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you're bleeding, but you'll be okay

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Let it never be said that Louis Tomlinson is a killjoy. Always at the center of attention one way or another, and never turning down the offer for a night out, Louis is as optimistic and outgoing as one can get. It’s just that right now, he could be out at a club, or watching a football match, or late night window shopping with empty pockets and a cigarette between his fingers. Rather than any of those situations, though, he’s at a concert for some band that he’s forgotten the name of.

He flicks his gaze to the back of some girl who’s jumping and yelling along to every beat of the song. Ah, yes, The 1975, as it's printed on the shirt in big letters atop a list of 2014 tour dates. He's at their show. And needless to say, he's had better times.

There’s no seating in the small venue, so Louis is crammed between his friend, Zayn, and some guy he hasn't caught the face of. As chill as the band’s music is, the pit is raving, bouncing around and jostling him every which way. When the– admittedly decent looking– lead singer whips out a bottle and starts to unbutton his shirt, Louis wraps his arm around Zayn’s bicep to brace himself for the wave of hysteria that rushes through the crowd.

“I’m dying,” Louis yells into his friend’s ear.

Zayn shakes his head and yells, “No you're not!” in Louis’ general direction. He’s awed by the amount of consideration Zayn has for his wellbeing.

So, as aforementioned, let it never be said that Louis is a killjoy. Unless Louis is placed in the middle of a crowd at a concert for a band that he doesn't care for. Then, sure, he may deserve the label after the first thirty minutes of his complaining, as his friends have proven multiple times already.

When he's knocked to the left and accidentally stomps down on the stranger’s foot beside him, Louis finally forces himself to look at who he's assaulted. When he whips his head around, the face he's met with is one of beauty and pain and what's clearly not delight. Whether he's unhappy because Louis broke his foot, or the band on stage, or the crowd, Louis doesn't know. But.

The stranger is looking at him with a crease between his brows and Louis scrambles for words. “Sorry mate, I’m trying my best not to kill you here,” Louis yells, mouthing the syllables dramatically.

The guy shrugs one shoulder in a forgiving motion and the distasteful look on his face is replaced with a small smile. His skin is fading from purple to blue under the stage lights. “Wouldn't mind if you did.”

Louis quirks a brow after elbowing someone who jabs their own arm into his side. The guy laughs at the movement as Louis speaks back up. “Not a fan then?”

The guy purses his lips and shakes his head. It doesn't take long for Louis to formulate a plan. Really, what else is he supposed to do right now other than escape this place with this beautiful boy? Is he supposed to stay and painfully watch the rest of the show knowing the stranger’s hurting just as much as him? Of course not.

“Wanna get out of here?” Louis asks, hoping he can be heard in the small moment of silence between songs. Luckily, the guy nods, his long hair bouncing on his shoulder.

Louis turns to Zayn and places his mouth right up against his ear. “I made a friend and we’re leaving. Have fun with Liam!”

Then, before Zayn can say anything else, the guitars kick back up and Louis is shoving through hoards of bodies that immediately fill his empty space, an unfamiliar face trailing close behind. He doesn't even bother to check if this guy is here alone or with friends or a boyfriend or girlfriend. Quite frankly, he doesn't care either. All he needs is some temporary company and as long as this boy’s willing to provide it then he’s satisfied.

His ears ring once they close the music hall’s doors and are standing in the front lobby of the building. It’s eerily quiet and the bass distantly echoes off the walls, the rhythm of the drums still pounding in Louis’ chest. For the first time, he gets a proper look at the stranger.

He’s tall, is the first thing Louis notes. His hair is dark brown, falling in silky ringlets over his shoulders. An interestingly patterned shirt is unbuttoned to his stomach and on his feet are gold boots that Louis instantly feels guilty about dirtying under his own tattered sneakers. The guy is gorgeous, in the simplest terms possible. Louis catches himself licking his lips then fixes his hair to make sure the movement is hidden as casually as possible.

“So.. I’m Louis,” he says slowly, with a growing grin. The silence is incredibly awkward but it's broken with their hesitant laughter.

“Harry.” His voice is deep and rough. It doesn't fit his gentle appearance at all.

“You didn't have a date in there or anything, did you, because I’m really not that important,” Louis casually throws out.

Harry– thankfully– shakes his head. He throws his arms out as he says, “All me in my lonely glory.”

Muffled screams applaud Harry’s statement. Louis, on the other hand, skeptically narrows his eyes. “So my excuse is that I was dragged here by my friends, but what’s yours for buying a ticket to a show that you didn't even want to go to? Is that what you kids enjoy doing these days to mock us older folks who don't have money to blow on useless things?”

A sharp laugh escapes Harry’s mouth and it's quite endearing how he slaps a hand over it, eyes wide with delight and shock. A member of the security eyes them down and Louis smiles sweetly until they turn away.

“First of all, I’m not a kid and you can't possibly be that old. Secondly, my sister knew I liked a few of their songs in 2013, so she got me a ticket for my birthday,” Harry explains when his hand falls by his hips again. “She thinks I’ve been waiting in anxiety for nine months, but I honestly forgot until I heard about it on the radio a few days ago.”

“You know all you had to do was show up, take a selfie with the stage, then leave and she’d never know the difference,” Louis says.

“Yes, well, I’m not that smart now am I?” Harry scoffs jokingly. Louis likes him. He’s far better than Zayn and Liam already because he entertains Louis rather than getting defensive and telling him to shut up. That would fade in due time, of course, as it has with his two best friends and many other mates over the years, but he’d like to enjoy Harry’s attitude while it lasts.

“So what do we do now then?” Louis asks, glancing around the empty room. The doors leading outside are glazed with frost and he shivers at the thought of going out there, but it’s got to be done at some point.

Harry shrugs. “I’m up for anything. I mean, I would just go home and watch the telly or something, but I’d also like to stay with you maybe.”

“I’d like to stay with you maybe too,” Louis grins, sharp and tired as the night grows longer. “How about we bond over the Netflix app I just got on my PlayStation and talk about how wonderful this concert was. I won't kill you.”

“Sounds lovely,” Harry smiles all pink lips and dimples. Christ, Louis is gone for him already.

It’s been too long since he's found a nice guy with a pretty face who doesn't just try to drag him to the grimy bathroom of a club. There's no way of telling how this will turn out of course, but. He has high hopes. His conscience is telling him that this could be good. Now the only part of him that needs convincing is his heart, but that may take a while with all the bruises and bandaids it's gone through.

His mind’s alright, but his heart’s got trust issues etched into its walls

It's far too cold for them to walk to Louis’ flat, so he dances around against the chill as he catches a cab. Harry crawls in first and Louis slams the door behind himself, shivers already wracking his body. The address stutters off his tongue and then they're moving down the barren city streets. The cab is silent apart from some classical tune playing quietly up front.

“Hey, do you want to, like, wear my jacket? You look like you're literally freezing,” Harry asks, looking at Louis like he's unsure if he's crossing a line or not.

Louis shakes his head. “I’m fine. I just get cold easily.”

“You probably should've worn more than that, then,” Harry notes, eyeing Louis’ outfit down.

Louis sees nothing wrong with his choice style. Black jeans with ripped knees, patterned socks, black brogues, and a forest green knit sweater with a black scarf tied round his neck. Sure it may be a little breezy, but he's comfortable. Cold, but comfortable.

“I put fashion over practicality,” Louis states gallantly.

“Please. You could easily make a jacket work with that look if you actually tried,” Harry presses on. He's clearly determined to win this battle, but Louis isn't ready to let him do so that easily.

“And who are you, exactly, to tell me what I should and shouldn't wear?”

Harry sheepishly pinches his bottom lip to tame a grin. “Well, I mean, I am a fashion blogger. I happen to know a bit about the topic.”

At this, Louis grimaces, slumping back in the seat. “Oh, shit, please don't tell me you have a few hundred followers on Tumblr and think it entitles you to be a pretentious prick who tells other people how to dress.”

For some reason, Harry laughs. Has Louis lost his touch at making people quiver in offense? “Try a few thousand on there plus a few more thousand on Instagram.” The jacket controversy is long gone as Louis becomes instantly absorbed in this new topic.

“You have more than a few thousand Instagram followers?” Louis asks, eyebrows raised beneath his long fringe.

“Five hundred thousand actually, but,” Harry smirks, “who’s really counting?”

The fact that he's in the same car as someone who's got any sort of social media following automatically boosts Louis’ mental reputation. He's gone from a casual, common Londoner to the acquaintance of a socialite. Wait til the other lads hear about this. They'll be just as enraptured with Harry as he is now, because their group of friends is relatively ordinary in a world full of extraordinary things. Each one of their attentions is quickly caught by the slightest disruptions in their day-to-day routines.

When they find their way inside Louis’ flat, Harry has already answered a ridiculous amount of Louis’ questions: do you make good money? do you get free clothes? have you ever met David Beckham? he goes to fashion events and stuff with Victoria, right? Louis loves hearing about his life, loves hearing about people in general. He's just got a Thing for getting to know people, understanding them better, and listening to these tales of outlandish product promotions and impromptu photo shoots by the Hollywood sign feed his cravings.

At some point, they shut up and decide to put on a movie. They’re sitting on Louis’ sofa in their socks, backs against each armrest while their legs cross in the middle. It's so easy to be with Harry that it scares Louis because this is an absolute stranger he's hanging out with. He hadn't known Harry til about an hour ago yet there's this ease between them that he only ever feels with his longest friends. Harry could be a killer yet he's thoroughly caught up in Legally Blonde and Louis’ legs.

“Hey, do you believe in love at first sight?” Louis asks around the tea he made because he hasn't got a filter between his scattered brain and his mouth.

Harry doesn't seem bothered. It's relatively normal on the scale of questions Louis has asked him previously.

“I think you can be infatuated with someone at first sight, yeah, but love would have to come after. Love isn't something that's just there. It has to build up and prove its worth before it can be real.” The boy’s brows are slightly creased, like he's gone into deep thought about the question. Then, he relaxes once again and sighs. “You're an interesting man, Louis.. What's your last name?”

“Tomlinson.”

Harry’s lips purse and he nods slowly, head lolling in a lazy way. “Louis Tomlinson. Interesting indeed.”

 

-

 

December arrives with bitter winds and bright lights. The street below Louis’ flat is lit by white bulbs strung from post to post, and his own balcony slowly gains life as he finds more decorations buried in the dark depths of his home. Louis is standing on the platform, bundled in a parka with an old long-sleeved shirt below. Black socks are rolled and tucked into his dirty white Adidas to polish off the tastefully carefree look.

He drags on his cigarette while waiting for Harry to arrive. Ever since the first night they met last month– which ended with Harry going home and leaving Louis with numbers tattooed on his wrist in gold sharpie– they've practically been codependent. They're each others’ go-to-guys when they're bored or lonely. Even when Louis goes out for drinks with his other friends, he invites Harry along as his staple accessory.

For what it’s worth, Harry has seamlessly fit to their group of misfits. Zayn’s drawn in by Harry’s style, Liam is interested in the business aspects of Harry’s occupation, the other strays all think he's charming, and Louis. Well, he’s hopelessly and embarrassingly endeared by everything Harry is. Zayn’s tried to confront him about it, but the most Louis was willing to admit was that Harry’s a “nice lad”. Louis reasons to him that they needed a new addition and Harry and he probably met by that order of fate, nothing more to it than that.

It's a lie fully intended for his own self-convincing rather than Zayn.

Louis’ thoughts are shaken by a distant knock and he quickly stubs the cigarette out in the glass ash tray below him with a sigh. Anxious smoking is the worst. He rushes back into the warm flat and hurriedly opens the door, greeting Harry with a kind smile.

“Welcome home,” he says brightly as Harry steps inside.

“Good to see you haven't cleaned up at all since the last time I was here. I wouldn't be surprised if the socks you wore were still sitting on the coffee table,” Harry grins. Louis rolls his eyes.

Harry looks dashing as always. He's got white skinny jeans, matte black boots, and a black and white striped coat atop a rose sweater. Only Harry could pull off such a look and Louis isn't jealous, per say, but he does wish he had the guts to wear it. He's a simple man. Almost everything in fashion is outside of his comfort zone, especially colored trousers. He wore those out in his wild teenage years.

“I’m a mess, but I wouldn't be lazy enough to waste a perfectly good pair of socks like that,” Louis defends.

Harry shrugs. “Debatable, but we can talk about that later. Right now we have Christmas shopping to do.”

“You take this seriously, don't you?”

“I already had my shopping done last month, this is all a bonus round for me,” Harry brags and, man, does Louis want to slap his beautiful face.

“Yes, well, not all of us are wealthy, overachieving socialites, so I’d appreciate if you would kindly fuck off, thanks,” Louis bites sarcastically as he dashes around in search of his wallet.

When he finds it, it's so hopelessly thin that he could cry. Working the lights for concerts makes good money, but Louis was never taught the basics of saving it. Just ask the talking mirror he splurged on when he got a thousand pounds from his grandparents for his uni graduation; it would tell you just how ridiculously compulsive Louis is.

“You act like not waiting until two weeks before Christmas to buy gifts is some kind of travesty. That's what normal people do, Lou,” Harry explains.

Louis points a finger at him. “You,” he jabs Harry’s chest, “need to shut your trap. You aren't even normal. You're literally perfect. Your hair’s perfect, your job is perfect, your dedication to getting things done is.. perfect, I guess.”

Harry cradles Louis’ hand against his heart. “Aw, you're trying to woo me.”

Louis huffs and shrugs him off, heading out the front door. “Woo yourself, Styles, I was just stating facts.”

Harry’s steps are light behind him. “Whatever you say,” he sings, smirking delightfully when Louis turns to glare at him.

This game they play is fun. They tease each other and flirt and act like they aren't affected. Surely Harry’s picked up on Louis’ infatuation by now, just like he's picked up on Harry’s. They're stubborn for the hell of it. What's a relationship if it isn't exciting?

Harry’s driving apparently. Outside, Louis heads for the first average sports car he sees, assuming it's Harry’s, but when he tries to open the door, he hears a snort. He turns to see Harry waiting a few feet away, the passenger door to a shiny black Range Rover open beside him.

“Of course you have a bloody Range Rover,” Louis mutters as he hurries over to the man and climbs in.

“I like the modern feel,” Harry says once inside, punctuated by the click of the seat belt.

“You like the feel of these leather seats,” Louis corrects. As the city begins to blur around them, he continues. “Where are we going anyways? I need gifts for my six younger siblings, mum, dad, and step dad right now.”

Harry’s eyes flit over when he mentions so many siblings, but they don't stay. “Well, what's your budget? We can go to a nice store or stop by Tesco. Your call,” he says.

“On the hope that my pay came through today with all my overtime like it was supposed to, I’d say we can just head wherever you think is best. I only shop at, like, three stores, so,” Louis trails off, scratching his stubble. “Yeah.”

Harry nods in understanding and whisks them away to a land of reasonably priced clothes and charming jewelry, some of which is made specifically for little girls. Harry offers subtle advice about which purse to buy for his mum, which wallets are popular this season, and what kind of necklaces two teenage girls would actually be caught dead wearing.

Basically, when Louis goes to grab a chain with cheetah print dog tags as a gift for his fifteen year old sister, Harry coughs and grimaces in disapproval.

They even stop by a beauty store to pick up some supplies for his oldest sister, Lottie, because all Louis’s heard about lately has been her new endeavor into the world of makeup. Louis is clueless as to what she has or needs, so he texts his mum and she makes a list. He immediately hands his phone to Harry and Harry laughs but quietly leads them in the right direction like some sort of all-knowing Saint.

They pass by the nail polish and Harry slows his steps, examining the rows of colors. Louis is too busy on his phone calculating the costs of all these gifts and determining how much he’ll have afterwards to realize what he's doing.

“Was polish on the list? How much is it for a good kind?” He asks absentmindedly, eyeing the price stickers.

Harry doesn’t reply. Instead, he hums and picks up a bottle of liquid gold, the same kind that probably runs through his veins. “Do you think this would compliment my eyes?”

Louis falters and blinks. “Your eyes? That's for you?”

“Yes. I don't happen to care about sticking to stereotypical gender standards because it's ridiculous to say that things like this are only for females,” Harry states calmly. The language he's using makes it seem like it's a passionate subject, one that requires precise terms for argumentative purposes, but luckily he must decide to spare Louis his wrath.

“Yeah, of course, you do you,” Louis quickly amends, already feeling guilty about questioning his motives. He rubs his knuckles tensely. “Gold would suit you though, if you're still wondering. Emerald and gold. Very regal.”

Thankfully, Harry smiles. “Thanks, I like that concept.” He meets Louis’ eyes and his face is soft again. “Look, I wasn't lashing out at you, sorry. I have strong feelings about.. this sort of stuff.”

“And you have total reason to,” Louis agrees. “I remember one time Lotts painted a few of my nails for practice, probably when I was in my final year of school. So many blokes came up to me and mocked me for it and I wasn't really bothered, y’know, because it wasn't a personal choice or anything, but it was still a bit like.. Well, basically I was just like ‘what the actual fuck’.”

Harry huffs a small laugh but his gaze is cast down. Louis has second thoughts about telling the story, because maybe it reminded Harry of something and heaven forbid Louis inflict any pain upon this good creature.

“Yeah, that's happened to me before too,” Harry quietly adds. He turns the bottle over in his palm then looks back up at Louis, irises glowing dangerously. “Most of them said things about how nail polish is for their little sisters and not me. I always wonder how they would feel knowing that half of those little sisters now leave comments on my page asking for tutorials on how to do gel manicures for the holidays.”

Louis actually lets his jaw drop at that. His mouth twists into a smile at the casual expression Harry has, like he hasn't just said one of the smartest comments Louis’ ever heard, even from his own ever-sarcastic mouth.

“You know what,” Louis hums, searching along the wall himself. His eye catches a bottle of deep red, like wine or fresh blood, and he figures that suits him well enough. “You're painting mine too. You jump, I jump, Jack.”

The burst of happiness that takes over Harry is obvious from the outside. His lip pops out from behind his front teeth, the smile uncontainable. He pushes his hair back and ducks his head down in an attempt to cover it, but the shine in his eye still gives him away.

“Yeah, that’ll be nice.”

And if this is what Harry is like when he thinks something is nice, Louis can only dream of the day he does something Harry loves.

 

-

 

It's late. The air is crisp and quiet and the stars are shining somewhere beyond the permanently overcast night skies. Harry’s standing beside Louis on the balcony, cocooned in a fur blanket, pretending like he isn't bothered by the smell. Louis eyes his two fingers, the deep red nails romanticizing the killer between them.

“My New Year’s resolution is to quit smoking,” Louis breathes through a cloud of smoke.

“Really?” Harry asks, cocking his head to the side for confirmation. Their shoulders are brushing and Louis can recognize the scent of the peppermint hot chocolate Harry picked up from a street vendor earlier.

Louis nods. In reality, him admitting to wanting to quit the bad habit is just a subtle way of saying that he’s longing for something to replace it. For years, his form of stress relief has been to sit outside alone and burn away at a cigarette, temporarily easing his worries. His clothes are permanently laced with the stale scent now and sometimes he lets his mind wander. He imagines what it’d be like to constantly smell the familiar cologne of someone he can call His instead.

“Any particular reason?” Harry asks him lightly.

Louis shrugs. “Just not healthy, is it?”

For a second, Harry’s eyes fall to Louis’ lips, but Louis pretends not to notice for his own sake. “Fair enough.”

There's a tenderness in the way Harry speaks to him. Nothing Louis says is unimportant and his thoughts are never disregarded. It's like Harry can tell when Louis is ready to joke around and when he just needs an easy conversation. Right now, the way Harry’s looking at him with tired eyes, hanging off of any word he may say, Louis feels like the most important person in the world.

“What's yours then? I mean, you've already got most of what anyone wants, don't you?”

A pensive look crosses Harry’s face. “Not really. I’ve got a decent following and a nice career set up, but sometimes it's the smaller things, you know?” No, Louis doesn't know, but he hums in agreement anyways. This encourages Harry to continue. “I’d like to see my family more. I want people to know me for more than my face. I want to have a real relationship, too. That isn't necessarily just for next year, though, because I don't want to force myself into finding someone. It should happen naturally, and I believe it will in time.”

“Your optimism is inspiring,” Louis laughs, putting out his cigarette finally. He tugs one side of the blanket from Harry’s grasp and tucks it around himself, pressing into Harry under the soft shield. “Teach me your ways, Styles.”

“All you’ve got to do is make the change, Tomlinson,” Harry accentuates. The smile is audible. “If you want to be more optimistic, then start believing in yourself first. Then slowly your viewpoint on the other aspects of life will follow.”

“That sounds like a lot of work. Pessimism takes no effort.”

Louis feels a pinch on his hip and he huffs, curling his body to get away from the tickling touch.

“Do what feels right. If optimism isn't meant to be your thing, then so be it. I’ll still be here to listen to your wild dreams either way.”

If it were acceptable to scream, Louis would. He would throw porcelain at walls and punch a mirror all because Harry is too good for him. Harry’s a universe trapped inside a single, burning star and somehow he's found his way to the black hole that is Louis. There's no way they were supposed to join forces, yet fate allowed them to do so, whether for Louis’ own personal torture or benefit, he doesn't know yet.

Louis presses further into Harry’s side, tucked right under his arm. Harry tilts his head onto Louis’ and rather than being awkward, it's simple. It's nice. Gravitating towards someone uncontrollably and actually being comfortable with it are things that rarely happen to him in the same instance. With Harry, it seems that anything is possible, though.

“Are you staying the night?” Louis whispers, hoping he will and afraid he won't.

“At this point it’d be rude not to,” Harry replies, voice laced with sarcasm.

“Good.” Louis nuzzles into Harry’s head and sighs. “I don't know why I’m so tired. It’s too early.”

“Eleven isn't early.”

“But it is considering I usually go to sleep at two,” Louis complains. At the disbelieving sound Harry gives him, he adds, “My sleep schedule is fucked because of my job. It's not my fault.”

Harry laughs and wraps long fingers around Louis’ waist, running up and down softly. “Well, either way, we had a busy day. Let's just get you tucked in and see where it goes from there.”

“You make it sound like I'm a child, Harry,” Louis whines as Harry let's him have the blanket. He turns to Louis with a cocky grin as if to say “you're further proving my point”.

They make their way back inside and straight to Louis’ room where clothes are strewn across the floor and a pile of shoes rests at the end of his bed. It’s all a part of the hurricane that rushed through in the morning when he was deciding what would impress Harry. Louis collapses on the one clean part extravagantly, with a groan and all. He hears Harry chucking all of the shoes somewhere– hopefully in their designated corner– and then he flips off the overhead light so only the lamp on the nightstand illuminates the room with an orange glow.

At first, Louis expects Harry to fall in place beside him. His tired brain overlooks the fact that they've never slept together in a bed before and something like that would be intimate, more so than cuddling under the night sky. When Harry has finished his chores and stands awkwardly at the door frame, Louis can't stand to see it.

“Get in the bed.” Louis pats the sheets, the smell of flowery detergent rising.

Harry’s hesitant. He's pulling at his lip and his back is glued to the football poster pasted on the wall behind him. For what it's worth, Louis seeing someone besides himself in his room is nothing short of revolutionary by itself. But he doesn't want to send him home yet because the night’s been too short and the day was wasted away with crowds and traffic. He won't be satisfied with only this much.

“Are you sure?” Harry asks him with wide, earnest eyes.

“Yeah, I don't want to be alone yet, but just..” Louis trails off, going to bite his nail then grimacing at the sour polish immediately. “Just don't try anything?”

Harry instantly blurts, “I would never.”

And Louis can't fight the small smile that crawls onto his lips because that's something he's not heard before. Normally if he mentions something like that, the guy will suddenly have work in the morning and he's got to get home, or he “didn't realize that Louis doesn't want him like that”. Then, they never speak again. Then, Louis is left sore and alone, wondering why something so simple can be so destructive.

The number of times he's called Zayn at midnight on the verge of tears is infinite. Louis is the strongest person Louis knows, but when things hit too close to his heart, there's no question of war— he's going down burning. The only person he feels comfortable enough calling out for in time of distress is Zayn because Zayn’s the only one who know about Louis’.. problem. It came out during one particularly bad night of drinking too much dark alcohol, and even though he regretted it as soon as he was in his right mind, it's relieving to have at least one person to fight on his forces.

Louis’ thoughts are still lingering as Harry makes his way to the bed and climbs on the blankets, back against the wall. Louis immediately flips onto his stomach and moves his head to Harry’s lap. He's a shameless cuddler. A siren passes below when he carefully grabs Harry’s hand and begins tracing each finger, up and down along every bone and bump. He’s figuring Harry out like the puzzle he isn't and his fingertip lingers around Harry’s wrist, where a brown spot stains his skin.

“Hand me the pen beside you,” Louis tells him with one of his last breaths of consciousness.

Harry is confused at first so his movements are slow, but soon enough Louis has a thin black Sharpie in his grasp. Silently, he draws arms and legs around the spot, a smiley face in the middle and wild hair on top. Distant amusement brings Louis’ attention upwards, so he flips onto his back and stares up at the boy above him. The underside of Harry’s chin is nice, he notes as if he'll ever do anything with that information.

“Why have you just made a walking potato out of my birthmark,” Harry flatly asks, staring at the art like it's on the wall of a prestigious gallery.

“It's me you idiot,” Louis drawls, pointing at the hair as if the scribbles are an obvious giveaway. “And it's so whenever you go out and do your pseudo-celebrity things, I’ll be there with you.”

“Yeah, that's a cute idea until I go to wank and see this thing on my wrist,” Harry deadpans with a nod and Louis can't help but laugh.

“Don't use that hand then!”

“I can't believe you're dictating how I should wank now. Who do you think you are?”

“Calm down, curly,” Louis smiles, sitting up for a long stretch followed by a yawn. “Enjoy the Louis art while it lasts. It’ll probably be down the drain by tomorrow morning.”

Louis’ eyes are unfocused. He’s staring at the wall, mind blank apart from HarryHarryHarry. That's how his mind seems to be all the time. His infatuation with the boy is a new realm of unprecedented. There's no explanation for why he's so endeared by Harry, so captured in everything he does.

A smack draws Louis from his daze, and he turns to find Harry vehemently fluffing his pillow. Louis smiles gratefully and collapses into it, sighing into the fabric.

“Goodnight, Haz,” he mumbles.

Harry laughs then flips off the light. Louis feels the bed dip down, a warm blanket soon covering his curled up form. “Goodnight, Lou.”

 

-

 

Zayn and Liam are keeping a secret from Louis. It's in the way Zayn scratches his neck after every statement and the way Liam just laughs and laughs at nothing. Louis doesn't want to press them, lest they decide to cancel it, but he's more than curious and it's slowly killing him inside.

“Where are we going?” He asks for the tenth time, much to his friends’ dismay. Outside his window, London is lit up for the upcoming holiday. He tries his hardest to focus on that rather than the twisting anxiety in his gut.

“To the club, Louis. We’re gonna get some drinks and have a great night out as we do at least twice a month,” Zayn replies from the front seat because they unanimously decided to kick Louis to the back.

“You're lying,” Louis says flippantly, resting his chin on the back of his hand. He narrows his eyes in the rearview mirror when Liam glances back at him and smiles when Liam quickly blinks away.

Zayn, on the other hand, turns around in his seat, looking at Louis in a disbelieving move. “Why are you doing this?”

“Because you won't tell me the truth,” he says, kicking the back of Zayn’s seat after every word.

Zayn rolls his eyes and melts back into his seat. “You're impossible,” he grumbles. As annoyed as they both get with Louis, he knows that only means they love him more. “You're trying to ruin your own surprise.”

“So there is a surprise!” He exclaims with a wild grin. For added enthusiasm, he smacks each of his friends on the bicep– not that it does anything through their thick coats. “You fucking liars, I see right through you.”

“Good to know that your visions still in tact, what with turning twenty-four in a few days.” Liam turns down a familiar road as he says the remark and Louis scoffs.

“Are you calling me old?”

“Yeah,” Zayn chimes in for Liam.

“Well then, can I say that's royal coming from the bloke with bloody grey hair.”

“Liam said it!”

“But you agreed.”

“We’re here!” Just as Liam says it, Louis is leaning forward in his seat ready to smack Zayn again and his wrist is caught between Zayn’s strong grip, both of them arguing about elderliness and struggling against each other. Liam turns the car off and sighs, “Release. Both of you.”

Zayn’s eyes cut to Liam then back to Louis, dark lashes surrounding pools of liquor. He reluctantly let's go. Louis hits him in the face as soon as he does. Then, they both begin laughing and stumble out of the car pressed right against each other, Louis in trapped with Zayn’s arm around his shoulder while Liam stares on, exasperated.

Louis walks toward the building with an aura of confidence. His coat flips up with every stride and there’s a smirk set in stone on his face. He can hear the muted thumping of a bass, the same way he heard one the night he met Harry.

Zayn pushes the door open for him then Louis fixes his hair one last time, ready to be in the spotlight. When he walks in, though, rather than a chant of ‘happy birthday!’ or ‘surprise!’, he’s met with a club. Strangers dancing too close, sweating drinks clasped in sweaty palms, no one giving any attention to whoever just strolled through the door.

Louis’ shoulders slump in disappointment, but he quickly collects himself. So it wasn’t a surprise party- that’s fine. He would hate to seem upset about having a lads night out with his best friends, because if they got the impression that Louis isn’t thankful for having them to do things with in the first place, Louis couldn’t stand it. He loves them unconditionally and his birthday will be wonderful with a party or not.

But, if there is still a surprise, then what is it?

He's caught before he can ask. A hand claps him on the back, and he turns but stops when Zayn presses his mouth against Louis’ ear. “Back room. To the right.”

They meet with blank gazes then Zayn nods his head in the right direction, dragging Louis through the crowded club by his sleeve. Another hand wraps around Louis’ waist and he places bets on Liam, but he’s too focused on what could possibly be behind the red curtains they approach.

“Happy birthday, Lou,” Liam laughs before sweeping the fabric open to reveal a whole different room littered with familiar faces all turned towards him.

Surprise!” The entire room collectively yells the phrase, drunken laughter and various slurs intermingling.

Louis’ cheeks stretch wide. His thin, frozen frame is jostled back and forth between Liam and Zayn who have taken to giving him overdramatic hugs. Then, he yells and throws himself full force into the middle of the party, gesturing for someone to turn the beat up, and asking where the alcohol is.

He’s showered with hugs and kisses from all of his friends and it’s wonderful. Being adored is something he can never get enough of, even when it’s in the smallest doses. Having free drinks handed to him, glitter poured in his hair, polaroids snapped far too close to his face, just for the sake of remembering him on this glorious night. They’re all things he’s come to deeply appreciate.

The only thing missing is Harry. His face hasn’t popped up in the corners of the dark room yet which is okay, but rather disappointing. Louis’ natural instinct is to search for him, eyes wandering over every figure in case one of them happens to turn into Harry on the second, third, fourth time he looks.

He pushes the worries away to the best of his ability. Old friends from his hometown have paid their fares to get here and Louis decides that they deserve to be properly hung out with, at least for part of the night.

“You look lost,” one of them eventually says to him with a laugh but a concerned smile.

Louis raises his brows and shakes his head. “I'm fine. I’m fine! Louis Tomlinson is fucking fine!” He yells it like a war cry, drunk enough to be obnoxious but sober enough to keep his emotions in check.

His friends toast to that. Bottles and glasses clink together with a sharp pang at the same moment a hand wraps around Louis’ waist. He’s tugged backwards and a voice says in his ear, “Louis Tomlinson is fucking fine tonight in that silk Burberry top.”

“Harry!” Louis hugs him for whatever reason because, yes, there's Harry. He's here and Louis doesn't care where he was, only that they can celebrate his coming of age together now.

“Happy birthday you wasted king,” Harry grins.

“Thank you,” Louis smiles. His eyes shut with the force of it. “I thought you weren't coming.”

Harry looks offended at the assumption. “No, no, never. I was at a meeting then went to the store to buy this.”

He reveals a plastic crown, painted with gold and weighed down with fake jewels. With a great flourish, Harry bows then places the crown on Louis’ skull, fluffing his hair so it looks its best. Everyone cheers and follows suit with curtsies and bows which Louis flips the bird to. He’s in bliss so everything but Harry becomes a blur, therefore he can't miss the phone raise and the flash blind him.

“Enjoy the night now that you're proper royalty,” Harry tells him, pocketing the device.

“Not without you I won't,” Louis explains, clasping Harry’s wrist– above the expensive watch– in order to drag him to the dance floor.

“Louis-”

“No arguments! We’re dancing til one of us drops dead,” he interrupts.

“But I’m not wearing dancing shoes,” Harry frowns and points to his feet where the lights reflect off the glittery boots in millions of beams.

Louis rolls his eyes without stopping. “I’m the king. You have to obey my command, and I command you to dance with me.”

Needless to say, despite Harry’s whines of protest, they fade away into a fantasy of sweat and obnoxious laughter, spilt drinks and mediocre twirls. It’s a good night.

They decide to find their way back to Louis’ place when the party winds down and Louis has made sure to thank every single person for celebrating his birth, word for word. Harry drove himself to the venue so Louis lets Zayn and Liam know that he's in safe hands before curling in the passenger seat of the posh vehicle and finally letting himself fall quiet for the first time in hours.

He bites at his thumb nail as Harry rounds a corner. His crown falls lopsided on his head at the force, but he's too tired to fix it. So many people stole it to try on that he's used to the shifting weight mussing up his hair.

“Harry, did you know that you're wonderful?” Louis asks him in a drowsy way, cheek resting on his knee.

“I know that I’m not as wonderful as you,” he responds with a small smile.

“No, no, seriously. There's a reason people love you,” Louis adds, so sure of himself and desperate to get Harry to see himself as Louis does.

“And what reason would that be?” Harry hums. He raises a brow at Louis in a patronizing way, like he knows Louis is wasted and he's patiently waiting on whatever ridiculous response he can come up with.

“You get people,” Louis states. “We were best friends within an hour of meeting. You know me well enough to be patient when I speak about useless things and you bought me a fucking crown so I can be as powerful as I always act like I am. I’ve seen pictures and videos of you meeting people who look to you for inspiration and the way you treat them is incredible. You make everyone feel like they're worth something to you, even if it’s only for a few seconds. You make me feel like I’m worth something to you.”

He’s out of breath by the time he finishes his spiel, his words coming out too fast because he's got so many things to say, so many thoughts to get out of his head. He also doesn't realize he's started tearing up until one drop rolls down his cheek. Even with lightning reflexes, he can't wipe it away quick enough and Harry sees, becoming thoroughly concerned in an instant.

“Lou.. are you alright?” His eyes should be on the road, not on Louis, but there they are, locked on him, wide and concerning in their typical manner.

“Yes,” Louis nods eagerly, letting a shaky smile onto his lips. His drowsiness has passed at this point. Now he’s embarrassingly high on Harry. “I’m great. Tonight was just really, really good, and it made me think about how good you are too and how lucky I am to have you.”

They arrive to Louis’ building and Harry parks out front, shutting the car off. The loss of the engine leaves them in a silence that's anything but stifling,

Harry hums. “How drunk are you, Louis?”

“Enough to cry over how wonderful you are,” he huffs in amusement. “Why?”

“Will you remember this moment in the morning?”

Louis looks at him skeptically. “Probably, but-”

And then Harry’s kissing him. It happens so fast that Harry is a blur as he surges forward over the middle console with a clear goal in his mind: to destroy Louis’ life. Louis can't even say he’s kissing Harry in return yet, because his brain is still trying to catch up. A warm palm cups the nape of his neck and long fingers cradle his face, the cold skin making his cheekbones tingle.

Finally he gives in to the sensation of Harry’s plush lips, biting down softly then leaning forward to press them closer together. Days of playful flirting and nights of meaningless rambling have all led up to this moment. It doesn't last as long as Louis wishes it could and dreamed it would, but it’s enough to leave his blood bubbling like champagne and his heart heavy in his chest because it’s turned straight into solid gold.

“You're the most absolutely ridiculous person I've ever met,” is the first thing Harry tells him when they've barely separated. Their eyes are still too close to see each other without going cross. “You’re so passionate about things and people and, God, even me, to the point that you cry. You’re so lovely, Louis, I could write sonnets about your laugh and go on for days about how thankful I am to have found you, but I’ll spare you. Just please, please know that you’re right, you're genuinely worth the world to me, it's true, and you mean just as much to so many others.”

“Harry-” Louis starts, throat tight.

“No. We’re both shutting up now because it's one in the morning, I may be slightly tipsy and very much overtired, and if you shed a single tear I’ll start sobbing.”

Louis knows how true that is. Whenever they watch a romcom– even the happiest ones– Harry is dabbing his eyes with his shirt as soon as the credits begin to roll. Louis may hate crying in front of people, but it's too late to turn back now, so he’ll spare Harry the equivalent embarrassment.

“Truce?”

After a peck on the lips, Harry mumbles, “Truce.”

 

-

 

Official labels came naturally after that. The next day, Harry posted a picture on his Instagram of Louis right after he got crowd at his party, the caption reading “What a feeling to have a king beside me now.” Most everyone caught onto the underlying message behind the words including Zayn and Liam, who bombarded Louis with questions within the hour. He showed Harry the flood of texts, and in return, Harry showed his own blown up message app along with the additional hundreds of Instagram comments, tweets, and Tumblr messages. Louis cackled at his hardships before they began to dramatically read them all aloud, humorously struggling to pronounce the jumbled letters some particularly excited threw his way.

Now it's Christmas Eve and Louis is on a train back to his hometown alone. Harry’s with him in spirit through the revolutionary app that is Snapchat, but it really isn't the same. All Louis longs for is Harry sitting beside him, ready to be used as a pillow for the hours of countryside ahead of them. Instead he has to use a neck pillow and pray he doesn't wake up with any cricks.

He takes pictures of the people sitting around him and rates them for Harry’s amusement. The woman with a large fur coat gets a ten out of ten for poshness, the teenage boy wearing two different Vans gets a six for creativity, and the old man to his right gets a negative eight for constantly scowling at Louis through his hideous frames whenever Louis laughs.

When he hops off the train, his mum is waiting for him at the station with his youngest siblings in tow. They’re tied into a buggy, but Louis doesn't let that stop him from bending down to hug and kiss them before they're heading back home. His mother acts offended about how he greeted them first, but he makes up for it with a minute long hug and a proper kiss to the cheek and mumbles of how much he’s missed her.

The streets of the town are lined with Christmas decorations just like London, but on a much smaller scale. They line the windows of locally owned stores and adorn the bushes in the front yards of homes. Their house doesn't have much apart from a wooden snowman pressed into the ground, but he knows that inside will be an entirely different story.

With two duffel bags slung over his shoulders, Louis bounds in the house with a holler. A series of pattering feet ring and suddenly he's attacked by the twins, Daisy and Phoebe, one clung to each side of him.

“Well at least let me put me bags down, yeah?” He laughs. They allow him to do so, but as soon as they're resting on the floor, he opens his arms wide again. “Come on, give me a proper cuddle now.”

They crash back into him with the force only loving sisters can conjure up. A few feet away, in the doorframe to the kitchen, stand Lottie and Felicite, lovingly eyeing down what used to be their past selves.

“Don't think you can get out of hugs just because you're all old and mature now,” he calls to them with a warning smile. “I’m twenty four and you still see me showing affection towards my family.”

“Oh sod off,” Lottie laughs before walking over and hugging him tight.

Felicite is right behind and Louis doesn't realize how much he’s missed the smell of strong flowery perfume until now. Their scents mix in with that of something sweet baking and overall it sends a wave of nostalgia rushing through him.

It’s good to be home.

He bonds with Dan, his step father, over football for a good half hour before he's summoned to the kitchen to help make Christmas cookies. There are bottles of sprinkles and bags of icing, flour, and various other items all spread across the counters. Tinsel drapes the ceiling above and their Christmas tree comes to life at the same time the radio does. Holiday songs begin to fill the room despite Lottie’s complaints, and he sets off recklessly cutting Santa hats and stars out of the sugar cookie dough.

“So do I not get a birthday cake then? No balloons?” He asks to the room of family members around him.

“Mum said this would make up for it, because family time is just as important as all of that,” Fizzy smirks as she attempts to mess up his cookie.

“Well that's just bloody ridiculous,” Louis huffs. “I come all this way expecting a birthday celebration and all we do is make things for Santa. It's not his birthday today, now is it?”

“Lou, Santa is much more important than you. If we don't set out cookies for him, he won't bring us gifts!” Daisy replies smartly.

Louis flicks some flour at her, then scrunched his brows. “I thought you two weren't on the Santa train anymore.”

Phoebe points at Dorris and Ernest. “They don't know that Santa isn't real!” As soon as she says it, she covers her mouth, looking at Louis with big eyes. “Did they hear me?!”

He holds back a laugh as best as he can and sees Lottie and Fizzy do the same. “You’re lucky, I think they were a bit distracted.”

At some point he decides to send Harry a picture of him baking so he can brag that he isn't completely useless. Harry's reply is ‘what has your family done to the real louis tomlinson’ and Louis can't help but chuckle. He doesn't notice the smile etched on his face as he types a reply until Lottie is pressed right against his side.

“Who’re you texting there?” She asks, nosing over his shoulder to see the screen.

He defensively flips it over, shoving her away. “None of your business, you little shit.”

Language, Louis,” his mum interrupts from across the room.

“Sorry. It's none of your business you twit,” and his mum still isn't impressed, but he’s already gotten his point across now.

Lottie pesters on about it for another minute before giving up. He sees her talking with Fizzy, though, and he knows he's done it now. They won't let this go until they know Harry’s name, address, and blood type.

Luckily, they spare him at dinner and family movie time, but the next morning, the investigation kicks off. No stuffed stocking or glittery card is safe.

“Who’s Harry, then?” Lottie asks casually as she drops to the cushion beside Louis, silver hair pulled up lazily and a mug clutched between her manicured fingers.

He turns to her, unsure if he’s heard her incorrectly. “Sorry? How do you know who Harry is?”

“I don’t, that’s why I’m asking you.”

He rolls his eyes. “I mean how do you know his name?”

“Saw it on your phone screen,” she shrugs with a grin. “Harry with the upside down smiling emoji.”

At the same moment Louis goes to reply, his phone goes off and none other than Harry appears above the answer or decline buttons. He’s torn between ignoring it for the sake of secrecy and giving it all away, but it only takes two seconds to make a decision.

“Good morning, Haz,” he answers, clearing his throat and eyeing his sisters down to warn them not to mess with him. They seem content with simply eavesdropping on the conversation.

“Merry Christmas, Lou!” Harry chirps loudly and bright into his ear. “Did you have a good birthday?”

“I did, yeah, it was lovely,” he smiles at his lap, tugging at the drawstring of his joggers.

“Good,” Harry says, smile prominent. “We’ve just finished opening presents here, so I wanted to see what you were up to.”

“Christ, Harry, it’s only half past eight. You Styles must be some true morning folk.” Daisy hands Louis his first present, a box wrapped in red topped with a fluffy bow.

“Not really. My sister’s back asleep already. We just like to get it done in the morning so we have time to cook all day for Christmas dinner,” Harry explains but he’s rudely talked over by Lottie.

“Wait, is that Harry Styles? As in the fashion guy?” She asks with a sudden burst of energy. Louis stays silent and blinks at her which she apparently takes as confirmation. “Oh my god, I’ve followed him for a while now! How are you two friends? Are you two dating?”

“Uh.. Lou, who’s that?” Harry asks over the line.

In other news, Louis opens the red box to find a thick knit scarf, the same one from Topman he sent Jay the link to a month back.

Somebody pauses the Christmas tunes and Louis sighs. His whole family is staring at the group on the sofa, curiously eyeing down Louis and Lottie in particular. He sort of doesn’t know what to do or say right now. So he thanks his mum for the present and shifts his weight, taking a sip of his tea.

“Sorry, that was my sister. I think she’s a fan of you, maybe,” he says to Harry, unsure still. There are too many sets of eyes on him. He feels his cheeks begin to heat and he begs it to go away because he hates being seen as anything even remotely considered embarrassed. “And yes, I am talking to Harry Styles, the ‘fashion guy’. And.. I’m also kind of dating him too now.”

The room falls quiet and the only thing Louis hears is a hesitant voice in his ear. “I’m guessing now wouldn’t be the best time to bring up plans for New Year's Eve then?”

It turns out to be a horrible time indeed because as soon as the initial shock passes, all of his sisters are coming over to hug him, cooing and pinching his cheeks, asking questions about Harry. Louis cries out for them to stop, he’s a grown man now, and he apologizes to a laughing Harry that he’ll call him back later. He makes eye contact with Dan who is thoroughly amused by the situation then with his mother who is giving him that look that yells ‘we are definitely talking about this’ and also ‘I’m so happy for you’.

Lottie searches Harry on Instagram in order to show everyone else who he is. She’s instantly gasping when she sees the picture of Louis in the top row on Harry’s profile.

“How did I miss this? He’s already posting bloody photos of you with adorable captions and I didn’t see!”

“Yes, well,” Louis starts, then slumps back in the sofa in an attempt to hide away from the lovey affection. “Sorry. Back to presents then?”

 

-

 

Louis escapes once all of the Christmas festivities have come to a close. Everyone in the house is in their new pajamas and either in bed or nearly there, except for him, whose mind is running too wild for him to be tired. He spoke to his mum about Harry and surprisingly it wasn't too bad. All she asked was how long they’ve been seeing each other, if Harry is nice, and if Louis is happy. Then she mentioned that she’d like to meet him sometime, to which Louis sheepishly smiles and promised he’d try to bring Harry up when he can.

The only lights outside are from the streetlamps because anyone who has Christmas lights has turned them off by now. His own steps are the only sounds until he approaches a park where the crunching of gravel overpowers the symphony of quiet. He likes exploring this town every now and then because each time he goes back out, he finds something he’d long forgotten about.

Sometimes he’ll drag his friends along and they’ll hit all the old bars he snuck into when he was in school, taking pictures in the same spots they did all those years ago. More often, though, he travels alone, only his wandering mind to keep him company. Lottie has told him that it's morbid and creepy, but what does she know. This is as relaxing as he can manage somewhere as distant as this town is.

There's a tiny pond off to the side of the park a good few meters from the playground. It’s the same one he got shoved into once as a child after stealing a football from a group of kids and accidentally kicking it at one of their groins. In a relatively unsurprising turn of events, the lad who pushed him in with a hand over his aching private parts became his best friend throughout the rest of his years in Doncaster.

Louis heads towards the bench at the edge of the dark water and sits down with a sigh, feeling the wood creak under his weight.

He’s fretting. His leg shakes uncontrollably and his nails are slowly being bitten down to cherry stubs. It's an irrational thing to worry about, he's told himself so plenty of times, but that doesn't stop it from happening anyways.

So in this time of distress, even a hundred miles from his home, he calls up the one person he trusts to talk about this with.

“Helluh?” Zayn’s voice is rough. It makes Louis feel guilty about waking him, for he knows how deeply Zayn cherishes his sleep.

“Hi,” Louis starts. He's the only one out at this time, but he still feels the need to talk quietly. The peace is too fragile to disrupt with his loud yammering.

“Lou, you alright?” The fact that it's Louis seems to be a surprise.

“Yeah, I’m good, no worries,” he assures, pawing at his fringe fussily. “I just need to talk.”

“Well you've picked a great time at least.” The words come out inside of a groan muffled by shifting sheets. Suddenly Zayn is closer and clearer. “What's up, bebz?”

The pet name has Louis smiling, but it falls back flat when the reason for the call returns. “Right. It's about my, uh.. the thing. The one that only you know about.”

“The ace thing?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, Lou.”

He says it in a way that sounds so pitiful it makes Louis cringe. “Please don't try to pity me.”

“Alright.”

He breathes. “So I think I probably love Harry.”

Zayn says nothing until he realizes that Louis isn't either. “Is that big? Are you panicking about that?”

“No. I mean, love isn't a big deal to me exactly. You know how I am. I just sort of love or hate everything and it's not a revolutionary moment when I realize I love someone because it’s so easy,” he explains. Zayn hums. “I love Harry, though, and it's slightly different because we’re together, so his thoughts matter too now. And basically I don't know what to do because he's had real boyfriends and done intimate things with them and if he really cares about me, he’ll definitely want to do those things with me too. Love is such a bigger idea to him than it is to me. Our perspectives are different. It scares me.”

The line falls silent while Zayn thinks. “So you love him, and he may love you, but he’ll want to ‘make love’, so to speak, and you don't want that.”

Louis mumbles a yes, then, “I just don't want him to think I don't love him because I don't want to.. show it, I guess. I don't want him to be upset because I won't let him show his love for me either. I’m fucking losing my mind over this, Zayn, I really am,” he laughs bitterly.

The thing is, Louis has never been in a real relationship where his asexuality has come into play. Before now, all he’s had were short flings that really didn't mean much to either partner, where his sexuality brought them to an anticlimactic end leaving no need to figure anything out. Nothing has ever felt as real as this new relationship with Harry does, so it's unprecedented territory. He doesn't know how to address the topic or talk to Harry without disregarding Harry’s own needs.

“Listen,” Zayn whispers, “you just need to breathe for a second. Count to seven as you breathe in, then count as you breathe out. Just once, alright?” Louis does as told and tells Zayn as much. “Good. Now tell me— do you want me to sugarcoat or be blunt with you?”

“..Blunt.”

Zayn chuckles the tiniest bit. “Why’d I even ask? So, basically, you're going to have to talk to Harry. You know that. I can't tell you how or when, but tell him your feelings and discuss those first. Then address the asexuality. He’ll probably be confused, maybe even a little disappointed, but if he's the Harry I know, he’ll be nothing but supportive. I don't want you stressing over what’ll happen, but just expect some explaining on your end and know that you'll be alright.”

“But what if he's not supportive, Z? I want him so badly, but what if he's like everyone else and just lets me go?” His face is in his hand now, back slouched at a horrible curve, and his legs are crossed on the seat. He's shrinking in on himself subconsciously.

“Then I’ll personally kill him, Louis. There's absolutely nothing wrong with your feelings towards sex, so anyone who thinks otherwise can fuck right off,” Zayn bites defensively. “I know you hate hearing this, but you truly deserve the best because that's all you ever give.”

Louis’ heart hiccups. He shivers under his four layers of clothing, fuzzy socks, and knit beanie. “I know I deserve good things, Z, that's why I’m stuck wondering why it's so difficult to keep them.”

“Only you can manage to be so confident yet self deprecating at the same time,” Zayn muses sadly.

“It's a blessing and a curse,” Louis laughs.

“It truly is,” Zayn agrees, then yawns loudly. “I hate to leave you now, bro, but I’m seriously seconds from passing out again.”

“It's alright, I’d be worried if you weren't. Thanks for talking to me, though. I called you not really knowing why I needed to talk to someone in the first place, but you managed to calm me down anyways,” Louis tells him with a soft smile.

A deep chuckle breaks across the line. “It's all in a day’s work.”

“Love you, Zayn.”

“Love you too, Lou. Talk to Harry, alright?”

“Okay.”

“And tell me if he pulls a shitty move so I can beat his ass.”

“Of course. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, beb,” and with that, the phone beeps then the screen goes the same color as the sky above him.

He looks up to it, wild pieces of hair falling in his eyes, the winter chill biting at the tip of his nose and his exposed cheeks. There are stars out here. If you can get far enough away from the city smog of London, the pricks of light are normally visible, if the perpetual dreariness of the country doesn't get in the way. Tonight, some high power seems to be on his side, parting a sea of grey clouds to reveal an open field of constellations.

Even such galactic things remind him of Harry. The stars are the series of shimmery boots he proudly owns and flaunts whenever possible, and they’re the charming glint in his eye when he successfully makes someone smile. The inky sky is what floats in the pool of emerald and gold in his eyes and the delicate ink that stains almost every area of skin on his body.

Louis loves the night, and Louis loves Harry. Louis loves him unconditionally, with all of his imperfections and mishaps, and he hopes Harry loves him the same.

 

-

 

After a morning of goodbyes and an afternoon of traveling, Louis arrives to London in an indifferent state of mind. For the past two days he’s been smothered by his family, so the freedom of being here is nice, but he also finds himself immediately missing the comfort one can only find in their true home. What knocks him off the fence is the young man leaning against a Range Rover, eyes roaming the area in search of someone.

“Do you ever wear anything less than your best?” Louis teases as he approaches from the opposite direction.

Harry looks anything but startled. A smile creeps along his face when he turns around, proving him to be the real life Cheshire Cat. “This jacket is from a secondhand shop.”

“It’s fur, Harold. Unless it's made from a real animal, nothing you say will make it seem distasteful,” Louis quips.

His bags fall to the ground when Harry tugs him forward by the small of his back, drawing them together for a homecoming kiss to shut Louis up. Louis tangles his fingers in Harry’s hair and the dark fur of his coat and relaxes into the moment. He can't help but smile into Harry’s lips, because this is all he's ever wanted, isn't it? A boy he loves waiting for him at a train station, ready to sweep him off his feet in a locking of lips reserved for the finest of moments.

Thinking about it makes heat swirl in his chest. Then his thoughts begun to drift to how easily he knows this could all slip through his feeble fingers, and a chill fights against his burning happiness. He takes a step back and gives Harry a soft smile so he knows Louis appreciated the welcoming taste of his spearmint gum.

“Let's get me home.”

The car ride is short. He fumbles with his house keys while Harry slowly makes his way down the hall, dragging his feet on the carpet and humming some melody Louis can't name. Once inside, Louis tosses his totes blindly into his bedroom. Harry– who's apparently finally made his way inside– casts him a scolding look, which Louis replies to by blatantly ignoring him and dropping belly-first onto the sofa.

“What’re you making us for dinner this evening, chef Styles?” He asks confidently.

Harry scoffs somewhere nearby. “Did you miss the part where I told you we opened presents early so we could cook all day yesterday?” It's probably rhetorical, but Louis nods anyways. “If you want food, you're either popping some dinosaur nuggets in the microwave yourself or we’re ordering pizza.”

“Do I have dino nuggets?” Louis asks, eyebrows popping up in hope.

He peers around the edge of the sofa, eyes following Harry’s movements as he checks the freezer. Surprisingly, he reaches in and pulls out a bag of chicken shaped like stegosauruses, giving Louis a disbelieving look. Louis snorts and shrugs.

“I genuinely didn't know I had those,” he defends through laughter.

“You are a child, Louis Tomlinson,” Harry chastises. As he does so, he rips the bag open and pours them onto a tray, buttons on the oven beeping under his touch. “God only knows why I like you so much.”

“It's the eyes. My mum always said they’d lure in a pretty lady one day,” he sighs dreamily. “She was almost right.”

Harry rolls his eyes the processes to make a fine meal of chicken, crisps, and macaroni because despite his original argument about being too worn out to cook, he couldn't resist going all out. They sit elegantly at the coffee table and begin to discuss their holidays. Harry tells him about what his sister, Gemma, has been up to and how she got him a framed clipping of an interview and small photo shoot he did for Fabulous magazine. Louis tells him about how, yes, he did bake cookies (“It was not photoshop you little shit.”) and demands Harry to show him the interview he did as if Louis didn't see it the second it was released.

Overall, it’s heart-achingly domestic. Harry– who’s got a large flat in the nicer side of London, with a kitchen the size of Louis’ bedroom and no real reason to be here– cooking him dinner for the first time since they’ve officially been together, discussing their lives and managing insightful comments about individual family members. It's something Louis isn't used to at all, but he wouldn't dream of complaining about.

“So do you have plans for New Year’s Eve?” Harry asks him.

Louis bites off the head of a steg then says, with a mouthful of food, “I usually get wasted at Zayn’s place with a bunch of other people. Planned on doing the same this year.”

“Oh, that sounds exciting,” Harry grins, bumping into Louis with his shoulder. “Would you rather do that than go somewhere with me?”

Louis swallows and side eyes him. “It depends what you’ve got in mind.”

“How about dropping by my one of my best mates’ party in New York?” Harry offers casually, as if he’s just asked Louis if he wants to try a new brand of cereal rather than invited him on an excursion across the sea.

“The city? New York City?” Louis clarifies.

“Yes, the city of lights, power, and glory. The city that never sleeps,” Harry smiles. “Me and you could take over it for just one night if you want.”

“Well of course I fucking want to! The only time I’ve been to the states was for a trip to Disneyworld when I was ten. I’d give anything to go back for real, especially with you.” The last bit of his dinner is discarded to the table. Louis crosses his legs on the sofa, toes twitching and back straightening in a sudden burst of good anxiety. The kind that makes your heart flutter with the thought of all the wonderful things that could happen.

“It’s a date then,” Harry smiles, eyes caught on Louis’ while his fingers trace circles around Louis’ ankle.

Hearing that causes Louis to remember something quite important. “Is it going to be our first date?”

Harry ponders this for a moment, lips pouting and eyebrows pinching, then makes a noise of settlement. “I guess it will be. How’s that for a first date? Do I get to take the medal for best boyfriend?”

“You can take anything you want,” Louis whispers. His hand links with Harry’s over his own skin and he leans forward to press a light kiss to his boy’s lips, wondering when it’ll stop feeling like lightning whenever they connect.

 

-

 

Louis stares at Harry, wondering how he can possibly be comfortable. His legs are suffocating in skin-tight black jeans, a pinstriped button-up covers his chest, and he nearly elbows Louis in the face as he shrugs back on a leather jacket. Several rings cling around most of his fingers and a watch and necklace can be seen outside of his layers.

Maybe it’s the fact that Louis is wearing joggers and a sweater that makes Harry’s attire seem entirely inappropriate for an eight hour flight in comparison. Then again, Harry had the jacket off most of the time and a few men sitting beside them are wearing full suits, so. He doesn’t really know who to judge for what at this point. All he knows are plastic cups of soda and each page of this year’s SkyMall catalogue.

“Look, Lou,” Harry whispers when he’s settled back into his seat. He leans across Louis and points out to the city below them, skyscrapers reaching out towards them and veins of pavement weaved through their steel arms.

“It feels so weird to be seeing the city like this. It looks so still and powerless from up here,” Louis notes, caught up in the sights as the plane tilts down on their side to complete a curve.

Harry nods. “You should see it at night. All the lights are like an inferno. You can’t see anything, but there’s an aura of excitement and life in the air.”

“You seem to know this place well. Do you come here a lot?”

Harry sits back and twirls a loose thread on his trousers. “Not really, in both cases. I don’t think you can ever really know a place well, because everywhere’s always ever changing. And the only times I come here are to visit Niall, the one hosting the party tonight, or to meet for business. I’m more of an LA kind of guy. New York is quite similar to London, what with being a big, cold city, but there’s something about the constant sunshine in California that’s therapeutic. It’s a totally different environment than what I’m used to.”

Harry eyes gain a dazed gloss the more he goes on about his travels. Louis listens intently, imagining Harry laying on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, tan skin glistening with sweat and oil, content with soaking up every drop of sunlight the universe is willing to hand over. He’d like to see that, he thinks. He’d like to see Harry anywhere and everywhere, in his element or out of it.

“I don’t know what type of guy I am yet,” Louis chuckles, scratching his stubble that he needs to shave before tonight. “So far I know I like clubs and rooftops and arenas, even though the arena part is only because I’m forced to like them for my job. I don’t have many stamps in my passport yet, sadly.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll show you the world if I can. I’ll buy you a penny board from the boardwalk at Venice Beach and let you race through the crowds, and I’ll take you shopping on Champs Élysées.” Harry speaks so wistfully about the life he envisions for himself; a life that Louis is included in. He’s certain that they’ll take the world by storm, and Louis tries to be too.

When they land, they stretch simultaneously before hopping off the plane to find their luggage. The baggage claim is flooded by a sea of travellers and Louis groans, collapsing into Harry’s side with his head on the leathery shoulder. Harry rubs softly on Louis’ hipbone until a voice pops up behind them.

“Excuse me, Harry?”

They both turn in confusion to find a boy standing there, probably in his late teens. Louis eyes him down and instantly decides this must be someone Harry is friends with. How could it not be with the leopard print trench coat he’s wearing, the shiny heeled boots, and the hand held delicately over his heart with nails painted solid silver.

“Hello,” Harry says slowly but politely, posture straightening under Louis.

“Hi, God, I’m so sorry to bother you, I just saw your post on Instagram a few minutes ago and saw that you were here and I was like fuck we’re in the same airport!” He starts explaining, much to both of their amusements. Clearly this is someone who follows Harry, then, which is fine, but an odd first experience for Louis. “The picture was so cute by the way, with him,” he gestures to Louis, “looking out the window and the city in the background. I’m a lonely guy who’s bitter about not having a boyfriend, but I can still admit that you two are fucking adorable.

Louis perks up at that, pressing back a wide smile. Harry laughs and squeezes Louis’ side quickly. “Thank you!”

“Oh, no problem at all!” The boy says, smile never ceasing. “Now, please feel free to say no, but is there any way I could get a picture? You just helped me a lot with getting more comfortable with myself, like with the nail polish and my sexuality and everything, and I’d love to be able to remember this moment.”

“Oh, yeah of course,” Harry stutters, seeming bashful after the guy’s words. Louis decides to remove himself from Harry and shove him over to where the fan is waiting to take a selfie, phone held in the air already.

He reaches out a hand for the phone, and asks, “Would you like me to take a picture for you?”

The boy instantly nods and agrees, shuffling beside Harry with a beaming grin. Harry wraps both of his arms around the boy’s body and smiles with his eyes shut tight. Louis is sure to keep clicking the shutter button as Harry makes different faces and when they take a step apart again, Louis keeps on smiling at all the photos himself.

“I’ve never seen such a fabulous duo,” Louis awes, shaking his head in shame.

“Oh, stop it,” Harry responds, playfully batting at Louis and turning his head away. Then he turns back to the fan and gets serious once more. “What’s your name?”

“Austin.”

“Right, Austin, send me a message on Instagram so I can follow you, alright, because I’m dying to see more of your gorgeous looks,” Harry boasts. Louis bites down a grin when Austin’s eyes light up. “And I’m so incredibly glad I helped you gain confidence in any way. All I’ve ever wanted to do was help people love themselves more and care less about what other people think. Knowing that I actually had an impact like this is wonderful.”

They exchange a few more words before Harry hugs him goodbye then walks back over to Louis, startlingly silent. Louis gives him a moment before nudging him.

“Yes, that just happened. And I’m so happy for you.” Harry locks eyes with Louis and he doesn’t have to say anything for Louis to know that he’s never been happier either.

 

-

 

“Lou! It’s nearly nine, are you ready yet?”

“I can’t decide on a hairstyle, I can’t leave in the middle of a crisis!”

Harry rushes into the large bathroom and stops behind Louis. His glossy rose gold shirt matches the boots Louis knows are on his feet, and a black blazer goes with his black slacks. Louis settled on a more casual approach with a thick maroon turtleneck, black jeans, and dark brown brogues. They both look stunning, but as he yelled, he’s in the middle of an important style crisis.

He strokes his jaw, smouldering into the mirror in a failing attempt at determining how he looks.“I can’t decide if I should do a floppy, pushed-back look, or leave my fringe down, or-”

“Feathery quiff, no questions.” Harry’s expression doesn’t change. Honestly, Louis doesn’t even think he blinks or looks Louis over once before blurting out the answer.

Louis casts him a wary look in the mirror to which Harry nods his head forward, silently saying “do it and see who’s right”. So Louis grabs his gel and forces his long hair into the style he hasn’t worn in nearly three years.

They leave the room with Harry smirking and Louis messing with his quiff, grumbling at Harry to shut the fuck up because he only got lucky, nothing more than that. Harry kisses his cheek then leads him into the elevator with long fingers locked tight around Louis’ wrist easily. The air smells like Le Labo on Harry’s part and aftershave with a dash of L’homme on Louis’.

The hotel they’re staying at for the next three night has got to be at least four stars. Louis has never seen anything so elegant before, with its crystal chandeliers and white tiled floors, tan chaise longues with ruby red pillows. He feels incredibly out of place, so he holds Harry’s hand properly, hoping no one notices that he doesn’t belong and throws him out to a motorway motel.

“How long of a walk is it to Niall’s place?” Louis asks once they round the revolving doors. The cold attacks him, and he shivers, slightly moving towards Harry in hopes of absorbing some of his body heat.

“Ten minutes tops, I’d say. It’s only three blocks and the streets are pretty empty because everyone is either down in Times Square or avoiding going out completely,” Harry reasons.

They start their journey. Louis is awestruck by everything around him from the occasional street vendor to the never-ending stream of yellow cabs that fly by. The sky is already black, but with the amount of light in the city, it’s glowing grey.

“I’ve never had a New Year’s kiss, you know,” Louis says, breaking the quiet that’s fallen between them.

“Really? Someone as gorgeous as you has never started the year with a smack on the lips?”

“No,” Louis admits, ducking his head.

Harry catches it and begins amending his statement. “Hey, sorry, I didn't mean to make you feel bad about it. It's fine if you’ve never experienced it before.”

Louis laughs and mutters under his breath, “I’ve never experienced a lot of things before.”

“What was that?” Harry questions.

“Nothing, I was just saying I’m glad you’ll be my first,” Louis smiles at him. Harry doesn't seem completely sold but smile back nevertheless, easing Louis’ anxiety that was beginning to build.

“I’m glad too,” Harry agrees fondly. “Tonight will be great. I went to Niall’s party last year and he had everything from a photo booth to a dance floor with a proper DJ. It's definitely your sort of environment.”

“What is ‘my sort of environment’?”

“Like.. fun stuff. Lights and dancing and drinks and laughing,” Harry shrugs.

“Yeah, that sounds like me,” Louis nods.

The building they come to is as fancy as their hotel, if not fancier. There's a doorman who tips his cap to them then another younger man giving them directions to Niall Horan’s gathering in the penthouse. Louis waggles his brows at Harry when they step in the elevator and Harry laughs, telling Louis to behave himself at this elite social gathering.

The sarcasm is made better by the immediate crowd they run into inside the apartment. There are girls wearing miniskirts dipped in glitter and flasks of champagne in every person’s hand. Every other head is topped with a cheesy party hat or 2016 glasses.

Apart from the bodies everywhere, the space is utterly posh, as every single place has been so far. It's all polished furniture and white walls, abstract paintings, leather chairs, etcetera. Rich people have got little variety, he notes. Each of his middle class mates has an entirely different home, differing in cleanliness, size, smell, and most prominently decor. Every upscale room is the same mixture with different numbers to press on the elevator.

Harry leads the way to a bar, seemingly familiar with the layout. He approaches a blonde man with dark roots and glasses, tapping him on the shoulder for his attention.

“Harry!” The man exclaims before pulling Harry in for a firm hug. “You made it across the pond in one piece!”

Irish accent. Interesting.

“I sure did, and I seem to have gotten stuck with a stowaway,” Harry replies, jerking his thumb at Louis.

For the first time, the man looks at Louis; first at his outfit, then his eyes. “What's your name then, mate?”

“Louis Tomlinson.” He sticks out a hand and the stranger has to put down his bottle to shake it.

“Great to meet you. I’m Niall Horan,” he says in a friendly tone. Louis expected something more gallant and patronizing, especially from the host of the party, so he’s pleasantly surprised.

“Nice place you've got here,” Louis compliments, doing a once-over of the room they're in.

“Thanks, but honestly, I don't need the politeness,” Niall grimaces, taking a swig of beer. “Grab a fucking drink and we can talk a bit, introduce you to some more folks if you want. Just please, God forbid you try to make small talk with me. We all know it's useless.”

“My fake politeness is out the window,” Louis assures.

“Good,” Niall grins. “Now, let me get this straight before I offend someone— you two are dating, correct?”

“Who’s dating who?” A tall man cuts in, throwing an arm around Niall’s shoulders and curiously examining Louis. He's done up in a slim suit with a bow tie, yet his disheveled hair drops the status of the outfit to a more casual level. Louis instantly recognizes Nick Grimshaw from the numerous times his face has flashed on the telly during The X Factor.

“Me and Louis are together, yes,” Harry pipes up proudly. He pecks Louis on the cheek causing pink to spread to the surface of his skin.

“Ah, it’s the infamous Louis Tomlinson! I’m Nick, and I’ve heard far too much about you through Hazza here. I have to say it's not fair that two of the fittest blokes in England get claim on each other,” Nick frowns.

“I’m the fittest in Ireland though, right?” Niall prompts.

“Of course, Niall,” Nick drawls with a smirk. “No one can beat your adorable bottle blonde self. But these two definitely take the crown for the Brits.”

“If this is your subtle way of asking for a threesome, we aren't interested,” Harry informs him playfully.

A punch is thrown to Louis’ gut. The mention of sex has him on edge, falling back to an insecure state even as he’s being complimented. It's ridiculous, but he can't help thinking that even if Harry was interested in it, it could never happen because of Louis. It’ll always be because of Louis.

He forces a laugh for the sake of the moment.

 

-

 

In a blaze of socializing with too many Americans and listening in on conversations far too expensive for his ears, Louis finds himself residing on a couch accompanied by Harry and the party dog. It’s a small thing, a fluffy mixture of X and Y. Harry nurses a cosmopolitan while Louis sips on some mystery drink of Niall’s recommendation, hand trailing through the dog’s fur below him.

“Are you sure you're alright?” Harry yells over the bass that's only gotten louder since they first arrived.

“Yeah, I think the jet lag’s just catching up to me,” Louis lies with a grimace. “I’ll be back on my feet in a minute. I need to get some alcohol in my bloodstream first.”

“If you're petting a dog at a party, you're doing something wrong.”

Harry,” Louis whines.

Louis,” Harry mocks in a higher, whinier tone, winning himself a smack.

“What do you suggest I do then?” Truth be told, Louis is just stuck in self loathing at the moment, unable to move past this weight that's been building on his shoulders for the past week. All he needs is a good round of shots to pick himself up, but he hasn't got the motivation to do even that much.

Louis Tomlinson the killjoy, becoming a far more common occurrence than he’d like.

“Why don’t we go to the photo booth or dance or something. Anything to get you off the couch because you’re acting weird and I like happy, carefree Louis like the one I crowned at your party,” Harry says as gently as one can while still yelling.

Louis looks at Harry through thick lashes. “Can we pick up party hats along the way?”

“What kind of party would it be if we didn't?”

Louis kisses the dog goodbye and steals a pink tiara right off someone’s head, the number 2016 glowing on top. Harry swipes a pair of classic sunglasses off a lone end table and uses them to push his hair back. A they giggle to each other like children then pile into the photo booth as soon as a couple of girls stumble out.

They sit on the bench and begin pressing random buttons for it to start. With the black curtain pulled closed, Harry downs the last of his drink then grabs Louis’, setting both glasses on the floor.

“Need free hands for ultimate posing opportunities,” he explains even though no one asked.

The automated voice begins counting down to the first shot and neither of them are sure what to do. Louis throws up a west side sign at the last second and Harry just sticks his tongue out lamely.

“Let's do a cute one,” Harry says. He pulls Louis into his side and presses his lips to the top of his head when the bulb flashes again.

The next picture captures them playfully glaring at each other, then of course, for the final picture, they wind their arms around each other and go for a passionate kiss. Louis smiles into it, teeth and all, and Harry is laughing against his lips. It tastes sweet and bitter at the same time, but it's satisfying.

It’s only when Harry begins to stand up that Louis realizes his mistake. Harry guides him to his feet then backs him into the wall, still licking into his mouth like he knows every curve and bump already. Louis is giving just as much in response, of course, but he can’t help but freeze when Harry bucks his hips forward ever so slightly, enough for Louis to feel him hardening in his trousers.

As discreetly as possible, Louis tries to end the make out session by ducking his head or tilting it up. Harry seems to take it as a sign to continue. He trails down to Louis’ neck and begins to bite at the sharp exposed edge of his jaw just below his ear.

“Harry,” he tries, still squirming.

“Do you like that?” Harry whispers, distressingly oblivious to Louis’ uncomfort.

“No, I’m not-” Louis feels Harry against his thigh again and whatever patience he was maintaining is lost. He jerks his arms up and shoves Harry backwards, chest tight and eyes hard. “Get off.”

Harry’s back hits the wall where the screen is and stares at Louis like a wild animal frozen in the headlights of an oncoming car. “I-”

“Don’t,” Louis bites, avoiding eye contact now. Then, it only seems natural to flee the scene.

He feels Harry staring at him as he storms across the room, knows that Harry is lost and confused, probably feeling guilty without an explanation as to why Louis shoved him. He hates to admit it, but a quiet voice in his head yells good at the thought of Harry’s guilt. He should feel guilty for putting me in that position. But even with the small portion of him that’s persistent on that, Louis knows it's his fault for not telling Harry sooner, for leading Harry on all this time.

Fuck, he needs a smoke.

Luckily he always stashes two cigarettes in his pockets before he goes anywhere, ready for situations like this that are unexpected but require the replacement of oxygen with poison. There’s a balcony in the living room so he tramples through groups of people until he’s squeezing through the opening of the glass and out into the cold night.

He has a stranger light him up then takes a deep inhale, begging himself not to break down. There's no reason for him to cry or scream right now, as good as it would feel to hear his voice echo over the city streets until his throat is hoarse.

At any moment he expects Harry to burst onto the balcony, to snatch Louis from behind and whisk him away to a land where nothing goes wrong and lost souls run free. The chipped red polish on his left hand becomes more discouraging as each minute ticks by. The stranger who was keeping him company leaves after a few minutes, nodding in an understanding way like he can sense Louis’ distress. Louis doesn't know if it's better or worse being stuck alone with only himself and his racing mind.

The longer the end of the stick burns, the more his chance with Harry fades away, swept by the wind as it begins falling to the ground below. Maybe if he weren't an idiot who panics about his sexuality this wouldn't be happening. Or maybe if he were a normal human being like everyone else who enjoys dirty sex and fucking on sofas. Suddenly the turtleneck is choking him.

He tugs at the collar with one hand and holds the other to his lips. It’s during one of his final drags that the door behind him slowly slides open and shuts as if someone doesn't want him to know they're out here.

“Lou.”

Louis continues staring over the blocks below them, all the way out to where the real skyscrapers begin rising from the ground. He’s on top of so much yet he feels so insignificant, so powerless, like the tiniest shift could send him tumbling to the ground with a whimper and a sigh.

“Haz,” he responds carefully, trying not to display any discontent because this isn't Harry’s problem or fault.

The footsteps are quiet but he senses Harry's presence beside him. “Can we talk?”

Louis drops his hand to the railing, squeezes tightly, then throws the cigarette in the ashtray on the glass table to his right. Finally, he turns to Harry and the difference between his face now and twenty minutes ago is heart shattering. He’s got red eyes and a tear track on his right cheek, glossing right over his beauty mark.

“Let me talk first,” Louis croaks, voice rough with the attempt at not crying and the smoke caught in his lungs.

“Okay.” Harry blinks and moves to the railing. Their shoulders don’t brush.

“I’m asexual, Harry,” Louis admits, hating the word on his tongue. Harry turns with curiosity but Louis continues. “Basically what that means is I have no sexual attraction to anyone. I mean, I obviously prefer guys, but that's more about romantic attraction. I like kissing guys and holding hand and cuddling, but anything more than that I just.. I have no desire for it at all.”

Harry processes this for a moment. “So you don't like sex, and don't want to have it. Ever.”

“I mean, I won’t completely rule out the possibility of me one day deciding to do it for the sake of making my partner happy, because I do have to get off somehow from time to time, but like I said, I won’t ever crave it for myself,” Louis tries, getting frustrated in his own thoughts. “And right now it makes me really uncomfortable, which is why I sort of panicked in the photo booth.”

“God, Lou, you should’ve told me this before. Now I feel like a fucking dick trying to pressure you earlier,” Harry grits out. “I only thought you were severely rejecting me and I was upset for myself, but now knowing that I was almost taking advantage of you, or forcing you to do something you didn’t want, that’s– I can’t even.. I’m so sorry.”

Harry starts crying and Louis doesn't know why, but it makes him tear up too. He shuffles over and curls under Harry’s arm, shivering as soon as he feels the warmth and realizes just how numbingly cold he is.

“It’s not your fault, Harry. Please don't feel bad because you genuinely didn't know. It’s my fault for not telling you sooner, and I’ll completely understand if you don't want to, like, be with me anymore.” Saying it tears a corner off his heart. “You wouldn't be the first.”

Someone shoots off a firework too early. Harry tenses and it's hard to tell what it's from– Louis or the startling noise. All he wants is for Harry to say something. Nothing pitiful, only what’s truly on his mind. Louis either wants to rip the band aid off his heart or press it down harder already.

“I don’t feel sorry for anyone who left you,” Harry mutters. “Anyone who’s left you alone because of who you are doesn't deserve you and never did. They scarred you enough for you to think it’s your fault for being asexual and to be okay with other guys following in their footsteps.. to think I wouldn't want you because of you.”

That’s exactly what’s needed right now. The sense of hopelessness begins to dissipate under the cover of Louis’ sniffles. Clung to Harry’s torso like it’s the last thread keeping him dangling above a raging fire, Louis breathes. It's shaky– he’d be worried if it weren’t– but clean.

“I love you, Louis.”

The words send a thousand joules shooting down his spine, bumping into nerves recklessly on their journey to his heart. After years of keeping it under lockdown, bruised and battered under a cage with barbed fencing, Louis opens his heart up and accepts the five syllables carelessly.

“We only started dating a week ago,” Louis laughs breathlessly, a tear rolling down his cheek. He doesn't want to wipe it.

“Oh, please. I’ve slowly fallen in love with you from the minute you stomped on my toe, Louis Tomlinson” Harry recalls wistfully, building his courage enough to stroke Louis’ arm. “I remember the first night we were together. You asked if I believed in love at first sight and I said infatuation comes first and sometimes love will follow. Well, I’m realizing now that infatuation is a side effect of love. So maybe I was wrong after all.”

“You think you’ve been in love with me since first sight?”

“I don’t think so. I know it.”

Louis nudges him. “You’re so cliche. I love you for it, though. I love you, Harry.” Harry’s grip protectively tightens on him. “Even if I can’t prove it to you through sex, I want you to know how much you genuinely mean to me. You’ve been a constant, reassuring light in my life for the past two months and hopefully you’ll still be by next New Year’s.”

“Of course I will,” Harry whispers into his hair.

Behind them, the partygoers begin chanting from ten, counting down the last seconds of 2015. It’s treated him well overall. There may have been some downfalls in the early parts, a bit of doubt here and there, but the running end is what saved the year. No matter where they are as time goes on, this year will go down in history as the one where he met Harry Styles, the sleek, opinionated fashion blogger with adoring followers and a knack for being endearing. This year, Louis fell in love with a beautiful man and for the first time, this man loves him in return.

At midnight, they share a slow kiss. There’s meaning behind it. Whispered promises are exchanged between their parted chapped lips and the sky lights up in colorful explosions for them.

“I’ll always be here.”

“I know you will.”

“I’ll never let you put yourself down for something you can’t change.”

“I’ll defend you against the world.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

They separate just before a drunk Niall and Nick bombard them, pointing out at the skyline with the rims of champagne glasses and handing Harry and Louis each a fizzing glass of their own. Louis’ phone buzzes in his pocket and it’s a text from Zayn, misspelled letters somehow getting across a message that says happy new year and a declaration of his undying love for Louis, with a short ‘lima says he lovs you and haarry too’ thrown in at the end.

To be loved and to be in love is the ultimate goal in one’s life. Right now, Louis is standing on top of New York City with the one he loves to his left and signs of people who care all around him. Let it be said that Louis Tomlinson is unstoppable.