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Serendipity, Actually

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A sigh of relief escapes Louis when he opens the door. After hours of freezing outside, the warmth of the shop seems to be the most beautiful thing in the world. He is sure he's having the worst day in ages and it's not even noon. Even if by now he can at least feel his hands, he thinks he's probably the unluckiest person of all time.

The exact moment the door closes behind him, Louis realises he’s in the biggest bookshop he has ever seen: there are Christmas decorations everywhere, even on the floor, and it almost makes him forget he's spending his favourite holiday away from everyone he loves. A lot of Christmas lights are hung along a stair handrail and everything reminds him so much of his mum and the way she usually decorates the entire house.

He still can't believe he's spending this time of the year so far from home.

Something inside him starts to move, like an eel dancing the macarena in his stomach, and Louis knows he needs something to distract him. He walks through the aisle, not sure what he's looking for, until he spots the music section. That bookshop keeps getting cooler and cooler; he could spend the entire day in there.

Louis has always thought shopping was therapeutic. He remembers a lot of occasions in which a new pair of shoes helped him smile again, much to the pleasure of Stan, who has always called him a princess for just that. Now, though, Louis thinks he could even accept being called the Queen of England by Stan: he needs to buy a new, shiny CD and treat himself. Nobody is there to judge him, after all. He stands by this huge shelf full of stuff and doesn't even know where to start looking. The thing is... Louis doesn't know what he wants to buy. He likes the searching, hunting that perfect piece of music or clothing or anything, really. He likes finding the needle in the haystack. He always knows when it happens: it's like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that goes right into its place. He loves to touch tons and tons of stuff until something clicks in his head. It may be something he's going to love for eternity or hate a week after buying it; Louis is not very selective in his shopping. But, at least for now, he has to exclude the pop section from his quest because there is a pack of squealing teenagers staring at Justin Bieber's discography. Louis wrinkles his nose automatically. He's not a music snob, he really isn't, he just can't stand the lad.

He reaches the alternative rock section and, thank god, there are just a couple of guys there. Louis hates crowded places. He doesn't mind being surrounded by people, but there are those moments when he is in a cramped room and he feels like it's possible to hear the thoughts of every single person around him.

Louis looks around for a bit, reading the tracklist of the new Mumford and Sons CD, admiring the cover of a special edition DVD... but nothing really catches his eye. If shopping doesn't help, then nothing can. He turns abruptly, ready to go back to the cold streets of New York and to be stuck in a bad mood for the rest of the day, when something hits him.

A second later a strong smell fills the air, and the sleeve of his jacket – and of course it had to be the new one – is completely wet by something really, really hot. He feels it on his face, too, and it burns. It burns a lot. Automatically, he puts a hand on his cheek, just to prove if it's still there. What the fuck?, he thinks, just because that day apparently is intended to be a total shit.

“Oops,” someone says next to him.

Louis looks up and there's a boy with a guilty grin. He stares at him for a moment, just to figure out if he's making fun of him or not. The bloke has ridiculous curly hair, giant green eyes, a cup of tea in his hand and he's probably wearing lipstick or something. Or maybe his lips are red because of the cold air outside, Louis can't really tell. The bastard has even dimples and, well, Louis is genetically unable to hold a grudge against a person with dimples. Devil's tools, those damn things.

“Hi,” Louis says with a rough voice. It seems like it's been years since the last time he has opened his mouth. Actually, it’s probably been a couple of hours ago, when he was yelling at the phone. Yep. And what came out of his mouth certainly was not what he was thinking.

“I'm really, really sorry about that,” the boy says. “I was just– and then you– I'm sorry.”

“Already said that.”

“Yeah... I know, but I really am sorry,” he repeats and he seems so sincere. Louis thinks he might even offer to buy him the CD he's holding, just to prove his words. “Look... If you want, I can buy you that CD? I'd offer to pay the laundry service, but, you know, I don't live here and–”

Louis can't help smiling. “No need to, really. To be honest, I wasn't going to buy it and it's not like this day was going to be a good one, so it really doesn't matter.”

The bloke seems surprised. “Why? It's Christmas, you're supposed to be happy!”

Louis snorts, he doesn't need to be reminded that it's Christmas and he is on the wrong side of the planet. “It's Christmas Eve, actually. And it's my birthday, too, and I'm stuck in New York when I'm supposed to be home opening loads and loads of presents. And to be spoiled to death by everyone. But no, hey, I'm here because the fucking snow stopped all the flights to Europe and, honestly? Your accent is the closest to home I'm getting today. So, no, don't worry about buying me a CD I don't even want.”

The boy is looking at him with an expression that Louis can't read. Well, maybe he shouldn't have let his frustration slip. This guy is a stranger after all. “I'm sorry... It's just... I'm having a really bad day,” he adds, sighing.

Surprisingly, the boy smiles and Louis has to blink because that grin is blinding. He didn't expect it.

“I think you need a hot chocolate, it's the cure to all the bad things in the world. Come on, it's on me! I owe you and I know this amazingcoffee shop just around the corner.”

“Maybe you're right,” Louis says. “If you know any place around the corner that sells 'luck,’ too, tell me now. I mean, this jacket cost half of my first salary, I'm not sure a chocolate would be enough.”

The bloke smiles at him. “I guess this isn’t your lucky day, then,” he says and then Louis nods in agreement. “Sorry, I didn't mean that– oh, fuck, sorry. What I wanted to say is that you might be happy just with a hot chocolate and nothing else.”

“Argh, alright. Let's go, then, before I change my mind.”

For some odd reason, it seems that this lad is really happy to go with him to that coffee shop. He could be anywhere in New York at Christmas Eve, but he asked Louis to go for a drink. It is such a kind gesture that it immediately makes Louis feel a bit lighter, less haunted by the bad events of the day.

“Okay, I just need a moment to pay for this. Last-minute gifts, you know.”

“What is it?” Louis asks. His curiosity will kill him someday.

“The latest Arctic Monkeys album.”

“Arctic Monkeys? You serious?”

“Hey, have you ever listened to Mad Sounds? It's a freaking banger.”

“If you say so...” Louis smiles and, well, this is new, totally unexpected in a day like that.

“Yeah, I say so. It's a song about loving songs, feeling them. You should totally listen to it. And that album. Well, all the Arctic Monkeys' discography, to be honest.” The boy seems about to ramble and Louis smiles again.

It's odd, he doesn't even know this strange lad's name and yet he thinks the way he talks about music is endearing.

“I promise I'll do. Why are you buying it if you already listened to it? Have you illegally downloaded it and then felt guilty? Admit it. I promise I won't judge,” Louis says with a grin. It's weird how joking with this boy comes natural to him.

“What? No!” the boy protests. He seems almost offended by Louis' assumption. “I already have my legal copy, thank you very much. This is a present for a friend of mine, Nick. Great listener. He's a dj, actually.”

“Then I'm sure he'll love it. Oh, I'm Louis, by the way.”

Louis holds his hand and the boy immediately shakes it, a big smile on his face. “Harry, very nice to meet you.”

“Likewise. So, are we going to this spectacular coffee shop or not? I demand a big hot chocolate. And biscuits, too.”

“As you wish, Louis. An English lad always pays his debts.” Then Harry buys the CD for that friend and they're out, the cold air teases their cheeks and Louis can’t help thinking he is about to lose his arm, still wet from Harry's tea.

 

 

xxx

 

 

“It's nothing special, but the hot chocolate here is incredibly good.”

Louis nods. He likes the place, it's nice. He usually isn't the type of guy who appreciates finery and all that stuff, but this is different. As in the bookshop, there are lots of Christmas decorations – there are even little snowmen on every table, holding candles – and he feels a little bit nostalgic, but then Harry sits right in front of him and he finds himself smiling. He doesn't know Harry at all, but he can picture him hanging out at places like this on a regular basis.

“It's quite lovely. I like it. It's... intimate. Not crowded,” Louis says.

Harry smiles and Louis focuses on his dimples. They're cute. It may be kind of creepy thinking about a stranger that way, but Louis has always considered himself a lover of beauty and beautiful things and, well, Harry is beautiful in a totally objective way. He blinks more than necessary when he realises he's staring, but Harry doesn't seem to notice. He's studying the menu closely, his nose almost glued to the paper sheet, and Louis smiles when he notices the small furrow between his eyebrows. It seems like choosing between tea and coffee is a very important matter to Harry.

“Ok, I'll have a Chocolaccino. What about you?” he settles at last. Louis shrugs, he doesn't really care as long as he drinks something hot. He says so but Harry doesn't seem to accept his idea. “No way, you're having something great. Choose wisely,” he states, before showing him the menu and pointing at the hot beverages section. Louis snorts, but he can't help a smile.

“Well, then I'll have a Serendipitous Hot Chocolate, if that's okay with you,” Louis raises an eyebrow, as to challenge Harry to say something, but he's still smiling. Harry simply nods.

“That's a good choice. I tried that the other day, the name got me.”

Louis already forgot about what he just ordered, so he reads that again on the menu. “It's weird,” he considers, scrunching his nose. “'Serendipitous', what a strange word.”

“It's because of the shop's name,” Harry says and Louis snorts.

“Yeah, I got that, Sherlock,” he answers and then laughs at Harry, who's sticking out his tongue.

“I love that word... Serendipity. It's the reason I came here the first time, couldn't resist.”

“I’ve never heard it before, to be honest,” Louis confesses with a shrug. He has to admit it sounds nice, though, a relaxing word.

“It sounds nice,” Harry says and Louis almost chokes on air because, yes, Harry just said the exact thing he was thinking just a second earlier. “I mean, it's just such a nice sound for what it means: fortunate accident. Like... It's the art of making happy discoveries. When you find something great when you're not even looking for it. It's, you know, great.”

Louis snorts and Harry gives him a questioning look. “What?” he says, and Louis can't help but snort again.

“Please, that's a bookmark sentence! You know those bookmarks sold in bookshops, they always have a nice picture and a sentence like that on the back. And they usually cost like five pounds. Actually, you may try to sell it, it could be a way to make some money.”

Harry laughs. “Oh, come on! It's like the dictionary definition of 'serendipity', it's not my fault if it has a great meaning. And it really is, you can't deny it. It's like... destiny.”

“Destiny, ” Louis repeats, considering the word carefully, “you're not one of those people who read tarot cards as a second job and go around in turbans and pendants and sachets of magic dust in their pockets, are you?”

“Do you see anything like that on me?” Harry says apparently offended, but holding back a laugh. “I simply think things may happen for a reason. I don't believe in coincidences.”

As time passes Louis thinks this boy is just weird. And maybe he's thinking that having spilled a cup of tea on his sleeve is pure destiny and not pure bad luck, the Universe trying to make them meet or something like that.

In the meantime the waitress arrives at their table and she has that look on her face as if she's just been announced a salary increase. It's kind of creepy. Louis almost expects her to make a twirl.

After ordering Louis just looks around, not sure what to say. What kind of things should be said in these situations? What should you say to a stranger you met in weird circumstances just five minutes earlier, who's now sitting right in front of you, fiddling with a bare wire of the tablecloth? Probably 99.99% of people would have told him to go fuck himself just after the accident, and thank you very much.

“So,” Louis starts, not sure where that conversation is going, “tell me about your friend, here, Destiny.”

For a moment, Harry stares at him with a curious look. “What do you mean?”

“I don't know,” Louis says, shrugging. “Is she good with you or do you just want to insult her all the time? I'd do that. Anyway, is she playing a good life for you? I meant something like that.”

Harry smiles at him, still fiddling the tablecloth. “I don't know, I mean, I think so? For now I like my life and what I'm doing. And the future... it scares me a bit, honestly, but who knows.”

Destiny knows,” Louis says, hoping Harry will grasp the joke. “So, do you think that your friend Destiny made all right choices in your life?”

“What kind of question is that!?” Harry grins, raising an eyebrow. “There are fair and wrong choices, everyone keeps running into them all the time. Destiny doesn't decide if I have to eat mushrooms or doughnuts for breakfast – and I think mushrooms are definitely wrong – it's just... you know, like there's a story written for me out there.”

Louis studies Harry's profile for a moment before answering. He's serious, as if he’s had this conversation a lot of times in the past. Louis thinks he's not the first doubting Harry's life philosophy - the lad has probably explained his point of view a thousand times. At this point, if he were him, Louis would have probably stopped giving explanations. Harry, though, doesn't seem to care. He's apparently comfortable with his ideas, they probably reassure him somehow.

“I bet you're one of those romantic people who believe in love at first sight and soulmates. I can imagine you crying your heart out watching Titanic or falling in love with Natalie and David's story in Love, Actually.”

Harry grins. “Guilty? I mean, maybe not love at first sight, but I sincerely believe there's a person out there waiting for me. Everyone has someone, I’m sure of that. So, yes, I think I'm one of those romantic guys.”

Harry's smile is so blinding that Louis almost forgets to reply. It's nice seeing someone so trusting, whose ideals are still pure, not corrupted by some bad experience. He wonders if he has ever been this kind of person, but his mind tells him that he's too rational for that kind of stuff. It's not that he doesn't believe in love, he does, it's just that it's hard to believe his life could be connected with someone else's without him having any say in it. That would be weird, right? And a bit scary as well.

“Good for you. Have you found your better half yet?” he answers after a while. Harry shakes his head, smiling.

“Not so lucky. I'm looking around, you never know where your soulmate might be,” Harry smiles and Louis is not sure he's joking. “What about you? I suppose you charmed someone back home, haven't you? With those nice blue eyes of yours...”

Louis chokes on air. Harry is smiling, dimples on display, and Louis can tell from the light in his eyes that Harry is one of those flirty people who like to make their victim uncomfortable just to win them over. Well, maybe he doesn't want to make him uncomfortable, maybe he's just trying to be nice, but.

“Oh, and I thought it was my brilliant conversation skills!” he jokes, smiling, because there's no way he's letting Harry win. Not that this would be important, since he's probably never going to see him again, but he has a reputation to defend.

“You didn't answer,” Harry says and Louis wonders if he really wants to know or if he just wants to bother him. Maybe both.

“Well, yes, there's a girl. Eleanor. We've been together for years.”

Harry stares at him for a while and then spreads his mouth into a smile. There's something strange in his look, or maybe he's just imagining things. He didn't say anything weird, after all. He said he had a girlfriend. Still has one, actually.

“Interesting,” the curly guy comments eventually.

“What? Girls? Yeah, they're a bit crazy, sometimes. And it seems like they're on their period all the time, but, you know, they're great. Just saying, uh.”

“No, I mean,” Harry grins, looking at Louis, “interesting the way you told me about your girlfriend.”

Louis frowns. “What do you mean?”

“You spent the last half an hour being sarcastic about love and destiny and all that stuff and now you're telling me you are in love. Just... interesting.”

Louis shrugs, not sure what to say. Harry's freaking observation is flawless, but he has to admit that he never thought about it. He always assumed he loves Eleanor, no need to think about all the rest, like destiny and whatever.

He has a girlfriend and he loves her very much, but it doesn't mean that he believes in destiny and all that crap Harry is oddly interested in. He met Eleanor at a stupid college party many years ago, a perfectly normal meeting. Most couples in the world meet at parties, it's scientifically proven.

Perhaps it would have been more romantic bumping into her in a park on a sunny day, or maybe Louis could have asked for her phone number after having spilled coffee on her while shopping... not that it’s such a romantic thing, or that he usually drinks coffee when he's shopping, but hey.

“I'm in love with her,” Louis says, then. “I truly am.”

“Didn't say otherwise,” Harry shrugs, grinning strangely.

“Seemed like you did,” he replies. “And, just for the record, if we didn't meet in a strange or particularly romantic way, it doesn't mean that we aren't meant to be happily ever after.”

The waitress arrives just when Harry is about to reply, a small tray rickety in her hands. She puts two big mugs on the table and then a receipt under a saucer. “Thank you,” Louis says, smiling at her. He can swear she winks at him before leaving and vanishing around the corner.

“Oooh, what a nice smell!” Harry cheers. “I could live forever only having chocolate. And then die of indigestion.”

A rough laugh comes from Louis' mouth. “If you are going to eat only chocolate for the rest of your life I'm not sure you’ll make it much longer. And then you will be covered in pimples and... blah! You should think about your family when they’ll come to see your perfect dead body laying on that table, and shit. Still covered in red pimples, I guess. I'm not sure pimples would disappear with death, I don't know. I'm not dead, yet.”

“Can we just pay attention to our delicious and not dead hot chocolate?” Harry says gesturing at his steaming mug. “I don't want to sound sensitive, but... you know. Also- creepy.”

Louis can't help but smile. He can't remember the last time he sat quietly at a coffee shop table drinking something. Spending most of his time working hard to demonstrate he really loves his job, he doesn't even have time for some relaxing times. Except for when he's with Eleanor or when he spends hours at the pitch with Stan. Besides, he can't even remember when was the last time his mind was engaged in thoughts similar to what his brain is elaborating right now, like 'fuck fuck fuck'. So, thank you very much, Harry.

He sips his hot chocolate and, damn, it's really good. “This shit is fucking good.”

“Told you.”

“I've been around the city for a week and this is the first really good thing that I’ve had. Except for that lasagna I ate yesterday. My god, I love Italian food.”

Harry grins and gives him a questioning look. “I haven't asked you yet: why are you here? Christmas holiday?”

“I wish,” Louis says, putting the still steaming mug on the table. He fidgets in his seat, rests his elbows on the table and buries his chin in his hands. “I'm here because of my job.”

Harry seems a bit too emotional for what Louis has just said, like a job around the world would be the best thing ever and he unconsciously mirrors his posture. Louis sighs, ready to put up a long and exhaustive answer to his next, inevitable question.

“What kind of job?”

“Well, I'm a journalist,” he answers and then adds: “an aspiring journalist, actually. A trainee. I mean, I'm allowed to do the dirty work that my employer doesn't want to do, at the moment. Like, being here when I'm supposed to be home.”

“Explain yourself.” Harry looks really intrigued by Louis. Why would a complete stranger be curious about his boring life?

“The bastard knew that snow and flights are a shitty combination. So he thought to send his trainee, this idiot, here.”

Harry's eyes widen. “But... That’s terrible! And unfair!” and he seems so sincerely sorry for him. “If I were you I'd be pissed.”

“Nah,” Louis says with a smile. “I don't know you, but I can’t picture you getting mad. You don't seem, like… I mean, you have curls and dimples, you can’t simply get mad.” What the shit is he talking about?

Harry laughs a little and sips his hot chocolate – which is so aesthetically strange, Louis notices, with those flakes of brown stuff – and a piece of something remains attached to his lip. Harry realises it, then licks it away and looks back at Louis.

“Why do you have to go to the other side of the world for your job? What's your assignment, exactly?”

“Slow down, big boy, one question at a time,” he says, smiling slightly.

“Sorry for questioning, I'm just curious, I guess.”

“I noticed.” Another smile. “We’ll have a collaboration with an American newspaper and there were some details to define, that's why I'm here. I'm a businessman, now, they gave me a degree,” and when Harry starts looking suspicious, he adds: “Just joking. I really like my job, anyway. I gladly went on this trip. There's only the tiny detail that I'm stuck here until fucking Boxing Day, at least.”

“Maybe–”

“No way,” Louis interrupts, “I know where you're getting at! Don't try to tell me that I was destined to spend the holiday far from my family, because I could really send you to hell without reservations.”

Harry is laughing so hard. “I was saying that maybe, uh, this is not your worst day, after all. I mean, you're drinking one of the most delicious hot chocolates in the world in a coffee shop named Serendipity and just this should raise the level of your day by a hundred points.”

With this statement Louis realises that maybe Harry is right. Maybe it was worse that time, when he was seventeen, when Stan dropped him in a puddle in front of the girl he had a crush on. Yeah, definitely worse. No comparison.

“I've seen worse,” Louis does everything to dispel the thought of the puddle, Susan Joyce's laugh still drums in his ears. “But this isn't one of the best as well, I guess.”

A few moments later, Louis takes the spoon and starts mixing his chocolate: the mountain of whipped cream and caramel is now drowned and Louis reckons he's never had anything like that. Probably he would die from diabetes, like Harry with his chocolate and pimples. Truth is he has never drunk anything so good. Only Yorkshire Tea, of course. That doesn't even need to be said.

Harry is quiet, staring at the couple of girls sitting next to them; his hair seems to have its own life, with those curls and colour, Louis really can't make up his mind about it. And in that moment he runs a hand through his fringe, like he can hear Louis' thoughts. Louis grins and remembers when, many years ago, Stan used to do this, running his hands through his a-long-time-ago-long hair. Shitty Stan's hair, it was really horrendous. And, hey, right now he was supposed to be at Stan's freaking giant house, giving him his Christmas present and then receiving his own. Fuck the snow, again.

“So,” Louis starts, to avoid thinking about the thought of home – which is less terrible than two hours ago, for some odd reason – “what about you, then? What are you, some kind of aspiring fortune-teller?”

Harry frowns. “I'm a student,” he answers, “and I work part-time in a bakery to pay school fees. And I like it, actually.”

“Look, a little masterchef!” Louis jokes. “What do you study? I can see you in a music school and all that artistic stuff.”

“Studying art and music at university, you got me,” it's his answer. “I've always wanted to do that and I– just did, when I had the chance. I had to take an admission exam, it was really difficult. But I did, I passed the test and have been selected among the top twenty contenders.”

Louis is really impressed. This lad is talking about his life with so much enthusiasm. He would like to have just a little of that.

“Wow,” he says, impressed, and then he adds: “twenty out of...? Because if it's twenty out of twenty-five I have to withdraw my enthusiasm, sorry, Harry.”

“Ha ha,” Harry jokes. “Twenty out of almost eight hundred, actually. It's not that bad, is it?”

Ahhhh, nope, it's not that bad. He shakes his head to confirm his thought and, doing so, Louis looks out the window and, fuck, it's already night out there.

“But– did a curtain suddenly fall on the sun or is it already evening?”

“Almost six o'clock,” Harry says and gives a last sip to his chocolate. “Do you have to go home, Cinderella?”

“Nope, it's just that time has flown and I actually don't have a place to go right now. I have to ask the hotel if I can stay two nights more, since I shouldn’t be here.”

For a moment – just a moment, okay? – Louis thinks that maybe he should ask Harry to spend Christmas with him. But it would be such a strange thing and he's sure the lad is not alone in the city.

Harry nods. “We should go, then. I don't want to pass by Brooklyn Bridge and see you asleep on a bench.”

“Pft, shut up and pay the bill.”

Harry smiles at him and nods to the waitress who's now cleaning the table next to theirs. She comes hopping and Louis wonders if people make some sort of audition to work in that place. Harry pays and she is about to give him the change, but he shakes his head. He tells her to keep it with a smile on his face – he's always smiling, seriously.

The two of them stand up, Louis calmly puts his jacket on – still half wet, by the way – and a moment later they are outside. He's almost sorry to leave the warmth of the coffee shop, having to be in what seems a branch of the North Pole.

Louis shivers in his coat and pulls up the collar. He finds a beanie rummaging in his pockets, it's a bit wrinkled but who cares, it will do its job. He turns to see Harry, who put on a beanie as well, and it leaves some curls uncovered. Not even five seconds outside and his lips are already plump and red, as if he's wearing lipstick, and his cheeks are flushed. Quite nice, actually. Harry shoves his hands in his pockets and seems to be about to say something, but he stays silent.

“Well,” Louis starts, when it's clear that he won't utter a word. He had a lovely afternoon, to be honest, with a complete stranger and now, as simple as that, he should just say ‘goodbye and thank you very much'.

“Well,” Harry repeats, a little smile on his mouth. “I think–” and then his mobile phone is ringing and just fuck off. “Sorry,” he says and picks up. “Yeah, Gem, I'm coming. No, no... yes, I got it. Okay, see you soon.” And then hangs up. “Just Gemma, my sister. I'm here with her and my mum, I didn't tell you so.”

“Then you should go, Harry,” Louis says. “I’m really happy to have met you, you saved my day, I mean that. Thank you for washing my new jacket and for the hot chocolate and all the serendipitous stuff.”

“Thank you for not telling me to go fuck myself at the beginning, I guess,” Harry says with a grin. “And happy birthday, again, I hope it wasn't too terrible. See you around, English boy.”

And then he's gone. Louis glances at the flashing banner Serendipity and he feels like all this situation is fucking unfair, after all.


 

Chapter Text

 

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Louis is walking down the street, the Pretty Woman theme song stuck in his head since he was thinking about the movie ten minutes ago. He's freezing and his jacket isn't doing such a great job in warming him up, even if it's now dry from the tea. It's snowing again and if Louis hears one more person singing White Christmas he'll have to restrain himself from cursing the world.

Truth is he's back to his bad mood. He thought the nice afternoon spent with Harry had helped him in accepting his misfortunes, but he parted ways the bloke just half an hour ago and the positive effects of his ridiculous presence and the hot chocolate are already gone. Maybe he should have asked him for his number, just to have someone to call if something comes up. Not that Louis can imagine a situation that would make him call a complete stranger over his mum or his girlfriend, but you never know. His mum certainly couldn’t reach him in less than eight hours if, who knows, he slips on ice and breaks his leg. Louis shakes his head at the thought of calling Harry and asking him to nurse him until he goes back to Great Britain, it certainly wouldn’t be a good idea. Nevertheless, it would have been nice having someone to talk to during the days he's forced to stay away from home. He can't even call Stan or Liam - he may enjoy bothering them to death, but he has no heart to call them when it's late at night there. He could, but then he'd have to buy them a gigantic present for Christmas.

Louis stops abruptly in the middle of the pavement, when he realises he still doesn’t have a present for Liam. He was supposed to buy it before leaving, but he didn't have time and then it must have simply slipped his mind. How could he forget about his best friend's present? That's the first step towards a life of misery and unhappiness and too much work, he knows it. He also doesn't want to see Liam's sad face if he tells him he forgot to buy him something. Liam's puppy eyes would kill him, he already experienced that hurt glance Liam gives when he's truly disappointed and he doesn't want to relive the experience. He sighs and goes back to the underground station, ready to start looking for a present. One day, Liam will have to admit he's the best friend ever and give him some sort of reward.

 

xxx

 

Whoever said Christmas empties the streets was lying. Even if it's late in the evening, almost dinner time, New York is still crowded and it doesn't seem to Louis that it’s any different from a normal day. It's Christmas Eve, sure, but apart from men dressed up as Santa he doesn't see the difference in terms of people hanging out. He may even say there are more people in that shop than that very afternoon and Louis simply doesn't understand. Why, why does he have to fight with an old man for a pair of gloves? It's Christmas and this man is obviously a New Yorker, why isn't he at home with his family, eating turkey or whatever Americans eat on these occasions? Why does he have to steal Liam's present?

“Look, this is really important,” he tries to reason after sadness and anger didn't work. “I need to buy these gloves. They're for my best friend, Liam. He's a really nice lad, everybody loves him, and I can't go home without a gift for him! He would give me this look, you know, like I murdered some baby penguin or something. I swear to you that look is a weapon of mass destruction. Please–”

“Look, young man, if this guy is so nice and important, why didn't you buy him something earlier?”

Louis curses internally. He's right, he knows this man is right, but he won't admit it. Not out loud, at least. He won't give him this satisfaction. The man is already internally celebrating, if his smile is anything to go by, he doesn't know Louis can fight for a slice of pizza until it's cold stone just to win over Stan.

“You don't understand. Today is–” he starts to say, but he gets interrupted by a familiar voice. Well, not that familiar, since he heard it for the first time that very afternoon, but still.

“Oh, here you are!” Harry cheers happily, smiling so broad that his dimples have their own dimples. It's weird.

“Harry?” he gives him a questioning look, but Harry simply shakes his head before putting an arm around his shoulders. Louis doesn't know what to say.

“Don't worry, I found the wrapping paper for the present. Did you get the gloves?”

Louis is sure his face is completely blank. He doesn't know what to say or what the hell Harry is doing. Harry must get his difficulties, because he turns so the man won't see his face, then winks at him. Louis instantly smiles, understanding.

“I found just the perfect pair. Unfortunately, this man likes them too,” he says and Harry shows a hurt expression.

“Oh, unfortunate indeed. So sad Liam can't have his Christmas present. You know,” he turns towards the man, who doesn't seem bothered at all, “today is Louis' birthday and Liam organised this huge holiday in the States, just to make Louis happy, and he was helped by this friend...”

“...Stan,” Louis says, because he has a feeling. Harry looks at him and smiles.

“Stan, yes. Stan helped Liam with this idea, he was supposed to make sure Louis didn't find out, but he was also supposed to buy Liam's present... well, long story short, he forgot to buy it and now we don't have a present for Liam.”

Louis laughs. Harry doesn't know Stan, yet he just gave the perfect description of his best friend.

“Typical Stan,” he says, because it's true. Harry nods, even if he doesn't know how right he is.

“Please, sir?” Harry says at last, giving the man a hopeful look. “Please, can you help us?”

The man looks at Harry, then at Louis, then again at Harry. He seems torn, but he sighs eventually. “All right, all right! This guy must be really a good friend... Merry Christmas!”

Louis thanks and watches the man going away. He's speechless. When he looks at Harry, he finds him staring at him with a huge smile.

“Who are you? A Christmas elf?”

Your personal Christmas elf, indeed,” Harry says, and the smile doesn't leave his face for a bit. “Who, I have to say, apparently just saved your arse.”

“I don't think so,” he answers, holding back a laugh. “I was doing well.”

Harry sighs and gives Louis a suspicious look. “Yeah, sure you were.”

He ignores the boy's face, just because he's right. He was really doing well, definitely, that man was just about to give him the gloves and shut up. Sure he was. Louis knows that. “The real question is,” he says, moving over the topic, “what are you doing here?”

“Told you already,” Harry says, shrugging. “Saving your arse.”

“I think you're a stalker, a good one.”

Louis gives him a grimace and then starts looking at the gloves he's still holding.

He really doesn't know what to think, shocked by the fact that Harry is standing next to him, looking at Louis and holding a little pink bag. It's not that he's excited about it, but after greeting him hours ago, he's right there in the same shop by some strange gravitational force. Is he a spy, maybe?

“Earlier,” Harry starts, “I was almost at my hotel when my sister called me again to remind me that we didn't actually have, ahem, a Christmas present for our mother, so. I've been hanging around here for an hour, precisely, just to end up buying a shitty sparkling shirt.” Harry raises his hand and the small pink bag.

Yes, but, Louis thinks, there are millions of shops in New York. This is a freaking curious coincidence.

The shop is filling up with people now, and Louis just can't. Crowded place, crowded place, crowded place, his mind is warning him.

“I have to pay for these,” he says, anxious to get out.

“Yeah, sure, I'll take you,” Harry nods, motioning him to go first, and he does.

The cashier isn't very polite, in Louis' opinion, and he can't stand when people answer rudely. Or when they stare at him like he's a freak, like this girl now. He really wants to know why people do that, because really, he's just a normal customer. It’s not Louis’ fault if she’s stuck at work on Christmas Eve. And now she just threw the change at him like he was the Trevi fucking Fountain.

“Thank you,” he says, annoyed, but not thank you very much, he thinks.

He's about to walk away when he sees, a few steps from them, the man he was fighting for the gloves just few minutes before. Louis laughs a little, remembering their little theatrics. It was nice.

He and Harry are out in a minute and suddenly he feels a bit sad. He's just tired, it’s been a busy and hectic day. Louis has the right to feel tired, after all.

Harry is behind him, Louis turns and within a second they are staring at each other, hands in their pockets and curious smiles on their faces. And then Harry starts laughing.

“Well,” he says and looks at everything but Louis, still laughing.

“Another goodbye?” Louis interrupts, raising an eyebrow. “Do you know we will probably end up meeting each other in the next shop? A laundrette, maybe. I forgot to wash my pants, so, just in case.”

“Are you saying you believe in destiny, now?”

“Nah, that one is a friend of yours.”

“Cheeky!” Harry cheers and his dimples are unreal. Why doesn't Eleanor have dimples like his? The real question is, what the fuck is he thinking about? But Louis remembers: tiring day means his brain goes to holiday. “Actually, I was saying 'hey, Louis, do you want a twinkie?' because I just found one in my pocket.”

He is in fact holding a small twinkie and hands it to Louis, who shakes his head. “No carbs, thanks. I have to maintain my shape,” he answers, shrugging.

The traffic is loud now, and he can barely hear his own voice. A taxi passes next to the pavement and too near to the puddles, so, better walk away. Louis reminds himself that it's not his lucky day. He's about to say something like 'we should go', when an idea comes up in his head like a lightning. It's insane, Louis knows, and Harry will probably laugh at him like hell, but he can’t help asking.

“Do yo– ” he starts to say and then feels weirder than ever, repenting immediately. He's going to regret this in two seconds. “Do you want to do something?”

“Like what?” Harry answers, no scared glances or anything else. Just his quiet face.

Louis shrugs. “Don't know,” he says, but then another idea hits him. “Actually... two days ago I was passing by a small street around the corner, over there, and I saw this thing and I thought 'oh my god, I really want to do this, but it would be strange doing it alone', so. Well, I think we could do it together, only if you want. And if your sister won't call you thinking you're lost. Are you in?”

Harry laughs at Louis and he's not sure why. He's strange, but in a good way. Stan would like him, probably, and Liam would be wary around him at first, but Harry would win over in a week flat.

“Do you think I should know what this thing is, or...?” Harry asks, capturing his attention again.

“Of course you can't.”

“Well... yeah, let's do this, then,” he grins, pulling the phone out of his pocket. “Just give me a minute to tell my mother I'll be late for dinner.”

“I'll give you ten seconds and then I'll start running,” Louis says, pretty serious, but Harry is smiling at him like he's been doing since they met that morning.

 

xxx

 

Louis is certain Harry will love his plan. He couldn't explain why he's so sure, he doesn't know Harry at all, but he has no problem thinking the boy will go along with his idea. Though he probably will be pretty bad at it, Louis considers, seeing Harry's long legs and his apparent lack of coordination. He'll fall, Louis has no doubts. He'll fall and then he'll laugh at himself. And obviously Louis will laugh at him, too.

“So...” he says, looking at the flags above his head. He can hear Harry chuckling next to him and he has to bite his lip to maintain a serious expression.

“So,” Harry answers, “is Rockefeller Plaza your idea of 'small street'? Where do you live, in Buckingham Palace? Or is that your guest house?”

Louis grins, dramatically making a bow. “Prince Louis at your service. How did you find out my secret identity? No, wait, I always knew my traits are too noble to pretend to be a common chap.”

“That's a misfortune,” Harry says, trying to keep his expression straight, but Louis can see his left dimple coming to life. He'll probably burst into laughter in a few moments. It's strange how he has known this boy for just a few hours and yet he already knows these little things about him.

“Indeed it is,” he answers, nodding seriously. “So, can you ice skate?”

Harry doesn't answer right away. He looks at the ice rink, not too crowded in the Christmas Eve evening, and Louis can tell the exact moment he makes up his mind. Harry's smile is almost shy, which is new after hours of his cheeky and happy and charming ones. Louis wonders if someone has already noticed how different Harry's smiles are, like in that film where the main character has six smiles and only her best-friend-boyfriend-to-be noticed. He's about to slap himself mentally for that thought when Harry speaks.

“I wouldn't go that far. I tried ice skating before, more than once actually, and I think my bum still remembers all those times with affection.”

He smiles and Louis can't help but laugh. “So do you think your bum can take it or is it going to revolt against you?”

“I sincerely doubt it'll start singing Les Mis style.”

Do you hear the people sing, singing the song of angry bums,” Louis sings, laughing, until Harry punches him lightly in the shoulder. He's all fake frowns, trying to pretend to be offended but giving it all away with that big smile he can’t hide.

“Oh, do we have a musical fan, then?” he says. Louis realises he's trying to mock him, but that won't work, seriously. Louis has no shame for his love for musical, he's actually quite proud of it.

“You're speaking with the one and only Danny Zuko of Doncaster, my dear Harry.”

“Oh my god, are you serious?” Harry is laughing, but there's no mock in his expression.

“I'm afraid there are some humiliating videos somewhere. Pretty sure my best friend has everything recorded, he probably keeps them for times of despair. Or to blackmail me, more likely.”

Harry grins. “I solemnly swear I won't blackmail you with that, uhm, interpretation you just did.”

“What? That was awesome, dude,” he answers, trying an American accent. By the way Harry wrinkles his nose he probably didn't succeed. He's also biting his lip not to laugh in his face. Good job, Louis.

“Please, don't do that again,” Harry clarifies, just in case Louis didn't catch the message. Louis did, thank you very much.

“If you insist,” Louis raises his hands in defeat. “I'll stick to the old, plain Yorkshire boy.”

“Yes, please, I like him better,” Harry says, smiling.

Louis doesn't know how to answer and that's strange. He's the one who always has an answer ready for any sort of eventuality, who keeps talking in the weirdest circumstances, who's often silenced by his employer or friends because he talks too much. Now, though, he doesn't know what to say. He doesn't like that, it makes him feel... unveiled. He shakes his head, trying to get rid of the thought, and then he's running towards the ice rink.

“Come on!” he yells at Harry, who's looking at him uneasily. He's probably wondering what has gotten into him. “Come on, Harry! Let's see if you can stay on your feet!”

Harry laughs and a moment later he's standing next to him, in line for the ice skates. His cheeks are red, so are his lips, and Louis smiles remembering how he thought he was wearing lipstick when he met him for the first time. Harry is a bizarre person, Louis is sincerely curious to know more about him, now that he has time and they're having fun. Or, at least, he is having fun.

“So, tell me something about yourself. I told you about the musical thing,” Louis asks and Harry shrugs.

“Mmm... I don't know what to say. I'm twenty-three and I'm from Cheshire.”

Louis snorts. “That's not an answer! I already told you where I live, you should tell me more.”

Tell me more, tell me more, was it love at first sight?

Harry sings, laughing, and Louis is speechless. Harry's voice is low, rough, and yet beautiful. He can see how he gained his place in the course he was talking about a few hours before. He really sounds great, even when he's laughing and the song is meant to be sung by a girl.

“Didn't you say you don't believe in it?” he jokes, because he can't really start singing Summer Nights in Rockefeller Plaza. But god knows how much he wants to.

“Yeah, I did. Anyway... I told you my age, you didn't.”

Louis doesn't answer right away, busy paying the fee for the ice skates and putting them on. It's only when they are on the ice rink and Louis has gained his balance that Harry speaks again.

“So? How old are you? Or are you avoiding answering because you're so old you don't want to admit it?”

He's smirking. Harry is barely on his feet, ready to fall any moment, but he's smirking. Louis is suddenly happy, even if this situation, him ice skating with a stranger in New York, is the total opposite to what he had planned for his birthday.

“Got me. I'm twenty-six today, almost need a walking stick,” he says. Harry nods, firmly.

“I thought I saw a lot of grey in your hair. Now I understand.”

Louis snorts. “Yeah, Mister Youth, this is the life. Let's not talk about this, make me feel young for the last time!”

Harry laughs, nodding. He's trying to get close to Louis, but he's really not good with the whole ice skating thing and it's just a matter of seconds before Harry falls on the ground. Louis can't help but laugh, openly and shamelessly, while Harry sits on the ice. He's pouting, like the ice is playing him, and it’s impossible not finding him endearing. Harry is nice. He holds out his hand for Harry, helping him to get up again.

“Is your bum singing?” he jokes, making Harry smile lightly.

“Not yet. It will be in a bit, though, I'm sure.”

“Well, let's not think about it, then! Tell me, young Harry, favourite film?”

Harry doesn't have to think about it, he answers immediately. “Love, Actually.

Louis laughs. “Really?”

“Really!” Harry nods. “You were right when you said I might like Natalie and David's story. It's my favourite. What's yours?”

“Favourite story in Love, Actually? Don't know, I haven't finished it.”

“Oh, come on! It's a great film!” Harry smiles. “Doesn't your girlfriend like it? I think, if I were her, I'd make you watch it all the time. It's romantic. Also, it seems to bother you, so I'd love to make you watch it knowing you can't say no.”

“I can say no to my girlfriend, thank you very much,” Louis says, but he's sure Harry is not convinced. Hell, his tone wouldn't even convince himself. Fact is Eleanor really gets what she wants most of the time, including movie nights when she wants to watch films he already knows line by line. Luckily, Harry doesn't answer.

“I meant your favourite film, by the way,” he says after few minutes.

Grease,” Louis admits and Harry immediately grins.

“And you say you don't like romantic comedies! You liar!”

Grease is not that romantic, come on,” he argues, doing a sort of twirl, risking landing his butt on the ground, too. Harry is too busy trying to stand on his feet, so he doesn't notice, luckily. Louis has done nothing but juggle in his ice-skates already, so he’d be an even bigger loser if he fell right now. And in that stupid and exhibitionist way. Harry would have died of laughter. “It has nasty guys in it, dirty words, people talking about sex and all that definitely not-romantic stuff. Yeah, Danny and Sandy's love story is quite romantic, but I've seen worse sickeningly sweet things.”

Harry nods and almost falls down again. He reaches the barrier and takes a long breath. “If you say so.”

“Pft, it's up to me, now,” Louis continues, wandering on the ice rink like a fairy. “Uhm, this one is difficult, I'm warning you... Favourite Disney film?”

“You can't be so mean,” Harry says, sulking.

“I really am, big guy. Come on, answer.”

“Mmm,” it seems like the question is putting him in difficulty and Louis is almost touched by it. “I think The Aristocats, just because I love cats. I can't pick one, they're all amazing! Oh, and I love The Little Mermaid's songs! Still sing Part of Your World in the shower, sometimes. Shame on me?”

“I don't think so, that song is brilliant. Shame on us?”

“Shame on us,” Harry agrees, leaving the barrier and reaching Louis at the centre of the rink. “I'll go with a simple one: favourite colour?”

“Dark red,” Louis answers without thinking too much, “what's yours?”

“Green.”

“Favourite city?” Louis asks, reaching Harry's hands, since he was going to roll all over the ground. The boy is so clumsy it's almost sweet and Louis is probably going to hug him for that. He's used to doing this with Eleanor: when she has her 'clumsy days', he takes her in his arms and pats her head, like a little cat. She usually purrs at him and then buries her face in his chest. Would Harry act that way too? He doesn't know and he really wants to maintain the whole not-knowing thing.

“Hey, it was my turn!” Harry says.

“Go on, then.”

“Favourite city?” he laughs a little and starts following Louis around the rink. The scene of the two of them skating must be quite strange: Louis is skating backwards, hands behind his back, looking at Harry who is following  him carefully, getting a little more confident on his feet.

“Smartarse. Uhm, I haven't visited that many cities to be able to choose one, actually. Not yet. But, mmm, I think England in general. Favourite football team?”

“Manchester United,” and Louis is about to shout 'me too!' when he crashes into a young woman and they both fall on the ground. He looks up at her, expecting a waterfall of 'fuck you's, but she starts laughing.

“'m sorry,” he murmurs, adjusting his beanie and with a grin that can't leave his face. She smiles at him, getting up, and goes her own way.

“Whose arse is crying now?” Harry says, holding out a hand, which Louis grabs. “I can even hear a little chorus of 'Summer loviiiin' hitting my aaaaarse', can you hear that? Can you? Because I do.”

Louis snorts. “It's fucking winter, you twat. And my arse is fine, I have shock absorbers to prevent this kind of things.”

It started to snow again and snowflakes rest gently on Harry's eyelashes – and on his, too, probably, but he can't see his own lashes, right? So he focuses on Harry's. He's smiling – why do people smile all the time? – and suddenly Louis can’t help but ask himself again why the hell Harry is spending Christmas Eve with him and not with his family. He'd choose his family for sure if he was in his shoes, not a stranger met five hours before. It just adds to the growing pile of odd things of the day.

“The snow on your hair looks like dandruff,” Harry says, eventually.

“You’re quite the romantic, aren’t you?”

“You bet! Favourite things about mornings?” Harry asks, starting to skate again. He has taken a liking, the bastard. Anyway, in spite of his new friend, he already knows the answer. No doubts.

“Tea, of course. Favourite thing about your job?”

“Smeeeeeeell of doughnuts!” Harry cheers and then reaches Louis' arm to steady himself. Both his hands are grabbing Louis' arms, making him hold on to Harry right back, trying not to fall himself. They're laughing nervously, not sure if they can stay on their feet any longer. The answer comes a few seconds later: Louis' body is unable to hold Harry's weight, so he stumbles over his own feet and drags the boy down with him. They’re on the ground and laughing, seemingly unable to stop.

Harry turns to him with some snow into his mouth and Louis just can't. He stares at him for a bit, wondering why the fuck a person like Harry showed up in his life only now. The boy stares back, a strange light in his eyes.

“This game has already pissed me off a bit,” Louis breaks the silence. Harry raises his eyebrows, a questioning look appearing on his face.

“Why?” he asks. Louis wrinkles his nose, trying to find an answer. Well, he doesn't know, to be honest. It's just a weird feeling, the idea that he shouldn't keep going.

“I don't know,” he says honestly. “Have you ever had those strange feelings, like you're not doing what you're supposed to do?”

Harry smiles. “Thought you didn't believe in destiny.”

Louis snorts. “This isn't destiny, Harold, it's just... I don't know.”

Louis expects Harry to say something back, maybe to mock him for his ignorance – he's not sure ignorance is the right word to describe his actual state of mind, but whatever. Harry, though, is looking at him with a curious expression, his eyebrows raised as never before and a funny look in his eyes. He's also biting his lip, probably holding back a laugh.

“What?” he asks, because he's really trying to understand this bloke without any success.

“Harold?” Harry clarifies, laughing a little bit. Louis smiles, nodding.

“Isn't that your name?”

“My name's Harry,” he says, a look on his face that clearly means 'I thought I told you'.

“Come on, Harry is a nickname,” Louis answers, because it has to be. Harry shakes his head.

“My name is Harry,” he repeats, smiling, and Louis finds himself grinning.

“So, if Harry is your real name... like, if it's your passport name, you need a nickname. Harold will be fine.”

“If you say so,” Harry says and Louis suddenly feels like his little sisters when he gives them sweets to keep them quiet. He's about to protest this kind of treatment when Harry stands up and holds out a hand. “Come on, if the game is off we shouldn't stay on the ground.”

Louis nods absently, trying to get up without sliding on the ice. Harry's hand is firm on his own, but after the previous experiences he's not sure Harry could keep him on his feet. Despite his fears, they exit the ice rink without another incident and a few minutes later they're standing in front of the huge – and amazing, he has to admit – Lego shop. Louis can see how Harry's eyes glance at the reproduction of Rockefeller Plaza and he cannot blame him, that's awesome.

Louis is having a great evening, the only thing missing is a nice birthday cake. He looks at Harry, who is now openly admiring the beautiful reproduction of the square behind the shop window. He has his mouth open and he's obviously restraining himself from pressing his nose against the glass. He looks like a child, and Louis can't help but smile.

“Hey, do you want to go somewhere and grab something to eat? I want a birthday cake,” he says, almost without thinking. Harry's eyes brighten and he's already nodding when his phone rings. He bites his lip before giving him an apologetic glance.

“I'm sorry. It's my mum, I have to take it,” he says. Louis nods, of course he has to.

Harry talks with his mum like Louis is not even there. He doesn't care to turn or anything, far from it. He looks at Louis and smiles at him, like a promise, even though Louis doesn't know what he could be promising. He hears him telling his mother where he is and watches his expression turning from happy to unsure. Louis frowns when Harry looks at him and bites his lip, before turning his glance to the ground. When he hangs up, Harry looks at him and Louis already knows that he's not going to have his birthday cake. Not with Harry, at least.

“I'm sorry...” Harry starts, biting his lip again. It must be some kind of habit. “But–”

“You have to go,” Louis interrupts him. Harry sighs apologetically. “I understand.”

“I'm sorry, I really am, but my mum wants to have dinner all together tonight.”

“That's fine,” Louis reassures him. “It's Christmas after all. Honestly, I'm surprised you've stuck with me all this time.”

Harry wrinkles his nose. “Don't say that. I had fun, a lot actually. It was a really nice day.”

“I was joking,” Louis answers, smiling. “I had fun, too. Raincheck for the cake?”

“Well, we'll see. We'll have to manage to see each other again to do that.”

Or we can decide where to meet and when. Like actually deciding to see each other, for once. You know, just to change things up a bit.”

Louis smiles and Harry immediately returns it. “We could, but it wouldn't be funny, would it? Let destiny work, we'll meet again. You'll see.”

At these words, Louis snorts. “Sure, your friend destiny. How could I forget about her? Shame on me.”

Harry laughs and Louis can't help but smile a little bit even if his stomach is beginning to ice skate itself. Harry's happiness is contagious.

“You shouldn't mock her, you know? She could decide to mock you back.”

“If she exists, don't forget that part.” Louis can't help but ask himself why the hell they're talking about destiny as if it were a person.

“Oh, she does. I'll tell you what, I'll show you that she does. Come on!”

Without any advice, Harry grabs Louis' wrist and starts walking fast. Louis has no choice but to follow him through New York's streets. He really has no idea where they're going, but he hopes Harry does. He doesn't fancy the idea of getting lost in a city he doesn't really know, but it wouldn't surprise him that much, it would be the icing on the cake for the day. Well, to be honest, only for the morning. The rest of the day went well. When Harry stops abruptly, Louis almost falls. Harry catches him in time, steadying him.

“Are you okay?” he asks, Louis only nods in answer. “Let's play with destiny, come on!”

Louis is not sure what Harry has in mind, but he seems to have so much fun that he doesn't want to ruin the moment. He follows Harry into a hotel and they walk until they reach the lift area. There are at least six different lifts, Louis wonders how many rooms that hotel has and how much they could cost. But at the same time he really doesn't want to know.

“Now, you go in that lift and I go in that one. As soon as the doors close, choose a floor. If we end up at the same floor than it's destiny. I'll even pay that cake you want.”

“And if we don't?” Louis asks, because that hotel is bigger than the Houses of Parliament, it probably has something like sixty floors, how are they supposed to push the same button? Oh, yes, destiny.

“If we don't...” Harry says, a little bit annoyed. He's probably sure they will meet in a few ten floors up. “If we don't then we will have to wait to see each other around. Trust destiny, Louis.”

“You could give me your number, though. Just in case,” he says, because he doesn't really trust destiny. Harry could keep his faith, he will keep his rationality, thank you very much.

“That's cheating. Go, see you in a bit!” Harry says, before getting in a lift. He smiles at him when the doors close in front of him.

Louis sighs. It's stupid, he knows that, but what are the alternatives? He shakes his head and gets in. When he pushes the button for the seventh floor, he hopes Harry has a thing for that number like he does.

 

xxx

 

Louis is at the passports' queue when he sees him. At first he thinks he's having some kind of hallucination, because that's simply just ridiculous, it can't be real. His mind is certainly playing tricks. But he keeps looking at the boy a few feet ahead of him, his curly hair so familiar as well as the long legs. He's standing next to a blonde girl in her mid-twenties, they seem to have fun from the distance. It could be him, Louis thinks, but the coincidence would be almost creepy.

He forgets about that strange non-meeting when an officer arrives and checks his passport, letting him go to the flight he has dreamed of for the last few days. He's finally going home.

When Louis sees him for the second time, Harry is walking down the plane, carrying a backpack. He wants to laugh, he really wants to laugh because that situation is insane. He wouldn't believe it if someone told him. When Harry stops in front of his seat Louis can't stop himself. He laughs out loud.

“I'm sorry,” he says, trying to recompose himself. “But... your face!”

“Well, this is unexpected. You have to admit it,” he answers, smiling. “I told you we would meet again, didn't I?”

“You did. I thought you said 'in a bit', though,” Louis comments. Harry bites his lip.

“What floor did you choose?” he asks and, yes, Louis is curious, too.

“Seven,” he answers sincerely. Harry's eyes widen.

“No way, I chose seven too!”

Louis almost chokes. “What? No! You weren't there! I waited, I swear I waited.”

Harry shakes his head. “My lift stopped between third and fourth floor. It was horrible, I swear, I now understand my best friend's fears. He's claustrophobic, you know. Anyway, I'm sorry. I was sure we would have chosen the same floor.”

“And we did,” Louis smiles. “What a coincidence!”

“It's not a coincidence! It's–”

“Yeah, yeah, destiny.”

Harry laughs at his face and Louis follows immediately. This flight is going to be fun, he simply can feel it. For once he isn't worried about ten hours of boredom.

 

xxx

 

They arrive at Heathrow in perfect time. The flight was one of the best he has ever had and Louis can tell Harry is responsible for that. They spent the time watching stupid films and making funny comments about them. It was nice and Louis surely wants to repeat that experience.

Louis really wants to see Harry again. A few days back he wouldn't have thought that, when Harry spilled tea on him. But now, after his birthday and this flight, he really wants to. Harry is fun, he's nice and Louis thinks he needs more people like him in his life. He doesn't laugh enough, he always thinks that, and Harry managed to make him laugh more than anyone in the last few months. So he's more than a little disappointed when he sees the look on Harry's face when he asks him to go grab a coffee someday. He can read it, Harry doesn't do anything to conceal his doubts. What Louis doesn't understand is why Harry has doubts. He thought Harry had fun like he did.

“I don't know... We don't even live in the same city, wouldn't it be difficult?” Harry says and Louis can hear in his tone that even Harry isn’t convinced by his words.

“I think we can easily meet in Manchester, Harold. It's halfway,” Louis answers, smiling, but Harry doesn't seem convinced.

“I live in London, Lou.”

Louis smiles at the nickname. Harry probably didn't even realise he used it, but he's not going to protest. He likes it.

“Wow, London, that is difficult. Why didn't you tell me that before? I take back my offer. Like I don't go to the City two times a month or so! Come on, Harry, don't tease me. If we met three times in New York we can easily find a way to see each other here.”

Harry smiles at those words and Louis hopes that maybe he convinced the lad.

“We did manage to meet three times in New York. Like it was destiny,” he answers, stressing the last word as if they didn’t discuss about that enough. Louis has to resist the impulse to snort, fucking destiny again. He rolls his eyes, because he has to show his thoughts somehow.

“Destiny... yes. If you want to see this as a destiny thing, go on. We were destined to meet, happy?” he says and, well, that sounds less creepy than he thought. He can even say it sounds nice. Yes, he can go that far, it's a cute idea. He and Harry, destined to meet in one of the biggest cities of the world, and not the one they both know so well. He has to admit it could make sense.

“But...” Harry says and Louis can't help but protest.

“Come on, Harry!”

“But,” Harry continues, ignoring him. “If it's really destiny then we'll find each other again. Like we did on the flight.”

“Are you serious?” Louis raises his eyebrows. “No, come on, I'm not letting you walk away again without your number written somewhere.”

Harry's eyes light up all of a sudden. “You're a genius!” he says, before taking his wrist like he did on his birthday and taking him in a corner.

Louis watches Harry searching something in his backpack. When he emerges he has a victorious smile despite of the pen in his mouth, and he's holding a CD. Louis focuses on the object and recognises it as the Arctic Monkeys' one Harry bought in New York.

“Look, I'm going to write my name and phone number on this. Tomorrow I'm going to sell it in a vintage shop. If you find it, you'll call me.”

That's ridiculous. Harry has to know.

“This is ridiculous,” he comments nevertheless, someone has to say it. “Are you saying that we had an amazing time together and now the only possibility to have you as a friend is to find that CD? It's insane.”

“No, it's not. Besides, you're going to write your name and number as well, so I can find you. Do you have something? A book, maybe?”

Louis is shocked. Harry is serious about this thing. He really is and, in addition to this, he's excited about it. And he looks so happy that Louis can't tell no. He rolls his eyes, taking a book from his bag. He looks at the title, Meltdown by Ben Elton, and he snorts.

“Okay. So what? Do I have to sell it as well?” he says, writing his number on the last page. Harry nods enthusiastically.

“Of course! I'll give you a call when I'll find it.”

If you'll find it.”

When I'll find it.”

Louis simply shakes his head, laughing. That boy is impossible. He looks at the book, he was talking about it with Eleanor just the night before, she even asked him to borrow it. Well, she will have to find another way to read it, maybe he could tell her he forgot it on the plane. He can't really tell her that he wrote his number on it with the hope of finding a stranger he met in New York, can he? In fact, he's absolutely not going to tell her anything about Harry, it would be too weird. It's strange for him, he doesn't want to know what she would think.

He sighs, looking at Harry. He will never see him again, he's quite sure about it.

He will never see him again and it almost hurts.

 

Chapter Text

 

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Liam's face was priceless when he showed up at his flat's door: his friend opened it with nonchalance, maybe he was waiting for the postman, but instead he found Louis staring at him with a huge smile – and with a huge suitcase, too. Liam made a choking sound then, and crushed him with a hug that almost made him fall down the stairs.

“Ta-daaa!” Louis said, waving his arms and moving like a freak. “Guess who invited himself to stay at yours?”

On the other side, Liam stopped smiling and shook his head. “You don't say!”

“But, I am going to tell you now, otherwise you could have some kind of heart attack. This is not a holiday as always, but– you know, I mean... Can I– if you don't mind, of course–”

“Speak, Tomlinson.”

“...Can I really stay at yours? Like, permanently? Not forever, just till I find some shitty flat in London. We could be roommates for a little. Come on, it's going to be super-fun!” Louis said.

And then Liam laughed at him like hell. Why he did, Louis never knew. He remembers that, for a moment, he was scared to hear a 'no' coming out of his friend's mouth... he had never considered that option. To be homeless. Then Liam shook his head again, like 'why the fuck am I friends with this bloke', put an arm around Louis' shoulders and said: “You're always welcome to Payne's reign with one condition: wash your feet everyday, because I'm not going to die in my own house because of your smelly feet.”

Louis laughed at that and promised it, but he never kept his promise.

That day they spent about three hours talking, screaming, eating, screaming, screaming, eating, screaming and so on. Just normal stuff they usually do together. The really good thing is that Liam was very, very happy to see Louis and to have him hanging around in his flat everyday. Louis is so grateful to Liam to have welcomed him in his house and helped him during his first few weeks in London.

Yeah, because right: Louis is officially a Londoner now.

He really loves being in London, hanging around the big city everyday at every time. Of course he constantly misses his family and Stan, but it's also exciting living alone, doing stuff that he would never have expected. For example, Louis is now a champion in ironing. He can iron shirts as surely no one else can and he's pretty good with houseworks. When he was at his mum's house in Doncaster, or even when he was a guest at Liam's, he never ever ever ever washed a dish. Louis was pretty shit as the man of the house, but.

Anyway, now it's been a month since he moved to London. He likes living in the city, really. Louis spent about two weeks in Liam's flat, waiting to find one all for himself. He remembers a conversation with his friend two days after he knocked on Liam's door, when he explained that Louis had worried him, showing up without a word of warning. He had feared Louis had broken up with Eleanor or something bad like that, when in reality he had just been promoted from intern to actual employee for the newspaper he works for. And, well, Louis is still damn proud about it.

Louis remembers that day like it was yesterday and could recap every single moment of it. Mostly the part when he almost killed his superior by hugging him. Aside from the happiness for his promotion, his salary rose a bit and it was the icing on the cake. The very first thing he did after the news was buying a giant rabbit stuffed animal for Eleanor and taking her out for dinner. And a sex marathon all night long, just for the hell of it. And for the fact that he's so in love with her. Yes.

After two weeks in Liam's flat, he finally found a home all for him and Eleanor. Mostly for him, to be honest, considering Eleanor is studying at Cambridge and comes over only during weekends. So he's still living in Liam's flat, more or less, because when he's tired of lying on his own couch like a fat cat and eating trash food he always goes to Liam's. These things happen almost... well, you know, everyday. Luckily his flat is just a few steps from Liam's: when Louis opens his front door, he looks straight at Liam’s. He was lucky the old lodger, Ramon, decided to go back to Portugal and told Louis he could take over the rent. So, things had not changed at all when he moved. Yeah, he misses being a mess in Liam's life, like leaving his socks everywhere and waking him up with stupid pop songs for no reason whatsoever. But, apart from that, it's still pretty much the same.

So, that month has gone fast, Louis can't believe he's right where he is. The job is good, so is his love and social life. Eleanor comes to town every weekend, which they spend watching films, going to the cinema, eating trash food and talking about how they spent the week. London is really a beautiful city to live in, giving you a world of opportunities right at your fingertips.

Louis has never been the kind of person who is used to a routine, but he has to admit that now he loves it. Slowly, Louis is making new friends, big step forward to begin a new life. First of all, his colleague, Kat, is a really nice girl, they get along very well. Then there's Niall, an Irish guy who works with Liam. He's really a great lad and such a wanker. In a good way, of course. Sometimes he comes over at Liam's flat and stays with them all night long. The boy has worked with Liam for ages, but when he was still living in Doncaster, Louis used to go out just with Liam when he visited him in the city and he never had a chance to meet Niall.

After having his tea, Louis goes to work and spends the entire morning in his office – his office! He loves having an office! – except when his employer sends him somewhere over the rainbow for some interview and all that bureaucratic stuff. He loves his job, anyway. Sometimes he even stays at the office in the afternoons to check that the work he has done in the morning is perfect or just because he wants to take a head start. Liam usually calls him 'prissy' because of this newfound perfectionism.

Thank god Liam is such a good and funny friend, he would be lost without him. Of course there are times when he has his head in the clouds, especially since he met that guy at Niall's Christmas party, Zayn, so... six fucking months of 'Zayn here, Zayn there, Zayn Zayn Zaaaaayn'. Liam should thank all the Gods and superheroes that he, Louis, is a perfect best mate.

Apparently, this Zayn looks like an Egyptian deity. Brown hair, brown Bambi eyes and a perfect face and body. He hasn't met him yet, but he knows that Liam has seen him a few times since the Christmas party. Sometimes, when they are curled up next to each other on the couch watching trashy tv shows, Liam has this face like his mind is in strawberry land or something. Louis is sure that in those moments Liam is thinking about Zayn, he can see it in his eyes. Liam's eyes cannot lie and they always tell when he is in Zaynland.

“I don't!” Liam said once when Louis explained his doubts, laughing at him. “I had a boring day, that's all.”

“Yeah, yeah, sure,” and then Louis grinned back. “As if that guy from Jersey fucking Shore doesn't remind you of Zayn,” he added a few seconds later, pointing the telly.

“You talk shit, Tommo.”

“Zayn!” Louis cheered. “Zayn Zayn Zaaaaaayn! What's his surname?”

“Told you several times,” Liam rolled his eyes. “It's Malik.”

“Malik reminds me of a brand of perfume,” Louis said and then added with a really awkward face and voice, “ Malik, the direction of perfection.

“Shut up, Louis!” and then they found themselves laughing and fell asleep in Liam's couch just like that.

About a week ago, Louis almost fell asleep while feeding his goldfish – Harrington, like the jacket and that British writer – when he heard a knock on his door. Why the hell someone would knock at eleven in the fucking night? He opened and found Liam staring at him with a scary look in his eyes and what the hell. Without an invitation, Liam burst in his flat and started pacing around the room.

“What's going on?” Louis said.

Liam was shaking. “Nothing, just... just.”

“Rubbish. Come on, Liam, spill the tea.”

“It was– sorry. I was in the tube this evening and I saw Zayn. He didn't notice me,” Liam's voice was trembling. “Just this.”

“So this is the reason you knocked down my door.”

“I didn't knock down your door!”

“You almost did!”

“Sorry,” and Liam was suddenly quiet, looking at his feet. “I know that I should have walked to him and said 'hi', but I didn't. Shame on me, I'm such a loser, Louis.”

Louis can't help but grin and shake his head, looking at his friend's puppy face. “You're not a loser, you're only a twat, Payno. Listen to me.”

And they stayed awake all night talking about everything – but mostly Zayn and several ways for Liam to conquer the lad. Louis doesn't want to think again about all the stupid things that came out that night, he really doesn't.

The fact is that he really loves his life now and nothing or no one could stop him.



xxx



“Fuck,” Louis says, staring at his new and already broken umbrella. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

He opens the door of the Starbucks and goes directly to the counter, which is basically shining, the clearest sign that it must be Liam's shift, for sure. Clean freak and all that crap.

Louis throws his umbrella in the first bin he sees and then sits at the closest table to the counter, elbows rested upon it with an annoyed face. In a few seconds Niall is in front of him.

“Tommo!” he cheers.

“Morning lad.”

“Tea? Coffee? Muffin? Apple pie? A punch in your face?” Niall lists a lot of things that Louis doesn't even acknowledge and then he snorts. Why is Niall always so happy, he really doesn't know. It must be some Irish trick.

“Just you to shut up,” he jokes, the ghost of a smile on his face. “Liam?”

The blond guy shrugs and points at his back. “Watching himself in the mirror, probably. Why do you ask?”

“I lost my flat's key and he has one,” he answers. What a bad day, Louis wants to go to sleep right now and never get up. Like ever. Niall looks at him with a suspicious look and then grins. The wanker walks away, bustles for a moment with the coffee machine, and then brings him a steaming cup.

“Don't be sad, Lou-Lou,” he says.

“If you call me that again I swear to all the Gods that I'll punch you in the face and you can find yourself in your motherland in about three seconds.”

“Rude! I always wondered how you manage to come up with these articulate phrases slash insults so quick. I think it's some sort of talent.” Niall smiles. “Anyway, I've got news. Not news news, but news!

“Did you win the lottery?”

“Not yet, but I will. Stop being so unpleasant, anyway.”

“Sorry. What were you saying?”

“Well,” he says, sitting down in front of him, seemingly not bothered by the fact that he should be working, “you're officially invited to my party. It's in a week, at mine!”

A party? Well, that's really good. Niall surely is wasted as a Starbucks employee, he was born to make parties, he should do that as a job.

“Sure thing, mate. I heard impressive things about your parties, I look forward to finding something to complain about,” he says, winking so Niall will know he's joking. “What's the occasion anyway?”

“Do you need an occasion to have fun?” Niall asks and, well, he's right. He shrugs.

“Not really, no.”

“Thought so. There's an occasion, though. My band just got a great gig, so I want to celebrate... Bring your lady with you, of course.”

Louis smiles, Niall is such a good friend. He would be jealous if he weren't sure he bought Liam's devotion a long time ago. He now has to fight Zayn for it – whom he still hasn't met, thank you, Liam's shyness – but that's another story. A story that Niall may know, actually.

“I'm not sure about El, I think she has some exams the week after that, but thanks. I'll ask her. Anyway, Nialler...”

“Nialler?” Niall laughs a bit, raising his eyebrows. “What do you have in mind, Lou-Lou?”

“I told you not to call me that,” he frowns and Niall just laughs more. “I was just wondering, do you know this Zayn properly?”

Niall must see something in his face because his expression softens and his smile lightens a little.

“Yeah, mate. I've known Zayn since my very first term, he's a good kid. No need to activate your best friend protection instinct.”

Louis smiles. “That's not what this is about. I trust Liam. Except... do I need to worry?” Niall simply shakes his head, so Louis continues. “No, I was just thinking that I haven't met him yet. Liam doesn't have the guts to invite him over for a boys night, I think he's afraid I'll scare him.”

“That's probably true,” Niall says and Louis doesn't answer, he simply punches him in a shoulder.

“Will he be at your party?”

“I think so. I mean, I invited him and he usually comes, but I can make sure of it if you want.”

Louis is about to answer when Liam comes out from the back door. He looks at Niall and nods, hoping the lad will catch it, and luckily for him he does. Liam looks at them with a weird look, like he senses something is happening, but he doesn't ask anything and Louis certainly isn't going to tell him. Liam is a worrier, if he knew Louis wants to meet Zayn he would probably freak out and text the lad not to come to the party. If he even have his number, Louis is not sure about that.

“What are you doing here?” Liam asks and Louis suddenly remembers his situation.

“I lost my keys. You have a spare one, right?”

“Do you really think I come to work with your flat's spare key?” Liam answers, his expression pure disbelief. At Louis' hopeful glance, he snorts. “Really, Lou?”

“Hey, you're the one prepared for everything, it wouldn't be so out of character for you to bring my spare key with you for emergencies. And this is an emergency.”

Liam simply shakes his head. “Sorry to disappoint. My shift is over, anyway. I have to buy a present for Ruth, you could come with me and then we'll go home.”

Louis nods, grabbing his jacket. He doesn't have anything to do anyway, it will be nice shopping with Liam. It's been awhile since the last time they went on a quest.



xxx



“How did you find this shop?”

Liam took him to a vintage shop, a place Louis wouldn't picture Liam in. It's nice, the owner surely puts a lot of effort in choosing the right furniture to create a good atmosphere. There is soft music playing in the background, not too loud to bother the customers. It seems to sell a lot of different things, from music stuff to old clothes, and isn't it the perfect shop. He can imagine himself wandering here in his bad days, when he wants to shop but he doesn't know what he is looking for.

“It's great,” he adds, sure that Liam would understand.

“I was sure you'd like it. Niall told me about this place, apparently he often comes here with his best friend.”

“Talking about Niall, he told me about his party.”

“Yes, next week. I think sooner or later he'll ask us to go watch his gigs with the band, actually I don't know why he hasn't yet.”

“He plays guitar, doesn't he?” Liam nods. “And... Is Zayn in his band?”

Louis looks at Liam when he asks that. Liam's expression doesn't change so much, but Louis can clearly see how his eyes light up a little and how his friend is fighting back a smile. And he isn't even shagging the lad, for god's sake, how will he be when they inevitably get together? Louis has no doubts about that: if this Zayn has the slightest interest in men then Liam will conquer his heart. Nobody can resist Liam. His mum always says his friend is the man every girl wants to see when they walk down the aisle, and he thinks some lads would want that too. Liam is just... Liam.

“No, he isn't. Niall met Zayn at university. He studies English, you know? He wants to be a teacher.”

Louis has to bite his lip to stop himself from mocking Liam. He's so gone for this boy he can't believe he hasn't introduced him to his best friend yet.

“That's really nice of him. Hey, what do you want to buy for Ruth?” he changes the topic because he knows Liam, he knows how he gets when he feels pushed. Liam relaxes immediately, shrugging.

“I don't know... I was thinking about a CD, but I'm not sure which one. Maybe the right CD will start glowing when I'll find it.”

“This is not Harry Potter, Payno,” Louis smiles. “It's not the CD choosing you. Let's see what they have.”

Louis isn't sure he can help him, he doesn't really know Ruth's taste in music and that shop sells so many different genres. At least they are organised in alphabetical order and not put randomly in boxes, the way he usually sees in vintage shops and car boot sales. He looks around a bit, selecting something and then putting them back once he sees the track lists, until he reaches the Arctic Monkeys' discography. His stomach churns a bit, remembering how he parted ways with Harry a few months ago, and he bites his lips because it's stupid even thinking about that again. But Louis is weak, so his mind can't stop his hand when he reaches the only copy of AM . He looks at the back and tries not to be disappointed when he notices there's nothing written on it.

“Are you still looking for that number?” Liam asks. Louis didn't even notice Liam was looking at him when he grabbed the CD. “I thought you forgot. You don't talk about that lad anymore.”

Louis shrugs. “I guess it's a habit. It's not that I expect to find it or anything, but, you know. Hey, what about that CD? I think Ruth might like it!”

Louis ignores the doubtful look on Liam's face, because there is no reason for it to be there. He doesn't understand why Liam worries about the whole Harry thing. He told him the story when Liam visited him in January and his friend promised he would have looked in London's vintage shops to see if he could find that number. Louis laughed and told him not to bother, but he's sure Liam understood how disappointed he was by the whole situation. He is his best friend after all, he's supposed to know these things. But now, almost six months later, Louis is fine. Everything is fine and Liam really doesn't need to worry about nothing except how to conquer Zayn's heart.

And Louis is certainly going to help with that.

“Since you always change the subject whenever I say 'Harry'...” Liam rolls his eyes, taking the CD from Louis' hands.

Again. Liam, seriously, again ? Louis thinks, closing his eyes, and snorts. “Liam, what's the matter? If I don't care about Harry, why would you? I don't understand. Harry is a stranger I met randomly at Christmas and I spent a really, really good time with him, but that's it. Of course I was absolutely taken by this thing for one or two weeks, but... you know, just because it was totally new and freaking strange, so. No big deal. Why am I even talking to you about these things? I feel repetitive.”

“And what about your goldfish?”

“My gold- what ?”

“You called your fish Harrington!

“So what!?”

Liam is about to shout out his kidneys. “ Harri ngton! Haaaarri-ngton. Forget the '-ngton' part and focus on 'Harri-' one.”

“That's just because I bought that fucking goldfish a week after I met him , and I had that name constantly humming in my head,” Louis clarifies, shaking his head. “Stop being so bitter and, just for the record, Harrington was a respected writer and philosopher.”

“Yeah?” Liam huffs out a sigh, crossing his arms. “And what novel did he write?”

“I–” fucking Liam Payne. “This is unfair.”

“Not my fault if you are a conceited idiot, Louis,” Liam ends, shrugging and going towards the cashier to pay the Arctic Monkeys' CD, which has been in his hands for what seems like hours. “Ruth will be happy with this, I'm not going to spend the entire afternoon here.”



xxx



There is just one thing that Louis hates about parties: choosing an outfit.

Although his wardrobe overflows with clothes of all kinds, he never knows what to wear. Everytime he opens the doors he's almost crushed by a bunch of clothes, the majority of which he hasn't worn in years, and this will happen as soon as he'll find the strength to open it. He sighs, before doing so.

What a mess. It looks as if a tornado rampaged through his bedroom. The first thing he sees is a pink shirt huddled up on top of a mountain of red and blue trousers. When the fuck did he buy a pink shirt, anyway? No way, there's no reason for that shirt to be in his closet, that's it. Louis grabs it and throws it on the bed, he will think about it later.

Well, where to start searching?

First of all... did Niall tell him about a theme for the party? He doesn't remember, so there's just one thing to do, he thinks while calling Niall.

“So, party-boy,” he says when Niall picks up. “How should I dress for the party?”

“Are you asking me?” he says with a little laugh.

“Thought you might have a theme or something.”

“Do you mean a party theme?”

“Yeah,” Louis answers, taking a really embarrassing pair of socks out of his wardrobe and throwing them on the bed, too. “Like a fake Halloween or something like that.”

“I'm pretty sure Zayn will be dressed like a gangsta, if you're thinking about matching outfits. Your choice,” he coughs a little and then Louis takes a deep breath.

“He's not–”

“Louis,” Niall interrupts, “I was joking. He's totally covered by tattoos, which makes him look like a thug sometimes, but he's a great guy.”

For god's sake. Louis makes a sigh of relief and then suddenly thinks he's a totally anxious-for-nothing boy. “So...”

“Just make sure to bring your face and your butt, Tommo,” Niall says and then hangs up with a laugh. A Nialler laughter, the best. Louis loves it for no reason whatsoever, he told him the first time they met. He probably seemed a freak.

He snorts at the screen and looks back at the wardrobe. The brief conversation with Niall didn't lead to anything, thank you very much, so he's still in trouble. What the hell is he going to wear? Maybe that red shirt with a bowtie? Nah. Louis takes a brown jacket that seems come out from a really old British tv show and wrinkles his nose, shaking the head. Another shitty shirt is now in his hands and he's probably going to throw up.

Perhaps he could go to the party with only his underwear, just saying. Someone would be happy, maybe, and he'd stop racking his brain about all those stupid clothes.

That's a dilemma, a really big one. But hey, there are still three days left to the party, he could think about how to dress later. Louis sighs and then thinks Liam is probably right when he says he's a little princess, after all.



xxx



“I'm going to throw up, Louis, really.”

Louis is sitting on a very comfortable couch. He has never been more satisfied than in this moment, feet on a table and a green drink in a hand. Liam is sitting next to him with a face that makes him look like when Bambi has lost his mum. He's a bit pale, but it's probably because he didn't sleep the night before, Louis knows that.

Niall's party is freaking awesome. They put music of all kinds, from David Guetta to U2, and there are lots of drinks and food and weird decorations everywhere on the wall: Louis swears that, when they arrived, he saw a room with the walls completely covered in drawings. Like murals.

First, they thought the party was at Niall's house – he told them so, at least – but then the place changed, and he warned them to go to Josh's house. Too many people for Niall's house, he said, and Louis only nodded because all he knows is that he shares a flat with a friend. Josh's house is... a real, proper house. Like a villa. Probably his parents poop money, otherwise he can't explain the five bedrooms and the fountain in the lobby. Freaking Josh. Louis doesn't know him very well, he only exchanged a few words every now and then, when they met at Starbucks. He hopes they can become good friends, after all. The fact that he has a swimming pool and a football pitch in the garden has nothing to do with that.

People start to come over, and Louis genuinely doesn't know anyone. Not that he's interested in talking with strangers, by the way, all he needs is Liam – even if he's now almost asleep right next to him – but it's astonishing seeing this many people gathered thanks to Niall and his friends.

Louis shrugs randomly and takes a sip of his drink. After having a really big dilemma about his outfit for the party, he opted for a simple white t-shirt, black trousers – his favourites – and Vans.

“That's the first drink, Liam, you are a wuss if you get drunk after just that.”

Liam shakes his head. “It's not for that.”

“Oh, god, don't tell me that you look like a zombie because of Zayn,” Louis rolls his eyes and then puts an arm around his shoulders, crushing him a bit. Poor, poor Liam.

“I haven't seen him in a month, what should I say?”

“What's wrong with you, Liam?” it's what comes out of his mouth. “Just go to him! Say 'hello, Zayn, nice to see you here' or whatever. Try to have a simple conversation, nothing too clever, you know. Clever is boring.”

“But–”

“He's been standing there like a statue for a fucking hour,” Louis says then, pointing at him. “And you are a liar because you promised me that you'd introduce me. Liar, liar, liaaaaaaar!”

And Louis really wants to know Zayn. He has to admit that Liam was right when he said Zayn looks like an Egyptian deity, he really does. When they arrived at the party about an hour ago, Zayn stood there all alone, but Liam adopted the 'if he sees us, we are going to meet him, if he doesn't, we are going to lay on this couch all night long' tactic. And Louis couldn't say no.

“We'll go! Just wait a moment.”

“I did my waiting.”

Silence. Louis stares at Liam, Liam stares back and then lowers his head. Silence, too much silence and Louis just can't handle it.

“I want to meet Zayn, Liam.”

Maybe a puppy face would do the work. Liam doesn't seem impressed. Another one... another... fluttering eyelashes...

“All right! Okay, let's go.”

Louis would love to jump for joy, but he thinks that maybe it would make a bad first impression. He tries to keep himself quiet, but can't help a grin. He's finally going to meet this Zayn, whose name has resounded in his ears for so long. And Liam is right next to him, about to throw up.

Louis really doesn't understand. Not at all. He puts a hand on his friend's chest and they stop.

“Wait,” he says, narrowing his eyes. “How many times have you seen each other, the two of you?”

“About... I don't know, five or six. Why?”

“And why the hell are you like this? He's not going to eat your face, you know.”

“Louis, just... Just go ahead!”

Louis laughs and then starts walking towards Zayn, who's still leaning against the counter with a drink in his hand and a face that screams 'what am I doing here?'. Maybe he's bored or could just be in a bad mood. The fact is, Louis really hopes that Liam didn't notice all those things.

For a moment Liam disappears from his field of vision, and he looks back hoping not to see his friend fainting. Or just gone to infinity and beyond.

“Are you alright?” Louis mouths, eyes wide open. Liam nods and takes a deep breath and they're in front of Zayn in a few seconds. “Hi!” he cheers.

Okay, maybe a little too exalted, but this is Louis. Zayn looks back suddenly and doesn’t seem annoyed from being bothered by a stranger. He stares at him for a while, maybe wondering if they know each other, and then he notices Liam. A huge smile appears on his face, he puts his glass on the counter and approaches them.

“Liam!” Zayn cheers and Liam was right, he has a really nice voice. “And you must be Louis, nice to meet you.”

“Same here, big guy,” Louis answers, smiling and shaking his hand. “Finally,” he adds and doesn't dare to turn to Liam.

“Hi, Zayn,” Liam mutters and it seems like he's fine, after all. No trembling voice or whatever. “It's been a while!”

“Yeah,” Zayn says, taking up his glass again and giving a sip. “I've been so busy lately, I haven't had the time to go out... you know, I had a lot of exams at uni recently. Haven't seen Niall in two weeks”

“It has to be stressful for you.”

“Yeah,” he repeats.

And, yes, Louis understands why Liam is so interested in him. He's definitely charming and he has those huge brown eyes with long lashes and a beautiful smile. Zayn wears a simple black shirt, jeans and brown shoes. Louis can see that his right arm is covered by tattoos, just like Niall said.

Louis couldn't tell if he's gay or not. Usually he has decent gaydar that rings every time he feels rainbow vibrations, but this time he doesn't know. He just hopes everything will turn out okay for Liam.

“Louis, Liam told me everything about you,” Zayn says with a smile. “I really am very happy to finally meet you.”

And Louis is happy to see that Zayn is not a person he should be worried about, but he stays quiet with that.

“Did he tell you about me being a wonderful person?” Louis asks with a grin. “And a wonderful friend? Because I really am.”

Zayn laughs out loud. “Yeah, and even a pain in the ass, sometimes. From what I've heard.”

“That's not true, Zayn!” Liam protests, after being quiet all the time. “It's not true, Lou, believe me.”

“I don't believe you, Payno, to be honest,” he says, whining. “You are a disloyal friend and a traitor! After all the things I've done for you, you should even thank my arse.”

Liam is smiling, then he glances at Zayn and Louis can see all the rainbows coming out from his eyes. How Zayn hasn't noticed it yet is a fucking mystery.

Louis is about to ask Zayn something about his taste in music, just to know him better, when Niall's voice – Niall's scream, actually – interrupts him. He looks right behind Zayn and there's his blond friend shaking shamelessly his arms. Niall looks like a freak, sometimes.

“Hey, Tommo!” he cheers, his voice is a bit covered by music. “Over here!”

What timing. Right now, when he's finally getting to know Liam's future husband. He glares at Niall.

“Not now, Niall! I'm talking to Zayn! We're still getting to know each other!”

“You really should go meet Niall, Lou, seems like he needs you” Liams says, biting his lips and a nervous smile in his face. “Go on.”

“But... I want to talk with Zayn right now. Do you want to talk with me, Zayn, don't you?”

“Yea–”

“Louis,” now Liam is really, really creepy. He gives him a meaningful look and something has changed in his voice. “Niall seems to be so happy to have a beer with you. Really, really happy. Like... very happy.”

“But–”

Leave! ” he mouths, so that Zayn won't hear him.

Louis surrenders and reaches Niall, puffing. He's trying to reach his friend, at least. Now the place is quite crowded and a voice in his head starts singing 'crowded place, crooowded place'. He slithers himself between two people who are kissing, ignoring their insults, and there's Niall in front of him, still gesturing. He has a pint of beer in his right hand and something like a little drum in the other, which makes him looks like a freak. Not news, anyway.

“Tommo!” he cheers again, throwing the little drum somewhere and putting his free arm around Louis' shoulder. “Here, there's someone I want you to meet!”

Louis smiles at him, just because you can't do anything else around Niall. He stretches a hand – which is still holding the glass, by the way – to someone next to them who's giving them his back and exactly when some beer comes out of the jug, the lad turns around.

And Louis is about to have a heart attack in three, two, one...

“You've got to be kidding me.”




 

Chapter Text

 

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Louis wants to scream.

He has never been that kind of person who lets his feelings take control. He's more of a rational bloke who hides a lot in witty and sarcastic comments, but right now he wishes he could throw something. Maybe that pint Niall is still holding, or that boomerang hanging on the wall - that would be fine. He wants to break something because otherwise he doesn't know how to keep a straight expression.

“Hi, Louis, how are you?”

Or maybe he doesn't have to. Maybe he can just scream until that stupid, goofy and relaxed smile vanishes from Harry's face. Yes, Harry , as in New-York-Harry. As in fucking-destiny-will-bring-us-together-again-Harry. As in Niall's-best-friend-Harry. To be honest, Louis wouldn't have considered this last description if his Irish friend hadn’t eloquently coughed just a second ago.

“You two know each other?” he asks, because Niall is not stupid and goes straight to the point. Louis looks at him, eyebrows raised, and he's about to make a comment when Harry speaks. He doesn't seem taken aback as Louis, not at all.

“Yes. He's the bloke I met in New York,” he says and Louis subconsciously smiles. Harry told Niall, his best friend, about their meeting. Well, he told Liam and Stan, he guesses it's kind of the same thing. Still, it's nice to know.

“Oh,” Niall's expression brightens, probably remembering a conversation he had with Harry. “Wait, does that mean Louis is the destiny man?”

He sounds incredulous and, well, Louis can't blame him. The whole situation is so weird. ‘The destiny man’, Niall called him.

“Wait, what?” he says, because that's the strangest nickname he's ever got. His words, though, are covered by Harry's indignant reply.

Niall !” he simply says, and judging by his red cheeks and the way he seems about to dig holes into Niall with his gaze, Louis thinks their mutual friend wasn't supposed to reveal that.

“Sorry, sorry!” Niall raises his free hand. “I didn't mean to reveal your dirty secrets, Haz. It's weird, though, isn't it? You two meeting in New York, then Louis meeting me here. I mean, I've hung out with Lou for this whole month and you never realised I knew both of you?”

“You didn't mention him,” Harry says, shrugging. “You always talked about Liam and his friend. How was I supposed to know it was Louis?”

“You really are shit with names, Nialler,” Louis adds. “You never ever told me your friend's name. What was I supposed to do if you suddenly felt sick in my flat? Common sense would tell me to call the person who lives with you, but hey, I didn't know his name! I don't think his number is saved under the name 'housemate', is it? I probably could have left you on the pavement or something.”

Niall looks at him like he's trying to figure out if Louis would really do something like that.

“Bullshit,” he says at last. “Your mum is a nurse, she probably told you how to make people feel better.”

“How do you–” Louis starts, surprised by Niall's words, but his friend shakes his head.

“Liam. Besides, don't even try to change the subject this way. I know your agenda, Mister Sarcasm. By the way, Harry is Haz in my phone, just in case. And,” he turns to Harry, “Louis is Tommo, in case you need his number.”

“Why would I–?”

“Why would he–?”

Louis and Harry start speaking at the same time, but Niall shakes his head and silences them both. “You never know. I leave you two to catch up on these last few months, I'm going to tease Liam about that teenage crush he's got on Zayn.”

Harry chuckles and Louis can't help but smile. “Don't be too mean, Niall. He really likes him and Zayn passed my test.”

Niall simply nods, before walking away while drinking his beer. That bloke is strange on a level that makes him one of the greatest people he has ever met.

“I told you–” Harry starts, but Louis snorts.

“If you say something like 'I told you we'd meet again' I swear I'm going to leave you alone.”

Harry smiles, shrugging. Oh, Louis caught him so bad, Harry was certainly going to say that.

“This is a party, Louis, how could I be alone?” he points out and, well. It's Louis' turn to shrug.

“I don't know. But I'm going to do that anyway, so don't say that thing.”

“Okay,” Harry raises his hands, defeated. “Anyway, you're in London! Niall told me you've been here for a month. Well, not you , you know. Liam's best friend who happens to hang out with them,” he air-quotes. Louis laughs.

“Oh, does he say so? So I'm just a friend of Liam's . Oh, that man, he breaks my heart,” Louis shakes his head. “I was dreaming about a life with him, you know?”

Harry laughs loudly, before patting his shoulder. “There, there,” he says, trying not to laugh at his face. “I'm sure he wasn't the right person. There’s plenty of fish in the sea, after all. Besides, we can always fix this with another hot chocolate.”

Louis pretends to sniff, nodding, and then he's facing Harry. He didn't change a bit. Not that Louis would expect him to, it's been only five months, but it seems like he saw Harry yesterday. He still has that curly hair which he envies so much, that goofy smile and those big, bright green eyes. The only thing that reminds him it's been five months is the t-shirt Harry is wearing, very different from the heavy coat he had in New York.

“I live here now, you know,” he says, looking at Harry straight into his eyes. “I moved here, it's not that I'm frequently coming to town for work. I have a flat and all.”

“Good for you,” Harry says, smiling. “Did you get promoted?”

Louis nods. “Yes. But I meant... You still owe me my birthday cake. You said you'd have bought that if we'd end up at the same floor, do you remember? And it's not my fault if your lift got stuck. I want my cake.”

Harry gives him a smile so different from the others. It's blinding, all dimples and shining eyes.

“You're right. So, how do we do this? We can meet at the Starbucks–” Harry starts, but Louis shakes his head.

“No way. Niall lets me take free muffins, I'm sure you have your own special treatment. No, you have to buy it since you made me wait five months for it. Tell you what, you give me your number and we'll decide where to go.” Harry seems to think about it and no way, Louis thinks. “Don't you even dare think about it. About anything. Your friend destiny worked and we met again, don't tell me–”

Harry interrupts him with a loud laugh. “I wasn't thinking about that. I was thinking about a nice place to take you to, since I have to make amends. Now, give me your arm.”

Louis raises an eyebrow, looking at Harry, who took a pen out of nowhere. Louis supposes he had it in his jeans, but giving how skinny they are, it seems almost unbelievable. Maybe Harry is a wizard and it just materialised.

“What?” he asks. Harry doesn't answer, he simply takes his wrist and writes something on his arm. When he drops it, Louis can see that Harry wrote his number on his skin.

“That way you won't lose it,” Harry says, smiling.

Louis glances him, raising an eyebrow. “I guess I should save it on my phone, you know, I'm human and I'm surely going to have a shower after this party, so.”

Harry laughs a little, putting the pen in his pocket. So, it's true, he's a wizard: no one can put anything in those skinny jeans, it's physically impossible. He could be Harry Freaking Potter.

Louis stretches out his hand towards him. “Don't put it away, give me the pen one moment.”

The boy sticks his hand again in the pocket – that agility! He should have an award for it – and gives him the pen. Louis starts writing on Harry’s arm and he's sure Harry isn't watching, like he wants to have some sort of surprise. He even closed his eyes, oh boy. Louis sneers a bit and then Harry looks at his arm with a frown.

“Do you know that giving me a call would be enough?” Harry says, shaking his head and looking at his arm. “Now that you have my number inked on your skin.”

“Wouldn't be so fun, I guess,” he shrugs. “And I couldn't juggle my skills as a painter.”

In fact, Louis couldn't be a normal lad and write only his number – even if writing phone numbers on the skin is not a thing people usually do – but he added a little touch of personality.

“Is that–” Harry starts, and then he frowns, moving his head to read better. “Tommason?”

Tomlinson .”

“Is that your surname?” he asks.

“Yup.”

“And is that–” Harry looks closer at his arm. “Is that a... smiley?”

“Yeah, you know, it's kind of my signature,” Louis mutters and gives the pen back to Harry. “So, you have my number and my surname, just in case one of the numbers disappears on your way home.”

Louis knows he’s talking nonsense, but the only thing Harry does is smile and he really can't remember when someone smiled at him that way. Oh, yeah, this happened like five months ago, at Christmas Eve, maybe. Of course Eleanor smiles at him all the time, but that has nothing to do with it. She's his girlfriend, after all.

“Maybe this could sound too fussy,” Harry grins, “but we just found out we have the same friends, I think it wouldn't be so difficult finding each other... again.”

He's damn right, but Louis can't be knocked down by a guy with curly hair and dimples. Never in a million years. Even if the guy is that Harry fucking... what?

“You're doing everything possible to turn me off, admit it, Harry...?”

“Styles,” he says. “Harry Styles.”

Styles. Louis really doesn't know why his mind is still repeating that name, it just sounds nice. He's pretty sure he won't forget it, not at all. Not now that he found the Christmas boy after five months, not now that his fucking friend destiny has decided to make them meet again. Fucking destiny, maybe he could start to believe in it, a little. The whole situation is strange, he has to admit it, and funny. And a little bit creepy, actually. Maybe there is some kind of destiny somewhere and she just helps people, and now Louis can imagine a little leprechaun who holds people's hands and takes them around the world. Or maybe that is just Niall. Oh god, he's going to keep this part for himself, no doubts about it.

“This is insane,” he finally says.

Harry frowns. “What?”

“You. Me. The whole thing,” Louis answers, spreading his arms as if to embrace the air. “Us. That we met at a completely random party. In London. Where I live... where you live!”

“It's not random, actually, it' because of–”

“You know what I mean!” Louis cheers. “Okay, I'm not going to let this thing touch me. Like, ever.”

“Why does this thing worry you so much?”

It seems like Harry really doesn't understand Louis' problems at the moment. Well, Louis doesn't understand them either, but he has to scream something to release all the pent-up frustration.

“I'm not worried, Harry,” he says, shaking his head and trying to find something to hold on to. “It's just– aha! Where's the book with my name and number? Where's the Arctic bloody Monkeys' CD, uh? There's no destiny, I'm telling you. This thing is pure coincidence.”

“Yeah, maybe, and I really don't know where those Objects of Power could be, probably in some continent which has yet to discover water, and–” Harry takes a deep breath, “can you tell me why are you still calling our friendship a 'thing' ?”

Louis is a bit in what the fuck mood, now. Instead Harry is pretty chill and the smile can't leave his face, even if it's a little bit nervous right now. He looks like a little puppy, just like Liam when he mocks him. Is Harry mocking him? He called him and Louis friends or did Louis' ears just made a mash-up between his words and a mixed version of Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall by Coldplay, which the dj has just started playing?

Harry keeps staring at him and Louis could swear his curls are swaying a little. Harry is damn right, again. Why can't Louis just enjoy his new friend rather than heating up so much? Harry is standing in front of him, still smiling at Louis and he had a really fun time with him back in New York. Louis remembers thinking about how great it would be having a friend like him in his life. And now he keeps going with all those mental blowjobs , as Stan once defined his way to create problems out of nowhere. No way he's going to do that now.

“So, Harry Styles,” he says, clearing his throat, “are you enjoying the party?”

Harry sighs and his face has that grin of glory, now. He nods. “Yeah, I love Niall's parties! I was about to get some food when you arrived.”

“I think I should leave you to it, then.”

Louis feels kind of weird in that moment, for no apparent reason. Yeah, he likes talking to Harry and it seems like it’s mutual, but... but he doesn't know how to approach him, not now. They shared good moments a long time ago and in a total different situation and, perhaps, Louis feels a little uncomfortable now that he has to face him in the real world. Maybe just because his mind is realising that this may be the first going out of many. Or maybe it's because he's afraid that Harry won't care about him very much, after knowing him well. Nah, if so, he would have run away already. Or maybe he's just doing too many mental blowjobs and nothing else.

“Or,” Harry says, “we could have some food together. I'm afraid that they might not have a birthday cake here, though.”

“This time we'll have to settle on nachos, then.”

“Let's have nachos, yay!”

And in that moment Louis understands he won't have any problem to be friend with a dork like Harry. They're about to reach the table, when Harry stops Louis, putting a hand on his chest.

“Wait, Lou.”

Louis can't help but smile at the nickname. Friends, after all. “Uhm?”

Harry looks back at him with a creepy smile. “I want to prank Niall.”

What the heck? Louis just spotted a kind of savoury and stuffed pie and Harry wants to prank Niall? Okay, now that he thinks about it, he never did that. So why not? It's going to be fun, he's sure. Because both Niall and Harry are funny guys, so. Yeah.

“What do you have in mind, Harold?” Louis asks then, crossing his arms and glancing at their Irish friend, who now seems to be flirting with a really nice girl. “Like... throw nachos on his head?”

“Nope,” he answers, a grin can't leave his face. “I have had this... thing in mind all day long and now that I have a partner in crime I can put it into action.”

Louis can't stop smiling because, really, his new friend is so excited for this that he sees some strange light in his eyes and he can't ignore it. Harry is standing right in front of him, obviously thinking about his idea and its details.

“Do you think you can tell me your plan, or...?”

“Not yet,” Harry says, “but you have to back me up.”

“Yes, but–”

“Do you see that girl? The one Niall’s talking to?” and when Louis nods, Harry goes on. “That's Clara Stanton. Niall has had a big crush on her since she went to Starbucks something like three years ago.”

“So...?”

But Harry is already gone and seems to be heading towards a door, when he reaches the small stage on which the dj is, and he whispers something in the guy's ear. Who knows what’s happening in Harry's head - Louis really wants to have a trip in it. Just for the hell of it. He's sure he would find something like sweets, rainbows, and strawberries.

Within few seconds the music stops and the room is suddenly quiet. It's strange, because there are so many people in it. Louis looks around and most of them are looking at Harry.

A screech echoes in the air and Louis instinctively covers his ears.

“Well... hi,” Harry's voice echoes in the room. “So, I'm Harry and I'm a friend of Niall's.”

Louis has to resist the impulse of answering “hi, Harry”, even if he's sure a lot of people in the room would follow him. But he has to stay focused, who knows what Harry has in mind, for what he knows the lad could even set the room on fire. He looks at Niall, or at least at the spot where Niall was until a moment earlier and which is now free of his presence. He can see the girl he was talking with, that Clara, looking at the stage, but Niall is gone. Louis panics, a huge sense of disappointment pervading his mind, because Harry gave him one job and he managed to fail it. He looks around frantically, until he spots Niall just a few feet from the stage. His friend is looking at Harry, a strange expression on his face, and... oh. Whatever Harry had in mind, Niall got it. In that moment Louis understands how close the two of them must be, because he's sure Niall read right into Harry's mind.

“Damn,” he murmurs, before almost running towards Niall. He knows he can't stop him, but he has at least to try.

“So, most of you probably know Niall...” Harry is saying, but Louis can't waste time listening if he wants to stop Niall. He bumps some people on his way and he doesn't bother to stop, he simply apologises, even if most of the people probably don't hear him.

“Louis, what the hell?”

Louis bits his tongue when he's stopped by a hand on his arm. He didn't see Liam on his way and that should be a hint of how much he really wanted to reach Niall, if he couldn't see his best friend still almost glued to Zayn. He looks at him, managing to give him a calm smile.

“Yes, Liam?” he says and, wow, he can hear the impatience in his own words. Liam surely heard it, too, because he's giving him a questioning look.

“What is happening? Why are you walking like your arse is on fire and Niall has the solution to the problem?”

Louis looks at Liam and doesn't know what to answer. What kind of a simile was that?

“What?” he answers, turning to see where Niall is. He's under the stage, there's no way Louis can reach him now. “I was trying to stop Niall. Harry wants to prank him but that little leprechaun must have got him, I'm afraid Harry won't succeed.”

Liam almost chokes on his beer. Louis turns abruptly just in time to see Zayn patting Liam's back.

“Liam?” he asks, but his friend shakes his head. He seems shocked.

“Harry? Louis, what are you talking about? Is Harry...”

Louis doesn't hear the rest of Liam's sentence because Niall's voice fills the room. It's bright, a little bit slower than usual, probably because of the amount of beer he has already drunk. He turns towards the stage, where Niall took the microphone from Harry's hand. He has an arm around Harry's shoulders and the curly boy has the expression of a child caught with his hands in a jar of jam.

“Harry, I told you to wait for me before making your stage debut!” Niall says, smirking. Damn, he's smart, Louis thinks. “So, everybody, as he said this is my best mate Harry. Some of you probably know him already, others will make introductions later. And someone may have found him again after months...”

Louis is sure Niall is looking at him. His thoughts are confirmed by Liam, who gulps next to him. Louis bits his lip, not daring to turn towards his friend, but he can feel Liam's gaze on him.

“Anyway, my dear friend here is a great singer. He's not shy, so he probably would tell you himself, but why doing that when you have an awesome friend like myself to introduce you? So, without further delay, give it up for Harry Styles!”

Niall takes a step away from Harry exactly when the music starts. Louis can see Harry freezing on the spot for a few seconds, probably understanding what Niall did, before he takes control of himself again. He sees him grabbing the microphone back from Niall's hand and he's sure they had a non-verbal communication, he will find out later. Harry takes a breath and starts singing.

You knocked me sideways when you said that you were leaving...

Louis bites his lip, he didn't catch the song until Harry started to sing. And, wow, that's one of his favourites. He must admit that his new friend is giving it justice. Harry's voice is a great one even when he's talking and he remembers hearing him singing a little bit in New York, but singing for real... that's a different matter. But Harry is really good, and Louis can't help but stare at him a little bit. It seems like Harry owns the stage, this isn't the first time he's sung in front of an audience, definitely not. Louis shouldn't be surprised, Harry told him he studies something music related, but he didn't expect this . The lad is in his natural habitat on stage. If he's confident while talking with strangers, he seems to be even better with a mic in his hands.

“Wow,” he says without thinking. “He's good, isn't he?”

Louis isn't sure if he's talking to himself or what, he's grateful when he hears Liam's voice. Liam, right. He probably should explain himself, sooner or later.

“He certainly is,” Liam is saying. Louis can hear him talking, but honestly? Liam can wait a few more seconds, the song is almost over anyway.

We have everything we own in a cardboard box,” Harry finishes and looks at Louis, smiling. Louis finds himself returning it, probably like a teenager, but whatever. Nobody has ever smiled at him from a stage, it's a cute thing.

He can feel Liam's eyes practically burning his shoulders, so he takes a deep breath and turns around. His friend is looking at him with an eyebrow raised and a questioning look and, well, Louis doesn't know where to start. He catches Zayn's expression, the lad is fighting a smile, and Louis really hopes that is for Liam’s weird expression and not because he knows the story.

“So, Liam...” he starts, a hand in his hair. It's a gesture he uses when he doesn't know how to explain himself and Liam knows it, it's probably why his eyes widen even more.

“No way! Lou! It's him, isn't he?”

And wow. That's why he loves Liam. He smiles, nodding, and it feels like it's the first time he's smiling that night. It's stupid, it's not like he found El Dorado or something, but Harry is a great person and finding him again still feels unbelievable. Also, considering the whole situation, it would probably have been easier finding the way to El Dorado than Harry's number, for instance. And, yeah, Louis feels like he won over the world's chaos or something.

“I can't believe this,” Liam says, smiling and ignoring Zayn's curious expression. Ignoring Zayn . Louis should write down this date on the calendar. “I mean... is this world the size of a stamp?”

“Given your geographic knowledge it could be.”

Liam blushes and Louis laughs a little. He's about to add some details, Zayn should know something embarrassing about his friend, when he feels a hand on his back. He freezes for a moment, before hearing a now familiar voice near his ear.

“Damn Niall, he knew my agenda,” Harry says and Louis chuckles. He turns towards his new friend, who's now a bit sweaty. He's smiling, what news.

“He always knows, he probably has some kind of superpower, like, he vibes things,” he answers and Harry nods. His eyes are shining and Louis stares a little bit more than necessary, he realises when Liam coughs.

“Lou?” Liam says and Louis can swear he's trying not to laugh.

“Oh, right, yeah. Uhm, Liam, this is Harry. Harry, this is my mate Liam.”

“Oh, Liam!” Harry says, holding out his hand so Liam can shake it. “The best friend! Did you like your gloves?”

Louis looks at Harry and he's sure he has his mouth open like a fish out of sea. He didn't remember the gloves story, how could Harry? But he's smiling at Liam, who looks unsure about what Harry just said.

“Yeah... How...? I mean, I know who you are...” he's saying and Louis just wants to put a hand on Liam's mouth because really, Liam, really? What kind of choice of words is that? I know who you are , like Harry is some kind of celebrity. Or, worse, like Louis has talked about him non stop for the last months. Which he didn't, he totally didn't, but now Harry might think he did. Thank you, Liam, thank you very much.

“You know who I am,” Harry says and, honesty, Louis just wants to dig a hole in the ground. He looks at Liam with what he hopes is a murdering glance.

“Liam here is trying to say that I told him something about New York and just a few moments ago I was telling him I found you here. I didn't tell him about the gloves, though, that's why he's a little confused at the moment,” he says, trying not to sound too bitter but to make Liam understand he has to watch his mouth. He just found Harry, after all, he doesn't want to scare him away. Harry, though, doesn't seem to notice because he's singing again.

Lost and insecure, you found me...

And Louis just can't. He widens his eyes, not believing how Harry is singing another favourite of his. Is he some kind of mind reader or what? He looks at Liam, who's shaking his head, smiling.

“I'm telling you, mate, Louis is never going to let you walk away. You sang two of his favourite songs in, what, ten minutes? I swear, he's going to be a pain in your ass.”

Harry smiles, turning towards Louis. He can see the dimples in his cheeks, the left one a little more prominent. His eyes are still bright and Louis finds himself smiling back, shrugging at the words Liam just said.

“Do you like The Fray?” Harry asks and Louis nods.

“They're my favourite band,” he confesses. “But You Found Me isn't my favourite song, so you haven't conquered my heart yet, Harold.”

Harry nods. “I solemnly swear I'll find out what that is and sing it to you.” Louis laughs, but Harry keeps talking. “What about The Script?”

“I love them. I even went to a concert, a few years back. I think it was in November? The one at the Apollo in Manchester.”

Harry widens his eyes, smiling even more, if that's even possible. “No way! I was there, too! I told you, Lou, it was destiny!”

Louis shakes his head, ignoring Liam and Zayn's amused glances. Those two already have the same expressions, that's weird. He mentally makes a note to ask Liam what Zayn knows about the destiny thing, because he's sure that bloke knows something.

“Yeah, sure,” he says, but Louis doesn't really want to talk about that again. He looks at Liam, who shrugs, and at Zayn, who's now smiling. “Hey, Harry, do you know Zayn?”

Harry and Zayn laugh at the same time and, well, they probably know each other judging by how they seem to have fun because of Louis' sentence.

“Niall introduced us when I moved here,” Harry says, shrugging.

“We hang out sometimes,” now Zayn is talking. “When I'm not stuck on my assignments, I mean.”

“So, basically,” Louis interrupts, because Louis has to interrupt this thing for god's sake, “I'm the idiot who knows all about your lives but ignores the fact that you actually know each other as well.” Probably Liam would kill him for this, because he isn't supposed to know that much about Zayn, but he really doesn't care at the moment. Louis will deal with that later.

He's not angry with them, there’s no reason to be angry for, but the whole thing is a bit sad and Louis feels like a stranger, for a moment. Liam is friends with Niall, who is Harry’s best friend and they hang out with Zayn, who's Liam's bloody big crush since they met at Niall's Christmas party. And both Liam and Niall know about Louis and Harry meeting in New York, but they never talked about it because they didn’t know Niall was Harry’s freaking best friend. And then there's Louis, who knows every single one of them – even if Zayn only because of Liam's stories – but he didn't know they all knew each other already. What a fucking mess.

But, after all those confusing thoughts, Louis is really happy, because Liam is insane, Niall is an amazing friend, Harry is simply there, standing right in front of him with his curly hair and his smile, and Zayn is a really nice guy - Louis thinks he loves him already. Not as much as Liam, but. And this is a good thing, having all of them there with him.

Louis really wants to bury his face in a pillow right now, because he knows that he probably has the most awkward look ever. He should remind himself to ask Eleanor for one of those pills she takes when she has her period.

“Lou?” Liam's voice stops his thoughts. Oh, yeah, he's still in the middle of Niall's party.

“Uhm?”

Liam laughs a little. “I said that we should probably go out more often. All together.”

“Speaking of,” Niall cheers, coming out of nowhere and moving towards Liam, putting an arm around his shoulders. Louis automatically moves his eyes on Zayn, but he has a relaxed face. “Do you like marshmallows, Liam?”

“Mmm... not that much. Why?”

“Because I was thinking to throw a party for your birthday and I wanted to do all about marshmallows and something like that.”

“Niall, my birthday is in three months, we have time for that.”

“Who's in for a drink? I need a drink,” Louis mutters and then looks at his friends, The Fellowship of the Weirdness. They're smiling at him, even Zayn, who's probably thinking what the hell he did wrong for having to spend the night with a lad like him. Louis hopes to have made a good impression on him, by the way.

A few seconds later, Liam drags Louis by his arm towards a little sofa. Good, he really needs to relax right now. He's been around the city all day, and now his legs are complaining. Louis looks back and sees Niall and Harry are going to the table where a really strange guy is juggling with glasses and bottles full of coloured fluids.

“Where's Zayn?” he asks when they settle down the sofa.

“To greet some friends over there,” Liam answers, sliding his head on Louis's shoulder. “He'll reach us later, I think.”

“I like that guy,” and he really means that. “I hope for your sake he likes men. If I were gay I think I wouldn’t be able to resist your charm and smile, Payno. Much love for you.”

Liam laughs so hard and in that moment Harry arrives with three glasses full of something yellow. It looks like he's using all his concentration to try not to drop them, something that makes him frown in a funny way. He holds out his arms towards them. “Take one before they fall on the floor.”

“It seems you're good with jugglery,” Louis jokes, taking his glass. Harry sits next to Liam.

“Yeah, but with oranges and tennis balls, not with glasses full of Limoncello,” he answers. “Niall is still flirting with Clara, anyway. I think we lost him.”

Louis stretches his neck trying to see Niall among the people who are dancing in the middle of the room. He finds him next to the table where there are desserts and, damn Irish boy, he knows how to approach girls.

“Fucking Niall,” Louis says, sipping his Limoncello.

“He's the best,” and then he puts his feet on the table, while Harry is doing the same thing on the other side. “I’ve seen him in action many times and, well, he's a god.”

“Are you in love with that clover, Harry?” Louis grins.

“Ha-ha,” he hums, looking at Louis. “I admire him, it's different.”

“Pft, only because he's a flirty man? Seriously?”

“No, because he's the man, Lou.” Louis thinks that they could probably have a smarter conversation than how good Niall is with women, but. “He's my best friend, of course I admire him!”

“Okay, I don't want to hear how Niall conquers women and I need to wee,” Liam says and then he's gone.

Louis observes him walking for a while, not missing the way his friend turns towards Zayn a couple of times before disappearing. He thinks his interest in that lad is obvious, but he has to admit he knows Liam pretty damn well, it could be obvious only to his eyes. Maybe nobody else noticed, except for Niall, but Niall doesn't count. Liam probably bothered him more than he did with Louis, considering Niall knows Zayn. So, maybe it's just Louis who worries too much, maybe that big romance is still a secret.

“Liam fancies Zayn, doesn't he?” Harry says at some point and, well, goodbye to all Louis's self reassurances. He turns abruptly towards him and finds him watching Zayn.

“How do you–?” he starts, but Harry shakes his head, a little smile on his face.

“Come on, I have eyes,” he simply answers and, well, Louis shivers as if it's his own crush which has just been revealed.

“Do you... Do you think everyone knows?” he asks, because he has to. It's not like middle school, when the girl you like must not know about your crush, but Louis doesn't think Liam is ready to talk about it. He doesn't even have the courage to go talking with the lad, for heaven's sake.

“I know and Niall does, too. He never said anything, but I guess. I can't speak for other people, I'm afraid,” Harry seems sorry and Louis smiles at him, it's not his fault after all.

“Do you think Zayn knows?” he asks then, because that's what really matters. Harry bites his lip, thinking, then he smiles a little.

“I don't think so. Zayn is a very smart person, but he's an idiot when it comes to this stuff. I think he probably wouldn't understand even if Liam flirted with him all the time. But... it's not a problem,” Harry frowns a little bit and that's strange of him.

“What do you mean?” he asks, wondering what troubles Harry.

“It's not a problem if Liam fancies him. I mean, you know... Zayn is bisexual, he won't have some kind of mental breakdown if he finds out, and he totally won't give Liam shit if he doesn't return his feelings. I guess it's what bothered you.”

It wasn't, until Harry said those words. To be honest, Louis hasn't even considered that side of the matter until Harry brought it up, he was simply worried about Liam having to face his feelings before he was ready. But now that Harry mentioned it, Louis has to admit that could have been an option. And, well, he's glad Harry reassured him before he had the chance to think about it.

“I haven't even thought about that. Liam... well, it's the first time since I know him that he likes a bloke. I’ve never seen him being rejected by someone, luckily, so that idea never crossed my mind.”

Harry nods, a serious expression on his face. “So what is it? I can see you're worried.”

Louis bites his lip. He isn't sure it's the right thing talking about all these things with Harry, he doesn't know Liam and almost doesn't know him, but something tells him that he can trust this weird curly lad. Maybe it's the fact that Niall is his best friend and he certainly can trust Niall, or maybe it's the memory of New York and that sense of familiarity that comes with it, but Louis finds himself spilling the truth.

“I'm not worried about something in particular. Liam is an amazing person, you know? He's good and sometimes he's too good for his own sake. I worry about him, I don't want to see him hurt.”

Harry nods. “That makes sense. You're his best friend after all, I do the same with Niall, but Zayn isn't going to be a problem. I can promise you that.”

Louis nods, because he already knows that, but. He puts a hand in his hair, and then he snorts. Harry raises an eyebrow, but he doesn't say anything.

“I know that. The thing is I hope Liam will find a person good to him the same way he's good to the world. He’s already had his slice of misfortunes and I don't want to see him in a relationship as bad as the last one. And I really think Zayn can do that, judging by what I saw and what Niall and you told me, but... I'm afraid Liam won't make that happen. He talks about Zayn all the time, but when they meet it's hard for him to even say hello. Once they start speaking he's fine, he becomes his true self, but I don't think he's ready to make a move. And what if Zayn is interested in him, but Liam doesn't do anything and they fall apart without even trying?” Harry raises his eyebrows and Louis snorts. “What?”

Harry laughs, shaking his head. “Nothing, it's just you're so dramatic, Lou. I mean, I get your worries and okay, you want to see Liam happy. That's good. But I don't think the situation is that bad. If Liam isn't ready... okay, he will figure out what to do. I know Zayn, if he's interested in him he won't give up on him so easily. But you have to relax, Lou.”

Louis holds Harry's gaze for a moment, before bursting into laughter. Harry smiles at him and Louis just shakes his head.

“I'm sorry, you're right. Sometimes I overreact. I guess I have the concern of a big brother.”

“No, I get it. Tell you what, if you're so worried about them, I offer my support. I'm a very good wingman, and I know how Zayn's mind works.”

Louis nods, that's a really good idea to be honest. “Yeah, that sounds good. We can be their Cupid!”

Before Harry has a chance to answer, Liam is back and sits between them like before. He looks at Louis and then at Harry, probably catching the matching smirks on their face.

“What were you talking about?” he asks, doubtful.

“Nothing,” Louis answers, but Harry smiles.

“Just about wings. Chicken wings, they are so good,” he says, without breaking eye contact with Louis. He's good, he really is. His smirk widens, but Liam doesn't notice.

“God, I don't doubt you're Niall's best friend,” he says.

Louis simply nods, looking at Harry, who's still smiling at him. He has a mischievous light in his eyes and a smirk that promises fun. He returns it and, well, if Louis thought his life in London was great, it's going to be even better from now on. He finally has a partner in crime who owns that title.



Chapter Text

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Louis loves sunny days and nothing and no one can ruin his sunny happiness, named that by his best friend. And in that moment of his life, he has not one, not two, not three, but four reasons to be happy, in addition to the mere presence of the sun. First, his superior gave him a week off from work and that's the best news ever. Louis loves his job but, after been promoted, his job is harder than before. It's good sometimes to put your work in stand-by just for a little bit. Second, it's Saturday, so Eleanor is asleep in his bed, her hair messy on the pillow. She's really beautiful and Louis is a lucky man. Third, Stan texted him last night to tell him he's coming to town in a few days. And fourth, well, there's no reason in particular, Louis is really happy and that's it.

He gets out of bed and goes towards the window; the curtains are half-closed, but Louis can see that outside the weather is fantastic. In fact, when he opens the window, the light that comes into the room nearly blinds him.

Louis is naked but no one can see him from outside, so who cares. It's his own house, after all. After flooding the room with light, Louis turns to his girlfriend, finding her still asleep. He smiles at nothing in particular, mostly to himself, and then goes straight to the kitchen: he definitely needs a cuppa. It's morning after all, mornings are meant to be started with a cup of tea. Perhaps it would be appropriate to put some clothes on, but he feels good like this and it's really warm in his flat, so.

While making breakfast for him and Eleanor, a big question rises in his head: what would they do today? Maybe they could lie in bed all day, drag themselves out of it only to wee and eat something. But hey, it's a sunny day and Louis really wants to go out and brag about his new shoes. Or maybe they could meet his friends, he would call Niall, Liam, Harry... it's been a week since the party and Louis has seen only Liam, just because he lives two steps away from his flat. He's been really busy and, among other things, his superior even increased his work before giving him a week off.

Sometimes Louis goes to his phone book and looks at Harry's number, then he always changes his mind. He really wants to write something to him, even just something silly for the hell of it. Harry would probably be happy to hear from him, but he’s afraid to be a bother. So, he hasn't heard news from him in a week, and neither from Niall, except for a text two days earlier: ' Tommo, what do you think about buying a Batman apron for Liam's birthday? '

When Louis opens the cupboard doors to take his tea, some pots fall all over him, making a terrible noise. And a few seconds later Eleanor comes up next to him with a grin on her face, mocking him.

“What's up, love?” she smiles, shaking her head.

Louis shrugs. “I think your boyfriend is a bit messy.”

Eleanor laughs a little and lowers to collect the pots. “I can do this while you try to make breakfast without blowing up the kitchen.”

Ohhhh, Louis loves her so much.



xxx



“What!?” Eleanor cheers, sputtering a bit of gravy on the plate. They're having dinner at a beautiful restaurant with a really nice view of the Thames: Louis has always wanted to bring her to eat on a terrace and that night he did. He nods a little when an old couple turns to them, annoyed.

Louis giggles at her. He probably should find that a bit mannish, but he thinks she's cute, instead. “I just said that I think The Walking Dead is a bit boring.”

“You know nothing, Louis Tomlinson.”

“Look who's talking!” Louis says with his mouth full of spaghetti. “The girl who 'oh, Louiiiis, I'm so tired because I had my Pretty Little Liars marathon last night! Uuuuuuh!'”

She frowns. “That show is huge.”

“Yeah, sure, huge like my butt.”

“Louis!”

“Well–” Louis is about to reply when his phone buzzes next to his hand. He's not used to keeping it on the table while eating in a restaurant, but now the screen is flashing Harry's name. Harry Styles, Harry Styles, Harry Styles. It's funny and Louis is creepily thinking that is amusing. What...?

He wipes his finger on the napkin and rejects the call. What the hell does Harry want on a Saturday evening during dinner time? Louis looks at Eleanor, but she doesn't seem to have noticed anything. Not that there's anything to hide, actually. Although Louis, um, didn't say anything to her about Harry and the whole destiny story and bla bla whatever.

“Well what?” she asks.

“I forgot, sorry.” He really did forget, yeah.

Eleanor smiles. “You are impossible,” and then adds, “I think that's why I chose y–”

Louis' phone buzzes again and this time she notices. She looks at it and then at Louis, still chewing. Louis continues to eat, leaving the mobile buzzing. Damn, Harry had the whole week to call him and why did he choose right now?

“I'm sorry, just a friend,” he says, smiling.

She shakes her head, smiling back. “It's not a problem, Louis, you can pick up the call.”

“Nah, I'm with you and we're eating.”

“I'm serious, it's not a problem!”

Louis nods, going to shove a forkful of spaghetti in his mouth when the phone buzzes again. Harry's name is flashing on his screen and Louis really wants to throw the phone down the terrace, but a mysterious force is keeping him quiet. Harry will stop sooner or later.

After six more calls, Eleanor is looking at him with a suspicious look and maybe she is wondering what the fuck is so urgent to call a friend so many times. Louis wants to know, too. Then she sighs. “Maybe–”

“Okay,” he interrupts. “I'll take the next.”

But, twenty minutes later, there are still no other calls from Harry. To be honest, Louis is a bit sad, because if he had been alone he would have surely taken the call the very first time. Harry is probably annoyed now. Well, probably Louis would be, too.

“Was it Liam?” Eleanor asks after a few moments of silence.

Louis almost chokes on the wine. “No, it was... Harry.”

“Harry? A new colleague?”

“No, a new friend of mine, actually,” Louis answers. “We met at Niall's party, a week ago, you know. It seems like we... already knew each other.”

She smiles at him, resting her chin on her hands. “You should introduce me next time!”

“Sure I will,” and hey, Louis' phone is buzzing. Harry, again. “I think... I think I should...” Without adding anything, Louis grabs his phone and reaches a spot far from the tables, near the railing. It's a bit terrifying, pretty high.

He sighs at the screen and accepts the call. “ What the hell, Styles?”

“Hi yourself!”

“What– you called me thirteen times! What happened?” Louis says, his voice a bit annoyed. He regrets it after two seconds.

Harry sighs on the other side. “Nothing. I was wondering if you were alive, that's all.”

“Ohh, nice of you, I'm alive and with my girlfriend in a very beautiful restaurant, thank you,” he jokes, hoping that Harry won't be bothered by his tone.

“Oh,” Harry mutters. “I'm sorry... It’s just that I haven’t heard from you in a while. I was just bugging you, that's it.”

Louis can't help but laugh and then Harry is laughing over him. “You arsehole,” he giggles.

“I learnt something from this thing, though,” and when Louis stays silent, Harry goes on. “If I happen to be on the verge of death, you certainly wouldn't be the first person I'd call.”

They laugh again and a slight breeze ruffles Louis' hair. Harry is certainly smiling now, Louis can even imagine his dimples. He’s probably on his sofa, watching art channel on telly while Niall plays guitar in the other room, or maybe he's in bed doing nothing but talking to Louis. Louis doesn't know, but fancies the idea that someone could just talk to him looking at the ceiling.

“Where are you?” he asks in the end.

“Out,” he says. “I didn't know what to do, so I wandered around, no big deal. Niall is rehearsing with the band and Zayn had to study. And then I thought 'hey, maybe my new friend wants to do something with me on a Saturday night'. I was wrong, sorry.”

Louis really wants to cry. Harry had the whole week, Louis thinks again, the whole week to call him and he ended up doing that the only time he isn't free. That bloke has really bad timing.

“I appreciate the thought, Harold, and I'd take the offer if I weren't out with El. But we can meet in the next few days?” he suggests. He pretends not to hear Harry's soft sigh on the other end of the line, just because if he does then he'll certainly think about it all the evening.

“Sure, Lou. I didn't want to interrupt your time with your girlfriend, I swear. Next time text me, so I won't call you half a million times,” he answers, his tone light, and Louis laughs a little.

“Will do. See you soon, okay?”

“Okay. Bye, have a nice date,” Harry says and he hangs up before Louis has the chance to say goodbye. He shakes his head and then goes back to his table, where Eleanor is studying the dessert menu.

“Sorry,” he says, sitting again, but Eleanor simply smiles.

“Don't worry. Is your friend okay?” she asks nicely and Louis can't help but smile. He reaches her hand and squeezes it a little bit, nodding.

“Yeah, perfectly fine. He's just bored. He was home alone and wanted to do something,” he answers and Eleanor nods. She looks at him for a moment, before speaking again.

“We can go somewhere with him, if you want. I'd like to meet him, you know. It seems like the two of you clicked, from the way you talk and his perseverance of calling you on a Saturday evening.”

Eleanor is smiling and Louis asks himself what he did to deserve a girl like her in his life. Actually, what did he do to deserve all the great people he knows? He can be a little shit with them sometimes, but he has to admit he is grateful for all of them.

“Are you sure it wouldn't bother you?” he asks, just to check. He only sees Eleanor during the weekends, after all, maybe she was planning to have a romantic evening and she's only being polite.

But Eleanor nods again and she's smiling, so he thinks it's okay.

“Go, call him. I'm curious, seriously!”

Louis nods, before getting up again and dialling Harry's number. His friend answers almost immediately and Louis finds himself smiling.

“Hey, do you want to meet my girlfriend?”

Harry's enthusiastic answer makes him smile even more.



xxx



Louis thinks very few things can equal London in May. He's walking with Eleanor near the Thames, he can see some cruise ships not far from them, and there's something in the air that Louis can't really define. It's almost a sense of magic, something that makes his fingertips tingle, and in that moment he really feels like he's part of the City. Like he belongs there.

“This is home,” he whispers and he's not sure Eleanor caught it, given the lack of answer, but she may also be respecting his personal moment. She does that sometimes, when Louis zones out and thinks about something he doesn't want to share for reasons he doesn't even know.

“Hey, Lou!”

It's Harry's deep voice which calls him back to reality. He raises his head and spots him near a street lamp. He has his goofy smile on his face and Louis has to bite his lip to avoid bursting into laughter.

He turns towards Eleanor and catches her staring at Harry's long legs, dressed in dark skinny jeans, and he can almost read her mind. She's probably thinking something like ‘why does a bloke have legs like those? It's not fair’. He'll ask her about that, later.

“Hi,” he says once they reach his friend. “So, Harry, this is my girlfriend, Eleanor. El, this is Harry.”

“Nice to meet you,” Harry says, politely, while shaking Eleanor's hand. She smiles at him.

“Pleasure's mine. I was really curious to meet this lad who was determined to catch my boyfriend's attention during our date.”

Louis knows her and he can tell that she's joking, but Harry blushes at her words. He bites his lip, while messing up his curls furiously with his hand, and Louis wants to help him. He's about to reassure him about Eleanor's strange sense of humour when Harry speaks.

“Yeah, I suppose I'm a bit overwhelmed by this one,” he says, smiling, and Louis can see he's a little bit uncomfortable. Strange, he thinks. He doesn't know Harry so well, but he has never seen him uncomfortable.

“After only a week?” Eleanor says, laughing, and Harry blinks. Louis bites his lip, catching the quick doubtful glance Harry throws at him, and he can see in his eyes the exact moment Harry understands.

“Yeah... What can I say? I guess he's magnetic. Niall told me he was starstruck as well, but don't tell him I told you, he would probably hit me,” he says and, wow, Louis wants to hug him. He could expose him and tell Eleanor they met in New York and everything, but he’s backing him up.

“I will tease him to death,” he says, smirking, but Harry gives him a pleading look that makes his eyes almost as puppy-like as Liam's.

“Please, Lou, don't. I remind you I live with him, and Niall... well, he's Niall.”

Louis pretends to think about it for a moment, just enjoying the expression on Harry's face, before giving up. “Oh, okay, I'll keep your secret. But you'll have to keep mine if the occasion arises.”

Harry raises his eyebrow, quickly looking at Eleanor before glancing back at him. Louis gives a little smile, trying to tell him he understands that Harry is already keeping a secret and, yes, he's very grateful for that. And, yes, he will explain him why he didn't tell Eleanor about their previous meetings. When he has an answer for himself, of course.

“So, lads, what about an ice cream?”

Harry is immediately on board with Eleanor's idea and they start looking for a nice café. Louis looks at them, his girlfriend and his new goofy friend, and he smiles at the way they're trying to know each other. That is going to be a beautiful evening, he thinks, before letting himself in the conversation.



xxx



It's almost midnight when he and Eleanor arrive home. They had a great night out with Harry, almost entirely spent catching up and getting him and Eleanor to know each other. Harry has seemed impressed when Eleanor told him she studies in Cambridge, but it was the same when he told her about the huge result he had when he was accepted at his university. Unfortunately, Harry and Eleanor aren't so similar, so it was Louis who carried most of the conversations.

Still, it was a great night and he secretly hopes that Eleanor likes Harry as much as he does. She didn't make huge comments about him when they parted ways with him, so Louis doesn't know what to think. He thought he would have had the chance to ask her at home, but Eleanor fell asleep almost at the very moment she touched their bed, leaving him to stare at the ceiling.

It's Harry who saves him, sending him a text. His phone beeps so loudly that he's afraid it could awake Eleanor, but she keeps sleeping. Louis relaxes, but he mutes the phone even before reading the text.

You could have told me she didn't know about NY. That was close

Louis bites his lip. He's right, he should have told him. The thing is Louis doesn't even know why he didn't tell Eleanor in the first place, it would be weird explaining it to other people. Other people that are not Liam or Stan.

Yeah, sorry. Thanks for not revealing it. I owe you !

Harry's answer comes after few seconds. He's probably in bed, maybe he can’t sleep, like Louis.

No problem. Why didn't you tell her, btw?

And Louis sighs, because Harry has this kind of radar, he always gets to the point. It's weird, and a bit creepy. And uncomfortable, at the moment, because he doesn't know what to answer. He waits a bit, maybe a little too long because Harry sends him another text.

Still there?

Louis sighs, before typing an answer that he hopes will satisfy his friend.

Yep. I don't know why. I guess I was afraid to tell her I put my number and name on a book that I sold in a vintage shop hoping an almost total stranger would find it and give me a call. I mean, that's insane

Louis waits just few seconds before Harry's answers arrives.

It's not insane, it's... well, I don't know. I can think only 'romantic' but I guess it's not our situation.

Yeah, that definitely isn't their situation and Louis wants to laugh so hard at him but he's afraid that Harry might be offended. Why, he really doesn't know, but maybe it's not a nice thing to do, right? Harry seemed pretty serious in that text and Louis doesn't need to worry about it. His mental blowjobs are doing a great work as always, seems like that.

He shakes his head and buries a smile into the pillow. Soon the smile turns into a huge yawn, surprising Louis. Well, not that much, to be honest, it's almost one a.m., for god's sake. He rubs his eyes with the free hand and then sends one last text to his friend – it's still a strange thing calling Harry his 'friend', by the way.

Definitely not romantic. We are insane, get over it. Now go to bed, styles, see you soon xxxxxxxxxx (just to emphasize how romantic we are haha :p)

Harry's answer doesn't arrive in the next two minutes, so Louis thinks that he probably fell asleep before reading his text. Louis likes imagining that maybe he actually read it, laughed at him like hell, and then decided not to answer but going to bed. He turns off the phone, rolls over a little in the sheets and then he falls asleep, his mind full of happy thoughts.



xxx



Niall's flirt-laughter – Liam likes to call it that – reminds Louis that he's not in his flat but at Starbucks, so he definitely can't fall asleep on the armchair. Which almost happened.

The fact is that Louis is so tired, he can feel like a curtain is falling over his eyes. Louis didn't sleep very well that night. The problem is it happens every week, when Eleanor goes back to Cambridge and Louis is alone again for the rest of the week. He feels like there's a giant hole in his stomach and, even if it usually lasts only for a day, it hurts a lot. Being with someone and seeing her only two times a week sucks.

Louis moves his gaze from his cold cappuccino to Liam, who is cleaning the coffeemaker right in front of him, staring into space. It’s so clean that it could be consumed at any moment, but Liam doesn't seem to notice. Poor Liam, what a week for him. His shifts are killing him, missing only a tent in the warehouse and he can directly move there.

“Liam, that thing is freaking about to disintegrate.”

Liam looks up at him for just a moment, and then goes back staring down. Louis thinks that a zombie would probably be more emotional than him. That's Liam: today he could rock the world and tomorrow be lost, unreachable by anyone and his mind busy with thoughts of any kind. Liam is moony and Louis has come to accept it, doesn’t mean he likes it and doesn’t try to shake him during days like today.

“Oh,” he says, putting down the sponge, which is definitely dry. “Oh.”

“Well,” Louis says, interrupting Liam's 'oh, oh, ih, ah, eh' and getting up from the chair, “I think I'm going, now. I have to work the entire morning on a new project!”

When Liam just nods and smiles slightly, Louis understands that he's not going to ask him about his news, so he greets him, says hello to Niall and goes out. He'll tell him again once Liam finds his brain.

It's Monday morning and Louis hates Monday mornings so much. He doesn't hate them like everyone else, just because it's the first day of a long new week, but because the streets are so fucking crowded and people seem like they're all on drugs. No, really. He puts on a beanie to cover his hair – just because today it's really a big mess – even if it’s at least thirty degrees, then puts his hands in his pockets and starts to walk. He hasn't even turned the corner that his mobile phone rings. It's probably Niall as always, to bother him with his stupid jokes like 'hey, Lou, you forgot your humanity on the chair'. It happens almost four times a week. But, when Louis pulls out his phone, Harry's name is flashing on the screen. Oh, boy.

“Oh, Styles is in the mood for some early morning talks!”

“Hi, Louis! What's up?” Harry says with hoarse voice.

Louis nods and then remembers that his friend can't see him. “Uhm, yeah, a little bit tired, actually. What about you?”

“Fine, thanks,” he says. Louis smiles a little and an ambulance passes so close that it's about to run him over with its flashing lights and loud sirens. “Where are you?” Harry adds.

“I'm going to work,” Louis answers, rubbing his ear with his hand. He's sure he won't hear anything in the next twenty minutes. “Or at least, I hope to get there alive.”

Harry laughs a little and then coughs. “Look, there is a reason why I called you so early.”

“Oh my god.”

“What? I haven't said anything yet!”

“I think I know... you don't want to be my friend anymore,” Louis says, trying to hold back a laugh. “I’ve been expecting this since you didn't answer to my text the other night.”

“You're an idiot, Lou.”

“Better than a dick who's abandoning a dedicated friend.”

“What's wrong with you?” Harry laughs, getting the joke. “The thing I wanted to tell you, actually, has nothing to do with me and you. It's about...” he sighs a little “...Zayn.”

Zayn? Louis is wondering when exactly they started to call each other for their friends' problems. He didn't think to call to tell him that Liam is going through the dark right now. And he's not friends with Zayn, not yet, so he really doesn't know what he could do for the lad.

“Is he okay?”

“Yeah, sure,” he mutters. “But... something happened this morning, something big.”

“Look, Styles, stop being so vague, you make me want to skip work and come to your house to strangle you,” Louis cheers, laughing. “No, well, you're lucky that I really can't skip work for you, since I have this new project, so... speak!”

“A new project?”

Has Harry really changed the subject he called him for to ask him about his new project? No, seriously, did he? He and not Liam ? Louis loves his new friend, yeah. That's a fact.

“Go on with Zayn's thing and don't change the subject! I'm curious!”

“Well,” he starts, clearing his throat as if he were preparing for a long monologue, “we had breakfast together this morning and... he said something that made me think. I have– well, you know, coffee isn't in my best abilities, so... I made this cappuccino that tasted like I had peed inside, so he said to me: 'Harry, I have to tell you: your cappuccinos are the worst things I've ever drunk. You should live with someone who works in a café and learn! '. So I told him 'well, I live with Niall, indeed' and do you know what he answered? Do you know?”

“No, Harry, I don't live in your brain, I really can't know what he said.”

Harry snorts. “He said 'I meant someone who works in a café and pleasant to see, like... charming'. He totally meant Liam, I know it.”

Louis is pretty sure that he's not the only one who does mental blowjobs, he really isn't. Harry is a pretty strong contestant, he must admit it. “I think he probably meant that Niall is ugly, I guess.”

Louis . Why are you destroying my absolutely valuable theory?”

Harry's tone is so offended that Louis almost believes it. Almost. He laughs a bit, before answering.

“I don't know, maybe it's because your absolutely valuable theory has no solid basis. I mean, your cappuccino is the worst from what I've heard, maybe Zayn just wanted to share this thing with you. Maybe he thought you didn't know.”

Harry snorts and Louis laughs again. “Honestly, Louis, sometimes I think I have the worst friends ever. Anyway, I'm serious, I think Zayn might like Liam a little bit.”

“Define 'a little bit',” Louis answers, more serious now, because that's an interesting subject.

“Well, you must know that Zayn is really reserved. He's not shy, it's just that he doesn't like to shout his things out to the world. So when he fancies someone we usually don't know about it until it's pretty obvious, like he gets these heart-eyes and he looks like Bambi. Anyway, he already asked me about Liam more than a few times. Little things, you know, like if he often shares shifts with Niall or if we hang out together now that we found out you're you and...”

“And you're you,” Louis interrupts him, laughing, because that's quite a funny sentence, isn't it? He hears Harry laughing on the other end of the line.

“Yeah, exactly. So, basically, Zayn told me to give him a call if we organise something. I'm pretty sure Liam would tell him first, but Zayn likes to double check things, you know? So asking me would be like...”

“Be sure to be informed,” Louis completes Harry's sentence, nodding to himself. He must admit that Harry could be right. He doesn't know Zayn, so he can't say if Harry's idea is correct, but from what he said it could be. “I still don't get why they don't ask each other out.”

“You already told me about Liam and Zayn is pretty much the same. He likes to... how can I say it? Make a strategy. I mean, he usually tries to be sure of what the other person feels before asking them out. I guess he doesn't like to be rejected. Well, who does?”

“So, basically, we're dealing with two people who don't want to make the first step even if they like each other. Am I right?”

“I guess so,” Harry falls silent for a moment and Louis can swear he hears him biting his lip. “Lou, I think we need a plan.”

“A plan for what?” Louis answers, stopping in front of the building where he works. He should say goodbye to Harry and turn off his phone, but he really wants to know what his friend has in mind.

“To get them together. I'm not dealing with a useless, sulky Zayn. Not when I know I can avoid it. I guess you feel the same with Liam?”

It should be a question, but it really isn't, Louis can tell Harry knows it. “Of course I don't want to. I'm not crazy.”

“I thought so. We're going to plan something to get them together. You in?”

Louis shakes his head, before covering his eyes with his hand. This is insane, he thinks, but it could work. He hopes, at least.

“You just want to be a Cupid, don't you?” he jokes, and he smiles when he hears Harry laughing.

“Maybe.”

“You have the curls to do that. Okay, Styles, I'm in.”

“Great! Now, where do we start? I think...”

“I'm sorry, Harold, but I'm about to start working,” he interrupts him, biting his lip. “But... do you have plans for tonight?”

“Nah, just hanging out with my sofa,” Harry jokes, laughing. “What do you have in mind?”

“Dinner? We can discuss our evil plans in front of a burger.”

When he went to see Liam, that morning, Louis thought that would have been an awful day. He was sleepy and in a bad mood, not helped by his best friend not-so-chatty behaviour. Now, he thinks while he sits at his desk, he feels like he drank two litres of coffee and his day has a purpose. He's going to find a way to settle Liam down and that involves a boys night out with Harry. He's going to have fun and Liam will also have to thank him, isn't that the best thing ever?

But, for now, Louis has to focus on his shiny new project.



 

Chapter Text


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The fact is Louis is always late. He tries to be on time, he really does, but there's always something going wrong and he can't do anything to help that. For example, tonight there was the problem of not having anything to wear for the occasion.

So, when he violated at least a dozen street rules to arrive almost on time and didn't find Harry waiting for him, he felt a bit disappointed. Harry is probably more of a laggard than he is, after all. No problem with that but, after five minutes standing there like an idiot, Louis is about to grab his phone and call Harry to know where the hell he is gone, when he spots the bloke coming towards him. He's wearing a white shirt, his usual black skinny jeans, brown shoes and his hair is flawless. It looks like he spent hours getting ready for the night, who knows his routine when he goes on a date. Louis, on the other hand... jeans, red t-shirt, Vans on his feet, and he spent about five minutes to choose what to wear – the hour and a half spent to curse his wardrobe full of shit doesn't count.

“Hi, Styles,” he says when Harry reaches him. “I really don't want to believe I found someone who can make me feel punctual, seriously.”

“Don’t want to disappoint, Lou,” Harry grins, “but I've been here for almost twenty minutes. A little bird told me that you're always late, so I decided to wander a bit. I'm sorry, you still hold the record.”

Louis sighs, faking disapproval. “Good to know.”

“Is this the place you told me about?” and then he's pointing at the huge building over the street. It's a really nice pub, Louis always goes there with Liam when neither of them wants to cook. So they go there often.

“Yup, I think you'll love it,” Louis says. They cross the street and in a moment they're in front of a big wooden door, a bit old-fashioned. To be honest, he's not hungry, but it's almost eight in the evening and he really can't leave Harry without dinner.

Harry is looking at the building with a strange look on his face. “Can I be honest with you?” when Louis nods, a little worried about what his friend could say, Harry adds: “I'm not so hungry. Niall and I ate so many crepes just two hours ago. It was meant to be a snack, I was so hungry after work, but they were so good. So maybe we could just have a slice of pizza, this time?”

Thank god , Louis thinks, making a sound of relief and then he thinks that's a strange fact that Harry said the same thing that he was thinking two seconds earlier. But, to be fair, all the things involving Harry are strange since the very first time they met.

“Honestly? I'm not hungry at all,” Louis answers.

Harry bites his lip and then looks down at his shoes. “You sure?”

“Yeah. We could come here whenever we want to!” Louis shrugs, smiling at his friend who returns it. “We could just walk and talk, it's not a thing only women can do, as my girlfriend reminds me all the time.” Harry laughs a little and then they start walking randomly down the street.

London is not so crowded that night. Yeah, it's crowded enough just because it's a big city, but not that much, Louis can take it. Definitely not enough to make him feel uncomfortable, that's what is important at the end of the day. He's walking slowly, enjoying the lights, the fresh air, and Harry's company. He turns his head, looking at him, and finds him mirroring all his moves, his hands in the pockets and staring at the pavement. He has a really relaxed expression.

“I have a question for you,” he says and then Harry looks at him, waiting. “How long does it take to get your hair done?”

Harry chuckles and then he looks up, smiling at nothing in particular. So it seems, at least. “Not that long, I’ve had practice! I should really cut it, though.”

Louis stops abruptly. “Do what? I definitely heard that wrong.”

“Uhm. Cut my hair?” he repeats, raising an eyebrow.

“You can't do that, Harold,” Louis says and then he shakes his head, starting to walk again. “It would be like Cristiano Ronaldo without a leg. Or Robbie Williams without his voice. Or England without Donny. Or–”

“Okay, okay, I think I got you now,” the other boy says, laughing. “Maybe just the split ends.”

“Yeah, whatever.”

Harry keeps laughing for a bit, Louis can see it with the corner of his eye and can't help but smile, too. They stay quiet for a while, walking next to each other and Louis thinks that he likes Harry even when he doesn't say a word. He just enjoys his company. He's about to say something stupid just to break the silence, when he realises that Harry isn't walking next to him anymore.

“Wh–”

Louis turns around and sees Harry right in front of a playbill, looking at a giant picture of Angelina Jolie with rapt fascination. What the heck, really. He reaches him and gives a look at the picture. Maleficent.

“Oh my god, Lou, I've been waiting for this film for ages,” Harry says, still looking at Angelina with some sort of antlers on her head. “We should go watch it.”

Yeah, Louis has forgotten somewhere the part that he and Harry are actually friends, so they can go to the cinema whenever they want to. And he really doesn't know why the words 'we should go watch it' sound strange. Maybe Louis still has to get used to having Harry around, they had a great time before, he hopes they can have the same in the future, too. And they're together this night, aren't they? It's just... Louis is still overthinking the whole thing. He’ll get over it soon, he's sure.

“We'll go, then,” he says, simply. “Look, it comes out tomorrow! Tomorrow we'll go, I promise.”

Harry's eyes light up and he seems like a child who has just received a mountain of sweets.

“Really?”

“Yup, what are friends for?” and he receives a little push on his shoulder. “Come on, we have so much work to do!”

Yeah, right, because that's the reason they're roaming around that night, Louis almost forgot it. He has to admit there was a moment, after Harry's call that morning, when he thought about leaving the plan and let time take its course. If Liam and Zayn are meant to be, they will find the moment to realise that, eventually. But... Louis can't refrain from giving a little nudge.

A few minutes later they end up in Trafalgar Square and wow, Louis thinks that it's even more beautiful at night than in daylight. He's never been there after sunset and the view is astounding. Lights everywhere and street performers and children running and the lit fountains casting shadows on the people close by. Louis really loves London. Now he probably has a silly smile on his face, but who cares.

Harry brings him back to reality grabbing his arm.

“Lou, I want to sit there, near the fountain!” he cheers and then starts to walk, bringing Louis with him. “I'll tell you a little secret: fountains inspire me.”

“Should I be scared about this statement?” Louis answers, trying to keep up with his friend.

“Why? I just like sitting on the edge while I'm studying.”

“Yeah?” he laughs a little bit, following Harry. He sits on the rim, smiling broadly, and puts his hand in the water. He seems younger and weirder than ever and Louis wants to laugh out loud forever.

Louis lowers his head on his own shoulder and stares at him with a grin, before moving to sit beside him.

“So,” he starts, trying not to laugh, “have you thought about a plan for those two twats?”

Harry shakes his head. “Nope. Nothing that won't put you and me in trouble, at least. I don't want to think about what would happen if they find out about our plan... I don't know Liam, but Zayn would be pissed as hell.”

“So would Liam, I guess,” Louis says, curling his lip. “We have to plan something brilliant and... I think maybe an idea just struck me.”



xxx



It's almost half past ten and Louis and Harry are still sitting at the same place, still laughing and still being as idiotic as ever. They talked about the plan – which Harry has friendly called 'Ziam P' which Louis found both ridiculous and endlessly amusing – for about an hour and Louis thinks that it could probably work. The plan is pretty simple, nothing too intricate or dangerous. Perhaps he and Harry won't end up in trouble.

They decided to start in the next few days, just long enough to discuss the details and then it will go into action. Louis is a bit scared, even if it’s a very innocent thing and Liam won't have reason to be mad at him if everything comes out. Harry, on the other hand, seems quite content. Just happy to help a friend.

“We are geniuses,” Harry says suddenly, shaking his head. “We should buy a giant van, write 'Cupid's Arrow' or something on it and then go around the world, fixing everyone else's love stories instead of thinking about ours.”

“What a great plan, Styles,” he mutters, grinning. “Wait, let me call my girlfriend right now and break up with her, so we can run away together in that van.”

Harry mocks him with a grimace, sticking out his tongue. He starts fiddling with his fingers in the water and then splashes Louis who, completely unprepared, widens his eyes and mouth.

“What–”

“Sue me, Tomlinson,” Harry laughs out loud, and people around start looking at them. Louis has absolutely no intention of letting Harry win a water fight, so he starts to splash him, too, and then they find each other half wet. Harry grabs Louis' arm with both his hands and Louis keeps splashing him with his free hand. They laugh and Louis realises that he’s never heard Harry laugh like this and he likes it. It makes him feel happy. Then Harry grabs Louis' hand,making him lose his balance for no reason whatsoever and fall into the fountain. Well, that was unexpected.

“Oh my god,” Harry says, offering him a hand, seeming unsure whether to laugh or feel guilty. Probably the first option will win. “I'm so sorry, Lou!”

Louis is trying to ignore the people around them staring, but it's really hard because he just had a bath in a public fucking fountain. It's May and the weather is okay, so he's not probably going to catch a cold or something, but there's still the fact that he just made an arse of himself in front of half London. To be honest, though, he’s surprisingly not that bothered.

“I was just thinking of going for a swim,” he says, a smile can't leave his face even in that situation. How is it even possible.

“Sorry again, Lou.” It seems that he feels really guilty.

“It seems that you like to get me wet,” Louis says, wringing out his beanie and rubbing his hair with a hand. When Harry's answer doesn't come, he looks up and finds him blushing. “What?”

“Nothing, just–” he stutters. “Do you want me to take you to change your clothes? With this fresh air you'll risk getting ill soon.”

“Nah, it's almost eleven, I have to work tomorrow, anyway.”

“And I have to go to uni,” Harry answers and then he puts his hands in the pockets. “Uhm, you're lucky that your phone was in your jacket and not in your jeans, I guess.”

“You're lucky that you have a pretty face so I can't punch you,” he says, holding back a laugh. “Hey, I'm joking,” Louis adds when Harry lowers his head.

Harry smiles nervously and then begins to swing on the spot. “So... I'll take you to your car, then.”

The journey to Louis' car is very quiet and, when they arrive, he wonders where Harry has parked his own and if it’s far from there. If he even has a car, considering he's a student, he didn't have one back then. Louis wants to ask, but then feels a little shameful. Well, Harry was the one who made this mess, after all.

“Thanks for the night, Harry, I had a really great time.”

Harry shakes his head. “Thanks to you! I think the Ziam P. is going to be totally awesome! And helpful, I really hope so.”

“Yeah, maybe one day they'll thank us for showing them the light! Anyway, see you soon.”

It's not cold at all, but Louis is starting to feel some shivers climbing down his back. He knows he's still completely wet and he just wants to go home and wrap his body in a blanket. He looks up at the car windows and sees his reflection. He's a mess, his hair is fighting gravity. Louis is about to take his keys when Harry speaks again. “Were you serious before? About the film?”

At first Louis doesn't understand where Harry is going, but then remembers the giant Angelina Jolie poster and grins. “Yeah, I think so. I'll ring you up!”

He settles on the seat and looks at Harry's huge smile before closing the door. Louis is definitely happy to have Harry as a friend, and he simply can't stop thinking about it.



xxx



“So I said to her: ‘Angelina, I want you. I really, really want you, but what about Brad?’”

Louis is being an idiot – what a change in his life – and it's one of those times when he wonders how he managed to have such great friends when he always stands out as an idiot when he meets new people. He has to admit he had to fight to win Liam's affection back at school, but at last he managed to corrupt him a little bit and make him his partner in crime. With Harry it's different. It's their second night out in a row, they just watched the film Harry wanted to see, and Louis is already making a clown of himself. Harry doesn't seem to be bothered, though. In fact, he seems to really appreciate and enjoy this side of Louis, judging by how much he's laughing right now. Louis is a little bit astonished, he has to admit, because he really doesn't think that was so funny. Or that his American accent is. But Harry is laughing so hard he has tears in his eyes and, well, Louis isn't going to point out that he is insecure when it comes to his comic abilities.

“Your American accent is awful, just as I remembered,” Harry says as soon as he recovers. He rubs a hand over his eyes, removing the last bits of tears, and Louis shrugs.

“I admit that wasn't my best performance. Stick around a little bit and you'll see what I can do,” he answers, bumping Harry's shoulder with his own. Harry looks at him, smiling, and nods.

“Yeah, I intend to.”

There's a moment of silence when Louis doesn't know how to answer and Harry seems comfortable not talking at all, and Louis is pleasantly surprised by how relaxed he feels right now. He doesn't like silence when he's hanging out with someone, it always feels awkward and he has the urge to fill it with jokes and small talk. With Harry, though, it's different. For the first time since he met Liam, Louis thinks he could spend hours with someone without having that weird feeling of being in the wrong place if silence falls.

When he finally speaks, Harry surprisingly breaks the silence at the same time.

“I'm hungry.”

“Hey, Lou, what about dinner?”

They look at each other for a few seconds before bursting into laughter. Louis has a feeling this curious mental connection, something like telepathy, is going to last. He smiles at Harry, before putting an arm around his shoulders.

“Tell me, Harold, what about dinner?”

Harry returns the smile. “I was thinking pizza, you in?”

“No need to ask, love, I'm always in for pizza. Note it down.”

Harry nods, before talking again. “Is it, like, a way to your heart? I mean, I bring you pizza and you forget all about my bad behaviour or something?”

Louis raises an eyebrow at those words. “What are you talking about? What bad behaviour?”

Harry blushes a little bit. “I don't know! Like, if we happen to have a fight or something, would you forgive me if I bring you pizza?”

“Do you think I'm so easy to win over?” Louis is about to laugh, but manages to keep a straight expression. Harry is too fun to tease to let this chance slip away.

“It works with Niall,” Harry answers and really . Louis wonders if Harry listens to his own words when he talks.

“You know, everything even remotely edible would work with Niall. He isn't a good comparison. I think you'd have to try a little harder with me.”

Harry shrugs, giving him a smirk. “I managed to make you forgive me with a hot chocolate. I think I can win you over if I wanted to.”

Louis shakes his head because this bloke is absurd. He has a point, but he isn't going to give him satisfaction. Even if Harry is looking at him with bright eyes and a smile is fighting its way on his lips. Louis can see his dimple about to make its debut but no.

“First off, who told you I forgave you? And second, now that I found you here I may even consider making you pay the laundry service.”

Harry stops walking, grabbing Louis' arm so he’s forced to stop too. Louis looks at his friend, who has both eyebrows raised and a skeptical expression on his face.

“As if you still have the ticket with the price, sure. And, Louis, honestly? I totally made you forgive me with that awesome hot chocolate. Don't try to fool me. Nobody can resist Serendipity's hot chocolate, not even Mister Grumpy here.”

“Hey! I'm not grumpy!” Louis answers and a second later Harry is smirking. Damn Styles.

“Okay, maybe that hot chocolate managed to keep me quiet. But there's no Serendipity café in London and back there you were a stranger. It's much easier to make a stranger forgive you only with a hot chocolate, don't you think? Try that with a close friend. I can guarantee, Styles, that if we happen to have a fight you wouldn't get away so easily. I think you'd have to think about something different to make me forgive you, because if you want to wine and dine me... Well, you will, at least, have to home-cook a whole dinner. Whole as in from starters to dessert.”

Harry smiles broadly, shrugging, like Louis didn't just tell him it's basically impossible to win his heart with food. That is not quite the truth, to be fair, but he can't reveal all his secrets right now.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Harry shrugs again, still smiling, and now Louis has to know .

“No, really, what?”

“Nothing,,” Harry says again, and Louis has no doubt his friend is lying. Or at least he's hiding something. “Let's go there!”

Harry's fingers wrap around his wrist, making Louis follow him to a nice restaurant on the other side of the street. Louis is so sure Harry has something in his mind, but for now he apparently has no right to know.

He will wait, Louis thinks. He will find out eventually.



xxx



It's Saturday afternoon and through some kind of astral alignment, Liam is off duty on the same weekend Eleanor has to stay at uni.

Louis is laying on his friend's couch with no intention of getting up, because that thing is so comfortable. His head is resting on Liam's lap, his friend always makes sure to sit as far as possible from Louis' feet – he says they smell, totally untrue – and a bowl of popcorn is laying Louis' stomach. It's their film position, as Stan always calls it, and after years it now comes natural to Louis just as much as cuddling with Eleanor.

They're watching Toy Story, Liam's favourite, even though they know it line by line. It's kind of a tradition, re-watching it every now and then, a moment they take only for themselves. Nobody can interrupt them, girlfriends included. These are the rules.

For that reason, when a phone starts ringing, both Louis and Liam snort; they both know it's Louis', but Liam is kind enough not to point out that he hasn't turned it off. At first they ignore it, but whoever is calling seems persistent.

“This better be important, Lou,” Liam says, snorting, before grabbing the phone from the coffee table.

“Sorry, Li, I'm not answering,” he holds his hand up ready to catch the phone, but Liam doesn't give it to him. “Liam?”

“It's Harry,” Liam answers and Louis bites his lip.

It's not the first time Harry calls when he isn't supposed to answer and, well, he doesn't want his new friend to think he doesn't want to talk to him. Plus, Louis really wants to pick up the call. It's just that Harry truly has the worst timing ever . Besides, he might be calling about the Ziam plan. This could be important.

Liam probably sees his indecision, because after a few seconds he smiles down at him.

“Go on, answer that. He obviously needs you,” he says, patting his shoulder. Louis smiles nervously before nodding.

“Thanks,” he mouths, before picking up. “Harold!”

Louis sees Liam shaking his head, still smiling, and he would punch him if his head weren't still on his lap. Harry's voice is clear in his ear, a little bit amused, like he senses something is going on.

“Hey, Lou. I'm sorry to bother you on your no-interruptions-film-date with Liam...”

“It's not a film date , Harold,” he immediately answers, snorting, and Liam looks at him with both eyebrows raised. “No, Liam, he doesn't think we're dating, relax. He's just being stupid,” he reassures him, earning a laugh by his best friend and an offended moan by Harry.

“I'm not being stupid! Don't insult me. Anyway, sorry to bother you, blabla. The thing is, I'm hanging around with Zayn and we accidentally ended up at the park near your building. We were wondering if you'd like to join us and play some football? It's a nice day and... well... you know. It could be fun... and... stuff.”

Louis has to bite his lip to avoid laughing out loud. He can picture Harry trying to act cool like he's not hiding anything at all from Zayn, when he's actually trying to tell Louis it could be a nice opportunity to make their plan start. He can feel him, Louis thinks, he's in the same situation with Liam next to him. Thank god he's a better actor than Harry, so it's not so difficult to answer in a way that actually makes sense.

“And stuff, yeah. Hang on, let me ask Liam,” he raises his eyes until they meet Liam's. “Fancy a football match with Harry and Zayn?”

Liam immediately blushes and Louis laughs. He doesn't have to hide it neither from Liam nor from Harry, thank god, he isn't sure he would be capable of that. Liam gives him a death look, but he nods right about. He doesn't seem so sure, but Louis knows it's just how Liam's brain works. A little bit of panic before the main event, which always goes smooth and easy.

“H? We're coming. Brace yourself because Liam and I are like the dream team at football, years and years of practice. There's no way you can beat us.”

“Sorry, Lou, but who said you're playing together?”

Harry laughs and, without giving him the chance to answer, hangs up. Louis stares at the phone with his mouth open, shaking his head. Liam suddenly laughs, patting his shoulder.

“I don't believe this. Someone finally managed to leave you speechless! Gotta love this Harry lad.”

And with no other words, Liam is up and ready to see his dreamy crush. Louis doesn't know how to answer and, yes, maybe Liam is right. Maybe he is speechless after all. It's not a problem, Louis decides, it's a nice change. He just has to get used to it, and since Harry is so unpredictable, he’ll have plenty of chances.

They leave about half an hour later – yeah, because Liam spent almost fifteen minutes in the bathroom for no apparent reason, probably to make himself look good. What a waste of time, seriously. Louis is wondering if Harry and Zayn are still at the park, still young and beautiful, without gray hair grown in the meantime. Louis turns to Liam, who's a few steps behind him, and finds him frowning. And, well, if he weren’t Liam, Louis would be sure he was staring at his butt.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Liam says, shaking his head. “Just... is that the Manchester United uniform?”

Louis nods and starts walking a proud walk. “Of course it is! Ten pounds in a thrift shop.”

Liam smiles again. The fact is that if they have to play a game, it has to be in the right way. And no way Louis is going to have a football match without his favourite uniform. When they arrive at the park they are almost blinded by the sun. At first, Louis has to raise a hand to cover his eyes from the light. After ages, he finally stops blinking and then starts to look for his friends.

“Do you see them?” Liam asks.

“Nope,” he says, looking around. “They're probably dead waiting for you to put gel in your hair, Liam.”

His friend turns around to face him with a frown and Louis can't help but laugh. Liam is such a puppy sometimes. “Just joking! Relax, and remember: Zayn is not going to eat your pretty face. And, oh, there they are.”

Louis recognises them by Harry's curly hair, of course. And... Jesus and all the bloody Saints, he's wearing the same Manchester United uniform as Louis. No way, he can't believe what his eyes are seeing. It's pretty obvious that Harry had the idea to start the plan before going out with Zayn, otherwise Louis can't explain why he's wearing a god damned uniform.

Damn, Styles... again. As they approach the two boys, Louis notices that's not actually the United's uniform, but it's really close to it. He has white shorts and a red t-shirt, but it's simple, just red, no logos or anything. Oooh cool, the thing would have been kind of creepy. Harry is hugging the football and, oh, there's also Zayn, of course. He's wearing black trousers and a very tight blue t-shirt and Louis doesn't have the courage to look at Liam because he will surely start laughing at him. Just imagining his face right now is enough.

“Hey, lads!” Louis screams when they're a few steps from them.

“Hey,” Harry cheers, frowning a bit because of the light and Louis is about to laugh at him like hell. Seriously, he looks ridiculous. Ridiculously cute.

“We were about to pull out the cards and play some poker,” Zayn says, grinning. “And grow a beard, too.”

Louis looks at Liam, raising an eyebrow. “Umpf, told you, Payno.”

Both Harry and Zayn are laughing and Louis feels a little pleased, he likes when people laugh at his jokes, he can't help that. It makes him feel powerful. And he really doesn't know how to explain it, it's a strange feeling. Louis looks at Liam and then at Zayn and then at Harry, who's giving him a knowing look, like 'Ziam P starts in three, two, one...'

“So,” Louis says, crossing his arms, “somebody told me you can’t wait to be thrashed in a football game.”

“Actually,” Harry grins, looking directly at Louis, “teams haven't been decided yet.”

“Pft, of course me and Payno here are together! We are the magical duo, get over it.”

“Of course you are, but–” and Louis really can't read his face. Harry is looking at him with this strange expression, all frowns and odd movements of his mouth, and the tone he's using is quite strange. He's wondering if Liam and Zayn noticed, or it's just him being weird. “But we could change things, right? Just to make it more exciting.”

Louis wants to scream. Why does Harry not understand? Louis has the exact film of their plan in his mind and it doesn't include him and Harry being in the same team. Because he has to do something and Harry must be his opposing, or bye bye plan. How does he manage to make that clear to Harry without getting caught by the other two?

And then Liam turns his eyes to some place far from them, Zayn is staring at his shoes and Harry glances at Louis with his giant eyes and suddenly Louis mouths ' back me up, you idiot!' Harry sighs, frowning at Louis. “Okay, maybe things can stay exactly like they are.”

“Just,” Louis says and starts walking slowly towards Harry, “what,” another little step, Harry smiles a bit, “I,” Louis has a open smile on his face, “said.”

Everything happens in a split second: Harry is there, motionless, a huge smile on his lips while Louis steals the football from his arms and starts running. After ten steps he turns around and sees Harry running towards him, Liam and Zayn following them, all laughing.

“Hey! You got the wrong sport, Louis!” Zayn yells and oh, right, Louis still has the football tight in his left arm. He throws it on the grass and starts doing tricks with his feet, passing the ball from foot to foot, kicking it with his knee and then hitting it with his chest. He's damn good at football, Louis knows that and he's quite proud of it.

He stops running and turns around to face Harry, who is just a few steps behind him. The game goes on like that for a while and Louis is really happy. It seems like ages since the last time he kicked a ball and he missed it so much. He's having fun, a lot of fun and plus, Zayn and Harry are pretty good players.

In that moment Liam flashes at Zayn in a way that Louis just can't handle and it seems like Zayn is pleased by it. Louis looks at Harry and mutters, trying not to be heard by the others: “Follow me,” and then kicks the ball as far as possible. It flies all over the half park and ends up in a bunch of trees near the playground. Hoping not to have killed anyone, Louis starts running and suddenly yells: “Catch me, Harry!” and thank god Harry understands Louis' intentions and follows him through the park.

Louis is running so fast he feels his leg muscles burning. It's been ages since he last ran so fast and for so long, so his legs have to get used again to the feeling. He should do this more often, Louis makes a mental note. Go for a run everyday before or after work, maybe he can drag Liam or Harry with him, just not to get bored. Or Niall, Niall surely will be super happy to randomly run through the city. Louis is cursing himself for sending the ball so far away because fuck, why aren’t the trees getting any closer?

He turns around a little, just to make sure Harry is still following him and Liam and Zayn are not.

Good, Harry is a few steps behind him, his cheeks are red and he's all sweaty: the lad is a student and spends most of his time focusing on books and other uni stuff, he doesn’t think running around is at the top of his priorities. And Liam and Zayn... well, Zayn is not athletic at all, and Liam perhaps decided he could join him in his non-athleticism. Good!

“Louis, did you make the ball roll to fucking China?” Harry yells and Louis starts laughing. Ahhh, wrong decision, his lungs are burning now.

When he realises Liam and Zayn are not very keen on following them, he thinks he can slow down a little.

“Come on, Haz,” he says, out of breath. “It's right there.”

“Haz?” Harry smiles, looking at Louis with a funny light in his eyes and droplets of sweat down his forehead.

“Yeah, why? Niall calls you that.”

“I know, I'm just surprised you remember it,” Harry shrugs and pulls out a headscarf from his pocket – why the hell does Harry keep that in his pocket? Also, are his pockets bigger on the inside?, he wonders for the millionth time – and he binds it on his forehead.

“I saw the football, Rambo, come here,” Louis laughs a little, shaking his head. “I think we can hide a little here, hoping those two will decide to give us privacy.”

“Yeah, maybe they're thinking that we actually sent the ball so far away to be alone. I hope so, I know Zayn and he's definitely not going to join us if he thinks that, trust me,” Harry confesses, reaching Louis behind the trees.

Louis raises an eyebrow. “Wow, you're a genius, Harry, really.”

“Why are you mocking me?”

“Because that was the plan! ” he laughs and then pats Harry on the head. Louis then puts an arm around Harry's shoulders and he repents immediately, because he's probably smelling like hell, after running for about an hour. But, who cares. Harry smiles and then glances at Liam and Zayn: they're in the same place they left them and it seems like they're laughing. Good, good job.

“Harry?”

A voice makes them turn around and face a guy Louis has never seen in his whole life. He's taller than Harry, but not so much, and he has this hair... well, it seems like a cow licked it before going out. But his face is kind of funny, Louis thinks.

“Oh my god, Nick!” Harry cheers and he shakes off Louis' arm to reach the guy and hug him. Louis watches them for a moment before getting the name of the bloke, Nick , and linking him to the friend Harry mentioned in New York. So, this is the lad he deprived of his Christmas present, good to know. “What are you doing here?”

“I'm here with Rob, we're talking about my new programme on the radio! I told you about it, right?” Nick says and points behind them, where two men are sitting on a bench, engaged in a conversation. “I just saw you running like an idiot and came to say hello.”

Harry grins. “Anyway, Nick, this is my friend Louis and Lou, this is Nick, he–” and words just die in his mouth. He's probably going to say 'he's the Arctic Monkeys' CD guy, the one I wrote my name and number on and sold it two days after' but probably, judging by his face, Nick doesn't know anything about that story. “He's the dj, I told you about him.”

“Wow, you talk with people about me, I'm glad,” Nick grins. Not really, Louis wants to say, because the only time he has heard his name was back in New York. He decides to keep that to himself. “And, Louis? You must be the New York guy!”

“Apparently Harry here talks with people about everyone,” Louis smiles, and he feels glad for the fact that Harry mentioned him to his friend. Even if Louis still doesn't think Nick knows the whole story. Well, he's kind of happy about it, because he thinks that story is... he doesn't know, just theirs, maybe? Basically their friendship is based on that and Louis feels like he has to protect it. Liam and Niall are their best friends, so they’re allowed to know. Even Zayn, because Louis has a feeling Zayn will be considered part of the family soon.

Nick laughs a little, shrugs and puts a hand on Harry's shoulder. “What are you guys doing, anyway?”

“Playing football,” Louis answers, showing him the ball – well, wasn't that obvious?

“And running,” Harry adds.

“Well, I'll let you do whatever you're doing and go back to my friends, there. I'm a bit pissed, actually, but I'll make it work. I will tell you everything one of these evenings,” Nick says, patting Harry's back and then turns to Louis. “Keep an eye on this chap, Louis. We don't see each other often lately, but I bet you do.”

“Not that much,” Louis says curling his lip. Actually that is the third time they go out in a week, so. “But I'll keep an eye on him, of course I will.”

Harry frowns and then smiles, his face is like ' what the hell are you talking about? ' but Louis ignores it. “See you soon, Grimmo.”

Nick nods at them and then he's gone. Louis thinks that probably that lad is the weirdest dj he has ever met. The fact is that he really doesn't look like a dj, but he thinks he's funny, anyway. Louis follows him with his eyes and then feels someone staring at him and he can feel the gaze tingling his head. And, well, of course it's Harry.

“I know I'm gorgeous, Styles, but stop looking at me with that face.”

Harry shakes his head. “Do you like Nick?”

Well, what? “What? I don't know, I've talked to him for barely five seconds,” he answers.

“It's– he, being here, is unexpected so I didn’t have the time to tell you, but he doesn't know anything about New York. I just told him I met you there and then at Niall's party. Oh, of course he doesn't know anything about the CD.”

“I figured,” Louis says, smiling a bit. “I didn't expect you'd go around telling everyone the whole Serendipity thing. I didn't, only to Liam and Stan.”

“Yeah, only to Niall and then Zayn,” Harry answers, nodding. “It's not a secret, but I think it's kind of private, isn't it? Like, just ours.”

And yes, Louis thought the same just a few minutes before, indeed. He's glad Harry is on the same page and he's right, it's not a secret, but. However, if Nick gets to know it, there would be nothing wrong, after all. But things are quite good just like this.

Harry stares at his feet for a while and then looks up to see where Liam and Zayn are, and Louis does the same: for what he's able to see from the distance, the boys are sitting on the grass, legs crossed and looks like they're talking. Neither of them seem bothered by Louis and Harry's disappearance, good to know.

“Louis, look!” Harry cheers and Louis almost has a heart attack. “The ice-cream van!”

“Oh my gosh, you almost killed me for a fucking ice-cream!”

“Sorry,” he says but he's grinning. “Do you want an ice-cream?”

Louis is about to say no just for the hell of it, but he's thirsty after the running and now he really wants it. He checks in his pocket if he has some money and then glances at Harry. “Okay, it's on me this time. Just because you look like a child and it's funny.”

Harry blushes and wrinkles his nose. “Yeah, okay. Liam and Zayn can wait a little bit more, anyway.”

“They will definitely not be bothered about this, I'm sure.”



xxx



Liam's face is a bit weird when Louis and Harry get back to him and Zayn. Louis can't tell if it's because of the sun – his face is red and he wants to laugh so hard at him, but judging by his gaze, it's probably not the right thing to do – or maybe he's hungry or thirsty or sleepy. It's still weird.

Louis puts his hands in the pockets and starts looking around, trying to hide his discomfort. Harry, on the other hand, is hugging the football quietly and his face is relaxed.

“Oh, Liam, look who's here!” Zayn yells, and Louis can't tell if his tone is sarcastic or annoyed. Then he shakes his head and stares at Harry, laughing. Okay, for a moment Louis was about to have another heart attack because he thought that maybe Zayn was a bit pissed at their disappearance.

“Sorry, got distracted,” Harry answers.

“I bet,” Zayn says and his tone confuses Louis a little. Why do people have to be so confusing?

“Yeah, we met Nick over there and he was like blablabla for a while. Probably he was a bit bored so he kept talking shit to us. You know him,” Harry has a ready answer and Louis loves him in that moment. But he has this look on his face, Harry is not good with lies: he starts scratching his nose and looking around.

“Great guy!” Louis cheers. “Sorry, lads, by the way. We hope that you found something to do in the meantime.”

Liam keeps being quiet and Louis is actually a bit scared, now. He knows Liam and he can hear a warning bell ringing in his head. Zayn looks at Liam and then answers: “Just talked a bit.”

“Better than nothing, yeah?” Louis says smiling, but his tone can’t convince even himself. He continues to look at Liam, expecting some reaction, but nothing. What the hell? He spent hours with his big crush and he's doing that grumpy face to them. He really shouldn't, Louis and Harry just did him a favour, that's it.

“Do you guys want to have dinner? Maybe Chinese,” Zayn offers and wow, Louis really likes him. For being so spontaneous and for the dinner idea, of course.

“Why not?” Harry says, shrugging and then they are on their way.

Louis doesn't know how to feel. It was a quite satisfying day, he had a lot of fun with the lads. It's just... probably it's nothing, just his brain being fucked up, but it seems like Liam is not happy at all. He has this serious face and even if he laughs at some jokes, it seems to require a lot of effort and it's a bit sad. Louis wants to scream, wants to yell at his face that he should be happy for having spent the entire afternoon with his bloody crush.

Louis and Liam get to be alone only on their way home. They said goodbye to Harry and Zayn about ten minutes earlier and Louis felt a bit sad when they parted. Also because he's now forced to go home with Mister Curmudgeon. When they arrive at their building, Liam puts out the key and goes inside, not waiting for Louis to follow him. He goes straight to the stairs and starts to climb. Louis sighs and simply follows without a word.

Liam is about to open the door of his flat, when he mutters “goodnight” and Louis just answers “and you” with a not very excited tone. He has a foot in his flat, when Liam coughs.

“Louis,” he says and Louis turns around, staring at his friend, “why did you do that?”

“Did what?” he answers.

“You know what,” Liam is going to explode, he's pretty sure about that. “You left me and Zayn alone on purpose.”

“I don't know what are you talking about, Liam.”

“Yes, you do,” Liam insists and this time his tone is quite rough.

“Well,” and Louis knows he can't keep going on with the plan, not now that Liam seems so... angry?, “maybe Harry and I had an agreement, who knows.”

“You do know I don't need any help with that, don't you? I just want things to stay right like they are. I don't need you or Harry to impose, okay?” Louis doesn't remember a time when Liam has been so rough with him. He's between anger and sadness.

And Louis really doesn't know what to say in that moment. “I'm sorry, I thought maybe you'd want to spend time alone with him, nothing else.”

Liam shakes his head. “I like him so much and I don't even remember the last time a person captured my thoughts as he does, but I really want things to stay exactly where they are!”

“But... why? Maybe he likes you, you can't know it if you let things just go on in this way.”

“You have to mind your own business, Louis!” he yells at him and Louis almost falls down on the ground because really, his legs are trembling. He doesn't want to fight with Liam, this thing always scared him a lot and now it's happening. “Zayn is my friend, like you, and I want him to stay my friend and nothing else.”

“You don't!” now it’s Louis who's yelling and their neighbours will probably appear in two seconds and throw them down the stairs. And fuck, why is Liam so blind? “I won't be here to watch you die inside for this guy, I won't be here to watch you dry the dishes and almost consume them because your mind is too occupied by Zayn-God-Malik!”

“What's your problem? You don't know how it feels! You can't just talk talk talk, make stupid plans with Harry and then hope that things will change, just because you are Louis-fucking-Tomlinson!”

Those words cut like a knife in his chest and Louis just can't. He can feel tears growing in his eyes and for god's sake no, he won't cry in front of him. He sighs, trying to hold back the tears and looks away from Liam. Louis can't tell how he managed to maintain eye contact up until now.

“Just... go to sleep, Louis,” and then he disappears beyond his own door, leaving Louis motionless and with a hole in his stomach.




 

Chapter Text


 

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Louis doesn't know for how long he stands there in the middle of the hallway, staring at Liam's door.

He simply can't believe what just happened.

He thought he was doing Liam a favour. He thought he was doing something right, something his friend would have thanked him for. He thought he was on a mission for love or something like that.

Apparently, Liam didn't think anything even remotely similar to that.

After what seems like hours have passed, but probably it’s just a matter of seconds, Louis blinks and comes back to reality. He can't just stand there, staring at a door that won't be opened. He knows how Liam is when he's angry, even if he has never experienced it this fiercely, and he really doesn’t want to hear him boxing through the walls.

He can't stay there.

The realisation hits him like a lighting. He can't stand the idea of making his best friend angry, disappointed in him, and even less the idea of hearing the consequences of that rage. He simply can't, even if running away in that moment probably makes him look like a coward.

So let it be.

Louis doesn't even bother to go inside his flat to grab some clean clothes, he simply locks the door before running down the stairs and exiting the building as fast as he can, hoping some fresh air will help him. The warm wind of late May hits his face, making him realise even more what just happened, like a bucketful of ice water. He doesn't trust himself enough to take his car, with his head spinning, so he runs towards the underground station.

He's crying. Louis can feel the warm path of the tears on his cheeks, but he doesn't bother cleaning them. He never fights with his friends, he always tries his best to avoid problems because he knows even the smallest discussion hits him like a stab, and – more important – he has never, ever, fought with Liam. Not for real. He just can't believe that happened at all, and for the stupidest reason ever.

He runs off the tube as soon as he arrives at his stop, not even minding that freaking gap between the train and the platform and almost falling on the ground like an idiot. He shakes his head, trying to recollect himself, and starts walking only when he's sure he won't be hit by a car the very moment he puts his foot on the street.

Somehow he arrives at the door without bumping into anyone, focusing only on simple matters like putting one foot in front of the other or reading the names on the doorbells before knocking at the right door.

It's only when the door opens, revealing a smiling Niall with a burger in his hand, that Louis surrenders and tears are falling down his cheeks once again.

“Louis?”

He barely feels his friend's hand on his arm when Niall holds him until the door closes behind his back. He can hear him saying something, probably asking him what happened and why the hell he showed up in front of his door in tears, but he just can't.

“Harry...” he tries to say, but a sob interrupts him. “Is... is Harry here?”

He can't hold it anymore, now that he is safe and sound in a place that now seems like a shelter. He hears Niall muttering curses before he holds him in a hug that could seriously crush his bones. He doesn't care, he relaxes at the touch, relying totally on Niall.

“Haz!” his friend calls. “Haz, leave everything you're doing and come here! Now!”

And, really, Louis is just grateful he has these people in his life. He can hear Harry's footsteps, probably coming from his bedroom, but he can't bring himself to open his eyes to check. Louis never cries in front of people, turning up at his friends’ door almost in tears is already shameful, he doesn’t want to imagine what Harry could think of him the moment he sees him.

“What is it? I was stud– what the fuck?

And a second later Harry is there, right next to him. He's still in Niall's arms, with no intention of moving, but he can't deny it's nice to feel Harry so close. A voice in his head, very small and hidden by a lot of other thoughts, tells him that he probably should be angry at Harry for being a part of all the plan that made Liam so upset, but he just can't. Harry is the only one who knows most part of the story, who knows Louis really doesn’t have any faults.

“Lou? Lou, what's going on?” Harry says and Louis simply shakes his head, burying his nose in Niall's shoulder. He's probably soaking his friend's shirt, but Niall doesn't say a word, he only keeps hugging him close. He can feel Harry's cold fingers on his forehead moving his fringe, probably trying to see his eyes. Too bad they're still shut, Louis really can't open them and see the look of concern on his friends' faces.

“Louis?” Harry tries again, but Louis doesn't answer and a moment later he feels the pressure of a body on his back. Harry is hugging him from behind, so he finds himself in a weird sandwich-hug; who knows if this is what they usually do to make people feel better. That thought somehow makes him smile a little bit and it helps him stop crying, even if he still feels awful.

When he thinks he can manage to finally face his friends, he puts his hands on Niall's hips, trying to dislocate himself from the hug. Niall gets the idea and immediately steps away, a hand still on Louis' arm, as to remind him of his presence.

“I'll make some tea, okay?” he says and Louis simply nods, not trusting his voice yet.

Harry is still holding him from his back, as if he doesn't want to let him go. Louis doesn’t have the will to tell him he's much better now, Harry can really let him go, so he lies his back on Harry's chest and lets him hug him. After a couple of minutes, Harry shifts to hold Louis by his side, a hand on his hip while he guides him towards the couch. He's not telling him anything, not asking stupid questions, and Louis is so grateful for that.

He sits on the sofa and Harry is still there, right next to him, his arm now on his shoulders as if he’s trying to keep him safe. Louis toes his shoes off before holding his knees near his chest, as to make himself as small as possible, but at last he surrenders to Harry's arm and buries his face on his friend's chest. Harry's fingers keep trailing patterns on his shoulder in a way Louis is sure is supposed to make him relax. Well, it does its job, because he starts to feel slightly better again, and when Harry starts massaging his back with his other hand Louis finally manages to breath normally.

When Niall returns with a cup of tea – and ain't it the cure to everything – Louis is still in Harry's arms, hugged with a sweetness that doesn't surprise him at all. It's just who Harry is, even if Louis isn't sure he can already say that. But Harry is there, holding him, comforting him, and not asking anything at all. It's just what he needs.

And Niall, Niall is there too, chewing his fingers and looking at him with a really concerned expression. He's worried, Louis can tell, but like Harry he isn't asking questions.

They're giving him the space he needs, even if it's hard for them, and Louis couldn't be more grateful. He holds the cup with shaking hands, hoping he won't spill all the tea out, and drinks it slowly. Only when the cup is empty Louis feels confident enough to speak.

“I had a fight with Liam.”

Saying that out loud hurts more than he expected. He can see disbelief in Niall's eyes and Harry... Harry is a mix of surprise, hurt and maybe a little bit of realisation.

“He figured it out, didn't he?” he asks after a few seconds. Louis looks at him, their eyes linking, and he can tell from Harry's look that he understood the entire situation.

“What? What are you talking about?” Niall asks, but Louis ignores him, holding Harry's stare. He simply nods.

“He... he wasn't happy. At all. Why wasn't he happy? I thought he'd understand... why...”

“Louis, what are you talking about?” Niall asks again, softly, but he can't answer. He feels Harry holding him again, his hands on his back, trying to reassure him.

“We left Liam and Zayn alone for a long time this afternoon,” Harry explains and Louis is thankful for that, he couldn't bring himself to do it. “I guess Liam understood our little disappearance wasn't so random.”

Louis nods, before closing his eyes and resting his head again on Harry's shoulder. “He was so, so angry. I've never... He's never been like that with me... He yelled ... He... He said he doesn't want things to change with Zayn... and... and he said I can't change things because... it's not my business and... Fuck, Harry, he's right, isn't he? It wasn't my problem and I... I simply couldn't stay quiet and let things follow their natural path, could I? I'm so, so stupid... I'm a fucking idiot... that's what I am...”

And Niall is cursing again, and Harry's hands are warm on his back, and everything is so messed up Louis can't even think about how to put everything in the right order. How can he explain to Liam that he just wanted to do something good? How can he tell him he just wants to see him happy with a nice person when Liam doesn't want him to think about all that stuff? And why doesn't Liam want to change things? Why is he so angry with Louis? Why did he have to tell those things?

His thoughts are stopped by a whisper near his ear. He can feel Harry's breath when he speaks, his hair on his forehead, while his hands are still drawing patterns on his back.

“Don't. Don't say those things. You didn't do anything wrong. You were trying to help him, he will understand, you'll see. Don't blame yourself, Lou, this isn't your fault. I swear to you this isn't your fault.”

Louis can only nod at those words. He isn't sure Niall heard all of them, but he doesn't care. He just wants to stay on this couch for the rest of his life and not face Liam anytime soon. He doesn't want to see that look in his eyes anymore, that hint of disapproval.

“Can I just stay on this sofa forever?” he asks after a little bit, his voice small, like he doesn't want to be heard. Both Harry and Niall laugh, but it's soft, like they're letting out some of the tension.

“No,” Harry says after a few seconds. Louis snorts, but Harry pats his back. “No, you're not staying on the couch, it's incredibly uncomfortable. Come on, I'll give you some clean clothes and you'll sleep in my bed tonight.”

Louis looks at him with an odd expression, surprised by those words. Niall must notice it, because he laughs and pats Louis' knee in a way that clearly is supposed to be reassuring.

“Don't worry, Tommo, he doesn't bite. He just talks sometimes, mostly stupid things, maybe he'll make you laugh.”

Louis smiles before nodding. Suddenly a thought crosses his mind and he has to ask, even before asking if he can take a shower.

“Niall... Could you please not call him? I... I don't want to face him or tell him anything until I figure out what to say.”

Niall nods, a serious expression on his face. “Sure, mate, no problem with that. Try to sleep on it, okay? Tomorrow you'll feel better, you'll see.”

Louis smiles a little bit, trying to reassure Niall that he's going to be fine, even if at the moment he feels very far from it. When Harry stands up and holds his hand, Louis grabs it with all his might.

“Don't worry, Lou. He'll understand. He's your best friend, he probably would have done the same for you, he just needs to clear his mind.”

Harry doesn't wait for him to answer, he simply leads him towards his room, never letting his hand slip away from his own. He squeezes it every now and then, just to remind Louis he is with him, and Louis lets himself smile for real for the very first time since that afternoon.



xxx



Louis wakes up with his head burning and his eyes itchy. He wipes them, trying to erase that weird feeling he can't explain, when memories of the previous day hit his mind.

Liam. The fight. All the crying over Niall and Harry... God, Louis is such a mess. He rolls on the bed, finding it empty. Harry probably let him sleep to try to make him feel better. Louis smiles a bit, mentally thanking his friend, even if he still feels like shit.

“Oh, you're awake,” Harry's voice, soft and rough at the same time, makes him look up. His friend is at the door, a small smile on his lips. “How are you feeling?”

“Mh,” it's his answer. He can't really articulate sentences in the morning, let alone when he's in the mood to bury his head under the pillows. Somehow Harry must sense his idea, because a minute later his knee is on the mattress and his face is at about five inches from Louis'.

“You have to get up, Lou, self pity in bed won't help you. Come on, I made you breakfast. A lot of bacon, eggs and toast, too.”

“'m not hungover,” Louis murmurs and Harry's soft laugh almost tickles his sensitive skin. He's closer than he thought.

“Yeah, you're feelings hungover. Besides, some greasy food won't hurt. Come on, get up.”

Harry doesn't even wait to see if Louis will stand up or even sit up, he probably knows him already, because he grabs both Louis' hands and makes him get up. It's all a strength demonstration, because Louis can't really do anything to stop his friend. Well, maybe if he'd been fully awake he would have done something, but like this? No. Harry could probably carry him to the kitchen and he wouldn't say a word.

“Carry me, Styles,” he mutters, because in the morning he simply doesn’t have any filter between brain and mouth. He bites his lip when he sees Harry raising an eyebrow, but a moment later his friend is smiling and holding him on his shoulder. “Harry! Harry, stop! I was joking! Joking!”

Harry doesn't answer, he simply laughs and starts to walk towards the kitchen, holding Louis' legs.

And, well, Louis can't do anything except hope Harry won't make him hurt his head or something. When he hears Niall's laugh, he lets out a sigh; apparently he made it to the kitchen safe and sound.

“Well, that's a very good morning,” Niall says, behind him. “Hello, Louis' bum!”

Louis smiles a little. “Hello, Niall! Do you have a mint?”

Niall laughs again, just while Harry puts him back on his feet. Louis gives him a look, but Harry is smiling like nothing happened.

“You're feeling better if you quote Ace Ventura,” Niall says, before putting a plate on the table. It's all Harry said and, well, it smells delicious. “I don't have a mint, but you can have Harry's bacon. It's much better than a mint, but let's not say it too loud, otherwise he might think he's the next Jamie Oliver. Here.”

“Did Harry cook this?” Louis says, sitting down and grabbing a fork. “Is it going to give me food poisoning?”

Harry snorts and Niall shakes his head, half laughing. “If you don't want it, I'll eat it. You know, Haz–”

Niall doesn't finish the sentence because a knock on the door interrupts him. He promptly goes to open, while Harry sits down next to him. They didn't even exchange a look to decide who was going to open the door, Louis thinks, Niall is probably the doorman in this house. He's about to eat some of the bacon when a cough startles him. He freezes, fork in mid air, because it could be a cheesy thought, but he knows that cough.

“Louis...”

Liam's voice is clear, erasing every possible thought Louis may have had. He turns to face him and Liam freezes on the spot, his mouth open. Yeah, thank you Liam for reminding him how bad he looks right now, thank you very much. Louis glares immediately at Niall, who’s still standing right next to Liam, his stare blank. For a second he thought Niall called him, even if he asked him not to, but his confused expression is enough to tell Louis he didn’t.

“How did you know I was here?” it's what comes out of his mouth, even if he probably should have told him he was sorry, he didn't want to upset him and... basically, apologise.

“What kind of question is that? You're my best friend, Lou, I know how you think,” Liam says, like it's obvious, and some of the weight on Louis' chest goes off at those words.

“Am I?” he asks, his voice small, like the previous night when he asked Harry and Niall if he could stay there.

“Of course you are. Look, Lou, can we talk? I brought carrot muffins, the ones you love.”

Louis hints a smile, a light attempt of a real one. It’s halfhearted, but at least it’s there, because after all Liam is right, he knows him so well. But he doesn't know what to tell him, to be honest, he didn't really have the chance to clear his mind in order to explain his actions to Liam. He stays silent for a moment, and Harry's hand is immediately on his thigh, squeezing it a little bit.

“Niall, what do you think about FIFA in my room?” he asks, before getting up and giving Liam a look that in his mind is probably intimidating. Louis has to fight a laugh, because really. Harry is as intimidating as that kitten in The Aristocats , Toulouse.

Niall's glare, though, is much more serious when he looks at Liam. “Payno, you know you're my friend and I care about you, but if you make him cry again I'll punch you.”

Liam laughs a bit, but Niall is dead serious and Louis isn't sure he's joking. Actually, after having to hold and hug him last night, Louis is pretty sure Niall developed some sense of protection towards him. That's nice, but that's not necessary with Liam, he thinks. Liam is Liam, intimidating as Harry when he's not angry, and he doesn't seem so right now. So he gestures Niall he can go and a moment later he's alone with Liam, first time since his friend shut the door to his face.

Louis is still sitting at the table, not sure if he should stand up and reach his friend or stay there and wait. Since he's probably the one who suffered the most between the two of them, it should be Liam to take the first step. It’s not that Liam is unaffected by the situation, he can see on his face that he suffered as well, but he probably didn’t cry himself to sleep while Harry was silently hugging him. So, since Louis is proud and a bit of an arsehole, he stays on the chair, waiting for Liam to go on with his apologies. His eyes are still burning and his mouth is dry, he couldn’t possibly start a speech in those conditions.

After a few seconds, Liam coughs again. “So,” he says, staring at his feet, “Louis, I– I just– I don't know how to start, sorry, give me a minute.”

Louis swallows and nods. He would probably give Liam all the time in the world if this could bring back things as before, but he doesn't say it out loud. Liam smiles nervously and then he's walking towards the table, where he puts the bag with the muffins before burying his hands in his pockets.

“Well, I forgot the speech I had in mind, so I guess I have to think about another one,” Liam mutters, staring at his feet.

“I have all day,” Louis answers, his voice probably tougher than he wanted it to be, and as his friend looks up with wide eyes, it seems like he’d lost hope to hear Louis' voice again.

“I'm a prick, Louis, sorry,” he says then, shaking his head. “You just wanted to help me and be a good friend and I just– I was blind, I put myself before you and this is wrong. This is not how our friendship works. I want you to know that I feel really bad for what happened last night.”

All Louis wants to do is put one, two, three muffins into Liam's mouth to silence him and just hug him for hours, but he doesn't want to look weak. The only thing he does instead is stand up and walk until there are a few inches between their faces. Louis crosses his arms and curls his lip, waiting for Liam to go on.

Liam understands and swallows. “I hope you can forgive me, Tommo.”

“Not to tear you down,” Louis says, looking directly in the boy's eyes, “but it was the worst night ever.”

“I know, I'm sorry, I–”

“I stared at your door for I don't know how fucking long and then I started to cry, and then I came here. Niall made me tea and I've been curled up with Harry for hours. I woke up this morning with my eyes on fire,” Louis interrupts him, trying to maintain a calm tone. He's doing pretty well, for now. Liam is looking at him with an expression that Louis can't explain and, when it's clear that Liam won't utter a word, Louis adds: “I'm not saying this to make you feel like shit, but just to let you know how much I care about you and how I'm not capable of having a fight with you.”

From what Louis can see, he hit Liam directly in his heart. Not in a bad way, he really didn't want to do that, but he sees a light of awareness in his eyes, he surely knows that Louis only wanted to make him feel loved. And then Liam is hugging him tightly, crushing his ribs and Louis accepts it because he has restrained himself from it for too long.

Liam moves a bit but doesn't let him go, just hides his nose on Louis' shoulder. He won't cry, Liam never cries, but he can feel his muscles tensing up and Louis holds him tighter.

“I was wrong, anyway,” he says then, his head still on Liam's shoulder. “I shouldn't meddle with your love life, it's just that–” and suddenly a scream comes out from Harry's room and Louis can't say if it was a happy scream or an angry one. Then Harry's voice interrupts their touching moment but Louis can't work out what he's saying, just his rough voice being disappointed. So, England is losing against Ireland in a FIFA game. Louis grins, imagining their concentration at the game.

Liam smiles shyly at him. “I was saying,” Louis continues, “that I swear I won’t make plans with your love life ever again, but you have to promise me something.”

“What?”

“That you won't give up so easily,” he says and he can hear his voice a little louder than usual. “Perhaps Zayn isn't your type or maybe we’ll find out that he currently likes a girl, or that he’s a serial killer, honestly, who knows. But you can't say anything unless you try and I just want you to be happy, Liam.”

“Okay, I can promise this to you, but not now. At the moment I really want things to stay this way,” Liam says, putting his hands on Louis' shoulders, gaze fixed on him. “I swear I'm fine, Louis.”

Louis doesn't really believe it, but can't bring himself to pursue the matter further. If Liam says he's okay, he should be happy for his friend and nothing else should matter. Liam's shy smile turns into a happy one and it seems like the sun is rising in Niall and Harry's kitchen and finally… finally, Louis can breathe again.

Louis ruffles Liam's hair, puts an arm around his neck and then starts to pinch his head. A second later they're both laughing like idiots and Louis loses his balance and hits the table edge and feels a sharp pain on his hip, but he's too happy to spoil it with a curse.

“There's one good thing in all this,” he says instead.

“Uhm, what?”

“Harry's bed is so comfortable!”

“Harry's bed or just Harry?” Liam teases him, earning a frown. He mutters a ‘twat’ back to him and they're laughing again. And speaking of the devil, Harry is now standing there near the fridge, a shy look on his face.

“'m sorry,” he says, nodding a little. “I'm out in a second.” Harry walks to the stove, reaches the shelf where there are the dishes and then Louis sees him heading again to his room with a ladle in hand. What the actual fuck. He really doesn't want to know why Harry and Niall need a ladle for their FIFA match. Liam shakes his head, still looking at the point where Harry disappeared.

“Louis,” he says then, “we have the weirdest friends ever,” and then Niall's laughter echoes throughout the house.



xxx



It's weird when Louis goes to Starbucks and neither Liam nor Niall are at the counter. He looks at the boy who's taking a lady's order, this ginger lad, and he's not sure he wants to give him tips.

His loyalty lies with his friends, after all, why should he deprive them of good money?

He realises he's being stupid when Niall comes back from cleaning the tables and slaps him on his head. He turns to his friend with a frown, but Niall is already talking.

“Hey, don't give Ed that look!”

“What look?” Louis answers, a little offended. It wasn't like he was thinking of murdering him, he was simply astonished by his presence, that's all. He's never seen him before, after all.

“Like his own presence is wrong or something. Sometimes your mind wanders too much, Tommo.”

“I wasn't thinking anything like that, you idiot. I was just wondering who he is, that's all. I've never seen him.”

Niall shrugs. “He's a friend of Harry's, actually. Good lad. They study together, you know, and when Harry told me he was looking for a job I thought: why not? Be nice to him, or Harry will be extremely disappointed.”

Louis snorts, giving Niall an offended look. “You say that like I consider Harry's opinion over everything.”

“Don't you?” Niall says, raising an eyebrow, and he's obviously very amused by his own joke.

Before Louis has a chance to answer, Niall barks out a laugh and goes back to work, leaving him with a confused expression.

Seriously, sometimes he wonders what he's done wrong to deserve friends like him.

“Hi, what can I get you?”

The voice startles Louis, who didn't notice his progress on the queue. The ginger lad – Ed – is looking at him with a kind smile and doesn't seem bothered by his lack of concentration. He waits patiently until Louis decides what to take and smiles when he tells him his name.

“You must be Harry's friend,” he says, while writing Louis' name on the take-away cup. “He told me you come here often.”

Louis is surprised by those words. Does Harry talk about him with all his friends? Seriously, he only met three of them, including Niall, and all of them knew about him. Louis is starting to feel like a star, honestly.

“Yeah... Yeah, I am. Niall told me you go to uni with him.”

Ed nods, smiling, and proceeds to make him his latte. He works fast and clean.

“Yes, I do. He was my first friend there, actually. Oh, hey, here he is! Quit talking about him, he doesn't need more reasons to think he's cool.”

Louis doesn't have time to process Ed's amused words, nor his wink, when he feels a pressure on his lower back. He turns a little, just to find Harry's smile directed to him.

“Who are you talking about?” he says, like he doesn't know. His smile turns into a smirk and, well, Louis can't help but return it. After all, two can play that game.

“A friend of mine. He's the coolest.”

“Oh, is he?” Harry says, his smirk broadens while interrupting Louis, but not quite looking in his direction.

“Yeah, he is. You should meet him, you know, I think you'd like him.”

Harry is still smiling when he answers. “Oh, really? What's his name?”

And that, that is what Louis expected. He smirks before answering. “Stan. I told you about him, didn't I? My best mate in Doncaster?”

And, wow, Harry's expression is just a show. He's so bad at lying that Louis can see the disappointment written all over his face. He has to bite his lip to avoid starting to laugh at him, because that would be too much. Poor Harry, he is already traumatised by his daily dose of Louis' sarcasm.

“Yeah... You did,” Harry says after a while and his voice is so small, like he actually believes he and Ed were talking about Stan. At that point Louis has to laugh, even if Harry is now looking at him with a very unamused expression.

“I'm sorry but... your face! Really, Harry?”

“You were so serious!” Harry tries to defend himself, but Louis just laughs more.

“Haz, please, don't,” he manages to say, earning a pout from Harry.

“You're mean,” he says. Louis is about to answer when his phone buzzes.

“'m not,” he says, opening the text message and quickly reading it. “Hey! It seems like you're actually going to meet Stan. He's coming to town!”

“Really? When? Tell me!”

Louis smiles when Harry almost crushes him trying to read Stan's text. He still has a hand on his back and has apparently already forgotten Louis’ joke,  and now he looks genuinely happy at the idea of meeting Stan. Like Stan is an astronaut or something. He has to remember to tell him about that reaction, he's sure Stan will find a way to make the whole introduction thing really amusing.

“Next week. It's going to be fun!”

Yeah, it is, Louis thinks. It's probably going to be the highlight of his London life so far, or at least since he found Harry at Niall's party. But now it will be better, because all his favourite people in the world are going to be in the same city at the same time. He's going to have the time of his life, he already knows it.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

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Louis can't stand train stations. Not only because they're big and full of people, but because the crowd is insane most of the time. Men running everywhere with their briefcases, hitting people because they're late for work. Kids running in packs because hey, they've lost the train to school. People just running, running and running. And, even though it’s late in the evening, Louis can't see anything but arms and heads moving fast next to him, almost killing him and especially killing his patience. What the heck. Stan should thank him for being there.

They’re in the waiting area, observing the people around. There are a lot of tourists queuing at the 9 ¾ Platform just a few feet from them. Beside him, Liam is quiet. Sometimes he grabs his phone and fiddles a little for a few seconds, then puts it back. It's been a week since their fight and everything is great, now. Also because he can see that his friend is a bit happier than usual. Good for him and also good for Louis because he's really happy, too. The fair of happiness.

“What time should we meet Niall?” Liam asks after ages of silence, nay, silence his arse since they're surrounded by screaming people.

“Eight.”

“I hope to get there in time.”

“Liam, it's five o'clock, we still have three hours ahead,” Louis yawns, looking around. “Stan's train should be here soon, anyway.”

“That says there is a delay of twenty minutes,” Liam comments, pointing at a giant board right above their heads. And well, just fuck. Why are trains always late? “I think I'm going to get a snack, Lou, I'm hungry. Can I leave you here or will you miss me?”

“Oh my god, Liam, don't leave me here with all these crazy people,” Louis says with a theatrical tone he doesn't even recognise on himself, holding a hand trying to reach his friend. “Please, don't leave me, I'll die... please...! Look, I'm starting to become pale and sweaty and please, Liam, don–”

“I'm still here, you idiot,” Liam shakes his head, laughing a little.

“Well? Go on, then. And bring me some snack.”

“Idiot,” he repeats.

Liam doesn’t even have the time to make a step, when a familiar voice catches them by surprise. Louis pokes his head to look into the crowd, when he sees Stan's chubby face smiling at them. He can't believe his best mate is really there, it's been seven fucking hundred ages since the last time they've seen each other. Louis smiles wide and then starts running towards him, and he will probably fall all over the ground trying to reach his friend. But who cares, it's Stan.

He would jump off a bridge for Stan. And for Liam, of course. But Stan... he has known him all his life, it's a completely different kind of friendship. Both are special in their own way, and Louis would give anything for them.

“Stan!” Louis cheers, giving him a bone-crushing hug. “You're here!”

“Louuu! I've missed you so much! I even took an earlier train because I couldn’t wait!” he says, but Louis is hugging him really tight and what comes out from his mouth is just broken words. “Liam, come here!”

And in a moment Liam is there with them. After what seemed like ages of crushing bones, Louis gives one last crush to Stan and looks at him. He is the same as always: he's slimmed down a bit, but his chubby face, his huge smile and his short hair haven't changed at all.

“You look really happy, Louis,” Stans grins, raising an eyebrow, almost in disbelief at seeing how serene Louis looks. Louis can’t imagine how hard it’s been for Stan having him around a few months ago, when Louis still was a trainee and basically was the office’s servant. He used to take all this stress out on the people around him, especially with Stan. “Just... I know you're happy to have me here, but, I mean... you look just really, really happy, I can see it in your eyes. I love it. London is treating you well, for what I see.”

“I am,” Louis answers and can't stop smiling.

“Good! Now, where's food? I'm starving,” he says, grabbing his suitcase. “There wasn't even a fucking dining car in that train. I was expecting someone coming around and saying 'something from the trolleyyy?'”

“It's not like you came here with the Hogwarts Express, Stanny.”

“Yeah, but there's usually someone with a trolley, right? Please, say yes. Please. You could ruin everything I believe in.”

Both Liam and Louis shake their heads and in five minutes they're out. Louis can finally breathe fresh air, another minute in there and he’d probably have gone insane. They reach Liam's car and spend a full minute trying to fit Stan's suitcase in the boot. Stan is like Louis’ sisters: he puts so much shit in his bag and always forgets something important like a toothbrush. Like, always. He probably has a collection of toothbrushes in his house.

“Have you brought your entire comic shelf?” Louis sighs, finally closing the door. As a gentleman, he lets Stan take the front seat and he sits behind. Louis has just fastened the belt when his phone rings. It's a text from Harry: just finished working, i'm on my way .xx

Louis smiles, types a quick ' on our way, too. See you later ! ' and then he notices Stan is looking at him from the rearview mirror. His glance is kind of amused. Louis frowns and then mutters: “what?”

Stan shrugs. “I was expecting Harry to be with you, guys. I want to meet Harryyyy!”

“You're going to see him quite soon.”

“Why didn't he come too? Harryyyyy!” Stan continues.

“He had to be at the bakery this afternoon,” Louis answers, starting to look out of the window. “Why are you so anxious? I told you we'll meet him soon!”

“I'm just curious! Harryyyyy!” he says. Oh god, what's wrong with him? Louis remembers that he acted like this when he introduced him to Eleanor, but he doesn't remember him being so insane. He probably lost some brain cells along with his weight. “I still don't believe that you guys met after months in another continent without exchanging names or numbers or whatever.”

“Yeah, me too,” Liam speaks after moments of silence. “The funny thing is that now Louis ignores me to stay with this bloke.”

“I don't!” he cries out, leaning forward and almost breaking a rib because of the seat belt.

“You do! You two have slept together already!”

“What!?” Stan shakes on the seat.

“Liam, what the fuck. I was sick! Because of you, by the way!”

“You were sick and went to Harry's house instead of the hospital!?” Now Stan has a strange tone, as if he has hiccups.

“Stan, that’s not how it went, for christ’s sake!” Louis is a bit annoyed because okay, he knows Liam is teasing him and this is fine, but seems like Stan is taking all the whole situation in the wrong way. “I wasn't sick like, physically, I just wanted to be loved and spoiled and cuddled so I went to Niall and Harry's flat and both cuddled me like a child. No regrets. And all of this shit because of Liam, so... shut up, Liam!”

Liam and Stan are both laughing now and, yes, maybe Louis overreacted a little and Stan was really just backing Liam up. They were just kidding, but they seemed so serious and Louis was carried away a bit. He’s calmer, now. To be honest, he hopes that Stan won't ask him about the 'and all of this shit because of Liam' part. He has definitely got over that episode, but still doesn't want to talk about it.

“I guess you're not going to tell me where the hell we’re going,” Stan mutters eventually, and thank god, really.

“Of course not, it's a surprise,” Liam reveals.

Several seconds pass before...

“I hope Harryyyyy’s also in this random place,” and Louis can see his look, can see he's mocking him.

“Liam, stop the car, throw him out.”



xxx



“So,” they are right in front of the building, when Stan breaks the silence, “is this the magical place, then?”

In fact, the view from outside is not that fascinating, but the place is actually cute. Louis has been there a couple of times with Liam, and it has always been fine. It's quiet and people are kind.

“Yeah,” Liam answers, climbing the first step, “from the outside it looks like a factory, but it's pretty nice inside. Cosy.”

Liam just took the words out of Louis' mouth and he simply nods. But he doesn't understand why they're still out there when Niall is in, probably laughing and drinking and flirting with someone.

“Come on, lads,” Louis says, nodding at them. “Can't wait to see the show! Yeah, Stan, it's not a simple drinking night with the boys.”

“Should I be concerned?”

“Nah, you'll enjoy it!” he cheers. “And Harryyyyy will be here so you'll finally stop being an arsehole and leave me alone. I know you'll spend the entire night talking shit with him.” Louis said that, but he knows that it won't go that way. Because Stan travelled a thousand miles to be with Louis, so he won't let him spend even a second without him, and he trusts Harry not to steal his best friend.

“What if I don't like him?” Stan says with a frown. “Or if he doesn't like me?”

“Not a chance, everybody likes Harry. Couldn't be any different. And you're cool, so,” Liam shakes his head and opens the door.

“Oh, and there was a time when you talked about me this way. You all seem very charmed by this lad, you know? Does he have some kind of magical appeal or what?”

Stan is joking, Louis knows, but there's still a part of him that's worried about him not liking Harry.

He thinks it's quite impossible, as Liam said, but it's like when he introduced him to Eleanor. Stan is the person who knows him best in the world, parents excluded, and his opinion is probably the most important. He relies on Stan, and he knows that if he says he doesn't like Harry, Louis will have a stupid series of doubts.

“Well, he's definitely very charming,” he answers quietly, not looking at Stan nor Liam while he searches the table he knows Niall is holding for all of them. When he spots him, he starts walking towards the table, not bothering to check if his friends are following him.

Niall apparently chose the best table in the pub, judging by how many people are glaring at him, probably because he's alone at a table that could be used by at least six people. But Niall doesn't even acknowledge all those looks, he's simply staring at the stage, where a girl is now singing, while drinking his beer. When Louis arrives at the table, Niall immediately looks up.

“Hey, Tommo,” he cheers, smiling. “Apparently he's tied up and can't come by to say hello for a bit.”

Louis nods at those words, wondering when they started to speak about Harry without even saying his name and understanding each other nevertheless. Or when Niall started to give him informations about his best friend's actual position or state of mind without Louis asking. He mentally shrugs, but Stan must have noticed too, because a second later he hears his voice right in his ear, the way they're used to do when they share a secret.

“Seriously, Lou, how close are you with this bloke?”

Louis has no time to process Stan's words because Niall promptly stands up and holds his hand for his friend to shake. He's smiling and he's obviously happy to meet him.

“Hi! You must be Stan! Louis talks a lot about you, Payno too. I was looking forward to meeting you, mate. I'm Niall.”

Louis unconsciously looks at Stan's reaction and internally sighs of relief when he sees his friend’s smile while shaking Niall's hand. He obviously likes him.

“Likewise,” Stan is saying. “Lou talks about you lads all the time, I thought I had to come down here to see if he's replacing me or something.”

“Aww, Stan,” Louis says, patting Stan's head. “You know I'd never cheat on you, don't be silly. Anyway, Niall, where's Zayn?”

Liam doesn't move a muscle at the question and, wow, Louis really has to admit he's good. If he hadn't known him, he would never have guessed he was interested in the question. But he knows him, so he doesn't miss the way he promptly sits next to Niall and looks at anywhere but his friend, who holds the answer. He seems concentrated on Stan, gesturing him to sit next to him, leaving Louis with the chair with the worst position ever. He'll have his back to the stage. Thank you very much, Liam, always the kindest. For that reason, he doesn't feel slightly guilty for bringing up the question that leads to Niall's answer.

“He'll be late, he had a study meeting or something. But don't worry, Payno, your better half will be there by midnight as any valuable Prince Charming would do.”

Louis laughs out loud, mostly because of Liam's face, which is now red as a tomato. He mutters something that sounds like ‘he's not my Prince Charming’, but Louis isn't sure because Liam is facing the table with a focus that suggests he's trying to find a pattern in the wood. Stan, next to him, grins openly and then pats his shoulder.

“Oh, Liam, so it's true. Good to see you back in the game, mate.”

Liam tries to defend himself again, muttering something about leaving him alone and getting the situation all wrong, but nobody is really listening to him. They're all laughing, not in a mocking way, of course, because they all care a lot about him. The fact is that Liam is really funny when he has a crush on someone, he's like a teenager, and how could they possibly resist?

Luckily for Liam, Zayn arrives just a few minutes later. He's panting, like he ran all the way to the pub, and he probably did judging by his exhaustion. That, or he just had a quickie in the bathroom, but Louis really hopes Zayn just wanted to be on time.

“Sorry, my bus broke down and I had to run. It hasn't started yet, has it?” he tries to say while regaining his breath and Louis just smiles.

No quickie, good to know.

“No, it hasn't,” Niall answers. “And don't be rude, Malik, say hello to our guest!”

Zayn blinks, as if Niall's words surprised him. He turns to see Stan and a look of surprise comes over his face. Louis immediately realises Zayn didn't even notice Stan’s presence and he's now looking at him trying to understand who he is. Louis can relate: during the last month they’ve always hung out together, the five of them, and now it's like a routine. It's like that is the way it should be, the five of them against the world. To Louis it's obvious that when he goes out, it’s with one or two of them, if not all, and apparently for Zayn it's the same. But his friend recovers immediately. He shakes his head and smiles apologetically at Stan.

“I'm sorry, I'm really tired and I didn't notice you. You must be Stan, I'm Zayn,” he holds his hand and Stan immediately shakes it, smiling.

“It's okay, I can relate. It's a pleasure to meet you all, lads. I was telling Niall before, Louis talks a lot about you, I was really curious to meet you. So, when am I going to meet the famous Harry?”

At that point Zayn looks at him, then at Niall, and lastly at Liam. There are a few seconds of silence, when Stan looks at them with an eyebrow raised, probably wondering if he just asked something he wasn't supposed to. But then Niall speaks and any question Stan might have is silenced.

“I guess in an hour or so, he's working tonight.”

And wow, Louis is astonished. He had this thing in his mind, not to tell Stan about Harry playing tonight until Harry will be actually playing, and he doesn't even know why, but apparently Niall had the same thought. They didn't even talk about this. He looks at Liam and Zayn, who are not at all surprised by Niall's answer, and Louis wonders if they maybe had a conversation about this and he doesn't remember. Maybe he was sleepwalking when they talked, who knows.

“Yeah,” he confirms, rubbing his neck. “I told you he was working. So, Stan, tell us about that girl you met... Is she hot?”

Stan laughs and then starts talking about her. It's good to have Stan there, Louis thinks, it's been months since their last talk face-to-face and he was starting to really miss his best friend. This has probably been the longest time they have been separated since they were about twelve. It's so good to finally hear his voice in person that Louis doesn't realise how time flew until the girl who was singing when they arrived stops.

It's been an hour and he didn't even realise it. He looks at the stage, which is now empty, and wonders when Harry will play. He doesn't know when his performance is scheduled, it may be the last, but he hopes Niall was right when he mentioned an hour wait. Harry is probably freaking out backstage, he really doesn't need to wait a long time.

“So, Lou, how's your project?” Stan's voice catches his attention and Louis turns back to his friend. He still has his back to the stage, but now he shares that bad position with Zayn.

“Good, I think it'll be a good article–”

“Uhm, hello...”

It's just two words, but the low, rough voice is unmistakable. Louis finds himself smiling before he realises what he's doing, thinking about Harry playing in front of an actual audience, not like the one at Niall's party. He knows he probably looks like an idiot, interrupting their conversation and smiling at nobody, but he's just so proud of Harry. He made it. It may be just a pub, but he made it. Stan is looking at him with that strange expression he has when he's about to laugh, but there's kindness in his eyes, like he's really happy for something. He's still looking at him when he speaks, but Louis is sure it's not a question.

“So this is Harry.”

Louis nods, biting his lip to stop smiling, because this is getting ridiculous. Harry hasn't even started to play yet, for heaven's sake.

“Surprise?” he says. “He's really good, you'll see.”

He turns towards the stage, where Harry is now sitting in front of a microphone, a guitar in his hands.

He told him once he's more a singer than anything, but since he doesn't have a band he plays guitar at gigs like this. Louis doesn't understand why he doesn't sing in Niall's band. Or maybe he does sometimes, they didn't talk about that. He has to remember to ask him.

“Thank you all for being here. I'm Harry Styles and this is one of my favourite songs.”

When Louis hears the first keys, he freezes. He recognises it immediately, obviously, since he has heard it something like a billion times or more in the last years. He blindly searches his beer on the table and drinks a little bit, only to choke when Harry starts singing.

If I don't say this now, I will surely break...

He can hear Stan chuckle, behind him, and he can physically feel Liam's smile on his neck. He doesn't dare to turn, because he knows how his friends will look at him. Apparently, acting quiet doesn't work.

“Honestly, Louis, is this guy your soulmate?” Stan says and Louis can't answer, really, because he's as surprised as he is. And also because Harry is singing the chorus and he's so concentrated Louis can almost feel the guitar's strings on his fingers.

Be my baby, I'll look after you...

“He is a bit,” Liam is saying and Louis hasn't the force to shut him up, even if he's surely going to say some shit. “When I went to Niall's home, last week, to get my Lou back... oh, Stan, you should have seen him. He was wearing Harry's jumper, which was obviously too big on him. I mean, look at Haz, look at those arms! Anyway, Lou was wearing it and he was like a kitten in a blanket. I'm telling you, he was so cuuute! I think he had Harry's sweatpants, too.”

“Aww, how cute is that? Sharing clothes already.” Stan is laughing and, wow, that's a bit too much. He turns with a look that he hopes is capable of killing and stares at Liam, right in the eyes.

“Li, shut up if you don't want me to say why I was wearing Harry's jumper.”

At those words, Liam immediately flushes and Louis feels a little bit victorious. Justice has been made. He turns back to Harry, who is about to finish his favourite song, but catches Stan's comment anyway.

“Is this some kind of turbid story? You know I won't go back to Donny without knowing this.”

Louis doesn't bother answering, he smirks instead. Now it's Liam's turn to be in an uncomfortable situation and, honestly, Louis doesn't feel slightly guilty. He deserves it, considering that comment about Louis in Harry's clothes. A kitten in a blanket? Really? No, Liam can definitely deal with Stan's questions while he keeps listening to Harry.

Harry's little concert lasts about an hour, less than the mad girl who sang before him, and Louis thinks that's not fair. His friend has a deep and beautiful and magnetic voice, and he came to the conclusion that he could listen to Harry singing for hours. So, when he sees Harry coming towards the table, he’s a bit disappointed. But just a little bit, since Harry has this huge smile on his face that screams victory and he can read true happiness in his eyes. Louis can't stop smiling, shaking his head because he's so fucking proud of him. And also because Harry's smile is contagious.

He's about to say something silly to introduce him to his best friend, when Harry stops right in front of Stan and holds a hand to him and it's in this moment that Louis sees it. Stan's glance. He has that kind of smile when someone is thinking about too many things all at once. Good things, no shit.

And Louis knows, now. He sighs so heavily that probably everybody will turn to him, but fortunately no one noticed anything. It's done. Stan likes Harry, Stan likes Harry, Stan likes Harry .

And he can finally breathe. As for so many other things, Stan's opinion matters above all.

“Hi! You must be Stan, I'm Harry, very nice to meet you!” Harry cheers, his voice is rough and a little out of breath.

Stan shakes Harry's hand and smiles back. “It's a pleasure and you really don't kn–” and he just can't finish the sentence, because Harry moves his gaze to Louis. His eyes are wide and kind, but Louis can read a little bit of insecurity there. And, for god's sake, why doesn't he just take that radiant smile off his face!?

“Did you like it?” he asks. And well, okay. Just... well.

“You did well, Harold,” Louis answers, smiling back because he can't hold it in for too long. “You're good and I think the crowd agrees with me, since they applauded like hell.”

“Oh my gosh, I was so nervous.”

A cough distracts Louis from Harry's dimples. He turns around and he can see his friends staring at them with really odd faces.

“Hi, Haz,” Niall says with a quiet tone – which is a little weird coming from him – and waving a hand. “I'm Irish, not transparent. And yes, you did well, told by one who really knows a lot about music. Just saying.”

Louis feels like a king just because he was the first person Harry faced after the gig, he wanted to know what were Louis' thoughts about his performance. He knows this is no big deal, he acted like that probably because Niall and Zayn have listened to him singing so many times, Louis just one song at Niall's party. Yeah, it must be that.

“Just for the record,” Liam's voice suddenly interrupts his thoughts, “two gigs, two of Louis' favourite songs. For the next one will we have to prepare the bouquet already?”

Everybody is laughing so hard, even Louis, because yes, this is quite strange. And, judging by their faces, he knows that none of them told Harry about his favourite songs. He remembers telling Harry that The Fray are his favourite band, but they've made like a million songs. He really couldn't know which one Louis likes the most.

“Yeah,” Stan says. “Opening with Look After You is kind of the right way to secure Louis' love forever. You have no idea how many times I heard him singing that song, even the stones in Doncaster know it's his absolute favourite.”

Harry smirks, turning to Louis so fast that his neck probably protested a little bit. “Is that so?” he asks, and Louis just shrugs. “I told you I'd sing your favourite song to you, didn't I? I'm a man who keeps his promises.”

“That you are,” Louis smiles, and they stay like that for a moment, just staring at each other.

Louis breaks eye contact with Harry to face Stan, who has kind of a creepy face. He’s probably thinking about Harry stopping his introduction to talk to Louis, and even if it surely didn’t bother him, that and the little bubble he and Harry created around themselves surely must have made him curious. And now he has this expression Louis can’t read.

He's his best friend, he should recognise every single expression on his face, but now he feels a bit blind. Then Stan moves his eyes on Liam and they share a knowing look. Why is everybody so weird?

As if he read his mind, Harry looks at Stan and smiles at him, then he takes a chair from the other table and puts it between Stan and Liam.

“'m sorry I interrupted you earlier and didn’t let you finish,” he says. “But I was so excited and Louis never came to hear me play, so... I just wanted to know what are my chances to see him next time.”

Harry said those words like Louis is not even there. It's sweet, actually, and he can't help but smile at his friend, who's now fiddling with Stan's glass. Harry ignores Louis for the next minute, as he keeps talking with Stan and Liam, and then he stops abruptly, staring into space with a strange look.

He looks at Louis and then stands up, almost toppling the chair. “I almost forgot! I'll be right back,” and then he's gone, doing a clumsy slalom among all the people. Well, if Louis had some doubt about Harry's sanity, now it's definitely gone. And he probably likes him more for that, to be completely honest.

Harry comes back five minutes later and he's holding a little bag and Louis recognises it, he's sure – the fact he remembers it is quite strange, no doubts about that – that's the bag Harry had in New York when they met the second time, when Louis was fighting with a man for Liam's gloves. That's the pink little bag with the Christmas present Harry bought for his mum. Louis probably remembers it just because the picture of Harry holding a little pink bag is kind of imprinted in his mind. Creepy as fuck. Harry stops right in front of him, fumbling in the bag with a frown and then pulls out five black CDs and hands them to his friends. Even to Stan. When Louis takes his one, he looks at the cover and it's just black, but in a corner there's an inscription: to Lou, Harry .xx

“'To Niall, from Harry',” he hears Niall's voice a second later and only then he notices everyone's holding their CDs. “Oh, Haz, I'm going to listen to it every time I'll do the cleaning.”

“You never do the cleaning, Horan,” it's Harry's response. “But thanks. Anyway, in these CDs there are some of my favourite songs. I recorded them a few days ago and Ed helped me with it, so... thanks to him, too. And... this is for, just... just for being here now. Thanks, guys, it means a lot to me.”

Louis rounds and rounds the CD in his hands, and can't help but think that just earlier he thought he would probably be able to listen to him singing all day and... Before he can elaborate that stream of consciousness, Harry sits next to Louis and gives him a brown folder. Louis takes it with confusion and mouths: “what”. Harry just smiles and looks at the folder.

“You know, I've never told you what I exactly do at uni in addition to the music and– this is kind of it... sometimes... often... I mean, I like it a lot, so I just wanted to make something for you. No big deal,” Harry says with a low voice and thank god the others are too busy opening their new CDs or they would mock him for the rest of his life. Maybe only Stan is staring, Louis is not sure and he doesn't have the intention to look at him.

“Can I open it now?” Yeah, because he's fucking curious and, when Harry nods, he does. In the folder there's a paper. Not a normal one, it's a coloured paper and... yes, that's definitely a drawing. Louis knows exactly what it is: it's an ice-rink, Harry has drawn an ice-rink. To be a little picky, that's the ice-rink. He recognises everything about that picture, from the Christmas lights hanging on the big tree to the flags of Rockefeller Plaza. From the children running happily to the snowflakes falling gently. That's the place where Louis and Harry spent their evening in New York.

Everything was drawn in extreme detail and Louis really doesn't know what to say.

He simply looks at Harry and smiles wide and the boy stops immediately biting his lips. “Do you like it?”

Oh no, Louis doesn't like it, Louis loves it. Loves it so much. “Yeah, well... I didn't know you can draw, you're pretty good with that,” he says, stammering a bit. “Really good with that, actually. This drawing is amazing, Harry, I don't know how to thank you.”

“You don't have to,” Harry shakes his head and can't stop smiling at Louis. Please, please, pleeeease, let his friends still be busy or they’ll make fun of them forever. “I chose that time because, I don't know, maybe that was the time we started to know each other?”

And well, fuck, thank you very much.

“I... I really love it, Harry, maybe I'll find some space between the Manchester United poster and the other Manchester United poster in my room.”

Harry bursts out a laugh and Louis follows him, laughing as hell. Now he can see his friends staring at them with a frown, everyone but Stan and Liam, who are just smiling a lot. Louis puts the drawing back in the folder and lays it on the table.

“Whatever,” Niall says, shaking his head. “Anyway, I was thinking... what about a night out in the centre? Just us twats.”

“Yeah, why not?” Liam shrugs.

Louis is not that sure. “I think I'm going home, Niall. Tomorrow I have to wake up early for some work and I'm really tired. Stan, if you want to go I can give you my key and you can come home whenever you want.”

“Nah, I'm tired too. Coming with you, mate.”

“Good.”

Louis can see a disappointed look on his friends' faces, but he really has to wake up early tomorrow. They say goodbye after ten minutes, he doesn't catch if they're going somewhere or not. He's sleepy, he just wants to go home and sleep forever.

When he and Stan arrive at his flat, Louis throws his best friend's suitcase on the chair in his room, brushes his teeth, washes his face and then he curls up in his blanket and mutters a low ‘goodnight, idiot’. The folder with the drawing is laying on his bedside table and Louis falls asleep with a smile that he can’t wipe off his face.



xxx



When Louis returns home from work the day after, Stan is sat on the couch and he's playing with something on the coffee table. He didn't talk to him that morning, since he was still asleep when Louis left for work, and he stops for a moment near the front door to observe his best friend.

It's strange to have him there, but in a good way. It's the kind of strange like when Harry says the exact thing he's thinking or Niall prepares him a cappuccino the way he likes it without asking.

It's like now that even Stan has christened his London life every puzzle piece has popped right into its place.

“You're creepy when you stare,” Stan says out of the blue and Louis laughs, because his friend has a point. He walks towards him, leaving his bag on the floor without caring too much.

“I'm sorry, it's just you're so beautiful, love. I couldn't resist,” he jokes. Stan shakes his head, smiling, but his eyes don't leave the picture he's observing.

Now that Louis is next to him, he can see that his friend is looking at Harry's drawing. He smiles, remembering the talk he had with Harry the previous night, and honestly he doesn't even care Stan went looking into his things without asking. Not that this is new, they've always done that.

“He's good, isn't he?” he just says, sitting next to Stan. Now that he can see the picture in daylight Louis can spot a lot of details he didn't notice last night and he loves it even more. He's definitely going to put that on his wall.

“Yeah, really good,” Stan says. “Is this... Louis, is this what I think it is?”

At this point, Louis raises his eyes to look at Stan and finds him already staring. He raises an eyebrow. “What do you mean? It's the Rockefeller Center ice-rink.”

Stan nods. “Exactly what I was thinking. This is where you lads met, isn't it?”

Louis blinks, surprised. “Yeah... I didn't think you'd remember. Well, it isn't the place where we actually met, that was a shopping centre, but we spent a lot of time here on my birthday. Just talking, getting to know a little bit of each other.”

Stan nods, his expression serious, before a smile lights his face. “It's nice, a really cute gift. I like this lad, Lou, I'm really happy you found him.”

Louis nods, smiling. “Yeah, me too.”

“Now...” Stan stays, turning to face Louis completely and his expression back to serious. “I'm really curious to know why you slept in his bed with his clothes. Tell me.”

Louis faces the floor, remembering that night, and he's not sure he wants to revive those memories.

“It's not–”

Louis can't finish his words because Stan interrupts him. “Bullshit. Don't even try to tell me it's nothing. I know it's something important and I know it involves Liam somehow. Just... tell me, Lou, okay?”

Louis sighs, looking at Stan. His friend has a serious expression, but his eyes are kind as always, and Louis can tell he's worried about him. He doesn't have to, now everything is fine, but he can tell Stan senses something has gone off at some point. You don't hold on a friendship like theirs for more than ten years without that kind of empathy, Louis knows that, he's the same when Stan has a problem. He puts his hands in his hair, saying goodbye to his still perfect hairstyle, and sighs again.

He doesn't really have a choice, with Stan, so he starts talking.



xxx

 

It's Sunday night and Louis is at the train station, again. It's late, so it's quiet, just a few people looking for the right platform and others saying goodbye to family and friends.

Stan's train leaves in ten minutes and Louis doesn't want to say goodbye just yet. He already had to say that to Eleanor, who left about two hours ago, back to Cambridge after a weekend spent with him and Stan catching up and really having a lot of fun. Now Stan is leaving, too, and even if Louis knows he will go back to Doncaster in a few weeks he still doesn't want him to go.

“Can't you just stay here? Just another week...” he says, trying not to sound pathetic. He doesn't want to seem like a child crying for his mum, even if sometimes he feels like that in those moments.

Stan smiles and simply shakes his head. “I'm really sorry, Lou, but Donny calls me.”

Louis is sure somebody is listening to their conversation, or really hates him, he doesn't know, because right after Stan stops talking, an announcement tells them Stan's train is almost ready to leave.

He looks at his friend, who has put his bag on the floor and is ready to hug him in his bone-crushing way. Louis lets him, burying his nose in Stan's shoulder and strongly hugging him back.

“Hey, Tommo, do me a favour while I'm away.”

Louis just nods, sure that Stan will catch his movement and explain himself.

“Keep looking after Liam. I told you I think you lads were right with him and Zayn. Just, maybe, be more subtle, okay? Next time I come here I want to see them kissing like the world is ending. Don't disappoint me.”

Louis laughs out loud, dislocating himself from the hug. Stan, though, keeps a hand on his shoulder and Louis is certain his little goodbye talk hasn't finished yet. His friend is smiling, but the grip on his shoulder is tight when he speaks.

“And, Louis. Stick with Harry. I mean it. He's a great lad and he obviously cares a lot about you. I think he's one to hold on to. He can be your partner in crime with this Ziam thing... Yeah, he told me the couple name. Don't look so surprised, I had a little talk with him! I'm your best friend, it's my job to know the people you hang out with.”

And Louis can't help but laugh again. Stan smiles in return, patting his shoulder one last time before taking his bag again and looking at the train. And this is it, the moment Louis doesn't want to live, a goodbye until the next time. That is, really, the only thing he doesn't like about living in London.

“So... See you soon?” he says and Stan nods, still smiling.

“Cheer up, Tommo, I'm not going to Alaska. Keep me updated.”

And with those words Stan starts walking towards the train. Louis stands there, on a platform feeling almost deserted, until the train leaves and he can't see it anymore.



 

Chapter Text

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Louis is lying on Liam's couch and he wishes he could stay in that position forever.

It's a boring Tuesday afternoon, one of those days when he just wants to do absolutely nothing, only stay in bed eating everything but healthy food. Or even better: wake up, take a shower and go back to sleep.

Simple but effective.

He's staring at the ceiling without seeing it for real, because yes, his eyes are open but his mind is elsewhere, thinking about how last month flew by so fast. And, to be fair, a big part of it was spent in this exact position. Okay, maybe he doesn't spend every evening lying on Liam's sofa, but when they don't go out, Louis opens his door, knocks at Liam's, and spends the entire evening that way. He doesn't know why, there isn’t a particular reason, he just enjoys his best mate's company instead of being alone with his goldfish. Louis is happy. He loves everything he does every day, he’s never enjoyed his daily routine so much and this is so important for him, because Louis' worst fear is boredom. But, with four idiots as friends, he really couldn't be bored anyway. Like, ever. Zayn and Harry are an integral part of the group, now. Zayn got through a few exams recently so he’s freer now, and Harry's uni must be less demanding because he always finds time to stay with them.

Lately, he’s often gone out just with Harry. Harry is the kind of company Louis couldn't get tired of even if he had to stay with him 24/7 doing nothing. He's really happy to have found him, he couldn't have been luckier. They've been hanging out only since Niall's party but it feels like they've been friends forever. Louis has a little secret about Harry: he spent like two weeks keeping Harry's drawing on his bedside table and looking at it every night before turning off the light. Every time he found something different, some small detail that he hadn’t noticed before. In the end, he felt a little bit idiotic doing this, so he thought it was better to hang it between the posters on the wall. What a secret, huh?

The last month passed by so fast that Louis can't believe it's mid July already. It's true what they say: time passes faster when you're enjoying your life.

Louis sighs and suddenly a thought passes through his mind. Oh, hell, he was about to forget it. He should finish arranging the notes for his new article, but the fact is that he has zero inspiration at the moment and he's postponed it for two days already. The deadline is tomorrow, but so far he didn’t succeed in writing anything he could be satisfied of.

He sighs again and then slides down the sofa until he’s looking at Liam upside down from the headrest. He's still reading. He was reading when Louis showed up at his door and he doesn't know how much time has passed since then. Liam has a frown printed on his face and it's quite funny to watch. Louis grins.

“What book does ail you in that way?” he asks in the end, sincerely curious.

Liam looks up at him for a second, his brows still furrowed, and then lowers his eyes again on the book. “ The Hunger Games .”

“Oooh, I read it! That saga is amazing.”

"Yeah, but– 'I'm still betting on you' ?” he says with a tiny voice. “Really? I'm going to think about this quote forever, Lou. Cinna moves me.”

Louis wants to laugh out loud, but merely grins. “Who's the princess now, Payno?”

“Shut up.”

“I'm in love with Peeta, you know,” he says then, moving until he's on his belly and his jaw on the headrest. “He's a great guy and he loves Katniss like hell. He's... cool. Okay, maybe he did some shit, but who doesn't?”

Liam raises an eyebrow for a second before grinning. He moves his eyes on Louis and he can see something behind his look, something strange. And also ridiculous. “Yeah, of course you're team Peeta. He's a baker, after all. I prefer Gale, if you wanted to know.”

“What do you mean? 'He's a baker',” Louis answers, hitting him off. “So what?”

Liam shakes his head, still smiling. “Nothing, just... you like cakes. And bread. And... cakes.”

“You're the king of weirdness, Liam Payne,” he says, shaking his head.

Maybe he didn’t pay attention to Liam when he mentioned whatever he was talking about because he can't understand what his friend wanted to say. Or maybe Liam just can't make jokes. The fact is that Liam still has a smile on his face and Louis wants to punch him so hard. No, he actually does not. Damn Liam.

He stands up and stretches. “Well, I have work to do. Not that I'm looking forward to doing it, but... It must be done. By me. Because it's my job, right? If I don't do my homework I can't be paid, yeah? But I don't want to do it, honestly, I have no motivation this time. Well, I guess I have to go so you can go on with your crush on Cinna.”

“Louis,” Liam mutters, putting the open book on his knees, “what the fuck are you talking about?”

“Forget it, I'm just tired. I love my job, anyway.”

“I figured,” Liam tells with a sarcastic tone. “This new article must be your favourite.”

Louis smiles. “Yes, it is. Now I'm disappearing, bye, Payno.”

Liam just smiles back and then Louis goes out, ready to fully immerse himself in his work. The fact is that he could spend the rest of the day on it and he'd probably end up asleep on the desk. Well, someone told him once that he can find inspiration from everything around him but, to be honest, his furnishings and goldfish aren't inspiring at all.

He's about to open the door, when an idea strikes him like a lightning. Louis grins and then starts to go down the stairs. He's out of the building and suddenly a dilemma hits him: car or underground?

He doesn't want to top up his Oyster card, but trying to find a free parking spot around Harry's flat is like putting himself in an infinity round of swearing. Louis remembers that once he drove around the flat block like an idiot for twenty minutes, cursing everything. So... underground it is.

The journey to Harry's flat is not that long, but every time it seems like he stands in the tube for ages. He puts on his headphones and presses play on his playlist and a “what the actual fuck” comes out from his mouth when We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together by Taylor Swift starts. When did he put that song in the playlist, exactly? He skips it, and lowers his head back on the window.

Twenty minutes later he finds himself on Harry's landing. Louis takes off the headphones before ringing the doorbell. He doesn't know why he's smiling, probably because his mind can picture Harry's face at Louis’ sudden appearance. A few seconds later Harry is standing right in front of him, smiling as always, and he's wearing a fucking apron. Well, this is unexpected.

Louis raises a hand. “Hi, Haz.”

“Hi yourself,” Harry answers, leaning against the doorframe. He’s smiling in a pleased way, as if he suspected Louis would have showed up at his door. Louis wonders when Harry started to foresee his moves.

“This is the first time in a month it's you to open the door,” Louis points out, taking a step in. “I have to face Niall every time. Is he dead or something?”

“Nah, he's practicing with the guitar, I don't know. I thought I heard a thud in his room before, but, uh,” Harry answers, closing the door.

“What a lovely flatmate you are, Mister Styles,” Louis says, smiling and walking over Harry towards the couch. “Niall could be dead and you wouldn't even know.”

Louis shakes his head dramatically, before taking off his shoes and lying on the couch. He can hear Harry snorting, but he doesn't even care. His eyes are closed and he's about to spend a lot of time with one of his favourite people in the world. Honestly, that sofa is so comfortable it owned the title of best friend, despite of what Harry said before.

“So, Miss Inspiration is still lost in Wonderland,” Harry declares, his voice a bit far, he's probably still near the front door. Louis simply hums in answer, not bothering to open his eyes.

“Miss Inspiration can be a bitch, sometimes.”

“I don't think she'll come visit soon if you keep calling her that way,” Harry considers, laughing. “You should try to be nice with her, for once.”

“What, am I supposed to bring her flowers?” Louis just laughs, because that discussion is ridiculous. He finally opens his eyes, just to give Harry a glare that in his mind means something like 'you do talk some shit,’ but his friend isn't anywhere to be seen. “Hey, Haz, where are you?”

“Kitchen!”

Louis frowns. Now that he thinks about it, Harry was wearing an apron when he opened the door, but Louis didn't think for a second that he was actually wearing it with a purpose. Harry is weird, sometimes he wears things just because he finds them around the house and thinks they're pretty.

“What are you doing?” he asks and Harry instantly laughs.

“What do you think? I'm in the kitchen wearing an apron. I'm certainly building the Death Star with Legos.”

“Are you... cooking ?” The thought is so strange that he can feel the doubt in his voice. But Harry just laughs and, wow, Louis has to see this.

He manages to get up – saying goodbye to his friend, the couch – just when Harry confirms that he is in fact cooking. He tiptoes to the kitchen, managing not to be heard by Harry. He's covering the work surface with his body, so Louis can't see anything but Harry's back. He walks in silence until he's right behind him and anchors his chin on Harry's shoulder to see what he's doing. There are whipping cream and sifted sugar next to a bowl full of cheese cream. He raises an eyebrow, not sure what Harry is doing, and stands on his toes to see better. It's difficult, considering Harry's height, so he has to steady himself putting his hands on Harry's hips.

“What is that?” he gives up at last, not having the faintest idea of what Harry is making.

His friend laughs, turning a bit towards him. They're still very close, so Harry's curls tickle a little bit his forehead.

“Red velvet cupcakes,” he answers and Louis is sincerely surprised. He looks again at the work surface, now spotting the muffins hidden by the bowl.

“I didn't know you could cook those,” he says, astonished. He has no idea how to even start cooking cupcakes, he would probably burn the whole kitchen trying.

“I told you I'm a baker,” Harry answers, a little bit offended. It takes Louis a few seconds to understand Harry thinks Louis didn’t listen to him when he talked about his job.

“No,” he answers, because no way Harry can think that. “You told me you work in a bakery. And you never baked anything. As far as I knew you could have been in charge of the cash register.”

Harry seems to think about it for a minute, a furrow on his forehead, but he smiles at last. “Yeah, you're right. Let me frost these and you'll fall in love with the great Styles' bakery technique.”

“How modest of you,” Louis says, snorting, but he doesn't leave Harry's side.

Harry just smiles, taking the whisk and starting his work. Louis observes his moves with attention, astonished by Harry's confidence. He's making things seem easy, as if even an idiot could do that, but Louis is sure if he tried he'd miserably fail. But he doesn't have to try, he thinks, since he has his personal baker who can do all these floury works. His hands are still on Harry's side, so he can feel his friend's muscles move when Harry works on the cheese. It's really beautiful looking at him: Harry is focused on what he's doing, his eyes still on the cream and Louis can see he's biting his lip in concentration. He isn't sure Harry can actually feel his presence, he seems in his own world, like when he sings.

Then Harry takes a piping bag and fills it with the cream he just made, before starting to frost all the cupcakes. He does that quickly, with surgical precision, and Louis’ mouth opens in surprise. Harry is really, really good in that, and Louis is sure he wants to see him baking. Like, properly baking, creating those little things he's now decorating.

“Done,” Harry whispers and it's like he's telling a secret. He watches him putting down the piping bag, now empty, and then Harry is smiling at him. “Do you want to try one?”

Louis bites his lip, smiling. Of course he wants to, what kind of question is that?

“Are you sure these aren't going to murder me?” he says, but he's already taking one and Harry is smiling so broadly that his dimples are in full display. He's staring at him, maybe hoping to see a verdict in Louis' eyes when he eats the cupcake, and Louis isn't going to deny him that.

But, when he takes the first bite, Louis has to close them. For real. He’s never been one of those people who constantly think about food porn, but hell, he probably is now. The cupcake is so delicious that Louis wants to cherish the moment. He eats it slowly, tasting it until the last crumb, and wow.

He wants Harry to cook for him for the rest of his life.

“I'm not sure I liked it,” he says at last, looking at Harry. His friend seems a bit upset for a second, but then he probably notices Louis' smile and relaxes. “I think I might have to eat another one to make up my mind.”

And then Harry smiles and Louis thought that he knew how Harry is when he's happy. Judging by how he is now, his eyes shining and his blinding smile and the red spots on his cheeks... eh, maybe Louis didn't know so well.

“You like them!” Harry states, before drawing Louis closer and kissing his temple. Louis laughs, but doesn't move from that position. “You really do!”

“They're amazing, pumpkin, really,” Louis says, nodding.

He grabs another cupcake, just to make the point clear, and bites it more eagerly than before. He immediately feels the frosting on his nose and laughs, trying not to spit everything in his mouth, when Harry takes it off with his finger. Harry is still smiling when he licks the cream off his finger and it's in that right moment that Niall's voice startles them both.

“Sometimes you two are disgustingly sweet, lovebirds. Now give me a cupcake, Hazza, before your boyfriend here eats them all.”

Louis laughs even more at that comment, which is nothing new since their friends are making a point to mock them every time they can. Niall, in particular.

“You're only jealous that Harry makes me eat his cupcakes first. He loves me more than you, ha!”

Harry blushes and starts coughing and Niall just laughs, patting his back. Harry is the only person Louis knows that can choke on cupcakes, really. He smiles at him and after a few seconds he starts to breathe normally again.

“See what you do when you talk shit, Tommo? You almost kill my best friend,” Niall says, shaking his head. “And I loved him first, by the way, so the cupcakes are automatically mine.”

Louis is about to answer when Harry talks. “What if we go on a picnic and everybody has them?”

Louis looks at Niall. They hold a stare for a few seconds before nodding almost at the same time.

“It works for me. Liam is at home crying over Cinna, it'll be good for him, too. What about Zayn?”

“Crying ov– Never mind, I don’t want to know. I think Zayn is free, too. Let me call him.”

Niall leaves the room to find his phone, and Harry looks at him. He's still smiling and he has completely regained his breath. Choking on cupcakes, only Harry Styles.

“I'm sorry I didn't bake anything before,” he says and Louis snorts, because only Harry Styles.

“Don't be stupid. It's better this way, now you have to bake me something every week so I can forgive you.”

At that point, Harry smirks. “But... didn't you say it's impossible to win you over with food?”

Louis laughs. “Yeah, I did. Full dinner, remember? But you can still try with cakes and pies and cupcakes.”

“Lads!” Niall says from the living room. “We’re meeting them both at Regent’s Park. Let's go!”

“Good,” Harry says, putting his hands on his back while going towards his room, “let me change first, these clothes smell like butter.”

Louis crosses his arms, looking around and, after a second, a cough distracts him: Niall is staring at him, an eyebrow raised. His friend has the ability to be creepy and look like an idiot at the same time, someone should give him an award for that.

“What?”

Niall moves his eyes on the cupcakes and then on him. “Are you going to put them in a box or are we waiting for the rising of the Lord?”

“Hey, this is your house! I don't even know where you keep the boxes,” Louis says, frowning.

“Yeah but, as you care to point out, the cupcakes are made for you and so they're yours, you put them in the box. I'm not going to move a finger, Tommo.”

Well, what the fuck. Niall can be a pain in the ass sometimes. What can be the hardship to put stupid sweets in a stupid box? Louis rolls his eyes and sighs. “So, is this some kind of challenge? Who's the fir–” but he really can't finish his sentence because a shadow is walking from Harry's room to the bathroom. A naked shadow. Nay, it's not a naked shadow, it's Harry's naked shadow. What–

Luckily he didn’t see anything in particular, like... parts ... specific parts of Harry's body... just his bum. The little corridor is in the dark, so it was really just a shadow. The shadow of Harry's arse. Luckily. Niall, who's giving his back to the rooms, captures Louis' frown and snaps his fingers in front of his eyes.

“Tommo, have you seen a ghost?”

“Kind of,” he answers, coughing. “Just–” and again, Harry is going back into his room... with his pants on, thank god. “Niall, where the fuck do you guys keep the boxes? I really need to put the cupcakes in a box. Like, now.” He looks around, finds a little cardboard box near the stove and begins to fill it with the muffins.

Niall stares at him for a second, then he turns his head and starts laughing out loud when he sees Harry's figure near the room door, holding hands on his belly. “Don't worry, Lou-Lou,” he says, still laughing. “In all my life I've probably seen his dick more times than mine.”

So, it's true he has a bunch of crazy people as friends. This is not a normal thing, it really isn't.

“Fortunately, I haven't seen his dick, Niall! Is this... is this even normal? Being naked and going around the house with people staring at him?”

Niall shrugs. “Harry likes being naked.” Then Harry reaches them, settling the belt in his trousers. He looks at them and a questioning look appears on his face.

“Nothing,” Niall explains, shaking his head. “Just the Tommo here appreciates your arse, nothing serious.”

Before addressing Niall’s stupid comment, Louis throws a glance to Harry, seeing his cheeks a little bit flushed. He’s lovely, really, but Louis must try maintaining a certain demeanour and give an appropriate answer.

“Bullshit!” Louis cheers, putting the box in a little bag. “Never said anything like that. And you, why the fuck do you go around with your arse in the air!?”

Harry widens his eyes and makes a strange move with his mouth. “I feel free, I guess.”

“You feel–” he starts to say, but he can't finish the sentence. “Please, let's go,” he ends with a sigh and goes towards the door.



xxx



It's a beautiful day. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the grass is green and fresh and there are five idiots sat on it. When Louis, Harry and Niall arrived at the meeting point, Liam and Zayn were already there. Louis' heart skipped a beat when he saw his best mate's face: Liam seemed so happy and so at ease that Louis wanted to cry little hearts. He really doesn't know, but when he looks at Zayn, his heart is like 'please like Liam, please like Liam, please like Liam' because they would be such a great couple.

When Liam and Zayn saw them coming, they ran to meet them, smiling. Then Zayn made the big question: “Did somebody think about bringing real food or are we going to eat only cupcakes?” and well, thanks Zayn for reminding how fool they are. Picnic without food, the new great invention.

About ten minutes later, the cupcakes were already gone. All gone. Louis looked at Harry and he saw a giant smile on his face, satisfied by the fact that everyone loved his dessert. He would have liked to squeeze his cheeks, but he just gave him a huge smile instead. And now they're all lying on the grass, enjoying the beautiful day and each other’s company. Niall is lying on his belly, face buried in his arms; then there's Zayn, back on the grass, arms behind his head and legs crossed; Liam is next to him with Zayn's phone in his hands – interesting; Louis is on his left, eyes closed and hands crossed on his stomach.

And then there's Harry staring into space.

Louis opens his eyes and turns his head to Harry, who's still looking at the sky: his curls are scattered on the ground, waving a little because of the breeze. He keeps staring at him for what seem ages and then Harry probably can feel Louis' gaze, because he turns to face him. After a few moments of quiet looks, a broad smile appears on Harry's face and Louis can't do anything but laugh a little. Harry's smile turns abruptly in a frown, like he's asking 'what the hell are you looking at' and Louis rises a finger in response and puts it on Harry's nose, tickling it a bit. Harry opens his mouth like he's about to say something, but then he just smiles again when Louis keeps playing with his nose. Not satisfied yet, Louis starts to tickle his whole face with both hands and then goes down to the neck and the chest. Harry shakes on the spot, trying to protect his body with his arms, but Louis is determined and his actions just get faster. Harry laughs out loud and turns to look at him. Louis spins towards Harry as well so he’s almost on top of him, and he has no intention to stop tickling him anytime soon. Their legs are close, so Louis can feel a strange vibration coming from Harry's pocket.

“We're in a public space!” Liam's voice interrupts them, but he's laughing, too.

“Stop! Stop! Lou, my phone is buzzing!” Harry cheers with tears in his eyes, still making weird noises. He takes off his phone when Louis stops touching him and then he stands up and picks up the call.

Louis looks at him walking away, his trousers covered with blades of grass and he's still smiling when he turns a little to blink at Louis from the distance. He feels a touch on his shoulder and turns around to face Liam's questioning look. And Zayn's questioning look. And Niall's questioning look.

“What? I was just tickling him,” he says. No one answers, but Zayn is smirking. Harry comes back after a minute and he's not alone anymore.

“Hi, Nick,” Niall waves to him and then he's on his belly again.

“Hi, guys,” Nick greets them, putting his hands in the pockets. “Hi, Louis, what's up?”

“Fine, thanks,” he says, shrugging. “What about you?”

“Uhm, well, actually,” Nick answers, nodding. “Can I sit with you for a bit? I'm waiting for my friend Juliet, I'm a little early and... I think I don't know you,” he says then, looking at Liam. He and Zayn probably already know each other, since Zayn has known Harry for a while now.

Liam shakes Nick's hand. “Liam, nice to meet you.”

“I'm Nick,” he answers. “The dj. Apparently that's how people get who I am when Harry is involved,” he adds, smiling. Louis thinks it’s a bit presumptuous going around like ‘I’m Nick, the dj”, but that’s none of his business. Plus, considering Liam’s face in this moment, he doesn’t even have a clue of who Nick is. Shame.

They are all sitting on the ground now, even Niall got his arse up. Louis is fiddling with a blade of grass, rolling it around his finger, and listening to snippets of conversations. Apparently Harry and Nick spent some nights out together last week, they went to some pub or something. He heard Zayn say 'one day I'll show you' and Louis prays he said that to Liam.

When Louis finally looks up, Nick and Harry are concentrated on their own conversation and Harry has a frown printed on his face while the other lad is whispering. Who knows what they are talking about. He doesn't know but... Nick has this light in his eyes when he talks to Harry that Louis can't explain.

“Payno,” he whispers, turning the head to his right, “do you think... does Nick fancy Harry?”

Liam's eyes are wide open, it seems like he's asking himself if Louis is serious or if he's just joking and, when he realises that he's actually serious, he turns his look to the boys in front of him: he stares at them for a bit, before turning back to Louis. “I don't know, why?”

“I don't know,” Louis repeats. “He has this light in his eyes... like... they're shining when he talks to Harry.” Because yes, they do.

Liam shakes his head. “I really don't know, Lou. Are you sure he's even gay?”

“Pft, Liam, look at him, please,” he says a bit too loud, but no one notices. Then Louis moves his eyes on Nick and then on Harry and... oh. A thought strikes his mind and he's probably blinking like an idiot. Two months of friendship and he doesn't even know Harry Styles' fucking sexuality. They never talked about that subject, Louis didn't even care, but now it's different. Now he's curious, he wants to know. Harry never talks about girls or boys. Why have they never talked about it anyway? It’s something friends usually do, right? Talking about crushes, sex and stuff. What if Nick is his... boyfriend? No, he can't, he simply can't be. Of course that wouldn't be a problem for Louis, he'd like Harry even if he liked monkeys. But... if so, well, Louis would be kind of hurt, not knowing his friend is in a relationship. But no, he's sure Harry would tell him if this was the case. But why does he never tell Louis about this kind of stuff? The fact is that now Nick is telling him something and he has this strange look on his face and–

“Well,” Nick says and he stands up, “Juliet says she's waiting for me in front of the library, so I have to go.”

Harry stands up too, and then they're hugging and Louis finds himself staring at them with a frown. He doesn't know, but he's not sure he likes this Nick that much. And he feels sorry because he's a friend of Harry and Niall, Louis didn’t even get to know him that well to make a judgement, it’s just that he feels that way.

“See you around, Grimmo,” Harry says, patting his shoulder. Nick grins.

“Yeah, whenever you want,” he tells and then looks at Niall. “Niall, don't you dare forget the interview I want to do with you and your band for my channel! And you,” he turns to Louis, pointing at him and smiling, “don't forget to keep an eye on Styles for me.”

“Two eyes,” Louis says immediately, with perhaps a bit too much intensity.

“Eyes and hands,” Liam grins and Louis wants to punch him so hard in his face.

But he doesn't say anything, he doesn't even turn, because Nick's face is priceless. He's looking at him, then at Liam, then back at him and he looks like a fish out of water. Louis doesn't like seeing people in awkward or uncomfortable situations, never did, but Nick has his mouth open like an idiot and it's just funny. He smirks, nodding, and finally looks at Harry. He doesn't know what he expected, a part of him feared he would have been mad at that comment, but Harry certainly isn't. He's biting his lip so hard that it's almost white, but despite that Louis can see his dimples on full display. He's doing a really bad job in hiding that smile. Or laugh, it could be a laugh, but Louis is pretty sure Harry just wants to smile.

“Don't worry, Nick,” Louis says at last, stressing the name. “Harry is safe with me. He makes me red velvet cupcakes, after all.”

At that point Harry is fully smiling and Nick is still staring at him like Louis just said he set fire to the Tower Bridge. It's Niall who breaks the tension when he snorts. Louis turns towards him and sees he's rolling his eyes.

“Yeah, apparently now Lou is Harry's new best judge. How well did he play, were his cupcakes okay... it's all up to Lou. I'm getting really jealous, you know?”

Louis looks at him for a second, not sure if he's serious or what. He thinks he knows Niall pretty well, but you can't always be sure, so he has a moment when he fears Niall isn't joking. He's right, after all. Then Niall turns a little bit towards him and winks and Louis breathes again. But Niall still has a point, so it's Louis' moral duty to show him he loves him even if he's kind of stealing his time with his best friend.

Louis doesn't know how it happens, he only knows that a moment he’s sat on the grass and a second later he’s hugging Niall with as much force as he can and Harry is doing the same. Niall is between them like a sandwich and he's yelling for help, but he's laughing so hard at the same time he can hardly breathe. Louis laughs, too, and just hugs him more tightly. Harry, in front of him, is holding Niall with the same strength. They're probably going to make the poor lad choke, but it's really all about loving him. He can see in Harry's eyes he's thinking the same thing, how this is such a great moment even if Niall can't breathe, and he can tell that because Harry is staring at him and he's staring back.

They only let Niall go when Nick coughs awkwardly, exactly when Louis catches Liam and Zayn's little laughs. They're shaking their heads, amused, but Louis thinks they're not even surprised by his and Harry's behaviour. It's normal. Nick, though, doesn't seem to think the same thing because he seems really uncomfortable.

“Well, I'm really going now. Nice to see you all.”

Louis has to fight a laugh when he sees Nick walking away in a hurry, not even waiting to hear their goodbyes. That lad was really, really uncomfortable. He's already far away from them, but he's still almost running, as if a monster was chasing him.

“Poor Nick,” Harry says. He's still next to him and Niall, their arms touching. “I think we scared him. He's not used to... this.” Harry points at Louis and Niall, then at himself, and smiles.

Louis nods, he knows what he's thinking. He loves his friends because they're as mad as himself – they really are a bunch of idiots and it's awesome, but maybe sometimes it can be a little overwhelming for strangers. Even when the said stranger is friends with Harry.

“It's a little bit hard to keep up with the Larry team,” Zayn says, shrugging.

Louis doesn't hear Zayn talking with Niall, because he looked at Harry at the same moment his friend mentioned this Larry thing. He has his eyebrows raised and Harry seems as surprised as he is, since he's staring back with a questioning look. After a few seconds, Louis decides to ask.

“Zayn, what does that mean?”

“What? Larry? Oh, it's just how Liam and I call you lads. From your names, you know? Louis and Harry, Larry.”

At that point, Louis doesn't know what to say. He thought Harry was the mad one with these ship names or how the hell he called them when he invented ‘Ziam’. Apparently Zayn and Liam are part of this thing as well, maybe even Niall, who's laughing out loud now.

“I love it!” he's saying and, yes, Niall is as mad as the rest of them. “It's going to be so much easier now. Hey, what do you think about giving their bromance a full name? They're already Larry... They could be, I don't know, something like Larry Stylinson? So, when someone asks me what I'm doing, I can go with 'nothing, just hanging out with Larry Stylinson'. I seriously love this. I love me.”

Harry bursts out laughing and Liam and Zayn are nodding as if Niall just told them the truth about life. Louis looks at them, eyebrows still raised, thinking he seriously has to reconsider the people he spends all his time with.

“Tell me again why I am friends with you all. I don't know anymore.”

It takes them ten minutes to make Louis laugh with them and about an hour to make him love the nickname. Harry, the only one who should care as much as him about this thing, was on board from the very first minute and Louis honestly had no choice.

At the end of the day, when he says goodbye to all of them, Louis likes that name. His friends are already talking about a Larry split up, since they're going out to dinner when Louis has to go home to write his article, now that Miss Inspiration returned from her holiday, but Harry just shakes his head and smiles.

“Go home, Lou,” he says, smiling, when he hugs him goodbye. “Write a hell of an article, though, because if you leave me for something bad I'll seriously have to reconsider this Larry Stylinson thing.”

Louis laughs at that, hugging Harry back. He waves them goodbye, not missing the way that Zayn always stands beside Liam and how Liam unconsciously shifts his weight to the leg closest to Zayn. He smiles at them, making a mental note to talk to Liam about the situation.

But, for now, he really has to write a hell of an article.

 

 

Chapter Text

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It's only eight in the evening, but Louis is already tired. He spent most of the previous night writing his article and he had to wake up early in the morning to go to the office, so he didn't really sleep. He was supposed to see Harry tonight, since he invited Louis to go with him to see Ed performing somewhere, but he’s too exhausted to even think about moving his bum from his couch.

He's lucky Liam has a spare key to his flat, since his friend just texted him to say he's coming over, because he refuses to leave the sofa. If Liam wants to see him he will have to do everything by himself: from opening the door to bringing him some food. Louis is not spoiled. Not at all.

“Hey,” Liam cheers when he arrives. Louis raises his head just to see his friend coming in. He has a bag in his hand and a peaceful smile on his face.

“Payno,” he answers, waving absently at him.

“I stopped at KFC. Is it okay?” he says, sitting down next to Louis’ feet. Louis shrugs, but it turns out a little bit weird since he's lying on the sofa.

“It's food. It's free. You brought it here. More than okay, I’d say,” he answers, making grabby hands for whatever Liam will give him. He honestly doesn't care, as long as it's edible.

“I thought you were seeing Harry tonight,” Liam says, handing him a box. Louis sits up a little bit, just to eat without choking.

“‘M toooo tired. He'll forgive me.”

Liam smiles. “Yeah, no doubt about it. I think he went out with Zayn, so don't worry.”

“I wasn't,” Louis answers. “Harry is always fine, he makes friends wherever he goes. And when he isn't he calls me so he can escape without seeming rude. I honestly don't get why he even cares about what they think.”

Liam shakes his head. “Maybe because he's polite?”

“Whatever,” Louis shrugs. “Tell me about Zayn, how is he?”

Liam smiles at the only mention of the lad. Louis has to bite his lip not to say anything, he’s still not sure of what to say and what to avoid with the whole Zayn thing. Louis doesn't want Liam to get upset again, but he simply has to know what's going on in his best friend's love life.

“He's fine,” Liam answers “Now that uni is over he finally has a little bit more time for himself.”

“And for you?” Louis tries, not sure about wanting it to be a question or a statement. He tries to sound nonchalant, he doesn't want Liam to think he's mocking him or intruding. But Liam seems past that phase, because he smiles and nods.

“Yeah, we're hanging out a lot lately. It's... cool. I think we're bonding.”

Louis has to fight down the urge to make a joke about what Liam just said but no, it's not that time yet. He just has to wait a little bit more. He looks at Liam without saying anything, waiting for his friend to keep talking, because he's sure he wants to add something.

“You know, I think he asked me out.”

Louis almost chokes because wow, he wasn't expecting that. “You think? Either he did or he didn't. How can you not be sure, Liam?!”

“I don't know!”

Louis sits up completely and puts his food box on the coffee table. This isn't time for food anymore. He looks at Liam, studying his expression. As he expected, Liam is blushing and seems confused, but overall he's relaxed. Good.

“Tell me exactly what he said.”

Liam bites his lip a little, blushing even more. “Well, uhm, he told me it would be really nice to go out one night, just the two of us. Maybe grab something for dinner and then go to the cinema. And it's not something huge, I know, we do that all the time... but he said 'just the two of us' and he never said that. I mean, does that even mean something?”

Louis hums. Liam is right, that's not so clear. To be honest, it sounds like asking out someone, that's the description of the typical first date, but Liam and Zayn's situation is different from the usual. They're friends, it could be a simple night out, he does that with Harry all the time. Maybe Zayn just needs some kind of advice with something Liam knows. Still, it's weird that he pointed out it would be good to go out just with Liam. It has to mean something.

“Li, I think he did. But I'm not sure, to be honest. If you want, I can ask Harry if he knows something, or maybe Niall? Anyway, you're going to be smoking hot for that freaking dinner or whatever he wants to do with you, okay? You're going to conquer his heart if you haven’t done that already. Leave it to the Tommo!” Louis pats his own chest with force, grinning at Liam. He must look ridiculous, because Liam starts to laugh, shaking the head a bit, but his eyes tell Louis that Liam is happy to have him there.

Liam smiles, nodding. “Thanks, Lou. And, yeah, maybe you can ask Harry? Seems like they talk a lot.”

Liam gives him a strange look, like he's hiding something, but he's always weird when it comes to Zayn, so Louis doesn't pay too much attention to it. It's nice to see his friend so into someone, it's been awhile since Danielle. He was so in love with that girl... Breaking up with her left him in very bad shape for quite some time. Luckily for Liam, he seems to have found someone to make him shine again. To be honest, Louis didn't expect it would be a bloke: Liam didn’t show any interest in boys before Zayn. But the heart wants what it wants, and sometimes you just happen to find the right person in a place you aren’t looking. Sometimes he wonders if it was that way for him and Eleanor, if he really found his better half. He doesn't remember anything like a realisation, nothing like the ‘I've been looking for you forever’ that Liam's eyes suggest. Maybe for them it was different, a slow awareness that they're supposed to be together. But Louis doesn't even believe in soulmates, at the end of the day.

“Hey, Li,” he asks abruptly. “Do you think Zayn is your soulmate?”

Liam gives him a strange look, then blushes. “I... I don't know. Maybe? I just know that everything clicks when I'm with him, and I haven’t felt that with anybody in my life. It's like he can be both my best friend and my better half. I don't know, Lou, is that the idea of soulmate?”

Louis blinks at Liam's words. Well, he doesn't know the answer. He's not sure he has ever felt that way, to be honest, and it's awful to think that considering he has a girlfriend he cares a lot about.

“No idea. I think we should ask Harry, he's the expert.”

Liam shrugs. “Yeah, right,” he says, continuing to eat and then he stops with the fork suspended in mid-air. “Why do you ask?”

Now it's Louis' turn to shrug. The fact is that he just let those words take control of his mouth, he didn't mean to ask Liam anything about soulmates and stuff. It's just the question was right on the tip of his tongue and it slipped out. Louis has no filter sometimes. He made a horrible mistake, though, because now nothing can stop Liam from asking inevitable things. “I don't know, I was just curious and... Hey, I think I have another question for you.” Hell the curiosity.

“Go on.”

He takes a breath. “Zayn is a bloke.”

“You don't say.”

“No, I mean,” Louis has to bury his face in his knees because yes, “he's a guy, Danielle was a girl. She still is, actually, but that's not the point. So, the thing I wanted to know, even if it's none of my business... what changed?”

“I don't ge–”

Louis snorts. “How did you know that Zayn could be the love of your life? Why Zayn? Why a boy? I'm not judging, you know me, I'm just asking. I really want to know. I've never asked, so... I just figured now it’s the right time?”

It's a normal question, after all. Liam's been with Danielle for years and then he fell in love with a guy. It was never a problem for Louis, hell, anyone can be with anyone, but lately he’s thought about it so much… He's so confused at the moment, his mind is a mess with all these thoughts about Harry and his sexuality. He doesn't even know why he's like this, why does he even care so much? Maybe it's better to step away from these thoughts and focus on Liam. After all, Liam just had this turn of events in his love life, maybe he also had confusing thoughts about Zayn and their love life. He wants to help him even if he doesn't know how and even if it seems Liam is doing well, actually. Especially after the latest news.

He looks at Liam, expecting a glare, but his friend just smiles shyly. “I really don't know, Lou. I swear. Once I was sure about a future with a girl and a second later Zayn showed up and you know the rest of the story. So, I really don't know if there’s anything to say, or if something happened in my head. Hey, maybe one day I’ll fall in love with our neighbour, Mrs. Wayatt.”

Louis laughs out loud. “Mrs. Wayatt? Nah, she's creepy. And she has wrinkles. Soooo many wrinkles, Liam, seriously.”

“Yeah,” Liam laughs, shrugging. “Well, if she's a great person, why not? Love doesn’t know age or anything.”

Louis takes back his box of food – he doesn't even know what it is, to be honest, but it's orange, so it's good – and starts eating. Yeah, Liam is right. Wrinkles shouldn't be an obstacle for a relationship, but that woman is still creepy. They eat in silence for a while, then Louis puts his now empty box on the coffee table and he lays on his back again, staring at the ceiling. Louis is avoiding the core of the thoughts, but he knows he has all of this in his mind because of Harry. It's not for the fact that he doesn't want to mind his fucking business, but because he can't handle that Harry never told him about Nick as... More than a friend? Louis spent a lot of time thinking about them, trying to remember every second he spent in their company, and he came to the conclusion that something is definitely going on. It doesn't seem like they're boyfriends boyfriends, but Nick certainly is quite enamoured with Harry. Louis could read it in his eyes when Nick looked at Harry. And, well, maybe Harry reciprocates. Even if the... thing that they have isn’t like boyfriends boyfriends, it’s something. Maybe more like 'Nick has a hell of crush on Harry and he probably reciprocates,’ and that's not a problem, it really isn't, but Louis thought that they maybe have reached a point in their friendship when they share the essential things of their lives. At least, Louis has done it since day one.

“Do you think Harry likes men, too?”

Louis doesn't have the courage to turn towards Liam, he just can feel his gaze tickling his head. Liam takes a moment to answer, a moment that seem like ages for him. Maybe he's thinking about an answer, or maybe he's just chewing. Louis needs an opinion, that's all.

“I think,” he expected his friend to mock him with the Larry thing, but Liam's voice is quiet and serious, “that Harry is that kind of person who could fancy a girl, a boy, a sheep, a grampus without any problem. I think he sees everything on the same line. Just... like... me, I guess.”

Louis wants to laugh because he's picturing Harry with a grampus lying on the beach. But in the end Liam is probably right: Harry likes everything and everybody, just like everybody likes him. Yeah, he can live with that.

“Maybe you're right, Payno.”

“Sorry, Lou,” Liam says and Louis can't see him but he's sure he's tensely moving on his spot, “but why don't you ask him? You two are really close.”

“Ask him what?”

“If he and Nick are involved.”

Wow, sometimes Louis forgets why Liam is his best friend. Even if he didn't say a word about that bloke, Nick, Liam knew he was still thinking about the whole thing they discussed the other day. Is he that obvious? Apparently, yes.

“I can't go to him and say 'hey, Haz, do you like dicks or fannies? Because after months of friendship you haven't found the time to tell me your preferences', right?”

He keeps staring at the ceiling – yeah, all those scratches on the wall are particularly interesting, he should do something about them – and he's pretty sure that Liam is shaking on the spot. He can picture him in that position he always does when he puts his foot down on something.

“Or you can simply go to him and ask him if he and Nick have something, that's all,” Liam-voice-of-reason says. “And, to be honest, I don't think they do.”

“Whatever.”

On the other hand, who the fuck cares who is Harry dating? He's one of his best mates and he can go out with people he considers appropriate. If Harry is happy with someone, then Louis is happy for him, no doubts about that. He suddenly remembers something Harry said the first time they met: Louis asked him if he had found his better half and he can still hear Harry’s voice answering something like 'not so lucky. I'm looking around, you never know where your soulmate may be '. It's a bit creepy that Louis still remembers it, almost word by word, given the fact it's been months since that night. He smiles a little, thinking about that whole destiny thing. And Harry already knew Nick back then, he remembers his friend talking about him and even telling him stories about them hanging out, but still... Sometimes a friendship can turn into something more, into love, can’t it? He grabs his phone, which was buried under the pillows, and searches Harry's name, then starts typing.

Styles, i was thinking ... never found your arctic monkeys' cd , where the fuck is ur destiny !? Don't wanna see u again until i'll find it :)

Louis smiles again, feeling a bit of an idiot. Harry is probably in the middle of Ed's little gig, so who knows when Louis will get his awaited answer. But, only about a minute later, his phone is buzzing.

Well. See u soon then, ha ha :)

'Ha ha'!? Is he mocking him? Louis' mind is now busy thinking about a perfect answer to send, but he's got nothing. When Louis is about to reply with something stupid, his phone buzzes again.

Remember that destiny can take holidays as well, but she never forgets... maybe we won't find the cd and the book, but we've found each other so half the work is already done! Good night Lou :) .xx ps: Ed and Nick send their regards!

Or maybe Harry just drank too much tonight.

“Lou?”

Liam's voice suddenly captures him and oh, right, probably he was staring at him for the whole time and certainly Louis took his time answering the text. Louis opens his eyes – when the hell did he close them? – and turns a little bit to his friend, who's looking at him with a questioning look. “Mmh?”

“I said,” Liam says, shaking his head and smiling, “can I stay here tonight? My arse is cemented to this couch.”

Louis laughs and nods. “My house is your house, Payno.”

 

xxx



“I have to tell you, Tomlinson, this is probably the best work you’ve done since I hired you.”

Those words echo in Louis' mind for what seems hours and he probably has an awkward smile printed on his face, because his superior, Mr. Anderson, is looking at him with both eyebrows raised. The fact is that he really can't help himself, he's just so happy. When you're a bit insecure about what you're doing or you have doubts about how you’re doing your work, and then your boss gives you compliments like this one... That's a thing you should be fucking proud of. And Louis is so fucking proud of himself right now.

He bites his lip. “Thank you, sir.”

The man just nods with a hand and goes back towards the door. “Now take that smile off of your face and keep working.” He’s turned away from Louis, but he can hear from his voice that he's teasing him. Good, at least he doesn't have a dick as a boss. Mr. Anderson is gone for ten seconds, when the door opens again.

“Lou?”

Louis looks up and he almost has a heart attack. “Eleanor! What– what are you doing here?”

Eleanor stands shyly by the door, a little smile on her face. He stands up radiant, going towards her to give her a bone-crushing hug. He's really surprised to see her, just that morning they talked about meeting the following day, so it's... unexpected. He's happy, though.

She kisses Louis on his mouth before answering. “Surpriiiiise! I think I did an amazing job keeping this a secret, don’t you think?”

“Yeah!” Louis cheers, squeezing her. “Yeah, you definitely did! But... Oh lord, the flat is a mess, I haven’t done the laundry in the last few days, I didn’t have the time. The kitchen is even worse. All those dirty pans everywhere, you're going to faint and–”

Eleanor shuts him up putting a finger on his mouth. She smiles a bit. “Louis, I don't care. We'll do it tonight, I can do the cleaning, no problem.” Oh, can Louis be any luckier? Sometimes he wonders if Eleanor will be the girl who will grow old with him, like they say sometimes when they talk about their future, about marriage and kids, the lot. But he doesn't have a real answer to this question, only time will tell. And oh, fuck, he forgot. He looks at her, biting his lip.

“El, don't be mad at me, but I promised my friends that tonight we'll have a FIFA tournament at Niall and Harry's. I... maybe I can postpone, if you want.” He really, really doesn’t want to do that. He’s been waiting for tonight for a while, now, just relaxing with the boys and not thinking about anything. And it’s not that he doesn’t want to spend time with his girlfriend, of course he does, it’s just that he hates choosing between her and the lads.

“Oh, no, don't,” she says, placing her hands on Louis’ hips and smiling. “I had a terrible week at uni, I'd like so much to vent a bit. Can I come?”

“What kind of question is that, of course you can!” Louis smiles, thinking that the day couldn't be more exciting. Then he looks at her back and sees the grumpy face of Mr. Anderson looking at him from the aisle. “Love, maybe you should go and wait for me to finish here. Make a super lunch in the meantime!”

Eleanor nods, stands on tiptoes and gives him a slow kiss. He almost pulls her against him, but then he thinks he should face the consequences of being in a public space. Louis ends the kiss and lets his girlfriend go instead.



xxx



Louis decides this is the right occasion to finally use his car again, after weeks of tube and buses.

He can offer his girlfriend a quiet trip in the city which doesn't include the amazing smells of the London underground. So, welcome back, Tommo's car.

When he texted Niall that morning to tell him about their guest for the night, it was okay for him and so was for the others. So, Louis is pretty sure about having one of the best nights ever.

They spend almost ten minutes circling around Niall's flat and Louis probably yells at every car in the neighbourhood. “See? That's why I always come here with the tube. This is insane.”

“Maybe we should've come with the und–”

“No fucking way, El. Every time we go home after being on a public transport, you lock yourself in the bathroom to take an antibacterial shower and it takes like two hours! That is not going to happen tonight.” Eleanor laughs a little and after a second there it is, a free parking spot. Thank god, Louis was losing hope.

When they finally are on the landing, Louis hears a scream. Well, that’s a good start. He turns to Eleanor and, even if she already knows his friends, he feels compelled to warn her. “It's completely normal. Screaming, yelling, shouting, it's a completely normal thing.” Then Louis rings the doorbell and, after a few seconds, Liam is standing right in front of them with a huge smile on his face. Louis offered him a ride earlier, but he told him that he and Zayn were going to the cinema later, so they’d come together. Well done, Payno.

Liam smiles wide. “Hiya, guys! Come on in.”

Louis has to thank every saint in Heaven that his friends are completely dicks, but at least clean dicks. In fact, the living room is just so clean that Eleanor could even eat on the floor. She has some kind of allergy to dirty places, and he really doesn't know how she can live with Louis, even if only for two days a week. Louis has no doubts that Harry spent the entire afternoon cleaning everything up. God bless Harry Styles.

“What was that scream, wankers?” Louis asks, reaching the living room.

There's Zayn slouched on the sofa with Niall on top of him. Uhm, what the actual fuck? He looks directly at Liam, but he's smiling, so nothing to worry about. After a little, Harry shows up from the corridor and thankfully he’s wearing clothes. He's all in black except for the brown headscarf in his hair. Louis wonders if he knows that look, the Harry in Black outfit, makes his eyes shine even more. He doesn’t have time to think more about it because Harry runs awkwardly towards Louis with his arms wide open.

“Louuu! You're here!” he greets him, smiling. “I was afraid to stay alone with these freaks for the whole night.”

He's about to hug Louis and he has already his arms open to return it, when Harry stops abruptly, a smug expression despite the frown on his face. “You said that we wouldn't see each other until you'll find th–” and a second later Louis has a hand right on Harry's mouth, his face five inches from him.

“Eleanor is here,” he whispers, nodding towards her. “Shut the fuck up, Styles.”

He looks around and finds everyone staring at them. As always.

“What are you two doing?” Niall asks, standing up. Zayn is still laying on the sofa, laughing, and Louis wonders why the hell Niall was plastered to his back just a second ago, he’d love to know.

“Uhm, nothing,” he simply says. “Harry has this habit to talk shit, so someone has to stop him for the greater good.”

All of them are laughing now and Louis feels a bit relieved: he really doesn't want Eleanor to have doubts about him hiding something from her. Niall keeps staring at him with an eyebrow raised and then Louis realises he still has his hand on Harry's mouth and looks like Harry is pretty comfortable with that. Just when he’s about to change that position, Harry licks his palm. Louis withdraws his hand and mouths 'wanker' to him, but Harry is still laughing.

Well, after that quite awkward scene, Eleanor is looking at them with an odd smile, like 'what the fuck am I doing here?' and Louis can hardly blame her, considering she just witnessed a weird moment between her boyfriend and a bloke she hardly knows. Even if Louis knows he and Harry behave like that almost every time they see each other, some part of his mind knows it's still a strange thing when someone randomly licks your hand. Even Niall, who knows them as well as the back of his hand, is still looking at them with narrowed eyes.

“Well,” he says, trying to act like nothing happened, “tell me why we aren't playing yet!”

At that point, Niall blinks and seems to come back to reality. He immediately glares at Zayn. His friend, in return, just smiles innocently.

“Well, my dear Tommo,” Niall answers. “I was setting everything up when your friend Zayn stole the remote from my hand and hid it somewhere on his body.”

So that's why Niall was sitting on top of Zayn just a few minutes back. Now it makes sense, sort of.

He still raises an eyebrow at Niall's words.

“Somewhere on his body? Niall, really, the lad isn't some kind of giant. Have you searched his pockets?”

“Of course I have!” Niall answers, almost offended. Harry, next to him, chuckles. Louis immediately looks at him and notices he's really trying not to laugh. His eyes are lit up and his dimples are on full display.

“Do you know something?” Louis asks him, voice low, and Harry bites his lip. He's looking at him when he shakes his head, but a moment later Harry's eyes are on Liam and Louis understands immediately.

“Payno, give us that remote,” he says, not even turning to look at him. Harry's eyes widen, looking at him with surprise. “Really, Harry? Did you honestly think I wouldn't understand that look? Really? Mate, you're an open book, you can't hide anything from the Tommo.”

Those words seem to unsettle Harry somehow, because he's now biting his lip with much more force and he's not smiling anymore. Louis blinks, surprised by that quick change of mood, and he can't believe Harry didn't understand he didn't mean anything bad by saying that. Louis thought he learnt a lot about Harry and the way he reacts to jokes in the last few months. Or maybe he didn’t.

“Hey,” he says, putting a hand on Harry's shoulder and squeezing it. “I was joking, don't make that face. I just want to play FIFA so, Liam, give Niall that damn remote so I can beat you all without any mercy and look awesome at my girlfriend’s eyes.”

Both Eleanor and Harry snort at those words and Louis feels a little bit uncomfortable when he doesn't know whom to glare at first. Niall, in front of him, seems to catch his thought because he starts laughing and immediately Louis decides it's him he's going to glare at first.

“How do you want to lose, Horan? Quick and with shame or slow and agonising? Your choice.”

Niall raises his eyebrow. “I don't know, Louis, what about not losing at all?”

“Pft, as if it were possible. But I'm going to be good with you, because I'm a nice person. Let's team up! I’m obviously taking Harry this time around,” Louis blindly reaches Harry's hand and holds his wrist, just to prove the point, and smirks when Niall snorts.

“Okay. I take Liam!”

“And I take this lovely lady to the kitchen,” Zayn says, standing up from the couch and walking towards Eleanor. “Because you're rude and I'm a gentleman. How do you even manage to be with Louis, honestly? And I'm not even going to talk about kissing him. Or worse.”

Eleanor laughs and shrugs. “I guess it's a habit.”

“Hey!” Louis says, offended. “I'm here, you know, I can hear you!”

Eleanor just laughs again and Louis keeps staring at them with his eyebrows raised. They don't even look at him, too busy making fun of him, and Louis decides that if they want to do that, fine, he'll play along. He can already taste the moment when Eleanor will come to hug him and ask for a kiss and then, ha!, he'll remind her of this very moment.

But, for now, he has to play FIFA as Harry is silently reminding him, tugging his shirt like a child.

He turns to him, smiling, and a second later he sits on the couch next to Liam and Niall, Harry on the floor a little far away.

“So, Liam, tell me how I can get revenge on your boy for stealing my girlfriend for the sole purpose of making fun of me,” he says, looking at the TV while Niall is setting everything up. Liam just shrugs.

“He wants to know her, I suppose. I mean, he wasn't around as much as those two when El came to town those last times.”

It's Louis' time to shrug, because he can't think about anything sarcastic to answer. It's a good motivation, he has to admit, and he's happy that his friend wants to know Eleanor. And it's quite right, since he and Liam are so close, and obviously Zayn is going to be Liam's plus one at every party and everything else in the future, no question about that. But he's not going to tell this to Liam, not until he tells him about this afternoon and all the juicy details.

They play for a while and it's a tough match. They're all good at the game, since they play almost every time they hang out, and there isn't really a weak link or anything that could be in favour of the opposite team. He and Harry are good as much as Niall and Liam, so the game is kind of exhausting.

“Oh, come on!” Harry yells at some point, raising his hands and turning towards Niall, who's smirking after having scored.

“I'm just that good, Haz, sorry,” Niall says, but he doesn't seem sorry at all.

“Come on, pumpkin, let's give these two what they deserve,” Louis says, taking back control of the game.

They're silent for a long time, something like two minutes, which is unusual for them. Louis is doing his best and he's about to score when Niall starts talking about random stuff. He doesn't really have a point, and it's obvious he just wants to distract him. But Harry, who's still sitting in front of his friends, turns to face Niall and mutters something. Louis supposes he's trying to silence him, maybe he's telling him to stop bothering, but Louis really doesn't catch a word because he sees something he didn't expect at all. While turning, Harry's shirt opened a little bit, revealing the boy's pectoral muscles. Louis already knew Harry has a nice body, he works out for god's sake, and even if sometimes he stares at him because he's bloody envious of that shape, that's not what he's looking at now. Not bothering about the game anymore, Louis drops his remote control and immediately gets on the floor next to Harry.

“Lou, what the hell! We were going to win!” Harry protests, but Louis isn’t listening.

“What’s that?”

Louis doesn't acknowledge Liam and Niall's curious expressions, nor Harry's surprise, when he takes Harry's shirt and unbuttons it, opening it a little bit. He bites his lip, looking at the skin which is so different from the last time he saw it. Not daring to look at Harry’s face, Louis passes his fingers over the shape of a swallow inked on Harry's skin. There are two of them, facing each other, and Louis is sincerely astonished.

They're beautiful.

“They're amazing,” he whispers, still tracing the shape of the right one with his fingers. “Why didn't you tell me you were going to get these?”

“Ehm...” Harry says. Louis finally looks at him, finding him flushed. “It was a surprise. I was going to tell you tonight, actually, but then, well, I didn't expect your girlfriend to be here and it would have been weird to take off my shirt in front of her, wouldn't it?”

Louis smiles a bit, his hand still on Harry's chest. “Love, you walk around naked when I'm in your kitchen.”

“Yeah, but...” Harry's face is now red as a tomato. “You're you.”

Louis smiles at him and Harry smiles back. They keep staring at each other for a few seconds, Louis still unconsciously tracing the shape of the birds, and it's Liam who breaks the moment with a cough. Louis blinks, coming back to reality, and immediately takes his hand off of Harry's chest. Harry's smile fades a bit, but Liam speaks before he or Louis can say anything.

“I think Eleanor is coming back from the kitchen. And Zayn, yes, him too.”

Louis nods. He turns to Harry, smiling at him one more time, before sitting next to him on the floor. He leans his back against the couch and immediately feels Liam's hand on his shoulder, squeezing it. He has a feeling they're going to talk as soon as Eleanor goes back to Cambridge.

“You'll show me those swallows, Styles. And you will tell me everything about them.”

Harry blushes, bot nods. “Yeah. Maybe not when your girlfriend is around, though.”

Louis smiles, looking towards the kitchen. As if she sensed that they're talking about her, a second later Eleanor comes out and Louis immediately recognises her expression. It's the face she makes when she's bored and wants to go shopping on a Saturday afternoon, when Louis just really wants to see the Manchester United game.

“Lou, I'm really tired, can we go?”

And, yeah, Louis really knows her. Harry, next to him, sighs and looks at him.

“You just got here, it hasn’t even been an hour,” he says, voice low like it's a secret. Louis bites his lip, because Harry is damn right. He just got there and it was supposed to be FIFA night with his friends, whom he hasn't seen for what seems like ages, but what can he honestly do?

“I'm sorry,” he whispers, before getting up. “Yeah, Eleanor, we can go.”

Louis tries to ignore the weird feeling he has in the pit of his stomach. He doesn't want to be angry or disappointed with Eleanor, it's not her fault, she just wanted to make him a surprise by arriving a day earlier. She was trying to be nice. But Louis really loves spending time with his friends, just the five of them at home being idiots. And it's been awhile since the last time.

Well, he supposes it doesn't matter now.

Louis looks at Harry, who's smiling a sad smile. His dimples are hidden and his eyes are serious. It's so strange to see that expression on Harry, it doesn't suit him at all. Niall isn't looking at him, but Liam and Zayn have the same soft expression. It's like they want to reassure him somehow and Louis doesn't get that.

He will understand, eventually.

He waves goodbye and a moment later he's out of the flat. Eleanor holds him by his waist and she kisses his cheek. Louis smiles at her, but he's lucky she's tired because otherwise she'd see his disappointment and the sense of guilt for being disappointed in his eyes.

Louis sighs. Sometimes, he thinks, it's so hard to be both a boyfriend and a good friend.

 

 

Chapter Text

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“I'm so tired.”

It's almost eleven o'clock on a Wednesday morning and Louis is sitting on a bench. Running some errands for him and his superior is probably the best way to tire out his legs; it’s even worse than football practice. Louis lowers his head on the back of the bench, taking a breath. It's not all about physical tiredness, it's more a mental thing. 'Go there, then there and then–' and then sincerely everything can go fuck itself.

He sighs, putting both hands on his belly, fingers intertwined and eyes closed. It's a beautiful day and he would like to spend it lying on the grass, since he's already at Hyde Park, but he has to go to work in the afternoon, so he has only a few hours of freedom left.

“I bet you are,” Harry's voice distracts him from his thoughts. Oh, yes, there's Harry almost dead next to him. “We've been running around the city since eight!”

Louis smiles a little. Now he's looking at his friend and finds that he's probably in worse condition than he is: Harry is all sweaty and there are droplets down his forehead. His chest is probably sweaty too, because the white shirt he’s wearing is stuck to his skin. In short, he looks like he's just run ten miles non stop.

“You should be thanking me,” Louis answers, because no way he's going to show he's more exhausted than Harry, “because this way you'll have a hell of a body to show to the world!”

“That’s why I work out, you idiot. On my terms and when I want to. And today I would've preferred to stay on the couch, to be honest,” he says, his voice a little rough.

“You liar,” Louis protests. “At some point, about ten or half past ten, you'd have called me to hang out because you were bored. I know you, Harry Styles.”

Harry laughs out loud. “Yeah, it's probably true.”

The thing is that Louis showed up at Harry's flat at eight that morning and the boy was still in bed: he rang the doorbell continuously for two minutes straight, until his friend opened it with a killer’s glare and he thought that Harry would have probably murdered him if he weren't... well, him . Louis announced that he had something to do around the city and he didn't want do it alone, so, maybe Harry could help him and keep him company.

They went here and there for the entire morning, from the post office to the photographer who's working with Louis for his latest article, to Starbucks to take a coffee because it’s always time for some coffee. In the end, they went to a bookshop where Louis bought a book for Liam, for no other reason than the fact Louis is a hell of a friend and he buys random stuff for his friends whenever he feels like it. When Harry looked at the shelf with Freud and friends with heart-shaped eyes, Louis was busy looking for Ben Elton's book to see if it had his name and phone number on it, as he always does when he goes to a shop that sells secondhand books. Yeah, he knows it doesn't work that way, that he has to find the CD, but he always takes a look nevertheless. Of course he searches the CD section as well, it’s not like he cheats or something, he just likes to double his possibilities.

Anyway, the fact that Harry spent his free time keeping him company while he had to go around the city for boring stuff, means he is a hell of a friend, too. Louis looks at him and notices he has his eyes closed, a ghost of a smile still on his face.

“Can I tell you something?”

Harry stays in that position without doing anything, like he hasn't even heard Louis' words. His chest is still going up and down slowly, it seems like he's still trying to regulate his breath. After a moment he opens his mouth. “Is it a good thing?”

Louis grins. “When the fuck have I said anything bad to you?”

“I don't know,” Harry says.

“I won't even waste my time answering you! You twat!” he can't help but smile. Louis turns to look at the blue sky, his hands are still on his belly and he can feel his own chest starting to beat harder.

Louis realises he's trembling because of the fresh air hitting his skin and, since he's still sweaty, he feels shivers all over his body.

He bites his lip and then thinks there's too much silence for a public park. Louis turns to Harry and finds him staring.

“What?”

Harry frowns. “I'm waiting! You said you have something to tell me.”

“Oh lord, I was about to forget...”

“Who's the twat now?” Harry laughs and yes, he's right. He shakes his head, punching Louis' shoulder a bit. “You're getting old, you’re starting to forget things.”

“Shut the fuck up, Styles.”

“Talk to me! I'm curious now!” Harry shouts, shaking on the spot. Louis thinks that he probably won't tell him anything just because it's too funny seeing Harry being a weirdo. “You just can’t drop the bomb and then pretend it’s nothing, Lou.”

“It's not news, anyway,” he says then, shrugging. “It's like a... friendly reminder.”

Harry snorts and crosses his arms and Louis knows he's really curious. Well, whatever.

“I just– I want to tell you that I care a lot about you, that's it,” Louis says, shrugging again. “And I want to thank you for being my friend and for not being bored of me already.”

Harry already knew those things, but it's not a bad thing to remind him sometimes, is it? Louis says he loves Liam all the time, but with Harry things are more... He doesn't know, assumed ? It's like when he says that he loves Liam above other people, but it remains that he has a girlfriend whom he loves so hard, so it's assumed that she's on a different level. He doesn't know how to explain it. He only knows that he realised he never said anything nice to Harry. He really likes him and he's happy when they spend time together, and he felt sorry about not having said anything like that yet. But now that he did say something, his chest is a bit lighter.

Harry stares at him for ages before leaning his body against Louis'. Well, he really didn't expect a hug from Harry just for saying something nice to him. Louis finds himself smiling and returns the hug. He can't see Harry's face because it’s leaning on his shoulder and he has his nose in Harry's hair. He holds him tight and his friend does the same. Louis doesn't even care that he probably smells like hell, but Harry seems at ease, anyway.

They stay in that position for who knows how long. When Louis looks up, he notices that Harry has his legs on the bench and his grip on him is less tight, but there nevertheless, as if he doesn’t intend to get up anytime soon nor let Louis go. He thinks that Harry won't say a word, when he feels his breath tickling the bare skin of his chest.

“Me too, you know,” Harry says. Louis has even forgotten what he said earlier, because Harry took too long answering. He puts his hand on Harry's curls, starting to play with them, and why the fuck is his heart still beating so fast? “I'm really happy I met you, Louis.”

“Me too,” he repeats, and he means it. Then, since the situation is too quiet and bromantic for him, he feels compelled to say something to break it. “Even because in FIFA tournaments I’d have to team up with Zayn without you and that’s just not right!”

Harry raises his head from Louis’ shoulder and pinches his arm hard, laughing. They spend about five minutes teasing each other with pinches and slaps and whatever and yes, Louis really cares a lot about Harry.

“Wait, wait!” he yells, shaking off Harry from his body. “What about a selfie?”

Harry raises an eyebrow. “You know what...? I’ve always thought that sounds like a dirty word.”

“Styles, you're not technological at all,” he says, taking his phone. “Ok, I’ll say it old fashion just for your sake: what about me and you taking a picture together?”

Now that Harry is happy not mentioning apparently dirty words – 'selfie', seriously, only Harry – he seems more confident and he lowers again against Louis. “So, what position? Do you want me to blow a kiss to the camera, make a weird face or what?”

“Just,” Louis says, raising the phone so the camera can take them both, “be yourself.”

Then Harry laughs out loud, puts both his arms on Louis' body and presses his mouth on his cheek, still laughing. Louis slips on his spot and accidentally clicks the button and well, the picture is taken. What the fuck, Styles. Louis wipes his cheek with a hand because yes, Harry is nice but he's all sweaty. Now he can hear Liam's voice in his head talking and saying 'little princeeeeessss' to him, but really, it’s kind of gross.

“Let me see it!” Harry says, holding a hand towards Louis' phone and trying to steal it. Louis moves up his arm so Harry can't take it from him. “I always look shitty in pics.”

Louis snorts. “Yeah, sure. You have the prettiest face ever, you totally can't look shitty in pics.”

The boy stops fighting to reach Louis' arm and sticks out his tongue. Louis smiles and then goes through the gallery in his phone to find the picture. While he's swearing at the fucking slowness of his phone, he hears a particularly familiar song, then Harry takes his own phone out and Louis knows exactly what it is. It's Glowing by The Script and Harry put it as his ringtone.

Harry frowns at the screen and then picks up the call. “Liam?”

Liam? Why is Liam calling Harry?

“Yeah, yeah, but how–” Harry says and Louis can't hear Liam's voice but he knows he's interrupting Harry. Then his friend laughs a little and hands his phone to Louis. “It's Liam.”

“Liam?” Louis asks and he knows he has the most confused look ever on his face. Harry laughs again and squeezes his thigh, then he just leaves his hand there.

“Hi, Lou.”

“I have two questions: one,” and he catches Harry's finger to count, even if Liam definitely can't see him. Harry doesn't say anything, he just bites his lip, as if Louis couldn't see his dimples, “why the hell didn't you call me on my phone? And two, how the fuck did you know I was with Harry?”

“First, every time I tried to call you it went straight to the voicemail, maybe there's bad signal wherever you are,” Liam answers with a strange tone. It seems like he's tired or annoyed by something. “And second, if you're not working, where could you be if not with Harry? I know you, Lou.”

And uh, Liam is right and Louis had never thought about that. Especially recently, whenever he has free time, he always ends up spending it with Harry.

Okay, Liam has a point.

“But–”

“Lou, where are you?” Liam interrupts him, his tone quite urgent.

“Hyde Park, why do you ask?”

Liam is quiet on the other side of the phone and Louis starts to worry: since he answered the call, he has had this low strange voice. “Zayn asked me out.”

Louis almost chokes on his own spittle and then looks at Harry, who gives him a questioning look and mouths something he doesn't catch. “But... you two hang out oft–”

“No,” Liam interrupts him again, tripping over his own words. It's like he can't stop talking and, even if Louis thinks it's kind of rude, he also finds him endearing. “Listen, I think it's... it's for real, this time. He was all strange and… I’m coming to catch you there, so we can talk face to face, don't move your arse.” He says in a rush.

“But–” Louis tries to speak again, but Liam hangs up without letting him finish his sentence. He moves his eyes to Harry and he's about to say something, when the phone rings again. Liam, again. “I know, you forgot to say goodbye like a polite person, I accept your apologies.”

“Actually, well... Hyde Park is kind of huge so, where exactly are you guys?” his voice sounds a little bit guilty and thank you, Liam, you surely know how to show your regret.

“On a bench near the Diana Memorial Fountain, you can recognise us from our beauty, bye,” and now he's the one who hangs up first. Louis turns to Harry really slowly without saying a single word to him. When Harry continues to silently question him with his eyes, Louis grins a little and then smiles widely to his friend. “Do you remember that Cupid's van you wanted? It's time to use it! Payno needs help, we have work to do. Larry Stylinson are going to be the greatest fucking friends ever.”

Harry laughs out so loud that he almost falls on the ground, Louis can't help but love him for being so weirdly cute.

“You're an idiot, Harold,” he says, while Harry stands up and pats his jeans to clean them.

“Maybe,” he answers. “But you are, too. What do you mean by the way? What happened?”

Louis can't help but smile, because it was about time: he was looking forward to saying these words out loud. He tasted the moment some days ago, when Liam had doubts about Zayn’s proposition to hang out, just the two of them and asked him to ask Harry, but in the end Liam changed his mind and Louis never had the opportunity to share this with Harry. Now, he's really enjoying the moment. Maybe too much, because after a few seconds of silence Harry looks at him in a way that can be translated in 'so what, tell me'.

“Apparently Zayn asked Liam out,” he answers, way too seriously, but immediately smiles when he sees Harry sighing in relief.

“Oh my god, finally,” he says, leaning against the bench. “So Liam is coming here to freak out a little bit, right?”

Louis nods, smiling. It's strange how Harry knows Liam so well after only a couple of months, but it makes sense considering they spend so much of their time together.

“He should be here in ten minutes, I think, so...”

He's still holding Harry's phone, so he unlocks it to look at the time. He's really surprised by the background picture, he didn't expect it at all. He raises his eyes and finds Harry staring at him, biting his lip as always, and Louis can swear he's blushing. He turns again to look at the phone, where there's a picture of him and Harry. He remembers when Niall took it, a few nights back. They were walking by the Thames and the lights were gorgeous and Harry insisted he wanted to take a picture with him.

“It's... nice,” he says, because he can't avoid to make a comment, it would be strange since Harry noticed he was looking at the picture. “I didn't know you changed the background. I liked the giraffes with the sunglasses.”

“I like this better,” Harry mutters.

If Louis didn't know him he'd say Harry sounded a little bit embarrassed. He lets him take back his phone and avoids saying anything else on the subject, since Harry is trying his best not to look at him in the eyes. To be honest, Louis doesn't understand why. It's not like Harry having a picture of them as his background freaked him out, he actually finds it endearing. But if Harry doesn't want to talk about it, let's make him happy.

Harry is looking at his feet and Louis just wants to hug him and tell him to stop being ridiculous. He really doesn't like how everything seems awkward now; it's wrong, this isn't how he and Harry are together. There's no awkwardness when it comes to them, for no reason whatsoever.

“Hey,” he says, bumping his shoulder against Harry's. “I think it's time to change your contact picture in my phone. I want a summer one. Would you smile for me, pumpkin?”

And, thank god, Harry smiles. Louis can't help but sigh in relief, because he doesn't know how to manage a Harry who isn't happy as a sunflower. He likes his dimples, his funny faces, and Louis honestly wants to be there for him if Harry ever has a sad moment. But he doesn't want to be the reason, even less if it's all a misunderstanding. Maybe Harry is just tired and he took all the situation in the wrong way, he doesn't know. The point is that Harry is now smiling at his camera and the world is fine again.

“Perfect, Haz,” he says, setting the picture as Harry's contact one.

He looks at it for a moment and he has to say it's way better than the previous one. That had been taken at a party, it was dark and Harry was a little tipsy. This one is all light, Harry is smiling at him and his left dimple is visible. The trees behind kind of frame him and yes, Louis really likes it.

“Do you think Liam will let us grow old here? Like that time you two arrived super late and Zayn and I almost started playing poker?”

Louis smiles, shrugging. “I don't know, Haz. Liam isn't usually late, that would be me, but he's strange whenever it comes to Zayn. Maybe coming here to talk about their date is still a Zayn related thing and he thinks he has to be late...”

“How can I be late if I didn't give you a time?” Liam's voice, coming from somewhere behind him, startles Louis. He turns abruptly with a hand on his heart, just to find his best friend smirking.

“You almost gave me a heart attack, Liam Payne,” he says, not even joking. Liam just shrugs, gesturing him to move on the bench so he can sit. Louis complies, curling up under Harry’s arm, with his foot tucked underneath Harry’s thigh since the bench isn't really that big.

“So, how are you lads?” Liam says and Louis glares at him. He's about to tell Liam to cut the crap when Harry moves all his weight on Louis' body, laying on his thighs.

“Liam, shut up. No, sorry, don't shut up. Talk. Tell us everything. I want the whole story. Details!”

Louis smiles, Harry just read his mind. He puts his arm on Harry's back to be more comfortable, starting to play with a curl when Liam starts to talk. It's really relaxing playing with Harry's curls, like an anti-stress thing. Harry must find it enjoyable too, because he's leaning into his touch and Louis wouldn't be surprised at all if he started purring. It would just confirm Louis' theory that Harry is a kitten dressed as a twenty-four-year-old lad.

“Well, basically...” Liam is saying, but Louis doesn't miss how he's not looking at him or Harry. He's mostly looking at Louis' hand in Harry's curls, but he gives Louis a questioning look that he pointedly ignores. What Louis does with Harry's hair is not the point at all.

“Liiiiiiam, tell us!” Harry insists and, again, Louis just smiles. Sometimes he can be such a child.

“Well, you know that I've been hanging a lot with Zayn lately. It's always been a friends thing, I mean, nothing too romantic or things that you guys don't do. Nice things, basically, but never... I don't know, explicit?”

Harry nods but doesn't speak. Louis does the same, because Liam opening up so much is not a regular day thing and he doesn't want him to put up his walls before finishing.

“But about an hour ago, I don't know, I think he understood I'm a bit thick with romantic stuff and all and...” he blushes and Louis has to save this date on his calendar. “He asked me if I wanted to go to dinner with him and I asked him if he wanted me to tell you and... well, he said 'no, just the two of us. A real dinner in a real restaurant, I'm not a cheap date, you know'. And he was laughing, but not in a mocking way and... I don't know, Lou! Is this a date?”

Louis tries not to laugh, really, so what comes out of his mouth is some kind of snort that makes Liam frown. Harry looks at him with narrowed eyes and shakes his head, probably telepathically telling him he's being a bad friend for laughing at his best friend's fears. Well, he's probably right, but sometimes Liam can be so oblivious.

“Of course it's a date!” he says, rolling his eyes. “Liam, honestly, how can you not be sure? He practically told you 'hey, my dress for the prom is yellow, bring me daisies.’”

Liam looks at him, still frowning. “Yeah, but... What if we're seeing what we want to see? What if he doesn't mean that at all? We had these very same doubts just last week, it turned out it wasn’t a real date, just hanging out together.”

“Oh my god, Liam, stop. Believe in yourself! He totally wants you in his bed, I swear I can read it in his eyes every time we're with you two.”

“But–”

Louis is about to answer, probably with some kind of insult at Liam, when Harry elbows him in his stomach to silence him. When he talks he's completely serious and calm, the opposite of Louis a few seconds before.

“Liam, let me be clear: I agree with Louis. Zayn didn't tell me anything about this date, but I know he likes you and I think he's finally ready to show you, too, and to stop bothering Niall and me to death. And maybe he thinks now you are ready too. So I honestly don't believe you need our help.” Liam opens his mouth, maybe to protest, but Harry interrupts him before he can speak. “But if you want I can ask him,” when Louis is about to open his mouth to tell him how he had the same idea and how he wants Harry to do it, Harry gives him the same look he gave to Liam. “Obviously in a total random way, I'm not going to tell him you're not sure this is a date.”

Louis relaxes immediately, wondering how he even had a doubt that Harry wouldn’t think about Liam’s situation just like him. Liam can be an idiot sometimes, but Louis really isn't fond of seeing him humiliated for those moments of weakness. Asking Zayn if he really asked him out or if it was just an idea would have totally humiliated him. He smiles at Harry, tugging a curl in a way that he hopes says 'sorry I doubted you, I was just worried, thank god you think harder than me sometimes.’ Harry smiles at him, so maybe his message was well transmitted.

“Would you do that for me?” Liam asks, surprise all over his face and wow. Does he really need to ask? Harry loves him almost as much as Louis does, but he probably thought that without Louis’ input their friend wouldn’t have done him that favour.

“Do you really need to ask?” Harry says, shaking his head. “I care a lot about you, Li, and I care about Zayn. I want to see you guys happy. Of course I'd do that. And I will.”

He puts his hand on Louis' thigh, standing up from a position that must have been really uncomfortable. Louis takes his hand out of Harry's curls, but keeps his arm around his friend's shoulders while Harry takes his phone and taps something.

“Tell me what you think,” he passes his phone to Louis, who puts it between him and Liam so they can both read Harry's text.

Hey, mate. Heard you finally asked Liam out! Have a nice date and let me know all the spicy details ;) .x

“Yeah, it's okay, thank you,” Liam says, nodding. “But, for your information, there won't be any 'spicy details'. I don't put out on the first date.”

Both Harry and Louis laugh at those words. Liam seems more relaxed than before and Louis can finally be happy for him. He's sure of Zayn's answer, he has no doubts he intends to take Liam on a very romantic date, maybe with flowers and candles. Zayn seems the type, even if he'd probably deny it even under torture.

“Sent. Now we just have to wait,” Harry says and Louis immediately squeezes Liam's leg. He can see from his smile that Liam is a little tensed up, but nothing serious. He honestly just needs some kind of confirmation.

Zayn's answer arrives just a few minutes later. Harry keeps the phone in front of Louis, so everybody reads it at the same time.

Yeah, asked him this morning! A proper dinner and stuff. Wish me luck, mate! And, please, tell Lou not to give me the best friend speech. You know I care about Liam, don't need it ;)

“Well...” Louis says, trying not to smile too openly, since both Liam and Harry are doing that job pretty well on their own. “I guess you'll have to suit up, my friend. But, honestly, Haz, tell Zayn not to dream: of course I'm going to give him the talk. It's my Liam he's taking out!”

Liam just laughs, open and relaxed, and Louis can't help but smile. It was about time. He hasn't seen Liam this happy in ages. It's so nice, so right , to finally see that smile again. He can notice the crinkles by Liam's eyes, the light in them, and honestly Louis just wants to hug him and plant a kiss on his cheek.



xxx



Zayn is perfectly on time when he knocks at Liam's door. It's Louis who opens it and gives Zayn his best smile. Really, it is a smile, not a smirk or anything, as Harry wrongly suggested it to be. It really isn't. Zayn just rolls his eyes before speaking.

“Louis, what a surprise! Didn't expect you here at all.”

Louis fights back a laugh and gestures Zayn to enter. “My dear Zayn, please, come in. Liam isn't ready yet, he has to put a bow in his hair or choose the right shoes. I don't know. Whatever.”

Zayn raises an eyebrow, but smiles. “You locked him in his room just to give me the talk, didn't you?”

“Do you think so little of me?” Louis says, bringing a hand to his heart and pretending to be hurt by Zayn's words. “Well, actually Harry is giving him the 'be careful, you don't know whom he's been with' talk.”

Zayn shakes his head, laughing. “So you're daddy and Harry's mummy. Right?”

“Now that you say it... Yeah, maybe,” Louis says, smiling, but he's serious a moment later. “And, Zayn. I like you, I really do, you're my mate and I care a lot about you. But Liam is my best friend and he's my person in a Meredith Grey-Cristina Yang way, if you know what I mean. Don't even try to hurt him or I swear I'll find you even if you’re in Narnia.”

Zayn smiles, nodding. “You know me, Lou. But I'll note it down. He's lucky to have you, you know?”

Louis smiles, a little bit sheepishly, looking at the floor. “No, I'm lucky to have him.”

Harry and Liam arrive right then. Liam is really gorgeous tonight, but Louis honestly thinks that Zayn would have liked him even if he had worn a plastic bag.

“Hey,” Zayn says, smiling.

“Hey,” Liam answers, reaching him and opening the door.

“Have fun, you two,” Harry says, then pretends to wipe a tear from his eye. “Oh, Lou, look at them. Our babies so grown up!”

And really, nobody can blame Louis for laughing. Liam and Zayn shake their heads, grinning like two idiots, and Louis is so happy for both of them. He looks at them walking away, leaving him with Harry, and he’s sure the smile won’t leave his face for the rest of the night.

Louis keeps staring at the door even when Zayn closes it behind himself: he knows he doesn't need to worry at all, Liam will be perfectly fine with the lad and he's so happy for him. For them, actually, they're both lucky men. Louis even knows that he's been looking into space since they left and he probably looks lost, so he blinks and puts his hands in the pockets, before turning to face a smiling Harry.

Harry clears his throat. “Well, I have a suggestion.”

“If this suggestion doesn't include moving my butt from the sofa it's fine with me,” Louis says, shrugging. Then Harry shakes his head but he's smiling shyly and Louis wants to ruffle his hair right in that moment.

“Actually, it doesn't include anything,” Harry answers and he turns on his heels, heading to Liam's bedroom. Louis raises an eyebrow because okay, for a second he thought the plan was falling asleep in Liam's bedroom and just stay there for the rest of the night. Knowing Harry, it could be. But now he's back with a DVD in his hand and a huge smile printed on his face. “I was wondering if you’re still blind to the magnificence that is Love, Actually or finally watched it because, well, I found this and I really want to help your ignorance.”

Louis snorts and goes towards the boy, grabbing the DVD from his hands. He sighs, because he’s not sure he wants to watch it. “Do you mean we have to lay here all night slowly killing ourselves by clogging our arteries?”

“You're so grumpy!” Harry says, grabbing back the DVD from Louis' hands. “I just want to see your eyes turn into little hearts,” and Louis can't help but laugh out loud because what the hell? Harry is looking at him with a hopeful expression and that fucking DVD raised in the air. And, well.

He raises his hands in surrender. “Okay, okay, you won. You put on the film, I’ll think about the rest.”

“The rest?”

“Yeah, I'm going to retrieve something salty from Liam's cupboard, I don't want to die because of sugar excess,” he simply says, avoiding Harry's glance. He goes to the kitchen and, after searching a bit, he finds pretzels and breadsticks and why not? Louis hugs the boxes with his right arm and grabs a bottle of Coke from the fridge with his free hand. He immediately wonders why the fuck they’re stealing food and beverages from Liam instead of watching the DVD in his own flat.

Well, he doesn't know, it's just like that. Liam won't be mad at them and... He has the best sofa ever, after all, that’s probably the main reason. Liam's sofa is bigger than Louis' bed, at the end of the day.

When Louis comes back to the living room, Harry is already sitting on the couch with the remote control in one hand, feet on the coffee table and a pillow in his lap. The view is kind of funny, though he doesn’t know why, and Louis can't stop himself from smiling. He puts the boxes on the table and opens the bottle.

“Mpf, I forgot glasses,” he says and he's about to go back to the kitchen when Harry speaks.

“Don’t be silly, we don't need them,” and he lowers his body to steal the bottle from Louis' hands and then drinks a little bit. He really wants to know what's wrong with this guy. No, he doesn't, to be honest. Harry sighs and hands it back to Louis. “I don't have herpes or anything, just saying.”

“I really hope not,” he answers, drinking. “But I might have Styles' disease when I'm done.”

“Shut up and sit,” Harry laughs, patting the free spot on the couch next to him.

Louis finally gets his butt all settled in and then Harry turns the telly on. He really doesn't want to watch this film, not for a specific reason, he just... Doesn't want to watch it. But Harry made his Harry face, so Louis couldn't say no. When he watched Love, Actually ages ago, he liked it, even if he missed half film. So, his lack of desire is not because of the film itself, he just doesn't want to do anything.

He grabs the box of pretzels for himself and hands the one with breadsticks to his friend. The last thing Louis remembers is leaning his head on the armrest, then he fell asleep, probably only twenty minutes through the film... But he was so tired and his eyes just wanted to stay closed.

Louis wakes up in the middle of the night, finding himself sandwiched between Harry and Liam. Seriously, what!?

He's in the same position as he was when he fell asleep: he's on his right hip with the head on the armrest, but now his legs are on the couch. Liam's face is about five inches from his nose, he's so close to him and his expression is so relaxed that Louis wants to touch him to see if he's actually real. Liam is sparkling, and Louis would like to wake him up to know everything about his date, but maybe it's not the right time. And then there's Harry, wrapped all over Louis' body with the head on his hip: he's kind of hugging Louis' waist with his left arm and he's breathing really slow, tickling gently Louis’ skin. Louis' hand is next to Harry's cheek and he has to collect all his strength not to move it to the lad's hair.

Harry probably noticed Louis falling asleep after two seconds but didn't say a word. Knowing him, he probably just snorted and lowered his head on Louis without thinking too much and then falling asleep as well. When Liam came back home he must have found them sleeping, and he surely had no heart to wake them up, so he just joined them. But Louis can't explain the blanket covering them, was that Harry or Liam? He doesn't care so much, he just thinks that he's sharing a really sweet moment with two of his favourite people in the world and he's about to cry of happiness.

Louis finds himself laughing quietly and now Harry is moving on his spot: he stretches his body a little, yawning. Then he stands up a bit with his eyes still closed and Louis isn't sure if he's asleep or not. Harry lowers a bit towards him and stays quiet for a moment, rubbing his eyes before clinging on Louis' chest and now his breath is slow again. Louis does an instant gesture: he extracts his left arm from under Harry's body and puts it on his back, starting to caress his hip. Louis feels Harry's body stiffen for a moment and he thinks he could have woken him up, but then Harry relaxes under his touch. When Louis stops moving his hand on his friend's back, Harry sighs loudly and scratches Louis' chest slowly like a kitten. He does this thing for a few seconds and, when Louis begins to caress his hip again, he stops. Weird boys doing weird things, that's it.

He finds himself trembling and he really can't explain his own feelings. He's just... Happy. So happy.



xxx



Louis' head feels like exploding. He woke up about five minutes ago and he thought it would have been better sleep for another three or four hours. He presses a hand on his forehead, as if he could be able to stop the pain that way.

Before opening his eyes to face the light, he moves his hand like he's trying to grab something, but he's just doing an useless gesture, because there's only air. Louis immediately feels so numb but he has to open his eyes, so he does. The light is blinding, but he stands up and stays seated for a moment, avoiding the pain shockwave from getting up too fast. Why his head is still aching like this, he really doesn't know, maybe he did contract some disease from drinking by the same bottle as Harry. He smirks and the memories from the previous night immediately come up in his mind.

Louis stands up and he's about to ask himself where the hell have his friends gone, when he hears voices coming from the kitchen. He tiptoes towards the door and he just wants to do a royal entrance, but his name captures his ears.

“Yeah, Louis does it all the time,” Liam is saying with a laugh.

“Really?”

“I swear,” Liam answers over Harry's grin. “It's kind of a habit, I guess.” He shrugs.

“He's a strange guy,” Harry says with low voice. “In a good way, of course. I knew it the very moment I talked to him. Maybe it's because of that that I invited him for a hot chocolate.”

Oh, Louis is the strange guy now? Look who's talking! The boy who has Destiny as a mate.

“Yeah, maybe,” Liam's voice says and absolute silence follows that statement. Louis feels like they're sharing knowing looks and he can't stay out the door doing anything. He takes a step in the kitchen and immediately Liam widens his eyes. “Look who's awake!”

Louis yawns in response. Now he can see his friends' faces and what they're doing: Liam is right near the table with a pan full of eggs in middle air and Harry is standing against the cupboard with his arms crossed and a tired look on his face. And, Louis doesn't know where the fuck it came from, but he's wearing his headscarf as if he woke up that morning feeling like in a Rambo movie.

“I made breakfast!” Liam shouts happily.

“Someone is in a happy mood,” Louis says going at the table and slipping on a chair. “After putting everything possible in my mouth, you have to tell us everything about last night. But now I'm starving.”

Liam shrugs, smiling and then he's looking from him to Harry. “Nothing in particular happened last night, to be honest. We had dinner and went around the city. The only difference was that we were both well clothed, actually, and he held my hand sometimes. What about you two?”

Louis frowns and grabs the pan from Liam's hand, since it seems he doesn't have any intention to put food in the dishes. Harry sits in front of him and hands his plate. “I definitely heard that wrong,” he says in the end, putting eggs for him and Harry.

“Why?”

“Why?” he repeats. “The two of you are so... I don't know. And what about kisses?”

Liam sits on his usual spot at the table and shrugs, a little smirk on his face. “We haven't kissed yet.”

The ladle falls into Louis' plate. “Kisses? Cuddles? Caresses and shitty stuff like that...?”

“Uo-hoo, simmer down, Lou,” Liam grins. “It's– it was the first date, okay? We have to get used to do this, it's completely new! And I'm very happy, it was the best night ever.”

“Yes, but... kisses! ” Louis yells because oh my god.

“What!” Liam yells back. “To be honest, you two probably spent the night in a more romantic way than we did.”

Did a plague hit the city since the night before? Louis wants to know, because Liam was hit for sure by some unknown substance, otherwise he doesn't know how to explain his face and his weird smile and whatever. Louis looks at Harry with an eyebrow raised and he's staring back with an expressionless look that Louis can't read. Instead of helping him, Harry starts putting forkfuls of eggs in his mouth.

“Yeah, very romantic,” Louis says, sighing. “I fell asleep twenty minutes into the film. Sorry about that, Haz.”

“It was the sixteenth minute, actually,” he answers, grinning. Louis is cursing himself because he can't read Harry's face this morning and it is killing him. “But don't worry, now that I know Liam has the DVD, you can't run forever, Lou.”

“The two of you are such a married couple!” Liam teases, pinching Louis’ cheek and earning a glare. “When I came back home last night you were all curled up and I couldn't wake you up.” Liam is laughing weirdly and he doesn't understand if he's mocking them or if he really thinks something is up. Liam's probably too blinded by his love for Zayn that he can't see anything but love everywhere around him.

Louis tries to speak but he has to clear his throat and he ends up choking on his eggs and what the actual fuck, he's going to murder his best friends and their smirks. When he finally stops coughing, he has to take a breath before talking again. “Liam, you can't compare love to Larry Stylinson's bond.”

Both Harry and Liam laugh out loud and, even if Louis didn't expect it, he finds himself following them and just can't stop. Then they stay quiet for a bit, eating their breakfast, when Liam breaks the silence. “You were too cute, by the way.”

Louis takes the first thing handy – a spoon – and throws it at Liam, missing him. His friend keeps laughing and it seems like Harry is having fun, too. Louis stares at him for a bit, tracking the features of his face without saying a word. He's probably still smiling, he doesn't even know. He realises that Harry is staring back at him and a second later Louis' fork falls on his plate and the eggs scatter a bit on the table.

“What's going on here?” Liam says and he seems pretty serious.

“What?” Louis answers. “I just have shitty hands! I cuddled Harry last night, he probably wore me out, you're happy now?”

Louis can't tell the look that is now printed on Liam's face but, even worse, he can't tell the one on Harry's. It's a work of art, actually, and he would probably laugh at his weird expression if it weren’t for the fact that something seems off. Harry is smiling, and this is nothing new, and his dimples are in the right place, but he has this kind of happiness mixed to sadness that he can't handle. Louis doesn't remember him that way the night before, maybe something happened while they were asleep. But what? What could have happened? It's strange seeing him with those eyes.

“And it seems he liked it very much, he was prrrrr-ing like a cat!” Louis adds, trying to lighten the mood and holding a hand towards Harry, trying to tickle his nose. Harry laughs and sticks out his tongue, still smiling. “Anyway, this might sound weird but I love sleeping with you guys, we have to do it more often. You are so soft and Harry's hair it's like 'touch meeee touch meeee' all the time. It's a good way to fall asleep, I swear.”

“Tommo, you are insane,” Liam states, closing his eyes and putting a hand on his forehead. He's having fun, Louis knows it.

“Maybe,” he says. “But you can't deny that I'm fabulous. Nope, fabu louis is the right word. Okay, I'm done.”

They're all laughing so hard that Harry almost falls on the ground. He's trying to restrain himself, but he really can't stop and puts both hands on his belly. Harry wipes some tears from the corner of his eye and looks at Louis. Liam is choking on his eggs and thank god Louis is not the only one.

Louis looks at his friends and can't help but think that he's very lucky to have them. The headache is gone now and his happiness is treating him well even if he can't get over the strange feeling he has in his gut when he meets Harry's eyes. And for fuck's sake, he's not going to tell anyone about his shivers when he stroked Harry's skin the night before.

 

 

Chapter Text

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Stupid article and stupid deadline and stupid inspiration and stupid staying-up-all-night-to-write and stupid tiredness and stupid everything, really.

Louis can't help but curse all the events that led him to miss Ed's first gig, a couple of weeks back, because it really was a shame. Now that he's finally seeing him performing, Louis really regrets he couldn't attend the first time. Ed's voice is like velvet and his songs are romantic and nice without being cheesy. Harry is sitting next to him and he has been lip-synching all the songs since the beginning of the gig. Louis thinks it's respectful actually listening to him, instead of madly screaming like people do at concerts.

“He's really good,” Louis says. Harry turns towards him but he has a quizzical expression, he probably didn't catch Louis' words. Understandable, since they're close to the speakers. Louis leans towards him and repeats the sentence right into Harry's ear, his curls tickling the tip of his nose.

“He is, right?” Harry answers, a broad smile on his face. “He's going to make it big! I know it!”

Louis smiles, nodding. Harry turns again towards the stage, eager not to miss a single second of Ed's show. Being his friend and studying with him, he probably heard him singing tons and tons of times, but he still wants to be there. It's so nice of him, Louis considers, but it’s not a surprise; if he thinks about it, it's kind of an obvious behaviour for Harry. It's just who he is, a friend always there for you. He squeezes his thigh under the table, just because he wants and he doesn't feel like he tells Harry enough how much he's grateful for having him in his life. With a glimpse, Louis catches Harry turning towards him, again with a questioning look. He smiles a little bit, something he's sure Harry will catch but the others won't, and he's rewarded with a similar smile on Harry's face.

“Hey, I'm going to the loo, be back in a few,” Zayn announces and Harry chuckles. Louis gives him a curious look, but he turns to Zayn immediately.

“Thank you for sharing this information,” he says. Zayn just shrugs.

“Sharing is caring, Lou.”

At those words, Liam laughs. Really , Louis thinks. His best friend is so gone for Zayn that he actually laughs at lame jokes, because that was really bad. But Liam doesn't seem to be bothered, because he still has a smile on his face and little hearts in his eyes. Louis resists the urge to snort, but he elbows him anyway, just to make his friend stop staring at Zayn's back.

“Don't look at him while he goes to the bathroom,” Louis says. “There are places where a man doesn't want to be followed, Payno. I don't think you're already at that point in your relationship.”

Liam blushes and, wow, this is going to be so good. Louis missed in-love-Liam, with all the shyness and the blushing and everything. It's quite a show and it's his duty, as a perfect best friend, to mock him until the end of days. It kind of comes with the job, right?

“Look at my Liam all red and embarrassed!” he jokes, pinching his cheek. Niall, sat in front of him, laughs out loud.

“You may think he's a tough bloke,” Niall says, looking at Liam with a smirk. “All boxing and work out, but he's just a giant puppy who falls for Bambi eyes and a romantic soul.”

“I'm not a giant puppy,” Liam mutters, but blushes even more.

“But you fall for Bambi eyes and romantic souls, Li, don't deny it.”

Louis laughs when Liam doesn't answer, instead he fixes his eyes on the stage, where Ed just stopped singing. He's now talking and, judging by Harry's glare, he probably should listen to him instead of making fun of Liam. He turns towards the stage, smiling apologetically to Harry, and focuses on Ed. There's always time to mock Liam, after all.

“Tonight is a special night,” Ed is saying. “We're going to do something different than the usual. You see, tonight we have someone special in the audience.”

Louis looks around, smiling at the way people just started whispering. It may be just a pub and Ed maybe isn't famous yet, but he still has his fans and that statement... Well, he is curious to know, he can imagine how his fans feel right now. Harry is trying to hide a smile, but the dimples get him away.

“Hey, who's the lucky lady?” he whispers in his ear, trying not to be heard by the people sat at the table next to theirs. Harry shakes his head, gesturing to Ed.

Okay, so being friends with one of the few people who already know doesn't bring special treatments. Good to know.

“No, hey, don't start with the gossip!” Ed says, laughing. “It's not about me. So, as I was saying, we have someone special tonight and another someone special wants to make a surprise. I indeed have some romantic friends! Everybody, please welcome my boy, Zayn!”

Louis really doesn't know what to do. He freezes at the name, then Zayn is on stage and Harry is grinning so widely Louis suspects he'll be stuck with that expression for the rest of his life. Niall is attempting to say something of use between curses, but failing at any real meaning so, looks like he's surprised as well, but most importantly... Liam. Liam has his mouth open, he's completely speechless and he can't take his eyes off the stage. There’s a chance he’s physically unable to do that.

“Harry, what–” Louis starts, because it looks like Harry is the only one who knows what's going on. Harry turns towards him and puts his hand on Louis' mouth, shaking his head.

“Shh, just... listen,” he says, then he turns his head towards the stage, leaving his hand on Louis' mouth for no apparent reason.

“Hi, everyone,” Zayn is saying and, right, Zayn.

Louis brings his hand on Harry's and gently removes it from his mouth, but he keeps holding to it because he's not sure he'll be able to hear Zayn's words without an anchor. Blindly he searches for Liam's wrist with his free hand, holding it, just to make sure Liam knows he's still here.

“First of all, thank you, Ed, for making me this huge favour. And thanks, Harry, for helping me out. And I suppose I also have to thank Louis and Niall, because they'd feel jealous otherwise,” Zayn smiles, looking at the ground for a second, but a moment later he turns to Liam. “But, most of all, thank you .”

And that's it, Louis thinks, the moment Liam loses all the remains of his dignity and that little space in his mind which hadn't been touched by Zayn. He can see it in how Liam is smiling, a smile that's pure joy. A smile Louis hasn't seen in years. He squeezes his wrist a little bit, even if Liam ignores it completely, and then looks at Harry.

“Thank you,” he mouths, smiling. Harry just nods, right when Ed and Zayn start singing.

Wait. Zayn is singing. Zayn is singing and he's pretty good, too. Well, understatement of the year. Zayn is freaking awesome and his voice is really, really, really good. He looks at Harry, surprised, but his friend is grinning again.

“I've fallen for your eyes, but they don't know me yet, and the feeling I forget, I'm in love now...”

Louis is speechless and, honestly, that doesn't happen on regular basis. Ten points to Zayn. His friend is still singing with Ed and he doesn't always look at Liam, only most of the time. He doesn't know if everyone understands what's going on, or if it's just obvious to them who know everything.

What Louis knows is that Liam is on the edge of a heart attack, Harry seems unable to stop smiling, Niall is dusting off his curses collection and he is speechless. Good job, Zayn. Really, really good.

Louis listens to the song, one of the most romantic and lovely songs he has ever heard, and when it’s finished he's pretty sure he loves Zayn a little bit more than before. He's so happy for Liam, for real, because Zayn is this shy and almost closed off person and he just sang his love for Liam in front of an audience. What a gesture.

“So, ehm, thanks?” Zayn says when the song is over. His cheeks seem a bit red, but maybe it's because of the lights. “One more thing... Always remember that Green Lantern is better than Batman!”

And Louis has to laugh, because that was such a lame intent to try to hide the huge thing he just did, even Louis understands that. He looks at his friend while he gets off of the stage, a hand rubbing his neck in embarrassment, and Louis thinks it's a little too late for that. When Zayn arrives at their table and stands in front of them, Louis can't help but smile at him. He deserves it.

“So...” he says, still rubbing his neck, just when Niall quickly stands up, so the two lovebirds can easily throw themselves in a passionate embrace… which doesn’t happen, unfortunately, because Liam is still silent. He's looking at Zayn with a weird expression that even Louis can't read. Zayn is returning the look and his smile is uncertain, he's probably waiting for Liam to say something and, when Liam continues staying silent, his smile starts to fade. Louis rolls his eyes, because that makes no sense whatsoever, and he elbows Liam because he has to do something right now. That's enough for Liam to get out of his trance, because he blinks and a moment later he's up.

“Did you... Did you like it?”

Liam doesn't really answer, he just walks until he's in front of Zayn and then grabs his shirt. Louis understands immediately what's going to happen and, giving the aww Harry just let out, he knows, too.

Louis is unsure if he should look away when Liam cups Zayn's face with his hands and covers his mouth with his own. He doesn't know if that's supposed to be a private moment, it probably is, but they're in a pub for god's sake. And Niall is cheering, so what the hell, he's authorised to watch his best friends’ first kiss. He's authorised to giggle when Zayn brings his hands to Liam's short hair and when Liam puts a hand on Zayn's back to get him closer. He's authorised to fangirl when they separate but keep staring at each other, big smiles on their faces.

And he will deny any knowledge of the word ‘fangirl’ if asked.

“And Batman is the best, shut up.”

There's a moment of silence after Liam's words, when Louis looks at Harry and Niall while Liam and Zayn keep staring at each other. It's just a brief moment before everyone bursts into laughter. He and Harry stand up at the same time, just when Niall gets closer, and a second later they're hugging Liam and Zayn from every angle.

“It was about time!” Niall cheers, laughing.

“We're sooo happy for you!” Harry says.

“I don't really know what to say but yay!” is what comes out of Louis' mouth.

They stay in that position for a few minutes, Ed's voice as a soundtrack for that moment they all dreamt of. When they separate, Louis can't help but hug Liam a little more, tightly. He doesn't say anything, he doesn't think he needs to, Liam will understand everything. Then he hugs Zayn too, even if it's a bit more difficult since Zayn is busy holding Liam's hand, but it's necessary.

He smiles at them, happiness obvious in their eyes, and he’s so proud he could burst.

 

xxx

 

This is the first time ever Louis can find a free seat on the bus. When his bum makes contact with the seat, he almost hears a choir of angels singing in his ears. He'll have to shut himself in a shower for at least an hour when he'll go home later, but he really doesn’t care at the moment. Louis frowns at his own thoughts and for a moment he feels like his girlfriend, she's the one who locks herself in the shower every time they take a bus or the tube.

Louis hears a loud snort right next to him: he turns and Niall is returning his glance, blinking.

“My butt is safe,” Niall announces, crossing his arms and lowering his body a bit, visibly relaxing on his spot, just as he would do on his own sofa. “Sorry, Haz. If I were a gentleman I probably would leave you the spot, but... Well, I'm not a gentleman at all, so.”

“Don't worry,” Harry smiles a little, clinging to the pole next to Louis and trying not to fall down after every bend. Then he takes out his phone and focuses on it. “My arse forgives you this time.”

“Good, god bless Harry's bum,” Niall answers.

Louis can’t bring himself to comment because they're simply just ridiculous and they know it. So he stays quiet and starts staring at a girl with blue hair in front of them. She’s very pretty, but in Louis’ opinion blue isn’t really her colour, she would look better with something warmer, like red or orange. The girl is now looking at him with an eyebrow raised and oops, right, he's staring. Louis looks away and his eyes fall on Harry, who's still focused on his phone, frowning. Harry would probably look good even with rainbow hair, he thinks; yes, he totally would. Then Harry sighs, seeming a bit annoyed, and this is so strange for Louis to handle. Like, Harry with frowns and sad looks, and in general not being a ray of sunshine. When he’s usually all unicorns and rainbows, it kind of hurts seeing him unhappy. Louis just wants to stand up, hug him, tickle his curls a bit and tell him that everything is going to be okay. Even if he doesn’t actually know what is going, but still.

“What?” Louis asks.

Harry shakes his head. “Nothing, just... Wait a second,” and he keeps staring at his phone.

Louis doesn't know why, but he has the feeling it's because of something related to Nick. The fact is that Louis had a chance to get to know him, but it wasn’t enough to get to know him very well, and Nick looks like the type of guy who can get a little bit jealous and, sometimes, possessive about his friends. And despite all the laughs they’ve shared since they met, Louis can't tell if he likes him or not. Maybe it’s because, at least in the last few days, Nick showed more interest than usual in Harry. Such that every time Harry texts Nick he's spending time with Louis, Nick starts to belittle him and Harry lets himself be duped easily. It's not that he's stupid, for fuck's sake he really isn't, but he's too kind and too good for people and Louis feels like he has to protect him. Also because he doesn’t want Nick to change Harry’s opinion about Louis, never in a million years, Nick can just go fuck himself if that’s his agenda.

Harry wipes a drop of sweat from his forehead and looks down at Louis. “You're staring.”

“Yeah, because your face is intriguing me,” Louis confesses.

“No, it's–” and then he throws back his head in a weary way, “mmm no, I can't tell you this, Lou, I'm too ashamed.”

“You should be ashamed for being ashamed in front of me, actually,” is Louis’ answer, a bit disappointed. Harry knows he can tell him everything.

Harry seems like he has to think a bit over Louis' words, then he bites his lip and sighs. “Okay, but don't make fun of me, please.”

“Of course I won't,” but he really isn't sure about that.

“I– I mean, it's possible that I– I could, mmm–”

“Before the sunset, please, I'm a busy lad.”

“Okay, okay,” Harry says, starting to move his phone like he's about to throw it somewhere. “Can you... can you please remind me of my Twitter password? I can't log in.”

Louis stares at him for a moment, his words still echoing in his head. It's not a big deal, so he doesn't need to be frozen on the spot and look at him with the astonished expression he's sure he has right now. But now the air around them is so freaking weird that he can't move or do anything, except looking at Harry with eyebrows shooting up his forehead. They stay like that for a little and Louis is pretty sure that Harry is embarrassed as fuck because he just started biting his inner cheek: he isn’t sure he can handle that staring contest for long, so he looks somewhere over Harry’s shoulder and he's about to answer when someone interrupts him.

“Bloody hell,” Niall says, moving his eyes from Louis to Harry. “Are you two fucking kidding me?”

And Louis can't help but erupt into a laughter that makes every single person next to them turn. Louis doesn't care, he's enjoying Harry's face because he's too funny and lovely and Louis can't do anything else but smile at him. Eventually he clears his throat.

“It's carrots addicted ninety-one ninety-four . All lower case,” he says, shaking his head and licking his lips.

Harry has some pink shadow printed on his cheeks, but Louis decides not to say anything. He smiles at Louis in response and mouths a 'thank you' and then he goes back to his phone. The air is back to normal now, but Niall is still staring at them as if they just said nachos are shit.

“I think I saw a bee enter into your mouth, Nialler,” Louis tells, moving a hand in front of his eyes and suddenly Niall closes his mouth.

“I think you guys will make me vomit someday,” he answers.

“What are you even talking about?” because really, Louis was frozen on his seat at first after Harry's question, but after all it happens sometimes - we all forget our passwords. And Louis knows it only because they made the account together one night, no big deal. They're friends but they don't share that kind of information, like passwords or personal details, their friendship is still based on normal things that normal friends do. Except he does know Harry's twitter password and Harry, in return, may or may not know how to log in his email account. But, really, it's not a big deal. Nothing that can justify Niall's expression, a mix between amused and something else he can't place.

“I'm not going to answer, Tommo, really,” Niall says.

“Like I care.”

“Whatever. I'm going to tell the others about this because they need to know. The next stop is ours, by the way.”

Ten minutes later they're out of the bus. Finally, Louis thinks, because he was starting to get bored and because the bus was so full of people he just could not handle it anymore. And there was the stench of a cow for no discernible reason.

They start walking down the street, Niall ahead with his unmistakable walking. Harry is right next to Louis, with headphones on and a peaceful look on his face. He seems focused on his thoughts. When Harry called him that morning to ask if he wanted to join him and Niall for a 'thing', Louis expected something like playing football or playing innuendo bingo at their flat. Instead, Harry has to do something uni-related and he wanted him and Niall to go with him. That was nice, actually.

“I love this song,” Harry says at some point, handing him his left headphone. “Take it.”

Louis takes it and puts it on and now Chris Martin is singing in his ears: it’s Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall and Louis loves it, too. He smiles at Harry as they keep walking listening to music.

At some point, they pass near a clothing shop and Louis is about to lose his ear because Harry stops in front of the window, not bothering to give any warning. He turns to him, restraining himself from cursing, when he sees that Harry’s hands and nose are pressed on the glass. It's quite funny, actually, because he looks like a child who saw sweets and toys through a window. Louis reaches him and looks at the display: he hopes Harry isn't looking at the clothes because they're pretty ugly, but with him you never know. So he tries to follow his glance and there it is, a headscarf. It's a normal headscarf and Louis can't tell why Harry is staring at it like it's gold.

“Do you like it?” he asks without thinking, smirking a little.

Harry smiles and turns to him. “It has... It has anchors printed on it.”

“So?”

“I like it a lot.” And he definitely does because his eyes light up a little bit. Louis wants to laugh, he’s never seen in his life someone whose eyes shine only because of a scarf.

“That was my first question, Haz,” he simply says and then, well, fuck, he has to do this because he's like that, he’s always done this for his friends but not yet for Harry. Louis mouths 'don't move' and then enters the shop. The shop assistant surely thinks he's a freak, storming into the store grinning like an idiot, he knows it, but who the fuck cares, honestly? Louis looks at the scarf, touching the material and smiling when he finds it very soft. He can picture it so well wrapped around Harry's hair. Louis pays quickly and he's out in a moment. He smiles widely at Harry, who's frowning at his weird behaviour.

“Come here,” he says, smiling to make him understand that he hasn’t gone mad.

Harry goes towards him, a questioning look on his face so, before letting him speak, Louis pulls out the scarf from his back and wraps it on Harry's head, smiling. Harry lowers his head a bit, just because he's much taller than Louis; it’s not that Louis is kind of a Hobbit, but Louis is kind of a Hobbit. It takes a minute to put it in the right way and he's probably not making a good impression, but Louis hopes Harry will still be satisfied of the result. When he finishes, he admires his work with a sigh of relief. He has never put a scarf on someone’s head in all his life – usually people don't do this, but oh, Harry is not people – so he's happy that it turned out to be a pretty good job.

Harry looks at him for a moment, then he grips the scarf and takes it off. He moves his eyes on it, just contemplating what he has in his hands. What the hell, Louis thinks, all his work fucked up. Harry widens his eyes, turning the scarf around the hands.

“Did you... Did you buy it? For me?”

“Wow, you're very clever sometimes,” Louis smiles.

“No, I mean,” Harry shakes his head, “why would you do such a thing?”

“Why do you even ask!?”

“Guys! Guuuuuys!” Niall's voice interrupts them from the corner. “What the fuck! You two made me walk and talk alone like a freak, you dumbasses! I had to come back for miles to find you, idiots.”

Louis ignores him and turns to Harry. “You're my friend and I buy stuff for my best mates whenever I want to!” His tone is firm, as if to dare Harry to contradict him.

Harry, on the other hand, is still staring at the scarf, touching it like he wants to know if it's real and as if he couldn't believe that Louis bought it for him. Why? It's just a scarf, it's just a random gift. How many times Harry went to Louis’ office with cups of coffee or tea or theatre magazines? It's the same, isn’t it? So, it's like Louis showing up in the middle of Harry's class with a fucking scarf. What's the difference?

“Harry, it's just a scarf,” he says in the end. “I can take it back if you don't want it.”

“No, no, please,” Harry immediately answers, shaking his head heartily. “I love it, Louis, really. Thanks.” He binds his head again and then he's hugging Louis. His grip is tight and Louis returns it, because he can't simply hug Harry in a normal way, he has to crush him every time. It's just like that, no reason whatsoever.

They're still wrapped up in each other when Louis feels another pair of arms on his back: it's Niall, who's probably laughing like hell internally, crushing them as well. Louis huffs a laugh and then Niall's breath tickles his forehead. “It's aaaall so touching, but Harry has an appointment in a few.”

“I didn't even ask what you have to do at uni,” Louis asks while they start walking again.

Reluctantly, Harry puts his hands in the pockets. “We're not going to my uni, we're going to a different place, that's not really my... uni.”

“Explain yourself, please, I forgot my Harry-English dictionary at home.”

Harry sticks out his tongue, mocking him. “My professor is planning a drawing competition, so I decided to enroll. Or better, Niall and Ed decided to do it for me, so they signed me up.”

Louis almost stumbles on the pavement. “What!? But... That’s freaking awesome! What kind of competition? I want to know everything, Harold, tell me.”

He smiles shyly and runs a hand through his hair. “I don't even know, actually,” he says and his tone is turning quite serious. “I'm going to this place to give them my personal details and they will tell me how everything works with the contest. I didn't want to do this alone, so that's why I called you guys. Thanks, by the way. This is not the first time you’ve come to support me.”

“Haz,” Louis says low, shaking his head, “anything for you, you should know that.”

“Thanks, again,” he repeats, smiling at the ground.

“Thank goodness we're going to meet Ed in a few,” Niall says. “So at least I don't have to puke all alone.”

Harry snorts and then crushes Niall in a hug.

 

xxx



True to his statement, Niall hugged Ed as soon as they arrived to their destination. He didn't let his arm go for at least half an hour, when he told him every detail of Louis and Harry's conversation, exaggerating more than a little bit, according to Louis. Ed laughed just a little and didn’t give Niall too much rope to hang on. Ten points to him, honestly.

Too bad Niall is really true to his word, so he didn't just tell Ed, he kept talking about how he was certainly going to puke in their presence any time soon until they got to Starbucks. Ed was probably grateful to have to work just not to listen to him anymore. The worst thing is that Liam was obviously working when they got there and Zayn was obviously studying there, sat at the closest table to the bar, so now Niall is telling them the whole story from the beginning.

“I don't understand how you manage to add details every time you describe those apparently very long two minutes,” Louis says, sipping his iced coffee. Harry, next to him, is strangely silent when he should say something, too. Niall is his best friend, he should know how to make him shut up.

Well, it's Niall after all, maybe even Harry doesn't have that power. Maybe he's just trying to save his breath, who knows. Whatever. He gives Niall his best glare, but it seems to only amuse him. Liam, who decided to take his break right now just to keep them company, is attentively listening to Niall. Louis feels a little bit betrayed: he's supposed to support him, not encourage the delirious thoughts of that mad Irishman.

“Shut up, Tommo, I didn't even get to the best part,” Niall points out, turning towards Liam and Zayn, who are sat closer than ever even if there's plenty of space at the table. Ah, the early stages of love.

Tell me more, tell me more, but you don't gotta brag ,” Zayn singsongs and Louis smirks, before remembering he isn't supposed to enjoy the situation.

“As much as I do love a Grease reference, my dear Zayn, that's not really the case.”

“Again, shut up,” Niall interrupts, not even looking at him. “Basically Haz forgot his Twitter password and asked Louis for it.”

“So, what. I forget my passwords too, sometimes,” Zayn says and Louis feels immediately a lot of love for him. “That's why Liam knows them.”

There's a moment of awkward silence at the table and, really, Louis has never thought that moment would come. It's just a matter of seconds, while Niall watches Zayn with an eyebrow raised and Liam bites his lip to hide a smile. Louis still catches it and he's so going to ask questions about it later. Harry, still silent, chuckles but regains his serious expression almost immediately.

“Oh,” Zayn says after a few seconds, before smirking. Smirking . They're all so dead, Louis thinks, starting to plot some strategy about how to rip them to bits. Those fuckers.

“Exactly, oh ,” Niall says. “But, wait for it, it's not the best part yet! The password is carrots addicted...”

Louis doesn't look at Liam when he sees him startling with the corner of his eye.

“But... that's your password, Lou!”

At those words, Niall immediately looks at Liam with an evil smirk on his face. Evil, no jokes. It looks like those creepy Easter bunnies costumes that scared him to hell when he was a kid. Niall is looking exactly the same, now.

“Oh, really?” he says, deliberately slow. Creepy. Also, Louis thinks, Liam is so dead.

“What? If I have to give advice for a password I try to say something that I can remember. It happens that I can remember my password,” Louis says, trying to sound careless, but Liam's almost pitiful look tells him he's failing.

“Yeah, sure,” Niall says, confirming his doubts. “So, I didn't know that, it seriously makes this thing better! You know, the password isn't over yet. It's carrots addicted... ninety-one ninety-four!

There's an odd silence after those words. It's not awkward, not this time, but he can seriously feel Liam and Zayn's stares. Harry is looking at his empty cup and suddenly Louis wants to do the same, or maybe even get up and go home, leaving Niall and his gossip there. Well, yes, he told Harry his password. It's easy to remember. And, yes, they used their years of birth, but everybody says you should put a number in your password to make it difficult to guess. And two is always better than one, so why not. And Liam can honestly stop staring at him like Niall just told them he discovered a new species of dogs or whatever. It's not a big deal, he doesn't really understand.

“It's a nice password,” Harry finally says and, wow, for a moment Louis thought Harry made a vow of silence, but here he is, finally speaking again. “Carrots are nice and numbers are useful in passwords, it's a truth universally acknowledged.”

Exactly , Louis thinks.

“Yeah, Elizabeth Bennet, okay,” Niall says and, wow, Louis understood Harry's reference only because he had to help Lottie study Jane Austen. He wonders what's Niall's excuse. For some reason, he can’t imagine his friend actually reading her novels, but maybe it’s because Niall is more like a devil in his eyes right now, and devils don’t read Jane Austen. Or maybe they do, who knows, maybe they actually like a good romance.

“It's true,” Harry shrugs, distracting Louis from a path of thoughts that was starting to become too weird.

Harry is still looking at his cup and Louis can't help thinking that there's something off about him. He doesn't seem okay and, even if Niall is being stupid, Louis senses he’s a little bit concerned about Harry, too. Maybe he’s worried about the contest?. He turns to face Niall, trying to gain his attention, while he squeezes Harry's thigh under the table. When Louis catches Harry's smile with the corner of his eye, he relaxes on the chair. It's going to be okay, he will win that freaking contest because he's just that good and maybe one day their friends will stop being idiots. Maybe.

“That doesn't mean you lads aren’t cute af,” Zayn says.

And, well, maybe one day they'll stop. But it is not this day.

 

 

Chapter Text

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Louis is going through a quite boring day: he's sat at his desk at the office, legs thrown over the armrest of the chair and he's staring at the floor, nervously turning the pen in his hands. It's been two and a half hours since his boss left his office, leaving him with tons and tons of papers to read, a new article to write for the day after and his new beautiful, wonderful, awesome schedule for the next month. And that was supposed to be his day off and he still regrets answering his phone that morning, giving in to his superior’s prayers to go to the office. Louis throws his head back, sighing and cursing everything.

His phone buzzes on the desk and Louis almost falls to the ground in fright. The thing is that the office has been totally quiet for the entire morning, his breathing the only audible sound, and Louis’ mind has been busy for the whole time, so his phone buzzing is the right way to kill him. With a sigh, he grabs it and finds a Twitter notification waiting for him.

 

Niall Horan @NiallOfficial 2 min

Just found this shitty selfie from liam's birthday. Love u twats :) @Real_Liam_Payne @Harry_Styles @Louis_Tomlinson @zaynmalik instagram.com/p/nLZSRMMyFC/

 

Louis takes a moment to roll his eyes at Niall and Liam’s names, as he always does since they followed him and he asked them if they thought they were celebrities, before clicking on the link. A picture appears on the screen: it's definitely from Liam's birthday a few days back, because Liam is wearing his Batman t-shirt and he had to put that on when Zayn had accidentally overthrown the tray of profiteroles on his jersey. Because, obviously, Zayn wanted to mimic a ballerina and he had to do it with a tray in his hands. Proper genius. Niall is in the centre, taking the picture; Liam and Zayn are on his left, hugging each other: Liam has a wide smile on his face and Zayn is printing a kiss on his cheek. On Niall's right side, there are Harry and him: Louis' mouth is open like he was about to say something, and Harry is right behind him, with his arms around Louis' neck as if he was carrying him on his back. Harry's face is priceless, mouth open in an attempt to make a funny expression and eyes wide.

They're absolutely the best idiots ever, Louis thinks with a smile.

“Louis,” someone says from the door and Louis sits up immediately. “What are you doing?”

“Um, work?” Nice try, Louis.

“I bet,” his colleague, Kat, says, shaking her head. She enters the room and reaches Louis' desk, putting three folders on it. “I brought you stuff.”

“You don't say,” he answers, rolling his eyes and burying his head in his arms. “I think I should put a cot in here.”

“Don't be silly,” she says, grinning. “Actually, I came to steal some stuff Mister Anderson left you earlier.” She grabs a stack of papers from Louis' desk, not even touched since the man put it there, and settles it in another red folder. “I’ll take these, I've finished my work for today so I can help. You should arrange in chronological order these articles I brought you. You can do it for tomorrow, right?”

Louis sighs in relief. “Yes. Thanks, Kat, you're the best, I think I love you.”

“Don't let your girlfriend hear that, Louis!”

“It doesn't matter! I love youuu!” Louis yells and Kat is gone, laughing. Seriously, Louis loves her so much. She just saved him. He thought he was going to have to spend the entire day locked up in there, but Kat took half of his work, so he should be out by mid afternoon. Only if he decides to hurry up and actually do some work, of course.

Louis takes his phone and stares again at the picture with a grin. It seems like it's been ages since the day they started hanging out together, it feels like they've been friends for years. Liam's birthday confirmed that they are a bunch of lunatics who were born to be together. Plus, it was the first month he and Zayn have been together, so another reason to celebrate. Niall had planned everything in detail for the party, from music to food, but he had miserably failed with the theme: marshmallows. After having bought everything they needed for the party, like fifteen bags of marshmallows, he found out that Harry is allergic to them so he threw everything out of their window in a fit of rage. And then he ran down the stairs to collect them, and Liam sweared he heard Niall apologising to the bags for the bad treatment. Louis honestly doesn’t understand how Niall didn't know that, with Harry being his best friend and that being the weirdest allergy ever. But, after all, it's Niall. Apart from that episode, the party went really well. Niall chose another theme – raspberries... At first, Louis was about to throw up when he told him, but he didn’t want Niall turning into the Hulk again, so he just kept his mouth shut. Everything went in the best way, eventually.

Louis is about to start working for real, when his phone buzzes again in his hand. So, it is destiny. Everything around him is screaming that he shouldn't work that day. Or maybe he should have just turned off his phone in the first place. But it’s already in his hands, so it’s not really a question whether to open Harry’s text or not.

Louuuuuis! I miss you :(

Louis can't help but laugh. He stares at the text for a while before typing out an answer.

Miss you too, baby cakes

And it's true, actually. He and Harry haven't seen each other since the birthday party, because of Louis' work and because of Harry's: apparently half London was born in August, so Harry has to stay at the bakery more than usual to help out with the extra work. Louis really misses his company, his laughter and his smell. He misses his jokes and his curls. Louis misses everything about him and sometimes he finds himself wondering why he misses him that much. Louis spent months away from Liam when he lived in Doncaster, but he didn't miss him that much. But, after all, in the past three months he spent most of his time with Harry, so, it's normal Louis misses him, right? Before he can think more about it, Harry's name flashes on the screen again.

I'm so tired I don't even want to study. can I see you tonight? Pleaaaaaase? :D I’ll bring food

Yeah, he definitely misses Harry. Louis smiles when he types a mocking answer, just to make fun of him. Yeah, sometimes he just likes teasing Harry and seeing the funny faces he makes. Even if all Louis can do now is picturing them in his mind.

Nope :')

Harry's answer comes in a few.

You're mean

And you're too sweet haha

You're still mean, Louis.

So since i'm mean can you come by Liam's maybe ? Party hard tonight !

Actually Liam told Louis he just wants to spend the night staying wrapped with him on his couch, since Zayn is quite busy. But he surely wouldn't be mad at Louis if he brings Harry.

Wait... with 'hard' do you mean we'll have to stay the whole time watching them making out while we eat breadsticks?

Haha Zayn isn't coming , he's busy. He told Liam that maybe he can come later but I dont know. Just u , me and payno. U in ?

Of course I'm in :)

Well, maybe it's time for Louis to face all that fucking backlog and then finally go home.



xxx



Louis is on his knees – and they hurt a lot, by the way – with his cheek stuck on the carpet and an arm stretched under Liam's sofa. It's just that his friend is a prick and he wants to punch him in his face as soon as he can. Liam is sat next to him with a guilty look, scratching the back of his head.

“I told you,” Liam says with a tiny voice, “it's–”

“Please,” Louis interrupts him, closing his eyes with exasperation even though his friend can’t see his face at the moment. “I don't want to hear that rubbish again. Please.”

“But–”

“Shush!”

“Louis.”

“Lalalalaaaaa!”

“You're an idiot.”

“Says the one who throws packs of condoms under his own couch, for fuck's sake!”

Louis can't see his face, but he's pretty sure Liam is shaking his head. Liam should definitely know that throwing things everywhere isn't a normal thing to do and it means that sooner or later he will also have to put them back or his house will turn into a jungle. But apparently Liam doesn’t care, after all he has an idiot like Louis as a friend and he can just ask him to do all the dirty work. How very nice of him.

“It was an accident.”

“Yeah, sure,” Louis mutters, grabbing a packet from the floor and throwing it at Liam. “How many...?”

Liam gulps. “About... ten. I think. I don't know, the box was still full.”

“You should give me a medal for being your best fucking friend, Payno. You really should.”

They spend the next ten minutes trying to take all Liam's condoms from under the sofa. What a great night, he couldn't ask for anything better. Apparently Liam was all by himself on his couch, happily organising his condoms like the freak he is, when someone – it turned out to just be the postman – knocked at the door and the box fell on the floor, packets of condoms everywhere. He panicked, so he kicked all of them under the couch and they were still there when Louis arrived. Since Liam has this huge sofa and was apparently scared to put his arm under it, he needed Louis' help with that.

“Just one left,” Louis declares, trying to stretch his whole body to reach the last packet. He suddenly feels cold on his left hip and part of his back because his shirt shifted a little bit with the movement. “Come on, you son of a bitch.”

“It's just a condom, Louis.”

“That's why you are supposed to put it on your dick and not on the floor.”

Liam erupts into a laughter just when the doorbell rings. “It's open!” he yells and, when Louis holds the last packet in his hand and smirks for victory, Liam hugs him so tightly that he can barely breathe. Louis screams or, at least, he wants to scream but what comes out from his mouth is a little squeal that sounds like someone has mashed his dick. They have a little fight on the floor and Liam is laughing and Louis starts laughing, too, when someone yells, capturing their attention.

“Louiiiiiis! Liiiiam!” Harry appears in the living room with his curls, his favourite jumper and his freaking dimples and everything that makes him so charming. He stares at them for a bit, the ghost of a smile still on his face, and then coughs. “Hi.”

Liam gets up from Louis' back and now Louis can feel that his pants are definitely not where they are supposed to be: with their little fight, they slipped down a bit, not that much, but he can see his own arse triumphantly on display. When Liam stands up, he does an automatic gesture to pull up his trousers so, well, now it seems like they were shagging on the floor. Louis laughs a bit and then pulls up his own jeans, too.

“Louis... Is that a condom on your head?” is what Harry says after a moment of silence, his eyebrow raised.

Oh, lord. Louis grabs it from his hair and smirks. “Yeah, Liam and I were having fun.”

Liam elbows him, shooting up an eyebrow. Harry is still there, still... Harry, with his bright eyes and soft curls, but despite an amused expression, he lacks of his usual smile.

“I'm joking,” Louis has to clarify, because it looks like Harry is really considering that they were involved in some dirty stuff. Throwing the packet at Liam's face, he explains. “The idiot here hid a lot of condoms under his sofa, apparently it's his new hobby.”

“Shut up.”

Harry nods but he doesn't seem convinced at all. Oh, come on, does he really think that Louis was shagging his best friend on the floor? Like... His best friend ? Louis rolls his eyes and goes towards him with a smirk, squeezing Harry's cheek to try and reassure him. “I hope you brought food, Harold, I'm starving.”

“Yeah, I made cupcakes and an apple pie,” he says, smiling sweetly.

“I love you so much!” Louis cheers. Harry blushes a little but he's still smiling and yes, Louis missed him a lot. Just to have him here, even if he has barely opened his mouth, it makes Louis happier. “Now let me come with your sweets.”

Harry laughs, leaving a small bag full of sweets on the floor, and then puts a piece of coloured paper a couple of inches from Louis’ nose. What the hell, Louis thought he was about to lose an eye. “What is it?” he says, narrowing his eyes, trying to focus on the card.

“These,” Harry says and Louis can see that the pieces of paper are actually two, “are two tickets for... brace yourself... A Manchester United home match! It's versus Arsenal. It's going to be awesome, Lou!”

“What.” The fuck?

Harry bought two tickets for a Manchester United game, what is air, how can he even breathe, Louis just wants to die. He has always supported that team, but he went to the stadium only once, when he was about twelve years old and he's never had any other chance since then. He's going to marry Harry, just for the hell of it, just for the fact that he's the best friend ever and because it rhymes.

“Can I kiss you?” Louis asks with eyes wide open, a smile stuck on his lips. He takes the tickets from Harry's hands, he touches them to see if they're actually real and then looks up to him again.

“Go ahead,” Harry jokes, his cheeks flushing red. “I have... Um, I didn't actually buy them. I mean, a friend of mine from uni bought them for him and his girlfriend, but they can't go so he gave them to me. I thought that going with you would be great.”

“I love it,” Louis stutters, still staring at the tickets. He knows he may sound dry, but truth is he can't think about anything else to say at the moment: he's too overwhelmed to even thank Harry properly. But who cares, Harry surely knows what is going on in his mind right now. “I– thanks, Harry. I'd love to go with you to the game.”

Then something happens, a strange music suddenly fills the air. Louis looks at Harry, who’s already staring at him with a frown, and both turn their faces behind them. There's Liam, sat on the couch with his phone lifted in the air, legs crossed and he's looking at them with a smug face.

“Yu-hu,” Liam says, stopping what it’s definitely the Mendelssohn Wedding March. “Should I get the rings?”

“Shut the fuck up,” Louis protests, giving the tickets back to Harry and sticking out his tongue to Liam. “You're jealous because your man cheated on you with books and my man is here with two tickets for a match.”

“Yeah, sure,” Liam answers, shrugging. “Zayn and I are going too, by the way. We just forgot to tell you. Don’t think we’ll watch the game properly together, though, considering we booked the tickets ages ago! But since we’re all going, we can ask Niall if he wants to join? I hope there are still tickets left.”

“That would be great!” Harry cheers, and Louis can tell he’s refraining from jumping on the spot.

“We should take your car, Liam,” Louis announces, going towards the kitchen, stealing a bottle of Coke, and throwing himself on the couch. “I'm not going to drive up to Manchester, I'm telling you now.”

“I can drive,” Liam and Louis turn to Harry at the same time. They must have mistrustful expressions, because Harry blushes a little before shrugging. “I can drive, you know? I just don’t have a car because I don’t need it in London, I still wonder why you have it. And I like driving, it's not a problem.”

“Good,” Liam says, convinced by his words, and stretches on the couch. “Remind me: when is the match?”

“In a week,” Harry answers, sitting next to Louis. “The seventh, and then the week after it's Nialler's birthday, yay! I can't wait, I love his birthday parties!”

“I'm going to invite Stan for the whole organisation thing, he's the best,” Louis says. “Our little blond clover deserves a hell of party.”

“Harry, I was at Niall's birthday last year but I don’t remember seeing you there,” Liam says with frown, ignoring Louis’ words.

Harry steals the bottle of Coke from Louis' hand and drinks a bit. How the hell he dares doing such a thing, Louis thinks, trying to grab it back but Harry keeps holding it firmly. Eventually, Louis' shirt gets wet within two seconds and both Harry and Liam laugh at him, like it wasn’t Harry’s fault in the first place.

“I arrived late to the party last year,” Harry explains, still laughing and trying to dry Louis' shirt with his hand, and seriously? “Maybe you were already gone.”

“Now, just for the hell of it,” Louis announces and then he stands up, facing his friends with a challenging look, “I'm going to get myself shirtless and you’ll have to suffer from envy all night long, you wankers.”

He takes off his shirt as said, and he sincerely hopes that will teach Harry and Liam to be more careful around his clothes, ha. When he re-emerges from the shirt, he notices Harry is staring at him with his mouth slightly open and Liam is shaking his head, covering his eyes with a hand. So, they probably thought he wasn't being serious.

“You know you can simply go to your own flat and grab a clean shirt, right?” Liam says and Louis snorts. Boring. “It's not like you have to climb Mount Everest, Lou.”

Louis shakes his head, sitting again between Liam and Harry. Harry is still silent, but he closed his mouth, which is a great improvement especially compared to Liam's frown. As if this is the first time Louis is chest bared in his presence. Seriously, having a boyfriend probably turned Liam into a puritan. But then he remembers what he had to do as soon as he got to Liam's flat, that horrendous experience with his sofa, and... No, definitely not a puritan. He sighs internally.

“Why bother. I'm trying to make a point, you know,” he says.

“What point? Use glasses while sitting on a sofa?” Liam says, still shaking his head, but now he's smiling and Louis knows that he already won him over. Oh, Liam is way too kind with the world. Or at least with him, but he's not going to point it out.

“I think,” Harry finally says, his voice a little rougher than usual, probably because he's been silent until now. “I think what Louis is trying to say is that clothes are really unnecessary. I mean, we do come into this world naked, don't we?”

“Oh, god, Haz, don't start,” Louis says, but Harry simply stares at him right into the eyes. Liam, next to him, is still laughing.

“Oh, well, since the Tommo has already made himself comfortable, make yourself at home,” he says. A second later, though, he seems to think better of it. “Or not. I mean, Niall and Lou told me you walk fully naked in your flat. That would be weird.”

Harry laughs out loud at those words and Louis finds himself smiling. That boy is so strange, he could seriously slip out of all his clothes without thinking about it too much. He's glad Liam put some boundaries. It's not that he minds Harry being naked, he honestly saw him without clothes so many times in the last month that he almost doesn't notice anymore, it's just that it's awkward and uncomfortable thinking about Harry completely naked in Liam's flat With Liam there. It's just... no.

Louis pushes the thought aside when Harry gets up.

“Fair enough. But, since I agree with Louis' point that being naked is nice–”

“Not my point,” Louis tries to interrupt, but Harry ignores him.

“I'm going to take off my shirt, too. Well, also because I managed to wet it, too. Oh, hey, Lou! Apparently you were right when you said I have a thing for getting you wet.”

Harry is smirking like ruining Louis' clothes is some kind of sport he's really good at. Well, it kind of is and Harry honestly has a point. He smiles at him, ignoring Liam that is suffocating from too much laughter.

“You have, love,” he says, gaining another smile from Harry. “At least this time I'm not risking catching pneumonia.”

Harry shrugs, then he takes off his shirt. A shirt that in Louis' opinion is completely dry, but if Harry says it's wet, who is he to say otherwise? And maybe Liam deserves to get a little bit uncomfortable, after all. When Harry sits next to him again, Louis' gaze follows his muscles' movement and... Yes, maybe Harry won't suffer from envy, after all, since he has a better body than Louis. He probably is the ruin of tons of young girls. And boys, too. He still doesn't know whom Harry would prefer to appreciate his shape, even if he really wants to, but he would be weird asking if he prefers a John or a Jane touching his inked birds and tracing their shapes with their fingers.

Louis wants to trace the swallows' shapes with his fingers. He really does.

“Okay, if you put it that way, then I'm going to put on my new apron!”

Liam's words, completely out of the blue, startle Louis. He blinks, before briefly looking at Harry, who is now very close to him and he’s scratching the skin right under his collarbone. It looks like he's rubbing the wing of a bird. Louis stares for a little bit, his own thought echoing in his mind, and yes, he really wants to touch those birds. He likes them, a lot. He likes how they're slightly different, one bigger than the other, and he loves that it seems that they have eyebrows. He shared the thought with Harry once, and he laughed softly when he answered: “Lou, I'm not sure birds have eyebrows”. But they do, Louis is sure, or at least Harry's birds do because the little one is definitely raising his. He does. And, yes, maybe Louis even decided they are both male and they look at each other for a reason, they're probably talking about something. Sometimes Louis and Harry pretend to know about what and put up some idiot scenarios.

When Liam comes back again, Louis almost thanks him for taking him away from the delirious trail of his thoughts. He was starting to feel slightly suffocated by the collar of... a non existent shirt, now that he thinks about it. Fact: he's wearing nothing. Louis looks up at Liam while he’s sitting down and his unease must be shown on his face, because Liam frowns. Louis shakes his head almost imperceptibly and Liam seems to understand there’s no need to dig further. He doesn't ask, at least.

“You know you're supposed to wear an apron while cooking, right? And not, like, every free minute of your time?” Louis says, his voice comes out a bit strange, but he thinks the others won't notice. Liam shrugs.

“I like it and I'm wearing it whenever I want,” he says with a firm tone, almost daring Louis to contradict him. This is so Harry-style, it’s not okay.

“So glad to hear that,” Harry says then and, wait, why is he so close to Louis' ear? Why can he feel him breathing? When did he move so close? He honestly didn't notice, maybe Harry is really a cat like he has always thought. “Niall insisted to buy it like three months ago. He wanted to be sure it'd arrive on time, you know.”

“It's awesome!” he says. “Everything is awesome!”

Everything is cool when you're part of a teaaaaam!

And from that, it's a matter of seconds before all of them start jumping on Liam's couch singing the Lego song, Harry even recording a video to send to Niall. And a few minutes later, Niall is answering with a vocal message of him singing as well.

They're a bunch of idiots, and Louis wonders why people always complain about being stupid and silly. Why would you want normal friends, when you can have four idiots you can share awkwards moments with? Louis wonders how boring would be his life without every single one of his best mates. Seriously, they all have a special little thing that makes them essential in Louis' life. He would be lost without them, completely and irretrievably lost. One day, when he will finally lose some of his pride and anything that prevents himself from opening up emotionally, he'll thank them one by one. For real, not just telling them he loves them, but actually explaining why they’re so special.

Louis is dazed on his happy thoughts when he gets hit on his face by a pillow and loses his balance, rolling on the sofa and, somehow, both Harry and Liam are on top of him. Harry's elbow takes his breath away when it hits his chest and Louis lets out a muffled shout before pinching his friend's arm with intent. But pinching him only gets Harry closer, because he falls again and buries Louis with his body. For some reason, he feels immediately uncomfortable with Harry being all over him and he doesn't know why. Harry is warm, it's the only thing that comes up in his mind when he manages to push his thoughts away. And for a reason that only god knows, he lets out a not-so-loud groan when Harry breathes on his neck and his curls tickle gently Louis' cheek.

“My diiick! It hurts! Get away from my dick, Harreeeeh!” Louis yells when Harry tries to stand up, changing their position and hurting him in the process. Then he dislocates his knee from Harry's legs, finally managing to free himself. “I'm going to die! I want children!”

“Oh, sorry!” the other mutters, moving a little on his left. “Let me see.”

“What the fuck, as if you could heal it by looking at it!” he says, shoving him off. “I can take care of my own jewels, thank you for your concern. I'll pass!”

“I didn't–” Harry stutters. “I didn't want to actually see it!”

“Well, then!”

“What!”

“What?”

“Louis, get your fucking royal arse off my leg, I can't feel it!” Liam screams because he's involved in that tangle, too, and well, Louis was busy trying not to lose his dick and Harry's warm breath on his skin.

“Oh my god,” someone says, someone that isn't Liam or Harry. Louis tries to look behind Harry, but it's quite a challenge since his position only allows him to look at the boy's abs. And he swallows. And thank you very much, Harry, you're not helping at all. Louis puts his hands on him and pulls his body off of him, sitting straight and finally breathing fresh air. Zayn is looking at the scene with a confused look and Louis can't tell if he's just pissed or if he's literally going to chop them into small pieces and then throw them in the Thames. Louis holds his breath, then Zayn relaxes a bit. “I leave you guys alone one night, just one night , and you turn this place into a porn jungle film set?”

Louis shares a look with his friends and, well, they're in fact in an awkward situation that could be clearly confused with something sexual: he's shirtless, Harry is too, and Liam is wearing an apron for no reason whatsoever and they’re all tangled with each other. Besides, Zayn arrived when Harry was still on top of Louis and Liam under them so yes, um, awkward.

“Zayn! We didn't expect you until midnight, at least!” Liam shouts with a guilty look on his face, trying to get himself comfortable next to Louis, giving him a little kick on his hip. Louis wants to laugh at him.

“So you thought to do a porn in the meantime.” He's not pissed, but his glance is a bit strange.

“Actually,” Louis says, voice a bit rough, “believe it or not, there's an interesting story behind this, ahem, situation?”

“Yeah,” Harry backs him up, running a hand through his fringe. “We were only jumping on the sofa and just, um, fell. That's it.”

“And now the question is why the hell people in their mid-twenties like you jump almost naked on a couch,” Zayn says and Louis feels more comfortable because he's grinning, and he's trying to hold it back. “And... Are those condoms!?”

Well, the situation is getting more and more awkward and, honestly, Louis doesn't know if he should laugh or be embarrassed about it. The fact is that Zayn's face is priceless and Liam's even more.

Then Harry lowers his body on Louis again and hugs him tightly, cheek against his, curls scattered everywhere on his face.

“Zayn, would you join us in our loving hug and forget about the condoms? Please?” Harry says, his lashes tickling Louis' forehead, and then he stretches his arms to reach Liam and, all of a sudden, Louis is kind of sandwiched between them.

“I'd rather gouge my eyes out with a fork,” he replies and everyone laughs. Louis can't help but breathe faster when Harry starts smiling near his face. He turns and tries to look at him directly in his eyes, how could someone have eyes so green? And why the hell someone should be concerned about another someone having green eyes? “And, seriously, why am I still talking to you? Seems like I fell in a new Backstreet Boys' video set!”

“He's complaining so much, but he's getting excited! Little Zayno, come here,” Louis settles laughing a bit, grateful to his friend for the distraction.

Zayn frowns at the nickname. “Please, don't call me that ever again.”

“Why not?” Louis shrugs. “Zayno and Payno, the perfect match.”

“You drank too much, Louis,” he nods, then Zayn shakes his head and reaches them on the couch, grabbing a pillow and throwing it on his boyfriend's face, before sitting on his lap.

“Nah, he doesn't need alcohol to be so insane,” Harry disagrees, looking at his friends with a smile.

“Thanks, Harold, I love you too.” Louis fakes a smile, blinking quickly at Harry, who's still lying on his left leg: he has to do something because a) Liam and Zayn are now snogging violently next to him and he really doesn't want to throw up, and b) Harry's pressure on his leg is driving him mad because his knee hurts a lot but he doesn't want Harry to stand up. Maybe Zayn is right, maybe there was something strange in the Coke and the fact that he drank almost the whole bottle didn't help. So, when he realises that he's staring at Harry, he takes a pillow and throws it to his friend's face. Harry surely didn't expect Louis to do anything and what, he thought that he would just stare at him the whole time? And now he’s looking back at Louis, his face half hidden by the pillow he managed to catch, but Louis can see the light in his eyes and what seems like a blush on his cheeks. Somehow, Louis knows that, behind the pillow, Harry is biting down a smile. And Louis can’t, for the love of god he can’t stop himself from taking a quick picture of Harry.

“What are you doing?” the boy asks, frowning.

Louis just shrugs and starts laughing. “I don't know, your face was so pretty, so I had to do something about it.”

Harry smirks a little before grabbing the pillow and pressing it on Louis' chest, starting a battle and really, Louis thinks that he will never, like ever ever ever, admit the real reason why he wanted to take a picture of Harry. Much less to himself.



xxx



Louis has to take a deep breath before knocking. He shouldn't be so nervous, it's a stupid thing after all. It's been months of him jostling among job duties, his friends and Eleanor. He managed to dedicate a bit of his time to every single person in his life, he should be rewarded for that. Truth is he’s been lucky and now he feels in his guts he’s going to change that path.

It's Harry who opens the door when he knocks, which means Niall isn't at home, which means nobody is going to filter Harry's reaction. Not that Harry is somehow restrained by Niall's presence. Actually, he isn't restrained at all, considering Niall is his best friend, but Louis still hoped for him to be there just to, like, soften the blow.

Not such luck, apparently.

“Hi, Lou!” Harry says, smiling like he just won the lottery. Ah, life is shit.

“Hey,” Louis answers, a hint of a smile, trying to sound okay but judging by Harry's change of expression he failed miserably.

“What's wrong?” Harry asks a second later, gesturing him to come inside. Louis does so and a minute later is standing in front of the couch, not sure if sitting down is a good idea. “Lou, you're scaring me. What happened?”

And no, Louis can't make Harry look like that. So worried, maybe even scared, with a furrow between his eyebrows. No, Louis has to explain this as soon as possible, because it isn't really that much of a problem. It isn't. Maybe if he keeps telling himself so, he'll stop feeling like a little shit and accept that it is what it is, and it isn't so bad. He sighs anyway, because he can tell himself that it’s okay but he hasn't started to feel it yet.

“I told Eleanor about the match,” he says and he can hear that his voice is small, so small, and he can feel guilt. He's sure he looks like he just took over a kitten with his car. Harry takes a step towards him and lowers his head a little bit, trying to make eye contact, but Louis looks abruptly at his shoes.

“And?” Harry says when Louis keeps staying silent.

“And... She says it's unfair for me to go to Manchester during a weekend, since it's the only time we manage to see each other.”

Louis can see the exact moment his words hit Harry. His friend's face darkens, Louis can almost spot real shadows on it, and his eyes are so off. Louis is used to Harry's bright eyes, a ghost of a smile or even tears, sometimes, but just when he laughs too much. It's just so wrong to see them this way... He would say he’s disappointed, but it's not just that, it's more and Louis doesn't get what he's missing. Not understanding it is so damn frustrating.

“She told you to stay with her,” he mutters at last, looking at the floor and no. No. Harry can't be like this, honestly, it's wrong. But what can he do?

“Not as much, but...” Louis sighs. “She said she can see me only in fragments of time while I'm basically sleeping with you. So, pretty much, yeah.”

Harry gulps at those words. Louis is sincerely surprised when Harry raises his head and looks at him, his expression completely astonished. His mouth is open, his cheeks are a little bit red, like the first time they met, even though that was the winter air’s fault and not Louis’. And his eyes, his eyes are shining again, thank god, but somehow it’s wrong. It’s not the right light and Louis still can't read them.

“So what? Does she have some issue with me or something?”

“What? No!” Louis is surprised by Harry's words. He's not focusing on the right thing, it's not him the problem. “Haz, pumpkin, no. It's just that she wants us to spend more time together and we can do that only during weekends and... Harry, it's just a football game.”

A second later, Louis realises those weren't the right words to say. Harry is pale now, his mouth still open and his eyes completely off. Sad. Yes, they're sad, and Louis feels even guiltier than before.

“Haz...” he tries to say, but Harry shakes his head.

“It's not just a football game. It's Manchester United in Manchester. Plus, our first football game together. And, honestly, Louis, you have no idea how fucking hard was to find those tickets.”

Wait, what? Louis thinks, because no. This is not happening. But Harry is completely serious, there's no way he's making this thing bigger than what it actually is just to make him feel bad. That's not something Harry would do, so he must be damn serious.

“You told me a friend of yours had them,” he answers with a small voice, and he has to fight himself to look at Harry, as he’s done since he arrived, glancing at him only for instants and incapable of holding his stare. Even more now that Harry is raising his arms in an exasperated gesture.

“I lied, Lou, because I didn't want you to know I spent I don't know how much time googling around to find a website that still had tickets. Because, hey, I didn't want you to think I'm crazy because I actually called the Old Trafford to know whom I could contact to have those fucking tickets!”

“You what ?” Louis is speechless but not in the way Harry probably thought he'd be. He's so, so touched by Harry right now, by how much he wanted to have those tickets, and he honestly just wants to hug him. He takes a step towards him, but Harry shakes his head.

“Yeah, I did that! But apparently it's not enough to make you choose me just for a Sunday.”

And, wow, Louis didn't expect that. He stops abruptly, looking at Harry with his mouth open, hundreds of thoughts running through his mind. It's weird how the first thing that came up in his mind was how no, no, no, this isn't him choosing Eleanor over Harry. The whole idea of choosing between his girlfriend and his best friend isn’t tolerable. It’s a completely different thing. Louis has never, ever thought about choosing Eleanor over Harry. It’s just… No, he can’t even consider this.

“Don't talk about it as if you think I’d honestly be able to choose between the two of you. It’s completely different,” he says, his voice calmer than he actually is. He looks at Harry, who's still a bit angry judging by his stare.

“How, Louis? How should I talk about it, then? Everytime she's around you disappear!”

“That's because she's my fucking girlfriend, Harry! Yes, I disappear, because I fucking want to see her once in awhile! And if you think those things about her... About me ... Well...”

And Louis doesn't know, really doesn't know what to say. Or, to be fair, he knows he should defend Eleanor's honour or some shit like that. He knows he should say what Harry just said is not true, he tries his fucking best to manage to give his time both to Eleanor and to Harry and he did a pretty good job so far. He knows he should tell Harry to fuck off, honestly, because that speech is completely out of the blue and he should have talked to him about this stuff instead of just hiding it until now. He knows he should tell Harry to grow up, because being jealous of your friend's girlfriend is for teenagers. He knows he should do a lot of things, but he can't bring himself to do them.

So he just leaves.

He turns away from Harry before he can even answer and runs down the stairs. He's lucky he isn't in some sort of romantic comedy, or he surely would have bumped into Niall. And since when does he know all the rom-con clichés? Since Harry, that's when.

Louis runs until he reaches the underground station. Only when he thinks there's enough space between him and Harry, he takes out his phone and turns it off. He thinks he saw a notification, maybe it's a call from Harry, but Louis really doesn't want to know right now.

Louis takes the first train to his neighbourhood and gets to his flat, ignoring Liam's door even if it's so, so appealing. In normal circumstances he would go there, he would hide in his best friend's hug because he's just shit at confrontation and he just had to face this odd version of Harry. He would confess how this is so, so confusing and he doesn't know what to do now, because Harry is Harry and he can't picture a world where Harry is mad at him. And this isn't even the worst thing, Louis thinks, because the worst thing is knowing that he didn't feel this bad not even when he fought with Liam. Liam, who's been his best friend for ages, who's been his rock. With Harry it's even worse than that, it's a lot worse, and why does Louis feel that horrible weight on his stomach when it isn't even his fault?

Yes, he wishes he could bury himself in Liam's comforting arms and never come out.

But truth is that he knew Liam had a date with Zayn this evening. Zayn, who's one of Harry's best friends, and Louis really doesn't want to drag Liam down with him. Not when he's so happy.

Louis will manage, he thinks when he opens his door. He'll just drown in chocolate ice cream, or...

“Eleanor.”

“Hi, Lou.”

And, wow, freaking destiny. Eleanor is there just when he had a fight involving her. Eleanor is there and she's smiling and she's patting the sofa in invitation. She shouldn't be there, Louis barely thinks, registering that it's a weekday and she should be at uni.

But she's there, smiling, calling him, and whatever. He'll take what he can.

“What are you doing here?” he says when he lies on the couch, resting his head on her lap. He buries his face on her thigh, trying to hide himself, but she just turns his head around so that she’s smiling down at him.

“Had a job interview today. I didn't tell you just because I was afraid of a rejection... But I got it! I got the job!”

“That's amazing, El!” Louis says, smiling. At least something turned out well this day, he thinks, getting up a little to kiss his girlfriend's chin. “And where is it?”

“Not too far from your office. And it's not an internship, Lou, it's a proper job! With salary and all! I’ll start in January, right after my graduation.”

“It's great, love! We should celebrate one of these days,” he smiles as much as he can, even if Harry's sad eyes keep haunting him. But it's Eleanor's great news time, now, and she deserves him at his best.

Well, she'll get what she can, he supposes, because this really isn't his best.

“We should totally celebrate! Also because, you know, we can now start thinking about a date. For real, not just random speeches once in awhile.”

And, okay, Louis should try to be happier now. For her. He tries to smile more, listening to her, but it's not easy when he doesn't understand what the hell is she talking about.

“A date?” he asks, still with a forced smile, but Eleanor doesn't seem to mind. She's probably too much caught in her joy, as he should be, too.

“A date, of course! We can't get married without a date, you silly. Now that I have a proper job it's everything like we said it would be. I like Christmas, what do you think? A snowy wedding... We could have a sleigh...”

“Yeah...” Louis answers. “The sleigh sounds fun.”

“Then it's settled! Christmas!”

Louis smiles when he sees Eleanor clapping her hands, excited like a kid on Christmas day. And, well, maybe the comparison is right considering he just agreed to make her a double Christmas present for the rest of their lives. He'll have three presents, though, he considers when Eleanor kisses him with joy. Louis will have three presents and a gorgeous wife, who's already engaged in making plans. She's already talking about colours for the wedding and locations and something else he heard about while watching Four Weddings with Harry.

Harry, who is probably still angry at him. Harry, whose name now brings a weight on Louis' stomach because he can't stand the idea of him being mad at him. It’s like something is wrong in the world if Harry is angry.

“It's short notice, Lou... I don't know if I'll manage to do everything all by myself. What about a wedding planner? It'd cost a little bit but I promise it'll be worth it.”

“Yeah...” Louis answers Eleanor, smiling weakly. “Yeah, love, do whatever you think it's right.”

Maybe he should call Harry. He should apologise for leaving and not facing him. Maybe he should tell him that he'd love to go to that match with him, but he can't honestly say Eleanor is wrong, he doesn't see her so much.

Maybe he will call Harry tomorrow. Louis will tell him he's sorry, he will tell him he's wrong, even if he sincerely thinks he isn't. But it's Harry, and he's worth a punch to his pride.

 

Chapter Text

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The first thing Louis feels like doing when he wakes up is to throw up: he feels something strange in his stomach, like a rope wrapped around his guts. He yawns, stretching his arms and feeling like shit. No, he doesn't feel like shit, he is shit. It's been awhile since the last time he last felt this way and he doesn’t even know why this is happening right now. Louis doesn't even dare to open his eyes because he's pretty sure that in the exact moment he does that, he will have to go to the bathroom and vomit.

Several minutes pass before he becomes aware that he still has his arms outstretched into air, searching for nothing, so Louis lets them fall on the sheets. He was expecting to touch his soft duvet, instead what he feels is something solid and definitely not his mattress. Louis keeps touching it and finds out right after that the 'thing' is his girlfriend's elbow, and memories of the previous night immediately return to his mind.

He rolls in the sheets and opens his eyes a bit: Eleanor is laying next to him, a peaceful look on her face and a half creased book open between her and Louis. It's a wedding magazine and the realisation hits him like a brick on his forehead: yes, Louis Tomlinson is getting married.

Louis is about to caress gently Eleanor's skin when his phone rings. She moves a bit at the sound of Louis’ ringtone but she keeps sleeping, snuggling on the pillow like a kitten. He wants to curse everything, especially his fucking phone and whoever is bothering them. Louis turns to the bedside table, hand feeling the surface because he can't open his eyes that much yet. His searching hand hits everything, the lamp almost falls on the ground, but he finds the phone at last and somehow manages to answer.

“Mh?”

Silence. Then a sigh echoes in his ear, followed by a familiar rough voice. “Lou, it's me.”

Louis opens his eyes and winces without thinking too much when he hears Harry's voice. He’s sure a moment ago there were like thirty degrees in the room, but Louis could swear the air around him is suddenly ice cold. He even has goosebumps. Louis stays quiet for a moment, then remembers the fight they had the night before and that he turned on the phone just before going to bed, only because he doesn’t have a proper alarm clock. Of course he ignored the seventeen calls from Harry and Niall and maybe he should have left the phone off, because what is he supposed to say now? He hasn't even had the time to think about it, honestly, with the whole wedding thing.

Louis is now sat on the bed, stiff back and legs crossed. He’s not sure when he got into that position, probably as soon as he heard Harry’s voice. Maybe he should simply end the call and go back to sleep, but his mouth doesn't agree with his thoughts and, shit, Louis should really find an easy way to fix his brain to mouth slash body filters. “Hi,” he says after several moments of silence.

Harry lets out a sigh of relief. “Oh my god, finally. I was about to run to your flat and break the door down.”

“I probably would have thrown you off the balcony once inside my flat,” Louis states, pretending to be annoyed but he isn't such a great actor. What comes out of his mouth is a subspecies of phrase uttered with a high pitched squeal. Harry probably noticed, because when he replies he sounds more confident than before.

“Would you?”

Louis lowers his head. Thank goodness they're on the phone, so Harry can't see his face right now. Louis knows he has this kind of an incomprehensible look, he can't see it but he knows. His mind is a mess, he’s very confused and surely all is shown on his face. “No. What do you want, Harry? It's eight in the fucking morning. On a Saturday.

“Just–” he starts, but Louis thinks that Harry probably called him without knowing what to say. Good, looks like they are in the same situation, then. “I'm sorry, Lou, for all the bad things I said yesterday. I didn't mean to– I tried to call you right after to apologise but you switched off your phone and I wasn't sure coming to yours was a brilliant idea, so... Well... I don't know... Are you still there?”

“Yup,” Louis confirms and moves his gaze towards the window because his feet aren't interesting anymore.

“Well, all I wanted to say is that I'm a prick, I know I was wrong and I kept shouting bad words without thinking and– fuck, Louis, I care so much about you I don't even have the courage to stay mad at you for two fucking minutes.”

And Louis isn't sure about what to say, he doesn't know anything at all. He just wants to end the call and throw himself in the shower for the rest of the day. It's something that doesn't happen to him that often, being speechless, but apparently Harry has this mysterious power to shut off his brain and mouth at the same time.

“The thing is,” Harry continues when it’s clear that Louis won’t utter a single word, “that something clicked in me when you said you won't be at the match. I was already picturing me and you in the tribune with beer, flags and cheeks painted with United's colours and I was really happy about it and you just shattered my perfect fantasy. I know it's not your fault, I get it now, but I was so angry at everything in that moment and I only thought about it later and... Maybe we can go another time, yeah?”

Louis isn't sure when he will be able to speak. The fact is that he has so many thoughts, so many things to say, laying on the tip of his tongue and, still, none of them seems intentioned to come out his mouth. The only thing he can do is swallow, but he feels like he's going to choke even if he breathes, so.

“Lou, say something. Please. I can't handle you being angry with me anymore.”

Harry sounds pleading and that makes something snap in Louis' chest after what seemed ages. “Shall I remind you that you were angry with me? Not the opposite. I just reacted to your shit in the Tommo way. Not everyone appreciates the Tommo way, but it is what it is.”

“Yeah and I already apologised for that,” Harry says, gulping.

“Well, then,” he answers, his tone firm, and he probably sounded like he was about to end the call because Harry immediately speaks.

“No, no,” he replies with force and Louis can picture Harry's face, dull eyes and he's certainly biting hard his lips. “No, I’m not ending this conversation until we clear the air. Please, I just want to know that you'll forgive me. Please, Louis.”

“I'm not mad at you, Harry.”

“You’ve called me with my full name since this conversation has begun, so you totally are mad at me.”

Louis snorts at how Harry seems to be determined to make Louis confess he’s actually angry. “No, I'm not. Listen, I just– I just need some time. I'm not used to fighting with my friends, so give me just... a little time.”

Saying these last words makes him feel like he's back in middle school, when his girlfriends came out with the usual stuff, 'you're cute, but I need time' or better 'I need time for myself' and seriously? Thirteen years old and they needed to be left alone? So has Louis kind of turned into his ex girlfriends? Except for the fact that Harry isn't his boyfriend, so he's thinking shit as always.

Harry snorts on the other side of the phone. “I had a... thing, in mind, actually. Can... can I tell you?”

“Let’s hear it, then.”

“I remember having a few conversations with you about, like, forgiving someone in exchange for a full dinner. Starters to dessert kind of dinner.”

“Oh my god.” Louis probably said those words too loudly because Eleanor is shifting next to him, yawning. He stares at the girl for a bit and, when he's sure she's still deeply asleep, he stands up and goes towards the window. Louis peeks between the curtains before starting to speak again with low voice. “You can't be serious.”

“Listen, would you forgive me if I did that?”

“I appreciate the thought, really, but–”

“Come on, Lou, it's just a dinner. I don't want to fix things on the phone miles away from you, it's not right. Maybe we can go somewhere nice, eat fancy food and clear things up in front of a bottle of wine. Please?”

Louis can feel his lips stretching a bit, like they're trying to smile without his consent. It's true, then; he will never heal from this weakness, he can’t deny anything to Harry. He turns to Eleanor, sighing.

“I have to drop Eleanor to the station at seven,” he says slowly. “I'll pick you up half an hour later, is that okay? No, don't answer. This or nothing.”

Because yes, he has to grow some balls one way or another. It's strange, but he's sure he heard Harry smiling. “It's perfect.”

“Well, then,” Louis settles, feeling a little lighter inside. “See you later, Hazza.”

“You have forsaken the seriousness of my name, I'm glad,” he chuckles and Louis rolls his eyes. Typical Harry.

“Yeah, well, you're you and... It's quite strange calling you by your full name. It seems, I don’t know, too serious?”

“See you later, Lou,” Harry answers quietly and he can hear him smiling, and Louis wants to smile, too, but he has already surrendered enough for today, he really needs to maintain some kind of dignity.

Something strange happens the right moment Harry ends the call: a song comes to his mind, a stupid song he heard on some commercial on TV. It sounds alarming, and Louis is sure it’s something like ' goooing to the chapel and weee're gooonna get maaaarried '. That surely was an alarm bell because he didn't mention anything to Harry about the upcoming wedding. Well, Eleanor wants to marry him on Christmas, so he has plenty of time. He probably should tell him at dinner that very night.

Oh no, the ropes in his belly are back. Damn.

Louis unlocks repeatedly his phone as if it were a tic, and in the end he notices the huge amount of texts he missed last night: there's a red 13 in the left corner of the display and he's actually a bit scared to click on it. Eventually he does. The first text is from his telephone company, and only god knows how much he cares about it. The next is from Harry, obviously, and his stomach tightens.

Lou can you just come back here?

He swallows and opens the massive group of messages from Niall.

Tommo wtf?

Harry called me bc u were mad at him whats happened i wanna know

Tommooooo answer or i swear on ireland u wont be able to walk ever agaaain

Louis pls call me back

Harry doesnt answer me anymore i hav to go home im worried

U guys r such a pain in the ass i hate u when u act like princesses

Well

And well, Niall being a wanker is just the cherry on the top. There are other texts, another one from Harry and even two from Liam. Wow, he didn’t realise how big this thing could become.

Just... answer, please. I hate this, I was wrong, come back here and we can talk. Please?

Liam's say: Tommo, Niall called angry. what happned

r u allright, ring me

In the end, even a notification of a missed call from Zayn. From Zayn .

“Love?”

Eleanor’s voice distracts him from his phone. Louis blinks and turns around to face his girlfriend's awakening. “'morning, darling.”

“I had a terrible dream,” she says with a soft voice, rubbing her eyes. “We were at the altar and you were about to say 'yes', when my wedding dress turned from white to green and it just... Burned my skin.”

Louis smiles a little, reaching Eleanor and snuggling with her under the covers. Lucky her, he thinks, because his dream was definitely worse: a giant robot with Zayn's face has chased him all night long. And, honestly? He would prefer to be followed by that Zayn-monster rather than acknowledging the whole fucking situation. Even if now everything is almost okay, or at least he supposes so, Louis can’t stop thinking the following days will be a complete nightmare.



xxx



If there is anything certain in Louis' life, is that sometimes he's the unluckiest person ever. Such a loser that he manages to get dirty with the flowerpot hanging near the door of Harry's flat while ringing the bell. Seriously. On top of that, he's even all sweaty because Eleanor's train was late, so he had to keep her company for the whole time and he said he would have been at Harry's at half past seven. Then he has, uhm, kind of violated a dozen of street's rules. No big deal, it’s just… He seriously hates being late in general, that’s all, even if he always is. Sounds legit.

Instinctively he puts the dirty hand on his waist, trying to clean it but obviously ruining his shirt, and what the hell, Tommo? And of course the t-shirt he’s wearing is white and shining new, that’s his luck. He’s about to insult his life when a curly head peeps shyly out the door.

“Hey,” Harry says quietly, a tentative smile on his face.

“Hey yourself,” Louis mutters, caught while cleaning his hand on his t-shirt. He tries to hide it behind his back, but Harry probably notices. Reluctantly, Louis pulls out his hand and looks at it with a guilty grin and he doesn't even have time to start explaining because his sight is blinded by Harry's hair. Harry is hugging him tightly, so tightly that Louis is probably going to die from asphyxiation. He was once told that when someone almost crushes you while hugging you, it means that this someone wants to make sure that you belong to them and certainly they will never let you go away. Like, ever. Sure, it was his uncle with an hangover saying him those things, but he fancies the idea of Harry hugging him like Louis is... just... his .

Louis really tries to stay impassive, but his arms – or at least, his forearms, since the rest is crushed under Harry's grip – are moving without his permission. And again, stupid brain-body connections.

“Haz, you're breaking my arms,” he mutters, but at the same time he’s trying to hug Harry as well.

It takes him a few seconds to answer. “I don't care.”

“Yeah, but I need them, you know,” Louis answers, uncertain whether to laugh or being worried.

Harry lets go of him and casts a worried glance at Louis, who's not sure about keeping eye contact with him right now. He's not scared or anything, he just... Oh, fuck, he's scared to death of that look, okay? He smiles a little, trying not to reveal his concern. Everything Harry does is keeping a hand on Louis' shoulder and directing him gently inside the flat: he's not sure about how gentle that gesture was, because at some point Harry drove him rather hastily. It seemed like he was making sure that Louis wouldn't fly away. And... wait.

“Hey, we should hurry up because the parking spots were all taken, so I had to double park,” Louis announces, nodding at his back but still following his friend with his eyes. He's now going towards the kitchen, grinning. When it's clear that Harry has no intention of coming back, Louis simply follows him and suddenly his mouth drops open: the table is set and full... of... stuff. Stuff like proper food. And dishes. Dishes full of food.

“Harry... what,” he babbles.

If Louis didn't know him well, he would say Harry's mocking him. But the fact is that Harry has this huge smile on his face and he's quite pleased by the whole situation. Louis is really not.

“Oops?” Harry simply confesses, allowing himself a light shrug. “I, uhm, lied. We're not going out for dinner, that's not what we were talking about.”

“I see,” Louis gulps, approaching the table. A delicious smell suddenly captures his nostrils; he doesn't recognise it, he can't tell what Harry is cooking. “I mean– wait, what? What do you mean with 'that's not what we were talking about'?”

Harry’s smirk widens. “You once told me you can forgive someone if they make a full dinner for you. From starters to dessert. Make , not going to some restaurant. I decided to respect that and I kinda owe you.”

Harry should really invest in a new flat with a balcony, it would be quite useful right now. Louis can’t very well throw himself down the kitchen window, now, can he?

“I even made dessert, I hope you like crème brûlée,” he adds, smiling, obviously proud of his idea.

“Jesus,” he mutters, smiling to himself. “I– yeah, I like it, I guess.”

“Well, you'll appreciate it even more because I spent the entire afternoon making it like I wanted to, you know. You do know I love baking and, well, creating something for someone you love is different.”

“You're crazy.” He is and Louis is even crazier, maybe. “You could have told me!”

“You probably wouldn't have come,” Harry shrugs, uncovering a pot and beginning to stir. Who knows what the heck he's cooking. However, looking at him at work, Louis thinks that he really belongs in the kitchen. He can't say if it's because of his waiter outfit – he's all in black, black skinny jeans as always and black shirt, a little bit unbuttoned at the chest, collarbones on display – or simply because he’s very much in tune with the environment. Louis likes it.

“You never know,” he answers quietly. If he’s honest, even Louis doesn’t know what he would have done. He probably would have caved in and come to see Harry.

Harry stops whatever he's doing and looks directly at Louis; it seems like a curtain has fallen over his eyes, obscuring his look and his smile. Louis swallows. “I was truly worried, Lou. That you wouldn't come. That's why I lied. I'm sorry. I shouldn’t have, especially because this isn’t the first time. The tickets, you know… However, that was a white lie! But… sorry.”

“Where's Niall, by the way?” Louis asks, shrugging, still not comfortable enough to deal with the whole situation. “You should be worried about his desire to kill me, since he left a huge quantity of nice texts in my inbox last night.”

The boy just shrugs. “Dunno. I said I invited you for dinner and he just disappeared. He does it every time I say you're coming over, now that I think about it. He was all finery and shit like that when he left, his date outfit.”

Louis can't help but erupt in a laugh. “Niall!? A date? Don't be a dunce.”

“Why?” Harry blinks in confusion at his words.

“Well, it's... Niall!”

“So?”

Louis lowers his head and takes a few steps towards his friend. “Oh, come on!”

If Niall was dating someone, they definitely would know. It's Niall, it's how his mind works: ‘I'm dating someone, so I'm going to hang billboards everywhere to let the world know I’m happy’. Louis is sincerely surprised Harry knows so little about his best friend. Harry just shrugs at his words, apparently not considering them worthy of an answer, and grabs a black bottle from near the stove, spilling some liquid into the pan. “Are you seriously putting wine in the pan?”

After a moment, Harry leans a little towards the pot, eyebrows furrowed in concentration and Louis doesn’t even pretend to know what he’s doing. When he hear Louis’ words, though, he narrows his eyes and turns to him. “You know nothing about cooking, do you?”

Louis shrugs because that’s not news and he's not a liar, so, nope, he really doesn't know anything about cooking. Despite his ignorance, he has never seen anyone putting wine or anything similar in the food. He approaches shyly to the stove and inhales the scent of the wine, which is now fading a little.

“It's champagne, not wine,” Harry clarifies, like he read his mind. “Champagne risotto. It's my forte, I wanted to be sure to win your heart. And your forgiveness, too.”

“My heart is taken at the moment, sorry to disappoint,” he has the necessity to say, even if he knows it's completely random and what Harry said was just a joke.

“We'll see,” Harry grins, still mixing. “No one has been able to resist my risotto so far. Let’s see if Louis Tomlinson can endure its magic!”

“Huh? So, that's why you're still single?”

The intention wasn't making fun of him, just a little joke that probably came out in the wrong way. Harry's gaze turns off a bit even if he's trying to smile, but Louis can see it’s faked. Yeah, Harry can't lie for shit, he's always been like this. He pretends not to notice his discomfort, putting an arm around Harry's waist. Harry shakes it off and glances at him.

“You should probably go park your car in a better spot, since we're not leaving,” he says and, right, yes, double parked car.

It takes him about ten minutes to find a proper park spot, just in front of the door of Harry's building, and thank you neighbour dressed like a samba dancer who decided to leave just when Louis was there. When he gets back to the flat, Harry is switching the stove off.

“Chop, chop” he yells, gesturing towards the table. “I haven't cooked all day for you to let everything get cold!”

Louis has no choice but sit as Harry ordered. His friend is now standing on his right, supporting the pot on a trivet with care. Louis could watch him cooking and carrying pots forever. He's moving slowly, only the right hand covered with a glove and he's still stirring even if the risotto is no longer cooking.

“Well? I'm hungry.”

“Just a couple of minutes. I'd tell you why you should always wait before eating risotto, but you probably wouldn't listen to me, so...”

“Yes, because I'm hungry. Feed me, Harold.”

Harry laughs out loud and, finally, puts spoonfuls of risotto in Louis' plate. Well, that looks good.

Louis tracks everything Harry does for a couple of minutes, focusing on his hands’ movements and the concentration furrow on his forehead and, when Harry finally sits in front of Louis with a pleased smile on his face, all he wants to do is touching his curls and his hands. Harry looks so happy right now, a sharp contrast to the angry tone he had the night before when they were fighting, and the dead voice he had in the morning during their call. Louis suffered watching him being mad at him, because it's Harry and he's supposed to be always like this, always happy.

And Louis can't wait anymore, so he smiles wide. “I have to tell you something.”

Harry frowns, surely dubious after Louis’ last announcement. “Is it a good thing?”

For a moment he thinks about quoting himself, telling him 'when was the last time I said something bad to you?' but better not, considering they went through just a few hours ago. “Depends,” Louis starts, putting a forkful of risotto in his mouth and well, it really is good, “maybe yes, maybe no.”

“You're an idiot,” Harry shakes his head, but smiles fondly nevertheless. However, when he speaks again, his tone is still a little fearful. “Tell me, then.”

“Hey, hey, don't forget I haven't forgiven you yet.”

“But you're enjoying the risotto,” it's not a question, it's an observation.

“Who said that?”

Harry snorts. “Your satisfied expression, I guess. And your almost empty plate.”

“Well,” Louis begins with his mouth full of food, “it's good, I can't deny–”

“Tell meee! You always leave me on my toes!”

“Alright, alright,” Louis says, chewing. “I talked with Eleanor this morning,” he continues and he can swear Harry's look is starting to become a bit odd, “and I think... I think I'm in for the match.”

There's a moment when Harry looks at him like he just said he wants to join the circus, then frowns. He slowly tilts his head, staring at him right in the eyes.

“You mean, you'll be in Manchester on Sunday?”

Louis nods. “On one condition: you're not going to paint my cheeks or whatever you wanted to do with them. Just to make things clear.”

“Wait, so you’re saying,” Harry rests the fork on the table without breaking eye contact with him, “we're going to Manchester United versus Arsenal in three days?”

“It's what I–” Louis tries to answer, but Harry has already dropped the chair and catapulted his body on Louis', holding him in another hug. Louis laughs out loud, unsure what to say. “Woah, calm down, big boy!”

Harry probably doesn't give a shit about his words because he's crushing him like he wants to break every bone in his body. “Louis! You're serious! We... We're really going to the match together!”

“Yeah, yeah, but you’re choking me!”

Probably a child in front of a Lego shop would be less excited than Harry in that moment. And it's for that reason he will never tell him the truth, that he didn't have a normal talk with his girlfriend in the morning, but a quarrel. Yeah, she was still firm in her idea, they see each other once in awhile and bla bla and another bla bla, but they found a compromise: she won't come to London for the weekend, but Louis is going to Cambridge on Friday night, so he and Eleanor can spend at least Saturday together. So everyone is happy.

Eleanor not that much, but Harry's dimples compensate for everything, they really do.



xxx



It's late when Niall comes back home, almost two a.m, judging by the timer on the DVD player. The door creaks a little, the noise echoing in the living room, and then there's silence after a rough clock when Niall closes it. At first, Louis thinks he should probably pretend to be asleep, so he doesn't have to explain anything to him. But that's pointless, since he and Harry are fine now. And Niall was truly worried for his friends the night before, so he owes him an explanation if he will ask for one.

The light is dim, but he can see his friend looks dressy. Mmm. Louis keeps staring at Niall's jacket while chewing his finger's cuticles, not sure if he has seen him yet. Much better, he thinks. He's squatting on the couch, undecided whether laying there for the rest of the night or simply going home, when a voice distracts him.

“I can hear your noisy thoughts up here, Lou-Lou,” and suddenly Niall is standing in front of him with a hand in his pocket and a beer in the other.

Louis smiles a little, resting his chin on the knees. “Hey, Nialler.”

The room is dark, illuminated just a little bit by the light coming from the kitchen, so Louis is surprised to see Niall's tired look. He's about to ask where the hell did he spend the night, when Niall nods at Harry, who's sleeping next to Louis. Harry is curled up on the other side of the sofa, head on the armrest and arms close to the chest as if he’s dreaming of holding someone: he has a peaceful look, it's strange how someone can be happy even while asleep.

“He was really bad last night, you know,” Niall says, sipping from the bottle.

“I know,” it's the only thing Louis can say.

“I'm glad you're here, Tommo, it means a lot to him. And to me.”

“I know,” he repeats, biting his lower lip. “Everything's fine now, I guess.”

Niall nods and sips again. Louis moves his eyes to Harry, looking at how he seems relaxed. About two hours ago, after having a really great dinner – Harry is such a god at cooking, as Louis has learnt – they decided to just lay on the sofa and watch trashy TV shows. Harry fell asleep after five minutes, but Louis couldn't. He stared at his friend for a very long time, feeling like a creep because staring at people while they're sleeping is definitely not normal. But Harry does things when he sleeps, weird things, and Louis really couldn't stop staring at his friend: he mumbles strange words, he stretches his body as cats do, rubbing his face with the back of the hand and so on.

He's nice to watch, Louis could do it all night.

“Pft, I'm going to bed,” Niall decides, yawning, “you'll stay here?” he asks but he doesn't wait for Louis' answer before adding: “Feel free to sleep in Harry's bed, if you want. He falls asleep on the couch only when he's really tired, he's not going to wake up for the next eleven hours.”

Louis chuckles. “Thanks. I think... I think I'll stay here.”

“Goodnight, then. See you tomorrow morning” Niall yawns again, blatantly this time, and then disappears in his room.

Now that Louis is alone in the dark again, he feels quite strange. On the one hand he wants to lay down on Harry, just as when they slept at Liam's what seems like ages ago. On the other, he's not sure he can fall asleep just yet. So what? He could just lay on him with his eyes open until Harry wakes up in the morning. But there's something blocking him, something that shouldn't even be there. He has never had these issues with Liam, after all the times he stayed over at his flat and cuddled him on the couch. But with Harry it's different, Louis really wants to know what's going on these days. He keeps thinking about how everything is different with Harry, overthinking everything they do. Maybe it’s better to stay in the not-knowing mood. Stop doing mental blowjobs, Louis Tomlinson, you're not a teenage girl , he thinks. And the big question is torturing him: why the fuck hasn’t he told him about the wedding yet?

He's about to lower his body on the armrest and roll up on it, but he sighs instead. Screw everything, a few seconds later his head rests on Harry's hip: Louis hugs his friend's body and maybe now he can fall asleep peacefully.



xxx



“You should get a trophy for being such a shitty party planner.”

“Let me give you a news: I'm not a party planner.”

Louis raises an eyebrow. “You have one job, Stan, just one thing and you're doing it shit. Look at Zayn, there, he's a pro with this stuff.”

It's Friday afternoon and they're in Liam's living room: Louis and Stan are at the table, Liam is nowhere to be seen and Zayn is crouched on the ground with a giant paint brush in his hand. Under him there's this big... sheet? He doesn't know, it could be a bed sheet, it's big and white and rectangular. Whatever, it's not that white anymore since Zayn has been painting on it for hours.

“Are you mocking me?” Zayn says, his look still focused on the ground.

“I'm serious,” Louis answers. “You're very good at this, Zayno. I wonder how I didn’t know, Liam used to sing your praises so much before you got together. ‘Oh, Louis, he’s such a good reader! He can sing! He’s so handsome!’ Hey, speaking of...” he smirks, remembering something Liam always said, and he definitely needs to share it. Liam will kill him, but he is not here now, and it’s way too funny, he has to tell the boys. “Did you know Liam used to describe you as an Egyptian deity back then?”

Zayn bursts into laughter, and Louis and Stan can't help but follow him. After having spit pieces of the twinkie he was eating on the table, Stan reassembles himself before starting staring at Louis with a soft smile. It's great having him there, Louis is so happy because it's been awhile since his last visit. Of course, they see each other on Skype and send texts almost everyday, but it's not the same. Just Stan's presence makes him feel better, safe.

When Louis told him he was going go to see Manchester United, Stan was all excited and he did everything to be there too. Luckily Niall hadn’t bought his ticket yet so, since Liam and Zayn and then Louis and Harry have already different seats, they’re at least going to sit together. It’s a bit hilarious, Louis thinks, the six of them going to a match together but watching the game in pairs. But the best thing is that Stan is going to spend the entire week in London with him and Louis couldn't be happier. Stan decided to take a little holiday from studying, so he came for the match and he stays until Niall's birthday, next Sunday. This is definitely going to be one of the best weeks ever.

“Haven't you finished yet?” Louis asks, holding back a laugh because his friend's expression is a work of art.

“Lou, I'm not good with this shit,” he says, snorting. “And why the hell does Niall's birthday party need all of these origami decorations?”

“Because it's Niall's party, indeed.”

Stan huffs, then opens his mouth to complain when Liam finally comes back: he goes straight towards his boyfriend, holding a ridiculous hat and he lays on the floor next to him. Zayn turns a little, smiles at him fondly, then returns to his work. Well, they're just too cute, in Louis’ opinion.

“Louis, I thought that tomorrow after the game we could go somewhere to celebrate the news,” Liam says, turning to look at him.

“Absolutely not,” he answers firmly, wanting to end that discussion already.

An awkward silence falls in the room, but he can still hear his friends' thoughts.

“Why not?”

The answer is simple, even obvious, but for some reason he thinks they won’t understand. “Because Harry doesn't know. Neither does Niall.”

The very first thing Louis did when he got home the day before after spending a really tough morning at work, was telling Liam and Zayn about Eleanor's proposal, since he didn’t have the chance to spit a word before because of everything that had happened with Harry. He told them everything, from the bad fight with Harry to the proposal to the dinner. It is possible that he omitted the fact that he couldn't tell his friend about the wedding.

When Louis told them, he thought he saw Liam's smile fade away a bit. He didn't say anything at first, it was Zayn who broke the awkward tension that had fallen among them. Louis didn't give much relevance to that reaction, to be honest.

“Louis, I thought Harry was the first person you'd tell,” Liam frowns now, standing on his elbows to have a better view of Louis’ face.

Louis shrugs. “Instead he's the last, I suppose.”

“But why?” Liam seems sincerely shocked by this news, and Louis doesn’t get why he thinks this is so important.

“I don't fucking know, okay?” Maybe he spoke more abruptly than he wanted because his friend frowns even more. “I have all the time in the world.”

“Yeah, but I don't see the point.”

“I'm going to tell him eventually, don't worry, Payno,” Louis says. “But not now, just– just let me enjoy the match tomorrow. None of you have to say anything to Harry, okay? I'll find the right time. I'll definitely tell him after the game, I promise.”

“As you wish,” Liam grumbles, starting to fiddle with the hat he's still holding, obviously not convinced by Louis’ words.

Louis doesn't understand their reactions, even Zayn seems a bit disappointed. Then he turns to Stan, just to find any kind of support, but he's looking at him with a frown. No, not him too. Is it really a selfish thing not telling Harry about the big Christmas ceremony? And also, why would it be selfish?

Silence is worse than bad words, Louis thinks, so, although there's still an hour until his train leaves for Cambridge, he decides to let his friends speak behind his back.

“I'm going to see my fiancée,” he announces, grabbing the keys from the sideboard. “I'm going to Cambridge, lads. See you tomorrow.”

“Why are you going there? Doesn’t she always come here on weekends?” Stan asks, an eyebrow raised to underline his doubts.

Louis sighs, shaking his head. “Not this week. That's our compromise.”

“Compromise? Why?” Stan asks, looking at him with that expression Louis knows he has when he really doesn't have a clue.

Well, he has a point, considering he didn't tell him how he had a dispute with her for wanting to go to the United game and all. He didn't tell him anything about that, not wanting to revive memories of the argument with Harry. He just told Liam and Zayn because they knew and they can be a real pain in the arse when they try. So poor Stan really doesn't know why he fought with Eleanor just after getting engaged.

“El didn't want him to go to the game with Haz,” Liam says, not raising his head from the paper sheets he's currently looking at like they're demons. His voice is calm, but Louis can sense a hint of bitterness. “I guess our presence didn't count as much as his.”

“I repeat: why?” if possible, Stan is getting more and more dubious.

Louis really can't answer. He tried to figure out why Eleanor was so determined not to let him go to that match, as if it was some sort of menace, but he couldn't find a reason. True, they see each other not as much as they should, but a Sunday in Manchester is not like a two months trip to Australia. He had to fight tooth and nail to gain her approval to go, like he was a three-year-old child who needs his mum to go to the cinema. And when he finally got a 'yes, fine, go' from her, it was obvious that she was only agreeing because she was exasperated. Louis knew that, but decided to ignore it. A yes is a yes, after all, and he didn't take classes in 'read your girlfriend's lunatic mood.’ He bought her forgiveness with a shiny engagement ring a couple of hours later. So that's fine, but he still doesn’t have an answer for Stan.

“The fuck I know, really. Eleanor is strange sometimes,” Liam says, saving him. “I give up, I don't know how to do origami. Why do we even have to make paper boats, Lou? I know you had your sailor phase, but... No, don't answer, I don't want to know. I'll just look up some tutorials on Youtube.”

Liam gets up just when Zayn raises his head from the sheet to Louis, an eyebrow raised. “You had a sailor phase?”

He's about to answer, denying it and blaming Liam somehow, when Stan starts laughing. “Oh, yes, you should have seen him! He always wore those–”

“So,” Zayn interrupts him, grinning. What the heck, Zayn, when did he become so talkative? Always when conversations aren't interesting anymore. Seriously, keep painting that damn sheet and look at your boyfriend with your Bambi eyes and don't ask any question , Louis thinks, “now I know what to get you for your birthday slash Christmas, or Birthmas, or Christday, or whatever is its name. Just a couple of days ago I saw an article about boats on sale on a copy of Sporting Life that I found on my desk.”

“Okay, fine, I'm leaving!” he says, marching towards the door. He really doesn’t want to hear another word about boats, sailor, Harry, girlfriend, origami, party, Harry. “I won't stay here listening to y’all mocking me. See you, twats.”

And he takes off, running down the stairs like he's late when he actually has all the time in the world. It's just... Sometimes he can't stay with his friends. When they ask all the right questions, and they talk about all the things he always tries to bury somewhere in his head. They're like his personal Jiminy Cricket of things he doesn't want to deal with, for now.

He will, someday. Just not today.



xxx



When Sunday arrives, they are all as excited as little kids about to take a trip. Louis and Harry sport their Manchester United jerseys, bought years ago, so Harry's one is a little bit small on him. Harry doesn’t mention it, and Louis pretends not to notice how he can see Harry's stomach every time his friend stretches. He doesn't stare, it's just that Harry told him he wants to get a hip tattoo and he's imagining how it will be.

“What about petrol? Is it okay?”

Harry is now stretched into his car from the window, so now Louis is basically addressing his bum.

“Yes, for the millionth time. It's full. And even if it weren't, there are gas stations on the way. Really, Haz, the car is okay. I'm more worried about your drive, to be honest.”

Given Stan’s presence that day, they needed to take Louis’ car as well as Liam’s. Louis still didn’t want to drive to Manchester, but he also didn’t want to go up north with the train, so he eventually bit the bullet and accepted his fate. Harry obviously noticed that Louis wasn’t very enthusiastic about the whole thing and offered to drive once again. At first Louis wasn’t sure – his car is quite a scrap and he likes to believe he has a special feeling with it and that’s why it doesn’t abandon him, who knows how it’d be with a different driver – but Harry insisted and in the end Louis caved in. Well, it wasn’t really a hardship for Harry to convince him, he knows how to get what he wants from Louis and he was actually doing him a favour.

“Hey!” Harry says, his body still stretched into the car. Louis can't help but stare at the naked skin of his back, left uncovered by the shirt. He shakes his head when he feels Stan's arm around his shoulders.

“Leave him alone, Lou. He's driving your shitty car, not everyone would be up to it.”

He turns to glare at him, but he has a point, so he just shrugs. Stan has been smiling since he woke up that morning and he's now wearing his beloved United scarf, even if it's still very hot and his neck is probably boiling under it. Louis doesn't know how he found a ticket just a couple of days before the match, but he doesn't care as long as he's there.

“I'm happy you're here,” he whispers, because he isn't that kind of person who speaks his feelings as long as it's not necessary. He's more the 'show your love with mockery' kind of guy. Stan just smiles, understanding this is a moment between just the two of them since he knows Louis like the back of his hand.

“Me, too,” he answers, still whispering, before turning towards the others.

Liam is standing in front of the door, face to the sun, but he's gently caressing Zayn's back like nobody is around. Zayn is speaking with Niall about god knows what, but he has a tender smile on his face that Louis has come to link to Liam's romantic gestures. Those two are cute in a way that can almost be disturbing. Stan is looking at them, too, and he has a weird expression.

“I'm going with Lou and Harry. No way I'm getting in a car with those love puppies: I don't want to die by sugar overdose, thank you very much.”

Liam usually never blushes, but apparently everything is different when it comes to Zayn even though he tries to hide it. Oh, Louis will tease him forever. Zayn is so much better at hiding his amusement, since he's rolling his eyes as if all Stan did was annoy him, but he's smirking like he's proud of what he just said. He probably is, Louis thinks, and he has the right to. Liam is a freaking golden prize, if he were into guys and Liam weren't his best friend, he would really pray to have him.

Niall erupts in a loud laughter, a successful attempt of killing all Louis’ lovely thoughts. He's laughing like Stan just told the joke of the century and, honestly, it was fun, but not so much. Louis raises an eyebrow, as does Stan.

“Then good luck not dying by sugar overdose with those other two,” Niall says once recovered, pointing at Louis and Harry, who's now standing right next to Louis.

“Well, Nialler, it's us or the possibility of three hours of Zayn trying to murder you by touching Liam's thigh while he's driving,” Harry says, smirking, and all Niall does is walk straight to Louis' old Clio ignoring Zayn’s weak protest.

“Hey! I wouldn't do that!”

“You kinda do that,” Liam admits, laughing a little bit, and Zayn looks at him like he just betrayed him.

“When we're stuck in traffic! Li, honestly, I wouldn't distr–”

Zayn's words die when Liam cups his face and kisses him fiercely. Louis stares for a moment, smiling at how Zayn relaxes under Liam's touch, how his best friend actually glows with the kiss. They truly are cute as hell, and well, he gets Stan's point.

“You're welcome to join the Stylinson crew,” he says to him, patting his own chest before holding Harry's elbow and moving him towards the car.

“But I'm the Captain, don't forget it!” Niall adds, laughing. He jogs along until he reaches the car, automatically going for the back seats. “C'mon, lads!”

Louis just shakes his head. He lost every hope to understand Niall a long time ago, he's just weird. Harry is giggling like a child and Stan is smiling like an idiot. Seriously, Louis should reconsider his choices in friends. His last hope rests on those who are now eating each other's face.

“See you in Manchester, lads!”

God bless football.



xxx



Harry drives like Louis' grandmother. He's so careful and slow that Louis starts to tease him after only ten minutes, but Harry simply smiles and ignores him, and it just isn't funny this way. So Louis decides to watch his friend drive, focusing on little gestures like changing the gear or tapping on the steering wheel to the songs on the radio.

Harry is a really good driver, even if Louis won't admit it. He's careful and slow, yes, but he's also very smooth and his driving is so relaxing that Louis ends up falling asleep. When he opens his eyes, the signs on the road tell him they're already in the north, so he missed more than half of their journey.

He can hear Harry whisper, probably not wanting to wake him up. He smiles unconsciously, a smile that widens when he realises Harry is talking about him.

“I really wanted him to come to this match, you know? One of the first things we talked about was Manchester United. Still back in New York. It was like... I don't know, the start of our bonding? I know it probably sounds insane, months have passed between that and us meeting in London, but... Yeah. I just wanted to go with him.”

“It's not insane, mate,” Stan answers and Louis has to stop himself from gulping. Stan's tone is so calm, he can almost feel the smile in his words, and the only word he can think about to describe it’s fond.

He shuts his eyes, trying to breathe as if he were still sleeping. Maybe it's unfair eavesdropping other people’s conversations, especially when he’s the subject of the aforementioned conversation, but he really wants to know.

“I think it's cute,” Niall affirms and you don’t say, Niall thinks everything is cute these days.

“Yeah, whatever, Ni,” Harry says. Louis can feel a laughter in his words and can easily picture him biting his lip.

“No, but seriously,” Stan starts, “I think it's a nice gesture and I'm sure Lou would appreciate it if you told him. He didn't tell me about this fight you guys had... Knowing him, he probably didn't want to feel bad about the situation again. He does that sometimes, with things he really cares about. But again, maybe he would have understood your reaction better if you had told him it was because of this. It's not insane at all. I mean, it's obvious you love him, it makes sense.”

There's a moment of silence when Louis thinks maybe the discussion is over, but then he hears Harry shifting on his seat and his awkward cough.

“Yeah. I love him,” he says, his voice so low that makes Louis think that maybe he didn't want Stan or Niall to hear. Much less Louis. He wonders why, but honestly doesn't know if he wants an answer, considering all the awkward moments between him and Harry in the last weeks.

Maybe it's better to let it go.

He opens his eyes just in time to catch Harry changing the CD. Harry notices he's awake almost immediately and he smiles at him, that smile he has when someone tells him they're going to a concert or when he sees a kitten playing with flowers. Especially kittens with flowers.

“Hey, nice to see you, Sleeping Beauty.”

“Mmh,” is all Louis says, blinking a few times to wake up completely. “Where are we?”

“We're almost there, I think half an hour driving left,” Harry answers, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel in time with the song. Louis listens to it for a moment, immediately recognising it.

Too busy being yours to fall ...” he sings along, and immediately Harry looks at him like he just said Christmas comes earlier this year.

“You're singing. An Arctic Monkeys song. You're singing,” he says and Louis smiles sheepishly, turning his eyes to look at the road again.

“Yeah. I, ahem, actually listened to AM after New York. You were right, it's a great album.”

“What about Mad Sounds ?” Harry asks, excited like a child, he’s almost jumping on the seat.

“It’s an amazing song. Number seven of the album, of course,” he says, laughing a bit, and Harry smiles so broadly that his face is surely about to split up.

“Honestly, Lou, this obsession with that number is kind of creepy sometimes,” he comments, obviously amused.

“Shut up, you love it.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I kinda do.”

“Oh my god, Harry, really? Really ?” Stan's exasperated voice startles Louis. “I mean, it's already strange that you know about this mad obsession, but you guys are almost glued to each other so it doesn't really surprise me... But loving it? God, Niall, you were so right. They are disgusting.”

Niall laughs out loud and Louis catches Harry's eyes for a moment. His friend has this little smile on his lips, the one he has when he talks about his sister and Louis can feel how much he loves her just by it, even if it's small and doesn't even involve dimples. Louis blinks, returning the smile, and then Stan is talking again.

“Now, please, go back talking about music.”

“Yeah. Like, Lou, have you listened to their first album?” Niall says. It's strange picturing Niall listening to the Arctic Monkeys, considering he's the one who had a Bieber phase and still defines himself a huge fan of boybands. It probably is a consequence of being Harry's best friend. Harry probably tied him up to a chair to make him listen to some good music.

Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not ,” Louis answers, nodding. “I think that's probably the best album title ever. Also, true story.”

They keep talking about Arctic Monkeys and music until they arrive in Manchester. It's nice seeing Harry and Niall talking about their element, especially Niall, considering Louis often forgets he studies Sound Engineering and actually plays in a band. It's weird how Niall, always so carefree and open about everything, actually becomes shy when it comes to the band. He has never seen them playing and, when he asked Niall about that, he simply said that they are not ready yet. Louis never asked again, giving his friend the space he thinks he needs, even if he's sure they're already awesome and ready to kick arses. When Harry finally finds a parking spot, Louis is almost sad to leave the car and the conversation.

He comes to his senses when he sees the stadium and people wearing United colours, his colours, and immediately starts jumping until they get to the queue. It's endless, but they’re early so Louis won't freak out before it’s necessary.

“Hey, Lou, do you remember when your dad took us to that match when we were about twelve?” Stan says at some point and Louis smiles.

“Yeah! It was against Liverpool. I bothered him so much he couldn't say no, but he never took us again, we probably were a proper embarrassment!”

“You totally were,” Stan smirks, before getting closer to Harry and patting his shoulder. “Poor Harry will regret even having thought to bring you here. You'll see, Lou, you’ll scare him away!”

Louis knows Stan is joking, he's laughing for god's sake, but his words make him search Harry's eyes. He finds him already staring at him, as if he had the same thoughts, and Louis sincerely hopes Harry didn't consider that option for real. He knows he can be a little bit of a nuisance sometimes... Okay, maybe more than a little bit, more like he can be a real pain in the ass. But it's Harry they’re talking about,. he wouldn't run away and leave him in Manchester, would he?

The answers comes a few seconds later, when Harry jumps on his back and hugs him tightly, so tightly that Louis almost chokes on air.

“No way I’m leaving him!” Harry yells, while Louis is failing to restrain himself from leaning into the touch. “He's mine!”

“Yeah, pumpkin, sure,” Louis answers, laughing. “But you're choking me.”

“Oops!”

Louis can picture Harry biting his tongue right after saying that and immediately smiles, remembering the first time they met, how Harry said that exact word. When Harry loosens his tight and he can finally free his arms, he searches for Harry's forearms; he holds them in place, not wanting to let him go just yet.

They stay in that position until they get into the stadium and if Louis catches Liam's questioning looks, well, he doesn't care. It's not that Liam is judging him, after all. He actually smiles when he realises Louis' fingers are caressing Harry's wrist while entering their section. For some astral alignment, Louis and Harry have seats in the same area as Liam and Zayn, although quite distant from each other. Unfortunately it was not possible to change the booking of their tickets, since the section was fully occupied already. They still agreed to look for free seats before the beginning of the match, in case someone won’t show up and allow them all to sit closer. But, considering the amount of people who are already entering the stadium even if there is still more than half an hour until the kick-off, Louis believes that this possibility is way too remote. So, since there’s still time before they can sit on those shiny red seats (Louis still can't believe that's really happening!), they decide to spend the last few minutes together near the entrance to Niall and Stan's section. In the meantime, since Zayn and Liam stopped at the booth to get beers for everyone – god bless those two lovebirds, honestly – Niall is basically having a euphoria attack. Louis thinks his friend could spread rainbows at any moment.

“This is awesome!” Niall cheers, he’s basically a kid on a sugar high. He can't stay still, he's been gesturing towards the pitch since they got in there. He keeps turning between it and Harry, and he’s gesturing so broadly that the collar of his shirt is now lowered a little. And that's why Louis sees it and almost chokes on the beer he's drinking. He coughs and Harry has to pat his back in order to make him breathe again. Once he recovers, he immediately points at Niall's neck.

“What's that?” he says, his voice sounding horrified even if he's not in that mood at all. He's mostly surprised. When Niall immediately covers the accused spot, even blushing a little bit, Louis starts laughing.

“Hey! Don't laugh at him!” Harry says, elbowing him in the ribs. Louis just laughs harder.

“I'm sorry, but that's a proper love bite, mate! Who gave you that? Spill!”

“I did,” Harry says, giggling, and Louis looks at him with what he hopes is his best killer’s glare.

“That's not funny,” he says, tone dry, and he's about to explain when Niall interrupts him.

“Calm down, don't be jealous! Harry is on love bite strike until somebody sees the light.”

At those words, Harry literally reddens as a tomato. Louis raises an eyebrow, confused, even a little bit hurt since Harry never mentioned he fancies someone. It's not that he has to tell him everything that's going on in his mind or heart or whatever, but... Yeah, Louis really would like to know. He should probably man up and ask Harry why he isn’t comfortable talking with Louis about his love life. And apparently Harry doesn't want to talk about it, since he's now almost begging Niall to shut up with his eyes. He can read that look. Well, if Harry isn't ready to tell him about his crush, he'll respect it, even if it hurts a bit.

“So?” he asks, his voice a little bit rough for no particular reason. He coughs before continuing. “Who's responsible for that?”

“My girlfriend,” Niall answers, immediately smiling. He's glowing like he just said the greatest news ever and, wait, it kind of is.

“What?!” he exclaims, Liam and Zayn immediately following him. So he's not the only one kept in the dark, at least. Harry, though, is looking at him with a smug expression that basically screams 'I told you so'.

“You knew!” Louis tells him, feeling a little betrayed. “When we talked about where he goes... You knew! You little shit, you made me say he can't have a girlfriend and you knew!”

Harry just shrugs. “Of course I knew! He’s my best friend, we talk about these things. I tried to suggest the idea, but he wanted to tell you lads himself, what was I supposed to say? 'Yeah, Lou, Niall is dating Clara and they're the cutest couple ever. But don't tell him, he wants to surprise you'?”

“Yeah! Exactly like that!”

“Clara? You're dating that Clara?”

“Hey, why the fuck couldn't I have a girlfriend?”

“Oh! That's great!”

There's an awkward moment of silence after they spoke all at the same time, or at least silence among them since the stadium starts becoming louder and louder as the beginning of the match gets closer. Louis is almost certain Stan is biting his lip not to say something stupid, but Stan remains silent. It's Louis who speaks first, looking at Niall.

“Haz obviously explained it the wrong way. Of course you can have a girlfriend, it's great, more than great! It's just that I thought you'd have come to us screaming that you've conquered her heart asap. That's all,” he smiles and Niall immediately relaxes. “So... Clara. Nice to know, mate! She's gorgeous!”

“She makes me soufflés,” Niall answers, his eyes practically hearts, and Louis can't help but smile. He seems so happy, like Liam and Zayn.

“A match made in Heaven, then,” Zayn jokes, ruffling Niall's hair.

“You should properly introduce her to us,” Liam adds, nodding at his own words. “You know, she has to gain our approval to take you away from us. Our little Nialler!”

“She's got mine,” Harry says, laughing. “But yeah, I guess you lads have to say something, too. Next time she'll come over I'll let you know.”

“Oh god, this is exactly why I didn't tell you before! You bastards...”

Niall's words are interrupted by a loud roar and, when Louis turns his look towards the field, is for seeing the United team entering. Louis immediately regains his adrenaline and he has to hold onto Harry's arm with both of his hands when the players take the field. It's been years since he saw a match at the stadium and being there with his friends is one of the best experiences ever, and the game hasn't even started yet. He looks at Harry, whose eyes are fixed on the pitch, and he gets lost for a bit in how grateful he is for this boy. He stretches so his mouth touches Harry's ear when he speaks.

“Thank you for this. It's amazing. I'll never forget it.”

He squeezes Harry's hand before nodding to his friends and then dragging Harry to their seats, ignoring the boy's red cheeks and the way he's chewing his lip. He looks beautiful with the United jersey, even if it's small, even if he wears it with his usual skinny jeans and those damn boots. His eyes are shining and his hair is completely mad, even if he’s wearing the headscarf he bought him, the one with the anchors. He realises he's staring only when Liam pinches his hip because, yeah, they’re going to the same direction after all and he kind of forgot that. Louis turns to him and finds him smiling tenderly. He doesn't say anything, but it's enough to take Louis out of his trance.

They watch the warm-up in silence, enjoying every time that Rooney approaches that side of the pitch. It's a matter of a few minutes, the players return inside and soon are back, ready to play. Then the match begins.

Louis tries to give all his attention to the game, noticing how his team isn't playing so well. Arsenal has a better game, they're probably going to make a goal soon if United's defenders won't wake up. And, hell, how he missed watching games in a real stadium! It's all different, it's all action, screams, colours and fear and crazy people like him. Jesus Christ, his neighbour, Mrs Wayatt, comes knocking on his door every time he yells at the TV while watching games and it's quite frustrating. Now, here, he can yell everything he’s thinking whenever he wants to, every swear word he can think of without anyone bothering him. It may seem nothing, but for a super fan it means a lot. To be honest, he also fancies Robin Van Persie a lot. Like, a lot. Like he would like to be him just for one day. Like he could sell his butt for being him just for a fucking day. So, looking at his feet during his dribble is kind of a dream come true.

Just as there are positive aspects of watching a live game, there are also negative ones. Or at least, for Louis. He doesn't want to be one of those nostalgic people who bask in the pain of the old good days, but he misses football like hell. There was a time, when he lived in Doncaster, when the pitch where he usually went playing with Stan knew by heart his feet and his way of playing. Everyday, after school, they used to spend hours and hours playing and Louis remembers everything, every scar on his knees, every time his mother called him screaming because they stayed around even with the dark. Louis was made for having a football on his feet, he was made for football and that's it.

Now, with his job and his girlfriend occupying every weekend, if he touches a football for an hour once a week it's enough. Sad story, true story.

It's when Rooney misses an opportunity to score when the goal post is almost undefended, that Harry blindly reaches for his hand, squeezing it and then simply holding it until the action finishes. Louis stares at their hands for a moment before intertwining their fingers. He keeps staring at them for a moment before realising what he's doing, but instead of taking back his hand, all Louis does is looking at Liam a few rows below.

Liam, bless his best friend, must sense Louis’ gaze because suddenly he turns to them, smiling. Apparently he’s more interested in what is happening to Louis than he is in the match. Louis gives him a look that he thinks is something between a 'what is happening, tell me' and a simple 'what what what'. Liam just shrugs, smiling a bit. He can’t even properly get Louis’ expression, since they’re quite far from each other, so why the hell is he smiling?

It goes on like that for pretty much all the match. Harry looking for Louis' hand, Louis whispering something in Harry's ear, a tight hug when their team finally scores... And Louis looking at Liam, finding him staring back at them sometimes, as if he’s making sure they’re safe and sound. To be honest, Louis is not sure about that: he may be happy and excited for the match, ready to see another one immediately if he had the chance, but he also gained a lot of confusion. His mind is split in two and he doesn’t know if he could reassure Liam, right now.

“I'm sorry we lost,” Harry whispers in his ear at the end of the match, just before putting an arm around his shoulders to keep him close.

“Yeah, that sucks. But it's not your fault, love, don't be that cross,” Louis answers, touching the furrow between Harry's eyebrows until it disappears. “I'm that kind of guy who prefers watching a really good match and lose rather than win ten-nil playing shit, honestly. Yeah, perhaps we may not have started in the right direction, but the second half, woah! We could have won if only the fucking referee had been able to do his job. He just has to watch and blow the whistle when something goes wrong, damn him!”

Harry smiles, open and with dimples on full display, and Louis immediately forgets why he was confused in the first place. He's got the best friends ever and they're laughing like hell even if their team just lost the game.

Harry still has his arm on Louis' shoulder and it's starting to be a bit suffocating, and for once he knows exactly the reason. He can feel Harry's breath tickling his cheeks and why the hell can't he even turn his head for fear of finding Harry's face too close to his? Sometimes he wishes he could switch off his brain and let go the massive amount of thoughts he has.

Why should he be worried about having Harry's perfect face a few inches from his, he can't say.

There are times when Louis is sure his expression shows more than he wants to let people know and he feels way too exposed when he's with Harry. He doesn't want this, he doesn't want their friendship to be full of awkward moments. But he can't help himself. Even now, when Harry is holding him like his intentions are to become one with him, Louis has probably the creepiest look ever. The answer arrives the exact moment he turns to face Liam, he and Zayn just reached them right after the final whistle. Liam has his eyebrows narrowed, but he doesn’t look preoccupied, just... he can’t even define that look. The only thing he can read in Liam's expression is some sort of pity. Louis looks at his best friend, asking for help, asking for him to grab Louis from Harry's grip and bring him away, asking for something he doesn't even know... And Liam seems to understand, or that is what his gaze says. Oh, Payno knows him so, so well.

While Louis is thinking that probably it's been ages since he blinked and that’s probably the best moment to go looking for Niall and Stan, all of a sudden he feels another hand, another body crushing him: it's Liam, of course, and they're making a sandwich out of him and Louis feels better, now. But, perhaps because of the vague discomfort he felt earlier or perhaps because of how calmer he is now, he thinks he's not going to tell Harry about the wedding, after all.

At least, not tonight.

 

 

Chapter Text

 


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All his life, Louis has always known he has the best quality ever: patience. After spending the last four years with Eleanor, it would be foolish to think that he's not patient. Not that she's a pain in the ass, he would never think that, otherwise they couldn't function together, but… Well, she’s the living proof of Louis’ patience.

That's not the point, anyway. The thing is that Louis and Liam are queuing at the supermarket and his best quality is about to abandon him.

First of all, his arms are full of bottles and boxes because, hey, they didn't need to get anything but a bottle of Jack Daniels, so they didn't bother to take a shopping cart. But Liam insisted to buy every fucking brand of alcohol he fancies, so here they are, arms almost broken by the huge quantity of goods. And second, he secretly hates old ladies while they’re shopping. Really, there's something about them that just makes him so, so nervous.

Louis yawns and a bottle of whisky almost falls on the ground. He glances at Liam, just because it’s all his fault, but he just shrugs in return. In front of them, an old woman is slowly – very, very slowly – counting her freaking coins one by one. Louis wants to scream: he's tired, his arms are about to abandon him as well and all he wants is to pay for the groceries and go home.

“I have a question, anyway.” Louis tries to turn around to face Liam.

Liam seems as tired and annoyed as Louis when he answers. “Oh my gosh.”

“Why the fuck do we have to buy all this stuff for Niall's party? It's Niall's, after all. And, now it even turns out that the fucking clover has a girlfriend, so why doesn't she cook? He said she can cook.”

“You're such a selfish grumpy boy, Tommo. And ungrateful, too. You know Niall would do everything for your ugly face and you don’t even want to buy him some beer for his birthday.”

If Louis were selfish and grumpy and ungrateful, he surely wouldn't be there in the first place. He stood Harry up to be there: they were supposed to meet in the afternoon, Louis promised to pick him up to go somewhere he wasn’t sure of yet to do some stuff for uni, but Harry wasn't sure about the time, so he told Louis not to worry if other plans happened to come up. So, when Liam asked him to go shopping with him for Niall's party, he couldn't say no. Of course his decision to change his original plans has nothing to do with how he promised himself to talk to Harry about the wedding, that very afternoon. No, it really has nothing to do with that.

If Louis is just a tiny bit honest with himself, he would say deep down he's acting like a coward.

“If I were selfish,” he starts, finally putting the bottles on the tape, “you can be sure that in this right moment I'd be with Harry, watching him doing uni stuff instead of being in this shitty supermarket waiting for some dead woman to come back to life.”

At first, Liam smirks a little, shaking his head at Louis’ little outburst. Then his eyes narrow suddenly.

“Uni stuff?” he asks then.

Louis lets out a light smile. “I don't really know, Payno, he just told me it’s something about that drawing competition.”

“Well?”

“Well what?”

“Why are you here?” Liam's voice comes out a little rough, like he's disappointed and what Louis is saying is bullshit. He finally finishes putting their groceries on the conveyor belt, his arms thanking him, and then turns to Liam. His friend is watching Louis as if he expected him to suddenly grow horns. Instead, Louis grabs the wallet and checks if he actually has money to pay. You never know.

“You're avoiding my question,” Liam says a few seconds later, frown still visible on his face.

“Why should I avoid your question?” Yeah, why? “I'm here because you asked me to come with you, in case you don't remember.”

“If you had to go out with him, why did you say you were free when I called you?”

“Because,” Louis' answer comes out quite curt, “he wasn't sure about the time, so he didn't want me to waste my time waiting for him.”

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that Liam isn't convinced at all, judging by his disappointed look and how loudly he snorts while shaking his head. Louis can't even try to read Liam's mind these days, mostly since their trip to Manchester. Liam stares at him all the time, as if he's expecting him to turn into an alien and doesn’t even consider that he's probably bothering him. Because yes, this behaviour kind of bothers Louis. Not that he would get rid of Liam, he's his best friend, but sometimes Louis just doesn’t want to be understood. At all. Liam, as the best friend every person wants to have, understands every single piece of Louis. That means pretty much everything in a relationship and Louis loves theirs, but... In this case it’s awful, because he's currently hiding a lot of thoughts from Liam, confusing and unsettling thoughts. He doesn't even know where they come from and what do they mean, how could he explain them to Liam? Is Louis a shitty friend for hiding something from his best mate when he can’t even define what he’s hiding? He keeps shutting his brain up every time he focuses too much on Harry, and the wedding, and the fact that he still didn’t tell Harry about it, and how Harry will react, and why should he worry so much about Harry’s reaction.

This is such shit, sometimes.

“You should clear your mind, Louis,” Liam finally says. And, what? Like... What? “You should really, really, really clear your mind.”

“This... What's that supposed to mean?”

Liam overtakes him, handing the supermarket clubcard to the cashier, who's now starting to pass things on the scanner. “Did you tell Harry you're going to marry Eleanor in, what, three months?”

Whoa. This question was unexpected, straight to the point.

Liam is odd, sometimes. He becomes odd when he has theories, when he's convinced of something and wants answers. If that is the case, Louis is trapped, Liam wouldn't let go so easily.

“No,” the answer comes out low, a sound Louis almost doesn't recognise on himself. Clearing his throat, he strives to seem calm. But he isn't, he can't be and Liam surely already knows. “I planned to tell him this afternoon.”

In the following two seconds, many things happen: first, Liam chokes on his own saliva. Second, Louis, trying to pat his back, slams his hand against a plastic panel above the cash register and, for a moment, he's sure he sees stars. Third, the cashier finally finishes to pass their stuff on the scanner and looks at them as if she would like to be anywhere else but there. Fourth, the old lady behind them starts to cough, rolling her eyes.

Allowing himself to glare at her before giving the money to the girl behind the register, Louis thinks he probably broke his hand. Well, fuck. Fuck the plastic panel, fuck Liam and fuck Harry, because it's all his fault. No, it really isn't, but still. After the girl hands him the change, Louis goes next to Liam and helps him putting the bottles in a plastic bag.

“I knew it,” Liam whispers. “I knew it.”

“You knew what?” Louis would do everything in his power to just disappear. He could simply leave his friend there, at the mercy of shopping, and go somewhere else. Somewhere where there are no questions, that’s a good start. He's beginning to hate questions. “Stop being so mysterious and know-it-all and speak clearly.”

The lady who's waiting to pay coughs impatiently because they're actually blocking the whole area, and that should force Louis to move his arse and let go of the argument. He simply ignores her. But Liam is quiet, he just snorts while he continues to arrange the bottles in the bags, and doesn’t seem like he means to keep the conversation going. When Louis decides that no, that conversation isn't over yet, Liam speaks. “It's nothing, Louis, seriously. Just– I care a lot about you, you're my best friend, yeah? And I want you to be okay. Especially with yourself.”

“I am okay,” Louis lies, repenting immediately. It's only when Liam meets his eyes that he adds. “No, fine, I'm not. My brain is a mess, Liam, I'd give anything to be able to untangle my thoughts: you know, like 'undefined and that-shouldn’t-exist thoughts, over there. Shitty thoughts, by that other side. Lovely thoughts here, please.' I just... I just want to understand what is actually happening and when I became this mess.”

So, yeah. He just confessed to Liam his mental distress, now he can pack and go to Alaska. Actually, why doesn't his brain go on holiday, instead? Lately Louis feels like there is a civil war among his thoughts, it would be better if there were a switch off button to turn off his brain altogether.

“Louis...”

“Don't start.”

Apparently, all Liam is able to do is hugging Louis. Tightly. So tightly it almost hurts, in every single fucking meaning. And all Louis is able to do is returning the hug, obviously.

“Ohhh young love!”

“It was about time, after the last ten minutes of mawkishnesses,” the cashier replies to a woman – of course not the one who's still looking at them as if they're dregs of society – dragging her gaze from the scanner to Louis, who's kind of trapped in Liam's arms. Liam has his face buried in his shoulder, it seems like he doesn't want to let him go.

And... Here they are, thoughts. Thoughts about how different Liam and Harry's hugs are. Of course they are, it’s two very different people he is thinking about, people that Louis loves in very different ways. But there's something else Louis can't define, he doesn't know how to explain it. Perhaps... He doesn't know, he really should make some sort of mental diagram. And get drunk, just for the hell of it.

Louis starts to feel a bit uncomfortable because hey, people are staring, so he pats gently Liam's back.

“Payno, please, let's go before these people start to throw confetti at us,” he whispers in his ear.

A minute later they're out, and Louis can finally breathe some fresh air, which makes him feel loads better.

Walking towards his car in silence, uncomfortable thoughts forgotten for a moment, he realises his hand is still hurting a lot. Louis holds it up, expecting to see blood everywhere, but there's nothing except for a small bruise on the back. It hurts, it's probably not broken, but it hurts like hell. The pain makes him forget about what he and Liam were talking about or, at least, makes him not want to think about it. The almost broken hand is much better than that, he reckons.

Liam opens the boot with the free hand, putting the bags in it carefully. Louis does the same, and when he unconsciously uses the hurt hand to close the boot, a shiver of pain flows out of the whole arm.

“Did you get hurt?”

“Yeah.” He just wants to go home. Before arriving at the shop, Louis knew he should have just stayed there, curled up in a blanket on his couch. When you have a hunch about something, you should listen to your instinct. “I took a nice hit on that plastic panel, just... Let's go home, Liam.”

Liam nods in approval, looking at him with a soft smile, and Louis' phone buzzes right when they get in the car. He grabs it with the good hand to find a Twitter notification and he almost loses three heartbeats when he reads the message.

Harry Styles @Harry_Styles

Friendly reminder that @Louis_Tomlinson is the best friend ever. Can't wait to see his face and choke him with cuddles! :) .xx

Maybe getting drunk a bit is not a bad idea, after all. Yeah, Niall's birthday party will be perfect.



xxx



It's a great evening for having a party. The weather is good, not too hot nor too cold, ideal for the barbecue Niall wanted to have. And, for the love of god, why is Louis thinking about the weather?

He's standing in the garden of Niall's friend’s house, Ashton, who is hosting the party since Niall and Harry's flat is too small for all the people he invited. Niall has a lot of friends, Louis notices every time they have a party. Sometimes he feels like he should feel luckier for the fact that Niall knows so many people and yet Louis is still one of the few he constantly dedicates time to. He and Harry, Liam and Zayn: their little group, fireproof. But Niall still has a lot of friends, like Ashton, who kindly gave him permission to use his very big house for his birthday party. And of course Niall has to thank him and all the others for being there, it's for that reason that Louis is drinking his third beer when he finally gets to see his friend.

“Nialleeeeer!” he shouts when he spots him in front of the barbecue. Of course he's eating.

“Tommooooo!” Niall screams back, running towards him like he's in slow motion. When he finally gets to Louis, he jumps without any word of advice, so of course Louis doesn't catch him and a moment later they're both on the ground.

“Idiot,” Louis mutters, laughing, while trying to clean up his trousers. Niall just barks out a laugh.

“Harry always catches me. You're not good at this, Tommo!”

“Harry catches everyone, yes, but he ends up on the ground anyway,” Louis considers and Niall pretends to give that a thought, before smiling.

“Yeah, true story. Tommoooo!”

“Niaaaall!” Louis laughs out loud and it's just so refreshing to spend time with Niall. After a day like the one he had, full of uncomfortable thoughts and with his hand still hurting a lot, it's just so good to be with a cheerful person like him. “Happy birthday!”

“Yay! Happy birthday to me!”

“Feeling old already? Twenty-five is just the beginning, it's all downhill from here.”

“Yeah, you should know better than me how it feels like, old man,” Niall smirks and Louis instantly frowns, before punching Niall in the shoulder.

“Oi! Don't mock me!”

“Yeah, Niall, don't mock him,” Harry's low voice captures his ear. Louis instantly smiles when Harry comes towards him and hugs him, then rests his hand on Louis’ hip. ”Mind that I’m the only one who has the authority to do that.”

“Hi,” Louis cheers, smiling at Harry, who immediately smiles back. “Thank you, but that wasn’t really necessary.”

“Nonsense! You must excuse my friend, here, he apparently doesn't know it's bad education to mock old people. You all deserve our kindness and smiles, since your brightness is fading.”

Louis' mouth drops open in astonishment, while Harry is smirking so smugly that Louis can't even comment. Niall is laughing like his friend just told the funniest story ever and, honestly. Louis frowns, looking at both of them, and he finally raises his hands in surrender.

“I'm not even going to comment how rude the youngsters are these days.”

He didn't even think about his hand when he raised it, but the white bandage didn't go unnoticed: as soon as his hand was in the air, Harry must have seen it. He catches it softly, resting Louis' fingers on his own hand while touching the bandage with his fingers.

“What happened, Lou?” he asks, Louis can sense he's worried from both his tone and the furrow between Harry's eyebrows. He smiles, caressing Harry's cheek with his free hand.

“It's nothing, love. I just hurt myself very stupidly this afternoon, when I was shopping with Liam.”

“Does it still hurt?” Harry insists, still tracing the bandage with a delicate touch. Louis shakes his head, but Harry doesn't notice the gesture since he's still looking at Louis' hand.

“A bit, but not too much. Don't worry, Haz.”

“Oh my god,” Niall interrupts, his voice choked while pretending to be sick. “Please, Hazza, don't turn into a nurse. Please, please, don't. As a birthday present to your best friend? Don't.”

Harry chuckles, but he doesn't let Louis' hand go. He's still caressing his knuckles when Liam crashes between them, laughing and steadying himself with a hand on Louis' shoulder and the other on Harry's.

“Happy birthday, maaaate!” he shouts at Niall, who starts laughing.

“Thanks, Payno!” he answers, hugging Liam. “Where's your boy?”

Liam turns his head towards the house, narrowing his eyes when he can't spot Zayn anywhere. “Somewhere... dunno. Drinking, maybe.”

And Louis can't help but laugh at Liam's current state. He's not used to drinking that much, so he usually is already smashed when Niall is only getting started with the drinks. Though Louis doesn't know if Niall actually gets drunk. Isn't that some sort of Irish superpower, never getting wasted? He doesn't know, but given how much Niall is laughing right now, he probably considers Liam's state amusing. Well, Louis does, too, so he simply smirks and pats his friend's shoulder.

“I think, Liam, that you should stop drinking for about an hour, at least.”

“Nooo!”

“Yes, my friend,” Louis almost laughs again at Liam's offended expression. Luckily, Zayn arrives and hugs Liam a little bit, before giving him a glass of water and a packet of crisps.

“Eat, sober up a little bit and don’t drink anything that isn’t water for a while,” he simply says. Louis nods, happy that Liam has someone like Zayn to look after him, someone that speaks to him short and effective when Liam can't rationalise anything else.

“Okay,” Liam answers, and really? Louis just said the exact same thing just a second ago and Liam wasn't inclined to even listen. Ah, the power of love, he thinks while rolling his eyes.

It appears that Liam was actually more sober than what all of them thought, because ten minutes after that weird encounter with Niall, Liam is almost back to his charming self. Perhaps he’s smiling more and brighter than usual, but Louis honestly doesn't know if that is because of the alcohol or because of Zayn's hand constantly on Liam's hip. It could be the latter, he thinks, smiling at his friends. He turns, just to find Harry chatting with a bloke Louis met about five minutes ago – Luke, he reckons – and Niall gone.

“Hey, where's the leprechaun?” he asks to nobody in particular, hoping that someone will know the answer.

“Right here!” it's the leprechaun himself to enlighten him.

Louis turns towards Niall's voice, he’s approaching them with a really cute girl holding his hand. Louis has already seen Clara a couple of times, already noticed how this little brunette lady makes Niall all giddy and smiley, already appreciated the taste of her cooking when visiting Niall's flat last time. He just hasn't met her yet, like properly being introduced to her, all because Niall was overthinking the whole thing, expecting Louis to embarrass him or something. Only Harry and Zayn had the pleasure to meet this lovely girl and Louis has already thought of a million embarrassing things to tell her about Niall, just to get revenge on him. And, well, maybe Niall was right not to make them meet while he was still trying to win her heart.

“So, lads, this is my Clara,” Niall says with a huge, broad smile. It's so weird on him. Niall smiles a lot,but not this way. This is a new kind of smile, one that Louis is sure he'll come to know as 'the Clara smile'. He looks fantastic.

“Hey, there, soufflé girl! I'm Louis,” he introduces himself, shaking Clara’s hand.

“Nice to meet you,” she says, smiling. “I heard a lot about you. The one I couldn't meet because he'd have embarrassed Niall.”

“The one and only,” Louis answers smugly, as if she made him a compliment. Niall, next to Clara, rolls his eyes.

“Hey, why haven't I met her then?” Liam asks, frowning. “I wouldn't embarrass you, Ni. We even work together and I never met her! Oh my god, you told her to come when I wasn't there, haven’t you?” he seems sincerely offended and Niall has a moment when he obviously doesn't know what to say, but then Liam smiles. “Oh, I'm Liam by the way, very nice to meet you.”

She smiles and shakes his hand, too. Harry and Zayn just nod at her, they've probably known her for ages and heard all Niall's pining, so there's no news there.

“Sorry, Li, but you and Lou kinda come like a package, you know? I couldn't introduce her to you and not to him, it would've been rude,” Niall explains, putting an arm around Clara’s waist in a gesture that seems automatic.

Liam seems to think about his words for a moment, when Louis can almost see his brain working, trying to understand if he should be offended or not. At last he seems to decide it's a good explanation, because he simply shrugs and puts an arm around Louis' shoulders.

“You're right,” he states. “Tommo and I are bros. You get one of them, you’re stuck with the other.”

Louis just laughs when Zayn rolls his eyes. “Oh god, are you saying that I have to keep Louis, too? I don't know if I'm ready for that just yet.”

“He's not that bad, come on,” Harry interrupts, punching Zayn lightly in the shoulder. “Once you get over his diva side, he's almost tolerable.”

Louis looks at him with huge eyes and mouth open, surprised by his words, but it's Liam's answer that really shocks him.

“Such true words, Haz. You got him just right.”

“Oh my god, I hate you all!”

And with those words Louis leaves them, he can even hear their laughs when he walks away. He shakes his head, hiding a smile. He has a bunch of idiots as friends, he shouldn't forget that for a second. Truth is, he wouldn't change them for anything in the world, even if they don't introduce him to their girlfriends or if they drive him crazy on regular basis or if they happen to create lots and lots of confusion in his mind and heart. Whatever, he shouldn't think about that now. He shouldn't think about that at all . Actually, all he really needs now is to get a drink instead of keeping thinking about what he should or shouldn't do.

He reaches the alcohol booth without being stopped by anyone. Yes, his friends were joking, but Louis expected Harry to come after him to make sure he wasn't really offended. It's just what Harry does. But Harry isn't there, and Louis isn't bothered by that, he really isn't. He just needs a drink.

He's right behind a blonde girl, ready to step aside her to get himself a mojito when she turns abruptly and her drink is suddenly all over Louis' shirt.

“Oh my god! I'm so sorry!” she almost shouts, getting some tissues to try to dry some of the alcohol off the shirt. Louis can already tell she won't succeed and, judging by the orange juice smell, he's probably going to be sticky all night.

“Don't worry,” he says, trying not to sound bitter. “I'm kind of used to this treatment–”

The girl raises his head, giving him a quizzical look, an eyebrow raised and a strange smile that shows the hint of a dimple. And, honestly, she looks so familiar that Louis doesn't know how he didn't recognise her sooner.

“–By your brother, actually. What is it, then? A family habit, to get strangers wet around the world?”

Louis sees her frowning a little bit, before her expression smooths completely, probably understanding what Louis is saying and connecting the dots. Good, for a moment he thought he remembered wrong and she didn’t know the story. Then she would’ve thought Louis is crazy and it would’ve been quite an awkward first meeting. Or worse, what if she wasn’t even Harry’s sister but some lookalike girl?

“So, you must be Louis,” she says, holding a hand. “Gemma. I'm sorry, again, didn't mean to meet you like this. But it's kind of funny, isn't it? All with my brother doing the same thing.”

Gemma is now openly smiling and Louis is almost astonished by how much she looks like Harry. They're physically similar, yes, but the most incredible thing is that they have the same light in the eyes when they smile. Gemma has dimples, too, but a lot smaller than Harry's. A shame, really. And their smiles are very much alike as well, even if Gemma's is slightly more mischievous than Harry's. Louis can already tell they're going to get along well.

“I sincerely hope you're less clumsy than he is,” Louis smiles, shaking her hand. “But nice to meet you, really. I was looking forward to it.”

“Likewise,” she exclaims, grinning. “H talks a lot about you, you know? He's always 'Lou did this, Lou went there...' and I was wondering when he'd bring you home. It seems like the mountain had to come to you.”

Louis has to take a moment to absorb Gemma's words. It's not like he didn't know that he and Harry share a special bond, that they’re closer to each other than to people they've known for ages, and it's not like he didn't know Harry talks a lot about him with his friends. It's just... Gemma is Harry's sister, a person he knows Harry trusts completely, a person Harry almost worships sometimes, and knowing that she knows so much about him... Knowing that Harry talked to her so much about him... It's just a whole new level of nice. Like, super nice. Ultra nice.

So nice that Louis lost half of Gemma's sentence before realising she was even talking.

“...So I think I was right worrying a bit, you know? It's not like Haz has a great record. I didn't like his last boyfriend at all, stupid Jason. And don't make me talk about Caroline! She had some nerves, that girl. You know, I just want him to find someone who deserves his love, someone right. Man, girl, boat. With him you never know. I'm so glad to see him finally this happy, he deserves that.”

And, again, Louis has to take some time to absorb what Gemma just said. She basically answered the question he's been asking himself – and Liam – for the last couple of months. And, well, she didn't actually answer it, since Louis is still as confused as before, but she maybe gave away some details? Maybe it's just like Liam said, Harry loves people, their gender is not that important. He just loves Love. And it's just like him, really. He must have a strange expression, because Gemma is looking at him slightly worried.

“What?” she asks, and yes, worried.

“Nothing. It's just– Did you just say boyfriend ?”

“Yeah,” she confirms, obviously not getting what is going on in Louis’ mind. There’s a hurricane in his head, shaking all his thoughts up and down. Hurricane and a tornado, maybe with a hint of earthquake, too. So it's just like he thought, like Liam said. But why didn't he tell Louis? Or better, why didn't Louis understand such an integrant part of Harry’s life?

“I'm sorry, I didn't– god, I didn't know. I'm such a shitty friend,” he whispers, completely honest, even if self-deprecating is not a thing Louis is used to do with almost strangers. Gemma seems confused, she's looking at him with a questioning look, but it lasts just a few moments before she seems to realise something.

“No, you aren't,” she says, squeezing a bit his forearm and trying to make eye-contact. He gives in almost immediately, it must be some kind of Styles' superpower. “Look, I know my brother. He doesn't say these things, he just thinks it doesn't matter, you know? And he's a flirt, he flirts with old ladies for god's sake! You obviously couldn't understand if he didn't tell you something specific. So don't say that, please, I can assure you're a golden friend. You're very important to him, Louis.”

Louis nods, biting his lip a little bit, and he's about to answer, maybe lighten the mood of that conversation, when someone hugs him from behind. He stiffens, before feeling a chin on his shoulder, and he instantly relaxes when he feels Harry's breath on his neck.

“I'm sorry, I was having a wee,” he whispers in his ear. “I see you met my sis. Gemma, did you behave?”

“Hey!” she says, looking offended. “I'll have you know I was the picture of kindness with your boy, here.”

Your boy , Louis mentally repeats. He likes the sound of that. It makes him feel warm, and light, and funny in his stomach. He isn’t sure why, but it’s definitely a good feeling.

“Is this true?” Harry asks, his breath tickling Louis' neck. “Or did she bother you mercilessly?”

Louis smiles a bit at Gemma, who instantly returns it. “I suppose she behaved well... for a Styles.”

He smirks and Gemma immediately winks at him, but Harry stiffens a little against his back and brings a hand on Louis' stomach, taking him closer to his chest. Louis doesn’t need to turn around to know Harry is pouting.

“What did you do, mean sister?”

Gemma shrugs, shaking her head. “I just went on with your path of actions. I didn't do anything you wouldn't do, or have done already to be fair.”

“Meaning–” Louis starts to explain, but Harry abruptly takes his hand off of his stomach and Louis feels a little bit abandoned. Plus, Harry raises his head so his chin doesn't rest on Louis' shoulder anymore and he shouldn't, definitely shouldn't, feel this naked without that contact.

“Meaning she threw something at you? Something sticky,” he sniffs his hand in a gesture that should be a lot funnier than what Louis actually feels right now. “Sex on the Beach! Gemma!”

She laughs out loud, raising her hands in defeat. “I'm sorry! I didn't mean to! He was just right behind me and I didn't see him when I turned around, that's all! However, why do I have to explain myself to you as if Louis was your property or something?”

Harry doesn't seem convinced at all, considering how he's glaring at his sister, and a moment later her smile fades a little bit. Louis has the impulse to slap Harry on the shoulder, because really, it's not that Gemma spilled that drink on him on purpose. But she's smiling again, now, and Harry seems more relaxed, too.

“Okay, I should really find my boyfriend now, before Niall kidnaps him again. It was really great meeting you, Louis, maybe we'll see each other soon. Bye, baby bro!”

And a moment later she's walking away, without even getting another drink, which was the main purpose of her being there in the first place. Louis smiles at her back, shaking his head. The Styles kids are weird, seriously. He turns towards Harry, who is biting his lip and looking at him as if he wants to say something but he doesn't dare to.

“Spit it out,” Louis says, rolling his eyes at Harry’s expression.

“Eww,” Harry answers, smiling, and Louis just rolls his eyes again. Harry will be the death of him.

“You know what I mean.”

Harry bites his lip again before answering. “Okay. So, you know how Niall didn't introduce you to Clara because you'd embarrass him?”

“Why, why are y’all so sure I would have done that?” Louis answers, his tone exasperated. Harry raises his eyebrows.

“Because you're you? Honestly, Lou, you love mocking your friends. And that's amazing, we adore you for that, but maybe not when you're trying to conquer a lady's heart.”

Louis thinks about it for a moment. “Okay. Maybe I would have and maybe you’re right. I get him. So?”

“So, that's basically why you haven't met Gemma until now. She's... She's a lot like you, you know, I think you'll get along really well–”

“I think that, too, yes,” Louis interrupts him. Harry smiles, obviously happy that he got to that conclusion as well.

“Yeah. So? What did she say? What horrible story about my childhood did she tell you?”

What didn't she tell him, honestly. Gemma basically told him anything he wanted to know, answered those stupid thoughts and questions that Louis has had for months. But he can't just tell Harry that, can he? It would be so odd, he can't answer ‘your sister was lovely, she told me you like boys, girls and boats’. And she was also kind enough not to tell Harry anything about their strange first exchange. No, Louis can't say that, that's going to be a thing between him and Gemma.

So what Louis does is simply raising an eyebrow. “Nothing, really. She was great.”

Harry doesn't seem convinced. “No, really. I need to know so I can think about what to say to Ash to take revenge on her.”

Louis laughs out loud at that, gaining a glare from Harry. “Sorry! It's just... You guys are so weird.”

“Yeah, what’s new,” Harry smiles and, yes, Louis probably told him that once or twice. “And don't tell me that you'd be different with your sisters.”

“My sisters will be kids forever, so they won't have boyfriends I'll have to scare off with embarrassing stories.”

Harry smiles broadly and Louis just doesn't get him. His smiles are weird just as he is and, even if he can say he knows Harry more than a little bit, he can't always understand what a smile means for him. There are times when he's sure he's smiling because he's thinking about his family and times he's just enjoying himself, others when he's talking about music. But there are also times, like now, when Louis simply can't read Harry. And it's utterly frustrating.

“I think you should talk to Lottie about that,” Harry says after a while, his eyes still bright. “I have a feeling she's probably disobeying this order of yours.”

Louis raises an eyebrow. “You don't even know her.”

Yet , he mentally adds, because he's totally planning to go to Doncaster with Harry. He wants him to meet his family.

“True, but I follow her on Twitter. Twitter knows, Lou.”

“You don't follow her on Twitter, Harold,” Louis rolls his eyes and, seriously, it's becoming a habit tonight. But he’s sure Harry doesn’t follow his sister nor the other way around, he checked their mutual following yesterday, so he’s not taking his shit.

“Fine! Stan mentioned it, he asked me to help him tell you. Apparently you're a scary big brother?”

“I'm not such a thing.”

Harry raises again his eyebrows and now Louis can read his expression. He can read the ‘you totally are’ and the ‘it's okay, though, you're the big brother, it's your job’. And Louis honestly didn't think it would be such a relief to finally going back to understanding his friend.

It takes about half an hour to Louis and Harry to finally find Liam and Zayn again, along with Niall. Zayn tells them that they played some kind of drinking game and now Liam is even drunker than he was when they last saw him.

Drunk Liam is a show. He gets all smiley and clingy, and he simply can't stop laughing. Louis has known him for years, but he never gets tired of seeing his best friend embarrass himself after too many drinks. The bad part comes when Liam starts to embarrass his friends, too, but that happened only a couple of times and both after the horrendous breakup with Danielle. Now he’s happy and Louis is almost certain the only person Liam is going to bother tonight, is Zayn.

Poor, kind Zayn who will have to nurse him through his hangover. Louis pities him, he knows how Liam gets in those situations and he sincerely doesn't envy Zayn. But, after all, Zayn chose to be Liam's boyfriend and, everybody knows, with great power comes great responsibility.

Actually, Zayn could be the one who said that just a few minutes ago.

Louis is laughing with his friends, Liam and Stan completely drunk and Zayn obviously trying not to get along to get all of them home safe and sound. They're simply just ridiculous, all with Niall being completely sober – well, maybe not completely, but dangerously close to it – even after several pints. Harry is laughing almost hysterically next to him, and Louis would totally blame it on alcohol if he didn't know Harry almost didn't drink anything. A good, responsible lad, he is. Taking seriously the task of being the designated driver.

“You're so good with this no drinking thing,” Louis mutters in his ear. “Proud of you.”

Harry blushes for a moment, before smiling in that goofy way that Louis loves. He gets so funny when he does that, his eyes shine and Louis just wants to touch his dimples because he's sure they're magic.

“Do you have magic, Haz?” he asks, giggling, and Harry immediately follows him.

“Not that Harry, I'm sorry,” he answers, still laughing. “I’ve been waiting for that letter for more than ten years by now. I’ll be right back, Lou.”

Louis has to blink at Harry's words, not realising immediately Harry is gone; he probably had a couple drinks too much. He watches him taking a glass of what he suspects is some non-alcoholic cocktail. It has to be a cocktail, it has a tiny umbrella in it, and Louis finds himself giggling. He remembers a night out with Harry when his friend spent about an hour playing with those stupid umbrellas, utterly ridiculous. When Harry comes back, Louis can't help but take the little umbrella and put it behind Harry's ear, confident that his curls will keep it there. Harry smiles.

“How do I look?”

“Stunning as always,” Louis answers, sincerely. Harry smiles again, before turning towards his friends.

“So, lads! Let's take a moment for a toast. To our Nialler and his quarter of century!”

Everybody raises their glasses to that, smiling. “Cheers!”

“I want to make a toast, too!” Liam says, giggling, before turning to Zayn. He lowers his head, obviously wanting to talk just with his boyfriend, but Liam isn't exactly quiet when he's drunk. He’s probably going to announce a date for their wedding, given the way they’re looking at each other.

“Liam, come on!” Louis laughs, but Liam ignores him.

“What should we celebrate, Zayn? Oh, yeah, we could toast to Lou? To his last bachelor party before his actual bachelor party?”

And that simple question, meant only for Zayn but actually heard by everyone within ten yards, completely sobers Louis up. He instinctively turns towards Harry, just to find him with the strangest expression he’s ever seen on him. It's not strange in a good way, it's completely bad, because Harry is staring at him with his eyes huge and completely frightened. He can see Niall, next to him, equally surprised, but Louis can't bring himself to consider his Irish friend's reaction not even for a second.

All he can see is Harry. Harry, who should have discovered this in a better way, who should have heard this directly from Louis .

Harry, who's completely frozen and can't stop staring at Louis like somebody just said he was going to die.

It's that realisation hitting him like a lorry, that brings Louis out of his temporary trance. He forces himself to take a step towards Harry.

“Haz...”

His voice and his proximity seem to shock Harry out of his state, because his body shakes and a second later he's looking at him again; he's looking at Louis right into his eyes, just like a few moments before, but this time he's focused and Louis can tell he's back from the shock.

“What–” Harry starts, but he has to stop and inhale. “What the fuck does he mean?”

“Hazza, pumpkin...”

Louis holds his hand, trying to reach Harry, to touch him. To feel him, to tell him it's okay, they're going to be okay, he's so so sorry for not telling him about it and, god, Louis is such a mess. He wants to hug Harry, bury his nose in his curls, and get back to where they were just five fucking minutes ago.

But Harry almost jumps at the contact. He looks at Louis with his huge, frightened eyes and then runs away.

Louis tracks his motions for a moment, watches him when he angrily goes towards the door, and it takes him just a second to understand Harry is running away from him. Harry is leaving and he's so damn angry with him. God, he has every right to, Louis is angry with himself too. That doesn’t mean he will let Harry go without even trying to explain.

He moves towards the house, determined to run until he’ll reach Harry, to run until he gets to apologise a million and one times. He wants to stop Harry, hug him, reassure him he didn't tell him not because of Harry... Or, well, yes, because of Harry, but not because he didn't want him to know. Because he's Harry and, god, if he doesn't know himself how the hell is he supposed to explain?

Louis makes another step, he will figure out somehow what to tell him eventually, because they always know how to understand each other no matter what. He will have to understand, it's Harry, and Louis can't imagine a scenario where Harry isn't there for him. As Gemma said earlier, he’s his boy and even if that could sound a bit too possessive, Louis isn’t going to deny it anyway.

He almost falls over when Zayn firmly grabs his wrist, stopping him from running after Harry. Louis turns towards him, probably with a murderous expression on his face, but Zayn is looking at him seriously. His eyes are soft, like he's fucking pitying him, and maybe Louis deserves it. He won’t admit it, but he deserves it.

“Don't,” he says, calmly. “Don't go now. He needs time. And space. And he certainly doesn't need you around right now.”

“I'll go,” Niall mutters, not bothering to look at Louis before running after his best friend. God, he messed things with Niall, too, what a great mate he is.

“Oh my god,” he simply says, more a whisper than an actual sentence, and a second later he's on his knees.

“I'm sorry, mate, I didn't realise–” Liam is saying, apparently sobered up by the whole thing just like Louis.

Louis just shakes his head, staring at the ground. “No, Liam, no. It's not your fault. I should have told him... I should have... I shouldn't...”

He doesn't realise he's crying until Zayn hugs him fiercely and Louis buries his face in his shoulder.  

 

 

Chapter Text

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It's raining. It's raining so hard that the denim jacket Louis is holding over his head doesn’t prevent him from getting soaked in the short distance between the flat and his car. Now that he’s reached the porch, Louis is pretty sure that he won't drown in a puddle, at last. The real point is that, at the moment, sadly, that's the only certainty he has.

Niall's party ended about three hours ago, but Louis is convinced there's still someone who’s wandering around Ashton's house, or who wants to take a nap before going home and therefore nestled on the various sofas available. He wonders if Liam and Zayn are still there, but probably not; the last time Louis saw them, they were crouched on the steps that lead to the garden, engrossed in a deep conversation. As for Niall, he returned to the party an hour after the… thing happened, and Louis didn’t have a chance to talk to him. No, he actually had several, but every time he met his gaze across the room, he saw only sadness and sorrow. After a while, Louis decided that he couldn't take it anymore and went out in the garden to get some fresh air. Not that it helped that much and, after having spent at least an hour staring at random happy people, he decided that he could no longer bear it. To be honest, he should have left the party right after Harry because, well, Louis' presence there doesn't make any sense now, not with his bad mood.

With one last look at the house, he could swear he met Gemma's gaze across the garden. Louis held her stare for a few seconds, but she looked too much like Harry, so he simply turned on his heels and left.

Focusing back on the present, Louis sighs and stares insistently at the Styles-Horan's doorbell without seeing it for real. Should he ring it? Doorbells are made to be rung, right? But there are doorbells, like that, which are a little bit scary. Not that Louis is scared, come on, he’s... A little agitated, perhaps? Maybe he just has some palpitation, uhm. Well, fuck, Louis is scared to death.

So , Louis thinks closing his eyes, you are a man. A man with balls. Ring the fucking bell or... or... or.

Louis does. There's a small part of him that hopes Harry is not at home, and even Niall. The other part – even smaller, though – hopes he is, because he wants to talk to him. He wants to make everything clear, wants to know what happened last night because he just can't think straight. He needs help, needs Harry to be with him at this time.

Several minutes pass, and Louis is still outside the door. He runs a hand over his forehead, getting rid of some residual raindrops falling from his hair. Then he rubs his eyes a little, undecided whether to wait for someone to open the door or not even though it's pretty clear nobody’s home. Or maybe Harry saw him through the curtain and decided to leave him out there. No, Harry would never do that. Maybe. Louis doesn't have any clue, at the moment.

He turns around, a bit puzzled, when he sees him. Harry .

Harry is... Harry is staring at him, probably he was staring at his back before Louis turned around, and he keeps looking at him even now. There are many things that strike Louis in that moment, like Harry's shorts and basketball jersey completely wet. As the rest of him, because yes, Harry is soaking wet from head to toe. And, seriously, what the actual fuck?

Louis is about to open his mouth – he doesn't even know what to say, but he has to open his mouth – when Harry takes a few steps towards him, bustling with his pocket and pulling out the flat's keys.

“Harry,” Louis mutters with a completely estranged voice. “Harry, what are you doing? What– why are you dressed as if you were out for a run?”

“Because I was out for a run,” Harry answers calmly, as if he were stating the obvious.

“But–” Louis furrows his brows for a moment, before talking again. “But it's the apocalypse out there, it's raining hell!”

“So?”

“So?” So apparently something alien happened to Harry during the night, he can't be such an idiot. Harry reaches the door, his fingers trembling a bit before finding the keyhole. Louis sighs. “So you shouldn't go out with this weather... Because you could fall in a puddle or break your leg while turning the corner. It's fucking raining, Haz, really, why?”

Harry just shrugs, opening the door, all without looking at Louis. “I just wanted to run, Louis, stop babbling.”

Something stumbles in Louis' stomach, something that has nothing to do with the massive quantity of drinks he had that night. Perhaps he just needs to catch some sleep, instead Louis follows Harry inside the flat without any invitation. Well, not that he needs an invitation to enter his third house – Liam's is first, sorry, Haz – but he still focuses on the stupid fact that Harry didn’t ask him to come inside.

Harry throws the keys on the the couch and then disappears. Louis doesn't know how to take this behaviour. It's not something that Harry usually does, maybe he just had to go to the bathroom. But, honestly, this is killing Louis, this detaching. He just wants to talk, to know if everything is okay between them. He swallows, and all the questions die in his throat when Harry returns to the living room bare-chested and with only a towel to cover his shoulders. Harry passes it on his wet hair, still dripping, and then rubs his face. It could be Louis’ impression, but Harry spends a few seconds more than necessary drying his face, almost as if he wanted to hide in the fabric. But surely his mind is tricking him. Maybe.

Sinking his hands in the pockets, Louis begins to stare at his feet. What should he say now?

Seriously, he should review his skills as a friend-who-must-apologise, because he's a mess with it.

“So,” he finally says, still staring at his feet, “uhm, well...”

“So?” Harry prompts, and Louis can’t help but notice how dry he sounds.

“Uhm,” fuck, Louis should run away right now. Instead, he looks up because there’s no way he’s going to stare at his feet any longer. It’s a shame being in the same room as Harry and not looking at him. “I– how are you?”

Raising an eyebrow, Harry shows a faint smirk. “I'm fine, thanks.”

“Doesn't seem like it.”

“I really am,” he answers firmly.

Harry has his hands on his hips and he’s looking steadily at Louis: he doesn't have his usual smile, his usual dimples, his usual face. It seems as if all the light Harry usually radiates just looking at Louis, now has vanished into thin air, leaving dark shadows on his face. It’s sad. Louis' heart is wrestling in his chest and he doesn't know how to stop it. Perhaps the only way would be looking away from Harry, but he doesn't know how to do that either. Fuck everything, when did he become such a mess?

“Don't want to sound repetitive, but doesn't seem like that, Harry.”

“I'm fine,” Harry repeats for the millionth time, his voice a bit annoyed. Maybe he's really fine and only tired. Or maybe he's a little mad at Louis because he didn't tell him about the wedding and yes, right, he has all the reasons in the fucking world to be mad at him. It's just... It feels so wrong seeing Harry like this, it's unusual and Louis doesn't want to feel lost like that time they fought.

“I'm sorry,” Louis simply says, his eyes meeting Harry's: it hurts a bit, yeah, but if he has to do it, he has to do it properly. Harry deserves the best. “I'm sorry, I'm– you should have been the very first person to know about this but– I don't know, Harry, I felt weird, like... This whole situation is weird because... Because I don't know how to act anymore. I don't know what the fuck is going on in my mind and I just wanted to find the right time to tell you.”

Harry swallows. Louis can see his friend was lying, he's not fine at all, he has these dull eyes and he's becoming quite pale. Harry runs a hand through his wet fringe, snorting.

“When did it happen?” he mutters, biting his lower lip. “I mean... When did you get engaged?”

Another word and Louis would probably die. He gathers all the strength in his body and inhales.

“About two weeks ago.”

“Oh.” Harry looks at the floor and that makes something in Louis snap, so he finally starts talking.

“I wanted to tell you, Harry, I really wanted to. But it was when we fought, Eleanor asked me that same evening. So I thought I'd tell you the next day, when we had dinner together, it seemed like the right time, but... But everything was so perfect that I was afraid of ruining something,” Louis takes another breath. “The second time was when we went to Hyde Park with Stan, only then Nick magically appeared and– well, I told myself that I had so many other chances. Then the third time was at the game, I seriously genuinely wanted to tell you there, but once again everything was perfect, and you seemed so taken by the whole thing and– I don't know, I was wrong. I was scared. And then yesterday we were supposed to go to your uni, so I thought it was finally time to tell you, but then Liam asked me to run those errands with him and I saw it as a way out. I'm sorry, Haz, you shouldn't have heard it that way. I feel like shit. I am such a shitty friend and I'm sorry for that, too.”

Louis takes a deep breath when he finishes and he’s still alive, after all. The only difference is that now his chest is a little lighter than before. He just– he just needs an answer, now. Harry is peering into Louis' eyes with a scowl, as if he's searching for something. Louis has no idea if it's a bad sign, or if he's just putting together all the parts of his apology.

Then Harry lowers his head, his lips thin, as if he's determined not to open them ever again. But Louis is wrong, because after a moment he hears Harry's feeble voice. “You're not a shitty friend.”

“Yes, I am,” Louis replies without thinking, and a realisation hits him all of a sudden, Gemma's words rumbling in pieces in his head. “I am because sometimes I simply can't read you, I can't look into your mind to see what's going on. I can't read your feelings and that is a thing friends usually do. And for christ's sake, Harry, I didn't even have a clue about your past, your girlfriends and boyfriends, your fucking feelings about life and about the fucking future and I haven't even asked! Never!”

There's a moment when Harry freezes on the spot, Louis can see his chest moving up and down frantically. He doesn't even have time to wonder why before he realises he just confessed that he knows. Who the fuck cares, actually, this is not important, not now.

“How–” Harry starts, but Louis cuts him off unceremoniously.

“Look, Harry, I'm sorry, okay? I'm just–” He just what? He simply just. “I just want to be there for you, for everything. And I wish you'll be there for me, too. I don't want you to be upset for it– the wedding. I don't want our friendship to get weird because sometimes it feels like that, and... And it confuses me.”

“Louis...”

“No, wait, no,” Louis buries the head in his hands, he would like to tear it off and throw it in the ocean where no one could ever find it and dig in it to see what's inside. Because seriously, he doesn't have a fucking clue what they could even find. “It's since the proposal that I don't get why I actually didn't know how to tell you, I– uhm, do you understand what I mean? I think words are forming in my head, but what comes out of my mouth is just crap.”

“Actually, no, I don't get it.”

Louis takes the millionth breath of the day. “The thing is that I don't know why it felt so wrong to tell you about the wedding. Not properly wrong – kind of unfair. Every time I wanted to have a talk with you, it always seemed the wrong time.”

If Louis’ feet weren’t glued to the floor, he'd probably run away. It's that, between Harry completely petrified in his spot, with no readable expression, and his stomach still tense, Louis feels kind of trapped in a bubble. He would do anything to bore it, but all he does is standing there, waiting for an answer..

“Louis, you're not a shitty friend,” Harry simply repeats, rough voice as if he hasn't spoken in ages – and it's sort of true, since Louis has practically been giving a monologue since he arrived. But Louis can't help but hear a peak of disappointment in Harry's voice. “I didn't demand to be the first to know, I mean, you can tell things to other people before me, or not tell me things at all, that's not a problem. That's not why I left the party, anyway.”

“So tell me.”

“And yes, you could have told me yourself instead of–”

“Why did you leave the party?”

“–let a drunken Liam say it for you. It's–”

“Harry, why did you leave the party?”

“And... and–” Harry is obviously nervous. He puts his left hand over his eyes, hiding them. With the other hand he takes the little towel which is still laying on his shoulders and throws it on a chair. He doesn't move and neither does Louis. Louis restrains himself from pulling Harry into his arms, to tell him they're okay, they will be fine. If something is going wrong, he will be there for him. But he doesn't move. Maybe he should do something? Maybe he should just hug him, maybe Harry would feel better burying his face in Louis’ shoulder? Louis squints, and he's about to get him closer, when Harry’s voice echoes in the living room. “Louis, please, I want you to leave.”

Well, he definitely doesn't need a hug, then.

“Harry...”

“Louis,” he repeats, his voice rough, “please.”

Harry turns after those words, retrieving a shirt on the couch and putting it on. He doesn’t look at Louis, it’s so clear that he wishes Louis to just get out of there. Well, if Harry wants to be alone, Louis is in no position to deny him that. He nods, his throat suddenly dry because, fuck, he wants Harry. He wants him back, he wants to hug him, he wants to caress his cheek and slowly see the dimples light up on his face.

“Okay,” Louis can barely breathe, what the fuck is happening? “Okay,” he repeats, swallowing. “If... If you need something, you know where to find me. You sure you're fine?”

Please, make him need something soon, please.

“Yeah, I am.”

“Well, then.”

Louis goes towards the door, his head is a mess and so is his hair: he just made the mistake of watching his reflection in the mirror hung in the hall, and he has never seen his face so ugly like in that moment. Louis sighs, thinking that maybe he really can pack his bag and go to Alaska, when something brings him back to reality.

“No.”

Frowning, he turns around and finds Harry a few steps from him. He's a mess, too, and Louis doesn't know whether to be comforted or not. Okay, it's pretty obvious that seeing Harry so evidently torn brings him no pleasure at all, but he's selfishly thinking that he's not the only one suffering. Harry cares, Harry is very fond of him, even Gemma told him that, and this is the proof. When Harry speaks again, he sounds almost desperate, worrying Louis.

“No. No . ”

“Hey, pumpkin, you're good? Do you need s–”

“No! I'm not fucking good, Louis!” Harry is yelling and Louis is a bit scared now. “I– I can't handle this anymore, not with you, I simply can't .”

Undecided whether to take a step forward and caress Harry’s arm or turn on his heels and run away, Louis stays there, one hand raised in the vague direction of the boy.

“I think we should sit on the sofa and talk a bit, what do you think?”

“I think you're an idiot,” and well, Harry seems pretty firm about what he’s saying. “I think you're an idiot, and you're blind and you seriously think too much, Louis, how can a person even think that much!?”

Harry is babbling and it’s probably because he had too many drinks last night at the party. No, wait, he didn't even drink anything. There's no reason, then. Good, no, good. He understands that Harry is upset by the whole situation, so he thinks that maybe all he has to do is let himself be pummelled with insults and be ready for whatever Harry has to say.

This doesn't take away the fact that Louis doesn't get why he’s blind, though.

“It's okay, I deserve it. Spit it out. Just, take all the time you need to insult me, to throw something at me, to do whatever you need to do,” yeah, Louis may say that, but he's not ready at all. He's not fucking ready and he's a coward, he just wants to go away, far away from Harry, from Liam, from London, from everything. But he stands there, waiting for a tornado to hit him.

“You want me to spit it out?”

“Yeah. Anything that makes feel you better, Haz.”

Anything. Even if it'll probably kill me .

“Well, then,” and Louis feels a shiver climbing up his spine, he can't talk, he can't move. Harry's voice is determined and Louis is so, so done. “I stupidly foolishly shamelessly love you, you twat.”

Haha. Hahaha. Ha.

Louis doesn’t know how he looks right now. If his expression somehow matches how he feels, his face is probably similar to the one he has when United equalises a game with the last of the league. Just like those moments, he feels a knot in his stomach and a strong desire to scream just to release the emotions he’s feeling. Trying to stand on his feet and not collapsing on the ground, Louis manages to look at Harry directly in his eyes. He's not sure what he's seeing and... Well, fuck. Louis shouldn't be so shocked by the statement, it’s probably because of the tone Harry had while saying it: determined but resigned. And Louis doesn’t know why, because he has made pretty clear that he loves Harry, too. Louis loves him so much, he cares a lot about him, he's one of his best friends. So what's this unease that he's feeling in his belly? And why, why does Harry seem so devastated saying it?

Time passes, Louis is about to pass out, too.

“Harry,” he says, awkwardness makes it coming out as an hysterical giggle, “you– you know I love you, too, right?”

“No,” Harry says that word for the millionth time that day. He sighs, shaking his head. “No. You don't love me, not in the way you should. I mean, not in the way I wish you would.”

“Yeah, I know, I am a bit of an arsehole sometimes, and with this thing about the wedding and then not telling you anything and all the stuff and–”

“Please,” Harry cuts him off with a gesture of the hand, taking a step towards him. Now they're close, not too much, but they're close enough and Louis really shouldn't feel like this. “Just... Just reset your brain and listen to me.”

Right, then. Focus on Harry.

“When I say I love you ,” he starts, talking to him as if he were a child whose father is telling him about the abc, “I mean I am in love with you . I mean that I'd do anything to be with you always, to live with you. I mean that I want to be yours, and I want you to be mine. I mean I want you to love me and nobody else. I mean I don't want you to get married to some girl. Or with anyone, whatever. Anyone that isn’t me. I mean I wish you to wake up in my bed every fucking day of our fucking lives. And I mean you and I and nothing else.”

Louis almost forgets how to breathe, is that even possible? Harry loves Louis, like, really, really loves him. Harry wants Louis to be with him forever, wants him to be in his bed, do things with him, things Louis does with Eleanor. And, wait. Harry wants Louis like Louis has Eleanor. This means he wants to be his boyfriend and maybe marry him.

Haha. He's going to freak out. Maybe faint, too.

Oh, lord.

Oh, fucking lord.

This is insane, this is not a thing Louis wants to deal with. This shouldn't be happening, for fuck's sake.

After the confession, Harry hides his face in his hands, angrily. But it's not as if he would break something in a fit of rage, it's a different anger, frustration, perhaps. Louis doesn't know, all he knows is that, hey, he's now able to walk again and apparently he's following Harry, who's heading towards the kitchen for no apparent reason. Or maybe there is a reason, and Louis doesn't get it. Like... Like he didn't get anything, lately.

“Harry, wait!”

Harry stops abruptly, head still in his hands and it's a miracle he hasn't stumbled on the carpet yet. When their eyes meet, Louis thinks he could faint at any moment. Harry's eyes are red, tears flowing. Louis wants to die, no, Louis is already dead inside because he's never seen Harry in that state and, honestly? He would do anything to avoid seeing him like that ever. Louis begins to feel his eyes itching, doesn't know what it is, he doesn't know this feeling that’s taken possession of his entire body.

The only thing he knows is that one moment he is looking into Harry's eyes thinking that maybe he should just leave, run from this confession he doesn’t know how to cope with, and the next moment his sight is covered by Harry's curls, still damp from the rain. Harry's hands are resting on his cheeks. His touch on Louis’ skin is gentle but at the same time kind of possessive, as if Harry is unwilling to let him go ever again. And before he fully realises what is happening, Harry's lips are on his. His kiss is sweet, it's soft and it's wet. Harry's tears are mixed with the raindrops, and Louis really doesn't understand if they are mixed with his own tears, or if his eyes are wet because of Harry's hair. Louis doesn't know, Louis doesn't know anything, doesn't want to know anything.

It seems that Harry can't get away from him. But the worst thing is that Louis can't do anything to stop him. He can't move, he can't feel his feet and his heart does a somersault when Harry gently moves his hands from his cheeks to his hair. Harry is carefully pulling Louis towards himself and what, how long has it been? Two seconds, a minute, an hour? No, if it had been so long, Louis would be dead, because he can't breathe.

Louis realises that his hands are clinging to Harry's arms and clenching them, and he would like to say 'sorry, Haz' but right now his mouth is a bit busy kissing him. Yeah, kissing him. Louis still hasn't found the strength to break away from his lips. A moment later, he can feel Harry sobbing over his mouth and then as if he was smiling, and seriously what the actual fuck is going on, here.

It's Harry to break the kiss – even if Louis was supposed to, wasn't he? – and immediately he's hugging Louis. But it only lasts a second, just long enough to feel fresh air on his face suddenly very cold and wet, and at least a dozen heart beats skipped. Then Harry straightens, sniffles, and covers his face with an arm.

Louis is practically frozen on his spot. “That– I–”

“Yeah, now you understand what I meant?”

“I think I do,” Louis says. His mouth tastes strange, foreign, “and I still don't get it.”

A frown is now printed on Harry's face. He smirks a little. “What's to understand? Seems pretty simple to me.”

“Why didn't you tell me about your feelings, first of all?”

“I guess for the same reason you didn't tell me about the wedding.”

“It's different,” Louis declares firmly.

“Yeah? Is it, Louis?”

“Yeah, it is,” Louis starts to feel that his misunderstanding is blending with loads of others feelings, something good, something sad. “I was... I was scared to lose you.”

Suddenly his words and thoughts don't make any fucking sense. Why should have their friendship been at risk because of his engagement? On the other hand, Harry seems to agree, since he has this face like he's trying to say something so obvious and granted and Louis simply doesn't want to understand.

“That's exactly why I didn't tell you anything,” Harry asserts. “Because I was afraid to face a reaction like the one you had, Louis. I didn't want to force you into anything, I just wanted to be happy and I was just like that. And you were, too, so I thought that was fine, you know, cuddles, hugs, and all that. But you... You gave me signs, sometimes, so I told myself 'hey, maybe he reciprocates, maybe he just isn't ready yet', but clearly for you it was just... Nothing.”

“That's not true!” Louis is now yelling and wow, his voice is still there. “I do love you, you can't say it's nothing because I want you to be part of my life and–”

“No! Shit, Lou! You don't– you don't understand. When you say I want you to be part of my life is the same thing I say to Niall or Zayn or Ed. When I say I love you , I mean that I want you to be all my life, not just a part of it.”

Louis can't handle this situation anymore. He can feel his eyes are starting to itch again, but he doesn't want to cry, at all.

“What I don't understand,” Harry continues when it's clear Louis won't utter a word, “is why you gave me signs, why you made me believe in it.”

“Signs...” Louis repeats, slowly. “I guess I was just doing what seemed natural to me, like, you know, hug you sometimes and touch you. Like I do with Liam. I didn’t think you could read something different there.”

But Louis can't lie anymore, at least not to himself. There are times, like the day before when Liam hugged him at the supermarket, when Louis thought about the difference between them. It's like... He knows it's different with Harry, it's always been different, but he just let things follow their natural path, take their time. Among all those fucking thoughts and mental blowjobs, he never thought that Harry could have feelings and confuse those small gestures with something bigger. Was Louis selfish? No, just blind, that’s what Louis was. Just like Harry said, and fuck, now he can understand what Liam meant yesterday when they talked. So, basically, everyone knew Harry has a crush on him except for him. No, not a crush. Apparently Harry loves Louis endlessly, and that makes Louis’ head spin like never before. This is a fucking big deal. And a fucking mess, that's what it is.

“Shit, Lou, I was ready,” Harry starts, his voice trembling. “I was ready to tell you everything, because I thought– I thought you might love me back. I was freaking out, lately, you have no idea. I woke up every morning with this only thought, 'today I'm gonna tell Louis, today is the day', to just open my heart, that you were finally ready to listen. But I was afraid at the same time, I was afraid of losing you. And now it's happening, I'm losing you, and with all that happened in the last half an hour, I don't think I can take anything else.”

Half an hour? To Louis it seems that he’s standing there for days, months.

What is he supposed to do now? He screwed everything up and all because he's a shitty friend and he can't understand his friends' feelings, and actions and whatever. Louis feels sick, he thinks he's going to throw up in three, two, one…

“You’re not losing me,” he manages to say, his voice feeble. Harry lets out a bitter laugh, shaking his head just a bit.

“Damn, Louis, you're so... You're so you. Shit.”

“And you're you,” he replies automatically. It’s probably not the right thing to say right now, but it’s how they always answer, how he will always answer.

Harry is staring at him with a look full of pain and love and Louis wants to jump out of the window because he can't handle it. He can't bear how he’s apparently unable to do anything, he can't return Harry’s love, not the way he wants. But he does love Harry, he can't picture a life without him. Since they found each other again, since they became friends, Harry has been a constant light in his life. Louis can't even imagine a single day without a message from Harry to wake him in the morning, or a text with any crap during the day, or simply him being there when he's bored, when he needs him. Louis is nothing without Harry.

“Just... Please, get out,” Harry almost prays, shaking his head, gesturing towards the door. “Leave, please.”

“We can figur–”

“You're going to be married in a couple of months!” Harry shouts those words as if it’s what he meant to scream at Louis since their conversation began. “I can't stay here looking at you, loving you , and... And seeing you putting a ring on your fiancée's finger! Please, Louis, leave. Or not, do whatever you want, but I’m leaving.”

“Harry!” Louis calls after him, but Harry's hand is already on the door handle. “Harry, wait! This is your house, what the fuck!”

Pointless. He's gone.

Louis is using all of his strength to stay up and not let himself fall to the floor. Simply nothing can describe how he feels right now. It's not like the last time, when they argued about a stupid and meaningless football game, no. This time is different, this time they are in the midst of feelings and love, and he's fucked, sincerely. Harry... Harry loves him. How many times did he repeat it in the last hour?

There is too much silence in that living room that smells of tea. And of Harry. Louis instinctively raises his hands, one is still bandaged and pulses, pulses a lot, and it seems that centuries have passed since he got hurt. He stares at his hands, which seem so empty. At this time Louis should have been touching Harry, keeping him tight against his chest and not letting him go. Like when Harry did when he kissed Louis... Yeah, like when he kissed Louis.

Louis puts a hand over his mouth, as if expecting to find something. It’s a cheesy thought, but he can swear he feels his lips tickling from Harry’s touch.

And suddenly he collapses on the floor, his head buried in his hands, with a serious breathing problem.

He doesn't know how long he stays in that position, head buried in his knees, trying to steady his breath and make his head stop spinning. Harry's words keep returning to his mind like waves and Louis doesn't even try to push them away. He knows he should, he should try to ignore the weight of that declaration, try to recover from everything that happened, at least for self preservation. But the truth is he almost caresses Harry's voice in his mind. He can’t stop tracing his lips with his fingers, maybe trying to protect the last contact he had with Harry, even if thinking about it is insane.

It's just too much.

The only thing that in the end makes him stand up again, is the thought that Harry walked away – ran away, actually – in the rain just to avoid seeing him any longer. It just wouldn't be fair to him to be there, in tears, when he would eventually come home. He owes him that, at least.

So Louis gets up, shakes his head trying to regain control over his mind and leaves the flat. He locks it with the key that Harry gave him months ago, and now everything seems so strange. Even something so simple, like having that stupid spare key, gains a new meaning. And he just doesn't know what to do and what to think, not anymore.

It's a miracle that he manages to arrive home safe and sound. He didn't take the car, not feeling clear headed enough to drive, and he ran from the tube station to his building, so when he arrives there he's completely soaked. He climbs the stairs and stands for a minute in the hallway, right between his front door and Liam's, when honestly, there isn't even a contest. The choice is obvious.

When Liam opens the door after several knocks, Louis is crying. Liam – perfect, wonderful Liam – just takes him in his arms and holds him until Louis relaxes a little bit.

“I'm... I'm sorry...” he mutters, trying to breathe but mostly trying not to choke on his tears. Liam shushes him, then drives him to the couch without leaving him for a second and not caring about getting wet by holding Louis.

“Don't. Lou, don't. It's okay, I'm here. I'm here,” he keeps saying, like a mantra, and if Louis were a little less desperate he'd admit he needs just those words.

“It's not okay,” he manages to say, sniffing. “It's... Harry...”

And that seems to trigger something in Liam, because he's now hugging him with force, very tightly, like he's afraid to let Louis go. Wise Liam, he's probably known all the time how this would have ended. He knew, when he kept telling him to clear his mind, to finally tell Harry about the wedding. He knew, when he kept staring at them at the match, like he was afraid Louis could hurt Harry more than necessary. It appears he was right.

“I didn't...” Louis can't stop hanging himself on Liam's shirt, like it was an anchor. “I didn't want to hurt him, Liam... I love him... but not...”

Liam is now openly rocking him, as if he were a child, and Louis isn't going to complain. He knows he needs this, the love of the most important people in his life, just when he lost one of them. Just the thought makes him want to scream, because he can't even tolerate the idea of not having Harry in his life, not calling him in the morning, not sending him stupid pictures.

He's probably back in his world now, because he can't hear Liam's lullaby of ‘shh’ and ‘everything will be alright’. When he hears fragments of those words, Louis just wants to yell that it won't, it won't be alright, it will never be okay ever again. He's not defeatist, he's never been, but this time he can only picture the worst case scenario.

“I don't want to lose him...”

“You won't, Lou, he loves you,” Liam’s voice is calm, he’s obviously trying to sooth Louis but those definitely aren’t the right words.

“That's the fucking problem, Liam!”

He must have been too harsh, because Liam stiffens against him and no. No, he can't hurt anybody else, he can't hurt his bloody best friend. Louis' mind is spinning, he can't bring himself to focus on anything other than Liam's chest, and now he hurt him too and he just can't keep going like this.

“I'm sorry, Li, I'm–”

“Shh, don't worry.”

He doesn't know how long they stay in that position, cuddled in the corner of the sofa, determined not to let each other go. Louis has completely lost his sense of time since the previous night, since that horrible moment when Harry found out about the wedding, and now he can't even say if it's morning or afternoon. He counts on Liam, sure that he knows what he's doing because it's Liam, he's the responsible and mature one in their friendship. And Liam doesn’t leave him, except for a moment when he goes to get a towel for Louis to dry himself. That’s probably a good move, since getting ill wouldn’t be the greatest thing for Louis right now, but he doesn’t want to be alone. So he complains until Liam returns and gives him a dry t-shirt and basically makes him use the towel to mop his hair. He goes back to hugging him as soon as Louis isn’t risking pneumonia anymore.

At some point even Stan, heavy-sleep-Stan, walks out from Liam's bedroom. So, Louis probably did scream a little bit while calling Liam back.

Damn, Stan. Louis was so shocked last night that he didn't even think about him when he left Ashton's house. Thank god for Liam, again. Thank god for Liam, always.

“What the hell, Lou?” it’s what Stan says, as soon as he catches the image of him and Liam on the couch, and a moment later he's right in front of him, sat on the floor and with a hand in Louis’ hair. “Lou, mate, what happened?”

“Harry... He... He's in love with me.”

Saying that out loud is weirder than thinking about it. Louis is trying to digest that information, to at least try to rationalise it, to find a way to keep Harry in his life, but it's just absurd. Harry can't be in love with him, Harry is his best friend. Maybe a little bit more than that, okay, but–

“Oh, you figured it out,” Stan whispers and no. Not Stan, too.

“What the fuck? Did you all know about this? What am I, the dumbest person ever? He fucking told me, Stan, because I was so blind that I haven't seen this coming for shit.”

That's the longest sentence he's said in hours, so maybe he's somehow recovering. Except he isn’t, because every time his mind recalls the image of Harry leaving his own flat, crying, Louis feels a stab in his heart. Harry isn't supposed to be like that – hurt, clouded, sad – and, most of all, he isn't supposed to feel that way because of Louis. Louis should be the reason he smiles, he thinks at some point, but the thought slips through his fingers when they hear loud knocks on the door.

Louis looks up at Liam, whose quizzical look probably mirrors his own, and Stan seems a little bit surprised, too. There's a moment when they're all still, not sure what to do, like they all fear there are zombies outside that door. Then Liam blinks, probably reasoning that there are no zombies in London for what they know, and releases his grip on Louis. He doesn't let him go, though, until Stan's arms are circling him. It appears his friends don't want him to be alone for even a second after the towel breakdown, and Louis can't honestly say how much he's grateful for that support, even if he doesn't deserve it at all.

He hurt Harry. He fucking hurt the best person he knows.

When Liam finally opens the front door, a wild Niall appears. Louis bites his lip until he can taste blood, because how couldn't he think about Niall? Of course he would come to skin him alive, Ramsay Snow style, he's Harry's best friend after all. He would do the same, if he were him.

Niall doesn't seem to notice him immediately, he looks at Liam for a long, long minute. He doesn't say anything, but he's obviously furious. Louis thinks he's probably never seen Niall really upset, far from angry, and he's never ever thought he could look like this. It's like the dictionary definition of an angry bull, and Louis is probably a red flag right now.

Liam keeps staring at him for a moment, probably daring him to say something, but in the end even he gives up in front of this creepy version of Niall. It's super effective. So Liam sighs, shrugs a little bit and moves from the door, letting Niall come inside. And he does that with the force of a bull, just to confirm Louis' thoughts, and a moment later Niall is in front of him. He gives him a look that Louis can't read, he thinks he sees both anger and sadness, both pity and a desire to punch him. Unconsciously, Louis gets closer to Stan.

“What the fuck did you do?” Niall isn't yelling. He isn't shouting and he isn't throwing things. His voice is calm, almost flat, and it hurts even more. So Louis focuses on Niall's eyes, where he can see anger, and that's better.

He doesn't answer, though.

“Louis, what the fuck did you do? I came back home and found Haz polishing the house while screaming – screaming White Blank Page . So, again: what. the. fuck. did. you. do?”

When Louis still doesn't answer, Niall finally gives up to anger and raises his arms in the air, letting out a frustrated shout.

“Louis, fuck you! Just tell me!”

And that seems to snap something in Liam, because he finally moves from the door and a second later he's holding Niall's forearm with force. He looks upset, not angry at Niall, but at the same time it's obvious he doesn't want his friend to shout those things at Louis.

“Niall, calm down. How do you even know it's Louis' fault? He doesn’t deserve all this hate.”

Niall blinks a few times, looking at Liam, and then frees his arm from Liam’s grip with maybe more intent than necessary. Teams , Louis thinks. It's a matter of teams. Liam will always be on Louis' side, no matter what, and Niall on Harry's.

I'm losing him, too , he thinks.

“Don't talk shit, Liam, I don't hate him. Far from that. But Haz... Haz acts like fucking Cinderella only when he's really upset about something. And screams so much when singing Mumford and Sons only when he's fucking angry or depressed. And, for god's sake, have you ever listened to White Blank Page by any chance? It's their fucking story! Every single word of it! So, yes, I know Louis did something to get Harry in that state.”

Liam blinks a few times, while Louis simply buries his head on Stan's shoulder. He just wants to hide, even for a second, but Liam's words make him raise his head again.

“Yeah, okay, it could be, but... It's not like Louis is a monster, okay? So fucking leave him alone just for a second!”

Oh, great, lovely Liam. His personal knight in a shining armour. He weakly smiles at his best friend, and a moment later he manages to extract himself from Stan's arms, maybe Niall's words were just what he needed.

“No, Li, he's right,” he cracks out, his voice rough and weak. Niall turns to him and his expression softens a little. “I'm sorry, Niall, but I didn't have a clue, I swear I didn't– I didn't know, okay? I... I wasn't fucking playing with his heart. I’d never do that, fuck, he’s Harry.”

Those seem to have been the right words to say, because most of the anger disappears from Niall's face, leaving a place for some sadness. Louis doesn't know if it's better, because a sad Niall is a crime against humanity just like Harry, and he already made the world a worse place by walking on Harry's heart. But at least Niall doesn't seem to hate him. Baby steps, Louis thinks.

“I didn't–” Niall starts, before sighing and messing with his hair. A moment later he's on the floor, right in front of Louis. “I've never thought that, Lou.”

Lou . If he uses a nickname he can't be that determined to end their friendship, right? Right?

“You... knew,” Louis mutters. It's not a question, of course Niall knew. Best friend's job, he thinks, looking at Liam for a second.

“Yeah, I did. Since the beginning. And, Lou, if I'd thought you could've hurt him, I would've told you. I mean, I knew Haz didn't want you to know, because he didn't want to lose you... But if I'd ever had a doubt of you hurting him, trust me, I would've punched you. But I didn't, because I was sure you honestly didn't know about his feelings and all of your gestures were genuine, it was just how much you cared about him. And, yeah, maybe it's my fault if it ended up like this. I could've told you. I could've told him to stop daydreaming. I could have, but I didn't, because I was as hopeful as him. So, no, Lou, I don't hate you. If anything, I hate myself for letting it happen. But–”

He sighs, looking at the ground for a moment, and Liam instantly reaches him. He puts a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it, and Louis knows that is Liam's way of encouraging him. So Liam knows what Niall is going to say, they probably already talked about this.

Louis can't say he isn't going to be sick by the end of today, he’s discovering way too many things he couldn’t even imagine.

“But–” Niall manages to say, in the end. “But, Lou, mate. Honestly, you have to clear up your mind. Because Haz, and me... We could've seen more than what's really on the table, but you gave us reasons to. Be reasonable, do the right thing. It’s healthy for you and for all the people you have around.”

And he leaves, just like that. Louis looks at his back until Niall closes the door, his words echoing in his mind.

He doesn't dare looking at Liam, not after that silent conversation he had with Niall. He probably agrees with their friend, and Louis sincerely doesn't want to know if they're right. He doesn't want to think about it and he doesn't want to question himself and his choices and his thoughts more than he already is.

So, Louis simply buries his head in Stan's shoulder, letting him pat his hair. A moment later Liam sits on his other side and caresses his ankle, like he always does when Louis is really upset, because he knows it relaxes him.

He tries not to think about Niall's words, but the only other thing that comes constantly up to his mind is Harry's kiss. Harry's lips on his own, the desperate urge in his gesture, the way his hands tangled in Louis’ hair, the way he sobbed into his mouth.

The way Louis didn't want to let him go.

 

 

Chapter Text

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September turns into October in a jiffy.

The summer weather has faded almost completely, leaving constant fresh air, and Louis knows that he must face the seasonal change of clothes sooner rather than later, but he simply doesn't feel like it. So, he still wears the same t-shirts he wore in the previous months and that's probably why he’s spent the last four days sneezing.

It's been so long and he still feels so empty.

The first week after Harry's big declaration passed in the worst way possible: spending his days from work to Liam's couch, Liam's bathroom and Liam's bedroom, Louis had never felt more useless in his entire life. Luckily, understanding the whole shitty situation, Zayn didn’t show any disagreement when Louis started to sleep there; he never complained that Louis was 'taking Liam away' from him. Louis was doing that, somehow, but they never said anything. God bless Zayn. He understood that Louis was a mess and a bit of a charity case, so he helped trying to make Louis' days more liveable. And Zayn didn't tell Louis anything about Harry, anything about how he crushed one of his best friends’ hearts, and Louis is so grateful for that. He also didn't say anything every time Louis tried to call Harry and all the calls went unanswered, and Louis always ended up moping on Liam's shoulder when Liam should have been snogging the saint that is Zayn instead.

Things started to improve after that.

At first, whenever Liam forced Louis to join him, Zayn, and Niall for some fun after work, he felt suffocated. He knew they didn't mention Harry on purpose, but critical situations happened anyway: when he looked at Zayn and Niall whispering and then turning towards him, he knew what they were talking about, he could feel it in his bones. So he simply stopped going out with them and locked himself in his shell. Not that it made him feel better, to be honest, but at least he was alone when he tried to contact Harry and none of his attempts succeeded. Then his friends started to show up unexpectedly at his flat, and after a while the conversations started to become more 'yay' and less 'I want to wrap myself in a blanket and never get out.’ They probably realised that mentioning Harry's name wasn't a smart move with Louis around, so they just stopped. And things were definitely getting better. Louis wonders if they had to do the same thing with Harry, or if Harry didn’t give a damn about hearing Louis' name.

Louis sees Harry, sometimes.

Once he was queuing at the post office, and Harry was walking down the street with a book in a hand and a coffee in the other. Another time was when he finished working on a Friday evening, tired and quite dead on his feet, and Harry passed quickly on the pavement across the street, vanishing around the corner. Or, again, that time when Louis and Liam were at their usual vintage shop and Harry was there, too: they entered as he was paying for his stuff and then quickly left, waving absently. But the last time was the worst. Louis was about to cross the street and enter Starbucks to grab a coffee, when he saw Harry out the door: it was pretty windy, Louis remembers that because he can't forget Harry's curls waving under the headscarf. Harry seemed quite torn that day, who knows what troubled him. Louis watched him disappearing around the corner, without ever meeting his gaze. He misses his eyes so much. So, so much. He misses looking into them and seeing the happiness and sweetness of those looks that Harry reserved just for him... He was definitely an idiot not seeing anything behind them, seriously. But, even if he had known, what could have he done? Surely he could have dealt with the whole situation better, trying not to give Harry any wrong signals, but the truth is he still doesn’t know what he and Niall were talking about. There’s nothing he did with Harry he wouldn’t do again, right now, and he doesn’t know if he’s just being selfish or if he’s just an idiot. Seeing Harry that day, in front of their coffee shop and in exactly the same place Louis had been when Harry had called him many months back to plan the Ziam P., did nothing but remind him how much Louis missed everything they used to do. He would like to go out for lunch with Harry just for an hour, maybe in their favourite restaurant by the river, and really talk it through. But of course he can’t, since apparently Harry doesn’t want to have anything to do with him anymore, and all he can do is hold on those little memories.

After that time, Louis never saw Harry again.

Louis doesn't know if it's because he saw him those few times or because he started not seeing him anymore, but he has fallen into a dark hole for the second time. Not that he used to live in Joyland, anyway.

It was on a Tuesday when he jolt awake in the middle of the night. His breath was fast, he tried to slow it down but he couldn't, and he was all sweaty, his shirt stuck to his chest.

That was the first night he dreamt of having sex with Harry.

Not sex sex , but sort of going a bit further than snogging. He had other dreams after that, not many, but Louis remembers every single one of them. What he would like to understand is... Why. Just why. His brain suggests that's probably because he thinks about him often and lately his sex life has been almost non existent. Perhaps his subconscious has linked everything up.

However, those dreams upset Louis quite a bit. He can't decide if it's because of the dreams per se, or because he remembers every part of them, every single touch, every single move, everything. He remembers every kiss and his subconscious somehow managed to link them to the one they shared for real what seems like a lifetime ago. Somehow this makes things even worse, because Louis recalls how soft Harry's lips were that day, pressed against his own. These kisses, though, had nothing to do with the one Harry gave him at his flat weeks ago: these were sweet, not wet by Harry's tears but by the passion of their tongues, hungry to meet each other’s. Most of all Louis returned them, and then he woke up almost crying. But what really strikes him is that almost every time he woke up with a boner he had to take care of.

Seriously, Louis pities himself a lot.

The first night he dreamt about Harry, Louis took a deep breath and let himself fall on his back again. He rolled over in the bed several times and when he realised he couldn't fall back asleep again, he switched on the lamp and started staring at the ceiling. Then, when it was quite clear that staring into space wouldn't help him calm his breath, he grabbed the phone from the nightstand and began to lock and unlock it repeatedly for no apparent reason. Since Louis is a bit masochistic, he started to delve into memories looking at some pictures of him and Harry taken during the summer. Some were funny, some just perfect and some simply taken for the sake of it. The most beautiful one was the selfie they took at Liam's birthday, the one with all the boys. It's a really nice memory. Louis looked at it and suddenly laughed and laughed, almost hysterically, because he missed those moments like hell, but the thought of the five of them together made him forget how sad he was, even if only for a short moment. After all, he had the right to take a break from sadness, right?

He remembers that night, after having spent about half an hour laughing like an idiot over the pictures with his friends, he fell asleep looking at the painting Harry had drawn for him, still hanging on the wall between United's posters.



xxx



“Louis.”

Louis drags his gaze from the desk and suddenly faces Kat's frown. His colleague is beautiful, she really is, he has always thought so, but sometimes she has this creepy expression that messes up her features.

“Mh?”

“Louis,” she repeats, slowly, “please, stop this. Find a way to recover, but stop it.”

“I don't know what you're talking about.”

She snorts and puts her hands on the desk, facing him as if she's going to threaten him. “I'll punch you, Louis, if you don't listen to me,” and well, yeah, maybe he should just be quiet because Kat has practiced karate for fifteen years, so you just can’t ignore that kind of threat so easily. “I broke up with my boyfriend just two weeks ago after six fucking years, so I feel like shit and blah blah. I don't have a clue of what to do with my life right now, I don't even want to come to this shitty building every day, and as if this weren't enough, I also have to do your job because you seem to have just come out from Zombieland and I don't even know why. And never asked, just to give you your space or whatever you needed. But now I’m tired, we work together everyday so either you tell me what the hell is going on, or you do your fucking assignments on your own so I can despair all by myself without thinking about your fucking problems.”

Louis is staring, and he realises it only after a moment. Burying his face in his hands, Louis seriously doesn't know how to answer. She's right, in the last few weeks he’s been quite distracted and okay, he does his work slowly, but he does everything they ask. And also it's true, the two of them have been working together for a long time and they’re quite close, perhaps opening up with someone who's not Liam or Stan would be good for him. And useful.

“I do my job, just– I'm having a really hard time lately, too, I feel like I'm living in a storm that won’t end, it takes me longer than usual to finish assignments,” it’s Louis' answer after a little pause. She stands right in front of him in the same position as before and she has this pitying look Louis got accustomed to lately. “I'm sorry you're worried about me, but really, you don't need to. I'll be fine. Sooner or later.”

“It's not that, Louis, everyone has their issues,” Kat says, shaking her head. “But I have to revise your articles every time before handing them over to Mr. Anderson, in addition to mine. It takes me twice as long and it’s twice as much work. So please, please , try to fix whatever it is.”

“Why do you even have to?”

Louis doesn’t try to hide how skeptical and taken aback he is because of her words. They have the same role in the company, are at the same level. She shouldn't even read Louis' work, far from that revising it. Kat sighs.

“Since when you spelled your name Toplinson a week ago,” Kat answers, crossing her arms, “three times. I thought maybe you were a little upset about something and I didn't want you to get in trouble for it.”

Louis gulps, because really, he's a fucking mess. And she's just great. Kat's giving double effort just because he's not able to deal with how awful his life is at the moment. Shit. He really is a bad person.

Just. Shit.

“Shit,” he mutters, “I'm sorry, Kat, I'm really sorry, I– thanks for telling me, I promise that from now on I'll be careful. I'll double check everything, I swear.”

“Good,” she sighs, tiny voice. “I'm not scolding you, just wanted to make you realise that you have been absent lately, and your work is being affected by it. I don't want to act like your mummy or whatever. Just so you know.”

“You're not,” Louis says, smiling gratefully. “You're being a friend, though. You’re great. Thank you.”

“Speaking of,” Kat starts, grabbing some papers from Louis' desk and arranging them in her lap, “I know you have that bunch of idiots as friends, but if you need someone to talk with, someone more serious and with a feminine perspective, I'm in for a beer. Not coffee. Coffee makes people more nervous. And, you know, I think we could get drunk sometimes, just for the hell of it.”

Louis laughs a bit. “Cheeky. Okay, thanks!”

“And, Louis, do yourself a favour in the meantime,” she gives him a bit worried look, bites her lip and then adds: “change your clothes. It’s fifteen degrees out there, and I'm tired of seeing that fucking Love Will Tear Us Apart t-shirt every time you step into the office. I don't know if you noticed, but winter is coming.”

She waves, settles her glasses on the nose, and then she's gone.



xxx



Perhaps hours have passed since Louis sat at the table, arms folded over the surface and chin sunk in them. All this time and he's still staring at his fishbowl unable to look away from it.

Then he hears gentle knocks on the door. “It's me!” Liam's voice is muffled, as if he's calling from miles and miles away.

“You have the keys,” Louis yells back, not intentioned to move his arse from the chair.

After a few seconds Liam enters the kitchen, puts a small bag on the table and makes himself at home. Well, it practically is his home, as his flat is Louis'. They're basically the same person, even Niall says they're a package. Why don't they live together anymore, anyway?

“I guess you’re way too lazy to take some steps to open the door.” Liam shakes his head, starting to take stuff out of the bag and setting everything in the cupboard and in the fridge. When Louis is about to ask what the hell is he doing, Liam starts talking again. “I was shopping with Zayn this morning, so, uhm, I got you some stuff. I hope you don't mind?”

Liam sounds strange, as if he were apologising for having shopped. Or maybe for taking care of Louis as if he were a child.

“You shouldn't,” Louis mutters, sheepishly. “I mean, there's no need to buy me things, I can do it on my own. But thanks, Payno, really, for the thought. I appreciate that.”

“Your kitchen is basically empty. And this,” he says, grabbing a yoghurt from the fridge, “expired two weeks ago.”

Louis sighs and smiles faintly, wrinkling his nose. Liam gives him a worried look, but doesn’t comment otherwise. When Liam finishes cleaning the kitchen up, he puts the empty bag in the storage closet and sits next to him, sighing.

“You texted me you have to tell me something,” he says in the end, noticing that Louis surely won’t open his mouth if not prompted.

Louis nods, absently. “Yeah. Harrington died this morning.”

At first, Louis is undecided whether to keep staring at the fishbowl – where Harrington is upside down in the water, clearly dead – or to look up, probably to find Liam frowning. He decides that watching Liam is definitely a better way to spend his time than looking insistently at his dead goldfish, so he just drags his gaze to him.

Liam is quiet, his look peaceful when Louis raises his head, a little bit sorry, but he isn't certainly judging him for his need to text his best friend that his goldfish died.

“I'm so sorry, Lou,” it's all he says, moving his eyes to the fish. “Do you have any idea why?”

“No.”

Liam raises his eyebrows at Louis’ monosyllabic answer. Well, he certainly doesn’t feel talkative today. “When was the last time you fed it?” Liam prompts.

“Mh,” Louis whispers and, damn, he can't even remember when was the last time he fed his fucking fish. “I think... a week ago, maybe?”

“What the fuck, Lou! Of course it's dead, must have been hungry!”

“I know, sorry!”

“You don't have to be sorry with me, I'm not the one who's dead from starvation!”

“I can't be sorry for Harrington, it's dead!”

“It's your fault!”

“I know! Stop yelling at me!” Louis shouts back and regrets immediately. “I– why do people and now even pets keep leaving me, Liam?”

Liam closes his eyes, as if he's collecting all his patience to answer. He even massages his temples before answering. “Louis, Harry is not dead, you know that, right?”

It's like a brick fell suddenly on Louis' head. This is the first time he hears Harry's name in a while. It’s not that he doesn't think about him all the time, but hearing it out loud it's completely different than repeating it in his head.

“No,” Louis answers slowly, “but apparently I'm dead to him. So, there's practically no difference.”

“That's not true.”

“How do you know that?” He realises his tone is a little bit sharp. “We haven't talked in a month. And it's not because I didn't try.”

“Louis, I'm sure this is going to be fine. He has– he has just to–”

“Get over me?”

Silence falls into the kitchen.

Rubbing his face with a hand and feeling the skin sweaty under his touch, Louis can't believe what he just said. How can a person just get over someone as if it were nothing? As if it were a point on a what-to-do list: have lunch, do homework, get over Louis. You love someone and then you suddenly have to stop, you have to pretend you didn't think about plans involving that person as the most important of your life. A moment you’re thinking about a future together, and the next everything is gone. How cruel is it to force yourself to stop loving someone?

He doesn't know, he really doesn't know and doesn't even want to.

“First off, that's not what I was thinking,” Liam interrupts his thoughts. Thanks, Liam, they were getting difficult to deal with. “He needs his time, Lou, just like you. And then, I can’t picture how someone can just stop loving another person, if I’m honest. But maybe it’s just me.”

“I'm tired of being away from him. I miss everything we do, everything we say. I miss him showing up at my flat without a call, bringing doughnuts, and then spending the afternoon chatting and doing nothing but wasting time. I miss his face when he's happy, when he's frowning and when he laughs at his own shitty jokes. And I was thinking that I've never seen his face sad except that fucking time. It's normal being sad sometimes, why isn't he ever sad, Liam!? For fuck's sake! I miss him like hell and sometimes I wonder if I can possibly be happy again. I’m not supposed to feel like this when I’m about to get married.”

“I know and... Perhaps that’s why you should ask yourself a couple of questions. I'm not saying this to tear you down, I hate interfering this way, but I care about you. And, well, you've encouraged me to open up with Zayn back then, now I want to help. Before you ask, I don't feel compelled to do so, it's just what I really want, Louis. Because I love you loads and seeing you like this hurts quite a bit.” Liam covers Louis' hand with his, squeezing it. He gives him a soft smile, almost encouraging.

“I love you too, Payno. Thing is I am basically living in a world of questions. Maybe I should drown myself in the Thames, instead.”

“Don't be such a dramatic idiot,” Liam says, but he's still smiling softly. Then, as if a lighting bolt just hit his head, he adds: “Oh, speaking of Harry, there's something I wanted to tell you. Do you remember that contest Harry has participated some time ago? There was the award ceremony yesterday and he won. Just, I thought you might like to know.”

“Oh.”

Oh . Louis feels so proud just hearing this news. He knew, he knew that Harry would have made it, he was sure of it. The downside of the situation is that Louis wanted to be there and celebrate the great event with him, then go out for a drink with all the lads and get drunk. But that’s not possible anymore. Lately he's turning everything he does into shit, that's why he spends all his evenings on his couch watching crappy films.

Liam gets up and stretches, probably understanding Louis isn’t in the mood for making conversation.

“I'll go,” he announces. “My shift starts in twenty.”

“Uhm.” Louis wonders if Liam knows. Maybe it's nothing, maybe it was just a drawing of something uni related, Louis has never asked Harry. But maybe Liam knows, maybe he can just ask him. “Do you... Do you know what he drew?”

His friend stops at the kitchen's door, thinking a little bit, and an odd frown is now printed on his face. Louis smiles, trying to reassure him it’s an innocent question.

“I think the theme was something like 'happy discoveries' or along those lines, show happiness through colours and random things,” Liam declares and something in Louis' stomach starts to rumble. “He made a really nice drawing with oil-based paints. It was some sort of coffee shop, I don't know, it was strange, extremely detailed. Oh, and he named it Glowing seren –something.”

“Serendipity,” Louis tells him. “It's... Serendipity.”

“Yeah, that's right,” he mutters and Louis can see Liam is undecided whether or not to ask him how the fuck Louis knows – but he thinks he already knows the answer, so he doesn’t enquire further – or if he’s just wondering the word’s meaning, since Liam isn’t quite good with the dictionary. Louis smiles a bit, remembering that time when Harry had to explain Liam the meaning of ‘gesticulative’. “I really need to go, now. See you soon, Lou.”

And, when the door closes behind Liam’s back, Louis is alone again.

To win a drawing competition, Harry decided to create something based on their first meeting. It’s almost unbelievable that the theme, 'happy discoveries', is just what Harry had said that day, talking about the coffee shop’s name. Harry chose to draw their first meeting, the first hours they spent together, which means Louis was a happy discovery for Harry. Louis can perfectly picture Harry when he read the theme and thought about that time, he probably smiled at the memory, ready to share that lovely coincidence with Louis once the competition  ended. And everything is sad because now they don't even talk anymore.

He's about to stand up and take a long shower, when his phone buzzes. It's a text from Liam.

Almst forgot! Nialler wants to c u and ask u about smthing maybe u could come to SB later :))

Louis smiles and yes, maybe after a relaxing shower he could go out to get some fresh air and grab a coffee and see his friends. While exiting his inbox, he sees Harry's name and, seriously, the temptation is too strong and he definitely can't control his fingers.

He opens their chat and types: Hi Haz ! Heard about your little victory , I'm very happy for u !

Louis restrains himself to add miss you like hell xx because it wouldn’t be fair to him, but he wishes he could tell him. This whole situation is complete shit.

But... He feels lighter, now. Even if Harry surely won't answer, just like with the hundred-and-two texts he’s already sent. Louis feels better anyway, just thinking about letting Harry know how happy he is for him. It’s a way of making him feel a little bit closer to Harry.



xxx



The atmosphere at Starbucks is cosy enough to keep Louis' pleasant mood. He's not very well, he’s been feeling this way for a month now, but at least he can go visit Liam and Niall at work without the fear of meeting Harry and suffering a pained glare.

When he closes the door behind his back, suddenly Niall's voice catches him.

“Tommooo!”

“Hey, Nialler,” he smiles, approaching the counter. “What's up?”

Niall shrugs, then he puts both elbows on the counter, so that now there are only a few inches between them. “Good, good. A bit tired, actually, Clara is... challenging. In a good way, of course.”

He can't help but laugh at Niall and, god, he missed him so much. He’s thankful everyday that Niall didn’t hold a grudge.

“She's a girl. Girls are challenging,” Louis settles eventually, like this is a truth universally acknowledged. “Better than the last one, what was her name? Samantha?”

“Sammy, yeah,” Niall agrees. “Much better, and Sammy was just a flirt. At least Clara can cook.”

“You twat!”

“Said the lord of twats.”

Louis shakes the head, punching his friend's shoulder. “Payno told me you have something to share.”

As if he's just been hit by a shock, Niall jumps on the spot, overthrowing some paper cups all over the counter. It doesn’t seem like he cares, since Niall puts his elbows on the surface and avoids the mess he just caused.

“Right! Big news, Tommo, big news,” he starts, a giant smile printed on his face. “I’m expecting to see you the last week of November becaaaause of... Drums roll... My first gig! Like, really mine! I don't know the day yet, but I can't wait for it!”

“You– what? ” Louis cheers, stretching over the counter to hug Niall. “Oh my gosh, Nialler! You made it, mate!”

“You can say it out loud!”

“Horan!” A deep voice comes out from the back door, startling both of them. “If you don't go back to work I swear to god I'll kick your arse so hard that you'll find yourself in your motherland!”

Niall swallows. He grabs a cloth and starts to clean random dishes.

“Just to know, are you and my boss related, uh? Sometimes seems like that,” Niall asks quietly, careful not to be heard by his superior. Louis shrugs and begins to fiddle with the edge of one of the paper cups that Niall overturned minutes before.

“If I were related to your boss, I’m pretty sure you wouldn't be here pretending to serve customers, but down in the basement cleaning the shelves.”

Niall bursts out a laugh at those words. “Welcome back, Lou-Lou! We missed your lovely humour!”

“Yeah, I’m back. Pretty much.” Not, really. But still. “So, your gig...”

“You'll be there, right?” Niall interrupts him, still jumping on the spot. This is beyond him being easily excitable, Louis thinks before smiling at his friend. “It'll be at the same pub where Liam and Zayn shared their first kiss, how romantiiiic is this shit?!”

“Of course I will! And that’s great! In fact, I can talk with them and book a table to celebrate, what do you think?”

“It'd be great!”

“And... Harry will be there, too?” Louis simply asks, after a moment. He already knows the answer if he’s honest with himself, but he has to ask, the question has been torturing him since Niall told him about the gig.

Silence falls upon them, and that's something that usually never happens with Niall. Now Niall is looking at Louis as if he expects to see him pass out at any moment. Hey, Louis is not that weak, he just asked a simple question.

“Well, of course he'll be there,” Niall answers, completely calm. Thing is that he’s frantically rubbing the dishes as the only sign that he is, in fact, a bit nervous to answer. “He's my best friend, he wants to support me in my most glorious moment.”

Shaking the head, Louis keeps fiddling with the paper glass, now all ruined. “I don't–”

“No, okay, you know what? You have to be there. I'm not going to do any gig without you, Tommo. And guess what? Harry is my best mate just like you are, and I won't let you two idiots ruin my first gig just because you don’t want to see the fucking love of your life, or are too afraid to face a person because their presence messes with your mind, okay? I wish you could kick away your diva side just for once, and come to support me without worrying about 'ohh Harry will be there, I’ll cry'. Am I being quite clear?”

And, well, right. For the first time in a while, Louis is able to read someone. Not that Niall's look is so difficult to understand, but Louis can see way too clearly the plea that's behind that look. Niall just wants his friends to be there for him, to cheer for him, to sing, to drink, to have a great time all together. And Louis will. He loves Niall, he wants to be there for him. He ignores Niall’s words about Harry’s feelings, because just hearing them sent a pang through his chest and surely Niall didn’t mean quite what he said, he was probably exaggerating to get his point across. Anyway, it’s way better to focus on Niall.

Louis smiles. “Of course I'll be there for you, Niall. Never thought otherwise.”

Just for a second, Louis almost sees incomprehension in Niall's eyes, but after that he's openly smiling and Louis takes a long, deep breath.

“I bet, you twat,” he says, ruffling Louis' fringe. “Just so you know, I did this little speech to Harry, too. It's fine for him, you know, that you'll be there and everything.”

“Good,” Louis croaks, swallowing. If Harry is fine with this, he can certainly survive.

“Also because otherwise I would've slaughtered both of you.”

“Well, thanks,” Louis pretends to be offended, but he can't help a smirk. “Uhm, Payno?”

Maybe it's only his impression, but Louis thinks that Niall was waiting to change the subject as much as Louis. He laughs and points at his back. “Today was a bit late, so the man placed him to clean the loos. Poor Payno.”

Louis suddenly feels guilty: it was probably his fault if Liam was late, since this morning he bothered him more than necessary. But he selfishly can’t regret it: after spending the morning pitying himself, now he feels much better thanks to Liam and Niall. And after all, later they will probably laugh over it.

For now he can simply enjoy Niall's contagious laughter.



xxx



When Zayn asked him if he was alright, Louis felt the urge to say 'yes, I'm fine, thank you very much'. But it would have been a lie, and you can't lie to Zayn, it's like an extension of his don't-lie-to-Liam rule. So he just took a deep breath, looked at Zayn right in his eyes and confessed that the last time he had been so nervous it had been when he got his current job. Zayn raised an eyebrow at that answer, but Liam promptly explained that Louis threw up like ten minutes before the most important interview of his life.

So Zayn smiled at him, then hugged him, and basically never left his side since they got out of Liam's flat.

Now they're outside the pub and Louis is trying to dry his hands on his trousers. Zayn is still beside him, just as Liam, and Louis slightly wonders if he's being a third wheel. But Zayn, who should be the one constantly complaining about Louis and how he can't spend all his free time alone with his boyfriend, tonight seems the one who insists not to let Louis on his own.

It's like he wants to be at Louis’ side if something happens, or, if you look at the situation with a more careful eye, when something will inevitably happen. Because there's no way to deny it or even forget about it: Louis is seeing Harry tonight for real, for the first time in more than a month.

And Louis is completely, utterly, undeniably freaking out because he doesn’t know what to expect from it.

He keeps looking around, searching for Harry, both waiting for the meeting and dreading it. He doesn't know how to behave, to be honest. He just wants to jump on Harry and hug him until he can't breathe, smell him, feel his curls under his fingers... But at the same time he can't do that, both because they're not okay and because it wouldn't be fair to Harry. Not with all the not-giving-him-hope thing. Niall made him promise, more than a few times, not to do anything if he wasn't sure of his gestures.

And Louis isn't certain of anything right now. Except he wants, he really really wants, to see Harry smile.

The dreaded moment, the encounter with Harry, happens when they're already inside the pub. Niall reserved them the best table, the one they were sat at when Zayn sang to Liam, and Louis' heart aches at the memory. Harry is already there, he probably came here hours ago to help Niall and the band, it's just so typical of him. He's sat between Ed and... Nick.

Louis stops abruptly when he catches Nick turning towards Harry and smile, maybe even laugh a little bit, and no. Why. Why is he even here? Niall said they're not really friends, he’s more an acquaintance because of Harry, he doubts he invited him. The answers comes when Zayn, who noticed Louis had stopped, gently puts a hand on his shoulder.

“Harry asked him to come, Lou,” he whispers, like he doesn't want anybody to hear, when actually nobody is paying attention to them. “I guess he thought you'd been here with Liam and me, and well, maybe he just wanted some support.”

“It's not like you're mine or something,” Louis mutters, because it's true. If there's something he was clear about since the beginning, it was that Liam should have kept behaving the usual way with Harry. Harry didn't deserve to lose him, too. Zayn was a mate of Harry's in the first place, so these things he's saying don't even make sense.

“No, of course not!” Zayn answers, smiling at him in a comforting way. “Liam tried to be present for Harry as much as he could, but tonight he'll stick with you, you know that. And I'm with him, so I guess that means I'm with you, too? Don't blame him for wanting some, uhm, external support.”

And it makes sense, Louis thinks. God, he hates when Zayn makes things seem reasonable.

“Yeah, but there's Ed...” he whines, and he knows he's trying to climb a glass wall, even without Zayn's soft laugh.

“Oh, come on, you're just being jealous now. I told you there's nothing going on between Nick and Harry, you should bloody know that. And, even if there was, why would you care at this point?”

Louis hates Zayn's tone. He's not openly mocking him, but it's kind of worse because he's implying something. Implying that Louis cares if Harry dates somebody else. That would mean he's forgetting him, getting over him, and that should be a good thing, right? As cruel as it sounds, Louis selfishly thinks that if Harry sorts out his feelings everything will be okay again. But, even as he thinks so, he still doesn't like the idea of Harry being with somebody, especially if that somebody is Nick.

“Come on,” Zayn prompts again, gently grabbing his wrist and guiding him towards the table. Louis catches Liam's eyes and smiles at him, silently thanking him for having fallen for such a great person.

Louis never thought it would have been so hard and difficult putting one foot in front of the other to take a few steps. The distance between the spot where he stopped and the table is not that huge, but Louis thinks it's one of the longest he's ever faced. When they finally get there and Liam greets Harry ruffling his hair, there's a moment when Louis can simply admire Harry again. He hasn't noticed Louis yet, so he's lightly smiling at Liam, a ghost of his dimples on his cheeks.

Then Harry turns and, god, Louis' mouth goes completely dry.

They stare at each other for what feels like hours, like it's just the two of them in their bubble. Louis keeps looking at him right into the eyes, and it's like the world settles for a moment. He can breathe again, for the first time in weeks, and at some point he even thinks he can feel his skin itching. He opens his mouth, because he has to say something, he can't just stay there staring at Harry and noticing how long his hair has grown and how his eyes and nose are a little bit red, maybe he’s got a cold.

“I... Hi,” he says at last, almost a whisper, but he's sure Harry heard it. His lips smooth for a second, he does that when he's about to smile, but this time he doesn't. It seems like he was about to, then he remembered he isn't supposed to.

It hurts like hell.

“Hi,” at least he answers, and that's enough for Louis to make another step and getting closer to him.

“How... how are you, p–” he stops right before calling him the endearment that is just Harry’s.

“Yeah... Fine, I guess. Yeah, fine.”

Harry is twitching on the chair, obviously in distress. He didn't even ask Louis how he was, which is so not Harry, but that's literally the last thing he considers right now. Harry is uncomfortable talking to him and that– that breaks his heart. Louis honestly thinks he's never felt worse in his life. He keeps looking at Harry, at how he can't stay still, how he can't look at Louis in the eyes now that the first moment has been broken.

But, most of all, how he keeps looking at Nick almost imploring him to save him.

“Hey, Harry, let's grab a round of beers,” Nick says at some point and Harry seems so relieved to just get away from him that Louis thinks he's going to be sick.

He follows Harry with his eyes until he and Nick disappear in the crowd, only then he lets out a sigh as he plops on the chair between Zayn and Liam. He can't even bring himself to think about the fact that they left him that spot, kind of sheltered between the two of them, because the only thing he can do is press his forehead to the table and try his best not to start crying.

“He hates me,” he mutters, more to himself than to the others. What he certainly doesn't expect is to hear Ed's voice in response.

“He definitely doesn't,” he says. His tone is calm, almost sweet, and Louis thinks he's smiling, even if he hasn't enough strength to raise his head and check.

“Bloody seems like that,” he mumbles. He can hear his voice is weak, so he grits his teeth trying not to cave in to tears.

“Come on, Louis, you know it’s not true. He's scared to be hurt again–”

“I wouldn't–”

“I know you wouldn't,” Ed interrupts him before he can start explaining how he would never dream of hurting Harry. “But put yourself in his shoes for a moment. You know it's a thought we'd all have. But, trust me, he still cares about you like hell. He always will.”

Louis can't bring himself to answer that. He simply closes his eyes, muttering random things and hoping the others will understand he doesn't want to talk about that. About anything. Just enjoy Niall’s evening. Ed doesn't answer, so he thinks he succeeded in that at least, and when he feels Liam's hand on his back he immediately feels safer.

He stays in that position for minutes and minutes, ears open to hear every noise that could suggest Harry is back. He used to recognise Harry's footsteps, he wonders if he would still be able to after several weeks apart from him. A part of him tells him that he will never be able to forget those sounds, so unique and so Harry, and he secretly hopes that part is right.

He wants to remember those tiny details, always and forever.

But Harry doesn't come back, not until the lights of the pub go down in order to lighten the stage. And then, a second later, Niall is there with a microphone in his hand and a guitar hang on his shoulder. And no, no, no. Stop moping, stop sulking, stop everything Louis is doing. This is Niall's moment, Niall's fucking important moment, and there's no way he's going to ruin that with his fears and bad mood. So he plasters a smile on his face and tries his best to enjoy every second of that night.

And he succeeds.

Niall's band is great. They're really good and Louis finds himself having real fun for the first time in what seems like ages. He sings along almost all the songs, he even dances a bit, and if sometimes his eyes wander to his side to watch Harry having fun... To watch the pride in his eyes while looking at Niall... So what, sue him.

Truth is Louis has fun mostly because it feels almost like the old times. The five of them, Ed, all together having a music night. They did that so many times, just laughing while singing, playing the guitar just for the sake of it. Now it isn't really like back then, not with Harry so far away and not touching him like they used to do, but it's something.

At some point, when Niall blows a kiss to Clara, Louis unconsciously turns towards Harry. Only Harry isn't there, nor is Ed, and he only catches Nick's eyes already staring at him. Which, awkward.

He turns back towards the stage, where Niall is chatting about something he doesn't catch because his mind isn't really there. He wonders where Harry went, he doubts he's gone to the loo since Niall's concert is almost over, he wouldn't miss the end. Maybe he's at the bar, getting a pint for Niall.

“So, well, before we go there's one last song. It's a bit of a one-night-thing, tonight’s exclusive. But, you know, this pub is quite special to me and my mates, we kinda like to improvise. I don't know if there are any regulars here, but when my friend Ed made a gig here some months ago it ended with a special song dedicated to my mate Liam, over there. And that led to a snog session, which gross. But, whatever, it's kinda our thing to ignore the script... So tonight I have a surprise, too. Please, welcome on stage Harry and Ed!”

And suddenly there are claps and cheers and confusion and Louis is about to scream, because Harry is on stage and he's looking at him for the first time in hours. He takes the microphone, thanking Niall and the band, thanking Ed and the audience, and it's so nice to hear his voice again. His real voice, not the weird and messy version he heard before, when he was talking to him. The voice he heard thousands of times in the last month, when he listened to Harry’s CD in loop, trying to feel closer to him.

This is Harry, being at his best, being himself .

Louis doesn't know if he wants to laugh or cry. But, while he's arguing with himself about the possibilities, they all start playing and Harry holds the microphone, which means he's going to be the first voice. And Louis simply can't deal with this, so he blindly reaches Liam's hand and squeezes it when Harry starts singing. He doesn't recognise the song immediately, the music is telling him that it's certainly a Mumford and Sons' song, and just that thought makes him want to cry, considering Niall told him Harry connects their songs to his and Louis' story. But then Harry sings the chorus and it hits Louis like a lorry.

“But I'll kneel down, wait for now... I'll kneel down, know my ground. And I will wait, I will wait for you...”

And Louis is certain a tear or two are fighting to stream down his face when Harry looks directly at him at those words.

And maybe he squeezes Liam's hand too hard, because he can hear him muffling pain sounds at some point. Liam is a good friend, though, and he doesn't say anything, so Louis keeps holding it because he sincerely needs something to focus on or he will just get on the stage and kiss Harry in front of everybody.

And, wait, what?

But every thought is erased from his mind by the perfect sound of Harry's voice, and Niall's and Ed's under that, helping him out. This is Harry's moment, though, and they all know it is. Harry, who's looking at Louis since the very beginning of the song, moving his eyes just for moments before getting back to him.

He's singing to him and nobody, nobody in that room could say otherwise.

Louis feels a warm feeling in his chest, like something is finally melting. He doesn't know what it is, but it's nice, so he's not going to question it. He smiles broadly, not bothering if he looks like an idiot, because all that matters is that he and Harry are currently having a proper connection.

The only bad thing is that the song, of course, ends. Harry immediately lowers his head and stops looking at him altogether, and Louis can't help but feel cold inside. That sensation doesn't go away when Harry gets off the stage, approaching the table and, instead of going towards Louis and maybe hugging him, he goes straight to Nick.

Nick, who laughs and smiles and claps at him. Nick, who hugs him tightly and kisses his forehead. And Harry, Harry just smiles at that gesture, that gesture that is actually theirs because Harry kind of had a thing for kissing Louis' forehead.

It was theirs.

And now Nick is doing that and the only thing that Louis can think of is that he wants to erase the distance between him and them, separate them and punch Nick. And maybe even forcefully take his hands off of Harry's body because he has no fucking right to touch him, nobody has, because Harry loves Louis. Louis, who is going out of his freaking mind, but is still clear minded enough to understand that he’s jealous of Nick and, damn it, not how he’s jealous of Niall spending time with Liam without him. No, this is different on so many levels, and Louis is not stupid, he knows exactly why.

Fuck.

He turns abruptly and runs. He runs towards the door, not caring if he hits people or anything.

Air, air, I need air.

He can hear Liam shouting behind him, but he doesn't care, he can't stop now. He needs air, possibly fresh, possibly cold. And he thinks that maybe, just maybe, he's going to throw up in an alley. He manages to go outside and take a few steps, inhaling the cold November air, and he tries, he tries his best to ignore the strong pounding of his heart.

“Louis! Louis, what the fuck?!”

Liam reaches him, at last. He's in front of him, his expression shocked, but Louis is fairly certain Liam isn't as shocked as he is right now. Zayn reaches them a few seconds later and he smiles, like he fucking understood, and that's enough for Louis to let out a frustrated sigh.

“Fuck!” he shouts.

“What, Louis? What? Talk to me!” Liam almost yells, trying to make eye-contact, biting his lip, and that's it. He has to tell him or he's going to freak out more than he already is.

“I am so fucked up, Liam! So, so, so very fucked up! And you know why? Because the fucking Universe hates me, it hates me with a passion! Because I wasn't already suffering enough for not having Harry in my life anymore... No! The fucking Universe and its fucking pal Destiny keep playing with me! He's everywhere, Li! I can't go buying some fucking shirt because Harry the shop assistant wants to help me out finding my size! My hairdresser goes on holiday and guess how his substitute is called? Harry! Eleanor wants to watch When Harry Met Sally every weekend and, honestly, I liked her better when she was all over The Walking Dead . And at the office we have a new intern... You wanna know how he's called? H-fucking-arry!”

He knows he's yelling, he keeps raising his arms in the air like a mad man, and he knows his friends must be so scared by him right now... but he doesn't care. Nothing matters anymore.

“Louis...” Liam tries, but Louis shakes his head with energy.

“No! No, Liam, I can't stand this anymore. I fucking miss him like I'd miss my arm! I think about him all the time and... Aaah! I don't know, okay? I keep thinking about his kiss and his lips... And I fucking think about it every time Eleanor kisses me, at, what, like... I don't know! And I don't want fucking Nick to touch him... I don't want anybody to touch him, if I see him getting kissed another time... And... I fucking dream about him and I wake up all sweaty and with a bon–”

And, somehow, Louis stops before shouting that thing out loud. That personal detail that he kept from anyone, and that now both Liam and Zayn know, because there's no chance they didn't get it.

They're looking at him with sad smiles and that seems to erase all the fight and the shock in him, and a moment later his legs fail and he's on the ground. Liam is immediately next to him, patting his back, and he can see Zayn's feet there, too.

“Lou...” it's Zayn, with a strange soft voice. “Bet you got what this is all about already.”

“I–” Louis inhales strongly, trying to catch his breath. He knows he has to say it and the words that come out from his mouth are the strangest he has ever thought of saying. “I guess it means I have a proper, real crush on him.”



 

Chapter Text

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There's a small park behind Louis' building, just a little space with grass, picnic tables, a slide and a couple of swings. It's a private area, so it’s not frequented by many people. That's why Louis loves it, especially when it's late in the night and no one is willing to take their children out to play. It’s a place that gives him serenity and a peaceful state of mind, perfect when he doesn’t want to think.

Louis is lying on his back on a table, a song stuck in his head since he woke up that morning. He's watching the sky, where he would see a massive amount of stars if he weren’t in London, and he wishes he could. He would try to connect all those shiny dots and give them a shape and maybe a name and, considering his imagination, Louis would probably discover some new constellation. The table’s surface is rather wet, since it's been raining for two days straight, but that doesn't seem to bother him that much: he's using his hood as a pillow and, even if the jumper is starting to become a bit damp, it's still quite comfortable. It's not even cold. Oh, well, it's five degrees, but the tequila flowing in his veins is doing a great job warming him up.

What time is it? Ten? Eleven?

“Louiiiis!”

A familiar voice drags him out of his thoughts. He can't see Liam's face even when he gets close and lays next to him, their arms now touching. But there’s no way Louis can’t recognise his best friend’s voice, his heavy step and his scent.

“Hey, Payno,” he says, a hint of a smile on his face although he doesn’t know if Liam is looking at him.

“I was sure to find you here,” Liam answers.

In that moment a shooting star goes right through the sky, is it even possible in London? It's probably just an airplane that wanted to be a shooting star. Still, Louis wants to make a wish, never ignore a chance for good luck. He can't decide what to wish for, though: it's weird, in twenty-six years – almost twenty-seven, fuck – he's never seen one and, somehow, he always thought about what he would wish for, just in case. But right now his wish list is so long that it's practically impossible to choose just one. Louis sighs, thinking about how many things he wanted to do before getting married and still hasn’t done.

The idea of the wedding makes him shiver more than the cold weather, so he quickly gives all his attention to Liam.

“Am I so obvious?”

Liam smirks and squeezes Louis' arm a little. “No, it's just that I know you too well, mate.”

“Liam.”

“What?”

“Just be honest. Truth.”

“Okay, okay,” Liam surrenders, “I just saw you from the window and thought to come here and say hello, that’s it.”

Louis smiles, sincerely. How can he ignore those little gestures? He's about to turn around and crush his friend with a random giant hug, when he feels something hitting his chest: his phone.

“I found it on the landing, I think it dropped out of your pocket,” Liam says. Honestly, Louis didn't even realise his phone’s absence because at that time he had an urgent need to lie down in the cold and away from his flat.

Grabbing it from his chest, Louis turns towards Liam. “Holy crap, thank you,” he says. “I didn't even notice. I wonder how many dirty secrets could’ve come out of it if somebody would’ve found it!”

Liam grins. “I don't know, the very last text you sent me was about your indecision between buying spoons with red or yellow handles, so. Why did you even ask me that question, by the way?”

“I was just mocking you, Payno.”

“Yeah, but if somebody happened to read your texts, I'm sure they'd have been scared. They'd probably have thrown your phone away afraid to be infected by your foolishness.”

With a snort, Louis lets his arm fall on Liam's belly, who lets out a curt breath, then unlocks the phone to find not one, not two, not three, but no less than ten missed calls from Eleanor. Oh, lord. Seeing Eleanor’s name flashing on the screen makes his stomach hurt; it’s been like that for a week, now, since that night out with the lads. Since Harry. He’s afraid to face those thoughts, but he knows he has to, and everytime he tries to put some order in his mind he just ends up with a massive headache. And missing Harry more than ever. And feeling guilty towards Eleanor.

Louis should just disappear, maybe find a way to an alternate universe where he’s a pop star. Maybe, in this different reality, he would be in a boyband with his lads. He can picture them very well, travelling the world being five idiots. Zayn should get his passport, though, since he doesn’t have one.

Louis sighs, forgetting his amazing plans to escape from the city when he feels his phone buzzing on his stomach. It’s probably Eleanor, again. He's unsure whether to call her back and get scolded or simply ignore the entire world but Liam, Liam who has just started doing little patterns on Louis' arm that make him shiver.

Louis snorts again.

“What's wrong?” Liam asks then, keeping on gently torturing his arm.

“Nothing, really,” he says with feeble tone, not even convincing himself. Liam probably noticed, so he tries to explain. “When I saw Eleanor's missed calls… You know, the usual. And I remembered that tomorrow we're supposed to go to look for that fucking bouquet she wants so much.”

“But... You’re getting married in three weeks and you haven't finished all the preparations yet?” Liam doesn’t look at him in the eyes and his tone is flat, he’s obviously trying not to let his emotions take control of his mouth. But Louis knows him, he knows what he really wants to say and knows that it’s only a matter of time before Liam mentions the big elephant in the room. Or park, in this case. Whatever.

“Yeah, we took care of everything, there’s only the bouquet left,” he answers with the same enthusiasm as Liam. Louis snorts, wishing he could slap himself. He’s really being an idiot, Liam is so right. He was right all this time and it is so fucking frustrating.

“Thought you guys had already finished weeks ago. I get that the preparations for a wedding are a big deal but, you know, I thought that with Eleanor being quite prissy, you had already finished. For the record, I took my tuxedo a couple of weeks ago.”

“There was a setback,” Louis explains, still looking at the missed calls, “with the bouquet, as I said. I told her not to worry if they put the fucking flowers in a pink ribbon instead of a peach one, but she didn't want to listen and decided to change that. So, I hope tomorrow it'll be alright. I don't fucking care about flowers, to be honest. If it were up to me she could bring a bouquet of peppers, for all that matters.”

Liam laughs out loud and then stops abruptly. And Louis knows what is coming next, so he mentally braces himself for the speech he’s had to face almost every day for the past week.

“So,” Liam starts, clearing his throat, “the wait is almost over, huh.”

“Yeah, seems like it. And please, Liam, stop doing those things on my arm because I could come at any moment.”

“So,” Liam repeats smirking, his hand now steady on Louis' arm. Louis can't help but find his voice a bit uneasy, “it's been a week now since your, ahem, confession? Whatever you want to call it.”

And yeah, just like Louis supposed. He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes.

After his little – but not too much, let's face it – mess at Niall's gig, Louis made Zayn and Liam promise not to tell anyone about that new discovery. It was new to him, too, even if Louis had always known there was something different and deeper in his friendship with Harry; something important, something that always made him forget they weren’t alone in the world whenever they were together. And, really, he thought it wasn't a big deal. But apparently he was wrong. Definitely wrong. Gloriously wrong.

So Liam and Zayn, as true friends who respect each other’s decisions even if they don’t approve them, didn't tell anyone what happened. Except, of course, they were a bit worried about how Louis would react, mostly Liam. Louis supposes they’re right, since he’s gone a bit mad after realising he has in fact feelings for Harry.

The day after the gig he stayed in Liam’s bed for hours, curled up under the covers. He kept thinking about Harry on stage, about how his heart couldn’t stop hammering, about how much he would have liked to hold Harry against his chest. And then he thought about Eleanor, about how unfair this is to her, and decided to talk to her. It was only honest, after all. Louis has being absent-minded since Harry confessed his feelings and he supposes now everything makes sense, but not to Eleanor. So Louis thought, more than once, to just open up and tell her that he has feelings for another person. But then his insecurities came up and started to torture him: what if he’s being impulsive? What if, yes, he has feelings for Harry, but not so strong to put a committed relationship in danger? What if he breaks up with Eleanor on the verge of a wedding to be with Harry and then he realises he’s not into him that much? What if he just made the situation bigger than it actually is? So, Louis tried to talk to Eleanor and explain her how he’s feeling right now. He really tried, more than once, to break up with her for the sake of both of them, but then he just chickened out. There’s no other way to define his actions and Louis knows it, knows he’s being a coward. Even Liam, at some point, started to tell him that he was acting like a fool, that the wedding was getting closer and closer, and he wasn't being fair to anyone, especially Eleanor. After all, this is a bloody wedding, a promise for life. It’s a big deal and Louis doesn’t feel like having big deals is healthy for him right now.   

In a moment of complete madness, Louis told Kat everything: he told her about New York, about all the Serendipity thing, about meeting Harry in May at their mutual friend's party, told her about their strong friendship and about Harry's outing, about his love for him. Louis told her about the mess that is his brain and even about the dirty dreams. He confessed every single thing. After staring at him with her mouth open for almost ten minutes – Louis had thrown himself in her office without any preamble – Kat took off her glasses, made him sit next to her, and asked him: “Louis, exactly what the fuck are you doing here, then?” and thank you, Kat, thank you very much. Louis wonders what he had done wrong in his life to have friends with the capacity to give such enlightening advices.

Zayn is the only one who is enjoying the whole thing. Of course he's worried for Louis being so tired and definitely unhappy, but apparently he's convinced that there will be a wedding, indeed, but not between Louis and Eleanor. And seriously, Zayn, what the heck? Louis is already confused by everything around him, he doesn’t need someone having fun teasing his upcoming tying of the knot. On the other hand, he’s also the only person who doesn’t give a shit about telling Louis what he really thinks and what he wishes Louis would do. Somehow, Louis appreciates that.

As for him, thinking all over again, he reckons he won’t be sane on the day of the wedding if he keeps thinking about the fucking whole mess every minute of the day. His head is such a chaos that Louis expects a big BOOM at any moment.

“Yeah,” he just says, realising that he must have been quiet for a long time before answering. He almost doesn’t know what he’s answering to. Oh, yes, it’s been a week since the big revelation.

Liam coughs. “You know I love you, Louis, really. But you're a mess, you know that? And you're going to get married and you don't even fucking know how you feel about it. Or about everything around you. It's not fair to you, nor her. Nor Harry, actually.”

“What am I supposed to do, huh? I've been with Eleanor for ages, I care about her. I don’t feel like ruining everything without being completely sure I’m not blowing my feelings for Harry out of proportion. You know I thought, and I still think about breaking up with her, but is it what I really want deep down? Fuck, I don’t know anything right now, Li!”

“So? Living a lie? Is that what you really want?”

Liam's tone isn't annoyed, isn't mad and surely isn't judging. He's worried about Louis, and this is the worst part. That... He has a point, actually, and Louis is screwed.

“Again, what am I supposed to do? Go to Eleanor and tell her 'oh, El, love, sorry, but I like sucking dick even if I haven’t had the occasion yet, but still'. Or maybe, 'El, you remember Harry? Well, I dream about fucking him every night and then I wake up and I have to take a cold shower'. Seriously, Liam? Is this what I should do? Man, if you have a tip for how to solve this chaos, please, I’m listening.”

“Louis, you're twenty-fucking-six, you shouldn't think that much. A person simply shouldn't think that much,” Liam says, turning towards him and now he seems a little bit worried. Also, Harry said the exact same thing, maybe Louis should just listen. “You have your whole life ahead, you can do everything you want. With everything and everyone. You have to stop overthinking whatever you do. You do something wrong? Well, good, you'll learn from it, you'll get over it and go forward to make more and more mistakes because that's what we do. That's what we are. Humans.”

“Since when have you become so wise?” Louis says, shifting uncomfortably under the weight of Liam’s words.

“Lou, listen to me.” Now it’s Louis' turn to be worried. “There will always be what ifs. You simply can't live in a what if world, you know that? 'What if I break up with her and then regret it only when it's too late?' or 'what if I marry her and then think of shagging Harry for the rest of my life and be completely depressed?' Or maybe,” and Louis can't help but notice that he has carefully emphasised the last words, “'What if I break up with her and be the happiest lad ever with someone else?' All you need to do is just pick a what if and make it yours. No one is here to judge your every move, Louis.”

Louis waits a moment before answering, pondering his words. Truth is he needs to know what Liam really thinks, but to know that he has to be completely honest. “What if I'm a prick and just can't choose?”

“I know what you're doing,” Liam starts, moving his eyes to the sky. “You're trying to take the easy way out so you won’t hurt anyone, but you're just killing yourself. Don't keep on something just out of habit, it's the worst mistake you can make. And you’re hurting Harry in the process when he really doesn’t deserve it. I'm not telling you what to do, Lou, I'd never do that. But I'm sure you need... A little push, maybe?”

Louis would give anything not to admit that Liam is absolutely right. But things aren't that simple, never have been. Perhaps it's true, perhaps he needed a little push, but now that Liam spoke what should he do? He just wants a switch to turn off his thoughts. And maybe even be a little more selfish and care a bit more about himself, instead of watching everyone jumping and being happy while he just wants to dig a hole and bury himself.

“Do you remember the first time we met?” Louis asks after a while, smiling a bit.

Beside him, Liam moves a little nervously on the spot, but Louis is sure he's smiling. In fact, after a few seconds, Liam replies and his voice is kind and with an amused tone.

“Yeah. Science course, we were studying the stars. Do you remember that one constellation similar to a ‘W’? What was its name?,” Liam asks, pointing at the sky.

Louis closes his eyes and he can see a cluster of glowing dots in the back of his eyelids. Suddenly he remembers the room and their professor's words during that lesson, he and Liam barely knew each other back then and they were lying on the ground.

“Cassiopeia,” he states. “We laughed like hell because of that name. I don’t even know why.”

“I remember now!” Liam cheers, showing his best smile. “The best thing that could have happened to us. We should figure out when that was and decide that, from now on, will be our anniversary. Well, sort of.”

And Liam is right, because fuck, thanks to that constellation he found the best person he’s ever known. Louis smiles, more to himself than to anyone in particular.

Several minutes pass and both of them remain silent. It's nice sometimes to be in the company of someone without exchanging words, just stay close and breathe the same air without saying anything. Louis unlocks his phone again, pressing the Twitter icon. He feels better, but he has to say something about it. He spent the entire afternoon listening to that Rihanna song, thinking about just one person.

Louis enters his profile and, wow, his latest tweet is a month old. A memory strikes his head and he finds himself smiling and his face is about to split open. A memory of Harry asking Louis what his password was because he couldn’t remember. It was hilarious, honestly, Niall couldn’t stop talking about that for the whole week, as if it were the most valuable and funny event he had witnessed his whole life. Louis sighs and, with effort, he finds the space to write the tweet – why are phone applications always so crappy? – and then types the song lyrics.

He would seriously like to murder the person who invented the characters limit, someone simply can't limit his thoughts to one hundred and fucking forty characters. Louis collects a little patience and breaks the tweet in two parts:

Louis Tomlinson @Louis_Tomlinson

Not really sure how to feel about it , something in the way you move ...

Who knows if Harry is on Twitter now… Or if he still has Louis’ notifications on so he knows every time he tweets something.

Louis Tomlinson @Louis_Tomlinson

...makes me feel like I can't live without you , it takes me all the way ... I want you to stay :)

Just when he’s typing the smiley, Liam breaks the silence.

“Lou,” he says softly. He was certainly looking at Louis’ tweets, “uhm... Correct me if I’m wrong... You know how you always come here when you don't want to think and face the consequences of something you've done? Or when you’re too afraid to do something you know you should do? Maybe now we're lying here because you don't wanna be standing somewhere else.”

Louis simply can't.

I wish you weren't right, Payno.



xxx



Louis wakes up with a bad headache. He's stayed up for the better part of the night, rolling around the bed trying to get some sleep but failing miserably. His mind was full of thoughts, even more than the last months, and he has to remember to thank Liam for those.

Seriously, it was all his fault with his wise questions and soft smiles and whatever Jedi technique he’s been using lately.

Louis thought a lot about what his best friend told him. It's not that he's wrong, far from that, Liam is probably right about everything he said. But it's just so hard. The image of Harry is constantly behind his eyelids, when he wakes up and when he goes to bed, when he kisses Eleanor and when he dreams. Dreams that he almost got used to, even if they still scare him a little bit. On the other hand, though, he simply can't say goodbye to Eleanor with the blink of an eye. She's been his girlfriend for years, he has loved her. He still cares about her and, when he thinks about a life without her, it's difficult to picture it. It's just that he's been with Eleanor for so long, how can he imagine himself without her presence?

This must mean he loves her, right? If you can't imagine a life without a person, it's because you care about them.

But he simply can't tolerate the idea of living his life without Harry either.

So, Louis is still at base one. Confused, hurt and now even in physical pain.

When his alarm starts, Louis lets out a frustrated sigh. Today is going to be a very, very bad day, he thinks. He rolls in his bed one last time before getting up and getting ready for a morning that he's sure will only make his headache worse. He can imagine himself within an hour, listening to Eleanor arguing with an innocent flower seller and trying to stay peaceful and not interfere. He sincerely doesn't get the whole situation, why it is so important to have the ribbon of the bouquet the exact shade of pink of something of the bridesmaids.

Whatever, Louis never understood all those things.

He's happy Liam brought him some food, because he's not in the mood to go to Starbucks and get another lecture by Liam himself. Lately he made a point of lecturing him every single time he sees him and, even if Louis understands he actually has a point, he's still unbearable. Also because Louis really doesn't want to listen to what he has to say, not after last night and all those fair questions. So, thank you, Liam, for buying orange juice so that Louis can avoid Liam himself.

He has to tell him that he really is the best friend ever, not everybody would do that job so good.

When he finally gets to the train station, it's only to find out Eleanor's train is late. It's like a curse, honestly, and Louis thinks he's never understood better the famous Murphy’s Law. It's basically the description of his day, and it's only ten o'clock in the morning, who knows what the rest of the day will bring him.

Eleanor arrives only half an hour later. She gets in the car with a sigh, messing her hair a little bit like she always does when she's nervous. Harry does that, too, Louis thinks. It's always been strange how they share that little thing.

“I'm sorry, Louis, something broke on the train,” Eleanor says, stretching herself so to brush Louis' lips with hers. He shakes his head a little bit.

“Don't worry. Ready to go?”

Eleanor nods and fastens her seatbelt and a minute later they're off. There's a moment of awkward silence, and Louis immediately thinks that it's never been like this with Eleanor. There was never a moment of awkwardness of any kind, they've always been... easy. Conversations have always flown without a problem, one or both of them talking about their days and complaining a lot, because that's what they are. But they never, never had moments like this, where he can almost touch the tension and... Something else he can't figure out, yet.

It lasts just a moment, though, because Eleanor almost immediately starts to tell him about how she called the flower seller like a million times to make sure this time the ribbon will be the right colour. She's complaining about how she had to send him a sample, because apparently the man is unable to tell apart light orange from peach pink, and honestly, Louis stops listening after two minutes. He can tell by the way she moves her hands and raises her eyebrows that she got really bad all this misunderstanding, and god knows why, these things happen. In Louis' mind, it would have been so much worse if something had gone wrong with her dress, or the restaurant. But apparently he doesn't understand anything about weddings, as Eleanor told him about two thousands times.

It's probably why Eleanor thought about every single detail of the ceremony. Honestly, Louis doesn't have a clue, he just knows where he has to go and that Liam and Stan must be with him, as his best men. The rest of the day will be a mystery. He doesn't even know who will perform at the party, if they got a DJ as Eleanor wanted or if she listened to his advice and hired a band. A couple of days ago he almost asked Niall to perform, but to be completely honest with himself he was suggesting that because he kept thinking about the last time he heard him play, and that was with Harry.

God, he wants to hear Harry sing so, so bad. The CD is not enough anymore: he wants to hear his real voice, not a recorded version. He misses how slowly Harry speaks and even the several uhms he manages to put in everything he says. He misses how Harry furrows his eyebrows when he’s listening to someone and thinking about the answer.

“...And so she insisted I listened to it. She said her favourite track is number seven, just like you!”

Louis snaps at those words. No more wedding, then. Maybe he should give more attention to his fiancée, sometimes, since he has no idea of what she's talking about. He bites his lip, unsure how to ask her what the hell she's saying without making her think he wasn't listening. Which is technically true, but he still doesn’t want to hear her complaining about his carelessness.

“Sorry, what? That car distracted me,” he says in the end, turning to her just in time to see her rolling her eyes. Great, so she doesn't believe him.

Well, she does know him.

“Honestly, Lou, you've been distracted for months. I don't know what's going on in your head, if it's only wedding fright or what,” she laughs a little bit nervously and Louis takes a few seconds to get she's just joking. Oh, if only she were right, though. “I was saying that Perrie gave me this CD because apparently she's fallen in love with it. She keeps babbling about how it's perfect and how her favourite song is number seven. Do you mind if I put it on? She'll kill me if I don't listen to it.”

Louis nods, distractedly gesturing towards the radio. Eleanor searches the CD in her purse and a moment later she's changing the one in the radio with it.

“Besides,” she says, laughing, “you always listen to this music that makes me want to cry.”

And, woah. Louis has to blink and hold the wheel hard, because he was listening to his favourite song when she made that comment. Perhaps she was just joking, but now that Louis thinks about it she never let him finish singing Look After You when they went to karaoke nights.

Harry, on the other hand, was the one who used to start singing that song on purpose, knowing that Louis was physically unable to restrain himself and he'd have ended up singing with him.

Oh, Harry.

Just when he starts thinking about the last time they sang that song together, the notes of Perrie's CD start to fill the car and Louis finds himself with a sad smile, because apparently the whole world loves the Arctic Monkeys’ latest album. He starts singing along to Do I Wanna Know , just like he did when he was going to Manchester with Harry, and the thought makes him take a deep breath.

Oh, god, he has to do something for this thing. He can't simply link Harry to every single detail of his life. Louis already thinks about him without external prompts, if he goes on like that he's going to be insane. Louis wasn't exaggerating when he said that the Universe is sending him signals or whatever he should call them, it’s everywhere around him and it’s stifling. It’s been a month and Louis still can’t call the new trainee by his full name, because of course it’s Harry. This needs to stop sooner rather than later, for his own sake, no shit.

“Oh, lord, this is definitely why I never buy anything second hand,” Eleanor says at some point, obviously disgusted. Louis chuckles a bit, grateful for the distraction. It’s funny though, she's really obsessed with this not-sharing thing.

“What? Does it have some weird stain?”

He hears her making an even more disgusted sigh, before she talks again. “No, it's just... People are weird. Why would you write your number on a CD and then sell it? I mean, those are personal det– Louis, what the hell are you doing?

Eleanor is shouting and, yes, maybe she has the right since Louis basically braked like he was going to have a heart attack or something, stopping the car in the middle of the small road they're currently on. And maybe that's really the case, considering how his heart is pounding in his chest, like it wants to break free and fly somewhere. And maybe Louis even knows where it would fly, considering what is going on and what has happened and he can't stop his mind from spinning around.

“Louis Tomlinson, what the fuck are you even thinking!? ”

Eleanor is yelling at him and Louis doesn't even care. He's staring at her hands still holding the CD, and he can see it. He can see a name and a phone number written on it, black letters on a black plastic box. He can see it's a familiar writing, he can see it, he can–

The hooter of a car behind them startles him and, yes, right, they're still in the middle of the street with cars and mad people and maybe, just maybe, Louis has to move and keep freaking out by the roadside. Yes, he can do that.

He starts the engine with trembling hands and Eleanor is still yelling, but to be honest Louis can't hear anything except the sound of his blood pumping in his ears. It's loud, so loud, and his heart is still going mad and Louis doesn't care. He has more important thoughts than the possibility of a heart attack, right now. He pulls the car in the first parking spot he finds, not caring to ruin the door hitting a street lamp. Again, not that important now.

“Louis, talk to me! What's going on?!”

Louis wants to yell, wants to shout at Eleanor to shut up, wants to scream because this can't be possible. This is surreal. This makes no absolute fucking sense.

He grabs the CD from Eleanor's hands, not caring at all about her murderous glares.

Not. Important.

Louis thinks he's going to die when his eyes finally settle on the writing on the CD. He traces the letters with his fingers, the Harry Styles a little bit ruined after almost a year, but still completely readable. He looks at the number, smiling when he realises he knows it by heart, he actually doesn't need the CD to find Harry anymore.

It still feels like this is a gift from their friend, Destiny.

He doesn't realise he's crying until he sees a tear on the letter H, the H Harry traces with an elegance that Louis always envied. But, for the first time in what seems like ages, he's crying of joy. Louis is crying but at the same time he can't control the smile that's now shining on his face, he simply can't do that. And maybe he's looking like a proper idiot, but Louis' doesn't seem able to stop anytime soon.

He found it. Or, better yet, it found him .

Harry was right, Harry was right all along. They're destined to be, the fucking Universe spoke and really, what was Louis waiting for? A slap in the face? What was he doing, rejecting Harry, thinking about him forgetting him? Getting over him? Just the thought makes Louis' stomach hurt like hell, because no, nonono, Harry definitely can't get over him. He can't get over Louis. He can't even think about it, not when Louis found their CD, not when Louis is...

Not when Louis is in love with him, too.

The realisation hits him like anything else before, making everything clearer. It's like someone invisible just removed a blindfold from Louis' eyes and he can finally see the light again. It's like someone switched his brain off, because really, the only thing he can feel is his love for that lad. Nothing else. Louis knows it has been there all the time, waiting for the right moment to be exposed, because he isn't shocked at all. Yes, it's kind of unsettling somehow, it’s still a big thing to deal with. But it's right , it's right this way. The idea of finding Harry and kissing the hell out of him doesn't seem weird or scary, not anymore. It feels right, or more, it feels like Louis is doing everything wrong right now by just not running to Harry.

He has to. He has to see him, he has to hug him, kiss him, cry with him. He has to feel him. Louis has to tell him he’s not going to leave ever again.

“Louis, you're scaring me.”

And, right, Eleanor. Eleanor first, yes, she deserves it.

Louis takes a deep breath before turning towards her, trying to fight the huge smile that doesn’t want to disappear from his face. He shouldn't smile while giving her this news, he shouldn't at all, but his mind is screaming HarryHarryHarry and, hell, Harry makes him smile all the time. But Eleanor deserves better and he knows that even if his brain is now lost in Harryland.

“Eleanor,” he starts, taking another deep breath, “Eleanor, I'm so, so sorry... But I can't marry you.”

Eleanor turns pale instantly. Louis holds out a hand to touch her, but she immediately slaps it, getting far from him for what the seat permits. She's looking at him with her mouth open, her eyes already full of tears, and Louis can read betrayal all over her expression. She's right, he thinks, he was actually more than a little shit to her. He should have realised it long way back, he shouldn't have brought her in all this madness, make her organise a wedding, when he's actually in love with someone else.

Oh, god, he’s in love with Harry.

“Eleanor...” he tries, his voice weak, and he doesn't know how Eleanor can even stand to stay in the same car with him. In her shoes, he would run away.

“Is it–” she says, her voice trembling, and Louis' heart aches at the realisation that she's trying not to cry in front of him. “Is it Harry?”

And what. Honestly, even his fiancée understood that when he didn't. There's definitely something wrong in Louis' mind.

When Louis tries to catch her eyes, he notices she's staring at the CD in Louis' hand and, right, she probably noticed how he's still almost caressing Harry's name on it. He didn't even realise he was doing that until now.

“I... Uhm. Yes. I'm sorry. I... I didn't realise I...” Louis inhales because this is going to be hard. “I didn't realise I… I have feelings for him. Like, yeah, I knew I loved him, but I thought it was a friendship thing... And then yes, maybe I was a little bit attracted to him? But, god, I thought it was just anxiety for the wedding and not...” Louis lets out a frustrated sigh. “Fuck, I'm so sorry, El. You didn't deserve this. I'm such a shitty person.”

“Yes, you are,” she answers, sniffing. “You're a shitty person because you could have realised it sooner. At least you're not leaving me at the altar, but... Shit, Louis, you're something else, you know? It's been months, months , and you were always 'Harry here, Harry there'. I knew something was going on in your head, but hey, I trusted you, and I thought maybe you were just very close... And, guess what, I was right. I wish I wasn’t, though, because it happens that I do love you, Louis.”

“I never– We never–” Louis tries to say, but she interrupts him.

“Louis, I don't want to know. I know, I know you didn't cheat on me, I still trust you on that. But... Fuck, Louis, why couldn't you realise it sooner? Why couldn't you just understand that you didn't want to be with me before we started planning this damn wedding?!”

And she's right, she's so right it hurts. But Louis doesn't know what to say, because he's asking the same questions to himself, and he doesn't have a clue why he didn't do that. He's sure it would have been better for all of them, from him to Eleanor to Harry.

“I guess I didn't want to hurt anyone, and I ended up hurting everybody.”

Eleanor shakes her head. “Louis, for fuck's sake. Don't make this only about yourself. I hate you right now, I hate you so much, but even if I do I still get that it's better finding out this now and not a month after the wedding. So shut up, for god's sake, just shut up. And what the fuck are you still doing here? Shouldn't you go and let me cry my eyes out? And, honestly, Louis, I'm keeping the honeymoon and you're going to pay every single penny of it.”

Louis smiles a little bit, but Eleanor's red eyes stop it almost immediately. “Of course, of course I am.” Eleanor opens the car door and she's hiding her face, probably starting to cry. Louis blinks, before stretching on the passenger seat to look at her. “Where are you going?”

“Home, you bastard,” she answers, her voice broken.

“Yeah, but I can driv–”

“No,” she says, firmly. “Don't even say that. Go find your boy and fuck you, Louis. From the bottom of my heart, fuck you and Harry, right now.”

Well, they probably will.

Louis almost chokes on air when he realises he just thought that. Luckily, Eleanor already closed the door, so she didn't see the stupid grin that possessed his lips when the thought settled. She's now getting on a taxi and Louis heart aches a bit when he thinks that this may be the last time he sees her in a long, long time, if not ever.

Louis hurt her a lot and, even if he now knows he doesn't love her in the way they both thought anymore, he still cares a lot about her and her happiness. He just hopes she’s going to be well, and he hopes she will find a boy capable of making her happy just like Harry does with him.

And, wow, Harry does make him happy. He always thought that, of course, but now everything has a new perception and everything is better. Every little gesture Harry dedicates to him, every smile, every silly nickname... It will be their thing even more than in the past months.

That, of course, if Louis stops smiling like an idiot and starts doing something. Go find your boy , Eleanor said, and he will. He looks at the CD and Harry's voice comes to his mind, the thing he told him when they parted ways at Heathrow almost a year ago: when you'll find it, you'll call me .

He finds his phone in his pockets and unlocks it fastly, looking for Harry's number with trembling hands. When the call goes directly to the voicemail, Louis curses aloud. It goes that way for three or four times, before Louis gives up to the fact that Harry probably turned off his phone for some reason. So he opens their chat on Whatsapp, biting his lip so hard he can taste blood when he notices he’s the one who sent all the last messages, every attempt gone unanswered.

Not important, again.

Harry's last online activity is of half an hour ago, probably before he turned off his phone, but Louis has to try anyway.

harrY

HAZ I FOUND IT

pumpkin I got the CD !

love c'mon answer me

hazza

k got it

im coming over



xxx



Louis is sure he violated something like a dozen street rules on the way to Harry's flat. He's also quite sure somebody wrote down his plate number, so he's probably going to spend his next wage in fines.

Whatever, he thinks.

He leaves the car at the first parking spot he finds, which is about a thousand miles away from Harry's door, so he just runs. He runs, because Harry is there, on that street, and maybe he is thinking about Louis and... God, Louis so hopes Harry is thinking about him.

What if he doesn't? What if he managed to get over him? What if–?

No, Louis thinks, slapping himself mentally. Liam’s words suddenly come up his mind: pick a what if and make it yours . Hell, he’s fucking going to do that just now. Harry is the what if he has chosen, Harry is every pretty word Louis can think about now, and he desperately hopes he’ll be more than a what if once he reaches him.

Harry loves him. He told him so, and he told Niall and Liam and Zayn, and he sang to him, and even Ed told him he was sure Harry still cares about him. And Niall was pretty clear about that as well. So Louis just has to run faster and get to Harry and kiss him.

Yes, he's going to kiss him the second he sees him.

It's with his heart pounding in his throat that Louis rings the bell at Harry's flat.

 

 

Chapter Text

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Louis stares insistently at the door after knocking on it. His heart is pounding in his chest, a nice soundtrack to his thoughts which have been focused on Harry since he first had the CD in his hands. Harry, Harry, Harry. Louis is wondering what Harry will say, how he will look at him when Louis tells him he finally opened his eyes. That he’s finally seen the light, as Niall said when they were at the stadium. The memory makes him smile. ‘Haz is on love bite strike until someone sees the light’ , their friend said, and now he remembers Niall was staring at him while saying those words. God, Louis is such an idiot. He can’t cope with himself being blind when his friends kept constantly throwing little clues straight at his face. Again, Louis is such an idiot. Was such an idiot, he mentally corrects himself, because now everything is clear and he plans to end Harry’s love bite strike as soon as he will let him.

That is, if he can get through that damned door. Several minutes pass before someone finally opens it, someone who's definitely not Harry.

Louis should have expected that: he used to knock on that door almost five days a week – god, when was the last time he put his feet on that landing? – and it has been opened by Niall pretty much every time.

He tries his best not to smile in a creepy way, but he has to admit it's quite impossible since Louis' mood at the moment is something he’s never felt before. He feels happy and scared and weird at the same time, too bad he can't contain all the shit that is running through his mind right now. Good shit, obviously.

Shit . Is this life even real? But he thinks now he's allowed to smile again, he really is. Smiling is cool. Smiling is happiness. And it tastes like Harry Styles.

A giant smile appears on Niall's face the exact moment he sees who’s at the door. Is he just happy to see him or did he notice there's something different in Louis? Probably Louis’ face tells him everything because Niall’s smile broadens every moment. And, if it were a normal day, Louis is sure he would make a comment about the way Niall opened the door – just in his pants and hugging a huge bowl of cereal – but now, given the circumstances, Louis really can't afford to waste precious time. He already wasted months, fuck, just the thought of it makes him want to vomit.

“Tommo!” Niall cheers, wildly grabbing a handful of cereals and then violently putting them in his mouth. “Are you okay, mate?” He adds, not caring that he’s speaking with his mouth full of food.

Uhm. Well. No? Yeah, yeah, of course yeah, he's pretty okay, actually. More than okay. He's totally awesome. He just– he just needs some fresh air, breathing and stuff. As if he weren't still outside the door surrounded by fresh air. Truth is he just needs Harry .

Niall is starting to throw worried glances at Louis. And, honestly, when Niall looks at someone like that it’s a big deal, that’s one sure thing he learnt pretty well about Niall throughout the year. Louis can’t decide whether the face that Niall is seeing is pure joy, or fear, or if it’s a weird grin that makes him look like Sloth from The Goonies.

“Uhm, do you want some water?” Niall asks again, coming closer to Louis to make sure he’s okay.

“Harry,” it’s his answer, maybe too feeble because Niall ignores it and keeps talking.

“Some sugar? Mate, your face is a little bit pale and swe–”

“Niall,” Louis interrupts him because fuck, the adrenaline is starting to flow in his veins faster than his blood, “where's Harry? I need Harry. Now.”

“Louis, you're scaring me. You look like that little girl from the horror film we watched last week, seriously. And, you know, I'm not emotional, but you–”

“Niall!” Louis yells, noticing his voice is a bit sharper than usual. “I want Harry now ! I need to talk to him!”

He can't stay there like an idiot, watching an almost naked Niall looking at him as if he just came out of the jungle with some dirt and leaves all over his face. No, he simply can't. But it didn't seem right to do what he was thinking, like, break into the flat without any restraint and call Harry, wherever he is, even if he's in the shower. Yes, in the shower would be fine. More than fine.

Hahaha.

No. Fuck every courtesy, Louis must see him. Must see his Harry. His Harry .

Within two seconds Louis is in the living room, throwing Niall somewhere and calling for Harry.

“Louis!” Niall calls him back, putting the bowl on a shelf and following him.

“Harry!” Louis yells, ignoring him, and he's about to go towards the bedrooms when Niall grabs his arm and stops him, forcing him to make eye contact.

“He's not here, you idiot!”

“What?!”

“He's not here!” Niall repeats, tugging him a bit. “He left about an hour ago, he met his family at the airport. What is this all about?”

The world stops abruptly and Louis is falling through a million miles underground. No. No, no, no, no . Harry can't leave right now, Louis has to tell him that he was right, has been right all the fucking time and tell him he will be his forever if Harry wants him back. Louis has to kiss him, and then tell him again he's the one, Harry is the only one he wants. Louis feels like he's been asleep under a rock for the past year and then he woke up in the middle of a romantic comedy. Stories end well in a romantic comedy, right? Otherwise it wouldn't be called a romantic comedy, right? Louis needs this to be in his own romantic comedy. He needs his happy ending and what about including his beloved happy discovery in it? That would be more than fine.

Harry simply can't get on a plane right now .

“The– the airport?” he mutters, eyes wide. He can’t believe this, is the Universe playing with him or what? Pft, what a question, of course it is. As if it hasn’t mocked him the whole time.

“Yeah,” Niall answers, studying Louis’ features but obviously happy to see that he stopped yelling at the air, “he finished his classes yesterday and took some days off at the bakery. You know, Harry usually goes for a four weeks holiday with his mum, sister and his stepdad during th–”

“A FUCKING FOUR WEEKS HOLIDAY? ”

Maybe it's just a feeling, but he can swear he heard the windows rattle. Niall, on the other hand, seems to start showing a little bit of distress, which is pretty strange when it comes to him.

“Uhm, yeah... You know, it's Gemma’s birthday, and at Chris–”

“I DON'T FUCKING CARE ABOUT BIRTHDAYS OR CHRISTMAS! I NEED HIM NOW, I CAN'T FUCKING WAIT FOR HIM TO COME BACK HOME! NIALL, HE DOESN'T EVEN ANSWER MY CALLS, I'M SCREAMING! ”

“I NOTICED! Stop it, for fuck's sake, and tell me what's going on!”

Louis tries, he really tries to keep himself calm, but he just can't handle the whole situation... Harry in a foreign land instead of being in his arms and kissing him, assuring him they will be fine. Fuck, Harry can't leave him just when Louis finally admitted to himself he loves him like Hell, Heaven and any other place in between.

So, he has to do something. There’s no way Louis will waste any more time.

“Which airport?” He asks, looking at Niall directly in his eyes.

His friend swallows. Louis saw it, saw his pommel going frantically up and down his throat.

“I– I don't know? Heathrow, maybe?”

“You– How the– WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU MEAN YOU DON'T KNOW?”

“STOP YELLING AT ME!”

“I'M NOT GOING TO STOP UNTIL YOU TELL ME AT WHICH FUCKING AIRPORT HE IS OR I SWEAR TO ALL THE IRISH GODS THAT I'LL TURN YOU INTO A FUCKING CLOVER!”

“FUCK, LOUIS, HE DIDN'T TELL ME!”

“FUCK.”

His brain is telling him to let it go, to wait for Harry to come back from his holiday. It's a long time, Louis knows it, but right now he's probably already on a plane and there's just no fucking time .

Yeah, this is what his brain says.

But his instinct and his heart have a different opinion, like, what if Harry finds himself in another Serendipitous situation? What if he finds another Louis during this holiday? What if he falls in love with this other guy and then comes back to London, writes his name and number on another fucking CD and– and, in a second, Louis is at the threshold of the door and no one can stop him from catapulting himself to the airport. The only little problem is that there are three hundred airports in London, this could be a serious issue.

A brilliant idea strikes Louis' mind and, seriously, he's amazed by himself sometimes. When he turns around, he finds Niall a few steps from him; he’s looking at him with a concerned expression. “Louis, what happened? If you don’t tell me– I’ve coped with you yelling at me for ten minutes straight, you owe me an explanation.”

All he wants to do – other than throwing himself in Harry's arms and lay there forever – is explain him everything, but really, there's no time.

“Nialler, listen to me,” he starts with trembling voice, “I don't have time to explain, but I promise that I will once I’ve dealt with this. Or at least, you'll see it with your own eyes. I hope. I don't know if there's any chance, but you have to help me with this, so I can finally tell Harry how much in love with him I am and how much I've been a complete fucking blind idiot.”

At first, Niall's eyes are so wide open that Louis almost can see his irises dancing the samba, then he lets out a laugh, the happiest laugh ever, and that says something considering Niall spends half of his time laughing.

“I can't believe it!” he shouts out, patting his own face. “I knew it! I knew the Captain was right! Oh my gosh, Lou iiiiis!

And then Louis finds his face cupped by Niall's hands, he's seriously about to lose his jaw. He can't remember when was the last time someone has been this happy just for Louis. And in that moment Louis understands, he realises that maybe it's not too late, that if Niall reacted that way it's because Louis has a chance to fix things with Harry. Harry, who surely still loves Louis.

Stop. Stop thinking.

“Call Gemma,” Louis almost orders, shoving Niall's hands off his face. “I tried to get in touch with him, but that idiot switched off the phone. I have to know where the fuck he is, Niall, so, please, call Gemma.”

Without another word, Niall grabs his phone, not scared by Louis anymore. When Louis sees him holding it against his ear, he lets out a sigh of relief, because yes. He made it. That's it, hoping that the family isn't already on the plane. But Niall said that Harry left only an hour ago, so between check-in and everything else, maybe...

After what seems ages, Gemma picks up.

“Gemma, hi!” Niall cheers. “Uhm... You good?”

And, seriously, Niall? What the fuck? Catching Louis' glance, he probably realises he's not doing it well, so he cuts off before she even has the time to answer. “No, look, you'll tell me later, but now I was wondering in which airport you guys are.” Little pause. Louis wants to scream. “Oh, well, because when Harry left I felt guilty for not asking more about your holiday, so. You know... Oh, Heathrow? Well, thanks!”

Louis is already climbing down the stairs when he hears Niall's voice calling after him.

“Tommo! Terminal 3, you idiot! And be careful with those shitty steps...!”

Louis is pretty sure he heard his friend add something like ‘Harry always falls when it rains’, but Louis is already on the road, he's not going to waste a single second until he finds Harry. He's excited, but at the same time scared. Of what, he doesn’t know. Everything is going to be fine. He has to stay positive, he thinks while running to the parking spot. Before he gets into the car, Louis can swear he sees Niall – now fully dressed – running to reach the bus stop.

 

xxx



Heathrow is full of people.

He doesn't even remember when was the last time he found himself surrounded by so many people. He has enough anxiety on his own, it's just so shit that all the Londoners decided to go on holiday today. But this nervousness, although is creating a lot of problems, doesn't stop Louis from the reason he's there for, so he has to endure it and focus on more important matters.

Louis is running and running through the crowd, gaining angry glances and not very nice words from the people he hits while impersonating The Flash himself, the Arctic Monkeys' CD still safe in his hand. Will he make it? Will he find Harry among all the people? It seems impossible, though, and he would really like to be positive, but all he can do is hope. He doesn't know where the hell Harry is going, he could be anywhere. Heathrow is big as hell, but at least he knows the Terminal.

Slamming his foot against a cart that only god knows what the fuck it’s doing in the middle of the aisle, Louis stops to take a breath: okay, there's no time, but if he wants to get to Harry, he must take a deep breath. He looks around and sees a shop that looks way too familiar: it's so similar to the one in front of which he and Harry wrote their numbers on the CD and the book, in the Arrivals. Eleanor's words come up in his mind, 'how can someone write his personal details on a CD and then sell it?' and yeah, she's completely right, but they are insane, Louis does know that little detail.

Serendipity , he thinks, sniffing a little bit, is the art of making happy discoveries. Find something good without looking for it. And, hell, he has never heard something more real than that. They found each other in so many ways. Harry is his little happy discovery, and... And he's never going to find him if he keeps staring into space, so Louis starts running again.

From the distance, he sees the entrance to the security check area and maybe Harry is there. He may be at the bar, waiting to embark the plane. Or in the bathroom. Or already gone. Kicking off this last thought, Louis runs in the direction of the rollers and the people waiting in the queue, and, frankly, all this suddenly ceases to make sense: how will he get over security without a fucking ticket? He tries to remind himself he’s not really in a romantic comedy, nor in an adventure one, and people just don’t fly above the security guards’ heads to get their love back before they fly away.

Louis doesn't have time to think about it, because he slips for a few metres on the ground trying to stop himself from crushing against the wall and basically bumps into a stewardess.

“What are you trying to do, boy?” she says annoyed, shoving him off.

“Oh my gosh, 'm sorry,” Louis apologises, not knowing where to start. “I was running too fast, I guess.”

Stay calm, Louis, stay calm. He restrains from shouting like he did at Niall's, but it's just so hard not to.

“You can't go through security if you don't have a ticket.”

How the fuck did she know he doesn’t have one? Then Louis lowers his gaze, looking at himself: he has no bags, nothing that would suggest he's leaving for a journey. He only has the CD, which obviously isn’t considered a luggage. But it reminds him that time's ticking. Time's ticking. Time's ticking . All Louis can do is try, at least.

“No,” and fuck his scratchy voice, “I don't have a ticket, but–”

“You can't stay here, then,” she repeats, even more annoyed, Louis can see she’s restraining from rolling her eyes.

“I have to give this to my friend, it won't take long!”

Seriously, Louis?

When she raises an eyebrow, he thinks that maybe his puppy eyes would work just fine. Instead, the woman is looking at him as if she's about to call a security guard. And no way Louis will risk ending up in jail, not today.

“Okay, fine, I'll go!” Louis shouts before she does anything she had in mind to do, which certainly wasn't letting Louis in.

So, Louis is screwed, in the end.

How the hell is he supposed to face that situation? He just can't stay motionless in the middle of the aisle, watching every single person who passes through that area: he could sit near the security check all day long without seeing Harry, as far as he knows. Especially because he could be already in, ready to go. He'll never make it, Louis is pretty sure about it.

Unless... Fuck everything. Louis knows exactly what to do.



xxx



He made it. Louis felt like a god the very moment he entered the gates area. He's now at gate four, searching every single corner, looking for a curly head without finding it. Louis checks the bar, the bathrooms, scans insistently any space that he can reach. Everywhere. But there's no trace of Harry and he feels like he’s about to vomit.

Louis spends half an hour looking for him, without any results, and thinks he’s never done anything like this for anyone. He wants to scream, wants to cry, wants to break everything, wants to throw that fucking CD in a bin. He keeps singing the same words in his mind, the words of the first song he heard Harry singing, which sort of became their song after that party: never gonna stop ‘til the clock stops ticking, never gonna quit ‘til my leg stop kicking, I will follow you and we'll both go missing...

Louis stops breathless near the waiting room. He's tired. Tired of running up and down looking for the person he loves and who's slipping through his fingers, but also mentally tired, because every thought is like a brick crashing his brain. He thought he could make it, except, of course, he didn't. Harry is gone, and with him every chance to end that day with a flourish.

It's not the end of the world, after all: maybe when Harry will arrive wherever he's going, he will switch his phone on and find Louis' missed calls and texts. And then he will call him back, and they will simply clear things up. Harry isn't going to leave, it's just a shitty holiday. But. No. They can't talk about this on the phone, it's not right, it's not how it should go. As if it weren’t enough, Louis feels the urge to kiss Harry's lips, to crush him in a hug because he fucking misses him like... Like...

Louis lets himself fall on a chair.

Burying his head in his hands, he feels like shit. He can't understand what he's going through: he feels happiness and despair and frustration and love, how even can a person feel all those emotions at the same time? Louis hugs his legs, taking a long, deep breath.

Then he spots her.

It must surely be her, because she's unmistakable. And she's the female version of Harry, he would recognise her even from a thousand miles away. And a fire, a huge fire starts building up in his chest.

With a determination that he never knew he had, Louis jumps up and starts running towards the queue. Again. Fast. He's surrounded by so many people, can't even see where he's putting his feet as the crowd is into a frenzy. He's ignoring all the insults that people shout at him because he can now see Harry's curls and... And he can't watch Harry fly away from him now that he just found him, not like this.

He runs, but Harry seems increasingly unreachable. Until Louis is a few steps from him and Gemma – and a woman who's probably their mother, considering she looks like if someone has melted Harry and Gemma's faces together – and Louis can see the perfect shoulders of the boy he loves.

Then Gemma spots him and her mouth drops open, surprise obvious in her eyes. She looks at him for a second, then pats gently her brother's back. Harry lowers his head, since he's tall like the Eiffel Tower and fuck, Louis loves the Eiffel Tower. Something in his belly starts to move when Gemma whispers something he can't catch, and suddenly he's looking directly in Harry's eyes.

Maybe minutes have passed, maybe hours, Louis doesn't have a clue. It doesn't matter, he's looking at Harry. He made it, he found Harry and he looks surprised in an indescribable way, because he has this pale face that– All of a sudden, Louis is giving him his best smile, Harry deserves his best smile, he deserves all the smiles. Because Louis loves him, that's a smile of love.

Slowly, Louis raises the hand holding the CD. Harry is still looking at him with an expression Louis can't define, mostly because he's more focused on Harry’s beauty – and because his sight is blurred with tears.

“I found it,” Louis mouths, not sure about being heard. Just a few feet divide them, but the noise is winning over him. “I found it,” he repeats, this time almost shouting.

Harry's gaze is hardly focused on the CD. He mouths something back, something that Louis doesn't catch, so he tries to approach him and maybe, maybe he's a little bit scared now. In a good way, but still scared.

In all this, Louis can't stop looking at Harry with his wet eyes and he must look ridiculous, walking towards him without ever stopping staring at him. But, even when he gets closer, Louis can’t touch Harry, because they're separated by a glass barrier and shit. Louis has been dreaming of this moment for hours, but it seems like all the things he wanted to say simply slipped out of his brain.

“What... What are you doing here?” Harry asks and hell, Louis loves Harry's voice. It's real, he's here and he's talking to him. It's been months of silence and now he's talking to him.

Louis lets out a sob, he can feel some tears streaming down his face. “What do you think? I'm preventing you from flying away from me again.”

“What...” Harry repeats with trembling voice. He shakes his head, probably trying to find the right words. “You should–”

“I'm not going to marry her, Haz. I'm here,” Louis says, to reassure him, to let him know that Louis is here just for him. He puts a hand on the glass as if he expects it to disappear just by touching it, but truth is Louis is quite a bit desperate.

“You're here,” Harry repeats again. He keeps blinking, Louis wonders if he’s trying to understand if Louis is real or just a fragment of his imagination.

“Yeah, and it would be nice if you could just reach me here instead of letting me talk through a glass barrier. And...” Louis continues, glancing at the young couple beside him, “...without anyone eavesdropping our conversation.”

Harry smiles a little and Louis asks himself why he can't give him one of his glowing smiles, one of those Harry used to reserve just for him. One of those that Louis thought were innocent, smiles dedicated to him just because he was... well, him . It was right that way, only that Louis didn’t see the true love behind them. If Harry hasn’t behaved like the Harry he knows yet, it's probably because he's still pretty shocked about his presence there and hey, Louis can totally get that.

Harry looks at him one last time before turning around and hiding his face from him. He can see Gemma's frown, as well as their mother's. Louis is still standing against the barrier like an idiot, looking at what his left hand is holding... He grins, thinking about how mad he is for doing all of this. How in love he is, he corrects himself.

When Louis looks up, Harry's gone. He tries to stretch his head above the people, but apparently even Gemma is gone. He’s starting to freak out when he hears a voice right behind him.

“I hope you have a good excuse for making me lose my deserved holiday in Florida.”

Louis turns around and he's right there, so close to him, with his suitcase and a little package in his hand. Harry lets go of the suitcase's handle and then settles the small pack on it. Everything seems so, so unbelievable.

“Florida?” Louis asks, trying to fight his fear to say something wrong.

Harry shrugs, smiling. He's a bit more relaxed than before, and maybe it was just because of the shock to find Louis standing there at his airport gate. All he wants to do, all he’s wanted to do since the big realisation hours ago, is to press a soft kiss on Harry's lips.

Louis takes a deep breath, drying some tears from his cheek, but he's smiling. It doesn't take long for Louis to hold Harry in his arms, a hug that tastes like everything, which he's been dreaming about since their fight. He missed those hugs so much. He missed all of Harry, everything.

Hiding his face in the hollow of Harry’s neck – and apparently Harry doesn't give a shit if Louis is showering him with tears, because he's now tightening his grip around him as if he's afraid of dropping him – Louis feels Harry's body fitting with his. He’s never felt something which fits like their bodies do.

He simply can't wait any longer so, with trembling hands, Louis gently grabs Harry's face and presses a soft, coveted kiss on his lips. The world stops abruptly for the millionth time that day, but this time Louis doesn't want it to come back to normal ever again. He thinks it's strange kissing Harry in the middle of the airport, but honestly, does anyone care? They can go fuck themselves. He doesn't care. It's strange even because this kiss reminds him of the ones in his dreams: it's kind, full of love, full of Harry.

After the first moment of shock, Harry immediately pulls Louis to himself even stronger than before. Harry's grip is firm, full of passion. He sincerely doesn't want it to stop. Louis smiles into the kiss, putting his hands in Harry’s curls and suddenly Harry moans and wow, just... wow.

A moment later they're laughing. Louis can't understand if that is even a kiss, actually, but it's nice to smile and laugh in Harry's mouth. That’s Louis’ new favourite thing.

Harry breaks the kiss without letting Louis go, keeping looking into his eyes. Holy crap, Louis is so, so gone for him. They breathe some air from each other, then Harry moves his hands on Louis' neck, resting his forehead against his. How did he resist months and months near Harry without kissing him? How come he didn't jump on him the first time they met? Suddenly Louis feels fire in his belly, thinking back at the moment when Harry toppled the tea on his jacket. That 'oops' echoes in his head and Louis decides that, from now on, 'oops' is his absolute favourite word.

“Hi,” Louis whispers, the memory of their first meeting still glowing in his head. “I hope this can be classified as a good excuse. If it isn’t, I can surely come up with something else,” Louis smiles and Harry does, too, and everything is so beautiful.

“It definitely is,” Harry answers, then their lips meet again, but it lasts just a few seconds. “I can't believe you found it, Lou...”

“Just think of my face when I found it in my hands. I was driving, I almost got myself and Eleanor killed.”

“It seems impossible.”

“Hey, weren't you the one who 'when you find it, you'll call me blah blah'? What, have you thought about it and then found out that your friend Destiny doesn't exist?”

“No,” Harry answers, giggling and tickling Louis' cheeks, “it's just... I can't believe you're here, Lou. That’s all.”

And Harry's eyes are a little glossy now. “Hey, hey,” Louis starts, hugging him again. He holds him for a moment, before looking directly in his eyes. “I'm here now, I'm not going anywhere without you. I– I'm so in love with you, you can't even imagine how much I missed you and how much I wish you could forgive me. You were right the whole time, Haz. I spent the last months without breathing, dreaming of kissing you and doing things with you that I’ve never– and oh my god, I didn't realise– fuck, I just... I just want you to be with me and nothing else matters anymore.”

Harry laughs weirdly, some tears streaming down his cheeks, but Louis can see true happiness in his eyes. “Finally,” he says, his voice a bit broken, “you don't know how long I waited for this to happen. You can't– it's a long time.”

“So... The whole time? I mean, since the beginning?” He can’t help but ask, now that he knows they’re fine. It’s something he’s been wondering about since Harry confessed his feelings.

“Uhm, not really, no,” Harry answers, gulping. He reddens and turns around, but a second later he’s looking at Louis again, probably considering that now he can say whatever he wants. “Since the ice rink, I guess.”

Louis almost faints. “The ice rink!? Harry, do you realise that's the beginning, right?”

“Since the beginning, then,” Harry says, laughing. “It's a long, long time. I just fancied you at first, your blue eyes are quite impressive, but you had a girlfriend and you lived in Doncaster, I didn't want to raise my expectations and think something could happen between us. That's why I didn't want to give you my number, by the way. And then we met again, and I still thought that you were gorgeous and brilliant, but you were my friend and I tried my best not to like you that way. I didn’t want to risk everything, you know? Well, that resolution didn't last long, since I fell in love with you eventually.” Then his voice becomes strange. “But, Louis, how can I– how can I be sure this is–”

“Harry,” Louis starts, shaking his head, “you were right about everything. Everything . This, this is our fate. I'm yours. I can't imagine a world without your hugs, your kisses, your curls, without anything of you, when actually everything it’s all about you. This fucking world is empty without you, as I discovered in the last few months. I was miserable, Haz, I don't know if the lads told you something, but I kept thinking about you and how fool I was for not noticing it before. Every time I kissed Eleanor, every time we had sex – think it happened only twice since then, don’t remember, don’t care – I imagined you there, only you and that drove me crazy. Then there was the gig and... Fuck, you sang that song to me, to me , Harry, and then Nick and... I couldn't handle it. I know that I could have woken up earlier, but the fact is that I didn't want to believe it, I thought it was just something related to my fear for the fucking wedding. And I'm an arsehole, because all I wanted to do was keeping everyone happy, but instead I hurt everyone. I hurt you ,” Louis takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. “If I could only turn back time...”

“I don't care,” Harry interrupts him, his hands on Louis' cheeks again. “From that day when I told you my feelings until half an hour ago, it’s been the worst time of my life and I don't blame you for that, not fully. But you're here now. I don't want to think about anything else, I just want to look at you and touch you and... Fuck, I just want you.”

“We have so much to talk about, but now...” Louis grabs Harry's wrist, nodding at the suitcase with a smirk. “Take your luggage, we're going home. I'm going to kiss the hell out of you, for christ's sake, words can wait.”

Harry seems to agree. He takes the handle of the suitcase and doesn't even have time to take a sigh of relief after all that happened in the last thirty minutes, that Louis is already dragging him down the hallway. He's not going to miss a minute, they've already talked enough in his opinion. Louis can't wait to get to his flat, just wants to lie on his sofa with Harry's arms around him. Louis needs to touch him, to put his hands all over him to prove that he's real, that Harry is really there with him and not flown away to bloody Florida or where the hell he was supposed to be now. Harry is supposed to be with Louis and they have to make up for lost time..

“Louis, slow down!” Harry shouts at same point, laughing. Louis just grins, shaking his head.

“No way!”

They've been running for a while, Louis just hopes not to get lost in the airport because he doesn’t know where they are at the moment. Then Harry makes him stop abruptly and two seconds later he drags him into a toilet, locking them into a cubicle.

“What the hell–” he tries to say, but Harry just cuts him off with a kiss.

At first, Louis is kind of surprised. Not that he expected Harry to pull out a chessboard to play, but cutting him off in the middle of a sentence in that way, Louis is just– He can't think about anything else but return the kiss and let his hands climb Harry's back. Just because he finally can. Fuck, he can touch Harry’s body as much as he wants.

Harry sighs heavily, pressing his hands on Louis' hips in a way that will make Louis lose his mind soon, but his kiss is gentle, slow and full of passion. From now on it’s all a dance of tongues, wet and urgent, and this is so good that Louis’ finds himself groaning in Harry’s mouth almost immediately. He's thinking about opening his eyes, just to see what Harry's face is like in a moment like that, but he restrains himself. Louis decides he will never do that: kissing Harry is something that makes him completely lose orientation and his last name and... Fuck, it's really overwhelming. And Louis wants to always keep that feeling, he doesn't want to know what Harry's face is like when he kisses him. He doesn’t need to, he can feel Harry is going through the same emotions by the touch of his lips, the pressure on his hips, the low moans Harry lets out. So, it's settled.

Lost in his thoughts, Louis doesn’t immediately notice that Harry broke the kiss, considering he can still feel his breath on his lips, but now hey his cupping Louis’ cheeks. Who knows how long their lips have been parted and, okay, maybe now he can even open his eyes.

When he meets Harry's eyes, Louis instantly knows that he's fucked:they’re shining, more than usual, and there’s also a hint of mischief in them. Harry is so beautiful like that and Louis forgets to breathe for a moment when he realises he did it, the credit is all his, and that was just a kiss. He wonders for a moment how Harry will look when Louis will actually touch him, how wrecked he will look, and he gasps at that. Luckily, Harry distracts him before his thoughts bring uneasy situations in his pants. Louis mentally facepalms at how close he is to that point just for a kiss and the look on Harry’s face, or maybe it’s just the awareness that he can call Harry his and do whatever he wants with him, now. Maybe he should start listening to him, though, that would be a good start in their relationship.

“If you thought I'd have waited until your flat, Louis, you were fucking wrong,” Harry whispers on his mouth and then smirks. And, seriously, fuck everything, Louis agrees. No, wait. What– what does that even mean? Louis feels like he won’t be able to understand anything Harry has said or whatever he's going to say for the next two hours, but it was fucking hot and well, who cares.

He simply smiles. Or maybe that was a grin, he doesn't know. The thing is that Harry is now looking at him as if he said something really funny and yes, Louis is pretty sure that maybe was a creepy smile or that face people have when they realise they got a situation in the wrong way. He usually hates finding himself in those kinds of circumstances, but this time he’s so glad he first misunderstood Harry’s intentions.

Harry caresses Louis' cheeks gently with his thumbs, then their lips are suddenly together again. This time the kiss lasts just for a second, because Harry’s lips start to trail down his jaw and then his neck, making Louis hold his breath. Louis can’t help but let his head lean down a bit in pleasure, because all of this is too much and he knows, he knows he's moaning, but he can't shut up just now.

Louis sinks his hands in Harry's hair, sniffing his curls that smell like mint shampoo, and Harry lets out a low moan. Shit, he would give everything to make him moan like that forever. It's just... arousing. His little friend seems to be aware of it, because it appears Harry’s wrecked voice was just what it needed and now it's rising in his pants with pleasure. Louis remembers all those times he woke up in the middle of the night after troubling dreams about having sex with Harry, his mind can’t help the connection. But now it's different, Harry is really there and he's making his dick uncomfortable in his pants for real, and honestly? Those dreams were a bit scary, but now it's definitely what he wants.

They kiss as if they’re waiting for the world to explode. And it probably will, Louis can't think otherwise since his head is spinning and burning and are those fireworks? While Louis is trying his best not to faint or, at least, to maintain a certain demeanor while his heart is about to get out of his chest, Harry seems to have a different opinion on the matter since he's putting all his effort on fucking Louis up. Harry stops caressing Louis' arm, his eager hand searching for Louis’ groin and, from there on out, it's pretty obvious what he's going to do. Louis' head is a mess even before Harry's hand grabs his crotch. The touch is urgent and possessive but at the same time kind of gentle, as if Harry just wants to take care of Louis in the best way possible.

The air surrounding them begins to be heavy, the idea of being in a public place and not being able to scream and shout seems to oppress Louis quite a lot. Harry's tongue is desperately searching for Louis', who's now letting himself sink in the boy's arms, ready to take everything Harry is willing to give. Louis wants all of that, because his boy is so right, so good and Louis is so, so ready.

Then Harry starts to touch him harder, only the fabric of Louis' jeans between his hand and Louis' dick. The sensation is indescribable, even though this is certainly not the first time he’s experienced this. The fact is that with Harry it’s different, he doesn't know if it's because he's… Harry, or because of the thrill of that moment. Every time someone touched Louis like this, he felt hot and warm and excited, but... Now it really feels different, Louis is so turned on he could blow up at any moment.

Louis is too concentrated on how much horny he is, that he almost loses the second when Harry draws down his pants and grabs his dick. He fails miserably when he tries not to moan in Harry's mouth, already overwhelmed by the sensation. Harry, on the other hand, keeps stroking him, licking his mouth, only seeming pleased by his moans. Louis shudders when he realises he will come awfully soon if Harry doesn't stop, but he can’t bring himself to utter a single word.

But Harry does stop at some point. He trails his hand out of Louis pants, who's undecided whether to be bothered or comforted by that, then a few seconds later Harry presses his body against Louis' and their crotches start rubbing together. All of it without moving his lips from Louis', he continues kissing him fervently as if Harry is expecting that, when they will eventually separate, Louis will run away. But Louis won’t do such a thing, oh no, quite the opposite.

“Harry, Haz,” he tries. “Harry, fuck. Stop this, I can't–”

When Harry presses harder on him, Louis lets out a loud groan that echoes throughout the cubicle. It's just a matter of seconds, then Louis finds his mouth covered by Harry's hand, their bodies unjustly separated.

“Shhh! As much as I’d love hearing you scream, we're still in a public place, Lou.”

Is he being serious?

“You were the one who locked us in here, mind if I remind you that?” Louis protests, murmuring against Harry’s palm, not really bothered by the smile that broadens on Harry's face.

The boy moves a lock of hair from Louis' forehead, following his own gesture with bright eyes. “Just because there's a sign on the door that says 'out of order' doesn't mean anyone can't just walk in, and, I don't know. Maybe a plumber? Or a member of the staff? Or–”

“The fuck? As much as I'm enjoying all of this adventurous moment, it was your idea, you dunce! In my defence, has anyone ever told you how you look in this state? How can you expect me to stay quiet with you all over me with that face and those hands and–?”

“You're loud,” Harry states eventually, smiling widely. “Can’t wait to learn more about it in a place where you can actually show your best. I like it.”

“I like you,” Louis just says, feeling his cheeks reddening. His eyes move from Harry's dimples to his nose, taking everything in. Then his gaze stops directly on his eyes. “A lot lot lot.”

“Loads of lots,” Harry singsongs. “You trust me, right?” he asks then, smiling and hell, he's definitely eye-fucking Louis.

“Harry, what–” Louis answers with some effort. “What kind of question is th–”

“Well then,” and Harry puts his hands all over Louis' chest again, then he raises his t-shirt a little bit to be able to touch the bare skin of Louis’ belly and then down and down... “Because, as I said, I don't think I can wait until your flat.”

Harry gives a quick tug at the doorknob, checking if it’s properly locked, then bites his lip and an aroused grin appears on his face. He leans down, pressing a light kiss on Louis' jaw, and Louis’ throbbing cock is pressing against his pants in a very annoying way. But apparently Harry decided that he's the one who should take care of it, since he's now bustling with the zip of his jeans. Oh, Christ in Heaven. Oh fuck, fuck, fuck .

“Oh my god, H-Harry, in here?” It’s meant to sound like a normal question, but it comes out sounding as a desperate groan.

Harry looks up a little bit. He’s still smirking, the idiot. “Do you prefer the check-in area?”

“Maybe it's a bit more comfortable with all those suitcases, but I think it'd be as unhygienic as here, so, what the heck.” Louis doesn’t know how he managed to make his babbling so coherent, but Harry is smiling at him so who cares about anything else. And really? Is he a teenager for being so overwhelmed just at the hint of something sexual?

“You're all 'unhygienic here', 'somewhat there', but down here you seem very happy to see me. Helloooo, my new friend!” Harry says while he yanks down Louis pants completely, biting his lower lip and then licking it with a devilish grin. Yeah, of course his dick is happy to see him, who wouldn't? Louis holds a breath, both excited and scared. It’s pretty obvious what Harry wants to do and of course he’s had blowjobs before, but somehow this time is overwhelming as hell and he can't avoid trembling a little. Maybe only because it's Harry. Definitely because it’s Harry.

“Hey,” Harry's voice interrupts his thoughts, and when their eyes meet again, Harry has this reassuring look that makes Louis suddenly feel very small. And so very loved, and it's Harry and he loves Harry back, everything is so perfect right now. “I love you. If you–”

“Harry,” Louis cuts him off, his hand rests gently on Harry's curls. “I want you in every way that I can have you. Even in a dirty bathroom at Heathrow Airport. I don't care. I just– I really, really trust you. I know it's going to be okay, it's just that right now everything is new to me and– oh my god, stop looking at me like that! You- you're so fucking hot it scares me, and I can’t even allow myself to be a little bit taken aback by the whole situation, because you make it impossible. Fuck, again.”

Harry smiles widely, his dimples in full display, and he's simply beautiful. “I'm talking too much, ain’t I?” Louis tries, looking away but laughing shyly.

“Yes, Louis. And you’re not even making sense.”

Louis lets out a chuckle and, when Harry gets down on his knees and grabs the base of his cock, Louis lowers his head just in time to see Harry welcoming him.

It seems that Harry stopped being a tease, he’s now pretty focused on what he’s doing. He works fast, driving Louis crazy while he gets to know more about his cock and gets familiar with it in his mouth. But apparently the time for foreplay is over because it doesn’t take long to Harry to take him down entirely, and in that exact moment Louis sees fireworks. Again. He threads his hand through Harry's messy curls, the other one glued to the wall to prevent him from falling, given the fact that his knees might give out at any moment. Harry is so fucking eager, and Louis–

“Fuck, christ ,” Louis mumbles, nails scratching the wall behind him. “'m not gonna– so much, fuck.”

Louis' eyes roll back in his head when Harry slows his work, concentrated on making Louis feel every second of it. His touch is so right, so perfect. Jesus. He can't help himself anymore and he starts to thrust a little between Harry's lips, trying not to be completely crushed by the pleasure. He could barely stay on his feet, he needed something to focus on to avoid falling on the floor, losing all his strength. For a moment he fears Harry will stop, but apparently Harry is enjoying it as much as Louis since he shamefully groans around him. He moans out loud as Harry sucks him down one last time before Louis feels like a tingle in the groin and, a moment later, he's spilling all over Harry's lips and chin.

Louis tries to say something, but the only thing that comes out is a broken sigh, because he currently has no filter between brain and mouth and he can barely breathe. Harry licks off the mess he made, without removing his right hand from Louis' dick. Then he gets up, and it seems almost a challenge when he sticks a finger covered with come in his mouth and licks it. He doesn't stop looking at Louis while doing it. For a moment, Louis thinks he might still faint: Harry looks so beautiful, so young, so perfect. He would also seem innocent, if Louis didn’t know that same boy just sucked him off in a toilet. And to contradict even more that last idea, Harry grabs Louis from the back of the neck and a second later he’s kissing him again and, fuck, Louis can taste himself and the feeling is so strange.

They stay like that for a while, discovering each other’s mouth, touching each other’s skin. Louis can’t resist tugging Harry’s curls with maybe more force than necessary, but Harry obviously doesn’t mind since he starts moaning in his mouth and lowers his hand from Louis’ neck to his own bulge. After all the amazing sensations Harry made him feel, there's no way he's letting Harry take care of himself. He quickly reaches his hand and pushes it away. Harry has his pants already unbuttoned, thank god, and Louis takes a moment to stick his hand in, fisting his cock firmly and making him come after only a couple of strong tugs.

Harry gasps, then lets out a loud groan. Fuck.

“Holy fuck,” Louis whispers in the boy's neck, feeling drops of sweat coming down his forehead. He cups Harry's face softly, coddling gently his cheeks waiting for Harry to regain his regular breath. Louis brushes a little their lips, feeling the weight of Harry's hands grasp on his forearms. “You’re so beautiful, Harry, so pretty. You’re– god, I wish you could see yourself now, because I don’t think I’ll never get over this. Your come face is something else, I–”

“You have no idea,” Harry starts, laughing a little, “of what I'm going to do with you once we get home.”

And yeah, maybe they just have to go home, considering the effect Harry’s rough and wrecked voice is having on him. He can’t believe what just happened. He’s never done such a thing in a public place, never thought about it, actually. But it felt so good, kind of exciting, and Harry’s voice is a reminder of how great everything was.

He slips down the wall until he's sitting with his back against it, dragging Harry with him. Harry immediately puts his head on Louis’ shoulder, cuddling against him. There’s a mess in his pants, so Louis doesn’t feel guilty when he cleans his hand there. Harry chuckles and Louis lets out a rough laugh, shaking his head. They stay like that for a while, just cuddling and taking each other in, and just when Louis is about to ruffle Harry's curls, he feels Harry standing up. Louis turns, finding Harry looking at him with a frown.

“Louis!” he exclaims. “But– I realised just now– How did you get into the gates area to find me? You can't go there without a ticket.”

Oops.

Showing him his best guilty smile, Louis slowly grabs a piece of paper from his pocket and gives it to Harry. His face is priceless.

“Holy shit, Lou,” Harry says after a while, looking at the ticket. “Malta? Did you buy a random ticket just to see me?”

“Well, what can I say?” Louis shrugs. “I tried with my puppy eyes at first, but the stewardess at the security check didn't seem very impressed, unfortunately. And I didn't have Rowan Atkinson in the queue to help me getting through.”

“Oh my god!” Harry cheers, laughing out loud and then bringing a hand to cover his mouth. He shakes his head before continuing. “You bought a ticket and watched Love, Actually . I love you so, so much, sweetcheeks.”

Louis smiles when Harry stretches to kiss him, and again, is it a proper kiss when both of them are smiling on each other's mouth? Maybe Louis just has to get used to it. With Harry everything is fun, can’t be otherwise.

“Well, pumpkin... I missed you. You’ve been harassing me with this movie. I guess I just wanted to feel close to you, somehow, and– I don't know.”

Harry smiles broadly and Louis stares at his dimples for a second, before caressing the left one with his finger. Harry just smiles more. Louis wishes he could just cup his face and pull him closer, but considering how his hand is still dirty that’s not the best idea, even if he has a feeling Harry wouldn’t mind at all.

“No, but seriously. It must have cost a lot.”

“Harry, honestly?” Louis smiles. “I'm not going to tell you how much my wallet has been drained, because I sincerely don't give a shit about it. I would have sold my right arm, for what it matt–”

For the millionth time, Louis finds himself cut off by Harry's mouth. Louis can't help but think that he could definitely get used to it. Harry can kiss him whenever he wants, he wouldn’t mind being interrupted for the rest of his life, honestly. And Louis doesn't care about anything, because now they're together and life is beautiful.

“Louis?” Harry says, between a kiss and another.

“Mh?” he can't think straight, he really can't.

“I really, really am in love with you.”

He feels Harry's smile on his lips and this, this is the best thing in the world. “Love you, too, babe. More than Niall’s love for Nando's . That means a lot, you know it does.”

Harry giggles without breaking eye contact. “This is a big deal, Lou!”

Louis kisses his dimple, before resting the head on his shoulder and squeezing Harry’s hip.

He feels lighter, peaceful. To be honest, since the moment he woke up that morning, Louis thought that day would have only brought him the desire to run away from everything and everyone. He couldn't have been more wrong. Now everything seems brighter, clearer, and Louis' mind has never been so thoughtless. The only thing that has taken possession of it is the idea of Harry next to him for the rest of his days.

Louis holds him stronger, smelling the scent of mint of his hair.

Maybe the fact that he was the only one who found the 'object of power of Destiny' or whatever Harry used to call it, was because he had to understand his feelings; Harry was quite confident since the very beginning, he was the one who needed a little push from Destiny, just like Liam said.

Thanks a lot for kicking my arse. Yours sincerely, Louis .



xxx



It takes more than Louis thought to get home.

Once they got out of the airport, laughing almost hysterically and never letting go of each other's hand, Louis found out that his car had been removed since it was double parked in an area when nobody was supposed to leave a car in the first place. Harry tried to tell him that he was a danger for British streets, but then Louis finally experienced the joy of making him shut up with a kiss.

And it was amazing.

In the end it was kind of a good thing that they were forced to take the public transport to get to Louis' flat, because they used the entire time to smile at each other and kiss every now and then. Like every other thing with Harry, it was completely natural and so right. Louis loved to find out that their chemistry was obvious even in that new side of their relationship.

When they finally arrive at Louis' building, they manage to close the main door behind their backs before Louis almost attacks Harry and blocks him against the wall. It's a matter of seconds before Harry stops grinning and searches for Louis' mouth. Louis is surprised by how much he's responsive to every single touch of Harry, be it a kiss or even a soft trace of his fingers on his wrist. It's true that he missed him like hell, and it's been months since he last felt Harry's hands on his body, but they always had a touchy relationship. Louis didn’t expect his body to almost beg for Harry’s hands and mouth, but this, this new way to feel each other is all new, he has yet to discover a single thing that he doesn't like.

Louis feels like a horny teenager and he doesn’t give a damn about it.

When he traces a line of kisses on Harry's neck, Louis suspects that moment will never arrive. He can't imagine any disease that could compromise how much he loves Harry's breath on his shoulder, Harry's fingers in his hair, Harry's soft moan when he sucks a love bite under his jaw.

Harry is intoxicating, if it's even possible to call intoxication something this good.

“I missed you so, so much...” He whispers between kisses and Harry nods, caressing his back with both his hands. He never stopped touching him since they left the airport and Louis gets it, gets how Harry probably has to make sure this is real, this is actually happening. Louis can't blame him, he has to make sure Harry is there, holding his hands, and he's the one who messed everything up. “I'm sorry–”

Harry silences him with another kiss, this time biting a little his lip, and Louis has to close his eyes. He doesn't know how this is possible, but Harry is guessing everything that can make Louis go crazy. Louis doesn't know and, for the first time in ages, he doesn't care at all.

“Upstairs?” Harry tries after some time, his breath hot on Louis' lips. He can feel his smile broadening. “Somewhere less public, maybe? We’ve already christened the airport, I need comfort now.”

And the smirk that shines on Harry's face almost makes Louis run until they get to his flat. He's holding Harry's wrist, something that has become sort of their thing during last year, and he doesn't let it go while he searches the keys in his pockets with his other hand.

“C'mon, Lou. Up, up!”

And Louis honestly wants to tell his boyfriend – oh, god, boyfriend – to shut up, because if he keeps talking with that slow sexy voice in his ear it will be extremely difficult to find the keys. But Harry, sadly, is kind of a tease and he's now completely pressed behind him. Louis can feel Harry's broad chest plastered to his back, not even an inch between them, and Harry gets them even closer when he puts a hand on Louis' stomach and pulls him against his body.

“Haz...”

The only answer he gets is Harry's breath on his neck. Instinctively, he turns his head so Harry can get more space and he doesn't lose that chance. Harry, in fact, starts leaving soft kisses from Louis’ jaw to the bottom of his neck, even moving his coat a little bit to get more access.

Not that he never noticed, but Harry has a giant mouth and, after all the kissing and sucking of that afternoon, his lips are plump and soft. This is so fucking hot, Louis can't wait to get inside to have that mouth all over him again and forever. Yes, yes, please .

Somehow, Louis manages to find the keys and open the door with trembling hands. He's moaning for a love bite Harry is sucking on his neck when he realises he certainly didn't hung those balloons on the chairs.

“Surprise!”

 

 

Chapter Text

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The first thing Louis acknowledges is Niall's laughter. After that, it's a matter of seconds before Harry freezes with his mouth still on Louis' neck and Liam comes patting his shoulder. Zayn is right behind him and he has this smug smile on his face as if the scene he’s witnessing is just what he expected to see from the moment they opened the door. Damn him.

“What–?”

Louis blindly reaches Harry's hand, since he no longer feels his plump and wet lips on his skin, and focuses on what surrounds them; Niall is bent in two, busy laughing his lungs out and not crouching on the floor only because he’s clinging to a coat rack. Right, a coat rack, where some balloons are hung.

Balloons. Seriously.

Louis almost chokes on air when he sees what kind of balloons they are. He can read several 'congratulations!' and even one with a 'it's a boy!' on it, but what almost kills him is one with some words obviously written by Niall: ' it was about time, twats' . He looks at Harry, who's staring at the balloons as well and he's biting his upper lip to suppress a smile.

“Do you lads realise that nothing is going to stop them now?” Zayn says, almost laughing but trying his best to sound annoyed. “Look at the face Lou’s pulling! It's like hearts are flying out of his eyes!”

“Oh, shut up you, they're cute,” Liam answers and Louis can spot the affection, but he can't comment on that because a moment later his friend is hugging him so tightly that he has to let Harry's hand go to pat Liam's back.

“I'm fine, Li, more than that, even,” he jokes, but Liam just holds him tighter. They stay like that for a moment, Louis looking at Harry from Liam's shoulder and receiving a soft smile in return, before Liam finally speaks in his ear.

“I'm so happy for you, Lou. You deserve this.”

Louis nods, fighting to suppress a sigh. He's happier than he’s ever been, but the idea of getting to this point at Eleanor’s expense makes his heart ache. He doesn't think he will get over this sense of guilt soon, nor that he will ever find a way to make her forgive him. And he will have to go up to Doncaster at some point, talk to his parents, tell them the wedding is cancelled. God, they will be so surprised, they thought everything was going so well between him and Eleanor. He has no idea how to explain them that not only the wedding is off, but it has been cancelled because Louis is in love with another person, and this person is a male, and...

“Stop thinking. Harry, now,” Liam whispers in his ear, making him smile.

Louis rolls his eyes, untangling himself from Liam's arms. He looks at him, then at Zayn, who's still smirking like he had some kind of role in the whole situation. Maybe he had, Louis supposes, since he never complained about Louis' pining and sticked with him from the first difficulties to the scene he made at the pub to the shitty attitude he had towards the world in the recent days. Considering he's a great friend of Harry’s, his contribution to Louis' cause may have been a little bit more consistent than what Louis originally thought. Damn Zayn, he knew everything since the beginning and he knew Louis enough to think that in the end he would surrender to the fact that he was lying to himself. Louis smiles at him, before turning towards Liam again.

“Fine, Payno. You were right all along, I'm sorry I doubted your supreme opinion. I'll never repeat that mistake again.”

“Amen,” Harry adds, chuckling, and Louis can't help but give him a look that is meant to be mocking, but he supposes is more fond than everything else. He stops staring at Harry only when Liam slaps his neck, making him hiss. He immediately moves his hand to the hurt spot, massaging it softly while trying to murder Liam with his eyes.

“Why did you do that for, you idiot?”

Liam shrugs, as if what he just did was completely normal. Well, with them it kind of is, but usually there’s a reason behind the gesture. “I know I was right, that wasn't what I meant.”

Louis frowns. “I’m afraid I don’t understand, then.”

At those words, Liam shakes his head while Zayn snorts. Seriously, now that everything is fine, Zayn will have to explain his thoughts about the whole situation, his hints and remarks have been driving Louis crazy. He's not even the main supporter of his relationship with Harry, that title still goes to Niall, who's been silent since he stopped laughing because he's too busy looking at them with pride. Louis supposes he will give them a hug and cry on their shoulders, muffling something like ‘my babies’ by the end of the day. But, back to Zayn, he's looking at him like it's obvious what Liam has in mind and, wow, thank you very much, Liam's boyfriend. Obvious to you, maybe, Louis thinks.

“You know, Lou,” finally Zayn speaks, “for being so involved in this thing with Harry–”

“It's not a thing ,” Louis interrupts, wrinkling his nose, “it's a relationship.”

Zayn deliberately ignores Niall’s aww at the clarification and the chuckle from Harry, but keeps staring at Louis fondly. He finds himself smiling when he realises he can actually picture Harry biting his lip and staring at the floor, even if Harry is still behind him and Louis can't even see his shadow.

“Okay, relationship, got it. I’m proud of you, boys. Anyway, for being so taken by Harry and knowing how much we were dying to see you finally open your eyes... Mate, you're thick.”

Louis still doesn't understand. He looks confused at Zayn, then at Liam, then at Zayn again. He can see Zayn is about to raise both his eyebrows, when Harry puts both his arms around his body and Louis immediately relaxes into the embrace. Zayn isn't frowning anymore, he's now smiling openly and Liam has this weird pleased face Louis can’t tell.

“Lou, I think they just want some PDA,” Harry whispers in his ear, breath tickling his neck, and Louis immediately smiles. Yes, he's up for that. He's about to turn and kiss Harry – it's been too long, honestly – when Liam stops him, probably having heard Harry’s words.

“Ew, no. I think we'll get enough PDA from now on and I don't want to start right now, thanks but no thanks.”

Liam is grinning and Louis wants to laugh. God, he's the best friend ever. He never stopped supporting Louis, even when he was a mess and deserved a kick in the arse. Liam has always been there and Louis thinks he will have to find a way to show him how grateful he is for having him in his life, how much he loves him.

And... oh .

Liam has always been such a romantic, honestly, Zayn probably gets red roses every now and then just for the sake of it. He smiles at him before curling up into Harry's arms. Louis brings his hands on Harry's neck, caressing it gently and loving the way Harry's lips turn up at the contact, a firm smile on his face.

“I think, my dear Harold, that we underestimated our friends. We look at them as some kind of perverts who want to see some action when, actually, they're just... Oh god, what was that word you used some time ago? Shippers?”

Harry chuckles a little, nothing like Niall who starts laughing again and almost chokes. No, for real, Zayn has to give him small taps on his back when Harry answers.

“Shippers, yeah. Like, we ship Liam and Zayn, that's why we thought about the Ziam Plan.”

“You what ?” Liam exclaims, surprised. And, yes, maybe Louis should have told Harry that he didn't say anything to Liam about their little devilish plan, not after that bad fight they had about Louis invading Liam's space. Whatever. Not important right now.

“Exactly,” he says, ignoring Liam and Zayn's glares. “So basically, the only thing they want is to see their... ship?” Harry nods, biting his lip and probably understanding where Louis’ speech is going. “So, pumpkin, basically they want to hear me saying how truly, madly, deeply in love with you I am.”

It must have been the right thing to say, because a second later he and Harry are surrounded and hugged by all their friends. He can hear words of appreciation but he can't make them out, muffled as they are by the weird position of that embrace. Louis buries his nose in Harry's collarbone and almost, almost , misses the soft “I love you, too.”

He's so, so glad he doesn't, though.

 

xxx

 

Louis finds Niall in the kitchen.

He's throwing all the empty food containers into the bin, since they have just finished gorging on take-away food. Louis was too busy in a deep conversation with Zayn – even if he was making fun of Louis for his constant need to throw meaningful glances at Harry every now and then – to notice that his Irish friend was gone.

So, as soon as Zayn finished explaining how he wants to ask Liam to move in together (but for now Louis has to keep his mouth shut, please, he wants to surprise him), Louis decided to go looking for him, obviously starting from the kitchen. Where else could he be? It's Niall. And Louis really needs to talk to him.

“Nialler!” he cheers, approaching his friend.

Niall looks up from the bin, a giant smile immediately appears on his face. “Hey, Lou.”

“What on earth are you doing?” Louis asks with a frown, nodding at the bin. “You don't need to clean up my kitchen, I can do it later. Today is a day of celebration!”

With a shake of his head, Niall smiles widely. “This is why you should be out there with your boy, Lou-Lou, not in a kitchen watching me arguing with your bin.”

“Actually, I was– I wanted to talk to you,” he starts, swallowing. “I'm so sorry, Niall.”

“What for?” Niall asks, frowning and finally giving Louis his full attention.

“This morning... I screamed at you the whole time. You were worried about me, and all I've done was shouting senseless words and– I'm really sorry, man.”

At first, Niall simply scans him with his brows narrowed, then erupts into a laughter. Louis knows that he behaved that way only because he was overwhelmed since he had just realised he's in love with his best friend and shit, that's certainly a valid reason. But he still yelled a lot, making Niall worry and leaving him with half of an explanation. So, Niall totally deserves his apologies.

“Louis,” Niall smirks, still shaking his head, “those screams were the best part, really. I mean, I've been waiting for you to wake your fucking brain up for so long, and seeing you being mad and shouting for Harry, well, it was awesome!”

Louis is undecided whether to laugh or hide his face behind any accessible surface. The fact is, although he was in that state, he remembers pretty well every single word he shouted, every single look on Niall’s face, and frankly? He doesn't dare imagine how much of a lunatic he had been.

Thank god there were only the two of them and certainly Niall doesn't hide cameras in the walls.

“Well...”

“Lou, really, you don't need to apologise, okay?” Niall insists, abandoning his smile to let a serious expression take its place. “I'm so happy for you, you don't even know. Both you and Harry. Fuck, you can't imagine how hard living with you two guys was these last months, really. But now we're here, all of us together like old times, and I love you. I feel sorry for Eleanor, though. I kinda liked her.”

“Yeah, me too,” Louis says, sighing. “I like her, a lot, and somehow I still love her, but... I don't know.”

“You love her, you are in love with Harry. It's strange how suddenly things are simple, huh?”

Louis laughs a little, nodding. Niall is right. He also feels sorry for her, he will probably reach out to Eleanor soon, maybe after the holidays. Just to know how things are going. Yeah, he will do that.

“Whose idea were the balloons, anyway?” Louis asks then, deciding to stop standing there like an idiot and help Niall out with the trash. So, he takes some dirty dishes from the table and puts them in the sink.

“Liam's,” Niall shrugs. “If it were up to me, I'd have let Zayn paint some sheets to hang on the ceiling. But–” he stops abruptly in the middle of the sentence, and then coughs, looking away, but Louis doesn’t miss how his cheeks turned a little bit red.

“But?”

“Uhm, nothing.”

“Nialler,” Louis insists, surely Niall’s odd behaviour means something. And probably it’s something fun.

“Nothing, Lou, really.”

“Bullshit!” Louis yells, punching his shoulder. Niall has kind of a guilty smile on his face, at this point Louis is sure he’ll like whatever he’s hiding. “Tell me.”

“Okay,” Niall surrenders, turning around to look at the open door, lowering his voice, “when you left, I sort of threw myself at Liam's flat and... You know me, Lou, I'm not a guy who thinks too much about what he’s doing until it’s too late. I knocked on the door but no one answered, so I started to knock, um, heavily and I was probably going to break the door down. I also yelled a bit at some point, I think. And then Liam opened and was in his shorts and, um, basically he was a bit upset because I interrupted him and Zayn shagging.”

Louis holds his breath, his eyes widening so much that he’s afraid he will lose them. He was so right, this is totally a good story.

“Don't worry,” Niall keeps going when Louis puts a hand to cover his mouth, “they're not angry! I mean, when I told Liam you were going to grab your boyfriend at the airport he was– I don't know. I never saw someone that happy. You should thank him, by the way.”

Really, Louis should thank him and give him a medal for being the best friend ever. A friend who stops fucking his boyfriend to throw an impromptu party because a mate woke up from the Blind World is definitely a keeper, and Louis fully intends to let him know. And suddenly Zayn's words from earlier come up in his mind: 'Louis, every day that passes I'm more and more convinced that Liam is the right one... I'll ask him if he wants to live together, maybe at Christmas? Here, or at mine, under a bridge, I don't care. As long as we're together, any place would be fine.'

Louis is so happy for Liam, he deserves everything good, and he couldn’t ask for anyone better than Zayn to be with his best friend. They fit. They're in love like him and Harry – oh, god, they’re in love and together – and everything is so good that Louis really can't believe is happening to him.

“Will do, yeah,” he says in the end with a giant smile. He’s pretty sure his voice is a bit choked, but he doesn’t care, he’s happy.

“So,” Niall starts, smiling at him, “you're gay, now? I mean, I don't know. How do you feel about being in love with a bloke?”

Louis shrugs. “I always had girlfriends, I don't fucking know anything right now, looks like my brain’s not working. Dunno. I think... It's just Harry, you know, I’ve never felt like this before. I don't know, maybe I'm kind of Harrysexual?”

Niall laughs so, so hard at those words that Louis can't stop himself from joining him after a few seconds. “You twat!”

“I'm the lord of the twats, remember it,” he states, nodding. Niall just shakes his head, smiling at him fondly. “But you’re my Captain, so. We’re even.”

“Yes, you are and yes, I am, obviously. I think I'm going to call Clara, now. We were supposed to see each other this morning, you know. I kind of stood her up.”

“Niall! You shouldn't have!”

“She'll understand! Don't worry, Lou-Lou, she's great. When I'll explain to her what happened, she'll be happy. She was rooting for the two of you as much as me and the boys. Couldn’t be otherwise, she’s my love, my vice.”

“If you say so,” Louis answers. “I have to call someone, too, anyway.”

Louis leaves Niall in the kitchen with a nod, then reaches the little terrace. The weather outside is good, Louis can't imagine a better day than that. After days of raining, he looks at it as an omen of good luck. Savouring the frosty air – because the sun may be high in the sky, but it's still December after all – he pulls out his phone and, before making the call, he thinks it's fair to update his colleague.

Hey K ! The sun is shining , the angels r singing & your colleague is fucking gone with his boy :)

He sends the text with a smile, attaching a photo that he and Harry took a few hours earlier on the bus, in which Louis is smiling like an idiot and Harry was taking the phone out of his hand, so he looks a little blurry, but still cute.

Then he searches the number he was looking forward to call, and Stan picks up after two rings.

“Tommo!” he cheers, his voice a bit muffled.

“Hey, Stanny!”

“You just read my mind, I wanted to call you this afternoon to ask when you want me to come down to London. For me, it'd be fine two or three days before the wedding, if that’s alright? And I still haven't got your present. Yes, uhm, I'm a little bit late, I'm a shitty friend, I know. Anyway, if you could tell me what to buy it’d be amazing, but don’t mention it to El–”

“Stan, Stan, slow down,” Louis stops Stan in the middle of his babbling. He simply can't keep himself from smiling, burying deep the sense of guilt that re-emerged at the mention of Eleanor. “I, um, actually I called to tell you that the wedding is cancelled.”

What follows is an awkward silence. Stan is probably asking a lot of questions to himself, before spitting them all to Louis. He always acts like that. Louis is enjoying it instead, because he's kind of holding a laugh imagining Stan’s expression.

“What... What happened? Do you want to talk about it, Lou?”

Louis smiles at the phone, even if his friend can't see him. “I– I did this thing, Stan, this completely mad thing. The best I could do and I'm really, really happy about it.”

“Oh my god.”

“Actually–”

HARRY? ” Stan shouts and Louis is confident that his right ear will suffer for a while, but it’s worth it considering how Stan sounds happy about the possibility of him and Harry together. He didn’t even tell a single word about him. “HOLY CRAP, MAN! You have to tell me everything! Everything! I wanna end this call with my ears bleeding.”

“Yeah, Harry! We’re together now! Of course I’ll tell you everything, but I'd prefer to do it face to face if it’s alright with you? I'm coming to Donny tomorrow, anyway. I have to tell my parents about the no-more-wedding thing. We could go grab a  beer.”

“Sure, whatever you want, mate. But I'm not letting you get away from this conversation without any preview! I want details! Details! Details are good, especially if they’re spicy and Harry related coming directly from your mouth. Fucking hell, ‘m feeling like twelve, what’ve you done to me.”

“I want to see your face, Stan, don't want to miss anything,” Louis laughs and, okay, Stan is laughing, too. Louis can also hear noises on the other side of the phone, what the hell is he doing, dancing with a coat rack?

“Louis, I can't believe this,” Stan says in the end, Louis can hear the smile in his voice.

“There's more, you won’t believe it...” he starts because he can’t let him die of curiosity. So, moving his gaze towards the door, Louis whispers: “I found it.”

“What, your hindsight? Was about time.”

“No, no, I mean... I found the CD, with Harry's name and all. We were in the car, Eleanor put it on this morning when we were going to meet the flower seller for the bouquet. Perrie gave it to her, this means... This means that fucking CD did a little trip to Cambridge and back.”

“You can't be serious,” Stan deadpans after a while, his voice a little shaky. “It's quite impossible.”

“Not quite enough, I guess.”

“That's why– I told Liam when I was there last time. Of course we couldn't find it, it wasn't in London...”

It seems like Stan is talking to himself instead of Louis, he can even picture Stan's face while saying those words, but Louis heard him and there’s no way he isn’t going to ask. “What are you talking about?”

And maybe, maybe Louis wasn’t supposed to hear those words, because he can feel Stan holding his breath a little and muttering something. Too bad, now it's done and he has to know what's going on in his friend's mind.

“Ahem... Louis, okay, I'll tell you, but don't be mad at me. Nor Liam. You have to promise.”

“You tell me first, then I decide whether to murder you or hug you.”

After several seconds of silence, Stan starts speaking. “Well, the last time I came to London, you were so bad. Like, really bad. We had to do something, so I told Liam that if we could find that fucking CD maybe it would have been easier for you to clear your mind. So... Uhm, we kind of– we kind of ransacked all the vintage shops in the city to look for it. Just to give you a little nudge.”

Perhaps Stan expected Louis to be angry, screaming at them that they're stupid for having thought such a thing. Instead, Louis can't stop laughing because so many images have come to his mind, images of Liam and Stan dressed as James Bond while searching for the CD. And it's too much to handle.

“You idiots!” Louis laughs. “Whatever, are you up to come back to London for New Year's Eve?”

After a while, Stan answers. “Yeah, but... If Harry stays at yours, I'll crash at Liam's.”

“Why?” he asks, frowning, Stan has always stayed at his place when visiting. Also, Harry has his own flat, just in case.

“You know, um, don't want to– you know...”

“You've got to be kidding me, you complete wanker,” Louis mutters, understanding what Stan is thinking about. “Do you really think I'm going to fuck my boyfriend with you in the other room?”

And wow, what a strange sentence that was. Louis is sure that he'll get used to it soon and with pleasure, but for now it's so odd to hear the words 'fuck' and 'boyfriend' coming out of his own mouth in the same sentence.

“It's strange to hear,” Stan comments, as if he just read his mind. Louis can hear him smirking. “I'm really happy for you. But, don't take it wrong, maybe I'll ask Niall if I can stay there. I reckon he'll be with Clara, after all. Left alone at New Year’s Eve, what kind of friends do I have?”

Louis chuckles. “Can't wait to see you, arsehole. And, you know what, maybe I'll introduce you to a friend of mine when you’re here. Think the two of you could get along pretty well, she’s so into Game of Thrones it scares me sometimes. I swear I’m expecting her to come to work taking her dragons instead of the tube. I’m surprised she hasn’t put some quotes in the dossiers yet.”

“Oi, don't go all Cupid with me, now. I know you have a good record with Liam and Zayn, but... Well, I mean, if she likes Game of Thrones that much, mayb– Whatever, I'll leave you to your boy, now,” the other answers, laughing. “See you soon!”

Louis smiles widely and ends the call. Before putting his phone back, he spots an unread text from no less than the Khaleesi herself.

lovely to know im not gunna have xtra shifts anymore! see u at work princess xx ps: he's fucking bloody hot, damn u, im so envious! ;)

He thinks that, for his taste, he has spent far too much time away from his boyfriend in the last half an hour, so he decides to go back inside. He doesn't even have the time to get to the door, when he hears a bark of laughter echoing in the living room. He could recognise Harry's laughter among a thousand, but this time it's a bit strange, it has a note of hysteria in it. Asking himself what could possibly bring Harry to laugh in that way, Louis reaches the living room with a frown.

Apparently there's nothing strange, nothing that could mean something happened.

Liam is laying on the armchair, Zayn in his lap, and he has a weird look as if someone just told him the worst joke ever. Louis has no doubt about who might be responsible for that, if that’s the case. Zayn, on the other end, is laughing so hard, lowering his head on his boyfriend's shoulder. Niall is clinging to the back of the sofa and Louis thinks he's about to die, judging by how his face is all red, and probably he's not even breathing from the laughters. And then there's Harry. Harry is crouched on the couch, laughing so hard that his hands are both on his belly. Louis can't say for sure, but it looks like his eyes are glistening with tears from laughing so much.

No, well. This situation is more than weird. He wants to know what happened. But probably Harry told them one of his bad jokes – since he's a pro with those – and that would explain why Niall and Zayn are dying of laughter, while Liam has this frown. As for Harry, the poor bloke actually thinks his jokes are funny, it would make sense.

He's about to ask what the fuck is going on, when Harry spots him and stands up abruptly. Still laughing, Harry grabs something from the couch and quickly reaches Louis, who doesn't have time to see what he's holding because Harry puts the thing between his legs and cups Louis’ face hard, pulling him into a kiss.

Not that Louis is complaining, not at all, but seriously, what is going on here?

The kiss lasts few seconds, then Harry looks directly into his eyes. Louis loves Harry’s eyes, they're so huge, so shining. So green. Green is even Harry's favourite colour, by the way, and maybe now it’s Louis’ too. And when he's smiling, it looks like they become even bigger and brighter.

Harry rests his hands on Louis' temples, erasing all the thoughts in Louis’ mind. It’s so much better focusing on the touch.

“Lou, I love you so much.”

“Uhm, love you too, but–”

Then Harry recovers the object from between his legs and looks at it and now Louis can see what he's holding: it's the little package that Harry has brought with him since when they left the airport. Honestly, Louis was too taken by Harry’s sole presence to ask what it was, so he even forgot about it. But now Harry is holding it with trembling hands and Louis doesn't understand what's so exciting about that thing.

“This,” Harry starts, smiling, raising a hand, “is Gemma’s Christmas present for me. She’s going to Australia, you know? This holiday was to celebrate her birthday since at Christmas we won’t be together. But… Whatever, just look.”

Harry hands him the package. The moment he takes it, Louis notices that it’s a book because the wrapping paper is ripped, so few inches of the cover are visible. After removing the paper, he finds a little red card.

“Can I read it?”

Harry nods. He doesn't stop smiling at him. Louis lowers his head again and starts to read.

 

This Christmas I wanted to buy you a memorable present, something big, ‘cause I wanted you to swear love and devotion to me forever. So I studied you until I got what you really, really wanted. Do you remember when we went shopping before Niall's party? We were in that strange store I can't remember the name of. You saw a book and were basically beaming at it, and before you could take it, you had to get out because of a phone call. When you came back someone had already bought it. Tadaaaa, that someone was me!

Merry Christmas, little brother! Much love,

Gemma xx

ps: if you bought it in the meantime, I'll hate you forever :)

 

With his breath short, Louis moves the card a bit and finds himself staring at the cover of Meltdown by Ben Elton. Okay, stop everything, this isn’t happening. Louis looks up at Harry who's pulling a giant smile and that seems a confirmation of his thoughts. But it can't be true, it would be too much. The CD was kind of a miracle already, this book can't be the book. Also, they can’t find the book in the very same day as the CD. Not happening, nope.

Behind Harry, Niall and Zayn are still being idiots and Louis can't tell if they're laughing for his face – because let’s face it, he probably has the weirdest expression ever – or if they're just enjoying the moment.

“Louis,” Harry says, his voice deep and his tone firm, persuasive, “go to the last page.”

“No.”

Harry smiles. “Louis.”

“It can't be true, Haz... This is– This is too much. This can’t be real,” Louis whines, his eyes focused on the cover of the book. Harry gets even closer and caresses his cheek, obviously getting why Louis is distressed by that situation. “It was a joke, innit? At the beginning, writing our names and numbers and fuck knows what on random objects… It was only for fun. This whole thing. Just the fact I found the CD it’s a bloody miracle, this can’t be the book. Can’t be , Haz.”

“Do it for me, Lou,” he whispers, kissing the top of Louis’ head.

And Louis does, because he can't stand a chance at that.

There, in the left corner of the last page, is Louis' name. With his  last name. And his phone number. And that's his signature, for sure. And Louis wants to scream because no way he's going to believe this. It's a dream, that's it.

He looks up at Harry, tears already pooling in his eyes.

So, Harry was completely, irretrievably, definitely right about them. It wasn’t a joke. They were meant to be since the beginning, since Harry spilled that fucking tea on his jacket, probably since they were born. Maybe Destiny isn’t real, but something made sure that the two of them would meet several times. And then start to feel something, start to realise that they can't live without each other, start to love and accept it for what it is: their fate.

Louis can't believe he’s holding the book and that the CD is in Harry’s luggage. He will never get over it.

Before he realises it, a smile appears on his face and then Louis is laughing out loud all of a sudden. He can't stop it. That situation is simply just ridiculous, he can't help but laugh again and again. And again, again, again.

And then he finds himself laughing into Harry's mouth, the book ended up somewhere on the floor, and his mind busy with one thought he just can't say out loud now. Because he doesn't want that kiss to stop.

I'm so in love with you that it hurts, Harry Styles.

 

***

 

A year later.

The coldest winter in the last few years, that's what the news said that morning.

To be honest, Louis agrees even with the commas in that sentence. He thinks he's never felt this freezing inside, and he started to believe that his bones are now probably stalactites. This temperature shouldn't even exist, why does he have to experience it when back at home there's sun and out-of-season warmth?

“Stop complaining and just walk faster, it’ll warm you up,” Harry says, just when Louis was putting his hands as deep as possible in his pockets.

“I'm not complaining, I'm dead silent because this cold is trying to kill me by frostbite,” he answers, his teeth chattering.

Harry just looks at him, an expression that Louis knows means something like 'please' and 'I know what you're really up to', but that hides a shade of 'you're a twat but I love you anyway'. Louis is pretty fond of that look. Well, Louis is pretty fond of every look on Harry.

“You're complaining on the inside. I can almost hear your thoughts, you know?” he smiles, putting a hand in Louis' pocket and squeezing his. Louis takes a sigh at the contact. How come Harry is always so warm? That's unfair.

“The ones that didn't freeze,” he answers just because it's a habit. He knows Harry won that round, and Harry knows that too, since he’s already smiling for victory.

“Come on, we're almost there!”

Louis doesn't bother to answer, he only moves his hand so that his fingers are now intertwined with Harry's in his pocket. It's an uncomfortable position, mostly for Harry, but since he doesn't complain Louis isn't going to do that. It's just too nice.

They walk fast, just like Harry said, and Louis has to admit that helps warming him up a little bit.

The streets of New York are as crowded as hell at that hour of Christmas Eve, just right before everyone goes home to celebrate with family and friends. Louis tightens the grip on Harry's hand when they pass through a group of people particularly noisy and Harry turns to him, smiling to reassure him, as he always does when they are in a particularly crowded place. Louis should tell him, at some point, that he doesn't feel so bad anymore in very huddled places. It's something he noticed a couple of months before, when they were in a small covered market and it was so full of people... Niall almost had a claustrophobic attack, Clara had to kiss him to prevent the panic, and Harry held Louis in a hug to do the same. The thing is, though, that Louis wasn't scared or suffocated or anything. He was so focused on Harry's scent and presence that he almost forgot where they were, which was probably Harry's idea in the first place, but as a cure more than a prevention. So, basically, Louis found out that Harry is kind of an anti-panic button for him, and that thing is so damn cheesy and sappy and cliché that he hasn't had the courage to confess it, yet.

Also, Harry's little reassurances like the smile he’s giving him now are lovely. Harry is lovely, and Louis doesn't want to miss an inch of his loveliness.

“There!”

Louis smiles when he and Harry stop in front of the coffee shop. The sign is the same of two years ago, but the shop must have gone through some redecorations, because the tables and the walls are different from what he remembers. His eyes focus on the candle-holders snowmen: at least they're the same, he thinks with a smile. He takes his hand out of his pocket, so he can hold Harry’s in a way that is more comfortable and even more romantic, if he’s being  honest.

“Hot chocolate is the cure to everything,” he says, almost quoting Harry's words. His boyfriend must catch the reference, because he's smiling under his scarf.

“Even to frostbite?”

“Especially to frostbite,” Louis answers with a smile, before opening the door with his free hand. “Come on, pumpkin, I want to try this shop's. I hear it's almost magic, you know?”

Harry chuckles as he steps inside, both of them greeted by cosy warmth. “It must be the place's name. It sounds magic, don't you think? A little bit tied to Destiny...”

“Yeah,” Louis grins openly, caressing Harry's hand with his thumb before releasing it to take a depliant and point at its name. “Someone told me this word, Serendipity , brings luck and good things. Marvellous things. Enchanting things. Love, even, if you’re lucky enough.”

Louis knows he's babbling, knows he's probably saying things that don't even make sense, but Harry is smiling so he doesn't care. Harry has different smiles, he noticed that months and months ago, and the one he has now is one of his favourites. It's one of those reserved just for him, the one he has when Louis talks about how lucky he was to find Harry in the first place and to fall in love with him after. He's about to kiss it from his face, just to see another favourite of his, when a waitress approaches them.

“Hello! I'm Greta. Do you want to sit somewhere specific?” she asks nicely, a polite smile on her face, and Louis remembers how annoying it was a similar smile on the face of another waitress of this shop, two years ago. Poor girl, she was just doing her job in a lovely way and Louis simply couldn't stand it because of his bad mood.

How things change.

He's about to answer that no, they don't mind, when Harry speaks. He's smiling, his charming one, this time. Louis can see in the waitress' eyes that he's obviously making an impression. Louis isn't jealous, he knows how much Harry loves him, but he brings his hand on Harry's hip anyway.

“Yes, actually. We were here exactly two years ago, it was when we first met, and I was wondering– Do you mind if we take the same table from back then? If nobody's there, of course,” he smiles, that smile that always makes Louis’ knees tremble, before grabbing his hand again. “But it would be so special, you know? It's kind of our anniversary and also my boyfriend's birthday, so...”

Greta claps her hands and smiles like Harry just told her she's going to be the future Queen. Louis finds himself returning it, this girl seems genuinely happy for them and not just because she has to be polite for her job.

“How romantic! Sure, sure you can! Where were you?”

And then Harry leads the way, never letting go Louis' hand. Louis sincerely doesn't know how Harry remembers the exact position of their table, he doesn't, to be honest, but it's really lovely to sit there. He can't believe it's been two years since that day, when he was sat there with his coat wet from tea – a coat which still has a large stain on the sleeve, by the way – and a really bad mood. Louis wants to steal a time machine and go back to his past self and tell him to stop complaining about the snow, but to enjoy those first moments with his soulmate.

“What are you thinking about?” Harry asks once they’re seated, immediately hooking Louis' ankle with his.

“That you still owe me a birthday cake,” Louis winks at him.

Harry laughs out loud and Louis takes a moment just to admire him, before chuckling a bit himself. It's true, by the way, that is not even a lie. Last year he wasn't with Harry at his birthday, with lots of pain on both sides. They parted ways exactly twenty-nine hours before his birthday, because Louis wanted to go home and spend the day with his parents after everything that had happened with the wedding. He had gone to Doncaster the day after getting together with Harry, to explain them the reasons behind his decision, and they had understood. Louis had cried on his mum’s shoulder and found himself in a parents-sandwich right after. They told him everything was going to be alright and that he had made the right choice if that’s what made him really happy, and Louis had felt so lucky to have such understanding people around him. And perhaps that’s why he decided to go back to Doncaster for his birthday a couple of weeks later. Louis needed to explain what had happened between him and Harry, their feelings for each other, with a calm that he hadn’t had when he had told them the wedding had been cancelled. He wanted to tell them all about Harry and the reasons Louis loves him so much, so that they could understand how deeply involved in their relationship Louis was. Harry didn't even protest at the idea of being far away from Louis during their first holidays, he kind of insisted that Louis would go all by himself, even if Louis’ mother had invited him. It was still too soon and Louis needed that time alone with his family. He needed to do that by himself. Harry was right, as he is most of the time, and Louis is still thanking him for that, even if that meant they were separated at the first anniversary of their meeting slash first Louis' birthday together slash Christmas Eve slash Day-With-Most-Celebrations-Ever.

But now, now it’s Louis’ birthday and it’s almost Christmas and they are together in the place where it all started and it's utterly amazing.

“You're right. Do you know what you want to order?” Harry asks and Louis blinks, focusing back on what is happening around him. Birthday cake, right, and amazing hot beverages.

“A Chocolaccino. You?”

Harry grins. He answers without even looking at the menu. “A Serendipitous Hot Chocolate.”

Greta arrives a moment later, holding a plate with what looks like the best chocolate cake ever. Louis looks at it with lust, probably, because Harry laughs and reaches his hand on the table.

“Should I leave you alone with the cake?” he says, laughing, and Louis is tempted to answer 'yes, please'. But Greta is there, laughing a little bit herself.

“This is on the house. With our best wishes for a happy birthday,” she smiles at Louis, before turning to Harry, then at Louis again, “and an amazing anniversary. We're really happy your love story started here, at Serendipity Café , and we hope to see you again next year and the one after that!”

Louis turns to Harry, linking their eyes before answering. “Thank you. I hope so, too.”

Greta takes their orders and walks away immediately, leaving him and Harry alone, grinning at each other. They stay silent for a moment, just drinking each other's presence in, before Harry blinks and searches for something in his coat. Louis frowns a little bit, eyeing his movements with curiosity, until Harry puts an envelope on the table.

“I got you a present,” he says, smiling. Louis blinks at him, surprised.

“I thought I already got my present,” he answers, immediately putting his hand on his forearm, caressing the spot where he knows there's a tattoo.

Louis has never been very interested in tattoos before Harry. Harry made him curious, though, first with the birds on his chest and then asking him to go with him whenever he’s got others, and in the end Louis just surrendered. He knew he wanted a tattoo, but he wanted it to be special, meaningful, tied to the person who influenced his life in the best possible way. It was a matter of months before he told Harry he wanted them to have matching tattoos, then a matter of hours – mostly spent cuddling and, well, doing other enjoyable activities – before they decided to get the very first words they said to each other. Zayn said it was sappy, Liam laughed and Niall just suggested they would get them in their respective handwriting.

Niall is such a great friend, sometimes, honestly.

And that was their present to each other, or so Louis thought until now. He looks at Harry, who has his hand on his bicep, where there is his 'Hi', and he knows he's thinking the same thing. He squeezes a bit his own arm, right where there's an 'Oops', before reaching Harry's hand and caress his fingers.

“Harry?”

Harry blushes a bit, before turning his glare to the table and biting his lip. “Okay, I know you said you didn't want any other gifts, but I didn't listen, because, really, Lou. It’s your birthday, and Christmas, and the anniversary of our first meeting... One present just wasn't enough! Plus, the tattoos were the presents for our anniversary, and that’s like a month before your birthday. It can’t count as a present for today, absolutely not. And we were coming here, I wanted you to have a present to open, and–”

Louis shakes his head, laughing when he stretches on the table to put a hand on Harry’s mouth to stop his babbling. That's so typical of Harry, thinking something as meaningful as their tattoos isn't good enough to celebrate that date. But Harry is looking at him with hopeful eyes, eyeing the envelope every now and then, and Louis just wants to see him happy, so he doesn't say anything. He removes his hand from Harry’s mouth before he can lick it, as the idiot always does, and takes the envelope.

“Well, let's see!”

“I so hope you like it,” he’s biting his thumb nail and looks sincerely nervous about the present. Louis rolls his eyes, he can’t believe this.

“Harry, there's no chance I won't, really,” he answers, serious, because it's true. Harry smiles, already a bit relieved, but Louis can still spot hints of nervousness in his eyes.

When Louis opens the envelope, the first thing he sees it's a ticket. He gives Harry a doubtful look, but Harry just nods towards the envelope. So Louis pulls the ticket out of it – and there are two of them, actually, they were just almost glued – and then he reads.

 

Arctic Monkeys – July 12th – Manchester.

 

He raises his head and finds Harry staring at him, his bottom lip destroyed by his teeth. And... Is Harry still nervous? He doesn't know why he’s so taken by it, it's strange, also because Louis loves this present.

“So we can finally get that coffee together, in Manchester,” he whispers, searching Louis' hand, and now Louis understands why Harry was so nervous. He thought about it in detail, going back to their first conversations. And now he’s giving him that smile Louis loves the most.

That smile that screams I love you, I want to be with you forever .

Louis doesn't think – he doesn't think at all when he is with Harry, to be completely honest with himself – when he stands up and grabs Harry's face. He kisses him like they're completely alone, not only in that café, but in the whole world. He kisses him with love, and passion, and all the things he can't define because it’s too much. Harry's hands are immediately in his hair and they just stay there when they separate.

“I love you so much,” Louis murmurs on Harry's lips, who stretches to peck him one more time before answering.

“I love you, too.”

Louis takes a deep breath, inhaling Harry's scent and loving how he now smells a little bit like himself, too. It's part of the general perfection of his boy.

“You’re my little happy discovery, you know that, right?” he whispers as if it were a secret, even if he would shout it to the world, how magic and serendipitous their story is.

“Do you mean your little Harry discovery?”

“You didn’t actually say that.”

“Totally did.”

“Oh, god. Just shut up.”

“Make me.”

Louis does.

 

 

 

f i n.