• 19.5 ~ Hold My Breath
Perrie had begged off on the grounds that a three-to-three ratio of Arsenal players versus normal people tilted the odds in favour of too much talk about football, whereas Zayn had happily tagged along. If Louis had been slightly nervous about how the lot of them would combine, it would have been unnecessary, Niall made a comment about some shitty cooking show, Harry jumped in with his own view, and they were off.
“Did you just introduce Niall to someone who humors his food obsession?” Liam asked, trepidation in his voice.
“Did you just introduce Harry to someone who humors his cooking obsession?” Zayn asked, mirroring Liam’s tone. Louis raised his glass to take a calm, leisurely sip. Set it back down. Briefly listened to Harry’s excited ramble about sea bass filet before he turned back to Zayn and Liam, giving a little shrug.
“Might have. So who’s excited for the new FIFA?”
They were kicked out of the pub three hours later, after being the last guests to linger. On the way to the closest tube station, Niall berated Louis for not having invited Harry to any matches yet.
“Did he tell you that he harbors an irrational dislike for our proud club?” Louis countered, and Harry’s.
“Nothing proud about it,” got lost amongst Liam and Niall expressing their outrage, their voices bouncing along the deserted road. Once they reached the tube entrance, Zayn and Harry parted with cheerful goodbyes, arms around each other, and Louis did not feel colder at to the loss of Harry’s company. Did not. He had considered offering Harry his guest room, but twice in one week might be pushing it, and with Zayn right there, it would have felt too transparent a move. The rest of them moved on towards Louis’ flat, keeping their eyes open for a cab that would take Niall and Liam home. They were silent for a short while, the gap filled only by their footsteps on the pavement and the occasional car that passed them by.
“So that was Harry,” Liam said eventually. He sounded like a teacher prompting a reluctant student to elaborate, Louis knew the tone because back then, he’d always been that reluctant student.
“So that was Harry.” He scuffed his shoe along a wall. “And I guess you both saw the way he flirted with one of the waiters. I reckon that’s my answer, right there.”
“Okay, but did he ever actually go home with someone?” Niall asked. “Did you see him? With your own two eyes and all?”
“Well.” Louis paused. “No, but it’d be impolite if he ditched me halfway through a lads night.”
“Has he ever kept a number, then?” No, Harry hadn’t. Louis would have noticed and likely done his best to ensure that Harry wouldn’t make the call, in spite of how Louis had every reason to stay the fuck out of Harry’s sex life.
“I don’t think he has, no,” Louis told Niall. Liam raised his hand to signal for a cab, then dropped it again when he realized it was taken. His dark eyebrows were drawn together.
“He stares at you rather a lot, you know? For a friend, I mean.” Something hot and heavy squirmed in Louis’ stomach. He was about to ask for details when Niall chimed in with
“It’s sort of like a creepy love stare. Really fucking intense, but also kind of sweet.” Louis stopped walking, and after a couple of seconds, both Liam and Niall noticed and drew to a halt as well. The nightly shadows didn’t allow for a close study of their faces, but that didn’t stop Louis from trying to make out their features. Crossing his arms, he dropped his voice.
“Tell me you’re not just taking the piss.”
“Wouldn’t,” Niall said, and Liam nodded earnestly.
“Not about this.” Shit, okay. Okay. Louis opened his mouth just as Liam spotted another cab, this one with the light on top switched on, and waved for it. The car swerved towards the kerb, and Niall beat Louis to the punch. Stepping close to give Louis a full-bodied hug, Niall grinned when they pulled apart.
“Harry’s ace, by the way. Not a fan of that headscarf thing he’s got going, but other than that, I wouldn’t mind him hanging around a fair bit. Try not to scare him off, yeah?”
“Not planning to,” Louis replied. He clapped Liam on the shoulder and found himself grinning without conscious thought as he wished them a good night. When he turned to continue on his path, his body felt oddly light, as though it had been wrought out of feathers and foam. Maybe. The word reverberated in his head with each step. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
As Louis’ luck would have it, the first time Harry attended one of his games was when Arsenal lost by two goals to Real Madrid. At home and sure, it was only the first leg of the semi-finals so there’d be a chance to make up for it in the return game, but it was bloody fucking Real Madrid, and the Bernabéu was a boiling pot. To paraphrase the Hunger Games, may the odds be ever in their favor, except for how they were really, really not. The locker room was filled with a silence so thick it had gained a physical presence, everyone intent on their own mundane tasks, conversation reduced to short murmurs and low, sharp comments. Louis kept to himself and tried not to dwell on passes that someone else had been too slow to turn into a goal, on three golden chances that he himself had missed. Statistics attested them with seventy percent of ball possession, but what good was that if they hadn’t been able to cash in on it? With a brief nod to Niall, Louis left the locker room. Liam was gone already, and Louis hoped he’d steer clear of Twitter tonight, sometimes, Liam had a tendency to turn to social media at the most inopportune of moments. Sliding in behind the wheel of his car, Louis considered keeping his phone off altogether. Might be best if he just went home and got some sleep, cleared his head and made a fresh start in the morning. Instead, he turned on his phone and waited for his messages to trickle in, ignoring all but one from Harry.
Harry: ): Feel like a pint? Or tell me to fuck off if you’d rather lick your wounds in private.
Louis stared at the bright screen until the letters were starting to blur in front of his eyes. The thought of returning to his dark, empty flat didn’t hold much appeal, and if the alternative consisted of Harry’s warm voice and open smile. Well. It wasn’t a tough choice.
Louis: Promise no mention of football at all ?
Louis wrote back, and Harry replied within a minute.
Harry: Did you know that the underside of a horse’s hoof is called a frog?
Louis inhaled around a chuckle.
Louis: I’ll pick you up at the corner of Benwell - Bryantwood in 10’
They left the car at Louis’ place, grabbed a couple of beers from the fridge and ended up wandering through London’s nightly roads for an hour until they crossed Westminster Bridge. With the London Eye towering behind them, they sat down at the border of the Thames, chatting quietly about everything and nothing while looking out at the lights which reflected off the water. Across the river, Big Ben glowed against the night sky. A cab deposited them back in Primrose Hill. Since it was so late that the tube had stopped running, it was a foregone conclusion that Harry would spend another night in Louis’ guest room. Twice was certainly not enough to form a pattern, but it felt dangerously familiar already, the way Harry ambled into Louis’ kitchen in the morning, sleep-mussed and droopy-lidded, the way they split the newspaper over breakfast, Louis skimming the review of yesterday’s match, not realizing he’d started to frown until Harry lightly kicked him in the shin, the way they spread a blanket on Louis’ terrace so Harry could guide them through a few easy poses. Afterwards, Harry dragged Louis along to a flea market and made energetic attempts at talking him into buying increasingly ridiculous things, a lamp shaped like a parrot, a teapot that mooed when it was lifted, books that were written in Latin but looked immensely pretty. Harry looked very pleased with himself when Louis finally laughed out loud, and Louis subsequently refused to listen to another word until he’d found them some ice cream. They had lunch at a quaint, old-fashioned café with velvet armchairs, their knees knocking together underneath the tiny table. When Harry needed to leave for work, Louis walked him to the station even though they’d see each other again in a matter of hours, for that evening’s lesson. Throughout the time they spent together, Louis spared only a few, short moments to regret yesterday’s wasted chances.
Louis single-handedly flattened Real Madrid. On Niall’s Xbox, that was.
“Just like that,” he told the sluggish air in front of his face. Everything tasted like cotton candy. “Gonna do it just like that. Aren't we gonna do it just like that, Liam?”
“Fuck’s sake, just let there be no penalty shootout,” Liam mumbled, huskier than usual, and he followed it up with a cough, passing the joint to Zayn. For a second, Louis’ brain got stuck on Zayn’s cheeks hollowing as he inhaled, his face made for fashion spreads in glossy magazines. Then Louis tipped his head back against the banister of Niall’s balcony and, on second thought, slid down further, until he was horizontal on his back. The stars above him spun in dizzying circles, and that was a bit pretty and a lot odd. Usually, the city lights ate up the stars, swallowed them whole and spit them back out. `What?´
“What what?” Harry echoed, from right next to Louis, and oh, Louis must have said that out loud. Huh. Also, the weed had deepened Harry’s voice, and that was - not okay. No. Not okay at all. Shifting closer, Louis caught one of Harry’s ankles between his feet and rubbed his toes along the bony joint. Harry turned his head to look at Louis, smiling like distant starlight, his right cheek smushed against the wooden floor and curls licking at his face. Sort of like how Louis wanted to lick at his face, come to think of it. Louis pondered the wisdom of kissing him. He snapped out of it when Niall kicked his hip, accepted the joint and pinched it between thumb and forefinger. For a syrupy slow second, he stared at the orange glow, watched it dim. When he brought it to his lips, he could feel Harry watching him. Creepy love stare, ha. Maybe. Holding Harry’s eyes, Louis inhaled around the sticky taste of burnt grass, lemon and smoke. He felt it scrape along his palate, hot in his lungs, and still Harry was looking at him, eyes big and dark under the silky cloak of night. Louis’ blood sparked with a thousand possibilities, and he wondered, if he raised his hand, would he see his veins lit up like rivulets of silvery light? If he touched Harry right now, would his fingertips leave behind tiny patches of burnt skin? Louis exhaled. With a sudden jolt, Harry looked away, and Louis felt it as a physical loss, dousing him in ice water. He hated it, hated it, wanted Harry’s attention back on him now. The night air wrapped him up in black velvet, and he wanted to be wrapped up in Harry. He took another puff and closed his mouth around the smoke, sitting up to hand the blunt to Liam.
“Hey,” Harry protested, the word as slow as sand trickling through an hourglass. “It's my turn?” Louis moved to straddle his hips. From up close, Harry looked like a charcoal sketch, like a dream that flowed past in shades of black and white. His lashes trembled when Louis settled more firmly above him, and his lips curved up with a lazy smile. Bumping their noses together, Louis waited for Harry’s lids to drift shut before he closed his mouth over Harry’s. He felt it when Harry’s lips parted, Harry drinking the smoke from Louis, and fuck, fuck. Louis pressed down with the whole weight of his body, tangled one hand in Harry’s hair and used the other to hold Harry’s chin in place, his entire being narrowing down to this very moment, to the tightness in his lungs and the warmth of Harry’s skin. A sweet kind of ache shivered down Louis’ spine, and he rolled down his hips, nudged the tip of his tongue into Harry’s mouth. With a rough twist, Harry freed himself. The world tilted on its axis, Louis blinking up at the sky when he should be blinking down at Harry. He sucked in a sharp breath, cold all over, and then Harry scrambled to his feet, away away away, like he couldn’t put enough distance between Louis and himself. Without thought, Louis reached for his foot, and Harry flinched at the touch. Oh God. Oh shit. Holy fuck, holy-
“I’m sorry,” Louis croaked. “Harry.”
“I’m bloody knackered,” Harry announced, too loud in the stillness that ebbed and swelled like the sea. His voice was gravel on wood. “Zayn, can we go? Now?” Louis’ vision swam for a moment, condensing before it expanded again, and leaden panic pressed down on his chest. He sat up, made another grab for Harry before his brain caught up and made him abandon the move. Harry was leaving, leaving with Zayn, leaving with Zayn because it was closer and he’d spend the night on the sofa of the flat Zayn and Perrie shared, and what was Louis even thinking? Why was Harry going home with Zayn when he should be going home with Louis, always going home with Louis, always and forever going home with Louis? Always, always. Harry had shoved Louis off. Louis was another Zach. His mouth tasted like salt and ashes. He closed his eyes and waited for everything to go quiet around him. Voices murmured in the distance, Zayn’s tone soothing and then Harry, sharp and urgent, Niall barking out a laugh that washed up on the shore. Fading. Liam settled next to Louis, his spicy cologne like a blanket that draped over Louis’ body. Only one set of footsteps came back. So they’d left, then. Harry and Zayn had left. Harry had left.
“Fuck,” Louis whispered, the word floating into the night like a ship that was lost to the stormy sea. He rolled onto his stomach and rested his cheek on the wooden floor, felt a warm hand settle between his shoulder blades and tried to focus on his breathing. Just like Harry had taught him.