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Young & Beautiful

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Louis is a really good boyfriend.

Like, an extremely good boyfriend. Nay—not ‘good’. Incredible. Devoted. Magnificent. Splendid. Stupid, maybe? Punch-drunk? A bit like a slobbering puppy?

Well, regardless.

Louis is good people and that is the only reason he’s juggling five bakery boxes in his arms right now—all filled with various pastries, decorated precisely and carefully and exquisitely—and climbing up that goddamn flight of endless spiral stairs to Zayn’s rooms.

The struggle is real.

When he finally does make the trek to the top and manages to throw himself through the door while maintaining footing and balance, the first thing he’s greeted with is  an immaculately set table—for five—and Harry’s saucer eyes blinking with anxiety, two very large, very different flowers in each hand.

“Which of these whispers ‘we’re going to miss you yet are thrilled with your safe recovery’?” is the first thing he says, cornering Louis and thrusting the flowers in his face.

Louis glances between the two, well-versed enough in Harry-isms to refrain from protest (no matter how inconvenient they may be—his arms are killing him and the cardboard is digging into his bicep) before sighing, taking in the powder blue rose on the left and the magenta and gold stargazer lily on the right. And he continues to stare, a bit baffled.

What was the question, again?

“Er,” he manages, his bicep screaming in protest, and he readjusts the pile in his arms. “The…right one?”

Harry’s eyes almost pop out of his head at the mere implication.

“No, Lou! No, that one’s too loud,” Harry chastises, his baritone verging on whiny. Oh dear lord. “Have you even been listening to a word I’ve said this whole day? Do you even care about today? You aren’t even trying to make this luncheon nice for Liam. You’re just—“

“Whoah, whoah, settle there, Curly, hold on,” Louis rushes, drowning out Harry’s pouts. With an exasperated sigh, he slides past him, setting the boxes on the table—careful to avoid the china and artfully folded napkins—before turning back around and stepping toe-to-toe with him, immediately cradling his lip-jutted face in his hands.

So it’s going to be one of those kinds of days.

“Harold,” he begins, feeling a smirk form, and Harry’s eyes fall to his mouth. “I know you want to make this perfect for Liam—“

“He’s going to rehab, Louis. Of course it has to be perfect—“

Louis silences him with his forefinger, pushes it against the cushion of his lips.

“Be that as it may, it’s going to be perfect regardless of the flowers you choose to put on the table.”

Harry very nearly squawks at that, but Louis digs his finger in deeper, feels the ridges of Harry’s teeth beneath his skin.

“You’ve done a beautiful job, love. As you always do. And it’s going to be a wonderful luncheon. Not just because of us five lads, but because you always manage to create quite the setting—whether you’re aware of it or not. Now. Can you please just set the roses on the table, set the lilies somewhere else, and help me unpack these five—very large, I might add—boxes that I’ve generously hauled from the bakery? On foot? Because you asked me to? And I didn’t complain once?” With that, Louis extracts his finger from Harry’s lips, ready to begin pastry-distribution in as timely a fashion as possible because Zayn had said he’d be back with Liam any minute.

And that was an hour ago.

But then suddenly Harry’s grin blazes into life and he’s catching Louis’ hand between his own, holding him in place.

“You’re quite stunning,” he mumbles, pressing his lips into Louis’ palm. His eyes are lidded with affection, sliding up to lock into Louis’. “Did you know?”

Something pops in Louis’ heart. It spreads goo throughout his insides, might even leak to the floor a bit, soaking the ancient floorboards.

“I did,” Louis tries to say smugly, but his voice cracks and he’s almost positive his eyelashes are fluttering, his cheeks flushed. He has a traitor for a body. “But it’s always nice to be reminded.”

Harry grins wider at that, swoops in for a kiss and pulls Louis to him, arm hooked around the small of his back.

There’s goo everywhere. Goo stuck to Louis’ feet so he may never be able to move away from Harry’s arms ever again.

Oh well.

“I shall remind you always, then,” Harry murmurs against Louis’ lips, his dimple skidding Louis’ thoughts in twelve different directions, all of them slobbering and love-stricken.

“And this is why I love you,” Louis replies, body humming and warm in all the places it’s connected to Harry’s.

Another smile smoothes Harry’s face as he pulls away to look at Louis, gaze fuzzy and soft like hot summer air.

Louis warms even more under the scrutiny, feels an insistent sort of pounding in his limbs because fuck, Harry is just completely beautiful, isn’t he? And he’s looking at Louis like that—like Louis is the beautiful one.

Fuck.

But before Louis’ knees weaken (yes that can happen and yes that’s already happened—but nobody can prove anything so no, he doesn’t want to talk about it), Harry steps back, releasing Louis from his hold and walking over to the pastry boxes, the sparkly velvet of his blazer crystallizing the room.

And Louis doesn’t feel a ping at that—he really doesn’t.

He knows why Harry hasn’t said…it back yet. He knows that this is all still so new, so fresh and unchartered for him, that he’s only just following what feels right—and saying ‘I love you’ is a foreign concept entirely. It’s very understandable and, if asked, Louis could absolutely write an essay explaining the rationale in detail.

Having said that.

It’s still a bit…anticlimactic.

But no matter.

“We’ll have to give Rory a call,” Harry says, lifting the lids of the boxes and peering inside.

“Rory?” Louis asks, surprised. He walks up to Harry’s back, tucks his chin onto his shoulder. “What for?”

“To set up the pastries, of course.”

Louis stares.

“You can’t…put them on trays yourself?” he asks, eyebrow raised.

Harry stares.

“Are you being serious right now?” Louis continues, absolutely refusing to laugh, placing his hands on Harry’s hips as he peers up at him. “You set the damn table so why can’t you just—“ He stops, taking in Harry’s bite of the lip and his overly—innocent expression as he averts his eyes to the ceiling. “Harry,” he says, suspicion lowering his voice. “Did you set the table?”

Harry clears his throat, glances at him. “Uhm. Technically?” A pause. “No.”

Oh wow.

Louis rubs at his eyes.

“But,” Harry continues, peeling Louis’ hand away from his eyes. He turns to face him, forming his words with a smile, “I did pick out the china myself! And the flowers. And the cutlery.”

“Who set the table then, Harry?” Louis asks, exasperated. And, maybe, biting his cheek to fight a smile. Perhaps.

A stubborn line forms on Harry’s lips as he stares, hands behind back.

“Harry,” Louis warns, biting his cheek harder as the boy rocks back on his heels, a stray curl bouncing.

“Rory,” he finally admits.

“Rory??” Louis exclaims, immediately darting his hand to Harry’s side, pinching him delicately.

Harry laughs, bright and surprised, immediately capturing Louis’ hand in his own, fingers clamped and unyielding.

“Stop!” he giggles, but he doesn’t move away.

“You’ve already dragged Rory here and made him set the fucking table? And you want to ring him again?? What’s wrong with you??” Louis demands, but he’s laughing at Harry’s struggle to keep Louis’ hands away, laughing at Harry’s laugh, laughing at the way the room glows and bows to Harry’s presence.

Laughing because he is really, really fucking in love.

“I was busy getting dressed,” Harry’s voice drags out in the time it would take any normal human being to say three sentences. Slow and deliberate and oddly musical despite its monotony.

With a shake of the head, Louis smiles.

“What am I going to do with you,” he sighs, wishing he didn’t sound so damn fond all of the time as he bops his nose into Harry’s cheek, arms wrapping around his waist.

Harry leans into the feeling, slides his hands over Louis’ arms. He’s smiling.

Always smiling.

“Keep me,” Harry mumbles, resting his lips upon Louis’ forehead. “I’ve been told I make a rather beautiful accessory.”

Beautiful accessory?

Accessory?

NOPE. No. No.

Louis’ eyebrows pinch as he steps back; tilts Harry’s head to meet his gaze full on.

“You’re not an accessory, Harry,” he says, feeling prickly and hearing his voice quiver, just the slightest.

Which…okay, yeah. Louis is a bit over-sensitive when it comes to this sort of thing, is a bit too quick to stomp out any hint at Harry’s worth being less than what it is. But damn it—he has a reason to. Given their past, given Harry’s past, given everything, he has a reason to be sensitive about it, has a reason to enforce Harry’s true worth shamelessly and without fail. He has a reason to pour every fiber of himself into the passion he gives Harry, charges it into his support, his confidence.

Harry blinks his surprise at Louis’ sudden reaction but listens, eyes skittering along the surface of Louis’ face.

“Whoever told you that is a fucking prick,” Louis continues, gripping onto him tighter. “That’s not—you’re not an accessory! You’re a person. An incredible person—one with his own mind and his own actions and… And you’re not just there to look beautiful. Not even a little bit.

Louis tries not to huff. He needs to settle down—his agitation always does get the best of him.

There’s a moment where Harry just stares at him, his face largely unreadable. And then, slowly, a smile begins to form and he leans in, brushes his lips against Louis’ briefly, retrieving his hand and locking it with his own.

“Set up the pastries with me,” is all he says, his grin wide and soft, his voice softer. “And hold my hand.”

Instantly Louis’ agitation evaporates, a smile seamlessly replacing his gritty frown. A smile that is quickly becoming stupidly big. Pushing into his cheeks. Almost painfully.

“Won’t that make it a bit difficult? With your great big paw in mine?” he teases, but he tightens his hold on Harry’s fingers nonetheless.

“No,” Harry responds simply, then grins even wider as he begins to fold back the wax paper.

*

It’s not long after the table is set—pastries carefully placed on dish sets and glinting trays—that there’s a tentative knock on the door.

Curious, Louis opens it, only to find…

Niall.

“Why did you knock?” he asks, taken aback.

Niall shrugs, his hands deep in the pockets of his jeans, his black shirt pushed up to his elbows. His sweet face is set in guilt, his eyes lightly shadowed.

“Thought it’d be shitty to just barge in,” he says.

Louis frowns.

Ever since Liam’s overdose, Niall hasn’t been…Niall. He’s been cautious, quiet, tentative—he barely even talks to Rory since he refuses to ask favors of anyone, is instead diligently locked in his room doing homework every night before eight—at which point he goes to bed. Actually goes to bed. And sleeps. Before waking up to eat breakfast. Without even glancing at the piano, for fear of waking Louis.

It’s sort of awful, really. Louis sort of hates it. A lot.

“It’s not shitty. Not when it’s us and Zayn’s rooms,” Louis says, stepping back and gesturing for Niall to enter.

He does, slowly, his hands still in his pockets.

“No whiskey?” Louis jokes, glancing to Harry who’s watching them with a sad tilt to his mouth.

Niall shakes his head, taking in the place settings.

“Didn’t think it was appropriate.” He pauses, shrugs. “Given the situation.”

“Ah. Good call.” Louis tries to keep the frown out of his voice.

“Glad you came,” Harry says, attempting a small smile.

Niall does the same. “Thanks, mate. Glad to be here.”

Silence.

 “Liam will be happy to see you,” Louis says, placing an arm around Niall’s shoulders. “He misses you.”

“Can’t see why he would.”

“Because you’re one of his best mates. And he loves you.”

“Can’t see why he would,” he says again, and Louis swallows back the hoards of frustrations he feels pushing against his throat.

“Niall, it’s not your fault. Liam is equally to blame—he says so himself. Rather, he prefers to take the full blame,” Louis says, maybe for the hundredth time, but as always, Niall shrugs him off.

“Whatever. I just stopped by because I really wanted to see him before he leaves.”

Louis sends another helpless look to Harry, who shakes his head with sympathetic eyes.

“Well. I’m glad you came,” Louis sighs.

Niall nods, but doesn’t say anything, just goes to the window and looks out, refusing to sit down.

*

By the time Zayn returns with Liam, the room has enough tension to launch a catapult and Louis practically leaps out of his chair with excitement at the sight of them.

“Here’s the golden boy!” he roars, immediately barreling over and attacking Liam in an embrace, who giggles and blushes as he clings back.

Zayn watches with a fond smile, eyes slit and sparkling, smelling like a freshly lit cigarette and the sun.

“Sorry it took us a bit,” he says, eyes still on Liam. “We went for a walk.”

“Wanted to enjoy my freedom while I still can,” Liam says sadly.

And Zayn definitely rolls his eyes.

“You’re not being locked in a dungeon, Li.”

“How do you know that?” Liam asks, puppy eyes in full swing. “From the way my father sounded…”

Zayn sighs, pulls him in to brush his lips across his cheek.

“It’ll be fine. I’ll make sure of it. If it’s anything less than what you want I’ll rip you out of there myself and take you somewhere better—anywhere in the world.”

Liam smiles, pleased and cooing.

“I love you,” he simpers.

“Love you, too,” Zayn replies, easy as air, before ushering him over to the table.

They sit down, Liam immediately commenting on the beauty of the flowers—which almost knocks Harry off his feet with how hard he is positively preening—and everything feels so normal and familiar that it takes Louis a moment to notice that there is one chair that is still yet unoccupied.

“Niall?” he enquires, turning around.

He’s still at the window, hovering on the outskirts of the room awkwardly, his entire demeanor hesitant and cautious. His frown clashes with the light of his face, his summer blue eyes cloudy.

Wrong wrong wrong.

“Niall, have a seat, pull up a chair,” Louis says, smiling invitingly and sweeping his hand over the table. “Don’t be shy.”

Niall just bites his lip, doesn’t move a muscle.

“Yes, please do,” Liam smiles, plucking the napkin off the table with one hand and gesturing to the chair beside him with the other. “It feels like ages since I’ve seen you, mate. I miss you!” Liam’s face is wide, innocent, and smiling like the gleaming china before them.

He probably has no idea that Niall’s been as fucked up as he has been over the entire ordeal. No—scratch that. He absolutely has no idea.

“If you’re sure,” Niall says, low and quiet. Wrong.

Liam tilts his head, his smile turning quizzical.

“Of course I’m sure. Come on, then.”

There’s a beat and then Niall smiles, walks over and takes a seat, smiling wider as Liam beams at him.

“Thank you for coming,” Liam says sincerely.

Niall’s positively shining now. “Thanks for having me, mate.”

And maybe Zayn, Louis, and Harry are all watching the two with watery smiles. And maybe it gets the tiniest bit awkward when the other two boys turn to them, raising their eyebrows at the three sets of eyes intently fawning.

“Well, then,” Louis announces, clearing his throat and attempting to maintain composure. But he can’t stop smiling because Niall is smiling—proper smiling—and this is the most normal it’s all felt since everything happened. And fuck, his body feels oddly close to being emotional and fuck, why do his eyes keep doing that? Why is there moisture??

“Let us eat,” Harry finishes, brushing the back of his hand against Louis’ thigh comfortingly beneath the table.

Which doesn’t help Louis’ frail emotional state.

“To Liam,” Harry announces, raising his champagne flute.

Smiles flicker, eyes settle on a glowing Liam and his wide grin as each flute is raised, the soft, bubbling liquid sparkling under the lights.

Sparkling against Harry’s smile.

(Not that Louis would know. This is Liam’s moment. He’s paying attention to Liam. Liam.)

“To Liam,” comes the chorus in response, and the tinkle of clinking glasses fills the room before they’re emptied and the pastries devoured.

It all goes as smoothly and wonderfully as it always does, Louis notes with relief and happiness.

Zayn and Liam are practically rotting with sweetness, always cooing and always brushing smiles together. Harry’s making inane observations that he regards as brilliant while he grins and laughs and softens his gaze every time he looks at Louis, and Niall…

Well.

About twenty minutes in, Niall started shooting back pastries like shots, his laugh got a little brighter, he helped himself to more liquor, and by the forty minute marker, he was clapping Liam on the back and throwing his head back with laughter every time anybody talked—whether it was funny or not.

“I’ve missed you cunts so fucking much,” he laughs, clapping his hands at Harry’s response of ‘I’m going to make tea,’ when Liam had asked him how he was planning on spending his summer.

“We’ve missed you too, you fucker. Now, you gonna stop hiding out?” Louis asks, unable to stop smiling as he takes in the boy before him. As he takes in Niall.

His laughter dies a bit, a more serious sort of smile settling on his face as he considers the question. He rubs his fingers up and down his glass.

“I mean. If you want me, you can have me. I just.” He shifts a bit, brings his bright gaze to Liam. “I’m really fuckin’ sorry about what happened, mate. I never meant—“

“Not at all, Niall,” Liam says immediately, completely unbothered. “It wasn’t your fault at all. In fact it’s…” He sighs, glances to Zayn. “It’s probably a blessing in disguise that it happened at all, really.” He lands a smooth hand on Niall’s shoulder. “Sometimes you’ve got to be woken up a bit, you know?”

Niall nods, absorbing the words.

“I woke you up, then?”

“You did.”

“Well, then.” Niall nods a bit, mostly to himself, before bursting into a grin. “You’re fucking welcome.”

And just like that, Liam laughs delighted as always, and Zayn smiles slightly and Harry giggles as he tickles the end of his nose with one of the roses, and Louis feels the very cells of his body warming and reaching out to everything that he has come to know as home.

 

**

 

The year is crawling by, slowly reaching the end of the term.

Louis spends most of his time in textbooks and Harry’s arms.

“Sugar today?” Louis enquires as he prepares his tea.

They’re wrapped up on the floor, leaning against the couch and surrounded by mounds of embroidered pillows with tassels and thick, woven blankets that stick to their socks. A silver tray sits near their knees, set with a gorgeous tea set that Harry claims was made specifically for him (and it’s so ostentatious and unnervingly charming that Louis doesn’t even doubt it). They pour cup after cup, the steaming liquid tickling their noses as Harry breezes through poetry books and Louis highlights playbooks.

He’s the very portrait of contentment, leaning into Harry’s warm, solid chest that breathes softly, one of his hands absently brushing fingertips up and down along Louis’ arm, his other hand propping up Keats’ Endymion, silently mouthing the words to his favorite lines. Sometimes his lips will brush Louis’ ear when he leans in a bit or when he whispers his favorite words to him. Sometimes he just skims his lips across his hair and neck and temple just because, his eyes never leaving the page. It’s perfect, it’s intoxicating, it’s a little bit distracting seeing as how Louis’ doing his homework, but it’s abso-fucking-lutely perfect and Louis would rather roll in thorns than ever move from this very spot.

Harry blinks lazily at the question, rips his gaze from a particularly long verse as he glances at the dish in Louis’ hand.

“Of course not,” he rumbles musically, pressing a smile into Louis’ hair.

Louis feels him breath him in, feels his deep inhale and it’s…

Wonderful.

“I will have nothing short of agave syrup,” he continues in a purr and Louis blinks, because that was not what he was expecting. After a pause and more of Harry nuzzling into the side of Louis’ face, wrapping his hand that still holds his book gingerly around Louis’ chest, he adds, “It’s my new thing.”

Louis snorts his laughter.

“Stop it, Styles,” he chuckles. “You’re ridiculous. We don’t have any Algonquin syrup or whatever the fuck it’s called.”

“Agave,” Harry corrects, and Louis feels his smile form against his neck. “And yes we do. I bought tons of it. It’s in my rooms.”

“Well, I’m not going to fetch it for you.”

“Have Niall get it.”

“Niall’s not here. Obviously.”

“Text him.”

“Would you just shut up?” Louis laughs, twisting in his arms. He glares at Harry but his lips deceive him, propped up in a wide grin that probably spills all of his secrets and his mad adoration for this charming, ridiculous, exhausting boy he’s found.

Harry smirks.

“Make me.”

Louis doesn’t need to be told twice.

Immediately, he lunges for him, snags Harry’s lips into a kiss that he presses into insistently, his own smirk forming as he feels Harry jolt a bit, the book falling from his hands, his chest constricting with a gasp. He smirks and he twists until they’re bumping hearts, Louis’ hands quick to find Harry’s hair and tug, just like Harry likes, and sending Harry through a small, delightful set of shivers and hums, his own hands delicately tracing the lines of Louis’ back.

“The curves of your lips rewrite history,” Harry manages through stuttered breath, eyes glazed, as Louis drags his lips across his chin, up his jaw, presses his teeth gently into the cushion of Harry’s earlobe.

“That’s not Keats,” he mumbles, nosing his curls.

“I know,” Harry says, voice altered an octave. His hands feel a bit shaky where they’ve come to rest on Louis’ shoulders.

“It’s Wilde,” Louis continues and Harry positively purrs at that.

“It is,” Harry replies, almost in awe and his grip on Louis tightens as he lunges forward, slamming his mouth against Louis’ insistently.

Well then.

Note to Self: Memorize every word Oscar Wilde has ever said and reference him always.

The edges of his consciousness feel a bit hazy as Harry presses further in upon him, his sweet kisses and sighs and reverent hands drowning Louis and he can feel him, every part of him. Their feet knock the tea tray, rattling the china, and Louis feels the press of Harry’s fallen book digging into his knee and the blankets are tightly swirled around their limbs but he doesn’t care, doesn’t fucking care, because Harry is breathless and beautiful and pliant against Louis and—

And Harry pulls away, catching his breath the minute Louis fingers find his buttons.

“I’m sorry,” he says amidst heavy breath, avoiding Louis’ eyes, cheeks splashed with rose hues.

Louis blinks, startled, searching Harry’s expression as he finds himself, calms his pattering heart and heaving chest.

“Did I—“ Louis begins, feeling a prickle of panic, but Harry immediately shakes his head, kisses Louis’ knuckles with red, wet lips.

“No,” he crackles, voice low and dry. “No, I just.” He considers his words, presses another kiss to Louis’ hand, holding his lips there as he thinks, breath slowing. “It’s different with you. I’m….” He swallows. “A bit.” He swallows again. “Scared. Like.”

Oh god. Louis is going to erupt into fiery, shooting hearts.

Why is this boy so sweet? Why is he everything Louis never dared hope for? Why is he Louis’ and why is Louis so fucking lucky??

“Oh, love,” he croons, petting Harry’s flushed cheeks. “There’s nothing wrong with that. I get it, yeah? No rush. Honestly, no rush.” He pauses, catches Harry’s eye. “I’m happy just to dance with you.”

Harry’s lips twitch.

“The Beatles?”

Louis grins.

“I mean. How could I resist?”

“My father’s worked with Paul McCartney.”

Louis rolls his eyes, shoves playfully at Harry’s chest.

“Oh, stop it. You posh kids and your popstar fathers. Just stop.” But he’s smiling and Harry looks relieved, even more thankful, and just so utterly lovely. “Let’s finish my homework, yeah?” Louis continues, pressing one last kiss to Harry’s nose. “How about you read me this shit play and I’ll read you some Keats. Deal? Then maybe I’ll want to rip out my hair a little less?”

Harry chuckles, low and sweet and bumbling, mixing with the steam from the tea, settling in Louis’ lungs like the air.

“Deal,” he agrees, pleased. He pauses, his eyes intent on Louis. “And. Thank you.”

Louis quirks an eyebrow, plucking up Endymion.

“For what?”

The evening sun imbeds in Harry’s lashes as he blinks; his warm, creamy eyes fenced in fire.

“For being you.”

And Louis himself is probably fenced in fire now, but he plays it cool, just nods and shrugs and smiles cheekily with a faux-innocent bat of his eyes.

“What can I say?” he says sweetly, and Harry giggles and wraps himself back around him and the rest of the night is spent amidst books and quiet words and a moon that ascends into the sky.

 

**

 

Harry still has his bad days.

He has those days where his texts are short and uninspired. Where he doesn’t pounce on Louis the minute he walks through the door, curls bouncing. Where he doesn’t follow him around and pet his arms and kiss his hands and play piano for him with a smile that dazzles even the cold, cracked floorboards.

Rather, he’ll be quiet, sunken, shaded.

Louis hates it. It hurts him far more than he understands, worries him for reasons he can’t comprehend.

He just hates it.

“I’ve found a place,” Harry says one day as they’re perusing the aisles of an antique shop. “To live.”

The china on the shelf’s a bit dusty, the books are cracked and spotty, and the record player in the corner is crackly and marked as the needle scratches along the grid. Harry insists this is what heaven feels like and Louis admits to finding it rather charming—albeit begrudgingly and secretly because Harry’s smug enough as it is and no, he doesn’t always need to be victorious.

“Yeah?” Louis asks, interest piqued as he admires a porcelain oil lamp. “You’re thinking about buying it?”

Harry’s silent, chews on his lip as he inspects a small, gilt music box; a Renaissance painting woven onto the top.

“Already bought it.”

Oh. Well. That’s surprising.

“Is it near your father?” Louis asks, furrowing his brow.

He already bought it? Really? Why doesn’t Louis know this?

“Not really,” Harry says. He sets down the music box, though his eyes linger on it.

(So of course Louis picks it up and tucks it behind his back the minute Harry looks away.)

“It’s, uh. Near Doncaster,” Harry says, very lightly, very off-handedly.

Which makes Louis stop in his tracks.

“What?”

His heart shits its pants.

Harry swallows, his face the very portrait of anxiety.

“I can change my mind.”

“Change your—?”

“It was stupid,” Harry continues in a rush, still not looking at Louis, making a beeline for the exit. “I’ll call up my—“

“Whoah, Curly, whooah,” Louis interjects, grabbing hold of Harry’s jacket. “No, not at all! No—it’s the very opposite of stupid! It’s fucking… It’s brilliant! Honestly.” He grins, trying to process it all because is Harry moving closer to him?

Is this real life?

Louis beams, allowing the reality to sweep him up. “Fucking brilliant,” he says again, reaching for Harry. Grinning like a madman, he grabs his face, pulls him in for an elated kiss that is mostly his teeth scraping against Harry’s lips.

Harry smiles in response, eyes soft. Yet his own lips remain stiff, etched in anxiety. He nods, but he looks altogether unsure, taking a step back.

Still, Louis brushes it off because Harry is moving closer to him and he still needs to buy this music box pronto. So with one last kiss, he pats Harry’s bum, says a, “Now why don’t you wait outside while I use the loo,” and watches as Harry nods and departs, his shoulders stiff, the tails of his coat flapping as he descends the stairs.

With a smile, he walks to the counter, sets the golden box on the glass surface.

The lady behind the counter smiles above her blue spectacles, her layers of jewelry bright under the glow of the lamps.

“Just this for you, dear?”

Louis grins, nearly bouncing on his heels, as he slides his wallet from his back pocket.

“Just this,” he smiles, so hard it hurts. .

*

Harry’s not himself for the rest of the day.

Louis tells himself that it’s just in his imagination the way that Harry’s smile falters, the way his eyes dart away as quickly as they come, that he doesn’t hold Louis’ hand as often as he normally does. But by the end of the day, when they’re leaving to meet the lads at the restaurant for dinner and Harry grumbles out that he’d rather just stay back and have some alone time, Louis admits defeat.

“Okay, what’s wrong?” he sighs, immediately closing the door. Because nope, he certainly isn’t going anywhere without Harry, not in this state.

Harry doesn’t say anything though, just stalks to his room.

Louis might roll his eyes.

“Curly,” he calls, irked, as he follows him. “Don’t avoid the situation. It’s written clear all over your face. What’s wrong.”

“Nothing,” he lies, sitting down at his piano. His hands make no movement to play as he stares down at the keys.

With a great sigh, Louis nudges him over, plops down on the bench beside him. With a patient smile, he takes Harry’s hands, wraps them in his own. Harry’s skin is always so cold. So delicate and pale and porcelain against Louis’ fiery paws.

“What’s wrong?” he asks again, gentler, his thumbs brushing against Harry’s knuckles in repetitive swoops.

There’s a heavy pause, one in which Harry’s eyes just watch Louis’ thumbs.

“It’s about the flat, isn’t it?” Louis offers, searching Harry’s downcast face. “You regret buying it.”

Harry doesn’t speak.

Louis’ insides wilt.

“You don’t want to live that close to me and my family,” he concludes flatly. He tries to keep it out of his voice, tries to keep his feelings separate from this, but…

But he’s Louis, so he can’t.

“No, that’s not it at all,” Harry immediately rushes, eyes snapping up to Louis’, imploring and wide. “Not at all,” he emphasizes, and squeezes Louis’ hands.

His insides wilt a bit slower.

“Well, then,” Louis says gently, bumping his head against Harry’s shoulder and causing him to smile, if only briefly. “What is it?”

Harry swallows.

“I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”

And oh. He’s wilting again.

But Louis maintains his features, just swallows delicately.

“Why not?”

“Because then it’s…” Harry trails off, turns his head to look out the window, eyebrows furrowed. “It feels a bit more, like, serious then? More… Permanent. I don’t know.”

Ouch. Is that a spear that’s just been driven into Louis’ heart?

Oh, no. That’s Harry Styles.

“And that’s not what you want,” Louis finishes, voice breaking.

Shit.

Shit shit shit.

“No, I do,” Harry says quietly, still staring out at the window, his brows un-furrowing. “I do,” he repeats gently. “But it’s not what I want for you.”

Oh, for Christ’s sake.

He can breathe again.

“All right, Harold Curly Styles, or whatever your name is. You listen to me,” Louis says, his shoulders relaxing. His grip on Harry’s hands tighten as Harry looks to him, his lips twitching at the name. “You need to just stop that, all right? Stop doing that thing you do—where you decide things for me? Yes. That thing. Stop it. I love you. A lot. Probably too much, actually. And do I plan to stop loving you any time soon? No. Do I plan to stop loving you ever? No. So do you see the situation now? Do you understand why it’s terribly inconvenient of you to always fight against us? I’m unrelenting and I’m stubborn and I always win, Harry, I do. So let me love you, you great big oaf, and come live next to me so I can be clingy and needy and kiss you every day, okay?” He finishes with a smile, tugs Harry closer to him and pecks a kiss to his cheek. Harry giggles a bit like the little gumdrop he is, glancing downward, shy. Louis tilts his face back up with his forefinger. “Okay?” he repeats softly with a smile.

Harry smiles, allows himself to relax as he gazes at Louis.

“’M not used to this,” he mumbles after a moment. “I’m afraid I’m, like, doing it wrong.”

Louis laughs, just a bit, under his breath.

“Does it feel right? What you’re doing?”

Harry shrugs, eyes still caught on Louis.

“Yeah. I guess, yeah.”

“Then you’re doing it right.”

“That simple?” Harry asks, looking so small and beautiful and small as he sighs and curls into Louis, resting his head upon his shoulder.

Louis warms, wraps his arms around his long, lithe body.

“That simple,” he promises into his hair.

A sweet moment of silence follows, their breath filling the space of the room.

“So you’re moving,” Louis continues eventually. He’s smiling through the words, smiling because Harry is growing, because things are just good right now. “Officially. Away from your father.”

He feels Harry nod.

A pause.

Harry plays with a hole in Louis’ cardigan.

Louis pecks the top of his head with a kiss. “I’m proud of you. Like, I’m always proud of you, but right now? I’m even more proud of you. You’re doing the right thing, Harry. And I know it’s not easy.”

He feels Harry swallow.

“Thank you,” his voice says, small.

“We can visit him a lot, you know,” Louis says, beginning to slide his fingers across Harry’s scalp, catching the curls. “As much as you like.”

At that, Harry stirs, lifts his head to look at Louis.

“We can?” he asks, surprised. “You—you want to meet my father?”

Louis smiles, soft, so soft. “Of course. I want to meet him lots of times.”

Harry positively beams.

“And you’ll visit him with me? Honestly?”

“Honestly.”

Harry’s grin is enough to power the entire the world into the next Golden Age.

He nuzzles back into Louis, smile still present, the very last of the tension leaving his body.

“Thank you, thank you,” he sighs, wrapping his ankles around Louis’.

“Always welcome, Curly,” Louis replies. And then he remembers. “Oh, by the way. I have a present for you.”

Without another word, he disentangles himself from Harry, walks over to his back in the other room and carefully removes the music box.

He’s already smiling.

“Present?” he hears Harry inquiring from the other room, and he hears his eager footsteps coming to meet him, which only makes Louis laugh.

“You were supposed to stay in there so I could present it to you properly,” Louis laughs as Harry practically bounces up to him, a curl falling in his eye.

His face is youthful and bright, unabashedly eager.

“How could I possibly stay when there’s the promise of presents??” Harry asks, ecstatic. “J’adore les cadeaux.”

“Er, oui. Je m’appelle Louis. Comme ci comme ca. Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir,” he supplies uselessly and Harry laughs.

“Do you even know what you’re saying?” he chuckles, gaze skittering over Louis in search of his ‘cadeau’. Or, as Louis likes to say: present.

“Of course. I said my name and other such important things. I’m very fluent in all languages. I’m like Dumbledore. Anyway,” Louis continues as Harry laughs again, pawing at Louis’ chest. “Here you go, you big puppy.”

Without another word he procures the golden music box, its carvings glinting and catching the light.

Harry’s eyes widen, his mouth opening in surprise.

“How did you know—“ he begins, but Louis narrows his eyes.

“I was with you, you idiot! This afternoon!”

“No, I know, but. How did you know I wanted it? Like, I never said anything or…” He takes the box carefully in his hands, glides his fingers across its surface appraisingly before raising his saucer eyes to Louis. “How did you know?”

Uh.

Louis shrugs, the tiniest bit embarrassed.

“I dunno. I just…could tell? You’re a bit obvious, Curly. I don’t know. Easy to read, I guess.”

At that, Harry smiles wider, before his eyes flick down to the box, opening it carefully and filling the room with its tinkling song.

“It’s perfect,” he says, his baritone echoing off the delicate notes. “Thank you, Louis. Thank you so much.” He’s beaming now, beaming so wide and Louis is beaming right back.

Louis really loves Harry.

“Well, c’mon then,” Louis says eventually, after Harry’s pressed enough simpering kisses to his face and cooed and played the song over and over and over (it’s not annoying, nope, it’s not). “Let’s go grab some dinner with the other idiots. Zayn’s been so stroppy ever since Liam’s left. I can only imagine what Niall’s putting up with.”

Harry cocks an eyebrow, tucking the music box beneath his arm.

“Knowing Niall, Zayn’s probably piss drunk and in love with the world. Not even the harsh wind that is Zayn Malik can resist the eternal sunshine that is Niall Horan,” he says, donning a hat with a large blossom tucked in the ribbon.

“Poetic,” Louis comments with a half-smile, then glances down at the music box as he makes to open the door. “Surely you’re not bringing that with you?”

“Of course I am,” Harry comments, offended at the very idea that he wouldn’t. “It’s my new thing. And don’t call me ‘Shirley.’” He grins like he’s clever and Louis fights a laugh because he wishes Harry wasn’t able to pull stupid shit like that off.

That boy.

“Right. Well, sir. Off we go?” he says, offering his arm.

Harry grins, tipping back his hat, hoisting up his music box.

“Off we go,” he agrees,  taking Louis arm.

 

 

**

 

It’s nearing the end of term so, naturally, there’s a school banquet.

It’s held at some posh hotel of some sort—Louis never caught the name as it just sounds like a bunch of consonants shoved together whenever somebody repeats it to him—and it’s everything that the university is: beautiful, tasteful, intimidating…and a bit stuffy.

But there’s free food and free drinks and it’s pleasant enough, chatting with professors and laughing at clever jokes, even if Louis does feel a bit out of his realm.

Niall’s having a grand old time, slinging back whiskey and surrounded by a group of white-haired, pink-cheeked jolly looking men wearing pocket watches, and Louis can’t tell who’s laughing loudest, their boisterous baritones overlapping each other and speaking a language Louis can’t be bothered to decipher.

Liam is with a small group of the stuffiest professors—and the most intimidating—but he seems to be holding up well. His stint in rehab was shortened miraculously (oh, the things money can do) so he was able to come back in time for this, as well as his final exams and the last edition of the school newspaper. Convenient. But he’s happy, having said his time in rehab was both useful and inspiring, and is happily drinking lemon water while he rubs elbows with The Powerful and laughs cleanly at all of their jokes.

Not too much farther is Zayn. Who currently looks so very bored that Louis has to stifle his laughter into his glass. He’s surrounded by a throng of girls, eager for his face and name, the occasional professor stopping by to schmooze; having a father as the chancellor of a school absolutely has its perks in the form of good grades and favoritism, and absolutely has its downfall with unwanted attention and empty praise.

Still, Louis wants to laugh. Zayn genuinely may fall asleep standing up. Or perhaps punch himself in the face.

Briefly, he meets his eye, winks, and Zayn’s lips quirk just barely before he goes back to staring at the wall, nodding absently to the girl beside him who’s chatting a mile a minute.

And then, of course, there’s Harry.

Harry, who is standing in the middle of a circle of immaculately dressed students and professors alike, delighting everybody with his wiles and charms, lighting the room with his glimmering eyes and poison-apple smiles. He drops compliments like rain and warms to everybody’s praise and he just… Well. He loves the attention. He does. He loves it and it loves him and it’s all a bit fascinating to Louis.

Then again, everything about Harry is fascinating to Louis.

He watches for a bit longer (he’s decidedly avoiding conversation at the moment, his pleasantries and small talk having reached their limit) before he finally grabs two glasses of champagne and begins walking towards the sun and all the planets in its orbit.

Careful to avoid spilling, he slithers through the group, ignores the pointed stares and glares and hisses as he makes his way closer to Harry.

“… I just enjoy a bit of piano,” he hears Harry saying as he finally breaches the circle. “It should always be played while learning any subject. Even the tedious ones like Maths are enlightened by a little Chopin.”

Louis rolls his eyes, taking his place at Harry’s side.

“I enjoy a bit of Adele, myself,” he says as all eyes turn to him, resisting the urge to glare at the blonde creature that is standing much too close to Harry, with much too enraptured eyes. “But, ya know. That’s just me.”

Immediately, Harry spins around, eyes brightening the second they find Louis.

“Darling,” he greets, overrun with joy. With the grace of a swan (a rarity with Harry, but he does have his moments) he clasps Louis’ hand and brings it to his lips, bowing ever so slightly. “I knew I felt something beautiful stirring up the dust. Hello.” Harry smiles down at him as he straightens, never releasing Louis’ hand, completely unfazed by their onlookers—some of which are currently bearing fangs.

Hah. Oh well.

“Hey, you,” Louis breathes, nudging Harry with his hip that much more. “I see you’ve captured all the guests?”

Harry’s eyes glint.

“On the contrary, my love, they seem to have captured me.”

The gaggle practically glows at the comment, Louis practically snorts.

“I’m sure,” he says with a smirk, before turning back to the group at large. “So. What are we discussing? Nothing pretentious, I hope?”

“Never that,” Harry says, grin still large, never taking his eyes off of Louis.

“Perfect, Harold. Just what I like to hear,” Louis replies with approval, feeling Harry’s grip on him tighten that much more.

Together, they paint the room in conversation, paint the sour faces sweet and though, no, Louis can’t quite say that he loves the attention like Harry does, he cannot deny that here, alongside Harry, it somehow feels right to share it. 

So, sentences intertwining and smiles matching, they spend the rest of the night at each other’s side. Louis swears everybody watches them, that nobody can take their eyes off of them, and it sends a strange sort of thrill through him, a strange sort of pride.

Because it’s not just ‘There’s Harry Styles’ anymore.

It’s ‘There’s Harry Styles and his boy’ and it spikes through Louis and makes him smile that much wider because he never, ever wants to be anywhere else.

*

When they decide to walk back to Harry’s rooms after the party, drunk off champagne, it seems like a good idea.

“We want to walk!” they said, when Zayn offered his car. “We want to savor the moment!”

And it’s certainly savory, what with the way the moon hangs low in the sky and blanks everything in a glow, with the way the alcohol sings pleasantly in their veins as they walk on slick, rain-fresh pavement.

The night is warm and damp. It feels like Harry’s breath.

“Let’s dance,” he says, extending his hand. “I want to dance, Lou.”

Louis doesn’t hesitate to grasp the proffered fingers, glinting like pale marble against the velvet of the night, and laughs as he’s yanked close to Harry’s body, his arms jerked upward in well-trained pose.

They ballroom dance in the street—no fear of cars, no fear at all—and Harry twirls Louis. He twirls him until he’s dizzy with motion and drink and laughter and the stars swirl as he gazes up at them.

 “’Put out the torches,’” Harry suddenly quotes, staring upward as well once they finally stop to regain their balance, stumbling where they stand. “’Hide the moon. Hide the stars.’”

“Wilde?” Louis offers, though it’s not really a question anymore.

Harry just smiles.

They continue to stare up at the sky, Louis still dizzy, still a little out of breath.

“Hey, Louis Tomlinson," Harry suddenly asks, splitting the calm.

“Yeah?”

A beat of silence.

“Wanna race?”

A smirk twitches Louis’ lips.

“Where to?”

“That bridge.” Harry points, his eyes mischievous.

Louis grins once before sprinting away in a frenzy, not even bothering to reply.

“That’s cheating!” he hears Harry laugh from behind him, but he doesn’t stop, just runs and runs, as fast as his polished oxfords will carry him.

Louis wins, of course.

He reaches the bridge long before Harry does (he thinks Harry might’ve fallen down at some point, but he doesn’t comment on the mud that streaks his slacks) and pummels his chest in victory, Harry laughing hysterically as he reaches him, watching him in glistening delight.

“I win,” Harry sing-songs teasingly, and Louis lunges for him, but he darts away too quickly.

The air is cold as Louis sucks it into his lungs, as he bends over to catch his breath, hands propped on his knees.

“Hey, Louis Tomlinson,” Harry says again, a giggle dancing on the edge of his words.

Louis fights the urge to roll his eyes.

“Yeah?”

“Want to know a secret?”

He looks up at Harry who is currently grinning like a fool, eyes outshining the stars.

“All right.”

Harry grins wider at that, beckons Louis forward with his finger.

“Really?” Louis sighs, but he’s smiling, is already walking towards him. “We’re completely alone. You can’t just tell me?”

“It’s a secret,” Harry insists, but his grin is still growing, his skin flushed with inebriation and his expression bright with youth.

“All right then. Lay it on me,” Louis replies in faux-exasperation, settling hands on his hips impatiently.

Harry beams, pulls Louis in by the back of the neck and presses his mouth against Louis’ ear.

“The moon knows,” is what he says, breath colored in liquor and a smile.

Louis stares at him.

“What are you talking about?”

Another manic grin from Harry, and then he pulls him in again, his hand travelling to the side of Louis’ face, cradling his cheek.

“The moon knows that we’re in love.”

And Louis pauses at that, his entire body and physical processes pause, because Harry has never said he loves Louis. He’s implied it, his eyes have whispered it, but he’s never said it and…did he just, sort of, maybe say it?

“Wha—“ he begins, dizzy, his veins filling, but Harry steps even closer, continues to whisper even lower.

“I’m in love with you, Louis Tomlinson,” Harry says, curls the words in Louis’ ear, and when Louis pulls back to look at him, his gaze is dazed and soft, grinning with freedom and the recklessness of inebriation. Fond. “And this belongs to you,” he continues in his low, rumbling volume as he places Louis’ hand over his heart and presses it there, holds it there with his cool fingers clasped around Louis’ wrist. “It’s yours, and yours to keep, and nobody deserves to know because nobody else matters.”

Louis thinks he might die, standing here with the perspiration layering his skin like a delicate film, the gaze of the heavens alighting his limbs as he feels the beat of Harry’s thumping heart beneath his fingers.

Harry’s gaze burns into him like white fire.

And breathing is currently hard, near impossible, but Louis defies reality and smiles, stepping closer and exhaling through a breathy whisper, “Hey, Harry Styles?”

And Harry breaks into a wider grin, shuffles closer still, whispers, “What?”

There’s a delicate, moon-laden moment where they’re just pressed against each other, lost in each others’ gazes, surrounded by endless night and endless sky and slick roads. Louis would hate to wax cliché but… time might have actually fucking stopped. In the most delicious way.

But then Louis’ lips twitch and he’s taking a step back, breaking free of Harry’s clutch and lifts himself on his tippy toes, throwing his head back to the sky.

“I LOVE YOU, TOO!” he shouts, throws the words from his chest, arms flung wide. “I LOVE YOU, HARRY EDWARD STYLES!”

And, nope, Louis never ever thought he’d be the type to drunkenly screech his love to the sleeping world but here he is and here they are and when Harry’s face bursts into life and color like a newborn star, Louis knows that he never wants to stop being this person.

“I LOVE YOU!” he screams again, just to watch the jade of Harry’s eyes dance, and he’s breathless and elated and everything feels endless.

“What are you doing?” Harry giggles, glancing brightly between Louis and the sky as he tumbles over, grabbing for Louis’ hands, his shirt, his face.

“I’m filling up the sky with my love for you,” Louis says simply, catching his breath with a shrug. “So whenever you look up, it echoes back.” 

“No matter where I am?” Harry asks, his smile softening as he nuzzles gently into his cheek, breathing him in, nose brushing his jawline and sending cascades of shivers down his spine.

“No matter where you are,” Louis affirms. “There’s only one sky.”

“We all share the same sky,” Harry agrees. He pauses, skimming fingertips across Louis’ collarbones. “But I should always like to hear you say it,” Harry whispers, almost tentatively. “Not an echo. I want you beside me under every sky. Always.”

Things are sizzling inside Louis, snapping and stealing his breath.

“Will always be beside you, Harry,” Louis murmurs, cradling his face. “The sky’s just the backing track, of course.” He smiles.

Harry glows.

“Of course,” agrees.

They stay there a moment longer, Louis pulling Harry down to brush cool lips against his own, losing himself in the sensation of everything Harry, everything exquisite. He allows him to steal his breath—through the warmth of his mouth and the cadence of his lips that slide so sweetly against Louis’ own.

A perfect match.

“Let’s go home,” Louis eventually says, pulling back to watch Harry’s eyes refocus.

He nods, face glazed in a soft smile that blends with the muted lights and the glinting shop windows and the flickering streetlamps that stand so tall all around them.

“Let us,” he agrees, before suddenly grinning—rather manically—and throwing his head back, his chest filling. “I LOVE LOUIS TOMLINSON!” he bellows, far more impressively than Louis (he sounds like an absolute Titan, his voice akin to thunder) and closing his eyes blissfully before dropping his head back down, his kissed lips very pleased with themselves.

“What was that for?” Louis laughs, surprised.

Harry opens his eyes.

“Because I love you,” he smiles slow. “And because I want a backing track, too.” His grin is lopsided.

“Come on, you idiot,” Louis laughs, refusing to give into the flush of his skin as he pulls Harry along, stumbling over his clicking, sleek boots.

And as they walk, fingers laced with fingers and the clicks of their heels synching together as they laugh, laugh, laugh, Louis swears he can hear their voices mingled in the sky, dancing between the stars.

 

**

 

They’re going home tomorrow.

The term has ended, Louis’ marks are near perfect (Harry credits it to himself, Louis swats at him) and Niall’s already booking them hotels for all the vacations he demands they take.

“We’ll only be apart for two weeks before you whisk me away to Greece?” Louis laughed, incredulous.

“Two weeks is a long time, Tommo!” Niall said indignantly, but he winked, flinging an arm around his shoulders. “I’m tellin’ ya, mate. You’ll fuckin’ love it there. It’s incredible. Most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.”

“Well, I’m not going.”

“And why the fuck not?”

“I don’t have the money to—“

“All right, go and piss that excuse out your arsehole. I’m bringing you and can either go with it or put up a fuss, but you’re coming Tommo and that’s that.”

Louis glared at him, refusing to feel gratitude because no, he did not agree to this.

“You’re a bossy little thing, aren’t you.”

“Nah. I’m not little. I’m a bossy giant,” Niall winked and Louis huffed, folding his arms over his chest. “But come, yeah? Please? I’ve booked everything and I’ll need my best mates there.”

Louis perked.

“Oh? Everybody else is going?”

“’Course.”

Instantly, he beamed.

“Well, why didn’t you say so! I’ll be glad to come!”

And Niall laughed, shaking his head, departing from Louis’ side to pick up his guitar.

“Wanker.”

Louis blew a kiss.

“Love you,” he sang.

“Love you more,” Niall boomed, before banging on the guitar.

So, really, Louis doesn’t have anything to worry about. He’ll see the lads often enough—probably will end up seeing Niall all the time, given that he’s his mum’s new best friend—and he’ll have quality time with his family and Stan for the first time in forever. It’s basically an ideal situation.

Except for one thing.

And it comes in the form of curls, sinful lips, and sparkly giggles.

Because, yeah, Harry will be moving into his flat sometime during the summer and yes, he will be a ten minute drive away but…

But.

But the thing is, is that this place, this university, this town has become something special to Louis. Has almost become synonymous with Harry. And taking them away from it, taking them away from Harry’s rooms and his and Niall’s flat and taking them away from all of their memories and their moments and their haunts just seems terribly upsetting to Louis. It almost seems terrifying, even.

Because what if he and Harry don’t work in the real world? What if they only work when they’re amidst ancient stone walls and heavy oak doors and yellow-paged books and nooks and crannies? What if the world sweeps Harry away and what if Harry hates Louis’ family and Louis’ family hates Harry and what if they grow apart and what if Harry forgets about him and what if??

Louis feels too much.

So it comes as no surprise that, on their last night together, Louis practically suctions himself to Harry. He moulds himself to his body, kissing every reachable part of him every other minute as the candles flicker, the windows open and ushering in soft breezes that carry the light perfume of baby blossoms.

Harry’s things are packed in chests and suitcases all around them, the shelves empty and barren, the Persian rugs rolled up and leaning against the cold, blackened fireplace. The china’s wrapped and put away and the desk’s drawers are empty and the piano’s even covered with a billowing white sheet. It’s all so final, so empty, so…terrifying.

They’re supposed to be doing something, packing a bit more perhaps. Maybe doing something grand and fun? But instead they’re just lying together on the floor in a pile of interwoven limbs, all of the lights off save for Harry’s scented candles, as they stare up at the night sky through the open windows, Harry’s records playing softly in the background.

They can barely bring themselves to speak, everything feeling just a bit too fragile and precarious and inexplicably painful. They just lie there and touch, existing together.

Until Louis breaks the silence.

“I’m going to miss you every second I’m not with you. I hope you know that,” he whispers against Harry’s cheek. He bites back the wave of sadness that threatens to do something terrible like fill his eyes, so he closes them, just pulls Harry closer by his silky white shirt. “You have ruined me, Harry Styles. Ruined me and made me one of those clingy things. Do you find yourself very cruel for ruining me this way?” His words are teasing yet there’s the underlying stench of sincerity there and Louis just swallows because he can’t act this away, can’t pretend that’s he not just the tiniest bit depressed about it all.

Harry’s response is to turn his head, brushing his lips against the bridge between Louis’ eyebrows.

“I find that you are the cruel one in this, Louis Tomlinson,” he mumbles, voice cracked like parchment.

Louis feels him swallow and he dares to open his eyes, meets with Harry’s gaze that is wet, mournfully sweet and delicate as he watches Louis with all the careful reverence of a dream.

He scrunches his brows inquisitively as Harry continues to stare before the latter sighs, eyes falling to Louis’ lips.

“You are impossibly cruel, Louis,” Harry whispers, turning his body to face him so that they are nose-to-nose, heart-to-heart. Louis’ entire body is thrumming with too many emotions and too many desires and too many fears. “You are cruel for making everything else seem dull. You are cruel for imprisoning me in your very touch—“—carefully, he brings the pads of his fingers to Louis’ cheekbones, swirls delicate patterns onto his flesh—“—for freeing me with your every word—“—his fingers slide to graze over Louis’ lips—“—and for bestowing upon me the most painful sense of longing that I’ve ever had the pleasure to suffer at the hands of. You have shown me color in a world of gray and you are cruel, Louis Tomlinson, for you take the color with you every moment that you’re not beside me.  You are cruel because I will gladly suffer until the world has returned.” At that, Harry’s eyes flicker up to Louis’, and the words linger in his stare, pelting Louis again and again and again.

And Louis might actually die.

“Harry,” he breathes, pulling him closer, pulling him until Harry’s lips find his and he can feel again, feel Harry—the world.

He doesn’t want the night to end, he doesn’t want to go just one day without this boy (love is horrible, it’s awful, it’s unhealthy for fuck’s sake) and it terrifies him a bit, terrifies him that he just needs another soul so much. But it’s as intoxicating as it is toxic, thrilling as it is chilling.

Louis wants.

“We’ll see each other every day,” Harry whispers between fevered kisses, his curls tumbling and tangling in Louis’ fingers, his skin hot, his shirt clinging to his skin and catching on Louis’ angles. “I’ll move into the flat as soon as I can.”

The words tingle Louis, run up his spine and make his heart beat faster.

“Promise me,” he finds himself saying as Harry mouths at his neck and when did he become so needy? 

But he doesn’t care, doesn’t fucking care because he’s not scared.

“I promise,” Harry manages, the words formed into Louis’ skin and it’s all so, so much.

Louis loves Harry so, so much.

“Louis,” Harry suddenly says quietly, and it sounds like a plea, his hands scrambling over his body, settling up on the waistband of his jeans and—oh.

Oh.

Louis breaks off, inspects Harry’s flushed face and burning eyes, lit with fire and the orange, flickering shadow of candle flame.

“Harry?” he questions, voice barely above a whisper. There’s a heavy silence as they stare at each other, Louis trying to decipher the flickers in Harry’s eyes, his breath coming out in uneven spurts. The silent plea is in Harry’s breath, in his hands, in his stare. And Louis’ chest is collapsing. “Are you…sure?”

It feels delicate and unknown, that unspoken question.

But Harry’s nodding, he’s nodding and moving in again, mouth latching onto Louis’ collarbones and fuck this actually is sort of terrifying, isn’t it?

This is real. This is Harry, his Harry, and it’s happening.

“Okay,” he finds himself saying, breathless, his heart picking up speed (is he going to die?) and jerking his hands unsteady.  “Okay,” he says again and calms his breathing, focuses his vision, focuses his thoughts.

Because this has to be special. This has to be monu-fucking-mental and this has to be careful because this is their last night together for awhile, the last night before summer and everything that it may bring, and it’s Harry—the only boy he’s ever properly loved, the only boy he’s ever cared enough about to fight for.

There have been others, yeah. There have been flings and month-long ‘relationships’ and enough flirting to fill the oceans and major lakes but there’s never been that single, shining person. There’s never been that one. And it had never bothered him because he’s always put himself first, has always loved himself first and foremost, but now here’s that single, shining person, here’s the one. And he’s got to do this right, lest he scare him away forever.

Fuck.

Very terrifying, indeed.

So Louis fully intends to take this slow. To take the scenic route, if you will.

“I love you,” he mumbles, lifting Harry’s head to meet his lips and Harry makes an indecipherable noise that’s a complete mixture of adorable, romantic, and fucking irresistible and so Louis says it again, enjoys the way the words affect Harry’s body, the way it quickens his heart.

“Yeah,” Harry breathes, nodding a bit frantically, and Louis smiles, brushing back his hair and trying to catch his eye as he rubs his hands along Harry’s skin soothingly, slowly, taking his time as much as he can and—

And Harry’s unzipping Louis’ pants, sitting up to straddle his legs, lips caught between his teeth, eyes covered in shadow as the night haloes his body.

Which.

Uhm.

Wasn’t Harry the one who wanted to…take things slow?

Louis glances up at him, trying to read his face despite the darkened room, but all he can see is the determined set to Harry’s mouth as he slides his fingers inside Louis’ jeans, his other hand tugging the waistband down eagerly and, okay, it’s certainly not unpleasant, but Louis’ trying to grasp what’s happening.

He’s beautiful, so beautiful, and Louis reaches out to brush the hair out of his eyes, to still him with a lingering kiss, but Harry pulls away, hands reaching to palm Louis through his briefs—that Harry’s already peeling off with practice, silent and focused.

It’s a bit… Off, to be honest. Something doesn’t feel right.

“In a rush?” Louis laughs breathlessly, trying for light, but Harry doesn’t laugh, just peels the briefs further down and no, this doesn’t feel right.

Instantly, Louis stills Harry’s hands.

“Harry?” he questions, brows pinching.

His gaze meets Louis’, burning and intent.

“I want to make you feel good,” is what he says, impassioned, making to break free from Louis’ grasp, to resume his progress. “I’m good at this, I can make you feel good,” he promises, and it’s like…

It’s like he’s trying to prove himself to Louis.

As if all of his worth boils down to this, to sex, and Louis’ throat closes up at the thought, his stomach constricting.

“No, no, Harry,” he says, sitting up, twisting his fingers with Harry’s. “This isn’t about me,” he insists softly. “It’s about us.”

But Harry’s biting the cushion of his flushed lips and avoiding Louis’ gaze, and still it doesn’t feel right.

“We don’t have to do anything,” Louis says calmly after a moment, stroking Harry’s cheeks with the backs of his fingers. And he means it, absolutely means it, which means he must either be made of steel or really fucking in love.

He thinks it’s probably the latter.

Harry swallows, shaking his head vehemently before the sentence is even finished, eyes still averted.

“No, no I want to—I really do want to—to be with you,” Harry struggles and is blushing, turning crimson. Harry, who has had every kind of sex imaginable in, probably, every position physically possible, on, probably, every single continent is blushing. For Louis.

There’s a pregnant pause, one where Harry still won’t look at Louis, his cheeks still flaming, before Louis gently tilts his chin up, scrapes the pad of his thumb over the soft flesh there.

“I want you, too,” he says simply, never releasing his hold, his breath whispering against Harry’s skin.

Harry swallows at the words, blinks slowly as they wash over the room.

“Yeah?” he asks in a whisper, voice scratchy. His eyes flick up to Louis’ just briefly before darting away again.

“Yes, of course,” Louis says, reverently, leaning in and capturing him with the softest brush of the lips. “Of course I do. I want everything with you.” He dips in again, lips firmer, pressing that much harder against Harry’s awaiting ones before pulling away again. “You make me want the soppy shit in life.” Another, firmer kiss, one that leaves Harry chasing after it after he’s pulled away again. “You make me want to learn how to cook more than a pot of water so I can make you dinner.” Yet another longer kiss, punctuated by a second kiss to Harry’s jaw that loosens his limbs that bit more. “You make me want to fold my laundry and set aside money to buy you presents and pick you ugly flowers I find struggling to grow and you make me want to be a better person—one that’s always here for you, one that shares everything with you, one that gives everything to you.” At this, he pulls back, stares into Harry’s eyes which have finally settled upon Louis, dilated and wide. “You make me want it all, but mostly, you make me want you.”

The sound of Harry’s breath is the only thing that fills the space between them as Louis waits, brushes his fingers along the angles of Harry’s face, the warmth of his body seeping into his own.

And then suddenly Harry jolts up, grips at Louis with unyielding hands, and crashes his lips against his own—insistently, beautifully, unbreakingly.

“Yeah?” Louis pants in an unspoken question, managing to rip away from the hypnotic slide of Harry’s mouth, eyes closed. He feels heavy, his limbs sunken in the thick perfume of desire, and his mouth is pressing against Harry’s cheek, maybe the corner of his mouth, he doesn’t know. Just knows that he can’t lift his head as he exchanges air with Harry, as he feels the pricklings of sweat begin to bead, as he feels Harry’s forehead press against his own.

“Yeah,” Harry breathes in response, breathless and light, nodding. He smears a kiss to the corner of Louis’ eye, warm, wet, entrancing. “’M in love with you.”

“Love you, too. Trust you.”

“Trust you, too.”

And Louis melts, melts into the fucking floor, or maybe into Harry, continues to kiss him with as much passion as he can dreg up and seeks his hands again, entwining their fingers in time with Harry’s sharp intakes of breath and the purrs that coil in the back of his throat. Their palms jot together, warm and balanced, and Louis holds him through each deepened kiss, through each meticulous glide of their bodies, until he forgets where he ends and Harry begins and he doesn’t want to remember, doesn’t want to know, doesn’t ever want to be reminded again.

*

When Louis awakens later, startled from a dream, the moonlight is streaming through the opened windows, illuminating the curtains and the bare skin of their sheet-entangled bodies.

He looks down, blinking away his dreams, only to find a dream born of reality—his hand engulfed by Harry’s own, pressed against his heart, a small smile delicately painted upon his lips. It warms him immediately, sending quick, silvery flashes of memory throughout his marked and pleasantly aching body. He gazes down at him, revels in the feel of their hands, revels in the reality that he’s his.

That Harry is his.

And that he is Harry’s.

He’s the very portrait of peace, the very portrait of someone who’s been rebuilt, his heart reopened and allowing the world back in. Allowing Louis in.

It takes his breath away.

He didn’t think that actually could happen but, yep, it’s happening; Harry takes Louis’ fucking breath away.

And suddenly he’s flooded, absolutely flooded, with love and adoration and softness and desire and every other feeling that whispers ‘forever’ and ‘always’ and ‘home’; because Louis has found his forever, has found his always, has found his home.

With Harry pressing Louis’ palm against his heart, his skin soft and milky, his eyelashes stretching across his cheeks, any qualms or anxieties or fears that Louis may have ever harbored—or will ever harbor—fade, leaving only the quiet knowledge that it’s going to be all right.

That they’re always going to be all right.

That Louis will fight to the ends of the Earth for this boy and that Harry will fight, too.

That he loves Harry unyieldingly, and Harry loves Louis, too.

That Harry saved Louis.

And Louis saved Harry.

And with that, the reassurance flooding his veins and his brain and everything that his soul is made of, he drifts back to sleep, serenaded by the music of Harry’s heart, beating beneath his fingers.

~FIN~