-basis anyway and they’re clearly not seekingr a partner, emotional or sexual, so it’s not really worth mentioning, at least for now.

ohnotommo: Brill. We can keep on plotting for world domination then!

Louis sends the message and reads back the messages H sent him, feeling like he’d missed something. It takes him a moment to realise what it was – he considers for a second if they’re close enough so he can ask, but figures H mentioned it maybe for a reason and regardless, it strangely feels now that they’ve stepped over some boundary of being real people and maybe the conversation has become a bit wider, more open, a bit less just joking around.

ohnotommo: What do you mean you don’t have many friends here? Where’s here?

He sends the message before he can change his mind.

loveASMR : Everywhere, I guess. I’m not really a very social person.

ohnotommo: That’s a bit rich from someone who shares their life on YouTube!

loveASMR: Haha I know, such a fraud. That’s different, though. It’s very one-sided and controlled and no one knows who I am.

ohnotommo: I get that. No judgement here! I’ve got great mates but I need me-time a lot, too.

loveASMR: :)

It makes Louis a little sad, thinking about the witty H who seems like such a brilliant person, feeling lonely. He likes alone time, but he somehow can’t shake off the feeling that where he likes to be alone, H is more so feeling lonely and that’s a huge difference. Louis has so much appreciation and adoration for his friends, and for having a family so great that he can refer to them as friends as well. He knows they’ll always have his back, just as he has theirs. Louis goes through times when he’s shit at keeping in touch, withdraws himself to have a bit of quiet time, needing to reload his batteries away from the loudness of his social world, but he knows his friends know him and how much he sometimes needs to be alone.

And yet Louis knows, for absolute certain, that they’ll be there for him when he re-emerges from his solitude. That they’d support him no matter what and where he’d want to go with his life. Which, honestly, is the biggest hurdle he’s ever had in his life – trying to figure out what that might be. It feels like such a humongous challenge to overcome that right now, Louis feels like he doesn’t even have the energy to try to figure it out. He realises that he’d be interested in hearing what H thinks about life and future in general, but decides ‘future’ is a subject he’d still rather put onto the backburner until further notice.

---

ohnotommor: Please please tell me you’re a bit of a miracle maker in the kitchen?

loveASMR: Should I tell you the truth or what you want to hear?

ohnotommo: Yes.

loveASMR: Your lucky day. I’m a lot of a kitchen miracle. If your expectations are small, that is. If you’re expecting to see stars, Michelin ones, I’m just a little miraculous.

Louis laughs and thinks H probably is quite a bit miraculous.

ohnotommo: Got a picnic on Sat. Promised to do something. I don’t know what to do. Or how. HELP PLS. Especially as I now realise Sat is tomorrow.

loveASMR: Is it a date?

Louis raises his eyebrows.

ohnotommo:  Jealous?

He kicks himself immediately after sending the message. Of course H isn’t jealous. That’s not… in the scope of their friendship.

loveASMR: Practical! Who are you trying to impress? Sweet or savoury? Give me the outset.

loveASMR: And any special diets? Vegans?

ohnotommo: Group of friends. Boozy brunch. Park shenanigans. No one to really impress, just trying to not give everyone food poisoning or be a total let-down. I want to be invited to future picnics, you know.

ohnotommo: And probably something savoury. I think we’ll all have a sweetness OD from all the Pimm’s we’ll be glugging down. We’ll be about 8. And no vegans or allergies. I’m not keen on like butchering anything or touching anything gross, though.

loveASMR: Cool beans. And thanks for the inspiration.

ohnotommo: ?!????

loveASMR: You’ll see. Cooking lesson this evening.

“Finally, an actual Thursday!” James’ voice again interrupts Louis’ thoughts.

“And were you on Thursday yourself this time?” Louis smiles.

James considers as he lights up his cigarette. “You know, I think I was, actually.”

“Winning already. Especially as I’m now going to reveal today is, in fact, a Friday.”

James replies with a loud woop, his fist pumping the air. “This pregnancy thing is doing my head in, I swear. Lost in days, lost in life, lost with all the hormones.”

Louis stares at him, questioningly, before gesturing somewhere around James’ middle – and his rather well-developing beer belly. “You look glowing, at least.”

James bursts out laughing and throws a ridiculous pose, fondling his stomach. “Radiant, some say.”

They chuckle and then Louis talks. “Congrats for real, though. Is it your first?”

“Yeah, first. Due in late September. Not sure if me or the missus is more eager to fast forward and have him here already. It’s excruciating, the wait.”

“I can imagine,” Louis nods sympathetically. “Worth the wait, though, I’m sure.”

James beams. “Oh absolutely! And that’s why I’m here all the time, mind, can’t smoke at home anymore so getting my fix at work.”

“Understandable.”

“And you?”

“Oh, I’m not pregnant.”

James laughs loudly again, taking a final drag and stubbing his cigarette simultaneously with Louis. “I meant if you’ve got any… rulers at home?”

“No, oh no, free as a bird. No responsibilities or ties. Except, obviously, last year of uni.”

James looks at him intensely for a moment, and then nods. “UAL, wasn’t it?”

Louis nods. University of Arts London is a highly renowned uni, and he still can’t believe his luck at even being accepted in, that he’s actually going to have a degree in this field. He should be proud, hell he is proud, but even the thought of uni and especially the thought of life after uni is just…

“Me too. Such fond memories,” James interrupts. He looks at Louis again, as if weighing something. “But I get the fear. Believe me, I was a mess during my final year. But then, life happened and took me by the balls. Things will work out. I promise.” He pats Louis’ shoulder again in an almost fatherly way, as they go back inside and wave each other goodbye.

Louis is on his way to Tesco later that evening, wondering at the radio silence from H since this morning, when – speak of the devil – his phone beeps.

loveASMR: Alright. Get two rolls of puff pastry, six eggs, rice, and maybe some good melty cheese.

loveASMR: Also not trying to be condescending but I’m not sure how hopeless you really are – mozzarella would be a good contender as some good melty cheese.

ohnotommo: No one is that hopeless, H.

loveASMR: Someone might be! Imagine if you’d come home with like, I don’t know, a bad non-melty cheese.

Louis grins at his phone as he’s going around the small Tesco, finding all the ingredients easily. He’s a fan of all things wrapped in pastry and especially involving cheese, so whatever H has planned, already sounds good. It feels strangely… domestic, to think of a better word, shopping for groceries and having someone he likes cook with him, in some format Louis isn’t sure of yet. Their messages have, at least in Louis’ opinion, started to develop this strangely close or maybe caring tone that wasn’t necessary there before.

loveASMR: You’ll also need baking paper if you don’t have any at home :)  Non-stick, not greaseproof. Not sure why they can’t be the same thing. I don’t know why anyone would want something that stuff gets stuck on.

ohnotommo: People who are more worried about grease?

loveASMR: You should be able to have both in one.

ohnotommo:  Maybe that’s what you’ll take the world over with eventually?

loveASMR: Maybe. Let me know when you’re home. And make sure you wash your hands.

Louis messages H to let him know he’s home as soon as he is, popping to the loo and washing his hands and then unloading his shopping. He rolls his sleeves up, and is so damn ready to do this, when his phone lights up.

loveASMR has uploaded a new video. The title is ‘Lovegella ASMR’ and Louis can’t help but laugh as he presses play.

“Hello lovers,” H’s voice murmurs smoothly in Louis’ ears. “Something a little bit different today, as you can see from the lack of that wonderfully scratchy black table cloth – but hopefully this is not an unpleasant change,” he says as he taps what looks like a kitchen counter. The video angle is from the side this time, camera probably raised on top of something on the counter as Louis can see H’s forearms now. He’s wearing what looks like a navy sweater, sleeves rolled up a little but not revealing any skin above his wrists. The background is mainly what Louis suspects is H’s actual stomach and chest, just a navy plop covering the background.

“This video is to hopefully relax you all, but especially so that my good friend Tommo can impress his friends and have further invitations to any and all gatherings.” Louis can hear the smile in H’s voice as he takes one roll of puff pastry, tapping on its packaging. “We’re making some delicious savoury pasties today, filled with egg and rice and cheese. As with any proper cooking show, this too starts with the instruction to wash your hands.” H is now going through the ingredients, smoothing the eggs and tapping on the box, poking the bag of rice to create crinkly sounds, and showing the mozzarella. He has a cutting board set up in view. “I think, too, that if you don’t get the Lovegella title, obviously a nod to the gorgeous Nigella, you probably don’t deserve to watch this video. I’m joking, everyone can watch of course, but you should still google her. I adore her,” H rambles as he shows a cup of boiled rice. “I think watching her when I was younger, was one of the first ASMR experiences I had. Her voice is amazing and I love watching people cook. It’s so… soothing. To tell you the truth, I’d been a little bit lost with what video to do next, and luckily my friend at the same time needed some kitchen aid.”

It’s so weird to hear H talk about him, mentioning his name. Well, his nickname, but it’s all the same. He’s actually talking about Louis on his channel, acknowledging that he exists and that he’s a friend. They’re friends. It makes Louis feel… warm. Cosy. It makes his cheeks feel a bit heated. He doesn’t want to think about it anymore though, and instead focuses on filling the for-once-clean saucepan with water and puts it to boil as per H’s instructions.

“So, as with any proper cooking show, I’ve obviously done half of the things ahead. What you need to do is boil a few cups of rice, and then a few eggs, depending on how eggy you want the filling to be. For I don’t know, eight people, randomly chosen, do two cups of rice and four eggs. The filling’s good, you can have it for tea if there’s any leftovers.”

Louis pauses the video, sending H a message.

ohnotommo: This is your best work yet.  

loveASMR: You can’t know that yet. I might throw in a gross surprise ingredient.

ohnotommo: True, you could. But you won’t.

loveASMR: You sound awfully sure. Did you watch the ending first?

ohnotommo: Nah, I just know you. You’re nice. You don’t do gross stuff.

loveASMR: I’m picking my nose as we speak.

ohnotommo: As long as you don’t eat it.

Louis turns his attention back to the video, preparing what he needs to do next. Turns out he’s a bit stuck with only one sauce pan, so he has to wait for the rice to boil first before he can wash it and boil the eggs. H is now chopping mozzarella on the video, so Louis follows suit. It seems that the mozzarella, rice and eggs, together with spices of choice, all get mixed together. The puff pastry is rolled and then cut into smaller squares, with filling on half of the pieces. Finally, H closes them by pressing the seams with a fork, poking a few holes on top of the pastries and then brushing them with an egg wash.

The whole process is a lot messier when Louis does it compared to H, with filling all over the counter. The pastries don’t look quite as neat as they come out of the oven, but they smell heavenly, look rustic as if nan had made them, so Louis considers the last few hours to have been an absolute success. Niall, always on the look-out for any leftovers that he doesn’t have to cook, makes rather sexual sounds at having a bit of the leftover filling for dinner.

Louis takes a picture of the pasties and sends it to H.

ohnotommo:  And here is my invitation to all the picnics. Pretty well done, I reckon!

loveASMR: Really well! They look great. Did you taste one?

ohnotommo: Blissfully delish. Thanks so much H, I owe you one!

loveASMR: Hope your friends like them.

ohnotommo: They’ll probably like you more than me after these. You doing anything fun this w/e?

loveASMR: Yeah, it’s my nan’s birthday so going to see her with my sis and mum. Just a quick visit, got work on Sunday.  

ohnotommo: And that’s fun? Nan fun?

loveASMR: My nan’s hilarious. She’s so old she gives no fucks, but lives like a man with a midlife crisis. Love her to bits.

ohnotommo: Yeah that does sound like actual fun. Am off to bed, thanks so much again – I’ll have a toast of Pimm’s in your honour!

---

It’s a perfect day for a picnic, sun shining from an open sky, temperature warm but not too hot. They’re holding camp nearby a big oak tree, spread out with colourful blankets and music blasting (reasonable volume, of course) from small speakers. Niall, Liam and Tom are throwing a frisbee around, and laughing at a random Boston terrier that keeps trying to catch it. Bleta and Steve are having a rap battle along the lyrics of some old school Public Enemy song whilst Louis and Lou are laying down, stuffed after a plentiful brunch. Louis is enjoying the start of feeling nicely tipsy; Lou had surprised them with not only dragging out proper Pimm’s gear but also a bag of ice and a bottle of gin, with both lime and cucumber slices neatly packed in little freezer bags.

Louis brightens the screen on his phone so he can see through his aviator sunglasses.

ohnotommo: Pardon for interrupting the nan celebrations. I just have to report the happy result of zero food poisonings and much yum’s of the pasties.

loveASMR: Report received and greeted with joy. Nan has thus far had three whiskey coffees and told me, my sis and my mum all to dress sexier. Apparently we’re prudes and she’s embarrassed.

ohnotommo: What is she wearing then?

ohnotommo: …And I mean that in the least creepy way ever.

loveASMR: A dashing short skirt. Very sparkly. And a black t-shirt. Let me send a pic.

It’s not long until Louis receives a picture of a black t-shirt, with a big white text of block letters saying ’69 is not just a number’. Louis belts out a loud lough and tells H he loves his nan.

“Who is he?”

Louis turns to look at Lou, who’s popped her sunglasses down her nose and is looking at Louis knowingly.

“Who is who?” Louis sounds flat and pockets his phone.

“Oh love, don’t give me that. Your phone keeps beeping. You keep smiling. Laughing, even. I mean, it’s great to see, but it’s very… Unlike you.”

Louis huffs, feigning offense. “What do you mean? I’m always smiling and laughing!”

Lou turns a tad more serious. “Come on, Louis. Clearly it’s a guy you’re talking to. You’re like a blushing little girl.”

“I’m not a little girl,” Louis huffs again. He realises arguing about not blushing might currently be a lost cause, as he can feel his cheeks redden.

“I’ve seen you with a mouse in the flat. I’d beg to differ.”

“Totally different. And it was a rat. A huge, gigantic rat, with gleaming eyes.”

“Yeah yeah.”

“Demon rat, I’m telling you.”

Lou rolls her eyes and gets up to sit, pouring more Pimm’s into their plastic cups. “So you’re not going to spill, then?” She asks as she offers Louis his cup.

“What, the drink? Possibly.”

“About your boy, you tart!” Lou slaps his arm and laughs.

“Not a tart,” Louis quips. “Nothing to tart about. I’m just… talking to someone. As friends. Nothing sexual or romantic, just… he just seems really nice. Funny.”

“Alright. Where did you two mates meet then? Craigslist?”

“Fuck off,” Louis laughs. “YouTube, actually.”

Lou frowns.

“And no, before you ask, you can’t watch porn on YouTube. He… makes these sort of, I don’t know, relaxation videos? And I watch them when I’m feeling… like I need to relax. When I’m feeling a bit, stressed, or like, I can’t sleep. So, he makes them, I watch them, and then we got to talking, and well. Now we talk.”

“What’s his name? Where’s he from? How old is he? Is he lush?”

“He calls himself H. And I think he’s from around Manchester. And his voice, yeah, definitely pleasant, but I don’t know what he looks like. And he’s 19.”

Lou still looks suspicious.

“Listen, Lou, I know it sounds a bit dodgy, maybe, but it’s not like… He’s not like asking for money and I’m not preying on a kid, we’re literally just talking.”

“About what?”

“Candy.”

“Candy?”

Louis chuckles. “Yeah, and he showed me how to make the pasties.”

Lou nods, seemingly happier. “I like him a bit more already. They were excellent. Eggcellent, really.”

She reaches out to take another pasty from the container, breaking it in half with crumbles flying everywhere, and gives the other half to Louis. They eat in silence for a bit, until Lou starts again.

“Do you think maybe… Like, are you good enough friends that you could, like, talk to him?”

“I literally just said we’re talking.”

“About candy, yeah. But like, about, whatever is bothering you? Making you unable to sleep?” Lou looks at Louis carefully, cautiously.

Louis hesitates. He’s not sure, really, which is a change to how he would have flat out disregarded even the mere thought a while back. But now, it’s not a totally impossible idea anymore.

He doesn’t get a chance to reply before Niall throws himself over the blanket, spilling Louis’ cup.

“Oi!”

“Soz, Tommo. Right, guys and gals, gather up. Important secrets here.” Niall is holding out his arms to gesture them all to lean in closer. “Payno’s birthday is coming up in a few weeks. He’s planning on just having us all in the usual bar, the one he DJs at, but I thought we need to figure out a proper gift? You only turn 22 once.”

Steve starts coughing loudly and Lou makes a show of looking at the sky as if she’s not hearing this.

“Well, Liam is going to turn 22 only once,” Niall corrects himself.

“I’m totally up for it. Any thoughts on the gift?” Louis asks, lighting up. “Gotta be something music, eh?”

“I was thinking of just, like, a pile of vinyls?”

“They’re shit expensive though.”

“Not really, not if you know where to go,” Niall taps his nose. “Or, like, buy used ones.”

“Much good that’ll do him, scratching stuff already full of scratches!” Bleta huffs.

Louis turns to look at her. “Have you seen people as crazy about music as Payno, though? The care they put into their stuff is out of this world. I bet you even the used stuff is more pristine than those straight out of factory.”

“Music is dumb,” Bleta rolls her eyes and runs her fingers through her hair. “Music only exists…”

“To be a soundtrack to fashion,” everyone else finishes in a choir. “Yeah, we know.”

“Good!” Bleta gives them a stare and sounds stern, then bursts out giggling. “I’m kidding. Music’s alright. Not as alright as fashion, of course. We’ll get him his scratched scratchy stuff to keep on scratching scratches on.”

“Brill. Does anyone actually know what to, like, get him? I can go buy it, you can transfer money to my account, I just don’t know what to get,” Louis says.

Everyone’s at a loss. Liam’s taste, being a pedantic soul/funk/jazz DJ and all, is a bit out of their usual realm.

“If only he liked the stuff I do…” Steve sighs and rubs his eyes. “Right. I’ll figure it out.” He taps his pocket to make sure he’s got his phone, stands up and jogs to Liam and Tom. They’re too far to hear anything, but it looks like Steve taps his phone and asks Liam something. Even from a far, it’s clear how Liam’s eyes start positively sparkling as he seems to lose himself into a trance, hands waving around.

“Reckon that’s sorted then,” Louis nods and lays back down, closing his eyes. “Tenner each sound good? Used ones are like a tenner.”

Louis can hear a choir of affirmations. It’s not long until his phone beeps, sadly not being H (despite Lou’s immediately knowing look) but a sound file from Steve, with Liam rambling on about his top ten records he’d love to have. Bless clueless Liam.

The picnic turns into a beergarden, then to an indie club, and it’s closer to 4AM when Louis, Niall and Liam are happily swaying back home, with Louis stopping to talk to a city fox rummaging a bin bag on the street and Liam throwing a few chips towards it. Niall sounds even more Irish than usual, mumbling away unclearly on the phone, then finishing his call and telling Louis and Liam he's got a very early morning date and starts to run to the bus stop, telling them not to wait up. Louis throws his hand around Liam and thinks he’s really fucking lucky, as he steals a chip from Liam’s chippy box.

---

The first thought in Louis’ mind when he wakes up in the morning is a cup of coffee, soon followed by an epic toastie. Probably with some tuna and lots of good melty cheese (thank heavens Tesco had a bogof-offer on mozzarella so he still has one whole mozzarella in the fridge). The weather looks half cloudy, his room isn’t spinning and no one is pounding hammers in his head. Louis is relieved to deem this a very light hangover, if even that. It’ll be easy to get rid of with a few cups of coffee, cold juice, greasy toastie and some fresh air.

Liam, based on the groaning coming from the sofa as Louis heads to the kitchen, clearly isn’t feeling the same.

“Tommo,” comes a pitiful call.

“Yes, Payno? You alright there?”

“Am dying,” Liam whines. “Can you bring me something?”

“Anything?”

“Something that helps would be good.”

Louis nods before taking a paracetamol and a tall glass of water to Liam, who grabs them as if they were his lifeline (maybe in this instance they are). Louis makes him a coffee and, feeling chirpy himself and thus a bit guilty, makes a toastie for Liam as well. They sit on the sofa, watching a rerun of an old Top  Gear.

“Right, I’m heading off then.”

Liam turns to look at Louis. “To where?”

“To…” Louis stops, realising he can’t really tell Liam. “To, you know, do Tommo things.”

“You’re gonna leave me here? Alone? To die?” Liam looks like a kicked puppy. “I’m coming with you,” he then decides and tries to sit up, but clearly feels dizzy and falls back down. “Alright, I’ll let you go, but can you make me another coffee? And bring me some treats?”

“We have no treats.”

“I’ve got some coco pops, I think.”

“You want me to make you a bowl of cereal?”

“Nah, don’t bother, just the box will do.”

Louis shakes his head and caters to Liam, then heads out.

ohnotommo: I’m unsure how this is possible but is it true I have sent a whopping zero drunken messages to you yesterday?

He remembers H said he’s working today, so he’s not surprised not to get an answer immediately. He checks Google maps and is happy to realise it’s not too long of a walk to Love Vinyl. He’s never been there before, but according to Steve it’s the absolute best place to go for the type of vinyls Liam wants.

Louis loves London, he realises again as he heads towards Hoxton. He especially loves the streets of London, at any time of day, but especially on Sunday afternoons. It feels like once a week, the bristling East London turns into a quaint village, with families dressed up to the nines for church, happy couples walking their dogs, and pretty people carrying huge flower bouquets from Columbia Road Flower Market. Everything seems sunny, relaxed – like no one is in a rush to go anywhere, everyone is just strolling around and enjoying living in this magnificent city. It was something that surprised Louis when he first moved to London two years ago; how such a legendary city that everyone in the world knows from telly and movies, one of the most famous cities in the world, can feel so much like a home, too. He isn’t sure of anything in his life right now; not his future, not himself, but he does know that his friends, family, and London are solid.

Love Vinyl is located on an unimpressive side street, and Louis misses the turn first. The shop looks a bit unceremonious from the outside as Louis steps in through the invitingly open door. Inside, there are rows and shelves full of vinyls, and it smells like… old music, sort of. There’s a few props of merchandise, and crooked looking stairs leading downstairs in the back of the space. Louis has never heard of the music playing from the speakers, but he decides he likes it. There’s no singing, just instruments, and it sort of sounds like he feels today. Light. Happy. Like the sun shines and he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be. He looks around, suddenly feeling like he has forgotten absolutely everything from the audio Steve sent. He knows that at least he can’t remember any artist names or how they were written. He’s starting to feel a bit lost and the shop suddenly seems smaller, more suffocating.

“Hey!”

Louis turns around to see where the sound came from; it had seemed like he was alone in the shop. He sees someone lift his head from behind the counter.

“I dropped something and it’s really dusty under the counter. Swear I wasn’t sleeping on the job,” the guy says, smiling apologetically as he gets up to stand and ruffles his hair a bit, coughing lightly. “Really dusty.”  

“Okay, okay,” Louis smiles. “I won’t rat you out, if you can help me.”

“How may I help you then?” The guy quickly continues, looking a bit worried. “I mean, I’d obviously help you anyway, not just to buy your silence. I’m here to help.”

Louis nods, smiling. “Of course. Right, so, gotta be honest here. I’m buying a gift for someone who knows exactly what he wants, and I’ve been told I can get it here, but I am a bit out of my depth here. I don’t know what any of the albums he wants are.”

The guy absentmindedly licks his lips, frowning a little as if his whole being right now is concentrated on helping Louis and ensuring his friend has the best birthday gift ever. “Alright. Sounds like something I can actually, hopefully, help you with. Do you have a list or something?”

Louis digs out his phone, scrolls a little and then presses play as he finds the audio message. The sales guy reaches out to get a pen and paper, and listens intently, scribbling down what Louis assumes are artists.

As Louis watches the guy listen and write, he feels very happy at wearing a street cred old band shirt today – for some reason, he doesn’t want this bloke to take him for a dickhead music snob. The guy is wearing a white tee with little holes here and there, the text having faded into something that’s almost impossible to decipher, but Louis thinks it’s probably Rolling Stones.

Louis hasn’t really spared much thought to romance lately, feeling like it would just be added stress to his life that is already too much for him; as if it’d be adding one more ball to all the too many balls he’s already trying to juggle. But he’s not made of stone; this guy is definitely quite charming. Worth fancying, with his brown messy hair, a bit longer than Louis’ as it reaches his shoulders almost, wearing a colourful headscarf. He’s got big eyes and big lips, and his voice sounds a bit sexy. Louis has realised during his years of being old enough to fancy people that someone’s voice is definitely important to him. He has to like it and want to listen to it. This person in front of him has a rather low voice, but occasionally it pipes up, almost as if his voice hasn’t quite broken through yet even though it definitely has – he’s clearly older than a teenager. It’s quirky. Louis likes quirky.

Louis notices the guy has a black cross tattooed on his hand, close to his thumb. Louis isn’t a fan of religious signs and symbols really, at least not on himself; it feels like a too public or blatant of a declaration of something very private. It seems to suit this bloke though. Considering his stance, Louis can’t say whether the cross is more of a rockstar prop tattoo or if this guy might actually be a dedicated follower of Jesus.

“Okay,” the guy then nods as the audio stops. He taps the end of the pen to the little note he’d made, and then lets out a sigh as if gearing up for a task. “Right. No wonder you’d felt lost,” he nods towards Louis’ The Smiths shirt.

The guy walks around the counter, smiling hesitantly at Louis again and motions for him to follow him. Louis follows happily, mentally telling himself off for having taken a once-over of the guy’s legs, dressed in blue skinny jeans. His legs are lean, and long, and Louis is probably saving the image to his wank bank. Especially as the guy turns around and smiles again, and it’s now revealed that he has an actual fucking dimple. A dimple.

“Uhm. The list had like, eleven albums, and I think we’ve got eight of them? Would you like them all?”

“Depends on the price,” Louis says, feeling a bit embarrassed. “We’ve all chipped in, so I don’t know if…”

The guy nods. “Okay. What’s your budget? If we just, uhm, start going down the list, I think he probably wants the ones he mentions first the most, and then just. Stop once the money’s all spent?”

Louis agrees, and he happily follows the guy around the shop, piling albums on his hands. The covers look… extravagant, colourful and like someone was told to paint a migraine.

“I think this is it, now.”

“Hmm?” The guy asks, busy reaching to the furthest wall and leaning over some dusty albums.

“Money. It’s gone.”

The guy looks at Louis, eyes big. “Did you lose your money? Do you think you might’ve dropped…” He’s looking around, nervous.

“No, sorry,” Louis laughs apologetically. “I meant the budget. I think it’s all spent now, so, we’ll just go with this pile here.”

“Okay,” the guy looks a little disappointed. “Is that… Like, do you think your friend will be happy with those?”

“Oh, for sure,” Louis eyes the pile he’s holding. “We got like, six from the top of the list, so that’s really good.”

The guy looks pleased. “Good. I’m glad.”

They walk back to the counter and the guy digs out a plastic bag, starting to carefully pack the vinyls  whilst keying the prices into the machine. Louis looks around, feeling almost intrusive if he were to keep intensely looking at what the guy was doing. There’s something odd, in a good way, about him. He’s really good at his job, immediately making Louis and surely other customers, feel comfortable, almost as if they were old friends – like there’s this sense of familiarity, feeling at ease around this guy. Louis has been told before that he has the aura too, making people feel comfortable and relaxed in his company.

Louis pays and takes the bag, feeling a bit sad at having to leave this place, briefly wondering if he should really start collecting vinyls too.

“I hope your friend really likes them all,” the sales guy says earnestly.

“I’m sure. You were such a great help, thanks again.”

The guy smiles again brightly. “My pleasure. And like, it’s not really my type of music either, so I’m pretty impressed with myself honestly.”

Louis laughs, and the guy seems to blush a little, looking down. “Well, I reckon you should be. See ya!” Louis waves and leaves before he, maybe, kisses the guy.

“Bye!” The guy actually waves through the big shop window as Louis walks away.

He feels like his steps are even lighter when he walks home, stopping to get a coffee to go. The shop guy was so cute and really sweet, and Louis isn’t sure he actually hasn’t seen him before, as there was this almost eerie sense of familiarity about him. As much as Louis doesn’t have time or interest for any funny business, he isn’t feeling gutted about having volunteered to get Liam’s gift. Sweet Liam. Maybe Liam should actually get a few more presents…

His thoughts are interrupted by a beep on his phone.  

loveASMR: I hereby confirm this to be true. No drunken messages sent. Very impressive of you but a bit boring for me.

ohnotommo: I’m sorry H, I can’t always be the joke. You need to become one yourself and then nothing will ever be boring.

loveASMR: I could do with less boring. Any tips, joke master?

ohnotommo: I’m sure you’re plenty ridiculous. You make me laugh loads.

loveASMR: At me, not with me right?

ohnotommo: Definitely with you.

ohnotommo: Do you save all the bloopers stuff from filming? Maybe you could do one of those. And send it to me if you don’t want to publish it. Promise I’ll pay back in hilarious drunken messages.

loveASMR: Bloop bloop.

---

It’s been a bad week, and it’s only Tuesday. Not only a Tuesday, it’s also the 1st of August, which means summer is coming to an end, which means that Louis has exactly one month left of his internship, which evidently means the doom of last year of uni is also drawing nearer and with that, the soon-to-be-unescapable time to actually figure the fuck out of his life.

His work day was also a bit of a mess, just faffing around in haste without feeling like he actually knew what he was doing – contradictory instructions from a few different people, one of them a bit full of himself and telling Louis in a condescending tone that obviously his errand was the most important one. Louis hates feeling like he’s not doing his job well, especially when it isn’t really his fault, but due to feeling out of control, at the mercy of others who don’t really give him the information for him to execute his job as well as he wants to and knows he can.

So, unsurprisingly, Louis finds himself sitting in the familiar spot by the riverbank at a hidden nook deep in Hackney Marshes again. He hadn’t even realised his feet had wandered here, had passed his usual bus stop and stayed off at a stop a few stops further. It’s as if his body knew better than his mind did what he needed right now today. He looks at the water without seeing much, rubbing his hands together as his fingers feel cold for some reason. even though the weather is still very warm, only a little cloudy.

There’s a wistful feeling of wanting to be a kid again, sitting by the River Mersey. Louis lets out a dry laugh, remembering how he’d thought life back then had been such a chore, with homework and looking after his little sisters and having to do actual chores. What wouldn’t he give to have only those things to worry about now, instead of trying to figure out actual adult stuff, things that will pretty much set the direction of his future life. He takes a few deep breaths, trying to empty his mind and fill his lungs with the air, the smell of nature. He focuses on looking at the water, listening to the birds chirping away.

He vaguely remembers the idea of a script he had once when he was here - maybe it was about sisters and one of them drowning? It doesn’t seem very appealing anymore, and drowning seems to hit a bit too close to home right now, with the way Louis feels his own emotions are whooshing over him and pushing him deeper, to such depths that it’s hard to see the light anymore.

Maybe that sounds a bit dramatic, Louis back pedals in his mind. He has a flare for that, after all, which is probably a good thing considering his passion is making movies, telling stories. Or at least he thinks it is.

ohnotommo: Tell me a story you’ve always wanted to hear but it hasn’t been told yet.

Louis feels a bit daft, asking H for something like that, but it also feels weirdly natural – just telling him what’s on his mind, H having suddenly become the first person Louis really wants to tell about the stuff going on in his head. It feels unassuming, H not knowing anything about him or knowing the actual life things of the actual Louis; he has no role to fill or certain behaviour to stick to.

loveASMR: I’d like to hear a story about you.

ohnotommo: Not helpful, H.

loveASMR: Was I supposed to help somehow? Solve a problem? Silly me thinking it was an actual honest question.

ohnotommo: It was that too.

ohnotommo: Here’s a story. I study film. Am about to start my last year and feeling a bit lost, to be honest. I’ve got a million script ideas that come and go and none of them stay, none are good enough. So I’m rudely picking your brain for inspiration.

loveASMR: I’ll stick to my original reply, in that case. I’d like to hear a story about you :)

loveASMR: I think, when creating art, be it music or film or whatever, the best source of inspiration is yourself. It doesn’t need to be like, another Boyhood, but think of what you feel and what you have to say.

ohnotommo: I’ve got nothing to say. That’s the thing.

loveASMR: Nah, I think you’ve got plenty to say. Maybe you’re not listening carefully enough?

ohnotommo: But what if I like, want to make a gigantic Hollywood action blockbuster? It’s not very biographical.

loveASMR: :D Feelings and goals are universal though. Even Stallone is driven by the very same needs and wants we all are, I’m sure.

ohnotommo: Like what? Being the strongest biggest badass around?

loveASMR: Exactly. Being the biggest and strongest as in feeling accepted and respected and having self-worth. That’s what it always comes down to, me thinks.

ohnotommo: That simple eh?

loveASMR: God no! That’s like the hardest thing to achieve in the world.

loveASMR: But the most important.

ohnotommo: Yeah. I’m just pretty stressed out about it all. Sorry to dump it all on you.

loveASMR: Dump away. I’m not even in uni yet so happy to help with anything I can.

loveASMR: Makes me increase my own self-worth and all :)

ohnotommo: Thanks mate. I think I’m just feeling a bit lost in what I want to do in life in general. Which probably links to me being so unable to figure out what kinda movie I’d love to do or anything.

loveASMR: I think you just need to give yourself some mercy. Not force it. You’ll know when you’ll know. It’ll be a Eureka moment! one day when you wake up and it’ll be fine.

Louis reads the words a few times, trying to let them sink in. Yeah, he can sort of see that; maybe he’s been trying to force all the answers immediately. Doing so has only resulted in more stress, to the point where he feels numb and unable to even acknowledge his issues. In turn, it only makes him feel more stressed at how incapable he is being on making any decisions or even entertaining realistic thoughts about what he’d want to do, what he even could do.

Maybe he doesn’t need to have it all figured out yet, by a certain timeline. He’s just worried about falling into a rabbit hole where he thinks he’ll have all the time in the world, only to one day realise the time ran out and he’s still absolutely utterly fucking lost.

loveASMR: Or that’s what I keep telling myself, at least.

ohnotommo: I’ll take your word for it. And come hunt you down in 50 years’ time if it turns out you were just mocking about and nothing’s good still.

loveASMR: I’ll hunt you down first to apologize. Trust life, that’s what I think.

Louis doesn’t reply anymore, thinking the last sentence is probably a very excellent piece of advice that he just wants to let sink in. The River Lea keeps moving on, but Louis sort of wishes he’d see a bit more Mersey right now.

He stays there for a little while longer, trying to tell himself that everything is really going to be ok. He’ll get there. He is going to focus on being the best damn runner intern for the last month, actually going to log onto his uni email and see what he needs to sort out, what modules he still has coming up. He’ll keep his mind sharp and observational about his surroundings, in case there’s just the right story to tell looming somewhere. He’ll be fine, he tells himself, and it sounds somewhat convincing.

Feeling a bit more positive about life, Louis texts Niall and Liam suggesting a pub dinner. One of their locals has fairly priced pub grub, delicious and big portions, and for once it seems like the lads all have some spare money and an evening off, so they meet up in the pub.

“Excited for your big bash, Payno?” Niall queries as he’s blowing into his steaming Shepherd’s pie.

“So much! I talked to the lads in the bar and they’re totally happy to have me do a private party for the start of the evening, general entry starting only at midnight. You fellas just need to drink enough.”

“As if that’s ever been a problem,” Louis muses, popping a chip into his mouth. The pub does amazing chunky chips, and Louis forgets every time how bloody hot they are inside, burning his tongue as a tradition. “How many people are you inviting?”

“Oh, loads. You lot, people from uni. And your sister, if that’s alright?” Liam looks at Louis a bit hesitantly.

Louis nods, smiling widely. “Absolutely. I’ll even let you guys smooch without rolling my eyes too much. A special birthday treat and all.”

Liam actually blushes a bit, and Niall chuckles through his mouthful.

“Speaking of, and like, I know money is tight and all, except for Mr Poker Billionaire here, like I don’t want to ask for a huge birthday gift or anything, you don’t need to get me stuff.”

“But?” Niall raises his eye brow and glances quickly at Louis, knowing very well they’ve already got a pretty ace gift bought and wrapped and all.

Liam looks hesitant for a bit, wringing his arms on the table. “There’s this one vinyl, a proper classic like, house thing, and it’s so hard to get by, but I’m following this one record store and they’ve just got a second hand one arrive, and I was wondering…” He stops for a moment, looking at Louis and Niall. “If, uhm, maybe… It’s not too expensive or anything, I don’t think, like 20 quid, but…”

“Say no more, Paynster,” Louis smiles. “Just tell us the name. Or maybe text it, I don’t know how to pronounce the weird house stuff anyway.”

Liam beams and buys them a round of pints.

Trust life indeed, Louis muses. He now actually has a legit reason to revisit Love Vinyl. Not that he’s, like, eager to see the guy with the dimples and the legs again – hell, he might not even work there from aside like once a month – but he can’t really look a gifted horse in the mouth, can he? Suddenly an opportunity to go back there seems like some kind of fate.

Life seems to be handing him a lot of treats, he muses, as later that night when he’s getting ready for bed his phone beeps. H has sent him a link to a video.  

loveASMR: Bloop bloop. This is a bit ridiculous but I thought maybe it might cheer you up a bit. It’s not a public video so you need a password.

ohnotommo: Ooh exciting! I’m trying this ‘trust life’ thing and so far, so good. What’s the password then?

loveASMR: Tingles, of course.

ohnotommo: Of course.

loveASMR: It’s not really tingly though, just silly, entertaining I hope. Quite daft really.

ohnotommo: Ah so very you then.

loveASMR: Piss off.

Louis clicks the video link and types in the password. The video is titled ‘ohnobloopers’. Louis feels a wide smile forming on his face, and leans back on the pile of pillows propped against the headboard of his bed before pressing play.

It doesn’t take too many seconds of watching to find out that H swears. A lot. It starts out as a sort of  collage from the drawing video, filmed from above and showing an A4 and H’s hands, a pile of different pens on the side. Louis feels light shivers watching the sharp tip of the pen scratch the paper’s surface as H draws a long line, slightly round, moving to draw what Louis assumes will be the cat’s tail, only to then start cursing at a mistake Louis can’t even spot, and crumbling the piece of paper and starting a new one.

Louis can hear a deep sigh, then a new blank paper is placed into view as H starts whispering softly again. “Hello, lovers, and welcome to my drawing video,” he says in a dreamlike soft tone as he smooths out the paper, leaving Louis’ neck tingling. “I think one of the biggest tragedies in being me is the absolute inability to hold a tone, or a note, which is awful considering how much I love music, but at least I can hold a pen.” He starts drawing a line again, a bit quicker and lighter than on the first clip, getting all the way to the tail again and groaning as he makes another invisible mistake. “Well, sometimes at least. This is absolute shit,” he grumbles and wrinkles this paper too and throws it away. On the third go, he manages to get further but then, on making the outline back up to draw the first ear, “Shit fuck hell this is shit,” making Louis chuckle. For the fourth time, H just draws a sad face and writes I CAN’T DRAW in capital letters over the paper. “I see the drawing isn’t happening today,” he muses as he traces the smiley face with his pen. “Think I’m just gonna go have a wine and a whine with my sister.”

The next clip is from the actual cooking video, Louis immediately recognises. “Hello lovers, and welcome to H-gellas cooking class. H-gella? Nah mate, that doesn’t work. I’ll edit it out. Right.” He seems to tap the counter, not to create tingles but just to get himself ready again. “Hello lovers, and welcome to… Uhm. Just a sec. I seem to have lost my mozzarella.” H disappears on the video, and Louis can hear what he assumes is a fridge door opening, and H rummaging through the fridge in search of the cheese. He soon comes back to the view. “Right. I’m excited to report the mozzarella has been found. So, today, on the request of a good friend, Tommo we’ll call him, or I guess that’s what he should be called as he calls himself that? So yeah, Tommo, uhm, we’ll be helping him woo his friends and ensure he gets to many picnics always. Oh for fucks’s sake,” H then sighs exasperatedly. “This literally sounds like I’m saying picnic but mean pussy. Ok, cut.” Another few seconds of tapping the counter, and then Louis can see the clip is edited – he presumes it was the actual good intro that H used for the video.

Next, he sees H tapping on a sauce pan, crinkling the bag of rice and running his index finger around the edge of the sauce pan. “First off, we’ll be boiling rice. So, you boil the water, add a bit of salt, just a pinch, and then wait for, like, twenty minutes until it boils.” He goes silent and it sounds stunned. “So yeah, I guess we’ll now watch rice boil for twenty minutes. Good stuff. Entertainment value sky high. I honestly hope Nigella never sees this,” he mumbles to himself. “So, I’ll boil the rice, and the eggs too actually, now there’s a spoiler for you, so I can be a proper cook and show all the stuff I did before I started filming. Isn’t that what they always do? Yeah, I’ll just… Do that.” Louis laughs again, even more amazed now at how good the cooking video turned out – and how helpful. This is more like watching himself mess around in the kitchen.

ohnotommo: How the hell did you actually manage to create something so delicious out of this mess?

loveASMR: Heey! I put a lot of trust in you, showing you that. It’s supposed to be encouraging for you and not a reason to mock me!

ohnotommo: Aw, cheers for that then. What a pal!

The last scene (Louis reckons based on the video only having a minute or so left) is from the vinyl video. Louis feels his heart clench; this was his first contact to H, first thing he ever saw of him. H is just showing Adele’s album, tracing her hair as if he’s brushing it, when suddenly the camera seems to tip over and H lets out a loud groan, startling Louis. “Oh come on you little… You cat. You bloody damn cat, I’m filming, you can’t just…” And then the view goes blurry for a second, only a little meow sound on the background audible. The camera seems to be knocked on the table, still recording but now the image is sideways. “I’m sorry love, I didn’t mean it, you’re the best cat ever, best animal ever.” There’s some muffled cooing and a smack of lips, probably a kiss that H has given to the, now in-focus ball of fur.

It’s a cat. A ginger cat, very fluffy, bits of white on its paws and under its chin. It’s butting its head against H’s hands, then plopping on top of the Adele vinyl on its side, and Louis lets out an embarrassing sound at watching H’s hand pet the cat with long strokes on its back, fingers tickling its stomach. The cat seems to start purring. “You’re the best thing in this whole world, you know that, hmm?” More scratching and tickling, and the purring gets louder. H seems to have completely forgotten about the camera and anything that isn’t his cat. After a few more cuddly movements and sounds (from both H and the cat), H starts talking again, humming a bit. “Ladies and gents, may I introduce you to the best cat ever? This is my best friend in the whole world. Say hello!” H is holding one of the cat’s front paws between his index and middle fingers, pretending the cat is waving to the camera. “This is Old Catford. A bit of a mouthful, I know. But I figured it sounded quite, I don’t know, grand? And I guess this is also me coming out as a Mancunian, as if you can’t hear it, so Old Catford is obviously after Old Trafford. I got him as a rescue cat, he’s around five years I think, he was so grumpy when I went to visit the shelter, but he looked at me, from his corner, and I… Well, I was sold. Clearly. As he’s here now. And this is probably the most embarrassing bit of footage no one will ever see. Anyway, Old Catford, which I realised quite soon was too long to be used for cooing or cursing at. So we tried OC at first, but the telly series is shit and no thanks. Then I tried Harrison, after Harrison Ford you know? But it’s a bit long too, and shortening it to…” H stops for a bit. “Well, the short form of that wasn’t going to work, so now he’s just… Uhm. Oldie, sometimes. Or just cat. Or, ehm, my precious little baby, to be honest.” The cat has closed its eyes now and at hearing the pet names, puts its paw on H’s hand and Louis can hear a very soft whimper, probably human-made. It’s fucking adorable. “I’m actually, uhm, just going to stop filming now. My cat clearly needs me. All the tingles and that!” H waves to the camera, and makes Old Catford wave as well. And that’s the end of that video.

ohnotommo: PRECIOUS LITTLE BABY

loveASMR: Thou shall not offend my cat. Or me. Unsure which one this was aimed at.

ohnotommo: Neither, I’m actually a pile of goo. That’s one amazing cat.

loveASMR: Aww thanks man! I’ll tell him. God forbid his head would get any smaller about his own excellence.

ohnotommo: He never should feel anything but royal. Amazing. As was everything about this, it did make me feel a lot better. Thank you, as always. Feel like I’m always thanking you.

loveASMR: No problem. It never is, honestly :)

loveASMR: I was going to name the video gag reel at first, but thought it might be flagged as adult content.

ohnotommo:   It made me, though. Gag, that is.

ohnotommo: Original meaning, obvs.

loveASMR: Obvs.

ohnotommo: I’m also now contemplating on making a movie about an animal shelter.

loveASMR: Too sad!

ohnotommo: It’ll have a happy ending ofc!

loveASMR: Unrealistic. Not everyone finds a home or a place in this world.

ohnotommo: Contradicting yourself there. You literally just said a few days ago that everything will work out.

loveASMR: Oh, yeah, for you. You’re not an animal in a shelter though.

ohnotommo: Less hairy.

loveASMR: And not saved by me.

ohnotommo: We’ll see.

 

Chapter Text

Every step Louis takes is making him feel more lame. Ridiculous, even. He’s feeling a bit giddy, trying to compose himself – it just won’t do to smile at strangers on the street, not on a random Wednesday evening especially without any national celebrations happening – and he’s trying to tame his heartbeat, getting louder and more intense in its beating the closer he gets to Love Vinyl.

He actually has to stop on the corner, give himself a bit of a pep talk. Sure, the hot guy might be there, but he also might not. It’s alright, Louis isn’t being a creepy stalker, he has a very legitimate and important reason to be there, and the hot guy knows the reason. He’ll secretly admit though that maybe the worse option would be if the hot guy wasn’t actually there today, and Louis wouldn’t see those fucking dimples. Louis checks his phone for the umpteenth time, making sure Liam’s text is still there, so he can show it to the guy. He contemplates, also for the umpteenth time, writing his phone number or maybe a row of emojis, a date suggestion or a vow of undying adoration under the album and artist name. Ridiculous. He figures he might actually be best off if the guy isn’t working today after all.

Louis dares to take a quick look through the window as he passes it as he’s approaching towards the door, but sees no one behind the counter. Setting himself up for disappointment, he walks in.

And there he is. The hot guy. He’s leaning over a box of records, talking to an older black guy who is laughing loudly, the sound resonating in the otherwise empty shop. The hot guy is wearing black skinny jeans this time, and a loose, white baseball tee with red sleeves. Louis tries to shut up his brain, currently whispering nonsense about how well he matches with Louis’ white converse shoes and his red t-shirt. His own brain is deceiving him.

The hot guy and the older man finish laughing, heading to the counter and as the guy goes behind the counter, his eyes meet Louis. Congratulating himself on managing to nod in a very cool, totally not smitten way, Louis sees the guy smile wide as he recognises Louis, waving his hand. And the damn dimple appears. It takes a few more minutes for the transaction to end, and Louis makes sure the older man has left the shop when he walks up to the counter.

The hot guy is still smiling widely at him, leaning his elbows on the counter, as he lets his chin rest on his hands.

“Hey, welcome back!” He says cheerfully.

“Hi,” Louis’ voice sounds annoyingly out of breath for some stupid reason, as he digs out his phone.

The guy’s smile vanishes. “Was there something wrong with what you bought? Didn’t your friend like them?” He sounds concerned.

“No, no, not at all, it’s not until this Friday,” Louis rushes to explain. He’s somehow gutted at the mere thought of ever being a reason for this gorgeous creature to be upset. It’s weird, again, how he gets a sense of familiarity from him – surely he’d remember if he’d chatted him up in a pub somewhere, or had ever laid eyes on him anywhere really. Louis shrugs the weird feeling off, aware that he does fancy the guy quite a bit plus he actually has seen him before, on his first visit.

“Alright, good,” the hot guy seems relieved. “What brings you here again, then?”

Louis shows the text message. “This one. Apparently it’s what he wants the absolute most, and I thought I’d try you guys again. Gotta warn you, I might cry if you don’t have it.”

The hot guy reads the text, absentmindedly chewing his lower lip and standing up straight. He takes the phone to his hand, looks around the shop as if considering, and then nods. “I think you’ll leave with your eyes dry.” He takes a few quick steps, hopping almost like a cute little bunny, to one of the boxes full of records and flips through them quickly. His long fingers run through the albums, stopping midway and going back a few. Louis feels like he’s living in a déjà vu – surely he’s lived this very moment before?

“Aha!” The guy yelps happily and shows the record to Louis.

Louis doesn’t really note the name, doesn’t acknowledge if it’s the correct one, all he can seem to do is stare at the record and the guy’s fingers, particularly what the fingers look like holding a vinyl album.

“Did you have a budget for this?” The guy asks.

Louis shakes his head as if to clear his head. “No, uhm, how much is it?”

“Twenty-five quid?” The guy looks hesitant, unsure, looking at the price tag sticker on the plastic wrapping of the album.

“Perfect,” Louis nods.

The guy smiles happily and taps the cover, as if he were a car salesman tapping the hood to mark a successful sale.

And with that, whatever air was in the stuffy shop to start with, seems to vanish. Louis feels his lungs constrict and he has to blink, as his eyes seem to go hazily blurry. He keeps staring at the guy, following him with his eyes as he walks behind the counter.

No fucking way.

“You alright?” The guy asks, amusedly.

Louis stares for a bit more, feeling like his surroundings are swinging around, his knees turning into jelly.

And then it stops.

“Oh, yeah, great. Liam will be well happy,” Louis tries to sound normal, though nothing feels normal right now. He feels like his voice is shaking. “And, uhm, you, are you alright? How’s Old Catford?”

The guy tuts annoyedly. “Eugh, don’t even ask, he’s being such a pain now after he got…” He stops still, looks at Louis with his eyes big and all colour fading from his face. “Uhm. What. The fuck. How do you know about my cat?”

Louis wants the ground, or the floor, to swallow him whole. The guy – or H, it really truly fucking honestly is – looks so confused and a bit concerned right now. He also looks like he’s kicking himself for not realising he’d just revealed himself by so cheerily answering a question about his cat.

He coughs. “I, well, you’ve actually showed him to me. On a video.”

Louis can hear how H’s brain keeps working, but doesn’t quite get there yet.

“We, actually, are planning on taking over the world together?” Louis tries again, realising he might sound a bit loony.

“What!” H then shrieks, relaxing, with an unbelieving, hesitant smile briefly appearing on his lips, before his mouth drops open as if he can’t believe what Louis is saying. “You’re Tommo? You are Tommo? You’re Tommo?” H lets out a slightly manic laugh, shaking his head and clasping his hands on his cheeks, then dropping them onto the counter.

Louis spreads his hands. “The one and only. Or well, not the only one obviously, not a very uncommon last name, but yeah, the one at least.”

“Fuck me,” H lets out an exhale and Louis tries to not hear it. “Shit. Holy fucking shit.”

“Yup,” Louis pops the p-sound. “I can’t… This is, this is just. Unbelievable.”

They stare at each other for a moment, both bursting out in perplexed laughter.

“I, uhm. I still need to charge for this, if that’s ok?”

“Sure,” Louis gives H the notes and watches as H puts the record into a plastic bag.

He slides the bag towards Louis on the counter, then leaves his fingers resting on it. “I, er, I’m not sure what the policy here is? Like, what do we do now?” He looks at Louis intently.

Louis ponders for a moment, and then reaches out his hand. “I’m Louis. Nice to meet you.”

H chuckles, and shakes Louis’ hand. His hand is warm and very soft. “Hi Louis. I’m Harry. Nice to meet you too. Weird, but nice.” 

The bell by the door jingles as someone comes in, and Louis sadly pulls his hand away from H’s, Harry’s. “Listen, I… Should we like, get a drink or something? That seems like a thing to do, no?”

Harry looks at the person having walked in, greets them and lets them wander around. He licks his lips and turns to look at Louis. “I finish at seven?”

“Today? As in seven as in the next hour?”

“Yeah, that seven,” Harry smiles. He seems to have the colour back on his face now, a bit redder than initially.

“Alright. That sounds like a good seven. Should I come and meet you here or…?”

“Yeah, I’ll close at seven so just. Come over. Oh, uhm,” Harry realises he still is actually in possession of Louis’ phone. “Maybe you can take my number or…”

Louis takes his phone, unlocks it and hands it to Harry. As he takes it and starts keying in his number, Louis notices his hands seem to be shaking a little.

“Oh,” Harry says surprised as he’s looking at the phone. “There’s an alert that just popped up? Lou at eight?”

Louis picks his brain for a second and then groans. “Ah shit. Shit shit. Forgot that’s today, damn it. Okay, she will scalp me and then cut my balls if I cancel on her, it’s for like, her boyfriend is out of town and I promised to go help her with something and I…”

Harry waves his hand, giving the phone back. “Hoes over bros, I get it. Oh, shit, sorry, not meaning that your friend is a hoe, I, uhm, bloody hell.”

Louis feels mortified finding himself actually giggling. “She thinks hoe is a good thing, she goes on rants about it. So no harm done. I’m just, really sorry, it would’ve been great to like, talk.”

“You’ve got my number now, so I think we can like, stay in touch with the magic of phones. Reorganise,” Harry also looks a bit disappointed, which Louis reckons is a really good thing. He’s feeling absolutely gutted, himself.

“Oh! But, my friend Liam, the one that all these gifts are for, it’s his birthday on Friday so maybe you could come?”

Harry frowns. “I don’t know…”

“Come on, it’d be great! Like, you helped with picking out all of this and it should be a good night. He’s a DJ and we get a private party at first, it’ll be a blast, my mates are awesome.”

Harry nods slowly. “I’ll see if, uhm, if I’m free. Text me the address and I’ll let you know. And, like, if something comes up and I can’t come, you can still, like, I mean, we could still go for a drink or something.”

“Definitely,” Louis nods and smiles so big it sort of hurts his cheeks. “Give pats to the cat.” He doesn’t really have any reason to hover around anymore, plus he’s going to run late from meeting Lou if he doesn’t leave right now, but something about the whole situation feels so… Spell-like. He doesn’t want to break it. With difficulty, he pulls himself away from the counter, taking a few steps backwards and waves to Harry.

“See you, Louis,” Harry smiles as Louis heads out, turning his attention to his customer.

Outside, Louis has to feel his cheeks with his hands, they feel like they’re absolutely burning, boiling. His heart is going by a mile a minute and unable to help himself, he lets out a pretty tame yell of an ‘aaaaah’, letting out some steam gathered inside him from the unrealistically magical moment of this strange happenstance of fate. 

Louis: Hello it’s me.

Louis: And me is Louis.

Harry: Your Adele reference started so well. And ended so quickly.

Louis: At least you have my number now. I fully understand if you want to save it as Not Adele or something.

Harry: Think I’ll go with ohnolouis.

Louis: ohnolouisnotagain.

Harry: notlouisagain.

Louis: Not totally incorrect though, I’m def not a Louisa Gain. Anyway, I’ll send you the link to Friday’s venue, would be brill if you can make it!

---

Harry can’t make it. Or that’s a fair assumption, at least, considering Louis hasn’t heard from him and the party has been popping for three hours now, with no Harry in sight. Louis walks over to Lottie, who’s ordering shots with Liam on the bar.

“Lotts. Take my phone.” Louis waves his phone to her.

Lottie grabs it and puts it in her sparkling bag. “Why?” She queries as an afterthought.

Louis shakes his head slowly, careful not to send the room spinning as he takes a shot from the bar and downs it. “Long story.”

“Give me a short version? Should I expect coppers to trace this and come after me?”

Louis laughs. “No, just… I don’t want to send any embarrassing drunken texts today.”

“As you usually do?”

“As I usually do,” Louis agrees. “But you should like, keep checking it every once in a while. And let me know if there’s any texts or anything.”

“From someone particular?” Lottie raises her brow, and Louis curses at how much she looks like their mum right now. The shape of the brow, the knowing look that he can’t hide from.

“A Harry. And that’s the only version of that story that you’ll get tonight.”

“Righty-o,” Lottie leaves it and orders another round of shots.

Louis downs this one happily too, refusing to think about Harry, as either the hot guy from the record shop or H, his very quirky and funny friend; any versions of someone he quite would like to have in his life, but apparently they’re not interested in being in it. It’s Liam’s birthday, after all, and Louis isn’t going to mope in a corner and ruin everything, at least for Liam. Might be too late for himself, though.

The night is great, Louis turns out to be very good at shutting his brain up by drowning it in shots. It’s about 1AM and Lottie finally comes screaming at him that he has a message from A Harry. Louis can feel his nerves spiking up a bit less than it’d be fair to assume, thanks to being a bit drunk and not fully in a condition to bang onto a full-on stress reaction.  

Harry: Sorry I couldn’t be there. I hope Liam loved the gifts and you are all having a blast! Let me know if you’re not dead tomorrow or some day next week maybe, if you’d like a drink or coffee.

“Aren’t you going to reply?”

Louis shakes his head, giving his phone back to Lottie, and then pulls her back to the dance floor. He’ll think about it tomorrow.

---

Tomorrow arrives, and Louis still doesn’t want to think about it. He’s mostly annoyed at himself, as is his usual reaction in cases like these. He’s sure he must’ve done something wrong to put Harry off so quickly, he just can’t quite figure out what it might’ve been. They’ve got on brilliantly when talking, and the two times they’ve met, including when they realised who they were, Harry has seemed friendly and was even giving Louis his number, happy to meet up later on the day.

Cursing, Louis replays the last time they met in his head again. He was nice and friendly. Harry was nice and friendly. They both smiled. And sure, it’s not like he’s really in a position to throw a hissy fit over Harry not letting him know he wasn’t going to come, Harry owes him absolutely nothing, but it’d still been good manners, right? They’re not boyfriends and sadly probably never will be, Louis knows realistically, but like, even with a friend, you could just say thanks but no thanks to an invitation. He reaches out his phone, finding no new notifications. He checks whatsapp, seeing Harry’s been online just a few minutes ago, and throws the phone away further on his bed as if it had burnt his hand.

He gives in after staring at it for a considerable amount of time. It sucks how apps show when someone’s online. It makes Louis feel a bit pathetic at how happy he feels about being online at the same time. Or sometimes, it sets him into a frenzy of concerned wonder of why someone hasn’t been online for a long while. He reads Harry’s last message, and then replies. At least he’s got some manners, after all.

Louis: Liam was super chuffed. Thanks again!

Louis: Also I’ve given it a ponder and I’m not dead today.

He sees the blue ticks appear almost immediately, meaning Harry has read the messages. He sees Harry’s typing, then not typing for a while, and then typing again.

Harry: Good stuff all round! Would you want to meet up today, how not-dead are you?

Louis stares at the words, a bit puzzled with this sudden change in tune again. Beggars can’t be choosers, though.

Louis: Alive enough for that for sure. Any ideas?

Harry: It’s really nice out, big fan of fresh air, so Broadway Market maybe? Could get something to eat and a drink and maybe go to the park if all the pubs are crowded.

Louis: Bet you just want to go to The Cat and Mutton bc it has cat in the name.

Harry: Ha! I do reckon it’s a great name, but it always feels too busy when I’ve been, or tried to go there. What’s your ETA?

Louis: Gimme two hours. Meet in front of CandM?

Harry: It’s a date.

Louis opts for a cold shower.

Which was pretty pointless, he thinks as he steps outside the house. The weather is absolutely boiling, and there’s no way he’s going to be able to walk to Broadway Market without being absolutely drenched. Sure, he wouldn’t mind sweating it up with Harry one day if he’s being honest and giving into his more human needs, but being soaked from sweat on their first… meeting? It’s not the look he’s going for. He rushes back inside, strips off his tee and jeans and throws on knee-length jean shorts and a sleeveless tee. Glancing quickly in the mirror, he realizes he looks like he crossed paths with Edward Scissorhands with the shorts being cut-offs from old jeans, and the vest being an old Oasis t-shirt with sleeves cut off. He looks the wrong kind of ripped, but at least he’s not drenched anymore as he sets off to Broadway Market, not too far off luckily.

It’s summer in London at its best/worst – everyone seems to have gone a bit bonkers with the heat, groups of people plopped anywhere where there’s even a bit of grass, having picnics; kids running around in swimsuits and soaking each other with water guns. It’s not just once that Louis has to stop suddenly to avoid crashing into an excitedly running kid, fleeing from water pistols.

He gets to the predictably overcrowded pub about five minutes before their agreed meeting time. The amount of wine coolers and Pimm’s pitchers on the tables outside are making Louis’ mouth water. He’s not feeling rough at all, feeling rather giddy actually, from both the gorgeous weather and the excitement of his company for the afternoon. Louis is just really looking forward to hanging out with Harry, getting to know him. He can feel some butterflies fluttering around in his stomach quite manically, but he wills them to stay put – this isn’t a date-date, he has no idea of Harry’s sexual orientation. He’s trying his best to breathe deep, just focusing on being excited about getting to know someone who’s become a very happy addition in his life in the past month or so.

After hovering around for fifteen minutes, the butterflies seem to transform into a rather fed up hive of bees, though. Harry technically isn’t late yet for more than ten minutes, totally acceptable with London traffic and transport, but Louis has never been too good at avoiding jumping to worst case scenarios immediately.

He’s being stood up, he knows. Everyone sitting outside the pub is looking at him with pity in their eyes, they all know he was supposed to meet with someone he really likes and now he’s being stood up. And like, why is Harry being such a twat, he suggested this after not showing up at Liam’s birthday, and he seemed happy to meet Louis the other day at the record store, but maybe Louis really has been too eager, he’s never been good at hiding his emotions, and what the hell is he…

“Hi!” An out-of-breath gasp stops Louis’ fretting, and he feels the slight touch of a hand on his shoulder, making him turn around.

The first thing Louis feels is a huge amount of relief and a mental middle finger that he waves around at all the people staring, thinking he’d get stood up, which he rationally realises is no one. Harry looks like he probably ran for a bit, but he still manages a radiant smile. He’s wearing a checkered shirt, also with sleeves cut-off and buttons on the front, and, like Louis, jean shorts.

“Nice, didn’t even have to ask you what we should be wearing today,” Louis doesn’t think before he opens his mouth and nods to Harry’s legs (and tries to absolutely not stare or at least not drool at the pair of very nicely-formed legs, let out of their usual captivity of skinny jeans).

Harry looks down at his legs, puzzled, then at Louis’ legs and chuckles. “Great choice. Very weather appropriate. Which is good, I can’t stand people who moan about being hot or cold if they didn’t bother to dress themselves accordingly.”

Louis nods, recalling Niall’s usual bitch and moan about feeling cold when he’s outside in the rain in a pair of flipflops.

“So sorry about being late. I should’ve told you I’m always late, I don’t know why, I do try to improve but, like, for future reference, best if you show up at least fifteen minutes after what we’ve agreed.”

“No worries. Gave me plenty of time to stare at the Pimm’s jugs dreamily.”

Harry laughs. “I guess your hangover isn’t too bad, then?”

“Not at all.”

“Good, good. Uhm, I was thinking, not sure how bad you’d be feeling, if you’d want to get like a pizza? I live for pizza when I’m hungover.”

Louis is probably drooling at the mere thought. “Yeh, pizza sounds perfect. There’s a really good place on the Market, they do sourdough ones?”

“Yeah, Franco Manca,” Harry seems to blush a little. “That’s what I was thinking, actually.”

“Excellent! And I could do with a few drinks, if I’m honest.”

“Pizza and beer in a park,” Harry muses. “Couldn’t come up with a better plan myself.”

“Technically it was your plan.”

“No wonder it’s so great, then,” Harry hip-checks Louis as they start walking down the market towards the pizza place.

It’s weird how naturally the physical touch came from Harry, how natural it feels to Louis, as he hip-checks Harry back and Harry just laughs.

“Was it a bother to get here, do you live far off?”

“Not really, like took the Overground and then a bit of walking - or a bus, if I’m lazy. But I love the Overground, feels like it’s always sunny and a Sunday when I use it so, not a problem at all. How about you?”

“Just like, a twenty minute walk. I live near Homerton Hospital, if you know where it is?”

“Oh, right yeah, I do. I live just by Cally Road tube station.”

“Nice! Do you have a view on the Emirates Stadium?”

Harry stops still and gives Louis a fake serious look. “Louis. I have a cat called Old Catford. Even if I did have a view, I’d bloody well close my eyes every time it’d be in my sight.”

Louis laughs and nods. “Understandable.”

“You’re from around there too, aren’t you? Your accent sounds homey.”

“Warrington. Not the posh parts, obviously. More like, this dump of land between Warrington and Manchester that neither really wants to call theirs,” Louis explains as they come up to the pizza place, stopping outside to have a look at the menu on the window.

“Fine, guess I need to own up to not being from Manchester-Manchester either. It’s like, a little village on the outskirts, proper rural Cheshire. Holmes Chapel?”

Louis repeats the name, picking his brain as it does set some bells ringing. Then he remembers. “Oh! I’ve been there, as a kid. When my parents were still together, we’d go on like, car trips for pub lunches on Sundays on the countryside, have a bit of a wander. I remember the one in Holmes Chapel had like, fucking divine chips. Think I called it Holmes Chippel, after that,” Louis reminisces and Harry chortles.  

“My dad actually owns that place. Like the one pub in the village. And a few more around the area. So yeah, thank your parents for me, for giving me a pretty well-off life, I guess.”

“Seriously how have we not met before?” Louis look at Harry. “Though I guess you weren’t like, born as an adult barman or something.”

Harry looks at him, quite intensely, like he’s examining something. “I guess it wasn’t the right time until now,” he then says a bit quieter, looking straight into Louis’ eyes for a few moments and then turning his head back to the menu, looking a little flushed. “I’ve decided what I want.”

It takes a second for Louis to turn his eyes away from Harry, back to the menu. Seriously who is this person? He leaves Louis feeling like they’re in a fucking bubble of just them, in the middle of a crowded and busy Sunday market.

“Yeh, me too. Just going to have the four cheese one, I think. My body craves cheese. What are you having? Don’t know if I want to hang out with you if you take that anchovies one, though, just so you know.” 

Harry looks at him, shocked. “Why would I want that? Why would anyone want that? Come on, Louis. Have some faith. I’m a basic margherita guy.”

“And then you top it with all the extra toppings?”

“Not all of them. Just mushrooms,” Harry looks gleeful as they go inside.

They place their orders, agreeing that Louis will pop to the Londis shop across the street to get drinks whilst Harry waits for the pizzas.

“What did you get?” Harry queries as Louis comes back to Franco Manca, happy to see Harry being the first in queue now.

“Just a four pack of Stella, was on offer. And a surprise,” Louis winks and shows the bag of jelly beans.

Harry actually claps his hands. “You’re amazing.”

Louis feels colour rise to his cheeks, blaming it on the warmth radiating from the amount of people inside the pizza place and the pizza ovens radiating nonstop heat.

“Are you working tomorrow?” He makes conversation instead. ”Do they actually let you open the shop?”

“Ha! They do. Luckily me being always late is just a free-time thing, I actually manage to get to work on time. Most of the time, at least. Are you? Working tomorrow?”

“Yeh, but I‘m only starting at around ten, so don’t need to like, go home early.” Louis realises how it might sound a bit suggestive and rushes to add. “Like, I don’t have an early curfew or anything.”

“Good,” Harry nods as their order gets called and he grabs the boxes, thanking the chef.

Harry carries the boxes and Louis is carrying the flimsy plastic bag with the candy and beer in it, careful to not swing it too much so the cans won’t explode when they open them. He feels a bit like swinging the bag, though. Maybe a few hoppy steps would also be applicable. It’s so pleasant, so natural, walking with Harry in silence as it seems there’s so many things to say, so many things to ask that neither even knows where to start with it all. It feels wonderful, and heading to the park to have a quaint Sunday afternoon, walking together as if they’re like, a team, or even a couple, doing nice things together and spending time together and both enjoying it. The angry bees in his stomach have been rumbled to death by the fluttering butterflies invading the space again.

“I really like your tats,” Harry says as they enter the park area. “Are you going for a full sleeve, do you reckon?”

“No, at least not on purpose. I just… sort of, think I’m done and then something new comes up that I really want and it’s like, a picture diary, I guess. Thought I’d be happy and done after the stag, it was my first, but then I got the bird, and thought that was it, but… yeah, not quite. Don’t think I’ll ever be ready, really.”

“They’re all really cool,” Harry admires. “What’s your fav?”

Louis considers for a bit. “Probably the stag, I mean, I like them all of course, but the stag was the first and I think it’s just so well done, and so big.”

“Is there a story behind it? Or are you one of those who just get nice images and think it’s really annoying that people assume there’s a story?” Harry asks, as they find a free spot under one of the big trees, providing a bit of shadow before sitting down.

“Nah mate, I always have a purpose for a tattoo. Except like, a few smaller ones that I honestly don’t even know how they came about.”

“Like this cup?” Harry pokes a small tattoo of a tea cup.

“Hey!” Louis feigns offense. “That has an excellent story, mind you, about my nan. More like, this skateboarding stick figure is just… I don’t know what it is.”

“Cool,” Harry nods, “that’s what it is.” He opens both of the pizza boxes to check which one is for whom, and then passes Louis his.

“Do you have any others than that cross?” Louis mumbles as he takes a first bite of the pizza. It’s hot, it’s cheesy, it’s heavenly.

Harry glances at the cross on his hand. “I’ve got two more, in like, a tiger on my thigh and two birds on my chest. But I definitely want more.”

“Is the cross new? You don’t have it in any of your videos.”

“No, I just… Mask it off for the videos, I don’t really want to have anything me in the videos, you know? Like I don’t want to be found out, or give too much of myself. I don’t want people to know who I am or what I’m like, really, it’s not important., I just want them to… enjoy the tingles.”

Louis grins. “Yet here you are, in real life, with a viewer.”

Harry hums. “Exception to every rule, and all that. And who am I to argue with chance encounters.”

Louis agrees. They open a can of Stella each, munching a few slices of pizzas in silence for a while. The park is full of people, kids running around, rowdy groups of young people getting afternoon drunk, a few older couples on a Sunday stroll, a few other couples here and there a bit to the side, making out. Louis feels like this might be one of those very simple yet very important moments in his life; one that he’ll remember for a very long time, remember the exact things he sees, how the sun feels on his skin, what the park smells like, every detail of what Harry says and how much he smiles.

“Eugh, I’m stuffed,” Harry groans after finishing his third slice of pizza, leaning back on his arms. “Do you mind?” He asks, not waiting for an answer before he opens the button of his shorts.

“Quite the contrary, I’ll just copy you,” Louis mimics Harry’s actions, leaning back and opening his button too. He reaches for his pack of cigarettes, then stopping to consider. “Uhm, do you mind if I…?”

Harry shakes his head. “Not at all. I smoke sometimes too, it’s fine.”

Louis offers one to Harry, who happily takes it. Lighting Harry’s cigarette first, Louis both fears and hopes that Harry might be one of those who cover the hand of the one lighting the cigarette with theirs, but apparently he’s not. Louis isn’t sure if he’s relieved or disappointed.

“So, Harry from Holmes Chapel,” Louis says as he takes the first delicious post-food drag, “what’s your life story?”

“Since when? Should I rewind all the way to that one steamy night my mum and dad put on some Barry White or…”

“No, please, save it,” Louis thinks he might not be able to look Harry’s parents in the eye if he hears this, but doesn’t say so, there’s no guarantees that he’ll ever meet them, after all. “Just, the highlights, I guess. Or whatever you want to tell me.”

“Alright,” Harry takes a sip of his beer and wipes his mouth with his hand. “Think you might actually already know quite a bit of the highlights, really. I’m 19, I make videos on YouTube, I do enjoy candy---“Harry gives Louis a knowing look, resulting in Louis chuckling and digging out the jelly bean bag from the plastic bag, throwing it between them, “and, uhm, I live with my sister and my cat. I’m quite fond of cats. I like to draw, and I’ll probably never stop being sad about being so shit at making any kind of music.”

“And that’s it?”

“That’s a start,” Harry smiles and his eyes seem to sparkle deviously. “Want to see your hand of highlights about you before I start spilling. Like, spilling my secrets, I’ve already spilled this beer in case you didn’t notice. Guess I should add I’m pretty clumsy. And I ramble a lot. Which, you probably knew by now.”

“Think I had an idea, yeah,” Louis teases. “Right. So, uhm, my last name isn’t actually Tommo, it’s Tomlinson, but I’ve been a Tommo ever since I was a kid. Think my mates were confused about my first name, pronouncing it Lewis until my mum decided having a French great-grandparent made her totally French and my name is actually Louis, so everyone then just started calling me Tommo. Got two little sisters, Lottie and Fizzy…”

“Fizzy?” Harry interrupts him, looking like he thinks Louis might be having him on.

“Félicité, and Lottie is Charlotte, but again for my mum’s weird French-thing, they just go by Lottie and Fizzy. I don’t even know how to write their names properly with all the accents,” Louis frowns and Harry giggles. “Our parents got a divorce when I was around fourteen, and the girls were a few years younger – Lottie is eighteen and Fizzy is seventeen and they’re at each other’s throats all the time and it’s so exhausting – and my dad turned out to be a bit of a dickweed. He lives in Spain now, deals holiday homes to older Brits, and we see him like, barely once a year, but he’s trying to shut his guilty conscience by throwing money our way quite generously sometimes, which obviously isn’t too shabby for a student.”

“You study film, right?”

“Yeah, starting my last year now. Been doing an internship all summer in this production company, it’s cool, it’s a paid internship and all, and their roster is quite impressive.”

“So you like it?”

“I mean, yeah, it’s good for networking and seeing the reality and not just, studying the theory and stuff. Got a few weeks left before uni starts again. It’s not like glorious or anything, am just a runner.”

“Still, getting your foot in the door.”

“Yeah, guess so.”

“How old are you then? Like, we seem to be the same age but you’re a bit older, I reckon? Unless you’re a child prodigy or something.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “Not very miraculous, I’m sorry to say. I’m 21, turn 22 in December. On Christmas eve-eve, actually.”

Harry looks sympathetic. “That must’ve sucked, being born so close to Christmas?”

“Yeah,” Louis shrugs. “People usually just went with, oh we’re getting you a Christmas gift anyway so it’ll just be a birthday gift at the same time.”

Harry shakes his head. “Poor child Louis. People owe you so many gifts.”

“I know, right?”

“Promise you I won’t group up your gifts. You’ll get two, for sure,” Harry looks firm, almost as if he truly is a bit miffed at the thought of Louis not getting birthday gifts in his youth.

Louis wants to ask Harry if he’s planning on getting him gifts, if he reckons Louis would behave nicely enough to get Christmas gifts, if Harry maybe wants him to behave well or be a bit bad, but instead he just takes a final drag from his cigarette and stubs it to the ground, before throwing it in the plastic bag.

“Nice,” Harry nods. “I hate when people just leave their rubbish in the nature.”

“Me too. That’s like, the one thing I always fight about with Niall who just doesn’t get it, he’s awful. I mean he’s great, just awful about that.”

“Who’s Niall?” Harry asks and Louis tries to interpret whether he looks maybe jealous or upset or just blank, but can’t quite reach a verdict.

“My flatmate. Well, one of them. Plays online poker. Irish. Great. Great, but such a mess. We’ve only got like, one sauce pan and he never washes it.”

“Disgusting.”

“Very. And really inconvenient, too. So I share with Niall, and Liam, who’s the one I was getting the albums for. They’re really cool, we’ve lived together since uni started, like, I go to the same uni with Liam, different courses…”

“What does he study?”

“Music, he’s a DJ. Not my kind of music at all, well, you know what he likes after getting all those records, but he’s a good mate so I try to support him and go listen to the shit he plays. And Niall, he was a friend of a friend, and me and Liam were looking for a third flatmate, and then met Niall and, yeah. Been like that since. We’re more like brothers, except Liam and my sister are kind of hooking up, so…”

“Oh! Does your sister live in London, too?

“Nah, but she visits quite often.”

“Is it weird, for you?” Harry reaches to open the bag of candy and looks at the contents for a bit, then carefully picks out an orange one before popping it in his mouth.

Louis weighs his words. “Not really that much. I mean, it was a bit weird at first, seeing your little sis and mate snogging, but they seem to have a good thing going on. It hasn’t been really weird, I think they’re quite good together. And it’s still like, just a casual thing, when she visits.”

“That’s nice,” Harry nods. “Not sure how I’d react if any of my mates got on with my sister. Not that I have too many mates that would, and Gemma is a few years older anyway.”

“Gemma’s your sister?”

“Yeah, I live with her here. She’s like, four years older than me, really cool. She’s like my idol. She’s just… everything I’m not,” Harry looks down at his hands. “Uhm, yeah, she’s a journalist, graduated a year ago, and we share a place, which is nice as the record shop isn’t paying amazingly, but our parents are adamant on pitching in with stuff, so… It’s nice.”

“That’s lucky, yeah. What does she write for?”

“She, uhm, works for The Guardian, actually.”

Louis whistles, impressed.

“Yeah, I’m really super proud of her,” Harry smiles with an endearingly fond look on his face.

“I’d be, too. That’s really good of her. And you? How did you end up in Love Vinyl?”

“Just a lucky fluke, really,” Harry shrugs. “I’d only been back for like, a month, just faffing around and wondering what the fuck, when they had an ad on the window and I’d been there a few times anyway, so I sort of knew the owner, and I applied, and got the job.”

“You really love your vinyls,” Louis smiles.

“I really do,” Harry chuckles and Louis kind of wants to ruffle his hair or poke his dimple or hug him. He doesn’t.

“Where were you back from?”

“Uhm, Uganda. I was there for like, end of last year and the beginning of this year. I’ve only been in London since April. Went back North when I came back to the UK, for like a month or so, and then moved here.”

“That must’ve been amazing! What were you in Uganda for? My friend, Steve, also went there for a few months, volunteering.”

“Yeh, that’s what I did too. I was in Kampala, the capital, mainly, working in this orphanage for like… six months? After I was done with my A levels.”

“Mate, I can’t even imagine… It must be a different world.”

“Really was,” Harry’s eyes widen as if he’s quickly reliving his times in Uganda. “It was so good, feeling like you’re helping, but it just, like, you can only do so much, you know? The kids were brilliant and everything, like I think I really did well with them, there’s just a lot of… institutional things that aren’t really easy to change.”

Louis nods, it sounds similar to what Steve had been venting about. “How did you decide you wanted to go?”

Harry’s quiet for a while, playing with the steel tab on his can, circling the top. “I think I… After A levels, I didn’t really have any idea what I wanted to do, so I thought I could maybe do something to help, get more experience and… I just wanted to try and do something good. I’ve had a pretty easy life, financially and like, with tangible stuff, so then my dad was talking about how this might be something good for me and I just, went for it.”

“And did it help?”

“With what?”

“Knowing what you want to do now.”

“Fuck no,” Harry huffs. “It’s a bit like… It’s like another world, and I think it made me really sort of, even more lost about stuff, in a sense? And coming back, and moving to London, feels like a bit of a culture shock, I guess. Not really sure if this is where I’m supposed to be forever or whatever.”

“Someone told me, having just moved to London, that it’ll make you or break you,” Louis remembers.

“Sounds about right. Not sure which one it is for me, yet.”

“You haven’t been here for too long though.” Louis feels chilly, not the good kind, at the mere thought of Harry maybe leaving London suddenly and vanishing from his life as soon as he’d entered it.

“True. And I haven’t really done much, like, just working and hanging out with Gem, so I don’t know many people here or anything.”

“Well, you know me now,” Louis feels brave enough to poke Harry’s upper arm with his shoulder. “My friends are amazing, happy to introduce you to them if you’d like?”

Harry hums. “Yeah, that’d… Yeah.” There’s something in his tone that Louis can’t quite decipher, something a little unsure, but he decides to only start overanalysing and fretting about it later.

They both seem to get lost in their own thoughts for a bit, not saying anything, but it doesn’t feel uncomfortable or like Louis should say something, anything to make it stop and fill the air with sounds to get rid of the quietness.

Harry then clears his throat. “I guess it’s partly like, coming back from Uganda, I feel like people don’t necessary understand me, or like… That I’m just a bit different. Too different, for some.”

“Oh, you’re definitely different,” Louis agrees, “but in a really good way. Best people are.”

Harry turns to look at him and his eyes sparkle. “You’re a good different, too, Louis.”

They finish their beers, open the second ones and eat candy. Harry opens a can of worms by innocently asking Louis how his script ideas are going, and Louis gets into a whine about all the different script ideas he has had and especially about the reasons they won’t work, and why he’s abandoned all of them.

“So currently, I’ve got nothing.”

“You’ll get there, I’m sure. You’ll know when you get it. And like, I don’t know what sort of movies you want to make, but…”

“Just tell stories, I think? Like, tell a story that hopefully makes people feel something. Helps them deal with their own stuff. Touches them.”

“See?” Harry looks very pleased. “Your best inspiration for that is probably going to be you. Just keep your eyes and ears and mind open.”

“Trust life, right?” Louis looks at Harry teasingly.

“Exactly. I might talk a lot of shit but I’m not shitting you on that,” Harry says earnestly, eyes piercing all the way to Louis’ soul.  

Louis needs to make it stop. “How about Scrabble? Were you shitting about Scrabble? Not the cat, mind, the game.”

“I never shit about Scrabble. Game or cat.”

“There’s a nice pub at that end of the park,” Louis nods towards it even though it’s not visible from where they’re sitting. “They’ve got board games.”

Harry’s eyes get a devious glint. “You’re on.”

Turns out Harry definitely wasn’t shitting about Scrabble. He pretty much wipes the floor with Louis. And does the same in Yahtzee. And hangman. Louis isn’t keen on losing usually, but he’d rather lose to Harry than see Harry losing a game, as he’s got a feeling this little actual human sunshine might turn into an impressive thunder were he to lose. It’s all incredibly fun, regardless – making Louis feel like this is not the first time they’re hanging out, but more like they do already know each other on a weird deeper level where they just match so well, as people. Harry’s witty and his banter is on the same level of ridiculous/a bit smart as Louis’. Sure, they’re still getting to know each other in minor things like what they do and what their favourite bands are, but on a deeper level, it feels like they just absolutely get each other.

It’s almost nine in the evening when they finally agree that the last round of drinks really should be the last round of drinks. They’ve spent the last seven hours together and it’s potentially been the best seven hours of Louis’ life.

“Right,” Louis starts as they stand outside the pub. “I’m heading that way, do you know how you’re getting home?”

Harry looks around, and then nods. “Think Hackney Central is the closest, actually. Do you, uhm, mind if I walk with you for a bit?”

Louis wouldn’t mind if Harry wanted to walk with him everywhere always forever. “As long as you won’t be embarrassing.”

Harry belts out a loud laugh, then covers his mouth with his hands, embarrassed. “Can’t make promises.”

Louis chuckles and nudges Harry. They walk the few minutes it takes to get to Hackney Central station, for Harry to catch the Overground.

“This is me,” Harry says as he stops by the entrance. It’s the first time the whole day that the silence that falls between them does feel a bit uncomfortable, as if neither knows how to really go on about saying goodbye. Louis feels unsure if he should go for a hug, or a lad-like pat on Harry’s back, or if he should say how nice this all was and how much he really truly hopes they’ll do this again, soon, many times.

Harry breaks the silence. “Uhm, I had a really good time. Great time, really.”

“Me too, yeah. Really fun day,” Louis nods, watching Harry look at his feet. “If you, uhm, want to hang out again, just like, whatsapp me?”

Harry lifts his head, smiling widely again. “Yeh, I… I’d like that. Will do.”

They stare at each other for another moment, until the speaker announces Harry’s train is arriving.

“Okay, that’s me, so I’ll just…” Harry gives Louis a very quick, rather loose, hug before he waves and hops up the stairs to get to his platform.

Louis puts his headphones on and walks home, listening to Adele the whole journey.

Harry: Just realised I forgot to give you money for the drinks and the candy. I’ll get them the next time.

Louis fights the urge to say Harry himself is a treat enough, or using xx’s at the end of the message. He just says it wasn’t a problem and uses a very neutral smiley face.

When Louis gets home, Lottie’s sharp voice greets him.

“And where have you been, young man?”

“What are you still doing here?” Louis asks as he kisses Lottie’s cheek that she’s offering to him.

“I asked first.”

“My question is quicker to answer.”

“Fine,” Lottie huffs. “Taking the morning train tomorrow. Wanted to treat Liam to a birthday surprise, and it’s only happening tonight.”

“What are you guys doing?” Louis flicks the kettle on, getting mugs for himself and Lottie.

“This blind dinner thing? Should be fun, you get blindfolded and it’s this restaurant where they have blind people serving, so dipping into their everyday life. Liam’s just taking a shower, we’re heading out soon.”

“Seems quite late for dinner?”

Lottie shrugs. “Maybe to you. Not for young, hip people.”

“Oh bugger off,” Louis huffs good naturedly and shoves Lottie.

“So,” Lottie leans on the counter, eyes gleaming. “Where were you then? You’ve been gone all day!”

Louis takes his time answering, focusing on making their teas, he knows he’s being a little shit but he is a big brother, after all.

“Oi!” Lottie pokes his arm with his long, sharp nail. “Spill, you muck!”

“Ow,” Louis rubs the spot that Lottie poked. “Alright, alright. I was meeting with… a friend.”

Lottie quips her eyebrow up. “A friend?”

“A new friend, yeah.”

“A boyfriend?”

“He’s a friend who’s a boy, yes.”

“And?” Lottie looks at him, expectantly.

“And what?”

Lottie groans loudly. “You’re being so annoying! Tell me everything!”

Louis chuckles. “Sorry Lotts.” He does actually want to talk about Harry. “So it’s this guy I’ve been talking to, right? And we met today, and it was really fun, and he’s really cool, and… Yeah. That’s it, really.”

“Talking where? Online? Is it like, a Grindr thing?”

“Jesus, no. Fuck no I’m tapping into any of that. We just, met online, totally innocent, and we’ve been chatting and then it turned out he lives in London too and we met.”

“What did you do?”

“Went to London Fields. Got pizza and beer. Talked.”

“And are you seeing him again?”

“Hopefully,” Louis can’t help but smile. “He’s really just, quite lovely.”

“What kind of lovely?”

“All kinds of lovely, to be completely honest. I just… Like, I don’t know if he’s even interested in me, or guys in general, he’s just. We get along really well, and it’s just nice, having a new friend. He’s quite new here and doesn’t have many friends, so…”

“So enter Louis Tomlinson, saver of all the lonely lovely boys,” Lottie smirks.

“No. No no. I’m not going to like, try to hit on him or woo him or anything. Just seeing what happens. And I doubt anything is, like I don’t… I’m just trying to not stress it. Go with the flow, you know?”

Lottie huffs. “That’d be a first for you.”

Louis gives her a look, saying nothing.

“Fine!” Lottie lifts her hands up. “I’m happy you have a new platonic nice friendly friend. What’s his name? How old is he? What does he do?”

“His name is Harry, he’s a year older than you, and he works in a record shop. He has a cat. He’s just gotten back from doing volunteer work Uganda.”

Lottie gives Louis a soft look, with a little pity in her eyes. “Oh Louis.”

“Oh what?”

“A guy with an apparently big heart, who likes music? That’s like… Perfect for you.”

“I know,” Louis sighs. “He just… Feels like I’ve known him longer, you know? We just, really get along. He’s funny. Witty. Sweet. Really cute.”

Lottie surprises Louis with a warm sisterly hug. “And you fancy him?”

“And I fancy him,” Louis admits.

“And you don’t know if he’s into guys?”

“No. But like, even if not, I’m just happy to be his friend. If he’d like that.”

Lottie sighs, hugging Louis again and kissing his cheek. “Well, I hope it all turns out very good. You deserve good stuff, brother.”

Louis sees Liam coming down the stairs, looking rather dapper and excited, taking a quick glance at Louis and Lottie and smiling.

“You too, sis. You deserve good stuff too.” He pats Lottie’s head. “Your prince has arrived.”

Lottie breaks the hug, blushing a little and turning to look at Liam.

“You ready, birthday boy?”

“Guess so. Got no idea what’s happening,” Liam makes a face at Louis and offers his hand to Lottie.

“It’s good, mate. You’ll love it,” Louis says encouragingly. “You kids go have fun!”

Lottie and Liam leave, giggling together, and Louis finds himself hoping that maybe they could turn whatever good thing they clearly got going into something less casual.

He doesn’t know what to do with Harry, though. It’s useless to pretend he doesn’t have a major crush on him by now, and it’s just… He’s not lying about wanting to be Harry’s friend if that’s all that they could be, which to Louis seems pretty likely. He’s sure he could get over this inconvenient crush and be a proper mate, but he doesn’t know if he should suggest a new date, for the lack of a better word, to Harry soon or if that’d just come across as… a bit desperate. Or like he’s leading him on. Mainly leading him onto something that Harry doesn’t know about. Louis sighs, sipping his tea, wishing his phone would make any kind of beep and that it’d be Harry.

The phone doesn’t beep. Louis spends several hours tossing and turning in his bed, unable to fall asleep. Usually it’s his feelings of insecurity of what the hell he’s supposed to do with his life keeping him awake; this time it’s his insecurity of what the hell he’s supposed to do with Harry, so at least it’s some change. He sighs, looking at the clock again – it’s 1:18. If he falls asleep now, he can still get a decent seven hours of sleep. He closes his eyes, willing his body to relax, trying to imagine his limbs feeling heavy like lead. He squishes his eyes closed, imagining sheep hopping over a fence and counting them. He gets to seven, before he sighs again and grabs his phone, opening YouTube. He clicks his way to loveASMR’s channel but hesitates at clicking a video. Somehow, knowing this is all Harry now, knowing the person behind the relaxing hand movements and the rambling and the voice, feels almost like… intruding. Almost as if he’s peeking into the existing Harry’s secret life, into something he does for himself. Ridiculously, Louis sadly comes to the conclusion that he’s probably now forever unable to watch Harry’s videos anymore, except maybe the bloopers one as it’s not really… Feeling like he’s taking something from Harry, using him for relaxation without Harry purposefully giving him the permission to do so, now that he knows Louis is one of his viewers.

Defeated, Louis closes YouTube and against his better knowledge, googles ‘signs that a guy likes you’. He ends up on an article in Cosmopolitan. He rolls his eyes, knowing fully well he’s onto a deadly path, but clicks the article anyway. It’s night, he’s unable to sleep, he likes a guy, sue him. Better people have done worse things. He starts reading about the rules of playing hard to get and not coming across too eager; lists of how to know a guy is into you, how you should wait at least three days before sending a reply to their text, and making everything sound the more uncaring the more you care. Louis tuts out loud, and closes the article.

He fucking hates games, rules that you’re supposedly required to comply with in order to get someone you desperately want, by this cat and mouse-play of both behaving like they don’t desperately want each other. Louis believes in honesty and communication and being straightforward, and that with the right person, none of these games should matter at all. If he isn’t good enough as himself, no frills, then he’s probably chasing the wrong person. He looks at the time again – it’s just past 2AM now, so not an excellent time to send Harry a text, suggesting they’d meet again. But he is going to, tomorrow, at a reasonable time that won’t expose him as unable to sleep and thinking of Harry at night. He wants to see Harry and hell, maybe Harry wants to see him too. If he does, they’ll meet up and have fun. If he doesn’t, then at least Louis can cross it out of his plans and carry on, licking his wounds. But like, Harry did suggest for them to meet and Harry seemed to enjoy himself today as well, saying he’d like to do it again so it’s kind of Louis’ turn to get in touch, right?  

Louis tries to replay the nicest moments from the day they had in his head, and realises that he can’t quite remember what Harry looks like. He can see him, a blurry character with curly hair and the clothes he wore, he can see his eyes sparkling and he remembers vividly Harry’s smile and the dimple, but he can’t seem to focus them into one fully-formed face or person. He doesn’t know what it means, but trying to piece the different parts of Harry together eventually lulls him into sleep.

---

Louis oversleeps, and that sets the tune of his whole day into a very Monday-like Monday. He burns his mouth on too hot tea, his Oyster card isn’t working at the station, and someone is smelling extra rank next to him throughout the journey. Work is hectic and when Louis looks at his tasks for the day, he groans - already knowing it’s going to go to overtime tonight. He forgets about Harry for most of the day, barely getting a break for a smoke or lunch.

He feels knackered after work as he waits for the tube, head nodding as if he might actually fall asleep standing up. His eyes catch a charity appeal ad for fresh water, and it makes him remember Harry. A little voice in his head reminds him that Harry hasn’t made a sound the whole day, but he shuts it up by reasoning that Harry’s also at work - plus, it probably is sort of Louis’ turn to get in touch. There’s no reception on the tube, so Louis figures it’s just as well to have the message go through without him realising it, when he’ll change from the tube to the Overground.

Opening whatsapp, he sees Harry has only been online in the morning. Louis stares at the blinking cursor for a while, mind blank of what to write. Maybe he should go for something witty, something totally random. He keeps staring at the cursor, thinking about the Cosmopolitan bullshit he put himself through last night. Finally, he just decides to write what he genuinely honestly wants to know. 

Louis: How was your day?

His phone beeps when he’s halfway through his journey home on the Overground.

Harry: Boring. Very much like a Monday.

Louis looks at it, and is slightly underwhelmed. There’s no follow-up question, no gentle nudge for him to carry on the conversation. He feels fleetingly annoyed which starts to morph into sadness, but then there’s another message.

Harry: Please tell me yours was better?

A wide grin spreads on Louis’ face and he’s pretty sure the middle-aged woman next to him is reading the messages over his shoulder.

Louis: Mine was probably worse, so you can take comfort in that. Not boring, but too busy. Knackered now, just heading home.

Harry: Just now?? Mate I’m sorry. Treat yourself when you get home!

The thought of Harry having checked the time, and had realised it’s way past Louis’ usual finish time is… heart-warming. Literally. Louis feels physically warmer around his chest.

Louis: Treating myself to bed. Overslept today :( Your bad habits are contagious.

Harry: Oh no! Not too much, I hope?

Louis: Just like 30 mins late from work. But the whole day felt like catching up to that and it was just so fucking meh. Wasn’t able to sleep really last night.

Harry: Ouch. I take partial blame for that, I know I haven’t put out any videos in a while.

Louis contemplates on whether to tell Harry he might actually be unable to watch Harry’s videos anymore, but decides it’s a conversation to not be had over whatsapp.

Louis: Creator’s block?

Harry: Yeah. Got any requests/ideas/any strings I could desperately grasp onto?

Louis: What, aren’t you just going to listen to yourself and trust life? Wait for it to come to you? ;)

Harry: Oh bugger off.

Harry: :)

Louis chuckles, looking around the carriage to find some inspiration.

Louis: Maybe do like a show and tell of the London tube map? You don’t need to say you live here. You do great tracing and tapping.

Harry: Oh I like that! Thanks Louis. Might start doing it today actually, could go to the tube station now and ask nicely.

Louis: Glad to be of help! Good luck with that.

Harry goes offline, and Louis goes home to complain about boys to Niall, who says he has no experience and tells Louis to talk to Lou, who, out of their group of friends, is the only one with a proven track record of actually getting the guy she was smitten with and keeping him.

“So you do fancy the guy from Craigslist!” Lou cheers on the other end of the phone some twenty minutes later.

“He’s not from Craigslist,” Louis repeats yet again. “And yeh, yeh I do. Kind of. A lot.”

“Does he fancy you?”

“I don’t… I doubt it, I mean, I don’t even know if he’s into guys.”

“You don’t know if he’s gay?”

“Come on, Lou. He doesn’t have to be gay to be into guys, could be bi or pan or anything.”

“Right, of course. But he’s been like, very friendly with you so he probably doesn’t mind at all? That you’re gay?”

“He doesn’t exactly know it.”

“You haven’t told him?”

“It’s not like, a thing I need to declare on the first meeting. And like, we were meeting as friends so it’s not like… Like, to me, it would’ve felt like, a bit cheesy. Sleazy. Cheap. Being like oh hello hi, new friend who’s a bloke, I fancy blokes, let’s have sex.”

Lou sighs, and tuts. “You don’t need to say it quite like that, you know.”

“But that’s how it would’ve felt!”

“Okay, well then. You like him. You don’t know if he likes you. You’re gay. You don’t know if he is. You want to see him again. Sounds a bit like simple maths to me, really.”

“What do you mean?” Louis doesn’t really think it’s that simple.

“You ask him, for Christ’s sake! You ask him if he wants to meet up. If he does, you put your big boy balls on and fucking ask him if he’s gay and tell him you are. No point in saying you fancy him, if he’s not though, then you’ll just have to figure out if you’re happy being just friends.”

Louis rolls his eyes and stares at a wall. “You make it sound so simple.”

“Duh. Because it’s simple. I mean, I get it’s scary and not really easy to do, but it is simple.”

“When should I ask him, though? Like, should I wait a few days or…”

Lou cackles on the other end of the line. “You sound like Cosmo, geez. You ask him when you want to ask him. When you feel like it. That’s exactly when.”

Louis weighs Lou’s words in silence, until she talks again. “Right, Tom’s home now, gotta go. Listen, Louis, you’re lovely. Good things will come to you. It’ll be fine. Just… be yourself. Mwah!” She hangs up.

Louis goes back downstairs, ruffles Niall’s hair from where he’s intently staring at an online poker game, and goes to the garden for a smoke. He looks at his phone, or maybe his phone is looking at him challengingly.

“Fine,” Louis tells the phone and whatsapps Harry.

Louis: Are you free any time this week or over the weekend?

He shuts his eyes after sending the message, figuring it’s all or nothing. He’s about to turn the sound off, just because he’s a wuss like that, when Harry has already replied.

Harry: Got a morning shift on Wed (if you offer wake-up call services, I’d love to join the clientele), and then free all weekend too :)

Louis doesn’t even bother to try and pretend he doesn’t let out an embarrassingly high-pitched meep, or that the butterflies in his stomach aren’t crashing into each other with all the fluttery havoc they’re currently causing.

Louis: You are hereby added to my clientele. What time?

Harry: At eight, please. And you need to keep talking until I’m actually out of bed and not just saying I am.

Louis: Alright. I’ll wait until I hear the kettle click.

Harry: Perfect.

Louis: And Wed is fine for the evening, too. Can sort out the deets whilst I wake you up.

Harry: Also perfect. I need to carry on with the vid now, tube staff were lovely and am currently an owner of the biggest tube map I’ve ever seen (excluding the actual maps on stations).

Louis: Haha congratulations then. Have fun with the video and speak Wed.

He sends Lou a string of heart emojis before he falls asleep quickly, smiling and feeling like absolutely nothing worries him in this exact moment.

---

Louis doesn’t have to wait until Wednesday to speak to Harry. He gets a message from him before midday on the following day.

Harry: CDs. Discuss.

Louis: RIP. A totally dead art form. Though it did make me very cool and enviable in primary school, being one of the only ones with a personal CD player.

Harry: Mine never worked. Couldn’t ever play one full song on it without having to juggle it around, would just stop playing and make that awful jammy sound.

Louis: It probably sensed you were an enemy. A vinyl person.

Harry: Possible. Probable. Hey maybe that could be an idea for a script!

Louis: What? CD players taking over the world?

Harry: NO. Like, a universe where there’s just CD people and vinyl people and they fight each other.

Louis: Alright. Would that be like symbolic to how the world is separated based on very minor things that are man-made and don’t matter and how we’re just the same people in the end?

Harry:

Harry: It would literally just be a movie about CD people vs people who prefer vinyls. Do it for the soundtrack!

Louis: And in the ending scene, video comes along and kills all the rest, right?

Harry: Exactly. I’ll join you in the BAFTAs 2020.

Louis feels like he’s flying for the rest of the day; he fights the temptation to just message Harry about absolutely everything, he craves to see Harry’s name pop up on his phone’s screen. Instead, he focuses on doing his tasks at work with even more enthusiasm and cheerfulness than he usually does, until he remembers something. Harry had mentioned he preferred to sleep with his phone on silent, so Louis messages him after triple-checking that his own alarm is set for fifteen minutes to eight – he isn’t afraid to admit having a bit of a snooze-button issue.

Louis: You better have your sound on, Harry. I’m not waking up at the crack of dawn to wake you up only to have you not pick up.

Harry: You wake up at eight yourself. But yes, got the sound on and everything J Sleep well!

On Wednesday morning, at 8AM sharp, Louis is listening to the dialing sound. It rings once, twice, three times, until Harry picks up. He sounds very sleepy, his voice very low and croaky. Louis sort of wants to hear it every morning.

“G’morning,” Harry mumbles, yawning.

“Good morning.”

“Thanks for waking me up.”

“You’re welcome. I like having people owe me.”

“Oh, do I owe you now?” Harry chuckles, and the murmurs send actual tingles down Louis’ neck.

“I did do you a favour, no?”

“True,” Harry agrees. “How can I repay you?”

Louis hears a bed creak, meaning Harry is at least out of bed now. “I’ll let you know when it’s payback time. Uhm, was wondering about tonight, are we still on?”

“Sure!”

“So, uhm, I get off at six, and… How do feel about bikes?”

“What, like riding them? I feel very positive about riding bikes.”

“Ah great. It looks like a nice day, so, I was wondering if you want to head out to Regent’s Park? Rent some Barclays bikes and ride around? I haven’t been there in ages and, figured it’d be fair it we were more around your area this time.”

Harry hums. “That sounds really nice, yeh. Where, uhm, where’s your work? Do you want to meet up around the zoo somewhere or…”

“There’s bike stands on like, the Marylebone end of the park, so I think maybe meet somewhere there and then go through the park and we can finish up near the Camden end? Like, that way you’re closer to home, and my work is off Tottenham Court Road so I could get there quicker.”

“Yup, yup,” Harry is probably nodding and flicking the kettle on. “That was the kettle, by the way. You’re clear. I’m proper awake now. You get off six-ish, right?”

“Yeh, so say half past six on the corner of York Gate and Ulster Terrace? Reckon that’d be easiest.”

“Sounds good. Might need you to text me those streets again, though.”

“Tapping as I speak,” Louis says louder, sending Harry a message on whatsapp of the two street names.

“Ding. Got it. Okay, I’ll see you then, and thanks again for ensuring early birds get their records on time as I’m actually awake on time.”

“No problem,” Louis snickers. There’s nothing to really say anymore, no reason to keep the call going, except he just doesn’t want to stop talking to Harry. “Right, I best get on then. Have a good day.”

“You too, Louis. See you in a bit!”

Harry: Should I get some picnic stuff with me? You must be starving after work.

Louis: Ooh that is an excellent counter favour. I’ll cash in on that payback, please!

Louis is feeling a strange mix of nerves and a rather content peace of mind at the same time, as he’s dashing off work to meet up with Harry. He’s still incredibly taken by Harry even thinking about him possibly being hungry after work, and he’s really looking forward to seeing Harry again, especially with how effortless their talking seemed to be despite Louis’ silly fretting. He feels a bit nervous still, sure, but it’s more excitement than a frantic worry of fucking up or Harry suddenly deciding he hates him and, beating him up or mocking him to tears.

Louis is surprised to see Harry already waiting when he arrives. He’s wearing a headscarf again, this time it seems a mix of black and white, together with a plain grey t-shirt and blue skinny jeans rolled up a little, with black low rise Converses. It’s rather similar to what Louis is wearing again, except his sneakers are white as is his shirt, and his blue jeans aren’t quite as skinny as Harry’s. Also, he’s wearing a very light burgundy beanie instead of a headscarf, because he remembers his ears tend to start hurting when he’s biking, even with the slightest breeze.

“Am I really late or are you very early?” Louis asks as he gets to Harry. There’s a small moment of awkwardness as Louis isn’t sure if he should go for a hug or not, awkwardly raising his hand towards Harry but then thinking better of it and pretending to shield his eyes from the sun, which is also awkward, considering he’s got sunglasses on.

Harry looks at him, smiling brightly as he lifts a white paper bag. “I’m on time, for once, shocker. Wanted to have a look around for picnic stuff, figured there’s like no point dragging out a big basket if we’re riding bikes. It’d just sway around and make a mess. So,” he peeks into the bag and shows the insides to Louis too, “I got some juices and some baguettes, and this delicious looking chocolate tart, I didn’t know if you’d like it but it looks amazing, I promise, and then I wanted to get coffees too, but figured I’d check with you first, if it’s like too late to have coffee?”

“Wow, that’s… Sounds amazing. You didn’t have to get all of that, you know.”

Harry shrugs, smiling at Louis a bit shy. “It’s not a problem, I… I just really like picnics.”

They head to the park, talking about their day as they get to the cycle hire station. They read the instructions on the info stand, and Louis feels a bit dizzy with how close Harry leans to read the text. His body feels firm, and it’s radiating heat, and it’s so close that Louis feels like he’s almost touching Harry. He smells like fresh laundry, a little bit like the sun, and a lot like Louis would just want to smell his skin. He doesn’t, of course, just smiles at Harry who looks at him curiously for a short second, a blink-and-miss moment, before they get to the bikes.

Louis loves riding a bike. It makes him feel free, like he could just travel anywhere with his bike. He especially loves riding bikes with Harry, who challenges him to a race, points out to very pretty flowers and plants they pass by, and makes sudden yelps when he spots an animal or yells to warn Louis of a potential animal far away that just might run under his bike for no apparent reason. Louis reckons it a success, then, when they stop to eat on a piece of grass, with neither of them injured or having injured anything.

“This is amazing,” Louis says dreamily whilst Harry picks out all the treats he got them out of the bag. There’s two different freshly squeezed juices (carrot and orange), two generously filled baguettes with brie and strawberries and the other with pear and Stilton cheese (Harry kindly cuts both in half so they don’t have to fight over them) and a heavenly looking moist chocolate tart. “Well done, Harry.”

Harry gets a bit flustered and keeps his eyes on the food he’s setting out. “Thanks, I… Wanted to get something nice, I wasn’t sure, and then I remembered you said you liked cheese, so. Happy if you’re happy.”

“God, this is amazing,” Louis says after his first bite of the brie baguette. “Didn’t realise how hungry I even was.”

“How lucky I think of these things for you,” Harry winks as he slurps his juice through the straw.

“The luckiest,” Louis says, and he feels like he means that in more ways than being happy about Harry thinking about his nutrition.

After they’re done eating, Louis lets himself enjoy the sated feeling of being full from delicious food for a little bit until he looks at Harry, laying on his back on the grass and smiling at Louis. Louis tries to save Harry’s facial features vividly into his mind so he doesn’t forget them ever again.

“I’ve been meaning to ask – how did you get into making videos? Or like, ASMR to start with?”

 “I’ve had it for always, I think, I just didn’t know what the whole thing really was until I was in Uganda. I was… Feeling a bit, I don’t know, not homesick but some sort of…”

“Like an outsider?” Louis suggests, knowing the feeling all too well.

Harry looks at him, surprised. “Exactly. Like, I liked being there but it made me feel… Small. Meaningless. A bit lost. And I couldn’t really sleep, or just felt a bit… On edge, like fidgety, when after the busy, loud days, I’d then be by myself and everything was quiet. So I just, stumbled on them I guess, like I’d been watching other videos sometimes to feel tingly but I didn’t realise it was an actual thing. Obviously, with the internet there, it wasn’t hugely relaxing like, I wasn’t able to watch too many videos without them cutting off, but it was so amazing.”

“Realising that it wasn’t just you, that it’s an actual thing,” Louis notes, remembering how shaken he’d been at realising that the strange, lovely shivers he sometimes got wasn’t just him being another type of weird.

“Yeah,” Harry sighs, softly. “Then, when I came back, I watched more and, still feeling a bit… lost, or drifting maybe, and it’s not like I had many friends or a too busy social life, so I wanted to try making them myself, and it’s so amazing honestly. Like, I get to bring joy for others, I really enjoy doing them, and my viewers are so nice. I’m used to feeling like many people don’t really get me, like the real me, but my viewers feel like they do. It’s like having new friends.”

“Like me,” Louis winks.

“Especially you,” Harry looks at him with a smile playing on his lips.

Louis looks at Harry, who’s again been so lovely; so funny, so considerate, and Louis suddenly gets flushed over with the feeling that this moment is probably it. It’s as if it’s a physical need, a must, to now say what he’s been fretting saying for a while, that his mind won’t forgive him if he doesn’t. He needs to grab his big boy balls and face the music.

“I need to tell you something.” Plain and simple.

Harry frowns and his smile doesn’t exactly fade, but it gets smaller, a little less unreserved. “That sounds serious.”

“It is, kind of.” Louis picks a piece of grass and concentrates on looking at it instead of Harry.

“What is it?” Harry sits back up. “You’re not dying, are you?”

“No,” Louis can’t help but laugh. “Not dying, no. I’m also not sick.”

“Okay, good,” Harry exhales as if he’d been holding his breath. “Then I’m alright hearing it, whatever it is.”

Louis takes a deep breath. “You’re such a cool person, like really nice, and I’m really happy we met and I’m having so much fun hanging out with you, but…” Louis licks his lips, mouth feeling dry as a desert. “But I don’t want to lead you onto anything, or like, give the wrong impression, so, uhm…”

“Oh fuck,” Harry’s quiet mumble interrupts Louis. “Shitshitshit.”

Louis looks at Harry, taken aback at the interruption and the somewhat surprising reaction. Harry’s pressing his palms into his eyes, his chest heaving as if his breathing got quicker and he’s trying desperately to get it under control.

“How did you… Well, I guess I’ve been a bit obvious, I knew I shouldn’t have been so… Shit.” Harry drops his hands back down to his lap, taking a brief glance at Louis, then turning his eyes away again as if to hide his eyes, hide himself. From the quick glance, Louis sees Harry look so incredibly sad, suddenly, his eyes dark and like all spark has died down forever. “I’m sorry, Louis. I must’ve made you feel really awkward.”

Louis watches, open-mouthed, as Harry starts gathering whatever food and items they have left over from the picnic, stuffing them back into the white bag. “I get if you don’t want to see me anymore, I totally do, sorry if I made you…”

“Hey, hold on,” Louis grabs Harry’s forearm, trying to still it but Harry yanks it away. “I’m not quite following what’s happening right now?”

“Oh please, it’s pretty obvious isn’t it, no need to make this more embarrassing than it already is,” Harry huffs.

“Uhm, no. It really isn’t obvious,” Louis is getting a bit frantic now. None of this is going how he thought it would, he didn’t even have a chance to tell Harry what he was going to, before Harry had just… flipped out. “I mean it’s obvious you’re flipping out, but I honestly have no clue why.”

“Come on. I know you’re a sweetheart and I’m sure you had like, a whole speech prepared how I’m this and that and it’s not me, it’s you or whatever, but I just really want to go now. If that’s okay.” Harry’s breath hitches as he’s finished packing the paper bag , getting up from where he’d been kneeling.  

“It’s not me, it’s you?” Louis is feeling so fucking confused and Harry is being so stubborn and he’s not making any sense and Louis obviously can’t force him to stay but he truly doesn’t want this to happen right now, he feels helpless in watching Harry so upset and resolute in leaving and Louis knows this is it, if he lets Harry go now, he’s never going to hear from him again.

Harry lets out a laugh, unamused and dry. “That’s the classic, isn’t it? I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable with anything. With me,” he says as he stands up.

Louis grabs his calf; it feels like he’s grasping onto his last straw. “Can you just sit down and talk to me? Please don’t leave. You have no idea what I was going to say and it’s not fair, you need to hear me out. You’re jumping into crazy conclusions like a fucking rabbit.”

“I don’t particularly want to sit here and be fucking humiliated,” Harry looks down at Louis and his eyes flash.

“I’m not… Not going to humiliate you, come on.” Louis looks at Harry, who’s still standing up with arms crossed and Louis’ hand digging into his calf. “Please.”

Harry licks his lips and chews his lower lip as he sits back down.

“Thank you,” Louis sighs relieved. “So, uhm, what I wanted to say before you flipped out on me, and I still don’t get why, was that I, uhm… I know I told you, way back, that I wasn’t trying to like chat you up or anything, and I don’t want you to… Think I am, or that this has all been like a plot, but I am gay. Just want you to know that, in case it’s going to be an issue for you. And if it is, that’s not really… Like, that’s not cool with me.”

Harry finally, fucking finally, looks at him properly. He looks astonished, perplexed. “That’s not… that’s not an issue, at all. I, uhm, I thought you might be. Or like…” He turns his head away, staring at his hand again. “Hoped.”

“Oh.” There’s buzzing in Louis’ ears, he hears what Harry is saying but he’s not sure if he’s really understanding. He knows how he wants to understand it, and it feels like the world has stopped again, like everything is so fragile right now and the smallest thing could make it shatter. It feels like maybe something Louis really, really wants for himself might become the sweetest kind of reality in the next few moments. “Does that mean, uhm, you’re gay too?”

“Mm-hm,” Harry nods. “I honestly thought you knew.”

“I didn’t.”

Harry laughs, and it sounds sincere, a happy kind of laugh. “I wasn’t… I mean, we’ve been friends and it hasn’t… Like, how daft are you really?”

“Hey!”

“Sorry, I just… I thought I was being really obvious. About, like…” Harry makes a weird hand gesture between himself and Louis.

The buzzing in Louis’ ears gets even louder, his heart starts hammering so furiously he’s afraid it might actually crack open his chest and start flying. “Obvious about what?” It comes out barely louder than a whisper.

“About, uhm. That I sort of fancied you, maybe?” Harry’s blushing and he looks so adorable and Louis just wants to kiss him already.

“Sort of maybe?” He’s feeling like he’s flying, shuffling a little bit closer to Harry, so their thighs are touching. He leans back a little, leaning his hand behind Harry’s back, touching his hand very softly, an-almost-not-there touch with his finger.

“Yeah,” Harry says quietly, looking at Louis right into his eyes. “Or maybe a lot. For sure.”

Louis presses a little closer, nudging his nose to Harry’s shoulder and rubbing his nose against it gently. “Good. I fancy you for sure, too.” And he presses a soft kiss to Harry’s shoulder, then to his warm cheek, and Harry turns around and for a moment, just nuzzles his cheek against Louis’ until he presses his lips to Louis’, very softly, very briefly. It’s warm, it’s soft, and it leaves Louis’ lips tingling.

Harry lets out a breathy chuckle, it smells like chocolate and carrot juice, it’s sweet like Harry himself. He leans his forehead to Louis’ and brushes his hair behind his ear. “Sorry I was so dumb, like, before. I thought you were going to say that, like, you’re not interested at all and we should be just friends, if even that.”

“So dumb,” Louis smiles softly and rubs his nose against Harry’s, kissing his lips again. “Is this… Are we doing this now?”

“Doing what?” Harry’s eyes are closed, smile on his lips, as he’s nuzzling his forehead to Louis’.

“Are we going to be like, you know. A team now?”

“Yeah,” Harry chuckles lowly. “We’re a team now.”

Louis isn’t a fan of snogging in public, but he’s even a less fan of not kissing Harry in the park, under the tree, for quite some time. It’s soft, it’s gentle, it gets a bit heated to the point they need to put some space between them. It’s the best feeling Louis has ever had.

They return the bikes to another hire station closer to the Camden side of the park. It’s so strange at how not strange it all is; having crossed a seemingly huge line between being just friends and now being something more, it doesn’t feel like much has changed. They still talk about everything, make jokes and tease each other, but now there are the additional brief touches, softer looks that neither turns their head away from; as if they’re wrapped in something very delicate and new, wrapped up in each other. Louis feels like his feet are not touching the ground, fears he’ll wake up at any moment, not quite trusting this is actually his real life, that this moment is really happening.

Harry walks him to the Overground station, stopping by the entrance, taking his hand and squeezing it, leaving his hand on Louis’.

“It was so weird, the other day when we said bye,” Harry starts. “I wanted to hug you but I didn’t know if it was okay.”

“Was a bit awkward, wasn’t it?” Louis muses.

Harry nods, smiling at Louis. “And now I know I can. Like, it’s not a thing anymore. I know I can touch you and it feels…” He’s lost for words.

Louis puts his arms around Harry, hugging him close. He presses his nose to his neck, inhaling the warm skin and the smell of sun and Harry. “Feels amazing, yeh. Not having to wonder or ask for a permission.”

They stand like that for a moment, holding each other tight. Harry’s body feels so warm, so firm and solid and just right to hold, to press close to. Louis can feel Harry’s heart beating against his own chest, and it feels grounding, real.

“I need to go now,” he whispers to Harry, who reluctantly loosens his hold around Louis, leaning in for a kiss. They kiss slowly, deeply, lips finally separating with a smack, and Louis can’t help but lean in for another brief touch of lips. “Will I see you on the weekend?”

“Mm-hmm,” Harry hums with his eyes closed, leaning in for another quick peck. “You need to go, you’ll miss your train.”

“I’ll miss you.”

Harry giggles and shoves Louis away, towards the doors, winking. “Go home. I’ll see you later.”

Harry: You really are quite alright x

Louis: You’re really rather a okay too x

When he goes to bed that night, Louis again feels unable to fall asleep, but this time it’s for all the right reasons. His mind is full of Harry, his voice keeps repeating in his head, and every time he closes his eyes he sees a high definition image of Harry’s face - his eyes, his smile. He can still feel traces of Harry’s lips on his own, and the whiff of Harry’s scent invades his surroundings. It’s like there’s a peak hour of all things Harry in his head. His phone lighs up, notification of loveASMR having uploaded a new video. It’s the tube map video, cheekily titled Chasing railments, and Louis feels fine clicking the video. It doesn’t feel like he’s invading anymore, doesn’t feel like he’s taking anything from Harry secretly. On the contrary, watching Harry’s soft fingers trace the different coloured tube lines, hearing the gentle tapping on the map, listening to his soft whispered murmurs feels even more relaxing than ever before. More intimate, lulling him into a deeper state of total relaxation.

When Harry’s finger traces the orange Overground line, he stops it at Homerton station. “This is probably my favourite station in London now,” Harry murmurs softly and draws a heart around the station name.

---

The texting is relentless, to the point where Louis half-seriously considers quitting his internship early so he can just spend his days at home, texting Harry, or maybe sit in Love Vinyl to hang out with Harry as an unpaid job. It feels like every little thing he sees, every thought he has that he finds even mildly interesting or witty, he has to share with Harry. Hereckons there’s not one thought in Harry’s head that he wouldn’t find mesmerizingly magnificent and wouldn’t want to hear. Thanks to some otherworldly fluke of fate, Harry seems to think the same about him. He knows he’s being a bit hooked on his phone at work, but no one says anything. James just seems to give him annoyingly knowing-looking winks.

Harry calls him on Friday at lunch time.  

“Oh hi!” Harry sounds surprised as Louis picks up. “Wasn’t sure if you’re actually able to pick up at work.”

“Just having my lunch, actually,” Louis says, picking on his sushi plate.

“What are you having?”

“Sushi.”

“Ah, I love sushi.”

“It’s a payday treat,” Louis mumbles, mouth full. “Normally I just do a Tesco meal deal. What are you up to?”

“Just heading to work, boo,” Harry groans. “I just really wanted to check if we’re still on for tonight?”

“Definitely. Did you have anything specific in mind?”

“Nah, just, anything’s fine.”

“Cool. Me and the lads got this, payday tradition, of like doing a Wetherspoons pub crawl.”

Harry laughs. “How is that different from a usual Friday?”

Louis tuts. “Makes you feel less guilty of drinking so much of your money the next day, obvs.”

“Obvs.” Louis can hear Harry roll his eyes. “So was that an invitation, then?”

“I think it was. Unless, like, if you want to do something else?”

“No, no, that sounds fun. Let me know where and when. Also,” Harry lowers his voice to a whisper, “make sure I see you privately a bit earlier because I really want to snog you.”

Louis coughs, adjusting himself and looking around, ensuring no one is looking at him. “I’m sure that can be arranged.”

“Good,” Harry laughs. “Excellent. I’m at the shop now, so I’ll see you tonight, yeah?”

“Yeh. Nice to hear your voice. Have fun at work!”

Harry just laughs, makes a kissy sound by smacking his lips together and finishes the call.

---

They find a free booth in the pub, having ordered their first pints and splashed out on a nacho platter to share. Louis isn’t concerned about Harry being late soon, as he remembers how Harry had warned him of always being a bit late. When the time has passed for Harry to actually be properly late, he’s getting a bit tired of Niall and Liam starting to jab him with accusations of having invented this Harry person unless he shows up soon.

Speak of the devil.

Harry: I’m sorry, I think I’m getting ill or something, feeling really rough. Can’t make it tonight after all, really sorry for the late notice. Hope you lads have fun x

“You alright, Tommo?” Liam queries, a bit of sour cream on his chin as he’s chewing a mouthful of nachos.

“Yeh, just… I need to go make a call,” Louis excuses him, getting up and going outside, lighting a cigarette.

It takes a few rings for Harry to answer.

“Hi Louis.” Harry sounds fine.

“Hey,” Louis tries to sound like he’s not a bit pissed off. “Just checking how you’re feeling.”

Harry coughs and Louis has to bite his lip to not laugh at how ridiculously fake it sounds.

“Got a bit of a cold, I think. Just feel rough and exhausted.”

“Would you feel less rough if you weren’t going to meet my mates?” Louis can’t help himself.

The line goes quiet for a moment. “Louis…”

“No, sorry, nevermind, that was… I just really wanted to see you tonight.”

“I know,” Harry sighs quietly. “Uhm, would you want to come over tomorrow?”

“Are you going to feel better tomorrow?”

“Uhm… Maybe we should, just, talk tomorrow.”

Louis agrees. He’s feeling pissed, and he doesn’t really want to do this right now. He wants to have a laugh, spend time with his friends, and whatever is up with Harry, they can sort it out tomorrow. “Sure, fine. Let me know what time and your address.”

“Okay,” Harry’s voice sounds quiet and small.

Louis pinches the bridge of his nose with his fingers. “And if you need me to bring anything.”

“Just bring yourself. Gemma’s going out tomorrow, but I don’t know if you want to, like, meet her or…”

Louis blinks, feeling a little bit really fucking confused with how hot and cold Harry is being. Standing him up tonight, wanting him to meet his sister tomorrow. He might need a shot when he goes back in. “I’d love to,” he then tells Harry regardless, “if that’s what you want?”

Harry makes a humming sound in agreement. “Yeah. Yeah, I’d like that. Uhm, I really am sorry about cancelling on such a late notice. I hope you guys have fun.”

“We will.” Louis takes a final inhale from his smoke, stubbing it on the overflowing ashtray. “I’m going back inside now. Hope you feel better soon. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He goes back inside, straight to the bar, ordering three shots.

Niall and Liam cheer when Louis goes back to the table carrying shot glasses. They down them straight up, faces grimacing at the burning taste.

“Were you talking to that Harry just now?” Liam queries.

“Yeah,” Louis sighs. “I don’t… Like, I don’t get him. At all. I mean, I do get him really well most of the time, but it’s just…”

“Aren’t you like officially an item now, though?” Niall asks.

“No, not officially, like it’s still way too soon. But it’s been so good, and obviously we fancy each other, but it’s like… He just cancelled tonight. And he never let me know he wasn’t going to show up to Liam’s birthday. Like, it’s as if he’s embarrassed or something? But then he invited me over tomorrow and I’m supposed to meet his bloody sister.”

Liam and Niall look puzzled, Liam’s brows furrowed. “Doesn’t sound like he’s embarrassed then, mate. If he’s willing to introduce you to his sister and all.”

“It’s a bit strange though,” Niall says. “He’s clearly keen but… yeah, you’ve just got to talk to him.”

Louis groans and slouches on the table. “I know. God, how is it this hard so early on?”

Niall shrugs. “Two options really, mate. You either solve it and it gets better. Or you solve it and it still keeps on being a bit shit and then you just, hit the pedal and leave.”

Liam looks at Niall and then Louis, nodding apprehensively in agreement. “Niall’s right. You’ve got to see this through but not like, hang on to something that’s clearly going to be ages of agony.”

Louis straightens himself up, shrugging. “You’re right, you both. I’ll just… Deal with this tomorrow.”

Niall claps his back. “That’s my Tommo. Next round’s on me.”

It’s a good night, as it always is with them three. They don’t stay out too late, instead they go home before midnight and buy a few more beers from the corner shop, slobbing on their sofa and watching a few episodes of Bojack Horseman. They call it a night at around 2AM, and Louis find he’s had two messages from Harry he hasn’t heard arrive. The first one is Harry’s address and a suggestion for Louis to come over around six.

Harry: I didn’t mean to stand you up or put you in a spot with your friends. I get a bit anxious about meeting new people which is so dumb and I know your friends must be great, I just get a bit overwhelmed. I’m sorry.

Louis looks at the message, seeing Harry’s still online. He’s still feeling a bit annoyed that Harry apparently knows this about himself but still promised Louis, probably knowing he’d flake out when he did. But it’s also, the words seem like an honest confession about something Harry probably doesn’t feel great about.

Louis: I get that and it’s fine, it’s not like you choose that. Just wish you could’ve told me.

Harry: I thought it’d be fine, it felt fine up until I got off work and I was heading that way and then I just got so anxious and I just couldn’t do it. I’m so sorry I let you down.

Louis doesn’t know how to reply, so he decides to call Harry instead. It’s not ideal to talk about this on the phone but he also doesn’t want to show up at Harry’s tomorrow, not having talked about this before he meets his sister and cat, if there’s any kind of weirdness between them.“Hey,” Harry sounds subdued as he answers immediately.

“Hi,” Louis offers gently. “How are you feeling?”

“I wasn’t really sick,” Harry admits quietly. Ironically he does sound a bit croaky now.

“I figured. You could’ve just told me.”

There’s a sniffing sound. “It’s really not that easy, like… It sounds so dumb, and I hate being like this, I didn’t want you to think I’m like… I don’t know.” There’s another sniffling sound. “Like, you said that I make you feel good, and I don’t want to become like a burden in your life.”

“You’re not,” Louis says softly, last traces of annoyance leaving his body at the sound of Harry’s sad voice. “I know now, yeah? And we’ll just, go at whatever pace feels right for us.”

Another sniffle. “Okay. Thank you. I really do want to meet your friends, get to know them, I just… Don’t know when.”

“It’s okay, Harry, really. I just don’t, I mean, I don’t want to make you feel like you need to hide stuff from me. I don’t want to feel like I have to pretend with you, and I don’t want you to feel like that either.”

“I don’t want that either,” Harry says softly. “I want us to be good.”

“We will be,” Louis smiles. “We are. I’ll see you tomorrow, alright?”

“Alright. Sweet dreams, Louis.”

“Goodnight, Harry.”

---

Louis meets Harry at Caledonian Road tube station the following evening. At seeing Harry, Louis feels a more overwhelming wave of fondness flush over him than before. Harry still looks good enough to eat, his smile is still radiant, but after having that talk with him last night, Louis feels closer to him on a profound level somehow. He looks at this boy, dimples and curls and all, and he just wants to do his utmost best to ensure he’s always happy, smiling and laughing without reservations. He  wants to make Harry feel like he’s safe; accepted and appreciated just the way he is, even with his less great sides.

“Welcome to my hood,” Harry smiles as he hugs Louis tightly, pecking his lips. “Thanks for coming.”

“Thanks for having me,” Louis kisses Harry’s forehead as they cross the street at the traffic light. “Where to?” Louis stops, unsure whether to take a left or right.

“That way,” Harry points his finger to the left. “I’m almost done with dinner, just need to get a few more things from Tesco.”

Louis whistles. “Oh I didn’t know this was a dinner do!”

Harry laughs. “What did you think, then? That you’re coming over for Netflix and chill?”

Louis wiggles his eyebrows and then chuckles. “Nah, I’m just here for the cat, to be honest.”

“Good choice,” Harry nods as they enter the small Tesco, and he takes a basket. “So, I’ve made risotto for dinner, but I know how into sweet stuff you are so wanted to consult you for the dessert. And drinks.”

“Like a proper risotto? With wine and all?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re amazing, I fucking love proper risotto. My mum would just like, boil rice and add veggies and mince and claim that was risotto. I lived a lie for years.”   

Harry giggles. “Glad you found your way to the truth, eventually. I’ve got salmon with it,” suddenly his eyes go wide, “which I now realise I should’ve checked you like. Please tell me you don’t hate salmon.”

“I love salmon,” Louis reassures, “you’ve heard me have sushi.”

“Could’ve been like, chicken sushi.”

Louis turns to look at Harry, offended. “Which I truly don’t get at all. Who the fuck has chicken sushi?”

Harry laughs, high fiving him as they step into Tesco. “I know, right? Something very fishy about chicken sushi.”

They wander to the drinks aisle, opting for a bottle of white wine, then heading to see the chilled food section for dessert.

“Do you want me to make something or…” Harry asks, looking at the ready-made deserts.

“Nah, the risotto is like, more than enough. Cheesecake?” Louis suggests.

“Cheesecake,” Harry nods and takes a trifle out of the shelf.

“So, is your sister in?” Louis asks Harry as they’re queueing for the self-service checkout.

Harry nods. “She’s leaving in a bit though, heading out with her friends, so it’s just like… A quick hi hello. Nothing too strenuous, I don’t think. I hope,” he adds as an afterthought as they step to the checkout. Harry reads the bar codes and hands the items for Louis to pack.

“Shit, I should’ve gotten her something,” Louis realises as he bags the little pouch of cat treats he got for Old Catford (he isn’t an idiot; he knows who he really needs to get on his good side when it comes to Harry).

Harry shakes his head. “Nah, no need. I mean, it’s just very casual. She’d just think you’re sucking up to her.”

“She’d be right,” Louis snickers. “Should I know anything about her, before I meet her?”

Harry pays the shopping, thinking. “She’s, uhm, very sweet. Eventually. I guess she might be a bit, reserved at first, like… About me. So she might be a bit, protective but she’ll adore you, I’m sure.”

Harry lives just around the corner, in an industrial looking block of flats. Louis can feel himself getting a bit nervous as they’re in the lift, watching the floors pass by as they get to the upper floors where Harry lives.

“You’ll be fine,” Harry tells him and puts an arm around his waist, pulling him close and kissing him, ending the kiss just as the lift doors open.

“Hello!” Harry shouts as he opens the door to their flat, letting Louis in and closing the door behind him. From a quick look around, Louis immediately feels at home – the place is cozy, pieces of colourful art on the walls; it looks lived-in and inviting. The smell coming from the kitchen is heavenly, adding to the very pleasant first impression.

“Hi baby, hi hi hi,” Harry suddenly crouches down, cooing.

Old Catford has made an appearance. Louis looks down to see a round ball of orange fur, bits of white here and there. His tail is straight up, a little bended on the top like a question mark. He’s meowing and headbutting Harry’s feet and his hand, scratching under his skin. He looks absolutely smitten with Harry. Louis can’t blame him.

“I want you to meet someone,” Harry tells Old Catford as he yanks Louis’ jeans at his ankle gently. Louis obeys, crouching down carefully too. “Baby, this is Louis. Louis, this is Old Catford.”

“Hello,” Louis says softly and reaches out his hand, offering it for Old Catford to smell. The cat seemed so cuddly on the bloopers video, Louis is looking forward to becoming good friends quickly.

The cat stops still, only now realising there’s something else happening around him than Harry being there to cuddle against. It looks at Louis’ hand, then lifts its head and looks at Louis’ face. It then leaves without further adieu.

Harry stares at the orange back, getting more distant. “Well fuck.”

“Well,” Louis gets up, sounding cheerful, “I guess that’s one way of saying hi. And bye, especially.” He watches the cat disappear to a dark room without looking back, its tail swinging from side to side.

Harry looks at Louis apologetically. “He’ll come around, I’m sure.”  

“Hiya!” Comes a woman’s voice from somewhere deeper in the apartment, and Harry pulls Louis with him towards the voice, after they’ve kicked off their shoes.

The open-space kitchen and lounge area is bright, again cozy, and there’s a small balcony, where Gemma is standing outside, smoking. “I hope there’s a glass of wine with my name on it in that bag?”

“There just might be,” Harry says as he starts emptying the plastic bag. He takes out the bottle of wine first, and then three glasses from the cupboard. “Louis, that wine enthusiast is my sister, Gemma. Gemma, this is my… This is Louis.”

Louis smiles and nods at Gemma. She looks intimidatingly cool, straight silver blonde bob of a hair, a nose stud and wearing a black and white dress that reminds Louis of the 60s. She’s got an aura of no-nonsense.

“Nice to meet you,” Louis smiles.

Gemma looks at him from head to toe. “Likewise,” she then nods hesitantly.

“I really appreciate not everyone leaving the room when I come in,” Louis jokes, relieved to see Gemma now has a small smile on her face.

“That cat is ridiculous. Barely acknowledges I even exist. Guess I should be thankful it lets me invade its home,” Gemma rolls her eyes. “I bet Harry feeds it catnip to make it so cuddly with him. He hates everyone but Harry.”

“Hey,” Harry argues, passing Louis and Gemma their wine glasses. “He doesn’t hate anyone. He’s just, reserved. Picky.”

“A dick, that’s what that cat is,” Gemma mumbles under her breath, not even trying to make it inaudible.

Harry gives Gemma a stern look. “He’s lovely. Once you get to know him.”

Gemma rolls her eyes and sips her wine. “Sure, whatever you say.”

They sit down on the sofa, and Gemma starts giving Louis the third degree interrogation. It’s not hostile or rude, just questions about where he’s from and what he does, what he wants to do after graduation, but something about her clippy tone is making Louis feel uncomfortable, as if he’s under a spotlight and Gemma won’t really deem any of his answers good, at least good enough for her brother. It’s like she wants him to come off bad.

“Aren’t you going to be late soon, Gem?” Harry asks at one point, shooting an apologetic look at Louis.

“I’ve got time for another glass, “ Gemma says pointedly, offering her empty wine glass to Harry who sighs and gets up, picking the bottle and filling all of their glasses.

Louis puts his glass down on the black sofa table, Gemma quickly whipping out a coaster to put under the glass. Louis excuses himself and goes to the loo.

“Why are you being so rude?” Louis hears Harry’s hushed voice as soon as he has locked the toilet door.

“I’m not being rude!”

“You are, I know you.”

“I’m just looking out for you, little brother.”

“But there’s nothing to look out for! Louis is great.”

“Sure, he seems great now. Funny and smart and cute and all. What if he hurts you, though? Breaks your heart?”

It’s quiet for a moment, and Louis doesn’t even feel guilty about eavesdropping. They’re talking about him, after all. He’s feeling a bit warmed that Harry’s out there, calling out his sister’s unpleasant attitude towards Louis, looking out for Louis and defending him.

“Then he does,” Harry eventually says. “I don’t think he would hurt me, though, it doesn’t… Like, obviously I don’t know how it’ll all go, but I… I really like him, Gem. He makes me feel good, and I just. Want to have this, now, with him.”

“Okay,” Gemma says eventually and her tone is softer and kinder than Louis has heard before. “He seems like he’d be good for you.”

Louis finishes his business and washes his hands, before going back to the living room, silence heavy as if he’d just interrupted something.

“Right!” Gemma claps her hands and gets up. “I think I actually might be running late soon. Need a smoke first, though. Louis, would you like one as well?” She looks at him.

“Uhm, yeah, sure,” Louis follows her to the balcony with Harry on tow.

“Not you,” Gemma turns around and closes the door in front of Harry’s face. Louis lights her cigarette and then his own, looking around the view to the rail tracks, Emirates Stadium peeking on the far right. He doesn’t say anything, feeling like Gemma didn’t invite him here just to check out the view.

“Listen, Louis,” Gemma clears her throat. “Sorry I was a bit of a, well, bitch, to you. I’m just… Harry’s my little brother, and he’s not very… Active, in dating, or being social anyway, so I just want to make sure that he’s got good people around him.”

“I hope I am. Being good to him, I mean. I get what you mean, I’ve got two little sisters, and I… probably would be quite the big brother on them, too.” Louis takes a sip from his wine. “But I really like Harry, and I’m not going to like, not treat him right.”

He feels Gemma’s piercing eyes on him, weighing his words in silence, until she finally smiles and it looks radiant. “I believe you. You’re cool,” she cheers Louis’ glass with hers and it’s an immediate mood changer. They finish their cigarettes with Louis asking about Gemma’s plans for the night, Gemma making Louis laugh with her quick impression of how their girls’ nights usually go, ending in an incredibly ridiculous show of dance moves.

“I hope you guys have a good night,” Gemma says as they go back inside, picking her bag and finishing her wine. “I’m not coming home tonight so, you know. Louis can sleep in my room if he doesn’t want to go home,” she winks, making Louis choke on his wine and Harry blush furiously.

“Goodbye, Gemma,” Harry says forcefully, his sister kissing him goodbye and then turning to Louis, and after a bit of consideration, kisses his cheek as well.

As soon as the door closes, Harry turns to Louis. “God I’m so, so sorry. For my cat and my sister, they’re both ridiculous, I don’t…”

“It’s fine,” Louis offers cheerfully, “Gemma and I are cool now, and I’m sure I can win over the cat, too. One day. Maybe.”

Harry looks relieved as he nods. “I haven’t really… Like, I’ve never really brought anyone home, so Gem was just being, you know. She said you were cool.”

“Honestly, it’s okay. We made a truce on the balcony, we’re good. Don’t worry about it,” Louis rubs Harry’s upper arm comfortingly. “Now, I believe I was promised dinner?”

The dinner is delicious. Louis thinks mainly of two things: He really needs to learn how to make risotto, and/or he probably needs to marry Harry. Louis catches himself staring at Harry’s lips as Harry tells how he and Old Catford first met, making Louis laugh with his analysis on several things Old Catford. Louis pitches in with stories about how they used to only have a hamster called Pickles, as their mum considered anything bigger than a football an actual pet and thus a nuisance. Louis feels the air prickle with electricity from all the flirting, and he finds it so lovely to be flirting with someone he doesn’t necessarily have to, not to pick him up in a crowded bar. It’s just them being a bit smitten with each other.

They move to the sofa for coffee and cheesecake.

“Did you want to watch something on Netflix?” Harry asks.

Louis cracks up without meaning to. “Netflix? Really, Harry?”

Harry blushes. “Not like that.”

“Sure,” Louis gets a hold of himself. “What do you want to watch?”

They surf the selections for a bit, finally opting for Modern Family for some easy fun. They snuggle up together, bodies touching from knees to their shoulders, and Louis feels like the parts that Harry’s body is touching might burn. It’s such an intoxicating feeling, having Harry so near, physically close, and he feels this insatiable itch on his fingertips and lips from how much he wants to touch Harry. Harry seems a bit fidgety as well, his body seeming tense as if he can’t quite relax.

“This is ridiculous,” Harry huffs as they’re about ten minutes in to the first episode.

Louis looks at him, confused and a bit concerned. Harry turns to look at Louis, pulling his legs up on the sofa and stretching them out, leaning a bit lower and taking Louis’ arm, putting it around his neck and onto his chest.

“Is this okay?” Harry then asks.

“Very okay,” Louis whispers, fingers slowly caressing Harry’s chest with little movements. He kisses the top of Harry’s head and relaxes.

Harry’s fingers start stroking Louis’ forearm, resting on his chest, with gentle long strokes, and Harry lowers his head to press a few light kisses on it. Louis feels the atmosphere get heavier; headier. Harry’s chest is rising faster, Louis can feel the hair on his arm stand up from the softness of Harry’s lips and his little huffs of breath.

“Lean up for a bit,” Louis whispers, adjusting himself lower on the sofa so he can lean to kiss Harry from above. It starts soft, Harry’s lips feeling warm on his but also a little chilly, like they’re cooling down the burn inside Louis. “Is this okay?” Louis whispers against Harry’s lips as his hand goes a little lower, lifting the hem of Harry’s shirt. Harry nods, and Louis touches the warm skin on Harry’s stomach with his fingers, gently brushing the few strains of hair going down from Harry’s belly button.

“Wait,” Harry says after they’ve kissed for a bit more. Louis stops, watching Harry sit up, and press a hand on his tenting crotch – barely visible from the constrained space within Harry’s skinny jeans. Harry turns the telly off, and turns to look at Louis, taking his hands into his. “Do you want to spend the night? With me?” He sounds earnest, and a little nervous.

“I really do,” Louis squeezes Harry’s warm hands.

Harry licks his lips subconsciously, nodding. “Good. I’m glad. Just, uhm.” He hesitates, doesn’t finish his sentence.

“What?” Louis rubs small circles into the thin skin inside Harry’s wrists with his thumbs. “You can tell me.”

“I haven’t, you know. Before. With, like. Damn it,” Harry sighs, seeming frustrated with himself. “I haven’t been with anyone before. And I want to, with you, so much but I… Just need you to know that I’m not like, very experienced. Or at all, really. So if you stay for the night, we’re not going to like, have a crazy romp.” Harry rushes to the end, and then looks at Louis, eyes vulnerable and insecure.

“That’s fine,” Louis brings Harry’s hands to his lips, kissing the knuckles on both hands. “Thanks for telling me. There’s no rush, I’m not… Like, I don’t want you to do anything you don’t feel like doing.”

Harry lets out a deep exhale, giving Louis a relieved smile. “Okay, good. Thank you. I do want to like, fool around. Make out. Touch quite a bit. Just not, like not do everything. Not yet.”

“Alright,” Louis chuckles lowly. “We’ll go slow. And just tell me if anything doesn’t feel good or you want to stop.”

Harry pulls Louis up from his hands, starting to lead him to the bedroom, lips not leaving his. Harry’s bedroom is the room nearest to the hallway where Old Catford disappeared to, and as Harry fumbles around to find the light switch, Louis can see a fed up looking cat sitting on the bed, staring at him.

“Uhm, Harry…” Louis detaches his lips from Harry’s, who follows his movement, unwilling to stop kissing. “Not sure the cat should see this.”

Harry startles, turning his head to look at the cat on the bed. He smiles to the cat apologetically, and lets go of Louis’ hands, leaning over the bed to pick him up.

“I’m sorry baby,” he tells the cat as he kisses him, “I love you, but you need to leave now.” He gently carries the cat to the door, putting him on the ground to which the cat replies with an unhappy growl, before Harry closes the door between them.

“He’s going to be so pissed off with me now,” Harry muses and turns to look at Louis, coming closer. “Which means he’ll probably be all over you, trying to make me jealous.”

“And you?” Louis cups Harry’s cheeks, pulling him into a kiss, licking his lips with his tongue. “Would you like to be all over me, too?”

“Yeah,” Harry whines as Louis bites his lower lip. He lowers his hands down Louis’ sides, tickling him, and then rests them on Louis’ hips. “Want to feel your skin.”

Louis nods, looking at Harry as he glances at Louis, then starts pulling his shirt up, running his palms flat around the skin that’s revealed, pressing his hands on the small of Louis’ back; up his stomach, rubbing circles on his chest. Louis leans his head back, letting out an involuntary moan, feeling Harry’s tongue on his throat, then his lips sucking the skin there. It’s sending shivers everywhere on his body; Harry’s lips are so full and soft, hungry against his skin. Harry lifts the shirt over Louis’ head, running his hands back down again.

“So sexy,” Harry whispers and his eyes look hungry as he captures his bottom lip between this teeth. His fingers reach the button and zipper of Louis’ jeans, and Harry looks up to Louis as if to ask permission, with Louis nodding. He can see Harry’s hands seem to shake a little as Harry unbuttons his jeans, pulling the zipper down. A little gasp escapes his lips as the pulls the jeans down, fingers barely touching the fine hair on Louis’ thighs. Harry stairs at Louis’ crotch with his eyes wide, and then Louis feels a very light touch of finger tips on his cock through the fabric of his briefs.

“Wow,” Harry sighs without realising and then looks at Louis, shocked, causing them both to crack up. “Smooth, eh?” Harry laughs.

Louis takes Harry’s jaw between his fingers and kisses his jaw. “I’m quite taken, really. Wow is a very nice thing to hear you say about my cock.”

Harry blushes and closes his eyes. “Feels like I ruined the mood, though. I’m not very… sexy. Like I don’t know how to be sexy.”

Louis puts his hand on the small of Harry’s back, the skin feeling hot there. Harry flinches, Louis seemingly touched a particularly sensitive spot. He tickles the same spot again and presses firmly against Harry, licking the side of Harry’s neck and sucking his earlobe, before whispering “You’re doing amazing, babe. Sexiest thing I’ve seen. Want you so much.”

Louis feels Harry press his crotch closer to Louis’ and Harry’s hands on his bum, cupping his cheeks. “Undress me, please,” Harry mumbles against Louis’ neck quietly.

“Yeah?” Louis wants to make sure, running his fingers on the hair on the nape of Harry’s neck.

“Please.”

Louis brings his hands onto Harry’s chest, starting to unbutton the row of buttons on the front of Harry’s red and black checkered shirt. He proceeds slowly, taking time to admire every bit of skin he reveals. There’s something so intimate, so beautiful about seeing someone naked for the first time. Louis wants to devour the moment, feeling the warmth radiating from Harry, seeing the two swallows tattoos for the first time. Harry’s skin is quite pale but so warm, silky soft to touch; he’s got a bit of roundness on his hips that feels incredibly good under Louis’ careful hands. He gently slides the shirt off Harry’s shoulders, leaning to kiss his collar bones and his bony shoulders on both sides. The shirt drops on the floor, already messy with Louis shirt and jeans. Harry’s got his eyes closed and his nipples are hard.

“Feels so good,” Harry sighs. “You feel so good,” his fingers run up and down Louis’ spine.

Louis hums in agreement, pressing his hands on Harry’s lower stomach. “Do you want me to take your jeans off, too? It’s okay if you don’t, then I won’t.”

“I want you to.”

Louis takes his time with the jeans as well; teasing Harry by running his finger under the waistband, until Harry’s breathing has gotten very heavy and his pelvis is moving along with Louis’ finger, trying to press closer to it to feel some pressure. Louis unbuttons the jeans and pulls the zipper down, pushing them down Harry’s thighs and then pressing himself closer, moving them down Harry’s calf with his foot so Harry can step out of them. They’re finally standing in the small free space of Harry’s bedroom, only in their briefs and socks, both hard and breathing heavily. Louis hasn’t ever been this turned on in his life. Harry’s looking at him, eyes gleaming, and he’s sucking his lower lip.

“We’re not doing this with socks on,” Harry manages to say, making Louis giggle.

They lean on each other’s shoulders with their hands, pulling their own socks off, and Louis then moves to lay Harry down on his bed. He kisses his head, before brushing his hair off of his forehead, entangling their legs so they’re pressing against each other’s thighs.

“We’re not going to do anything you don’t want to do,” he tells Harry, who moans and squeezes his thighs around Louis’, pressing his hardness closer to Louis. “What do you want to do?” He licks Harry’s lips, tracing the wetness with his finger.

Harry takes his finger inside his hot mouth, sucking it deep and looking at Louis. He’s looking so unreserved, so vulnerable, so willing. “Want us to come together.”

“How?” Louis gasps, teasing another finger on Harry’s lips, watching Harry suck that inside his mouth needily as well. He keeps pushing his fingers in and out of Harry’s mouth, eyes locked, as Harry withers against his crotch, squeezing his thighs.

“Like this,” Harry mumbles between Louis’ fingers, hugging Louis tight against himself. Louis pushes his fingers deeper into Harry’s mouth, hearing him sputter a little and start dry humping him with more pressure. Louis blows onto Harry’s ear, seeing the hair on his neck prickle, and he takes turns in sucking and biting Harry’s earlobe, then moving onto suck just underneath it, marking it. “Tell me when you’re close, babe, want to hear the sounds you make,” Louis whispers, feeling Harry nod.

It doesn’t take much rutting against each other before Harry takes Louis’ wrist, pulling his fingers out of his mouth and lets out unintelligible whimpers for a moment, getting louder as Louis increases the pressure, pushing Harry deeper into the mattress.

“Kiss me,” Harry stutters, and Louis happily obliges, swallowing the moans Harry lets out as he comes. He feels the wet, breathy whimpers on his lips, having his lip bitten as Harry shivers from the aftershocks; Louis kisses Harry through his own orgasm, which overwhelms him, as he feels like he’s coming harder than he ever has before.

By the time Louis finally leaves the next day, he’s learned many new things. He’s learned that laughing in bed can be both sexy and fun; he’s learnt that Harry’s underwear is the same size as his; he’s learnt that a hungover Gemma is an absolute riot; and that Harry makes even better omelettes than his own mother. Louis has also learnt that despite being very annoyed with Harry, it doesn’t mean that Old Catford would be any more cuddly towards anyone else.

It doesn’t really matter, though. Harry’s voice sounds like a purr and he’s plenty cuddly.

---

Things are going great. Well, things between Louis and Harry are going great. Louis is so busy being infatuated and enjoying the high of feeling so smitten, focusing his energy into working extra efficiently so he can take longer breaks finish earlier to spend time with Harry, that he hasn’t spared much thought into any other aspect of his life than the romantic side of things.

Harry is just… magical, really. Louis isn’t sure he can remember a time in his life when Harry wasn’t a part of it – or if it’s worth remembering. They have so much fun together, it feels like he’s getting a full workout just from being with him – his facial muscles and abs hurt from all their silly antics, and from the time they spent frolicking in a sexy way, too. Louis feels like they’ve been able to confide in each other about some serious things as well – they’ve quickly gotten incredibly close in all the ways two people can.

So, all the current good things in his life considered, Louis has decidedly not spared a thought to the less than lovely things. He’s aware being in a good relationship and on the way of falling in love aren’t going to be the be all and end all of whatever personal issues he’s been trying to tackle for a while now, but he’s trying to reason that he deserves this little bit of joy before working out the big issues at least.

Harry: Happy last day of internship!!

Louis smiles as he checks his messages in the morning. It’s Friday, the last Bank Holiday weekend of the summer is about to begin, and it’s also his last day of internship. He’s got a long weekend ahead, which he plans to spend it all with Harry of course. Before uni starts again, he’ll still have a good few weeks of doing nothing but sorting out his life and thoughts. And spend time with Harry, of course. Especially that.

Louis: Thanks babe x Looking forward to the farewell do.

Harry: Looking forward to seeing that company credit card used by others for your drinks, you mean.

Louis: Hahaha that too. So you sure you want to do nothing tonight?

Harry: 100%. I think I’d wake up with a face full of scratches or like being choked with a fur ball if I cancelled on him.

Harry had told Louis that he’d like to have a night alone; not because he didn’t want to spend it with Louis, but because he needed a moment to himself sometimes. And Louis completely understood, given his own appreciation for having a place of solitude and tranquillity at Hackney Marshes.

Harry had also explained that he felt a bit guilty for not hanging out with Old Catford as much, which Louis couldn’t help but laugh at. Nonetheless, he took it very seriously, as the message had been emphasised by Old Catford walking into the room to jump on Harry’s lap and stare at Louis. They still saw it as progress - the cat would actually show itself to Louis now, if for no other reason than to act possessively around Harry. Harry claimed it was warming up to Louis; Louis knew it was marking its territory, but couldn’t bring himself to lay down the truth to Harry’s optimistic and hopeful face.

So whilst Harry enjoys his alone-time, Louis enjoys his last day. It’s great, really. He gets a bottle of actual champagne – in the shape of an Oscar - as a thank you for all the work well done. People who Louis can’t fathom even know his name, come to thank him and say he has a great future ahead of him in the industry. Louis can’t help but flush when he notices that while th two other interns also get praise, it is not quite as sincere and not stemming from quite as important people as his own. He, the other interns and their closest colleagues head to the usual bar across the street from the production company after work to continue celebrating. The drinks are a plenty and James can’t praise Louis enough, hugging him in a fatherly way throughout the evening, making weird hints about how he’s sure this isn’t a goodbye but just a toodle doo for now.

So when Louis feels a bit blue on Saturday, he can’t quite fathom why. He’s got a three day long weekend ahead, he finished his internship with flying colours, and he’s seeing Harry today. It’s all been very good recently, but now he’s just feeling this strange kind of hollowness, almost like dread.

He feels almost guilty for being relieved at the realization that he’s home alone. He makes himself a coffee, sorts out his laundry, blasts out Oasis and even does some hoovering. He does enjoy the days when he actually has the time to tidy up. He likes a clean house, and cleaning is mindless work; it relaxes him, and makes him feel accomplished when he sees the immediate results of his efforts. He feels a pang of guilt at realising he hasn’t spoken with his mum in a too long time, so he makes himself another cup of coffee and calls her. She sounds delighted, happy to gossip about their neighbours and relatives, interrogating him about Liam and if he’s decent enough for Lottie, finally ending with the usual complaints about Louis’ dad, which Louis politely declines listening to. They end the call on warm terms, and Louis feels a mix of happy and sad – happy that he’d talked to his mum, sad that he obviously doesn’t do it enough. This naturally leads to him thinking about his nan with even more guilt, so he makes a third cup of coffee and calls her too. Half of the call is taken up by instructing his nan on how to put the call on speaker phone so his grandad can chat with them, too.

As he finishes the call, he sees a notification from LinkedIn – it’s a few people from the production company wanting to connect with him. Louis hasn’t been to LinkedIn in ages (he is well aware he needs to update his profile) so he figures he’ll just get to that later when he’s got more creative energy. He sits on the sofa and looks outside for a while. It looks nice enough, so he opens the door to their garden to let in some fresh air and the late summer scents. Somehow, he manages to sit there for over an hour doing nothing but sitting and looking outside, before reluctantly dragging himself into a shower, feeling clammy and dusty from his early morning cleaning spree.

He’s just out of the shower when his phone rings.

“Hey,” he answers, putting it on speaker so he can carry on drying himself and dressing up.

“Hello, hello,” Harry sounds chirpy. It’s almost annoying compared to how different Louis is feeling. “How’s it going?”

“Fine,” Louis lies as he ruffles his hair with the towel. “What’s up?”

“I’m just done with work, so thinking of food, obviously,” Harry tells him. “I was wondering if you wanted to like, get take away, or make something, or go out for dinner today?”

“I don’t mind,” Louis says automatically, whilst thinking at the same time he really can’t be arsed to dress up nicely, go into a noisy restaurant tonight, wait for food and then to pay, instead of the lovely alternative of just plopping on Harry’s couch and cuddle. “Up to you.”

“Uhm, there’s this new Ethiopian that’s just opened that I’ve wanted to try?”

Louis sighs without realising it. “Sure, sounds good.”

The line is silent for a while. “They, err, also do take away so we could order in? Just have a quiet night,” Harry sounds annoyingly gentle, like he heard the apprehension in Louis’ voice and is now compromising.

Louis stops himself from saying it’s fine, they should go to the actual restaurant. However, Harry’s apparently willing to compromise and honestly, on a bit of a shit day like this, he’s happy to just selfishly take it. “Yeh, that sounds even more good. Better, even.”

Harry’s delighted chuckle makes Louis smile a little, too. “Okay then. I’ll send you the menu and you can just let me know what you want, so I can order and make sure it’s here when you are, or thereabouts. Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Louis nods, feeling daft as Harry can’t see the gesture. Harry’s so lovely, really. “Oh, so, were you just getting off work?”

“Yup.”

“Do you want to go home or like, meet somewhere and go together?”

“Oh,” Harry sounds happily surprised. “Yeh, that’d be nice. I can meet you at Homerton station? And we can order then?”

“Sounds good. I’ll be like… thirty minutes?”

“That’s fine, I’ll see you then.”

Louis’ mood is instantly improved as he spots Harry having a cigarette outside the Homerton station when he gets there. Harry gives excellent hugs, which serves as further improvement in his mood. He’s happy to sit down in the shaky Overground, and to lean close to Harry’s nice smelling head while they look at the mouth-watering menu, without talking much. They choose to have a bit of everything -what with Harry being lost in reminiscing about the food he had in Uganda and Louis never having tasted Ethiopian.

“Gemma’s gone home for the weekend,” Harry tries to say nonchalantly as they walk towards Harry’s place from the station.

“Hmm?” Louis has been lost in his thoughts, thinking about absolutely nothing.

He feels Harry give him a look. “I said Gemma’s gone home for the whole weekend,” Harry repeats and emphasis his words with briefly touching Louis’ hand with his finger. They’re not really fans of public affection, so even the smallest gesture feels big.

“That’s nice,” Louis smiles.

“Yeah,” Harry nods and it takes a while for Louis to understand why he’s blushing.

“Harry… You do know that having the place to ourselves doesn’t mean like, you know, having to take advantage of it?”

“No, yeah, I know, I was just thinking that, uhm, maybe?” Harry steals another sideways glance at Louis.

Louis considers the maybe, but comes to the conclusion that he feels incredibly unenthusiastic about sex tonight, and he really doesn’t want their first time – Harry’s very first time – to happen in any kind of lukewarm or half-arsed way. He doesn’t voice his thoughts out loud though. Instead he just nods, winks, and sneakily pats Harry’s bum, making him almost trip over a crack in the pavement.

Old Catford is probably high on catnip, Louis figures, when the ginger cat actually takes something resembling a sniff of the hand Louis patiently always offers him. It doesn’t last long, and it’s not very enthusiastic, but it happens all the same. Harry looks like he might be doing a little victory dance inside, and Louis laughs.

The food arrives soon after they’re in. Harry suggests they light some candles and sit on the floor, since it apparently reminds him of one time in Uganda when the power got cut because of a thunder storm. Louis reckons it might also be part of Harry’s seduction tactic, but he agrees to it anyway. The food is delicious, and they end up making a bit of a mess, licking each other’s fingers and feeding each other.

“That was amazing,” Harry sighs happily as they’re having post-dinner cigarettes on the balcony.

“So good,” Louis agrees. “Great choice. Should do that again.”

Harry beams at the praise. “What would you want to do now?”

Louis shrugs. He’s feeling full, and quite tired. “Just watch a movie or something?”

Harry looks a bit taken aback, but hides the expression quickly. “Movie’s good. Any wishes?”

“Nah, just anything. Probably going to fall asleep midway anyway, feel knackered.”

Harry cups his cheek, stroking it softly with his thumb. “You can sleep on me, I don’t mind.”

After they go inside, Louis piles more pillows and a blanket onto the sofa, organising them into a little cozy nest, whilst Harry scrolls through the movie options.

“Mean Girls?”

Louis snickers. “Feeling like more Africa, eh?”

“Maybe.”

“Mean Girls it is then.”

Harry goes to the kitchen, rummaging through a cupboard before bringing out a bag of Skittles, throwing it on Louis who’s already getting comfy on the sofa. He catches the bag, kissing it and showing a thumbs up to Harry.

“Do you want to lay down on me? If you’re feeling tired,” Harry suggests whilst he’s still standing.

“Nah, it’s ok. I like the weight of you on me.”

“That better not mean I’m heavy,” Harry pokes Louis’ ribs as he snuggles between his legs, resting his head on Louis’ chest. “Not everyone can be as fit as you.”

“Right, because I’m really fucking fit.”

“You are,” Harry leans to kiss him. “The fittest.”

Louis is lucky that he’s seen the movie so many times, as he feels unable to concentrate at all. He’s looking without really seeing it, the funny bits flying over his head. Harry seems to be pressing on his bladder, especially when he laughs, and Louis tries to ignore it until he has to excuse himself and detangle the human koala clinging onto him.

When he comes out of the toilet, to his huge surprise, Old Catford is waiting by the door. Louis leans down to offer his hand again, but the cat just stares at him. It then gets up, avoiding Louis’ hand but for the briefest of seconds, so quick Louis almost misses it, the cat brushes his head against Louis’ ankle. Somehow, this feels like the absolute highlight of his day and Louis has to stop himself from actually tearing up. All because an aloof cat finally showed him a second of acceptance and affection.

“You won’t believe what happened,” Louis gushes as he steps back into the living room. “Oldie actually graced me with a little touch. It was brief, but it was amazing.”

“Told you he’d love you,” Harry mumbles with a smile, yawning. “Do you want to just, go to bed? I can’t really concentrate on this.”

Louis looks at Harry, contemplating. He does look tired and less conniving in a sense that he’d lure Louis into his bed and demand sex. Which is ridiculous in itself: Having sex with his gorgeous boyfriend (he’s still unsure if he can actually combine those two words, as much as he’d hope to) isn’t a chore. It shouldn’t be, but it would sort of feel like that tonight.

“Harry,” Louis sits down by Harry’s feet and rubs his ankle soothingly. “I don’t… I don’t think I can have sex today.”

Harry looks at him for a while. “Okay.”

“I’m just feeling really tired, and I don’t… I want it to be good, and I’m just. Not in the mood tonight.”

“That’s okay, I said,” Harry smiles warmly and touches Louis’ fingers. “I’m tired too.”

“Okay,” Louis lets out a sigh of relief. “Just as long as you get that I, like, really want to. Like a lot. Just not today.”

“I get it. Like, I honestly do. I’m tired too, and… You’ve been a bit. Quiet, all day today?” Harry looks at him carefully, fingers still caressing Louis’.

“It’s nothing,” Louis shakes his head, offering an insincere smile. “Don’t worry about it. Sorry, I’ll try to cheer up.”

“You don’t need to cheer up, Louis. You can feel shit if you’re having a shit day.”

“Okay. I’m feeling a bit shit, but I don’t really… Want to get into it. It’s nothing to do with you and I just… Don’t want to think about it,” Louis offers. “Let’s just go to bed, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Harry nods and turns off the telly, before giving the cat some food and going to the bathroom, having Louis join him as they brush their teeth side by side. Louis then goes to bed, waiting for Harry who comes in not too long after. Harry’s got a string of fairylights set up around his curtain rail, so his room always has a sort of gentle light. It reminds Louis of Christmas time.

“Hello,” Harry whispers as he snuggles under the duvet, tickling Louis’ feet with his own, cuddling close.

“Hello,” Louis whispers back as he shuffles a bit closer with his pillow, so that they’re almost nose to nose.

Harry’s eyes start drooping immediately.

“I don’t get how you do that.”

“Do what?” Harry mumbles, eyes closed.

“Fall asleep immediately. You could sleep anywhere.”

“I’m indeed very lucky,” Harry admits and yawns, looping his arm around Louis.

Louis watches Harry pass out like a light, puffing out little snores in no time. Louis still finds it weird sleeping with someone in the same bed. He has trouble falling asleep when he’s alone, and when he’s sharing a bed, even if it’s Harry who he adores and who is very cuddly, it takes him even longer to relax and doze off. Especially tonight, with so much noise in his head. There are so many things yelling this and that, but it’s all become so muffled - he can’t seem to pick apart anything the noises are saying to start resolving the mess.

So, he stays awake, looking at Harry, memorising every little feature on his face, every position each of his curls have fallen into. He listens to Old Catford having its nightly rumble, running around the flat for five minutes. It seems to notice that Harry’s door is open for once, so it takes advantage and hops onto the bed. Louis doesn’t bother to tell it off; it’s been here well before him, and he’s absolutely convinced Harry prefers to have the cat sleep in the bed. So he lets it be, feeling it shuffle around until it’s curled up on the bottom of the bed on Harry’s side. Louis closes his eyes, praying to fall asleep.

It must be about two hours later, when Harry suddenly opens his eyes, blinking. He frowns as he looks at Louis.

“Can’t you sleep?” He asks quietly, brushing a few strains of hair off Louis’ forehead.

Louis shakes his head a little.

“Poor love,” Harry sighs and runs his fingers through Louis’ hair very softly. “Am I snoring too loudly?”

Louis shakes his head again. He feels dead tired, like his eyes can’t stay open, but they can’t stay closed either.

Harry looks at him for a bit, tracing his eyebrows with his finger, very gently fluttering his fingers over his eyelashes, then down his nose, brushing his thumb along his lips. He goes back the same way, hand finishing in Louis’ hair again, and he starts petting Louis’ hair very, very softly. Harry cuddles in impossibly close to Louis, entwining their legs, somehow aware that Oldie is around and careful not to bother him.

“Once upon a time,” Harry starts with his ASMR voice, whispering and speaking even softer than usual, voice a little deeper than normal. His hand is still petting Louis’ hair. “Once upon a time, there was a brilliant little boy, named Lewis. He loved water, he loved watching the water travel…” 

Louis finally falls asleep.

He wakes up with nothing pressing to his side, but a weight on top of him. This is strange for two reasons: He definitely fell asleep with a lovely boy next to him, not on top of him. Also, whatever is on top of him, it definitely isn’t Harry.

Louis opens his eyes and blinks. Old Catford, curled up on his chest, lifts it head and blinks back.

“Good morning,” Louis offers. The cat keeps staring at him, uninterested. “Is this one of those things that you did so I will go and tell everyone about this, but no one is going to believe me? You’re just setting me up to be seen as a mental person, aren’t you?”

The cat still says nothing, but lowers its head back on top of its front paws. Warily, Louis lifts his hand to approach the cat’s head, and is shocked to find the cat doesn’t stop him at any point. It’s Sunday, 27th of August, and he has finally been allowed to touch his Oldiness. Louis might cry. Then there’s steps approaching, and the cat perks up, looking at Louis as if telling him that this never happened. It hops off of Louis’ chest, rushing to sleep on top of a pile of Harry’s folded, clean laundry left on a chair.

“Morning,” Harry sits on the side of the bed and kisses Louis. “Did you sleep okay?”

“Yeah,” Louis stretches his arms, reaching Harry’s back and leaving his hand there. “Thanks for the bedtime story.”

“You should’ve heard the end. It was epic.”

“You fell asleep before the end, too.”

“I most certainly did not!” Harry tries to look offended, but then bursts out laughing. “Maybe I did. It’ll be as big of a surprise for both of us, if we ever get to the end, that is.”

Louis pulls Harry on top of him, hugging him close. It’s nice, just breathing together, feeling Harry’s chest rise as Louis’ lowers and vice versa. They lay like that for a moment.

“I’ve got brekkie ready, if you want. Or do you want to shower first?”

Louis sniffs around, and is hit with a whiff of last night’s food lingering in his hair. “I’ll shower first,” he decides.

“Cool,” Harry rises up. “You know where the towels are. And use anything you need, as always.” 

“Thanks babe,” Louis gets up slowly, still feeling a bit emotionally shattered from yesterday. He doesn’t feel better really -nothing has been solved, none of the issues have changed overnight, but at least he’s got a boy who tells him bedtime stories when he can’t sleep and cooks him breakfast. And his boy’s brilliant cat, Louis adds in his mind as he sees Old Catford stare at him. Its blue eyes shut immediately when it catches Louis looking, pretending like it’s been asleep the whole time.

“One day,” Louis tells the cat, “you will come to me before you go to Harry. Mark my words.”

After the shower, he joins Harry on the balcony, where a fresh cup of coffee, a bowl of fruit salad and a few sandwiches are laid out on the small table.

“You’re a miracle, babe,” Louis fawns.

“I know,” Harry flips his hair exaggeratedly and laughs brightly. “Takes one to know one, mind you.” He pulls his legs up, crossing his arms over his knees and leans his head on them as he faces Louis. “What do you feel like doing today?”

“Oh,” Louis remembers. Well, he’s remembered it the whole time, but didn’t really want to bring it up until now. “Niall’s having a barbeque, actually.”

“Today?” Harry frowns.

Louis nods. “You don’t have to come. I don’t have to go.”

“Do you want to go?”

Louis shrugs. “I think it’d be good fun, yeah. But it’s not like, I won’t cry for days if I don’t go.”

“Do you want me to come?” Harry hesitates.

Louis looks at him. “You know I always want you to come. But I get you… Might not be able to. But know that I always want you to.”

“Okay,” Harry nods slowly. “I… I’ll think about it. It might be nice.”

“Thanks,” Louis reaches his hand out and pokes Harry’s dimple, making him swat Louis’ hand as if it were an annoying mosquito.

“Summer is almost gone, can you believe it?” Harry looks at the sky then.

Louis makes a noncommittal sound.

“It’s been a pretty decent summer though, yeah?” Harry looks at him, smirking.

“The best summer,” Louis agrees. “Just don’t want to think about it ending.”

“We’re not going to end though, right?” Harry suddenly looks serious. “Like, this wasn’t just… A summer thing?”

“Pfft, hell no,” Louis huffs. “We’re like, you know. A thing of many summers.”

“How many?” Harry asks quietly, still sounding a little insecure.

“All the summers, I reckon. Is that enough summers for you?”

“Yeah,” Harry smiles brightly. “All the summers sounds reasonable.”

Louis finishes his breakfast, letting out a satisfied a sigh. “Thanks babe. Was delicious.”

“You’re welcome,” Harry smiles. “Now, if I’m going to try and come to the party today, I need to figure out what I’m wearing. And you have to help me.” He gets up from his chair. “Chop chop,” he taps Louis’ knee.

Obediently, Louis follows Harry back to his room and sits on the bed, watching Harry rummage through his closet, picking out several shirts and either throwing them to the bed or stuffing them back to the closet.

“You look like a dream in anything, honestly. It’s just a casual barbecue, you don’t need to like, doll up,” Louis says as he’s trying to lure Oldie to the bed, wiggling his fingers. The cat pretends to sleep.

“As if I’m not nervous as fuck already,” Harry huffs, “I need to at least look the part, even if I don’t feel the part.”

“And what part would that be, then?”

Harry looks at Louis cautiously. “Uhm. Your boyfriend. If that’s… okay?”

“Yeah,” Louis feels like his cheeks might split from the wide grin that is taking over his face. “Boyfriends.”

Harry blushes and goes back to sorting through his shirts. He shows Louis a few options, and Louis favours a green button up with short, rolled-up sleeves. It makes Harry’s eyes look even more otherworldly green than they usually are.  

Louis watches Harry changeg, whistling ridiculously as Harry poses for him.

“Do you think you might actually be okay coming?” Louis asks.

Harry considers. “Yeah, yeah I do. At least for now. I might like, panic at your door and run away.”

“Thanks for the heads up. And like, if you do, that’s fine. Appreciate the effort.”

Harry comes to sit opposite Louis, grabbing his ankles and pulling his legs on top of his. “You know, thank you. For like, everything. Being so nice to me, and understanding. I’ve never really… Felt like people understood me. I’m not even sure I always understand myself,” Harry smiles a little sadly. “But with you, it feels like, like it’s okay to be whatever mess I am. I’m so happy you clicked on my video all those weeks ago.”

Louis doesn’t even realise he’s crying until he feels something wet and salty on his lips, and sees the worried, almost panicked look in Harry’s eyes.

“Louis?” Harry says in a high-pitched voice. “What’s wrong, are you okay? Was it something I said?”

Louis manages to shake his head, but the movement makes it feel like all the stress, all the mess that’s been piling up during the last few months is finally spilling out of him, overflowing. “Everything’s wrong,” he sniffs.

“What do you mean, everything what?” Harry’s cupping his cheek, brushing his hair behind his ear; the presence of his hand feels firm and warm, and Louis leans into it.

“Everything. It’s all a mess. I’m a mess,” Louis wipes his nose with his palm. “I’m such a fucking mess, you have no idea. I have no idea what I’m doing.”

“Doing about what?” Harry’s voice is gentle, as gentle as his hand still pushing strands of hair softly into place behind Louis’ ear.

“About my life. About uni. Especially after uni. It’s like I’m… paralysed. I’ll never amount to anything so I don’t even want to try,” Louis finds the words just spilling from his mouth. He feels a new wave of sobs emerge as it finally dawns on him what he’s really been so afraid of, what’s been making him so numb and unable to even try to deal with thinking about what he wants from life.

“Shh,” Harry whispers. “You’ll amount to anything you want to, I know you will. You’re amazing.”

 

“You’re not shit, you just feel like shit now. You’re brilliant, everything is going to be alright,” Harry’s hand is still stroking Louis’ hair. At least it feels nice, comforting.

“I don’t… You said all these lovely things about me, and it’s not… I’m not like that, not really. I have no fucking idea about anything.”

“Neither of us do,” Harry tells him, confides in him like it’s a secret. “I work in a fucking record shop. I’ve never been to uni, I don’t know what I want to do in life, I have no idea what I’d even want to study. You’re so good, so passionate, I’ve seen you and I’ve heard you when you talk about this stuff.”

“It’s all bullshit,” Louis sniffs. “I don’t even have a script idea.”

“You’ve had a million script ideas.”

“Yeah, well, none of them are good enough to actually even have a go at.”

“I told you,” Harry kisses his forehead, “it will come. You’ll know when you see it. Or think of it, I guess.”

“You’re too good to me,” Louis sighs, shuffling closer to Harry. “You don’t want a mess like me.”

“Oh, I beg to differ,” Harry says sternly, “I want a mess exactly like you.”

They lay down on the bed, embracing each other. Louis stops sniffling eventually, but Harry doesn’t stop stroking his hair. The only sound in the room is their breathing, interrupted by the momentary chirps from birds outside.

“You did so well, telling me,” Harry breaks the silence finally. “I’m not… I don’t have all the answers, or any, not for you and not for myself, but I think… We can figure stuff out together. Just like, be there for each other, you know?”

“Teamwork,” Louis nods, feeling for the first time like things will probably be quite alright. Harry isn’t going to fix his life, hand him all the right answers, or tell him the right decisions to make, but Harry will hopefully be there, figuring it out with him. Harry doesn’t stop stroking Louis’ hair when he tells him about the guilt he feels of not keeping in touch with his family enough. He tells him about the numbness he feels when he thinks about life after graduation, of having to step into the adult world and try to sell himself, hoping he’s good enough when he feels like he most certainly isn’t. He keeps talking and talking, and Harry listens to him.

They’ve dozed off at some point, and Louis is woken up by feeling something hairy on his face. It’s a different kind of hair from Harry’s curls. He feels it again, this time accompanied by a meowling sound.

“Told you this would happen,” he tells Old Catford fondly as he opens his eyes and sees his paw hovering above his face, nails withdrawn. Harry is sleeping right next to him, but the cat is on Louis. “You need to get off me if you actually want to be fed,” he tries to reason with the cat.

“Told you,” Harry’s sleepy but smug voice says. “He’s pretty amazing, isn’t he?”

“Which one of us are you talking to?”

“Both of you,” Harry leans to kiss Louis and then the cat, lifting him up so Louis can sit up. “What time is it?”

“Around six.”

Harry nods, scratching under Oldie’s jaw for a moment and then getting up himself. “We should probably get going, then.”

“Going where?”

Harry rolls his eyes. “To your place, duh.”

“Seriously?” Louis grins wide.

“Seriously,” Harry smiles. “I really want to try, at least.”

“All I could ask for,” Louis kisses Harry and even manages to successfully pet Old Catford. Maybe things aren’t looking so bleak after all.

Harry gets more fidgety the closer they get to Louis’ house, to the point that Louis takes his hand and holds it all the way from the station to his house. When Louis says the next turn is his street, Harry stops at the corner.  

“Alright?” Louis stops with Harry.

“Nngh,” Harry makes a skittish sound. “I just… need a moment.”

Louis nods, lighting up a cigarette and offering one to Harry, who takes it gratefully.

“We can turn around and not go.”

“I know.”

“You’ve done good for even trying.”

“Hmm.”

“No?”

“No, it’s… I mean, it’s so stupid. They’re your friends and it’s not like, they’re not going to like, be mean to me or anything. Right?” Harry suddenly looks alarmed, like this might be a thing that could happen and he hasn’t stressed about it enough.

“No,” Louis chuckles. “They’ll love you, I’m sure. They’re way nicer and more welcoming than one ginger cat I know. Or sister, come to think of it.”

Harry groans. “Great, fine, I know they were both awful. Guilt trip achieved,” he doesn’t really sound offended. “Alright, I’m ready. Let’s go”, he then says and takes Louis’ hand again.

Louis kisses Harry before he opens the front door, stepping in. There’s loud chatter and laughter coming from the garden through an open door. Liam seems to be in charge of the music, based on the eccentric beats filling the air. Louis leads Harry to the kitchen to get drinks, where they bump into Lou who’s mixing margaritas.

“Oh, hello! You must be Harry from Craigslist,” she smiles happily to Harry, side eyeing Louis.

Harry laughs a little nervously. “Harry yeah, Craigslist no.”

“Really?” Lou’s voice rises as she looks at Louis, as if accusing him of lying all this time.

“What? I told you it’s not Craigslist, several times in fact, and now you suddenly believe Harry on the first go?”

Lou turns back to look at Harry, and winks at him. “His aura is a lot more reliable than yours, Louis. Have margaritas, chaps, while they last,” she nods towards the drinks. “Lovely to meet you, Harry. Now excuse me, I’ve just thought about a great comeback to something Tom mocked me about,” she winks as she leaves the kitchen.

Louis turns to look at Harry, raising his eyebrows. “Not so bad, right?”

Harry lets out a breath and takes a margarita. “Not so bad, no. She was really nice.” He sips the drink. “And very good at mixing drinks.”

“She’s kind of like our kitchen fairy. Drink and food steward. You’ll be an excellent kitchen pair.”

“Heey!” Harry drawls out, not actually offended.

“Oh, I know you!” Comes Liam’s delighted voice as he and Niall lurk into the kitchen, probably alerted by Lou that this Harry person actually does exist and is currently in their kitchen.

Harry and Louis turn around, and a smile of recognition spreads onto Harry’s face. “You must be Liam! No way,” he shakes Liam’s outstretched hand. “I hope you enjoyed your records!”

“Oh, so much. Should’ve known they were from my favourite record store,” Liam chuckles. “Me and Harry,” he explains to Louis and Niall, “we’ve obviously seen each other quite a few times at Love Vinyl.”

“And I’m Niall,” Niall introduces himself. “We’ve never met, but always a first for everything, eh! Did you lads bring any food? Or drinks?”

“Oh, yeah,” Harry suddenly remembers the bag he’s been holding as a safety blanket. “Got some burgers, and more buns, and I made this potato salad, if anyone would like any.”

Niall sighs, happily. “I fucking love potatoes. I’m so happy you turned out to be real,” Niall says dreamily as he takes the bag of food, carrying it to the garden.

“And we’re going for a beer run now, just didn’t want to carry it all,” Louis tells Liam, looking at Harry who nods. “We’ll be back in a bit.”

They head out to the corner shop around the corner. They’ve not walked far when Harry pipes up.

“Alright, you can say it. I know you’re dying to.”

“Say what?”

“That you told me so.”

“I told you what?” Louis grins and Harry shoves him.

“That it’d be fine. That I’d like them. That they’d like me.”

“Oh, I didn’t notice at all. But nice that you think that.”

“Fuck you,” Harry laughs and swats Louis’ bum.

It’s a brilliant night, of course. Louis finds himself staring at Harry, laughing with his friends. Said friends try to catch Louis’ eyes at times, winking to him to let him know that he’s done well; that his Harry is quite a bit wonderful. Louis couldn’t agree more.

---

Louis is woken up on the following day with something tickling his stomach, something soft and wet on his mouth. It’s a welcome feel of intrusion as Harry peppers him with kisses, changing between light and deeper, pecking to licking.

“Morning,” Harry sounds raspy.

“Mmh,” Louis buries his nose in Harry’s neck and smells his skin, inhaling it. There’s something about the essence of Harry’s skin that Louis can’t quite get enough of.

“I swear you’ve got like, the worst sniffing fetish or something.”

“Your fault. You smell too good,” Louis wiggles against Harry, feeling they’re both half hard with morning wood.

Harry leans over Louis’ chest, fumbling around for something on the floor and then gets back up, showing an unopened condom to Louis. He waves it between his fingers slowly, looking at it seriously, then looking at Louis.

“I’m ready. I’d like for you to fuck me,” he says quietly as he taps Louis’ nose with the condom wrapper. “It’s like… I can’t stop thinking of how it’d feel, having you inside me. If that’s not something you… I just want you to know that, when, or if, you want me, I’m yours.” 

Louis looks at Harry’s eyes, so green and so honest and so sincere. He brushes his thumb over Harry’s lips, before taking the lower one between his thumb and index finger and pinches it. “Yes please.”

Harry leans in to kiss him, whispering against Louis’ lips. “I presume you have lube?”

“Drawer,” Louis says as he reaches out, opening the drawer on his nightstand and picking up the bottle. He puts it down on the side of the bed, taking the condom from Harry’s hand. “It’s going to be a while before this comes in to play.”

Harry pushes his fingers into Louis hair as he kisses him hard, desperate. His tongue licks Louis’ lips, begging for entrance, then sucks on his tongue as he opens up. Their tongues come together slowly as Louis runs his hands down Harry’s back, pressing down on his bum, before grabbing a quick hold of the softness with his fingers. He then slides his fingers lower against the back of Harry’s thighs, as he gently pulls his legs a bit further apart, digging his fingers into the soft flesh there.

Harry moans into his mouth and presses himself closer to Louis, their hardening cocks rubbing together. They stay like that for a moment, kissing languidly with ever increasing friction between their bodies before they turn onto their side to face each other. Louis has seen Harry naked before, but taking off his underpants feels so different now, knowing what it means– knowing what will follow. He feels his mouth water at the sight of Harry’s hard cock springing out of his briefs. Harry isn’t even ashamed as he licks his lips a few times when he undresses Louis.

“Can’t wait to feel you inside me,” he breathes hotly to Louis’ ear.

They let their hands roam each other’s bodies as if they’ve never touched each other before; familiarising each other’s every nook and cranny, every pulse point, every little piece of skin with their fingers; their lips and tongues. Louis traces the swallow tattoos with his finger, seeing Harry’s heat-radiating skin break out in goose bumps as he slowly drags his finger along the outlines.

“Touch yourself,” Harry pleads 

He moves to trace his own tattoos, finger first following the swirly text on his chest, then moving down his left arm, making sure he follows every outline. Harry’s staring at him with big eyes, mesmerised.

“So tingly,” he whispers. “You’re making me shiver all over.”

Harry makes delicious gasps and tightly holds on to Louis’ shoulders, fingers digging in hard enough to bruise, when Louis starts preparing him with his lubed-up fingers. He stops between each finger, allowing Harry to adjust to the stretch, before adding another one. By the time he’s three fingers in, Harry’s breath is hitching and he’s biting his lip, telling Louis that yes - it hurts a little but it’s a sort of good hurt. Their eyes lock when Louis finally pulls his fingers out and readies himself to replace them with his now lubed-up cock, stroking Harry’s cheek with his clean hand as he leans his forehead against his. They only break eye contact once Louis pushes in fully, and Harry closes his eyes at the intense feeling of fullness, moans and whimpers mixing in together. Louis keeps asking if he needs him to stop, moving agonizingly slow, to the point where Harry tells him to stop asking and start kissing. Louis obliges, and kisses Harry through both of their orgasms. He pulls out utterly spent, Harry smiling at him tiredly with his thighs still spread apart, and flops down next to him on the bed. Louis barely has the energy to pull the condom off and bin it. He just about manages with knowing he can cuddle up with Harry and dose off immediately after.

“I really like sex,” Harry mumbles against his temple, wrapping his arms around Louis. “I suggest we do that a lot.”

“Suggestion approved,” Louis yawns ,and presses a kiss to the closest part of Harry’s skin he can find, before falling asleep.

---

The November winds are brutal anywhere in the world, but especially in London. At least today’s weather is lacking the pin-like rain drops. Louis looks over at Harry, wrapped in a big scarf and a blue woolly hat pulled deep over his ears, as he keeps rubbing his hands together and blowing on them.

Louis stops and takes off one of his gloves, passing it to Harry. Harry looks at him, not saying anything as he puts it on his right hand. Harry puts his left hand in his pocket while Louis mimicks the action with his right hand, before Harry takes his left hand in his, offering a smile.

“Guess I know what to get you for a Christmas gift, you utter child,” Louis says. “Can’t believe you don’t have a pair of gloves.”

“I told you! I’m a mittens kind of a guy,” Harry tells him yet again. “And it’s not mitten weather yet.”

“Oh, right. On the Harry weather scale, it’s clearly still the freeze-your-fingers-because-you’re-daft-weather,” Louis rolls his eyes and squeezes Harry’s hand as he leads him further into the park.

They walk in companionable silence for a few more minutes until they finally arrive to their destination. The riverbank looks a bit grey and gloomy in November, bushes without any green leaves, only brown branches sticking out from the ground. Louis feels a little embarrassed, looking around. The sky looks grey, the water is grey, everything around them is grey.

“I can see how this must be so nice, outside November,” Harry tells him softly as he wraps his arms around Louis, pressing into his back. “It’s so quiet. So peaceful.”

Louis feels his heart expand at how Harry just completely gets him; gets why he’d drag him here in November, after telling him he wants to show him a very important place. And Harry just follows him, looks at it through Louis’ eyes and accepts it, appreciates it even.

“I like it. Want to come here in the Spring, and Summer too.” Harry nuzzles his cheek against Louis’ back, creating a little source of heat to erupt there.

Louis turns his head back to kiss the cold tip of Harry’s nose, before taking out the warm blanket from the bag. After putting it on the ground, he sits down and pours two cups of steaming coffee from the Thermos flask. Harry takes a seat next to him, inhaling the smell of coffee from the cup while warming his fingers around it. It’s not boiling hot anymore, just a nice source of heat, especially as the coffee spreads in Louis’ veins, warming and energising him.

“So uhm, I actually need to talk to you about something.”

Harry tuts, giving Louis a bored look. “I swear to God if you dragged me here to break up with me, I am going to throw you in that river and not even cry about it. Much.”

Louis laughs. “No crying needed. I hope. It’s a bit of a biggie, though.”

“Are you dying?”

“No.”

“Are you ill?”

“Also no.”

“Okay,” Harry nods and takes a sip of his coffee. “And you’re also not breaking up with me, we’ve established that. Think I’m ready to hear it, then.”

“Remember James? From the production company.”

“From your internship? Yeah.”

“So, he called me a few days ago.”

Harry turns to look at Louis, eyebrows high. “And?”

“They’re starting a new production, the company is. It’s like a miniseries for Netflix, four parts I think.”

“And?” Harry is sounding a bit shrill now, and Louis knows him well enough to know that Harry is absolutely flapping inside from excitement.

“And James wondered if I’d want to work on it.”

“Aaah!” Harry lets out a yell, spilling coffee all over himself. “Holy shit. Fuck. Oh my god. You said yes, right?”

Louis laughs, feeling so endeared by how genuinely happy Harry is for him. “I said maybe.”

“What the fuck you’re saying maybe for?” Harry frowns. “Oh course you’re going to say yes! This is amazing.”

“Yeh, it is,” Louis admits. “I still can’t believe that James would even think about me, like, we got along and I know I did a good job, but like, a Production Assistant job is like… Way more.”

“Production Assistant,” Harry repeats as if he’s tasting the word. “I like that. I’d definitely sleep with a Production Assistant.”

Louis laughs and kisses Harry’s cheek. “Good to know. There’s more, though.”

“There always is,” Harry rolls his eyes. “You’re so bloody slow at telling me the ifs and the buts. Come on, spill.”

“So they’d start just after Christmas and probably work on the project for like, five to six months.”

“Oh.” Harry thinks for a bit. “What would you do with uni then? Can you like, still do it?”

“I already spoke with my course leader, yeah, and I could wiggle stuff around. Like, still graduate with the rest of my course, just would be quite a lot of work, with my final project and like, doing a few extra pieces of coursework to replace the courses I’d miss, but… I could do it.”

“You’re so doing it,” Harry tells him, shuffling around to kneel in front of Louis and then cupping his cheeks. “I’m so fucking proud of you. So proud. You are so getting laid if we make it out of here with our cocks intact and not frozen off.”

“There’s one more thing.”

“Of course.”

“It’s, uhm, it’s set in South America, the series.”

“Okay?” Harry is looking at him, probably not quite getting it as he just looks at Louis tenderly, hands not wavering in their position on Louis’ cheeks.

“The filming’s going to be in Brazil.”

Harry drops his hands down from Louis’ cheeks. “Oh.” He moves back to sitting next to Louis, facing the river.

“Yeah.”

“I see.”

“So, uhm, I was wondering if you’d like… Want to come to Brazil with me? For five to six months.”

“What,” Harry laughs and it sounds a bit manic. “Brazil?”

“Brazil.”

“For half a year?”

“Or five months. We don’t know yet.”

“What would I do in Brazil?”

“I don’t know. Have a Brazilian adventure with me?”

Harry just laughs, the sounds turning more into cackling the longer it goes on.

Louis feels like the world has frozen on the spot, yet is spinning around on its axis at the same time. He has no idea what Harry’s cackling means; if it’s a good or a bad thing. When he got the call, his first emotion had been overwhelming joy – ecstatic at the thought of life handing him this incredible opportunity. That feeling of joy had quickly been followed by a paralysing fear at the prospect of fucking up said opportunity. Thirdly, and most consuming, his mind had been filled with Harry. He'd immediately fretted if he was even in a position to ask Harry to come with him - if there was a possibility that he would just want to leave everything behind and jump into the unknown with Louis. Worries of what would happen if Harry did come with him, but they’d fall out for some reason whilst being abroad. If they’d try a long-distance thing, but it didn’t work. Or what if Harry decided it was better to take a break completely, and wait until after Louis came back from Brazil. A lot could happen in those months.

All of those options, however, are far scarier for Louis than the fear of coming across as bit assuming and, well, desperate. He just needs to know where Harry stands, what Harry wants.

 “I know it’s a bit sudden, like… And I’m not expecting you to just give up everything and follow me, you’ve got your own life, I just. Kind of want you to maybe come with me, like, imagining being away from you for so long sort of makes me want to weep? But I fully understand if you don’t want to, and like, I’m probably going to go, and I totally get if you don’t want to do a long-distance thing, I’m not…”

“Shut up,” Harry suddenly interrupts and leaps on him, shutting him up with a firm kiss. “You’re the best thing I have. Let’s have a Brazilian adventure.” Harry looks a little surprised, taken aback at hearing the words leave his own mouth so quickly, so surely. But he’s not taking them back, and he gives Louis a reassuring, but stunned smile.

Louis feels his heart and mind expand - feeling both absolutely ecstatic and panicky at the same time. They’re really fucking doing this. He doesn’t know what to do really, so he just nods. “Excellent.” 

It’s too cold to kiss for long. “So, we’ll leave in January?” Harry asks as they come back up for air.

 “Yeah, quite early.”

“Alright,” Harry looks a little deep in thought. “So we’ll be here for Christmas?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“How, uhm, how would you feel if we had a bit of an, err, Christmas adventure as well?” Harry looks at Louis, hesitantly.

“What do you mean?”

“A bit of a Cheshire adventure around the holidays.”

“Not sure I quite follow.”

“I mean,” Harry looks a little shy, “that you could maybe come visit Holmes Chapel. And I could come visit Warrington, or that plop of land between Warrington and Manchester that no one wants to call theirs, I think it was.”

Louis blinks and stares at Harry. “Are you serious?”

“Yeah.”

“Meet each other’s parents?”

Harry shrugs, trying to make it seem like it’s not a big thing. “Guess so.”

“I mean, absolutely, I’d love to! Just… Are you sure? About meeting my family? That it’s not going to like… Make you stressed, or anxious?”

Harry thinks for a bit. “No. At least, I don’t think so. Like, I actually really want to meet them, get to know them. See where you’re from. Sure, it’s a bit scary, but they love you, and I want to meet other people who love you, so.”

Louis feels like his face might crack what with the huge grin currently taking over his features. Then the words Harry had said actually sink in. “Other people who love me?”

Harry blushes and nods. “Yes. In, uhm, addition to me. Because I love you.”

Louis refuses to tear up; tears might actually freeze into his eyes in the dreadful November weather. Instead, he wraps himself tightly around Harry. “I love you too, so much.”  

The November winds are brutal, Harry’s face is cold like an icicle, and Louis has no idea what the future will bring - but apparently, this pile of curls is doing it with him so it’s probably alright. He’s just going to trust life.  

The water looks deep, freezing and grey, and Louis suddenly remembers one script idea he’s had, inspired by it, about… siblings killing each other, was it? It sounds too dark, now. Lately, he’s been thinking of probably going with something more hopeful, maybe a love story with a bit of an indie twist. He thinks he might call it Mercy.

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe you cut your hair!”

“How are you so tanned?”

“Oh please, Brazilian sun for half a year? Of course he’s tanned!”

The welcome is cheerful and loud, giving Louis and Harry hardly enough time to get out of the way of all the other passengers that are coming through customs and are making their way into the arrivals hall at Heathrow. Lottie and Gemma jump on them immediately, hugging their own brothers first and then switching, Liam grabbing them both into a big bear hug next.

Louis sees Harry’s smile fade a bit as he’s looking around. “Babe, of course he’s not here. You know how much he hates the carrier, it’d been too much stress for him.”

Harry looks guilty. “I know, I’ve just…”

“Missed your cat more than anything?” Gemma takes a wild guess. “Well, newsflash. He’s my cat now. He loves me. Won’t even remember you.”

“Gem, please,” Louis snickers. “I thought we agreed you’d wait at least an hour before you’d make Harry cry:”

“That’s it, I’m going back to Brazil. Not staying here listening to by boyfriend and sister mocking me,” Harry says dramatically and turns his trolley back towards customs.

“What, and not see Oldie?” Gemma quips.

Harry turns his trolley around again, Louis putting his arm around him and squeezing him briefly.

They take the tube, first going to Harry and Gemma’s to see Old Catford (Louis tags along, Lottie and Liam kindly promising to get his stuff back to the house) and then all heading to Homerton, where the welcome back -dinner is taking place later.

Old Catford hasn’t changed a bit. It doesn’t acknowledge Harry for the first fifteen minutes, instead it’s all over Louis. Harry looks like he might be on the verge of tears, and perhaps the cat senses it, because it then climbs into Harry’s lap and purrs louder than any of them three has ever heard, paws digging into Harry’s thighs as it keeps kneading Harry with all its might.

It’s a miracle, all things considered, that they’re only 45 minutes late for dinner.

Their families and friends are all there, welcoming them back home from their Brazilian adventure. Harry’s mum seems most chuffed about him having chopped off his long hair. They indulge in a proper British Sunday roast, even though it’s a Friday; it’s loud, it’s rowdy - it’s wonderful.

Louis finds himself shocked that they seem to now have not one, not two but an actual glorious amount of three sauce pans in the flat. Niall has Louis up in stitches with telling about the flatmate they’d had during Louis’ absence – Niall is convinced the guy was a secret voodoo priest, which would explain the recently emerged back pains Niall is having. Louis lets him have his theories instead of suggesting it’s probably because Niall’s crouching position over his laptop is incredibly unergonomic. Lottie and Liam aren’t even being casual anymore, they are full on dating and Harry, being such a romantic, looks smitten with how cute they are. Louis agrees, secretly at least – he’s not going to let the opportunity of some brotherly jabs go by.

“So, Harry dear,” Louis’ mum starts. “I hear congratulations are in order!”

Harry and Louis flush red as the whole room suddenly goes quiet, staring at them. “No, no, no,” Louis rushes to say. “That sounds… Yeah, nothing like that.”

“I got into uni,” Harry explains shyly, feeling uncomfortable being put on the spot, “I’m going to become a vet.” He sounds a bit proud, and Louis feels incredibly proud. There’s a round of applause, several people making comments how it makes so much sense; should’ve seen it coming.

Louis leans in to kiss Harry and tell him for the millionth time how proud he is of him. Harry’s wonderful with people once he gets over his nerves of getting to know them, but he’s just magical when it comes to animals. In Brazil, Harry had volunteered in an animal shelter and after two days, had come home and declared to Louis that he actually knew what he wanted to do now.

As for Louis, he’d found something good in Brazil too; found himself, in a way – or found himself again, more like. He’d absolutely loved working on the set, and he’d excelled at everything he’d set his mind out to do. It had been hard and he and Harry had fought too at times, with Louis being so stressed about finishing uni and Harry fretting over his own future, but they’d made it through stronger than ever before. And it’d been worth it - James had offered Louis a job at the production company, which Louis had happily accepted.

The evening draws to an end, after they’ve relayed most of their adventures in Brazil to their families over dinner. Because it’s so late, it’s decided that Louis’ family will be accommodated at the boys’ flat, whilst Harry’s is going to his.

“So weird, not sleeping with you,” Louis murmurs as he hugs Harry in the garden. “Or not living with you, really.”

“Mm,” Harry agrees. “It was a great adventure. Thank you for doing it with me.”

“Thank you,” Louis kisses Harry. “I’m not going to hold you up any longer, I know you have a cat to get to.”

Harry at least has the decency to look a little embarrassed. “I know it was weird for you to get used to sleeping with me,” he starts then. “And now it’ll probably be weird to sleep alone, so I made you a little something.”

Louis looks around, surprised to not see Harry reach into his pockets or anywhere to give him anything. “Well? Where is it, then?”

“You’ll see soon enough,” Harry winks and kisses Louis one last time, before he, his mum and Gemma bid goodnight to everyone else, heading home.

Louis’s phone beeps. It’s a message from Harry, just a link and a password (loveyou). Louis smiles fondly as he sees Harry’s just changed his profile picture on whatsapp. It’s a picture of the two of them, probably Louis’ most favourite picture – taken on their last morning in their little flat in Brazil, smiling tiredly before they began their journey back home. They look so... together, like they belong. It looks like they’re almost melting into one being, having had such a wonderful adventure with all the ups and downs that only the two of them experienced as a unit. Louis feels his heart get bigger at the thought of their journey still continuing.

Louis clicks on the link, finding himself on YouTube.

“Hello, lover,” Harry’s gentle, raspy whispering greets him. “I thought you might have trouble sleeping, so I wanted to tell you my very favourite bedtime story. It’s called Mercy, and it’s about how you should always trust life. I love you a lot, by the way,” Harry adds as a side comment. “Ahem. Here we go. There’s one spot in particular in Hackney Marshes that Louis always seems to find himself in…”