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after summer

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They were all jumbled together on Harry’s sofa, watching the first season of Stranger Things in preparation for the second. Louis picked and peeled the label of his beer, the one Harry had graciously stolen from his stepdad’s stash. And the words felt like they were bubbling up out of him, reminding him of the foam from a bottle of Stella that spilt over Harry’s slender fingers one summer. Louis had given it a good shake before passing it to him and then he’d laughed until his stomach hurt.

His stomach felt odd now too, though he would sooner vomit than laugh.

“Sam Bremmans gave me a blowjob.”

And then all was silent. Even Joyce Byers marching around her house.

It wasn’t the beer that made Louis say it. He’d disclosed a lot less under greater influence. It was more the crushing weight of his secret. A boy’s mouth had been on him and he’d liked it and if he didn’t tell someone, he was going to die or his brain would melt and then he’d die.

Harry and Zayn had nearly broken their necks, redirecting their gazes to him. They stared, curious and cautious, the way they so often were when they looked at Louis. He was the puzzle they never got tired of solving. The one they always solved best.

So when he said he had to tell someone, he meant them. No one else would do.

“Pretty sure I’m gay,” Louis finished, lifting his beer bottle to his mouth for a casual sip. But his fingers were shaking, and of course, Harry noticed. He took Louis’ hand in his own and squeezed.

Zayn dropped his head against Louis’ shoulder. “Proud of you for saying so,” he said.

Harry pressed a sloppy kiss to Louis’ cheek. “Really proud.”

They hugged him and squeezed and soon enough, his trembling fingers stilled.

+

Two nights later, he was nearly asleep when Zayn whispered, “I think I might be bi or something.”

Louis opened his eyes to the dark of Zayn’s basement where they’d settled in after a few rounds of FIFA and a blunt. Louis didn’t look at him. They were sleeping on opposite ends of the couch with their feet practically entangled and Louis would have to turn to see him. “What makes you think that?”

“I mean— I like girls, you know? But...” Zayn trailed off. “Don’t be mad, alright?”

“About what?” Louis asked.

“I kissed Harry. I’m not supposed to tell you—”

Louis sat upright, dislodging his blanket completely, his arm thrown over the back of the couch. He heard the rustle of the blanket on the other end. A light clicked on and Zayn was sitting up as well, hair mussed and eyes wary.

“Is Harry gay too?” Louis asked. “Or bi?”

Zayn shrugged. “I don’t know. That’s why I’m not supposed to tell you. I asked him to do it though. I asked if I could kiss him, just to see-- if I liked it with another boy.”

Louis waited for him to go on. “And you did?” he asked eventually.

“I liked it with Harry.”

It wasn’t entirely correct to say Louis was jealous. He didn’t really mind that Zayn had kissed Harry. He liked the thought of it even. He just wished he’d been included somehow. He hated feeling left out, and that was a strange thought given the circumstances.

“I’m proud of you,” Louis said, echoing him nights ago. Of kissing Harry or coming out? Or both? He didn’t specify. But certainly kissing Harry was a thing to feel proud of.

Zayn smiled, softly, sleepily. Louis loved the way his eyes crinkled at the corners. “Thanks.”

Louis reached out and rubbed his knee beneath the blanket. “Back to sleep, then?”

Zayn ran his hand over Louis’ just once, their gazes holding for a moment. If he asked Louis for a kiss too, Louis would have given it to him easily. But he didn’t ask. He lifted his hand away, murmured “good night,” and within minutes, he’d fallen asleep.

+

Harry was shamelessly self-absorbed. He loved attention whenever he could get it (specifically from Louis and Zayn). So if he couldn’t be the first to come out, Louis supposed he would have to be the last.

Perhaps, then, Louis should have seen it coming. But it’s a hard thing to predict: someone being gay. And while Harry had an androgynous look about him and sought to undermine all the rules and terms about how a boy should look, that didn’t mean he liked boys. There was no way, at least, for Louis to be sure.

The following week, he and Harry were sat on Louis’ bed, finishing homework for the biology class they shared. Harry kept looking at Louis with the bird eyes, practically glaring. The tenth time Louis caught him, he sighed and tapped him on the nose with his pencil.

“What’s up with you?” he asked.

Harry swatted his hand away. He shook his head, trying for a smile. “How’d it happen with you and Sam Bremmans?”

The ‘it’ was obvious, though it still took Louis by surprise. A whole week had gone by without them questioning him. He’d almost gotten away with the bare minimum of confessions. If only life were so easy.

“Are you asking for a play-by-play of my blow job, Harry?”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “I mean, why him? And how’d you two end up alone together? And where’d you do it?”

“Will this be held against me in a court of law?”

“Louis.”

“It was at that party you and Zayn didn’t show up to. Zayn had his cousin’s birthday party to go to. And I think you were sick with a stomach flu or something.”

Harry’s brows wrinkled and then his eyes went wide. “That was almost four months ago.”

“I know,” Louis said, scratching his scalp. "Was kind of a crazy summer."

“You could have told me sooner,” Harry said. “Unless you didn’t want to— But if you were worried what I’d think, you didn’t have to be is all.”

“Of course I wanted to tell you. It’s just not that simple.”

Harry was quiet for a moment. Too pensive for Louis’ liking. He ran his eraser along the bottom of Harry’s foot. Harry kicked and giggled. “Stop it.”

“What?” Louis asked, latching onto his ankle and tickling him again.

Harry thrashed and squawked like some disgruntled, deranged bird. A textbook and a notebook fell to the floor but they paid it no attention. Louis thought he’d like to pin Harry to the bed. He liked to see how he thrashed with his wrists trapped between Louis’ fingers. The thought was gone as quickly as it’d come. Harry escaped him somewhat successfully by rolling onto his stomach and Louis decided to show him mercy.

He pushed another book off the bed and flopped down beside Harry. He eyed the one curl that fell over his brow and typically, he’d have no trouble just tucking it behind Harry’s ear. But he was wary about touching him lately. When he wasn’t picturing Harry kissing Zayn, he was picturing himself kissing Harry.

They blinked at each other.

“Why him?” Harry asked. Or repeated, actually. Louis had forgotten that bit.

“I don’t know.” Louis shrugged. “He’s fit. And he was interested.”

“How’d you know he was interested?”

“He kept giving me looks all night, except it didn’t feel threatening or anything. Just like he couldn’t stop doing it.”

It seemed like Harry was holding his breath, even as he asked: “And then…?”

“And then— I guess I must’ve been giving off some kind of sign too. ‘Cause he followed me into the loo. And next thing I know me shorts were ‘round my ankles.”

Harry huffed a laugh. “He sounds smooth.”

“He was, but only for the one night. Hasn’t talked to me since, you know. Suppose he’s scared or summat.”

“Not of you,” Harry said. “You’re harmless. And sweet.”

Louis smiled. That soft, syrupy smile he reserved for Harry. Like it was honey poured onto his lips. “Maybe not harmless.”

“What was it like kissing him?” Harry asked after another beat passed.

“We didn’t.”

Harry lifted his head slightly. “What?”

“He got right to his knees,” Louis said, laughing. “Suppose it’s much like kissing a girl, though.”

Harry twisted his lips, forming an expression of what must’ve been disbelief. And Louis felt a flicker of annoyance.

You should know, he wanted to say. How was it with Zayn?

“You can’t know if you don’t try,” Harry said.

“Going to have to find someone to try with then.”

Harry exhaled, scooting closer until their knees bumped together. He reached for Louis’ glasses and began to slip them off his face. Louis stopped him, his fingers gentle against Harry’s knuckles. “Kind of need those to finish my homework.”

“Not for this, though,” Harry said, pulling the glasses off. He turned setting them on the bedside table.

“For what?” Louis asked, but it was obvious once Harry looked at him again. Or at his mouth rather. Coincidentally, without the glasses, Louis could see it all clearly before it happened. The thought blossoming in Harry’s head. The resolve fortifying itself. He saw the moment Harry leaned in well before he finally did.

Sam Bremmans could never do with his mouth what Harry could. Harry kissed like it was his life’s work, like he was aiming for awards and accolades with each glide of his tongue. He did it all so smoothly Louis couldn’t remember how they’d gone from the one tentative press of their lips to full-on tonguing.

In year 10, Harry confessed to never having gone to second base with a girl and Louis couldn’t understand it. All those girls crying over him, all those hearts he didn’t mean to break— Louis didn’t get how Harry did it with his stupid jokes and a kiss or two.

But he understood it now.

One kiss and Louis was ready to throw himself on a sword for Harry. Not that he hadn’t subconsciously been willing before.

Harry drew away, much to Louis’ chagrin.

“I think I’m gay too, or bi maybe, or something,” Harry said, unaware he’d rendered Louis catatonic. “It’s not just you.”

Louis blinked, his eyes on Harry’s mouth. His lips were actually as soft as they looked. He should’ve known. “Okay.”

Harry’s brows wrinkled.

Did he kiss Zayn like that? Louis wondered.

“Me, you, and Zayn. What are the odds, yeah?” Harry said with a laugh.

“Really good,” Louis said.

Harry smiled. “That was nice.”

“Thought so too.”

Harry’s ears were slightly pink. He pushed his face into his pillow momentarily, and looked at Louis again. “Want to do it again?”

“Yeah,” Louis said eagerly, leaning in. And then, cooler, calmer: “Might as well.”

+

Kissing Harry was about all Louis could think about these days. But maybe only because it’d happened . Because he knew what it was like.

He still thought a lot about kissing Zayn. Or about Zayn kissing Harry. Or about them all kissing each other.

And he started noticing things.

Like how they’d always been sort of exclusive, the three of them. It was always Zayn, Harry, Louis, and no one else. Even Liam and Niall never quite stuck the same way. They always behaved a bit strangely when one of them started dating a girl. When Jillian Quinn from year 8 started talking with Harry, Louis and Zayn teased him until he inevitably broke up with her. When Margo Irwin kissed Louis before last winter hols, Harry gave him the cold shoulder until Christmas Eve. Zayn agreed to hang out with him but he’d been quieter than usual.

And none of this had ever seemed odd to Louis because back then, he didn’t have a raging crush on his two best mates.

+

Niall and Liam left an hour earlier. Harry was curled into Zayn’s body, overly cuddly after copious amounts of liquor. They’d all kind of overdone it like they usually did when Harry’s parents were away for the weekend. Louis was sat on the floor, his back against the couch. He’d join them for a cuddle but Harry had his fingers carting through Louis’ hair the way he liked.

There was a film on but Louis had no clue what. Something with a lot of car crashes and loud noise and attractive men. He had to wee. He’d been holding it for long enough, not wanting to sacrifice the head rub. But his bladder was on the brink of collapse.

He returned from the loo minutes later, still zipping himself up, stumbling toward the couch with just the flickering light of the telly to guide him.

He rounded the corner and froze for a second.

Harry and Zayn kissed dreamily, like they didn’t even know they were doing it. Except that when Louis took a step forward and plopped down on the couch, they pulled apart. Harry focused adamantly on the TV. Zayn looked first at the tops of his socked feet, then at Louis.

“Don’t stop on my account,” Louis said.

Harry glanced at him. His mouth opened. Such a ridiculously beautiful mouth. Both of them.

“Kiss him again,” Louis said. He was trying for detached and instead it came out needy. No room to be embarrassed with his dick already swelling in his jeans. “I mean it.”

Zayn looked at Harry and leaned in again.

For a while, Louis just watched, breath stuck behind his tonsils. He squeezed his thighs together every time he caught a flash of tongue. He saw Zayn rest his hand on Harry’s hip and he wanted to be touched like that too. He saw Harry stroke the back of Zayn’s neck and that too. He wanted that desperately.

He wasn’t one to be left out for long. No one got to sit in a room with Louis and forget he was there.

“Hey.”

Harry broke away from Zayn, looking at Louis again. His mouth was red, red, red. His eyes were glazed but inviting. They lured Louis across the short distance, into the space between him and Zayn where they made room for him.

“It’s my turn,” Louis said and he kissed Harry, licking into his mouth straight away. He felt Zayn’s hand on his own hip now, sliding beneath his t-shirt and stroking the skin there. Zayn pressed a kiss to the back of Louis’ neck and Louis turned to him. They looked at each other, hesitated a second, before Zayn leaned in, tugging Louis close by the collar.

Louis felt clammy but needy, like he wanted both fresh air and Zayn’s hands all over him, and Harry’s hands. He wanted both. He’d always wanted them both.

Zayn tugged at Louis’ shirt and suddenly, he was dragging it upward and off. Cool air met Louis’ skin, only for a second before Harry’s mouth was on his collarbones, nipping gently. Louis pulled away again to rid Harry of his shirt. Zayn yanked his own shirt off, then molded his warm chest to Louis’ back, hands flat against Louis’ stomach, mouth on his neck.

“Fuck,” Louis breathed. “What the fuck are we doing?”

Harry shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t care.”

He pushed Louis backward and unbuckled his jeans, tugging them down his legs. His eyes landed first on the tent in Louis’ briefs, and then they met Louis’ eyes. “I want...”

“Seriously?” Louis squeaked.

Zayn huffed a laugh. “Bet he can do it better than Sam Bremmans.”

“Fucking Sam Bremmans,” Harry breathed. He looked at Louis’ again, eager green eyes hooded, shrouded by his long lashes. “Can I?”

Louis hesitated. “Please, yes,” he exhaled, head dropping backwards against Zayn’s shoulder.

Harry pulled Louis’ briefs off carefully. “Hello there,” he murmured.

“Fucking hell, Harry,” Louis groaned. “Don’t talk to my cock.”

Harry chuckled, sinking down between Louis’ legs. “Why not?”

“You’re ruining it, Haz,” Zayn said.

“Am I?” Harry asked, grinning at them both before he lowered his gaze, and unfolded his lips around Louis’ cock. He ran his tongue along the underside and let the tip protrude against his cheek. He pulled off with a gasp for air. “Am I still ruining it?”

He didn’t wait for an answer, digging his nails into Louis’ thighs as he opened his throat around him.

“Oh, fuck.” Louis pressed his fist against his mouth.

The way Harry’s eyes closed reminded Louis of the nights they’d shared a bed before. Harry looked as tranquil now as he did when he fell asleep. And sometimes when Louis was restless, he’d look at Harry, wondering what sort of dreams someone like him conjured up, wishing he could see them too.

But he never would’ve felt closer to Harry than he did now.

Zayn pushed Louis’ hand away. “Let him hear you,” he said, his mouth close to Louis’ ear. He pressed a kiss to Louis’ throat. “Let me hear you.”

+

If it was weird at all, it was because Louis immediately wanted to do it again.

He’d felt like a rag doll when they were done with him, when he was done with them. He’d been happy for a shower the next morning, but reluctant about washing Zayn’s come off his ribs. He liked how scratchy his throat felt from trying (and failing) to go all the way down on Harry. He liked that he could still taste them both if he tapped his tongue against the roof of his mouth a few times.

He liked it all so much, he wondered how he’d ever gone a day without doing it. He couldn’t anymore.

+

Louis thought back to their summers. To the grass against the backs of his legs and the sting of the sweat and the sun on his arms. He thought about submerging himself in the pool at Harry’s stepdad’s bungalow and resurfacing to see them smiling, tossing water at one another. About sharing a cold beer at fifteen or sixteen. He thought about how Harry and Zayn were always pressed too close despite the heat and sometimes they made him miserable but he’d never complain. Because later, when they were camping out beneath the stars and an autumnal chill descended on them, Zayn and Harry were there to keep him warm.

He loved them. He loved Harry and he loved Zayn and he always had.

But what is a person to do when they come to love a best friend a little too much?

Let alone two?

+

He’d resigned to keep his mouth shut and maybe they would all move on.

Monday came around. Harry worked his part-time job at the bakery after school, so Louis and Zayn typically kept each other company until he could join them. But it was tense on the drive to Louis’, tense as Zayn stepped into his empty house, tense most of all when they were seated in Louis’ bedroom.

Louis plugged his phone into his speakers and the music helped a little. Zayn shoved the window open and took a seat on the sill, looking heartbreakingly beautiful with the afternoon sun lighting his face the way it did.

He pulled the blunt from his pocket.

Louis kicked off his shoes and joined Zayn over by the window with two cans of Coke he’d snagged from the kitchen.

Zayn tucked the blunt between his lips, and Louis tried not to stare when the flame made his brown eyes glow. He took the proffered blunt and inhaled deeply.

“Did you hear he came out with a new song?” Zayn asked.

“Kanye?”

“Yeah, on Thursday.”

“Did you listen to it?”

“Yeah, it’s good,” Zayn said. “Sounds a bit old school. Like Golddigger.”

“Golddigger? Really?”

“Really.”

“Might’ve seen that coming.”

“It’s good,” Zayn said again. “Listen to it.”

“I’ll put it on now.”

“I like Harry.”

Louis almost missed it. He’d stood and now he’d stopped and now he was just staring at Zayn, waiting for him to say something more, because there had to be more. Surely, he was getting to the part that made Louis’ chest feel not so tight.

“I like him a lot,” Zayn said, which was worse.

Louis licked his lips. “You should tell him then,” he said, voice quiet.

Zayn put the blunt out. “Louis.”

“I mean it,” Louis said, cutting him off. “If I were you, I’d just tell him.”

Which was a lie because Louis was Zayn in the sense that he liked Harry too, but he hadn’t told him yet. He wasn’t sure he ever could. Because then what would he say to Zayn who he liked just as much.

“Lou.”

“I’m sure he likes you too,” Louis added.

Zayn took Louis’ hand in his own and tugged him closer, resting his head against Louis’ stomach. His face was hidden away, but Louis still heard him clearly.

“I like you too, though,” he said. He lifted his head, meeting Louis’ eyes. “I think about you both all the time. It's always been both of you.”

Louis blinked rapidly, like his heart thudding in his chest. His cheeks felt warm. His palm was sweating against Zayn’s own. The relief overwhelmed him, so that he was sinking down beside Zayn again, exhaling. He looked at Zayn, at his mouth, at his earnest eyes. And he loved looking at him the way he loved looking at the stars. He loved how Zayn confounded him and amazed him at the same time.

Louis threaded their fingers together and leaned across the space of the window, moving in the bright, blinding sheet of sunlight, and kissed him.

“Me too,” Louis said, pushing a lock of dark hair behind Zayn’s ear.

“You too what?”

“I like you both,” Louis said.

Zayn exhaled. “What the fuck do we do now?” he asked, helplessly.

“I don’t know,” Louis said. He wanted to kiss him again, but that obviously wasn’t a solution. “Maybe the three of us can talk. We should just talk to Harry.”

“About?”

They looked and there Harry was, swatting at the air dramatically. “Hope you’ve got some left,” he muttered.

He must have used the key Louis’ mum hid for emergencies. And maybe they were high enough that they’d missed his footsteps on the stairs. When Harry looked at them, the smile he wore was curious. But it dissipated as his eyes fell on their hands linked between them and their flushed cheeks. A conclusion built quickly in his head, but it was definitely the wrong one. “Oh.”

“Harry,” Louis said, just as Harry reached for the door knob. Zayn followed him, and together, they caged Harry in by the door. “We need to talk.”

“This is a bit dramatic, isn’t it?” Harry said, looking anywhere but at them. “You don’t have to make a big announcement about it. I’m happy for you. Of course I’d be--”

“Harry, shut up a minute, yeah?” Zayn said.

Harry fell silent, glancing at him, warily.

Louis didn’t even know where to start. He didn’t know how to explain. He worried a verbal explanation wouldn’t suffice. That Harry would just think they were pitying him.

And so he lifted his hands to Harry’s face and pulled him in for a kiss. He kissed him so as to leave no room for misunderstanding, no room for pity or doubt. When he broke away, Harry nibbled his bottom lip, looking doe-eyed and dazed. He glanced in Zayn’s direction and on cue, Zayn stepped close and kissed him, cupping the back of his neck. Louis watched them, feeling giddy.

“Is this your way of saying you want to have a threesome again?” Harry asked when they parted.

“Kind of but not really,” Louis said. “It’s not just about the sex.”

Harry pushed his hand through his hair. “I don’t understand.”

“You have feelings for Zayn,” Louis said.

Harry glanced again at Zayn. Clearly, he couldn’t deny it. “Louis—” he began.

“It’s okay,” Louis said. “You have feelings for me too?”

Harry dragged a hand down his face. He sighed. “Yes. For both of you,” he said. “But it doesn’t have to be a big deal. What happened over the weekend— We don’t have to make a big deal of any of this.”

“It’s not a big deal,” Zayn said. “Not if we all feel the same thing.”

“Which we do,” Louis concluded.

“Wait, what?” Harry’s gaze shifted between them both. “Are you saying we’ve all got a crush on each other?”

“A little more than a crush,” Zayn murmured, looking offended. He was always too sensitive. “I haven’t felt this way about anyone else before, so.”

Harry looked at him, lips curving. “You’re cute,” he said.

“Very,” Louis agreed.

“Shut up,” Zayn grumbled. “I’m being serious.”

“It’s more than a crush for me too,” Louis said. He knew what it was. He knew the word. He just didn’t know if now was the right time to use it.

Harry smiled. Louis waited for him to say something equally heartfelt. He, of course, surprised them both. “I think we should have another threesome now.”

And then he dragged them both toward Louis’ mattress.

+

Some hours later, the three of them lay sleepy, sated, and curled around each other.

“You two look like angels,” Harry reported, his arm propped up, his head resting in his palm.

“You’re only saying that ‘cause we got each other off,” Louis said. “Give it an hour and you’ll take it back.”

“Speak for yourself,” Zayn mumbled, his face half-buried in his pillow. He looked at them with a lopsided smirk. “I’m always an angel.”

“You farted in your sleep,” Louis countered.

Zayn knocked his hip against Louis’, which wasn’t weird at all even though they weren’t wearing pants. “Shut up, tosser.”

Louis smiled, shooting him a wink. Harry flopped into the space between them, his dick grazing up on Louis’ thigh. They were silent for a bit, staring at each other or staring at the ceiling.

“We should really talk about all this,” Louis said after a moment.

Zayn repositioned himself, resting his head against Harry’s chest.

“Where do we start?” Harry asked, running his fingers through Zayn’s hair. He pressed his mouth against Zayn’s temple. Louis could get used to seeing them like this.

“Sex, probably,” Louis said.

Zayn laughed softly. “Figures.”

Louis flicked him in the cheek. “Okay. I’ll admit I’ll be jealous if you two shag while I’m not around, but I’d get over it.”

Harry and Zayn looked at each other, and then they laughed. And laughed. And when Louis grumbled and attempted to leave the bed, the latched onto him. And held him close.

“You could always just join in,” Harry said. “If you were to walk in on me and Zayn?”

“Well, I don’t think like being left out,” Louis said.

He could feel Zayn’s mouth curve into a smile. “We know that.”

“No matter what happens, we’ll be best mates first, yeah?” Louis murmured, cocooned in Harry and Zayn’s arms.

“Of course,” Zayn said. “Always.”

In the quiet that followed, Louis started to doze off, oddly eager about sleeping with his boys spooning him. His family was due home in thirty minutes, which left some time for a quick nap—

“Are you both my boyfriends now?” Harry blurted.

Louis looked at him. Zayn lifted his head and did the same.

“‘Cause I think I’d like to have two boyfriends,” Harry finished. “I’ll get you T-shirts, even. Boyfriend 1 and Boyfriend 2.”

Louis’ brows wrinkled. “I’m Boyfriend 1, though, right?”

“Why should you be?” Zayn said. “I kissed Harry first.”m

“But I’m the oldest,” Louis replied.

Zayn snorted. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Boys,” Harry chided, sagely. “I cherish all my boyfriends equally.”

“Shut up, Harry,” Zayn said. “You’ve only got two.”