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Happier

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So I'll watch your life in pictures like I used to watch you sleep
And I feel you forget me like I used to feel you breathe
And I'll keep up with our old friends just to ask them how you are
Hope it's nice where you are

 (Last Kiss – Taylor Swift)

 

One Month Later...

He should have unfollowed him weeks ago, should have blocked him as a way to keep himself from stalking his Instagram page, but Harry was pretty much hopeless. He spent way too much time on Louis’ social media. He spent way too much time scrolling through his Instagram photos, hoping to find something, somethingthat could give Harry a glimpse into Louis’ life. And for some strange reason, Louis hadn’t blocked him either. Maybe Louis wanted the same – wanted the ability to stay up to date on Harry’s life. Maybe Louis just wanted to see how much of a failure Harry would turn into without him. Either way, Harry was still able to stalk Louis’ snap chat stories, Instagram and Facebook pages, and no matter how much Harry had hoped to not be so pathetic at three months post breakup, he couldn’t help it. He was as pathetic as ever.

The first picture Louis had ever posted after the breakup had been a picture someone else had obviously taken of him sat at a beach in Brighton, his back to the camera and his hair pushed back by the wind. The caption had been what had done if for Harry, what had pierced his heart and made him want to strangle himself all in one fleeting second. You can plan for a change in weather and time, but I never planned on you changing your mind. They were cheesy Taylor Swift lyrics, a song that Louis’ sisters had probably forced him to listen to, but it spoke volumes. It was as if Louis had posted it just for Harry to see, and Harry got it. He’d hurt Louis beyond repair. He’d taken everything they’d ever built together and burned it to the ground. Harry was the bad guy in this story, and he’d never forgive himself.

Four Months Later...

Harry hadn’t been back to Holmes Chapel since the breakup. Luckily his mum had understood, even if she’d asked hundreds of questions about why the breakup even happened in the first place, she never gave Harry a hard time about not coming home – she just visited him instead. But he couldn’t get out of this one. It was mid-July, and Gemma was home to celebrate her twenty-first birthday. He neededto be there. He could barely breathe as he made the drive from London to home. He could barely even think. What if he saw Louis? What if they ran into each other and were forced to make small talk? Neither of them had tried to reach out in the past four months. Neither of them had made the desperate drunk dials or had sent late night text messages they’d regret in the morning. They’d cut each other cleanly out of their lives. Harry wasn’t sure if he’d survive seeing Louis now.

His mum pulled him in to a hug the second he was through the door, patting him around all sides to measure whether or not he’d lost any weight since the last time she’d seen him. She worried, he knew she did. She’d been constantly worried since he’d phoned her to tell her about the breakup. But he was fine, he was.Or at least he would be, one day.

Everything was fine, being in Holmes Chapel again was almost nice, until Gemma asked Harry to go out for ice cream on the third day of his visit. They were walking down the street, happily discussing her new job and his soon to be second year at uni, he was so preoccupied with their conversation that he almost missed Jo altogether – almost. But she ran out of the shop she’d been at and called after him, forcing him to turn and face her.

“Harry,” Jo panted, out of breath from chasing him a block down the street.

“Uh,” Gemma looked back and forth between Jo and Harry, waiting for Harry to nod that he’d be okay before waving at Jo. “I’m just gonna wait for you at the bookstore, Harry. Take your time.”

He turned back to Jo slowly, counting to ten before purposefully meeting her eyes. She looked the same – the five months not having changed her at all. But her eyes were careful, sad, as she watched him from where she stood two feet away.

“How are you?” he asked quietly, kicking at a loose pebble with his shoe. It was stupid, making small talk was pointless. She clearly own ran after him so she could yell at him for hurting her son.

Jo smiled. “Good, I’m good.”

“And the girls?” Harry couldn’t help but ask. He’d always care about the Tomlinson family. He’d always wonder how they were doing.

She smiled again, nodding her head slightly. “Very good. They’re all super excited for school to start.”

“That’s great,” it was awkward, god was it awkward.

“He’s good too, you know,” Jo said carefully, eyeing Harry, waiting for his reaction. His head shot up at her words, his eyes wide. Louis. They were talking about Louis. “He’s been working a lot. He’s got a real good thing going with the agency he’s working at. They really seem to love his photography.”

Harry offered a small smile. He was happy for Louis, of course he was happy for him. He always wanted to know that Louis was doing well. He always wanted to know if Louis was okay.

“He still won’t talk to me about it, you know,” Jo continued. “The breakup, I mean. He won’t tell any of us what happened. Just said you guys ended it, that it was time.”

Harry couldn’t help the way his mouth fell open at her revelation. He’d expected Louis to tell everyone they knew what Harry had done. He’d expected everyone who loved Louis to know just how badly Harry had hurt him. But this? This he hadn’t expected. He hadn’t expected Louis to tell his mum that it had been mutual. He hadn’t expected this at all.

“Are you okay?” Jo continued. “Your mum told me the other day that this is the first time you’ve come home since then.”
Harry shrugged. “I’m okay. Yeah, I’m good. Just been busy with the internship,” he lied for good measure.

He counted the minutes until they were finally done making small, idle chit chat. He counted the minutes until Jo finally hugged him goodbye, whispering in his ear that she was sad that he’d never become her son-in-law like she’d always wanted. He counted the minutes until he could finally turn around and breathe again.

Gemma found him leaning against a store wall, clutching his knees while he tried to catch his breath. He was hyperventilating, sobbing hysterically – completely unable to hold himself together. Seeing Jo, hearing her words had ripped open all of the wounds he’d tried to heal for the past five months. Hearing Jo talk about Louis made Harry sick to his stomach.

“Harry? Harry what’s wrong?” Gemma asked as she kneeled in front of him, her hands clutching at his ankles. “Harry, you’re scaring me. What’s going on?”

“I miss him,” he finally cried out. “Fuck, Gem, I miss him so much.”

Nine Months Later...

It was Christmas break and Harry was holed up in Holmes Chapel. He’d tried to get out of it, had tried to find some sort of excuse as to why he couldn’t spend two weeks straight at home with his mum and Gemma, but they wouldn’t hear any of it. And of course they were right. He couldn’t keep using Louis as his excuse. He couldn’t spend the rest of his life afraid to come home, tiptoeing around the possibility of seeing Louis.

He’d made it most of the holiday without running into anyone he knew at all, avoiding his friends at all costs. He couldn’t face their mutual friends, he couldn’t explain to another group of people what had gone wrong between him and Louis. It wasn’t until he was driving down the street, headed to the store to pick up a jug of milk for his mum, that he saw him. He was just standing there, leaning against a coffee shop window with a cigarette between his fingers. Harry almost pressed hard on the brakes, almost sent his car straight into a pole when he saw Louis put the cigarette to his mouth and suck in the toxins. Since when did Louis smoke?It wasn’t until Louis looked up, his eyes instantly recognizing the black Audi, that Harry remembered he had absolutely no right to be watching Louis like this. He hit the gas pedal, nearly running a red light as he sped down the street and away from Louis.

Harry could barely breathe for the rest of his visit in Holmes Chapel. He was constantly on edge, he was constantly afraid he’d see Louis again. He wasn’t even sure if Louis had seen him, but it was still too close. It was too much, too soon. He couldn’t see those blue eyes and not hate himself for the rest of his life – not yet.

The image of Louis smoking stayed with him for a long time, for weeks – for months. Harry would dream about Louis sucking on a cigarette, laughing at Harry as Harry tried to apologize for everything he’d done wrong. Louis smoking a cigarette haunted Harry for longer than he ever cared to admit.

Four Years Later...

Harry hadn’t even meant to see it – he hadn’t even remembered that he still followed Louis on Instagram until he was mindlessly flipping through the stories on the top of his page. But the second Louis’ bright eyes filled his phone screen Harry’s heart stopped. He was finally at the point where he could see Louis’ face and not want to die (of course it was always on a screen. He hadn’t actually seen Louis since that Christmas break when Harry had driven past him all those years ago). But then he took in the rest of the picture. He took in the other face that was so close to Louis’. It was another guy. He had olive skin and dark hair, with matching brown eyes. He was beautiful. Harry’s eyes dipped down to the caption and he instantly felt sick to his stomach.

Six months with this guy. Luckiest guy in the world xx

And oh, okay. It had been four years, of courseLouis had moved on. Just because Harry only managed to commit to casual sex and random dates didn’t mean that Louis had to do that too. Just because Harry was nowhere near ready enough to give himself to anyone the way he had to Louis didn’t mean Louis had to stay single for the rest of eternity too. But it still stung. It still stung to know that Louis had moved on and was happy. It still stung to know that Harry had absolutely no claim to Louis whatsoever.

Harry and Louis didn’t even belong in the same sentence anymore.

Five Years Later...

Harry was sat at a pub, Niall on one side and Liam on the other. He’d been working with Liam since his internship that first summer at Buzzfeed UK, and they’d been best mates ever since. It was a typical Friday night, which meant sitting in a pub for countless hours while Niall got drunk and told him all of the things he’d never wanted to know about his sister.

Gemma and Niall, ugh, it was still too much for Harry to handle.

They’d gotten together in Harry and Niall’s last year of uni. Gemma was always over – she’d broken up with her twat of a boyfriend earlier that year and she’d insisted on cooking Harry and Niall dinner almost every night. It had started off slowly, so slow that Harry didn’t even realize it was happening until he came home one night to find his sister straddling Niall on the couch in mid-make out session. And god, that was an image that would always be seared in his brain.

They were waiting on Zayn – they were always waiting on Zayn it seemed – but Harry didn’t like to complain because Liam was madly in love with his way too gorgeous of a boyfriend and really, Zayn was a terrific guy (albeit awful when it came to punctuality). Zayn was a model (of course he was a model, he had cheekbones to die for), and he seemed to always be running late at photoshoots and other model-like jobs (seriously, what did models even do, anyways?)

Harry was standing at the bar, ordering another round of pints for the table when the door chimed. He looked over, smiling at Zayn as he finallymade his grand entrance into the pub, but his smile faltered almost immediately. Of all the faces that Harry expected to see in his life, the one following Zayn was at the very bottom of the list. One he forgot to let himself remember. One he hadn’t even thought about it in the past year. But he’d never be able to forget those eyes. He’d never be able to forget the way they managed to light up every room they walked into.

What the hell was Louis Tomlinson doing at his favourite pub in London?

 

Chapter Text

When was the last time you thought of me?
Or have you completely erased me from your memories?
I often think about where I went wrong
The more I do, the less I know

(Don’t You Remember – Adele)

 Five years was a long time, a bloody long time. Five years had completely changed Louis’ life. He wasn’t the same, nowhere near the same as he’d been at eighteen. He’d grown in every sense of the word, and he liked to think that for a twenty-three-year-old he had his life pretty damn together. Maybe all it had taken was that fateful day. Maybe all he’d needed was someone to break him so completely that he had no choice but to pick himself back up and rebuild himself stronger than ever. He didn’t think of Harry often, but he couldn’t help but give him some credit – he’d forced Louis to change, he’d forced Louis to grow – and Louis would always be thankful for that. No matter how much he hated him, he’d always thank Harry for hurting him so bad that he’d had no choice but to rise stronger and braver than ever before.

He’d made it. Somehow through all of the shit that had happened in the last five years, Louis had fucking made it. He was living his dream. He was an up and coming hotshot photographer, shooting everything from fashion magazines to wilderness photos. He’d traveled to the middle of goddamn nowhere to take amazing photographs that were featured in a big-time magazine. He was supporting himself on his photography alone, something he’d never thought he’d actually achieve. But he’d done it. Somehow, he’d made it through university, his portfolio had impressed a dozen different agencies, and here he was – able to freelance and dictate his own future. Everything had fallen in place.

The move to London had been the most terrifying thing he’d done in the last five years. Of course he still thought of him, but it had grown easier to go days, weeks, months, even yearswithout thinking about Harry Styles when they hadn’t lived in the same city. It was easy to forget that Harry had ever been a part of his life when he hadn’t even seen him since that one time he’d watched Harry’s Audi drive past him on Holmes Chapel’s main street. That had been years ago, a lifetime ago, and Louis hadn’t heard boo of Harry since. But now? Now he was living in London, constantly wondering if today was going to be the day he’d run into Harry somewhere, anywhere. He couldn’t even go to Tesco without wondering if he’d find Harry standing in the ice-cream aisle, digging through the freezer for his favourite pint of mint chocolate chip. But no, no, Louis didn’t care. He didn’t. He was happy. He was happy and in love, and it didn’t matter in the slightest if he ran into Harry. He’d smile, nod – he’d make useless small talk if that’s what it took. Louis would be the bigger person. He’d ask how Harry was doing, and then he’d turn around and go back home to Tommy, to the man who lovedhim. He’d curl up on the sofa and watch reruns of The Office. He’d go to sleep next to Tommy in their queen-sized bed with a smile on his face.

Louis was no longer afraid of running into Harry. Louis no longer even thought about Harry, until now – until he’d moved to London two months ago and was constantly afraid to turn every corner. But London was a big city, and he knew the chances of actually running into Harry were slim to none. There was no need to even think about Harry. Harry Styles was irrelevant.

*

“Louis, come on, just come out for one pint,” Zayn was pestering him – he was always pestering him to go out with his boyfriend and small group of friends.

Zayn was one of the first people Louis had met when he’d moved to London two months ago. He was an up and coming model who had found some of Louis’ work online and had hired him to take his headshots. Zayn had surprised him right away. Louis had been expecting some stuck up, vapid narcissist (yes, he was a tadjudgemental), but Zayn was anything but. Yes, he was beautiful, but he was also hilarious, kind, artistic and insanely intelligent. They’d hit it off right away, and it had only taken seconds for Zayn to become Louis’ new best mate. Their work seemed to overlap quite often, which was where they were now – Louis shooting photos for some indie fashion magazine that had hired Zayn as their primary model.

“I’ve gotta go home and edit these, Z,” Louis lied. He obviously didn’t need to edit the pictures right away but going back to the flat he shared with Tommy seemed a lot safer than heading out to some pub and risking the possibility of running into Harry along the way. Someday he’d get a grip, but today was not that day.

Zayn rolled his eyes at him, catching him in his lie instantly. “Bullshit,” he swung an arm around Louis as Louis packed up his camera equipment. “Your next excuse will be that Tommy is at home waiting for you, but you already told me he’s working nights this week. So really, you have no excuse. Besides, Li really wants to meet you.”

Louis had been hanging out with Zayn for two months, but he still hadn’t managed to meet Zayn’s boyfriend (the love of Zayn’s life, his better half, his rock – god they were sickening). Their schedules never seemed to line up. Liam was some sort of journalist, and his work seemed to keep him pretty busy. And okay, maybe Zayn was right. Maybe it would be nice to go out, meet Zayn’s friends, and actually let loose for once. Maybe it was time Louis stopped being afraid of something that was never actually going to happen and broaden his horizons.

“Fine,” Louis finally agreed as he zipped up his camera bag. He couldn’t help but laugh at the look of utter shock that crossed Zayn’s face. He’d been expecting Louis to say no, because well, Louis always said no.

Louis did some math in his head as they made their way out of the studio and hailed the next cab. There were well over eight million people living in London, which meant that Louis really had zero chance of seeing the one person he didn’t want to see. He’d managed to go this long – he’d managed to go just over sixty days without seeing any evidence of Harry’s existence – why would that suddenly change today? Louis settled into the backseat of the taxi and reminded himself that he didn’t care. Five years had passed. He’d grown up – they’d both grown up. Even if he did run into Harry, it didn’t mean anything, it didn’t have to break him. Louis was a big boy now. He’d never chase after anyone again. He’d never run barefoot in the snow for anyone, ever ever again. He’d spent a fair amount of time hating Harry after everything had happened, but now? Now, he just didn’t even think about him. Now, Harry was just an old memory he’d stored away in the back of his head.

Harry was irrelevant.

“So, Li will probably give us a hard time for being late,” Zayn was chatting away from beside him in the cab, which Louis still was trying to get used to. Zayn had been so quiet when they’d first met, only really talking when he had something of value to add to a conversation. But now that he and Louis had grown closer, Zayn just never shut up. It was nice – annoying, but nice.

“Because you’re literally late to every single thing you ever have planned?” Louis teased. Zayn was infamous for being late to absolutely everything. He was constantly late to shoots, to plans he and Louis made, to any sort of appointment he ever had scheduled. The first day Louis had met Zayn, they’d planned to meet at a coffee shop to discuss Zayn possibly hiring Louis for his headshots, Zayn had left him waiting for almost an hour. If it hadn’t been for how beautifully convincing Zayn’s eyes had been, Louis would have walked away and refused the work. But alas, here they were, still friends even though Zayn couldn’t manage to be on time for anything.

The taxi pulled up outside of a small, brick building that was nestled between other store fronts. “Well, we’re already late,” Zayn stated once they’d climbed out of the back of the cab, pulling a pack of cigarettes out of his jacket pocket.

Louis laughed, pulling out his own pack and placing a cigarette in between his lips. He needed the nicotine. He was nervous. Meeting new people and putting himself out there had always made him feel so vulnerable. And he knew that smoking was a dirty habit, Tommy was always complaining about it, but he couldn’t shake it. He’d started just after the breakup; smoking had been the only thing that could calm him down. And now? Well, now it was just an addiction. it had nothing to do with Harry anymore – nothing had anything to do with Harry anymore.

Louis took a deep breath as they butted out their smokes and Zayn reached for the handle of the pub door. He could do this – he could meet new people and add to his new life in London. He could do this.

He followed Zayn through the door, the chime ringing to signal their arrival. He watched as Zayn waved at someone standing at the bar. Louis looked over at Zayn’s apparent friend, taking in the guy’s brown Chelsea boots, skin tight jeans and obnoxious black button up that was printed with pink flamingos. Louis was just about to judge Zayn’s choice in friends when his gaze fell to the guy in question’s face. And well, fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. He almost wouldn’t have recognized him – the man bun was something he’d never seen before. But those eyes; he’d never, ever forgot those eyes.

Harry.

“Uh,” Louis stopped dead in his tracks. Harry was looking at him – and Louis couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t gather a single fucking breath. “Uh, Z, I’m, uh,” Louis couldn’t look away from the piercing green eyes that were staring him down from across the room. He couldn’t do this. There was no way he could face his past – not like this – not yet. He wasn’t ready. He’d never be ready.

“Are you okay?” Zayn turned around, his eyebrows furrowed in either curiosity or concern, Louis couldn’t figure out which.

Louis couldn’t breathe, couldn’t even care to respond, not with Harry watching him with such a blank expression. If it hadn’t been for the way Harry’s lips (fuck, Louis shouldn’t be registering those lips) were parted slightly in surprise, Louis would think Harry didn’t even recognize him at all.

“C’mon,” Zayn’s voice broke through Louis’ trance once more.

The only reason Louis’ feet even moved an inch was because Zayn had grabbed him by the sleeve of his jacket and was dragging him along. And no, he couldn’t do this. He forced himself to look away from Harry, but he could feel those green eyes follow him as he followed Zayn towards a booth at the back of the bar. Maybe Harry wasn’t a part of the group they were joining. Maybe he was just somebody Zayn happened to know, and it was all just some sick coincidence. Maybe Harry would collect his drink from the bar and go find his own friends. Maybe they’d never have to acknowledge each other, and Louis could avoid this stupid fucking pub for the rest of his life.

Maybe Louis was the most naïve individual on the face of the earth.

Louis tried to think of a million different ways he could escape his biggest nightmare. He’d been so stupid to think he’d be fine if he ever ran into Harry. He wasn’t fine. The only way he’d be fine was if the floor opened up and swallowed him before he had to face reality.

And well, fuck. Zayn definitely knew Harry because he was currently leading Louis towards a table where a familiar face was sitting. Niall.If Niall was here than Zayn absolutely knew Harry. what would it take for Louis to disappear right then and there?

And god, how did breathing work again?

“Louis?” an Irish accent interrupted his attempt at disappearing – piercing his eardrums and sending him into a tailspin.

Fuck fuck fuck. He could do this, couldn’t he?

“You guys know each other?” Zayn looked between Louis and Niall, an eyebrow raised.

Niall’s expression was unreadable, his gaze wandering past Louis towards something behind them. Harry. It must be Harry.

Before Louis even got a chance to open his mouth and respond to Zayn’s question, someone was interrupting them, placing three pints of beer on the table. And those hands, god those hands were so familiar and yet so different all at once. They were bigger, fingers covered in rings, but they were still the same. They were still the same hands that used to explore Louis’ body. They were still so Harry.

Louis didn’t know where to look, where to train his eyes, because he definitely couldn’t keep staring at Harry’s hands. He stood still, eyes focused on the table, until he was forced to move by Zayn who was nudging him to slide into the booth next to him. Louis counted to thirty before he finally looked up, and of coursehe was sitting directly across from a pair of emerald eyes. Of fucking course.

“Lou, this is my boyfriend, Liam,” Zayn started making the round of introductions, starting with the broad man sat on his other side. He motioned to Niall next. “I guess you know Niall, and this twat with the man bun is Harry.”

Harry didn’t look up from where his hands were wrapped tightly around his glass of beer. Louis wasn’t sure if he was relieved or annoyed. If he could brave looking at him, couldn’t Harry give him the same courtesy?

For a fleeting moment, Louis thought they were going to pretend like they didn’t even know each other. Harry was apparently refusing to speak, and Louis couldn’t do it. What was he supposed to even say, anyways? Oh yeah, Harry and I go way back. He was the love of my life until he left me standing barefoot in the snow. Yeah, no thanks. Louis couldn’t do that – he wouldn’t do that.

“Oh, H and Louis know each other too.” Leave it to Niall to do all the talking. Leave it to Niall to be the one who could finally make Harry look up from those fucking hands.

Zayn looked between the three of them, curiosity evident on his face. “How do you guys know each other?”

They sat in silence for longer than normal, Louis and Harry silently challenging each other to be the one to speak first.

“They dated the first year of uni,” Niall spoke up when it was clear neither of them was going to. And really? Was that all Harry and Louis were? Was that all their past was?

Zayn turned to face Louis, curiosity replaced with concern. “Wanna go get a drink?”

Louis was still looking at Harry, their eyes locked in some sort of weird trance. He closed his eyes briefly, finally breaking the staring contest. “Sure,” he responded to Zayn, slipping out of the booth and making his way towards the bar – finally able to breathe again.

“Can I get a scotch please?” he asked the bartender the second he was close enough, leaning heavily on the bar, needing something to support him.

“Are you okay?” Zayn asked as he came to stand beside him, ordering his own drink as he watched Louis carefully.

Louis shrugged, downing his drink in one large gulp. Alcohol was the only solution here – the only way he’d get through this. “Peachy,” he said as he put his glass down and signaled for a refill.

“Lou,” Zayn wouldn’t let up. “Do you wanna leave?”

“No.” And it was the truth. Louis wouldn’t be the one to turn away and be a coward. He’d promised himself he’d be better than that – he couldbe better than that. “I’m fine, it’s fine,” he rolled his eyes at Zayn’s worried look. “Honestly, Z, Harry and I are ancient history. It was just a bit of a surprise to see him is all.”

Zayn didn’t look overly convinced, but he left it alone much to Louis’ relief. They made their way back to the booth, drinks in hand. Louis could do this, he could do this and survive. This exact moment had flooded his dreams for years; there was no reason why he couldn’t handle it in real life too.

“Since when do you drink scotch?” fuck, when had Harry’s voice gotten so deep and thick – so fucking raspy? Louis internally chastised himself. A lothad changed in the past five years.

Louis met Harry’s gaze. It was so unreadable. Once upon a time Louis had been able to tell exactly what Harry was thinking with just one look, but they were complete strangers now. Well, fuck, if that wasn’t the most depressing thought ever. And really, Louis had no idea how he was even supposed to respond to that. All he could do was stare back at Harry – this new hipster chic Harry – and say nothing at all.

“Probably ‘round the same time you started wearing shirts with flamingos on them,” Niall chimed in, poking Harry right in the dimple. Bless Niallfor filling in the silence. Apparently he’d developed quite an ability to read a crowd and jump in when he had to. Louis should probably send him a fruit basket or something to thank him.

It was awkward, of course it was awkward, but Louis seemed to relax as the time passed. Neither him or Harry said another word to each other, but every now and then Louis could feel Harry watching him, and it made his skin crawl every time. And Louis was lost, so lostin his confusion. He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to act, or not act for that matter. He wasn’t sure if he should take the higher road and try to talk to Harry, or if he should stick with the game of who could stay quiet the longest. But it was all too much for him to take – too much for him to handle.

He managed to sneak out for a smoke, and the look on his face must have been enough to tell Zayn that he needed a moment to himself because he didn’t try to join. The cool air was refreshing, and Louis couldn’t help but close his eyes as he leaned his head back on the building wall and inhaled his first puff of smoke.

“I still can’t believe you smoke,” the deep voice vibrated against Louis’ eardrums, making its way down to the very center of his being.

Louis peeled one eyelid open and then the other, his gaze landing on Harry who was standing in front of him, hands dug into the pockets of his bomber jacket. For a moment he looked exactly the same, just like the nineteen-year-old kid who’d broken his heart all those years ago. But he was so different. His jaw was sharper, and there was a light dusting of stubble on his face. And the hair – that stupid bun – Louis needed (ahem, wanted) to know what it looked like down from that bun. Did it reach his shoulders? Were his curls heavy or still as bouncy as ever? Was it just as soft as it had once been?

Get a grip, Louis.

“How did you even know I smoke?” the question was past his lips before Louis realized what he was doing. He knew full well how Harry knew this fact about him. He’d never forget that late December day when he’d been shopping with Lottie, taking a breather outside when a black Audi had driven past him. How could he forget the last time he’d seen Harry?

“You should quit, you know,” Harry continued, watching Louis as he sucked on the end of the cigarette. “Can’t imagine your boyfriend likes that you smoke.”

Louis exhaled, raising an eyebrow at Harry’s comment. “For someone I haven’t talked to in five years, you seem to know a lot about my life.”

Harry scratched at the back of his neck, suddenly very interested in a loose pebble on the sidewalk. “I still follow you on Instagram,” he admitted quietly and mostly to the ground.

Oh. “Oh.”

They stood in silence for long enough that Louis started to feel more uncomfortable than he already did. Harry seemed intent on watching him finish his cigarette, and Louis was just trying to remember how to breathe.

“When did you move to London?”

Louis didn’t meet Harry’s eyes until he finished his cigarette and squished it under his shoe. He could do this.“Couple months ago.”

“Did you move here for work?” Harry asked intensely, like he needed to absorb as much information as possible.

Louis shrugged. “Kind of. And to be with Tommy.”

Something shifted in Harry’s eyes; it was almost like they got darker in a split second. But the flash was gone as quickly as it had appeared, and Harry was just smiling. “That’s great.”

Fuck, Louis didn’t know how to do this. He didn’t know how to talk to Harry or how to be around Harry. it was foreign, so incredibly alien. It was like they’d never even known each other at all.

“Look, Louis,” and fuck, Harry’s voice saying his name was like a time machine. It was as if he was standing in his mum’s living room again, Harry ending things like it was the easiest thing in the world. It was like a punch in the gut. “I, I’ve...”

“Louis?” all of a sudden Zayn was there, standing with the pub door propped open and a smile on his face. He either had impeccable timing or had telepathic abilities and had known Louis needed saving. “Liam and I are arguing over whether he’s Chandler or Ross. Come take my side.”

And Louis shouldn’t be looking at Harry – he shouldn’t be wanting to make sure that Harry was okay. But Harry wasn’t looking at him; his head was ducked down once more, and his eyes were trained to the ground. Whatever he’d wanted to say was gone, lost in the awkward space that hung between them.

*

The rest of the night passed in a blur. It seemed the more intoxicated Louis became, the more he found himself examining every detail about Harry. They didn’t speak to each other after the moment outside; the only time they even got close to addressing one another was when they both contributed to the same conversation. Louis wasn’t sure if he was relieved or disappointed – he wasn’t entirely certain if he wanted to talk to Harry ever again. But he couldn’t help the way he was absorbing everything there was to this newHarry. He was so incredibly different from the Harry he’d once known (his Harry). He was all hipster-chic and slow, careful words. But he was still the same. He was still big laughs and stupid jokes. The little hints of the old Harry, of Louis’ Harry, hurt more than all of the ways Harry had changed in the years they’d been apart. It was easier to ignore him, to pretend like Harry was a complete stranger, when all he was, was some guy with a man bun. But the small glimpses of the Harry Styles Louis had fallen in love with as a teenager were like a dagger in the heart. It was like a twist of a knife and a tear in his airway. It was hell.

Louis tried to ignore Harry for the rest of the night, but that become practically impossible when a tall guy with his hair styled in a ridiculous quiff walked through the door and made his way towards their table. Harry seemed to light up the second the stripe wearing giant slid into the booth beside him, and Louis didn’t miss the way said guy slung an arm around Harry’s shoulders. Louis didn’t miss the way Mr. Quiff looked at Harry like he was the fucking sun, or the way he looked to be older than Harry (looked to be tenyears older, but Louis wasn’t paying thatmuch attention – he wasn’t). Louis didn’t miss the way that he shouldn’t even care about any of this at all.

He didn’t care about any of this at all.

“Grimmy!” Niall practically screamed as he reached across Harry and high fived the newest addition at the table. “H didn’t tell us you were coming out tonight!”

Wait, Grimmy? Louis studied the man sat in front of him, trying to figure out just why the name (and the face?) seemed familiar. He’d definitely heard the name before.

“Don’t have an early show tomorrow, so I thought I’d come and get some quality Harold time in,” and fuck.Louis knew exactly who this guy was now that he’d heard his voice. He’d listened to his morning show for years.

What the fuck was Nick Grimshaw from BBC Radio 1 doing with his arm around Harry’s shoulder?

“Oh, who’s this?” Nick was looking at Louis now, his eyebrows raised in curiosity as he eyed Louis up and down.

And nope, Louis couldn’t do this. He couldn’t introduce himself to Harry’s new, older, and famousboyfriend. That hadn’t been in the cards for him, not tonight. He wouldn’t do it.

“This is Louis,” Harry’s voice broke through his panic. And what? Was Harry really about to explain who Louis was to Nick Fucking Grimshaw? “He’s one of Zayn’s mates.”

One of Zayn’s mates. Well, okay then.

Nick nodded his head, a stupid smile on his face. Louis already hated him. “Makes sense. High cheekbones, bright blue eyes. Definitely a model.”
It was official, Louis despised Nick Grimshaw.

“Uh, no,” Louis finally spoke, his tone laced with nothing but annoyance. “I’m a photographer actually.”

Nick threw his head back with laughter, his fingers moving to trace up and down Harry’s neck. “Really? I’ll be damned. Definitely had you pegged for the model type.”

Louis couldn’t help himself from looking at Harry, judging him silently for his choice in men. And maybe, just maybe, Harry was actually embarrassed. Louis couldn’t be sure, but he thought that Harry’s cheeks were littered with splotches of redness that hadn’t been there a minute ago.

“How did you two meet?” he couldn’t stop the question from leaving his mouth. If Harry was going to date sleazy, ignorant men than Louis needed to know where he was finding them (so he could stay very far away from those places).

“Oh, young Harold and I run in the same circles,” Nick went on to explain, the stupid grin threatening to make Louis cringe even more than he already was. “You know, we both work in the media.”

Harold works in the media?” Louis’ eyes were back on Harry, back on the pinkness in his cheeks and not missing the way he was trying to avoid Louis’ gaze.

Grimshaw laughed again. And seriously, what was so funny? “I guess you’ve only just met Harry, so I can’t blame you for not knowing, but he’s a creative writer at the BBC. Helps out a lot with my show. Really, I think I owe this dimpled fuck for all my good jokes and interview questions.”

Of course Harry worked for the BBC. Louis had always known Harry would amount to something great. He’d just always expected that he’d be by his side while he did it. And no, no that did not matter. So much time had passed, and it wouldn’t do anyone any bit of good to keep looking back.

Louis hated himself for not being able to stomach the way Nick was gushing over Harry. He was over Harry – had been for years– but that didn’t make any of this any easier. He’d never imaged running into Harry like this. Even in his wildest dreams, it had just been a brief interaction. But this? this was mutual friends and new boyfriends. This was hard.

And then there was Niall – the only other person at the table who knew the real truth (the real depth) of Louis and Harry’s past. And Niall kept looking between Harry and Louis, watching them carefully as if he was just waiting for one of them to break down. He probably knew everything there was to know about Harry’s side of things, which meant Niall probably thought Louis was as pathetic as could be.

“How ‘bout we get out of here?” Nick was speaking again, his eyes trained on Harry’s lips.

Louis wanted to puke.

And Harry shouldn’t be looking at Louis, he should be focused on his ridiculously obnoxious boyfriend, but he was staring Louis down nonetheless. It took all of Louis’ strength to look away, to tear his eyes away from the lush forest that were Harry’s irises. He didn’t care. He didn’t care if Harry brought Nick Grimshaw home and let him fuck him on any and every surface of his flat. Louis didn’t care because Harry wasn’t his anymore, hadn’t been his in a very long time. He didn’t care because Harry had pushed him away a lifetime ago and Louis had done everything in his power to move on and erase Harry from his life. Louis didn’t care.

And so, he didn’t even turn his head to watch Harry and Nick climb out of the booth and make their way out of the pub. He didn’t even move his gaze from whatever was happening on his phone when he felt Harry’s eyes on him, as if he was looking back one last time before disappearing into the night. And just like that, Harry was out of his life once again, gone just as quickly as he’d arrived. And Louis was unaffected, he was.

“Think I can bum a smoke off you, Tommo?” Niall was suddenly standing there, right beside where Louis was sitting, an unreadable expression on his face.

Louis didn’t think, didn’t really respond, he just slid out of his seat and followed Niall outside. When he went to pass him a cigarette, Niall shook his head. “I don’t actually smoke,” Niall admitted. “Just wanted to have a little chat.”

Louis sighed as he lit his own cigarette, taking a long drag before speaking. “Leave it alone, Niall.”

“C’mon, we were mates once,” Niall continued as he moved beside Louis, leaning against the wall so that his posture mirrored Louis’.

Louis laughed sarcastically. “Only because we had something in common.”

“We still do.”

“No, we don’t,” Louis couldn’t help the edge in his voice. “Harry’s been out of my life for longer than he was ever in it.”

Niall shrugged, as if what Louis just said didn’t really matter. “Seems like he’s back in it to me.”

Louis turned to face Niall, his eyes sharp and his jaw set. “Leave it alone,” he repeated slowly, trying to get through Niall’s thick skull.

“Look,” Niall blabbered on anyways. “I think tonight might’ve had a bigger effect on Harry than it did you. You seem...fine, but he...”

“Stop,” Louis put a hand up, physically stopping Niall from finishing his sentence. “I don’t want to hear it, okay? It’s in the past – all of it. just leave it there. Please?”

“Okay, okay,” he finally agreed. “Just...are you okay?”

Louis wanted to hate Niall (for reasons he couldn’t really explain), but the truth was he’d always found him endearing. Annoying, loud as fuck, but endearing. “I’m, okay, Nialler,” the nickname slipped, and Louis felt himself being pulled back to five years ago. “I’m happy now, and I’m happy for Harry. He seems to really like Nick.” Fuck Nick Grimshaw.

Niall’s face scrunched up in confusion, but it quickly vanished as was replaced by a smile. “Good. I’m glad to have you back, Tommo. I always like ya, you’re a good lad,” he slapped Louis on the back they made their way back inside.

And maybe, just maybe, Louis could do this.

Louis woke up the next morning with a hangover from hell and a blurry memory. He closed his eyes, blocking out the sun that was pouring in through the bedroom window, and it all came rushing back. He suddenly remembered how drinks with Zayn and his friends had turned into drinks with Harry. Harry. Harry and Nick Grimshaw.

Nick fucking Grimshaw.

*

“Morning, babe,” Louis opened his eyes as a pair of lips attached themselves to his neck.

“Good morning,” he yawned, smiling before Tommy moved to kiss his lips.

“Did you have a good time last night?” Tommy asked as he sat up and leaned against the headboard. He was beautiful. He was all defined muscles and golden, sun kissed skin. Louis liked to think of him as his own Greek god.

“Yeah, it was alright,” Louis was torn. Tommy knew about Harry, not everything, but a lot.They had always based their relationship on trust and honesty; he knew he should tell him the truth – he should tell him about Harry.

“Actually, funny story,” Louis began. “Turns out Zayn’s boyfriend is best mates with Harry.”

Tommy froze, the fingers that had been carding through Louis’ hair falling to his side. “Harry? Harry who? Harry as in your ex, Harry?”

Louis nodded, wincing at the grimace that took over Tommy’s face. “I just want to be honest with you. He was there.”

“He was there?” Apparently, all Tommy was going to do was repeat everything Louis said. “Did you talk to him?”

Louis shrugged. “Honestly, not really. Just a few words here and there.”

Tommy was silent for a few passing moments, absorbing the information. “Are you alright?” he had an arm around Louis in an instant. All Tommy really knew about Louis and Harry’s relationship was that they’d really loved each other until they just didn’t anymore. He knew that Harry had gone off to uni and Louis had stayed behind; he knew that Harry had been the one to end it. But he didn’t know that Louis had once had every intention of turning Harry into Harry Tomlinson someday. Tommy didn’t need to know those things. They’d always be his and Harry’s memories – their shared secrets.

“I’m okay,” Louis confirmed, craning his neck so he could place a kiss to the corner of Tommy’s mouth. “The guy has a man bun now. He looks like a proper douchebag.”

Tommy laughed along with him, helping Louis slowly ease the way his whole being felt off kilter. Tommy was his anchor, keeping him in place every time Louis felt like he may slip away. Tommy was his lifeline. No. Louis would never let anyone be his lifeline again – no after Harry.

He was his own lifeline. 

Chapter Text

We’ve been in fire,
Went down with the flames.
We sailed the ocean,
And drowned in the waves.
Built a cathedral,
But we never prayed.
We had it all,
And we walked away.

(Long Way Down – One Direction)

Harry had felt uneasy ever since seeing Louis at the pub. It had been five days – almost an entire week – but he couldn’t shake how on edge he felt. Now that he’d seen Louis, now that he knew Louis was living in London, Harry was convinced that he was going to run into him anywhere and everywhere. He knew it was unlikely, knew that London was too big to accidentally run into someone, but after Friday night anything seemed possible. He’d given up any hope he’d ever had of seeing Louis again. Every time he’d gone home to Holmes Chapel Louis seemed to be a ghost. Apart from the one time during his Christmas break, only months after the breakup, Harry hadn’t seen a single trace of Louis in Holmes Chapel. He’d seen his sisters though, and the handful of times he’d run into the Lottie, Felicite, and the twins were seated into his memory. He’d never forget the death glares the older girls had given him, or the way Daisy and Phoebe had cried and clung onto him. Every single thing about the breakup had been unbelievably painful but removing himself from Louis’ family had been some of the worst pain Harry had ever felt.

Nothing would ever top the pain of losing Louis.

It was his fault, Harry knew that. Every time

he’d ever picked up his phone to ring Louis to tell him something, he was forced to remind himself that he was the only person to blame for not being able to hear Louis’ voice. Every single time he’d put the phone back down and let himself have a brief moment of utter turmoil. He never actually called, not until that one time...

It happened after he’d seen Louis that day, leaned against the store window and puffing on a cigarette. Harry was back in London, his flat empty because Niall was still away in Ireland. He couldn’t stop his mind from racing, couldn’t stop his memory from recalling every single moment he’d spent with Louis. It wasn’t like he hadn’t tried to move on, the problem was that he had tried, tried so hard and failed so miserably. He’d gone on dates, had even slept with a handful of guys, but nothing (nobody) compared to Louis. Harry was alone, lonely, and seeing Louis only seemed to confirm that even more. It took him more than an hour to actually press onto Louis’ contact and another hour to press the “call” option. He took a deep breath and held his phone to his ear, readier than ever to fix what he’d broken.

The number you have dialed is out of service. Please hang up and try your call again.

And really, what else had Harry expected? Of course Louis would change his number and start all over. Harry let the other ways he could reach out to Louis run through his mind (Instagram, Facebook, email), but he knew better. If Louis wanted a fresh start, if he’d gone as far as to change his number to make sure Harry couldn’t get ahold of him, Harry would respect that. He owed Louis that much.

It was still way too hard of a pill to swallow, but he knew he deserved this. He deserved this and so much worse.

And now, now Harry was a nervous wreck. Now he was afraid to leave his flat, afraid to turn the corner and run into his high school sweetheart. Now his mind was foggy, replaying the few hours he’d spent with Louis in the pub over and over again until he could recite the whole night off by heart. He was torn. He didn’t know what he wanted anymore. He couldn’t decide if he wanted to see Louis again or hide under his duvet and never see Louis again.

He hadn’t stalked Louis’ social media for a really, reallylong time, but now he was sat on his sofa, MacBook in his lap and Louis’ Facebook open on the screen. It had been turned into more of a professional profile, showcasing Louis’ photography business and examples of his talent. And well, Harry couldn’t deny the fact that Louis had really honed his photography skills in the last five years. The man had real talent, incredible talent, that Harry couldn’t deny. But he wasn’t surprised, he couldn’t be because he’d always believed in Louis. He’d always known that Louis would master anything and everything he set his mind to.

When Louis’ Facebook page proved to only be dedicated to his professional life, Harry closed his laptop and picked up his phone instead. It took him all of a second to find Louis’ Instagram page, and only a couple more seconds to find the most recent photo of Louis and Tommy. Tommy.

He was the opposite of Harry – short hair, tanned skin, dark eyes. It would seem that maybe Harry had never been Louis’ type after all.

“H, seriously?” Harry hadn’t even heard Niall creep up behind him. He seriously needed to put a bell around that guy’s neck.

Harry locked the screen of his phone as quickly as he could, which was clearly not fast enough. “Piss off, Niall.”

Niall jumped over the back of the sofa, landing beside Harry with a thump. “Is this going to be like the breakup all over again? Am I going to have to change all your passwords again, so you can’t stalk the poor guy?”

Harry needed to either get a new flat or a new flatmate. Or maybe kill Niall. Maybe all three. “Shut up.”

Niall jabbed him in the ribs, a stupid grin on his face. “He looks good, yeah? I quite like his facial hair. He’s a real good-looking lad, that Tommo.”

“Fuck off,” Harry said through clenched teeth. He didn’t need Niall to tell him that Louis looked good. He had his own set of eyes for crying out loud. He bloody well knew Louis looked good.

“I’m just saying he’s aging well is all.”

Harry covered his face with his hands, groaning into his palms. “I’ve never even heard Zayn talk about him,” Harry said once he peeled his hands away from his face. “Have you?”

Niall shook his head, slinging an arm across the back of Harry’s shoulders. “Nope, not a single word. Are you okay?”

Harry shrugged. “I don’t even know. What if he comes to pub night all the time? I don’t think I can just sit there and pretend like we don’t have the history we do. I can’t just pretend like everything’s normal.”

Niall pulled him tight against his side. “You guys just gotta get to know each other again.”

“No,” Harry replied with a shake of his head. “He doesn’t want that. There’s no way he’d want that.”

“You don’t know that.”

“He hates me, Niall,” Harry continued. “And he should. After what I did to him, he should hate me.”

Niall squeezed Harry’s shoulder in comfort. “You guys need to bury the hatchet, start over and move on.”

Harry leaned forward, putting his head in his hands. Start over? He had no idea how that was even possible. How were they supposed to just put everything that had happened behind them and start over? There was no way Louis could just “bury the hatchet”. There was no way Louis could ever forgive him, let alone forget it happened in the first place. Stomaching him was one thing, but Harry could never expect Louis to forgive him.

And really, Harry wasn’t sure what he wanted; he wasn’t even sure if he ever wanted to see Louis again. No, that wasn’t true. He didwant to see Louis again. He wanted to have some sliver of Louis back in his life, but he was a coward. He was still so raw from seeing him again, and he didn’t know if he’d survive another encounter.

“Seriously, H,” Niall started, breaking the silence. “Don’t you think it’s time to forgive yourself?”

No, never, was what Harry wanted to say, but he didn’t. He just shrugged and unlocked his phone, the picture he’d been looking at of Louis and Tommy brightly on display once again. How was he supposed to forgive himself for something he’d regret for the rest of his life? How was he supposed to forgive himself when the one person who truly mattered wouldn’t forgive him either?

~

From: Niall
Liam just told me that you’re “stuck at work” and aren’t coming out tonight !!?? Does this have anything to do with a pretty blue eyed gentleman who’s currently trying to drink me under the table ?

Harry rolled his eyes as he read the text message. It was Friday night, well passed the time he usually got to the pub, and instead of drinking the week away with his mates, he was currently sat at his work desk, trying to find absolutely anything to preoccupy his time. It was late, the office was dark and empty except for him and the light from his MacBook screen. He didn’t actually have any work to do, not anything so incredibly important that he couldn’t make it out to the pub, but he’d texted Liam earlier that afternoon to tell him he was absolutely swamped and wasn’t going to make it. He lied, something he didn’t do often, because sitting alone in an empty office sounded a million times better than sitting at a booth with Louis and not being able to actually talk. Sitting alone in an office sounded a million times better than wishing he could apologize a million times over and convince Louis to be a part of his life again (as friends of course). All Harry had done for the past week was daydream that he and Louis were friends again, and he knew if he made an appearance at the pub, if he saw Louis again, that his fantasies would be squashed immediately.

From: Niall
Probably best you aren’t here anyways . He brought his boyfriend . Football player of sort but seems like a real tool .

Louis brought Tommy to pub night? Harry wasn’t sure what emotions were currently coursing through his veins – he wasn’t sure if he was sad or angry that Louis had brought his bright and shiny new boyfriend (okay, okay, Harry did realize they’d been together for more than a year) to an outing where he’d had every reason to believe Harry would be there. Was Louis trying to rub it in his face? Was he trying to show Harry just how much he’d moved on – just how much his life better now? And god, Harry almost regretted now going out with his friends. He almost regretted the fact that he wasn’t currently sat at the booth sizing this new boyfriend up. He didn’t care, didn’t give a single fuck that Louis was with someone else, but heneededto make sure that Tommy was right for him – good enough for him. He’d always care about Louis’ happiness.

Always.

Forever.

Blah blah blah.

From: Niall
He just asked where you are LOL . I told him you’re probably shagging Nick somewhere ;)

Harry clenched his phone in his hand, reading Niall’s message over and over again. The last thing he needed was Niall talking to Louis about him and Nick. The last thing he needed was for Niall to open his big mouth and make him sound like some sort of pathetic, sex-hungry douchebag. And why did he even care what Louis thought of him? It didn’t even remotely matter. Louis hated him.

His phone buzzed again, a new message from Niall displayed on the screen.

From: Niall
I’m joking, H . I told him you’re at work ! He seems kinda disappointed if you ask me

Harry screwed his eyes shut. He didn’t need this. He didn’t need to know whether or not Louis was disappointed by the fact that he hadn’t shown up for pub night. He didn’t need to know if his absence had even the slightest effect on Louis. As far as Harry was concerned, Louis couldn’t give two shits about Harry’s whereabouts. He didn’t deserve for Louis to care.

He powered off his phone without responding to a single one of Niall’s messages. He needed to clear his head – he needed all thoughts of Louis to disappear. He hadn’t thought of anything else for the last week, and he needed a goddamn break.

~

“You’re not coming again tonight?” Liam asked from his seat across from Harry. They’d met for lunch like they often did on Fridays since their offices were close together. It had been another week, officially two weeks since what Harry liked to refer to as the incident.

Harry shook his head as he moved his salad around with a fork. He didn’t have an appetite, he barely had an appetite these days, but he refused to equate it to have anything to do with Louis’ sudden involvement with his circle of friends. “Got too much work.”

Harry could feel Liam watching him carefully, and he knew what was up next – he knew Liam was about to bombard him with a million questions and some dumb lecture. It was in his nature, after all.

“Harry,” Liam started with a careful voice, as if on que. “Does this have anything to do with Louis?”

Harry dared to look up from the pathetic mess that had once been a kale salad. “No,” he tried to make his voice as strong and unwavering as possible, but he felt it quiver at the last second. “It doesn’t.”

Liam shook his head slightly, clearly not believing him. “I tried to ask Niall about it, ‘bout your relationship with Louis, but he keeps telling me to ask you.”
Niall was a good friend, Harry would have to remember to get him an extra nice present for his birthday. “It was so long ago, Li, it’s fine.”

“But it’s clearly not!” Liam almost sounded hysterical, his eyebrows furrowed together with concern. “You never blow off pub night and now you’re doing it for the second week in a row. Zayn said he tried to call you three times in the past two weeks and all he’s gotten are some stupid texts in response. Even Nick says he hasn’t seen you in days.”

“You talked to Nick?” Harry wasn’t mad, he wasn’t.He knew Liam was just trying to be a good friend, even if he was going about it in the most intrusive way possible.

Liam shrugged. “Didn’t really have a choice, mate. You’ve been shifty as fuck lately.”

Harry trained his attention back to his salad, moving it around the plate as he tried to think of a response. He didn’t want to keep his friends at arm’s length; he didn’t want Louis’ sudden return in his life to have this sort of effect on him, not when it clearly had zero effect on Louis. He wanted to be stronger than this.

“It was more than how Niall made it sound, wasn’t it?” Liam asked after a few beats of silence, his hand reaching out to stop Harry’s incessant attack on his salad.

Harry dropped the fork and met Liam’s eyes. He took a deep breath before even daring to speak. “We were together for three years,” he finally admitted, his heart stopping briefly as Liam’s jaw dropped at his confession. “His family moved to Holmes Chapel when we were fifteen. He was my best friend in the whole world.”

“Jesus, Harry, what happened?”

“I moved to London for uni and he stayed home to help his mum out with his sisters,” it was so much more than that, but Harry didn’t think he could survive a whole replay. “You know how it goes, long distance was really hard, and we grew apart. I drove home one weekend just to break up with him. I was so cruel to him, Li. I hurt him so bad.”

Liam sat back in his chair as he tried to take in everything Harry had told him. “So, it wasn’t mutual?”

Harry shook his head. “No, I mean, it really was what was best for us, but no, he begged me not to end it. I loved him so much, but it was too hard. So, yeah. I just walked away. We hadn’t spoken since until Zayn brought him to the pub two weeks ago.”

“Fuck,” Liam whispered, his eyes glued to Harry.

Harry didn’t say anything back, he didn’t need to. His heart was heavy, and his head was pounding from retelling his and Louis’ story. It had been so long since he’d told anyone any of it, and he wasn’t sure if reliving it had been like a weight off his chest or had made his heart hurt that much more. It was a mess – all of it – even after all these years.

“Well,” Liam broke the silence. “I still think you should come out tonight. I know he’s going to be there, he and Zayn are pretty much inseparable these days, but I don’t think he like, holds a grudge or anything. He seems happy. Maybe this is your chance to forgive yourself and move on.”

Liam was the second person to tell him that – maybe he and Niall were conspiring together or something – but Harry couldn’t do it, not yet. He wasn’t ready to forgive himself, not until Louis was ready to forgive him first.

“Maybe next week,” he knew it was a lie, he knewhe’d probably never go to pub night ever again, but it seemed to appease Liam and that was all that. mattered.

~

Harry was convinced that he was hanging in limbo, life just moving on around him while he stayed static – completely still. He woke up the Saturday after his conversation with Liam feeling hungover even though he’d skipped out on pub night, even though he hadn’t had a single drop of alcohol. His brain was foggier than ever, thoughts of Louis seeping through every circuit, every pathway. He walked around the empty flat in a haze, the first time he’d ever felt grateful that Niall was dating his sister and often spent the night there. He needed the time alone. He needed the time to drink copious amounts of caffeine and work himself out of this state. He shouldn’t be this affected by Louis’ presence. He shouldn’t be this affected by the guilt he still carried with him. He probably shouldn’t still carry that guilt anyways.

By midday Harry still hadn’t put on actual clothes. He was lounging on the sofa, still clad in only boxers, feet on the coffee table, and some mindless reality tv show playing on the television set. He was fine, perfectly content with staying there the rest of the day. His mind was preoccupied, albeit by some shite television, but at least he wasn’t thinking about himanymore.

He didn’t move when he heard the keys work their way into the door, didn’t really give a single fuck if Niall found him half naked in front of the tv. But when Gemma entered the living room, her eyes wide with surprise (and maybe a little bit of judgment), Harry felt a pang of embarrassment rush through him. He should be better than this. He shouldn’t be holed up in his flat on a Saturday afternoon because he was so absolutely terrified of running into Louis on the streets of London.

“Harry Edward Styles,” Gemma had her hands on her hips, looking just as Anne did when she’d scolded them as children.

“Gemma Anne Styles,” Harry echoed, barely even looking up from the tv.

Gemma moved to stand in front of the screen, her face stern. “I think we need to talk.”

“Let me guess,” Harry said with a roll of his eyes. “Niall told you Louis moved to London and is suddenly best mates with Zayn.”

Gemma sighed, moving to sit beside Harry on the sofa. “Why didn’t you tell me, Harry? I practically see you every day, you could’ve talked to me.”

Harry shrugged. “What’s there to talk about, Gems? It’s not a big deal.”

“You haven’t gone out with your friends in two weeks,” she stated. “Obviously it’s a big deal.”

“It’s not,” Harry argued. “I’ve just been busy with work and watching Jordy Shore.”

“Harry,” Gemma’s voice had softened, her eyes now filled with concern. “Talk to me, what’s going on?”

He moved his eyes back to the television, trying to rack his brain for some sort of answer – for anything. Gemma was one of the only people who knew everything there was to know about his past with Louis. She’d been the first person he’d talked to after the breakup, the first person whose shoulder he’d cried on after leaving Louis running after him in the snow. He’d driven to her flat once he’d been gotten back to London, knocking on her door with a tear stained face. She’d let him sit in her arms for hours, drinking tea after tea until he fell asleep on her sofa. She’d bought him a dozen pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream and had let him stay at her flat until he could get through an entire day without crying. He’d basically lived at her flat until the end of the school year, until his internship started, and he was too busy to grieve over the end of his relationship. Gemma knew it all and talking to her now felt like he had to finally admit to the fact that he just wasn’t as over it as he pretended to be.

“Where’s Niall?” Harry asked, suddenly aware that he wasn’t with Gemma.

“He’s back at mine,” Gemma replied. “After he told me about Louis I wanted to come over and talk, just us. So, talk.”

Harry rolled his eyes. She hadn’t lost her bossiness as they’d gotten older, if anything, she’d just gotten bossier. “There’s nothing to talk about,” Harry repeated. “Louis’ in London. He’s a photographer. He’s happy. He’s...he’s...he seems to be doing great.”

“And you?” Gemma asked as she put her arm around him, pulling him close to her side. “How are you doing? Because it seems to me that you’re hiding from him.”

He’d never been able to hide himself from his sister. She’d always been able to read him so easily. “I just need time, Gemma. Why doesn’t anyone get that?”

“I do,” Gemma whispered. “I get it, Harry, I do. But I’m worried about you. I haven’t seen you like this since the breakup.”

He rolled his eyes again. “It’s not that bad, Gems. I’m not like depressedor any of that shit. I’m just, I guess I’m just still reeling from seeing him is all. I just need time to adjust and feel normal with it all. I just need time to figure out how to be around him.”

“Okay, okay,” Gemma kissed the top of his head before ruffling up his curls. “I just needed to make sure you’re okay. You know you can talk to me about anything, right? I know I’m with Niall and stuff, but it’s you and me first, always.”

Always. Forever.

Blah blah blah.

*

Once Harry managed to convince Gemma that he was indeed okay and not about to jump off a cliff any time soon, he decided enough was enough. He dragged himself into the shower, washing away any and all of his thoughts of Louis and their past. He stepped out of the shower feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed – ready to take on the day and become a productive member of society. Although itwas Saturday evening and there wasn’t really much for him to do. He walked back to his bedroom, towel knotted around his waist, and reached for his phone to ring up Liam and ask him to get dinner. He didn’t get that far though, not with the text message that was waiting for him, only five minutes old.

From: 020-7946-0454
hi, I got your number from Zayn. I hope that’s okay.

Harry furrowed his eyebrows in confusion, not recognizing the number on the screen. It could be anyone, but it could also be him. His heart stopped when his phone vibrated, indicating a new message.

From: 020-7946-0454
this is Louis by the way. Realized you probably have no clue who this is. Sorry

Harry stared at the phone in his hands, jaw dropped and eyes wide. Louis was texting him. Louis was texting him. What the actual fuck? Never in his wildest dreams had he ever expected Louis Tomlinson to try to contact him in any way ever again.

The phone buzzed again before Harry was even able to gather his shock up and attempt to respond.

From: 020-7946-0454
I was hoping maybe we could talk? get a cuppa or something?

And wait...what? Louis wanted to meet Harry and talk to him? Louis actually wanted to have a conversation with him? Harry must have stepped out of the shower and walked onto a different planet. This must be an alternate universe. This wasn’t reality, it couldn’t be.

From: 020-7946-0454
Harry? did Zayn give me the right number?

Harry sat down on the edge of his bed, hair still dripping from his towel and jaw still hanging open. He couldn’t get over the onslaught of texts he’d just received; he couldn’t get over the fact that Louis had gone out of his way to ask someone else for his phone number and was now asking if they could meet up to chat. Life was either incredibly cruel or extraordinarily kind – Harry couldn’t tell which.

He quickly saved Louis’ number into his contacts before moving his thumbs across the screen, slowly responding to Louis’ messages.

To: Louis
Uh...yeah this is Harry...you’ve got the right number. What did you want to talk about?

He pressed send and stared at the screen, phone shaking in his unsteady hands. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t even remember how to as he watched the three little bubbles appear and then a new message come through.

From: Louis
oh I don’t know, thought maybe we could have a little chat about how you’re obviously not alright with me hanging out with your mates.

And god, apparently Louis hadn’t lost an ounce of his sass over the years. Harry could practically hear Louis’ voice in the message, hear the sarcasm and the rather large pinch of attitude in the words. He wasn’t sure if it left him wanting more or if it sat heavy in his chest. He wasn’t sure of anything.

From: Louis
how bout tonight? There’s a café across the street from the pub. We can meet there? Or are you busy preparing for your boyfriend’s morning show tomorrow?

Boyfriend? What? And then Harry remembered that Louis thought he was dating Nick, like actually dating Nick. Ha. As if.

To: Louis
I’ll meet you there at 7 - H.

The response came immediately, only seconds after Harry had pressed the “send” button.

From: Louis
for fuck sakes Harry you don’t have to sign off on your texts. I know who you are. See you at 7

Harry rolled his eyes and dropped the phone beside him before falling back on the bed with a sigh. He was getting coffee with Louis. He was going to see Louis. He was going to be alonewith Louis in only two hours. Holy fuck. How was he going to survive this? How was he going to sit across from the once love of his life and not be completely swallowed up by his guilt? He should have ignored the messages. He should have pretended like Zayn had indeed given Louis the wrong number.

Fucking Zayn.

He picked his phone back up, thumbs flying across the screen as he angrily typed out a new message.

To: Zayn
Thanks for giving Louis Tomlinson my number. I see whose side you’re on

Zayn didn’t respond until Harry was already up and getting dressed, trying to ignore the pang of anxiety in the back of his mind, the little jolts of panic that were telling him he had to pick the perfect outfit. It didn’t matter how he looked. He didn’t have to impress Louis, not anymore. That ship had sailed five years ago, and it was never coming back.

From: Zayn
I’m not taking anyone’s side, H. You guys obviously have some shit to work through. Deal with your shit so I can hang out with my friends again.

Harry groaned at the response, grumbling as he threw his phone back on the bed and went back to his closest. He opted for his favourite pink and white polka dotted button up and his favourite skinny jeans. If he was going to go have the most uncomfortable cuppa of his life he may as well do it in his favourite outfit.

He chose to take the tube to the café. His nerves were already shot and the last thing he needed to do was get into some fiery car accident because he couldn’t manage to pay enough attention to the road. The entire ride was a blur, his headphones plugged into his ears and his music on shuffle. He got lost in the beats of the songs, staring out of the dark window into the nothingness of the tube tunnel. The closer he got to the stop, the more he started to panic. He hadn’t been alone with Louis since that day – hadn’t been alone with Louis since he’d put a match to their life together and watched it go up in flames. But he could do this. He could sit down at a café and be civil. He could work through whatever hostility still existed between them and get his shit together, if not for himself and Louis then for his friends. Harry couldn’t lose them just because Louis moved to town. He wouldn’t let Louis take his place and squeeze him out of his group of friends. London was big enough for the both of them.

Wasn’t it?

By the time Harry got to the café he was fairly certain he was going to pass out from lack of oxygen. He wasn’t even sure if his lungs had gotten a full breath of air since the first message Louis had sent. He stalled outside of the door, trying to calm himself down before entering the café and facing Louis for the first time in two weeks – for the first realtime in five years.

As it turned out, he still had significant amount of time to panic, because he’d apparently beaten Louis to the café. He ordered himself a cup of coffee and found a table tucked into the back of the small space. He’d been going to the pub across the street almost every Friday night for years, but he’d never stepped a foot into this café. It was quaint, quiet, and perhaps just a little too intimate for his first solo meeting with Louis since their messy breakup. This was the sort of place you’d want to take someone on the first date, definitely not the kind of place you wanted to meet your ex-boyfriend (the ex-love of your life).

He leaned forward and blew out the candle in the center of the table (the last thing he needed was some sort of romantic setting between him and Louis) at the exact same time as the door to the café opened and Louis Tomlinson made his grand entrance. Harry sank back into his chair, watching carefully as Louis stepped through the door and quickly scanned the room before his eyes found Harry. He smiled, waving with two fingers, and made his way to the counter to order his own drink. Harry watched, in complete awe, his eyes trained on Louis’ back. He could do this. Louis would walk over and sit down. They’d talk, and everything would be okay. They’d sort it out. They could be friends – they could.

“Hi,” suddenly Louis was there, right there, a cup of Yorkshire tea in his hands (his small hands). Harry didn’t say anything as Louis sat down across from him, his blue eyes never leaving Harry. “You’re drinking coffee at 7 o’clock at night? You’re never going to be able to sleep tonight.”

Harry’s heart stuttered, it might have stopped beating altogether for all Harry knew, because somehow – somehow– Louis seemed to remember that if Harry consumed caffeine past 4 in the afternoon he wasn’t able to sleep at night. He shouldn’t remember that. Louis remembering that small detail was like a punch to the gut. It was too much.

“Some things never change,” Harry mumbled into his mug as he held it at his lips, his eyes trained on Louis. He couldn’t look away. He’d never been able to look away.

“Your hair did,” Louis said, his eyes finally leaving Harry’s, suddenly overly focused on the table top in front of them. “It’s really long.”

Harry’s fingers instinctively reached for his curls, pulling at one gently. He’d worn his hair down today, and his curls rested on his shoulders. He hadn’t had a proper hair cut in years, just trims here and there. It had sort of become a part of him. “Oh, yeah,” he replied quietly.”

“I like it,” it was a whisper, barely audible, but Harry caught it nonetheless. Louis’ eyes widened once he realized what had just come out of his own mouth, his cheeks pinkening a bit out of embarrassment. But he recovered quickly – he alwaysrecovered quickly. “Can’t say I like your new fashion sense though. I mean, you’ve always been able to pull off pink, but you could at least attemptto do up the buttons of your shirt. Do you have any shame at all?”

Harry looked down, his chin resting on his chest. He hadn’t left the top four buttons open on purpose, it was just the way he always wore button up shirts these days. He definitely hadn’t done it for Louis.

“Also seems like you’ve managed to accumulate a bunch of tattoos,” Louis commented, his eyes still on the opening of Harry’s shirt where the swallows were distinctly on display. Harry’s body flushed under his gaze. “Your mum can’t be too happy ‘bout that.”

Harry shrugged. He could do this. He wasdoing this. “She stopped commenting after the tenth,” he paused as Louis chuckled at his statement. And god, he’d forgotten that laugh; he’d forgotten the way Louis’ eyes crinkled at the corners when he laughed just hard enough. It was brilliant. Fuck fuck fuck.

“How many do you have?”

Harry reeled himself back in, trying to put his attention back on their conversation instead of Louis’ laugh, Louis’ entire being. “Honestly couldn’t tell you. Over forty, but some of them are pretty small.”

Louis nodded as if impressed. “Nice. I only have thirty-six meself.”

Harry couldn’t help the way his eyes scanned over Louis’ clothed body. He was wearing an oversized Adidas jumper that kept the majority of his skin to Harry’s imagination. He couldn’t even picture Louis with a tattoo, but now he was curious, his mind running wild with it. “And Jo? How did she take it?”

Louis laughed at the mention of his mum, and Harry just wanted to bottle it up and keep it forever. It had been so long, way too long, since he’d heard the beautiful sound, and now that he had he never wanted to forget it again. “She was fine until Lottie went and got one from some guy who didn’t check her ID. Mum blamed me, but she’s over it now.”

Harry lost himself at the mention of Lottie. She’d be what, seventeen now? It was incredible how fast the time had passed. He missed them, the whole Tomlinson lot. “How are the girls?” he couldn’t keep himself from asking. He needed to know.

Louis was silent for a minute, playing with the sleeve of his jumper as he thought of a response. “They’re good,” he finally said. “Lottie’s starting uni in the fall. Oh, and mum remarried a couple years ago. They’re actually expecting twins, just found out a couple months ago.”

“Wow,” Harry whistled. Things had changed, everything had changed. Everyone’s lives had gone on and existed without him being a part of it, and he had no one to blame but himself. “Congratulations.”

“Thanks.”

They fell silent, both of them staring into their mugs instead of making eye contact. It was awkward, and that was something Harry wasn’t used to. It had never been awkward between them before. They used to be able to sit in silence for hours and it feel like the most natural thing in the world. But right now, with Louis sitting across from him and silence filling the space between them, Harry just wanted to sink and be swallowed up by the floor. He wanted to disappear and run back to his flat, lock himself inside his room for the rest of eternity. They weren’t the same boys they’d been when they met at fifteen. Everything had changed, and Harry couldn’t handle it.

“Look, Haz,” Harry’s head snapped up as the old nickname slipped from Louis’ lips. Louis looked just as shocked as Harry felt, his jaw open and his eyes wide. “Sorry, uh, I didn’t mean to...”

“It’s okay,” Harry responded immediately. He wasn’t sorry that the nickname had slipped unconsciously from Louis’ lips. He hadn’t even realized how much he missed hearing it until it was hanging between them.

Louis brushed his fingers through his fringe, taking a deep breath before continuing. “Why haven’t you come to pub night the last couple weeks?”

Harry tore his gaze from the stubble on Louis’ face and met his eyes once again. He was so tired of people asking him this question, but it was different coming from Louis. Everything was different coming from Louis. “I don’t know.”

“Buzz off, Harry,” Louis called him out on his lie. “Zayn told me you never miss pub night unless you’re ill or something. So obviously it’s ‘cause of me.”

Harry shrugged. “It’s not because of you per say. It’s just, I don’t know...it didn’t seem like you really wanted to talk to me when I tried to talk to you that night, you know, outside when you were smoking. And I just thought, maybe you’d prefer if I wasn’t there.”

“Why would I prefer that?”

Harry looked at Louis like he was crazy, because he must be, right? “Because you hate me.”

Louis looked down at his mug for a moment before he met Harry’s eyes again. This time Louis’ eyes were softer, sadder. “I don’t hate you, Haz,” the nickname seemed purposeful this time and Harry was drowning in it. “I mean, I hated you, for a really long time even. But that was years ago, what happened was years ago. I don’t have the energy to hate you anymore. I’ve moved on, you’ve moved on, there’s no reason why we can’t have the same friends.”

“When did you stop hating me?” his voice was a whisper, as if he was trying to hold his question back but failed.

Louis thought for a moment before opening his mouth once more. “I dunno. Somewhere between mum meeting Dan and me meeting Tommy. I think they both sort of helped me realize that what we had wasn’t healthy and that I’d been holding on to what I thought we were and ignoring all the problems.”

What he thought they were. Harry knew exactly what Louis meant because Harry had had the same problem right up until the end. He’d been holding on to the picture he’d painted of him and Louis with all his strength, ignoring all the bad times – all the fights – and only focusing on what they’d once been, what they were before it had all gone to shit. It had been impossibly difficult to let go of that image, but it had been the only way to keep them from destroying each other even more.

“I don’t want you to stop hanging out with your friends because of me,” Louis said after a long moment of silence. “If you don’t want to see me then I’ll stay away. They were your group of friends first and I’ll respect that.”

Harry shook his head, immediately knowing that wasn’t what he wanted. “No, we can be grown-ups, right? It doesn’t have to be awkward or anything.”

“Nope, not at all. You can bring Nick and I’ll bring Tommy and it’ll be the least awkward thing ever,” Louis laughed at his own joke, because obviously (obviously) it was going to be awkward. “Still can’t believe you’re dating Nick Grimshaw by the way. I didn’t realize that obnoxious hipsters were your type. But then again, you did have your hair in a bun the other night.”

Harry couldn’t help but laugh. “First of all, my hair is amazing, and it looks fucking stellar in a bun,” Louis laughed again, and Harry couldn’t help but swell with pride at the fact that he’d made that sound happen. “Secondly, I’m not dating Nick Grimshaw.”

Louis tilted his head to the side, eyeing Harry suspiciously. “You aren’t?”

“Nope,” Harry popped the “p” for good measure. “He’s my mate and we’re like...”

“Fucking around?” Louis offered.

“I was looking for a more eloquent way to put it,” Harry responded. “But yes, we’re fucking around. But he’s most definitely not my boyfriend.”

“Why not?”

Harry couldn’t hold back his smile, couldn’t not smile at the way that Louis seemed to loosen up once Harry admitted he wasn’t dating Nick. It didn’t mean anything, of course it didn’t mean anything, but it was something. It was one step closer to Louis and Harry being able to actually become friends again.

“Because he’s an obnoxious hipster,” Harry responded, earning yet another laugh from Louis.

*

“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Louis asked as they walked out of the café and stepped onto the sidewalk. It was dark, half past nine o’clock, and Harry couldn’t believe that they’d just managed to talk for over two hours. He couldn’t believe he’d just been alone with Louis for more than two hours. Apparently, the whole world had gotten jumbled up since his shower this afternoon. He must still be in the alternate universe.

“Wasn’t bad at all,” Harry agreed as they stood facing one another, both of their hands deep into their jacket pockets.

“Can I be honest for a second?” Louis asked quietly, looking up at Harry. Harry was so much taller than Louis now, and it left an unsettled feeling in Harry’s chest.

Harry nodded. “Course. You can always be honest with me, Lou.” Why did this seem so easy? This shouldn’t be that easy.

“I’d really like it if we tried to do this often, you know? You were my best friend once, and I think it would be really good for us if we tried to like, be friends again. ‘Specially if we’re going to have mutual friends and whatnot.”

“I’d like that too,” god, Harry would like that so much.

“And I’d really like you to meet Tommy,” Louis continued, stabbing Harry in the stomach just when he thought he finally had his footing. “If we’re going to spend time together he’ll want to meet you. He knows about us...and I think it would be important to him.”

Harry nodded even though it was the very last thing he wanted to do. The very last thing he wanted to do was meet the new boyfriend to prove that he was in no way shape or form a threat to his relationship. He wasn’t a threat, but that didn’t mean he wanted to meet the guy Louis went home to every night. It didn’t mean he wanted to meet the guy Louis had sex with all the time. In fact, Harry would do just fine never meeting Tommy ever.

“Yeah, I’d like that,” he said instead, lying because he knew it was the only way to move forward with Louis. If he wanted to be friends with Louis he needed to do this, he needed to meet him.

Once the made it the short walk to the tube they parted ways, neither of them really knowing what the appropriate goodbye would be. They ended up awkwardly fist bumping and laughing, mumbling goodbyes as they went in separate directions. Harry didn’t realize he was breathing normal again until he was sat on the train, his heart light, finally free from all of the anxiety he’d been carrying with him for the past two weeks. Louis wanted to be friends. Louis wanted him and Harry to find their way back to being friends. Harry hadn’t felt this light since before seeing Louis in the pub two weeks ago. Maybe he hadn’t felt this light since the last time he’d had Louis in his life. But he wasn’t letting it go, he’d never let this feeling go. He finally had Louis back, had his number programed in his phone and everything, and Harry would never let it go.

Chapter Text

Somehow we make it alive
And both get out on the other side
Know, this might be asking a lot
When it's all said and done, don't forget that you loved me once

(Once – Maren Morris)

Louis hated that Tommy worked late some nights - usually. But tonight he was actually grateful that Tommy wouldn’t be home until late. He needed time to process; he need time to lay on the sofa, stare intently at the ceiling, and replay his entire coffee date with Harry. His entire body felt like pins and needles, and from the very second he’d waved goodbye to Harry and gone his separate way, Louis felt wired. And he didn’t like it. It left him feeling uneasy and off hinge.

He couldn’t even begin to wrap his mind around the fact that he’d asked Harry to be his friend -his fucking friend. Louis was 10000000% positive that he’d lost his entire mind - he was absolutely fucking certain that his marbles were currently rolling down the streets of London - because he’d clearly gone fucking insane. Louis being friends with Harry Styles was like a fish surviving outside of water. It wasn’t fucking possible.

“The fuck have I gotten myself into?” Louis muttered to the ceiling, thankful that the stucco couldn’t respond. The last thing he needed was someone to confirm his insanity. He didn’t need a second opinion thank you very much.

Yes, they’d been friends once, best mates even, but that had been a lifetime ago. And Louis would be lying to himself (and to every other person on the planet) if he pretended like he hadn’t loved Harry from the very start. It might have taken six months for them to become something, something more, but it had always been Louis’ intention – his fucking hope. So, no, maybe him and Harry had never actually been just friends. Maybe they’d always been something more. Maybe Louis was a fucking idiot for thinking he could be Harry’s friend now. Maybe Louis was about to dig his own grave. Maybe Louis should just move to Antarctica already.

Maybe he needed his mum.

“Louis?” Lottie’s voice filled his eardrums after only a few rings. He could always bet on one of the girls answering the phone, always beating Jo or Dan to it whenever Louis called. “Can I come live with you in London? These people are crazy, they’re driving me insane!”

Louis rolled his eyes. Lottie asked him the same question every time they talked, she’d even taken to texting him throughout the week with the futile hope that Louis would let her move in with him. She was seventeen and the epitome of a teenaged girl, growing restless in a house of rules and younger siblings. Louis could sympathize, but he also couldn’t hold back the joy he had in watching the younger girls drive her as crazy as she’d once driven him. Payback’s a bitch.

“Nope,” Louis answered simply. It was the same answer every time. “If I had to put up with you then you have to put up with them.”

“But they keep taking my clothes!” Lottie whined.

He just laughed in response. “You used to steal my jumpers all the time, Lots. Suck it up and put mum on the phone, would ya?”

Lottie mumbled a curse in response, which made Louis laugh even harder. There was no doubt in his mind that they were related. Lottie was just as sassy as he’d been at seventeen, and he couldn’t help but feel bad for Jo and Dan. They had their hands full between her, sixteen-year-old Felicite and the eleven-year-old twins. He couldn’t even imagine how much crazier the house was about to get, with the new set of twins being due in just a few months.

“Louis?” Jo was suddenly chatting in his ear, pulling him from his thoughts. “It’s not Wednesday, love. Is everything okay?” Louis had called home every Wednesday since he’d left Holmes Chapel, never once breaking routine except for birthdays.

“Everything’s fine, mum. I just wanted to say hi.”

“Louis,” Jo knew him better than anyone else. She knew when he was lying, even when she couldn’t see him. “What is it?”

Louis sighed, laying back on the sofa and staring back up at the stucco ceiling. “I’ve been keeping something from you.”

There was a beat of silence, and Louis could practically hear the worry in Jo’s breathing. “What is it? Are you on drugs? Did you break up with Tommy?”

“Jesus, mum,” Louis groaned. “Why are those always the two things you jump to? I’m not on drugs and Tommy and I are fine.”

“Then what is it, Louis?”

Louis took a deep breath, screwing his eyes shut before rushing out, “I saw Harry a couple weeks ago and iaskedhimtobefriends.

“Wait...” Jo stumbled, taking a minute to process the information. “Harry? When did this happen?”

Louis briefly told his mum about the day at the pub, when Zayn had finally been able to convince him to go out with him, when he’d seen Harry standing at the bar, flamingo shirt and man bun intact. He told Jo about how Harry had vanished for the next couple of weeks, how he’d reached out and asked Harry to talk. He told her everything.

“So, wait,” Jo finally spoke. “You’re just, you’re going to be friends with him again after everything that happened?”

Louis couldn’t help but roll his eyes. She had no idea what had actually happened. It had been the one thing he’d managed to keep from his mum. Even after all the years that had passed, after five years of her casually bringing it up, Louis had managed to steer clear from breaking down the worst day of his life piece by piece for her. All she knew was that they’d broken up, that he and Harry had decided it was time to move on and let go of their unhealthy relationship. It wasn’t really a lie, well, not really. They had decided to move on – Harry had decided it was time to move on.Louis hadn’t been a part of the decision at all. But really, it was just semantics at this point. Jo didn’t need to know every single dirty little detail.

“It’s been years, mum,” Louis explained with a sigh. “It’s been a lifetime and if I’m going to see him every time I wanna hang out with my friends wouldn’t it be better if we got along?”

“I just don’t want to see you get hurt Lou, not by him, not again,” Jo’s voice was laced with concern and motherly love. And louis couldn’t really blame her, not really. He’d spent longer than he cared to admit holed up in his room after the break up. Of course, she didn’t want him to be like that ever again.

She could hate Harry for the rest of her life if she wanted to, but Louis couldn’t go to his grave with those kinds of emotions. It wasn’t worth his sanity. He didn’t have space in his heart to hate someone – to hate Harry– not anymore.

“He can’t hurt me, mum,” Louis finally said. “I won’t give him the chance to. We’re just friends, if that really. For all I know I could wind up not being able to stand his hipster ass,” he sighed in relief when Jo finally laughed on the other end, letting down her protective mamma claws. “I just don’t want to let him have any sort of hold on me anymore. So, I’m being a grown up about it.”

“Just be careful, Louis,” Jo said quietly, and Louis just didn’t get it. Why did he need to be careful? Being friends with Harry wasn’t that big of a risk. Being friends with Harry wasn’t going to get him where he’d ended up last time. There was absolutely zero risk associated with being friends with Harry. It was a safe bet. Everything was going to be perfectly fine.

*

Tommy didn’t take the news quite as well as Jo had, and maybe Louis should have seen it coming. Maybe Louis should have accounted for the fact that his boyfriend wouldn’t be overly thrilled with the fact that he’d gone out and asked his ex-boyfriend to be his new mate. Maybe Louis had hit his head at some point and lost a few brain cells. Maybe he’d gone insane. That was probably it. He’d probably be in a strait jacket soon. He probably needed it.

“I just don’t get it,” Tommy said evenly as he ran his palm down his face. He’d only been home from work for an hour, and for whatever reason, Louis had thought it would be smart to spring the news on him at one o’clock in the morning while he was trying to get ready for bed. Again, Louis knew he wasn’t going to win Smartest Man of the Year or anything. “Why? Why are you trying to be friends with him?”

Louis shrugged from his side of the bed. They were both sat against the headboard, duvet pulled up to their chests, the bedside lamp offering the only source of light. “I’m not trying to be friends with him,” he tried to explain. “I just...I don’t want to have to tiptoe around him, and I don’t want him to think he has to stay away from his friends or anything. So, I just...I thought if we could just be friends and be mature about it, it would be easier. You know?”

Tommy turned to face him, his face scrunched up with confusion or disdain. Louis wasn’t quite sure which one. “No, Louis, I don’t know.The guy fucked you up, he literally fucked you and broke up with you all in the same day. Or am I getting something wrong here?”

Louis closed his eyes, trying to block out Tommy’s words. He’d only really told Tommy about the bad parts of his relationship with Harry. He’d wanted to keep all the wonderful bits, all of the love and the way he’d naively thought Harry would be his forever, to himself. It had felt easier to admit that he’d been broken up with in the worst way possible than admit that Harry had been the love of his life. It was easier to tell Tommy about the end than tell him about the beginning and all of the in between. Louis had wanted to keep the love story to himself, he’d wanted to bottle up the love he and Harry had shared and store it away for safe keeping. Louis was a lot of things, but he was a sucker for holding onto memories, even when it was too painful to open the bottle and recollect them. He’d just wanted to keep them safe; he’d just wanted to keep them for only him and Harry.
Louis was a fucking idiot.

“No,” Louis finally whispered. “You’re not getting anything wrong. I just...it was forever ago, Tommy. It’s just...I’d rather get along with him and move on. Is that so wrong?”

“And you just expect me to be okay with it all? You expect me to want to meet him and hang out with him like he isn’t the guy who broke your heart? Seriously, Louis, how am I supposed to do that?”

“I...I,” Louis stumbled. It wasn’t like he’d expected Tommy to be happy per say. He wasn’t fucking stupid. But he hadn’t really expected the hurt in Tommy’s eyes. “Look,” Louis sighed before trying again. “I needto do this. I know you don’t get it, but I need to let it all go and move on, yeah? I want you, only you. But...”

“But you have a sudden need to have your ex as your new best friend?”

Louis sighed again. “He’s not going to be my best friend, Tommy, just another one of my mates. Just another one of the guys at pub night.”

The room grew silent as Tommy stared down at the duvet, taking far too long to process Louis’ words. “I have conditions.”

Louis exhaled a breath he hadn’t even realized he’d been holding in. “Okay, yeah. Conditions. That’s perfectly reasonable.”

“Number one, I don’t you alone with him, ever,” Louis made to protest, but Tommy held up a hand to stop him. “I trust you, I do. But I don’t know him, and I don’t trust him.”

Fair. Point made. “Okay. Anything else?”

“You have to tell me anything I should know,” Tommy continued. “No keeping anything from me. If he so much as touches your shoulder, I want to know about it.”

Excessive, but reasonable. “I promise.”

Louis didn’t break promises, ever. But as he fell asleep that night he couldn’t ignore the nagging feeling in his chest. Maybe, just maybe, he’d just made a promise he couldn’t keep.

~

Louis was certifiably insane. He had to be. It was the only explanation he had for why he was currently typing a text message to the one person he shouldn’t be texting. He was sat at a café, on a quick lunch break in between shoots, and he just needed to make sure Harry was going to be at pub night. They hadn’t had any contact since their coffee date (er, chat,coffee chat), and now that it was Friday, Louis needed to make sure Harry wasn’t going to blow off his friends again. He needed to give himself time to prepare to see him again.

To: Harry

You coming out tonight?

Simple. To the point. Everything his texts with Harry had never been in the past.

His phone buzzed only seconds later.

From: Harry

You betcha! Can’t wait to meet the old ball and chain

And weird, that was weird. On what planet would someone be thatexcited to meet their ex’s boyfriend? Either Harry was so fucking good at keeping the past in the past, or he was over-selling his enthusiasm. Either way it didn’t matter, not really. This was their lives now.

Louis didn’t bother responding – didn’t bother explaining that Tommy was indeed not joining them for pub night. Louis had tried – he’d tried to talk Tommy into coming out – but he’d refused. He didn’t want to sit around a booth and watch Louis play nice with a guy who’d broken his heart. And yeah, okay, Louis could understand (to a point). Maybe he’d be the exact same way if the roles were reversed. But it didn’t matter. Tommy should want to be there. He should want to sit beside Louis and be possessive. He should want to show Harry just who Louis belonged to now.

And god. Louis was now at the point where he saw himself as belonging to someone else. He’d sworn he’d never let himself get thatdeep into a relationship again. He loved Tommy, he really did, but he was no one’s property. Louis Tomlinson belonged to Louis Tomlinson thank you very much.

*

When Louis got to the pub he immediately placed a cigarette between his lips, leaned against the building and held a lighter to the poisonous stick. He needed to calm his nerves – he needed to let the nicotine run through his veins and coat his blood cells with tar. He knew that wasn’t exactly how smoking worked, but as he sucked in a deep breath he could picture it – he could picture the toxic tar slowing everything down.

He was so consumed from imagining the cancer stick’s toxins coursing through his bloodstream that he didn’t even hear him approach. He was so relaxed, his eyes closed, and head tilted back that he didn’t even see him walking down the sidewalk.

“I’m never going to get used to seeing you smoke,” the deep, raspy voice broke Louis out of his day dream, his eyes shooting open to find Harry standing only a few inches in front of him.

Louis exhaled slowly, refusing to let Harry see the effect that his sudden appearance had on him. He was surprised, and that was all it was. “M’gonna tie a fucking bell around your neck, Styles. Can’t just be poppin’ up on people like that.”

And no, god no, did Louis really just make a comment about putting a fucking collar around his ex’s neck? What the actual fuck, Tomlinson?

But Harry was just laughing, showing absolutely no sense of awkwardness at all. And Louis kind of hated that. He hated that he could be so incredibly mortified while Harry was so collected – so goddamn fucking chill.

“Seriously though, you should quit,” Harry’s tone was much more serious now that he’d stopped laughing, his gaze fixated on the Marlboro in Louis’ left hand.

Louis rolled his eyes, slowly bringing the cigarette up to his mouth and inhaling again. “My mum lectures me enough for the entire fucking world. I don’t need you riding my arse too, Haz.”

Fucking seriously? Louis needed to go bury himself in a six-foot grave immediately, before he made any other awkward sexual comments.

“Right, erm, sorry,” Harry stumbled, his fingers pulling on a curl. Louis knew that movement all too well – knew it was a nervous tick. “Where’s the boyfriend then? Already inside?”

Louis wished his cigarette wasn’t finished; he wished it would be socially acceptable to stand there and chain smoke instead of answering Harry’s question. If only life was that easy. “He didn’t end up coming,” he rushed out the words as he twisted the butt of his cigarette out with the toe of his shoe.

Harry arched an eyebrow but didn’t question him further, much to Louis’ relief. Instead, Harry pulled the door to the pub open, turning to Louis with a smile. “Coming in? Or are you going to slowly kill yourself some more first?”

“Bugger off, will you?”

Harry chuckled, holding the door for Louis and following close behind. “You’re the one begging me to be your friend, Lou. Friends don’t let friends have nasty habits.”

And fuck, was that how Harry saw it then? Did he think Louis was fucking desperate for his friendship? Louis didn’t even know if that was what was going on, he had no fucking clue why he’d suggested they give being friends a shot, but in the moment, he regretted it. in the moment he wanted to punch Harry hard in the bicep and tell him to fuck right off.

Louis let out a breath of relief when his gaze fell on their usual booth in the back of the pub and saw Liam, Zayn and Niall already seated there, pints in hand. The less time he had to spend alone with Harry the better. It was only a matter of time (seconds really) before he said something stupid again, before Louis put his foot in his mouth for the millionth time in his lifetime.

Louis tried to ignore the curiosity in Zayn’s eyes as he made his way to the table. He was acutely aware of the fact that Harry was following close behind – he could practically feel Harry’s presence.

“Well, well, well,” Niall chirped the moment they made it to the booth. “Glad to see you could make it, ya cunt. Thought I’d have to come home and drag you here meself.”

Louis slid into the booth next to Zayn, looking past his friend to greet Liam who was sat on the other side of him. Louis turned his attention then to Harry, who was already sitting beside Niall, his face flushed pink as he slapped the Irishman on the back of the head.

“I told you I was coming,” Harry said as he grabbed Niall’s pint of beer and took a drink.

Niall just shrugged, taking his beer back from Harry with a scowl. “How are ya, Tommo? Where’s that boyfriend of yours? Was hoping to pick on him for his Arsenal obsession.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “Your boyfriend is an Arsenal fan? I think this shocks me more than you smoking.”

Louis couldn’t hold back his laughter. He’d been a die-hard Manchester United fan for as long as he could remember – his mum had even dressed him in onesies decorated in the logo as a baby – and Louis took his love for football quite seriously. Harry had even had to hold him back from one too many fights when he’d gotten a bit too passionate about a match.

“Seriously,” Harry continued. “How have you not killed him yet? If I would’ve cheered for anyone other than Man U when we were together you would’ve dumped me immediately.”

Not a chance in the world. Louis didn’t speak the words out loud, he didn’t dare. Louis would have stood by Harry’s side through anything. Louis would have burned all of his Manchester United merch for Harry for crying out loud. “We watch all Arsenal vs. Manchester United games in separate rooms,” Louis said instead. The rest of it didn’t matter, not anymore.

Harry snorted out a laugh, but Louis got the impression that he had found it more ridiculous and stupid than funny. Oh well. Harry could judge his relationship all he wanted; his judgments meant nothing as long as he was screwing around with Nick fucking Grimshaw.

Just the guy’s name was enough to make Louis’ skin crawl.

*

Louis had meant to take it easy. He’d meant to only have a couple beers – to keep his head clear. But he’d failed. He was currently standing at the bar, waiting for the bartender to get him another pint (he’d lost count at this point), with Harry standing beside him. Any drop of awkwardness between them had dissolved. They’d been getting on like any old mates would, laughing easily at each other’s jokes. It was easy, almost so easy that it left Louis feeling vulnerable and uneasy.

“I like the scruff,” Harry said randomly, arm perched on the bar counter and body turned to face Louis. He was drunk, Louis could see the haze in his eyes.

Louis moved to scratch at the scruff on his face instinctively, watching Harry closely. They hadn’t done this. Every small compliment they’d given each other so far had been followed by a joke, by a little jab, but Harry wasn’t letting up. His eyes were fixed on where Louis’ fingers were tracing over his facial hair and Louis felt like an artifact on display.

“I need a shave,” Louis responded, a rush of relief flowing through him as the bartender appeared with their drinks.

“No,” Harry said simply as he led them back to the table. “I don’t reckon you do. Can’t imagine the boyfriend has a single complaint about it.”

The boyfriend. Harry had mentioned him several times throughout the night but had never actually said Tommy’s name. Louis couldn’t help but over analyze that fact. He couldn’t help but wonder if there was some reason Harry couldn’t use the actual name. maybe it was like how vampires couldn’t say the word god. Maybe every time the name crept up on his lips, Harry got hit with a jolt of electricity. Maybe Louis was drunk (and crazy). Maybe he should stop thinking altogether.

“Oh good, you’re back!” Niall practically yelled as Louis and Harry sat back down in their respective seats. “Liam and Zayn don’t believe me that Harry used to talk in his sleep.”

It took Louis a solid couple of seconds to realize that Niall was addressing him, that Niall was looking to him to dish on facts about Harry because Louis held them all. But the thing was, the last time he’d slept in a bed with Harry, Harry had still talked in his sleep. For as far as Louis knew, that had never changed. But it had been five years and Louis didn’t know the boy (the man) sat across from him anymore.

“He used to tell actual jokes while snoring away, right Tommo?” and Niall was stilltalking, still looking at him for an answer.

Louis shook himself out of his clouded-up mind. “Oh yeah,” he painted on a giant smile and looked between Harry, Liam and Zayn. “He always demanded a cup of tea before bed and then he’d just chat away all night. I didn’t get a proper night’s sleep until he went off to uni.”

His eyes met Harry’s just then, and where he’d expected to find lightness and humour, he just found sadness. Louis looked away quickly, focusing on the beer in front of him, but he didn’t miss Harry’s shadow rising from his seat and making its way out the front door.

“Uh,” Louis looked around at everyone else, his confusion mirrored on all of their faces. “Was it something I said?”

When all he got was a shrug from Zayn and a weird smile from Niall, Louis sighed and followed the path Harry had taken to the door. He hugged his denim jacket closer to his body as he stepped into the windy night air. He spotted Harry immediately – back against the brick wall, hands stuffed into his jacket pockets, and chin to his chest. It was dark, just his silhouette really visible, but he was beautiful nonetheless.

Harry Styles was beautiful, and Louis would be a liar not to say so. And if there was one thing Louis wasn’t, it was a liar.

“Did you really hate being with me that much?” Harry’s voice was small in the dark of the night.

“What?” Louis winced at how loud his voice was, almost not even recognizing it under the thick level of anxiety it was buried underneath. He leaned against the wall beside Harry, a cigarette immediately finding its way between his lips.

“Was it really that awful being in a relationship with me?” Harry asked again, his head turned so that he could study the side of Louis’ face.

“What are you even asking me that for?” Louis wanted nothing more than to turn to look at the other boy, but he forced himself to keep staring ahead.

Harry sighed, and Louis could hear the frustration – the desperation. “You just...in there...you said you couldn’t stand the way I talked in my sleep.”

Louis exhaled, the smoke from his cigarette lingering in the air. “I didn’t say that, Hazza,” his voice was soften than before – quieter. “I said I didn’t get a full night’s sleep with you blabbering beside me. I neversaid I hated it. and I certainly never said that I hated being with you.”

“But...”

Louis shook his head, stopping him before he could say anything else. “When did I ever give you the impression that I hated being with you? Youleft me, Styles, or did you forget that part of the story?”

“I...I didn’t mean...” Harry stumbled. Louis could see the panic on his face, even in the dark. He could see the way Harry was trying to figure out what to say next without digging himself into a deeper hole.

“If anybody should be asking that question it should be me, yeah?” Louis couldn’t help it, couldn’t stop himself from talking. Everything had been so cordial since they’d found each other (stumbled upon each other) again. Everything had been so fucking pleasant. Maybe it was time for him to lay it on Harry a little bit. “You’ve got no right storming out of there like a spoiled kid who didn’t get what he wanted for Christmas. You left me, Harry, literally fucking left me in my socks in the snow.”

Louis was drunk and needed to stop talking. He needed to keep the past in the past. It did neither of them any good to bring it all back up.

“Lou...” Harry’s voice was a small whimper, and Louis swore he could see a tear under one of his green eyes.

Louis didn’t have time to process it any further because he suddenly had a pair of strong arms wrapped around his shoulders. Harry was pulling him in, pulling pulling pulling until they were flush against each other. Louis had his face pressed against Harry’s chest, and he was so fucking aware of Harry’s nose pressed against his cheek.

“I’m sorry,” Harry’s voice was a whisper in his ear, his lips so close to his skin that Louis could hear the desperation in Harry’s voice. He could hear the honesty. “I’m so fucking sorry, Lou. I’ve been sorry every single day since then and I should have told you sooner. I should have pulled over that day when I saw you outside that shop, fuck, you should’ve known how sorry I was.”

“I knew, Haz,” Louis was rubbing circles into Harry’s back, trying to bring him back down to earth. If Louis didn’t spend time crying over their breakup any more than neither should Harry. It had been five long years. They’d moved on from this. “I knew, I know how sorry you are. It’s okay. We’re okay.”

“I can’t lose you, please, I just got you back,” Harry sniffled in between words. “Please let me be your best friend again. I promise I won’t fuck it up.”

Louis laughed lighting, pulling Harry’s face away from him with both his hands so that he could look him in the eyes. “I asked you, remember? I want to be your friend. We’ve got this, yeah? You and me, forever.” He regretted it the second the word was out of his mouth. If he could reach out and take it back, he would. He’d pay a million quid to someone, anyone, to take it back and swallow it down.

“Always,” Harry countered with a smile, his dimple deep. And fuck, no, no Louis had steered far away from those two words for the past five years. But there they were now, hanging between them, a set of promises just for them. But it was different this time. They were friends, mates. These were promises they could actually keep.

*

Louis was drunk. So unbelievably and completely intoxicated. He hadn’t been this drunk in forever. but he was currently skipping down a deserted street, arm linked with Harry’s, and he was fucking happy.Everything was right in the world. After their conversation outside, Louis and Harry had gone back to their friends. There had been many shots after that, and a lotof tequila. Once they’d been kicked out after last call, they’d all decided to walk the streets instead of piling into a taxi. So, here he was, acting like a child, with Harry beside him and the rest of his friends surrounding him. Louis was happy and very, verydrunk.

“’Member that time when we were like, sixteen, and we got drunk at Charlie’s party and then went skinny dipping in that river?” Harry asked out of nowhere, his question almost bringing Louis to a stop.

Louis didn’t know if he was quite ready to take a trip down memory lane, let alone remember a time when they’d been very, very, naked. “And you got so cold that your lips started turning blue,” apparently Louis’ drunken mind was pretty content with discussing this particular memory.

“Yes!” Harry practically screamed with excitement, apparently over the moon with the fact that Louis remembered this time in their relationship. “And you were so afraid I was going to catch hypothermia that you insisted I wear your clothes as a second layer and you walked home in just your boxers!”

Once upon a time, Louis had been helpless when it came to Harry; there had been a time when he would have done absolutely anything to keep the curly haired boy happy and safe. That time felt like forever ago, nut now that he had Harry beside him – with him – it felt like Louis had been teleported back to that night at the river. He could almost see it now – sixteen-year-old Harry with his mess of curls, shivering as they stood together in the water.

Louis wasn’t drunk enough.

“Can’t say mum was too impressed when I walked through the door at two in the morning, sopping wet and practically naked,” Louis said with a laugh. There was so much more to say – so much more he wanted to say – but now was not the time.

“That wasn’t the first or the last time I got you practically naked,” Harry was smirking, dimple extenuated, and Louis almost punched him. This was not how friendships worked.

“Probably best if we don’t travel down the murky roads of our past, Styles,” Louis kept his voice light, bumping Harry’s hip with his own. He refused to let this create a wedge between them. “Hazza,” Louis whispered, just for them to hear, when he saw the pout on Harry’s lips. “We’ve gotta ease into this being friends thing, yeah? Give me a couple weeks and I’ll be making all the inappropriate comments. You’re going to miss these awkward first few days.”

They reached Louis’ building first, and Louis was almost said to say goodbye to Harry. they’d had a good night, albeit a few hiccups along the way, but Louis had actually enjoyed spending time with Harry. He hadn’t realized just how much he’d missed having Harry as a friend until he’d gotten him back.

No, he didn’t have Harry. Not anymore. Not for a long time.

“I’m going to text you tomorrow,” Harry announced, voice firm and eyebrows furrowed as he tried his hardest to keep his face straight.

Louis couldn’t hold back his smile at Harry’s ridiculousness. “You do that, Styles.”

“Don’t call me that,” Harry whined, his nose scrunched up in distaste. “You’re supposed to call me Hazza.”

Louis laughed, even though his heart had practically stopped beating from Harry’s plea. He stepped forward, pulling Harry into a hug. “Sorry, Hazza. Get home safe, yeah?”

“Don’t worry ‘bout your boy,” Niall chipped in. “I’ll get him home safe and sound.”

Your boy.

Louis pulled away quickly at Niall’s words. Harry was not his boy. “Thanks for a good night, lads,” Louis waved as he made his way to the door, trying his very best to ignore the look in Harry’s eyes. He couldn’t name the expression, but it left him feeling uneasy.

Harry was not his boy.

Louis was in bed twenty minutes later, about to drift off to sleep when his phone vibrated. He knew who it was before he even checked.

From: Harry

Got home safe. -H.

He didn’t bother responding. He just put his phone back down and nestled up to Tommy, the alcohol lulling him to sleep. Tonight had been a good night. It had been the first of many baby steps they’d have to before being true friends again, but Louis could do this. he would take as many baby steps as it took. As long as it meant he got to have a little piece of Harry.

~

Louis couldn’t lie to himself. He knew it was weird that he was sitting in the middle of Harry’s living room, playing FIFA with Niall while Harry was nowhere in sight. But Niall was his friend now, and Harry had seemed more than okay with them hanging out. He’d texted Harry back and forth briefly since their drunken midnight skipping they’d partaken in three nights ago. Their messages were nothing serious, just little things here and there, but it was nice – it had been so incredibily long since he’d been friends with Harry, it was as if Louis could breathe again.

“Do you mind if the wife stops by for a bit?” Niall asked as he put his cellphone down and picked the PlayStation controller back up.

Louis chuckled, shaking his head. “Not at all, Nialler. Didn’t realize you’re married though, mate. My invitation must have gotten lost in the mail.”

Niall laughed, taking a drink from his beer before unpausing the game. “Just wanna get used to the word now because she’s definitely going to be my wife one day.”

“Things are going well then?”

“Mhmm,” Niall answered. “Would’ve moved in with her by now but we can’t seem to be able to shake Harry,” Niall laughed at his own words, and Louis didn’t get it. why would Niall’s girlfriend care if Harry lived in the flat too? “Usually she’d here by now, but she had book club or something. But I’m sure you remember what she’s like. Can’t seem to get nose outta the books for anything. Guess she has that in common with H.”

Louis paused the game again, turning slowly to look at Niall with raised eyebrows. “Who are you dating again?” he felt sick to his stomach, couldn’t stop the bile from rising in his throat. He was 99.9% sure he knew who Niall was talking about, but he needed to hear him say it.

“Gemma. You know, H’s sister?”

No no no.

“Gemma’s coming here? Right now?” Louis jumped up from his place on the sofa, practically running to where his shoes were laying by the door.

Niall sat stunned on the sofa his mouth hanging open as he watched Louis struggle with his shoes. “Tommo? Are you okay?”

No, no he wasn’t okay. After his and Harry’s breakup, he’d done anything in his power to steer clear from all members of Harry’s family, but it had been absolutely impossible to not run into Anne when he’d been living in Holmes Chapel. Anne he could handle. Anne knew better than to not ask questions and to keep the conversation light. She’d just offer a tight motherly hug and leave him be. But Gemma.

 

The last and only time he’d seen her since his and Harry’s break up had nearly left him broken. She’d stopped by his house one weekend when she’d been visiting her mum, months after the break up. He’d opened the door to find her standing on there, hands buried in her pockets and a soft smile on her face. He’d followed her silently around the side of the house, each of them taking a seat on the swing set in silence. Louis refused to talk first, refused to be the one to break their apparent game of who could stay quiet the longest.

“So, you changed your number.”

Louis snapped his head to her, eyes narrow slits. “Excuse me?”
Gemma shrugged, her eyes studying him carefully. “Your phone number. You changed it.”

“M’sorry. Didn’t realize I should have passed the new one along to you. I wasn’t aware you’d be trying to contact me,” Louis hated himself for how snarky he sounded. Gemma had been like a sister to him ever since he’d moved to Holmes Chapel, but right now she was his ex-boyfriend’s sister, and he hated absolutely everything there was to do with Harry fucking Styles.

Gemma sighed. “Harry called me the other day. He was in complete hysterics because he tried to call you and your number was out of service.”

Harry had tried to call him? Had he been trying to fix things? Had he finally realized what a fucking twat he’d been for walking away all those months ago?

“Harry can go fuck himself,” he said instead.

“Louis,” Gemma sighed again. “I’m not saying that you should let him off the hook for what he did. It was an awful thing to do. But, c’mon. What you guys had was special. It was a once in a lifetime kind of love. I think he was trying to...”

Louis got up from his swing, marching towards the house. He turned back around while he was still within ear shot, mouth set in a hard line as he stared back at Gemma. “I know that what we had was special, or at least I thought it was. But I don’t give a fuck, okay? He can try calling me until he’s blue in the fucking face. You don’t just leave someone like that, Gemma. You don’t just come ‘round, fuck someone and then cut them from your life. I love you, I love your mum, but as far as your brother’s concerned, he’s fucking dead to me. Okay?”

He didn’t wait for her to say anything back, he just turned on his heel and stomped towards the house, slamming the door behind him once he was safely back inside. He slumped against the door and sobbed, just like he had the day Harry had left ten months ago.

 

“Louis are you okay?” Niall’s voice brought him back to reality, his hands on either one of Loui’s shoulders, practically shaking him from the memory.

“I...uh...I’m fine, I just,” Louis couldn’t catch his breath. He couldn’t see Gemma. It didn’t matter if it had been years since that day on the swings. It didn’t matter if their lives and worlds had changed immensely since then. He’d been terrible to her that day, and he just couldn’t do it. He couldn’t face her after all this time.

Louis had missed his chance though, because he was just managing to get his second shoe on when the flat door opened, and a very familiar looking face was staring at him. He straightened himself out, standing up from where he’d been tying his shoe laces, and met her gaze. God, she looked the exact same. He was absolutely positive the Styles siblings didn’t age, they just got a tad bit more hipster-chic and attractive. It really wasn’t fair.

“Ohmygodlouis,” her words came out in a rush – she’d always been the exact opposite of her brother – rushed words where his were slow and calculated.

“Gem...” the name was lost on his lips as she pulled him to her, crushing him against her lean frame in a bear-gripping hug.

She was pulling back just as fast as she’d wrapped him in, a giant smile on her face as she took him by the elbow and guided him back to the sofa, ignoring Niall’s existence altogether. It was remarkable really, how nothing seemed to change. Louis had been so positively certain she would take one look at him and walk back out the door, but the Styles’ didn’t seem capable of holding a grudge.

“Good to see you too, babe,” Niall grunted as he followed them into the living room, sitting himself down on the other side of Gemma.

Gemma rolled her eyes, turning for a moment to place a kiss to Niall’s cheek before turning her attention back to Louis. ““I couldn’t believe my ears when my boys told me you were back. God you look good. So adult. Love the beard. Missed you. Show me pictures of the boyfriend. I’ve gotta see if he’s pretty enough for you.”

It was somehow just like catching up with an old friend. As Gemma gushed over photos of Louis and Tommy, neither of them mentioned Harry or that day on the swing set in Jo’s backyard. It was as if Gemma wasn’t even related to Harry, as if the curly haired boy hadn’t once been the only thing tying them together. It was refreshing and strangely unnerving all at once. Louis didn’t want to act as if the past had never happened. Even with how painful the ending had been, he never wanted to forget the love he’d once had for Harry. It had been an unforgettable, unrepeatable daydream.

But even the brightest of daydreams faded into nightmares.

“You seem happy,” Gemma cooed as she passed Louis’ phone back to him. “Are you happy?”

“I’m happy,” Louis confirmed with a smile. And he was. He hadn’t been this happy in years. Tommy made him happy. Doing what he loved and being successful at it made him happy. He even had his best friend back, kind of. Everything was perfect.

“Good,” Gemma’s smile was glued to her face. It hadn’t been wiped from her mouth since she’d walked through the door. “I hear you and my brother are back to being troublemakers.”

It wasn’t a question, just a simple statement, as if it was a well known fact. Louis couldn’t help but wonder who had mentioned Louis and Harry’s budding friendship to Gemma. Had it been Niall, or had Harry told Gemma over a cup of tea? Had it been a conversation between siblings, Harry nervous and stumbling over his words as he told his sister about how Louis had proposed they be friends again? He could see it - he could see Harry’s smile, the dimple deep, as he told Gemma about it all.

“I’d hardly call us troublemakers, Gems.”

Her face was serious now, her mouth turned down a bit as she studied Louis. “What does your boy think of Harry?”

It took Louis a beat too long to realize that her rendition of “your boy” was much different from Niall’s use of the words the other night. Niall had referred to Harry as Louis’ boy, but Gemma had been referring to Tommy. Because Tommy was Louis’ boy.

“He hasn’t met him,” Louis finally responded.

Gemma’s eyes widened with surprise, turning to gape and Niall before focusing back on Louis. “And how is that working out for you so far?”

Louis shrugged. “S’fine. Tommy doesn’t really care to meet him.”

“But he’s perfectly fine with you hanging out with him?” Gemma asked the question like she already knew the answer. God, Louis had never been happier to be the oldest amongst his siblings. Having an older sister seemed exhausting.

“Honestly Gemma, it’s fine.”

Gemma opened her mouth to respond but was cut off by the front door opening and the sound of more than one pair of shoes being kicked off. “Honey, I’m home,” an all too familiar voice called out, and Louis could hear the smile behind it.

“And he brought you a present,” a second voice called out, and no, Louis didn’t have the capacity to deal with this right now.

“What did you bring me then, Grimmy?” Niall jumped from the couch to greet the two men, arms extended to take the supposed gift from Nick. Nick Fucking Grimshaw.

“Oh, you have company,” nick’s eyes were bright as his gaze honed in on where Louis was sitting beside Gemma on the couch. “I’m the present, you knob,” he said as he turned back to Niall, wrapping him in a quick hug.

“Ugh,” Niall sighed as he pulled away. “No offence, but I see your ugly mug all the fucking time. Could’ve at least brought me some beer for my troubles.”

Harry entered the living room just then, stopping beside Nick as he took in Louis’ presence. He seemed apprehensive at first, panic sketched across his face as he looked between Gemma and Louis, but it only took a second for the panic in his eyes to be replaced with brightness.

“Lou! Niall didn’t tell me you were coming over tonight.”

“He probably didn’t want to have to share me,” Louis didn’t miss the way Nick’s arm wound its way around Harry’s waist as the words left his mouth. “You know Nialler, incapable of sharing.”

“S’not true. I’m an excellent sharer, right Gems?” Niall turned to his girlfriend with a wink, warning himself a shout from Harry.

“Rule number 3!” Harry yelled from where he was still standing beside Nick - from where he was still pressed against Nick’s side. “No sex talk anywhere near me!”

Louis watched as Gemma chucked one of the pillows from the sofa at Harry, hitting him square in the face. God, he had missed this. He’d forgotten what it felt like to be in the middle of Gemma and Harry’s sibling love. He’d forgotten what it felt like to be around two of the best people he’d ever met.

Wait, no. Harry was not one of the best people he’d ever met. Not anymore.

“So, Louis,” all of a sudden Nick was perched on top of the coffee table, elbows on his knees and face far too close for Louis’ comfort. “How are you liking London so far?”

Louis didn’t dare break the staring contest he seemed to be in. No, Nick wouldn’t win this round. Nick wouldn’t win anything. “S’great.”

Nick tilted his head to the side, openly studying Louis’ face. “I still can’t believe you prefer being behind the camera. You really do have the face for modelling, you know.”

Louis’ heart swelled when he heard Gemma scoff from beside him. Good, he was glad he wasn’t the only one who couldn’t stand this arsehole. “Guess that’s why you’re on the radio and not on tv, yeah?” Louis had a smile on his face, but his voice was laced with his signature sass. “How does the old saying go again? You’ve got a face for the radio?”

Louis internally praised himself for his quick wit, but apparently Niall was the only one who found him even remotely funny. Louis looked to Gemma first, who was trying to keep a straight face while simultaneously trying to shush her boyfriend’s loud laughter. He turned to Harry next, who was still standing by the sofa, his face blank except for a slight pull to his eyebrows.

Okay, maybe making fun of the new boy toy wasn’t the best way to be friends with an ex.

“Good one,” Nick said dryly, standing up from his spot on the coffee table and making his way back to Harry. He turned to look at Louis one more time before he pulled Harry against his chest and kissed his mouth fully. “Thanks for the destressing,” he whispered loud enough for the rest of the room to hear, a seductive clip to his tone. “See you tomorrow, young Harold.”

It was official. Nick fucking Grimshaw was a disgusting, pervy predator who needed to get away from Harry ASAP.

No, Louis had absolutely no right to even have an opinion on who hung around Harry. This wasn’t his jurisdiction – not anymore – not ever again.

“Why?” Gemma spoke the second Nick was out the flat and the door was closed behind him. “Why are you friends with that twat? He’s so fucking obnoxious.”

Harry rolled his eyes as he sat down on the empty chair with a huff. “He’s a good friend.”

“I’m sure you could find another bloke to fuck, Haz.” Louis couldn’t stop himself from talking, couldn’t make himself shut up even if he wanted to.

Louis could feel it; he could feel the room shift as the words left his mouth. He was certain that Harry was going to tell him off, that he was going to tell him he had no right to have an opinion on the matter, but he didn’t. Instead, Gemma threw her head back and started laughing. It was only a matter of seconds before they were all laughing, Harry included.

“Louis’ right, Harry,” Gemma said once she calmed herself down enough to speak. “The guy’s quiff is as big as his ego. You can do a million times better. Fuck, anyone would be better.”

“You know, one night they came back to the flat so pissed,” Niall cut in. “And I could hear them through the walls. Can’t say I was too surprised to find out that Grimmy’s into daddy roleplay.”

“Eww, I didn’t need to know that you fucker,” Gemma covered her ears dramatically, her nose scrunched up in disgust.

Louis shrugged, his eyes zoned in on Harry. He could see the plink blotches of embarrassment peeking up from the neckline of his shirt. “Makes sense, yeah? The guy’s old enough to be his dad after all.” The room broke out into laugher again, minus Harry’s – he just leaned back in his chair with his arms crossed in front of him, a pout on his lips.

“Heyy,” Harry whined. “You guys always do this when you’re together. You always gang up on me. It’s not fair!”

And fuck. It was as if no time had passed at all. It was as if it was five years ago all over again, as if they were sitting around Harry and Gemma’s, teasing Harry endlessly over anything and everything. It almost wasn’t fair, and it didn’t make any sense at all. It was supposed to be harder than this – getting Harry back, being friends with him was supposed to be harder than this.

Louis was brought back to present time by a knock at the front door. Within seconds, the make-believe world he’d created – the one where he and Harry could be perfectly fine, where they could be best friends like nothing had ever happened – came crashing down. Because all of a sudden, Tommy was standing in Harry and Niall’s living room, and Louis knew the look on his face all too well. He was mad, maybe even more than mad. He was mad, confused, and well fuck, Louis could even see a hint of betrayal in his boyfriend’s eyes.

“Tommy,” Louis’ voice came out high pitched as he jumped from the sofa and made his way to his boyfriend, a smile plastered on his face.

“Thought I’d come pick you up on my way home,” Tommy’s face was a blank canvas, anyone who didn’t know him well wouldn’t be able to read what he was thinking, but Louis could see it. Louis could see it all. “Ready to go?”

“Yeah, just, come meet Gemma and Harry,” Louis was being polite, he needed to be polite. There was no way he could walk out that door with Tommy like this, not without introducing him to the two people who he’d once considered his family. Tommy was good, he was a good person, and he needed them to see it.

Tommy nodded, albeit reluctantly, and followed Louis deeper into the living room. “Gemma, this is Tommy.”

Gemma’s face lit up, and she stood up and immediately pulled Tommy into a hug. “S’so nice to meet you. Louis told me all about you, and I’ve got to say, you’re even more handsome in person!”

Tommy broke then, his anger dissipating as he hugged Gemma back. It was impossible not to like Gemma, and Louis was glad he’d been smart enough to introduce him to her before Harry. Because god, that was not going to be a pleasant introduction.

“You must be Harry,” Tommy said as he turned around and faced Harry, walking towards him slowly with an extended hand. Louis held his breath as he watched them shake hands, as he watched them introduce themselves and make small talk. He couldn’t hear anything, couldn’t even make out the words they were saying to each other, but it was okay. Everything was okay because they weren’t screaming or hitting each other.

It was only a matter of minutes before they were all gathered around the front door, Louis and Tommy pulling on their shoes while the others bid their farewells.

“You two should come over for dinner on Sunday!” Gemma announced excitedly. “I’ll make a roast and we can have some wine and play some board games. It would be so much fun! And I’d love to get to know Louis’ boy some more.”

Louis’ boy. Tommy was Louis’ boy.

Louis was about to make up some sort of excuse, tell her that they had a prior commitment to attend. He was about to use any excuse in the book to ensure that Harry and Tommy didn’t have to spend more than a few minutes in the same room together, but Tommy beat him to it.

“We’d love that,” Tommy announced as he pulled the door open for Louis, ushering him through the doorway before following him through it. “We’ll bring the dessert.”

And wait, what? How was Louis supposed to make it through a dinner and game night with his ex and his current love? How was he supposed to survive a night filled with walking on egg shells and avoiding any and all topics that included a time where he and Harry had been together?

It was official – Louis was a dead man walking.

 

Chapter Text

Cause baby you look happier, you do
My friends told me one day I'll feel it too
And until then I'll smile to hide the truth
But I know I was happier with you

 (Happier – Ed Sheeran)

 

It was another Friday, another pub night, another Louis night. It didn’t matter that Harry had seen Louis just two days before when he’d gotten back to his flat with Nick. It didn’t matter that he’d texted Louis countless times since then, trying to convince him to back out of Sunday night dinner with Gemma, Niall, and Harry. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to have dinner with Louis, because god, he did. But he didn’t want to have dinner with Louis and Tommy, the power couple that Gemma had spent hours gushing about after they’d left the flat that Wednesday. She’d meant well, Harry knew that, but he’d hated listening to it nevertheless. He was happy for Louis – happy that he was happy – but that didn’t mean he wanted to sit around a dining room table with Louis’ new boyfriend. And it certainly didn’t mean he wanted to play Scrabble with the guy.

Harry’s phone buzzed just as he approached the pub, a smile automatically at his lips when he read Louis’ name.

From: Louis

Something came up, can’t make it tonight :(

Harry hated the way his stomach betrayed him; he hated the way it dropped instantly after he read the text. It didn’t matter that Louis wasn’t going to be there. It didn’t matter at all.

To: Louis

Everything okay?

He shouldn’t ask, he knew that, but he couldn’t help it. Louis was his friend after all. Friends cared about these sorts of things, right?

From: Louis

Just a last minute work thing. Some prima donna model had a melt down and we’re hours behind in a shoot. Have a pint (or 10) for me lol. See you Sunday!

Sunday. Sunday when Louis would show up with Tommy and some sort of baked pie in tow. Harry almost hoped he didn’t make it to see the light of day on Sunday.

To: Louis

Can’t wait to beat you at Scrabble x

He hadn’t meant to type the “x”, hadn’t meant to hit send before deleting that one glaring letter. But it was too late. It was out there.

From: Louis 

Ha! You wish! I’ve gotten so much smarter since the last time we played! Gotta run, duty calls. Tell the lads I’m sorry!

Tell the lads, tell the lads, tell the lads. Those three words meant that Louis hadn’t texted everyone else like he’d texted Harry. Those three words meant that he’d only taken the time to talk to Harry and no one else. Those three little words shouldn’t have hammered into his heart the way they did, but Harry was only human and a lousy human at that. Being friends with Louis again was like being stuck in a hail storm. It was beautiful and dangerous all at once. Beautiful because being friends with Louis again was all that Harry had wanted for the last five years; beautiful because his friendship with Louis had always been the most beautiful thing in the world. Dangerous because it was a slippery fucking slope, and Harry knew if he wasn’t careful it was going to come back to bite him in the ass.

Maybe a pub night with his friends and without Louis was just what the doctor ordered. Maybe Harry needed a breather before he found his footing again. Maybe the ever-looming Sunday night dinner and game night didn’t need to seem so daunting after all.

~

“I think the flat’s clean ‘nough, H. Can you just sit down? You’re making me nervous,” Niall didn’t looknervous. He was sat back on the sofa, feet spread onto the coffee table with the PlayStation controller in his hands. Harry didn’t understand how Niall didn’t get yelled at for not helping out with the dinner preparations when all Gemma had done for the past two hours was bite Harry’s head off for not being helpful enough.

Double fucking standards.

“I can literally see my reflection in the table,” Gemma commented from where she was setting the table, going as far as folding the napkins into stupid little swans. God, Harry needed out of here.

“You yelled at me to help you clean and now you’re mad that I cleaned too much?” Harry snapped. And fuck, he hated snapping at his sister, hated snapping at anyone really. He knew where his mood was coming from, and he knew it wasn’t fair to direct his frustrations (his anxiety) on to Gemma or Niall. It wasn’t fair at all.

But Gemma knew him better than anyone else, better than he knew himself probably, and the second the words were out of his mouth she was rounding the table to stand in front of him, hands on his shoulders. “It’s okay, Harry,” she said slowly, making sure the words penetrated his cloud of nerves. “It’s Louis, I highly doubt he became Mr. Clean in the last five years. He’s going to come here, kick his shoes off and make a mess of the whole flat in five seconds tops. You don’t have to try to impress him.”

“I’m not trying to impress anyone,” it was a lie of course, but he wasn’t trying to impress Louis, not really. He was simply trying to show Tommy that he wasn’t a complete asshat. He didn’t know why he needed Tommy to like him. Maybe it was because deep down (apparently not that deep down since Harry could pull at his subconscious to find the answers), but deep down he knew that if Tommy didn’t like him he’d make sure Louis stopped hanging around. And the last thing Harry wanted was for Louis to take back anything he’d ever said about them trying to be friends. The last thing he needed was for stupid Tommy to tell Louis he couldn’t hang out with Harry anymore.

“Okay, okay,” Gemma backed off, turning back to the task of setting the table. “Just go sit down and relax, yeah?”
“I still don’t get why you had to suggest this dinner,” Harry mumbled.

“Because I haven’t hung out with Louis for years, and I thought it would be nice for us all to spend some time together,” Gemma explained as she went about placing cutlery down beside the plates.

Harry sighed, leaning against the wall and watching her work. “I get that, but why did you have to invite him?”

Gemma stopped just then, looking up at her brother with a frown. “I thought you and Louis were trying this whole being friends thing out?”

“We are.”

She sighed, and Harry hated that. He hated that she could go from being his sister to sounding just like their mum in a split second. “You can’t be friends with Louis without being friends with his boyfriend, Harry.”

“Why not?” Harry asked, eyebrows furrowed. “It’s worked just fine for the last week or so. It was working just fine until you decided we all needed to play house together.”

She rolled her eyes, Gemma’s signature move. “If you want to be in Louis’ life than you need to try to get to know Tommy. I shouldn’t have to tell you that.”

Of course she was right, but that didn’t mean he needed to tell her as much.

“You’re missing a place at the table,” Harry mumbled.

Gemma looked around the table, eyebrows arched in confusion. “No, I’m not. There’s five of us,” she pointed to each plate setting. “Niall, Louis, Tommy, You, and me.”

“And Nick.”

She froze, fork hovering over the spot she’d just been about to place it. “I wasn’t aware he’d been invited.”

Harry shrugged. “Why should I be the fifth wheel to some sort of weird double date?”

Gemma sighed, watching her brother carefully. “Harry, it’s about time we talk about this whole Nick Grimshaw situation. Mum’s worried, and quite frankly so am I.”

“No, don’t do that, Gems,” Harry warned. “What’s the big deal? What is there for you and mum to be so worried about? Nick is my friend.”

“He’s also one of the most powerful people at your job.”

“So what?”

“Harry,” Gemma sighed again. “You’re playing with fire and you know it. What’s going to happen when you break things off with him? What’s going to happen to your career?”

“For crying out loud, Gemma. Nothing is even happening, okay? We’re friends, and whatever we do is frankly none of your business, yeah? We’re just having fun, there’s nothing complicated about it, so stop trying to complicate it for fuck sakes.”

He walked away without saying anything else, without letting her say anything else. He knew his mum and sister didn’t approve of his relationshipwith Nick, but he didn’t care. He didn’t care what everyone else thought. He was always being judged for not having a serious relationship since Louis, but it was no one’s business, no one’s but his own.

*

The knock on the door set Harry’s nerves on fire. He’d already been fairly certain that he was having a heart attack or maybe a stroke, but now that he knew that Louis and Tommy were standing right on the other side of his front door, he was absolutely positive he was about to pass the fuck out. He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t. He hadn’t signed up for this. He hadn’t ever wanted to sit in a tiny little London flat with his sister, best friend, fuck buddy, and the guy who he’d once thought was going to be the one love of his life and his new boyfriend. Fuck, Tommy wasn’t even Louis’ “new boyfriend”. They’d been together for over a year. They were serious. They were serious, and Harry was still fucking around like a teenager.

He hadn’t felt self-conscious of his love life (or lack thereof) until he’d been forced to spend a night with a two other couples. Now he just felt like a failure.

“Louis! Tommy!” Gemma’s excitement rang through their entrance way, hitting Harry’s eardrums hard from where he was sitting in the living room with Niall. “Come on in! Can I get you guys a drink?”

“I’ll take a beer,” Louis answered, Harry’s eyes finding his just as Louis and Tommy entered the living room.

“Do you have any red wine?” and of course Tommy was a wine drinker. Harry internally chastised himself. He was a wine drinker. He had no right to judge.

“One beer and a red coming right up.”

“Bring me a pint too?” Harry called from the sofa, only to be rewarded with a slap to the back of the head from his sister.

It was awkward – god it was awkward. Harry watched as Tommy sat down in the armchair, motioning for Louis to join him, which left him with only one choice really – to sit on Tommy’s goddamn lap. Harry didn’t even want to begin to analyze the way his blood started to boil, the way his heart was thumping in his chest as he watched Louis sit in Tommy’s lap. And god, he shouldn’t be watching – he should be looking anywhere else really – but it was strange, so fucking strange to watch Louis be with someone else. Even after all these years, even with all of the time that had passed since Harry and Louis had been something, it was still like a bucket of ice water being poured over his head.

Maybe he couldn’t do this. Maybe being friends with Louis wasn’t possible. Not like this.

But then Louis was talking, words directed at Harry and blue eyes glued to him, and Harry could almost breathe again. “I see you’ve brought the hipster fucking manbun back,” his voice was laced with sass, the very tone Harry had instantly loved when they’d first met.

Harry’s hand instinctively flew to his bun, a smile on his face. He loved it when Louis teased. No. He didn’t love it, not anymore. Now it was just a friend making fun of a friend, nothing more. “Hey,” Harry whined. “My bun is adorable.”

Louis scoffed, twisting around on Tommy’s lap as he tried to get comfortable. Harry needed to go to Ikea right fucking now. He needed to get another arm chair, a second sofa, a fucking ottoman – anything for Louis to sit on that wasn’t Tommy’s lap.

Harry was about to say as much, but a knock on the door interrupted his train of thought.  He jumped at the sound, flying to door at top speed. He knew who it was, there was only one real possibility, and he neededto open at that door and drag him into the flat. He needed to have him by his side if he was going to make it through this god-awful night.

“Well hello Harold,” Nick already had a smile on his face, one hand resting on the wall beside the door and the other holding out a bottle of wine. “You look quite smashing tonight. There must be an ex-boyfriend in there you’re trying to impress.”

“Shut up,” Harry hissed as he fisted Nick’s jacket in his hand and pulled him through the door. “Shut the fuck up and just kiss me. Can you do that?”
Nick quirked an eyebrow, but his smile didn’t waver. “Hmm, I think I like jealous Harry. I think I’ll keep him.”

Harry rolled his eyes before he pulled Nick in even closer. He didn’t stop until their chests were flush against one another and their lips were moving against each other’s. He didn’t stop until his tongue was in Nick’s mouth, fighting for dominance. He needed to forget about a certain someone and his stupid boyfriend. He needed to forgetalready.

“Oh, look Nick’s here. Yay,” Gemma’s voice interrupted their kiss, her voice monotone and short.

“Be nice,” Harry shot at his sister as he pulled away from Nick, their lips smacking as they separated.

“Gemma, darling,” Nick was still smiling, but Harry couldn’t ignore the smugness that had taken over his face. Nick was always so fucking smug. “Thank you for having me tonight. I brought you some wine.”

Harry watched as Gemma rolled her eyes and took the bottle of wine and Nick slipped out of his jacket, hanging it on the coat hook before turning to follow Harry into the living room. He watched as Louis’ eyes shifted to Nick, his smile faltering for a second before he composed himself once more. And there, just in that tiny second where Louis seemed to have let his guard down, Harry felt his heart swell. Maybe this was hurting Louis just as much as it was hurting Harry. Maybe this was torture for Louis too.

“Tommy,” the name tasted sour on Harry’s lips, but he said it anyways. He couldn’t go the rest of the night pretending like the guy didn’t exist – could he?“Uh, Tommy this is Nick, my...uh... my friend.”

Tommy looked between Nick, Harry and Louis, his mouth hanging open in surprise. Harry wanted to roll his eyes, god did he want to. He never understood why anyone was ever shocked to meet Nick. Tommy nudged Louis off of his lap, so he could stand up and greet Nick properly, hand extended and a giant smile across his face. It was official – this guy was a fucking tool.

“Wow, it’s so great to meet you,” Tommy blabbered on as he shook Nick’s hand, completely enamored with the “celebrity” standing in front of him. “How do you guys know each other?” He wasn’t asking Harry, wasn’t even acknowledging the fact that it had been Harry who had introduced them.

Nick laughed at Tommy’s question. “Oh, Harold and I work together, but I’d say we’re definitely more than just colleagues” he replied as he bumped his hip against Harry’s, an arm coming to wrap around Harry’s waist. “Isn’t that right, Harold?”

Harry made the mistake of catching Louis’ eyes just then, and he couldn’t ignore the look of disgust that was written across Louis’ face. Louis didn’t like Nick apparently, and Harry wasn’t sure if he should be pissed off about it or gleefully happy. Harry was confused – so fucking confused.

“Oh, right,” Tommy coughed awkwardly as he sat back down on the chair and pulled Louis down into his lap once again, just as Harry and Nick sat down beside Niall on the couch. “Louis mentioned you two were together.”

Together. Harry couldn’t help but wonder if Louis had exaggerated the truth in order to curb any sort of jealousy or suspicion Tommy may have with him spending time with Harry. Harry really needed another twenty beers if he was going to survive this night.

He let himself zone out while everyone else chatted away. His eyes flickered between the five people surrounding him, watching as Gemma gabbed on and on at Louis and Tommy. He couldn’t blame her. It had been yearssince she’d sat in a room with Louis – and really, who wouldn’t want to know everything there was to know about Louis Tomlinson?

Harry didn’t miss the way Tommy seemed to look everywhere exceptat Harry. It was impossible not to notice that Louis’ boyfriend seemed perfectly content to act as if Harry wasn’t in the room at all. Harry wasn’t sure if he even minded all that much. Life seemed just a little bit easier now that he was basically invisible. It was as if the floor really had opened up and swallowed him whole. If only.

“You okay?” it was barely a whisper, but Niall’s voice still managed to wake Harry from his daze.

Harry nodded his head. “Peachy,” he whispered back. “Super fucking peachy.”

He could feel Louis’ eyes on him, could feel him trying to read his thoughts. It had been a century (okay, maybe that was an exaggeration) since Harry had had Louis try to read him like that. he could only hope he was a closed book to him now. He could only hope that Louis had no way of accessing the darkest corners of his mind now that they’d spent years apart. The very last thing Harry needed was for Louis to know just how uncomfortable this whole evening was making him. He absolutely refused to let on that he was anything but perfectly fine. Because that’s exactly what he was – perfectly fucking fine.

*

If sitting around the living room had been awkward, Harry had another thing coming once they were all squished together around the dining room table. Harry was the last to make it to the table, dragging his feet and cursing himself for agreeing to be a part of this ridiculous night in the first place. He almost laughed when he made it to the table, his eyes landing on the only empty seat. For whatever reason, Tommy had decided to sit beside his new idol, which left Gemma and Niall at either head of the table and an empty chair beside Louis.

Okay, he could do this. Harry could sit beside Louis. He could spend a dinner beside his ex-boyfriend and across from said ex-boyfriend’s current boyfriend. He could pretend like it was the most normal thing in the whole world.

Harry sat down slowly, acutely aware of Gemma watching him intently. He kept his gaze focused on his plate, barely even registering the conversation happening around him. This was weird. All of it. He’d never imagined sitting around a table with Louis again, and he’d definitely never imaged it happening like this.

“You look like you could use a glass,” Louis joked as he took Harry’s wine glass and filled it with the bottle of red wine that had been circulating around the table. “Or maybe even ten.”

“Definitely ten,” Harry’s chuckle was breathy, almost caught in his chest. He could do this. Maybe if he said it to himself enough times it would become true. Maybe.

“S’not so bad is it?” Louis asked quietly, and Harry could see his eyes shift between where Tommy was deeply enthralled in some sort of conversation with Nick and back to where his hand was still gripping Harry’s wine glass.

“Should be okay, I picked it out,” Harry’s eyes were glued to the wine bottle, to the way Louis was tilting it towards the glass. He was basically forcing his hands to stay still – he was using all of his willpower not to reach out and wrap his hand around the one Louis had around the bottle. What was wrong with him?

“Hmm?” Louis hummed in response, finally pulling the bottle away from Harry’s glass – finally taking his hand out of Harry’s direct line of fire. “I meant tonight. You, me, everyone else? Kind of feels like old times when Gemma would make us family suppers.”

Old times. Harry didn’t want to feel like old times. He didn’t want it to feel like old times. It was too much. It hurt too much. The last thing Harry needed was a stabbing reminder of how much he’d fucked everything up. The last thing he needed was to sit here and remember a time when he’d had everything he’d ever wanted before he’d tossed it to the curb and walked away.

Old times could fuck right off.

“Yeah, it’s nice,” nice. Harry was 100% convinced his vocabulary had been pissed down the drain the second Louis and Tommy had walked into the flat an hour ago. Somewhere between Tommy pulling Louis into his lap and Louis looking like he was right at home in his boyfriend’s arms, Harry had been reduced to a mindless idiot. How the hell was he supposed to make it through the rest of this night?

“So, how long have you been with Harry?” Tommy’s voice pulled Harry out of his trance – forcing him to look across the table to where Tommy was still engrossed in a conversation with Nick. Tommy was still refusing to look in Harry’s direction, but that didn’t seem to stop him from giving Nick the third degree.

Nick looked between Harry and Tommy, an amused smirk across his face. “Oh, Harry, love, do you want to answer that question?”
And god, if Harry could he’d reach across the table and strangle Nick. How dare he tease Harry at a time like this, when he knew perfectly well that Harry was currently sitting in the middle of his literal nightmare.

“We’ve been working together for ‘bout a year,” Harry mumbled before picking up his wine glass and nearly emptying it in one drink.

“But how long have we been together, Harold?” Nick asked with a sly smile.

Harry wanted to tell the truth. He wanted to look into Tommy’s stupidly deep eyes and tell him that he wasn’t with Nick. He wanted to watch Tommy’s face fall as he realized that his precious boyfriend lied to him. But he couldn’t do that, he wouldn’tdo that to Louis. He’d keep up the lie if it meant getting to keep Louis as his friend. He’d pretend to date the shit out of Nick if it was the only way to keep Louis.

“Six months,” Harry paused to down the rest of his wine. “We’ve been together for six months.”

He wasn’t surprised when Tommy turned to Nick, ignoring his presence yet again. He didn’t want to feel offended, but he couldn’t help it. he wanted – no, he needed Tommy to like him. The last thing he needed was for Tommy to forbid Louis from hanging out with him. The last thing he needed was some bloodyArsenal fancoming between his and Louis’ second chance at friendship.

“How ‘bout you guys?” Harry wanted to stab out his own eyes as he started to ask the question. Why did he insist on torturing himself? “How did you and Louis meet?”

He wanted Tommy to answer, he needed Tommy to answer, because if he heard the story from Louis, he was certain he would die.

“Louis was in London for work, he was assisting on a photoshoot for my football team,” Tommy still wasn’t bothering to look at Harry. He was smiling fondly at Louis instead. Harry was fairly certain he’d never wanted to hit someone so badly. “It was love at first sight, wasn’t it, Lou?”

And no, no. Nobody called Louis “Lou”. No one was supposed to call him that but Harry.

Harry felt Louis stiffen beside him at Tommy’s use of the nickname. It was almost as if the three letters leaving Tommy’s lips bothered Louis as much as they bothered Harry. Almost.

“Yes, er, of course,” Louis stuttered as he raised his wine glass to his lips.

“It was so sweet,” Tommy turned to look at Harry just then, a fake smile stretched across his face. “The night he told me he loved me, god, we’d only been together for a couple of months. But he told me he’d never felt so loved by someone before, that he’d never felt so safe.”

And well fuck. Harry had felt like his heart was being ripped out of his chest before. He’d felt ready to die the day he’d left Louis. But this was something new. He’d never hated someone so strongly before. He always tried to be so nice to everyone. But he didn’t know how to be nice to Tommy, not when he was so obviously trying to crush him. How was he supposed to be nice to the one person who had everything he’d once had?

“Well, for what it’s worth,” Niall’s voice broke through the thick layer of awkward silence. “When Gemma and I started dating she told me she’d never had an emptier fridge!”

Harry sat back as Niall, Gemma, and Nick all laughed at Niall’s stupid (stupidly wonderful) attempt at a joke. They laughed until Tommy broke his staring contest with Harry. They laughed until Tommy was laughing too and Louis was filling Harry’s wine glass silently. Harry was almost certain they’d all gone crazy until he felt Louis’ fingertips tap his wrist, letting him know he was still there. That single touch was all Harry needed. He could breathe again.

*

The rest of the dinner passed by uneventfully. After Tommy’s attempt at ruining Harry’s night (more like life), Niall and Gemma made sure to keep the conversation light. Harry was the first to leave the table once everyone bad finished eating, stealing away to his bedroom and shutting the door behind him. He leaned against the closed door, eyes closed and chest heaving, for what felt like an eternity. He only moved, only let himself even remember why he couldn’t catch his breath in the first place, when a knock on the door woke him from his trance. Of course Nick would come after him.

Except it wasn’t Nick standing on the other side of the door. It wasn’t Nick at all.

“Lou,” Harry winced as the nickname left his lips. It felt dirty now, tainted after Tommy had used it and proved once again that Louis wasn’t Harry’s. “Louis,” what’s up?”

Louis tilted his head to the side, his eyes filled with an unreadable emotion. “Can I come in for a second?”

Harry looked over Louis’ shoulder, searing the hallway for Tommy – for anyone really. “Do you really think that’s a good idea?”

Louis shrugged his shoulders. “My boyfriend is currently wrapped up in some ridiculous story about Beyonce. I think he might be in love with your boyfriend.”

“Nick’s not my boyfriend,” Harry mumbled, stepping to the side so that Louis could enter the bedroom. His heart nearly stopped when Louis closed the door behind him, trapping them in the confines of Harry’s bedroom – together and alone.

“Yeah, sorry ‘bout that,” Louis said as he ducked his head. “Guess I told him you guys were together before I knew you weren’t and never corrected it.”

“Guess so,” Harry mumbled. He didn’t know what to say – he didn’t know how to interact with Louis after the disaster of a dinner they’d just sat through.

Louis took a deep breath, sighing heavily before trying to talk again. “Look, Haz, I’m really sorry. I don’t know what Tommy’s problem is, but what he said...”

Harry shook his head, cutting Louis off before he could say anything else. “I know what his problem is. He wants to make sure I know my place. Wants to make sure I know he’s the better guy.”

“No, no, that’s not true,” Louis rushed out, obviously trying to spare Harry’s feelings. Harry knew better though, he knew that Tommy was better than him. He knew that Louis would always be better off now than he’d been when they’d been together. He sat down on office chair that sat in front of his beloved mahogany desk, rapping his knuckles against the wood before looking back up at Louis. “It’s fine, Louis, really. I deserved it a bit, yeah?”

Louis looked at Harry’s bed and then back at him, almost as if he’d contemplated sitting on it and then thought better of it. And god, having Louis in his bedroom, having Louis so close to his bed had every nice end in Harry’s body on fire. It was all too much. “Probably shouldn’t have tried to make my boyfriend and my ex be friends, yeah?”

Harry couldn’t help but smile at that – he couldn’t help but smile at how completely ridiculous this whole situation was in the first place. It was too much.

“It’s not true,” Louis’ voice was barely audible, so quiet that Harry wasn’t sure if he’d heard correctly at all. Maybe he was just hearing what he wanted to hear. Maybe he’d officially lost his mind.

He watched Louis carefully, searching for any indication that he’d actually said something. But Louis wasn’t even making eye contact anymore. he had his hands deep in his jumper pockets and his eyes trained on the floor. Harry wanted nothing more than to ease the tension, to erase every ounce of awkwardness that hung between them. This wasn’t how this was supposed to go.

“What Tommy said,” Louis met Harry’s eyes as he spoke this time. “It wasn’t true.”

And fuck. What was Harry even supposed to say to that? What was he supposed to do with that bit of information? “Oh,” he managed to croak out, his fingers digging into the leather of the armrests of the chair.

“I just,” Louis continued, voice small. “I knew you’d probably overthink everything he said, and I well...I didn’t want you thinking I actually said that.”

“Okay.”

Louis opened and closed his mouth a couple of times as if he had something else to say but decided against it. He reached for the doorknob instead. “Probably should get backout there,” he watched Harry, who was just staring back at him silently, until he pulled the door open. “Are you okay?”

Harry nodded his head, finally blinking and ending the one-sided staring contest. “I’m fine, Lou. I’ll you out there.”

*

Harry felt like he couldn’t breathe all night. After a century long game of monopoly and a slice of apple pie (made by Tommy of course), he felt like he was about to burst from all the tension. He wasn’t typically the competitive type, not unless his scrabble reputation was at stake, but for some reason he was ruthless during this particular game of monopoly. He’d done everything in his power to ensure Tommy was the first to declare bankruptcy, and while he got just what he wanted, Harry couldn’t help but laugh at how much his evil plan to defeat his arch nemesis had backfired on him. Once Tommy was out of the game, he spent the rest of the night wrapped around Louis and whispering in his ear. He claimed to be whispering strategies, but Harry knew better. Harry knew how Louis looked when he was being charmed. Harry knew how Louis squirmed when he had someone whispering sweet nothings in his ear. Harry wanted to stab out his eyeballs, wanted to do something so that he wouldn’t have to witness the ex-love of his life being swept up by someone else.

But Louis had been swept up by someone else a long time ago. Harry had given up the right to be bothered by anything happening in Louis’ life the day he’d walked away. Harry needed to get over it.

*

“Well, that was the most awkward night I’ve ever had to sit through,” Niall quipped as he sat back on the sofa and rested his socked feet on the coffee table. Their guests had finally left, leaving Harry, Gemma and Niall to breathe in a sigh of relief.

“Yeah, for once Nick wasn’t our cringiest guest,” Gemma added from her spot beside Niall. “You and Louis disappeared after dinner.” It wasn’t a question, it was just a fact, reminding Harry that Gemma never seemed to miss a goddamn thing.

Harry tucked himself into the armchair, trying to force himself to forget about how Low had been sitting on Tammy’s alp in the very same seat earlier that evening.

“Don’t you think it was kind of stupid to be alone in your room with him when his boyfriend was right down the hall?” Gemma pressed.

Harry rolled his eyes, huffing with annoyance. “Don’t you think it’s maybe none of your business?”

“H, c’mon,” leave it to Niall to jump in and rescue Gemma even when she didn’t deserve it. Sometimes Harry couldn’t help but feel like Niall forgot he was his friend first. “She’s just looking out for ya.”

Harry couldn’t hold back a laugh. “If you guys want to look out for me, you wouldn’t have planned this fucking night in the first place. If you were looking out for me, you’d stay out of it.”

He knew he was being unfair. Even as he was storming down the hall and slamming his bedroom door behind him, he knew he was being a proper brat. But he couldn’t help it. The night had gotten under his skin. Images of Louis sitting on Tommy’s lap were eating away at him like a flesh-eating virus. He didn’t care (he didn’t want to care), but no amount of passed time would normalize seeing Louis (his Louis) with somebody else.

Harry was pulled from his thoughts by a knock on the door. He screwed his eyes shut, praying that if he stayed silent for long enough his nosy sister would get the hint and leave him the hell alone. But the second knock came only seconds later, of course.

“Leave me alone, Gems,” Harry balled out from his spot on the bed. He was too exhausted to keep up the argument. All the fight had been drained out of him.

“It’s me,” an Irish accent called through the door instead, and fuck Niall and his perfection. Harry really had no clue how he’d gotten so lucky to have been roomed with the best person on the planet five years ago.

“Come in.”

Niall wasted no time entering the bedroom and flinging himself down on the bed beside Harry. “Talk to me.”

Harry removed the arm he’d had thrown over his face and met his friend’s eyes. “About what?”

It wasn’t often that harry was on the receiving end of one of Niall’s “cut your bullshit” glares. He didn’t like it. “About why you just stormed down the hall and slammed your door like a five-year-old,” Niall was still glaring, but his words lacked all bite.

“Tonight just sucked,” Harry sighed as he sat up, his back against his headboard.

“I know,” Niall agreed. “Look, I have to ask this because you’re my best mate and I’m trying to look out for you. Are you still in love with him?”

Harry had asked himself this very same question over and over again ever since he’d seen Louis at the pub that night. He’d asked himself this question every time he found his mind wondering to Louis’ blue eyes over the past five years. But no, no, he was not still in love with Louis. He just didn’t want Tommy to be in love with Louis either. “No, I’m not,” he rolled his eyes at Niall’s challenging expression. “I promise, Ni, I’m not. I loved him for a long time but we’re different people now and I just feel like I’m lucky enough to have him in my life again. I’m glad he’s happy even though it couldn’t be with me.”

Harry didn’t lie, not to Niall, not ever. Right?

Chapter Text

Won't you stay 'til the A.M.?
All my favourite conversations
Always made in the A.M.

 (A.M. – One Direction)

Louis was livid. He’d always felt big, but right now it was like he couldn’t feel enough. There was no amount of anger that would make up for the way Tommy had behaved during dinner. All he could do was grip the steering wheel and stare straight ahead, jaw clenched, as Tommy sat in the passenger seat beside him.

“You’re mad.” And seriously? Tommy’s simple statement, the two little words leaving his mouth, pushed Louis right over the edge.

“Fucking right, I’m mad,” Louis seethed as he stole a glance at his boyfriend. “You acted like a fucking Neanderthal in there!”

“What are you even talking about?” Tommy’s voice was so innocent, and Louis wanted to punch it off his face.

Louis gripped the wheel even harder, knuckles turning white as he drove down the street. “You acted like a crazy, possessive boyfriend. You were all fucking over me the second we walked through the door. And don’t even get me started on whatever game you were trying to play during dinner! What the fuck were you doing?”

Louis didn’t need to look at him to know Tommy was rolling his eyes. “Oh, wow,” Tommy said with a sigh. “You’re seriously mad because I was gushing over you? Are you fucking serious, Lou?”

“And that!” Louis’ voice was nearing a yelling pitch. He couldn’t remember ever yelling at Tommy before. Sure, they’d had their fights, but they never yelled at each other. “You’ve literally never called me that before. And you know, you know he used to call me that.”

Tommy laughed, but it was sarcastic – empty. “Okay, that’s enough. I’ve bit my tongue about this entire Harry fucking Styles situation. I’ve kept quiet because I knew that getting closure or whatever was important to you. But this is enough.”

Louis was positive his heart stopped beating just then. Enough? What could Tommy possibly mean by enough?

“What are you trying to prove, Louis? Why are you so intent on being fucking mates with someone who literally broke you?”

Louis took a deep breath, relieved that they were stopped at a red light, so he could close his eyes for a quick moment. He wasn’t trying to prove anything, was he?

“Why do you need him in your life so badly?” Tommy continued to press, but his voice was quieter now, softer.

“I don’t,” louis stammered out the words as he put his foot to the gas pedal. “I don’t needhim in my life.”

“So, you just want him there, then?”

Louis shook his head. “No, Tommy, I just...he was my friend. He was my best friend before any of the other shit. If there’s even the smallest chance I can reclaim that, shouldn’t I try?”

“But what about me?”

Louis’ heart sank as Tommy’s question hung between them. Leave it to Harry to cause a hairline fracture in his life. Leave it to Harry to find a way to seep into every fiber of Louis’ being once again.

“Tommy,” Louis breathed out the name as he reached out to grasp on of Tommy’s hands in his own. “I promise you, this doesn’t have to be an issue.”

Tommy squeezed his hand in response. “How can you promise something like that?”

“Because I know. What Harry and I were, what we had, that was a lifetime ago. I’m with you.I love you.”

“I love you too,” Tommy whispered, squeezing Louis’ hand one more time before resting his head on the window and closing his eyes.

*

Tommy was already sound asleep by the time Louis got out of the shower and climbed into bed beside him. The night had drained both of them. The dinner, the fight, it had all been too much, and Louis was positive it had been too much for Harry too. He wanted to text him. He wanted to apologize (again); he wanted to make sure he was okay.

God, what was wrong with him?

He tried to sleep, he really really did, but no matter how long he kept his eyes closed or how many sheep he counted, he just couldn’t get there. He sat up with a sigh, grabbing his phone off the bedside table and made his way to the living room.

He made it all of ten seconds until he was unlocking his phone and tapping on his screen.

To: Harry
Just wanted to say sorry again. See ya next pub night.

He wasn’t expecting a response. They hadn’t said a word to each other after their brief chat in Harry’s bedroom except for a quick goodbye when the night had come to an end. Harry had spent the entire monopoly game averting Louis’ gaze and avoiding interaction at all costs. He hadn’t even tried to barter with him when Louis bought the Park Place to his Boardwalk. Something wasn’t right, and Louis couldn’t help but wonder if it had been Tommy’s words.

And fuck. He shouldn’t even care. Not this much.

From: Harry
I’m fine, Louis.

And okay, Louis knew Harry too well to believe those three words. “Fine” wasn’t even an adverb that belonged in Harry’s vocabulary. But he should drop it. he should put his phone down and forget all about it. But no, Louis didn’t work that way. He’d never worked that way when it came to Harry.

To: Harry
You can’t lie to me, Haz. I’m sorry for tonight. It was a mess

He waited barely a second before his phone was vibrating again. He took a deep breath before he glanced down at the new message.

From: Harry
Honestly, Louis, just drop it. It’s fine. Your boyfriend hates me. It’s to be expected really.

Louis couldn’t just sit back and accept the short, snappy sentences. He couldn’t. Not after how far he and Harry had come in the few weeks they’d been reacquainted. He couldn’t let this night, or the way Tommy had treated Harry, come between their friendship. He couldn’t.

The phone only rang twice before the line was being answered and Harry’s breath was filling the airspace. Louis hadn’t meant to call him. Okay, that was a lie. He’d known what he was doing when he’d dialed Harry’s number and pressed the “call” button, but it was out of necessity.

“Lou?” Louis tried to answer, tried to say anything, but he was suddenly frozen. He hadn’t called Harry in years, in a lifetime really. He had no idea what he was doing. “Lou, are you there?”

“Hey, yeah, yeah I’m here, sorry,” Louis stumbled out in a whisper, shimmying on the sofa until he was comfortable.

“It’s late,” Harry stated, his voice mirroring Louis’ whisper. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Louis caught himself in a lie. And he couldn’t do that. He had to be the one to stop the cycle of lying they’d found themselves in. That was the whole reason he’d called in the first place. “No, actually, I’m not fine.

“What’s wrong?” Harry asked quickly, his voice all of a sudden laced with concern. Harry had always been this way, he’d always jumped at the slightest hint that Louis wasn’t okay. Well, he’d been that way up until the day he’d walked away. He’d been that way until the moment it had mattered the most.

Louis sighed, pushing thoughts about their past to the back of his mind. He was over it. He’d been over it for a long time now. “I don’t want tonight to ruin our friendship,” he slowly admitted.

Louis’ heart pumped in his ears while he waited for Harry to say something, anything really. They sat in silence for a beat too long for Louis’ sanity. “Haz, you still there?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Harry breathed into the phone. “Lou, tonight, it sucked. Like really fucking sucked. But I’m not going anywhere. I promise I’m not going anywhere ever again.”

The words hung in the air around Louis, swimming around his head as he tried to process each individual syllable. Harry wasn’t going anywhere. He was staying. This time he wouldn’t disappear. This time. No, no there was no this time. They were friends – mates – that was all they’d ever be, and Louis was fine with that. Louis was perfectly content with that even. He had everything he’d ever wanted. He was fucking happy, okay?

“Always?” Louis’ voice was so small, so quiet that he wasn’t sure if he’d even said the words.

“Forever,” Harry whispered back just as quietly. And well fuck, Louis needed to get his shit together. Louis needed to climb back into bed beside his boyfriend and replay the way Harry had broken him into a million little pieces once upon a time. Louis needed to remember that “always” and “forever” wasn’t a thing anymore. They hadn’t been a thing in five fucking years. It was time Louis got a fucking grip already.

“Goodnight, Haz,” and apparently, he wasn’t about to get that grip anytime soon, because Harry’s nickname still floated off his lips like it was the first word he’d ever said as a baby.

“Sweet dreams, Lou.”

Leave it to Harry fucking Styles to seep into every fiber of Louis’ being, even after all these years.

~

“So, you’ve worked all your shit out then?” Zayn and Louis were sat on Louis’ sofa, joint being passed between them as they made their way through the entire Marvel filmography. It was a rare afternoon where neither of them had any work, so they naturally decided to spend the hours together, killing time until their boyfriends got off work. Louis had just finished telling him all about the god-awful dinner party that had happened just a few days ago, and the way Harry had promised him he wasn’t going anywhere. Not that Louis could still replay that conversation in his mind or anything.

Louis shrugged as he took a hit and passed the joint back to Zayn. “We’re friends, yeah.”

Zayn watched him closely, his eyes cast in some sort of doubt. “Do you forgive him?”

Nobody had asked Louis that question in years. In the first year that they’d broken up, his mum and sisters would ask him every now and then if he’d forgiven Harry yet. They’d ask him if he was ready to pick up the phone and make amends. Apparently, everyone but Harry thought that they were a foreverkind of couple. Apparently, everyone but Harry was rooting for them to work through their shit and get back together. But Louis never did get around to forgiving Harry. Even as the years passed and he started to forget things about Harry, like the way he sounded when he laughed at one of Louis’ jokes, or the way his curls felt wrapped around one of Louis’ fingers, even as he forgot those tiny pieces of information, Louis didn’t forgive Harry.

But now? Now he wasn’t sure if he’d forgiven him or not. Now he wasn’t sure if there was anything left to forgive. Maybe Harry had been right all those years ago. Maybe they’d both needed him to walk away for them to figure their lives out. Maybe they wouldn’t have survived if he hadn’t ended everything the way he had. Their love had always been too big for them, and sooner or later, they would have burst into flames. Maybe they wouldn’t have survived.

Maybe Harry had saved them.

And maybe, just maybe, Louis was high and out of his fucking mind.

“I don’t know,” Louis finally said, tilting his head back and closing his eyes. “What’s there even to forgive, Z?”

Zayn nudged Louis until he opened his eyes and took the joint back. “So, you’re over it all then? Like, you aren’t mad about the way he ended things anymore? You’re over the way he broke your heart? You aren’t still in love with him?”

And wait, pause and back the fuck up. Nobody had ever dared to ask Louis that. His mum even knew better than that. “The fuck you on, Malik?”

Zayn shrugged. “Look, I’m just talking shit, yeah? But, have you ever sat back and actually thought about it?”
Louis took a long drag, he needed to be a lot higher if he was going to have this conversation. “Have I ever sat back and thought about whether or not I’m still in love with my ex-boyfriend?”

Zayn nodded. “Yeah, and the love of your life? I mean, let’s face it. The way you talk about that guy, it’s like he’s your fucking soulmate or something.”

Was,” Louis corrected. “He was the love of my life. I usedto think he was my soulmate. But not anymore. Tommy’s it for me, man.”

Zayn just hummed in response, and Louis had gotten to know him well enough to know he was biting his tongue. “Spit it out then, Z. Say whatever the hell you have to say and get on with it.”

“S’nothing,” Zayn said. “Just can’t help but wonder if yours and Harry’s story is finished yet, s’all.”

And Louis giggled, whole heartedly laughed at his best friend’s ridiculousness. “Our story ended five fucking years ago. It’s been bound and closed and put up on the top shelf of my fucking bookcase for a really fucking long time.”

“Okay, okay.”

“And I’m not still in love with him, you got that?”

Zayn just shook his head, a stupid smile on his face, and Louis had a half a mind to punch him. But he wasn’t much for violence, and Zayn could probably kick his arse anyways. “Okay, I believe you, Tommo.”

~

Louis hadn’t talked to Harry since the night of the dreaded dinner party. They hadn’t texted each other or acknowledged the late-night conversation they’d had on the phone. If Louis spent too long thinking about it, he could almost make himself believe he’d made it all up in his head. He could almost believe that maybe it had all just been a dream. But he had the call log in his phone for proof. He had the way he’d memorized their conversation as proof. Harry had promised him forever. Harry had promised him always. And now Louis was too much of a chicken shit to walk through the pub door and come face to face with it all. He was too much of a chicken shit to pretend like those words weren’t still dancing around in his head. They might have said them as friends, but those words would always mean more – at least to Louis, anyways.

He took one last deep breath before pulling the pub door opening and stepping inside. Even after the last few weeks, he still felt like an intruder of pub night. He couldn’t help but wonder if maybe Harry was just being nice and letting him join in with his mates. Harry had always been too nice, too fucking cordial to deny anyone anything. Except well, except for when he’d apparently grown out of his “too nice” phase and had walked out of Louis’ life, but who was even keeping track these days?

Louis needed to get a fucking grip really. Louis needed about 5 pints and maybe a joint. Louis needed out of his fucking head.

“Hey,” Harry was all of a sudden in front of him, smile wide and black button up shirt basically sheer and unbuttoned, save for the last three. God, he really was a sight. At least his hair was down tonight, at least he’d spared Louis from having to make fun of the stupid man bun he’d apparently grown quite attached to.

“Hi,” Louis responded with a smile and stupid little wave. Louis needed alcohol, now.

“No Tommy?” Harry asked as he led them towards the bar. Apparently, Harry was a mind reader and knew that Louis needed to be drunk as of ten seconds ago.

Louis shook his head as they stood side by side at the bar, his fingers tapping absentmindedly at the wood. “No Grimshaw?”

Harry shrugged as he asked the bartender for two pitchers and five glasses. “He sort of just shows up when he wants.”

“Oh, so he may grace us with his obnoxious presence later on?”

Harry laughed, shaking his head slightly as he looked over Louis’ face. “You really don’t like him, do you?”

I just don’t like him for you, was what Louis wanted to say, but instead he just shrugged as he took one of the pitchers and a stack of glasses from the bartender, following Harry back towards their table. “Don’t really know the guy, do I?”

Harry just laughed again as they placed the drinks down on the table and sat across from each other, leaving ample room for everyone else to crowd in once they arrived. “It’s okay, Lou, Gemma hates him, you can too.”

“Why even bother with your...” Louis started to ask the question that had been burning inside of him since he’d met Nick but was interrupted by Niall, Liam, and Zayn rushing in through the pub door and falling into place in the empty seats.

“God bless your soul boys,” Niall cheered as he took an empty glass and filled it with beer from one of the pitchers. “Next round’s on me, yeah?”

Harry didn’t take his eyes off Louis as he wrapped an arm around the Irishman, kissing his temple as a greeting. Maybe Harry was just as curious as to what Louis was about to ask as Louis was about the answer. But it didn’t matter, not really. Whatever Harry was doing with Nick Grimshaw was none of Louis’ business. Harry could screw half of London and it wouldn’t matter. They were friends, pals, mates.

But really, Louis couldn’t help but wonder if the thought of Louis and Tommy fucking disgusted Harry as much as the thought of Nick inside Harry made Louis want to throw up all over the table.  

When had life gotten so messy, and when had Louis decided to just sit back and watch it all happen?

*

“Tommo, you never told me whether or not Tommy’s still mad at you,” Niall asked from across the table, face red from the copious amounts of alcohol he’d consumed in the past few hours.

And well fucking hell, Niall, really? Louis wanted to reach out and slap the stupid idiot across the back of the head. It was a miracle they’d even made it two hours into pub night without him opening his mouth about the whole thing. Why had he even told Niall about the stupid fight in the first place? If he’d learned anything in the past few weeks, it should have been that you couldn’t trust Niall worth shit. The second the guy got drunk he was an open fucking book. But no, Louis had decided to confide in him anyways.

“Tommy’s mad at you?” Harry’s attention was suddenly all on Louis, eyes locked and filled with a mixture of concern and curiosity.

“S’nothing, everything’s fine,” Louis insisted as he took a drink from his glass. He’d moved onto the stronger stuff, but he still wasn’t drunk enough. He’d never be drunk enough to have this conversation.

Louis was thankful when Harry and Niall both dropped the subject, Niall moving on to discuss some sort of golf thing that Louis had absolutely zero interest in. Every now and then Louis would feel Harry’s gaze on him, as if he wasn’t quite ready to let his question go, but he never tried to ask again.

*

It was only nine o’clock when Niall slouched back into his coat, muttering excuses about how “the ole ball and chain wanted him home early because they were going on some sort of hike in the morning”. Louis watched as Harry hit the blonde on the back of the head and threatened to do much worse if he ever referred to his sister as that again.

Zayn and Liam only made it another half an hour until they were both yawning and finishing off the rest of their drinks.

“We’ve got brunch with my parents tomorrow,” Liam tried to justify when he was met with two sets of offended eyes. “You guys should stay. Get proper sloshed for us.”

Zayn gave Louis a pointed look as he helped Liam into his jacket. If it wouldn’t have been the most obvious thing in the world, Louis would have kicked his meddling friend in the shin. Apparently, Louis had turned into some sort of violent arsehole.

“It’s nine fucking thirty on a Friday night,” Louis whined. “Why don’t you two just get fucking married and retire already?”
Zayn rolled his eyes as he took Liam’s hand in his own. “You’re always so dramatic. Sorry if I’d rather go home and ride my boyfriend then spend it your sorry bunch.”

Louis laughed when Liam’s face flushed pink at Zayn’s words. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Have fun you two.

Zayn and Liam were barely out the door before Harry was staring intently at Louis from across the table. “What d’you say we get another round of shots and then go back to mine and play some FIFA?”

Louis didn’t like the way his heart seemed to speed up at the prospect of spending a few hours with just Harry. They hadn’t hung out just the two of them since the first time – since the meetup in the café when Louis had decided he wanted them to be friends.

“I’m always down for more shots, but I have a feeling if we go back to yours, we may interrupt some Niall and Gemma time. If you know what I mean,” Louis wiggled his eyebrows for good measure.

Harry groaned, scrubbing at his eyes as if he was trying to wipe away any and all thoughts of Niall and his sister. “Well, now I can never go home. Thanks for that, Lou.”

Louis laughed, getting up from his chair to go order more shots from the bar. As he waited his turn, he thought about his own empty flat. Tommy was gone for the weekend. His league had some sort of away game in Liverpool and he wouldn’t be back until Sunday night. Louis didn’t want to go back home to an empty, quiet flat. He didn’t want to sit in front of the tele until his eyes drooped shut and he fell asleep on the sofa. He wanted to spend more time with Harry, and for that he’d need a lot more alcohol.

“Four shots of tequila, please,” Louis ordered once he had the bartender’s attention. If he was really going to go ask Harry to hang out at his flat, Louis neededto be drunker than he currently was.

He somehow managed to carry the four shot glasses back to the table without spilling a drop of liquid. Harry had moved to the chair beside Louis’ in his absence, and he was quick to sling an arm around the back of Louis’ chair once Louis was sitting down. Louis tried not to dwell on the way Harry’s eyes were glued to him, or the way Harry’s stupidly pink lips were upturned into a permanent smile. Louis was just on the edge of tipsy, and once they’d clung their glasses together and downed the first shot, Louis felt himself fall of the cliff. Once the second shot was down his throat, Louis was swimming in an ocean of drunkenness.

“I have an Xbox,” Louis stated simply, his blue eyes meeting Harry’s emerald stare.

“Good for you, Lou,” Harry was positively beaming. Louis was fairly certain his eyes were going to be permanently damaged from looking at Harry for so long. He was like the fucking sun.

Louis shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts and remember what he’d been trying to suggest. “I have an Xbox,” he repeated. “And FIFA.”

“And a boyfriend who hates me,” Harry added with a giggle.

“He doesn’t hate you,” they both knew Louis was lying, so he rolled his eyes for good measure. “Besides, he’s in Liverpool. Wouldn’t even know it if you came over and let me beat your ass in FIFA.”

And, okay, no. Louis was crossing a line. He knew he was crossing a line. He shouldn’t be so quick to suggest that what Tommy didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. He’d promised Tommy he’d be honest – transparent. From day one of having Harry back in his life, Louis had promised he had nothing to hide.

“Can we grab McDonald’s on the way?” Harry’s question shook Louis out of his inner turmoil.

And really, who was he to deny Harry of anything? The dimples and the curls could easily get that boy anything he wanted. The entire world was doomed when it came to Harry Edward Styles.

“You betcha.”

*

“This is a lot cleaner than I expected,” Harry commented the second they walked through the door to Louis’ flat. Louis watched as Harry toed off his boots and took off his jacket, carefully folding it over a chair that stood at the kitchen island.

“I take offence to that, Curly,” Louis said, throwing his own jacket to land wherever. The flat was only this clean because of Tommy, so he fully intended to take advantage of his boyfriend’s absence and let his true self shine. “Want a drink?” he asked as he joined Harry in the kitchen.

“I’ll take a beer if you have any,” Harry responded as he opened the McDonald’s bag and divvied up the food.

They sat side by side at the island, eating their greasy food and drinking beer in silence. It should be awkward. Louis knew it should be awkward. But really, it was the most normal thing Louis had done in a really long time. It was amazing really, the way he and Harry could just be after all this time.

*

“Do you ever wonder where we’d be if you’d gone to London?” they’d been playing FIFA for about an hour, the McDonald’s long gone, and a few empty beer bottles scattered on the coffee table in front of them. Louis was well past the drunk phase, but Harry’s question was like a bucket of cold water being poured over his head.

“Wh... what?” Louis tried to focus on presses the right buttons on the controller, but Harry’s team scored on him anyways.

Harry paused the game, turning his body so that he was sitting cross legged and completely facing Louis on the sofa. “If you’d come to London with me, like we’d planned,” Harry said again, his face hiding any and all emption. “Do you ever wonder about it? About where we’d be now?”

Louis was drunk, but he wasn’t drunk enough for this. They had steered clear of this conversation entirely since they’d re-entered each other’s lives. Louis wasn’t prepared.

“Do you think we’d still be together?” Harry pressed.

“Why are you asking me this?”

Harry shrugged as he picked at the hole in the knee of his torn jeans. It felt like they’d gone through a time machine. It felt like Louis was staring at an eighteen-year-old Harry, scared and heartbroken. It was too much.

“Don’t you ever think about it?” Harry asked, voice small and afraid.

Louis didn’t know how to answer any of these questions. He didn’t know if he even wanted to. “Do you think we’d still be together?”

Harry rolled his eyes at Louis’ obvious deflection, but opened his mouth to speak nonetheless. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “Sometimes I think we were doomed from the start. Like our love was too big for us,” and yes, Louis felt that too. He’d thought the exact same thing on multiple occasions. “But then,” Harry continued. “Then sometimes it feels like we were meant to be together, and that no matter what I do, our worlds will continue to collide until we make it work.”

Louis was silent, so unsure of how to respond to anything Harry had just said. He’d believed in fate – in destiny – once upon a time. But Harry had shattered his naivety the same time he’d shattered his heart. Fate and destiny were just as full of bullshit as the ideas of true love and soulmates. It was all a bunch of made up fuckery to make people feel better. Louis refused to buy into any of it.

“I think we’d still be together,” Harry whispered in the space between them. “If you’d come to London, we would’ve made it.”

Louis rolled his eyes at that. How dare Harry pin this all back on him. “So, it’s all my fault then?” Louis sneered. “It’s always going to come back to that isn’t it? We’re just gonna keep ignoring all the shit you did and blame it all on me?”

Harry looked up at Louis, eyes wide with surprise at Louis’ words. “No, no, that’s not what...” his voice trailed off as he ran a hand through his hair, wincing as his fingers pulled at a knot in one of his curls. “Fuck, Lou, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. I swear.”

“What did you mean then?”

Harry sighed, and Louis was almost certain her could see tears welling up in his eyes. “Maybe you staying back in Holmes Chapel was the start of the end,” Harry started. “But I know I fucked up. I was hurt, and I missed you, and instead of communicating any of that I acted out. And I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive myself for any of it, and I know it’s been five years, but we’ve never really talked about it. Not really. And I just... I need you to know how sorry I am that I was such a shit boyfriend.”

“You weren’t,” Louis jumped in, barely even registering the way his hand moved to rest on Harry’s calf. “Maybe we both were, near the end, but we were also really fucking good to each other once.”

Harry nodded his head and picked the controller back up, unpausing the game as if they hadn’t just had some sort of earth-shattering conversation. Louis tried to turn his attention back to the video game, he tried to forget about the way Harry seemed to have an undying faith in their love, but it was useless. He couldn’t focus on anything except the man beside him and the mountain of memories they shared.

*

“Why’s Tommy mad at you?” the next time either of them spoke it was nearing two in the morning and Harry’s voice had the tired and raspy edge to it that Louis used to love. They were still somehow playing FIFA, and Louis couldn’t help but wonder how Harry had gotten so good at it. He’d never been able to beat Louis. But that had been before.

“He’s not,” Louis answered simply.

“Lou,” Harry paused the game again, and the way his name sounded coming from Harry’s lips forced Louis to look at the other man.

Louis rolled his eyes, but for some strange reason his heart had started beating a million beats per minute, but he refused to draw a correlation between the way Harry was watching him and the way his heart was beating.

“He was mad about the dinner,” Louis said quietly, turning his attention to the controller in his hand instead of the way Harry was looking at him. “I mean, technically I was mad at himfirst.”

“Why?” it’s only a three-letter word, but the way Harry said it made Louis snap his eyes back up. Why did everything have to be so fucking intense all of the time?

“Because he was a dick to you, and he embarrassed me in front of everyone.”

Harry took a dep breath. “God, Lou, tell me you didn’t yell at your boyfriend for being mean to me.”

“Of course I did!” Louis hadn’t meant to yell the words, but he did. Of course he’d stood up for Harry. He’d always stand up for Harry. “He can’t just go around being a complete arsehole to you for no reason.”

Louis probably needed to make a list of his priorities and make sure Harry’s happiness was far enough down the list. It shouldn’t matter to him this much. It shouldn’t.

“He’s afraid,” Harry finally said. “He’s afraid you’re going to fall back in love with me.”

Fat chance. “Still doesn’t give him the right to behave the way he did.”

“I promise I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize your relationship,” and as the words left Harry’s mouth, Louis felt himself slide over on the couch until his body was touching Harry’s. he’d blame the alcohol tomorrow, but right now he just needed a proper cuddle.

“I know,” Louis whispered as he rested his head on Harry’s shoulder and felt Harry’s arm wrap around him, his own head coming to rest on top of Louis’. “I know, Haz.”

*

Louis woke up slowly, a curl tickling his nose until he opened his eyes and remembered where he was and who he was with. He was still curled up into Harry, his hand fisting the front of Harry’s shirt. God, how did he let himself get to this point? Harry was still asleep, his head still resting on Louis’ and small snores escaping with each breath he took.

Louis was sober – far too sober.

He stretched out slowly, stirring the other awake as he shifted on the sofa. What was he supposed to say? What was somebody supposed to say after napping and cuddling with their ex-boyfriend?

“It’s five a.m.,” Harry’s sleep-filled voice broke the silence first. And fuck. Louis had thought he’d never hear him like that again.

And Louis knew he should be telling Harry to go home. He knewhe should be leading him to the door and calling it a night. And he meant to, god, he’d meant to, but instead he looked at Harry and asked the one thing that had been bothering him for weeks.

“Why do you bother with the whole Nick thing?” he regretted the question the second it was out of his mouth. Louis had never had a filter.

Harry furrowed his eyebrows in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“Wouldn’t you rather find someone you actually want a relationship with?”

“Lou,” Harry sighed as he reached out and placed a gentle hand on Louis’ knee. They’d always been tactile – but that had been before – that had been in the past. “I’m not...I’m not interested in a relationship with anybody.”

It was Louis’ turn to be confused. Of course, he hadn’t known Harry in years, but the Harry he’d known had loved being somebody’s boyfriend. “Why not?”

Harry squeezed Louis’ knee. “I Haven’t been in a relationship in a really long time.”

“How long?” and why the fuck did Louis even care?

Harry pulled on a curl with his free hand, twirling it around his finger for a moment before meeting Louis’ eyes once again. “Not since you.”

Wait...what?

“You haven’t,” Louis stammered. “You haven’t been in a relationship since...”

“You were my last boyfriend, Lou,” Harry admitted quietly, a blush on his cheeks.

How was that even possible?

“I haven’t been in love with anyone since you,” Harry added as if he could read Louis’ mind. “I’ve only ever loved you.”

Louis had no idea what he was doing. He was overtired and hung over, and his ears were ringing from Harry’s confession. Apart from the three-hour nap, he’d been awake for nearly twenty-four hours. But he wasn’t sure if he could blame all that for the way his heart was hammering in his chest. He wasn’t sure if the exhaustion and the remnants of alcohol were the reason for why he was leaning into Harry, breathing in the inch of space that hung between them. The brush of Harry’s lips felt like coming home and a hurricane windstorm wrapped into one. He was sure if he just closed his eyes and applied a bit more pressure that he’d be eighteen and in his mum’s living room all over again.

“Lou,” Louis was being gently pushed back by two strong hands on his shoulders.

“Fuck,” he opened his eyes to find Harry staring back at him with confusion written all over his face. “Fuck, I’m so fucking sorry...I’m so stupid,” Louis chanted as he jumped off the sofa and started to pace around the room. “What the fuck am I doing? I’m so fucking stupid.”

“Lou,” Harry’s steady voice broke through the panic swirling around in Louis’ head. “Louis, stop, look at me.”

Harry’s hands were back on Louis’ shoulders, steadying him. “Harry, I... I don’t know why I just did that.”

“It’s okay,” Harry soothed, a small smile on his face. “We relived a lot of stuff tonight. It was kind of like we were those kids we used to be. I could feel it too.”

Louis didn’t know he was even crying until Harry swiped a thumb under his eye to catch a tear. “I’m gonna go, yeah?” he wiped away another tear. “I meant what I said, Lou. I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize your relationship. And I definitely don’t want to do anything that jeopardizes our friendship.”

“I’m sorry,” Louis stammered through his tears.

“Shh,” Harry soothed, pulling Louis tight against his chest and rubbing circles in his back. “We’re okay. Everything’s okay.”

They stood like that for a very long time. They stood like that until Louis stopped crying. Once his tears had stopped, Harry placed a kiss to the top of his head and pulled away, giving Louis one last smile before making his way to the front door.

“Harry, I’m...” Louis started as Harry pulled on his boots.

“Lou,” Harry’s voice was gentle, but a stern interruption. “Stop saying sorry. There’s no reason to be sorry. Get some sleep. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

Louis nodded his head and watched Harry leave in silence. He wasn’t sure how long he stared at the door for after Harry left, but eventually he crawled under his duvet and closed his eyes. It was almost seven in the morning by the time Louis drifted off to sleep, and if he dreamt of emerald eyes and chocolate curls nobody needed to know.

He hadn’t dream of Harry in years. But he’d seeped into every fiber of Louis’ being, and Louis wasn’t sure if he would ever be ready to let go.

 

Chapter Text

Hey, remember when I told you
That you and I, we'd go down in history together,
And does your sister ask about me?
You and I, what we had, is it gone forever?

 You're with somebody I can't be
But I can tell that you're happy

 (Because I Had You – Shawn Mendes)

 

Harry was still shaking when he got on the tube. He’d been shaking since the second the door to Louis’ flat had closed behind him, separating him from Louis – from the entire night. It was past six in the morning, and Harry was exhausted, but the way his hands were shaking were from everything but the exhaustion that was currently running through his body. His hands were shaking at the memory of Louis’ lips ghosting against his own. His fingers were twitching from the way Louis had leaned in, from the way he’d been able to feel Louis’ breath fan against his face. It had been magical, pure and so fucking good. But of course, Harry had had to go and stop it. He’d had to go and push Louis away and stop everything before it even started.

Why had he stopped it?

He wanted to think it was because he was a good person. He wanted to think it was because he didn’t want to come between Louis and Tommy, but Harry knew himself better than that. He knew he wasn’t that selfless. He knew he’d only stopped Louis from fully connecting his mouth to his because fear had coursed through his veins thicker than molasses. In that instant, in the second he’d felt Louis’ lips brush against his own, the fear of losing Louis all over again flashed in front of his eyes. He couldn’t kiss him, he couldn’t, not if it meant that he’d never see Louis again.

God, he wanted to feel those lips more than anything else.

Harry had taken one stop off the train, finally almost home, when it hit him. The realization almost made his legs give out from under him – it almost made him fall to his knees right there on the tube platform.

He was still in love with Louis.

*

“Mate, wake up, H, c’mon,” Harry felt like he’d only been asleep for five minutes when he was being pushed awake.

He opened his eyes to find Niall sitting on the edge of his bed, looking down at him with a smile on his face. “What is it, Niall? Why the hell are you waking me up?”

“Where were you last night, and this morning? We heard you come in at like seven. Gemma was worried shitless about you.”

“What time is it?” Harry groaned as he sat up in his bed, his back against the headboard as he tried to rub the sleep out of his eyes.

Niall sighed, but flashed his phone in Harry’s face. “It’s a quarter past three o’clock in the fucking afternoon, you twat. Where were you?”

“Louis',” Harry mumbled. God, why did he still feel so tired? Why did it feel like he hadn’t gotten a single second of sleep?

Niall’s jaw fell open slightly at Harry’s response. “Louis? You were with Louis this entire time? Are you fucking serious?”

Harry wiped a hand down his face, ignoring the judgmental tone in his best friend’s voice. He didn’t want to hear it. He didn’t want to listen to Niall lecture him about how inappropriate it was for Harry to spend the night with Louis. It wasn’t even like that (but god, it could’ve been like that). The feeling of Louis’ lips against his, no matter how brief or gentle, made Harry shiver. He could still feel it, almost like it had just happened a second ago. He wanted to feel that again.

He’d never feel that again.

“Harry, fucking listen to me,” and okay, Niall never sounded that peeved.

“What?” Harry finally met his friend’s eyes, finally let himself come face to face with the judgment. Except Niall’s eyes weren’t mirroring judgement, they were just filled with concern.

Niall shimmied further onto Harry’s bed, the concern never leaving his eyes. “You spent the night with Louis?”

“Nothing happened,” Harry tried to explain. “We just got some greasy food and played some video games. That’s it.”

Niall rolled his eyes. “I don’t believe you, H. It’s you and Louis. Louis fucking Tomlinson. You’re telling me you spent over 8 hours alone with the guy and all you did was eat some food and play some games? I call bullshit.”

“It’s not bullshit,” Harry argued. “We drank, we ate, I beat his ass in FIFA. That’s it.”

God, when had he started lying to his friends?

“Just be careful, okay?” Niall continued. His eyes were still filled with concern and Harry couldn’t keep looking at him. He couldn’t keep meeting Niall’s eyes when he’d just blatantly lied to him. “I don’t want to see anybody get hurt,” he added as he got up off the bed and made his way to the door.

“Nobody’s going to get hurt,” Harry whispered, and he wasn’t sure who he was trying to convince – Niall or himself.

*

It was eight o’clock and Harry still hadn’t called Louis. He’d practically promised to call Louis after he’d pulled away from the almost kiss and walked out the door. And god, god did he wish he could turn back the clock and just let the kiss happen. No. No, that wasn’t what he wanted. He didn’t want to jeopardize things. He needed to remember that. He needed to remember just why he’d pulled away from the almost kiss. God, that almost kiss was going to be the only thing he thought about for the rest of his life.

“Hello?” Louis answered almost right away, filling Harry’s eardrum with what had always been his most favourite sound in the world. Fuck, now that he’d admitted that he was still in love with Louis to himself, it was all Harry could think about.

“Hey,” Harry returned after taking a deep breath. “How are you?”

Louis was silent for a moment, and Harry couldn’t help but wonder if he was thinking about last night (this morning) too. He couldn’t help but wonder if Louis was just as hung up on the almost kiss as he was.

“I’m good, yeah, I’m good,” Louis stumbled with his words. “Fucking exhausted really, but good.”

“Good. That’s good,” and it was decided, Harry had officially become an idiotic teenager all over again. He may as well move back into his mum’s house and get a job at the local bakery. He clearly wasn’t cut out for this grown up shit.

“Look, maybe we should talk...” Louis started, his voice trailing off before he could even finish the sentence. But it didn’t matter, Harry knew just what he was trying to say.

“Louis, we can talk about it if you want to talk about it. But we don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

There was another long pause before Louis said anything. “I just, I think I was caught up in it all, you know?” And god, yes, Harry knew. “All of the talking about the past, it just brought me back is all. I’m sorry if I made things weird. I really don’t want this to make things weird between us. I really do want to be your friend.”

“Lou, it’s okay,” Harry breathed. And it was, it was fine.Harry hadn’t expected the almost kiss to create an internal crisis in Louis the way it had in Harry. “I told you last night, well I guess this morning, but we’re okay.” Everything was fucking fine.

“You’re sure?” Louis’ voice was so small, and Harry wanted nothing more than to reach through the phone and hold him.

Harry sighed. How was he supposed to convey everything he was feeling? How was he supposed to make sure Louis knew he’d do anything to make him happy, even if that meant bury all of his feelings? “I’m positive, Lou. Pinky swear and all that.”

“Kay, good,” Louis sighed in relief. “I never want us to not be okay.”

~

Harry found himself at Zayn and Liam’s on Thursday night, eating Liam’s infamous lasagna and filling each other in on their weeks. If he had to be surrounded by a couple, Harry would choose Liam and Zayn – Ziam really – over every and any other couple. There was something so infinite about the two of them, something so pure and innocent, that made Harry believe in love.

Okay, maybe Louis was the one who made Harry believe in love, but that was just semantics really.

“Sooo,” Liam dragged the word out from his place at the head of the table, nervously looking between Harry and Zayn. And Harry knew that look. Harry hated that look.

“Do I even want to know what you’re about to say?” Harry groaned before he forked another mouthful of lasagna passed his lips.

Zayn rolled his eyes but motioned for Liam to continue. “Before you say no, just hear me out, okay?”

“Is this about Louis, because if this is about Louis, I swear to god...”

Zayn burst out laughing, coughing into his fist like he’d choked on his food. “This isn’tabout Louis.”

“Well,” Liam chimed in. “It kind of is though, I mean...”

“Just fucking spit it out please,” Harry begged.

Liam sighed. “You’re almost as bossy as Louis, seriously,” he looked to Zayn before continuing. “Okay, anyways. We have a friend, and I... we...we really think you’d hit it off. And I sort of told him you’d go out to dinner with him tomorrow night.”

“No, no, no, no,” Harry chanted immediately, letting his fork fall to his plate with a loud crash. “I am not going on some blind date.”

“C’mon, H,” Zayn chimed in, rolling his eyes at Harry’s outburst. “You haven’t been on an actual date in what... years? I don’t think you’ve been on an actual date since I’ve met you. It’s time to move on and rea...”

Harry interrupted him before he could finish his sentence. “Move on? Are you seriously talking about Louis right now? I have moved on. This has nothing to do with Louis. I just have zero interest in dating. Is that alright with you?”

Even as the words were leaving his mouth, Harry knew he was wrong – that he was lying. He knew he had to go on this date. He knew he had to move on. If all it took was some almost kiss to make Harry realize he was still in love with Louis, maybe it was time to meet someone new. And well dammit, he didn’t know if he was ready for that.

He’d never be ready for that.

“What’s his name?” He found himself asking before he had the chance to second guess himself, before he had a chance to talk himself out of it.

Zayn and Liam exchanged surprised looks before Liam said anything else. “Logan. He’s twenty-six and he just finished his residency. He’s going to be a paediatrician,” and well, how could Harry possibly say no to a healer of fucking children? “You’d really like him, I think, if you just go out for dinner and give him a chance.”

It was just dinner. Harry could do dinner, right? He could go out for something to eat with a smart, older guy. He could keep up a conversation and flirt and maybe even walk him to his door and kiss him goodnight.

But what would happen if Logan’s eyes weren’t blue? What would happen if this Logan person didn’t laugh at Harry’s stupid jokes or make fun of his clumsiness? Harry didn’t know if he could survive a date that didn’t include Louis Tomlinson sitting across the table from him.

And he’d gone on dates since Louis. He had. He tried so hard those first twelve months to meet someone new and move on. He tried to drown his memories of Louis in somebody else, but he’d never made it past the first date stage. He’d never bothered to call the guy back or to follow through on a second date. He’d never even bothered to find out some of their last names. But he could do it now, couldn’t he? If Louis had moved on, if Louis was happy, maybe it was time he gave it a shot too.

“Yeah alright, I’ll go,” Harry finally said, rolling his eyes at his friends’ shocked expressions.

It was time that he moved on.

~

Harry was nervous. He was sitting in a fancy restaurant, shirt buttoned up all the way (all due to Liam and Zayn’s persistent bickering that his usual attire wasn’t first date appropriate) and two glasses of white wine sitting in front of him. It was 7:03, and Logan was officially three minutes late, not that Harry was counting. He was just nervous, and the longer he sat at a dimly lit table at the back of a fancy, Italian restaurant the fiercer the butterflies in his stomach began to fly around.

His phone vibrated at the same time as a tall, dark blonde male started to make his way through the restaurant, headed directly for his table. Harry took advantage of the thirty seconds he had before his blind date, Logan, made it to the table and unlocked his phone to check the message.

From: Louis
Remember this? Just found it in an old album. We definitely got better looking with age. Although...you were always the cuter one :p

Right under Louis’ text was a picture of a picture, and Harry definitely couldn’t breathe anymore. He definitely couldn’t see straight. He definitely couldn’t get his thoughts straight. Because right under Louis’ text was a picture of the two of them, arms wrapped around each other and Harry’s left cheek resting against Louis’ right one. They both had goofy smiles on their faces, and god, Harry could remember the exact second this photo had been taken. It was Harry’s seventeenth birthday party, and Louis had just given him his present. Two tickets to The Script in London. Harry had been so happy, not just because he was going to see his favourite band – their favourite band– but because he was going to be with Louis. The prospect of seeing his favourite band with the love of his life had made him the happiest seventeen-year-old on the fucking planet.

“Harry?” and it was all too much. There was a tall, blonde, handsomeman standing over him, smiling with a perfect set of white teeth and an old picture of him and the love of his life staring up at him from his cellphone screen. It was way too fucking much.

“Uh, hi,” Harry stumbled, clumsily rising from his chair and sticking his hand out for the other man to shake. “Logan, right?”

“That’s me,” and really, he really did have a lovely smile. But it only took a minute for Harry to register that Logan’s eyes were brown. It was all wrong.

Harry locked his phone, leaving it on the table as he and Logan made small talk. It had been so long since he’d done this, so long since he’d actively tried to get to know someone. That’s why he tended to stick with the Nick situation. It was easy. He knew Nick. He didn’t have to ask him about his work or get to know his siblings’ names. There was no polite chit chat or awkward lulls in conversation. First dates, dating in general, was hard.

“So, here I am, just finished my residency and I just started at St. Stephen’s Hospital last week,” Logan concluded the story of his extensive, and impressive, education and career path. Harry was just about to tell him how impressed he was when his phone vibrated on the table.

“Sorry,” Harry mumbled as he checked the screen, which indicated a new text from Louis. And he knew he should just ignore it, but well, he wouldn’t be Harry Styles if he wasn’t a sucker for Louis Tomlinson.

“Oh, no worries,” Logan said cheerfully, waving his hand as if to indicate it was no big deal if Harry checked his message. So, naturally, Harry did just that.

From: Louis
I hear you’re skipping pub night to be wooed by some doctor. Better not forget about us lowly folk while you’re getting to know mr. doctor man.

Harry rolled his eyes, not bothering to reply as he locked his screen once again and turned his attention back to Logan. If he knew any better, Harry would think Louis sounded a bit jealous. But then again, it was nearly impossible to read into the emotion of a text message, and Louis had absolutely no reason to be jealous of Harry. He was the one in a committed, long term relationship after all.

“Liam told me you work at BBC,” Logan began, smiling bright at Harry, clearly interested. “He said you’re a creative writer?”

Harry nodded his head, taking a drink from his wine glass. “Yeah, I’ve been there for about a year. It’s really amazing. Hoping to get a couple more years’ experience under my belt before I move on to other things.

They were interrupted briefly by the waiter coming to take their orders, and Harry took the time while Logan was ordering his meal to check his phone again. He found another message from Louis waiting for him. Damn, this boy was chatty tonight.

From: Louis
Your sister is here tonight. She’s absolutely ecstatic that you’re stepping up your dating game. Apparently any guy is a step up from Nick in her books. Funny though, I swear you told me just a few nights ago that you’re not interested in dating anyone...must’ve misunderstood ya or something. Hope you’re having fun!

And okay, there was no misunderstanding that text. It sounded passive aggressive, loaded, and very very much like the sassy, sarcastic Louis Harry had loved back in the day.

“What were you hoping to move on to?” all of a sudden Logan was speaking again and Harry was lost. The text from Louis had completely thrown him off the course of their conversation. Leave it to Louis to fuck up his first date in years.

Leave it to Harry to let him.

“Sorry?” Harry asked, putting his phone face down on the table so he wouldn’t be distracted anymore.

“You were saying you wanted to move on to other things in a few years,” Logan replied, jogging Harry’s memory to the conversation about his work.

“Oh yes, sorry,” Harry said sheepishly. God, he was a mess. He definitely wasn’t cut out for this dating thing. (Maybe he just wasn’t cut out for dating people who weren’t Louis Tomlinson). “I really want to get into screen play writing. Television, plays, movies, that sort of thing. Radio is great, and I have a lot of fun working with the BBC team, but I’ve always wanted to write something bigger.”

*

The conversation with Logan came easy, surprising Harry more than anything else. Before he knew it, they were pushing their empty plates away and ordering a piece of chocolate cake with two forks for dessert. Harry couldn’t help but think maybe his friends had been right – maybe he just needed to get himself back out there and be open to the prospect of a relationship with somebody else (somebody not named Louis). Maybe he just needed to get his head out of the clouds and realize that no matter how much he might love Louis, love had never been enough for them. It would never be enough for them.

Besides, Louis had Tommy. And Louis was happy.

“I think you’re getting a call,” Logan said as politely as he could with a mouthful of cake.

Sure enough, when Harry flipped his phone back over, Louis’ name was flashing on his screen. “Sorry,” he apologized genuinely before tapping the green button on the screen. “I’ll just be a second.”

Logan smiled, assuring him that it was okay before Harry pressed the phone to his ear and walked in the direction of the loos. “Louis?” he said the second he answered the call.

“Hazza!” the second Louis’ voice was filling the line, Harry could tell he was drunk. Then again, it was nine o’clock on pub night, he shouldn’t have expected anything else. “I’m not interrupting your date, am I?”

Harry rolled his eyes as he entered the men’s washroom and locked the door behind him. “We’re just having dessert.”

“Ooh, you stayed long enough for dessert, you must like the guy!”

“Why are you calling me, Louis?” Harry didn’t mean to sound annoyed, but he was – he couldn’t help it really. Here he was trying to move on, and Louis was practically making sure it would never happen.

“M’outside having a cig,” Louis said as if it was enough of an explanation. “How’s the date?”

Harry sighed. He was looking at his reflection in the mirror, but all he could see staring back at him was his seventeen-year-old self from the picture Louis had sent him just hours ago. “I wouldn’t know, I’m currently standing in the loo talking to you, aren’t I?”

“Oops,” Louis giggled. “I didn’t mean to interrupt. I just wanted to see how my boy’s big date was going. Maybe you can tell me all about it over breakfast tomorrow?”

My boy my boy my boy my boy.

Harry didn’t hear anything after my boy.

“Haz?”

“Sorry,” Harry rushed out, reaching out to turn on the tap so he could splash some cold water on his face and bring himself crashing back down to reality. “What was that?”

“Breakfast. Tomorrow. You and me. You in?”

Harry took a deep breath, splashing his face one more time before turning the tap back off and reaching for the paper towel. “Sure, yeah, okay. Just text me when and where and I’ll meet you.”

“Can’t wait. Have fun on the rest of your date.”

Harry didn’t even have a chance to respond before Louis ended the call. But Harry could swear that right before the line went dead, he’d heard Louis’ voice saying not too much fun please. But there was no way. Harry wasn’t exactly sober himself. He was three glasses of wine in and the perfect amount of tipsy. He was clearly hearing things.

*

“I had a really nice time tonight,” Logan practically cooed as he walked Harry to the front door of his building after driving him home after dinner. “I’d really like to do it again some time, if that’s something you’re interested in?”

Was it? Harry’s first thought was the photo Louis had sent him, how in love they’d looked – how Louis was probably his fucking soulmate. But his thoughts quickly drifted to the fact that Louis didn’t go home to an empty flat every night, that he didn’t sleep in an empty bed like Harry did every single night. And that was all Harry needed to take his phone out of his pocket and hand it to Logan. “Put your number in it, yeah? That way we can make plans for date number two,” and he knew he was playing it up, he knew he was smiling in a way that extenuated his dimple and turned the charm factor up for 100 points. But that was the point to dating, wasn’t it?

Harry was grateful when Logan didn’t try to kiss him goodnight – he wasn’t sure if he was quite ready for that yet. But he gave in easily to the hug, and when Logan’s lips pressed against his cheek, Harry didn’t have the immediate urge to run. And for Harry, that was a start.

“Goodnight, Harry,” Logan said through a bigger smile than he’d displayed all night. And okay, maybe the guy didn’t have blue eyes, but he sure as hell had a nice smile.

“Goodnight, Logan,” Harry lulled back before pulling open the main door and stepping into the building.

He rode the lift with a smile on his face. He didn’t know if he was smiling because he’d just had a perfectly nice date with a perfectly sweet gentleman, or if he was smiling because his ex-boyfriend and called him in the middle of the date just to be passive aggressive and demand a breakfast date in the morning. Maybe Harry was allowed to smile for both reasons tonight. Maybe he’d give himself that.

Maybe he was also going to hell.

~

When Harry walked through the door of the restaurant the next morning, Louis was already sitting at a table, a mug of steaming tea held between his hands. He looked tired, and if his drunken phone call the night before was any indication, Harry imagined he must be feeling pretty damn hung over as well. He’d tried to forget about that phone call, god, he had tried. But when Harry drifted off to sleep after saying goodnight to Logan, he couldn’t help but replay it all in his mind. Louis had sounded jealous, and that was enough to set a fire in Harry’s body.

If Louis was jealous, did that mean he still cared?

“Ordered you a vanilla latte,” Louis said with a smile as Harry sat down across from him. “Should be here any minute.”

“Thank you,” and it shouldn’t warm Harry’s heart to know that Louis still knew his favourite caffeinated beverage.

They sat in comfortable silence, Louis watching Harry over his cup of tea, until the waitress arrived with Harry’s latte and took their orders. Sitting in a restaurant with Louis felt completely different than it had felt to be with Logan the night before, and Harry wasn’t sure what to make of it. He felt comfortable with Louis. All of the past fights and all of the years apart hadn’t seemed to change the fact that he knew Louis. All of the lost time hadn’t seemed to change the fact that he lovedhim, either.

“So, how was the rest of the date?” Louis’ eyebrows were raised in curiosity.

Harry shrugged, feigning nonchalance. “It was good. How was pub night?”

“Are you going to see him again?” Louis asked, completely ignoring Harry’s question.

Harry was stuck. He wantedto see Logan again. He wanted a chance at forgetting about his feelings for Louis and finally move on. But with Louis sitting across from him, face eager and eyes his favourite shade of blue, Harry really just wanted to reach across the table and take what was his.

No. no. Louis was not his to take – not anymore and probably never again.

“Maybe,” Harry finally said, searching Louis’ eyes for any kind of reaction. His search came back empty.

“Good,” Louis sat back, clapping his hands together as if he was delighted by the news. “That’s good.”

Harry was grateful when their food arrived, giving them both an excuse to sit there silently. He’d taken for granted how easy things had been with Louis, but the lack of awkward tension had disappeared. The air between them was thick, and for the first time since the first night in the pub – the first time he’d seen Louis in years – Harry felt like he was looking at a stranger. And he absolutely couldn’t take it.

“Lou,” he finally sighed out the nickname, putting his fork down so he could focus on his friend. God, when had Louis ever just been his friend? He’d loved him from day fucking one.

“Hmm?” Louis hummed in response, not even bothering to look up from his stack of pancakes.

“Lou,” Harry winced at the whine in his own voice. “Why is this so weird?”

Probably because you’re still in love with him, you idiot. Probably because all you can think about is kissing his face.

“I don’t know,” Louis mumbled. “I guess I was just kind of thrown off by the whole date thing. Not that you shouldn’t be dating, you should, obviously you should, but...”

Louis was rambling, and Harry would be lying if he said it wasn’t the most endearing thing on the planet. “Louis,” Harry interrupted him. He reached across the table before he could second guess the action. “This doesn’t have to be weird.”

Louis waved his hand as if to wave off Harry’s words. “I’m just hung over and being silly.”

Harry squeezed Louis’ hand in reassurance. “It’s always going to be a bit weird, yeah? After all the history between us, it’s always going to be weird watching the other person be with someone else.”

Louis finally met Harry’s eyes just then, his ocean blue stare piercing right through Harry’s chest. “Yeah,” Louis agreed after a long pause “It really is.”

*

The thick layer of awkward fog seemed to dissipate by the time they were done their meals, and Harry couldn’t ignore the relief that was coursing through his veins. Now that he had Louis back, he never wanted to lose him again. He couldn’tlose Louis again.

“Do you still talk to Jack?”

Harry froze at Louis’ question. Jack?Harry hadn’t thought about Jack in years. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d talked to his old friend from the university residence.

“No, not in years. Why?” Jack had been the source of so many of Harry and Louis’ fights back in the day. After Harry had broken Louis heart (and his own in the process), he hadn’t even been able to look at Jack without reliving all of the fights they’d had because of him.

Louis shrugged. “I honestly thought you’d end up with him after you ended things.”

What the actual fuck? “Why would you think that?” Harry questioned, using all of his willpower to keep his voice even and calm.

Louis just shrugged again, but his eyes never left Harry’s. “I mean, I thought you were sleeping with the guy, so it would make sense if you got with him once you were finally rid of me.”

Harry didn’t get angry often. He got annoyed and frustrated, but it took a lot to push him over the edge and into anger. But he was seeing red now. How could they still be having the exact same conversation, the exact same fight, after all of these years?

“Are you fucked?” he asked, voice low and raspy, jaw clenched.

Louis quirked an eyebrow at Harry’s shift in mood. “Excuse me?”

“Are. You. Fucked?” Harry repeated, slower and deeper, enunciating each word carefully and deliberately.

Louis sat back in his chair, his face growing stoic. “No, I’m not fucked, Harry. We never really talked about this, or about anything really, unless you’ve forgotten. Instead of talking any of it through you just showed up one day and broke up with me like I was nothing to you. So, yeah, I thought you were fucking someone else.”

“You really want to hash all this out now? Here?” Harry didn’t like the tone in his own voice, and he definitely didn’t like the fact that they were surrounded by other people – strangers who shouldn’t get the opportunity to listen in on the intimate details of their past relationship.

Louis shrugged, and Harry was certain – absolutely fucking positive – that if he shrugged one more time he was going to reach across the table and strangle him.

“Spit it out then,” Harry sighed, trying to calm himself down (and failing). “If you want to talk it all out and discuss the way you thought I was fucking cheatingon you, just fucking say it.”

“I don’t think I like you like this, Hazza,” and Louis was smiling, fucking smiling. Harry couldn’t keep up with this boy. Some things never changed, apparently. “Calm your titties, yeah? We can discuss this like the two mature men we are, I think.”

Harry rolled his eyes. Only Louis would use the words titties and mature in the same breath and not think twice about it. “Yeah, sorry. Guess I just got worked up over the whole you actually believing I could do something as horrible as hurting you like that.”

They sat there in silence for a while, both of them just looking at the other, neither of them really knowing what to say. Harry wanted to hear Louis out. He wanted to hash things out if that was what Louis wanted. But he didn’t want to sit there and listen to Louis accuse him of cheating. Harry was a lot of things. Harry had been awfulto Louis. But he’d nevercome close to even thinking about cheating.

“Lou,” Harry reached for his hand again, lacing their fingers together on top of the diner table. “No matter how bad it may have gotten, no matter how horrible I was, I would never hurt you like that, I swear it. I love...er,” he coughed as he choked on the word. “I loved you too much to hurt you like that.”

Louis’ eyes shot up to meet his as the words left Harry’s mouth. Fuck, how could he have messed up so bad? How could he have forgotten that he was supposed to love Louis in past tense? Nobody but himself knew that it was still so fucking present.

“I’m sorry,” Louis’ voice was a tiny whisper. “I spent years thinking you’d cheated, maybe even hoping you’d cheated.” He squeezed Harry’s hand for a second before he pulled his hand away and sat back into his chair with a sigh. Harry immediately missed the contact. “I just,” Louis continued. “I guess I thought if you’d been sleeping with Jack, with anyone really, it would make hating you easier.”

“Did it?”

“No,” Louis laughed. “I mean, I spent a long time hating you, like really really hating you, but I think it was just because I missed you so much. I think I just hated you because I couldn’t understand how you could just walk away from what we had.”

Harry hated himself for that too. Harry would never understand how he’d walked away. All of the reasons he’d used to justify his actions, all of the countless points he’d list off whenever he questioned why he’d left Louis like that, none of them made up for it. Harry had made a mistake. He knew he should have fought harder for them both.

“How could you just walk away from what we had?” the question slipped past Louis’ lips and hung between them like a water balloon on the verge of bursting. Harry was certain if he so much as moved an inch that the balloon would burst and drown both of them in its wake.

He’d sit there in silence until he grew old and grey, but Louis was looking at him with big blue eyes, and Harry knew he’d never get away with not answering the question. Louis never let him get away with anything.

“I thought I was doing the right thing,” Harry couldn’t even look at Louis as he said it. He knew the truth now, he knew how fucking stupid it sounded now.Hindsight was always 20/20, and Harry had spent the last five years hating himself for not being strong enough to fight for their relationship.

“Do you still think that?”

And fucking fuck. Louis couldn’t just go around asking questions like that. Harry would never survive being Louis’ friend if he went around asking questions like that.

“Fucking hell, don’t answer that,” Louis huffed before Harry could even process a response. “I don’t even know why I asked you that. It doesn’t matter.”

“Lou,” Harry couldn’t look away from the endless ocean of Louis’ irises. He was lost – drowning in them. I don’t still think that, he thought to himself. Please know I still don’t think that.

“Haz, please,” Louis pleaded. “I don’t want to know, okay? It’s easier, fuck, it’s easier if I don’t know.”

*

Somehow, they’d fallen into silence after their heavy and awkward conversation. It seemed like all Harry had done was blink and they were magically standing in front of Louis’ building. They’d walked side by side in silence until they’d reached it, and now that they were standing there at the door, Harry didn’t want the morning to end. There was so much he wanted to say – so much he neededto say.

“Louis...”

“Harry...”

Their voices intertwined in the London air, causing both of them to chuckle at the fact that even after being out of each other’s lives for the past five years that they still managed to start talking at the exact same time. They were still so in sync and it had Harry’s head spinning.It was all too much.

“You go first,” Louis pushed with a smile on his face. Harry wanted to bottle up that smile and tuck it away in his pocket for safe keeping. He didn’t care how weird that made him. He’d always been way too intense when it came to Louis.

“I just,” Harry started, stuffing his hands into his jacket pockets so that he could hide the way he was trembling from his nerves. “Are we okay?”

Louis didn’t respond with words, instead he pulled Harry into his chest and wrapped his arms around him. It took Harry a moment to react, but eventually he had his hands out of his pockets and around Louis’ body. They held each other in silence for what felt like eternity. Harry never wanted to let go. He’d never let go again.

“We’re okay, Haz,” Louis breathed into the crook of Harry’s neck. And god, Harry would never let anyone know how the feeling of Louis’ breath against his skin caused his whole body to erupt in goosebumps. “I promise.”

“It’s not going to be weird?” Harry asked, his mouth in Louis’ hair. They were too close, far too close, but Harry couldn’t pull away. He’d never be the first one to pull away ever again. “After everything we talked about? You’re not going to pull away?”

“Never,” Louis promised as he loosened his grip on Harry. “You’re not getting rid of me that easy, Haz. I’m here to stay, you got that?”

Harry smiled so big at Louis’ words that his face started to hurt. God, he loved this boy. “Best friends forever?”

“Always.”

Maybe best friends forever would be enough for Harry. Maybe it had to be.

Chapter Text

I don't want your body
But I hate to think about you with somebody else
Our love has gone cold
You're intertwining your soul with somebody else

 (Somebody Else – The 1975)

 Louis wasn’t a jealous person (okay, maybe that was a lie). There had been the whole incident when his mum had brought Lottie home from the hospital, and six-year-old Louis had flicked her forehead out of sheer hatred for the little pink baby who’d stolen his spotlight. Then there had been his entire relationship with Harry. he used to fume with jealousy whenever somebody so much as looked at his boy. But no, he wasn’t jealous now. He could care less that Harry had shown up to pub night with a tall, blonde guy on his arm. And he certainly didn’t give a single fuck that this Loganguy seemed to be fucking enamoured by Harry. Nope, Louis was not the jealous type, not at all.

Louis needed to douse himself with a giant bucket of reality. He had no reason – no right – to feel anything about Harry dating again. He should just pat his friend on the back and move on. And maybe he would do just that if Harry hadn’t chosen a goddamn pediatrician to move on with. Maybe Louis wouldn’t care at all if Logan wasn’t some perfect, beautiful doctor.

“Zayn and Liam have been talking about Harry for years,” Louis finally tuned in to the conversation around him to find Logan telling Niall about how he’d met Harry. How fucking lovely. “Honestly never thought I’d actually meet him,” Logan added as he slipped his arm around the back of Harry’s chair.

“You two look too good together,” Niall stated as he looked between Logan and Harry. Louis wanted to puke. “Too bad you can’t make babies. They’d be fuckin’ cute.”

Louis rolled his eyes as he picked up his beer and downed the liquid. Louis had never been so annoyed with his friends before, which really only made him more annoyed with himself. He hated that this was even affecting him at all. He had Tommy. He was happy. So why couldn’t he stomach the very idea of Harry moving on?

“Lou?” Louis was pulled from his thoughts by Harry’s voice and a soft kick to his shin from under the table. “Come help me get the next round?”

Louis simply nodded in response and followed Harry as he weaved through the tables towards the bar. He stood beside Harry as they waited for their pitchers. He could feel Harry watching him, but he refused to be the first one to speak.

“You said it wouldn’t be weird,” Harry’s voice was small, and Louis hated himself for doing that – for making Harry feel anything other than happy.

Louis took a deep breath before turning to face Harry, and his heart sank the second he took in Harry’s worried expression. He’d forgotten how easily effected Harry was by his bad moods. “It’s not weird, Haz,” Louis tried to keep his voice light – he tried to keep any ounce of bitterness at bay.

Harry rolled his eyes in response. “You’ve said one word to me since I walked through the door an hour ago, and it was hi.”

“M’sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Harry’s eyes were still swimming in concern, his lips turned down into a frown. “Talk to me, what’s going on.”

Louis sighed. “Nothing, I promise. I’m just being a twat.”

He’d expected Harry to laugh, but instead his frown grew deeper. “Is it what Niall said?” Harry pressed. “About the babies?”

Ding! Ding! Ding! Louis shrugged, giving himself away with that simple movement.

“Lou,” Harry’s voice had turned soft, and god, that was so much worse. “I just started dating the guy. I promise there are no babies coming anytime soon.”

Louis attempted a smile, but even he could tell it was weak. He needed to get his shit together.

“You’re closer to having babies than I am,” Harry continued. “So, if anyone should be worried here it’s me. I’ll probably get a wedding invitation in the mail one day and have a total breakdown.”

And no. No no no. Louis wasn’t strong enough to think about that. He couldn’t picture a day where he’d mail out an invitation to his wedding to Harry. Louis had spent years believing he’d marry Harry that the idea of inviting Harry was enough to make him want to vomit.

“Maybe you can warn me ahead of time, yeah?” Harry continued, winking to lighten the mood. No amount of awkward Harry winks would make this conversation okay.

“Don’t worry, Hazza,” Louis finally spoke as he picked up the pitchers from the bar and led the way back to their table. “You’ll be the first to know.”

*

Louis had lost count of how many pints he’d had by ten o’clock. He was drunk and grateful for how fuzzy his mind had become. He could finally look at Harry and Logan – he could finally talk to them – without wanting to strangle himself (which he considered a pretty fucking giant success). But no amount of alcohol could prepare him for the long legs and giant quiff that walked through the door.

Nick fucking Grimshaw.

There was no way in hell Louis could handle both Logan and Nick at the same time. There was no way in hell.

“Good evening, ‘gents,” Nick greeted the table as he slipped out of his jacket and sat down at the empty space beside Harry.

And fuck, the entire pub was going to burn down around Louis. It would probably take Louis with it.

Louis waited. He waited for Nick to notice Harry’s new man and cause a scene. He focused his attention on Harry, who currently looked as though he was praying for the floor to open up and swallow him whole. Apparently, hanging out with his ex-boyfriend, fuck buddy, and new boyfriend wasn’t something Harry enjoyed. Who knew.

“You must be Logan,” Nick broke the tension, leaning across Harry to shake the other man’s hand. “I’m Nick, Harry’s co-worker.”

And of all the things Louis expected, he hadn’t expected Nick to be civil. Louis almost wanted to take Nick by the shoulders and shake him senseless. He wanted to yell in his face for not fighting for Harry. Not fighting for Harry was the stupidest thing anyone (Nick, not Louis, only Nick) could do.

Louis slipped out of the booth quietly, flashing a cigarette to Zayn to let him know where he was going. He needed to chain smoke for at least five minutes. He needed the nicotine to flow through his bloodstream and numb the constant flutter of nerves that was currently muddling his brain. It was all too much. Logan, Nick, Harry – it was all too much for Louis to handle.

“Can I bum one off you?” Louis hadn’t even gotten the chance to light his own cigarette before the last person he’d expected to follow him asked.

Louis didn’t respond, just took another cigarette out of the pack and passed it and the lighter to Nick.

“Guess we can’t really compete with a doctor,” Nick stated before lighting his smoke.

And no, Louis was not about to discuss Harry with Nick fucking Grimshaw. Not in a million years.

“I didn’t even know he was looking for anything serious,” Nick continued. “Did you?”

Louis sighed heavily before turning to lean on the wall and face Nick. “Why would you think this a conversation I’d want to have with you?”

Nick smiled around his cigarette. “You really don’t like me much, do you?”

Wow, observant. “What do you want, Grimshaw?”

“I just wanted to bitch about Harry’s new man to someone who will understand.”

And god, Louis understood, but that didn’t mean he wanted to talk to Nick fucking Grimshaw about it.

“I always knew he’d call it off eventually, you know?” Nick continued. “I just thought it would be because you two got back together. I didn’t think he’d stop fooling around with me for someone new.”

Louis’ heart was racing. Nick thought he and Harry would get back together? “I have a boyfriend,” Louis said. His mouth was suddenly bone dry. It felt like he’d swallow his tongue if he even tried to say anything more.

“I know,” Nick said with a shrug. “But I’m not an idiot. I never had a fighting chance when it came to Harry. You ruined him for anyone else. at least that’s what I thought, but now he’s with someone else and you’re out here smoking an entire pack of cigarettes.”

Louis hadn’t even really registered the fact that he was already on his second smoke. The hand holding the cigarette to his mouth was shaking, and he was well aware that it wasn’t because of the cold.

“Seriously, Louis, what are you going to do?”

Louis’ eyes shot up to Nick’s, and he could feel it – he could feel the anger bubbling over. “Excuse me?”

“What are you going to do?” Nick repeated.

“I’m going to finish my cigarette and go back inside. And then I’m gonna go home and fuck my boyfriend,” Louis spat.

Nick shook his head. “You’re letting him get away.”

“I don’t want him!” Louis yelled. And really, who was he trying to convince? He didn’t owe Nick anything. “I’ve moved on. I’m happy. I’m sorry he didn’t want to move on with you, but it has nothing to do with me.”

“You’re both idiots,” Nick laughed as he stubbed out his cigarette and moved towards the door, leaving Louis alone with his shaking hands and wild thoughts.

What was Louis supposed to do? He was Harry’s friend. All he could do was be there for him and support him in life. If that meant he had to watch him fall for a certain pediatrician, then so be it. Louis had survived much worse.

He’d meant to go back inside the pub once he’d finished his (third) cigarette. He’d meant to pretend as though his conversation with Nick hadn’t stirred up some long forgotten about emotions. But Louis never really did what he meantto do, he was more of a fly by the seat of your pants kind of guy. So, when a cab slowly started to drive by, Louis did the only thing he knew he could do. He hailed the taxi driver down and he slid into the back of the car, spewing out his address as he pulled out his phone and typed out a quick text to the only person he could even stomach the idea of talking to at the moment.

To: Zayn
Hey, not feeling too well. I’m gonna head home for the night. Tell the lads I’m sorry for bailing

Zayn’s response came almost immediately, and as Louis let out a sigh of relief when his friend only wished him well and didn’t ask any questions. Zayn had grown to know Louis well in the few short months they’d known each other.

Tommy was already asleep when Louis got home, and for the first time in a long time, Louis resented the fact that Tommy was alwaysasleep before him. Tommy had early football practices most mornings, which Louis understood, but sometimes Louis couldn’t help but wish he could fall asleep in his boyfriend’s arms at least one night in a week. It wasn’t as if Tommy was ever going to go pro, and fuck, Louis hated himself for resenting his boyfriend’s hobby. He hated himself for a lot of things lately.

His phone vibrated against the bathroom counter as he was brushing his teeth. He took in the time before he even looked at the name of the person texting him. It was only eleven-thirty, much earlier than Louis got ready for bed most nights. He refused to admit that Nick’s presence (okay, really it was Harry – Harry and Logan) had forced him to run home and hang up his “party” hat. Louis was never one for an early night, but right now all he wanted was for his head to hit the pillow and for sleep to take over his body. He just wanted to forget about the way Harry (his Harry) had looked at a particular pediatrician all night.

Louis finally turned his attention to the message waiting for him, his heart nearly stopping as he read the words.

From: Harry
Seriously? You just disappeared without so much as a goodbye?

And if Louis knew anything at this point, he knew when Harry was angry. Harry always wore his emotions out in the open, never trying to hide them. It was something Louis had once loved about him. But now? Now he just wanted Harry to stuff everything back inside and act – pretend– like everything was peachy fucking perfect.

To: Harry
Sorry, I’m not feeling well. Just need my bed.

He didn’t need to explain anything, he knew that, but Louis couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt over pulling his disappearing act and then lying about it. He’d promised Harry they were fine, that everything was great and nothing was weird, and then he’d fucked off.

From: Harry
Do you need anything? I can bring you some tea? Soup? A cuddle?

Fuck no. The last thing Louis needed (no matter how much he may want) was for Harry to show up at his door with a bag of goodies and arms open wide. Harry had always been a mother hen when Louis felt poorly. He could remember being seventeen and falling ill with a horrible flu, and Harry spent a week straight at his side, bringing him tea, soup, and keeping a cool wash cloth on his forehead. Harry had been his saviour then, but Louis didn’t need that now. Louis was his own saviour, thank you very much.

To: Harry
I’m all good, Harry, but thanks. Tommy’s taking care of me.

And fucking hell. Why did he feel the need to add that? Why did Louis feel the need to be a passive aggressive dickhead 100% of the time?

From: Harry
Yeah, alright. Have a good one.

Louis sighed, officially hating himself more than he had five minutes ago, which felt fucking impossible. All he’d had to do was sit through pub night, put in an effort and get to know Logan. All he needed to do was not act like a proper douchebag and actually be Harry’s friend. But now he’d probably fucked everything up. He wouldn’t even blame Harry if he decided he never wanted to see Louis again. Okay, maybe Louis was being a tad over dramatic, but he’d been afraid of Harry disappearing from his life ever since he’d shown back up in it. Maybe Louis had developed some abandonment issues since that day Harry had left him running barefoot down the snowy car park.

~

Louis woke up the next morning to a constant knocking on the front door. He squinted at the alarm clock on the table beside him – 8:46 – he’d apparently managed to sleep through Tommy getting ready and leaving for practice. He sighed as the knocking continued, crawling out of bed and pulling on a pair of joggers and the first jumper he could find before he made his way through the flat towards the source of the noise. He didn’t bother checking the peephole to see who was waking him up at such an ungodly hour on a Saturday morning.

“Morning!” And fuck, he hadn’t expected a bright eyed and bushy tailed Harry Styles to be standing on the other side of the door. “Brought you a cuppa and a blueberry scone. Thought it might make you feel better.”

Last night’s events came rushing back to Louis as he stepped aside and let Harry into the flat. All Louis could see was Logan next to Harry and Nick pressuring him to do something.

“Unless you’re feeling better?” Harry asked, a quirk to his lip as if he knew Louis had been faking it all along.

He’d never been able to fool Harry. Not then, and apparently not now.

Louis only rolled his eyes, taking the tea and the brown paper bag from Harry before leading him to the living room.

“No Tommy?” Harry asked as he sat down on the sofa beside Louis. And fuck. Louis could remember the last time they’d been there, in that exact position. He could remember the FIFA game and the almost kiss. His skin was practically on fire just from the memory alone.

“Are you going to talk, or just sit there?” Harry continued, eyebrows raised at Louis’ silence.

“Sorry, sorry,” Louis rushed out, shaking his head as if it would actually clear the memories from his mind. “He’s at practice,” he finally answered.

Harry eyed him for what felt like an eternity before speaking again. “Seems like the guy’s never around.”

Louis didn’t know what to make of Harry’s comment. Tommy and Harry’s disdain for each other was clear, and it was beyond obvious that they weren’t going to be the best mates anytime soon, but Louis didn’t know how much more of them hating each other he could take.

“He’s busy,” Louis didn’t know why he felt the need to explain Tommy’s absence. It was none of Harry’s business.

“Lou,” Harry was still watching, refusing to look away. “What happened last night?”

Good question.

“Did Nick say something to you?” Harry pressed. And fuck, why couldn’t he just let up and let it go?

Louis sighed and turned so he was facing Harry directly. “It’s fine, Harry.”

“Nope,” Harry said, shaking his head. His hair was loose today, and Louis felt the urge to twirl one of the curls around his finger. He’d over analyze that thought later. “You refused to take that as an answer from me once, so I’m not letting you get away with that finebullshit.”

Louis rolled his eyes. Usually he was the one pushing Harry, he wasn’t used to Harry pushing him back.

“We’re supposed to be friends,” Harry said when Louis remained silent. “Friends are supposed to talk to each other.”

Friends aren’t supposed to want to run their hands through their friend’s hair.

Fuck. Louis should’ve ignored the knocking at the door and forced himself back to sleep.

“Lou,” Harry’s voice was pleading – desperate – and Louis just couldn’t take it, especially with the way Harry’s green eyes were wide and sad. He’d always been helpless when it came to Harry.

“It was just hard,” Louis finally said quietly. “I didn’t expect it to be, but it was. Seeing you with Logan, seeing you finally moving on, it stung a bit.”

Fuck, admitting it out loud, and to Harry of all people, felt like pouring salt on an open wound.

“And then Nick followed me outside, and he was comparing himself to me, going on and on about how we’d both lost you,” Louis took a deep breath. “And I just couldn’t, I couldn’t handle everything at once.”

“You haven’t,” Harry whispered, his eyes never leaving Louis. “You haven’t lostme. We promised each other, didn’t we? Forever and always.”

Why did Harry’s words leave Louis’ throat dry? Why did they make him want to cry? He’d promised himself he’d never cry over Harry Styles again.

“We promised each other that before and you broke it,” and why, why did he have to go there?

Harry’s gaze fell at Louis’ words. Louis watched as Harry pulled at a curl, a nervous tick he’d done since they were kids. When Harry finally looked back up, his eyes were wet, and a lone tear was rolling down his cheek. Louis had done that to him – he’d made Harry cry– and that wasn’t okay.

“I didn’t,” Harry choked through his tears. “I didn’t...fuck,” he pulled harder at the curl, frustrated by his inability to explain.

“Harry,” Louis lunged forward on the couch, wrapping his arms around the other boy. He was practically in Harry’s lap, but he didn’t care. All that Louis could think about what comforting him. He needed to make it all better. “Haz, it’s okay. I’m sorry.”

Harry cried even harder at Louis’ apology, fisting the back of Louis’ jumper in his hands as he practically sobbed into the crook of Louis’ neck. “No, I have to explain. Let me explain,” he pulled away, just far enough so he could look at Louis. He gathered Louis’ hands in his own, placing them in his lap.

“You’ve already explained, Haz,” Louis tried to reassure him, rubbing his thumb in circles on the back of Harry’s hand. “I know why you did it.”

Harry just shook his head, taking a deep breath before continuing. “It’s so fucking stupid now,” he said he wiped at his tears. “I felt...I felt like...”

“Like you couldn’t have any fun,” Louis finished the sentence for him. “I couldn’t see it in the moment, but months after you ended it, I knew what I’d done to you. I made you feel guilty for everything, and I’m so sorry, Harry. I had just as much to do with us breaking up as you did, and I’m sorry it’s taken me five years to admit that.”

Harry didn’t say anything, he didn’t need to, not with the way he pulled Louis back towards him and held him close. They’d hugged countless times since finding their back to each other, but it felt different this time. It almost felt like it used to, and maybe that was the most terrifying thing of all.

“You and Nick,” Harry started, his nose pressed into the crook of Louis’ neck. “There’s no comparison, Lou. I’ll never be able to compare what we had to any other relationship.”

Louis smiled at Harry’s words, taking advantage of the situation and running his fingers through Harry’s curls. God, he’d missed that. “We were something.”

“We were everything.”

And it was official. Louis was fucked. He was a fucking dead man walking.

Harry pulled away just then, his face still blotchy from the tears he’d shed but a smile stretched across his face. “My mum’s coming to town next weekend for a visit.”

“Okay?” Louis dragged out the word, confused as to why Harry felt the sudden need to divulge his plans for the following weekend.

Harry’s smile grew wider. “I’m cooking a big Sunday breakfast, and I know she’d really love to see you. Come?”

Seriously? Was Harry really asking him to attend Sunday breakfast with his family as if it was the most normal thing in the world? It had been the most normal thing in the world, but that had been a lifetime ago.

“Wouldn’t dream of missing it,” even as the words left his mouth, Louis knew there was a huge possibility that he was making a mistake. But he had to do everything in his power to make his friendship with Harry work – to make it normal.

~

When Louis got to Harry’s flat the following Sunday morning, it wasn’t without obstacles. Tommy had been...mad? Louis didn’t even know what Tommy felt because the second Louis explained where he was going, Tommy had gone silent. And maybe, just maybe, Louis should have expected his reaction. It wasn’t exactly normal to be going to your ex-boyfriend’s house for breakfast with said ex’s mum and sister. But Harry wasn’t  just Louis’ ex. He was also his closest friend from his teenage years, and he was his friend now. That made the whole situation normal, didn’t it?

Ha, Louis wasn’t delusional. Or was he?

Louis probably should’ve stayed home. He probably should’ve taken Tommy’s silence as a plea for Louis to choose their relationship over his friendship with Harry and his desire to see Anne. But Louis had never been particularly good at doing what he should do. So, instead of staying home and making amends with his boyfriend, Louis had gathered his wallet and keys and stormed out of the flat, slamming the door for good measure.

Louis was an adult, but even he knew he had a lot of growing up to do.

“Good morning, Loubear,” Harry greeted him seconds after Louis had knocked on the door to Harry and Niall‘ shared flat. And wait, what? Louis hadn’t heard that nickname in years - five years to be exact. “Oh, are those for me?” Harry asked, pointing to the bouquet of lilies in Louis’ hand.

Louis rolled his eyes, but could feel the smile stretch across his face. The whole world was messed up right now. He was currently fighting (silence was a form of fighting too, right?) with his boyfriend, and yet standing in front of Harry feeling like the happiest guy on earth. Louis needed a shrink. Stat.

“Please,” Louis tsked. “These are for your mum. If I was going to get you flowers, they’d be sunflowers. Those are still your favourite, aren’t they?”

Harry was officially beaming, and it felt like the sun was hitting Louis’ face. He probably should come up with some excuse and go back home to Tommy. He probably should turn on his heel and get the hell away from Harry and his charm, but no, instead he took two steps forward, entering Harry’s flat and leaving all worries at the door.

“Sunflowers are still my favourite,” Harry confirmed in a whisper as he took Louis’ coat.

“Good to know.” And no, no it wasn’t good to know. Harry’s favourite flower was a needless piece of information. Louis would never need to know that simple fact. It meant nothing.

Nothing.

“Mum’s taken over in the kitchen,” Harry said, rolling his eyes in feigned annoyance. “Apparently her and Gemma make better pancakes than me.”

“Impossible,” Louis scoffed jokingly. “Now, bring me to Anne so I can hug the shit out of her.”

Louis ignored the nerves that were fluttering around in the pit of his stomach. He hadn’t seen Anne in a long, long time. He tried to think back to the last run in he’d had with her before he’d left Holmes Chapel. It had been in the shop. Louis had been picking up milk for his mum when he’d spotted Anne in the dairy aisle, basket in hand. She’d given him a giant hug before lecturing him for not visiting her. she’d gone on and on about how just because he and Harry had broken up, it didn’t mean he had to disappear from her life too. And fuck, it had hurt. Losing Harry had been hard enough but losing Anne and Gemma had been an additional (and nearly fatal) twist of the knife.

“Louis!” Anne’s voice filled the kitchen the second Harry and Louis appeared. Before he could even so much as blink, Louis was being pulled into a tight embrace.

“Hi,” Louis’ voice was a mere whisper. He was afraid if he gave anything more than that he’d start crying right in the middle of the kitchen.

“Look at you,” Anne sighed with tears in her eyes as she pulled away and held Louis by his shoulders, examining him in a way only a mother would. “You’re so grown up. Gosh, look at this scruff!” she squealed, pinching at his chin.

“Mum,” Harry groaned. And it was just like the old days. Louis could almost swear he was seventeen again, with Anne teasing him and Harry getting embarrassed.

“You’re never this excited to see me,” Louis turned towards the voice to find Niall leaning against the refrigerator, arms crossed in front of his chest and a smile on his face as he watched Louis and Anne.

Anne laughed, moving to ruffle a hand through Niall’s hair. “That’s because I get to see you often.”

“Plus, you probably don’t bring her flowers,” Louis added with a grin, extending the bouquet of flowers out to Anne, who accepted them with tears in her eyes.

“Harry,” she turned to Harry as she wiped at the tears. “Make your boy a cuppa.”

Your boy. People seriously needed to stop with that.

Louis dared himself to look at Harry, to gage his reaction to the two simple words. He regretted it immediately. Harry was already looking at him – smiling at him – eyes happy and cheeks flushed. Fuck, why did he have to look so bloody fond?

*

Within five minutes of being with Harry’s family (and Niall), all of Louis’ nerves had vanished. No matter how much it should be weird, it just wasn’t. If anything, Louis hadn’t experienced something as normal as having breakfast with three of his favourite people in a long time. Being around Anne and Gemma – being around Harry – was like riding a bike. It was just second nature.

“Have you decided if you’re going to stay here or find a smaller place?” Anne directed her question at Harry once they were all sitting around the table.

“What are you talking about?” Harry asked, confusion written all over his face.

“When Gemma and...” Anne began, but she was interrupted by Niall bursting into a fit of coughs.

“We actually hadn’t told him yet,” Gemma muttered around a fork full of scrambled eggs.

Louis could practically feel Harry’s panic from where he was sitting beside him. “What’s going on?” Harry pressed, looking between Anne and Gemma.

Niall sighed as he put down his fork and finally met Harry’s curious gaze. “I asked Gemma to move in with me. We signed a lease on a flat last week and, uh well...we’re moving in together next month.”

Harry’s jaw fell open. “What?” he looked between his sister and Niall, and Louis could visibly see the hurt on Harry’s face. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Niall’s face reddened at Harry’s question, and he turned to Gemma for help.

“Niall wanted to tell you right away,” she explained. “But I... I was worried,” her eyes fell to Louis, but she quickly looked away before he could read her expression. “I guess I was worried about how you’d react.”

“Why?” Harry deadpanned. “I would’ve been happy for you. I am happy for you.”

Gemma sighed. “You’ve never really been alone, and I...”

Louis couldn’t stop himself. He couldn’t keep quiet any longer. “Well, he’s not alone,” he reasoned. He barely even registered it when his hand moved under the table, only stopping when it was resting on top of Harry’s knee, squeezing it to let Harry know he was therefor him. What the fuck?“He’s got lots of people.”

Louis felt Anne’s eyes burning into the side of his face, and when he turned to meet her gaze, he almost stopped breathing. She was watching him so closely, eyes both curious and happy all at once. He couldn’t take it. He couldn’t handle his ex’s mum looking at him with all of the hope in the world.

“He’s got Logan,” Louis rushed out, moving his hand off Harry’s knee almost as quickly as the words left his mouth.

“Logan?” Anne questioned, her smile falling as she processed Louis’ words. “Who’s Logan?”

Harry outwardly groaned, and Louis wasn’t sure if he should count that as a success or a failure. He wasn’t sure what he felt when it came to Harry and Logan.

“He’s Harry’s new boyfriend,” Gemma explained, feeding Anne the information she wanted.

Anen raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Boyfriend? How long has this been going on? What happened to Nick?”

Harry groaned again. Louis could only imagine how weird it must be to talk about his dating life with his mum when his ex-boyfriend was sitting right beside him.

“Oh, they’ve been dating for a few weeks now,” Gemma continued when it became clear that Harry wasn’t going to say anything.

“Gemma,” Harry said in a warning tone. “Can you just fucking leave it?”

"Harry! Don’t talk to your sister like that!” Anne scolded. “Somebody has to let me know what’s going on in your life. I didn’t even know you’d stopped seeing Nick.”

And okay, maybe Louis felt a teeny bit guilty for bringing up Logan and starting the witch hunt. Maybe.

“I was never seeing Nick, I told you that a million times,” Harry sighed. “Look, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about Logan. It’s still new and I didn’t want to tell you about him until I knew for sure that he was going to stick.”

Is he going to stick?” and fuck, Louis wanted to kick himself for letting the question escape through his lips. He really needed to get a brain to mouth filter.

Four sets of eyes fell on him, and if Louis didn’t know what to do – he didn’t know how to take the question back or act like he hadn’t meant anything by it. He was just being a friend – just a curious friend with good intentions. He was nota jealous ex-boyfriend. Nope, not even a little bit.

“Um,” Harry finally broke the awkward silence. “I don’t know.”

Louis didn’t need to hear more – he didn’t wantto hear more. It didn’t matter if Logan stuck. It didn’t matter because it had absolutely zero impact on Louis’ life.

*

“Harry tells me you’ve got yourself a good guy,” Anne stated. They were sitting in the living room, just the two of them, as the others cleaned up after breakfast.

“Tommy’s great,” Louis agreed. “I’m sure my mum’s told you all about him?” it was no secret that Anne and Jo had stayed in touch after the boys’ breakup, and Louis was certain his mum liked to gossip about him and his life as much as possible.

Anne laughed at Louis’ (correct) assumption. “Oh yes, of course. But I’m sure she’s left some things out. I think she knows I’ve always rooted for you and Harry, so she tries not to bring up your relationship too much.”

I’ve always rooted for you and Harry.

“You should probably find something else to root for,” Louis whispered, barely even able to keep his voice even after her confession.

Anne shrugged. “A mother just wants what’s best for her kids, and Harry was happiest when he was with you.”

No no no. Louis couldn’t do this. He wouldn’t do this.

“We were both pretty miserable at the end,” he said before he could even think about stopping himself.

Anne shook her head as she moved closer, wrapping an arm around Louis’ shoulders. “You two had a lot on your plate. Distance is hard, and you were both so young. But I’d always hoped you’d find your way back to each other.”

How was Louis supposed to just sit there and listen to the woman he’d once thought would be his mother-in-law talk about her hopes of him ending up with her son? How was he supposed to keep his head straight after this? Life was already confusing enough.

“Sorry,” Anne said after a moment’s silence. “I shouldn’t be talking like this. you have a whole life, a partner, and I shouldn’t be projecting my wishes for Harry onto you.”

“It’s okay,” Louis assured her. “It’s hard not to live in the past sometimes, especially when you think about the really great moments. But Harry’s got a really good thing going right now. Logan’s great,” Louis internally patted himself on the back. He really should get an A+ for his acting skills.

“I don’t think he’ll ever stop loving you,” Anne whispered for only Louis to hear.

Louis tried to smile, but it was tight and forced. “We’ll always have love for each other, but it’s not like that.”It would never be like that again.

“What are you two talking about?” Harry asked curiously as he joined them in the living room.

Anne waved her hand as if to wave off his question. “Just remembering the good old days. Louis promised me he won’t be a stranger anymore.”

Harry’s eyes fell on Louis as his mum spoke, and fuck, Louis had almost forgotten the spell Harry’s smile could put someone ender. It was fucking magic.

“Good,” Harry finally replied, his eyes still glued to Louis. “Maybe one day we’ll come home together.”

Home together. Home together. Home together.

*

Tommy was waiting for him when he got home after his visit with Anne, and if Louis was a betting man, he’d put one hundred pounds on the idea that Tommy had spent the entire morning pacing their flat. Tommy seemed eager to make up after their morning spat. Louis barely even had his shoes off before Tommy pulled him close and started muttering apologies into his ear.

“I’m so sorry. I don’t know what got into me,” Tommy’s mouth was right against the shell of his ear – Louis’ sweet spot – only today, in that very moment, it didn’t feel so sweet.  

Louis didn’t say anything, even though his brain was begging him to tell Tommy he had absolutely nothing to apologize for. Louis knew,he knew with every fibre of his being that Tommy had every right to be mad at him. If Tommy came home one day and declared that his ex-boyfriend (the ex-love of his life) was his new BFF, Louis knew he’d be fucking livid. And if Tommy all of a sudden starting going to breakfast with said ex-boyfriend and the woman he’d once considered his mother-in-law? Well, Louis would probably have a fucking fit. But Louis couldn’t get his mouth to work. He couldn’t make his tongue move in the right way for the words to come out. So, he stayed silent. If he couldn’t apologize to Tommy the way he should, he’d just have to apologize in the only way he could.

He didn’t even bother moving them to the bedroom. Louis just pushed Tommy up against the wall of the entrance way and immediately went to work. Within a matter of minutes, Tommy’s hands were in his hair and his cock was in Louis’ mouth. This was something Louis could do – Louis could apologize over and over again without so much as saying a word.

But what Louis didn’t expect, what he hadn’t predicted at all, was for the colour green to burst against the back of his eyelids as he felt Tommy come down his throat. He didn’t expect for his ears to morph the sound of Tommy’s voice moaning his name into a deeper, raspier, familiar tone. He didn’t expect to find bits and pieces of him when he was on his knees for someone else.

Louis was fucked. Absolutely and undeniably fucked.

Chapter Text

You still make me nervous when you walk in the room
Them butterflies they come alive when I'm next to you
Over and over the only truth
Everything comes back to you

 (This Town – Niall Horan)

It had been a few weeks since his mum’s visit, and Harry had barely talked to Louis outside of weekly pub night. He’d tried, god he’d tried. But Louis had been busy, running from photo shoot to photo shoot, at least that’s what Louis used as an excuse every time he answered one of Harry’s calls and ended the conversation within seconds. Harry couldn’t help but wonder if Louis was really just avoiding him, and the thought panicked him. Had he done something or said something wrong? Had his mum said something to Louis to make him run for the hills?

And Harry knew, okay? He knew that his need to talk to Louis, his need to see Louis, probably wasn’t the healthiest of addictions. He knew he’d probably be better off buying a pack of cigarettes from the corner store and starting that dirty habit instead, but he just couldn’t help it. Ever since they’d decided to be friends, ever since they’d basically become best friends again, Harry couldn’t live without Louis.

And maybe, just maybe, that was fucking terrifying.

“Do you know if Tommy’s at work today?” Harry asked Niall, who was sitting beside him on the sofa, eyes glued to the television as he played an online match of FIFA.

“Dunno,” Niall responded, not even bothering to take his eyes off the screen for a second. Niall took his FIFA way too seriously, as far as Harry was concerned.

“Do you, uh...” Harry started, stumbling over his words, afraid his friend would judge him for what he was about to ask. “Do you think you could text Louis and find out?” he finally rushed out in one breath.

That did it – those words made Niall power off the PlayStation and turn to Harry, who put the book he’d been reading down, readying himself for the lecture he knew he was about to endure. He was never quite sure what Niall wanted. Somedays it felt like Niall was trying to push Harry and Louis back together, other days it felt like Niall wanted Harry to forget about Louis and move on with his life. He wasn’t entirely sure which version of Niall he was about to get.

“Why do you need me to text Louis to find out if his boyfriend is at work?” Niall asked, eyebrows raised with curiosity.

Harry groaned, running a hand down his face as he searched for a good enough answer. He wasn’t ready to share his feelings with anyone. He wasn’t ready to admit to anyone but himself that he was still in love with Louis – that maybe he’d never stopped loving him, not even for a second. It was still too much for him to handle, too much to process, and he knew the second someone else found out that there’d be no going back.

“I just, I need to go over there, but I don’t want to if Tommy’s there,” Harry offered as an explanation.

Niall raised his eyebrows even further, and Harry was certain they were about to pop off his forehead. “Why do you need to go over there?”

“Why does it matter?” Harry asked, rolling his eyes at his friend’s curiosity. Everyone, namely Niall and Gemma, were so obsessed with Harry and Louis’ friendship. They needed to back off, to let them figure it out for themselves.

Besides, there was nothing to figure out, not really. Harry needed to squash whatever feelings he had, because it didn’t matter. He could love Louis for the rest of his life, and he knew it wouldn’t matter. He’d fucked everything up long ago, and there was little to no chance of fixing it now. Harry had stopped being an optimist around the same time he’d ruined his own life.

“Harry, what are you doing, mate?”

“Nothing,” Harry muttered, throwing his book on the coffee table and standing up from the sofa. “I just...I don’t know, Ni.”

“He’s at work.”

Harry spun on his heel, eyes wide as he stared at his best friend. “What?”

“Tommy,” Niall explained. “Louis just texted back, said he’s at work.”

Harry nodded his head, moving to gather his jacket and car keys before reaching for his brown boots.

“H,” Niall began with a sigh. “I don’t know what’s going on, but be careful, please?”

“Nothing’s going on,” Harry responded quickly as he pulled one boot on after the other.

Niall moved so he was standing by the door, watching Harry finish putting on his jacket before he reached for the door handle. “The last couple months you’ve been...look, I’m not saying you’re still in love with him or trying to win him back or anything like that, but don’t do anything stupid, yeah? You’ve both suffered enough.”

Had they though? Maybe a love like Louis and Harry’s was supposed to be like this. Maybe they hadn’t suffered enough. Maybe they had to jump through hoops and walk through flames in order to come out the other side stronger and better than ever.

Maybe Harry was a masochist and would come out the other side a mere skeleton of his own existence. Maybe he didn’t care.

“Ni,” Harry sighed, placing his hands on both of Niall’s shoulders. “Everything’s going to be okay, I promise. I won’t do anything stupid.”

Harry saw a glimpse of disbelief and mistrust reflected in Niall’s eyes, and he was just fine with that, because well, Harry didn’t even trust himself these days.

*

Harry didn’t even know why he was here. He didn’t know why he was standing outside of Louis’ flat, hands gripped around two cups of tea, and butterflies swarming in the pit of his stomach. All he knew was that he needed to see Louis. After the last few weeks of barely speaking to him – barely seeing him – he needed to close the distance. Now that Niall had done the dirty work for him, once he’d discovered that Tommy was indeed not home, Harry had to seize the day. Carpe diem and all that nonsense.

Harry probably deserved an eternity of purgatory, but the threat wasn’t enough to stop him from raising a hand and knocking on the door. He held his breath as he heard shuffling on the other side of the door, patiently (okay, maybe he wasn’t necessarily patient) waiting for the door to open and for Louis’ perfect blue eyes to meet his emerald ones.

It was official. Harry needed to get a grip. He needed to douse himself with a giant bucket of reality and get over himself. He wasn’t here for anything other than spending time with his friend. He needed to remember that.

“Harry,” Louis was there, standing in front of him with surprised eyes and a hesitant smile. And god, no, Harry didn’t like that. Harry never wanted Louis to be hesitant, not when it came to them.

“Brought you tea,” Harry tried to keep the smile on his face as he extended one of the steaming cups to Louis.

Louis’ smile brightened as he took the cup from him. You could always win Louis Tomlinson up with a cup of Yorkshire tea. Harry couldn’t help but mentally fist pump himself at Louis’ smile. “Come in,” Louis finally said as he moved to the side and let Harry through the door. “Don’t mind the mess. I’ve been editing a wedding I shot last weekend, and well, you know how I get when I’m in the zone.”

Harry chuckled. God, did he know how Louis got when he was in the zone. Harry had spent years cleaning up after Louis, and if he was being entirely honest, he hadn’t really cared that much. He’d do anything for Louis (except stay with him apparently).

Harry sat down on the sofa, the very same sofa where the almost kiss happened, and watched as Louis closed his MacBook and attempted to tidy up some things before sitting down beside him. It felt like electricity was flowing between them, as if all Harry had to do was brush a finger against Louis’ bare arm and he’d be electrocuted. And no, no. He needed to get his head on straight. He needed to wake the fuck up and realize his feelings were one-sided. They’d always be one-sided.

“What brings you here this Thursday afternoon?” Louis asked as he lifted the lid to his tea and blew on the cup, attempting to cool the steaming liquid.

Harry shrugged, eyes zoned in on the way Louis’ lips were puckered. He needed to get a grip, stat. “Haven’t really talked to you in a bit.”

“Work’s been crazy.”

Harry nodded in understanding, but he couldn’t stop himself from digging a bit further. “I honestly thought you were avoiding me.”

Louis froze, cup of tea at his lips and eyes trained on Harry. It felt like an eternity of them staring at each other, and Harry couldn’t breathe until Louis finally looked away.

“I’m not avoiding you,” Louis finally responded, but there was a hitch to his voice that Harry recognized as the one Louis reserved strictly for when he was lying.

“It’s okay if you were,” Harry said quietly. He was trying to make Louis feel better by lying to himself. Of course, it wasn’t okay. Friends don’t avoid friends.

Friends don’t harbor undying love for their friends either.

“I wasn’t,” Louis repeated defensively. “I told you, work was insane. I had two weddings and a magazine shoot.”

Harry put his hands up in defense. “Okay, okay, I’m sorry. I just...I know my mum can be a bit much and I’d understand if...”

“Haz, shut up,” Louis interrupted. “Your mum’s perfect. I loved visiting with her.”

Harry knew Louis was lying – he knew that he hadn’t just been busy, and that Louis had actually been actively avoiding him. “Lou, just tell me what I did wrong.”

Louis’ face fell at that, the wall he’d had up since he’d opened the door finally crashing down. “You didn’t do anything wrong, I promise. Tommy and I...”

Louis didn’t have the chance to finish his explanation before his cellphone started to ring. Harry felt panic rise in his chest. What if it was Tommy calling, about to find out that his arch nemesis was currently sat on his sofa? What if he was calling to tell Louis he was coming home early and was about to walk through the door any second?

God, Harry needed to get Niall to slap some sense into him or something.

“Lottie, slow down,” Louis’ voice broke through Harry’s rising panic. He turned to look at Louis, who was suddenly on his feet and frantically pacing back and forth in front of the television. “What? But it’s too early! What are the doctors saying? Okay, okay, I’m on my way. Call me if anything happens, anything.”

“Lou?” Harry’s voice was a whisper. He was afraid to talk, afraid to break whatever spell Louis was currently under. He was standing perfectly still, except for the hand holding his phone, which was shaking relentlessly. When Louis didn’t respond, Harry stood up and slowly made his way towards him, as if if he moved too fast Louis would bolt. “Lou, what’s wrong?”

When Louis finally looked up and met his eyes, Harry’s heart sank. Louis’ eyes were wet and wide with worry. “My mum...” Louis hiccupped as tears began running down his face. “She, she...”

“Breathe,” Harry instructed as he pulled Louis into his chest, wrapping his arms around him. “Just breathe, Lou,” he whispered as he drew soothing circles onto Louis’ back.

“My mum,” Louis said again after a few minutes of silence. Harry was still holding him. He’d hold him until he asked to be let go. “She went into labour. She’s only 26 weeks. It’s too early. It’s too early,” Louis cried into Harry’s chest.

Harry didn’t know what to say. All he could do was not let go. He ran a hand through Louis’ hair, remembering the way it had always calmed him down in the past.

“I need to go,” Louis said as he pulled away. “I need to get to Holmes Chapel and be with my family.”

“Lou, I don’t think you should be driving,” Harry tried to reason. Louis was a mess, and the last thing Louis’ family needed – the last thing Harry needed – was for Louis to get into an accident while rushing back to Holmes Chapel.

“I have to go.”

Harry stepped in front of Louis once more, grabbing onto both of his shoulders so he couldn’t move. “I’ll take you,” he said, not even thinking twice about it. “Pack a bag and we’ll leave right now.”

Louis let out a deep breath, as if relieved by Harry’s offer. “What about you? You’ll need stuff.”

Harry shook his head. “I have things at my mum’s, I’ll be just fine,” he pulled Louis down the hall towards where he knew the bedroom was. “Tell me what you want me to pack and I’ll do it.”

Time passes slowly and yet in one giant blur. Within twenty minutes, Louis’ bag was packed into Harry’s car and they were on the highway. Harry caught bits and pieces of Louis’ conversations with his family, and the worry and fear grew thicker the longer they were in the car. Harry wanted to reach out and take Louis’ hand. He wanted to do anything he could to make him feel even the tiniest bit better. But he knew if he did, he’d be crossing a line he’d never be able to uncross.

“Fuck,” Louis breathed into the silence of the car.

Harry took his eyes off the road for just long enough to study Louis’ face. He still looked worried, but it was different now. “What’s wrong? Did you forget something?”

Louis shook his head slowly as he stared down at the cellphone in his hands. “I forgot about Tommy.”

And well...fuck indeed.

“Fuck!” Louis yelled, slamming his hand into the glove department out of frustration.

“I’m sure he’ll understand,” Harry didn’t really believe his own words, but it was worth a shot.

Louis laughed sarcastically at Harry’s words. “Wanna know why I’ve been avoiding you?” he didn’t even wait for Harry to respond, he just continued one with his rant. “Tommy and I got into anotherfight the day I came over for breakfast. Did you know we’d literally never fought until you showed up in our lives?”

Harry didn’t know what to say. What could he say? He wasn’t overly sorry that he was causing turmoil in Tommy’s life, but the las thing he wanted to do was hurt Louis in any way. “I’m sorry.”

Louis turned his head to look at Harry. “Don’t be,” he sighed.

Neither of them say anything more, and Harry tried not to listen in as Louis dialed what he assumed to be Tommy’s number and put his phone to his ear. It was impossible not to eavesdrop though, impossible not to hear the way the worried tone coming from the other end turned angry and loud. It was impossible not to hear the way Louis tried to explain over and over just why he was currently sat in Harry’s car and on his way to Holmes Chapel. and it was even more impossible not to pick up on Tommy yelling “I don’t believe you” before he hung up and ended the call without saying goodbye.

If Harry hadn’t hated Tommy before, he fucking loathed him now.

If Harry hadn’t hated himself before, he couldn’t stand himself now.

“Lou, I’m sorry.”

Louis reached out, squeezing the hand Harry had on the gear shift before quickly pulling away. “It’s not your fault, Hazza. You’re doing something incredibly kind and he doesn’t trust me. It is what it is.”

“It doesn’t have to be like that.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Louis asked accusingly, as if Harry had meant something personal by his words.

Harry shook his head but kept his eyes on the road. “Nothing, I just meant he should trust you.” I just meant you should be with me and I’ll treat you the way you deserve.

“Hmm, yeah maybe he should,” Louis agreed quietly. “But maybe I don’t deserve it,” he added in a barely audible whisper, but Harry caught it nonetheless.

Harry wanted to question him further. He wanted to know just what Louis meant by that, but he didn’t want to push it. they needed to focus on Jo, on the soon to be born twins, and the rest of Louis’ family. Oh god, Louis’ family.

Apart from brief run ins when Harry made his rare (and short) trips to Holmes Chapel, Harry hadn’t spent much time with any of the other Tomlinson’s. He knew they hated him. Even if they didn’t know the intimate details surrounding the break up, they hated him for hurting Louis. And he couldn’t blame them, not when he hated himself for the very same reason.

*

They drove in silence for the next hour, with only the radio filling the car. They drove in silence until Louis’ phone started to ring. Harry assumed it was Dan or one of the girls, but when he took his eyes off the road to glance down at the device, “Tommy” was lit up on the screen.

“Answer it,” Harry instructed when it rang for the fifth time and Louis still hadn’t made a move to answer it.

Louis sighed. “I don’t want to fight with him right now.”

“Lou, just answer it,” Harry pleaded. He was the reason they were fighting in the first place. He was the reason they ever fought at all. The least he could do was help Louis fix things.

Louis sighed again before finally answering the call. “Hi,” he said, voice small.

Harry hated this – he hated what he’d done to Tommy and Louis. Tommy wasn’t even a bad guy, not really. His only fault was that he had Louis – he had what Harry would never have. And really, whose fault was that? The only reason Harry was left loving someone he couldn’t have was because he’d fucked it all up in the first place. Tommy didn’t deserve to have Harry lurking in the background, waiting for a chance he knew would never come.

“I’m sorry too,” Harry tuned into the conversation to catch Louis’ apology. “I love you so much. I’m so sorry. I was just scared, and he was there, and I honestly didn’t think.”

He was just there. Those four words had the strength to crush Harry’s heart. Those four words hurt enough to bring Harry back to reality. He was nothing. He was nothing to Louis except maybe a friend. He didn’t matter, not in the same way Louis mattered to him, and Harry would be best to remember that.

“I’ll call you when I know more,” Louis spoke into the phone. “I love you too,” he added before ending the call.

Harry took a deep breath, readying himself to talk to Louis – readying himself to talk to Louis about Tommy. If he was going to remember his place in Louis’ life, he needed to start playing the part.

“Did you get it all sorted?” Harry asked, voice lighter. He prayed Louis wouldn’t pick up on the effort it took to sound so like and chipper – so fake.

Louis shrugged. “S’much as I can for now, I guess,” he paused, taking the time to study Harry’s profile. Harry felt vulnerable under his stare. He could feel his facial muscles twitching as he tried to keep his expression neutral.

“I’m sorry for what I said earlier,” Louis continued. “About me and Tommy fighting because of you. It wasn’t even true. We fought plenty even before you came ‘round.”

Harry stole a glance at Louis, searching for a bit of honest in his words and finding it in his ocean eyes. “Why’d you say it then?”

Louis ducked his head in shame. “I dunno,” he said quietly. “I was upset, and I think I just wanted to blame someone other than myself.”

Harry nodded in understanding. He knew exactly how that felt. He’d felt that way in his relationship with Louis. “I’m sure you guys will work it out. Tommy seems like a good guy,” the words tasted bitter on his tongue, but he knew he needed to say them. it was time he started being an actual friend.

“He is,” Louis said quickly, almost too quickly, almost like he didn’t believe Harry was being genuine. “I just...I just, fuck, I just wish he’d be a bit more understanding sometimes.”

“What do you mean?”

Louis shrugged. “I just wish he understood me better.”

Oh, shit. Harry couldn’t help but cling to Louis’ words, cling to the possibility that maybe, just maybe Louis wasn’t 100% satisfied in his relationship. Harry quickly shook the thoughts out of his mind, refusing to go back to that dark place again – refusing to spend another second being the asshole who tried to come between a relationship. He wouldn’t do that, not to anyone, but especially not to Louis.

“He should know me well enough to know I’m not the kind of person who would do that, you know?” Louis continued, clearly oblivious to Harry’s internal struggles. “Fuck, I’d never cheat, shouldn’t he know that?”

“Yeah,” Harry answered simply. Because anyone who knew Louis should know how honest and loyal he was to the people he loved. Anyone who really knew Louis would know that he’d do absolutely anything in his power to keep his loved ones happy and whole. Louis would never purposely do something to hurt someone he loved, and clearly Tommy didn’t know him well enough.

Harry once knew Louis like the back of his own hand, and even though he didn’t know absolutely everything there was to know about Louis Tomlinson anymore, he knew Louis was the most loyal person in the entire universe. Anyone who got the opportunity to be loved by Louis Tomlinson should count their lucky stars. It was a once in a lifetime type of love.  

*

Harry pulled up in front of the hospital, letting Louis out and promising to find him once he’d parked the car. Maybe, just maybe, he drove past one (or ten) parking spots before he finally pulled the car into one, cutting the engine and leaning his head back on the headrest. He wasn’t ready. He didn’t know if he’d ever be ready to face Louis’ family and the way the love they’d once had for him had turned into hatred. He’d never be ready to look Jo in the eye and act like he hadn’t once been solely responsible for one of the worst moments in her son’s life.

The only thing Harry had on his side right now was the birth of those two babies. Maybe everyone would be so preoccupied in the premature labour and delivery that they’d forget he was there at all. Maybe all of the excitement and fear would erase his existence altogether.

Harry wondered around the Labour and Delivery ward until he heard it – Louis’ hushed voice mixed in with that of a female. He rounded the corner to find Lottie and Louis standing together, both leaning against the wall, eyebrows knitted in worry.

Louis looked up first, meeting Harry’s gaze and offering a small, welcoming smile – encouraging Harry to take another step forward. Harry didn’t look at Lottie until he was standing right in between the Tomlinson siblings, and when he did finally meet her stare, he was shocked at what he found.

She was smiling at him.

“Hi,” he greeted cautiously, stuffing his hands in his jacket pockets. He didn’t know what to do with himself. He didn’t know how to be.

“Oh, come here you fool,” Lottie rushed out, pulling Harry in by the front of his coat and wrapping her arms around him. She hadn’t grown much since the last time he’d seen her, she was still small enough for him to completely engulf in a hug. God, he’d missed her.

“Thanks for getting him to us,” Lottie said once she’d pulled away, patting Harry’s cheek with a look of fondness on her face.

“Uh, yeah, no problem,” Harry answered awkwardly, darting his eyes to Louis who was watching him with an amused smile. Apparently, Harry’s fear of the Tomlinson wrath was a source of entertainment. Who knew?

“Mum just had the twins,” Louis filled Harry in on what they’d missed. “They’re just getting her settled and then we’ll be able to go see her. They took the babies up to the NICU, I guess they’ll need to be monitored for a bit since they’re so little. But they’re okay. The doctor said they’re okay.”

Harry didn’t think twice before he pulled Louis into him, wrapping his arms around him and holding him close. “Oh, Louis, that’s great. Everything’s okay,” he soothed, his mouth against Louis’ hair. He opened his eyes to find Lottie watching them closely, curiosity clear on her face. And god, Harry had almost forgotten where he was, who he was with. He’d almost forgotten that he couldn’t just pull Louis into him like that. He’d almost forgotten that they weren’t eighteen anymore, that they weren’t Harry and Louis anymore.

“Everyone else is in the family waiting area down the hall,” Louis said, taking Harry’s hand with one of his own and Lottie’s with the other. Harry let himself be led down the hall. Maybe if seeing Lottie again hadn’t been so bad, everyone else would be as welcoming too. Maybe nobody hated him after all.

Harry took a deep breath before they made it to the small room, exhaling every worry and fear he’d had since they’d gotten into his car a few hours ago. He scanned the room, eyes dancing over Felicite, Daisy, Phoebe, and a man with blonde hair he assumed was Dan. He stood there awkwardly as Lottie sat down between the twin girls, who were staring up at Harry as if he was some sort of extraterrestrial being.

Harry hadn’t wanted to vanish into thin air this much since the day he’d watched Louis walk through the door of the pub months ago. He felt vulnerable, as if all of his skin was gone and his heart was visibly beating in his ribcage – nothing protecting it.

“It’s okay,” Louis whispered from beside him as he moved one of his hands to the small of Harry’s back, applying just enough pressure to get Harry to take a couple of tentative steps further into the room.

“What’s he doing here?” Daisy was the first to speak, her voice accusatory and snappy, and Harry almost toppled over just from the sheer disdain that was laced in her words.

“Daisy!” Lottie, Felicite, and Louis all scolded simultaneously.

“It’s okay,” Harry whispered as he moved further into the room, only stopping when he was right in front of the twins. He kneeled down so that he was on their level. “I know it doesn’t make any sense, me being here after everything that’s happened.”

“Harry,” Louis cut in, moving closer so that he was standing right behind him, a hand placed on Harry’s shoulder. “You don’t have to do this. They’re fine, right girls?”

Harry looked over his shoulder and up at Louis. “I want to do this,” he insisted before turning back to the girls. “One day, when we’re not all worried about your mum and the babies, I’ll tell you everything, yeah? I’ll explain why I went away for so long. But please know, I really am sorry for hurting your brother, and I’ll never ever hurt him again.”

“You hurt us too, Harry,” Phoebe responded, her eyes sad and wet from Harry’s words. “You were like our other brother, and you just disappeared. We thought you were mad at us.”

Harry rushed forward, pulling Phoebe into a hug and reaching out with the other arm to gather Daisy into the embrace. “You girls didn’t do anything wrong, you got that? I promise, it had nothing, absolutelynothing to do with you.”

“Sorry to interrupt,” all of a sudden, a nurse was in the doorway to the family room, a small and tentative smile on her face. “Mr. Deakin, you can come see your wife now.”

Dan nodded his head, quickly jumping from his chair and promising the girls and Louis that he’d come out to get them as soon as he could. Harry got up off the floor, moving to sit beside the chair Louis had since claimed. All of a sudden, 4 pairs of eyes were on Harry, each of them filled with their own set of questions. He took a deep breath, steeling himself for the onslaught he knew was about to happen.

“Did you break up with Tommy or something?” Daisy was the first to speak, her question directed at Louis.

“What?” Louis countered. “No? Why would you think that?”

Daisy shrugged. “Harry drove you all the way from London, didn’t he? That sounds like something a boyfriend would do.”

Louis choked on the words that were caught in his throat, leaving Harry to be the one to answer Daisy. “We were hanging out when Lottie called, and Tommy was at work, so it just made sense for me to be the one to drive.”

“So, you’re not getting back together?” the other twin pressed.

And god,Harry hadn’t realized eleven-year-olds could be so fucking candid, so fucking blunt. Leave it to the Tomlinson blood to lack any sense of subtlety. “Um, no,” Harry answered slowly. “I’ve got a boyfriend actually, and well...Louis and Tommy are...you know, great and stuff...so, no...”

“Jesus fucking hell,” Felicite mumbled. “You two are just as weird as you were five years ago.”

“Language!” Louis scolded his sister, making Harry laugh because well, if anyone needed to be yelled at for cussing, it was Louis. “And don’t call me weird. I’m not weird.”

“Just weird when it comes to Harry, yeah?” Felicite said with a grin, and god, Harry needed to get away, he needed to be alone and remind himself that he didn’t belong in this family, not anymore. It didn’t matter that it felt so natural, like he belonged. It didn’t matter because he’d walked away from Louis’ family when he’d walked away from Louis.

“Okay!” Louis exclaimed with a clap of his hands. “How about we wonder the halls and see if we can visit mum now?”

Louis’ question was met with enthusiastic agreement, and Harry watched as the four girls followed their brother out of the room. Harry stayed where he was, sitting on the vinyl hospital chair, elbows on his knees and head in his hands until he heard someone clear their throat from the doorway.

“You coming?” Louis asked, eyebrows raised in concern.

Harry shook his head. “Go be with your family, Lou. I’ll just wait here. I have some work emails to go through anyways.”

Louis nodded his head, turning on his heel and moving back down the hallway to join his sisters, leaving Harry alone with his many, many thoughts. He didn’t know what he was supposed to be thinking, all he knew was that everything that was happening – everything that had happened today – it was all too much. A human being could only take so much at one time. Harry wasn’t sure how much more he could take.

*

Harry had spent nearly an hour freaking out – nearly an hour living in his head and panicking at every single thing there was to panic about. He’d always done this, he’d always lived in his head too much and let his thoughts overpower everything else. He’d yet to find a way out – he’d yet to find a way to not worry about absolutely everything. Maybe one day.

“Hey,” a familiar voice pulled Harry from his panicky thoughts. Harry finally pulled his head out of his hands to find Lottie moving to sit beside him, a small, but genuine, smile on her face.

“How’s Jo?” Harry asked quickly. Jo had been at the forefront of his worrying thoughts.

“She’s good,” Lottie assured. “Worried about the babies of course, but they said she can go home tomorrow.”

Harry nodded his head. “That’s great.” And god, he’d never been at such a loss for words. Back in the day he’d been able to talk to Lottie until he was blue in the face, but that had been a lifetime ago.

“Hey, Harry?” Lottie said after a couple minutes of silence. “Is this you finally trying to win him back?”

Harry snapped his head to the side, wide eyes meeting Lottie’s questioning ones. Was he really that obvious? “No,” he lied, because hewasn’ttrying to win Louis back, was he? “He’s in a relationship, I respect that.”

Lottie raised her eyebrows at his response. “But you’re in love with him.” It wasn’t a question, just a simple fact, stated into the air that hung between them.

“I’m in love with him,” Harry confirmed slowly, quietly. Saying the words out loud was a risk, a literal threat to his very friendship with Louis. But it was a risk he was apparently willing to make.

“So, what are you going to do about it?”

Harry took a deep breath, exhaling in a long sigh. “Nothing,” Harry laughed lightly when Lottie scoffed at his answer. “I’m lucky he even gives me the time of day. I’m not going to do anything to ruin that.”

Lottie placed a hand on Harry’s knee then, her smile small and somewhat sad. Harry hated that. The last thing he needed was someone (and someone who was supposed to hatehim) to pity him and his feelings for Louis. He didn’t deserve anyone’s pity. He’d gotten himself into this mess in the first place.

“Maybe the universe will align itself and things will fall into place,” Lottie offered, and Harry couldn’t help but perk up at her optimism. It was refreshing really. Oh, what he’d do to turn back the clock and go back to seventeen. He’d been so much happier at seventeen. He’d had Louis at seventeen.

Speaking of Louis, Harry heard his footsteps before he’d even made it back into the family waiting area. He was 100% certain his ears had evolved to become instantly entuned to anything Louis. His body was a slave to anything Louis Tomlinson related.

“Mum wants to see you,” Louis said the second he was standing in the doorway. He looked tired, mentally exhausted really, and Harry just wanted to cradle his head and let him sleep in his arms.

Lottie stood up instantly, making her way towards the doorway Louis was still blocking. Louis shook his head. “Not you, she wants Hazza.”

Harry’s head shot up at that, and god, no, no. He couldn’t go in and face Jo. He couldn’t sit by her bedside and keep face. He hadn’t seen Jo since that day in Holmes Chapel, just months after he’d stomped all over her son’s heart. How could he face her now? How could he ever make up the way he’d disappeared from her family’s life.

“Me? Harry asked dumbly.

Louis nodded his head as he extended out a hand for Harry to take and pulled him to his feet. “It’s okay,” Louis assured as they walked down the hall. Harry wondered if Louis was completely oblivious to the fact that their hands were still clasped together. Harry wasn’t even entirely sure if his heart was racing so fast because he was currently holding hands with Louis, or if it was because he was currently walking towards Jo’s room, about to see her for the first time in years.

Harry had a lot to be nervous about.

The door to the private hospital room was ajar, and Harry could see her – he could see Jo sitting up in her bed, her head turned to look out the window that was only a couple feet away. She looked just as he had the last time he’d seen her, only in a hospital gown and a bit more tired (considering she’d just gone through childbirth and all that), but just as beautiful as ever. Jo had always been a second mum to him. He’d gone to her about everything once upon a time. He could even remember crying on her shoulder at seventeen, when he and Louis had had their first fight and Louis had stormed out of the house like he always did when he was mad. Jo had been one of the most important people in Harry’s life once upon a time, and just like everything else he’d once held dear to his heart, he’d fucked it right up.

“Come on then,” Louis said quietly, finally releasing the grasp he had on Harry’s hand and pushing him through the door gently.

Harry stumbled on his feet, just as clumsy as ever. Jo turned her head just then, her eyes widening as she in Harry standing at the end of her bed.

“Look at you,” she said in awe. “You’ve grown like a weed. So tall now.”

Harry’s lips turned up into a smile as he shifted awkwardly on his feet. The only thing keeping him grounded was Louis’ presence beside him.

“Well, aren’t you going to come give me a hug?” Jo asked, a playful smile on her face.

Harry gave in then – all panic and fear finally escaping through his pores. He was around the bed in a second, hugging Jo as gentle as possible. “Congratulations,” he cooed as he pulled away. “I can’t wait to see the babies. You make the cutest babies.”

Jo laughed at Harry’s words, her eyes falling to where he knew Louis was standing behind him. “I sure do.”

And god, yes.Louis was the cutest of them all.

“Thank you,” Jo broke the silence after a few seconds.

“What for?”

“For getting our boy here,” Jo continued. “Thank you for bringing out Louis home.”

Our boy. Our Louis. Harry knew he should have stayed in bed this morning. The entire day was too much.

“How long are you staying for?” Jo asked, looking between Harry and Louis as they each processed her question.

Harry spoke first. “However long you need us,” he said quickly, wanting to make sure Louis knew he could stay in Holmes Chapel for however long he needed to. Harry would wait for him He’d always wait for him.

Louis’ phone interrupted them before anyone could say anything more. “It’s Tommy,” Louis offered as an explanation before he slipped out of the room and into the hallway.

“So...”

“So...”

Harry and Jo laughed as they spoke simultaneously. Harry had always been so entuned with this entire family. Even after years of separation, it was still the very same. It was relieving and heartbreaking all at once.

“You’ve met Tommy?” Jo took advantage of Harry’s silence, stirring the pot as any mother would.

Harry nodded his head as he sat down on the chair beside Jo’s bed. “He’s a good guy.”

Jo quirked an eyebrow at that. “You really think that? You,Harry Styles, my son’s first love, thinks Tommy is a... what was it again? Oh yes, a good guy.

Apparently, hours of childbirth weren’t even enough to tone down Jo’s infamous sass. After years of wondering where Louis had got his wit from, Harry had to look no further. Apparently, hours of childbirth weren’t enough to stop Jo from calling him out on his bullshit.

Harry just shrugged. “Louis has good judgement, right? So, if he likes Tommy...if he loves Tommy, then that must mean Tommy’s a good guy.”

“Hmm,” Jo hummed at Harry’s explanation, obviously debating whether or not she really believed. She opened her mouth to say more – to call him out on his bullshit most likely – but was interrupted by Louis slinking back into the room, a scowl on his face.

“What’s wrong, love?” Jo asked her son.

“He’s not coming,” Louis said simply, a shrug on his shoulders as he looked between Harry and his mum. “Tommy, he’s not coming.”

“What do you mean?” Harry asked incredulously. What kind of boyfriend didn’t race the highways to be by his boyfriend’s side when he needed him? Harry would walk through fire to be by Louis’ side, shouldn’t Tommy do the same?

Louis shrugged again. “I asked him to come, and he said no,” he said as if it wasn’t the most absurd thing on earth. “He has practice tomorrow and a match the next day. He’s busy.”

Harry didn’t miss the way Jo rolled her eyes as her son’s words sank into the thick air. Louis didn’t catch it, thankfully. He just leaned against the white wall, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “Louis, love,” Jo said quietly, coaxing Louis to look up at her. “It’s okay, yeah? Everyone is going to be fine, and you might not have Tommy, but Harry’s here.”

Harry’s here.

Harry wasn’t going anywhere.

*

By the time Harry pulled into his mum’s carpark, it was well past nine o’clock at night. He’d just dropped Louis and his siblings off at home, and Louis had insisted Harry go see his mum and that they’d be fine on their own. Harry had tried to insist on sleeping on the Tomlinson-Deakin couch. He’d wanted to help in any way possible, including waking up in the morning and ensuring that the kids had something good to eat for breakfast. But Louis had just shook his head, a smile on his face, and insisted that Harry sleep in his own bed – the very bed they used to share most nights once upon a time.

“Harry?” Anne had to the front door to the house pulled open before he’d even made his way up the walkway. “Harry, what are you doing here? What’s wrong?”

Harry chuckled as he stopped in front of his mum, pulling her into a tight hug. “Nothing’s wrong, mum. Let’s go inside, yeah? I’m knackered.”

“But what are you doing home?” Anne continued to press as she followed him through the door. “Not that I’m not happy to see you! But, it’s a bit strange, innit? You never come home without telling us first.”

Harry sighed. He knew he’d have to tell her the truth eventually. He knew he’d have to tell her that he’d driven Louis up so he could be with his family. And he knew, he knew what she was going to say, how she was going to look at him. He knew she was going to suggest that Harry and Louis weren’t over, and he wasn’t sure he could survive that conversation right now.

“Harry, dear,” Anne sighed once they were in the living room. Harry laid across the sofa, leaving his mum to sit on the armchair. “Why are you home?”

“Can’t a kid just come home and visit his mother?” Harry asked, voice high and irritated, but it was mostly sarcasm. He loved how much his mum cared. “Louis’ mum went into labour,” he finally explained, voice quiet.

Anne’s eyes widened in surprise. “Jo? But it’s so early. Is everyone okay?”

“Everyone’s good,” Harry reassured. “The babies will probably be in the hospital for a bit, but the doctors say they’re going to be fine.”

They talked about Jo and the babies. Harry tried to keep the conversation going, tried to talk about the other Tomlinson children so that his mum wouldn’t ask the one question he knew she was dying to ask. But there was only so much he could say, and there was only so much she could hold out.

“You drove Louis home?” Anne finally asked, eyebrows furrowed in curiosity and confusion.

Harry nodded. “We were hanging out when he got the call,” he rolled his eyes when Anne gave him a knowing look. “It’s nothing, mum. Drop it, please.”

“Where’s his boyfriend?”

Harry had spent a couple of hours that day convincing himself that Tommy was a good guy. Harry had spent a couple of hours lying to himself and everyone who was willing to listen, telling them that he thought Tommy and Louis were a great couple. But the second Louis came back into that hospital room, the second Tommy refused to come to Holmes Chapel and be with Louis, Harry knew the truth. Tommy wasn’t a good guy. Tommy and Louis weren’t a good couple.

“He’s at home, prioritizing his stupid football team over Louis,” Harry explained bitterly.

Anne quirked an eyebrow at that. “Harry,” she started warningly. “Do you think you might be playing with fire here?”

“I’m not doing anything,” Harry whined, eyes still staring up at the ceiling.

Anne moved from her chair, perching herself on the edge of the couch. Her hand instantly found its way in Harry’s curls, stroking his hair like she used to when he was a little kid. It had always made him feel better than, and it certainly made him feel better now.

“You’re still in love with him,” Anne stated. Why had his mother always been able to read him like an open book? Why couldn’t he keep anything to himself? Maybe he just wanted to hold his feelings, his one-sided feelings for Louis all to himself?

“I’m not,” Harry tried to lie, but the tears welling in his eyes gave him away.

“Oh, Harry,” Anne soothed as she looked down at her son with sad eyes. “What are you going to do?”

Nothing,” Harry whined again. “He’s with Tommy, I’m seeing Logan. I fucked up five years ago and there’s nothing I can do, mum. We’re friends, we’re only ever going to be friends. And I have to be okay with that.”

Anne shook her head before she leaned down to place a kiss to Harry’s forehead. “I love you.”

Harry offered a small smile. “I love you too, mum.”

~

It was the next evening when Harry saw Louis next. Jo had been released from the hospital, and they were all sitting around the dining room table eating dinner before Jo and Dan went up to the hospital to spend the night with the babies. It was surreal, really, sitting around a table and eating food with a family he’d used to spend so much of his time with. Apart from the addition of Dan, it felt just like it had all those years ago.

“Do you think it would be okay if we headed back to London tomorrow?” Louis asked from his spot beside Harry as he twisted his fork around a few strands of spaghetti.

“You sure? We can stay longer if you’d like.”

Louis shook his head. “I have a shoot Sunday morning that I can’t miss.”

“Why don’t you two go out tonight?” Jo interrupted. “I’m sure everyone would love to see you.”

“We can’t, mum,” Louis tried to reason. “I’m babysitting for you, ‘member?”

Jo shrugged. “I’m sure Lottie and Felicite can watch the girls, right?” Jo looked at her oldest daughters, waiting for them to agree before turning back to Louis and Harry. “Go out, see your old friends and have some fun. It’ll be like the old days!”

Harry could feel the space between him and Louis. He could feel the electricity and the tension move between them, almost as though if he made a single move towards Louis he’d be electrocuted and pulled towards him all at once. They were magnets. They’d always be magnets. But it would never be like the old days.

Louis turned back to Harry just then, and Harry could feel the pull just then. He could feel the spark. “Guess we could give Charlie and the other guys a call, yeah? See if they want to go out for a few pints?”

Harry’s lips pulled back into a smile. He’d do anything to play this part – he’d do anything to act as thought it was the old days. “Sounds like a plan to me, Loubear.”
Harry didn’t miss the way Jo and the girls’ eyes fell on him just then. He didn’t miss the way the nickname turned the dining room table silent in the matter of nanoseconds. He didn’t regret it at all.

*

Harry had his head thrown back, laughter pouring from both his and Dan’s mouths as they sat in the living room. Dan was waiting for Jo to be ready to go back to the hospital, and Harry was waiting for Louis to be done cleaning up the kitchen. It was the first time he’d spent alone time with Dan, and it had only taken seconds for him to decide that Dan was a great guy – that Jo and the girls were perfectly safe in Dan’s hands.

“You’re a good lad, Harry,” Dan said once he’d stopped laughing. Harry couldn’t even really remember what they were laughing about, but it didn’t matter. “I’ve obviously heard all about you. I’ve gotta admit, I wish I’d met you back in the day. I wish I could’ve seen you and Louis together.”

Harry didn’t say anything. He didn’t know what to say to that. He didn’t know Dan, didn’t know how much Dan even really knew about Harry and Louis.

“Tommy’s only come home with Louis a few times. Seems like he’s always busy,” Dan continued when Harry remained silent. “Don’t think he’s too big on family, you know? Which is unfortunate, because family is so important to Louis. He wants a million kids, which I’m sure you know, but Tommy doesn’t want any apparently.”

And okay, Tommy didn’t want children? Children were on the top of Louis’ 10-year plan, even Harry - Harry who hadn’t even known Louis in the past five years - knew that having children was as basic as breathing to Louis. It was a must.

“I just hope Louis doesn’t hold back on his own dreams for him, yeah?” Dan kept on ranting to Harry, who was damn well near speechless at this point.

“Yeah,” Harry agreed quietly. If Louis didn’t have children because of Tommy, Harry would cause a fucking scene. Louis was made to be a dad.

God, there’d once been a time when Harry had wanted Louis to be the father to his own children. Those days were history.

But didn’t history have the habit of repeating itself?

*

Sitting around the pub with their mutual friends from high school was just about the weirdest thing Harry had experienced since...well, the truth was Harry had been through a hell of a lot of strange things lately, so maybe it wasn’t the weirdest thing ever. Harry hadn’t seen Charlie or any of the other lads since he’d broken up with Louis. Every time he’d come back to Holmes Chapel, he’d avoided their mutual friends at all costs. He’d been afraid they’d look at him with sad eyes or ask questions. He’d been afraid they’d judge him for making the worst (and stupidest) decision of his life.

So, here he was, sitting around a pub table with Louis and their old friends, taking in all of the ways they’d all changed over the years. Everything was different, and yet it was all the same. Harry felt like he was in some sort of alternate universe, where maybe, just maybe he was still with Louis. Maybe in this alternate universe, he’d never broken up with Louis in the first place. Maybe they’d live happily ever after.

Maybe alternate universes didn’t really exist, and Harry just needed to sit back and try to enjoy the one he was living in.

“So, I signed you two up for some karaoke,” Charlie informed Louis and Harry as he placed a tray filled with shot glasses on the table. “Thought we could turn back the clock five years and go back to the good old days.”

Good old days. Everyone kept referring to the good old days, and all Harry could do was wonder how he could get those days back. He didn’t want to pretend like things were still the same, he wanted them tostillbe the same.

“Uh,” Louis started as he took two of the shot glasses off the tray and placed one in front of Harry and one in front of himself. “What song did you pick?”

Charlie laughed. “Oh, you’ll see when it’s your turn. Want it to be a surprise,” he winked as he picked up his glass. “Now, bottoms up lads. Here’s to the good old days and having Larry Stylinson back!”

Larry Stylinson. Oh, dear god, Harry hadn’t heard that stupid couple name in years. Their friends had always referred to them as that, and Harry had thought it was funny back then. But now? Now, it was a knife to the heart. Now, it was a fatal blow to his head. Now? Well, now he could hardly take it.

But that didn’t stop him from clinging his shot glass to everyone else’s. It didn’t stop him from looking Louis in the eyes while he downed the shot back and down his throat. It didn’t stop him from getting up and sauntering to the bar, where he proceeded to order another round of shots and drinks for the table. If he was going to survive this trip down memory lane, he’d have to be far less sober.

He hadn’t had the chance to even tell the bartender his order before his and Louis’ names were being called up to the small karaoke stage. “Can I get a shot of tequila, please?” Harry quickly rambled, downing the shot the second it was in front of him before he made his way towards the stage.

Louis was already waiting there for him, standing in front of the microphone, smiling like a fool. It had been years since they’d done this – it had been years since they’d gotten tipsy and sang shitty karaoke in front of their friends and total strangers. But god, did it feel good.

And no, no, it didn’t feel so good when the song started playing. It didn’t feel so good when the instrumental to Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One” started playing through the shitty speakers and the words to the song started to flash on the little screen. Harry hadn’t listened to this song in five years. He’d done everything he could to avoid this song for the past five years. He’d deleted it from his phone, his computer, his entire life. He’d even demanded a taxi driver change the radio station when it had started playing one night on the way home from the pub. “You’re Still the One” was their song, or at least usedto be their song. How was he supposed to stand on stage, beside Louis, and sing it like nothing had ever happened? How was he supposed to sing their song together and not fall apart?

“Looks like we made it,” Louis’ voice broke out, amplified across the small pub by the microphone placed in between them. Harry lost his breath just then, his heart completely stopping as he turned to watch Louis sing the next line. “Look how far we’ve come my baby.”

Harry finally found his voice then, joining Louis’ for the next line. He tried to look at the people in the pub, tried to look anywhere other than Louis, but he failed. By the time the first chorus came around, Harry and Louis were both turned, facing each other head on. It was as if they were serenading each other, and fuck, Harry couldn’t breathe.

“I'm so glad we made it,” Harry and Louis sang together as the song drew to a close. Harry felt like crying, he wanted to sob into his pillow over the last three minutes. It had been far too much. “Look how far we've come, my baby.”

Louis was off the stage in an instant, the last word of the song barely off his tongue before he was running towards the bathroom. Harry froze, only for a second, before he was running after him. He wouldn’t let this night do this– he wouldn’t let a trip down memory lane and a rendition of their old song ruin what they’d built over the past few months. Harry wasn’t about to lose their friendship over some stupid fucking song.

Except it wasn’t just some stupid song. It was everything. God, they’d been everything.

“Lou?” Harry said softly as he pushed the door to the washroom open. He’d expected to find Louis hiding in a stall, but he found him grasping the edge of the counter, breathing heavily over the sink while he stared at his reflection in the mirror. He looked strung out, completely out of it, and Harry hated that he was part of the reason for it.

“Lou?” Harry said again, even softer, as he made his way towards Louis, stopping only when he was right behind him. “Are you alright?” he asked, looking at them through the mirror. God, they were a mess, a right proper mess.

Louis met Harry’s eyes in the mirror, his breath hitching as he stared at him for a few beats of a minute. Harry thought he looked like he was going to say something, maybe even chew him out for playing along on that stage and singing that bloody song. Only, Louis didn’t say anything. He didn’t say anything as he spun on his heels and pulled Harry towards him, barely even taking a second before his lips crashed against Harry’s.

His lips crashed against Harry’s.

It took Harry a second before he could react. He was frozen in place until all of a sudden, he was alive again. He wrapped his arms around Louis neck, pulling him even closer, which seemed outright impossible. He could feel every inch of Louis’ body against his, and it was that feeling alone, the very feeling as if Louis was a part of him, that made Harry open his mouth and move his lips against Louis’. They were kissing like it was the very thing they’d been built to do. They were kissing like it was a matter of life or death. They were kissing like the very meaning of life could be found in the glide of their tongues against one another.

They were kissing.

 

Chapter Text

I can try to stop it, all I like
Hands down I've lost this fight
Thought I was strong, enough for you
But I just can't hide the truth
So I guess I'm going down
I guess I'm going down, like this

 (Like This – Shawn Mendes)

 They were kissing.

Louis hadn’t felt the brush of Harry’s lips, not really felt them, in years. The last time he’d kissed Harry he’d been begging him not to break up with him. But now? Now, he had his hands fisted into the back of Harry’s button up and his tongue licking into the sweetest mouth. Kissing Harry had always been one of Louis’ top five favourite things in the world. Kissing Harry would always be one of Louis’ top five favourite things in the world.

No.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Louis had promised himself this wouldn’t happen. Kissing Harry was not a thing he did anymore – it hadn’t been a thing in years. Ever since the almost kiss, Louis had sworn he’d never be in that position again. And yet here he was, mouth against Harry’s and struggling to make it stop.

“Fuck,” Louis hissed when he finally pulled his mouth away from Harry’s. They were still close, foreheads pressed against each other. He was still breathing in Harry’s air; he could still feel Harry’s breath against his skin, but at least Harry’s lips weren’t pressing into his own anymore.

“Lou,” Harry whispered, staring deep into Louis’ eyes, barely even an inch of space between them. “Lou, you kissed me.”

“Fuck,” Louis hissed again as he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He kept his eyes screwed shut as he used all of his inner strength to place a hand on Harry’s chest and push him away, creating more distance between them.

“Lou,” Harry whined, begging for Louis to stop pushing him away. Harry’s lips were red, raw from their kiss. And god, they were so fucking obscene. They were basically begging to be reunited with Louis’.

No.

“Fuck,” Louis repeated for the third time. He was fairly certain he’d lost the ability to say any other word. He was fairly certain he’d lost his tongue altogether.

Harry took a step back, his eyebrows furrowed with confusion. Louis wasn’t sure if Harry was confused about the kiss or Louis’ reaction. Louis wasn’t sure either, if that made any difference. “Can you say something other than fuck, please?” Harry begged, pressing his back against the parallel wall, eyes fixed on Louis’.

“What the fuck do you want me to say!” Louis screamed, his voice echoing off the nearly empty bathroom. He tugged at his hair as he backed up enough so that his back hit the wall opposite of Harry. He needed to put as much space between them as possible.

You kissed me, Lou,” Harry’s voice was small, defeated – scared. Fuck, Louis had fucked everything up. Fucking Shania Twain and her karaoke voodoo. “You kissed me, and now you’re yelling at me like it’s my fault,” Harry continued, his voice even quieter. If it hadn’t just been the two of them in the room, if it hadn’t been so eerily quiet – Louis would have had to strain to hear him.

“Fuck,” Louis breathed again. He’d wrecked it all. He’d literally taken everything he’d spent the last five years building and thrown it into the flames. He’d ruined everything. “Sorry,” he added, finally looking up and meeting Harry’s gaze.

“For what exactly?” Harry asked incredulously. “For kissing me?”

Yes. No. Was he sorry for kissing Harry? Of course he was. Kissing Harry was a million kinds of wrong.

“Louis,” Harry said, his voice even, calculated. “What do...”

Louis held his hand up, signaling for Harry to stop talking. “I can’t do this right now.”

“You can’t do what?” Harry’s voice cracked as he asked the question. Louis had to look away. He couldn’t risk watching Harry’s heart break into a million pieces. He wouldn’t survive that.

“I have to go,” Louis mumbled quickly as he pushed himself off the wall and made his way towards the bathroom exist. He came to a halt when a hand wrapped around his wrist, pulling him back.

“Wait,” Harry pleaded. “You can’t just walk out on me like this. We need to talk.”

Louis looked over his shoulder back at Harry, finally looking into Harry’s emerald eyes. “We both know that begging someone to stay doesn’t work, Harry.”

Harry eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “What...?”

Louis shook his head slightly. “We’ve been here before, yeah? Only the other way ‘round? I begged you to stay and you left anyways.”

Harry couldn’t hold back the tears anymore, and Louis had to use all of his strength not to take a step forward and wipe them all away. “We’ll talk tomorrow, Haz,” Louis whispered between them before he shook his wrist out of Harry’s grasp and slipped out through the door.

God, a part of him hoped tomorrow would never come. He didn’t think he’d ever be ready to face Harry and the demons that lay between them.

Louis knew there was a special place in hell specially reserved for people like him. He didn’t deserve to have Tommy, or Harry for that matter, in his life. Louis was scum. Louis was going to burn for what he’d done tonight.

*

“You’re home early,” Lottie was perched at the kitchen island, a cup of tea in one hand and her phone in the other.

Louis didn’t say anything as he poured some of the still hot water from the kettle into a mug. He remained silent as he reached for the tea bags and placed one in the water. It was nearing midnight and he was pretty much sober. Louis’ sober mind had always had the tendency of over thinking. Tonight was definitely no exception.

“So, are we going to talk about the giant elephant in the room?” Lottie continued, obviously not sensing Louis’ mood or his need to be alone with his self-deprecating thoughts.

“What elephant?” Louis finally found his voice as he sat down on the stool beside his sister’s.

Lottie chuckled a bit at his obliviousness. “You and Harry, you twat.”

Wait, what? How did Lottie already know? How did she know that just half an hour ago Louis had had his tongue inside Harry’s mouth? “What are you talking about?” He asked, breath shaking.

“You and Harry,” Lottie repeated slowly, as if it would help him catch on somehow. “You two are BFFs again. It’s rather surprising, yeah? I mean, the guy left you high and dry and now anyone who saw you two together would think you’re an old married couple. S’strange.”

“I kissed him.”

“What?” Lottie’s jaw dropped as she processed the information.

Louis shrugged as he filled her in on the night’s events. – the reminiscing, the stupid karaoke. She sat there silently, patiently waiting for him to finish the story (to finish his minor freak out) before she said anything.

“Well,” Lottie spoke once Louis stopped talking. “Did he kiss you back?”

Louis didn’t even need to think about the question to formulate an answer. Harry had kissed him back almost instantly. Harry had kissed him back with a kind of intensity Louis hadn’t felt in years. “Yeah, yeah. He kissed me back.”

“Were you guys drunk?”

And Louis had to stop and think about that one. Were they drunk? “No,” he finally answered. “I mean, we were both tipsy, but no, not drunk.”

Would it be any better if they had been drunk? Would it be easier to justify to Lottie – to fucking Tommy – if Louis could blame it all on the alcohol coursing through his veins?”

Lottie sat on his answer for a minute before she said anything else. She just watched him, watched Louis sip at his tea while he tried to quiet the screaming voices inside his head. He had to call Tommy. He had to call his boyfriend and tell him the truth. He couldn’t keep this from him. He couldn’t go back to London and pretend like he was the world’s most perfect boyfriend. He was far from it.

“Louis,” Lottie’s voice was quiet, but still loud enough to break through his panic. “Have you seen the way that boy looks at you?”
Louis slowly let his eyes wander back to Lottie. He didn’t know what she was getting on about, but he needed her to drop it, right now.

She rolled her eyes in response to his reaction. “He looks at you like you’re the fucking sun. He looks at you the way he did when you guys were seventeen.”

What are you fucking talking about?”

Lottie rolled her eyes again, and seriously, Louis hoped they’d get stuck in the back of her head. “He’s in love with you, you stupid twat. Or still in love with you.”

No .Nope. Not a chance. Not happening. “We’re not talking about this.”

Louis,” Lottie sighed, clearly exasperated with Louis’ inability to discuss emotions. And Louis could understand her frustration, he really could, because he was just as fed up with himself.

He wanted to respond, he wanted to argue and deny any concept of Harry being in love with him until he was blue in the face or the sun came up. Whichever one happened first really. He wanted to tell his sister she was wrong over and over again, but he was interrupted by a soft knock at the front door, and for fuck sake’s, why couldn’t that boy just leave well enough alone?

“Fucking hell,” Louis mumbled under his breath as he walked through the house towards the door. It was half past midnight, much too late for it to be anyone else other than the last person he wanted to see. Why couldn’t Harry just listen? Why couldn’t he just leave it all alone until Louis got some sleep and figured out the mess in his head?

Who was Louis kidding anyways? There was no way he was going to figure out that mess anytime soon.

“Lou,” Harry was breathless when Louis pulled the door open, almost as if he’d ran there. Which, okay, it wouldn’t have been the first time Harry had run to Louis’ family home. God, Louis needed to get back to London. He needed to get back to London and to his new life. He needed to get back to Tommy.

“Look, I... I know you said we’d talk tomorrow, but, well, technically it istomorrow,” Harry was rambling much faster than he usually rambled. And if Louis wasn’t such a blood mess, he’d maybe find it endearing. Maybe.

“Can I come in?” Harry pressed, eyes wide and hopeful. “Just to talk,” he added in a rush, as if Louis might be worried Harry wanted something more than a conversation. “I just...I really need to talk to you, Lou. Please?”

“We’ll talk tomorrow,” Louis hated himself for crushing Harry further. He hated himself for the way Harry’s face crumbled and the way his shoulders fell in defeat. “We have the whole drive back to London to talk.”

Louis moved to close the door, to create a barricade between himself and Harry. He was almost successful, but a strong hand moved to push the door back open before it could fully latch closed.

“I love you,” Harry said quickly, but he sounded surer than he’d ever sounded of anything else before. And well, fucking hell. Why did Harry have to go and prove everyone right? Louis had been so fucking adamant that they were just friendly, and what the fuck was even the point of keeping up the charade anymore? He’d known, of course he’d known. Harry wore his heart on his sleeve. He always had.

“Tonight was a lot,” Louis whispered into the night air as he stared down at the porch. He was still clutching the door, still willing it to close and shut Harry out. “That song, everything, it was a lot. And I think maybe it’s messing with your head...”

“No,” Harry stated simply – strongly. He took a step forward, pushing the door open enough so he could pull Louis out onto the porch with him. He didn’t open his mouth to speak again until the door was closed, granting them privacy. “No, it wasn’t just tonight or that song. I wouldn’t come here and tell you I’m in love with you if I wasn’t 100% sure.”

Louis didn’t realize he was screwing his eyes shut until little white sports started to form behind his eyelids. He was terrified. He was absolutely petrified to open his eyes and face Harry. He couldn’t do this, not now, not after all this time. Not now that he was finally happy again.

He was happy.

“I’m in love with you,” and the way Harry said it this time, the way Harry’s eyes were piercing into his entire being, set Louis on fire. And Louis refused to burn.

“Louis, say something, please.”

Louis finally looked up to meet Harry’s stare. God, he’d loved this boy. He’d loved him so fiercely. But then everything had changed, and nothing was the same. They could be best mates again and sing Shania Twain until they grew old and gray, but they weren’t Harry and Louis anymore. Not like used to be. Not in the way it mattered.

“Go home, Harry.”

Confusion flashed across Harry’s face briefly, before it was replaced with despair. “What? Lou, please...”

“Go home,” Louis stood his ground.

Harry shook his head. “No, no I won’t. I love you, do you hear me? I have been in love with you for eight years. I have loved you since the day I met you.”

“And then you broke up with me,” Louis dead panned. “You broke up with me, and I fell out of love with you.”

Harry wiped at the tears pouring from his eyes. Louis refused to cry. It didn’t matter that the threat of tears was basically choking him. He refused to cry. He’d promised himself a long time ago that he’d never cry over Harry Styles again, and he wasn’t about to go back on that promise.

“You don’t?” Harry stumbled through his tears. Louis had to steel himself, make his heart ironclad so that it didn’t break at the sight of his first love crumbling before him. “You don’t love me?”

How could Harry stand there, looking the way he did and ask him something so absurd? Why would Harry even assume he loved him, anyways?”

“I’ll always love you,” Louis said quietly. He was losing his fight, his strength. “But no, Harry. I’m not in love with you. I’m in love with Tommy.”

Harry’s breath hitched as Louis’ words hung between them.

“You told me you wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize my relationship,” Louis stated simply.

Harry started to cry harder as he hung his head in shame. “I’m sorry,” and Louis knew he was being genuine. He knew Harry well enough to know he never apologized unless he really meant it.

“I’m sorry, I just...I tried, yeah? I tried to move on and not love you, but fuck, Louis. I can’t not love you. You’re it for me, and I just, I need you to know that.”

Louis took a step back, feeling as though Harry had punched him in the gut. He felt his back hit the closed front door. And god, what he’d do to disappear behind it that second. “We’re over, Harry,” he whispered, voice coarse with...what? What was it that he was feeling? Regret? Anger? Sadness? Fuck, Louis had no idea what he was supposed to feel. “We’ve been over for a long time.”

“I should’ve fought,” Harry said through his tears. “I’d do anything to go back five years and fight for us. I was stupid. I was a child and I had no idea that you were all I ever needed. Give me the chance to fight for you,” Harry sobbed, reaching out for louis, finding a place for his fists in the front of louis’ jumper. “Please just give me a chance.”

Louis used all of his strength to pry Harry’s hands off of him. “Stop,” he said firmly, dropped Harry’s hands from his own. He couldn’t help the way he watched them fall to Harry’s sides. He couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt pierce through his heart. “I can’t, I can’t do this. You can’t keep showing up at this door and turning my life upside down. I’m with Tommy.”

“He’s not the one for you,” Harry interjected quickly. And fuck, no. Harry didn’t get to do that. “He doesn’t even want kids, Lou. He doesn’t even want kids and I know for a fact that you want at least four. How is that going to work?”

“Fucking, quit it!” Louis finally lost it. He’d finally had enough. And god, it felt like five years ago all over again, with him standing on his mum’s front porch screaming at Harry. How had they gotten back to this point? “I need you to leave, okay? I need you to go back to your mums and leave me alone. And then I need you to get in your car tomorrow and go back to London, without me. And then I need you to not call me, to not text me, to not show up at my flat, you got that?”

“What?” Harry’s eyes were wide, just as shocked by Louis’ harsh words as Louis was himself. “What do you mean? How will you get back to London?”

Louis shook his head, completely exasperated. “I’ll take the fucking train if I have to. All I know is I don’t want to see you or hear from you, yeah? I want to go back to my life before you crashed back into it. I want to go home to my boyfriend and not have to feel like a pile of shit for hanging out with my ex. I can’t do this to him, I won’t do this to him. I won’t tear his life apart the way you tore up mine.”

“I... Lou, no, please, no,” Harry was right in front of him again, eyes pleading as he sunk his hands into either side of Louis’ waist. And Louis couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe. “I can’t lose you. Please don’t do this. I’ll be better, I’ll do better. I won’t ever talk about how I feel again if you’ll just stay. Don’t make me go away, please.”

“No,” Louis found his voice after a couple beats of silence. “You’ve always called the shots with us. I’m calling the shots now, and I need you – I wantyou – to leave me the hell alone.”

“You don’t mean that,” Harry managed to whisper through his tears.

Louis thought back to all of the times Harry had gotten frustrated with his displays of emotion. He thought back to the countless times he’d gotten jealous, hurt, and angry at Harry’s new life in London and how it had destroyed their relationship. And yeah, maybe Louis’ tendency to be overly emotional hadn’t been the final nail in the coffin, but it had played a large part in their demise. He couldn’t go back to that. He couldn’t be the emotional wreck he’d been when they were younger. Hewas going to be the strong one now.

“I do mean it, yeah,” Louis finally said as he squared his shoulders and willed his eyes to remain focused on Harry’s. He wasn’t going to back down. He had all the leverage for once. “We’re not good for each other. Maybe we were once, but that was a life time ago. Move on. Be happy. Be with Logan.”

“I broke up with Logan,” Harry admitted quickly. And well, fuck, that was news to Louis. “The second you ran out on me tonight I called him and ended it. Logan didn’t stand a chance next to you. No one does.”

Louis could feel it. He could feel the bile rising in the back of his throat. He could feel his heart hammering in his chest. He’d waited so long for Harry to fight for them. But it was too late. It was much too late. “I’m in love with Tommy, Harry, not you. You need to understand that.”

Harry’s head hung so low that his chin was touching his chest. But Louis couldn’t care, not if he was going to survive this conversation and come out the other side.

“Okay,” Harry’s voice was a whisper, barely even audible. “Okay,” he repeated slowly. “Let’s just forget tonight happened. Let’s forget that you kissed me and that I ever showed up here. Let’s go back to how things were like, five hours ago.”

“That’s not how life works, Harry!” Louis yelled into the night air. “You can’t just turn back the clock and pretend like nothing ever happened! We keep acting like you didn’t completely destroy me five years ago. We keep pretending we’re bffs, and I’m sick of it! I can’t keep pretending with you,” Louis took a deep breath before continuing, this time calmer and quieter. “We both made promises and we both broke them. You promised you wouldn’t come between my relationship, and I promised Tommy I wouldn’t hurt him. I need to make things right, and I can’t do that with you in my life.”

Louis watched as the light went out inside of Harry. It was so typical of Harry to just give up. It was what he’d always done after all.

“I’m choosing Tommy,” Louis continued. “Actually no, I’m choosing me.

“So, this is it?” Harry sobbed as he stared back at Louis. Louis ignored the pang in his own heart. “We’re not even friends anymore? You’re just getting rid of me, just like that?”

“Feels pretty fucking horrible, doesn’t it?” his voice lacked the venom, but Louis snapped nonetheless.

Harry opened his mouth as if to say something, probably to apologize for the millionth time, but he seemed to think better of it and remained silent.

“Goodbye, Harry,” Louis said quietly as he opened the door to the house, turning his back to the beautiful boy he’d once loved with all his heart.

“I’ll love you ’til the day I die,” Louis heard Harry whisper before he closed the door and shut Harry out, once and for all.

Louis sunk to the floor, his back hitting the closed door as he hung his head between his knees. He couldn’t believe he’d actually done it. He couldn’t believe he was even remotely strong enough to say goodbye to Harry like that.

Harry. His Harry.

“Louis?” Lottie’s voice broke him from his reverie.

Louis lifted his head, tilting it back so he could look up at his younger sister. He was amazing with himself that he wasn’t crying. But he wouldn’t cry – not over Harry or because of Harry. He refused.

“Louis, are you okay?” Lottie pressed as she knelt down in front of him and wrapped a hand around his bare ankle. The simple touch was enough to ground him. It was enough to remind him that he was still there, that letting go of Harry wouldn’t make his entire world come crashing down around him.

Louis shrugged, offering a small (and somewhat forced) smile. “Harry just confessed his love for me,” his voice cracked as he said the words out loud.

He’d be okay, someday.

“That’s great!” Lottie exclaimed, but her excitement dwindled as she slowly realized that maybe it wasn’t that great after all. “What did you say back?”

Louis hung his head again. “I kicked him out of my life,” he mumbled to the floor.

“What?”

He looked back up, meeting his sister’s questioning gaze. “I told him I didn’t want to see or hear from him. I told him I’m in love with Tommy, not him. I told him the truth.”

Is that the truth?” and fuck, he hated Lottie sometimes. Somewhere in the past few years she’d gown into a wise, but annoying young woman. He needed her to go back to being twelve and clueless, back when she didn’t have an opinion.

Yes,” Louis insisted. “How could I love someone who hurt me as bad as he did?”

Lottie shrugged, but squeezed his ankle tighter as she responded. “The heart wants what the heart wants, it doesn’t always make sense. It’s been a long time, Louis. He’s not the same boy who broke your heart.”

Louis let a tear fall just then, and as he felt it fall down his face and as he tasted its saltiness as it landed on his lip, he swore to himself it would be the only tear he shed for Harry. “He is the same person though. He’s exactly the same. He’s still completely selfish and doesn’t even take a second to think about how I feel or what I want.”

“You kissed him though,” Lottie stated. “Obviously you feel something.”

Louis sighed as he heaved himself off the floor and moved towards the stairs. He needed to sleep. He needed his circadian rhythm to rid his mind of Harry Styles. “You said ‘the heart wants what the heart wants’, right? Well, my heart wants Tommy. Can you please just respect that?”

“Of course,” Lottie replied with a sad smile. She pitied him. Fuck, when had Louis become something so sad that even his seventeen-year-old sister felt sorry for him?

~

Louis woke up the next morning to a pounding headache and a scratchy throat. He’d gone back on his promise to himself. He’d ended up crying himself to sleep, sobbing into his pillow as his stupid fucking brain played scene after scene of his time with Harry on repeat. And he just didn’t get it. Why did letting go of Harry hurt so bad? Why did it hurt almost as bad as it had the day Harry had walked out on him? He’d spent the last five years without Harry in his life, but somehow, the past few months of having Harry back had been enough for Louis to grow attached. And he should have fucking known better.

Harry Styles was a leach. He sucked and he sucked at Louis until Louis had nothing left for himself. And fuck, that wasn’t even true, was it? Louis didn’t hate Harry, he never really had, not even when he told himself and everyone around him that he despised Harry. He’d always love him, he’d always cherish the time they got to spend together. He just couldn’t do it anymore. He couldn’t keep giving little pieces of himself to Harry, not when everything between them was so fragile. Being with Harry was like walking on a tight rope without a safety net below. He just wasn’t safe. And Louis needed a bit of safety in his life.

Tommy was safe.

*
Saying goodbye to his family was hard, but Louis was thankful that no one tried to question him about Harry, that nobody asked why Harry wasn’t driving him back to London. Louis assumed Lottie had probably warned them all, that she’d give them some brief version of the previous night’s events so that they wouldn’t strike a nerve, and Louis was thankful. He told her as much when he pulled her in for a hug.

“I love you, Lotts,” Louis whispered into his sister’s hair.

“Love you too,” Lottie replied. “No matter what, yeah? Just want you to be happy.”

*

Louis thought about Lottie’s words as he sat on the train back to London. He was happy, wasn’t he? Tommy had given him so much in the time they’d been together. Louis felt cared for, safe, and secure. He hated himself for what he’d done, for all of the choices he’d made in the past few months, for all of the ways he’d hurt Tommy. He’d chosen his friendship with Harry over his relationship, and even though maybe that choice had been somewhat subconscious, he’d done it anyways. He’d never intended to hurt Tommy, not really, and yet here he was, on his way back home to tell his boyfriend the truth.

He had to tell him the truth, and he just had to hope that Tommy would love him regardless of all his faults.

*

Tommy was just getting home from practice when Louis walked through the door to their flat. Tommy’s gym bag was laying haphazardly on the floor in the entranceway, and the shower was running. Louis was thankful for the few minutes he had, the little time he had to collect his thoughts and figure out just what he needed to say. He knew he had to be completely honest. Heknew it was time to own up to his mistakes and hope Tommy would forgive him. Tommy had been right after all, Louis had needed Harry in his life, but he didn’t anymore.

Right?

Just as he heard the shower turn off down the hall, Louis’ phone vibrated in his pocket. He fished it out, assuming it was his mum or Lottie checking to make sure he got back home in one piece. But of course, it was Harry, already ignoring what Louis had asked for. Harry, the eternally selfish human being.

From: Harry

I know you don’t want to hear from me, and I’ll respect that as much as I can, but I just need you to know that I meant everything I said last night. I love you, Lou. And I’m not going to stop loving you. I think maybe you love me too, and you’re just afraid to admit it. Or maybe you’re right, and I’m just a selfish arsehole. But I’m not going to stop fighting for you. I love you. Forever.

There once was a time when reading a message like that would stir something inside of Louis. There once was a time when he’d immediately respond with an “always”, but that time was long gone. All he felt now was the anger boil inside of him, stirring up all of the frustration that had been sitting dormant in him for so long. Why couldn’t Harry just get it? Why couldn’t Harry respect his wishes one fucking time, and leave him the hell alone?

Louis didn’t even read the message a second time; he didn’t give himself the satisfaction of reading Harry’s words over and over until he committed them to memory. He just hit delete and deleted the entire thread of messages he and Harry had managed to send each other in the few short months they’d been reunited. Louis needed a fresh start, and he couldn’t do that with the constant reminder of Harry every time he looked at his phone.

“Louis?” Tommy was suddenly standing in their living room, a towel tucked around his waist and his dark hair dripping from the shower he’d just taken. Louis took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down. He knew he was about to hurt the man he loved, and he had no idea how he was supposed to do that. Maybe he should have asked Harry for pointers before he kicked him out of his life.

“Louis, are you alright?” Tommy was right in front of him now, his eyes full of concern. Louis had been angry with him not that long ago, beyond angry at the fact that Tommy couldn’t take two seconds away from his “football career” to be with him and his family. But now? Now, he’d managed to squash any resentment towards Tommy. What he’d done, the fact that he’d kissed Harry, was enough to level the playing field and then some. Louis had hurt Tommy far worse than Tommy had ever hurt him. Louis didn’t have the right to be angry anymore, not really.

“We need to talk,” Louis finally managed to get out. He didn’t even recognize his own voice, he didn’t even really feel like he was the one speaking. He felt like a fly on the wall, like he was an outside observer to the train wreck that was about to happen.

Tommy’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “Okay, can I get dressed first?” he waited for Louis to nod before he continued. “Make us some tea and I’ll meet you in the kitchen, yeah?”

Louis nodded again, almost robotically, as he made his way to the kitchen and pulled out the kettle and the tea. He couldn’t ignore the way his hands were shaking as he placed the two steaming mugs of tea on the kitchen table in front of Tommy just a couple of minutes later. He was terrified, so incredibly scared to break this man’s heart.

“What’s going on?” Tommy was the first to speak. He was staring at Louis wildly, clearly expecting the worst. “Did something happen? Is your mum okay? The babies?”

Louis wanted to laugh. He wanted to ask Tommy if he even really cared about Louis’ mum or siblings, but he didn’t. He couldn’t. “Everyone’s fine.”

“Is this about Harry then?”

And fuck. Tommy was always good at figuring Louis out. He’d known that Harry was bad news from day fucking one, but Louis had refused to listen.

“Did you fuck him?”

“What?” Louis’ finally found his voice, his eyes shooting upwards to meet his boyfriend’s. Did Tommy really think so low of him? Did he really think Louis would do something so horrible? Louis had done a lot of awful things in his lifetime, sure, but he’d never do that.

“Did you fuck him?” Tommy responded, voice calculated and even.

“Of course not,” Louis said quickly. “I wouldn’t...I’d never...” he tried to finish his sentence, tried to tell Tommy he’d never do something so bad, but then he realized he couldn’t really say that without lying to him. He’d kissed Harry. He’d initiated everything that had happened the night before. They hadn’t slept together, but maybe Louis would be lying if he said he hadn’t thought about it. Maybe Louis had been right on the cusp of crossing that line.

Maybe Louis didn’t deserve Tommy at all.

“I kissed him,” Louis finally said. He forced himself to maintain eye contact. He needed to see every emotion flash behind Tommy’s eyes. He deserved to watch the pain; he deserved to know he’d caused it.

But the pain never came. Tommy simply sat back in his chair and looked at Louis pointedly, as if to say I told you so. And Louis wasn’t sure how he felt about that. He wasn’t sure how he felt knowing that Tommy hadn’t expected anything better from him. Was Louis really that predictable?

“Tell me everything,” Tommy demanded.

And so, Louis did. He told him everything, from Harry showing up at their flat that morning, to the phone call he got from Lottie, to the moment he found himself singing Shania Twain on a stage with Harry. He told Tommy about the kiss in the pub loo and about Harry’s confession on the porch. He didn’t leave out a single detail. It was time he kept his promises, even if it was a little too late.

“This is what’s going to happen,” Tommy started once Louis was done talking. He still hadn’t moved, he’d practically been a stature throughout the entire story. “You’re never going to see him again. You’re not going to pub nights, you’re not going to go to dinners at Zayn’s if he’s going to be there. You’re not going to see him or talk to him, or else I’m out that door. Can you do that?”

Louis nodded once. He could do that, couldn’t he? He’d already done that, really. He’d told Harry to leave him alone and to never come back.

“This isn’t me forgiving you,” Tommy warned. “You’re going to have to earn back my trust. But if you want us to work, if you want me to stay, you need to work at it.”

“I want us to work,” Louis reaffirmed. “I love you. All I want us to be with you.

Tommy pushed his chair back from the table and moved towards Louis, only stopping to take Louis by the hands and pull him up from his own chair. Louis hadn’t expected this. He hadn’t expected Tommy to stay, and he definitely hadn’t expected Tommy to pull him against his chest and hold him the way he currently was. Louis didn’t deserve any of this. “You can never talk to him again,” Tommy repeated against Louis’ ear.

This time, the words crashed against Louis’ eardrum and made him dizzy. You can never talk to him againplayed on repeat in his mind. He’d lost Harry once and had survived. He could do it again, right?

Louis could survive this. He had to.

Chapter Text

I know we didn't end it like we're supposed to
And now we get a bit tense
I wonder if my mind just leaves out all the bad parts
I know we didn't make sense
I admit it that I think about it sometimes
Even though I know it's not so distant
Oh, no, I still want to reminisce it

 (What a Time – Julia Michaels ft. Niall Horan)

It had been two days, three hours and forty-five minutes since Louis had walked through the door of his flat and told Tommy everything. It had been two days, three hours and forty-five minutes of near silence between them, and Louis was beyond exhausted of walking around on egg shells in his own home. But he couldn’t exactly blame Tommy now, could he? He couldn’t exactly blame Tommy for giving him the silent treatment when he’d kissed another man (when he’d kissed Harry).

And while Tommy was giving him the cold shoulder, Harry was making sure Louis knew he wasn’t about to let up. Louis couldn’t help but be a little bit surprised. He’d ignored Harry’s first message that very first day. He’d deleted the conversation thread and forgotten all about it (at tried to, at least), but Harry had been persistent. Louis woke up every morning at the same time, and the past two mornings when he looked at his phone over a bowl of Cheerios, there’d been a message from Harry waiting for him.

Right now, Louis was currently sitting on the sofa, trying to keep out of Tommy’s way as Tommy put away his laundry in their bedroom. Louis had been camped out in the living room for the past two days, and he was currently holed up in a blanket with his phone in his hand, staring down at the message Harry had sent him that very morning.

From: Harry
Good morning. This is the only message I’ll send you today, I promise. But I just wanted to remind you that I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere. I love you, Louis. I’ve loved you since we were just two stupid fifteen-year-olds. I love you with all my heart. I’ll be here when you’re ready. Love, your Hazza xx.

Your Hazza. Your Hazza. Your Hazza.

Why couldn’t Harry just leave well enough alone? Why couldn’t he just do what he’d done the last time and disappear from Louis’ life? He’d been so good at it, so good at fucking off and leaving Louis to pick up all the pieces. But now he couldn’t leave Louis alone, he wouldn’t leave Louis alone, and Louis was ready to snap. He felt like a thin twig, ready to snap right in half. Louis had asked him to leave, to walk out of his life and never come back, and he’d been so sure Harry would be able to do that – he’d been able to do that before. But now? Now, Louis had a feeling Harry wasn’t going to go down without a fight.

And Louis was torn, so fucking torn between wanting to march over to Harry’s and rip his stupid curly hair out of his head until he made his scalp bleed and wanting to march over to Harry’s and get down on his knees and beg for forgiveness.

Louis was a fucking mess.

Louis heard Tommy start to shuffle out of their bedroom, well, what Louis hoped would one day go back to being their bedroom. He wanted to hate himself for the way he hastily deleted the message from Harry, but he couldn’t help it. If he got caught agonizing over anything related to Harry Styles, Louis would be left to watch Tommy pack up his things and walk out of his life. Louis just couldn’t risk that.

“Are you just going to sit in front of the TV all day then?” Tommy snapped at Louis the second he was in the living room. It had been like that for the past two days. Tommy either ignored his existence or snapped at Louis, and Louis had no choice but to take it.

“I’m editing my shoot from yesterday,” it wasn’t really a lie. Louis didhave his laptop open and was supposed to be editing the wedding he’d shot, but he was distracted. He’d been distracted for the past two days.

Tommy hugged in response as he made his way to the kitchen and started to fill the kettle. They always had afternoon tea when they were home together, but Louis had a feeling Tommy’s afternoon tea wouldn’t include him today. He wasn’t really sure if anything would include him ever again.

“Mind adding enough water for me?” Louis asked timidly as he perched himself at their kitchen island.

Tommy’s entire body tensed, and even though his back was to Louis, Louis could picture the expression on his face. “I dunno, Louis, do you mind not kissing other people?”

And okay, this was new. Tommy had snapped at him for leaving his socks on the floor and for taking too long in the shower, but he hadn’t thrown the kiss in his face. Louis deserved it, he knew that, but he’d stupidly hoped they’d skip that stage.

“Well?” Tommy sneered as he spun round on his heels and glared at Louis. “Do you want a cuppa, or do you want to go kiss other men?”

“Tommy...”

Tommy cut Louis off with a sarcastic chuckle. “Sorry, sorry. I’m not being fair. You just wanna go around kissing Harry. You’re only a cheater for him.”

Louis sighed as he jumped down from the stool and retreated out of the kitchen. He couldn’t do this. He may deserve it, but he couldn’t do it.

“Where are you going?” Tommy asked with a bite to his words.

Louis turned back to face Tommy, the man he loved, the man he’d hurt beyond measure. He’d take whatever harsh words Tommy had for him; he knew he deserved it.

“Zayn’s,” Louis replied, his voice a dead weight between them. “I told him I’d help him with his new headshots.” He watched as Tommy’s face filled with worry. Fuck, he hated what he’d done to him. “I promise no one else will be there. He won’t be there.”

Tommy’s eyes fell to the floor, almost as if he was embarrassed of the control he had over Louis’ life. Maybe Tommy was asking for a lot, but Louis would give anything to make things right.

“When will you be home?” Louis wasn’t shocked to hear the question. He’d want an itinerary too if he was in Tommy’s shoes.

“We’re gonna order take away for dinner,” Louis explained. “I’ll be home by eight,” his heart sank as Tommy’s eyes narrowed with mistrust. “I promise. I’ll swear on my mum’s life if I have to. He won’t be there.

Tommy just nodded his head and turned back to his kettle. As Louis slipped into his jacket and gathered his camera and keys, he couldn’t help but wonder how long this stage would last. He knew he had to earn back Tommy’s trust, but their house was no longer a home. The ice between them had yet to thaw, and Louis was afraid he was going to freeze to death.

*

“So, you’re just never coming out with us again?” It turned out taking a good head shot of Zayn took not time at all (the guy was bloody gorgeous after all). So, Louis found himself tucked into Zayn’s sofa, passing a joint back and forth within an hour of showing up at his door.

Louis sighed. He’d known his friends weren’t going to be okay with this, but they’d been Harry’s friends first. Louis had to do what was right and be the one to walk away from pub night, from his friends. “I can’t, Z,” Louis tried to explain. “I can’t be around him. I promised Tommy...”

“Cut the bullshit, Tommo,” Zayn interjected. “We both know this isn’t about Tommy forbidding you from seeing Harry. This is about the fact that you knowhe’s it for you, and if you see him, you’re going to have to deal with it.”

And fuck, Louis was so fucking over everyone thinking they just how he felt. “No. This is about me loving my boyfriend enough to respect the fact that he doesn’t trust me. I fucked up, okay? I had a moment of insanity and I royally fucked up. But I’m not going to lose Tommy because of him.

He loves you, Louis,” Zayn said with exasperation. “And not in the way that comes with ultimatums and threats. He loves you in a real and big way. In the ‘he wants to marry you someday’ way.”

Louis took a long drag of the joint before passing it back to Zayn, relishing in the way it burned the back of his throat. “Why are you on his bloody side?”

“I’m not,” Zayn huffed. “I’m just pissed that my best mate is never going to be around. You didn’t just choose Tommy over Harry, you know. You chose Tommy over all of us. What’s gonna happen when Liam and I get married? You’re just not gonna come to my wedding because you’re not allowed within one hundred feet of your ex-boyfriend?” Zayn was on a roll, the effects of the weed finally kicking in. “And who gives Tommy the fucking right to give you an ultimatum like that? It’s fucked, mate. It’s some fucking controlling shit, is what it is.”

Of course, Louis had thought about that. Of course, he’d realized that ridding Harry from his life would mean he’d miss out on so many things. And Louis wasn’t choosing Tommy over his friends, he wasn’t, it just happened to look that way. Choosing Tommy just went hand in hand with losing everyone else, and Louis was just going to have to live with that.

“It’s not like we’ll never see each other, Z,” Louis tried to explain. “I’ll still come over, and you can come ‘round to mine.”

Zayn shook his head immediately. “No offense, but I don’t wanna watch you get controlled by someone who claims to love you. Honestly, I think I might punch the guy if I ever see him again.”

Louis hadn’t expected that. He’d expected Zayn to understand his choice. He’d expected Zayn to stand by his side no matter what.

“Louis,” Zayn sighed after a few moments of silence. “I get it, okay? I get that you’re scared Harry’s gonna hurt you again, and you think Tommy will make you happy in the long run, but...you two have never made any sense to me. You’re lovely and outgoing and you’d do anything for your friends and family. But Tommy couldn’t have cared less that you needed him in Holmes Chapel with you. He’s selfish, Louis, and he’s so fucking controlling. Someone who acts like that isn’t someone who loves you. Not if you ask me, anyways.”

Louis leaned forward, butting out the joint in the tray. “Funny, I don’t remember asking you though,” he grumbled as he stood up from the sofa and stomped towards the door. “I came here because I needed a friend, but since all you’re going to do is judge me, I think I’m gonna get going.”

“Louis, c’mon mate, I’m sorry,” Zayn began as he followed Louis to the door.

Louis just shook his head as he pulled on his vans shoes and slipped into his jacket. “It’s fine, Z. I’m just so fucking emotionally exhausted, I just need a break,” Louis said through a heavy sigh as he wrapped his hand around the doorknob and pulled the door open. He was about to step over the threshold, about to free himself from his friend’s judgement, but a pair of brown Chelsea boots were in his way.

Brown Chelsea boots...

“Lou...?”

“What the fuck? Are you fucking kidding me?!”

“Lou?” Louis finally let himself look up at Harry’s face, finding his eyes wide with surprise. “Lou...what...how are you?”

And no, Louis wasn’t going to do this. He wasn’t going to do this. He’d asked Harry, he’d told Harry to leave him alone. He couldn’t even believe he was doing this only a few days later. Actually, no, he could believe it, because that’s just how Harry was – selfish and inconsiderate.

“Are you fucking serious, Harry?” Louis was almost yelling, almost blowing up right there at Zayn’s open door. He didn’t care if the neighbours could hear. He didn’t give a flying fuck. “Are you fucking serious?”

Harry opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, eyes still locked on Louis.

“What? Are you actually fucking speechless right now?” Louis kept up, his anger almost boiling right over. And even though he was so irate, he couldn’t help but take in the dark circles under Harry’s eyes or the way his bottom lip looked like it had been chewed raw. Harry looked miserable.

“Tommo, leave him alone,” Zayn chimed in from behind him.

Louis whipped around, glaring at his so-called friend. “Stop taking his side,” Louis knew he sounded like a three-year-old, but he just couldn’t help it. “My relationship is hanging on by a thread, and now I have to go home and tell my boyfriend I lied to him when I told him he wouldn’t be here.”


“I didn’t...” Harry was finally speaking, his voice small and broken. “I didn’t know you were gonna be here, I swear on my mum’s life, Lou. Zayn asked me to come over for dinner, I didn’t know... I had no clue you’d be here. I promise.”

And of course, of course fucking Zayn set this whole thing up. Of course, he was trying to play match maker and simultaneously destroy Louis’ life. Of fucking course.

What the fuck?” Louis wasn’t surprised, not really, but that didn’t stop him from glaring at his supposed friend. “Why couldn’t you just stay out of it? This is none of your fucking business.”

“I’m just going to go,” Harry’s small voice broke through Louis’ anger. And fuck, he just wanted to wrap his arms around Harry and take all of the pain away. But he couldn’t, not with Tommy at home and all of the promises Louis had made. He needed to start following through, and that mean he had to be one to walk away.

“It’s fine, you can stay,” Louis said to Harry as he turned back around and met Harry’s wide gaze. “We’re done here, anyways.”

“Oh, c’mon, Louis,” Zayn huffed, annoyance and frustration laced in his voice. “You’re not seriously going to hold a grudge about this, are you?”

Louis didn’t bother to turn back and look at Zayn. He carefully sidestepped Harry – afraid to get too close. “I dunno, mate. Why don’t you call me call me when you decide to respect the decisions I make?”

He heard Zayn chuckle sarcastically. “Fuckin’ fat chance of that happening if you’re just gonna keep choosing that fucking twat over people who actually love you.”

Louis didn’t even think, he didn’t even breathe as he spun around and charged back down the hall, retracing the short distance he’d managed to walk. Everything was a blur. He didn’t even realize he was pinning Zayn to the wall of his entrance way until Harry was pulling him back.

“Lou, stop, it’s okay,” Harry was whispering, practically right in Louis’ ear, as he pulled him back away from Zayn and into the hallway. Louis just watched, frozen in place, as Harry closed Zayn’s door to prevent another altercation. “Are you okay?” he asked, eyes wide with concern, as he turned back to Louis.

And fuck, Louis wasn’t supposed to be standing merely a foot away from Harry. He wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near Harry. And yet there he was, trying to catch his breath and staring at Harry as if he was some sort of miraculous being – as if he was a fucking lunar eclipse happening right before his eyes.

Louis needed to get away.

“I can’t,” Louis stumbled. He couldn’t look away from Harry, and he neededto look away from him. “I have to go.”

Harry simply nodded, his eyes full of sadness. “I’m sorry. I really didn’t know you’d be here. I know I keep texting you, but I really am trying to do what you asked. I’m really trying to stay away.”


“I know,” Louis whispered after a few seconds of silence. It was true, he did know. He knew it was probably killing Harry, because it had only been a few days and it was already killing Louis too. He’d had Harry back for a few short months, and it had only taken that small amount of time for Louis to value their friendship, for Louis to need their friendship. Harry was his best friend, he always had been, it was nearly impossible to walk away. But Louis didn’t have a choice, and if that meant he had to be the strong one, then so be it.

“I miss you,” Harry’s voice was quiet, a mere breath between them. And fuck. Louis felt it too, but he wouldn’t admit it. He couldn’t.

Louis took a deep breath, inhaling the thick tension-filled air. “Please stop texting me,” he heard the regret in his own voice, but he didn’t have a choice but to stamp out his and Harry’s flame. “I, I can’t,” he stumbled, the words almost too hard to say. “It’s too hard, Haz. Please.

Harry looked like he was on the brink of crying, and if there was something Louis couldn’t handle, it was watching Harry cry, again.

“I have to go,” Louis sad as he took a step backwards. Harry was still just watching him with wet eyes. “If you really do love me, please stop texting me.”

“I can’t just not talk to you, Lou,” Harry stated through a shaky breath. “I walked away once, I can’t do it again. I won’t make the same mistake twice.”

Louis forced a smile on his face, praying it looked more genuine than it felt. “It’s not you walking away this time, Hazza, it’s me. I need you to do this for me, please. If you care about me at all..”

“Lou,” Harry whined out his name, and fuck, it went right to Louis’ heart. “Let me fight for you. I’ll fight for you.”

Louis was the first to actually shed a tear this time. He couldn’t keep finding his way back to this very place with Harry. He wouldn’t survive. “I don’t want you to fight for me,” he choked out. “Don’t make me say it.”

Harry straightened his back, his jaw tensing as he watched Louis retreat down the hall backwards. “Just say it, Lou. I’m not going away until you say it.”

Louis ducked his head, incapable of watching Harry when he broke his heart, again.

“Fucking look at me and say it, Lou. Then I’ll leave you alone.”

Louis lifted his chin and locked eyes with Harry. He had to do this. “I don’t want you, Harry. How could I possibly want you after what you did to me? I hate you after what you did to me,” Louis took a deep breath, not missing the way Harry’s face seemed to crumple in on itself. “Leave me alone, once and for all.”

Harry unclenched his jaw before tensing it back up, searching Louis’ eyes for a hint that he’d been lying. When he didn’t find what he’d been looking for, Harry shook his head once and set his icy glare on Louis. “Fine, I’ll leave you alone.” Louis simply nodded at that and spun on his heel. “I could never hate you, you know,” Harry called after him, but louis didn’t stop. He couldn’t stop.

Louis couldn’t breathe. He’d never been claustrophobic before, but he was currently pressed against the elevator wall, desperately trying to get some air. He’d actually done it. He’d actually told Harry he hated him. And the worst part of it all was that it wasn’t even close to being true. He’d never be able to hate Harry, he’d never been able to hate Harry. It just wasn’t in his blood.

*

Louis tossed and turned on the sofa. Tommy had gone to bed hours ago, but Louis couldn’t sleep. And he wasn’t sure if it was the fact that he was sleeping on the sofa yet again, or if it was because he hadn’t told Tommy about his run in with Harry that afternoon. He’d meant to, god, of course he’d meant to. But every time he’d opened his mouth to say something, something inside Louis had stopped him. Nothing had happened, and it wasn’t like Louis had gone out in search of Harry. it had all been Zayn’s fault, and Louis wasn’t about to say goodbye to his relationship because of Zayn’s stupidity.

He had every excuse in the book, and yet Louis still couldn’t sleep. Every time he closed his eyes, he got flashes of Harry’s hurt ones. Every time he even started to drift away, Louis was greeted by flecks of emerald green and a deep, familiar voice penetrating his dreams. He wasn’t sure if he could survive another night with Harry penetrating his dream state. A man could only survive so much.

Louis felt like a robot as he reached out and grabbed his phone from the coffee table. It was as if he had zero control of his body as he unlocked the device, opened the messaging app, and typed Harry’s name in to start a conversation with him. His fingers had a mind of their own as they started typing on the screen.

To: Harry
I don’t hate you, I fucking love you.

Louis sighed heavily as he pressed the delete button, watching as each letter he’d typed slowly vanished from the screen. He couldn’t send that. He took another deep breath and started typing again.

To: Harry
I’m sorry for everything, Haz. I wish we’d found each other again under different circumstances. I wish I could love you without hurting him. I don’t want to be with anyone else but you. I’m a fucking coward and I’m sorry

Louis shook his head and deleted the words once again. He didn’t bother typing anything else, he just powered down his phone and tossed it back on the coffee table. He couldn’t be trusted around the device. He had no idea what he was capable of, and the last thing he wanted to do was send a text message he was going to regret come morning.

Or, maybe he’d never come to regret it, but Louis wasn’t about to find out. He’d made his bed, now he had to lay in it.

~

Three Weeks Later

Three weeks. Twenty-one days. 504 hours. 30,240 minutes. It didn’t matter how Louis broke it down, it was far too long to go without talking to any of his friends. It was far too long to go without talking to Harry. And maybe the most surprising of it all was the fact that Harry actually seemed to be respecting Louis’ request. He hadn’t so much as texted a “hello” in the past few weeks. Louis wasn’t quite sure if he was disappointed, angry, or grateful.

Louis wasn’t quite sure of anything these days.

The only thing that had changed was that Tommy had let him back in their bedroom. They were sleeping next to each other at night but still barely speaking. Louis was appreciative of the comfortable bed but he was sick of being ostracized. What was the point of walking away from his friends if Tommy was going to act like he didn’t exist anyways?

What was the fucking point of any of it?

~

(Another) Three Weeks Later

Louis was 100% (no, make that 100,000%) certain he’d gone insane. It had been six weeks since his run in with Harry at Zayn’s, and he hadn’t talked to either of them since. Zayn had tried to reach out, but Louis was too fucking proud for his own good and had ignored the message. one day (and he hoped it would be one day soon), he’d grow up and man up (or whatever) and apologize for basically attacking Zayn. But today was not that day.

Instead, today was the day he was supposed to see Niall for the first time in what felt like forever (it was more like seven weeks, but seven weeks was a synonym for forever, right?). Niall had texted him with his new address and has basically refused to take no for an answer when he’d invited Louis over for FIFA and beer. And really, Louis wasn’t in the position to turn down the invitation. Tommy was talking to him again (even touchinghim again), but Louis was dying for company that wasn’tTommy.

He shouldn’t have been surprised, reallyhe should have expected it, but when Gemma pulled the door open to greet him, Louis’ stomach back flipped with nerves.

“Hi, Louis,” Gemma was all smiles and bright eyes. Louis could see the bits of Harry in her, and that just made it all so much worse. He’d spent six weeks trying to get Harry out of his head, and he liked to think he’d been close to succeeding (he also liked to think he wasn’t delusional whatsoever).

“Uh, hi,” Louis stumbled over his words. He didn’t know what to say or how to act.

The second he walked through the door he scanned the flat for any sign of Niall’s existence. The longer he was alone with Gemma the more time he had to over analyze the decisions he’d made. And fuck, he didn’t have enough strength left to question himself anymore.

“Niall will be back in a few minutes,” Gemma broke the silence, as if she could read his mind. “He just went out to grab some more beer.”

“Ah, okay,” Louis rocked back and forth on his heels. The air was thick with awkward tension. His relationship with Gemma had always come so easy, even after his breakup with Harry, Louis hadn’t felt this awkward. But maybe that was because Harry had been the one to hurt him that time. This time around Louis had been the one to do the damage, and he couldn’t help but be afraid that maybe Gemma would avenge her little brother’s broken heart.

“Look, Louis,” Gemma’s smile had seemed to disappear, and god, Louis would give anything for the floor to open up and swallow him whole.

“Gemma, I can’t... I can’t talk about this.”


Gemma just shook her head and crossed her arms in front of her chest. Louis knew her well enough to know he was in for a lecture.

“I have a few things to say, and you’re going to listen,” she started, her eyes never leaving Louis. “I love you, Louis, I really really do. I love you almost as much as I love my own brother, which is why I feel like I can say this to you, and we’ll be okay.”

Louis sighed heavily as he leaned against the wall for support. He wasn’t sure if he could listen to Gemma’s lecture and survive, but he was 100% sure he didn’t have a choice.

“I know he broke your heart, Louis,” Gemma continued. “I know that Harry isn’t some angel in all this, but I also know that he loves you so fiercely that it’s hurting him.”

“I didn’t ask him to fall back in love with me,” Louis interjected, voice as strong as he could make it.

Gemma sighed. “I know, but that’s the thing. He never stoppedbeing in love with you. He ended things all those years ago for reasons that seemed unfixable at the time. But you guys were so young, and maybe you needed that time apart to grown and find yourselves.”

“Gemma...” Louis tried to interrupt, but she just shook her head and carried on.

“I’m not trying to disrespect the relationship you have with Tommy, I swear I’m not. But I just have to say this last thing. He doesn’t look at you the way my brother does, and you don’t look at him the way you look at Harry either. And I know Tommy gave you some ridiculous ultimatum, and that’s just not what love is supposed to be, and I think you know that. You deserve to be loved the way Harry loves you. And I’m not saying you should be with Harry, I mean, I’d love it if you were, but you deserve to be with someone who loves you better than the way Tommy loves you.”

The room fell silent as Gemma finished up her speech. Louis didn’t know what to think or feel, let alone what to say. Gemma’s words repeated over and over in his mind. He doesn’t look at you the way my brother does. But love wasn’t that simple, was it? It wasn’t just about looks and broken promises. Sometimes itwas about ultimatums and compromises.

Wasn’t it?

Louis knew better than that. Deep down he knew that a relationship built on ultimatums and control couldn’t work. But what was he even supposed to do with that knowledge? Was he just supposed to walk away from his relationship without even fighting for it? Was he supposed to just throw in the towel with Tommy and walk off into the sunset with Harry? The very same Harry who had ripped his heart out of his chest and torn it to shreds? Harry had walked away when things got tough once before, who was to say he wouldn’t do it again? And fuck, Louis couldn’t survive that kind of heart break again. He wouldn’t.

Louis had no idea what to say, but he was thankfully saved by Niall bursting through the front door with a smile on his face and a case of beer in his hands.

“Tommo!” Niall practically yelled as he put the beer down and gathered Louis in his arms. “Good to see ya, lad. You disappeared on me!”

Louis didn’t have to force a smile, smiling always came easy when he was around his Irish friend. “Missed you, Nialler.”

Niall squeezed Louis’ shoulder before picking the beer back up and leading them further into the flat. “I haven’t played FIFA in forever, so I’m gonna be a bit rusty! Even Harry could beat me at it, I betcha.”

It was such a normal joke for Niall to make. Harry’s lack of video game skills was well known among their group of friends, but the words sat heavy on Louis’ chest. He didn’t know how he was supposed to go the rest of his life with Harry being a touchy subject.

“Er, sorry, mate,” Niall mumbled as he passed Louis a beer and settled into the sofa. “I didn’t mean to...”

“It’s okay,” Louis managed to say. “You should be able to talk about your best friend.”

Niall didn’t look away from Louis as he powered on the television and Play Station. “He misses you, you know.”

“I know.”

*

Louis was content. He was buzzed, relaxed, and sat back on Niall’s sofa. Really, there was only one thing missing in Louis’ life right now. And that one thing was enough to cause a hairline fracture in his heart.

“Is it gonna be another two months until the next time I see you?” Niall asked with a serious tone.

Louis turned to face his friend. Hehated this. He hated that he’d practically demolished every single one of his friendships in order to “save” his relationship with Tommy. “No,” Louis finally responded. “I’ll come ‘round more. I’m sorry it’s been so long.”

“Will you come to pub night tomorrow? I know Zayn would really love to see you.”

Louis knew he had to talk to Zayn eventually, and if he was being perfectly honest with himself, he missed his best friend, but pub night was out of the question. If he went to pub night his relationship would be over.

“You know I can’t.”

Niall sighed. “I could talk to Harry, ask him to stay home. He’s really upset that he’s the reason you’re pushing us all away.”

No, no. That was the last thing Louis wanted Harry to think. Harry wasn’t the reason. Of course he wasn’t the reason.

“He told me you told him you hate him,” Niall continued when Louis didn’t say anything.

Louis met his friend’s gaze just then. He expected to find judgment and anger, but instead all there was in Niall’s eyes was pity. “I...”

Niall shrugged. “I know you don’t hate him, Louis,” he said sadly. “Iknow you just said that to make him walk away. But he believes it, you know?”

Louis’ heart ached at Niall’s words. He hated himself for hurting Harry. He’d hate himself for the rest of his life. “How is he?”

Niall shrugged again. “He doesn’t like to talk about it much, you know how he gets. I think he’s having a hard time with being alone in the flat. He spends most nights in our spare room. But he’s okay. He’ll be okay.”

Louis wasn’t convinced. But then again, he wasn’t overly convinced that he’d be okay, either.

~

Louis woke up the next morning with a sense of clarity that he’d been missing for several weeks. For the first time since his trip home with Harry, Louis felt like he could breathe. For the first time in weeks Louis knew what he wanted. And more importantly, for the first time in weeks he felt like he loved himselfenough to go after it.

Tommy had already left for practice by the time Louis had woken up. As he stood over the kettle and waited for it to boil, he pulled his phone out of his jogger’s pocket and dialled a familiar number. His heart pounded as he waited for the call to be answered. With each passing ring, he feared he’d waited too long to make amends, and that there was no turning back.

“Louis?” Zayn’s voice finally filled the line, allowing Louis to exhale with relief.

“Are you busy?” Louis asked right away.

“No,” Zayn responded quickly. “What’s up? What do you need?”

“Boxes,” Louis explained. “I need a bunch of boxes and a couch to sleep on.”


*

Zayn arrived barely an hour later with a trunk full of boxes and a few rolls of packing tape. Zayn let them pack for the first forty minutes in silence. Louis was grateful for the opportunity to pack up his life in silence. He needed a few moments just to collect himself.

“Okay,” Zayn broke the silence finally as he taped up a box of books. “Talk.”

Louis sighed but put the box he’d just taped up in the pile and joined Zayn on the sofa. “I’m leaving Tommy,” he finally said out loud. And it hurt. Admitting the truth felt like a punch to his gut and a breath of fresh air all at once.  

“I figured that one out,” Zayn said simply. Louis was grateful that things didn’t feel changed between them. Two months ago, Louis had been yelling in Zayn’s face, and now Zayn was helping him pack up his life like nothing had happened. It was the true definition of friendship. “What happened?” Zayn pressed.

Louis shrugged. “You were right,” he rolled his eyes when Zayn smirked at his words. “I chose Tommy over everyone and it was the wrong decision.”

“So, you’re choosing Harry?”

Louis shook his head. This had nothing to do with Harry. “No, I’m choosing myself.”

Zayn moved closer so he could put an arm around Louis’ shoulders. “I’m proud of you. And you know you’re welcome to stay in our spare room for as long as you want.”

“Thanks, Z.”

Zayn squeezed Louis’ shoulder. “How did Tommy take it?”

Louis cringed. He knew was doing the right thing, for him and Tommy both, but he was still dreading the idea of telling Tommy. He knew it wasn’t going to go well. It wasn’t going to go well at all.

“He doesn’t know yet,” Louis admitted.

“Well, let’s get the rest packed up and I’ll take it to mine and give you guys some privacy. Lord knows he’s going to lose his mind and I don’t wanna be ‘round for that.”

*

Zayn (and all of Louis’ belongings) had been gone for a couple of hours before Tommy walked through the flat door. Louis was sat at the kitchen island, a mug of steaming tea held between his hands and a pit of nerves and anxiety fluttering around in his stomach. He didn’t know how he was supposed to do this. He didn’t know how he was supposed to end his relationship of two years without crushing Tommy. But he knew he had to. They’d never been meant to last. Maybe under different circumstances, maybe if Louis had never run into Harry again and he’d never been forced to question what he wanted in his life, maybe then they could have worked. But Louis and Tommy wanted different things. Louis wanted a big love and a big family. Tommy wanted to chase after his dreams. And Louis just couldn’t do it anymore. It was time he chased after his own dreams for once.

And that didn’t mean that Louis was going to chase after Harry, because he wasn’t. He wasn’t walking away from Tommy so he could be with Harry. It wasn’t that easy, and Louis needed time to be by himself. He needed time to figure out if being with Harry was even something that was in the cards for him. They hadn’t known each other for years. There was so much they had both missed out on, and Louis couldn’t just jump back into it with someone he didn’t trust. He lovedHarry, he knew that. But he didn’t trust him. He didn’t know if he could ever trust him again.

“Louis?” Tommy’s voice broke through Louis’ reverie, breaking through the thick fog of thoughts that were currently flooding Louis’ mind. “Louis, what’s going on? Why is the flat practically empty?”

Louis turned around on his stool, leaving his mug of tea on the island, so he could face his boyfriend (ex-boyfriend?).His stomach dropped as he took in Tommy’s confused facial expression. He had to steel himself to do this. He needed to turn his heart to stone and walk away. They both needed this.

“Louis, what the fuck is going on?”

“Um,” Louis hated himself for his weak start. He needed to be stronger. His things were gone, now all he had to do was leave too. “I’m gonna go stay with Zayn and Liam.”

Okay, maybe that wasn’t the clearest way to do this.

“What do you mean ‘you’re gonna go stay with Zayn and Liam’? For how long? Why?” Tommy’s voice was gaining the pitch it usually picked up when he was angry. And god, he’d been nonstop angry lately.

Louis sighed as he placed his hands in his lap. He had to force himself to keep eye contact with Tommy. He needed to be strong. “Until I find my own place.”

“What the fuck?”

“Look, Tommy,” Louis sighed again. “This isn’t working. We aren’t working.”

Tommy sat down at the kitchen table, gaze still focused on Louis and face still scrunched up in confusion. Maybe Tommy had thought he’d be the one to end it. Maybe he thought Louis deserved to be the one to be stomped on and broken up with. Maybe Louis was making a mistake.

No, no. He needed to stay strong. Louis knew this was the right thing to do. All he had to do was do it.

“What do you mean we aren’t working? I fucking forgave you for kissing another man! I forgave you for kissing Harry!” Tommy yelled. “You’ve been parading around with your ex-boyfriend for months, Louis, and I haven’t said a goddamn thing!”

Louis had never been good at containing his anger, especially when he had someone yelling at him. It was something he needed to work on, but he’d start working on that tomorrow. “Are you fucked, Tommy?” Louis spat back. “You haven’t said a thing? Are you even being serious right now? You’ve done nothing but punish me for having friends!”

“YOU KISSED HIM!”

“THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH HIM!” Louis screamed back. “This has nothing to do with him, okay?” he repeated, voice a bit lower. “We don’t even want the same things, Tommy, we both know that. You never come to visit my family, you don’t want kids, how is that even supposed to work? And then you go and forbid me from seeing my friends, like you have the right to control me?”

Tommy put his head in his hands, pulling at the front of his hair in frustration. “Because I can’t trust you, Louis. Don’t you get that?” He groaned into his hands. He looked back up at Louis just then, the confusion had been replaced by sadness. And god, Louis hated hurting him. All he’d done was hurt him. But Tommy had hurt him too. “The second you started talking to him again, fuck Louis, I knew it was over. I knew I was going to lose you. How am I supposed to compete with the love of your life?”

“He’s not...” Louis started but stopped himself. He was done with lying. Harry was the love of his life, but that wasn’t the reason he was doing this. “I’m not leaving because of him Tommy, I swear. You don’t have to believe me, but I’m not leaving you so I can be with him.”

“Then why are you doing this?” Tommy struggled to get the words out, as if he was holding in tears.

“I want to find someone who wants the same things as me,” Louis said after a few beats of silence. “And you deserve someone who wants the same things as you. We haven’t been fair to each other. We haven’t treated each other the way you’re supposed to treat the person you love. And I just... I can’t do this anymore. I don’t... I’m not in love with you Tommy. And I don’t think you’re in love with me either. Not anymore.”

“So, you’re just going to walk away then? You’re just going to run off and be with him?”

Louis couldn’t take it. He couldn’t just keep having the same conversation over and over again without it going anywhere. He couldn’t be the only one living up to his mistakes while Tommy pretended like he was the perfect partner. “I’m not going to keep doing this, Tommy,” he sighed as he stood up from the stool and made his way to the door. He could hear Tommy following him, his angry footsteps close behind him every step of the way. “I’m sorry,” Louis said quietly as he slipped on his Vans and reached for the doorknob.

“I’m sorry too,” Tommy whispered right before Louis opened the door. “I’m sorry I tried to control you. I’m sorry I didn’t love you the way you deserved.”

“We just don’t work,” Louis shrugged.

Tommy nodded in agreement, a small smile on his face. He took a step forward, pulling Louis into a surprising hug. “Thank you,” he whispered into Louis’ ear. “Thank you for being strong enough to end it.”

Louis offered a small and weak smile as he pulled away and walked out the door – walked away from his life. He didn’t think about, didn’t give himself time to even breathe as he waited for the elevator. And even as he stepped into the elevator and watched the doors close, he waited – he waited for the tears to come, for the waves of regret and sadness to hit him. But they didn’t. For the first time in a long, long time, Louis felt at peace.
 

Chapter Text

And if I have to, I'll wait forever
Say the word and I'll change my plans
Yeah, you know that we fit together
I know your heart like the back of my hand 

(When You’re Ready – Shawn Mendes) 

Harry was late to pub night. He’d been drowning in work (and his sorrows) all week, and all he really wanted to do was go home to his empty flat and sleep the night away. But he knew he couldn’t do that. He knew the second he succumbed to this bout of depression he’d been going through, he’d never resurface. That was why he spent most nights at Gemma and Niall’s. He figured if he surrounded himself with people nonstop, he’d have little time left to remember why he was so god damn miserable in the first place. The only time he allowed himself to give in to his self-pity was the twenty minutes he spent under the shower every morning and the hour it took him to fall asleep each night. That combined hour and twenty minutes was all he needed to remember those blue eyes and the way they crinkled up at the corners every time he made Louis laugh. An hour and twenty minutes were all he needed to remember how completely fucking shattered his heart was.

Every day he had to physically and mentally stop himself from dialling Louis’ number. He knew he couldn’t, that he’d promised Louis he’d leave him alone, but all he wanted was to hear his voice. All he wanted was to know that Louis was okay.

All he wanted was to hear Louis say he’d been wrong all along and had changed his mind. All he wanted was for Louis to choose him. But Harry knew he couldn’t live in his dream world any longer. It was time to grow up and face the truth. What exactly had he expected would happen after he’d hurt Louis so badly? Why would he even deserve a second chance?

When Harry finally made it to the pub, it was well past eight o’clock. He was all but two steps through the door when he stopped dead in his tracks, his eyes trained on a blue-eyed, practical stranger, sitting at the booth with his friends. Louis was right there. Louis was at pub night. Harry tried to rack his brain, tried to remember a forgotten request from Niall to not come this week, but he came back empty. No one had asked Harry to stay home so that Louis could come instead, which only meant one thing. Louis wanted to see him.

Maybe Harry didn’t need to give up living in his dream world after all.

Harry made his way to the booth slowly and tentatively, almost as if Louis was some timid deer he was trying not to spook. Three sets of eyes were on Harry as he approached the table, but Louis either hadn’t noticed him enter the pub, or he was forcing himself to stare at the pint of beer in front of him.

Harry counted to ten before he said anything, trying to give Louis the chance to either bolt or look up at him. He did neither. “Hey,” Harry finally let out as he stared at Niall with wide, curious, and fucking terrified eyes.

“You’re late, H,” Niall said as if nothing strange was going on at all. He was doing a much better job than Liam and Zayn, who were frantically looking between Louis and Harry, waiting for one of them to snap. “You know what that means.”

Harry rolled his eyes as he pulled his jacket off and hung it on the back of the one empty chair (which just so happened to be right across from Louis). “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ll go buy a round of shots. What do you guys want?”

“Tequila,” Louis was the first to speak, and the sound of his voice made Harry jump with surprise. “Mind if come with? You’ll probably trip and spill them all with those giraffe legs of yours.”

And wait, what? Not only was Louis speaking to him, but he was fucking bantering. Seven weeks ago, Louis had supposedly hated Harry, and now he was poking fun at his clumsiness? Harry must’ve stepped through some special warp. He must be in some sort of alternate universe. It was the only thing that made sense.

“Uh,” Harry stumbled. “Yeah, uh, sure. I mean... of course.” And god, he’d always been stupid over Louis Tomlinson.

They walked towards the bar in silence, but with three curious sets of eyes staring daggers into their backs. Harry was acutely aware of everything around him, especially the way Louis was only really inches away, sticking to Harry’s side as they made their way towards the bar. It had been weeks since he’d been this close to Louis (or around Louis at all for that matter), but the sun-kissed man would never feel unfamiliar to Harry. Louis was home.

“Can we get...” Harry started to order from the bartender, but a hand on his arm stopped him.

“Actually,” Louis’ voice came through, shocking Harry’s system with each syllable. “Do you think we could go outside and talk first?”

Harry nodded quickly, afraid if he took too long to reply Louis would change his mind and take back his request.

Louis offered up what seemed to be a grateful smile and led Harry back through the pub and towards the door. Louis pulled at the cigarette that had been tucked behind his ear the second they were outside, lighting it up with a shaky hand. Harry just stood there and watched, hands dug deep into his jean pockets and curiosity flowing through his veins. He wanted (no, he needed) to know what was going on, but he knew he had to wait for Louis. Louis had to be the one to start this conversation.

“So, um,” Louis started off, taking a puff from the cigarette. “I don’t really know where to start.”

“Well, you’re here,” Harry offered with a tentative smile. “You’re here and you’re talking to me. So, that must mean you don’t hate me anymore.”

Louis rolled his eyes, something Harry swore he came out of the womb doing. Rolling his eyes was like breathing for Louis. “You’re an idiot.”

Harry perked up at that. Louis’ insult lacked all bite, but it stung a bit nonetheless. “Excuse me?”

Louis took another pull from the cigarette before continuing. “You’re an idiot,” he repeated. “You actually thought I hated you?”

Harry shrugged, staring sheepishly at the ground as he ran a hand through his hair. The thought of Louis hating him had kept Harry awake at night for weeks, and here Louis was, actually making light of the entire idea. Harry would snap if it wasn’t for the fact that Louis was actually talking to him again.

“Hazza,” Louis said his name with a sigh, making every single hair on Harry’s body stand on end. He wished he could bottle up the sound and carry it with him at all times. His name on Louis’ tongue was a bloody symphony. “I didn’t hate you. I couldn’t.

“But...”

Louis shrugged, pulling at the sleeve of Harry’s shirt to get him to look at him again. “But nothing. I only said it to make you go away. I thought... I thought if you left me alone it would fix everything.”

Louis’ words seeped through Harry’s skin. Louis didn’t hate him.

“Did it work?” Harry asked carefully, almost afraid of the answer. He didn’t want to hear about Tommy. He didn’t want to know that Louis and his boyfriend had made up and were living in bliss. He didn’t want to know, but he neededto.

“Nope,” Louis finally answered after what felt like an eternity of silence. “I, uh, I broke up with Tommy. Today actually.”

Harry froze. He felt his entire body and the world around him come to a standstill. Louis broke up with Tommy. Louis broke up with Tommy. Harry had no idea what that meant. All he knew was that Louis had broken up with Tommy, and now Louis was standing in front of him. Harry was fucking grateful for this alternate universe.

“Are you okay?” Harry wasn’t shocked by his words. He’d always care about Louis’ wellbeing first and foremost.

Louis shrugged again. “I’ll be okay.”

Harry frowned at that. He wanted Louis to alwaysbe okay. “Where are you staying? I have an extra...”

Louis stopped him before he could finish. Harry knew Louis would refuse his spare room before he even got the chance to offer. “I’m staying with Zayn and Liam until I find a place,” he explained. “I just, I needed to talk to you about this because... I don’t want you to think...”

Oh. This was where Harry got rejected, again. And really, he’d known. He couldn’t just expect Louis to leave Tommy and then run off into the sunset with him. That wasn’t how these things worked. But Harry’s heart ached nonetheless.

“I can’t... I won’t...” Louis tried to continue but stumbled on his words. He was clearly afraid to crush Harry even more, but Harry could take it. He was a big boy.

“It’s okay, Lou. I get it,” Harry whispered into the night air.

Louis sighed, and Harry couldn’t tell if it was out of relief or frustration. “No, let me finish. I left Tommy because he didn’t trust me anymore, and probably wasn’t ever going to be able to again. He didn’t trust me and gave me a bunch of ultimatums that I just couldn’t make work.”

“Okay...”

Louis pinched the bridge of his nose, taking a deep breath before continuing. “I don’t trust you, Harry. I love you, but I don’t trust that you won’t hurt me again.”

He loves me. Harry knew that wasn’t the part he was supposed to pick up on, but he couldn’t help it. The words bounced around in his head.

“I didn’t leave Tommy to be with you,” and there, Louis had finally said it. Harry tried not to die a little bit inside. “I left Tommy because it wasn’t the relationship either of us deserved. And I knowI don’t deserve to be hurt by you again.”

“I wouldn’t,” Harry rushed, trying to get the words out before Louis kept talking. “I made that mistake once, and I’ll never be able to apologize enough for what I did. Let me show you. let me make things right.”

Louis didn’t stop shaking his head until Harry stopped talking. “Harry, no.I don’t trust you. I can’t just start up another relationship like that. I deserve better.”

Harry knew exactly what Louis deserved, but Louis didn’t seem to get that. “Let me try, Lou. Let me earn back your trust. Just let me fucking try. Please,” Harry was well aware of the fact that he was crying, that he was practically begging, but he didn’t care. He’d get on his hands and knees if that’s what it would take.

“Can we just focus on rebuilding our friendship?” Louis countered. “Can we just focus on getting back to where we were before Holmes Chapel?”

It was clear Louis was asking if they could turn back time and go back to before the kisshappened. Harry wasn’t sure if he could do that, if he wanted to do that, but he’d do anything for Louis.

“Okay,” Harry breathed out the word after a few minutes of silence passed between them. “Okay, yeah, whatever you want. But I need you to know something,” he waited for Louis to nod for him to continue. “I’m not going to stop trying to prove my love and commitment to you. I’m not going to stop trying to earn back your trust. You can date someone else, you can fall in love with someone else, but I’m always going to be here. I’ll wait for you, Lou. I’ll wait for you to be ready for us.”

And maybe that was too big of a declaration to make. Maybe Louis would file some sort of restraining order against him. But Harry would take that chance. Harry would take any chance he got.

“What if I never get there, Haz,” Louis asked, voice tight and eyes wet. “You need to move on. You can’t just for me for forever.”

Harry just shrugged. “I’ll cross that bridge if and when we get there. It’s been five years and I haven’t been able to move on yet. I’m not too worried though.”

Louis finally cracked a smile, and god, Harry would die a happy man if that smile was the last thing he saw. “Pretty confident, are we?”
Harry shrugged again, smiling big enough for his dimple to peek out. “I’m just confident in us, Lou. Our kind of love is once in a lifetime. I don’t think you’re going to give that up.”

Louis laughed as he moved forward and pulled Harry into a tight embrace. Just a few hours ago, Harry had been lamenting about how he’d never experience a Louis Tomlinson hug ever again. But here he was, with Louis’ arms around him and his hands fisted into the back of his shirt.

Harry knew, right then and there, that he’d do anything to win Louis’ trust back. He’d wait an eternity if he had to. He wasn’t letting go of this man ever again. He would never make that mistake again.

*

It felt like the good old days – almost. Harry was surrounded by his friends and his most favourite person on the planet, and he was happy. There had been far too many pub nights without Louis. He never wanted to experience a pub night without him ever again.

On cue, like every other Friday night, Liam and Zayn were the first ones to decide they’d had enough booze. Harry watched with a twinge of jealousy as Liam helped Zayn into his jacket, planting a kiss on his mouth after he’d fastened the zipper. Harry had had what they did once upon a time. He’d had better, in fact. Now he needed to win that love back.

“Tommo, you catching a cab home with us?” Zayn asked.

Harry preened when Louis shook his head and stated he hadn’t had enough time with two of his favourite people just yet. Harry preened even more when Louis nudged his shin underneath the table. Harry would go to the end of the world and back to win Louis’ trust. He’d do whatever it took to grow old with Louis Tomlinson by his side.

*
Harry wasn’t quite sure when Niall had left the pub. All he knew was that it was just him and Louis now, sitting across from each other, cheeks flushed from the alcohol. Harry wished he could go back to that very morning, when he’d woken up dejected and lonely for the countless morning in a row. He wished he could go back those hours and tell himself to just keep his chin up. He would’ve saved himself an entire day’s worth of sadness. But there was nothing to be sad about anymore, not really. He had Louis back, maybe not in the way Harry necessarily wanted him, but he’d take what he could get.

All that mattered was that he had Louis back.

“What have I missed?” Louis asked, breaking the comfortable silence that was hanging between them. “What have you been up to?”

Harry wanted to lie. He wanted to tell Louis that he’d been keeping himself busy and enjoying life. He almost wanted to go as far as to make up an elaborate sky diving adventure. But Harry had never been much of a liar (or a sky diver). “Sulking, mostly,” he offered up honestly. If he wanted to earn back Louis’ trust (and he really really wanted to), he needed to be an open book.

Louis shifted his gaze, almost as if he actually felt guilty for being the cause to Harry’s sulking. “How’s work?”

Harry shrugged. He didn’t hate small talk, but he hated small talk with Louis. They were so much more than a few unimportant questions. “I’ve started working on a different segment.”

“No more Grimshaw?”

 “No more working with Grimshaw.”

Harry didn’t miss the grimace that spread across Louis’ face. He relished in it. “Are you still sleeping with him?” Louis asked through a clenched jaw.

Harry wanted to smile – he wanted to fucking smirk– but he held back. “Lou, I haven’t slept with Nick in months. I haven’t slept with him since that time you almost kissed me at your flat.”

My old flat,” Louis corrected. “I’m homeless now, remember?” he added with his infamous sassy grin. God, Harry could melt into Louis’ sass.

“Can I walk you to your cardboard box then?”

Louis laughed at Harry’s lame attempt at a joke but nodded his head anyway. “Lead the way, Curly.”

They walked out into the brisk air side by side. it was cold out, Harry knewit was cold out, and yet he felt like he was on fire. Nothing would ever make him come alive the way having Louis close by did. Louis’ proximity had always made Harry’s every nerve fire, and after weeks of not being around him, Harry’s body was extra sensitive.

Harry was a short piece of wick and Louis was a match. If Harry wasn’t careful, he was going to burn out too soon. Maybe before Louis was even ready.

“Lottie told me your mum and the babies are doing really well,” Harry said once they were on their way towards Liam and Zayn’s flat. He had to keep the conversation going. He had to keep himself distracted by the fact that all he had to do was stretch his fingers a bit and he’d be holding Louis’ hand. He had to do something, anything, so wouldn’t do that.

“You’ve been talking to my sister?” there was a tone in his voice that Harry recognized – jealousy. It made his stomach flip.

Harry nodded as they rounded a corner. “I talk to all your sisters, actually. Except Doris, obviously.”

“Harry...” Louis’ voice was a warning signal, but Harry just blew right past it.

“I promised them I wouldn’t disappear again,” he tried to explain. “They’re my friends too, Lou.”

Louis sighed heavily. “I just don’t want them to get the wrong impression. They’re going to assume I broke up with Tommy for you, and the fact that you call and text them is just going to confuse them even more.”

Harry shrugged. “They’re big girls, Lou. I think they’ll understand that we’re just friends.”

Just friends. God, Harry had never hated two words more in his life. The day he was ‘just friends’ with Louis Tomlinson would be the day he stuck his head in the oven and pulled a Sylvia Plath. They’d never been just friends.

They made it to Liam and Zayn’s building before Harry was ready for their time together to be over. Then again, he’d never be ready for their time together to be over. He could spend the rest of eternity in Louis’ presence and it still wouldn’t be enough.

“I don’t think I’ve actually said this, but I missed you, Hazza,” Louis said softly, shuffling his feet as he stared down at the ground.

“I missed you too, Lou,” Harry whispered back. “I missed you so much.”

They both took a step forward at the exact same time, wrapping their arms around one another. Harry held on for dear life, afraid he’d let go too soon and never get the chance again.

Louis pulled back first, taking a step backwards and reaching for the door to the building while smiling up at Harry. “Get home safe.”

Harry smiled back, taking a step backwards while he locked eyes with the other man. “Sweet dreams, Lou.”

“Goodnight, Haz.”

Harry’s smile didn’t falter once as he walked home. For the first time in weeks he wasn’t met with a sense of loneliness when he walked into his empty flat. He felt full – content. Louis was back. Louis was back and Harry would fight tooth and nail to win him over. Louis was back, and Harry was the happiest man on earth.

Louis was back.

~

“So, he broke up with Tommy and you two still aren’t together?” Harry didn’t appreciate Gemma’s tone. It didn’t matter that the exact same sentence had been on replay in his own mind for the last three weeks, he didn’t want to hear it from anyone else.

It had been three weeks since Louis had broken up with Tommy and had reappeared in Harry’s life. They’d spent countless hours together, both alone and with the other guys, and yet nothing had seemed to have changed. Louis wasn’t keeping Harry at arm’s length anymore, but he certainly wasn’t letting him in either. Harry wasn’t sure how many nights of watching movies next to Louis on his sofa he could get through. He was tired of being on edge. He was tired of remaining completely alert of his body and his actions. He was tired of being afraid to move a single inch and cross some sort of invisible, undeclared boundary.

“Gemma,” Harry groaned. He was so tired of having this particular conversation. “Can you not?”

Gemma just rolled her eyes at his petulance and pressed on. “I don’t like this, Harry,” she said with a sigh. “I don’t like watching you pine over someone you may never get to be with. He made himself pretty clear.”

Harry regretted telling his sisteranythingabout that night three weeks ago. He should have kept the entire thing just between Louis and himself. But, just as always, Gemma had been the first person he’d run to.

“I’m not pining.

Yes, you are,” Gemma argued back. “You spend every spare second you have with Louis. You’re basically already acting like you’re in a relationship with him. Have you even been with anyone else since Logan?”

A) That was none of her business and B) what did it even matter?

“Harry?” she pressed when he didn’t say anything.

Harry stood up from the chair he’d been sitting in, immediately moving to pace in front of his sister’s television. “He’s my best friend! Is this not exactly how you act with your best friend?”

“Harry,” Gemma sighed again. And god, he was so sick of that sound. “I’m not in love with my best friend. I also wasn’t in a three-year relationship with her either. You can’t compare the two and you know it.”

He did know it, but that didn’t mean he was about to admit it. Maybe he was pining over Louis, maybe he’d always be pining over Louis, but he could live with that. He’d live with whatever he had to live with as long as he could be close to Louis. All he wanted was to be close to Louis, in any way possible.

“I just don’t want to see you get hurt, and the only one who’s going to get hurt is you.”

Harry sank back down in the chair with a heavy sigh and placed his head in his hands. “I know,” he groaned into his palms. “But he doesn’t want to be with me, Gems, not right now anyways. I have to earn back his trust.”

“Do you really think that’s possible? After everything that’s happened?”

Harry looked up then, removing his hands from his face and staring at his sister. “Yeah,” he answered firmly, confidently. “Yeah, I do. I’m going to win him back.”

*

He’d been thinking about it ever since he’d left Gemma’s after lunch. All he could think about was the fact that he needed to earn back Louis’ trust. It didn’t take him long to form a plan. Maybe it was going to take forever, but Harry was willing to wait a lifetime.

*

It was past six o’clock by the time Harry was standing in the hallway of Liam and Zayn (and now Louis’) flat, pizza box in one hand and a six pack in the other. He didn’t normally like showing up at people’s houses unannounced, but stage one of Win Louis Back had commenced, and Harry had to give it his all.

“Harry?” Zayn’s eyebrows were pinched together with confused as he pulled the door open. “What’s going on?”

Harry was beaming, he knew he was probably smiling so wide that he looked mad, but he didn’t care. “Is Louis home?”

Understanding flashed across Zayn’s face. “About fucking time, mate,” he mumbled for only Harry to hear as he stepped aside to let Harry into the flat. “Louis! You have company!” he yelled down the hall once they were inside.

Louis emerged from the spare bedroom wearing a pair of joggers and a loose white t-shirt. Harry pictured him getting home from a long shoot and immediately shedding his clothes and slipping into more comfortable things.

“Haz?” Louis’ voice filled Harry’s ears. “I forgot we had plans.”

Harry’s smile only grew as Louis made his way down the hall. “We didn’t,” Harry admitted. “Just thought I’d stop by and ring you some dinner. Knew you had that big shoot today and you’d be too tired to feed yourself.”

“Pfft,” Zayn interrupted them. “This guy never feeds himself.”

Louis shot Zayn a glare. “Buzz off, Z. Why would I bother cooking when I have you and Liam to do it for me?”

Zayn rolled his eyes but couldn’t hide his smile. “I’m going out to meet Liam for dinner. Please don’t destroy the flat. And no funny business in my kitchen.”

Harry and Louis froze at the words, earning themselves a chuckle from Zayn as he grabbed his jacket and walked out the door. Harry placed the pizza and beer down on the counter, his heart racing with every second that passed in silence. He was waiting for Louis to run away, uncomfortable with Zayn’s words.

“My favourite lager, wow, you really out did yourself, Curly,” Louis gushed as he picked two beers out of the case and opened them gingerly, handing one off to Harry. “Did you get my favourite pizza too?”

Harry’s heart picked up speed as Louis’ fingers moved towards the pizza box, ever so slowly pulling at the lid to reveal the pepperoni and mushroom pizza inside.

“What?” Louis’ voice trailed off as he opened the box fully, his eyes falling on the thick, black sharpie ink that was scrawled across the inside of the lid.

“Reason number one,” Harry recited the words he’d written there just a few minutes earlier. “The way you light up an entire room without even trying.”

Louis pivoted from his spot in front of the counter, turning to face Harry with wide eyes. “What is this?”

Harry simply shrugged, as if it was nothing at all. “Reason number one.”

“Reason number one of what, Harry?” Louis asked slowly, carefully.

“Why I love you.”

Louis stared at Harry until Harry felt like he was going to melt under his steady gaze. In the end, Louis was the first to break the eye contact as he grabbed two plates and set a slice of pizza on each. “Thanks for the beer and food,” he said as he led the way to the sofa. “It’s exactly what I needed after my day.”

And okay, they were just going to ignore the words written on the box then. Harry could do that. He wouldn’t let it derail his plan. He was in it for the long haul.

*

The pizza and beer were long gone, and Harry wasn’t even entirely sure how many episodes of “It’s Always Sunny” they’d managed to watch. The night had grown dark outside, and he silently relished in the fact that Zayn and Liam were still not home, granting Harry at least an ounce of alone time with Louis. The words scrawled on the inside of the pizza box still hadn’t been mentioned, but they hung in the air between them. Harry could feel them all around them, tying Louis and him together with an invisible thread. Louis might be acting like he’d never seen the words in the first place, but Harry knew him well enough to know that they were swimming around in his head. Operation Win Louis Back was a marathon, and Harry planned on doing everything in his power to cross the finish line hand-in-hand with Louis.

“You’re wrong, by the way,” Louis’ voice cut through the silence that had been hanging between them, jolting Harry out of his own thoughts. The television screen had gone black, and Harry couldn’t even remember when they’d stopped watching Charlie Day and his friends plan ridiculous schemes. He’d been so in his own head, so preoccupied with his own plan.

“Hmm?” Harry hummed in response as he turned on the sofa to properly face Louis. His stomach flipped as he took in Louis’ soft features. He was so gone for this boy.

“You’re wrong,” Louis repeated slowly.

Harry raised an eyebrow in response. He had absolutely no idea what they were even talking about.

“The pizza box,” Louis continued. “I don’t light up a room, you do. You’re literally sunshine on legs.”

Harry revelled in the effect Louis’ words had on him. He revelled in the warmth that spread through him, in the way his heart felt ten times lighter in a matter of seconds. Louis had always been able to do this to him. He’d always been able to make Harry feel like he was on cloud nine.

“I don’t think you even realize how much you light up everyone’s life,” Louis pressed on, warming Harry’s heart with each syllable. “Every time I’ve lost you, then and now, my world was so much darker without you.”

Harry shuffled closer to Louis on the sofa. He was well aware that he was probably crossing some sort of boundary, that he was probably blurring the lines between friendship and something more, but he just couldn’t help himself. He wrapped an arm around Louis’ shoulders, pulling him close until their sides were pressed against each other – until they were practically fused together.

“You’re my light,” Harry whispered into Louis’ hair. “You’ve always been my light. Ever since we were fifteen and clueless. And you’ll still be my light when we’re ninety and grey. You’re the only light I need.”

Louis didn’t say anything back, he just let out a shaky breath and tucked his head into the crook of Harry’s neck. And really, it was the best response Harry could have hoped for. Even after everything they’d been through, even after all of the pain and hurt, they were still Harry and Louis. They were each other’s light. And as long as he had Louis in his life, Harry knew his world would never go dark again.

~

Harry had a habit of sleeping in on Sundays, so when his phone buzzed and woke him up at half past eight, he felt disoriented. He reached around for the cell phone until he found it on the other side of the bed, the light nearly blinding him as he read the message on the screen.

From: Louis
Liam is a fucking monster. Who makes a fucking smoothie at 8:30 on a Sunday morning? I may just commit murder.

Harry laughed at Louis’ dramatics as he started to tap out a response.

To: Louis
So, just because he woke you up you decided I had to be awake too?

He wasn’t actually mad, not even close. It had been two weeks since their pizza night, since Operation Win Louis Backhad commenced, and Harry didn’t think he could get any happier. He hadn’t taken another step in his plan yet, but he and Louis had become practically inseparable. It was like they were fifteen and best friends again, and Harry felt like he was on top of the world.

His phone buzzed again just as he was pulling on a pair of joggers. Today felt like the day for step two, and just the thought of it had him giddy with nerves.

From: Louis
If I have to be awake, you have to be awake. It’s the law. Bring me tea before I murder our friend with his own knife set.

To: Louis
You’re so bossy

Harry was typing another message the second he pressed send.

To: Louis
On my way .x

Harry was out of his flat in record time, beanie covering his wild curls and a sharpie pen in hand. Maybe desperation was seeping from his pores, maybe he needed to analyze just why he was ready to jump at Louis’ command, but maybe it didn’t matter. He had a lot to make up for, a lot to prove, and if that meant bringing Louis tea at 8:30 on a Sunday morning, Harry would never sleep again.

*

Harry made it to Zayn and Liam’s flat faster than he thought possible, a tray of drinks in hand. His fist had barely touched the door before it was being pulled open by a ruffled and grumpy looking Louis.

“’bout fucking time, Styles,” Louis huffed as he pulled Harry by the sleeve of his jumper, nearly slamming the door behind them once they were securely in the flat.

“Someone’s grumpy today,” Harry teased as he let Louis pull him through the flat and into the kitchen.

“Don’t even get him started,” Liam warned from where he was sitting at the table. “He’s been stomping around like a two-year-old since he woke up.”

Louis spun around to glare at their friend. “Since you woke me up, you mean. Who in their right mind uses a fucking blender at 8:30 on a Sunday!”

Liam just shrugged as he sat back in his chair. “I went to the gym this morning. Needed my protein shake.”

Louis let go of Harry’s sleeve to throw his arms up in exasperation. “You’re an abomination to everything about Sundays! It’s the day of rest, Payno!”

“Give him tea already, for the love of god,” Zayn groaned as he stepped around them. “You woke me up with all of your fucking yelling, you twat.”

“Well, your fucking gym rat of a boyfriend woke me up with his fucking blender. He’s lucky I haven’t blended him into my own fucking smoothie.”

“Okay, enough,” Harry finally interjected. “I brought you all tea and coffee, so sit down and be quiet.” He rolled his eyes as Louis made grabby hands at the tray of drinks. “Sit down and I’ll bring it to you,” he repeated a bit gentler, pinching at Louis’ hip (with probably what was way too much fondness).

Harry handed out the drinks, placing Louis’ in front of him last. He was nervous, butterflies swarming around inside of him as he sat down at the table. Maye doing this in front of their friends was a bad idea, but Harry figured he had to seize the opportunity, risk of public embarrassment and all.

“Hazza, I think the barista spelt my name wrong,” Louis stated only moments later.

Harry looked up at Louis slowly, meeting his ocean blues from across the table. “Reason number two,” Harry recited the words that were written on the white cup in Louis’ hand. “That time you saved the squirrel with the broken leg.”

“You remember that?” Louis asked with astonishment. They’d been fifteen at the time. They’d only known each other for a few weeks when they’d come across the injured animal on their way home from school. Harry had to hold back his tears as they’d knelt down beside it to see what was wrong. He’d only been seconds away from doing the exact same thing when Louis had taken off his jumper and used it to pick up the squirrel and carry it home. Harry had fallen for him in that very moment. He could remember it like it was just yesterday. He’d watched Louis make a makeshift home out of a shoebox and feed the animal with a syringe until it was healthy enough to set free. 

“It was what made me fall in love with you,” Harry whispered as his mind returned to the present. “You were so gentle and kind, and I knew right then and there that I wanted to spend forever with you.”

Harry didn’t break eye contact with Louis, not for a second, not even when he could feel Liam and Zayn staring holes into him with their own wide eyes. This was about him and Louis, only about him and Louis.

Louis was the first one to look away, and the way his eyes flittered between Liam and Zayn and the hallway leading back to his bedroom made Harry’s heart race with anxiety.

“Can I talk to you?” Louis asked as he stood up from the table and looked back at Harry expectantly. “Alone?”

Harry swallowed hard as he nodded his head and followed Louis to the spare bedroom, he’d been staying in. All he could think about what that he’d gone too far, pushed a bit too far, and that he was going to lose Louis. And god, Harry was sure he’d die if he lost Louis again.

“I’m sorry if that was too much or if I crossed...” Harry tried to apologize, but he didn’t get the chance to finish his sentence before Louis was crowding into his space, inching closer and closer until Harry’s back was pressed against the closed door.

“I had to save the squirrel,” Louis started, his face so close to Harry’s that he could feel his breath. “You were so upset when we found that thing, and I thought if I took it in and took care of it, you’d come ‘round every day to check on it.”

Harry’s heart was hammering in his chest, practically threatening to break through his ribcage. How did Louis expect him to live after he said something like that? “So, it was all a ploy?” Harry managed to breathe out the words.

Louis smiled just then, and god, his smile was enough to send Harry’s heartrate into over drive. “It worked, didn’t it?”

Harry had been wrong before, about so many things, but everything in the universe was telling him to close the short distance and cover Louis’ mouth with his own. They were only centimetres apart now, and Harry’s hands shook as he reached out to grab Louis’ hips. The second he was touching him, Louis closed the distance, pressed his hips right into Harry’s, driving a groan out of Harry’s throat he hadn’t even realized he’d been holding in. It had been so long since he’d been like this, this intimate with Louis, and Harry couldn’t believe he’d survived this long.

“Lou,” Harry whined as Louis placed a hand on Harry’s chest, his fingers dancing over his jumper. Louis’ other hand cupped the back of Harry’s neck, holding him still as Louis’ mouth inched closer and closer. They hadn’t even kissed yet and Harry was about to explode.

Everything seemed to come to a stop all at once. The fist that had been clenching the front of Harry’s jumper fell to Louis’ side, and Louis released his hold on the back of Harry’s neck as he took a slow and deliberate step back. Harry wanted to beg Louis to stay, to not jolt away, but he let go of Louis’ hips anyways. It had all happened so fast, it was bound to fall apart just as quickly.

“Sorry, I uh,” Louis mumbled as he sunk down on the bed and placed his head in his hands. “I’m not, I can’t...”

“Hey,” Harry cooed softly, sitting down beside Louis and wrapping an arm around his shoulders. “Don’t apologize. You have nothing to be sorry for.”

Louis sighed as he tucked his head into the crook of Harry’s neck. They’d found themselves in that very position countless times over the past couple of weeks, and Harry’s heart grew in size each and every time.

“I’m not ready,” Louis finally admitted. “I love you, I know that. I’ve always loved you. But I’m not... I don’t...”

“You don’t trust me yet,” Harry finished his sentence for him.

Louis groaned at the words, burying his face further into Harry’s neck. “I’m sorry, it’s stupid. I know it’s stupid.”

“Hey,” Harry tsked as he moved to hold Louis’ face in between his hands. He didn’t continue until Louis opened his eyes and met his gaze. “It’s not stupid. I hurt you so badly, and I’m not expecting you to get over that, alright? you take all the time you need.”

Louis finally smiled at that. it was small, but it was enough for Harry. “You’re lovely, you know that? The loveliest. You should find someone who can love you the way you deserve.”

The words should’ve put a frown on Harry’s face, they should’ve dampened his spirits, but he kept on smiling anyways. “I already have, Lou.”

Louis furrowed his eyebrows. “But...”

Harry shook his head, interrupting his interjection. “I’ll keep trying, Loubear. I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet. I know we’re going to grow old together. I know we’re each other’s soulmates.”

“How? How can you be so confident that I’ll get there?”

Harry’s smile grew at the question. “Because I know your heart like the back of my hand.”

~

One Month Later...

Time passed quickly, and with each passing day Harry and Louis grew more and more inseparable. Harry hadn’t felt this complete in years. He hadn’t felt this whole, this alive in years, and he knew he had Louis to thank for filling the void that had been taking up residence in his heart. Ever since the day Harry had made the worst decision of his life – ever since the day he’d walked away from Louis all those years ago – he’d been trying to make up for the loss. He’d tried so hard to fill the emptiness that he’d created himself, but nothing could fill the spot he held for Louis in his heart, nothing and no one but Louis himself. And maybe he didn’t really have Louisback, but he had Louis in his life, he had Louis in his heart, and that was all that mattered.

Harry had scribbled his “number three reason for loving Louis” on a scrap piece of paper and had tossed it in Louis’ camera bag right before he left to shoot a big wedding. It had been a month since “number two” had shown up on the cup of tea. Harry had been waiting for the perfect moment, for some sort of sign to appear that told him Louis was ready for the next phase of “Operation: Win Louis Back”. But Harry didn’t want to wait for signs anymore. He wanted to show Louis just how much he loved him, just how hard he’d keep fighting for him. It was now or never.

Harry was cleaning his flat, fully aware that Louis was going to arrive at the wedding location, open his camera bag and find the note any minute, when the call had come through. Harry practically jumped with nerves. This was the biggest one yet, the most meaningful one yet, and it mattered. God, it mattered so, so much.

“Haz,” Louis’ voice came through the other end of the line breathy and timid. This side of Louis was still new to Harry. He was so used to loud, sassy, and confident Louis, but Harry prided himself in being able to pull the most vulnerable bits out of Louis. It was a skill he’d try to perfect for the rest of his life.

“Number three,” Harry finally replied as he set down the jumper he’d been folding and sat down on the bed. He closed his eyes, recalling the letters he’d written on that tiny piece of paper that very morning. “Our first kiss.”

“Hazza,” Louis’ voice was small, barely a whisper, and Harry wasn’t sure if he wanted him to stop talking or if he wanted him to continue. But Harry had promised himself he wouldn’t miss a single chance again, not when it came to Louis.

“You made me feel so safe, Lou,” Harry continued, speaking words he hadn’t been able to fit on the piece of paper. “You were my first realkiss, and I was so scared, and the way you looked at me and told me I was safe with you, Lou, that was it for me. I knew I would never be able to love someone the way I loved you...the way I love you.”

“Harry...”

“Too much?” Harry asked, hoping beyond hope that he hadn’t crossed that line.

“No,” Louis responded quietly into the phone. “Not too much, just...I can’t, I’m not...”

“I know,” Harry didn’t need Louis to finish his sentence to know what he was going to say. He knew Louis wasn’t there yet, and that was okay. He’d get there. God, Harry hoped he’d get there.

“Look, I have to get to work, but can I see you tonight? I’ll bring over some takeaway and we can watch a movie?”

Yes. “I’d love that.”

*

It was well past eight by the time Louis made it to Harry’s flat, and to say Harry was a mess was an understatement. He was nervous, possibly even terrified to see Louis after the confession he’d made on the phone earlier. “Reason number 3” had been the most intimate reason yet, and Harry wasn’t quite sure where that left him with Louis – if it even left him anywhere with Louis.

“I come bearing Chinese food,” Louis announced as Harry opened the door. “We’ve got all your favourites here, Curly,” he continued as he walked into the kitchen and started placing cartons of food on the counter. “Chow mien, sesame chicken, Szechuan, egg rolls. You name, we’ve got it.”

Harry wanted nothing more than to wrap his arms around Louis’ waist and tuck his chin into the crook of Louis’ neck. It was domestic (and a bit too couple-y), so Harry refrained, but god did he want it. He wanted everything when it came to Louis.

“Did you get that chicken?” Harry asked as he moved to stand behind Louis and peer over his shoulder at all the food. “You know, the stuff with the...”

Louis spun around, his eyebrow raised at Harry’s question. “Lemon chicken? Of course I got my boy’s favourite.”

My boy. My boy. My boy.

Harry couldn’t breathe, couldn’t catch a damn breath for the life of him. Louis’ words had hit him right in the heart, making it grow ten times in size and basically crush his lungs. Perhaps Harry was a bit dramatic these days, or perhaps he was just sickly in love with the man standing in front of him.

He was Louis’ boy – then, now, and in the future. He’d always be Louis’ boy.

*

Empty cartons of Chinese food were scattered on the coffee table in front of them, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Beforewas playing on the television, and Harry’s head was laying in Louis’ lap. Harry wasn’t even quite sure how they’d settled on the particular film they were watching, let alone how they’d found themselves in the position they were in – but he wasn’t complaining. He couldn’t even really remember the last time they’d sat like this, or the last time Louis’ fingers had carded themselves through his curls. All he knew was that it had been forever since things had felt this easy between them.

“Peter Kavinsky is so dreamy.”

Louis’ fingers froze in Harry’s hair as the words left Harry’s mouth. “Seriously, Styles?”

Harry nodded his head feverishly as he sat up to counter his side of the argument. It killed him to remove his head from Louis’ lap, but if he was going to defend Peter Kavinsky’s honour, he needed zero distractions. “He’s obviously in love with Lara Jean, that’s the only reason he’s insisting on putting his hand in her damn pocket.”

“Oh? Is that your definition of love then? If someone puts their hand in your pocket it must mean they love you?” Louis was teasing, and Harry was so fucking gone for it. He lived for Louis’ teasing.

Harry couldn’t stop the dimple from popping, he couldn’t keep the smile off his face. He always reverted to a fifteen-year-old boy when Louis teased him. “Louuuu,” Harry dragged out the name, making into a whine like he always did when they were younger.

“If I were to stick my hand in your pocket right now, would you think that I love you?” Louis continued teasing, but there was a hint of seriousness in his words, a hint of something more. And god, Harry wanted to bottle it up and tuck it away keep it forever.

“I already know you love me, Loubear.”

Louis quirked an eyebrow at Harry’s statement. “Oh? Is that so? Maybe I should just stick my hand in your back pocket anyways. Just to be safe,” Louis reached out a hand towards Harry, snaking it behind his back and trying to gain access to the back pocket of Harry’s jeans.

Harry squirmed under Louis’ searching hand. Every touch made him break out in a fit of giggles. “Stop,” Harry laughed as he found Louis’ hand with his own, bringing it back between them and intertwining their fingers. “I know you love me,” he repeated the words, quieter and softer, almost too scared to even let the five syllables leave his lips.

“You’re far too confident,” Louis huffed as he sat back on the couch, but he didn’t pull his hand away. Harry took that as a win. He took the fact that Louis was sat right beside him, so close that their thighs were touching, and the fact that their hands were clasped tightly together as a sign that “Reason Number Three” had been a success.

*

“You could spend the night,” Harry spoke into the space between him and Louis as the credits rolled on the television screen. He’d been working up to it the entire second half of the film, ever since he’d intertwined their fingers. He’d been trying to force the words out of his mouth, even though he was nervous beyond measure.

Louis slowly stretched out his hand that was still being engulfed by Harry’s. He stretched out each finger until he wasn’t holding on to Harry’s hand at all anymore. Harry sat there, heart racing as the silence encroached upon them. He hated it, every single second of silence that passed between his question and Louis’ response. He could take rejection, he could, but he couldn’t take this.Harry was absolutely certain that if he dropped a pin it would echo off the walls of his silent flat. He just sat there, staring at the television screen as the credits continued playing, counting each second that passed.

Once he counted the sixtieth second, Harry decided that either Louis hadn’t heard him or was just choosing to ignore the question. He held his breath as he stood up from the sofa and moved to start gathering the empty food cartons, but he was stopped by a hand wrapping around his wrist.

“Wait,” Louis’ voice finally broke the silence, as he tugged at Harry’s hand until Harry was sitting beside him once again. “I think...”

Harry could see the struggle behind Louis’ eyes. He could see the debate and what seemed to be every fleeting emotion. All he wanted was for Louis to say yes, for him to stay with Harry (now, and forever), but he wouldn’t push it. He’d promised he’d wait until Louis was ready, and he wasn’t about to go back on that promise.

"I think I'd like to stay."

Chapter Text

 You're still the one I run to
The one that I belong to
You're still the one I want for life
(You're still the one)
You're still the one I love
The only one I dream of
You're still the one I kiss good night

(You’re Still the One – Shania Twain)

Louis woke up slowly, the sun invading every corner of the room. He opened his eyes one at a time, expecting to take in the normal view of Liam and Zayn’s spare room, but as his brain slowly shifted awake, he remembered just where he was. He turned his head to the side in a snail like motion, slowly and quietly, trying to make sure he wouldn’t wake up the curly headed mess beside him.

Sure enough, Harry was still snoring softly beside him. Louis lost his breath at the mere sight of the other boy (man, Harry was a man now). It was hard to believe, hard to truly comprehend just how many years had passed since the last time Louis had seen Harry like this – vulnerable and completely at peace. They’d spent the last several months at odds, fighting each other’s every move (fighting their own feelings). Louis had missed this Harry. He’d missed the Harry that was just his, and for once, for the first time in the last five years really, Louis felt like maybe (just maybe) he had his boy back.

Last night had been everything Louis hadn’t known he’d needed. Nothing had really happened, not really, but it felt like they’d grown closer. It felt like some sort of monumental shift had occurred, when really all they’d done was share a bed and a duvet.

Louis thought back to the night before, to when Harry had asked him to spend the night. It had sent his brain into overdrive. It had nearly caused him to short circuit from all the overthinking it had required, but Louis had known the answer right away. Even if it had taken him a couple of minutes to give a proper answer, he knew he was going to say yes. He’d been waiting for the question all night (more like since he’d opened up his camera bag and found “Reason Number Three” written on a piece of paper). It had been weeks of slowly building up to it, and Louis had been more than ready to solidify whatever the fuck was going on between him and Harry, but he’d been afraid.

He didn’t want to be afraid anymore.

“Are you watching me sleep?” Harry’s question broke through Louis’ reverie, and well fuck, Louis had forgotten about Harry’s freshly woken up voice. He’d forgotten about how much deeper and raspier it got. He’d forgotten what it could do to his own body.

Louis pushed his thoughts aside, trying to bury them beneath layers and layers of insecurity and trust issues. “Why would you assume that?” Louis’ voice exposed him, too high pitched to truly hide his pounding heart and butterfly swarming stomach. “Your eyes aren’t even open.”

The corners of Harry’s lips turned upwards into the smile Louis had fallen in love with as a weak kneed fifteen-year-old. “I can feel you watching me, Lou. Feels like the sun shining down on me.”

“You’re the sappiest sack of shit,” Louis sassed, but fuck, he was fucking glowing. Harry had always been sappy, even as teenagers, but it had never failed to send Louis’ head spinning and heart pounding.

“You love it,” Harry said through his smile, his eyes still closed, his face turned up towards Louis, almost like Louis really was the damn sun.

I do. He wanted nothing more than to confirm that statement, to tell Harry he loved everything about him,but the words didn’t leave Louis’ mouth. There was so much he wanted to say, but he wasn’t ready, not for all of it. He didn’t know how to flip the switch, how to go from not being with Harry to being with Harry. Louis didn’t know how to go from ranting and raving about how he couldn’t trust him, to professing his undying love for him.

“Fuck it,” Louis whispered. The words were really meant for his own complicated thoughts, but Harry opened his eyes as they left Louis’ mouth anyways, his eyebrows furrowed slightly in confusion. And fuck, Louis just needed to take his chance. He really needed to say ‘fuck it’ to his insecurities and doubts and just fucking try. “Fuck it,” he whispered again, closing the distance between them once and for all, inching forward until his lips were finally (finally) in their rightful place – covering Harry’s.

Louis revelled in the gush of air he felt expand Harry’s lungs and the quiet gasp of surprise that slipped past Harry’s lips before they themselves started moving. Louis loved the fact that he had the ability to take Harry by surprise. There had once been a time when they knew each other so well they could predict one another’s every move, but they’d spent enough time apart in the last five years that they almost had to relearn each other. And fuck it if Louis didn’t think that was one of the most exciting parts of this whole damn thing. He couldn’t wait to relearn every crevice of Harry’s mind, body, and soul. But that was for a different time. Now he just wanted to focus on relearning Harry’s lips.

“Lou?” Harry’s voice was a mere whisper as he pulled away from their kiss. It had been feather-light, barely even a realkiss. Louis needed more more more.Harry’s palm stopped him from moving back in, applying just enough pressure to Louis’ chest to break the cloud. “Lou, what’s going on?”

Louis perched himself up on his elbow so that he was laying on his side and looking down at the curly haired boy. “Well, I was trying to kiss you.”

Harry rolled his eyes at Louis’ sass, just like he always did. “And I want you to, I reallydo, but I need to make sure it’s something you want.”

Was this boy daft? Clearly Louis wanted it if he was the one initiating it. “You can be really thick sometimes, you know that?”

“Hey,” Harry whined. “I just, fuck, I’ve waited so long for this...but...I’ll wait longer. I’ll wait for however long you need.”

Louis shook his head as he leaned down, not stopping until his lips were only an inch away from Harry’s. “I’m ready now, Styles.”

Apparently, that was the only encouragement Harry needed because the next thing Louis knew, a hand was gripping the back of his neck, propelling him forward until his mouth was crashing against Harry’s. Louis was the one gasping this time, his lungs unable to breathe in enough air as the kiss deepened. Louis got lost in it within seconds, his mind turning to mush as Harry’s tongue lapped into his mouth. God, he couldn’t believe he’d went years without this. Even the heated forbidden kiss they’d shared in the pub loo weeks ago in Holmes Chapel didn’t compare to the hunger that was currently flowing between them. It was like Louis had been starved and Harry was his fucking sustenance. Louis knew he was a goner, knew it the second his tongue collided with Harry’s that he’d never be able to go back to a time where he couldn’t kiss Harry any time he wanted.

This was it. This was Louis’ vice. The feel of Harry’s lips was Louis’ crack.

They could have been kissing for mere seconds or a century, Louis really had no clue. All he knew was that Harry was moving to straddle his hips, pinning Louis into the mattress as he moved his lips to Louis’ neck, sucking on the sensitive skin just like he used to do when they were kids. It was like they were back in Louis’ bed in Holmes Chapel, as if Harry had never gone off to London without him, like no time had passed at all. It was fucking magic.

“Lou,” Harry panted, his mouth hot against Louis’ ear. “Lou, fuck, I, I...” his words were lost as Louis bucked his hips upwards into Harry’s. Fuck, Louis had forgotten just how that felt. “Lou...”

“What is it, Hazza?” Louis tried to coax the words from his boy as his fingers tangled into the chocolate brown curls they’d always considered to be home. “What do you want?”

Harry didn’t respond right away, instead he connected their lips once more, luring another long, deep kiss from Louis (not that Louis was about to deny this boy anything). They were both gasping for air when Harry pulled back, sitting up straight, his legs still straddling Louis’ hips. He looked obscene – lips plump and pink from their kiss, and Louis wanted nothing more than to crash into him once more.

“We have to stop,” and well fuck, Louis hadn’t expected those words to come from Harry’s mouth.

“Stop?” Louis asked incredulously, pushing himself upwards so that his chest was flush against Harry’s, his arms linked around the other boy’s neck? “I really, really don’t think we should stop.”

Harry giggled as Louis’ mouth traced along his collarbones. Louis hadn’t forgotten Harry’s ticklish spots. They’d haunted him in his dreams for the past five and a half years. “Lou,” Harry said more sternly once he managed to control himself. “Lou, baby, if we don’t stop...you know where this is going to go.”

“Isn’t that the point?” Louis countered as he traced his tongue up Harry’s throat slowly. God, he’d missed how sweet this boy tasted.

“Lou, trust me, I want this. God, I want this so ad,” Harry was basically whining as he circled his hips. And well, fuck, if he kept doing that Louis was going to explode.

“So, then don’t stop,” Louis countered, bucking his hips upwards, chasing the friction. “Don’t fucking stop.”

Harry groaned, and Louis wasn’t sure if it was from the way they were moving against one another or from Louis’ begging. “We have to,” Harry tried to reason, his eyes dark with lust as they pierced into Louis’ own orbs. “We have to take this slow, Loubear.”

“Why?” Louis knewwhy. He could rationally list all of the reasons why they needed to take whatever this was slowly. They were navigating through murky waters, and if they weren’t careful, they would take on water and sink before they even really got started.

Harry learned down to place one more kiss to Louis’ mouth, pulling away and rolling off Louis before they could get the chance to lose control again. And fuck,Louis missed the contact immediately. He’d forgotten what the weight of Harry’s body on top of his did to him. Harry’s body was like a matchstick, lighting a fire to Louis’ skin with every touch. And fuck, Louis wanted to burn.

“I love you,” Harry stated as he lay on his side beside Louis, his lips turned up into the smile that had made Louis fall head over heels all those years ago.

Louis reached out tentatively, twisting one of Harry’s curls around his finger. “I love you too, Haz.”

“Forever?” Harry whispered, his eyes hopeful and terrified all at once.

Louis leaned forward, placing a kiss to Harry’s forehead. “Always,” he whispered against Harry’s skin. “Always.”

~

It had been a few days since Louis and Harry’s reconnection – if that was what it was. If Louis was being perfectly honest, he didn’t really know how to label whatever was going on between them. they hadn’t seen each other since Louis had left Harry’s flat that morning, but they’d been texting each other constantly like two love sick teenagers. Harry had even picked up the habit of calling him every night to wish him sweet dreams. it was safe to say Louis was fucked. He felt it – he could feel himself falling, and he was fucking terrified.

Who was he kidding? He’d fallen for Harry almost six years ago and had never gotten back up.

*

“You seriously need to quit,” Louis was shaken from his thoughts by a familiar voice. He’d made it to pub night earlier than usual and was killing time with a cigarette when Harry’s taxi pulled up outside of the pub.

Louis rolled his eyes at Harry’s predictable lecture. “Let me slowly kill myself in peace, Curly.”

Harry crossed his arms in front of his chest, shaking his head in disappointed as he stood in front of Louis. “It’s disgusting, Lou. I don’t want to kiss an ashtray.”

“Well, maybe I don’t want to kiss an avocado toast mouth. Ever think of that? I fucking hate avocados.”

No matter how annoyed Harry got with him, he was never able to hide his smile after Louis said something absurd. “Avocados are literally one of the healthiest foods.”

Louis shrugged as he took one last drag from his cigarette and stomped it out under his shoe. “We all have our own nasty habits. You eat avocados; I smoke cigarettes. We can’t all be perfect.”

“Is it to so bad that I want you to live a long healthy life?” Harry continued to nag as they made their way into the pub and towards their regular booth.

“No, it’s quite sweet of you actually,” Louis admitted once they were sitting next to each other. No one else was there yet, which Louis was thankful for. They hadn’t told any of their friends about whatever it was that was going on, and Louis wasn’t sure he could wait another second before he tasted Harry’s sweet mouth – avocado toast and all.

It was a chaste kiss, far too chaste for Louis’ liking, but he wasn’t quite ready to pack on the PDA just yet. They still needed to figure out what was happening – they needed to label it. But labels killed things, and Louis didn’t want the fire to burn out.

“I missed you,” Harry whispered just loud enough for Louis to hear as they pulled back from the kiss.

“I seem to recall that it was your brilliant idea to ‘take things slow’,” Louis scrunched up his nose as if the idea of taking things slow repulsed him.

Harry sighed, eyebrows slightly furrowed in concern that Louis was actually upset and not just being his naturally dramatic self. “You just got out of a relationship...”

“Pfft,” Louis scoffed. “I broke up with Tommy two months ago.”

“You told me you don’t trust me yet,” Harry continued, his eyebrows practically knitted together.

Louis sighed as he sat back, looking at absolutely anything and everything as long as it wasn’t Harry.He didn’t know what to say. Did he trust Harry now? Could he give Harry his heart and not have it ripped apart all over again? Did he even really have a choice? Harry already held his heart. Louis was Harry’s. Always had been and probably (definitely) always would be.

“I think,” Harry began slowly. “I think we need to take things slow. I think we’re both a little scared that this is going to slip right through our fingers.”

I think you should kiss me again before our friends show up and we have to pretend like we aren’t constantly thinking about kissing each other,” Louis was the king of deflecting. He wasn’t about to admit he was fucking terrified of losing Harry. He’d practice the art of deflection as long as he had to.

Harry knew Louis better than anyone else. Even after all the lost years and the things they needed to relearn, Louis could always count on Harry to let him deflect his real emotions until they couldn’t be brushed under the rug anymore. Harry knew it was Louis’ coping mechanism, Louis’ way of surviving a mess of emotions.”

‘I kind of adore you, you know,” Harry whispered as he placed a hand on Louis’ cheek and pulled him closer. “Like a lot.”

Louis couldn’t help but smile the kind of smile that made the corner of his eyes crinkle. Fuck. He was absolutely gone for this boy. “Eh, you’re alright I suppose.”

“Fuck off,” there was absolutely no bite in Harry’s words – in fact, he giggled into Louis’ mouth as their lips connected.

The kiss lasted longer than the first, their tongues colliding like a ship into a wave. Fuck everything Louis had once thought about PDA. Label or no label, Louis just wanted to spend the night kissing Harry – even if that meant doing it in front of a room full of strangers.

“Well, well, well,” and nope. Louis took it all back. Maye he’d been ready to kiss Harry in public, but he definitely wasn’t ready to be caught kissing Harry by their Irish (and fucking nosey) friend. “Looks like Gemma owes me a blowjob.”

“Excuse me?” Harry asked as he pulled away from Louis. His tone was dark, much like it always was when Niall (or anyone else really) talked about his sister in a way he didn’t appreciate (which was any way at all really).

Niall just chuckled as he sat down across from them, looking back and forth between Harry and Louis with a knowing look. “We made a bet on whether or not you two would end up back together. Looks like I won.”

“Fuck off, Horan,” Harry all but sneered.

Niall just laughed as he continued to beam from his seat. Apparently, catching Harry and Louis kissing was the highlight of his entire life. “This is amazing. ‘Bout bloody time!”

“Nialler, lad,” Louis didn’t want to burst his friend’s bubble, but he also wasn’t about to have Niall be the one to label his and Harry’s...situation. “Look, Hazza and I here, we haven’t exactly...” Fuck. Louis had no idea how to even finish his own sentence.

“We haven’t gotten the chance to really talk about what’s going on,” leave it to Harry to finish Louis’ sentence for him. Bless his soul.

“But you’re obviously back together?” Niall asked, confused. “Why else would you be snogging each other’s faces off in the middle of the pub?”

Louis jumped slightly when a hand moved to gently grip his thigh underneath the table. Every single ounce of nervous energy Louis had been feeling dissipated as Harry drew small circles on Louis’ thigh with his thumb.

“We’re working on it,” Harry explained to their friend. “We’re easing back in. We want to make sure we do this right.”

“You two are fucking idiots,” Niall deadpanned.

“Excuse us?” And no. Niall could call Louis names all he wanted, but no onecould call his boy anything other than perfect and get away with it.

“You’re both idiots,” Niall repeated. “You two were made for each other. I’ve known that since the day I walked into that dorm in year one and basically caught you two shagging. I’ve been waiting for you guys to figure your shit out once Harry lost his mind and ended things.”

“Well, that’s a little creepy of you, Nialler,” Louis commented, gearing up his sass level to one hundred percent. “Surely you’ve had better things to do for the last five and a half years than wait for two lads to get together?”

Niall just shook his head at Louis’ comment, obviously exacerbated. “Idiots. Fucking idiots.”

Harry gripped Louis’ thigh a bit harder, and fuck, if Louis didn’t know any better, he’d think Harry was staking secret ownership over his damn leg.

“Can you just keep this between the three of us?” Harry asked, his fingers staking claim over Louis’ thigh as he made his request to Niall. “Just for now, until we have the chance to figure it out?”

Niall shrugged, his smile returning to his face. “Fine. I’ll keep your snogging a secret. But I give it like twenty-four hours before the two of you are in some sort of dingy wedding chapel, promising your lives to one another.”

And fuck. Niall had no fucking idea how clear that picture was in Louis’ head. But they were taking things slow. Wedding chapels didn’t equal slow.

*

“You guys are sleeping together,” Zayn’s words pierced into the night air. It was past eleven, and Louis and Zayn were standing against the pub wall, inhaling nicotine like their lives depended on it.

“Pardon?” Louis turned to look at his friend, eyes wide with shock at Zayn’s accusation.

“You and Harry,” Zayn sighed with impatience. “You’re sleeping together.”

“We aren’t, actually.”

“Bullshit,” Zayn accused as he took another drag from his cigarette.

“It’s not bullshit, actually,” Louis countered, annoyance laced through his voice.

Zayn narrowed his eyes, clearly not believing Louis’ words. “I can tell you guys have been holding hands under the table all night.”

And okay, Zayn had him with that one. He and Harry had definitely been secretly (or maybe not so secretly) in constant physical contact since walking into the pub. But what was a guy to do? How was Louis supposed to sit right next to Harry and nottouch him? Really, Louis could only be so strong.

“We...we haven’t,” Louis struggled to find the right words. Zayn was his best friend, and if Louis could be honest with anyone it was Zayn. “I honestly don’t really know what’s going on.”

“Talk to me, Tommo.”

Louis sighed. He didn’t even really know where to start. “I spent the night at his flat a few nights ago. Nothing happened that night, but I kissed him the next morning. It got...heated.”

“But no sex?”

Louis took a long drag from his cigarette before continuing. “No, I tried. But he went on and on about how we needed to take things slow so we wouldn’t fuck it up.”

“Well, that’s a good sign, innit?” Zayn asked. “Means he’s taking this seriously and not just looking to get laid.”

Louis had never once thought that harry was just after a good fuck. He knew him better than that – he knew they were better than that. He’d questioned whether or not Harry was just stuck in the past. He’d questioned whether or not Harry really truly loved him. But Louis had neverquestioned his intentions. Harry had always been a good person. Even a bad breakup and five years apart couldn’t change Louis’ opinion on that. Harry would always be the better one of the two of them. he’d always be the kinder one, the more patient one. And really, that’s all Louis wanted in a partner. Harry was it.

*

“Come home with me,” Harry practically growled in Louis’ ear as he awkwardly shuffled down the sidewalk glued to Louis’ back. It was past two in the morning, and just like every other Friday night, Louis and Harry had been the only members of their group to make it to last call.

“We’re taking things slow, Hazza. ‘Member?” Louis wasn’t even sure if they were walking in the right direction. He was trying to walk Harry home, acting as if he was the less drunk one, but in reality, Louis’ whole world was spinning. He was 120% sure he’d wake up the next morning with the worst hangover of his life.

Harry groaned out a whine as he dug his heels into the cement of the sidewalk, forcing Louis to stop walking. “I just want to have a cuddle,” he whined, spinning Louis around so they were facing each other. “Please, Lou?” he asked, sticking out his bottom lip in a pout.

Louis couldn’t stop his drunk mind from instructing his hand to reach up and pinch Harry’s lip between two fingers. “Pout this lip away, you sap.”
Harry’s eyes were twinkling, lighting up the darkness around them. “Make me.”

And well, fuck. Louis jumped at every challenge he ever came across – it was just his nature. So really, what was he supposed to do other than lunge forward and crash his mouth against Harry’s?

It was heated and rushed, almost as if they were both afraid it would be over too soon and they had to make sure they got the most out of it. Louis was clinging on to Harry for dear life – one of his hands twisted in his hair and the other digging into his hip. But he wasn’t the only one. Harry had a hand gripping the back of Louis’ neck, keeping him locked to Harry’s lips – keeping him at Harry’s mercy. It had been years since Louis had been kissed like this. It had been years since someone had made him feel like they couldn’t get enough of him. Then again, only one person had ever made him feel that way.

“Please,” Harry begged, pulling back just enough to be able to speak, placing his forehead against Louis’. “Please come home with me.”

And fuck, Louis had never been able to deny Harry of anything. The boy could ask him to eat ten ghost peppers or jump off the peak of Big Ben. Louis would do whatever he asked.

“I’ll go home with you on one condition.”

Harry just stared into Louis’ eyes; his lips turned up into a victorious grin. “Hmm, and what’s that?”

Louis forced himself to pull back. He neededto see Harry’s reaction. “I’ll let you take me home if you let me blow you.”

And just like Louis had predicted, Harry’s mouth fell open and his face pinkened at Louis’ demand. This new Harry may be manly and collected, but Louis knew just how to turn him back into the shy fifteen-year-old he’d once been.

“What d’you say, Curly?” Louis pressed. “You gonna take me home?”

Harry opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. Louis was half expecting him to say no; he was half expecting him to stick to his guns about ‘taking things slow’ and insisting that Louis either come back to his strictly for a cuddle or to go back to his spare bed at Zayn and Liam’s. But Louis had a tendency to be wrong sometimes, and Harry had a tendency to surprise him.

“I mean...” Harry stuttered the words, and Louis wasn’t sure if it was because of the amount of alcohol coursing through his system or because of the fact that Louis was trying to promise oral sex. “I think...I mean, I think...yeah, alright.”

It took Louis a few passing seconds to realize that Harry was in fact agreeing to his proposition. Finally. “Lead the way baby.”

*

They were barely even through the door of Harry’s flat before Louis was pushing Harry against the wall and pinning his body with his own. Louis had been dreaming about this – literally dreaming about the day he got to do this with Harry again. It had been far, far too long, and Louis was more than ready to go to the next level with Harry, label or no label. All Louis knew was that he and Harry had always had an inexplainable physical connection, and somehow, even after all of these years, that hadn’t seemed to change.

“Lou,” Harry whined as Louis attached his lips to Harry’s neck. He’d never been able to forget all of Harry’s favourite spots to be touched. Even when he’d hated Harry, even when he never wanted to remember a damn thing about the guy, Louis had been haunted by Harry’s weak spots. Images of Harry’s neck, behind his ears, his goddamn tummyhad invaded Louis’ every nightmare.

Louis only detached his lips from Harry’s skin so he could sink to his knees in front of the curly haired boy, and fuck, Louis had forgotten how much he absolutely loved getting on his knees for this boy. There was nothing better than looking up at Harry from this angle, seeing how absolutely and positively wrecked Harry was when nothing had even happened yet. Louis had always revelled in the way he was capable of making Harry come apart so easily, it was like his one true gift in life. Louis Tomlinson was made to please Harry Styles.

“You’re so beautiful, baby,” Louis cooed, not daring to look away from Harry’s face as his fingers unbuttoned Harry’s jeans and slowly pulled them down those gorgeous thighs. “I missed this so much. I missed you so much.”

“Lou,” Harry whined again, tangling his fingers in Louis’ hair as he stared down at him. Louis had spent yearswith another man. He’d spent years on his knees for someone else; he’d spent years having someone else’s fingers threaded through his hair, and it had neverfelt like this. It had never felt as right as being with Harry did. Harry was home.

“Baby,” Louis whispered as he wrapped his hand around Harry, and fuck, Louis was seeing stars. He’d forgotten just how perfect Harry was. He’d forgotten what having Harry’s dick in his hand felt like. It wasn’t supposed to feel like this, was it? It wasn’t supposed to feel this good.

And if just having Harry in his hand felt like magic exploding all around him, the feeling of Harry hot and hard on Louis’ tongue made Louis outwardly moan with satisfaction. Louis was lost in it. He was lost in the feeling of Harry in his mouth. He was lost in the feeling of Harry’s fingers running through his hair. He was lost in the sounds escaping Harry’s mouth. It was all too much, all too much for him to handle gracefully without falling apart. Louis had waited for this – he’d waited yearsto feel this connected to another human being, and he never wanted it to stop.

“Louuuu,” Harry moaned the name as he came down the back of Louis’ throat, and Louis wasn’t sure if he was ever going to be able to top that feeling. He wasn’t sure if he was ever going to feel as content as he did in this moment. It had been well worth the wait, well worth the years apart.

Harry sunk down the wall until he was sitting on the floor beside Louis, his pants still pooled at his ankles. He reached out for Louis, kissing him soft and languidly, letting out a quiet moan as he tasted himself on Louis’ tongue. And fuck, Louis had forgotten just how sexual Harry could be, just how fucking perfect he could be.

“I love you,” Harry spoke softly as he pulled away from Louis’ mouth, reaching out for his center, attempting to reciprocate the favour. His hand paused once he was palming Louis over his jeans, an eyebrow quirked as he searched Louis’ face curiously. “Lou?”

Louis wasn’t one to be embarrassed, but he couldn’t help the heat that spread across his face. “Yeah, err, I sort of...”

“You got off to giving me a blowjob?” Harry finished his sentence for him, his eyes wide with surprise and maybe even a hint of astonishment.

Louis just shrugged. “Guess I’m practically a teenager all over again.”

“Fuck,” Harry groaned as he leaned forward and crashed their mouths together, only pulling back when they were both sufficiently out of breath. “That’s so fucking hot, Lou. You have no idea how hot that is.”

Louis just laughed as he picked himself up from the floor, dragging Harry along with him. “You have no idea how hot you are.”

“Hot for you,” Harry admitted as they made their way down the hallway together, fingers intertwined like they never wanted to let go. “Always.”

“Mmm,” Louis responded, exhaustion finally ravaging his body. “Hot for you too, Hazza. Forever.”

~

One Month Later...

Louis was nervous. He was pacing the empty flat, running his fingers along every single surface: the marble countertops in the kitchen, the stainless-steel appliances, the railing on the balcony. He was trying to take it all in, trying to feel himself out in the new space, trying to picture himself living there for the next indefinite amount of years. It was time. It was time to move out of his temporary home in Zayn and Liam’s flat and build his own life. It was time for a lot of things.

It wasn’t really the flat he was nervous about. It was the fact that Harry was supposed to be there any minute to give Louis his opinion, and Harry’s opinion was the only thing that mattered. Harry was the only thing that mattered. The past month had flown by, and with every passing day Harry and Louis grew more and more inseparable (more and more entangled with one another). Somehow, they’d managed to avoid the conversation this entire time. They’d managed to go an entire month of sleepovers (where they definitely weren’t just sleeping), an entire month of Harry cooking up Louis’ favourite meals, an entire month of kissing each other as they fell asleep wrapped up in one another. It had been pure bliss, but Louis wanted more. Louis needed more. He couldn’t keep up with this whole thing anymore. It didn’t matter how slow they took things; Louis’ head was spinning out of control.

And so, Louis needed Harry to get to the flat pronto. Louis needed to sort some shit out.

Just as Louis was about to text Harry for the fifth time asking him how far he was, the door to the flat opened slowly and Harry stepped over the threshold. And fuck, even after a month of spending every single free second he had with him, Louis lost his breath every time he saw Harry. Harry was beautiful every day, but today he seemed capable of making Louis’ knees give out from underneath of him. He was dressed in his infamous black, holey jeans, so tight they may as well be painted on. He was wearing Louis’ favourite shirt of his, as if he somehow knew that today was important – that today was special. It was the same shirt Harry had worn to the first time they’d hung out alone since crashing back into each other’s lives – short-sleeved, pink with white polka dots, barely even buttoned up high enough to cover the butterfly Louis had discovered was tattooed on his stomach. If it hadn’t been for the nerves in his own stomach and the master plan that was taking over his every thought, Louis would have sunk to his knees for Harry right then and there. That shirt had the fucking magic. That shirt was Louis’ kryptonite.

“I don’t understand what you need my opinion for, this place is amazing,” Harry commented as he walked around the flat, Louis hot on his heels. It was modest, but it was also the nicest place either of them had ever really stepped foot in in London. It was pristine, shiny, new. Almost like a new chapter. Almost as if Louis had purposely picked it out of all the other flats he’d seen because it represented something very, very particular.

It was a fresh start.

“You like it?” Louis asked as they entered the master bedroom and he watched Harry spin on his heels, taking in the walk-in closet and the ensuite bathroom that contained the jacuzzi bathtub. The first time Louis had seen that bathtub he’d been reminded of his and Harry’s prom night. He’d been reminded of the fancy hotel they’d gone to and the romantic bath they’d shared. Louis definitely wanted to relive that.

“I love it, Lou,” Harry replied. “It’s perfect for you. Maybe a bit too big for just you, but it’s perfect.”

And here it was, the moment of truth. It was now or never. “Well, it wouldn’t just be for me, now would it?” Louis said it with a shrug, feigning nonchalance when really, he was ready to burst with anxiety.

Harry pinched his eyebrows together, confusion evident on his face. “What do you mean?”

“Your lease is up in a month,” it was a simple statement, a mere fact.

“Right,” Harry dragged out the word, clearly still confused by Louis’ words.

And okay, maybe Louis wasn’t being clear enough. “I want this to be our flat, Haz. I want us to move in together.”

Harry took a step back just then, as if he’d been pushed back by an actual wave of shock. Louis had expected this. He’d known Harry was going to be surprised. They did their best at taking things slow, at not putting a label on what they were, but Louis didn’t want to keep up the charade. Enough was enough.

“You want to move in together,” Harry repeated Louis’ words back at him, surprise stacked onto each syllable. “I didn’t think...I thought maybe...do you, are you saying you want to label this? Are you saying you trust me again? Are we dating?”

Louis couldn’t help but laugh. Normally Harry spoke at the speed of molasses, but sometimes, on a rare occasion, he was hit with enough surprise that he’d ask question after question quickly, as if he needed to fire them all off at once so he wouldn’t talk himself out of it.

“I do trust you Harry. I love you, so much. But I don’t want to date you,” Louis explained. “I don’t want to go back to what we used to be.”

“What?” Harry stammered, his eyes wide and panicked.

Louis smiled as he took one of Harry’s hands in his own. He knelt down, one knee on the floor of what he’d hoped would soon become their shared bedroom, as he kept his hold on Harry’s hand and opened his other hand to reveal a red, felt box in his other palm. “You’re still the one I run to, the one that I belong to,” Louis spoke the words from their song, never once looking away from Harry. This was it. This was their love story. “You’re still the one I want for life.”

“Lou...” Harry was crying, and Louis knew, he knew they were tears of happiness because he felt them too.

Louis opened the felt box he was holding in his hand, revealing the gold band with the blue stone in the middle. “Will you marry me, Hazza?”