Electing Strange Perfections

Chapter 6

A heavy weight drops nearly on top of Louis and wakes him up. He opens his eyes, startled, and is not at all reassured when he’s met with Niall’s panicked eyes. The man has managed to squirm his way between Louis and Harry and he’s shaking Harry awake. Louis groans to see he’s only in his pants.

“Haz, Hazza, wake up, I need you,” Niall says, rushed and almost scared. “Morning, Lou. You can go back to sleep.”

“S’not going to happen with you here,” Louis mutters, tugging at the duvet to pull it up higher over his naked body.

“Haz, I fucked up,” Niall continues, ignoring Louis’ protest and moving to sit up against the wall, pulling his legs up against his chest, hugging his knees.

Louis pushes himself up on an elbow and sees that Harry looks as worried as he now is. Niall looks actually quite panicked; it’s not an act to bother them until they make him food. He looks genuinely distressed.

“Niall, what’s going on?” Harry asks, voice thick with sleep. He rubs his eyes a few times and then sits up, careful to keep the duvet over his hips.

Louis mirrors him, rubbing Niall’s arm a few times to try and comfort him.

Niall glances at Louis before letting out a shaky sigh. “I slept with Zayn. Like, slept with him.”

“He slept in your bed?” Harry asks and Louis leans forward to glare at him.

“No, Haz, he didn’t just sleep in my bed. We fucked,” Niall snaps before frowning, resting his chin on his knees. “I had a cock up my arse last night.”

No one says anything for a moment, Louis mostly because he’s afraid he’ll burst out laughing if he opens his mouth. He’s biting the inside of his cheeks and trying not to let out the giggles he can feel building up because, oh my god, of course Niall slept with Zayn.

“Did… did you like it?” Harry finally asks, sounding uneasy. “Because, ultimately, that’s what matters.”

Niall shrugs, letting out a huff. “I’m not gay.”

“No one said you were,” Louis says, soothingly. “It… it happens.”

“I’ve slept with girls, doesn’t make me straight,” Harry adds and he shrugs when Louis glances at him with wide, surprised eyes because what. “Sexuality is fluid, Ni. If you like Zayn and want to have sex with him, that’s fine.”

Niall groans, scrunching up his nose in disgust. “I’m not saying I’m in love with him, fuck’s sake, Harold, seriously.”

“That’s not what we’re saying.” Louis pats Niall’s knee. “But there’s no reason to panic. It doesn’t have to mean anything if you don’t want it to.” Louis gives him an encouraging smile. “Is he still asleep?”

With a nod, Niall sighs. “I know I shouldn’t have taken out that blunt, it all went downhill from there.”

Harry chuckles, only doing it louder when Niall glares at him. “Weed makes you slutty, now?”

“No, weed made us hungry and we ate like, all of the leftovers. It’s the whiskey we drank after that made me slutty.” Niall sniffs, annoyed. “And it’s when he decided I was a canvas that we lost control,” he continues, lowering his legs so they can see his stomach, where Zayn has drawn a series of doodles that disappear under the waistband of Niall’s pants. “He was already down there, so like, he just…”

“Tripped and your cock fell in his mouth?” Harry asks, the laughter he’s holding back colouring his voice.

Niall’s groan is answer enough. “I’m not gay,” he repeats.

“You’re not,” Harry says, rubbing Niall’s back. “No one is saying you are.”

“Okay. I’ll go kick him out, now,” Niall mutters, scooting down the bed to get up from the foot.

“Be nice! He’s my best mate!” Louis cries, kicking at Niall before he gets off the bed.

Niall groans another time before leaving the room, shutting the door on his way out. As soon as the door clicks shut, Louis bursts out in a fit of giggles, covering his mouth with his hands to muffle the sound.

“Oh, my god,” he gasps. “Can you believe it?”

Shrugging, Harry nods. “Yeah, I can. Have you seen the way Niall looked at Zayn all evening?”

“Zayn has that effect on everyone, it isn’t news to me.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve lost count of how many times Niall kissed me when he’s pissed. That’s what he does. Alcohol makes him bicurious.”

Laughing still, Louis shakes his head. “I kind of don’t want to be there when they’re both awake, but I also really want to hear the conversation they’ll have.”

“No, we’ll give them some privacy.” Harry gets out of bed and Louis bites his lip as he watches him stretch, stark naked and without an ounce of shame, before looking through his clothes. “We’ll shower and then I’m taking you out for breakfast. How’s that?”

“Shower together?” Louis asks, butterflies fluttering in his stomach at the thought.

“If you want,” Harry replies with a wink, putting on a pair of pants and heading for the door.

“Okay,” Louis says, voice made shaky by his excitement. “I just need to look up something, I have some shopping to do today, and then I’ll join you.”

“Brilliant,” Harry says with a grin before leaving the room.

Louis jumps out of bed and looks around for his mobile, finding it on the floor where it must have fallen when they started fooling around. He opens up the browser and searches for ‘apple store London’ with shaking fingers, knowing very well that he’s walking himself straight into a fight with Harry. Once he’s found it and figured out the itinerary, he puts on the pants he wore the day before and pads to the bathroom, opening the door and wincing against the cloud of vapour that comes out. He slips out of his underwear and then pushes the shower curtain to the side as he climbs into the bathtub, stepping closer to Harry and pressing himself along his back, arms around his waist.

“Hey, baby,” Harry says, stepping forward so that Louis can be under the spray. “So, where are we going?”

Letting go of Harry, Louis steps back and gently pushes him out of the way so he can get completely wet, trying to look and act casual despite what he’s hiding and the novelty of the situation. He’s got a wet and naked Harry inches from him and, somehow, he feels completely comfortable and at ease. He smiles up at Harry.

“Oxford Circus Station,” he says, reaching for the bottle of shampoo that Harry just put down. “It’s on the Central line. We’ll have to transfer at Mile End, if I remember well,” he adds, squirting some in his hand and beginning to wash his hair, watching Harry do the same to his own.

He studied the plan carefully before joining Harry, making sure he remembered every underground station they’d need to go through and sighing as he realised he needed to go to London more often. He shouldn’t feel like a stranger in a city he calls his own – it’s a lie, it’s all a lie, he lives in Oxshott, not London and he’s never felt it as acutely as when he was trying to understand a map of the London underground.

“Okay, so we’ll just have breakfast around here before we leave.”

Louis nods and steps under the water to rinse his hair, gasping and shivering when Harry slowly starts washing him, rubbing the soap against his skin with soft, soothing motions. Bowing his head, his chin against his chest, Louis lets him do it, closing his eyes under Harry’s deft hands and the way he massages the knots out of his back.

After he’s washed and massaged ever inch of Louis’ skin, Harry helps him rinse and then drops to his knees, causing their shower to last much longer than necessary. They step out with wrinkled skin and wobbly knees, and Louis giggles as Harry wraps him in a towel and rubs him dry, peppering his face with kisses all the while.

It takes another half hour for them to leave, mostly because Louis spends an inordinate amount of time trying to style his hair without his usual products or appropriate tools while Harry waits, lying on his bed and playing a game on Louis’ mobile. Only silence comes from Niall’s room as they walk by it on their way out and they exchange a knowing smirk. Harry grabs a wide-brimmed hat that’s hanging by the door and then they’re out of the flat.

Harry holds his hand as they walk towards the underground station, looking sinfully delicious under the late morning sun with his black Wayfarers and stupid hat, flowery shirt hanging loosely off his body with too many buttons opened. Next to him, Louis feels like maybe, in a way, Harry’s confidence transfer to him because he feels attractive and bold in his red shorts, striped shirt and with his aviator sunglasses perched on his nose.

They stop at a small, independent café for breakfast, sitting by the window to eat their breakfast and sip their teas. Harry surprises Louis by grabbing the newspaper from a nearby table and flipping through it, frowning adorably.

“S’the Daily Mail, don’t be so surprised it’s full of shit,” Louis comments around a mouthful of bacon and tomato toastie, grinning when Harry hooks his ankle around his.

“No, no, it’s not full of shit, look,” he says, laying the newspaper flat on the table. “Our future king did a thing and it’s worth four pages.”

“You’d think he’s the first baby they ever see,” Louis adds with a laugh. “Although we shouldn’t speak so loudly, I’m afraid it might be high treason.”

“I think it’s only treason if we plot to murder him. I honestly just want to pinch his cheeks and blow raspberries on his little tummy.”

Louis grins, taking Harry’s hand over the table. “So, let me get this straight—” Louis glares at Harry when he giggles at the word ‘straight’, “You’re gorgeous, you’re funny, you can cook and you love kids. How are you not already married?”

“I hadn’t found the right one.”

They both let the sentence hang in the air, Louis choosing to focus intensely on his tea so he doesn’t spontaneously combust. Hadn’t, not haven’t, implying that he has found the right one, now. Louis smiles into his cup of tea, squeezing Harry’s hand and having his squeezed in return.

“Haz, I want cake,” Louis replies, biting his lip shyly.

Harry laughs, rolling his eyes fondly. “I want cake, too.”

After that, they make their way to the underground station, Harry taking Louis’ hand as soon as they leave the shop. Louis gets up on the tip of his toes to kiss his cheek, feeling him smile when he does. Once at the station, Louis’ smile fades as he has to face the fact that he’s never taken the Tube before. He stalls in the entrance, looking around without a clue of what he’s supposed to do.

“I’ve never…” he stammers, digging his hands in his pockets and rocking on his feet. He bites his lip.

“Oh, no worries. We’ll get you a two-way ticket, come on,” Harry says, putting his hand on the small of Louis’ back and guiding him to one of the automatic tellers.

A few minutes later, Louis watches the barrier swallow his ticket and then spit it out and he hurries to walk through the gate before it closes on him, feeling thrilled and stupid all at once.

“I feel like Mr Weasley,” he tells Harry, grabbing his hand once they meet on the other side and letting the older man direct them to the right platform.

“Aw, you’re not as bad. At least you know what rubber ducks are for,” Harry replies, kissing Louis’ temple.

Louis looks around with curiosity as they walk down a few flights of stairs to the platform, fascinated by everything he sees and feeling foolish for it. Once on the platform, he gets closer to the edge and looks down the tunnel before walking back to Harry, who smiles and wraps his arms around his shoulders.

“We can take either train that’ll come in,” Harry says, nodding at the board announcing the next trains.

When it comes, Louis rushes in and pulls Harry along, worried that the doors might close before they have time to get in. He finds them seats and sits down, bouncing his leg excitedly.

“I’ve never seen anyone so eager to take the Tube,” Harry says fondly.

Louis can’t find a way of saying ‘I get excited by plebeian activities I’m not used to’ without sounding like a jerk, so he just shrugs and kisses Harry’s cheek, resting his head against his shoulder until a message comes on, announcing the next station. Louis looks around wildly in search of a map and only calms down once he’s sure they’re going the right way.

“I won’t get us lost, don’t worry, sunshine,” Harry says, laughing.

“I wasn’t…” he trails off, blushing.

Harry pulls him into his side and strokes his arm, kissing his forehead. Louis leans into him and closes his eyes, letting the roll of the train sway him. He stops paying attention to the messages, only perking up when he hears: ‘The next station is Mile End. Change for the Central line and the Hammersmith and City line.

“That’s us!” he pipes, getting up. “Come on, we don’t want to miss it.”

Louis hops off the train as soon as the doors open, anxiously waiting for Harry who takes his time, probably to prove a point. Louis doesn’t care, he doesn’t want them to get separated because the doors closed before he could get out, the last thing he wants is to be left alone in East London, he doesn’t even know how to get back home from here.

“Where to, now?” Louis asks once his stupid boyfriend has joined him on the platform.

“We stay here, they all use the same platform.”

With a resolute nod, Louis turns to the board to see how long they have to wait. He sighs when he sees five minutes and looks at Harry with a pout. Harry runs his hand through Louis’ hair and bends down to kiss him lightly, smiling all the while.

“You’re cute,” he says and Louis only pouts more. “No, it’s true. Your enthusiasm is adorable.”

“Maybe you’re the weird one who’s not fascinated by the Tube. Maybe I’m the normal one. Have you considered that?” Louis asks, putting his nose up and raising his eyebrows.

“Well, I spend three hours a day commuting, it’s lost some of its charm, I’m afraid.”

“Three hours?!” Louis cries out, putting his hand over his mouth when people look over at the sound of his voice. “It takes an hour and a half to get to my house by train?”

“Give or take. Hold on, I’ll show you.”

With that, Harry walks away, running up the stairs as Louis watches in horror, glancing nervously at the board to make sure he’ll have time to come back. He holds his breath, anxiously twisting his hands until Harry reappears at the top of the stairs, running down them with a hand on his hat to keep it on, a map in the other. He unfolds it as Louis wraps his arms around his waist, tightly, so he doesn’t run away again. Louis bites his lip as Harry explains his itinerary by moving is finger on the map, feeling increasingly worse as he realises everything Harry has to do to end up working in the sun for an almost insultingly low wage. He’ll talk to his stepfather about a raise, he decides, because Harry deserves so much more than what he’s being given.

“At what time to you have to be at my house?” Louis asks once Harry finished with ‘and then I walk for twenty minutes from the station to your house’.

“I start at eight.” He chuckles when Louis frowns. “I leave my flat at six.”

“That’s awful,” Louis mutters, feeling terribly guilty even if he knows it’s not his fault.

A train pulls in the station and Louis hesitates because it’s not the one he’d spotted on the board, but Harry pushes him gently and keeps a hand on the small of his back as he climbs on it. As soon as the doors close, Louis’ enthusiasm plummets.

The previous train hadn’t been too crowded and it looked fairly recent, but the one they just got on is surprisingly crowded for a Saturday morning and they’re stuck standing up. The air in it is heavy and moist, the open windows in the doors between the wagons doing nothing to help. Harry pulls him along until he’s standing by a window at the front of the wagon.

“Hop on,” he tells Louis, helping him sit on the poor excuse for a seat on the windowsill.

Stepping in front of Louis, Harry places his hands on his shoulders and strokes them soothingly a few times before diving in for a quick kiss to his nose. Louis wraps his legs around Harry’s thighs, hooking his ankles behind them to keep him close.

“This train isn’t fun,” he complains, pouting.

“No, it’s not. Welcome to the London Underground,” Harry deadpans, losing his balance and catching himself on the window behind Louis when the train shakes.

Louis’ shirt is sticking to his skin and he shifts, trying to keep his back away from the window, leaning into Harry instead. He wraps his arms around his waist and rests his head on his chest, feeling Harry’s body heat radiate off him and only making his own overheating worse.

“How many stops?” Louis asks, trying to keep his voice from sounding too whiny. He fails.

Harry cranes his neck to glance at the map above the door and lets out a sigh. “Eight. We’re here for a solid twenty minutes.”

Louis lets out a small whine and then sighs, moving to rest against the window once more, unable to stand Harry’s heat any longer. He looks around at the crowd filling the train, everyone looking annoyed and upset, and he feels a wave of sympathy for everyone there. He kisses Harry’s cheek.

“I’m sorry for whining. It’s awful for everyone. I’m just a spoiled brat.”

“Hush,” Harry replies, pecking Louis’ lips. “Don’t insult my boyfriend.”

Wrapping a hand around the back of Harry’s neck, Louis pulls him in for a longer kiss, burying his fingers in the wild curls peeking out from under his hat. For a moment, Louis forgets that he’s stuck on a crowded, suffocating train, content just to be kissing Harry and be kissed by him, Harry stepping closer and forcing Louis to spread his legs wider to make space for him, but a man clearing his throat nearby brings him back to reality. He blushes a deep shade of purple and moves away from Harry, only to be held back by him. He watches as Harry glares at the man until he looks away, coughing slightly. He gives Harry a quick kiss on the cheek and then grins when Harry takes off his hat and places it to hide their heads from view as he pulls Louis into another slow, lazy kiss.

Louis becomes nervous three stops before theirs. They’ve stopped kissing after their combined heat was threatening to melt their faces off and Harry asked for Louis’ mobile to keep playing the game he discovered earlier, Louis giving him advice from time to time as the train zooms towards the moment when he might actually lose his boyfriend as he tries to do something nice for him. By the time the train stops at their station, Louis feels like someone poured molten lead in his stomach. He steps off the train, muttering an annoyed ‘we know!’ at the ‘Please mind the gap between the train and the platform’ it took him two minutes to hate. Harry laughs and takes his hand.

The mild air outside makes Louis sigh with relief and he shivers when a gust of wind turns his sweat cold. He grins at Harry, who looks as relieved as him.

“Where to?” Harry asks, taking Louis’ hand.

“Regent Street.”

With a nod, Harry walks them over to a map, reading it for a few seconds before heading down the street. Louis lets Harry lead him, instead focusing on trying not to die from an anxiety attack. His hand is moist and he knows that Harry knows it, too, but he doesn’t let go so Louis holds on to his hand, trying to tell himself that it’ll go well and they won’t fight, they won’t fight, they won’t break up. At least not in public; Harry will keep his anger bottled up until they get back to his flat, hopefully.

The Apple Store looms in the distance ominously and Louis’ stomach tightens even more at the sight of it.

“Which shop do you want to go to? We’re on Regent Street.”

Louis swallows and says nothing, waiting until they’re closer before he drops the bomb. He takes a deep breath when they’re nearly in front of it and then turns to Harry, trying to sound casual. “The Apple Store.”

“You need a new computer? Your mobile’s working just fine.”

“Not me. You need a new mobile,” Louis says, working hard to sound confident and in control even if he feels like running away.

“No,” Harry immediately snaps, shaking his head. “No, I don’t need one.”

“Haz, come on. It’ll be my pleasure to buy it for you. Honestly. Please, let me spend money on you. Please.”

“Don’t patronise me,” Harry replies, letting go of Louis’ hand. He glances at the storefront as if it had personally insulted him, his hands deep in his pockets, his shoulders hunched forward.

“I’m not! I just… we can get you an Android, if you prefer? It doesn’t have to be an iPhone, I was just offering because that’s what I have, if you prefer…”

“You’re not doing this because you pity me, do you?” Harry cuts him, a bit roughly.

“No! No, not at all. It’s just… in my world that’s how you show people you care. By spending money on them. It’s twisted and wrong, but I want to do this for you. I won’t force you, but think how much fun you were having with mine earlier. You could have that. And we could send each other pictures, and use FaceTime and it’d be like we’re together even if we’re not.”

Harry sighs loudly and paces for a moment, running a hand down his face. Louis lets him take all the time he needs, watching him for any sign of the anger he saw the night before. There doesn’t seem to be any and after a few minutes, Harry sighs again and slumps his shoulders.

“Fine,” he drawls. “Let’s update me.”

Louis smiles and takes Harry’s hand before leading him inside, holding the door open for him. He drags him towards the mobiles display, giving his hand an encouraging squeeze.

“Which colour do you want?”

“Do they have to be so garish?” Harry comments, before sighing. “Blue.”


“Yeah, blue. Like your eyes.”

Louis blushes and lets out a giggle, pressing his face against Harry’s arm for a few seconds. “You’re impossible.”

“Says the guy who insists on spending…” he glances at the price tag and his eyes widen, “fuck, £300 on me. Lou, I can’t…”

“No, no, you agreed, no going back. It’s just a mobile, Haz. I’m not giving you one of my kidneys.”

Louis waves over one of the employees before Harry can protest again, keeping an eye on Harry as he wanders off towards the MacBooks. Louis loses track of the conversation he’s having with the employee when he sees Harry grow more and more interested in the computer, looking through the applications. When Louis sees him open GarageBand and strike up a conversation with another employee about it, he makes a decision that he’s sure he’ll regret.

Turning to the employee, he smiles. “I’ll take a MacBook as well. The best one you’ve got. 15 inches.”

Then, he goes over to stand by Harry’s side, listening to him talk excitedly with the employee until he’s noticed. Harry immediately steps away from the laptop and excuses himself to the employee, shrugging.

“Are we leaving soon? This place is dangerous.”

“Yeah, I just need to pay. Why don’t you go pick a case for your mobile?”

“I don’t need a case.”

“Harold, you’re a gardener, you need a protective case for your mobile. Stop arguing and go,” Louis says, putting his hands on his hips and taking his most authoritative voice.

Harry rolls his eyes, but obeys, walking over to the display wall. Louis gets in line to pay, hoping against hope that Harry won’t notice he’s buying him a computer, too. Harry comes back just as Louis’ walking over to the counter and hands him a flowered case. Louis grins up at him, getting on his tiptoes to kiss his cheek.

“The flowers. I should have known.”

“Yeah, well, you know me,” Harry says, shrugging dismissively. That’s when he sees the two boxes on the counter. He frowns. “There’s a mistake, sir, we’re just getting the mobile.”

“No, I’m getting both,” Louis immediately says, slipping his credit card out of his wallet.

“So you do need a new computer,” Harry says, still frowning. He’s already guessed, Louis supposes, but he’s not jumping to conclusions. He loves him for that, even if it means he’s delaying the confrontation and nearly driving Louis mad with nerves.

“No, I don’t. You do, though. Don’t,” Louis immediately snaps, holding up a finger to motion to Harry to stay quiet. “No arguing. Yours has no battery anymore and it runs Windows XP. I’m doing you a favour right now.”

Behind the counter, the employee chuckles as he rings the purchases. It only seems to inflame Harry. He opens and closes his mouth a few times and just when Louis is bracing himself for an explosion, he stalks off, leaving the store without another word.

“I’m sorry about that,” Louis tells the employee, smiling at him pleasantly as he approves the purchase on the machine, only briefly glancing at the number and biting his lip when he sees it’s almost £3000. His stepfather will give him hell when he sees the bill. He’ll have to invent some bullshit about breaking his own to make him shut up.

With the bag in hand, Louis leaves the shop, looking around for Harry and finding him sulking a few doors from there. Louis slowly makes his way to him, feeling his heart sink when Harry starts heading for the station without waiting for him.

“Haz, please. Don’t be mad at me,” he calls after him, trying to catch up with Harry and his stupid long legs, quickly out of breath. The bag is heavy, too, and he can feel his fingers cramping under the weight.

“I told you,” Harry says, finally stopping and turning to face Louis, “I told you I didn’t want your charity and you keep fucking insisting,” he spits out, making Louis take a step back.

“It’s not charity! Harry, you’re not my charity case. You’re my boyfriend and I’m buying you presents. I’d buy you diamonds if you were a girl. It’s not… I’m not doing this because I pity you, I’m doing it to make you happy. And honestly, I’m being completely selfish. With those,” he says, holding up the bag, “we’ll be able to be in contact all the bloody time, even when I’ve gone back to Oxford. I don’t even pay for it, okay? It’s the wanker who does.”

The mention of Oxford seems to startle Harry and Louis feels his heart sink. They haven’t talked about it yet, or rather he didn’t bring it up. He’s been floating on a cloud, enjoying his time with Harry and how happy the man makes him without sparing at thought to the very real, very scary fact that by mid-October, he’ll be in a different city and while Oxford and London might not be too far, he doubts Harry would be able to afford visiting often. Harry seems to realise it, now, and he visibly deflates.

Taking it as an encouraging sign, Louis continues. “Your old computer probably can’t support things like Skype and it’d be hard to… I just want to be able to keep in touch with you because I’ll miss you when I’m gone.”

Harry’s frown softens and he lets out a shaky breath, running a hand down his face. Louis waits, transferring the bag to his other hand and flexing the freed one a few times to try and restore the circulation in it. People are hurrying passed and around them, but it seems to Louis like time has stopped as he waits to see how Harry will react. He wishes he could say something to make it better, to somehow apologise for his intentions that were misinterpreted, but he prefers to wait for Harry to say something first.

A part of Louis, a tiny, insecure part of him that lives in the darkest recesses of his mind, expects Harry to announce he doesn’t want to do long-distance and that their story won’t outlive summer. Louis wouldn’t be surprised, if he’s honest. They’ve moved so fast, jumping into the relationship then rushing into having sex, it always sat wrong with Louis, making him wonder if maybe, perhaps, Harry had no intentions to keep him beyond his contract with his family. Why would he? Louis hardly thinks he’s worth the hardships of dealing with a long-distance relationship.

“Oxford isn’t far,” Harry finally says. “I could visit.”

“You could, yeah. But, hum, it’s not… it wouldn’t be very often, would it? You’ll have a job and a life, and, just… life will get in the way.”

“And you think buying me overpriced toys will keep me interested when you’re away?” Harry asks, the softness of his voice contradicting his harsh words.

Louis shrugs. “No, but… but I’ll be able to keep in touch. I don’t know, it’s silly, I can return them if you prefer,” he says in a rush, turning back towards the shop. It was stupid of him to think he could keep Harry interested by buying him things.

Harry stops him with a hand on his shoulder, which he then moves down his arm, stroking it softly before taking the bag from his hand. “No, don’t return them. You’re right. Mine are ancient.”

A sigh of relief leaves Louis, making him feel like a weight has been lifted off his shoulders. They’re okay. Harry won’t break up. It’s okay, he hasn’t screwed up. “I really didn’t mean it as an insult.”

“I know, babe. Come on, let’s go home,” Harry says, putting his arm around Louis’ shoulder and giving him a squeeze, pulling him into his side briefly before he begins walking them to the station.

There’s still a tension between them. Louis can feel it, something is hanging in the air and something as simple as walking together doesn’t feel natural. He glances up at Harry and sees that his eyebrows are furrowed, his mouth a hard line. His traits immediately soften when he notices Louis looking, the frown dissolving into a smile that doesn’t reach all the way to his eyes. Louis’ stomach clenches.

The train is even more crowded than earlier and Louis spends the ride pressed up against Harry, clutching at his waist while his face is hidden against his shirt, holding on tightly whenever the train jostles and threatens to make him fall. Harry has put the bag between their legs and Louis holds it tight, sacrificing his balance to ensure the safety of £3000 worth of fights with his stepfather. Harry strokes his back soothingly through the ride, kissing his sweaty hair and forehead from time to time, but the motions feel automatic after a while. Louis doesn’t feel like Harry is really there, instead feeling like he’s lost in his thoughts. It worries him beyond words.

They hold hands on their way back to Harry’s flat and Louis can sense the tension in the space that it leaves between them. Harry doesn’t talk much and his laughs are short-lived when Louis babbles nonsense to fill the silence. Linking their fingers, Louis looks up at Harry with a smile only to see the same forced one from earlier, his eyes remaining stern and clouded.

“You’re going to need a plan!” Louis exclaims, too cheerfully and too loudly. He takes out his phone and quickly searches for a carrier nearby, leading Harry in the direction once he finds it. “We’ll get you the basic one, I mean, you don’t really need that much data, I’ll give you the WiFi password at my house so you can use it while you work,” he rambles, Harry growing more sullen with every step they take.

Stepping inside the shop, Louis walks up to the counter and starts talking to the employee, describing what they need while Harry stands back, looking around without saying a word. It takes Louis three attempts to get his attention and make him come closer.

“She needs to put in a SIM card, love. Give it here,” Louis says, still in that cheerful voice he hates as he digs inside the bag to retrieve the mobile, opening the box and chatting amicably with the employee to make up for Harry’s bad mood.

“I just need to run a quick credit check,” she explains, turning to Harry. “It’s for you, yeah? I’ll need your credit card and an ID, please.”

Harry pales and when he hands his cards, Louis sees that his hand is shaking. He gives Harry a reassuring smile and continues unpacking the mobile, shooting him glances from time to time to see if he’s all right. Harry is standing with his hands dug deep inside his pockets, shoulders and head bowed. When he meets Louis’ eyes, he gives him another fake smile.

“Hm, there seems to be a bit of a problem with your credit score, sir,” the employee says politely, handing Harry back his cards. “The system won’t let me open you an account.”

Pocketing his cards, Harry nods. “I understand,” he replies sombrely, turning for the door.

“Wait. Put it on me. We’ll deal with the payments later,” Louis says brightly, his attempts at keeping his voice light making him sound manic. “Here, my score’s alright.” He throws his cards on the counter and turns to smile at Harry, only to find him gone.

It feels like lead has filled his stomach and the air has been punched out of his lungs. Abandoning the mobile on the counter, Louis runs out of the shop and looks around, but he doesn’t see Harry anywhere. With a string of ‘shit, shit, fuck, shit, I fucked up’ running through his mind, Louis gets back in, finalising the account before packing everything and leaving.

He finds the flat after fifteen minutes, taking a wrong turn in his haste and getting lost, panic flaring inside of him like a living thing, crawling and creeping into every corner of his mind. He climbs the stairs two by two and knocks at the door, breathless and red-faced.

“He’s in his room,” Niall says when he opens the door, letting Louis in.

The bag with the computer has been abandoned by the door, along with Harry’s boots and his hat. A quick glance to the hallway confirms to Louis that Harry’s locked himself in his room.

Louis drops the box on the table and ignores Niall’s low whistle as he makes his way to Harry’s room, knocking at the door timidly. “Harry? I’m back. Can I come in?” Silence greets him and Louis waits a whole minute before he knocks again. “Please, Harry, I think we need to talk.”

“Not now, Louis,” Harry replies curtly.

With a shaky sigh, Louis walks away, sitting on the edge of the couch and staring at the floor. He’s trying his best to will away his tears, but there’s a knot in his throat and it hurts when he swallows, his eyes prickle more and more with every passing second and it feels like his entire world has collapsed around him. He only wanted to be nice to Harry, he never meant to ruin their relationship, all he was hoping to achieve is show Harry how much he means to him. Louis doesn’t look up when Niall sits next to him and hands him a cup of tea.

“He’s a massive wanker when it comes to money.”

That makes him look up. “What?”

“Haz. He’s like that doctor, you know, hum, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. That’s Harry with money.”

Louis takes a sip of his tea and grimaces before he can stop it. Just to be polite, he keeps drinking. “I didn’t mean to insult him.”

“I know you didn’t. Give him a couple of hours to sulk and then he’ll be fine.”

With a nod, Louis keeps sipping the awful tea, his eyes still on the floor. “I had no idea he was so—hum, so…”

“Poor? Yeah. We’re broke.” Niall leans back in the couch. “We’re late on basically everything we need to pay. They cut our cable two months ago and you’ve seen our fridge.”

“You have a… a bad job, too?”

“A shit one, yeah. I bartend. I make more than he does because of tips, but it’s still not enough. This is London.”

Louis bites his lip, thinking for a moment. “How much is your rent?”

“More or less £900. Then, add power and water to that. And cable and Internet, although we don’t have those anymore because we couldn’t pay. Harry’s entire pay checks go into trying to pay his half, but he often can’t and I can’t cover my own and feed us at the same time, so.”

Putting down his mug, Louis turns to Niall. He makes more than that in allowances alone and he saves most of it because everything’s paid for him. Maybe this is his chance to rid himself of some of his guilt. Maybe. “Harry won’t let me if I ask, so I’ll ask you: if I want to help, will you let me?”

Niall’s face splits into a wide smile. “Do I have to do something in return?”

“This is where I joke about sexual favours, right?” he asks timidly, blushing.

“Normally, yes.” Niall cackles before getting up. “I’ll go get our bills, hang on.”

Harry will be angry, Louis knows that much, but he’s already angry as it is, so, technically, it’s the right time to act. It can’t possibly make his mood fouler. He doubts that explaining to Harry that he does it to get some stress off his shoulders will help, just like telling him that it’s Louis’ way of repaying him for all the good he’s done in his life. He filled a void Louis didn’t even know he had by making him feel important and needed and he doesn’t know how to return the favour. Harry isn’t a young, silly boy who needs constant reassurance like Louis does, but if he can help by making sure he doesn’t get thrown out of his flat, he will. It’s the least he can do.

Half an hour later, Louis is crunching numbers on a calculator at the kitchen table, trying to figure out interest rates and prioritising what needs to be paid first. His stepfather might be an arsehole, but at least he taught Louis how to budget.

“Water, gas and power, for sure,” Louis tells Niall, jutting down a string of numbers on a piece of paper before picking up a letter from their landlord, scanning it for what they owe. “You’ve got to at least get rid of late payments, the interests rates will choke you.” Picking up the gas bill, Louis points at a number. “That’s just in interests.”

Niall groans and nods, running a hand down his face. “Okay. Yeah, sure, but that’s…” Louis circles a number on his sheet and points at it with his pen, making Niall groan again. “Really?”

“You’re three months late for water, two for gas and power. I can handle the late payments, but you’ve got to tighten your budget so it doesn’t happen again. You’ll have to pay the rent, though, there’s only so much I can put on my credit card before I’m asked questions.”

Harry clears his throat, making them both jump. He’s standing in the doorway of the kitchen, eyebrows furrowed and a look of betrayal on his face. Louis drops his pen, as if it might convince Harry he isn’t doing what he thinks he’s doing.

“Lou’s helping us so we don’t lose the flat,” Niall says simply, getting up to fetch three beers from the fridge. He gives one to Harry and brings the other two back to the table, handing one to Louis. “So sit down and let him.”

“Please, Harry,” Louis says, his voice small and scared. “I just want to help.”

“Whatever,” is all Harry says, grabbing his new mobile before turning on his heels and slamming his bedroom door shut.

Louis swallows around the lump in his throat and turns back to his papers, his hands shaking as he picks up the pen. “We’ve got to…” he clears his throat when his voice comes out in a squeak. “Budget. You need budgets.”

He picks up a piece of paper and reads it, his eyes widening. “Is that how much Harry pays for his commute?” he asks in a squeak, unable to wrap his mind around the number printed on the paper.

“Yeah, you don’t live close, you know. He’s got to use the National Rail, that’s bloody expensive. Small wonder he can’t afford food.”

“But… why does he bother with my house? The pay’s shit, the employer’s a wanker and it costs him more than half a pay check to get there.”

“You’re there,” Niall replies with a shrug, sifting through the papers without reading them.

“No,” is all Louis says because no, he can’t believe that Harry signed a shit contract just so he could see Louis every day before they even talked beyond their disastrous first meeting. He won’t believe it, can’t believe it, refuses to believe that Harry might have done something that incredibly stupid for Louis.

“Ask him, you’ll see.”

“I will, if he ever wants to talk to me again.”

Niall pats his back and takes a pull from his beer, pushing a new bill he’s found in the mess Harry and he call their ‘Grown-up Drawer’.

It takes Louis a full hour to finish his work and by the time he’s done, he’s managed to squeeze enough funds out of their meagre resources to cover everything they need to pay, with a little bit of extra for fun. Niall objected strongly when Louis told him he needed to cut what he spent on alcohol in half, but beyond that, he’s proud of himself.

“Now I need to face Harry,” he says, straightening the papers after hanging up on the cable company, their subscription sorted out thanks to a lot of wheedling and a promise of regular payments from now on. “Even if I don’t understand why he’s so…” He can’t find the word to describe how Harry is regarding money. Uptight? Picky? Stubborn?

“Ashamed,” Niall fills in for him. “That’s shame.”

Shame. Right. Louis hadn’t thought about that. “Oh, fuck, he probably thinks I judge him for being poor because I’m rich.”

“I’m not the one you should tell, mate.” Niall’s phone buzzes and he picks it up, but not before Louis has time to see Zayn’s name on the screen.

He holds back his question for later, instead picking up the abandoned computer before reluctantly making his way to Harry’s room, opening the door without knocking this time. He leaves the bag on the floor and climbs on the bed, crawling on his knees to where Harry is lying on his side, his back to him. He sits cross-legged a few inches from him and reaches out hesitantly to stroke his back.


“Hey,” Harry replies, not unkindly. “I’m stuck on level 10 of this stupid game.”

Folding his arms on Harry’s side and resting his chin on them, Louis looks at the mobile. “It took me a long time to get through it, but it can be done. I see you figured out how to use it.”

“It’s not hard.”

“No, it’s not. Are you still sulking?”

Harry sighs and puts down his mobile, craning his neck to look at Louis. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have reacted that way.”

Every inch of Louis wants to apologise, but he doesn’t, biting back the words before they stumble out of his mouth. “No, you shouldn’t have,” he says instead, feeling weirdly proud of his courage. He didn’t even have to drink the beer Niall offered to achieve that. “You didn’t even thank me and you made me feel like I did something wrong.”

“I know, I’m… I’m sorry. And I’m grateful for what you did, okay? Don’t think I’m not, it’s just that I’m… ashamed.”

“I get it, but you could have told me. It’s not fair that I’m the only one who talks about his issues in this relationship. And you could look at me when I’m talking to you,” he adds in a snap. His stepfather would be proud to see him demanding respect. He winces at the thought.

Harry looks startled when he sits up to face Louis. “You’re right. You don’t deserve how I acted with you. I’m sorry.”

“I felt like shit, Harry. I thought… I thought you were going to break up with me.”

Taking his hands, Harry shakes his head. “It never crossed my mind. If anything, it made me realise how much I… no one has ever done something like this for me. With Nick, presents always meant bad things had happened or would happen soon. It was never just… just to show he cared.” Harry shakes his head, sighing. “And I’m ashamed because… I can’t take care of you like I wish I could. I’m poor and it sucks.”

“And I’m not, so I can help. I have more money than I know what to do with. You take care of me in other ways. I don’t think you realise what you do for me already.”

“I don’t think I do, no.” Harry gives him a small, hesitant smile. “Thank you for the presents. I don’t deserve them, but thank you.”

Louis returns the smile and leans in to peck Harry’s lips. “That’s better. I’ll pay for your plan, too.”

Harry looks like he’s about to argue, but a stern look from Louis shuts him up. “It’s probably better that way. I can’t afford it.”

“I know. I also settled all of your late payments. You’ve got cable again and they won’t cut your amenities or kick you out.” Louis squeezes Harry’s hands. “And tomorrow, you, me and Niall will go to Tesco’s and we’ll fill your flat with food.”

Harry’s hands twitch in Louis’ and the shadow of a frown appears on his face, but he nods. “Okay. There’s no point in trying to argue, is there?”

“No. No point at all. You should have told me earlier how desperate it was. I could have helped sooner.”

Despite Harry’s best efforts at hiding it, Louis can tell that he’s uncomfortable. He shrugs and lets out a shaky sigh, shaking his head. “I managed on my own for years, I could have continued.”

“That’s my point,” Louis begins, scooting closer until their knees bump. “You don’t have to manage on your own. We’re a team, aren’t we?”

Harry frowns. “You sure have come a long way since yesterday.”

“I was drunk, yesterday. And I suppose I did what you told me, I don’t put you on a pedestal anymore. I’ve seen that you’re not perfect—”

“You’ve always known I was broke.”

Louis lifts his hand to shut him up. “I’m talking about the fact that you handle frustration like a four year old in need of a nap.”

Harry bursts out laughing and it’s like a bubble of tension exploded, leaving Louis feeling lighter. They’ll make it through. He’s having a mature, adult conversation with his boyfriend. They’re communicating and expressing their emotions to try and reach a compromise that’ll make them both happy.

He smiles and climbs on Harry’s lap, folding his legs around Harry’s hips. “So, now that I know that part of you, I feel like we’re more equal. I feel safer. You’re just as daft as me.”

“No, I’m much dafter. You’re the brains, I’m like that dog from Up.”

"Books! And cleverness! There are more important things—friendship and bravery," Louis says, fighting back a smile as hard as he can.

Harry frowns, hooking his arms around Louis’ waist. “Did you just quote Harry Potter?”

With a beam, Louis nods, giggling uncontrollably. “I might have, yeah.”

Harry laughs, rolling his eyes. “Alright, then, if you’re Hermione, that makes me Ron. Does it mean Niall is Harry?”

“No, you’re Harry, Harry,” Louis says, still giggling.

“That means you need to date Niall, though.”

With a mock gasp of horror, Louis shakes his head. “We can’t have that. You can be Ron, then. That makes Zayn Draco. It fits, I think.”

“Yeah, it weirdly does,” Harry replies, keeping a straight face for a second before he laughs. “Oh, Lou, my darling, I love you.”

Louis’ fit of giggles dies in his throat and his eyes widen as his heart starts hammering in his chest. “I love you, too,” he replies, voice weak and awed.

“Yeah? Lucky me,” Harry says brightly, his eyes sparkling.

“Well, I’ve been telling you for a long time, haven’t I?”

“You have?”

Harry looks genuinely clueless and in a flash, Louis realises how silly he’s been.

“‘I want cake’,” he says. “Did you really think I always wanted cake? I thought you figured it out,” Louis continues sadly. He’d be lying if he said he’s not disappointed and a bit upset.

Pressing his lips together, Harry frowns. “Is that what you meant? I wondered. I never thought it’d be that, though. Maybe just… I don’t know. Maybe ‘I’m happy’?”

Louis shakes his head. “No, it meant that I love you.”

Scrunching up his face adorably as he thinks, Harry shakes his head, a slow smile blooming on his face. “You told me you love me on our first date?”

“I might have. I don’t think I meant it like I do now, but I thought I did. I suppose I loved you already, just not as much as I do now.”

“And how much is that?”

“Like, ten times ‘a lot’,” Louis replies, smirking proudly.

“Using my own words against me, that’s not fair.” Harry pouts, pinching Louis’ waist.

“Maybe, but you love me.”

“I do.”

Louis grins and kisses Harry, loosely wrapping his arms around Harry’s neck. Harry smiles against his lips, kissing back tenderly and slowly, making Louis’ skin tingle with pleasure.

“Can I play with my new computer, now?” Harry asks, breaking the kiss abruptly.

After explaining to Harry the basics of using his new laptop, Louis settles against his pillows to fiddle with Harry’s mobile, installing apps and setting up accounts for him while he transfers files from his old computer to his new. They don’t talk and Louis doesn’t feel the need to fill the silence, comfortable to just share his space with Harry. From time to time Harry will break the silence and read an old school essay or journal entry from his teenage years, pitching his voice higher to make Louis laugh, but for the most part, the only sounds come from the living room, where Niall is cussing at whoever he’s playing a videogame online with.

Louis’ setting up Harry’s Snapchat account (flowerchildh4z, the name had made Harry smile and laugh when Louis offered) when he’s hit with a detail from the night before that he filed away for later, forgetting to ask Harry in his haste to give him head.

“Haz, what’s a twink? Nick called me that, last night.”

Looking up from the screen, Harry frowns. “He did? He probably meant it as an insult. Joke’s on him.” Harry quickly types on the keyboard before turning the laptop for Louis to see. “That’s a twink.”

Dozens of pictures of young, thin and hairless boys fill the screen. “Oh. Yeah, I suppose that’s me.” He frowns. “I’ve got hair, though. On my chest, a bit, and, hum, down. Should I… shave?”

Harry closes the tab with a shake of his head. “No. I love you the way you are. I don’t want to have sex with a little boy, anyway. Don’t pay attention to anything Nick says. He’s just trying to get a rise out of you.”

“He succeeds,” Louis says calmly, keeping his eyes on Harry’s mobile. “I don’t like him.”

“I don’t like him either. Not anymore.”

“I don’t understand how you could ever like him.”

Harry sighs. “I was young and he looked so cool to me, at the time. This older man interested in me, I felt amazing. I’m sure you get it.”

“It’s not the same. You’re not a terrible person.”

With a laugh, Harry leans over to kiss Louis’ shoulder. “Thanks, babe. He wasn’t terrible, at first. He was charming and loving, it just got bad. He got bored with me, I think. I wasn’t such a good boyfriend, either. We both failed each other.”

Louis leans into Harry’s side, resting his head against his shoulder. “Do you think it’ll happen to us?”

“I can’t guarantee you that, baby. No one can.” Putting down the computer, Harry wraps his arms around Louis. “But I can tell you that I never loved him like I love you.”

Louis nods, rubbing his cheek against Harry’s shirt. “Okay. I can live with that.”

Glancing at the mobile in Louis’ hands, Harry frowns. “Please, Lou, tell your out-dated boyfriend what’s Snapchat.”

“It’s this app that lets you send pictures, but only for a short amount of time. Like…” Picking up his own mobile, Louis takes a picture of Harry and sends it to him, taking his phone and opening the notification. “See, if you tap it…” he does it, laughing at the terrible picture, “You can only see it for a few seconds before it’s gone, unless you do a screen capture, like this.” Louis shows Harry, who frowns.

“Where’s the fun in that?”

“Haz, use your imagination,” Louis deadpans.

“I can’t… Oh! Oh, okay, yeah. Sexy pictures. At least now I know how to do them.”

“I’m going to need an explanation,” Louis says with a giggle, kissing Harry’s jaw.

“Well, hum, when I was with Nick, once, he wanted a picture of me and I sent it to him, but I didn’t know that you need to be hard in those.”

“Oh, my god,” Louis says, barely holding back his giggles.

“Yeah. I sent him a picture of my limp dick. He wasn’t impressed.”

Louis bursts out laughing, burying his face against Harry’s shoulder. “Do you still have it? I want to see it!”

“No, I deleted it years ago. Sorry.”

Louis pouts, nuzzling Harry’s jaw. “You’ll have to send me a new one, then.”


Making a show out of rolling his eyes, Louis leans up for a kiss, smiling against Harry’s lips. “Not limp, no. Even I know that and I was a virgin a month ago. Now, you should feed me,” Louis says before Harry can protest. “I’m paying for takeout, you and Niall choose what you want to eat.”

They settle on Indian and Louis intentionally orders too much, making sure to fill the fridge with a week worth of leftovers. Harry looks at him like he knows what Louis is doing with the delivery boy gives them their three large bags of food, but he says nothing, instead kissing Louis as soon as the door is shut, making Niall groan and shout that he’s going to start eating whether they choose to go fuck first or not.

The three of them spend the evening watching terrible movies on Netflix, laughing and commenting out loud, and Louis can’t stop grinning. He’s sprawled over Harry, the older man holding him close with his arms around his chest. Louis falls asleep that way, well into their third movie of the night and only waking up when Harry carries him to bed and gently takes off his clothes, tucking him in with a kiss to his forehead. Louis struggles to stay awake long enough to wait for Harry to join him before he curls up into his side and lets out a happy, content sigh.

The next morning, Louis wakes up with a large bouquet of flower on the pillow next to him and Harry’s smile as he tells him that they all mean ‘I’m sorry’. Louis pushes the bouquet away and lunges at Harry to kiss him senseless.

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