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drain the whole sea

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The only heaven I’ll be sent to

is when I’m alone with you.

 

 

When Harry informs people that he’s been hired to work for Louis Tomlinson, most of them balk and refuse to believe it until he provides proof. He supposes it is pretty unbelievable that simple little Harry Styles has landed a job working in the home of someone who is not only famous for penning a bestselling book series but also for being a notorious homebody. The man is partially renowned for his aversion to socialisation and public attention, barely making appearances at his own book release parties.

The advertisement for the job offer was rather low-key, enough that Harry had high hopes in getting the position. Technically, he hasn’t been confirmed for the job just yet, but the chance of him getting it is good. Applications and resumes had been sent in through the mail, followed up by a brief phone interview, and then Harry received the call last week that he was the most likely recipient for the position. All he needs to do now is make a visit to Louis Tomlinson’s home for their first official meeting. It’s the final step left to secure the job and Harry is more than determined to leave an excellent impression on his possible new employer.

The job description technically wasn’t all that glamorous, mostly calling for a personal assistant now that Mr. Tomlinson is busy with work on his next novel, an altogether new series that no one’s heard any details about yet. Apparently, the job would mostly involve taking care of his home on a daily basis and maintenance of the more menial household tasks, including preparation of simple meals and cleaning regularly. He would essentially be a homemaker for this man, but Harry doesn’t entirely mind, figuring that being in close quarters with such a successful author might provide Harry with the boost he needs to give his own writing career a kickstart.

Ever since he was a kid, Harry had always jumped from one aspiration to another, wanting to become a veterinarian in primary school, changing his mind to a marine biologist less than five years later, and then deciding he’d be a musician in sixth form. The only constant, though, was writing; for years, it’s been his only passion that has never changed, only growing and becoming more of a concrete possibility as time passed. By the time he turned eighteen and was faced with the prospect of going to university, Harry had made his decision to go with what felt the most right, which turned out to be foregoing university to take a paid internship at a publishing company in New York City.

Of course, his mum had been beyond distressed about her only son shipping off overseas for a two-year career investment, but it didn’t get much better when he returned to the UK at the age of twenty only to move away to London. It was much closer to his hometown of Holmes Chapel than New York, but it was still a fair distance away and Anne kept frowning over something about an “empty nest” since Gemma had moved away years ago to pursue photography.

For the past year and a half, Harry has been juggling two minimum wage jobs: one at a nearby Nando’s and one at a small library, all while trying (and failing) to get any of his manuscripts considered by publishers. This opportunity to work for the bestselling author Louis Tomlinson might be exactly what Harry needs.

Today is the first time he’s actually meeting the man, or even seeing the house he’s going to be working in for the next several months. Of course, he was sent a brief description of the house (brick exterior, modern interior design, three levels with one master bedroom, four unused bedrooms, nine bathrooms, and ten more rooms used for miscellaneous purposes), but nothing could have prepared Harry for what he sees when he finally locates the home, a little bit north of Exeter.

The drive from London had taken about three and a half hours by car (especially since Harry’s car is a piece of junk, and that’s putting it nicely), so he had left his flat around nine o’clock in the morning after sharing some waffles and tea with his flatmates, George and Taylor. They’d wished him good luck on his way out the door, but he’d been jittery with nerves the whole drive here.

Now, as he spots a small stone pillar plastered with the right address number and makes a turn into the driveway, he’s even more overcome with anxiety, teeth digging into the plush of his bottom lip. Within seconds, he comes to face a black wrought iron gate, looming before him in all its polished glory. The barrier is opaque enough that he can’t quite see past it, nor around it, thanks to the brick border and vegetation surrounding the entrance.

He pulls up beside a small black post located on the side, rolling his windows down to stare at the keypad attached to it. Racking his brain to try to recall if he had been told any sort of passcode beforehand, he decides to reach out of his car and simply press the blue Call button.

A zip of static comes through the tiny intercom, followed by a soft voice. “Hello?”

“Hi, um, I’m looking for Louis Tomlinson’s residence?” Harry squeaks, anxiety seeping into his voice.

There’s a pause filled with quiet static. “Are you… Harry Styles, is that correct?”

Harry clears his throat. “Yes, that’s correct.”

“One moment, please.” There’s a resounding beep emitted from the speaker, and then the gate starts to slowly creak open. “Go on through, Mr. Styles.”

“Oh, um, it’s just Harry,” the young man tries to say, but the static has already been cut off, clearly indicating that the interaction is over. Attempting to swallow down his nerves, Harry faces ahead again, rolling up his window as he moves his car forward onto the winding cobblestone driveway concealed by a thicket of towering evergreens. There are too many twists and turns in the path that he can’t get a good look at the house at the end of it, but he’s just glad he’s even made it this far. Not many people can say they’ve been this close to Louis Tomlinson’s private home. Drumming restless fingers against the steering wheel as he slowly manoeuvres his way along the serpentine driveway, he eventually reaches the end, gaping at the sight that meets him.

When the email described the building as having a brick exterior, it had neglected to mention just how stunning the homely manor is. Crawling up from the shrubbery that surrounds the house’s perimeter are leafy vines of ivy, clinging to the bricks in swirling designs. The pure green of the brush complements the soft pastels of petals popping out of the small front garden, bordered by an iron fence and gate. The thing that captures Harry’s attention the most, though, is the wide, round fountain placed directly in front of the house, the driveway twisting to loop around it. It’s bare of any ostentatious statues or figures, just a short, broad pool of blue with water that quietly spouts up from the centre. When his car nears the loop, he can see that it appears to be made of dark marble.

There’s a small two-car garage to the right of the house, made of the same red brick with only two lines worn into the grass by tire tracks and no other pavement leading into it. Strangely enough, there’s a sleek black Honda parked in front of the doorsteps, instead of being placed in the garage. By the time Harry stops his own car behind the Honda, the front door is being cracked open.

Harry pockets his keys and slips out of the car, feeling a bit embarrassed to be stepping out of such a shitty vehicle in comparison to the one right in front of it. Still, he tries to keep his chin up and his stance confident as he makes his way towards the front door where a kind-faced man is smiling politely at him. Approaching the man, Harry offers a tense hand, nerves skyrocketing. “Are you Mr. Tomlinson?”

The man laughs, shaking Harry’s hand. “No, no, I’m not Mr. Tomlinson. My name is Liam Payne and I’m Louis’s literary agent. I was the one in contact with you during the process.”

In the corner of his vision, Harry catches the flicker of movement in one of the upper level windows. When he focuses his eyes on the spot, there’s nothing there. He blinks and turns his attention quickly back to the man in front of him, absorbing his words. “So – I mean, I was never actually speaking to Mr. Tomlinson?”

“All me. Please, come in.” Liam steps aside and waves Harry through the door, shutting it with a soft click before leading him through the foyer.

If Harry was impressed by the outside, he’s almost as mesmerised by the inside. It’s rather simple, just white walls adorned with absolutely beautiful silver-framed paintings, mostly of scenic landscapes or colourful nature, paired with monochrome furniture and marble floors. He’s a bit enraptured by the simple luxury of this home, plain enough to avoid being gaudy and just lavish enough to show that the owner of this home clearly has wealth (and good taste). Harry is so enraptured, in fact, that he doesn’t notice the figure descending the staircase until they speak.

“Who’s this?”

Harry’s head snaps to the side, eyes widening as he drinks in the sight of a new man entirely. And he’s kind of – wow. His beauty is a bit reminiscent of Sam, Harry’s boyfriend, with a sharp jaw dusted in scruffy stubble and high cheekbones, but the similarities end there. Where Sam has smouldering, warm honey-coloured eyes, this man’s are a stunning, clear blue, set below perfectly arched eyebrows and behind black-framed glasses that make Harry itch. His lips are thinner than Sam’s, but they still look soft and pink and – Harry halts that train of thought right there. He takes in the sweep of caramel brown fringe and feels the inexplicable urge to rake his fingers through the man’s hair.

Thankfully, Liam chooses to speak up before Harry can do or say anything strange or offensive. “Ah, Louis!” the young agent chirps, leading Harry over to the bottom of the staircase with a polite hand on his back. “Harry, this is Louis Tomlinson, your new employer. Louis, this is your new personal assistant, Harry Styles.”

Watching Mr. Tomlinson descend the rest of the stairs to meet them at the bottom, wearing a plain white shirt and grey trackies, Harry stamps down the pang of attraction that settles in the pit of his stomach and reaches out to shake the man’s hand. The touch makes him feel a bit warm. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Tomlinson. I’m a huge fan of your work.”

Louis’s handshake is firm, but his eyes are kind. “Please, call me Louis. You’ll be living here with me for the next several months, might as well be casual with each other.”

Harry nods in acknowledgement of the request, fidgeting a bit out of pure nerves. “Okay. I look forward to working with you, Louis.”

The older man’s soft, thin lips tilt into a playful smirk, his stance confident and at ease. “Likewise, Harry Styles.”

Harry studiously ignores the warm, fluttery feeling in his stomach. He has a boyfriend. The last thing he should be thinking right now is about how nice Louis’s smile is.

 

*

 

The first few days pass quickly, Harry mostly just trying to get used to living in the same house as Louis Tomlinson. It’s an enormous change of pace, that’s for sure, and he’s trying his best to adjust. Replacing his usual cheap, drugstore toiletries are high-quality, expensive products and plush towels. His normal resting place in his flat is a shitty mattress covered haphazardly with mismatched sheets, sitting on the floor with no frame or headboard. Here, he falls asleep on cosy sleigh bed with a memory foam mattress sheathed in silver silk sheets, all nestled in a hodgepodge of soft throw pillows. It feels like sleeping on a cloud and living in a private paradise, but he typically tries not to say too much of this during his regular calls with Sam.

His boyfriend has been notably less than supportive about this whole situation. From the start, he’s been bitter about Harry’s firm decision to go through with this, especially since Harry refused to let Sam sway him or make him consider otherwise. They’d been talking about moving in together, partly because they’re in a relationship and partly because Sam tends to couch-surf and wants somewhere more substantial to stay and settle. With Harry moving three and a half hours away for this job, though, any talk of sharing a flat has been put on hold until Harry comes back next year. Sam isn’t very happy about it, and he’s made this fact well-known.

“I still can’t believe you just – abandoned me,” Sam grumbles now, voice a bit staticky over the phone.

Harry treads lightly across the plush white carpet of his temporary room, flopping down onto the bed. He’d just finished cleaning the kitchen after whipping up some brekkie for Louis and himself, and now he’s feeling a bit sleepy. He wishes he could take a nap, but he knows he still has other responsibilities to get done today. Still, a short break to relax couldn’t hurt.

Well, he thought so, at least. He can’t really relax when Sam is grumping at him like this. He sighs. “I didn’t abandon you, don’t make it sound so dramatic. I’m away for work right now, and it’s really important to me. I would love it if you would show me some support.”

He can simultaneously hear Sam sigh through the receiver and Louis calling his name from somewhere else in the house. “I just don’t understand, Harry,” his boyfriend is muttering unhappily. Harry’s torn. “I thought things were going really well for us, and then you just – you just up and left. I don’t―”

“Look, I am so sorry to have to do this,” Harry cuts him off, guilt already brewing in his gut. “But I have to go right now. Louis is calling for me.”

“Oh, well, if Louis is calling for you, then―”

Harry rolls his eyes, thankful Sam isn’t here to see it. “It’s my job, babe, I can’t just ignore it. I’ll call you later tonight, okay?”

Sam is silent for a few beats. “Whatever.”

He’s hesitant to say it with this weird tension between them now, even across the distance, but Harry mumbles sweetly, “I love you.”

“Yeah, you too,” is all he gets before the line goes dead.

Heaving an exasperated sigh, Harry gives himself a moment to compose himself and let his simmering irritation subside before pushing himself up and exiting the room. He calls out for Louis, trying to figure out his whereabouts. Following his voice, he finds Louis sitting in his game room. There are several arcade games lined up along the walls, including skee-ball, but Louis isn’t near any of them. Instead – “Up for a game of table tennis?”

Harry tries to resist the urge to smile, but a small grin breaks loose anyway. Never had he expected the world-famous author Louis Tomlinson to be as childish as a six-year-old, but the past week has surprised him in more ways than one.

He recalls Liam telling him during his orientation that Louis often procrastinates and puts off writing his novel by finding distractions and playing games or watching television. He also recalls Liam telling him that if Harry catches Louis doing this, then he should put a stop to it and make him work.

He definitely should stop it, he knows. He easily could, simply by refusing to play and ordering Louis to return to his office.

Instead, he picks up the paddle lying atop the green table and fiddles with it as he compromises, “Okay. If I win, you have to get back to your office and finish that chapter you keep abandoning. Deal?”

Louis grins and grabs his own paddle, looking ridiculously attractive with his bright eyes and dark scruff and smart-looking glasses. “Deal.”

 

*

 

Harry learns that he is absolutely rubbish at table tennis, at least up against Louis.

He also learns that Louis still gives in quite easily when Harry pulls out his best puppy dog eyes, so Harry gets his way anyhow. Apparently, nobody is immune to Harry’s pout, not even Louis Tomlinson.

(Except for Gemma, of course.)

 

*

 

The routine first develops after Harry’s been working in Louis’s home for a little over a month. By now, he’s learned all of Louis’s favourite meals (he’s rather fond of egg on toast in the mornings and Harry’s chicken alfredo for dinner), a few solidly successful methods of getting Louis to cooperate and write (mainly consisting of bribery and making cute sad faces), and the best way to go about waking Louis up in the mornings (it would make him blush if mentioned anywhere outside of Louis’s bedroom at eight in the morning, but apparently, Louis wakes up the most easily when Harry sings to him quietly until he rouses; Harry isn’t sure how he should feel about that, but hey, whatever works).

Sam continues to get on Harry’s case, beginning to make attempts at manipulation to convince Harry to come back to London. He offers no support for Harry or his job, only making rude remarks about Louis whenever he’s brought up in the conversation. Even then, it’s usually Sam himself bringing Louis into it. Harry always tries to keep the peace and not cause any more tension between them. Evidently, it doesn’t work. At all.

It’s after a particularly rough conversation on the phone with Sam that Harry finds himself feeling morose and uncertain about pretty much everything. Maybe he shouldn’t, but he’s always cared a lot about what other people think of him. He especially values the opinions of his loved ones, and he’s always placed a stupid amount of importance on whatever his current partner thinks or says about him. Unfortunately, his current boyfriend doesn’t seem to have a not of nice things to say to or about him.

Lately, it’s all negative comments. Shit like, “Do you really think working like this bloke’s slave is going to get you anywhere? You’ve been working towards this career for years, Harry, being this author’s bitch isn’t going to suddenly land you a publishing deal.” And sure, Sam had a point there, but it still stung.

Harry’s curled up on the leather couch downstairs, staring at a muted television screen and wondering if he’s being realistic in chasing his dreams like this, when Louis calls out for him. His voice sounds soft this time, less like a beckon and more like a shy question. Harry doesn’t have to go find him, he knows that. He could easily ignore it and wait to see if Louis really needs anything and will call out again. He doesn’t, though.

His bones creak a bit from disuse and his awkward position on the couch when he stands up and stretches, satisfied when his back cracks. It sounded like Louis was calling from the first level, which means he isn’t upstairs in his office. Socked feet padding softly across hardwood floors, Harry quietly makes his way through a couple of the hallways, hoping Louis will say something again but only met with continual silence.

Finally, he finds a door cracked open just enough to let out a ray of dim light, spilling out into the corridor. It’s one of the rooms he’s never been inside of before, not because it was forbidden or anything but mostly because he just never happens to wander over here. When he gently eases the door open, he’s surprised to be met with a library. A rather beautiful library, in fact.

The floor is a wide expanse of soft burgundy carpet, as plush as the carpet in Harry’s room, and the walls are made up of smooth wood paneling. The room is large and a bit spacious, but the walls are lined with endless shelves packed to their capacity with books of all shapes and sizes, accompanied with more shelves lined up in rows towards the back, just like a regular public library.

In the middle of it all, Louis sits curled up on a black loveseat, the novel he’s writing open in front of him. There’s a plain chandelier hanging from the ceiling, illuminating the room with a warm glow, but Louis still has a lamp switched on atop the small end table beside him.

It feels almost wrong to disturb him, but Harry softly speaks up. “Mr. Tomlinson?” he says politely, purely out of habit and good manners that have been drilled into his brain.

The man’s head flies up immediately, eyes tired and lips set in a slight frown. His expression brightens a bit at the sight of Harry, but it still appears a bit bleak. “Hi, Harry. How many times have I told you to just call me Louis?” His tone is a bit playful, but he sounds small. “Did you have a good talk with your boyfriend?”

Harry steps a bit further into the room, his socked toes digging into the luxurious carpet. He absently wishes he were barefoot. “Um, not exactly… You called my name?”

“Oh. Yeah, I did, didn’t I?” Louis seems a bit unresponsive, looking down to frown at his book.

“Are you okay, Louis?” He’s tentative to ask, but he can’t just ignore the look on the man’s face. Harry has grown to like Louis quite a lot in the past month, might even consider him a friend, and seeing him look like this is kind of killing him a little.

“Yeah, yeah,” Louis is quick to dismiss. He seems to hesitate then, pausing for a moment. “It’s just… This damn book.”

Harry carefully approaches Louis, stepping around the small coffee table that sits in front of the loveseat to sit down next to the older man. “What about it?”

Louis seems to pull the book closer to himself, almost shielding it from Harry’s vision, which kind of stings a bit, but Harry understands that his novel is a private matter. Even more than that, it’s a work in progress, and most writers would be reluctant to share unfinished products with people they barely know. Still, though.

“I know how it ends,” Louis finally says, ending the statement with a sigh.

When he doesn’t say anything more than that, Harry gently prompts, “And…?”

“And I don’t think it’s good,” he finishes. He suddenly raises his head to look over at Harry, his eyes looking a bit clearer now that he’s talking to Harry. “Did you ever read my last series?”

Harry flushes. What a fucking question. Yes, he wants to say. I slaved over those books nonstop for two weeks until I finished reading them, and then I reread them all over again because I was that in love with your writing. Aloud, what he actually says is, “Yeah, I’ve read it. Why?”

“Well, y’know how Tristan dies for the cause in the end, but Harper and Lilly still get their happy ending?”

“Yeah.” Actually, Harry remembers the ending quite well. He remembers crying because he felt so happy to see a bisexual character represented so beautifully in a popular book series. If he recalls correctly, it was one of the things that gave him the courage to finally come out to his family and friends. He also remembers the books getting praised by numerous LGBTQ organisations. He doesn’t say any of that, though.

“I don’t think there’s a happy ending in this one.” Louis stays quiet for a few moments. “I don’t want to write it.”

Maybe if Harry weren’t a passionate writer himself, his advice to Louis might be a simple, “Then don’t write it,” or, “Just write a happy ending, then.” He is a passionate writer, though, and he understands. It’s not really as straightforward as simply writing a happy ending.

Harry has a feeling that the connotations of this conversation run deeper than he can see on the surface. He takes a moment, sitting in pensive silence as he chooses his next words carefully. “I think, like… Most of the time, y’know, people don’t expect the best possible outcome; we hope for the best yet expect the worst. Then we get surprised when things turn out better than we were expecting. So maybe you shouldn’t say so soon that there’s no happy ending.” He smiles. “Maybe you’ll surprise yourself.”

“You have a good point, but…” Louis trails off, averting his eyes to the floor again. In the edge of his vision, Harry can see Louis’s fingers tightening almost imperceptibly on his book.

“Listen, sometimes things work out for the best. Sometimes they don’t. But I think that, either way, you must love your characters a lot already if you want a happy ending for them so badly, and they deserve to have their stories told, whether they get that happy ending or not.”

Louis stays still and silent for a few heavy moments, enough time for Harry to wonder if he just put his foot in his mouth, but then he swivels his head to send a soft smile to Harry and everything is okay, everything is good. Louis’s voice is appreciative when he says, “Thank you, Harry. I think you’re right. I owe it to the characters to tell the story anyway, don’t I?”

Harry isn’t sure exactly where they stand on terms of physical contact, but he takes a risk and reaches over to place an affectionate hand on the older man’s upper back, feeling his sharp shoulder blade dig lightly into Harry’s palm. His thumb absently rubs small circles into Louis’s sweater while he speaks. “Yeah, I think so. Think you feel up to writing right now? Or would you rather have some tea and watch the telly for a while first?”

“Some tea and telly sounds like a good plan to me,” Louis answers softly, hopeful blue eyes flickering up to hold Harry’s for a moment. “Maybe some cuddles too?”

Harry doesn’t know where the line is that separates a respectable employee-boss relationship from inappropriate affection. He would love to cuddle Louis, but that line of separation is slowly getting blurred with every day he spends here. Then again, Louis is the boss in this situation; he sets the rules and guidelines, and if he wants some cuddles to cheer him up, then…

Harry nods. “Yeah, some cuddles too. Whatever makes you feel best.”

Louis feels better enough an hour later to curl up in an armchair in his office and carry on writing, and that’s all that should matter, Harry thinks.

 

*

 

Sam isn’t happy.

Normally, Harry wouldn’t really worry too much; he’d just try his best to cheer him up and comfort him and assure himself that it isn’t his fault that his boyfriend is yelling at him. The problem is, though, that it is Harry’s fault this time.

When he answered the call from Sam tonight (which were becoming incredibly less frequent), he wasn’t expecting to be shouted at. He was hoping for a pleasant chat, some time to catch up on things, and maybe a bit of affection. Instead, he’s been arguing with his boyfriend for the past ten minutes.

“Sam, you need to calm down, okay?” Harry tries to placate him, despite his growing irritation. He rolls over on his bed, slumping into the soft sheets and pillows as a form of comfort. “You know I love you and wish I could be with you, but this is my job. I can’t give you my undivided attention.”

“Yeah, because you’re too busy being some famous wanker’s bitch.” The words cut, but Harry’s not sure if he’s more angered by being called a bitch or by his boyfriend calling Louis a wanker.

“Okay, you can fuck right off with that attitude.” It’s rare for Harry to snap at anyone, but Sam is pushing all the wrong buttons right now and he’s pretty fucking done with this conversation.

“What, mad that I’m telling you the truth? You’re not going to get anywhere with this bloke, Harry. If no one wanted to publish your shitty books before, then working for some random wanker isn’t going to get you published now. Just give it up.”

Now Harry’s seething. His grip tightens on his phone, cheeks flushed with aggravation. “Goodbye, Sam. You can call me when you decide to stop being such a dickhead.” He’s a bit surprised that the phone doesn’t break from the force he uses to press the End button.

See, the thing that bothers Harry the most is that Sam had been endlessly supportive of him from the beginning, throughout their entire time together, but once Harry’s left to pursue better work and a potential breakthrough to a writing career, Sam completely switches gears and acts like Harry chasing his dream is the worst thing he could do. Even worse, he’s acting like a petulant child, kicking and screaming when he’s not being absolutely lavished with attention.

And like, part of Harry can understand that, the desire to be someone’s top priority, but he’s always been taught to pick someone who’s supportive when looking for a partner. As of lately, Sam isn’t really shaping up to fit that description.

Harry sighs into the silk fabric of a throw pillow, taking a moment to compose himself before sliding off the bed and exiting the room. Socked feet padding lightly across the polished hardwood, he heads downstairs to where he thinks Louis is.

Sure enough, when he gets there, he finds Louis lounging in front of the telly, watching reruns of The X-Factor in a pair of black trackies and a purple sweatshirt. The older man looks cuddly and soft, curled up on a leather sofa. His eyes flick away from the television when Harry appears and sits down on the empty cushion next to him.

Louis is Harry’s boss, and they should try to maintain some semblance of a professional relationship, but… “Would it be completely inappropriate to ask for a cuddle?”

“Absolutely not,” is Louis’s quick reply, paired with an uncharacteristically tentative smile. He holds his arms out for Harry to slump into, ducking his head to fit it against the older man’s neck, tucked under his scruffy chin. Louis is somehow both soft and firm, enough to ground Harry and comfort him at the same time.

They stay like that for a while, the show still playing quietly in the background, until Harry no longer feels tears stinging at the corners of his eyes and the hot flare of anger has subsided. He carefully creates a bit more distance between them, but he maintains some closeness, still craving the comfort that accompanies a good, warm cuddle.

Louis is looking at him inquisitively, clearly expecting an explanation of sorts, but Harry doesn’t feel like talking about it. He rarely talks to Louis about Sam, and he prefers to keep it that way.

Steering the situation elsewhere, Harry backs off a little more and asks, “What are your holiday plans?”

Louis seems to accept the lack of an explanation easily enough. “Going home to celebrate my birthday and Christmas, then I was thinking of having my sisters stay up here for the rest of their winter hols.”

“Right, your sisters,” Harry says. “Daisy, Felicité, Phoebe, and... Lottie?”

Louis beams. “Yeah, yeah. There are the two babies, Doris and Ernest, but they’re not old enough to stay over yet.”

Harry nods.

“What about you?”

“Well, since you so kindly gave me the week of Christmas off, I was planning on bringing Sam up to Holmes Chapel for Christmas with my family. They’ve never met him before, so I figured it’d be nice to introduce everyone.”

The other man’s brow furrows. “He’s never met your family? I thought you guys have been together for months.”

“We have, but…” Harry shrugs. “He was never interested in going with me to see them.”

Louis frowns, but he doesn’t say anything more.

They finish watching X-Factor reruns in companionable silence, and when Louis leans against Harry’s side and gets comfortable there, Harry finds that his fight with Sam is the last thing on his mind.

 

*

 

“You’re going to love them, Sam, I know you will,” Harry enthuses, fingers drumming against the steering wheel to the beat of Blank Space. The temperature had been slowly dropping since the moment they started packing the car, and now snow is falling in light, lazy flurries. It’s still warm enough that it barely sticks to the ground before most of it melts. Harry kind of dreads the wet slush that the snow is bound to turn into if it doesn’t let up soon.

In the passenger seat, Sam shifts, laying his head against the window. He hums noncommittally.

Harry sighs.

Sam had been hesitant when Harry had initially invited him to spend Christmas with him and his family, but he’d eventually agreed to go. After having invited Sam countless times over the duration of their relationship to come up and meet his parents, Harry’s honestly just pleasantly surprised and excited to finally bring his boyfriend home to meet the family. He had always declined the invitations before, claiming he was particularly busy that week or wasn’t feeling well.

At first, Harry had expected Sam to share his excitement, or at least a tiny bit of it. To his disappointment, though, Sam just seems tired and bored. Harry’s been attempting to converse with him the whole drive so far, but to no avail. Sam had been happy to have Harry back, of course, and they’d revelled in some reunion sex the night before, but he seemed to just lose his excitement over having Harry back as more time passed.

Now, he looks kind of grumpy, giving Harry short answers and curt replies.

Eventually, Harry’s had enough of it and wants an explanation. “Babe, what’s wrong?”

Sam shrugs. “Nothing’s wrong, Harry.”

“You’re clearly bothered by something. C’mon, what is it? Did I do something?”

For a moment, Sam is quiet. There’s a bit of tension growing in the car, and it only amplifies when Sam finally spits out, “Actually, yes, Harry, you did do something. You left me completely alone to go chase a stupid dream that’ll never come true just because you decided to be this Tomlinson bloke’s glorified housemaid.”

Harry is taken off guard enough by the outburst that he nearly forgets to take the next turn, his grip tightening on the steering wheel. Taylor Swift is still singing on the radio. “What the fuck, Sam? If you think my dream is so stupid and impossible, then why did you ever support me in the beginning? You always knew about my dream to be published, it’s not like it’s any sort of surprise.”

“No, but it is a surprise to have you just pack up and abandon your life in London because you think that catering to this prick will somehow get you what you want. Newsflash, it’s just a shitty, insignificant job. It’s not going to get you anywhere, and I have no clue why you ever took it.”

“Because it’s an amazing opportunity!” Harry splutters. “Yes, I have to take care of housekeeping and cook meals for him, but I also get to see the actual process of writing a professional novel and shadow one of the decade’s best authors! How can you not see the value in that?”

They stop at a red light, car idling while Harry takes the time to look over at his boyfriend. While Harry feels and probably looks distraught over the things Sam is saying, the other man only looks spiteful and annoyed. It’s almost enough to make Harry wish he hadn’t invited Sam to come with him.

“Well, if you value that more than your own boyfriend, then―”

“Sam, I’m bringing you to meet my family!” Harry protests, knowing exactly where his boyfriend was going with that. “You can’t honestly think I don’t care about you. Because I do.”

Sam scowls, but he doesn’t say anything in response to that. He just leans against the window again, refusing to look at Harry.

The light turns green. They spend the rest of the drive in silence.

 

*

 

Harry had hoped that Sam would be better once they got to Holmes Chapel, and he is, at least a little bit. He hugs Anne and Gemma and shakes Robin’s hand, he tells them that they have a lovely home, and he even accepts Harry’s kiss when he cuddles up to Sam later on in the evening. They’re curled up together on the sofa, watching Love Actually with Gemma. In the kitchen right around the corner, Anne is putting the roast in the oven. Robin ran out to the store to pick up dessert for later, so Gemma is taking the time to interrogate Sam and try to get to know him.

It isn’t turning out particularly great.

“So you live in London near Harry?” she inquires, snacking on a bag of crisps in the purple armchair.

Sam fidgets. “Yeah, I do.”

“When did you move there?”

“Um, a few years ago.”

“What made you want to live there?”

Sam looks a bit flustered. “I was going to uni in Manchester, but I was offered a job in London, so I went.”

“Oh. What do you do for a living then?”

“I’m a lyricist.”

Harry’s sister looks a bit puzzled. “Meaning…?”

“Meaning I write songs and other people sing them,” Sam explains, fidgeting again. He seems to be increasingly uncomfortable, dislodging Harry from where he’d been resting against his shoulder.

“How come you don’t just sing them yourself?” Gemma asks, merely curious.

“How come you don’t mind your own business?” Sam mutters. He says it lowly, voice a bit hushed, but both Harry and Gemma still hear it.

Gemma flushes, clearly a bit embarrassed and offended, and Harry smacks Sam on the arm and scowls at him. He bounces off the couch and plops himself down on Gemma’s lap instead, trying to make her feel better. It works, sort of. She pretends to be suffocating, pushing at his heavy body where it’s slumped on her legs and shoulder, but she’s laughing and it’s okay.

Harry ignores the expression of annoyance on Sam’s face. He’ll deal with him and his rude arse later.

 

*

 

Harry calls Louis to wish him a happy birthday on the 24th. He sounds elated when he thanks him and they chat for a bit before there’s a ruckus on Louis’s end and a small excited voice chirps down the line, introducing herself as Louis’s sister Phoebe.

He giggles at the silly girl’s rambles and tries to ignore the critical glare Sam is sending him from two feet away, but it proves to be difficult when Sam huffs and stalks off. Later on, when he asks what’s wrong, all he gets is the silent treatment.

Strangely enough, Harry finds that he doesn’t mind all that much.

 

*

 

Early on Christmas morning, Harry wakes up to an empty bed. The spot beside him is still warm, so Sam couldn’t have left too long ago. He continues to lie there in the quiet hours of early morning, pale peach-coloured light filtering in through the blinds and falling across his bare torso in slanted stripes. There’s something simultaneously peaceful and exciting about the morning; he basks alone in it for a bit longer.

Eventually, he slips out of bed and dons his favourite dorky Christmas sweater, flannel sleep pants, and some reindeer slippers. Once he’s all decked out for Christmas, he brushes his teeth and then heads downstairs to search for his missing boyfriend.

It turns out to be rather easy of a search.

He opens the back door and steps out onto the porch, watching Sam startle where he’s leaning against the railing and puffing out a silver cloud of smoke.

“I thought you quit,” Harry comments, twiddling his thumbs like a shy toddler. He doesn’t know why his own boyfriend makes him so nervous. He doesn’t think it’s supposed to feel like this, tense and uncertain.

“I started up again,” Sam answers, voice quiet and slow like molasses in the first sleepy hours of daylight.

“How come you didn’t tell me?”

“It isn’t a big deal, Harry,” he dismisses, sucking on the cigarette again.

Harry frowns. It’s really not a big deal, but he still wishes Sam would tell him these things. He always feels in the dark about his life. Lips trembling from both nerves and the chilly air, he voices these thoughts aloud.

Sam grimaces. “You’re not my keeper, H.”

“I know I’m not,” Harry says, getting a bit agitated. “S’not what I meant.”

Sam doesn’t say anything for a bit, carrying on smoking in the cold, so Harry doesn’t either. He eventually breaks the silence, hugging himself to try to stay warm. “Well. Merry Christmas, babe.” He injects as much warmth as he can into his words, hoping Sam will lighten up a little.

It doesn’t work. “Bet you wished Louis a merry Christmas first, didn’t you?” he sneers.

“What? No, I didn’t. I literally just woke up and came to find you.”

“Right.” He takes another drag, turning away from Harry to face the garden again. There are no flowers blooming in December. The cold bites at Harry’s thighs through the fabric of his pyjamas.

“I’m going inside to wake up my family,” Harry says. “Come back in when you’re ready to open presents.”

 

*

 

His present is awful.

Usually, Harry is grateful for any gifts he’s lucky enough to get, especially from loved ones, but they’ve been dating for months and yeah, Harry had been expecting a bit more for Christmas, so sue him. It’s not like he’d set his expectations very high, anyway. He would have been content with a new Packers beanie (he’s got a thing for American football; Gemma teases him for it every chance she gets) or maybe a copy of that book he’s been really wanting to read.

Instead, his only present from Sam is a gift card to Topman for £25. It’s the least thoughtful or heartfelt gift he’s gotten so far from anyone between close friends and family. Still, he kisses his cheek and thanks him, trying not to sulk while Sam opens his gift from Harry.

Sitting in a white jewelry box is a beautiful silver watch that cost at least a paycheck and a half. It’s engraved with their initials, something that had seemed sweet at the time and now just makes Harry feel embarrassed from the look on Sam’s face. His boyfriend looks a bit uneasy as he clasps it onto his wrist and thanks Harry quietly.

It feels like an awkward transaction between strangers. Harry doesn’t want to think about what that means for them.

 

*

 

Coming back from Holmes Chapel the following week is a combination of depressing and relieving. The former because he always misses his family and he hates leaving them; the latter because things were simply uncomfortable after a certain point. Any of them could clearly see that Sam wasn’t particularly enjoying their stay, even going as far as asking Harry if they could just leave early right after Christmas.

Harry had tried to see it from his boyfriend’s point of view, but honestly, he can’t. If it were him being invited to meet and stay a week with Sam’s family, he’d be nothing but ecstatic and determined to get along with them. Sam barely even tried.

Now the magic of Christmas is no longer here to distract him from the way Sam’s been acting (which is, frankly, like a dick) and everything that was bright and colourful before just feels dimmed and washed out now. He feels tired.

The original plan was for them to head to London from Holmes Chapel to have Harry spend his last night at Sam’s, but when they finally finish suffering through the mostly silent, supremely tense drive back to Sam’s flat, Harry isn’t so sure anymore. He lets his car idle by the kerb and twists his body a bit to face Sam, who’s already looking at him expectantly.

He takes a deep breath. “I think I’m just going to head back now instead of tomorrow, if you don’t mind.”

Sam sets his jaw, straightening in his seat. “I see how it is. I spend all week busting my ass to make your dumb family like me and you repay me by skipping out early.”

“What the fuck,” Harry splutters, eyes widening in surprise and eyebrows coming together in an expression of hurt and irritated confusion. “That — that is the reason why I’m ‘skipping out early.’ Your attitude all week has been absolutely rotten and I’m sick of having to deal with it. I was expecting a nice, enjoyable week with the people I love and instead I got an uncomfortable holiday where both I and my family had to practically walk on eggshells around you. You could have been nicer, Sam.”

“It’s not like it would have mattered to you anyway, Harry!” he exclaims, his facial features marred with abject anger. “You didn’t pay me any attention the whole time, you never do! I clearly don’t mean much to you, so what are we even doing anyway?”

Harry’s frozen. He tries to swallow against the lump lodged in his throat, but he still feels like he’s choking. “Please don’t do this, Sam, please don’t,” he says quietly, pleading with his eyes.

Sam looks torn. There’s still some love in his eyes when he looks at Harry, but there’s also a bit of resignation there too. Eventually, he sighs. “Okay. I won’t.”

The relief coursing through Harry’s veins is bittersweet. He knows their relationship is getting increasingly rocky, but he doesn’t want to let go of someone he cares so deeply for. He loves Sam. He doesn’t know how to let go of him.

They clamber out of the car to bring Sam’s bags into his flat, only setting them down in the messy entry before turning to each other to say goodbye. Harry is the one who grips his boyfriend’s shoulders and pulls him into a tight, warm embrace, face buried against his scruffy neck. He presses a kiss to his pulse point, savouring the last moments together before he has to leave.

Sam’s hands come up to rest on Harry’s hips, one of them moving back to slip under Harry’s shirt and press against the dimples in his lower back. “I’ll miss you. I don’t understand why you have to leave again.”

“It’s important to me, babe,” Harry murmurs, kissing his jaw sweetly.

“I want to be important to you too.”

“You are.”

“But not important enough for you to stay,” he mutters under his breath, sounding more withdrawn.

Harry wishes he could tell him otherwise, tell them that he is important enough for Harry to stay, but the naked truth is that he’s just not. This dream has been an honest passion of Harry’s for as long as he can remember; he’s only known Sam for a year, and he’s been dating him for even less. As much as he cares about his boyfriend, he’s simply not willing to throw away an amazing opportunity like this just to please him.

Instead of saying anything in response, he pulls back and cups Sam’s face gently, laying a soft kiss on his lips, which he returns with only a light pressure. As far as kisses go, this one is the saddest Harry’s ever shared. “I love you,” he whispers into his mouth, pecking his lips one more time before he pulls out of the embrace entirely and steps back.

They exchange smiles, but neither of them reach their eyes. Harry’s is sad with a stubbornly hopeful tilt to the corner of his mouth, but Sam’s is just… He looks like he’s already given up.

Harry cries a little on the drive back to Louis’s.

 

*

 

It’s the 30th of December, the second to last day of the year, and Harry is in love with Louis’s little sisters.

From the moment he’d walked through the door two days ago, the two younger ones have been practically crawling all over him in excitement. They’re thrilled to be meeting him because apparently, Louis talked about him when he was up in Doncaster the previous week. Phoebe wants to shove her hands in his hair every chance she gets and Daisy likes to shyly ask for him to braid her hair.

Felicité is friendly and sweet, offering to help wash the dishes on more than one occasion. She gets lazy, though, when any of the reality TV shows she likes are on. The oldest one, Lottie, is almost as witty and funny as Louis, keeping up consistent banter with her brother. All of Louis’s sisters seem to take to Harry like a fish to water, and vice versa. All of them get along right from the start.

The house is more active and entertaining than ever before and Harry loves it.

Growing up with only one sibling, Harry is accustomed to quieter, calmer households where he doesn’t almost trip over one little girl sprawled across the floor while trying to hold a conversation with two older girls, another little one hanging off his back. He loves Gemma to death and misses her and their easy banter whenever they’re apart, but there’s something sweet and fun about sharing a home with so many people. It feels more alive.

“You’re so lucky,” Harry tells him around noon on New Year’s Eve. The girls are still finishing lunch in the kitchen and Harry and Louis have claimed seats in front of the telly, watching some documentary about penguins.

“What makes you say that?” Louis asks, head rolling to the side to lean lightly on Harry’s shoulder.

“You have such a big, nice family,” Harry elaborates. “It must have been wonderful growing up. Like, a lot of fun.”

Louis snorts. He straightens up a little and pulls his glasses off, breathing hotly on the lenses before cleaning them with the edge of his shirt, pulled away from his stomach. Harry swallows, trying to not stare at the wide strip of skin exposed.

“Are we talking about the same family here?” Louis says, slipping his clean glasses back onto his face. Harry feels a bit weak at the sight, like usual. “I love them loads, but I had to contribute a lot more than most kids my age. My parents divorced when I was very young and my mum had a tough time trying to make ends meet for us, but then she met Mark and things got better. When they divorced too, though, it left her with four more kids to provide for. I was old enough to get a job and help out, so I did. I helped raise the girls a bit, I think. I love my family to Hell and back, but it was a bit draining.” Louis halts his speech with slightly flushed cheeks, punctuating the end of it with a sheepish shrug. From the look on his face, he seems a bit embarrassed, prompting Harry to pat his shoulder comfortingly. If his hand happens to linger longer than necessary, then no one but Louis has to know.

“Sorry for unloading all of that onto you,” Louis sighs. “It was just a bit hard growing up. I wouldn’t give up any of those munchkins for anything, though.”

“It’s no problem, Lou. What are mates for, right? Anyway, things are better now, yeah?” Harry asks, hoping he’s not being too invasive. He probably is. He tends to forget that other people like to uphold personal boundaries. Louis was the one to open up in the first place, however.

Louis’s face brightens. “Yes, yeah, definitely. Mum met a nice bloke named Dan, they got married, and out popped the newest little twins shortly after. First time I’ve ever had a brother.”

Harry smiles, feeling unreasonably fond and happy for this man. “How old are they now?”

“They’re turning four this next year.”

Harry opens his mouth to ask another question, but he’s interrupted by the heavy, rapid pitter-patter of feet running across the floor. The twins both leap onto the sofa, Daisy landing between the two and Phoebe climbing immediately onto Louis’s lap.

“Oof!” Grinning down at her, Louis asks Phoebe what in the world they’re doing, but he dives in to tickle her before she can answer. Light, tinkling laughter fills the room, the previous heavy atmosphere evaporating.

Daisy climbs into Harry’s lap, smiling at her siblings, and asks Harry if he can braid her hair again.

There’s the small clatter of dishes in the kitchen sink before Lottie and Felicité join them in the room too, plopping themselves down on the other leather couch.

Hands beginning to gently twist Daisy’s hair into a French braid that’s probably going to come loose in a few hours, Harry feels honestly happy.

 

*

 

Almost half an hour to midnight, Harry is dialing Sam’s number, having stepped out of the room to have a bit of privacy in the hallway. Louis had invited over Liam and two other friends named Zayn and Stan, both of whom are incredibly nice, and all three of them are in the living room. Stan and Liam are both nursing beers, but Zayn is sipping on some colourful concoction he whipped up practically out of thin air (Harry swears he’s magic or something; his cheekbones are definitely other-worldly) and Louis is refraining from drinking because he’s busy playing with his sisters.

He’d dug out some red wine for Harry, though, which Harry is now taking a sip of from a thin-stemmed glass. As he waits for his boyfriend to pick up, he drinks the wine delicately and meanders through the hallway, admiring the artwork hanging from the wall. Most of it is modern art, a lot of abstract and things that don’t necessarily look like anything, but a few are absolutely stunning. There’s a lifelike portrait of a much younger, beardless Louis grinning down at a baby in his arms, little crinkles formed by his eyes. He looks sweet and happy.

The ghost of a smile pulling at his lips, Harry moves down the wall, looking at a watercolour landscape done in only black and purple. Eventually, he can hear Sam’s generic answering machine talking in his ear, making him frown. It’s not too often that Sam doesn’t answer when he’s not working. And Harry’s ninety-nine percent sure he told Sam that he’d be calling tonight. It is New Year’s, after all.

He tries calling two more times before letting out a frustrated huff, feeling a bit snubbed. Half of him wants to believe that Sam is probably just busy or lost his phone; the other half knows better. Lately, Sam seems less and less interested in talking to Harry, always hanging up earlier than the time before or giving short, tired answers. More than likely, Harry’s being ignored by his boyfriend on New Year’s Eve.

“Trouble in paradise?” a voice says from the other end of the hall, startling the shit out of Harry. He jumps in surprise, whirling around to see a slightly glassy-eyed Zayn standing there.

Harry sighs, pouting sadly at his new pal. “He’s not answering. He always answers.”

The corner of Zayn’s mouth twitches up like he wants to smile but is resisting. “M’sorry ‘bout that, mate.”

Sighing again, Harry sobers a bit and slumps heavily against the wall opposite Louis’s portrait, sliding down until he’s on his bum. A few seconds pass and then Zayn joins him, curled up into himself a foot or so away to the right of Harry. The younger boy digs the heels of his palms against his closed eyes, seeing tiny stars burst behind his lids.

Harry can hear the raucous shouts of young girls and the playful bickering of the men in the next room over, but he drowns it all out with the sound of his heartbeat throbbing in his veins. He doesn’t notice he’s started crying until he feels Zayn’s hand on his shoulder, gentle and careful.

“Want to talk about it?” he asks kindly. His body is tilted towards Harry, attentive and patient.

Trying to steady his shaky breathing, Harry wipes at the moisture beneath his eyes, lashes sticking wetly together and fingers coming away damp with tears. “It just – it really sucks, y’know? I wish things were different, I wish he was different, and that’s such a shitty thing to say, but I can’t help feeling like we have the potential to be so much… So much better, if he just tried.” Harry sniffles, wiping at his nose with the soft sleeve of his jumper. “Sorry.”

Zayn scoots closer, wrapping his arm around Harry’s shoulders properly. It’s amazing how someone he barely knows is being so much sweeter and more understanding than the man he’s been dating for close to a year now. It’s also a supremely sad notion.

“Hey, there’s no need for apologies. I get it. You want someone who puts more effort into a relationship with you. Nothing wrong with that,” Zayn reassures him, biting his lip in contemplation. “I think… It’s good that you know what you want in a relationship, because now you know what to work towards. You just have to decide if your current boyfriend is the one you want to do that with, and if he’d be willing to work towards that too. Y’know what I mean?”

Harry lays his head on Zayn’s shoulder, not minding how bony it is because it’s comforting and Zayn feels warm. “Yeah. I know what you mean.”

They stay like that for another ten minutes before the noise in the other room grows in volume. “Think it’s almost midnight,” Zayn notes. “You feel okay to go join ’em?”

Harry nods. He does feel lighter than before, less weighed down by his relationship problems. It’s not enough to make him smile with his dimples, but he gives a small quirk of his lips anyway, if for no other reason than to assure Zayn that he feels better. The tracks of his tears have dried salty on his cheeks, so he sends Zayn off before heading to the toilet to wash his face first.

As he’s drying his skin with a soft flannel in one hand, he takes out his phone with another, peering down at the screen. After another few moments of deliberation, he decides against calling Sam again, settling for a quick text instead.

Harry (11:48 PM): Hiiii, tried calling earlier and got ur answering machine. Happy new years, babe! Miss you.. Call me @ midnight please, love you. xx

He tucks his phone back into his pocket and heads back out to join the others where they’re watching some New Year’s program on the telly. Louis notices the moment Harry walks in, bounding over to him to pull him further into the room. “We missed you, Curly!” He straightens his glasses, beaming at Harry in a way that makes the younger man feel loose and warm.

They all gather around the television when the countdown starts, one minute from midnight.

Harry checks his phone obsessively for the first thirty seconds, but it never rings or buzzes in his palm. When Phoebe screeches for him to count with them, he grins at her and puts away his phone, trying to not think about the ache in his chest.

When the clock strikes midnight, Harry greets the new year by going around to plant big ‘Happy New Year’ kisses on everyone’s cheeks. Liam bats him away with a fond expression on his face, Lottie blushes and thanks him, Felicité laughs and returns it, and the twins both giggle and squeal when he also tickles them playfully. When he gets to Zayn, he receives an amused grin and a brief hug. Standing with a beer in his hand, Stan just accepts Harry’s kiss and ruffles his hair.

It’s Louis that makes Harry falter a bit. Louis, with shiny blue eyes and soft hair and sun-kissed skin, despite the dreary English weather. Louis, waiting for his own kiss with a pleasant smile and a kind expression. Harry ignores what feels like attraction stirring in his gut and approaches the man, returning his smile almost shyly. He feels like a little boy in primary school with a silly crush, which makes Harry feel uneasy and unbalanced when he leans forward to kiss Louis’s scruffy cheek, a bit prickly with stubble. “Happy New Year, Louis.”

“Happy New Year, Harry,” Louis returns, followed by his own kiss on Harry’s cheek.

Harry sends text messages of good wishes to all of his close friends and family and wanders off afterwards, feeling a bit blurry and uncertain. He’s meandered outside and is brooding in the small front garden when the door opens, Liam, Zayn, and Stan exiting the house. They all appear to be in varying stages of inebriation and Harry wants to offer them a ride home, but he’s a bit tipsy on wine and isn’t in much of a better condition than them. Liam calls up a cab service to request a ride. The three of them keep Harry company while they wait, making idle chit-chat.

Liam gets a call about twenty minutes later from the cab driver, who can’t make it past the front gate and is waiting for them to come down the driveway. Liam departs with a friendly salute to Harry, Stan wishing him a happy new year once more before the two of them saunter off away from the house. Zayn lingers behind for a bit longer, giving Harry a quick hug before smiling lightly at him. His voice slurs a bit more than usual when he speaks. “The girls are all in bed by now. Louis should be in his study, if you wanted to find him. Did your boyfriend ever call you back?”

Harry frowns, shaking his head silently. His phone has been still and silent in his pocket for the past half hour.

Zayn’s expression falls. “I’m sorry, mate,” he says sincerely, his own voice tinged with some sadness. “I really hoped he would.”

Pensive, Harry doesn’t say anything for a few beats. “D’you think… Is it over?”

“I’m sorry,” Zayn repeats. “I don’t know.”

Feeling very much like he wants to cry again, Harry bids Zayn goodbye and watches him head off down the driveway, his silhouette swallowed up by the dark surroundings. He doesn’t go back inside for an hour, ignoring Zayn’s comment about Louis’s whereabouts and opting to sulk in the garden for a bit longer. Above him, the sky is a stretch of black ink, littered with little dots of silver. The only illumination out here is by the stars and moon and the dimly-lit window that looks into Louis’s study.

About ten minutes to three o’clock, Harry’s phone finally buzzes with a notification. Three, in fact. He scrambles to unlock it and read the messages. To his disappointment, it’s not a reply from his boyfriend. Instead, he’s looking at his group chat with his two London flatmates and close friends.

Perrie (2:50 AM): H, did smth happen with u and sam???

George (2:51 AM): I’m so sorry, haz :(

He’s wondering what the hell they could be talking about, but the third message, sent from Perrie, provides an explanation.

It’s a screenshot of an Instagram post. At first, Harry can’t quite make out what he’s seeing, but then his eyes focus and his throat feels too dry to even swallow. It’s a bit dark, but the more he looks at it, the more unmistakable it is. In the photo, his boyfriend Sam is pictured with his mouth latched onto someone else’s. Someone who is definitely not Harry.

He doesn’t respond to his friends. He does type up a single text, though, to someone else.

Harry (2:55 AM): Sam, we need to talk.

Already fed up with the new year after a mere three hours of it, Harry powers his phone off, heads inside on autopilot, and cries into his stupid silk pillows until he passes out.

 

*

 

January passes in a flurry of angry phone conversations and morose texts and tears that Harry wishes he didn’t shed. Sam tries to tell Harry that it was an accident, that he was drunk and missing Harry and didn’t know what he was doing, but nothing is the same after that night. They fight over everything. They get into an argument when Harry goes out to celebrate Zayn’s birthday and Sam gets mad about the pictures of Harry cuddling up and smiling with the birthday boy on Instagram and Twitter. Harry calls him a hypocrite and things escalate until they don’t talk to each other for five days.

The worst part of the whole thing, though, is when Sam never shows up on February 1st. It’s Harry’s 22nd birthday, and despite their fight, Harry had been talking about it for weeks and expected Sam to show up the day before like he promised he would. Sure, they weren’t on the best terms, but Sam had repeatedly assured Harry that he would be there, and Harry expected him to follow through on something as important as this.

Of course, though, Harry should know better by now than to count on his boyfriend for most things.

Harry spends a great deal of January 31st stressed out and anxiously waiting. He’s sent Sam a plethora of text messages throughout the day, ranging from worried to irritated to sad, but he hasn’t responded to any of those or answered his calls. That night, Harry falls asleep with a frown on his face. Then again, he often does these days.

On the morning of his birthday, he’s slowly woken up by the smell of bacon. Not too bad of a start, he thinks. Still, among the many birthday texts waiting for him on his phone, none of them are from his boyfriend. It’s more than disconcerting, to say the least.

Slipping out of bed, he stretches with a quiet yawn and heads over to the closet to put on his favourite green cardigan over a nice shirt he’d splurged on last month, tucked into a pair of skinny jeans. It’s the outfit he’s been planning specifically for two weeks to wear on his birthday because it brings out the colour of his eyes and shows off his best assets.

Of course, he had originally been planning on waking up beside his boyfriend and dressing up like this to impress and possibly seduce said boyfriend. Needless to say, a vital part of the plan is missing from this equation.

When he heads downstairs and follows the smell that roused him, he’s immediately taken aback by what he finds in the kitchen.

“Morning, birthday boy,” Louis greets with an inordinate measure of enthusiasm, the faint shadows under his eyes belying how lively he seems. The yawn he lets out two seconds later also attests his tiredness. Louis is awake far earlier than he usually is, and if that weren’t disorienting enough, the fact that he’s actually making breakfast definitely is.

“Um, good morning. What are you doing?” Harry inquires, puzzled by the sight of Louis haphazardly turning over fried eggs on one frying pan and dodging the grease popping up from the other pan of bacon.

“Trying to make breakfast,” Louis answers. He doesn’t move fast enough and gets hit in the arm with a drop of grease that flies towards him, making him hiss in pain. “Keyword there is trying.”

“Yes, I can see that,” Harry says, amused. He treads further into the kitchen and leans against one side of the island, arms crossed on the polished marble surface. “What I’m wondering is why.”

“Well, it’s your birthday, and y’know, I thought it’d be nice to do something for you. You always make breakfast for me, which – I know that’s actually your job, but you deserve a break, especially on your birthday. Oh, I also have a gift for you.” He nudges an egg with his spatula before setting the tool down and scooping all of the bacon onto a plate.

Harry feels his mouth turning down into a pout. “You didn’t have to get me anything, Louis.”

“But I wanted to, Harold. Anyway, where’s that, uh, boyfriend of yours?”

Harry shakes his head. “Hasn’t shown up yet. M’m waiting for him to call me back.”

“Oh. Well, I’m sure he will.” With a reassuring smile, Louis goes over to the other end of the counter where the toaster sits, two pieces of toast sticking out of the slots, crispy and golden brown. He plops them onto separate plates, and then gets the fried eggs from the pan to lay them atop the slices of toast, arranging them with an endearing amount of care. “Done!” he exclaims, looking very pleased with himself.

Harry can’t wipe the smile from his face while they eat together in the dining room. The eggs are a bit runny and the bacon is a bit more crispy than Harry prefers, but it’s wonderful all the same because Louis put in effort to make it for him.

It’s while they’re chatting over breakfast that Harry’s phone buzzes in his pocket. Their conversation pauses as Harry fishes his phone out and looks at the new message he has.

Sam (10:43 AM): Really sorry but i can’t make it. Something came up. i’ll call u later. happy birthday, H.

“Oh,” he says aloud, voice soft as he stares almost blankly at the screen. The corners of his eyes sting with tears, but he refuses to let them fall again, blinking them away and wiping at the bit of moisture clinging to his eyelashes.

“Hey,” Louis murmurs, immediately getting out of his chair to come around and stand beside where Harry sits. “Hey, what’s wrong? Where’d that smile go?” As gentle as ever, Louis reaches down to run his fingers through Harry’s hair, letting them rest at the nape of his neck. It is comforting, that touch, but Harry can’t bring himself to put his smile back on.

“He, um. He won’t be able to make it,” Harry explains in a shaky voice, locking his phone and dropping it onto the tabletop. “I guess I’ll just – I’ll just be staying in on my birthday this year then.”

Louis frowns down at him sadly. “What were your plans before?”

Harry blinks away more tears. God, he feels like such a child, overly sensitive and crying at everything that doesn’t go his way. “We, um, were going to spend some time here and then go to this really nice hibachi restaurant I found in Exeter. We had reservations…” He trails off.

Several moments of silence pass. “Have,” Louis finally corrects. “You have reservations. You might as well still go. You deserve to celebrate your own birthday, with or without that useless lump you call your boyfriend.”

Harry can’t find it in himself to defend Sam, but he does grimace. “I’m not going to dine at a five-star restaurant by myself, Louis.”

Louis smiles mischievously, his thumb running gently through the soft baby hairs at the back of Harry’s neck. “Who said you’d be alone?”

 

*

 

The best thing about Louis, Harry thinks, is that he can be lazy as fuck about so many things, but when he wants to do something and do it well, he throws his entire being into it. He treats Harry to a day of cartoons and board games and birthday cuddles every hour. It’s around six o’clock when he sends Harry off for them to change into something nicer for the restaurant, apparently remembering when Harry had said he’d chosen a different, fancier outfit for dinner ahead of time.

Throwing his daytime clothes off, he slips into his nicest collared shirt, buttoning the maroon top all the way up to his neck and tucking the bottom into his black jeans. There isn’t much else to fix or take care of as far as his appearance goes, so he just nitpicks at his hair, slips on his black blazer, and pulls a pair of shiny black boots onto his feet on his way downstairs.

While he waits in the foyer for Louis to come back down, leaning against the wall by the door, Harry texts back and forth in a group chat with his flatmates and sister.

Gemma (6:16 PM): sorry I can’t be there to torture you on your birthday, I know you must be so distraught about it

Harry (6:17 PM): haha, yeah, not so much.

Perrie (6:17 PM): did u have to cancel ur reservations??

Harry (6:18 PM): Actually, no.. louis is taking me instead

George (6:18 PM): ooooooh, isn’t he technically your boss? Is that allowed??

Gemma (6:18 PM): yeah, H, I didn’t raise you to be a slag

Harry (6:19 PM): You didn’t raise me at all, gem. and I think so... I mean, he doesn’t really treat me like I’m just some employee, he treats me like a friend

Perrie (6:20 PM): ok but just a friend...?

Harry doesn’t know how to answer that. Thankfully, he doesn’t have to because Louis comes trotting down the stairs at that moment, as dramatic as ever as he saunters over to twirl Harry like they’re ballroom dance partners. Giggling, Harry bats him away and glances down at Louis’s outfit, meaning to just do a quick inventory of what he’s chosen to wear, but he ends up doing a double take when he processes how good he actually looks.

Gone are the ratty joggers and equally worn-out hoodie, replaced by the best-fitting black suit Harry’s ever seen. His tie is dark grey and looks to be made of smooth satin, the rest of his suit perfectly tailored and pitch black where it hugs the strong curves of his body. The black frames of his glasses sit delicately against the bridge of his nose. Harry swallows. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen a more beautiful man.

“You, um,” Harry squeaks, then clears his throat. “You really clean up nice.”

Louis grins kindly at him. “Thank you. You look gorgeous, birthday boy. Shall we be off now?” He offers his arm out to Harry, which Harry accepts with a pleased flush painting his cheeks.

This’ll be a nice night, Harry can tell already.

 

*

 

Louis owns a fucking Rolls-Royce.

Only a few times had Harry ever ridden in Louis’s car, but it had always been a relatively inexpensive convertible, but this is the first time Louis has ever pulled out this one.

It’s beautiful and sleek and black with silver detail and caramel leather seats. Harry wants to cry all over the dash. “Oh my God,” he mutters in awe, squirming a bit in the passenger seat.

“Yes, you’ve been saying that for the past ten minutes straight,” Louis acknowledges. He seems incredibly amused, a smug curve settling into the line of his mouth.

There’s something strangely attractive about the way Louis’s hands grip the steering wheel, sure and steady even when operating a beautiful, expensive vehicle like this. Harry swallows and stops admiring the smooth upholstery to look at him. “How come I’ve never seen you use this one?”

“I usually only use this car for special occasions or if I’m in the mood. Your birthday is a pretty special occasion, I’d say.”

Warmth blossoms in Harry’s belly, cheeks flushing and eyes lowering bashfully. “I bet you say that to all the boys,” he teases playfully.

Louis laughs. “Just you, Haz.”

“Well, I am tickled pink, then.” Harry ignores his flaming face and shoots Louis a genuinely grateful smile because this truly is a sweet thing for him to be doing. “Thank you for doing this.”

“Harry Styles, it is my absolute pleasure to wine and dine you, especially on your birthday. Everyone on Earth should be annually celebrating the birth of these luscious curls.” He reaches over, quick as a fox, to ruffle Harry’s hair and accidentally pulls too roughly on a loose tendril.

Most likely, he’s expecting a pout, maybe some half-hearted grumbling. Instead, Harry is a fucking idiot who apparently does not know how to even mildly suppress his own natural responses and the first thing he does is tense up and whimper.

Louis’s hand freezes where it was two inches away from settling back on the steering wheel. His eyes widen in obvious surprise and dart over at Harry briefly, his expression considerably less readable than mere moments before.

Harry stays stock still in the passenger seat, wondering if he can will himself back in time and slap Louis’s hand away from his hair before he could embarrass himself like this. Unfortunately, he has not yet uncovered the secret to time travel and he’s stuck waiting for Louis to make the next move.

“You,” Louis starts, but his voice is pitched unusually low and sounds a bit off-kilter. He clears and tries again, sounding more normal this time. “You have a hair thing then?”

Harry nods, face burning. He must be the colour of a ripe tomato by now. “Yes, I’ve got a, um, ‘hair thing.’”

“Sorry,” is the last thing Louis says on the matter, though it’s one of the first times Harry’s ever heard Louis sound embarrassed or nervous like this. Part of him kind of appreciates it, but the rest of him is too busy being embarrassed over his own behaviour. Louis’s played with his hair plenty of times before, even says Harry is too much like a cat with how much he likes to be pet, so he already knew Harry enjoyed that.

Pulling on hair and playing with it are two very different things, though. Harry’s not sure he particularly wants the knowledge that he’s kind of kinky to just be floating around between them, available to be judged and pondered.

After the hair incident, things are a bit awkward in the car for a few minutes, but eventually, Harry gasps at a baby cow in a field outside while he’s staring out the window and they start up a conversation about what the cutest baby animal is. (Harry is caught between kittens and fawns, while Louis resolutely insists that it’s clearly baby hedgehogs.)

The rest of the drive is still the tiniest bit awkward, but they’re mostly back to their usual banter and playful exchanges, so Harry counts it as a success. It takes another ten minutes to get there since the community Louis lives in is on the outskirts of the main city. Harry is nervous to arrive, fiddling with the hem of his blazer as visions of fields and farms give way to little stores and shopping centres, building up to the tall brick and stone buildings of the heart of Exeter. His eyes flit over the passing scenery, green and lovely and sprawling with flowers and charming houses. Before he knows it, they’re pulling over to the kerb in front of the restaurant and stopping beside a parking metre.

Once Louis pays the machine for a duration of two hours, they exchange small smiles and make their way to the restaurant’s entry, a kind-faced hostess greeting them inside the doors. A young man stands patiently beside her. “Do you gentlemen have reservations?” the hostess asks.

Louis gently nudges Harry forward with a light hand on his lower back. “It should be under the name Styles and Callahan,” Harry murmurs.

The hostess looks down at a book open on her podium, nodding to herself and then smiling up at them. “Okay, Mr. Styles and Mr. Callahan, Peter here will escort you to your table. Enjoy your evening.”

The man, Peter, gathers two menus and rolled-up table settings, about to lead them to their table. Before he gets a chance, though, Louis politely stops him and leans across the podium to the hostess to murmur something to her. She appears contemplative and looks down again to check the book before nodding to Louis slightly.

Harry just barely spots Louis slip what looks like a couple notes onto the podium, tucking it under the book, though Harry can’t make out how much money it is. The hostess smiles beatifically and tells Peter, “Please show these gentlemen to the private Aster room.”

Harry shoots Louis an inquisitive look, unsure of what that entails, but Louis just smiles at him and gestures for him to follow Peter through the ambient restaurant, trailing closely behind.

They go up a small set of stairs towards the raised back of the dining area, less tables and more booths fit up against the walls. In the centre is a short hallway, which Peter takes them through, stopping at a door. It has a black wooden frame, bordering a gorgeous stained glass window spanning almost the entire length of the door.

“Here is your room, Mr. Styles,” Peter says politely, opening the door for them.

“Thank you,” Harry remembers to say, sending Louis a nervous look before he cautiously steps inside the room.

Once inside, he can see that the light in the private room is soft and peach-hued, emanating from a chandelier formed into the shape of tree branches, bare light bulbs hanging off each arm. Set in the middle of the floor is a black wooden table with legs that only hold it about a foot above the ground. Soft, plush cushions act as seats on each side of the table. The walls are coloured a dusky pink with black and silver silhouettes of trees painted along their width.

“Your server will be with you shortly. Enjoy your evening, gentlemen,” Peter says before turning back and leaving them to their own devices.

Stepping farther into the room, Harry plops down on one of the cushions and crosses his legs, settling into the pillowy seat with a bit of wiggling to get comfortable. Louis follows his lead on the opposite side of the table, an absent-minded smile on his face. Harry folds his arms over his chest and gives Louis an expectant look. “Well?”

Louis doesn’t have to ask what he means. “It’s your birthday, Harry. I wanted to make sure you have the best day possible.”

“That’s not your job, though,” Harry mumbles, feeling flattered but a bit guilty that Louis got stuck with taking him out to this restaurant when it was supposed to be his boyfriend doing it.

“It doesn’t have to be my job for me to do it,” Louis protests gently, “Your little boyfriend didn’t want to do it, so I decided, out of my own free will, to step in and take you myself. Besides, it’s not like it’s a chore to be with you. You may be under my employment, but I like to think of you as a close friend by now.”

Perrie’s earlier question rings through Harry’s head. Just a friend... A heavy pang of guilt swells in his chest for thinking it, but this dinner feels incredibly like a date, and if he wasn’t dating Sam, Harry doesn’t think he would mind if it was a date. Sam’s voice nags at the back of Harry’s mind, but he can’t help but think that Louis would make a rather spectacular boyfriend.

“You paid off the hostess to give us a private room. A probably very expensive private room,” Harry points out. “That’s not exactly something friends often do.”

Louis’s brow furrows. “It’s not?”

Harry shakes his head lightly, shoulders hunching a bit. “Not really, no. That’s – that’s more of a… Boyfriend thing,” he finishes quietly.

Louis is quiet for a bit, taking a minute to carefully arrange his utensils on the tabletop and open up his menu. It takes Harry some time to notice, but he’s almost completely certain that Louis is blushing. “Well,” Louis finally says, “Your boyfriend isn’t here now, is he?”

Harry ducks his head and smiles small. “No, I suppose he isn’t.”

The server comes to take their orders a minute later, interrupting any conversation they were trying to have. Harry is trying to choose the cheapest thing on the menu, but Louis convinces him to splurge for once, so he chooses an expensive shrimp dinner with a plate of egg rolls. Louis orders some sort of salmon dish with an assorted variety of sushi on the side. Harry tries not to think about what the bill will look like.

It only takes a few minutes after ordering for both men to relax and maintain an easy flow of conversation. They both learn more about each other than they were probably expecting, but it’s good. It’s nice. Harry sips on his shirley temple while Louis talks about his mum’s divorce when he was a baby and her divorce from his stepdad after four more babies, and Louis listens to Harry talk about coming out while popping pieces of sushi into his mouth.

The server apparently drops off the bill while Harry’s using the toilet, and by the time he comes back, Louis has already paid for everything. Harry protests profusely because he feels bad about Louis paying, especially when their meals were both rather pricey, but Louis just grins adorably at him and says Harry can treat him to drinks afterwards if it’ll make him feel better about it.

Which is how they end up pulling up to a small pub in Exeter, a glowing blue sign above the door reading, “The Dive,” in plain lettering. Buying a round of drinks won’t even come close to compensating Louis for dinner, but the fact that Louis is humouring him pleases Harry. Louis doesn’t seem to mind about paying for dinner and honestly appears to expect nothing in return. It makes something warm fizz in Harry’s stomach, soft and fluttery, but he does his best to ignore or discount whatever that may mean.

He just wants to spend the rest of his birthday throwing back some drinks with Louis. Stepping out of the car, he follows Louis through the entrance.

Inside, the pub smells of beer and chips. Trailing behind Louis, Harry also catches a whiff of his cologne, sandalwood and cinnamon. Before he can stop himself, he’s already mentally comparing it to Sam’s scent, too-strong cologne that just smells like chemicals and cloying peppermint. Harry immediately hates himself for repeatedly comparing the two men, but he can’t seem to help it.

To Harry’s surprise, the pub seems to have been a planned thing; Louis leads him past the bar and other occupied tables to a booth with black vinyl seats, a bowl of chips on top, and Zayn, Stan, Liam, and two unfamiliar girls already sitting there. All five of them cheer raucously when they notice Louis and Harry’s arrival, calling out wishes for a happy birthday.

“How old are you now, like thirteen?” Stan teases lightheartedly, popping a greasy chip in his mouth as Harry and Louis slide into the booth. Louis undoes his tie and tucks it into his back pocket, folded up, popping open the top few buttons of his dress shirt. Harry does the same with his.

“Stan, you’re hilarious,” Harry deadpans.

“Harry, you know the boys,” Louis says. “These two girls here are Liam’s girlfriend, Sophia, and my uni friend, Jesy. Girls, this is Harry.”

Sophia appraises him, seeming to deem him worthy of her approval as she offers him a friendly wave from the other side of the table. She cuddles into Liam’s side. “Nice to meet you, Harry.”

Seated between Stan and Zayn, Jesy shoots a knowing little smile in Louis’s direction, waggling her eyebrows comically. “So this is the famous Harry I’ve heard so much about?”

Louis grits his teeth. “Yes.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Harry Styles,” Jesy says. “Louis’s told me a lot about you.”

“Apparently,” Harry murmurs, giving her a warm smile regardless. This is a friend from uni, one Louis apparently talks to about Harry often, so he probably ought to make a good impression on her; he makes sure to flash at least one dimple. The dimples always get them.

After a bit of scattered chatter across the table, Harry wiggles his way out of the booth, blushing furiously as he squirms over Louis’s lap to get out. “Anyone else want any drinks?”

Sophia requests some sort of chocolate martini concoction and Stan waves his hand about, asking if he and Zayn can have some daiquiris. Putting a gentle hand on Harry’s forearm, Louis kindly asks if Harry can get him a Sex on the Beach. Harry thinks he stutters out some sort of reply before he heads off to the bar, but his mind has gone a little fuzzy from hearing the word ‘sex’ come out of Louis’s mouth, so it was probably nonsensical. God, he feels like he’s fucking fifteen again.

Leaning against the bar between some stools, Harry flags down the bartender, a young man with soft-looking flaxen hair and a friendly face. His nametag, pinned to a white tee shirt, reads ‘Niall.’

“Hi there!” Niall greets. “What can I get for you?”

Harry rattles off his order, fumbling over Louis’s drink name, and contemplates the menu a bit before deciding on a caramel apple martini. He’s never had one before, but it sounds yummy and it’s his birthday, so fuck it.

“Good choice, mate,” Niall says, moving around on the other side of the bar as he makes each of the drinks. “Haven’t seen you here before. Are you new?”

“Yeah,” Harry answers, surprised by the bartender’s friendliness. He doesn’t often go to pubs, preferring to stick to bars and clubs where the bartenders are usually too busy to engage in conversation with customers, but he’s never one to turn down some idle chitchat with someone nice. “I’m actually from London, but I’m temporarily living here for a job, a little ways up north of here.”

“Ooh, a fancy Londoner,” Niall teases. “What’s the big city like?”

“Well, I’m originally from Cheshire, so I’ve only been in London for a couple years, and I was off in the States for two years before that. But yeah, it’s good, it’s really nice. A bit dirty, but most bigger cities are. Kind of difficult to find a stable job, though.”

“Yeah, job market is shit. S’why I’ve got a Master’s in psychology and still have to make my living by bartending,” Niall sympathises, setting down Stan and Zayn’s drinks on a tray and starting on Sophia’s, by the looks of it. “I’m from Ireland meself.”

“Yeah, I could tell,” Harry says with a playful grin. Niall’s lilting accent is rather strong, so it would’ve been pretty hard to miss that detail.

Niall snorts. He goes back to mixing the drinks while maintaining a steady stream of banter with Harry, placing each drink on the tray as he finishes them. Harry keeps sneaking glances back at the booth every now and then, almost always catching Louis doing the same.

“Boyfriend?” Niall asks, gesturing to Louis subtly.

Harry can feel warmth flood his cheeks. He’s been blushing an inordinate amount lately. “Uh, no, my boyfriend’s back in London.”

“Oh.” Niall’s eyebrows raise, clearly not expecting that answer, but he graciously doesn’t comment further. He finishes the last drink and arranges it with the others on the tray. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but want to exchange numbers? It never hurts to have more friends, ‘specially if you don’t know a lot of people here.”

It really can’t hurt. “Sure. Don’t worry, I know you’re not hitting on me,” he assures Niall playfully, getting out his phone.

Niall laughs, reciting his number for Harry to copy into a new contact. He saves it and sends his new friend a text so that he’ll be able to save his later.

With a friendly, somewhat nervous smile, Harry departs from the bar and carries the tray of drinks over to his friends, setting it down. The smile doesn’t leave his face, widening instead. Any friends he’s made in or around Exeter have just been Louis’s friends and therefore Harry’s friends by association. Even in London, half of his friends are only friends with him because he’s Sam’s boyfriend. This is the first time since George that he’s made a friend all on his own. Niall didn’t like him simply because he’s dating someone or they have a mutual friend; he liked him for him. It’s a surprisingly nice feeling.

Louis takes his drink with a pleased grin while Harry passes out the other drinks. He cheekily sneaks a sip of Zayn’s daiquiri before handing it over, earning himself a light kick to the shin. “Mmm, I’ll have to get one of those next,” Harry says with a nod of approval, making Louis scoot over so he can just settle onto the end of the booth.

When he finishes his martini and goes to get another drink, Louis doesn’t say anything. By the time he’s on his third drink, though, acting cheeky as hell and giggling over absolutely everything, Louis places a kind hand on his shoulder. “Think you might want to slow down there, birthday boy?”

“Nope!” he exclaims, eyes wide and mouth stretched with a large grin. “It’s my birthday, Louis!”

“Yes, Harry, I’m aware,” Louis patronises him fondly, rubbing at his shoulder blade in calming circles.

“Today is my day,” Harry declares, slurring his words together a bit. “It’s our party, we can do what we want,” he sings, deciding Miley Cyrus is his new idol because she makes so much sense to him. “Lou, I can do what I want. I want to drink another martini.”

Stan is just as drunk as Harry is, while Jesy is quickly catching up, though she’s less of a rowdy drunk than they are. Liam and Sophia leave earlier than the rest of them, saying Sophia has to get up at five the next morning for an opening shift. Harry bounces out of his seat to kiss them both goodbye on the cheek, a little sloppy but hopefully still cute enough to make up for it.

Two more drinks fly by, it seems, and before Harry knows it, he’s saying goodbye to the others and being gently ushered out of the pub by Louis’s careful hands, leaning at least half of his body weight against him as he stumbles along. Louis deposits him in the passenger seat and walks around to the other side to start the drive back to his house.

Harry thinks he dozes off during the ride back because the next time he opens his eyes, they’ve arrived home and Louis is struggling to get him out of the car, Harry being a bit too heavy for Louis to shoulder all of his dead weight. He tries to support more of his body, hobbling alongside Louis as they enter the house.

It’s a bit more of a struggle to get up the stairs, Harry repeatedly stumbling on the steps and needing to hold onto Louis tightly to make it up all the way. His head is spinning, his stomach is twisted with the contents of his mixed drinks sloshing around, and when he exhales, he can smell the alcohol on his own breath. There’s the strong taste of vodka lingering on his tongue.

Once they reach Harry’s bedroom, Harry flops down on the bed, starfishing over the wide mattress. His eyes lazily fall shut right away, so he’s not expecting it when he feels hands on his ankles. He startles a bit, but the wave of drowsiness slowly washing over him isn’t waning, so he keeps his eyes closed and lets Louis do whatever he wants. Apparently, this involves undressing him.

With a gentleness that Harry usually only experiences with his mum or Sam, Louis sets about unzipping and slipping Harry’s shoes off, fingertips gliding lightly over the arch of each foot as he does so and making Harry squeal with giggles. He can hear the smile in his voice when Louis asks, “Trousers on or off?”

“Off, take all of it off,” Harry answers sluggishly, wiggling his hips a bit as he tries to assist in pushing his bottoms down his thighs. The waistband of his briefs gets dragged down a bit with it, exposing a bit of his pubic hair before it snaps back up to his hips. He can’t get his trousers down very far by himself, so he stops and pouts, opening glassy eyes to stare over at Louis.

Louis is flushed, cheeks rosy and lips parted with wide eyes that are set firmly on Harry. “Um, I,” he chokes out. “I’ll get you some, um, sleep pants from the – the closet, yeah?”

Harry whines, “No, don’t want any.”

There’s a long moment of clear hesitance in Louis’s entire body language; the way his mouth falls open just a bit more in surprise, the way his fingers twitch like he doesn’t know what to do with his hands, the way he shifts his weight a bit as if unsure if he’ll go into the closet or stay. He seems to decide to heed Harry’s words, swallowing before he approaches the bed again, leaning over Harry’s feet to reach his trousers. He hesitates even more then, fingers hovering because the button and zipper are both placed right over Harry’s crotch. Finally, though, he just does it hastily, fingers only lightly brushing over where Harry’s cock is encased in his pants.

Still incredibly dazed from the alcohol, Harry emits a strangled noise, his body tingling where Louis touches him. His fingers glide along Harry’s thighs when he grips Harry’s waistband and carefully pulls the trousers down his long legs and off. He’s not thinking at all when he murmurs, “You’re so pretty, Lou. Y’know that?”

Something in the back of his mind recognises that it’s an incredibly inappropriate thing to say, not only because of the situation, but also because Louis is technically his boss. It’s true, though. Louis’s one of the most attractive men Harry has ever met. He has the loveliest blue eyes and soft tan skin with this dusting of rough stubble across his jaw and he’s just pretty. “Like your glasses, too,” Harry adds, words slurring together more and more with lethargy and alcohol running through his veins.

Louis coughs, his blush stronger than Harry’s ever seen it. “I’m, I. Thanks, Harry…” He trails off, coughing uncomfortably again. He shuffles over to the top of the bed, standing beside Harry’s prone body while he tries to free Harry of his blazer, eventually getting it off. “Do you – um, shirt? On or off?”

Harry flails a bit before he manages to sit up and stretch his arms to the side, trying to stay still as he expectantly stares up at Louis. His mind is too hazy and weighed down by alcohol to really process consequences or anything besides his sensory experiences, but he’s sleepy and Louis’s hands are warm. Besides, his shirt really is bothering him, too itchy and stifling now that he’s in his pants.

Louis visibly swallows again, his hands quaking a bit when they dip down to undo all of the buttons. His touch is featherlight and careful as he slowly eases the maroon shirt off his body, grazing Harry’s shoulders as the material slips away from them. He stares down at Harry for a few moments, face impossible to read, before he offers a small smile and gathers Harry’s clothes in a pile. Harry watches him put them away, but he’s too tired to remain even half-upright, so he lets his body flop back down onto the mattress.

The last thing he feels before he passes out is a gentle kiss pressed to his hair and the blanket being pulled up over his body, Louis whispering, “Good night, Harry,” into the empty air.

 

*

 

Harry wakes up feeling like shit. The biggest problem is that he remembers bits and pieces of last night, and the bits and pieces he recalls are mortifying. He knows he gained a new friend named Niall at the bar, but then anything past his fourth drink just blurs into one big mess. He remembers soft hands and Louis undressing him like a child and Harry being a horrible, drunken flirt, too pissed to remember his own fucking boyfriend or the fact that Louis is his boss.

On his bedside table sit paracetamol tablets and a glass of water, his small rubbish bin positioned right next to his bed frame. All Louis’s doing, Harry assumes. A small note has been stuck to the glass, reading in familiar messy scrawl, “Harold, try not to feel too bad for last night. just take care of yourself. feel free to stay in bed if you want. I’ll be in the library if you need me. Louis :) xx

Harry chooses to ignore Louis’s offer, getting up immediately (because it’s nearly noon, for God’s sake) and heading to the bathroom. He feels sloppy and guilty and maybe wants to have a nice, long cry in the shower. At least no one can hear him sob like an infant.

Among the many things he does today, going to the library to see Louis will not be one of them.

 

*

 

Somehow, Harry manages to avoid Louis like a plague in his own house.

The events that transpired on his birthday served as a harsh wake up call. He’s a temporary employee here, not some beloved houseguest who can just get drunk and leave Louis to deal with his mess. It hits him in waves, how completely unprofessional he’s been. He’s here to work and learn and hopefully get an opportunity to boost his writing career, not to make friends and throw himself at his boss and make a fool of himself.

For the next week and a half following his birthday, Harry throws himself headfirst into household chores. He washes laundry, folds linens, cooks meals, makes beds, buys groceries, cleans rooms and dishes and everything under the sun. He takes care of tasks that he’s not even technically required or supposed to do, like polishing the hardwood floors and dusting the library shelves.

He busies himself with work and studiously avoids Louis. Every time he sees him heading in his direction or he stumbles upon him in a room, he cuts Louis off before he can get more than five words out and says he has to go do something else. The worst part is the look on Louis’s face when Harry starts calling  him Mr. Tomlinson again.

Eleven days have passed since his birthday when Louis finally manages to catch him for longer than a minute.

Harry’s in the downstairs bathroom, on his hands and knees while he scrubs the toilet, and he jumps a little when Louis swings open the door and stands there, blocking any escape. Trapped, Harry risks a glance up at Louis’s face and – fuck, he looks upset. Not even angry-upset, just sad-upset. He thinks this is actually worse than if he were mad.

“Do you need something, Mr. Tomlinson?” he asks meekly, returning to his vigorous cleaning of the toilet bowl.

“Cut the shit, Harry,” Louis says. Normally, Harry would flinch away from that, but Louis’s tone is nowhere near as cutting as the words alone are; he just sounds weary.

“What do you mean?” Harry’s voice trembles a bit.

“You know exactly what I mean. Ever since your birthday, you’ve been treating me like I have some infectious disease you don’t want to catch.” Harry doesn’t say anything. Louis sighs, appearing to grow frustrated. “I don’t know what I did. I thought we were friends―”

“You’re my boss,” Harry interrupts, his hands stilling again. The room smells like lemon-scented disinfectant and his knees hurt. It’s times like these that Harry wishes he could disappear at will, just cease to exist for a little bit and let everything just blow over. “I’m your employee. I’ve been extremely unprofessional and it’s – it’s not okay. The way I acted that night.”

Louis is silent for a bit, long enough that Harry looks over to check what his expression is. “You’re right. You have been unprofessional.” Harry feels his breath hitch, not expecting Louis to agree so readily, but Louis continues. “I’ve been unprofessional too. Going into this, I didn’t… I didn’t want someone who would treat me like their superior and nothing more or less. Y’know, it gets… Lonely here.”

There’s a lump stuck in Harry’s throat, not letting any words escape. He’s a bit caught off guard by how utterly vulnerable Louis looks and sounds. His tiny toes barely peek out from under the dragging hem of his trackies, hands fidgeting nervously at his sides. The blue in his eyes is lighter than usual, more azure than cerulean, and his jaw is clean-shaven, making him look younger than he actually is. There’s a beanie perched on top of his head, flattening his feathery brown hair. He looks like a small child waiting to be scolded by his parent.

Louis swallows. “I want to write that happy ending, yeah?” His voice is shaking even more than Harry’s.

It’s then that it truly hits Harry. All of it is a lie. When he really thinks about it, he doesn’t give a shit either way about professionalism as long as his employer doesn’t mind either. By the looks of it, Louis seems to prefer the easygoing way he had been behaving before. Harry still can’t bring himself to agree, though.

If professionalism was really his concern, the root of the problem should be solved then. It should be okay. It’s not, though. Not at all.

The way his chest constricts when he meets Louis’s eyes speaks volumes.

He wants to nod, agree with Louis and go back to the way it was before. He doesn’t. Moreover, he can’t. Instead, what spills from his lips is a lifeless voice saying, “I’d like to have the weekend off to spend Valentine’s Day in London, Mr. Tomlinson.”

He can hear Louis exhale uneasily. “Fine. Yeah,” he murmurs, only lingering for a moment longer before he walks out without another word.

Harry feels frozen once he’s alone. His heart feels like it’s been twisted around barbwire, mangled and thumping erratically. He can’t quite catch his breath, but he tries to steady himself and eventually pull out his phone to send Sam a text.

Harry (2:28 PM): Hey, I’m coming down to London this weekend. Want to see you.

The reply comes less than five minutes later.

Sam (2:31 PM): Yeah i have to see u too. Have to talk to u abt something. See u then..

Harry sits in the bathroom for another hour, trying not to cry. He fails.

 

*

 

Harry doesn’t even need to try to avoid Louis for the next couple days. Louis seems just as eager to prevent any interaction between them as well, which should satisfy Harry yet it only makes him ache. Saturday approaches rapidly, and before he knows it, Harry’s shoving a small duffel into the back of his shitty car and slipping into the driver’s seat. It’s inane, but he weirdly misses Louis’s Rolls-Royce, even though he only rode in it for one night. Plus, half of the time he spent in the car, he was a drunken mess who probably came within two inches of vomiting all over the leather upholstery.

He barely catches a glimpse of Louis peering out of the window in his study, arms crossed and expression unreadable from this distance. A part of Harry was screaming at him to get back inside the house and talk things out with Louis, but he needed to do this. He had to try this one last time to rekindle whatever spark he had with Sam. He needed to try one more time to fix things between them and put behind him whatever might have been growing with Louis.

Surprising Sam with lingerie and flowers was probably a rather unconventional way to do it, but whatever it takes, Harry would try it. He’d been with Sam for too long to not give their relationship another chance.

He ignores the slight tremble in his hands as he drives away.

 

*

 

London is the same as always.

After the three and a half hour drive, Harry’s absolutely knackered and not up to visiting Sam just yet. He’ll go see him tomorrow when it’s actually Valentine’s Day, he decides. For now, he’ll kip at his own flat to get some shuteye and spend a bit of time with Perrie and George, both of whom he’d already warned beforehand that he’d be coming.

He drags his bag inside the building and lets it rest on the floor while the lift climbs up to the fifth floor. The doors open with a soft ping and he shuffles out, moving on autopilot to his front door. The sound of jingling metal rings in the corridor as he finds his key and unlocks the door, stepping into his flat as if he’s a stranger entering someone else’s home. He’s a bit surprised to find that he actually does feel a bit out of place.

At least until Perrie comes skittering into the foyer to pounce on him, a flurry of pale blond hair flying around his face. He drops his duffel bag in order to catch her around the waist, hugging her back just as tightly. Mere seconds later, George appears with a wide grin on his boyish face and joins in on the group hug. Harry feels smothered in the best way possible.

Once they’re all done hugging and snuggling each other in the entry like affectionate puppies (or, more accurately, a bunch of weirdos who’ve missed each other), they migrate to the kitchen-slash-TV room. It’s a tiny flat, so the kitchen kind of expands into a sitting area where they usually just eat meals on the dingy couch and watch telly together.

George has apparently attempted to cook a welcome-home dinner for Harry. Harry does nothing to suppress his cautious expression while he slowly test-tastes the soup. George scoffs in mock-offense (everyone is vividly aware of how bad George is at cooking) and smacks Harry upside the head, making him splutter around his mouthful. They dissolve into laughter while Perrie rolls her eyes at them.

It’s familiar. It’s not Louis’s home, though.

He shoves that thought out of his mind and tries to focus on his friends. They spend the rest of the evening catching up on the things that they didn’t say or mention over text. Perrie blushes when Harry asks if she’s met anyone, George ribs her until she breaks and starts gushing about some pretty girl at work named Jade, and Harry is a mixture of supportive and teasing. It’s fun and light-hearted and exactly what Harry has needed.

It isn’t until later that night when George is dozing off with his head on Harry’s lap and feet on Perrie’s that Louis is mentioned. Harry’d been avoiding any talk of him when he’s texting or calling his friends and he always changed the subject whenever Louis was brought up, which probably only served to make it more obvious, so he’s not too surprised when Perrie looks over at him and says simply, “So, talk.”

Harry doesn’t pretend to not know what she means. “I don’t know what to do,” he says instead, honest and confused. “I love Sam. I mean, I think I do. Well, I thought… But then Louis… He’s really great, y’know? And I’m just – I’m really confused about what I feel. All of it.”

“Oh, sweetie,” she sighs, reaching over George’s sleeping body to run her fingers soothingly through Harry’s curls. “Have you… Y’know?”

He understands immediately what she’s alluding to. “Oh, God, no. But… I think I wanted to. And I feel like that’s just as bad.”

“I’m so sorry, babe,” Perrie empathises. She doesn’t seem to know what to say, and neither does Harry, so they stay quiet for a while, the quiet buzz of the muted television filling the silence. Harry is starting to think he could easily fall asleep like this, in a dark, quiet room with his two best friends and a gentle hand carding through his hair,  but Perrie chooses to finally say something. “I think you should always choose the thing that will make you happiest in the long run, Harry.”

Harry sighs, feeling heavy and unsure. “The problem is that I’m not sure what that is.”

 

*

 

It’s Sunday morning, Valentine’s Day, and Harry is fidgeting in his tiny bedroom. He’s naked right now, trying to build up the courage to finally put on the baby pink lingerie set he’s laid out on the bed.

It’s something he’d bought a long while back at a shop in London, a month or two before he’d moved into Louis’s. He’d purchased it with the intention of wearing it for Sam, but he was never able to do it, always backing out at the last minute. The Victoria’s Secret box has been collecting dust in the back of his closet for months now and it’s only now that his relationship is on the rocks that he can convince himself to wear the set.

First, he slips on the knickers, soft with tiers of lace ruffles that cover his groin nicely. He remembers choosing these because they cover more than the thongs and other panties he’d looked at, so he figured they’d be more comfortable to wear under his clothes and would do a better job of concealing his cock and balls. Thankfully, they do.

He tucks his cock into the soft ruffled panties, trying to keep the process clinical because he doesn’t want to get hard too early. The next to come on are the thigh-high stockings, pink nylon sliding up his legs to rest with the lace hem in the middle of his thighs. He didn’t want to get a separate garter belt, so he’d selected knickers that had detachable garter straps, which he clasps onto the stockings and panties now.

Breathing shakily, he reaches for the final item, grabbing the flimsy nightie, made of sheer mesh that leaves nothing to the imagination. He carefully pulls the material over his head and tugs it into place, the lace straps feeling as light as feathers on his shoulders. It just barely reaches his thighs, but when he slips a pair of grey joggers over his stockings, he tucks the nightie under the waistband to be safe.

He’s pulling a plain black tee shirt over his head when George knocks on his door, calling out, “Haz, I made you a cuppa.”

Harry glances down at his feet, stretching out sheer nylon, and hurries to slip them into a pair of plain socks and his old Chucks before he heads over to the kitchen where his flatmates are waiting for him. Perrie looks rumpled and sleepy in her pyjamas, sipping at a steaming hot chocolate on the couch, while George is leaning against the kitchen counter in exercise clothes, stirring sugar into Harry’s tea and then honey into his own. Harry gratefully takes his favourite misshapen mug, the one that he made at a pottery shop when he was eight, and swallows most of its contents in quick gulps. It burns his tongue and throat, but he needs to rush so he can have more time today with Sam.

George chuckles at him and says, “Slow down there or you won’t have a tongue to kiss your boyfriend with later.”

Perrie shoots Harry a meaningful look. He shrugs pathetically, still feeling uncertain but wanting to believe that this is the right thing to do.

He’s been in a relationship with Sam for a while now and been friends with him for even longer. Sam was one of the first people he met when he moved into the city; they became fast friends, which quickly evolved into more, and he made Harry feel welcome and secure in a place that was so unfamiliar and new to him. With all the memories they share and all the things Sam has done for Harry, he can’t help but cling to their relationship, even if he knows it’s kind of dying and probably a bit toxic. He has to believe that Sam can change, that they can fix things and be as close as they once were again.

Whatever he could have with Louis has to be put on the backburner. He refuses to be the person who ends a long-term relationship just because he might want to try it with someone else.

He can’t be the one to give up on this.

 

*

 

Turns out he doesn’t have to be the one to give up.

He’d walked up to Sam’s front door with clammy palms and a racing heart, irrationally nervous to see his own boyfriend again. Whatever he’d been expecting to be met with – maybe a hug, a smile, a kiss – was absolutely not what he received.

Instead of any of those things, he got a sad frown and a wave ushering him through the doorway.

Now he’s sat on Sam’s ratty sofa with him, a careful distance between the two. There’s so much tension, every mean or unloving thing they’ve ever said to each other lingering in the air between them. Harry wonders how he thought some lingerie and flowers, now drooping limply on his lap, could fix this.

“I missed you,” Harry offers, breaking the silence.

“I think we should break up,” Sam blurts out.

Harry blinks slowly, taken by surprise. Surely he misheard him. “I – What?”

Sam sighs, closing his eyes and running a hand over his face. “I’m sorry, Harry. You can’t say you didn’t see this coming, though. Ever since you got that stupid job―”

“Please don’t blame this on me,” Harry says, still in shock with his eyes wide and his lip trembling. “I tried, Sam, but you never saw us as equals. You – You expected me to support everything you said and did while you criticised and belittled me every step of the way.”

Sam huffs angrily. “I did not. I let you go and try to live out some pipe dream in a strange man’s house―”

“Don’t bring Louis into this,” Harry demands, rubbing furiously at his eye as he starts tearing up. The worst part is that Sam’s right; Harry never expected their relationship to last a whole lot longer, but he had hoped, and he’d surely not been expecting for Sam to end it on fucking Valentine’s Day.

“Oh, of course, wouldn’t want to insult the golden boy.” Sam laughs humourlessly.

“Fuck you,” Harry snaps. He’s crying and flushed with anger and nausea bubbles in his stomach, anxiety clogging his veins, but he doesn’t deserve to be shit on and neither does Louis. “Y’know, I came here to try to fix things. I even―”

“Harry, I don’t care,” Sam interjects with a sigh. He seems weary, maybe exasperated. It makes Harry’s blood boil. “It’s over. We are over, okay?”

“Fuck you,” Harry repeats, voice quiet and defeated. His entire body is tense as he stands, carelessly drops the wilting flowers to the floor, and lets himself out of a flat he’ll never step foot in again.

 

*

 

He won’t let Perrie or George into his room. He’d stormed into the flat with tears still dripping from his eyelashes and weak sobs caught in his chest, but he’d ignored their pleas for an explanation and has been locked in his bedroom ever since.

The lights are off, thick curtains are pulled over the windows, and the only source of illumination is his phone. He’s bundled up in blankets, trying to hold himself together through sheer force, but he feels the cracks in his shell growing bigger, splitting apart. For the past thirty minutes, he’s been looking at pictures he’s taken with Louis, scrolling through his texts with him. There hasn’t been anything new since January, so he’s stuck just staring at old messages.

He feels a bit sick to his stomach because he thinks the mourning period for his ended relationship was over after the first hour of being locked up in his room. He’d stopped crying by then, but then he still felt so heavy and forlorn, though for other reasons. All he’s been thinking about since then is Louis, what Louis is doing, if Louis has written any more of his book, that he should have ended things with Sam a long time ago and maybe taken a chance with Louis. Guilt surges up in his belly for thinking that so soon after the breakup, but he knows it’s the truth; his relationship with Sam was doomed to crash and burn since before he took the job. He’d just been holding onto a ghost of the couple they used to be.

Before he can stop himself, he’s swiping across his screen a few times and holding the phone up to his ear as it rings. He doesn’t have to wait long until Louis answers.

“Harry?” His voice sounds so nice even laced with static.

“Lou,” Harry croaks out, voice rusty from disuse. He clears his throat. “Hi.”

“Hey,” Louis murmurs back. He sounds soft. Harry imagines him curled up in his giant, fluffy bed in his lazy day clothes and his glasses slipping down his nose. There’s a sharp pang of longing in his stomach and he wishes he was there with Louis. He still feels bad for wanting it, though; it’s been less than twelve hours since his relationship ended.

“Happy Valentine’s Day,” Harry says, feeling calm and a bit more settled now that he’s talking to Louis. His preceding statement comes out mindlessly, just as casually as the first sentence. “Sam broke up with me.”

He can hear a tiny noise, like Louis is maybe gasping or choking. Or both. “I’m sorry, what? He what?”

“He dumped me,” Harry repeats, more quietly this time. There’s stunned silence on the other end, so he waits a moment before adding even more quietly, “I miss you.”

“Harry…” Louis trails off. He sounds like he’s about to reject Harry’s sentiment, like he doesn’t miss him too. Harry feels suddenly uncomfortable, embarrassed that he just said something so affectionate when Louis clearly doesn’t feel the same. Maybe he had misread Louis on the night of his birthday, but he had been so certain that Louis felt something for Harry that was less platonic than he let on. Apparently, he was wrong.

“I have to go,” Harry says abruptly. “Bye, Louis.”

He can hear Louis urgently saying his name before he hangs up. He pretends he didn’t hear him.

 

*

 

Harry’s sleeping in his bedroom, having no concept of time with the entire room submerged in darkness, when a loud knock on the door startles him awake. When he checks his phone, the time reads 6:26PM and he has seven missed calls from Louis and nine text messages from him. He ignores all of them in favour of rustling around in his bed to sit up and call out, “What do you want?”

“Harry, mate, there’s someone here to see you,” George’s muffled voice comes from behind the door. There’s a pause. “And no, it’s not Sam.”

Harry’s brow furrows, confused as to who it could be if it’s not Sam. He supposes it may be one of his other friends, like Nick or Taylor, but he hasn’t spoken to any of them in a while, so he wasn’t exactly expecting a visit or for them to even know he’s in town.

“Fine,” he grumbles to himself and slips out of bed, still wearing all the clothes from this morning, including the undergarments. He reaches into his joggers to awkwardly adjust the way his cock is lying in his knickers before venturing out of his room for the first time in hours.

To his shock, the person he finds standing in their entry is not Nick or Taylor, nor is it any of his other friends. Instead, he finds himself staring into wild blue eyes, shining behind smart glasses and below messy brown fringe. Dressed in trackies, an oversized jumper, and old Vans, Louis looks like he just crawled out of bed, downed an espresso (which would be surprising, given that he hates coffee), and drove here right away. When Harry considers the timing, that probably is what he did.

“Harry,” Louis says almost breathlessly.

“L-Louis,” Harry greets, caught off guard. “What are you doing here?”

Perrie and George, both of whom are standing off the to side and observing the interaction, fidget and move towards the front door. “We’ll give you two some privacy to talk,” Perrie announces, opening the door for George and herself to slip through. “I’ll text you, Harry, ‘kay?”

Harry nods absently in response, not sparing his flatmates more than a glance as he’s a bit too preoccupied with staring at Louis. “So…?” he prompts once his friends are gone, the door clicking shut behind them.

“I…” Louis runs a hand through his bed head, looking anxious. “I was worried about you. And… I missed you too. Do you – do you have somewhere we could sit down?”

Feeling like the air has been sucked out of his lungs from those simple but sincere statements, Harry nods once and leads Louis over to the kitchen-slash-TV room. Louis removes his shoes and sets them by the coat rack before he follows. Harry moves to sit on one end of the scruffy couch and lets Louis sit at the other end, an empty cushion of space left between them. The distance, even after two weeks of avoidance, feels awkward, like they should be pressed up next to each other like they always were before.

Louis fixes his glasses, a bit of a nervous tendency he has, and clears his throat. “So, um, how are you holding up?”

“Surprisingly well,” Harry answers slowly, pointedly leaving out the fact that the reason he’s not ridiculously hung up on the breakup is because he’s been stressing out more about Louis than Sam. “I think I kind of… Expected it. I didn’t think he’d do it on Valentine’s Day, though, of all days.”

“You saw it coming?” Louis asks, seeming a bit confused at that. “Like, you expected him to break up with you?”

Harry pauses for a moment, and then shrugs slightly. “Well, yeah…”

“Don’t see why he’d ever do it,” Louis murmurs. “Not very smart of him to let you go, if you ask me.”

Harry ducks his head to hide his blush and fidgets. “That’s sweet, Lou… When I look back on it, we weren’t the most compatible couple. In the beginning, we were too enamoured with each other to see any of the bad stuff, but with me gone, things got harder. I knew a while before I even took the job that it wasn’t meant to be, but y’know… I’d hoped. I think me leaving was kind of the catalyst, but…” He gives another small shrug. “It would have ended eventually, anyway.”

“Still, that was really shitty of him to do it on the day you had planned to surprise him,” Louis protests. “On Valentine’s Day, no less. The universal day to celebrate your relationship, not end it. I’m… I’m sorry that this happened, regardless of how much you expected it.” There’s clear hesitance in Louis’s expression, his eyes wide and unsure, as he reaches over to lay his hand so gently over Harry’s. When Harry doesn’t pull away and just kind of nuzzles the top of his hand into Louis’s palm, Louis holds it more firmly.

“What exactly was your plan, anyway?” Louis asks, tilting his head towards Harry. His eyes are earnest. “Like, you thought just heading on over would fix everything?” The words should sound condescending or rude, but he only sounds genuinely curious, like he honestly is puzzled and wants to understand.

Harry’s fingers twitch restlessly beneath Louis’s, reminded sharply of what he’s wearing under his lounge clothes. “Well, um… I was, like… I kind of – kind of dressed up for him?”

He’s a bit startled when Louis laughs at that, his fingertips digging lightly into Harry’s knuckles. Harry’s not sure he’s even aware that he still hasn’t removed his hand. He doesn’t care to say anything. He flushes pink, his feet shuffling against the carpet.

“You mean like in a costume?” Louis asks, still chuckling lightly.

“Not – not quite,” Harry says quietly. He’d thought it was such a good idea before, but now he’s not so sure and just feels embarrassed and dumb.

“Then what?”

He has to swallow before he can answer, his throat dry. “L-Lingerie,” he stammers out in a low murmur. Harry’s pretty sure his face is in danger of actually catching on fire. There’s a long silence that follows during which neither of them dare to move. Harry imagines Louis can hear his heart racing.

“Oh,” Louis breathes. He sounds almost shaken, like he’s been completely caught off guard and doesn’t know how to proceed.

Harry hopes he’s breathless in a good way. Probably not, but he decides he’s come this far, he might as well just go for gold. He spends a solid fifteen seconds just gnawing on his lip before he can muster up the courage to carefully ask, “Do… Do you want to see?”

“Harry,” Louis says like a sigh, unreadable and unsteady. He finally removes his hand from Harry’s, shifting in his side of the couch. Going purely on body language, Harry would say he’s uncomfortable, which is disheartening, but he can see the lust and want in his eyes and he knows, he just knows that he has at least some semblance of a chance here. He has to take it.

In one swift movement, he scoots over to the middle cushion, tucks his legs underneath himself, and turns his body to face Louis head-on, who’s still sitting facing the television. He reaches out and skims a hand across the outer edge of Louis’s thigh, strong and firm under soft fabric. He’s so fucking close – he can smell Louis’s citrus-scented shampoo and feel the heat radiating off of him. Still, he wants more. “Lou…”

“Harry, we really shouldn’t,” Louis whispers, staring at Harry’s hand on his thigh like he might cry if he stops touching him.

So he doesn’t.

Harry shuffles a bit closer on his knees, one hand tightening to grip Louis’s thigh more firmly as the other moves up to rest on Louis’s shoulder. He has this itching desire to overwhelm him, to wrap himself around Louis until all he can see, taste, breathe is Harry. “Please,” he murmurs. “Please, Louis, I want this, I want you.” His voice is stunningly vulnerable and open, but he can’t bring himself to rein it back in or stop moving closer in the hopes that maybe Louis wants him too.

“God, Harry,” Louis groans, seeming pained. “You’re killing me.” He lets his head fall back against the back of the couch, eyes shutting as Harry’s hand inches teasingly up his thigh. The closest thing to an answer he gives is by letting his legs fall open and allowing Harry’s hand more room to explore.

“Fuck,” Harry rasps, amazed that he’s permitted to touch someone so beautiful and powerful. Before he can think twice, he dives in to plant his mouth on the side of Louis’s exposed neck, the long stretch of unmarred skin calling him like a beacon. He latches on to his throat and immediately sets out on forming a bruise.

His teeth dig into the firm flesh gently, tongue lapping at soft skin as he sucks and nips. He hears Louis gasp in surprise, followed by a sweet moan, and suddenly he’s being yanked sideways into Louis’s lap by strong hands on his hips. It takes him a second to get his balance, but he settles soon enough and gets comfortable straddling Louis’s thighs.

Harry reattaches his mouth to the love bite he was working on, continuing to suckle gently at the darkening skin to the sound of Louis’s moans until it’s a satisfactory shade of maroon. Once he’s pleased with the mark, he slowly trails light kisses over the sharp curve of Louis’s jaw. His lips slide over the rough stubble, loving the way it scratches, and pauses to let his mouth hover over Louis’s.

They lock eyes, both of their grips tighten on each other, and Louis is the one to surge up and close the distance between their mouths.

The first kiss is soft and more tender than the lust in their veins calls for. Still, it means more to Harry than just some rebound snog, so it’s nice that it’s not just fast and dirty with no sentiment. Their mouths fit together sweetly, full lips against thinner ones, a mesh of pink and red that parts and reconnects over and over again. He flicks his tongue out to graze over Louis’s bottom lip, which falls open a bit to let the intrusion in. It’s slick and searing and so, so slow, tongues moving languidly together like there’s nothing else they could be doing at the moment.

Until, of course, Harry realises that there is something else he could be doing right now.

“Lou,” Harry murmurs quietly into the kiss, warm breath puffing out erratically against the older man’s mouth as his lungs struggle to pump air with how much he’s choosing to kiss instead of breathe. He nips at Louis’s lower lip, which has plumped up more from the attention, and tugs on it gently with his teeth before letting go and saying, “Please.”

Louis’s hands dip below his waist, sliding down his hips and around to the back until they’re settled lightly on his bum. Sighing pleasantly, Harry arches his back a little to push his arse into the man’s grasp, daring him to explore more.

Louis leans over to lick a line up from Harry’s collar to the sensitive spot just below and behind his ear, eliciting a shuddery moan from him. When Louis speaks again, he does so quietly and the words are whispered directly into Harry’s ear, fingers still digging into his small bum. “Show me, Harry.”

“Mm,” Harry hums inquisitively, not processing the request right away. He feels a bit delirious with the way Louis’s hands are practically massaging his arse and thighs right now. He never wants his touch to leave him.

“Wanna see what you look like, all dolled up in lace,” Louis continues, using his grip on Harry to pull him down against his crotch, grinding their concealed erections together for a brief moment. It’s just enough to get Harry to whimper and do what Louis says.

On wobbly feet, he manages to stand up and take a couple steps back from the couch so he’s directly in front of Louis. The first to come off is his pair of socks, his feet encased in pink nylon giving a hint of what will come next. He’s saving the best for last, so the next article to go is his tee shirt, exposing the thin, sheer material of his nightie. His nipples are clearly visible through the sheer pink, perky and poking against the fabric.

He hears Louis’s breath hitch and gives him a bashful smile, knowing his cheeks are probably bright red right now. His thumbs hook under the waistband of his baggy joggers, teasing Louis a bit by easing them down at an agonisingly slow pace. Slowly, his ruffled knickers are exposed, lace-trimmed nightie coming untucked and swishing delicately around his hips. He lets the joggers fall and pool around his feet, stepping out of them carefully and kicking them aside to stand nervously in front of Louis, lingerie on display.

There’s a brief silence in which Harry isn’t sure Louis actually likes it, but then—

“Fucking hell, Harry,” Louis groans, openly palming the prominent bulge in his bottoms. “Come here, please come here.”

Louis reaches out with his other hand, fingers flexing as if they’re already curled around Harry, but the younger boy gives him a sly grin, dimples digging deep into his cheeks, and backs out of the room. He watches Louis scramble to his feet and follow Harry as he skitters down the hallway and darts into his room, jumping onto the bed where he sits on the edge, legs hanging over the side and hands clasped in his lap. His expression is playful and he feels more relaxed and sure with the knowledge that Louis isn’t judging him for what he’s wearing. Based on the erection he’s sporting, Harry thinks it’s safe to say that Louis likes it quite a lot.

Louis catches up to him and bounds over to the bed, slotting himself between Harry’s legs. With a hand on Harry’s chest, he gently eases him down onto his back, gesturing for him to scoot up a bit onto the bed. As he waits for Harry to do so, he reaches up to slide his glasses off of his face and set them down on the bedside table. Once Harry’s lying flat on the mattress, breathing a little more heavily with anticipation swimming in his veins, Louis climbs onto the bed after him and straddles Harry’s body.

“Lou,” Harry murmurs, sure that he can feel Harry’s erection straining in his knickers where he’s sitting on Harry’s lap. The pressure of Louis’s bum against Harry’s crotch is light and not nearly enough; he gets an intense urge to buck up and grind into his arse. He tries his best to resist it. He wants to be a good boy for Louis.

“What do you want, babe?” Louis asks, his voice sultry and lower than Harry is used to hearing. He swoops down to nip at Harry’s jaw, kissing his way back up to Harry’s waiting, open mouth. The slide of their tongues this time is slick and filthy, enough so that Harry feels his cock twitch.

Louis pulls away to lick and nibble at Harry’s collarbones, allowing Harry time to recover somewhat from the kiss and compose some sort of answer. His head is foggy and his cock is painfully hard, but it still startles him a bit when his mouth moves without his permission and he says, “I want you to fuck me.”

Louis’s answering moan is pressed into Harry’s pulse point, his heart jumping when Louis so, so softly traces his tongue along one of the veins in his neck. “Please tell me you have condoms and lube.”

Harry makes a sound caught between a giggle and a groan, nodding frantically and then blowing away the curly hair that had fallen over his face. “In the – the top drawer there, I think.” He points half-heartedly towards the bedside table.

When Louis twists his body a little to root around in the drawer, his bum rubs over the hard shape of Harry’s cock in the panties and Harry can’t stifle his moan or keep his hips pinned to the bed this time. His hands fly up to grab at Louis’s hips and he bucks up into the warm friction of Louis’s clothed arse, his cock leaking a bit into his knickers as he grinds up a bit desperately.

He’s pulled out of it by Louis dropping the retrieved condom and lube on the bed and gripping Harry’s wrists. Harry’s fingers flex, hips still rutting up against him, at least until Louis stops him. He gathers both of Harry’s wrists in one hand and pins them above his head, the other hand flying down to clutch one of Harry’s hips and pin it down to keep him from thrusting them up again.

Harry’s breath hitches, shamelessly loving the way Louis’s fingers are wrapped so tightly around his wrists, the way his thumb presses hard enough against the fleshy part of Harry’s hip to bruise. There’s an ache in his bones that feels electric, telling him to beg for more. “Am I a good boy?” Harry asks breathily, eyes fluttering closed when he feels Louis start to grind his bum against Harry’s concealed cock in devastating circles at his own slow pace.

“Yeah, Harry, you’re such a good boy,” Louis murmurs, snapping his hips back and forth to torture Harry’s poor erection. “God, I’ve wanted this for so long. Wanted to touch you since the moment you stepped into my house.” He bends down over Harry’s body and hovers over his chest momentarily, making Harry whine pleadingly. He wants something, anything.

There’s no way he could suppress his moan when Louis finally flicks his tongue out and drags it over the hard bud of Harry’s nipple, poking out against the pink nightie. His toes curl a bit as Louis starts sucking at it through the dampening material, nipping at it gently with his teeth and flicking his tongue over it teasingly. Harry’s nipples have always been one of his most sensitive places and to have this gorgeous man paying so much attention to them, wet and dirty and sharp, is almost too much.

He cries out, “Wait, wait, Louis, hold on,” when he feels the tightness in his belly about to snap, when he feels like he can’t stave off an orgasm any longer. All at once, the grinding stops, his mouth leaves Harry’s wet, puffy nipple, and the only parts of them that remain touching are Louis’s hand still pinning Harry’s wrists down. The other hand has left his hip and is reaching up to sweetly cup his jaw, thumb stroking over his flushed cheek.

The stiff line of Louis’s cock is visible in his trackies,  tenting the front with a small damp spot where his head must be, and there’s clear lust in his eyes, but he’s completely serious and sincere when he asks, “Do you want to stop?”

It warms Harry’s heart and gives him some comfort knowing that Louis would stop everything so easily and quickly if Harry just asked. It’s not what he wants, though.

“No, no,” he reassures, still trying to catch his breath. “Was about to come. Didn’t want to yet.”

“Oh,” Louis says, looking a bit surprised. He slides his hand down Harry’s neck to his chest, thumbing lightly over the nipple he neglected before. “How do you want to come then, love?”

“Want to get my mouth on you first,” Harry murmurs, gasping softly in surprise when Louis gently pinches his nipple.

“What a coincidence; so do I,” Louis answers, a cheeky grin spreading across his face. He looks sweet and gorgeous and Harry can’t believe he has someone so radiant straddling his lap and looking at him with so much desire. He looks like he wants to devour him.

Louis releases his hold on Harry’s wrists, which had been gradually slackening. He flips over onto his back, gripping Harry’s hips to roll his body with his until Harry is the one supporting his weight above Louis. His eyes are a bit wide, startled, as he stares down at Louis splayed out underneath him. The next words that come out of the man’s mouth send a sharp shiver of want down Harry’s spine. “Sit on my face.”

Before he does anything, he hastily pushes Louis’s jumper up and off of his torso, sick of not being able to see more of his bare skin. He’s lean and muscled and golden, a strong but lithe body begging to be worshipped. Harry thinks he’s definitely up for the job, but Louis’s hands are suddenly pushing his nightie off as well, discarding it with his jumper, before he manhandles him into turning around and scooting up until his covered arse is hovering over his face. Which is quite nice, really, so Harry’s not complaining.

Louis doesn’t bother to take the panties off all the way, just pulls down on the waistband until it slides down to rest around his thighs. His cock springs out and smacks Harry’s tummy, but Louis ignores it in favour of his arse. Fingers spread him open, exposing his hole, which hasn’t been touched by anyone but Harry since December. There’s cold air greeting him, and then a slick, soft tongue is slowly dragging over his entrance. It feels like a shock of electricity, nerve endings alight with sensation as Louis laps insistently at him.

His cock twitches hard, precome leaking against his stomach, and all he can see is Louis’s bare chest, tanned stomach, and tented joggers. His hands are trembling from the onslaught of concentrated pleasure as he reaches forward. He lays one palm flat against Louis’s tight abdomen for support while the other sneaks under his waistband and promptly pushes the trackies down his thighs.

The only barrier left between Harry’s mouth and Louis’s cock is the tight red briefs hugging his groin, darkened with precome in one area. The thin fabric is stretched around Louis’s cock, struggling to conceal it, and Harry ducks down to mouth wetly at the obvious shape of it right when Louis decides to nibble at his rim.

He’s dragging the flat of his tongue over the line of Louis’s hard-on, getting the fabric wet enough that is clings obscenely to every ridge and curve of Louis’s cock. His answering moans to the tongue on his arse send vibrations through his cock and make Louis breathe harshly over his hole. It’s an endless cycle of pleasure, given and received and taken just to be given again, and it’s delicious and desperate and more than Harry dared to wish for.

When Harry suckles lightly on the fabric covering the head of his dick, he can taste the precome soaking it and he muffles his groan against the pulsing flesh under his lips. Deciding he’s teased Louis enough, Harry latches onto the waistband of his pants and shoves them down with just as little patience as he had with the trousers. As a result, Louis’s cock catches on the elastic before escaping the fabric and smacks against Harry’s lips on its way down to rest against Louis’s stomach. Moaning wantonly, Harry wipes at the precome smeared over his chin and licks it off his fingers greedily.

“God, Harry,” Louis grunts. “The sounds you make…” He doesn’t finish the sentence, just surges up a bit and buries his face against Harry’s bum, licking deeper than before. His beard stubble scratches pleasantly against Harry’s sensitive skin, pulling a soft whimper out of him. It burns a bit, the rough friction on the top of his thighs and bottom of his arse, but it feels exquisite, sending shocks of pleasure to his cock where it’s dripping against his belly.

Louis lavishes his arse with attention, licking and biting and driving Harry mad. He shudders through the fuzzy warmth that threatens to swallow him whole and leans down to kitten-lick wetly at Louis’s neglected cock. It’s so, so hard under the touch of his insistent tongue, a few veins straining along the shaft with a dark pink head leaking all over Harry’s lips as he circles his tongue around it and sucks it into his mouth.

In response, Louis reflexively bucks his hips up, pulling back to mutter a quiet, “Sorry,” against his rim.

Harry moans around the few inches of cock that were shoved into his mouth, sucking harshly on the throbbing flesh and curling his tongue against the underside. He slides off to shake his head briefly, even though Louis can’t see him with his face buried between his arse cheeks. “Fuck my throat,” he says, voice already deeper and rougher from having Louis in his mouth. “Please, Lou.”

He feels Louis’s quick exhale against his fluttering hole. Then Louis’s hands are reaching up to plant themselves on the small of Harry’s back. One of them stays where it is, but the other slowly trails along the curve of his spine and over the jut of his shoulder blades until he can tangle his fingers in Harry’s thick hair. He gently pushes Harry’s head down, letting Harry guide his cock between his own lips with a hand curled around the base. “Smack my leg if you want me to stop.”

Harry wants to speak, wants to tell him that he wouldn’t want him to stop even if he’s crying and choking on it, but he can’t because his prick is throbbing against the slide of Harry’s tongue, easing its way to the back of his mouth. He can’t help but gag when it first nudges against his throat, but he tries to relax and let it slide farther, the muscles of his throat working around the intrusion as Louis finally bottoms out in his mouth.

Louis’s voice sounds strangled when he speaks again. “Dear God, Harry, you’re fucking – you’re incredible.”

Harry’s obviously very enthusiastic about sucking Louis’s cock, but he’s also very enthusiastic about Louis eating him out again. He pointedly wiggles his bum a bit, feeling Louis’s smirk against his skin more than he sees it. “Demanding,” Louis chastises half-heartedly, placing a kiss to one of his bum cheeks. From there, he starts licking at Harry’s rim again, lapping until he’s loose and wet. Then, right as Harry is breathing through his nose, eyes watering, he points his tongue and slowly pushes it past his hole’s resistance.

Harry immediately moans around Louis’s dick, licking at the precome that blurts out of the tip at that, and melts back against Louis’s mouth. Louis is snapping his hips up into Harry’s mouth, establishing his own rhythm with his hand still tangled in Harry’s hair. The pace he sets is brutal, a combination of thrusting up and down and moving Harry’s head however he likes. Harry tries his best to just take it, but he can’t stop himself from choking every now and then, face flushing from the effort and a tear finally escaping one of his eyes when he blinks rapidly.

It hurts and aches and burns in the best way possible.

Louis’s tongue is warm, slipping in and out of his hole harshly in an imitation of fucking him, and Harry can feel his spit getting everywhere, dripping slowly down his taint to his balls. His tongue slips out to lap at Harry’s sensitive balls for a bit, suckling gently, before Louis drags his tongue up the seam of his balls and over Harry’s perineum, drawing a moan out of him.

There’s pleasure fizzling in his belly, threatening to overtake him, and he knows it’s coming, but he can’t warn Louis with his cock in his throat. He jumps a little when Louis finally takes hold of his cock and starts to pump quickly, fingers spreading precome down the shaft and knuckles bumping against his belly with every stroke. With Louis’s hand moved from Harry’s hair to his dick, he’s free to lift up off Louis’s cock, lips shiny with spit and precome, and groan out a warning. “Lou, fuck, ‘m gonna come.”

“Go ahead, babe,” Louis murmurs, swiping his tongue across his balls again.

It sends a shiver up his spine and he can’t hold back any longer. It only takes a flick of Louis’s thumb over his tip for him to unravel, becoming a heavy, moaning mess above Louis as he spurts over the older man’s chest, some of it shooting up to land on Harry’s tummy. “Fuck, Louis,” he whimpers, fidgeting with sensitivity when Louis continues to stroke him through the orgasm. He squirms, barely able to hold himself up above the man, but Louis doesn’t stop jerking him off at the same harsh pace, just asks softly, “This okay?”

“Fuck, I’m – yeah,” Harry stammers out. He feels so weak, can barely support his own weight, and the sensation of Louis’s hand on his cock bordering on painful, but he loves the ache of it. Louis presses kisses against Harry’s shaking thighs, gently rolling them over to lay Harry on his back. Harry’s back is arching from the overstimulation, cock still hard without a chance to soften or recover after his climax, and he’s barely aware of Louis sitting up to kneel beside him. He definitely notices, though, when Louis swoops down to suck his entire length into his mouth in one go.

“Fuck,” he cries out, cock kicking against Louis’s warm tongue. He can feel a bit of stubble scraping over the base and his balls, wracking his body with tremors.

Louis gives one long, harsh suck as he draws off, licking at the wet tip as he murmurs to Harry, “Still want me to fuck you?”

“Shit, yeah, yes, please,” Harry rushes out, beyond ready to get Louis inside him.

“Okay, darling, I’ve got you.” Louis hushes him with kisses across his stomach while he finally pulls his knickers the rest of the way off and then resumes wanking him. Harry tries to keep his eyes trained on the older man as he shuffles around to spread Harry’s legs and settle between them, but his eyelids keep fluttering and squeezing shut from the onslaught of pleasure. It’s already past the point of being too much, but he still wants more. He shuts his eyes to the slick sound of Louis spreading lube on his fingers.

He flinches out of surprise when he feels a fingertip nudge at his hole, but he sinks into the pressure after a moment, trying to relax so it can slide in more easily. It burns a bit at first, of course it does, but he looks up and sees Louis and knows he’ll make it good. One finger turns into two, brushing insistently over Harry’s prostate once Louis finds it. The pleasure is still bordering on being painful, but it’s better now, less of an electric shock and more of a smooth surge through his bloodstream. Louis works his way up to three before he finally relents to Harry’s shameless pleas for more.

“Are you sure, Harry?” Louis asks again, silver condom package crinkling as he tears it open.

In lieu of responding, Harry hooks his legs, still sheathed in pink stockings, around Louis’s waist, thighs pressed to his hips and calves bumping at his bare arse. “C’mon, Lou,” Harry whines, giving Louis his best pout. “Fuck me.”

“God, Harry,” Louis groans, sounding mock-exasperated, but he still rolls the condom on and spreads more lube over his cock. As he lines himself up, the rubber-covered head of his dick nudges at Harry’s slick opening, eliciting a pleased shiver from him. “You have no idea what you do to me.”

Harry wants to retort, maybe say something stupid or lewd (or both), but the moment he opens his mouth to do so, Louis pushes past the ring of muscle, just the head sliding inside at first, and all that comes out is a strained moan. His hands scrabble across Louis’s shoulders before clutching tightly to his back as his cock sinks deeper, fingertips digging into tan skin.

Louis is slow with filling Harry up, slow enough that Harry is squirming underneath him by the time the entire length is sheathed inside of him, Louis’s hips pressed to his arse. Breathing heavily from the sheer sensation of being so full, Harry hitches his legs up higher and uses his ankles on Louis’s bum to press him closer, grinding against his thick cock. “Please, Lou—”

He’s cut off by Louis pulling out until only the head is inside and abruptly slamming back into him with a quick snap of his hips, fucking a pleased groan out of Harry. The friction of his cock sliding in and out of his hole warms him from the inside out, heat blossoming in his belly with each subsequent thrust as Louis builds up a steady rhythm. In, out, in, out, until Harry is crying out when one well-aimed thrust finds his prostate.

He watches as a small smirk spreads across Louis’s lips, the only warning before Louis suddenly reaches down to grip his thighs, wrapped firmly around his hips, and pries his legs off of his waist. Harry feels a pang of confusion for a brief moment before Louis pushes his legs up to nearly press against his torso, thumbs hooked around the backs of his knees. From there, he pulls back and rams right back in with precision, hitting his spot again and again as he starts back up again. This time around, Harry is trembling and on the verge of tears from the pleasure fizzing in his veins. Every time the head of his cock pounds into his prostate, a jolt of ecstasy surges through his body and he has to wrap his fingers tight around the base of his cock to stave off his impending second orgasm. The angle is amazing, too, the stretch causing a burn in Harry’s thighs that makes the pleasure even more intense.

“Fuck, Lou, ‘m gonna – gonna come,” Harry stammers frantically, unable to help himself as the tight circle of his fingers twitches and gives his cock a single tug. He whimpers from the onslaught of stimulation, every nerve ending in his body lighting up with pleasure. “Wanna be a good boy for you, but – I’m – fuck.”

His only answer being a breathy moan and quickening of pace, Louis doesn’t stop fucking him, ruthless in the shove of his hips, and Harry can’t stop himself for giving in and letting his fist fly over the length of his own cock, hard and dripping against his come-splattered tummy. He jerks himself furiously to the same pace of Louis’s thrusts, the volume and pitch of his moans climbing higher until he’s teetering on the brink of a climax.

“Fuck,” Louis manages through gritted teeth, the muscles in his abdomen visibly tensing. “Come for me, Harry, let me see you get yourself all dirty,” he rushes out, hips speeding up. The only sounds in the room are their combined groaning and the sound of skin smacking skin.

He wanks himself harder, letting the pleasure wash over him and push him closer to the edge, but it’s Louis who gives him the final push, releasing one of his legs to reach a hand down and toy with his cockhead, fingertip gliding over the oozing tip and collecting a tiny dollop of precome. He brings his hand back up and, maintaining full eye contact with Harry, dips the same fingertip into his mouth to lick the precome off. The sight alone is enough to finally set Harry off, his cock giving a feeble jerk in his grip as he arches his back and shoots thick strings of come over his flushed torso.

With the orgasm overtaking his body, his muscles tense and tighten, including his arse, and the pressure must be too much for Louis because the next second, Harry can feel his hips stutter and push against him one last time before he comes with a groan, leaning down to bury his face against Harry’s sweat-slicked neck. Harry keeps tugging at his cock through it to milk the last of his come, knuckles bumping against Louis’s stomach, stopping once his balls are done emptying and the contact is becoming too much again.

They stay locked together for a minute or so, trying to catch their breaths, before Louis gently eases himself out and presses a soft, almost bashful kiss to Harry’s rosy cheek. “Where’s your toilet?” he murmurs, nuzzling his nose against Harry’s jaw. It’s sweet and relaxing, any remaining tension melting off of Harry’s bones.

“Door right across the hall,” he answers, planting a light kiss on Louis’s cheekbone before the older man gets up with a smile and disappears.

He comes back with the condom missing and his stomach rid of Harry’s spunk, a damp red flannel clutched in his hand as he makes his way back to the bed. Lethargy washes over Harry as he lets Louis clean up his torso, falling into a sleepy fit of giggles when Louis teasingly dances his fingers over Harry’s ribs and tickles him for a minute.

Louis trots off to discard the flannel before he returns to the bed with Harry and snuggles in against his side, pulling the sheets up to cover both of their bodies, limbs quickly becoming entangled. He smooths Harry’s sweaty hair back, playing with the springy curls while Harry noses at his collarbone and presses lazy, soft kisses over his throat and chest. It’s nice, simply lying here with Louis.

They talk aimlessly for a while, exchanging quiet banter and talking about nonsensical things, until Harry grabs Louis by the jaw and silences his half-hearted ramble about the benefits of minivans with his mouth. The kiss is tender, lips sliding against each other without any other purpose than to simply kiss and be near. Neither of them pull back for a bit, content to just nestle against each other, and Louis is the first one who does so, pressing a final kiss to Harry’s dimpled cheek.

“I really like you,” Louis whispers against his skin, quiet like it’s a secret.

“I really like you too,” Harry murmurs back, arms and legs curling tighter around Louis like a clingy octopus. He strokes Louis’s back with slow fingers, trying to memorise the knobs of his spine and the dip in his waist.

Eventually, they’re going to have to get out of bed, put their clothes back on, and have a legitimate talk about things. About what this means for each other, what it means for their relationship, and what it means for Harry’s job. They’ll have to make decisions and be honest and forthright with each other. Somehow, Harry doesn’t think they’ll be on particularly different pages about things.

For now, though, Harry thinks he’s content to stay here a bit longer and bask in the warmth of a lover, someone who wholly respects him even when he’s being a shitty person, something his ex-boyfriend never seemed able to do.

For now, Harry is content to think this might mean a happy ending for both of them.