Electing Strange Perfections

Chapter 3

Louis takes a deep breath before ringing the doorbell. He fiddles with his shirt, pulling it down and smoothing it as he waits to be buzzed in.

When he woke up with a message from Harry giving him his address and at what time he was expected, Louis almost threw up with nerves. He spent the day nagging Perrie for kissing tips and changing his outfit, finally choosing a red and white striped shirt that he pairs with black skinny jeans that he knows make his bum look fantastic and, on a whim that made his heart hammer at the possibilities that it entailed, he chose to keep his glasses on instead of putting his contacts in. Harry might offer him to spend the night. He might be courageous enough to do what he’s been fantasizing about for weeks. And if so, he’ll appreciate not having to worry about waking up with dried bits of plastic in his eyes.

He had to lie that he is going out with Zayn before he hopped into the taxi he called and spent the long ride to Harry’s flat nervously fiddling with his hair, trying to fix it with the front-facing camera of his mobile. And then he was out of the cab and standing in front of a dingy building in a dodgy neighbourhood and feeling, perhaps for the first time of his life, like he really does look as outrageously rich as he is.

The speaker by the door crackles and he hears Harry’s voice. “Yeah?”

“It’s me.” Biting his lip, he frowns. “Louis. Tomlinson.”

“Lou! Come on up, we’re on the fourth floor.”

The door buzzes and Louis pushes it, looking around for a lift. Finding none, he climbs the first few steps and then looks up the staircase, feeling a wave of vertigo hit him at the sight. He sighs and starts climbing, ready to give up by the second floor. He knows he’s not in shape, but fuck, this is just unfair. He’s all red in the face and sweaty once he reaches Harry’s floor and he takes a few minutes on the landing of the fourth floor, leaning against the wall and breathing hard, wiping his sweaty brow with his arm.

Once his breathing is under control and his camera confirms that he’s back to normal colours, Louis knocks on Harry’s door, taking a deep breath and smiling in preparation for when Harry will open the door. He’s jumping slightly on the balls of his feet and tapping his fingers against his thighs nervously, and just when he’s about to knock again, the door swings open, revealing—

A blond man, barely taller than Louis, who’s grinning at Louis with crooked teeth and a face like it’s Christmas come early. Louis’ smile falters.

“Oh, huh, I think I have the wrong...” He checks the message Harry sent him, confirming that he knocked on the right door. “Is... I’m looking for Harry? Harry Styles?”

The blond man only smiles wider and peers back into the flat. “Haz, there’s a boy scout here to sell you a calendar, I think.” He smiles back at Louis.

He has an Irish accent. Harry’s flatmate is Irish. Louis breathes out a sigh of relief.

“You’re his flatmate, aren’t you?”

Just as he asks, Harry appears behind the man, grabbing him from behind and dragging him away from the door. “Get lost, tosser.” Turning to Louis, Harry smiles. “Sorry about Niall. He was dropped on the head when he was born, it’s not his fault.”

From inside the flat, Louis hears a loud shout of protest and what sounds a lot like: “You cunt.”

“Hi, come in, love,” Harry continues, pulling Louis in with a hand on his shoulder. “Did you have trouble finding the place?”

Louis stares for a few seconds, breathless at the sight of Harry. He realises it’s the first time he sees him indoors and he positively glows, his skin golden and contrasting sharply with the navy shirt covered with white hearts he put on. His hair is styled up in a quiff and he’s wearing tight, dark jeans and a pair of black leather boots. Louis clears his throat and blinks, remembering that oh, right, he was asked a question.

“No, no, my cabbie knew—oh!” he exclaims as Harry pulls him into a hug. Louis hugs him back, hiding his smile against Harry’s shoulder, biting his lip against it when Harry lets go of him. “It smells delicious in here.”

“Thanks! Lasagne’s my specialty. Come on, I’ll show you around.” Harry wraps his arm around Louis’ shoulders and steers him forward. “This here is the kitchen-living-dining-room, we spend a lot of time here.”

Louis looks around at the rather small space, with a small kitchen in the far right corner, a small table set for two, and then the entire left side of the flat which is filled by a large flat screen, a beat up couch that can sit two with an armchair next to it, and a few video game consoles.

“And down there, you’ve got our rooms,” Harry continues, pulling Louis along a hallway that starts from the centre of the flat. “Here’s the bathroom,” he says, pointing the first door on the right, “there’s Niall’s room and then there’s mine,” he finishes, first showing the door on the left and then the second one on the right. “It’s not much, but that’s my place.”

Louis looks up at him with a smile. “I love it. It feels cozy.”

Harry smiles back. “I love your glasses.” He touches the black frames with the tip of his finger and then goes back to the kitchen, talking as he goes. “Dinner should be ready soon! And Niall will leave before it is, right, Niall?”

“I want lasagne, too,” Niall says from the couch without looking up from the game he’s playing on his mobile. “You never cook nice meals for me, Hazza.”

Shaking his head, Harry rolls his eyes at Louis. “Ignore him.”

Louis gives him a tight smile and wipes his hands on his trousers, not quite knowing where to put himself and feeling awkward for standing in the middle of the room. He shuffles closer to the kitchen, resting his hip against the counter and crossing his arms over his chest.

“I’d never been in this part of town before,” he comments. “It’s lovely.”

“No, mate, it’s shite,” Niall calls and Harry chuckles.

“He’s right. It’s a shit part of town, but it’s our shit part of town.” Harry goes over to the fridge and peers inside, cursing under his breath before straightening up. “I forgot to buy strawberries, I’ve got to go.”

“I can come along!” Louis says, too enthusiastic to sound normal.

“No need, love, I’ll be right back. And I need someone to keep an eye on the soup. If it boils, you take it off the burner, yeah? I won’t be long.”

Harry kisses his forehead and then he’s out the door, leaving Louis alone with a terrifying Irishman and a potential disaster in the kitchen. He walks over to the oven and peers inside the pot, biting his lip. He turns back towards the living room and yelps when he sees Niall standing close by.

“I don’t know how this thing works.”

Niall smirks. “What? People? Relationships?”

“Cooking,” Louis admits with a sigh. “I’ll ruin it and Harry will hate me.”

“You can’t even boil soup?” When Louis shakes his head, Niall cackles, throwing his head back. “I can’t believe this shit. Rich people are hilarious. Move,” he says, pushing Louis out of the way to stand by the pot. “Haz doesn’t hate people, by the way. That’s his biggest problem.”

“Alright, then I won’t have a second date.”

Niall frowns. “I thought you guys were already a thing.”

Louis opens wide, panicked eyes. “Are we?”

“That’s what it sounded like when he said you were coming over.”

“What did he say?” Louis asks, wringing his hands.

“Just that I had to get the fuck out of the flat.”

Louis frowns. “But you’re still here.”

“Yeah, I don’t take orders from lads who wear ugly hats.”

“His hat isn’t ugly!” he replies, feeling personally offended.

“Yeah, but you would say that, wouldn’t you?”

Louis looks at Niall with narrowed eyes, unsure of how he’s supposed to react. Was that an insult? Is Niall saying he’s got terrible taste? Oh god, maybe he does. Maybe he’s literally the only person who thinks Harry dresses well. Maybe he looks like shit right now and doesn’t even know it.

“Why do you say that?” Louis asks, sounding more defensive than he intended.

“Because it’s obvious you’re arse over tits in love with him,” Niall replies with a shrug, lifting the cover of the pot to sniff the soup.

Taking a step back under the shock, Louis feels himself blush violently. “Do you think he can tell?” He worries his lip nervously with his teeth, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

“He’s oblivious to most things.” Niall opens a drawer and takes out a spoon to taste the soup, grimacing when he undoubtedly burns his tongue. “This needs more salt.”

Watching Niall grab a saltshaker from a cupboard, Louis wrings his hands, bouncing his right leg. “Oh. Maybe he doesn’t care.”

“Nah, mate, he cares a lot about you,” Niall says with a chuckle, tasting the soup once more.

“No, but I mean... maybe... sex?”

Niall looks at him with a frown. “What?”

“Maybe he only cares about sex.”

Taking another spoonful of soup, Niall shakes his head. “He can have sex easily, he doesn’t need you for that. He especially doesn’t need to cook to get laid.”

“What does he need me for, then? I’m nothing special, I’m just... just a silly little boy. I’m not good at anything or even attractive, I’m... I don’t understand what he wants.”

Niall finally stops fussing over the soup to look at Louis, cocking his head to the side and pursing his lips. “I don’t know. You’re not his type and you’re younger. All I know is that he stopped bringing guys home after he met you.”

Louis brightens up at that, standing up straighter, feeling strangely relieved despite, well. Despite the elaborate flower theme Harry used to woo him, which should be enough to convince him that Harry really is interested in him. “Did he? That’s good.” Moving past Niall in the kitchen, Louis takes a peek at the soup. “Should we do something about it?”

“I don’t know, is it boiling?” Niall asks, condescendingly.

Louis recoils. “Hum, yes. Small bubbles. Should I... huh, turn off the burner?”

“Yes, and what else did he ask?”

Blushing because of Niall’s tone, Louis shrugs. “I don’t remember,” he squeaks.

Niall rolls his eyes, patting Louis’ cheek on his way to the oven. “Fuck, he kisses you and you go brain dead. How often have I seen this happen?” He turns off the burner and moves the pot off it.

“Does he bring a lot of guys here, then? Does he... does he date a lot?”

“I told you, he used to. But usually, the meal we shared was breakfast, if you know what I mean.” Niall winks at Louis and he feels his stomach churn.

It was too good to be true. Of course, Harry invited him over with the plan that he would shag Louis. Why would it be any other way? Harry’s a grown man and this is what he’s used to, and if a child like Louis won’t give it to him, he’ll go get it somewhere else. And even if Louis came over with his glasses in case Harry does ask him to spend the night, imagining he might and finding out he will are two different things. In Louis’ scenario, Harry was serious about the date.

Louis backs out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on his trousers. “Yeah, I know what you mean. I should—I’ll just go, alright? I thought—” Shaking his head, Louis turns for the door. He feels hot and cold, like all of his blood has turned to ice and yet he’s burning with shame for having thought that he would have a chance with Harry. He’s just a silly child and he hates himself so much.

“Hey!” Niall follows him, stopping him with a hand on his shoulder. “You can’t go! He’ll be so disappointed if you leave. He’ll have huge sad eyes and he’ll mope for days, please don’t put me through this.”

“But I’m not here to... to share breakfast tomorrow. I was daft for thinking he might...” Louis shakes his head. “Forget it. I just want to go home.”

Niall surprises him by sighing dramatically and taking him by the shoulders to look straight into his eyes. “I’m only going to say this once and I’ll deny everything if you tell him I told you: Haz fancies you. Don’t be nervous, Harry’s the best person I’ve met. Even if you two don’t work out, he’ll make sure you’re okay.”

“But I want us to work,” Louis says in a small voice.

“So does he.”

The ghost of a smile appears on Louis’ lips as he feels the shock and panic from earlier receding. “You think so?”

“Yeah, totally.” Niall nods and lets go of Louis to go back to the couch, picking up his mobile and typing quickly before setting it down. “Tell you what, I could be convinced to get out of the flat for the evening.”

Louis stares at him for a moment before understanding. “How much?”

“Name your price,” Niall says, getting up and coming closer with a smirk. “What is total intimacy with Harry worth?”

“Fifty quid?” Louis offers, looking through his wallet and taking out everything he has in it.

Niall grabs the money and shoves it in his pocket. “I’d have left for five, but thanks, Lou. I hope I see more of you. I’ll let the lads know the first round’s on Harry’s new boyfriend.” He claps Louis’ shoulder and then leaves, not before putting a snapback on his head. So much for making fun of Harry’s hat.

Louis lets out a deep sigh, feeling out of place to be alone in Harry’s flat. Looking around, he spots a bookshelf and walks over to it, picking up a picture frame and smiling at the picture. It features a younger Harry and a younger Niall, arms thrown around each other in the booth of a bar, clinking pints and grinning at the camera. Louis traces the contours of Harry’s face on it, feeling his heart swell at how much younger he looks and how strange it is to see his skin milky white. Next to him, Niall looks like a child, with round, rosy cheeks and twinkling eyes. Louis puts down the picture and picks up another one, this time of two women. Harry recognises them immediately as Harry’s mother and sister, the resemblance between the three making him smile.

He’s about to pick up a third one when the door opens and shuts, letting in a breathless, red-faced Harry. “I’m sorry it took so long, there was a lady in front of me trying to pay with expired coupons. It took forever.” He drops the strawberries on the counter and looks around, frowning. “Where’s Niall?”

“He left,” Louis says simply, walking over to the kitchen and leaning against the counter to watch Harry as he resumes fluttering around the kitchen, doing ten things at once.

“There is a god!” Harry exclaims, grinning. “Can you wash and cut the strawberries for me? I need them for the cake.” He takes out a cutting board and a knife before checking the oven.

“There’s a cake?” Louis asks brightly as he turns on the tap to wash his hands. “What kind of cake?”

“It’s a surprise!” Harry bumps his hip against Louis’ as he moves the pot of soup off the stove, making him yelp and drop a strawberry on the floor. “Just rinse it, love. I washed the floor this morning.”

Louis does as he’s told and then finishes up quickly, moving out of Harry’s way when he takes the lasagne out of the oven and then begins filling deep bowls with soup.

“Can I help with something?”

“Uncork the wine and we’re all set for dinner. Corkscrew’s in the third drawer.”

Harry moves out of the kitchen with their bowls, making room for Louis to pull the corkscrew from the messy drawer - and he muses for a moment whether every single house has one of those because so far, in his 19 years of experience, the answer is yes - and uncorks the wine, bringing it over to the table and grinning when he sees Harry pulled his chair.

“A true gentleman,” Louis comments, sitting down and biting his lip with delight when Harry pushes his chair for him. “There might be hope for your table manners.”

“I try,” Harry replies, sitting down and pouring them both glasses of wine. He picks up his and smiles softly at Louis. “To a wonderful evening in excellent company?”

“To our first real date?” Louis offers hesitantly.

Harry frowns. “It’s not our first, it’s our second. Yesterday was our first.”

“It doesn’t really count.”

“I want to count it.”

It’s Louis’ turn to frown. “Well, I don’t,” he argues, amused.

Rolling his eyes, Harry clinks his glass against Louis’. “Whatever.”

Louis lets out a giggle and drinks from his glass, watching Harry mirror him. He then takes a first spoonful of the soup and opens his eyes wide. “Wow!”

“You like it?”

“It’s really, really good.”

Harry smiles proudly. “I’ll tell my mum her recipe was a success.” He takes a sip of wine. “I hope Niall didn’t scare you too much.”

“No, but I learned a few things.” Louis drinks some of his wine for courage before continuing. If he doesn’t say it now, he’ll change his mind. “We’re not having sex tonight.”

“You and Niall? I would hope not,” Harry jokes, but he sounds uncertain.

“I’m a virgin, Harry.”

Harry nods, putting down his spoon. “I supposed you might be. I don’t care, you know. That’s not why I invited you here.”

“No, I know, it’s just... Niall said some things and I was afraid you would be disappointed,” Louis says slowly before finishing his glass of wine to hide his discomfort.

“He told you about the one night stands.” Harry sighs and rubs his eye a few times. “I don’t want that with you. I want it all, I want... it’s probably too early to say it and I’ll scare you away, but I want to be your boyfriend, Lou. That’s all I’ve wanted since I met you. That’s why I invited you.”

Louis looks up from his bowl, his eyes wide. He’s probably gaping, although he’s too in shock to be conscious of what his body is doing. “W—what?”

“I haven’t made it obvious enough, yet?” Harry is frowning, looking almost shy. “I know it’s early and we don’t really know each other, but you’re all I’ve been able to think about since we met. And I’m pretty sure you like me, too, so it doesn’t have to be complicated, you know? I don’t want to shuffle around you for weeks when I already know what I want.”

Louis takes a shaky breath, his head reeling as he processes Harry’s words. It goes against everything he thought he knew about dating; he expected at least three more dates before the B-word was uttered. Hearing it less than an hour into their second date took him off guards, honestly, and he doesn’t know how to react. Well, yes, he knows that he wants this, but Harry is right: it is early.

“We haven’t even kissed, yet,” Louis finally says, pushing his spoon around his bowl. He doesn’t add that Harry might change his mind once he kisses Louis and sees he’s terrible.

“Our first kiss will come later tonight, if you want to, or it could be weeks from now. We’re doing this out of order, but I just wanted to be clear on this. You don’t have to say yes. I only wanted you to know what I have in mind so you can relax. I didn’t lure you into a trap to lock you in my room and turn you into a sex slave. I’m trying to woo you.”

Louis puts his hand over his mouth as he starts giggling and blushing at the mention of a sex slave, his nerves finally giving in after the stress of the past week. “A sex slave?” he squeaks, breathless.

“Of my entire heartfelt speech, this is what you paid attention to?”

“I’m sorry, it’s nervous laughter,” Louis says, wiping his eyes under his glasses. He clears his throat once he’s calmed down. “Alright, I’ll try to relax now that I’ve seen the inside of your heart, Haz.”

Harry brightens up at the name and resumes eating his soup, only taking one spoonful before placing his hand on the table, palm up. An invitation. Louis puts his hand in his and ducks his head with a smile when Harry squeezes it.

The soup gives way to lasagne, which Louis gushes over just for the pleasure of seeing Harry smile so wide his eyes crinkle. Louis teases him about his table manners, although he is relieved to see that Harry was intentionally being terrible the day before. He mentions it while Harry is bringing their empty plates to the kitchen.

“I was trying to make you laugh, yeah. I love your laugh.”

Louis groans and lets his forehead fall against the table. “Stop complimenting me.”

“Never.” Louis looks up and sees that Harry is grinning at him, looking proud of himself. “Have you got room left for cake?”

“There is always room for cake. I store it all in my bum.”

“I love your bu—”

“Don’t say it!” Louis says in a rush, laughing when Harry sticks out his tongue at him. “But thank you.”

Harry hums in reply and then walks out of the kitchen, walking backwards to hide what he’s holding from Louis’ view. He places the cake on the table with a flourish, smiling brightly.

“I hope you like cheesecake.”

“I love cheesecake,” Louis replies, licking his lips in anticipation. “You’ll have to give me the address of the bakery where you got it, it looks sinful.”

Sitting down, Harry visibly preens. “I made it myself, actually.”

“From scratch?”

“From scratch.”

Louis lets out a low whistle, his mouth watering as Harry places a slice on his plate. He takes a first bite and lets out a groan, his eyes rolling back. He’ll worry about blushing for the noise he made later, because for now he’s got a cake to eat. Possibly the best cake he’s ever had. He’ll also worry about the way Harry looks at him when he’s done inhaling his dessert. He has other things to think about than how Harry has his hand under his chin and looks at Louis with soft eyes.

Eating with appetite, Louis finishes the slice in a few minutes, licking his spoon clean before letting out a satisfied sigh. “It was incredible. Best cake I’ve had. Thank you.”

“My pleasure. You can take the leftovers home, if you want.”

“That’s a good idea, it’ll make me think of you,” Louis says, his heart hammering in his chest because Harry is still looking at him like he—well, like he might kiss Louis.

Harry’s lips stretch into a smile and he leans forward. Louis braces himself for what comes next, holding his breath and fluttering his eyes shut, waiting and waiting and…waiting?

He opens his eyes only to find an empty seat in front of him. Blinking a few times, Louis blushes as he realises Harry leaned closer to pick up his empty plate. He moved to the kitchen while Louis made himself look like an idiot and he smiles when Louis looks over.

“You can move to the living room, if you wish, I thought we might watch a movie? You can pick one, they’re by the telly.”

Listening to the sounds of Harry doing the dishes, Louis walks over to the television and kneels by it to sift through the pile of DVDs. He smiles at some of the titles, feeling like he can already tell which are Niall’s and which are Harry’s. The romantic comedies have to be Harry’s; he can hardly imagine Niall curled up in front of P.S. I Love You.

“I don’t know what to pick,” Louis says, smiling when Harry crouches next to him a few minutes later. “All you’ve got is either sad or full of explosions.”

“What’s so bad about sad? Sad is a part of life, Lou.”

With a laugh, Louis shakes his head. “Look at you, trying to be philosophical.”

Harry shoves Louis’ shoulder, laughing. “Just trying to keep up with you, Oxford boy.”

Louis snorts. “I got in thanks to money, not my brains.”

“I’m sure you’re only being modest.” Harry pulls a movie out of the pile, handing it to Louis. “This one’s my favourite.”

Love Actually. Louis’ heart swells and he smiles at Harry, feeling like Harry just revealed a very big part of him.

“We can watch it, if you want. Even if we’re in July.”

Harry cheers and gets up, rushing to set up the movie before joining Louis on the couch, getting comfortable in the corner of it. He then opens his arms and looks at Louis expectantly, and Louis’ heart speeds up once more.

“Cuddles?” Harry asks, all wide eyes and pouting lips.

Louis scoots over, curling up against Harry’s side. His breath hitches as Harry wraps his arms around him and kisses his forehead. Harry must have felt it because he strokes Louis’ arm slowly, comfortingly, and he smile when Louis looks up at him. Louis rubs his cheek against Harry’s shirt as he gets more comfortable, watching the movie for a moment before he has to comment.

“Your shirt is really soft.” He rubs the fabric through his fingers, recognizing it at once. “Burberry?”

“Do I look like I can afford Burberry?” Harry asks.

“Oh,” Louis lets out, embarrassed. “I’m a posh gay boy, you’d think I’d be able to tell rip-offs from the real thing. It’s embarrassing.”

Harry chuckles and holds him tighter. Louis lets out a small sigh and settles against Harry, feeling his warm skin through the fabric of his shirt. It makes him smile and curl closer. Louis wraps his arms around Harry’s waist and bites his lip when he hums happily and kisses Louis’ temple.

Halfway through the movie, Louis becomes restless. Spending the past hour wondering whether Harry was going to kiss him set his nerves on edge, his heartbeat picking up every time Harry shifted. He then began trying to figure out which part of the movie would be the most romantic as the background for a first kiss, but between Martin Freeman’s uncomfortable semi-sex scenes and Bill Nighy’s face, he can’t figure it out and Harry doesn’t look like he has any intention to kiss Louis any time soon.

He wants it. He wasn’t sure when he got here, but after the conversation they had during dinner and how comfortable and at ease he feels curled up into Harry’s side, all he wants is to feel Harry’s lips on his, to have Harry’s large hands hold his jaw as he kisses him senseless. He’s squirming from it, paying more attention to every shift of Harry’s muscles rather than the movie. He doesn’t even care anymore that he’s going to be a terrible kisser.

Louis glances up at Harry, finding him enthralled by the movie and catching him chuckling at a funny part, his eyes lighting up as he does and dimples appearing on his cheeks. Louis swallows and pushes at one with his finger, sticking out his tongue when Harry looks down at him. Harry sticks his own out in return, which makes Louis laugh.

“What?” Harry asks.

“Nothing,” Louis replies, surprised by how playful it comes out.

“No, tell me.”

“I swear, there’s nothing. I was just looking at you.”

“Just looking at me for no reason, really? You had nothing at all in mind?”

Louis bites his lip and he doesn’t miss Harry’s eyes flicking down. “No, nothing at all.”

Harry hums. “I sent you the flowers, but you asked me out first. Then I asked you out again so, unless I’m mistaken, it’s your move.”

Right on cue, Louis’ heart speeds up. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Shaking his head, Harry smiles. “I’m not going to do it. It’s all on you.”

Louis swallows with difficulty, his throat dry and closing up due to nerves. He shifts closer, pushing himself up with a hand against Harry’s stomach – he files away for later the fact that Harry’s stomach isn’t as hard as he’d expected it to be – and lets out a nervous laugh. He’s about to kiss Harry. It’ll happen any second now, all he needs to do is close the distance between their lips and then he’ll have kissed the single most attractive man he’s ever met.

Taking a deep breath, Louis does it: he leans up and closer, one hand on Harry’s chest for balance, and presses his lips to Harry’s. He does it only briefly, barely applying any pressure, but it’s enough to make Harry hum and move one hand down to spread it on Louis’ back and hold him close as he kisses him fully. Louis lets out a quiet noise from the back of his throat and kisses back, curling his fingers in Harry’s shirt when he starts reeling from the kiss, his mind disconnecting and his instincts taking over, making him move closer against Harry, shifting so that he can kneel on the couch. Harry’s other hand leaves Louis’ back to rest on his jaw and Louis keens against Harry’s lips, the sound turning into a surprised moan when he feels Harry start licking into his mouth.

Louis pulls back, breathing hard and cheeks on fire. The sound their lips make as they part make him gasp and he dives back in, holding Harry’s head between his hands and repeatedly planting kisses on Harry’s lips until he feels Harry kissing back with more insistence, slowing down Louis’ rapid pace to turn it into a slow rhythm of kisses that make Louis’ head spin. Harry starts again with his tongue and this time Louis parts his lips, letting out a moan when he feels Harry’s warm, silky tongue dart inside his mouth.

Louis moves his hands to Harry’s hair, sinking his fingers through the thick curls and pulling at them, smiling when Harry lets out a noise of surprise. Encouraged by it, Louis tries to move even closer, realising that he’d need to climb into Harry’s lap to achieve it. Before he can change his mind, Louis does it as deftly as he can without breaking the kiss, settling over Harry’s thighs, his knees sinking in the couch on either side of Harry’s legs. Without missing a beat, Harry grips Louis’ hips and lets Louis dip his head back to deepen the kiss, opening his mouth with a hum when Louis tentatively licks into it.

It’s only when Louis’ hips push forwards against Harry’s that he breaks the kiss and sits back on his haunches. He runs his hands down his face and then looks at Harry, amazed by how red and shiny his lips are. He wonders idly whether his own look like this.

“Are you sure this was your first kiss?” Harry asks, licking his lips. His voice is deeper than usual, and rougher, sending sparks down Louis’ spine.

Louis shakes his head. “I made out with my mate Zayn. We were drunk, though. I wasn’t terrible, then?”

Harry strokes Louis’ hips slowly, a lazy smile stretching on his lips. “Not terrible at all. You were actually pretty good.” Moving forward, Harry steals a quick kiss. “I was pleasantly surprised.”

Louis smiles brightly and gets ready to lean in for yet another kiss when he realises with a grunt that they just had their first kiss with “Christmas is All Around” playing in the background. He can’t hold back his laughter at that and he presses his face into Harry’s neck, thinking idly that Harry smells intoxicatingly good.

“What is it?” Harry asks, stroking up and down Louis’ back with the tip of his fingers. Louis shivers pleasantly at the feeling.

“The song. That bloody awful song from the movie. That’s what we had our first kiss to.”

Harry lets out a surprised laugh. “Did we? Shit. That’s not good, is it? That’s a terrible story to tell.”

“Or an excellent one. Depends how you look at it.”

Harry laughs even more, full and unrestrained, and Louis envies him his comfort because he’s slowly regaining consciousness of his body and he’s realising with panic and terror that he’s basically sitting in Harry’s lap, their crotches mere inches from each other. His breath hitches and he startles when Harry kisses him again, just a slow, brief press of his lips that make Louis sigh.

“I like kissing you, love. I could do it all evening.”

Louis bites his lip, smiling. “We could,” he replies simply, feeling brazen and courageous for once in his life.

Almost instantly, Harry fumbles around for the remote and switches the television off when he finds it. “Can I offer, without any hidden agenda, to move to my room? It’d be more comfortable, is all.”

Louis swallows, looking at Harry without saying a word for a moment. In terms of physical comfort, yes, without a doubt, a bed would be better than this beat up couch. But it’d be a bed, and the connotations that come with it are enough to make Louis sick with anxiety. And yet, Harry looks so genuinely without any second thoughts that Louis finds himself nodding and smiling.

His smile fades rapidly when Harry grabs him under the thighs and lifts him up. Louis lets out a yelp and wraps his arms around Harry’s neck, his legs wrapping tightly around his waist. He buries his face in Harry’s neck and giggles, clinging to him as Harry carries him to his bedroom. It makes his head spin and his heart flutter to see how easily Harry holds him up, carrying him like Louis weighs nothing.

“Hold on tight, I’ve got to open the door,” Harry says and Louis obliges, clinging even more to Harry, risking a kiss to his neck and smiling when Harry hums happily and walks them into his room, shutting the door behind him with his foot.

He puts Louis down on his bed carefully and quickly toes off his shoes before climbing on it and crawling to sit against his pillows. Louis ignores him for a moment, taking a few seconds to look around the small room. Tour posters of bands he doesn’t know cover the white walls and grass green curtains hang in front of the window. A pile of neatly folded clothes stands in a corner, made of the plaid shirts Louis loves so much, but also of soft cotton shirts in myriad colours and trousers in various shades. The entire room smells like Harry does and Louis feels safe in it, almost cradled, by the bare room, the only furniture being the bed and a nightstand on the right side of it. A pile of books replaces the other nightstand and a cactus has been precariously balanced on it.

At last, Louis turns to Harry and he can’t hold back a shy smile to see him patiently waiting for him, comfortably resting against the headboard. Harry beckons Louis closer with his finger and Louis makes quick work of taking off his shoes before crawling up the bed on all fours and sitting down next to Harry, fumbling with a pillow behind his back until he’s comfortable.

“I’m sorry it’s a mess in here,” Harry says in a low voice, scooting closer and ghosting his lips over Louis’ cheek. He shivers and closes his eyes. “But I didn’t think you’d be seeing it.”

“I bet you say that to all the boys,” Louis replies, turning on his side to face Harry and smiling when he does the same. He reaches up and pushes a few curls behind Harry’s ear.

“No, usually we talk a lot less.” Harry presses a kiss to Louis’ lips. “But I don’t want to talk about anyone else right now.”

Harry only turned on the bedside lamp and it casts a golden light in the room, making the scene more intimate than Louis feels it might have been with the bright overhead halogens. From this close, Louis can see the shadow of Harry’s facial hair and he runs the back of his fingers against his cheek, watching Harry’s lips stretch into a lazy, happy smile.

“You only want to talk about your boyfriend, then?” Louis asks, keeping his voice light despite the way his stomach is churning and his heart is hammering from what he just said.

Harry giggles and nods, leaning in to kiss Louis, pressing hard and long against his lips. Louis follows his mouth involuntarily when he pulls back, biting his lip when it makes Harry chuckle.

“Can you blame me? My boyfriend is amazing.” Harry runs a hand down Louis’ side and over the curve of his hip.

“I’m sure I would love to hear all about him some other time, but right now I think you should kiss me.”

Louis has no idea where he got the courage to say something like this, but it must be the right thing to say because Harry moves closer and kisses him fully, cradling Louis’ face in his hand. He lets Harry lead the kiss, rolling on his back and keening when Harry follows, holding himself up over Louis with his forearm planted in the mattress, his other hand moving up to Louis’ hair. Harry settles on top of him, their chests pressed together, and Louis can’t hold back a moan at the feeling of Harry’s weight. Harry takes the opportunity to slip his tongue into Louis’ mouth, rubbing it against Louis’ and exploring his mouth, and all Louis can do is grip Harry’s shirt tightly and force his lungs to work normally.

With Harry on top of him and his smell everywhere, it’s only a matter of minutes before Louis is squirming against the tightness in his trousers and clawing at Harry’s shirt to pull him off, to break the kiss before he finds himself unable to stop.

“Wait, wait,” Louis pants, moving back and away from Harry. “I need a few minutes.”

Obligingly, Harry rolls off to lie on his back, leaving space between them, and Louis feels a wave of gratefulness rise in him that Harry would think about Louis’ comfort before his own pleasure.

“Thank you,” Louis says, turning his head to smile at Harry.

Harry shrugs. “I needed it, too. It was getting pretty steamy.” He turns to lie on his side, pillowing his head with his arm, and gives Louis a lopsided grin. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“I’m glad you invited me. Even if I almost didn’t come.”

Harry raises his eyebrows. “Really? Why?”

“Hum, we’ve had this conversation before, but you’re you and I’m me.”

“I’m not sure I know what you mean by that,” Harry says softly, reaching forward to smooth down Louis’ fringe.

“I mean that…” Louis closes his eyes and groans, feeling like whatever he might tell Harry would sound foolish, even though it’s constantly gnawing at his sanity. “I just don’t know… why me? You could have anyone and it’s me that you chose. I don’t understand why.”

From Louis’ hair, Harry moves his hand down to his arm, stroking it softly. “Do I need a reason? I just think you’re fascinating. You make me laugh, you’re beautiful, you’re—” Louis snorts, interrupting Harry. He frowns. “You don’t believe me?”

“Not really, no.”

“Well, you are.” Harry kisses Louis’ nose and he giggles, blushing. “You’re beautiful, I’ve thought so since I first saw you. And you’re adorable when you blush.”

“But you barely know me.”

“And you barely know me, too, but that doesn’t stop you from liking me, does it?”

“No, but I’m not… I’ve got nothing to offer.”

“That’s for me to decide, sunshine.” Harry pecks his nose again, stroking his cheek with his knuckles.

Louis sighs and nods. He’s not convinced and he knows that he needs to start bracing himself for the moment when Harry gets tired of him and breaks up, but he’s willing to let himself enjoy it while he can, as self-destructive as it might turn out to be.

“Sunshine, I like that,” he says instead of protesting once more.

“Yeah? That’ll be your name, then. You’ll be my sunshine.” Harry strokes Louis’ cheekbone with his thumb and Louis smiles, turning his head to kiss the palm of his hand. He scoots closer to press a soft kiss to Louis’ lips and Louis kisses back eagerly, smiling even wider when Harry pulls back.

Stroking a hand down Harry’s chest, Louis lets out a laugh. “It’s so weird, with your shirt like that, it’s like you’ve got no tattoos.” Glancing at Harry coyly, he adds: “You almost look like a respectable person.”

With a surprised laugh, Harry looks at Louis with wide eyes. “I don’t know if I should be insulted.”

Louis shakes his head. “Don’t be. I don’t want respectable. If I wanted respectable, I’d date, like, Liam.”

“Country Club Liam?”

“That Liam, yes.”

“So, you prefer bad boys, then?” Harry asks, moving his hand slowly down Louis’ chest, fingernails scratching at the fabric of his shirt. “With tattoos and stuff?”

“Don’t laugh, it’s working to your advantage.”

“Yeah, see, the thing is, I call my mum every day, I help little old ladies to cross the street and I cry when I see kittens. I’m really not a bad boy, love. I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed.”

Louis bites his lip against what he almost said, I could never be, and shakes his head, fiddling with the collar of Harry’s shirt. “And the tattoos?”

“Simply an artistic expression of my innermost thoughts,” Harry replies flippantly.

“I told you philosophy wasn’t your forte,” Louis replies, moving his fingers to the top button of Harry’s shirt. “Can I see them?”

“You already want me shirtless, Louis? I don’t know if I should comply, it’s only our second date,” Harry replies playfully, already unbuttoning his shirt.

Licking his lips, Louis watches Harry undo his shirt before sitting up to shrug it off. He sits back against the headboard and gives Louis an encouraging smile.

“Nothing you haven’t seen before,” Harry says fondly.

“You do enjoy being shirtless,” Louis replies, moving closer and touching the butterfly tattooed in the middle of Harry’s chest with the tip of his index finger. He traces the outlines of it, smiling to himself when he sees Harry’s chest stutter as he inhales.

“Clothes are tyrannical and I don’t like them.” Harry breathes in deeply as Louis moves his attention to the laurels over his hipbones, stroking them lightly. “Besides, I noticed you were paying more attention to me when I was half-naked. I liked it.”

Cosmo would probably tell Louis to deny that he enjoyed looking at Harry walking around his garden shirtless to keep him guessing and interested, but it’s hard for Louis to imagine that Harry could lose his interest in Louis, not when his eyes are riveted on him and he responds to every brush of Louis’ fingers on his skin.

“You did it for me?” he asks instead, abandoning the laurels – it’s dangerous territory, too close to Harry’s crotch and he’s pretty sure he saw his cock twitch through his jeans, he needs to get away from there quick – to lightly touch the swallows underneath Harry’s collarbone, bending down to press a brief kiss to one of them. “Really?”

“Again with the disbelief that I might be interested in you! Do you honestly think I’d have kept this job if it didn’t mean I’d get to see you every day? It was really hard when you were avoiding me, I had no reason to come into work in the morning because I didn’t get to see you.”

Louis bites his lip, shocked and rendered breathless by the honest confession. Harry has to be the single most earnest person Louis have ever met and, compared to the hypocrisy and lies he’s used to, it takes him off guards. He doesn’t know how he’s supposed to reply. Should he smile and laugh? Apologise for having avoided Harry because he was too shy to even be seen by him? Kiss Harry until they both run out of air?

He chooses the latter, stroking Harry’s cheek with his knuckles like he’s done to Louis’ earlier and leaning in for a kiss, letting out a gasp of surprise when Harry nibbles his bottom lip.

“Always biting your lip, always blushing, cute little shy Louis,” Harry mutters against Louis’ lips, putting a hand on the back of Louis’ neck to keep him in place as he deepens the kiss.

Louis doesn’t know for how long they kiss, his entire world reduced to Harry’s lips and Harry’s body and Harry’s warmth and softness and, although he tries not to pay attention to it, Harry’s hardening cock against his hip. He can’t let himself think about it, can’t even acknowledge it, because the idea that he’s done that to a boy would be enough to make him come in his pants and embarrass himself forever. The kind of embarrassment that requires moving to a new country and getting a new identity. He’d have to become French because it’s the only foreign language he speaks and he really wouldn’t like having to be called Marcel or, like, Jean-Baptiste for the rest of his life; even if, technically, his name is sort of French, he wouldn’t be able to keep it because that’s the whole point of getting a new identity and—and Harry has stopped kissing him.

He blinks at Harry and refrains from biting his lip at the last second. “Something wrong?”

“You weren’t there anymore, were you? What were you thinking about?” Harry’s eyes are heavy-lidded and his lips are stretched into a lazy smile, red and swollen and shining with their saliva.

Louis swallows. “It’s getting late,” is what he replies because it is getting late, nearing on ten and he feels giddy at the thought that they’ve spent the best part of the last hour snogging.

Harry shrugs. “Do you want to sleep over?” At Louis’ gasp, he’s quick to add: “I’ll sleep on the couch. Honestly, I just want to spend more time with you. I don’t want the evening to end just yet.”

Again with the earnest, heartfelt confession. Louis finds himself smiling against his will, against the hammering of his heart in his chest. “I don’t have any pyjamas.”

“I can lend you some,” Harry replies in a rush, sitting up. “You’ll see, my bed’s really comfortable despite its shit appearance.” He gets up and stretches, his back to Louis, and Louis stares, mouth gaping, because shit.

He got that. Louis managed, through forces unknown and unexplainable, to get a man with a body like Harry’s to let him touch him, to let him kiss him and to somehow interest him enough to be invited to stay the night. Feeling all warm and tingly inside at the thought, Louis brings up his knees and wraps his arms around them.

“You don’t have to sleep on the couch,” he says, feeling proud that his voice came out steady.

Harry, who was crouching in the corner rummaging through the pile of clothes – Louis realises then that he has no dresser or closet in which to put them – turns around to look at Louis, his eyes bright and happy.

“I don’t?”

“No. I trust you.” Encouraged by Harry’s smile, he adds: “And I’ve always wondered what it felt like to spoon.”

Pulling two shirts and as many pairs of pyjama trousers from the pile, Harry comes back to the bed. “It feels awesome.” Handing Louis the clothes, he then pulls on the shirt. “Big or small spoon?”

Louis picks up the clothes and hugs them to his chest, watching Harry change until he undoes his trousers and then pointedly looking away. “I don’t know. Small? I’ll—I’ll go change in the bathroom.”

“As you wish. I’ll wait for you right here,” Harry replies, getting settled in the bed.

Louis leaves the room quickly and locks himself in the bathroom, splashing cold water on his face as soon as the door is shut. He sees that his hands are shaking and he sighs, running them down his face before looking at himself in the mirror. He’s a mess: his hair’s tousled, his lips are swollen, his eyes shine in a way that he’s never seen them shine, and he’s not even going to mention the colour of his cheeks. He resists the urge of looking through the cabinets out of sheer curiosity and changes rapidly, ignoring the tightness in his pants before going back to Harry’s room. He has to be careful as he walks out of the bathroom because the trousers are too long on him, forcing him to hoist them up so he doesn’t trip and fall on his face in the middle of the hallway.

Harry is on his computer, but he closes the lid and puts it on his floor as soon as Louis comes in and shuts the door behind him. “I was on Facebook,” he explains when Louis climbs into bed next to him. “Which made me realise you still haven’t added me, boyfriend.”

“I’ve got my family on there,” Louis replies, sliding under the duvet and avoiding Harry’s eyes. He feels like shit that he won’t be able to broadcast his relationship – he’s in a relationship! – for the world to see because, well, the world doesn’t know that Louis Tomlinson loves boys. “I’m sorry, it’s just—I’m not out? Not to my family.”

Harry shrugs, once again smiling pleasantly. “That’s quite alright. It’s just a daft website, isn’t it?

Louis nods and slips down, resting his head against the pillow and wincing at how soft the mattress is. His back will kill him in the morning. Harry does the same, rolling on his side and pushing and pulling at Louis until his back is against Harry’s chest. Louis lets Harry move him around, giggling and enjoying the ease with which Harry puts him where he wants him far too much.

Once they’re settled, with Harry’s warm breath against his neck and his arm heavy over his waist, Louis can’t hold back a laugh. “Are we really going to bed at half past ten?”

“I’ve been up since five this morning. Yes, we are,” Harry replies in a tone you’d expect from a stubborn child.

Louis laughs even more. “You’ve got the sleep rhythm of an old spinster.”

“That, or it takes me forever to get to your house.”

“It took an hour by cabbie,” Louis comments.

“I hope you don’t call yourself a Londoner because you’re far from it, love. An hour and a half long commute far from it, to be precise.”

“Like you can talk, Cheshire.”

Harry laughs and kisses the nape of Louis’ neck. “Alright, on this point you beat me because you don’t sound like a Yorkshire boy, but I know I sound Northern.”

“It’s only because my step-father prefers that we sound posh.”

“So, if I asked, you could sound like a proper Northern boy?”

Louis cranes his neck to look at Harry and he laughs when he sees the wide-eyed smile he’s giving him. “Why does it matter so much to you how I sound?” he asks, slipping into his natural accent, both loving and hating the way it feels so much more comfortable to speak that way.

Harry’s eyes light up and he leans in to kiss Louis. “Gorgeous. Thank you. Now I don’t feel like I’ve got a BBC anchor in my bed.”

Louis elbows him in the stomach. “What happened to trying to woo me?” he asks, keeping his normal accent just to see how pleased Harry looks to hear it.

“I think I succeeded, didn’t I? You’re spending the night in my bed.”

“Don’t make me change my mind about it,” Louis replies, moving closer to Harry and smiling when he feels his arm tighten around him.

The shirt he’s wearing smells like Harry, so does the pillow under his head and the duvet he’s pulled up to his chin against the cold night breeze coming in from the wide-open window. Harry is warm and solid against his back, making Louis feel surrounded and loved. He swallows and turns his head once more to look at Harry.

“What is it, sunshine?” Harry asks, rubbing his nose against Louis’ cheek.

“I—” love you, he was about to say, but the words got caught in his throat. Instead, he coughs and says the first thing that comes to his mind: “I want cake.”

Harry stays silent for a moment, looking at Louis with furrowed brows. At last, when Louis feels like he’s about to worry himself into another plane of existence, Harry smiles. “I want cake, too.”

Nodding and kissing Harry to hide how flustered he is, Louis sighs and turns back, hoping against hope that he might be able to sleep despite the way he’s already overanalysing Harry’s reply to try and figure out if he meant the same thing as Louis. Probably not. He’s surely only hungry, there’s no way he figured out that by ‘I want cake’, Louis meant ‘I am madly in love with you and it scares me to death.’

Harry begins stroking Louis’ tummy and he tenses for a second before relaxing again, choosing to trust Harry even though he is touching the part of his body he hates the most.

“Goodnight, sunshine. Sleep tight.”

Louis chuckles. “Don’t let the bed bugs bite?”

“I don’t have bed bugs, don’t worry. We’re minimally clean.”

Louis’ eyes widen. “Oh, no, I didn’t mean to say that I think you’re not clean, I just—”

“I know, love. I know. Go to sleep.” Louis feels Harry shift away and he tries to follow until he hears the bedside lamp click shut. Harry is back seconds later, holding him close and rubbing his tummy comfortingly like before. “I’ll make you pancakes in the morning.”

With a smile, Louis yawns, feeling sleepier by the second. “You’re spoiling me. I’d have been happy finishing the cake.”

“Whatever you want, sunshine. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Hazza,” Louis replies, letting the slow motions of Harry’s hand lull him to sleep.

Louis wakes up alone and for a second he panics, having no idea where he is. Opening his eyes, he sees a sad little cactus and remembers that he spent the night at Harry’s, and then he grins because he spent the night at Harry’s. Turning his head into the pillow, Louis breathes in Harry’s smell before rolling on his back and stretching, taking up all of the bed for a second and wincing as pain shoots through his lower back. He knew the mattress would ruin it. Harry’s side is cold and from the noises that drift into the bedroom from the kitchen, he’s been up and preparing breakfast for a while already. Louis gets up and pads out of the room, dragging his feet to avoid tripping over the hem of the trousers and rubbing his eye sleepily.

Harry is standing behind the stove when he gets in, cooking pancakes while discussing with Niall who’s sprawled on the couch, a bowl of cereal balanced on his stomach and his feet up on the coffee table.

“I’m just saying,” Niall is saying, “I don’t believe you one bit.”

“We didn’t have sex, Niall. Don’t you fucking ask him if we did when he’s awake. It was already hard enough to fix the mess you’d made when you told him about the one night stands.”

“Shit, Haz, are you in love or something?” Niall asks, mouth full of cereals.

They don’t know Louis’ there and he feels like shit for eavesdropping, but he is not a good enough person not to. Not when they’re talking about him. He can’t be blamed for being curious, can he?

“What’s it to you?” Harry flips a pancake and it sizzles in the pan, its rich smell filling the kitchen. Louis’ stomach grumbles. “I thought you’d be happy that I’ve finally got a shot at a steady, normal relationship, not that you’d take the piss.”

“I am happy. I’m sorry. I love you.”

Harry groans. “You’re still not getting any pancakes.”

It’s Niall’s turn to groan. Louis’ guilt for eavesdropping finally overpowers his curiosity and he walks into view.

“You’re awake!” Harry says brightly, leaving the stove to come and give Louis a bone-crushing hug. “Good morning, sunshine.”

“Good morning. I told you not to make me pancakes,” he says with a smile.

“Can I have his, then?” Niall asks.

“Let me spoil you a bit, love,” Harry says, kissing Louis’ forehead before going back to the stove. “And no, Niall, you can’t. Make your own.”

Louis follows Harry in the kitchen, laughing as Niall protests loudly and pouts. Harry ignores him and continues preparing the pancakes. Louis watches him for a moment before pushing himself up to sit on the counter, returning the smile Harry gives him when he does.

“It’s almost ready,” Harry tells him, expertly flipping a pancake. “Did you sleep well?”

“Yes, your bed was really comfortable,” Louis lies, crossing his ankles.

Harry beams at him before turning off the burner. “I just need to dress the table, now, it won’t be long.”

Louis catches Harry’s arm as he walks past him to hold him in place, uncrossing his legs to pull Harry between them and press a small kiss on his lips. Butterflies fill his stomach because he’s kissing Harry in broad daylight and it feels more real than it did the night before.

Harry returns it briefly and then pulls back, scrunching up his nose. “Morning breath kisses. Gross.”

Louis shrugs. “I don’t mind.”

Harry bops Louis’ nose with the tip of his finger. “Well, I do. We’ll find you a toothbrush before I snog you.”

Louis rolls his eyes for show before jumping off the counter and following Harry to the table, feeling useless as he watches him dress the table.

“Can I help with anything?”

“No, it’s fine,” Harry says, smiling. “Oh, I meant to tell you, your mobile was buzzing earlier, I think you have a missed call.”

Louis’ stomach sinks as he remembers that he forgot to warn his mother he’d be spending the night out. He’s a dead man.

“Shit,” he says loudly, hurrying to Harry’s room, where he left his mobile. “My mum’s going to kill me.”

Pulling his mobile from the pocket of his jeans, Louis unlocks it and sees that he has six missed calls, all from his mother. At once, the bubble of happiness and carelessness he’d been in since the night before bursts, leaving him feeling terrified and nervous. His mother will be seething and, even if he’s 19, he’ll probably be grounded if she doesn’t send him to a reform school or have him assassinated. Delaying the call will only make things worse, he knows it and he knows his mother, so he dials her number and sits on the edge of the bed, gnawing his lip.

“Where the hell are you?” she says as soon as she picks up.

“I forgot to warn you that I was spending the night at Zayn’s,” he replies, consistent with his lie from the day before.

“Funny how Zayn’s mother says you haven’t been over for months. Where are you, Louis?”

Of course she’d call Zayn’s mother after Louis failed to answer, and like the moron he is, he forgot to warn Zayn that he was going to be his alibi because he didn’t think he’d need to.

“I, hum. I’m at Perrie’s?” He didn’t mean for it to come out as a question, but he’s painted himself in a corner and he honestly doesn’t know he’s going to get out of this without telling his mother the truth. He can’t tell her the truth. He just can’t.

“I called her mum, too. Don’t make me ask you again.”

Looks like he’ll have to tell the truth, after all. He feels sick.

Louis lets out a shaky sigh and closes his eyes, rubbing at them with a shaky hand. “I don’t want to tell you on the phone,” he says in a small voice. “But I’ll tell you when I get home, I promise. Please don’t tell him I lied.”

His mother sighs. “Give me the address, I’ll send a car for you. And I’ll keep it between us if you promise to tell me the truth.”

“I will, I promise. And I promise I’ve been safe all along and that nothing bad happened. You don’t have to worry about me.”

“Worrying about you is my job, Louis,” she says before hanging up.

Louis falls backwards on the bed, his arms spread out, and lets out a long sigh before curling up on his side, pressing his face into the mattress as he tries to take as little space as possible. He wraps his arms around his knees and doesn’t look up when he hears the door open then close softly. The mattress dips and then there’s a warm hand on his back, stroking it soothingly.

“Are you alright?” Harry asks in a soft voice, pressing a kiss to Louis’ cheek.

Louis shrugs and curls up even more, tucking in his chin and shutting his eyes tightly. “My mum knows I wasn’t at Zayn’s or Perrie’s tonight. I’ll have to tell her about us.”

“Oh,” is all Harry says and Louis opens his eyes to see him gnawing at his lip, a frown on his face. “Does she know you’re gay?”

Louis shakes his head. “No. I reckon she suspects it, though, but I never told her I was.”

“Do you think she’ll mind?”

“No, I don’t think so, but if I tell her, or anyone in my family, there’s a chance the wanker might find out and that would be—” Louis shudders just to think about it. “That’d be a really, really bad thing.”

“It figures he’s a homophobe on top of the rest,” Harry mutters, adding scratches to his soothing strokes and making Louis shiver. “But I’m sure your mum would keep it a secret if you asked her to. She seems like a good person.”

“She is,” Louis replies in a small voice, closing his eyes once more. “How did your mum react when she found out about you?”

“She was shocked for a bit, but then it wasn’t a big deal anymore. It took a while before she was comfortable whenever I talked about boys, but like... I came out ten years ago. Things have changed, since. It’s like, I don’t know, more present? People talk about it more and it’s mostly positive stuff. I’m sure your mum won’t mind and she’ll love you all the same.”

“She might not like that I’m dating you, though.”

“Because I’m staff?”

“And six years older.” Louis opens his eyes and turns his head so he can look Harry straight in the eyes. “I don’t mind that you’re either of those things and I’ll—” He was about to say I’ll fight for us, but he realised it might be a bit too much and let the words die in his throat. “I’ll try to make her see that we’re not a bad thing.”

“Of course, we’re not. We’re a brilliant thing.” Harry kisses his cheek. “She’s your mother. She’ll love you no matter what.”

Louis smiles at that, feeling a bit better than before. Harry makes everything sound easy and possible, against Louis’ experience that everything really isn’t easy and possible. Things are messy and they hurt and people aren’t reliable. They always end up leaving you, no matter how much you’d want them to stay. Them being a parent doesn’t make you any safer. Parents, too, stop loving their children and leave. Louis would know. He wraps his arms around himself tighter and sighs.

“Hold me, please,” he hears himself say in a whisper. He doesn’t expect Harry to have heard, but the older man wraps himself around Louis, almost crushing him under his weight, and Louis relaxes slightly under the warmth and weight of Harry’s body.

“You’ll be fine, baby,” Harry whispers, rubbing his nose through Louis’ hair. “I know it’s scary. It’s the scariest thing you’ll ever do. But it’ll be worth it, in the end. You’ll be able to be yourself around her. No more lies.”

“No more lies,” Louis repeats, wishing he could bring Harry along for moral support.

“And if it goes bad, try crying. Mothers can’t stand seeing their children crying. It’s a failsafe trick.”

Louis laughs and then sighs, craning his neck to kiss Harry’s jaw. “I want cake,” he whispers, biting his lip nervously, thinking I love you I love you I love you.

“But I made pancakes!” Harry replies, laughing. “I want cake, too. But first, pancakes.”

“I’m not really hungry. I feel like I’m going to throw up. Sorry,” Louis tells him sheepishly, feeling even more terrible now that he knows Harry spent a long time cooking for nothing.

“You just made Niall very happy,” is all Harry replies before holding Louis even tighter. “You can call me whenever you need to, you know that, right? I’ll always pick up for you, no matter what I’m doing. We’ve gone really quickly into a relationship and I just want to make sure you know you can rely on me for anything, no matter how silly it is. I’m there for you, sunshine.”

“I know.” Louis swallows around the knot in his throat. “If you think it’s been too fast and you want to back out, you can. I won’t—it’s okay.”

He feels how vigorously Harry shakes his head through the way his nose rubs into his hair and it makes him smile. “I’m not backing out. Are you?”

“No,” Louis replies without hesitating. “Even if it’s been quick.”

“I was eager to claim you as mine, sorry,” Harry says with a kiss to the back of Louis’ neck. “Couldn’t risk losing you to someone else.”

Louis bites his lip against a giddy smile. “I don’t get it.”

“Well, I do and that’s what matters.” Harry plants a kiss on the back of Louis’ neck and he tries to squirm away, tickled. Harry only holds him tighter, wrapping his leg over Louis to get closer.

“You’re really cuddly,” Louis comments. He’s unable to get into the same mood as Harry and he feels terrible for it.

“Can’t help it, you’re too cute.”

Louis rolls his eyes and disentangles himself from Harry’s grip to sit up and smooth down his hair. “I should get dressed, my mum sent a car to pick me up. It’ll be here soon.”

Harry takes his hand and squeezes it. “You’ll be okay. I’m sure of it.”

With a tight smile, Louis squeezes his hand back then gets up and picks up his clothes from where he left them on the floor to go change in the bathroom. Once there, he splashes water on his face and avoids looking at himself in the mirror, sure that he’ll burst into tears if he meets his eyes and sees how panicked he must look. There’s a weight in his stomach that makes him feel like he’s about to throw up and it’s like he can’t quite breathe right from the pressure on his chest. His hands shake as he gets dressed, squirming into his tight jeans and putting on his shirt from the night before. Neatly folding the pyjamas Harry lent him, he leaves the bathroom and goes back to Harry’s room, placing the clothes on the bed and avoiding Harry’s eyes.

Harry gets up and pulls Louis into a hug, rubbing his back and kissing his forehead. “You’ll be fine, sunshine.”

“I’m scared,” Louis says, voice strangled by the knot in his throat.

“I know. I was, too. It’s normal. But you don’t have to worry. She’ll still love you.”

Louis holds Harry’s waist tightly and presses his face against Harry’s chest, nodding. He wishes he could stay like this, in Harry’s arms, forever, but he knows that any minute now the doorbell will ring and he’ll have to get back home and face the single most terrifying thing he’s ever had to do. Objectively, he knows his mother will be fine with it; she constantly talks about that one former co-worker of hers who was gay and a complete sweetheart and she doesn’t mind seeing gay couples holding hands or kissing in public. She’s not a homophobe, Louis knows it very well, but it’ll still change the way she looks at him and the thought petrifies him with fear. Passing as straight is safe and doesn’t draw attention, but as soon as he comes out, he’ll be Gay Louis, the talk of the season and a reason for people to look at his mother with contrition and whispered ‘is he really?’ in between glasses of mimosas at charity brunches. He doesn’t want that, doesn’t want to draw attention to himself and he especially doesn’t want to disappoint his mother.

Louis holds Harry even tighter and Harry begins stroking his back once more, his steady, slow breathing and the beating of his heart soothing Louis, if only slightly. Harry is warm and solid against him and he doesn’t feel as lost when he’s being held by him, but he knows it’s only temporary relief.

As if on cue, Niall quietly knocks at the door and opens it. “There’s a Mercedes waiting downstairs. I think it’s for Louis?”

“Thanks, Niall,” Harry says, his voice rumbling through his ribcage against Louis’ ear. “Gather your stuff, I’ll go wrap the leftover cake for you, alright, sunshine?”

Louis nods again and lets go of Harry, immediately feeling cold without his body heat. He sits on the edge of the bed to tie up his shoes before pocketing his mobile and joining Harry in the kitchen. He takes the plate Harry hands him and then waves Niall goodbye, his throat too constricted for words to come out. Harry accompanies him downstairs, a hand on the small of his back, and he opens the door of the car for him. Louis places the plate on the seat and then turns to look at Harry, squinting against the sun.

“Call me when it’s over,” Harry says, kissing Louis’ forehead and stroking his hair. “Call me whenever you need to.”

“I will,” Louis replies, voice distorted by his nerves. “Thanks for the meal and... and for everything. Thank you.”

Harry smiles his dimpled smile and Louis gets on the tip of his toes to kiss it. “Don’t mention it. Will I see you again soon?”

“Don’t you work tomorrow?”

Placing his hands on Louis’ shoulders, Harry strokes his upper arms. “Yeah, but that doesn’t count. I don’t really see you when I work. I meant a date.”

Louis can’t help but smile. “Dinner later this week?”

“A proper date at last?” Harry asks, teasingly, and Louis is sure he’d appreciate Harry’s efforts to calm him down better if he weren’t feeling like he might die before he gets home. “I’d love to. We’ll talk about it on the phone later, yeah? Now I’ve got to let you go, even though it’s the last thing I want.”

“I’m not that great to be around,” Louis says before he can stop it. He bites his lip.

Harry rolls his eyes and kisses him, causing Louis to feel a rush of adrenaline course through his veins: he’s kissing a guy in the middle of a busy street. He feels deviant and daring and so very bold; it makes him tingle all over.

“Go on, you’ve got to go.” Harry gently pushes him towards the car, kissing him all the while. “Call me when you can.”

“I will, I promise. I—” Again, he almost lets out ‘I love you’ and bites his lip. “I want cake,” he says instead, squeezing Harry’s hands, hoping he understands what Louis means by that.

“It’s in the car.” Harry kisses him one last time.

Well, clearly, he doesn’t.

Louis sits in the car and Harry shuts the door, laughing when Louis rolls down the window and pokes his head out. “I’ll call you soon.”

“You better,” Harry says as the car starts driving away. “I already miss you!” he shouts and Louis giggles and blushes, buckling his seatbelt and rolling up the window, letting himself enjoy this final moment of bliss before he has to face his mother.

His mother is waiting for him in the conservatory, as one of the twins tells him as soon as he gets home. Louis takes the time to go up to his room and change, not wanting her to see him in yesterday’s clothes, before he joins her. His legs feel like they’ve been filled with lead and his stomach is knotted in a way that’d earn him a scout badge of honour. He is so nervous that his fingers and arms feel numb and once he’s sat in a wicker chair facing the one his mother is in, he can’t remember how he got there.

The table is set for tea and she’s gone as far as having a three-tiered tray taken out of the ‘special occasions’ cupboard. Louis crosses his legs and smiles at her nervously, not trusting himself to pick up his cup without dropping it.

“So,” his mother says, looking at him above the rim of her cup. “Explanations, please.”

It feels like the air has been punched out of his lungs and that the floor dropped from under his feet. Louis feels hot and cold at once and his head spins. He grips the armrests of the chair and takes in a shuddering breath, bowing his head.

“Boo, what’s wrong? You look like you’re about to faint,” she continues. Louis hears her chair creak and when he looks up, she’s leaned forward, a look of concern on her face.

“Mum,” he begins, his voice raspy, “you know our gardener?”

“Henry? What about him?”

“His name’s Harry,” Louis replies, too quickly. He bites his lip. “I, hum. Was with him.”

“Mm?” is all his mother says and Louis wants to die.

“He’s my boyfriend.”

There’s a clatter of porcelain as she places her cup and saucer back on the table before sitting back in her chair, her eyes riveted on him. Louis can’t read her face with certainty, but he doesn’t see anger. There’s always that.

“Is he, now? How long has this been going on?” she asks, her voice a lilt. It sounds fake.

“We—last night. He’s been sending me flowers for days and—and I invited him for lunch two days ago and then last night I went to his place for dinner and I stayed the night.” Louis swallows. “But nothing happened, I promise, all we did was kiss.” Talking about kissing Harry makes him blush and he hates himself for it. He clears his throat.

His mother takes a long sip of tea before speaking. “I can’t say I’m surprised. It was hard to miss the way he looked at you. And you weren’t exactly subtle, going out of your way to hide from him.” She pauses. “You’re gay, then?”

Louis’ first reflex is to answer sarcastically with a dry ‘no,’ but he’s still feeling too shaky to dare it. “Yeah. I’m sorry.”

With a bark of laughter, his mother shakes her head. “Sorry for what? There’s nothing to be sorry for, except lying to me.” Leaning forward, she lowers her voice. “If anything, I’m proud of you. He’s fit.”

“Mum!” Louis says, voice going squeaky with relief. “Don’t talk like that about—about my boyfriend.” He grins at the word and covers his mouth with his hand, but not fast enough.

“Oh, my god, look at you, you’re smitten.”

Louis blushes. “I really like him.”

“Yeah? And he likes you back?” She frowns. “How old is he, exactly? 23 or 24, right?”

“25,” Louis replies, biting his lip. “But he’s being really sweet about... about everything. I don’t feel pressured at all.”

His mother nods, pouring herself another cup of tea. Louis finally takes his, relieved to see his hands stopped shaking. “I’m happy for you, boo. And it’ll be our secret. No one else has to know unless you want them to. You choose who knows.”

“Thank you,” Louis says, touched. He clears his throat. “Can I go call him? I said I’d call him after we had talked.”

“Absolutely not. First, you’ve got to tell me all about this flower business and your dates. My boy has a boyfriend, I need to know everything.”

Putting his cup down, Louis gets up and circles the table to hug his mother tightly, smiling when she hugs him back. “Thank you.”

She rubs his back and kisses his cheek, smiling as well. “I’m glad you trusted me enough to tell me. It means a lot. Now,” she adds once Louis sat down again after stroking her pregnant belly a few times. “Spill.”

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