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Harry is terrified.

It’s not even a hyperbole: he’s sitting alone in the biggest classroom he has ever seen, fidgeting his leg and trying to look at least a little bit less intimidated than how he feels. He had to sit in the back, because even though he studied the campus map the day before he ended up in the wrong building, which wasn’t the best for his ‘first day at Uni’ kind of anxiety.

The first University class of his life is something about the Literature and the Theatre in the Elizabethan Era (fancy way to say Shakespeare), and Harry chose it just because he felt like he needed some stability and routine before launching himself in his real, academic path, and English literature was one of his favourite subjects in high school. Or, to be more honest, because Harry hadn’t thought about his ‘real academic path’ just yet: maybe business, maybe law, maybe something with medicine? He didn’t know, and having a lot of interests and being good (or tolerable) at all of them had to reveal to be more annoying than gratifying, and really difficult to make such an important decision.

So here he was, sitting in the back of the classroom with all the students who didn’t really want to attend but had to, secretly hoping that the professor won’t mind that, because his urge to be always liked is very, very strong.

He’s been tapping his foot since he sat down five minutes ago, trying to do it as quietly as humanly possible, because he has to burn some of his nervousness.

Looking around him, little groups seem to have formed already, each one formed by few people talking animatedly. Harry doesn’t feel jealous very often, but there’s a pang in his chest now, next to the anticipation towards the class: he’s nervous as a state of being and even in a relaxed moment he would have some difficulty in making small talks, but now, on the first day of Uni (where he was late), it would be impossible for him. That’s a pity, because he would really use some conversation to soothe his nerves.

The guys sitting around him are looking at their phones, oblivious of the turmoil in Harry’s mind: it’s not like he can interrupt someone from their scrolling (and then not knowing what to say), nor introducing himself to a group (and have their attention just on him, and then not knowing what to say).

“First year, innit?” a voice drags him out of his thoughts: he turns so rapidly that he manages to bump his knee onto the table. Luckily, he can mask his wince before smiling to the stranger, who appears to be a lot cuter than he expected (and now Harry feels a bit in a rom-com and a bit like the Universe is having a joke on him).

“Am I that obvious?” Harry asks, hoping to sound a more confident that what he feels. He’s pretty sure he failed.

The guy who is sitting next to him it’s his polar opposite: he’s dressed in a casual way (a printed t-shirt and jeans with sneakers, versus his own button down and best pair of brown boots) and in front of him has just a pen and a couple of pieces of paper. Harry feels suddenly a bit ridiculous about his four different highlighters and his 5-pound notebook. That was very extra, even for him.

He must be one of the scrolling-through-their-phone guys, but apparently, unlikely Harry, he has no problem at all to start a conversation with a stranger. Bless him.

The boy has a kind expression when he replies “Just worried you’ll make a hole in the ground with your tapping, mate” in a teasing tone that makes Harry feel hot all over. The point is that he’s terrified (did he said this already?) and now a very cute stranger with a soft, velvety voice and a thick northern accent is teasing him, and he can’t make out how serious he’s being.

“I’m sorry, I’ll stop, it’s just… yeah, it’s my first day” he forces himself to stop his foot, and immediately feels that energy being transferred to his hands, which start to twiddle with a pen.

The expression on Cute Stranger’s face mollified instantly, his grin turns more into a smiling; he swipes his caramel fringe, giving to Harry a better view of his blue, blue, eyes; he also notices how nice his hands are, and how much he gesticulates with them every time he says something. He has sun-kissed, golden skin, sharp features and high cheekbones but soft-looking lips.

This boy is already too much for him, because his eyes are so blue, and now he’s looking at him with entertainment and affection, almost, and Harry is lost, and this is the first human contact he had since he said goodbye to his mom a few days before so maybe he’s allowed to be this stiff with human interactions (he’s not).

“Well, you can relax for this class: I already took it last year, and the professor is really laid out: you just have to use some of her quotes on the exam and you’re done, really.”

“If the exam is so easy then why it’s your second time in this course?” Harry hears himself blurt out before he can stop himself. “I’m sorry that’s rude, I didn’t want to-” he is cut off by the other boy’s laugh, which is just musical and lovely just like him (is he in too deep already?). His eyes are squinted and his expression is amused and not at all offended. Harry feels relieved.

“Wow, you really have to chill out mate,” he says “Maybe we should start simple: hi, my name is Louis, and I study drama. What about you?” he asks while gesturing himself with his right hand.

Moving his arm, he exposes the internal part of it, making Harry sees the tattoos he has: they’re a few and he can’t figure out most of them. His eyes glint like this is the funniest thing of his week, but Harry can only think about how perfect the name Louis is for this boy, who’s just so pretty and has what seems a bunch of doodles on himself.

“Hi, I’m Harry and usually my speaking skills are a lot better than this.” That’s a lie “I haven’t decided yet what to major in, so I’m having all the basic courses in this semester.” He’s starting to feel better, less awkward, now that he has seen that Louis’ teasing tone is not used against him; he leans back on his chair, noticing that he stopped twiddling with the pen at some point.

“That’s a solid plan, Harry; just don’t choose absurd difficult exams just to ditch the subject later and you’ll be okay. And, just so you know, drama is always waiting for more students with its arms open” he says with a wink. A wink. Harry is gone.

“That would be nice, but I don’t think I would have a big stage presence” Harry replays, with just a tiny amount of self-deprecating humour: the amount that makes people laugh but not uncomfortable, you know?

Louis clicks back in his chair with fake shock written all over his face, and with the most dramatic tone Harry’s ever heard says:

“Harry! Don’t put yourself down like this!”

At that, Harry starts giggling with a hand pressed on his mouth: when he sees that a couple of bored students have looked up from their phones he immediately stops, but still feels warm his in chest. It’s 9.07 in the morning, and he just discovered that Louis is ridiculous.

Louis isn’t done, too.

“Hey!” he reiterates “I was serious, you never know.”

“Nah,” Harry says, casually “I know I’m not fit for theatre. Too much pressure, you know? Too much feedback, both if you’re a screenwriter, an actor, or a scenographer-”

“Scenographers are visual artists”

“-or whatever”

“Or whatever, yeah, you could get a degree in that.”

“Yeah, and it would be better than drama!” Harry giggles some more; being nervous always made him laugh too much “What if someone comes to you and says ‘hey, what you wrote sucks’? Like, I would cry. I could cry now just thinking about it.”

“Aw” Louis tilts his head, but there isn’t anything mean in his voice. “But what if what you wrote was important and meaningful for you? Isn’t that more important than some dickhead’s unsolicited opinion?”

And damn, he’s totally serious. This conversation took a sharp turn for being a morning chat. He’s looking at Harry with pure curiosity of what Harry will say, and well, he didn’t expect this.

“Well,” Harry starts with nothing in mind. He pauses. He’s not sure of what he could say: would he write even if he was told that he wasn’t good? Probably not. But is writing his life? Also not.

Louis hasn’t withdrawn his question, so Harry knows he still wants the answer, even if the pause is getting long.

“I don’t know” he decides to settle down for honesty “But I think I would stop writing if I would keep hearing that, even if it sounds tragic. Like, I don’t deal with pressure well” he shrugs casually, but he can see that Louis’ turned serious.

Not uncomfortable, just serious.

“You shouldn’t.” he looks pensive, his eyebrows slightly frowning “People will always have opinions, even shitty ones. Pleasing everybody is impossible, so just think about yourself, you know?” saying this, he had come nearer Harry again, with his left elbow resting on top of the chair.

“Yeah but-”

“No buts! Have fun! Be a mess!” he adds smiling, throwing his hands in the air.

“Why no butts? I like those” he can’t believe the words that come out of his mouth, but when he sees Louis giggling he relaxes once again.

It’s weird for multiple reasons, because they’ve been knowing each other for like four minutes, and Harry already feels that the perpetual nervousness he has in his chest dimmed a little: that never happens, but Louis is so sunny and friendly that he feels nearly comfortable now.

“Butts are nice, true, and you know what else is? Doing what you like! Exploring your passions!”

“Man,” Harry interrupts him “I’m literally doing random courses because I don’t even know what I like. I’m a lost cause.”

“That’s- okay, no” Louis is sitting straight again. How can he be like this, has he drunk two litres of Red Bull for breakfast? It’s Monday morning, “I take that as a personal call. We’ll find your way.”

He’s nodding to himself like a pact that has already been ratified, but before Harry can protest he hears the professor entering the room. Unwillingly, he has to take his eyes off Louis and turns to face the teacher. The woman has, in Harry’s opinion, a lot of red lipstick for a lady of her age; this could be her way to look more like Elizabeth I, he thinks a moment later.

“I’ll talk to you later” he whispers to Louis.

“Oh, I sure hope so” Louis replies with his usual amount of teasing, but now Harry is relaxed enough to understand that he’s not making fun of him, and starts to listen to the lesson with a smile on his face.

 

Harry waits for the end of the class with trepidation: it’s not nearly enough interesting to make him stop thinking about the boy on his left or what he said to him, or how nice he was. When it’s finally over, he wonders if it’s a bit desperate to immediately start talking to him again, but Louis beats him on time, saying: “She’s a bit old and her lipstick dreadful, yeah, but she’s a good teacher. Very passioned about the topic.”

“I always had the feeling that all the old ladies love Shakespeare a bit too much… Not that he doesn’t deserve it!” he adds, when he sees the expression on Louis’ face change. He’s a theatre major, he thinks, just think about what he can do to you if you talk disrespectfully about Shakespeare “Just that they definitively all daydream about him, no doubt. And her lipstick is to look more like Elizabeth I, I’m sure” Louis giggles at that, and to Harry it feels like a small victory.

Also, he’s positive that no straight guy on the planet would comment a lipstick, and that feels like a big victory.

“So, do you know anyone around already?” Louis asks, casually; he gets up from the chair and takes his bag. Harry starts doing the same, placing delicately his items in his bag; Louis is shorter than him, and everything about him screams confidence: his stance, his loud voice, and the fact that he said to a stranger that he failed a course. Harry and his fear of appearing inferior to anybody could never.

“Umh, no, not yet. I didn’t even have the chance to meet my roommate yet, I just hope he’s nice.” Louis starts to leave the class and has Harry no option except to contently follow him; he can’t help but notice that Louis has the most beautiful butt he ever has seen: he wasn’t lying before, he does like a good butt.

They walk up to the classroom’s doors, and Louis keeps it open for him and then follows him out.

“Mh, yeah, but don’t worry if he’s a dickhead, roommate friendships can be overrated.”

Harry doesn’t know if he should ask him about his roommate or mind his business, so he just nods without saying anything. He starts picking at his nails again: silence kills him.

“What class do you have now?” Louis thankfully interrupts it: Harry lets his hands down and refocuses his attention on Louis, who’s still as casual as ever.

“Oh, emh” Harry quickly scans his mental agenda for the day “I have a break now, and in the afternoon I have Economics, I think? Yeah, that one.”

“Oh man,” Louis blurts “Really can’t help you with that, left math in my A levels.”

Harry shrugs, “Maybe I’ll leave it next week, who knows.”

“Harry!” Louis playfully hits him on the back. He’s so delicate he could be a fairy. Harry has no intention of ever saying that out loud.

“You’ll do great! Oh, regarding that, I’ll give you my number.” Harry nearly trips over his own feet, risking of falling on Louis. It can’t be this easy he thinks.

“You know” Louis continues as if he didn’t nearly kill Harry with a singular sentence “As your new, personal mental coach, I think it’s my duty to introduce you in this magical world that is University.” He walks in wide strides, with his chin up: he’s definitively the type of guy who would intimidate Harry too much to try to talk to.

But hey, Louis talked to him first, so that one problem is solved.

“What can I say? It would have been nice to have someone older than me when I came here: I didn’t know anybody as well, but I always have been very loud and I met a bunch of people really easily; also with the theatre is totally impossible to not befriend anyone. Still, having someone who knows all the dirt on the professors and where is the best coffee on campus would have been very useful.” He smirks like to emphasizes that part, and then adds: “So, you know, if you have any stressful struggles, or can’t find a place where to study ‘cause your roommate is a heavy metal fan, you can ask me. I already have been here for two years.”

Louis is saying all this as if it’s completely normal and ordinary to be this kind and selfless, and Harry can’t believe it: he mentally thanks the Universe for such a gift to the humankind.

“That would be great, actually,” he says with his best smile, feeling both of dimples on display. “I would love to have the best University experience possible” he adds honestly. “Thank you so much for this, you really don’t have to do that, you’re, like, so kind.” He ends a bit lamely. He would say more but doesn’t want to scare Louis off.

To think about it, Louis just offered him his number and his help, so maybe he’s a weird one too.

“It’s a no problem, mate. Hey, let me know if your roommate is a dickhead!”

“I really hope not!” Harry hands his phone to Louis, taking in the scene before his eyes: Louis is standing with his weight on his left foot, his hip cocked to the side, giving him a splendid visual of his curves; when he’s done, he gives it back to Harry with a simple smile. Harry fights the urge to swoon.

“Thank you! By Louis, I’ll text you!”

“By Harold, have a nice first day” they separated before Harry can tell him that that’s not his name. As he watches him leave, Louis gets basically surrounded by people who greet him and hug him; Louis is smiling and talking, looking perfectly comfortable to have all their attention on himself; Harry knows he can’t just stay there and stare at him, so he leaves smilingly.

As soon as he turns the corner of the building, he barely contains a happy dance. This is going to be a great year.

 

~*~

 

 Heading back to his dorm, Harry realizes that his private bathroom in his own room is too distant, so he sneaks into the communal ones that are at the beginning of the corridors in the accommodation building. He founds the bathroom stalls surprisingly clean and totally empty. I really hope they’ll continue to be like this, he wishes in his head especially when it’s not the first week anymore or there are finals and people forget to act like civilized humans.

When he’s done he goes washing his hands, but mid soaping he hears something.

It sounds like a voice singing from the showers’ aisle but he can’t be too sure, as the noise of the water is louder and the door of the aisle is closed. He quickly rinses his hands, closes the faucet and without worrying about draining them gets closer to the singing voice.

It sounds like a man singing something he can’t completely figure out, but, for what he can hear, this voice is angelic to the least. He doesn’t know what he’s doing, but he loves to sing as well, and he can recognize a talent when he hears one.  Suddenly he can’t bear the thought of going away without letting know to this stranger that he has the most amazing voice he has ever heard in person.

The water stops but the voice doesn’t, and Harry now can hear a little better what he’s singing:

“…deep in this fountain
Pull me to the surface
No way I deserve this
Sweet like that sugar cane
I'm so glad that you came
No clouds in my sky
Cause she bring that sunshine”

Harry’s sure to have heard this song before, but doesn’t remember where, or when, or the title of it; however, the man in the shower had stopped, so Harry thinks this is the best moment to scream:

“Hey man! You have a beautiful voice! Congratulations!” he wouldn’t have done anything some mere hours ago but meeting such a charming and sweet boy changed quickly his way to look at things: Louis gave him his number out of pure kindness (and Harry also hope for his looks), Harry can give a stranger a compliment. Be kind, hell yeah, he feels full of passion for life in this moment.

He hears the voice bark a laugh and the shower door opening: Harry can’t see him from where he’s standing, but he hopes that the guy will exit soon so he can pay him some more compliments. He can’t believe himself: he’s still riding the hype of meeting Louis, and he’s pretty sure that if this happened in the afternoon he wouldn’t have waited for him.

“Thank you so much, man. Means a lot” There’s the sound of fumbling towels and something hit the floor, followed by a curse said in low voice.

The door that separates the two finally open, and Harry, full of this fervour he feels, starts rambling:

“I’m sorry I waited for you, I hope you won’t mind, but I was washing my hands when I heard you, and you sound so good, like professional good, and I couldn’t go away without telling you, you know?” in the middle of this rush, he realises that he’s suddenly nervous again: now that he can see the guy his heartbeat has speed up and he’s starting to regret this already.

Well, it makes sense: it’s not like he meets one nice guy and his lifelong nervousness is cured forever.

The guy listens to him politely, with his bag on a shoulder and a sincere smile on his face. He has brown, warm eyes, broad shoulders, a very defined jaw with a good of stubble and an open face; to be honest everything about him seems warm: the expression, the smile, the easiness with which he’s listening to the fast speech Harry just gave him.

“Don’t worry man, I don’t mind it at all: I find flattering that you waited for me, to be honest,” he assured him; his voice is also warm. I want an hour-long cuddle session with this man, I think it could solve all my problems. Harry mentally smacks himself for having such weird thoughts.

“I’m Harry, and you have to tell me what songs you were singing, because it sounds so good, and also because I think I’ve already heard it but can’t recall it,” he says with a tentative smile: this guy sends a calm, peaceful vibe, like the stereotype of the word yoga. He notices that his heartbeat has calmed a little, but he still feels like he wants to flee the scene as soon as possible (and then regretting it when he’s in his dorm alone).

The guy seems as happy about life as Harry feels and thankfully unaware of his struggle: his smile gets wider as he listens to what Harry told him, and he replays with enthusiasm:

“I’m Liam, and the song is called Cherry Cola”

“Cherry Cola? It’s so weird, I don’t think I’ve ever heard this name.”

“No? I’m sure you heard the song somewhere during last summer, it became very popular.”

“Yeah, I’ll listen to it on YouTube or something later.” He adds awkwardly; maybe from an outside view this interaction it’s not that bad, but Harry doesn’t feel at that top of his game right now: his Louis related enthusiasm put him a little outside his comfort zone and he doesn’t know how to deal with it.

Liam eyes the bathroom door and Harry knows that he needs to get out of here and go to his dorm, and honestly he can’t blame him, but instead of relief he feels nearly sad: he desperately needs some friends and Liam seems really nice. He doesn’t really want to say goodbye yet but has no idea of how he can keep up the conversation.

“Well,” Liam says, adjusting his bag on his shoulder “it was nice to meet you, mate, but I have to drop this in my dorm.” He flashes an apologetic but sincere smile at Harry and moves to the bathroom’s door, leaving it open for Harry.

“I like to sing as well.” Who knew desperation had its own voice and could talk without Harry’s permission? Oh god, this is so awkward. He feels himself getting red and curses himself: he sounds like a five-years-old talking about trains.

Liam looks interdicted, but not as much as Harry had feared, and probably more because he’s outside the room, keeping the door open for Harry who’s still inside. When Harry finally catches up he hurries up and exits the room.

“Yeah? That’s nice, what do you like to sing?” Liam, for his part, doesn’t look bothered at all, still breezy. Harry doesn’t understand if he’s really that chilled or if he’s saving Harry from his embarrassment: either way, he’s grateful.

“A bit of everything, really.” He’s ready to elaborate, but it takes just a couple of steps to make both of them realise that they’re going in the same direction.

“Hey!” Liam says with glee “Do we have dorms in the same wing?” he seems excited about it, which makes Harry feel a dozen times better.

“Yeah, just mine is upstairs.” He replays, equally excited.

“Oooh, you got one of the posh ones?” Liam asks with curiosity.

“I mean, I guess? I do have a toilet in mine.” It’s weird, but he worries about if it is rude to say a lot less than what he had anticipated. Liam simply giggles at that.

“Yeah, it must be nice to have a shower without parading in the corridors after.” He says with fake annoyance, not looking bothered at all.“Hey, let’s go in my dorm for a moment.” At Harry’s perplexed expression he elaborates: “So I can drop this off and we can keep chat.”

“Oh, yeah! Of course.” Harry smiles and follows him down the corridor. Today he’s lucky enough to keep meeting kind strangers who are so much better than him with social interaction.

Feeling like he has to fill all the silences, Harry starts telling Liam about his plan of experimenting with courses and subject before deciding his major, appreciating how the other boy seems interested; he agrees with it, telling Harry that Uni is about understanding a lot of things about yourself.

Everything about Liam seems so gentle, and he appears to be agreeable without being passive; this feels unexpectedly a lot like the start of something good.

He seems always so sincere for someone who Harry met just some minutes ago, but it’s probably just how he is: fuelled with good intentions and words. Then Harry discovers that Liam is studying civil engineering: at his amazed (and shocked) stare, he just giggles like it’s a silly thing, and not a very impressive major.

“You make it seem a bigger deal than what is it… It’s just a lot of physics and a bit of math.” Yeah, surely Harry’s exaggerating, is not a big deal at all “It’s very logical and structured, and I love that about it. But I want to do something more exciting as a job, like building stadiums, maybe? That would be very cool.”

They keep chatting as they enter in Liam’s dorm: Liam’s roommate is not there, but he’s not surprised as he has no idea of his schedule yet. It is a bit smaller than Harry’s, and it’s still mostly empty with blank walls and bare beds.

Harry loves this part of new things: when they’re still naked and unexpressed, and anything could be done to it: and then, little by little, the spirit of who lives in there starts to appear in every part of it, showing the true colours of the owner in ways they probably couldn’t even say out loud. Harry cherish how many things in life are just like this: your house, but also your clothing, the art you create and your own skin; how amazing it is that we all born naked and then we start having scars, moles, birthmarks, tattoos? He’s so fond of it.

“You can sit wherever you want,” Liam says gesturing the empty room; he drops his bag on a chair and open his almost empty closet.

Harry just leans on a wall, looking at him.

“So I was thinking” Liam continues, starting to sort his clothes and putting them randomly in the closet “what are your thoughts on a karaoke bar? Since we both like to sing and all that?”

For the second time in the span of few hours Harry nearly trips on himself, and this time he’s not even moving.

“Going to a karaoke bar?” he croaks out. It’s the most endearing thing he’s heard all week: making plans with an almost stranger for karaoke. “Man, I would love that. I’ve never been into one, are they even a thing?”

He’s also aware of the fact that he’s not chill enough to go to one and just enjoy himself, but he knows that a couple of cocktails beforehand could be useful: the idea of it it’s just too funny to skip and this is exactly the kind of thing he knows he should do to grow a bit out of his shell.

“I don’t know,” Liam shrugs “but when can look for one. We’re in a big city, we’ll find something.”

Harry adores how rational the world probably is through Liam’s eyes: the bar? Not a problem, they can just search for it. Engineering? Logical and reasonable. They seem opposite and Liam’s easiness makes Harry feel like maybe life is not that complicated.

“I really hope so, that would be cool right? I would feel like I’m on Friends.

“Do they ever go in a karaoke place in Friends?” Liam asks, turning his head to Harry, revealing a confused expression.

“I don’t know!” Harry does a weird gesture with his hands out of excitement “But it would be just like in movies! Do you have a ‘go-to song’ that you would like to perform?” what can he say, he’s buzzing at the idea of a karaoke night.

“I don’t know, to be honest. I think whatever I’m obsessed in the moment would be right, you know?” he takes a pair of joggers from his bag, stares at them for a second, and then throws them in the closet. “I listen to a lot of different genres and I often become obsessed about different songs. But whatever is it, I want to perform it well, you know?”

“Yes! I have a bit of a competitive streak, so if I’m doing something I want to do it well.”

“Same here, man. So, what about your song?”

“I’m not sure, but when I’m under the shower I love to sing Endless Love by Diana and Lionel.”

Liam lets a soft, appreciative whistle at that. “That’s a tough one, also a very romantic. You have someone to dedicate it?” he’s very curious, in a polite way.

Harry doesn’t think he’s hitting on him: he feels strong straight vibes (he could be wrong though, he’s not very good at that). At the possibility of talking about Louis, Harry feels all the butterflies he had calmed down exploding his stomach; before he can help it, he has a huge smile on his face and feels his cheeks heating up a bit.

“You do? You doooo!!” Liam sing-songs at him with glee.

“I mean, not yet” it’s an excessive hopeful statement, but Harry doesn’t care.

“Tell me!” Liam’s enthusiasm for him contagious, and Harry feel over-excited.

“It’s just, today I met such a gorgeous guy, you know? I’m not even exaggerating, we talked and I couldn’t stop to stare at him while asking myself, it’s this the real life? And it’s not just that, he offered me his number because he’s older and thought that could be nice for me to have someone who already knows his way around campus. I mean, who does that? I’m hoping he did it because he may be a bit interested in me, but I’m not sure ‘cause I didn’t talk much. He was so beautiful and kind and I’m afraid I’m already too gone but I’m too happy to care.”

It's not just that he was beautiful, he wants to add, it’s that I felt calm like never before, and I think he could be my soulmate, my anchor, because he never felt like that and it must mean something, but it could be too much.

He says all this without breathing once: in all this ramble, he momentarily forgot that not everyone is happy and chill about gay people (especially gay guys that started talking to you in a bathroom and now are in your room), but he nearly feels bad to have thought something like that when Liam promptly responds:

Oh my gosh! But he seems so lovely! I’m so happy for you man! And listen, he surely likes you as well, one does not go around giving his number to all the first year he meets, c’mon. What is his name?” Liam has got near Harry as if the excitement of the news was too much to have while distant from him. He’s looking at him with sparkly eyes and Harry remembers that once his sister Gemma told him, ‘friends should have the same energy as you in happy news’; it strangely doesn’t feel like is too soon to call Liam his friend.

“You really think so? Thank you! His name is Louis. It’s lovely, right?” Harry beams, feeling giddy with happiness.

“It really is. Listen, we have to celebrate.”

“Wha- Liam, really? I mean, absolutely! But really?”

Liam just shrugs. “Why not? To karaoke and to your crush.”

“To singing under the shower and to stadiums! Yes! Let’s go grab some lunch and let’s start planning our karaoke night.”

“After you.” Liam says with an excited grin, and gesture Harry to exit the room.

 

~*~

 

 So, meeting Liam was a total success.

They got lunch together and managed to talk no-stop for two hours about absolutely anything that crossed their mind. Harry never meet someone before who was just so genuinely good-hearted: when Harry said something along the lines of being unsure about his future Liam reassured him instantly and changed the conversation before it got awkward; but he also discovered, to his delight, that Liam was quick-witted and the more they stayed together, the more they bantered.

Meeting his roommate was another kind of discourse.

After his Economics class he went back to his dorm to find a cloud of perfume attached to a guy named Chris. He wasn’t that bad, but he was more of a laddy-bro kind of guy than the standard Harry’s friend: this alone wasn’t enough to criticize him, but he also seemed a bit too snob for Harry’s taste. Like, yes, they were in one of the most expensive dorms, but it’s not like they could go over and criticize other people’s appearance or their taste in clothing now, can they? (Chris felt like he could).

He also seems narrow minded, but that could be just Harry’s paranoia speaking, so he decided to just mind his own business about that.

In other words, not terrible, but not ideal either, especially after such a good day.

In all this happening, Harry hasn’t stopped for one second about what to text to Louis: he doesn’t want to seem desperate and texts him after so little time, but Louis told him clearly to inform him about his roommate so…

Harry sighs, examining his baggage with all his clothing and belongings still inside: he decides to write to Louis and sorting his stuff while he attends his response.

Hi Louis! I haven’t won the roommate jackpot but he’s not terrible either. But!! I did meet a guy singing in the toilettes and befriend him, so I think the day went really well :)

He throws the phone on the bed with a small groan and starts to arrange his jeans, with the thought he maybe was too dull and not interesting enough. He quickly goes to his luggage to distract himself, but as he’s placing just his fourth pair, he hears the sound of the notification: he throws the jeans on the shelf and hurries to get the phone. Like a heaven-sent, he sees the Louis (: on his screen; the message reads:

If this is Harry, I want more details on the man singing in the toilettes. However, if for some reason this is not Harry… please keep me update anyway, I’m curious

Harry knows he’s a bit dramatic, but for one moment the embarrassment is so big he wants to launch himself into the sun. He takes a breath, noticing that Louis is online, and decides to reply instantly: he has the blue checkmarks on, it wouldn’t make sense to wait.

Yes this is Harry! The singing man goes by Liam and he’s soooo good!!

I got this feeling that stopping random men in bathrooms is not a news for you

Harry hasn’t any ideas of how to interpret that text; he stares at the screen for few seconds, and then replays:

I’m just charming that way ;)

Sitting on his bed while tiding his room and having heart palpitations because he’s texting a boy sounds anything but charming, but he can lie to himself as much as he pleases.

Aha! I bet
Meeting singing strangers in the bathroom is uni 101
But actually talking to them?
Just you :)

Oh no, is he flirting? This looks like flirting to Harry. Is he biased? Probably.

But ugh, he even texts cutely. How is Harry supposed to survive this? (His flaming cheeks make him wonder that he won’t).

To the surprise of absolutely no one, he’s not very good at the texting game, that’s why after long seconds of staring at the ‘Just you :)’ on the screen the only thing he can type out is:

Ah! It’s just like that sometimes

Well, he knows how to kill a conversation, doesn’t he? He’s chewing his lip, already thinking the hundreds of other things he could have said. The screen remains still, with no activity on Louis’ behalf, making his heartbeat speed. But then, like a miracle, the magic word typing appears under Louis’ name.

Harry grips his phone harder.

So! How did your horrible math go?

Harry lets out a sigh of relief. Classes, he can talk about classes: that’s neutral territory. He’s not sure whether or not be glad to have moved to this boring topic, because yeah, it’s easier, but also it sounds formal and superficial. After another couple of texts Louis tells him that he has to go, so they say goodbye and their conversation ends there.

When Harry blocks his phone he’s greeted by his own image reflected in the black screen: his hair is stacked up because of how many times he had run his hands through it in a nervous manner, his eyes are wide open and they reflect so well how shocked but happy he is.

He had never felt so nervous around someone but not afraid at the same time: his suffocating shyness had always forced him to make not many friends and just a handful of acquaintances, even before that all that mess in high school happened.

He shrugs, not wanting to think about it: he’s happy now, he had a great day and met two nice guys. That’s enough for him to stop whining about how he spent the last couple of years of his life.

He had never felt something like this before: he had known Louis just for some hours, but the genuine happiness he had give to him was as first; and more importantly, he had felt calm with him, which never happened to him with strangers: that makes him intrigued and eager to see him again.

With a sincere smile he starts tiding his room again, already impatient for Thursday morning.

 

~*~

 

On Thursday morning it took Harry nearly an hour to get ready for his classrooms; it may be a little excessive, but he really wants to make a good second impression, given the fact that Louis now actually knows him a little bit.

He’s eager to see him again: they have texted every now and then in those two days, but not much and nothing important, just Louis checking on him about the lessons and asking if he met someone else in the toilettes. Even if he was reassured by Liam, Harry hadn’t started a single conversation with Louis, not wanting to overstep or annoying him (“he gave you his number explicitly so you could text him, do you remember that?” was something he has heard a couple of times in these days).

When he arrives in the class (without getting lost this time) he’s slightly early and notices with a bit of disappointment that Louis isn’t there yet; he sits in the back, carefully choosing somewhere with enough empty chairs around him, and starts arranging his pens and notebook on the table.

“Heya!” he hears Louis’ loud voice; he raises his head and smiles when he sees that the greeting was for him and that Louis is walking in his direction with a grin; he’s wearing a hoodie that is a bit too big on him even though it’s not that cold outside, but Harry can’t really complain because Louis looks so cuddly like this: everything about him seems soft. When he arrives near Harry he plops in the chair next to him and lets his bag hit the floor, unconcerned about it.

“Good morning.” Harry says with his dimples out: he always had nice compliments about them and secretly hopes he can allure Louis in with them.

“Good morning to you, talent scout: did you discovered anyone else this morning?” Louis ask him in a fake serious tone, but the glint in his eyes gives him away a little bit; he’s sitting with his body turned in Harry’s way, slightly slumped and with his legs lightly spread: he looks like he has no care in the world, and Harry can feel his confidence radiate from him like an aura.

The room’s windows are behind him, and the morning light lights up his hair like a halo.

“No, I didn’t, but I had a conference call with Sony before coming here, I’m trying to get Liam signed up.” He says placidly; he likes banter, he can do this.

“Well that’s too bad; maybe you should consider that as your major”

“’Stopping random dudes in toilettes’? Yeah, it sounds ridiculously similar to ‘have a restraining order’.”

“Yeah but you seemed to have charmed this Liam, isn’t that enough?”

“I think I did,” Harry lights up while saying this “Hey! Have I told you that he proposed a karaoke night? Isn’t that bonkers?” the excitement of the news makes him squirm in his chair with the biggest grin: he still can’t believe that happened.

Louis, on the other hand, stares at him for a bit, opening his mouth without saying anything; when Harry finishes talking he remains still for another moment, and then he simply says:

“What?” his eyes are lighten up, like he’s so ready to be entertained by what Harry will say.

“Oh! I haven’t?” Harry fakes being confused about it when he knows exactly why he didn’t: he didn’t even have the courage to texts Louis first, how could he randomly go ‘hey, I’m going to a karaoke night’? What if Louis had replayed ‘who cares’? He doesn’t look like the type of person who would do something like that, but Harry’s too coy to try.

“He was singing, right? So I said ‘hey, I like to sing as well’, and he said ‘well let’s go to a karaoke’, like, isn’t it insane?” the bar of what Harry finds insane is very low “Now we just have to find one.”

“I see how it is” Louis sniffs, his face theatrically sad “You meet a guy in a bathroom and forget about me.” He turns away from Harry “It’s ok, I’m ok” he puts a hand on his face to stop Harry for looking at him.

“Oh no Louis, I could never forget you” Harry places a hand on his heart. No one, except him, will know how serious he is. Louis seems to appreciate Harry’s dramatic response and turns back to him, not completely sober up yet.

“I thought we had something” he reiterates “I’m your mental coach-”

“-Are you?”

“I absolutely am, I take great offense that you didn’t come to me for personal advice about karaoke, that’s my expertise.”

Louis’ so serious that for a moment Harry worries he’s upset for real; it takes him a moment and the reminder that he’s a drama major to understand that this amount of unnecessary drama is probably normal for him. Thankfully he got it quickly enough to respond and not let Louis know his confusion:

“Can you even sing?”

Louis’ outraged face is so exaggerated and hilarious that when Harry erupts in giggles he doesn’t even worry about his classmates.

“Harold-”

“Not my name!”

Harold, how dare you?”

“I don’t know! How am I supposed to know?” ‘Am I supposed to believe you’re perfect in everything you do? Because I already think that’ is what he thinks, but he has no intention to say that aloud.

“I’m a drama major! Of course I can sing!” his tone remains scandalized like Harry insulted him in the worst way possible.

“Oh,” Harry’s serious in a second “I hadn’t thought about that.”

He still wouldn’t have asked him, because again, he’s too shy for that, but the thought of Louis singing is already too much for him, and he had it for a split of a second.

It makes sense, it fits in Louis image so well: he probably has an angel voice, as pure, as pretty as he is; giving how melodious even just his speaking voice is, Harry knows that he would die if he hears it. He had never wanted something so much in his life.

The professor enters the room: they look briefly at her preparing her books for the lecture and then at each other; they still have some minutes for talking.

“Well, yeah,” Louis continues, oblivious to Harry’s struggles, “I can, and I’m offended.” His face tells the opposite now: he’s bright again.

“I didn’t want to disturb you” Harry says, feeling displeased.

Something sounded wrong to Louis and not in a joking matter, because he’s frowning now, and he’s serious.

“What do you mean, you didn’t want to disturb me? I gave you my number, didn’t I?” he looks a bit surprised and he’s sincere: Harry can’t believe he just made Louis frown because he’s incapable of having interactions like anyone of his age, and curses himself.

He hates not being perceptive and being too shy to try.

“I mean-” for some sort of grace, he’s interrupted by the greeting of the professor, signalling that the class is starting.

“Talk to you later?” he smiles.

“Yeah, of course.” Louis smiles back, frown forgotten.

 

“Well,” Louis’ out of his seat as soon as he hears the ‘have a nice day’ of the professor “Wanna grab a cup of tea?”

Harry swallows the never-ending surprise he feels every time he’s around Louis and simply nods, following him out of the class.

 

~*~

 

The best surprise in Harry’s life comes the morning after, while he’s arguing with Liam about whether is better to run or walk when it’s raining to get less wet possible: while Harry supports the theory that the answer is running (“you take less time to get where you want, of course it’s running”), Liam is totally sure that the answer is walking (“you’ll get hit by drops on your sides as well as the ones on your front if you run”), and, probably to confuse Harry, is talking about trajectories and vectors and other random words that are taught during engineering courses.

The only thing that makes them stop is Harry’s phone ringing loudly: with his eyes still on Liam he just says:

“Our conversation doesn’t end here.”

“Of course it won’t.” Liam fires back.                 

Harry rolls his eyes and takes his phone from his pocket, but when he gives it one look, he nearly drops it.

“Oh my god” he murmurs, bringing a hand over his mouth.

“Who’s that?” Liam has every right to be curious, but Harry can’t talk, so he just turns his phone towards him.

“Oh! It’s your boy!” he exclaims with the most enthusiastic voice Harry’s ever heard.

“He's not my boy” Harry replies, feeling high and distressed at the same time.

His hands shake. He’s still staring at the phone.

“Well? Aren’t you gonna answer that?” Liam is growing as anxious as him. “He’s gonna hang, you know?” he's already a tad hysterical.

If Harry’s wasn’t dying he would be curious to know how Liam can be when he’s the one receiving this type of calls.

“Would you shut up,” Harry whisper, answering the call at the same time. “Louis! Hiiii!” he exclaims with a cheery voice that’s just a bit over the top. Liam moves to be even nearer Harry: he looks like he wants to hear the conversation but doesn’t want to be rude at the same time. He remains still until Harry nods at him, and at that he places his head near Harry’s.

“Are you telling me to shut up? Where are your manners?” Louis’ voice his angelic even through the phone: Harry’s so, so whipped. Also if Louis doesn’t stop to tease him he’s going to do something stupid (or beautiful?) like falling in love, for example.

“I wasn’t talking to you,” he glares at Liam at the best he can “I was talking to Liam.”

“Oooh, he’s there with you?” he sounds so chill. Harry wonders what is like to be like that.

“Yeah, he’s here, isn’t he?” Harry hits him lightly with an elbow. Liam takes that as a prompt and says a loud “Hi!” into the phone.

Louis chuckles at that and Harry feels his heart melting.

“That’s actually quite fortunate.” Louis says, business tone regained. “I wanted to propose-”

“Who’s on the phone, Tommo?” a stranger’s voice interrupt Louis. It has a strong accent that Harry can’t place yet with so little words and seems very near Louis.

“That’s quite rude, don’t you think?” Louis’ voice comes muffled, like he put a hand on the microphone. “I’m talking to Harry.”

“Harry? Your new stray?” the voice continues, unperturbed.

“Hey! I’m not a stray!” Harry can’t help but yell, outraged. A stray? What does that mean? Is what Louis thinks of him?

The other guy must have heard him, because he starts laughing loudly: near him, Liam’s giggling as well. What a good friend. Harry hits him with the elbow again, harder this time.

“Look what you have done” an exasperated sigh arrives from the other end of the line “Niall. Apologise and be gentle, he’s shy.” Harry appalled by how easily Louis said that. There’s a shift and a new voice starts speaking:

“Harry! Don’t get offended by that,” the guy, Niall, is Irish. Harry would be delighted if he wasn’t offended, “It’s just that our Louis here likes to befriend people, you know?” a yelp comes from the phone, with other noises: it seems like they’re having a fight. “And loves to bring out the best in people, and adopt freshmen, and-”

“Oh, for the fuck’s sake” Louis snatches back his phone from Niall’s hands. “That’s it, that’s enough, Harry please delete what you heard, he made it sounds creepy as fuck.”

Sit on the bench, Harry is mortified. He’s not understanding what is happening between all of them: is Niall making fun of him? Has Louis considered him a charity, desperate case? Is that the only reason they have talked?

He wants to hang up so badly; also Liam, next to him, has quieted up. Is he thinking the same things? Harry can feel his cheeks flaming up, and turns slightly away from him, not wanting to be seen like this.

“So, Harry, I was saying,” Louis continues like nothing had happened.

“I’m not a stray and I don’t need to be adopted.” Harry’s voice doesn’t break and that’s a win, even if what he said was ridiculous. He’s offended for real.

“I know that, Niall’s a dickhead. What he meant is that I hang with a lot of people and he’s jealous because I can’t always be with just him.” Louis’ voice is soft and angelic again, airy like it’s all a joke to him. He must have moved because Harry can’t hear Niall in the background anymore.

Harry gets up from the bench and takes a couple of steps away from Liam. “I don’t want you to talk to me if you think I’m a charity case.” He’s so serious he doesn’t recognise his own voice.

Deep down he knows he shouldn’t react so strongly at some banter between friends, but he can’t help if he’s touchy about situations he can’t read well and a tad paranoid.

“Harry, what- no. Listen.” There are some noises and then the clear one of a door closing. “Niall was making fun of me, not you. I’m way too chatty and yeah, I love to help people, but that’s, like, that’s one of the fundamental things in my life.” Louis’ voice is serious, too.

“But that doesn’t mean that I don’t consider you my friend or that I have some Red Cross syndrome, I don’t know, but sure as hell I don’t consider you a charity case. You’re my friend, Harry, ok? I’m serious.” Louis sounds so honest and Harry is genuinely impressed by how simply but clearly he can say such things, with no embarrassment at all. Louis has his heart on his sleeves and wears it with pride.

He has so much to learn from him.

“Oh,” he gulps. “I’m sorry. I misunderstood.” That’s never a news. He feels like a child now, always so quick to think the worse of people’s opinion of him.

“You don’t have to apologise. You were offended and had every right to be. I hope we’re better now?” There’s a hint of a smile in his voice. Harry smiles as well.

“I mean, I overreact a bit.”

“I mean, maybe. But if you did maybe you a good reason to?” He’s hinting at something, Harry knows it, but he’s not having a heart-to-heart conversation on the phone with Liam four feet away from him, still waiting for the rest of the call.

“Maybe.” This moment feels so pure and intimate that Harry has to remain in it for a second more. “Yeah, we’re good.” He adds in the end.

“Oh, thank god.” He can feel Louis' smile getting bigger.

Harry walks back and sits again next to Liam, who throws a worried glance to him: Harry just shrugs and Liam relaxes again.

“Perfect!” Louis shrieks “Because I had a thing to announce! Which was the reason why I called you in the first place, before I was interrupted by my rude, rude friend.” He’s back on being as bright as before. “So! Put me on speaker please!”

Harry and Liam share a confused look before Harry does what he’s told.

“Go for it,” Harry is so curious he can’t wait for another second.

“Well, feel free to say no, this is a thing between you two, I know, and-”

“Just say it!” Liam exclaims: nice to know that he’s as impatient as Harry.

“Oh, hi Liam, nice to meet you.” There’s a smirk in Louis’ voice. Bastard.

“Louis I’m gonna-”

“Okay, okay, jeez” Louis sighs like he’s not the one who’s being difficult. “I was thinking, what is karaoke? Friends singing together for fun, right? And since there aren’t any places near here, we could just have the same thing in Niall and Zayn’s living room.”

A beat of silence passes.

“Oh, yeah, Niall and Zayn are my best friends, they have a flat near the campus.”

Liam, who thank god is so much better than Harry in this, is quick to replay:

“That would be sooo, lovely! Thank you! We’re coming, right Harry?” He raises his eyebrows at Harry with a telling expression.

Harry is astonished. After a second, he replays with a faint “Yeah, of course.” He stares at Liam, unable to say more.

“That’s great! When are you free?” Louis and Liam set a date for their non-quite-karaoke night, and then Louis quickly says goodbye to them and hangs up.

“Man,” Liam has sparkly eyes. Harry can’t focus on him, he’s still floating. “You have a date!”

“’ts not a date.” Harry replays, feeling like he’s coming back to Earth.

“Like hell it isn’t!” Liam gets up, seeming unable to contain his joy. “Come on! What will you wear?”

“Oh god.” Harry’s eyes go wide. “What do I wear?”

 

~*~

 

The walk between the campus and the flat where Louis is waiting for them is nerve wracking, to use a euphemism, but at least Harry got Liam by his side, who’s just chilled enough to make him feel better instead of even more nervous. He feels so pleased to have found someone like Liam so soon, because apart from the fact that his singing is literally the reason why they are invited to Louis’s friends flat, he is constantly in an amiable mood that feels too genuine to be fake.

It’s a late Saturday afternoon, and summer is still in the air: the beginning of the sunset colours the building and the streets with delicate warm tones, making everything seems slower.

He had set to wear one of his favourite shirts: it’s nearly sheer but now quite, and it’s in a nice, solid black. It’s buttoned a bit more conservatively that he would like, but he doesn’t have the self-esteem to pop up in Louis friends’ apartment with the four first buttons undone.

“You remind me of Bruce Banner.” Harry says casually while they’re walking the lasts couples of blocks; Liam turns his head so fast that Harry is afraid he said something wrong, but then he asks, with his voice full of anticipation:

“Do you read comics? I love them” he seems very excited and Harry is a little sad to burst his bubble like this, but he musts.

“No I don’t, sorry, I just saw The Avengers movie when it came out, in like 2012? I can’t really remember.”

“Yes, the first one came out in 2012.” Liam interrupts him, not unkindly: he looks a bit disappointed but not really surprised; this probably happened before to him. Harry pins up mentally to asks him about comics later.

“But yeah, you remind me of him because you’re always so calm? Like in the movie he was always so placid but also ready to kick asses when the times called; and you seem a bit like this, quiet but ready. Does the version of Hulk-Liam exist?” he hopes that his message arrived, and Liam doesn’t think he is calling him boring, because Harry surely doesn’t think it. Liam listens with his head bowed and doesn’t reply instantly, like he’s thinking about what Harry said; finally, with a soft voice, he says:

“Hulk-Liam existed but he’s been taken care of. Now just Placid-Liam is available.” There is a universe behind those words, but this is not the time to explore that, they both know it, so Harry just smiles and adds:

“That is good, I like Placid-Liam.” Liam smiles at him, with his eyes nearly closed by the crinkles by his eyes: it’s so adorable that Harry wants to pinch his cheeks, so he does: Liam laugh and tap his nose in return.

It’s all good.

Well, to be more precise, it’s all good until they finally arrive at the building: that is where Harry starts to feel nervous again. He starts biting his lip again without noticing; before coming here he had made a mental list of everything that could go wrong: during the walk with Liam he had managed to forget about that, but now it’s back in his brain.

Liam, being the godsent that he is, just glances at him and immediately knows what to do: before Harry can even say anything, he rings the intercom that says Horan-Malik, like Louis taught them to. At Harry’s pout, he just shrugs and says:

“What? If we had to wait until you felt ready we would have waited another hour.” And seriously, why Liam already gets him like this?

“Who’s this?” the metallic voice interrupts them; it sounds like Niall’s.

“Hi! We’re Liam and Harry!” He exclaims but still looks a bit uncertain, which is a given since the fact that he didn’t even meet Louis yet.

“Yes! Turn the first right, take the elevator, we’re on the fourth floor.” The building’s door buzzes open. Harry throws a side glance at Liam and opens the door: he’s certain that as soon as he sees Louis he will be less agitated, so he wants this to finish soon.

On the elevator he checks his reflection, pleased with what he sees: his hair is still as nice as when he left his dorm and he knows that of his clothes fits him really well. Liam looks amused by this but says nothing, just looks at him vaguely entertained.

When they reach the fourth floor, there’s a door already opened that waits for them: leaned against the door’s frame there is a brunette guy with easy going expression and a bottle of beer still closed in one hand. Harry sprints out of the elevator, leaving Liam to close it, knowing he won’t mind.

“Hey guys, what’s up? I’m Niall.” He introduces himself smiling.

“Oh, you’re Niall?” maybe Harry’s voice is too pointy. “I’m Harry.”

“Harry! Nice to put a name to a face.” He sounds so amicable that Harry drops his façade instantly: he smiles back at him and they clap hands.

“And I’m Liam, thank you for having us!” Liam says, now looking as relaxed as he was before.

“The singing man!” Niall exclaims with genuine excitement in his voice “Come in, come in” he gestures them to enter in the flat, and closes the door behind them.

“Yeah, that’s me!” While they are talking, Harry looks around the room they’re into and notices that Louis is nowhere to be seen; he’s curious but doesn’t want to seem desperate so he doesn’t ask where he is, so instead he decides to observe what it looks like the living room.

It’s not very spacious, as probably the rest of the flat, but is decorated in a such a beautiful way that leaves Harry honestly impressed: it doesn’t look like the house of two twenty years old guys.

There are plants, canvases on the walls, a well-treated looking couch and an expensive coffee table, on which there are five glasses (real ones, not in plastic) and a wide assortment of party food; the room is very clean and tidy, and the warm light of the decreasing sun make it all appear cosy and homey. Every piece of furniture matches but it doesn’t look like the whole room was bought in stock in Ikea or something like that: it seems more than there was a lot of thrift shopping and DIY on every single piece.

“You have a beautiful home.” Harry says sincerely; near him, Liam is nodding, looking charmed as well.

“Thank you!” Niall smiles with a row of perfect teeth, sounding honestly happy about that “But it’s all Zayn’s work, to be honest, he’s the artistic one: he loves decorating and furnishing and all of that. Hey, can I offer you something? We have beers and some sodas in the fridge, what do you want?” Harry doesn’t want to impose but it would probably be ruder to decline; thankfully Liam replays before him:

“I would love a soda, man; it’s still so hot outside.” Niall turns his back at them, putting down his own beer on the counter and opens the fridge.

“Is a lemonade alright?” he asks, looking inside it.

“It would be perfect, thanks”

“I would like a beer, please.” Harry adds. Niall grabs two bottles and closes the fridge with his elbow; he places them on the counter and pops all three of them open with the bottle opener that was strategically placed near the sink.

“Feel free to use a glass from the table if you want one.” He says extending to them their corresponding bottle. Niall has clear blue eyes, really large hands and sounds so relaxed: Harry feels already comfortable in his presence.

“Hey, sorry if this is weird, but I may already saw you around?” Liam is asking Niall with a pensive expression.

“Don’t know man, where have been this week? Some library maybe? I didn’t go around a lot yet, I was very busy.”  Niall replays, taking a sip from his own beer. Liam looks thoughtful for another couple of seconds, and then his whole face lights up in recognition.

“You are one of the professor Thompson’s assistants, right?” he exclaims, looking hopeful to get it right.

“That I am! Are you an engineer as well?” Niall sounds quite excited to have found someone from his own faculty, and Liam looks very pleased to have placed Niall’s face in his mind.

“Yeah, civil engineering, what about you?”

“Aerospace: I want to send people on Mars. Let’s have a toast for human intellect.” Niall says, knocking his beer bottle with Liam’s. Harry takes a sip of his beer, feeling a bit excluded from their celebrations, but as soon as Niall and Liam have said ‘cheers’, Niall turns to him and asks:

“What about you, Harry? Louis said that you two have met at some literature class, right?”

“Yeah, I haven’t decided yet so I’m having random basic courses; we can’t all be super cool smart engineers, can we?” he says grinning, with a mildly teasing tone.

“Cheers to you too, my man, take your time.” Niall knocks their bottles “And always remember: if you want to be a part of what will be the most beautiful human revolution and conquer space… You know where to find me.” Before Harry can reply, he hears the unmistakable loud, shrill voice of Louis’ yells:

“Neil! Are you already boring our guests with your obsession with space?” from the corridor in front of them Louis appears in all his glory.

He’s dressed comfortably, his expression relaxed, but his hair is a big mess: it looks like they were supposed to be in a quiff that was utterly destroyed, and that Louis tried to make it better by simply putting his and in his hair; it looks a bit like he just woke up from a nap, which Harry immediately find adorable. He can’t help it, but everything Louis does make him melt and put a smile on his face. He has a hoodie (again, it’s too hot to have a hoodie, but Louis doesn’t look like he minds), sweatpants rolled up to show his ankles and no socks: he has a spiderweb tattooed on his left shin, as well as the word ‘the rogue’ on in ankles. Harry wants to ask about all his tattoos so much.

“Lou! Hiii!” he exclaims unable to contain his joy: he’s pretty grateful for the beer in his hand, and even if he just took a couple of sips hopes to blame on it his enthusiasm (if it gets too much and make someone uncomfortable. If it doesn’t, he’ll happily take all the credit to be such a ball of sunshine).

“Haz, my man, hello to you too” he replies with a big smile; to Harry’s surprise, they hug instead of shaking (or clasping) hands: it’s the first time it happened, and it takes him aback in the best way.

Louis’ hoodie is soft, and it smells like a flowery, delicate detergent; for a moment, Harry’s face is buried in the crook of Louis’ neck, with his hair tickling his nose, and all he can feel, touch and smell is Louis: Louis himself smells too like something pleasant and warm, his hair soft, his skin smooth. It probably lasts a split of second before they separate, and Harry can’t savour all these feelings because he has to come back to reality: but still, he’s feeling nearly detached from reality for a moment.

Louis has already moved to greet Liam (with only a half hug): they exchange names quickly and Louis is as excited as Niall to get acquainted with the ‘singing man in the showers’. Liam doesn’t look bothered by having such a title from two people he had never met in his life and look pretty comfortable about having the attention on himself. When Louis is done with his chat with Liam he turns to Harry to smile at him again, in a more private way this time, and Harry can’t do much other to return the smile the best he can; he feels floaty and so, so content.

“Is Zayn ever gonna show up?” Niall asks Louis, passing him an open beer: Louis takes it with a satisfied expression and mimic a toast from distance.

“I have no idea, I tried to wake him up, but you know how he is.”

“I mean, we can turn up some music and maybe he’ll join us?” Harry proposes feeling a bit uncertain about the whole thing: it’s nearly 7 pm, why is this Zayn asleep now? Yeah, Louis was probably sleeping as well, but at least he’s up now. He doesn’t want to sound like his mum but what kind of sleep pattern has this dude? It’s none of his business but he’ll lie if he’ll say that he’s not curious about it, and about him.

An awful, nasty doubt sneaks in his brain: were they… sleeping together? Had Louis just left his love nest with his boyfriend sleeping in it? Oh god, that would make sense: Louis is too beautiful to be single, isn’t he? He feels a bit sick.

While he was thinking all this, somewhere outside his head Louis and Niall had started to snicker like Harry said completely impossible; Harry turns to Liam, glad to find him looking as confused as he feels. Liam just shrugs, but Harry is more curious than this and has to ask:

“What did I say?” he pouts for good measure. Niall pouts back at him, which Harry finds pretty amusing, and Louis lets out an ‘aaaww’, getting closer to him and tapping on his cheek: at the touch Harry can feel himself getting red, and instinctively sticks his tongue out at him; Louis copies him instantly, and then they both dissolve into giggles. He would be lying if he said that he could ever let this boy go.

He has a mission for tonight: discover Louis’ relationship status and observing him with Zayn.

“You said something completely normal for someone who doesn’t know Zayn” Niall replies while Harry and Louis are still giggling “But Zayn hates waking up with passion, so it’s basically impossible to remove him from bed if he doesn’t want to.”

“So, for the benefit of our gathering, I’d say we don’t actively try to wake him up, but rather let’s hope that he’ll give us his blessing and decides to come out of his cave on his own.” Louis adds with a note of pride in his voice, like Niall had just exposed one of the best qualities of his friend.

“Liam” he then says, shifting his all body in Liam’s direction, who was contently assisting at the whole conversation like an extern “I heard amazing things about you.” He has a mischievous smile on, and Liam looks charmed but slightly threaten as well: how can Louis have so much power? He’s half the size of Liam, but it’s like he takes all the attention of the room with some simple words.

“He’s an engineer as well!” Niall interrupts him.

“He can also dance impressively! I saw him!” Harry adds, happily contributing in making Liam appear more bashful: he had joyfully discovered, after giving him some compliments every now and then, that making him looks like that is extremely easy and endearing, because Liam will blush and look all sheepish and soft; which is exactly what is happening now. Louis jumps right in, and continues:

“And I also heard that you sing so well: is there a chance for us to hear you? Without the shower involved?” Liam looks pretty red, but nevertheless resolute to meet the expectation of the other three boys who were looking at him; but Harry can see that he’s not ready yet, so he interferes by saying:

“What about we have the second round first? You see, my friend here is a bit timid.” Liam quickly shoots a grateful glance at him, while Louis and Niall show their support by shouting; Niall goes to the stereo and puts some summer hit on and Louis goes to the fridge to take some more beers.

This time Liam take one as well, making them all cheer for him. With the second beer in, chats float easily, and they found themselves throw on the couch, piled up one on top of each other, telling stories about high school and random experiences.

Harry learns that Niall and mysterious Zayn have been best friends since the last years of high school and are attached to the hip: they never had a doubt about going to the same Uni or living together. Louis had meet Zayn first, while following the same History class during the first year, who then had introduced him to Niall, and they have been a group since then.

Harry is nearly in Louis’ lap and has no intention of moving: he has found his place in the world and wants to remain glued to Louis’ side from now on. Louis looks happy as well about the vicinity: he keeps stroking Harry’s arm, and every time he laughs Harry can feel him vibrating on himself. He’s feeling full. He doesn’t know how to classify all these cuddles with someone who’s maybe in a relationship, but he’s taking it as a good sign.

Suddenly, Liam stands up and places his empty bottle on the coffee table almost too forcefully: he looks drunker than what a single beer could do to a guy as big as him. The sun has set and the only lights that are casting shadows on his face are the warm ones from the various lamps around the room.

“Ok, I’m ready to show you some real talent. Niall, could you please put on The Middle by Zedd?” leave it to Liam to be this polite when he’s more than tipsy. Niall stands up as well, looking completely sober and pretty amused, and does as he was told, shouting a “C’mon Liam!”

The first notes fill up the air, and Liam grabs his bottle on the coffee table like it’s a microphone, his face totally serious.

“Oh god, this is gonna be good.” Louis hasn’t even finished that sentence yet, when Liam starts singing.

And. Wow.

What Harry heard in the toilettes that day, separated by the doors and with the running water in the background was absolutely nothing compared to this: Liam has the total control of his voice, and despite his serious expression he looks like he’s making no effort to sound this good, like he could do this on any other occasion. He looks at Louis and sees with pleasure that he looks amazed as well, like he can’t believe that Liam can actually sing and that this wasn’t just an elaborated plan for him and Harry to spend a night with them.

When the refrain starts Niall enthusiastically joins him, with a beer in one hand and the other thrown in the air. Harry doesn’t want to give up is place next to Louis, so he just starts singing while laying on the couch half on top of him. By the second strophe they’re all singing loudly and without a care in the world. Harry is fuelled by beers, enthusiasm and the warm presence of Louis next to him, and it all feels about too good to be true.

The last strophe is sung by Liam with such a perfect falsetto that they all shut up to listen to him.

This boy is unreal, Harry thinks, and is sure that to some degree Niall and Louis are thinking the same thing.

When the song fades away Louis stands up, followed by a disgruntled Harry, and they all applaud and shout for Liam, who is standing tall with a proud smile on his face, like singing for them suddenly gave him massive confidence. Harry can’t just help himself and goes to pinch his cheeks again, but Liam isn’t annoyed at all. What an angel.

“I propose another round for Liam!” Louis shouts while Harry and Niall cheer and Liam looks pleased with himself.

“A glass of water for me Lou, please.” A foreign voice says in another room.

Harry and Liam immediately turn around to see who it was: the guy who has spoked emerges slowly from the shadow of the corridor. The first thing that Harry notices is how displeased he looks, maybe even grumpy, and that his raven hair is in the same condition as Louis’ when he showed up. The second thing is that even with the sour expression and the messy hair, he is still objectively the most attractive guy he has ever seen: more than any model he has dreamed of watching the fashion shows he loves, more than all of his crushes, on both ordinary men and not, even more than Louis.

He has brown, tan skin, high cheekbones and a 5 o’clock shadow that is too cured to be casual; both of his arms are covered in colourful tattoos, and he’s wearing a simple white t-shirt.

Feeling slightly overwhelmed, he turns to Liam to have some support, but he finds him already in the kitchen with Louis to take the beverages.

Harry walks up to him to introduce himself, but when he’s near him he feels like a strong aura of don’t come near me, don’t touch me that surround him: always listening to his guts, he remains at a respectful distance and just says:

“Hi! I’m Harry. I’m sorry if we have wakened you up.” He’s smiling and has his hands collected behind his back. The guy looks at him like he’s out of place and takes a quick glance of the room, taking in the empty beer bottles that are scattered on the table and the half-empty bowls of chips and popcorn; then he places his attention on Harry and softly replays:

“I’m Zayn. You haven’t woken me up, don’t worry.” He shifts in place and gracefully walks to the kitchen.

He moves likes he’s made of liquid, like the world around him could change itself to not inconvenience him. Like he has never stubbed his toe on a piece of furniture in his whole life. Harry looks at him delicately taking the glass from Louis’ hands; Louis smiles at him like he’s the sun personified, and Zayn thanks him gently, with a small smile on his lips. Liam, next to him, just says his name, to which Zayn nods without saying anything.

“Don’t mind Zee here” Niall exclaims loudly “He’s just a bit grumpy for the music, isn’t he?” he adds teasingly.

“I’m not.” Zayn doesn’t seem rude, just very quiet and soft-spoken. Harry has a feeling that he and Liam could go on very well. “I liked you lads singing. You were very good. Especially you, I think? You sang the falsetto, right?” he adds, looking at Liam. Liam, for some reason, looks a lot more serious than before, his face nearly closed off; nevertheless, he smiles politely and thanks him quickly. Maybe Harry is mistaken and the two of them won’t go on at all. He already said that he’s not good with this type of things.

Louis, on the other hand, seems pretty thrilled about this interaction, and going closer to Zayn, stage whisper at him: “He’s the singing lad in the shower. He can actually sing, we discovered.”

That makes Liam loosen up a bit, making him gain back the good spirit he had and with fake annoyance he says: “Can’t go anywhere these days, my fame keeps preceding me.”

Zayn doesn’t say anything but looks like he finally placed Liam and Harry in his head and now looks less confused about why there are two strangers in his living room.

“You arrived just in time for our toast to Liam.” Niall reminds everyone with a new beer in his hand “Hey, Imma grab me guitar, come back in a sec.” and with that he sprints out of the room before anyone can say anything.

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry notices that Louis and Zayn have started whispering to each other: or, more precisely, they look like they’re having a hushed conversation with a lot of eyes-and-brows talking. Harry can’t help but notice that Louis isn’t even grazing Zayn, while he showed no problem at all to cuddle two stranger and always seemed to like physical contact; knowing he’s trying to read too much into something so minimal, and that he can’t define their relationship on just that, he walks near Liam, and gently squeezes his hip.

“Everything all right, Li?” he whispers as well, for good measure. The music is still on, but the atmosphere as imperceptibly changed to something intimate, almost. Liam startle at the sudden Harry’s vicinity like he didn’t hear him getting near him.

“Wha- yes, everything all right” Harry’s not very convinced: Liam looks spaced out, or maybe just lost in thought, but not as confident as he was before. “It’s just beer, you know? I don’t drink very often, so I get drunk very easily” he adds, lifting his empty ex-microphone. “I’ll stick to soda from now on. Or, y’know, water.”

He turns away from Harry and goes to the angled kitchen asking for the recycling bin: Harry can’t help but feel amazed by this boy. But even more surprising is that Zayn actually has one, and points it at him, under the sink. Harry feels like he fell into another dimension.

“Lads! I’ve got my guitar here” Niall announces, remerging into the room. He’s holding it tightly with both of his hand and has the strap on, and it’s clear that he cares a lot about it.

“You can play the guitar? But that’s amazing! I’ve always wanted to learn but never did.” Harry exclaims, approaching him; Louis and Zayn have stopped their telepathic conversation and Liam seems glad to have something to focus on. Harry reminds himself to check on him later.

“It’s the simplest instrument to exist, really. I could teach you a couple of accords later, if you want to, but now I want to play.” Niall says plopping on the couch. He starts to strum something that Harry recognizes instantly, but Liam is quicker than him and throwing himself near Niall states:

“Yes! I love this song!” and starts singing loudly to FourFiveSeconds.

Niall, delighted to have such an enthusiastic support, joints him into singing. They sound very good together, their voices complement each other well. Harry adores this song and, unable to resist, goes to sit with them and starts singing as well.

Louis and Zayn are watching them leaning on the counter, Louis looking entertained, Zayn still a bit confused, like he’s starting to catch on, but still not completely comfortable.

Louis throws a look in Zayn’s direction, who simply arch his brows: probably for Louis this interaction meant just enough, because he steps away from him and joins the singing group on the couch. To Harry’s total surprise, he sits in his lap, even though there is enough space next to him to fit him. He can’t even react, because Louis starts singing:

If I go to jail tonight
Promise you'll pay my bail
See they want to buy my pride
But that just ain't up for sale

They all stopped singing to listen to him, and as Harry suspected, he has the voice of an angel: soft but powerful. He doesn’t even have the words to say how he feels right now: the weight of Louis on his lap is perfect and warm, and he slides an arm around his waist to feel a bit closer to him; he can feel his heartbeat on himself. He starts singing again with Niall and Liam, his face smashed on Louis’ left shoulder.

Zayn keeps looking at them without singing, still leaned on the counter: it’s quite clear that he’ll remain there for the rest of the night and won’t join them, but at least now he looks comfortable in his own house; he doesn’t seem fazed at all by the fact that Louis is sitting on Harry, which Harry takes as the final sign to keep dreaming about his and Louis’ future.

It’s a good, good night.

Harry feels so happy.

 

~*~

Chapter Text

On Monday Harry is the grumpiest he has felt in a long time, because after he spent his usual hour on getting ready, he went to class discovering that Louis wasn’t present that day: meaning that all the time he took in the bathroom to make his hair perfect, with an increasingly more annoyed Chris outside, was totally useless.

Chris had already started to make fun of him for being too vain, which to be honest Harry is, but it still bothers him to no end: he knows that he should start to be nicer or the ‘sharing room experience’ would turn up to be an incredibly exasperating one very quickly.

So yeah, Monday isn’t the best of Harry’s days. The idea that he wasn’t going to see Louis until Thursday just saddens him.

After the class he takes a walk around campus to get acquainted with the surroundings and discovers some nice cafes scattered around, as well as some more hidden places where he plans he will study if the weather will keep on being so generous and sunny.

He has no idea of where Louis’ dorm is: not that it could make a difference in his day, but maybe if he knew he could have taken a walk around there… he shakes his head, discarding the thought. First of all, that’s stalking, and second, those kinds of things don’t happen, because this is real life and not a fairy-tale.

So of course that exactly what happens.

But, because Harry’s life is a nightmare and not a fairy-tale, they don’t casually meet each other on Monday, when he has is polished boots and black skinny jeans on, but rather on Tuesday, when he has a plain black t-shirt and some random trackies on.

It goes like this: Harry is taking another walk around campus after his Biology course has ended, when he decides to go to one of the cafes he has seen the day before. The class interested him a lot, more than he expected, and he is seriously thinking about choosing it as his major, even if it means that he will not have more courses with Louis: but is not like he can shape his life in the image of Louis’, and he is feeling optimistic about their growing friendship, so it’s an adjustment he’s willing to make.

Lost in own thoughts, he enters in the coffee shop and instantly decides he has found his favourite place on campus: it has a strong hipster vibe, with wooden and wrought iron tables and chairs, low lamps hanging from the ceiling and graphic posters pinned to the walls. Harry loves it.

He gets in the line still admiring his surroundings; once done, with his drink in his hand he stops to look for an empty table to sit down and enjoy his mocha latte, but he spots a silhouette that looks unmistakably like Louis’ right profile.

He’s laughing, looking delighted: the crinkles by his eyes are deep and lovely, his head slightly thrown backwards. Harry has seen laugh like that just once, and it was after three beers and an incredibly spotted-on Niall’s impression of some friend of them.

Harry takes a step to his left and now he can see that Louis is sitting next to Zayn, who has a happy, serene expression and looks completely at ease and is talking animatedly about something Harry can’t hear. He appears like a totally different person compared to what Harry saw on Saturday night, where he was stiff and distressed; he’s looking at Louis with affection and his eyes are half-moon shaped for how much he’s smiling. In front of them there are two teas and a lot of papers with… coloured pencils?

That’s… unusual.

He’s turning around, thinking about of another place where he can sit, because he doesn’t want to disturb them. He had his suspicions about the two, but what he sees seems pretty compelling: he has seen Louis fidgeting for having everyone’s attention in the room and now he is the calmest Harry has seen him, just with Zayn’s eyes on him. He feels a knot on his stomach and wants to get out of there as soon as possible and maybe invite Liam to his dorm and having a self-pity party.

He thinks about it with a sense of bitter irony: on Sunday Harry decided to invite himself in Liam’s dorm without even informing him to discuss his thoughts about Louis and Zayn’s relationship.

Liam called him a creep after Harry had rattled off all deduction for why they could be together versus why they are not, but nevertheless he had listened to him. After Harry had shown him his list of reasons, each one paired up with something he has seen or had imagined: Liam had just put his hands on Harry’s tensed shoulders, and had replayed that in no way in hell they could be together with Louis sitting in his lap and Zayn just watching them.

“Like, they’re together and you’re a stranger, he sits on you and he doesn’t even blink? That doesn’t make any sense” Liam had said, and Harry was ecstatic about it, because Liam had just told him exactly what he wanted to hear.

But, looking at them now, he knows he got the situation completely wrong.

Also, he doesn’t want Louis to see him like this, because he looks a bit rough today and Louis has seen him only with his best outfits, but before he can find a place, he hears his name called behind him.

Coursing under his breath, he turns with a fake smile on his face, hoping to look better than how he feels.

Louis is still sitting at his table, but he is now half turned towards him: he’s smiling brightly and is inviting him, gesturing with his hand, to sit with him and Zayn, who doesn’t look as pumped. Harry really doesn’t bias him, but he has no option but going to them, hoping it will be a short thing.

“Harry! Sit with us!” Harry doesn’t even have an excuse because the other tables are occupied and his mug his not a take away one: it would be just plain rude to refuse a sit; so he just smiles brightly and goes to them.

Zayn mutters a hello with his head down, collecting the papers and the pencils that are scattered on the table: for what Harry can see before he is done, they’re realistic drawing, done perfectly, but he doesn’t look very happy to have those on display with of fast he’s putting them away.

“Thank you! All the other tables were occupied…” he lingers hoping to sound sincere.

“Yeah, yeah, it’s a very popular café, this one,” Louis says, “It’s mine and Zayn’s favourite, actually, right?” he adds, throwing a smile to a disinterested Zayn who has just finished to put his drawings and artistic tools in a pile.

“It is. You have to try the pastries sometimes, they’re amazing” Zayn talks that same way he walks, moves, exists: softly, slowly, gently. It’s the most Harry has heard of his voice: he didn’t even notice before now the strong northern accent Zayn has, even stronger than Louis’. Just like when he saw him on Saturday, he doesn’t seem rude, just really reserved: he’s the polar opposite of Louis, who Harry saw calling professors by their first name and starting conversations with basically anyone.

“Next time I’ll try them, yeah” Harry knows before saying it that he’s shooting a bit too far from his range, but he really wants a clear answer on this, so he hears himself saying:

“You really didn’t have to invite me to your table, I don’t want to interrupt your date.” It’s probably rude, but to an extern eye they really look like they are on one; leave the fact that Harry is interested in the answer for another reason.

Louis and Zayn exchange a weird look, probably having one of those mental conversations of them, and then Louis starts laughing. Loudly.

Zayn, on the other hand, looks genuinely confused, which is the first real emotion that breaks his poker face that Harry has seen on him from the moment they meet (yeah, he saw affection, but that was just for Louis).

“Harry, what kind of low standard do you have on dates? Zee and I are just taking a coffee together. We both have a pause for the next couples of hours.” Louis seems very entertained by what Harry said.

Harry has to refrain himself from cheering out loud: so, they aren’t on a date, and both of them looked completely weirded out by the possibility of it. Harry finally has the answer he was looking for and feels like he just beat a dragon. With a new rush of self-confidence, he sits up straighter and his smile becomes more genuine.

“Oh, sorry about that, I’ve been told many times that I’m not very perceptive,” he says an amount of auto-irony that is subtle for anyone except him.

“Don’t worry about it.” Louis just smiles “So, what were you doing here?”

“I just walked around a bit and found this place by chance; I had my Biology class this morning and I’m seriously thinking about choosing that as my major.”

“And abandoning me?!” Louis exclaims with stage outrage and his hand delicately posed on his chest, as if the news broke his heart.

“I’ll never leave you, Lou,” Harry replies, with the same excessive pathos Louis used. To push his luck, he grabs Louis’ hand, glad that it can be read as a joke, squeezing it. Louis looks amused and squeezes it back. Harry can feel his heart in his throat. Louis’ hand is so soft, and he is probably exaggerating things, but his heart is pumping very fast, and he never wants to leave it; he wants to hold is hand and walk between blossoming trees, kiss him beneath the stars. He wants to explore his skin and kiss him everywhere.

On Louis’ side, he can see that Zayn doesn’t look mad about their hands, which is another important clue, but he’s getting bored: or better, he’s just looking spaced out, like this conversation doesn’t interest him at all and has no will to participate in it. Harry thinks that he’s probably used to it if he hangs out with Louis a lot, because Louis is talkative and extrovert and Zayn is totally not; but he feels genuinely bad about keep talking to Louis and leaving Zayn totally aside, so he drops Louis’ hand (even if it breaks his heart) and asks him:

“Hey Zayn, are those drawing yours?” Zayn seems a bit surprised to be interpellated directly but doesn’t miss a bit.

“They are.”

“I haven’t seen much of them, but they looked really beautiful. Super realistic and all that.” Harry doesn’t know much about art: there are probably precise words to compliment an artist and he knows none of them.

“Thank you. Hyperrealism isn’t really my style, but I’m doing these for a class.” He looks different than before: he looks close to smiling, and his eyes are softer than before. They are almond-shaped, amber-coloured, and Harry hadn’t noticed on Saturday night how pretty and deep they are: his thick eyelashes give him a soulful expression and make him even more handsome, in an elegant way.

 “Are you an art major? That’s impressive! And you obviously are very good if you can draw this well something that isn’t even your style; also, trust me, I don’t know art very well but if even I can see it, it must be true.” He’s totally honest about that: yeah, he didn’t take an accurate look at them, but for what he saw Zayn is seriously talented.

“Thank you.” Zayn says with a smooth, mellow voice; he’s finally smiling, now. His tan skin looks a tad darker than before, and Harry suddenly realises that he’s blushing. He made Zayn blush. He is going to put that on his curriculum.

“He’s amazing, isn’t he.” Louis says, making Harry diverting his attention from Zayn to him. He’s looking at Zayn with a sweet smile, his whole face soft; when Zayn meets his graze, his expression becomes even warmer. Zayn diverts his eyes almost immediately, but everything about him seems more relaxed now.

Louis then looks at Harry and Harry knows immediately that he’s quietly thanking him for complementing Zayn; he’s so grateful, and Harry realises that Louis looking at him like that is basically everything he wants in his life.

For the first time since Harry met Zayn, he looks human. Harry knows that it won’t take long before he starts to like him as well.

 

~*~

 

“Look, I know this is a stupid question.”

“That’s always a nice way to start a conversation.”

“Heeey, I’m being serious!”

“With a stupid question? Did you take out being a lawyer from your never-ending list of future carriers, right?”

Harry dramatically rolls his eyes and throws some grass at him. He has always liked to be a bit theatrical but being friends Louis really made it worse. Or better, depending on the point of view.

“Yeah, yeah, ask away”

“Does Zayn hate me?” as Harry suspected, Louis burst out laughing. “Ok, that’s a bit dramatic-”

“A bit!”

“But I seriously want to ask, does he dislike me? I don’t know, like yes, I understand that he’s quiet but every time we hang out he just stand aside and ignores me. Like the other day with Niall? He talked just to you two and never with me. He talked to Liam more!” Harry pouts to show that he’s not that serious.

Some weeks have passed, and Harry has spent the majority of his time with Louis and Liam, joined frequently by Niall and Zayn, who remains this quiet, observant and distant mystery. Harry can’t help but wonder why Niall and Louis, both with sunny personalities and a strong enthusiasm for life, consider him their best friend, when as far as Harry saw he rarely talks and spend his time scowling at everyone but them or drawing.

He had bonded with Niall over their shared passion about old rock music and, quite shockingly, golf. Niall’s offer to teach him to play the guitar was totally serious, he discovered one day to his complete surprise, and to that day they had spent some afternoons together talking about Sinatra and Mick Jagger and learning the basics for guitar.

Golf, on the other hand, was an activity that they both would love to try together but was unattainable at the moment, as they weren’t millionaires yet.

Harry is the happiest he is ever been, probably: he gets to know Louis a bit more every day, and whatever he discovers make him fall a little deeper. They have started texting every day, almost every hour, Harry determined to share all the trivial info he keeps in his brain (‘Lou, you know that ducks have corkscrew shaped dicks?’, ‘there is a 25 km high volcano on Mars’, ‘you know that horses live up to 30 years? I didn’t know that, I just assumed they were immortals’), to which Louis teases him to no end (‘have you personally checked? Otherwise I won’t believe you’, ‘nice! Is where your family live?’, ‘I didn’t know you were a horse girl Haz, but okay’); so Harry basically spends all his time apart from him thinking about him lovingly.

Every time his insecurity or his fear of appearing clingy have the best of him and he doesn’t text Louis all day, scared that the older boy will find him annoying, he always receives a message from Louis, saying that he missed his jokes or his info for the day, and then often he is invited to hang out with him and his friends or even just with him.

It’s not long until Harry wins almost all his nerves and finally gets more relaxed in Louis’ presence (but it’s easy when you deal with such a sweet, lovely guy).

Liam pesters him like a younger brother, but he’s happy as well for this development of the situation and supports him in every way he can: he replays to Harry’s outfit picture as soon as he can and is always available to listen to him telling every single detail of their last talk or going out. They bicker like brothers, but Harry seriously doesn’t know who to thank for such a gift to the humankind: Liam is too precious for this world.

“Your tone says that is obvious that someone would prefer you to Liam, which is simply rude, Hazza boy” Louis points out with a bold look in his eyes.

“You know better than me that that wasn’t my intention.” Harry says, throwing another handful of grass at him. They are sitting under a tree near the back of the theatre where Louis rehearses and performs at the end of the term: it’s a beautiful place that Louis introduced to him some days ago. They are there to study, or at least that was the plan they had, but it’s been an hour and they still haven’t stopped talking.

“You know what I meant, Liam it’s all… I don’t even know, to be honest, he’s still a mystery to me. I don’t know how somebody can be that chilled and just good in every sense of the term all the time. But he’s shy as hell, too! At least I ask Zayn stuff! And he still talks to him more!” he says this with all types of fake outrage, but deep inside he’s honestly worried about it.

It’s both because Zayn is clearly Louis’ best friend, and if Harry wants to make a move on him it’s obvious that they have to get along, but also because Harry has no confidence. At all. Sure, he is getting better lately, but it’s going to be a longer path than expected. He is constantly worried about what others think of him and doesn’t matter how hard he tries to convince himself that it isn’t important, other people opinions keep being the first of his worries. It’s probably connected to him being the ‘weird kid’ for all his life, and it doesn’t matter that now he is grown up and is objectively attractive and has changed city, he can’t stop worrying about pleasing everyone and not be labelled like ‘the weird one’.

“Maybe Zee appreciates Liam more because he doesn’t bother him by asking random stuff all the time” Louis suggests still laughing a bit. At Harry’s severe staring, he sobers up and keeps talking:

“In all seriousness, Zayn doesn’t hate anybody. I mean, no, he hates some people who totally deserve it, but apart from that, he’s incapable of disliking someone who never did something wrong to him. He’s like a cat: he doesn’t trust people easily, but that’s his personality, it’s not about you in any way. And he appreciates silence more than empty conversations.”

Harry sighs. He was expecting an answer like that, but it still didn’t satisfy him enough.

“Also,” Louis adds a moment after “He may have told me that he likes you. For real. Don’t tell him I told you this, he’ll never let me live that down.”

Harry doesn’t even care: he lets out a ‘yuhu!’ and throws himself on the soft grass beneath him, arms and legs spread. This feels good: Louis’ friend liking him? Maybe even approving him? Best kind of endorphins.

“You should really relax. People opinions about you are unimportant in every case.” He heard Louis disapprovingly says, like he always does as soon as he catches Harry doubting himself. A moment after Louis lay next to him on his left side, few inches between them.

Harry can’t breathe.

Louis’ face is in the patterned shadows of the tree crown, his right eye in the sunlight. It shines in an almost unnatural way: the blue of the iris is so bright that for a moment Harry is lost in it, thinking that it is the Tenerife sea; the green near the pupil make it seems like he has the world earth in them.

The warm light compliments his golden skin perfectly. He is perfect, Harry realises. There is nothing he wouldn’t do for this boy.

They are so near that Harry could roll a bit and kiss him. It would take a second and it would be magical, and Harry will be the happiest person in the world.

Louis is looking at him intently, with his chin slightly raised. It almost looks like an invitation.

But, being the weird kid he knows he is, instead of ‘can I kiss you?’, he hears himself saying:

“You know, you never told me why you didn’t pass the literature exams. You know all these things by heart.”

He wants to smack himself.

Louis, on the other hand, doesn’t look all that bothered.

“We were having such a nice conversation…” he just whines a little.

Harry agrees so much that he doesn’t even try to defend himself.

“Last year my mom was pregnant with my brother and sister – yes, twins Harry, you may have already heard about them – but she went into labor earlier than expected, so I dropped my winter exam session and went home to help her and her husband with the babies and to babysit all my sisters.”

Harry had expected a lot of things, but Louis being a superhero/excessively good big brother wasn’t one of them. A lot of things are rushing in his mind: all his sisters? How many are they? Helping with babies? Does he love them as much as Harry? Does he want a family as much as Harry? Can Harry skip the part where he asks him on a date and proceeds to plan their wedding?

He’s never felt so much love for anyone before.

That’s the moment when he realises: he’s in love. It took him only two weeks, but he knows. He has never felt something so visceral and deep, that embezzled every inch of him: he just feels love for Louis.

Somewhere outside Harry’s mental battle, Louis has keep explaining something about exams, but Harry couldn’t care less.

“I didn’t know you had sisters.” He says breathlessly when Louis has finished talking. He’s keeping his eyes fixed on the tree’s leaves, because he can’t look at Louis right now. His heart may explode.

“I never told you about my sisters?! That’s outrageous. I love them to pieces, I look forward to seeing them every day.” Harry hears some fumbling on his right, so he dares to take a look and sees Louis with his phone in his hand, typing and swiping with his delicate fingers. He’s sitting again now, with his legs crossed and a concentrated face on. Oh god, Harry wants to kiss him so badly. Instead, he just sits up next to him.

“Here they aaare! Swipe if you want to, I have hundreds of pictures with them.” Louis says as he puts his phone in Harry’s face, which he receives a bit surprised.

The first thing he notices is that there are a lot of people in this picture. The picture is a family one, and it’s filled with smiling faces, blue eyes and blonde hair. The majority of them are girls of a large spectrum of ages: the older one, next to Louis, seems just a few years younger than him; but the baby Louis is holding can’t be older than a few months.

“They are… more than I expected?” Harry breaths feeling overwhelmed. Louis scoots near him and starts pointing them, announcing their names and some facts about them. Harry can feel the heat that radiates from Louis’ body, and his smell of nicotine and vanilla. Needless to say, he doesn’t remember anything about Louis’ sisters, because he has to physically restrain himself from kissing him.

While watching some pics of the twins (the younger ones, because there are two sets. Harry inform him that his mom is wonder woman, and Louis agrees instantly) Louis’ phone receives a message from a certain meri jaan - میری جان; feeling a bit perplexed, but mostly interested, he gives back the phone to Louis, saying:

“I think someone Arabic have texted you?” Louis takes his phone eagerly and when sees who it is, immediately smiles.

“It’s Zayn. It’s not Arab, it’s Urdu.” He replies distractedly to Harry while typing fast on his phone, the smile never leaving his face.

“He can speak Urdu? I didn’t know, that’s very cool.” Harry says, genuinely impressed.

“Well yeah, he’s half Pakistani, he knows both Urdu and Arabic.” He waits until Louis has finished texting.

When he’s done, he looks up to him through his eyelashes and Harry nearly has a heart attack: he knows for sure that Louis is flirting with him as well, because you don’t look at people like that if you’re not interested about making them lose their mind.

Not quite sure of how to continue the conversation about Zayn, he just blurts:

“Can you speak it? Since you’re close and all…” it interests him a bit, since it’s always the right moment to fish for some clues and imagining Louis speaking a foreign language it’s a nice thought to have.

“Oh, no I don’t. I mean, not even Zayn is fluent in them, since he doesn’t have many people to practice with-”

“What about his parents? Couldn’t they teach him?” Harry can’t help but interrupting Louis.

Louis looks at him like he just said something awful: he had narrowed his eyes and the soft expression that he had it’s gone, replaced by an annoyed one. Harry doesn’t quite understand what’s going on, until Louis says:

“He’s adopted, don’t you know that? His parents aren’t Pakistani, they don’t speak neither of those languages.”

The way he said those things, with a hint of suspicion, like he will tear apart Harry if he even suspect he’s making fun of Zayn or of him, and the weighted detachment Harry can now feel from him upset Harry: why both Niall and Louis treat Zayn like he’s made out of glass, like he always needs someone to defend him no matter how little the threat he’s facing is?

But at the same time, this annoyance is balanced by admiration: Louis is always so loyal to any of his friends, and the way he loves them it’s impossible to miss. And even if this time his defensive is arranged toward Harry, it just makes him fall a bit more: it’s always crystal clear where Louis stands and how unafraid he is of fighting anyone who could hurt his friends.

Thinking fondly about this, Harry replies with a neutral voice:

“No, I didn’t know. But it’s beautiful that he’s still close to that part of his heritage.”

At that, Louis mollifies, probably even thinking that he overreacted, because just like that he lays again on the grass, relaxed and with a hint of a smile.

“Yeah, right? His parents are awesome.” He says looking at the trees above them.

Harry lays next to him, studying an aster he picked from the ground. Some of its petals are missing, but it is still delicate and naïve, like flowers always are. The air between them is relaxed and intimate again.

“I really want to have a family as big as yours one day.” Harry whispers to not ruin this perfect atmosphere. “I’m looking forward to being domestic and all that.” Too cheesy? Who cares: Louis is looking at him seriously, but with love, and Harry appreciate the fact that he’s not making fun of him or taking that as a joke. He’s looking pensive, and then, softly he says:

“Me too. That’s all I want.” They keep looking at each other, and Harry is sure that they are thinking the same thing: it’s not too much. It’s not too early. What about we build one together?

 

~*~

 

“Care to explain why you didn’t kiss him right then? Or at least asked him on a date? You can talk about having a baby but not about taking a coffee together?” Harry loves Liam, but he doesn’t understand the constant struggle Harry goes through every day where he has to refrain himself from kissing Louis at 8 am in their class or write him a banner to put under his windows every morning to celebrate his love; all this while being barely capable of looking at him in the eyes and speaking correctly at the same time.

“I already told you.” He exclaims exasperated “We were totally on the same page. You can’t go from 100 to 0, it’s anticlimactic and not romantic and I want to be as romantic as I can.”

He’s laying on his bed, with his legs up the wall and his head hanging upside down the mattress. He’s been gushing about his afternoon with Louis to Liam for a good fifteen minutes now and can feel that Liam’s starting to get bored. Harry already expressed his annoyance towards the fact that he can’t remember what Zayn was called on Louis’ phone, because that would have been an interesting information; needless to say, Liam called him stalker once again.

There’s also something else that he can’t place yet, because Liam seems really pissed off about something.

“You could have said ‘do you want to start one now?’ or some shit like that. I bet he would have appreciated it.” Harry refuses to tell him that that’s a horrible line that would actually have worked perfectly, so he just shows him his tongue. Liam is sitting at Harry’s desk, doodling on some (probably excessively expensive) paper that he has found laying there; because of course Liam is ace also at drawing.

If Harry had learnt something about him, is that he’s incapable of doing something half-way: he always uses his mind and all his energy and isn’t done until he’s satisfied with the outcome; he’s stubborn in the best of way.

“Also, it’s not like I blew up all my opportunities: they invited us to their party this Saturday, right? I’ll just charm him with my sweet moves and everything will be alright.” Harry tries to wink at Liam but that’s slightly difficult when you’re upside down. Liam just grunts in response, and that’s what alert Harry: Liam is always in a good mood; so why is he so grumpy today?

“Ok, I had bored you enough with my sad love life. Tell me something, like why are you in such a bad mood lately? I feel like I don’t ask about your life enough. Come here, I want a cuddle.” Harry sits on his bed with his leg crossed and gestures Liam to join him. Liam comes instantly and envelops Harry in his beautiful, muscular arms: this is probably the safest place of the world, Harry thinks, already starting to relax.

They have started doing this pretty often, accomplice the fact that Chris is nearly never in the dorm and when he sees them usually leaves them alone. Harry keeps giving him the benefit of the doubt and chooses to believe that he’s letting them have a moment together, rather than suspect that he doesn’t want to see two guys cuddling.

“I don’t know, H: all my classes are doing well, I found a convenient boxing course near campus-”

“You already told me this. There’s something new.” Harry interrupts him, not as blunt as he wanted to, because Liam has started petting his hair and he feels already close to purring.

“Ok, there is something new.” Liam says, keep stroking Harry’s hair; Harry murmurs his assent. “I… asked Zayn out. And he accepted. I mean, we already went out together. But it didn’t go very well.”

Harry immediately extricates himself from Liam’s arm, to look him in the eyes: what did he just say? Did he go out with Zayn alone? Why? And why would Zayn accept? (He can’t say the last part because Liam’s self-esteem is more fragile than one could expect, and he would certainly take it in the wrong way, when what Harry is confused about is: Zayn never talks to anyone who isn’t Louis or Niall, and he can’t even imagine him going out with someone who’s not them).

“Did you go out with Zayn? Why?” Liam has his eyes fixed on his hands, facing the rest of the room instead of Harry who’s sitting on his right, looking sheepish about all this conversation.

“Because I like him.” He whispers after a beat.

Now Harry is even more confused than before: what’s to like about Zayn? Yes, he’s beautiful, but he never talks, never join them when they’re having fun, seems to always judge everyone: how can you like someone like this? But, even more importantly, he likes him… how. That’s the thing he wants to know more.

“What do you mean, ‘I like him’?”

Liam grunts, starting to look annoyed, “Do I have to spell this to you? I asked him on a date. He said no.” he’s embarrassed and annoyed, and he’s starting to close on himself, still not facing Harry that is looking at him with growing aghast.

“Hold up: you like men?” he can’t help but ask. He should be a good friend and focusing on the part where Liam was rejected and is probably currently heartbroken, but he’s too confused. This doesn’t make any sense. Since when Liam likes men? Or he had a revelation due to Zayn’s cheekbones or Harry hasn’t understood a single thing in the past month he’s been friends with him. An ancient fear starts to make its way in his head.

At that, Liam turns completely to face Harry. Strangely, he looks more than annoyed now: he looks nearly angry.

“What kind of question is that? You really didn’t know that I’m gay?” he snarls. His whole posture is stiff and he’s getting defensive.

Harry is thunderstruck: he genuinely feels like this whole change of attitude is excessive, and he really wants to joke on that, but he senses that joking right now may not be the right choice.

The scary realization that once again, he didn’t notice something that was probably plain obvious to anyone except him makes him shiver in an ancient shame. But with a Liam that keeps growing mad, that’s a thought to have another time. Trying to defend himself the best he can, he changes strategy:

“I didn’t know, I never realised? Like, you told me about your girlfriend, how could I-”

“Yes, my girlfriend when I was fourteen and I told you that because of how awkward it was!” he interrupts him. He puts his head on his hands and his words come out muffled. “Why no one ever thinks that I’m gay?” he mutters to himself.

“I don’t know Li, maybe it’s for the way you talk and dress? You look a bit like a stereotyped bro, you know what I mean? Like, you don’t look like the idea of a gay man that everyone has.” Harry suggests, hoping to sound helpful. He wants Liam to still think he’s on his side, always: but when he sees Liam standing up, fuming, he knows that his words had the wrong effect on him.

“How could you say something like that?” he’s so pissed that Harry is having difficulty to recognize him. For just one brief, weird moment, Liam looks so angry Harry is actually scared for his safety: his eyes seem to shine, his jaw his clenched and suddenly he looks so much taller. He’s looking at Harry like he wants to punch him: but when Harry recoils a bit on the bed, something must have switched his in mind, because he just takes a deep breath and keep speaking, angry as before but not in a brutish way anymore.

“You’re gay yourself. Don’t you understand that is horrible to think something like that? So, what if I don’t fit into some styling stereotype you have? It is really everything you need to understand someone’s orientation? What about the fact that I’m always paying compliments to men? That I’m flirting with them? Or that I’m always giving you advice about Louis? And since when if you had a girlfriend you can’t be attracted to men, too?” Liam is frenetically pacing around the room: he looks furious now, and even more distress about this whole story. His words are spoken fast and firm, like he already had this identical conversation and knows exactly all the points he needs to prove.

Harry doesn’t know what made him so blind to things other people find obvious, and so quick in fields where other tend to lose themselves: he just knows he had been the butt of the joke for a long time because of that in the past, and he had always hated it with passion. But right now, he kind of feels like he deserves to be yelled at.

Harry seriously needs to know what triggered all his outrage, because it’s not normal, or at least not common, to be this mad about something like this. But at the same time, he knows that Liam is totally right: you can’t decide someone else’s orientation based on some common ideas you may have. The fact that Liam told him many times how Justin Timberlake is his celebrity crush means so much more than him wearing ‘straight clothes’.

“And also, it’s not like I’m this fragile-masculinity man who never engages with his feminine energy.” Liam continues “Like, I love my feminine energy. I embrace it. I told you that I love theatre, and ballet, and make-up, haven’t I? The other day, when I told you I had lipstick on? And I’m confident about it, I’m proud of it.” He has stopped pacing to stand in front of Harry, with a straight back and his head held high, looking at him in the eyes, with so much dignity that Harry feels horrible to have doubted him.

Harry knows that he shouldn’t keep arguing with him, and the only thing that makes sense doing is apologise; so, he stands up as well, and approaching Liam slowly says:

“I’m sorry I never realised, and I never asked you. I know I always say that I’m not perceptive and we joke about it, but this just plainly made me a bad friend, and I’m sorry. I always talk a lot to you about my stuff, but I rarely let you do the same to me, which is completely unfair.” He walks to him and places a hand on his shoulder to test the ground: Liam doesn’t flinch from the touch but he’s still very stiff. “I honestly consider you one of my best friends, even if we’ve been knowing each other for not very long. I want our friendship to grow as strong as it can, and from now on I want to be a better friend for you. I hope you can forgive me.”

Liam just nods, looking overwhelmed by Harry’s honesty; he looks like he expected more arguing and the fact that Harry apologised caught him off guard.

“I’m sorry for yelling.” He says eventually.

Harry just scoffs and hugs him: he really needed it, because he leans in completely.

“Let’s cuddle some more, okay? So you can tell me about Zee and I can have some redemption.” He jokes; he also wants to know if there is a reason behind that outburst of rage, but this is more important now. He moves towards the bed again, gesturing Liam to lay down: to Liam’s surprise, he envelops him with his limbs, facing the wall, making him the little spoon, which Harry usually always insist on being.

“So… we went out yesterday’s afternoon. The same day you were with Louis.” Liam starts telling, talking softly into Harry’s arm. Harry murmurs to let him know he’s listening, while petting his hair.

“I got his number because last time we were talking he said that he knows a well-stocked comic book store not away from campus or his flat, and I was both interested in it and in spending time with him, so I asked if we could go together, and he accepted. And I was ecstatic about that. For using a euphemism.”

“Li, do you even know what ecstatic means?”

“Would you stop being a menace for two seconds” Liam tugs Harry’s hair, snorting a bit: well at least the ghost of a smile seems to have appeared in Liam’s voice.

“Don’t do that, you know I like it” Harry continues: it’s not his fault if annoying Liam is the most entertaining thing in the world. He would never do this to be mean: he knows that the two of them joke like that all the time, so he hopes he can soothe Liam’s mood a bit like this.

“My god, you’re a demon” Liam lets the hair go, sighing. He feels less rigid than before: mission accomplished.

“So, you asked him out and he said yes. Was this three days ago, when you offered me lunch, coffee and compliments every single item of my outfit?” Harry can’t help but asking: to think again, it was obvious that something happened to him, but he was too lost in his own head to ask Liam how he was. Damn, he really needs to be less self-centred.

“Yeah, it was the same day.” Liam sighs a bit and keeps going, “So we went out, ok? And it was magical, because he’s a nerd as much as I am, and we talked about comics a lot and it never became boring, we never had a single moment of awkward silence.”

“Zayn… really talked all this much?”

Liam snorts, “He’s not this mysterious bad boy he could seem from the outside, really. And yes, he talks a lot if he feels like to. And it’s not just that, he’s funny as hell once he’s comfortable.” Liam wriggles a bit in Harry’s arms to have a more comfortable position, and then continues: “And then he told me about the pieces he’s doing lately and how he’s experimenting with techniques and I told him that I like to draw as well but I’m not very good yet – I’m not Harry, not yet, I have to keep practicing – and he wanted to see my drawing and he complimented them, okay? And he was serious and gave me some tips. We went to take a coffee together and it was all perfect.”

He sighs again, sounding sadder than before.

“At least I thought so, because then I asked him ‘would you like to go with me on a proper date?’ and I don’t know what it was, but his whole attitude completely changed. He was all relaxed and happy, so much more compared to how he is when we all go out together, but then he immediately closed off, and suddenly he was pissed, and he was looking at me suspiciously? Like I said something outrageous; and then he asked me, ‘is this the only reason why we’re here now?’ and I don’t know how to explain to you, but he was scary: he suddenly was ice cold and I still don’t understand what I did to offend him so much?

“So I told him that no, I liked spending time with him as a friend and that I enjoyed a lot his company and our afternoon, and that if he didn’t want to go on a date with me it would have been totally fine and I would have respected that. And he warmed up a bit after that, but he never went back to be as relaxed as he was before I asked him out; and then he said that no, he didn’t want to go on a date with me. And we just went each to his own way because it was too awkward for me after that.

“I was close to crying right there, for a series of reason, like yes, the rejection but also for his reaction that I still can’t interpret. Like, the annoying part of my brain who loves to make me insecure is all like ‘he thinks you’re so ugly that he had found revolting that you even asked him out’, but I don’t think it’s that, because he’s a really nice guy, you know? But I don’t understand. He was angry about it. Why would you be angry? Just say no and go on with your life.”

Liam sounds so sad, Harry really wants to punch Zayn. How dare you to hurt this sunshine like this? Did Zayn didn’t have a soul or some eyes to see what he has done?

“Don’t talk about yourself like this, Li” he whispers into his hair “You’re a gift. You’re the kindest person I’ve ever met and I’m grateful every day that I waited for you in those toilettes.” He hears a shaking breath coming from him and oh no, Liam is close to tears.

“And you know what was the first thing I thought when I saw you? I thought: ‘why I keep running into models?’ that’s how hot you are without even trying. So tell the stupid voice that it’s wrong about everything and that anyone would be thankful for having you in their lives.”

Some minutes pass, while Harry tries to gather some convincing theory about Zayn’s reaction; he keeps petting Liam’s hair and is grateful to hear that he doesn’t sound as close to tears as he was before. Finally, something smart comes in his mind, and he starts:

“And regarding Zayn… I’m not sure about what to say: you know him so much better than me. Maybe he didn’t like it because he was just enjoying an afternoon with a friend? I don’t know, but he’s objectively gorgeous, so maybe this is something that happens often to him: he makes friends and then he discovers that they all were just trying to have something else. I know yours wasn’t the case because you’re an angel, but maybe he met sneakier people before?” it’s genuinely the only thing that comes in Harry’s mind that could explain what Zayn said.

“That…” Liam lingers “Could be. I didn’t think about that. It would make me feel a lot better about myself.” He pauses, and the adds, “If he wants a friend, I can be the best friend he ever had.” He sounds set, like he just decided the direction of his life.

“Don’t forget about me while becoming best friends with him.” Harry murmurs, teasing him gently.

“I could never.” Liam replays, always sincere and pure like only him can be.

Harry smiles even more and hugs him tightly.

Moments, minutes pass.

Harry is starting to close off, but there’s something that buggers him that wants to get rid of before consuming this Holy Nap. Liam’s breath too seems to become more regular, so without losing more time he asks:

“Li? Can I ask you something?”

Liam just grunts. Maybe he’s sleepier than what Harry had anticipated and he should let him sleep, but he’s not going to that.

“Is there a reason why you got so angry before? I know I said the wrong thing and I’m completely sorry for that, but you said something like that no one ever believes you? Is that something that already happened to you before?”

Liam has gone completely rigid in his arms, and he’s not responding. Harry doesn’t know how much time passes, and if he should withdraw the question, but he finally hears Liam letting out a ragged breath.

“Nobody believed me when I first came out. I think for the same reasons that you say, that I look too distant from the stereotype everyone has, but probably also because it’s such a tool to have someone not straight in your life. Or at least that’s what I’ve been told. My parents thought it was a phase, my friends thought I did it for attention.” Liam’s voice is so bitter that Harry struggles to recognize it as his; there is an undertone of frustration and anger that seems to be still there.

“I mean, it’s better now, years have passed and, surprise, it’s not a phase! But it really fucked me up. The people who I love and trust the most insisted of thinking they knew me better than myself, and completely invalidated my feelings and experience. Coming out alone already was hard for me, but they really made it worse.” Liam talks quickly like he wants to get this over as soon as he can, but this one too seems like a speech that he already gave in the past.

“I mean, it really made me think about the importance of appearance in society and the fundamental role stereotypes have in our culture and brain. It almost made me want to study sociology, but I liked math too much to really do it.” He lets a depreciative laugh.

“I really don’t know how to comment the last thing you said Li, that’s unholy.” Harry says, hoping to lift Liam’s spirit a bit.

“Yeah, I know, it’s uncommon.” He readjusted himself “I’m sorry I snapped like that at you, you didn’t even say something too offensive, but it really reminded me of those times, you know? And like, it’s exhausting to prove yourself to people who don’t even want to make the effort to have some empathy for you.”

Harry hugs Liam securely with his arms; Liam for sure had met some not nice people in his life, but he’s still one of the gentler and more considerate people ha have ever meet. It’s really a mystery how he managed to remain soft in such a hateful world.

He tells him exactly this, and how the people who wronged him had no right to do so, and that his experience is valid no matter what.

Liam nods like he knows these things already, or like he knows he should know them.

“And, you know what? I look forward to being your wingman; at the party or if we want to go out to some bars one of these nights… I want to see you being appreciated.” Liam mutely nods at that: he’s exhausted for the emotional tool that he had on himself, and shortly after Harry stops talking his breath become more regulated and his body more relaxed, and Harry knows he’s finally asleep.

Smiling, he closes his eyes as well.

 

~*~

 

Harry thought that nothing could feel as nice as cuddling with Liam, but that, well, was before he had found himself in the same exact situation with Louis.

Thing is, they’re friends enough now that Harry can contact Louis without the excuse of studying for their class, but Harry likes their tradition too much to give it up: just creating some weird, exaggerated story of how he really couldn’t study on his own or in his dorm until Louis spares him and sends him an hour to meet in their favourite spot.

The only problem in this idyllic habit of theirs is that their favourite spot is under the trees in the back of the theatre, and the country they’re in is, well, England. So, this bucolic life they have led in the past weeks had its days numbered now that Autumn is finally here.

So there Harry stands, phone clutched in hand, looking outside his dorm’s window like he has been doing for the past five minutes: it’s pouring rain and it gives no signs to stop at all. He was ready to texts Louis but it’s clear that whatever he’ll say to him, they’re not going to hang out on this day; which really, really sucks because Harry was getting used to seing Louis often.

Louis is the busiest person Harry’s ever met: if they’re not together in class or studying, he’s with the troupe, or hanging out with his many friends, Zayn and Niall more than anyone else; if Harry doesn’t know where Louis is, the highest probability is that he’s with them. And even with a life as full as his, he still finds some time to hang out just with Harry: Harry doesn’t know what he did to deserve something like that, but he’s grateful.

Louis always makes him feel warm inside, like there’s nothing that could ever harm him, but at the same time every time he goes back to his room and he’s alone he realises how much Louis has taught him: to free himself from the weight of the world, to relax enough to actually enjoy this period of his life. He’s growing stronger, he can feel it even from how he walks with his head held high, how he asks questions in class when he doesn’t understand something: so many things that almost anyone considers obvious, but not him. He’s also starting to trust himself in his choices: he had finally called his mom to announce he was going to study Biology; her response was enthusiastic and supportive like Harry was hoping, so everything was good.

Everything except for the rain.

Still in front of the window, he decides to give it a try anyway, and texts Louis:

hey, what if I told you that Chris intoxicated the room with his 1 Million and the air here is now lethal?

He gives another look at the window, and decides to keep himself busy while waiting for Louis’ response, starting by organising his schedule for the next week: he adores his journal where he keeps all the thing he has to do, week by week; his Biology lessons overlap his Economics ones, but he already decided long ago to stop going to those, so…

A hopeful ping! resounds in the room, and Harry drops his beloved journal instantly: he has some priorities in life. Like a godsent, he sees the soothing Louis :) on the screen and smiles without even noticing: too bad that the text in itself isn’t what he was wishing for, as Louis had simply said:

Then I would say: open the window and try to not drown in the process

Harry quickly eyes his window: still storming. Louis’ right, he totally is, it would be impossible even to go to a library together right now, but he’s bored and restless and has no will to remain confined in his room. Using his last card, he snaps a pic of himself pouting and sends it to Louis: it will be useless, he knows, but maybe they’ll text a bit after that.

But since Harry hasn’t had a normal day since he met Louis, and since Louis is an endless source of amazement, what Louis replays is:

Well, if you’re that sad you can come over
My rommie’s not here
If you’re not scared of dying, that’s it

That’s an invite as good as he can get, so Harry just says:

I’ll wait for it to rain a little less and I’m chez toi!!!

You’re weird, Louis comments, but seems the opposite of annoyed when he adds:
Hurry up

Revived by a new energy, extremely pleased of himself and with a face-split grin, he starts to get dressed.

 

He’s at Louis’ half an hour later, less soaked than what he had imaged but still damp (he wanted to walk to test Liam’s theory, but it was storming too much and he was too impatient to see Louis, so. Maybe next time). Louis cooed at him like he was a baby when he saw him and offered him a shower (which Harry declined) and a jumper (which he gladly accepted, maybe too quickly).

So here he is now in Louis’ room, which is totally different from how he has pictured it: since Louis is so… lively, bright, full of life, and so many times seems to not really care about his possessions, Harry had just assumed his room as a big mess. Don’t get him wrong, it’s not tidy, especially not as tidy as Harry’s, but it’s clean and cosy, and that’s the biggest difference between the two: even his room his warm and homey like him.

There are pictures on every surface: of his siblings, his family, and so many of Niall and Zayn. They especially seem to appear in every corner of Louis’ room: so many of the pictures portrait them, both alone or with members of Louis’ family. The room is also full of little post-its that are scribbled and attached around, with reminding or lovely notes from other people.

Sitting at Louis’ desk, with his jumper on, it’s not difficult for Harry to understand how lovely and important this guy must be for everyone in his life.

When Harry arrived Louis’ phone was blowing up with messages, until he said his goodbyes to whoever was texting and putted his phone on his nightstand.

“Sorry,” he says, not looking bothered at all. “I was making plans for Christmas.”

“Isn’t it… a bit early?” Harry’s confused: it’s not even November yet.

“Yeah, but my family has invited Zayn’s family this year, me and him were talking about some broad organization.”

“Oh! That’s lovely.” Harry exclaims with a hint of fake joy: his conversation with Liam was too fresh to be genuinely happy about that.

“Yeah, it really is.” Louis smiles to himself for a second, and then returns his attention on Harry. “So,” he starts. He’s sitting on his bed with his legs crossed in the most comforting-looking clothes and looks a bit sleepy, his eyelashes fluttering slowly. It’s still raining and it makes a soothing, calming sound: Harry, now completely dry, starts to feel dozy, too.

“You decided on Biology at the end?” He speaks with no rush, like they’re in a bubble and have all the time in the world.

“Oh,” Harry readjusts his position, “Yeah, I mean, I had a few lessons and I really liked it, so yeah.” He sends a tentative smile back to him, but Louis just looks genuinely happy that Harry has found his way.

“What did you like about it?”

It’s so, so weird, because Harry is not used to having someone asking him such important and open questions, with the awareness that they’re interested and not asking for politeness.

“I love animals, I just want to study them and to look at them for the rest of my life, I suppose.” He shrugs and looks down.

“And what do you like about animals?” Louis reiterates: he’s liking this, as he’s smiling brightly now, a little spark already in his eyes. Harry can’t believe someone like him can make Louis smile as he does.

“I love how honest they are,” he starts. He’s speaking softly, too, to no break the bubble they’re in. “I love how they aren’t mean on purpose; how transparent they are.” Oh, he could talk for hours about this; “I love seeing how different species have adapted differently to the same habitats and vice versa. I particularly love seeing how they interact between each other and other species. That’s, that’s my favourite part, I think.”

Louis is looking at him with pride. “That’s beautiful ‘Arry” he whispers when Harry has finished.

Harry looks down, shying away from all the love Louis is pouring over him: the warmth he’s feeling it’s too much and he never knows what to do with himself when Louis compliments him or is clearly proud of him.

“But,” he continues; Harry snaps his head up: ‘but what?’. Louis is a bit uncertain, but he continues: “I have a theory on this.”

“You do?” Harry asks, already feeling nervous again. Louis looks at him intently, with his eyes squinted like he’s trying to read his brain: he has leaned forward on the bed, still with this ridiculous expression on.

“I do.” He stares at him for another second, and then he asserts: “You already wanted to study biology. You knew before coming to Uni.”

Harry nearly chokes on that: what? It took him so much by surprise that he nearly risked falling off his chair: which is ridiculous, of course is it, so he finds himself laughing along with Louis at his clumsiness. He wants to change the topic of conversation, but he’s not smooth enough and he knows that if Louis wants something he’ll have it, so now he has to respond to it.

“Why would you think that?” for a moment he had thought that Louis was going to say, ‘you wanted to do that, so why are you still in my Lit class?’, which has just one honest response. But thankfully that moment of paranoia had passed and now Harry knows that Louis is genuinely curious and not trying to snoop around. The only problem is that he’s so damn smart that he actually got into something.

“Well,” Louis starts “You love animals, you’re basically obsessed by them. You know so many trivial and non-trivial facts about them. At first I thought it was a random interest, but you’re really into it. Paired up with the whole ‘I don’t know what to major in!’ it just sounded suspicious, you know?” he’s listing all this like he actually thought about this for more than two seconds. Harry is honestly impressed.

“Okay, okay, I’ll give it to you,” he raises his hands in surrender “You’re correct. I always wanted to study it.” It slips away from him before he can actually grasp what he said: but Louis, who’s faster than him, interrupt him instantly:

“Then why didn’t you go straight to that?” he’s frowning, like he’s offended on the class’ behalf.

“I mean,” Harry trails off as much as he can, not knowing where to start. “I mean, it’s not a serious carrier, you know? And also it’s difficult and could be outside my abilities-”

“No, wait” Louis interrupts him forcefully: there’s a hint of indignation in his tone. Their bubble popped. “What do you mean, it’s not serious and outside your abilities?” his frown is not pretended anymore.

Even though Harry knows that his annoyance is not direct towards him, he still crouches a bit on himself on the chair.

“I mean,” he tries, “it’s just that it’s hard to study and it’s not as serious as law or economics or-”

“No,” Louis stops him again, “Someone told you this. Exactly this, with these words and all. Didn’t they? Someone made you believe this crap.”

Harry tighten his folded arms around himself and looks down. He didn’t come here to have a discussion about that. He came at Louis’ to have a chat with the best person he knows and to spend a nice rainy, class-free morning together. He wants to go back to his room now, but it’s still raining and he doesn’t want to storm out like he’s angry or something. He still hasn’t said anything or looked back at Louis.

Some tense moments pass; Harry doesn’t know what to do and his agitation is becoming star-high, until Louis’ soft voice is back:

“Hey,” he says in a low voice, “I’m sorry, I’ve come out too strong on that. I didn’t want to yell at you, I would never do that. And we don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, I don’t want to make you, it’s just that…” he sighs, pausing.

Harry raises his head and meets his graze: Louis is looking at him with an apologetic expression and he’s so, so sincere.

“It’s just, you know I love you, right?” Louis suddenly changes track.

Harry, well, was hoping for it, but heard it said was a bit different: he feels himself becoming completely red and avoids Louis’ gaze once again. Do you? His heart speeds up and now he’s smiling to himself, feeling light-headed with happiness. Not knowing how to replay, he just shrugs.

“Well I do,” Louis continues, “I like you very much, you’re my friend. And you don’t talk much about yourself and I respect it, but I also want you to know that if you ever wanna do it, I’m here for you.” He pauses again. “Damn, now I’ve put you in a corner” he sounds so exasperated that Harry has to chuckle at that “And” he continues with a smile that colours his voice as well, “That’s not fair, I know. I just wanna say that if you need me, I’m here. I’ll always be here.”

It’s the first time for Harry to see Louis so clumsy with his words and he appreciate it massively: nice to catch glimpses where he’s a human as much as him.

Harry looks at him again, face as neutral as possible and chin up, just to make him squirm some more.

Louis snorts at that: “Oh c’mon,” he exclaims, with fake exasperation and opening his arms, “Come here, give me a cuddle.” When he sees Harry hesitates, not knowing what to do, he gestures himself and the bed and repeats: “’Arry, a cuddle, don’t be distressed all by yourself.”

That’s all the confirmation Harry needs: he launches himself in Louis’ arm, with so much enthusiasm he nearly knocks his over; chuckling, Louis secures his arms around Harry’s torso and make him place his head on himself.

Louis is soft as he always is: it’s like that word was made just for him. Soft. As his expression, his hair, his heart. Incapable of doing anything mean to anyone, always ready to give a hand to whoever is in need. Louis puts a hand gently and the nape of his neck, and starts stocking his thumb slowly, like he wants to get rid of the tension that’s still left in Harry’s body.

In a matter of few seconds, Harry’s relaxed as he has never been, breathing calmly Louis’ vanilla scent.

They stay like that for an uncountable number of moments, with the rain still falling and the warmth of their bodies join together like their limbs, intertwining.

“I would love to be a bit more like you.” Harry whispers, out of the blue. He has thought about that so many times since he has met Louis, and he really wants him to know how much he means to him. Louis moves imperceptibly, like he’s accommodating himself to listen better to what Harry will say. “Because you’re… you’re so kind and supportive and always so ready to help others. You’re helping me to find the courage to be myself, and that’s something I’ve been too shy to try for years. And…” it’s so hard to find words that express what Harry feels but don’t scream ‘I love you’.

“You fight so hard for it. You fight hard for everybody. And I would want to be as strong as you to give back to you what you have done for me, if you’ll need it, when you’ll need it, whatever. And I don’t know if I’ll ever be, but since I meet you, a lot more seem possible.”

Louis’ hand has moved to scratch Harry’s head like he’s a cat since he started talking: it makes him sleepy and so much more honest; he should be more careful with his tongue here, but it’s impossible to focus on something that isn’t Louis’ body against him.

“You don’t have to be like me to be a good person Harry, you already are.” Louis whispers back after a pause. “And I appreciate our friendship just as much as you, I can guarantee you that, we’re equals here, okay?” he squeezes Harry’s hand. “Believe it or not, you do as much for me as I do for you, that’s how friendship works.” He adds, with a weird tone to it.

Harry turns to look at him better: he’s frowning again but looks distant now, not focused on Harry. A longer pause passes this time, before Louis speaks again:

“You know, it hasn’t always been wonderful to be like this. Don’t get me wrong, I love to help people as much as I can, making others happy is one of my biggest goals in life. But…” he sighs and tightens his arms around Harry, dropping his head over Harry’s. “I’ve always been like this and I used to be so naïf, you know? So quick to trust anybody and to offer a hand to anyone who looked like they needed it. And like that, I used to be so easy to… to manipulate into stuff that I wouldn’t have done if I was a little more selfish. Nothing too drastic,” he backpedals when Harry throws a worried glance at him. “I just befriended some wrong people growing up, thinking I could help them while they just used me without giving nothing in return.”

He sighs again, his graze lost in something that’s not there, deep in thought in his memories.

“But it was still important for me,” he starts again, focusing back on the conversation, with a new energy in his voice. “It was important to grow apart from the vision of the world I once had: I had some hard moments where I couldn’t trust people as much as I used to, and I became really selfish.” He grimaces like he still can’t believe what he has done.

“But I… I physically couldn’t continue to be like that. Because taking care of others is important to me as much as theatre, my family, my relationships. Taking care of others makes me, me; it’s a trait of my personality. And I just had to learn how to handle this better than I did, to learn to read people and find those for who is worthy to give everything; and to not give all myself to anyone in the world just for them to walk over me. I care about others, but I learnt that I matter, too, so I should also care about myself.”

Harry squeezes his hand back at him, turning to look at him in the eyes: holding his graze he tries as hard as he can to communicate how proud of him he is, because he knows that language would fail him right now.

He’s realising how honest and beautiful their friendship is: Louis has always been sincerer and braver than he is, even about topic like this; he already told him about some rough experiences he had, and he had always done it with his head held high and the awareness of what Life had taught him in that precise experience.

Right now, Louis is implicitly telling him that he’s one of those people he knows he can trust, and the least Harry can do is share something as well and finally be brave and open, just like him.

“Be vulnerable is the most courageous thing you can do: it’s a superpower”, he has said.

“I’m proud of you,” he starts. “To be that open and trusting to people after that must have taken a lot of courage, but it made you be one of the best people that I know, so I think it was worth it.”

“It absolutely was,” Louis is quick to confirm. “I’m grateful for my experiences, even those that aren’t nice. Everything taught me something.”

Harry nods, and squeezes his hand again; he takes a deep breath. He decides to do it quickly, like a band-aid, and closes his eyes.

“It was my teacher, by the way. Even if it was obvious.”

On his right, he feels Louis go a little rigid:

“What?” he says after a moment.

Harry knows it wasn’t as obvious as it was in his head, but he still hates to explain it.

“My science teacher told me to not persuade a scientific path if I wanted to go to Uni. I remember very well him saying if, not when.” He mutters, not opening his eyes yet.

At that, Louis goes completely rigid.

“What the fuck?” He nearly growls. Harry appreciates that even if he’s getting angry on his behalf, he still hasn’t moved or stopped petting his hair: he needs that kind of stability to finish this story.

“I don’t know, I think he didn’t see me suitable for the subject even though I wasn’t that bad on the strict scientific side, but he still thought it was a waste of time for someone like me.”

“Someone like you? What the fuck, Harry?” his voice is shaking with outrage.

Despite everything, Harry gives a wobbly smile at that; it’s still painful and humiliating, but having Louis so worked up for him is nice.

“You see, back in high school I wasn’t… the best student I could have been. I was always distracted by something minimal, I went through a lot of things and my grades were shit until the last year, when I put my head out of my arse and I started studying for real.” He says, ignoring the true chore of the question.

“Yeah, okay, but why would he ever say that.” Harry hasn’t still looked at him, but he knows that now Louis has his gaze fixed somewhere and can hear from his voice how clenched his jaw is: he’s really angry but he’s containing himself, because he knows that now Harry needs comfort, not someone getting mad, even if it’s for him.

“Lou,” Harry sighs, opening his eyes and finally looking at him. Louis tries to give him a nod to encourage him, but it looks more like a rigid jerk.

Harry has no idea of how to say what there’s next. He has no idea of how to explain the paranoia, the endless fear of not being enough and being touchy on the top of all this. “I don’t really know, okay. Maybe he just didn’t want me to fail. He knew I have an uncle who’s a lawyer, so he suggested me to study that instead and just go to work in his studio. And also…” he kind of doesn’t want to say this, but Louis was so honest with him, he wants to give something back to him. “He may have said that I wasn’t smart enough to study that.”

He has said it, it’s out now. Like it happened in slow motion, Harry can see every Louis’ expressions: confused, shocked, outraged, angry, and heartbroken.

Since Harry is talking, he decides to go all in:

“And the point is, when your actual teacher says something like this, how are you supposed to not believe him? Even just a little bit? So I convinced myself that it wasn’t a big deal and just went around saying that I had no idea of what I wanted to do, until I actually forgot it and my love for Biology became faded, until I had that first lesson some weeks ago and I realised how much I still love it. But I don’t know, I don’t think he was completely wrong. Maybe he was trying to look out for me and-”

“Do you hear yourself?” Louis interrupts him. “Like, can you hear what you say about yourself?”

“No Louis, listen: my grades were shit and I always looked disinterested about everything. He probably didn’t even say it to be mean, he probably was just frustrated with me. But I was the problem, I could have fought for it instead of-”

“Harry,” Louis seems to be pleading him. “Stop.”

“No, okay, I am the paranoid one. I was the one that took it badly enough to just forget about it, and-” his throat closes on his words and he gulps. 

“Harry, Harry, love, stop saying these horrible things, okay?” He hugs him even tighter. “That was I was saying before, that someone made you believe all this. Do you realise how wrong it is? A teacher should encourage you and guide you into finding your passion, and yours tried to kill one that you had. You see how wrong it is? How vicious it was?” Louis speaks quickly, like he could go mad if he didn’t get everything he feels out; he’s frenetic, the look he’s giving Harry nearly pleading: please, don’t you see how amazing you are? His eyes seem to say.

Harry has tears hiding in the back of his eyes that won’t spill; he keeps holding them back, until he feels like he can breathe again without the risk of making a sob escape. He nods, maybe more because how the frantic energy Louis seems to have in his eyes than because he actually believes what he said. He has never told this, to absolutely anyone: he knows his mom would have argued with his teacher and his sister would probably fight him with her hands. Or, even worse, he was so scared that both of them could have said: “maybe he’s not so wrong, after all”.

“And what he said, love, that’s despicable.”

At that, Harry snorts: he’s not proud of the weird sound that comes out of his mouth, but whatever. “Despicable, ah.”

“You’re a child,” Louis fakes a sigh and smacks him gently. “I’m talking about serious stuff here, you will not distract me.”

Harry gives him a shrug.

“I’m serious darling, for real.” Louis sighs, sad that Harry seems to not get what he’s saying. “And seriously, I just hope he will get fired soon, because someone like that can’t work with teenagers. Not everyone takes critiques like reasons to study more, some people are just softer,” he keeps caressing the nape of his neck. “And that’s a beautiful thing. Also, that wasn’t a critique, that was being a moron. Like, can’t you see how brilliant you are? That breaks my heart.”

“Lou,” Harry starts, and then finds himself with nothing to say. He has other things he can say about that, to make Louis understand why his teacher was right about him, but this conversation is already heavy as it is now, and he doesn’t want to add other sob stories to his pity party.

“I’m so serious. As your mental coach-” Harry rolls his eyes at that, gaining a light smack on a shoulder. “I’m here to show you how sharp you are. New tasks for me.”

“You already have a hundred of those, just accept me for the mess I am.” Harry mumbles to himself.

“Oh, but I do. You’re great the way you are, that’s why I want to eliminate everything that holds you back from becoming what you are.” His eyes shine instantly, and then he adds: “Just like Friedrich would say, you know?”

Harry stares at him disbelievingly. “And I am the weird one?!”

“Yes, yes you are.” Louis replays with the biggest smile, like he’s paying a compliment.

“But you’ve already done so much,” Harry continues. He wants Louis to get this so badly. “I don’t know if I would have chosen it in the end, even after I went to the lessons and fell in love all over again. I still had his voice in my brain, and the paranoia of not being enough. You made it go away, understand? You.” He’s getting choked up while saying this, but it’s too important.

“Harry, love,” Louis takes his hands in his. “You have done that yourself, okay? I’m just here, being your friend. And your occasional mental coach.” He winks exaggeratedly. “But who choose to ignore that voice? Who decided to switch majors? You did. You should be proud of yourself.” His eyes shine as well, and Harry’s overwhelmed with love.

“The only thing I’m asking you,” Louis continues, voice sets like he’s making an official agreement. “You’re not gonna forget about me, right? When you’ll be surrender by hot biologist who will say hot stuff like, ‘mitochondria’.”

The moment is solemn and melodramatic just like Louis likes it, but it’s not the moment to laugh now: his eyes still shine a little, and Harry knows that was he’s asking is a serious question, even if he tried to downplay it.

“I already told you,” Harry replays, hand on his heart, sincere as he’ll ever be. “I’d never. And I’ll still do the Literature exam, even if it will be useless.”

Louis’ confused face is priceless. “Why would you ever do that?!” he exclaims.

Oh, Louis has set up the moment so well, Harry can’t lose this opportunity.

“Well,” Harry prepares his most flirting expression, squeezes Louis’ hand, and with his voice lowered down a little he murmurs: “You see, I quite like the company.”

Louis must have intended that this is not the usual banter they have, because instead of laughing or flirting back, in his usual over-the-top manner, he looks a bit confused, like Harry has come too strongly or he has said something wrong.

“Harry, you know that I-” like the worst cliché that there it is, Louis’ phone starts ringing. Loudly. He drops Harry’s hands, grunting something under his breath, and turns to take it. When he sees who it is, his expression changes.

“I’m really sorry,” he says, looking apologetic. “But I have to take this, it’s my dad.” He gets up from the bed, and before Harry can say ‘go with it’, or ‘wait, what were you saying?’, he’s already out of the room, talking on the phone. Harry is left confused and with his hands mid-air, all by himself.

Not knowing what to do, he gets up from the bed and wanders a bit in Louis’ room, snooping around and looking at the photos hanging on the walls. One of them catches his attention: it’s a Polaroid, a bit overexposed, of two matching tattoos that simply say Bus1. He wonders who it could be in the photo and what it could mean.

Louis is back in the room in just a few minutes, catching him while he was studying all his photos: he doesn’t look pissed by that, as he smiles at him walks to the window.

“Oi, it stopped raining.” He says, sounding very happy about it.

Harry looks at the window. As Louis said, it’s not storming anymore: it’s still grey and gloomy, but everything it’s calmer now. He’s still curious about before, but he figures that probably was nothing important, so he decides to move on.

“Do you want to have a brunch?” he proposes. It’s still early.

Louis looks at him with his eyebrows raised: “Do you have brunch money?” he asks with just a bit of skepticism.

“I mean…” Harry lingers a bit.

“That’s okay” Louis cuts him off. “We’re going at Zayn’s. He makes some mean French toasts.” He’s typing on his phone before Harry can replay anything.

 

~*~

Chapter Text

Harry has asked Liam if he is completely sure he wants to come to the party probably a hundred of times already: every time, Liam gets a bit more confident with his assent. Harry is not used to feel so protective of someone, due the fact that in all his life he had always been the one who need reassure in basically all field he could think of: his mom and his sister always knew when his fake confidence started acting up and were ready to intervene if necessary; his friends in high school were a completely different matter, but at least he never had to defend someone.

While they walk to Niall and Zayn’s flat with their complimentary packs of beer, Harry can’t help but to think how different this walk is compared to the one they had not even a month ago: things have changed so much and so quickly for the best, and Harry feels pleased with how everything turned out. It still may be too soon to say, but he feels sure that tonight it will finally happen: he will dance with Louis, maybe they will even kiss, but for sure he will finally ask him out.

So, to be short, he’s absolutely ready for this night.

Liam, on the contrary, looks less sure every step he takes; he still has the firm expression plastered on his face, but it looks pretty fake, and his general body language screams how much he doesn’t want to go to this party.

When they arrive at the intercom, Harry faces him and says:

“Liam, you know I care about you, right?”, to which Liam responds with a confused expression.

“Just want you to know that if you feel awkward or if you want to quit the party early I’m by your side, ok? You say a word and we’re out of the house, whenever you want.” He’s totally serious, even if the idea of fleeing the party breaks his heart a little: but as he already said to Liam, he wants to be a good friend, and showing support is always fundamental.

“You’re always so dramatic H.” Liam replies, rolling his eyes “I bet that this is the Tommo’s influence.”

“Just wanted to be nice.” Harry scoffs, faking being annoyed, and rings the intercom.

“I know. Thank you.” Liam whisper as the electric buzz signals them that the door has been opened.

The loud music can be heard as soon as they enter the hall of the building; Harry is buzzing with the anticipation of the party and throwing a quick glance at Liam hurries into the elevator. When they arrived at the door Niall welcomes them, which is no surprise at all, given how much Niall likes to be always aware of what’s happening around him and generally likes to have the control of the situation. They briefly hug, Niall thanks them for the beers and they enter in the flat.

All the furniture has been pushed to the walls, creating the effect of a spacious living room; the lights are low and dimmed and the stereo is blasting some pop remix that has the crowd dancing. There are a lot more people than Harry expected, and the flat is completely packed, which leads to a big problem: he can’t spot Louis to save his life.

Niall is talking fast to them, pointing where the alcohol is and introducing everyone who passes by them: after those quick introductions he disappears in the crowd with a last flashing smile.

Harry decides that it’s not that big of a deal that he hasn’t found Louis yet, and grabbing Liam by an elbow he pilots him towards the counter, where the alcohol is gathered. Liam looked stiff when he entered the flat, but the semidarkness of the room seems to have calmed him a bit: he’s looking around, probably trying to find (and avoid) Zayn, but by his expression Harry knows he hasn’t found him.

“Did you find him?” Harry asks anyway, placing a glass full of vodka lemon in Liam’s hands. Liam looks at him like he’s grown two heads and grabs a beer instead.

“No. Did you?” Harry shakes his head and happily takes the vodka lemon back; taking a sip, he looks at the whole room before them: it’s colourful and filled with ecstatic energy, and there is just too much youth and vitality to be confined in a corner of the room and stare at anyone else dancing instead of dancing with them.

“But I want to dance, and I want you to have fun, too.” He grabs him again by the arm, this time, and goes straight to the centre of the room, where he can literally feel the energy of the other people surrounding him. “Also” he half shouts in Liam’s ear to be heard over the loud music, “You remember what I said about being your wingman, right? I’m always ready.”

“Let’s just have fun, shall we?” Liam says back, with a hint of a smile; he finds the beats immediately and starts dancing in a captive way that Harry has never seen in real life before: it’s probably something people do on Instagram, because Liam loves that app and spends a lot of his time scrolling on it and learning the most random things. Meanwhile, Harry really doesn’t know how to dance, so he just decides to drink a bit more than what he should and dance without a care in the world, lanky limbs and all.

It’s amazing how much someone who constantly encourages you to be yourself can do to your self-esteem: yeah, he will be tipsy soon, but that’s not why he’s dancing like this. He’s doing it because it’s his favourite way of moving and he’s finally enough comfortable with himself to do it in public. And, as Louis had told him countless of times, it’s not like anyone is ever going to care, and “there isn’t any greater tragedy to live like a faded version of yourself”.

They occupy the dancefloor immediately, moving toward the centre of it; the music is perfectly loud, and Harry can feel the bass echoing in his bloodstream. He’s having the time of his life, dancing horribly like only him is capable of: but he’s happy and he doesn’t care about it.

He’s already on his second vodka lemon (a courtesy of a passing girl who said she loved his dance moves) and his prancing has never been better.

They have started to gain a bit of attention: Liam with his provocative moves and Harry who’s dancing like a four-year-old are making quite a pair. After Liam politely rejects two girls who wanted to dance with him in the same sensual way with a ‘dancing is okay but that’s how far I go with girls’, a man who genuinely looks like Thor personified approaches him with a sly grin plastered on his perfect face.

He’s taller than Harry and has his wavy blond hair in a messy bun; his biceps are probably the size of Harry’s thighs and none of the thoughts in Harry’s mind at the moment are pure: glancing at Liam, he knows perfectly well that they’re thinking the same things.

“Saw you dancing from the other side of the room.” He says with a purring whisper in Liam’s ear “Your moves are quite… distracting.”

Liam’s standing there a bit rigidly, his expression shocked like he could never imagine something like his; but he recovers quickly, and turning towards him says:

“You have yet to see my best ones.” with the steadiest tone Harry has ever heard from him; then he quickly turns to throw a look at Harry’s to let him know that everything is alright: Harry just grins with his eyebrows raised and tries with every muscle of his face to make the message ‘go get that dick’ come across; from the satisfaction on Liam’s face he would say that he succeeded.

Liam starts dancing with Thor and Harry is suddenly alone on the dancefloor: without someone to be ridiculous with he isn’t in the mood to dance anymore and he also wants to give some space to Liam and the Excessively Attractive Guy, so he just goes to the counter again and places his empty glass in the sink.

The night as been funny so far, but now that he has nothing to do he starts to feel worried again. He still can’t see Louis anywhere, and a horrible suspect sneaks in his mind: what if he isn’t even here? That would be so awful, Harry feels shattered just at the thought of it. He had put his best outfit one, the one that screams confidence.

But of course is not just that, is that he had planned and dreamed about this night from the second he was invited to the party: it makes no sense that Louis is not here. In his mind, he had already declared this night as The One where they will finally get together, and the absence of the other boy is starting to make him feel like a fool.

Harry takes a deep breath, trying to convince himself to stop the negative thoughts, but it is hard as the alcohol for sure made him more emotional and less rational, and he starts to feel alone in this flashing apartment without anyone to talk to.

Noticing how many glasses are scattered around, he decides to keep himself busy by recollecting them to put them in the sink or the bin to avoid thinking about Louis. When he returns after his second round at the counter with his hands full, he finds Niall there fixing himself a drink. As soon as he sees Harry, he starts laughing.

“What are you doing, man? Cleaning? Seriously?” he’s a bit red on the face and he’s clear that he’s been enjoying his night as well: Harry has seen him every now and then, popping around and proposing toasts to everything and for everyone; he lights up everywhere he goes with his positive attitude and his genuine energy and love for life: Harry likes him so much. Apart from now.

“There was such a mess around, and I know you hate it, so…” Harry tries to defend himself, but he sounds weak to his own ears.

He hasn’t see Louis yet, even with the two round he made around the living room, the kitchen and the bathroom; he’s starting to seriously worry that he’s not even in this flat, he can’t know for sure if he’s at this party or not: to be fair, Louis was the one who invited him, but they haven’t even bumped in each other and this flat is not that big.

While he had Liam to distract himself with that part of the night went alright, but now Liam is busy with that guy and Harry has been left completely alone with his bitterness.

Is not even that there aren’t cute guys in this party, because there are a lot and Harry received a couple of winks and suggestive inviting eyebrows movements, but he’s lying to himself if he thinks that he could be able to be with anyone who isn’t Louis anymore.

He’s completely in love with a guy who is not at the party he was invited to.

Of course he’s bitter and bored and now he’s cleaning someone else’s mess.

Also maybe he should add that he’s beginning to feel more than tipsy and that that doesn’t help with his emotional management.

“I loathe mess, but cleaning at a party? Man, that’s worse than petting a dog.” Niall says, and keeping laughing like this is honestly funny he offers to Harry his glass, making another for him. It probably is funny, it’s just that Harry is in a shitty mood and every passing second he feels closer to have a toddler’s tantrum. Maybe he really drank too much in too little time, but has he already said, he’s resentful, so it’s not like he cares.

“Liam abandoned me.” He finally states, grabbing whatever Niall has just handed him and leaning on the counter with him, looking at the dance floor. He can see Liam and The Guy having a whispered conversation in a corner of the room: Harry knows how red Liam is even if the room is dark.

“Liam’s living his best life right now, don’t put this on him.” Niall says sagely. He’s completely right and Harry knows it: the thought of being also wrong makes him whine. He takes a huge gulp of the drink instead: it’s so much stronger than what he has drunk until now, and he feels it going straight to his brain.

“Why don’t you follow his example and dance with someone as well? Had some lads asking about you; gals, too, if you’re interested. Just dance and have a bit of fun, old man.” Niall continues, friendly and helpful as ever: how Harry managed to be surrounded by so many wonderful friends is still a mystery (“because you’re wonderful as well” he can hear Louis saying it in his mind, like he heard him say many times before. He’s so supportive, and Harry is so in love).

“I’m not in the mood to pull tonight, but thanks.” He tries to say as nice as possible. It’s a bit of a lie, but he doesn’t want to pour his heart to Niall in this moment.

“I wanted to ask you…” he lingers for a bit, trying to decodify how to say that, but then decides that he really doesn’t care, and asks anyway: “Do you happen to know where Louis is? I wanted to at least say hi, but I haven’t seen him all night.”

For some mysterious reason, that makes Niall roars with laughter. Harry stays perfectly stills, not understanding what has just happened. He takes another gulp of his drink for good measure.

“You’re a cheeky one, aren’t you?” Niall asks laughing and pointing at him with the hand that’s holding the glass: he has a glint in his eyes that wasn’t there before, and okay that Harry is basically drunk, but he has clearly missed something here.

“Wha- why? What did I say?” Niall couldn’t understand all his impure thoughts just with that question, right? That was perfectly innocent: he just wants to see his friend; also, Niall seems at least as drunk as he is, so his intuitive skills can’t be that good.

“Oh, don’t worry, you don’t have to act like you don’t know. Follow me, I’ll show you where he is.” Niall goes away so quickly that Harry has to grab his shirt to follow him: with some blessing he doesn’t trip on his own feet and is able to actually follow him. There is a misunderstanding for sure, but if he sees Louis soon is not like he cares about what Niall thought.

They go down the corridor that links the living room to all the other rooms in the flat: they are all locked except for the bathroom. Harry has been down this corridor just to go to the bathroom a couple of times, and he has never seen Niall’s room or Zayn’s: they both are a bit tight with their privacy.

Arriving in front of one of the doors, Niall knocks violently and shouts:

“Lou! You have a guest!” the loud shout makes Harry’s head pound, but the idea of seeing Louis soon immediately puts Harry in a happier mood: drunk as he is, it’s a shocking change of things. He suddenly feels the energy to stand straight, and a toxic-induced delight possess him: his head continues to pound but is bearable now.

“Yeah Lou, open up!” he adds cheerfully. Beside him, Niall laughs. He’s cute.

A couple of moments passes, and Harry now can hear some fumbling on the other side of the door: after quite a bit, finally some passes come at the door, that is thrown open.

The first thing that Harry’s brain registers, before Louis’ silhouette against the light, his soft hair and his relaxed expression, is a strong, deep smell of weed.

Oh no.

Was this that Niall was referring to? That would totally make sense. What did I end up in? he can’t help but worry. He had never smoked anything in his entire life.

It probably is just a suggestion, but he feels already inebriated by the smell of it.

“Harry, my man.” Louis whispers so softly that makes all Harry’s worries crumble away; somewhere beside him, Niall had already said goodbye to them and has returned to the party, but Harry is too occupied at the moment to care.

With no hesitation at all, Louis hugs him, and Harry’s thoughts vanish in a happy and relaxed buzz: Louis smells strongly like weed as well (no surprise here) but under that, there still his soft vanilla scent that Harry has learnt to associate to him.

Louis closes the door, and everything changes: the world is now quiet and soft, with no more loud music and sweaty bodies pressed onto him. The sudden diversity between the two reality hits him hard: his ears ring because of the music, and he’s now aware of how much he had drunk; his body feels heavy and he’s grateful for the dim warm lights in this room. He feels like he’s completely in another dimension.

Louis is dressed simply, as usual, and so different from Harry, who had planned his outfit in his head in the past three days: his jeans are nicer than his regular ones, black and tight, and he’s barefoot (as he always is in a familiar territory); but what made Harry stops and stares is his red t-shirt, with the collar cut so low he can see his ‘it is what is it’ tattoo and his perfect, golden skin. Harry would pay real money to do body shots from his collarbones.

His movements are a bit slower and he’s totally chill; Harry, on the other hand, has a pounding headache and a dry mouth: it always goes like this when he stops after he drinks. When he drinks he is always buzzing and full of energy but as soon as he stops partying the reality of his inebriation catches him, making him feel disoriented and unbalanced: this time was no different from the others.

“Come and sit with us, will you?” Louis says with a voice as soft as him, gesturing the room behind him.

Harry doesn’t know where to look, as this room is surprisingly full of stuff: laid on the ground, hanging on the walls, over the furniture; this space looks more like a storage room than anything else. There are also a lot of people that he has never seen sit around on the couches or on the ground: some of them have coloured hair and peculiar clothes and look a lot like the stereotype of the art student, others are a lot more casual, but they all greeted him with a collective ‘hi’ and a smile, to which Harry replies with a startled smile.

He spots Zayn sitting on one of the couches with a joint in one hand and a weird expression on his face: he doesn’t look mad or annoyed that Harry is there, but neither thrilled about it. Harry, drunk and awkward, wave his hand at him with a big smile: for some reason Zayn seems entertained by that, and smiles in return. Every time that Harry succeeds in making Zayn smile, or even to loosen up a bit, it feels like a victory, like he had completed a very hard task.

Louis guides him to sit on the other couch with him, where he sits on his lap and curl in himself like a cat; Harry feels overwhelmed by love and affection and starts playing with his hair. From the other couch, Zayn looks at them with a muted smile.

“Hi everyone!” Harry says softly, to match the atmosphere of the room “I’m Harry. I hope I haven’t interrupted your night.”

He is met by a warm murmur of ‘hi Harry’ and ‘don’t worry’ all across the room; then the strangers restart to chat with each other, and the only attention is left on him is Louis’.

“Hey, no, it’s ok.” Louis hums thoughtfully. They stay like that, cuddling on the sofa for some minutes, with Louis asking how the party is going on the other side of the flat. Harry tells him enthusiastically about how Liam pulled a handsome guy with his moves, to which Louis responded with a delight ‘good Lima!’, accompanied by the crinkles by his eyes for how much he’s smiling.

Harry feels uncertain to bring this up, but he’s too curious to not to:

“Why are you hiding here to smoke? You don’t like the atmosphere in the other room?” he whispers just to Louis; his hair is soft, and the sharp curve of cheekbones seems to call for his lips. It seems like a dream and he doesn’t want to break it.

He feels Louis smile under his fingertips before he can hear him replying to him:

“Yeah, yeah, ‘s too loud out there.” He shifts slightly to look Harry better in the eyes. “Also Zaynie here doesn’t like to smoke with too many people, y’know?” and, well.

Harry doesn’t know.

And still can’t understand why everything Zayn wants is apparently a law for anyone else, that just because he’s a hermit Harry had to miss Louis for more than half of the party, but he doesn’t want to focus on that now: Louis is on his lap, beautiful as he always is, and he’s whispering with him like he’s the only person in this room. Harry can live with that.

When the joint returns to them Louis turns to his left and takes it gently from a guy’s hand; he takes a long drag with his eyes semi-closed. He is no longer curled upon Harry, but he’s still sitting on his lap. After he breaths out the warm smoke, he offers it to Harry.

“I didn’t know that you smoked? I would have invited you here at the start of the party.”

“I don’t actually?” Harry feels very uncertain about this all situation: of course, he’s happy to have finally found Louis and to be this close to him, but he doesn’t even know how to smoke and doesn’t want to make a fool of himself; also mixing alcohol and weed doesn’t seem like a brilliant idea.

“You don’t?” Louis seems confused by that, and then he starts softly laughing. “Wanna try it?”

And how is Harry supposed to ever say no to Louis? Especially in a situation like this, when he’s inebriated and content, and Louis is curled on his lap? Also, he always wanted to try it, but the occasion never arises before for him.

With hesitancy, he takes it from Louis’ fingers and accosts it to his mouth.

“Ok, so, go slowly. Don’t take a huge inhale or you’ll cough. The aim is to make the smoke arrive in your lungs, so you have to swallow it, but be careful, ok?” Louis has got off his lap but is still sitting next to him, looking at him intently.

Harry nods, trying to look confident. He places the joint delicately between his lips and does what he’s told: but of course, that’s not what happens and he is left as a coughing mess. His throat burns like he just breath into a fireplace. Next to him, Louis laughs and smacks him gently on the back a couple of times; in front of them, Zayn is laughing too.

“Careful, careful: I told you, slower.” Louis keeps encouraging him.

Harry has nearly tears in his eyes, but he can’t lie, he liked the taste of it quite a bit, so he takes another drag, slower this time. It goes a lot better, with it successfully arriving in his lungs without him collapsing. A new, unexpected sensation pervades him: maybe it’s just placebo, but he feels better already, more relaxed than before. He takes another short drag before giving it back to Louis.

“Was this the first time?” it’s an unnecessary question, but it’s still legit.

“Yeah. I quite liked it, to be honest.” His voice is still a bit hoarse.

“Why are you even here then?” Louis asks, not impolitely, and gives the joint to the guy sitting on their same couch on their right, who takes it with a tilt of the head.

“I was just asking about you to Niall and he brought me here?” Harry pouts in his most effective way to show how distraught he is about the whole thing. “I just wanted to see you.” He adds in a whisper that is meant to be just for Louis.

At that, Louis jerks his head up to meet Harry’s eyes: he looks like he is surprised but also satisfied to hear that, as the smirk that blossom on his face seems to tell.

He gently grazes Harry’s face with his dainty fingers, dropping his eyes on Harry’s mouth: he stays like that for a second, in which Harry is incapable of breathing, and then he whispers back:

“You’re really cute. You know that?”

Harry loses his breath: Louis is sitting on his, looking at him through his long, lewd lashes, with a playful smirk that speaks volume. 

And at that, Harry knows that this is the right moment to kiss him.

Even if he’s drunk and maybe even a little bit high and Louis is definitively high, and they are sitting in a very uncomfortable way, he can feel it in his bones: The Universe is screaming at them to finally do it.

But for a cruel twist of fate, when he leans forward to meet Louis’ lips, that’s the moment he decides to turn to Zayn to ask him ‘hey, how you doin bro?’, so Harry’s lips crush over the side of Louis’ hair, kissing his head near his ear.

He’s so out of it, so dizzy with all the alcohol he drank and the weed he smoked, that it takes him a moment to realize: and since he’s awkward and drunk as hell, he drops just his head on Louis’ back and groans. The Universe is having a joke on him, again.

When Louis faces him again he’s laughing, apparently finding the situation funny, and smacks a kiss on the top of Harry’s head as well: as he has said sometimes, it’s always a good moment for smooching, but that’s not what Harry was aiming for.

Whatever, maybe he can still save his night.

Raising his head, his eyes meet Zayn’s, who’s staring right at him. He has an unfriendly expression, his lips slightly curled with disgust, almost, his eyes cold and his eyebrows in a scowl. As soon as their eyes meet Zayn looks away, but he keeps frowning, looking bothered.

Harry doesn’t understand what happened that made him so irritated, but his head his not clear enough to investigate it so he just drops it and hugs Louis instead.

Louis, on the other hand, as soon as he notices the twist in Zayn’s mood extricates himself from Harry’s arms without a word and goes straight to Zayn, plopping next to him.

This happens in less than a second for Harry, and he suddenly finds himself sitting alone watching at them. They start whispering and Harry can’t understand a single word they say, but whatever they’re talking about it seems like Zayn is very resolute in not sharing what happened, while Louis keeps pressing the matter.

Now Harry feels really, really pissed.

He went to a party just to be with this one boy, after the whole night spent in looking for him he finally finds him, and gets few minutes with him before he gets abandoned so he can stay with his friend?

No, fuck him. Fuck both of them.

The only little problem here is that if it was literally any other person on the world, Harry would have done something: a sneaky remark, a sarcastic joke, even something really explicit and maybe a bit pathetic; but this is Zayn, who’s Harry still haven’t deciphered and probably never will.

Zayn who broke Liam’s heart (or at least his confidence) and for what? Who’s hiding in this room full of his art pieces that smell strongly like weed; who has dark eyes that sometimes are filled with such a strong, passionate rage that had scared Harry more than once, who has such severe mood swings that had worried Harry, but that Louis and Niall always knew how to handle them. Who doesn’t want to be touched by nobody.

Who’s often quiet but seems to always know your next move.

Suddenly, Harry realises that he’s tired of running after Louis, and if whatever they could have is going to happen, he deserves to be chased, too, at least a little bit. He feels prouder now, like he had forgotten his dignity until this moment; with this renewed confidence he stands up and with a bold, steady voice says:

“Hey Lou, if you wanna come in the other room to dance look for me. I’ll wait for you there.” He gets out of the room quickly, before he can hear what Louis or some of their friends could say, and before the pain in his brain and the stars that have beginning to pop behind his eyes can prevent him to have his dramatic exit.

He catches his breath when he closes the door, waiting for the hammering pain to weaken a little and for his vision to return completely.

To resurface in the chaos of the party is, to put it gently, a nightmare.

The music is not catchy to him anymore, and the lights are just annoying; it’s probably the alcohol talking, but Harry is immediately drawn by the counter to have another drink: maybe that will make him feels better. He rationally knows how bad this idea is, but he’s been left unsupervised and he’s bitter and he can do whatever he wants.

Walking slowly across the room, he notices that he can’t see Liam anywhere, and he just hopes that he didn’t leave him there with no way to go back to his dorm just for some random guy; yes, he was extremely attractive, but Liam is his friend and he would never do that to him, right? At least he hopes so.

Mixing some bottles bottoms that he finds scattered around, he fixes himself some kind of poisonous cocktail; still standing there, unsure if drink it or not, he keeps stirring it with a spoon he has found in the sink, mesmerized by its swirl. He’s not sure of how long he stays standing there, staring at his glass like it holds the secrets of Life.

“Harry! Be a doll and get me one of those, please?”

Harry’s head spins up so quickly he starts to see stars again: had his childish plan really worked?

Louis is walking towards him looking perfectly real, beautiful and ethereal as always: he has put a jacket and some socks on (he’s cold, he’s always cold, he can’t help but think with his heart filling with soft love), but Harry can still see those sinful collarbones; he’s drunk enough to think about how much he wants to kiss them without feeling like a creep.

“Take this: it’s a creation of mine.” He clumsily hands him the glass with a proud smile: he’s been on an emotional rollercoaster but now he’s ecstatic and completely right about being it.

Louis takes his with a raise of eyebrows, and without breaking eye contact not even once takes a sip of it. It’s not long after that he bends over the sink, spitting it with force.

“Harold, what the fuck?! You trying to kill me or something?” Harry feels his forceful glare poking two holes in his skull. Harry realises too late that the drink probably tasted like pure trash. Putting his hand on his face in horror, he exclaims:

“I wouldn’t-”

“Oh, joy!”

Harry’s too drunk to understand if Louis is just teasing him or seriously angry; he felt too many things in these few hours, and he’s drained. He doesn’t add anything, just drops his shoulders and covers his eyes, groaning.

A few moments pass, with Harry refusing to uncover his eyes, but then the familiar scent of weed and vanilla is suddenly nearer, and he feels a soft hand gently squeezing his hip, and a velvety voice whispering:

“Hey, It’s everything alright? I was only joking. Do you wanna to go back to your dorm?” he dares to uncover one eye: Louis is next to him, with concerned eyes filled with worry and affection.

“No.” he puts the hands away and faces him “I want to dance with you, I told you.”

Louis immediately gains his mischievous smirk back and tilts back his head like he’s challenging him.

“Do you? You still have to make up for that abomination, you know that right?”

“I know exactly how to do that.”

He quickly turns around, goes to the fridge and mentally exults at the sight of beers: he extends one to Louis and with his free hand grabs him by the hand and guide him to the dance floor.

Harry has no inhibitions left to hold him back, so he dances with everything he can give: he is nearly delirious with joy and throws his crazy shapes with confidence and pride; Louis seems enthusiastic to discover that this is the way Harry dances, and indulges him in it.

They’re sweaty and so close to each other Harry can senses Louis’ skin on him, his scent, and how much of all this is driving him crazy.

With a bold move, he shifts behind Louis and tries to grind on him, but at the first contact Louis turns and puts some space between them. Harry recognises that that wasn’t his classiest move, so they keep dancing facing each other.

Louis’ face glows in the dark: maybe is his beauty, maybe he has highlighter on, maybe Harry’s brain is no longer capable on focusing on something that is not him, but he can’t take his eyes off the boy that’s dancing with him, mesmerized by his charm.

“Come to my dorm with me.” He’s not even aware of saying it: it came from his soul. It’s a plea, nearly, but he doesn’t care: it’s driving him crazy how much he wants him.

He can feel his love for Louis buzzing on his hands, that are pleading to touch him; on his eyes, that are imploring to see him in all his beauty; on his mouth, that it’s begging to kiss him.

Every inch of him, every atom, every cell in his body is pulling him towards him and is devoted to love the angel that’s standing in front of him with a confused expression.

“Is everything okay? Should I fetch Liam?” Louis shouts in his ear.

Harry’s hammered but knows for sure that he doesn’t want Liam mixed with this.

“No, no” he shouts right back “Come with me. Alone. In my dorm.” He even tries to wiggle his eyebrows, but the message still seems not clear to Louis, that had completely stopped dancing and is still staring at him.

“My roommate is not there.” He then adds: that should clear it up, right?

And it does, but not for the best: Louis’ expression turn from confused to flabbergasted.

He opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. He keeps staring at him like he can’t believe what he just heard.

“Harry” he finally says “You’re completely drunk. You should go to sleep. Without me.” His voice his firm, and hard to interpret; his voice is completely serious and leaves no room to argue. Still, Harry tries:

“I am, but I’m serious.” Louis scoffs and starts to go away from him. Harry grabs his arm and repeats: “I’m serious. Come to my dorm.”

Louis wriggles out of Harry’s grip, and without looking at him says:

“I’m looking for Liam. You’re drunk, you shouldn’t say these things to anyone when you’re this out of yourself, understood?” Louis moves quickly out of the crowd, Harry following him not far behind, doing the best he can do to not trip over himself.

“Lou, Lou, I’m sorry, are you angry?” his heart is breaking: he doesn’t understand what is happening, everything is too fast, the lights are blinding him, and the music is making it hard for him to process what is happening.

“I’m not, I’m worried about you.” He finally faces him again: Louis’ expression is so sincere and so transparent, Harry feels a new wave of affection for him.

“You’re totally gone, you have to be careful with yourself and with what you say, okay?” Louis brushes his face gently, parting his sweaty, messy hair. Harry’s face his hang low, and he takes Louis’ caresses with content.

“Sit here” Louis suggests gently to him and places him on a chair in the living room, far from the stereo “I’ll go find Liam. Have a conversation with my friend Leigh-Anne here, would you?” he hears Louis saying something to this girl, and without waiting for a proper answer he bolts away from them, phone in hand.

“My mom’s name is Anne” Harry murmurs to no one, with his eyes closed.

“That’s nice. What is your name instead, bebs?” he hears a warm voice next to him, but he hasn’t any energy left to have a conversation or to even open his eyes. Curling on himself, with still his eyes closed, he murmurs:

“I’m Harry. I’m sorry I’m quite drunk, I think Imma fall asleep now.”

And that’s probably what happens, because when he opens his eyes again the room is nearly empty, and Liam is next to him, smiling ear to ear.

“I’m gonna take you back to your dorm, okay? Dylan has a car.”

Harry doesn’t care who the fuck Dylan is, so he just whines as a reply and closes his eyes again. Liam picks him up from the couch, grabbing him with an arm around his shoulders, and starts leaving the room. Harry would like to curl on his chest, but Liam is sweaty and a bit gross, so he just keeps his eyes closed.

“Li,” Harry whispers “Can you please say sorry to Louis? And that I’ll talk to him tomorrow?”

“I’m right here babe” a soft, unmistakable voice says next to him “Don’t worry about it. I’ll call you.” He caresses his face one more time, and then Liam starts to walk again.

Harry falls unconscious again, this time smiling.

 

~*~

 

The only thing he sees is dark; the only things he can feel are ache and agony.

Slowly, Harry tries to open an eye, but he’s attacked by the violent morning light that leaks through the curtains; with a groan, he shuts it again, and waits for the piercing pain near his temples to dim a little.

When he finally feels like he can come back in the conscious world without dying, he tries it again: he opens slowly his eyes, battling with his headache, until he can keep them open without feeling like Death is coming for him. He stays still on his back until he feels strong enough to turn on his right side, to face his dorm: there is quite a mess from yesterday when he tried on half of his closet, but the curious thing his that is key for the dorm is on the bedside table next to him, along with a bottle of water, some pills and a note.

Carefully, he succeeds in sitting on his bed: the hammering in his head is unbearable for a minute, and then it dims out into something more manageable. He stretches his arm forward and takes the note. Even if he’s at the 10% of his intellective ability, with some attempts he manages to read it:

Hey Harry, hope you feel better! Next to you there are some painkillers for your head. I recommend you to drink a LOT of water and have a cold shower and maybe take a walk. Hope you don’t mind, I took your key from your jeans pocket. Call me when you feel better!

Ah, I have to tell you about last night!! ;) Liam xxx

Harry sighs, not knowing what to do with the awareness that apparently Liam had a lot of good sex yesterday. He pops two pills in his mouth and drinks until he feels sick by it; he knows his body and knows that as long as he drinks water before going to bed, he’s never hangover: but yesterday he fell asleep with no warning, so now he feels like garbage.

Looking at his phone, he sees that it’s 12 pm: Chris is not there, but for the little Harry knows about him he’s probably as drunk as he is somewhere around campus.

Slowly he finally gets to the bathroom, where he has an ice-cold shower. He stays still under the jet until he starts to tremble: then he turns the water to warm and starts washing himself. The cold water always helps him remember what happened after a night like yesterday.

When he has shampoo in his hair, he suddenly recalls what he said to Louis under the alcohol’s influence: he can’t help but cringe at how brute he was, both with his words and with his mannerism. He tried to grind on him even though Louis looked uncomfortable and insisted and grabbed him when he told him that he didn’t want to spend the night with him… sighing, he promises himself to give Louis a call to explain and apologise as soon as he starts to feel like a human again.

An idea flashes in his head: it happens so suddenly that for a moment he has to support himself to not fall in the shower. He raises his head under the shower jet, wishing his headache could go away as easy as the water down the drain. Thing is, it’s the perfect moment to finally be completely honest with Louis and tell him about his feelings, maybe asking him out if the stars are on his side: after he has apologised, he can finally tell him that his intention was true, it was just that his mannerism was completely off.

He gets out of the shower, dries himself: he’s still clumsy but he’s starting to feel better. He would be lying if he said that he wasn’t terrified. He gets dressed in comfortable clothes, drinks some more water and takes a couple of deep breaths. His head is pounding a lot less, and grabbing his sunglasses he decides to have a walk since it’s sunny outside, maybe have lunch somewhere and then calling Louis to meet up and talk.

Feeling satisfied with his plan, he goes out.

 

Louis accepted instantly to see Harry when they texted, so there Harry was: under the trees behind the theatre, where they spent so much of their time together, trying to study but mostly chatting, knowing each other, and, at least for Harry, falling in love.

It’s late in the afternoon now, and Harry feels a whole lot better: his hangover is a lot better, and he spent the whole day with Liam talking about this moment and about Liam’s night. Harry knows Liam’s waiting for his text about the success of the declaration, but he also added that he can wait a day or two if they’re that happy about it. With a lot of winks.

Liam was in an extraordinarily good mood, which is a direct cause of his night before: he told Harry about this guy, Dylan, who apparently is a Norse god in a lot of ways, who made his night magical. Not only that, but they also exchanged phone numbers and that they’re already texting. Liam’s not sure of how to continue that, if it’s ever going to be a thing, but Harry tried to reassure him that it’s okay if he just wants to have fun sometimes (“You’re twenty, for god’s sake”).

Harry had observed him with a big smile, happy and proud that finally good things were happening to him.

Liam made it clear of how much he was rooting for Harry and how sure he was about his declaration, which gave Harry a lot of self-esteem. So, he should be ready. And he is, he just wants this waiting to end soon.

He is sitting on the soft grass with his legs crossed, his phone showing no new message next to him and nervous hands. He’s early as he always is when he and Louis hang out: he’s impatient, always so impatient to see him.

Trying desperately to burn some of his agitation in this never-ending spare time he put on himself, he unlocks his phone once again: it’s 17:51, and Louis should arrive at 18. He re-reads the text conversation they had, where Harry asked him in just a slightly whiny tone to meet up so he could apologise properly, and Louis simply responding that he could relax about that, but that he would like to see him.

A lot of asters had grown since the first time they came here together in this small corner of the world Harry likes to call theirs, buttressing the grass with lilac patches that smile back at him. Harry feels comforted by so many little creatures that seem to say, ‘don’t worry, we have your back’.

He sees Louis arriving after another couple of unlucky unlocks with no messages for him. He’s walking slowly but he’s still not so late (for his standards) and he greets Harry just when he’s really close to him: he doesn’t look hangover but rather serene (or maybe he’s just tired).

He has cosy clothes on, simple trackies with a sweater, but he looks incredible as always. His hair looks soft because he hasn’t used any product on it today, and it falls delicately in a fringe that covers his forehead and partially his arcuated eyebrows.

He plops right next to Harry: he doesn’t look mad at all, so Harry tries to tell himself to calm down. He hasn’t said a single thing yet.

“Hey.” He starts, but he stops immediately after that.

“Hey to you.” Louis responds, knocking their shoulders and then leaving his one leaned on Harry’s. Comforted by the familiar weight he now feels on himself, Harry takes a breath, and continues:

“I really want to apologise about yesterday. What I said and did when we danced together was out of line, and yeah, I was drunk but that’s never an excuse. I was a bit of a brute and I’m sorry about that. I also want to say that it’s not going to happen again.” He’s staring at the grass and the flower in front of them, not daring to look at Louis: the apology wasn’t the difficult part. He can feel his heart hammering in his chest like it wants to escape from him; as used to his own anxiety one can be, it’s not like it become easier, especially in times like these.

He can feel Louis’ smile just from how he pronounces the words he’s speaking now:

“You don’t have to worry so much about that. Yeah, it wasn’t your classier moment, but you had drunk a lot and maybe you had confused thoughts. The only thing I really want you to know is that it’s not safe to go around and saying those things, because you never know if someone with zero scruples hears you. I knew all the people at the party yesterday and I know that there weren’t any dangers, but I mean it for your future.”

Not for the first time he had known Louis, Harry is struck by the purity of the role as the big brother he always covers: that was his first concern, so much more than being harassed by Harry.

Harry had listened to Can’t Help Falling In Love hundreds of time in his lifetime, but he had never experienced something as strong as this: he couldn’t have stood a chance even if he wanted to. Good thing he was born ready to fall in love.

Taking a deep breath, he dares to look at his left, where Louis is still leaning on him: he finds him already looking at him with gentle eyes and a soft smile. He slightly raises his eyebrows at him when they meet eyes, in his usual gentle teasing manner. Comforted by the easiness Louis inspires, he decides to continue.

“It’s not just that. I also wanted to say…” Louis is still looking at him, now with curiosity but still in the same position. He slightly raises his eyebrows again when Harry’s pause stretches for too long, but other than that he waits for him.

“I tried to find the courage in these last weeks, but it never came at me. I really tried but I always ended up overwhelmed. My plan for yesterday was to drink just enough to be bolder, but then I drank too much and the whole night went to shit.” He takes another deep breath. His chest is starting to hurt for how fast his heart is beating. He knows his breathing exercises to calm down a bit, but now he can’t be bothered with those.

He dares to look at Louis another time: he finds him no longer curious, but rather he looks confused now. That doesn’t help at all with his whole hammering-heart-situation.

Trying as hard as he can to not start to list all the reason for that expression, Harry tries to remain focused on what really matters: he’s in love with this man. He’ll keep being even after whatever thing Louis will say. This love concerns him, and Harry feels like he owns it to Louis to say it: the love he feels it’s not just his, it’s Louis’ too.

Looking at the trees in front of them, he finally says: “I really wanted to do this for ages but… I really like you. Do you want to go on a date with me?”

The point is, Harry expected a lot of things: a yes, an enthusiastic shout, a hug, a kiss, and a lot of other positive responses; but, because he’s not an inexperienced boy who never put himself on a spot before, of course the possibility of a negative response were calculated (but placed in a dispersed corner of his mind).

But, for obvious reason, he didn’t expect Louis to laugh.

Maybe because he trusts this man enough to have told him some of the not so nice experience he had in high school, where people just teased him to no end, maybe because in these weeks Louis was just a soft, supportive, sweet dream with his heart on his sleeves, not a monster who laughs at people’s feeling.

Feeling crestfallen, Harry remains frozen, trying to convince the tears already in his eyes to not fall, please, I don’t want to cry right now. He slowly parts from every contact he has with Louis, trying to not show how much his heart is breaking.

This doesn’t make any sense.

He can feel a hole where some moments before there was a beating, hopeful heart.

“You know” he starts, and hates how much his voices trembles “You could just have said no. Even if you think it’s a joke to be asked out by someone like me-” he sniffles. Oh god, his chin is trembling, he knows he’ll start crying soon “it’s not like you had to laugh. I don’t know, I’m sorry you find me so ridiculous that you can laugh in my face.” He had slowly gotten up from the ground, never looking at Louis. He feels so weak, like his legs may not sustain him. He wants to think he’s being too dramatic, to give Louis a chance to explain himself, but he laughed at him, so what was Harry supposed to think?

Who knew you could misinterpret someone that much?

He tries to get away, but he feels a hand on his arm, and then a voice calling him.

“Harry! Harry, wait.” Louis is holding him still, sounding pressed. “Harry, what did you say?”

Harry is still not facing him and feels like he probably will not be able to for the next few months, too. For some reason, he decides to give Louis everything: still because those feelings are his, but also because he can’t quite believe what is happening right now.

“I like you so much.” He starts, still not looking at Louis “Like, from the moment I saw you. I spent all this time trying to ask you out and talking about you to anyone who would listen. Liam probably knows my feelings better than me at this point. Yesterday was one of my stupid plans to woe you, but it didn’t end well. I drank just to have the courage to dance with you but… whatever” he feels not outraged like before, like simply talking about it drained him of all his energy. He just wants to go to his dorm, cave a hole in the ground and live in there. Or, even better, he wants to go home to his sister and eat ice cream with her on her bed.

“Like, it’s obvious that you don’t feel the same, but you didn’t have to laugh at me.” He adds after a bit in a whisper. He really wants to go now. A hearty cry in the shower is waiting for him. He feels so ashamed and hurt.

“Oh, so you were serious.” It’s said in less than a whisper, and it was very much not intended to be heard, but Harry heard it nevertheless, and all the rage that faded away crush on him again like a wave.

“You know what” he nearly shouts, and finally looks and his eyes again: Louis is frozen on the spot and looks paler than before. “Fuck you. I wouldn’t ever say this, but you’re such an arsehole, I can’t believe I fell for someone like you. Have fun laughing at me with your friends.” He needs to go, now. He’s quicker this time, and just bolts when he finished talking.

“Would you stop running… Harry!” he hears from behind him but he doesn’t quite care. “Harry, stop for a moment, I have to talk to you.” Louis had reached him and grabbing his elbow forces him to face him.

Harry doesn’t know why he isn’t running anymore. He’s angry and his heart is shuttered, but the man in front of him still owes his love. He would really like to love him just a bit less, so he could hate him for real, but he can’t. He has tears streaming down his face and can feel his eyes getting puffy and red, but still tries to look at Louis with his head held high, with some kind of dignity he doesn’t really feel in this moment.

Louis, on the other hand, looks distressed and also quite… sad? Why is he sad? Does he even have the right to be sad?

“Harry, I would never laugh at you- no, I’m serious.” He adds after Harry scoffs “I would never hurt you on purpose, I really care about you. The only thing I wanted to say is that I’m dating Zayn, that’s why I was so surprised. I thought you knew? The only reason I laughed was that I thought it was a joke, after the thing you said last night? Like, I thought you were still joking about that? Harry, I’m so sorry that I hurt you.”

Louis is saying all this with an apologetic, sincere face. He’s looking at Harry with honest eyes and a contrite mouth, but Harry is not looking at him.

Everything he heard after ‘Zayn’ was not registered by his brain: what arrived at him was white noise. He is staring at the ground, not sure of what making out of the information he just received.

It can’t be true.

It can’t.

… Can it?

He still hasn’t said anything and out of the corner of his eyes he can see Louis moving towards him, but the last thing he wants right now is receiving comfort by him. He takes a step backwards. Finally, his incredulity has the best on him, making him blurts out:

“Hold up, hold up, wait a minute… what?” it’s everything he is capable of saying after his pause. It doesn’t make any sense. At all. “Like… how can it be? You… you never touch each other at all? Call each other just, like, ‘man’ and ‘bro’? Like, ‘bro’?? For real? And, like, I hold your hand far more often than him? And he never said anything to me?” he’s just babbling everything it comes to his mind, because he can’t make sense out of it.

Louis and Zayn cannot be together. They never call each other pet names, which is okay, but they also never touch? Never kiss? What kind of relationship is that? Not a real one, in Harry’s opinion.

A horrible suspicion start sneaking into Harry’s mind: what if Louis is joking? Harry can hardly tell the difference between a joke and the truth in normal moments, but now, with the pressure and the tension that block his mind, he perfectly knows he is not capable to.

Out of Harry’s bubble, Louis puffs out a chug.

“Yeah, I know, our relationship is a bit unconventional, but you can’t apply the same rule to everyone, you know? But we have been together for more than a year and like this is good for us, we have founded or rhythm through life and everything, so… I don’t know, we’re great. Also, you’ve seen what type of person Zayn is, right? It’s not like everyone shows affection in the same way, you can’t expect PDA from him or whatever. He’s reserved, and he’s good like that.”

Louis is saying all this with a soft, loving expression that Harry can’t stomach. He looks sheepish but sure at the same time, and everything he said about Zayn was spoken with a respectful, clear tone. The loves he proves is transparent, and Harry is still the not-so-bright kid everyone made fun of in school for not noticing anything (years later, he can still feel that rage).

“But you… you’re totally opposite” he still wants to argue; Louis is smiling and is not clear for Harry if it is for his love for Zayn or if he’s having a joke on him. He can’t believe that this is happening again to him, he can’t let it go just like this. “You’re so bright and positive, you always see the best in everyone, but it’s not just that, you’re sunny. And you love PDA, you told me, and you love physical contact, you’re always in someone’s lap or holding someone’s hand and you’re always in the centre of the attention and you love it.” He gained some confidence back, like this is a debate class and he wants to convince Louis to chose him over his boyfriend of over a year.

(He feels sick).

He can’t breathe. He has to keep arguing because if he stops for a second his ugly, dark thoughts will have the best on him.

He’s now looking at Louis in the eye, chin up like he’s challenging him, fuelled by a rage he doesn’t recognize as his. But, so much more than that, there is still that disbelief he can’t shake off: was he such a big fool to not realize anything? Did he really misunderstand all these interactions he had? Why he’s always the dumb kid in someone else’s story?

Or worse, could this be a joke? Could Louis do something like this to him? Maybe for him is not a big deal, they don’t know each other so much, don’t they?

Louis is starting to become defensive, it’s obvious, but still hasn’t said anything.

“And Zayn… he’s always so sulky and gloomy? He never talks at all and when he does he’s always so bitter? And-” he has probably a month worth of talking about the things he doesn’t get about Zayn, he gets cut off instantly.

“I don’t know what you think you’re doing by insulting my boyfriend” Louis’ voice interrupts him, stressing the last word; the voice is so angry that Harry can feel it vibrating in the air: he’s not shouting but he’s really, really close. His face changed from the moment Harry started talking about him, and now it’s deformed in a fury mask.

“But you have to stop right now, before I get mad for real. I get that you’re disappointed, but you can’t have everything you want in life. I’m in a long-term, happy relationship and you have to accept that. Or that, or you stop speaking to me.”

Harry accepts what Louis is screaming at him without looking him in the eye: his thoughts are roaming, trying to find some kind of loophole his brain his sure exists. Louis probably thinks of that silence as a win in this conversation (which still isn’t a competition, no matter how hard Harry tries) because out of the corner of his eye Harry can see him standing straight and sure.

But his brain finally supplies the ace up its sleeve Harry was confident he had: raising his head, Harry stares at Louis dead in the eye, and with complete confidences he states:

“You’re not really together. You’re lying.”

The effect he has on Louis is immediate: his expression gets from angry to thunderstruck in a split of a second; he takes a step back like Harry’s word had a physical impact on him and he wasn’t sure he could keep the balance. It doesn’t last long for the rage kept inside him to explode once again, and with a renovate energy, he growls:

“What the fuck are you trying to say now?” his eyes shine.

The self-preservation voice in Harry’s brain is screaming to shut up and apologise, but Harry physically can’t do it. It’s for the bullied kid in high school, for the last month spent in pictures of outfits and revising interesting topics to chat about, for the complete certainty that he’s right now.

It’s because he’s now sure that what Louis is telling him is not real, and he wants to stand up for himself for once, instead of just playing the Dumb One.

“When I meet you in the coffee shop, the hipster one on campus, I asked you if you were together and you said that no, you weren’t. Also, you were quite shocked that I asked something like that, you laughed about it” Louis is frowning, probably trying to remember, but for Harry is clear as if it was yesterday: the shock on both of their faces, the laugh that followed his question. Him, feeling small even then.

“Like, you can tell me the truth, that you don’t like me. I can handle it. But don’t go around and make stories up for it, especially as fake as this one.” He could grow to become angry too, at this point, but he feels exhausted.

Louis’ frown deepens at that, a flash of new ferocity passes through his eyes; but he remains silent, biting his bottom lip, probably still not recalling it.

But before Harry can declare his victory Louis’ head snap up, eyes even more intense than before.

“You idiot” he splits, “You asked me if we were on a date. And we weren’t. And we laughed about it because it was ridiculous how low your bar was settled about what a date could be. We were just drinking coffee in the morning between classes, is that a date to you? Are you that cheap?”

That shiny ray of hope he had completely disappears at that: the mockery and the derision Louis put in the last word suffocate him. He suddenly realizes what kind of a big mess he got himself into.

The rage with Louis is speaking is overwhelming, but his words cut even deeper: Harry has new tears in his eyes, for the humiliation and the shame. He can’t catch a breath, because Louis keeps throwing facts at him, animated by an uncontainable rage.

Oh god, this time is even worse: he couldn’t recognise a moment of truth rather than one of misleading. He never thought that a creature as sweet and sunny as Louis could conceal so much rage. Oh, but he deserves it, he knows.

“You have to get over yourself. How dare you to say something like that about my relationship? You really think that I have invented the most important love I have in my life, for you? How selfish and blind can you be? You can’t see past yourself. I can finally get whatever anyone else always said about you: is not just that you don’t notice anything and that you’re slow, you refuse to acknowledge truth even when it’s right before your eyes.”

At that, Harry can’t help letting out a gasp: this is his weakest spot, the greatest insecurity he has in life. He’s clenching his chest like he’s having a heart attack now. He’s grinding his teeth like that would stop the ringing in his brain, made of years of shame he felt. The pain he’s feeling spreads in all his body, burning down everything it meets.

But Louis is right, he’s always right: he’s just an oblivious kid who can’t catch anything. Still is.

Somewhere out his shattered heart, Louis is still speaking.

“He’s the love of my life, and I have been knowing you for what, a month? So, calm down with your accusation and stay in your lane. Stop with this bullshit, kid.”

The silence that follows is deafening.

Harry should probably apologise, like right now, but he knows that if he speaks or moves or worse, he looks at Louis, he will start sobbing. He’s too confused, too hurt to do anything at all: he can’t sort his thoughts, his feelings, the unmistakable truth he just heard.

There is too much noise still in his head and the nervous energy that never left his hands is now tingling, making him shake. The words are roaming in his brain, piling up, shouting at each other like they’re part of different coalitions.

Harry can’t keep up with them, can’t decide which one to trust and follow, all his energy concentrated in not letting his tears fall, breathing, and not caving in himself.

And so he remains silent, head bowed, shaking like a leaf, in front of a Louis who has replaced his anger with annoyance and disdain.

“Yeah, whatever, good talk mate” he finally scoffs with derision. “Don’t even try to go to Zayn to tell him some of your bullshit, understood? I’ll end you. I’m serious.”

Harry knows he is. With his last drop of willpower, he just nods, his head still bowed.

With the last mockery sound, Louis leaves.

Harry doesn’t know for how long he stays there, shaking.

 

~*~

Chapter Text

“Dude.”

Silence.

“Dude, you have to get up from there. You’re starting to smell.”

Harry can’t explain how much he hates that Chris calls him dude, just dude, all the time. Or the fact that he always leaves the blinds open, so Harry has to get up to close them every time Chris leaves the room. Or the annoying noises he makes and the useless chat he tries to start with him.

Thing is, Harry hasn’t left his room since the fight with Louis on that Sunday night, which was two full days ago. He also hasn’t really left the bed in those two days, apart from wandering in the surroundings at night to find some comfort food, which obviously came in the form of pure junk, but that’s how Harry feels at the moment, so that’s also what he’s going to get.

He hasn’t had a shower in this time he ‘took off’ from Uni, which is probably the thing that annoys Chris the most.

He just grunts at Chris as a reply and rolls over, covering his head.

If he had a clearer head, he would have appreciated how Chris was worried in these lasts days: granted, it was more because suddenly his roommate became a hermit who wouldn’t let him play his loud music in the mornings rather than a genuine flicker of real friendship, but it’s still something.

But if Harry had a clearer head, he wouldn’t find himself in this situation.

When he reached his room after the fight he had turned his phone off, which was already full of Liam’s hopeful messages, because he couldn’t bear the sight of them. He still hasn’t tried to switch it on again. Thing is, he is too scared of the consequences he made for himself to face the world: he couldn’t even call Liam, so of course he didn’t even try to go to Monday’s class, because he would never be ready to face Louis just yet.

Yeah, what could he say? ‘Hey, remember when I nearly harassed you at that party and then asked to meet up so I could apologise, just to say worse shits and insisting even more? Yeah? Well, do you wanna meet up again? I want to apologise for real now’. What a mess.

God, he was so embarrassed.

And humiliated, and ashamed.

But, at the same time, he was also hurt by Louis’ choice of words; not only he was hiding from his responsibilities as the one who made the mess, but he was also avoiding doing what a healthy adult should do: apologising, talking about why he made such a scene, and setting boundaries for the future for both a them. But what if there was no future to talk about?

He would respect it, of course, and properly this time, but what if he told Louis why what he told him to hurt so much and he didn’t understand?

They’re just hypothesis one on top of the other, but every time Harry thought of those he would get too overwhelmed and completely shut down.

Every time he thought about it a tsunami would hit him again at full force, making new tears appears in the corner of his eyes. He wanted to say so many things, but he was also aware of being incapable of doing so.

“Whatever dude, I’m going to class. When I’m back I want you out of here or I’ll talk to the RA, understood?” and with that Harry hears the door closing. Scratch every vaguely nice thing he thought about Chris, he clearly doesn’t give a damn about him.

The window’s blinds are obviously open but right now Harry doesn’t have the energy to close them. He remains laid down on his bed, staring at the ceiling for a while.

He should really listen to Chris and have a shower, because he’s starting to not be so pleasant, but he has absolutely no intention to do so.

He doesn’t know for how long he remains in that position, trying to not think about anything, when out of the blue he hears a knock on the door. Alarmed, he gets up on his right elbow, staring at the door like he suddenly developed the skill to look through the wood. Chris would never knock, he has the key, so who could be?

The first thing that comes to his mind is that it’s the RA, and that Chris wasn’t joking about it earlier; but Chris hasn’t come back yet, so how could he know if Harry was still there? Also, he would have to come with the RA, otherwise what could he possibly denounce? That is roommate was sleeping in?

All his conjectures are shuttered when, after the second round of knocks, a known voice shouts:

“Harry! Open up, it’s Liam!”

Oh, Liam. That would make sense. Basically his best friend who hadn’t had Harry’s news since Sunday afternoon. Yeah, that’s more probable than the RA.

Still, Harry doesn’t move.

Liam knocks again, louder this time, and adds:

“I know you’re there, and in a miserable state. I met Chris out of the building. Said that you’re moping around and smelling really badly.”

Harry can feel his cheeks growing redder, but he remains still. He doesn’t want Liam to see him like this or give an explanation about these last days, even if he knows that Liam deserves it more than anyone else.

“I have to talk to you. I met Niall this morning, we talked about you. I didn’t know how to defend you because you didn’t tell me anything. I sent you like a hundred texts and you never replied to me, so I had to come here. Harry, let me in.” Harry knows that Liam doesn’t give up in front of anything and that he will stay there until he is invited to the dorm, but what did he say? Defend him?

Oh, of course Niall is angry with him too. Make sense. Even if he became close to Niall nearly as much as Liam, it shouldn’t surprise him that he would choose his lifelong friends over him.

Unable to remain unbothered by that, he lets out a sob, covering his face with his hands, like he could stop the tears from falling over simply by closing his eyes. He had thought just about Louis and himself in these days, but no, what he did touch all his group of friends, and maybe even other people that he didn’t know (but that now they know him). A new wave of anxiety seems close, but Liam is still on the other side of the door, knocking so loudly probably everyone on the same floor hears him.

“Harry, I heard you! You’re not even sleeping! Please, I want to see you!”

Harry is tired, okay? And Liam is a new source of anxiety, and since he can’t eliminate everything else but this one, he decides to open the door. So he gets up from his den and slowly walks to it. He opens the door slowly, to give Liam the time to realize it and not punch him in the face.

He finds Liam with his fist raised and his mouth slightly open, like he was on the verge of knock again and says something else.

“Please come in and stop embarrassing me” Harry whispers, moving aside to let Liam in the dorm. He hasn’t talked in the past 50 hours or whatever, and his voice is now raspy and heavy. Damn, his breath must be terrible.

Liam gets in the room quickly, like he’s scared Harry will change his mind in a split of a second. Harry closes the door quietly after him; when he turns around, he finds Liam openly gaping at his side of the room: it’s an ugly mess, yeah, but Liam could be subtler.

Kicking the water bottles that are on the ground, he plops back in his bed.

“I would invite you to sit here next to me, but from the look on your face maybe you’re better there.” He vaguely gestures where Liam is standing.

It’s not like he could blame him: there is trash on the ground and on his bed, clothes in every corner; his hair are probably sticking everywhere, and he has some-days-old sweatpants. If he didn’t have a roommate this would be so much worse, he knows: at least Chris still opens the windows whenever he’s here, so the air is fresh, but there’s still an unpleasant smell in the room (probably Harry himself); his side of the room is tidy, so Harry’s looks even worse when you look at the room as a whole.

Liam’s still gaping at the room, but he sits down at Chris’ desk.

“Harry, why didn’t you call me?” he finally says.

Harry just shrugs. He could talk for days if he knew how to place his thoughts one next to the other, instead of having them piling up until they suffocate him. Now he’s in front of the opportunity to explain and maybe even rationalize what happened, and his brain his frozen. The only thing that he can get past his teeth is:

“What did Niall tell you?”

Liam’s expression immediately turns to sour, his eyebrows frown, like he remembered something awful.

“You really have some explanation to give, you know right?” His tone is bitter. The thought of not having even Liam by his side could kill him on the spot, so Harry does what he can do the best: simply takes it and places it in the darkest and furthest spot of his brain. He’ll think about that later. He simply nods to let him know that he understood.

“I met Niall after my mechanics’ lesson, the one where he’s an assistant, you know? Granted, we never talk much in class because he has to follow the professor and he doesn’t have time, but usually we take a coffee after the following period ends, when we both have a pause. But this time, when I went to him, he had this angry face on that really discouraged me. And then, when I greeted him, he said that he didn’t want to have empty chats with me if we were going to ignore what you had done, to which I was so surprised, right?” Liam looks at Harry to probably have some kind of support, but Harry is staring at his crossed legs and has no intention to look up. Sighing, Liam continues:

“Like, I haven’t heard of you in these lasts days, but I wasn’t that worried because I was so sure that it went greatly that I just assumed you two were in your honeymoon phase or whatever. Instead, after asking Niall what you could possibly have done, he said that you fucked up really badly and insulted his two best friends and that he wasn’t interested in acting as if nothing has happened to talk with me. I had to explain very clearly that I knew nothing at all and that I hadn’t heard of you in days before he became just a little less angry at me; but still, he didn’t say what happened, just that you were an asshole.” Liam is talking directly at Harry, but Harry can’t even take a glance at him.

He’s so, so stupid and he probably deserves it, but it still hurts, worse than anything else before.

“I didn’t know what to say to him or how to defend you, so I just apologized or your behalf and as soon as our chat ended I came here.” Liam’s trying to smile at him, like he wants to say ‘hey, it’s alright, I’m here, you can talk to me’, but at the same time it’s clear how much he’s divided between wanting to trust Harry and the argument he just had; his smile is not as genuine as normally is, it looks blocked by the fear of discovering that his friend is really an asshole.

And that hurts. It hurts because of course Liam likes and trusts Niall, but whatever he had said was enough to make him suspect Harry. Even if he and Harry met earlier and know each other so much better. Whatever, it’s his fault, right? He should stop acting like a baby who doesn’t have the conception of consequences of his actions.

The silence between the two keeps stretching. All the words that are in Harry’s throat seem to go up altogether, making impossible to any of them to actually get out. They form a knot in Harry’s chest, making hard for him to breath regularly, which always make him panic.

It’s a vicious circle that he finds impossible to break.

“I’m not very good at talking.” He finally says, still looking at his legs. He has not finished what he wants to say, which is ‘so you should give me the time to have long pauses where I can think’, but of course Liam interrupts him by saying:

“Yeah, I can see that.”

At that Harry feels a wave of frustration crushing over him: now he’s annoyed, exactly because Liam didn’t give him the time to finish that sentence. Rationally, he knows that that’s doesn’t make much sense, because Liam doesn’t know, so he forces himself to stay relaxed and adds the last part of his phrase.

Liam is now silent, just watching Harry.

“I’m sorry. I’m not good at talking about serious stuff, but I’ll tell you what happened Sunday.” He pauses once again. He needs to put his thoughts in order, but it’s difficult with Liam staring at him, so he does the only thing he knows will ease the process: he gets up from his bed and gets himself busy. If he can concentrate part of his nervousness in doing something practical, the words will come out easier.

“I saw Louis on Sunday, I apologised about the night before, and he was really calm about it, told me nice things, like that I should look after myself. You know, typical Louis.” He goes to the windows and opens it: the fresh autumn air run over him, crisp and light. The window looks out to some trees, and the sight of the green immediately ease him. He takes a moment to appreciate it.

“But then, when I declared my feelings and whatever, he laughed.” Before Liam can change his expression to shocked, Harry quickly adds “but it was a misunderstanding, so, you know, everything is fine. I may have cried a bit, but you know me.” He goes to his bed and rips the sheets and the blanket, and then starts to fold them: he really should do his laundry.

“Ok, now the interesting part: he may have told me that he was dating Zayn, and I may have told him that he was laying because he didn’t want to upset me too much. And, like, I insisted on that.” Once the sheets and the blanket and nicely piling on his naked mattress, he starts picking up trash from the ground: he separates the paper label from the plastic bottles and then crushes them, making two neat piles of trash that he then throws in the respective bins.

In all this, he didn’t even spare a glance at Liam, who staring at him with a growing worried expression: Harry knows he probably looks like a maniac now, tidying all his room after two days of living in the trash, but his hands are itching for how much nervousness it’s concentrated in them.

“He’s what?” oh right, he suddenly remembers that this is a surprise for Liam, too.

“Oh right! I haven’t told you?” Harry feels marginally better in diverging the attention from himself, even for just a second “Yeah, yeah, they’re dating. Have been together for more than a year. As Louis said, he’s the love of life or something similar.” He forces himself to shrug, like this doesn’t affect him at all. Like he hasn’t spent the last two months head over heels in love with him. He still hasn’t looked at Liam. He crushes another water bottle, hoping that it can feel it.

Liam’s still silent, and Harry from the corner of his eye can see that he’s in deep thought. Some moments pass, but Liam totally surprises him by saying:

“No, ok, it makes sense”, with a soul-crushing tone full of sadness and defeat. Harry can feel his bottle slipping from his hands and hitting the ground.

“Does it?” he says, trying to sound as composed as possible and failing. He lowers to collect it from the ground. Is he really that daft?

“Yes, it does. We’ll talk about that later, keep telling me the story now” at that, Harry raises his hands up in defeat, and continues speaking.

“So I was saying, I was totally convinced that he was having a joke on me, so I was a bit pissed, and keep insisting that they weren’t really together.” He hears Liam muttering something under his breath, and his anxiety goes back at being sky-level “And by insisting I mean that I nearly insulted Zayn. Nearly because Louis interrupted me before I could, but let’s be real, I was ready to.” He shrugs like it’s not a big deal, but he can feel Liam getting confused, or maybe even angry at him.

“And then he said that he understood why everyone thinks I’m slow, because I never understand anything. And I may have started panicking and I wanted to apologise but it couldn’t. So. Here I am.” He finishes his speech facing Liam, his shoulders slumped.

His heart his racing and he’s out of breath like he just finished running; he can feel his frenetic energy as the utter terror of appearing helpless, even if that’s exactly how he’s feeling.

Liam looks like he’s trying to solve one of his too complicated analysis problems: he’s looking at Harry’s bed, stripped in a hurry from the sheets, like it could give him some answers. In his concentrated form, what actually gets out of his mouth is:

“Man. That’s a lot.”

Harry can’t help it: he starts laughing. It’s hysteric, like all the energy he didn’t spend in these days is now mashing him, and all his reactions are exaggerated. Liam and his serious engineer role give him a ‘that’s a lot’.

It is.

Congrats Liam.

“You have to talk to him and apologise.” Wow, Liam keeps spilling truths, isn’t he?

“Thought about that. Don’t think he wants to deal with me, plus I’m slightly terrified and a bit offended, so you know, it’s a lot.” He has started folding all his clothes that are scattered on the floor. His idea was to divide them in ‘still good’ and ‘laundry’, but he soon realises that everything belongs in the ‘laundry’ pile.

“You’re offended? Why?”

Harry freezes on the spot. He’s currently picking up some socks from the ground, not facing Liam. He’s grateful of that, as he has no idea of what his face could look like now.

Shocked, maybe? Angry, even?

Or, more probably, just sad. He can already feel some tears he’s never going to spill fighting in the corners of his eyes: he’s too sensitive, he knows, but why no one ever understands him without him explain himself ad nauseam? He thought Louis could do it, but it was quite clear that he was wrong there; he was hoping that maybe Liam could, but, alas, he was wrong again. He remembers his mom saying countless times that people can’t read his brain and that he should use words to communicate, but. Those always get lost in his chest or get stuck to the roof of his mouth.

And also, even if it’s too much, he would like to meet someone who would get him without explaining everything. Maybe it doesn’t happen suddenly, it needs time to arrive at that point, but it is seriously the thing that Harry wants the most in his life.

He forces a fake, over the top cheering voice out of himself:

“Because, dear Liam, he basically said that I’m stupid. And that I don’t understand anything. And that whoever said it to me before him had made such a good point.” He stressed the last part, still not facing him. He feels full of buzzing bees: but instead of making honey, they’re screaming at him things to add, details to share, description of every muscle of Louis’ face when he said what he said to make Liam understand his point.

“But…” Liam lingers, and Harry can feel those moments stretching to the limit: enough time for him to go to his desk and start cleaning that, too, without looking at Liam once.

“You always say that about yourself? Did it really hurt you that much?”

Point is: Liam is right. If you give a version of yourself that doesn’t really represent you to the world and the world assume that one as you, it’s not really anyone’s fault but yours.

“Thing is, Li” he says while exanimating his books and notebooks, trying to figure out in which order putting them: colour, height or alphabetical? He decides on the last one and starts stuffing his bookshelf. “What I say about myself is not also what anyone else is allowed to say. Not when insulting myself is my personal coping mechanism, or when I say those things exclusively because I’m scared that others will say those first, and without joking.” Saying such honest things is terrifying. Harry feels like he wants to escape from this room; instead, he stops for a moment, looking at Liam for the first time “I thought you knew the feeling.”

Harry may be too self-centred, but when he said that he would be a better friend for Liam he was serious: he started noticing more, and always remembering those details that many consider useless but he always appreciated, like the subtle inflection of the voice, or the small gestures of the hands.

Harry noticed too much of those small details or nothing at all and decided to try to switch his set about Liam.

It may be a bit of a stretch, but even if he is aware of not being able to connect all the dots, it seems like there is an ancient pain in Liam’s past, one that could be similar to his. People around you thinking they’re smarter than you, no matter that the topic is your feelings and not something debatable, but also: not raising voices, always choosing negotiations over open conflicts, a self-esteem that doesn’t match his public presence, ten years of boxing class, ten.

Hulk-Liam existed but he’s been taken care of.

Liam looks less confused than what Harry expected, but now his face is clear of those strong emotions he had felt since he came in Harry’s room. His reply is a simple:

“You’re right. I do.”

That’s it.

They both know what the other is thinking, what kind of ugly things they experienced before meeting each other: in this moment they have a connection that goes over words.

Harry abandons his notebooks, and goes to plop on his bare bed, feeling drained of all his energy; Liam never stopped watching him, but now, with the fresh air that gently caresses them both, he returned to be his Liam, not a suspicious stranger: even better, now they know they share so much more.

“It’s just…” he exhales. Liam is still watching him, but he doesn’t try to interrupt him or to press Harry into talking faster. “Nothing. I don’t know.” They both know it’s not nothing, but that’s not the point. The point is that Harry feels ready to talk about it, even if the words in his chest aren’t really cooperating with him.

“I don’t know. I don’t notice so many things, I never really watch people, I don’t remember gossip, I can never get who’s whispering about who, if you, like, try to talk to me in code so someone else doesn’t understand there is a 100% possibility that I won’t get it. I often make gaffes because I don’t remember who that rumour was about and I accidentally expose it. And on the other hand, I remember everything that is totally useless, like trivial facts about animals or the galaxy or those that are so useless they don’t even have a category.”

He's regretting to have taken off all his blankets from the bed, because all he wants now is to lay down and feel protected, which in these lasts weeks it has developed to directly translate to ‘cuddle with Liam’. For the first time in these past two days, he genuinely wants to have a shower.

“And, like, I often remember stupid facts about people, but I learnt that they will think its weird for you to remember those, so I just pretend to forget them. And it became an inside joke, kinda, for anyone who knew me, y’know?” he stares at his hands, not sure of what to do now.

He always loved rings, but he never wore them, afraid to look too feminine and to make an ugly contrast with how masculine his body appears. In these weeks he had grown to become friend with Louis his perception of gender roles changed so much, mostly thanks to him, who always tried to spur him into becoming the best version of himself. He sighs, unable to escape the sadness that is crushing him: Louis has done so much for him. Like, the first time he wore nail polish he cheered at him. Cheered. He had never felt more understood or loved like at that moment in his entire life.

And it’s not just things that have directly impacted him: he knows he would never had stopped Liam in the bathroom two months or so ago, if he wasn’t still hype for having seen Louis for the first time. He really gave him the courage to do something as simple as paying a compliment, and that resulted with making the best friend he has ever had.

He sighs and continues:

“Like, everyone always teased me about this, about how I’m not brilliant in social situations and how awkward I am. But every time the jokes became too sharp and I got offended, they all would tell me how I should calm down, that I couldn’t even understand a joke. And, like” he starts picking at his nails, too tired to keep cleaning the room but still restless “I started becoming really anxious about that, and I grew quieter, because I could never understand if their jokes were mean or not, or if they were laughing with me or at me, you know? And it wasn’t only random people, I started to not get even my friends’ jokes, and that fucked me up a little.” That fucked him up a lot, but that was another matter.

“But like the worst thing is that often those jokes were mean for real, but me being offended by it and then convinced I was wrong was even funnier for them. But, like, I don’t think that they did it with horrible intentions, I think they really thought it was an inside joke for all of us. I mean, for me it wasn’t. But they didn’t stop until I graduated.”

He dares to look up and meets Liam’s stare: he’s looking at him with his puppy eyes, but there isn’t pity in them; rather, he finds a deep understanding of the matter. He knows he won’t keep his tears at bay for much longer.

“But now the point is, when I was talking to Louis, I was so sure he was joking, not in a mean way. But I was so anxious and full of expectative and I felt so vulnerable to talk about my feelings, my head wasn’t clear enough to analyse the situation at its best.” He sniffs; oh no, the tears are near.

“And I know it sounds like a shitty excuse, that it doesn’t matter that I’m too slow to understand the circumstances I’m in, I should never insult anybody or their relationship or accuse them to have invented one, but I really felt like I was back in high school, with everybody around me laughing at me and no one up to explain what I did or said.” He swallows a sob and runs a trembling hand in his hair. Liam, still sitting in Chris’ chair, has tears in his eyes.

“I would never have done something to disrespectful, but I already did it and I exaggerated. And I know he’s livid at me know, and he has all the rights to be, and I want to and I need to apologise but I’m so scared that he will be angry at me no matter what, and like, I would respect it, but it hurts too much to think about it. And I don’t know what to do.” He finally stops to fight them, and the tears run down his face.

“And he said that he gets why anyone said that to me in high school, and he doesn’t know everything, but he knows some” he sobs, feeling stones on his chest “and I really wouldn’t know what to do if I told him everything and he would still think it.” Just the thought of it makes Harry tremble “Like, I never thought so highly of someone in my entire life, it would be too much for me.” He hiccups “If even him thinks that of me, it must be the truth, you know?” he whispers this, afraid that it could turn real if someone actually hears it.

Concentrated on not letting himself crying too loudly, he hasn’t noticed that Liam got up from the chair and went straight to him: he just suddenly feels those strong arms envelop him and, feeling safer enough, he finally let himself cry freely.

He sobs and cries until his head hurts for the lack of oxygen, until he feels like he can’t physically breathe, and then he cries some more.

He doesn’t know for how long he stays like that, cradled like a baby by the best of the friends he could ever wish for, but he knows that when he finally stops, Liam’s still there, caressing his hair and humming in his ear. He doesn’t even seem grossed out by how Harry made a mess of tears on him.

When he stops crying and calms down a little, Liam starts speaking:

“If Louis still thinks that after you have talked to him, it will say nothing about you, but a lot about him. If he can’t see how wonderful you are, it’s his problem, not yours. You don’t become any less brilliant with the opinion of some boy, even if you’re in love with this one. The stars always shine bright, even when you don’t look at them, and all that, you know?” Harry tries to smile against Liam’s arm.

“That being said, I’m totally sure that it won’t happen. You fell for this guy, you know him better than me, and for what I could see, Louis is anything but supporting and loving. It’s just that Zayn probably comes in the first place in his life and that’s why he was so protective of him and ready to fight.”

If Harry wasn’t so exhausted, he would probably cry some more at the massive truth Liam just spoke. That’s the best way to summarise Louis: sweet and caring, but also always ready to snap you in a half if you dare to talk badly of the people he loves. He briefly wonders what disaster could happen if someone mistreats one of his siblings.

“But I know that he would do the same thing for you.” At that, Harry’s urge to disagree is too big to remain silent.

“I highly doubt that. Have you heard of how much I fucked up? He won’t want to hear from me ever again.” He tries to keep the self-loathe out of his voice, but it’s impossible when you’re talking like this about the one you love.

Liam squeezes his arm for a moment, like a warning.

“Harry, you two had a fight. It’s not like everything already ended, you still have the opportunity to go to him and explain like you just did with me.” Harry can’t even think about that without wheezing.

He’s so tired (sobbing really wears you out) but he still wants Liam to get this.

“It’s not like I can go to him and talk about all this: I told you, it’s a shitty excuse, I mean, it’s not even an excuse, it’s just me being whiny like I am right now.” He pauses, forcing himself to take a deep breath. He’s being insufferable to his friend who just wants to help him. Maybe he should just say to agree with him even though he doesn’t and stop being such a burden.

Liam’s reply arrives after a couple of beats:

“I think you’re panicking now. Which is understandable. But I don’t think you’re in a fitting spot to make this kind of decision. By saying this, you’re not giving Louis the opportunity to know why your fight happened and what went through your brain. You’ve always said that he’s supportive, and I think he would want to know what made you so angry and suspicious of people.”

God, Liam’s so pragmatic and Harry doesn’t know how to reply, so he doesn’t.

“Also” Liam adds, but then he quietens. Harry waits for him to continue, but when he doesn’t he snuggle his nose (which is still wet, ugh, he should get up and blows it) into Liam’s arms.

“I think that Louis would appreciate for you to confide to him this much. Whatever you may think now, he values your friendship a lot and if he knew your side of the conflict he would rethink the way the fight went down as well as some of your interactions-”

“I don’t want our interactions to change just because of this.” Harry interrupts him. God, that would be maybe worse than shutting down his friendship altogether. Louis treating him like he’s mental? Hell to the no.

“Not even if it changed for the better?” Liam challenges “Like, you see how he is: he’s loud and brash and sassy, and sometimes he goes too far with his jokes and he’s never sorry about it because that’s the way he is and his friends knows it; and he’s also all the other nice thing, like supportive and caring and sweet and whatever you always blab about, but you know with who he’s always gentle even when he jokes and never takes it too far?” Harry knows before Liam can say it “Zayn.”

Harry lets out a long, high-pitched whine. Why the fuck everything is always about Zayn? Yeah, not only his crush (he wishes it was still just a crush) is dating him, no, his best friend is still completely gone for him. It’s not right.

“Should I remember you the part where they’re dating and apparently very much in love?” he growls with no real bait behind it. It’s not Liam’s fault if Zayn’s beautiful and can apparently allure every man he sees.

Again, Liam’s replay is late to arrive.

“It’s not just for that, I think” he sounds lost in thought, like he’s not sure about what to say. Harry is confused but too tired to turn around to look at him, so he rests leaned on his chest, curious about what Liam has to say.

“I think he’s frailer than what you could imagine.”

Harry stops the urge to roll his eyes: of course Liam too thinks that he’s made of crystal and needs to be treated with gloves. So he says exactly that:

“Yeah I noticed that everyone likes to treat him as if he was a flower or something, I’m not sure about that.”

This time, Liam’s pause is even bigger. When he speaks again, his voice is a careful whisper:

“It’s not just that, I think that maybe… something had happened to him?”

Well, for sure Harry wasn’t expecting this.

“What?” he exclaims. What the fuck?

He looks at Liam behind his shoulder; he’s looking pensive, biting his lip.

“I don’t know, like, he never said anything to me, I never asked, no one talked to me about this, okay?” he sounds a bit frenetic, like he wants this to be clear from the start. “I’m just saying. I don’t want to talk behind his back, but he is… cautious. That’s the best word to describe him. He’s so easily spooked, doesn’t trust anybody, hate loud noises, and like.” He stops like he’s embarrassed “Louis and he never touch. I can admit that that’s a bit weird, no, like, not weird, just, uncommon maybe?” he’s so flustered for trying to find a way to express what he thinks without offending anyone (typical Liam); he’s getting redder, too.

“I’m just saying. Louis is too much towards anybody, except him. And it’s not just because they’re together, I think that’s also because he’s more fragile than what one can think of.” Saying this, Liam’s voice had decreased to a distant whisper.

Harry grabs his hand and holds it tightly. He never spared too many thoughts to why Zayn acted like that or to why everyone around him treated him differently, but he always saw it. It always annoyed him, but maybe what Liam’s saying is right. He doesn’t know anything about Zayn, but what Liam said suddenly makes so much sense.

Liam, on the other hand, had befriended him from the start, and has probably seen all this for the past two months without having a chance to comfort him or to vent to anybody. So much for being a better friend, uh?

Continuing to hold his hand, Harry drives away these self-centred thoughts.

He feels like a jackass now, for never stopping even once to consider why anyone around Zayn would treat him that way, and for thinking it again a second before Liam told him that.

“You’re right. I never thought too much about that, but it makes sense.” It seriously breaks his heart to think about it, but he still hopes that there isn’t anything too serious behind that. He doesn’t know any of it either way.

“But why are you saying this now?” he has to ask this.

Liam surprises him once again, by saying:

“I think that Louis sees you in a similar light. He’s more careful with you than with anybody else. I think he suspects something like this even though you never told him any of it. He’s observant, and he’s your friend, and he loves you.” He empathises with the last part.

Harry strongly disagree to it, but the rest of what Liam said makes him think.

“If you tell him why you acted like that, he’ll understand it, and he’ll be less cross with you.”

Unable to talk back, Harry just mentions: “You can’t compare me and Zayn, tough. Our situations are different and our relationships with Louis are not the same.”

Chugging, Liam replays instantly: “In love or not, two years or two months, Louis loves you so much. Like, so much” he repeats after Harry grumbles at that “You become inseparable in so little time, it must mean something, right? And the way you always talked about him, how much time you spend together… There’s something special between you two. Things escalated probably because he didn’t expect it from you. He probably thinks that he overreacted as well.” Harry doesn’t know what to think about that “He probably wants to apologise as well, but his enormous pride is stopping him from doing so.”

“And also because I should apologise first.” Harry mutters against Liam’s arm.

“Also that, of course.”

He’s still not completely sure of what Liam is trying to convince him, but for the first time he feels like maybe he will survive if he and Louis would stop being friends, if he still has someone as great as Liam hugging him.

Harry wriggles a bit in Liam’s arms, and turns over to face him: it’s clear that he cried a bit as well, but his tears have dried now, and it’s nothing compared to the mess that Harry’s face probably is.

He taps his nose, gently, smiling when he sees that Liam is amused.

“Thank you, Li” he feels warm inside “You’re the best friend one could possibly have, you know that, right? And I’m really lucky and forever grateful I walked in you singing in the showers.” They both smile at the memory “And, like, whatever this ugly world has done to you, you didn’t deserve any of that, okay? You deserve just the best this life has to offer.”

“Could say the same thing about you.” Liam’s smile is the sweetest sight. “But I won’t, because I have to say this: you stink so much. Go have a shower right now.” Harry gasps at that, fake shock all over his features. “And don’t open your mouth like that, when was the last time you brushed your teeth?” Liam’s laughing before he can finish the sentence.

“That’s it, you had become too cheeky for your own good.” Harry gets up and throws his pillow at him; laughing, Liam destroys the pile of sheets near him, and throws those back to Harry.

It turns in a pillow fight very quickly, but it’s all good.

Harry finally feels better again.

 

~*~

 

After that long, exhausting, heart to heart conversation with Liam, Harry had felt so much better. He finally had his shower, tried to catch on the lessons he had missed by texting some of his classmate, and had enjoyed a walk around the surroundings of campus. When he and Liam went out they met a surprised and satisfied Chris sit with some friends on one of the benches around campus, who greeted them even from a distance: Harry had finally recognised that maybe he judged him too harshly when they first met.

(Little does present Harry know, but he and Chris will have their first roommates night somewhere in November, where Chris will confess that the only reason why he used to leave the room as soon as Liam entered was because he was convinced that the two were trying to get somewhere, and he just wanted to give them some privacy. So yeah, Chris is a dudebro, sometimes a snobby one, but his intentions are good).

Another couple of days have passed from his and Liam’s chat: he still hasn’t texted or seen Louis, but he had thought a lot about his action and what he could do about it. He started going to the lessons again, but had still avoided the Lit ones, feeling like he had to apologise before entering in Louis’ territory.

He had started to go on walks in the late afternoon before dinner: he loves to have a moment of his days just to himself and his thoughts, and he had gladly discovered how peaceful they can make him.

His first goal for this walk today was to oxygenate his brain after a study session with Alex, his Biology classmate who sent him the notes of the lessons he skipped, and the second one was to burn some of his unused energy that he still feels in himself; but he thinks that now both of those are accomplished and he’s starting to get hungry, so he’s heading back to the campus.

It’s evening and autumn is finally here: the sun has set some minutes ago and the sky is a nice baby blue colour; it’s not dark yet, but the orange light of the streets lamps reflects on the colourful leaves on the ground, making the atmosphere a bit surreal.

Walking towards the main entrance of the University he stops to admire it: he’s so very grateful to have the opportunity to study here, so he just remains like that for few minutes, thinking about all the things in life for which he’s grateful for. It’s a long list, but it puts a big smile on his face and some easiness in his shoulders. Feeling better than before, he enters in.

While walking towards his dorm, grateful to had done some grocery shopping the day before, he sees a familiar figure sitting far from him, basically on the opposite side of where he is right now and from where he should go. His head is bowed, probably drawing or writing, and his hair covers nearly all his face, but it’s not difficult to understand that that’s Zayn.

Harry’s first instinct is to continue on his path and go make his dinner: Zayn will never see him, so it’s not even like he’s ignoring him; there’s also Louis’ words that still echo in his brain, about how he should not talk to him. But after thinking these things, Harry feels dubious: he’s a bit tired of being dragged by events in life, and he wants to decide his own destiny or whatever; he just wants to apologise, he’s not damaging anyone. He walked and thought all these past afternoons about his decisions and what come after those, and now he wants to put in practice what he meditated about.

Feeling sure in his own heart, he changes his direction, and goes to where the unaware Zayn is sitting. For not the first time, Harry wonders how genuine his perennial scowl is: with Niall and Louis, Zayn always transforms in this soft, gentle creature that doesn’t resemble at all how he presents himself in situations where he’s alone, like now. Even if no one is bothering him, he looks like he wants to hide himself behind his combat boots and leather jacket full of studs and patches - obviously handmade, because despite the fact that he and Harry never really talked much, it’s clear how creative Zayn is, and that his talent and artistry is never limited to a canvas or a sculpture: if Zayn can change something, anything with his hands, he will.

He's curved on himself like he doesn’t want the rest of the world to see him; his arms are rested on his legs that are on the bench as well, like he’s trying to occupy as little space as possible.

Getting nearer, Harry realises that yes, he’s drawing something, and maybe the scowl he has is not for intimidating but rather for concentration: he has some markers on his lap, and he’s carefully drawing lines on a paper Harry can’t see. Just for a moment, he asks himself how many times he had maybe misjudged Zayn’s moods just because he couldn’t get them: how many times he had thought he was angry and peevish while maybe he was just pensive or lost in his head.

He stops at a distance that is slightly bigger than a usual one, and simply says:

“Zayn.” His voice is steady, he knows what he is doing.

He didn’t expect it, but at that Zayn nearly falls off the bench: for some weird reason it’s not fun at all, and not just because Harry is on the verge of apologising.

Zayn flinched so bad to go away from who was calling him out of the blue that he nearly fell, and now on his paper there is a firm sign that doesn’t belong at all in the composition (at least it’s in pencil. It probably is still difficult to get it off, but hey, it’s not marker). He’s shaking a little, like Harry had frightened him.

Zayn looks up after that, pale in his face, looking stiff and maybe scared, even: as soon as he sees it’s Harry he slumps his shoulders and lifts his chin, his nonchalance reacquired. It strangely feels like it’s a mask though: he’s still pale, and the fear didn’t completely leave his eyes.

Harry feels completely out of place and has no idea of what to do: never he would have thought he could scare someone so much, just by calling their name offhandedly. He can’t help but to think about what Liam said and immediately feels like a moron: he could have made some noise to alert him out of his deep concentration rather than just surprising him like that.

“Harry.” Zayn’s voice is firm, but he imperceptibly shifts a bit away from him, like he wants to put a space between the two of them; he grabs his markers with the hand that is not holding the paper to collect his things and bringing them nearer himself; he then glances the surroundings, and then looks back at Harry.

Harry, at a loss of what to do, just says:

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. And, for your drawing.” He vaguely gestures it, hoping Zayn will catch what he wants to say. Zayn doesn’t seem happy to take his eyes off Harry, but when he does to look at the drawing, he just sighs.

“Yeah, whatever man. Just don’t surprise me again, ok?” the defeated tone he uses seems to suggest that this isn’t the first time something like this happens to him. Harry feels even worse than before, guilt swallowing him; he wants to apologise again, but Zayn has set his eyes back on Harry, expecting the reason why he was disturbed.

So Harry breathes out, and continues:

“I was walking back to my dorm, and I saw you, so I wanted to stop to talk to you. I want to apologise for what I said to Louis, to you and about your relationship. I said harmful things and I’m terribly sorry about that.” He swallows the knot he feels in his throat. Zayn is looking at him, his face completely neutral, not giving anything away: it’s like he’s talking to a statue. His face his composed, and he looks like he’s finally getting back some certainty about this conversation.

“And I know these are just words and you probably already think I’m some short-tempered, weirdly possessive guy, but I’m not.” Zayn sit still: this already feels more challenging than what he expected. He takes a deep breath “And I know that I’ll have to show that, more than just saying it. We’ve never talked much and now that I said what I said I doubt that it will ever happen, which is fine, like, obviously” damn, he’s rambling and not getting to the point “But I wanted you to know that I know how wrong I was when I said those things, and I’m deeply sorry.” He exhales once again; he’s shaking with the anticipation of what Zayn will say.

Zayn hasn’t stopped to look at him in the eyes the whole time: it’s unnerving, because Harry is the total opposite of that; Zayn’s calm now, waiting for him to finish. He still has the markers in his hand, but the grip on those is loose now, his knuckles not white anymore.

When Harry stops talking he doesn’t reply instantly: rather he keeps observing him for a little more, maybe conscious of how agitated he’s making Harry.

“I accept your apologies.” He finally speaks; his voice is quiet and slow, like the one Harry’s used to. Harry feels his shoulders drop: he wasn’t even aware of how tense he was holding himself. “Louis told me what happened between you two, but I can see that you’re honest now, and that your apologies aren’t empty. But I also have to say: you should say these things more to him than me. You haven’t offended me much, personally. I know how I am.”

He doesn’t seem sad or apologetic while saying this: he’s just affirming the person he knows he is. For Harry, that’s courage in a way he couldn’t even explain, and even more than that, is acceptance and self-love. It’s just a few words, but he already admires Zayn more than before.

“But you really hurt Louis.” He continues, stabbing Harry in the heart “he trusted you, probably still does. He considered you a great friend of his. I can accept your apology about what you said about me, but I can’t say the same for him. And beware,” he shifts towards Harry, like he wants to underline this concept “I’m not saying this for lack of self-respect. I’m not saying that you can say whatever you want about me without consequences.” Harry finds himself nodding: he never noticed how assertive Zayn is. He can’t look at him now, hyper-aware of how different they are; his heart is pumping so fast his head is spinning, his eyes fixed on his shoes.

“I’m saying that he and I have different ways to approach problems. You didn’t offend me because we weren’t great friends to begin with, which you were with him. Also he’s extremely loyal, and would do anything for me, or Niall. That’s why it’s gonna be harder to talk to him, but you owe him more than me.”

Harry feels dizzy with how anxious he’s feeling: Zayn is right, of course, and the total confidence with which he’s speaking doesn’t help Harry to feel less like a child. He takes in all the truths Zayn gave to him, waiting for them to settles down. He forces himself to calm his breath, and then he assets his eyes on him again.

“I know I have to talk to him, and I plan to do it as soon as he wants to hear from me. And if he doesn’t want to talk to me at all after I apologised, I’ll respect that, and I won’t bother you, any of you, ever again. It would be his choice and I will commit to it.” The sole thought of not talking to Louis again brings tears in his eyes and opens again the hole he feels in his chest: but this is not the moment for him to cry, so he just swallows his tears and tries to look as composed as possible when he adds:

“Although, I really hope that it won’t happen.” His voice trembles just a little bit: he considers it a success.

Unexpectedly, Zayn smiles at that. Smiles.

Harry is convinced he has never seen him smile to someone who’s not Louis.

“I’m also way more chilled than he is because I was expecting this moment for the past month or so. Sorry to break this to you, but you’re not subtle at all.” He’s teasing him gently, exactly like Louis does. Harry has no idea of what is happening.

“I’m sorry, what?” he has no clue of what Zayn is talking about.

At Harry’s confusion, Zayn’s smile grows in a wolfish grin.

“You’re too explicit” he explains “it was totally obvious that you were falling for him. I just had to wait until you declared it, but yeah, I knew. Obviously I was wishing for something less dramatic, but it seems like you gained your judgment back, so yeah, me and you are good.” He speaks like what he’s saying is not shocking Harry to the core: but from the entertainment on his face, it looks like he’s enjoying what he’s doing right now.

Harry can feel his mouth hanging open. Zayn knew?! And never said anything?

“You knew?! Wha- Why you never said anything?!” he finally exclaims when his brain gets over the shock and starts working again. He feels, not for the first time, that he fell into another dimension. This doesn’t make any sense.

Zayn shrugs like it’s nothing important, but Harry can see the amusement in his face: before this moment he never noticed how similar he and Louis are, but now it’s undeniable.

“And what could I say to you? It wasn’t any of my business.”

Harry is not even going to pretend he understand this man’s mind, or this situation.

“But…” he’s a loss for words “Weren’t you jealous? Of me, like, spending time with him, or, I don’t know, looking at him that much, or, like, holding his hand? Even in front of you?” he can’t believe he’s explaining this to Zayn.

Zayn snorts, like what Harry said was funny.

“Why would I be jealous? I know he’s in love with me, and I know him well enough to notice if something changes” his amber eyes shine; his whole face becomes softer and his posture more relaxed, like just thinking about his love makes him feel peace at heart. Harry doesn’t get stabbed in the heart again, not at all.

The worst part is that Zayn’s not bragging about all this, he’s just explaining how things are between the two of them.

“For the hand-holding and the lap-sitting stuff, well, he’s a very touchy person, and I’m not. He can cuddle to whoever he wants, it will never be a problem for me.”

Wow, Harry is now not only jealous for Zayn, but also for their relationship, which sounds like a perfect, healthy dream.

“And also, to be honest, do you have an idea of how many people get crushes on him? It happens all the time, I’m used to it. Like, have you seen him? I’d be more surprised by the opposite.” He has a satisfied smirk on, but again, he’s not bragging about it, he’s just conscious of how wonderful his boyfriend is.

“Yeah, I mean, I can image.” Harry feels defeated in every way.

Who’s Harry to not agree to that? Knowing he’s not the first one to have a crush on Louis shouldn’t be a surprise, but knowing that he’s the last of a long list that would probably keep expanding hurts a bit: maybe it’s even a recurring joke between the two.

Maybe he won the prize of the douchbag who reacted to it worse.

Whatever, he doesn’t have time for that kind of self-loathing thoughts, so he just shoves them away from him, trying to concentrate on the good parts of his conversation with Zayn.

Zayn said that he forgives him, so a part of his atonement was done (he is that dramatic, yes).

Outside his bubble, Zayn is putting his markers and pencils in his pencil case, careful and meticulous, like all his tools are fragile and precious (they probably cost much more than Harry can think of, so it makes sense). He has a small, knowing smile on his lips.

“I have to go now.” he says, getting up slowly, all his material in his backpack, never getting near Harry; he does a couple of steps backwards until they’re distant from each other. It’s like his personal space is at least a couple of metres in every direction, towards anybody in the world.

Harry gets out of his thoughts and looks at him. The sky is now a deep shade of cobalt blue: soon it will be dark.

“Wait!” he exclaims, like an afterthought, when Zayn had already turned his back to him: he turns back immediately, with an eyebrow raised.

“Yeah?” he asks slowly.

“Why didn’t you tell Liam that you were dating Louis?” Harry has gone crazy trying to understand that. When Zayn doesn’t answer instantly, he adds: “I know it’s none of my business. You don’t have to answer me.” Even if in some way Harry thinks it is some of his business after all, he doesn’t want to impose himself on Zayn or scaring him again.

Zayn seems surprised, even if it’s always difficult to read him well: all his expressions seem dimmed down to neutral. It doesn’t seem something natural for him though: it’s always like he forces himself into showing as little as possible about what he feels.

He sighs a bit and turns completely to face Harry.

“No, you’re right to ask me this.” He takes another pause, longer this time, like he’s looking for the right words to say.

“I am very reserved.” He starts. “I don’t like to talk about myself to anyone in the world, and that includes stuff like, my favourite ice cream flavour. No, I’m serious,” he adds when Harry shows his surprise. “It drives Louis crazy, sometimes, but I’m getting better at it, especially with him and Niall.

“I know it may sound a bit extreme, but like… I told Louis what I was majoring in after three months of him basically begging me to tell him. I showed him my drawing after seven. So, yeah, the thought of saying that to a new friend was unbearable for me, and it’s not just that, it’s…” he lingers a bit, not knowing how to continue; he sighs with an edge of irritation.

“Point is, I don’t like to talk about myself. To anyone, about anything. But a thing I really can’t do is talking about my relationships. Like, when I befriended Niall in high school, I told my parents after nearly a year.” He says this with an exasperated expression, like he’s the first one to be tired by this habit.

Harry is disconcerted.

First of all, by how much Zayn had talked, completely unprompted: for the first time he’s seeing a glimpse of what Liam probably was from the beginning. Zayn can appear mysterious, but he’s aware of it; he’s also aware of the detachment that there is from who he really is and how people perceive him, and Harry can understand that, so, so well.

Second, he’s surprised by what he said. Harry still doesn’t completely grasp it, but that is because of how different they are: he called him mom the second after he leaved Liam to tell her about him and Louis, so he doesn’t put on himself to comprehend the line of thoughts Zayn has. The only thing he can think of is how unheard he probably had felt to close on himself this much.

“I know this all could have been spared if I told him that,” Zayn continues “But I’m serious when I tell you that it was impossible for me to say.” Suddenly he looks tired, maybe even regretful; Harry really doesn’t want him to think he has said too much, so he jumps right in:

“Thank you, I can’t really say that I understand because I don’t, but that seemed a lot, so yeah, I respect it.” He’s blabbing because always been so intimidated by him and now he feels inadequate to comfort him. “Sorry I asked that, but I care about Li too much.”

At that, Zayn smiles again: more with his eyes than with his mouth, as they squint a bit towards the edges and it’s soft, genuine. It’s the most intimate and happy smile Harry has ever seen on him.

“You really love him, uh?” he says softly.

Harry’s taken aback, but he replies immediately: “Of course I do.”

“Good, that’s good. He needs it, and he needs you.” He looks down for a moment “Things are good between me and him, by the way.” He adds with the same soft happiness.

Harry smiles back at him, “I know.”

They stay like that for a second. Zayn is the first one to interrupt the silence:

“I have to go for real now.”

The sky is dark blue.

“Yeah, me too” Harry agrees.

“Have a good night, Harry” Zayn seems like he’s back to be a mystery like before, but he still has that shine in his eyes: he doesn’t seem a complete stranger anymore.

And with that, he turns around and starts walking towards the exit of the Uni.

 

~*~

 

Hey Louis, it’s Harry.

I know it’s been a while, but I still haven’t apologised for my behaviour, so. I would want to do it face to face, because it’s the rational, adult thing to do, but I would understand if you’d say that you don’t want to see me, so I’ll do it on text.

The things I said last week aren’t easily forgivable, I know. I was lost in my own head and I regretted them as soon as they went out of my mouth. I recognised it immediately and I wanted to apologise on spot but I couldn’t do it because I felt so ashamed I couldn’t talk, but the point it’s not me (obv), so I’ll just say this: I talked to Liam and to Zayn, too (I know I shouldn’t have done it but I swear I just said sorry to him, nothing else), and now I’m calm enough to apologise properly to you.

I want you to know that I completely respect your relationship, and the fact that I may not get it it’s my own problem and I should have never put it on you. I don’t even think those disrespectful things about Zayn, and what I said doesn’t reflect what I think of him. If I said that it’s because I thought you were having a joke on me, and I know this is not an excuse and it’s also not your fault: I’m just saying this to explain what I did, even if it doesn’t justify my attitude. (I think this is a thing that I could explain better in person, but as I already said if you don’t want to see me I’ll respect that).

I’m really sorry for what I had done and said, for making you mad and for being a total asshole and not a good friend for you and your boyfriend. It’s unnecessary to say, or maybe it’s not, that something like this will never happen again, and that I’ll learn to use my head before talking shit to someone who did nothing but treat me with complete respect, trust and love since the day we met. If you think that we can’t be friends anymore after what I said to you, I’ll totally respect it and I won’t bother you anymore.

I hope you have a wonderful day,

Harry

Harry throws his phone on his bed, exhaling slowly. That message took half an hour to write, and even if he wasn’t completely satisfied with it, it was better than a week of total silence, right? He hopes so.

The moment to finally apologise arrived when Harry could open his chat with Louis and not close it one second later, after seeing the emoji-filled, lovely texts he and Louis had wrote lasts. He had debated putting some xxxs at the end, but he then realised that those could have been read as mocking or unbalance the serious tone of the text.

He had skipped another Lit class this morning, but that was planned as well: he had decided that he couldn’t bear to see Louis without having talked to him in some ways before, but he had finally reached his last point where he just couldn’t allow to let even more days to just pass without a reason. ‘Him being scared’ had longed expired as an excuse to not acknowledge his mistakes.

With his heartbeat ringing in ears for the anticipations of the answer, Harry had decided to not go to the library today but rather studying in his own dorm, as he already knows how annoying he could get if he received Louis’ answer while being surrounded by students who wanted to study for real. He thinks that even if it’s an excessive optimistic feeling, because he’s mad if he thinks that Louis will answer him so soon: Harry doesn’t actually expect an answer for maybe even days.

Trying to feel more peaceful, he picks his phone from the bed and plays some white noises video on YouTube; putting it back on the bed, he places all his notes and books on his desk, as well as his too many highlighters, and sitting down he forces himself to concentrate on his Biology books.

He’s pretty sure he won’t have any answers soon, and after a bit this awareness calms him down enough to make him study productively.

That’s why when he hears the ping! from somewhere hidden in the sheets, not even one hour later, his head shoots up in a second, surprised. He keeps staring at the wall in front of his desk, not sure of what to do, until there’s a second ping! coming from his phone.

Harry stares at the wall some more and then at his Biology book opened on the same page from the last ten minutes: the graph he’s studying, as pretty and colourful it is, it’s also very hard to memorise. He tries to look at it some more, but now it has become impossible to concentrate on something that’s not his phone and the messages it holds: as much as Harry tries to convince himself that it’s obvious that’s going to be Liam, or his sister, or some of those enormous family group chat he tries to silence, he can’t help but think and hope that it’s going to be Louis.

Sighing, he stands up from his chair and walks to his bed: his concentration is ruined, might as well checking who it is and then he’ll put the phone on silent or he’ll switch it off and he’ll continue to study. He rummages through the sheets a bit before founding his phone, and then he holds it a couple of seconds before unlocking it.

Contrarily to his rational thoughts, but perfectly aligned with all his hopes, on his screen he reads that Louis :) had just replayed to him. The smiley face looks totally derisive right now.

He stands there, thunderstruck, for more than a moment, unsure to believe his own eyes.

Louis had seriously already texted back?! He can’t believe that: he was ready to wait days to have an answer, but what he has right in front of his eyes can’t be faked.

Hostile thoughts roam in his head: Louis’ replay was quick, he maybe didn’t think about it much, so probably he just said ‘fuck off, creep’, or something like that (Louis would never, Harry tries to convince himself, but the field of his insecurity is never a logical one).

With shaky fingers, Harry swipes on the message, opening it.

And, well.

That’s something he didn’t expect. The messages said, simply:

Harry for fuck’s sake
Meet me in the hipster café in one hour

Harry stands there dumbfounded. He reads it again, just to be sure, but the words are still there, and the meaning is still the same: Louis wants to see him. He wants to see him in one hour.

That’s not too bad, is it? Even if they’re not going to have a nice chat over tea, he still wants to see him. Yeah, maybe he’ll just say that they can’t be friends anymore, but Harry unexpectedly feels good about it, knowing full well that if Louis was angry he would just say it. The only thing that really confuses him is the first text: why does he sound so exasperated? What did he do? Maybe he said more stupid things in his text?

With a leap of heart, he notices that now he just has fifty minutes: his hair needs to be washed, his clothes changed, and the hipster café is not near to his dorm.

Leaving his anxious thoughts for later, he quickly writes I’ll be there to Louis, and then runs to the shower.

Thirty-six minutes later Harry is already outside his room, ready to go: he managed to take a shower hot enough to calm him down for a bit, but now that he’s fumbling with his keys to close the door he can already feel the uneasiness back in his chest.

The weather has been cloudy and moody (just like him) all last week, and Harry loves nothing more than wearing his Adidas trackies when he wants to be comfortable, but the idea of being dressed like Louis was too embarrassing even to think of, so he opted for a random pair of joggers. Exiting from the building, he sees that today is no exception: the sky is gray and heavy and it’s probably going to drizzle soon.

The walk to the café is not short but through it Harry accomplishes to reason about all human knowledge, feeling jittery and on the edge: he wanted to revise what to do when he sees Louis, what to tell him, but his brain is frozen and the only thing he can do is put one foot in front of the other. This place is one of those he refused to go in these past days, and he misses it dearly: no one around offers stuff like a matcha latte (he’s lying to himself if he thinks just for a second that it’s the matcha latte he’s been missing).

When he finally arrives in front of the café’s door, he stops to do some breathing exercise that should calm him and tries to give himself a pep-talk for encouragement. The truth is that he’s so scared he can’t bring himself to lift a hand and push the door, and every passing second a new unpleasant thought sneaks in his mind.

He stays like that for just a few seconds though, because soon two girls exit the place talking animatedly about something Harry doesn’t even register: they leave the door open for Harry, and he doesn’t have a choice but to get in.

The café is packed with people: not surprising giving how popular this place is, but annoying, because Harry can’t spot Louis right away (that sounds like a constant in his life). He wanders briefly, trying to spot him, until he catches a pair of ice-cold blue ice staring at him.

Louis is right there, few metres away from him: Harry missed him so much he can’t get his eyes off of him, but at the same time looking at that angel’s face with such an unfriendly expression, knowing full well he’s the one putting it there, is a stab right in the heart.

He’s still beautiful.

Of course he is, but maybe Harry had hoped to look at him again, after all these days, and realising that Louis’ wasn’t the most beautiful man he’s ever seen: needless to say, he was so wrong. He had tried to find some reasons to stop adoring him so much, but every flaw, every disagreement they had just contributed to making Harry fall harder. It’s a lost cause.

Louis just nods at him, like he’s acknowledging his presence, and Harry stiffly nods back. He notices that on Louis’ table there is already a mug, as well as some books: he’s been here for a while. Graceless as he always is, he points at the counter to let Louis knows he’s going to order and turns away before he can see Louis’ reaction. He can feel his heart up in his throat.

He feels like he’s shaking for how scared he feels: that’s exactly it, he’s scared, not nervous. Scared of what this conversation will lead to, scared of Louis’ words and all his possible reactions. He feels like he can’t speak for how knotted he feels on the inside. Words are fighting each other in his mind, and there’s just a big chaos inside his brain.

After a short line he orders a tea, because important things are always discussed with a tea in hand; when the barista hands him his change, Harry’s so shaky that it slips away from his hands and falls on the grounds: giving the girl who served him his best charming smile to apologise (probably a grimace), he kneels on the floor, cursing himself and his clumsiness. He feels worse than before now and hopes that Louis’ wasn’t watching him.

Going back to Louis’ table, he sees that no, he wasn’t watching him (of course he wouldn’t, you seriously think you’re that interesting?), and he’s now closing his books and making space on the small surface of the table.

“You’re reading A Midsummer Night's Dream?” the words are out of his mouth before he can think any better. He places his mug near Louis’ one. “That’s my-”

“Your favourite Shakespeare’s comedy, yeah.” Louis completes his sentence. Louis’ words make him feel warm on the insides: he still knows him so well. Just for a second he can pretend that everything is good, that Louis and him are still friends, and nothing bad happened.

Louis looks up from his pile of books, and Harry can’t breathe: the gloomy, compact light that comes from the window on Louis’ right gives to his eyes inconceivable depth, making them even more vibrant than usual. He’s so, so beautiful, and Harry’s as in love as he was in that doomed afternoon. What a fool he was when he tried to convince himself of the opposite.

He sits down and takes off his jacket, placing it on his chair. They’re sitting in a quiet corner, near one of the windows, in a fairly isolated place from the rest of the bar. Harry appreciates it massively.

 “We’re studying it now in class.” Louis adds not unkindly, and damn, the topic is already that one, isn’t it? ‘If you didn’t skip classes you would have known’, but it’s not like Harry can beat around the bush, can he? He’s not here to have a tea with a friend.

Feeling fidgety, he starts to twiddle with his spoon, unsure of what to do.

“Thank you for agreeing to see me.” Finally gets past his teeth; swallowing the knot in his throat, he forces himself to continue “I really want to apologise to you and I think that saying it is better to text it, you know? So yeah, thank you.” Words, once again, are not collaborating with his brain.

He is staring at Louis’ eyebrows instead of his eyes while saying this (old trick his elementary school teacher taught him) and he can see how serious Louis is: he’s deep in thought, staring Harry back, seeming to weight every word Harry’s saying. He nods at him to continue, but other than that he doesn’t say or do anything.

“What I said and did was completely wrong. I was selfish and reckless with my accusations, and those were born by nothing but my complete incapacity to understand the world I live in, I suppose.” It hurts so badly to say such things, because as true as they are, Harry fought against them for a good part of his life, just to change city, school, friends and realise that anyone else in his life was right all along. They were right and he was wrong and he’s so short sighted to understand it just now.

Sometimes he wishes he could start over some part of his life.

He goes on, taking his eyes off of Louis, unable to keep looking at his closed-off face.

“I’m not saying this hoping you will pity me: I misread the situation completely, which was an honest mistake, maybe, but the way I reacted is not acceptable in any way: I behaved like, I don’t know, a controlling caveman?” he hears a puff from Louis, but he doesn’t look back at him. The sound alarms him: is he angry? Is he laughing at him?

Harry’s frozen, and even more jittery than before.

“B-but I’m sorry. I don’t know what I can do to make it up? For you and for Zayn? But if there’s a way I’ll do it, it’s, it’s just-” he feels choked up. His nosy, messy thoughts keep going, having the best on him. He can’t concentrate, can’t speak anymore.

It’s not like he can say ‘please, I’d do anything to keep being your friend’ without sounding creepy and he can’t think about a socially acceptable way to suggest the same thing.

Suddenly, a hand appears in his field of view, but Harry’s so out of it that he doesn’t focus on it until it places itself on his own hand: at that, Harry jolts back, returning in the real world. He realises it’s Louis’ hand just when he raises his head and sees Louis drawing his hand back. He looks worried, and Harry can’t understand why: he holds his hand up like he wants to prove that he means no harm at all, apprehension never leaving his features.

Harry doesn’t understand, he doesn’t. Why is Louis looking at him like that? What happened, what changed? He can’t focus on anything, and the café is suddenly louder than it was a few seconds ago.

“Harry” his voice is so soft. Harry doesn’t understand why he hears it so muffled, if it is because Louis is always sweet and caring or because his head seems to not work at its full potential right now. “Breathe a little, would you? Everything is fine.”

Harry really, really doesn’t believe that.

Especially now that Louis seems sad without a reason why, and why he’s being so gentle now? Does Harry even deserve it?

“Hey, hey, it’s ok. Drink a bit of tea, will you?”

Nothing is fine and Harry feels like he can’t breathe, but he always had problems to say no to Louis, so with a jerking nod he grabs his cup of tea. It’s still scorching hot and it burns the tip of his tongue and goes down like fire in his throat, but it gives Harry a contact back with reality. After the second sip he puts it down and rips a packet of sugar to add in with trembling hands.

Like a Pavlov’s reflex, he looks at Louis: he used to laugh until his stomach hurt for Louis’ reaction when he added sugar to his tea; and while Louis would go on and on about why it was an abomination and that Harry deserved to get his British citizenship withdrawn, Harry would just laugh at him and poke his cheeks and reminding him of how awesome he was, until for some reason or another Louis would decide to graciously forgive him, ‘for this time only’. And the next time they would have tea, the same scene would go on again, both of them completely in it, both of them happy to be with the other.

Damn, Harry fell for the perfect man, didn’t he?

But this time Louis says absolutely nothing, still looking at him perplexed and concerned. Harry didn’t even have the heart to hope in some kind of commentary, but the striking difference just served him as a reminder to himself of the mess he had done.

The weight he feels on his chest seems like it will never leave. He feels bruised.

A minute or two passes in a tense silence. Harry sips on his tea until he feels human again.

“What a want to say is” he pauses. It’s like it’s not really Harry who’s talking, like he detached from this place and now someone else his speaking for him.

“The first day of lessons, when you talked to me the first time. I was terrified, like, there isn’t another word for that. And you were… so kind to me, you made me feel relaxed when I thought it would be totally impossible.” It’s bittersweet to think about it now.

“And then you offered to show me around and gave me your number, even though you owned me nothing at all. And you kept being the most supportive, lovable, kind-hearted guy I’ve ever met in my life. It was impossible for me to not fall for you, like, I couldn’t stand a chance.”

He feels lighter now that he had admitted it: his crush was something that couldn’t have been stopped, not even if he had wanted to; not for someone like Louis.

He had put the mug down and started to rip the packet of sugar apart in the tiniest pieces possible. It’s a nervous habit of his, to twiddle with whatever he has on hand when he’s nervous. Every time he did that in a bar some waiter would scold him like he was a child for making a mess: but even though Harry knows they’re completely right, he can’t help it, not right now.

“But I was so nervous to tell you, because people around me kept telling me to go for it, that it would have been a happily-ever-after, and they would forget that I’m… this.” He admits in defeat, showing his hands full of shreds of papers and scattered sugar grains.

All in all, he’s this: a nervous kid with a lack of social skills. Sometimes he worries that that’s actually all he has to offer.

Louis had followed all this with a scowled face, but never saying anything. At Harry’s last acknowledge, his frown deepens, but he remains silent.

“So, well. The first time you told me, I thought you were joking. It could be, you know? Because I was so nervous I couldn’t concentrate, and maybe we were still joking about the day before and I didn’t get it. But then, when I insisted and you got angry, it was clear that you were right, and… I felt like I couldn’t let it be because, like, somewhere in the back of my head I still had some hope, and when I remember that moment at this café, it was like I could see the truth. And, well.”

He stops, grabbing his mug again. He likes the stability that it gives to him. He takes another sip of tea and doesn’t put the mug down this time, enjoying the warm sensation in his hands and how it keeps him centred.

“I should probably tell you about some personal thing for this to make more sense, but I don’t want you to think that I’m trying to convince you that I’m a poor victim and nothing is my fault,” he says all this in one breathe, not wanting to give to it more attention than what it deserves.

“But basically in that moment I got sure of the fact that you were playing a prank on me, because I’m like this” underlines again at the mess he left on the table, “and I got angry and defensive, and I felt like I had the right to say that shit to you. But, well, you were right, of course you were, and when I finally realised it it was too late, because you were well past done with my bullshit, which is completely understandable, and I felt so ashamed that I couldn’t apologise at that moment, and I was like, terrified? Because you were right and what if you didn’t want to hear me anymore? And then days passed and it was progressively worse because I didn’t know what to say to you, but at last Liam got some reason in me and I got the courage to talk to you.”

Harry hadn’t taken even one breath to say all that, so when he finishes he inhale slowing through his nose: he had never felt as tired as he is now in his entire life; this was worse than running a ten miles race. His ears ring and he feels like he’s out of breath, but worse of all is the adrenaline that brought him there and made him speak had left him: now he’s sagged on his seat, without even the strength of sitting properly. His nervous energy had its peak when he made a mess and then left him exhausted.

His head spins.

“And now that I’m here I just hope that how sorry I am can arrive at you, because is what I’ve been thinking nonstop since we fought. But well, if it doesn’t, that’s cool too.” He shrugs a little: it’s obviously not cool, but he has to say it. His eyes are fixed on the tea.

He’s drained and is sure that it’s clear that he’s done talking, but Louis doesn’t speak immediately; out of the corner of his eye Harry can see that he’s slumped on his chair, too, but he doesn’t see his face and so he can’t know what he’s thinking.

He hears Louis shifts in his seat.

“Harry, can you look at me?” his voice still sounds far away; maybe he’s falling asleep, even if he definitely doesn’t feel like it; it’s more like he’s floating, even if he feels heavy.

What Louis said doesn’t seem like a scolding, but Harry just shrugs again at that, like he genuinely doesn’t know if he can. “That’s alright, don’t worry.” Harry’s relieved.

“Ok, well, the first thing I want to say is that I totally accept your apology and that you’re forgiven and you don’t have to worry about it anymore, ok?”

It takes a moment for Harry’s brain to register this new information: did Louis really just said it? As easy as that? But then he continues, before Harry can think about something else.

“But I also want to say… it’s not that deep?” Harry’s head shoots up at that, incredulous: what? Louis has an apologetic grimace on his face and he’s looking at him with his shoulders raised and an unsure smile, like he doesn’t know if he’s allowed to.

Harry’s so, so very confused, and can feel his heart starts pumping anxiously again. Is Louis going to laugh at him?

“Like, okay, we fought, and I was pissed at you. The next day you weren’t in class and I grew angrier because I expected some apologies, but then I decided to let it go, because it was useless: you weren’t there, it’s not like I could be angry all by myself.

“Then I started being annoyed because you ghosted me and I didn’t understand what you were playing at, but I was still waiting for you to make the first move so I just let you be. But then Zayn told me that he had spoken with Liam and he said that you were miserable, and I didn’t get it until I sat down with him and talked about it. With Zayn I mean.” He adds at Harry’s clouded expression.

Did Liam seriously go around and spoke to Zayn, Louis’ boyfriend, about him being miserable? That’s a bit fucked up, if Harry can say it. After he told him that he had trust issues towards the whole world?

He’s too tired to even feel betrayed now, and Louis is still talking, so he decides to think about it later.

“I can say on Liam’s behalf that he did it because he was truly worried about you. But of course you can be mad at him, y’know?” he adds gently, reading his mind. Harry doesn’t like at all how easy is to read through him, so he scolds his expression in a more neutral one, not looking at Louis.

“I was saying? Ah, yeah, you also spoke with Zayn and he said that you were still mortified about it, but like, so much? So I really want to say two things now.” Louis holds up two fingers, and a moment after seems to think better about it and shoves his hand under the table, looking a bit embarrassed for his teacher moment. He looks a bit tired and a bit sad, but determined.

“The first one is that I was pissed, angry even, but…” he sighs “but a week passed. I had a lot of time for thinking about our fight and what we said to each other, and some of what you told me were offensive, yeah, but I recognise that my reaction was bigger than someone else in the same situation. And it’s been a while, and I learnt that it’s toxic to keep emotions as rage just to yourself without realising them or coping with them, so I worked on it and stopped being angry at you days ago.

“But” he continues, not giving Harry even the time to process what he’s saying “I’m forgiving you now that you have apologised, not before this moment. I really need to say this” he shifts in his chair, trying to find a more comfortable position “The worst thing wasn’t the anger, but the fact that I was scared to acknowledge that maybe our friendship wasn’t as strong as I thought, and you weren’t who I thought you were. Once the anger passed, that was my biggest concern: that maybe I didn’t know you at all. I was so disappointed with myself.”

Louis is saying all this slowly, like it pains him: but it’s probably nothing compared to what Harry’s feeling while hearing this. His heartbeat goes up again, and he doesn’t know what’s happening to him, but his chest hurts. He wants to explain that is absolutely not true, that their friendship means everything to him, that he had never done anything with the intent of hurting Louis, but he’s still floating, still tired, still scared.

Louis notices all this, of course he does, and now he looks even sadder and shattered. Harry still doesn’t understand.

“But Harry, from what I know from Liam, Zayn, and now you, I know for sure that that’s not the truth.”

The relief Harry feels in that instant is enough for him to slump even further in his chair; this afternoon is an emotional workout.

“The second thing I want to say is a bit more delicate, and I don’t know how to say it properly.”

Damn, Harry can’t be relaxed for more than a second here. Why is Louis announcing everything he has to say instead of just saying it? Harry’s heart doesn’t know for how long it can actually work if Louis keeps doing this.

A nice thing to notice, despite everything else, is that Louis looks uneasy as well: at least this is a difficult conversation for the both of them.

“I’m a bit worried about you. You look terrified right now, and I don’t know how much of it is my fault. You also totally say it yourself before, that you were too afraid to apologise on the spot because of me. I just want you to know that” Louis’ voice breaks. Are his eyes shiny?! He fakes a cough and then continues, resolute:

“I don’t know what I did to make you afraid of me, if you are. I don’t even know if it is my fault or a mix of things that maybe are of your baggage. But what I want to say I didn’t mean it and I’m sorry for it. It’s especially important for me to be, I don’t know, easy and approachable, it’s something I always strive for and in which I always put a lot of effort, but right now it seems like I have done everything wrong with you.”

“You didn’t” Harry’s voice is rough and tough to get out, but the urgency for Louis to know this was a lot stronger. He says it desperately. The last thing he wants is for Louis to feel guilty about something that he didn’t cause. It’s not his fault if he’s like this. Louis’ eyes are glassy, and he looks uncertain like Harry has never seen him before. Harry’s drained and he feels like he’s underwater now, but he wants Louis to know this.

“You’ve done everything perfectly with me. I told you how I experienced these months with you, and for real, it was all... splendid” he adds in a soft voice, like he’s making a confession the world is not allowed to hear. He has no idea how to put in words how Louis made him feel. He could compose songs about it.

Louis offers him a wobbly smile, looking slightly relieved.

“Nevertheless” Louis adds quietly “When you walked in you were so pale I thought you were gonna faint. You just had to apologise with me, and I’m your friend, and you looked like you had to confess a murder.”

He said that you’re friends in present tense.

“And I still think that is my fault, at least partially, because I did yell at you. And that sounds wrong to me. Yeah, we were having an argument, but I forgot how to be civil. I was angry but that doesn’t excuse it at all.” He sighs and takes a break to sip on his tea as well.

“But like, chill? You were a dickhead, okay? But I was, too. That’s objective, it was an argument.” Louis is swinging around his mug as if it was a continuum of his hand.

Harry gulps. Point is, he spent a week of his life brooding about it, but the way Louis is speaking, as if the solution was something a lot simpler than he thought… that nothing was really broken to begin with.

“You said random shits, but I think you felt guilty enough. Well, to be honest, more than enough. But the point is exactly this one!” Louis’ energetic again, like they have gotten to the point where he can explain what bothered him.

“You shouldn’t feel so guilty and remorseful over something like this. I mean, you should and you did, but I got the idea that you felt miserable for a whole week. Harry,” Louis surges forward, with his elbows on the table, still pointing with his cup. “If you do something wrong and then you realise it… you say sorry and change your attitude toward that, and that’s it. You don’t deserve to feel like shit over something like this. I’m not saying this to scold you” he adds when he sees that Harry’s expression is getting cloudier at every word.

Because, to be honest, the last thing he could want is Louis to tell him how to experience his feelings: he’s protective of them, even if he knows that sometimes they are irrational and exaggerated.

“I’m saying this because I’m your friend and I care about you. And because I want you to be less afraid of this world, not to be another reason to feel guarded.”

He suddenly stops, slumping back in his chair. His face is slightly redder than before, like it took some effort to say all this.

Maybe he’s not the super-human that Harry always thought: he’s as human as him. It’s odd, but it’s a new thing for him to think about.

Harry feels… it’s difficult to say. He’s so worn down his feelings are like a mush of different colours mixed together: he doesn’t recognise them one by one, he just sees a mess.

That’s how he feels.

But he knows that whatever it is, he’s better than before. Some of the weight he felt on his chest seems gone, not all of it, but he feels less gloomy.

“And also, and this is mega serious.” Louis scots forward again. Some moments had passed, and it seems like he recollected what he wanted to say. Harry’s now just staring at him without really seeing him. Louis takes a deep breath.

“I’m sorry for saying that you’re slow.” He exhales.

Well.

Harry is interdicted. He didn’t expect it.

“I don’t think it, and I’ve never thought it, and I’m saying this sincerely. It was totally wrong for me to say something like that, and I wanted to sincerely apologise for it.” Louis continues. “You don’t have to forgive me now, but I can say that I’m never gonna say something like that ever again. Not to you and not to anyone. It was awful of me and I’m sorry.”

It’s astonishing for a lot of reason what Louis just said, and it is especially because Harry wasn’t counting on it. He grew to become numb to this sort of names, he was told to stop whining about everything to the point where he was convinced that they were right.

He had just imagined telling him about it in the near future, and then Louis would just acknowledge it without mentioning that moment or maybe apologise superficially.

He realises, with a leap of heart, that by thinking this he had unconsciously placed Louis in the same category of everyone else in his life, when it was clear from the beginning that he really, really wasn’t.

He should have given him some more credit (just a bit though, because after all he did call him slow) since Louis had demonstrated him so many times how wonderful he was.

Harry’s looking at his hands, trying to disentangle everything Louis said, and the only thing he can say is: he’s so grateful to have sat in the back of the class the first day of lesson. Because, with or without this fight, he’s so very happy to have met someone as wonderful as Louis and being able to call him his friend.

He wants to cry a bit, but it’s not for sadness nor for joy: he’s exhausted, and this last hour (hours? He has no idea of how much time has passed) was weary like nothing else in his life; but it ended in a perfect way, one so graceful he couldn’t even have imagined it. He still has things to say, to reply to the implicit interrogatives Louis pulled at him, but he knows he has time for that.

A sudden, bone-crushing level of gratitude that falls on him: they have time.

They’re still friends and Louis is interested in what Harry has to say to him, he has apologised to him as well, understanding the implication of what he said, and he’s now looking at him gently, patiently, like he knows what Harry’s thinking and he wants him to know that he’s too is grateful to have sat in the back, to had talked to him and that there are so many things to say, still.

“I-” he doesn’t know where to begin. “Thank you for saying it. I think I needed it.” He knows he needed it, but he also knows that the courage to speak freely his mind will come soon, with a friend like Louis near him.

“That is one of the things that maybe I’ll like to tell you about, but later.” He makes a vague gesture with his hand to indicate a vague future.

Louis beams at the mention of that.

“For now, I want to say that I know, I’m afraid of a lot of things. But Louis, you never scared me, never.” It’s amazing the things you can say once you reached this state of tiredness.

“Maybe you got me a little nervous, but I’ve been nervous all my life, and I know how to manage that. But you? You put me at ease like nobody else ever succeeded to. I was scared of confessing to you, of the consequences, of what to say it and how to say it. And then I got scared of losing you, of having done something irreparable, but never of you.”

He can feel tears in his eyes, but bliss is the only thing he’s feeling.

“And I want to say so many things to you, if you’ll hear me, of why I became like this, but…” he shrugs. There’s spring in his heart. The stones have left, he’s light again. He’s smiling without even noticing.

“We have time for that.”

Louis smiles back and takes his hand on the table, next to Shakespeare.

“That’s right. We have time.”

 

~*~