Word Count: 17,600
Warnings: alcohol and drug use
Summary: Louis can feel the morning stiffness fade away as the excitement in his gut starts to get him wild and rowdy, this short trip up to Leeds Fest reminding him that it can't possibly get better than this: a bottle of vodka in his bag, a boy by his side, a tent over his shoulders, and the promise of a truly glorious disaster he has been craving for months.
Disclaimer: if you googled your name and found this, proceed no further. Please keep all fourth walls intact.
Author's Notes: thanks to the three brightest stars in the firmament, likecharity , liketheroad , and littledivinity for their betas and how they admirably resisted beating me to death when I whined at them. Title comes from Stars' song of the same name.
They're halfway to Leeds when the sun starts to rise. The dawn catches the very edges of the Pennines in silver, a sloping line on the horizon like a rip down the middle of the night. They're still in the midst of the dales, but as the dull light begins to build, driving under the drizzle of cold rain with the smell of mud and green and diesel as thick as fog, everything is starting to feel like home to Louis.
Louis' got his bare feet propped up on the dashboard, and he's meant to be following the little Google Maps route on his phone but mostly he's just scrolling through his Twitter feed, exhausted and staying awake to keep Harry company through the long night. He's got his iPod plugged into the car stereo, The Streets filling in the empty spaces with late night beats as the wet stars of streetlights smear in fast lines down the shiny black hood.
"Where next?" Harry says, one hand on the sill of his open window, the other on the steering wheel at twelve o'clock.
"We still on the M52?" Louis asks.
"Yep," Harry says.
"Then stay on the M52," Louis says, rubbing his eyes.
"The A1, but that's not for miles," Louis says slowly. "Actually. I had an idea."
Harry raises his eyebrows, but doesn't look away from the road. "What idea?"
"Thought we could visit my mum," Louis says, trying to sound off the cuff and casual. "Stay there for the night and head down to Leeds tomorrow instead of setting up early. I know we won't get a great spot but it's raining, it's all going to be mud no matter how early we get there."
Harry's expression doesn't change. "Does your mum know about this idea?"
"I thought we could kind of surprise her," Louis says, shrugging one-shouldered.
"Louis," Harry intones, though his lips quirk upwards.
"She likes surprises, probably. She never said she didn't like surprises at four in the morning, at least. Besides, you've never stayed at mine before. She always says I should bring you over. She'll be chuffed. She'll love it, probably. Maybe."
Harry considers this, taking a pull from his Red Bull, draining his third can in two hours. Their flight landed in Manchester at two in the morning, and after an hour and a half of filling out paperwork and arguing with the man at the car rental, Harry looks exhausted. He keeps whipping his hair back, a shake like he's trying to wake himself up each time. Lost sleep is smudged in darkness under his eyes, eyes that are rubbed red and bloodshot from the surge of midnight caffeine and the cold wind blowing in his face. He's about as undone as a boy could be, and it makes Louis smile despite himself. "I can't just show up there at dawn with a load of suitcases. I actually want your mum to like me, you know."
"Oh, get off it, she already loves you," Louis says, and he pats the back of Harry's neck. "Look at you, you're wrecked. Think about it. A bed to sleep in. A homecooked meal. You get to make fun of my old bedroom." Louis is quiet for a bit, lets his voice drop sulky and low. "And I haven't seen my mum in a month."
"That's a dirty trick," Harry says, shaking his head, but he's already smiling.
"Go on," Louis says. "My sisters have been dying to see you again."
"This route we're taking," Harry says slowly. "I'm already driving there, aren't I?"
Louis looks out the passenger window, hiding his grin. "I mean, I knew you'd say yes."
"How did you know?" Harry asks.
"Harry," Louis says, squeezing the back of his neck gently, pinching the scruff of skin there, "when don't you do anything I ask?"
Harry's face scrunches up, a tired frown. "I do. Sometimes. Don't I?"
"Remember a week ago when I said, hey, let's go to Leeds Fest, and then you booked plane tickets without even asking anybody first?"
Harry's frown deepens. "That was different. I wanted to go too. I do say no to you."
"I mean," Louis says. "Whatever it takes to make you feel better."
"I do say no," Harry says, winding their way through sleepy little villages, the sodium-yellow lamps catching the rain and throwing up a constellation on the slick pavement. Louis laughs, and looks back at his mobile, tracing his finger down the route towards Doncaster, forty miles. "I'm fairly sure I've said no," Harry says, mostly to himself. "I'm almost certain of it."
By the time they stop on the outskirts of Doncaster to get a McDonald's breakfast, the morning has properly started. They drink muddy tea from cardboard cups, eat an order of eight hash browns and two muffins each. Harry pays for it all without even thinking, and when Louis laughs and points it out Harry tightens his lips and doesn't stop frowning until he's into his second hashbrown.
They lean against the bonnet of the car while they eat, Harry with the collar of his green coat snapped up and Louis with his hood up and the drawstrings tied in a bow. The rain has mostly stopped, but the wind is cold and a thick sheet of cloud plasters the sky, gunmetal-grey and flat and stretching out forever, dulling the edges of the world with mist.
"Proper Yorkshire morning," Louis says, letting his accent come in a bit thicker. Like riding a bike, really. "My fingers are numb and your nose is red and isn't it nice to have a proper mug of builder's tea, huh?"
"Two months ago," Harry said, between bites of his bagel. "You asked me to switch seats on the plane so you could bother Liam and do his crossword over his shoulder and I said no."
Louis laughs. "Because the air hostess told you to sit down while we were taxiing."
"But I didn't switch once we got in the air," Harry says.
"Because I fell asleep on Zayn's shoulder."
Harry frowns, sweetly grumpy as he bites off the corner of a hashbrown. "I did say no, you just weren't listening."
Louis glances at his watch, crumples up his rubbish and tosses it into the bin. "C'mon. Mum will be up by seven. We can go now."
"No," Harry snaps, ketchup at the corners of his mouth, his eyes narrowed in a pathetic little snit. "There."
Louis smiles, slides up next to Harry, petting his hair gently, getting in nice and close to his ear. Louis forces himself not to laugh when Harry nudges into the touch, his eyes fluttering half-closed. "Big warm bed. We can sleep until noon and then mum can make us bacon butties. Watch a film, drink some tea, lie in through the rainy afternoon?"
Harry tries not to change his expression, just stares straight ahead to the rush of the motorway fizzing on the wet roads, all concrete and metal and mud, the world made dull in the overcast. Louis knows what comes next, he knows how to play this game with Harry; the gift of a warm little room and a bit of sleep and blankets curled up in a nest. Since they first met it had always been more than Harry could resist, even when he's trying so hard to prove a point. "Fine," Harry says from between clenched teeth, his expression solidly unchanging. "Okay."
"What's that?" Louis asks innocently.
"Yes, fine, all right," Harry says sighing but there's a hint of a smile there when he turns away from Louis, digging his keys out of his pocket.
They pull up at half seven in the morning, parking neatly next to the Range Rover Louis bought his mum for her birthday. It's the same old house Louis remembers with an automatic smile, neat and tidy with its knee-high white fences and neatly kept gardens and stately red brick exterior. Louis can see movement in the kitchen window, his mum putting on her coffee for the morning and toasting her usual two slices of bread. It fills Louis up with nostalgia, everything suddenly relaxing under a meditative breath.
"Leave the stuff in here for now," Louis says, stretching as he gets out of the car. "Let me have a look at you first." Harry laughs, but he stands up tall in front of Louis. Louis bites on his tongue as he goes about unmaking Harry a bit: ruffling up his hair, rumpling his collar, undoing the two buttons of his polo shirt. The natural mess of Harry, the one his mum ought to know. "There, you look presentable now."
Louis knocks on the front door and stands back, his hands shoved into his jeans pockets and a look of smiling sheepishness.
"It isn't," Jay says, opening the door wide. "I don't believe it."
Louis falls into his mum's arms pretty full-on, a big clenching hug. He wraps his arms around her and breathes into her shoulder, smelling her in shades so familiar it makes his chest tighten up, that mix of fabric softener and sweet tea and, just, mum. She holds on for a long time, and he knows she's doing her best not to cry, and it bunches in a knot in Louis' throat as he realises he's trying not to as well. She says some half-things in his ear, all messed up attempts at Louis and I love you and what are you doing here. It's like something has been taken away; a heavy shield Louis never remembered putting up, the half-truth of his newly public life, the adopted swagger turning to gawky mischief and sweetness and needing his mum. Louis knows Harry is watching them, but it doesn't seem to matter. When Louis pulls away, Harry's smile is dimpled and Louis has to look away for a second.
"Harry," Jay says warmly, bringing him in for a hug too, rubbing his back. "I wish you'd told me," she says, releasing Harry and looking pointedly at Louis.
"Thought we'd say hello," Louis says, hands back in his pockets.
"I'm sorry –" Harry starts.
"No, not you, Harry," she says, patting Harry's shoulder as she turns back on Louis. "Drop out of the blue, why don't you?" It's meant to be scolding, but her heart doesn't seem to be in it.
"We're going to Leeds Fest tomorrow," Louis says, and he knows, just from his face, that Harry is loving how sheepish and cowed Louis sounds right now. "We were in the neighbourhood after all. Wanted to come see you."
Jay shoots him a look like, I see what you're trying to do here. She smiles, though. "So, you two are here for the night?"
Louis grins uncertainly. "Yes?"
"Right, well, get your bags inside. I wish you'd told me sooner, I could have made up the spare room."
"Mum, we live together," Louis says, catching the keys that Harry tosses at him and opening the boot. "We've been living on a tour bus. We lived for months in a tiny room with three other boys. He doesn't need the spare room."
"You know," Jay says, "I've seen it and all, but I still don't believe you actually own a flat. I mean, you're only twelve, Louis."
Louis goes pink, and Harry is silently laughing at him from over his mum's shoulder. Louis grits his teeth behind a forced smile, and he draws one finger across his throat, which just makes Harry laugh harder.
It's the noise of his mum hoovering downstairs that wakes Louis up, in his old bed, in his old room, at one in the afternoon. The thin curtains are drawn over the small window, suffusing the room in pale silvery light, the pattern of the lacy drapes casting leopard spots of shadow up against the walls. Louis is still dressed in his jeans and hoodie, and he's curled up in three different blankets he's half-sharing with Harry, their tug of war ending in a coil of nested afghans and quilts and duvets. Harry sleeps through it easily, his legs wrapped up in the blankets and naked to the waist, mouth open and snoring softly.
Louis' bedroom is exactly how he left it a year ago. The wall of Manchester United and Spider-Man posters; a Top Gear calendar from 2009; pictures of Stan and his sisters and his mum in shabby wooden frames he made in year two; the pinboard stuffed through with a riot of colourful labels from old beer bottles, the rainbow of Absolut vodka flavours like a mosaic of old parties and drunken mistakes (lemon vodka the night he woke up in an airport, green apple when he went skinny dipping in the reservoir on bonfire night); a scatter of ticket stubs and tyvek bracelets from fairs and concerts. The single trophy he managed to wrestle out of the one school he wasn't excluded from (Football, participation) stands on top of a tower of old books, the usual English class fare of 1984 and Lord of the Flies tucked in with his favourites, The Count of Monte Cristo and Jeeves and Wooster. Even his little stuffed lion is there, sitting on top of the bureau.
It's more than just the things, though. All the years before the fame, all the memories of the fuck-ups and riots and crime seem to be plastered up on the walls like film posters, too. Falling into this bed dead drunk, having sex with his girlfriend for the first time, jerking off at three in the morning, vomiting lager and curry into his wastebasket at dawn after a Friday night footie game, accidentally ripping off the door during a party while his mum was away, punching a hole through the wall and getting six stitches for his efforts. Louis didn't know what to expect coming home after nine months, but it wasn't quite this, never thought it would be so heavy on his mind. He thought it might have all been a bit easier to deal with, something to remember fondly and joke about – here's the spot where I first learned to go down on a girl, here's where Stan projectile vomited out the window – instead of having it come back to him like a slap across the face, shocking in how easily he can be made to feel sixteen again.
"Nice being home?" Harry asks, startling Louis back to him. Harry's eyes are half-opened, looking at Louis from across the pillow. He yawns widely, wiping spit from his mouth with the back of his hand, his lips rosy pink.
Louis manages a little half-smile, wrapped up in his blankets that smell exactly as they did his whole childhood, in a room that's been preserved like an archaeological dig. "It's nice seeing mum. This feels – exactly the same as it used to. It's weird."
Harry nods, a sleepy gesture with his hair in his face, his expression slow and warm. "I know the feeling. Was like that when I went back too. Like you're right back to who you were before."
"But it doesn't really feel like home," Louis says, playing with the frayed hem of a crocheted afghan. "Well, it does, a little. Just, like, an old one." Louis rolls his bottom lip between his teeth for a moment, Harry watching him curiously. "Our place feels more like home to me now, I guess. This feels like visiting a different life."
Harry nods appreciatively, his lips turning up at the corners. "I thought so too."
They lie like that for another hour, the drone of the hoover downstairs like the hum of a plane's engines. They share the blankets instead of fighting for them this time. Harry pulls out his iPhone and starts looking up the set lists for the three days of Leeds Fest, cross-referencing times and artists they really want to see. Sometimes they need to play a quick game of rock-paper-scissors to decide an outcome (Louis wins The Strokes, Harry wins Elbow) and sometimes it's decided by how long Louis can punch Harry in the same place on his arm before he gives in and they decide to see Panic at the Disco.
Jay pokes her head in just after two. "I thought the hoover might get you up."
"So that's where he gets it," Harry says, locking his phone and sliding it onto Louis' nighttable. He rolls onto his back after that, his head very near Louis', his bare chest rising in a sigh and his skin very pale under the thin light.
"I learned from the very best," Louis says, grinning at his mum. "We're a family who gets their way."
Jay watches them for a moment without saying anything, looking between Harry and Louis as her expression softens. She has the same look on her face when she watches Louis sing, the look she gets right before she ruffles Louis' hair and calls him her beautiful boy and best friend. Her eyes crinkle at the corners, smile shifting down into this sweet little moue.
"Mum?" Louis asks pointedly into the silence. "Did you want something?"
"Right, Harry," Jay says, blinking and then smiling normally again. "How do you take your tea?"
"Black, please," Harry says, smiling brightly.
"Easy to remember. Still milk and two sugars, Lou?"
"Milk, no sugar," Louis mumbles.
"You're rubbing off on him," Jay says to Harry, with what Louis thinks is a rather mean laugh, actually. "I used to have to talk him down from four sugars." She closes the door when she leaves.
The silence is agony. "Don't –" Louis says.
"The sheer amount of shit you give Liam for putting sugar in his tea –"
Louis closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose. "Really, don't. I knew this would happen."
"I put one – one! – teaspoon of sugar in my tea and you said I ruined it and poured it into my cereal," Harry says, turning on his side to look at Louis, his smile disbelieving, his eyes wide and vicious. "You are the most unbelievable –"
"– I was young!"
"– terrible, dozy, feckless –" Harry continues, edging towards Louis in the bed, his hands creeping up along the comforter and sliding towards Louis' ribs. "I'm going to tell everyone."
"Don't you –" Louis says, and the rest is shouting laughter as Harry jumps on top of him and scrabbles at his ribs, poking his fingers with deadly aim into the spots on Louis' sides that Harry fucking swore he would never use for evil.
Dragging the blankets from the bedroom, Harry and Louis set themselves up on the living room couch, burying themselves under a mountain of cushions and duvets. The rain is coming down pretty hard now, the day so thick with clouds they need to flick on the table-side lamps, the warm light giving the house this cocooned and isolated feel, like they've been shut in by a blizzard. Harry ends up lying between Louis' legs, resting his head on Louis' chest, but who can tell under all the covers, their two bedheads poking out of the sea of mismatched colours. They find Dr. No on TV, and sip their steaming tea, Harry making eyebrows and elbowing Louis in the stomach when Ursula Andress walks out of the sea like Venus from the half-shell.
Mid-way through, Harry rolls off of Louis, digging his way out of their mess. Standing tall, Harry yawns and his shirt rides up, revealing his navel, the elastic of his briefs low on the shadowed ridges of his hips. Louis stretches and pokes his stomach; Harry oomphs appropriately and grins.
"Hungry?" Jay asks, looking up from her book and cup of coffee as Harry walks into the adjoining kitchen.
"A little," Harry says. "If you show me the bread I'll just make myself some toast."
"We've got roast beef in the fridge, I could make you something. Go, sit," Louis hears his mum say, the scrape as she slides her chair out.
"We could make it together?" Harry says, and Louis knows the exact smile Harry is giving, that one he reserves to make people melt, the one that makes him strangers' favourites.
"Oh, you're very good at that," Jay says, her laugh bright and high, and Louis is incredibly proud of his mum in that moment. "Very well done. A ten for execution, really."
Louis half-watches the movie, most of his attention focused on Harry and his mum working in the kitchen. They laugh and joke comfortably, their talk mingling with the BBC broadcast they've got playing quietly on the radio. Louis hears his name come up a few times, old stories that make Harry laugh outrageously, and new ones that make his mum tsk and chuckle. Louis lies there, sleepy and warm and buzzing, his grin an unshakeable thing, a deeply private and pressing grin that he buries in his blankets as they talk about him, Louis listening to himself being loved in voices bruised with fondness and laughter. He curls his toes and, not for the first time, wants this moment to linger as long as it can, to stretch out for hours just like this, the best threads of his life knitting together tight and warm.
Harry comes back with a plate of roast beef sandwiches and sliced tomato and baby carrots, which earns him a punch right in the thigh. Harry crawls back into their molehill of fleece and cotton, lying back in Louis' lap with the plate balanced on his chest. Harry arches his head back, the full swath of his throat pale and marked by freckles like spattered ink, and he gives Louis this scrunchy little smile, all pleased and teasing. That earns him a gentle slap, and then a harder one.
"Louis," Jay intones from the kitchen. "Be nice."
"She used to like me best," Louis mutters, which only makes Harry grin wider.
Just before dinnertime, as the movie is ending, Jay excuses herself to go pick up the twins from a friend's house. Jay keeps Louis' visit a surprise, and it's only when Daisy and Phoebe walk inside and see Louis sitting on the couch with Harry that they find out. Their screams are a perfect high C as they crawl over the back of the furniture and fall around Louis, hugging him from either side. Jay laughs and starts to make dinner, humming to herself, and Louis puts his arms around the both of them, his twin sisters mirroring each other as they bury their faces into the crooks of Louis' shoulders.
Harry changes seats, moves to the armchair across the room, sitting there cross-legged and pretending to watch the news while glancing over at Louis every now and then, flashing him a laughing smile
Dinner is loud and full and familiar, the way it used to be, big shared dishes that they spoon for themselves, Louis resisting the urge to start flinging balls of creamed spinach across the table. Lottie and Fizzie come in just as dinner is served, welcoming Louis with quieter hugs and happy little pokes in his sides as they come in from the rain, bringing with them the smell of rain and grass cuttings and wild and muddy weather that gets shut out behind them, tucked back into their little nest of copper lamplight and rain pouring against the windows.
Harry sits next to Louis at the table, a quick pat on his thigh hello as Harry's eyes light up in the way Louis knows means he's really enjoying himself. It's amazing how quickly Harry fits into their rhythm, Louis' family opening ranks just a bit to make a spot for him, adopting Harry easily as one of their own. Harry works himself seamlessly into the conversation, keeping up with the jokes and even taking a few jabs at Louis of his own. If Louis wasn't feeling so warm and full he would hit him, instead he just laughs with the rest of them, eats his shepherd's pie, and wills the hours to slow down again, just a little bit.
They get an early night, turning in at ten o'clock. Louis insists on it, which makes Jay touch his forehead with a look of mock concern. Louis rolls his eyes as he kisses her cheek goodnight, Harry giving her a brief hug too. After a barrage of sisters, of good nights and hugs and promises to see them again soon, Louis and Harry make it through the family and into Louis' room, closing the door behind them, the both of them suddenly swallowed into silence and darkness.
"Well, you survived," Louis says.
Harry pulls off his t-shirt, tosses it on the floor. "Your family are really lovely. I mean, I say that every time I see them. But they really are."
"I know," Louis says. "Loud and ridiculous. You fit right in." He starts to dig through his dresser, finds some old pyjama bottoms of brushed blue cotton and he changes into them quickly. When he turns around, Harry has his back to him and he's studying Louis' pinboard curiously. His hand just brushes over the vodka labels, rippling and shining under his fingers. "Stan calls that the Wall of Pain," Louis explains.
"These are all yours?" Harry says quietly, rifling through the different coloured Absoluts like a flipbook.
"Yeah," Louis says on a breath. "Stan has his labels in his room. It was our thing."
"There's a lot of them," Harry says, his voice studiously even.
Louis crawls into his bed and lies on his back, his hands behind his head. "I guess so." Louis pauses on that. He knows the questions Harry is very deliberately not asking, the way he's still trying to piece together the old picture of Louis' life from the bits he's begun collecting like butterflies pinned in a glass case. There are a lot of vodka labels, and a lot of drunken nights strung together and filled with heat and wildness and uncertainty, skiving off school with a flask and a handful of friends and trying to figure shit out that refused to be found. Harry stands there, like he's counting each one, and suddenly Louis really wishes he wouldn't. "It was a mad couple of years. Just a strange time, I guess."
Harry nods slowly, and he finally turns away from the corkboard. He looks at Louis calmly, a smile propped up in the corner of his mouth. "I like seeing you with your family," he says finally, dropping the unasked questions as he flicks open the button of his jeans, stepping out of them. He slides in bed next to Louis, flinging an arm out to rub Louis' stomach lazily. "They make you seem all little and young. I like it."
"I'm not little," Louis says, scooting over to give Harry some room.
"They're almost as tall as you," Harry says.
"Fuck, they are, aren't they?" Louis says under his breath.
"When do you want to get up tomorrow?" Harry asks. He curls over in bed, his back to Louis, but his legs kick under the blankets and tangling against Louis' own. Cold bare feet, ice really, and Louis traps them between his own. Harry takes his phone from the nighttable and queues up his alarms.
"Six, I guess?" Louis says.
"All right," Harry says.
"You ought to come over more often," Louis murmurs, thinking of the way his family so simply shifted and changed and took Harry in, as familiar as breathing. It all felt so easy, this whole day, like it could happen and again and again without even trying.
"I'd like that," Harry says.
"Me too," Louis says quietly. "Nice having another boy around the house."
Harry sleeps and Louis doesn't. He stays up, buzzing and awake and too alive for sleep, and he stares up at his bedroom ceiling and imagines the starlight blocked by shingles and plaster, counting Harry's slow breaths like sheep.
Louis can feel himself get drawn back into his old life with hot gravity, his body all of sixteen again and the fidgeting mess of who he used to be. The strangest thing is Harry, Harry is sleeping next to him in his old bed under the shadows of his old life, and it feels so different than it ever has before. It's not the easy sleep they got used to on tour, passing out on each other in a tangle of easy limbs that starts a passive little joke with their minders about cuddle buddies, people laughing fondly at them as they bundled themselves under blankets in cold greenrooms around the world. This is another beast entirely.
There's a tugging weight here, these strange and violent feelings in the hollows of Louis' chest, a sharp and sudden want for more. It feels like something so different, this night right here, like an answer to an old nagging question Louis kept forgetting to ask himself. Louis' always known what it's like to love Harry, but right now it almost doesn't seem like it's enough. Harry is up all close to him right now, sleeping and calm, a fucked up mess of curls, his naked chest and it's on a sudden pang of fear that Louis realises that he wants, no, fuck it, needs to keep Harry in his life. Needs Harry to saturate it, stupid little trips to the grocer's and drunken nights and Christmas dinners, just more and more of this boy he knows he loves like a bonfire. He just – he needs it.
Sometime during the night, Harry rolls over in dreams, folds up close to Louis. His right arm curls over Louis' bare stomach, and holds him loosely. Louis sucks in a tight breath, lets it go, and Harry is still there.
There's a pot of coffee brewing when Harry and Louis come downstairs the next morning. It's not yet dawn, but Louis' mum is there in her bathrobe and bare feet, making them eggs on toast and listening to the quiet drone of the radio. No one talks much, and Louis keeps nodding off, almost smashing his head into the kitchen table. Harry pets Louis' mussed hair, sleepy and fond.
Louis hugs his mum goodbye, and Harry does too. She touches Louis' face and gives him a kiss on his cheek. A look passes through her eyes right then, the same one from the day before, that inner glow of pride that seems to radiate from nowhere and for no reason. Louis sees the same look again when she hugs Harry goodbye.
The drive up to Leeds is quiet. They watch the world wake up together, streetlights flickering out as the sun starts to rise behind the clouds, early morning commuters sparse on the road, the sleepy traffic making its way downtown. The rain stopped sometime last night, but the roads are still shiny with wet, a fine mist clouding up around them. They listen to Coldplay, Parachutes on Harry's demand, and they laugh when they accidentally harmonize together about how it was all yellow.
"You ready for this?" Harry says, studying the road carefully as he merges under the sign pointing the way to Leeds.
"I am electric," Louis says, pronouncing the words sharp and bright. He tilts back his seat, kicks his feet up on the dashboard, and grins over at Harry. "We're going to get so fucked up, aren't we?"
Harry laughs, and his smile is a little mad. Leaving home, as much as Louis loves his mum, still feels as sneaky and delinquent and beautiful as it ever did, being left on his own like a permission to do bad things. The day comes alive then, windows cranked down and Louis switching to the Black Keys and blaring them loud, the both of them shaking off sleep and cozy homes like wet dogs as they drive north to ruin. The sticky feeling of being sixteen is still itching in Louis' mind, and it makes the world seem violent with noise and colour and rich, vicious potential. Louis slaps Harry's thigh, hard, and receives the sharp shout of laughter and pain he wanted to hear.
When the clouds break halfway towards Leeds, everything actually does go all fucking yellow.
Leeds Fest is a glorious mess when they arrive, only half eight in the morning but the traffic to the field is unmoving, people already yelling and shouting as they walk towards the stage, arms swinging with bottles of beer and joints lit up, the air through their rolled down windows already rich and salty with weed and mud.
Harry finds a parking spot fifteen minutes from the stage. Lugging their tent and bags out of the back, they make the pilgrimage with about thirty other people, all of them in scarves and sunglasses and dirty plaid. It's overcast but Harry wears his sunglasses and his wellies, and he can't resist jumping in the puddles as they walk on. Twice Louis almost shoves him in one, but Harry gains his footing and laughs a loud bark, shoving Louis back.
No one recognizes them really, but then they're not the rockstars here. They're just the crowd, just lads really, only a part of the danger. They're surrounded by laughter, and early morning cigarettes, girls with dreadlocks and neck tattoos riding their boyfriends in a piggyback up to the fields. There's this rogue feel to it all, a commune, a gathering of dirty artists and wayward young losers like them. They're the kind of people Harry fits in with so quickly, the kind of people that Louis wants to share drinks with and become best friends for a single night.
Louis can already feel himself drawn in to the crowd, drawn into Harry with his fucking headphones around his neck, drawn to Harry in a way he never has before. It's so much more than just sharing a private weekend with him, it's sharing a chance to take a bite out of the world. Louis can feel the morning stiffness fade away as the excitement in his gut starts to get him wild and rowdy, this short trip up north reminding him that it can't possibly get better than this: a bottle of vodka in his bag, a boy by his side, a tent over his shoulders, and the promise of a truly glorious disaster he's been craving for months.
Louis jumps up on Harry's shoulders, a crazy angle with his knapsack there, just a glancing blow as they both stumble away. Louis can feel himself turn on, absolutely everywhere, his blood flowing hot and loud in his ears. He needs to get it out somehow– he punches Harry in the shoulder, getting high on it like everyone else. It might be too early for it but the whole world seems to be buzzing, quaking with them and the distant noise of crowds waking up to beer for breakfast.
Harry has this grin that he can't wipe off his face, obviously feeling the same hum of the world as Louis. "You ever thought we would –"
"No way," Louis says, doesn't even need to hear the rest, knows exactly what Harry means. "It's wild, man. It's mad. Why did anyone ever let us do this? How did they think this would be a good idea?"
Harry laughs, his grin gone wicked. "I mean, we ought to make a pact now, shouldn't we?"
Louis raises his eyebrows, hoisting his gear up on his shoulders again. "What kind?"
"Say yes to everything," Harry says, the new sun freed from the clouds glinting in gold on his aviators. "Do what we want. Squeeze out every drop of this weekend. Remember it when we're old and think of how great we used to be."
"Used to be?" Louis says, squeezing the back of Harry's neck, the both of them matching the quick march-step of the other concert-goers and their triumphal entry into Jerusalem, smoke and vomit and punk.
"Agreed, then?" Harry asks. Louis has seen Harry delighted about a lot of things, but none of it matches how Harry looks now, this mad freedom like he's got three days left to live and he intends to enjoy every second of it. His hair is a sweep of schoolboy curls, the new sun drawing freckles out of his skin, his hand slinking around Louis' waist, and he's exactly the kind of person you'd want to ruin things with.
"Agreed," Louis says, wrenching his arm around Harry's neck, knocking their heads together gently. "We going to burn it down, babe?"
Harry laughs. His lips are flushed and his sunglasses have slid down his nose and he grins hugely at Louis, a grin like Bonnie might have given Clyde. "To the ground, Louis."
They start drinking before they even try to set up their tent, already a good fuck it worth of vodka and Red Bull in their old coffee cups, the dregs making everything taste bitter and burnt. Louis has the assembly instructions in one hand and his drink in the other, acting foreman as Harry wrestles with the metal skeleton of the frame, poles spilling out of his hands and crashing on the ground.
"It's all colour-coded, see," Louis says lazily, pushing the sunglasses he stole from Harry up the bridge of his nose. "Red pole into red flap, yellow into yellow. It's not that hard."
"Come and – help, then," Harry says, struggling to find the corresponding pieces, already one drink in before it hits ten in the morning. He manages to track down two blue pieces that he slides together, shooting a triumphant grin at Louis.
Louis sips his drink, a giddy little breakfast buzz that sharpens his smirk. "Well done, love. You know your colours."
As Harry slides the pole into the flap he manages to tear a nice long gash into the nylon tent, spearing the pole through the canvas. "Don't," Harry whispers, keeping his back to Louis.
Louis takes another sip of his drink. "Colours and shapes yes, but the motor skills need work. We're going to have to hold you back a year –"
"Shut it –"
"Didn't mean burn it to the ground literally," Louis says.
"You're loving this, aren't you?"
Louis laughs, draining his vodka and Red Bull and old coffee. "I really, really am."
Harry stands up from his crouch, pushes back his tangle of hair and takes his cup from the holder of his fold-up chair, drinking it down in one and staring at the mess of a half-tent he's got started. "Why am I the only one building this?"
"Hey, it was your thing," Louis intones, taking Harry's empty cup from him and filling it with a half-inch of vodka and a splash of Red Bull, putting back into his waiting hand. "Say yes to everything, say yes to every adventure. So, there you go, Harry. Build a tent. Say yes to this adventure. Squeeze the juice out of life, but come on, man, you've got fourteen more steps and I'm getting hungry."
"How did I get like this," Harry says, going back to the pile of poles on the ground, now slick with cold mud, "when did you do this to me?"
"What did I do?" Louis says, saccharine sweet.
Harry pauses for a moment, thinking it over and scrunching up his face and hissing out a sigh. "What's the next step, then?"
Louis smiles. "Put some poles together and build me a tent, man."
They have a muddy little plot towards the edges of the field, far from the stages but fairly private. Everyone who got here the night before is spending the morning sleeping off their hangovers or soaking up the booze with fried food while the latecomers struggle with their tents. A dozen different radios play a dozen different songs, a frantic mash-up of MGMT and Arcade Fire and Bloc Party, the occasional burst of laughter or shouting breaking through, the air ringing with a growing buzz as the sun creeps higher in the sky.
Harry finishes the tent, more or less, by eleven. It's a rickety little thing, a pyramid of nylon and metal poles, but it's theirs. They stuff it with their knapsacks and sleeping bags, a couple of bottles of vodka, some survival packets of crisps and sweets, barely enough room left for two people to stretch out comfortably. The canvas filters the light furiously red inside, flaming on Harry's skin like a klaxon, turning his hair copper and his grin devilish.
"Good?" Harry asks, unrolling his sleeping bag next to Louis', propping up his rucksack for a makeshift pillow.
Louis kneels on his own sleeping bag, his hands on his hips as that burst of joyful panic careening against his chest again. There's a lot of stuff Louis suddenly wants to say, a lot of dumb and sincere things Liam would say about building a little nest away from home, a glowing red cave made up by Harry's big hands from metal and fabric, and what it means to share this weekend like a cigarette, passed back and forth between dirty fingers and dry lips. Instead, it all comes out in a laugh and Louis pushes Harry roughly to the ground, grinning down at him and pinching his cheeks fondly.
"Food?" Harry says, his grin getting tugged wider as Louis pulls at his cheeks.
The crowds and queues are long, winding out like veins from the nerve center of the concert, cluttered under the rising cloud of cigarette and weed smoke that hangs like a fug in the air. They follow the noise like breadcrumbs, and Louis shakes Harry by the shoulders as they wander towards an early lunch.
"All right, Lou?" Harry asks, that same grin that can't even be slapped from his face.
"It's crazy," Louis says. "I keep trying to force myself to slow down so I can remember everything, I wanna remember everything like a picture. You with that stupid jacket I'm going to steal when I get cold, those fit girls over there, the way everything smells, how my cheeks fucking hurt already."
Harry rolls his bracelet around his wrist, licks his upper lip like he's tasting the air. There's something like ozone in the wind, that sharp tang before lightning hits. "And I want to remember you like this," Harry says, shoving his shoulder, "you're like a child dizzy on lemonade."
The vodka is already coursing through Louis like liquid light, burning him up from the inside. And there are these fucking fabulous waves of cheers coming off the stage as the set-up begins and the lonely twangs of guitar being tuned are launched over the fields. Everything just seems to glow, it really does, and Louis grabs Harry in a hug around his back, needs to share at least some of his own shouting heart. The both of them stagger awkwardly from side to side as they walk, tied together, unwilling to break apart as they make their way to the backs of the lines for a nearby chippie. Louis' never loved being an ordinary stupid teenage fuck more than right now, hearing Harry laugh, hearing the howls of the crowd like a wolf finding his pack.
Lunch is lager and haddock and chips and more lager, wandering around the festival, flitting from stage to stage and watching as roadies set up the equipment for the first acts of the day. Tall pillars of speakers flank each side of the stage, the spider's web of scaffolding in heavy iron triangles and rigging, the hum of an amp being tested. It's funny seeing it from this side, a stage being set up that he isn't expected to sing on, Louis and Harry just blending into the background to watch people prep drum-kits, a rack of guitars in six different colours, piercing feedback slicing through the air as pedals get taped down under mic stands.
And then they get more beer, one in each raised hand as they weave through the crowd, their minds fuzzy and their boots squelching in mud, the two of them swallowed up in the crowd as the first band starts to play.
Early in the evening, with the sun crashing down and bleeding out pink and orange and Interpol pounding out the kind of music that starts avalanches, Louis gets handed the first joint he's smoked in a year. He's been dancing near a tall boy for the last hour, and after some bumped shoulders that turn to laughter and lazy handslaps and a minute of trying to yell their names over the noise, he gets passed a neatly rolled joint, ember already burning hot, and a hearty slap on the back.
The guy's name is Kasun, and he's got an LA Kings snapback, a white satin jacket with a yellow scorpion embroidered on the back, and a curling skull and flowers tattoo that crawls up his neck from under his collar. He can't be older than twenty, thin and tall, stoned and friendly. He doesn't know who Louis is, or at least he doesn't care. It's that weird kind of music thing that Louis loves best, half-drunk and immediate best friends with everyone just because you're sharing the same exact moment, the same feeling clenched in your chest, just pumping to the music and sweating even though it's getting cold. Careful joints traded back and forth, clouds of smoke in the air.
Louis has a finger linked in Harry's belt loop, and he pulls him near to share the smoke. He ends up with one arm around Harry's waist and the other around Kasun's shoulders. They both watch with a grin as Louis takes his first drag. It fills his mouth, tasting of dirt and tar and metal. Quick little hits and he keeps it tight in his lungs, letting it go in a thin stream only when he's gasping for a breath.
Good? Kasun mouths, buried by the music.
Louis nods and passes it back to him. Kasun takes a neat little breath of smoke, puffs it out in shaky rings, and leans over Louis to hand it to Harry.
Harry takes the joint and looks from it to Louis, a look of confusion, who is he?, and Louis just shrugs and grins. Harry looks doubtfully at the joint and back to Louis, raising his eyebrows like one final question.
He's cool, Louis pantomimes very deliberately so Harry can lipread. Louis jerks his head at Harry, a nodding go on, then, the flash of a wink.
Harry shrugs, corner of his mouth tilted up in a smirk. He takes a long drag, the ruby coal lighting up his face in orange, and then he blows out a smooth stream of smoke towards Louis. It smells rank, it smells great, it smells like old summer nights and stumbling parties that go on until dawn. It smells like it used to, and it smells like right now.
Louis leans forward and Harry tucks the joint between Louis' open lips. Louis takes another long drag, breathing it out, and few short hits. He smokes it and shares it with Kasun and Harry down to the nub, until the sparks stick to the backs of his eyes and the earth starts to slip-slide the other way around the sun and Louis keeps his hand tight around Harry's waist to stop from falling away.
It's just Harry and Louis, arms around waists, tucked up neat in the crowd when Elbow takes the stage. The high really hits Louis then, gets into him fully, slowing down the minutes like Louis so desperately wants. It does all the things it's supposed to, and Louis just exhales and closes his eyes and feels it run through him. It turns the air into honey, and shifts the music from sound to shapes and colours bright like when you rub your eyes too hard. Everything seems to be turned up, louder, sharper. Louis can feel every one of Harry's fingers pressing into his side, the way he drums his thumb against Louis' hip in time to the rhythm, the way he flicks his hair back and how the stage lights – purple and white – catch him.
A familiar song starts up and Louis laughs, shaking Harry at his side. "It's the one Liam loves. When you play it in the car he gets all dreamy-eyed. It's that one," he says, and he knows Harry probably can't hear him.
Harry presses his mouth to Louis' ear. "It's the one Liam loves."
Louis laughs again, slow and pleased and high. He digs his phone out of his pocket with his free hand and dials Liam's mobile.
"Hey," Liam says, and Louis can barely hear him, even with the phone pressed right onto his ear. "Louis?"
"It's that one!" Louis shouts into the receiver.
Louis can just hear Liam laugh. "I can barely hear you, Louis."
"Wait, just, listen," Louis says.
"Are you drunk?"
"Very!" Louis says. He raises his phone in the air. The screen is bright, a modern day lighter, and he holds it up as high as he can. Harry laughs and tucks his head into Louis' shoulder. They stand there swaying, holding up the mobile, the music blasting over them, Harry giggling and riding his high like a kid, leaning into Louis' shoulder to laugh against his skin, his eyes squinting perfectly, his hair a mess, his mouth on Louis' throat.
Louis holds the phone up for the whole song, his arm getting sore and people bumping into him and Harry almost totally unable to peel himself away, propped up against Louis' side and laughing until his cheeks are wet.
At the end of the song, Louis yells into the phone, Liam laughing on the other end. "That's the one you like, right?"
"Yeah!" Liam says brightly. "Having a good time?"
"Fucking perfect, man."
"Aw, good," Liam says, and Louis can just picture his stupid little smile, that sweetly condescending tone he gets when he's dealing with Louis when he's drunk. Liam had seemed genuinely delighted when Harry announced their plans to go to Leeds Fest, patting Louis on the back, telling him to go for it, that he deserves – needs – the time off. He doesn't quiet catch what Liam says next, but he hears the end: "and tell Harry I say hi."
"I love him," Louis yells, poking Harry in the side to get his attention. He's just saying it, and he knows it's true, so he just says it again. "I really love him."
"I know you do," Liam says fondly, almost lost in the rush of the crowd's applause. "Oh, I know you do, Louis."
"I love you, too."
Liam laughs again. "Drink lots of water, Lou. Eat some chips before bed."
"You didn't say it back."
"I love you too," Liam says. "The song was lovely. I miss you, by the way."
"Fucking better," Louis says. "Night, Liam."
"Sleep well, rockstar."
"What'd he say?" Harry asks as Louis pockets his phone again.
"He says he knows," Louis yells as the next song starts. "I said I really love you a lot and he said he knows I do. I really do, too." Louis laughs at himself, the tangle of words, how he wants to feel this stupid forever. It's not like drifting away or being detached, getting this blitzed, it's more like getting stuck in everything like rope and yarn, getting tangled in the things you thought you had all sorted out into neat little piles. It's like tripping over all the awkward and true bits of yourself, fucking up your neatly organized life, and laughing because what else are you supposed to do. "He also said hi."
Harry grins, such a big and wide open grin, and he tucks Louis in nearer to his side. "What a dickhead," Harry says, and Louis cracks up.
"You didn't say it back," Louis says, still laughing, thumping Harry hard in the ribs.
"Do I ever need to?" Harry says, squeezing Louis' shoulder again. "Don't you always know?"
The night shifts and shivers, beats loud enough to resonate in the hollows of Louis' chest, a half moon breaking through the clouds. Louis is still so fucked up, on weed and booze and especially music, and his body is taut and humming like a piano wire. He has an arm thrown around Harry's shoulders, the other around a stranger he crashes into, laughing and bumping fists and loving each other for a minute. Louis catches the night in a very wide net, taking sips from strangers' flasks, smoking the ends of other peoples' cigarettes, finding his own way to be truly out of his mind. A new joint burned down to the end, his fingertips singed, a great cloud of smoke rising over his head.
The time is long and loud, and Louis is drawn back into the crowd, taking Harry by hand. The night might be cold, but he's a fucking furnace, burning like a bonfire. Louis pulls off his shirt, and it's lost almost immediately, torn away from his hand until he's barechested, jumping with the crowd. For the first time in years, it's totally too much, perfectly too much.
Harry is there like a wingman, following him on every step, shot for shot and cigarette for cigarette. He lets Louis peel off his shirt even though it's too cold, holding his arms up to let it happen. He closes in next to Louis obediently, trapping his bare arms around Louis' waist like he has the entire night, relinking their chain and dragging him to bounce together into the next song.
"Don't lose me," is all Harry says after all that. His hips are shadowed, his chest sweat-slick and lit up in the blues and reds of the stage, his smile ecstatic. "Can't lose you."
"Naw," Louis says. The electricity is still vibrant, tingling along his arms and legs. So he doesn't.