Actions

Work Header

Never Be

Chapter Text

It arrives in the post on a typical drizzly afternoon in July, and Harry is beyond ready for it, eager and body thrumming with anticipation. The envelope is sealed tightly, thick and heavy in his hands, and he tears it open impatiently, shaking the raindrops from his eyelashes. He quickly scans the document for his assignment.

His mum leans over his shoulder. “Well? What does it say?”

“Hartford.” He furrows his brows. “Where’s that?” He pulls out his phone and enters it into a map. “Oh. Connecticut.” Not what he was expecting.

“Is that near any major city?”

He nods. “Looks like it’s about two hours away from New York City.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful!”

“Yeah…” Harry glances over the document again. “I sort of specified I’d like to study abroad in an actual city, though. Two hours is sort of out of the way, isn’t it?”

“That’s about how far away we are from London and you go there nearly every weekend, love.”

“I wanted my uni experience in the United States to be different, though. What if Hartford looks just like my own hometown does?”

“Is that so bad?”

He shrugs. “No, I guess not. I just didn’t want everything to be the same, is all.”

“Harry.” His mum takes the papers out of his hands and places them on the countertop beside her. “No matter where you study, no matter what you do, your experience is going to be brilliant, as long as you allow it to be. Don’t have a poor attitude going into this before you even give it a try. You’re going to be there for nine months. That’s a long time to have a negative outlook on something.”

He sighs. “Okay, yeah, you’re right. Lemme see the papers again, I barely even looked to see what university I’ll be studying at.”

She rolls her eyes and hands him the document. “Minor details, yeah?”

Harry waves his hands around. “No big deal.” He reads through the rest of the paperwork, finger tracing along each word. “University of Connecticut. Apparently, the enrollment is over 30,000 people.”

Anne whistles. “Quite large. Sounds like a small city to me.”

“Yeah, I’ll say.” He keeps reading and stops when he gets to the information about his new home. “My Connecticut family is less than 30 minutes from the university, so that’s nice.”

“Will you be living on campus?”

“Based on this, it sounds like I can decide which I prefer.”

“What do you think you’ll decide?”

“I dunno.” He runs his fingers along the edge of the paper. “I’ll probably start off at their home, and then move to campus later on, if living with them is completely terrible.”

“I’m sure they’ll be lovely.”

“They could be murderers. Or like… Trump supporters.”

She laughs. “Positive attitude, please, Harry.”

He bunches up the papers between his fist, his teeth clenched together. “I’m excited,” he says flatly.

“Sounds it. Alright, that’s all the moping you’re allowed. You’re moving to America. You’re going to be living just two hours outside the most famous city in the world. You’re so lucky. ” She grabs his shoulders and shakes him. “How are you not as thrilled as I am?”

Harry breaks, smiling, knowing she’s won. He does some quick math in his head. “40 more days.”

“But who’s counting?”

His grin widens. “I have to buy luggage.”

“You have some.”

“I need more. I’m leaving for nine months. You just said it.”

She purses her lips together. “Nine months.”

He rolls his eyes. “I’ll come back. Just gonna finish my last year in another country.”

“He says, so casually.”

He laughs and looks back down at the paper. August 24th is highlighted. He swallows. “I am a bit nervous.”

“Well, you’re human, aren’t you?”

“To my knowledge, I am.”

Anne ignores him and continues. “You’re supposed to be nervous. This is a big change.”

He nods. “Understatement of the century.”

“You’re going to absolutely love it. I promise you.”

He wants to believe her. “I hope so.”

“I know so.” She grabs for the document. “Now, let’s read some more about your new family.”

“Yeah, let’s do that.”

Anne skims over the second page and laughs. “Their surname sounds British.”

He huffs out a laugh, too. “Wouldn’t that be something. I fly halfway across the world to stay with another British family. Does it say anything else?”

She nods, continuing to read. “Mum is Johanna, Dad is Dan, and there are…” She trails off, eyes growing wide. “ Seven kids. Five daughters, two sons.” Amusement is written all over her face. “Oh, love, you are in for a treat .”

“What?!”

“Their oldest son is about your age, so that’s lovely. Oh my. Two sets of twins, and the younger set is just barely two years old.” She glances up at Harry.  “Are you sure you signed up for the right program? Seems more like an au pair situation, to me.”

Harry’s sure his face is permanently frozen, jaw open and eyes unblinking. “I can’t believe I’m moving across the world to live in an actual nursery,” he says with a groan, and Anne laughs. “What’s their last name?”

She flips to the second page. “Deakin-Tomlinson.”

Chapter Text

Saying goodbye at the airport isn’t as hard as he thought it would be. Yes, there are tears on everyone’s part, and he lets his mum hold onto him a little too tightly for a little too long, but he doesn’t feel like he has to linger at security, doesn’t feel like he has to turn around and look over his shoulder at his family, waving and proud, as if he’s being sent off to battle.

He makes friends with the people in his row on the plane; an older woman named Margaret that reminds him remarkably of his own grandmother sits to his left, and she chats with him quietly for the first half of the flight. She says that this is her first time visiting the States without her husband - whom passed four years ago - and she’s planning on spending her time in North Carolina. He proposed to her on a beach there when they were 24 and 28, and she smiles when she jokes that he was always into older women.

Harry nods along, smiling. “My mum’s mum was six years older than my grandfather. He said he fell in love with her for her wisdom, and stayed for her baking.”

Margaret laughs. “A great baker, was she?”

“The best. I would go to war for her scones.”

They chat for a while longer until their conversation dies down and Harry finds himself dozing off in between the scenes of the movie playing in front of him, something with Steve Carell and Dane Cook. He startles himself awake when the credits start playing, the music booming through his headphones, and he nearly cracks his head against the passenger’s to his right.

“Oh, Jesus, I’m sorry,” he says, rubbing the side of his temple. “Stupid Dan in Real Life scared the shit out of me.”

She laughs. “Yeah, quite the horror film, innit?”

“Yeah, I’ll say.” He looks down and sees that she’s writing a list of items in a notebook. Places, tourist attractions. “I take it your travel is thoroughly thought out?” he says, gesturing toward the paper.

She nods. “Yeah, it’s my first time on the East Coast, and I have a lot I want to see. I didn’t get the chance to explore New York or Boston or D.C. the last time I was here.”

“Where’d you visit before?”

“I lived in Los Angeles for a semester. I studied abroad during my third year of university. It was absolutely lovely, but I never really left California.”

“Oh!” His eyes go wide. “Awesome, someone that I can talk to! I’m actually on my way to study abroad, myself. First time in the states.”

“Stop it! How incredible!” She smiles. “Is New York your final destination?”

“I wish.” He purses his lips together, remembering his mum’s words from before. “Landing in New York and then I’m heading to Hartford, Connecticut. Not too far away from the city, though, and I’m excited.”

“Ah, that should be wonderful.” She holds out her hand. “I’m Grace, by the way.”

He shakes. “Harry.”

“You’re going to have a lot of fun, Harry. It’s much different than home, but it’s great.”

“I’ve heard as much. Do you have any advice?”

She closes her notebook and sets her pen down on top of it. “You’re there to study, and that’s important, but don’t make that your sole priority. Embrace everything that’s around you, because if you take it for granted, you’re going to realize as soon as you get home just how badly you wish you’d utilized it all.”

“That’s valid. Thanks.”

“Of course.”

Grace goes back to her notes, opening up the notebook again and writing in Martha’s Vineyard , and Harry clears his throat before she’s completely focused again. “Grace?”

She looks up. “Yes?”

“Do you, like, have any major pros and cons? Of studying abroad?”

“Most certainly,” she answers, a slight smirk on her face.

“And?”

She purses her lips together. “My biggest pro was meeting my new, wonderful family. I don’t know how I got so lucky, because meeting them was one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. They have a daughter, Nicole, and she’s the same age as me. I swear, she’s my soulmate. She’s actually meeting me here, in New York, and we’re going to spend the week together, exploring the Northeast.”

“Wow, that’s brilliant.”

“I know. I was very fortunate to be placed with them. They were absolutely everything. LA was gorgeous, and I was so happy there, but it was the Carlson’s that made my experience what it was.”

Harry brushes his curls out of his eyes, thinking. “And your con?”

She smiles weakly, pausing momentarily. “Leaving them.”


 


They touch down in New York about two hours later, and Harry positively cannot wait to stretch his legs, get a drink, do
anything other than sit on this plane any longer.

He’s amongst the last group to exit the aircraft, and on his way out, he tells Margaret to enjoy her time in North Carolina.

She smiles kindly and slips Harry a piece of paper. “Call my granddaughter, Sarah. She would love you.”

He blushes. “Thank you, I’m sure she’s lovely.”

Margaret walks off with her suitcase trailing behind her and once she’s out of sight, he crumples up the paper, tossing it into the bin beside him. Grace laughs.

“You don’t want a new girlfriend?”

“Not particularly.” He readjusts his backpack over his shoulder. “Hey, thanks for listening, by the way. And for the advice.”

Her demeanor softens. “Of course, Harry. Enjoy your time here. Look me up if you need anything.”

He nods. “I will.”

They both head to baggage claim together, and Harry watches as a girl nearly tackles Grace to the floor. Based on the way they’re both shrieking and crying, Harry assumes the girl is Nicole, and he smiles, happy to see them reunited.

He collects his suitcases, stacking them on top of each other, and makes his way outside, taxi after taxi idling by the curbside, some honking loudly. He looks around, knowing Mrs. Deakin is around here somewhere. She’d emailed him two nights prior, saying she’d pick him up at the airport and would take him back home to their house. I’ll be the one holding a sign with your name on it, and probably accompanied by a bunch of noisy kids, she’d written.

He spots the kids before he spots the sign. There are three girls and one boy, all yelling, the two youngest ones in tears, and Harry has to close his eyes when he realizes this is only half of the Deakin-Tomlinson clan.

He approaches the group slowly, bags rolling behind him, and Mrs. Deakin lights up when she recognizes him, presumably from the pictures he was required to send in.

“Harry?”

He nods. “Yes, hi! Nice to meet you!” He holds out his hand, already comfortable in her presence; she reminds him a lot of his own mum and that makes him instantly relax.

She grabs ahold of his hand, but instead of shaking, she pulls him in for a hug, warm and secure. “It’s so good to have you here, doll,” she says into his shoulder. “How was your flight?”

He pulls back and looks down at the twins, still yelling. “By the end of it, I felt like doing that ,” he jokes, pointing to them, “but overall, it was lovely.”

She laughs. “They’ll sleep in the car.” She gestures toward his bags. “Here, let me grab some of those for you.”

“Oh, God, no, you’ve got your hands full, Mrs. Deakin. I have them.”

She scoffs. “Honey, call me Jay, please.” She turns to the older girls. “Phoebe, Daisy. Help Harry with his bags. I’ll grab these two,” she says, pulling the twins up off of the ground, still screaming bloody murder.

They make their way to the oversized SUV, and it all seems to happen at once: the duffel bag Phoebe’s holding starts to split down the middle, Daisy trips over her own feet and nearly dives headfirst into the pavement, baby twin #2 cries so hard, he starts to gag, and by the time everything is packed away and everyone is buckled in, Harry has actual drops of sweat sliding down his temples.

Jay is still cool, calm, and collected, though, and she pats Harry’s hand. “Welcome to the family,” she says.

He laughs. “Thank you. I’m happy to be here.”

And he means it.


 

The ride to his new home is calm and peaceful, a serious juxtaposition from his greeting outside terminal C. The twins - Ernie and Doris, Harry learns - sleep through most of it, as Jay had promised, and he spends his time chatting quietly with Jay, Phoebe, and Daisy.

He keeps his eyes wide as they pass through Manhattan briefly, not bothered by the constant horns honking, in awe of the skyscrapers. They tower over them, the tops seemingly touching the blue sky, and he keeps rolling down his window every so often, as if touching the air will prove he’s really here.

And it’s hotter than he’d anticipated. Sticky and uncomfortable, it’s much more humid than England usually is, and the girls giggle every time he says it out loud, almost as if he’s in disbelief.

He looks in the rearview mirror as the city’s skyline shrinks in the distance, sad to be leaving already. He’s still not fully on board with the idea of moving to the suburbs, still in the mindset that he was meant to be living in NYC or some other major city for the next nine months, and he’s clearly being obvious about it, based on the way Jay turns down the radio and clears her throat.

“You’ll spend more time in Manhattan than you think, Harry, don’t worry.”

His cheeks heat up. “I know. I’m excited to be here, regardless. I swear.”

“You don’t have to prove anything, and you don’t have to love Connecticut. No one will take it personally.”

“It’s not that. I just imagined I wouldn’t be in a place so similar to my own home, is all.”

She smiles. “I don’t know very much about your own home, but I can say with certainty that this lifestyle will be very different from your own. A slight culture shock.”

“How do you reckon?”

“Well, for one, you now have to share a house with nine people.”

He swallows. “I keep forgetting that part.”

“You won’t forget it for long.”

“I have the feeling.”

Jay laughs. “Hartford is bigger than you’re expecting, and you’ll love the university. My oldest son graduated from there last year and he’s been in mourning for months that he doesn’t get to live there anymore.”

“I can understand that. I’m already sad that I’m in my last year.”

“You and Louis will probably have a lot in common, then. Oh, and he’ll take you into the city. He loves it there. He goes fairly frequently.”

Harry taps his fingers against his thigh. “That’s good to know.” The trees along the highway whiz by them, cars passing them in the fast lane. “Have I said thank you yet? For adopting me for the year?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Thank you. So much.”

“You’re very welcome.”

She turns the radio back up, and it’s a song Harry recognizes from childhood, deep in the recesses of his brain. He hums along to it and rolls the window down again, now finding the warm September breeze inviting, warm and safe.


 

They roll up to the Deakin-Tomlinson just under two hours later, and Jay explains that they live about ten minutes outside of downtown Hartford.

“If you’re standing at the top of the hill at night a few blocks over from us, you can see Hartford’s skyline. Not as impressive as NYC or London, I can imagine, but still, it’s something,” she says as she puts the SUV into park.

The home is an old style colonial, typical for New England, Harry has learned. There are windows everywhere, the door is painted red, and the path leading up to the doorway is made of brick, colorful flowers lining it. It’s cozy looking, the kind of home you would imagine to have the kids’ height measurements drawn in with pencil on the doorframe on the second floor, or a pile of bikes always leaning up against the Oak tree. He smiles and shakes his head when he actually does see a tricycle underneath one of the bushes to the left of the garage.

He notices an older sedan on the edge of the property. Jay catches him staring. “Old family car that you’ll be adopting for the next several months,” she says. “Your transportation to school.”

“Oh, that’s perfect,” he replies honestly.

As Harry, Jay, and the kids unload his suitcases and bags from the trunk, Jay tells Harry that their home has four bedrooms, but the attic and basement are completely finished, as well, and that Harry will have total privacy in the basement, including a separate entrance. Harry nods, saying thank you about a thousand and one times until she tells him to be quiet and get inside.

“Basement” was a liberal term, Harry thinks, as he drags his suitcase through the door. It’s stunning. There’s a living space with a TV and sound system, small kitchenette, bedroom divided by a half wall, and if he’s not mistaken, there’s a full bathroom around the corner.

“Jay. This is.” He keeps turning around, unable to come up with actual words. “Are you keeping me down here so I never have to come upstairs?”

She laughs. “That was the plan, in case you were a total jerk.”

“I feel guilty for taking over such a huge space in your home,” he says, eyes glued to the sectional sofa.

“Absolutely not. This is designated for you. The only one who usually hangs out here, anyway, is Louis, and he can handle it for the next few months.”

Nine ,” Harry reminds her.

“He’s a big boy, he’ll deal with it. And he has the entire attic to himself. It’s not like he’s living on the streets.”

He nods, uncertain. “If you want me to trade with anyone, please, let’s do it. The twins can stay down here. I’m sure they’d love it.”

“Do you want to stay in a pink room with twin sized bunk beds?”

He shrugs. “I mean, sure, why not?”

Jay laughs. “You’re sweet, but knock it off. This is your new home. Please relax and enjoy it.”

After a moment, he nods. “Okay. Thank you. Again.”

“You’re welcome. Again. Now get unpacked and call your mom. I’m sure she’s waiting by the phone. I’ll head upstairs to give you some space. Any request for dinner or would you rather go to bed? It’s been a long day for you.”

Angel on Earth . “I’ll come up and join you all for dinner, of course. But make whatever you’d like. I’m not picky.”

She winks. “Perfect. Be sure to tell Mom we haven’t tried to hold you hostage.”

“Yet,” he calls after her as she heads out the door, and he can hear her laughing.

He kicks off his shoes and settles into the couch, definitely old based on the way he sinks into it immediately, but it’s comfortable, even though it’s essentially swallowing him whole. He waits a minute or two, eyes closed, before he digs his phone out of his back pocket, dialing his mum’s number. She picks up on the second ring.

“Hi, baby!”

He smiles, letting his eyes slip shut again. “Hi, Mum.”

“How are you? Is everything okay so far? How was the flight? How is the mother?”

Harry shakes his head. Typical. “Everything is good so far. No problems on the plane, no problems finding Jay or her kids. And she’s lovely. I think you two would get on well.”

“So, no one is a murderer like you were worried about. Or a Trump supporter.”

He laughs, switching the phone to his right ear. “Not to my knowledge.”

“Excellent. What’s the house like? Did you see the city?”

They chat for a while longer, Harry describing his journey so far, and she’s laughing at his story about the toddler throwing up in the Heathrow airport when he sees Daisy out of the corner of his eye, peeking in through the door’s glass window.

“Hold on a second, Mum,” he says into the phone’s receiver, “I think I have a visitor.” He sits up all the way and motions for her to come in.

“Um,” she starts off shyly, pushing her way through the door, wringing her hands together. “My mom told me to come get you for dinner. She made burgers. Is that okay?”

He smiles. “That’s perfect, Daisy. Thank you. Let me say goodbye to my mum on the phone first, and then I’ll be up, alright?”

She blushes. “Yes, that’s alright,” she says quickly before she makes her exit, letting the door slam behind her.

Harry smirks again. “Hey, Mum, I’m being called for dinner, so I’ll call you back later, okay?”

Anne sighs. “I’m going to bed, anyway. Enjoy your night, and be safe. Make sure you call before classes start up next week, yeah?”

Jesus, Harry forgot the reason why he’s actually here. School. “Will do. Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

He hangs up and slips on a pair of sneakers, making his way up the walkway toward the front door. He can hear the noisy chatter in the kitchen before he even opens the door, and once he pulls it open to step inside, he’s greeted with the smell of barbeque, something he doesn’t have frequently. It smells incredible.

The house is bigger on the inside than it looks from the street; it’s open and airy, evening light streaming in through every window, and though it’s significantly larger than his own home (as expected with twice as many people living in it), it feels lived in, kept, happy.

He’s admiring the family photos on the wall, smiling at one ridiculous one of who he assumes is the oldest son, when a voice from behind startles him.

“You like what you see?”

Harry turns to face an older, real life version of the boy from the picture. “Yeah, how is it possible that you only had one tooth in the front?”

“Unfortunate incident involving a candy apple and a patch of ice. It’s a long story. But yeah, left me with one tooth for nearly half of my seventh year of life.” He holds out his hand. “I’m Louis, by the way.”

Harry nods, his suspicions confirmed, and grips Louis’ hand. “Harry Styles.” He looks down at Louis’ outfit and makes a face. “Do you typically wear a dress shirt with athletic shorts?”

Louis rolls his eyes and lets go of Harry’s hand. “Dude, it’s, like, a thousand degrees outside. There was no way I was about to sit in my car with broken air conditioning - which will be fixed next week, God willing - for my 40-minute commute in my work clothes. I didn’t have a t-shirt in the car, so the gym shorts sufficed. Don’t mock the clothes.

“Oh, I actually quite like the temperature.”

“You quite like it?” The way he says it is evident that he’s teasing and Harry can feel his cheeks heating up.

“Shut up,” Harry says, unable to come up with anything else.

“Oh, my boy has good comebacks.”

He blushes harder. “Give me time, I’m jetlagged.”

“No excuses in this house, Styles.”

Harry turns to look at the picture on the wall again. “You were so cute in this picture. What happened.”

“I’m still cute. I just have all my teeth now.”

“Yeah, and an exhausting personality to match.”

Louis laughs, his eyes crinkling around the corners, and Harry looks down at the floor, smiling, too. Louis is cute, is the thing. Gorgeous, even, dress shirt rolled up and wrinkled with red basketball shorts and all. His eyes are a piercing shade of blue, soft but electric, his hair messy, probably from having the windows down in the car, and the way Louis pushes it out of his eyes is a move he’s clearly practiced thousands of times. Harry just barely catches the hint of tattoos on his forearms, and he wants to ask what they are, but then Louis turns around and if Harry wasn’t an arse man before, he is now, and this is stupidly unfair.

Yes, this will also be blamed on the jetlag. How much longer can he use that excuse for?

Louis saves him from having to come up with something else to say when he motions over his shoulder. “Let’s go. Mom made a ton of food, and you still need to meet the rest of the family.”

Harry nods, stomach growling as if on cue, and he follows Louis down the hall toward the kitchen. Before he makes his grand entrance, he pauses.

“Hey, can I ask you something?”

Louis turns and nods. “Sure.”

“Are you a Trump supporter?”

He makes a face. “The fuck? Not even a little bit, why?”

Harry smiles. “Just wondering. Let’s go eat.”


 

Dinner is wonderful, and Harry eats so much, he’s 99% sure he isn’t going to make it down back to the basement without needing someone to roll him down the stairs.

He meets the rest of the family, including the two older girls, Lottie and Fizzy, as well as Jay’s husband, Dan, whom Harry finds out is the stepfather to all but the youngest twins. He’s close to his own stepfather, but not like this. The interactions between Dan and every child at the table is effortless, like he’s been here all along, and Harry can tell he has a relationship with each and every one of them, genuine, not forced.

As expected, they’re all very curious about Harry, and ask him about 101 questions about himself. He goes over the basics.

“I’m 21, from Cheshire, England, and I have one sister, so this is quite a unique situation for me.”

Jay smiles at that. “My entire family is actually from Doncaster, and I moved here just a few years before Louis was born. I’m afraid I’ve lost most of the accent. It does come out once in a while. But don’t worry, I know where my loyalties lies.” She winks and Harry points at her.

“I knew you had a British last name! My mum and I were talking about that as soon as I got my assignment.”

“Must be fate,” Louis replies with a touch of sarcasm from his seat beside him, nudging him with his elbow.

Harry laughs. “Must be.”


 

Two days later, Harry is sitting on the back porch steps, glass of lemonade in hand. He’s watching the younger kids run about the backyard, some of the neighborhood kids joining in, as well.

He’s not sitting there very long before he gets a tap on the shoulder. He looks up, squinting, and Louis is staring down at him.

“Move over.”

Harry rolls his eyes and slides over, making room for Louis, who reaches for his lemonade immediately and takes a long sip. Harry raises his brows in surprise. “Jeez, help yourself.”

Louis looks up over the edge of the glass and takes another sip. “I am.”

“Yeah, I can see that.”

They sit quietly together for a moment or two until Louis clears his throat. “Did anyone tell you about what’s going on tonight?”

“I don’t think so, no.”

He hums. “Mom always throws a back to school bonfire the night before school starts, and all the girls go back tomorrow. Usually a bunch of the neighbors come over, too. Turns out to be pretty fun for them.”

“And for you?”

He raises a brow. “Fun now that I can drink.”

Harry laughs. “What a role model, drinking in front of all the youngsters.”

Youngsters ,” Louis scoffs, mocking. “What are you, 80?”

He smiles again. “Something like that.” He looks back out at the yard; most of the older ones are sitting down and taking group pictures, the younger ones attempting to start up a round of tag. “So, what exactly occurs at this bonfire?”

“Eh, the usual.” He shrugs. “Some light chanting, beating our chests, sacrifice a virgin or two.”

“You’re the worst.”

“And you’re stuck here another nine months.”

“Don’t remind me.”

Louis pinches his thigh. “Nine months .”

Harry bats his hand away and rubs the sore spot on his thigh. “Thanks for that.”

He laughs and takes the rest of Harry’s lemonade.

 

It actually does end up being fun. About 20 kids show up and Dan grills hot dogs, Jay lays out a s’mores bar for the group, and Louis hands him beer after beer. Harry makes fun of him three times for how weak the drink is, comparing it to the brew back home, and eventually, Louis rips the can out of his hand and throws it into the fire, screaming, “We fucking get it, alright?! America is weak and all hail the mighty freaking England!”

Harry laughs, unintentionally snorting, and he’s actually tipsy from this watered down, pathetic excuse of a drink. Louis laughs, too, obviously loving this, handing him yet another beer, telling him to shut up and take it .

It’s already pitch black outside by the time it’s 8 o’clock, and Dan lights the fire for them, everyone crowding around and holding their marshmallows on sticks over the heat, attempting to roast them evenly, most catching on fire. Harry and Louis sit down together, each taking a lawn chair, and he’s halfway through telling Louis a story about the last time he got pissed when he stops, realizing he has about ten pairs of eyes on him, all teenage girls.

Louis rolls his eyes and makes gagging noises. “Oh my God, he isn’t that great, everyone, move past it.”

Harry laughs. “Quite the boost of encouragement.”

“It’s just a stupid accent and everyone is charmed and it’s nauseating.”

He scoots closer to Louis in his seat. “Everyone including you?”

Louis looks around on the ground near his feet and under his chair. “Oh, does this seat not have an airsick bag?”

He laughs again, louder this time. “You’re obnoxious.”

“One of my greater qualities, yes.”

Harry has never had a problem making friends, not at any point in his life. It’s always something that’s come natural to him, so it felt like a waste to even bother mentioning his concerns to his family before he left. They would have told him he was overthinking it, that he would be completely fine, that everyone loves him. But it was still something in the back of his mind, nagging and annoying. What if he couldn’t make a single honest connection in nine months - what if no one could compare to the relationships he has back home waiting for him?

It’s only been 72 hours, but Louis is the kind of friend, the kind of person, he’d want to overwhelm himself with if he’d met him at university in England. He’s downright hysterical, he’s playful, he’s blunt, he’s warm, he’s friendly, he doesn’t try too hard; he takes Harry’s fucking lemonade without questioning it and the whole thing feels so unnaturally comfortable that Harry is stunned. Louis has all of Harry’s favorite qualities, and how did he manage to find someone right off the bat that he doesn’t feel like he has to second guess?

It might be the shit beer, it might be Louis, but for the first time since landing on American soil three days ago, most of the tension in Harry’s body dissipates, making him feel lighter and much more like himself.

He leans in closer to listen to Louis talk, watching how animated he is, not entirely sure what the story is even about. The crackle and snap of the wood is comforting, the glow off of the embers illuminates the yard, illuminates Louis, entrancing.

He’s going to be better than fine.


 

It turns out to be quite simple to fall into a routine at the Deakin-Tomlinson household, and the time change wears off easily enough, but he still feels like he needs to walk on eggshells around the house a bit, which is very unlike him. He doesn’t want to step on anyone’s toes, still learning the limits and rules, and he's quiet through dinner most nights, strangely nervous to initiate conversation. He has the inkling Jay can tell he's still not fully relaxed, not completely in his element, needs a little more time, and his thoughts are confirmed when Jay pulls him aside after dinner one night, quietly telling him if he needs and wants some time alone to get used to everything, to let her know. It’s a sweet offer, he tells her, but that’s not what he wants at all, and from then on, he consciously makes more of an effort.

His first week of being a Connecticut resident is spent mainly with Jay and the girls, learning the in’s and out’s, and when Jay takes him into the center of Hartford on day five to look around, he’s shocked. He had no idea it was an actual city, with buildings and towers everywhere.

“Might not even need to go to New York,” he says, twisting in and out of other streetwalkers, avoiding a man on rollerblades at last second.

Jay laughs. “Believe me, you’ll still want to go to New York.”

After they get lunch, she takes him to Staples and tells him to get whatever he needs for his classes, loading pens and pencils and folders into the shopping cart.

Harry holds up his hands. “That’s a lovely offer, Jay, but please don’t spend any money on me here. I have funds for this kind of stuff. And you have seven kids. You don’t need one more.”

“Hush.” She throws in several notebooks and folders, too, and Harry isn’t about to tell her he hasn’t used a notebook in years.

He has the day’s purchases spread out all across the basement floor later that night when he gets a knock at the door, and Harry doesn’t bother getting up off the floor.

“Come in,” he shouts out, still trying to sort through the mess of school supplies on the floor.

Louis steps in, arms crossed, brows raised. “I see you were with my mother today.”

“Gee, how can you tell,” he replies dryly.

He smirks and closes the door behind him. “I have about 12 notebooks upstairs and she doesn’t believe me when I tell her that college students primarily only use laptops now.”

“I wasn’t about to jump into that. She seemed excited to help.”

“Yeah, that’d be my mom.” He flicks on a lightswitch that Harry hadn’t realized was there and the room illuminates even more.

It’s the first time Harry has seen Louis since the backyard bonfire. Today, his hair is styled neatly, his Vans strangely clean, his black jeans tight in all the right places, and his white t-shirt is kept and unwrinkled. Harry squints to read the stitching on the shirt’s pocket. Not heartbroken , it says. Interesting. He likes it.

He looks back down at the array of supplies on the floor and doesn’t look at Louis when he speaks. “You must have been busy this week. I don’t think I’ve seen you once.”

Louis takes a seat next to Harry on the floor, crossing his legs. “Yeah, it’s been a hectic work week, which is why I’m down here. I’m going out with a couple friends to blow off some steam. You wanna join us?”

Harry sits up straighter.  “Oh. That sounds nice, actually. Where’re you going?”

He shrugs. “Just some bar down in the center. Pretty lowkey. I think there’s a band down there tonight. They usually do cover stuff.”

“That sounds fun. Yeah, I wanna come. ” He looks at Louis again. “Makes sense as to why you look so good.”

“Excuse me?”

Harry’s cheeks burn. “I mean, like, you’re dressed up.”

“A t-shirt and jeans?”

“You’re just put together, well, is all.”

“Am I not usually?”

“Christ.” Harry runs his hands through his hair. “I meant, like…”

“I’m just teasing.” Louis’ smiling and the eye crinkles are back. “Thank you. But we’re gonna head out in about 15 minutes, if you think you can look as good as me by then.”

Harry groans. “I take it back. I don’t want to come.”

“Your loss.” He stands up and rolls his shoulders. “See you later.”

He groans louder. “I’ll be upstairs in ten.”

Louis laughs on his way out the door. “Good boy.”

 

Louis’ two friends, Niall and Liam, park in the driveway 20 minutes later, and on their way down the walkway, Louis explains he met Liam at UConn, but he’s known Niall since middle school, and now they’re all friends. Harry nods along, trying to remember the little details, and just before they get to the car, Louis stops and turns.

“You look put together, too, by the way.”

Harry laughs, shaking his head. “Probably the best compliment I’ll ever get out of you, is my guess.”

“You would be correct. Get in the car.”

He slides into the backseat beside Louis, their knees bumping together, and the fake blonde in the passenger seat turns around, hand already out.

“Hey, man, I’m Niall.”

Harry shakes. “‘m Harry.”

“Nice to meet you. I dig the shirt.”

He looks down, already forgetting what he’s wearing. Oh, right. The Hand Shirt. A bunch of outlines of hands printed across the white fabric, weird and somewhat edgy and very, very Harry. He smiles. “Thanks, mate.”

The driver - Liam, presumably, by process of elimination - turns to shake his hand, as well, and retreats back to his position, turning up the radio and backing out of the driveway.

“You enjoying your time so far here, Harry?” he asks.

Harry nods. “Yeah, I am. Still excited to get into New York City. And weirdly excited to start my classes, as well.”

Louis snorts. “I told you guys he was strange.”

Hey .”

They talk a bit more, Niall telling Harry he’s in his senior year, too, and if he needs any help around campus to call him whenever he needs to.

The ride to the bar is short, and Liam parallel parks along the side of the building, feeding the meter with coins before they venture inside. The line to get in isn’t too long, even for a Saturday night at nine o’clock, and he’s quiet as he looks around, barely paying any attention to the conversation amongst him, content to people watch, to check out his surroundings.

They step forward, next in line, when a group of girls exit the building, all chatting noisily. One laughs, and Niall perks up.

“Hey! Meghan!”

The brunette perks up and grins when she sees him. “Niall!”

Harry watches their interaction, Niall kissing her on the cheek, Meghan flushing, and based on the way Niall is trying to make himself appear several inches taller, it dawns on Harry what the motive behind this trip is, and what “blowing off steam” really means.

He nudges Louis with his elbow. “Louis.”

Louis looks up. “Yes?”

“Is that the goal for everyone tonight? To pull?”

He looks confused. “To pull what…”

“Y’know…” He waits for a look of realization to come across Louis’ face. Nothing. “To pull girls.”

“Where am I pulling them?”

Harry laughs. “Like, to take them home.”

Louis is expressionless for about five seconds before he bursts out laughing. He slaps Niall’s back. “Niall! Harry wants to know if my goal for tonight is to pull.”

He makes a face. “Pull what?”

“Pull girls, apparently.”

Niall laughs, too. “I’m not even sure what that means, but I can tell you, sweet Harry dear, that the answer is no.”

Harry frowns. “Jeesh, okay, I was just asking.”

Louis’ laughing dies down. “The goal is to drink.”

“Okay, I can be on board with that.”

 

The bar inside isn't too different than the pubs he frequents back home. A lot of the tables are lopsided, wobbling when people set their drinks down on top, the TV’s are airing a muted baseball game with captions scrolling across the screen, and a live band in the corner is playing, as Louis had suggested. They're performing a Katy Perry cover and the lead singer looks like he'd rather pull out his teeth out than finish the chorus.

The four of them make their way to the bar, Liam putting in an order for a pitcher of beer, and Louis telling the bartender to add a round of eight shots onto their tab. Once they're served, he hands them out, winking at Harry as he says, “Bottoms up.”

It's tequila - not Harry’s favorite, but manageable - and it burns his throat on the way down. His expression must be one of disgust because Louis rolls his eyes and laughs, handing him a beer.

And the beer is pretty gross, too, a real insult to the kind of beer he’s used to drinking at pubs back home, but he finishes it, anyway, not trying to sour his first time drinking in a bar in the US.

He gets drunk quickly, accepting drink after drink from all three guys, but he's still coherent enough to realize that Louis hasn't left his side once. He's extremely appreciative of that, knowing Louis wants to make sure Harry is comfortable.

After another round of shots, Harry watches as Louis’ gaze diverts from their group toward a guy who just emerged from the bathroom.

“Corey!” he calls out, waving his arm in the air.

Corey smiles and makes his way over. “Hey, Lou.” He nods at the others. “How's it going, everyone?”

Liam smiles, nudging Louis closer to Corey, and Harry frowns. “We’re good, all good.”

“Awesome.”

Harry’s still pouting as Louis introduces him to this new guy, tall and wavy blonde hair with a blindingly white smile, but he shakes politely, anyway. “Yeah, I'm living with Louis until May,” he says, aware that Corey didn't actually ask him.

Niall snorts, the only one who apparently catches on, and Corey nods, still flashing his perfect smile. “That's great. You'll definitely have fun there.”

Harry doesn't like the way he says it, as if he's hiding something in his tone, and he's sure Corey didn't mean anything by it, truly, but he's drunk and tired and Louis isn't standing next to him anymore.

“Hey. Corey. Let's grab more drinks,” Niall offers, nodding toward the bar, bless his heart, and Corey follows, leaving Louis, Harry, and Liam alone.

Louis watches Corey go, head tilted, and Harry’s frown deepens. Suddenly, it clicks. “So, when you said you weren't planning on pulling girls …”

He looks up at Harry. “Yeah?”

“Guys is still an option. You intend to pull guys.”

Louis shrugs. “Maybe. Probably not tonight, though.” He looks directly into Harry’s eyes, and the four or five inch different between them in height suddenly seems to be nonexistent. “Is that a problem?”

Harry swallows. “No, not at all.”

“Alright. Glad we got that taken care of.

“Glad, indeed.” Before he can stop himself, he reaches out and traces the stitching of Not heartbroken , no reason apparent, and if he lingers long enough, he can feel Louis’ heart beating beneath his fingertips.

“What are you doing.”

Harry doesn't really have an answer, honestly, so he just pouts. “Not sure.”

Louis smirks, scrunching up his face. “Glad the alcohol loosened you up a little bit, though.”

Harry drops his hand. “What's that now?”

“I told you the goal was to drink. I wanted you to relax. It's not easy leaving home.” He shrugs, still smirking. “I like this Harry. He doesn't look like he's ready to jump out of his skin.”

He furrows his brows; he thought he'd been hiding his uneasiness well. Apparently not. Sounds like Louis’ been chatting with Jay. “You got me drunk on purpose.” It isn't really an accusation, but he points his finger at him, regardless.

Louis laughs. “Kind of.” He grips Harry’s elbows and shakes him. “And look how much fun it is!”

Harry rolls his eyes, now smiling, too. “Okay, yeah. Get me another pint.”

He pinches Harry’s hip. “Keep in mind that this is the only time I'll ever allow you to boss me around.”

“Noted.”


 

Harry starts classes two days later, that Monday. His first class is an 8 AM and rolling out of bed at 6:30 feels like an actual form of torture.

He isn't sure what to expect, driving the half hour to school. He knows the university is large, but he doesn't know anything about Storrs, the town it resides in. He’s under the impression that it's similar to Hartford, just a bit more suburban, a college town surrounded by neighborhoods.

The closer he gets, the more he realizes just how wrong he is. The homes are few and far between, a few stores and restaurants along the main road, a single gas station… And then he enters the university, and as far as the eyes can see is rows of corn and pastures of cows.

“What the fuck,” he says out loud to himself. “I'm in FarmVille.”

Once he gets over the initial shock of having class in what feels like a barn (it's actually a lovely building with brick and vines and enormous windows and it doesn't resemble a barn in the slightest, but he knows there are cows outside, mooing, and he feels like he needs to slip on a pair of faded overalls), he forces himself to focus on his lecture, the professor an older gentleman with graying hair and a jacket to match.

The material is interesting, surprisingly, and class flies by. So does his second. And his third. By the time he's wrapping up to go home, he feels like he's spent only a couple of hours on campus, not nearly the entire day, and he takes that to be a good sign.

He decides to stop by the school’s gift shop on his way out and picks out a sweatshirt and a t-shirt to send back home to his mum and sister, both of which are ridiculously overpriced.

“It’ll be $90.02,” the girl behind the register says.

“For these two things?!”

“Sorry,” she shrugs. “I don't make the prices.”

“Jesus.” He hands over his credit card. “Go Huskies.”

 

Jay is sitting at the kitchen table when he arrives home, both sets of twins in their own chairs, the two older girls doing homework. She looks up when she sees him walk in and clasps her hands together.

“How did it go?! Did you like the campus? Is it better than the one back home?”

He smiles and takes a seat at the table. “You sound like my own mum.”

“We’re all from the same breeding pool. Now, tell me.”

He drums his fingers along the tabletop. “Well, for one, it’s huge. Like, proper massive. I didn’t expect to have to drive from class to class.”

“Louis said the same thing his freshman year. He was late so many times.”

“I can see why.” He pauses to think. “I liked my second professor best. The class was small, not an enormous lecture hall like my third class, and he paid a lot of attention to each of us individually. And he really seemed to enjoy what he was teaching. That always makes it easier.”

She nods along. “Absolutely. So, overall, you enjoyed it?”

“Yeah, I think the business program here is good. Seems very solid.”

“Niall’s in it, as well. He would definitely agree with that.”

“I’ll have to chat with him about it.”

“Louis can set that up, I’m sure.”

He hums. “Speaking of Louis. Is he around anywhere?”

Jay raises a brow. “He’s not home from work yet. Why? Need anything specifically?”

Harry shrugs. “Not really. I just haven’t seen him since the night we all went out.”

“He’s usually very busy on Sundays. His catch up day for work. But I’ll tell him you were looking for him when he gets home.”

“Oh, no,” he says, putting up his hands, “that’s not necessary. I’ll see him around eventually.” He starts to back out of the kitchen, readjusting his backpack over his shoulder, nearly tripping over a pair of Doris’ shoes.

“Okay… Well, dinner will be ready in an hour if you’re hungry. Breakfast for dinner tonight.”

“Alright, awesome. Thank you.” He spins around and heads down to the basement before Jay can get another word in, and busies himself in homework for the next hour and a half, not allowing himself to think about anyone upstairs at all.

 

It’s around 10 o’clock when Louis cracks open the basement door without bothering to knock. Harry looks up from his laptop, happy to take a break, and sees that Louis is back in the red athletic shorts, but instead of the button down dress shirt, he’s in a faded black t-shirt.

“What brings you down to the cave? Did your mom send you?”

Louis smirks and closes the door behind him. “Wanted to see how your first day of classes went. The UConn campus is kind of daunting.”

“That’s the understatement of the year.”

“Big, huh.”

Huge.

“On my first day I got lost, like, eight times. I remember trying to find the fucking dining hall and wanting shitty food so badly but I couldn’t figure out where it was. I didn’t eat all day.”

Harry laughs. “I packed snacks, otherwise I would have been in the same boat as you.”

Louis sits down on the sectional sofa, resting his chin on the back of it, looking at Harry. “Wait, why did you ask if my mom sent me down here?”

“Uh.” He pauses, pushing his laptop off of his lap. “I dunno. I think she thinks I need more company.”

He bites at his bottom lip. “Can I say something?”

“I don’t like where this is headed, so no.”

He laughs. “No, it’s not bad. I think.” He toys at a loose thread on the couch cushion. “My mom suggested I take you to the bar with me the other night, because you’re right, she thought you needed to loosen up a bit. She kept saying how tense you seemed.”

Harry squeezes his eyes shut. “Oh my God, you brought me to the bar because your mum made you?”

Louis laughs again. “It’s not like that! I promise! I just didn’t want to have to babysit you, is all. I wasn’t kidding when I said I’d been stressed and busy. The last thing I wanted to do was take care of my foreign kid.”

“How is that any better?!”

“If it’s any consolation, I’m glad you came. You’re decent enough to hang out with.”

“It’s just compliment after compliment with you, huh?”

He smiles, winking. “Liam and Niall liked you, too.”

Too. “That’s good. I thought they were great.” Harry draws his finger aimlessly across the trackpad. “And Corey?”

He raises his brows. “What about Corey?”

“What’d he have to say about me?”

My , someone is a conceited, thinking we all sit and talk about him all day.”

Harry rolls his eyes. “I’m just curious.”

“He said you were a fun drunk. And he thinks you have nice curls.”

“Do you think I have nice curls?”

Louis gets up off the couch and walks over to him, not so much as pausing before he slaps Harry across the chest. “I think you’re full of yourself and could stand to be knocked down a peg or two.”

Harry rubs at his chest, although it doesn’t really hurt, and laughs. “I’m knocked down now, thanks.”

“Welcome.” He peers over the top of Harry’s laptop. “Almost done?”

“Not really, no.”

“Want some help?”

“Are you fluent in Murray’s socioeconomic class?”

“Actually, yeah. I took that class last year. I hated it, but I loved Murray. He made it less shitty.”

“I said the same thing! Take a seat, do my homework.”

Louis makes a face but sits down beside Harry on his bed, anyway. “Bring it.”

The two of them work together to sort through Harry’s poor excuse of handwriting and Murray’s thorough notes, pausing every so often for Harry to ask questions about the campus or for Louis to tell a story about his four years there. Louis is more helpful than Harry had thought he would be, but they still don’t manage to cover even half of what was assigned, too distracted and wrapped up within each other’s thoughts and stories and horrible jokes.

It’s late by the time Louis sneaks back upstairs, Harry’s eyelids heavy and body craving sleep. He rolls around in bed for only a few minutes, not bothering to find the perfect comfortable position. He’s tired enough that he falls asleep with his head half on the pillow, blankets pulled up only to his waist, and he doesn’t stir until the sun comes up.


 

Harry’s first week of classes fly by and he’s overwhelmed by the amount of people he’s met, in a good way. He befriends multiple people in every class, and it makes the workload seem less intimidating, knowing there are other people right there with him, all in it together.

On his first Friday of the semester, he’s excited to explore more of UConn, to see the parts he hasn’t yet touched. He wants to get to know the popular spots, to actually feel like he goes here and isn’t just visiting.

After his second class of the day, he gathers up Evan, Riley, and Kara, the three people that sit closest to him during the lecture, and asks them where they recommend he should go. They all say at the same time, “Ted’s.”

“Oh,” he says with a laugh, “unanimous decision.”

“It’s a total dive but it’s comfortable,” Kara says. “Riley and I were planning on going tonight, actually. You wanna come with us? Evan?”

“Yeah, for sure,” Evan says, taking a step forward.

“Yes, definitely!” Harry says. “Mind if I invite Louis? He’s the one I’m living with. And I’ll probably invite his best friends, too, if that’s okay with everyone.”

Riley laughs, placing her hand on Harry’s shoulder. “You absolutely don’t need an invite for Ted’s. Believe me.”

He shrugs. “Okay, then. When do you all want to meet?”

“Ten-ish?” Kara asks.

“Ten is it.”

 

Two hours later, Harry is resting his elbows on the kitchen counter, pouting.

“What do you mean you don’t wanna come?!”

Louis sighs. “I want to, but I don’t have time. I have a bunch of shit I need to get done. But you should still call Li and Niall, though.”

His pout deepens and he brushes his curls out of his eyes. “But it’s my first time at Ted’s,” he whines.

He rolls his eyes and throws his hands in the air. “You can’t use the ‘first time’ excuse much longer, you brat.”

“I can use it all I want.”

“You’re so fucking annoying.”

Harry straightens his back. “Aw, Lou, our first time fighting!”

Louis scoffs, rubbing his jaw, trying and failing to hide his smile. “It’s just Ted’s. I won’t miss your first time for NYC or Boston or any of that good stuff.”

“Gonna make a proper tourist out of me, yeah?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

Harry taps his foot on the ground. “You’re really not coming?”

“I’ll go next time, I promise.” He digs into his wallet and pulls out a $5 bill, tossing it at Harry. “Drink a Beaver, on me.”

“What the hell is a Beaver?”

“You’ll find out.”

 

And find out, he does.

Harry drinks four - maybe seven - Beavers, which turns out to be an actual pitcher of alcohol, sweet and dizzying. He didn’t intend to get so drunk, but he ends up having to ask - slur, really - Niall to drive him home, Niall shaking his head and laughing the entire time.

Harry's bordering on blackout drunk by the time he gets home, tripping out of his jeans when he goes to take them off, nearly falling face first into the couch. He puts on the first pair of sweatpants he sees, grabbing his sweatshirt from earlier, as well, and doesn't bother turning off the light before he lays down on the bed.

He wills himself to close his eyes, to actually get tired, but he's wide awake, mind foggy and thoughts restless. He sits up in bed, running his hand through his hair, and he looks at the clock. 1:37 AM. Late, but not too late.

Hm. Louis.

He slides out of bed and slips his moccasins on, quietly making his way out of the basement and up to the first floor. All of the lights are off with the exception of a single dimmed light glowing in the kitchen, and he climbs up the stairs, his balance a bit uneven, avoiding the creaks he's already learned to recognize.
He sees that Louis' bedroom light is peeking out from under his door, and before he knocks, he can hear Louis grumble, mumbling, “Shit.”

"Hey, Louis," he whispers, cracking the door open slightly. "Can I come in?

Louis clears his throat. "What's up?"

Harry pushes open the door the rest of the way and frowns. "You sound stressed."

"I am. Do you need something or..."

Harry's eyes refocus in the dim lighting and he has to blink twice as he stares intently at Louis. "You have glasses."

"I do."

"Yeah. You have glasses. On your face."

"Well, that's where they belong."

"What are you doing with glasses?"

Louis looks at him like he's the dumbest human alive. "Seeing."

"I've never seen you wear them before."

"My eyes hurt if I try to edit for too long with contacts and how drunk are you?"

"Drunk enough." Harry takes a few more steps into Louis' room. "What are you editing?"

Louis sighs. "Right now, video game manuals."

"Nuh uh."

He actually looks impossibly amused, thank God. "Harry, I really need to finish doing this. I have to submit these 30 pages by tomorrow morning and I'm not even close."

"Oh. So that's what you do for work? You edit manuals?"

He rubs his eyes under the frames. "Yeah, and instruction booklets. Stuff like that."

"Right out of university?"

"Right out of college ."

Harry ignores him. "So you’re, like, really smart. How have we never discussed your job before?"

"You've never asked."

He's right. "Do you like it?"

"Usually, but not at nearly two in the morning."

Harry furrows his brows. "Sorry. Do you want me to go or can I stay and watch you?"

"You... Want to stay and watch me edit documents." He still doesn't seem annoyed, more perplexed and entertained than anything.

"Yeah, I do." He makes himself comfortable on the end of Louis' bed without asking, and the mattress springs squeaking as he sits down. "Carry on."

Louis huffs out a laugh. "'kay." He turns his attention away from Harry and back to the pile of papers in front of him, expression instantly going serious, tapping the pen against his lips.

And he's so intense about it, so professional, that Harry can't stop staring. Every so often, Louis' lips will move along with the words he's reading, or he'll squint as if that'll help him understand what he's reading better, or he'll sigh and cross something out with thick, dark ink. It's the quietest Harry has ever seen him, and if Louis is aware that Harry hasn't turned away once, has barely even blinked, he hasn't said anything. Harry will just blame it on the alcohol if he does.

He doesn't know how long they've been sitting there, Harry with his legs crossed, breathing steadily, gaze unwavering, and Louis in his pajama pants and a worn, red t-shirt, highlighting and underlining; long enough for his back to start to ache and the buzz of the liquor to start to wear off.

Louis has bags under his eyes and the whites are a bit bloodshot and Harry is still impossibly attracted to him.

Eventually, Louis looks up, and his lips quirk up into a smile.

"Oh, are you?"

“Am I what?”

Louis licks his lips, still smiling. “Impossibly attracted to me.”

Harry's eyes go wide. "Did I say that out loud?"

"A little bit, yeah."

He scrunches up his face. "Well, it's the glasses. I didn't know Glasses Louis was an option. And they make your face nice."

"Was my face not nice before?" He's teasing and Harry doesn't want him to stop.

"It was very nice. So nice, I kind of want to punch it."

Louis laughs. "Not sure that makes sense."

"It makes sense and it's a very nice face with glasses and without and it's the most nice when it's focusing on paperwork. Mr. Serious. I like that."

He shakes his head but Harry can tell he's pleased. "You're something else, Styles."

"Thanks, I think."

He tosses a pillow and a blanket at him, and Harry curls up without question. Everything is so soft . "Glad you had fun. And clearly enjoyed a Beaver or two."

"Mmm," Harry hums, "I did."

"Good. Go to sleep."

Harry only manages to stare at Louis in his glasses, chewing on the end of his black pen for another minute or two before his eyes get too heavy to keep open, and there he sleeps.

 

He wakes up the next morning around 11, alone, and is momentarily confused when his vision is blurred by something pink in front of his eyes.

“What the hell,” he grumbles out loud, touching his forehead. He pulls off a sticky note, stuck just under his hairline, and in the same thick, black ink from last night, it reads: Thanks for the company. Drink a lot of water unless you want to puke your brains out. xoxo Gossip Girl

Harry bursts out laughing, immediately wincing when his head starts pounding, and he looks around for a blank sticky note. He sees a pile of them on top of Louis’ desk next to the bed, an array of them in several shades, and he peels off a green one.

L, thanks for not kicking me out. And for the water advice. And for wearing glasses. Especially for wearing the glasses. I'll never be the same. - H

He leaves it on Louis’ pillow and makes his way back downstairs, closing the attic door softly behind him.

 

Louis gets home late from work that night, and Harry is lounging in the living room with Lottie and Fizzy when he pulls into the driveway. He can hear Louis go upstairs to change without bothering to come in and say hello first, and less than three minutes later, he appears in front of them, smirking.

They’re watching something he’s only half paying attention to, but half turns to not at all as soon as Louis sits down on the couch next to him, squeezing Harry’s knee briefly, and Harry exhales loudly.

The return of the glasses might be a coincidence, might not be - he has no idea if Louis found the note - but either way, Harry wants to light himself on fire.


 

A week or so later, Harry takes his first trip to Manhattan on a drizzly Saturday morning, Louis and Niall by his side, Harry overly excited to be packing a bag at 5:45 in the morning in the rain.

Niall groans as he shoves a poncho into his backpack. “I swear to God, Harry,” he says under his breath, “the weather is so crappy today and it’s the ass crack of dawn and I can’t believe I’m about to get on a train to be a tourist all day in my own fucking neck of the woods.”

Harry hums happily. “I’m excited, too. Here, I bought you a coffee at Dunkin Donuts.”

Niall stares at him like he’s growing a second head and turns to Louis. “How the fuck did he already have time to make a Dunks run?”

Louis shrugs, equally confused. “Kid has been up for, like, two hours. It’s like his Christmas.”

“Indeed, it is!” Harry shouts, clapping his hands. “Let’s go!”

He climbs into the passenger seat, Louis sliding into the driver’s side, and Niall laying down in the backseat dramatically. He puts his arm over his eyes. “Wake me when we get to the train station.”

Harry smirks and looks over at Louis, who is already one step ahead. He cranks the volume on the radio as high as it will go, and Niall screams, shooting up out of his seat. Louis turns around and shouts over his shoulder, “If I have to be awake and deal with this man child, you do, too!”

 

The train ride into the city doesn’t take as long as Harry anticipated; the sound of the wheels on the tracks is steady and relaxing, and it has Harry feeling peaceful, eyes slipping shut after about half an hour.

The moment they step off the platform, though, is another story.

He’d expected it to feel like London, just more amplified. More crowded, probably, and louder. But Jesus, what an understatement. There are people everywhere , pushing and shoving, grunting as they squeeze their way in between Harry and Niall, not caring when Harry is nearly knocked off balance.

“Charming, right,” Louis says under his breath.

Once they get onto the main road, Harry feels like the wind was just completely knocked out of him. It’s way louder than he remembered it to be when he first got off the plane a few weeks ago, the honking and beeping from horns bordering on unbearable, and the smell .

It must show on his face that he’s overwhelmed - and disgusted - because Niall bursts out laughing. “Didn’t know it smelled like shit on most of the streets, did you?”

“Not so much.”

He’s willing to overlook that, though, once they really start moving throughout the city. The buildings, the crowds, the energy, even the damn graffiti. It’s all blaring and outrageous and finally not out of reach.

Louis and Niall, bless their hearts, are troopers, guiding Harry every which way, appeasing to his every touristy demand, waiting in line at the Statue of Liberty for over an hour. By the time they sit down for dinner somewhere a few blocks away from Times Square, Louis has only complained about the excessive walking about ten or twenty times, impressively low for Louis’ standards.

Harry takes an embarrassing amount of photos, essentially skips from crosswalk to crosswalk, preens when they get to Central Park, makes about 23 and a half Friends jokes, and only gets slapped twice when he refers to the city as “the Big Apple” (by Louis, of course). They drink much too expensive beer at a pub on the outskirts of Manhattan, they eat a few fairly gross pretzels from a street vendor, and on the train ride back home, both Louis and Niall fall asleep on either side of Harry, Niall with his head pressed up against the window behind them, Louis’ head on Harry’s shoulder.

Harry doesn’t dare move.

He fucking loves New York.


 

September is a haze of classes, exams, new friends, new traditions, and so much time spent with the Deakin-Tomlinson family, it feels like he was always here from the start, which is what he - and Jay - wanted all along, and it’s so, so good.

The days start ticking by, and Harry is only aware of it when he leaves for class one morning, realizing he can see his breath. That’s when he looks down and notices a plethora of red, yellow, and orange leaves on the ground, crunching beneath his boots.

Autumn is in full swing, and so is his life in New England.

It’s the last day of September - a Saturday morning - when Louis comes barging in through the door to the basement. He’s in a faded gray beanie, a long sleeved off white sweater, torn skinny jeans, as per usual, white Converse, and of course, the glasses. Harry looks down and rubs his eyes with the palm of his hands until all he can see are swirls and unidentifiable shapes.

It’s not the first time Harry has been overwhelmed with how attracted he is to Louis; hell, it isn’t even the first time today . Objectively speaking, he’s everything Harry looks for in someone he’s trying to date or hook up with or, in Harry’s current case, stare at from across the room until Louis sneers, “What the hell do you want?” He’s unfairly toned, Harry’s fists clenching whenever Louis walks around the house shirtless, Louis’ eyes and smile both blindingly bright, and he’s the exact perfect size for Harry to wrap his arms around and hold close.

Not that he gets to do that that frequently. Louis only lets him when they’re drunk at Ted’s or doing a pub crawl in downtown Hartford, usually pushing him off after a moment or two, anyhow, calling Harry the clingiest, biggest toddler he’s ever known.

It’s a physical attraction, Harry tries to force himself to believe, lust at most. Most days, he’s able to convince himself of that.

Louis plops himself down on Harry’s bed, pushing Harry’s covers off of him. “How badly do you want an excuse to not study today?”

Harry sits up immediately. “More than anything.”

“How would you like to experience a genuine New England day?”

He shrugs. “Well, if it’s New England, chances are, I’ve already done it, but your version is probably deep fried and covered in cheese, yeah?”

Louis whips a pillow at his face. “You can fuck right off. But yeah, that’s true.”

He laughs. “Where’re we going?”

“Whole family is gearing up to head out. Get ready, and let’s go.”

 

They end up going apple picking, the orchard packed with families just like the Deakin-Tomlinson clan, but in smaller numbers, and definitely less noisy.

Harry carries Doris on his shoulders for the majority of the afternoon, as per her request, helping her twist and pull apples from the tree branches, placing them into a bag to bring home, and his neck is painfully sore from holding her for so long, but her happy squeals are completely worth it.

As a group, they make their way over to the corn maze, Harry holding Doris’ hand on his left side and Ernie’s on his right. They follow Louis through the entrance, Louis immediately making a hard left, breaking out into a full sprint.

Harry frowns. “Oh, good. Leave me with the two toddlers.” He turns around and looks behind him, and sees that the rest of the family appears to have separated from them, as well. “Perfect,” he grumbles.

He continues to walk through the maze, kids running all around him, shrieking and laughing, and the longer he walks, the more he’s certain that he’s actually going to die in here, still holding the hands of his homestay family’s youngest kids.

He doesn’t know how much longer they walk for - long enough for Doris to start whining that she wants to be carried - and he’s picking her up to balance her on his hip when he starts to hear rustling to his right. He barely has the chance to question it before Louis comes barreling out, screaming at the top of his lungs.

Harry all but drops Doris to the ground, clutching at his chest, eyes wide. He’s about to start screaming back, but then he sees that the twins are hysterically laughing - Ernie has actual tears in his eyes - so he forces out a laugh, too.

“Oh, God, the look on your face,” Louis says through laughter. “That was so worth hiding in a row of corn for 15 minutes.”

“My face was fine,” Harry mutters under his breath, picking Doris back up.

“You were terrified .”

“No, I wasn’t. I thought it was funny.”

“You did not! You were scared shitless!”

“I was fine.

“Time for a new adjective.”

Harry pouts. “You’re mean today.”

“Nah, you’re just a baby.” He looks down at Ernie. “Do you want to get out of here, and find some donuts? Or a candy apple?”

Ernie nods, smiling. “Yes!”

“Awesome, let’s go then.”

They start to walk out together, Louis and Ernie holding hands.

Harry clears his throat, heart finally not racing. “Hey, Lou.”

He looks back over his shoulder. “Yes?”

“Last time you had a candy apple. Any chance of that repeating again today?”

Louis laughs. “You’d like to see that, wouldn’t you? A toothless wonder?”

“Absolutely.”

“I’ll stick to the donuts,” he replies, flipping him off over his shoulder.

 

An hour later, on the way back to the car, Harry is holding about two pounds worth of apples, Phoebe and Lottie beside him, each holding their own weight in pumpkins and donut holes, when Harry hears Jay behind him say, “Louis, I’m so glad you decided to come this year. We haven’t done this all together since you were in high school, I think.”

“Yeah, well, Harry’s first time, and all,” Louis replies.

“Whatever the reason, it was nice. Thank you for coming, baby.”

Harry climbs into the van, a couple of apples falling out of the top of the bag and rolling onto the carpet, and he tries to pretend like he wasn’t listening but he’s positive his blush is giving him away.

Louis doesn’t seem to notice, but based on Jay’s smirk from the front seat and the way she’s staring at Harry in the rearview mirror, she definitely knows.


 

Harry loves Connecticut.

He loves that it’s so close to New York - which he’s visited two more times since his first trip with Louis and Niall, once alone and once with Evan - loves that the seasonal changes are so obvious, loves his campus and everything it holds, loves the way the fall leaves are bright and and colorful, almost as if they’re burning from their spot on the tree’s branches.

And he loves his family, because suddenly, that’s what they are. He loves family dinner, where they do their “highs and lows,” sharing their high point of their day and their low point, and four out of five times, it turns into Louis making fun of Harry, Harry hysterically laughing and Jay eventually scolding. He loves the way he feels comfortable enough to study in the living room, Lottie and Fizzy often joining him, working on their own studies. He loves the house itself, big and filled with a chaos of people, always.

He remembers Grace from the plane, telling him the biggest con of her trip was trying to figure out how to leave her family, so, so sad to have to go back to her old life. And now, he understands that. It feels like he doesn’t have an old life. Thinking back to a time when he wasn’t lounging in the attic with Louis, or sharing greasy pizza at three in the morning, or texting in between classes, Louis telling him to get his ass home soon, seems like a far fetched dream.

It’s better than he’d anticipated, and his mum was right. He tells her than in an email and she responds cattily with, “Ha. I told you so.”

And on it goes.


 

Harry doesn’t often become frustrated with school work. Typically, he enjoys his studies, especially now that he’s out of core classes and is focusing on things he’s actually interested in. However, on this particular Sunday night, he’s about ready to yank each and every strand of hair out of his head, and Louis can clearly tell.

“Do you need a break?” he asks from his position on the couch.

Harry looks up from his computer, eyes feeling like they’re glazed over. “No, get out of my room, I have to finish this.”

“You’re being a dick because need a break. Get up.”

“I am not. And no, I don’t.”

Louis stands up and stretches. “Stop being annoying. Get in my car.”

Harry grumbles, frustrated because he really does need to keep working, but the idea of getting out of this basement and into Louis’ car sounds so, so good. “Fine. But only 30 minutes. Maximum.”

He rolls his eyes. “We’ll come back when I say we come back.”

“Insufferable human being,” Harry mutters under his breath, and Louis slaps him across the chest, his signature retaliation.

They drive through Hartford with the windows down, a little too chilly for that to be necessary, but the fresh air is nice and Harry feels himself relaxing into the leather seats just three minutes out of the driveway. Louis turns on the radio, something by Michael Buble streaming through the speakers, and Harry taps his fingers to the beat, watching the neighborhood homes fly by them.

Louis takes them through several winding roads, flipping on his highbeams once there’s no one else on the road with them, and he rolls through a stop sign and jokes, “No cop, no stop,” which makes Harry laugh.

Eventually, they start heading up a remarkably steep hill, Harry’s head pressed flat against the headrest.

“Jesus, are we going to the moon?”

“Close.”

They drive for another minute or two until they reach flat surface, the pavement turning to dirt, and that’s when Louis comes to a stop, turning off the car.

“‘kay, we can get out now.”

Harry doesn’t bother asking where they are or what they’re doing. He just climbs out after Louis, following him and mimicking his movements as he sits on the hood of the car, the metal of the car warm beneath his touch. He doesn’t look around him until he’s situated and once he does, the breath is nearly knocked out of him.

They’re overlooking all of Hartford, clearly at one of the most elevated spots in the city, and the way the lights are shining in the distance reminds Harry of tiny stars, burning brightly.

After a moment of silence, he nudges Louis with his elbow. “Your mum didn’t do this justice.”

“Of course she already told you about this place. What a fucking blabbermouth.”

Harry laughs. “This is, like, really spectacular. You can’t tell how big Hartford is until you’re looking at it like this.”

“To be fair, it still isn’t massive. It’s only about 125,000 people. Compare that to New York City.”

“Or to my home. Just over 5,000.”

Louis looks at him. “No wonder you’re so weird. You grew up in a village.”

He laughs again. “I don’t think that’s actually considered a village.”

“What is, then?”

He shrugs. “I dunno. But, I do know that there’s a town in Wyoming with a population of one.”

Louis snorts. “What other things do you know?”

“Hmm.” Harry absentmindedly scratches an itch on the back of his leg. “By law, a pregnant woman can pee anywhere she wants to in Britain. Including in a police officer’s helmet.”

“What the fuck. That sounds totally made up.”

“I know, huh.”

“That’s real?”

“Yup.”

They sit in silence again, both staring at the city. Harry closes his eyes and breathes in evenly and deeply. For the first time all day, he’s relaxed.

Louis gently pinches Harry’s knee. “Guess what.”

He opens one eye and hums. “What.”

“I got my first blow job up here.” He smirks. “Gave my first one here, too.”

Harry scoffs and makes a face. “Ugh. I feel dirty now.”

Louis laughs. “This was the place to go for that kind of shit, I guess. Everyone in high school came here.”

“Pun intended.”

He rolls his eyes. “Awful.”

He smiles. “So. Who were these poor, unfortunate souls? Either of them Corey?”

“Oh my God.” Louis tucks his left leg underneath his right thigh. “ No , it was with Jaclyn Briar when I was 16, and then, like, a year later, with Liam.”

Harry’s eyes feel like they’re going to pop out of his head. “Liam?! Do you sleep with all your friends?!”

“Oh, Jesus, not that Liam, fuck no. A different Liam.” He pinches Harry’s bicep. Hard. “And I’m not sleeping with you, now am I? Don’t be fucking rude.”

“Sorry.” He rubs his bicep, already starting to bruise. “Did you date either of them?”

He waggles his eyebrows. “Why, you jealous?”

“Yes,” he says flatly.

He snorts again. “I dated Jaclyn for a few months. Liam, no.”

Harry nods. “Have we ever talked about this? Past relationships?”

“Not that I recall. Want a record of my STD tests, too?”

“I’ll pass.”

Louis’ smirk turns into a yawn. “I’ve been in two long-term relationships. Rachel and I were together for almost two years, at the beginning of my junior year in high school into my freshman year of college. And then I dated James for a year and a half. We broke up, like, 11 months ago. Somewhere around there.”

“What happened, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Nah, I don’t mind.” He rolls his shoulders. “Rachel was still in high school when I went to college and it became apparent very quickly that it wasn’t going to work out. And then with James… I dunno. When the spark went away, the fighting came and never left. And then he moved to Boston and that was that.”

“You and James sound like me and my ex.”

Louis purses his lips together. “How long ago did that end?”

“Like, two years ago. We were together for three. Not a pretty ending. Guess that happens when you’re in love, and then suddenly, you aren’t. Everything is kind of downhill from there.”

“If I’m being honest, I don’t think I’ve ever been in love.”

Harry raises his brows in surprise. “Really?”

He hums. “Pretty much.”

“Even though you dated both of them for so long?”

Louis nods. “I thought I loved them, at the time. But then when we were in the process of breaking up, it occurred to me that it was too easy. And that’s not how a breakup should be if you’re really in love, you know? It shouldn’t be so simple to walk away and not look back.” He shrugs. “I cared about them. Still do. Just… It hasn’t happened for me yet, I guess, not the way it should be.” He looks at Harry. “What about you?”

Harry licks his lips. “Yeah, I loved him. A lot. Haven't for a while, though.”

He leaves it at that, and Louis doesn’t pry. Instead, they watch the lights in the distance flicker, the hooting of an owl in the woods behind them, and Harry feels remarkably better, the stress and tension from his earlier homework diminished. And later, when Louis drives them home and Harry climbs into bed, laptop finally turned off for the night, he tries not to think about what it means that his thoughts keep going to Louis, just Louis.


 

The first weekend in October, Harry invites a few people over from school, cracking open beers around the fire out in the backyard.

It’s not too late yet, probably only 8 o’clock, so Harry assumes Louis hasn’t come down from his room due to some last minute paperwork. But he must be fairly obvious, looking up at the attic light too frequently, because Riley nudges him.

“He’ll come down.”

Harry makes a face. “It would be rude if he didn’t. Liam and Niall are here and everything.”

Liam looks at him from across the fire. “Oh, thanks, only inviting us as a ploy to get Louis to come downstairs.”

He laughs. “Not true.”

“Whatever.” Liam takes a sip of his beer. “He won’t be hanging out tonight, anyway. He has a date. He’s waiting to be picked up.”

Harry freezes. “Wait, what?”

“Yeah. Some Guy from work.”

“What guy?!”

“I don’t know his last name.”

“I don’t care about his last name! What’s his first?!”

Liam looks at Niall, who looks down at his feet and laughs. “I already told you. His name is Guy. Guy from work.”

“He’s going on a date with someone named Guy ?!” He spits out the name like it’s venomous, and he knows he’s being a dick, but his name is Guy . “Louis can do better than that.

“Okay, to be fair,” Niall says, “you’d be saying that even if his date’s name was Matt.”

“Or Casey,” Liam chimes in.

“Or Eric.”

“Or Ben,” Kara says, laughing.

“Basically, any name other than Harry ,” Niall finishes.

Harry’s face heats up. “Okay, not true.” Even as he says it, he knows it’s a weak argument, and his palms are sweaty. Due to the fire in front of him, of course.

“Oh, but it is,” Evan says, laughter in his own voice.

He crosses his arms over his chest, ignoring him. “So when is Guy getting here.”

“Oh, for the love of God,” Liam says, rolling his eyes. “I wouldn’t have even mentioned it if I thought you’d be such a jealous dick about it.”

“I’m not jealous! Why would I be jealous!” His voice is abnormally high, much squeakier than he intended on it being, and both girls laugh at him.

“I don’t know, Harry,” Riley says, “why would you be?”

He furrows his brows. “Okay, I hate this game. New topic, please.”

“Sure.” Niall smirks. “So, do you think Louis will take Guy’s last name, or the other way around?”

“Aw, we can call them Gouis,” Kara says.

“Alright, that’s it.” Harry stands up and wipes his hands on his pants. “It’s been fun, guys, but I’m gonna head inside and drink some bleach. Does anyone want anything?”

“More beer, please,” Liam says, holding up his empty can. “Thanks, you’re a doll.”

 

Harry knows exactly where the rest of the beer is: behind the leftover Shepherd's pie from yesterday night, all the way in the back. All he has to do is move the Tupperware container over and he’d be able to see it. But Louis still hasn’t come downstairs so Harry has to play stupid.

He stands at the bottom of the stairs, tapping his left foot. “Hey, Lou?” he calls up.

No answer from Louis.

“Louis?” he tries again, louder this time.

He hears a door open. “What?”

“Can you come down for a minute? I can’t find the rest of the beer we bought the other day.”

“I’m a little busy, can you wait a few minutes?”

Yeah, probably. “No.”

Louis slams the door and makes his way down the stairs and oh God, Harry shouldn’t have asked him to come down. He shouldn’t have seen him all dressed up for a date with someone named Guy , looking absolutely perfect, nearly edible. He obviously put time into this outfit, worked on getting his hair to swoop to the left like that, and it was definitely worth it. Well, for Guy, anyway. He’s gorgeous, so, so lovely, and while that’s not new, it’s making Harry’s stomach turn that he isn’t the one that gets to tell him that. That part is new.

“Right this second, you need the drinks? Just look for it, you lazy dick.”

It now occurs to Harry that it’s Louis’ mind that he’s most obsessed with, funnily enough, and the realization hits him like a truck. He has zero shame whenever he asks Louis if he can watch him edit his work documents, just eager to study alongside him, glancing up every few minutes to see the way Louis is concentrated, sometimes saying things out loud and asking Harry which sounds better. He’s smart, obviously so, and he doesn’t need to prove it. His wit speaks volumes. Harry’s mum has always said, “If someone is funny, they have to be smart. No one stupid has ever made an entire room of people laugh intentionally.” And Christ, the room is always in hysterics as long as Louis is around. He’s something else, truly, and Harry hates how transparent he is over him, giving in for just about anything Louis wants. When did this happen?

This isn’t just a physical thing, no, and clearly, timing isn’t Harry’s strong suit.

He swallows. “You look nice.”

“Thanks.” Louis walks into the kitchen, not bothering to turn around behind him, pulling open the refrigerator door. “Harry, did you even look?! It’s right here.” He points to the back of the fridge.

“Huh.” Harry scratches his jaw. “Don’t know how I missed that. So, anywho, where’re you going?”

He stares at him blankly. “I’m going on a date,” he answers slowly.

“I can see that.”

“Then why did you ask.”

“Just confirming. Do you love him?”

Louis snorts. “Yeah, actually, we’re on our way to the chapel right now.”

“That’s not funny.”

“Am I not allowed to joke? Or date?”

“No, you are,” Harry says, furrowing his brows.

“Okay…”

“Okay.”

“Great chat.”

“Definitely.”

Louis purses his lips together. “Can I go back upstairs now.”

Harry moves aside. “Be my guest.”

“Awesome.” He starts to make his way back up the stairs, but Harry is still within earshot when Louis mumbles under his breath, “You fucking weirdo.”

He stands there with his back pressed up against the fridge, holding a six-pack of beer he doesn’t even want to drink, the metal cold against the back of his neck. From out of the corner of his eye, he sees Phoebe and Fizzy in the living room, both staring, both snickering.

“What,” he says, making a face.

Fizzy rolls her eyes. “Smooth. Real smooth.”

 

Until tonight, it honestly hadn’t occurred to him that his attraction to Louis had most definitely morphed into something beyond just an attraction. It now goes more than simply admiring the way he looks in skinny jeans, or how he looks sleepy and soft first thing in the morning, begging for a cup of coffee. It’s not even just the way he tells jokes or how he is with his sisters or how he listens to each and every one of Harry’s stories, even the terrible ones with no punchline. It’s all of it, wrapped into one beautiful, 5’9” package, loud and crazy and always in Harry’s face. He can’t convince himself otherwise at this point, and if it’s obvious to everyone around him, Louis must know, too.

Right?

He’s still trying to get the image of Louis climbing into Guy’s car out of his head when Niall says, “He’s oblivious.”

“Huh?”

“He has yet to notice you follow him around like a lost puppy.”

“That’s… Rude.”

“No, it’s true. It’s not a bad thing. Really. It’s nice that you guys are so close. Not everyone becomes this close in a study abroad situation. Especially not this quickly. You guys lucked out.”

Harry stares at the end of the driveway, looking for headlights. Nothing. “He’s just. Good. He’s so good.”

Niall smirks. “He’s alright.”

“I’ve got it under control.”

He snorts. “Seems like it.”

“Whatever. Can you pass me another beer?”

“You’ve been complaining about the quality of this beer since we sat down--”

“Niall! Beer! Please !”

Niall laughs and hands him the can. “Being you must be so tiring.”

He takes a long sip of his drink instead of answering. It’s absolutely disgusting.

 

Later that night, Harry sneaks into Louis’ bedroom around one in the morning, stomach clenching when he sees he’s still not back yet, and hastily writes on a sticky note: You missed curfew. He attaches it to the outside of Louis’ door, so it’s the first thing he’ll see when he gets home, and as Harry tiptoes back downstairs, he realizes just how not in control of this he really is.


 

The next morning, he wakes up with Louis in his bed.

He’s afraid to move, beyond confused as to why Louis is sound asleep, blanket pulled up to his chin, breathing in evenly and deeply. He knows nothing happened, but on the off chance he actually slept with Louis after he went on a date with someone else and crawled into Harry’s bed and somehow doesn’t remember it… He reaches down and checks to make sure he’s still wearing his pants.

He isn’t.

He momentarily panics, sitting upright in bed, movements jerky and frantic, and then he remembers he didn’t even go to bed with pants on. He lets his head fall back against the headboard. Hard.

“Jesus, get it together, Styles,” he murmurs under his breath, quiet enough to not wake up Louis.

Harry grabs his phone and checks his email, scrolling mindlessly and pretending that he isn’t actually looking down at the boy next to him every two or three seconds. He skips over several spam messages, a few containing some 10% off coupons, one from his mum, and then one from his advisor Tracey, sent just 14 minutes prior.

He skims over it quickly, vaguely remembering from the initial document back in July that he would be receiving this email around this time. He frowns, not knowing how to answer it.

He leans over and grips Louis’ shoulder. “Hey, Lou.”

Louis groans. “Why are you touching me.”

“I think the better question is why are you in my bed.”

“Was too drunk and your room was closer and you’re warm.” He groans again. “It’s too early, go away.”

“I’m not leaving my own bedroom.”

He blinks his right eye open. “Ugh. I need coffee.”

“Me, too.” Harry swallows, clicking his phone’s lock screen on and off three times before he asks. “So, how did the date go?”

“Obviously not well if I got wasted and then climbed into your bed.”

“How’d you end up getting so drunk?”

“Oh, you misunderstood me.” Louis sits up all the way, pushing his hair out of his face. “I drank that much intentionally. To deal with Guy.”

Harry snorts. “Still can’t believe you went on a date with someone named Guy.”

“Not his fault his parents have extremely poor taste.”

“I guess not. So, like, what was wrong with him?”

Louis shrugs. “I dunno. He’s new at work and I didn’t know much about him. We definitely didn’t vibe. And then it was horribly awkward and poor Guy kept trying to make it better by telling stories about things he thought I would find interesting. But, like, why would I ever find a story about his cat dying to be interesting. Fuck no.”

He laughs. “Is that when the drinking started?”

“Yeah, started and never stopped, and before I knew it, it was, like, 1:30 on the morning. I hardly remember him dropping me off at the door. All I remember is thinking ‘I need to get to Harry’s bed right now. Attic is too far.’”

Harry nods, trying not to read too much into any of that. “Makes sense. So. Not a soulmate?”

“Nope, just made for a super awkward situation for work instead.” Louis kicks the blankets off, stretching. “Okay, I need food. And coffee. And new clothes. These are yours and they’re huge. Picked up the first things I found on the floor and threw them on.”

Jesus, how did Harry not notice that before? Louis is positively being swallowed by them, the sweatshirt hanging off of him, making him look even smaller than usual. Oh, God, he looks so, so good. “Yeah, I, uh, I see that.”

“So self aware, you are.”

“Shut up.”

Louis laughs. “Okay, seriously. Up. I want waffles, I think. Maybe an egg sandwich.”

“Are you gonna make it?”

“Oh, sweetheart, you must be new here.” Harry rolls his eyes, can’t stop smiling, though, and Louis pushes his finger into his dimple. “Let’s go.”

His smile grows. “Okay, let me just answer this email and I’ll meet you upstairs.”

Louis climbs out of bed and pushes up his sweatshirt sleeves, making them bunch up and look impossibly tinier. “‘kay. I’ll get started.”

“By opening the fridge and doing nothing else?”

He smirks over his shoulder as he heads out the door. “Exactly. My boy knows me so well.”

Harry watches Louis walk out the door before he looks down at his phone, and he replies to Tracey’s email as quickly as his thumbs will allow him to:

Hi Tracey,
Thanks for checking in and offering me the vacant apartment on campus - I really appreciate it. But I think I’d prefer to stay with the Deakin-Tomlinson family. I’m quite happy here.

Best,
Harry


 

“Okay, but really, don’t be a fucking wimp, Harry.”

Harry frowns. “Yeah, that’s a great way to get me to do something.”

They’re hanging out in the kitchen, Harry leaning against the fridge, arms crossed. Louis is sitting on the counter, eating leftover mac and cheese from the night before with a cup of coffee, which made Harry make a face and pretend to gag over the sink when Louis first suggested it.

Louis drums his fingers along the countertop impatiently, setting his fork down. “It’s a haunted house, Harry. It’s not a big deal. Everyone is going. Including Daisy and Phoebe. You don’t have to be afraid, you giant baby.”

“I’m not afraid. I just… Don’t wanna go.”

“Compelling argument but. I don’t believe you.”

“I have papers to write.”

“Weak excuse.”

“And an exam to study for.”

Louis shoves another bite of mac and cheese into his mouth and boo’s him, giving Harry a thumbs down, a piece of pasta falling out of his mouth.

Harry makes a face. “Charming. But really. I’m not going.”

“Harry. Darling.” Louis hops off the counter and stands in front of him, putting his hands on Harry’s chest. “I’ve been going to this haunted house since I was, like, seven. It’s not a big deal. You can do your homework when you get home. We’ll meet up with Niall and Liam and about a thousand other people. It’ll be fun. We can drink after. There’s a bar right down the road.” His hands are warm against Harry’s chest, and Harry feels himself leaning into it. “If you really aren’t afraid, then you have no reason to say no.” He looks up through his lashes, smirking, because he knows he’s winning, that he’s wearing Harry down.

He sighs. “It’s just not my scene. Sorry, Lou.”

“Okay. I’ll try this one more time. Tomorrow night, you are coming with us to this fucking haunted house whether you like it or not. Grow a pair, and be ready to leave at eight.”

Harry pushes Louis off of him, trying to ignore the way Louis’ looking at him. “I’m not going. And that’s final. Don’t ask again.”

 

The next night, he climbs out of the car alongside Louis and Niall, boots crunching in the red and orange leaves. He can hear people screaming in the distance, the sky already blackened and dotted with stars, and he shakes his head, wondering how he ended up here.

He follows Louis to the entrance, and Louis pulls out his wallet, winking over his shoulder. “Don’t worry, babe, this one’s on me. My treat. Just follow along.”

Harry sighs, pouting; he knew from the beginning that he would follow.

He never really had a chance.

 

The crowds are thick - no surprise, seeing as it’s just two weeks before Halloween - and Harry keeps his eyes peeled for people dressed in costume. It’s not that he’s scared , per se; he just has a thing against clowns, which is something he most definitely cannot reveal to Louis, unless he wants to be teased and abused for the rest of his time living under Louis’ roof. He carefully steps around a group of girls taking a photo with someone in heavy face makeup, quickening his pace so he’s walking in step with Louis.

“So, how long does it take to get through this house of hell?”

Louis laughs. “Not long. You can relax. Just enjoy.”

“Oh, yeah, this is the definition of enjoyment. Walking through a house of darkness whilst strangers covered in fake blood scream at you. Goody.”

He punches Harry on the arm. “Loosen up and don’t be such a wet blanket. Halloween is fucking awesome and you’re being awful.”

“I’m normal .”

Louis snorts. “Whatever you say.”

Their group walks towards the line heading into the haunted house, and Harry does his best to remain stoic, to pretend he’s not affected at all by the way the lights are flashing through the windows, the way he can hear the sound effects of chains rattling and children screaming, the way Louis looks in his fucking navy blue vest with Harry’s UConn sweatshirt underneath. His hands are stuffed way inside the sleeves, keeping his hands warm, making him look even smaller than usual, and Harry has to keep his fists clenched to prevent himself from reaching out and doing something that would most definitely not be a platonic friendship move. Instead, he looks down at his feet, thinking about the pile of homework he has at home, thinking about the email to his mum he needs to finish writing, thinking about the movie he started on his laptop in bed the night before, thinking about the way Louis had climbed in with him and kept their legs pressed together the entire time, thinking about Louis, thinking about Louis.

Harry shakes his head, blinking heavily, focusing on the task at hand, instead. They’re next in line, Louis is nudging him along, and he hands over his ticket to a woman with a much too realistic knife in her head.

“You ready?” Louis asks, raising his brows up and down.

“Born ready,” Harry replies, voice deep and steady, and Louis laughs.

“Glad you feel that way. I need someone to hold my hand if I get scared,” he says all too seriously, face seconds away from breaking out into huge grin.

He sucks his cheeks in. “Ask Evan.”

“I’d rather swallow razor blades,” Evan answers from up ahead.

They start to make their way into the dark entrance, Harry shuffling along with the group, and the door shutting loudly behind them, a voice cackling within the blackness.

Harry clears his throat, stuffing his hands into his jacket pockets. “Yup, I already fucking hate this.”

Louis snorts. “We should have gone to the bar before we did this. For your benefit.”

“That would have been ideal.”

“Hindsight.”

“Yeah, useless suggestion now.”

“Shh, keep walking.”

The first room is filled with bloody tools - a makeshift torture chamber of sorts - and Harry steps carefully and slowly across the black and white tiles, swallowing heavily when a chainsaw starts up from behind a wall. There’s a coin in his pocket, and he grips it tightly, embarrassed that he’s 21 and seriously contemplating faking a stroke just to get out of here. As long as there are no clowns, it should be smooth sailing.

Naturally, as soon as that thought crosses his mind, they walk into the next room together, which is circus themed, filled with yellow and red patterns, slowed down amusement park music playing loudly. It’s persistent, ringing in Harry’s ears, and he closes his eyes briefly, as if that’ll stop the music. That turns out to be a grave mistake, though, for when he opens his eyes, there’s a clown, demonic and smiling wildly, standing directly in front of Harry’s face. He screams, stumbling backward, the alternative to punching this piece of shit in the face like he’d like to, and he quickly makes his way around it, barreling forward, nearly knocking down Niall and his girlfriend in the process.

Of course, Louis is laughing hysterically behind him, nearly screaming, “Did you see Harry’s face?! Did you?!”

Harry whips around, hissing, “Shut up .”

“Oh my God , you were so fucking freaked out!” Louis shrieks, still laughing. “You poor, pathetic thing!”

“Leave me alone.”

“Aww.” He grabs Harry’s hand, squeezing. “You were born ready, right?”

And he knows Louis is teasing, is being the typical pain in the arse he always is, but he doesn’t drop Louis’ hand from his own. Instead, he squeezes back just as hard, reassuring Louis, reassuring himself. “Born ready. Right.”

The rest of the haunted house is just as nauseating as the first few rooms - potentially worse, somehow - but he’s given up on pretending like he doesn’t want to crawl under a rock and die. Instead, he grips Louis’ hand, and if he plays up his fear even more than necessary so Louis will continue to tease him, continue to keep their hands locked together, then no one has to know.

 

It takes their group 40 minutes to make their way through the entire haunted house from start to finish, Louis letting go of Harry’s hand in the last room, and by the time they emerge, his palms are sweating and his throat is dry. He needs a few moments for his eyes to readjust to the lighting outside, and he blinks several times, nearly tripping over his own feet. Louis comes up behind him and slaps him on the back, jolting him and making him cough.

“You did good,” Louis says, smiling.

Harry nods. “Yeah, thanks.”

“My big, strong man,” he jokes, squeezing Harry’s muscles.

He looks at Louis, focused on the pinkness in his cheeks, the blueness of his eyes, the laughter written all across his face. “Yeah,” he says, “that’s me.”

 

Harry hates this shit haunted house, God, does he, but Louis is still touching him and he’s still laughing and fuck, he doesn’t hate Louis. Not even in the slightest.


 

“So, remind me again why we’re looking for a couple’s Halloween costume?”

The store is absolutely packed , everyone in the state of Connecticut at this one store, probably, desperately searching for something that isn’t a total wash just five days before the holiday.

Louis sighs, still rifling through a bin of costumes, sorted extremely poorly. “Because.”

“Wow. That’s helpful.” Harry goes back to searching through another rack of tacky costumes, each one seemingly worse than the previous.

“I aim to please.” He holds up a set of ketchup and mustard costumes, immediately making a face and tossing them back into the bin. “None of these are good enough. Wait.” He digs through the pile and eagerly holds up a set of clown costumes. “Yeah?”

“Piss off.”

Louis laughs. “Firm no, got it.”

“Okay, but good enough for what?”

“For us.

Harry bites down on his bottom lip, tapping his foot against the ground. “I can’t help, you know, if you don’t elaborate. Why does it need to be a couple’s costume?”

Louis sighs again, much louder this time, and Harry can tell he’s only half annoyed. “Because.”

“Oh, for the love of God.”

“It’ll be fun.”

Harry pauses, raising a brow. “And…”

“Ugh.” Louis puts his hands on his hips. “ And because I want to win. You know how competitive I am.”

Ohh , there’s contest. That makes much more sense. Yeah, I’ve seen you play Pictionary before. Not your finest moment.” He holds up a pirate and a bird costume, to which Louis purses his lips before shaking his head, vetoing it. “What’s the contest?”

Louis looks at him like he’s a completely moron. “Best couple’s costume, obviously…”

“Right, but is there any criteria?”

“Yeah, you have to be a couple.”

Harry swallows. “Which you are not.”

No, I’m not, but thanks for reminding me.” He looks up at Harry through his hair and smiles softly. “But I know you’ll do it with me, regardless.”

The face he’s making is downright pitiful, and Harry isn’t dumb. He knows Louis is doing it on purpose, playing him like a fiddle. But fuck, if Louis isn’t right, the son of a bitch. Harry never really had a shot at saying no, anyway, not to anything.

“Fine. Let’s win you a contest.”

Louis pumps his fist in the air. “ Yes! Okay. You’re my favorite and I could kiss you.” He doesn’t, but his frantic searching in the mess of costumes resumes. “We need to look amazing. This might work.” He holds up a monkey and a yellow hat. “Get it? It’s Curious George!”

Harry snorts. “You’d have to be the monkey.”

“I don’t think so.” He makes that same pathetic face from before.

He laughs, can’t help himself. “And how on Earth do you think you’re going to be able to convince me to wear a monkey costume?”

“I forgot to mention the couple takes home $500.” He pauses and smirks. “Each.”

“Shut up.”

“Perfect spring break money.”

He doesn't hesitate before he says, “I’ll meet you at the register.”

 

They don’t end up taking home George and the man in the yellow hat; Louis decided at last minute that it wasn’t worth of the $1,000 grand prize, courtesy of a grungy bar just outside of downtown Hartford. They left the costume store empty handed and he spent the rest of the afternoon, brainstorming and making lists, grumbling and frowning through his glasses lenses.

It’s about nine o’clock when he slams his hand down on the kitchen table, making Harry jump. “None of this is fucking good enough! We have to win!”

Harry stifles a laugh. “What kind of costumes have people worn in the past?”

“I don’t know! I can’t think!” He runs his hands through his hair. “Usually something handmade. Not anything run of the mill.”

“Okay. We can figure that out.” He sits down next to Louis at the table, moving his chair in closer. “What have you found so far?”

“Shit. Everything is shit.”

“Such a positive outlook you always have.”

“Get out of my face.”

He smiles, moving even closer. “Don’t you have any real life problems? Like, you still have a job, right?”

“No, this is my job now.”

“Okay, well, not everyone has the time to sit and obsess over a Halloween costume for an entire week, so I’m gonna head downstairs and study for my exam. You think you’ll be okay up here?”

Louis puts his head down on the table. “Yeah, I’m good, just leave me here to wither away.”

Harry pats him on the head. “I’m glad you still have your sense of reality intact.” He gets up out of his chair and starts to make his descent downstairs, but Louis’ muffled voice makes him pause.

“And you’d better act like a fucking couple with me, Styles. Everyone always wants the cute couple to win, and let’s be real here. I’m adorable. And you’re alright. So put on your game face.”

He swallows, jamming his hands into his pockets. “Yeah, I think I can probably work with that.”

 

Harry wakes up the next morning with a sticky note on his laptop: Star piñata and a birthday boy. Gear up. - L

He sighs. There will be no protesting, and he doesn’t even have to ask which costume he’ll be wearing.


 

The night before Halloween around one in the morning, Louis is sitting on the living room floor, hunched over, gluing and sewing. He’s cursing every so often, and when he burns his finger on the hot glue gun for the third time, he throws it down on the ground.

“I’m not fucking doing this anymore. It’s not worth $1,000.”

Harry rolls his eyes from his position on the couch. “I offered to help but…”

“But your fingers are too big and you can’t sew and you’re essentially useless in this scenario so please stop talking.”

“You’re so cute when you’re stressed.”

Louis glares at him. “I suggest you take a walk.”

He smiles and slides off the couch and onto the floor beside Louis. “Lou.”

“What.”

He scrunches up his face and shakes his head. “Actually, never mind.”

“Tell me or this sewing needle is going right into your cornea.”

“Jesus.” He places his hand on Louis’ thigh, and Louis bats it away immediately. “Maybe you should have been the piñata.”

Louis looks like he wants to drown him. “Excuse me?”

“I mean, like, you’re smaller, so you wouldn’t have had to do so much sewing if you were the one wearing the costume. There’d be less material to work with…” He waves his hand around, treading lightly. “And I’m going to be the biggest piñata that ever lived. It might look odd.”

His voice is way too calm when he responds and that somehow ends up being worse than the alternative. “Harry. Dear. Look at me.”

Harry looks up slowly, one eye closed. “Hi.”

“Don’t play cute. I need you to do something for me.”

“Okay…”

“I need you to go into the garage. There’s a prop for the costume down there that I want to test out early.”

“What prop?”

“The wooden stick. The one the kid swings around to split open the piñata. Go get it, and I’m going to beat you to death with it.”

Harry bursts out laughing. “Okay, I’m not gonna do that, but I will make you some tea.”

“Keep your stupid tea.”

“Coffee?”

Louis sighs, giving in. “Yes, please.”

Harry brews a pot, tiptoeing through the kitchen as to not wake the rest of the family, and he passes a mug to Louis, who inhales deeply and takes a tentative sip.

“Good?” he asks.

Louis nods. “Very good.”

They go through the entire pot, Louis begging for a second to keep himself awake to finish gluing “the Devil’s costume,” and Harry has to agree that staying up until five in the morning to put together a Goddamn Halloween costume is not worth the $1,000.

Staying up with Louis until five in the morning, though, just might be.


 

Halloween is thankfully on a Saturday this year, which means Harry doesn’t feel guilty about the repercussions of attempting to drink his liver to death, slowly and painfully. It also means that he has the entire day to let Lottie and Fizzy apply and reapply makeup to his face, trying to figure out which look is the most “piñata-y.”

They’ve been at it for nearly three hours, Harry’s back cramping and face dry from all the caked on makeup, when Jay appears in the bathroom door, smile plastered to her face.

“Wow, what a good sport you are. Dressing like a rainbow star for my son and letting my daughters play dress up.”

He snorts, trying not to move as Lottie dabs a sponge of red paint under his eyes. “Rainbow star. Don’t tell Lou that. He’ll make it a permanent nickname.”

Fizzy steps back with her hands on her hips. “Stop talking. The glitter is going to fall off.”

“Wait, why the hell do I have glitter on my face? I’m a piñata, not a unicorn.”

She shrugs. “Well, now you’re both.”

“Louis might kill you.”

Lottie sprinkles some more glitter onto his cheeks. “I’d like to see him try.”

 

The girls finish up his makeup less than an hour later, and he’s thoroughly impressed once he gets a peek of it in the mirror. There isn’t as much glitter as he’d expected - just a bit around his eyes - and the rest of his face is painted in colors that coordinate with his costume.

The costume, on the other hand.

Harry is standing in front of the full length mirror in the bathroom upstairs, silently cursing himself for being so easy for a certain someone, outwardly cursing Louis for being that certain someone.

“I wouldn’t do this for anyone else, you know,” he grumbles. He readjusts the party hat on top of his head, which is connected to two other party hats covering his ears on either side to give him the appearance of a star.

“I know, and you’re going to be thanking me when we come home with $500 each, But for the love of God, stop touching the top. It’s not made to withstand your giant mitts.”

Harry rolls his eyes. “See, this is why you should have been the piñata. You have too many rules.”

“They aren’t rules,” he scoffs. “It’s common sense. The more you touch a sweatsuit covered in streamers cut up to look like a star you hit with a stick, the more it’s going deteriorate.”

He looks back at the mirror, expression blank. “Can’t believe I’m actually in a sweatsuit covered in streamers cut up to look like a star you hit with a stick.”

“Okay, you stand there and continue to look pretty and I’m gonna go put my costume on. I’ll meet you downstairs in ten.”

“Your costume hardly even counts. You’re literally just putting on shorts and a Polo and calling it a day.”

Louis’ already out the door, heading upstairs to his room. “Sorry, can’t hear you,” he calls over his shoulder. “Happy Halloweiner!”

 

To be fair, Louis does a little more than change his shirt and pants. He also adds knee high socks, as well as a propeller beanie, and shaves his face completely, leaving his skin smooth and soft. And yes, he brings the piñata beating stick.

Still. It’s not as bad as being trapped inside a pretend piñata for the next several hours.

Jay insists on taking a picture of the two of them, calling them the “cutest couple she’s ever seen,” and Harry has to actively force himself not to comment on it, especially when Louis responds with, “Yeah? Can you imagine?”

The Uber ride to the bar is uncomfortable, to say the least. Harry’s afraid of tearing his costume before they even make it through the doors, and the paper keeps crinkling against the leather seats, Louis wincing every time he hears it.

“I hope to God they judge you at the beginning of the night,” he says with a groan. “Otherwise, we’re fucked.”

“I’ll be careful! Jesus!” he says, eyes going wide as a piece of yellow tissue paper glued around his ankle tears off.

Louis spins around so quickly, Harry’s surprised he doesn’t have whiplash. “What did I tell you?! Don’t move!” Harry shifts restlessly, another piece tearing, this time on his thigh, and Louis groans loudly. “You’re the worst pretend boyfriend I’ve ever had.”

This is going to take years off his life, he can tell already.

 

Unfortunately, the judging takes place at the end of the night, right before midnight, and it’s just shy of 10 o’clock now. Harry looks over at Louis, who appears to be fighting a stroke.

“Hey.” Harry grabs Louis’ elbow. “It’s gonna be fun, whether we win or lose.”

“I want to win.

“It’s going to be fun ,” he says, more firmly this time.

“But. Spring break money.”

“You're not even in uni anymore. You're not allowed to go on spring break.”

“Fine, if I can't go, you can't either. You're not even really a citizen.”

“Try and stop me.”

He opens his mouth to retaliate just as a woman in a flamingo costume appears in front of them. “ This ,” she says, pointing to their ensemble, “is a fantastic idea.”

Louis nearly melts into a puddle on the floor, and Harry’s face splits into a grin. “Thank you!” Louis exclaims. “Sorry my piñata is so freakishly big.”

She laughs. “More room to fill candy with.”

“Oh, he’s full of something, alright.”

Harry nudges him. “Baby, you don’t want our first fight to be in public, do you?”

Louis’ face turns pink. “Excuse me?”

The flamingo from before claps her hands together. “Aw, you’re a new couple?!”

He grabs Louis’ hip and pulls him close to him. “Been dating a little over a month, now. Very new. But very much in love.”

Louis can’t hide his gagging noises. “Oh my God.”

The girl smiles. “Wait, really? Only a month? Your chemistry is great. Were you friends first?”

Harry takes a deep breath; that isn’t part of the act. “The best of friends.”

“My favorite kind of story! Match made in heaven!”

“Match made in heaven,” he repeats, his voice sounding foreign to his own ears.

Louis looks up at him from under his dumb hat and smirks, finally playing along. “Fate,” he replies simply, gaze locked with Harry’s.

And if getting blackout drunk wasn’t on the agenda already, it is now.

 

They enter their names with the woman at the front of the bar, who writes down Tomlinson/Styles and their costume type onto her clipboard. She tells them how creative they are, and that they look fantastic.

Louis smiles much too sweetly. “Creative enough to win?”

She laughs. “That’s up to the crowd for a vote.”

The atmosphere inside the bar is about what Harry had anticipated: nearly 200 people in this tiny space, all decked out in ridiculous costumes, everyone laughing, drinks in hand. No one is drunk enough yet to be a complete nuisance, although Harry expects the crowd to become much rowdier within the next hour or so. Himself included.

After they buy their drinks, they join two other couples at a table near the exit, the only spot they can find. The first couple, appearing to be around Harry and Louis’ age, is dressed as a farmer and a chicken, and the second, probably a little bit older, as the red and yellow M&M’s. Louis touches the chicken’s feathers, quickly dropping his hand when the man turns, glaring at Harry.

“Don’t ruffle my feathers, dude.”

Harry laughs. “Wasn’t me. It was my boyfriend.” He points to Louis and Louis bats his eyelashes.

The chicken stares at them for a minute, then breaks out into a grin. “Sweet costumes.”

“Hey, thanks. So, how’d you end up being the chicken?”

He rolls his eyes. “I told my girlfriend I wanted to be a farmer and she could be my chicken. You know, because she’s my chick.”

The farmer turns around. “And I told him to fuck off and that I’m not his pet.”

Mr. Chicken flaps his wings around. “I guess I’m offensive, or something like that.”

“Do you want to argue about this again?”

He sighs. “I’m in the costume as an apology, don’t make me do anything else.”

Louis snorts and looks up at Harry. “Aw, babe, we’re not the only dysfunctional couple here.”

Harry squeezes Louis’ shoulder, dragging his thumb across the bare skin of his collarbones. “Who are you calling dysfunctional? We’re perfect.

It’s too early for Louis to be feeling the affects of his drinks, probably, but he blinks slowly, anyway, like the tequila is already taking its toll. “Perfect team, you and me,” he says, taking another long sip of his drink. “Best friends.”

Harry swallows. “Baby.” He grips Louis’ shoulder tighter and Louis smirks.

The farmer aww ’s and then punches her own boyfriend on the arm. “Why can’t you be nice to me like that?”

Maybe they actually like each other,” he spits out in response, and the face she makes is downright scary.

Louis makes eyes at Harry that says, Let’s get the hell away from these people and nods to his right, suggesting they move elsewhere. Harry nods back, squinting into the crowd, wondering where they can possibly relocate to. It’s packed, a complete and utter madhouse, costumes and hollering in every direction.

They start to make their way through the crowd, Louis leading, and he reaches back to grab Harry’s wrist so they don’t separate. The tissue paper from the costume starts to tear off, though, and Harry frowns.

“Lou,” he says. “It’s ripping.”

Louis looks back and sighs. “We’re never doing this again.” He lets go of Harry’s wrist and instead, slides his hand into Harry’s, linking their fingers together. “Don’t let go.”

“I won’t,” he promises.

They find a slightly vacant spot along the bartop, squeezing in together, and even though it’s a tight fit and they’re nearly pressed up against one another, Harry still doesn’t let go of Louis’ hand, and Louis doesn’t ask him to.

 

By the time midnight rolls around, Harry is properly drunk, the room spinning and his limbs heavy. He keeps leaning on Louis and other patrons for support, afraid he might actually topple over if he isn’t careful enough, and he needs the judging to begin, for his own sanity. He’s impossibly sweaty, the costume seeming to contain every bit of heat radiating off of him, and every time someone rubs up against him, the tissue paper and party streamers ripping off, he swears Louis all but convulses.

Finally, finally, their names are called up to the front of the room, and they make their way over, Louis linking their hands together once more. They climb up onto the small platform, crowd clapping and hooting once they get a good look at their costume, a few laughing.

Louis turns to the announcer. “I’m Louis, I’m 22, and I’m the birthday boy.” He gestures towards Harry. “This is my piñata. Feel free to beat him.”

Harry links his pinky finger with Louis’. “No, only you’re allowed to beat me.” The second the sentence is out of his mouth, he hears it, and he has to close his eyes, his face burning, everyone around them bursting into laughter.

Louis groans. “Sorry, everyone, my boyfriend is stupid.”

He opens his eyes again. “Stupid over you.”

“I have never been less attracted to you than I am right now.”

Harry laughs but pulls Louis closer to him. “How attracted to me are you usually?”

“Oh my God.” He flicks Harry across the forehead. “You’re so annoying.”

“That’s not an answer.” He rubs the spot on his forehead the best he can without smearing all the facepaint. “Answer me.”

“No, I hate your dumb face.”

“Boys,” the announcer interrupts, “focus on the task at hand, please.”

Louis clears his throat. “Right, sorry.” He takes a step back. “Okay, who wouldn’t want to vote for a boy and his piñata?!”

A dozen people in the crowd cheer, and by the sounds of it, they might be one of the front runners. Harry smiles and if Louis yells at him for this later, he’ll blame it on the alcohol. “My boy promised that if I wore this awful costume and we won, he’d beat me after, if you know what I’m saying.”

The majority of the crowd laughs at that, and fortunately, Louis does, too. He also punches him directly in the stomach, but that’s neither here nor there.

 

A half hour later, Harry and Louis, along with nearly 30 other couples, are lined up in front of the entire bar, everyone chanting out different names and costumes. It’s nearly two in the morning; Harry’s feet are killing him and the alcohol has started to work its way out of his system, making him more tired than anything. He just wants to go home and sleep for the next four or five days.

It’s evident, clearly, that he’s losing it, losing focus, because Louis nudges him gently. “Hey. Eyes on the prize, Styles.” He cocks his head to one side, staring dopily; he’s sweaty and his cheeks are pink and oh no, Harry has to touch him.

He absolutely can’t help it. He reaches out to touch Louis’ jaw line, tracing over it with his pointer finger without much thought, and Louis freezes completely. Harry can’t rip his gaze away. “My eyes are on the prize.”

Louis lets out a weak laugh. “How much did you even drink?”

“I dunno.” He drops his hand down to Louis’ collarbone, dragging his finger along the ridges. “Enough.”

“Yeah, I’ll say.” He doesn’t say anything other than that, just lets Harry touch him, stare at him.

Harry’s about 90% positive the entire room doesn’t actually grow silent, but in his mind, he can’t hear anything other than the pounding inside his own ears. He tries to focus on what the mediator is saying, what’s being announced, but can’t for the life of him, not when Louis is in front of him, slight smirk appearing and disappearing every time Harry moves his finger, skin on skin.

Louis comes to his senses first. “Harry. They’re announcing the winners.”

He clears his throat and drops his hand.  “Oh. Right.”

The announcer is much too peppy for this late at night - or early in the morning, at this point. She cheers into her microphone. “Okay! Who’s ready to hear who won the grand prize of $1,000?!”

The patrons of the bar clap and cheer; Harry needs to lay down.

“Coming in third place… Bacon and eggs!”

The couple steps up to claim their $100 prize, Eggs picking up Bacon and kissing her on the lips, everyone in the crowd clapping.

“Second place goes to Blue and Steve, for $250!”

Louis laughs under his breath. “That’s actually a good one. I always loved Blue’s Clues .” Harry waggles his brows and takes a deep breath but Louis puts his hand over his mouth. “Don’t sing the theme song.”

He laughs, bested. “Isn’t Steve in jail now, or something, though?”

He hums. “I think that was just a rumor.”

“Can you look it up?”

“Do you really want me to look that up right now ?”

Harry shrugs. “I mean, I guess it can wait.”

The announcer looks down at the sheet of paper on her clipboard and smiles. “And the winner of the grand prize, $1,000.” She pauses, her smile growing wider. “The birthday boy and his piñata!”

Harry bursts out laughing, Louis’ eyes wide and face frozen. “Louis, how the fuck did we actually win?!”

Louis still isn’t moving, just shaking his head back and forth. “Seriously, how did we win. How.

The guy behind them in the princess dress, tiara and all, leans forward. “Crowd vote, remember? I’m not sure it was the costume as much as it was you two as a couple.”

Louis frowns. “That’s both wildly discouraging but also a nice compliment, so thank you, and bite me, that costume took a long time to make.”

He laughs. “You’re welcome. Go up there and get your prize before someone steals it.”

“Over my dead body.” Louis grabs Harry’s hand and drags him up to the front, putting their clasped hands in the air, as if they’ve just won an Olympic medal. The clapping intensifies and Harry can’t believe how ridiculous this entire thing is. But then he sees the check for $1,000 out of the corner of his eye and he’s suddenly very, very okay with this whole ordeal.

He grips Louis’ elbow, pulling him in close. “Hey, baby,” he murmurs, “good job on our costumes. We’re going on spring break.”

Louis laughs, eyes crinkly and hair matted to his forehead underneath his hat. “We are. And you can stop calling me baby now.”

He shakes his head. “Nah, I think it suits you.” Louis rolls his eyes but he’s still smiling and Harry considers that an additional win.

The announcer pats Louis on the back. “Did I hear you say spring break?”

He nods. “Take my boy somewhere nice.”

“Aw,” Harry croons, “I can’t wait.”

One of the patrons calls out, “Where you going?!” and another hollers, “Hey, piñata man, kiss him! Celebrate!”

Louis laughs. “Piñata man. Nice.”

Harry goes to respond, but then the entire front row starts chanting, “kiss, kiss, kiss ,” and he realizes he’s been staring at Louis’ lips for a solid 15 seconds. Maybe longer.

He meets Louis’ gaze, ready to make a joke about it, but Louis gives him a look that Harry has never seen before, and shrugs. “Gotta give the people what they want, Styles.”

Harry doesn’t give it more thought than that, doesn’t bother to question it, before he steps forward and cups Louis’ jaw in his hands, pulling him and kissing him fiercely, the way he’s been thinking about all night - weeks, even - kissing him the way he's wanted to for so, so long.

He works his mouth against Louis’ in a way that’s much too obscene and indecent to be something they’re sharing in public, even though the majority of the people watching are beyond drunk and just about every single one of them is cheering them on, but Christ, he couldn’t stop even if he wanted to. Louis keeps pressing himself in closer, chests pressed together, his fingers digging into Harry’s biceps; Harry swipes his tongue into Louis’ mouth, not caring if Louis didn’t want it to go this far, but he’s in too deep and needs to taste him. And then Louis fucking whines, inhaling sharply, and Harry is positively done for.

It goes on too long, Harry knows, but the way Louis feels underneath his fingertips is too much to give up. Instead of breaking the kiss completely, he slows it down, lips barely brushing together, breath hot and mingling, and Louis whimpers again, biting at Harry’s bottom lip.

When he finally forces himself to pull back, he smirks at the way his face makeup is now smudged across the entire bottom half of Louis’ face, and the way his lips are swollen and shiny. Fuck, it’s hot, it’s so, so hot, smeared glitter and all.

Louis looks down at the floor, rubbing his jaw with his right hand, and when he looks up, his eyelids are hooded and his chest is heaving. “Jesus, Styles,” he pants, “do you do anything half assed?”

Harry’s not even embarrassed about it, he can't be. He assumes he looks a right mess, too, and truly doesn’t care. “No, I don’t. Why else do you think I’m in a Goddamn piñata costume?”

 

The bar finally starts to clear out, last call obviously not a thing on Halloween night, and Harry waits by the door with a girl dressed as Snooki, based on her orange spray tan and hair poof.

“You guys are really sweet,” she says, pointing to Louis from across the room. “I can tell how crazy you are about each other. Watching you guys all night has been fun.”

Harry is just completely exhausted, can’t imagine another time he was this tired. “Yeah,” he replies, staring at Louis collecting their winnings, “I’m definitely crazy.”

 

The next morning, he wakes up with a pounding headache and two sticky notes on his lampshade. It’s scrawled in Louis’ messy handwriting, like he was rushing, and Harry assumes he wrote it last night before he went to bed, sneaking in when Harry was passed out cold.

Steve isn’t in jail, but he did shave his head and made a statement about it on The Rosie O’Donnell Show. Not sure if those thoughts correlate. Thank you for tonight. Thank you for everything. - L

Harry rolls over in bed, throwing the pillow over his eyes and groans. “Fuck you, tequila,” he mumbles to himself. “Fuck you, Louis. And fuck you , too, Steve.”


 

November is a train wreck, the rain coming down hard, figuratively and literally.

The first few days after Halloween are like absolute torture, Harry unable to do anything than stare at Louis’ mouth, unable to focus on anything other than the way Louis’ tongue darts out to lick his lips, the way his jaw moves when he says Harry’s name. And Louis appears to be oblivious to it, seemingly unbothered that just days prior, their mouths were locked in front of an audience, pulling off the most scorching kiss of Harry’s entire nearly 22 years of life. He feels like he’s standing in the eye of the storm, can’t escape.

It’s late on a Monday night, Harry studying on the couch with three out of Louis’ five sisters beside him, all doing their own homework, TV playing a rerun of The Office quietly, the rain pounding on the windowpanes relentlessly behind him. He looks up from his laptop after a particularly loud slap of rain against the glass.

“Does it usually rain this much?”

Fizzy looks up. “Not really, no. Especially not at this time of year. This is excessive.”

“Yeah, feels like I’m at home.”

“This morning on the news, they were saying this is already the wettest November on record, and it’s only one week in.”

“Wow.” He squints at the window, trying to see through the darkness. “Did they say when it was supposed to let up?”

Fizzy starts writing in her notebook again. “I dunno,” she says with a shrug, “but you might want to build an ark.”

 

Two days later, on his way home from class, Harry’s gripping the steering wheel to the car so tightly, his knuckles are turning white. The rain is like a sheet over his windshield, the wipers doing essentially nothing, and he has to pull over, nervous he’s going to drive off the road or crash into the person in front of him.

He sits in a random parking lot for nearly 20 minutes, long enough for the rain to let up just a bit to be able to actually see the lines on the road again, and he books it home, trying to beat the never ending storm.

In the 15 or so steps from his car to the garage, he gets completely soaked. The rain is out of control, coming down in every which direction, and he has to actually wring out his hair as he’s walking up the stairs to the kitchen.

He pushes open the door - or tries to, anyway. Something is blocking him in, and he’s only able to shove it forward an inch or two before he can’t push it anymore.

“Uh, hello?” he calls out through the tiny crack.

“Ah, shit, sorry,” he hears Dan say on the other side of the door. “Let me move this stuff out of the way.”

Harry furrows his brows. “What is it?”

“Furniture from the basement.”

“Wait, my furniture?”

Dan grunts, pushing something evidently very heavy out of the way. “Yes, the basement started to flood from the Goddamn monsoon outside, so we had to haul everything up here.”

“Oh, no! Is anything ruined?”

He groans again, pushing it another foot or so, based on the scraping against the kitchen tile. “That should be enough for you to squeeze through, here.” Dan pulls open the door, and Harry turns sideways, holding his backpack over his head, sliding through. “And no, we were able to get everything up in time, but the carpet is definitely going to need to be replaced.”

Harry looks around at the contents of his bedroom, now in the kitchen. He runs his fingers through his damp hair, getting caught in the tangles at the bottom. “Jesus, you should have called me! I could have left class and came back to help move everything. This probably took all morning.”

“And afternoon,” Dan chuckles. “No, it’s alright, though. I just feel bad you have nowhere to sleep now. We’ll figure something out.”

“I can sleep on the couch. That’s not a big deal.”

“We’ll figure something out,” he repeats.

 

Jay comes up with a solution an hour later, and Harry has to ask her to repeat herself three times.

“No, I absolutely cannot impose on Louis and sleep in his room.”

“He has a king sized bed. He’ll be fine.”

Harry’s eyes go wide. “You want me to sleep in his bed with him?!”

Jay stares at him blankly, the same look Louis gives him when he says something ridiculous. “Well, I don’t expect you to sleep on the floor.”

He rubs the back of his neck. “I mean, I guess…”

“If it’s a problem, we can rearrange some bedrooms around and you can sleep in one of the girls’ room. I can put Fizzy and Lottie in with the twins.”

“Jesus, no. Don’t cram them all in one place. Louis and I can share.”

She nods slowly. “As long as you’re okay with it.”

“I am.”

 

He’s not.

It’s hard enough keeping everything deep down inside of him when they’re separated by three flights of stairs. Now, the only thing keeping them apart is a thing layer of sheets, and Harry can feel Louis’ body heat. It’s tantalizing and his fingers are itching to touch him. He has to sit on them to remind himself not to actually reach out, fingertips eventually going tingly.

He’d offered to sleep on the floor, and then on Louis’ desk chair, which had prompted Louis to raise his brow whilst in the middle of scarfing down leftover Halloween candy and ask, “Are you drunk?”

“No,” he’d answered, “just don’t want to take over your stuff.”

“We’ve shared a bed before. What the hell is wrong with you.”

“A lot,” Harry had mumbled under his breath, kicking off his socks and sliding under the covers, keeping as much distance between them as he possibly could.

But now, he wishes he had taken the desk chair. Louis is sound asleep, lips parted just barely, breathing even and deep. His hair - in desperate need of a trim - is swept across his forehead, the longer bits covering his right eye, and it’s not fucking fair. It’s not fair that Harry is so close, yet so far, to wrapping his arms around Louis, pulling him in close, touching him the way he’s desperate to. It’s not fair that he can smell the lingering scent of Louis’ mouthwash every time he breathes in and out, minty and cold. It’s not fair that the one time of day he has to get his act together and focus on anything other than his out of control crush - can this even be classified as a crush anymore? - is ruined by fucking Mother Nature, and now, instead of getting a few hours of uninterrupted thoughts, his entire body is nearly shaking beside Louis’, too tightly wound and too on edge to even attempt sleep.

Louis sighs in his sleep and rolls over, readjusting his body, his arm now draped over Harry’s chest. He’s so close that Harry could count every individual eyelash, if he really wanted to.

No, it’s really not fucking fair.


 

It ends up taking a week to get the entire basement cleared out, rugs ripped up, have new ones replaced, and in that time, Harry seriously thinks about flying back to London 56 times, exactly.

He has to crawl into bed alongside Louis every night, has to feel him warm and pliant up against his back in the early hours of the morning, has to watch him get ready for the day, meticulously sorting his outfit out and cocking his hips while he stares at himself in the mirror, toying with his hair until he’s finally satisfied. The entire situation is positively maddening, and Harry nearly drops to his knees in gratitude when Jay tells him they can start moving him back downstairs.

Louis still hasn’t given any indication that this isn’t one sided. He goes about his business, never mentioning their Halloween kiss, never alluding that he wants a repeat, never making fun of Harry like he usually does for the way Harry’s constantly staring, blatant and obvious. If anything, he’s more distant, and it’s driving Harry absolutely crazy.

He’s on campus with Evan on a Thursday morning, the first sunny day in nearly two full weeks, and he’s tugging his jacket into place when Evan asks him what he’s doing over the weekend.

“I dunno,” he answers, shrugging. “I have a huge paper due Monday so I’ll have to do that at some point.”

“Riveting.”

“I know, huh.”

They walk a bit further, the wind picking up, and Evan clears his throat. “Okay, so this is awkward, but…”

Harry raises a brow, taking a sip of his tea. “Yes?”

“Would you be interested on going on a date?”

He nearly spits out the tea, choking. “With you?!”

Evan holds up his hands. “Fuck, no!”

“Oh my God, lead with that, please .”

“Sorry,” he says, laughing. “My friend Colin. Real nice guy.”

“So, a blind date?”

“I guess so.”

He makes a face. “Ugh, I don’t know, Evan…”

“He’s funny, and he’s smart. He’s going for chemical engineering. And he’s good looking.”

“Awesome, then you date him.”

“Yeah, except he’s missing a key factor. The XX chromosome.”

Harry laughs. “Speaking of, how’s it going with Anna?”

“Don’t change the subject, Styles. Should I tell him you’re free or not?”

He really wants to say no, just wants to get his studying over with in the library and then go home and finish the season one Game of Thrones finale with Louis. He sighs. “I haven’t dated anyone since I’ve been here.”

“Yeah, exactly, and that’s a problem. You have people kissing your ass and you couldn’t care less because of the platonic relationship waiting for you at home.”

He pouts. “That’s not the reason.”

“Fine. Give me a reason, then.”

He can’t come up with another excuse; instead, he thinks of piercing blue eyes and a laugh that makes his day without fail every time. But Evan is right. He’s staring at him with a smug look on his face and Harry hates him and he’s right.

Harry groans and closes his eyes. “Tell me where to meet him.”

“Good call. You’ll have fun. I promise. Oh, and also. If you ever act that offended at the suggestion of us dating again, I will drown you.”

He laughs. “Alright, deal.”

 

He’s set to meet up with Colin later that night around eight. Evan tells them both to meet outside of the small Italian restaurant just off campus, and Harry has absolutely no desire to go, especially when he gets home to change and sees Louis already on the couch, sweatpants tucked into his socks, Netflix paused.

“Okay, I’ve been waiting for you for, like, 18 hours. Let’s do this.”

Harry frowns. “It’s probably more like 18 minutes.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Louis replies, waving his hand around. “Sit.”

“Actually, I can’t.” He hates Evan so much, hates himself even more. “Not tonight.”

Louis’ face falls. “Why?!”

He bounces on the balls of his feet. “I have a date.”

“With what?”

He snorts. “Thanks.”

“Well, then.” Louis readjusts his position on the couch and presses a button on the remote. The Game of Thrones theme starts playing. “Have fun.”

Harry stares at him for a minute, waiting for Louis to say something else, maybe ask who he’s meeting.

Nothing.

“Alright, well. I’ll be home later.”

Louis doesn’t look up when he says, “Use a condom.”

“Thanks,” Harry says, rolling his eyes. “Always so helpful, you are.”

“Go away, I’m watching TV.”

Harry sighs. “‘kay.”

 

Evan was right; Colin is funny, he’s clearly intelligent, and he’s definitely good looking. He’s lean and toned, about three inches taller than Harry, and has dark brown hair and eyes to match. And Harry wants to choke on his pasta because he can’t focus on the incredible guy in front of him, mind left behind on the couch at home next to the boy wearing his Huskies sweatpants, most likely drifting in and out of sleep with the TV blaring in front of him.

The boy who isn’t thinking about him, and hasn’t been for nearly three months.

Harry shakes his head, trying to filter his thoughts, and tunes back in to listen to Colin sharing his story about the time he broke his hand at a party freshman year.

“Seriously, though, what kind of a dumbass drops an entire keg onto someone’s hand?!”

Harry laughs, ripping off a piece of bread, and he opens his mouth to respond, but his phone noisily vibrates on the table beside them.

“Shit, sorry, I’m rude.”

“Nah, no worries. I don’t care about that kind of stuff.”

“Let me just check to make sure it’s not my mum. This is usually the time she texts me, when she’s getting up early for work.”

“Take your time,” Colin replies, reaching for his drink.

It’s not his mum, though, it’s Louis.

Have you seen my UConn sweatshirt with the holes in the sleeves?

Harry frowns and quickly types back, You need to know that right now? He pockets his phone and turns back to look at Colin.

“Sorry,” he mumbles. “My homestay family.”

“Do you like them?”

“I do,” he says immediately. “Both the parents are amazing and so, so helpful. And I’m embarrassed to say now that I had so many reservations about going into a family with seven kids, but, like… I love it. Something is always happening.”

“Wow, seven? That’s a zoo.”

He nods, smiling. “It is, sometimes.”

“And you get along with all of them?”

“It isn’t hard to. Especially with Louis.”

“Tomlinson, right? I had a class with him last year. Funny guy.”

“Funny is an understatement.” Harry’s phone goes off again, and he pulls it out of his pocket quickly, seeing it’s another text from the devil himself. “Also, he’s a major pain in the arse.”

Colin laughs. “Go ahead, answer him. I promise I don’t mind.”

Harry shakes his head. “No, he’s fine.”

Over the course of the next hour and a half, Harry’s phone goes off 13 times, all texts from none other than Louis.

Yes, I really need that sweatshirt right now.

Ignoring me isn’t going to work, you asshat.

I’m gonna tell you the ending to this episode.

Here’s a picture of my middle finger since you won’t update your phone and can’t see any of the new emojis, GRANDPA.

I want tacos.

I just went down into the basement and your room is an actual pit. Why the fuck do you have yogurt containers ON YOUR BED.

I’m bored.

I NEED tacos.

Have you ever seen Tangled? Doris asked me to watch it with her and you can’t say no to that face and dude. Flynn Rider is a fucking catch.

Are you almost done yet??? Or has he murdered you?

I would have murdered you if I was on date with you.

I forgot to tell you how stupid your hair looked before you left. I hope you fixed it before you met this guy.

I’m going to bed. Your bed. Don’t wake me up when you come home.

Harry reads through them all quickly, shaking his head after each one, holding back a laugh when he pictures Louis and Doris watching Tangled together. Then, text number 14 comes in.

Okay. I lied. I’m not asleep. Just let me know you’re alive.

He stares at the screen, phone suddenly heavy in his palm, and that’s when it hits him: Louis is most definitely thinking about him, too. More than he’s been letting on.

It feels a lot like relief, knowing Louis could be on the same page he is, and some of the tension he wasn’t even aware he had leaves his body, but then he looks up and sees Colin looking at him, his smile sweet and his eyes bright.

Christ, Harry is worlds away from where he wants to be right now.

He is the biggest jerk in the world when he excuses himself from Colin, telling him he doesn’t feel well and needs to get going. Colin is, unfortunately, very understanding, offering to drive him home, concern written all over his face.

Harry shakes his head. “No, I’m alright to drive. But I’ll call you tomorrow. I’m so sorry about this.”

“It’s no big deal. At least let me walk you out.”

Harry sucks. He sucks so much. “That’d be great, thank you.”

They part ways in the parking lot after Colin tells Harry to feel better and pulls him in for a warm hug, Harry actually starting to feel sick now, and he calls Louis the second he’s seated in the driver’s seat.

“It’s about fucking time,” Louis answers.

Harry smiles, backing out of the parking spot. “You’re right about Flynn Rider. He’s dreamy.”

That’s what you’re choosing to respond to?!”

“Yes, and that’s all I’m going to say. I’m coming home now. I’ll be back around 10:30.”

“Good, you better.”

 

Harry takes a little detour, making him 20 minutes later than he said he’d be, but Louis doesn’t seem to mind as soon as he sees Harry carrying a bag from Taco Bell, smiling the whole time.


 

The next morning, Harry actually does call Colin, and after tell him that he feels better, he dives into the awkward part.

“You’re phenomenal,” Harry starts, toying with the fringe on the couch cushion, “but I’m not sure I’m looking for something so serious right now?” Not with you, anyway.

“I understand that,” Colin answers through the phone. “Especially since you’re an exchange student.”

No, especially since I was able to leave our date for someone else without feeling the slightest bit guilty. “Yeah,” he says instead, “because I’m an exchange student.”

“Well, this might be weird, but I think you’re a cool person to hang around, regardless. My friend Quinn is having a party on campus, at her apartment. You should come. Bring a friend, if you want.”

“Oh, actually, that sounds fun,” Harry says honestly. “Yeah, I’d like to do that. Is it tonight?”

“Yup. I’ll text you and let you know where to meet up.”

“Awesome, sounds great, I’ll see you then.”

 

He heads up to the attic to drag Louis out of the house with him, but upon opening up his bedroom door, he nearly laughs at the sight before him.

Louis is sprawled out on the floor, work papers covering nearly 80% of the carpet, a crazed look in his eyes. He looks up when he hears Harry come in. “Do not speak.”

Harry bites down on his bottom lip. “You look busy.”

“Gee, what fucking gave me away?”

He holds back a smirk. “Do you want to get out of the house for a little while? Seems like you might need it.”

No, I have so much shit to finish before my deadline on Wednesday.” He narrows his eyes. “Wait, where are you going?”

He shrugs. “Some party Colin invited me to.”

Louis looks back down at his papers. “The guy you went out with last night?”

“Yes.”

He’s still looking down. “Have fun.”

Harry crosses his arms across his chest. “You sure you don’t want to come?”

“I’m sure,” he says firmly. “I’ll see you later.”

Harry backs out of Louis’ bedroom slowly, closing the heavy door quietly behind him, and if he does a small happy dance on his way down the stairs because of the blatant jealousy written all over Louis’ tone at the mention of Colin’s name, then no one has to know about it.

 

He calls Niall, instead, who is unsurprisingly up for it, and agrees to meet him in front of Quinn’s building half an hour later. They walk in together, the flat already smoky and overheated, and Harry shrugs out of his winter jacket immediately.

Harry spots Colin is in the tiny, cramped kitchen, drink in hand, and when he sees Harry, he lights up and waves him over. Harry and Niall squeeze in and out of people, trying not to bump into anyone, and Niall puts his hand out to shake Colin’s.

“I’m Niall, Harry’s only important friend in America.”

Harry laughs. “He’s right.”

Colin smiles and shakes his hand. “Anything to drink, either of you?”

Niall nods. “Beer is fine for me, for now.”

“Same,” Harry agrees.

They chat comfortably for a bit, Harry twisting his beer bottle around in his hands, Niall texting someone on his phone and hardly looking up until he eventually wanders off, and by the time he’s onto his fourth round, he hears a familiar voice behind him, more shrill than usual.

He turns around, finding himself face to face with Louis. “I thought you said you didn’t want to come out?”

Louis shrugs. “I texted Niall and told him I was going crazy from work and he said he was at some party and to come over. I had no idea this was the party you were at.” He looks Colin up and down. “Oh, I remember you from one of my classes last year. I didn’t realize you were that Colin.”

Colin shrugs. “It’s me.”

“Yeah, I can see that.” He reaches for a beer on the tabletop. “Well, I’m gonna go find Niall. You two enjoy.” He taps Harry on the hip. “See you at home.”

Harry rolls his eyes, trying not to smile. “The flat isn’t that big, I’ll probably see you in here.”

“Not if I can help it.”

Louis saunters away and Harry just shakes his head, smirking.

 

The hours tick by, now nearing one in the morning, and Harry isn’t drunk , but he’s definitely tipsy. He’s been talking to Colin for God only knows how long, and the entire time, he can feel a certain someone’s gaze on him, unwavering and not very subtle.

Louis doesn’t know this isn’t a date, and Harry might be the biggest dick on the planet for not correcting him or for playing it up just a tiny bit, but if it means Louis will continue to stare and pout the same was Harry has been for the past few months, then so be it.

Colin starts chatting to some other people - a few of which Harry recognizes from around campus - and Harry eventually sneaks off to find Louis and Niall. They’re both on the couch, Niall’s feet propped up on the coffee table, Louis telling the surrounding group a story, a few of the girls laughing. Harry makes his way over and sits down on the couch next to him, draping his legs over his lap, and Louis turns to look at him slowly.

“Can I help you with something?”

Harry shakes his head, his curls bouncing. “Nah, just missed your pretty face.”

Louis pretends to gag and turns back to the group. “So, anyway, as I was saying…” He continues on with his story, waving his hands around for emphasis, acting as if he doesn’t notice when Harry puts his hand on his knee.

He’s drawing lazy circles across Louis’ tear in his jeans, not paying attention to much else other than the feel of Louis’ skin against his own, when Louis flicks his hand away.

“Not sure your date would like that.”

Harry fights back a smile, and loses. “Don’t think I have a date tonight.”

Louis nods his head in the direction of the kitchen. “What about the giant in there?”

“He isn’t that tall.”

“Tall enough.”

Harry puts his hand back on Louis’ knee. “He isn’t my date. Told him I wasn’t really into it when I talked to him this morning on the phone.”

Louis looks up, his brows raised. “Oh, yeah? And how’d he take that?”

“Well, he still invited me to hang out, didn’t he? Said I was a cool person.”

He snorts. “Guess he didn’t get a good read on you during your date.”

Harry laughs. “Hey, remember when you used to be nice to me?”

Louis shrugs, then leans back into Harry. “Not really, no.”

“Yeah, me neither.”

They sit like that for the rest of the night, Harry’s hand on Louis’ knee, Louis’ head slumped against Harry’s shoulder. And no, it’s not a date, not on Louis’ end or Harry’s end or even Colin’s, but he can smell Louis’ lingering body wash and can feel his body expand with every deep breath and Christ, it’s the best end to a non-date ever.

 

That night before bed, Harry’s too tired to walk up the three flights of stairs, so instead, he writes down, Will you be my best man at my and Colin’s wedding? on a lime green sticky note, takes a picture of it, and sends it to Louis.

He gets a text back nearly instantly: How many days until you go back home again?

Harry smirks. I’m gonna miss you loads, too, don’t worry.

Louis doesn’t answer, and Harry assumes he’s fallen asleep, but just as he’s finally dozing off, his phone vibrates, a text from Louis with a different picture of a sticky note, Louis’ handwriting scrawled across it.

You’re not allowed to leave.

Harry tosses and turns the rest of the night.


 

It’s nearly impossible for Harry to talk to his mum everyday like he’d promised before he left. Anne continues to say she understands, but brief nightly calls and texts turn to every few days, and before he knows it, it’s been two weeks and they haven’t spoken once. He feels horrible about it, and quite honestly, he misses her so much, his chest aches.

He doesn’t have time for the lengthy call he wants to make; he has so much homework - a cruel amount, actually - and he’s definitely coming down with something, karma for lying to Colin, for sure. His throat is swollen, his eyes hurt, and it doesn’t help that whenever he says he feels poorly, Louis calls him a pretentious dick, followed by, “We’re in America and you sound like an ass. Say you feel like shit, Jesus Christ.”

Unfortunately, an email will have to suffice for now.

Harry pulls his laptop onto his lap and begins typing before his eyes start to close, courtesy of the Nyquil he took earlier, mistaking it for the non-drowsy kind.

Mum,

You’re not even going to recognize me. I think I’ve gained 150 pounds since I got here. Jay cooks so much amazing food, but I’m pretty sure it all tastes so good because every recipe has a pound and a half of butter in it.

Classes are good. They’re hard, but they’re good. I’m learning a lot, I promise.

I’m not sure if I mentioned to you that I plan to stay here, and not move on campus. I think that this is the best case scenario for me and it works so well. I like that I have a home setting to come home to everyday, but I can be on campus and stay there whenever I want, as long as Niall or Evan wants to keep me for the night. It’s the best of both worlds, really.

I love this family. I could not have been placed in a better situation. You and Jay would get on so well, like Louis and I do. That’s the best and worst part of this entire thing, meeting these people and caring about them so much. It’s going by too quickly.

Oh, and before I forget. I went on a date, about a week or so ago. With an American. Don’t put me up for adoption. But I’m now looking at the time and I’m seeing how late it’s gotten and I really need to wrap this up and get some real work done. I’ll leave you on this cliffhanger.

I love you.

Harry x

He gets an email back early the next morning, and it simply reads:

I am so beyond thrilled to hear you and Louis finally went out. Please call me when you can, I can’t wait to hear all about it, about everything.

Mum xx

He doesn’t have the heart to tell her she’s so, so wrong - can’t get the words out, anyway - so he ignores it for the time being, crawling back into bed, even with the sun shining through the windows, and sleeps for another three hours.


 

The rest of November is… Something.

Both Harry and Louis know. They both know there are so many unspoken things that need to be said, to be taken care of, and yet, it goes exactly to how it was before: Harry desperately trying to shove everything down and Louis pretending like he hasn’t noticed.

It’s frustrating as all hell and Harry is losing his mind.

After his date with Colin and then Quinn’s party, Harry thought that maybe, just fucking maybe, this was it, that they were finally on the same page, but since then, it’s been crickets on Louis’ end and Harry’s beginning to think he made the entire thing up.

The days creep by, exams and papers overwhelming Harry and keeping him more than busy, but the tension between them is most prominent, nagging at him even while he’s studying and cramming. And a week before Thanksgiving, as he’s in bed, trying to finish a paper he left until the very last minute, he’s just about ready to slam his face into the keyboard of his laptop, less over the fact that he doesn’t give a shit about Walmart’s impact on the U.S. and more because he and Louis appear to be moving in reverse and, just, what the hell.

He’s getting ready to submit his paper, not even bothering to edit or proofread at this point, when his door cracks open. Louis creaks in, sweatshirt hoodie pulled over his head, glasses sliding down the bridge of his nose.

“Oh, good, you’re still awake.”

Harry nods. “Yeah, just finishing up my econ paper.”

“Awesome. Do you mind if I sleep in here? I don’t think the heat is working in the attic, and everyone else is asleep. It's totally freezing upstairs and I didn’t want to bother anyone.”

He clears his throat. “Come on in.”

Louis closes the door behind him and nearly jumps into Harry’s bed, pulling the blankets up to his chin. “We’ve definitely shared a bed more often than not over the past few weeks.”

Harry huffs out a laugh before turning off the bedside table light. “Yeah, I think you’re right.”

“As always.”

He rolls his eyes. “You can get out.”

In lieu of response, Louis just squirms his way closer to Harry, his body pressed up against Harry’s side. He’s warm as usual and Harry squeezes his eyes shut, willing himself not to move until he finally falls asleep, exhausted in so many ways.

 

Early the next morning before class, Harry slips out of bed, carefully as to not wake Louis, and heads upstairs to look for his jacket. It’s not in the hall closet, nor is it hanging on the back of the kitchen chair where it usually ends up. He furrows his brows, thinking, and then remembers leaving it on Louis’ desk chair in his bedroom.

Harry traipses upstairs quietly, Fizzy and Lottie already off to school for the day but the younger kids still asleep, and when he pulls open Louis’ bedroom door, he’s greeted with a gust of heat, warm and welcoming.

Well.

Harry smiles the whole way to his car.


 

The day before Thanksgiving, Harry is sitting at the bar in the kitchen, relieved to be free of exams and homework for the next five days, happy to be spending time with Jay and the girls. He watches on as Lottie peels an endless string of apples to be put into a pie, her movements methodical, even. It’s soothing, almost, watching the wheel on the peeler turn, the slice of the blade hitting the apple, sharp and crisp.

“Anything I can do to help?” he asks.

“No, no,” Jay says, peeling potatoes, “you’re just a pretend American, go upstairs and hide or something.”

“Oh, very funny.”

“This is our holiday. We created it to escape from you, remember?”

He makes a face. “You moved here from there only, like, 25 years ago! You’re a phony!”

She laughs. “You’re right. Here. You can take over potatoes, then.”

“Ugh,” he groans, reaching for the potatoes, “sorry I offered.”

He’s been at it for nearly an hour, cutting up vegetables he’s never even heard of - when Louis walks in the door, dropping his work bag on the ground. He looks absolutely exhausted.

“Hi, baby,” Jay says, pressing pie crust into place to fill with the pumpkin filling.

He grunts in response, kicking off his shoes, slipping into the chair next to Harry.

“Chatty,” Harry mumbles, cutting the last of the sweet potatoes.

“Just probably the longest day of my existence,” Louis answers, dropping his head to the table. “So,” he continues to talk, voice muffled into his arm, “ready to drink tonight?”

He laughs. “No?”

Louis sits up. “And why not?”

“Because… Tomorrow is a major national holiday. Why would we want to be hungover for it?”

“The Wednesday night before Thanksgiving is also a major national holiday. Black Wednesday.”

“Black Wednesday,” he repeats. “I feel like you’re making this up.”

“Unfortunately, he’s not,” Jay says with an eye roll. “Boys, please be careful tonight.”

“I’m always careful.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Wait,” Harry says, stretching his back, “if you’re so tired, why even bother going out?”

Louis gives him a blank stare. “It’s Black fucking Wednesday, H.”

“Language, Louis, seriously,” Jay says, slamming her hands down on the counter.

He shrugs. “Sorry.”

Harry drums his fingers along the bartop. “So, is this like a thing everyone knows about?”

“Jesus, yes, Grandpa,” Louis answers, putting his head back down on the counter. Harry can see his face this time, though, and Louis blinks up when he says, “Basically, everyone just goes out and gets absolutely hammered. And then you stuff your face with turkey and gravy the next day and it’s awesome.”

“Hey, remember when I used to fit into all my jeans?”

Louis laughs. “I’ll buy you some new ones. Come with us.”

“Us as in Liam and Niall, I’m assuming.”

“My boy is so smart,” he says, sitting up again and ruffling Harry’s hair. “And eat something first. This isn’t a night for the weak. We’ll leave you behind.”

 

By 10 o’clock that night, Harry keeps hearing Louis’ warning from the kitchen in his head on repeat. He’s good at drinking - if it was a sport, he’d be a starting player, for sure - but Christ, tonight, he cannot keep up. It’s like Louis, Niall, and Liam are in the actual alcoholic Olympics, Harry falling short, desperately trying to match Louis drink for drink.

He throws back another shot - he has no idea how many he’s had at this point, or where the hell Niall and Liam went - and his legs are wobbly, limbs heavy like lead. He grabs Louis’ arm for support.

“I need to be done.”

Weak ,” Louis slurs out. “We’re not leaving until 2:30 o’clock.”

Harry hiccups. “Is that a time?”

“Yeah, it is now.”

“‘kay.”

Louis moves in closer to Harry. “You excited for your first American Thanksgiving?”

“It’s my first Thanksgiving period .”

“Oh.” He laughs. “You’re right.”

“Can’t believe your ancestors were such stubborn dicks and just had to come here and make their own stupid country and even stupider laws.”

Louis rolls his eyes, somehow slower than usual. “It’s not like my whole family came over here on the Mayflower. My mom moved here the year before I was born, remember. I’m just as British as you are, except people can understand me when I talk.”

“Oh, yeah. I forgot.” He makes a face. “Wait. Hey. That’s rude.”

He flicks Harry across the forehead in response. “Maybe if my mom hadn’t moved, we’d be neighbors.”

“Unlikely, seeing as you’re from Doncaster and I’m not.”

He whines. “Play along with me.”

Harry laughs. “Okay. Fine. We’d be neighbors.”

“Yeah, we would be. I probably would have hated you throughout our entire childhood.”

“That’s nice, thanks, baby.”

Louis smiles. “I wouldn’t have known what to do with you. You would have intimidated me.”

Harry raises his brow in surprise. Or, at least, he thinks he does. His face is essentially numb at this point. “In what way?”

He pauses and sucks in his cheeks, eyes never leaving Harry’s face. “I dunno. You’re intense and I think that would have made me hate you when I was a kid.”

“To be fair, I’m not always intense.” He takes a step closer and touches the hem of Louis’ shirt. “What about now, though?”

“Do I hate you now?”

Harry hums. “Yeah.”

“Wish I did. Still don’t know what to do with you, sometimes.”

He pinches Louis’ hip. “I think you’ve got a pretty good handle on me.”

“I’d say that’s mutual.”

Harry can’t turn away, the alcohol somehow amplifying how strong their eye contact is, and he’s pretty sure he hasn’t blinked in over a minute, can’t bring himself to close his eyes even for a nanosecond. And Christ, he wants to kiss him again. He’s been replaying their Halloween kiss over and over again in his mind for weeks, the soft whimpering sounds Louis made when Harry had bit his bottom lip creeping into his head at the worst times, and it’s all he can do not to lean in again, tasting once more.

He starts to, eyes beginning to close, Louis’ breath audibly hitching, when Harry gets a tap on his shoulder. He looks up and it takes a moment for his gaze to focus, and even when it does, he isn’t sure who he’s looking at. But then, it dawns on him.

It’s like deja vu from their first night drinking at this very same bar together, Harry impossibly attracted to Louis, Louis smirking and swaying, tall and blonde Corey fucking interrupting their moment.

“Hey, guys,” he says, “so funny to run into you two here again.”

“Yeah, funny,” Harry says through gritted teeth.

“How are you? Lou?”

The only difference this time, though, is that Louis hasn’t looked away from Harry once. Before, that first time, he’d inched away, staring at Corey with a dopey grin on his face, most likely thinking about things Harry never wants to know. Right now, Louis’ eyes travel across Harry’s face, smile wide, and he says, “‘m good. Very happy.”

Harry takes another long sip of his drink, his body screaming at him to quit drinking, eyes still locked with Louis’. “We’re all good. All very happy.”

Corey mumbles something else, unintelligible and quiet, and Harry almost feels bad, because Corey is a decent enough guy, just happened to have something Harry wants, something he needs. But then Corey walks away, leaving Harry and Louis alone together again, and Harry honestly doesn’t know how long it takes him for him to notice Corey is even gone.

Harry doesn’t attempt to lean in again, the moment broken, but he does blatantly ogle the way Louis looks in his sweater, deep maroon and making his eyes pop against the contrast. Mmm, he loves maroon.

“Hey, Lou,” Harry slurs.

Louis looks up to meet Harry’s gaze, eyelids drooping, body reacting to the alcohol. “Harry.”

“What's your favorite color?”

He laughs. “My what?”

“You heard me. What's your favorite color?”

Louis drags his finger along the rim of his beer bottle before taking another sip. “I dunno, really. Blue is nice.”

“Oh, really? Blue is mine, too.”

“Soulmates,” Louis teases.

Harry nods, voice steady. “Definitely.” He looks down at Louis, who’s biting at his lip and peeling the label off his beer bottle. “Maybe our houses would have been blue, if we were neighbors.”

Louis smiles. “Maybe.”

And the thing is, he doesn't really have a favorite color. Growing up, his bedroom was green, his first car was red, and he always asked for the orange bottle of Gatorade whenever his mum packed his lunch. But now, he'll look up at the cloudless sky or the water lapping at the sides of the pool or the irises of Louis’ eyes and he thinks that maybe blue has been his favorite the whole time.

 

They actually do end up staying until nearly 2:30 o’clock. Somehow, the patrons of the bar transform the center of the room into a makeshift dance floor, bribing the bartender to play house music instead of the classic 90’s songs that had been on all night.

Louis drags Harry into the center of the crowd when a song by Disclosure comes on, both of their feet sticking to whatever’s on the floor, Louis laughing at the way Harry trips over nothing.

The music is loud, pounding in Harry’s ears; if he concentrates hard enough, he can feel the beat pulsating inside his body. And then Louis grabs Harry’s arms and wraps them around his body, pressing his back up against Harry’s chest, and just like that, Harry hears nothing, the room seemingly silent.

Louis wastes no time in grinding against Harry, right hand still wrapped around his beer bottle, left hand reaching back to grip at Harry’s thigh, and Harry’s already on the verge of begging and pleading, not sure exactly what he’s asking for, but he wants it all.

The beat of the song picks up, and Louis works his body quicker against Harry’s, drawing his hips into tiny circles, eventually letting his head fall back against Harry’s shoulder. He can’t see Louis’ face, and he’s somewhat grateful for that. Feeling it is overwhelming enough, but seeing it written all over Louis’ expression would be enough to send him over the edge.

Harry slides his hands up and down Louis’ sides, pulling him into him impossibly closer, digging his fingers into the meat of Louis’ hips, spurring Louis on. He arches his back and wraps his arm around the back of Harry’s neck, and from this angle, Harry can see all of him.

His cheeks are bright red, most likely a combination from the alcohol and the way too hot room temperature, his eyelids hooded, his teeth pressed into his bottom lip. He looks up at Harry through his eyelashes, his movements languid, and Harry just about loses it right there.

He can’t help it, has to hunch over and mouth at Louis’ neck, has to taste him there. He breathes hotly over the exposed skin, waiting for Louis to give him the green light, and when he lolls his head to the side, hand tightening on Harry’s thigh, he fully takes advantage.

Jesus, he smells like cologne and tastes like actual heaven; he slides his hands to Louis’ back pockets, gripping tightly, trying not to get too carried away. But then Louis lets out a low groan in the back of his throat and all self control is out the window.

He sucks a bruise into the side of Louis’ neck, low, at the juncture of his shoulder, and he licks over it to soothe the purpling skin. When he finally forces himself to lean back to admire his work, Louis wiggles out of his grip, twisting around.

Harry reaches out to grab him, almost losing his balance, and Louis smirks, stepping in close once more. He winds both of his arms around Harry’s neck, the beer bottle in his hand knocking against Harry’s skin, cold with condensation.

“Hi,” he murmurs, smile playful.

Harry swallows, trying to keep his secrets down, but there’s no backing out now. “You’re so fucking gorgeous.”

Louis blushes and closes his eyes briefly. “Jesus,” he whispers under his breath. He presses in closer, and Harry knows Louis can most likely feel how hard he is; fuck, Louis is hard, too, and game over.

He slides his hands up and down Louis’ back, vaguely aware there are other people around them, some in such a close proximity that they’re bumping into one another, but all he can see, feel, taste is Louis. He lets his hands settle on the bottom curve of his back. “I think I’m obsessed with you. Is that okay?”

Louis nods slowly, fingers digging into the back of Harry’s head, twisting his hair around. “Yeah, that’s okay.”

Harry bends forward and presses their foreheads together, eyes closed. He feels like he can’t breathe. “Good.”

His eyes are still closed when he feels the gentle brush of lips against his, dry and tentative. He doesn’t move, utterly frozen, just focuses on breathing, and his stomach clenches when he hears Louis whisper, “Kiss me back.”

Harry’s hands leave their position from the small of Louis’ back and find their way up to his face, cupping his jaw, brushing his thumbs across his cheekbones as he leans in to really kiss him, the way he’s been imagining since their last kiss.

It’s similar in a lot of ways; they’re both pissed, at a gross bar, and Harry still wants it in ways he can’t convey. But there’s one major difference, and it’s a big one. On Halloween, Harry and Louis put on a show. They were acting, and though the kiss was something Harry had been dreaming of and pining after, it was still fabricated, still forced to prove a point. This time, though, there’s no acting, and that puts it in a league of its own. The passion behind it is raw, all consuming, tantalizing, and knowing this is just for them , that thought alone makes Harry’s mind even fuzzier. Louis presses in closer when Harry slides their tongues together, their bodies flush from chest to toe, and Harry can’t handle the way it feels to have every inch of them pressed together. He doesn’t want to ever separate. He wants to keep Louis safe in his embrace, in his possession, for as long as it’s allowed.

Louis’ hands are relentless in Harry’s hair, his breathing choppy, his whines high pitched and so pitifully attractive. Harry has to stop to take a breath, to regain complete focus, but the idea of pulling his lips off of Louis’ is actually laughable. He pushes in further, living for the way he can feel Louis hard up against him, for him.

Someone bumps into them, causing Louis to accidentally - or on purpose, who knows - spill his beer down the back of Harry’s shirt. He jumps, breaking the kiss and letting out a startled shout, and Louis laughs way too loudly. His eyes are squinted, bottom lip shiny and wet from Harry’s mouth, and Harry’s heart is about two seconds from bursting right out of his chest.

Harry rolls his shoulders, as if that’s going to get rid of the wetness seeping in, and reaches down to link his pinky finger with Louis’, can’t rip his gaze away from Louis. “Happy Thanksgiving,” he murmurs instead of saying everything else he wants to say.

Louis smiles. “It’s not Thanksgiving yet, H.”

“Almost is.”

“Your very first.”

“Not sure how any others after this one will be able to top it.”

He rolls his eyes, but Harry can tell he’s fighting back another smile. “Next year’s might be better, you never know.”

“My first one away from you? I highly doubt it.”

Louis huffs out a laugh, but it’s weak, and Harry knows that when Louis leans in to kiss him again, it’s a ploy so he doesn’t have to answer.

Harry gives in immediately, anyway, kissing him back with everything in him, the way he was meant to.


 

Harry wakes up the next morning a little hungover and Christ, is it worth it.

He remembers the way he pushed Louis up against the side of the garage door as soon as they’d been dropped off from the bar, chasing Louis’ lips, unable to stop himself, until the November cold was too much to ignore. Louis had gripped at his waist and dug his fingers into Harry’s hips, the marks from his nails stinging and red. Both of them went to their perspective rooms not allowing it to go any further sporting swollen lips, matching smiles, and Harry has to touch his lips now to see if they’re still puffy, just to be sure it really happened.

They are.

He swings his legs over the side of the bed, jamming his feet into his moccasins, and reaches for Louis’ UConn sweatshirt with the holes in it. He doesn’t remember Louis leaving it down here, but he isn’t complaining. It’s worn in, soft, and oversized, even on Harry.

He heads upstairs, readjusting the sweatshirt, and when he steps inside through the house’s front door, he’s surprised to see everyone already awake and making dinner. He looks at the clock on the stove. It reads 10:02 AM.

Jay is standing in front of the stove, stirring something that looks like gravy. She looks up when she sees Harry. “Ah! Happy first Thanksgiving!”

He smiles. “Thanks. I’ve definitely seen that on a onesie for infants before.”

“I’m sure I could find one of the twins’ upstairs somewhere. You could squeeze into it.”

“That’d be quite a vision.” He looks around the kitchen and sees just about everyone in the family working diligently. “Jay, I feel useless. Give me something to do. I didn’t realize it was such a production, otherwise I would have been up earlier.”

She waves her hand around. “No, nonsense, you’re fine. Louis’ been up with me since about seven and we’ve gotten a lot done together. But. You could set the table. That’d be very much appreciated.” She points to the dining room. “12 can sit in there, and the other six will eat out here. Some friends will be coming over to join us. Tablecloths are in the bottom of the china cabinet.”

Harry nods. “Okay, got it.” He scratches mindlessly at his stomach underneath his - Louis’ - sweatshirt when he asks, “So, Louis? Is he around?”

Jay starts adding an array of seasoning to the pot. “He went to grab some extra ice. You can never have enough ice. Do you need him for something?”

“Nope,” he says, suddenly panicked upon not knowing how he’s supposed to act around Louis once he gets back. “Just wondering.”

“Heard you guys had fun last night.”

Harry swallows. “Why? What’d he say?”

She taps in some salt. “Not much, just that the bar got kind of crazy and that you drank so much, you almost turned into a fish.”

He laughs lightly. “Yeah, that about sums it up.” He nods in the direction of the dining room. “I’ll be busy in there, trying to figure out how to fold cloth napkins into swans.”

“You’d better get on that fairly quickly then,” she says with a laugh.

 

He’s in the middle of folding the napkins - directly down the middle, not like a bird - when Louis walks in, arms full of ice. He looks impressively tired, hair a complete mess, glasses fogging up from the heat of the kitchen, and it makes Harry’s stomach lurch.

Louis looks over at him. “Hi. Help me. I’m holding, like, 50 pounds of ice.”

Harry shakes his head, smiling, and drops the napkins onto the table. “Gimme a bag.”

“I’ll give you all of them. Fuck, my hands are numb.” He looks at Harry with a frown on his face as Harry takes half the bags out of Louis’ grip. “That’s my sweatshirt.”

He looks down. “Oh, yeah, it is. Thanks for sharing.”

“I didn’t say you could wear it.”

“Well, I didn’t say you could leave it in my room.”

“Mature.” Louis walks off into the kitchen without another word, dropping the rest of the ice the second he’s in front of the freezer.

And Harry is stuck, frozen in his spot next to the stairs, holding five bags of ice. Maybe last night was just something fun for Louis, something that happened only because they were drunk. Maybe it was a one time thing, something to relieve the tension between them, something to relieve Louis’ stressful day. Harry can’t think about that; his hips still ache from the way Louis was squeezing them while they kissed up against the garage. It can’t be a one time thing, it needs to be more than what it was. Now that he’s had a taste, an honest to God real kiss from the most endearing and attractive person he’s ever known, he can’t give it up.

Fuck. What if Louis doesn’t even remember it? What if he was just that drunk?

He’s still standing there, bags of ice starting to melt onto the hardwood beneath him, letting his thoughts consume him, making him feel positively nauseous, when Louis is in front of him once more, this time pushing Harry out of the way so he can climb the stairs.

And then Harry catches a glimpse of the bruise on Louis’ neck, and based on the way Louis is slightly shrugging, clearly trying to hide the mark from his family, it's clear that there’s no way he doesn’t remember. That much Harry is sure of.

Louis pauses from his position on the second step, turning around, the look on his face that Harry can’t quite identify. He pauses, like he's thinking.

“Bit of a stressful morning, trying to get everything ready,” is what Louis comes up with.

Harry nods. “I can see that.”

Louis looks down and points to the dripping bags of ice. “Think you should probably take care of that,” he says, his voice soft.

Harry nods again. “Probably.”

“I have to go upstairs to change.”

“Alright.”

“And next time,” he says, toying with the hem of his shirt, “ask before you steal my clothes.”

“Okay.” He can't stop staring at Louis’ lips, his jaw.

Louis exhales loudly. “Yeah.” He steps down one stair, his height almost even with Harry’s, and Harry can’t do anything about Louis’ hair falling in front of his eyes, not while he’s still holding the ice. God, he wants to, though, wants to touch so badly.

And Louis must be able to tell, based on the way he lets his head fall forward just a bit. He swallows and looks over Harry’s shoulder, into the kitchen, then back at Harry. “Harry, I’m not really sure what we’re doing here but…” He slides his hands up onto Harry’s shoulders, squeezing. He doesn’t say anything else, just waits for Harry to speak, move, do something .

Harry knows the way he’s staring at Louis’ mouth isn’t subtle, and when he forces his gaze to flicker back up to Louis’ eyes, Louis is staring just as intently, lips parted slightly. “Lou, come here,” he murmurs, and Louis does without hesitation.

Their mouths slot together easily, barely moving, a little bit slick, and Harry is still holding the fucking ice, unable to grab Louis the way he wants to. And then Louis slides his hands from Harry’s shoulders and up into his curls and Harry nearly whips the bags of ice across the room, can’t stand not being able to reciprocate.

This kiss is so, so different from the ones they’ve already shared. It’s slow, it’s gentle, it’s quiet; most likely a combination of being sober and being conscious of the fact that Louis’ entire family is in the room next over, separated by a single wall. But it’s just as mind-numbingly good, and the way that their lips drag together has Harry whining low in his throat. He’s coming to terms with the fact that kissing Louis any way, in any circumstance, is going to be over-the-top fantastic, chills nearly wracking his entire body.

No, this doesn’t get to be a one time thing. Harry won’t allow it.

Louis pulls away, then, Harry chasing his lips, and Louis smirks. “I really have to go change,” he whispers.

“No, you don’t. Stay here.”

“Right here? On this step?”

“Yeah. I’ll get you a change of address card.”

Louis scrunches his face, fighting back a smile, failing. “As long as you stay where you are.”

“Okay.” Harry looks down. “Except my hands are about to fall off.”

He laughs. “Go put the ice away, finish the table, go get ready, and then, we eat.”

“I can do all of that.”

“A man of many talents, you are, Styles.” He pinches Harry’s cheek. “I’ll be back.”

“Looking forward to it.”

Louis rolls his eyes, still smiling. “You gonna watch me walk up the stairs?”

“I always do.”

“Oh my God.” He’s not displeased, though, based on the way his eyes crinkle and the way he shakes his hips exaggeratedly the whole way up.

And Harry doesn’t disappoint, staring the entire time, winking when Louis looks over his shoulder, and the second Louis’ completely out of sight, he drops all five bags of ice directly onto the ground.


 

Harry changes into black skinny jeans and a white button up dress shirt; it hangs loosely from his body, some of his tattoos visible where it’s unbuttoned up top, and he slips on his tan suede boots before he makes his way back upstairs. He looks at himself in the mirror on his way out, patting down the hair in the front that won’t seem to stay down, and shrugs. It’ll do.

The kitchen and dining room are both overwhelming in the best way. There’s so much food, Harry doesn’t know where to look first, and it smells unbelievable. There are candles in the center of the dining room table, white plates at every chair, and the fireplace is holding a roaring fire, wood crackling and snapping. The smell of the burning logs is soothing, familiar.

He turns the corner toward the living room where everyone is grazing on appetizers, chatting with their family friends, TV blaring in the corner, the Macy’s day parade carrying on. He’s about to tell Jay how lovely everything looks, but then he catches Louis out of the corner of his eye, and just about every word on the tip of his tongue disappears.

Louis is pouring a glass of white wine for himself, left hand on his hip, lips pursed. Like Harry, he’s also in black skinny jeans, but instead of a button up shirt, he has on a fitted red sweater, v-neck and pushed up at the sleeves, showing off his wrist and forearm tattoos. His hair is styled upward, making his entire face visible for once, and Harry has never seen him look so put together. But then he looks down and sees Louis’ bare feet, and he smiles.

Louis must be able to tell Harry is staring at him; he looks up, already smiling, and points to the bottle with his free hand. “Want some?”

Harry nods, mouth dry. “Yeah. Louis. You look amazing.”

He blushes, waving the glass of wine around, some sloshing out onto the countertop. “Special occasion.”

He takes a step toward Louis. “Being?”

“Your first Thanksgiving.” Louis reaches for another wine glass and fills it halfway. “Cheers, Styles.”

Harry clears his throat, reaching for the glass. “Cheers.”

 

After all the introductions have been made and Harry has accidentally eaten his weight in appetizers, the group settles in for dinner in the dining room, some of the younger kids staying in the kitchen. Harry takes a seat on the end and Louis squeezes in next to him. He nudges Harry with his arm.

“I forgot to mention earlier. My grandpa is a huge football fan, so be prepared to have your ear talked off about that for the next several hours, especially once we’re done dinner and he turns on the game.”

“Oh, sweet, I love football.”

“No, you don’t. You love soccer . My grandpa loves football.

Harry rolls his eyes. “Oh, God, that shit sport.”

“Watch your mouth, Styles. He’ll have you exiled.”

He makes a face. “I won’t even know how to have a conversation with him about it. I’ve never watched a game. Is it easy to understand? Like, are there a lot of rules?”

Louis smirks. “Yeah. Super easy.”

“Why do I have the feeling you’re lying?”

“Because you’re intuitive.”

He groans. “Great.”

“No more complaining. It’s a day to be thankful and eat a turkey.”

Harry puts his napkin on his lap. “God bless America.”

 

His plate is stacked with turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans, squash, and about a thousand other items he’s never heard of but can’t resist based on smell alone. He’s reaching for a snowflake roll when Dan clears his throat.

“Alright, everyone, typical ‘what are you thankful for?’ time. Who wants to start?”

Louis puts his hands in the air. “No need for everyone to ask me all at once. I’ll do it, God.”

Jay rolls her eyes. “Someone else go.”

“No! I’m doing it.” Louis rubs his hands together. “Should I start with what I’m not thankful for first? Like highs and lows?”

“Louis,” Dan laughs. “Enough.”

“Alright, alright.” He hums, tapping his chin as if that’s honestly necessary to think. “Okay. I’m thankful that I’m healthy, that I have a great job, that my family is all here today to celebrate this holiday.” He smirks. “I’m thankful that I’m so freaking beautiful.”

“I think we’re all thankful for that,” Harry says under his breath, only half kidding, and Louis snorts.

“I’m thankful for my seven beautiful, healthy, happy children,” Jay says, taking over. “Well, now eight. Harry, we love you.”

He blushes. “Thanks, Mum.”

Jay carries on, then turning to Lottie. “Your turn, baby.”

They go around the table, taking turns, each sharing their own take on what they’re thankful for, and when they get to Harry, he puts his fork down, placing his hands in his lap.

“I have a lot. Is that okay?”

Jay nods and says, “Of course,” and Louis boo’s him.

Harry laughs. “Alright. Well, I’m thankful that I haven’t thrown up yet. Who makes this much food for one meal? This is ridiculous. I’m going to explode.”

“Oh, ha ha,” Jay says. “You’re not allowed to hang out with Louis anymore. You’re turning into him.”

He smiles. “A little bit, yeah.” He drums his fingers on his thigh. “I’m thankful that I’m here, getting an education at the University of Connecticut, meeting some amazing new friends and learning so much. I’m thankful for New York and everything it holds and that I get to be a part of it every once in a while. I’m thankful for FaceTime because I’m pretty sure my mum would have lost her mind by now.”

Louis nudges him with his arm. “Kinda stealing the show, here.”

“‘m almost done. I’m mostly thankful for this family.” Harry looks around the table, trying to convey just how lucky he truly feels. “I feel like I’ve found my home away from home.” He looks at Louis when he says, “I’m so happy to be here. I hope you know that.”

He’s still staring at Louis when Jay tells him how sweet he is, and Louis is still looking back when Dan makes a joke about how much of a kissass he is. And Harry is almost positive the dinner conversations resumes, but he can’t be entirely sure because Louis slides his hand into Harry’s under the tablecloth, and there it stays for the rest of their meal.


 

Dinner gets cleared up and dessert gets passed around; Harry actually has to unbutton his jeans before he sits down on the couch, stomach bulging and body screaming at him to stop eating.

Louis sits down next to him, their sides pressed up against each other. He looks up at Harry. “You ready for the game?”

Harry makes a face. “Do I have a choice?”

“Absolutely not.” Louis turns on the TV, screen coming to life as thousands of fans scream in the stands.

He leans forward. “I honestly know nothing about this sport.” He points to the player holding the ball. “What’s his job?”

“To win.”

“Okay, I could have told you that much.”

“Just watch and ask questions as you go along.”

Fifteen minutes later, it’s evident that Louis regrets his last statement based on the way he keeps rubbing his temples.

Harry frowns. “But, why does the clock stop so often?”

“I don’t fucking know, Harry, that’s just how it works, for the love of God!”

Harry laughs. “Jeez, you should go take a walk. I’ve only asked a couple questions.”

No, you’ve asked, like, 70 questions. I’m gonna go walk, good idea. I’m also going to grab a bottle of wine to smash over my head on the way out so I don’t have to listen to your questions anymore.”

He laughs again. “Thank you for being so helpful. I’m a football knowledge wizard now.”

Louis flicks him across the forehead. “Shut up.”

“Go on your walk.”

“I’m going.”

He never gets up.

 

In between rounds of dessert, Louis ends up falling asleep on the couch listening to Harry and Jay’s dad talk about the game. Before he passed out over an hour ago, he said, “I hate Thanksgiving,” and since then, he hasn’t moved once, cheek pressed up against Harry’s shoulder, his breathing deep and even. Harry sits unbearably still, his ankle itchy, desperate to be scratched. He ignores it.

In a way, though, Harry is grateful for Louis’ silence, for just a little bit. It gives him time to sort through the mass chaos in his mind, as well as actually get the opportunity to chat with Louis’ extended family members. His grandmother is warm and friendly, talking about her time living in London before moving here shortly after Fizzy was born, and Harry is thrilled to talk with her, loving that someone else has experiences similar to his own.

His grandfather is equally as personable, and Louis was right when he said this man has an unyielding love for football. He talks Harry’s ear off about it, explaining the rules of the game much better than Louis had attempted to, taking the time to answer each of Harry’s questions thoroughly and enthusiastically. His energy is contagious, and by the end of the second quarter, Harry actually has a good grasp on what’s happening.

It’s comforting; the fire in the fireplace is dim but still warm and crackling every so often, the cheering from the TV is steady and rivals the yelling from the living room, the warmth of Louis beside him tantalizing and making Harry just a little bit desperate. Harry isn’t American but Thanksgiving might be his new favorite holiday.

Louis stirs eventually, after his grandpa makes a particularly loud noise after a poor call by one of the referee’s, and he cracks one eye open. “Hi.”

“Hello,” Harry murmurs back.

He sits up slightly, stretching. “You’re all very loud football watchers, you know.”

Harry shrugs. “It’s good game.”

“How can you even tell?”

“Dude, football is awesome.”

Louis sits up all the way, face scrunched. “ Dude, football is awesome ,” he repeats, mocking. “Is that what you just said to me?”

He laughs. “Proper American now.”

“Yeah, not quite. Not until you drop the word ‘proper’ and go out Black Friday shopping with me.”

“If Black Friday is anything like Black Wednesday, then yes.”

Louis bites his bottom lip, smiling slightly. “Not quite. But I’m glad you enjoyed yourself.”

“I did. Did you?”

He looks around, as if anyone is actually listening and not completely wrapped up in the game. “Do you really want to discuss this now?”

“Yes.”

“You can wait until later.”

Harry pouts. “Fine. So. Black Friday?”

“Yup. The day every American openly states what they’re thankful for just hours earlier and then they head out and beat people up to be the first to get to a TV at Walmart for 40% off.”

He makes a face. “Oh my God?”

“I know. It’s amazing.”

“Not quite the adjective I was thinking of.”

Jay pops in over the threshold of the doorway. “Hey, Lou? Mind helping me put some of the leftovers away?”

Louis nods and pats Harry’s leg as he stands up. “Alright, so Black Friday shopping it is. I’ll see you bright and early.”

“How early?”

His smile is downright evil. “Three.”

“In the morning?!”

“Be a good sport, Styles!”

Harry groans. “I’m trying, but you’re just so terrible.”

Louis laughs. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”


 

When Harry’s alarm goes off at 2:50 the next morning - or night, who can tell - he almost cries. It’s too early, way too early to have any sort of logic or reasoning, and he curses Louis’ name under his breath the entire time he’s yanking on a pair of sweatpants and brushing his teeth.

It’s positively freezing when he walks outside, a few snowflakes beginning to descend downward, and Harry quickens his strides toward the front door, breath visible in front of him. He puts his sweatshirt hood over his hair - which he’s thrown up into a messy bun - and hastily steps inside the house, closing the door softly behind him.

Louis isn’t downstairs, and both the coffee maker and teakettle are inactive, so Harry can safely assume he hasn’t been down yet at all. He squints up the stairs, trying to see if there are any lights turned on, signifying a certain someone is awake.

It’s completely black.

Harry sighs and tiptoes up the stairwell, doing his best not to make any noise, and when he turns the corner, he sees Louis’ door at the top of attic stairs, closed with no light peeking out from under it.

“Jesus Christ,” he mumbles, toeing off his shoes and climbing up the second flight. He pushes open the door, not surprised when he sees a sleeping Louis under all the blankets, bed partially illuminated by his laptop screen, the rest of the room hidden within shadows.

He pulls his hood off his head and sits on the edge of the bed, the mattress sinking down under his weight. Louis is breathing steadily, covers rising and falling with each inhale and exhale, and Harry swallows heavily. He reaches out and drags his thumb across Louis’ cheekbone, Louis not stirring at all.

“Lou,” he murmurs. “Louis, you need to wake up.”

Louis groans in response, eyes still closed, his body still unmoving.

Harry tries again, but this time, he slides under the covers alongside him. He drags his knuckles up and down Louis’ side, feeling the heat from his skin under his thin t-shirt, itching to read his hands underneath. “Louis.”

He opens one eye at that. “Why’re you in my bed,” he asks, voice scratchy.

Harry clears his throat. “Because someone told me to get up and be ready for three in the morning and that someone wasn’t even awake.”

“That someone must be out of his fucking mind because fuck this.”

Harry huffs out a laugh. “Did you not even bother to set an alarm?”

“I actually did, but then it went off and I wanted to die so I turned it off and evidently fell back asleep.”

“Sounds about right.” Harry drags his knuckles back up Louis’ side again, and he knows he isn’t imagining the way Louis shivers under his touch. “What do you actually plan on buying at three in the morning?”

Both of Louis’ eyes are open now, gaze focused on Harry’s face. “I dunno. My mom mentioned that Dan has been asking for a digital printer for a while now, so I figured that would be on sale…” He moves in closer, fronts pressed flush together. “This bed is too warm, though. Don’t wanna get up.”

Harry nods, digging his knuckles into Louis’ side, living for the way Louis’ breath stutters, just barely. He wouldn’t have caught it if they weren’t so close. “Think it’ll still be on sale later today?”

Louis pulls his hands out from under the sheets, wrapping his finger around the tie on Harry’s sweatshirt, tugging hard. “Probably. Not sure if there’ll be any left, though.”

He can’t blink, can’t swallow. “Do you really have the need to go shopping right now? Is this printer something that’s actually really important to you?”

He shakes his head almost instantly. “Not right now, no.”

Harry digs his knuckles in harder. “Louis, can I…?”

Louis exhales sharply. “Yeah, Jesus.”

Harry leans in to kiss Louis the same time Louis moves in, their lips slotting together perfectly, instantly messy, the heat between them impossible. He licks into Louis’ mouth, gripping his hips, groaning just slightly when Louis moves his hands from Harry’s chest and up into his hair. His fingers get caught in the loose curls that didn’t make it into the bun, and he tugs lightly, just the way Harry likes it.

His body shivers when he realizes he’s becoming familiar with the way Louis tastes, sickeningly thrilled to be kissing him again. And all at once, his sweatshirt becomes too hot, Louis’ fingers become too insistent, his body becomes too tightly wound; he only manages to kiss him for another moment or two before he has to pull away, panting, lips shiny.

Louis eyelids are hooded, his own breathing uneven. He drops his hands from Harry’s hair and lets them rest on his shoulders. “Is this dumb?”

Harry shakes his head immediately. “No, I think this is the smartest thing I’ve ever done.”

Even in the darkness, Harry can see Louis’ blush. “Then why are you stopping.”

He swipes his thumb across Louis’ bottom lip. “Needed a second. You’re a lot, you know?”

Louis hums, wiggling his way closer, pushing his hands up under Harry’s sweatshirt. “In what way?”

Harry sucks in his stomach, closing his eyes at the way Louis drags his fingernails across his abs. “I’m, just, always completely overwhelmed by you.”

“In a good way?”

“In every way.”

Louis looks up at him, eyes steady; hands, not so much. “Get this thing off.”

Harry nods and sits up, pulling the sweatshirt over his head, leaving his chest bare and exposed. Louis reaches out and touches him against, fingers digging into the tattoo on his stomach. The way he’s touching him is too methodical, like he’s been thinking about it as much as Harry has, and Harry can’t allow himself to have that train of thought. He’ll spiral.

Instead, he grabs Louis’ wrists, halting his movements. He looks down at the way Louis’ hands look on his bare skin, small and firm, and he almost loses it right there. “Louis.”

Louis looks up, hands tightening in Harry’s grip. “Harry.”

“If we do this…” he says, trailing off.

He nods. “I want it.”

Harry closes his eyes, tightly squeezing them shut before he can open them again and answer, and he tries to be as honest as he can. “Just right now in this moment?”

Louis bites down on his bottom lip, leaving tiny indent marks and Harry has never been so attracted to anyone, ever. “Are you asking me if I’ll want you to fuck me again after this?”

He winces. It’s one thing to think it, it’s another thing to watch Louis’ mouth say the words. “Yes. No. I mean. Is this a one time thing for you.”

Louis shakes his head slowly. “No. It’s not. Is that what it is for you?”

Harry lets go of Louis’ wrists in favor of reaching down to cup his jaw. “If you don’t know how crazy about you I am by now, I’m not really sure how to go from here.”

He doesn’t blink, just looks up at Harry, almost frozen, and Harry thinks maybe he’s gone too far, was too honest. But then Louis’ voice cuts through the blackness of the bedroom, deeper than usual, quieter than usual. “You could show me.”

Harry inhales sharply. “You want me to show you how crazy I am about you?”

Louis nods. “Yeah.”

“I can do that.” He takes a deep breath. “I fucking want to do that.” He doesn’t give Louis time to answer before he dives down to kiss him again, crawling on top of him, straddling Louis’ hips.

It’s stupid, honestly, that a bit of kissing and touching is bringing this reaction out of Harry. He can’t seem to control the way his hips are suddenly jerking against Louis’, can’t stop the way he groans every time Louis bucks his hips back up in return, can’t do anything about the way his hands have suddenly taken control of themselves, grabbing and touching every part of Louis they can find. Christ, he’s only ever imagined himself to be in this position in the deep recesses of his mind, and now that it’s actually happening, now that he has Louis writhing and panting underneath him and touching him like he doesn’t want him to ever leave, Harry feels like he’s on the verge of losing his damn mind.

If he hasn’t already.

He reaches for the hem of Louis’ shirt, yanking it up over his head, and that’s when he spots the purple bruise from Black Wednesday. It’s smaller than he recalls it to be, and it’s definitely not his best work. He needs to change that.

He wants Louis to wake up tomorrow morning, remembering how Harry had lost control at the bar and kissed and sucked his skin like that was his plan all along; he wants him to touch along that very spot when he thinks about the way Harry added to the bruise the next night, sweating onto his skin, claiming him, letting everyone know that this is a thing, that they’re finally together, finally fucking doing this.

Harry pulls away from Louis’ lips in favor of kissing down his jaw, down to the place behind his ear that has Louis whining in no time, down to the bruise, where he kisses it once before he sucks, his tongue relentless.

Louis arches his back and digs his fingernails into Harry’s sides, and Harry can feel Louis hard underneath him. It spurs him on to keep going, grinding their hips together, kissing Louis’ red hot skin, and fuck, the friction isn’t perfect, but it’s good, it’s so, so good.

He pulls back to admire his work, touching the sore skin, his neck different shades of pink and red and purple, and Louis slaps his hand away. “You’re a fucking dick,” he pants out. “This is way worse than the one from before. I am never going to be able to hide this from anyone.”

Harry shrugs, starting to pull down Louis’ sweatpants. “That’s kind of the point.”

Louis fists his hands in the sheets when his cock springs free, completely hard and precome already shiny at the tip. “I might kill you.”

He can’t stop staring at Louis, now naked and body slick with sweat and oh God, Harry wants to get his mouth on every single inch of him, to prove how attracted he is to him, to prove this isn’t something they should ever give up. He's hard - hard for Harry - and Harry can hardly believe it, can hardly believe they're here, that Louis wants him. There's no turning back now, and he wouldn't be able to even if he tried.

He reaches out and slides his hand down Louis’ cock once, firmly, watching as the head disappears in his fist. Louis’ entire body jerks. “And why would you do that?”

Louis groans, high in his throat. “Harry, stop, I want your mouth.”

Harry licks his lips. “Tell me.”

He thrusts his hips up into Harry’s hand. “Want you to suck me off.”

He nods, hand slowing jerking Louis off. “I wanna.”

Louis arches his back, closing his eyes. “Want you to fuck me, too.”

And it isn’t the first time Louis has said that since Harry climbed into bed with him, but hearing it again is enough for him to yank his own sweatpants off, his cock standing straight out, body desperate for anything Louis will give him. “Can’t believe I get to be so lucky.”

Louis props himself up on his elbows, presumably to say something mean or shy or Louis , but Harry decides at that moment to suck him down, almost all the way to the base, and Louis falls flat on his back, chanting out Harry’s name slowly and quietly, Harry spurred on.

He sucks and licks and uses his hand to twist until Louis is thrusting up into Harry’s mouth, not caring that Harry is practically gagging, and Harry loves that he’s lost all control. Usually in their dynamic, it’s Harry that’s the one who’s fighting to keep himself in check. But this? It’s the sexiest thing he’s ever seen - cool, calm, and collected Louis Tomlinson, entire body trembling and voice lost all because of the way Harry is pleasuring him.

He’s never seen Louis come before - and God, he’s wanted to - but he can tell he’s close. Something in his movements change; he’s stuttering and his breathing is coming out in quick bursts and his hips appear to be moving on their own accord. Harry pulls off just as he feels Louis’ thighs start to tense up.

Louis’ eyes roll to the back of his head. “Harry, please, fuck, I need to come.”

Harry squeezes his eyes shut, gone for the way Louis is pleading, the way he’s saying Harry’s name. “I want to fuck you. Want to make you come that way.”

“Okay, yes, just, do it now .” He rolls over, reaching into his nightstand and pulls out a bottle of lube and a condom. “Here.”

Harry grabs them graciously, immediately pouring the lube onto his fingers, rubbing them together, and as he starts to push in the first one, Louis winces.

“You okay?”

He nods. “Just. Been a while.”

“How long is a while?”

Louis pushes his hips forward, asking for more. “I don’t know, Harry, just…”

Harry doesn’t move his finger. “Tell me.”

“Fuck, since before you got here, okay?”

He grabs Louis’ left leg and pushes it wider, trying not to read too much into that Louis hasn't been with anyone since he's met Harry. “With Corey?”

“Oh my God, are you seriously bringing up my past fuck right now? Is that what you’re thinking about?”

And to be honest, that’s definitely not what he’s thinking about. In fact, he doesn’t think he’s ever going to stop thinking about the way Louis looks right now, skin flushed and eyes asking for something Harry isn’t sure of but knows he’ll give him. “No, that’s not what I’m thinking about.” He pushes his pointer finger in all the way and Louis shouts, biting down on his fist when Harry goes for the second finger immediately after. “I’m thinking about the way you taste, and the way you look when you first get out of bed in the morning.” He twists his fingers just right and Louis’ fingers dig into the mattress. “I’m thinking about the way your arse looks when you’re walking around in just boxers. And the way you say my name. Love the way my name sounds coming out of your mouth.”

“Harry,” Louis says, “Harry, more, c’mon.”

“This is definitely my favorite way I’ve heard you say my name, though, in case you were wondering.” He pushes in a third finger, Louis clenching down involuntarily. “Can’t wait to fuck you. Been thinking about it for so long.”

“Jesus Christ.” Louis throws his hands over his eyes. “Would you just shut up?”

Harry smiles, twisting and curling his fingers, making Louis leak precome. “Never.”

But he does stop talking, too wrapped up in the way Louis looks and feels, how vulnerable he is; he wants to stare at him and touch him until neither of them can take it anymore. And based on the way Louis is bordering on incoherent, Harry’s sure they’re almost at that point.

Louis eventually whines that he’s not going to let Harry fuck him if he keeps it up, that he’ll get himself off without Harry’s help, and Harry knows he probably isn’t serious, but he can’t risk it. He pulls his fingers out of Louis and with shaking hands, rolls the condom down onto himself, trying to prepare himself.

He groans obscenely as he pushes in, even just the head inside enough to make his stomach clench, and he distracts himself with how good it feels by kissing Louis, teeth clinking together, panting into each other’s mouths. He lets Louis adjust, wiggling his hips around, lips parted, and as Harry slides in further, he’s embarrassed that he knows this won’t last long, not at all, not with the way Louis feels.

Harry’s movements start up slow and even, trying to find an angle that’s good for Louis and when he finds it, Louis arches his back, eyes squeezed shut and whining. He murmurs how hot Harry is, how good they are together, and Harry all about loses it right there.

His thrusts are still shallow when he admits, “It’s been a while for me, too.” He groans deep in his throat when Louis clenches down and Harry pushes deeper inside of him.

Louis scrunches up his face in a way that Harry’s cock doesn’t disagree with. “With who? Colin?”

He snorts and thrusts harder, effectively getting Louis to stop talking for the moment. “Good thing we both have this jealousy thing under control.”

“‘m never jealous,” Louis says through gritted teeth, then gasps on Harry’s angle change. “Fuck, you fuck me so well. More.”

Harry shakes his head, trying to ignore the unraveling feeling in the pit of his stomach. “No.”

“What the fuck do you mean ‘no’?!” Harry feels Louis’ hand slide off his back and down onto his cock, jerking himself quickly, in time with Harry’s thrusts. “So close, gonna come.”

Harry slows down, peppering kisses along Louis’ hairline and cheekbones. “Not yet.”

Harry ,” Louis grunts out. “ Please.

He swallows, pressing his lips to Louis’ neck, fisting at Louis’ hair. “I don’t want this to end,” he murmurs into Louis’ collarbones.

And it's. He’s bone tired, running off of about three hours of sleep, and he knows Louis is in the same situation, but he wants to draw this out. He wants to go as slowly as possible, taking his time. He wants to feel every inch and stretch and drag. Harry doesn't want to forget a single thing about his first time with Louis, and it might honestly kill him if it's his last.

Louis looks up, eyes wide and sweat trickling down his forehead. “Make me come. Make me come and we’ll do this again.” He kisses down Harry’s neck, breath hot when he speaks. “We’ll do everything. Just.” Louis thrusts his hips upward. “C’mon.”

Harry nods, throat tight, and he believes Louis, he does. “Yeah. Wanna make you come.” He looks down and watches as Louis slides his fist up and down his cock. “Wanna see you. Wanna do everything with you.” He picks up his movements, harder and firmer this time, and he can feel his own orgasm building as Louis starts to let go, opening his mouth in a silent shout as he comes all over his hand, body going slack underneath Harry’s, and that’s all it takes for Harry to let go, too, body wracked with shivers and shakes once it finally stops.

By the time everything is said and done and over with, Harry is so completely spent that he doesn’t actually remember pulling out of Louis or throwing away the condom or climbing back into bed beside him, exhausted and blessed out of his mind.

He starts to drift off with his head on Louis’ chest, Louis’ hand in his hair, and he’s too exhausted to speak, even when he hears Louis whisper, “Christ, I’m absolutely crazy about you, too.”

That part, he remembers.

Chapter Text

Louis wakes up the next morning with a horrible crick in his neck, his entire body sore, and a larger than life nearly 6’ tall man tangled up beside him, shirtless and snoring.

He stretches, remembering last night’s events, and his stomach turns when he thinks about the way Harry hadn’t been able to stop staring at him, so intense, gaze burning, or the way he’d thrusted into him with no abandon, just desperate to get them both off. It was so unbearably hot, a steady and relentless buildup of months leading up to that very moment, and Louis can’t think of anything other than Harry.

That, and getting up and showering. His muscles ache and he feels disgusting.

He slides out of Harry’s embrace slowly as to not wake him up, stepping over Harry’s clothes on the floor beside the bed. Harry rolls slightly, groaning and reaching out, falling silent and still once more.

When Louis gets a good look at himself in the mirror in the bathroom, his first reaction is to punch Harry directly in the face. Why did he find it necessarily to go hog wild on his neck? Is this kid fucking serious? He touches the purple bruise, dragging his finger across it, and it actually hurts. And Jesus Christ, his hair is flying in a million different directions, courtesy of Harry fisting his hands into it when he was fucking into him over and over again.

Louis swallows heavily as he turns on the water in the shower. He looks like shit, he feels like shit, and fuck, if he hasn’t been this happy in a long while.

It’s been a full month of wanting nothing but Harry’s hands and mouth and eyes on him, necessary for his wellbeing, and now that he’s had it, he knows he isn’t ever going to be able to stop thinking about it. It’s the longest he’s wanted someone in recent years, mind focused and unwavering, and Goddamnit, it isn’t just physical. How could it be when Harry is Harry ?

In all the times he’s obsessed over being with Harry in his own head since Halloween, it never even came close to how it really is; it’s better . The events of last night left him feeling unraveled, mind and body open, giving Harry complete and total access. And for weeks , Louis had tried not to entertain the idea that Harry was feeling the same - even though he’d had a tiny inkling Harry was probably on the same page - but now that it’s happened, now that he knows Harry wants him as thoroughly and as deeply as Louis does… There’s no questioning it anymore. There’s no turning back. It’s overwhelming; it’s a relief.

After he stands under the hot water and steam for what feels like a small eternity, he makes his way back up the stairs with his towel wrapped around his waist, droplets of water dripping off the ends of his hair, trickling down his back. He creaks open his bedroom door in case Harry is still sleeping, but he’s sitting up in Louis’ bed, sleepy look on his face, hair a disaster.

“Hi,” he murmurs, running his fingers through his curls.

Louis smiles. “Hello.”

Harry smiles back. “Sleep good?”

“Minus the British oaf breathing down my neck all night, yeah, it was good.”

“Hm. You should probably have a word with him about that.”

“I intend to.”

“He’ll probably just argue that you smell really good and you’re warm and he wanted to be as close to you as possible.”

Louis rolls his eyes, but he can feel his face heating up. “Get your own bed, Styles.” He turns and starts rifling through his drawer, looking for a pair of jeans to put on. He’s about to drop his towel, but he can almost feel Harry’s eyes on him. “Are you… Gonna keep staring.”

“Yes.”

He looks over his shoulder. “Turn around, Harry. I’m trying to get dressed.”

“It’s nothing I haven’t seen before. It’s something I’d like to see again, quite honestly. Many times.”

“Jesus.” Louis grips his towel tighter and narrows his eyes. “You’re confident this morning.”

“No, not confident.” He blinks twice before he turns around completely. “Just hopeful.”

He exhales sharply before he starts rifling around in his drawer, pulling out the first pair of briefs and black skinny jeans he can find. He yanks them on quickly and spins around to see Harry still facing the wall. “‘kay, I’m decent now.”

Harry turns and fake gasps. “ In decent, you mean. You’re topless!”

Louis snorts. “Yeah, well, nothing you haven’t seen before, right?”

“Don’t mock me.” He climbs out of Louis’ bed and stretches his back, rolling his shoulders. “Do you still wanna shop?”

He nods. “Yeah. Hopefully everything will still be there.”

Harry hums in agreement. “Also.” He takes a second and makes a wary face. “Do you maybe want to discuss what’s going on with us, possibly?”

“Uh.” He shifts from one foot to the other. “What’re you thinking?”

He bites at his bottom lip, purposefully, nervously. “I’m thinking,” he starts slowly, “that one time with you is most definitely not enough, and if anything, it made my infatuation with you worse.”

Louis feels himself blushing again. “Coming on a little strong there, babe.”

Harry smiles. “Lou, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m absolutely crazy about you.”

He nods at that, because Harry has made it abundantly clear over the past few days - weeks, really, if he’s thinking about it - and he knows, he can feel it whenever Harry so much as looks at him. That solidifies how Louis feels, knowing he isn’t alone, that Harry’s feelings rival his own. “I don’t want it to be weird.”

Harry starts crossing the room. “It won’t be.”

“How do you know?”

“Because it isn’t weird right now.”

“It is, sort of.”

“Other than the fact that you just hid your naked ass from me, one that I was literally just inside of, like, six hours ago…”

Louis makes a horrified face. “Oh my God .”

Harry laughs, and then he’s standing in front of Louis, cupping his jaw in his hands. “It feels so normal, like this is what we should have been doing the whole time.”

He reaches up and grips Harry’s wrists, unable to make eye contact. “Everything is really easy with you,” he mumbles under his breath, and Harry steps in further.

“It is, isn’t it?” He brushes his thumbs across Louis’ cheekbones. “Fuck, I can’t stand how much I like you.”

“It’s annoying, huh.”

Harry laughs. “It is. Starting to affect my everyday life.”

“Hm, how so?”

“The last hour of class I become completely useless. All I can think about is coming home to see you.”

Louis clears his throat. “Is that it?”

“Oh, you want the full list?”

“I mean, if you want to tell me.”

“Sure.” Harry smirks, because he knows it’s a game, but he’s going to play along, as per usual, until Louis can’t stand it anymore and has to tell him to cut it out. “Ask me what happened last week on Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead .”

“What happened, Harry?”

“I have no idea, because you were sitting next to me and I couldn’t focus on anything in front of me. All I wanted to do was touch you.”

“You weren’t very subtle about it, what with the way you kept squishing in closer to me.”

He smiles, unashamed. “Got a C- on an exam last week because you asked me to go with you to Daisy’s practice and I didn’t have time to study.”

“A C- isn’t that bad,” Louis says, shrugging.

“No, but I definitely should have done better.”

“Yeah, probably.” He grips Harry’s wrists tighter. “You’re something else, you know that?”

Harry drops his forehead to Louis’. “You gonna go shopping like this? No shirt?”

“That’d be a little risqu é , don’t you think?”

“No, I quite like it.” He inhales sharply. “Do you have any idea how gorgeous I find you?”

Louis closes his eyes, opens them slowly. “I’m starting to get the idea.”

“Good.” He leans in impossibly close, impossibly slowly, and Louis’ breath hitches in his throat.

“Harry,” he whispers right before Harry’s lips brush against his own, “I really need to buy a printer.”

“Okay. We’ll leave in a minute. Just need to kiss you.”

Need to?”

Harry nods. “Yeah. Need to.”

“Alright. One minute.”

“One minute, yeah.”

 

They don’t leave for another two hours.


 

It’s been five days since Thanksgiving and things between Louis and Harry have changed in more ways than one. The tension is still there, still pulling at them and palpable, but now, Louis doesn’t shy away from it, not afraid of what’ll happen if they give in. Instead, he dives head first into it, too happy to think about the repercussions of what’ll happen if he starts contemplating about it too much. He doesn’t feel like he’s drowning anymore, and instead, enjoys the fall.

The transition from roommates to friends to… Whatever this is, is seamless, miraculously, hardly awkward or uncomfortable, and Louis can’t help but think just how very lucky he is, in more ways than one.

Tuesday night after dinner, Louis finds Harry in the family room with a textbook on his lap and the TV muted - something on the Discovery channel. Louis readjusts his glasses and sits down on the couch next to him, draping his legs across Harry’s lap and over the book.

Harry looks over, amused. “Can I help you with something?”

“Eh, I dunno. Just thought you’d like a study break, and what better way to take a break than to pay attention to me.”

“Do I really have a choice?”

“No.”

He laughs. “As tempting as you are… I really have to finish studying this chapter. I have an exam on Thursday.”

“Jeesh, how many exams can one college give?”

“You should know, you went there.”

Louis flexes his toes. “Ah, yes, I did, in my young age.”

“So many years ago.”

“Exactly.”

Harry pushes Louis’ legs off of him, picking up the textbook, and Louis is about to complain about the not so gentle manhandling, but then Harry slides down onto the couch, putting his head in Louis’ lap, knees propped up to hold up his book.

“Here, now I can study and I’m paying attention to you.”

Louis looks down, pouting. “How does this count as you paying attention to me? If anything, I’m paying attention to you . Your big, stupid head is in my lap.”

Harry wiggles around, smirk on his face. “Yeah, an’ it feels nice. You’re comfortable.”

“Okay, you’re annoying.”

“Want me to move?”

Louis’ pout deepens. “No.”

Harry laughs. “Alright.” He reaches for the remote on the coffee table in front of them. “You can change the channel, if you want.”

“Oh, gee, how thoughtful of you.”

“I try my best.”

Louis clicks through the channels to find something more interesting than whatever the hell Harry has on, and settles on a rerun of Seinfeld . He turns up the volume and slides his fingers into Harry’s curls, threading through them a bit, loving how soft they always seem to be.

Harry doesn’t look up from his textbook when he grabs Louis’ hand and pulls the back of it to his mouth, kissing it, then nudging it back into his hair, silently asking for Louis to keep playing. Louis can’t see Harry’s face but he knows he’s smiling, anyway, dimple out.

He scratches gently at Harry’s scalp, pulling the curls out, Harry humming contently. They sit there wordlessly, long enough for the Seinfeld episode to finish and for an episode of Friends to start immediately after. Louis looks down at his lap and smirks when he sees how frizzy Harry’s hair is from all the touching, but when he pulls away, Harry shakes his head and says, “Nuh uh, keep going.”

“You’re like an oversized cat,” he responds.

“Am not. Rub behind my ears.”

Louis snorts, but keeps scratching, anyway.

He loses track of time, only realizes how late it’s getting when Jay comes downstairs in her pajamas and bathrobe. She peers into the living room, smiles, and then pulls open the refrigerator door and takes out a bottle of water.

“Goodnight, boys,” she says over her shoulder, and heads back upstairs.

“Night, Jay,” Harry says mindlessly, turning the page of his book.

Louis frowns. “Wait. That was weird.”

Harry twists and turns to look up. “What was?”

“My mom.”

“What was weird about that?”

“She didn’t even question anything.”

Harry sits up all the way. “Question… What.”

This ,” he says, gesturing between them. “You, in my lap.”

“Oh.” He shrugs. “Huh.”

Huh ? That’s it?”

“I dunno.” Harry closes his textbook. “I didn’t think it was weird, so.”

“Okay, yeah, I’ll be right back.” He pushes Harry off of him and stands up. “‘m gonna go see what all of that was about.”

“You do that, and I’m going to look up someone to have you studied.”

Louis flips him off over his shoulder as he makes his way up the stairs, Harry laughing behind him.

His mom is sitting on her bed when he pushes the door open, and she looks up from her phone. “You heading upstairs to bed?”

“Yeah, in a minute. Okay. So. Why didn’t you say anything downstairs just now?”

She looks as confused as Harry did. “About what?”

“Me… And Harry,” he says, waving his hands around, wondering why this is so difficult to get out.

“I don’t understand.”

“Mom. He was literally laying in my lap and you just brushed it off like it was nothing.”

She stares at him blankly for several seconds. “You’re acting strange.”

I’m not, you are!”

Jay purses her lips together. “Want to try that again?”

“Sorry, just.” He flicks his hair out of his eyes. “Did it not seem odd to you?”

“Not particularly, no.”

“Why?!”

“Because you two didn’t look any different than you normally do.”

And. There it is. Louis doesn’t know how to respond to that, really, just stares down at his bare feet on the carpet. “Are you exaggerating?” he asks, voice wobbling.

“No, you two are always all over each other. I’ve walked in on you guys like that a hundred times, probably.”

Louis swallows. “Is that, like.” He shrugs. “A bad thing?”

“I don’t know. Is it a bad thing?”

He scrunches up his face and bounces on the balls of his feet. “I don’t think so? We’re, uh. I think we might be together.”

She laughs, which is not what Louis was expecting. “It’s about time.”

He groans. “Ah, Christ, this is so embarrassing.”

“Yes, it is, because you’ve both been so blind to it for so long that it was bordering on pathetic that nothing had happened yet.”

“Oh my God, I’m going back downstairs now.”

She laughs again. “It’s a good thing, baby. You two work so well together.”

He can feel his face heating up. “I’m not really sure what we’re doing.”

“You like him.” It’s not a question, so he just nods.

“Yeah.”

“He likes you.”

Louis snorts. “I would hope so.”

“That’s good for now, right?”

He nods. “Yeah. It’s good for now.”

 

Louis heads back downstairs and finds Harry lounging on the couch, leg draped over the back of the couch, curls sprawled out underneath him, textbook balanced on his chest. When he sees Louis, he rolls over flat onto his stomach, book falling onto the floor, and looks up at him, one eye squinted.

“You came back to me,” he murmurs, voice deep and slow as usual, cheeks pink.

Louis rolls his eyes. “You’re so stupid.”

“Thanks, now sit back down.”

He listens - for once - climbing over Harry and sliding in between him and the back of the couch cushions. And he doesn’t really know what they’re doing, where they’re headed, but Harry’s mouth is on his and it’s sweet and unhurried and Harry .

He kisses back and yes, it’s good for now. So, so good.


 

The first week of December, Hartford gets slammed with snow. It starts off slowly, just some flurries that melt instantly on the pavement, but overnight, a storm rolls in from out of nowhere, dropping over a foot of snow onto the ground and canceling classes everywhere for two days.

Louis calls his office and tells them he’s working from home for the next few days - roads are too dangerous to drive on and he can’t get out of his driveway - and he settles in at his desk, starting up his laptop. He’s been at it for only ten minutes when he hears someone sprinting up the attic stairs, then barreling in through the door.

“Louis!” Harry shrieks, eyes wide. “Did you see all the snow?!”

He turns slowly in his chair. “Yes… I did.”

“Why aren’t you freaking out like I am?!”

“Because it’s snow?”

“I know! There’s so much of it!”

“Are you okay?”

Harry pouts. “Okay, you’re being boring.”

“You’re just acting like you’ve never seen a foot and a half of snow before.”

“I haven’t !”

“I’m sorry, is England tropical?”

“No, you dick, but we never get more than a few inches at a time.”

Louis laughs. “Well, that makes sense then.”

“We just don’t get this much snow at home. Ever. This is absolutely insane. Wanna go sledding down the hill in the backyard?”

He rolls his eyes and goes back to his laptop. “Sure, and then we’ll head into town and pick out some penny candy and sing Christmas carols.”

“Now you’re not boring, you’re just mean.”

He laughs again. “I have a lot of work to do. But I bet you can find some neighborhood kids to frolic around with you.”

“Please just be reckless and irresponsible for a little bit. I don’t want to frolic with the neighborhood kids. I want you .”

Louis smirks. “Tempting. But. I have a job.”

Harry pouts. “Ugh. Fine. I’m going outside. If you decide to be fun, that’s where I’ll be.”

“Okay, enjoy, and put on a hat. It’s, like 24 degrees.”

“Thanks, Mum.” He turns on his heels to head downstairs, shaking his head, and Louis honestly can’t believes he’s in like with a 12-year-old trapped in a man’s body.

 

Louis only retreats downstairs one time during the entire morning into early afternoon, and it’s to grab some lunch from the kitchen. He’s warming up leftover pasta from the night before, watching the seconds tick down on the microwave, and that’s when he realizes how painfully quiet it is in the house. He looks around, expecting to see one of his sisters or mom or Dan or something , but it appears to be just him, all alone, standing there with a plate of raviolis.

Hm. Weird.

He fills up a glass of water and he starts to make his way back up to the attic when he hears a shriek from outside, somewhere in the backyard, followed by another scream, and then several more.

Weirder.

He heads back into the kitchen and looks out the back window, squinting against the glare of the blindingly white snow. Harry, Lottie, Fizzy, Phoebe, and Daisy are all in the backyard, four snowmen already built, Phoebe on Harry’s back, all of them laughing about something that Louis can’t hear. He walks over to the sliding glass doors and yanks one open.

“Hey, Styles, what are you doing to my kids?” he calls out.

All five of them look, Harry’s smile bright, even from across the yard. “Just havin’ a little contest.”

“A snowman building contest? Aren’t you 21?”

In response to that, he gets a chorus of boo’s, and Lottie yelling, “You suck, you boring, old man!”

He rolls his eyes. “Where’s my mom? And Doris and Ernie?”

“She took them next door to play,” Fizzy calls out, “something you know nothing about.”

“Okay this is abuse. Enjoy your frozen rain.” Louis slides the door shut, shaking his head at the way they all start screaming again, and picks up his lunch to bring it upstairs.

He makes it about halfway down the hallway before he turns around, puts his lunch back on the table, grabs his boots, gloves, and jacket, and heads outside.

Louis spends the rest of the afternoon in the snow with his family, managing to whitewash Harry twice; Harry retaliates by shoving snow down into the back of his shirt, immediately kissing him fiercely afterward, the girls pretending to gag. When they finally trudge inside, Harry follows Louis upstairs, his hands on Louis’ waist the whole time, and when Harry tumbles into bed after him, mouth desperate and touch relentless, the 17 emails Louis has waiting for him is completely worth it.


 

“And tell me again, how did we end up getting stuck doing this?”

Louis grunts and pushes yet another cardboard box out of the way. “The girls are afraid of spiders.”

“Oh, and I’m so bloody fond of them.”

“Shut up and keep pushing.”

It takes them about half an hour to find all of the Christmas decorations in the unused part of the basement, pushing through various containers and bags and boxes for what feels like a days, and only encountering a handful of spiders, thank you very much. They sort through the lights, working on getting them untangled to hang on the bushes outside, and while Louis is stacking the ornament containers to carry them upstairs, Harry starts laughing.

“Lou, look what I found.” He holds up a set of photos, the majority of them Polaroid pictures. “Look at you, you little cutie baby, you.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “Lemme see.” He leans over to look and laughs. “Oh, good. Naked photos of me in a tub.”

“And on a Polaroid. Jay was quite a hipster back in the day.”

“Not so much a hipster as that’s the only camera she could afford, probably.” He grabs the photo album next to Harry and starts flipping through the pages, smiling at a picture of Jay with Fizzy in the hospital on the day she was born. “I’m surprised you don’t have a Polaroid camera, Styles.”

Harry shakes his head. “Yeah, me, too. I’ve always wanted one. Wait, look at this one.” He holds up a photo of Louis and Lottie, hunting for Easter eggs. “She’s in a bonnet .”

Louis laughs. “Yeah, let’s save that one for the next time we’re fighting. I’ll whip it out.”

“I’m gonna save this one, too.”

“The tub one?!”

“Yeah, because who doesn’t love blackmail? And besides, your butt is so squishy and perfect.”

“You mean my butt was so squishy and perfect.”

Harry smirks. “Sure.”

Louis is quick enough that Harry doesn’t even have a second to react before Louis is tackling him to the ground and ripping the photo out of his hands.

 

That night, long after the babies are asleep and Harry has untangled himself from the mess of Christmas lights Louis had strung around him, tying him up, laughing maniacally the whole time, does Harry pull out a picture from his sweatshirt pocket and wave it around in Louis’ face. It’s a photo of him, probably around the age of four, watching TV with his hand down his pants and his fingers in his nose.

“I think I’ve seen you do this recently, too,” Harry says, laughing. “This one’s going in my vault.”

And this time, Louis isn’t fast enough to get it back.


 

Hartford gets hit with another snowstorm, this one more mild, but still enough for Harry’s classes to be canceled and for the girls to all stay home from school. Louis isn’t so lucky this time and begrudgingly makes his way to work, grumbling the entire commute. The morning in the office drags on, Louis staring out the windows every ten seconds, desperate to get home and be with his family, his boy. And it certainly doesn’t help when Harry sends him a picture around lunch of Daisy and Phoebe on either side of him on the couch, watching a movie. He doesn’t answer, just slams his phone back into his desk and pretends to focus on a single document for the rest of the day.

By the time he gets home at 5:45, it’s already completely pitch black outside and a steady snowfall is coming down once more, covering the driveway. The twinkling lights beneath the layer of snow draped across the bushes does nothing to illuminate the walkway, and he nearly slips on his way inside. He curses under his breath, tired and annoyed, irritated that he feels like an entire day was just completely wasted. He bypasses everyone in the kitchen in favor of immediately going upstairs, not in the mood to talk to them. It isn’t really their fault that Louis had to work and they didn’t, but his boss bitched at him today and he didn’t get much accomplished at his desk and he didn’t get to watch a movie with Harry and Phoebe and Daisy.

He throws his bedroom door open and kicks his shoes off, unbuttoning his work shirt, pausing when he sees a certain someone on his bed doing homework and listening to music on his laptop.

“Can I help you?”

Harry smirks. “Nope, just getting some work done.”

“In my bed?”

“The basement was cold.”

“You couldn’t have done it in the living room or in the kitchen?”

“Nah, it was quieter up here.”

“Makes sense.”

“I know.” Harry shoves his laptop off to the side. “Can you come here so I can kiss you?”

“You can’t come here?”

He shrugs. “I could. But we both know you’re gonna put on sweatpants and slide into bed, anyway, so.”

He’s right. Louis sighs and takes off his work pants, grabbing comfier clothes and slipping them on, Harry’s gaze never once waning. Louis readjusts the strings on his sweatshirt and cocks his head to the side. “The more you stare, the more you’re like a creepy serial killer.”

“Not the first time you’ve said that.”

“Probably won’t be the last.”

“Probably not, because I can never stop staring.” He pats the spot next to him on the mattress. “Now come here.

Louis shakes his head, taking his spot next to Harry. “Why do I listen to you again?”

Harry kisses Louis’ jaw. “Because you like me.”

He closes his eyes when Harry slides his mouth down to his neck. “What gives you that impression?”

Sounds like you like me, whenever I fuck you.”

Louis snorts. “See if you’re ever allowed to fuck me again.”

He can feel Harry’s grin against his shoulder. “Kinda wanna fuck you right now.”

“How is that news to me?”

“Can you blame me?” He brushes his thumb along Louis’ bottom lip. “Best thing I ever felt, fucking you.”

“Okay, stop.” Louis laces his fingers around the back of Harry’s neck and pulls him down toward him, their lips barely brushing together. “Did you have a good day off with my sisters,” he whispers against Harry’s mouth.

Harry nods. “I did. Missed you, though.”

And Louis believes him. Harry’s nothing but sincere, especially when he’s looking at Louis like this, touching him like this, leaning back in to kiss him like this, tongues sliding together and hands already wandering, giving into temptation. Louis can’t help but whine, pressing his body in closer to Harry’s, Harry pressing him down into the mattress, rolling their hips together, breathing coming out more uneven, unsteady.

By the time Harry has worked Louis up to three fingers and is finally hovering over him, pushing inside in one, swift motion, Louis is nearly incoherent, sweating into the sheets and unable to focus on anything other than the way Harry keeps murmuring Louis’ name, keeps thrusting into him, primal and relentless.

“Can’t believe how good you feel,” Harry murmurs into Louis’ neck, pushing into him harder. “You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me, I swear to God.”

Louis tries to swallow, gets a hand around his cock and starts jerking himself to match Harry’s rhythm. “Don’t think you think that’s a little shallow?” He gasps on a particularly hard thrust, and he’s already almost there.

Harry looks right at him, eyes unblinking, expression nearly pained. “No, not because of this .” He kisses Louis, slick and hot, their noses bumping together as Harry keeps thrusting his hips. “You’re just good, in every aspect, in anything you do. So, so good.”

Louis’ breathing speeds up, stomach clenching. “‘m close.”

“You’re gorgeous and brilliant and so kind, I can’t even believe it.” His expression looks frantic. “You’re everything.”

“Fuck.” Louis whimpers and comes, entire body seizing with it, and Harry’s entire body goes tense moments later, pushing as deep as he can go, riding it out with his mouth on Louis’.

And it’s a lot. It’s always a lot, the way Harry fucks Louis, the way he touches and kisses and talks to him, and Louis will never get over the intensity of every aspect that is Harry . He drags his hand along Harry’s jaw, squeezing lightly, Harry opening his eyes at that. He pulls Louis’ hand to his mouth and kisses along his knuckles.

“Best thing that’s ever happened to me,” he repeats, voice much quieter this time, and Louis’ throat tightens. It’s one thing to say it in the heat of the moment, but that’s not the case, not now. Harry means it, he always does, and Louis will never get over this.

 

A few hours later, long after dinner is finished and they’re back in the attic, Harry’s rubbing gentle circles in between Louis’ shoulders. Louis’ eyes are closed, letting Harry work his magic, undoing a knot in his back that’s been bothering him for days.

“What’re you thinking about,” Harry says against Louis’ temple.

He hums. “How annoying it is that your hands always feel so good.”

He laughs. “Anything for you.”

“Ew.”

Harry laughs again, pressing his thumb in harder into Louis’ muscles. “Can I ask you something?”

“You just did.”

“I’m serious.”

Louis opens his eyes. “‘kay. Shoot.”

Harry scratches gently at Louis’ back through his t-shirt. “How long did you know?”

“Know what?”

“That I wanted you.”

“Oh.” Louis sits up, Harry’s hands falling to his side. “I, uh, actually, I’ve never really thought about it.”

Harry sits up, too. “Really?”

He nods. “Yeah. I mean, you’re a flirty guy, and I just assumed you were like this with everyone.”

Harry drums his fingers along Louis’ thigh. “I thought I was being fairly obvious right from the start.” He shrugs. “It was always different with you. It still is.”

Louis smirks. “I should hope it’s different.”

“Yeah, I’m definitely not out doing this ,” he says, gesturing between them, “with anyone else.”

“Good. So, are you gonna tell me? When you decided you just had to have me?”

Harry rolls his eyes, smiling. “I don’t think there was, like, an exact day or anything. But it really started to drive me nuts after you went on that date.” He makes a face. “With Guy . Jesus, I was so jealous, and that’s when I knew, and I really thought you did, too.”

Louis snorts. “I forgot about him.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t.”

“I can see that.” He pauses, thinking. “But no, I didn’t know. Not for a while, anyway. I started to catch on a few weeks ago, maybe. When I stopped being so oblivious.”

Harry sweeps Louis’ hair out of his eyes, nodding. “It was kind of just a crush from the start, and then October it started to turn into a bit more than that…” He pauses. “Halloween set me over the edge.”

Louis nods. “Me, too.”

“Yeah?”

“Mhm. I mean, I’d been attracted to you from day one…”

Harry waggles his brows. “Oh, yeah, baby?”

“And funnily enough, I’m not attracted to you anymore.”

He laughs. “Continue.”

Louis takes a deep breath. “Like I said, I was always attracted to you. But. I never thought of you as more than, like, my roommate.”

“Ouch.”

He smiles. “I didn’t think you were an option, really. We were both doing our own things and going on dates and then you had to go and kiss me like that on Halloween and everything was different afterward. And I couldn’t figure out if it was mutual, so, I just… Became a lunatic.” He runs his hands through his hair, thinking. “I felt like I had to distance myself a little because I didn’t know where you stood. Not for sure, anyway. I didn’t know what I wanted or what you wanted and, like. It turns out it’s impossible to stay away from you.”

Harry scrunches up his nose. “Finally got you to want me back.”

“That’s quite an understatement.”

He fist pumps the air and Louis laughs, laying down. He puts his head in Harry’s lap, and Harry starts threading his fingers through Louis’ hair instantly. “I’m very happy,” he murmurs, looking down.

Louis closes his eyes, forcing Harry’s steady gaze off of him. “Good.”


 

December goes by quicker than the entire season of autumn seemed to, and Louis assumes that has to do with his birthday and Christmas looming around the corner. Everyone is busy, running to and from the mall, picking out gifts, or at home, hurrying to finish end of the quarter projects.

Harry, though, somehow manages to find the time to sit in front of his laptop and catch up on the past five years of the NFL, Sundays and otherwise, completely obsessed with the mechanics of the game, the rules, the players. On the fourth night in a row that Louis has walked in on him staring at his laptop screen, he whips a pillow at him from the sectional couch by the end of the bed.

“Seriously, you’re British. You’re not even allowed to like it.”

Harry laughs, not looking away from the laptop. “It’s interesting, and you’re horrible.”

“You’re a dick.”

“Yes.”

“Are you even listening to me?”

“Sure.”

“Oh my God.” Louis pauses, then smirks as he sits on the end of the bed. He takes off his shirt and stretches, arching his back. “I’ll just be here, hanging out.”

Harry looks up and does a brief double take. “Pun intended, I would assume.” Then he looks back down at the screen, squinting.

“Are you serious, Styles?!”

“Baby, look, it’s an important game.”

Louis peers over the edge of the laptop. “Harry, it says this was recorded in 2011!”

“I didn’t say it was recent.”

He groans. “I hate football.”

“Don’t hurt its feelings. Be nice.”

He puts his shirt back on, pouting. “Is this how the rest of the season is going to go? Until the Super Bowl happens?”

Harry looks back up, his eyes wide. “Oh my God, I forgot about the Super Bowl.”

“Fuck.”

“But yeah, this is probably how the rest of the season is going to go.”

“I now find you remarkably less appealing.”

“Thanks, baby. You, too.”

 

And the rest of December doesn’t completely go like that; there are still some nights that Harry basically has his nose pressed up against the computer screen, desperate to watch and learn. But there are other nights, too, where he lets Louis take him out to coffee shops, urging him to try his favorite kinds of tea, or nights when Louis drives them back up to that high spot that overlooks Hartford, and if they go late enough, they can see hundreds of homes with their Christmas lights turned on, illuminating the valley below them. They go out to Chinese restaurants, ice cream dates on 31 degree nights, to the movies if nothing at home seems appealing, and more often than not, it ends up with Louis pressing Harry up against the side of the basement door, breathless and body riddled with anticipation for what’s to come. Harry will mumble against Louis’ lips, “I can’t get enough of you,” and it feels like a first date would - complete with nerves and stolen glances and endless teasing - every single time.

And the way Harry looks at him on those nights? Louis will graciously allow 100 hours of pointless football watching if it means Harry continues to stare at him the way he does, gaze unwavering and eyes wide, focusing on Louis, only Louis.


 

One night, two weeks before Christmas, Louis happily clicks the confirm button on his laptop just as Harry opens the attic bedroom and steps inside.

“What’re you doing?”

Louis smiles. “May have just bought a cute boy a Christmas present that I’m very excited about.”

“Oh, what’d you get me?”

“Who said it was for you?”

Harry laughs. “Actually, though, that’s why I came up here. I wanted to talk to you about Christmas.”

“Shit, are you Jewish? Have we never discussed this?”

He rolls his eyes. “Don’t you think I would have mentioned it while we were decorating the Christmas tree?”

“I don’t know. You’re polite, maybe you were just being helpful.”

“What kind of logic is that?” Harry shakes his head. “Okay, no, we’re very off track. I actually have something to discuss with you.”

Louis sighs. “Alright. Shoot.”

“Before I came here back in August, my mum bought me a plane ticket to go back home for the holiday.”

He nods slowly. “Right… You’ve mentioned this before. Christmas Eve night until December 30th.”

“Yeah. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. It’s apparently longer than I thought.”

“Wait. How much longer.”

Harry closes his eyes. “December 22nd to January 4th.”

“What?!”

He holds up his hands. “I know.”

“You’re going to miss my birthday, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve?! That’s almost two full weeks!”

“I know,” he repeats. “I just got off the phone with my mum. She said she extended the days as a surprise, thinking I’d want to see all the family and be home for a while.”

“Harry!” Louis stupidly feels like he’s going to lose his mind. “You said you wanted to go to Times Square for New Year’s Eve! And you won’t be here for my birthday at all!”

Harry crosses the room and puts his hands on Louis’ shoulders. “I didn’t plan it, Lou. ‘m sorry. I really had no idea she wanted to do this.” He looks genuinely upset as he rubs his thumbs across Louis’ arms. “We can celebrate your birthday before I leave and we’ll make our own New Year’s when I come back.”

“No, that’s awful. You wanted to go stand in the crowds in Times Square and now there won’t be any crowds. It won’t even be the actual new year anymore.”

Harry steps back. “ You were the one complaining about the crowds in the first place! I think your exact words were, ‘Harry, people stand in diapers in that fucking crowd for days so they don’t lose their spot and I am not about to buy you some Depends.’” He shrugs. “Now we can do something else. Something fun.”

Louis pouts. “I hate you.”

“Do you really, though?”

“No.”

Harry reaches for Louis’ hands. “I’m more sad about missing your birthday.”

“The big two-three.”

“I know. I hate that I won’t be here.”

Louis sighs. “Ugh. Not your fault, I guess.”

“We can exchange birthday and Christmas presents before I leave, if you want. Please don’t be mad.”

“I’m not mad, Jesus. I can’t be mad at you for going home to spend time with your family after four months of not seeing them. I’m just disappointed we won’t be together.”

Harry groans. “That’s somehow worse.”

Louis looks back at the laptop screen, frowning at the gift’s confirmation page. He’s less excited now. Damn it. “It’s alright. We’ll figure it out.”

“I’m sorry, Lou.”

He nods. “Yeah, I know. But it’ll be good. You’ll be able to see your family and I’ll have my bed to myself for once…” He pauses and Harry smiles slightly. “It’ll be good,” he says again.

“Maybe if you say it enough times, you’ll be able to convince yourself.”

Louis gives him the finger before he asks, “What time do you take off?”

“My flight’s at, like, noon that Wednesday.”

“I won’t even be able to take you! I have to work! Fuck.”

Harry rubs his hands across his face and says through his hands, his voice muffled, “It’ll be good.”


 

On December 21st, Louis and Harry are sitting in front of the Christmas tree, wrapped gifts in their laps, a Christmas claymation movie playing in the background behind them. Lottie and Fizzy are both on the couch, half paying attention to the film, half to each other, and Lottie turns up the volume when Harry starts talking.

He nods at Louis. “You go first. Open your birthday present. It’s the bigger one.”

“Is it a puppy?”

“Yeah, hurry up and unwrap him, he can’t breathe.”

“Aw, poor little guy.” Louis yanks off the paper and lifts the top off the box. He pulls out a long sleeved shirt with the Manchester United logo on it. He looks up at Harry, questioning.

“So, over the past few months, I’ve fallen in love with a few things. The first is this home. I love being here, I love this family, I love that I’m a part of it. The second thing is, obviously, football. And I know how much it drives you crazy, but, like. Football is awesome.”

Louis laughs. “Okay, but what does that have to do with this soccer shirt?”

“This football shirt is a little piece of my own home. You haven’t been there and who knows if you’ll ever make it there, but I still want you to be a part of it. I mean, I get to be a part of yours.” He shrugs. “I dunno. I had my mum ship it here for you. It’s kind of dumb, I guess.”

He furrows his brows. “No, Harry, that’s not dumb at all. That’s…” He toys with the ends of the sleeves. “That’s really fucking nice. And God bless Anne.”

“Yeah?”

He nods. “Absolutely. And I’m assuming you picked a football shirt because…”

“Because, like I said, football is awesome. Any kind.”

Louis snorts. “Yeah. Hey, open your Christmas present.”

“But you still have to open yours.”

“No, trust me. Open it now.”

Harry grabs the bag and peers inside. “Wait, there’s two boxes in here.”

“Yeah, I couldn’t decide which gift I liked better so I got them both. Open the bigger one.”

“Ridiculous, you are.” Harry tears off the wrapping of the box and immediately bursts into laughter once it’s opened. “An NFL jumper?!”

“Seems like we were on the same page with this one.”

“Seems like it.” He holds the sweatshirt up, smiling. “I love this.”

“I figured you would. Okay, open the other one.”

He reaches inside the bag again without hesitation and pulls out the second gift, smaller, and square. He looks up at Louis curiously, and Louis waves his hand, encouraging him to open it.

Harry rips off the paper fairly quickly, and his eyes grow comically large once he sees what’s inside. “Louis…” He takes the Polaroid camera out of its box, touching the buttons. “They don’t make these anymore, right?”

“No. But eBay is a wonderful place, a land filled with opportunities.”

Harry bites his bottom lip. “I tell you one time in passing that I’ve always wanted one of these and you make it your mission to bid on one for me, even though they’re discontinued and the ones that are in pristine condition are nearly impossible to get?”

Louis scratches his jaw. “Making me sound a little insane, here.”

“No, Jesus. You’re unbelievable.” He turns the camera over in his hands, examining it at every angle. “I’m kind of speechless.”

“I can see that.”

“That’s never happened to me before.”

“I’m aware. I live with you.”

Harry looks up. “Louis. Thank you.” He sounds impossibly sincere and Louis can’t look at him anymore without blushing.

“Hey, you’re welcome. Take some nice photos. Or, as nice as they could possibly be on a camera that old.”

He smiles. “I will. First, though, open your Christmas present. You only opened your birthday gift.”

“Oh, right. Gimme it.”

Harry hands him a small box wrapped in the same paper as the birthday gift, and Louis shakes it. “Is this an engagement ring because I don’t know if I’m ready for that.”

“Yes, this is how I dreamt up my dream proposal. On the floor, in my pajamas, with your sisters watching, and Mr. Heat Miser singing in the background.”

“I forgot they were here, actually,” Louis says, starting to tear off the paper.

“How flattering,” Fizzy says from behind him.

“And ironic, because I would give anything to not be here,” Lottie adds. “You two are disgusting. Completely nauseating, actually.”

Louis ignores them and pulls out a jewelry box. “Wait, I was kidding, this isn’t really an engagement ring, is it?”

“No, what the hell.”

“Sorry, just making sure.” He opens the lid to find a watch; the strap is dark brown leather, the face is big and bold with black roman numerals, and it might be the nicest accessory Louis has ever owned. He whistles when he starts wrapping it around his wrist. “Styles, you’ve outdone yourself, this is sleek as fuck.” But then, out of the corner of his eye, he sees a yellow sticky note folded up and taped - presumably to assure it doesn’t go anywhere - inside the watch’s box. Louis unfolds it and sees what it is unmistakably Harry’s handwriting: Time with you is all I ask for. Here’s to countless more minutes together. Harry

Harry’s looking at him, gaze unwavering. “Do you like it?”

Louis clears his throat, suddenly unable to find his voice. “Did you… Make a pun out of my gift?”

He smiles. “Sort of.”

“It’s amazing. You’re like.” He looks down at the watch, staring as the second hand ticks by steadily, losing his train of thought. “You put my camera to shame.”

“Definitely not,” he says with a laugh.

Louis looks over at the couch. “Hey. Fizzy. Want to be the first to use Harry’s camera?”

She shrugs. “Sure.”

“Take a picture of us.”

He puts his Manchester United shirt over what he’s already wearing - a heavy UConn sweatshirt - and he knows he looks ridiculous, but it makes Harry laugh and roll his eyes. Harry puts on his NFL sweatshirt, too, and Louis holds up his wrist in the air to show off the watch just as Fizzy presses down on the button to snap the photo. They don’t bother getting up off the floor, Harry’s legs draped across Louis’ lap, Louis squinting at the flash, and she takes a second photo when neither of them are looking at the camera, just looking at each other.

They have to wait for them to develop, which takes about 15 minutes for the entire picture to come through, and they turn out to be decent. Harry writes on the bottom of the first one in blue ink, Time is of the essence. He’s obviously pleased with his second horrible pun of the evening based on the stupid smirk he gives Louis when he shows him, but all Louis can think of is how he’s right.

It’s the end of December and Harry is already halfway done with his time in the United States.


 

Louis gets up for work at his regular time, Harry’s arms wrapped around him and his curls in his face. He tries to shake out of Harry’s grip, a bit unsuccessfully, and groans.

“Harry, off, I have to shower.”

Harry pulls him closer. “No. Don’t leave. I’m not gonna see you until January.”

“You say that like it’s June. And you need to get up, too. Dan said he was planning on leaving to take you to the airport at eight. It’s already seven.”

He kisses Louis’ jaw. “Can’t you just come with me?”

Louis snorts. “Yeah, let me get on that.”

“Get on me instead.”

“We do definitely not have time for that. Control yourself.”

Harry shakes his head against Louis’ shoulder and rolls on top of him, hovering, looking down. “I’m gonna hate not waking up next to you for the next couple of weeks.”

Louis tries to play it off like Harry’s being ridiculous, but he feels exactly the same way and he knows it’s written all over his face. He slides his hands up to Harry’s shoulders. “You gonna miss me?”

He licks his lips, curls falling in front of his face. “So much, baby.”

“You gonna kiss me before I get up?”

“Most definitely.”

“Okay, have at it.”

Harry smiles briefly and bends down to slot their lips together, his movements painfully slow but as meticulous as ever, like he’s spent the past several days imagining exactly how to kiss Louis, exactly the way Louis wants it.

He probably has.

Louis savors every swipe of Harry’s tongue against his, the way Harry becomes a little bit bitey when Louis digs his nails into Harry’s skin too hard, the way Harry’s thighs feel as they bracket his hips. They’re both so attuned to one another, it’s bordering on frightening, and Louis can’t believe they work together so well, that Harry always wants him this much.

He inhales sharply, pulling Harry down closer to him, wants as much as he can get before they both have to get up and go, but it’s next to impossible to force himself to get moving when Harry grinds down just slightly, starting to get hard, breaking the kiss and panting against Louis’ lips.

“You’re so bloody sexy,” he murmurs, grinding down again, making Louis whimper deep in his throat.

“I have bedhead,” he responds, trying to keep light of it, because if he doesn’t, he won’t make it to work and Harry certainly won’t make it to the airport.

Harry kisses Louis’ neck as if he hadn’t responded. “So fucking hot,” he says into Louis’ skin, breath hot. “Just, perfect, really.”

Louis grinds his hips upward, letting his hands drag down Harry’s sides. “That’s a bold statement, Styles.”

“Probably.” He presses another kiss against Louis’ lips.

“Harry. Get up. You only have…” Louis looks over at the clock on the wall. “25 minutes.”

“Oh, that’s plenty of time. I could get you off twice in that amount of time.”

Louis laughs. “That’s ambitious, but no. Get up.”

He looks down at himself, tenting in his sweatpants. “I am.”

He rolls his eyes. “You’re like a Goddamn 13-year-old. Does even a slight slight breeze makes you hard?”

Harry grinds his hips down another two times, smirking. “Basically. Got any advice on how to fix it?

“Yeah, stay away from the ocean.”

He laughs, climbing off of Louis. “I was hoping you’d offer to do something else.”

“If you don’t leave me alone and let me get in the shower in the next two seconds, the only thing I’m going to be offering to do is call your mum and let her know you missed your flight because you can’t keep it in your pants.”

Harry flops down on his back. “Fine. Go shower. I’ll see you in 13 days.”

“Lucky number 13.” Louis leans down and kisses Harry one more time. “Text me when you take off. And land. And get home. And at midnight on my birthday. And midnight on my birthday in my timezone.”

He laughs. “Was already planning on it.”

 

Louis goes to work, Harry goes home, and Louis truly is fine with it, has hardly noticed he’s gone yet other than the fact that Harry’s not there waiting from him when he gets home from work. But then he pushes open his bedroom door and immediately stumbles upon sticky note after sticky note, anything and everything from doodled pictures of dicks to I already miss your mouth , and fuck, 13 days suddenly feels like a lifetime.


 

True to his word, Harry calls Louis multiple times throughout the day on his birthday, leaving him an off-key and cheesy rendition of “Happy Birthday” at midnight in his timezone, and again five hours later. Louis calls back and tells Harry that he’s gone deaf from how terrible it was; after he hangs up, he listens to both voicemails another two times each.

He celebrates his day with his family - not bothering to call up any friends and beg them to make plans on one of the biggest holidays of the year - and enjoys the company of his parents and siblings, instead, only checking his phone six or 50 times before he finally tosses it onto the kitchen table and leaves it there for the rest of the afternoon.

Louis is sitting on the couch before bed, The Polar Express playing on the TV in front of him, youngest twins’ eyes glued to the film. It’s the first year they’ve somewhat had a grasp on the idea of Santa, and they both ask questions every couple of minutes. Louis obliges, more than happy to play along, excited to watch the magic through their eyes. He’s in the middle of telling them that they have to be fast asleep in order for Santa to come down the chimney and leave presents when Jay walks in the room, green envelope in hand. She holds it out in front of his face and he pauses mid-sentence.

“What’s this?”

“Birthday card from Harry. He knew if he hid it in his room, you’d find it immediately. He wanted to make sure it was safe until your birthday.”

Louis smiles and grabs the card, tearing open the envelope. “He knows me.”

“He does.”

The front of the card has a single picture of a beer bottle on it, and it reads, Enjoy one on me. But Harry had to add his own words, crossing out the letters and changing it to, Enjoy a shitty one on me.

Louis rolls his eyes as he opens the card. “Has to be a pain in the ass, even when he’s not here,” he grumbles under his breath, and starts reading.

Happy 23rd birthday to the most strong willed, carefree, funniest, beautiful person I’ve ever known. Thank you for your existence; I feel lucky to know you. We’ll really celebrate when I get back.

I like you,
Harry x

P.S. Stay out of my room. You’re a slob.

Louis has to read through it four times before he can look up. It’s a simple card - short and sweet, very Harry - and it’s nothing Louis hasn’t heard Harry say before. He’s always honest, always blunt and to the point, but it’s somehow more meaningful seeing it written down on paper. And leave it to Harry to sign a Goddamn card with I like you.

He shoves the card back in the envelope, shaking his head at the fact that Harry assumed - and assumed correctly - that he would tear apart his room looking for it if he knew it was in there. He’s content, relaxed and happy, even though the Atlantic currently has them separated. It feels like Harry’s beside him.

He watches the film for another minute or so, not paying attention in the slightest, and eventually gives in, heading into the kitchen to find his phone. He has nearly 30 unanswered texts, all wishing him a happy birthday, including a message from Harry from about half an hour ago, reading, It’s officially Christmas in this part of the world. Happy Christmas, Lou. Hope your day was brilliant.

Louis types back. Got your card. Sneaky bastard. He bites down on his bottom lip as he presses send, then sends a second text right after. I like you, too.

His phone vibrates less than a minute later. Thank God.


 

Christmas is busy, but good. The entire day goes by fairly quickly, a whirlwind of kids opening presents and screaming in every which direction, and by the time Louis’ extended family makes their way to his house at one in the afternoon, he’s already completely exhausted.

His aunt brings a birthday cake for him to continue his celebration, and after everyone finishes their dinner, they dig in to dessert, coffee steaming and kids running freely around the first floor, sharing off their new gifts. It’s all so familiar, so calming, but as Louis leans on his elbows on the dining room table to listen to talk to his cousin, he absently thinks of how much better this all would be if there was a certain British guy next to him with tattoos covering his arms and chest, pushing his hair out of his face, keeping Louis’ thigh warm with his hand, squeezing gently every so often to remind Louis that he was still there.

As if Louis could ever forget.

He’s refilling his mug with more coffee - silently wishing it was tea, which he will never tell Harry - when he feels his phone vibrating in his back pocket. He pulls it out and answers without looking, assuming he knows who it is.

“Well, it’s a little late on your end to be finally calling,” he teases, stirring some cream into his coffee.

“Hi, baby,” Harry drawls out, somehow slower than usual.

Louis takes a tentative sip, blowing on the steam. “Did you have a good Christmas?”

He hums. “I did. Got some presents, got some food, got some drunks…”

“You mean drinks.”

“That’s what I said.”

Louis sets his mug down on the counter. “Harry Styles, are you drunk on Christmas ?”

Harry hiccups as a response. “Little bit, yeah.”

He laughs. “Where are you?”

“In my bedroom.”

“Why aren’t you with your family?”

“They all went home, and mum and Robin just went to bed. It’s after midnight here, now. ‘m getting into bed, too.”

Louis can hear sheets rustling. “How sad for you. The party’s just getting started over here.”

“Is that why you’re drinking coffee? Because the party is so fabulous and you need the caffeine to stay awake?”

“How the hell did you know I was drinking coffee right now?!”

“Mmm, just a hunch.” He sighs. “Miss you, you know.”

“You’re clingy even on another continent. You’re truly something special, kid.”

Harry laughs lightly into the phone and Louis clutches it harder against his ear. “Don’t tease me. I really miss you.”

“I bet you do.”

“I do , Jesus.” He groans slightly. “Wish you were here.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “Don’t use that voice on me. I know better.”

“Want you.”

“No, I’m not doing this now.”

“But you’ll do it later?”

He rolls his eyes again, as if Harry can see him. “No.”

“Louis. Fuck.” He’s shifting around in his bed, Louis can tell by the way the mattress squeaks every so often. “You wanna know what I’m thinking about right now?”

Louis sighs. “I don’t know, do I?”

“The way you look when you want me to touch you.”

He swallows, looking around the kitchen. His sisters and cousins are at the kitchen table, talking and trading stories, and no one seems to notice he’s now uncomfortably blushing. “And what does that look like.”

“Like you’re completely uninterested.”

Louis’ being called out; he knows he does that. “Seems to work on you.”

“It does. I like the challenge.”

“I don’t do that every time, though,” he breathes into the phone, reaching for his mug again. He doesn’t want to drink from it, but he needs to do something with his hands.

“No, you’re right. Sometimes you can’t get your hands on me fast enough and you bite at your lip and it’s the hottest thing I’ve ever seen, I swear to God.” He inhales sharply. “I dunno why you still play hard to get, though. Because when you act like that , I nearly lose my damn mind.”

Louis coughs, clearing his throat. “Christ.”

“I get to have you. And you get to have me, whenever the hell you want. There’s no more playing hard to get.”

“Can’t have you right now ,” he grumbles, digging his fingers into his thigh.

“Where are you.”

“In my kitchen.”

“Go somewhere else. Please. Now.”

Louis squeezes his eyes shut. “Harry, it’s Jesus’ birthday .”

He snorts into the phone. “Please?”

He looks over at the kitchen table again. They still aren’t interested. “My whole family is here, I can’t…”

“Baby, I’m not above begging. Wanna hear you get yourself off. Hell, I deserve it.”

Louis laughs, his throat tight. “And how do you reckon that one?”

“Because I just spent the past eight hours with my mum’s friend who had nowhere else to go for the holiday and she is absolutely atrocious . Reeks of perfume and keeps her mouth open when she chews and I’m drunk and miss the way you look when ‘m fucking you and I deserve to hear you get yourself off thinking about me.”

He nods, because it’s hard to argue with that, as nonsensical as it is. “Who said it’ll be about you?” he chokes out, starting to make his way upstairs to his bedroom.

“It’ll be about me.”

Louis checks over his shoulder to make sure no one notices that he’s leaving the party, leaving with flushed cheeks. “Sound pretty sure of yourself.”

“Wanna know what I’m thinking about now?”

He closes his bedroom door softly behind him, doesn’t want anyone to know where he is, and climbs onto his bed. He doesn’t bother turning the light on when he molds himself into his pillows against the headboard. “Yes. Go.”

“How bad I feel for you that you’ll never know what you look like from my angle when you’re riding me.”

Louis squeezes his eyes shut, listening to Harry breathe heavily through the receiver. “I’m not sure that’s something that would actually turn me on, anyway.”

“Believe me, if you knew what you looked like, it would.”

He palms himself through his black jeans, already hard. “I think my usual angle is decent enough.”

Harry groans, and Louis can hear the slide of skin on skin. “I don’t think you understand.”

Louis unzips his jeans, fumbling to yank his shirt off without putting down the phone. “Understand what?”

“How ridiculously attracted to you I am. Spent months thinking about the way you’d look underneath me or sucking me off and let me just fucking tell you.” He pauses to inhale deeply. “Doesn’t compare to the real thing. You’re completely maddening. And I’m so fucked up.”

He tries to force out a laugh but instead, it comes out like a whimper. He pushes his jeans down the best he can with one hand, already wants to come. “Actually really love sucking you off.”

Harry’s breath stutters. “Tell me.”

Louis swallows, reaching for the lube next to his bed on the nightstand, exactly where Harry left it a few days ago. He pours out way too much by accident but doesn’t bother wiping it away. The slickness immediately feels much better and he groans. “You always get so into it when I’m going down on you. It’s ridiculous and you’re so over the top and it gets to me every single damn time.”

“How could I not? Fuck.” He pauses and groans deep in his throat. “You have the most perfect mouth I’ve ever seen. Quickest way to get myself off, thinking of your mouth.”

He whines, can’t help it, and bucks up into his fist, pretending it’s really the hand of the voice on the other line. “When you come home, that’s the first thing we’re doing. Gonna suck you off.”

“Baby…” Harry’s breathing picks up and Louis knows he’s about to come; he isn’t too far behind, himself.

“You want that?”

“Christ, yes, I want that. Wanna get my mouth on you, too. Do you have any idea how fucking good you look when you’re about to come? When you fist your hands in your own hair and you can’t answer me and you just.” He moans once, twice. “‘m gonna come. Lou.”

Louis jerks himself faster, hips snapping, chest heaving. The pit in his stomach is unfurling and he’s just about there. He closes his eyes and he knows he’s being too loud considering his entire family is in the house with him, but then Harry is murmuring to him again through the phone, telling him how sexy he is and how well he always takes it and how he wants to hear him come, now, and Louis does. He breathes out Harry’s name through the aftershocks, his body finally steadying after what feels like ages.

He breathes in deeply through his nose, dragging his finger through the mess on his stomach, and it’s decidedly disgusting, not hot like it is when Harry does it.

He sits up slightly. “Wait, did you even come?”

Harry laughs breathily through the phone. “As if I can hold back when I hear you like that, Jesus, what kind of question is that?”

Louis rolls his eyes and smirks. “Okay, but really, I just left my family Christmas party to get off with you on the other line.”

“Sorry,” Harry apologizes, but he sounds anything but sorry. “I was thinking of you all day. I couldn’t help it. Needed to get off.”

“And some good ol’ fashioned porn doesn’t do it for you anymore?”

“Not when I have the best porn star around, no.”

He makes a face. “That’s… A little offensive.”

Harry laughs. “Fuck, how many more days until I come home?”

Louis sighs, trying and failing to ignore the way Harry says home . “A lot.”

“Is that the exact number?”

He hums. “I think so, yeah.”

“Perfect.” He yawns. “By the way, I’m gonna hold you to that.”

“Hold me to what?”

“First thing you’re gonna do when I get back there is suck me off.”

Louis reaches over on the nightstand for a tissue. “Okay, you can’t blame me for saying shit in the heat of the moment.”

“Yes, I can. We’re doing it. You said it.”

“Okay, I’m hanging up now.”

“Seems like it.”

Bye.

Harry laughs again, this time louder. “Bye, baby.”

 

Louis manages to get his cheeks a little less pink and his hair a little less matted by the time he makes his way back downstairs, avoiding eye contact with anyone and everyone. He thinks he’s doing a fairly good job of it, but then Lottie makes a face and mutters, “He’s been gone for three days, Louis. And it’s Christmas , God.”


 

Louis takes the rest of the week off from work, using some vacation days to spend the winter break with his family, but by December 30th, he almost wishes he hadn’t. The attic is lonely, the living room is too crowded, Harry’s room is cold.

Five more days.

He tries to play it off like he isn’t counting down the hours until Harry arrives back in Connecticut, but there’s no point in pretending like he isn’t. He gives in to defeat - defeat meaning Harry - and succumbs to the basement, lounging on the sectional couch, wrapped up in the comforter that usually resides on Harry’s bed. It faintly smells like the shampoo he uses, and as Louis catches himself smelling it for the fourth time, he makes a face at himself.

“Get a grip, Tomlinson, he’s gone for two weeks, he isn’t off at war ,” he mumbles under his breath, toying at the seams of the blanket, then huffs out a laugh. “Christ, imagine. Harry in the army.”

There’s absolutely no reason for this; he knows he’s acting like a complete and utter nut. It’s bordering on pathetic that he can’t seem to keep his mind focused on anything else just because the boy with the curls isn’t around. But for the life of him, he can’t seem to remember what he did on Monday nights before the British invaded.

After about half an hour of mindlessly watching TV - and talking to himself - Louis yanks off his jeans and pulls on a pair of sweatpants that Harry evidently left behind. He has no intention of going back upstairs to the attic; Harry’s bed is in front of him and it’s big and comfortable.

And it’s empty.

He sighs and rearranges the comforter back on top of the mattress and climbs in, settling himself on Harry’s side of the bed, and after he tosses and turns long enough for his neck to start to ache, he finally checks his phone for the time.

10:01 PM.

Louis groans out loud. No wonder he isn’t tired.

Four more days - plus two hours - but who’s counting?

 

Louis must eventually fall asleep because the next thing he knows, the basement door is being kicked open and the overhead lights are shining brightly in his eyes. He groans and pulls the blankets up over his face, pissed at whoever thought it would be necessary to traipse down here at God only knows what time. He assumes it’s one of the twins looking for a movie in the entertainment center; they have friends spending the night, so he expects them to still be up and roaming around.

But then someone sits down on the bed beside him, mattress sinking beneath the weight, and a familiar voice from beside him murmurs, “Psst. Your bed is three flights above this one. What do you think you’re doing down here?

Louis kicks the blankets off of him immediately and squints in the harsh lighting of the bedroom. Harry meets his gaze, lopsided grin stuck on his face, dimple poking out, flyaways everywhere, dark circles under his eyes. “Um. What the hell are you doing here?”

Harry laughs and grabs Louis’ wrists, kissing the back of his hands one at a time. “I should be asking you that.” He smiles. “I changed my flight.”

“Why?”

“No, you don’t get to ask the questions here, I do.”

Louis’ eyelids feel so heavy but he can’t seem to close them, can’t seem to blink. “Turn off the light.”

Harry ignores him. “Baby, why are you in my bed?”

He shakes Harry’s hands loose and pulls the blankets back up over his eyes, hiding his smile. “Your bed is more comfortable.”

He knows Harry is smirking, even without seeing him. “You missed me?” He wiggles down onto the bed, gripping Louis’ hip over the blankets.

“And it’s warmer,” Louis continues, still smiling.

“Aw, Lou.” Louis can hear Harry kicking off his boots. “You missed me.”

And it’s quiet. No one wakes me up down here. Or rather, I didn’t think anyone would.”

Harry pulls Louis impossibly closer and rips off the blankets. He kisses the top of Louis’ head, lips lingering. “I missed you, too. So much.”

Louis sighs, wiggling against him. “Good.”

Harry doesn’t bother changing out of his jeans before he starts to fall asleep, doesn’t bother brushing his teeth before he leans in to kiss Louis hard on the lips, doesn’t bother hiding his grin when he whispers, “I really shouldn’t have been surprised to find you down here.”

Louis swallows, dragging his fingers through the knots in Harry’s curls. “Yeah, well, you can’t make fun of me for that, ever. You changed your flight to come home and be with me because you couldn’t hold out another few days.” He blinks slowly, eyes finally adjusted to the harsh fluorescents. “You missed me too much. Can you believe that?”

He hopes Harry can hear the teasing tone in his voice, but instead of playing along, Harry presses one more kiss to Louis’ lips, voice slow and movements languid. “No, I can't,” he says, lacing his fingers through Louis’, his tone serious, “But I shouldn’t have been surprised about that, though, either.”

Louis’ too tired to ask questions or even bothering to fully open his eyes all the way, and Harry seems to be on the same page. They end up falling asleep just like that, Harry with his jeans still on, their hands tangled together, and the lights brightly shining above them.

 

The next morning, Louis wakes up alone, and for a minute, he’s convinced he’s made up the entire thing, that Harry didn’t really come home in the middle of the night and he’s still back in England. He smooths his hands over the sheets on the other side of the bed. They’re cold. He sits up and rolls his shoulders, and sees Harry’s boots by the end of the bed, his suitcase is by the door.

“Where the hell is he,” he mumbles under his breath, brain foggy with sleep.

He reaches over across the nightstand and puts on his glasses, and out of the corner of his eyes, he can finally see it: a fluorescent pink piece of paper stuck next to the lightswitch.

He climbs out of bed, smirking the whole time, and rolls his eyes when he sees the sticky note up close. Harry had doodled a cup of tea, followed by, is ready. Come find me.

Louis jams his feet into his sneakers and all but runs to the kitchen.

 

After he downs two cups of tea - muttering to Harry the whole time about how much he hates him for converting him to a tea drinker - and buries his face in the crook of Harry’s neck for a solid 90 seconds, trying to ignore Lottie from the other room scoffing, “He was gone for less than 12 days. You two are disgusting. Good luck when he permanently goes back home,” does he finally feel coherent enough to ask why Harry thought it would be a good idea to fly home four days early.

Harry looks at him over the top of his own mug. “It was good to be home for a bit, but. I dunno.” He shrugs, setting down his tea. “I’m waiting to hear back from a bunch of internships and I wanted to make sure I was here in case any of them got back to me.”

Louis raises a brow. “You wanted to be here on the off chance a company called you during the holidays and demanded you go to their office immediately? That’s a weak excuse, Styles.”

He blushes. “Shut up.”

“You’re not going to see your family until May, Harry. You should have stayed.”

“I seem to recall you whistling to a different tune last night when I got home. You were like a koala all night.”

Louis waves his hands around. “Eh, semantics.”

Harry smiles. “My mum didn’t seem to mind that I wanted to get back. If she was upset, I would have stayed. Four days wasn’t really a big deal. I just wanted to readjust to the time zone, get back in the mindset of school, be here for New Year’s Eve…”

“Aha. That’s the real reason.”

“Semantics,” he mocks.

Louis pinches Harry’s thigh. “Unfortunately, we’re not going to be able to do what you had in mind. People have been lining up for days to get a spot in Times Square. We’re not even going to be able to get into the city now, never mind get a prime spot to see the ball drop.”

Harry frowns. “Are you serious?”

“I told you that!”

“Ugh. Then what are we supposed to do now?”

Louis stands up from his chair and drains the rest of his tea in the sink. “Lucky for you,” he says over his shoulder, “your boy always has a plan.”

Harry scrunches up his face. “Yeah, see, that’s what I was afraid of.”

He pinches Harry again - this time on the cheek - on his way up to the attic, laughing at the way Harry howls at it, clearly unprepared.

He really should have been, though.


 

Louis tells Harry to be showered and ready to leave by six, not bothering to tell him where they’re headed until they’re seated in Louis’ car, backing up out of the driveway.

Harry puts his hands in front of the vents, rubbing them together. “Can you tell me now so I don’t feel like your prisoner?”

He smirks and turns off his street and onto the main road. “You ready to go to Boston for the first time?”

Harry spins his entire body to look at him. “Wait, really?!”

“Mhm.”

“Right now?!”

Louis laughs. “Yes. We should be there in about two hours. The same distance as here to Manhattan.”

“Have I never looked at a map before? Why did I think it was so much further away?”

“Because you’re obviously incompetent.”

“Obviously.”

Louis looks over and smiles. “You’re okay with this, though, right? Sorry Times Square was a bust.”

“Hey, no, this is awesome.” He puts his hand on Louis’ knee. “I’ve been waiting to go to Boston for months.”

He nods. “Yeah, I know, that’s why I thought this would be fun. Liam is already there with his girlfriend. She lives right outside of the city. Somewhere in Cambridge. And I guess she has a huge group of friends that are all going out together. We can hang with them.” He swallows. “Or ditch. Or whatever.”

Harry smiles. “Or whatever.”

The ride to Boston goes by fairly quickly, traffic on route 93 onto route 90 minimal, and by the time Louis parks the car on the street in the North End, Harry is nearly bouncing up and down in his seat.

Louis turns the car off and unbuckles his seatbelt. “Settle down, the city isn’t going anywhere.”

“I’m excited .”

“Yeah, I can see that. Clearly jetlag has nothing on you.”

“It’s only one AM in my body right now. Let’s do this before I crash and burn.”

Louis laughs. “Alright, get out.”

They take their chances at an Italian restaurant a few blocks over and are surprised to find out the wait is only an hour, an impressively short amount of time for New Year’s Eve in the city. They hang out at the bar while they wait for their names to be called, both ordering wine instead of their usual beer or hard liquor, and by the time they sit down in their booth in the corner of the building, Louis is so hungry, he thinks he might start gnawing at the table in front of him.

The food, unfortunately, ends up being mediocre and their waiter completely sucks, 20% tip be damned, but the company is good and Louis shakes his head, smiling, every time Harry reaches across the table to brush his thumb along Louis’ knuckles. They order a few more drinks each, Harry telling stories about his holiday back home, Louis letting him talk uninterrupted for the first time ever. When Harry calls him out on that, Louis kicks him under the table, and Harry throws a piece of garlic bread at him in return.

“Honestly, Harold, your maturity level is astounding,” Louis scoffs, whipping the piece of bread back at him and kicking him one more time for good measure.

“Oh, right, my maturity level.” He rubs at his shin and looks under the tablecloth. “Seriously, I’m surprised your legs can even reach me from there.”

Louis makes a face and kicks him square in the knee.

 

Once they’ve finished dinner, they head out back onto the freezing streets of Boston, winding in and out of people on the cobblestone ground surrounding Quincy Market, a strip of restaurants and shops. It’s 10:42 PM on the last day of December, the icy winds picking up all around them is making Louis’ teeth chatter and causing Harry to already complain he might have frostbite, the crowds are thick and obnoxious, and he’s not nearly drunk enough to ring in the new year. He checks his phone for a text from Liam to tell them where to meet up, but there’s no notification and Louis’ phone battery is already at 13%, Harry’s at 7%.

Louis groans. “Sorry this isn’t going as I’d hoped it would.”

Harry winks. “So much for the theory that my boy always has a plan.”

“Want me to kick you again?”

He laughs and points to a line heading into Ned Devine’s. “Is that a bar?”

Louis nods. “Yup. Looks like those people will be waiting for a while. It’s fun in there, though. I’ve been a few times with Liam whenever he drags me along to visit Abby.” He rubs mindlessly at the back of his neck. “I think I’ve been here with James once before, too.”

He hums. “Cool. Do you wanna try to get in?”

He snorts. “You want to stand outside in the 14 degree weather and miss midnight entirely?”

“No, I don’t.”

Louis stares at him blankly. “Then what are you suggesting.”

Harry grabs his hand, lacing their fingers together. “Come on.” He drags Louis with him to the front of the line, stopping before a group of girls. They all appear to be around college age, most likely their first New Year’s Eve with legitimate ID’s, and they all turn when they hear Harry and Louis approach them.

Harry waves his free hand, cautiously almost, and Louis looks up to see a smile shy playing across his face. “Do any of you know what this pub is about? Is it worth the wait?” His accent is extra thick, Louis notices, and he actively holds back a laugh.

One girl gasps. “Oh, you’re British!”

He rubs his hand across his jaw. “I am. It’s my first New Year’s Eve here in the States, and I’m not really sure what to expect.” He nods at Louis. “My boy and I here were wondering if you had any idea what this particular pub is like.”

Another girl clasps her hands together. “You two are together?! You’re so cute!”

“I know,” Harry says, kissing Louis’ temple, and the group laughs. Louis would shoot him, he really would, but the girls are already moving over in their spot in line to make room for them and it’s fucking working , son of a bitch.

“Well,” the first girl says, “to answer your question, it’s a typical bar when you first walk upstairs. Kind of has an Irish feel to it.”

“Ah, I’m familiar,” Harry says, smiling hard enough that the dimple makes an appearance, and Louis almost rolls his eyes at the way one of the girls blushes, but he manages to refrain.

“But down the hall, the atmosphere completely changes. Total club scene. There’s a cover band in there, but they do house music, too. It’s a lot of fun. I would definitely recommend coming in with us.”

Harry lets go of Louis’ hand in favor of wrapping his arm around his shoulder. “Oh, no, we’re not trying to intrude on your evening. We can go to the end of the line. We were just curious.” He smiles again and pushes his hair out of his eyes. “Have a lovely evening, everyone. And have a brilliant New Year.”

“Oh my God, no, absolutely not, you stay with us,” the second girl says. “Here, get in line.”

“Are you sure?” Harry asks, squeezing Louis’ shoulder.

“Absolutely. Come on, get over here.”

“Thank you, you’re all very kind.” Harry steps in line, pulling Louis flush up against him, and Louis doesn’t have to look up to know Harry is looking down at him, smug look written all over his face.

“You’re absolutely ridiculous,” Louis whispers into Harry’s jaw so the others won’t hear.

“Oh, and sorry about my boy here,” Harry continues, ignoring Louis. “He’s fairly shy.”

Louis goes to kick him again, but this time, Harry is ready for it and jumps out of the way just in time.

 

The bar inside is packed, as Louis assumed it would be, but manages to get the attention of the overwhelmed and pissed off bartender after a few minutes. He carries the six shots over to Harry, who’s leaning against the wall, can’t seem to shake the group of girls, and Louis hands three over.

“Bottoms up.”

Harry laughs. “Was the bottle of wine at dinner not enough?”

“Apparently not. Drink.”

And drink, they do.

It doesn’t take long for the room to spin, for Louis to have wandering hands, for Harry to nip at his lip a little too harshly. The music is loud, the room is hot, there’s only seven minutes to midnight, and though they’ve finally managed to sneak away from the girls from the line, this isn’t where Louis wants to be anymore. He doesn’t want to spend his New Year’s Eve with his back pressed up against some sweaty stranger, Harry swaying in front of him, nearly shouting just trying to be heard.

He doesn’t give it much thought before he grabs Harry’s hand and starts pulling him through the crowd, Harry following without hesitation or question. They weave in and out of drunk and drunker patrons, finally emerging back outside, and the cold air hits Louis’ face like a brick. He starts instantly shaking, the alcohol and coat doing next to nothing to keep his body warm, and Harry is in the same boat.

“How’re we gonna know when it’s midnight?” he asks, teeth chattering together.

Louis smirks, hands trembling. “Trust me, we’ll know. Let’s go. We don’t have a lot of time left.”

“Go where?”

“Let’s go .”

They stumble across the brick and cobblestones before coming back out onto the main road, crossing over and heading toward the harbor. There aren’t that many people milling around - some, but most have probably found a warmer place to celebrate the final minutes of the year - and Louis wraps his arms around himself, focusing on not falling over, on saving body heat.

Harry breathes into his hands. “Lou, how are we gonna know when it’s midnight?” he repeats.

“Just trust me, okay?”

“Alright.”

No more than 30 seconds later, over the Boston Harbor, a brilliant display of lights hover over the water, the noise from the fireworks booming and overpowering. The entire sky lights up, the buildings in the distance illuminated, and as one firework in particular pops and fizzles, Louis looks up at Harry, squinting against the neon colors.

“Happy New Year, H.”

Harry blinks away from the sky, biting his bottom lip, fireworks streaking across the air behind them. “Happy New Year.”

“You’re a shitty date on New Year’s, Jesus, you haven’t even kissed me yet.”

Harry smiles, taking a step toward Louis, walking him backward until his back hits the brick wall behind him. “Sorry.”

“You should be.”

He cups Louis’ jaw in his hands. “It won’t happen again.” And then he slots their mouths together before Louis can respond, his fingertips brushing against Louis’ cheeks, and with the way Harry’s lips are sliding against his own, the way he tastes. Louis realizes he’s stopped shaking. He isn’t so cold anymore.

They kiss long enough for Louis’ lips to go numb, for Harry to be groaning low in his throat, for the fireworks to die down. He pulls back, trying to catch his breath, and lets his head fall back against the brick wall. But then Harry chases his mouth with his own, murmuring, “No, I’m not done,” before their lips touch once more.

Eventually, Louis forces them apart again, letting his forehead drop to Harry’s chest, listening to his heart beat, even through his heavy winter jacket. He’s suddenly so tired; he can’t imagine how jet lagged Harry must feel. He slides his hands down to Harry’s waist and grips on tightly.

“Lou,” Harry says against Louis’ hair.

“Mmm.”

“Best year yet.”

“It’s been this year for, like, nine minutes.”

“Best year yet,” he repeats.

Louis laughs. “That’s absurd.”

“Probably. Still, though.” Harry bends down to kiss Louis again, and as Louis clutches Harry tighter, he doesn’t dare tell him that he agrees.

 

It’s nearly two in the morning when Louis remembers that his high school friend Natalie lives in the area, and he calls her after he plugs his phone into the car charger.

“Yeah, sure, come on over!” she chirps into the phone, obviously drunk, herself. “My roommate and I are throwing a party, so I apologize for the mess, but feel free to join in!”

“No apologies necessary,” he says, eyes already starting to slip shut. “I’ll get a cab and head over soon.”

Louis and Harry only manage to last at the party for about an hour before Harry is nearly falling asleep standing up, beer in his hand and head resting on Louis’ shoulder. Natalie points them in the direction of the pull-out couch in her bedroom, and Louis drags Harry there, not bothering to turn the couch into a bed. They fall asleep on top of each other, Harry squished and hot beside him, party still going on in the other room, and Louis doesn’t stir until morning.

 

When he wakes up, he has a terrible ache in his side and his head is positively pounding, a reminder of what it felt like the very first time Louis woke up beside Harry, shirtless and tired and happy . Harry is still sound asleep, presumably catching up on much needed hours of sleep, so Louis slides off the couch carefully, wincing at the way his neck cracks when he rolls his shoulders.

His phone - which somehow found its way to a charger in the other room - has 13 texts, nine from Liam. He apologized a million and one times for not texting Louis when they headed out, explaining they didn’t leave Abby’s apartment until much later than he’d anticipated, and then accidentally left his phone behind. He finishes off his rant with a message that says, I’m so sorry I ruined your New Year.

Louis starts to text back, but looks up when he hears Harry emerge from Natalie’s room, rubbing his eyes, his curls going in every which direction. He squints in the brightness of the kitchen and smiles.

“Morning,” Louis says. “Do you feel any better than I do?”

“Probably not. I think I could hurl.”

“Please don’t.”

“I’ll try not to.” He makes a face. “Can we get McDonald’s? I think I need it.”

Louis clutches his chest jokingly. “Oh, my baby is finally an American.”

Harry laughs, then winces. “Ugh, please? I don’t think I can sit in the car for more than five minutes unless I get something disgusting and greasy in my mouth right now.”

“I’ve never found you as attractive as I do right now.”

He laughs again. “Let’s go.”

They say their goodbyes to Natalie and part ways, stopping at the first McDonald’s they see, and after they’ve both eaten a completely unnecessary amount of fast food at 10:30 in the morning, Louis remembers he never answered Liam.

He reads through the messages again, typing out his own response, and before he hits send, he peers up to find Harry staring at him.

“What are you looking at.”

Harry scrunches his nose. “You’re, like, kind of gorgeous. We’re in McDonald’s and we’re hungover and I feel like death and probably look like death, too, and you’re just.” He rolls his eyes, smiling. “Putting me to shame, all the damn time.”

Louis flips him off, ignoring the way his cheeks feel hot. “Gonna make me throw up my breakfast.”

Harry laughs. “Sorry.”

He looks back down at his phone and erases what he had typed. Instead, he writes out a new one - You most definitely did not ruin my New Year. I can promise you. - and presses send.


 

Now that the holidays are over and everyone is trying to fall back into their regular routines, it seems like everyday is ticking by slower than usual. Louis throws himself back into his work, his sisters go back to school, and Harry starts up with classes again, as well. He lands himself an internship at an advertising firm in Manhattan, which he goes to every Monday, and even though he has to nearly drag himself home each Monday night at nine o’clock, bags under his eyes, it’s always with a smile on his face, so happy to tell Louis about his day in the city.

It’s week three of Harry’s internship and they’re sitting on Harry’s bed, Louis’ paperwork strewn in front of them, Harry typing away at his laptop, chatting about his his afternoon meeting in between clicks of the mouse.

“And then Brad told me that he actually liked my idea and he wanted to incorporate it into next week’s event and why haven’t we gone out on a real date before?”

Louis looks up from his document and pushes his glasses up his nose. “That’s what Brad said to you?”

“No.” Harry shoves his laptop out of the way and looks at Louis. “I’m just thinking that we’ve never gone out on a legitimate date before. We get coffee or go to the movies and stuff like that. But I’ve never actually wined and dined you.”

He scrunches up his nose. “And what does that entail?”

“I dunno. A nice dinner, to start.”

Louis gestures to the food in front of them on the bed. “What, Ritz crackers and peanut butter isn’t good enough for you?”

Harry laughs. “I want to take you out. And impress you.”

“Harry, I’ve seen you first thing in the morning with greasy hair and morning breath. I think the concept of impressing me is long gone.”

“Okay, no need to be rude, you twat.” He drums his fingers along Louis’ knee. “But I’m serious. Can I take you out on a date? A real one?”

Louis scratches his jaw, pretending to think, and Harry rolls his eyes. “I dunno, Styles. We’ve been doing this song and dance for almost two months now and you haven’t once tried to… What was it? Wine and dine me?”

Harry pouts. “Now, now, don’t mock.”

“It’d have to be a really good date.”

“Oh, but it will be,” he replies.

“You that sure of yourself?”

“Absolutely.”

Louis shrugs. “Alright, then. Gonna tell me what you want to do?”

“No, I want it to be a surprise.”

“You think you’re going to be able to surprise me in my own town?”

Harry nods. “Yes. I have a few ideas.”

“Hmm. Okay then.” Louis puts a peanut butter cracker into his mouth, crumbs falling out. “When?”

He snorts. “Saturday. You’re sexy, by the way.”

Louis winks exaggeratedly, and Harry throws a pen at him, pretending to gag, and that signifies the end of their conversation.

 

Louis wakes up early Saturday morning, squinting against the harsh sunlight peeking in through his skylight. Harry spent the night at Niall’s on campus, so he’s surprised to see a blue sticky note already attached to his laptop.

Good morning. You’re cute when you’re asleep so I didn’t wake you up. Get ready to be wined and dined, Tomlinson. Get ready to be wowed. Game on.

Louis rolls his eyes and slides out of bed, patting down the cowlick on the back of his head to no avail. He grabs his glasses on his way downstairs and finds Harry in the kitchen, buttering toast. He grins when he sees Louis.

“Hello, there.”

Louis takes a piece of toast off of Harry’s plate. “Were you watching me sleep again?” he asks before he takes a bite.

“Possibly. Oh, and feel free to help yourself.”

“This could have used some jam.”

“You could use a punch.”

“Good one.” Louis reaches for Harry’s tea. “Why’d you make your way back here so early?”

“Eh.” He shrugs, taking a bite of his toast. “Niall’s couch sucks and he didn’t have any tea and he didn’t have any Louis.”

“Oh, God, you’re mortifying.”

Harry laughs. “Usually.”

“So.” Louis takes another bite of Harry’s toast. “What time does our game start? And if you think I’m talking about football, I will stab you in the neck.”

Harry smirks, attempting to take his tea back, but Louis slaps his hand away. “Seven. I made reservations.”

“Ooh, fancy.”

“Kind of.”

“Where?”

Harry shrugs. “I can’t tell you.”

“Okay, that’s annoying.”

“Just be sure to dress nice.”

“What constitutes as ‘nice’? Like, sweater and jeans?”

He clears his throat. “Actually, more like suit and tie?”

Louis stares at him. “Where the hell are you taking me? And do you even have a suit?”

Harry nods. “Yeah, I brought it back with me when I went home for Christmas.”

“Why?”

“I knew I wanted to plan a nice evening for us. Figured it would come in handy.”

“Jesus.” Louis flicks his hair out of his eyes. “You really know how to woo your man, huh?”

“I aim to please.” He tries to grab for the tea again, missing once more. “You think you’re ready for this?”

“I’m not sure I am.”

“I’m not sure you are, either.”

 

Louis spends the rest of the day dragging his feet, groaning loudly about his plans with Harry whenever Harry is in earshot, acting as though it’s an unbearable chore to have to go out on a date with him. After hour four of complaining, Harry throws down the book from his lap onto the coffee table.

“If I didn’t know you any better, I would think you genuinely didn’t want to go out with me tonight.”

Louis clutches his chest with a fake gasp. “Now, what on Earth would give you that impression?”

“I dunno, maybe the way you said earlier that you’d rather eat a bag of toenails than get dressed out and go to dinner with me.”

“Harold, that’s disgusting. I would never say that.”

“Sorry, my bad. I must be mistaken.”

“Must be.”

Harry reaches for his book again, turning open to a page in the middle. “You should really think about finding someone to take you on dates who can tolerate you and can deal with the shit that comes out of your mouth.”

“Hm.” Louis pulls the book back out of Harry’s hands before he can react and starts to walk away with it tucked under his arm. “Lucky for me, I think I already have.”

 

At 6:50, ten minutes earlier than he was told to be ready, miraculously, Louis is completely set to go and waiting in the living room, suit on and hair styled out of his face. When Dan walks by, his eyes go wide and he whistles.

“You you look like you’re ready to host Match Game .”

Louis frowns. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing.”

“It is. You look spiffy.”

“Okay, stop trying to compliment me, because you’re doing a terrible job.”

Dan laughs. “Any idea where you’re going?”

“No, he won’t tell me. He’s being a brat about it. And I don’t even want to go.”

“Yeah, I can tell, based on the way you’re ready earlier than you need to be and the way you keep staring at the front door.”

Louis points to the kitchen. “Off you go, Daniel.”

He laughs again. “Have fun tonight.”

“Yeah, yeah, I will.” Louis sits up straight in his chair, rubbing his palms on his thighs, and checks the time on his phone. 7:03.

He’s about to head down to the basement to tell Harry off for making him wait an extra 180 seconds when there’s a solid knock at the door. Louis climbs to his feet slowly, taking his time to the door, and when he pulls it open, he knows it’s written all over his face that he thinks Harry looks stunning, hair parted neatly, curls touching his shoulders, tie tied just right, flowers in hand.

He swallows, sucking in his cheeks. “You live here. Why are you knocking?”

“I’m picking you up for our date. Of course I had to come to the door.” Harry takes a step closer. “You look unbelievable.”

Louis looks down at himself. “This ol’ thing?”

“So bloody gorgeous.” He traces the line of Louis’ tie down his chest, down his stomach. “Are you still pretending you don’t want to go out with me?”

He shrugs. “Eh. I haven’t decided yet.”

“Okay, well, I’m really excited, so please don’t ruin it for me.”

Louis rolls his eyes, trying and failing to hold back a smile. “Alright, I’ll try not to.”

“Mighty kind of you. Oh.” He holds out the flowers. “For you.”

“Harry,” Louis says, taking a step closer to him, “you’ve already slept with me, you don’t have to try this hard.”

Harry exhales loudly, smiling slightly. “I know. I wanted to.” He shrugs. “I’ve never bought anyone flowers before.”

Louis looks down at his shoes, and then back up at Harry, biting at his bottom lip. “Jesus, you were a shitty boyfriend to your ex, huh?”

Harry snorts. “Normal people would say ‘thank you.’”

“Well, lucky for you, I’m not normal.”

“Yes, lucky me. You ready to go?”

Louis nods. “Yeah, let’s do it.”

“Oh, do you mind if we take your car? I got the oil changed in it the other day, and the guy at the shop said he wanted me to drive it about 50 miles to make sure the oil sensor on the dash turned off.”

“Wait, when did you get my oil changed?”

“I dunno, Sunday morning, I think.”

“Why?”

“I noticed it needed to be all done. Can we discuss this in the car? We’re gonna miss our reservation.”

“Yeah.” Louis licks his lips and drops his gaze to the flowers. He brings them up to his nose and inhales before he places them on the table in the hallway behind him. “These smell really nice. Thanks, H.”

“You’re welcome.” Harry smiles, holding open the door wider. “Come on, it’s cold.”

Louis steps outside and follows him down the walkway. “Weak English skin,” he says, kicking a piece of ice out of the way. “It drops to 20 degrees and you can’t handle it…”

Harry opens the passenger seat. “Get in the damn car.”

“Um. I’m driving. It’s my car.”

“Louis, I’m picking you up for our date. In what scenario would I pick you up and then ask you to drive?”

“This one,” he answers slowly.

Lou ,” Harry whines, “play along.”

Louis sighs. “Are there any other rules to this date?” he asks as he slides in the passenger seat, pulling the seatbelt across his lap.

Harry takes his seat on the driver’s side, closing the door behind him. “Yes, there are rules. I’m going to pay for the whole meal, I expect to share a dessert, I’m most definitely going to kiss you goodnight at the front door, and oh my God, how short are you? Why is this seat pushed up so far?!”

“Not everyone can be a Goddamn basketball player, fuck off. See if I let you kiss me now.”

Harry, of course, does the exact opposite, and leans across the center console to capture Louis’ lips in a much too aggressive kiss for a first date, tongue and heavy breathing and all. He pulls away after a minute or two, drags his thumb across Louis’ bottom lip, and smirks, cranking the heat on the console.

Louis clears his throat, leaning back in his seat. “Jeez, and that isn’t somehow against your rules?”

Harry puts the car into reverse and starts to back out of the driveway, looking over his shoulder, gaze alternating between Louis and the street. “Who said anything about rules?”

 

They pull up in front of a gorgeous building, one in downtown Hartford that Louis has somehow never seen, and they climb out together, Harry handing the keys to Louis’ car to the valet.

“So. Dinner?” Harry holds out his arm for Louis to take and Louis bats him away.

“No, wait, I’m confused. How have I never been to this restaurant before? I didn’t even know it existed until right now.”

“I had it built for the occasion.”

“You’re so obsessed with me, I wouldn’t doubt it.”

Harry laughs and grabs Louis’ hand, lacing their fingers together. “Yes, I built a restaurant in my spare time.”

“What spare time do you even have? You basically live inside of me.”

“You got that right.”

“Okay, ew, not what I meant.” Louis looks away from Harry and back at the restaurant. The windows are enormous, lit up from the inside, and when he peeks around the building’s columns, he sees what appears to be an endless row of tables, patrons eating happily, waiters walking around, refilling glasses of wine. It’s elegant, it’s beautiful, it’s so not Louis and Harry. “You really think we’re classy enough for this?”

Harry shrugs. “You’re probably not, but I am. Let’s go.”

“I hope this meal is excellent, Styles, because you’re being kind of a dick.”

He laughs. “Yeah, I hope, too.”

They head inside together, checking their coats, and as Harry gives his name to the hostess, Louis nudges him with his elbow. “Harry this is, like, really nice.”

“I know.”

“No, like.” He looks up at the ceilings, dimly lit and raised. “This is going to be really expensive. I can’t let you pay for this alone.”

“The rules, baby.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “Fuck your rules.”

“Shh, language.”

“Sorry, Mom. But really, I can’t expect you to pay for this alone. This is absurd.”

“Nah, it’s okay.”

“How? You work part time on campus. This is going to be an entire paycheck.”

Harry makes a face. “Probably more than that.”

“Harry.”

He smiles. “Listen, it’s okay. Got some Christmas money that I saved for this.”

Louis opens his mouth to respond, but the hostess steps in front of them. “Gentlemen? This way, please.”

They’re seated next to one of the windows, the moon bright outside, and the night sky is so black, it looks as cold as it feels. The hostess places two menus down in front of them, plus a wine list, and saunters off back towards the lobby.

Louis leans across the table, careful to avoid the flickering flame from the candle, and whispers, “You can’t use your holiday money on this.

Harry doesn’t look up from his menu, skimming the first page. “I can do whatever I want.”

“It’s too much.”

“It’s not. Do you want to order a bottle of red or white?”

“Harry, you’re acting crazy.”

He looks up at that. “Louis. This whole thing with you…” He clears his throat. “It started as a crush and then it turned into something more than that and I’m not sure what’s happening now but, fuck , I like you so much and I’m only acting crazy because you make me crazy and.” He pauses to swallow, running his hand through his hair. “Did I mention I like you?”

Louis nods, biting at his bottom lip, his own words caught in his throat.

“Okay. Because I do.” Harry holds up the wine list. “Now. Red or white wine for the table?”

“Red,” Louis stammers out.

“Perfect.” He reaches across the table and slides his hand into Louis’, and it is .

 

Dinner is, unsurprisingly, delicious. They get the bruschetta with duck and calamari to start, and by the time Louis’ lobster raviolis are placed in front of him alongside his fourth glass of wine, he thinks he might need to unbutton his pants.

It’s, without a doubt, the nicest meal - and date - Louis has ever been on, and he doesn’t need to tell Harry that for him to know. It’s very obvious, based on the way Louis can’t stop staring at each and everything he sees around the room, Harry included. And when Louis gets up to use the restroom before dessert, he can’t help but stop and kiss him, much too inappropriate for a restaurant setting, but he doesn’t care, and Harry doesn’t seem to care, either.

They wrap up dinner sometime around ten, and Louis’ entire face is hot, flushed from the wine. He doesn’t realize how tipsy he actually is until he stands up and the room starts to spin, grabbing the back of his chair for support.

Harry signs the bill with a smirk on his face and when he looks up, he shakes his head slightly. “Good thing I’m the one who drove us here, yeah?”

And Louis knows he’s drunk, really drunk, when he can’t come up with a comeback for that, just lets Harry lead him outside to the valet and press him up against the side of the car, Harry staring at him so intensely that Louis can barely stand it. Harry gives in first, brushing their lips together, just barely, and Louis can’t take it. He has to close the gap between them, kiss him and touch him until Harry is curling into it, groaning low in his throat.

“Baby,” he murmurs, pulling back, eyes closed. “We’re not gonna make it to destination number two if you keep that up.”

Louis blinks heavily. “There’s a second destination?”

Harry nods, dragging his thumb across Louis’ bottom lip. “Told you, I wanted to wow you.”

“You already wined and dined me.” He hiccups. “ Definitely wined me.”

“Definitely,” he echoes. “You ready to go? Part two?”

Louis readjusts Harry’s tie - or tries to, anyway - with fumbling hands and breath coming out like puffs of smoke. “Part two. Let’s do it. You gonna tell me where we’re going this time?”

“Have you learned nothing?”

He smirks against Harry’s jaw, leaning up to kiss him again. “Evidently not.”

 

The ride is short enough that the car doesn’t have time to heat up entirely; Louis is sitting on his hands to keep them warm when Harry pulls off the main road and into a dirt parking lot. It’s completely dark, trees everywhere, and the lot is empty, sans two other cars, both vacant. Louis looks around, eyes wide.

“Is part two of our date murder, by any chance?”

“Yeah, surprise.”

Louis squints out the window. “Seriously, where are we?”

“So, you know how I keep saying how much I want to ice skate at Rockefeller center?”

He rolls his eyes. “Yes, and how much you want to see a show on Broadway and have a picnic at Central Park and make out with the Statue of Liberty… Basically be the tourist that everyone hates.”

“Yes, exactly.” He smiles slightly. “Since you won’t let me do any of those things because you’re boring and--”

“And have morals ,” Louis interrupts.

“--refuse to enjoy life, I was going to say,” Harry continues, “I’ve decided to bring some of it to you and force you into it.”

“What the hell does that mean.”

“It means we’re ice skating.”

Louis looks back over at Harry, confused. “Except. We’re in the middle of the woods…”

“Right. Get out.”

“Uh, no.”

“Come on, it’s getting late. They close in an hour.”

“Who does?! There’s nothing here!”

Harry unbuckles his seatbelt and opens the door. “Get out of the car, Tomlinson.”

“Oh my God, so bossy.” He slides out, too, dirt crunching underneath his dress shoes. “Wait. You want me to skate around with you in a suit? In 24 degree weather? Drunk ?”

“You’ll look lovely, the temperature will keep the ice from melting, and I’ll hold your hand so you won’t fall over and make a total arse of yourself.”

“My, you have an answer to everything.” Louis follows Harry as he starts to take off out of the parking lot. “But over my dead body am I going to hold your hand while we skate.”

Harry laughs. “Duly noted.”

They walk a bit further, crossing over a cleared path through the trees, and just beyond the other side, low and behold, is an ice rink. There are twinkling lights strung from every tree, illuminating the perimeter, music playing from the speakers at the entrance of the rink, and how did he not notice any of this from the parking lot?

“Well, I’ll be damned,” he says under his breath.

“Cool, right? It’s not Rockefeller but it’s a close second.”

“Yeah, I’ll say.” There are only two other couples on the ice - one who appears to be around Louis’ age, the other couple much older - but it’s no wonder the rink isn’t busy, even on a Saturday night. It’s completely secluded.

Harry turns to him. “So. What do you think?”

“I think… That I don’t even live in Hartford,” he replies. “Why didn’t I know any of this existed? I’ve driven down this road a thousand times.”

“I did a bit of research. It’s kind of in the woods a bit, so I wouldn’t blame you for not knowing.”

“But still. You’ve been here for 22 weeks. I’ve been here for 22 years .”

Harry laughs. “Not my fault you don’t pay attention to your surroundings.”

“Says the guy who trips over everything and anything several times a day.”

“Alright, shh, be quiet. Let’s go skate.”

Louis follows Harry over to the booth, where a very bored and very cold looking teenage girl takes their shoe sizes and hands them over two pairs of skates. He throws a $20 bill down onto the counter and when Harry frowns, Louis holds up his hands in protest.

“Do not argue with me, broke college boy. You paid for everything else. Let me pay for you to skate at Rockefeller.”

Harry smiles and continues to lace up his skates. “Okay.”

They both hobble across the patted down dirt - Louis hobbling a bit more than Harry, thanks to half a bottle of red - and it becomes apparent after just barely three seconds on the ice that he isn’t going to be able to do this.

He sighs loudly. “Harry…”

Harry laughs and grabs his hand. “Don’t argue with me, okay?”

Louis doesn’t, just accepts the fact that he’s drunk and cold and in a suit and holding hands with Harry, skating around the secret rink hidden in the woods until the lights shut off.

 

It’s after midnight by the time they get home. Louis had made Harry stop at a Starbucks about a mile before the house, ordering tea and chocolate croissants, demanding that they were vital and necessary for survival. And they ended up sitting in the parking lot for over an hour, talking and joking, Louis rolling his eyes so hard when Harry whips out the Polaroid camera, he swore he could actually see his brain.

Harry pulls the car into the driveway carefully, the snow underneath the tires crunches, and he turns the key in the ignition, everything going silent. He turns to Louis, smile written all over his face.

“So. I had a good time tonight.”

“Good first date?” Louis asks, playing along.

Harry nods. “Better than good. Think I might call you again.”

“Might?”

“Yeah, I’m not entirely sure. You got a little sloppy at the end of dinner and that was kind of a turn off…”

Louis punches him on the arm. “If you don’t call me again, I will shave off your hair in your sleep.”

“Ah, I forgot you know where I live.”

“Seeing as we live together, yeah, I kinda do.”

“Living together before the first date… We’re really good at this, huh?”

Louis smirks. “ Very good.” He looks out the windshield, squinting when he notices it’s starting to snow. “Christ, will it ever stop snowing this year?”

“Probably not. Let’s get out. I’ll walk you to your door before the snow gets too heavy.”

He takes his seatbelt off and opens the car door. “Is this the part when you kiss me goodnight?”

Harry climbs out of the driver’s side. “If you let me, yeah.”

Louis shrugs, slamming the door behind him. He walks up to the front door, careful not to slide through the accumulating snow, and waits for Harry at the top of the step. “So,” he says, touching the railing mindlessly. “Fun night. All good stuff.”

Harry stands on the step below Louis, making them about the same height. “I’m glad you think that.”

“Consider me officially wooed. And impressed.”

“Even though you told me the concept of being impressed by me was basically out the window?”

Louis nods, touching Harry’s lapel. “Yes.”

Harry leans into the touch. “Good.”

He takes a minute to breathe, to trace his fingers along Harry’s chest, trying his best to ignore the cold, to ignore the way Harry is looking at him. “Hey.” He licks his lips, looking up. “Thank you for dinner.” He pauses to smile. “And for changing my oil.”

“Thank you for letting me take you out,” Harry replies, blinking heavily, “even if you had to play hard to get and be a pain in the arse about it the whole time.”

“I thought you liked when I play hard to get. Makes it interesting.”

“Mmm, mostly just like you, whatever you do.”

Louis slides his hand onto the nape of Harry’s neck. “Whatever I do?”

Harry nods, inching closer. “Pretty much.”

“Even when I turn off the bathroom light when you’re in the shower?”

“Yes.”

“Or when I steal your clothes?”

“Even then.”

“How about when you go to bed alone and you wake up with me in the bed next to you, and I’ve stolen all the covers?”

Especially then.” Harry grips Louis’ waist, his gaze and intentions far from subtle. “I’m gonna kiss you goodnight now.”

Louis’ fingers wrap around Harry’s curls. “Okay.”

Harry’s hands move from Louis’ waist and up to his jaw, cradling his face like he always does when he wants Louis to pay attention to him and nothing else. And Louis is fucked if he wanted to pay attention to anything else, because then Harry’s mouth is on his, a little too desperate for a “goodnight kiss,” thumbs brushing across his cheekbones and breath hot against his own.

Louis starts backing up, urging Harry to follow him, and he does, climbing up the stairs without looking or breaking contact, pushing Louis flush up against the front door, pushing himself flush up against Louis.

It’s snowing, it’s cold, it’s late, Louis is still dizzy from the drinks and from spinning around on ice for the better part of an hour, and yet, all he can focus on is the way Harry tastes and feels and keeps groaning low in his throat. Louis can tell Harry’s aiming for more, based on the way he keeps angling his hips and nipping at Louis’ bottom lip, but Louis wants more, too. Needs it.

He pulls back just slightly, lips brushing together. “I don’t put out on the first date,” he murmurs against Harry’s mouth.

Harry tugs him in closer. “Just this once. Please.” He presses his lips to Louis’ again, chaste and soft. “You can’t expect me not to want you, not after staring at you in a Goddamn suit for the past six hours. It’s essentially been an entire night of foreplay.”

Louis tries to laugh but it comes out sounding strangled. “Your place or mine?”

He squeezes the back of Louis’ neck. “Mine. I cleaned up for you.”

“You were that sure I’d wanna go home with you?”

Harry dips down once more, faces so close together that Louis’ eyes start to cross. “Wanted to believe you would.”

“Okay.” He slips his fingers into the waistband of Harry’s pants, not moving or touching anything, just the ghost of an idea of what he wants, and Harry’s eyes are wide, unblinking. “Let’s go.”

 

It’s comical, almost, the way they nearly race to the basement’s entrance, unable to keep their hands off of one another as if they’ve never done this before. And when they crash into Harry’s bed, it’s completely graceless, all too hurried, and Louis can’t understand why he already feels like he’s on the verge of losing his fucking mind.

He climbs on top of Harry, grinding down, Harry sitting up to pull off Louis’ jacket, and it’s completely frantic from there. He tries to stay in control when Harry starts palming Louis through his pants, when Harry sits up to mouth messily at Louis’ neck, when he grips at his ass and squeezes tight, making Louis fall forward. But he sounds strangled, anyway; his voice unmistakably begins to shake when he asks, “D’you want my mouth?”

Harry groans and closes his eyes. “Always want it. You’re so fucking good at it. I dream of your mouth.”

Louis swallows, sitting back on Harry’s thighs, reaching for the zipper on Harry’s pants, pulling it down painfully slowly. “You dream of it?”

He’s already pushing his hips up into nothing, panting. “Yes, fuck, you have no idea.” He grips at the sheets, clenching them between his fists. “I’m not gonna be able to last, though.”

Louis nods, yanking at Harry’s pants, not bothering to pull them off all the way. His cock is hard and springs free, slapping against his stomach, and Harry whines when Louis smoothes his hands over Harry’s thighs, gliding across goosebumps. He crouches down, looks up at Harry through his lashes, and just before he gets his mouth around him, he murmurs, “Good.”

He sinks down quickly, too impatient to let his mouth adjust to Harry’s size, and twists his hand at the base for what he can’t reach yet. Harry responds the way Louis knew he would: instantly moans and grips Louis’ hair with one hand, the other touching Louis’ lips, feeling the way his cock is going in and out of Louis’ mouth. He murmurs out his typical encouragements, telling Louis how how amazing he feels, how fit he looks, how lucky he is. And even though this is the way it always goes, even though Harry is Mr. predictable, it still urges Louis on, still makes him rock his hips down onto the mattress in between Harry’s legs and take down Harry as far as he can go before his eyes start to water. His stomach clenches at the combination of the friction against his own cock, and the way Harry jerks in his mouth, twitching and groaning at the way Louis’ lips feels.

He continues to bob his head up and down, jaw aching and back tensing up, but it’s worth it to watch Harry come undone. He’s never truly enjoyed giving head with previous partners this much - or ever, for that matter - but Harry makes every second of it worth it. He’s responsive, so unbearably hot, and if Louis swallows around him just right, he becomes completely pliant, unable to form coherent words and sentences, and that will never fail to get to Louis. He gets off on it, watching the way he’s able to turn Harry from the guy who confidently pushes him up against the shower wall and makes him come just by grinding their hips together, into this: a whining, whimpering mess, fisting at his own sweaty hair in at attempt to work through the way Louis is manipulating his body.

It never takes long for Harry’s body language to change, not when Louis is looking up at him like this, touching and sucking, mouth and hands relentless and desperate. Harry’s stomach muscles start to tense up, his inked chest starts heaving, his hands slamming down on the mattress, fingers digging into the sheets.

“Lou, baby,” he pants out, hips thrusting up into Louis’ mouth, his movements jerky, “‘m so close.”

Louis sucks at just the head, listening as Harry groans through it. He bares just the tiniest hint of teeth before he pulls off all the way, Harry trembling on the mattress beneath him. “You wanna come?”

Harry bites down on his bottom lip. “You’ve been sucking me off for the past 20 minutes, yes.

He grips Harry’s thighs hard enough to leave tiny indents. “Can you ask nicely?”

“Louis, fuck.”

“That wasn’t very nicely.”

Harry sits up, cheeks red and abs flexing. “Baby,” he murmurs out, squeezing his eyes shut when Louis bends back down to lick a stripe up Harry’s length. “Your mouth. I can’t. I’m.”

Louis looks up, smirk playing across his face. “Sorry, what was that?”

He rolls his hips, the head of his cock bumping into Louis’ chin. “Get me off so I can get you off. Need to get my hands on you. Baby…” He trails off, arching his back off the mattress again, groaning, desperate.

Louis presses his own hips down, a reminder that he’s still hard, and he whines at the pressure. “You wanna get your hands on me?” he asks, and before Harry can answer, he ducks back down and sucks Harry’s dick, suction hard and with enough pressure to get him off almost instantly.

Harry’s breathing quickens. “Yes, fuck, love the way you look when you’re coming. So bloody hot, so fucking…” He stops talking and jolts his hips up, not bothering to warn Louis he’s going to come. Louis doesn’t need the warning, anyway. It’s been two months and he knows this body.

He keeps sucking long after Harry’s stopped coming, keeps going until Harry whines and pushes him away, oversensitive and boneless. Louis sits up, breathing heavily, and he’s sure he looks like an absolute mess with slick lips and watery eyes, but that’s apparently what does it for Harry.

“Come up here,” he slurs out, “need to get you naked.”

Louis looks down at himself, actually unaware that he never managed to get out of his suit completely. The jacket was discarded when they first tumbled into bed, but the tie is loose and hanging crookedly, dress shirt unbuttoned entirely but still on his body, and cock hard and straining against his zipper. He tries to laugh at how sloppy he knows he looks, but his entire body is riddled with the need to come, to get Harry’s hands on every inch of him, and he ends up just sounding breathless instead.

He lets Harry undress him, pulling at his clothes fervently, orgasm typically making Harry’s movements slow and languid, but not this time. His eyes are wide and his hands are everywhere, not bothering to shed his own shirt, and when he gets his hand around Louis’ cock, leaking at the tip, hard and heavy in Harry’s palm, Louis can’t help the moan he lets out. He lays back against the pillows, pushing his hips up, and he know it won’t take long, not after nearly half an hour of watching Harry fall apart under his tongue.

Louis’ dead tired, exhausted, even, from the entire day’s events. It’s a combination of the alcohol, of all the surprises, of the late hour, of Harry. He can’t be half assed to help Harry in any way, shape, or form, too lazy to do anything but just lay there and let Harry stroke him firmly, the way he’s learned Louis likes it best. Louis closes his eyes when Harry leans down to kiss up and down his neck, movements frantic to set Louis over the edge, must be able to feel how tightly coiled Louis’ body is, and Louis just takes it. He knows how much Harry loves when he gives into the pleasure, is helpless to the way Harry takes control, takes care of him.

“Perfect boy,” Harry murmurs into the crook of Louis’ neck, breath hot against Louis’ skin, but he can feel goosebumps raising, anyway. “Love when you’re like this.”

Louis whines in response, body tense and ready to unravel at any minute, heat in his stomach pooling. And it’s all too much at once: Harry’s hand steady and slick on him, his voice deep and whispering the exact right words into Louis’ ear, his eyes never leaving Louis’ face. When Louis starts to come, he bites at Harry’s shoulder through his shirt, his entire body shaking with the force of it.

Harry shushes him through it, his lips brushing across Louis’ face, and Louis can hardly force himself to keep his eyes open long enough to kiss Harry back, completely sated from his orgasm. His body slumps against the mattress, arms hanging loosely around Harry’s neck, and Harry weakly kisses his bicep.

“This was a good date,” Harry whispers, smirking slightly.

Louis clears his throat, attempting to get rid of the fog in his mind. “You’re only saying that because you got a blow job out of it.”

“It was a fucking good blow job,” he says, shrugging, slipping off his dress shirt. “But that’s not the only reason why, don’t be dumb.”

He laughs, then yawns. “‘m tired.”

“Want me to grab you a t-shirt to put on? Or some joggers?”

“No, just wanna sleep.”

“‘kay. I can handle that.”

Louis falls asleep with his head on Harry’s bare chest, Harry dragging his fingers through Louis’ hair until his movements slow down to a complete stop, breathing even and calm, Louis following suit just minutes later.

 

He wakes up first the next morning, Harry unmoving and still beside him. Louis sits up to rub his eyes, to stretch his back, and that’s when he sees it: very visible and prominent bite marks on Harry’s shoulder from Louis’ mouth.

He doesn’t think twice before he leans over the bed to grab a pink sticky note from the bedside table, scribbling out, I was attacked by a vampire last night on it with an arrow pointing to the marks, and sticks it to Harry’s bare chest. He slides out of bed, pulling on Harry’s UConn sweatshirt, and heads upstairs for breakfast.

 

Harry finds him an hour later, and Louis bursts out laughing when Harry slaps his own sticky note onto Louis’ chest with a ridiculous smile on his face: Hello, my name is Vampire.


 

Two weeks before Harry’s birthday, Louis finds out February 1st falls on a Sunday this year. And not just any Sunday. Super Bowl Sunday. He’s about five seconds away from pulling his hair out over that tiny detail, potentially ruining the plans he had already set for Harry’s birthday, but then Harry is in his face, shaking him by the shoulder, smiling and gasping.

“Do you know what this means?!” he nearly shrieks.

Louis pushes him off. “That your birthday is on the worst Sunday of the year.”

“How is it the worst! Lou, this is amazing . This is what I’ve been training for.”

He scoffs. “I wanted to go do something fun for your birthday though. You know, to make up for the birthday you didn’t throw for me…”

“Now, don’t make me feel guilty.” Harry presses a kiss to Louis’ temple. “This is a great thing. It’ll be a fun birthday. I’m excited.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not. I had some stuff planned for us.”

“I’m sorry, is it my birthday or yours?”

Louis blinks. “Why are you still standing in front of me.”

He laughs. “Okay, can we compromise? Can we do a part of your plan, and then get back in time for the start of the game?”

“Harry, I think you’re underestimating how big of an event the Super Bowl actually is. This isn’t something you just swing by for. It’s a holiday. A holiday where you wake up and start drinking and eating nachos before it’s even noon.”

Harry smiles. “This is a great thing,” he repeats.

“No, because it means we won’t have time to do any of the stuff I had planned. Harry ,” he whines, pouting.

“Aw, Lou. You just like me so much…”

“Hey, remember when you didn’t live here and I didn’t know you? That was fun.”

He laughs again. “Alright, I promise, I’ll free my morning and early afternoon for you so we can celebrate together and then we’ll go to Evan’s together. He’s already planning on throwing a party for it.”

“I mean, I guess, if that’s what you want,” Louis says through a sigh. “I can try to accommodate that.”

“Thank you for being so easy to work with, baby,” Harry says, kissing the back of Louis’ hand, not bothering to hide his sarcasm.

“Eh.” Louis shrugs. “It’s your birthday. I have to be nice.”

“It’s because you just like me so much…”

“Okay, that’s enough out of you. No presents, I take it back.”

Harry winks. “I just like you so much, too.”

“Gee,” he says, pushing Harry away, laughing, “my lucky day.”

 

The morning of Harry’s 22nd year of life, Louis wakes him up with a cup of tea, a plate of eggs and bacon, and a chocolate cupcake with a single candle on top. In lieu of a card, he presses a sticky note to the side of the tray, his lazy scrawl spelling out, Happy birthday, H. I hope your looks don’t go downhill from here, because your face is really nice. L

Harry laughs, his voice rough with sleep. “Thanks, baby.”

“Welcome.” Louis peers over the edge of the tray, looking down. “Would you believe me if I told you I made cupcakes from scratch for you this morning?”

He takes a bite of his eggs. “Not really, no.”

“Good, because that would be a lie. But a nice lady named Wendy at some bakery downtown made them for you yesterday.”

“Remind me to thank Wendy. It looks delicious.”

“It is. I ate the other three.”

Harry snorts. “Not surprised. Did she make the eggs, too?”

“Excuse you, I made them. And the bacon. And the tea.”

He takes a sip of the tea. “Mmm, it’s all very good.”

“That’s what I thought.” Louis wiggles his toes under Harry’s thighs. “How good?”

“Fantastic.”

“Best ever?”

Harry hums, taking another sip. “Potentially.”

“I didn’t have any yet this morning, you know.”

“That’s a shame.”

“It is.” He sighs, laying down on his back, almost kicking the tray off of Harry’s lap completely. “Sure wish I had some for myself, though. Spent the past half hour in the kitchen and didn’t even make any extra…”

“That was a poor choice.”

“I was just thinking of you, darling. You and only you on your 22nd birthday.”

“I’m very appreciative.”

Louis sighs again, louder this time. “Maybe I’ll have time to eat later.”

Harry sets the tray down on the bed beside him. “Louis. Baby. Would you like some of my birthday breakfast?”

He sits up. “Oh, no, I couldn’t take that from you. It’s your birthday.”

“I insist.”

“Well. If that’s the case. Gimme the bacon.”

Harry passes him the plate, shaking his head, trying and failing to hide his smile. “Enjoy.”

Louis rips off a piece of bacon, popping it into his mouth. “Wow, best ever,” he says through chewing. “For sure.”

Harry puts the tray with the rest of the food on the floor, waiting for Louis to finish his piece of bacon before he rolls on top of him, pressing their foreheads together. “Yeah,” he says slowly, “best ever, for sure.”

Louis licks his lips and tangles his fingers in Harry’s hair. “Happy birthday to you.”

Harry nods, just before their lips brush. “Happy birthday to me.”

 

Louis gets ready to take Harry to his late birthday lunch a few hours later; he wears his Patriots jersey, advising Harry to also wear something along the same lines, and around three, he drives them to a bar in downtown Hartford. It’s already completely mobbed by the time they make their way inside - people filling up every barstool and booth in sight, preparing themselves for the big game being broadcasted on every screen in the room - and they’re able to squeeze in at a hightop table in the center of the room. Harry looks around, drumming his fingers along the table.

“I now understand why you requested this particular outfit,” he says, pointing to his own NFL sweatshirt. “We would have stuck out like sore thumbs if had on regular clothes. It’s like a football parade in here.”

“You stand out no matter what you’re wearing, believe me.”

“Are you trying to be offensive?”

“Nope, just saying it’s hard to miss the curly giant with a British accent and heeled boots, is all.”

“It’s my birthday, you have to be nice.”

“That was my version of being nice. Besides, I took you to a bar filled with football . And you know how much I can’t stand it. This is all about you, my dear.”

Harry scrunches up his nose. “You were keeping the theme for me? A football theme?”

Louis sighs. “Yeah. It’s not as good as what I wanted to do with you originally, but you and your jock ways…”

“Oh, right, such a jock.”

“Muscles and all.”

“Are you flirting with me?”

“No. Go order some wings.”

Harry laughs. “Wings. Got it.”

 

The game is set to start at 6:30, and Louis plans to wrap up at the bar by six, giving them enough time to head to Evan’s, sparing Harry an aneurism. They go through four orders of wings - some hot enough that Louis’ eyes water and Harry goes into several coughing fits - and wash it down with two pitchers of beer. It’s good, it’s noisy, it’s fun, and Louis thinks he’s doing a good job pretending he’s enjoying himself for Harry’s benefit.

Not that Harry seems to notice.

For the past hour, his eyes have been glued to the plasma screen TV, focus unwavering and ears trained on the announcer’s words, even though it’s all just pregame coverage. Louis tries his best to distract him, to get Harry to so much as look at him for at least ten seconds, but he’s completely focused on the interviews with the coaches and players, Louis be damned.

He knows he’s irritated for no reason; it’s Harry’s birthday, not his, and if this is what Harry wants to do to celebrate his 22nd birthday, then so be it. But Harry can’t tear his eyes away from the screen, he’s talking to the announcers more than he’s talking to Louis, and Louis is pissed his original plans for Harry didn’t pan out the way he wanted them to, which is definitely what’s bothering him the most.

After about 15 minutes of Harry staring at the TV and Louis staring at Harry, Harry finally looks down, making a face at the mess of sauce on his hands.

“Lou, can you pass me another napkin?” Harry asks, mouth full.

He rolls his eyes and hands him a wad of them. “Oh, now you want to talk?”

Harry doesn’t answer, just takes the napkins and hums, eyes flickering back up to the screen.

Louis purses his lips together. “What a fun birthday this is. You and me and…” He looks up at the screen, reading the announcer’s name off the screen. “James Brown.”

“James Brown,” Harry repeats, voice monotone, making it very obvious he only caught the last two words of Louis’ sentence.

“Are you listening to me at all?”

“Sure.”

Louis sucks in his cheeks, pushing his plate out of the way. “Okay, so, like, I’m thinking of moving. I’m tired of Connecticut. Maybe Brooklyn. Or Queens.”

Harry blinks. “Mhm.”

“But Alaska is nice, too. Or Perth. Or Russia. What do you think?”

Belated pause. Yes.”

“Harry!” Louis slams his hands down on the table, and that’s what gets Harry to rip his gaze away from the TV. “Why don’t you call up James fucking Brown to celebrate with you instead?!”

“Whoa.” Harry holds up his hands, covered in barbecue sauce. “Are you alright?”

“Harry, your birthday sucks!”

He huffs out laugh. “Says who?”

“Says me!”

Harry leans back in his chair. “I, for one, am having a great time.”

“How?!”

“Well.” He takes a sip of his beer and sets it back down on the table, smirking. “To start, this beer is actually good. Few and far between here in good ol’ Hartford.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “Pain in the ass.”

He ignores Louis and keeps going. “You know I’ve spent the past few months obsessing over football. I think it’s so intriguing. The fact that Super Bowl Sunday fell on my birthday this year is the best gift ever.”

“So, I can throw mine away, then?”

“Don’t you dare,” Harry replies, then winks, and Louis snorts. “I’m eating delicious wings in a packed bar with a hundred other crazy football fans, I’m about to head to a party filled with people I’m nuts about, and I’m sat across from the most beautiful, most intense, most incredible human I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. I’d be insane not to think this birthday was perfect. Louis, I have everything.”

Louis stares at him, furrowing his brows, before he finally slumps back in his chair, sighing. “Fuck. I just want it to be good for you, you know?”

Harry smiles, big and bright. “I know. And you’re doing a great job, baby, I promise.”

“Okay.” He runs his sauce-free hand through his hair. “Do you want to get going so we’re not late for kickoff?”

He nods. “Yeah. Let me finish this beer first, and maybe a few more wings.”

“Go for it. You’re the birthday boy.”

 

Harry finishes his beer, as well as the rest of his wings, but because Harry is Harry, he ends up engaging himself in a conversation with the group next to them, eventually moving his chair over to join their table, pulling Louis with him. Louis watches as Harry downs three more bottles of beer, followed by a birthday shot, courtesy of Harry’s new best friends, and by the time Louis realizes it’s 6:13, Harry is bordering on very drunk and Louis is bordering on very panicked.

“Harry,” he says, grabbing Harry’s knee, “I know you’re enjoying yourself…”

“I am!” he exclaims, pulling Louis in for a rough kiss, and everyone around them whistles.

Louis pulls back, cheeks pink. “Babe, it’s almost 6:15.”

“Yeah?”

“Kickoff is at 6:30. We’re not gonna make it to Evan’s in time.”

His eyes grow comically wide. “Lou! You didn’t tell me!”

“What?! You’ve been taking shots with God only knows who for the past half hour--”

“Their names are Cole and Wayne and Sarah!”

“Okay, fine, whatever, let’s go .”

Harry gets up out of his seat, grabbing Louis for support. “Friends, it was nice to meet you, but we’re off.” He reaches around and squeezes at Louis’ ass. “Can you believe my boy planned the mother fucking Super Bowl on my birthday ?”

Louis bats his hand away as the group laughs. “Alright, hot shot, let’s get moving.”

They quickly make their way to the car - as quickly as they can manage with Harry stopping to whine every few seconds that they’re gonna miss the game, they’re gonna be late, he already misses his friends, he already misses tequila - and by the time they’re both situated and on the main road, Louis is cursing under his breath, wondering why he wanted to give this kid a good birthday in the first place.

 

The entire way to Evan’s apartment, Harry decides it’s necessary that he dictates every turn, swerve, and stop Louis makes, telling him he isn’t driving fast enough, that he isn’t traveling the most direct route. Louis ends up slapping him across the chest when they’re four minutes from Evan’s, telling him to shut his drunk mouth up, that he’s being a major pain in the ass on the only birthday of Harry’s they’re ever going to be able to celebrate together in person. That effectively gets Harry to stop talking.

He heads down the sidestreet to Evan’s going nearly 60 MPH and throws the car into park, cutting the engine in the parking lot, the time exactly 6:30. He looks over at Harry, who is not making a single attempt to sprint out of the car.

“Are you serious?! Get out!” Louis yells. “Kickoff starts now! You’re gonna miss it!”

Harry unbuckles the seatbelt, movements slow, a serious contrast to the way he was just screaming minutes prior. “Hey.”

“Oh my God, yeah, sure, let’s chat now. We’re gonna be so late .”

He shrugs. “Eh. What’s a few extra minutes? You’re right. This is my only birthday we get to have together.”

Louis lets his head fall back against the headrest. “That’s what I’ve been saying .” He flicks his hair out of his eyes, looking over at Harry. “I’m not trying to make you feel guilty, because it now occurs to me that it sounds like that.”

Harry shakes his head. “No, absolutely not. This time next year, who knows where we’ll be?”

He closes his eyes. “Probably on different continents.”

“Probably.” Harry clears his throat. “Louis.”

Louis opens his eyes to see Harry staring at him. “Harry.”

“Let’s be a few minutes late.” He brushes his thumb across Louis’ cheekbone. “C’mere.”

Louis leans in close, lets their lips brush together lightly. “You are the most obnoxious person I’ve ever met,” he mumbles against Harry’s lips.

Harry nods as he wraps his hand around the back of Louis’ neck. “‘m sorry about that.”

“No, you’re not.”

“No, I’m not,” he agrees, pulling Louis’ mouth to his.

 

They make it inside at 6:36, neither of them the slightest bit remorseful.

 

Halfway through the game, long after the missed kickoff, Harry and Louis are squeezed together on the couch, Louis’ legs draped across Harry’s lap. Harry has been screaming at the TV for nearly an hour, laughing and joking with the other people in the room, squeezing Louis’ knee and drawing lazy circles across his thigh, reminding Louis he’s thinking about him. The game is good, the beer is better, and at the end of the halftime show, Harry leans back against the couch.

“Hey, can you tell me what your original plan was? Before football had to go and fuck it all up? Before you slapped me in the car?”

Louis laughs. “Yeah, sure. But lemme give you your gift first.”

“Oh, right. Gimme.”

“Greedy.” Louis shifts around on the couch, reaching into his back pocket and pulling out an envelope. “It’s a big gift, I know.”

Huge. ” Harry rips it open, eyes going wide when he sees what’s inside. “Wait. Louis.”

He nods. “Yeah. Okay. So my plan. I wanted to take you into the city for the day and let you be the tourist you always complain you want to be but haven’t gotten the chance to be yet, even though you’re totally past that point, seeing as you go there once a week. But. Anyway.” He rolls his shoulders, biting at his bottom lip. “I wanted to show you where the ice rink at Rockefeller usually is, since it’s now closed for the season, and then we could go to Top of the Rock, and the State of Liberty, and have your fucking picnic in the park. And we’d totally freeze our balls off, but it’s what you want, right?”

Harry laughs, nodding. “Right.”

“And then I’d take you to Time Square and show you where the Broadway shows are and be all like, ‘We should do this one day,’ and you’d be all like, ‘Definitely. I want to. I keep telling you how much I want to.’ And I’d be like, ‘Well, how about in a couple of weeks?’ And then I’d hold out the tickets and that’d be it.”

He looks back down at the tickets. “Oh my God. You’re right. That’s way better than the Super Bowl.”

“I know .”

He squeezes Louis’ thigh. “ Tarzan ?”

Louis nods. “Mhm. It’s supposed to be really good.”

“This is. This is perfect.”

He slides in closer to Harry, pressing himself up against his side, movements sluggish from the alcohol. “‘m glad you feel that way.” He reaches up and tangles his fingers in Harry’s curls. “Happy birthday.”

Harry smiles. “Thank you.” He bends down slowly, like he’s going to kiss him, but pauses. “Oh, one more thing.”

“What’s that?”

“Please don’t move to Perth or Russia.”

Louis laughs, and before he seals their lips together, he murmurs, “I won’t.”


 

The date of the Broadway show sneaks up quickly; Louis purchased tickets for the last weekend of February, and they head into the city after lunch, riding the train with their duffel bags on their laps. When Louis had told Harry the night prior that he’d also gotten them a hotel for the night so they didn’t have to rush to the station after the show, Harry had all but shrieked in Louis’ face.

“Are you serious?!” he’d yelled.

“Yes, you lunatic,” Louis laughed. “Just for Saturday night.”

“Fuck, this is going to be so much fun. You didn’t have to do this, though.”

“Um, yes I did,” he said. “Look how pumped you are.”

Harry couldn’t hide his smile. “Yeah, I am definitely pumped.”

Now, as they take a cab to the hotel a few blocks over from Time Square, Harry can’t stop talking, acting as though this is his first time ever setting foot in New York.

“Harry, you’re nuts. You’re here once a week. Sometimes more.”

“Yeah, but this is different,” he argues. “Can you believe I’ve been living here for six months and I still haven’t been to the Statue of Liberty? Still haven’t seen a Broadway show?”

Louis hums, handing the cab driver a wad of bills when they pull up to the front of the hotel. “Today’s the day it all changes, then we never have to do this again, and I’m going to be so happy.”

“You’re always so positive. It’s contagious, really.”

They step out of the cab together, avoiding the slush and puddles on the sidewalk, and make their way inside of the hotel’s lobby. Louis checks in with the man behind the desk quickly, antsy to drop his heavy duffel bag and take out his contacts. They’re itching like crazy and with the way he’s blinking and winking, he’s fairly sure the man behind the counter (and Harry) thinks he’s flirting.

Their room is basic; one king-sized bed, a TV, a closet, a bathroom, but it’s the view that does it, that makes both Harry and Louis’ jaws drop. They’re essentially in Time Square - just three blocks over - and from the 18th floor, they can see everything . There’s an endless string of people walking up and down the streets, lights flashing from billboards in every which direction, and buildings as far as Louis can see. He looks over at Harry, whose own eyes are wide.

“Cool, huh?”

“Okay, Louis, this must have been so expensive, even just for the night. Look where we are.”

Louis pops out his contacts, blinking several times. Relief. “Eh. I know a guy,” he says. “Alright, you ready to head out?”

Harry nods. “Yeah, let’s go. I have a question, though.”

He grabs his wallet, shrugging his coat back on. “Shoot.”

“Is ‘that guy,’” he says in air quotes, smirking, “the guy behind the front desk? The one you kept winking at?”

“Fuck off,” Louis answers, laughing, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “Enjoy Central Park by yourself.”

“Oh, I will.”

 

They meander around the city long enough for Louis’ feet to hurt, Harry’s nose to turn red from the cold, and for exactly six New Yorkers to shove them out of the way while they’re posing for pictures in front of major landmarks, muttering, “Tourists,” under their breaths as they walk past.

Louis’ Vans squelch in the puddles along the walkways in the park, Harry’s boots doing the same, and Louis nudges him with his elbow.

“Being a tourist sucks, huh?”

Harry pouts. “It does not.”

“It so does. We’re freezing and people hate us and we’ve spent so much money on basically nothing.”

“The Top of the Rock was worth the money!”

Louis snorts. “Yeah, I love being corralled along with a thousand other people into a tiny elevator.”

“Whatever.” Harry kicks a pebble out of the way. “Wanna head back to the hotel to get ready? Showtime is only in a couple hours, and if we want to eat first, we’ve gotta start making some moves.”

“Yeah. Let’s stop by that sub shop the block over from the hotel. Unless you'd rather eat at the Olive Garden in Time Square?”

Harry smirks. “Tourist central.”

“Ahh, now you don’t want to be a part of it.”

“I’d rather just go split a sub with you, if that’s okay.”

Louis pretends to think about it. “Eh. I guess I can manage that.”

 

Showtime is at eight, so Louis and Harry both slip into their dress shirts and ties about half hour prior, Harry getting overly handsy - as expected - as they’re trying to leave, Louis rolling his eyes.

“Can’t say that I blame you, though,” he says, stretching, “I look impeccable tonight.”

“Yeah, I’ll say,” Harry agrees. “Making me feel a bit like shit, Tomlinson.”

“I do what I can.”

They head to the theater together, Harry chatting excitedly the entire time, telling Louis that he’d seen a show in London before but this is so much different, the energy of the city remarkable. But as soon as they step inside the building, he grows quiet, eyes wide, spinning in a thousand different directions.

“Lou,” he nearly whispers, “I’m speechless.”

Louis laughs. “Harry, it’s not a big deal. It’s just Broadway.”

“Oh, it’s just Broadway, how silly of me,” he mocks, putting his hands on his hips. “My mum is gonna kill me. She’s wanted to do this for her entire life.”

“We’d better take a bunch of pictures for her, then.”

“Isn’t that a big like adding insult to injury?”

“Probably. Does that mean you’re not gonna do it?”

“Oh, hell no, I am. Let me get out my camera. I’m gonna take a picture of this damn place from every angle.”

Louis laughs. “You’re a dick son.”

“Whatever, I’m her only son, and she’s stuck with me.”

After Louis yanks away the camera, telling Harry it’s enough, they hand their tickets over and climb the stairs to the balcony level seating, settling in in the first row, dead center.

Harry whistles as they sit down. “You did good, Tomlinson. These seats are amazing.”

Louis nods, because they’re definitely some of the best seats in the house. “I’ve sat in this section before, so I knew they were decent.”

“What’d you see last time?”

Mamma Mia!

“Here I go again.”

Louis slaps Harry with his rolled up playbill. “Leave it to the professionals, please.”

Harry taps his feet on the ground. “My, my, how can I resist you?”

“Enough.”

“My, my, I could never let you go.”

“Oh my God.”

Harry laughs, squeezing Louis’ knee. “Thank you for my birthday present.”

Louis drags his thumb across the back of Harry’s knuckles. “You’re welcome.”

They talk quietly while the rest of the seats fill up, an eclectic bunch of people sitting around them, and when the lights start flashing, signaling the start of the show, Louis leans back in his seat, excited to watch the play, excited to watch Harry.

The room is quiet, the audience stills, the music starts up, loud and booming, and then, out of nowhere, the actor playing Tarzan comes swooping in overhead, flying above them. He’s in a harness, yelling at the top of his lungs, and he flies by directly over Harry’s head. The majority of the audience claps - the expected reaction - but Harry is not one of them. Instead, he lets out the most ridiculous, blood curdling scream Louis has ever heard, and Harry immediately slaps his hand over his mouth, eyes wide.

Tarzan flinches, just slightly, but continues on with the opening song, as the crowd around them stares mercilessly. Harry is clearly embarrassed, cheeks completely red, hand still covering his mouth. And that’s when Louis loses it.

He laughs so hard, he has tears spilling over his cheeks, snorting, stomach actually hurting. “Harry,” he wheezes out, “what the fuck was that for?!”

Harry shushes him, face now a deep shade of pink. “Everyone around us is staring,” he hisses out.

“No shit, they are! Oh my God !”

“I didn’t know he was going to fly over me like that! He scared the hell out of me!”

“Yeah, I’ll fucking say!” Louis starts up laughing all over again, positively can’t hold it in, tries his best to stop but then he thinks of the look on Harry’s face with Tarzan in nothing but a loincloth flying above him and he has to bury his face in his hands to keep from shrieking. “Jesus Christ, the last time I saw you make a face like that was in that haunted house back in October, holy fuck!”

“Louis, shut up,” he says, but he’s breaking, too, face splitting into a smile, shoulders starting to shake.

“Should we add Tarzan to the list, right under ‘clowns’?”

“Piss off,” Harry laughs, closing his eyes. “Seriously, though, we’re being so disruptive.”

Louis wipes the tears away from his eyes. “Alright. Okay. I’m calm now. I can focus.”

 

They make it another six minutes before Louis has to excuse himself to the lobby.

 

After the show ends, Louis and Harry make their way outside, weaving in and out of other patrons, and Harry rubs his hands together, warming them up.

“Lou, that was such a fun show. I absolutely loved it.”

“Even when Tarzan swooped down to attack you?”

“Alright, you suck.”

Louis laughs. “Okay, it’s only 11 o’clock now. Any ideas of what you wanna do?”

Harry shrugs. “We could go get a drink.”

“Yeah,” he says, nodding, “we could do that. Or we could go back to the hotel. They have a pool. And a sauna.” Louis pauses, looking up at Harry. “And a hot tub.”

“On second thought. No drinks. Hot tub. Hot tub is good.”

Louis smirks, grabbing Harry’s arm. “That’s what I thought.”

 

After they get back to the hotel and grab their bathing suits - courtesy of Louis - they make their way down to the sauna and spa, sitting together in the steamed room, towels wrapped around their naked waists. It’s about five million degrees, Louis estimates, as he pushes his dripping hair out of his eyes.

“This is nice,” he says dryly.

Harry laughs. “It’s like Arizona.”

“When have you ever been to Arizona?”

“I haven’t. I’m just guessing. Have you?”

“No, but I think it’s mostly a dry heat, though? This feels like humidity.”

Harry hums. “Maybe like Fiji, then?”

“Oh my God.” Louis rubs his hands across his face, slick with sweat. “Do we have to have this discussion now? Can we get the fuck out of his hell hole?”

“Hey, you suggested it,” Harry replies, pushing his own sweat soaked curls out of his eyes. “But yeah, I need to get into the pool before I turn into a raisin. I think we’ve been in here for 18 hours now.”

“Mmm, a British raisin.” Louis looks up at the clock. “Fuck, it’s only been 13 minutes.”

He laughs. “Regardless. Out. Pool.”

It’s late - the pool should be closing within the next half hour - so Louis assumes that no one else from the hotel should be making an appearance. Instead of grabbing his bathing suit, before he can overthink it, he drops his towel to the ground, putting his hands on his hips.

Harry looks over, biting at his bottom lip. “Bit indecent, yeah?”

“Suppose so. I don’t care, though, really.” He dives into the pool, the cool water feeling amazing on his overheated skin, and surfaces moments later. He doesn’t have to look to know Harry’s staring at him. “You gonna join me?”

Harry clears his throat from his stance at the edge of the pool, and Louis smirks when Harry drops his own towel. “Yeah. ‘m coming.” He dives in, as well, significantly less graceful than Louis. He breaches the surface, water droplets dripping down his face as he closes the gap between them. “Hi,” he murmurs.

Louis sinks down in the water up to his shoulders. “Hello.”

“This was better than getting a drink.”

“That’s because I’m naked.”

“Any of your ideas that involve nudity are your best ideas. They always win.”

“I’m glad you feel that way.”

Harry licks his lips. “Did I mention how good you looked tonight? Love when you’re all dressed up for me.”

“Who said it was for you? Tarzan was smoking hot.”

He smirks. “You gonna leave me to go swing in the vines?”

Louis shrugs, reaching for Harry’s waist in the water. He drags his fingers up and down, and Harry steps forward. “I dunno. Depends on what was under that loincloth of his.”

“Cheeky,” Harry answers, laughing. “But I’m serious. You looked stunning tonight. I wanted to point you out to everyone and tell them that you were with me. That I get to have you.”

He stands up straighter, water droplets rolling down his back, down his chest, off his eyelashes. He watches as Harry’s eyes trail over his body. “Seems a little possessive, Styles?”

“So what if I am?”

Louis swallows, digging his fingertips into the meat of Harry’s hips. “Think you just need to work on controlling yourself a little more.”

“That’s an unfair request.”

“And why’s that.”

“Because you’re standing in front of me completely naked, touching me, and looking at me like you want to get fucked.”

He’s being called out, he knows it, but it’s also true and he can’t deny that. He inhales sharply. “Too bad we’re in a public pool.”

“I’ll fuck you right here, I don’t care.”

Louis smirks, rubbing his thumb across Harry’s hipbone under the water. “Except the pool closes in about ten minutes. You think you’d be able to fuck me the way you want in ten minutes?”

Harry sucks in his cheeks. “No.”

“Then you can’t fuck me here. Problem solved.”

“How on Earth did that solve any problems? Get out. Let’s go back to our room.” He bends down to nip at Louis’ ear, and he shivers. “Please, baby.”

Louis forces himself to push Harry away, wants to keep teasing him, because desperate Harry is always just about the hottest thing he’s ever seen. It always starts off as an act, but always unravels into something real and forceful. They both have the matching marks and faded scars to prove it. “I dunno,” he says, pushing his hair out of his eyes. “I think I wanna take a quick dip in the hot tub, before we have to leave.”

“Lou.” Harry looks pained, nearly, and takes a step back. “Can we please just go back upstairs?”

“Hmm.” Louis drags his fingers across the surface of the water. “No. I want the hot tub.” He looks up at Harry through his eyelashes. “I’ll make it worth your time, I promise.”

He groans, splashing water across his face. “Alright. Hot tub it is.”

They both glance at the sliding glass doors to make sure they’re still alone before they climb out of the pool together, Louis snorting when he sees Harry sporting his rather obvious hard-on before they sink down into the jetted, bubbling water.

“Seriously, work on controlling yourself.”

Harry slides over next to him on the plastic seat, hand going to Louis’ inner thigh. “Don’t want to, though.”

“Gonna have to. Public space.”

Empty public space.”

“Yeah, for now.” Louis raises his brow. “Bit of an exhibitionist kink?”

“No.” Harry furrows his brows, digging his fingers into Louis’ thigh. “Just want you.” He moves impossibly closer, and Louis can nearly feel the heat from Harry’s own skin through the water. “How many more minutes are you gonna make me sit in here with you, huh?” he asks as he starts to angle his face against Louis’, lips just barely brushing.

Louis leans back, neck pressing against the headrest. “How long do you think you can last?”

“Last doing what?”

“Not being able to touch me.”

Harry blinks slowly, sucking in a deep breath. “Why the fuck would I ever want to play that game with you?”

“To prove that you can.”

He moves his hand higher up on Louis’ leg. “But I’ve been touching you the whole time.”

Louis spreads his legs a little further apart, and Harry presses his forehead against Louis’. “I should clarify. You can touch me. You just can’t kiss me.”

“This is a bullshit game,” Harry mumbles under his breath, eyes frantic across Louis’ face. “And your rules are stupid.”

“Don’t be a sore loser already.”

This ,” he says, gesturing between them, “is not worth my time. Your promises suck. I could be upstairs with you, three fingers deep by now…”

Louis laughs. “It’s okay to just be quiet sometimes.”

“Is that your way of telling me to shut up?”

“Basically, yeah.”

“Alright.”

And he does. He’s dead quiet as he moves his thumbs up and down the inner length of Louis’ thigh, as he leans down to mouth at Louis’ collarbones, as drags his knuckles up and down the length of Louis’ quickly hardening cock. Louis tries to focus on keeping his breathing even, on not spiraling, because this is his game and he’s going to win, damn it, can’t let Harry know he’s somehow already on the edge of breaking. But then Harry pulls back and his teeth are sinking into his bottom lip and his pupils are blown and his cheeks are red and he looks unfairly hot.

Louis closes his eyes, trying and failing to ignore the feel of Harry’s hand starting to work steadily over the head of his dick, and he’s desperate to thrust up into it, but if he does that, he knows he won’t stop, and this - the hotel’s hot tub four minutes from closing - is not the place this can happen.

He swallows heavily, breathing starting to pick up, and then Harry’s hand is gone. He opens his eyes to face Harry about five inches from his face, his own movements a little crazy, hand trembling as he cups the back of Louis’ neck.

“You’re so sexy,” he murmurs, pulling Louis closer to him.

“You’re gonna lose the game, Styles,” he manages to croak out.

“I don’t want to play anymore.”

“What do you want to do instead,” he whispers, as if Harry isn’t being obvious enough.

“Wanna fuck you,” Harry says into Louis’ shoulder, voice deep and breath hot. “Wanted to fuck you for, like, three hours.”

“Harry, we’ve only been down here for about 45 minutes.”

“What’s your point.”

“Nothing.” Louis peers over Harry’s shoulder and looks at the clock. “30 seconds until someone is inevitably going to come in here and kick us out. Or call the cops.”

Harry nods, dragging his thumb across Louis’ bottom lip. “30 seconds of kissing you, then. Jesus, how did I get so lucky.”

Louis closes the gap between them, not giving Harry a chance to, slotting their mouths together, Harry opening up to it instantly. The grip on the back of his neck tightens, the tension in his stomach deepens, and fuck the 30 seconds, he could do this for hours.

He doesn’t let it go on for that long, though. He knows they need to get the fuck out of this water, back into their bathing suits, and up into the hotel room. They need to before someone kicks them out; they need to before Louis can’t help himself and climbs on top of Harry right now .

Harry follows Louis out of the hot tub, grabbing their towels and bathing suits, and as soon as they get into the elevator, dripping wet onto the carpet, he pushes Louis up against the mirrored wall, grinding into him.

“Wanna know what I’m thinking?” he pants out.

Louis whines. “What?”

“That I kinda wish someone came in and saw us. Want everyone to know you’re mine.”

“Fuck.”

Harry nods. “Also thinking that if this elevator takes any longer, I’m gonna get on my knees right here.”

“Shut up .”

The elevator stops, dinging, and the door opens. Harry takes a step back and smirks. “Also thinking that I can’t believe you caved first.”

Louis shakes his head, rubbing his hands across his face. “You’re a dick.”

“You mean a winner .”

 

Since day one, things with Harry have moved unbearably quickly, and this moment right now is no exception. The way Harry pulls Louis’ bathing suit off, the way his mouth finds Louis’ within the shadows of the bedroom, they way they tumble into the bed together; it’s all at lightning speed, Harry’s hands desperate and mouth slick, the city lights streaming in through the window, electrifying.

Harry doesn’t waste much time before he gets his mouth around Louis, working his tongue over and over again until Louis is shaking on the bed, hands knotted in Harry’s curls, not bothering to steady his hips from thrusting up into Harry’s mouth. He knows Harry likes it when Louis loses control, loses all his inhibitions. He groans as he feels his orgasm approaching, warning Harry as he nudges his hips further into the back of Harry’s throat, and Harry pulls off completely, lips red and shiny.

“No, fuck, I’m so close,” Louis grits out.

Harry sits up and reaches for the lube and a condom on the nightstand, exactly where Louis left it earlier, knowing something like this would happen. When he coats his fingers, he doesn’t bother to hide the way he’s ogling Louis’ body.

“Don’t come yet,” he says as he slides his first finger into Louis without warning, Louis arching off the mattress on instinct.

“How the fuck am I not supposed to come when you’re doing that ,” he gasps out as Harry brushes against his prostate, looking smug, as if he didn’t even mean to do it, the fucking bastard.

Harry doesn’t answer; instead, he puts in a second finger beside the first, then a third, and by the time he deems Louis ready, Louis is on the verge of screaming, annoyed and on edge and so, so turned on. Harry hovers over Louis, condom on and starting to nudge in. He clears his throat, panting against Louis’ face. “You good? You want it?”

Louis does, clearly, as his entire body is trembling and if he doesn’t get Harry inside of him in the next four seconds, he might starting tearing up. But he wants it his way; he’s still playing a game and he still wants to be the winner.

He knocks Harry off of him, and Harry sputters out, “Wait, what are you doing?”

“Gonna ride you. What does it look like I’m doing.” He straddles over Harry’s lap, not giving Harry a chance to respond before he’s sinking down onto Harry’s cock, big and hard and exactly what Louis wanted. He wiggles his hips, getting used to the size of it, whining under his breath at the familiar sting of it, and when Harry moans, gripping at Louis’ ass, nudging right up against his prostate like he doesn’t have anywhere else to go.

“Baby, Jesus Christ,” Harry whines, “you’re so good at this.”

Louis sucks in his cheeks, concentrating on moving his hips up and down, keeping his hands on Harry’s chest for leverage. He has to close his eyes; the sight of Harry beneath him is not helping his already impending orgasm. “I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not,” he manages to stutter out.

“It is. Oh my God, it is.” He grips Louis’ dick, hard and leaking into Harry’s palm. “That’s it, baby.”

Louis rocks his hips desperately, mouth open. “Almost feel bad using your body so often, shit.”

“Use it whenever you fucking want,” Harry breathes out, letting his head fall back, neck exposed, and Louis can see a bruise forming from where he was sucking and kissing earlier. It’s purple and red, blooming across his skin, a not so subtle reminder for Harry that Louis was there.

And Louis doesn’t mean to come; it sneaks up on him, knocking the wind out of him, stomach clenching and nails digging into Harry’s collarbones. “Fuck,” he whispers, looking down at the come streaking across his skin.

Harry sits up, kissing up and down Louis’ jaw, movements unsteady. “Lou.”

Louis nods; his muscles feel heavy like lead. “Harry.”

“Think you can come again?”

He sighs, wincing at the way Harry is already working to get him fully hard again. “Fuck,” he hisses out, “I dunno.”

“I think you can. You’re gonna, okay?” He lifts Louis off of him, cock sliding out, and immediately puts Louis on his back. “Gonna get you there, then I’m gonna fuck you until you come again, alright?”

Louis grips the sheets. “What if I don’t want to.”

“You want to.” And then his mouth is around Louis’ cock again, oversensitive and growing already, and fuck, Harry’s right, Louis wants.

Harry ends up fucking into him as if it’s the only thing he wants, only thing he needs and can think of and can control. He looks at Louis like he never wants to stop, actually can’t stop. He whispers to him in a voice that is most definitely only reserved for moments like this, moments when it’s just the two of them, and if someone were to ask Louis what was going on outside of this room right now, he wouldn’t even be sure that there was anything happening beyond these walls, beyond this bed.

He comes again with Harry thrusting into him as deeply as he can, groaning and biting at Louis’ skin as he comes, too, leaving his mark on Louis in more ways than one.

 

It’s late by the time Louis starts to drift off to sleep; his head is on Harry’s chest, no longer damp with sweat, heart finally beating at a normal pace.

“Hey,” Harry whispers against Louis’ hair. “Your birthday gift to me just kicked my birthday gift to you in the face. You destroyed it.”

Louis laughs before he presses a kiss to Harry’s collarbone. “That was the goal.”

“Well done.” He moves down to kiss Louis, but Louis, fatigue be damned, bursts out laughing before their lips even touch.

“Oh, God, sorry,” he squeaks out, squeezing his eyes shut, body shaking from laughter.

Harry sits up. “You alright…?”

“I was just.” Louis pauses to laugh again. “Just thinking of you. And Tarzan. And your face.”

Funny .”

“I know. I agree.”

Harry responds by promptly shoving Louis off the bed.


 

It’s March.

The ground begins to thaw, the snow turns to rain, the flowers are starting to peek through the dirt, and Louis is completely in over his head in each and every aspect of his life.

He spends nearly every waking moment teasing or joking or laughing with his boy, enamored and so transparent about it. During a family party, Louis tipsy and Harry telling a God awful story in the other room to Louis’ cousin and uncle, his aunt Cathy comes up behind him, wrapping her arm around his shoulder.

“So. You and Harry. What is this, exactly?”

Louis shrugs, taking another sip of his drink. “I don’t know.”

“Are you, like, dating?”

He shrugs again. “I don’t know.”

“Hm. What do you know?”

“I know that a group of cats is called a ‘clowder.’”

She laughs, rolling her eyes. “Interesting.”

“I thought so.”

They watch the conversations going on in the other room, Harry gesturing wildly at something, and Cathy turns back to Louis. “He likes you.”

Louis nods. “Yeah. He likes me.”

“You like him.”

He swallows. “More than I’m willing to admit, yeah.”

“Should it be this complicated, then?”

He huffs out a laugh. “I don’t know,” he repeats.

 

But the thing is. It isn’t complicated, being with Harry.

Louis lets Harry kiss him the second he gets through the door after work, regardless of who’s watching in the kitchen or living room. He lets Harry take hideous pictures of the two of them together using the Polaroid camera, shaking his head when Harry pins them to the corkboard next to the desk in the basement, displaying them for no one other other than himself. He lets Harry post a sticky note on his forehead when he’s in the middle of an Xbox game, labeling him as a “gaymer,” which prompts Louis to laugh so hard at the world’s worst pun that he immediately loses the round.

And Louis lets himself fall, overwhelming and overpowering, an exact mirror of the man Louis met in August, the man Louis is coming to terms with that he is most definitely in love with.

It’s the little things and all the things in between that make Louis realize that he’s falling, fast and hard, incapable of stopping it no matter how hard he tries.

March is filled with new beginnings. March is for revival, it’s for a fresh start. But Louis doesn’t want anything else than what he has now, and as the days tick forward, he’s not sure he ever will.

Chapter Text

The entire month of March whips by and it won’t slow down.

Harry is caught up between so many projects - his internship, midterms, Louis - that he barely finds time to sleep. He feels like he’s constantly running, constantly trying to keep up with his own life, unable to slow down and take a minute to breathe. And it must be fairly obvious to everyone around him because Fizzy approaches him one night after dinner while Harry is up to his elbows in suds from washing the dishes.

“You’re alright, right?” she asks, drying off a pan.

He nods. “Yeah. Why?”

“You’re stressed.”

“No, I’m not.” He starts scrubbing at a dish particularly hard, and a bunch of water sloshes out over the side of the sink, wetting his shirt.

She cocks her head to the side. “Harry.”

He huffs out a laugh. “Okay, yeah, I’m a little stressed. Just underestimated how much work this internship would be.”

Fizzy nods. “Sometimes avoiding responsibility can clear your head.”

“That sounds like the least helpful advice I’ve ever received.”

She laughs and starts drying off a bowl. “Even if you procrastinate a little bit, it’s okay. Just take some time for yourself. Go out and do something.”

“Like what?”

“Like, go into the city for a few hours,” she says. “Lottie and I actually planned on going Saturday morning, if you wanted to come.”

“Ah, Fiz, I seriously have so much work I need to do.”

“I know . And you’re beginning to turn into a grumpy old man.” She fake gasps. “Oh my God, you’re my brother.”

Harry snorts and rinses off his hands under the hot water. “Gee, thanks.”

“C’mon. Please? I want you to come. Let’s have some Harry-sister bonding time.”

He sighs, wiping his hands off on the dish towel. “Okay, fine, I’ll go, as long as you promise we can be back by dinner. That should still give me enough time to submit stuff by Sunday night.”

“That’s my good boy,” she replies and Harry groans.

“I’m not your brother, you are.”

 

Later that night, Harry takes Fizzy’s slightly terrible advice and ignores his studies for the time being. It’s the first time in weeks that he hasn’t fallen asleep with the light on or his laptop whirring on the bed beside him. Instead, he heads upstairs into the attic where Louis is slipping out of jeans and into sweatpants. He looks up when he hears Harry come in and makes a face.

“Does no one know how to knock?”

Harry walks over to Louis’ desk and sits down on the swivel chair, grabbing a blue sticky note and writes down Only peasants knock on it, holding it in front of Louis’ face. Louis snorts and grabs the piece of paper, crossing out Harry’s handwriting and replacing it with his own.

Harry looks down and reads it, bursting out into laughter. “You’re my peasant, I’m your king?!”

He shrugs. “You heard me.”

Harry slumps down further in the chair and puts the sticky note on the desk. “Whatever. Anyway.”

Louis looks into his mirror, taking out his contacts. “Anyway…”

“Are you doing anything tonight?”

“Yeah. Sleeping.”

“Can you maybe not sleep for a couple hours?”

“Probably not.”

Harry taps his foot against the ground. “When was the last time you and I hung out?”

“Like, four hours ago.”

“Family dinner doesn’t count.”

“Sure, it does. You sat next to me and kept your hand on my leg until I told you to get the hell away from me and then you told a terrible joke that I didn’t laugh at and then we both started threatening each other. Sounds exactly like what usually happens when we hang out.”

Harry laughs, because it’s true. “Okay, but what if you let me hang out with you again, right now?”

Louis stretches, rolling his shoulders. “I dunno, Styles, seems like you’re getting pretty greedy.”

“You don’t even have to do anything. I just wanna watch a movie.”

“Is that code for get me naked…”

“If you want it to be, it is.”

Louis rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling. “We can watch a movie, if you want.”

“I want.” He climbs into Louis’ bed and reaches for the laptop before Louis has the chance to say anything else, opening Netflix, scrolling through the new suggestions. “What do you wanna watch?”

Louis slides into bed next to him, grabbing the extra blanket at the end of the bed. “You’re right, though, we haven’t hung out in a while.”

Harry pulls an exaggerated pouty face. “Hmm, I don’t see that anywhere on Netflix…”

He punches Harry’s arm. “Are you really that busy with school? That we now have to resort to 90 minutes of hang out time at midnight?”

“I know. I hate it. It’s not so much school as it is the internship. It’s kicking my ass.”

Louis nods and grabs Harry’s arm, wrapping it around himself. “But you love it.”

Harry pulls him in a little closer. “Yeah. I do.” He clicks around on the website for a moment or two. “Any suggestions?”

He hums. “I kinda wanna go back to Lost.

“We can do that.”

They manage to make it three minutes into the episode before Louis is tapping the spacebar, pausing the show. “Wanna do something tomorrow? Potentially something that involves being in the actual daylight and outside of the house?”

Harry smiles and presses his lips to the top of Louis’ head. “Can’t.”

“More homework?”

“Nah, going into the city with some of my peeps.”

Louis his the spacebar again, a little harder this time, clearly annoyed. “Fine.”

Harry laughs. “Next weekend, I promise, I’m all yours. I’ll work extra hard this week to get everything done.”

“Yeah, yeah, sure.”

“I’ll take you out on a date.”

Louis sighs and readjusts himself against Harry’s body, keeping his hand dangerously close to the drawstring on Harry’s sweatpants, wiggling his pinky finger down and inside. He lets his finger rest just under Harry’s belly button. “Better be a good date.”

“It will be.”

“Got any ideas?”

“No, because I just asked you three seconds ago.”

Louis laughs. “‘kay, well, you get working on that.”

“Okay.”

They silently watch the episode for another few minutes, long enough for Harry to get used to the warmth of Louis’ hand against his bare skin, long enough for Louis to start squirming. Harry kisses the top of his head again. “You good?”

“No, ‘m bored.”

“It’s one in the morning.”

Louis sits up, closing the laptop and tossing it aside. He crawls on top of Harry and straddles him. “What’s your point.”

Harry’s hands immediately grip at Louis’ waist. “No point.”

“Good.”

They meet for a kiss in the middle, Harry sliding his hands into Louis’ hair, and just like that, the tension and stress from the past few weeks of constant deadlines melts right out of him, replaced by something much, much stronger.

It shouldn’t be this easy, but it is.


 

Harry heads into the city the next morning after breakfast with Lottie and Fizzy; Louis’ still asleep when they leave, as are the older twins, and the three of them climb into Lottie’s car, ready to spend the day in Manhattan together.

On the train, Harry listens as the girls noisily chat about all the stops they want to make - a number of places he’s never heard of, but based on their conversation, it sounds like an abundance of makeup and clothing stores - and by the time they reach their destination, he realizes just how ill prepared he is for this trip.

They spend the morning going back and forth between Mac and Sephora, Harry’s interest waning within the first 20 minutes, but the girls are excited, and to be completely honest, Fizzy was right. This beats the hell out of forcing himself to work and study his brains out, even if it means he has to squint in the bright, synthetic lighting and pretend to know the difference between the four red-orange shades of Nars lipsticks slathered across Lottie’s right hand.

They stop for lunch at a sub shop down the street that he and Liam frequent every time they visit the city, and over sandwiches, the girls talk about where they want to stop next. Harry doesn’t bother butting in; in fact, it’s nice to be overwhelmed by someone else’s conversation for once, rather than dwelling on the thoughts swirling around in his own mind. And Fizzy can clearly tell, based on the way she smirks at him when she throws away the rest of her lunch.

“Missing your computer yet?”

He shakes his head. “No, procrastinating feels good.”

“I told you.”

“Although I’m sure I’m going to want to strangle you come tomorrow night when I’m up to my ears in work and nothing is done.”

She laughs. “Okay, but don’t think about that. Look at where you are. You’re spending time with your favorite pretend sisters and you’re having a great time.”

He rubs his eyes. “How you’ve passed any of your classes in school this year is beyond me.”

“I’m gifted.”

“Yeah, I’ll say.”

 

By the time they get home past ten that night - much later than Harry had anticipated - he is positively beat. His feet ache, his arms hurt from stupidly offering to carry the girls’ bags all afternoon, and the second he sets his eyes on his computer, the nagging anxiety is back.

He lays down in his bed after he showers, his eyelids already slipping shut, and just as he can feel himself nearly melting into the mattress, the basement door swings open and the light turns on.

He squints, groaning. “Ah, what the hell.”

Louis comes barrelling in, climbing on top of him. “Hi. Where did you go today?”

Harry covers his eyes with his hands. “Lou, the lights are so fucking bright.”

Where did you go today?”

“I went into the city, Jesus.”

“With my sisters?!”

Harry peeks at Louis through his fingers. “Yeah, is that a bad thing?”

“You said you were going out with ‘your peeps.’ How are Lottie and Fizzy your peeps?!”

“I don’t know, does it matter?”

“Yes!” Louis pinches Harry’s bicep and he hisses. “You should have invited me!”

“Oh.” Harry props himself up on his elbows. “I didn’t even think of that.”

“Jeez, that’s nice.”

“No, not because I didn’t want you there. Just, Fizzy suggested we have a little bonding time and thought it would help clear my head a little bit to get out of the house, yeah? So I spent the day shopping with them. You wouldn’t have had fun, anyway, trust me.”

Louis stares at him, unblinking. “You went shopping with my 18-year-old and 15-year-old sisters in Manhattan for 10 hours?”

Harry nods slowly. “Yes.”

“You took them into New York City on a 42 degree day and gave up your entire Saturday just to walk around with them in various department stores?”

“Actually, it was more like behind them, but yeah, same thing.”

“And this was considered bonding?!”

Harry laughs. “Yeah. We all had a good time. And Fiz was right, I felt better not focusing solely on school and internship shit all day.”

He bites his bottom lip and he slides his hands into Harry’s. “You enjoyed yourself?”

“I did.” He grips Louis’ wrists and rubs his thumbs back and forth. “I love your girls. Sucks that now I have to cram a weekend’s worth of work into just Sunday but I think it was worth it. Are you…” He looks up at Louis. “Are you mad?”

Louis shakes his head, some of his hair falling in front of his eyes. “Fuck, absolutely not. You spent the day with my teenage sisters when you could have done anything else. Do you know how happy they were? I saw them upstairs with what seemed like a thousand bags each and they were so excited about everything. And then I realized you were with them, and. Harry. You were the highlight of their day.”

“Actually, I think Laura Mercier was the highlight of their day.”

“Who the hell is that.”

Harry holds up his hand, showing off a few streaks of shimmery powder. “Couldn’t get it all off in the shower. I was their makeup dummy for a bit towards the end of the day.”

“Are you telling me you just made a pun about the brand of makeup you’re currently wearing on your hand.”

“I did.”

Louis makes a face. “I’m torn between beating you to death and kissing you for taking care of my sisters.”

“Jesus, of course I take care of them. They’re my family now, too.”

He squeezes Harry’s hands in his own. “I’m gonna have to pick the second option.”

“Thank God.”

Harry leans up at the same time Louis bends down to kiss, Louis’ body shifting against Harry’s, already a bit restless. He tastes like the mouthwash he always uses before bed, smells like that coconut shampoo Harry loves so much, and it’s only been about seven seconds but Harry isn’t tired anymore, not in the slightest. He grinds his hips upward, Louis’ movements faltering just barely, and Harry will never tire of the way Louis looks on top of him, cheeks pink and hair a mess.

He slides his hand underneath Louis’ t-shirt, loving the way Louis’ stomach muscles clench at the touch, and he drags his fingers up and down his sides until Louis bats his hands away, climbing off of Harry’s lap.

“I hate when you do that.”

Harry smirks, repositioning himself and hovering over Louis. “And why’s that?”

“You know how ticklish I am.”

“I know, why else do you think I do it?”

Louis pinches Harry’s side at the same time he rolls his hips up, showing Harry how hard he is, and Harry groans. “You want me?”

Harry wants to scoff at the absolute absurdity of that question but then Louis rolls his hips again and the precision is just perfect. Harry’s breath hitches and he drops his forehead to Louis’. “I always want you.”

“One track mind, Styles?”

“Since September, really, yeah.”

Louis drapes his arms around Harry’s neck, playing with some of his knotted curls. “Took you long enough to make a move, though.”

“And how exactly do you think you would have reacted if I told you back in September that I was obsessed with your face and your body and every single thing that comes out of your mouth?”

He smirks, digging his nails into the back of Harry’s neck. “Would have said you were a serial killer.”

Harry presses a kiss to the side of Louis’ jaw, listening to him breath unsteadily. “And now?”

“Now I’d say it’s probably fairly mutual.”

 

By the time Harry has worked his way up to three fingers inside of Louis, both panting, Louis whining and back arched, Harry can’t help but lean up to kiss Louis’ neck, smirking through it.

“Baby, I’m gonna take your sisters shopping every weekend, if this is the result,” he murmurs against Louis’ skin.

And he can fully admit he deserves the slap across the chest he gets as a reply.


 

Harry spends the week busting his ass in the library at school or in the basement at home, getting as much work for his internship done as he possibly can, and he ends up with his entire Friday night free.

“Louis, it’s date night,” he calls up the stairs to the attic. “Will you be ready in an hour?”

“I was born ready,” he hears Louis yell back. “But, actually, probably not. Gimme like, an hour and a half. I’m trying to finish up this last document.”

Harry laughs and rolls his eyes, as if Louis can see him. “Eight o’clock it is.”

 

Louis comes hopping down the stairs around 8:35, earlier than Harry had expected him to be ready, to be completely honest, wearing his glasses and joggers.

Harry looks him up and down and whistles. “Love when you dress up for me.”

He waves his hand around. “Yeah, well, I’m tired and this is comfortable and you’d still wanna fuck me even if I was wearing a bag over my head.”

Harry nods, because it’s true. “Sounds about right. ‘kay, you ready?”

“Do I really have a choice?”

“Not particularly, no.”

“Great, then let’s go.”

 

They make it to the last brewery tour of the day, testing out a variety of different beer, Harry grudgingly admitting that some of them are actually fantastic, Louis looking smug the entire time. They grab burgers after, ordering their favorite drinks from the tour to go along with it, and when Louis puts in an order for bacon cheese fries, Harry gags, telling him that’s a disgrace to the art of chips.

Louis rolls his eyes. “Then I’m not sharing if you’re gonna be a prick about it.”

“Don’t want any, so. Good.”

Naturally, though, as soon as they’re on the table in front of him, he can’t stop looking at them until Louis finally gives in, handing him his own plate.

They’re amazing. Of course.

They hang out at the restaurant’s bar until nearly two in the morning, both telling horrible jokes, Harry getting punched in the stomach when he points out that Louis’ feet don’t touch the ground, and never once do they stop laughing.

When they get home, Louis doesn’t bother heading up to the attic. Instead, he slides into Harry’s bed alongside him, curling up close, a tiny 5’9” lump under the blankets, falling asleep almost instantly. He’s warm, his shampoo smells good, and Harry all but melts into the mattress as he closes his eyes.

 

Fizzy tried, she really did, but this was what he needed.


 

“Alright, Styles, let’s put our Halloween costume winnings to good use.”

Harry zips his suitcase shut. “Didn’t we spend the money on a plane ticket…?”

“We had some left over.”

“Like, $150 each. Not sure how much that’s gonna get us on spring break, Lou.”

Louis puts his hands on his hips. “You’re not invited to come anymore if you’re going to be such a downer. I’ll enjoy Florida alone.”

“If anything, I’m inviting you . You’re not even in uni anymore. You don’t get a spring break.”

He stares at him blankly. “You’re walking on thin ice, kid.”

Harry laughs. “Okay, sorry, let’s get going. I need caffeine before we get on this plane.”

“Ditto. Roll out.”

 

The flight to Tampa isn’t too bad; Harry switches back and forth between reading and listening to music, Louis dozing on his shoulder through most of it, waking only when the brief bout of turbulence startles him awake, and when he sleepily asks, “Hey, Harry, I need pretzels.”

And it is fucking hot when they get off the plane. The humidity almost takes his breath away, the jumper he has on most definitely not helping, and he immediately twists his hair into a bun, needs to cool down.

“Louis. It’s a volcano in here,” he says, fanning his face as they wait for a cab to take them to their hotel.

Louis nods, brushing his own hair out of his face. “88 degrees today, but feels like 93.”

“Oh my God .”

“Hey. You can’t complain. You picked Tampa.”

“Well you didn’t say no.”

“Don’t blame this on me. Here’s a taxi. Get in and just pray the driver has working AC.”

 

He doesn’t.

 

They check in to the hotel just before dinner, the first night of their 4-night, 5-day stay, and once they’ve both changed and situated themselves on a deck by the beach, seafood in front of them, Harry feels infinitely better about their location choice. With the sun down and the drinks cold and Louis ridiculously attractive in shorts and a tank top, Harry breathes a sigh of relief for the first time since taking off earlier that day.

Dinner and drinks are finished by nine o’clock, Louis throwing down money on the table that covers both of their meals, and he stretches when he stands up.

“So. Wanna head out? There’s a club a few blocks away that Liam told me we have to go to. He went there last time he visited.”

Harry nods, even though that’s the last thing he feels like doing. His ideal scenario would be to shower, crank the air con, climb into bed, and sleep . But they’re on holiday - spring break - and Harry has to abide by the rules. “Sure. We can do that.” He tries to sound convincing, excited, even, but then he yawns twice in a row, giving himself away.

“Or,” Louis says, patting Harry’s chest, “we can go back to our room and sleep.”

“Oh my God, yes, please,” Harry says, closing his eyes. “Always knew you were an angel on earth.”

Louis laughs. “You owe me. Tomorrow. Club.”

“Yes, sir.”

 

The next day, they don’t go to a club right away. In fact, they lounge on the beach for nearly nine hours, the sun hot and sand soft. The warm air makes both of them impossibly tired, languid and lounging for the better part of the day, only moving to reapply sunscreen. Harry heads back into their hotel to grab snacks and drinks, and when he goes back outside, resituating himself next to Louis, he gasps.

“Louis, you are an actual lobster.”

Louis doesn’t sit up, just groans. “Okay.”

“No, really, you’re bright red.”

“What’d you expect? We’re outside baking in Florida.”

“Here, turn over, I’ll put more on you.”

“Listen, Mom, I’m fine. Gimme a drink.”

Harry rolls his eyes. “Okay, whatever you say.”

 

Four hours later, as Louis is whimpering while stepping out of the shower, he makes it abundantly clear that he’s not fine.

“Harry,” he whines, “why did you let me sit outside for so long? The water hurts my back.”

“Excuse me! I tried! You were being a stubborn brat!”

Louis starts to dry himself off, wincing. “Ow.”

Harry sighs; he’s pitiful. “Do you want me to go to the lobby and get some aloe?”

“No.” He bites on his bottom lip. “Yes.”

He huffs out a laugh. “What would you do without me.”

“Die, probably.”

“Good answer.”

 

Harry takes his sweet time covering Louis’ back and shoulders in aloe vera. Louis hisses whenever the cold gel touches his skin, eventually relaxing into the mattress, eyes slipping shut, obviously enjoying the gentle, meticulous motions.

“Baby, you still think you’ll be good to go out tonight?”

Louis hums, eyes still closed. “Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?”

“You can barely move without crying.”

“I did not cry,” he says.

“Sorry, my mistake.”

“I’ll be fine, though. It’ll be good.”

 

Two hours later, Louis is clearly regretting those final words.

The club is a glow club; they both wear white cutoff tank tops, streak their faces in glow paint, and though the atmosphere is insane, it’s obvious that Louis is very uncomfortable, scrunching up his face when someone so much as brushes past him.

“Okay, really, Lou,” Harry shouts over the bass of the music, “if you’re this uncomfortable, we should go.”

“It’s just a fucking sunburn,” he says irritably. “I’m fine . Just need some drinks.”

He holds up his hands. “Alright. You’re the boss. What do you want?”

“Fireball. And tequila. And anything with 150 proof.”

He snorts. “Yeah, let me get on that.” He weaves in and out of patrons, finally grabbing the attention of the bartender, putting in a very expensive order of five shots each. It doesn’t take him too long to round everything up, takes even less time for both him and Louis to get tipsy. More than tipsy. After three or four songs, Louis grabs Harry’s wrist.

“More shots, please,” he says, smile way too innocent.

Harry laughs, stumbling over nothing. “Okay. More shots.” He heads back up to the bar, collecting another few round of drinks, and when he heads back over to his spot on the dancefloor, it’s then that he sees Louis deep in conversation with someone else, this someone else with his hand on Louis’ shoulder, gripping him a little too firmly with a gaze a little too intense.

Harry clears his throat, handing a shot over to Louis. The guy drops his hand. “Hey.”

Louis smiles. “Thanks.” He tips his head back and swallows, not saying anything else.

“So…” He looks at the other guy. “I’m Harry.”

“Oh, hey, I’m Ryan.”

“Hello. Why were you touching him?”

“Excuse me?” Ryan asks.

Harry raises his brows. “Just wondering why you had your hand on my boy.”

“Oh my God,” Louis cuts in, looking completely horrified, and definitely mad. “Are you serious?”

He shrugs, still staring directly at Ryan. “Very serious.”

“Well, I’m just wondering how you can be such a sociopath,” Louis continues.

Harry scratches his jaw with his free hand, careful not to lose the tray of shots in the other. “I’m not sure you know what the definition of a sociopath is…”

Ryan turns to Louis. “Sorry, man, I didn’t know you were, like…” He points to Harry.

Harry steps in a little closer, close enough to see the flecks and dots of colors in Ryan’s irises, even in the darkness of the club. “Yeah, well, we are. And you can step back. Before I make you.”

“Jesus, relax,” Ryan says putting his hands up, and Harry has never been violent before, but he doesn’t need some guy telling him to relax . He clenches his fist, letting it hang by his side, as Ryan turns to Louis. “I’ll see you around, Louis.”

As he starts to saunter away and Harry can’t help it when he calls after him, “Not if I can help it!” When he looks back at Louis, the face he sees is not a happy one.

He’s glaring at Harry, breathing heavily. “You should be so fucking embarrassed right about now.”

Harry says the first thing that comes to his mind. “I didn’t like him touching you.” It turns out to be a grave mistake, based on the way Louis looks downright murderous.

“You do not own me,” he starts off, “you cannot tell me what to do, who to talk to. You got that?”

He shakes his head, his movements slow. Fucking tequila. “No, Lou, that’s not what I’m saying.”

“And if you hadn’t been such a jealous prick,” he continues, shaking his head, “you would have known that Ryan had approached me because he heard me talking to you and recognized my accent. He fucking touched my shoulder because he was leaning in to hear me tell him I’m from Connecticut, God forbid. Is that allowed, Harry? Can I have a casual conversation with a stranger about my hometown? Should I run it by you next time?”

Harry looks down at his feet, feeling like absolute shit. He means to apologize, he really does, but then he opens his mouth and what comes out instead is, “I’m not jealous.”

Louis throws his head back and laughs. “And now you’re a liar, too. Very good. Keep going, Styles.”

He backtracks; his face is hot and he knows he’s blushing. “Okay, yeah, I’m jealous.”

“What the fuck would you have to be jealous about? It’s not like I was on my knees in front of him, Jesus Christ.”

He hates that image more than anything, and it must show on his face because Louis’ demeanor softens the tiniest bit. Hardly, but still, that’s Harry’s way in. He steps forward, eyes darting across Louis’ face, now completely lit up from the black lights, his shirt glowing. “You are, like, the most gorgeous person I’ve ever met. You’re smart and so fucking funny and you have the biggest heart and for whatever reason, you share yourself with me. Can you blame me? For not wanting to share you with others? Like, I get to have you, and that’s such a big deal to me.”

It’s a weak excuse, he thinks, even though it’s the truth, but it seems to work. Louis frowns, reaching for the hem of Harry’s shirt. “‘m not asking you to share me,” he mumbles.

Harry sighs. “And I’m not asking you to not talk to other people, Jesus, what kind of person does that?”

“A sociopath.”

He laughs. “Okay. Point taken. Lou.” He looks for any sign of hesitation written across Louis’ face, and when he doesn’t see it, he leans forward, pressing their foreheads together. “I’m mad about you. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to, like, do that .”

“‘That’ as in ‘embarrass the shit out of me’?”

Harry nods, cheeks heating up again. “Yeah.”

Louis smirks, grabbing another shot off the tray Harry has been successfully balancing for the past 15 minutes. “Are all these for you?”

“Yes, I plan to drink another eight shots.”

“If they were ,” Louis says, ignoring Harry’s blatant sarcasm, “you’d drop dead from taking so many at once. I’m doing you a favor.”

Harry smiles; it’s such a Louis answer. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” He tips his head back and swallows the tequila, eyes watery. “I’m not going anywhere and you know that. You don’t have to worry.”

“Okay.” He rubs his hand across his face. “I know. I didn’t mean to offend you. Fucking tequila.”

“Oh, sure, blame it on the alcohol.”

“I’m gonna. It’s hard keeping up with you. I’ve had, what, like nine shots?”

“Please have a one or six more. You need to relax.”

Harry laughs. “You’re right.”

“I always am.”

 

The beat is pounding in his ears, there are easily 500 sweaty people all around them, the dance floor light up from the glow paint splattered in every which direction, and all Harry can focus on is the boy dancing in front of him, pressed up against his back, hot and sultry and everything Harry wants.

He’s drunk, wasted even; his muscles are loose and his entire body feels hazy. He grips onto Louis like a lifeline, doesn’t ever want to let go.

Louis wraps his free hand up and around Harry’s neck, looking up. “Feels like we’re putting on a show,” he says, voice deeper than usual.

And Harry knows Louis can most definitely feel how hard he is, pressed up against Louis’ arse. “What if we are?”

“Then make it a good one.”

 

They manage to make it another 20 minutes in the club before Louis’ dragging Harry out with Harry’s hands in his back pockets and Louis’ mouth on his neck.

 

Harry sits on the end of the bed, Louis standing in front of him, eyelids hooded and smile lazy. There’s glow paint smeared all over his cheeks, his stubble is coming in just barely with hints of red, his shoulders are even redder, and Harry can’t believe how much he wants him.

“Hey,” he murmurs, “come here.”

Louis smirks and steps in between Harry’s legs. “Are you done being a nut job?”

He wraps his hands around Louis’ thighs, squeezing. “I think so, yeah.” He squeezes harder. “God, you’re so sexy.”

He shakes his head, placing his hands on Harry’s shoulders. “Are you still trying to put on a show?”

Harry shakes his head. “No. This is just for us.”

“Perfect.” Louis leans forward, kissing Harry much more carefully than he usually does, especially after a night of drinking, breath hot against Harry’s, hands sliding up into Harry’s tightly wound bun.

Harry slides backward on the bed, pulling Louis with him, and even in his clouded mind, he reminds himself to be careful with Louis’ skin; he leans back, breaking their kiss, and presses his thumb gently into Louis’ chest. A white thumbprint appears, fading quickly. He looks up at Louis.

“You good?”

“Jesus, I’m not going to break, Harry.” He pushes Harry down, straddling his hips. “Just don’t scratch the shit out of me like you usually do.”

Harry bites his bottom lip as Louis starts to grind down. “I don’t do that. I think you have us mistaken.”

Louis huffs out a laugh. “Yeah, sure. You’re the fucking king of marking up my body.”

Actually, he likes that title. “You’re damn right. C’mere.” He sits up to cup Louis’ jaw in his hands, pulling him back down for a kiss, all tongue and teeth and heat.

 

Harry has to close his eyes; it’s too much, having Louis in front of him on his hands and knees, Harry watching the way his cock is sliding in and out of Louis, stretched but tight and taking him so well. He holds onto Louis’ hips, pulling him back all the way, biting back a groan.

“Feels so good,” he murmurs. “You’re so good.”

Louis drops his forehead down to the mattress, moaning in response. “Fuck,” he whispers.

He’s hot, so hot, the air con doing next to nothing in this fucking hotel room, but all he cares about is the way Louis’ body is tense below him, thighs shaking, wisps of hair stuck to the back of his neck. He can feel Louis start to come before he says anything; Harry nudges his hips forward, urging him along, rocking into him in all the right spots. It doesn’t take much longer after that for his own movements to grow sloppy, thought process hazy, pulling out and coming across Louis’ back.

“King of marking up your body,” he pants under his breath.

Louis twists around, cheeks pink and forehead damp. “You’re a dick.”

“Thanks, baby,” he replies, bending down to scatter kisses on the smudges of paint across Louis’ cheeks, freckles across his shoulders, scar below his chin. “I like you, too.”

 

The next morning, Harry wakes up with Louis staring directly at him, blue eyes unblinking.

Harry drags his thumb across Louis’ bottom lip before he can think twice. “Can I help you?”

“Yeah.”

“And…”

“Alcohol was nice and numbing but. Uh. It’s worn off and will you, like…” He twists around, wincing. “Aloe vera me again?”

Harry laughs. “Is that a verb now?”

“Yes.”

“Hand me the bottle.” He gets Louis on his stomach and rubs the lotion in between his shoulder blades. “Good?”

Louis hums. “Yeah. Thanks. Hey, so, are we gonna mention last night, by any chance?”

Harry squirts more aloe down his spine. “Uh. No.”

“Don’t wanna have a little chit chat about how you almost decked some guy in the face for looking at me?”

“Shut up. I was drunk and he was tall and I was drunk .”

Louis laughs, cheek pressed against the mattress. “Off the record, Jealous Harry is hot.”

He snorts. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. We should go find Ryan again.”

Harry responds by pouring the rest of the aloe directly into Louis’ hair.

 

The last few days are spent a little more tame, less clubbing and more poolside/beach time, Harry happy to be on the water, Louis very happy to keep himself curled up under an umbrella, shaded from the hot Florida sun and the laughter in Harry’s eyes.

On their last night in Tampa, Harry asks Louis if he wants to head back into the city and to another club. Louis shrugs, humming.

“I dunno. Thought maybe we could just grab dinner and hang out on the water.”

“I can definitely handle that.”

In lieu of an actual dinner, they opt to get ice cream - soft serve twist for Harry, mint chocolate chip for Louis - and they eat it on the dock overlooking the Atlantic. And he knows it’s over the top corny when he asks Louis if he wants to take a walk on the beach, sun setting and all, but Louis agrees, happy to lace their fingers together and make footprints in the sand.

“Hey, how embarrassed would you be on a scale of 1-10 if I wrote our names in the sand and took a picture?” Harry asks.

Louis makes a face. “Like, an 18, probably.”

He laughs. “So, is that a no?”

“Go write our names, Harry.”

And he does, taking his time, not bothering to complain when Louis drags his feet through Harry’s name twice, wrecking it, Louis laughing the entire time.

It’s a good night, a good week.

A good year.


 

Reality after spring break hits them in the face the second they arrive back home. Louis plays catch up at work, editing and writing documents and manuals past midnight every night, Harry spending more and more time in the city, nearly breaking his neck to get work done, all the while trying to focus on upcoming exams and papers at school.

A few weeks later, Harry gets home from school late on Thursday night; he spent the majority of the day writing a paper in the library, eyes glued to his computer for nearly six hours, head throbbing and neck sore. To say he’s irritable is an understatement and the only thing he wants is a cup of tea and to climb into his bed.

But then he sets foot through the front door and it’s immediately obvious that the Deakin-Tomlinson family has other plans.

He flinches as he heads into the kitchen, both Lottie and Louis screaming back and forth, everyone else in the family in hiding, it seems. Harry drops his bag on the floor and puts his hands up.

“What the hell is happening here?!”

They both pause, turning to look at him, and Harry’s eyes go wide when he gets a good look at both of them. Louis’ cheeks are red, his expression dark and unwavering, and Lottie has tears pooling in her eyes, most likely more from rage than anything.

She takes a step back and crosses her arms over her chest. “He’s a fucking dick, that’s what’s happening here.”

“Okay, that’s not the truth, don’t be such an asshole,” Louis replies. “Seriously, you’re acting like you’re 12.”

She opens her mouth to respond, arms dropping to her side, fists clenched, and Harry stops her. “No, stop. You’re 18 and 23; you’re adults . No one here should be screaming at each other like that, Jesus Christ. And where the hell is everyone else?” He rolls his eyes. “I assume they got the fuck out of here to get away from you two.”

Louis makes a face. “What’s with the stick up your ass?”

Harry narrows his eyes. “Are you kidding? You’re in here screaming at your 18-year-old sister like a bloody lunatic and you think you can ask me what my problem is? I’ll punch you. Right in the face.”

He taps his foot on the ground. “I suggest you walk away if you don’t want me to attack you.”

“You read my mind.” Harry picks up his bag off the ground and starts to head downstairs - screw the cup of tea he needs, this kid has lost his mind - when Lottie stops him.

“No. You’re not going anywhere. Tell him he’s wrong.”

Harry sighs. “I really don’t feel like mediating whatever this mess is. I just want to go downstairs and get away from you.” He looks at Louis. “ Both of you.”

Lottie continues speaking as if he’d never made a sound. “My prom is this weekend. Just two days from now.”

He sighs louder, drops his bag down again, sits down on one of the bar stools, and drops his head to the counter. “Talk fast.”

“And I’m going with this guy Shane.”

Louis slams his hands down on the countertop, making Harry sit up all the way. “Tell Harry how old he is.”

“He’s only 20!”

“Only 20,” Louis mocks. “He’s a sophomore in college.”

“So?!”

He stares at her like she has seven heads. “He’s 20.”

“You and Rachel were almost two years apart when you went to your prom!”

“That’s not the same.”

“How?!”

“The difference is that we were in the same high school together. This guy is in college. He’s no good.”

“Harry,” Lottie pleads, “tell him he’s being ridiculous.”

Harry shrugs. “Louis, you kind of are being ridiculous.”

“Excuse me?!”

“Two years isn’t a big difference.”

Louis drums his fingers along the counter. “It’s not just the age thing. He’s just not a good person.”

“Louis!” Lottie exclaims, throwing up her hands. “You met him for a total of seven minutes!”

“Yes, and those seven minutes were enough.”

Harry holds back a laugh. “You are aware you’re not her father, right.”

“Thank you for informing me, dickwad.”

He snorts. “Ease up, Lou. She isn’t stupid. She has a good sense of judgement.”

Thank you,” she says. “That’s what I’ve been trying to point out to him for the past half hour.”

“No, don’t fucking side with her. You didn’t even meet him,” Louis sneers. “He was rude, he was disrespectful--”

“Talk about rude and disrespectful! He barely got five words in before you were threatening to spit in his face!”

Harry chokes back a laugh. “You did what ?”

Louis shrugs, obviously not sorry. “I didn’t like his attitude.”

“It’s infuriating bringing home guys into this house,” Lottie spits out, turning on her heels and heading out of the kitchen. “You’re never happy with anyone and you’re so embarrassing that it’s humiliating and you’re never going to change.”

“You’re damn right I’m never going to change!” he calls after her, rubbing his eyes with the palm of his hands.

Harry gives Louis a minute before he decides to chime in again. “She’s only 18, Lou. Don’t wreck her prom for her. Prom is a big deal when you’re in high school. You remember.”

“I’m not trying to wreck her prom, I just want her to be careful.”

He smiles. “I know. Gemma was like this when I introduced her to my prom date, too. Sarcastic older siblings don’t always go well with their younger sibling’s dates.”

Louis sighs, sitting down on the stool next to Harry. “I overreacted, probably.”

“Probably.”

“I still hate him, though.”

Harry laughs. “I figured you would.”

“What kind of older sibling would I be if I didn’t hate him?”

“A bad one.”

“Exactly.”

They sit quietly at the bar, Louis swinging his legs back and forth, Harry listening to the second hand on the clock tick. Eventually, he puts his head back down on the counter. “Lou.”

“Mhm.”

“Will you make me some tea? Please? Today sucked and my head hurts and sorting out to the two of you always warrants a cup of tea afterwards.”

“What happened to ‘maybe one day you’ll be able to make tea as good as me’?” he replies, but he’s already getting up off his stool, grabbing a mug from the cabinet.

Harry smiles. “Thank you.”

Louis hums, turning on the sink. “Do you think I’m embarrassing? To Lottie?”

“You’re her big brother. Absolutely.”

He turns off the sink. “Do you think I should try to dial it back?”

“You’re her big brother. Absolutely not.”

Louis laughs. “Good answer.”

 

The next night, after Louis apologizes to Lottie and forces her into a rib-breaking hug, he kicks Harry out of the attic to get some work done, using the phrase “fucking absolute nuisance” to describe him while he’s trying to work.

Harry reluctantly drags himself out of Louis’ bed, shrugging his shirt back on. “Lou, I just don’t think we’re meant to sleep apart.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “Go downstairs.”

“Are you telling me you don’t sleep better when we’re together?”

“You mean when you’re drooling into my ear or taking all the blankets?”

Harry frowns. “Fine, I’ll go back downstairs to my dungeon.”

“It’s all about the drama with you.” He takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes. “I need to get all this shit done because we’re gonna be busy tomorrow.”

“With what?”

“Lottie’s prom.”

“That won’t take more than, like, half an hour, right? We’re just gonna take some pictures of her.”

Louis smirks slowly, a look of pure evil flashing across his face. “Yup, that’s what all we’re doing.”

Harry sighs. “What now.”

“I just wanna show her what a good sibling I am and that I always have her best interest at heart.”

“What does that entail…”

“And if that means I embarrass her a little bit in the process, so be it. I’ll tease her a little. She knows how I am.”

“Ugh. Louis. Don’t ruin her night.”

Louis fake gasps. “I would never. I’m just going to be the best big brother I can be. Supportive and involved and over-the-top nice…”

“You’re the devil.”

“And you’re going to help me.”

“Pardon?”

Louis puts his glasses back on and blows him a kiss. “See you in the morning.”

“You’re really not going to tell me?”

“Goodnight, darling.”

Harry groans. “Poor Lottie.”

“That’s a weird way to pronounce ‘lucky.’”

He groans louder. “Yeah, I definitely want to sleep downstairs now.”

Louis laughs. “ Bye.

 

Early the next morning, Harry wakes up with a lapful of Louis, smiling down at him.

“Hello, princess.”

Harry squeezes his eyes shut. “What time is it.”

“Time to get up. Mom wants us to make sure the lawn is mowed so Lottie’s pictures look nice.”

“Seriously? Are you all nuts?”

He shrugs. “Probably.”

“And it doesn’t take two people to mow the lawn. Did she really ask both of us to.”

“I mean… No. But you like me so you’ll help me.”

Harry pushes Louis off his lap. “I don’t like you anymore, you’re mistaken.”

Finally , I’m free.”

 

Harry takes over mowing the lawn after about two and a half minutes - longer than he thought Louis would last, to be honest - and once he finishes that, he starts working on weeding the front walkway, Louis raking up brush on the other side of the year. They go at it long enough for the sweat to start dripping down Harry’s back, the May sun already hot and bright. He wipes his brow with the back of his arm, squinting at Louis in the sunlight.

“Hey,” he calls out, “you good over there?”

Louis looks up, equally as sweaty, and nods. “Yeah, we can probably head in and start getting ready.”

“Ready for what.”

“For prom, obviously. You still have that suit you brought back from home?”

Harry laughs. “Yeah, let me go slip that on.”

Louis walks over to him, wiping his face on his t-shirt sleeve. “I’m serious. We’re putting on suits and we’re taking prom pictures.”

“I still feel like you’re kidding.” He stares at Louis’ face. “Wait, you’re not kidding. No, you are. Are you? Help. I can’t tell.”

Louis snorts. “I promise, I’m not kidding. I told you I wanted to embarrass her a little bit.”

“Aw. Lou, she’s gonna be mad.”

“Nah, she won’t.”

“And how do you reckon that.”

“Because you’ll be involved. She can’t be mad at both of us.”

Harry rolls his eyes. “I think you’re underestimating her.”

“Nope. You’re the chosen child.” He squishes Harry’s hands between his cheeks. “Come on, baby, be my prom date.”

He laughs, face still in between Louis’ hands. “Okay, fine, but if she’s mad…”

“I’ll tell her it was my plan, yeah, yeah, you fucking teacher’s pet.”

He swats Louis’ hands away. “Good.”

“Yes. Good. Now find your suit.”

“And my curlers. Gonna let my hair down.”

Louis laughs, pressing his thumb into Harry’s dimple. “That’s my boy.”

 

Lottie, Fizzy, and Jay come home around four, Lottie’s hair curled and makeup done, nervously fretting that she won’t have time to get her dress on in time.

“It’s a dress,” Harry mutters under his breath to Louis. “How long does it take to put it on?”

“Longer than it takes to put on a suit, evidently. Make sure you’re ready by five.”

“Yes, sir.”

He showers quickly, drying off and doing his best to tame his curls hanging loosely below his shoulders, and he’s shrugging into his jacket when he gets a knock on the basement door.

“Yup, come on in,” he calls out, and Louis peeks his head in.

“You ready? Lottie’s friends are starting to show up, and I think the demon just got here.”

Harry smirks. “You mean Shane?”

“Yeah, that’s what I said.”

“I must have heard you wrong, my mistake.” He readjusts his tie, clearing his throat. “Alright, I think I’m all set. How do I look?”

Louis opens the door all the way and steps inside, clad in a suit, as well, though sans tie. He’s all in black, his button up shirt underneath black, too, but his pocket square is white, contrasting against the darkness of the jacket. He styled his hair Harry’s favorite way - in a quiff, up and out of his face - and Harry’s mouth goes dry, palms sweaty.

“Ah, Styles, you’re looking real good,” Louis says, rocking on his feet. “Almost as good as me, I think.”

Harry shakes his head. “Not even close,” he replies honestly. “You’re…” He clears his throat, tucking his hair behind his ear. “You’re stunning.”

Louis waves his hand around, rubbish at accepting compliments, as per usual. “Yeah, well.” He scrunches up his face. “It’s a nice suit.”

“Nice body in the suit.”

“Okay, that’s enough.”

Harry shakes his head. “Nuh uh. Not enough. C’mere.”

Louis starts to take a step toward him, lazy smile playing across his face, but then he pauses. “No. Fuck you. If I give in to that, we’re never gonna make it upstairs.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Operation Lottie’s Prom is in action, kid. Don’t distract me.”

Harry jams his hands into his pockets. “Fine. Let’s go upstairs before I get a visual of your ass in those pants.”

“What? This ass?” Louis turns around and holds up his jacket and Harry groans.

“Not fair.”

“Yeah, well, you can’t always get what you want.”

“I have you, don’t I?”

Louis winks. “Don’t get too cocky.”

“Keeping me grounded. I love it.”

“Oh my God. Upstairs. Let’s do it.”

Together, they leave the basement and make their way up the walkway, a small crowd forming in the front yard. There are cars lined up and down the street and Harry whistles under his breath.

“I had no idea this was such an elaborate event.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “It’s ridiculous. There’s going to be close to 15 couples here. It’s like a wedding, basically.”

“Louis, we’re wedding crashers.”

He snorts out a laugh. “A high honor.”

They continue to head up to the front of the house, and it’s Lottie who spots them first. The look on her face is pure horror.

“Um. What the hell are you two doing.”

Louis throws his hands in the air. “It’s prom day, everyone! This is my date, Harry. I think you’ve met him before. We’re really excited.”

Harry gives a weak wave and mouths sorry .

“No. Really. What’s happening right now.”

All of Lottie’s friends are looking, Jay looks downright pissed , and Shane looks like he’s about to jump out of his skin. Louis claps his hands together. “Everyone looks wonderful. Hi, Cassie, you look gorgeous,” he says, hugging one of Lottie’s friends.

Louis ,” Lottie hisses, pulling up her dress as he hikes through the grass, letting it drag behind her, “honestly. Why are you in a fucking suit.”

Louis kisses her on the cheek before she can slap him away. “You’re beautiful. I’m going to have to kick Shane’s ass.”

Harry nods. “So pretty, Lottie.” And he can tell she’s already breaking - confused, but breaking.

“Thank you. But I still don’t get it.”

“I’m the only big brother you’re going to get,” Louis starts, “so either you deal with the fact that I am always going to be involved and sometimes a little too crazy and a little too embarrassing, or I’ll just leave you alone forever.”

She makes a face. “It’s either one or the other? I can’t just ask you to stand on the side and take pictures in your normal clothes?”

“Nope. Harry and I are takin’ prom pictures.”

Lottie stares at them for a long time, so long that Harry’s beginning to think she’s plotting their deaths. But then, she sighs. “Just. Be nice to Shane please, okay? I’m used to you, but he’s probably terrified.”

Louis nods. “Okay. Deal. I’ll be right back,” he says, starting to head inside. “I have to go get Harry’s boutonniere.”

Harry laughs. “What?!”

“Wouldn’t be prom if I didn’t pin a flower to you!” he calls back over his shoulder.

He shakes his head, still laughing, and he looks at Lottie. “I hope you know this wasn’t my idea.”

“I figured it wasn’t.”

“I had to go along with it, though.”

“You always do.”

He smiles. “Do you hate me?”

She scrunches up her face, the same way Louis does really early in the morning when Harry wakes him up with tea or coffee. “Nah. Not yet.”

“Let’s try to keep it that way.”

 

They stand off to the side of the group while Louis pins his red rose onto Harry’s lapel, and Harry pins an identical one back onto Louis. He jokingly stands behind Louis and wraps his arms around him - the typical prom pose - and Louis hollers out, “Best looking prom couple, no need to be so jealous!” By the time the group starts to wrap up to head to the hall for the dance, Jay looks less murderous, all of Lottie’s friends are laughing, and Lottie herself appears more relaxed, smirking the entire time.

Before she leaves, Louis tries to convince her to pick him up and carry him bridal style for a photo, which she flat out declines; he instead settles for kissing her on one cheek, Harry kissing her on the other. She seems pleased, even when the two of them start slow dancing in the front yard in front of everyone.

“What, I don’t get to actually go to prom, so we have to make do,” Louis says when she buries her face in her hands. “Would someone please put on some music?”

Harry can’t stop laughing - the entire thing is absolutely absurd - but he grips Louis’ hand and waist tighter, anyway. “Think you succeeded in embarrassing her?”

He nods. “Definitely. My big brother duties are complete.”

“She’s lucky to have you. Even though you’re certifiably insane.”

“Thank you for that.”

“You’re welcome, baby.”

They’re still swaying in the lawn, suits on and red roses wilting in the warm April breeze; there’s no music playing and all of the kids - Lottie included - have left for the dance. They’re all alone and have no reason to keep playing the part, but Harry doesn’t say anything, and Louis doesn’t, either.


 

It honestly doesn’t occur to Harry just how little time he has left in Connecticut until he’s on campus, walking to class with Riley. She’s going on about the job she’s just been offered - a nursing position at a hospital - and she pulls out her phone, opening up the calendar, pointing to several dates.

“So, finals are done May 1st. An UConn nursing students graduate on May 8th. Then I start working on… Oh my God, I start working two days later on the 10th. Guess that leaves me with a very small window to celebrate, huh?”

Harry laughs. “Better get all your partying in on the 9th, I suppose.”

“Yeah, I’ll say. Jesus, can you believe graduation is in less than a month?”

“Sneaking up fast.”

“Definitely.” She squeezes his arm. “Aw, babe, that means you leave in less than a month, too. This whole year flew by. I can’t believe it’s all almost over.”

Harry kicks a rock with his boot, swallowing heavily. “Yeah. Me, neither.”

“You think you’re ready?”

“I guess so.”

 

He’s not.


 

The skylight high above the bed is letting in an extraordinary amount of light from the moon; it’s full, for sure, and the stars are just as blinding. It seems unnatural, almost, that the light shining in through Louis’ attic window makes it feel like the early hours of the morning rather than 11 o’clock at night. They don’t need to turn the light on to be able to see each other clearly, to see every movement and facial expression, to see the way Louis’ eyelashes brush against his cheekbones when he blinks or the way he licks his lips whenever he catches Harry staring at them.

They’re impossibly close, chest to chest, bare skin on bare skin, and Harry can’t help himself, has to keep dragging his finger up and down Louis’ spine, living for the way it makes him shiver. And he can’t unglue his gaze from Louis’. It’s like they’re in a staring contest, one so intense, Harry feels like he might spiral, might stop breathing, if he looks away.

He leans in and kisses him, just barely grazing their lips together, and Louis breathes into it softly, fingers slipping into Harry’s curls. It doesn’t get old, kissing this boy, and Harry can’t believe in three weeks, he won’t be able to do this anymore. Won’t be able to kiss Louis breathless, whenever he wants, for however long he wants until they’re both panting and want more, more, more. Won’t be able to sit on his lap on the couch, nearly suffocating him, Louis howling and aggressively pinching at his sides until he rolls over, taking Louis with him. Won’t be able to attempt to surprise him in his own hometown with secret dinner dates and coffee in bed and an endless string of sticky notes. Won’t be able to make new jokes together, terrible ones that make no one else laugh, but Harry’s dimple always pokes out and Louis’ eyes always crinkle; they’re each other’s biggest fans. Won’t be able to wake up to Louis’ pathetic groans while he’s stretching, his t-shirt rising and his stomach exposed, and sometimes when Harry’s really lucky, he stretches sans shirt, body taut and tattoos bold, Harry’s fingers desperate and itching to touch every piece of him.

Harry can’t let himself think about that anymore without driving his mind to the brink of insanity, but his body gives him away, anyway. He pulls Louis in a little too closely, nips at his lips a little too harshly, and when he whines against Louis’ lips, Louis pulls back, burying his face in the crook of Harry’s neck.

“Jesus, Styles,” he pants, his breath hot against Harry’s skin.

He kisses the top of Louis’ head, eyes closed. “Sorry.”

“Yeah, I’m a living, breathing human, not a sex doll. Can’t do whatever you want with me.”

Harry smiles and kisses Louis’ hair again. “First time I’ve ever heard that complaint.”

Louis leans back and looks up at Harry, carding his fingers through the tighter curls at the nape of his neck. He frowns. “Wait, what’s going on? You okay?”

He bites on his bottom lip. “I’m good.”

“You’re not. Your face is doing that… Thing.”

“What thing?”

“That thing it does when you’re concentrating too hard. Like when you’re studying or when you’re trying to figure out a way to have sex with me when I’ve already told you no.”

Harry pouts. “I do not do any of those things, and my face is fine.”

He rolls his eyes and presses a kiss against his jaw. “Tell me.”

He sighs. “Okay, fine, you fucking know-it-all.” He can feel Louis smiling against his neck. “Three weeks isn’t a lot of time.”

The smile fades and Louis leans back all the way, sitting up, pulling the covers up to his waist. “Oh.”

“Yeah. Oh .”

He sits there for a minute, hands in his lap. “Are you saying that because you have regrets? Like, three weeks isn’t enough time to do the stuff you still haven’t done yet?”

Harry sits up, too. “ God , no. Absolutely not. That’s not the problem at all. It’s the opposite, really.” He kisses Louis’ bare shoulder, his neck, below his ear. “How am I supposed to figure out a way to say goodbye to you? Three weeks isn’t nearly enough time.”

Louis nods, understanding. “I don’t really know how to give you an answer, H.”

He shrugs. “I didn’t expect you to. I’m just having a really difficult time. I don’t want to leave you.”

He nods again, his movements a little more jerky this time. “Hey, can you hand me my glasses? And my laptop? They’re next to you on the nightstand.”

Harry frowns. “You need to use your laptop… Right now?”

“Yeah, gimme it.”

“Okay…” He reaches over and slides the laptop off the table, handing the glasses over to Louis and watching as he unfolds them and puts them on.

Louis rests his back against the headboard, knees propped up, laptop on his lap, and he goes to a tab saved in his history. He clicks it, and up pops an itinerary. A flight itinerary.

“Okay. So, like.” He clears his throat. “This isn’t just hard for you, you know. You had to waltz in here all perfect and British and Harry and now you’re leaving me and everything in here smells like you even though it's my room and this isn’t fucking easy, alright?”

Harry grabs Louis’ free hand and kisses the back of it. “I know.”

“Fuck.” He scrolls up and down the airline’s webpage mindlessly. “I know you have to leave eventually, but, like, what if I came with you?”

He sits up taller. “Excuse me?”

“Not forever,” he clarifies. “I have a life, you know.”

Harry smiles. “You do. A great one.”

He nods. “Yeah. I just think it’d be really great if I got to see you graduate. Walk across the stage, throw that ugly hat in the air, the works.” Louis’ voice is wobbly; he’s nervous.

He can’t seem to find his own voice. “You…” He clears his throat. “You want to fly with me back home and come to my uni graduation?”

“Not on the exact day you leave. It would be a couple of weeks later, because of my work schedule.” He sighs. “Is that stupid?”

It’s the least stupid thing Harry has ever heard. In fact, Louis might be a bloody genius . “God, baby, no, Jesus Christ.” He stares at the itinerary on the screen, his vision going blurry. “You looked this up?”

“It was no big deal,” he says, his voice still shaking. He pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose again, even though there’s no place for them to go. “Just typed in a few dates and--”

“You looked it up. You looked it up and you bookmarked it.”

He pushes the laptop off his lap. “It was no big deal,” he repeats, but he’s smiling. “Harry, if I come with you, don’t expect a decent graduation present. I’m on a budget and a flight to London isn’t fucking cheap, did you know that?”

Harry closes the laptop and tosses it to the end of the bed. He immediately hovers over Louis, Louis’ eyes moving frantically across Harry’s face. “It is expensive. Which is why you don’t have to do this.”

“I want to.” He says it adamantly and firmly, and Harry believes him.

“And you’re absolutely idiotic if you think I want a Goddamn graduation present from you, Jesus.” He stares at him, unable to blink. “As if this isn't present enough. You want to fly across the world for me.”

“A little bit, yeah.” Louis’ voice cracks in the middle of his sentence, his cheeks reddening, and he whispers when he says, “Harry, I’m so crazy about you.”

Harry has about a thousand and one thoughts racing through his mind, and one day, maybe, he’ll spell them all out for the beautiful boy underneath him. But for now, he kisses him, hoping Louis can feel each and every word on the tip of Harry’s tongue, and based on the way he shudders and grips at Harry harder, Harry has the feeling he can.


 

If Harry thought the first eight months flew by, it’s nothing compared to how quickly the next month whips past him. The days start to get warmer, the Deakin-Tomlinson household becoming more restless as the school year is coming to a close, and Harry is hanging onto his American life with everything he has inside of him.

Two days before he’s set to go back home, he’s sorting through his clothes, trying to remember what’s actually his and what’s Louis’, stuffing it into his somehow impossibly small suitcases. The basement looks like there’s been a mini explosion, t-shirts and shoes in every which direction, and he groans when Jay walks in the door with a laundry basket tucked under her arm, passing him a heavy load of more laundry for him to deal with.

“I truly don’t remember packing this much stuff,” he says, picking up a sweater and wondering where the hell it came from.

“Nine months, baby,” she replies, patting him on the head and walking back out the door.

He huffs under his breath, giving in to defeat, and he lays down flat on his back, his UConn sweatshirt wedged under his shoulder. He doesn’t move for an embarrassing amount of time, neck starting to ache, and that’s the position Louis finds him in after he comes barreling in through the door.

“Why are you on the floor.”

Harry props himself up on his elbows. “I gave up. I’m not moving out. I permanently live here now.”

“No, get out, I miss my basement.”

He snorts. “You say like you haven’t used the basement in months. You’re probably down here more than I am.”

Louis plops down on the ground next to him. “Yeah, probably.” He bites at his bottom lip. “So. Tomorrow.”

Harry sits up all the way. “Tomorrow.”

“Your going away party.”

“It should be fun.”

“In a crippling sort of way, yes.”

Harry laughs. “Basically.”

“I was thinking.”

“Oh boy, that’s never good.”

Louis pinches his arm. “The party is a way for everyone to say goodbye to you. Is it okay if, like…” He shrugs. “If I get tonight to say goodbye to you? Just you and me?”

Harry was not expecting that, and he isn’t sure what to say. He locks eyes with Louis until Louis starts squirming and has to look away. “Lou, of course.” He puts his hand on Louis’ ankle and squeezes. “But you know that I’ll be seeing you just two weeks later, right? When you fly to London for my graduation ceremony?”

“No, I forgot. Shit.”

He laughs. “Shut up.”

Louis smiles. “This is the last time you’ll be here for God only knows how long and… I dunno. You just need a proper send off. From me.”

He raises his brows. “A proper send off, yeah?”

Louis rolls his eyes. “That’s enough. I spend a lot of time with you, obviously certain words are bound to slip out.”

“I like it,” he says with a wink and Louis pretends to gag. “Anyway,” Harry continues, “do you have a plan for us?”

He nods. “Yeah, actually. Wanna go get a tattoo?”

“Excuse me?”

“Gotta ink you up and ship you back to England. To commemorate your time here.”

Harry laughs. “Are you serious?”

“If you want to, yeah.”

“Are you gonna get one, too?”

He nods. “I think I’ve got something in mind.”

“Are you going to tell me?”

“Nope. You still in?”

“Eh,” Harry says with a shrug, “it beats packing.”

Louis stands up and crosses his arms. “Always so flattering, you are.”

“I aim to please.”

“Wanna go now?”

Harry stands up, too. “Yeah, let’s do it.”

 

They head into Hartford, Harry beyond grateful to abandon his packing duties, and Louis leads them into a tattoo parlor directly next door to the bar they ate at on his birthday. There aren’t any crazy football fans in there today, but Harry smiles, anyway, remembering the beer, the Broadway tickets, the game, the way Louis had sucked him off later that night, looking up at him the entire time, fringe sweeping across his forehead.

Harry holds the door open for Louis and he follows him inside, the room bright and filled with pictures and personalized tattoos across every wall. He’s barely made it in the door before he has to stop, entranced by a complex design, swirls and patterns and colors.

“This is where I got this done,” Louis says, pointing to the tic-tac-toe tattoo on his arm. “Got the rope here, too.”

Harry looks away from the wall and looks down at Louis’ arm. He traces his finger over the x’s and o’s, familiar ink he’s touched so many times. “They did a good job.

He hums in response. “Marc did it last time. He’s great. If he’s here, I want him.”

“Alright, then, let’s go find Marc.”

A guy behind the counter at the front of the store tells them Marc is finishing up with another client, but is free the rest of the night. He nods toward the empty seats in the waiting area and holds up a clipboard of papers. “Just hang out there and fill out these forms and we should be ready to roll.”

They sit down together and Harry starts writing in his information, pausing when he gets to the blank line that asks what tattoo he wants. He taps the pen against his lips. He has an idea.

“So, would it be stupid to get the Packers logo?”

Louis looks up from his own clipboard. “Probably.”

He laughs. “I think that’s what I want.”

“But… Why.”

“I want something that reminds me most of my time here, and I’m assuming you won’t allow me to get your face tattooed across my entire back--”

“Actually, I’d enjoy that.”

“--and what’s more American than football?”

Louis makes a face. “Can’t you at least do a good team? Like the Pats. Or even the fucking Giants. Pick something from around here, Jesus.”

Harry shakes his head. “No. I want the Packers.”

“Said no one ever.”

“Oh, and I’m sure your tattoo idea is so much better.”

“It is.” Louis holds up his form, revealing his idea.

“A teacup?”

“Mhm.”

“I don't get it.”

“Why am I not surprised.”

Harry frowns. “How is that better?”

“Because the Packers suck and tea is delicious.”

“I don’t even understand why a teacup, though. How is that commemorating my time in America?”

Louis purses his lips together. “Who said everything is about you?”

You did! You said we should get inked up to commemorate my time studying abroad!”

He pauses. “I don’t particularly care for your tone right now.”

“Oh my God.” He opens his mouth to argue, but a woman with a bandaged forearm walks out of one of the rooms, followed by a guy whom Harry assumes is Marc.

“Who’s next?” he asks, rubbing his hands together.

Harry stands up, not giving Louis a chance. “I’ll go first.”

“Great, follow me.” He heads back into the room he walked out of and Harry begins to follow, then pauses and looks over his shoulder at Louis.

“You coming?”

Louis crosses his arms over his chest. “No, go get your stupid football tattoo and I’ll be out here, waiting impatiently.”

Harry sighs. “You’re, just, the most charming person I’ve ever met.”

“I hate you. Go.”

He smirks. “‘m going.”

 

Barely 15 minutes later, Harry is sporting a new tattoo, a small “G” on his inner bicep, only half listening as Marc describes the healing process. They walk into the waiting room together and as he starts to describe how to clean and care for it, Harry holds up his hands.

“I’m gonna have to stop you there, Marc.” He pulls up his shirt. “Does this look like my first rodeo?”

Marc laughs. “Looks like no.”

Louis scoffs. “Any excuse for you to take your shirt off. Honestly, Harry.”

Harry lets go of the hem of his shirt and lets it fall back down. “Why do you act as if you don’t enjoy it?”

“Because I don’t.”

“I beg to differ. In fact, I recall you saying something last night that opposes that last statement entirely.”

Marc makes a face. “Okay, before this gets too gross, Louis? You ready?”

Louis smirks and nods. “Yup, let’s do it.”

Harry sits back down in his chair, rubbing mindlessly over the bandage on his bicep, and calls out, “Don’t wreck his perfect skin, Marc. Keep him beautiful.”

Louis laughs and Marc pauses at the doorway. “Christ, somehow that was worse than the naked comment.”

 

Harry’s been sitting for a mere ten minutes when Louis reappears walking out of the room with the tiniest bandage Harry has ever seen on his arm.

“Did you get a tattoo or did you get a papercut?”

Louis rolls his eyes. “Oh, ha ha, you’re so funny.”

“Lemme see.”

“If you promise to not be a jackass.”

He bites back his remark as Louis peels off the bandage, revealing his raised skin, shiny with ointment. Harry takes a step closer, grabbing Louis’ arm, careful not to touch the actual tattoo. It’s small, this teacup tattoo, and it looks vaguely familiar, kind of cartoonish. He squints, runs his fingers through his hair, and then, it dawns on him.

“Louis. Is this.” He clears his throat, rubbing his jaw with his hand. “Did you get a tattoo of the teacup that I drew for you on a sticky note?”

Louis shrugs. “It’s a possibility.”

“I’m going to need a firm yes or no. Now.”

He looks up through his lashes. “Alright. Firm yes.”

Harry inhales sharply, nodding. “Yeah, you were right.”

“About what?”

“Your tattoo is better.”

Louis smirks. “I told you.”

He cups Louis’ jaw in his hands. “I know. You did.” He peers down at Louis’ arm again. “Fuck.”

“Relax, Harry.”

“I can’t.”

“Are you gonna try to scar Marc forever, right here?”

“It’s a possibility.”

Louis’ smile grows. “Wanna get going?”

“Firm yes.”

 

Later that night, long after their sweat has cooled and the crickets in the woods behind the house have started their songs, Harry is pressing barely there kisses to the side of Louis’ head, dragging his fingers along his hip.

“You can’t say you hate me ever again, you know,” he murmurs against Louis’ skin.

Louis hums. “And why do you think that?”

“You got a teacup tattoo. For me. You definitely don’t hate me.”

He nudges Harry away. “I did not get it just for you.”

“Oh, sure.”

“I didn’t. I got it for my love of tea. You just happened to turn me on to it.”

Harry waggles his brows. “You know it.”

“Stop.” Louis rolls flat onto his back, smile on his face. “Would have got it ages ago, though, if I’d known you would fuck me like you just did.”

He smirks and crawls on top of him, kissing up his jaw. “Couldn’t help it.”

“Can you ever help it?”

Harry laughs into Louis’ neck. “Not when it comes to you, no.”

Louis pushes his fingers into Harry’s curls, twisting them around, and sighs. “Gonna be so quiet once you’re gone.”

You’re the loud one, not me.”

He twists harder. “Gonna be lonely, too.”

Harry swallows, sitting up, pulling Louis up with him. “Got a day and a half left.”

Louis blinks, staring hard. “Let’s make it count.”

He nods. “Yeah, let’s do that.” He leans in and kisses Louis again, all tongue and too much teeth, thumb dragging over the bandaged tattoo the entire time.


 

Harry should have expected Jay to throw him a going away party like this; he feels stupid for being surprised at seeing the amount of people and food and drinks, and Dan pokes fun at him immediately.

“How were you not prepared for this? You know Jay,” he says laughing, handing Harry a beer.

He closes his eyes and shakes his head. “I should have known. But this ,” he says, gesturing to the plethora of family and friends in the backyard, “is ridiculous.”

“True Johanna way.” He holds up his own beer. “Cheers to you.”

Harry smiles. “Thank you. Cheers.”

Niall and Liam show up just as Dan and Jay are taking the wings off the grill, followed by Evan, Kara, and Riley shortly after, and by the time Harry is five drinks in, the yard is filled with nearly a hundred people.

“How is this possible?” he asks Lottie. “Look at all these fucking people.”

She smiles, squeezing some mustard out onto her burger. “Seems like people like you for some reason.”

“You sound like your brother.”

“No, he sounds like me.

Harry rolls his eyes. “Same DNA, for sure.”

She takes a bite of her burger and sets it back down on her plate. “Really, though. Can I be serious for a second?”

He nods. “Sure.”

“I’m really glad we got the chance to know you over the past nine months. It’s going to be so weird when you’re gone. You’re like the big brother I never had.”

“You have a big brother, though.”

“Yeah, but the one I have is terrible and hijacked my prom.”

Harry laughs. “I was a part of that, too.”

“But whose idea was it?”

“Good point.”

Lottie smiles. “I just want you to know that we love you and we’re all so sad you’re leaving.” She looks down at her plate. “Make sure you come visit, okay? Please.”

He swallows around the lump in his throat. “I wish I didn’t have to leave.”

“Me, neither. Especially for our sanity. Do you know how treacherous Louis is going to be once you’re gone for good?”

He tries to force out a laugh. “Yeah, take care of my boy, will you?”

She makes a face. “I think it’s best if we just keep him locked up in the attic.”

“Probably.” Harry squeezes her shoulder, pulling her in for a hug. “Love you.”

She nods against him. “Love you, too.”

One goodbye down, about a thousand to go.

 

Harry spends the rest of the night surrounded by laughter and tears, conflicted, trying to figure out which emotion to lean into. He’s in hysterics when Niall gives him a card filled with pictures of Harry, drunk off his ass on several various occasions, pictures he never knew existed until right now, and he’s in a different kind of hysterics when Jay pulls him aside, tears pooling over, telling him just how much she loves him and will miss him, her third son. Overall, the party is a success, even when he forces himself to say an individual goodbye to each person.

It feels like his heart is being ripped out little by little in each conversation, reminding him very much of when Rachel Green said her final thoughts to her best friends before boarding her flight to Paris on the series finale of Friends , and he tells Louis that after Harry hugs and kisses Evan on the cheek a little too aggressively.

Louis snorts. “Make sure your plane has all its phalanges.”

“Will you run to the airport and profess your undying love for me?”

He stares at him blankly. “Yes, because I am quite the runner. Thinking of signing up for a marathon.”

Harry laughs, taking a step closer. “I would run for you, you know.”

“You must be nicer than me.”

“Mmm, must be.” He cups Louis’ jaw in his hands. “Jesus, you’re so pretty.”

Louis rolls his eyes but he doesn’t try to pull away. “Are you drunk?”

“Just a little bit. Your mom bought a keg , Lou.”

He laughs. “She goes all out.”

“I know. I’ve lived with her for the past nine months. I know .” He strokes his thumb across Louis’ cheekbone. “Hey, are you gonna be mad at me if I kiss you in front of your entire family?”

He shrugs. “Depends on how you kiss me. Don’t make it lame, because that’s embarrassing.”

“Don’t make it lame, got it,” Harry answers, leaning in to brush their lips together, barely making it three seconds before he has to deepen it, tongues sliding together. Louis inhales sharply, squeezing Harry’s hips, eventually winding his arms up around Harry’s neck. Louis tastes the same as he always does and the sound of his breathing is something Harry has memorized; Harry keeps kissing him, never once breaking contact, even when everyone around them begins to whistle and Daisy starts yelling at them to stop.

Harry’s head is spinning, his chest feels tight, it’s starting to drizzle cold rain, Louis’ grandmother is coughing awkwardly behind him, and it should be time to start wrapping the party up. But all he can think of is he doesn’t know how he’ll ever be able to thank this family - his family - for everything they’ve given him.

 

It’s late, nearly two in the morning, and Harry hovering over Louis, both of them naked, panting, shaking. Harry has three fingers inside of Louis, rubbing in all the right places, and Louis can’t stop arching his back off the mattress, eyes squeezed shut, hands working mindlessly against Harry’s back and shoulders. He groans when Harry spreads his fingers apart, thighs trembling, and Harry originally wanted to draw this out, this being the last time they’d do this for weeks, last time in this room, in this house, but he can’t possibly hold off. Not when Louis looks like this.

“Baby, you’re unbelievable,” he murmurs against Louis’ neck. “Look at you.”

Louis gasps. “Shut up.

Harry shakes his head. “Best thing I’ve ever seen, I swear to god.” He kisses below Louis’ ear. “You’re ready, right?”

“You would know better than I would,” he grits out. “Jesus Christ, it’s enough , Harry, you’ve been going at it for hours.”

He smirks, pulling his fingers out and looking for the condom in the darkness of the attic. “Definitely not hours.”

“Feels like it.”

Harry lays down on his side, pulling Louis up against his chest, nudging the head of his cock into Louis. Louis moans immediately, throwing his head back, hands grabbing Harry’s thigh behind him. “That good?” Harry breathes out, pushing his hips all the way forward, already too overwhelmed with how Louis feels, always feels.

Louis nods, his own breathing choppy. “Yeah, there, keep going.”

He reaches for Louis’ cock and pulls his hips out all the way and thrusts them back in, eyes rolling to the back of his head, still in disbelief that he and Louis work so well together in every aspect, especially this . He’s never been with someone that can turn him on so easily, knows how to work his body like it’s an extension of his own, and based on the way Louis is whining and steadily leaking precome onto Harry’s hand, Harry thinks that Louis most likely feels the same way.

He keeps his thrusts in time with the way he’s jerking Louis, hand slick, Louis’ entire body riddled with shakes, and when Harry can tell he’s close, he takes his hand off of Louis’ cock and presses down lightly on Louis’ throat instead, just barely a hint of cutting off his airway, something he knows Louis likes. Louis fucks himself down onto Harry harder, gripping Harry’s hip behind him.

They both come that way, without a hand on Louis at all, Harry kissing the back of Louis’ neck the entire time, and when he finally pulls out and rolls into Louis’ arms, letting Louis pet his sweaty curls down, it’s then that it really hits him.

“Lou, this is my last night here,” he croaks out.

Louis snorts, digging his nails into the back of Harry’s neck. “You’re a bit slow on the uptake, there, Styles.”

“Like, I’m moving out. This is it. I’m packed - thanks to your mother because she did everything for me - and now it’s all over.”

“That is accurate. And why the hell is my mother packing for you, Jesus, be an adult.”

“Louis, why aren’t you panicking?!”

Louis pushes him off of his chest. “This shouldn’t be a surprise to you! We just had a damn going away party!”

Harry sits up. “Oh my God, what if I get homesick?”

“For Connecticut?!”

He frowns. “Amongst other things.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “You’re gonna see me in 13 days. I’m flying to you, remember?”

Harry nods. “As if I could forget.”

“And it’s not like we won’t ever talk again, or like we have to write letters back and forth as our only form of communication. FaceTime is a thing.”

“Letters could be nice, though. Like a present in the mail.”

“Okay, well, you let me know when you have time to write a letter a few times a week, and then you can get back to me.”

“Don’t challenge me.”

“Fight me.”

Harry smiles. “Hey, how are you so calm about this? You’re being very rational. Very… Un-Louis.”

“Gee, thanks.” He pulls the sheets up to his chin. “If I pretend it’s easy, maybe it will actually be easy.” He shrugs, wiggling deeper under the covers. “How’s that for rational?”

“Lou.” Harry slides back down under the covers beside him. “‘m sorry this sucks.”

“Yeah, you should be, it’s all your fault.”

“I know.” He puts his head back on Louis’ chest. “I really am gonna write you letters.”

“I didn’t doubt it.”

“Good.”

 

Harry doesn’t recall falling asleep; the last thing he remembers is listening to Louis’ heartbeat underneath him and wondering how expensive it would be to send a letter everyday from England to the U.S. The next thing he knows, his alarm on his phone is going off, blaring and persistent.

It’s all over.


 

Harry’s flight isn’t until three, so he takes his time showering and packing up the last of his things, checking under the bed and in the closets for anything left behind. It feels so horribly final when he and Louis drag his suitcases out of the basement, turning off the lights behind them, and pack them into the trunk of the car.

Harry slams the car door shut and turns to Louis. “Should we head up, get my last goodbyes in to the girls?”

Louis nods. “Yeah. Mom said just you and I can take you to the airport. It’ll be easier that way.”

“Probably. We should get going soon, though.”

“We’ve got about half an hour left.”

Harry grabs Louis’ hand. “‘kay, let’s go.”

They head inside, and Harry tries to really take a minute to appreciate everything about the house he’s grown to love over the past several months: the brick walkway, the swing on the porch, the way the front door always creaks when it’s pushed open, the smell of the kitchen, the way there’s always someone in the living room watching TV or reading or laughing amongst one another. It must show on his face that he’s about three seconds from losing it because Louis drops his hand from Harry’s and rubs his back instead.

“Don’t you dare say something sappy, Styles,” he warns. “Because then my Mom will cry and then it’s all downhill from there.”

Harry nods, running his fingers through his hair. “Yeah. ‘m good. Just love this house, is all.”

“This house loves you back, too, probably.”

He looks up at the ceiling. “Thanks, house.”

“You're so dumb.”

Harry laughs, nodding in the direction of the kitchen. “I gotta make moves. You have a lot of siblings. This could take all day if I’m not paying attention.”

Louis smirks. “Well, then, get going.”

He starts with the smallest twins, kissing them both on their cheeks, making his way over to Phoebe and Daisy next. By the time he’s gone through Fizzy, Lottie, and Dan, he’s actively holding back tears, rubbing his hands across his face.

Jay looks up at him from her stance in the kitchen. “You about ready there, Harry?”

He nods. “Yeah. Let’s go.” He starts to follow Louis and Jay out the door, but someone grabs him by the shoulder.

Lottie.

“Before you go,” she says under her breath, “here.” She hands him an envelope, and he opens it carefully, and what he sees in the inside makes him simultaneously laugh and choke up.

It’s a picture from prom, Lottie in the middle, Louis on her left and Harry on her right, each kissing a cheek. She’s smiling so hard in the photo that her eyes are slits, her cheeks pink, almost the same shade as her dress. He’d almost forgotten how gorgeous she looked that day - so did Louis, God - and Harry can’t stop staring, tracing his finger along the edge of the picture. Eventually, he clears his throat. “The brother you never had?” he tries jokingly, pointing to himself in the photo.

Lottie shrugs. “Nah. More like the brothers I’ve always wanted, and I’m pretty lucky for that.” She smiles, taking a deep breath. “Keep the picture. And have a safe flight back, ‘kay?”

He nods, can’t think of adequate words to say, can’t spell out what he’s thinking, really. Instead, he turns on his heel and heads for the desk in the office off of the kitchen, searching around in the top drawer for something he knows is in there; he finds it a moment later and reaches for a pen. The ink glides smoothly over the yellow sticky note - the last one he’ll ever leave in this house - and he sticks it to the refrigerator on his way out after he kisses and hugs Lottie one final time.

My high is this family.
My low is leaving them.
All the love,
H

 

The ride to the airport isn’t too bad; Louis keeps the mood light by blaring the country station as loudly as he can, singing along to Blake Shelton and Carrie Underwood and Luke Bryan. He’s in the middle of belting out the second verse to some Florida Georgia Line song when Harry can’t take it anymore.

“Seriously, how the hell do you even know the words to all these songs? This is unbearable.”

“I’m leading a double life.”

“No, for real.”

“Freshman year, Liam and I were in a karaoke competition on campus and we were assigned country and here we are.”

“Oh my God.” Harry laughs, brushing his hair out of his eyes. “I would pay good money to see that.”

“Your money is safe because I’m pretty sure I burned every copy of that DVD that was in existence.” He turns the volume up even higher, Jay trying to yell over the noise, Louis ignoring her and somehow, developing an extremely realistic southern accent within seconds.

It’s horrible and Harry is pretty sure his ears are bleeding.

Shit. He’s going to miss this.

 

The airport isn’t too busy, the line through security only about 20 or so people deep, and Harry estimates he has time to sit and have coffee with Louis and Jay before he has to check in. He keeps his backpack wedged under his seat as he picks at a blueberry muffin, answering Jay’s questions about the flight, his arrival time, and laughing when he confirms he double checked - triple checked - that he got everything from out of the basement.

“It’s okay if you didn’t, though,” she says, ripping off a piece of her own chocolate chip muffin, “I can ship it back. Or send it with Louis. Or you just have to come back and visit.”

Harry nods, smiling. “I want to come back already. I don’t know when. Maybe sometime next year.” He shrugs. “I dunno when I’ll be able to make it back, but as long as you’re up for it, I’ll make it my mission to become a Deakin-Tomlinson again.”

“Yes, of course, baby.” Jay smiles. “You’re welcome anytime. You’re family.”

 

And that’s what Harry keeps in mind when he hugs her goodbye outside of security, tears pooling in his eyes to match the ones spilling from her own, as he tells her he loves her and thanks her for the past nine months, as she rubs his back and tells him she loves him so, so much. That’s what he tells himself when he pulls Louis in for a hug, burying his face in the crook of Louis’ neck, breathing in the familiar scent of cologne and shampoo and Louis, laughing when Louis says, “Harry, this is so stupid, I’m going to see you in two weeks,” but pulls Harry back in closer, shoulders shaking just a little bit. That’s what he tells himself when he kisses Louis, his hands on the small of Louis’ back and Louis’ fingers digging into his shoulders through his jumper, both of them aware - but neither of them mentioning - that this is the last kiss they’ll have in this part of the world for a long, long time, potentially ever.

Harry is leaving, and he doesn’t have a return date, but this is his family, and God, they are absolutely brilliant .

He is so lucky.


 

He touches down extremely early in the morning, early enough that the sun hasn’t yet risen and for normal people to still be asleep.

But there’s his mum, standing at baggage claim with a sign that says “Harry Styles” on it; the only person who’s ever done that for him was Jay, and he realizes he’s come full circle.

He immediately bursts into tears when he sees her, unable to stop himself. He’s so tired, missed her so much, missed his house, already misses what he left behind. Anne wraps her arms around him, already crying, too.

“So good to have you back, love,” she murmurs into his shoulder.

Harry nods. “Good to be back.”

“Want to get some early breakfast? I’m sure there’s something open somewhere.”

He shrugs. “Kinda just want to go home. My bed probably missed me, too.”

Anne smiles. “You’ve got it.”

 

Over the next two weeks, Harry is impossibly busy. He applies for several internships, even more jobs, and he visits with so many friends and family members, he’s lost count of how many times he’s said, “No, I really don’t think I sound any different. Wait, do I?”

Getting back into his regular routine is a challenge - he knew it would be - but it turns out to be even harder than he’d originally anticipated. He wakes up disoriented almost every morning, has driven on the wrong side of the road approximately three times, and he craves Dunkin’ Donuts more than he would ever admit to anyone, especially a specific someone back in Hartford who has has been nothing but relentless with his texts, voicemails at four in the morning Harry’s time, and an abundance of naked pictures that do nothing to help Harry’s sexual frustration.

And Harry never noticed just how quiet his house is. He lays in bed each night, staring at the ceiling, and he feels like if he concentrates hard enough, he can hear his mum and Robin breathing from the room down the hall. He’s used to the noise, he craves it.

He’s counting down the minutes until the noise comes back; won’t be much longer now, and Harry can’t stop smiling.


 

Waiting for Louis to arrive at the airport is proof enough that Harry is an extremely impatient person. He’s checked the time on his phone about 37 times now, the hour somehow reading the same every time he looks, and he can’t stop refreshing his flight tracker. He kept his eyes glued to the screen while he was still in America, and then flying across the Atlantic, and now that he’s in Europe - in London - Harry isn’t sure he’s blinked once, desperate to catch any glimpse of Louis that he can.

He finally touches down just before dinner, Harry nearly bouncing up and down at baggage claim. People flood out of the gate, families and business men and women and kids and students; everyone is traveling to their own destination, everyone leading their own lives, and normally, that would intrigue Harry, but this time, all he cares about is finding his boy.

Harry spies Louis at the back of the crowd, sweatshirt sleeves pushed up, earbuds dangling around his neck, and he’s looking up, squinting, presumably looking around for where he’s supposed to go. He looks tired, a little annoyed, and more beautiful than Harry remembered.

And then Louis spots Harry back, face breaking out into a grin, gripping his backpack straps tighter. He starts pushing through the crowd, nearly knocking over a man with a briefcase, and he breaks out into a full sprint once the crowd has dispersed, charging at Harry at full speed. Harry only has about four full seconds to get his arms fully extended to catch Louis before he’s being almost knocked down to the ground entirely, and God, it feels so good.

Harry tucks his face into Louis’ neck, breathing in deeply. “Fuck,” he murmurs, “I missed you.”

Louis squeezes, his fingers digging into Harry’s shoulder blades. “It’s only been two weeks.”

“And you’re telling me you didn’t miss me even a little bit?”

He leans back and scrunches up his face. “I’ve been sleeping like shit and I hate waking up without a cup of tea already set up for me.”

Harry laughs. “That’s all I’m good for? Sleep and caffeine?”

In lieu of response, Louis buries his face back into Harry’s chest, wiggling his body until Harry wraps his arms around him again. “Yes,” he mumbles against Harry’s t-shirt. “Something like that.”

 

It takes them about 20 minutes to untangle themselves from each other and find Louis’ bag at baggage claim (when Harry lifts it off the conveyer belt, he asks Louis if he’s planning on staying for more than five days based on its weight and Louis just shrugs, telling Harry to suck it up and build some muscle because Daisy didn’t seem to have any issues picking up earlier in the day) and during those 20 minutes, Harry isn’t sure his eyes have left Louis’ face once, in complete disbelief that Louis is actually here, actually in his city, their hands twisted up together and their smiles permanent.

They head outside and climb into Harry’s beat up sedan together and when Harry slams his door shut, he’s suddenly overwhelmed that Louis is in his car. It’s been only 13 days of not seeing him or touching him but it’s been a small lifetime and Harry can’t help it when he has to lean over the center console without preamble and captures Louis’ lips with his own.

He tastes like spearmint gum and he sighs the way he always does when he’s happy to be kissed; Harry threads his fingers through the ends of Louis’ hair, tracing his thumb along his jawline, stomach tensing when Louis slides his own hands up to Harry’s shoulders, squeezing in a way that feels so familiar and so good. He pulls back slightly and drags his tongue along Louis’ bottom lip, Louis smirking against his mouth.

“Can’t control yourself, Styles?”

Harry kisses him again, chaste this time, and pulls back, fumbling with his seatbelt. “I think you know the answer to that, baby.”

Louis rolls his eyes but his cheeks flush, anyway. “Shut up and drive.”

“I’m gonna take that as open invitation to pretend I’m Rihanna the entire way to my house.”

“If you so much as open your mouth, I’m tucking and rolling out of this fucking car.”

Harry laughs and starts to back out of his parking spot. “Can I tell you again that I missed you?”

He shrugs, smile playing across his face. “I dunno, can you?”

“I missed you. So fucking much.”

Louis fumbles with the buttons on the radio mindlessly for a moment or two before he slides his hand onto Harry’s thigh, palm warm even through his jeans. “Missed you too, curly.”


 

They almost get into two car accidents on the way home due to Harry’s inattentiveness to the road. He can’t help it, can’t stop staring at the way Louis is taking everything in. He gets to experience London for the first time through Louis’ eyes and he’s not sure who’s more excited for him to be here.

The drive isn’t too bad - about two hours - and in that time, Harry asks Louis about a thousand questions about his flight and what’s been going on at home since he left and how the girls are doing and if Ernie misses him yet and he takes a deep breath to ask about Jay but then Louis’ hand is covering his mouth.

“Harry, darling of mine, I’ve been awake since about two in the morning and traveling since four and if you keep talking I’m going to have to put your head through the windshield.”

He pouts, batting Louis’ hand away. “I just wanna talk to you, though.”

“You can talk to me after I’ve slept.” He closes his eyes and leans his head back.

“Are you seriously pretending to nap to get away from me?”

“No, I’m actually sleeping.”

Harry snorts. “Impressive that you can answer in complete sentences even when you’re asleep.”

“I know, I’m amazing.”

It doesn’t take long, though, for Louis’ breathing to actually even out, his movements stilled, his body slumping all the way back against the chair. Harry pulls off onto the main road, less than ten minutes from his house, and he puts his left hand on Louis’ knee, rubbing gentle circles.

“Lou, wake up, baby.”

Louis groans and squeezes his eyes tighter. “No.”

Harry tries again. “We’re just about at my house. My mum is there. She’s so excited to meet you.”

He blinks his eyes open at that. “Wait, no, I look like shit, I don’t want to meet her like this.”

“What? Louis, that’s ridiculous. She’s seen pictures of you a thousand times.”

“Yeah, but this is different. I’ve been in the same sweatpants since the dawn of time and my hair is greasy and absolutely not. I am not meeting your mother like this.”

Harry smiles. “Are you nervous?”

“No, Jesus, I’m not nervous. Shut up.”

His smile grows. “Are you worried about your first impression?”

“I told you to shut up.”

“You’re extra bossy today.”

“Go away.”

Harry reaches over and grabs Louis’ hand, lacing their fingers together. “My mum is going to adore you, regardless of what you’re wearing.”

Louis rubs his eyes underneath his glasses with his free hand. “You sure?”

“Yes. It’s going to be bloody annoying, honestly. You could walk in wearing a speedo and punch me directly in the face and she’d still be thrilled to meet you.”

He laughs. “And what makes you say that?”

Harry turns left down a road and he drags his thumb across Louis’ knuckles. “Because she knows how much I care about you.”

Louis exhales loudly. “You’re something else, you know that?”

He hums. “Just for you.”

“Ew.”

Harry laughs. “Okay, like, three more minutes and then we’re home.”

“Home,” Louis echoes, looking out the window. “Still can’t believe I’m here.”

“I’m happy.” He looks over at Louis. “Are you?”

“I’m hanging in there.”

“Good enough.”

 

As Harry predicted, Anne is over the moon to finally meet Louis. She pulls him in for a warm hug before he’s even through the front door all the way, kissing his cheek, fussing over him in a way she most definitely did not when Harry arrived two weeks ago.

“Rude,” he mutters under his breath as he lugs Louis’ suitcase in down the hallway, his backpack slung over his shoulder.

“You be quiet,” Anne says, turning back to Louis. “Tell me all about yourself.”

“Mum,” Harry says, “you already know everything.”

“Yeah, through you. I want to hear it from him.

Louis looks back over his shoulder and Harry shakes his head, mouthing, I’m sorry. Louis winks and turns back to Jay.

“Well. I’m an editor.”

“That’s so interesting!”

“Oh my God, Mum,” Harry says, putting his face in his hands.

“Shh, go in the other room or something,” she says.

Louis smirks. “Yeah, Harry, go in the other room.”

“Ugh.” He drops the backpack to the floor and kisses Louis on the top of the head before he retreats to the couch, listening to his mum and Louis talk for the next hour until his eyes grow heavy and he finally gives in.

 

He’s not sure how long he sleeps for - long enough for his neck to ache from the unsupportive pillows and poor position - and he wakes up to Louis sitting on top of him and elbowing him in the stomach.

Harry wheezes. “Was that necessary?!”

“Yes. I’m the one running on about 3 hours of sleep and I’m beyond jetlagged and you have the audacity to sleep in here, snoring away, while I’m about ready to crack.”

“Aw, baby.” Harry reaches up to touch Louis’ cheek but Louis bats him away before he can get there. “You sleepy and grumpy?”

Louis makes a face. “Stop naming dwarves. Move over. I can’t even think I’m so tired.”

“Do you want to go upstairs? There’s more room up there.”

It’s a lost cause, though, because Louis is already sliding in between the cushions and Harry, letting his head drop to Harry’s shoulder, eyes closing. “No. Here is good.”

“Okay. Here is good,” he repeats.

And Harry doesn’t sleep - wide awake, now - but he doesn’t dare move, content to drag his finger up and down Louis’ spine until his arm gets pins and needles. He waits until half midnight to wake Louis and drag him upstairs to his bedroom.

Louis falls headfirst into the bed, not bothering to change or get under the blankets, and he’s already completely passed out by the time Harry is ready to climb in alongside him. He has to take a moment to stare, still in disbelief that Louis is here, in his bed, already drooling onto his pillow as if he’s always been here, always belonged.

Harry slides in next to Louis and tangles their legs together, Louis not stirring even a bit. And the more Harry thinks about it, and the more he gazes at Louis’ eyelashes and cheekbones and lips, the more he thinks that yes, Louis probably has always belonged.


 

“Wake up. I’m in London and you’re asleep and hello .”

Harry blinks his eyes open, sun streaming in through the partially closed shades, Louis hovering above him, straddling. Harry’s hands slide up Louis’ thighs and he holds his hips. “Morning to you, too. And technically, we’re not in London yet.”

“Wake up,” he repeats.

“‘m awake.”

Louis wiggles around in his lap and Harry groans slightly. “Yeah, I’ll say.”

“Okay, enough,” Harry grits out. “We have so much stuff to do today and fucking you isn’t on the agenda.”

“Why, are you, like, sick?”

Harry rolls his eyes. “No, but London is big and we have to drive back there and it takes two hours each way and Louis, you have to stop wiggling around because I’ll keep you here all day, don’t test me.”

“You’re really bad at the whole concept of threatening.” He grinds down harder. “It’s been two weeks.”

“Yes, I’m aware of how much time it’s been.” Louis wiggles his hips again and Harry groans. “Okay, fine, yeah, let’s do it.”

“Make it sound like sex is a chore, Jesus.” He tugs off his shirt, already tenting in his pajama bottoms. “It’s been two weeks and you are so bad at phone sex.”

Harry grips Louis’ arse, tugging on his pants. “Um, excuse you, I am not. You just call me at one in the afternoon my time. What the hell am I supposed to do about it then? It’s like an ambush.”

“Yeah, payback for when you ambushed me with phone sex on Christmas. C’mon, get this off ,” Louis goans, tugging at Harry’s shirt.

It’s ridiculous, really, that it’s only been 15 days since the last time Harry’s had Louis on top of him like this, and somehow, he feels like he’s going to come out of his skin if he doesn’t get Louis underneath him and whining; he needs Louis to shake, needs Louis’ eyes to roll to the back of his head like they always do when Harry is giving it to him the exact way he likes best. It feels like a challenge, getting Louis to the point of no return, but it’s his favorite challenge, one he’ll never turn down.

Harry yanks off his shirt and he grinds his hips upwards, sucking his cheeks in. “Kinda weird, fucking you in my childhood bedroom.”

“Weird enough that you don’t want to?”

“Oh, fuck no. Just.” He looks to his right. “Just don’t focus on the fact that I still have stuffed animals in the corner, or that I have braces in most of these pictures on the wall.”

Louis puts his hands on Harry’s chest and laughs. “Always so sexy.”

“I know it. This room was like a sex den back in my younger years.”

“Oh, I’m sure.”

Louis doesn’t need to know that Harry hasn’t actually had anyone in this bedroom for anything remotely sexual since he was about 18 - he’s sure Louis knows, anyway - but he keeps up the charade regardless. “It was. Still is, in fact.”

“Yeah, with me.” Louis sits up far enough that he’s able to pull his pants off completely, leaving him naked and hard and Harry wants. “As if you would even think about bringing someone else in here.”

Harry swallows heavily, staring at every inch of Louis’ naked skin that he can see. His eyes are immediately drawn to the teacup tattoo, and he reaches out to touch, pressing his thumb into the ink. “You so sure about that?”

“One track mind, you have. Believe me, I would know if you’d want anyone other than me.”

Harry nods, because it’s true. “Made my intentions perfectly clear, have I?”

Louis hovers over Harry to kiss sloppily up and down his neck, his jaw. “One track mind,” he repeats.

It’s too much, and after having nothing but Louis’ breathing on the other end of the line for two weeks with the mental image of what he’d look like underneath him, he can’t be blamed for getting his arms around Louis and flipping him onto his back, straddling him and kissing him before Louis has the chance to ask what the hell he thinks he’s doing.

He takes his time working Louis up to three fingers, whispering to him the entire time, pushing into him slowly, can’t be too loud or rough in case anyone else in the house is wandering around on the second floor. Louis gasps quietly, digging his nails into the back of Harry’s neck.

“Did you fuck all those other people like this?” he asks, petting at Harry’s hair, fingers slipping out weakly once Harry gets a steady rhythm going.

Harry huffs out a laugh, burying his face in the crook of Louis’ neck. “Are you asking me like it’s a good thing or a bad thing?”

“You’ve been better,” he replies, but he’s out of breath and his hips are restless against Harry’s and Harry knows he’s doing alright.

“Sorry, I’ll keep working,” Harry says, nudging himself into Louis as deep as he can go and the noise Louis makes is almost guttural.

“Yeah, that’s good,” he whines, eyes closed, “really good. Even though I feel like your fucking stuffed animals are staring at us.”

Harry snorts, can’t help it. “All of them?”

“Yeah,” Louis breathes out, “especially that creepy ass goat. Who the fuck has a stuffed goat in their bedroom. You’re 22.”

“His name is Sherman, be nice.” He dips down to bite at Louis’ ear and Louis groans.

“I fucking hate Sherman and I fucking hate you, too.”

Harry laughs, shoulders shaking, and Louis smiles, too, eyes still closed. “You really wanna talk about this right now?”

“No, I don’t, I wanna come, ‘m so close.”

He says that as if Harry can’t tell; Louis’ thighs are tensing around Harry’s waist, his hands restless across Harry’s shoulders, his stomach muscles contracting. Harry angles his hips the way he knows Louis likes it best, murmuring, “Do it.”

Louis does, after a moment or two, coming across his stomach in white streaks, and one look at him has Harry chasing his own orgasm, too turned on to drag it out any longer. It only takes a few filthy words directly into Harry’s ear on Louis’ part for the fire in the pit of his stomach to unfurl, coming deep and hot inside of Louis, hips working on their own accord to ride it out.

Harry pulls out slowly, dropping to his side, pulling the blankets up over his body, draping it over Louis, as well. “I hope you’re happy,” he says, panting. “That took way too long and now we won’t have time to see Big Ben today.”

Louis waggles his eyebrows, propping himself up on his elbow. “Not my fault you take forever to get the job done.” He looks down and pokes Harry’s dick through the sheets. “Anyway, I already did see Big Ben today.”

Harry bursts out laughing. “I can’t believe you just allowed those words to leave your mouth.”

“You should hear what I actually hold back on your behalf.”

“Truly blessed, I am.” He slides his fingers into the ends of Louis’ hair, damp with sweat, and pulls him in for a kiss, slow but demanding.

Louis whines against his lips before he sits back, putting his hands on Harry’s chest and pushing off of him. “Jesus, we have stuff to do today, Harry, why are you trying to distract me.” He climbs out of bed, legs a bit wobbly, yanks on a pair of sweatpants he picks up off the floor, grabs his toothbrush from his suitcase, and before he heads out the door, he pats Sherman on the head, mumbling, “Poor goat, the things you must have seen.”

Harry just shakes his head, cheeks red, unable to do much of anything else.

 

They eat a quick breakfast and head into the city, Harry explaining things as they drive, pointing out major landmarks, places he frequents with his friends from uni, pausing every so often to touch Louis’ leg or arm or face and stupidly say, “I still can’t believe you’re here.”

“Yeah, well, don’t get used to it,” Louis replies. “Too rainy.”

“Okay, but we don’t get snow. Not that much, anyway. It’s nice to wake up during the winter and not have to go outside and shovel for three hours before work.”

“Are you trying to bribe me to stay here? Because you’re doing a crappy job of it.”

Harry laughs. “How can I convince you, then? Tell me, and I’ll do it.”

“Hmm.” He drums his fingers along Harry’s knee. “Shave your head.”

He snorts. “Excuse me?”

“That would convince me to stay.”

“What does shaving my head have to do with anything ?”

“I dunno. It would be funny and I’d have to stick around to see it.” Louis pushes Harry’s curls out of the way. “Gotta see you show off these tiny ears.”

“Leave my ears alone.”

“I’m surprised you can even hear me talking. Do they function correctly? Have you seen a doctor?”

“Okay, that’s enough.” Harry bats Louis’ hand away, rolling his eyes when Louis leans back up to kiss him just below his right ear.

“Love these stupid ears,” he says, kissing him again.

And yeah, Harry thinks he might shave his head.

 

They grab lunch in the city, Louis still a bit jetlagged and off on his time schedule, so Harry promises to get him back to the house reasonably early to adjust to the time.

“Besides,” he says as they stroll side by side together down a sidewalk, “Mum definitely wants to spend more time with you and she’d be heartbroken if I hoarded you all to myself.”

Louis nods. “I’m a treat, so I can’t blame her.”

“I’m so glad you’ve never suffered from any type of confidence problems.”

“I know, I’m blessed. Hey.” Louis points to a bridge a block over. “Is that one of those bridges you can put the locks on?”

Harry shrugs. “I dunno if they do that here. The famous ones are in Paris and Rome. Why, you wanna go check it out?”

“Yeah. Do you think they sell locks, though? I obviously don’t have one.”

“Not prepared, Tomlinson?”

“No, sorry, I didn’t have the hindsight to pack a fucking Master Lock.”

Harry laughs as they approach the bridge. “I’ll let it slide because you want to put a lock on a bridge with our names on it and that’s really sweet.”

Louis makes a face. “Who said anything about our names? I’m putting my name. Because I love myself more than anyone. No confidence problems, remember.” He winks and Harry might hate him.

 

There ends up being a street vendor on the other side of the bridge, selling (extremely overpriced) locks and permanent markers, which Louis happily pays for and finds a spot dead center on the bridge to hang the lock on. He crouches down to write on it, and Harry peers over his shoulder, scoffing when he reads LWT with a heart next to it.

“You seriously only wrote your name! Louis!” he laughs.

“I’m not one to make jokes, Harry, and I take self love very seriously.”

“I know, I’ve walked in on you giving yourself some ‘self love’ before.”

He smacks Harry’s shoulder. “Harold, please. Don’t be a dick.”

I am not a dick. You’re the one who just wrote your name on a lock and didn’t leave any room for mine.”

Louis shrugs. “Yeah, well, you snooze, you lose.” He steps back to take a picture of the bridge, then turns around to snap another picture of the scenery behind them, shrugging off the way Harry is still complaining about the lock, Louis telling him to quit being such a baby.

Harry bends down to examine the lock once more before joining Louis, shaking his head the entire time, turning it over in his hand, fingers tracing along the cool, metal edges. And that’s when he sees HES written neatly, precisely, perfectly.

He doesn’t say a word about it, not when he walks over to Louis, cups his jaw in his hands, and kisses him without warning, Louis’ hands against his chest, mouth opening up for him immediately. And Louis doesn’t say anything about it, either, but he does let Harry hold his hand all the way back to the tube, never once letting go.


 

Anne makes a lovely dinner for the five of them, Louis immediately fitting within the mold of the Twist-Styles household. He’s polite and compliments all of Anne’s cooking, makes jokes at Harry’s expense that has Gemma nearly wiping tears out of her eyes, and tells the group stories about his own time at UConn. He’s the perfect mixture of funny and serious and Harry is in awe that Louis got his family to fall in love with him just as easily as he got Harry to.

It’s all he can think about over a game of Scrabble after their meals; he’s sat in between Louis and Robin, cup of tea in front of him, and he’s losing the game miserably, can’t be bothered to try when Gemma is involved. But for once, he doesn’t care, because Louis has his hand on Harry’s knee and he’s drawing small, slow circles and Harry loves him so much that concentrating on anything else seems like a waste of time.

He’s never voiced it out loud before. He’s never actually said the words, “Louis, I’m so in love with you, I can’t think straight.” He never felt like he had to, because he knows the way he looks at Louis, he knows how obvious it is, written all across his face and every movement. He knows Louis knows. How could he not?

His last relationship was intense and raw and Harry wasn’t sure he’d ever love someone that way again; now, sat next to Louis, he knows the feelings he had for his ex don’t even come close to what he feels for Louis. There’s no comparison.

Harry can’t pinpoint the precise moment he knew, the moment he realized he was absolutely fucked, completely and utterly helpless to the blue eyed boy next to him, who’s currently laughing and squeezing Harry’s knee. He remembers thinking around Christmas that maybe he was done for, that being this excited to wake up every morning just to spend more time together wasn’t necessarily a normal reaction to something so new and fresh. And when he changed his flight to come home early for New Year’s Eve, it occurred to him on the flight that that wasn’t something people in casual relationships do, either. By the time Harry’s birthday rolled around, he knew exactly what this was, and ever since then, it’s only continued to grow, to challenge him, to make him feel absolutely out of control in the best way possible.

It’s the way Louis always shares his ice cream, even when he swears the entire way home from the ice cream parlor that he isn’t going to let Harry anywhere near it. It’s the way he refuses to laugh at Harry’s God awful puns, but Harry catches him holding back a smirk every time, without fail. It’s the way Harry blows bubbles out of Big League Chew at the Red Sox game, impressed with the size of it, and Louis leans in to kiss him, popping it immediately, laughing against his mouth. It’s the way Louis teases him, encourages him, fights with him, lets him win. It’s the way he let Harry become a part of his family from day one, and now, after only 24 hours of the roles being reversed, he’s made himself a part of Harry’s family, comfortable and easy and right .

Harry never felt like he should say it, as obvious as it is, because he knew this thing they’ve created over the past nine months would be ending, whether he wanted it to or not. But now it feels stupid that he’s never taken the time to tell Louis just how crazy he is about him. He swallows heavily and turns to Louis, words on the tip of his tongue, needs to say it regardless of who’s here and listening, and then Louis is pushing Harry out of the way, laughing, “Wow, you fucking suck at this game, huh?” Gemma snorts, Robin almost spits out his tea, and Harry decides that maybe he wants to ship Louis back to the States first thing in the morning, instead.

 

Later, long after Robin, Anne, and Gemma have gone upstairs to bed, Harry and Louis are wedged against the couch cushions together, movie credits rolling by. Harry can’t keep his eyes open, eyelids slipping shut as Louis continues to rub his hands up and down in between his shoulder blades.

“Harry,” he whispers, “I love your family.”

His throat constricts and he squeezes his eyes shut. “They love you back,” he replies honestly.

Louis is leaving in four days, and suddenly, it seems stupid to even bother trying to figure out the mass chaos inside his head. Instead, he hangs onto Louis tightly, kissing any piece of him that he can reach, and that has to be enough.


 

Over the next two days, Harry forces Louis to spend as much time with his childhood and uni friends as he can before he has to go back home. He meets Owen, Emily, Lauren, Roy, Spencer, and about a thousand other people that Louis has most definitely lost track of, understandably. They head to a pub downtown and Harry orders “a decent brew, finally,” to which Louis flicks him across the nose.

Harry loves that Louis is here, experiencing his life; there’s only so much someone can explain what their home and friends and hobbies are like without being able to share them directly before it all starts to lose meaning. And Harry is tired of imagining what Louis would look like with his family, with his friends, in his car, in this pub, in his bed, in his shower…

He’s losing the plot.

Harry takes a sip of his beer, watching Louis over the top of the glass as he laughs with Emily and Spencer, spinning around on his barstool, looking like he’s been a part of this group from day one. He fits within them just as well as Harry did with Liam and Niall; hell, he expects the two of them to walk through the door at any minute, completing the circle.

It’s nearing three in the morning, Harry working on his sixth or ninth or 64th beer - he has no idea at this point - and he taps Louis on the shoulder.

“Baby,” he slurs, “let me know when you’re ready to head back to my house.”

Louis’ eyelids are hooded, his movements a little sloppy, and he hiccups, laughing. “What, you giving up already, kid?”

He pouts. “No. Just thinking you’re probably tired, because you’re an old man. Oldest one here.”

“Means I have more wisdom. And I get to retire first.”

“Hmm. You got me there.”

“As per usual.”

Harry smiles, standing in between Louis’ legs from where he’s still perched on the barstool. “Thank you for being here, Louis.”

Louis puts his hands on Harry’s waist, maybe steadying himself, maybe not. “Of course. Wouldn’t miss your graduation.”

“I missed yours.”

“Yeah, well, we didn’t know each other existed, so I’ll let it slide.”

He nods, finishing the last of his beer. “Weird to think of a time we didn’t know each other, yeah? Feels like this has always been like this.”

“Forgot how corny you get when you’re drunk.”

“‘m serious,” Harry whines, sliding his hand up onto the back of Louis’ neck. “You’re my favorite person.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Louis leans into Harry’s touch, smile lazy.

“Just wanted to say it. I’m so happy you’re here.”

“Starting to sound like a broken record.”

“Sorry. Hey.” He swallows, setting his glass down on the bar behind Louis. “I like you.”

“I know . I think I like you, too.”

Harry tucks his hair behind his ear, stares right at Louis. “Could probably like you forever.”

“Stop.”

“No.” Harry steps in closer, their noses brushing. “Christ, I don’t want you to go.”

Louis’ grip around Harry’s waist tightens. “I feel like this has been our life for the past nine months. Counting down.”

“Basically.” He brushes their lips against each other, just barely. “Okay, this is shit. No more of this. Let’s celebrate graduation and the fact that you’re here and that’s it.”

Louis nods. “Works for me.”

“Alright, I’m just gonna kiss you for a while, if that’s okay with you.”

“It is,” he replies, curling his fingers around the belt loop of Harry’s jeans.

“Good.”


 

Graduation morning sneaks up on Harry without warning, and all at once, he’s a bundle of excitement, nerves, happiness, sadness, over the moon joy, and sweat. Mostly sweat. It’s humid and hazy and he can already tell his hair is so big, it’s beginning to cross over into another timezone. And the fact that he has to actually peel Louis off of him certainly isn’t helping the sweat factor.

“Louis,” Harry whispers, kissing his temple, “we gotta get up. I have to start meeting up with people in an hour.”

Louis groans, turning on his side, eyes cracking open. It only takes one look at Harry before he starts laughing hysterically. “Christ, did you get a wig?”

Harry pats down his hair. “ No. It’s hot out today.”

“Yeah, I’ll say. Shaving your head doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?”

“Don’t you dare come near me with a razor.”

“But you look like Weird Al.”

Harry sits up on his knees and grabs a pillow, smiling politely before he smacks Louis across the face with it.

 

Harry’s sat in between a girl he’s never met and a guy he knows from his third year. It’s unbearably warm outside, the graduation gowns doing nothing but holding in the heat, and he does his best to keep the beads of sweat from rolling down his forehead and onto is lap.

The commencement speaker takes ages, spewing the typical garbage about enjoying their four years at university and hoping it’s prepared them for their promising futures, making a weak joke about how the “party’s over,” and the crowd pity laughs. Overall, it’s everything Harry expected it to be, restless in his hard, plastic seat, anxious to have his name called so he can receive his diploma and celebrate.

He’s amongst one of the last groups to be called, and he does so carefully, knowing he would never live it down if he tripped on stage in front of everyone. He brushes his curls out of his eyes, doing his best to tuck them back under his ugly mortarboard, and as the president of the university says, “Harry Edward Styles” into the microphone, Harry smiles, shaking his hand proudly. He carries the diploma under his arm proudly, aware of its heavy significance, and he has no idea where his family and Louis are sitting, but he can hear a certain someone screaming his name and whistling from a seat off to the left.

Harry takes his seat, shaking his head at the way Louis is still yelling, and the girl next to him whispers, “Sounds like you have a fan.”

He nods, smiling. “I do. ‘m lucky.”

 

Anne and Robin take the family out to dinner to celebrate, about 25 people from Harry’s family filling the restaurant, noisy and most definitely obnoxious. By the end of the meal, everyone of age - and a few not - is tipsy, bordering on the line of drunk.

It’s great fun, the way everyone has come together to enjoy each other, the way the drinks never seem to stop coming, the way Louis couldn’t care less about the fact that they’re in public when he scoots his chair closer to Harry and drapes his legs over his lap, fumbling to lock hands.

Harry’s aunt leans across the table. “So, Louis, when do you fly home?”

Louis sighs, tracing the lines up and down the palm of Harry’s hand. “Tomorrow night.”

Harry swallows. “Jesus, that snuck up quickly.”

He shrugs. “It was only five days.”

“Felt like five minutes.”

Louis grips his hand harder. “Yeah, I know. Fuck, how is it already time?”

It now seems so obvious to Harry, why they’ve both subconsciously been so clingy over the past few days; they both knew they were at the end, both desperate to hang on a little longer. He sighs, hating that there was never a return date, just a departure.

“I can see this lot whenever I want,” he murmurs against Louis’ hand, kissing his wrist. “Wanna go back to my house?”

Louis nods, doesn’t bother pretending they should stay to be polite, to spend time with the family. “Yeah, take me home.”

 

Harry doesn’t bother turning on the lights to his bedroom as he walks backward to his bed, Louis’ lips on his the whole way. He pulls Louis down on top of him, hands roaming across Louis’ skin, and even in the dark, he knows exactly where to touch him, where to kiss him, knows every inch of this body.

They both shed their clothing quickly, Louis’ mouth latched onto Harry’s neck, and he can already feel a small bruise forming, throbbing and hot. He groans slightly and drags his hands up Louis’ naked back, feeling his muscles tense.

“Baby,” he grits out, closing his eyes at the way Louis can’t seem to stop grinding down, can’t help himself. He slides his hand down and palms Louis through his briefs, and Louis curls into it. “We only have, like, 12 more hours.”

Louis sits up, keeping his hands on Harry’s chest and stomach, his fingers splaying across the butterfly tattoo. “Better take advantage then, right? 12 more hours of being yours.”

Harry nods, swallowing heavily. “Yeah.”

“You gonna fuck me?”

He grips Louis’ arse firmer, making him fall forward. “Would like to.”

“Gonna do it good for once?”

Harry snorts. “I’ll try.”

And unlike almost every other time they’ve been together in the past, there’s no franticness to their movements, no rush, the complete opposite of how quickly Harry’s mind is turning. Inside, he’s screaming to touch and kiss and fuck as fast as he can, to get it all in now before he’s gone and it’s too. But instead, he forces himself to take his time, trying to savor it, because this is it, it’s the last time, and he’s an idiot if he doesn’t memorize the way Louis’ back arches, the way he whimpers Harry’s name, the way he tastes, shivering when Harry’s tongue comes in contact with his own.

He goes down on Louis slowly, the room completely silent other than the sharp intake of Louis’ breathing, the way he moans quietly when Harry takes him down all the way. He gives just enough friction to feel good, to get Louis completely worked up and overwhelmed, but not enough to make him come, and when Louis starts trying to thrust up into Harry’s mouth, that’s when he pulls off.

“No, Harry, need to come,” he slurs out, “need your mouth.”

Harry rests his forehead against Louis’ thigh, steadying his breathing. “Can I fuck you? Make you come that way? Nothing feels better than that, you know it.”

His hands are shaking against the sheets, thigh muscles clenching, cock hard and laying against his stomach. “Feels so good, yeah,” he says nonsensically.

“Fuck.” Harry kisses up Louis’ stomach, chest, neck, jaw, finding his lips in the dark, and Louis’ hands immediately slide up to fist into Harry’s curls. And Harry knows Louis is kissing him the way Harry likes it best, deep and unhurried, reaching down to get a hand around Harry’s cock, letting him thrust into it.

They’re both playing each other’s bodies in their favorite ways; it’s unspoken, but it’s all Harry can hear.

Louis doesn’t tell Harry to shut up like he usually does when Harry opens him up, whispering how gorgeous he is, how perfect he is, how he’s never wanted anyone like this before. And it’s true; he’s wildly attracted to Louis, can’t believe the feeling is mutual, and everything about this is always scorching hot, no matter the circumstances. Right now is no different.

He hovers over Louis and pushes in painfully slowly, watching Louis’ face the entire time, sighing as Louis drags his fingers down his chest in the most gentle way possible. He can barely stand the drag, so fucking slow, and he’s sure Louis can feel every inch of him.

He has no idea how long he fucks into Louis for, long enough for Louis’ breathing to quicken and his eyes to squeeze shut. He starts shaking, panting.

“Harry, faster, please,” he begs, “need it.”

Harry kisses his jaw sloppily, own orgasm coiling. “No, wanna feel you.”

“Fuck, fuck.” He tips his head back, swallowing. “ Please .”

He groans against Louis’ mouth, biting at his bottom lip. “You’re fucking stunning,” he murmurs. “I’m obsessed with you all the time, but when you’re like this. No comparison.” He can feel too many words forming on the tip of his tongue, dangerous words that he’s desperately trying not to lay out on the table, so instead of breaking, he does what Louis wants, and fucks him faster, Louis’ groans deep and uneven until he’s coming across his stomach with a choked shout.

And he’s close, so close, just looking at Louis like this is enough to get him there, but then Louis buries his face in Harry’s neck, shaking, and whispers, voice so, so serious, “Thank you.” That’s all it takes.

 

They have less than 12 hours now, and Harry will be damned if he doesn’t hold and touch and stare at Louis through every second of it.


 

Harry wakes up the next morning in an empty bed. He touches the spot where Louis has been keeping to himself for the past five days, but it’s cold, no sign of him anywhere.

He makes his way downstairs, the sun peeking in through the windows, and he stops in his tracks when he sees Louis sat at the kitchen table across from his mum, both holding a cup of tea, Louis speaking so softly, Harry can barely hear him.

He walks over, both Anne and Louis turning at the sound of his footsteps, and Harry puts his hands in between Louis’ shoulder blades. “What’re you two doing?”

Louis shrugs, biting on his bottom lip. “Wanted a few more minutes with your mom before we had to get going. And you tend to… Not share, whenever we’re all together.”

Harry pouts. “I share my mum.”

“No, I meant you don’t share me .”

Anne laughs, because it’s embarrassingly true, and gets up from her chair. She grabs another teacup and waves it at Harry. “Tea?”

He nods. “Yes, please.”

The three of them sit together at the kitchen table Harry grew up eating all his meals at, doing homework at, the wood scratched and rough around the corners, chipped where Gemma threw a shoe at him when they were arguing several years ago. It’s one of the only pieces of furniture that hasn’t rotated in and out of the Twist-Styles home over the years, remaining solid and sure, familiar and safe. And yet, somehow, sat next to Louis, laughing with his mum, tea sloshing out over the side of his cup, it’s never felt so comfortable, so like home.

Louis spent approximately three hours combined at this table over the past few days - a pathetic comparison to Harry’s years and years - but Harry knows this particular moment is going to be the one that sticks with him when he sits down at this very spot for dinner next week, next month, next year.

Louis isn't even gone yet, and Harry already misses him.

 

The drive to the airport is absolutely agonizing. If Harry so much as looks at Louis in the passenger seat, his eyes start to fill up, throat constricting. He can’t say goodbye to him. This is an impossible task, and he feels like he’s drowning under the weight of it all.

He wants to drive as slowly as he can, because he now realizes that they’re out of time, and he has no idea when he’ll get to see the boy sitting next to him again. He doesn’t take his eyes off the road when he slides his hand into Louis’, and Louis squeezes back immediately, silently. Harry’s heart aches, his entire body hurts.

The country roads whiz by them, the scenery familiar and comfortable, and for the first time in his life, Harry hates it. It doesn’t feel like home anymore and he doesn’t want to be here. He wants to be on the first flight back to Connecticut, wants to hold onto Louis as tightly as he can. This is all ending and it happened too soon and he has to stop thinking about it because if he doesn’t, he could probably stop breathing.

After about 15 wasted minutes of driving in complete silence, Louis clears his throat. “Harry, I’m not gonna make it to the airport in time if you keep going at this speed.”

Harry looks down at the speedometer. He hadn’t realized he was traveling so slowly, wrapped up in his own thoughts. “Yeah, uh, that was my plan. I’m trying to get you to miss your flight.” He speeds up and grips the steering wheel with his right hand tighter, his left still clasped in Louis’. “Stay with me.”

Louis laughs weakly, and it doesn’t sound like he normally does. “Don’t tempt me.”

It starts to rain - appropriately - about 30 minutes away from Heathrow, and the windshield wipers squeak every time they swipe to the left, the rhythm simultaneously annoying and soothing. Harry taps his fingers along the edge of the steering wheel every time the wipers stutter across the glass, trying to concentrate on something other than the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. And he has the feeling Louis is thinking the same thing, based on the way he doesn’t hit him or tell him to cut it out with the tapping like he normally would.

The parking garage is nearly full and Harry has to park on the top level. As they wind through the levels, Louis scoffs and tells him he’s being ridiculous.

“Harry, it’s silly for you to waste your money when you’re just going to run in and out of the airport. You won’t be in there for more than ten minutes.”

Harry puts on his turn signal and pulls into a spot on the left. “If you think I’m only going to stay in there for ten minutes, then you’ve gone and lost your mind.”

Louis scoffs again, but he pulls Harry’s hand up to his mouth and kisses the back of it, anyway, so uncharacteristically Louis that it makes Harry’s throat constrict just a little bit.

They walk into the airport slowly, Louis dragging his suitcase behind him, Harry carrying Louis’ bag over his shoulder. It isn’t as busy as Harry thought it would be - the security line only several people deep - and he breathes a sigh of relief. He doesn’t have to say goodbye yet. They have some extra time.

A couple gets up from the bench near the doors, and Louis sits down first, leaving his luggage next to him. He doesn’t look at Harry, doesn’t look at anything, really, just stares out at the crowd, gaze unfocused, fingers not drumming on his thighs like he usually does when he’s sitting. Harry sinks down on the bench next to him, brows furrowed as he strains to hear Louis’ voice, softer and deeper than usual.

“So, like…” He flicks his hair out of his eyes. “Where do we go from here.”

Harry takes a deep breath. “We probably should have talked about this sooner. Someplace that isn’t an airport.” He gestures around them. “Some time that isn’t right now.”

“Yeah. Well. We’re doing it now.” His voice wavers and he still isn’t looking at Harry.

Harry swallows. “Okay.” He sticks his finger in the hole in his jeans, twisting it around and making the fabric tear. “You’re my best friend.”

“I know.”

“You’re my everything, really.”

Louis nods. “It’s the same for me.” He trails off, looking up as if he’s reading the departure and arrival signs, looking everywhere but where Harry wants him to look.

Harry bites down on his bottom lip, willing himself to stay in control. “We live on different continents now.”

He finally locks eyes with Harry. “We can’t make this work, can we.” It’s not a question, it’s a statement, and Louis looks like he’s about one second away from losing it. “Yeah, we really shouldn’t have done this here.” He tries to laugh, like he’s making a joke of it, but it comes out like a cough, instead.

Harry looks down at his shoes, can’t muster up a pity smile. “I want you more than anything.”

Louis pauses, twisting his hands around in his lap. “But.”

He looks back up. “But do you really think we could do this? Officially be together? Like, for real? It’s not like we’ve been together for years already. Do you think we could date and build a relationship in different countries?”

He sighs. “I’m trying to be realistic. But, like. If I say no, I don’t think it would work, does it sound like I’m giving up? Because I don’t want you to think that. I would never give up on you.” Louis’ eyes start to fill up, his voice growing shaky. “If I lived here, or you lived there, I would be a sure thing. The most sure. It’s not your fault or my fault that we have an ocean separating us, and we’re five hours apart. Christ, Harry, you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me but I think this might be it and I feel sick over it.” Louis clenches his fists. “We had a Goddamn expiration date.”

Harry was preparing himself for it; he knew this was coming, knew it would happen, but he still feels short of breath, still hurts so much to know that neither of them can hang onto everything that they are. It was inevitable, this conversation, but Harry thinks he could scream. He slides over on the bench and grabs both of Louis’ hands in his own. “Fuck.” He takes a minute to drag his thumb across the back of Louis’ knuckles. “I need you to know what you mean to me.”

He shakes his head. “Please don’t do this now.”

“No, I have to. You’re getting on a plane and you’re leaving and I don’t know when I’m going to see you again. I need you to know. Even if you go back to Connecticut and I stay here and we aren’t together, I need you to fucking know, okay?” He knows he sounds slightly hysterical, but Louis has to board his plane soon and his head is pounding and he’s about to watch the most important person in his life walk away.

Louis starts to properly cry, tears sliding down his cheeks, nose running, and this is so different from the same boy who held it together in the attic so well on Harry’s last night in Connecticut. “Okay.”

“Okay,” Harry echoes, then clears his throat. “I’ve been best friends with my people from childhood or uni for years now. Like, Owen and I have been friends since we were fucking four years old. I can’t even believe I met you nine months ago on another bloody continent and somehow, I can say I’m closer to you than I am to any of those people. You get me.”

He smiles, the first time all morning. “You’re not that smart. You’re easy to figure out.”

“Thanks, baby.” He smiles back, blinking, and his eyelids suddenly feel like they’re a thousand pounds. “You’re my best friend. I say it all the time, I said it a few minutes ago, and I’m going to say it again. You’re my best fucking friend and I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to call you that.”

Louis nods, tears falling again. “Don’t tell Niall or Liam, but it’s the same for me.”

“I won’t.” He laces their fingers together and squeezes. “God, I’m so lucky for so many things, yeah? I could have begged to be sent to San Diego or LA or New York or Miami or Chicago. I wanted to be somewhere like that, and instead, I ended up in your home. And thank God . You made it feel like my own and I can’t believe I got to meet you and know you and share so many things with you, so many things I would have never known if I’d ended up in one of those big cities without you.” He runs his free hand through his hair. “Fuck, and I can’t believe it’s all ending.”

He stops talking when an announcer’s voice booms through the sound system, requesting someone named Joanna to approach baggage claim. When it grows quiet again, Louis lets his head hang against his chest and mumbles, “Jesus Christ, I can’t, either.”

Harry wipes away his own tears. “I know you’re insanely busy at work and I’m going to be starting up my internship here next week and five hours is a big time difference but if you don’t check in with me at least 30 times a day to tell me how you’re doing…”

Louis laughs, a real one, tears still spilling over his cheeks, anyway. “Take the hint, Styles, I’m staying in the U.S. to get away from you. Why on Earth do you think I’d want to talk to you everyday?”

He smiles briefly. “Please don’t leave my life entirely, okay?”

“You’re stupider than I thought if you think I’m ever going anywhere. Fuck the Atlantic. You’re stuck with me, in one way or another.”

“Good answer.”

They sit quietly for another minute or two, Harry’s mind swimming with thoughts, and when Louis checks his phone a moment later, he sighs. “Harry. I have to get going.”

Harry nods, standing up, slinging Louis’ backpack over his shoulder again. “I’ll walk you over.” And he all but drags his feet to the end of the security line, Louis walking just as slowly beside him.

They move over to the side to let other people go through the line, Harry not ready to let Louis go through yet. He grabs for Louis’ hands, aware that this is the last time they’ll be doing this, and he’ll be damned if he lets go until the very last second. Louis opens his mouth, presumably to say something, but Harry cuts him off, shaking his head. He needs to get everything off his chest. This is it. He’s never said it, and he needs to, before he regrets it, before he changes his mind again. Fuck it.

“I’m just.” He takes a deep breath. “Gonna miss a lot. Family dinners and seeing you the second I get home from school and eating that gross lo mein from that place down the street directly out of the carton at two in the morning.” He pauses to smirk. “Gonna miss the face you make when I’m fucking you.”

Louis huffs out a laugh. “Fuck you.”

“But it’s all more than that, really. Lou, I fell in love with a lot of things over the past nine months. New England and the way the seasons change, our college and its shitty beer, New York and Boston and Tampa and everything they hold, your family and your friends and your house that I feel like I grew up in…” He trails off, pressing his forehead to Louis’. “I fell in love with so many things, and none of them hold a candle to the way I feel about you.”

Louis’ shoulders are shaking as he yanks his hands out of Harry’s grasp in favor of sliding them into Harry’s hair and pulling him down for a desperate kiss. It’s a really bad kiss - both of them crying and Harry can’t seem to catch his breath - but it’s their last one and and he has to make it count. He savors every swipe of Louis’ tongue against his own, the way Louis breathes into it, the way Louis feels underneath his hands. He ignores the sound of the people busily moving around them and the busy traffic outside and only focuses on Louis, just Louis, always.

By the time they both force themselves to pull back, Harry knows Louis is short on time, but he pulls him in for a tight hug, squeezing him, not letting him get away.

“Harry,” he hears Louis murmur into his t-shirt, his voice rough.

He nods. “Lou.”

“Can you let go for a second so I can speak?”

Harry forces out a laugh, dropping his arms. “Yeah, sorry.”

Louis steps back, his cheeks pink and his eyes red and his lips swollen; he’s a mess and Harry’s sure he doesn’t look much different. “I don’t want to say too much because if I do and if I have to look at you much longer I’m going to fucking lose it. So I’m going to keep this really short, alright?”

He nods. “Okay.”

“You have no idea,” he says, fumbling with the drawstring on his sweatpants, his go-to nervous habit, “how much I’m going to miss you. God, I can’t even tell you. And I don’t want this to sound so final, because it’s not. We’re still going to talk, you’re still going to get phone calls in the middle of the night from me. It’s just going to be…” He shrugs, rubbing his left eye. “Different.”

Harry inhales, exhales. “Different,” he repeats.

“Doesn’t mean I’m not going to miss everything like crazy. Harry, you’re my boy.”

He squeezes his eyes shut, composing himself. “Fuck. Go get in line for security before I drag you back to my house. I can’t look at your face anymore.”

“Oh, sure, now you want to make jokes.”

“Get away from me, Tomlinson.”

Louis smiles and he grabs his backpack from Harry, slinging it over his shoulder. “Okay. I’m going. One last thing, though. I lied when I said no graduation present. I left it in the backseat of your car. Congratulations, babe.”

Harry whines, pouting. “Lou, you being here was the present. Are you serious?”

“It wasn’t a big deal, I promise. Just something little.”

“I thought you were the something little.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “I take it back. I won’t miss you.”

He smiles and grabs for Louis’ wrists, holding on tightly. “You lie. Kiss me one more time and then you can go. And text me when you land.”

“I will.” Louis presses his lips against Harry’s, soft and lingering, swallowing audibly.

It takes a lot for Harry to force himself to step back, to tap Louis on the hip and wish him a safe flight, to watch him check his bag, walk through security, and only look over his shoulder back at Harry once. As Louis starts to take off his shoes, it all becomes too much, and he needs to get the hell out of this airport. If he’s the first one to leave, it’ll be easier.

Somehow.

Maybe.

He essentially runs out of the airport, hauls ass to his car on the top level, and slams the driver’s door shut behind him. He pauses, waiting for Louis to climb in alongside him, telling him to open the windows because “it’s so fucking hot in here, Harry, Christ.”

It’s silent.

He looks over his shoulder to back out of the spot, can’t stay in this lot forever, and as he’s easing on the gas pedal, he spots it out of the corner of his eye: a box wrapped up in paper with a bow on top, and how did he manage to miss that getting out of the car earlier? When did Louis even manage to wrap this? He pictures Louis at the store, standing in front of the wrapping paper section, deciding on which bow to choose, and he smiles, can’t help it.

Harry puts the car back into park and grabs the gift, absolutely stumped as to what it could be, mind a complete blank. He tears off the paper slowly, trying not to actually rip it, and once the gift is unwrapped, he’s even more confused. The box has Louis’ work company’s logo on it, which he recognizes immediately from spending so many hours watching Louis work.

“He couldn’t have found a box that wasn’t lying around in his bedroom?” Harry says under his breath, laughing a bit, pulling the top off the box, shaking it loose.

But then he sees what’s in the box and he isn’t laughing anymore.

It’s a book, dark navy blue leather holding the pages together, no title on the front cover, no author. It simply reads at the bottom right hand corner in gold scripture, You did it.

He opens up the first page to a letter, the handwriting unmistakably Louis’, and it’s much neater than it usually is. Harry can tell Louis took his time with this, focusing to eliminate any messiness or chaos within his scrawl, and when he touches the page, that’s when he realizes.

Louis didn’t just write him a letter. Louis wrote him a letter and then had it printed inside a book. A book made just for him.

Harry’s vision is already blurry before he starts reading, needs to wipe his eyes after the very first sentence.

Harry Styles,

You are officially a college graduate. Congratulations, life after school blows.

You worked so hard (sometimes) and you’re so smart (debatable) and you deserve everything you have in your life (me). I’m beyond proud of you (seriously).

Over the past nine months, you managed to do two incredible things. You earned your degree in business, and in the meantime, you got me to fall head over heels in love with you. I’m not sure which one you worked harder at.

You did it. You did it all.

I wanted to give you a gift that showed you what you mean to me and what kind of impact you’ve left behind, but you know I’m not great with words. So, I’m borrowing yours.

You make the world a better place, and I’m a better man for knowing you.

Thanks for the help, and again, congratulations. You’re absolutely amazing.

Louis

Harry feels like he can’t breathe. Louis loves him, Louis loves him back, Louis made him a book, Louis is on an airplane heading back to the states, Louis is gone.

Fuck. Just fuck .

He reads the letter again, tracing over the words with his pointer finger, stopping when he gets to the part about “borrowing words.”

“What the hell does that mean,” he mutters out loud, flipping the page, and it’s like all at once, the wind is completely knocked out of him.

By the looks of it, Louis has created a colorful timeline of every single sticky note they’ve ever written back and forth to each other, starting with, “ Thanks for the company. Drink a lot of water unless you want to puke your brains out. xoxo Gossip Girl, ” written by Louis way back in September, the night Harry came home absolutely wasted, content just to stare at Louis until he fell asleep at the end of Louis’ bed. And Louis didn’t just press down the sticky notes, no, he actually had them printed onto these pages, permanent, almost as if it was illustrated to be a children’s book. And it clearly took a lot of time; the pages are pristine and the binding is impeccable and Harry cannot believe Louis did this.

He starts reading through the notes, some notes he doesn’t even remember writing or reading; the pages are colorful, filled with thoughts from both Harry and Louis at various stages throughout their relationship, and by the time Harry is on the fourth page, his vision is blurry from the tears pooling and sliding down his cheeks. But it’s the sixth page that causes him to completely fall apart.

Amongst the endless rows of sticky notes are photos of the two of them together that Harry has never seen, all printed onto the pages, as well: Harry and Louis smiling at the Thanksgiving dinner table, Harry and Louis posing for prom pictures, Harry and Louis asleep on the couch with the glow of the TV dancing across their faces, Harry and Louis at Harry’s going away party with drinks in their left hands and their right hands laced together, Harry and Louis, Harry and Louis . It’s all so much - too much - at once, and Harry groans, needing a moment to squeeze his eyes shut by the time he gets to the end.

It’s like looking through a timeline, a time capsule, almost, of who they are and what they’ve done, and the fact that his larger than life, crazy, wild, Louis Tomlinson took the time to make a book for him to show that their time together means just as much to him as it does to Harry, proves that allowing himself to fall in love with Louis, no hesitation involved, was absolutely the best decision he has ever made in his life, even though right now, it hurts so, so much.

“Jesus Christ, even when you’re not here, I still want to kill you,” he mumbles under his breath. His eyes roam over Louis’ words on the final page, realizing that Louis had taken Harry’s first ever sticky note to him and had inserted the words here instead of the first page.

“I’ll never be the same.”

Your boy,
L

It’s the most thoughtful gift he’s ever received and he can’t stop flipping through the pages, can’t stop the way he’s sniffling when he reads and rereads Louis’ notes to him, and fuck, it feels like such a waste to say goodbye when they work this well together, when Louis is really the only thing that matters.

Harry reaches for his phone, fingers automatically dialing Louis’ number. Louis doesn’t answer, the phone going right to voicemail, the familiar playback message simultaneously soothing and disheartening. He has to take several deep breaths as he leaves a quick message and backs out of his parking spot, and he manages to keep it together until he’s back on the main road, pissed and sad and missing Louis and it’s only been one hour since he left for good.

 

When he gets home, he has zero intention of thinking of Louis - not if he can help it - and plans on changing the sheets on his bed, climbing in, and sleeping for the next three months. But he has to walk through the kitchen in order to do that, and he’s irrationally angry that his plans are already soiled.

He’s angry that the couch he and Louis watched a movie on is right in front of him, angry that he’s standing next to the refrigerator that Louis pulled milk out of earlier today, angry that his mum left out the teacups out from earlier that morning. Fuck, Harry drank tea here at that table with Louis Tomlinson precisely one lifetime ago, truly an uneventful hour or so, but Goddamnit, that’s all he’s going to fucking think about every time he’s looking at that damn spot, and he is so fucked up.

He’s trying to remember why he wanted Louis here in the first place, intruding on his life and leaving an imprint on everything he owns, on everyone he knows. And for the life of him, he can’t remember, now stuck with the ghost of his boy.

He takes a deep breath, furrows his brow, and takes the steps upstairs to his bedroom two at a time.

 

He doesn’t sleep for three months like he wanted to, but he does sleep for 14 hours. He wakes up feeling unbearably worse than before.

 

Day one is always the hardest. It has to be uphill from here.

Right?

God, Harry fucking hopes so.

Chapter Text

Louis touches down at JFK around midnight; he’d asked Niall to pick him up, not wanting to bother his mom, positive he’d be in a shitty mood, anyway, didn’t want to take anything out on her.

And he knows before he turns his phone back on that he’ll have a voicemail from Harry. As he stands on the curbside, looking for Niall’s beat up Honda Accord, he works up the nerve to check, to listen to it, biting at the skin around his thumbnail.

The first six or seven seconds is just Harry breathing into the receiver, shaky and unsteady, followed by, “I got your gift. I’m impossibly in love with you.” And that was it, that was the entire message.

Louis can’t believe his own damn luck, that he just had to go and pick someone in fucking Europe to fall in love with. He’s a six hour plane ride away, there are five hours between them, and he isn’t ever coming back.

Just. Fuck.

Niall pulls up shortly after wearing a weak smile, and he pats Louis on the back after he shoves his suitcase into the backseat and climbs into the passenger seat, looking down at his lap.

“Good trip?” Niall asks, turning down the radio.

Louis nods. “Yeah. Leaving was a bitch, though.”

“I bet. You alright?”

He shrugs. “Not really.”

“Is he?”

“Probably not.”

Niall turns onto the highway, merging right. “At least you’re in on it together.”

“Yeah,” Louis replies, not bothering to tell Niall just how wrong he is.


 

Getting back into a regular routine is borderline impossible. It’s so hard to remember what he used to do before Harry invaded, leaving his mark on every inch of Louis’ home, of Louis’ life. The Deakin-Tomlinson house seems quiet, which Louis knows isn’t true, seeing as there are always at least four people screaming or laughing or crying at any given moment, but to Louis, the noise feels empty and he can’t take it.

The first week Harry’s gone, Louis throws himself into his job at an absurd pace, staying late at the office, and when he gets home, he continues to type and edit well into the early hours of the morning from the desk in his bedroom. If he forces himself to focus hard enough, the fact that Harry isn’t there seems to be slightly more bearable.

 

They’ve only talked once since Louis arrived back in Connecticut eight days ago. Louis had called Harry the morning after he touched down in New York, Harry picking up on the first ring.

“Hi,” he answered, voice hushed.

Louis cleared his throat. “Is this a bad time? Where are you?”

“No, no, I can talk. ‘m at the library, though. Applying for jobs. I didn’t want to sit in my house anymore.”

He nodded. “Yeah, I know the feeling. Just, uh, wanted to say that I got your voicemail.”

Harry breathed deeply, probably stalling. “I didn’t really know what else to say. It’s all I could think of. Jesus. Lou.” He cleared his throat. “That’s the best gift anyone has ever given me. Ever.”

Louis pushed his glasses out of the way and rubbed his eyes. “It wasn’t a big deal,” he countered. “It was easy, because I had all the resources at work.”

“Louis…”

“And it didn’t take too long, either. Just rounded up all those fucking sticky notes and a couple pictures and that was it.”

“Louis.”

“And, like, Sean and Karen helped me with it a lot, so I didn’t have to do a lot, anyway--”

Louis .”

He sighed. “Harry.”

“Stop acting like this was nothing. Because it wasn’t. This was… This was something I will love for the rest of my life.”

Louis closed his eyes and let his head fall back against his headboard. “You don’t have to do this.”

“I’m not doing anything. I’m.” Harry took a minute to inhale, exhale. “I miss you.”

“Harry, it’s been a day,” he replied, trying to make light of it, because if he didn’t, he would positively break.

“Yeah. It’s been a day,” he said, voice quieter than before. “It’s been a day and I miss you so much.”

Louis dug his nails into his thighs through his athletic shorts. “I miss you, too,” he answered, not thinking too much about it before he let it slip out, willing himself to hang up the phone shortly after.

 

A week later, Louis hasn’t heard from Harry once, and Louis hasn’t tried to contact him, either, conflicted about how to feel. It’s like simultaneously suffocating and breathing easily for the first time in weeks; he desperately wants to reach out, to talk to him, to let Harry convince him everything will be fine. But the realistic part of his brain is telling him that this is good, this is a way for him to become himself again, to start to let go, to find the semblance in his everyday life once more. They aren’t together, they’re friends with an ocean between them, and that’s it. End of story. Time to accept that and move the fuck forward.

Yet every morning, he’s plagued with the same problem, nagging and persistent: torn between wanting to cut Harry out completely, torn between wanting to keep him forever. He doesn’t know which feeling to lean into.

It’s hard, it’s so fucking hard, and by day 13 of no Harry, Louis thinks he’s going to go out of his mind with how much he hates this, how badly he wants to abandon his entire life and fly back to London. Or, instead, how badly he wants to erase the past 10 months and act like it never happened.

It’s obvious that Harry is in the same position, his lack of communication presumably due to dealing with the same conflicting feelings as Louis, split between trying to be casual and trying to let Louis know how much he misses him. And it’s all the more clear by day 15, because Louis gets a letter in the mail. He recognizes the handwriting before he even reads the name and address.

L,

You were right. Finding the time to write a letter multiple times a week is impossible. Let’s just start with this one and we’ll go from here.

I’ve started my internship. It’s in London - at a building we passed when you visited, actually - and it’s going well so far. I’m enjoying the people, the work, my new flat. It’s all very exciting.

My flatmate’s name is Zachary. I think you would like him. He reminds me a lot of Niall, actually. Very funny, very kind. His attitude is “go with the flow.” He’s easy to get along with, unlike a certain someone back home whose name rhymes with Stewie.

(I’m teasing. Kind of.)

Call me sometime. I’m sure you’re busy but I’d love to hear your voice.

H x

And in typical Harry fashion, the letter was accompanied by three sticky notes. The first with a sketch of the London skyline, which Louis is just barely able to make out due to Harry’s lack of art skills; the second, an equally shitty map of the UConn campus; the third, a drawing of a single lock.

It’s obvious he’d tried to stay friendly, tried to not blur the lines of the mess that is their relationship, but those fucking sticky notes.

Louis wants to lay down in traffic.

 

He tosses the envelope and all its contents into the trash, can’t stand to look at them; he digs them out less than two minutes later.

 

Louis ends up keeping the letter on his nightstand along with a thick stack of sticky notes, some starting to tear, some with faded ink. They’re all pressed together like a flip book, one he doesn’t ever allow himself to look at.

 

It takes Louis two days after he receives the letter to work up the nerve to call Harry, pissed off that he feels so uneasy to call the person he’s spent the past year with, tapping his hands nervously against the kitchen table while it rings.

“Well, hello, stranger,” Harry answers, voice airy, obviously pleased.

Louis sinks down into the chair, instantly relieved, not sure what he was expecting out of Harry, anyway. “Sorry, I’m only calling because some dick in London said I was difficult to get along with. Do you happen to know where he is, by any chance? I have a few words for him.”

Harry laughs. “So, you got my letter.”

“I did. Arrived a little late though, Styles. I think I recall someone promising multiple letters a week.”

“Yeah, well.” Harry pauses. “I think I recall someone promising multiple calls a week.”

Louis drums his fingers along the wood a bit more incessantly. “It goes both ways.”

“I’ve been busy.” The lightness to his voice is gone and Louis’ stomach tightens. “Internship. And stuff.”

“Mhm. And stuff,” Louis echoes.

They’re both quiet after that, Louis trying to think of something else to say that’s friendly, that isn’t too much, and he wants to slam his head against the table. When did it get this fucking hard to talk to Harry ? Eventually, Harry sighs.

“How’re the girls?”

It’s like a conversation between acquaintances, and Louis is this close to hanging up the phone, ready to pretend he never called him in the first place. “They’re good. Lottie’s excited to start packing for college.”

“It’s June… She has, like, three months.”

“Yeah, she’s ahead of the game.”

“I’ll say.”

Long pause. “So.”

“So…” Harry echoes.

Louis sucks in his cheeks. “How’s Zachary ?”

He snorts. “Why are you saying his name like it’s a disease?”

“Because I hate the name Zachary.”

My , green is a wonderful color on you, Louis.”

“Yeah, I could say the same thing to you.”

Harry laughs, a real one. “Thanks, dear.”

The conversation gets significantly easier from there on. Louis forces himself to stop overthinking it, to talk and laugh and flirt, even, like they did when Harry lived here, and it feels good . Honestly, it’s the first time he’s felt sane since before he visited London; the tightness in his chest lessens, his head seems less foggier, his smile lasts a little longer.

They chat about Harry’s internship, Louis’ promotion, Liam’s new girlfriend, Gemma’s new job, and Harry tells a horrible joke that Louis is only half listening to, laughing anyway, both falling into silence once more. Louis looks up at the clock, and he realizes they’ve been on the phone for over an hour. It’s nearly one in the morning for Harry. Late.

“Harry, listen,” he forces himself to say, accidentally cutting Harry’s own voice off. He squeezes his eyes shut when he realizes what Harry was about to say.

“No, sorry, you go,” Harry says.

“I, um, was saying you don’t have to stay up with me, I’m sure you have to get up early for your internship.” He grips the edge of the table, holding on.

“No, it’s fine. You’re right, I should get going. I was just going to say I miss. Uh.” He coughs. “I miss cheeseburgers.”

Louis forces out a weak laugh. “You miss… Cheeseburgers? Any specific ones?”

“Yeah. Those ones from that restaurant a few blocks over from the bar we went to the Halloween party at. And I miss warm nuts.”

“I bet you do.”

He can’t see Harry but he knows he’s smiling. “And street pretzels. And wings. Did you know the wings in London are significantly less satisfying than the ones in Manhattan?”

“But you’ve got your beer back. Your fantastic, worldly brew.”

“Mhm. I do. But.” Harry laughs. “I could go for a shit UConn beer right now. Ugh. I miss football.”

Louis smirks, shaking his head. “Not the same watching it on your laptop as it is on my big screen?”

“Not even close.”

 

They don’t say anything else, really; Louis teases him a bit more, Harry takes it, they hang up shortly after, and Louis eventually crawls into bed with a simultaneous feeling of comfort and pain radiating throughout his entire body.

He misses football, too.


 

It’s very up and down from then on.

Though he and Harry talk more frequently now that the ice has been broken, it’s always extremely calculated, like they’ve both been practicing their conversation on repeat in their own heads. They never do more than graze the surface - if they go beyond that, it’s a slip up - just barely scratching it and talking about basic day to day stuff. Louis’ somewhat grateful for that, because he knows if Harry intentionally tried to talk more in depth, he might actually break.

Harry’s there; it’s minimal, it isn’t his ideal situation, but he’s there. His mood radically improves each time he sees Harry’s name come across his phone, much to the relief and delight of his family. They’re obviously tired of walking on eggshells around him, afraid to set him off.

He realizes at the end of June that he’s become of a hermit. Sleep, work, eat, repeat. He doesn’t go out as much as he used to, doesn’t feel like it, and he feels like he’s forcing himself to go through the motions and movements, too often irritable and on edge. It becomes apparent to everyone around him - and not just family. Liam calls him as he’s getting out of work on a Friday, the air muggy, his work shirt sticking to the back of his neck.

“No, ‘m not doing anything tonight but--”

“But, what?” Liam interrupts. “I haven’t seen you since before you visited Harry almost a month ago. That’s ridiculous, Louis. You can’t hide in the attic forever.”

Louis furrows his brows, balancing his phone on his shoulder as he closes the car door behind him. “I’m not fucking hiding.”

Liam snorts. “Okay. Sure. Then why haven’t we hung out in so long?”

“I’ve been busy.”

“Bullshit.”

“Listen, I don’t owe you any explanations. I’ve been working and I’m fucking fine .”

“Yeah, sounds like it,” he replies, his voice tight. “If you change your mind, we’ll be at Red’s, that bar downtown. It’ll be lowkey. Niall sounded interested, and he said he wanted to bring along a couple people. No more than ten of us, probably.”

“I’m not, like… Scared,” Louis says under his breath, turning the car on, blasting the AC.

“It gets easier,” Liam cuts in. “I know it totally sucks but I swear. It does get easier.”

He sighs, resting his head against the steering wheel. “When.”

“I don’t have an exact date.”

“Tomorrow?”

“No.”

“A week?”

“Probably not.”

“A month?”

Liam laughs. “Maybe.”

“A year?”

“I’d hope so.”

Louis groans. “I didn’t sign up for this, you know. I didn’t expect any of this to happen and I’m just, like. So fucking mad all the time.”

“I know.” He sounds like he’s genuinely sorry; Louis’ half embarrassed for that, half thankful. “You know what doesn’t help, though?”

“I don’t know, Mom, what.”

“Never leaving the house.”

He groans. “Alright. Fine. I’ll meet you guys. Don’t expect me to be pleasant.”

“I never do.”

 

Louis takes the long route home from work, avoiding the highway, choosing the backroads instead. It adds an extra 17 minutes onto his commute, but the idea of dealing with traffic and assholes who can’t drive is enough to make him want to veer off the road.

He’s about two miles away from home, mindlessly tuning the radio back and forth, and he slows the car at a stop sign. He looks to his right, then his left, pausing when he looks up.

That damn hill overlooking Hartford.

He hasn’t trekked up there since sometime around Harry’s birthday, most likely. They were frequent visitors during the autumn; hanging out at the top when they had nothing else to do. They’ve eaten a lot of pizza up there, ice cream, greasy fast food from Wendy’s. They’ve watched many sunsets, and a few sunrises on the mornings Harry was able to drag Louis out of bed.

Before he can actively think about it, Louis turns on his blinker, going left, accelerating up the hill. It doesn’t take too long to make his way up - it never does, with his lead foot - and he positions the car at the top in the same spot he always does.

He climbs out of the car, leaving it running, doesn’t plan to stay very long. It all looks exactly the same - and why wouldn’t it? The city down below in the valley hasn’t changed, the trees are standing strong and broad, and the gravel beneath his shoes still crunches, scratches. He stares at the city, thinking, remembering the humor written all over Harry’s face the first time they’d been up here together, the honesty written all over his voice when they’d talked about their lives before they knew one another.

“If I’m being honest, I don’t think I’ve ever been in love.”

“Really?”

“I thought I loved them, at the time. But then when we were in the process of breaking up, it occurred to me that it was too easy. And that’s not how a breakup should be if you’re really in love, you know? It shouldn’t be so simple to walk away and not look back.”

The sun is beaming down, hot and stifling, even at 6:30 PM. It should be cooling down by now; it isn’t. Louis gets back into his car moments later, the air from the AC blowing the hair out of his face, and the entire way home, he thinks that this is most definitely how a breakup should be when you’re in love. He doesn’t know how to walk away, and for the life of him, he can’t stop looking back.

 

He meets Liam and the rest of the group at the bar a few hours later. Liam was right; it isn’t a big affair, only about 12 people at their table, most of whom Louis knows, but he still feels completely overwhelmed, anyway, fidgety and tense. It takes him two hours and seven drinks before he’s finally feeling okay, a little bit like himself again.

He laughs when Niall takes control of the karaoke machine, nearly screaming a treacherous rendition of “Uptown Funk” into the microphone, and Louis claps along when Jimmy and Ian slide in behind him, acting as backup dancers. It’s easy and it’s exactly what he needed to uncloud his mind.

When midnight creeps around, Louis’ body feels loose, his smile is dopey, and Liam takes a seat next to him on the barstool, patting his back.

“You look good,” he says. “Not so crazy eyed.”

Louis snorts. “Gee, thanks.”

“No problem. So.” Liam twists his drink around in his hand. “Now that you have a few drinks in you, am I allowed to mention the ‘H’ word?”

“You know how much I hate hockey, Liam.”

“Louis…”

“Not a big fan of horses, either.”

Liam laughs. “I hate you.”

Louis smirks. “Yeah, we can talk about him. It’s not like he’s dead.”

He hums. “No, he isn’t. Have you talked to him much?”

“Not really.” Louis shrugs. “Not as much as I thought we would, really, but we’re getting there.”

“Does that make it easier, or harder?”

“Yes.”

Liam nods. “Are there any plans to visit him again? Or have him come back here?”

“Nope,” he replies, popping the ‘p.’ “It’s just really hard to be friends with someone you’ve been in love with for the better part of a year. I don’t know how to go backward. Neither of us know what we’re supposed to say when we talk, so most of our conversations are pointless and weird and.” He shrugs. “I didn’t think it would be this challenging.”

“Give it some time,” Liam offers. “It’ll sort itself out eventually.”

“Maybe.” He takes a long sip of his drink. “We never even actually dated . I feel so fucking stupid.”

Liam rolls his eyes. “You should feel fucking stupid. Can you hear yourself? Just because you never gave yourselves the official title doesn’t mean you weren’t ‘actually dating,’” he says, giving the last phrase air quotes. “You are truly out of your mind.”

“Okay, fuck you?”

He laughs. “Don’t downgrade your relationship with Harry just because he’s gone.”

“I can do whatever I want. If I’m in denial, I can function and get through the day.”

“Healthy.”

Louis sighs. “It’s been four weeks, almost. A month of feeling like fucking shit.”

Liam grips Louis’ shoulder and squeezes. “You’ve got this, Tommo. Give it some time,” he repeats. “You’re strong. You’re a fighter. You know all of that. Harry would be shocked if he could see you like this.”

He looks down at his lap and frowns; fucking alcohol, making him vulnerable and soft. “Yeah, well, Harry isn’t here, so now I can do whatever the fuck I want.”

Liam laughs again before he takes another sip of his drink. “Yup, there’s the attitude.”

Louis swallows what’s left of his beer, trying to figure out if he wants to order something else. “I’m glad heart to hearts between us aren’t a normal occurrence. I feel weird.”

“Yeah, I do, too, and I was fucking nervous to even say anything at all. You’ve been so scary lately.”

He snorts. “Did you honestly have to sedate me with alcohol to talk to me about Harry?”

Liam shrugs, standing up. “Dude, I almost bought a tranquilizer gun.”


 

And Liam is right, once again, the bastard.

Time is what Louis - and Harry - both needed to find a steady balance. It took several phone calls, way more text messages than that, and one awkward FaceTime call with Harry shirtless and Louis afraid to stare directly at the screen with the fear of it bursting into flames to ultimately find their happy medium again.

Louis knows he isn’t in this alone. They’re both trying, and they are trying hard.

They’ve seemed to get past their awkward stage, pushing through the first month uneasily and extremely cautiously, skirting around anything romantic, only focusing on the simple side of things. Louis now has no problem calling Harry to tell him about a shitty customer at work, Harry texts him during his lunchbreak and describes his new boss, and as long as they continue to steer clear of what they once were, Louis can breathe, he can pretend he’s doing alright.

It’s slow, this process, but they’re getting there. Louis’ chest doesn’t feel like it’s going to explode at the thought of Harry not being here anymore - for the most part - and their conversations go back to normal, or as normal as they can be. It’s not as forced, not as desperate, and though there are days that Louis wants to scream, “Fuck, I am still so in love with you,” he’s getting better at keeping it in, focusing on the good, releasing the bad.

It’s not ideal, but he still has Harry the only way he can, and that has to be decent enough.

It has to be.


 

The morning of the Fourth of July, Louis wakes up with a picture of Harry on his phone. He’s draped the British flag across his shoulders and he’s flipping off the camera.

Louis snorts, rolling his eyes, dialing Harry’s number as he reaches for his glasses.

“‘ello, there, lad,” Harry chirps through the phone.

He laughs. “What’s got you so chipper this morning?”

“Oh, I dunno… Just celebrating the fact that the UK doesn’t have to deal with your sorry arse anymore. Happy Fourth. Like what you see? Wrapped myself up in that flag just for you.”

“Oh my God, you’re a major pain,” he says, shaking his head, trying to bite back a smile. “You’re just jealous that you don’t get to drink and shoot off fireworks all day.”

“Yes, I’m sure that’s what the Founding Fathers were anticipating when they signed the Declaration of Independence.”

“What they don’t know won’t hurt them, Styles.”

It’s breezy and carefree and Louis always hangs up feeling okay; lately, he’s been doing fine.

But then, there are days like today.

He hangs up on Harry once he starts singing “God Save the Queen,” Louis refusing to pick up when Harry calls him back, rolling his eyes the whole time as if Harry can see him, and he gets ready for the holiday, finding a bathing suit at the bottom of his drawer, unused since he and Harry went away for spring break. He sucks in his cheeks as he toys with the fabric, mood instantly dampening.

It’s an endless cycle, he thinks, of anger, sadness, happiness, jealousy, and eventually, numbness. He trips when he steps into the shorts, cursing the whole time, so, so angry that Harry isn’t fucking here. It comes in waves, of missing him, and today is one of those days. He wants to go down into the basement, find six feet of limbs and curls and snores; he wants to shake him awake and tell him to get the fuck up because it’s time to celebrate the hell out of America.

He doesn’t have that option anymore.

Yup, it comes in waves, big and heavy and knocking him down when he isn’t expecting it to.

Breathe.

 

For the Fourth, his family throws a barbeque, the neighborhood congregating in their backyard, and if Louis has to answer the question, “How’s Harry doing?” one more time, he’s going to climb inside the grill, face first.

He sticks close to Fizzy for the majority of the afternoon; she’s intuitive, knows today is a Bad Day, and Louis prefers the company of his younger sister most in times like this. She doesn’t pester him or coddle him, instead just stays by his side, offering him a smile when she can tell he needs it, which is more than he’d care to admit.

And then Lottie shows up with Goddamn Shane, and Louis’ first instinct is to turn to his side and tell Harry some crude joke about him, but Harry isn’t fucking here.

“Fizzy, I’m gonna head out for a while,” he says, setting down his drink. “If Mom asks, I’ll be back before fireworks, probably.”

She nods. “You okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, just gonna go head to Evan’s for a bit.”

“Harry’s friend from school?”

Louis reaches for his keys inside his pocket. “That’s the one. He invited me to his party a couple of weeks ago so I figured I’d drop by.”

“Alright…” Fizzy makes a face, obviously wary. “Call if you need something. I can come get you.”

He forces out a laugh. “I’m good.”

“Okay.” The way she says it makes it clear she knows he’s lying.

 

Intuitive.

 

He actually does head to Evan’s, which wasn’t the initial plan when he got in his car, but he has nowhere else to go. He assumes Niall will be there along with other UConn graduates; it’ll be a decent party, lots of booze and laughter, and that might be what he needs right now. He pulls up to a parking lot filled with over 20 cars, and he immediately feels better knowing he can blend into the crowd of familiar faces.

Jake - one of Evan’s roommates - spots Louis first, waving him over to where they’re playing beer pong on the grass.

“Hey, Lou!” he calls out. “Long time no see!”

Louis nods, forcing out a smile. “Need a teammate?”

“Definitely.”

He joins forces with Jake, losing track of how many games he plays, and he’s in the middle of chugging something clear and disgusting when Evan comes over, slapping him on the back, Niall trailing behind him.

“Tomlinson, so glad you made it!” Evan chirps.

Louis winces at the sting from the smack. “Easy there, kid.”

Niall laughs and Evan ruffles his hair. “Sorry. Hey! I got the stupidest picture of Styles this morning. Here.” He digs out his phone, pulling up a text. “Look at this jackass.”

He peers over Evan’s shoulder, swallowing heavily when he sees an extremely familiar picture of Harry wrapped up in the British flag, flipping off the camera. “Yeah,” he agrees, cheeks burning and fists clenched, “he’s definitely a fucking jackass.”

 

Long after the fireworks have started and ended, Louis gets too drunk to even pretend he’s okay to drive, and he has no desire to stay in Evan’s cramped, dirty apartment. It takes him three tries to steady his hands enough to dial Fizzy’s number, apologizing about a thousand times when she picks up, slurring every other word, eyes stinging before he realizes he’s crying, a combination of the alcohol and everything else all coming together at once.

“Louis, it’s okay,” she says, “I’ll be right there.”

He waits on the curb for her, ignoring Niall’s and Evan’s pleas to get him back inside, and while he waits, he leaves Harry a voicemail, sometime around five in the morning in London.

“I’m so glad you weren’t here today,” he mumbles into the receiver just before he hangs up. “So fucking glad.”

Fizzy pulls up less than ten minutes later, her facial expression concerned, one that Louis has seen written all across his mother’s face on a thousand different occasions, and she doesn’t ask questions as they pull away from the apartment complex. She sits quietly, driving carefully as Louis mumbles a bunch of shit he can hardly understand himself, and she doesn’t bother asking for an explanation. She knows.

 

He wakes up with a pounding headache, a poorly drawn American flag sprawled across his chest over his tattoo - from whom, he has no idea - and a missed call from Harry. There isn’t a message, though, and Louis doesn’t call him back.


 

It’s around the second week of July that Louis cracks, can’t stand to be trapped in this house, in his own mind. He needs to get the fuck out. He needs to make moves.

He and Harry haven’t spoken since the Fourth of July; Louis knows he would lash out at him, even in a casual conversation, so he doesn’t bother reaching out. And Harry isn’t stupid. He sends the occasional friendly text, nothing too deep, just to let Louis know he’s still there in the background, nagging and insistent. Every message goes unanswered.

It’s been about ten days of zero communication on Louis’ part, and though it’s he who initiated the uncomfortable tension between them, he’s irrationally pissed at Harry because of it. Fucking Harry, living in London and so far away, pretending to be best pals, when in reality, he’s doing the exact same shit with everyone else here.

It's been two months of being separated, and though the physical distance hasn't changed, Louis has never felt further away.

Louis clenches his fists from him desk chair. He knows he’s overreacting (possibly, but maybe not), but he can’t bring himself to care. Not when it’s all gone to shit so quickly.

He grabs his laptop and heads downstairs, careful to avoid the pile of wet bathing suits from the younger kids on the kitchen tile. Jay is standing behind the counter, filling cups with juice for Ernie and Doris. She looks up when he comes in and gestures toward the mess of snacks on the countertop.

“It never ends.”

Louis tries to smirk but it comes out like a grimace. “Yeah, I’ll say.” He sets down the laptop on the counter and pulls up a website. “Okay. So.”

Jay raises her brows. “Yes?”

He scrolls up and down the page a few times. “This is hard.”

“What is? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine, I just.” He clears his throat, can’t make eye contact with her. “I need to move out.”

“Excuse me?” Jay frowns. “You need to?”

“Okay, not need ,” he clarifies. “Want to. I think it’s time?”

“Is that a question?”

“No.” Louis sighs. “It’s time. Statement.”

She nods slowly. “Okay, I need more information than that.”

“I was talking to Pete at work and he was saying he thought it would be great if I became an addition to their Manhattan branch. It’s a small group so far, no more than 15 people or so, but he likes me and likes my work ethic and wants to see me in a more fast paced environment. They’re already expanding the office. He wants to see me in a part of that expansion.”

Jay smiles. “Making me proud.”

He shrugs, looking down. “It comes with another raise, which is awesome, but even without the raise, I can afford to move out. I’ve had enough saved for a while.”

“How long is a while?”

“I dunno. Like…” He scrunches up his face. “November, probably.”

“Any reason you held back for so long?”

Louis swallows. Yeah, but that reason is gone now . “Just wasn’t ready, I suppose.”

“But you are now? You’re sure?”

“Yes. The city will be good for me. A change of scenery, a change of people.”

“That desperate to get away from us?”

He laughs. “Basically.”

Jay smiles again, but this time, her eyes are watery. “You don’t have to go, you know.”

I do, though. “I know. I just think it’s a good opportunity, with the promotion and raise and all, and I’d be kind of stunted, if I said no.” I feel like I’m regressing here; one step forward, five steps back. I need a clean slate. “It’s only a two hour ride away.”

“Only two hours,” she says, rolling her eyes. “That’s nothing.”

“Typical mom answer.”

“I am not a typical mom.”

He snorts. “Understatement of the year.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment. But Lou, baby, really.” Jay leans across the counter and grips his hand and he is so embarrassingly close to crying. “You can stay here as long as you need, and you know that.”

“I know,” he mumbles under his breath.

“And I’ll help you look for apartments, if you want me to.”

“I actually, uh. I already found an amazing spot. Liam and Brandon both said they were interested in coming with, so. That’ll be good. It’s in Brooklyn.” He feels like he’s rambling but Jay’s tears are spilling over and his are dangerously close, too, and he needs to shut up.

“I tend to forget you’re not 14 anymore.”

“Me, too.”

She laughs, wiping her eyes. “Whatever you need, you know where home is.”

“Fuck. I know.”

Jay doesn’t make the face she usually does when he curses, just grips his hand tighter, whispers more words of encouragement, and by the time Doris and Ernie are screaming bloody murder from the other room, Louis isn’t even trying to hold back tears anymore, can’t fucking help it.

 

He heads back upstairs, laptop under his arm, and he texts Pete before he gets to the attic.

I’m in.


 

Louis, Liam, and Brandon sign the lease for their Brooklyn apartment two weeks later, Louis claiming the smaller single bedroom, telling Liam he can share with his cousin, and Liam agrees without an argument. It’s a small space, the entire apartment no more than 1,000 sq. feet, but it works for them, as long as they limit the amount of stuff they all bring. It goes well - swimmingly, even - the entire process going off without a hitch, and Louis is almost waiting for something bad to happen.

So far, so good.

Packing up the attic is a little harder, though. It’s so weird to see all of his childhood items being placed into storage bins to keep them in the garage and unused parts of the basement, labeled with Louis’ college work and Louis’ trophies . It all feels very final, leaving behind the only home he’s ever known, and when he’s taping up the last box to bring to Brooklyn, looking around the vacant space, it’s then that it hits him, that this is it.

The attic is mostly empty; all the big furniture is packed in Dan’s truck, his clothes in suitcases, his daily essentials already in the trunk of his car. He looks over his shoulder one last time before he makes his way downstairs, eyes zoning in on the colorful stack of paper still on his nightstand.

He leaves all of it there and closes the door behind him.

 

Moving from Hartford to Manhattan isn’t quite the adjustment he thought it would be. Louis does all the exact same things he did before he moved out - work, sleep, bars, friends - except now, Mom isn’t paying rent, there is significantly less shouting, and sometimes he forgets to eat. Other than that, the transition isn’t too different, and it all feels strangely the same.

Or maybe he’s too numb to notice the changes.

He spends the majority of his time drunk or high or asleep; when he has a spare minute to himself that isn’t involved with work or functioning at a bare minimum level, he’s at clubs, grinding on random strangers, making out with anyone who gives him a second glance, searching and desperate for someone to fit in his hands as well as Harry had. But every night, he goes home feeling shittier than he did to begin with, lips red, a foggy mind, always stumbling into bed alone.

He’s definitely less sad, but somehow, he’s more moody, more irritable, and it starts to take its toll on everyone around him. He gets into a fight with Lottie over the phone, her screaming that he’s impossible to talk to, him claiming she’s not much fucking better, and he’s only been living with Liam and Brandon for about 13 days when Liam snaps.

“You’re not even the same fucking person anymore!” he yells at Louis before they go out one night. “You’re not fun, Jesus Christ. I feel like all I do is take care of you.”

“I never asked you to take fucking care of me. Leave me the fuck alone.”

He shakes his head. “You’re a miserable mess all the time. It’s not fair.”

“You think it’s unfair for you ?” Louis sneers. “ I’m the one stuck inside my head. I’m the one who can’t get my shit together. I’m the one who has to force myself out of bed every single Goddamn day and it feels like torture . I’m sorry I’m such an inconvenience to you, you fucking prick. Fuck.” He’s only had two shots, barely tipsy, but he feels like he could punch something, someone, already completely out of control.

He sucks in his cheeks. “Okay, alright. You’re right.”

Louis looks down at the floor, then back up. “Maybe you guys should go out tonight without me.”

Liam nods. “Yeah. Maybe we should.”

 

An hour later, Liam and Brandon are out at some club - one that Louis had actually really wanted to go to - but instead, he’s staring out the train window, watching the city whiz by.

He doesn’t go home, though. Instead, he makes his way to downtown Hartford.

 

The bar isn’t too packed, considering it’s a Saturday night, and Louis kind of wishes it was. It’s more noticeable that he’s here by himself, not talking to anyone, only moving when someone tries to squeeze by him. A few people stare, most likely wondering why this guy is occupying a table all alone, several empty beer bottles in front of him, looking fairly irritated. But he can’t find it in him to care - not that much, anyway - and he orders another drink.

He’s feeling loose, definitely bordering the line of tipsy and drunk, when he hears someone calling his name behind him, and it takes a moment or two to actually recognize who it is.

“Oh, hi, Kara,” he says, forcing a smile.

She approaches the table, her own mixed drink in hand, and she smiles, warm and friendly. “How are you? I haven’t seen you since Harry’s going away party.”

Louis nods. “Yeah, it’s been a while. I’m alright. How about you?”

“I’m good. Busy, just started a new job, you know.”

“That’s great.”

She hums. “Are you… here with anyone?”

He starts to peel the label off of his beer bottle. “No, not tonight.”

“So, you’re just drinking alone?”

“You’re doing a really good job at covering the judgmental tone in your voice, let me tell you.”

Kara laughs. “Do you want to come hang out with my group? You know Riley, and some other people from UConn, too.”

He shrugs. “No, it’s alright. Just wanted to get out of my place for a bit. Thanks, though.”

She nods slowly. “Do you mind if I sit with you, then?”

Louis clears his throat. “I don’t want you to, like, pity me. I’m fine. I promise.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s what every person surrounded by empty glasses at a bar alone on a Saturday night says.” She takes the seat next to him. “Tell me. How’s the job going? Harry used to talk about how much you loved it.”

He looks down at his lap, then back up to Kara. “It’s keeping me busy, but he was right. I do love it.”

“What else have you been up to?”

“I dunno. Not much, really. I just moved to Manhattan. Transferred there, too.”

“Ah, that’s awesome, Louis! What’s it like so far? Loving it? And already back to Hartford so soon?”

He sucks his cheeks in. “Yeah, it’s been good. I just wanted something familiar tonight and really, Kara, you don’t have to be this overly nice to me. It’s not like I’m dying.”

Her cheeks turn red. “That’s not what I’m trying to do.”

“I know. I promise. I’m fine.

Kara sets her drink down on the table in front of them. “He isn’t, you know.”

“Excuse me?”

“I talked to Harry about a week ago. He isn’t fine.” She shrugs. “At least he can admit it.”

“Ugh, don’t tell me that. I don’t want to know how he is. It’s easier for me to get over this if I can pretend we’re both fucking fantastic.”

She rolls her eyes. “That’s healthy.”

“Okay, what do you want me to do, though? This is the only way I know how to function right now. We’re both walking on fucking eggshells all the time and we never talk about anything below the surface anymore because it’s weird and awkward and Goddammit, there’s nothing I can do about it.” He pauses to look down at his hands, clenched in his lap. “We’re separated by an entire ocean and we’re only communicating when it’s convenient or easy or on Sunday nights when I’m trying not to think about him but he texts me, anyway, like a fucking mind reader, and I’m just not fine. I’m not. Okay?”

It’s the most Louis has said to anyone since Harry left, and he feels unbelievably better to get some of it off his chest, even if it’s to a girl he’s only met a handful of times. But he’s drunk and tired and she’s looking at him like she wants to cry, or crawl under the table. Or both.

“Louis, you make yourself sound like you’re in this alone. You’re not. Harry is--”

“He’s what, Kara? He’s in London. He has an internship that keeps him busy about 12 hours a day. He has his old friends and his old home and I don’t fit in there. I live here. We’ve both come to terms with it and it’s an adjustment period. We’ve said our goodbyes. I just.” He rubs his hands across his face. “I just have to start meaning it. I have to let go a little bit. I need this to be done for good. For my sanity.”

Kara squeezes his shoulder, demanding his attention. “Harry is missing you like crazy ,” she corrects him.

“Yeah. Well.” He finishes the last of his beer, the room spinning as he swallows. “Not much either of us can do about it, is there? Talking seems to make it worse, not talking is just as bad. I’m kind of stuck in a place of limbo.”

She nods. “You’ll get there. You both will. It’s only been a couple of months.”

“Shouldn’t it have already gotten there by now? Shouldn’t it be a little easier?”

“Not when you two loved each other like you did, no.”

Louis sighs, squeezing his eyes shut, can’t answer that, doesn’t want to. “Sorry I kind of unloaded on you.”

“I asked for it.”

“Did you, though?”

Kara smiles. “Louis, don’t feel like you have to do all of this on your own. I miss him, too. I imagine on your end, it’s a thousand times worse.”

“Probably.”

She shakes her head, still smiling. “Feel free to hang out with us whenever. Being with people helps, and so does talking about it. Just don’t lock yourself up, okay?”

He doesn’t know if she means physically or emotionally, but he figures both ways work. “Okay, I’ll try,” he says honestly.

“Your story with Harry is too good to ruin. Don’t let these past few months of uncertainty wreck what you guys mean to each other.”

Louis looks up at the clock near the TV; it reads 12:31. He’s been here for three hours and this has been way more than he bargained for; he wants to go home. Manhattan, the attic, anything but here. “Maybe that’s all we’re meant to have, though. A story. Maybe there isn’t anything left. No more pages. Book is closed.”

“That’s possible,” Kara replies, sincerity written all over her voice. She cocks her head to the side. “But what a waste that would be.”

 

Louis decides going back to his mom’s house isn’t the best decision - sneaking in at one in the morning would probably give her a heart attack - so he heads back to Manhattan, the uneven shaking of the train doing nothing to help the alcohol settling at the bottom of his stomach.

It’s nearly four o’clock when he pushes open the door to his apartment, needing three attempts to get the key in the lock, and instead of stumbling into his own bedroom, he opens the door to Liam and Brandon’s room.

Brandon isn’t there, but Liam is, stirring slightly under the covers, so Louis assumes he hasn’t been there long. He doesn’t turn on the light or announce his presence before he slides onto the end of Liam’s bed, grabbing his ankle through the sheets.

“Liam,” he mumbles, “I’m trying. I promise.”

Liam inhales deeply, eyes still closed. “I know.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.”

 

He doesn’t say anything else - neither does Liam - but even in the darkness and silence, Louis feels a thousand times better.


 

The first week of August, Louis goes back to Hartford for Lottie’s birthday. It’s an over-the-top celebration - it’s her 18th birthday, after all - and if Louis sneaks her a handle of Captain’s in her honor, then no one has to know.

It’s a good party, very familiar and warm, and for the first time in a while, Louis feels relaxed. He pretends he doesn’t have a pile of documents at home, doesn’t have a train to catch in four hours. Instead, he sinks back into the lawn chair, laughing at some terrible joke his grandfather is telling, squinting in the bright, summer sun. He’s sweaty and a little too tipsy for an 18-year-old’s birthday party, but Jay hasn’t said anything, so he assumes he’s in the clear.

About halfway through the party and halfway through his fourth or tenth beer, his next door neighbor Lisa takes a seat next to him, stretching out her legs. “Beautiful day,” she says.

Louis nods. “Yup. Happy birthday, Lottie.”

“Happy birthday, indeed.” She wipes her brow with the back of her hand. “Enjoying city life so far?”

“Yeah,” he nods. “Very different, but it was a good change. I like it a lot.”

“That’s great to hear. Job is going well?”

“Yes…” Louis makes a face. “What are you getting at, Lisa?”

She laughs. “Okay. Are you still seeing Harry?”

He purses his lips together. “Uh. No.”

“That’s what I figured.”

“Why, you interested?”

Lisa rolls her eyes. “ I’m not, because you could be my son, but I know someone who is.”

Louis sits up in his chair, trying not to be rude, trying to pretend he cares. “Oh, yeah?”

“Yes. My nephew John. He actually went to high school with you. He’s a year older.”

He nods. “John Denham, yeah, I know him.”

“Good! So you know how gorgeous he is. And how funny. And sweet!”

Louis licks his lips. “He’s definitely all those things.”

She must be able to hear the hesitation in his voice. “But?”

“I dunno, Lisa. I’m kind of not in the right place to be dating right now.”

“It doesn’t have to be anything serious. He’s fun! You might have a good time, just getting back out there.”

He sighs. “It most definitely wouldn’t be serious. I’m not doing serious for a long time. Or ever again, for that matter.”

“Is that a yes?”

“Jesus.” Louis drags his hair out of his eyes. “This is probably the worst idea in the world.”

Lisa claps her hands together. “Ah, I’m excited! And I’ll try not to be offended that you just called my nephew the worst idea in the world.”

He snorts. “Don’t take it personally.”

“I’ll try not to.”

 

John calls Louis later that weekend, and they set up a date to get together in Hartford. He suggests Louis meet him at a restaurant downtown, and Louis immediately vetoes it. He’s not trying to have an uncomfortable dinner in a place he once shared with Harry. This guy hasn’t earned that privilege yet.

“Sorry, last time I was there I got food poisoning,” he lies.

“Oh, no worries. What about The Tap?”

Louis tries to remember if he’s ever been there with Harry. He doesn’t think so. “Sure.”

“Nine o’clock Friday?”

He takes a deep breath. “Sounds good.” Another lie.

 

The last time Louis was this nervous for a date was when he was 17 and in high school, trying to work up the nerve to ask Rachel out for something more than ice cream or mini golf. Or maybe it was the night of this past Thanksgiving, when he was about ready to come out of his skin with how badly he wanted Harry to touch him, to be with him, entire body shaking with nerves. Black Friday shopping isn’t necessarily a date - not a good one, anyway - but it might be the best one Louis has ever had.

Now, sitting opposite from John, he’s bouncing his leg under the table incessantly, wondering if it’s appropriate to light up right here to settle his anxiety, mind racing a million miles an hour. John seems oblivious, though, just happy to talk to Louis, clearly enjoying the company.

They order appetizers and drinks, Louis eventually relaxing into his chair, trying his best to contribute to the conversation. John is actually very funny - witty and clever - and obviously intelligent. He’s kind, too, and attractive. Gorgeous, really, with blonde hair and blue piercing eyes. He’s exactly the kind of guy Louis would have gone for before he met brunette with green.

The waiter comes over and hands them their entrees, Louis ripping off a piece of bread as his meal cools down. “I’m pretty sure the last time I saw you, you were dating Taylor.”

John nods, rolling his eyes. “Yeah, we broke up about 12 minutes after graduation.”

“Everlasting love, I see.”

He laughs. “Something like that. What about you, though? Any relationships since HHS?”

“Uh, yeah.” Louis takes a bite of his meal - still scorching hot - and swallows through the burn. “I dated James in college, and then, um, Harry fairly recently.”

“How recent is ‘recent?’”

“We broke up, like, less than three months ago.”

“Ah.” John sets his fork down. “So, is this a rebound thing?”

“Probably.”

He laughs again. “I like the honesty.”

Louis forces out a smile. “Thanks.”

“Can I ask what happened?”

“You can, but we might be here a while.”

“Messy relationship?”

“No.” Louis shakes his head. “Definitely not. Just. The ending was really hard and it’s kind of still going. I’m waiting for it to get easier and it isn’t. And I sound like a broken record, at this point.”

John nods. “I can understand that. I dated this guy named Gabe after high school for about two years and it took even longer to fully get over it, I think.”

He groans in response. “I’m not doing this for two years.”

“If you want, we can talk about it.”

“Oh, God, no. I won’t do that to you.”

“You’re not doing anything to me,” John counters. “I’m offering. Go ahead. Tell me about him.”

“Does this mean I have to put out.”

He snorts. “I wouldn’t say no.”

Louis smiles. “Okay, so. Harry.”

And he talks. He talks for a long time, explaining how he met Harry, about how he didn’t want him at first, and that’s why their relationship ended up being so great, because it wasn’t based solely off lust. There was an underlying friendship, and Louis had never had that with a partner before.

He tells John about Harry’s horrible sense of humor, his drive, his patience. He tells him about their Halloween costumes, their ice rink date, some select parts of his trip to London. He tells him about Harry’s kindness, the way he is with his siblings, the way he is with everyone .

“Harry is, like…” Louis waves his hands around. “So fucking nice, it blows my mind. He teases people and pokes fun at them but he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. One time, I was crazy stressed at work, and out of anger, I slammed my desk drawer in my bedroom so hard, it fucking broke. The pieces on the side came apart. And when I went back in my room later, he was on the floor, trying to glue it back together.” Louis laughs, shaking his head. “Granted, he fucked it up even more, but that’s how he is. Always trying to fix everything. He likes to take care of people.”

John nods, his smile gentle. “He sounds amazing.”

“He is.”

He takes a sip of his water, eyes still glued on Louis. “Don’t kill me for asking, but why aren’t you two trying to make it work?”

“A question I have answered 86,000 times, now.”

“That’s a specific number.”

“Yeah, I’ve been keeping track.”

John rolls his eyes at the sarcasm. “Go on.”

“It’s very frustrating that this had to end because of distance,” he starts off slowly. “If this was an ideal world and we lived on the same continent, honestly, we would be together right now. And our relationship wasn’t perfect, but it was as close to that as I could imagine. We never fought, really. Like, we did things to annoy each other, but it was never anything major. And it was usually intentional.” Louis smirks, shrugging. “It just makes me so angry to think about how much greater we could be if he was still here. Distance is the only thing to blame. But we both know this isn't a fairy tale. Sometimes, life just doesn't work out.”

“You’re really mature about this,” John says after a beat. “You’re not hostile over it. You’re realistic, and I think that’s great.”

Louis snorts. “Yeah, you should have seen me a couple weeks ago, threatening to light my best friend on fire just for looking at me the wrong way.”

“Let me know what look it was. I don’t need death threats.”

“You’re alright so far,” he says, laughing.

“Thank God.”

They’re quiet for a moment or two, Louis picking at the rest of his meal, John staring at him, gaze steady and intense. Louis squirms.

“We just.” He looks at John, trying to come up with the right words. “Harry and I couldn’t ever really be together for the long run. We couldn’t…” He swallows, trying to figure out where he’s trying to go with this thought. “We could never be.” He stops trying, just leaves it at that.

John doesn’t push it, doesn’t ask anything else, and Louis is half mortified, half grateful.

 

By the time they wrap up dinner, it’s nearly midnight and Louis can’t wait to climb into bed, ready for sleep. John walks him to his car, pausing when they get to the driver’s side.

“I'm sorry this kind of ended up turning into a therapy session,” Louis says weakly. “I'm embarrassed.”

“Don't be.” John rocks on the balls of his feet. “Can I call you again?”

“What the hell?” he blurts out. “You seriously want to see me again? After I just spent the past two hours talking about my ex?”

John shrugs, smirking. “You’re passionate. I like that.”

“Christ, you’re the most understanding human I’ve ever met in my life.”

He laughs. “Does that mean yes?”

Louis looks up at the sky. It’s black, stars bright. “Yes.”


 

Over the course of the next week, John and Louis go out another two times. They get drinks and dinner for their second date, and on Wednesday night, they go gokarting. It’s fun, it’s mindless, and when John kisses Louis goodnight, it’s the exact way he likes to be kissed, slow and deep.

It’s not what he fucking wants.

Jesus. John’s great. He’s carefree and sweet and way too understanding…

He’s a distraction, for the most part, and Louis feels like shit over it.

He tries his best to focus on John and no one else, but as soon as he makes his way into his apartment, his mind drifts back to the person he’s trying to put behind him. He’s just so fucking tired of looking for an equal comparison, looking for something he knows most definitely does not exist. Not here in New York, anyway.

 

Saturday night just after dinner alone in his apartment, Louis opts out of heading to the bar with Liam and Brandon, telling John he’s busy, too. He has so much work to catch up on, and even though the weather isn’t impossibly sticky for the first time in weeks, and doing anything other than sitting inside this tiny apartment sounds better, he knows he has to edit and correct, has to sort through a ridiculous amount of documents.

He orders a pizza - extra sausage, extra cheese - and settles back into the couch while he waits. It’s nice to have the apartment to himself for once, even if it’s to do work over the weekend, and he turns on the TV for background noise.

The pizza arrives an hour later, and by the time he makes his way through four episodes of Bob’s Burgers and five pages of documents, he’s already yawning, desperately needing caffeine. The tea is in the kichen cabinet where his mom put is when he first moved in, untouched since, and he heats up water, eyelids heavy, body craving it. He blows the steam away, closing his eyes as he takes his first sip.

“Oh, what the fuck ,” he says out loud. “This is horrible.”

It’s not doing anything to satisfy his need for caffeine; it’s bland and weak and absolutely disgusting. He peers down into the mug, furrowing his brows, wondering when he turned into such a tea snob.

On second thought, he knows exactly when.

Louis takes a seat back down on the couch, crossing his legs, setting the pathetic excuse for tea down on the coffee table in front of him. He toys with his phone in his pocket for a minute or two, heart hammering in his chest, and he gives in before he can change his mind.

The phone seems to ring for ages - in reality, it’s probably no more than 15 seconds - and by the time Harry’s voice comes through on the other line, Louis is almost sweating.

“Lou?”

He tips his head back, closing his eyes. “Hi, H.”

“Are you okay?”

“No, actually.” He takes a second to collect himself, his thoughts. This was a bad idea, he can already tell, just from Harry’s four words. “I’m home alone doing some catch-up work and I just made the worst cup of tea I’ve ever had. I’m about to call the police.”

Harry bursts out laughing. It’s the first time Louis has heard that sound in over a month; it’s loud and soothing and familiar and what the hell has Louis been doing this whole time? “I’m sure they would love to help you.”

“Harry, I think you’re underestimating just how gross this tea is. I almost threw up.”

“What’d you even do to it?” he asks, still laughing.

“I don’t know! That’s the problem! I made it the way I’ve been making it for months - the way you taught me to - and it was fucking garbage.”

“Not everyone has my talents and abilities.”

“Or your cockiness.”

“That, too.”

Louis smiles and lays down on the couch, wedging one of the pillows underneath his head, staring at the ceiling. “What’ve you been up to, Styles?”

“Hmm, I could ask you the same question. Was beginning to think your phone was broken. Or maybe your thumbs.”

He blushes, glad Harry can’t see him. “Yeah. ‘m sorry about that.”

“It’s alright,” Harry says, teasing tone gone, voice soft. “Really, though, are you okay?”

“Yes. No. I don’t know.” He exhales loudly, and he can hear it echo through the receiver. “It’s been a rough summer.”

“Yeah,” Harry agrees. “On this end, too.”

Louis bites down on his bottom lip. “Wanna tell me about London?”

“I actually really want to tell you about London,” he says, voice picking up, and Louis smiles. “Lou, it’s incredible. I don’t know why it took me so long to get here. I love it.”

“That’s great,” he replies honestly. “You sound happy.”

“Happy to be in London, yeah. Flatmate is good, internship is good, just need to land a job and I’ll feel much better about my situation.”

“Your situation being…”

“A nearly broke uni graduate with no car and no love life.”

Louis laughs, chest tightening a bit at that last part. Relieved Harry isn’t seeing anyone, still pissed that Harry isn’t seeing him, guilty that he, himself, is seeing someone. He swallows. “Uh, speaking of no love life.”

Harry inhales sharply. “Do I want to hear this?”

“Probably not. I’ve, um, been on a few dates.” He tries to keep his tone light but he knows it’s a lost cause.

“Yeah, you’re right, I didn’t want to hear that,” he says, voice low.

“Sorry,” Louis mumbles.

Harry’s quiet for a beat too long before he finally says, “Whoever it is, they aren’t stupid. Snatching you up while they have the chance.”

“I’d hardly consider myself ‘snatched up,’” he scoffs. “It’s been three dates. It’s not like I’m married.”

“Oh, God, three ?” Harry whines. “ Louis .”

He laughs, gripping the phone tighter. “I forgot how jealous you tend to get,” he teases.

“Sorry, I couldn’t hear you, Zachary and Colin both just texted me at the exact same time, how weird is that?”

“Oh, ha ha, you’re so fucking funny.”

Harry laughs. “Yeah, we can probably stop this conversation now. Just because I haven’t seen you or talked to you in a few months doesn’t mean I’m not ready to punch a wall at the idea of you with some other fucking guy.”

Louis squeezes his eyes shut. He imagines if this was the other way around, he would have already punched a wall. “Yeah, I get it.”

He sighs, breathing through the phone for a moment. “Want me to tell you about my internship?”

“Yes,” he answers quickly. “Please.”

“Safe zone,” Harry huffs out under his breath. “Alright. So. Internship.”

And Louis listens as Harry intently explains the details of his work schedule, the excitement obvious and nearly tangible, and Louis smiles as he listens. This is the voice he’s grown way too familiar with over the past year; it’s the voice he’s fallen asleep listening to countless times, the voice that’s whispered in his ear to wake him up or tell him how unbearably hot he is or how much Louis drives him crazy, the voice that is currently simultaneously soothing and breaking his heart.

He forces himself to refocus, cutting in when Harry takes a breath to pause. “So, like, if they decide they like you enough, will they hire you? Or will they send you somewhere else?”

“They’d most likely keep me on,” Harry explains. “And I’d like to stay with them. They’re great so far. I really like my boss.”

Louis hums. “That’s good.”

“Yup. Anyway.”

“Anyway…”

Harry clears his throat. “How’s Jay?”

“She’s good.” Louis frowns. “I think.”

“You think? Why don’t you just go downstairs and ask her?”

“Shit.” He laughs, rubbing his neck. “I, uh, don’t live at home anymore.”

“What?!”

“Yeah, I live in Brooklyn now. With Liam and his cousin. Did you ever meet Brandon?”

“Yeah, once, I think, but what the fuck?! I don’t believe you!”

Louis rolls his eyes. “I don’t know what to say, then, kid.”

“Why didn’t you tell me!”

“I dunno.” He scratches his jaw, stalling. “Figured I’d call you out of the blue, instead. Shake you up a bit.”

“The shaking up part worked,” Harry mumbles under his breath. “Lou. Show me your flat.”

“Sorry, I don’t have a flat. I live in New York.”

“Show me your apartment.

He smiles. “Want me to send you some pictures?”

“FaceTime me.”

“Uh.” Louis looks down at himself. “No.”

No ?”

“I look like garbage.”

Harry snorts. “You never look like garbage. It’s annoying, really.”

“Harry, I haven’t shaved in three days, my shorts are those ugly gray ones I wear to the gym, and I’m not even wearing a shirt.”

Harry groans loudly. “You and I have very different ideas of what garbage looks like, apparently.”

He laughs. “Alright, fine. Hold on.” He presses the FaceTime button, waiting for it to connect, and when Harry’s picture pops up, he immediately regrets this entire night. He should have stuck to Bob’s Burgers and horrendous tea, never should have given into temptation. Harry looks incredible , even with the way he’s scrunching up his face, like he’s never used a fucking iPhone before. His hair is perfectly curled and touching his shoulders, looking longer than the last time Louis saw it, his eyes are bright, and when he catches his first glance of Louis, he bites down on his bottom lip, whining.

“Shit,” he whispers. “I was hoping you’d gotten uglier to make this easier but no such luck, yeah?”

Louis tries to laugh but it comes out sounding strangled. “Three day old stubble do it for you?”

Harry nods immediately. “That’s an unfair question. You know it does. Fuck.” He drags his thumb across his bottom lip and Louis is about three seconds away from choking on his own tongue. “You look amazing.”

“Yeah, we can’t do this. Let me just show you around my new place before I do something stupid like dig up some of your nudes or listen to that voicemail you left me when you were visiting your family over Christmas.”

Harry raises his brows, licking his lips. “You still have that voicemail?”

Louis knows he’s blushing, can’t help it, but shakes his head, anyway. “Nope, not even a little bit, anywho, here’s my living room.”

He laughs, rolling his eyes; it’s playful, it’s Harry, and Louis can’t believe how much progress he’s ruined in the past half hour. He misses this boy so, so much.

“Nice couch,” Harry quips. “Bet your bum would look nice on it.”

“My bum looks nice on everything.”

“True story. Next room, please.”

Louis takes him on a guided tour through the apartment - which takes no more than eight minutes, due to the miniscule proportions - but Harry ooh’s and ahh’s, leaning in closer to the screen as if that’ll actually help him see better. Louis pushes the door to his bedroom open, turning on the light. “And here’s my room.”

“How’d you manage to get the single?”

“My charm and good looks.”

“Or because you threatened Liam.”

“I didn’t even have to resort to that, actually. He was very accommodating.”

Harry nods, pursing his lips together. “Might wanna clean up your bed a bit. Your new boyfriend probably isn’t into the pigsty style.”

Louis flips the camera so it’s back on his face, unamused. “He hasn’t been in here, Judge Judy. And he isn’t my boyfriend.” He knows Harry’s teasing, only a little bit of truth behind it, but he watches the relief wash across Harry’s face, regardless, shoulders slumping.

“Well. Clean it, anyway. You’ve probably got rats in there and you wouldn’t ever know.”

“I do know, and I love them. They’re my friends.”

Harry snorts. “I hate you.”

Louis heads back into the living room, plops down on the couch, and grabs the blanket draped over the back of it. It’s still too warm outside to actually need it, but he wraps it around himself, anyway. He sighs. “You look good, H,” he says seriously.

Harry furrows his brows deep, deeper. “Thank you,” he answers slowly. “And you look as gorgeous, as always.”

He touches the threading along the edges of the blanket, distracting himself. “Yeah, we really can’t do this.”

“Kara told me you looked tired. I think she might be a liar. You look fit.”

“That’s just another way of saying someone looks like shit without actually saying they look like shit. But nice subtle way of telling me Kara told you I was drinking alone at a bar.”

Harry laughs, nodding. “Yeah, see what I did there?”

“Mhm. Smooth.”

“I thought so.”

“Did she… Discuss our conversation?”

Harry shakes his head. “No, she didn’t. I tried to pry it out of her but she got annoyed that I was acting like a jealous twat and she told me to sort myself out.”

“Wait, what were you jealous of?”

“Kara,” he says matter-of-factly.

“Why…”

“Jealous that she got to see you and spend time with you.”

Louis laughs. “That’s ridiculous.”

“’m jealous of anyone who gets to see you and be around you everyday.”

“Jesus.” He swallows. “Forgot how honest you always are.”

Harry nods, sighing. “Lou, fuck. I don’t wanna go, but.” He runs his fingers through the ends of his curls. “My phone’s gonna die.”

Don’t hang up. “Can you get a charger?”

He shakes his head. “I’m not home.”

Louis sits up. “Wait, where are you?”

“At a party. Zach got some big, fancy job, so his parents threw him a congratulatory celebration thing.”

“It doesn’t sound like you’re at a party…”

“Well, when I saw that you were calling me, I jumped in one of the hall closets so that I could hear you.”

“Are you telling me that you’ve been sitting in a stranger’s closet for the past…” He looks at the clock on the microwave. “Hour and a half?”

“When you say it like that, it makes me sound crazy.”

Louis then realizes that Harry’s dressed up - suit and tie and the works - and, is that a trenchcoat above his head? “H, are you sitting in the closet?”

“Yeah, I got tired of standing, but sitting isn’t much better. My legs are starting to go numb.”

He swallows heavily. “You can go back to your party. Congratulations to Zachary.”

Harry nods. “Can I call you when I get home? Please?”

And it’s a terrible idea to prolong this, Louis knows. These past 90 minutes have already set him back so far, and he feels like he’s suffocating again. He wants Harry, wants him so, so badly, and all he gets is this version of him on a screen, connection cutting in and out. It’s not worth it; his head hurts.

“Yeah, call me as soon as you get home.”

“Thank God.”

 

When Harry calls back two hours later, Louis has showered, made himself a pot of coffee (not trying to make the awful mistake of tea again), changed, and pretended to get through two more documents, barely paying attention to the words and edits. Instead, he’s mostly been staring at his phone, impatiently waiting for it to light up.

It’s almost ten Louis’ time when Harry calls back, meaning it’s about three in the morning for Harry. When the connection goes through - another FaceTime call - Harry looks exhausted, eyes drooping, hair pulled back into a bun. But he’s smiling and his dimple is out and Louis can't believe how fucked he is.

“How was the rest of your party?” he asks, sipping at his coffee.

Harry hums. “I was kind of distracted.”

“By anything in particular?” Louis blinks slowly and Harry laughs.

“Yeah, because of some boy back in New York.” He shakes his head, laughter written all over his face. “I haven’t seen him since May and it’s been over three months and then we video chatted and it occurred to me that I almost forgot how gorgeous he is.”

“I dunno how you could forget…”

“I don’t, either. I spent the better part of a year staring at him.”

Louis laughs. “You were never that sneaky about it.”

“I didn’t want to be. I wanted him to know.”

He takes another sip of his coffee, needs something to do with his hands. “Coming on a little strong, dear.”

Harry shrugs. “I think that might just be my personality”

“I think you might be right.”

They talk about Zachary’s party, Harry making fun of the sheer volume of choices of champagne (“He got into law school and he’s working at some law firm downtown, it’s not like he found the cure for cancer…”), and Louis makes fun of his bitter tone, mocking him. It's so easy, too easy, to jump back into this; it seemed so difficult over the past few months, but this? This is effortless and the way it always has been. Before he even realizes it, it’s coming up on one in the morning - six AM for Harry - the hours ticking by quickly, steadily, easily, covering everything from new daily routines, short term goals, and and a story about Harry getting licked by a stranger on the tube.

“Okay, to be fair,” Louis asks through laughter, “would it have been any better even if it wasn’t a stranger?”

Harry shrugs, laughing, too. “Regardless, I’m not trying to get licked on the tube by anyone, really.”

“I guess that makes sense.” Louis picks up his coffee cup, carrying it into his bedroom, sliding into his bed. The sheets are cold and feel incredible. “Weird that you don’t know where I live anymore.”

“You don’t know where I live, either,” he replies.

“Oh. You’re right.”

“Mhm.” Harry yawns. “Sun’s starting to come up.”

“You tired?”

“Yeah.”

“You wanna go to bed?”

“No.”

Louis smiles. “You got anything interesting to say, then? Something worth keeping us both up?”

“Hmm.” Harry taps his chin. “Oh. Yeah, actually. I’ve been wondering this for ages. Do you think the first person that ever started to fall asleep was like, ‘What the fuck is happening?’”

He stares at the screen blankly. “I can’t tell if this is a serious question or not.”

“It is.”

“Ask me a different question. Something not so stupid.”

Harry laughs. “Okay.” He licks his lips, taking a deep breath. “Do you think about us a lot? Or at all?”

“Jesus, Harry.” Louis runs his hands through hair. “Do you seriously want to do this right now?”

“Yeah, I do. Because I feel certifiably insane with how much I think about you and I wanna make sure I’m not in it alone.”

He slides deeper under the sheets, listening as Liam or Brandon walks in through the main door, laughing about something. “To be honest,” he whispers, “I spend most of my time reminding myself not to think about you.”

Harry nods, seems to understand. “It’s really hard having a best friend on another continent.”

“It’s really hard having a best friend you don’t ever talk to,” he corrects.

“It’s really hard having a best friend you want to fuck and physically can’t do anything about it.”

Louis can feel his face heating up. “Harry…” he warns.

Harry closes his eyes, breathing heavily. “Do you know the idea of someone else touching you makes me sick? Like, I’m not stupid. I know we aren’t a thing anymore and I didn’t expect you to just sit around and not date anyone else. But.” He opens his eyes, stares straight at Louis on the screen. “You’re mine.”

“But I’m not ,” Louis says, voice tight. “And this is unfair. Don’t unload on me, okay? I’m trying my best to get over it, and hearing you say all that isn’t making it any easier. It’s not like we’re ex’s rekindling after a bunch of years. It’s still too raw for you to do this.” When Harry doesn’t say anything, Louis continues. “It’s a lot, okay? It’s a lot to know I’ll never get summer with you.”

Harry looks confused. “Summer?”

“Yeah, we didn’t, like. Get to do any of the things I wanted to do with you here that we couldn’t have done in the winter or spring. We didn’t get to go to the beach, or visit the mountains in New Hampshire, or watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July. Instead, I got absolutely hammered and left you a passive aggressive message, which, by the way, I’ve been meaning to say thank you for not mentioning it.”

He nods slowly. “You’re welcome.”

Louis takes a deep breath, exhaling. “I got every version of you, Harry. But I didn’t get Summer Harry. I wanted it, I didn’t get it, and now everything between us feels unfinished. I didn’t get closure. I need it.”

“What if I don’t?”

“What if you don’t what.”

“Want closure.”

He shakes his head. “Don’t be an idiot, Harry. Nothing has changed.”

“Yeah, that’s the problem. Nothing has changed. I’m still in the same place I was three months ago, nine months ago, even.”

Louis closes his eyes for a moment. “I don’t think I thought this through. Falling in love with you. This sucks.”

Harry tries to laugh but it doesn’t sound like it normally does. “Louis, it’s almost seven o’clock in the morning for me, so I’m going to blame fatigue on this. Just let me get it out and we’ll never talk about any of this again.”

“Is this you giving me closure?”

“This is me trying to.” His eyes look a little desperate, dark circles prominent. “I love you, okay? I can’t believe I waited until we were in a fucking airport to tell you that. Christ, I think I loved you the whole time. And when I was still in Connecticut, it seemed stupid to tell you because I knew I was leaving. But I should have told you every single day. You should have known.”

Louis tries to swallow the lump in his throat. “Harry, how is that closure.”

“I never want you to have any doubts about how I felt about you, about how I still feel about you. I don’t want you to look back and regret anything. I want you to know. And when you’re good and ready to move past this, you won’t have any questions.” Harry gives a weak smile, his face partially illuminated by the early morning London sun peeking in through his windows. “Does that make sense?”

He nods, his voice seemingly gone. “Yeah,” he croaks.

“I can’t come back to give you a summer together. I’m sorry.”

Louis nods again, belatedly whispering, “I love you, too.” He sighs. “Thank you for being so patient with me.”

Harry drags his hand across his face. “We don’t ever have to talk about any of this again, if that’s what you want.”

“Yeah,” he agrees. “That’d be good, probably.”

“As long as you promise not to fall off the face of the Earth again, yeah? This is so fucking dumb that we just spent the past six hours catching up. We shouldn’t have to do that.”

Louis huffs out a laugh. “I promise.”

 

They both end up falling asleep shortly after that, neither of them ending the call. It’s the first night in months that Louis has fallen asleep beside Harry; when he wakes up and rolls over to see Harry still sound asleep on his end, Louis scrunches up his face, smiling.

He doesn’t have closure yet. He’ll get there.

One day.


 

Louis wakes up a few mornings later with a very thorough tour of Harry’s flat in London via video, Harry’s monotone voice nearing lulling Louis back to sleep with talk of toilets and cabinets. He’s secretly glad, though, that he knows what Harry’s home looks like, even if it took ten years off his life watching that sinfully boring video. He replies with a picture of the inside of his garbage can, saying, According to you, this is my home. Harry responds with, Say hi to the rat babies.

And it goes on like that for weeks.

Due to the time difference, Louis will typically wake up with 6-8 texts from Harry, each one stupider than the next, messages scaling anywhere from, Hey, look at this bird outside my window , to The guy who licked my neck on the tube just asked for my number . They’re all pointless, they’re all a waste of time, and they always make Louis laugh.

And like they both agreed to, they never dive deeper than that, keeping it casual, and it works . Louis knows there are an abundance of underlying feelings on both of their parts, but he finally feels like he’s friends again with the boy from England who took Connecticut by storm earlier last year, and it feels impossibly good. Settled, even.

It occurs to Louis two weeks later that talking to Harry nonstop is probably not the best thing to do - not for himself, not for Harry, definitely not for John, whose messages have all but dwindled into nothing after Louis stopped answering, and he feels guilty that he doesn’t feel guilty over it. But he’s finally at a place where he doesn’t feel the constant need to be drunk or asleep to function and feel okay, so he tries not to dwell on it. He’s starting to enjoy his job again, the company of his family, and his friends have stopped looking at him with pitiful glances.

He keeps waiting for this - for Harry - to take its toll on him, but so far, nothing. He leans into it, happy to. It may be instant gratification, and definitely counterproductive, but it’s working.

 

Louis’ out with Liam one Sunday afternoon at an animal shelter in Brooklyn, Liam apparently in desperate need to adopt a cat, Louis walking a step behind him as they weave in and out of cages.

“Don’t expect me or Brandon to take care of his cat,” Louis warns.

“I know . Hey.” He points to a cage with a sleepy Husky inside it. “What about that guy?”

“No, you can’t get a dog.”

“Why?!”

“We live in a tiny apartment. That’s mean. Where would he run around?”

“I’ll take him to the dog park.”

“Are you also gonna take him outside five times a day to go to the bathroom?”

Liam pauses. “Let’s go look at cats again.”

Louis laughs as he feels his phone vibrating in his pocket. It’s a text from Harry, telling Louis he’s on his way to his cousin’s son’s first birthday party - a superhero theme. Louis looks around the room, zoning in on the dopiest, cutest dog he’s ever seen. He snaps a picture of it, sending it to Harry, writing, I see your baby birthday party and I raise you this puppy . He watches the little bubbles on his phone pop up, indicating Harry is typing back, and Liam nudges him.

“Please don’t take this the wrong way because you’ve been in such a good place lately, but don’t you think you’re a little dependent on him?”

Louis doesn’t bother looking up from his text, scrolling through his thread of messages with Harry, as he answers. “Don’t you think you’re a little dependent on your mommy?”

Liam laughs. “My mommy and I have a very healthy relationship, thank you very much.”

“Yeah, I can see that,” Louis says. “Look. He makes me happy.”

“He lives in London.”

“He does?”

Liam sighs. “Lou…”

“And even from London, he makes me happy. It just happens to be a little unconventional. Is that alright with you?”

He pauses, skepticism written all across his face. “Yes.”

“So, can we drop this?”

“Yeah,” he sighs eventually.

“Good. Let’s look at the kittens again. I’m sure there’s one in there that would love to come home with us and tear apart our couch.”

He laughs. “I love him already.”

Louis starts to follow Liam out of the room, unlocking his phone once more as another text from Harry comes in.

You win. You should get him. That’s the cutest dog I’ve ever seen. Is it a St. Bernard?

Louis checks the tag on the side of the cage. It is. Could you seriously imagine me as the owner of a fucking St. Bernard? They get up to 250 pounds.

Harry’s response comes in less than a minute later. I could imagine it. It’s a beautiful sight. Get him.

 

They don’t take home the dog, but they do adopt a one-year-old calico named Genevieve. The second they get home, she curls up in Louis’ lap, showing absolutely zero interest in Liam. Louis laughs hysterically, rubbing behind her ears, telling her what a perfect, beautiful angel she is, and Liam shakes his head, scoffing, “I should have fucking known.”


 

The rest of August flies by, Louis immersing himself in work and making Brooklyn feel like his home. He only manages to make it back to Hartford once - at the end of the month for Fizzy’s birthday - and he doesn’t feel all that broken up about it. He misses the constant chaos, of course, but he lives in a different kind of craziness now, and when someone asks how he’s doing, he can finally answer honestly, “I’m good.”

In the last few days of the month, Brooklyn miraculously experiences a break in the heat. Temperatures hover around 68 in the morning, never reaching more than 77 all day. Louis opts to work from home, opening all the windows, turning off the ridiculous expensive air conditioning unit, playing with Genevieve in between phone calls and documents. The apartment is quiet, quiet enough that it gives him time to wonder what Harry’s doing on his side of the world; he checks the time and sees it’s around three in the afternoon for him.

He types out a text quickly - Bored enough at your internship that you wanna text me and a cat? - and sets the phone back down on the desk as he types. It lights up a few minutes later.

Heading into a big meeting.

Louis wants to make a joke about how Harry’s a sellout, or to not fuck it up, but he can tell Harry’s nervous for whatever this meeting is, so instead he writes back a simple, Good luck, Curly. It goes unanswered.

Six phone calls, three documents, two cups of coffee, and one turkey sandwich later, Louis’ phone lights up, and incoming call from Harry. He answers it, leaving it on speaker phone as he types away at his laptop.

“Hello, there.”

“Louis!” Harry shrieks. “Louis! I got a fucking job!”

Louis laughs. “You did?!”

“Yes!” He’s nearly screaming. “They seriously offered me a job! Can you fucking believe that?!”

“Where are you?”

“The tube. Oh my God , I have a job !”

He laughs again. “You’re yelling like that on the subway?”

“Yes, I don’t care!”

“Harry, you’re scaring my cat.”

Harry’s voice goes down an octave. “Funny, I remember last week when her litter box needed to be cleaned, she was suddenly only Liam’s cat.”

“Eh.” Louis waves his hand around. “That’s neither here nor there. But tell me about the job. And remind me not to share with you anything else about my life because you tend to use it against me.”

“Okay,” he answers, definitely smiling. “They’re keeping me on the team, obviously, and I’m going to have a major role in all of this. Like, I’m going to be one of the people who decides which adverts will be placed in magazines all across the world. And Tom was telling me that after a bit, if I do well and if I want to, I can actually go to some of these shoots and help create, rather than just be a part of the layout and editing team. Me. I can’t…” He takes a deep breath. “I don’t have to leave London, my office is unbelievable, I love the people I’m working with, the money is outstanding… Louis. I have a permanent job doing something I’m so crazy about and I can’t even fucking believe it.”

Louis pulls one knee up to his chest, resting his chin on it. “You sound really happy.”

“I am .”

“What’d Anne say?”

“I haven’t told her yet. I called you first.”

He slumps down in his chair. “Call your mommy.”

“I intend to. I just wanted to talk to you first.” Harry pauses, mumbling excuse me under his breath. “Sorry, lots of people all around.”

“It’s okay. Hey. Congratulations, H. You did it.”

“I did do it, didn’t I?” He takes a deep breath. “Thank you.”

“You feel good?”

“I do.”

“Enjoy it, because that feeling lasts about three days and then you realize you’re an adult and everything is terrible.”

Harry laughs. “A confidence boost, I like it.”

They hang up shortly after, Harry’s service cutting in and out once he’s on the train, Louis getting frustrated that he can’t hear Harry answering him, and he stares at his glowing laptop screen, not able to focus on the words at all.

Harry has his dream job, he’s doing well, he’s successful, he’s happy, he’s settled in London. London . Louis keeps that in his mind on repeat, ignoring the sinking feeling in his stomach as he continues to work from his own desk in New York.

He’s not sure how much longer he can keep doing this.


 

The first week of Working Harry, Louis gets an abundance of pictures and video tours of his office, “office” being a loose term. It’s a closet-sized, open room attached to his superior’s office, but it does have a large window overlooking much of the city.

Louis teases Harry for the sheer number of plants he lines the windowsill with - an orchid, a cactus, a variety of succulents - but the rest of his insults are lost on his tongue when he catches a picture out of the corner of his eye pinned to a corkboard in video number four. He pauses it, takes a screenshot, and zooms in, furrowing his brows. There’s no doubting exactly what it is, no way he can pretend it isn’t the Polaroid of the two of them at Christmas, unwrapping gifts on the floor. Unmistakable.

He doesn’t mention it, can’t think of anything to say that doesn’t make him want to choke, so instead, he settles on making fun of the “I’ve got big hair and I cannot lie” mug on top of his desk.

It was a gift from my sister, you twat.

Louis closes out of the text message and goes back to the screenshot of the video. The Polaroid is grainy and much too small to be able to make out any significant detail but he can still see the crinkles by his eyes and Harry’s dimple poking out. He stares at it until his eyes and his chest hurt.

 

If talking to Harry was hard enough before, talking to Harry while he’s settling into a new job is next to impossible. The conversations between them are at an all time low, Louis trying and Harry not so much, sometimes going a day or two without so much as a brief “what’s up” message. Louis knows Harry is busy, knows he’s settling into a new chapter of his life, but he can’t shake the idea that he isn’t a part of new equation, reality finally settling in.

After almost a full week of no contact, Louis breaks and reaches out on Wednesday night around dinner, about midnight in London. He sends Harry a picture of Genevieve hanging onto the back of Liam’s shirt, latched on, Liam looking over his shoulder with a very wary expression on his face. It’s the kind of stupid shit Harry typically sends him, so he figures he’ll get a response rather quickly.

An hour later, Louis’ phone might as well be turned off, silent and essentially mocking him at this point. Louis isn’t clingy, has never been one to care this fucking much, but Harry is slipping and Louis is slipping just as quickly and why the fuck hasn’t Harry answered his text message of Liam and their cat.

He gives up around nine o’clock, sliding into his bed pathetically early, tossing and turning for the better part of an hour before he gives up and gets back on his phone, pretending that Harry isn’t ignoring him, is just busy or asleep. . He scrolls mindlessly through social media, swiping through pictures of college friends, his aunt in New Jersey, and then.

Seven minutes ago, a group photo posted by Harry Styles pops up. He’s surrounded by a large group of people at a bar, most of them holding up drinks in their hands. Louis scans the picture, seeing a couple familiar faces from his trip to London, just about everyone else unfamiliar. He sucks in his cheeks, turning off his phone completely, and pulls the blankets up over his eyes.

He’s over it. He needs to be.


 

Labor Day Monday falls on September 7th this year - later than usual, but still warm outside. Even so, when he peeks out his window and looks across the street, he sees the very tops of the trees starting to turn from their usual green to red and yellow.

Autumn.

His office is closed for the holiday, so he takes his time getting up, not bothering to get out of pajamas before he makes the couch his temporary home. He brews coffee, picks a movie, and settles in with Genevieve.

He’s dozing in and out of sleep, the credits of the movie starting to roll by - a definite waste of a day off - when his phone starts vibrating on the coffee table. Louis looks over, surprised to see a text from Harry.

I need your help. I have a huge meeting tomorrow morning with the CEO and I don’t know which tie to wear.

Louis rolls his eyes, annoyed, and puts the phone back on the table without answering. But it goes off again, then a third time.

You always tell me when I look stupid. I need you.

I’m kind of freaking out.

He sighs, nearly throwing it back onto the table, groaning when the vibrating doesn’t stop.

I think the material I have to present at the meeting is decent. But this is the owner of the company. What the fuck do I wear to meet the OWNER.

Lou.

Blue or green?

Or red. Or purple. Or black.

Why do I have so many ties?

This one is paisley. Is that still in?

I should know. They don’t call me Harry STYLES for no reason.

Please pretend I didn’t just say that.

LOUIS.

Louis drags his hand across his face, trying his best not to punch a pillow or himself, but then the phone starts ringing. Over and over again, it won’t stop and Louis knows he must be imagining the ringing getting louder, knows the phone isn’t actually mocking him, but it now feels like a personal attack. He finally reaches for the phone after the sixth time it goes off.

“What, Harry?!”

“No, Louis, it’s Liam.”

“Oh.” Louis sits up, sighing. “Sorry.”

“It’s alright. I need you to do me a quick favor. I forgot my keys this morning and I can’t get back into the building. They gave us a half day. Can you buzz me up?”

Louis groans. “But the couch cushions are the exact way I like them.”

“Are you seriously not going to walk the seven steps it takes to let me in the building and unlock the door.”

“It’s probably more like 11 steps.”

“Louis.”

“Christ, hold on.” He climbs off the couch, moving over a very grumpy Genevieve, and holds down the buzzer by the door. “You’re all set,” he says, unlatching the lock.

“Awesome, I’ll be up in a second.”

“Thanks for the play by play.”

“Fuck you.” Liam hangs up and Louis smirks, sinking back down into the couch cushions.

He starts flipping through the channels on the TV - nothing good playing at two in the afternoon on a Monday - not bothering to look over when Liam comes through the door.

“Glad your home, honey, it’s your turn to take care of our daughter,” Louis says, stopping on an episode of Botched , wincing at the blood and scalpel.

“Okay, I will, but I really need your help first. Which tie, Lou?”

Louis spins around so quickly, he thinks he has whiplash. Liam is nowhere to be seen; instead, Harry is here, standing in the doorway of his tiny Brooklyn apartment, cheeks pink and eyes unblinking. He’s tall, he’s beautiful, he’s running his hands through his extremely short hair, and he’s holding two ties, one green, one blue. Louis feels frozen, his mouth dry.

“Harry, where did your hair go?”

Harry bursts out laughing and Louis feels like he’s going to collapse; he hasn’t heard that stupid laugh in person in too long and he wants to live inside it. “That’s the first thing you want to know?”

Louis nods. “Yes, please tell me why you have no hair.”

“I have hair. It’s just shorter. Thought it would look nice. Do you like it?”

“I don’t know,” he says honestly. “I wasn’t expecting it. Or you. What the hell are you doing here?”

Harry takes a step further into the apartment, letting the door slam behind him. “I told you, I need help picking out a tie for my meeting tomorrow.” He holds them both up in front of Louis. “Green or blue?”

Louis takes a deep breath. He can’t think, can’t focus. “They’re both so ugly,” he whispers, palms sweaty.

Harry smiles and nods. “I knew you’d be honest.”

He nods quickly, standing up and takes a step forward, his hands shaking. That’s when he realizes Harry’s are, too. He can’t seem to find his voice. “You’re in New York.”

“I am.”

“You’re in my apartment.”

“I know. It’s cleaner than I thought it would be.”

Louis tries to laugh but it sounds ridiculous. “Who told you where I live?”

“Liam.”

He looks over Harry’s shoulder at the key rack; Liam’s keys aren’t there. “Hence all the bullshit with being locked out. He was in on it.”

“Exactly.” He smiles, biting on his bottom lip. “Is it okay that I’m here?”

“Yeah, but I have some questions…”

“Of course,” he says, nodding. “I can answer all of them.”

“I haven’t seen you in almost four months and you’re standing here and.” Louis trails off, losing his voice. “Just. First. C’mere.”

“Yes,” Harry says nonsensically, barreling at Louis, dropping the ties to the floor, wrapping his arms around Louis without hesitation.

Louis clutches Harry like a lifeline, gripping the back of his t-shirt, burrowing his face into his chest. He smells the same, feels the same; his heart is beating wildly and sounds just like it always does when Louis is pressed up against him. For the past 16 weeks, Louis has worn his sadness and his vulnerability like tattoos across his chest, but now, with Harry holding him tightly and breathing unsteadily against his neck, Louis thinks that every second of uncertainty and agony and fear was worth it for this moment, right here.

He will never love another the way he loves the human wrapped around him, and of all the things he’s ever had to question in his life, this isn’t one of them.

He forces himself to pull back after God only knows how long, Harry’s shirt wrinkled when Louis finally lets go, Harry’s eyes a mirror of Louis’, glassy, clouded. They both let out embarrassed laughs, Louis rubbing the back of his neck, Harry scratching his jaw.

“So, uh.” Louis takes a deep breath, collecting the mess inside his mind. “I’m sorry I’m in pajamas.”

Harry bites his bottom lip, smirking. “You’re perfect.”

“Alright, that’s enough.” He tugs on the bottom of his t-shirt, not knowing what to do with his hands. “Harry, why are you in New York?”

“I live here.”

“Funny. How long are you staying?”

“Louis, I moved here.” Harry’s eyes travel across Louis’ face frantically. “I got here Friday. I settled and moved in over the weekend and. Do you know how hard it’s been to be in the same state with you for three days and not run over here? It’s all I’ve been able to think about.”

Louis lets go of his breath, not even aware he was holding it to begin with. “I need you to explain this better because I feel like this is a terrible practical joke and I’m about five seconds from jumping off the balcony.”

He steps forward and grabs Louis’ wrists, thumbs moving across his skin the way he always has, and Louis would give him anything he wants, just as long as Harry keeps looking at him this way. “Can’t have you jumping off any balconies,” he says under his breath. “London is stunning. It had everything I wanted. Except for one thing.”

Louis clenches his fists, doesn’t bother trying to shake free from Harry’s grip. “Can’t believe you moved back here for the Packers,” he whispers.

Harry snorts out a laugh. “Okay, two things. Lou.” His gaze is so intense that Louis can’t bring himself to look away. “I flew 3,459 miles to tell you this in person. I didn’t want to have this conversation over the phone.”

Louis licks his lips. “To tell me what?”

He takes a deep breath, letting go of Louis’ wrists in favor of lacing their hands together, instead. “I’m going to feel like a real twat if we’re not on the same page anymore. Before I do this, let me know if I should keep going.”

“Keep going,” he answers immediately. “It’s. It’s the same page.”

“Thank God. Okay.” Harry squeezes Louis’ hand. “My mum bought a new kitchen table.”

He raises his brows. “That’s… Nice.”

“I started my new job on a Thursday, and then that Friday, Mum asked if I’d make the trek home for a family dinner to celebrate. When I got there, I saw the new table. And the first thing I said when I saw it was, ‘Louis hasn’t sat at this table before.’ I hated that. I hated that I couldn’t picture you at that table. It’d been months of missing you and I was so tired of trying to imagine you next to me. I didn’t want to do it anymore. I couldn’t. That Monday morning at work, I talked to my boss and asked about the possibility of a transfer. I knew there were offices everywhere; Milan and Sydney and LA and Paris and Miami. He said because I was so new to the team, he could send me wherever I wanted, as long as there was a position available. He presented the options, and I told him to give me Manhattan.” Harry drags his thumb across the back of Louis’ knuckles. “London had everything. But it didn’t have you.”

Louis tries to swallow the lump in his throat. “I can’t believe a piece of furniture convinced you to move across the world.” He looks down at the ground; Harry’s in the same worn boots as always and it’s all so familiar that he can’t take it. “Jesus, Harry, how am I supposed to get over you when you’re saying shit like this?”

Harry’s smile is weak. “Just. Don’t get over me. Please don’t. Because I gave up on getting over you so long ago.” He drops one of Louis’ hands, dragging his hand up to the nape of Louis’ neck. “Do you know what it feels like to have someone look at you the way you look at me?”

He nods, throat tight, because he most definitely knows; over the past four months, he’s been trying to recreate the looks Harry once gave him, and his imagination couldn’t conjure up even a fraction of the intensity. “I think I know what that’s like.”

Harry takes a deep breath. “You still love me, right?”

Louis doesn’t need to hesitate. “More than you know.” He’s not going to cry, he’s not .

Harry’s crying, though. “There were a lot of things that drew me back to the U.S. and I’m not going to say I came back here just for you, because that wouldn’t be true. I came back for the energy and the seasons and the people. But. If you weren’t here, none of those other things would have mattered, not if you weren’t a part of the package. You’re what matters most. Always.” He takes a second to search Louis’ face for any sign of hesitation, and when he doesn’t see any, he keeps going. “I’m so in love with you, I can hardly breathe. I would be a complete idiot to give up what we have, to pretend that the way I’m looking at you isn’t the exact same way you’re looking at me. I’ll never find someone in London or Milan or anywhere else on this planet who looks at me that way. And I don’t fucking want to. I want you. We were meant for this.” His shoulders are shaking when he says, “If you’ll have me. If you want to do this for real this time, with no end date in sight. God, please.”

Louis thinks he could throw up; his entire body is trembling and it’s so much and it’s Harry . It’s finally Harry. It’s always Harry. “You gave up your life to permanently move here. What if we don’t work out?”

“Is this you saying yes, you want to do this?”

“That’s not the point I’m trying to make. Harry, what if we don’t work out.”

“So little faith already…”

“I’m serious. What happens then?”

Harry shakes his head. “Then I’ll deal with it. I just.” He sucks in his cheeks. “I couldn’t live in a city that wasn’t ours and go over the ‘what if’s’ in my head anymore. And I’m not going to do it now, either.”

Louis nods. He gets it. “I’m all in,” he murmurs. “Even if you hadn’t showed up here today, I’d still be all in.”

“You positive?”

“Harry.” He grips Harry’s hip, nudging him closer. “I’m not great with words and I’m not always the best at explaining but. All I’ve done the past year is want you. I can’t stand how much I love you. I’m out of my mind insane with how badly I want this.” He looks up at Harry. “You moved back here. For me.”

“Not just for you.”

“You moved back here for me ,” he repeats.

Harry’s face cracks into a smile. “I see you listen just as well as ever.”

Louis pauses, pursing his lips. “I don’t want you to regret me. You gave up your whole life to come back here.”

“I didn’t give up my life, Louis. I’m just changing it. This is what I want. I want Manhattan, I want New England, I want it all. And you. You are what I want.”

“But you love London.”

“I do.” Harry shrugs. “But I love you more.”

Louis bites down on his bottom lip, stepping in closer, bodies flush. He looks up, winding his hands up into Harry’s hair. “This is me saying yes.” He digs his nails into the back of Harry’s neck, living for the way his eyes flutter shut. “I want to do it for real this time.” He takes an unsteady breath. “Harry.”

Harry’s hands slide up to cup Louis’ jaw. “Lou,” he whispers back.

He looks down at the floor, looking at the blue and green ties. “I can’t believe you brought props for this.”

Harry laughs, dragging his thumbs across Louis’ cheekbones. “Do you really think they’re ugly?”

Louis nods. “Yes, I really do.”

“Well, thank God there isn’t an important meeting tomorrow.”

“Made it all up for the drama of it all?”

Harry smiles. “Yeah.”

“Do you really want to start up this relationship again on a lie?”

“I’ll start it up any way you want it,” he breathes against Louis’ lips.

Louis nods. “Can we be done talking now please?”

“Yes.” Harry backs Louis up against the kitchen wall before Louis can process what’s happening, eyes locked for no more than two seconds before Harry bends down, movements swift, and slots their mouths together. It’s hot and slick and Louis can’t believe how much he’s missed this.

Harry’s tongue is relentless against his own, mouth working fervently, desperately, tiny whines falling out when Louis’ grinds against him, unable to stop himself. Harry snakes his hands down to grip at Louis’ ass, squeezing, making him fall forward. Louis’ about one move away from losing all self control, and based on the way Harry is saying Louis’ name, it seems like he’s just about there, too.

“Do you want a tour of my apartment?” Louis breathes out in between kisses.

“Yeah,” Harry pants against Louis’ neck. “Show me your bedroom.”

He lets his head fall back, hitting the wall behind him. “ Yes .” He doesn’t care that he could beg for it; he actually might.

They stumble to the bedroom together, Louis walking backward, Harry chasing his mouth the entire time. He doesn’t bother making excuses for the disaster, or bothering to turn on the light. Instead, he wonders when the fuck Harry got so strong as he wraps his arms around Louis’ frame, pushing him onto the bed, climbing over him with wandering and rough hands.

A lot of this is so different; they’re in a bedroom they’ve never shared before, Harry’s hair is short and tight and neat as opposed to his usual heap of curls, and Louis’ fairly sure Harry has a new tattoo on his chest, one he isn’t acquainted with yet. But the rest, all of this, is so familiar, so achingly normal that Louis can hardly breathe. Harry slides his hands under Louis’ t-shirt the exact same way he always has, hands steady and practiced, like he’s been picturing doing nothing but this for weeks. His voice is rough - his bedroom voice, one Louis knows well - and his eyes flicker across Louis’ naked body the same way they did on Thanksgiving night. Harry tugs on his pants, freeing his cock, already hard and wanting anything Harry will give him. Harry sighs, licking his lips.

“So fucking fit,” he mumbles, ripping off his own shirt, slipping out of his own pants and briefs. “Missed you so much.”

Louis nods, unable to do much else. “Missed you,” he echoes.

Harry falls down on the mattress beside Louis, pressing their mouths together, reaching down to take Louis’ dick in his palm, and Louis jerks into it. “Baby, whatever you want,” he says.

He groans, pressing his forehead to Harry’s chest, watching the way his cock looks sliding in and out of Harry’s hand. “Your mouth,” he forces out. “Been thinking about it for weeks.”

“Yeah,” he breathes, “I’ve been thinking about it, too.” He doesn’t say anything else as he ducks down, gripping at Louis’ ass, lifting him a few inches off the bed. Louis looks down just as Harry licks a stripe down the length of his cock, eyes closed, groaning around it.

It’s white hot heat, pressure perfect, and Louis wants to thrust up into it, but Harry is holding onto his hips too tightly for him to move. The more Harry slides his mouth up and down, licking over the heat, teeth grazing every so often, the more Louis sweats into the sheets, the more he curses and moans. It’s deliciously good, and Louis is overcome with jealousy at the mere idea of Harry doing this with anyone but him. He’s Louis’.

“Don’t leave again,” he chokes out. And he knows it’s unfair to say that, especially now, but he can’t help it, would do anything to keep Harry here, to keep him his.

Harry sits up, hand still pumping up and down. His lips are red, his eyes watery. “I’d be stupid to ever want to.”

Louis throws his arm over his face. “Then don’t be.”

“I won’t.” He sinks back down and Louis just barely catches a glimpse of Harry’s hand sliding down to touch himself, and it’s so hot. The muscles, the hair, the way Harry is getting off on Louis getting off. So, so hot.

Louis feels close to the edge, and Harry must be able to tell. He slides off Louis’ cock, climbing over him, bending down to bite and kiss at his jaw.

“Do I need to use a condom?” he breathes shakily into Louis’ neck. He pulls back and looks at Louis, unblinking, licking his lips, cheeks red, waiting for an answer.

Louis drags his hands up and down Harry’s sides, damp and slick with sweat. “I don’t know, do you?”

Harry shakes his head. “No. I don’t. But it’s not just up to me.”

He knows this is Harry’s roundabout way of asking Louis if he’s been with anyone else since the last time they were together. Harry’s eyes are frantically searching his face, looking for an answer. “Would it matter if you needed one?”

“Honestly?” He grinds down, panting. “No, it wouldn’t matter.”

Louis nods, lifting his own hips up. “You don’t need one.”

Harry grinds down harder. “Lube. Where.”

“Bedside table. In the drawer,” he says through gritted teeth. “I hope.”

He keeps one hand firm on Louis’ cock while he reaches over to open the drawer, pumping Louis slowly, only taking his eyes off of Louis’ body when he needs to twist open the cap. And Louis doesn’t remember spreading his legs, but then Harry is between them, looking up at him with a stare so intense, Louis feels like Harry can read his every thought. He probably can.

He winces slightly as Harry pushes in the first finger; it’s been a long time since he’s been in this position, and all of it is overwhelming. He swallows, telling his body to relax, and Harry can clearly tell.

“It’s me,” he murmurs against Louis’ thigh. “It’s just me.”

And that might be part of the problem. It’s Harry , finally Harry. Louis’ entire body is shaking; he’s gone without him for so long, is so scared for this to all go away again. He won’t let it, not if he can help it, now that he knows what it feels like to not be safe under Harry’s hands.

Louis swallows, spreading his legs further, sighing into it, letting Harry work over his body. “Gimme more.”

“Yeah?”

He nods. “More.”

Harry slides in a second finger beside the first, and Louis breathes out deeply. He’d almost forgotten how good this could be, just fingers, and he closes his eyes, short moans slipping out without his permission.

“You’re perfect,” Harry whispers against his hip, his voice rough and scratchy. “What a waste this entire summer has been.” He thrusts his fingers in deeper, scissoring them, and Louis whines. “Never gonna find anyone else like you.”

Louis grips at the sheets, gasping when Harry pushes in a third finger without warning, trusting Louis’ body is ready for it. “So good,” he forces out, chest heaving.

Harry doesn’t answer, just rubs along Louis’ prostate right as he takes Louis deep in his mouth again, his dick hitting the back of Harry’s throat, and Louis practically wheezes, every muscle in his body tensing. He doesn’t let Harry go on much longer, nearly thrashing against the mattress, needing it.

When Harry finally hovers over him, lining his cock up and pushing inside, kissing Louis deeply through it, Louis can’t do anything other than scratch up and down Harry’s back, probably leaving welts, not caring. He’s rubbing in all the right places, building up a steady rhythm before Louis asks him to, as if he could actually find his voice, anyway.

Harry groans when Louis clenches down involuntarily, thrusts faltering, and Louis wants to drag it out, to make it last. But he knows tonight is not the night for slow and agonizing. They’ll have other nights for that. Now, he’s too close to the edge to reel it back in.

“Harry,” Louis whines, “don’t come yet.”

He groans in frustration. “Baby, I can’t, you feel too good.” He kisses Louis, probably thinking it’ll help ease him back, but it makes him furrow his brows like he’s in pain, and Louis knows Harry’s plan backfired. “I’m already so close, I can’t help it.”

“Get me there,” he pleads. “You always do it, just.” Harry hits his prostate dead on, and Louis nearly yells, wrapping his legs around Harry’s waist too tightly for Harry to keep his thrusts even.

“Good?” Harry asks, voice raspy, trying to hold back. Louis can tell he’s starting to lose it.

Yes ,” he hisses, “‘m almost there.”

“Thank God.” Harry drives in further, getting his hand around Louis’ cock, and jerking him roughly, the way he knows will get Louis there the fastest. And it does.

Louis starts coming, entire body tight, can’t think of anything other than how incredible it feels. He can feels Harry coming, too, groaning and biting at Louis’ collarbones, mumbling how much he loves him, how much he missed him.

He forces himself to focus, telling Harry he loves him, too, body finally relaxing, even with shaking muscles. “I feel like it shouldn’t be this easy,” he whispers against Harry’s mouth.

Harry nods slowly, movements shaky, body trembling as much as Louis’ is. “What if it just… Is.”

“That’s horrible reasoning.”

“Don’t question it,” Harry says, smiling slightly, lips brushing together. “Let it be easy. And be with me.”

Louis closes the rest of the gap between them; he lets it be.

 

The moon is full, bright through the window and making Louis’ bedroom glow. Harry’s head is on his chest, lazily pressing kisses against his bare skin every so often, to let Louis know in the silence that he’s still awake, still here.

“Harry,” he whispers, “you haven’t even told me where you’re living.”

Harry laughs quietly, as to not disturb their bubble. “I’m moving in here. With you. I hope that’s okay.”

Louis’ eyes go wide in surprise. “Oh. I mean, if you need to, yeah. That’s fine.”

He rolls over and props himself up on his elbow, smirk playing across his face. “I moved in with Evan and his roommate Vic over the weekend. They just got a place in Queens a few weeks ago. But it’s nice that you’re willing to take me in like that without even hesitating.”

Louis blushes. “Okay, sorry I didn’t want you to be homeless .”

He laughs again. “Thank you.” He drops back down onto the mattress, pushing his face up against Louis’ neck. “Sorry I was kind of absent last week. I was busy packing and saying goodbye to friends.”

“Why are you apologizing for that.”

“Because I know you. I’m sure you were ticked off. It seemed like I was ignoring your messages and stuff.”

“I was not ticked off.” Louis pauses. “Shut up.”

He smiles against Louis’ jaw, kissing the skin there. “I love the way you love.”

“I said shut up.”

“I also love the way you love me.

Louis rubs his palm in between Harry’s shoulder blades. “Good.”

They’re quiet for a while, long enough for Louis’ arm to go numb from where Harry’s laying on it. His breathing is deep and even, and Louis thinks he might be asleep until he rolls over, pulling Louis with him.

“You look beautiful right now,” he murmurs.

Louis squishes in closer. “You do know what I look like right now, right? I’m gross.”

“Not gross. Stunning.”

“Kiss ass.”

Harry smiles. “Seriously. I’ve looked at you a lot . And this might be the best you’ve ever looked.”

“I know, you’re always staring,” Louis replies, ignoring the compliment completely.

“Louis.” His expression grows serious as he traces the tattoos across Louis’ chest. “I’ve looked at you a million times, in a million ways, and I think I’ve loved you in every single one of them.”

Louis takes a deep breath, still stunned by Harry’s unwarranted honesty even a year later, heart caught in his throat. He pushes Harry off of him, straddling Harry’s hips, kissing him, unintentionally grinding down slightly. Harry groans into it, arching his back, and Louis is about to tell him to be quiet, sure that if Liam is awake, he can most definitely hear them, when someone pounds on the other side of the wall.

“Tommo, seriously, it’s, like, three in the morning. Please take a break. And hi, Harry. Good to have you home.”

Harry laughs, eyes squeezed shut. “Hi to you, too, Liam.”


 

The next morning, Louis’ alarm goes off at its usual time at six o’clock. His head hurts from the lack of sleep, and his body aches from the way Harry had fucked into him, whispering to him the entire time, eyes wide and pupils blown. He thinks about it now, remembering the way Louis had arched his back, couldn’t stand to meet Harry’s gaze anymore, too intense, too bare.

The past several weeks have felt like a slow torture, heavy and suffocating, but then Harry stormed back in, kissing Louis like he’d never left, and Louis is beginning to think that maybe, he made the entire summer up. Harry is back, he isn’t going anywhere, and it shouldn’t be this fucking easy for Louis to not feel so broken anymore, but it is .

Louis turns to his left, reaching for Harry’s body, but his spot is empty. He looks around the room; it’s just shadows and sunlight slanting in through the crack in the shades. He sits up all the way, stretching, his muscles taut. “Harry?” he calls out.

His bedroom doorknob twists open a few moments later, Harry pushing it open with his hip. He’s holding a mug in each of his hands, his briefs riding low on his hips. “Morning.”

He tries to peer over the edge of the cups. “What’ve you got, there?”

“Mmm, made some tea. Because the last time you made it, you fucked up so badly and spiraled.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “I did not spiral.”

“Speaking of.” Harry kicks the door closed behind him. “Are you ever gonna tell me what caused that lovely voicemail from the Fourth of July?”

Louis groans. “I thought we weren’t going to bring this up. Gimme the tea. It smells good.”

“Yeah, well, I changed my mind. Tell me, or no tea.”

“Dick.” He sighs, rubbing his eye. “Ugh, I was jealous. I thought we had something special going on, kind of, and then you were out there sending the exact same messages to other people. Namely Evan. Not exactly my finest moment.” He frowns. “I sound really stupid.”

Harry laughs. “Yes, you do sound stupid.”

“Nice.”

He laughs again. “Not that this even needs an explanation, but I did initially take that picture of myself in that damn flag to send to you. But then Evan texted me later on, something about how Europe sucks and America owns, so I sent him the same thing.” He raises his brows. “Is that okay with you, sweetheart?”

“Oh, shut up. I told you it wasn’t my finest moment. Tea .”

Harry smirks, taking a seat on the edge of the bed, handing over the tea. “Enjoy.”

Louis reaches for it, the steam spilling over, and he pauses. “Wait. Harry. What’s that?”

“What’s what?”

He grabs Harry’s wrist, turning it over, tea sloshing over the side. He ignores it. “This tattoo. What is this.”

“Oh.” Harry’s cheeks turn pink. “Uh. It’s a lock.”

“Why.”

“I needed something to commemorate your time with me in London.” He shrugs, clearing his throat. “I wanted something that meant as much to me as your teacup tattoo did.”

Louis examines it again; it’s small, it’s subtle, it’s a replica of the one he locked on that bridge in London. He drags his thumb across it, can’t take his eyes off of it, and it’s definitely not brand new, not raised or red at all. “How did I not notice this last night?”

“We were kind of busy,” Harry says under his breath with a laugh.

“Jesus.” He looks up at Harry. “I love you.”

Harry smiles, grabbing Louis’ hand and kissing the back of it. “And I’m lucky.”


 

The week Harry comes home, Louis is fairly positive he hasn’t stopped smiling once. On the third morning in a row of waking up next to each other, Louis allows himself to believe this is actually happening, that they don’t have a countdown anymore. He sinks into it, happy to.

Harry starts up working in his Manhattan office, excited and loving it, full of stories after he gets out of work. Louis listens patiently, can’t believe he gets to hear this in person instead of through a long distant phone call or voicemail that he plays five or six times in a row. Harry’s in front of him, and he wants to celebrate that.

Which they do.

Louis isn’t the only one happy to have Harry back on American soil. He has to force himself to share with Liam, Niall, Evan, Riley, Kara and about a thousand other people Harry apparently befriended during his nine months living here. They go out every night, meeting up with people in bars and restaurants, each person seemingly more happy than the prior to welcome Harry back. It’s overwhelming in all of the best ways.

On Friday after work, Louis and Harry pack up for the weekend, deciding on an impromptu visit to the Deakin-Tomlinson household. They get there just as the family is sitting down for dinner, and before Louis pulls open the front door, he turns to Harry.

“Okay, so, my family can be a little wild at times.”

Harry rolls his eyes. “Do tell.”

“I have five sisters and one brother. They’re all loud and funny like to tease. They might try to terrorize you a bit.” He looks Harry up and down. “I’m not sure if they’ll like you. And for good reason.”

“What makes you think that?”

“You’re kinda ugly.”

“Aw, thanks, baby.” Harry kisses the top of Louis’ head. “Somehow, I think we’ll be just fine.”

“Alright, if you insist…”

They head in together, Louis walking into the kitchen first, unannounced. Jay gasps at the surprise, running over to hug him.

“You didn’t tell me you were coming!”

He shrugs. “Wanted it to be a surprise. I actually have another surprise, though. One you might like better.”

She raises a brow. “I’m intrigued.”

“I brought my boyfriend.”

“Wait, what?”

Harry steps around the corner, most absurd smile on his face that Louis has ever seen, and Jay instantly bursts into tears, the exact way Louis knew she would.

The two of them stand in an embrace for way longer than necessary, Louis losing track of how many times Jay asks, “For good? You’re back for good?” and when the girls catch wind of the fact that he’s here, the entire process starts all over again.

Phoebe sets another two placemats down for Louis and Harry at the table, the two of them taking a seat amongst the group, and as Louis scoops a pile of salad to put on his plate, Harry clears his throat.

“My high is being back here, at this table, with this family.” He smiles, cheeks a little red. “I don’t have a low. Is that okay? It’s been a good day.”

 

They both decide to stay the night - Harry makes it perfectly clear that he wants to spend time with the family, the girls clearly not ready to let go, either - and by the time they hunker down to the basement together around one in the morning, Louis is exhausted.

It’s like deja vu, sliding under the sheets beside Harry, feeling the warmth of his body next to him. Harry kisses up his jaw, smirking against his neck.

“I forgot how much this mattress sucks.”

Louis hums. “Does it matter?”

“Not in the slightest.”

 

The next morning, Louis wakes up to Harry brushing his knuckles up and down his sides.

“Lou. Guess what.”

“Is it that you forgot toothpaste? Your breath is awful.”

Harry laughs, pinching him. “Still a morning person, I see.”

“Go away.”

“No, but really. Today it’s going to be 88 degrees, and tomorrow it’ll be 89.”

Louis groans. “Too hot for autumn.”

“We can pretend it’s summer. Just for the weekend. We can do all those things you wanted to do, yeah?”

He sits up. “What?”

“The mountains and the beach. And I don’t think we can recreate fireworks but maybe we could buy sparklers, or something. I dunno.”

Louis smiles, shaking his head, pressing his finger into Harry’s lock tattoo. “We could probably find fireworks for sale somewhere.”

“I don’t think I want to attempt that.”

“You’d better find a different boyfriend, then.”

“Eh.” Harry shrugs. “I’m kind of happy with the one I have now.”

“Yeah, I heard he’s a catch.”

“He’s adequate.”

Louis punches Harry in the stomach, not hard enough to hurt, but Harry still acts like he’s just had the wind knocked out of him, anyway. Louis laughs, “Let’s get moving, kid. A New England summer awaits.”

 

They decide to head up to the beach first, arriving around noon. Louis roasts in the sun, Harry not doing much better, and Louis watches on as Harry spends an hour walking back and forth across the jagged rocks along the shoreline. They get drinks at a restaurant overlooking the Atlantic for dinner later on, and Louis listens as Harry tells a story about his new office, waving his hands around animatedly. Louis’ about to comment that this is the fastest he’s ever heard Harry talks when Harry stops mid sentence, smirking.

“Jesus. You look amazing right now.”

Louis raises his brows. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Harry licks his lips. “Do you have any idea how happy I am to be back here?”

He nods. “Probably about half as happy as I am.”

“I just can’t believe I get to be yours.” Harry stops to swallow. “I can’t believe I get to call you mine.”

They didn’t get their summer together; not in the way Louis imagined, anyway. They didn’t have long, hot nights inside clubs in the city, or fires in his mom’s backyard. They didn’t celebrate America’s birthday together, they didn’t take road trips up along the coast, they didn’t have the opportunity to fight for the air conditioning dial in the car. Instead, Louis sat in his cubicle at work, staring at the clock day in and day out, wondering if Harry felt the same pit in the bottom of his stomach wherever he was, five hours ahead.

They didn’t get their summer, no. But somehow, this - sitting across from each other at a sticky hightop table overlooking a nearly vacant beach on the second week of September, wind a little too cold and drinks a little too warm - is infinitely better.

Louis holds up his beer bottle, clinking it against Harry’s. “To this.”

Harry smiles. “Cheers.”

Chapter Text

Epilogue

“No, Harry, that looks so stupid there, I can’t even begin to figure out how the fuck your mind works.”

“Okay, I don’t see you saying anything actually helpful.”

Louis puts his hands on his hips. “Who puts a couch under the window like that? It’s going to block out so much light.”

“Where else do you suggest I put it?! We have very limited options here!”

“Try up against that back wall.”

“Again?!”

“Yes, again.”

Harry sighs, pushing his hair out of his eyes. It’s been about 18 months since he chopped it, and in that time, it’s grown tremendously. The curls are hanging just below his ears, curlier than ever, tight and bouncy. “I changed my mind. I don’t want to live with you anymore.”

Louis scoffs. “My name is on the lease. Sounds to me like you’re going to be homeless.”

“But it’s cold outside. February in New York is no fucking joke. Don’t kick me out.”

“Then hurry up and take care of all these boxes. Otherwise I’m gonna find me a man who doesn’t take forever to unpack all our kitchenware. It’s honestly ridiculous how slow you’re moving, Harry.”

Harry throws his hands up in the air. “I can’t believe how annoying you are! Almost all of this junk is yours and you’re sitting on the fucking floor, ordering me around, doing next to nothing! Liam and Brandon must have been saints to put up with your shit for the past year and a half!”

“Shh, you’re gonna wake up our neighbor’s baby with all your yelling. She’s so cute, did you meet her yet? Giant blue eyeballs and super blonde hair.”

“Don’t change the subject!”

“Her name is Evelyn,” Louis continues. “I think her mom said she was, like, eight months old. Shit, what’s her mom’s name. Autumn? April?”

“It’s Summer,” Harry says, rolling his eyes.

Louis smirks, raising his brow, knowing that Harry isn’t actually mad. Not yet, anyway. “Alright, anything else?”

Yes. ” He stamps his foot on the ground, and Louis laughs. “I also already know you’re not going to ever clean the bathroom or put away the groceries or get the mail.”

“Or clean the litter box,” Louis adds.

Harry makes a face. “Wait, we don’t have a cat.”

“But I want one. I miss Genny. I can’t believe Liam didn’t let me keep her.”

“She’s his.”

“She’s mine .”

Harry sighs. “You’re a pain in the arse.”

“As you’ve said.” Louis gets up off the floor and makes his way across the room, sliding his hands up Harry’s chest and into his hair. “Hey. Thank you for moving in with me.”

He scrunches up his face, placing his hands on Louis’ hips. “Thank you for letting me.”

“I’ll be a really good roommate, I promise.”

Harry presses his forehead against Louis’. “I know you will be.”

“I’m actually good at putting away the groceries.”

“I’m sure you are.”

“And I don’t mind cleaning the bathroom.”

“That’s good to hear.”

“I’ll get the mail if you remind me.”

Harry smiles. “Okay.”

“I want a cat.”

He nods. “We can get a cat.”

“Or maybe we can revisit the idea of getting a St. Bernard.”

Harry laughs. “Might as well get a horse, honestly.”

“What’s wrong with horses?”

“Nothing, but I guess I missed the part where you bought a stable.”

“Let’s buy a whole damn farm while we’re at it.”

“Other than horses, what do you want?” Harry asks.

Louis pretends to think about it. “Cows, probably. Some goats, too. And also, chickens, sheep, geese, a velociraptor, a rhino, a fleet of penguins…”

“I don’t think a group of penguins is called a ‘fleet,’ Lou.”

That’s the weird part of what I just said?”

Harry snorts. “I’m not about to say no to a dinosaur.”

Louis smirks and wraps his arms up around Harry’s neck. “If you put away the boxes in the kitchen, I’ll go get us dinner.”

He hums. “Chinese? That place on 54th a few blocks over has the best crab rangoon.”

“Works for me.” He stretches up on his tiptoes, pressing his lips against Harry’s. Harry deepens it, as expected, keeping his hands on the small of Louis’ back, holding him close, and when Louis pulls away, it’s only because he knows if he doesn’t, no boxes will ever get unpacked and dinner will be completely forgotten. “Want me to help you move the couch now or when I get back?”

Harry swipes his thumb across Louis’ bottom lip. “When you get back. Now all I can think about is chicken lo mein.”

He laughs. “Rangoon and noodles, got it.”

“What a man.” He winks and makes his way to the kitchen, sinking down to the floor, ripping open a box labeled Harry’s ugly ass hand towels .

Louis has to climb over several boxes on his way out, grabbing his jacket on the hook beside the door, taking a second to survey the apartment. It’s tiny - about half the size as the apartment he shared with Liam and Brandon, and appears to be smaller, somehow, now that his family has left after a day of unloading items from the moving truck - and it seems like every square inch of the entire room is filled with an endless sea of cardboard boxes, each one heavier than the next.

The road to this moment, right here, hasn’t been the easiest. There are days that Harry desperately misses his family and his childhood friends, days that Louis can’t do anything to fix it and all he can focus on is the guilt, feeling like it’s his fault. Harry always promises that Louis is the best part of this deal, he’s the thing that makes it better , but it doesn’t mean the tension instantly leaves, often underlying and too prominent. Sometimes they fight; sometimes Harry cries, sometimes Louis yells, and occasionally, it ends with Harry storming out of Louis’ apartment, heading back to his place for the night without a word.

But then there are days that Harry wakes up Louis with warm breath and bright eyes and bare skin, Louis helpless to not give in, the sheets tangled around their ankles. There are days that Louis meets Harry for lunch at his office, proud to show off the fact that they’re together, and if that means tossing pieces of his sandwich at him when Harry’s superiors are looking on, then so be it. There are days that they meet friends out for drinks long after the sun has gone down; it starts with vodka and ends with Harry pressed up against Louis in all the right places, telling him how obsessed with him he is, Louis responding with wandering hands and red cheeks. There are days that Harry falls asleep on the couch with his head on Louis’ lap, Louis doing his best to ignore the curls and heat from Harry’s skin against his own, trying to focus on the endless pile of documents beside him. He’s just about always unsuccessful.

There are days - most days, actually - that Louis will catch Harry staring at him while he’s reading or making dinner or tying his shoes; Harry will murmur, “You’re my best friend.” And Louis is always caught off guard, helpless, happy. He just whispers back, “I love you.”

They have their struggles - like all good couples do - and they constantly work at their relationship to keep it honest and safe. But it’s always worth it. Every damn day is worth it.

They still have a lot of boxes to get through; fuck, so much work still needs to be done until it finally feels like Harry and Louis’ . But even with all of the bubble wrap and packing peanuts and furniture askew, they’ve already managed to set up their first housewarming gift - something Harry had given to Louis the day they received their keys. Louis had rolled his eyes when Harry told him to unwrap it, Louis saying they weren’t supposed to get each other gifts, Harry saying there aren’t any rules when it comes to them.

It hangs just above the lightswitch, Harry making sure it was level and nailed into the wall before any of the boxes actually made it up the stairs. It’s the first thing they see when they walk in the door or turn on the lights, Louis’ gaze lingering on it every time he walks by it.

Harry had the Christmas Polaroid framed, his handwriting scrawled across the bottom in thin, black, ink.

“I’ll never be the same.”

It’s like their own personal inside joke, a reminder, and Louis knows whatever happens, he’ll always have this , unwavering and solid and theirs.

“I’ll be back in a few,” he says as he stuffs his keys into his winter coat.

“Don’t be long, I’ll die without you,” Harry shouts from the kitchen, the panic in his voice overly dramatic and it makes Louis snort.

“I bet you will.” He closes the door softly behind him, listening as it locks into place. It’s not the same sound he’s used to, and the hallway is brighter than the one back in Brooklyn, the wooden floorboards squeaking beneath his boots with every step. It’s all a little unfamiliar, all a little strange.

It’s not a bad thing, though. Not at all.

 

Louis knows what he’s going home to.