"NO!" Louis can hear Zayn's panicked yell from outside the changerooms. "THAT ONE'S BROKEN OR SOMETHING. IN FACT, ALL OF THEM ARE BROKEN. THIS STORE IS RUBBISH ANYWAY."
There's some muffled noises, talking, and then Zayn cuts in again: "I'LL GET SECURITY. I'M A CELBRITY IN SOME COUNTRIES."
Louis can't help but laugh, clapping a hand over his mouth to stop the noise. They wait for a couple minutes, and then Zayn raps twice on the door, the all clear. "Fucking wankers," Zayn mumbles, and he's close but not quite right.
"Go on," Harry says, bumping his thigh against Louis' cheek. "I'm almost there, Louis."
"Oh for the love of Christ –" Louis hears Niall say. "This is my fucking room." Niall storms out, slamming the door behind him.
"Occupied," Harry shouts.
"You fuckin' think?" they hear, muffled, from the hallway.
Harry glances over his shoulder, shrugs, and pulls Louis' briefs a bit lower down his hips.
Liam and Zayn are laughing and talking about Bridesmaids when they walk into the hotel room, flicking on the lights. Louis knows this because the last word Liam says is "I quite fancy Chris O'Dowd" before he shuts up.
"Hello," Harry says, holding one of Liam's snapbacks over his crotch. It's actually probably one of Niall's. He won't like that, Louis thinks. And he will also make the funniest face when he finds out.
"Hi," Louis says, lying in Liam's bed, naked but covered to the waist in a blanket, leaning up against the headboard and flicking through the channels on the TV. "Is it a sixth sense? Knowing when to walk in on us at possibly the most embarrassing moment? You all seem to share that superpower."
"It's my room," Liam says blankly.
"We locked it," Louis offers.
"But I've got the key," Liam says.
"True, true," Louis says, tapping his chin.
Zayn and Liam are dressed only in their bathing suits, clinging to their legs with wet, their hair mussed up where it isn't plastered against their heads. They stare at Harry, and it's really lovely how the stares have transformed over the weeks, from shocked silence to a withering, eye-rolling sigh. "What are you –" Liam says, before swallowing and shaking his head. "Best not to know, I think."
"I was proving to Louis that I can suck my own cock," Harry says, a big cheeky grin.
There's a beat of silence. "Can you?" Zayn asks.
"Just the tip, but yeah," Harry says.
Zayn looks over at Liam, gives an appreciative kind of shrug. "I mean, that is impressive, isn't it? I've tried but I'm not flexible enough."
"Want to see?" Harry offers.
"Right, out." Liam guides Zayn by the shoulders back out the door, pushing him into the hallway again. "Bye. Please change the sheets when you're done."
"Did you – did you come in for something?" Harry asks, still holding the hat over his crotch.
"We were going to have a shower and watch a film," Liam says. "Sitting by the pool sounds fun though."
"A shower together?"
The door opens, but the chain stops it at four inches with a clang.
"All right, fair enough," Niall says into the gap. "You're learning, at least."
"We're only cuddling," Harry yells.
"I don't fucking believe you," Niall sing-songs as he closes the door on them again.
"You know," Liam says, covering his face with his hands as Louis tugs up his jeans, Harry rummaging behind the couch for his briefs. "I'm becoming far too familiar with the general – size and shape of your – um, business."
"Bit jealous?" Harry says, wriggling on the ground into his trousers.
"Only observing," Liam says. "Same with the – general noises. I've actually worked out a system with Zayn. We know to the minute when it's safe to knock on the door just by the noises you make."
"Bless," Louis says, catching the shirt Harry throws at him and tugging it on.
"Zayn actually wants to make an iPhone app," Liam says, still obediently covering his eyes like a see no evil monkey, twisting a bit about his hips in a bored wiggle as he waits for them to dress. "So we can know for sure."
"Why not just barge in on us without knocking first?" Louis asks. "I'm starting to think you all rather like watching. That is very naughty, Liam. You should ask first."
"We're getting used to it," Liam says. "If we don't see you around now, we just assume you're off having noisy sex in our beds, on our clothes, in our showers. You know, just a normal friendship between five nice lads on the road making music."
"You can look now," Louis says, slapping Liam's bum just because he gets the chance.
"Your shirt is inside out," Liam says, picking a thread on Louis' shoulder. "And backwards. And – Harry's."
"Setting trends, Liam," Louis says, cocking an eyebrow. He makes to pull off his shirt but he suddenly notices Paul leaning into the room. Louis freezes. Paul couldn't have been looking long because Liam just came in and besides he was already wearing his trousers by then, but, oh god, oh shit. "Paul," Louis says blankly.
"So that's where you've been," Paul says, smiling even as he shakes his head. "Honestly. You're wanted. And put your shirt on right, Louis, looks like you've been shagging someone."
Paul closes the door behind him and a pall of silence settles over the three of them. Liam is staring blankly at Louis, that same kind of far-away frozen panic he gets when there's too much to process at once and he just reverts to stuttering and apologizing over and over. Harry slouches where he stands, glaring at the door, and then at Liam, and then back at the door. The silence stretches for the good part of a minute, the three of them standing and glancing from one another like a wild west standoff of emotion.
"Well," Louis says, breaking the silence hesitantly."If you think about it. That – could have been worse."
"True," Harry says slowly. "I was wearing pants at least."
Liam slowly turns his gaze to Harry, a small frown, a look of silent misery. "You've got," Liam says quietly, gesturing limply with one hand. "A bit of – in your hair."
Harry bites his bottom lip and looks like he's about to laugh or cry, or both, really.
"I mean, much worse. It could have gone much, much worse," Louis says again.
It's not perfect, but their backstage rooms have always been a kind of sanctuary for the five of them. No matter what venue they're at, no matter where in the world, every greenroom looks so similar it's almost like coming home every night to the very same place. It's a space like a familiar thread sewing the discordant days together, a place that seems to exist outside the regular universe. Like the inside of the TARDIS, it's a private little moment that follows them around the world faithfully. It becomes a place where they can have a long talks about quiet things, or short talks about loud things; an electric kettle and awful tea and underripe fruit, and comfort and quick naps and stupid games. And for Louis – four weeks into the tour and five into Harry – it's beginning to feel like the last place he can actually breathe for a minute or two.
Harry slides towards Louis on the sofa, nuzzling against his shoulder. "Hey."
Louis grins, bumps his forehead against Harry's temple. "Hello." Niall smiles at them briefly, Zayn nudging him back to their game of bloody knuckles on the coffee table. Liam still looks a little smug about the whole thing, winking at Louis but still not quite saying I told you so. Louis knows it's dumb, but it still kind of gets him, the little reminders that he's got an army at his back.
"You know how sometimes you get so tired you, like, forget you're tired?" Harry asks, resting his head on Louis' shoulder as Louis (lovingly, obviously, sure) starts to shove the mass of Harry's hair in front of his face, messing with those fancy curls.
"It's your second wind," Louis says, combing down Harry's fringe, laughing as it's puffed up and sucked in with every breath Harry takes. "I don't know why they call it that."
"Sailing," Liam offers.
"Farting," Niall adds, while Zayn hisses in pain as the pound coin cuts a neat little crescent moon into his middle knuckle.
"Too tired to snog until Liam gets uncomfortable and does that polite throat clearing noise and leaves the room like a dad watching his daughter go out on her first date?" Louis asks.
"No," Harry says, brushing his hair forward with his hands and flicking it back in a single practiced motion. "I'm never too tired for that."
"I've seen you giving Louis a blowjob," Liam says levelly, not even looking up from his phone. "You really do underestimate me."
"Look," Louis says, his hand sliding around Harry's back, his fingers just dipping under the elastic of his briefs, "he can even say blowjob now."
"I'm so proud of him," Harry says, climbing onto Louis' lap. He leans down, kisses Louis sharply on the mouth.
Niall laughs, half-mocking and half-kind. He nods to Liam and Zayn, raising his eyebrows quickly in some kind of signal, and just like that the three of them spread to the far corners of the room, one to each of the three entrances. They slide down to sit by the foot of the door with slouched shoulders and knees drawn up to their chests, playing Angry Birds on their phones, becoming a human blockade against marauding publicists.
"What are you doing?" Louis says, glancing at Liam and then back at Harry.
Harry shrugs, amused and baffled. "New game, I guess?"
"Shut up," Niall says. "Take advantage, yeah? I'm not going to look and I'm going to pretend I've gone deaf."
"Me too," Zayn says, from the far door. "Eyes closed, men."
"Roger," Liam says, leaning up against his own door, the room sealed tight by laughing boys. "Brace yourselves."
"Right," Niall says, tucking himself into his drawn knees. "Braced."
"Done," Zayn says, crawling up against his door. "Ready."
"Right," Liam says, burying his face in his knees. "All boys are go."
Harry looks at Louis, away, and then back with a grin like mischief. He leans down and kisses Louis, lets them all see, lets them hear the slight smack of lip and lip. Louis draws his arms around Harry's neck, and he tilts his head, and he tastes Harry.
It's the moments like these that really wake Louis up to the joyful fucking shambles his life has become. The last year has been more than getting four best mates; it's getting four people who let him be what he wants, who carve out a space in the world for him to live, who let him fuck everything up and help him do it, too. And when Harry smiles down at him, shadowed by his mess of curls, and when Louis leans up and kisses him, it really does feel like sometimes there needs to be more than two people in this relationship to make it work. As Harry leans in and draws out this one slow kiss, teeth and tongue and blood-red lips, it only happens because there are people around who love it too.
"I love you," Louis manages to say, sharp and loud and obvious in the greenroom. He knows that Liam and Niall and Zayn can hear him. Fuck that, he hopes they can hear him.
"Love you too," Harry says, marking a kiss on Louis' neck.
"They're not going to actually screw with us in the room, are they?" Niall stage whispers to Zayn.
"Have you met Harry?" Zayn whispers back. Louis can feel Harry laugh in the middle of their kiss, can feel his lips move to a smile.
"You've never actually seen how bad it can get," Liam whispers back.
"I sat on Harry's dick once," Niall replies.
"Shut up," Louis says, sliding his hands up the back of Harry's shirt. "I honestly think Harry is getting off on having an audience, you know."
"A little," Harry offers, leaning down to nip at Louis' throat.
"Perfect –" Liam starts to say, but stops as they hear muffled voices from beyond the door. His eyes light up wide and open in full bewildered panic, and Louis swears his ears almost prick up too. "Oh God."
From either sides of the room Niall and Zayn jump up and run towards Harry and Louis, dodging over chairs and bags and tables to make flying leaps towards the couch. Louis just manages to see Harry give a resigned sigh before Zayn and Niall crash on top of them, screaming and howling in a writhing pile just as Lisa gets the door open enough to glance in. Liam is late to the party but the throws himself on too, a shout like a wrestler as he lands on Zayn and Louis and drags them laughing and yelling and punching to the ground.
"Honestly," Lisa says, standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips. They get that look a lot, that mix of automatic adult disapproval tempered under a barely hidden smile. "I can't with you lot, sometimes. Twenty minutes until soundcheck. Honestly," she says again, closing the door behind her.
The five of them lie there on the ground for a while, breathing heavily and taking a slow register of every bruise and aching limb.
"Harry, is that your phone or are you happy to –"
"Shut up, Niall. It's my phone."
"Zayn, is your mouth on the back of my neck."
"Might be, Liam."
"It's a mouth."
Louis breathes deeply and just lies there, aching and under the weight of four other boys, knees and elbows jammed into his ribs and thighs, laughter echoing through the pile, reverberating in the hollow of Louis' chest. Harry's still close enough to touch, and he rubs a thumb over Harry's bicep, just little and small and close. Liam is on Louis' other side, smiling at him, laughing as he nuzzles against Louis' shoulder.
"You know," Louis says. "I've never noticed how often people walk into rooms without knocking until I started trying to make Harry come. It's getting very tiring to be this horny and have so few doors with locks."
"I'm sorry about that. Really, I am," Liam says, resting there for a moment, his laugh warm on Louis' skin. "I've got an idea, though."
"Does it involve bruising more of my ribs?"
"Depends how vigorous Harry is as a lover," Liam says, raising one eyebrow.
"Oh my God," Louis says, laughing and rubbing Liam's stomach fondly. "What have I done to you, Liam?"
"You know, if you think about it," Liam says, scuffing his shoes as he follows them inside the take away, bell jingling to welcome them in. "I'm kind of the anti-chaperone." They find an out of the way place, the kind of Chinese restaurant with heating lamps and peeling wallpaper and an enormous backsplash of misspelled dishes and combo deals. There are few teenagers in front of them, the dreadlocked and tattooed kind that Louis mentally sorts into the Will Not Recognize Us column. "Like, I'm only here with you to make sure that you actually get the chance to snog, you know?"
"And you're paying, don't forget that," Louis adds, elbowing him in the ribs.
"What? I haven't got my wallet," Liam says, patting the sides of his silky basketball shorts pathetically. "I'm not even wearing boxers. Or socks. This is Niall's tank top. I haven't even got anything I own on me."
"But this was your idea," Louis says, cocking an eyebrow.
"Yes, and I've written down what the others lads want to eat." Liam raises his right palm sheepishly, notes scribbled there in sharpie. "That was my job, wasn't it?"
Louis crosses his arms over his chest. "Then we will be forced to sell your body for Chinese food."
"Don't you have anything?" Liam asks.
"Nowt," Louis says, picking at the pocketless sides of his sweatpants. "Harry?"
"It's the last time I wear trousers going out with you," Harry says, frowning at Liam.
"Well done, Harry," Louis says, throwing an arm over Harry's shoulder, kissing him sharply on the side of the head. "Not only do you get to pay for dinner, but you take over the role as most sensible."
"No," Harry says, frowning at Louis now. "You can't call me that. You can't call me Liam. I'm warning you."
"You're Liam now," Louis says, nodding appreciatively. "Liam's not even wearing underwear. I bet you're wearing underwear, aren't you?" Louis picks at the hem of Harry's shirt, Harry squirming away from him too late. "Calvin Klein!"
"Last warning," Harry says calmly, reaching up to hold the hand Louis has round his shoulders, squeezing it at first and then just letting it stay.
"I bet you don't even drink," Louis says, goading him again. "I bet you love twitter more than going out." That should do it, Louis thinks to himself.
Harry glares at Louis. He stands there, unmoving, waiting, his expression unchanging as the teenagers in front of them pick up their bag of food and pay, the bell twinkling as they leave. There's another beat, and then, very slowly indeed, Harry's smile turns wicked.
Harry launches forward like a snake, grabbing at Louis to pull him in, a sharp kissing bite at his throat, his jaw, his ear. Louis shouts and tries to pull away but Harry pushes him up against the wall, bites down hard on Louis' Adam's apple. Louis bumps his head against Harry's as he tries to jab the spots on his sides he knows work best, trying to make Harry squirm away.
Distantly, Louis can hear Liam start to order their food in a very weary tone of voice.
"No biting," Louis says as Harry goes back to his throat, snapping at him playfully, laughing and trying to keep Louis' hands away from his sides.
"Take it back, then," Harry growls.
"Sensible, sensible boy," Louis says, as Harry growls and bites his shoulder, laughing as Louis gets a hand away and starts to poke at his ribs.
"Hey! Hey, you can't do that in here!"
Louis stops, looks over Harry's shoulder. Liam's standing kind of helplessly by the till, and the teller – a spotty-faced man in his early twenties with a hairnet and a scowl – is waving them away. "What?" Louis says.
"I don't want that kind of shit in here," the cashier says.
"We're just messing about," Louis says, raising an eyebrow. He can feel Harry breathing hard against him. They aren't even that close together, and there's more stabbing and yelling than anything else, and they're only the customers here, and Louis has just had enough. A couple weeks ago he would have shied away, even a week ago he would have found some excuse, but today he's burned out from – from too many days of travelling and too little love. It's late, and he's tired, and he's got Harry here, and Liam, and he just wants this to be okay without being interrupted every single time. He just wants a night, he really just wants a fucking night.
"I don't give a fuck," the guy says again. "I don't want that shit in here."
"Mate," Liam says, turning to the cashier, and Louis can see the way his shoulders broaden, his posture goes straighter, like a cat with its fur up, and if Louis wasn't so angry he'd laugh. "They're just horsing about. No need for that kind of talk, huh?"
"You pay, they get out," the cashier says, pointing to the door.
"I think we're just going to leave," Liam says, his fists balled at his sides. "To be honest with you, mate, I'm not paying you after that display."
Harry lets go of Louis then, walks up to Liam. Louis sees Harry give Liam the credit card, whisper something and pat his shoulder before walking back to Louis. Putting a hand on Louis' back, Harry leads them stoically outside.
"What was that about?" Louis says, stopping when they hit the sidewalk.
Harry shrugs, sits down on the kerb by the road. "I'm just tired," Harry says, his voice gathering low and raspy in his chest. "I haven't slept well and I'm just tired. I'm hungry. I want some food and to go back to the hotel and chill with the boys. I don't want to have to think about other people all the time. Just the ones I like. 'S'all."
Louis sits a few feet away from Harry on the kerb, not sure if he should or not. "Me too."
Harry lets out one breathy chuckle that he sucks back in suddenly. "You're still worth it, by the way. Always worth it," Harry says quietly, his head towards the ground, his hair in front of his face, his voice bruised and sincere. "I'm just really tired, Louis."
Louis bites down on his lower lip. He reaches across the short space between them on the kerb and he grabs Harry's hand. Cars flash by as the last of the day's sunlight fades for good and the sky is made all purple and black, the city done up with buttons of bronze lights, and it's pretty in a way that Louis stares at but doesn't really notice. They wait like that until Liam comes out with a paper bag full of food.
Liam sits on the kerb on Louis' other side, putting the bag of food between his knees. He rests his head on Louis' shoulder and says nothing at all. Louis can feel him sigh.
"Come on," Harry says, after a bit, letting go of Louis' hand and wiping his palms off on his trousers. He helps Louis up, and Liam next. They all stand around each other for a bit, dodging glances, Liam's lips quirked into a half-frown like he's looking for the right thing to say. "Niall will kill us if it's cold."
"Right," Louis says, raising his eyebrows at Liam humourlessly.
"Louis –" Liam starts, hugging the food to his chest.
"You're all right," Louis says, patting Liam's back as they set off towards the hotel. "Nothing to be done, Liam."
Dinner is quiet, the five of them piled up in Zayn's room. Niall and Zayn are observant enough to get the vibe when the three of them walk in – that, and Louis catches Liam frantically shaking his head at Niall when he crawls over the couch and looks to fling himself at Harry – and they stay pretty quiet. Zayn mixes rum and cokes and Niall plugs his iPod into the external speakers, his Springsteen mix that he keeps uncharacteristically quiet.
Zayn's been blasting the air conditioner since they left, and the room feels comfortably like midwinter Scotland. They rip scratchy comforters from Zayn's bed, fleece blankets from his closets are coiled up on couches like a nest. Liam doles the food out, heaping piles of chow mein and General Tso and chicken balls with electric orange sauce. Louis sits next to Harry on the couch, messing with his hair a little bit and then just resting next to him, side pressed to side. Although Niall doesn't quite know what's going on, he takes the hint and sits on Harry's other side, punching his shoulder gently, curling up next to him. Even Liam takes one of Zayn's drinks, a rum and coke that he handles like a glass of nitroglycerin.
That's when Louis realises that the rest of them think something has gone very, terribly wrong; Liam would never drink unless it was to please Louis, a little gesture of solidarity that comes with a shrug and a smile. Liam takes a sip of his drink after he settles down next to Zayn, wincing slightly, and then lifting the glass to Louis. Louis would laugh if it the whole thing didn't make him feel so pathetic.
"All right, okay," Louis says finally, setting his plate of food on the coffee table. "You can all stop acting like you're all so fucking sad. It's not that big a deal."
"Really," Harry says, frowning finally. "No one died."
"I don't even know what's fuckin' going on," Niall says. "I'm only here to steal food off your plate." Niall rests his head on Harry's shoulder, looking up at him. "You do look a bit like a sad – a sad lion, though."
"What happened, then?" Zayn asks, turning to look at Liam, playing with his hair absently.
"There was just this guy," Liam says. "He was being a dickhead to Harry and Louis." He glances at Louis like asking for permission to expand on it, and Louis shrugs. There's not much to say really; dickhead pretty much covers it. Louis' been trying for weeks not to give up the ghost of himself, not to resign himself to the niggling thoughts cluttered like a poison at the back of his mind, but tonight it just feels easy to throw in the towel, drawn out and exhausted, too much has happened and too little of it Harry. Louis pinches the bridge of his nose. "Just a dickhead," Liam says, glancing at Louis with a worried little frown. "One big. Head of a dick."
Zayn nods. "Pricks, man."
"Proper bell end," Niall adds.
Harry starts to laugh, nudges Louis gently. "Dicks."
Louis smiles thinly, and slides deeper into the couch, against Harry's side. It's warm tucked up against him, and he's not that hungry, and he really just wants to fall asleep here where things are kind of okay. Louis drains his rum and coke in one. This is okay, being in this room with the four of them. Why can't it be like this most of the time, all of the time; a big house, a big dumb house full of Chinese food and steady drinking and games of bloody knuckles and slap fighting and making fun of Liam. Niall refills his drink, and Louis downs that one too. Harry laughs and his kiss tastes like rye and ginger.
Louis watches as Liam gets in close to Zayn, whispering something quickly in his ear. Zayn grins, and nods, patting Liam's shoulder.
"Excuse me," Liam says soon after. "Going to go call mum."
It's an obvious lie, but Louis doesn't call him out on it. Louis doesn't fall asleep, he's not that kind of tired, but he zones out, barely paying attention to the movie Niall puts on – Ocean's 11 for the thirtieth damn time. Louis mostly spends it with his head on Harry's lap, absently counting the stitches in the seam of Harry's trousers, thinking distant pointless thoughts, making Harry laugh by purring when he starts to play with Louis' hair.
Liam's back in forty minutes, and he settles himself in next to Zayn again, a quick conference of bowed heads and whispers, and then Liam nods.
Whatever it is he's planning, Liam waits until the credits roll. Niall jumps up to make himself another drink, and Zayn stretches and finds a new movie for them to watch. In the momentary intermission, Liam walks over to Harry and Louis with a pleased little grin. Without a word, he grabs Louis' hand and closes his fingers over a keycard. With a quick ruffle of Harry's curls, Liam walks over to the minibar, taking a bottle of water out of the fridge and fighting with Zayn over which Fast and the Furious movie they should watch next.
"What is it?" Harry whispers.
It's different than their regular keys. The card is black and, flipping it over in his hands, PENTHOUSE is written in neat white script along one side. "Shit," Louis says.
"Wow," Harry says. "I think this might cost more than his share of dinner."
Louis shakes his head slowly, staring at Liam's back. It's sickening, really, to have someone so decent and kind and disgusting in your life, but the thought of it hitches in Louis' chest like a sob out of nowhere. As Louis turns the key over and over in his hands, he shifts into a chuckle of disbelief. He thought he'd be past it by now, that giddy and grateful feeling he gets when someone goes out of their way to make this work, but it's there again, flooding through him like a full-body shiver after a shot of tequila. He's really starting to feel like an idiot for thinking it wouldn't be like this, for thinking that Liam, or Niall, or Zayn would somehow turn their backs. Louis has never felt so grateful to be so obviously, thoroughly wrong.
Liam glances over his shoulder, and nods to the door with a smile, mouthing go on as Niall tries to get him into a headlock. Louis isn't sure if he wants to punch or kiss him. Both, probably. It always tends to be both with Liam.
"Let's go," Louis says, poking Harry in the side. "I can't watch Tokyo Drift again. I'll throw myself off the balcony."
"Should we –"
"I'm sure they'll get the picture," Louis says. He helps Harry off the couch, throws an arm over his shoulder as they leave the room together. Louis closes the door quietly behind them, just as Niall starts to yell about how Fast & Furious is the unappreciated gem of the series. Louis laughs, and mentally salutes Liam for the grenade he is throwing himself on.
The first thing Harry does when they get into the hotel is undress completely, because of course he does. He stands there naked, long slim body, his knees a bit roughed up from the past few days – Louis smirks to himself – and very much a shower rather than a grower. Louis' seen him naked more times than he cares to count, but it finally sinks in with a sharp kind of satisfaction that it's his now, it's for him.
"Shower, booze, sex," Harry says, counting on his fingers. "In that order."
Louis wanders around the suite while Harry showers. It's one of those dark wood and glass and iron kind of rooms, minimalist and strange with long-necked orchids and precise square shapes and amoeba-like lamps that Louis can't find the switches to. The king-size bed has black sheets, the TV slides down from a hidden recess in the wall, the air smells strongly of sandalwood, and one whole wall of the room is made of glass, leading out to a wide zen-garden of a balcony. Louis rolls his eyes, and he owes Liam at least five punches right into his last functioning kidney. It's the kind of room you reserve for an ambassador and his three closest wives, not the friends he only yesterday called amazingly immature. Louis is immediately filled with the desire to steal everything that isn't nailed down and bill it straight to Liam's credit card.
Harry comes back freshly scrubbed and rosy cheeked in a fluffy white bathrobe. His hair is half-dry and crazy with curls, the hair on his legs coarse with damp, his eyelashes thick and dark. Harry leans in to bite a kiss against Louis' bottom lip and he smells of mint and lime.
"You gonna have one?" Harry asks, playing with the knot of his belt, his robe already so loose it's falling down one of his shoulders.
"I will after," Louis says, looking Harry in the eyes. "I'll be sweatier then."
Harry opens his mouth with a huge, silent ha, and he slaps Louis on the bum. "Sex!"
"Alcohol," Louis says, toeing off his shoes and pulling his socks off next. "Let's go outside. We've got some kind of vegetable garden on our balcony with sculptures and art and stuff. I want to piss in it."
Harry looks around the suite quickly, like he hadn't noticed the gently trickling water of a wall mounted fountain, the modern art carpets on black hardwood floors, or the chrome espresso maker when he first walked in. "Liam."
"Maybe it was the only room they had left," Louis says, shrugging as he pulls off his t-shirt, tossing it with Harry's on the bed.
"No," Harry murmurs, turning in a full, slow circle. "I bet you he thought it looked cool. I bet he thought it looked really, really cool."
"We need to have a talk with him after," Louis says. "I think he bought some gold trainers the other day."
"Oh, yeah, he did," Harry says. "I got a pair too."
"Get me drunk," Louis says, sighing.
Harry finds the champagne; he's got a bloodhound's nose for it. He snatches it from the fridge, ignoring the champagne flutes, and Louis follows him outside. The glass doors sound exactly like the original Star Trek Enterprise when they slide open, bathing them suddenly in the rich heat and the insect buzz of the city. Harry digs his thumbs under the champagne cork and shoots it out off the balcony railing, a pathetic meteor he sends tumbling into streets. Looking a lot like the cat that got the cream, Harry takes a big mouthful from the bottle before handing it off to Louis.
They sit on the balcony floor, ignoring the twisted metal skeletons that bear only a passing resemblance to chairs. Louis is only wearing his rolled up jeans, and Harry in that cotton puff of a bathrobe, but the night is perfect and dry and the wind smells like summer coming on, grass and heat. Louis takes the champagne from Harry and chugs down a fifth of the bottle in one.
"I'm already kind of drunk, from before," Louis says, passing the bottle back. "I swear, Zayn mixes fifty-fifty."
"Me too," Harry says, pushing his hair back only to have it flop in front of his face again. "That good kinda drunk, you know. The kind that makes you think you can jump off the roof."
"We're on the thirty-third floor," Louis says, trying hard not to just constantly laugh, this hiccup kind of drunken high, this love of everything that he holds down in his chest. "But I bet you could. Go on, give it a go. Birds do it all the time."
"Don't like birds," Harry says, his face scrunching up. "Don't trust them. They're the last of the dinosaurs."
"You are such an idiot," Louis says, at least mostly fond.
"Proudly so," Harry says, punching Louis' shoulder but losing his balance, toppling over awkwardly that he saves just in time, crawling over to rest his head in Louis' lap and flopping out on his back, his robe opening from collar to navel and only just protecting his modesty. "You know it's almost been two months?" he asks, looking up at Louis, his eyes wide and green and electric. "You don't seem like the kind of person who anniversaries."
"Hey," Louis says, pinching Harry's cheek. "I might be that kind of person. I could buy you a cake with a lady inside. Not baked inside. She jumps out. She's alive inside the cake."
Harry is quiet for a while, and when he talks again his voice is low and he looks up at Louis through his lashes. "The last – the last few months haven't been easy for you, have they?"
Louis shrugs, one-shouldered, and he starts to play with Harry's curls, a tight little braid he remembers his sisters teaching him. He hates it, he hates that there's still a little black bruise, a bloody spot that hasn't properly healed inside him. And sure, he told Liam, and then finally told Harry, and made the first trembling kicks off the coast and into the water, but he wishes he do this thing like it ought to be done, like Harry deserves. Christ, like they both deserve. But even so, even after the brave words and back slaps and swagger of sex, there's still that stupid knot of shame calcifying in his chest, sinking Louis slowly with every breath he takes.
"Yeah," Harry murmurs thoughtfully, inching into Louis' touch, his smile lazy and drunk and pleased like a pup getting its ears scratched. "I knew it would be hard for you. So I waited until you were – well, uh, I tried to wait."
Louis slaps his cheek, a friendly kind of slap. "You pushed me up against the wall of our flat, snuck a hand under my shirt, and told me you loved me into my mouth." Louis slaps his cheek gently again. "You said you needed me and I've never heard anyone sound so serious about that in my life."
"Hey, I did wait for, like, a whole year after the bungalow. Which is when I first meant to tell you, by the way," Harry says quietly, flinching a little but taking the next slap in stride. "That deserves some praise, I think."
"You never thought they'd hate us?" Louis asks, biting his tongue as he moves back to the tight little plait he left half-woven, studiously ignoring Harry's glance. "You never thought they'd – I don't know, worry about the band? You never thought they'd try and talk us out of – you know, for fucking with the dream?"
"I did," Harry murmurs. "I did think that once. Not for long. I just thought they'd love us more."
"They do," Louis says, shaking his head. "They actually do. I feel really stupid thinking that maybe they wouldn't."
"So, we were right," Harry says.
Louis leaves the braid to take another long drink of the champagne. "You – do you think we deserve it?" Louis says, his voice clipped, hitting a note lower than he wanted. "Do you think we deserve that?"
Harry sighs, his eyes half-opened, his smile half-faded on wet lips. "I – I don't know. I like to think so. I think we do."
Louis runs his fingers in Harry's hair, scratches his scalp like he knows Harry likes best. Louis takes a deep breath, and he knows he deserves a lot of things but he's still not sure unconditional is one of them. With things like these though, the self-confident and loud and physical and emotional, it's always better to trust Harry and run with it.
"Even after that time I pushed Zayn into that river even though I knew he couldn't swim?" Louis asks
Harry laughs, dimples deep in his cheeks. "That was hilarious, though. Doesn't count."
"Or that time I stole all of Liam's clothes while he was showering and made him wander through the hotel naked?"
"I don't get it," Harry says, his voice hovering just above laughter, "are you just telling me amazing things you should never regret?"
"How about when I made a Grindr account on Niall's phone when he was napping?"
Harry finally bursts out laughing, looking up delightedly at Louis. "Are you serious? And he hasn't noticed?"
"It's been a week. Maybe he likes it," Louis says, unknotting the clump of a braid he seriously messed up. "He must know it's there though. He gets notifications sent to his phone, and I checked yesterday and he hasn't deleted it. His profile still says Needy Twink Seeks Discipline Daddy for God's sake."
Harry laughs for a solid minute, his head back, his smile huge with glee. Louis loves that, loves doing that, loves this so much it aches in his chest. "I don't know, Louis," Harry says, wiping a finger at the corner of his eye, his body still shaking like an echo of laughter as he looks up at Louis, dopey and high. "I'm completely shitfaced. I don't know, Louis. You're an awful bastard. So'm I. But we're – their bastards, you know? We're their bastards. They claimed us."
"Damn right," Louis says, his fingertips tingling with the wine, brushing a thumb over Harry's cheek which he just – can't help it, really – turns into a pinch. "I never had – anyone like that before. I had mates, I even had mates who liked me proper. But I never knew guys like this."
"Y'do now," Harry says simply.
"This is very weird foreplay," Louis says. "Talking about our boys before I fuck your brains out."
"Need m'brains," Harry says. "It's not that weird. My dick has kind of become the band's mascot. Hey, okay, gimme some champagne."
"Sit up," Louis says.
"Pour it in my mouth," Harry says.
"I saw it in a film once. It's dead sexy. Do it." Harry grins.
"Okay, fine, it's your funeral," Louis says, holding the champagne aloft. "In your mouth?"
"Yes," Harry says.
Louis pours a steady stream of champagne in Harry's mouth. Harry drinks at first, sucking it down, and then he can't help but laugh, and he chokes and sprays them both with expensive wine. Harry is laughing and coughing, and Louis has a face full of champagne and this is exactly what he knew would happen and he glares bloody loving murder down at Harry. Louis really wants to punch him. He kisses Harry instead, vicious and hungry, tasting the champagne on Harry's skin, the sugar in his mouth.
"I saw it in a movie!" Harry yells, wiping his mouth as Louis pulls away. "It was sexy!"
"Seems like it," Louis says, wiping the champagne off his cheeks. "You are such a colossal, astounding asshole. And I ought to know."
"Love me?" Harry says, sitting up quickly, champagne on his eyelashes, dripping down his chin, a drop hanging on the tip of his nose. He sits up and grins, his big, cheeky grin that he knows wins everyone over. "Won't you?"
"Fuck," Louis says, pushing Harry's face away. "I guess so. No one would. No one loves you like I do. Not after that."
"I know," Harry says quietly, sitting up properly now, his head out of Louis' lap and his legs crossed under him. A sudden flicker passes through his eyes, like a switch being turned, like a surge of something else. Louis knows what it is before Harry says so, because it hits him too, in just the same way, a growling and strange kind of violence, beautiful violence. Maybe it was the stupid champagne, or maybe it was just how unbelievably right the night has felt, every slap and every kiss. Doesn't matter; Louis has had enough of the interruptions and the waiting and the sickness and now he's going to take what he wants, just like Harry said. "All right. Okay," Harry says, his lips set in a straight line, staring intently at Louis. "Just, fucking fuck me. Please. Right now. Fuck me until I hurt. Fuck me until I can only remember how you feel."
Louis sweeps his hair to one side, can feel champagne in it, sticky and plastering stray hair to his forehead. He watches Harry levelly, dragging the moment out, still loving the sudden and blindingly helpless way Harry is looking at him. Louis takes a gentle fistful of Harry's curls, tugs him over a bit closer, nodding slowly. "I think I will do that, Harry."
Harry's look is dark and glorious, somehow both hungry and deeply satisfied. "Inside," he says, little pink tongue darting out to lick his bottom lip. Harry leads the way to the bed, through the Star Trek doors as his robe spreads open and he spins the length of the cotton belt in a wide circle. He's so obviously a bundle of nervous energy, with a want so strong Louis can almost smell it on him.
Harry lets the robe slide to the floor and he falls back on the bed, shoves himself up towards the headboard. Louis smirks as he unbuttons his jeans, kicks them off. He crawls over Harry, up his long legs and onto his hips. "Hey there, rockstar," Louis says.
Harry laughs, his hand cupping Louis' cock, against his briefs. "Okay, I want you to –"
"Oh, I know exactly what I'm going to do to you," Louis says, smirking. Harry pulls the elastic of Louis' briefs over his cock, running his hand over the shaft. "No need to tell me," Louis says as Harry runs his thumb over the head of Louis' dick, smearing precome over it. "I think I know what you're like."
Harry smiles, his cheekiest smile. "Let's be having you, then."
Louis fumbles in Harry's leather toilet bag, picks out the small bottle of lube and lets Harry run it over his dick with two hands. It's a blind kind of want, the same kind of desperate need Harry has about being fucked, the same feeling but in reverse. Louis wants to fuck him, Louis wants to feel it in heat and friction, Louis wants to make real the last few weeks in ways that can't be done in words. He wants to fuck him because it's the best kind of promise he's got to give right now.
Harry lies flat on his back, his knees crooked and legs spread, inching himself naked and closer to Louis. With one hand on Harry's shoulder, and one on his waist, Louis guides himself between Harry's legs, lifts Harry's hips up a bit, and – swallowing once – pushes into him on a long and shuddering breath.
Harry scrunches his face, grunts in pain as Louis' fills him, his head thrown back and the long line of his throat exposed and soft as cream. As Louis pushes deeper, Harry relaxes into it, into a sharp and sudden bliss, a painful grunt turning into a wide oh as Louis fucks slowly into him.
"Okay?" Louis asks, leaning over Harry, watching him intently.
"Oh – fucking – yes," Harry says, his eyes squeezed tight. "More, more," Harry says, and his cheeks flood bright with red, like he's embarrassed, like he's suddenly brightly aware of actually how much he loves being fucked. He writhes under Louis a little, shoving himself onto Louis' cock with these whimpering little gasps that sound lost between pain and want. Louis finds it so beautifully strange to be craved like this, to actually see someone so blushing and needing. It's not just that Harry loves being fucked, but Louis knows it's because Harry loves being fucked by him. His cheeks slashed winter red, his eyes screwed shut, his mouth so pink and wet. "Louis, more, right now."
Louis fucks into Harry, drawing out slowly, but fucking him again, harder with each push. Harry is so tight, and so alive under him, bucking against his cock, wanting and begging to be fucked harder. Actually pushing against him and demanding him deeper, all while his cheeks flush red, while his moans shift from pain to want.
A steady rhythm builds, faster and harder, Louis fucking Harry and Harry wants more wants all of him, almost begging. Louis can't help but groan, how tight Harry is around him, how much he wants to fuck him, how much Harry wants to be fucked. It becomes wordless, it becomes noises exchanged, it becomes the same steady build up in the both of them, a give and a take like a hunger. Harry cock is so hard and totally untouched, bouncing up against his bellybutton with every push, and he's grips the sheets until his knuckles shine bone-white.
In the heat of it, Louis leans down over Harry, presses their foreheads together. He's exhausted and he keeps going, and Harry keeps taking, and a sheen of sweat covers their cheeks and lips. Harry lets go of the bed and just wraps his arms around Louis, bringing him close as Louis pushes into him again, deeper, with a gasp of that good pain. They're close, so close, and Harry tugs him nearer and kisses Louis, grabs him and kisses him, demands it. It's not like any other kiss; it's so fragile, so fucking needy, so demanding and pitiless. Louis has never kissed anyone like this before, fire reds and an ache, almost pathetic and sweet, like a fucking promise. Harry curls his body up against him, arms around Louis' neck, and lips as hot as a fever.
"I'm gonna –" Harry says, his voice going breathy. He's still got his hands around Louis' neck, and he comes, his cock untouched. Louis fucks the come out of him, Harry shooting his load onto his stomach, his chest, onto Louis' hips too. Harry tightens up, all his muscles, his whole body like a clenched fist of lines and electricity as he fucks himself deeper on Louis' cock, as his eyes flutter open and his mouth rounds in a rough gasp.
Louis can't – he can't take more – he can't see Harry like that and not – and he fucks into Harry and feels the nova in his gut turn super, just pushes into Harry again and loses himself over the edge. Louis comes in Harry with a gasp, a pulsing shout, a groan as he tucks his head into Harry's shoulder and bites the skin he finds.
They stay that way for what feels like hours; Harry still curled around Louis and keeping him close, Louis still inside him as he slowly goes soft. It actually takes work to find himself, sorting through the wreckage of his mind and the cluttered cloudy fizz of the after, Louis only slowly coming round to it. He breathes out a long, crumpled sigh and opens his eyes.
Harry is smiling up at him, and it's like nothing else. Harry is so tired, so totally fucked out and sleepy and happy, his smile so disarming and pleased that Louis can't help but mirror it himself. He wants to quip, wants to slap him maybe, get a bit of his old self back, but he can't. He just lies there on top of Harry, feeling his chest breathe out as Harry breathes in; sticky with champagne and come, the both of them exhausted, Louis smelling sweat and shampoo in Harry's curls, pressing his face against the red and purple marks Louis left when he bit him.
"Finally," Harry whispers, only breaking into a breathy laugh at the end. "Thank you, God, I needed that."
"Like a glass of water in the desert," Louis murmurs.
"A loaf of bread when you're starving," Harry says, wriggling a little to get a bit more comfortable under Louis.
"A – working SCUBA gear and a harpoon when you get dragged to the bottom of the sea by a giant squid," Louis says, finding his little smirk again.
Harry laughs and leans up to kiss him, falling back in a dead weight once he pecks Louis on the lips. "Time for bed. Definitely time for bed."
"All right," Louis says, leaning down to kiss Harry this time. "If I tell you I love you, do you promise not to reply like Han Solo?"
"I was replying like Leia, actually," Harry says. "I do cross my heart, though."
"I love you, Harry Styles," Louis says, with as straight a face as he can manage. He buries the chuckle that rises in his lungs deep, he buries it very deep. This is a serious moment. Very serious. Not the time to laugh at himself for saying it, nor at Harry for his floppy hair and dimpled cheeks and teasing smile.
"I –" Harry focuses very hard for moment. "I know."
"Ruined it," Louis says, rolling off Harry and falling against his side. "Totally ruined it."
"Ah, well," Harry says, absently running his thumb against the back of Louis' neck, his voice sounding sleepy and further away. "It wouldn't be the first time."
"Shameful," Louis says.
"You too," Harry says quietly, on the edge of it all. "Very much so."
Harry and Louis sneak down to their own hotel rooms at a quarter to nine in the morning. It's not much of a lie in (especially considering the frantic handjob they gave each other just after Harry's phone woke them up at eight o'clock) but it's something, at least, a half-hour of rest. Thirty minutes spent half-dozing in bed, the tickle of Harry's curls on Louis' chest, the warm pink of Harry's tongue as they kiss lazily, tangled legs and fingers jabbed into stomachs and a knee pressed gently against Louis' crotch. And then the bubble snaps, and they kiss quickly in the elevator one last time before going to their separate rooms.
Louis spends a few minutes mucking up his unused bed, tossing the comforter and sheets around, he strips and has a quick shower and shave. Louis is brushing his teeth when Zayn knocks on his door.
"Hiya," Zayn says, smirk dancing in the corner of his mouth. "Sleep well?"
Louis narrows his eyes, points at the toothbrush he's chewing on.
"Right," Zayn says, slapping his shoulder. "Well, Liam sent me over to see if you were down yet. Which you are, obviously. We're all having breakfast in my room. Come on –" a slight snicker " – when you're ready, yeah?"
Louis glares at him until Zayn leaves laughing.
Niall and Harry are watching football in sweatpants when Louis walks in, each of them waving hello without looking away from the television. Louis leans down over Harry, eclipsing him on the couch. Harry grins like a child and leans back, Louis planting a Spiderman kiss on his mouth, more of a bite to the lips, really. Harry laughs at him, and Louis slaps him upside the head in retaliation. Louis ruffles Niall's hair next, which earns Louis a hard slap on the bum.
The blinds have been thrown wide and the windows cranked open, flooding the room with that perfect yellow early summer sunshine and the buzzing rush of early morning traffic. The balcony door has been left open, a sharp breeze fluttering through curtains and lifting them like flags, whipping at the table cloth and scattering loose papers around the floor. There's a room service tray of scrambled egg whites and fruit that Zayn is standing by, ignoring as he types out a text.
"Where's Liam?" Louis asks, juggling a plum from hand to hand.
Zayn rolls his eyes, not even looking up from his phone. "Running a marathon, probably."
"If you see him, I'm gonna be sitting outside," Louis says. He stares at Zayn for a moment, then punches him in the shoulder, hard. "Hey. Liam. I'm outside. Tell him."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Zayn says. "Have a fucking apple, man."
The balcony is narrow, just a couple of chairs and a side table with an ashtray, Zayn's pack of Marlboros and his silver Zippo lying there. The railing is divided into vertical slats and Louis sits down between them, threading his legs between the bars so he can kick childishly against the wall, his feet dangling out twenty stories up. The sky is a cloudless cornflower blue and the sun is all over him, east-facing and flooding Louis in warmth, goosepimples running up his arms and legs. He finishes his plum, and then his apple, and he's debating if he could throw the core into the swimming pool from here when he finally hears Liam walk in. Niall and Zayn raise their voices in a cheery welcome a loud hello. There's some muffled talking, some noises that sounds like bare slaps of skin on skin – yeah, that's definitely Harry laughing and yelling about trying to get the perfect handprint on Liam's bare back – and then Louis hears the sound of sneakers squeaking on the tile floor and Liam clearing his throat behind him.
"Hey," Louis says, staring straight ahead.
"Everything okay?" Liam asks, sitting cross legged next to Louis, taking out his earbuds and wrapping them around his iPod. He obviously hasn't been exercising long, only a light sweat beading on his forehead and a slight flush of pink rising on his bare chest. He's only wearing some ratty black trackpants rolled up to the knees, the logo of an American college they've never been to shiny and white on his thigh. He seems like he was halfway towards taking a shower, but Liam doesn't move from the spot, just takes a cue from Louis and stretches his legs between the metal slats of the railing, kicking his bare feet out over open air.
"Yeah," Louis says. "Were you actually exercising during the, what, two hours we have to ourselves today? Are you really that kind of asshole?"
"Yep." Liam smiles. Louis really regrets the day that Liam figured out that his insults were affection in disguise. "So, was the room okay?" he asks, and Louis actually detects a hint of teasing, a waggle of the eyebrows in the way he says it.
"It was –" Louis thinks of a hundred things he could call it. Tacky. Hilarious. Absurd. Literally the stupidest room to ever exist. "– really great."
Liam absolutely beams. "Aw, Louis," he says, knocking his head gently against Louis' own. "What'd you want to talk to me about, anyway?"
"Actually, yeah, about that. Right, right, wanted to talk to you," Louis says, his voice shifting down to somewhere quiet and private. He knows he must sound serious because Liam looks at him curiously, a hair's breadth away from worry. Louis knows exactly what he wants to say, but in the hundreds of times he tried to phrase it the night before, he still has no idea how to put it together in words. He just looks at Liam then, at his broad shoulders, at the exercise flush in his cheeks all pink, at his body curled forward and the flick of hair in the middle of his chest, at the way he kicks his legs out between the bars of the railing just like Louis is doing. Louis takes a deep breath, and, fuck it all, he says what he thinks: "Okay, well. I was just thinking, last night. I don't know, man. When we first met, I didn't really like you that much."
Liam puffs a little sigh and shrugs. "I know. It's okay."
Louis takes a deep breath, blowing it out slowly. "And now I really don't know what I'd do without you."
Liam is quiet for a bit, just rubs the back of Louis' neck, ruffling the hair there. "I get worried when you get all sincere with me," Liam says gently, and Louis laughs. "It makes me think something's gone seriously wrong. You make it sound like the last thing you're gonna say before you go on a suicide mission over the top of the trench."
Louis bumps his shoulder against Liam. "I'm trying to have a moment right now, if you'd let me."
"Sorry, sorry," Liam says. "I like having a moment."
Louis sighs. "I just know it's not going to last much longer," Louis says. It's not sharp, or bitter, or lonely. It's just the truth, and with all things like this, like the promise he made last night, it's better to trust Harry and run with it. "I mean, it can't, I know it can't. We're going to have to tell someone eventually, we can't keep nicking into broom closets to snog."
Liam nods slowly, his smile sympathetic. "Yeah, I figured."
"And, you know what, I want more people to know. I want them to know. So I'm going to tell someone," Louis says, looking out there and shrugging simply, the sun hitting him warm and Liam rubbing his back absently. "I mean, we've already told all the mums and sisters and all. Maybe Paul. I bet Paul will get a kick out of it."
"What about Simon," Liam adds, smiling slightly like he's trying to test the waters.
Louis grins, and Liam smiles wider. "He always goes on and on about our chemistry, how well we fit together, so it shouldn't be much of a surprise, after all. I can already see his smug I told you so face. Looks a lot like yours, actually."
This time, Liam bumps his shoulder up against Louis'. "If any of them try to – you know, if anyone tries to make it stop, I won't let them," Liam says, his nose scrunching a bit like he's focusing his determination. "None of us will. We won't let them. We've got your back. And your front. And all the other bits I've seen too much of in the last eight weeks."
"Oh, God," Louis says, bending forward like he's about to throw up off the railing. "This is why I don't like having moments with you." Liam is laughing now, wrapping his arm around Louis' shoulder. "I take the time to sort of say thank you in a roundabout way where I don't actually have to say it, and then you go and make it gentle and emotional and kind and sweet because you don't know how to have a proper conversation without turning it into true love and best friends."
The shrug Liam gives is beautifully done, so clearly full of disinterest, so perfectly communicating the message that I don't care what you think, and so obviously stolen from a page of Louis' book that Louis can't help but swell with pride. "I'm not even a little sorry," Liam says sweetly, fluttering his eyelashes. And honestly, Louis is about one pint of lager and six shots of tequila from totally turning Liam over to the dark side. "Sorry."
Louis looks at him, shaking his head slightly in arch disapproval. He holds it for a long time; and the whole while wanting to punch Liam, and wanting to kiss him too. "The fuck have you got on your iPod, then," Louis says, giving up and poking the square in Liam's trackpants' pocket. "Let's have some tunes."
"Working out to Fatboy Slim," Liam says, digging it out and unwrapping the earbuds from around the white body of his mp3 player. Louis nods appreciatively. "But something nice and cool, bright lights big city, a little class to start to the day," he says, his tongue poking out from between his lips as he flicks through his playlist. "A little Frankie Sinatra maybe?" He pauses, and then his grin turns mischievous. "They Can't Take That Away From Me?"
"I actually hate you," Louis says.
"Do you want to feel your last name, Liam?"
Liam is snickering as he passes one earbud to Louis and puts in his own. Liam flicks through a few albums, and soon Frank Sinatra is crooning to them and promising that the best is yet to come. It's a little too on the nose, even for Liam, but Louis doesn't stop him. It is a classic, after all. He just follows Liam's lead and snaps his fingers in time to the song, childishly kicking his feet out against the wall, maybe throwing in a swish and flick because it makes Liam laugh.
Zayn finds them next, wandering out onto the balcony and laughing as Liam hums out the chorus like karaoke. Zayn slaps Louis' cheeks as he finds his place right next to them, settling next to Liam and tucking his head in against Liam's shoulder. Zayn slings his legs between the railing, setting up camp with his heels bouncing against the balcony too.
Harry is next, wandering out after Zayn. He sits next to Louis, close and warm and pressed up against the single earbud, listening through vibrations and proximity. He kisses Louis on the cheek, and then his jaw, and then the corner of his mouth. "Hello," he says silently, mouthing the words in private.
"Heya," Louis says noiselessly, kissing Harry on the mouth. Harry slides his legs between the railing, barefoot and bouncing his heels against concrete, looking out then at the bare sky and the sun splashing against his face and catching his hair in bronze and gold.
Niall is last, finding them chained together with their legs kicking out to nowhere. He squeezes Louis' shoulders, pats the top of Harry's head, and sets himself down next to Zayn. Legs through the railings, following their lead, his sneakers kicking out back and forth, the five of them like a secret society linked together on the twentieth storey of a towering hotel.
They end up sitting out there for a while, through half of a Greatest Hits album shared in earbuds, the volume as loud as it goes so it can be heard between ears. Their stomachs rumble, and the morning is long, and they end up – five people, acting as one – lying on their backs on the concrete balcony, the odd squeeze of a hand exchanged with a sharp poke in the ribs in return, squirming and finding tender spots and laughing together. Louis closes his eyes then, drawn out and half-dreaming as he feels the wind tickle hair against his nose and Harry nuzzles against his shoulder. It's a private little smile but it's sincere, and quietly Louis tries to memorize the exact feeling of these tired mornings, and of the little victories, and of the long line of his friends as solid as a red brick wall.