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you've been pulling me closer

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I. BRIGHTON PIER

 

Mummy says don't go in the water without her, but it's alright to play here on the beach. She wipes sticky ice lolly remnants from Louis' fingers and gently reminds him that she has eyes on the back of her neck. (Translation: no funny business.) Louis knows this all too well, seeing as Mummy never fails to thwart his outlandish schemes. In his five years of life, he has never climbed to the top of the tallest mountain in the world, or eaten an entire Victoria sponge in one sitting. He hasn't flown from his bedroom window and he certainly has never played football professionally. Louis has approximately twelve thousand little dreams to cross off his list at any given moment and Mummy seems to think only one or two of them are possible on any given day.

To her credit, Louis' mum never discourages his dreams. She's just practical about which ones are doable in a day, and which ones take a bit longer to achieve. Flying from his bedroom window, she says, is not currently possible without hurting himself, and becoming a footballer takes more time than Louis had originally thought. Training every day, however, is something doable, Mummy tells him. Louis gives her a doable dream from his list every morning and a fantastic dream every night. On rare nights, she says the extraordinary: some of his fantastic dreams are entirely doable.

"The beach..." Louis mumbles into his pillow on one such night. Louis' mum nods thoughtfully.

A few weeks later, Louis wakes to a wonderful dream fulfilled. Mummy says they're taking a trip to Brighton.

In an effort not to spoil this dream come true, Louis doesn't run to headlong into the water like he's itching to do. Mummy is only being reasonable, after all. Louis isn't the best swimmer yet. He's in progress, though, since that's another doable dream.

Louis shrugs at the enticing waves, knowing they'll wait for him. Down the beach, he sees a little boy curled over a growing heap of rocks. As Louis ambles closer he realises the boy is routinely pushing the heap over, making explosion sounds as he goes, and little voices for the exchanged dialogue between his imaginary characters as he gathers the rocks back into formation to continue the cycle of resurrection and dramatic implosion.

"Is it a castle?" asks Louis, grinning at the boy's rocks.

"No," the boy says. "It's a spaceship! I have to be the spaceship and the aliens and the supernovas all on my own because Gemma doesn't want to play right now." The boy gives Louis a tentative smile. "D'you wanna be an alien? They're fighting the humans at the moment but I think they can make friends eventually."

Louis loves making friends. "Of course they'll be friends!" Louis gathers two armfuls of rocks as he bounces down next to the boy. "My friend Stan said I looked like an alien once," he muses as he gladly adds as many rocks as he possibly can without toppling the whole haphazard building project over. "Is Gemma your sister?"

"Yeah, she's swimming without me," the boy says, quieter now that he's looking out at the waves. He pushes his hair away from where it threatens to fall into his eyes. "The water's quite... big, you know?"

Louis faces the steadfast waves again and for the first time realises they might not look as inviting to others as they do to him. Maybe the boy sees something else in the great expanse of the sea. "It is," Louis agrees. "Mummy said I can't go in without her, so I'm here with you instead."

"Oh," says the boy, brighter now that he remembers he's not alone. "Well, I don't think you look like an alien. You look lovely." 

Louis laughs. "Thank you!" He wraps an arm around the boy's shoulders. "It's ready to push over now, yeah?"

The boy's cheek dimples with delight. "We can do the explosion together."

Mummy says having fun every day is a good dream to aspire to. Fun is so very easy with this boy, Louis thinks.

 

II. COLUMBIA ROAD FLOWER MARKET

 

Louis' mum is still asleep back at the hotel. He'd told his dad where he'd be going so Mum wouldn't worry if she woke up before Louis got back, but the whole point of this is to surprise her with a birthday bouquet, not to give her unnecessary stress. Lottie and Fizzy had begged to go with him, so he's got both hands full as they cross the road.

He won't lie: Louis doesn't know shit about flowers. All he knows is his mum loves tulips and her favourite colour changes day to day, so after consulting his sisters he decides on buying every shade of tulip that exists at the market.

"Orange is the best colour, obviously," says Fizzy, "but it's part of the rainbow and Mum likes rainbows."

A boy admiring a sunflower looks over at her suddenly. "My mum likes rainbows, too! I made her a bracelet for Mother's Day."

"It must be a Mum thing," Lottie says with a shrug. 

"Oi, I like them, too! Am I a mum?" Louis nudges her in mock outrage.

"You acted like one when I kissed Matthew," grumbles Lottie.

"Because I'd seen him snogging Emma Stevens that same day and he didn't deserve you!" Louis insists.

The boy laughs and there's a curious feeling lurking at the tips of Louis' fingerslike this has happened before, but he's sure it hasn't. He'd call it déjà vu, but this feels different somehow. The conversation isn't familiar at all, just the way the boy throws his head back: unthinkingly and contagious, charming Louis' own mouth to an endeared curve. He can't place the memory, vague as it is, but it settles buoyant in his stomach, warming him through.

"Is the sunflower for your Mum?" asks Fizzy. Louis looks to the bright flower, a sudden abashed awareness about his own smile colours his face. He's usually the one initiating conversation, not staring weirdly at strangers.

"Oh," the boys says, "no, I just like them, I guess." There's something wistful about the way he touches one of the happy petals. 

Louis is known to be restless and impetuous at times, yes, if his family and friends are to be believed. Spontaneous, his mum says fondly, before letting him walk to school with Stan leading him blindfolded by his tie, raucous laughter in their wake. But Louis has no experience whatsoever with the force that compels him to hand his mother's birthday bouquet to Lottie, dig into his trousers for his wallet, and ask the florist for two sunflowers, please.

Before his nerve vanishes, Louis presents them to the wide-eyed boy. Everything about him is curly, Louis thinks inexplicably. Even his eyelashes.

"I—" The boy takes the flowers uncertainly. "Are you sure—?"

"Of course. You deserve things you like," Louis says simply, as though he wasn't just possessed by a mysterious compulsion to give this stranger something beautiful.

"Thank you." A wondrous grin spreads over the boy's face, nourishing and sweet as spring rain. 

It isn't until later, after Mum has drowned them in hugs and kisses, that Louis remembers the boy had dimples.

 

III. O₂ APOLLO MANCHESTER

 

Harry loves The Script. His throat is raw from screaming, but his heart feels full and his bones are pleasantly tired. Someone is yelling behind him. He can't make it out at first, but the person (he thinks it's a boy) keeps yelling, and Harry unwinds his octopus grip from Gemma and swivels his head towards the sound.

"I LOVE THE SCRIPT!" comes the drunken shriek again, making Harry cackle.

"ME TOO!"

"WHAT?"

"I LOVE THE SCRIPT, TOO!"

"I LOVE THEM MORE!"

"I DON'T BELIEVE YOU."

"FIGHT ME."

"If you fight that idiot, I won't protect you," Gemma says.

Harry reconsiders. "I'M A LOVER, NOT A FIGHTER."

There are delighted hoots at this. "SO'S HE," someone else yells.

"OLI. I WILL STAB YOU IN YOUR SLEEP."

They lose each other in the crowd after that. Harry falls asleep in the car, dreaming about a strangely familiar disembodied voice and tulips.

 

IV. AUDITIONS

 

Harry can't help himself. He's quite blatantly staring, and his mum is watching him from the corner of her eye. She hasn't said anything yet, but it's only a matter of time.

"You could go say hello," says Robin, nodding over to the subject in question.

"What?" Harry's not embarrassed, and he definitely did not squeak just then. Obviously.

Mum isn't laughing at him, he knows that, but his face feels too hot and everything is awful. "Say you liked his song," she suggests.

There's a gorgeous brown haired boy in the corner surrounded by his family. Harry simply cannot go over there. He's pretty sure he'd combust on the way, anyhow. They'd find little gay pieces of him all over the venue, saying something embarrassing probably. Unthinkable.

"Whose song?" Gemma asks, returned from the loo.

"No one's!" Harry doesn't squeak again. Grabbing her hand, he flings them both forward towards the exit. "We're going now! Traffic! Someone probably needs to do their taxes!" 

In his fervour, he doesn't notice someone from the corner glancing up at the sound of his voice.

 

V. BOOTCAMP

 

His name is Louis, Harry now knows.

His name is Louis Tomlinson, and he's eighteen, and he's loud, and he's hilarious, and he's one sixteenth Belgian, and he asked to take a photo with Harry for posterity because he was so sure Harry would go through, that Harry was a star, that Harry had The X Factor.

Turns out, he doesn't.

Harry can't really see through his tears at the moment, and he has to find his mum, God, he has to tell his mum he didn't get through, how is he supposed to tell her he's not enough?

But then there's a production assistant telling him to come backstage and all he sees is his own devastation mirrored on every face there. Crushed and confused, he hears his name called and they line him up with Niall and Zayn and Liam and Louis back on stage and he wasn't built for this sort of suspense, this blistering hope eating at his insides as he tries to dampen it in case it's just more disappointment, more failure.

Turns out, together they could be enough.

They're a group now, and they're going to Judge's Houses, and Harry's so shocked he's gone numb, and then there's Louis. Louis warm and giddy in Harry's arms, whispering in his ear. "I knew it, I knew it!" he says fiercely, gripping Harry so tight it hurts. "You do have The X Factor."

Harry, breathless with relief and stunned by cosmic retribution, clings to Louis' waist. "I'm so glad I'm not alone."

 

VI. THE BUNGALOW

 

"Your step dad has sunflowers?" Louis nearly buries his nostrils in the downy brown florets, fingertips grazing the yellow petals.

Harry rubs the back of his neck, ears reddening. "I planted them."

Louis grins. "So have you green thumbs and eyes!"

"Shut up," Harry says with a roll of said eyes. "I just like them. They remind me of... I dunno, they look happy."

A dawning breaks over Louis' face. "I bought you flowers once!"

Harry blinks. "Oh my God, that was you?" Dazed laughter ripples through him. "Your sisters were staring at you like you'd gone mad."

Louis throws an arm around Harry, his eyes crinkled and cheeks warm. "Well, you deserve nice things, Harold, it's not that controversial."

 

VII. PRINCESS PARK MANOR

 

"There were some flowers by your door?" says Niall, wandering through the kitchen with an armful of flowers wrapped in bright yellow paper.

Harry beams. "They're for Louis."