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Don't Let It (Me) Break

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April 2017

A tentative knock interrupted the quiet peace of Louis’ room. He scrunched his eyebrows and burrowed his head deeper into the duvet, squeezing his eyes shut.

Another knock.

Louis remained silent.

“I know you can hear me,” said a familiar voice with a sigh. “C’mon Lou, we need to talk about this.”

Louis freed his head from the trap of the blankets and huffed, “Clearly there’s nothing to talk about Z, seeing as you completely avoided telling my anything about this recent addition to your life.”

The door immediately swung open, revealing a tired but annoyed Zayn. “For the last time, it’s barely been a few days- you’re being dramatic.”

“You didn’t mention it at all, I figured meeting your soulmate-”

“He’s not my-”

“-was definitely something at least worth mentioning to your best friend,” said Louis, trying to be sarcastic but somewhat failing as the hurt showed through.

Zayn softened and Louis frowned. “You know you’re my best friend Louis,” he said and Louis groaned.

“Here we go again,” he muttered.

Zayn ignored him and instead crossed onto Louis’ bed. “I’m always going to be here for you, you know that. I’d never abandon you ever.”

“I know Z,” said Louis, rolling his eyes. “I’m quite aware you’re chained to me whether I like it or not.”

“Louis-”

“I’m not mad,” he insisted. “I’m being a dick, I’m happy for you. Liam- he seems like a nice guy.”

Zayn grinned dopily, “He is, isn’t he.”

Louis rolled his eyes. “For fuck’s sake, is this what I’m going to have to live with from now on? You turning into a big softie?”

Zayn immediately frowned, and crossed his arms. “Shut the fuck up, nothing has changed.”

Louis raised an eyebrow. Zayn liked to pretend he was all “tough, dark, doesn’t-give-a-shit-about-anything, like some moody artist-type”, but Louis knew that inside, Zayn had a golden heart and would never let anything happen to Louis.

At least not intentionally.

And he’d never forgive himself if something were to happen to someone he loved. Louis knew this all too well.

“So you’re not mad?” asked Zayn cautiously.

“No Zayn, of course not. I’m actually glad you have someone else in your life to annoy all the time,” Louis shot back half-heartedly. He fidgeted with his jumper sleeve. It was green and way too thick for the warmer March weather they were facing in London but they both had gotten too good at pretending that he was wearing it because he was cold.

It also wasn't his jumper, but that wasn't important.

Zayn gave him a half-smile, “Hey I was thinking I could invite Liam over next week? For dinner? So you could meet him. Your opinion is so important to me Lou, and I want the guy I’m with to get along with you.”

Put up with you, was more like it but Louis smiled. “I know I’ll love him Z, I’ll love anyone you deem worthy enough to pass your aura of indifference.”

“Ha ha.”

Later when they’re smoking out on the balcony, feet dangling into the open air with nothing but the sounds of cars passing by occasionally around them, Louis will think back to how none of this would have ever happened if Zayn hadn’t insisted on running to the grocery store to grab Louis’ favorite tea on an evening when he was having a “bad day” and the lack of his favorite drink had resulted in him curling into a ball in the kitchen, tears streaming down his face, for an hour until Zayn had returned from his shift at the cafe, concerned but not necessarily surprised.

If Louis was normal and insisted that he could wait until the next day when it wasn’t dark and raining out, Zayn would have never bumped into Liam Payne in the check out line and they wouldn’t be here. Zayn wouldn’t be feeling guilty (or, even more guilty than normal), and Louis wouldn’t be wondering what life would be like without Zayn there nearly 24/7 constantly nagging him and taking care of him. He didn’t know if he would survive without that. He knew he was a mess of broken parts, held together by a string- a string named Zayn that is.

After their smoke break (even after everything, Zayn thought it would be too cruel and hypocritical to ban Louis from smoking- but Louis wasn’t allowed to smoke without Zayn there so even that is controlled now), they order pizza for dinner because they both can’t cook for shit. Zayn had tried multiple times over the past few months, claiming than an unhealthy diet was making everything worse, but with the business of his job and trying to sell his art- there were too many days he returned to their flat too exhausted to cook.

After Louis forces himself to eat three slices (something he will always do to keep the disappointed look off of his roommate’s face), they watch a few episodes of Black Mirror and then head to bed.

Louis leaves his jumper on but strips out of his joggers and crawls into bed. Zayn peeks his head into the small room and they exchange the typical, “goodnights” and “love you’s”, then the light switches off and Louis is alone. Alone with his thoughts and worries and feelings and defenseless from the ghosts that come to haunt his dreams. That’s when the tears come.

He had made it a habit to wait until Zayn was gone to cry. The last thing he wanted to do was worry him further, especially when he’s already sacrificed so much to deal with his messed up friend. Louis knows he’s a burden and that the longer this goes on- this tense relationship they have where Louis is fucked up and Zayn takes care of him- the more Zayn would grow to resent him. He couldn’t risk losing the most important person in his life next to his family.

He needed to get better or at least pretend to get better so Zayn would be appeased and his guilt would disappear and they could return to their normal friendship which wasn’t weighted down my Louis’ emotional baggage.

So he cried at night, alone in bed.

He didn’t feel bad. It had only been four months. You needed more than four months to recover from a loss as big as the one he suffered.

His eyes shut and he exhaled shakily. Just the thought of his mother these days made him want to leave, only a slight improvement to the recent months where every thought made him want to die. It sounded dramatic but the fact that Louis was living in this world without his closest confident, his number one supporter, his mother was too much.

He didn’t want to was the thing.

He still didn’t want to, but he was at least aware now that just leaving would cause too much trouble than it was worth.

And though he had made peace with that, Zayn definitely had not. Enter Zayn 2.0 (the controlling version). He was grateful to Zayn really, but this extra layer of protectiveness and the constant monitoring from him, Lottie, Stan, and anyone else he hung out with, was annoying. And it just made Louis guiltier. They shouldn’t be looking after him. He was 25 years old for fuck’s sake. He was an adult.

Lottie especially shouldn’t be looking after him. She was only 18. He should be looking after her. Her and Felicite and Daisy and Phoebe. His stomach clenched with guilt. He hadn’t seen them in a month because he was a goddamn coward. They were with Mark, his dad, so they were okay but Louis should be with them. Doris and Ernest were with Dan and he visited them two weeks ago only because Dan needed the help. Louis had cried immediately upon seeing his youngest siblings. They were still practically babies and they would never know their mother- they would never see her warm smile and experience one of her tight hugs that made you feel like everything was okay.

Dan had held him after that and calmed him down.

He managed to play dolls for the rest of the evening without breaking down because if he couldn’t be strong for two toddlers than he really was hopeless.

Though, as he lay in the dark, face wet with tears and breaths shaky, he realized he had already passed the tier of hopelessness a long, long time ago.

At times like these, Louis was more aware than ever that he had no one to hold him. He was 25 and nowhere near the mental state to actively look for someone. Just the thought of trying dating again- trying to flirt and fall in love with someone new, made him nauseous. He hadn't dated anyone in more than 2 years and sometimes it felt like he'd never date anyone again. He'd just keep aging meanwhile Zayn would fall in love and marry someone (maybe Liam maybe not) and leave him, then Stan would find someone, and Calvin, and Lottie, and Felicite, and everyone would leave him and he'd be alone for real.

That was his biggest fear. Being alone.

He'd already felt alone for the past four months due to the massive chunk missing from his heart. He couldn't handle anymore losses. So maybe it wasn't a lie that Louis was not the happiest with Zayn dating someone.

Sometimes he cursed himself for not falling in love with Zayn. Life would have been so much easier then.

-

“Dumbass!” exclaimed Niall, door to the flat slamming shut behind him.

Harry yelped and stumbled from his very carefully created firefly pose, landing on his ass. He scowled, “What the hell Niall?”

Niall ignored him and instead stomped into the kitchen. “I can’t believe this. What a complete bastard!”

Harry grumbled, standing up. “Excuse me?”

That pose had taken him an hour to get into properly and now his butt hurt.

He followed his blonde friend into the kitchen and watched as he aggressively opened the pantry door and began taking various snack items out. “For god’s sake,” he grumbled. “Fucking fuck, jesus christ.”

Harry raised an eyebrow, “Everything alright, Ni?”

Niall finally looked up, one hand deep into a pack of crisps, and blinked, “Oh hey Harry.”

Harry raised an eyebrow, and took a seat at the table. “Care to explain what the hell is going on?”

Niall immediately scowled, “Ben Bannard is an utter prat. He’s a disgrace to the entire nursing practice. I want him thrown out.”

Harry rolled his eyes. He should have known it was nothing serious. Niall was just dramatic.

“No, I want him executed,” he amended, stuffing a handful of crisps in his mouth. Harry winced as he continued to speak with his mouth full. “Drawn and quartered. Send him to the guillotine!!”

“Hate to break it to you mate, but there’s no guillotines here, this isn’t the French Revolution.”

“We’ll time travel to the 1700s and do it then.”

“Alright whatever you say, let me know when you invent a time machine.”

His scowl deepened. “I have no time to invent a time machine. I’m swamped with work from the hospital and now that fuckin’ Ben is taking a fuckin’ vacation- I have to cover some shifts for him.” He ripped open another bag of crisps. “The audacity!”

Harry winced, “Sorry man, that sucks.” Harry knew how hard Niall worked at his job. He had been lucky to receive a position at the hospital due to his age and lack of a previous experience but Niall was also extremely gifted as a nurse and he would do anything to prove it.

“No shit.”

“Wanna go to the pub this Friday and drown out our sorrows?”

“Sounds perfect,” said Niall. “I need to get drunk and forget this conversation ever happened.”

Harry chose to ignore the latter jab. “Alright, I’ll ask Malcolm if he’s free too,” said Harry, not missing the way Niall’s face scrunched up. He sighed, “I still don’t get what you have against Mal, he’s a great guy.”

“Debatable.”

Harry frowned, “He’s been one of my best friends for more than three years Ni, I’d really love it if you guys would just get along, and by that I mean I wish you would quit your stupid resentment. I don’t get why you don’t like him, you guys have loads in common.”

“Oh loads, for sure,” said Niall sarcastically. “We both have incredibly high standards of everything and like to trash anyone or anything that doesn’t meet it. We also love drinking expensive wine and talking about pretentious poetic shit at midnight because we like to pretend to look cool when it reality we know nothing about any of the stuff we blabber on about for hours upon-”

Harry groaned, running a hand through his hair and trying not to flinch when his hair suddenly ended- he still wasn't used to his short hair and it had been four months. “Mal isn’t like that. You’re exaggerating.”

“Sure Harold.”

“He’s not,” said Harry, defending his friend. “You just need to spend time with him.”

“I really don’t need to get within ten feet of his imported exotic perfume or whatever shit he’s into these days unless I have to,” said Niall, plopping into a chair across from Harry. “I love you, but I don’t love him. Sorry not sorry, if you’re inviting him I’m dipping.”

Harry sighed (the third time in the past ten minutes), “Give him a fair chance Ni, don’t you think you’re being unfair. What has he ever done to you?”

It was almost as if Niall froze for a second, but then his face molded back into impassiveness as if nothing happened, “Nothing Harry, he has done nothing to me.”

“So you admit that you’re being ridiculous?” Harry asked, reaching to grab a crisp from Niall’s half-eaten bag. Normally the Irish man would slap his hand away but he didn’t now, in fact his facial expression looked kind of odd. “What is it?”

“Nothing,” he said, shaking his head. “Absolutely nothing.”

“Okay then…”

There was an awkward silence.

"So you'll give him a chance then?"

Niall frowned, "Maybe."

"Niall..."

"Fine, okay jeez."

“I can invite him out Friday night?”

Niall shrieked, straight up shrieked, “Hell no! I’ll give him a chance some other time. I need to forget the misery of this week, not increase it!”

“Okay, okay,” said Harry, rolling his eyes.

Just then, they both heard the familiar jingling of the front door opening and a minute later, Liam called out, “I’m back!”

“Lima! You’re home to save me,” yelled Niall.

“Hey Li,” called Harry right after.

Liam entered the kitchen, skin glistening with sweat from his gym workout and massive biceps out to be admired. When he came in reach, Niall pinched his tricep and Liam yelped. Niall snickered. “What a way to be greeted after a long day,” he said, rubbing his arm.

“How was your day?” asked Harry.

“You never ask me that,” said Niall, affronted.

“Because to ask that I’d have to actually care.”

Niall squawked and Harry shrugged. They glared at each other.

“It was fine,” said Liam, effectively ending their staring contest. “Actually… I kind of have something to tell you???”

Niall and Harry exchanged a quick look. Liam looked sheepish, his puppy eyes looking a little wider than normal. “What kind of something?” asked Harry slowly.

“Am I going to have to sign a waiver?” asked Niall.

Liam blinked, confused. “Uh no? It’s not a bad thing actually,” he smiled softly, “Actually it’s kind of a good thing.”

“Well shoot Lima bean,” said Niall, leaning back. “But don’t actually shoot anyone, I’m not assisting in murder again.”

Harry rolled his eyes.

Liam decided not to comment on the “again” portion and instead his smile grew, “Well you see, I’m sort of, kind of…. Seeing someone?”

“WHAT!” exclaimed Niall before Harry could react. He stood up, eyes wide. “Oh my god! Liam is seeing someone! I never thought I’d see the day!”

Liam huffed, but Harry could see the red start to show on his cheeks.

“Look he’s blushing,” said Harry. “Awww Liam, who is she?”

Liam bit his lip, “Actually it’s a he.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. He was not aware Liam was not straight but he didn’t want to make him even more uncomfortable so he continued, “Ooo, someone from your gym?”

“No, I met him at the grocery store, actually,” said Liam, scratching his ear. His face was still bright red. “He works at Sally’s Diner.”

“Well? What’s his name?” asked Niall, eyes still wide like he was watching the most entertaining tv show on the planet. “What does he look like? How long have you been seeing him? When can I meet him?”

“His name is Zayn,” said Liam, smiling fondly. Harry internally squealed. He loved seeing people fall in love. “We’ve gone on four dates in the past three weeks and… I really like him guys.. He’s.. He’s gorgeous.”

“Gorgeous eh?” asked Niall, wiggling his eyebrows.

“Stop that,” said Liam, turning even more red. “And I don’t know when you can meet him. I’m going to meet his flatmate tomorrow for dinner and I guess I can invite him over next week if you guys are free.”

“No!” exclaimed Niall.

Liam froze, eyes wide.

“I mean, yes to the dinner, but I’m going to be working too many shifts next week, can we do the week after?” Niall added on.

“Sure, I’ll check with him,” said Liam.

“Well I’m happy for you mate,” said Harry, smiling. “Really happy.” Liam deserved someone really good. Someone who would treat him like Liam treated him and Niall: with kindness, respect, and love.

“I’m so proud,” said Niall, wiping away a fake tear. “Little Lima’s all grown up.”

“Idiots,” said Liam, shaking his head fondly.

Harry and Niall grinned. Liam had only been living with them for the past five months, ever since mid-November, and Harry was glad he had moved into their lives. Liam balanced them out. He was responsible like Harry was (when he wasn’t corrupted by Niall’s nonsense) and he was loyal, caring, and he always listened. He never got annoyed with the slow way Harry talked. It was hard for him to find people like that- who wouldn’t make fun of his slow tone or try to rush him. He also gave great advice.

“So Zayn,” said Niall, mischievous face on, “He’s got a last name?”

“Yes but I’m not telling you that,” said Liam. “I learned my mistake last time. You are not internet stalking my boyfriend.”

Niall pouted, but then grinned. “Boyfriend eh?” he said, wiggling his eyebrows again.

Liam fish-mouthed, face even redder. Harry cackled.

He loved his flatmates.

-

February 2013

Louis was excited. He was going on a date!

He had worn his best black skinny jeans (the ones that made his arse look amazing) and a soft blue jumper that matched his eyes. He had gotten Perrie help him with his hair and it was arranged artfully into a soft, messy fringe. He wore one of his less-scuffed pairs of vans and then with one last glance at the mirror (where he determined he was actually happy with the way he looked for once), he was off.

Dean, that was the name of the guy who had asked Louis out a week before, had told him to meet him at the bakery on the corner of 6th street at 4:30. The February air was cold but Louis was too excited to feel anything but warm, warm, warm. He arrived in front of the cute establishment five minutes early. They were going to grab some pastries and then go see a movie at the cinema (Louis was hoping to see the new Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd movie but he’d compromise if his date was charming enough).

He didn’t know if he should wait outside for Dean to show up or not but after a second of shivering in the cold weather, he decided to go inside anyway.

The inside was just as cute as the outside. Walls baby pink and blue, and furniture dark wood with white accents. There weren’t too many people inside so Louis didn’t have any trouble finding a nice table for two. He sat down, deciding it would be more polite to wait for his date.

A sweet looking brunette wearing the bakery uniform grinned at him and handed him a menu. “Enjoy!”

He smiled back widely, “I will, thanks!” He decided to peruse the menu. There were a lot of things that looked good. He hoped his date wouldn’t look at him differently once he had ordered multiple pastries. His ex always had a problem with the amount of food Louis ate, always turning up his nose and telling him he needed to lose some weight.

It made Louis feel inadequate, but it’s okay because they broke up after six months (because Michael cheated on him, but details) and now Louis was going on a date! With a cute guy from his psychology class!

He checked the time and grinned again, one minute until 4:30!

One quick glance out the windows but Dean was nowhere to be seen. Louis wasn’t worried though. Normally Louis was barely making it places on time, slipping in a minute or so after, apologies streaming from his mouth. Maybe he and Dean had that in common.

He wondered what Dean was wearing? Dean was a tall bloke (which Louis loved in a guy) and he had nice, soft-looking blonde hair and kind brown eyes. He was well-built too, not too muscular like Louis liked because then he’d always felt especially out-of-shape around him. He didn’t know Dean too well but he seemed like a really kind guy. Boyfriend material maybe?

The same employee from before was cleaning the table next to his, sweeping up the crumbs. They made eye contact and she smiled, “Hot date?”

Louis blushed, “Yup, ‘m just waiting.”

“Well I hope it goes well,” she said, winking.

“Thanks,” he said, peeking at her name tag. “Barbara?”

She nodded, “And you?”

“Louis,” he said, smiling.

“Okay Louis, have fun on your date,” she said, checking her watch. “I have to go find by coworker because I’m finally on break!”

Louis checked his watch too and frowned slightly. 4:32.

Two minutes late.

That wasn’t a big deal.

In the background, he could hear Barbara call out to her coworker, “H! You’re out front now! See you tomorrow!”

Louis glanced back just in time to see a tall, curly-headed boy appear from the backroom. He had a smudge of flour on his cheek, probably baking. “Thanks Barb, see ya tomorrow,” he said, giving her a quick hug.

Louis didn’t mean to stare, but this stranger was sort of good-looking. He’d probably spend the entire time pining over him if he wasn’t on a date already. He was around 19, maybe 20 and he had those completely unfair features that everyone must’ve been jealous of. They made eye contact. Green eyes, well then. Louis smiled at him and the stranger smiled back, before heading to the cashier to help out an old lady.

Louis glanced once again out the window but saw no tall, blonde, cute boys approaching the shop. He sighed and turned back to the menu. Dean was probably running late, he thought as he checked the clock: 4:35. Louis was just being dramatic. People were late all the time. Dean would get here within five minutes and then they’d order and Louis would get two chocolate pastries and then they’d see a movie and maybe after Dean would lend Louis his jacket because he gets cold easily and they’d walk together and their fingers would brush-.

He sighed dreamily. It had been too long since he’d gone on a date.

“Excuse me?” asked a deep voice.

Louis perked up, mind first racing to Dean even though he would have seen him come in. He turned, but no- it was the cute bakery employee. Louis smiled at him. The stranger blinked, placing his hand on the table, but somehow managed to stumble forward, wobbling the table, “Oops.”

“Hi,” said Louis, grin growing. He checked the employee’s name tag: Harry. It suited him with his wild brown curls, bright green eyes, and oh- Harry grinned… dimples.

“I was wondering if you had any trouble ordering,” he said. He blinked and then blushed, “Not that you don’t know how to order or anything… I just know there’s a lot of choices and it can be difficult to choose, but if you wanted me to, I’d love to help recommend something… that is only if you want?” He tacked on a tentative smile afterwards, looking mildly embarrassed.

Louis was slightly endeared, “I appreciate the offer Harry, but I’m kind of waiting for someone.”

Harry had perked up at the use of his name, but he had visibly deflated at the latter, “Waiting for someone? Are you… sorry if this is nosy, but are you on a date?”

“That I am Curly,” said Louis, feeling even more endeared.

“Ah I see,” said Harry, looking slightly glum. Louis raised an eyebrow. 

“Disappointed?”

Louis was surprised when he answered honestly: “Definitely,” he said solemnly. “You look really nice…”

“Louis,” he replied, cheeks red and suddenly feeling a lot more bashful.

“Louis,” repeated Harry. His name sounded a lot prettier coming out of Harry’s full lips… Louis blinked. That was not a good thought. “Well, nice to meet you Louis, I have to go tend to the customers now but I hope your date goes well.”

Louis smiled, “Thanks Harry, have fun working.”

Harry grinned before returning back up front.

Louis glanced out the window and then at his watch: 4:42. Dean was now 12 minutes late. Louis figured now would be a good time to text him. They had exchanged numbers when Dean asked him out but the only conversation they had was setting the time and place two days before. After a minute of debating what would be appropriate to send, Louis wrote out a quick, “I’m at the bakery, just wondering if you’re running late?” text, hoping it didn’t come off as off. Louis felt a little off.

He told himself that Dean was having traffic trouble. It was getting close to being late evening and plenty of people were out and about in London. He stared at his screen for a moment, willing the familiar three dots to appear but they didn’t. He bit his lip.

He called Perrie first, and she picked up on the second ring, “Lou! Aren’t you on your date?”

“Um, actually he hasn’t shown up yet,” said Louis quietly. He glanced at his watch. “He’s nearly 15 minutes late, should I be worried?”

Perrie was silent for a second, “Maybe there’s traffic? Have you tried calling him?”

“No, I texted him but calling sounds like a good idea,” said Louis, willing himself to stay calm. Traffic. It's probably traffic. 

“Okay you do that,” said Perrie, “And listen Lou, you can call me to pick you up whenever you need me. I’ll be there.”

“Thanks Perrie,” said Louis, trying not to think too hard about it. She was offering to pick him up as if he had already been stood up. Maybe he had been stood up. The thought made his stomach clench painfully. “See you.”

“Have fun on your date Lou,” said Perrie, almost as if she heard the second-guessing going on in his head. “Can’t wait to hear everything about it.”

He replied weakly with a, “Me too,” and they both said goodbye.

He quickly dialed Dean’s number, staring at the icon of a “D” which he had been anticipating on changing on this date- asking to take a selfie or some shit. The phone rang and rang and he prayed Dean would pick up and explain that he was almost there and that he was so sorry that he was late but he’s so excited about their date because he really likes Louis and-

The call went to voicemail along with Louis’ last hope.

He stared dazedly at the black screen of his phone before he felt a familiar prickly sensation in his eyes, signalling tears were about to arrive and fast.

Don’t cry, he told himself. Don’t cry. You’re 21 years old. An adult. He can handle this. He can handle being stood up as a 21 year old. He crumpled quickly and immediately buried his head in his arms, tears streaming down his face, and body shaking. Louis was not a silent crier usually but he managed to muffle out the sounds of his sobs as not to disturb the other customers. God, he was sobbing in a bakery in his new shirt over some stupid boy.

Some stupid boy whom he wanted to be his next boyfriend.

He didn’t know how long it had been when he felt a gentle tap on his shoulder. He looked up to see Harry, looking concerned and holding out a cupcake, “Hi Louis, I just wanted to give you this. I don’t know what happened but I’m really sorry, you shouldn’t be crying.”

Louis blinked, rubbing his face. He didn’t even have the heart to be embarrassed. It was February fucking 5th- he wanted to find someone, someone to spend Valentine’s with and he thought it was Dean but… apparently Louis wasn’t good enough for him either. He gently took the cupcake from Harry and tried to smile, “Thanks Harry, I appreciate it. How much do I-”
“It’s on the house,” said Harry, eyes wide. “If you don’t mind me asking, um, what happened?”

Louis bit his lip and tried to sound indifferent as he informed Harry that, “I think I was stood up.” He failed though as his voice faltered half way through and then another tear tracked down his cheek. Harry looked horrified.

“Oh my god Louis I’m so sorry!” He reached out, almost as if to hug him, but changed his mind after that. He then frowned, “Whoever it was is a dick I hope you know that. I can’t imagine why anyone would stand you up. I mean look at you.”

Louis’ mouth dropped but Harry didn’t seem to notice.

“You probably dodged a bullet anyway, if he can’t show up on time to see someone like you than he clearly doesn’t have his life in order,” said Harry, looking way too annoyed about a guy he knows nothing about standing up another guy he just met. “I’d punch him for you,” said Harry seriously.

Louis blinked, “What?”

Harry blushed, “Actually forget I said that. I’d want to punch him but I wouldn’t because I have self control and I’m not violent, I promise. I treat people with kindness, even assholes.”

Louis smiled for real, “You’re really something Curly.”

Harry grinned, “Thanks Lou.” He stopped suddenly, “Is it okay that I called you that?”

“Sure, Lou is reserved especially for cute guys who work in bakeries,” said Louis then mentally facepalmed. He should not be flirting with employees when he just got stood up. Harry will think he’s a desperate loser.

Except Harry didn’t seem to care, “Hey, my shift ends in like in hour and I know this is kind of out of nowhere but if you don’t mind waiting,” he cringed, “actually that sounds bad, all you’ve been doing is waiting, but-”

“Harry,” interrupted Louis, taking pity on the babbling boy who made him feel light inside, “Are you asking me out?”

“Um, yes?” he said, cheeks red.

“Are you sure this isn’t a pity ask because I have tears on my face and you feel bad?” asked Louis, mostly teasing.

“Of course not!” said Harry, a little too loudly. He blushed again. “You already know I was attracted to you earlier and I was bummed when you said you were waiting for someone but turns out that someone is the scum of the earth-” Louis grinned, “- and I’d really like to replace those bad memories with better ones.” He smirked, “I’m sure I’d be a much better date than what’s-his-face.”

“You already are,” said Louis honestly. “But no offense, I’m no longer in the mood for a date right now, but I’m free tomorrow if you’re free?”

Harry grinned, dimples peeking out. “I’m free.”

“Great.”

They exchanged numbers and then goodbyes (slightly rushed because Harry had left the counter unattended for too long and the man in front was giving them the stink-eye) and Louis took his cupcake (which ended up being delicious) and his pride, but he ended up feeling not too upset about Dean, not even when he found out Dean left him on read. On read!! Left him, Louis Tomlinson, on read!

He really was the scum of the earth.

But it was okay, because when Louis and Harry went out ice skating the next day and then to the movies (where Harry let Louis choose and he obviously chose Jennifer Aniston- he was loyal to the Friends actors, what can he say?) and then for ice cream, he realized Harry was much more his type anyway. Dare he say, boyfriend material?

-

Chapter Text

April 2017

Zayn was pacing. That was not good. 

Louis fidgeted with the collar of his blue button-up, trying to calm his heartbeat. This shouldn’t be stressful. It wasn’t stressful for him until Zayn started pacing, now Louis was getting more and more nervous with each round Zayn made around the living room. He felt nauseous and Liam was arriving in five minutes. 

“Fuck,” said Zayn, rubbing at his eyes. “Fuck, why did I invite him over?”

“You wanted him to meet me?” prompted Louis. “And you wanted to show him your flat?” 

Zayn frowned, “Did I have to do that so quickly? It’s only been four weeks…” 

Louis rolled his eyes, “I don’t like this version of you Z, you need to relax. Your boyfriend is coming over in a few minutes and you really really like him, remember?”

“I do,” said Zayn, nodding firmly. “I do really like him.”

“And you’re going to have a great time tonight,” said Louis, feeling awkward but still attempting to give a good pep talk to his best friend. “Everything is going to work out fine.”

Zayn nodded, still looking unsure but slightly less queasy, “Right. Everything is going to be great. I made his favorite. He’s going to meet you and you’re really easy to love.”

Louis rolled his eyes because Zayn was wrong on so many levels, Louis would know. 

“Everything is going to be fine,” said Zayn. 

“Wanna say that a hundred more times so maybe you’ll believe it?”

Zayn shot him a look just as the doorbell rang. Zayn froze, amber eyes wide, and jaw falling slack. He let out a noise that Louis would definitely be mocking him about after today. “He’s early.”

Louis glanced at the clock, “By one minute.”

Zayn bit his lip. 

“Well?”

Zayn’s eyes slid to Louis, “Well what?”

“Answer the door dumbass!”

“Oh right,” said Zayn, already rushing to the door. He paused to mess with his hair again (even though it was perfectly mussed and soft-looking like always and Zayn looked like some kind of Greek god- like always) before opening the door. “Hey babe.”

Louis stood up, suddenly curious as to what Zayn’s soulmate looked like. He hadn't heard much other than that he was "hot as fuck Lou, hottest guy on earth." Liam stepped into the room, carrying a bouquet in one hand and a bottle of expensive wine in the other- romantic and practical, Louis approved. 

And yes, Louis could admit that Liam was definitely fit. He eyed the way his button-up clung to his enormous biceps, yup Liam was definitely fit enough for his best friend. “Hey babe,” he said, moving to set the items down before he reached to hug Zayn. He had warm brown eyes and closely cropped brown hair. He looked kind was the thing. Like a really fit softie who lives at the gym- nothing like the type Zayn usually went for, meaning he was exactly the perfect partner for him. Louis liked him already. 

Zayn pulled away from their embrace and glanced at Louis. “Li, I want you to meet Louis.” Louis stepped forward, suddenly feeling really awkward. 

He and Liam made eye contact and Liam beamed- he had an adorable smile. “Louis! I’ve heard a lot of things about you!”

“I don’t know whether to be flattered or concerned,” said Louis dryly. 

Zayn shot him a look, “He’s very sarcastic, ignore that.”

Louis rolled his eyes but decided to cut Zayn some slack. “It’s great to meet you Liam, I’ve heard lots of things about you too- very good things.” 

He and Liam shook hands like a pair of lad friends and somehow Louis managed not to make a fool of himself as they moved to the dining table. Zayn went to check on the food and Louis and Liam made small talk about football and Marvel and other things. Louis did his best to keep away from any topics that may reveal to Liam that he was dating someone who’s flatmate was a freak and he had to say, it wasn’t going too badly. 

Liam was actually really sweet was the thing. Louis didn’t feel like he was playing a complicated game when he talked to him- a feeling that he was all too familiar with. 

They slid between topics easily. They had a light-hearted debate about DC vs Marvel and Liam handled all of Louis’ petty jabs at Batman with a lot of heart. Louis learned that Liam was currently applying to become a fireman, after finishing his training the month before. In turn, Louis informed Liam that he was actually a drama teacher but he was taking a break for this semester and the first of this coming year due to personal issues. Thankfully, Liam didn’t press any further on that. 

“Well Payno,” said Louis, having given Liam the nickname as soon as he learned his last name, “I’ve already guessed you spend a lot of time at the gym- very admirable by the way, I would never brave the dangers of exercising in public- but I was wondering what is it actually you do. I peg you as a weights guy.”

Liam nodded, “I am definitely a weights guy. But I also love cardio and running.”

Louis made a face. Seriously? Who loved running?

“I’ve actually got a special subscription that allows me to bring friends once a week,” said Liam. “So if you're interested, I will definitely help you out.”

Louis blinked, “Are you saying I need to work out?” Has Zayn’s boyfriend already noticed how out of shape I am? He felt a familiar weight in his stomach and his hands felt clammy. 

Liam’s eyes widened, “No, no, no of course not! I was just offering because it often goes unused. I already asked Zayn and one of my flatmates goes with me to do weights sometimes and he also takes the yoga classes… but I was just thinking it’d be nice to offer, it wasn’t meant to be a comment on anything. You seem to be in good shape.” Liam looked very flustered. 

Louis took pity on him, “I’m just messing with you Payno, relax. I know you’re not insulting me, however, I will say that the day I go with you to the gym is a day that will never arrive, but thanks for the offer.” He tacked on a smile at the end (one that hurt his cheeks) in hopes to smooth everything over. 

Liam looked relieved, “Thank god. Accidentally insulting your boyfriend’s roommate and best friend was not on my list of things to do today.” 

“I’d be worried if it was mate,” said Louis. 

He was relieved when Zayn returned and they started dinner. The food was good but Louis wasn’t hungry (not an uncommon occurrence) but he didn’t want to do anything strange in front of Liam so he continued to stuff bites down his throat, trying to hide the disgust in his features as they continued chatting. 

Zayn seemed a lot more comfortable as time went on and Louis was already getting sick of the sweet looks and glances they shared. It felt a little too familiar. 

Then Zayn brought out the dessert and Louis declined his portion as he always did with dessert. Zayn wasn’t surprised, since Louis hadn’t been eating dessert for much longer than Zayn had known him. “You don’t like sweet stuff?” asked Liam. 

Louis smiled, “Not really. I don’t really have the taste for it anymore.”

“Couldn’t be me,” said Liam. “One of my flatmates actually used to work in a bakery.”

Louis froze, before coughing into his fist softly. “Is that so?”

“I used to work in a bakery,” said Harry, eyes bright like they always were whenever he met someone knew to share that information with. 

“Oh! How nice,” said the receptionist, looking slightly bewildered. “Did you get to bake anything?”

“Well not at first, but eventually yes,” said Harry, before launching into a more descriptive explanation of what his job entailed. 

Louis sent the flustered receptionist an apologetic look but he was too fond of Harry’s love of mentioning his previous job to actually interrupt him. Harry had officially resigned from the shop two months before but it was clear he still missed it by the way he mentioned it to everyone everywhere. Niall told Louis he was getting sick of hearing the word bakery but Louis could never tire of anything Harry did or say. 

Whipped. He was so whipped. 

“Lou?” asked Zayn. He blinked, vision coming back into focus. “You good?” He realized he had missed whatever Liam had said next and now both of them were looking at him. He blushed lightly. 

“Yeah, sorry I just remembered something,” he said, keeping careful to smooth out his face and hide the panic that was currently festering inside. 

He hated that memories like these always caught him off guard. It had been two years and they had shown no signs of stopping. 

Not that he really wanted them to stop. 

After dinner, Louis retreated to his room to give the love birds some alone time. He closed the door to his room and took a seat on his bed, looking around. It was pretty empty; he had gotten rid of a lot of his stuff when he moved in with Zayn in late December. And it wasn’t like he was in the state to buy anything else. 

There was his bed with a memory foam mattress because the only way Louis would get any sleep at all (on lucky days that is) now was with a good mattress. Then there was nightstand with his phone charger, a lamp, and one framed photo that he couldn’t bear to look at without crying but wouldn’t dare move. He had a dresser and a lavender laundry hamper. Then there was his tiny, cramped closet which he used for out of season stuff and didn’t really open on a daily basis. One of Zayn’s paintings hung on the wall above his bed and a picture of Zayn and him at one of Zayn’s friend’s weddings was on the dresser along with a few pictures of him and his siblings. 

It was then that it hit him that he really didn’t have anything to do without Zayn there to entertain him. He could watch something but everything he watched these days was with Zayn and he didn’t want to continue one of their shows and have Zayn get mad at him (he wouldn’t actually be mad but Louis would feel too guilty). He could watch a movie but movies made him upset and Fifa was out of the question too. He realized that he didn’t really do anything except mope around and wait for Zayn to come home when they were apart. It was a depressing thought. 

Almost as if the universe was taking pity on him, his phone buzzed. The name “Lottie” popped up and Louis felt instantly better. “Hey love,” he greeted. 

“Lou!” was Lottie’s reply. “How are you?”

“Doing better, doing better,” he said. It wasn’t entirely a lie. 

“Good, I’m glad,” said Lottie. “You’re still coming down for the twins’ birthday right?” 

“Of course, I’d never miss it,” said Louis, taking a seat on his bed. “Now, tell me what’s going on with your makeup brand?” 

His sister was launching her own makeup line and Louis couldn’t be prouder. Lottie eagerly caught him up with everything that was happening. It made him happy and relieved to see that Lottie wasn’t falling apart like him. He couldn’t live with himself if Lottie, his brave and beautiful sister, was struggling and he was powerless to help her. Because he was, powerless that is. “I’m so proud of you,” he said, letting the love seep through in his voice. 

“Don’t get all sappy on me,” said Lottie, but she seemed pleased. “I’m proud of you too. I know it’s hard. I miss her too.”

He winced, “Let’s not talk about that now. I’m feeling happier today.”

“Oh yeah? What happened?”

“Zayn’s new boyfriend came for dinner. His name’s Liam and I like him a lot. I think he’s going to be really good for Z,” said Louis. “We get along well.”

“That’s great!” said Lottie. “Who knows, maybe you’ll be next?”

Louis forced a laugh, “I don’t know about that Lotts, but the thought is nice.”

He could hear her sigh through the phone, “When do you think you’ll ever get over him.”

He cringed, “I don’t think I ever will to be quite honest.” 

“Don’t you want to have someone again? You more than anyone I know deserve to be loved by someone great.” 

He was someone great. 

“I appreciate that Lottie, but I’ve made my peace with it,” said Louis, fiddling with button-up hem. “If it happens for me, it happens. If it doesn’t…” His voice trailed off. 

“It will,” said Lottie firmly. “If I have anything to say about it.”

Louis rolled his eyes. His sisters were honestly so nosy sometimes. But he wouldn’t have it any other way. 

There was a pause where Lottie stopped to talk to someone on her side, “Shit, sorry Lou I have to go check with my publicist.” 

“No worries, it was good to talk to you,” said Louis. “I love you loads Lottie, can’t wait to see you and the girls soon.”

“Can’t wait to see your stupid face either, my favorite older brother,” said Lottie. “See you soon, love you, byeee!”

Louis placed his phone on the night stand and lay back with a sigh. It was 9:50. On a Wednesday night. It was perfectly reasonable for him to go to sleep now, right? Or at least try to sleep in his case.

He decided it didn’t matter and shut off the light. It wasn’t like anyone was there judging him. He was practically alone. 

-

“Are you ready to get pissed!?” shouted Niall as Harry approached his table at the pub. Niall was dressed in a simple sweatshirt and black jeans. He was also wearing his glasses. Harry raised an eyebrow. Niall shrugged, “Not like I have to pull or anything, being in a relationship rocks.” 

He gave Harry a once over, “You on the other hand… lookin’ good man.”

Harry smirked, “Thanks.” 

He wasn’t exactly in the mood for hooking up with anyone but he decided to dress nice just in case. He was wearing his ripped black skinnies and a sheer white shirt unbuttoned to show his swallows. His hair was soft and curly and he had his rings on. He knew he looked good and he sort of wanted to flaunt it. 

But not without getting drunk first. 

Niall had already gotten their first round, “Next one’s on you H.” 

He nodded, already lining up his first shot. “Today was rough man.”

“Are you kidding me? You want to talk rough? I had three asshole patients today! Three!” he exclaimed. “And I had double shifts.” He chugged a shot and scowled, “Fuckin’ Ben!”

“Scum of the earth,” agreed Harry, even though he had never met him. 

“How was the studio?” 

Harry groaned, dropping his head on the table. “Don’t remind me. Everyone is stressed out and I still haven’t made any progress on the album. There’s nothing inspiring me right now!”

“You need to get laid,” said Niall solemnly. 

Harry chuckled, taking another shot. “Maybe I should.” 

They continued to chat and take shots and after Harry buys the next round, he decides he might as well go out and dance. Maybe he would hook up with someone. Maybe Niall was right. 

He hadn’t hooked up with someone in months. 

The crowd was big since it was a Friday night but Harry didn’t really mind the presence of so many bodies. It was a welcome distraction to put all his worries away. 

It doesn’t take time for him to bump into a pretty girl. She’s blonde with a lot of ear piercings and a nose piercing. She has purple lips and Harry thinks in his daze of alcohol that he wouldn’t be opposed to kissing those lips which he ends up doing not five minutes later. 

However, he really wasn’t in the mood for anything after and neither it seemed was she, so they parted their ways and Harry stumbled back to the table. 

Niall raised an eyebrow as he slid into the booth, “Did you get some?” His words seemed as slurred as Harry’s brain. 

Harry shook his head after processing the question. Everything felt fuzzy and warm and it felt nice. He took a swig of Niall’s drink, ignoring his empty protests. It was fruity and Harry made a face. 

“What the fuck is this?”

“A mistake,” said Niall, nodding. Then he started laughing, “I don’t know why I ordered it, it sounded pretty.”

“Tastes ugly,” said Harry. 

Niall laughed again, “Really ugly.” 

Harry took another sip and winced. 

“Nice hickey by the way,” said Niall. Harry frowned and looked down. There was in fact a hickey staring back at him just above his collar bone. 

“That’s funny,” he said slowly. “I don’t remember that.”

“Was she hot?”

“She was… purple,” said Harry, frowning deeper. His head was feeling more and more mushy. “Shots?”

“You bet.”

-

“Harry!” 

“What is it now?” asked Harry, lifting his head from where he was resting it on the taxi window. “Another bird?”

“No, look,” said Niall, pointing out his window to who knows what. 

Harry squinted, his vision blurring before coming somewhat into focus. “What am I looking at?” Right as he asked it, he spotted the building. Sally’s Diner. His eyes widened. “Oh!”

“That’s Liam’s boy’s diner, right?” asked Niall, words coming out slurred together. 

“I think so.”

“Maybe we should get out and see if he’s working.”

“Maybe,” said Harry, but neither of them did anything about it and instead Niall started laughing randomly and then Harry laughed too because it was impossible not to laugh with Niall even if nothing was funny. 

They somehow make it back to the flat in one piece. Liam answered the door, took one look at their faces, and sighed. “Guess I’m playing clean up tonight,” he muttered.

“Love you LiLi,” said Niall, giggling. 

They collapse on the sofa, still laughing about who knows what. 

Harry doesn’t exactly remember anything after that but he does make it into his bed courtesy of Liam who also leaves an aspirin and water on his nightstand. “Nighty night Lima,” said Harry softly as Liam shut off the light. 

“Good night Harry,” said Liam, fondly, before shutting the door. 

Harry blinks and then he’s out like a light, snoring like a chainsaw. 

-

A ringing noise ripped Harry out of his fitful slumber. He sat up in bed, and then immediately groaned as he felt the familiar pounding in his head. He collapsed back in bed and clutched his aching head. Hangover time. 

He decided not to answer his phone but after the final rings died down, it immediately started ringing again. Harry groaned louder before sitting up, guess he wasn’t escaping this. He already knew it was Malcolm. Whenever Malcolm wanted to speak to Harry, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. It was only somewhat annoying, but today it was obnoxious.

“Harry?” he heard, the voice grating on his sensitive ears. 

“What!” he snapped, sounding harsher than he meant to. “Sorry, hey Mal. I’m hungover.”

“Hungover? You went drinking without me?” asked Malcolm, sounding offended. 

Harry winced. Stupid. “Yeah, Niall and I went to the pub, just the two of us. We haven’t hung out like in a while,” he said lamely. “We can go out soon.”

“We better,” said Malcolm. “Sorry, I’m being selfish. I hope you feel better love, take an aspirin yeah?”

Harry lit up, suddenly remembering that Liam was a saint. He switched his phone to his shoulder and grabbed the aspirin, downing it and a large gulp of water and sighing in relief. “Just did, thank god.”

“So,” said Malcolm. “Did you go home with anyone last night?”

“Would I be talking to right now if I did,” he answered, dryly. 

“What about making out or anything?” 

He took another look at the giant hickey on his chest, “Maybe.” 

“I see.”

“God, not this again.”

“I didn’t say anything!”
“It feels like judgement anyway,” he said, annoyed. “I can do whatever I want Mal, leave it alone.”

“You’re right,” said Malcolm, but he didn’t apologize. “Lunch tomorrow? I have a feeling you’re not up for that right now.”

“Yeah sure,” he said. “What time is it anyway?”

“1 o’clock.”

Harry groaned, “Great, I’m going to have to call you back, I’ve got to get dressed and shower and actually be productive.” He needed to call his publicist and check in with the agency about extending his current deadline… again. And he should probably go the gym with Liam. “See you tomorrow at...  Florence’s?” 

“Sounds good H. Mwah,” said Malcolm like he always did.
“Yeah, bye,” he said, hanging up. Then he face planted into his pillow again, groaning for the fourth time. “Get up Styles,” he told himself. “Get the fuck up.”

It took him five minutes but he did eventually get up again.  

He drank another glass of water before going to brush his teeth. It was during this task when he looked in the mirror and noticed something written on his hand. His eyes widened, “Fuck.” 

This was not good. 

-

February 2013

“Lou!” Louis turned at the familiar and lovely deep voice of Harry Styles. He was coming towards Louis who was perched on the front step of his dorm building, with his hair gelled back and in black skinny jeans that accentuated his mile-long legs. Louis tried not to stare and instead grinned. 

“Hey Haz!” 

“What’re you doing out here?” he asked, upon arriving closer. Louis stood up and Harry immediately wrapped his arms around Louis. He shivered. It had been only eight days since their first day and it was now Valentine’s Day. If someone had told him this would be happening, that he wouldn’t be alone on Valentine’s Day, only a few weeks ago he would have laughed in their faces… and then maybe cried. 

“Waiting for you,” said Louis, blushing. 

Harry grinned wider, and the grip he had around Louis grew tighter as well. Louis had been surprised to see how touchy-feely Harry was with him even though they had only gone on two dates. But he wasn’t complaining, he loved it. They hadn’t kissed yet but they had hugged and held hands and Harry had kissed him on the cheek after the dinner they had a few days ago. 

This wasn’t the first time they had seen each other that day. Harry had came by with flowers and cupcakes in the morning and Louis had gotten him scented candles- not exactly the typical Valentine’s Day gift but Louis knew Harry would appreciate it- he did. 

They were going out to dinner again now but to a fancier place for the special occasion. So Louis was wearing another button up (blue again because Harry said he liked how it matched his eyes), black jeans, and a blazer that coincidentally matched the blazer Harry wore over a white shirt that to Louis’ amazement was only buttoned up half way. He could see the tips of a butterfly tattoo on his lower stomach. He tried not to think about tracing it too much. 

Harry held his hand as they walked to his car. Louis didn’t have a car (he didn’t like driving and cars are expensive) and he really liked the idea of Harry driving him places. He really liked the idea of spending as much time with Harry as possible. It had been less than ten days and Louis was already woefully attached. They hadn’t talked about anything yet. They were together but were they boyfriends?

Boyfriend.

Could Harry be his boyfriend? He desperately wanted him to be. But how to breach the subject? Louis was too nervous and too scared of rejection to say anything. 

They reached the car and Louis slid into the passenger seat and Harry into the driver's seat. Harry put on his typical hippie music that Louis already loved to make fun of even though he secretly didn’t mind it. 

When Fleetwood Mac came on, Harry began humming and then crooning the lyrics of Go Your Own Way. He had a voice like honey, deep and comforting, and Louis felt relaxed as he leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. 

-

Dinner went well and Louis spent the time telling Harry about his sisters, his classes, and other random things that normally Louis wouldn’t bother mentioning because they didn’t seem important but what Harry seemed to love. “The little things are important,” he had said when Louis had apologized for being boring. “I really like hearing stuff about you or your day, Lou, don’t stop.” 

Harry in turn told him about his sister Gemma and how he was still deciding what his major was going to be but it would probably be in music. He told Louis about his dorm mate, Niall, and how they got along really well. “I think you’d like him.”

“He sounds great,” said Louis. “My roommate doesn’t really talk to me.” He shrugged even though it kind of hurt. He had tried to become friends or at least have civil conversations with his roommate, Alex, but he tended to either ignore Louis or glare at him whenever they happened to be in the room at the same time. He also always had friends or his girlfriend over which was awkward. When Louis had still been dating his last boyfriend, Aidan, he had spent as much time as possible at his apartment but then things went south. “I’m actually planning on getting my own flat next year,” he said. 

Harry’s eyes lit up, “I could help you look!” He blushed, “If that’s okay and you want my help?”

“Of course I’d want your help Haz,” said Louis, fondly. It was endearing how Harry seemed to worry as much as Louis did about how things came across. 

Harry paid the bill because Louis had paid last time and they agreed it would be best to alternate, then after a nice stroll through a nearby park, they drove back (Harry’s hand on Louis’ thigh the entire way back). 

“I just wanted to say,” started Harry as they reached Louis’ dorm building. “I’m really glad I met you, Lou.”
“I’m just as glad,” said Louis, before reaching in to hug Harry. Harry was so huggable, it wasn’t his fault. He immediately bent down and wrapped his arms around Louis’ torso, supporting him so he didn’t have to reach up to Harry’s height. Louis didn’t meet many people that bent down for him. Not that he was short. 

He was 5’9, thank you very much. A perfectly decent height for a man. 

Harry loosened his hold for a second and their eyes met. Green eyes latched onto his. Harry had the prettiest eyes Louis had ever seen in his life. Bright, wide, and deep. When Harry looked at you, you were the only thing he was paying attention to. It was a nice feeling. Louis’ eyes then dropped to Harry’s mouth. His pink, soft lips. “Lou,” Harry said, voice deeper than usual. One of his hands came to cup Louis’ face and his breath faltered. He caressed Louis’ cheek and Louis’ eyes fluttered shut. “Can I kiss you?”

Louis shivered, eyes still shut as he nodded. 

Harry was going to kiss him. 

Holy fuck. 

Everything seemed to stop as Harry’s lips met his. They were just as soft as he imagined. His grip on Harry’s shoulders tightened, before he slid his arms around his neck. He curled a hand into Harry's curls and nearly melted- they were just as soft and wonderful as he expected. Harry made an approving sound as Louis stroked his hair. He kept one hand on Louis’ cheek and the other arm wrapped entirely around Louis’ middle. The fact that he could do that shouldn’t be as hot as it was. 

Louis’ lips parted and he felt Harry’s tongue slip into his mouth. And of fucking course, Harry Styles was a good kisser. The best kisser Louis has ever had, probably. 

He tasted like the chocolate cake they had for dessert. 

When Harry pulled away, Louis was blushing and Harry was grinning. They were still wrapped together and it felt right. All of this felt right. Like Louis was only meant to kiss Harry. They fit together. Louis knew then, at that moment, that he was going to fall head over heels for Harry. And maybe, Harry would fall head over heels for him right back. 

“Good night Lou,” whispered Harry finally, words breaking the sacred silence that had settled over their little bubble. He leaned forward and pressed a gentle kiss on Louis’ forehead. Louis exhaled, cheeks still burning as Harry’s curls brushed his temple. Harry pressed feather light kisses over his red cheeks. “Cute.” 

Louis ducked his head, before reaching up and giving Harry one last peck, “Night Haz.” 

“Text me.”

“I will.” 

“I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“I can’t wait," he said, hooking his head over Harry's shoulder. 

They were meant to be parting words, but neither of them let go. 

-

Chapter Text

May 2017

“Are you ready to go?” asked Zayn, peeking his head into Louis’ room. 

“Yeah,” said Louis, grabbing his bag and standing up. 

“Calvin’s almost here,” said Zayn. 

“I know,” said Louis, walking past him. “In case you didn’t know, I actually keep in touch with my friends, especially the ones I’ve known since I was three years old.” 

“Could’ve fooled me, you’re the most antisocial person I’ve met and I’ve met myself.”

Louis flipped him off. 

He couldn’t be mad that Zayn basically forced Calvin to drive to London and pick Louis up only to drive them both back to Donny because he didn’t trust Louis to drive the few hours to Donny by himself, not when it had been ages since he had seen one of his oldest and bestest friends. And especially not because he still feels guilty. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever stop being guilty. 

Louis’ phone buzzed with Calvin’s text: Downstairs, coming up. 

“He’s here,” said Louis right as the doorbell rang. 

Louis opened the door and there was Calvin all his familiar glory. Blue eyes, floofy hair, and hands in the pockets of his jeans, “Hey L.” 

“Cal,” he said, and then hugged his friend. Calvin huffed but hugged him back like he always did. 

Louis turned to Zayn who already had his worry face on, “You sure you have everything?”

Louis rolled his eyes, “Yes Z, and even if I didn’t- I have half my stuff at Mark’s house anyway.” 

“You’re going to be okay?” asked Zayn. “That you’ll be safe?” 

“Jesus christ, it’s the twins’ birthday not war, ” said Louis. “Doncaster is the least dangerous place I could go.”

“But-”
“Z,” said Louis, putting a hand on Zayn’s arm and squeezing gently. “I’ll be fine. I’ll text you when I get there and I’ll be back in two days.” 

Zayn frowned and nodded, “Tell the girls happy 14th for me, alright?”

“Will do.”

“And have fun.”

“I will.”

“Be happy.”

Louis pursed his lips, “I’ll try.”

Zayn sighed and turned to Calvin who had been respectfully quiet for the entire conversation, “Take care of him.”

“Cal’s not my babysitter,” muttered Louis. 

“I will,” said Calvin anyway, just to appease Zayn. 

“Let’s go then?” asked Louis, eager to go on the road and see his family. Daisy and Phoebe were 14 tomorrow- the thought was terrifying. He was trying not to think about how their celebration would be missing another important someone. The most important someone. 

“Alright, bye,” said Zayn, pulling him in for one last extremely tight hug. 

“Yeah, yeah, love you Z,” said Louis, wincing. “Ouch, let me go Z, you’re crushing my fragile bones.” 

Zayn swatted him, “See you in two days, Lou, love you too.”

“Okay, bye then,” said Louis, grabbing his stuff once again and following Calvin out the door. He could feel Zayn’s eyes on them as they walked down the hallway, all the way to the elevator. “I know you’re going to use this as an excuse to invite Liam over!” called Louis behind him, grinning. 

“Fuck you!”
“Not me, Liam!” yelled Louis, without looking back. The elevator doors opened and he and Calvin entered. He was going home now. A blessing and a curse. 

-

Despite his worries, the trip ended being lovely. Louis saw Mark and all the girls. Doris and Ernest were with Dan but they’d be coming by the next day for Daisy and Phoebe’s party and Louis couldn’t wait to see them. 

After Louis unpacked everything, Calvin and Louis went out to the club to see Olli, Stan, and Olli’s new girlfriend, Eleanor, who Louis knew from secondary school. They had a good time even though Louis didn’t drink (he wasn’t allowed to and the thought of disappointing Zayn was enough to turn down Calvin’s offer to not tell). He hadn’t seen either of them since December and darker times so it was nice to catch up. Calvin had always been the most he was most in touch with. He and Olli talked on the phone quite a bit and Stan and him played cup pong on imessage games occasionally with a facetime thrown in from time to time for kicks, but it was still strange to hear about everything they’ve been doing these past few months.

 Louis felt a little disconnected and vowed to be a better friend. 

Eleanor seemed sweet too, and their conversation went alright. Louis couldn’t help but bask in the niceness of talking to someone who didn’t know him and what he had gone through, especially since Zayn told Liam about Jay and how hard it hit Louis the last time the three of them went out (movies). Louis had been annoyed at first but he also knew that Zayn didn’t want Liam to accidentally say something that would trigger him or make him uncomfortable. And Liam had taken it well for the most part. Louis still wasn’t looking forward to the pitying and sympathetic looks he knew he’d get now every time they interacted. 

He put that out of his mind and enjoyed his time with his oldest friends. By the time he returned to the house just after midnight, Lottie had arrived and once she had attacked him with many cuddles (which he desperately needed but would never admit), they sat down and talked for a while. 

The next day was dedicated to Daisy and Phoebe- who were now 14. Louis got a little emotional seeing them blow out the candles. They celebrated first with the family: Louis, Lottie, the twins, Ernie & Doris, Mark, Dan, and one of their aunts. Louis couldn’t hold back the tears when he saw that Mark had left an empty chair at the table for Jay. He had given the girls make up as gifts and they hugged him tight and he promised them that he would do better- come back more often, text them more, be a better big brother. 

Daisy had stepped away and sternly said, “You’re the best older brother in the entire world Lou, shut up!” 

He loved his sisters. 

After lunch, the girls’ friends from school arrived. Louis didn’t know many of them save for Holly who they’d known for ages but he approved of the way they made his sisters smile. Calvin, Stan, and Olli popped in to give warm wishes to the girls and hang out with Louis a little more. Everything went really well and Louis didn’t feel quite as panicked as he had expected, even if the missing presence of his mum greeting everyone and teasing the twins and making him help set up snacks and bring them around like a waiter shocked him. 

By dinner, all that was left was the family, Holly, and Fizzy’s new boyfriend who Louis took great pleasure in interrogating with the help of Dan and Mark. He wasn’t a terrible big brother after all. 

Fizzy was embarrassed but by the end of it, she was cackling as the boy- Marty or Michael or something- looked pale and worried. “You’re all twats,” she said, rolling her eyes fondly. 

Mark reprimanded her halfheartedly, eyes twinkling. 

The next day he spent relaxing. He and Calvin played footy with Mark and Fizzy (the only one of his sisters to appreciate the gift that was football) and he let the twins attack his face with their new makeup (an experience that he will always look back on with horror). 

He also got a little emotional when Fizzy hugged him tighter before going to bed, “Don’t leave us for so long this time Louis, we miss you. We miss you big brother.” 

Louis squeezed her back, “I miss my girls too. I promise I’ll come back soon. Maybe you lot can up to London. I’ll get Z to give up his room, he’ll be pissed but he’ll give in because he loves you guys.”

Fizzy smirked, “We’re very lovable.” 

“That you are Fiz.” 

“Who knows, maybe I can help you find a hot date,” she said, waggling her eyebrows. 

Louis flinched, but kept his expression neutral, “I don’t know about that one girly, you’re only 16. I don’t want to know what type of person you’ll pick for me.” Inside he felt faint. The idea of dating scared him. How can he date again when looking at his reflection in the mirror disgusted him? 

The answer was no. No way. 

Louis would not date again. Maybe not ever. 

-

“God damn it, I hate Saturdays,” said Malcolm dramatically. 

Harry raised an eyebrow over his salad, “Um everything alright Mal?”

“Today is awful ,” he said, glowering. Malcolm looked put together as he always did: blonde hair brushed and arranged artfully, dressed in fancy but understated slacks and a mostly unbuttoned shirt, and hands adorned with rings very much like Harry’s own. His lips also seemed to be painted in lipstick. Some traditional assholes had already sent them some very judgemental looks which made Harry want to roll his eyes. It was 2017! Clothes and makeup didn’t have genders! Get over it!

“Awful how?” he asked, taking another bite from his salad. He was used to Malcolm being dramatic. He actually kind of enjoyed it. It took his mind off of whatever he was currently stressed/annoyed/concerned about. 

“For starters, I got my order of those boots I was talking about yesterday, the leather ones? They came but they’re too big for my dainty feet,” said Mal, scowling. Harry nearly choked at the “dainty” comment but hid it quickly. “And then my stupid ass landlord was being a bitch this morning. Maybe I should move to your guys’ building. Any open spots?”

Harry shrugged, “Not that I know of, but maybe.” He tried to ignore the fact that the  thought of Malcolm moving into their building didn’t ignite any joy inside him like the news of one of your closest friends wanting to move close to you should. 

“How about your songwriting, find any inspirations lately?” asked Malcolm. 

Harry groaned, “No, I’m completely inspiration-less.”

“I could be your muse,” said Malcolm with an exaggerated wink. 

Harry burst out laughing and Malcolm followed after a moment. “I’ll write a song about your Gucci suits and gold tongue piercing.” Malcolm stuck out his tongue, where indeed a little gold stud blinked at him, and feigned flipping his hair. 

“It’ll be a hit,” he said. 

Harry rolled his eyes fondly. He understood why Niall and others didn’t get their friendship- despite their similar fashion styles, they didn’t have much in common. But Malcolm got Harry in a way even Niall didn’t. He was there for him at one of the hardest points in his life- when he was broken and crying on that life-changing January morning two years before. He had been there for him every day after that and was always the first to reassure Harry. 

To comfort him and build him back up after his ex broke his heart. 

Harry would always be grateful to him for that. 

Plus it was always nice to have a friend that was into the more expensive and elite of his hobbies: going to fashion shows, art exhibits, and other fancy events that made Niall want to smother himself in Target clothing and Liam very awkward and uncomfortable. 

Harry liked those things and he liked going to the movies or to the park or just staying home and watching Netflix. He was a man of many hobbies. 

“What about you?” he asked. “What’s going on with that modeling gig you accepted? The magazine one?”

“Shooting starts Monday,” said Malcolm. “Except I heard that they hired that backstabbing bitch Kendall. The audacity !” 

Harry refrained from reacting too obviously. He knew Kendall. She and him didn’t have much in common and she had also tried to flirt with Harry when he was taken (she was drunk to be fair), but she wasn’t exactly a backstabbing bitch and Harry didn’t recall her doing anything to Malcolm. He would have ranted about it to Harry for ages if she had. He didn’t say anything though. 

Malcolm just liked gossip. He liked the rumors and the drama. He lived off it. 

It didn’t really make him a bad person… 

They finished their food and Malcolm paid despite Harry’s huffing. “I’m paying next time,” warned Harry. 

Malcolm scoffed, “We don’t have to keep track, Harold! Let me treat you.” 

Harry smiled. “You treat me plenty well.”

Malcolm winked, “I know. I’m the best non-boyfriend you’ve ever had, what a shame you didn’t snatch me up.” 

He meant it as a joke but Harry still flinched. There wasn’t even any undertone in the comment, but Harry couldn’t help it. It wasn’t his fault. He wasn’t completely over what happened between them a year before- not a pleasant memory. 

Finding out one of your best friends who you only see as a best friend is in love with you would never be pretty, and even though Malcolm is over him now, Harry is still sensitive to things between them. He always made sure things didn’t come across murky in the waters of friends vs something more. 

“I’m just kidding,” said Malcolm, noticing the discomfort. “I shouldn’t have said that, sorry.”

“No, I’m the one being overly-sensitive. It’s been ages, you’ve gotten over it and I should too,” said Harry. “So any new modelling gossip? What happened with that girl Mara?” It was a desperate attempt to change the topic even though Harry didn’t really care about Mara and whether or not she’s been sleeping with the higher-ups to get better gigs.

Malcolm happily delved in however, and Harry tried to relax. 

He and Malcolm were best friends. Best friends. 

-

March 2017

Zayn was in a rush. He ducked around shoppers and manuevered around different aisles, trying to get to the right in as quickly as possible. It might have been futile- Louis was still at the flat, sobbing, without his tea, and Zayn was still here at Tesco’s, three blocks away, trying to get the tea, and failing at not worrying about his best friend. 

He probably looked like a maniac. He was wearing old sweats, a worn-out, black Sally’s shirt he had gotten upon becoming an employee years ago and was now demoted to a sleep shirt, and a black Batman beanie over his mussed hair. One lady shot him a weird look. Could be his clothes or his skin color- either way, Zayn couldn’t give two fucks. 

He finally made it to the tea aisle, and made a beeline to the Yorkshire tea that Louis was so fond off. Right as he reached for a container, a metal cart rammed into his back and he keeled over. Pain erupted in his ribs. “What the fuck!” 

“Oh my god! I’m so sorry!” exclaimed an extremely apologetic voice. 

Zayn clutched his aching torso and whirled around, ready to give this unknown stranger a piece of his mind. “Watch where you’re ramming that-” His words trailed off and he froze. 

Shit. Cart rammer was hot as fuck. 

Tall, soft brown hair, wide and warm brown eyes, and arms with the amount of definition Zayn would love to capture in paint. And best of all. He was wearing a fucking Batman shirt. 

Fucking Batman!

“I’m so so sorry, I didn’t see you! That’s not an excuse, I’m such as asshole, are you alright?” He said it lightning fast and Zayn barely got any of it. He just stared. 

After a moment of awkward silence in which Sexy Stranger was still staring at him in concern, hopefully because of his ribs and not because Zayn was currently staring slack-jawed in awe of him, Zayn spoke, “Yeah, I’m good man, no worries.” 

He realized then that he was wearing sweats and an old shirt and nearly cringed. Shut the fuck up, you’re Zayn fucking Malik. You can flirt with cute guys in your pyjamas. 

“Are you sure?” the stranger asked again, hands gripping his offending cart tightly. “I’m so sorry.”

“I’m great,” said Zayn. “Zayn.”

“Liam,” said the stranger, sounding relieved. And then he smiled. 

Fuck. 

He looked like a puppy. An adorable but somehow sexy puppy. This was not good. Zayn was melting. Melting!

“Nice to meet you,” said Zayn.

Liam grinned, “Nice beanie.”

“Nice shirt,” replied Zayn and then, “I always like a guy who appreciates comics.” 

Liam’s mouth opened in a little ‘o’ and then he blushed. Fucking blushed! Zayn was so gone. Louis would never let him live this down. 

Louis. 

Shit. 

Before Liam could say something, Zayn blurted, “I have to go, but can I get your number?”

Liam jaw dropped. 

“This is like really quick and I normally don’t do this but my friend needs me right now,” he said, feeling embarrassed. What was he thinking? It had barely even been a conversation. 

So he was pretty shocked when Liam immediately said, “Yes.”

Zayn smiled and then Liam handed him his phone. He put in his number under “Zayn”. 

“Maybe we could go on a date?” asked Liam. “Watch the first Batman movie? I know where we can rent a cinema room to have a private screening?” 

“Sounds fun to me,” said Zayn, giving his phone back.

This was fast, really fast, but Zayn didn’t really mind. Liam was hot, nice, and he liked Batman. He took a quick glance at his cart- he also ate healthy, that was definitely not Zayn’s thing but maybe he’d start eating healthier by association? 

He grabbed a container of Louis’ tea, praying nothing bad happened just because he got distracted. “Thanks Liam, see you soon.”

“The sooner the better,” said Liam, before blushing. “Bye Zayn.”

Zayn sent him one last smile (the smoldering one that Louis said made him look like one of those Bollywood guys) before walking away. 

This was not how he expected this trip to go, but he couldn’t be mad about it. Especially when he found Louis at their flat in one piece, mostly calmed down from his earlier panic attack. 

Zayn didn’t normally date people exclusively. It wasn’t his thing. However, he was definitely looking to give this guy a chance. 

He had a feeling that it was going to be something great. 

-

Chapter Text

May 2017

Harry was ready. Liam was not ready, but that didn’t matter, because it was finally happening. Harry and Niall were finally meeting Liam’s elusive boyfriend. Zayn was his name. Harry was excited. He had been trying to pry information about him from Liam for weeks to no avail but now all his questions would be answered. 

They were having dinner at a new place which was conveniently located near Harry’s studio which meant he was actually the first to arrive to see a very stressed looking Liam. “Y’alright Li?”

Liam jumped, and then groaned, “I’m nervous but I don’t know why. Everything’s going to be fine. I know he’ll like you guys. I shouldn’t be worried.”

“Your significant other meeting your friends is always tough,” said Harry sympathetically. 

“Meeting your significant other’s friends is tough too,” said Liam. 

“Have you met any of his friends yet?”

“I met his flatmate and he’s pretty great- really sarcastic and a little shit sometimes, but he’s a good guy,” said Liam. “He calls me Payno and loves Marvel which is a bonus.”

Harry rolled his eyes. The way Liam got about Marvel was kind of ridiculous. Sometimes he felt like the only one in his friend group who wasn’t obsessed with those characters. Louis would always-

He choked on his next breath, heart racing. Not a good time to suddenly remember something. Liam gave him a concerned look. 

“I just remembered something,” said Harry, clearing his throat. 

“Haz and Leeyum!!” called Niall. The Irish man was looking a lot brighter and more relaxed now that Ben was back on his shift and Barbara, his girlfriend, had graduated from her Master’s Program, freeing up her time considerably for them to be their power-couple selves once again. Harry had gone to the ceremony with Niall and dealt with all the tears and cheering Niall let out. 

Harry got up to hug him but Liam was so tense, all he could do was smile and nod. “When’s the man of the hour arriving?” asked Niall, wiggling his eyebrows. 

Liam glanced at his phone, “In like a minute. Shit.”

Harry and Niall exchanged a look. Liam rarely ever cursed which meant they needed to step up on best friend duties. “Everything’s going to go smoothly Li,” he said. “Plus this guy obviously adores you, and who can blame him?”

“I know, I know,” said Liam, clawing at his hair. “I just really like him. Like really really like him! I can see a future with him- I’ve never felt that before.” 

Harry felt a pang which he tried to ignore (or at least tamp down because in reality the longing for a life partner who he’d spend the rest of his life with would never disappear). 

“I’m sure he feels the same,” said Niall. A waitress appeared with a bowl of breadsticks and a light switched on in the Irishman’s head. “Breadsticks! Fuck yeah!” 

And then. Liam audibly gasped. Harry whipped around, eyes searching out whoever was coming their way- Liam’s boyfriend. 

He blinked as a stranger approaches them, a shy smile on his face. 

Damn.

The stranger had dark hair, warm caramel skin, and amber eyes all on a face with cheekbones that could cut glass. He sort of looked like someone straight out of a Greek myth. In other words: immensely attractive. Liam really scored with this one. 

“Zayn,” said Liam, standing up and hugging him. 

Zayn beamed at him and Harry immediately knew that he was a good guy. There was adoration and potential for love in that look. It warmed his heart. 

“Hey Li,” said Zayn, before turning to an eager Harry and Niall. “You must be Liam’s flatmates.”

Harry stood up and offered his hand which Zayn shook, “I’m Harry, it’s so nice to finally meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too Harry.”

Niall was next, “Liam has been talking about you nonstop for the past month and a half and I have to say- I’m not disappointed.” Liam blushed, Harry stifled a laugh, and Zayn looked a mixture between smug and embarrassed. “I’m Niall, Liam’s favorite flatmate.” 

Harry gasped. “Lies!”

“Not right now, that’s for sure,” said Liam, ushering Zayn into a seat. “That’s the only time you need to embarrass me tonight, Ni.” 

“We’ll see about that,” said Niall, taking a bite out of his breadstick. “The night is young and I have a lot of stories.”

“Trust me, I definitely want to hear them,” said Zayn, and Liam groaned. 

-

Louis was not doing too hot. 

Zayn was out with Liam and Liam’s flatmates who he was meeting for the first time, leaving Louis alone on a Friday night, bored, and itching to smoke. Except he couldn’t because he didn’t have any cigarettes. Zayn had hidden them somewhere. 

He clenched his fists again, trying to think of something- anything else. 

It didn’t work. 

Louis was sitting on the couch, Friends playing on the TV in front of him. Friends always made him feel better but it wasn’t doing it now. He felt jittery, out of control. He needed to smoke. Needed it to balance him and keep him sane. 

Deep breaths. Jesus christ, you’re 25 years old, you can wait a few hours. 

He inhaled deeply, held it, and slowly exhaled before repeating it again and again. He pretended Zayn was there with him, coaxing him through the exercises. “In and out, in and out Lou, good job. You’ve got it.” 

But Zayn wasn’t here and Louis was broken beyond repair. He clenched and unclenched his fists, eyes watering. He was so pathetic. He had assured Zayn that he’d be fine for a few hours without him today, and now here he was, not even an hour into his isolation, and already crumbling. Pathetic. 

His stomach was growling, but it didn’t process in his mind. He’d wait until Zayn came back. In this moment, getting up and finding something edible in their fridge was the hardest thing he could think of doing. 

A tear ran down his cheek, and dripped onto his jumper. He released a shaky breath. He needed to call someone. Not Zayn, he would never tear him away from his one break from Louis’ madness. Lottie would probably be busy. 

If it had been before, he would have called his mum. 

But he couldn’t. 

It hit him like a freight train and then he was bawling. He keeled over on the couch, and clutched his knees to his chest. His mum was gone and he’d never get to call her again. 

She was gone gone gone. 

Louis was lost lost lost. 

The events that occured after were a blur in his mind. 

-

March 2013

Louis was kind of nervous. 

He was at Harry’s dorm. It was small as dorms were, but Harry's side was warm and cozy with fairy lights and pictures he had taken himself adorning the walls- pictures of family, friends, and random pretty things. They were both sitting on Harry’s bed, arms and legs touching, so close they only had to whisper to speak. Harry had his laptop propped up on his legs and they were watching Love Actually. It was Harry’s favorite movie and that’s-

Well it’s fucking adorable. 

Harry wasn't just a fan of the film, he was entranced by it. Green eyes intensely fixed on the screen, mouth moving along with the lines as Hugh Grant and Kiera Knightley and a bunch of other famous actors fell in love and dealt with other issues along the way. To be honest, Louis wasn’t paying the most attention which was odd because a childhood of watching rom-coms with his mum and younger sisters made him a sucker for a good love stories- or in this case, multiple love stories. 

He was a little distracted from the events of the story however by a panic running through his head. 

Seeing Harry and how much he loved this movie and how he still kept glancing at Louis, trying to make sure he’s having a good time. He also snuck his arm around Louis’ waist, and pulled him close. Normally Louis hated watching movies as dates because it would end up not being as intimate and more like hanging out with a friend- but with Harry it felt special. Harry was special.

He could see them dating a really long time. 

However, he didn’t exactly know if he was alone in that thought and that’s what scared him. See, they never officially labelled themselves as a couple. Louis didn’t know if they were boyfriends or just seeing each other. They’ve kissed multiple times already and that’s nice (kissing Harry is really nice) but there has been no conversation. 

Once he was aware of this dilemma, he felt uncomfortable. 

He needed to bring it up, maybe later after the movie when they ordered take out. He was afraid. What if Harry didn’t like Louis as much as Louis liked Harry. Because Louis really liked Harry. Fuck. 

“Lou?” 

Louis froze. Harry was giving him a concerned look. He paused the movie and turned to face him, “Everything alright?”

One thing Louis had learned very quickly about Harry was how perceptive and aware he was of everyone around him. It was charming but also dangerous for situations such as this. 

He nodded, and forced a smile, “Yeah, sorry, just got distracted.”

Harry frowned, “You can talk to me, Lou. Are you sure?”

Louis hesitated. He didn’t want to scare him off… But Harry was looking at him with genuine concern and curiosity. “Uh, I was just wondering… Do we have a label for what we’re doing???” 

He felt stupid when Harry frowned, “You mean dating?”

“So we are dating?” he asked, trying to mask some of the surprise in his voice. That was easier than expected. 

“Yes,” said Harry, looking confused. “What did you think this was?”

Louis bit his lip, feeling embarrassed. 

Harry noticed and softened, “Lou, I want nothing else than for you to be my boyfriend.” 

Louis blushed, “I want you to be my boyfriend too.”

Harry grinned, and then pulled him into his chest, arms wrapping around him, “You idiot. I can’t believe you thought I wasn’t trying to date you 24/7 for these past few weeks.”

Louis felt warmth bloom in his chest and feigned a shocked look, “You’ve been wooing me this whole time Harold! The audacity!”

Harry nosed at his neck and Louis could feel his grin, “It seemed to have worked.”

Louis scoffed, “We’ll see about that. I might be slowly seduced by your curls but only time will tell.”

“I’ll do anything,” said Harry solemnly and even though they were both joking, it sent a burst of happiness inside him. 

“You’re something special Styles,” he murmured. 

Harry pecked him on the lips, “You’re even better Tomlinson.” Then he moved them around so Louis’ head rested on his shoulder, “Now let’s finish this movie. I know you haven’t been paying attention so we’re rewatching this another time.”

Louis rolled his eyes. “Only if we get to watch Grease first.”

“Is that the one with Natalie Wood?”

Louis sputtered, “Harold!”

Harry had the decency to look sheepish. Louis was amazed. How could someone not know the amazingness of Grease, the best movie/musical ever created? Maybe he was biased due to him playing Danny Zuko in his school's production but that was besides the point. He made a mental point to correct this error as soon as humanly possible. 

"We're watching it next time," he vowed. "And I'm making you listen to the entire soundtrack."

Harry's eyebrows raised dramatically, "There's music too?"

Louis shook his head, “Is it too late to break up with you?”

Harry frowned (putting on what Louis called his frog face), “Yes, it's too late, you’re stuck with me for a long, long time.”

The comment shouldn’t have made Louis as happy as it did.

-

May 2017 (later that evening)

Louis was lying on the kitchen floor when he heard the telltale sounds of the door being unlocked. “Louis?” called Zayn’s familiar voice. Louis groaned, eyes still shut. “I’m back from-”

He stopped abruptly and let out an un-Zayn-like noise. Louis winced. 

“Louis!” he called again, panic leaching into his voice. Louis opened his mouth, and tried to answer but no words came out. “Louis, I swear to god!” 

He heard Zayn as he ran into the kitchen, slamming doors shut. “Louis!”

He opened his eyes and once again tried and failed to speak. Zayn was still a flurry of movement. Louis understood. He would be worried too if he came home to his flat and saw the mess Louis had created. Louis didn't remember the events of the past hour that well. He had a panic attack, that much was clear. He remembers throwing stuff too. 

That was not good. 

“Louis where the fuck are you!” Zayn flew into the hallway where he stopped abruptly and fell to his knees just a few steps from where Louis lay. “Louis! You can’t just…” He dropped his head into his head and released a shaky breath. 

Guilt pooled in Louis’ stomach but he didn’t move- couldn’t move. He was exhausted and his limbs felt like lead. 

When Zayn lifted his head, there were tears tracking down his face. Something crumbled inside Louis. He was awful for making Zayn worry. 

“I can’t believe… I thought- I thought you were…” his words trailed off but both of them knew what he was going to say. I thought you gave in. 

Then Zayn crawled over to him and collapsed on top of him. Louis didn’t even complain about the extra weight, just wrapped his arms around Zayn’s heaving shoulders and curled his hands in his hair. “I.. I’m sorry Z,” he whispered, voice scratchy. “I’m so sorry.” 

Zayn didn’t answer, but he squeezed him tighter. “Don’t ever leave me. Promise you won’t ever.”

Louis has heard this before. He’s also promised before multiple times but he did it again for Zayn’s sake, “I promise, if you promise you won’t ever let me break.”

Zayn pulled back and fixed Louis with a stern glare, “You’re not broken Louis Tomlinson, you’re healing.”

“I am though, I’m broken,” said Louis, voice still quiet. He thought of his sisters and of Calvin and everyone else that will never look at him the same way. He thought of the look in their eyes after January, the cold awareness and fear that was always present whenever they spoke to him. “I mean it. Promise me Zayn. I don’t… I don’t want to go, promise me you’ll make sure I never do.”

“I promise,” said Zayn immediately. “I’m so glad Lou, I’m so glad.”

“Yeah well I guess not wanting to off myself is kind of a big deal,” said Louis, sarcastically. 

“It is.”

“Yeah,” he admitted. “Yeah I guess so.”

“I won’t let you break,” said Zayn, hugging him again. One of his hands came to lightly run through Louis’ fringe. “You’re my best friend, one of my favorite people. It’s you and me Lou, it’ll always be me and you first.”

Louis resisted the inner urge to correct him. What about Liam? What about the person you’re inevitably going to marry and love forever? What happens to me then? 

As if reading his mind, Zayn said, “You know I’d stay with you forever right? Just you and me.” What he meant is that he’d stay single for Louis forever and Louis would never let that happen. 

“I’d never let you.”

“Yeah I know,” said Zayn, frowning. “I would still do it.” 

“Life would be much easier if we were in love and together.”

Zayn feigned offense, “Are you saying our love is a lie? Don’t you love me?”

Even though he was joking, Louis still said, “I do. I love you. I love you more than I love myself.” His voice cracked on the last part, and it was like a barrier fell away and then he was crying again. And Zayn was holding him. Holding him together like he always did, keeping him from breaking apart. 

-

Chapter Text

May 2017 (next week)

“You cheater!” exclaimed Liam, eyes wide as Louis flew down the field with the ball, laughing. 

“Louis plays dirty babe, I told you!” yelled Zayn from the side. 

Louis flipped him off before scoring his third goal in the past twenty-five minutes, pulling him ahead of Liam’s two. He hadn’t played 1v1 in a long, long time but it felt good. Really good. 

Liam was scowling when he got the ball back, and Louis just gave him a grin. He would catch onto the way Louis played eventually. 

“Alright Payno?” said Louis, not feeling guilty at all. 

Liam rolled his eyes but he was more amused if anything, “Alright Louis, I’ll be even better when you lose.” Then he took off before Louis could fully react. Louis huffed and followed, appreciating his smaller size for once only because it allowed him to quickly duck next to Liam and steal the ball. Liam didn’t give up though. They shoved and elbowed each other, laughing the entire time. 

Louis felt light and free. He was grinning and it didn’t feel forced.

He could almost feel Zayn’s pleased expressions from the sidelines where he was sitting on a lawn chair reading some art book. 

Louis kicked Liam in the shin (gently… sort of) and took off with the ball as Liam yelped. “For god’s sake Liam, keep up!” he yelled behind him, just because he was a little shit. 

“You can quit anytime babe!” said Zayn helpfully.

“No way, I’m taking him down,” vowed Liam and then suddenly he was right behind Louis. Damn it. Curse Liam and his frequent cardio days. Louis lost possession for a second and nearly rammed into Liam in effort to get him back but apparently he had learned something in the past half an hour and he moved out of range. Louis huffed and ran to catch up. 

Since it had been a long while since Louis had done anything physical, he was definitely feeling the effects. He had a disadvantage to Liam’s fit body but he made up for it in guts and boldness. He shot off and tackled Liam who yelled before flailing and hitting the ground, taking Louis with him. 

That was not expected. 

It seems Liam is not quite as graceful as he had initially assumed. 

Louis eagle-spread out on the grass, face raised to the sun, and grinned, “You play well Liam.”

“You play pretty decently yourself,” said Liam, plopping down beside him. “You know, when you aren’t making the game living hell.”

Louis tsked, “It’s not my fault you can’t keep up.”

Liam rolled his eyes, “Menace.”

“Grandpa.”

They both smiled at each other. 

-

Zayn kept glancing at Louis and giving him pleased looks. “What?” said Louis, when he had done it the tenth time. Zayn shook his head, “Nothing, it’s just good to see you so happy.”

Louis looked at his plate. 

They were at Sally’s because Zayn got an employee discount and plus he had a shift right after lunch so it seemed convenient. Liam was in the restroom leaving Zayn and Louis alone. 

Instead of answering the last comment, Louis cleared his throat. “I really like Liam.”

Zayn beamed, “Me too.” 

It was weird but also kind of nice to see Zayn so bright and soft for his boyfriend. Louis was so happy for him, it hurt. 

“Why do you both look so happy?” asked a familiar voice. Louis gasped before turning to see his sister, Lottie. “Is someone getting married?”

“Zayn pretty soon if things progress in the direction they’re going in,” said Louis with a smile, before jumping up to cuddle his sister (while Zayn sputtered). “You’re early!” Louis had thought she'd arrive later that evening for her three day stay with them. He already had the pull-out set up (for himself because he'd always give up his room for Lottie or any of the girls for that matter). Lottie was visiting him and going to a meeting for her brand the next day. 

“Yup, I wanted to surprise you.” Lottie squeezed him back, “My favorite older brother.”

“My favorite adult sister,” replied Louis, because it was the only one that worked. He blinked, and gently grabbed a strand of her hair, "Your hair is very blonde."

"That's the thing about blonde dye," said Lottie cheekily before stepping back. 

She hugged Zayn next, “How are you bad boy?”

Zayn rolled his eyes like he had been doing ever since the first time she called him that nearly two years ago. It was done with a gentle fondness though which was rare for Zayn Malik except with people he genuinely cared about. “I’m great Lotts, how about you? CEO of your own brand and all. How’s that going?” 

Lottie beamed, “It’s going great!” Louis loved to see her talk so happily about her projects. It made her glad that even if he wasn’t doing as well, his family could. 

“Have you stopped at the flat yet? Do you need help unpacking? Or are you hungry? When’d you leave? Early-” Louis was cut off his rant by Lottie putting her hand over his mouth. 

“I already dropped my stuff at the flat and I came over here because I knew Zayn has his shift,” said Lottie. “As for food, I definitely could eat, I left before breakfast. The twins say hi. Both pairs. And Fizzy.”

Louis smiled at the mention of his siblings. Daisy and Phoebe had skyped him to practice presenting their monologues for drama a few days before and he had talked to Dan, Doris, and Ernest on the phone yesterday and yet he still craved every bit of information he could get. “How did the twins do with the monologues?”

“Aced it,” said Lottie. “All in a day’s work for Teacher Louis.”

“Not really a teacher currently,” he said awkwardly. 

Lottie and Zayn rolled their eyes in unison. “Bullshit, you’re on a break,” said Zayn. “Just for this past semester and next semester then you’ll be back better than ever.”

He didn’t say what all three of them were thinking: he’d back unless he was still broken by the time January arrived. “What about Fizzy?”

“She’s great and yes she’s still dating Max, you somehow managed not to scare him off,” said Lottie, amused. 

“Fizzy has a boyfriend!?” exclaimed Zayn, eyes wide. 

“I know! It’s awful!” said Louis, using his hands for emphasis. 

“And you didn’t skype me to help interrogate him?” asked Zayn, pouting with his arms crossed. Louis and Lottie gave him sheepish looks. 

“Sorry mate, got caught up in the mo,” Louis said, shrugging. Zayn scowled. 

“Hey,” said Liam, who had returned to his bathroom, most likely confused as to what was going on. Lottie raised an eyebrow. Liam glanced at Lottie, “Hi, I’m Liam.”

“Lottie,” said Lottie. “I’m Louis’ sister.”

“Ah yes the oldest,” said Liam and Lottie looked pleased. Liam had been shocked when Louis told him he had six siblings but he had listened attentively as Louis described them all. Hearing him remember such a detail made Louis feel all warm inside. Liam listened to him. Zayn gave him an adoring look. 

“You’re Zayn’s boyfriend, right?” realized Lottie. Liam nodded and she clapped her hands together. “Oh yes, this is going to be fun.”

Zayn groaned and Louis cackled. One thing Zayn was not expecting when befriending Louis was to gain a whole truckload of younger sisters to add onto his already big family but it’s what he got. 

Lottie fixed Liam with an intense stare, “I’m going to order a salad and then we’re going to have a little chat about your intentions which our young Zaynie here.”

Zayn facepalmed and Liam looked appropriately nervous, even if he was probably humoring her. “Yes ma'am.” 

“Politeness will get you no favors with me,” said Lottie, “But flattery will.”

“Well, in that case, you look very lovely in that shade of pink,” said Liam solemnly. 

Lottie gave him an unimpressed look, “I basically gave you permission to bribe me and that’s the best I get? Unoriginal. I'm disappointed.”

Liam’s mouth quirked up at the end but he quickly schooled it over with a serious face, “I’ll do my best.”

“Perfect,” she said, leaning back. “Later we’ll chat about your history and your ambitions to determine whether you’re of the standard that Zayn deserves. If you cooperate I have no worries that your relationship will remain intact but remember if you mess with a Tomlinson or honorary-Tomlinson, you will regret it.” 

Louis and Zayn exchanged a look. 

Lottie was a force to be reckoned with. Louis liked to think she got it from him but really she got it from their mum. For once the thought of her didn’t make him want to immediately burst into tears. He felt the familiar clenching feeling and he had no doubt he’d go home and to bed for a little cry later on but for now he felt… normal. 

Progress. 

-

“This game is so stupid!” said Gemma, slapping away a few tiles.

“Heyyyyy,” said Harry, frowning. “Don’t disrespect Scrabble like that Gems, it’s the best game on the planet.”

“You and mum are so delusional,” said Gemma. “I don’t understand how you can think Scrabble is the best when poker literally exists.”

“You only like poker because you’re ruthless,” said Harry. They have definitely had this conversation before. Gemma had come to visit for the day like she always did once and sometimes twice a month. Harry loved hanging out with his sister, except for when she annoyed him that is. 

“Ruthless… genius… same thing,” said Gemma, shrugging. 

“Slytherin.”

“Slytherins are superior, I don’t make the rules,” said Gemma.

“Hello.. Gryffindor exists?”

“Gryffindor is the most boring house, and that’s the truth.” 

Harry rolled his eyes, they had had this conversation before too. “Whatever, it’s your turn now.”

He watched as Gemma put down v and then i, b, e…. y. 

He froze. 

“Before you tell me this isn’t a word,” said Gemma, but she stopped abruptly when she saw Harry’s pale face. “What is it?”

“Nothing,” lied Harry. 

His mind was racing.

“Vibey isn’t a word Louis,” said Harry, exasperated. This was the third time Louis had tried to make up a word. 

“It is so,” insisted Louis. “I swear it this time Harold.”

“You’re so full of shit,” said Harry. 

Louis pouted, “It is a word, you’re just being an asshole.” 

“We’ll see about that,” said Harry, picking up the dictionary. A minute later, he gasped, “Oh my god! It isn’t in the dictionary!! I’m so amazed… except not.” 

Louis rolled his eyes and huffed, “That book is outdated. Vibey is a word. I think it should count.”

“When have you ever heard anyone say vibey?” 

“Me! I say it all the time!”

“I’ve never heard you say ‘vibey’ ever, or even vibe in general.” 

They spent ten minutes arguing about and in the end, ‘vibey’ was counted just like the two other times he made up words, Louis was smug, and Harry was happily whipped for his boyfriend. 

“H?” asked Gemma quietly. 

“I’m fine,” he said. 

“You’re not,” said Gemma. “What is it?”

“Nothing… it’s just not the first time anyone’s used ‘vibey’ in a game with me, that’s all,” said Harry, lamely. 

It wasn’t a surprise when Gemma immediately knew who he was talking about. “Harry…” she said. 

“Don’t say anything,” said Harry, agitated. “I don’t want to hear it. I’m done with him. Believe me, if I could forget he ever existed I would.”

Gemma frowned. 

“He’s an asshole, doesn’t mean the memories just go away,” said Harry. 

“Harry-”

“No, let’s just keep playing,” said Harry. He gritted his teeth and took three deep breaths before putting down his word. “Here, ‘snake’. Like my rotten ex. Your turn.”

Gemma had enough common sense to not respond and instead they kept playing. Neither of them mentioned the fact that Gemma had gotten away with the word ‘vibey’. 

Louis Tomlinson was an off-limits topic. Harry would like as little to do with him as possible. Gemma put down the word ‘bitter’ and Harry tried not to scream at her. 

-

“Zayn, come on,” said Louis, impatiently. “We don’t need organic vegetables anyway.”

“Organic is healthier,” insisted Zayn, putting a few cucumbers in a bag. Organic cucumbers he spent nearly ten minutes looking for- way too much effort for a mediocre vegetable in Louis’ opinion. 

“So?”

“Louis you need to pay more attention to this type of stuff,” scolded Zayn. 

Louis bit back a reply where he pointed out that Zayn was once like him in that department before everything changed. Instead he just sighed and tapped his foot. 

“No need to be so pouty now that Lottie’s gone,” said Zayn and Louis huffed, called out. “You’re such a family boy, adorable.”

“You’re one to talk Malik,” muttered Louis. Zayn skyped his sister almost every day and he talked to his parents all the time. 

Zayn shot him a crooked smile, and finally they moved on from the produce aisle.

“Hey, do you think we can get-” Louis was cut off by Zayn’s happy gasp. 

“Li!” 

Louis rolled his eyes, “At this point you guys do this purpose.” He turned to see where Liam was and then froze. Because Liam wasn’t alone. 

Niall Horan was walking with him, chattering and currently oblivious to Louis’ presence. In fact neither of them had noticed Zayn and Louis yet. Niall Horan, Harry’s roommate and best friend. Niall Horan, who used to be one of his closest friends. Niall Horan, who looked almost exactly the same except his hair was back to his natural brunette color. 

Shit. 

“Let’s go say hi,” said Zayn. 

No. “What about the lasagna? That’s on the other side of the store,” said Louis, turning away. His heart was racing. He couldn’t go over there. 

“We can get it later?” said Zayn, confused. “What is it, you look stressed?”

Louis wondered if it would be terrible to pretend he was having a panic attack- he actually wasn’t that far off but it’d still probably be wrong. He felt sweaty. “Okay,” he said, realizing there’s no way to get out of this without explaining. Zayn didn’t know Niall and he definitely didn’t know Louis knew him. Either Niall would pretend he didn’t know Louis or at least not show it too much, or he’d be so angry that it would all explode. 

He had a right to his anger but Louis would rather avoid it. 

“Liam!” called Zayn, as they approached the two. 

“Zayn?” said Liam, looking surprised and then happy. “This is a nice surprise, babe.” 

Louis followed, sticking his hands in his pocket and shuffling his feet. He looked up and immediately made eye contact with Niall. Niall who’s mouth fell open. Louis looked down. 

“Hey Lou,” said Liam. 

“Payno,” said Louis, forcing a smile. 

“Oh shit,” said Liam looking from Niall to Louis. “Louis, this is my flatmate Niall, he’s-”

“We actually know each other mate,” interrupted Niall. Great, so option A was out the window. “Uni.” 

Liam looked surprised and then delighted, “Really?”

“Yup,” said Louis, glancing at Niall. He didn’t seem angry or bitter. Zayn on the other hand was looking from Louis to Niall in surprise and maybe a little bit of suspicion. 

“That’s crazy,” said Liam. “Small world.”

“So you two are flatmates?” asked Niall, gesturing from Zayn to Louis. 

“Yes we are,” said Zayn, nudging his shoulder. 

Liam’s eyes widened, “This is perfect. We can all go out now! Niall, Louis, Harry, Zayn, and me. And Barbara if she wants to come out.”

Louis stiffened. Harry. 

Fuck. 

Niall was Liam’s flatmate. Harry was also Liam’s flatmate. His heart was pounding. He could make out in the edge of his vision, Niall giving him a weird look. Liam seemed oblivious and Zayn was giving Louis a curious look. 

Zayn didn’t even know who Harry was. Just that Louis cried out for him in the middle of the night sometimes. Just that he was someone from Louis’ past. He couldn’t know that this Harry was his Harry, or was his Harry. But it definitely was. What other Harry would Niall share a flat with. 

Zayn was probably assuming that his reaction was because of the name itself, not anything else. He didn’t know anything else. Nothing about Harry. 

Harry Styles. His ex. The love of his life. 

Fuck. 

He needed to get out of here. As if reading his mind, Zayn piped up, “Sounds good Li, but Louis and I have to finish up shopping. I have a shift later.” 

“Oh, of course,” said Liam. “I’ll call you later babe.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” said Zayn, slinging an arm around Louis’ shoulders and turning them around. “It was good seeing you too Niall!”

“You too Zayn,” said Niall. 

Louis didn’t start breathing until they were in a different aisle. He stopped and put his hands on his thighs, taking a few deep breaths. Zayn rubbed his back, “I’m so sorry Lou, I forgot to tell you one of Li’s flatmates is named Harry.”

So he didn’t make the connection. Good.

“It’s okay,” lied Louis. “I was just caught off guard. That and the whole seeing Niall again after so long…”

“Were you guys close?”

“Yeah,” said Louis, not feeling the need to lie about that. “I kind of missed him but… too much has happened since then for us to be the way we were.” The realization was sad but all too true especially with the Harry situation.

“You won’t mind interacting with him if we do take up Liam’s offer to all hang out.”

Louis nearly stopped breathing. Hang out… with Harry? 

He couldn’t do it. 

“I met him at dinner last week and he seems like a great lad,” said Zayn. “Not like your Harry I mean.”

Louis flinched, “ My Harry is amazing Z, shut the fuck up.”

Zayn frowned, “Okay mate, I just don’t really like how much you hurt because of him.”

“My hurting is my fault,” said Louis, staring at the ground. 

“We both know that’s a lie,” said Zayn. He reached out a hand to help Louis which he gladly took. “But we don’t have to talk about that right now. Let’s go get some lasagna.” 

“Okay.” 

-

April 2013

Louis squawked, “What do you mean I’m too dramatic.” 

Fizzy giggled, “You are!”

Louis pouted, and switched his phone to the other side, “This is why Lottie is my favorite.” Louis glanced up to see Harry watching him with a fond face. 

“Heyyy,” said Fizzy. “I’m funnier than Lottie.”

“True,” admitted Louis. “But don’t tell her that, she’ll murder me.”

Fizzy giggled again and Louis smiled. Fizzy was 12 years old, practically a teenager, and Louis found himself wanting to keep her young and giggling and carefree forever. 

“Your sisters sound really great,” said Harry, nudging his toe. They were in Harry’s dorm- Louis sprawled out on Harry’s bed and Harry doing homework on his desk nearby. 

“They are great,” said Louis. 

“What? Who are you talking to?” asked Fizzy. 

Louis blushed, “Uh.. a friend.” But it sounded false even to his own ears and he cringed. 

“A friend huh?” said Fizzy, sounding more and more grown up. “Hmm, is this a male friend or a female friend?”

“That won’t tell you anything,” said Louis, offended. 

On the other side of the line, he heard chatter which meant someone else was talking to Fizzy and then, “What’s this Lou? Are you dating someone?” Lottie. 

“Um,” said Louis, still blushing red. Harry was looking at him with a mixture of fondness and curiosity. “The answer to that question is…”

He trailed off. 

“Louis William Tomlinson!” exclaimed Lottie. 

“Hey, you can’t do that!” protested Louis. “Meanie!”

“What are you, six?”

“Says you,” said Louis. “Just because you’re 14 doesn’t give you the right to tell me what to do Charlotte.” He slathered his words with fake condescension because maybe then Lottie would get annoyed and forget what he was talking about. 

“Nice try Lou Lou, now are you dating someone or not?” asked Lottie. “C’mon, you know you can’t lie to me.”

“Uh,” said Louis, blushing even harder. “I may,” he mumbled. 

A beat and then Lottie screeched, “No way!”

Then it was Fizzy yelling into his ear, “A boyfriend!!! I never thought we’d see the day.”

Louis scowled, “I am very lovable thank you very much. I have people falling at my feet. One would be so lucky to capture my attention.”

Beside him, Harry choked on laughter. Louis swatted him, “Oh, would you look at the time-”

“Not so fast!” said Lottie. “Tell us his name! Please!!”

Louis huffed, before biting his lip and blurting out, “Harry. It’s Harry.” 

Harry straightened up, looking at Louis in surprise. 

“Harry,” said Lottie. “I like it. Is he cute?”

Louis looked at his boyfriend and his soft, curly brown hair, green eyes, and dimples.He blushed, “Very much.”

“Send me a picture,” said Lottie eagerly.

“I will later,” said Louis. “Gosh, you’re so annoying.”

Harry whispered, “Are you talking about me?”

Louis ignored him, “Anyway, I really wasn’t joking about the time-”

“Wait, no! I need more information,” insisted Lottie and he heard Fizzy’s agreement in the background. “How much do you like him?”

“I like him a lot,” said Louis. 

“Aw Lou,” said Harry, squeezing his shoulder. He had joined Louis on the bed, leaving him in hearing distance of the girls. 

Lottie gasped, “Was that him?” 

Louis groaned, and said to Harry, “Look what you’ve done!”

Lottie squealed, “Oh my god! Put it on speaker!”

“No way,” said Louis. “Anyway, love you girls so much. Send the twins and mum all the love, see you soon, mwah, bye!” Then he hung up to the sound of Lottie swearing at him. 

Ah, he really loved his family. 

“Did you tell your sisters about me?” asked Harry, eyes bright. 

Louis blushed and nodded. “Is that okay?”

“Of course,” said Harry. “I already told my mum about you. And Gemma. She’s the first one I told actually.”

Louis’ heart warmed. Harry told his mum and sister about Louis? 

“Harold, have I ever told you what a fucking treasure you are,” said Louis fondly and Harry became all smiley and cute and Louis just wanted to poke his dimple and keep him away from everything bad. 

However, then the door suddenly flew open and a whirlwind entered, “Harry oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!” The boy was around Louis’ height (which was not short thankyouverymuch) with bottle blonde messy hair and wide blue eyes. He was wearing a jersey of some Irish team and socks with sandals of all things. 

Harry immediately stood up, “Niall, what is it?” Niall. Harry’s roommate. Louis was suddenly very curious and slightly nervous. Harry had told Louis about Niall and how he was now one of his closest friends. 

“Oh my god!” exclaimed Niall again, face planting onto his bed. 

“What happened?” asked Harry, worriedly. 

Niall sat up and exhaled loudly, “I’ll tell ya what happened! I just ran into a girl I had a one-night stand with four months ago!”

Louis blinked. That was definitely not what he was expecting. 

“Um, what?” said Harry, eloquently. “Sorry mate, I guess that’s kind of awkward?”

Niall scowled, “Oh yes very awkward, especially since she was with the girl I danced wit at the club earlier that night and then ditched.”

Louis winced. Yikes. 

“And they’re friends!” exclaimed Niall, before collapsing back onto his bed. “Unbelievable!” 

Harry opened his mouth, stopped, and then burst out laughing. Niall sat up to glare at him but he didn’t stop for another minute. “Sorry, sorry! But also… damn, I don’t understand how you get into these situations,” said Harry and Louis chuckled a little too at that statement which is when Niall noticed him. 

His eyes widened, “Holy shit! You’re Louis.”

Louis nearly jumped, “Um.. yes?”

“You’re Harry’s boyfriend!”

“Yes…”

Niall groaned, “Harry what the hell! You didn’t warn me! Now your boyfriend probably thinks I’m an asshole.”

“Not an asshole,” said Harry, shaking his head. “Just woefully unlucky I guess. I hope you apologized though, even if it was awkward.” 

“I did,” said Niall. “While both of them were laughing at me!”

Louis chuckled a little again. He could see the charm that Harry had described. 

Niall looked at him, “But enough about me, how about you Louis?”

Louis pursed his lips for a beat, before saying with a straight face, “Can’t say that’s ever happened to me, sorry mate.” 

Niall’s jaw dropped slightly and Harry cackled. 

“So he’s incredibly hot and he’s witty,” said Niall appraisingly. Harry coughed. “I’m only quoting your own words, jesus H.” 

Louis side-eyed Harry who was turning red. “So I’ve heard,” said Louis. 

“Okay, Louis,” said Niall. “I’d go through the whole ‘protective’ best friend thing but ain’t me. Don’t laugh Harry, I can be intimidating.”

“You’re about as intimidating as Louis,” said Harry. “And even then, all I have to do is throw you a chocolate bar.”

“Hey!” said Louis and Niall at the same time. Harry smirked. Sometimes Louis forgot that Harry had a quick tongue like him since he hid it with his charming, polite exterior. He loved it though. He had always wanted someone to banter with. 

“Well Louis, since Harry is being a bastard, do you want to split half of the doughnut I stole from a friend,” said Niall, opening a mini fridge located conveniently right by the bed (a mini fridge that looked like it could break dorm rules- Louis was impressed. 

“Yes please,” said Louis right as Harry let out a, “Heyyyyyy. I love doughnuts,” and pouted. 

“Should’ve thought of that before you insulted us,” said Louis sassily and Niall high-fived him. 

(If Louis had ended up sharing his half with Harry anyway, well… that was besides the point). 

However, Louis would always remember that day as the beginning of a lot of things: the beginning of Niall and Louis’ friendship that would only develop as time went on, the beginning of his sisters harassing him for information and pictures of Harry (especially Fizzy who thought Harry was really hot), and the beginning of the next year of bliss for the couple before everything started falling apart. 

-

Chapter Text

July 2017 (time jump)

“Okay, so what movie are we watching?” asked Harry. He looked around. Niall and Liam sat on the couch opposite to the one he and Malcolm were sharing. No one answered. 

Great. 

Harry cleared his throat, “You do realize since you’re relinquishing control, I’m going to pick a romcom, right?”

“Ooo yes!” exclaimed Malcolm, finally breaking the strange silence between the group. 

Harry was frustrated. Niall was giving not so subtle intense stares in Malcolm’s direction and Liam looked confused. Harry was sure he could detect Niall’s dislike of Malcolm but there’s no way he could tell the reason so he stayed silent. Malcolm himself, seemed unbothered, but he also made no effort to start up a conversation with Harry’s flatmates. 

He sighed. His friends were so fucking stubborn. 

“Alright, Titanic or the Notebook?” he asked. 

And of course, this is when Niall decided to pipe up, “What about Love Actually Haz? That’s your favorite movie.”

Harry froze. Malcolm gave him a curious look. He gritted his teeth and glared at the Irishman, “It was my favorite movie, but I guess I’ve grown out of it. Titanic is my favorite now.” Niall gave him a ‘who are you kidding’ look and Liam looked between them with a confused expression. Harry was now very annoyed. First Gemma, and now Niall?? He can’t act like he doesn’t know what Harry’s angry about. Harry knows what he’s doing with his “Haz” and “Love Actually” shit. Why on earth he’s bringing it up now is beyond him. 

“So Titanic then?” asked Liam slowly. He was slipping into his peacemaker status. 

“Yes, Titanic,” said Harry. He shot one last look at Niall who was acting like nothing happened. He was slightly pissed off, especially because this hasn’t been the first time Niall’s done this over the past few weeks. A week ago, Harry had tripped over one of Liam’s weights in the living room and after Niall had laughed for a good 30 seconds, he had teasingly said, “Nice one Bambi.”

Harry had immediately went rigid but Niall acted like nothing happened. Like he didn’t just call Harry by a nickname that Louis used to fondly call him all the time years before. Why on earth Niall was doing this to him after so long was beyond him. That chapter of his life was over, and he’d rather not be reminded of it all the time. 

He put in the movie, and settled back into the couch. “I love Leonardo diCaprio,” said Malcolm, effectively breaking the tension. Harry hummed his agreement, grateful that at least one of his friends was making an effort. There’s no way Malcolm hadn’t noticed the awkwardness of the situation (or the obvious references to his ex), but he was being nice and ignoring it. 

Thankfully, Niall returned to his normal self as the movie progressed, including making Harry help him recreate the iconic ship pose with him as Rose, and Harry as Jack. Liam wouldn’t stop laughing and Malcolm also looked cooly amused (which was the same as dying from laughter for him).

They order pizza for dinner. Harry would normally whip something up but he was too tired and lazy for that today. Malcolm however, ordered vegan takeout, and Harry almost felt guilty. He had been wanting to go vegan for some time. The cause was important to him and he definitely didn’t want to contribute to the detriments of eating meat and processed food, but pizza was just so darn good. 

It wasn’t until Harry was halfway done with his fourth slice when everything turned badly. Niall glanced at him and chuckled, “Good thing this isn’t avocado pineapple, right?” 

Harry stiffened. What the fuck. 

Niall just took another bite of his pizza. Liam was looking at Harry, concerned. 

What the fuck. 

“Niall,” he said, voice deathly serious. “What the fuck.”

Niall looked at him, picture of innocence, “What?”

“What the fuck,” he repeated, slower this time. He was glaring and Malcolm and Liam were staring at him in uncontained shock. “Why do you keep doing that?”

“Doing what?” he asked, but Harry could see through his nonchalant expression. 

“You know what,” said Harry. 

The memory was already running through his head. Summer. 2014. Niall and Barbara were over. They ordered pizza. Their usual. But instead of a pepperoni like they were expecting, they had received a very unexpected avocado and pineapple pizza. Barbara was allergic to pineapple so she stuck with their second cheese pizza, but Harry and Niall had been eager to try it out. Harry had been surprised with Louis hasn’t expressed enthusiasm for trying out a new, gross-looking concoction and had turned to see him looked green. “Fucking avocados,” he had grumbled. “Worst food on the planet.”

Harry had been shocked by Louis’ blatant hatred for the fruit especially when Harry had eaten them plenty of times around him. Apparently Louis had no problem ignoring their existence until they had tainted pizza- the best food on the planet. “I can’t look at it,” Louis stated, crossing his arms and pouting dramatically. Niall couldn’t get over it and for the next few months, he’d terrorize Louis with avocado and avocado themed stuff and crack up every single time. Harry had scolded him every time for Louis’ benefit but he secretly thought it was endearing. His hatred was almost childlike. He hadn’t had an avocado since he was a young teen but he refused to try it again. “The food of the devil,” he said. “I can’t believe you eat that shit H, it’s disgusting!”

“They’re healthy!” he had insisted. “And actually really good! You should try it again.”

“Never,” he said. 

And now, in 2017, Niall was bringing it up again. For no reason other than apparently to piss Harry off. 

“I’m not doing anything,” said Niall with a shrug. “It’s just an inside joke.”

“It is not,” said Harry with a scoff. 

“Guys,” said Liam, attempting to make peace. 

Harry wasn’t finished yet, “Also, why the fuck are you bringing this up now? You know I don’t want to be reminded of those days. I’ve told you countless times. This is ridiculous, what are you trying to do?”

“What are guys talking about?” asked Malcolm. 

“Nothing,” said Niall, a little too coolly to be kind. It only made Harry more angry. Malcolm hasn’t done anything to him. Niall is being a dick. 

It’s been five years of knowing each other and Niall is being a dick. This has never happened before. Never. 

“I can’t believe you,” said Harry, standing up. 

Niall actually looked a little ashamed at that but he didn’t say anything. Liam however, followed Harry into the kitchen and waited patiently as Harry yanked open the fridge and got out a bottle of wine. Liam raised an eyebrow at that but didn’t comment. “Asshole,” he muttered. 

“H,” said Liam, tentatively. “What’s going on? You and Niall never fight?”

“Yeah because Niall ever acts like a jerk,” said Harry, getting out a few glasses. He pours himself a decent amount and takes a large gulp. “Except now he can’t seem to stop making references about my ex.”

“Your ex?” asked Liam. 

Harry forgets sometimes that Liam wasn’t always part of their group. He hadn’t even been with them an entire year but it felt like he always had. He didn’t know too much about before though. “Yeah my ex. The one I curse whenever I’m drunk.”

Liam nodded because that was definitely not new. 

“I don’t know why Niall feels the need to mention stuff about him, like he’s trying to make me think of him,” grumbled Harry. “He broke my heart. I never want to think about him again.”

Liam stayed silent but it was clear he was curious. 

“He dumped me,” said Harry flatly. “No, scratch that. He didn’t even do that really, he left. He told me he was leaving and then he left. No explanation, no nothing. Like a fucking coward.” He felt dizzy and loose even though he had only had one glass of wine. The words felt like knives coming out of mouth and it felt strangely therapeutic to rant. He wanted to scream but he had more self-control. Even though it had been years, the knowledge still hurt. 

Louis left him. 

Harry loved him and he left. 

“I never want to see him again,” said Harry. And then he blinked, eyes feeling watery. Shit. That’s not supposed to happen. 

Liam moved to him immediately, wrapping him into a warm hug, “Aw H, don’t cry. He’s probably an asshole. It’s okay. Niall’s being a jerk, you’re right. I’ll talk to him.”

Harry sniffled. He felt stupid. Why was he crying about this? It had been years, he was over it. It shouldn’t still hurt. Their relationship wasn’t meant to be. He had repeated it to himself for the past two years but nothing had changed. 

He still missed Louis. 

Sometimes it felt like he’d always miss him. 

He had dated people after him, but no one had lasted more than a few months. Maybe it was a new paranoia- the lingering reminder that people you loved more than anything in the world could leave you. That they could not feel as strongly about you as you do about them. And Harry had felt the strongest about Louis. 

He had thought Louis had felt the same about him. 

Apparently not. 

“I’m fine,” he said, gently patting Liam’s shoulder. He gave Harry a disbelieving look. “I’m serious. I’m just emotional. It’s been two years, I swear I’m over him. He’s a piece of shit.” He meant that too. Louis was a piece of shit. For breaking his heart and leaving him floundering by himself for months, wondering and despairing over what happened. What was so wrong with him that Louis- Louis who had loved him, or who had said he loved him- could leave him? 

“Whatever you say,” said Liam. “Just know that if you want to talk, I’m always here.”

“Thanks Li,” he said, smiling genuinely. He was so glad Liam moved in with them last November. “That means a lot.”

They went back into the living room. Niall gave him an apologetic look, “I’m sorry for being a prick H, really sorry. I didn’t mean to remind you of miserable things, I swear it.” Then what were trying to do? 

But he bit his tongue and nodded. They’d have to talk more about it later but he couldn’t stay mad at Niall for too long. He didn’t understand and he wanted an explanation. 

“Anyone up for FIFA?” asked Niall then. 

Later on, Niall played against Malcolm and somehow managed not to insult his lacking skills (Malcolm was not good at any video games or sports in general, something Harry appreciated because neither was he). Harry was relieved and sent Niall a grateful look which he nodded at. 

-

“Hey lovebirds!” yelled Annie. Louis jumped, nearly spilling his tea all over his jeans. He scowled. “Quit messing around! Zayn, you’re supposed to be up front!!” 

Zayn frowned apologetically, “Sorry Annie, I’ll be right there!”
“Your boyfriend isn’t going to self-combust if you leave him alone for a few minutes,” was Annie’s lovely reply. Zayn rolled his eyes and got up. 

When Annie had first met Louis and saw how close they were, she had assumed Louis was Zayn’s boyfriend. They both burst out laughing when she had asked and it had remained a joke between the three of them ever since. Louis understood where she was coming from. He and Zayn probably did look like a couple sometimes. Zayn was always walking with his arm around Louis’ shoulders, and sometimes he would even kiss Louis’ temple. It was all platonic of course, Zayn did the same with his other friends and his sisters. Louis would wear Zayn’s jackets and jump on his back randomly (not recently, but back when things were less difficult). They were very touchy-feely with each other, a product of growing up with a lot of siblings. Being mistaken as a couple was a common occurrence for the duo, and something to laugh about.

Louis was currently sat in one of the back booths of Sally’s with a cup of tea and a little croissant that Zayn had gotten for him in hopes of him actually eating the entire thing. His appetite had been better the best few weeks but his motivation was still dismal. He couldn’t help but hesitate with eating these days when he looked in the mirror and noticed the fat he had gained. He hadn’t gone to the gym in ages and it was showing. 

Zayn would throttle him if he found it he was having those thoughts again, probably overreacting, and then it would be force-feeding him stuff and the end of Louis’ freedom as he knew it. Plus Louis’ guilt would increase exponentially. He couldn’t deal with that. 

So he took a few bites, gagging through the feeling of wrong, and trying to ignore how heavy and dry it felt sliding down his throat. 

He caught Zayn’s eye as he glanced at Louis from the table he was waiting on (a small family). Zayn looked proud so Louis took another bite just to keep the look on his face. Then his phone rang. Lottie. 

“Hey big brother!” said Lottie. “Fizzy wanted me to tell you that she’s planning her seventeenth birthday party and that you better be there or she’ll cut up all your vans.”

Louis gasped, “Cruel woman. But tell her yes, I wouldn’t miss it for the world and I love her to pieces.” 

“Will do Lou,” said Lottie. “Anyway, what’s up with you? Where are you right now, I hear people talking- are you socializing?” She sounded amazed. 

Louis rolled his eyes, “No, I’m at Sally’s, and Z’s working.” 

“Oh, tell bad boy I say hi.”

“Will do Lotts,” he mimicked. “Anything else you were calling about?”

He could hear her hesitate on the other side of the phone, a sure sign that what was going to come out of her mouth was something Louis didn’t like. 

“Actually, funny story. I was talking to a friend and she was telling me about how she was going through a tough time and one of her coworkers recommended-”
“Lottie,” said Louis, gritting his teeth. He knew where this was going. “I already told you I’m not seeing someone.”

Lottie sighed on the other end of the phone, “He has really great reviews!”

“I don’t give a shit.”

“I think this would be really helpful for you Lou,” said Lottie. “I saw a therapist for a few months after everything too and it really helped me. Don’t you trust my advice?”

“Of course I do,” said Louis, he had heard this many times previously. “And I’m really glad it helped you, but I’m telling you now, it won’t help me.” The thought of talking to someone about everything- having to get the words out and having to relive the pain and the darkness. Impossible. He was never doing it. 

“Can you think about?”

“I’ve thought it about it. No,” he said. “No way in hell.”

“But-”

“No, Lottie, we’ve had this conversation before,” said Louis. “Nothing has changed. I’m doing better, aren’t I? I don’t need to talk to someone.”

Lottie sighed. Resigned. “Okay.”

“I better not see this person’s information in my emails later today,” threatened Louis. The silence that followed his statement told him that Lottie had already done it. He messed with his fringe. “God Lottie, thanks for that downer.”

“I’m sorry,” said Lottie. “I just want what’s best for you.”

“That’s not your job,” he said quietly. “You shouldn’t have to worry about me. I’m your big brother.”

“That doesn’t mean shit. I’m always going to worry about you Lou,” said Lottie. “I want you to be okay again.”

“I am okay,” he said. It was only half a lie. “I’m approaching the vicinity of okay,” he amended. “I really appreciate you looking out for me Lottie. You and Zayn have already done so much. I really am doing better, I promise.”

“I know you are,” she said. “I can tell and I’m so glad. I’m so proud of you.”

He smiled, “Thanks Lottie.” 

“Of course,” said Lottie. “I was going to say something else but I don’t think you’d like to hear it any more.”

Louis was sure that she was right, that whatever she was going to say would be annoying, but his curiosity won out as always (Lottie knew he wouldn’t be able to hold out, smartass), “And would that be?”

“Oh nothing, just that I was talking to this guy and I think you’d really like him,” said Lottie, speaking carefully. 

Louis sucked in a breath, “Yup, you’re right, I don’t like that.” 

“Louis-”

“I already told you I’m not interested in dating right now,” he said. Or ever again. 

“I think it could be really good for you,” said Lottie. “You deserve to find your person.”

“I’m my own person,” said Louis, stubbornly. This conversation was beginning to stress him out. “I’m not interested.”

“It’s because you’re not over Harry.”

His heart lurched at the name. But she wasn’t wrong. “Lottie, you have no right to bring him up like that,” he snapped. His heart was racing. He was pathetic. 

“So you won’t deny it?”

“No,” he said. “You know I can’t. But I’m fine. I’ve accepted it. I’ve found my person Lottie, it’s just unfortunate that I wasn’t meant to be his person.”

“Oh my god,” said Lottie. “You know what, I’ll cut you some slack. I don’t feel like ranting right now, but I feel like you need to move on.”

“No,” he said. 

Lottie sounded slightly irritated as she said, "You broke up with him more than two years ago Lou, don't you think this has gone on too long?"

No. He couldn't just let him go. He couldn't end this painful cycle of remembering and longing but never having.

"It's more complicated than that."

"You still sleep in his sweaters."

"They're comfortable!" He was blushing now. “How the fuck do you know that anyway?”

“Zayn told me.”

“How does he know?” asked Louis, pouting. 

“They’re giant on you so they can’t be yours and who else would it be?” asked Lottie. And well, that was fair. “C’mon Lou.”

“No.”

“One day you’re going to get through this and then you’ll date again and find your person, and you’ll get married and be happy and have kids like you’ve always wanted,” said Lottie. “I promise.”

“No.” He knew he sounded like a five year old kid, but he couldn’t handle it. The idea of dating scared the shit out of him and he was pretty sure that wasn’t ever going to change. Nor would his love for Harry, no matter what Lottie and Zayn thought. “Also, stop texting Zayn about me, that’s creepy.”

“It’s not creepy, we’re friends,” said Lottie. “Zayn is like my other brother.”

Louis fought a smile, “Honorary Tomlinson, for sure.”

“Honorary? He’s a real Tomlinson.” Zayn would be happy to hear that. 

“Okay, thanks for the chat Lottie,” said Louis. “I really appreciated that headache, see you soon darling, send all my love to the girls.”

“I will, love you too Boo Bear,” said Lottie. Louis stiffened. “Sorry, sorry! Shit, I didn’t mean to, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay,” said Louis, heart pounding. He felt faint. It’s just a nickname. Just a nickname. “Love you too Lottie, see ya.”

“Bye Lou.”
She hung up. Louis leaned back on the booth, and closed his eyes. They were already watering. Fuck. 

-

August 2013

“Are you nervous?” asked Louis. Harry was fidgeting with his shirt buttons. He froze, and lowered his hands, caught. 

“No,” he said, sounding calm and easy breezy as he always did but Louis could recognize the shaky undertone. He was. 

“Relax Haz,” said Louis, squeezing Harry’s bicep. “My family is going to love you.”

Harry flashed him a grin, dimples popping out. “I know.”

Louis rolled his eyes. 

They were standing outside Louis’ family house. They had driven to Doncaster for Fizzy’s birthday which was tomorrow, but his mum wanted to meet Harry first. All his family members had been bugging him about Harry ever since that unfortunate phone conversation and they were all ecstatic that he was coming. “I can’t wait to meet your sisters,” said Harry. “And your mum.”

Louis smiled, “They can’t wait to meet you either. I’m pretty sure Lottie only calls me to get information about you these days. And Fizzy keeps begging me for pictures. They think you’re hot.”

Harry blushed. 

“And my mum already loves you,” said Louis. 

“How?”

“Because she knows how happy I’ve been because of you,” said Louis honestly. Harry sharply looked to him and then crushed him into a quick hug.

“You deserve all the happiness,” said Harry, hand gently running through his hair. Louis nodded, his head pressed to Harry’s chest. He could hear his heartbeat. “Okay, I’m ready.”

Louis raised his hand to knock but the door flung open before he could touch it. 

“Finally! We’ve been watching you guys stand out there for five minutes!” exclaimed Phoebe. Louis grinned. 

“Pheebs!” he said, and Phoebe squealed and jumped into his arms. Even though she was 12, and not little anymore, Louis still caught her under the armpits and swung her around. 

“Well well well,” said Lottie. She and Fizzy appeared in the doorway. 

“Hello,” said Harry. “You must be Lottie and Fizzy.”

Fizzy raised an eyebrow, impressed. Lottie’s expression didn’t change. “Harry.”

Harry glanced at Louis, who was looking at all of them in amusement. “Let us in will you, freaks.”

Fizzy immediately barrelled into him and then he was hugging all three girls- four as Daisy wiggled her way into it as well. “Hey girls,” he said, light and happy. Harry was looking at them fondly. 

“Alright, alright,” said a voice. Louis beamed. “Let them in.”

Mum. 

She was smiling warmly as Harry and him finally stepped into the house, followed by his whispering sisters. Her brown eyes were bright, her hair was down, and she was wearing a yellow sundress.  “Baby.”

“Mum,” he said, and hugged her tightly. He blinked, eyes feeling wet. It had only been a few months but he wouldn’t ever be embarrassed of missing his mum. “I missed you.”

“I missed you more,” she said, rubbing his back. “Now introduce me to your boyfriend.”

“Mum,” he said, stepping back and grabbing Harry’s hand. “This is Harry.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you Ms. Poulston,” he said, smooth and charming as ever. Louis smiled, proud that Harry remembered to call her by her maiden name. “Thank you for having us.” 

Jay assessed Harry, looking him up and down, but a smile was on her face so Louis knew she already approved, “Nice to meet you too darling, I’ve heard so many good things.” Then she reached out and pulled him into a hug. “We’re so glad you’re here.”

Harry was grinning when the hug ended. Louis was appeased. He knew his family would love Harry and that Harry would love them, but it was still nice to see it all play out. 

“Can we interrogate him now?” asked Lottie. 

Jay laughed. Louis groaned. 

Or maybe he could just leave now. 

-

They had dinner where Harry fit in comfortably. He took the time to talk to every one of his sisters, even letting Phoebe and Daisy mess with his curls. He kept up with Phoebe’s fast, loud conversations and Fizzy’s unbridled wit and Lottie’s nosiness and he made an effort to engage in a conversation with Daisy, who was shy, and he could tell Daisy felt comfortable around him. He could tell they all really liked him and it meant a lot to him. 

His mum too seemed happy. 

After dessert, she gestured him over to the kitchen to help her with the dishes. Harry had offered to help, because of course he did, but Jay brushed him off. “He’s wonderful Lou.”

Louis blushed, “You really think so?”

“Yes, he’s so sweet and polite,” said Jay. “And I see the way he looks at you, like you’re everything. And that’s so important because you are everything.” His blush grew. Jay looked at him with this mixture of pride and sadness. “My little Boobear is growing up.”

“Aw mum,” said Louis, feeling emotional all of a sudden. He fell into her open arms, and breathed in her comforting mint scent. He blinked back tears. God, he loved this woman so much. “I’ll always be your baby.”

“Yes, you will,” she agreed, squeezing him tighter. “But I’m glad you also have Harry to look after you when I can’t.”

Louis tucked his head onto her shoulder. “I love you.”

“I love you more darling,” she said. “Now c’mon, I have a gut feeling Lottie’s already pulled out the old family albums.”

Louis froze, horror flooding his system, “No!”

She laughed and Louis ran back into the living room. Sure enough, she was showing Harry all the embarrassing pictures of him as a baby and then as a smartass teenager with hair issues and a lacking fashion sense. “Lottie!!”

Fizzy was cackling. Harry looked amused, eyes sparkling. He wouldn’t make fun of Louis in front of his family but Louis knew for sure that when they got back, he would never live it down. 

“Do you think,” said Harry to Lottie, as Louis reluctantly slid onto the couch beside him. Harry paused, wrapping an arm around Louis' waist and pulling him closer. Louis snuggled up against his side. “That I can get a copy of all these pictures?”

Louis immediately sat up and hit him with a pillow. "Bastard."

“Heyyyyyyyy.”

-

Chapter Text

Late June 2017

“Um, by the way,” began Zayn halfway through breakfast. “Liam and his flatmates are having a party in a couple of weeks…”

Louis froze, spoon of Coco Puffs poised near his mouth. “Uhh.”

“You don’t have to come with me,” said Zayn with a rush. “But Liam invited you too and I think it would fun…”

Alarm bells rang inside him. Liam. Liam’s flatmates. Aka Niall and Harry. Harry. NO. 

“I don’t know about that Z,” said Louis, trying to hide his panic. He ran his hand through his fringe and adjusted his glasses, his heart pounding within. 

“Just think about it, okay?” asked Zayn. He was sitting across from Louis at the table, eating some type of healthy oatmeal that made Louis feel sick just looking at. He was wearing sweatpants and an old worn out shirt that said ‘fuck you’ on it with messy, sleep soft hair sticking out of a beanie and he still looked like a Greek god. It was terribly unfair. “You already know Liam and Niall and Harry’s pretty great too- better than your Harry probably. I’ve only hung out with them a few times but I already know we’d all get along really well together.”

Better than your Harry. Ha. If only he knew. 

“I’ll think about it,” he lied, hoping Zayn would forget about it. 

“Great, also we still on for later today?” asked Zayn. 

He had asked Louis to be his model for his current WIP and Louis had accepted. This was a common occurrence between them. In fact, the last art gallery Zayn had hosted was featured with predominantly Louis’ face last May. It had been a while since Zayn had asked, but that was understandable. Louis still wasn’t sure that he was the best choice for a model but he wasn’t about to let Zayn down. If Zayn wanted Louis to model for him, he would, whether there were much more deserving and attractive models out there for Zayn to pick. 

“Yup,” said Louis, taking another bite of his cereal. He had managed to eat half of it already, but the familiar feeling of being too full, of food weighing down in his stomach, was slowly increasing. “The studio?”

Zayn nodded. He had started renting a one room studio at an artist warehouse a few months after he and Louis met, but it had been months since he had gone there to work on a project. In fact, it had been months since Zayn was focusing on a project in general. Most of that was Louis’ fault. Zayn disagreed. “I’ve been busy,” he had said easily when Louis had confronted him about it. “Not a big deal.”

“Yeah, busy taking care of me,” said Louis, crossing his arms. “Spending all your time with me instead of your passion, like a fucking saint. St. Malik!”

Zayn shrugged, “Better than when you call me Dickface.”

Louis had thrown a pillow at him, “Dickface.”

“Love you too Lou,” was Zayn’s response, but he flipped him off right after. 

“Great,” said present-day Zayn. “Alrighty, I have lunch with Liam, so I’m going to hop in the shower.”

“Can we smoke before you leave?” asked Louis, hating himself. He felt like a child, begging for permission to stay up late or some shit. It made him feel young and stupid and vulnerable. But he had to ask. He needed a smoke. 

Zayn shot him a look, “Sure, but only for a little bit, okay?”

“Okay,” he said, wincing. He could deal with that, he could. 

“I’m really proud of you Louis,” said Zayn, coming over to briefly squeeze his shoulder before heading off to shower. Louis sighed. Everyone seemed to be “proud” of him for doing better when all he was doing was lounging around the flat, not working, barely eating properly, and feeling sorry for himself. He wasn’t doing anything. 

He definitely wouldn’t be telling Lottie or Zayn that his urges had been slowly coming back… That would kill them. 

It had been slow but definitely present- the itching and aching he felt for a release, for that familiar feeling of pain that drowned out everything else. Thinking about it made him feel shaky and faded. He knew he shouldn’t. 

But it gave him something else, something arguably less hurtful, to think about for a little while. It made him feel like he was getting what he deserved even if Zayn and his family would refuse to see the same. 

But he wasn’t going to do it. 

He promised he wouldn’t and he intended to keep it… if he could. 

-

“Harry.” Harry dropped his head into his hands at the sound of Donna’s voice as she stepped into the office, lips pursed and eyes pitying. “Harry… we need to talk.”

He groaned, “I know everything you’re going to say Donna, I know, I know. I just can’t write anything right now.” 

Donna, the unfortunate soul to be Harry’s agent, pursed her lips. “You have a contract, Harry. You promised an album by December 2nd, and you haven’t even started writing yet.”

“I know,” said Harry. He knew what a disappointment he was being. He couldn’t write though- physically couldn’t write anything that even resembled a song lyric. It was pitiful. It was bad.  Donna was getting more and more annoyed, but she was nowhere near as annoyed as Harry. “I have ideas,” he insisted. “I just can’t articulate them properly.”

He had tried plenty of times. He had sat down in an empty studio, opened his well-worn journal to a page with a prompt, and tried to come up with something good and honest. Except he couldn’t. Because there was nothing he could write about. Nothing he truly cared about anyway. When he had first entered the music industry a few years before, he had been naive and hopeful, brimming to the tip with inspiration and sweet lyrics and lots of charisma. But as time passed, he had lost steam and with it, any motivation or inspiration to write something wonderful. Something album-worthy. 

“Well you better come up with something quick Styles,” said Donna. “Or you’ll never get another deal.” 

He winced. “I know, I’m sorry Donna.”

“Yeah, yeah,” she said, before softening. “Take a break, you’ve been here for six hours already. Nothing’s going to just fall in your lap. Get up and go find that inspiration.”

Harry shot her a rueful smile, “I’ve been looking for ages, but alright. I’m hungry anyway.” 

“Get me a sandwich,” she said as he stood up and grabbed a bag. 

“Alright!” called Harry, grabbing his keys. He headed to the parking lot and slipped into the driver’s seat. He didn’t know exactly where he was going to eat, and then he remembered Sally’s- the diner where Zayn worked. Zayn, who promised discounts to Niall and Harry if they ever wanted to eat there. 

Perfect. 

Thankfully, it wasn’t too far. He surveyed the lot. Sally’s was a small but nice cafe with a sleek exterior and a modern look: fairy lights, dark colors, smooth dark wood furniture, and plants dotting the space. However, it also had a warm atmosphere and Harry immediately liked. He walked inside. There weren’t too many people eating at this time but he spotted a few couples and individuals sitting around. 

He looked at the menu and was contemplating his choice when Zayn slid behind the counter in front of him, “Harry! What a nice surprise!”

Harry grinned, “Hey Zayn, I’m on a lunch break and I thought I’d check the place out.”

“And?” asked Zayn. He was in a black shirt, black jeans, and a black apron to top it off. He looked like the sexy bad boy from romcoms and if Harry hadn’t already met and talked to him, he’d be a little intimidating. 

“It’s nice,” he said seriously. “Can I just get a panini sandwich.”

“Sure man,” said Zayn. “We’re pretty slow right now so I can get it too quick, and I’ll give you half off.”

“Siiick,” said Harry. He waited as Zayn got his order. He took another look around the place, noticing a family in the corner with two baby twins. He softened, and caught eyes with the curly-haired girl. She giggled and waved a tiny fist at him. Harry’s heart squeezed and he grinned, waving back. He loved babies. 

He wanted a family more than anything- not necessarily now since he was only 23, but definitely within the next five or six years. Many people would consider that too young but Harry wanted kids so bad. The only problem was who he’d be having those kids with. 

He texted back and forth with Gemma for a few minutes before Zayn returned, coming around the counter to Harry’s side with his panini and a salad. “I’m actually on my lunch break right now, so I’ll join you.”

“Sweet,” said Harry and they sat at a free table. 

“So what do you do again?” asked Zayn. “Something music related I’m sure?”

Zayn had witnessed Harry playing guitar and harmonizing the last time he had come over to their flat a week before. “Yup,” he confirmed. “I’m actually with a label right now.”

Zayn’s eyes widened in respect, “Damn! Future rockstar?”

“Something like that,” he said wryly. “If I ever get an album out.”

“Writer’s block?”

“Yup.” 

“Bummer,” said Zayn. “I had artist’s block for the past six months but I was recently struck with inspiration.”

“Liam?” asked Harry, waggling his eyebrows. 

Zayn chuckled, but he looked pleased with the mention, “Yeah, him and my flatmate. My best friend Louis.”

Harry stiffened for a second before relaxing. It’s just a name… “Cool,” he said. “Maybe I should get Niall to be my muse.”

Zayn pulled a face, “Do you want to write a song about beer and golf?”

Harry laughed, “It’d be new and interesting, that’s for sure.”

They chatted about a few other things before a redhead came by their table, “Hey Z, you’re on in a few minutes.”

“Thanks Annie,” said Zayn, starting to clean up his dishes. “You leaving now?”

“Yup, my girl is thirty minutes from London and I want to meet her at the train station,” said Annie. She smiled at Harry. “Hey, I’m Annie.”

“Harry,” he replied, shaking her hand. “Have fun with your girlfriend.”

“Thanks,” she said, grinning. She turned to Zayn. “By the way, I stopped by the bakery earlier on my break and I bought those macarons that Lou loves. I left them in the back.”

“Sick, Lou’ll love them,” said Zayn. 

“Which bakery?” asked Harry. 

“Newman’s. It’s like five minutes away,” said Annie. 

“I’ve never been,” said Harry. “But I actually used to work in a bakery.”

Annie raised her eyebrows, “Really? Neat, which one?”

“Haven, on the corner of 6th,” said Harry, ignoring the lump that just formed in his stomach. He hadn’t been back there in years… 

“Cool,” said Zayn. “Did you actually get to bake stuff?”

“Yeah,” said Harry. “I like to think I’m pretty good, but… it’s been a while.” He cleared his throat. He hadn’t actually realized it had been a while but thinking on it now, he realized it had been at least nine months since he had baked anything. The last thing he baked were cookies for a get-together that Barbara was hosting. 

“Maybe you should change that,” commented Zayn gently. 

Harry nodded. Maybe he should.

“Alrighty, nice talking to you both, but I have to go!” exclaimed Annie. She slipped on a pair of sunglasses, waggled her fingers at them, and then flew out the door, pulling out her phone and pressing it to her ear as she did. A few seconds later her face broke out into a wide grin. It made Harry feel warm inside.

And jealous. Just a little. 

“I hate to cut this short Harry, but my break’s over in like fifteen seconds,” said Zayn, looking genuinely apologetic. “It was really nice to see you today though.”

“Yeah you too,” said Harry, smiling. He was almost done anyway. “You’re still coming over soon right?”

“Yeah, and hopefully I’ll get Louis to come soon,” said Zayn and Harry barely resisted a flinch. He can’t believe his flatmate was named Louis… It was like the world was refusing to let him live in peace, Louis-free. 

“Sounds great,” he managed to say. “See you then Zayn.”

“Bye mate.”

Now all Harry had to do was figure out a way to somehow not flinch every time the name Louis was mentioned. Especially if he was meeting another Louis who had done nothing to deserve the feeling of disgust and resentment. 

Easy peasy. 

-

Early September 2013

“Louuuu,” groaned Harry. He had just came back from the gym where he spent a grueling hour on cardio. He was sweaty and tired especially after the double shift at Haven that he worked earlier that afternoon. All he wanted was a shower and to cuddle with his lovely boyfriend as they watched Gogglebox or anything to take his mind off his exhaustion. 

“I’m here,” called out a familiar, and much loved raspy Northern accent. 

Harry followed his boyfriend’s voice to the living room of his new flat. It was small but cozy and warm. Harry loved spending time there and he could tell Louis was much happier here than in his dorm room with his silent roommate. Luckily for Harry, the flat wasn’t too far from campus so he could still easily visit Louis all the time and the best part was that they could be alone. It felt monumental. Louis moving into a flat. A flat where Harry already knew he’d be spending a lot of his time at. He had only helped Louis move in only a week ago and already it felt like Louis’. Harry saw his many pairs of vans by the door, his framed photos of his sisters, friends, and mum and Dan hanging on the walls, a football lying randomly in the corner.  It was Louis’ space but it was also Harry’s space. He had a toothbrush in the bathroom for the nights where he was too tired to go back to his own dorm. There were a pair of his boots near the door by Louis’ vans, one of his Green Bay Packers sweatshirts on the chair in Louis’ room, a few of his movies in the cabinet next to all of Louis’ Marvel movies, and a bunch of plants that Harry pretty much solely tended to- watering and making sure they were getting enough sun whenever he was over. 

In the kitchen he knew he’d find boxes and boxes of Coco puffs, tea, and various boxed pasta (one of the only things Louis could make for himself) along with a few cookbooks that Harry had brought to encourage him (but also for him to use because everyone knew that Harry would be cooking for Louis more often than not, not that Harry was complaining). Sure enough, Louis was sitting on the counter, swinging his feet. A cup of tea was nestled in his delicate, small hands. 

“Hey baby,” said Harry, sliding into the gap between Louis’ legs and pecking his lips gently. He was paying attention however to the way Louis blushed at the pet name. Harry had slipped up and accidentally called him that on the way back from Louis’ family’s house and had been embarrassed at first, before he noticed the way Louis’ cheeks turned a pretty shade of pink and he ducked his head, all shy and soft. Harry had decided at that point that he would call Louis ‘baby’ all the time if it would get him to look like that. 

Louis dropped his head onto Harry’s shoulder, “Haz.”

“I had an awful day,” said Harry.

“Oh?” said Louis, into Harry’s t-shirt. 

“Yeah, but it’s better now,” said Harry, pressing a kiss onto his soft hair. He was aware that he had been getting increasingly affectionate with Louis (and Louis was getting affectionate with him right back) but he couldn’t help it. He was falling deeper for Louis with each passing day. And he loved it. 

“It’s much better now,” agreed Louis. “You smell sweaty.”

“I am sweaty,” said Harry. “Got back from the gym.” 

“I figured,” said Louis teasingly. Harry grinned into his hair, moving his hands to grab the edge of the counter, right next to Louis’ thighs. The moment felt safe and intimate. He could feel Louis’ breath on his neck and his hair was soft underneath his chin. His fingers were brushing the old fabric of Louis’ sweatpants. It was also in that moment that he noticed that Louis was wearing one of his shirts. 

“This is mine,” he whispered, tugging the hem lightly. 

Louis pulled back a fraction and studied the shirt with an inquisitive brow, “No.. I don’t think so Curly. I’m pretty sure this is mine.” 

Harry rolled his eyes, “Whatever, it looks better on you anyway.”

Louis kissed him quickly, “I know.”

Harry grinned. This boy was going to be the death of him. 

“Wanna watch a movie?” asked Louis, blue eyes wide. 

Harry got a little distracted with staring at the flecks of green in his irises but Louis’ smirk brought him back, “Hm?”

“Movie, love?” asked Louis. 

“Yes, love,” said Harry. “You put it on, I’m just going to take a quick shower.”

“Okie dokie,” said Louis, which: adorable. “By the way, Niall called me two hours ago, stressed out of his mind because you wouldn’t pick up. He’s already getting ready for his date with Barb and at that time it was in 4 and a half hours!”

Harry’s mouth twitched. He absolutely wasn’t going to tell Louis how early he started getting ready for their first official date, nope. “Did you help him out, or did you laugh and then hang up on him?”

“The second one,” said Louis but Harry knew he was lying. 

“Did you tell him not to drink before the date?”

“Yes, but what was that going to do? He’s Irish,” said Louis, which obviously explained everything. “Go shower you dirty boy.”

Harry kissed his temple before obliging. 

When he got out, he changed into a comfortable pair of sweatpants and a soft Fleetwood Mac shirt. Louis was already sprawled out on the couch. He had made a cup of tea for Harry and had already set up a movie: Grease. 

“Really Lou, we already watched it last month,” said Harry, complaining only half-heartedly. “It’s technically my turn to put on Love, Actually.”

“Actually Haz, we watched that last,” said Louis. Liar. 

But Harry didn’t feel like putting up a fight. He just wanted to cuddle his boy in peace. He slid into his spot next to Louis on the couch and they assumed their regular cuddle-and-movie positions. Louis curled into his side and rested his head on Harry’s shoulder. Harry wrapped his arms around Louis and pulled him half onto his lap. He kept one hand running through Louis’ soft fringe the entire movie. 

Louis gave commentary throughout all the scenes and did his best to swoon over Danny Zuko as much as possible just to make Harry jealous (it didn’t work) (definitely not). They got into a tickle fight halfway through in which Louis accidentally kicked Harry in the ribs and then squealed when Harry started tickling his feet (his most ticklish spot which Harry had been pleased to learn). 

After the movie, they made out of a little while, and then they just cuddled and talked about random stuff. Louis laid with his head in Harry’s lap and told him a story about how he and one of his friends, Calvin, tricked one of their teachers into thinking Louis’ name was Lewis… halfway through the school year. Then he ran his fingers through Harry’s curls as Harry talked about how Gemma once tricked 10-year-old Harry into thinking she did drugs as a practical joke but Harry had overreacted and tried to call the authorities because it was illegal. And how ever since, Gemma always joked that if she ever needed help in running from the cops, she would never call Harry. 

It was somewhere in that hour of bliss, that hour of just laying and cuddling and talking and laughing that Harry realized that he loved Louis. 

It wasn’t a groundbreaking realization. He wasn’t shaken to his core or shocked or surprised. It was a gradual moment of understanding. His brain thinking: yes, this is what it feels like. This is what love feels like. I love this man. And accepting that yes, he was so glad that he loved this man. That they were together. Harry could see himself growing up with Louis. Getting married to Louis. Having a family with Louis (both of them wanted kids very badly). Growing old with Louis. 

It should have been scarier than it was but Harry wasn’t afraid. He was steady. He was sure. He knew this was a forever kind of thing. He couldn’t imagine anything breaking him and Louis apart. They’d be together for good. He knew it. Even at his young age of 19. He knew. He was sure of it. He loved Louis. He was probably never going to stop loving Louis. 

He felt it deep in his bones. LouisandHarry. They were meant to be together. 

-

Chapter Text

July 2017

“Where are we going?” asked Louis, fidgeting with his seatbelt. He was sitting in the passenger seat of Zayn’s car and Louis had just noticed that they were going in the wrong direction from the way to their flat, turning left and not the usual right. 

“Okay, don’t freak out,” said Zayn quickly. Louis immediately tensed, confused and concerned. 

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean!?” he exclaimed. “What’s going on?”

Zayn took a left turn and waited a little while before answering, “We’re going to Liam’s flat.” 

It took a second to process but after he did, he gasped. It felt like someone had just punched him in the gut. “What!”

“The party I told you about, remember?”

“WHAT!” he repeated, louder this time. His heart was racing and his hands started to shake. Liam’s flat. Harry’s flat. No, no, no. 

Zayn glanced at him, looking guilty, “You don’t have to stay the whole time, but I think it would be good for you to just at least stop by and say hi to Li, and maybe talk to his flatmates.”

Talking to his flatmates is the last thing he wants to do. The thought of seeing Harry again after so long… It made his stomach clench and suddenly he couldn’t breathe. He heaved, and choked out, “Can’t… I can’t.”

“Shit, Louis,” said Zayn, eyes wide.

Louis didn’t answer. He felt faint. He can’t go to Liam’s flat. He can’t face Harry or Niall. He can’t. He had spent the past month and half that he's known about Harry's existence as Liam's flatmate obsessed with the possibility. It was a cruel addiction because he knew that no matter what he hoped or dreamed or wanted- Harry would not be happy with seeing him again like Louis would be happy to see him. He had spent weeks tossing and turning in bed, having nightmares where he met Harry for the first time in years and was humiliated, yelled at, or worse: ignored, dismissed, treated as Zayn's flatmate not as someone Harry once loved. Liam had hung out with him and Zayn plenty of times in the past month and while Louis really liked Liam and now considered him a good friend and he really liked the way he made Zayn happy, every visit was a harsh reminder that Liam was coming to see them after driving from his flat. His flat where Harry, his Harry, lived and breathed. Liam was flatmates with Harry, probably really good friends with Harry. He knew what Harry was doing and how he was, if he was healthy, happy, or something else. Liam knew but Louis couldn't ask. It was agonizing. He vaguely hears Zayn tell him that he’s going to pull over but everything seems blurry and hazy. He's still shaking. 

Some indescribable amount of time later, he feels a hand grip his shoulder. Firm and warm. An anchor. “Breathe Lou,” said Zayn. Louis inhaled deeply, and then released a shaky breath. His eyes watered. 

It took him a few minutes to come down from his panic attack and all the while Zayn whispered words of encouragement to him and squeezed his shoulder. He looked exceptionally guilty, “I’m so sorry Louis. I didn’t think you were going to react like this. We can go back. I’ll call Liam-”

“You should still go,” blurted Louis. He brushed his fringe out of his eyes and slumped in his seat. “You should.”

Zayn frowned, “I don’t know if I want to leave you alone after this…”

Louis wrenched out of Zayn's grip, and rolled his eyes. “I’m not going to go cut myself just because I had a panic attack Zayn,” he snapped. It came out much harsher than he intended.

Zayn flinched violently, “Don’t do that…”

“Sorry,” he said. He felt guilty again. You're a terrible person. Zayn deserves so much better. “You should go to the party. I’ll drive back.”

Zayn frowned, “You hate driving.”

“I can still do it if I have to,” said Louis. “I mean it Z, go hang out with Li.”

Zayn was still looking at him with his usual worried, scared expression. “But-”

“I’ll be fine,” said Louis. “I’ll just watch Friends, or call Calvin, and I’ll text you if something goes wrong but nothing will.” He lowered his voice slightly, “It’s been months Z, I think you can at least try to trust me again.”

“I do trust you,” said Zayn but they both knew it was a lie. “Okay, you know what? Fine. Alright. We’ll go to Liam’s flat and you’ll come in and say hi and then you can drive back. That’s the only thing I’ll accept.”

Louis frowned, “But-”

“Nope, that’s all I’m taking,” said Zayn. 

“You can’t tell me what to do,” said Louis, but they both knew that was a lie too. “Fine.” He would just say hi to Liam and leave. Hopefully Harry wouldn’t be in the room. Maybe he won’t even recognize Louis- he’s not that memorable anyway. He knew Harry’s moved on much faster and easier than he has. 

“Okay,” said Zayn, and he pulled on to the road again. 

It was after they parked right outside the sleek, new apartment complex that Liam, Niall, and Harry apparently lived at, that Louis realized that he was dressed in grey sweatpants and an old, worn-out blue jumper (long-sleeved, because even though it had been months, doesn’t mean the evidence had faded). They were comfort clothes, meant for lounging around the house, not for going to parties where there would be a lot of people. Clothes that he was now mortified to be potentially seen by Harry in. 

He could just hear the nasty words in his head. Doesn’t it bother you that your boyfriend doesn’t even try to look nice for these things? You look so immaculate and sexy and he’s dressed like he’s going to sleep. It feels like a punch to the gut. This was a bad idea. He cannot go in there like this. 

“Okay,” said Zayn, effectively interrupting his inner turmoil. “I let Liam know we’re coming up and he’s buzzing us in. He said he left the door open to their flat but the party’s going to be on the roof.” 

Louis nodded shakily. He wanted to tell Zayn that he couldn’t do it but words were failing him. Zayn slung his arm around Louis’ shoulder and they strolled into the building. Louis tried to even out his breathing, and smoothen out his facial expressions but Zayn still noticed something was up. “You’re going to be alright,” he said, squeezing Louis quickly. “You’re so strong.”

Am I? He wanted to ask. But instead he nodded, and gave him a weak smile. Zayn didn’t know the real reason he was panicking. He probably thought Louis was just worried about having to interact with more people which was a fair guess because that was definitely part of it. He didn’t know about Harry and how he probably hates Louis or worse, he’s completely forgotten about him. He shuddered. 

“Breathe Lou,” said Zayn, right as the elevator doors opened. He leaned in and pressed a short, sweet kiss to Louis’ temple. It wasn’t a new thing between them- little platonic kisses. Louis closed his eyes and exhaled, the gesture centering him. He’s going to be alright. He’s just going to say hi and then leave. 

Zayn’s phone buzzed right as they reached room 28B. He retracted his arm and pursed his lips, “Liam said he’s upstairs with the rest of the guests, so we should head up.”

Louis froze. The party is upstairs meaning lots of people. Lots of people and Harry. No. 

“I have to use the bathroom,” he blurted and nearly winced at his abrupt words. 

Zayn didn’t seem to notice though. “Okay, meet me upstairs after you’re done. You only have to stay to say hi to Liam, and Niall and Harry. Who knows, maybe you and Niall will get to talking about college or something- you said you guys were pretty close once.” 

“Maybe,” said Louis, though the possibility of him and Niall being the friends they once were was completely impossible due to what he did. He felt wobbly and sick. In less than five minutes he was going to see Harry for the first time in years. If the situation wasn’t as it was, he’d even be excited. But he can’t. Harry either hates him or doesn’t care at all about him. He didn’t know which one was worse. “I’ll be there.”

Zayn left him and he took another deep breath, hand gripping the doorknob.

He only had to get this over with, he reminded himself. Then he can bolt and cry the rest of the night and shovel ice cream and be pathetic until Zayn came back, demanded an explanation, and then ultimately ended up holding Louis as he cried again. It was okay, he told himself. At the end of this night, he still had Zayn. That was much better than it could have been. 

Dealing with Niall wouldn’t be too tough since he hadn’t reacted negatively that time at the grocery store. He wondered if there’d be anyone else he knew. Maybe Barbara, if Niall and her were still dating. He froze, what if Harry was dating someone? A shudder ran down his body. It wasn't unreasonable to think. Harry was definitely a catch: charming, kind, handsome, endearing, caring... Shut the fuck up Louis. He took another deep breath, blinking away the images of Harry with some other unnamed girl or guy that wasn't him. 

He gripped the doorknob again, pulled and then walked into the flat. 

He stopped dead upon entering, suddenly overwhelmed. It dawned on him that this is where Harry lived. It was where Harry slept and ate and laughed and spent most of his life, his life without Louis.

He let out a shaky breath. He didn’t realize that seeing it in real life would affect him this much. It wasn’t even anything super shocking- just a flat. A nicely decorated, cozy flat with art pieces on the walls that Louis knew- knew with every part of his being that Harry had picked out. It was just the sort of abstract but strangely beautiful pieces he’d spend hours picking out. 

He was standing in the living room and he couldn’t stop himself from looking around and thinking- that’s the sofa where Harry sits and watches TV, all sprawled out like he always sat. That’s the table where Harry puts his feet up while he watches TV. That’s the TV that Harry watches after a long day- Love, Actually; Titanic; the Notebook; Sleepless in Seattle; 10 Things I Hate About You; Friends; the Office; Daredevil; Peaky Blinders; any other shows and movies he had started watching without Louis. And in the corner, near the door, was a piano. A sleek, classy beauty that Louis couldn’t help but run his fingers across, throat clogged and mind filled with memories. Harry didn’t play the piano but Niall did. Gemma did too. 

He closed his eyes as the memories surfaced. Him at the Styles house, playing Mozart and Beethoven. Gemma applauding his talent. Anne praising him. Him preening. Harry, always present there beside him, proud. He swallowed the lump that formed in his throat and moved on. 

Behind the living room was the kitchen: an open layout. Bright, wide, and with minimalist, expensive looking appliances. A kitchen for someone who loves to cook. This is where Harry cooks. And bakes. And where he makes food for friends, neighbors, anyone. Anyone who isn’t Louis. 

He ignored his tears as he found the bathroom. 

-

It took him much longer than expected to be able to come out of the bathroom. He had to dry his tears and fix his hair into something that was hopefully a little less, just rolled-out of bed. He flinched as he remembered rat-like. He also gave himself a pep-talk, or tried to anyway. It doesn’t work. 

He sighed and dragged his feet as he walked down the hallway, back to the main room. He nearly tripped over his own feet as voices suddenly flood the silent flat. “I can’t believe we forgot vodka, of all things!” exclaimed a voice. A very familiar deep, slow voice that sends every cell in Louis’ body quivering. He froze, stuck halfway across the hallway with his mouth gaping. He couldn’t believe it. 

Harry. 

“A crime,” agreed another voice. Louis went rigid, a cold uncomfortable feeling running down his spine. This voice was also familiar. But not in a nice way. 

Now he was scared and he wanted out but he couldn’t- not yet. He couldn’t confront Harry by himself let alone Harry and his friend. He had to wait and pray they didn’t find him here. They were getting vodka. That was in the kitchen, so hopefully they wouldn’t come back down the hallway. 

“What do you think of Zayn?” asked Harry. Harry. It felt weird to hear Zayn’s name come out of his mouth. It was even weirder to realize that they’ve met up multiple times and are probably even friends and neither of them know about Louis’ relationship with the other. 

“He’s nice,” said the other voice. Hearing him made Louis feel small. He hadn’t felt this small in a long, long time and that was saying something. “He’s got kind of a bad boy slash brooding artist vibe and he’s hot as fuck. I’d shag him if Liam hadn’t already hooked him.”

Harry laughed, “You’d shag anyone.”

“You’re one to talk Styles,” was the retort and Louis felt sick. He couldn’t listen to this. He felt dizzy and small and pathetic and small and wrong and small. 

“Heyyyyyyy,” said Harry in his deep, slow voice that glided like soft velvet on Louis’ skin even after so long. He shivered, tears coming into his eyes. Harry wasn’t his anymore. “We should probably go. Liam said Zayn brought his roommate and I should probably say hi even if it’ll be weird.”

“Why will it be weird?”

“His name is Louis,” said Harry and Louis flinched, heart racing. Harry knew about him (he tried very hard to ignore the way he said his name). 

“Louis?” asked the other voice. “Like your ugly ex Louis?”

Louis sucked in a breath. No, no, no, he didn’t want to hear this. 

He didn’t hear a response which should have comforted him but didn’t mean anything because Harry could have nodded for all he knew. He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t listen to Harry talk about how horrible he was- how ugly or pathetic he was. 

“I always think that it’s ended up being good that Louis left you,” said the voice. Louis’s throat closed up. No, no, no. “He was holding you back and you’re so much better without him.” 

“Yeah, I guess so,” said Harry, his Harry, and Louis crumbled, quietly falling to his knees. Out, he needed out. This was the worst kind of torture. 

“He was clingy as hell,” continued the other and Louis flinched as if slapped. He knew it was the truth but it still hurt to hear. “And let’s be real, you were on a whole other level than him. I’m glad you finally realized your self-worth and that you deserved so much better.”

“Hmm,” said Harry, which wasn’t an explicit agreement but it wasn’t anything close to a denial either. “He left me though.”

“I know! The nerve! Imagine leaving Harry Styles, the fucking asshole!” Each word felt like a punch to the gut. “We both knew you deserved to be the one to dump that rat.”

That was the heaviest blow to Louis’ crumbling fort. He was blasted to pieces. He keeled over, hands clenched, tears falling from his eyes, and body shaking. It was all true. All of it was true. He was nothing. Harry agreed. Malcolm agreed. 

In the background he could hear Harry and Malcolm continue their conversation and when the door shut again, Louis let out a strangled cry. 

He was nothing. 

It took him a few more minutes before he could rise to shaky feet. His whole body was quivering. His mind was hurtling more truths at him and he stumbled at each one. 

You’re nothing. 

You’re worthless. 

Everyone is better off without you: Harry, Zayn, Lottie…

You’re ugly. 

You’re pathetic. 

You’re a rat.

You’re a burden to everyone. 

They’re better off without you. 

They’re better off without you. 

They’re better off without you. 

And then he was running. He ran out the door and turned immediately, heading for the elevator. Behind him he could hear a confused, “Louis?” 

It wasn’t Zayn, but Niall. Even worse. He looked like a mess right now. Fuck, he was such a mess. 

They’re better off without you. 

He entered the elevator and jammed the button for the first floor, tears pouring down his face like his eyes were two mini waterfalls. He felt numb and beaten. 

They’re better off without you. 

It was still bright and sunny outside- some sort of mockery from the world. Everyone is happy but you. You don’t deserve happiness. You don’t belong here. 

They’re better off without you. 

He tried to be reasonable. He told himself Zayn would be worried. He’d be disappointed. But Zayn would inevitably be disappointed either way. Louis is a broken human being. He cannot be fixed. It was a horrible revelation but he knew it was nothing but the truth. With one last look at the building, he took off down the street, away from the car and in the opposite direction of their flat. 

With every step of his vans hitting the pavement he heard the words. 

Fat. Ugly. Worthless. Burden. Attention-seeker. Nobody. Pathetic. Weak. 

They’re better off without you. 

-

Earlier that day (rewind)

“Where the fuck are the red solo cups we bought yesterday?” asked Liam, hands gripping his head as paused from his previous pacing. 

“I already brought them upstairs,” reminded Harry for the third time in the past fifteen minutes. 

“Oh,” said Liam.

Harry and Niall exchanged a look. Liam was stressed out, that was clear. Except he had no reason to be stressed. They were in the flat, getting ready to carry up the last of the food that Harry, Liam, and Barbara had made earlier that afternoon. Everything else was set. Malcolm was already here as well as Niall’s friend Shawn from the hospital. And more people were due to arrive. Harry hoped that one of those people was Zayn for everyone’s sake. Zayn always seemed to make Liam relaxed and smiley. It was nice and also really convenient for situations such as these. As if on command, Liam’s phone buzzed. He checked it and grinned, “Zayn’s here.”

“Thank god,” said Niall, confirming Harry wasn’t alone in his thoughts. 

“Well, we need to get the food up,” Harry reminded him. Liam nodded and they all loaded themselves with the platters and bowls of appetizers, salad, and little sandwiches that Harry had meticulously put together. He loved cooking more than a lot of other things in life and he didn’t mind cooking everything by himself, but having Barb and Liam’s help wasn’t unwelcome either. 

They carefully carried everything up and thankfully, Shawn noticed they were coming and opened the door to the roof for them. Harry set his platter of the sandwiches on the table they had set up and let out a satisfied sigh. “Everything is ready.”

They had music, drinks, food, and soon there would be people for Harry to converse with. The thought excited him. 

“Oh by the way,” said Liam. “Zayn said his roommate is coming up to say hi too.”

His roommate. Louis. Harry resisted his frown, and nodded, “I’m interested to meet him.”

Liam smiled, “He’s a great guy.”

Harry nodded, and tried to ignore the way Liam said it with that knowing look. Like he was saying that Harry was going to like this guy in a non-platonic way. There was no way of that happening- especially with his unfortunate name. 

“H,” said Malcolm. He grabbed a sandwich, “Where’s the vodka?”

He scanned the table. Liam scratched his ear, “I guess we forgot something.”

“No worries, I’ll grab it,” said Harry. He definitely wanted some vodka before this night was over. 

“I’ll come with,” said Malcolm, but then Zayn showed up. He was dressed in black skinny jeans with rips at the knee that matched Harry’s own, and a leather jacket over a blue shirt. His hair was artfully swept into a quiff. 

“Hey love,” he said, and Liam immediately beamed.

“Babe,” he said, hugging him and giving him a chaste kiss. Liam turned to Malcolm, “This is my boyfriend, Zayn.”

“Malcolm, pleasure to meet you,” said Malcolm, layering on the charm. He appraised Zayn and Harry could tell he was impressed. Zayn sort of had that impact on people. 

“Nice to meet you too,” said Zayn. He turned to Harry. “Hey Harry.”

“Hey Zayn,” said Harry, grinning. He gestured to the table. “Sandwich?”

Zayn shrugged, “Sure.” He took one and Malcolm nudged him quickly.

“He’s hot,” he mouthed to Harry and Harry nodded because that was definitely true. 

“Are you alone?” asked Liam, looking around slightly confused. 

“He’s coming in a few,” said Zayn, probably referring to Louis. Harry was really dreading meeting this person, which wasn’t fair. It wasn’t his fault he shared a name with someone Harry would rather forget. 

“Zayn!” exclaimed Niall, slinging an arm around his shoulder. “Let me introduce you to the others.” He pointed to Barbara, Shawn, and also Liam’s coworker Sophia who must’ve just arrived. 

“Vodka,” said Liam quickly. 

“Right,” said Harry. “I’m just going to say hi to Sophia and then Mal and I will grab some.” 

Liam nodded. “Okay, and remember to say hi to Louis whenever he comes up.”

Harry gave him a tight smile, “Will do.” 

He said hi to Sophia and had a quick conversation with her and Malcolm before the two of them headed downstairs to the flat. The door was already open so he strode right in. “I can’t believe we forgot vodka, of all things!” he said, heading for the kitchen.

“A crime,” agreed Malcolm.

Harry opened the freezer, and got out two bottles of vodka he and Niall bought last week for the occasion. “What do you think of Zayn?” he asked, curious to Malcolm’s thoughts that weren’t about his appearance.

“He’s nice,” said Malcolm thoughtfully. “He’s got kind of a bad boy slash brooding artist vibe and he’s hot as fuck. I’d shag him if Liam hadn’t already hooked him.”

Harry laughed, “You’d shag anyone.”

“You’re one to talk Styles,” was the retort. Malcolm smirked at him. It wasn’t as true as Malcolm probably thought but Harry wasn’t going to correct him. 

“Heyyyyyyy,” he said anyway, fake-offended. The truth was that it had definitely been a hot second since he’s shagged anyone. He’s made out with a few people at clubs and he almost went home with this one girl but he ultimately decided not to because he had early hours at the studio the next day (that’s what he told himself anyway). “We should probably go. Liam said Zayn brought his roommate and I should probably say hi even if it’ll be weird.”

“Why will it be weird?”

“His name is Louis,” said Harry flatly. He did his best to ignore the easy and familiar way the name slid off his tongue- like it was meant to be. 

“Louis?” asked Malcolm, incredulous. “Like your ugly ex Louis?”

Harry fumbled with the bottle, surprised at the harshness of Malcolm’s statement. Malcolm’s feelings about Louis (most likely stemming from loyalty to Harry) were no secret but he didn’t expect that intensity. 

“I always think that it’s ended up being good that Louis left you,” said Malcolm and Harry felt a twinge in his gut that was saying wrong. “He was holding you back and you’re so much better without him.” 

“Yeah, I guess so,” said Harry slowly. 

“He was clingy as hell,” continued Malcolm and Harry was slightly confused. He didn’t know where all of this was coming from. He knew Malcolm was probably trying to make him feel better but Harry was over Louis, he didn’t need validation.  “And let’s be real, you were on a whole other level than him. I’m glad you finally realized your self-worth and that you deserved so much better.”

“Hmm,” said Harry, frowning now. He was even more confused. “He left me though.”

“I know! The nerve! Imagine leaving Harry Styles, the fucking asshole!” For some reason, Malcolm labelling Louis as an asshole felt wrong, but he didn’t say anything. “We both knew you deserved to be the one to dump that rat.”

Harry blinked, shocked at the ferocity of the last statement. He had never heard Malcolm is hateful before, even when talking about fellow models or “back-stabbing bitches”. 

He didn’t know what to say. Something inside him was itching to correct him- tell him no, Louis was not a rat. He didn’t deserve that slander even if he did break Harry’s heart. But he didn’t say anything, “Let’s go back up.”

“Sure,” said Malcolm, grabbing one of the bottles. “Can’t wait to get drunk.”

“Me too,” said Harry, closing the door behind them. He still felt out of sorts. Surprisingly, a lot of guilt was surfacing inside him. No one else but him heard Malcolm’s slander and yet he felt a prickling sense that it was too much- that a mistake was made here. He tried to push it down. It wasn’t like Louis knew or cared about what Harry and Malcolm thought about him. It was fine. 

Louis wasn’t a rat, no, but he did leave Harry out of the blue for no reason and with no explanation. He wasn’t exactly innocent or good.  

-

February 2014

“Oh my god, they’re adorable!” cooed Barbara, scrolling through the dozens of pictures on Louis’ iPhone.

“They are,” agreed Louis with a smile. 

“What are their names?” asked Barbara, who was pretty much all heart-eyes by this time. “They’s so precious!”

“Doris and Ernest,” said Louis fondly. “Dori and Ernie for short.”

“Adorable,” said Barbara. “And they’re a week old?”

Louis nodded, “A week and a day.”

Barbara handed the phone back, “Well they’re absolutely beautiful and healthy. I have no doubts that you’re going to be the best big brother to them ever.”

Louis ducked his head bashfully, “Thanks Barbs.”

“Anytime Lou, and remember if you ever need someone to babysit, I will happily do so,” said Barbara. “I love kids.”

“I know,” said Louis with a chuckle, “But you also know that Harry loves kids and he’s going to want to spend as much time as possible with the twins so we’ll see how often you get a chance.” He thought back to how Harry had reacted to seeing the newborns when they drove down to Doncaster to see them. If Barbara was heart-eyes, Harry was heart-eyes times twenty. Louis loved how much Harry loved kids especially knowing how important the existence of kids in his future was. 

Barbara scowled, “I’ll fight him.”

“Fight who?” asked Niall, plopping down in the seat next to Barbara. He pressed a sloppy kiss to her cheek and she giggled. Louis rolled his eyes. The two of them had started dating at the end of last year thanks to some meddling from Harry and Louis and while Louis was glad they were happy, he also didn’t want to see the excessive PDA they partook in. Louis had a feeling that since Niall was currently drunk, that it was only going to get worse. 

“You,” said Louis, taking another sip from his beer. 

“That’s rude, Lewis,” said Niall, slurring the ‘is’ in Lewis to a ridiculous extent. 

“Thanks for your input Neil,” said Louis. 

They were at a new club that a friend of Niall’s had recommended. It was pretty alright, but nothing special. Harry was who knows where. He had gone to get another round but knowing Harry, he got distracted by some stranger and was probably telling his life story to a random drunk college student. 

He scanned the room for his boyfriend but came up short. He wasn’t too worried though. 

Turning back to Niall and Barbara, he immediately recoiled and groaned. Niall and Barbara were now making out in front of him. Great. 

“For fuck’s sake,” he said, getting up. “Get a room!” Neither of them reacted. In fact, Niall began to pull Barbara onto his lap and Louis had definitely had enough. He swayed slightly, but luckily, he hadn’t overdone it with the drinks so far that night so he could walk across the room to the bar in search for Harry. He passed grinding couples and drunkards and one handsy guy who tried to grope Louis’ ass (shudders). The bartender was chatting to a random customer that was surprisingly not Harry. He frowned, and took another look around. 

Finally, his eyes latched onto the familiar tall figure of his boyfriend. Harry was dressed in his usual black skinnies/bold, mostly unbuttoned shirt combo with golden boots on his feet. His hair curling delectably, much longer now that he was growing it out. Newly 20 and sexier than ever. Louis wanted to lick him. That was definitely not a sober thought. 

Who was he kidding, he thought that all the time. 

He frowned though once he realized Harry was actually talking to someone that he somehow missed. He had blonde, wavy hair and wore a sheer black shirt and black jeans. Harry and him seemed to be locked into a pretty animated conversation. He wondered what it was Harry was rambling about: his experience as a baker, yoga class recommendations, or something else hipster-y that Louis would most definitely make fun of him for. 

He decided he ought to go save the poor soul and made his way over. 

Harry’s gaze caught onto him and he perked up, “Louuuuuu.”

Louis smiled, and walked right into his boyfriend. Harry opened his arms and they fit together like they always did. Louis sighed happily. LouisandHarry. 

“Hey Lou,” said Harry, kissing his head. “This is my friend Malcolm, I met him at that banquet two weeks ago and we bumped into each other today, what are the chances!”

Louis turned his head in Harry’s tight grip, and smiled at the man- Malcolm. “Hi, I’m Louis.”

Malcolm’s eyes widened, “Ahh, I see.”

Louis blinked, “Nice to meet you.”

“You too,” he said. “Now Harry, what was it you were saying about the shoot you did recently?”

Harry eagerly continued his chatter and Louis was left feeling kind of stung. He brushed it off though. Malcolm probably hadn’t meant to sound so dismissive. He was probably tipsy and confused and Harry didn’t seem to notice anything either. It was fine. 

He was overreacting. He knew it and he hated it. Over the past year with Harry (they celebrated their first anniversary only two weeks ago), he had come a long way with his insecurities (a lot of the credit going to Harry for helping understand his own worth) but that didn’t mean they didn’t still pop up now and again. 

The conversation continued and everything was fine. Malcolm was a nice person. Harry clearly liked him a lot and Louis trusted Harry’s judgement in people more than anyone else so he could like Malcolm too. 

It didn’t matter that Malcolm seemed to laugh really loud at all of Harry’s drunken stupid jokes and how he kind of looked at Harry like Harry looked Louis whenever Louis stretched and his short rode up to expose part of his abdomen and it didn’t matter that he was actually really attractive and that sheer shirt looked really good on him and Louis was sure that he’d never be able to pull something like that off- he’s a nice person. 

Later on in the night when Niall and Barbara had stopped sucking faces, they met Malcolm too. Everything was fine and no one else seemed to think anything like Louis was thinking so obviously that meant he was wrong. 

Everything became okay again when Harry pulled Louis out to the dance floor to dance and he wrapped his arms around Louis’s waist and gripped his hips and Louis tangled his fingers in Harry’s long, soft hair and they danced slowly and closely and Harry hooked his chin over Louis’ head and Louis tucked his face into Harry’s neck and everything else faded away. Everything was fine. 

Louis was overreacting when he saw Malcolm look Harry up and down and lick his lips too. Besides, it’s not like Louis could be mad about that- Harry was very attractive and anyone could notice and appreciate that. 

Everything was fucking fine. 

Despite that, Louis was relieved when Malcolm said his goodbyes (and hugged Harry for an amount of time much too large for someone you just met two weeks ago) and left. 

Then it was just LouisandHarry again. Together and joined as one. 

Louis leaned his head on Harry’s shoulder and closed his eyes, just breathing. “I love you,” he said softly. 

“I love you too,” said Harry only slightly slurred, kissing his temple. “More than anyone else. You’re my favorite person baby, this past year with you has been amazing.”

Louis blushed, feeling warm and fuzzy inside. Harry kissed his nose and he blushed harder. One year and Harry was still affecting him this much. But he didn’t really mind. 

Everything was fine because Louis was Harry’s favorite person. 

Harry nudged him, “I’m your favorite too, right?”

Louis feigned an apologetic look, “Sorry Curly, I’m afraid Neil is my favorite.”

Harry scowled, “You love me way more than Niall.”

Louis bit his lip and shrugged, “I dunno about that.”

Harry pouted and snuck his arm around Louis’ waist, “I’m your favorite.”

“Sure Harold.”

“I am.”

“Alrighty.”

Harry turned his face and kissed him, fast and unexpected. Louis’ lips parted and he melted. Harry bit his bottom lip and snuck his tongue in. Louis threaded his fingers in Harry’s hair, and he felt Harry’s fingers slip under his shirt and grip his hip bone, warm and comforting. “Okay,” mumbled Louis against Harry’s plump lips, “You’re my favorite.”

Harry smirked against his lips and Louis gently slapped him. 

Everything was fine and now Niall and Barbara weren’t the only two college students making out in the club. 

-

Chapter Text

July 2017 (that same evening)

Zayn was listening to Barbara describe the art show she had attended the week before when Niall approached them, a worried frown etched onto his face. 

“Hey babe,” said Barbara. 

“Hey darling,” said Niall pressing a quick kiss to her cheek. He turned to Zayn, “I need to talk to you.”

Confused, Zayn nodded and followed him to a vacant part of the roof. A few more people had arrived in the last few minutes, but still no show of Louis. Zayn was sure he was hiding downstairs in the bathroom, and after talking to Niall, he was going to find him and drag him out to say hi to everyone. He felt guilty for tricking Louis into coming to the party but he didn’t expect it to be such a big deal, and he wanted Louis to meet Liam’s friends. He already knew Niall and he knew that Louis would fit in with everyone. But maybe he moved a little too quickly. He’d definitely be apologizing properly and making it up to him tomorrow. “What is it?” he asked the Irishman. 

“I just saw Louis run out from the flat and downstairs,” said Niall, grimly. Zayn froze. Shit. 

“Where’d he go?” 

“I think he left,” said Niall. “I’m slightly concerned, it looked like he was crying…”

Shit shit shit. 

“Thanks Niall,” said Zayn. Niall nodded and moved away, clearly sensing Zayn needed to be left to himself. Zayn’s mind raced. Louis probably went home but he felt a tendril of worry bloom in his stomach. He dialed Louis’ phone and waited, biting his lip. 

It went to voicemail after ringing and Zayn cursed under his breath. He sent a quick text: Where r u? 

After a second, he added Reply asap Lou, I’m worried. 

A minute later with no reply, he went to find Liam, trying to ignore the worry that was manifesting in his gut. The rotten but familiar feeling that told him this felt a lot bigger than he had initially thought. Something that brought him back to a day six months ago all too ingrained in his head. 

-

Louis was shivering. It wasn’t cold outside. Not cold at all. It was July and Louis was dressed as if it were November yet he was shivering. 

His face was stained with tears but no new droplets fell from his eyes. He had no tears left to cry. Instead, he stood in front of a CVS, debating. 

His phone had been buzzing for the past few minutes, but he just turned it off. Eyes blurring the notifications from Zayn: Where r u? 

I’m worried. 

Lou please. 

Don’t run from me. 

It didn’t end up taking to long for him to decide. He was pathetic and weak. Every promise he had made was out the window. All he could think about was relieving the ache he had. He wanted a release. He wanted to feel centered again. He wanted the comfort that only one thing could bring him. So with one last shudder, he stepped into the shop, leaving his last ounce of dignity behind him. 

Shame curled inside him. But he was far past feeling embarrassed of himself. 

-

April 2014

“You look really handsome,” said Malcolm. 

“Thanks Mal,” said Harry. Louis tried to ignore the hungry look Malcolm was directing to Harry, right in front of him. It was nothing new, especially now that Harry and Malcolm were becoming closer friends, bolstered by the partnership they had for one of Harry’s shoots: Harry photographing and Malcolm modelling. 

They spent hours together at the studio every day and often got lunch and dinner together. In fact, Harry was so busy with shooting that he had quit working at the bakery- a decision that shocked many of their friends. 

He took a sip of his wine and stared at the table. They were eating at some fancy place downtown where everyone wore expensive clothes and the waiters talked in posh accents that made Louis feel out of place with his northern accent. Malcolm had invited Harry to dinner- well technically Harry said he invited both of them but Louis was pretty sure Harry had to insist that he come as well. He tried to ignore the fact that this restaurant had a very romantic atmosphere, not all a place you’d invite your coworker/colleague for celebrating. 

Harry and Malcolm had been chatting about the shoot and various other things relating to the shoot or modelling that Louis knew basically nothing about. He hadn’t said anything in about ten minutes and the two of them had been chatting the entire time. He took another sip of his wine just as Malcolm let out a tinkling, charming laugh, gently touching Harry’s shoulder as he did. Louis frowned. 

He almost sighed audibly in relief when their water returned, offering them a check. 

Malcolm insisted on paying (Louis didn’t mind that at all) but he frowned, “Time does go fast doesn’t it.”

Fast. Ha!

Harry made a noise of agreement, before turning to Louis. He smiled softly at him, dimples popping out. “Ready baby?” 

Louis immediately smiled, taking limitless pleasure in the way Malcolm’s mouth opened and then snapped shut, eyes wide. 

“Yeah love,” he said, sliding out of the booth. Harry followed, slid his arm around his waist, grounding him. He relaxed. “Film when we get home?” he whispered, stretching up slightly to reach Harry’s ear. Harry nodded and Louis felt a warm glow ignite inside him. 

He may not like Malcolm at all but that didn’t matter, because Harry was still his and he was still Harry’s and they were the ones who slept in the same bed at the end of the night. 

-

July 2017 (same day)

Louis was standing in the middle of the men’s hygiene section, clenching and unclenching his hands. The tears had stopped falling a few minutes before but he still felt that weight on his chest, the fluttery potential for him to suddenly burst into tears again if he breathed too hard or blinked too much. He felt skittery and shaky. He was staring at the rack with men’s razors, all neatly packaged and advertised in

He hadn’t used one of them in months thanks to Zayn. He had found some sort of special, ten times less sharp razors for Louis to use to shave instead. Using those took him three times the time to shave that it normally took but it wasn’t like Louis had a lack of time nowadays. 

He shuddered and before he could second-guess himself, he grabbed a box. 

Something in him released as his finger tips gripped the plastic box. 

This was going to make him feel better. The pain was going to help him feel better. He repeated it to himself as a mantra. 

They’re better off without you. 

-

June 2014

Things had been rough between Harry and Louis for the past couple of weeks. Things were busy. Louis graduated college with his degree in teaching and was now working on applications for positions as a drama teacher nearby. Harry had been busy as ever managing his classes and finals as well as still doing shoots. Malcolm’s recommendations had gotten him in with bigger stars. Harry was being invited to photograph more models. 

“I feel like I’m making connections Lou,” he had whispered when they were in bed a week ago, hands threading through Louis’ fringe. “Photography is fun, but I don’t really see myself doing it as a career. I think it’ll be useful to have connections if I want to start a music career.”

Louis had smiled softly, eyes closed, “You’re going to be a rockstar one day Styles, I’m betting on it.” 

Harry kissed the spot right under his ear, and huffed, “I dunno bout that, but maybe I’ll get some gigs. Be London famous, not world famous.”

Louis disagreed. Harry Styles was definitely rock star potential. His charm and charisma, his confidence, and his deep, throaty voice- the most beautiful voice in the world in Louis’ opinion. Harry said he preferred Louis’ soft, raspy voice. 

Now however, it was the summer. Harry was out of school. Louis was done with his applications and had sent them all out a day ago. Harry was taking a break from his usual schedule of multiple shoots a week to focus on songwriting. He just had his last day today and then he was free. They were free. Louis couldn’t wait. 

He had decided weeks in advance that he wanted to do something special. 

It was a truth universally acknowledged (by mainly Harry, Niall, and his family) that Louis couldn’t cook for shit. He could pull off a sandwich or maybe some cup noodles, but nothing remotely fancy. However, today he intended to change that. Harry normally did all the cooking and Louis did the dishes and it worked well for them, but Louis wanted to surprise him. He had a fancy, romantic dinner planned. He had brought out a fancy tablecloth that he honestly had no idea where it came from and had bought some flowers from a local shop.

The recipe he chose was chicken stuffed with mozzarella wrapped in parma ham with a side of homemade mash- fancy but not too ambitious for his beginner skills. He had bought all the ingredients yesterday too on the way back from the post office and had done a practice round when Harry was at the gym. He had even skyped his mum to go over everything one final time that morning so he didn’t screw it up and burn down the flat. 

He set out to start at 5:45 and did every step perfectly, paying special attention to measurements and timing. By the time Harry was set to come back at 8:00, the table was set, the food was ready and warm, and everything was good. He himself had showered and dressed in a lavender jumper that belonged to Harry and the black skinnies he had already been wearing. He left his hair in a fringe because that was Harry’s favorite. He had even lit candles even though he hated the too-sweet vanilla smell that Harry insisted smelled just like him. 

At 8:10, he was getting concerned. 

Harry was always punctual, even when he didn’t have to be. If he was running late, he always called or at least sent a quick text. He checked his phone- the last text had been from that morning. He frowned, and sent a quick when are you getting home babe? 

He stared at the message for a second and decided he didn’t even need for it to be a complete surprise: I did something for you… xx

Hopefully he didn’t think he meant anything sexual. 

At 8:20, the food was getting cold. He spent a few minutes debating whether or not he should pack it away and reheat it once Harry arrived (still no text) but after five more minutes, he bit the bullet and did it. As he put the covered dish into the fridge, something inside him squeezed. It wasn’t like Harry to not be back when he said he’d be back. 

He tried to call him but it went straight to voicemail. His phone must be dead, he reasoned. That would account for his unanswered texts. It would not account for his lateness though. It’d be a lie if he said he wasn’t slightly worried. 

He wanted to call Niall, feeling more and more anxious with every round of the minute hand on the kitchen clock, but Niall was probably with Barbara and he didn’t want to disturb whatever they were doing. 

A familiar shakiness overcame him at 8:45. His anxiety wasn’t a new thing for him. He’d been dealing with it for years. Whenever he had an attack, Harry pulled him to his chest and held him tight before coaching him through breathing exercises. He’d grip his wrists (tight enough to bruise) and Louis would usually calm down enough to talk through it. But Harry wasn’t here. 

He still didn’t know if he was okay. 

He gripped the counter, and shut his eyes. The vanilla scent was beginning to make him nauseous. In a burst of action, he blew out every candle, head throbbing. He slid to the floor and rested his back against the island. Fuck. 

At 9:00, he turned on Friends. Friends always comforted him but it wasn’t doing him much today. Monica and Rachel’s banter went unnoticed. He tried calling three more times, all going straight to voicemail. 

At 9:30, he texted Niall. 

At 9:45, his mum texted him, wanting to know how everything went. Louis ignored it, and then felt guilty because she was his mum. He promised he’d call her tomorrow, once Harry was back and he could stop worrying. 

At 10, he grabbed a cigarette and went up to the roof for a smoke. He couldn’t sit all alone in the flat and suffocate in his worry while waiting for Harry, and going up to the roof always made him feel calmer. So did smoking for that matter. He had been doing it much less since he had started dating Harry, and he was very aware of the consequences, but sometimes he just needed it. This was one of those times. 

It was an added bonus that he could watch the road and potentially see Harry drive up from his post at the edge. 

It was nearly 11, when Louis caught sight of the familiar headlights of Harry’s car. He blinked, shivering. He had dozed off for a little bit there and now he was exceptionally cold even in the summer with a whole-ass jumper on but he immediately perked up at the sight of Harry. He was okay!

He watched as Harry parked in his reserved parking spot and got out. It was pretty dark outside but the nearly-full moon provided a glow of white that washed over Harry’s frame. A blue headscarf was wound through his lovely curls and he was dressed in black jeans and a green jacket (which Louis loved) over a white shirt. He tipped his head back and stretched. Louis watched as he exposed his beautiful throat. Beautiful Harry. 

He was so distracted by him that the sound of another car door opening, sound cutting through the silent night, surprised him. He sucked in a breath as Malcolm stepped out of the car. He was dressed in a silky shirt and white jeans. The outfit itself was slightly pretentious but Louis couldn’t even criticize him because he looked good in it. 

Malcolm. Harry was with Malcolm. 

Malcolm is now here at their apartment building. 

Harry invited him over. 

“Thanks for tonight,” drawled Harry, voice abruptly catching his attention as always. “I think I have a leftover cake we can eat- chocolate mousse. I dunno if Lou’s up or not.”

He is up. Unfortunately. 

“I never say no to chocolate,” said Malcolm, brightly. He moved closer to Harry as they both approached the door. 

Louis stayed on the roof for another few minutes, drawing out the time before he had to go down. Go down and face Harry and Malcolm. 

In the end, his cold hands won out and he slumped his way back to their flat. He opened the door and stepped inside, heart falling slightly. Malcolm was sitting at the table- tablecloth, roses, candles, and all- eating a slice of cake. 

Harry was standing at the fridge. Louis already knew what he was looking at. 

“Louis,” said Malcolm, surprisingly. 

Louis blinked, and cleared his throat. “Hey Malcolm.” His words came out slightly lost. He felt slightly lost. His eyes trailed to Harry, who was staring at him, mouth slightly open. “H.” 

“Lou,” he said. He was still staring as he made his way to the kitchen. 

Louis plastered on a smile, trying to keep his tone light and unaffected as he asked, “What have you two been up to?” 

Harry was still staring at him. 

“We went to that new restaurant that opened- Lula’s?” said Malcolm. “Divine food. Absolutely divine. A little over the top if I’m being honest but it’s what Harry deserves after finishing another flawless shoot.” 

Louis flinched, just the slightest bit. He tried to cover it up but Harry had seen it. “Lou,” he said quietly, reaching out and grabbing his arm. 

“I texted you,” he said quietly, feeling a little shaky. His anxiety attack had long gone, but he still felt the familiar weightless feeling, like nothing was holding him to the earth. Like he could just float away and disappear. 

“My phone died,” said Harry, squeezing his arm. “Shit, Lou I’m so sorry.” He glanced at the fridge. “You made me dinner.”

Louis looked at the floor, “Yeah.”

“And you got flowers,” he continued. “And candles. You hate those candles.”

He nodded. 

“Fuck, I’m so sorry,” said Harry, pulling him close. 

“It’s okay,” he said, internally cursing as his eyes grew watery. He shouldn’t be crying. It was a misunderstanding. Harry had every right to go out to dinner with a friend to celebrate a successful shoot and he definitely would have told Louis had his phone been accessible. It was all a misunderstanding. It didn’t make him feel like crying any less. “Seriously babe, it’s okay. You didn’t know, that’s the point of a surprise stupid.”

“I’m still sorry,” said Harry seriously. He pulled back slightly. “But Louis, thank you . You cooked a meal for me. You hate cooking.”

Louis laughed at that. “I did my best.”

“I bet it’s amazing,” said Harry. “I’m too full now but I’m definitely eating it tomorrow morning.”

“For breakfast?” asked Louis fondly. 

Harry nodded, “Every last bite.” 

“I made it for two.”

“I’m still eating every last bite,” said Harry stubbornly and Louis rolled his eyes. He felt slightly better. 

He nearly jumped when Malcolm started talking again, “Maybe it was fate that you didn’t get to eat it H,” he said, smirking. “We all know how Louis is with cooking.” 

He probably meant it as a joke. He had probably heard Harry make a joke about it and he definitely didn’t mean any harm by it. If Niall had said it, Louis wouldn’t have even doubted that it was all in good fun. But for some reason, the comment really stung. It felt like a jab. Like he was being made fun of. 

But Malcolm just took another bite of cake, leaving Louis frozen in Harry’s arms. “This is really good, where’s it from?”

“Haven Bakery,” said Harry. Louis prepared himself. “Did you know I used to work there?”

After Harry told his story (which Malcolm was unsurprisingly enraptured by), he cut a slice of cake for Louis which he did his best to eat but after that evening, he was feeling a little too out of sorts to truly appreciate the chocolate delicacy. 

Malcolm eventually did leave, but not without kissing Harry’s cheek. He had done it many times before. It was nothing. It was just meant to be a polite platonic cheek kiss. Friends kissed each other’s cheeks all the time Louis told himself. It still felt like a blow to the stomach. 

Harry tried to apologize many more times even though Louis wasn’t even a little bit mad. It was all a misunderstanding and he knew that. He still felt that uncomfortable self-doubt inside him- the feeling that Harry would rather be hanging out with someone else than him. These were thoughts he hadn’t been having since they first got together and Louis was a lot more insecure. They were coming back in full force though and though Louis tried to push them down, they slipped through the cracks in his exterior and burrowed their way into his conscious. 

Later on in bed when Louis was laying pressed up against Harry’s back, he wrapped his arms tightly around Harry’s middle as he snored, reminding himself that Harry loved him. He loved Harry and Harry loved him. LouisandHarry he reminded himself. They were golden. 

-

July 2017 (same day)

Louis was in line for check out. His hands were sweating. He had actually been in line before this already but he hadn’t been able to ignore the panic in his mind that the cashier person would be able to read his mind and see what he was about to do. That’d he’d see what a disgusting and shameful person Louis was and either pity or scoff at him. 

He came back with some other random shit in his basket. It looked less suspicious. He had the razors, and then a toothbrush and some conditioner even though they definitely didn’t need more (between the two of them, conditioner was never in shortage). 

He took a deep breath once it was his turn. The guy manning the register was in his early twenties. He seemed bored and didn’t even blink when checking Louis’ items. His hands shook as he handed over his credit card. He still had some cash on it even though he wasn’t working because growing up in a big family taught him how to effectively save money. 

He took the bag of his stuff and even managed to get out a rushed, “Have a nice day!” before was speedily walking out the door. He exhaled as he stepped back out into the warm summer air. 

Now all he needed a place to do it. 

-

October 2014

“Louis,” said Malcolm. 

Louis froze, hands stilling in his hair where he had been messing with it. “Malcolm… what a surprise.” 

“Hm,” said Malcolm, or more like sneered. He was blatantly tipsy and Louis had already learned that when Malcolm was close to drunk, he was a whole lot meaner than normal. Not that that was justification for his behavior, Louis had just taken note of it. 

They were at a pub, sitting right by the stage where in a few minutes, Harry was going to come on and sing. It was his first (and definitely not his last) gig and he was playing a few of the songs that Louis had helped him write along with a few covers. Louis was so proud of his boyfriend. 

“Nice outfit,” said Malcolm haughtily, sarcasm oozing from his crisp voice.

Louis looked down with a frown. He didn’t think there was anything wrong with… No. Malcolm was just being a dick. He was tipsy. 

Not justification. 

Also didn’t mean he wasn’t telling the truth. 

“Thanks,” he said. “Almost as nice as yours.” He gave him a smile and found pleasure in the confused frown that appeared on Malcolm’s face. 

“Tommo!!” yelled Niall, slinging an arm around his shoulders. Niall had definitely passed the threshold for tipsy and was well into drunk by now. However, drunk by Niall standards meant he was still able to talk clearly and walk in straight lines. Lucky bastard. 

“Hey Ni,” he said, relaxing at his presence. 

“Niall,” said Malcolm. 

“Malcolm,” said Niall, his usually happy-go-lucky tone slightly chillier. Louis hid his smile. Niall- who loved everyone and who was always happy and polite- agreed with him when it came to Malcolm. If only Harry could agree. 

“Malcolm was just complimenting me on my outfit,” said Louis, because why not rile Malcolm up further. 

“Oh?” said Niall, raising an eyebrow. “Well I do say, Louis, you have an impeccable fashion sense.”

They both jumped at Malcolm’s obnoxiously loud scoff. “Please, if Louis has good fashion sense, I’m a god.”

Louis frowned, because ouch. He knew he wasn’t exactly as stylish as Harry (especially now that he was hanging around some of the classy, fancy types) or Malcolm himself but being reminded of how different he was- how he didn’t fit in this particular area, hurt. 

Malcolm had never been this blatantly mean to him before. Always sarcastic. Always passive aggressive. Never this obvious about it. 

Niall’s grip around his shoulders grew, “That’s fucking rude Malcolm and Louis has great fashion sense, shut the fuck up.”

Louis was shocked but also really grateful for Niall’s retort. Niall may seem like the happiest ball of sunshine to exist on this planet and the type of person to never hurt a fly, but when it came to the people he loved, he was fiercely loyal and defensive. Louis was lucky to have him. 

Malcolm rolled his eyes, “Whatever you say Horan. Talk to me when he gives up the joggers.”

Louis’ face burned, his mind flashing back to a day a month ago. 

Malcolm had shown up unannounced (and probably uninvited) to their flat and Louis, as people do in the comfort of their own flats, was in one of Harry’s t-shirts and a pair of old joggers that he probably should have done away with already but kept because they were so soft and comfortable. Malcolm had looked him up and down, smirked, and said, “Still asleep then are we?” 

Louis had been embarrassed even though Malcolm was the one intruding. Harry had no issue with what he wore… Right? 

“What’s your problem?” asked Niall. “We’re all here to support Harry and I know that if he were here, he definitely would not be happy with what you’re saying about his boyfriend.”

Malcolm waved him off, “Go ahead. Whine to Harry. Louis does it all the time. Harry appreciates my honesty and my opinions. Plus I’m sure he’s embarrassed by the way Louis dresses too. Or is there another reason why I never see Louis at parties anymore?”

Louis felt like he had been punched in the gut. 

In the past few months Harry had been invited to a lot of parties with his new friends. Louis had tagged along the first few times but the whole fancy thing wasn’t his cup of tea so Harry stopped taking him. Because he knew Louis wouldn’t enjoy them. That was the reason. 

But now that Malcolm had brought up the possibility, he couldn’t stop pondering it. What if he was right? Was Harry embarrassed of Louis? He was definitely different from a lot of Harry’s new friends… 

“Shut the fuck up Malcolm,” said Niall, sounding angrier than Louis had ever seen him. 

He took Louis by the arm and marched them away. Louis followed like a lost puppy. 

He felt small. And not in a good way. 

“What the fuck,” said Niall, slamming his drink on a random table. “What the fuck was that!”
“I think he’s drunk,” said Louis after a beat too long. 

“Drunk! As if that gives him the right!” exclaimed Niall. Seeing him this worked up was kind of freaking Louis out but he didn’t interrupt. “How long has he been this much of an asshole!? Wait, scratch that, the entire time I bet. What a bastard.” He turned to Louis. “Wait till Harry hears about this.”

“No,” blurted Louis, way too loudly. He bit his lip. “No,” he repeated. He could still hear it in his head: Go ahead. Whine to Harry. Louis does it all the time. 

He didn’t whine. Or at least, he didn’t think he did. What did Malcolm mean by that? Had he whined to Harry? Had he done it in front of Malcolm? He felt the familiar swirling of his thoughts that suggested a panic attack. 

Fuck. He can’t have a panic attack in the middle of a crowded pub right before one of the biggest moments of Harry’s life. No. 

As if reading his mind, Niall puts both hands on his shoulders and they meet eyes. “Listen to me Louis. Harry loves you. He loves you more than anything. You’re amazing. You’re one of the best people I know and trust me, I know a lot of people.”

Louis’ mouth twitched at the last one. Niall was lovely. 

“Malcolm is a piece of shit,” said Niall. “I still think you need to tell Harry because Harry would definitely not stay friends with him if he knew, no matter what Malcolm says.”
Louis nodded weakly. Maybe Niall was right. If he told Harry and Harry ended his friendship with Malcolm, things would be a lot easier. Was that horrible to wish for? Harry losing a friend. 

Malcolm may have been a jerk to him, but he had been instrumental to Harry finding confidence in his career choices. As much as Louis hated to admit it, Malcolm had helped Harry out a lot. 

Niall glanced at the stage, “Shit, he’s starting.”

Louis’ gaze immediately latched onto the stage. He watched as Harry strutted onto the stage. He was dressed in some sort of navy blue striped suit type thing that was a gift from a friend. His hair was down well past his shoulders by now, lovely dark curls. His guitar was looped around him and the microphone was already set up. His eyes were bright green and scanning the crowd. They stopped when they met Louis’. Rockstar mouthed Louis. 

Harry beamed at him. 

He moved up to the stand, “Hello ladies and gentlemen!”
Louis, Niall, Barbara (who had appeared out of nowhere, drinks in hands) cheered the loudest. And Malcolm. But Louis was determined not to pay attention to him. 

“My name is Harry Styles and I’m going to sing a few songs for you lovely people,” said Harry, dimples out and eyes sparkling. “Please, sit back and enjoy.”
And then he began. 

Everything else faded away when Harry opened his mouth for heaven to pour out. Louis was the real life version of the star-eyed emoji as he watched his boyfriend blow everyone out of the water, a permanent grin on his face. Harry was wonderful. His voice: deep and rich and beautiful. His lyrics entranced the crowd. 

The next half an hour passed in a blur of Harry’s voice. Louis was in a crowded club with Niall and Barbara next to him but it was as if everything had disappeared. Harry was the only thing lucid. Harry was the only one in the room. 

It wasn’t just him that felt it. He could hear the chatter of people nearby. 

“Damnnnn.”

“He sounds like an angel.” He is an angel. 

“He’s also fine as fuck!” Louis couldn’t even feel jealous about that- they were right. Harry was sexy standing up there on the stage belting out lyrics like he was a rockstar. He was a rockstar. 

Louis was so unbelievably proud of him. The pride was a warm glow inside him, lighting him up, and making his heart soar. When Harry finally finished the setlist, the crowd exploded in applause and cheering. Louis cheered as loud as he could, throat feeling slightly sore from his efforts. Next to him, Niall whistled loudly. Harry was beaming. He looked surprised and pleased by the crowd’s reaction. His eyes scanned the room and found Louis’. He winked. He cleared his throat when the noise finally faded to a lull, “Thank you guys, you’re all so kind!”
Another little round of cheers. 

Harry’s dimples were out in full force. “Thank you all so much. Thank you to the venue for having me and thank you to all my friends- I wouldn’t have been able to do this without you.” He gave a small wave and then bowed, before walking off the stage. 

Harry headed straight to them afterwards, hugging Barbara and then Niall and then Louis, kissing him softly. “You were amazing,” said Louis seriously. “Fucking incredible. You smashed it H. Rockstar.”

Harry blushed, “Thanks love.” 

“You fucking superstar!” shouted Malcolm with glee. Louis barely managed to mask his frown as Malcolm approached them. He threw his arms around Harry and hugged him. Harry laughed and hugged back. 

“Thanks Mal,” he said, stepping back. “But seriously, thank you so much. I never would have gotten invited to do this gig if not for you.”

“Aw bull,” said Mal dismissively, “Said the most talented person in the room.”
Harry ducked his head. Louis stood motionless. He wanted Malcolm to leave, memories of his harsh words still echoing in his head. 

“No, really Mal, none of this would have been possible without you,” insisted Harry. “I’m so fucking grateful for all your help.”
Harry went in for another hug which Malcolm happily obliged. Harry was turned away from Louis, which meant he didn’t see when Malcolm smirked at Louis, smug. Louis’ heart fell. He couldn’t whine to Harry after this- after everything Malcolm has done to help him and his career. He couldn’t get in the way of their friendship. 

He’d just have to deal with it. 

-

July 2017 (same day)

Louis was in an empty bathroom in the park restrooms. He had spent ten minutes walking aimlessly around, shaking hands clutching his white CVS bag close to his chest, before finding himself at a nearby park bathroom. He wondered how he had come off to strangers. A strange, exhausted man who looked like he was seconds from falling apart. If Louis were them, he’d definitely walk in the other direction. 

He felt inexplicably cold even though it was the middle of summer. 

But now he was alone (the bathrooms were deserted at this time of day, almost 7) and he had the key to his release. 

With trembling fingers, he tore open the box and took out a single razor. He admired the sharp edge. It’s been so long since he’s seen a regular razor and he had almost forgotten how sharp it was. For the first time in the past 30 or so minutes, Louis felt a prickle of unease in his stomach. 

A curdling feeling of doubt, a whisper that maybe this wasn’t the answer. No, he told himself, no it must be. It had always satisfied him in the past- half punishing himself for being a burden and half relieving an ache, a distraction. 

There is nothing else for me. The realization brought tears to his eyes. 

With one last shudder, he pulled up his sleeve and then gripped the razor. With a deep breath, he pressed the blade into his skin, letting everything go. 

-

November 2014

Things weren’t going too well between Louis and Harry. 

It had only been a month and two weeks since Harry’s first gig. He had played a second one and another venue which is where James Cartier, a music agent, happened to stop by to see what all the fuss was about, only to be captured by Harry’s deep voice and soulful lyrics. Harry was officially represented by the next day. 

Since then it’s been a blur of meetings, conferences, and fancy dinners and lunches with fancy people. Harry and him hadn’t done anything together in three weeks. They hadn’t even had a meal together for two weeks- Harry always out of the flat by the time Louis woke up. He still made Louis breakfast, but then he’d disappear until late at night. Louis had waited up for him the first week but after Harry stayed out until 1 am three nights in a row, Louis just stopped. 

He felt distant from Harry. They were farther apart than they ever had been as a couple. They hadn’t had sex since the night of Harry’s first gig (where they went for three rounds back to back and Louis kept urging him to “fuck me, rockstar”). They hadn’t properly cuddled in a long while. Or watched a film or tv show, which used to be an almost daily occurrence with them during the week. 

There wasn’t any animosity. They still kissed (brief pecks during the short times they were both awake and at the flat) and they still said “I love you” but it wasn’t enough. Louis missed Harry so much it hurt. He had started teaching at his new job only a few weeks ago, taking over for another teacher who went on maternity leave and he loved it. He loved teaching and interacting with kids. He loved the thrill of being immersed with theater again. He and a fellow teacher were already planning the Spring Play: Grease. Louis was ecstatic to help organize his favorite movie/musical for these students to perform, especially since he was filled with fond memories of his own school days where he played Danny in their school production. But he wanted to share his excitement and his plans with Harry. 

He wanted to be able to tell Harry about his day, about his students and how he was slowly getting to know them all: a bright, enthusiastic group of teenagers, most of whom loved theater as much as he did. 

He decided he needed to talk to Harry. Niall and his mother agreed. So he stayed up and waited yet again. He sat on the couch, the only light in the room coming from a small lamp. He didn’t know when Harry would get back, but even if it was at 4 am, he was going to have this conversation with him. 

He didn’t hear the lock turning and the door creaking open until about midnight- which was slightly better than he was expecting. By this point he had tucked himself into the edge of the couch, a blanket swaddled around him. He nearly jumped off the couch when he finally heard the telltale signs of Harry’s return. He stood up as Harry’s figure stumbled into the dimly lit flat, cursing. Louis recognized the slur of his voice. Harry was drunk. 

That was slightly disappointing considering the discussion he had planned, and also slightly confusing. It wasn’t like he thought Harry was doing work so late at night (his instagram stories of unrecognizable people at high end clubs doing shots refuted that) but it kind of stung to see that Harry really was staying out later of his own wishes. Instead of coming back home to Louis. Or maybe Louis was just being selfish. Harry had a lot to be proud of and to celebrate. He was so close to being signed, Louis just knew it. And he deserved it. 

Louis just wished they could celebrate together. 

“Haz,” he said as Harry walked into the kitchen table and swore. “Haz, babe.” He grabbed his arm. 

Harry froze, “Lou? Shit, did I wake up?”

Louis assumed he meant “wake you up”, “No babe, I was waiting for you.”
“Oh,” said Harry. The only thing Louis could clearly see were Harry’s bright green eyes. They were slightly dilated leading Louis to believe alcohol wasn’t the only influence he was under at the moment. “Whoopsie.”

What? “Let’s get you to bed H,” said Louis, gently tugging him in the direction of the bedroom. 

“Wait, stoppp,” said Harry, before giggling quietly. He was leaning a lot of his weight on Louis which well- Harry weighed a lot. “Why were you waiting for me?”
“We’ll talk about it tomorrow,” he assured. “Let’s-”

“I missed you Lou,” said Harry with a dramatic sigh, before completely falling on top of Louis. Louis stumbled before going down. Fuck. He landed on his knees, not a pleasant experience. Harry was still draped mostly over him, giggling about who knows what. He exhaled deeply. Jesus christ. “I missed you Louuuu. That rhymes. You. Lou. Boo. Boobear.” Louis winced at the use of his childhood nickname. 

“I miss you too Haz,” said Louis, defeatedly. He couldn’t very well move when all of Harry’s weight was on top of him (and not in a pleasant way). “That’s what we’re going to talk about tomorrow.”

“Yay,” said Harry. “I love talking about stuff!!! But we don’t talk as much anymore.” Louis could hear the confused pout on his face. 

“We’re going to talk about that too,” said Louis. 

“Are we going to talk about how I never see you anymore because of your new job,” slurred Harry. Louis immediately straightened because what? 

They didn’t see each other anymore because of his job? 

“What the fuck does that mean?” he asked, not even disguising his irritation with the accusation. He worked five days a week, true, but only for five hours and yes, he had to work on lesson plans and grade stuff over the weekends but those are things that he could do while chatting to Harry and hanging out. 

If Harry was ever home. 

“You’re so busy teaching now,” said Harry. “I hate it.”

Harry was trying to tell Louis he missed him. That he missed how it was. That’s what his brain tried to tell him, but his pride and his patience encouraged him to retort, “You’re the one who’s always gone in the morning and who doesn’t come back until the middle of the fucking night.” He was pissed off. It was weeks of frustration being pushed out at once. “You’re the one who’s always busy, not me!”
“I’m busy because I’m trying to get signed,” said Harry, crossing his arms. “James said it’s going to be busy for the first few months. I’m at the studio for hours every day working hard Lou.”

“What about when you’re out partying with your new friends,” snapped Louis. It came out much harsher than he originally meant it, but he didn’t care. “You’re fucking drunk right now, you’re clearly working very hard!”
“I deserve the right to cool off after a long day!” yelled Harry, suddenly sounding a lot more sober. “And don’t think I didn’t notice your tone there. You have a problem with all my new friends now, don’t you?”
“Maybe I do,” said Louis. Especially fucking Malcolm. “Maybe part of it is that I haven’t even met any of them. You never invite me to things anymore!”
“Because you hate them!” exclaimed Harry. “You fucking can’t stand them. You always whine about them and maybe I got sick of it.”
It was the use of “whine” that got to Louis the most and what ultimately enabled him to say the words that came out next, “It seems to me like you’re playing at someone you aren’t. You’re a fucking faker Harry Styles.” Even though it wasn’t possible, Louis could hear his flinch. He could feel the sting in his heart. 

Louis knew he took it too far. He knew that it would hurt him. Even after everything, Harry is vulnerable when it comes to music and choosing it as his career. It was all a big risk for him to stop doing photography and to stop working at the bakery and he was still insecure about whether he was good enough and Louis knew that. He knew that and he said it anyway. 

“Fuck you,” said Harry, voice angry. 

I didn’t mean it. Before Louis could apologize, Harry ended it. 

“God, I bet I know what this is. Malcolm was right. You are being selfish,” said Harry. Louis jerked back in surprise. “You don’t want me to hang out with my new friends or work so much or do anything that I want to do because you’re selfish.”

Louis’ mouth was open in shock. This was unexpected. Louis couldn’t even process the words. Harry called him selfish. He was serious about it too. 

“Fuck this,” said Harry, and then he walked away. 

He walked away. Right into their bedroom- the bedroom with the bed they shared every night even when they didn’t see each other during the day, the sacred place where they talked, laughed, cuddled, kissed, and made love. He walked into the bedroom and slammed the door. 

Louis burst into tears. 

-

December 2014

Even though Harry and Louis eventually apologized to each other (after two days of sleeping as far apart as possible on the bed, Harry ignoring Louis, and glares from across the room) and even though Harry insisted that he was being a dickhead and Louis wasn’t selfish at all, things didn’t get much better for them. Both were still busy. 

Harry even more so now that he was doing weekly gigs and was in talks with multiple representatives from local labels. Louis went to as many gigs as he could (having to skip some for work related commitments) and Harry was better every single time. His crowd was also better with each show, multiplying in number of people and in volume and enthusiasm. Louis was pretty sure Harry even had some groupies now. 

They had tried to make more of an effort- scheduling dinners once a week for just the two of them. Harry stopped coming back at extremely late hours… most of the time. But for those times that he did go out late, he always called or texted Louis which he very much appreciated. They cuddled a bit more than before. Louis was also very grateful for that. He had missed cuddling Harry. They’d sit on the couch and Harry would pull him onto his lap. Louis would nuzzle his face in Harry’s neck, nosing his jaw. Harry buried his face in Louis’ hair, arms around his waist, their legs intertwined. They would speak, they’d just bask in each other’s presence, breathing the same air. Peace. 

However, Malcolm was increasingly showing up at their flat unannounced. Louis couldn’t tell Harry it bothered him (that quite frankly, Malcolm himself bothered him) so he just dealt with it. Today was one of those days. 

Louis walked into the kitchen only to do a double take once he saw Malcolm sitting at the table. He froze. He and Malcolm hadn’t had a proper conversation since October at Harry’s first gig which was a small kindness but now he was here and Harry wasn’t and he had to say something. Or he could hide in the bedroom. 

“Louis,” said Malcolm, fixing him with an observant stare. His eyes flicked to Louis’ grey sweatpants and he smirked. Louis had forgotten he was wearing them, but now he was all too aware of the worn-out fabric, and how baggy they looked on his legs. His face burned. 

“Malcolm,” he said quietly. He hated how weak his voice sounded. He wanted to leave. All he could think about now were his stupid sweatpants and how weird he probably looked in a shirt that was too big for him (another one of Harry’s) and his hair all mussed from sleep and there were probably bags under his eyes. “Nice to see you.”

“Don’t lie darling,” said Malcolm, epitome of patronization. 

“Thanks for the advice,” said Louis right as Harry rushed into the room, a wide grin on his face. 

“Guys! It’s scheduled! I’m being signed onto a label this Wednesday!” he blurted out, words stringing together in an accented slur, dimples showing and eyes green, green, green. It took a second for Louis to process but once he did, he gasped and then barrelled straight into Harry’s waiting arms. 

-

December 31st 2014

Louis couldn’t find Harry anywhere. 

He felt sick. They were at some rich producer’s house for their New Year’s Party. A new friend of Harry’s from his label. The mansion was big, modern, and sleek and filled to the brim with people- so many people. It was loud. Skyrocketing above Louis’ self limit of people-he-can-deal-with-at-a-time and making his anxiety levels explode. He had a glass of champagne gripped in his hand, fingers pale white and tense and he was sweating through his pale blue cashmere sweater: an expensive Christmas gift from Harry. 

Harry. He was nowhere to be seen. Louis wandered further into the open hall, squeezing in between the small empty spaces between people. So many people. All of them impeccably dressed and all of them chattering, laughing, fitting in this crazy complicated puzzle that Louis did not belong to. He stuck out like a sore thumb. Anyone could glance at him and see the lost look in his eyes, falter in his steps, hesitation in his movements. He did not fit in. 

He stuck out, yet no one saw him. He was invisible. It should be a relief but instead it made Louis feel small, and not in a good way. A good way being the way Harry would cage him in when in bed, body covering Louis’, arms holding him close. Heavy, warm, and safe. Louis liked feeling small then. Harry. He needed Harry because Harry was safe. His breaths were already coming out irregularly and he was pretty sure he’d have a panic attack in less than a few minutes if he didn’t find Harry. 

He spotted some familiar faces around him as he continued. Nick Grimshaw, one of Harry’s new friends who’s a radio host. Harry did a session with him the week before. He was getting increasingly famous locally. People were beginning to recognize him randomly during the day, not excessively, but still enough to mean something. Ben Winston, a bigshot producer and director. Camille Rowe, a model who flirted too much with Harry in front of Louis which made him uncomfortable. In fact, none of these people particularly brought comfort to Louis. He barely knew any of them even though Harry hung out with them all the time. A year ago, Louis had known all of Harry’s closest friends. The realization felt like a lump on his chest. 

He was so out of sorts that he walked straight into someone. He looked up: Harry. “Haz,” he said, breathing a sigh in relief. 

“Louuu,” slurred Harry and Louis’ heart lurched. Harry was drunk. Very drunk. 

His stomach felt sour. Harry had promised him that he wouldn’t drink more than one glass tonight because Louis hated driving, especially in new areas such as this. He stared at his swaying, thoroughly inebriated boyfriend. His green eyes were glassy and wide. His lips shiny and pink. He was dressed in a Gucci suit that was a gift from the label. There was no way he was driving anyone home safely which meant Louis had to drive. Louis, who felt shaky and sick already, and who was feeling even more nauseous now that he knew he was going to have to go behind the wheel later today

Harry, he also sadly realized, would be of no help in calming Louis down. This was made more evident by Harry’s obvious ignorance of Louis’ panicking. “Have you tried the Kiwi cake Lou? Get it, s’a kiwi cake because Kiwi!” He giggled. Louis lips twitched despite himself. Harry looked delighted because of a cake themed around one of his songs (that didn’t even mention Kiwi but that’s besides the point) and it was adorable even though Louis was miserable. 

“No I haven’t, but I guess I have to now,” said Louis, moving to put an arm around Harry’s waist, hoping Harry will at least get the picture that he wanted to be held. Instead, he was very roughly pushed away. 

“No!” exclaimed Harry and Louis’ mouth dropped open, confused. 

“Huh?”

“No touching!” said Harry again, louder. Louis felt like he had been slapped. 

“What do you mean, no touching?”

“No touching, no kissing, no nothing,” recited Harry, brow creasing. “That’s the rule.”

Louis’ heart was racing and he felt kind of stupid, “What rule H?”

“The rule,” insisted Harry. “We can’t touch each other. That’s what James said. I have to look single.”

Louis blinked, heart stopping. “What?”

“He said we have to act like friends,” said Harry, voice as slow and sweet as honey yet as sharp as a thorn. 

Louis’ head was pounding. He didn’t understand, didn’t want to understand. “Why?”

“Because,” said Harry. Then he tugged on Louis arm, “C’mon, let’s get some ice cream. There’s a whole buffet table and Mal said the chocolate fountain was d..del...delicious!”

He stayed right where he was, “Harry, did James say we have to act not like a couple for just today or every time you do one of these things?”

Harry’s face scrunched up, like he was thinking really hard. “He said as much as possible. As gigs and shows and parties. But it’s okay Lou, it’s just pretend.”

“Is it?” asked Louis weakly. His mind was racing. He had heard things about labels forcing their singers into the closet and giving them reputations of womanisers and playboys. He had heard those stories and thought, that’d never be Harry. He’d never let that happen. Louis would never let that happen. “That’s messed up H, can’t you see that?”
Harry frowned, “S’ not. It’s to help build my image. Management says that if I’m single it’ll make me more accessible to certain audiences and I’ll grow my fanbase faster.”

Louis flinched, as if physically hurt. “You.. you approved it.”

Harry didn’t even look drunk when he nodded with a simple, “Yeah.”

“We never talked about it,” said Louis, his voice rising to an unflattering pitch, but he couldn’t be damned. He was so confused and slightly hurt. “We never talked at all.”
“I didn’t think it was that big a deal,” said Harry, shrugging. He seemed a bit more sober now too. “We’re still together, nothing’s changing that. It’s not that big of a deal if we have to pretend we’re not for a little while at a time.”

It is, he thinks. It is. “I still think we should’ve talked about it. This affects both of us,” insisted Louis. His head hurt and his eyes burned too. This was not the place to be having this conversation and yet here they were. “We’re both in this relationship.”

“Yeah, but.. It’s not like anyone’s going to be talking to you anyway, you’re kinda behind the scenes,” said Harry thoughtfully, hands wiggling as a side effect. 

Louis froze. Behind the scenes. He was ‘kinda behind the scenes.’ It was the truth. Harry went out with his new friends with his new job and his new life and Louis just sat at home at the dining table, waiting for him to come home. He was teaching but that was completely different from this world, from the world of these people and of Harry… 

It had been months of this happening and only now was Louis seeing the big picture. Harry was moving into an entirely new world… moving into it without Louis. They weren’t the same anymore. He felt sick. Like he was going to puke. 

“Kiwi cake?” asked Harry, hopefully. 

Louis opened his mouth to respond before shutting it in a grimace. He was so stupid. Naive. Ignorant. He had let Harry just walk into the spotlight and expected everything to be the same. Nothing was the same anymore. The room was blurring around him. Harry was growing, changing, developing and Louis was still stuck in his same-old life, blissfully oblivious. “I…” he said, mouth suddenly dry. “I need water…”

“I’ll get you some,” said Harry, a sliver of worry appearing on his face. “Hold on Lou.” 

And then he was gone. Louis nearly screamed for him to come back. Don’t leave me, don’t leave me behind. 

Fuck, he was an idiot. 

And the worst part was that he could have easily adapted and joined Harry in this new world if he had paid more attention, tried harder to fit in. But he didn’t, couldn’t. Louis couldn’t fit in. He was too… different. Not good enough, whispered a voice inside him. This is your fault. 

It didn’t make sense. Reasonably, it was both of their faults. They both didn’t anticipate this. Any of this. 

He needed to talk to Harry. Harry was getting him a drink. 

“Hey,” said a loud voice. Louis startled, and ended up dropping his drink. His eyes were glued to the slow movement of the liquid pouring out on the marble floor. “Ugh, what the fuck, gross!”

Malcolm. All of Louis’ senses locked. He couldn’t deal with him now, not when he still felt so vulnerable and exposed. 

Malcolm was dressed in another Gucci suit, that somehow matched Harry’s suit. He wondered if that was intentional, if both of them chose out the outfits they were going to wear together. Malcolm fit in. Malcolm was in the new world. 

“I heard your little chat,” said Malcolm and normally Louis would be angry that he had the nerve to eavesdrop on a private conversation but now it just made him shrink back in shame. “Poor, poor Louis. Trying to hold onto his superstar boyfriend.”

For a second Louis thought Malcolm was drunk, but his eyes were clear, gaze steady in their contempt and smugness. “You can’t honestly expect Harry to hold back for so long for your sake right? It’s kind of selfish if you ask me.”

“What?” asked Louis. He shouldn’t have said anything. He didn’t have to hear what Malcolm of all people had to say, especially when it was probably mean and harsh. 

“Harry’s doing amazing already, but he has so much unlocked potential,” said Malcolm. “He’s holding back for you.”

It felt like a stab. For you. Synonymous with it’s your fault. 

Malcolm gestured around him, “This is where Harry belongs. He was always too good for whatever you guys were doing before. This is his life. This is what he deserves. Attention. Praise. The best of the best.” His words rang true in Louis’ muddled head. 

“He’s almost completely dedicated but there’s one thing holding him back,” said Malcolm. He raised a finger and poked Louis, right under his collarbone. It wasn’t hard enough to hurt, but hard enough for him to have to catch his balance. He exhaled. “This is the fast life Louis. You have to keep up or get out.”

Keep up or get out. 

“I dunno if you can actually keep up though,” said Malcolm smirking. 

Louis hesitated. That wasn’t true was it? He could keep up for Harry’s sake. He pictured it: dressing differently, spending time with different people, “fitting in”. It felt wrong. Louis was not one of those people. He didn’t fit in. He couldn’t. 

He couldn’t keep up. Suddenly he felt like sobbing. It felt like a failure. He failed. He couldn’t keep up. He never even had actually kept up. 

Malcolm was watching him, something akin to pity in his eyes, “Poor Louis. Poor Harry. I can’t imagine what you’re feeling right now. It must be hard realizing you and your partner are on different wavelengths.”

Louis flinched. Him and Harry weren’t-

“Then again, I guess it’s been coming for a while,” said Malcolm, eyebrows furrowing. “How much time do you even spend with Harry anymore anyway?”

Not much. Not enough. 

The signs were all there and Louis had been ignoring them. They were too far apart. His brain felt fuzzy, the taste of alcohol still on his tongue. One thing was repeating over and over in his head. You’re holding him back. You’re keeping him from his full potential. You’re holding him back. 

Was it true? Was Louis dragging Harry down. Was he holding on to a broken relationship. He wanted to throw up. 

“Hey, sorry I took so long, there’s like no water here, just booze, lots and lots of- oh hey Mal,” said Harry surprised. He handed the glass of water to Louis which he took with his empty hand (he was still desperately clutching the empty champagne class in his right hand, unable to let go). “What’s going on?”

Louis met Harry’s concerned eyes. 

“Louis and I were just talking about you Harry,” said Malcolm sweetly. “How proud we are of you.”

Harry was still staring at Louis, “Everything okay?”

Louis barely managed a nod. 

“Are you high Harold?” asked Malcolm, grinning. 

Harry grinned back, “Maybeeee, but only a little.”

Malcolm scoffed and Louis shrunk. He hadn’t even recognized the red rim around his eyes. The static nature of his presence. Malcolm had known right away. Had they gotten high together? At those crazy parties they went to together while Louis stayed home alone grading papers? 

“Five minutes!” yelled a stranger and all three of them jumped. Louis had forgotten where he was, what day it was. It was New Years Eve. 2015 started for real in five minutes. It was too much. 

“I have to use the bathroom,” said Louis, pressing both his glasses to Harry’s hands. 

“Okay,” said Harry, still looking at him slightly concerned, but also slightly unfocused. Because he was still drunk. He had broken his promise. Maybe because he didn’t care anymore. Because Louis wasn’t enough anymore. 

He felt a rush of deja vu. Another place. Another party on New Year’s Eve. The angry face of his ex Aidan. His biting words, “You just aren’t enough anymore for me Louis. I need more to satisfy me now, I need better . I’m tired of this shit.” 

“Okay,” said Louis, and then he rushed through the crowd, slipping between people who didn’t blink an eye, no one noticing him because he was invisible, not worth noting, nothing..He found the bathroom, slammed the door behind him, and threw himself forward barely making it to the toilet before he threw up. 

He gagged violently, headache excruciatingly painful. 

When he was done, he slumped down to the cold marble floor and leaned against the wall. And there he thought. He thought about the past few months. How things had changed in so little time. He thought about how he and Harry dressed completely different. How they liked different things, now more than ever. 

Maybe Malcolm was right. Maybe Aidan had been right. Harry deserved better. Someone better. Who would be his complete equal and partner on the field. Someone who’d go out with him and be friends with his friends and who’d fit in. Louis didn’t. He never would. Harry needed someone who lived in his world. Who wouldn’t hold him back and who’d bring up higher and better than ever. 

It was clear after this night that that person was no longer Louis. 

And then he was crying. Fat, wet tears streaming down his face and his entire body shaking with each sob. He pulled his knees to his chest and buried his head on his knees. It was groundbreaking. The concept that maybe he and Harry weren’t meant to be. That they weren’t forever like how they promised each other. 

That LouisandHarry weren’t soulmates, won’t get married and have kids and get a dog and live in a big house and grow old together. That had been the plan. 

He let himself mourn what could’ve been his future as the loud yells of people outside broke through the walls. “10! 9! 8!”

Fuck. 

Harry was probably looking for him, waiting to seal this year with a kiss and welcome in their next year. Louis couldn’t move though. Couldn’t stand the thought of ushering in a new year with Harry when Harry might not be in it. 

“4! 3! 2! 1! HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!” Cheers erupted and Louis broke down again. This was the end. 

-

July 2017

This couldn’t be the end. 

Louis stared at the five jagged cuts he had made across his right arm. They were still bleeding fat globs of blood and he felt lightheaded, woozy. Like he could pass out any second. Everything hurt. Not just his arm, but his eyes, his head, and his heart. 

This was a bad idea. 

He let himself think it. 

Accept it. 

He shouldn’t have done this. It felt like a triumph, a victory. He looked at the evidence of his pain and of his inexplicable misery. He thought of Zayn, Liam, his girls. This wasn’t the solution- punishing himself wasn’t the solution. 

Punishing himself wasn’t the solution. 

He said it out loud, tasting the words. He felt a weight release from his chest and he exhaled. His arm throbbed, reminding him of his predicament. 

Well fuck. 

He grabbed his phone and after waiting for it to reboot, he pressed the call app and then hit the first of the four names on his favorites list.

He called Zayn. 

-

Chapter Text

January 1st 2015

Harry couldn’t find Louis anywhere. It was officially 2015 as of about thirty seconds ago. Around him, couples were still enthusiastically kissing or making out, celebrating the start of the new year. And Harry is alone. 

Louis missed New Years. They didn’t kiss and Harry didn’t even know where Louis was. 

He’d be disappointed if he weren’t so worried. He had seen Louis’ face right before he rushed for the bathroom: hurt, confusion, and what he later realized was panic. 

His alcohol drenched brain cells were too slow to realize Louis was having an attack and now Louis was somewhere by himself probably freaking out and struggling. It hurt Harry’s soul. This whole night was awful, to be honest. 

Somehow he had accidently revealed that James wanted to keep Harry “single” to the eyes of his “fans”. To up his appeal. Bullshit. 

And he knew it. However, he also knew that that was the best he was going to get. His management assured him that they wouldn’t force him to be straight which was already a big miracle and Harry didn’t want to push his luck. He figured it’d be okay because he still had Louis even if it wasn’t in everyone’s eyes. 

He didn’t mean to tell him like that. 

In fact, he had been procrastinating telling Louis for weeks now. He didn’t know how to was the thing. He knew Louis would be disappointed but there was nothing he could do. Now that he thought about it, it seemed like a lame excuse even to himself. The memory of their conversation was a little blurry in his head but he had a feeling that it had not ended well which he definitely needed to fix. 

He also had to tell Louis the good news: he had talked to James and demanded a more freeing schedule for him to hang out with Louis as much as possible. They had worked out all the details less than an hour ago and Harry celebrate with shots… probably way too many shots. 

But he knew Louis would be pleased. 

He thought back to the flyer he had found two days ago when he was looking for his keys. Grease. Louis’ favorite movie. He had picked it up only to realize the flyer was for a school production of Grease. Louis’ school. 

Then he read it. 

The play is being organized and supervised by Mr. Tomlinson, our new drama teacher!

He remembered being shocked. He had no idea Louis was helping with a school play. He definitely had no idea it was Grease, Louis’ favorite movie. Now that he thought of it, he realized he didn’t know much about how Louis was doing at his new job at all. 

And he had been working there for nearly two months. 

The guilt that overtook him was immeasurable. Louis was always quick to support Harry, praise Harry, and just be there for Harry which he had not been appreciating enough, he knew this. Things were not the best between them but nothing had changed. They still loved each other. He knew this. 

But he wasn’t doing what Louis deserved: appreciating him. It felt like someone dropped a bucket of water on his head but once he had known it, he decided things had to change. Immediately. And he had made good on that plan. He was now only expected to come in four days a week (full days) and a half day on Friday which would leave him free on weekends (when Louis was free too). James had not been too keen on it, telling Harry that this might affect his growth rate. 

Harry had said growth rate be damned! He didn’t mind being a smaller artist, not at all. Especially when it meant he could be with Louis more. 

It had been ages since they had even said “I love you” and it was driving Harry nuts. He needed to find Louis, help him, and then tell him everything, ending it with an “I love you. I did this for us.”

He also had another surprise that had to do with an order he made a few days ago from the local music store… But that was for later.

First he had to actually find Louis. He had checked all the bathrooms on this floor and the upper floors were deserted. He had no idea where Louis could be. 

“Harold!” crowed a very tipsy Nick. Harry flinched, before waving at his friend. “Come talk and meet some people!” He gestured to a crowd of unfamiliar faces, all of them smiling at Harry. 

“Maybe later Nick, I have to find my- Louis. I have to find Louis.” He had almost called him his boyfriend. He definitely needed to have another talk about that with James, maybe in a little while when he wasn’t so pissed about the schedule change. 

Nick pouted but waved him off. Harry made a move to continue walking before a hand grabbed his bicep. “I saw him go outside a few minutes ago,” said Kasey. 

Harry exhaled, relieved. “Thanks Kase.” 

“No problem H,” said Kasey. “When you find him, come introduce me. I haven’t met him yet and I’m very interested to see the guy you call the ‘sun’.” 

Harry nodded and smiled. Louis was the sun. Louis was the sun, moon, stars, the whole entire world. He was everything to Harry, everything. He was going to tell him that. And then he was going to kiss the living daylights out of him. It had been too long since they’ve made out and Harry’s almost forgotten the exact sounds that come out of Louis’ mouth everytime they do- the little breathy “ahs” and if he caressed his hair just right, a mewl. 

He stepped outside. There were people smoking and talking. He saw Louis sitting on the steps, knees pulled to his chest. He was wearing the sweater Harry got him. It was pulled down to create sweater paws- something Louis always did that made Harry’s heart squeeze. 

“Babe,” said Harry, sitting down next to him. 

Louis tensed before relaxing slightly. Harry slid an arm around his waist, and pulled him closer. 

“Everything okay?” he asked, leaning his head on top of Louis’. His hair was soft and smelled like peaches. Louis shivered and exhaled. 

“I’m okay,” said Louis. He didn’t seem too confident about it. 

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” said Louis, even less convincingly. Harry frowned. 

“I have something to tell you,” said Harry, hoping this news will make Louis feel better about opening up. 

“I have something to tell you too,” said Louis. 

“You first.”

Louis turned to face him and all Harry could think was how beautiful he was. The light from the lanterns hanging across the patio cast a glow over his tan, smooth skin and created shadows that highlighted his cheekbones and sharp jaw. Harry was close enough to see the light freckles on his face and the light pink of his soft lips. His hair was soft and mussed and Harry was itching to gets his hands in it. His eyes were wide and blue blue blue, long eyelashes fluttering as he blinked. They were also red-rimmed, proof that Louis had cried sometime today- the thought made Harry’s heart wrench. He hated when Louis cried because he did it only when he was so overwhelmed and lost that he couldn’t help it. Louis’ collarbones were peeking out from his sweater and his dainty hands were covered by the sleeves in little sweater paws. He was the most precious angel Harry had ever seen. Harry wanted to kiss him so bad. 

“Harry, I think we need to break up,” said Louis, abruptly breaking the silence. 

Harry blinked, heart stuttering, “What.”

Louis ducked his head and continued, quieter this time, “I think we’ve both noticed how much things have changed in the past month.”

Harry blinked, breath caught in his throat. He couldn’t move. This was a dream. It had to be a dream. It was a side effect of him being high earlier. This wasn’t real. Louis couldn’t actually want to break up with him. No fucking way. “Things have changed but we haven’t,” said Harry, still confused. 

Louis winced, “I don’t know about that.”

Harry’s heart was racing, “What is this?”

“I said I want to break up,” said Louis, calmly. Everything about him was calm, except for the way he was fidgeting with the hem of his sweater. The sweater Harry got for him. This was wrong. It was all wrong. “We both know things haven’t been the best lately.” 

“You’re joking,” guessed Harry, pleaded Harry more like it. “Please say you’re joking.”

Louis shrugged. He fucking shrugged. “C’mon Harry, we both saw this coming.”

“Haz,” said Harry. “You aren’t calling me Haz or H or Curly. You haven’t called me Harry this many times since we first started dating.” It was a stupid point to get caught up on but it was wrong, this was all wrong. 

“Harry, I’m sorry,” said Louis. “But this isn’t working.”

“It is working,” said Harry. “Don’t say that. Things have been rough, yes, but I was going to tell you just now. Things will get better. I talked to James, he’s letting me work less days a week so we can spend more time together. This is a rough patch but it’s over now.”

A flash of what looked like shame passed over Louis’ face before he was shaking his head, “No Harry, this can’t be fixed. We’re too far apart.” He was speaking so bluntly, and calmly, not like Louis did. This wasn’t right.

He said it, “This isn’t right.”

“I’m sorry,” said Louis again, and he looked sorry. 

“If you’re really sorry, then we’ll talk about this,” said Harry, voice cracking. He felt dizzy and weak. He pinched his arm but nothing happened. This was real. Louis really did say he wanted to break up. That he wanted to give up on them. “I don’t understand.”

“It’s pretty simple,” said Louis in that blunt voice again. Harry hated it. 

“Look I meant it Louis, I’m so sorry,” said Harry. “I’ve been distant, too distant but I’ve missed you so much. I was a fucking idiot but it’s over now, I promise. I meant it, I really will have more time to spend with you. I want to spend more time with you Lou.”

Louis was shaking his head again and Harry wanted to scream. “It’s not going to work Harry. This is the end.”

“It is not the end, you can’t honestly believe that!” exclaimed Harry, voice rising. “You can’t break up with me!”

Louis narrowed his eyes, “Um, yes I can.”

“No! We’re it for each other,” said Harry. “We’re forever. That’s what we’ve always said.”

Louis met his eyes, no feeling in his blue irises as he said, “I guess we were wrong.”

“No,” said Harry again. He couldn’t believe this. It couldn’t be real. He felt tears grow in his eyes. He wanted to shake Louis, make him understand the wrongness of this situation, the wrongness of the words coming out of his mouth and his tone. 

“Harry, I’m not arguing about this,” said Louis. “I want to break up. I’m being serious.”

“Why,” said Harry, tears actually falling now. “I love you Louis.”

“Don’t-”

“I love you so much and I’ve missed you so much,” said Harry, reaching out for him. Louis pulled away from his hands and shook his head. “Please. Please give me another chance.”

“I can’t do this anymore Harry,” said Louis, and then he stood up. Harry’s heart plummeted. “I’m going to call a taxi. You stay here until you’re not as drunk and then drive hom. I… I’ll start packing.”

Packing. He’s start packing. He’s going to leave. He’s actually going to leave. 

He’s going to leave Harry. 

“Please don’t do this,” begged Harry, tears still streaming. Louis seemed unaffected. “I know we’re meant to be together and you know it too. We love each other.”

Then Louis put the final nail in the coffin, “I’m not sure I’m in love with you anymore.” Time stood still. Harry gasped. 

There’s no way… 

It had always been a fact: the sky was blue, the earth was round, Harry loved Louis, and Louis loved Harry. But Louis just said he wasn’t sure he was in love with him anymore? 

“I’m sorry,” repeated Louis, taking a step back. There was an unreadable emotion is his eyes. He blinked rapidly, eyelashes fluttering. Harry thought, how could something so beautiful cause so much pain? “I’m going to go now.”

There was a hesitation where they both stared at each other. Change your mind. Stay here with me. 

“Take care of yourself Harry,” said Louis finally, and it felt like an ending. 

“Don’t leave me,” whispered Harry, crumpling. “At least wait till morning so we can talk longer. Please Louis.”

Louis gave him a sad smile, one that crushed the last remaining fragments of Harry's hope into dust, “Goodbye Harry.” It was an ending. 

And then he walked away, leaving Harry to sink to the crowd and cry. 

-

Louis called a cab. His voice modulated from his tears, thankfully nobody on the other end said anything. When it arrived, so slid into the backseat and nodded to the driver. When he started the car, Louis started crying. Silent, heavy tears weighed down by the strength of the lies that came out of his mouth just ten minutes before.

It was done. He broke up with Harry. 

He let Harry go. He’d never have him again. 

But now Harry could get his old schedule back and be successful without Louis holding him down. He could prosper and hang out with his new friends without Louis’ clinginess and he could maybe even one day find someone who fit in his new world better than Louis ever could. The thought made him cry harder. 

Harry may get over him but he wasn’t sure if he was strong enough to get over him. 

He got back, and paid the driver with shaky fingers. 

Sitting in the flat alone, knowing that he had to move out soon and that it was no longer his home, was unreal. He sat on the couch where he and Harry had sat countless of times, knees and arms touching or more and looked around at the flat that held memories of almost a year. Harry had bought it in December of last year and he asked Louis to move in with him in January which Louis eagerly accepted. 

They had so many memories there. Louis was glad he was the one leaving it instead of staying behind and having to live in the evidence of their love. Harry would though and selfishly, Louis was glad that Harry would have to remember him at least for a little while. 

He started packing and didn’t stop for the next three hours even when his eyelids grew heavy and he could barely walk across the room. He needed to leave as quickly as possible. That wasn’t the plan he had initially come up with- that plan was to wait a few days so he was able to pack properly and talk out details with Harry. But now, he couldn’t deal with confronting Harry again. He packed quickly, the fear of Harry returning before he was done motivating him to move faster and faster. 

By the time he had finished packing his clothes and his most important belongings, the sun was shining into the flat. Louis couldn’t take anything big- no furniture or anything like that which was fine because wanted to make this as easy on Harry as possible. Plus, most of them were chosen by Harry anyway. He called another cab and waited. He felt the familiar pressure on his chest that showed the potential of his crying, but no tears came. He had no more left to cry. 

At 5 in the morning (the cab was set to come at 5:30), he heard a knock. He froze. 

His first thought was Harry but then he remembered that Harry had a key and wouldn’t knock. He approached the door and winced as another loud, aggressive knock filled the air. He looked into the eyehole and exhaled as he saw a very angry and tired looking Niall Horan. 

His heart stuttered. 

He wanted to ignore it but he had no doubt Niall would keep knocking until he opened the door, plus Niall deserved a proper goodbye from his friend. It hit him then that he didn’t just lose Harry, he lost Niall and Barbara too. 

It almost brought him to tears once again but he was interrupted by another fierce knocking. He braced himself and opened the door. 

“What the fuck is going on,” exclaimed Niall, stepping inside. He waved his phone about dramatically, “Why is Harry texting me that you broke up with him and begging me to let him stay over?”

Louis winced. So Harry is at Niall’s. That gave him more time to pack. Niall who was staring at him expectantly, arms crossed, and face set. “Tommo what is going on?”

“I think you know what’s going on,” said Louis, gesturing to the pile of suitcases, bags, and his backpack lying near the coffee table. 

Niall’s eyes bulged and he looked at Louis, “You were being serious?”

“Yes,” said Louis sharply, slightly annoyed that no one seemed to believe him. Maybe they all thought Harry was going to break up with me. “Things have been pretty bad lately Ni, I don’t have to tell you that.”

“Bad but not broken,” said Niall. He looked just as confused as Harry had hours before. The look put a flicker of doubt in Louis’ mind but he pushed it down. I’m doing the right thing. He knew he was. Niall looked at Louis, a glimmer of sympathy appearing in his eyes, “I know you love Harry Lou, you can’t lie to me. Why are you doing this?”

Louis ducked his head. Niall was right, he couldn’t lie to him which meant he needed him to go immediately. “It doesn’t matter what my reasons are, we’re breaking up. I’m leaving in…” He glanced at the clock and immediately felt queasy, “15 minutes.”

Niall’s mouth opened and then closed, “Lou-”

“I’m not going to argue about this with you,” warned Louis, voice coming out weaker than intended. “I’m leaving and that’s not changing no matter what you say. But I don’t want to leave on bad terms. You’ve been one of my closest friends for the past year and a half, please let me say goodbye?”

Niall pursed his lips, considering, before he finally nodded, “Get in here, Tommo.”

Louis sighed, relieved and then fell into Niall’s waiting arms. 

“I’m going to miss you so much,” said Niall. It was only confirmation that Niall was going to side with Harry and probably shun him. Louis couldn’t blame him, nor did he want Niall to ditch Harry. He just squeezed him harder. 

“I’m going to miss you too,” said Louis, eyes wet. “You and Barbara are amazing. I wish you guys all the best.” Even though I’ll never be invited to your wedding. 

They hugged for a little while longer and Louis thought everything was fine but then: “Is this about Malcolm?” whispered Niall directly into his ear. Louis flinched, which completely sold him out. Niall pulled back, eyes wide. “Fuck Louis, don’t go because of that asshole.”

“It’s not because of him,” insisted Louis. Not completely anyway. “I told you we’re not talking about this… Just.. take care of him, alright?”

Niall nodded, “Of course I will. But who’s going to take care of you?”

Louis sucked in a breath, “I don’t need someone to take care of me.”

The unimpressed look Niall gave him made him bristle, “It’s not important.”

Niall rolled his eyes, “Whatever you say mate.”

Louis didn’t want to argue so he hugged Niall again, sniffling. “Goodbye Niall.”

“Aw Tommo, don’t cry,” said Niall but Louis was crying. “I hate this so much.”

Me too. 

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” whispered Niall again, so quietly Louis almost missed it. 

“I am. I know I am,” said Louis. He knew he was doing the right thing- what was best for Harry. He deserved better.

Hopefully one day, the pain in his heart would fade too. 

-

July 2017

Louis was curled into a small ball, shivering, hand clutching his phone in an iron grip. He avoided staring at the five cuts along his right arm- all of which were still bleeding, drops falling and staining his sweats and the bathroom floor. He sat against the locked bathroom door. He was waiting for Zayn. 

A few minutes later, someone knocked twice and then eight times in a quick succession. Louis exhaled shakily, blinking. 28. Zayn. 

He stood on trembling legs and fumbled with the lock mechanism before the door was swinging open and Zayn was crashing into him. “You asshole,” he was saying, squeezing Louis tightly. Louis heaved in a big breath and then fell into Zayn, shrinking and curling into him until he was as small as can be and Zayn was completely supporting his weight. 

Zayn kissed his temple, “I love you Louis, so fucking much. You’re my best friend in the entire world, please don’t ever leave me.”

“I won’t,” whispered Louis, voice scratchy from his sore throat. “I’m sorry.”

“You better be,” said Zayn. “Fuck. What happened?”

Louis considered his options. He could lie, but he had a feeling that Zayn would see right through him and nothing he could say would be a valid enough explanation for what triggered him without telling the truth. And Zayn deserved the truth- the full truth. 

“Harry is my Harry,” said Louis quietly. 

Zayn didn’t react for a second but then he immediately stiffened, “What!?”

Louis closed his eyes and took a breath. “Harry, Liam’s flatmate, is my ex. The one I’m still head-over-heels for.”

Zayn pulled back for a second, eyes filled with sorry. “Oh Lou…”
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” said Louis. “I figured it out when I bumped into Niall. Niall is his best friend and he used to be my best friend too. He’s from that time too.”

Zayn’s mouth dropped and then he shut his mouth. “Holy shit,” he said. 

Louis chuckled wetly, “Yeah, pretty messed up innit.”

“So seeing him again triggered it?”

Louis frowned, insides crumbling as he remembered. “No, not exactly…”

So after Zayn brought out he bandages he had brought with him and effectively treated Louis’ wounds, Louis made Zayn sit down and then he sat down across from him and slowly but surely began to tell a story. The story of LouisandHarry. 

Zayn was completely focused on him the entire time, silent and expressionless as Louis explained. He listened diligently even when Louis had to pause to get his bearings or when he unexpectedly started shedding a few tears or when he got so quiet towards the end as he approached The Night that Zayn had to lean in to hear him. 

When he was finished, he was full on crying and Zayn had to hold him and rub his back reassuringly for the next ten minutes. “Shh, babe, it’s okay. You’re amazing,” said Zayn. “Harry is officially a dick.”

Louis jerked out of his hold, “No no no. He’s not.”

Zayn raised an eyebrow, “Okay, Malcolm is the bigger dick but Harry was still somewhat to blame. You can’t change my mind about that.”
Louis didn’t bother arguing, especially since he still had to explain tonight. 

When Louis told him, Zayn flipped out. “That fucking asshole!” exclaimed Zayn, standing up. He looked furious. “How could he say that about you? You’re one of the best people in this world Louis, and I’m not just sayijng that.”

Louis shook his head, “Technically I wasn’t even supposed to hear it.”

“As if that justifies it!”

“No, it doesn’t, but…” he trailed off, hesitating. “He was being honest.”

Zayn stared at him, appalled. “Louis. Louis you can’t tell me you actually believe any of what he said.” 

Louis looked down. 

“You idiot, you fucking idiot,” said Zayn. 

“Thanks Z.”

“I can’t believe this,” said Zayn. “You’re incredible. You’re one of the best people on this earth Louis, jesus christ. You’re so strong and brave.” Louis scoffed. “Shut up, you are literally the strongest person I know. You have the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever met. You’re loyal and determined and intelligent. You’re witty and clever and you always make me laugh even when I’m having the worst day. You’re the best listener and the best friend I’ve ever had. You’re selfless and caring and genuine. You’re also beautiful.”

Louis snorted. 

“Don’t fucking do that,” said Zayn. “You know I’d never be into you like that but even I can admire how gorgeous you are, both outside and especially inside.”

“Inside eh?” said Louis waggling his eyebrows. 

Zayn rolled his eyes, “You’re also so incredibly immature.”

Louis smiled, “Thanks Z, that means a lot.”

“But do you actually believe me?” asked Zayn. “That’s the real question.”

Louis cleared his throat, “To be honest, no…. But I think I want to change that.”

Zayn raised an eyebrow, “Oh?”

Louis bit his lip and then nodded shyly, “Yeah, I think… I think I’ll try one of the recommendations Lottie gave me for seeing someone…” He fidgeted with his bandaid and continued hastily, “I think it’s about time and I should probably stop being stubborn. I don’t want to keep moping around for the rest of my life. That’s another thing I’ve decided: I want to live. I want to live a good life and I want to be a good brother and friend and I want to try to get better for real this time…” His voice trailed off. 

When he looked up Zayn was grinning. “What?”

“Nothing, I’m just so happy,” said Zayn. “I’m so happy and proud. You deserve this Louis. You deserve to be loved and cared for and treasured. You deserve to be happy.”

Louis nodded, “I think I do too. At least the happy part.”
Zayn tackled him into a hug again. 

-

January 1st 2015

When Jay opened the door to a miserable Louis standing on her front porch, surrounded by a pile of bags and shaking like a leaf, she immediately pulled her son to her and started rocking him back and forth. “Baby, oh baby, what happened darling?”

“Mum…” said Louis. He opened his mouth to say more but then choked, breaking out into more violent sobs. He had held in all his tears and distress on the cab ride to Doncaster but now that he was in the safety and familiarity of his childhood home, he let it all out. 

“Baby…” said Jay and Louis could think of was when Harry called him the same thing. He cried harder. 

“Come inside,” said Jay, cradling him close. He let her pull him inside and onto the couch as he cried harder. A few minutes later he felt more arms join the huddle and then Lottie was cooing at him and Fizzy was asking what was wrong and the twins were peeking their heads in from around the corner and staring at him with concerned wide eyes. 

Jay’s perfume was enveloping him and her hand was rubbing circles onto his back and even though Lottie’s hair extensions where getting in his eyes, he felt loved. 

“It’s going to be okay,” swore Fizzy. “Whatever it is, it’s going to be okay.”

“We’ll beat him up for you,” said Lottie seriously because of course they had all figured it out already. But then again, why else would Louis show up unannounced, bawling his eyes out, with all his belongings with him and no Harry.

Harry would never visit the Tomlinson household with Louis ever again.

“I’m dead serious. We can be subtle about it too, I promise," said Lottie, looking a little too eager. 

“Lottie,” scolded Jay. “Put on the tea.”

“Phoebe and I are already doing it,” yelled Daisy. “Ha!”

“Screw you, I’m getting the chocolate,” said Lottie, standing up.

“I’ll get the Grease dvd,” yelled Fizzy, rushing into the other room. Louis loved his sisters so much. 

Then it was just Louis and Jay and he let himself be lulled to sleep with her gentle singing. Thank the lord he still had his mum. 

-

July 2017

When Louis was finally in a state to walk with Zayn to the car, they got up and left. Zayn walked with his arm around Louis, still supporting most of his weight. Louis felt dazed and dizzy and he was glad Zayn was there. He wasn’t going to take him for granted again. 

They reached Zayn’s car right as his phone started ringing. Zayn picked it up, “Hey…. Yeah, I got him, thanks,” he said, giving Louis an unreadable side eye. “Everything is good. I have to go though... Alrighty. See you.” He cleared his throat and stuck his phone back in his pocket, picture of innocence.

Louis raised an eyebrow, “Payno?”

“Nope,” said Zayn. “Niall actually.”

Louis’ eyes bulged. “Niall!”

Zayn gave him a sheepish look, “He was just worried about you. I guess it makes sense now, you guys were better friends than I thought.”

Louis’ heart was racing. He remembered hearing Niall call after him as he ran from the flat, but that didn’t explain why he actually seemed to care what happened to Louis. Especially after seeing what Harry apparently thinks of him now. “That’s… nice of him.”

Thinking of Niall made him think of Harry which made him think of that day. It used to be the worst day of his life but now it is settled as the second worst day of his life. Suddenly thinking of the first worst day made him want to vomit. He gripped Zayn’s shoulder and shuddered. 

“Hey, hey, hey,” said Zayn, tightening his grip around Louis’ shoulders. “It’s okay Louis, just breathe babe.”

Louis tried. He followed with Zayn’s counts: 1.. 2… 3… hold… exhale… And again and again until he was breathing normally and blinking back wet tears. He was such a mess, fuck. 

“You’re doing so well Lou,” whispered Zayn. “I’m so proud of you.”

Louis buried his head into Zayn’s shoulder and laughed, “I’m definitely not doing well Z, but thanks.”

“You are,” insisted Zayn. 

Louis closed his eyes, “I just want my mom.”

“I know.”

“I miss her Z, I can’t do this without her,” said Louis, unraveling again. 

“Yes, you can,” said Zayn. “You’ve already been doing it without her. You can do this. She’s so proud of you too, I know it.”

Louis nodded, throat too clogged with emotion to verbally respond. He nudged Zayn’s shoulder and tilted his head to point at the car. 

“Yeah, let’s go home,” said Zayn, opening the door. 

Louis tried not to think about the other flat he once called home. 

-

Chapter Text

April 2015

“You did amazing!” said Louis, grinning at Tom as he handed him the bouquet of flowers. He was sweaty but happy in his Danny Zuko outfit.  “Absolutely smashed it!”

Tom beamed, and took the flowers bashfully, “Thanks Mr. Tomlinson!”

“Go see your parents,” he said, gesturing to where Mr and Mrs. Green stood, waiting patiently with proud faces. Mrs. Green sent him a grateful look and mouthed “thank you”. He brushed it off. 

Tom scampered off and then Alice was bowling into him and hugging him, “Thank you so much Mr. Tomlinson!”

“You smashed it Sandy, ” he said fondly, squeezing her back. “You’re going to do big things Alice, I know it.”

Alice blushed, “Well if I do, you know it’ll all be thanks to you. I never would have thought I’d actually find a passion in acting but you helped me get here.” She said it so honestly that Louis felt like crying. It was one thing to feel like you’ve had an impact on your students but it was a whole other thing for them to actually confirm and thank you for it. 

“Thank you Alice, that means a lot,” said Louis. 

Alice gave him one last big grin before running off to see her friends. Louis was then dragged off to have a drink backstage with Danielle Campbell, his partner in running the show and the school’s adored arts teacher. Her skills in making the sets made everything possible. They had become good friends throughout the whole process and at school in general, especially as they were two of the youngest staff members in the entire school. 

Buzzed on adrenaline, Louis felt happier than he had in four months. 

After everything that happened, he wasn’t sure if he would be able to continue directing and organizing the school production but now he was so glad he did. He was also so grateful for the experiences he gained as a teacher. 

There was still a month and a half left of school and Louis was already feeling sad. He loved his students and he had gotten to know them really well. He was confident, especially with validation from the students themselves, that he created a fun, inviting, and beneficial class where they all came out with something new learned. He also loved being back in the world of acting, even if it was for teens. 

The teacher he had taken over for would be back from her maternity leave by September but the school had offered him an assistant teacher role if he stayed and after much discussion with his mum (who he talked to now more than ever), he had accepted. It would be good to take a step back. He definitely was thrown for a loop when he took the job as a full-time teacher and it would be good for him to slow down a bit, especially since he was only 23. 

Danielle was also ecstatic when he told her that he was staying, as were his students that would be returning in the Fall. 

“Louis!” called a familiar voice. 

Louis gasped, and turned to see Perrie coming towards him. She was dressed formally and looked beautiful with her blonde waves and makeup done skillfully. Louis grinned. He hadn’t seen her in months. “Perrie!” 

Perrie attacked him in a tight hug, “Hey Lou, I’ve missed you so much.”

“I’ve missed you too,” said Louis honestly, feeling safe in one of his closest friend’s arms. He had known Perrie since his first year in uni when they had a fashion class together. Louis had taken it out of curiosity but Perrie actually was majoring in fashion, and now she was a stylist that was making quite a name for herself. 

Perrie pulled back and gave him a concerned look, “How are things?”

Louis gave her a small smile, “Better than they were.”

“I’m glad,” she said honestly. “And I also hope you don’t already have celebration plans because I am taking you out for dinner!”

Louis grinned, “Any plans could easily be cancelled for you Per.” Well, okay, he didn’t have any plans and hadn’t had any plans in four months, hadn’t even left his new flat except for going to school and running the occasional errand (and that was only when Jay threatened him), but he ignored that. 

“Great,” said Perrie. She glanced to the side, “Actually… There’s someone I want you to meet.”

Louis raised an eyebrow, recognizing the tone in his friend’s voice. This was a special someone. “Oh really, and who might he be?”
Perrie signalled to someone and Louis turned to see a man slowly approach them. And damn. He was hot. Amber brown skin, dark hair, angled face with a jawline that could cut glass. His eyes were smoldering and Louis was definitely impressed. He was also decked out in a white shirt, leather jacket, and black ripped jeans. He looked like a stereotypical hide-your-daughters bad boy but Louis knew Perrie and that meant he also knew this guy was going to be kind and intelligent. 

“This is my boyfriend, Zayn,” introduced Perrie. 

“You must be Louis,” said the guy, smiling. He stuck out a hand.

Louis shook it, “That I am. Nice to meet you.”

“I’ve heard a lot of good things,” said Zayn. “And nice job on the play. I enjoyed it.”

“Z also played Danny Zuko in his school days,” said Perrie, grinning. 

“Is that so?” asked Louis, scrutinizing. “Well, I guess we’ll have to have a competition now. See who the best Danny Zuko is.”

“I guess we do,” said Zayn and Louis already had a feeling they were going to be good friends and it wasn’t just because of the Marvel socks he could see peeking out of his vans. 

Louis was right of course, but neither of them knew on that fateful day that the other would end up being so important to them. After a night of banter, arguing over Ironman vs Captain America, and having a smoke break together outside while Perrie talked to an old friend she bumped into, the two became fast friends. 

Not to mention, it was the first night in a while that Louis had actually stopped thinking about Harry enough to have fun. 

-

July 2017

Harry came back from the studio to a very distressed Liam. 

And Gemma. 

Wait. 

“What are you doing here?” he blurted, causing both Liam and Gemma who was comfortingly patting his back to freeze and stare at him. “Sorry, I mean.. Hi?”

Gemma didn’t say anything for a second before she cackled, “Idiot. Can’t a sister just drop in unannounced to make life a living hell for her younger brother?”

“Nope, pretty sure that’s illegal Gems,” said Harry, but he hugs her quickly. She looked beautiful and radiant and happy. Which made him h “What happened to Li?” he whispered. 

“I’m not sure. I’ve been trying to get him to talk about for the past half an hour since I arrived but maybe you’ll be better luck,” said Gemma before saying louder, “Alright, I’m taking a shower, make me a snack!”

Harry rolled his eyes, “Make your own!” He was probably going to make her something. 

He turned his attention to a miserable looking Liam Payne. It was very odd. Liam never got this sad and lost and Harry was very out of his element. “Hey man.. How are things?”

“Awful,” said Liam quietly. 

Harry frowned, “Do you wanna talk about it?”

Liam frowned, “Zayn isn’t answering any of my calls and texts.”

“Maybe his phone is dead?” suggested Harry, feeling slightly confused to why Liam was this upset about it. 

“It’s been three days,” he said and… oh. Well shit. 

“Yikes,” he said before he could think properly. His eyes widened, “I mean… Fuck I’m sorry. Maybe there’s another reason for it?”

Liam scoffed, “Can you think of any reasons besides, ‘I wanna break up’?”

Harry hesitated, “Well… no. But you shouldn’t trust my thinking capabilities. We all know that for a fact.” He laughed awkwardly. Liam didn’t look amused. “Have you seen him since the party on Saturday?” 

Liam shook his head, “No. He’s ignoring me and I don’t know what I did.”

“Oh Li, you did nothing wrong,” said Harry, putting a hand on his shoulder and squeezing gently. “I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding.” Inside, he was unconvinced. He didn’t know why Zayn was ignoring Liam especially because everything seemed to be normal- as in regular head-over-heels in love- between them at the party. The only thing noteworthy was Zayn leaving early because of an emergency. That and the fact that no one ever saw his flatmate, Louis. Harry didn’t know whether he was relieved or disappointed about that. 

“I don’t know,” said Liam. “What if he breaks up with me?” He groaned. “What if he did, oh my god!”

“He won’t,” said Harry seriously. Hopefully… 

“Part of me just wants to show up to his flat and demand that he talks to me,” said Liam after a pause. “Would that be dramatic?”

Harry frowned, considering it. “Nah, but maybe wait till tomorrow?”

“Really?” asked Liam, as if expecting Harry to dismiss the idea. That made Harry second guess his opinion. He was a little biased when it comes to break ups, but…

“If he really is going to break up with you, you deserve answers and an explanation,” said Harry. “He can’t just ignore you and then leave suddenly.” The Like some people… goes unsaid. 

“Okay, you’re right,” said Liam, looking a little less sad and more indignant. “I’ll demand an explanation. He can’t expect me to just sit there and be ghosted.”

“No he can’t,” agreed Harry. He didn’t think Zayn was the type to “ghost” someone but he thought back to two years ago when he was ghosted by the least likely person in the entire world. He still remembered the shock and hurt he felt when he sent a text message only to be informed that he couldn’t send messages to that person anymore. Blocked. 

He was fucking blocked by the love of his life. 

He snapped out of his memories just in time for Liam to say a very heartfelt, “Thank you Harry.” There was warmth in his wet brown eyes that made Harry’s heart feel warm. He really loved Liam.

“Anytime,” he replied. “I’ll even drive you tomorrow. Niall will come too. Moral support.” 

Liam looked pleased by that idea. 

“Now are we going to the gym for cardio or am I going to kill my abs by myself?” asked Harry, teasingly. 

“Let’s do it mate,” said Liam, determined. “I already wrote a workout for today, so be ready.” Harry resisted groaning. Liam’s workouts were ridiculously hard. He considered himself to be very in shape, but Liam was a whole other level of ability. It was honestly kind of terrifying if you don’t know the real Liam- the puppy-dog, loyal, and mom-of-the-group Liam that Niall and Harry chose as their flatmate last November. One of the best decisions they ever made. 

“Okay, let me just grab my stuff,” said Harry right as Gemma yelled from the other room, “Harry I thought I told you to keep buying the citrus conditioner! What the fuck is this scentless shit!?”

“It’s organic!” exclaimed Harry, offended. “And stop using my conditioner!”

Gemma didn’t respond and Harry glowered. Liam laughed. 

“Bully,” said Harry. “You know what, I’m definitely not making her a snack after that.”

He still did. 

-

May 2015

“Sooo,” said Louis, adjusting his phone against the wall behind his desk and meeting his mum’s curious eyes. “I met this guy…”
Jay froze, mouth opening and Louis’ insides clenched, realizing what it sounded like. “No, no, no, not like that!” he said quickly. “Just… a friend.”

“Oh?” said Jay, eager all of a sudden. Louis rolled his eyes. He had been a little antisocial these past five months but his mom could at least try to be more subtle about her excitement. 

“Yeah, 's name is Zayn and he’s, well he was Perrie’s boyfriend but then they realized they were better off friends, but anyway, he and I get along really well,” he felt weird just talking about it with his mum but she wanted him to tell her everything so that’s what she was going to get. “He’s a great guy.”

“I’m so glad to hear that. What’s he like?”

“He has a degree in art, but he also works part-time at this diner, Sally’s, and it’s this really cute, small place and their food is actually really good,” said Louis. “But he’s super talented with all sorts of art: paintings, watercolors, sculpting, and other stuff too. I went to his studio with him and holy shit, it was incredible- he’s really good. Proper artist.” 

“You’ll have to send me some pictures, because now I’m intrigued,” said Jay. Louis nods. “So is he bi?”

Louis tensed, “Um… yes. But I don’t see how that’s relevant?”

Jay raised an eyebrow, “You haven’t talked about someone like that for so long Lou, he must be really special.”

He is. Louis cleared his throat having already rehearsed what he was going to say when his mum inevitably asked, “We’re just friends mum, sometimes… Sometimes I wish that I liked him like that because then I’d actually have a chance but… I don’t, and I won’t, ever.”

“Because of Harry,” finished Jay. 

He nodded. “Can we please not talk about this?”

“We never talk about it baby,” said Jay, sounding a little exasperated. “You won’t listen to me!”

“Because you’re just going to tell me I made the wrong decision,” said Louis. 

Jay raised an eyebrow, “The fact you’re expecting that should tell you something. But, that’s not it Louis. I want to understand and I want to help you get through this. You shouldn’t have to suffer through this alone.”

Louis blinked, eyes suddenly feeling wet, “I..”

“I love you,” said Jay. “And I’m not going to tell you, you made the wrong decision because it was your choice and I’m sure you had good intentions. I know you Louis, and I’ll always support you.”

Louis was crying then, “I just… It’s so hard.” He could never bring himself to tell the whole story to his mum. He was embarrassed was the thing. Embarrassed of himself and how things ended and he didn’t want to voice those insecurities out loud. 

“I know darling,” said Jay, moving the camera closer to her face. “It’ll be rough for a little while but things will get better, I promise.”

Louis nodded wiping a tear from his cheek, “Hopefully sooner rather than later.” God he was so sick of crying,

“It’ll be okay,” promised Jay. “And if one day you do want to talk about it- about all of it. Then please, I’m always here for you.”

“I love you mum,” whispered Louis. 

He noticed that Jay’s eyes looked a little wet themselves as she smiled, “I love you Boobear.”

Louis scowled at the nickname, feeling lighter than he had in days. 

-

July 2017

They were there. Harry was in the driver’s seat, Liam was fidgeting anxiously in the passenger seat, and Niall was in the back, swearing as he played Imessage games (8-ball) probably against Barbara. 

They were parked outside an apartment building: Zayn’s apartment building. Harry studied the architecture appreciatively. It was a nice building and it had major London townhouse vibes. It looked like the type of place Zayn Malik would choose to live, that’s for sure. He turned his gaze to Liam before clearing his throat, “Any time now.”

Liam bit his lip, “I… Maybe this was a bad idea.”

Harry sighed, “No, Liam you’re up there whether Niall and I have to drag up up there or not.”

“I will not participate in any physical exertion,” warned Niall.

I’ll drag you up,” amended Harry. Liam looked at his seat. “C’mon Liam, you deserve an explanation. He hasn’t answered any of your texts or calls nor made any effort to go see you. That’s on him. You guys need to at least talk, you can’t just give up!” He felt very passionate about this which was strange because even Niall hadn’t bothered Liam too much about it (though he had seemed oddly eager for them to come and confront him). Harry was too invested though. He couldn’t watch this happen without trying to prevent it himself. He met Zayn. He knew him pretty well from all the times Liam had brought him to hang out. He was praying that there was another side of the story and it was all a big understanding. 

For Liam’s sake. 

And for Harry’s faith in relationships. 

“Okay,” said Liam. “I’ll do it.”

Harry smiled triumphantly, “Do you want us to wait?”

Liam nodded before Niall said, “I think we should escort Liam up to the flat. You know, for moral support.” Liam nodded much aggressively at that.

“Okay..” said Harry slowly, a little put off by the enthusiasm in Niall’s tone. “I guess we can do that. Even if it’s just to make sure Liam doesn’t chicken out.”

“Heyyyyy,” said Liam, pouting. “I’m not a chicken.”

Harry took the opportunity, “Prove it then.”

And so the three of them entered the building and walked to the elevator. Liam’s hand was shaking as he pressed the 4 button and Harry could hear him audibly gulp as the doors finally opened and they stepped onto the seventh floor. 

 “What letter is it?” asked Niall, eyes already searching the empty corridor as if Zayn’s flat would just make itself known. 

“Um..” said Liam, shuffling his feet. “Guys, I can’t do this.”

“Yes, you can,” said Harry, placing two hands on his shoulders. “How much do you care about Zayn?”

“A lot,” said Liam, voice breaking. “Fuck, I think I love him H.”

Harry froze and Niall gasped. He somehow managed to compose himself enough to say, “Then don’t give up like this.”

Liam frowned, “But what if I’m disappointed?” He gulped again, “What if he breaks up with me?”

“Then he doesn’t deserve you,” said Harry firmly. “But either way, you deserve to have an answer and explanation. Now c’mon, you got this.”

Liam nodded, his hesitation morphing into a look of determination. “It’s 4G.”

Niall snickered, “4G, haha.”

Harry rolled his eyes, “Let’s go.”

They walked in a row of three to the door labelled 4G. Harry and Niall respectfully stood back and let Liam take a deep breath before approaching the door. He lifted his fist, pausing a second.

Harry prayed he didn’t give in, but much to his relief, Liam knocked on the door. 

After a minute of waiting, Liam sighed and turned around. “Maybe he’s not ho-”

But right as he spoke, Harry heard the telltale sounds of the doorknob turning and the door opening. Liam spun around. Harry braced himself to support his friend. 

The door opened. 

Time stopped. 

Harry took a step back, mouth falling open in shock as his eyes focused on the person who was definitely not Zayn standing in the doorway. 

“Oh hey Lou,” said Liam, sounding suddenly relieved. Harry couldn’t breathe. He was frozen in time. Stuck and unable to move, to process, to comprehend what- who was standing in front of him. This was a dream. It had to be. This couldn't be real. 

He couldn't be real. But he was. 

Louis Tomlinson, the ex-love of his life, the one who he would once give up everything for, the one who was once home to Harry, and the one who shattered his heart into a million pieces, turned to look at all of them. He looked pale and sounded nervous as he said, “Hi?”

-

Chapter Text

July 2017

Louis had not expected this when he heard someone knock on the door. He had been confused because no one has ever knocked on their door without them having prior knowledge of their arrival. His first thought was Lottie, remembering how on a day last year she had shown up unannounced to surprise Louis. 

He had also been in the middle of changing into non-pajamas which was really fortunate looking back on it. He was so fucking grateful that he was dressed in a decent shirt and athletic shorts and that his hair was brushed, especially because he opened the door to Liam Payne, Niall Horan, and of course, Harry Styles. 

The universe was really not cutting him any slack. 

He knew it was coming. The inevitable confrontation where Harry saw him again and they’d have to switch to interacting occasionally for the sake of Zayn and Liam, that is unless Harry didn’t want to pretend he didn’t exist. 

It also became clear that unlike Louis, Harry had no idea that he was Zayn’s flatmate. He looked shocked, standing frozen. Maybe a little horrified- that didn’t hurt Louis at all, nope not at all. Not to mention how he was still the most handsome man Louis had ever seen in his life. He had cut his hair, but his soft curls were still there. He was older now, jawline more defined, with more of an angled face. His eyes were still green as ever. He was wearing a very Harry outfit: white shirt and black ripped jeans, his cross necklace laying on his chest. He looked good, really good. 

Louis wanted to disappear.

He was vaguely aware of many things. His arm itched, reminding him of the debacle from a few days ago. He knew there was a bandage covering the evidence but his skin still burned with the kept secret. He wondered how he looked in Harry’s eyes, probably skinnier, paler, less healthy. He suddenly wished that he had taken advantage of Liam’s offers for free gym memberships. Maybe then he’d feel less inadequate next to his still-hot-and-fit ex. 

It took him a second to realize Liam asked him if Zayn was free.

“No,” he blurted, wincing slightly at his own awkwardness. It wasn’t completely a lie since he really wasn’t right there and available- he was showering. But if it made them go away, then he had no qualms with the bluff. He focused all his attention on Liam’s worried face because he could handle Liam. Despite that, Harry’s presence was still making itself known to his brain. His heart was racing and he could feel the beginnings of a blush overtaking his face. Fuck, fuck, fuck. He was going to pass out. “He’s… not,” he added, unnecessarily. Stupid, stupid, stupid. 

“Is he at work?” ask Liam, confused. “He doesn’t normally work Wednesday afternoons.”

“No, he’s in the shower,” admitted Louis once he realized he couldn’t keep up a lie. Somehow, he managed to keep his voice controlled and smooth, unaffected. He gripped the edge of the doorway hard. “Um, is there anything you wanted?” He hoped it didn’t come out awkward or judgemental. Louis needed them to leave now. Harry was there. Harry was right outside his flat, looking amazing and being amazing and Louis can’t handle it. 

Liam cleared his throat, “I.. I actually came to speak to Zayn but I guess I can come back later-”

“No!” exclaimed Niall right before Louis could sag with relief. Louis hadn’t been paying too much attention to the Irishman, but when they made eye contact Louis nearly stumbled back. Niall. His old friend. Shit, Niall and Harry were here. In 2017. After everything that had happened. It was so messed up. The universe really hated Louis. Niall continued quickly, “I mean, Liam you should wait for him to finish. How long do you think he’ll be?”

It took a second for him to realize the question was for him to answer, “Oh, um..” He glanced at the clock hanging in the foyer as if it’d tell him how long Zayn would take. “Not too long...”

“Okay,” said Liam. “I guess we’ll wait.”

“Me and Niall will wait in the car,” interrupted Harry firmly. Louis almost shivered upon hearing his lovely deep voice. Nothing had changed. Fuck, nothing changed. Louis dared to look at him but it didn’t matter in the end, Harry wasn’t looking at him anyway. He was staring at Liam, jaw set. 

“Nah, we can’t abandon Li right now,” said Niall. “He’ll give in.”

“I will not,” said Liam, offended. 

“What’s going on?” asked Louis. At this, Harry finally turned and they made eye contact. Blue met green. For a second the whole world stopped. But then Harry’s eyes hardened and looked away. Louis’ heart fell. 

“We’re here to see if Zayn broke up with Liam,” said Niall helpfully. Louis whipped around to stare at him. 

“What? Zayn isn’t breaking up with Liam,” said Louis, confused. 

Liam groaned, “Then why isn’t he answering any of my texts or calls?”

Louis blinked, shocked. He had no idea Zayn was doing that. 

“You had no idea?” guessed Niall. Louis nodded. 

“If it means anything, Zayn would have told me if he was going to break up with you or if anything was wrong in general,” said Louis to Liam. “It’s probably a misunderstanding.” He hoped anyway. Liam was good for Zayn. He didn’t know why Zayn was jeopardizing that. 

He also realized it was incredibly rude of him to keep them standing outside the flat, “You guys can come in if you’d like.” He sent a prayer to whoever was up there that the flat wasn’t too messy right now. He stepped aside to let Liam, followed by Niall (who thanked him quickly), and finally Harry into the room. Harry. Harry was in his flat. 

He was hyper aware of everything as he closed the door and led them to the living room. He was aware of the art pieces on the wall (all Zayn’s talented work) and the random mess of art supplies on the coffee table (also Zayn’s), and- Louis cringed- a make-up palette that belonged to Lottie which she left accidentally on her last visit. There was nothing inherently of Louis’ out which he was relieved about. 

Liam took a seat on the armchair and Niall and Harry sat on the sofa. “Does anyone want drinks?” asked Louis timidly. Zayn was always one for taking long showers but he had gotten in half an hour ago, which meant he should be done soon, hopefully in a few minutes. He could last a few minutes... in the same room as Harry Styles… Fuck. 

“I could actually really use a water,” said Liam, smiling sheepishly. 

Louis nodded and gratefully escaped into the kitchen. He exhaled and braced himself against the kitchen sink, shaking. He needed Zayn to be here. He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t handle seeing Harry again for so long, especially- his stomach plummeted as he remembered- after the last encounter where Harry didn’t deny any of Malcolm’s scathing attacks. 

After he managed to control his breathing, he closed his eyes and focused. He was honestly pleasantly surprised that he had managed to handle things this well so far. He had been so sure he’d immediately pass out or burst into tears when he first came into contact with Harry, but he hadn’t. He wanted to, but he hadn’t. An accomplishment. 

He barely succeeded at getting out a cup and fill it with water. “You got this Tommo,” he told himself. “Just a few minutes.” He hoped Zayn wouldn’t dawdle with his already super complicated conditioning routine. 

He stalled as long as he could before taking tentative steps to the living room. He froze as he caught words being exchanged. 

“You knew!?” accused a very annoyed sounding Harry. He jumped. 

“I can’t believe you didn’t by now,” shot back a defensive sounding Niall. They were talking about him, fuck. 

“What are you guys talking about?” asked Liam. “Harry, do you know Louis from uni too?”

Harry laughed bitterly. Louis flinched. “He’s my fucking ex Liam,” he hissed. “The one I was telling you about.” There was a surprised silence before Louis cautiously broke it, stepping into the room. 

Liam was still gaping at Harry, shocked. 

Great, now Liam was going to have to resent him too. 

“Here’s your water,” he said quietly, handing it to Liam. He forced himself not to look at Harry and instead took a seat on the farthest armchair, closer to Niall than Harry thank the lords. 

“So,” said Niall giving Louis a critical look, “What happened to your arm?”

Louis flinched, “Oh um, I... fell.” It sounded lame even to his own ears but thankfully Niall didn’t press any further. There was another awkward silence. If it were just him and Liam, he’d be teasing Liam about something or the other or trying to get him to try one of the strange mystery drinks from the crate Fizzy gave him the last time he was in Donny, but now things were just awkward. Liam was switching between staring at Louis and staring at Harry and Niall just looked amused. Louis risked another glance at Harry but he was only staring at the coffee table, gaze fixed and jaw tense. 

He was expecting it but it still hurt. 

God, he was so in love with him. 

Louis almost jumped up when he heard a door swing open and Zayn’s voice call out, “Lou? Who was at the door?” 

Louis got up and immediately rushed into the hallway where the bedrooms were located. He caught Zayn by the arm as he stepped out of his bedroom and whispered quickly, “Liam’s here. And Niall. And Harry.

Zayn froze, hair dripping water onto their hardwood floors. He was wearing a sweatshirt and jeans and his hair was sopping wet but he still looked as perfect as ever. Louis sort of hated him for it. “Okay,” he said slowly, blinking. “Okay. You go in your room and I’ll talk to Liam.” The way he said the latter confirmed that Zayn knew exactly what Liam wanted to talk about. 

“What the fuck happened?” asked Louis quickly. “I swear to god, Zayn if you did this for me as some sick, twisted sacrifice.”

Zayn didn’t answer, further proving his point. 

Louis groaned, “Fuck, I didn’t mean you were actually supposed to act like a motherfucking saint!” He jabbed a finger into his chest, “Fix this. I refuse for you and Liam to break up. No one makes you happy like he does.”

“You make me happy,” argued Zayn, crossing his arms petulantly. Bastard.

Louis rolled his eyes, “In a completely different way, which, thank god because… ew.” 

Zayn rolled his eyes this time. “Alright, alright you ungrateful fucker. You’d be so lucky to date me by the way. Now go.”

Louis didn’t have to be told twice. He ducked past Zayn and over to his door, turning back to watch as Zayn strode into the living room. Then he slipped into his room and closed his door. He leaned against the wood surface, sliding down until he was sitting on the carpet, legs stretched out in front of him. The lights were out. Louis cried. 

-

“Liam,” said Zayn. Liam rose to his feet, stomach twisting. He felt queasy. Zayn was looking at him with an unreadable look, hair wet and looking soft in a sweatshirt and jeans. He looked like an angel. An angel that was about to give him bad news. 

“Zayn,” he said, trying to mask the insecurity in his voice. “We need to talk.”

Zayn nodded, looking all of a sudden apologetic. “You’re right,” he said. He turned to Niall and Harry. “It’s nice to see you guys but do you mind giving us some space?”

Harry nodded and Niall stood up, “We’ll wait in the car.”

They moved to leave the room and Liam caught Harry’s angry whisper as they left the room, “So now you want to wait in the car!?”

He turned back to Zayn who took a seat on the now empty couch. 

“Look, first I just want to say,” said Zayn, pulling his legs onto the couch and moving to sit criss-cross. “I’m really sorry for ignoring your calls and texts Liam. That was really immature of me and I should’ve just talked to you immediately. I just didn’t know what to say.”

Liam’s heart lurched, “So… you’re breaking up with me?” He was a second away from falling apart. All he needed was a confirmation and he’d breakdown. Zayn couldn’t break up with him. He was in love with him. 

Zayn’s eyes widened, “No! No, of course not!”

Something in Liam unclenched and he was sinking back into the couch, feeling relieved. He laughed. “Thank god!”

There was a pause and then, “Do you want to break up with me?” Liam stared at Zayn who actually looked nervous to his answer. 

“Of course not!” he replied, maybe a little too loud. 

“Good,” said Zayn relieved. But then he looked pained and so guilty, “I’m so sorry I made you think that.”

Liam wanted to just forget it. He wanted to forgive Zayn and then cross the distance between them and just kiss his worries away. But he knew he deserved better than that. He bit his lip and asked cautiously, “Why did you ignore me though?”

Zayn sighed, looking at the floor, “Here’s the thing, I can’t exactly tell you that.”

Liam raised an eyebrow, “Why not?”

“Remember when I told you that there’s a lot you don’t know about what I’ve gone through this past year?” asked Zayn. Liam nodded. “And remember when I told you to be careful around Louis because he’s going through a tough time?” 

Liam nodded again. It was a conversation they had the day after Liam first met Louis. He himself had noticed a sort of sadness in Louis when they first met even if he seemed to be all smart comments, witty banter, and sharp confidence. There was a melancholy undertone to the way he spoke and move. Zayn had told him about Louis losing his mom and how he was still getting through that. Liam understood- the loss of a parent was something unimaginable for anyone to deal with. He had also had a feeling that losing his mom wasn’t the whole story. 

“Well this kind of has something to do with that,” said Zayn, looking slightly uncomfortable. “And I can’t share Louis’ secrets with you. That’s his choice and I’m always going to respect that.”

“I understand,” said Liam. “But you have to understand that I need more than that for an explanation. I don’t get why you couldn’t have at least replied to one of my texts to let me know you’d be inaccessible for a bit or whatever you were doing.”

Zayn sighed before nodding. “You’re right. But before I get into that, I feel like you should know that Harry and Louis-”

“Dated,” finished Liam. “Yes, I just found out. I’m definitely going to have a conversation with Harry and Niall later. I can’t believe they kept this from me!”

Zayn’s mouth quirked, “Have fun with that mate. It’s not a fun story.”

“I got the feeling,” agreed Liam, slightly frustrated. “But you can’t possibly be saying that you were avoiding me because of that, can you?”

Zayn hesitated, messing with his hoodie strings, “Not exactly. It’s complicated Li. I know that’s not a straight answer but I really can’t tell you this much. All I can say is that I’m worried. Louis is doing better but he’s still not healed.”

“And you don’t want Harry to jeopardize that?” guessed Liam. 

Zayn nodded, “I have a very clear picture of what happened between the two of them, even if it is a little biased. Louis will definitely disagree with me but there was something not right about what happened between them. And what I see is that Harry being back in his life is not the best thing for him. I think we’re probably going to have to keep them apart.”

Liam frowned. 

“I don’t want this to affect us either,” added Zayn. 

“It won’t,” said Liam, firmly. He hesitated before standing up and moving to sit beside Zayn. He took Zayn’s hand and squeezed it. “I accept your apology by the way. What you did hurt me, but I understand that you probably had good intentions.”

Zayn nodded, before hugging Liam. “I swear that one day I’ll be strong enough to explain everything.” He leaned in closer. “I also swear I’ll do something to make it up to you,” he whispered into Liam’s ear. He shivered before turning to catch Zayn’s lips against his. 

“I’m so sorry,” said Zayn again after a minute of them kissing softly. 

“I know,” said Liam, squeezing his arm.

Zayn's eyes were shining as they met his again, "Thank you. Thank you for letting me explain and for forgiving me and for understanding. I promise this will never happen again."

"You're welcome," said Liam. "But I'm just doing the right thing. You didn't mean to hurt me and you were protecting a dear friend. There's nothing wrong with that. And I know it won't happen again." Zayn smiled and leaned back to rest his head on Liam's shoulder. Liam closed his eyes, content for the first time in three days. He was suddenly struck by a thought he had a few weeks ago that now was just really horribly ironic. He actually laughed out loud. Zayn pulled back, confused and slightly surprised. “Sorry, sorry. It’s just-” He paused to laugh again. “I was thinking earlier that it would be such a good idea to set Louis and Harry up because I felt like they’d be good together…” He started laughing again. “Oh my god!”

Zayn was grinning. “I was thinking about it too,” admitted Zayn and they both laughed. 

“I guess they beat us there,” said Liam, giggling. 

Zayn chuckled, “I guess they did.”

After the laughs had worn off, Liam cleared his throat. He decided he couldn't let his other thoughts go unsaid. “About the whole ‘keeping them apart’ thing…” 

Zayn turned to look at him, wary. “Yes?”

“I know you’re worried about what would happen and I know it’s not like they’re going to get back together or anything,” said Liam carefully. “But, what if... what if they were to become friends again?”

Zayn blinked in surprise before his face smoothed into an unreadable expression. Liam fidgeted nervously, awaiting an answer. 

Liam opened his mouth to take it back, but then: “I’m listening…”

-

“I cannot believe you didn’t tell me,” yelled Harry as soon as they exited the building. He and Niall had spent the past two minutes in complete silence; the air between them was loaded with tension. 

“I tried to so many times,” said Niall and Harry scoffed. “But I’m more surprised that you didn’t get it sooner.”

“Don’t you dare put this on me,” said Harry seriously, whirling around to fix Niall with a heated glare. “Honestly, what the fuck Niall. How long have you known?”

Niall opened his mouth to answer but Harry added, “Don’t you dare lie.”

Niall had the nerve to look sheepish as he revealed, “Since May.” 

Harry snapped. “WHAT THE FUCK!”

Niall winced, “Okay, I know that sounds bad and I’m so sorry. Honestly Harry.”

Harry grew even angrier as he remembered another night, “That day you were being an asshole when Mal came over!” His eyes widened his disbelief. “You asshole, you knew about Louis then and you were what? Mocking me? Making fun of me because I was blissfully unaware?”

Niall frowned, taken aback, “No, that’s not what I was doing at all-”

“Then what!?” exclaimed Harry. He was so pissed off. Niall knew. He had known for nearly two months and he hadn’t told him. It was a complete betrayal of trust. 

He was so angry. 

All he could see when he shut his eyes was Louis. Louis Tomlinson. Who he hadn’t seen anywhere except in pictures and his dreams in over two years. It almost felt like a dream. He looked almost the same too. His hair was slightly shorter and he seemed skinnier for some reason, a little paler, but he was still Louis. 

Which meant that he was still the most beautiful person Harry had ever seen. 

It had been a fact that took him ages to accept after the breakup. That even though they weren’t together, Harry still found him to be the prettiest person on earth. That he was always going to be this gorgeous boy that Harry couldn’t have. But at least then he didn’t have to actually look at him. To his horror, he felt tears in his eyes. 

He was already crying over his ex, great. 

“Harry,” said Niall tentatively. 

“Don’t,” said Harry and he almost didn’t recognize his own voice. He was so mad and lost. He needed to punch something. Hit something. Get his frustration and confusion out. “I’m going to the gym.” He turned and started walking away. 

“What? You’re walking?” called Niall, incredulous. 

“I can’t exactly take the car now can I?” yelled Harry. Even though it was his own car, he would never leave Niall and Liam stranded like that. He physically couldn't. No matter how mad he may be. “Don’t even talk to me!”

“You’ve got to be kidding me! Stop being dramatic,” yelled Niall after him. There was a pause before, “If you really love Liam, you’re going to have to learn to get along with Louis!”
Harry stopped, breathing hard. 

“Louis is Zayn’s best friend and Liam is dating Zayn,” said Niall after a second. “You can’t tell me that you’re going to let your resentment get in the way of their happiness.”

Harry clenched his fists, caught out. Niall was right of course. He would have to get along and actually interact with Louis if Liam and Zayn continued on which they definitely seemed to be doing. As in Liam hadn’t run out of the building crying yet so things must be going well. 

He took a deep shuddery breath, suddenly overwhelmed. He couldn’t deal with Louis being back in his life. He couldn’t. He wasn’t strong enough. Just seeing him this one time was too much. Seeing his feathery brown hair and bright blue eyes and his nose and his mouth and his wrists and his collarbones from where they peeked out from his shirt. Seeing him in his flat where he lived with someone that wasn’t Harry. Seeing the pictures of Louis and Zayn or Louis and his sisters hanging in the foyer. Seeing Liam interact with him so casually. That last one was worse. The fact that Liam had known Louis for ages already, that they were probably friends. Lou he remembered Liam calling him. He shuddered.

That brought back more memories. Liam telling Niall and Harry about meeting Zayn’s flatmate and how funny he was nearly three months ago. Liam telling Harry about how he played a very intense game of football with Zayn’s flatmate awhile ago. Liam telling Harry that he would love Louis because they had a lot in common. Bile rose in his throat. 

It was too much. 

“I can’t do this,” he said. 

“Harry-”

“No, I’m still going to the gym,” he said, before continuing his quick pace. “I’ll be back before dinner.” Niall didn’t bother calling after him this time. 

Harry slipped his hands into his pockets and walked, moving farther and farther away from the impossibility he has just witnessed. 

He made it about five blocks before he realized he was way too far from the gym and that he actually had no interest in working out right now. All he wanted to do was sleep and hopefully forget that this afternoon even happened. He wanted to wake up to the world as it was yesterday, simple and easy. 

He wanted to talk to Gemma but she had left the day before. Talking on the phone wasn’t the same. He stopped at a bench and sat down, holding his head. The sky was pink and yellow, early evening. It was undeniably pretty which made Harry want to scream. He couldn’t believe this. Of all the people in the entire world, Zayn’s flatmate had to be Louis fucking Tomlinson. 

When he had first found out his name, he hadn’t even considered Zayn’s flatmate to be his Louis. No, not his Louis. Not anymore. Not for a long time. Now that he thought about it, the whole thing was him in denial. Niall was right, it should have been obvious. How many Louis’ were there in London that were around their age anyway? Of course it was him, especially since the universe seemed to be plotting against Harry. 

He sighed. Niall was also right about him having to get along with Louis.

Louis hadn’t seemed judgemental or rude earlier which meant that he was more than likely to cooperate if they were to call a truce of sorts. But Harry didn’t know if he could handle it. All he could think of was Louis breaking his heart. I’m not sure I’m in love with you anymore. 

Goodbye Harry. 

Fuck, he was supposed to be over it. That’s what he had been telling himself for months, years even. 

He realized almost maniacally that tears were streaming down his face. God, what a throwback. Harry was crying over Louis just like the two months he spent doing exactly that in 2015. Perfect. 

He waited until his tears finally relented before standing up and checking his phone. It had only been about an hour but he figured the others would be slightly concerned if he didn’t check in, despite his promises to be back by dinner. Sure enough, Niall had tried to call him multiple times, as did Liam. Niall had also sent him a single text: 

everything good w ziam, r u ok?

Harry rolled his eyes. Was he okay? Definitely not. But he sent a quick text (to Liam, not Niall- he wanted to ignore him as much as possible for what he did) saying he was on his way back. Then he called a cab. 

In the backseat of a taxi, he decided on a course of action. 

-

“Where have you been?” asked Liam as he stepped into the flat. He closed the door behind him, rolling his eyes. 

“I told Niall I’d be back by dinner,” answered Harry. “Also, congrats. Apparently ‘Ziam’ lives to see another day.” He knew he sounded bitter, but at this point he didn’t care. He was in a shitty mood. 

Liam frowned at him nonetheless, “Yes, ‘Ziam’ does. Now do you want to bring up the elephant in the room or should I?”

Glaring at the floor, Harry changed the topic, “Where’s Niall?”

“He’s in his room, giving you some space to cool off,” said Liam, sounding just the tiniest bit scolding. “I’m serious Harry, you’re not leaving until we talk about this.”

Harry scowled, “Do we have to talk about this today?”

“Yes,” said Liam. “I’m honestly at a loss. I was definitely not expecting this for when you two finally met, or I guess, re-met.” 

“No fucking way,” muttered Harry. “Look, I know what you’re thinking. This isn’t going to be a problem.”

“It won’t?” asked Liam, raising an eyebrow. He seemed almost amused. Harry wanted to kick him, okay maybe now that. Kicking Liam would be like kicking a puppy. He wanted to yell at him, that was better. 

“No, it won’t,” said Harry, walking past him to splay himself on the couch. He closed his eyes. “I’ll be civil. I don’t know about Louis though.”

“Oh for god’s sake,” said Liam, sounding as if he were rolling his eyes. “Spare me the bitter ex persona-” Harry opened his eyes, offended. “I know he hurt you and I’m not trying to dismiss the pain I’m sure you went through, but Louis isn’t going to be like that. I can’t see him doing anything to hurt anyone, except maybe pulling a prank. He was being perfectly nice today too.” 

Harry scoffed. “He didn’t even acknowledge me!”
“You didn’t acknowledge him either,” pointed out Liam. Harry felt him take a seat on the end of the couch and he begrudgingly moved his legs so he could sit properly. 

“Yeah well I was caught off guard,” said Harry. “He wasn’t nearly as shocked as I was. I bet he knew.”

“He probably did,” agreed Liam. “And he hasn’t done anything with that information. Look I don’t expect you to talk about it but I know that he’s a good person.”

Harry glowered. Of course Louis had charmed Liam. He charmed everyone, including Harry. What a mistake that ended up being. He wondered what Louis and Liam would even talk about. Probably Marvel suggested his stupid brain. Louis probably teased Liam all the time- he was always so nice about things like that, making him the perfect victim. Maybe they’ve watched films together and Liam listened to Louis’ famous commentary which should be irritating but it was really just entertaining and endearing and- Harry tensed. 

“Are we done?” he asked a little too loudly. His heart was racing and he felt guilty- caught red handed even though Liam wasn’t a mind reader. When Liam didn’t reply immediately, he stood up. “I’m taking a shower.”

“We’re ordering pizza for dinner,” was Liam’s final reply. “And for the record,” he said, gaze softening. “Whatever may happen, I’ll always be on your side H.”

Harry felt an unexpected warmth glow inside him proving to himself that he could never properly be mad at Liam. He knew- or at least hoped- it wouldn’t come to picking sides, but it was nice to have the reassurance that Harry wouldn’t be alone if it did happen. “See you in a bit.”

-

Chapter Text

“Holy shit,” said Lottie when Louis finally finished explaining. He just groaned in response. They had already gone over the usual stuff: how the girls are, what’s going on with Tanologist, how Zayn is (or “bad boy”), but Lottie had immediately been able to tell that Louis was anxious to talk about something else. 

So Louis told her. 

None of his family except for his mum had known much about what happened with Harry. They definitely didn’t know he was still not over it, well they excluding Lottie. It was too difficult to keep stuff from Lottie. 

Which meant that she understood the gravity of the situation. “What are you going to do?” she asked after a minute of him trying and failing to respond. Her face was wrinkled with concern. 

Louis sighed, “What I can do, which is to deal with it." It had already almost been a week since that fateful day and it would be fair to say that he hadn't been doing to well with that plan so far. On top of nightmares about his mom, he kept dreaming about Harry- Harry holding him, kissing him, making love to him, before laughing at him and telling him he didn't love him. Louis always woke up shaking after those dreams, cheeks already stained with dry tears and hands clutching his oversized jumper- or rather, Harry's jumper. It was also fair to say Louis had not been sleeping well. Insomnia had been present ever since his mum died but it was now much worse, leaving Louis slow and exhausted during the day. But it wasn't like he had to be anywhere most of the time, so he got away with it. 

Zayn also hadn't noticed yet much to Louis' relief. He had enough to worry about with figuring out stuff with Liam and with working at Sally's or at the studio which he had been visiting more and more as time went on. He was also already worried about Louis' appetite which had been nonexistent ever since December as well with no improvement made. Zayn never forced him to eat more than he wanted but he did make sure Louis ate something at every meal.

Louis wouldn't say he was anorexic or anything- Zayn made sure of it. But he did know he had an issue especially when he realized he hadn't been genuinely hungry in about eight months. He tried to eat more. He honestly did, but it made him feel sick and nauseous and full, too full. So he stuffed down what he had to in order to make Zayn happy and didn't eat anything after that. He knew he was getting skinnier but he didn't really mind, if anything that was a benefit. He also knew it was taking a toll on him but he couldn't help it. No one was really looking at him anyway. 

Lottie frowned, “I don’t like that plan.” It took Louis a second to remember what she was responding to. 

“What else is there?” asked Louis. “Maybe… maybe it won’t be that bad?” He rushed to continue as Lottie opened her mouth to argue. “Look, maybe this is fate. Maybe interacting with him will help me finally get over him.”

Lottie’s frown grew, “I guess that’s a possibility. Harry will have definitely changed in the past two years which means you’ll be able to separate him from the version you’ve been idolizing all these years.”

Louis frowned. 

“Don’t give me that look, you can’t deny it,” said Lottie. 

“You don’t know anything about our breakup or how Harry is as a person,” defended Louis, crossing his arms. Even though Lottie had met and talked to Harry numerous times, she didn’t know as well as Louis how great he was. Harry was a genuinely good person and he had been the entire length of them dating. That wasn’t the issue here. He sighed, “But maybe I will finally get over him.” Or you’ll fall deeper in love with him now that there’s no barriers between you two and you’ll get your heart broken more than it already is and then Zayn and Lottie will hate you forever. 

He ignored that voice. 

“Let’s hope,” said Lottie, effectively ending the conversation. “What about your first appointment?” 

Louis flinched, biting his lip. “Tomorrow,” he said quietly. 

Lottie softened, “Don’t be afraid Lou, this is going to help you so much.”

“I know,” he admitted. He was afraid though. He didn’t know much about therapy, but he was sure it included having to work through the trauma you’ve dealt with. Louis did not want to do that. He couldn’t bear to relive the events of last winter.  “I hope.”

“It will,” said Lottie firmly. She glanced off camera and frowned, “My break is over in a minute so unfortunately I have to say bye.”

“Bye Lottie, love you,” said Louis. 

“Love you too Lou Bear,” said Lottie teasingly. “Call me after the appointment if you’re up for it. Tell me how it goes or I’ll pester Zayn to tell me.”

Louis rolled his eyes, “Stop texting Zayn.”

“Never,” said Lottie, grinning. “Byeeeeeee!” She hung up and Louis shook his head. Talking to Lottie had relieved some of the pressure on his chest but everything still felt overwhelming and heavy. He realized painfully that what he needed was to talk to his mum. 

Unfortunately, he could no longer do that. 

He would never be able to for the rest of his life. 

-

“So Louis,” said James. James Corden. Louis’ therapist. He shuddered. “I understand from what your sister has been telling me that you’re going through a hard time moving on from your mother’s death.” 

Louis flinched, but nodded. They had already gone over the usual stuff like introductions and whether Louis had ever been in therapy before (no) and if he’d talked to a therapist (yes… in the hospital). James also told him that this appointment was more introductory and casual. 

He didn’t continue immediately, just studying him carefully. Louis knew he looked nervous. He was nervous. His hands were shaking so he sat on them but now his whole body was quivering. It’s just therapy. Not a hospital. 

Not a hospital. 

But him sitting in this mostly white room with someone staring and him and most likely about to start asking him questions that were too hard to answer felt too familiar to another scenario he had lived through earlier that year. 

Breathe Louis. 

That was Zayn’s voice in his head. He relaxed and took a deep breath. Zayn was waiting outside because James wanted a chance to get to know Louis without Louis depending on Zayn to answer and talk to him. Zayn promised to stay outside unless Louis called for him. 

He felt like calling for him already and he hadn’t even been asked anything properly. 

James softened slightly, most likely in pity, but for once Louis didn’t mind. “We don’t have to talk about it immediately Louis. This whole thing is going to be at your pace.”

He nodded again, feeling a little lighter. He didn’t have to deal with it right then. He could procrastinate. 

“Do you want to talk about Zayn?” asked James. 

Zayn. He was a safe and easy topic so Louis nodded again. James asked him questions about Zayn. Easy questions. 

Who is Zayn to you? My best friend and flatmate. 

How long have you two known each other? 2 years. 

What does Zayn make you feel? 

Louis had to think about that one but he settled on: comfortable, happy, safe. 

What do you think Zayn’s answer to that question would be? 

Louis hesitated. This one was hard. James seemed to notice, “Just think. How do you think you make him feel?”

He frowned, considering his options. In the end, he decided to be as honest as possible, “Happy… but also stressed.” It felt like a confession. “Maybe a little regretful.” The last part came out against his better judgement and he sucked in a breath.

James raised an eyebrow, intrigued. “Regretful how?”

Louis fidgeted with his bandage, severely regretting this, “Like…. Never mind actually.”

“Are you sure about that?” asked James. 

Louis winced, he couldn’t do this. He couldn’t bear his biggest insecurities and be completely honest with this guy. He may be nice but he was still a stranger. He couldn’t even tell Zayn about his biggest worries, how could he tell him? “I… don’t know.”

“That’s okay,” said James to Louis’ relief. “We’ll come back to him later. Do you want to talk about your sister, Lottie?”

Louis bit his lip, and then nodded, not trusting his words any longer. He itched his bandage. Technically, he didn’t need it any longer but he kept it on despite the itching and chafing because it covered the scars. They’d take months and months to fade and he hated looking at them. They reminded him of the pain. He didn’t want to see them and be tempted again either. Never again. 

When Louis answered these questions he was a lot more subdued:

What does Lottie make you feel? Proud, happy, but maybe a little guilty. James seemed to understand the last bit, “That’s completely normal. You’re her big brother. You feel a responsibility for her even though she’s an adult now yes?”

Louis nodded. 

“She can take care of herself, you know that right?” said James. Louis nodded, of course he knew that! “You don’t have to feel like you have to take care of her,” he added. Louis disagreed. That was what big brothers were supposed to do after all. But he didn’t say anything. 

“Do you and Lottie have any strain in your relationship after everything?”

Louis frowned, mulling it over. “I don’t think… Not really, as in we don’t resent each other or anything. Sometimes I get frustrated because Lottie tries to get me to do stuff that I don’t want to do but I know that she means well so there’s no resentment there.” He bit his lip and glanced at James who was still looking at him expectantly. Like he wanted to hear more. “Sometimes I wish she would focus more on her own career and her success because she deserves to prioritize herself, but instead she’s so eager to help out her broken older brother.” He laughed self-deprecating. 

“Broken?” asked James. “Is that how you feel?”

“I mean… yeah,” said Louis honestly. “But… I think I do have the potential to heal. I’ve finally accepted it which is why I’m here.”

James smiled, “You will heal Louis, I promise you that.” Louis let himself latch onto the confidence in his voice. You will heal. 

“I think that’s enough about Lottie,” said James, checking his notes quickly. “What about Harry?” Louis froze. 

“What?” he asked, heart racing. 

“Harry?” said James. “Your ex? That’s his name, I didn’t get it wrong did I?”

“No, that’s definitely his name,” said Louis. He felt faint. “Who told you about him?”

James looked confused, “Lottie? She said this was one of the things you wanted to talk about? How whatever happened with Harry affected your mental health.”

Louis gaped. He felt like he had just been punched in the gut. 

Of fucking course. Of course this wasn’t just about his mum. 

He stood up, suddenly angry, “I definitely do not want to talk about him. Lottie never mentioned this to me.”

James looked concerned, “Clearly this is a hard topic for you, we can come back-”

“No!” yelled Louis, before he felt the familiar shaky feeling envelop him. “I don’t want to talk about him with you, not ever. Please, I can’t.”

James stood up too looking alarmed, “It’s okay Louis, we won’t talk about him. Calm down, take a deep breath.” Louis tried but he couldn’t. He felt like his throat was closing and he couldn’t inhale. He choked, tears growing in his eyes. James’ eyes widened, “Breathe Louis, breathe.”

Louis keeled over, catching himself by grabbing the edge of the table. He could feel himself panting through the loud buzzing in his ears. He clutched the table edge, shaking. 

“Zayn!” called a worried voice. Dimly, Louis heard the door open and the sound of someone gasping. 

Then a hand was gripping his shoulder, “Lou.” 

Familiar.

He closed his eyes, slowly losing steam. After a few moments, he opened his mouth and took a weak breath. It felt like a relief. 

“Babe,” said Zayn sadly. He pulled Louis to his chest and Louis clutched his shoulders, still heaving. “It’s okay.”

“Maybe we should continue this next time,” offered James. Louis wept in relief. “It always takes a while, don’t worry. Healing is a long and hard journey but Louis has the potential. He seems like a very brave lad.”

“He is,” agreed Zayn quietly. “The strongest one I know.”

After James and Zayn quickly arranged a second appointment, Zayn gently led Louis to the car, arm around his shoulders, keeping him close. “I’m proud of you,” he kept whispering even though Louis completely failed him. 

Zayn opened the door for him and helped Louis sit in the car. Louis rested his head on his arms on the dashboard and breathed deeply through his mouth. 

They drove back. 

Louis didn’t call Lottie. 

-

Harry was standing outside the door of flat 4G, waiting. 

Waiting for what, he didn’t know. Just for a sign or a burst of courage. 

He had first come three hours ago but when he knocked on the door, no one answered. He waited a few minutes before knocking again. When no one came the third time, he determined that they really were out though part of him was suspicious they were home and Louis was purposely ignoring him. But that was a cruel assumption to make. 

So here he was, three hours later with no actual confirmation that they were back and would answer. But he had to try. He had to try to resolve this quickly. 

Without letting himself second-guess and stall, he raised his hand and knocked firmly. Three times. He stepped back and slumped his shoulders, insides clenching in anticipation. This was important, he told himself. He couldn’t just leave and run away like he wanted to. He itched his side nervously, staring at the unmoving door. 

Right as he was contemplating whether to leave or keep waiting since no one had answered, the door creaked before swinging open. Harry steeled himself as Louis blinked, gaping. “Hi,” he said after a moment of Louis still staring at him. 

He was wearing an Arctic Monkeys shirt and basketball shorts and his hair was mussed and soft-looking. His eyes were bright, bright blue. Harry had noticed it last time too and ignored it as much as possible but now he was staring directly into them, feeling apprehensive under Louis’ intense gaze.

And of course he was effortlessly pretty. Harry ignored that too. 

“Hi,” said Louis after a long, awkward pause. “Um, no offense but what are you doing here?”

Harry snorted. “Nice to see you too Louis,” he said dryly. It wasn’t like he expected things to go super smoothly but now he had confirmation. All the more motivation to make this go as fast as possible. 

Louis flinched and then blushed, “No, I didn’t mean-”

“It’s alright, I just wanted to talk to you real quickly,” he said. “It’ll be quick.”

He looked a little confused and reluctant. Harry nearly groaned, but he reminded himself that this was a weird situation. It was weird for both of them. It should be weirder for me but… 

“Please?” he tried. “It’s important.” 

Louis frowned but nodded, moving aside to let Harry in. He slipped inside, nearly hissing as his arm brushed Louis’ on the way in. Goosebumps erupted on his bare arm. Louis’ arm was cold. Even in the summer, Louis had always run a little colder than everyone else meaning he was always complaining about the lack of warmth. 

Harry frowned as memories surfaced in his mind: him eagerly wrapping Louis’ smaller hands within his own to spread warmth, him completely enveloping Louis’ body with his own in bed to keep him warm, him giving Louis his jumpers and sweatshirts to wear to keep warm but mostly because he liked the way Louis looked in his bigger clothes (small, soft, and smelling like Harry). 

He brushed the thoughts away and followed present Louis (who he would definitely never do the aforementioned things with) to the living room. He took a seat on the armchair, leaving Louis to sit on the couch. 

“What is it you wanted to talk about?” asked Louis, pulling his legs onto the couch and sitting cross-legged. 

“I just wanted to make sure we were on the same page,” said Harry, clasping his hands. 

“The same page,” repeated Louis, looking dubious. 

“Yes,” said Harry. “I think we both want what’s best for Liam and Zayn which means we’re going to have to learn to get along for their sake.”

Louis blinked but didn’t complain, so Harry continued. 

“All I’m saying is that for the sake of everyone else, we need to start over,” said Harry. 

“Start over?” asked Louis. 

“Yeah, like…” he hesitated, trying to think of how to articulate his thoughts properly. He should’ve practiced more. “Like I guess we pretend like we were never a thing.”

He looked up at Louis who was looking back with an unreadable expression. Harry frowned. “I know this is weird, but we’re both adults. We can be mature about this, right?”

There was a pause before Louis replied quietly, “Right.” He sounded a little unsure. 

“Great,” said Harry, glad there was no argument. “So everything that happened between us is history. All the resentment and bias is erased. As far as we know, we met through Liam and Zayn and we’re just acquaintances.”

Louis blinked at him. 

“And you know, it only makes sense,” said Harry. “It’s been so long, we might as well only be acquaintances.” Harry isn’t sure, but he felt like he saw Louis flinch. “This is the easiest solution for this, right?”

“I guess so,” echoed Louis. He sounded even quieter than before but Harry chalked it up to the strangeness of the conversation in general. 

“And we can be civil to each other?” said Harry. 

“Yeah, definitely,” said Louis, but he seemed unhappy about it. He kept fidgeting with his shirt or with the bandage that was still on his arm. Harry wondered what really happened. His excuse of “falling” seemed fake but he didn’t know why Louis would lie. Maybe he was embarrassed? 

“Okay, perfect,” said Harry anyway, attempting a smile. “No hard feelings, right?”

Louis nodded slowly. 

“Great,” said Harry standing up. “This went even faster than I predicted. This is good. I’m glad we’ve come to an agreement.” He laughed awkwardly, feeling slightly lighter. “Besides, it’s not like we have to be friends or anything.”

Louis frowned, staring at him, “Right.” 

“Okay, thanks for letting me in,” said Harry. He cleared his throat. It suddenly felt a lot more awkward in the room. “Right, so I have a doctor’s appointment so…” 

Louis stood up, “Of course, sorry.”

Harry didn’t know what he was apologizing for but he was almost free. He felt like he was suffocating in this flat. Not due to the flat itself, it was actually objectively very nice. He opened the door and stepped outside, hesitating before turning around to say one last proper goodbye. “I hope you have a nice day, see you sometime I guess.”

“You too,” said Louis. He looked stiff standing there with one hand on the doorknob, eyes focused somewhere behind Harry. The realization made him want to roll his eyes. Louis at least could have the decency to meet his eyes. 

“Alright, bye,” said Harry, moving to walk away but then. 

“Hey Harry?” 

He froze, “Yes?” He turned back to look at Louis who was fidgeting with his shirt. 

“Do you… Are you still making music?” he asked. 

Harry stared at him. Seriously? Louis wanted to bring up that? He blinked, feeling half defensive and half in shock. Louis looked curious for his answer which was most surprising of all, like he genuinely wanted to know and wasn’t mentioning it out of spite. 

It took Harry months to understand and accept that Louis had always been jealous of his 

“Yeah,” he said firmly. “I am.” He waited to see Louis’ reaction but he didn’t get one. Louis kept his face 100% neutral. Clever. 

“Cool,” he said. A lie. He glanced at the floor. “Bye Harry.”

“Bye Louis.”

When Louis closed the door, Harry realized the empty feeling he had become so familiarized with during the early months of 2015 was now back in full fledge.

He stopped in front of the elevator and hit the button, thinking. 

This was going to be way harder than anticipated. 

-

Louis sat down against the door after Harry left, feeling a mixture of nauseous and disappointed. He shouldn’t be disappointed, this was exactly what he expected but it still hurt. 

It hurt to be reminded that Harry had moved on over the past two and a half years and Louis was still stuck on their broken relationship. He was still in love with Harry. He would never not be in love with Harry. 

But Harry didn’t love him anymore- probably stopped loving him ages ago. Probably forgot about Louis altogether until he was cruelly reminded that day a week ago. 

Louis curled further into himself as he realized- Harry didn’t even want to try to be friends. 

Acquaintances. That’s what Harry wanted them to be. 

He wanted to erase their entire past and pretend like they didn’t know each other. 

Pretend like they never lived together, never shared a bed together, never had sex together, never kissed or made out, never laughed together, never cuddled on the couch and spent most of every day together. He wanted to erase all of the memories. Bile rose in his throat. 

Harry wanted to forget everything and Louis wanted it all back.

Louis couldn’t erase any of it, he relied on those happy memories. Happy days to get him through the dark ones he faced now. And he was supposed to just forget about it? 

Fuck, how was he supposed to do this? 

This was going to be way harder than anticipated. 

-

Chapter Text

August 2015

Louis didn’t know what he was doing here. 

It had been ages since he had went clubbing but when Zayn begged him to accompany him that night because Gigi invited him out and Zayn was head over heels for her already. Zayn hadn’t dated much after he and Perrie realized they were better off friends but when he called Louis to gush about the “most gorgeous girl I’ve ever seen,”  Louis had a feeling this girl would end up being important especially since Zayn never gushed… about anyone. 

Gigi was a model but she was also an artist and Zayn had met her at a ceramics class at the local art center about a month ago. They hit it off really well but Zayn hadn’t worked up the courage to ask her out yet. He was too afraid of Gigi rejecting him. Louis had been there through it all and had heard all of Zayn’s rants and accounts of their conversations- in other words, he knew there was absolutely no chance of Gigi saying no. He had told Zayn so and he had agreed to do it tonight. But he wanted Louis’ support. 

So he was going out for the first time in forever. 

It felt weird. He was only 23- a perfectly acceptable age to party without a care, but for some reason, he felt older stepping into the crowded pub. 

He was in his black vans, black skinnies, and a simple white shirt that said “not heartbroken” on it. The irony made him laugh. He had messed around with his hair for longer than he cared to admit before giving up and leaving it in a messy fringe. He felt out of practice but he was pretty sure he looked at least decent- that was good enough for him. It wasn’t like he was aiming to pull or anything. 

Zayn was dressed to perfection in dark ripped jeans, a sheer white shirt that contrasted nicely with his golden skin, and his hair was perfectly arranged, a single tantalizing strand hanging in front of his forehead. He basically looked like a Greek god. Louis had gotten used to having a friend who was effortlessly beautiful and sexy. Gigi was a very lucky girl. 

“Gigi said she has a table at the back,” said Zayn, glancing at his phone. “She brought some of her friends so maybe you’ll meet someone nice to talk to.” To talk to. Zayn was aware of Louis’ aversion to flirting and pulling in this point of his life. He didn’t know much but Louis knew he had at least guessed that Louis was still getting over a past relationship. But either way, he respected Louis’ choices and had not once tried to set Louis up with someone else like some of his other friends had. 

Louis appreciated that. 

“Maybe,” said Louis. He mostly wanted to drink the night away and maybe dance if he worked himself up to it but he wouldn’t mind chatting with a few people if he had to. 

They spotted the table pretty quickly. Gigi was dressed in a silky white sleeveless top and a short, black skirt. She looked good. Zayn was frozen beside him. 

“You’ll be fine,” said Louis, exasperated. “I’m telling you, she’s going to say yes!”

Zayn bit his lip, “If you say so.”

“Trust me,” said Louis seriously. After thinking it over, he blurted, “If she says no I won’t drink tea for a month.”

Zayn smirked, “Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”

“The point is that I won’t have to keep it,” said Louis, rolling his eyes. “Now go get your girl!”

Zayn grinned, “I’ll try.” Then he pulled Louis into a hug, “Thanks for coming with me, I know you didn’t want to.”

Louis smiled, burying his face in Zayn’s neck to hide it, “Anything for you Zaynie.”

“Try to have fun,” said Zayn fixing him with a stern stare. 

Louis saluted him and Zayn rolled his eyes. They walked to the table. Gigi looked up and completely brightened up upon seeing Zayn. Rejecting Zayn my ass. 

“Zayn!” she exclaimed, moving away from her friends to meet them. She threw her arms around Zayn’s neck and Louis covered his laugh as Zayn immediately blushed. “I’m so glad you made it!”

“Uh, thanks me too,” said Zayn, tentatively placing his hands on her shoulders. He shot Louis a “help” look but Louis just grinned and started moving away. Zayn’s eyes widened. 

Gigi pulled back and grinned at Zayn. He smiled back shyly. Ah young love

Louis got out of there before he could gag. 

Luckily for him, the bar wasn’t too crowded. He ordered a drink and exchanged small talk with the bartender who complimented Louis’ tattoos. 

Then he headed back to the table where he was promptly met by the sight of Zayn snogging Gigi very passionately against the booth table. He smirked and approached the girls Gigi had been talking to earlier- her friends. 

“You must be Louis,” said one of the blondes as he approached. She stuck out hand, “Cara.” 

Louis grinned and shook it with his free hand, “Nice to meet ya.”

Zayn was right, Gigi’s friends were nice. Cara was also a teacher so they had lots to chat about and Taylor was actually a pretty big singer. Louis had been shocked but also happy to hear that he owned and loved some of her songs. It was honestly a little surreal. 

Gigi’s younger sister Bella was also there and she and Louis spent quite a bit of time making fun of Zayn and Gigi once they finally stopped making out. It was nice. Louis was actually having fun. 

“Where’s Sara?” asked Gigi, frowning. Louis followed her gaze. He had actually met Sara. She was a Porteguese model and she was there on the Bring A Friend art class Zayn dragged him to a few weeks ago. She and him bonded over their lack of art skills and spent most of the class laughing at each other’s attempts at painting sunsets while Gigi and Zayn not so subtly gazed at each other. 

“I dunno, but she did say she wanted to get laid today so,” said Taylor, waggling her eyebrows. The movement was very reminiscent to Niall which felt like a punch to the gut. He hadn’t seen Niall in ages but he always made going out fun. 

“Okay but the real question is why aren’t all of us drunk?” asked Cara and after everyone collectively cheered, Gigi ordered a round of shots.

Louis felt loose and warm which was probably the only reason he was brave enough to accept Cara and Taylor’s invitation to dance. He followed them to the dance floor and they weaved through the people until they were in the heart of the crowd. Louis was sweating and there were so many people but for the first time in months, he was thinking that he could do it. He could have fun and party without feeling guilty and wrong. 

So he danced. 

He danced and cheered on Cara’s drunk attempts at a moonwalk which ended in her tripping and falling into a grinding couple. Louis and Taylor cackled as she apologized profusely. 

“Oh shit!” said Taylor suddenly, slapping Louis’ arm. “I found Sara.” 

Cara followed her line of sight and gasped, “Ooo, maybe she is getting laid.” Louis looked around, curious. 

“I wouldn’t mind sleeping with that guy, he’s hot as fuck,” said Taylor appreciatevely. Now Louis was even more curious. He strained his neck to peer over Cara’s shoulder, a difficult task since Cara was wearing ridiculously tall heels. 

He opened his mouth to ask “Where?” but the words died on his lips, eyes latching onto the couple. He recognized Sara easily but he also immediately recognized the guy she was currently making out with furiously. 

He froze. 

“Shit. No way, I think that’s Harry Styles,” whispered Taylor, sounding impressed. “I saw one of his gigs two months ago, he’s got talent.”

“Apparently in more areas than one,” said Cara slyly. 

Louis was going to puke. He needed to look away now but he couldn’t. His eyes were glued on Sara and Harry- his Harry. They were making out passionately on the dance floor. She had her arms around his neck and her fingers were tangled in his long curls. Harry was turned away from Louis’ view but he could see him well enough. Black jeans. White shirt. Long silky hair. His arms were wrapped around Sara’s small waist and he had one hand on her… Bile rose in his throat and he stumbled back, eyes filling with tears. 

“Louis? Are you okay?” asked Taylor, looking at him in concern. 

He somehow managed to nod, “I’m going to… bathroom.” Then he ran. 

Or, he tried to run as best as he could in a crowd like this. He dodged and weaved around dancing people, all of them happy and feeling free. Louis didn’t though. He was trapped. And utterly mortified. Taylor and Cara were probably discussing what a weirdo he was. 

He shoved past a drunk girl who was talking out loud to no one and bolted into the bathroom, locking himself in a stall and falling to his knees immediately. He vomited, tears still streaming down his face. 

It had been eight months. He shouldn’t react this way after eight months. But the truth was, Louis was no closer to getting over Harry now than he was in January. 

It appeared that Harry did not have the same issue. 

He leaned back against the stall door. He felt exposed and pathetic. He just threw up because he saw his ex making out with a girl- a very nice and funny girl whom he couldn’t find any reason to hate which made things much harder. 

Sara- gorgeous, funny, kind, and best of all- a perfect fit in the world of stardom and celebrities that Harry had been finding his way into. It shouldn’t have been a shock, yet it was. 

In all his dreaming and pining, never did he think he would see Harry for the first time in months like this. And never in a million years did he ever expect to see him with someone he had already met and enjoyed the company of. Someone he knew- which meant he knew they’d be a good fit together. 

Maybe it was a good thing, he told himself. It was proof he was right. Harry deserved someone better- someone who fit in with his new world. Someone like Sara Sampaio, successful and beautiful model. That had been the whole reason he had the courage to leave him- the knowledge that he was freeing Harry to find someone who could be his equal in the way Louis couldn’t. 

This was good. 

He repeated it to himself but it didn’t stop his tears or the crushing feeling inside his chest. He was hurt. He hadn’t expected Harry to move on this quickly. Even if it had been 8 months, Louis was still sleeping in Harry’s clothes and watching their favorite movies, and drowning in the memories of their relationship. 

It’s proof that I wasn’t right for him. It’s proof I wasn’t meant to be with him. It’s proof that I didn’t mean as much to him as he did to me. The last one was the one that got to him the most, tore at his heartstrings and punctured any remaining hope. 

It only took eight months for Harry to forget him. 

Maybe he should be grateful that it wasn’t Malcolm Harry had moved on to. 

Maybe he should move on from Harry and try to pull. 

The thought was dashed as soon as it came into his head. No way. He couldn’t do that. The thought of kissing lips that weren’t Harry’s. Sleeping with someone who wasn’t Harry- it made him feel nauseous again and he really didn’t want to throw up a second time. 

“This is what you wanted,” he whispered to himself, almost like a scolding. He was staring dazedly at the compass on his arm. The compass that he had gotten with Harry when he got his ship. “A compass to lead my ship to shore. Because you always bring me home ,” Harry had said, dimples popping.

Home wasn’t with Louis anymore. 

-

August 2017

“Are you sure you’re up for this?” asked Zayn. 

Louis stared at his reflection in the mirror. He had definitely lost weight in the past few months, he knew that, but seeing the way his black jeans were no longer as tight as they once were was still a shock. He was also wearing a maroon scoop neck top that showed off his collar bones because Zayn told him to. A jacket on top because Zayn had told him to get rid of the bandage (“You itch it all the time, just take it off’) and he didn’t want to deal with any pity thrown his way (the thought of Niall and Harry seeing his scars and looking at him a certain way terrified him). His hair was mussed and his vans were nearby, ready for him to slide on. “Yes I’m sure,” said Louis. “As long as you promise not to make out with Liam the whole time.”

Zayn smirked, “As much as I love that idea, I promise.”

Louis studied his reflection. He never really looked in the mirror anymore but today seemed to be unavoidable. He needed to look nice. Except he hated looking at himself because all he could focus on was the dark bags underneath his eyes and the gauntness of his skin and how his face was way more angular than it used to me- and not in an attractive way. He caught Zayn’s eye, “Do I look okay?”

Zayn fixed him with an unimpressed stare, “Are you serious? Louis, you look amazing.”

Louis rolled his eyes and huffed, “Honestly?”

“Yes, of course,” said Zayn. “In all your years of knowing me have I ever sugarcoated my true opinions?” 

No. The answer was no, which is why it always flustered Louis when Zayn complimented him- it meant he was telling the truth and that was almost unfathomable to accept at times. “Okay,” he said, giving in. “Let’s go.”

Zayn opened his arms and Louis fell into them easily. “I’ve got your back,” he said. 

“I know,” said Louis, closing his eyes momentarily. He was going to see Harry and Niall in less than fifteen minutes. It was terrifying but he had managed to ignore it for the most part. 

As if reading his mind, Zayn said, “Don’t worry. He said he was going to be civil, yeah? You don’t have to talk to him if it’s just going to stress you out.”

Louis nodded, “I want him so bad Z.”

“I know babe,” said Zayn, sympathetic. “I’m so sorry.”

Louis didn’t respond, what could he even say? Nothing would change the inevitable fact that Harry didn’t love him back anymore. 

“Next time you can invite Danielle to keep you company, or even Cal if he’s in town,” said Zayn. “And of course, you’ll always have me.”

He said it so confidently. Louis will always have Zayn. He hadn’t used to believe him when he said things like that even though Zayn was always honest- he had thought Zayn was clearly being optimistic, but recently, Louis had begun to see that Zayn spoke the truth. Zayn had been there for him through the darkest times in Louis’ life and he stayed. He had seen Louis at his worst and at his most broken and he still stayed. 

He loved Zayn so much. He decided that he needed to tell him that more often, “I love you a lot Z.”

“I love you more Lou,” said Zayn, squeezing him gently. “Actually… Here, I have something for you.” Louis pulled back, confused before Zayn pulled out two familiar bracelets from his jacket pocket. 

Louis gasped, “No way, I thought I lost mine.”

“Oh, you did,” said Zayn, smirking. “I found it though and I have mine too.” He gave Louis his bracelet- blue and red exactly like Zayn’s except for the middle black bead with the white ‘L’ on it (Zayn’s had a ‘Z’ of course). 

With Zayn’s help, the friendship bracelet is tied around his wrist. “Do you remember when we got these?” asked Louis softly. 

“Duh,” said Zayn. “Leeds 2016, never forget.” It was written on the bracelet but Louis appreciated the solemn look on Zayn’s face. 

Louis smiled. That had been three of the happiest days of his life. “I honestly thought I lost this forever.”

“No shit,” said Zayn. “But I want you to wear it Louis, as a reminder of our friendship.” 

Louis could tell him that he didn’t need to be reminded of their friendship- could reassure Zayn that he never needed to be reminded, that he knew. But he didn’t. He knew what Zayn meant. This was proof of everything they went through. “Thanks Z.” 

“No problem, now help me tie mine,” said Zayn, looking pleased. Louis tied it carefully.  “Let’s go, we don’t want to be late.”

They went. 

-

“Zayn said they’re outside,” said Liam, checking his phone. He looked at all of them before focusing his gaze on Harry, “I hope everyone behaves.” 

Harry scowled, “I will, thank you very much. I told you, we’ve come to an agreement.”

Liam looked unconvinced but he nodded. “I’m going to go make sure they find us.” And then he was gone, leaving Harry and Niall alone.

“H,” said Niall. 

Harry groaned. He had been avoiding Niall as much as possible, or at least as much as he could since Niall’s bedroom was still next door and they still had to eat breakfast together. 

Niall had been suspiciously agreeable with this avoiding plot, spending a lot more time at Barbara’s apartment and not trying to get Harry to talk to him like he had been doing nonstop in the beginning. It had been weird, going from talking to Niall all the time and hanging out as much as their schedules allowed, to awkwardly passing each other in the hallway, trying not to make eye contact. Harry hated it. 

But Niall seemed to be done with letting Harry ignore him. The pub was crowded and Harry could get up right then and disappear. Find someone to distract him. Run away. But he didn’t. He promised Liam after all. 

“What?” asked Harry, already giving in. Niall was his best friend after all. 

“I’m sorry, okay?” said Niall. “I should’ve told you, but I didn’t want you to freak out. This is kind of surreal.”

“No shit,” muttered Harry. “And for the record, there’s not going to be an issue. Like I just told Liam, we’ve come to an agreement.”

Niall shook his head, “Whatever you say Haz, but remember I’m your best friend and I know you.” 

“Don’t call me that,” grumbled Harry. So much for a fun night out. “And best friends don’t do-”

“Hey guys,” said Zayn. Zayn and Louis. Harry and Niall fell silent. Harry stared at the table, catching only a small glimpse of Louis. The small blur of his soft, messy hair and bright blue eyes were burning in his eyes. 

This was going to be a long night. 

-

Louis was finally starting to relax. He thought things were going to be awkward but the conversation was flowing easily between him, Zayn, Liam, and Niall- who had been acting like nothing had ever happened between the two of them. It was comforting and also really nice, because Louis had missed Niall’s presence in his life.

Harry however was mostly silent. In fact, he had brought out his phone and was now furiously texting someone. It should’ve been a relief to Louis- no awkward looks or small talk, but instead it just felt like a dismissal. Like he was showing that he didn’t want to bother talking to Louis at all now that they had agreed to keep the past in the past. 

It hurt. 

But at least he was alone. It had struck Louis as they entered the bar when Zayn asked Liam if Barbara was there (it was also a bit of a surprise but a happy one to hear that Niall was still dating the girl) and Liam said “Not today.” He realized Harry could be dating someone. Worse, that Harry could be dating someone who was there tonight. 

It was a big jump, but as soon as he thought it, it was stuck in his brain. Zayn had to drag him to the table where he almost sighed with relief to see Harry by himself. 

He didn’t have to deal with boyfriend Harry… yet. 

The promise of confronting that in the future made him nauseous, but there was nothing he could do. One day Harry would find someone. Someone he’d kiss and make love to. Someone he’d cook for and write songs about and who he’d want to spend every waking hour with every single day of every week of every year. Someone who made him honk out abruptly in laughter. Someone who he’d gaze at fondly and someone he’d spoil and fawn over. 

Someone who he’d adore more than he adored Louis. And he had once adored Louis a whole lot. 

This is not the time to cry. 

So he teased Liam and even joked with Niall, all the while being grounded by Zayn’s gentle hand on his shoulder. Who knew a simple touch could bring so much peace?

Or maybe Louis was seriously deprived of human contact. The latter was more likely. 

“Hey babe,” said Liam shyly. “Do you maybe wanna dance?”

Zayn looked uncertain but upon seeing Liam’s eager face, he seemed to change his mind. “Alright, only for a few songs.” 

Liam grinned and Louis hid a smile by taking a sip of his beer. He had been prepared with excuses in his lips before being shocked when Zayn had passed him a beer with a discreet nod. He was almost afraid to drink since it had been so long- eight months about. 

Zayn and Liam left and then Niall cleared his throat, “I’m going to the restroom, I’ll get us another round on the way back, cheers.” He flashed Louis a smile and then left. 

It took Louis a second to realize what just happened. 

Zayn, Liam, and Niall were gone. Leaving Louis alone with Harry… His heart started pounding. Fuck fuck fuck. 

He glanced at the man hesitantly, freezing as Harry looked up from his phone, “What the hell.”

Louis didn’t say anything, didn’t dare open his mouth. Harry looked irritated. 

“He did this on purpose,” he grumbled. Louis winced. Obviously he wouldn’t be glad about being left alone with his ex but the reminder was still harsh. 

For a minute there was just silence. Harry didn’t seem to go back to his phone which was potentially a good sign. Louis fidgeted with his jacket. Even though he was always cold, he was feeling a little sweaty underneath the warm fabric. The bold lights of the pub seemed much harsher than before all of sudden too. 

“So,” said Harry after a moment. “How are you?”

Louis stared at him. Was he… was he actually trying to talk to him? Hope fluttered in his chest and his heart beat faster. 

“Um, good,” said Louis, internally wincing because it could be farther from the truth. “How about you?”

“Good,” said Harry after a weighty pause. “Um, you’re still teaching right?”

Louis nodded before shaking his head, “Well yes, but not currently. I’m on a break for this coming semester.”

Harry raised an eyebrow but didn’t pry. Maybe he could sense the flighty panic in his Louis’ response and in the way he curled into himself. “Interesting. So Zayn’s the only one working?”

Louis winced and Harry’s eyes widened. “Not to mean… Shit, I swear I didn’t mean it like that.” He clasped his ring adorned fingers and slumped. “I didn’t mean to be a dick.”

“It’s okay,” said Louis quietly. He knew what it looked like. Zayn was the one providing for them, paying most of the rent and making the income. Louis had savings which he tried to use to pay his due share but Zayn brushed it off, telling him he needed those savings. He was only paying about a fourth of the rent and it made him feel like shit. “It’s temporary,” he said after a moment, more of a reassurance to himself rather than Harry. 

Harry ran a hand through his hair and Louis tried not to follow the movement. Everything felt anew- his big hands, his soft curls, and his green eyes… it was almost too much to bear. “I’m sure it is,” he said, nearly insisting it. “I didn’t mean to sound judgemental, I swear.” He looked so genuine and eager for Louis to understand, which he did.

Louis nodded to show that he did which seemed to appease Harry. He cleared his throat, wondering how long Niall was going to force this to go along. “So are you working on an album?”
Peculiarly enough, Harry seemed to shut down a bit with the question. “Uh, yeah, working on it.” He didn’t elaborate. 

Louis tried to think of something else to ask, not ready to let this opportunity to talk to Harry fly by, but when he glanced at him, he was frowning, eyes fixed on a point behind Louis. He tried to turn to see what he was staring at but then a hand clamped over his shoulder. He flinched. 

His first thought was Zayn but Zayn never grabbed his shoulder this hard. 

“Hey gorgeous,” slurred an unfamiliar voice. Louis turned to see a very tipsy man, blonde shaggy hair and leering brown eyes greedily looking over his body. What the fuck? 

“Um,” he said, scooting away nervously. He was swaying dangerously, leaning into the booth, looking close to tipping over and collapsing onto Louis. 

“Wanna dance?” he asked. At the last consonant of the word “dance”, a glob of spit was released from his mouth, hitting the table. Louis shuddered. 

“No thanks,” said Louis, scooting farther away, but the hand pulled him back. 

“Oh, don’t be dull,” said the guy, tightening his grip and leaning close enough for Louis to catch the putrid and strong smell of alcohol from his mouth. “Just one dance and I bet I can change your mind.” He leered at him. 

“Yeah, no thanks,” said Louis, a bit more forcefully. He pried the stranger’s fingers from his shoulder and winced as he immediately grabbed onto Louis’ hand instead and squeezed hard. “Let go," he said. 

“Aw baby don’t be like that,” he replied, not letting go. Louis opened his mouth to tell him off but was interrupted by Harry. 

“He said no asshole,” said Harry forcefully and when Louis looked over he was glaring heatedly. “You aren’t that drunk that you can’t comprehend basic English. Now fuck off before we call security.” 

The stranger let go of Louis finally. He winced as the feeling came back into his numb fingers. He hadn’t realized how harsh his grip was until he let go. 

“Alright jeez, you’re not that hot anyway,” he grumbled. Louis froze. It shouldn’t have mattered. The guy was an asshole and incredibly drunk and probably couldn’t even see Louis properly enough to make an accurate judgement. It still stung. 

“Asshole,” said Harry as the stranger stumbled away. His eyes met Louis’ and he seemed almost concerned for a second, an intensity in his green eyes. “Sorry about that.”

“It’s okay. Thanks though,” said Louis, feeling uncomfortable. He couldn’t believe that just happened. Or that Harry actually defended him. 

Okay that wasn’t fair. Of course Harry defended him. He was kind and a decent human being. Louis should not let the gesture give him butterflies but he felt fluttery nonetheless. He was not going to survive this night. 

“Everything okay?” asked Niall out of nowhere. Louis almost cried out in relief. Niall was back from the “bathroom”. He was also staring at Louis which meant he noticed the prior fiasco.

“Y’alright?” He nodded. 

“Where’s the drinks?” asked Harry with an edge to his voice. Louis looked between them, quietly noticing the palpable tension. It was strange. Harry and Niall had never fought or argued (other than meaningless banter) in all Louis’ time of knowing both of them. Louis didn’t even think Niall was capable of pissing anyone off but Harry looked pretty pissed off right then. 

“Oops,” said Niall, meeting Harry’s gaze straight on. Hi, thinks Louis, before wincing. Pathetic. 

He tried not to itch his ‘oops’ tattoo and instead cleared his throat, “I’ll get the drinks.” 

“Thanks Louis,” said Niall, shooting him an easy grin. Harry was still glaring, but not at Louis which was nice. 

“Okay then,” said Louis awkwardly. He walked away, hoping everything would work out between the two of them. It was too weird seeing them like that. Too wrong. 

-

Harry was screwed. 

He had thought everything was going fine at first before Liam and Zayn disappeared to go dance and snog like a couple of teenagers and Niall ditched them in some cruel plot to make him and Louis talk. Harry really wanted to yell at him. 

Especially because he was alone at a booth with Louis looking like he did. Soft, mussed hair, bright blue eyes, and his collarbone and a flash of his chest tattoo peeking out from above his shirt. Beautiful. Harry was screwed and he hadn’t even gotten a good look of him in those jeans yet. It was attraction. He knew it. It made sense. Louis was exactly his type and they dated for so long and Harry knew what he looked like naked so obviously he was affected, but it was just because he was familiar. Not because of anything else. 

He was so screwed. 

Somehow, he managed to stay calm and have a normal conversation with him. He had been surprised by how easy it was after weeks of anticipating awkwardness and hidden resentment but Louis seemed indifferent to him. 

And then there was that moment where Louis had looked insecure of all things after that random dickhead insulted his looks (which what the fuck?) He was devastatingly drunk and obviously trying to rebuild his pride so he tried to feel better about his own sorry ass by blatantly lying but Louis had looked like he believed him- and that was the strangest and most heart-wrenching thing Harry had ever seen. And in that moment he had wanted to punch that guy, right in the jaw or nose, and Harry never wanted to punch anyone ever

And the fact that the asshole had tried to pull Louis in front of him gave Harry an overwhelming prickling feeling in his chest and a tightening in his jaw. He didn’t know where it came from- that irrational, red vision jealousy he had suddenly experienced so intensely that he wanted to stand up and sit down right next to Louis. Which was stupid. 

Harry knew he was pathetic when he was jealous, he just didn’t know why he was jealous in the first place. Or maybe he wasn’t, he was just mad at the audacity of that dickhead to grab a random stranger and then have the nerve to ignore their blatant refusal and continue their propositioning. That was it. 

Not because the thought of Louis dancingkissingdating any other guy ignited anger within him. No. Because obviously Louis would be dancingkissingdating people. He had the right to. He was young, beautiful, funny, charming, and kind and obviously people would want him and obviously he’d want one of them too and obviously they’d date and obviously one day he’d get married to someone-

“H, mate, are you okay?” Harry snapped back to reality, catching Liam’s confused gaze. 

“Yeah, of course,” said Harry quickly, maybe a little too quickly. Wanna dance? Aw baby, don't be like that. 

“You sure? You were just glaring at your shoes,” said Liam skeptically. 

Harry glanced down at his boots before looking back up. He forced a smile, “Just thinking.”

“Okayyy,” said Liam. They were standing out front, with nothing but the noisy and crowded pub behind them and the wide, open, empty streets in front of them. 

Zayn, Niall, and Louis were standing a little ways away, laughing about something. Harry didn’t know how he felt about Niall and Louis easily getting along. Once Zayn and Liam had returned with swollen lips and messed up hair, they set up beer pong which Harry passed on. Zayn and Louis versus Liam and Niall. The former completely destroyed the latter though Liam and Niall gave it their all. Then Zayn and Liam went against Niall and Louis and it was a close game but Zayn and Liam won by a hair since Niall got so drunk, he tripped and his shot veered too far left. This led to Niall dramatically falling to his knees and cursing the universe while Louis berated him jokingly. 

Jokingly. They were joking together. They were acting like friends. Easy peasy, just like that, only one night and ‘Neil’ and ‘Lewis’ were back like nothing had ever happened. 

Harry wasn’t bitter, he wasn’t. 

After another minute, the others wandered over and Zayn and Liam hugged tightly before kissing chastely. “This was a lot of fun guys, thanks for inviting us out,” said Zayn. “We should do it again sometime.”

“Harry has a gig in two weeks,” said Niall which… what the fuck! He didn’t want Louis to come to his gig! Especially when half the songs on his setlist were about him. 

Zayn frowned before giving Harry an apologetic look, “Shit, I’ve been wanting to go to one of your gigs but we’ll be out of town.”

“Out of town?” asked Liam. 

“Yeah, it’s Lou’s sister’s birthday and we’re heading out to Donny,” said Zayn casually. Harry tensed. He knew it immediately. Fizzy. It was Fizzy’s birthday. 

He then realized it was close to four years since the first time he ever went to meet Louis’ family. Four years since Louis moved into his apartment. Four years since… 

He looked at Louis only to find him already looking back. Harry could see in his eyes that Louis was thinking the same thing. He felt a lump in his stomach and a familiar feeling of regret bubbling up inside him. In that split second he wondered many things: how many times Louis had brought Zayn to his house, how Louis’ sisters were, how the young twins who had not even been 1 years old when everything fell apart were, he wondered how much he had missed, and most of all he wondered if everything had to end like it did.  

No. He couldn’t go down that road. Never again. Louis broke up with him. Louis hadn’t loved him as much as Harry loved him. That’s it. The end of the story. The end. 

He cleared his throat, “Well have fun on your… trip.” 

“Thanks,” said Zayn. He slid an arm around Louis’ shoulders and Harry couldn’t help but track the movement. “We’ll see you guys soon. I’ll text you later Li.”

“Okay love,” said Liam, looking dopey. “Bye Z. Bye Lou.”

“Bye guys,” said Louis softly. He was leaning into Zayn and no, that didn’t do anything to Harry. Don’t be ridiculous. 

“Bye lads,” said Niall happily. “See ya soon.”

“Yeah bye,” said Harry quickly. It was over. He was free. He didn’t have to see Louis’ golden tanned skin and gorgeous blue eyes and he didn’t have to fight the urge to talk to him about things he shouldn’t be talking about after all this time. 

He was so so screwed. 

-

 

Chapter Text

August 2017

“Louis, where’s the remote?!” yelled a very panicked Zayn. 

Louis rolled his eyes, “Why would I know!?”

“Because you spent all of yesterday watching Queer Eye without me and texting Fizzy your reactions,” yelled Zayn. “Even though you promised we’d watch it together!” Oops. Zayn was right about that but Louis just couldn’t resist. “Where the fuck did you leave it? They’ll be here in five minutes!”

“I don’t know!” replied Louis, exasperated. He entered the living room where Zayn was digging through random shit on their messy table. “Jesus, I didn’t realize how bad it was.”

Zayn shot him a look, “We’re never putting anything on this table again.” Then he started grabbing stuff, “I’m putting this in your room!”

“What the fuck!?” complained Louis but Zayn was already making runs to his room to dump stuff. He followed his friend, pouting petulantly. “This is ridiculous.”

“Shut up, this is going to be fun,” said Zayn, clenching his fists and looking around nervously. “You ordered the pizza?”

“Yeah,” said Louis, deciding to be a good person and assist Zayn in carrying all their junk and dumping it in his empty room. “Jesus christ, who knew it’d be a bad idea for two messy-as-fuck people to move in together?”

“Yeah, not like we’re best mates or anything- it’s all about being organizationally compatible,” mocked Zayn. 

Louis grinned, dropping another load onto his now filled bed. It was weird seeing so much stuff in his usually bare room. “Obviously.” 

Zayn opened his mouth to comment but got distracted and let out a relieved sigh, “Shit, there’s the remote!” He grabbed it from underneath a canvas which he picked up right after, studying it thoughtfully. “I never finished this landscape, but now that I’m looking at it, it’s not as shitty as I thought.”

“Literally nothing you’ve ever done is shitty, but okay,” said Louis, rolling his eyes again. He crossed his arms and that’s when it hit him. His arms were bare!

And of course that’s when the doorbell rang. 

“Fuck,” cursed Zayn. He shoved the canvas at Louis as well as an assortment of other coffee-table-things: a set of watercolors, a broken charger, one of Louis’ jackets, a peculiar hat that Louis had never seen before, a pack of cigarettes, and a giant scented candle that Calvin had given Louis on his birthday two years ago mostly as a joke because it smelled like new car- a smell Louis was weirdly into- don’t judge!

“My arms,” hissed Louis, scrambling to keep hold of all the items. 

Zayn shrugged off the Sally’s sweatshirt he was wearing and tossed onto Louis’ precarious pile, tipping it dangerously. Louis glared at him. “Put it on and hide the shit,” was Zayn’s wide-eyed reply. “I’ll get the door.”

On cue, the doorbell rang again. 

Louis glared at Zayn again before rushing to his room, nearly tripping over the pair of duck slippers that Zayn had dropped there a few minutes ago- a gift from his sister and another joke. Now that he thought about it, they had a lot of random shit given to one of both of them as stupid jokes. Were he and Zayn “those friends”- the ones you gave crappy gifts as jokes? A thought for another time. 

He slid on the sweatshirt and smoothed out his hair, just in time since voices carried over from the living room. He took a deep breath. A lad’s night with Liam, Niall, and Harry- pizza, a movie, and drinks. No big deal, right? 

“Hey Louis,” said Niall immediately as he stepped into the living room. Louis smiled at him and Niall beamed back. 

“Hey guys,” said Louis. 

Liam and Zayn were holding hands and whispering to each other like the lovebirds they were. Niall rolled his eyes and gestured to them like, Ugh, look at them. And Harry. He was wearing a worn-out Fleetwood Mac shirt and basketball shorts- comfort clothes except he still looked as handsome as ever. Harry looked up at him and their eyes met. Blue met green. They both looked away. Louis shivered. 

“What movie are we watching?” asked Niall, plopping down onto one of their armchairs. 

“We haven’t picked one out specially, we wanted to wait till you guys came to decide,” said Zayn, handing the remote to an eager Niall. “We have DVDs too.” 

Niall followed Zayn to their DVD cabinet and clapped his hands together, “Okay mates, what’re we in the mood for? Marvel? DC? Romcom?”

“That’s 90% of our movies,” admitted Zayn. “I want an action movie.”

"Romcom,” said Harry immediately, making Louis jump. He hadn’t expected him to chime in and now he felt nervous and fluttery. And it had been less than five minutes. 

“Vote?” suggested Liam. They voted. Louis and Niall also picked rom-com which brought Louis back to years before when the three of them would stay up and marathon Harry’s romcom collection until the early hours of the morning. He shuddered. 

Liam and Zayn pouted but since romcom won, they got to pick the actual movie. They picked Notting Hill which surprised Louis, having watched it with Zayn before and having to endure his complaints and eyerolls throughout the whole movie. However when Liam said it was one of his favorites, Louis immediately understood. Zayn was gone for this boy, he realized. It didn’t make him as sad as it used to. 

Louis also didn’t have to see Harry’s reaction to their choice to know he was pleased. Harry loved that movie. Louis did his best to block out memories of him sitting on Harry’s lap, Harry squeezing him around the middle and whispering into Louis’ ear, “I’m just a boy standing in front of another boy, asking him to love me.” 

If only it were that simple. 

They took their seats. Louis joining Zayn and Liam on the couch while Niall and Harry got the armchairs. Louis pulled his legs onto the seat cushion, wrapping his arms around them and hooking his chin over his knees. Zayn patted his shoulder before leaning back to rest his head on Liam’s shoulder. Liam pressed an almost absent-minded kiss on Zayn’s temple before un-pausing the movie. The casual tenderness of the display tore at Louis’ heartstrings. 

The doorbell rang fifteen minutes into the movie and Louis jumped at the opportunity, “I’ll get it.” 

“Thanks Lou,”called Zayn as Louis rushed to the foyer. His heart was racing and he felt overheated- jesus fucking christ. He opened the door, fumbling with his wallet. 

“Mr. Tomlinson?” 

Louis froze, looking up. Staring back at him and holding two pizza boxes was Abby Walters, one of his former students. 

“Oh shit, Abby!” said Louis stunned. He froze as he realized he just cursed in front of said former student. Whoops. 

Abby smirked, “Lucky thing we’re not in school right now Mr. T, not that it would have stopped you anyway.” Louis grinned, not bothered with the very accurate tease- it was true he had accidentally cursed in class way too many times. Thankfully, none of his students ratted him out. 

“What a nice surprise, how are you Walters?” asked Louis, leaning against the doorframe. “You’re on break, yeah? How’s LAMDA?” LAMDA. London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, aka one of the best acting schools in the entire country. Louis had been so proud when Abby had showed up at his classroom early morning, tears streaming down her face, chanting, “I got in, I got in, I got in!” 

Abby perked up at the mention of her school, “It’s absolutely incredible! I’m so lucky that I get to go to school there and I love every minute of it. It’s challenging but in a good way. I’m learning so much,” she gushed. 

“I bet,” said Louis, smiling fondly. “And what are you up to this summer? Just hanging around?”

“I’m taking some summer classes, staying with a friend who has a flat nearby,” said Abby. “It’s been nice. What about you Mr. T?”

Louis shrugged, “Oh you know, causing mayhem and cruising through adulthood as always. It’s good to see you though.”
“Definitely,” said Abby. “I know I’ve said it a million times but I would never be where I am today if it wasn’t for you.”

Louis’ heart filled with warmth. “Aw Abby, I appreciate that but you got where you were because you’re fucking talented.” He emphasized “fucking” just to see Abby roll her eyes. It was true though, she was one of the most talented students Louis had ever taught and he had no doubt he’d be seeing her in big-name movies in the near future. And he’d be first in line to see it when it came out, probably with Zayn. They’d love it and Louis would feel pride in his former student for coming so far. He’d turn to Zayn and say, “This is why I became a teacher. This is why.” 

Abby was shaking her head, “I never would have even considered going into drama if it wasn’t for you. You changed my life Mr. T, and I’ll never forget it. Because of you I found a second home, a home in the theater, acting and pouring my heart out to give other people joy. You gave me that and I will always be grateful.” 

Louis was speechless. “Well jesus, I honestly don’t know how to respond to that.” 

“You don’t have to,” said Abby. “Just promise me you’ll never stop teaching. My sister, she’s going into 11th year, told me you were on a leave of absence at school- I hope everything’s alright, but I also hope you come back as soon as possible. My sister is dying to have you next year and I know there’s plenty of other kids who need a Tomlinson intervention.” 

Louis cracked a smile. He felt amazed. He knew he had students that loved and respected him but it was different to see them years later, having moved on from 6th form and well into their own university lives but still speaking praisingly about his class and the impact he had on them. “I’ll be back soon,” he said honestly. “I promise.” 

He meant it. 

“Can I have a cuddle?” asked Abby, quoting a common Louis phrase. Louis did his best to oblige with the two pizza boxes in their way. 

“Jesus, I’m a crappy teacher. I just let you stand there holding those boxes for the past five minutes. Why didn’t you say something Walters!” Abby laughed as Louis finally took the boxes from her. He paid her (leaving behind a hefty tip, well deserved.) “Well I hope your second year goes just as wonderfully. It was really great to see you Abby.”

“You too Mr. T,” said Abby. 

“Don’t forget me when you become a star,” teased Louis, hand on the door. 

“Never,” said Abby very solemnly. “Thanks for everything Mr. T.”

“Thanks for the pizza,” said Louis, smiling. 

After a final goodbye, Louis finally closed the door and turned to lean back on it, closing his eyes. He felt light in a way he thought he never would again. 

One thing was for sure, in 4 and a half months when the next semester started, Louis would be there at the front of the classroom teaching a room full of bright-eyed little shits with a whole lot of potential. He smiled. 

“Everything okay?” asked a voice. Louis jumped, swearing. 

He opened his eyes. Niall was staring at him, a little smile on his face. “What the fuck Niall? How long have you been standing there?”
“Not long,” said Niall casually. “Just checking what was taking so long.”

Louis held up the boxes awkwardly, “Pizza’s here now.”

“I see that,” said Niall, chuckling. “That was pretty cool yeah? Seeing one of your former students and seeing what an impact you’ve had on their lives?”

“Yeah,” said Louis quietly, contemplatively. “Definitely.”

Niall didn’t say anything else, but he took one of the boxes (which weren’t heavy but it was still nice) and helped Louis carry them to the living room. “Thanks,” said Louis. 

“No problem Louis,” said Niall. “Or should I say Zayn?” 

Louis blinked, “Huh?” 

Niall nodded to his sweatshirt. Louis looked down, narrowing in on the name embroidered on his chest over his heart: Zayn. “Oh.” 

They set the pizzas down on the table in the kitchen. “Pizza’s here!” yelled Niall as they entered the living room again.  

“Thanks for the announcement,” said Liam dryly. 

Zayn shot him an inquiring look. Louis just smiled back at him. He was very happy, and not even Harry’s presence was breaking through the golden aura he was floating in. 

He thought about how almost a month ago he had been convinced that no one would be worse off if he was gone. That they’d all be better off in comparison. Seeing Abby today made him realize that his perception had been changed. 

Abby wouldn’t have been better off if Louis hadn’t been her teacher- or at least that’s what she said. But it wasn’t even just her. Zayn would be heartbroken if he was gone- Louis knew that. Not to mention he might never have met Liam if not for Louis (when Louis heard the story in full, he had nagged Zayn to promise that they’d credit him for getting them together at their wedding). His sisters and brother would be heartbroken if he was gone. So would his dad and Dan. And Calvin. And Olli and Stan. And Perrie and Dani and Annie. 

Louis smiled as Niall burst out into uncontrollable laughter, face turning red as he guffawed. Niall’s laugh was still one of the best sounds in the world. He thought maybe Niall would be sad if he was gone too. Especially now that reigniting their friendship seemed to be in the cards for them. 

He glanced at where Harry was eating a slice of pizza, tongue obscenely sticking out before he took a bite and swallowing, adam’s apple bobbing… 

Maybe it wasn’t too much to say that Harry would at least be upset if he was gone… 

Harry looked up and their eyes met. Louis’ face burned. 

Because oh right, he was still in love with his ex and the flatmate to his best friend’s boyfriend and that was still a major complication in his life even if it had slipped his mind for the past ten minutes. 

Back to reality. 

-

“Hey H,” said Malcolm, grinning at him. Harry smiled back as Malcolm took a seat across from him at their usual table at their usual cafe. Malcolm was impeccably dressed for the summertime in a matching shirt and shorts outfit from Burberry- compliments of a modelling gig. “It’s been ages .”

“Yeah, sorry about that,” said Harry, grimacing. “Life’s been… a little crazy.”

Malcolm raised an eyebrow, “Oh? Any gossip?”

Oh nothing, just that Liam’s boyfriend’s flatmate is Louis fucking Tomlinson and I have to act like a normal human being around him. 

“Uh, not really,” he said absently. “What’s new with you?” 

“I’ve been a busy bee too, been having a lot of shoots. ‘M having another one tomorrow,” said Malcolm, rolling his eyes. “With Kendall.”

There it is again. What the fuck did Kendall do anyway wondered Harry. “Rough,” was what he actually said, sympathy leaking out of his voice. “Listen… Actually, there has been a development in my life…” He took a sip of the lemonade he had ordered, biting his lip. “I finally met Zayn’s flatmate.” 

“The one Liam wanted to set you up with?” asked Malcolm, voice suddenly irritated and cold. “Is he a prick like I guessed?” 

Harry blinked. “Um.”

Malcolm’s eyes widened, “Fuck you actually like him? Seriously!?”

Harry fidgeted with his rings, “Not exactly. I kind of already know him?”

The look on Malcolm’s face was a mixture of confusion and intrigue, “Who?”

He looked at his plate, ducking his head, before he blurted it out really fast, “Louis.”

For a second there was silence, before it was disrupted with a clatter as a utensil hit the table. Harry winced, looking up. Malcolm was staring at him, mouth dropped open and eyes wide. His hand was still poised as if he were taking a bite. “What the fuck?”

Harry shrugged, feeling a little stupid. 

Malcolm was still staring at him. Harry resisted the urge to squirm. He didn’t know how Malcolm was going to react and it felt like it was all up in the air; unpredictable. “Yeah?” 

He was still staring, before finally he blinked. Mouth shutting. He closed his eyes and lifted his hands. Then he opened his mouth again and laughed. 

Harry froze, confused, but Malcolm was still laughing, hand gripping the table to support himself. “That’s fucking hilarious! Good one H, I have to admit you almost had me there.”

Harry chuckled uneasily, “Actually Mal, I wasn’t joking.” He felt almost defensive which was weird. Technically Malcolm's reaction was slightly justified as it was a strange, very unbelievable situation. It still bothered Harry for some reason. 

“What?”

“I wasn’t joking,” he repeated firmly. “Louis is Zayn’s flatmate. I’ve seen him four times in the past few weeks already.” 

Malcolm gaped and Harry sighed. He needed a drink. 

“What the fuck?” said Malcolm after another minute of stunned silence. “What the actual fuck?”

“I know right,” said Harry, dragging his hands through his hair, immediately regretting it because his hair had looked really good that morning. “Unexpected. I mean, what are the chances?” 

“Jesus H, you really have the worst luck,” said Malcolm. “As if you needed that asshole back in your life.” Harry frowned. 

It wasn’t anything new, Malcolm had taken his best-friend-hates-your-ex-more-than-you role very seriously, right from the start. But hearing it now, after Harry had talked to Louis multiple times, was weird. Especially because Louis was everything but an asshole through all of these meetings. 

“I can’t believe this,” continued Malcolm when Harry didn’t respond. “I feel so sorry for you Haz, honestly.” 

Haz? “It’s not that bad,” said Harry honestly. 

Malcolm stared disbelievingly at him, “No need to keep up your be-nice image around me H, you can rant if you want. Trust me, I understand.”

“No, genuinely, it’s not that bad,” insisted Harry. “He’s…” His voice trailed off. 

Malcolm looked skeptical, “He’s what? The dumbass that left you crying for months ?”

Harry flinched, jesus christ. “Thanks Mal.”

“No offense,” said Malcolm quickly. “I just mean that you are the victim here. You don’t have to try to make things work especially after how much hurt he caused you.”

Harry sighed, simultaneously grateful and frustrated with Malcolm. “I get that and I appreciate it Mal, but things are really okay. We have an agreement.”

“Agreement?”

“To get along, to start over, pretend like we never dated, the whole bit,” said Harry, frowning since Malcolm had snorted loudly at the “pretend we never dated” part. “What?”

“No offense again Harry, but burying your history never works. It’s just going to be dug up later at a worse time,” said Malcolm. 

“Good thing there’s nothing to dig up,” said Harry easily. 

“Hmm, okay,” said Malcolm, rolling his eyes which Harry chose to ignore that in favor of changing the topic. 

The rest of lunch passed by pretty quickly and then they were hugging goodbye and making plans to go shopping the following weekend. Harry got into his car and tried not to think too hard about what Malcolm said- about everything coming back to bite them in the butt. 

There’s nothing to bite him though, he thought. He was completely over Louis Tomlinson 100%. 

Plus, Louis might be dating someone. 

He frowned as he thought back to the previous evening when he overheard Zayn talking to Louis. He had tapped Louis on the shoulder and asked him, “So are you and Danny going to that play this Wednesday?” 

“Oh yeah,” said Louis. “We’ll be back by 11-ish, Danny’ll give me a ride.” 

“Great,” said Zayn. “Sounds fun.” 

Harry had tuned out then as Niall remarked to him, “Are you trying to crush that glass H, or are you just really excited to drink water?” 

Harry had blinked and lowered his glass, embarrassed. He hadn’t even realized he had been clenching it in his hand. “Shut the fuck up,” had been the only retort he could come up with in his flustered state.

Niall had just raised an eyebrow, smirking like he knew something Harry didn’t. Harry had scowled at him, remembering that they weren’t exactly on good terms. 

Now Harry sat in his car, thinking who the fuck was Danny? Louis’ boyfriend most likely. For some reason, the thought made him want to kick something and it was really annoying. It’s because he’s dating someone and you’re still single, that’s all. Normal ex feelings. 

It definitely wasn’t the same reason he was really bothered by Louis wearing one of Zayn’s sweatshirts, his name casually printed over the heart. The whole thing was casual, meaning they probably shared clothes all the time. It wasn’t strange. Niall and Harry used to share clothes, mostly by accident. It was a normal friend thing. Especially if those friends live together. And especially of one of those friends was Louis who was notorious for stealing people's clothes. So why did it bother Harry so much? 

Because you’re fucking jealous. 

He sighed, leaning his head against the wheel and closing his eyes. Why. Why would he be jealous of his ex boyfriend who he was most definitely over? 

The answer was clear but Harry wasn’t quite ready to formulate the thought, let alone accept the possibility. 

Seeing Louis last night had been much harder than he ever imagined. He looked so soft in a sweatshirt and sweatpants even though it was right in the heat of summer. His hair was mussed and soft and his bright blue eyes were beautiful as always. He wasn’t wearing socks which meant Harry saw his delicate ankles and couldn’t help but remember wrapping his fingers around them and just holding him. Seeing him grin happily after coming back from getting the pizzas, eyes closed and wrinkling at the corners, tugged at Harry at a way that made him want to bury his head in his pillow and scream at the world. 

Seeing Louis tease Liam and get along with Niall and just fit with Zayn was hard too. Everyone seemed to know how to talk to Louis except for Harry, funny since he was the one who had once known Louis more than anyone else. 

And now he knew barely anything. 

Maybe it was a little bad that Harry wanted that to change as soon as possible. 

-

Chapter Text

August 2017

Dr. Lawrence scrolled on the computer, frowning heavily. Louis fixed his eyes on his lap, fidgeting restlessly. “Louis,” said the doctor, causing him to flinch and drop the random rubber band he had been messing around with. Dr. Lawrence spun around in his chair to meet his eyes. “You’ve lost 18 pounds since I’ve last seen you.”

Louis winced. 

“Is it really that bad?” asked Zayn, looking concerned. Louis could practically see the gears shifting in his head, the plans he was making to force Louis to eat more even though eating made him nauseous. 

“Unfortunately,” said the doctor, still frowning. “Not to mention your iron levels are low. You need to start eating a lot more young man.”

Louis was so upset, he didn’t even roll his eyes like he always did when his doctor called him “young man”. 

“I’ll make sure he does,” said Zayn confidently, confirming Louis’ fears. 

“I’ll do my best,” said Louis, shooting Zayn a look. “By myself.”

Zayn shook his head like no fucking way. 

“Great, I have no doubt between the two of you the issue will be resolved,” said Dr. Lawrence. “Anything else I should know? Are you on any new medication?”

Louis hesitated, suddenly not minding when Zayn answered for him, “Actually, Louis’ therapist wanted us to talk to you about prescribing some anxiety medicine for Louis. Nothing major, more mild- like taking a pill whenever he’s feeling particularly anxious.” 

Dr. Lawrence nodded, “Of course. Do you have the request information?” 

Zayn gave it to him and he went over it, nodding and talking to Zayn about the details as Louis shrunk into his seat. He knew this was supposedly going to be good for him, but it just felt so serious. He was glad Zayn was there to do the talking though. There is no doubt Louis would never have been able to even bring up the topic if it were just him.

He wondered what Dr. Lawrence was thinking. Probably something along the lines of, “Why does this grown-ass adult need another grown-ass adult to talk to me like he’s a fucking child?” Louis was so embarrassed. 

He was still embarrassed two hours later when they were finally done with both of their doctor’s appointments (Zayn had scheduled their right after each other for convenience) and had grabbed takeout to eat at the flat. 

“So,” said Zayn, taking a bite of his pasta. “Are you up for meeting up at Liam’s tonight.” 

Louis grimaced. Zayn had told him about how Liam invited them over for a Marvel marathon at their flat and Zayn had told him that he didn’t have to go, especially because they might end up staying over. “I guess I’ll do it,” said Louis. “I mean, I’ll try. I think it might be good.” 

Zayn frowned, “If you say so. I hope you’re doing this because you want to and not because you feel like you have something to prove.” 

Louis stabbed a piece of chicken, shrugging under Zayn’s intense gaze. 

“Or maybe,” said Zayn knowingly. “You just want to see Harry.” 

The blush gave it away. 

“Lou,” said Zayn and Louis groaned. 

“Don’t you dare judge me,” he whined, falling back to sprawl out on the couch. “You’re happy and in love. Let me wallow!”

Zayn just shook his head, “You’re such an idiot. But I love you anyway. We’re leaving at 4 so be ready.” 

Louis nodded, closing his eyes. “By the way Waliyha called an hour ago when you were in the bathroom and she told me she liked me better than you, so there.” 

“Traitor,” said Zayn. “It’s okay, Lottie likes me better than you anyway.”

Louis snorts, eyes fluttering open, “As if! Tomlinsons are loyal to each other first, sorry Malik.”

“I thought I was an honorary Tomlinson,” said Zayn. “I have a shirt and everything.”

Louis raised an eyebrow, “Your title has been revoked.”

“You can’t do that,” said Zayn scoffing. He flung a pasta noodle at Louis who squawked. He glared and Zayn shrugged. 

“It’s been done,” said Louis firmly, tilting his head up haughtily. “I’m so sorry Z, it’s so difficult to do this to you…except not at all because you deserve it, you bastard.”

Zayn rolled his eyes. “Arsehole.”

“I do have a very nice arsehole,” agreed Louis, words coming out without him thinking too hard about it. Zayn’s jaw dropped open, stunned and disgusted. A second late however, he grinned, brown eyes gleaming. 

“There he is,” he said softly. 

“What?” 

“There’s my best friend,” said Zayn happily. Louis blinked. Huh. 

-

Harry was not looking forward to this night. He had just come back from having lunch with Kasey, whom he hadn’t seen properly in a few months, only to be informed by Liam and Niall that Zayn and Louis were coming over for a Marvel marathon in a few hours… And they were staying the night.. Louis was staying the night. He would be in the same flat as Harry overnight , but for the first time ever, he wouldn’t be in the same bed. 

Okay enough of that. 

Zayn and Louis were set to arrive in about ten minutes. Liam was organizing the queue of movies they were watching (going by release date beginning with Iron Man), Niall was figuring out plans for takeout, and Harry was currently sitting on the couch, questioning all of his life choices. 

He was very annoyed with Liam and Niall for most likely intentionally forgetting to tell him and he took the anger out on the flowers he was aggressively arranging. Yes, flowers. And he definitely did not immediately think of Louis when he saw the sunflowers, nope, absolutely not. Liam came back into the kitchen right as the doorbell rang. He stopped and then immediately walked away. Harry rolled his eyes, following after a second. 

Might as well get this over with… 

“Lads,” said Niall happily, opening the door. “Welcome to maison des Payne, Horan, et Styles.” 

“Merci,” said Zayn, stepping in, dressed in a gray shirt, leather jacket, and carrying a black duffel. “Hey guys.” Harry tried to be subtle about craning his neck to see Louis behind him. When he did, he nearly gasped. 

“Hey babe,” said Liam, pulling Zayn into a quick kiss and momentarily distracting Harry from his racing heart. He averted his eyes from Louis and stared at his shoes. Holy shit. 

“Hey Harry,” said Zayn. Harry forced a smile, nodding his hello. Holy. Shit. 

He didn’t look at Louis again, he couldn’t. Not when he had seen what he was wearig. Holy. Fucking. Shit. Because Louis was wearing his sweater. As in, Harry’s sweater. 

Harry’s sweater!!

An old, oversized red one that Harry had thought he had misplaced last year (he even spent a good hour looking for it to no avail) except apparently it was with Louis this whole time. And now he was wearing it. In front of Harry. And looking so small and soft and pretty. This was definitely not fair. 

He realized that Louis had said something. Specifically, that he was staring at Harry, looking expectant as was Niall, Liam, and Zayn. 

“Hi Louis,” he said after a beat, assuming he had said hello. Somehow, he managed not to stumble over “Louis”- that would have been embarrassing. He then realized he must’ve missed Louis saying his name. He ignored the way his heart immediately started pounding at the thought of his name coming out of those lips. 

“This is going to be fun,” said Niall, rubbing his hands together. “It’s been ages since I’ve rewatched any of these movies.”

“We’re starting with Ironman first,” said Liam, gesturing to where the TV was already set up, Robert Downey Jr staring them in the face. “Then we’ll go by release dates for the rest and see how it goes.” 

Harry isn’t the biggest Marvel fan, but he knew the basics, having been dragged to far too many premieres of the newest Avengers of whatever else was currently out. That’s what happens when you live with Niall Horan, and even worse, Liam Payne. 

“I ordered Chinese by the way!” announced Niall. “And a pizza, so we have options.” He was grinning. Harry was beginning to think he was the only one who felt a tension between the two groups. Scratch that, he was definitely the only one. 

Except maybe Louis. It hadn’t been long, but from what Harry had seen, Louis seemed to avoid Harry’s eyes just as much as Harry did his. He tried not to wonder whether Louis was aware he was currently dressed in one of Harry’s sweaters. He probably had no idea. Just like he had no idea what effect it was having on him. 

“Cheers,” said Louis, speaking up. Harry resisted the shiver he feels from his raspy voice. 

Conversation stilled for some minutes as everyone got comfortable in the living room. They had a large couch and then a loveseat for seating and when Liam and Zayn sat down on the loveseat, Harry realized he was stuck on a couch with Niall, whom he was still unfortunately fighting with, and Louis. He sat on one end (wearing his sweater!) and Niall was in between them but it was still weird. Harry wasn’t used to sitting so far away from Louis when watching movies. 

He didn’t pay too much attention to Ironman, too keyed up from everything. Instead, most of the film was spent trying to pretend that he wasn’t eternally and irrevocably aware of Louis sitting less than six feet away. He half-expected Louis to be talking more. He was always making comments or reacting audibly to whatever was occurring on-screen but today he was completely silent. It shouldn’t bother Harry as much as it did. 

They had agreed on eating dinner after the trilogy ended and to his surprise, Niall volunteered them to set everything up when the food finally arrived. 

He followed Niall to the kitchen nonetheless, dreading the inevitable awkwardness. As soon as they were both confined to the kitchen, Niall spun around, fixing Harry with a serious look. “Look H, I’m sick of fighting.”

“So am I,” admitted Harry, crossing his arms. He hadn’t expected being ambushed but he wasn’t opposed to dealing with this now, too tired of the drama of the past few weeks. 

“I’m sorry,” said Niall earnestly. “I’ll keep saying it until you believe it. I really am sorry for not telling you. I should have, you deserved to at least have had some warning. I’m really, really sorry.”

He seemed genuine so Harry sighed, “I forgive you.” He forgave Niall ages ago and it felt good to finally admit it. “I hate fighting with you.” He and Niall hadn’t actually ever seriously fought before this, which made it all the more difficult and annoying. 

“Me too H,” said Niall, before hugging him. Harry hugged back, feeling relieved that he wouldn’t have to avoid stilted conversation in the flat or deal with conflicting feelings. He still didn’t understand what Niall was thinking that one day when Malcolm came over, but he was too tired of not being able to talk to and laugh with his best friend that he was willing to forget it. 

They gather the plates and utensils as well as a bottle of wine (because takeout and wine are a pair no matter what anyone tells you) and bring them out to the living room along with the boxes of takeout. The five of them crowd around the coffee table, sitting on the carpet to avoid getting food on the couch and it was better for having conversations. Harry passed out the forks, shivering as his hand brushed Louis’ while passing one to him. Louis who was still in Harry’s bloody jumper!

Dinner passed on smoothly. They chatted about Ironman, Liam, Zayn, and Niall getting into a heated argument about which Ironman movie was the best which Harry didn’t pay too much attention to. Harry managed to make eye contact with Louis when asking him to pass the salt. He dutifully ignored the small snort Niall let out when Harry stumbled over his words. 

Louis didn’t seem to notice, handing him the salt shaker. 

“Thanks,” he muttered, averting his eyes once again when they catch on the red fabric of that fucking sweater. 

“So Niall, how’s things at the hospital,” asked Zayn. 

“Busy,” commented Niall. “I don’t know what it is about the summer, but there’s so many more people getting injured everyday. It’s kind of a pain.”

“I’m sure it’s more painful for them than you Ni,” said Harry dryly.

Niall stuck his tongue out at him. It felt natural. Better. “Yeah well there have been a lot of births too, so that’s fun.”

“You’re so lucky Niall,” said Louis, causing Harry to stiffen. He really needed to get used to the sound of Louis’ voice again. “Seeing all the newborns.”

Niall grunted, “Yeah, yeah they’re really adorable I guess. It kind of gets ruined when you’re rushing around trying to do a million other things or dealing with naive or aggressive new parents. Some of them really make me doubt their abilities in raising kids in the first place to be honest.” 

Harry bit his lip. Niall complains a lot but Harry knows how much he loves and appreciates all aspects of his job. Harry has listened to him talk about how rewarding it is to see the impact of his hard work and how it helps people. 

“And then there’s fucking Benjamin,” said Niall with disgust. “Life would be so much easier if he failed his exams and was never granted registration to be a nurse.” 

“I still don’t understand what this Ben guy did to you,” admitted Liam. “I never thought that Niall Horan could actually hate anyone to be honest.” Neither did Harry, but that was before Ben. 

“He’s a fucking asshole,” said Niall. “And you’re half right. I only hate two people in this world.” Harry raised his eyebrows, curious. He had no idea who this second person Niall hated was. He wondered if it was anyone he knew. 

“I bet Harry doesn’t hate anyone either,” said Zayn, amused. Harry contemplated for a moment, before shrugging. 

“That’s pretty true,” he said. He really couldn’t think of anyone. He had once genuinely believed he hated Louis. However, looking at him now from a few feet away, with the sleeves of Harry’s jumper covering his hands in adorable little sweater paws as he rubbed his tired eyes, he realized that he could never hate the ex-love of his life. It was physically impossible. He didn’t know how he ever believed he could hate this beautiful boy. “What can I say, I’m a peaceful person.” 

“Louis cannot relate,” said Zayn, smirking. Louis huffed, slapping Zayn’s shoulder. 

“I don’t know what you’re implying,” said Louis sassily. Harry did not react. He didn’t. “I’m very peaceful!” This was the first time he had said entire sentences instead of a few words at a time. Harry had been glancing at him out of the corner of his eye through the entire dinner. He was also very confused by how little Louis seemed to be eating. It was Chinese- Louis loved Chinese, or at least he used to. Maybe he didn’t anymore, thought Harry. Maybe it’s just one more way he doesn’t know him anymore.

Zayn scoffed, pulling Harry out of his own thoughts. “You literally announce you hate someone all the time.” 

“Lies!” exclaimed Louis, eyes wide. Harry can’t stop the smile from breaking out on his face. “I haven’t said I hate someone in ages Zaynie.” Zaynie. 

“You literally said you hated that one guy at the cafe when we were picking up food this morning,” said Zayn, unimpressed. “Remember, because he insinuated that you were short even though you are.”

Louis slapped his arm again, looking adorably offended. “'m 5’9, asshole!” Which- well Harry definitely knew that was not true, unless Louis somehow grew over the past two years. 

“Bullshit,” said Liam. Louis glared at him and Harry tried to stifle his fondness. This was familiar to him. Even after all this time, Louis still pretended to hate being called small or short but Harry knew the truth. 

“Don’t forget that we literally went to the doctor’s office this morning. I was there when that medical assistance measured you,” said Zayn. “You’re 5-” 

Louis clamped a hand over Zayn’s face, “No need to expose me.”

“So you admit you’re not 5’9,” said Niall, raising an eyebrow. 

“The only thing I admit is that I hate Zayn,” declared Louis.

Zayn rolled his eyes, “Whatever you say babe.” Harry frowned. But not because Zayn called Louis ‘babe’. Nope. 

“Hey, how was your guys’ trip to Donny a few weeks ago?” asked Niall, randomly changing the topic. They all went along with it nonetheless. 

“It was a nice time,” said Zayn, nodding. “We hung out with some friends and Louis’ family. Fizzy turned 17 and the party was fun.” He grinned smugly. “I may have interrogated her boyfriend. The kid looked a little scared for the rest of the night.” He looked really proud of it too. 

Niall laughed, but Harry deflated. Hearing Zayn casually mention something like that brought back a memory of when he promised Fizzy and Lottie that he would have a talk with any of the boys lining up to ask them out. They had giggled, Lottie teasing him by saying he wouldn’t hurt a fly. 

“Well yeah,” he had agreed, arm slung over Louis’ shoulder. “But they don’t have to know that!” Louis had elbowed him after that, fondly calling him an idiot. 

Obviously, he never kept that promise. Never had the chance to. 

“Poor boy already had to deal with the tough treatment from me and Dad, and Lottie a few times too,” said Louis sympathetically. His mouth pulls into a smirk and the look of mischief on his face was so familiar, it hurt. “Liam knows how intimidating Lottie can be in that regard.” 

Liam grimaced and Zayn cackled, patting his shoulder. 

“What about your mum?” asked Niall. “Jay definitely seems to be the type to mess around with any boys brought around.”

Harry frowned. He wanted to say that no, Jay wouldn’t have participated and that she wasn’t the type to “interrogate” new boyfriends. She was warm and inviting to everyone, especially to anyone that made her kids feel happy. He knew that from experience. He glanced at Louis, sure he would refute the claim as well, only to see him blink rapidly, blue eyes watering. 

Harry froze, in shock. Louis stood up from the floor abruptly, a single tear rolling down his cheek. “I- sorry,” he choked out, stumbling back. He turned and fled to the kitchen. Zayn cursed before standing up and following, leaving behind a stunned Harry, Niall, and Liam.

Or maybe it was just Harry and Niall who were stunned because Liam just looked sad and regretful. “Did you have to mention her Niall?” 

“What?” asked Niall. “What just happened?”

Harry was confused and distressed. The sight of Louis crying was so alien to him yet it was just as difficult as it had always been. Some things never changed he supposed. He felt a desperate urge to go after Louis and check on him even though that wasn’t his job. Years ago, when Louis cried, he would hide his face in Harry’s chest and let himself be held until he calmed down. Harry would whisper soft, gentle words into his ear and rock their bodies back and forth. 

“You mentioned his mum,” said Liam, as if that cleared things up. 

“Yeah?” prompted Niall, looking bewildered. “He loves talking about his family, especially his mum.”

Liam stared at him in disbelief and maybe a little bit of disappointment, before his face suddenly transformed as if a realization just dawned on him. “Oh shit,” he said, eyes wide. “You guys don’t know, do you?”

“Know what?” asked Harry, exchanging a look with Niall. The anticipation was clawing at his insides. He had no idea what the fuck was going. “What is it Li?” 

Harry should’ve expected something this bad when he saw the way Liam was looking at both of them with a mixture of pity and remorse. Niall seemed to sense bad news as well, based on the way his face was paling. However, the knowledge that he wasn’t going to like whatever it was that was about to come out of Liam’s mouth, did not make it any easier to grasp. Not at all. 

“His mum,” said Liam gently. Harry’s heart seized. “She passed away last December.” 

-

Chapter Text

August 2017- continued from previous chapter

“Okay so what rooming arrangements did we decide on?” asked Liam, after pausing Avengers: Age of Ultron. Harry winced at the abrupt question, clearly made in aim of ending the awkward tension in the room that had been hovering since dinnertime.

He had tried and failed to keep his attention off of Louis, knowing it would just make him more uncomfortable after everything. He couldn’t help himself howevers, eyes always drifting to latch onto him subconsciously. Louis’ eyes were still red and watery even all these hours later, and he sat hunched into himself, leaning on Zayn’s shoulder. Harry had easily given up his spot on the couch to sit with Liam, leaving Niall to scoot over and Zayn to sit with Louis. 

They didn’t talk about the elephant in the room and when Zayn and Louis had finally returned, they had just continued with the next movie as if nothing happened. 

But something did happen. Something was revealed more like it, and the earth-shattering effect of it was still prevalent in Harry’s mind. He couldn’t believe it. Jay- beautiful, kind, and fierce Jay… was dead. Taken by cancer and leaving behind seven children. She was gone. She had been gone for months and Harry had no idea. 

The ignorant bliss he had been living in was completely destroyed. 

The woman he once considered his second mother had passed away and he had no knowledge of it. 

He couldn’t believe it. 

Mostly, he couldn’t believe Louis was dealing with something so horrible and he hadn’t realized. There was no way he would have been able to realize unless he could read minds, but Harry still felt an immeasurable guilt because of it. Louis loved his mother more than anything but she was cruelly ripped away from the world way too soon. 

Harry couldn’t lie and say that he didn’t shed a few tears after Liam broke the news. Jay had always been important to him. Even though he hadn’t seen her in nearly three years, he still felt the weight of the truth just as heavily as he would have had he never stopped being part of her life. She was gone. Fuck. 

The realization kept striking him over and over as he sat on the couch, hands clenched and mind spinning. He thought about Gemma. And his mum. Both who would be heartbroken to hear the news. Anne especially had become good friends with Jay through their sons’ relationship, only to have to take sides in the breakup. Harry realized with great sadness, that the breakup didn’t just break Louis and him apart. It broke apart two very close families. 

The worst part was that Harry hadn’t been there when it happened. Not that he would want to- he found it months after the tragedy and that was hard enough, he couldn’t imagine living through it. But Louis went through all that pain and heartbreak without him and thinking of him so broken and devastated crumbled all of the remaining pieces of his shattered heart. If things were different, he would have been there, mourning and aching along with Louis. It’s so terribly awful, yet they’d be together, dealing with everything together. 

And now, they couldn’t be farther apart. Louis had been suffering for months, he could already tell. The bags under his eyes, the paleness of his skin, the unhappy tint to his normally exceptionally bright eyes- it all seemed so obvious in hindsight. But Harry had no idea what he was going through until today. And now he had been blindsided with the truth himself, and he didn’t know how to deal with it. 

How can you mourn someone who’s been gone for months but for you, it’s only been a few hours? How can you mourn someone you’ve only seen in memories for the past few years? The answers to these questions were too far to grasp. And now Harry was left scrambling. 

He wanted to scream. He wanted to punch something- get out his gloves and hit the punching bag at the gym over and over until he could feel anything other than this mind-numbing sadness and shock. He wanted to stand up, pull Louis into his arms, and then cry. 

But he couldn’t do any of these things. So he kept it inside, and tried to focus on the movie. 

Needless to say, Harry could not tell you anything about the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, and he was unbelievably relieved when Liam suggested they turn in. 

“If Niall doesn’t mind, Louis and I can share his bed- I feel like it’d be a lot easier,” said Zayn casually. 

Niall began a nod but Louis cleared his throat, “It’s okay Zayn. You can stay with Liam. I can sleep on the couch if that’s alright.” 

No, thinks Harry. He couldn’t bear the idea of Louis sleeping out on the couch all alone after the night he had. He deserved not to be alone. 

As if reading his mind, Niall piped up, “No mate, you can bunk with me. I don’t mind.” Wait, what? 

Louis looked doubtful, “Are you sure?” 

“Of course Lou,” said Niall. Lou! Harry suddenly felt very defensive. He wanted to object but he didn’t know why. The thought of Louis sharing a bed with Niall bothered him even though it was better than Louis sleeping on the couch alone. 

You want him to sleep in a bed with you. Harry exhaled deeply as the realization settled in him. He did. Fuck, he did, didn’t he? He wanted Louis to not be alone, but he specifically wanted Louis to be with him. He wanted to hold him. Cling to him as he attempted to come to terms with Jay’s death. But that was unreasonable. Most predominantly shown by how bunking with Harry wasn’t even considered as an option. Not to mention, Harry shouldn’t even want it to be an option, shit. 

“Sounds good,” said Zayn, glancing at Louis. “Yeah?” 

Louis nodded, “If you really don’t mind.” He looked relieved, only confirming Harry’s intuition that he didn’t want to be alone after everything that happened. He looked so exhausted, but even then, he was the prettiest person Harry had ever seen. Fuck fuck fuck. 

“Okay then,” said Liam. “Maybe we’ll continue the marathon tomorrow? Or another time, we’ll see. Goodnight guys.” 

“Goodnight,” echoed Zayn, slipping an arm around Liam’s waist before both of them turned to leave the room.  

“Goodnight lads,” said Niall, followed by Louis with a much softer farewell. 

“Sleep tight,” said Harry, turning his head as Louis followed Niall away. Even then he couldn’t deny his desires, and he turned back to watch Louis disappear into the hallway, still wearing that damn sweater. “Sweet dreams.”

-

Louis slowly sat down on the edge of the hospital bed, wincing as he did. After three days of sleeping in the hard, cramped waiting room chairs, his back and leg muscles were sore. He still had a crick in his neck too, preventing him from turning his head to the right. 

“Hey Mama,” said Lottie softly. Her lovely blue eyes were still shining with tears. Louis knew they looked almost identical to his own. 

“Hey loves,” said Jay, gesturing for the two of them to crowd in closer. Louis went in with no hesitation, curling up next to his mother, eyes fluttering shut. The lump in his stomach eased a bit once the familiar scent of lavender and home entered him. He opened his eyes after a moment, meeting his mum’s tired but loving gaze. 

“Darlings,” she said simply and Louis crumbled. Jay held her two eldest children tight as they both cried. Louis clung to his mother like he had when he was younger. The only difference was that he was completely aware of how tight or overwhelming his grip may be. As much as Jay was the strongest person he had ever met, she was also so frail. 

Fading away, he thinks bitterly. And there’s nothing he can do about it. 

The doctor broke the news only a few minutes before. 

“Two days,” he had said solemnly, eyes filled with empathy for the small clan of kin waiting outside in the waiting room. “I’m so sorry.” After his announcement, the room had been filled with stunned and devastated silence. Louis had practically felt every frail individual crumb of hope that he had built up over the past few months, break away and slip into oblivion- one by one. Two days. 

Two fucking days. 48 hours. 2,880 minutes. 172,800 seconds. All slowly slipping away with every breath he took. It was currently December 5th 2016. In less than two days, Louis would be saying goodbye to his mother. He’d see her beautiful face for the last time. Listen to her lovely voice for the last time. 

Hear her breathe for the last time. 

It was so horrifying a concept to grasp. In fact, Louis wasn’t even sure he had grasped it. It felt like a fever dream. Time had seemed to stand still for the past few days, the only thing proving that time was slipping past his fingers was during the few times Louis had checked his phone. He had dozens of texts from relatives, friends, and other concerned associates, all asking for updates and news and reminding him to be strong. 

Louis definitely wasn’t being strong. He had cried more in the past two days than he ever thought he was capable of doing. Who knew the human body could release so many tears? Who knew a human could get so sad. 

He hadn’t cried yet after the announcement- or rather, it was more of a cruel pronouncement. A judgement from the universe. I’m sorry, but there is no more hope. Your mother is doomed to die. You have two days. 

“Mama,” sobbed Lottie. It was too much to see his little sister, normally all smiles and fun, so distraught and falling apart while there was nothing he could do about it. Louis buried his head into his mother’s neck, tears falling faster and faster as he slowly broke apart. “Why are they taking you from us?” 

None of them really knew who ‘they’ were, but the gist was received. “I’m sorry babies, I’m so sorry,” whispered Jay, leaning over them as if protecting them from harm- the only harm around was the one currently eating up at his mum’s insides, tearing her apart and taking her away. “I love you so much. So so much.” 

“I love you so much.” The words are torn from his throat, burning as they released into the air. “How can I- how can we go on without you?” 

“Together,” said Jay, kissing his forehead. “You’ll do it together Boo Bear. You can do it day by day, love. I know you’ll be alright.” 

“How can I? How can I continue on without you. I need you,” cried Louis. He was gripping her hand so hard he was sure it must’ve hurt but Jay just squeezed back. 

“You can do it Lou. You’re so incredibly strong. My brave boy,” she said, looking so fond and certain. She was content was the thing. She knew she had to come to terms with her end, and she had. Louis hated it. He hated that he had a time limit. A clock ticking down until the inevitable fall of his heart and soul. 

“What about the twins?” pleaded Lottie, as if pleading could change fate. “They need you. Both sets. Ernie and Doris need you mama, they need their mummy.”

“They have four lovely sisters to be their mummies, and one lovely daddy,” said Jay firmly. “I am not worried for them Lotts, they were born into the best family in this planet. They will never be alone.” 

“You’re leaving us,” whispered Louis. “How are you so okay with this?” 

“My sweet, sweet boy,” said Jay, gazing at him with so much love and affection it made his tears intensify. “I am not okay. I am terrified. I don’t want to go baby, but I must. I am being called by the angels, it’s my turn to fly darling and I cannot fight it. But I’ll still be there for you every day. I’ll be looking down, proud and protecting. Always.”

Lottie let out a choked sound, collapsing further into the bed. It was probably a bad idea, two people laying mostly on top of a weak patient, but Jay didn’t seem to mind. She pulled them closer, rocking them and whispering words of strength to them. “My brave children. My lovely, beautiful darlings. Everything is going to be alright.” 

Louis didn’t have the strength to fight her. He stayed silent for the sake of his sister and when they ultimately were sent away to give the other girls a chance to talk, Louis stayed right outside, unwilling to be any further away from his mum than he needed to. And after the twins finished their turn, the entire family crowded into the room and squeezed onto the small hospital bed, crying and holding each other, trying to keep all the pieces of their broken hearts from spilling onto the cold, linoleum floors. 

Louis stayed silent and did his best to stay strong for his siblings sakes. He cried, but he let his sisters cry harder, clinging to him while sobs racked their bodies. He closed his eyes and pretended this really was a dream. 

But it wasn’t. It was reality. Louis would be motherless in two days and there was nothing he could do to stop it. To stop his perfect, loving mother from fading away all together. 

December 7th 2016. Johannah Poulston Deakin passed away and with her, went the heart and will of her son, Louis William Tomlinson. 

“Louis!” A worried voice wrenched him out of his nightmare. Louis sat up, panting heavily. He could feel the cool tears slowly crawling down his cheeks and the way his whole body was shaking. “Lou, are you okay?” 

Louis’ eyes fluttered open, blinking in the dark. It took him a minute for his eyesight to adjust and then he could see the faint outline of someone right next to him. It was then he realized there were arms around him. He exhaled shakily, slumping into the hold of this person. 

“Louis, are you okay?” He could recognize the voice now. It was Niall. Because he was sharing a bed with Niall tonight. 

“Fuck. Yeah, I’m fine. I’m so sorry,” he said hurriedly, gently freeing himself from Niall’s hold. He was glad it was completely dark in the room so Niall couldn’t see his red cheeks. He was absolutely mortified. “I’m okay.” 

“Louis,” started Niall. 

“I’m okay, really. Just a nightmare,” he said, but his voice betrayed him by cracking at ‘nightmare’. 

“Lou, clearly you are not okay,” insisted Niall. “Do you wanna talk about it?”

“No, not really,” admitted Louis once he realized he wasn’t going to be able to just pretend nothing happened. “I am fine though, I promise. I’m sorry I woke you up.”

“I’m glad you woke me up,” said Niall stubbornly. “Or else you’d still be trapped in your nightmare, suffering unnecessarily. Does this happen a lot?” 

“Not really,” he lied. 

Based on the scoff Niall let out, he didn’t believe it. “We don’t have to talk about it, okay, but please Lou, at least talk to Zayn about it. You were so miserable- thrashing and whimpering and crying out, and I was freaking out.”

Louis winced at the description of his actions, feeling so embarrassed. “I’m so sorry Nialler, really. I should have just slept on the couch.”

“Are you crazy!” exclaimed Niall, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Louis, you know it’s okay to not be okay, right? I understand. Fuck, I actually don’t understand. I have no idea how hard this must be and I can’t even imagine the pain you’re dealing with. And if you need to unload some of it on me, by all means, go ahead. I’m here for you Louis. I know I haven’t been for the past few years, but nothing has changed. I still care for you so much and I promise I will be here from now on, whenever you need me.” 

Niall’s pep talk completely turned into something unexpected, but Louis suddenly felt emotional for an entirely different reason from his missing mother. “Niall.”

“C'mere,” said Niall, opening his arms and Louis obliged, relaxing immediately with the comfort of another person. “Does this help? Me hugging you?”

He nodded hesitantly. 

“I can cuddle you to sleep,” offered Niall. “If you want me too.”

Embarrassed, Louis nodded again, blushing slightly. “You don’t have to but… yeah it would help me.” Had it been any other day, Louis would decline and insist he was fine some more. But after Niall’s kind words and the unexpected disaster at dinner… well, he needed some comfort. Not to mention that he had met with James earlier that week and he had told Louis that he needed to work on how he accepted help from others. “Allow yourself to be vulnerable,” he had said. “I know it’s hard for someone as independent and determined not to be a burden as you, but Louis- you aren’t a burden. And support from others is the only way you can fully heal. Just try, okay? Try with three people.”

He had tried some more with Zayn a few days before when they had a lengthy discussion about Louis’ improvement. Louis had confessed to him that he desperately wanted to return to teaching in the winter and Zayn had been so happy. Happy and proud. Louis had felt a lot better after that talk. The second person was Lottie, whom he finally forgave for meddling in his history with Harry. He told Lottie he felt a responsibility to be the strong one for her and their siblings and Lottie had consoled him, through tears of her own, that Louis had been strong enough for all of them for too long, and that it was his turn to let them take care of him. 

She had made good on that promise too, when the next day he skyped with all of his sisters who all had something to say that made Louis’ heart sing and made him all the more determined to get better. 

And now Niall was the third person he was opening himself up to. 

“It’s so hard,” he whispered. “It’s been 8 months but... I’m still not okay.” 

“And that’s perfectly okay,” assured Niall, patting his back gently. “Grief is so difficult Louis, and I already know you’re giving it your all. You’re going to be fine. Everything is going to be fine. I promise.” 

And for once, Louis actually believes the words. After being comforted by Zayn, Lottie, Calvin, Danielle, James, and literally anyone else in his life- he actually finally believed it. He would be alright. Everything would be alright. And it’d happen a lot sooner than he thought. 

He would be okay. 

-

“Good morning,” greeted Zayn. Harry looked up from the stove as Zayn and Liam entered the kitchen. They were wearing matching grins and glancing at each other all fond. Either they fucked or they’re just really happy and in love. Or both. 

Probably both. 

“What’s for breakfast?” asked Liam, moving to the cabinets to get out plates. 

“S’just some eggs,” he said, shrugging. “Scrambled or omelette, I’ll do whatever you want.” 

“Yum, omelettes,” said Zayn, peering over Harry’s shoulder to see the current omelette he was preparing with chopped red bell peppers, tomatoes, and onions.  “I can’t cook for shit and neither can Louis so this is like a blessing.” 

Harry forced a smile, trying to keep himself from blurting I know about Louis’ cooking skills. It was like everything changed over the past night. Now Harry could hardly even think of Louis without his heart beats picking up and his mind racing with eagerness. 

Casually, Harry asked, “Are the others up?”

“Dunno,” said Liam. “I’ll go get them, they’re going to want H’s famous omelettes.” Harry smiled at Liam’s boast, turning his attention back to the pan. 

“Thanks for making breakfast,” said Zayn after a moment. Harry turned to see him leaning against the counter. 

He smiled softly, “It’s no big deal Zayn, really. I love cooking and I don’t get to do it as much as I want to since Liam loves to cook as well and we end up ordering out on a lot of nights too.” 

Zayn shrugged, “Still nice of you.” He hesitated, “Look, I actually wanted to talk to you about something.”

“What is it?” asked Harry, genuinely curious. Zayn looked serious but not in a bad news kind of way. Before Zayn could answer, Liam returned with a frown on his face. 

“Niall and Louis aren’t in Niall’s room,” he said. “They aren’t in the flat.”

“What,” said Zayn, sharply. The worry in his voice was obvious. “What the fuck, where are they?” He pulled out his phone. 

An idea struck Harry’s mind, “Wait, I think…”

Liam and Zayn both looked at him, waiting. He flushed, stepping away from the stove nervously. “They might be on the roof… I mean, I think they are… That was, um, it was something they- Niall and Lou- Louis did a lot… back then.” He wanted to sink into a puddle on the floor, incredibly embarrassed by how he stumbled so much when the explanation was pretty basic. Not to mention he almost called Louis ‘Lou’ which he had no right to do anymore. 

“Are you sure?” asked Zayn, looking very distressed.

“Very sure,” he said confidently, mostly just to calm Zayn down. 

Thankfully, the front door opened right then, saving Harry and Liam from a potentially frantic Zayn Malik, and in came Louis and Niall, both laughing and grinning like children. Harry sucked in a breath. Louis- 

He was out of Harry’s sweater, but now he was wearing a very oversized sweatshirt with the hood up, leaving only his soft fringe and bright blue crinkling eyes. His mouth was pulled into a wide smile and he looked giddy and sweet and sleepy and Harry did not know how to cope. He was also wearing flannel pajamas and his feet were bare. Seeing barefoot Louis was so familiar, it hurt. 

Niall was similarly dressed, except his hood fell immediately as his head jerked up, eyes wide. “I smell breakfast!”

Harry rolled his eyes, “Sometimes I wonder if you’re part dog Horan.” 

“It explains my lovable nature and why everyone wants to cuddle me,” replied Niall smoothly, sitting down at the kitchen table. 

Louis laughed and Harry tried not to flinch at the beautiful sound. Jesus Christ, what was wrong with him? Why was he so affected by his ex-boyfriend? Even worse, why did he no longer feel any of the resentment and hatred towards him- the one thing that was keeping him sane and with dignity. 

Harry cleared his throat, sliding an omelette onto a plate. “Who wants the first one?”

“Me!” exclaimed Niall. 

Harry made eye contact with the Irishman, right as he handed the plate to Zayn. Niall gasped and Zayn, Liam, and Louis cackled. Harry did not feel proud of making Louis laugh, no he did not. That would be  ridiculous

“No fair asshole,” said Niall, crossing his arms. “What have I done to deserve this unfair treatment?”

“Maybe next time you’ll appreciate me cooking for you all the time and say 'thank you' or 'please',” said Harry.

“Oh Harry, you know that Niall’s physically incapable of being polite,” joked Louis. Niall replied with an offended “Heyyyy,” but Harry wasn’t paying attention. He was rigid, eyes fixed on Louis’ nonchalant face. Louis just addressed him. Louis just said his name. What the fuck. 

“I’m being bullied,” announced Niall dramatically, crossing his arms like a petulant child. “This is what Louis must feel like.”

“Oi!” exclaimed Louis, eyes wide. “Watch your mouth asshole!” Harry choked back a laugh, the expression on Louis' face too good to resist. 

“C’mon guys, let’s give the boy a break,” said Liam appeasingly. 

“At least someone defends me,” said Niall haughtily. 

“I just want you to shut up,” admitted Liam, slinging an arm around a very amused Zayn. 

The chair creaked loudly as Niall stood up, “That’s it. I’m moving out.”

“You’ll starve,” drawled Harry, ignoring the tongue Niall stuck out at him. 

“I’ll move in with Barbara,” retorted Niall. “She loves me.”

“She loves you, yes, which means she knows you. And anyone who knows you would never actually choose to live with you,” said Liam teasingly. "And you know it." 

“Ha ha,” said Niall. “I can’t believe you’re all bonding over making fun of me. I can’t believe I’m friends with you people.”

“This is exactly why you’re friends with us,” said Harry. 

Niall pouted. 

-

Harry took a deep breath, holding it for a count of five before releasing slowly. He was nervous, but he also knew he had to do this- had to tell them. He couldn’t decide if this decision was a selfish or selfless one. He picked up his phone and called the number. 

He closed his eyes and sat down on his bed, holding his head in his free hand. “Calm down Styles,” he whispered to himself. 

The phone rang twice before connecting. “Hello?”

Harry bit his lip, “Hey Mum.”

“Oh darling, I didn’t see the contact name, sorry. I’m actually with Gemma and Michal,” she said, more enthusiastic now that she realized it was her son. “How are you love?”

“I’m… good,” he said slowly. “How are you?”

He was trying to keep the affected tone out of his voice, wanting to stall now that he realized Gemma was there too, however his mum knew him too well. 

“I’m great honey, what is it?”

“I…” his voice trailed off. He swallowed harshly. “I have to tell you something.”

“Is everything alright?”

“Yeah… well kind of, it’s just…” He paused to take another deep breath, heart racing. He was about to break his mother’s heart, he knew it. But she deserved to know. And Harry couldn’t lie and say he wanted to share the weight of grief he had been carrying for the past 24 hours since he found out. He was alone at home currently, Niall out with Barb and Liam at the gym. “Remember how I told you Louis was Zayn’s flatmate?”

There was a loud commotion on the other end. “Mum?”

“Sit down Gemma,” chided his mother, sounding more muffled. Harry could barely make out the shocked tone of his sister saying, “Louis is Zayn’s flatmate!?!?”

Harry hadn’t properly talked to Gemma in a few weeks which he now immediately felt guilty for. 

“Continue darling,” said his mother’s voice after some more muffled conversation. “I moved into the other room so we can talk without interruptions. What happened?”

He closed his eyes, already close to tears again. “It’s not good news Mum.”

“Did you guys talk?” she asked. 

Harry frowned, “No, what is there to talk about?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Mum, I just found out yesterday when they came over… I’m so sorry but I feel like I should tell you.”

“Spit it out love, it’s just me,” consoled his mother. 

Harry took another deep breath, ignoring the lump in his stomach and deciding to just blurt it out. “Mum… Jay passed away last December.”

Silence. 

He opened his eyes and brought his closed fist to his mouth, feeling a mixture of exhausted and sad. Anne didn’t reply, but Harry could hear her rapid breathing. 

“Mum?”

Another few moments of nothing, then, “What?”

He winced, “I’m so sorry Mum. I… I don’t even know what to say. I can’t believe it.”

When she spoke again, Harry knew she was crying and he cursed himself for making his mother sad- something he never wanted to do even if it was for the better. “Oh my god…”

Harry felt a cool tear run down his face, eyes watery and lump still present, “I know. I can’t- I don’t- it’s awful.”

“How?” she choked out a minute later. “How, why?”

“It was cancer- leukemia, I don’t really know any of the details,” he explained. I don’t think I could bear any of the details. “I know, I know this must be hard for you. I’m so sorry Mum, about everything. For ruining your guys’ friendship, I’m so sorry.”

“Darling,” said his mum, still choked up. “This isn’t your fault. I can’t- I can’t believe I didn’t know.”

“Neither can I,” said Harry, fully crying now. He lost a woman whom he once considered his second mother, and he didn’t even know until eight months later! 

It was so messed up. All of it was so messed up. 

“God, those poor children!” exclaimed Anne a minute later. “And the little twins! I can’t even imagine, this is so horrible.”

Harry nodded, even though she couldn’t see him. “I don’t know how to cope,” he admitted. “I feel like I’m in the mourning stage but I’m almost a year too late. It’s so messed up.” 

“Jesus christ,” was his mum’s accurate reply. “God, I’ll have to tell Gemma now too.” 

“That would make me feel better yeah,” said Harry, not wanting to hear Gemma’s reaction. Gemma and Lottie had been good friends once and Gemma had also loved Jay like a second mother. She would be devastated, especially when she had already told Harry she regretted fully shutting herself away from the Tomlinsons for Harry’s sake. 

There was another pause for silence between the mother and son in which Harry felt increasingly hopeless and confused. “God, everything’s a mess now isn’t it?”

“It does seem that way,” agreed his mum. “But we’ll get through this. Have you talked to Louis about it? Offered condolences?”

“Not really,” he admitted. “I want to, but not just to offer my condolences- he doesn’t need my pity, especially not now. But to offer friendship. I think- well I hope it won’t be awkward for us, considering everything. But I can’t just pretend I don’t want to be friends with him. I do. I can’t not be friends with him Mum, I tried and it’s failing. Really badly.”

“Oh honey,” said his mum. “If you want to try, try, but don’t get your heart broken.”

“What’re you implying?” he asked, dreading the answer. “It’s not like… It’s not like I’m going to fall in love with him again.”

“No,” said his mum sadly. “Of course not, that’s not what I meant. I just mean, I hope you don’t get too caught up in the past. I remember how sad you were when it happened and I know how difficult this will be, and I’m sure you know too. Heartbreak may fade but it doesn’t disappear entirely. But I also know Louis, so I can’t tell you not to befriend him again. God, I can’t even imagine- the poor darling.” She sighed. “I wish I could hug him right now.”

Me too. 

“So it’s settled,” he said instead. “I can be friends with Louis. I think that’ll be good for us. Friends, not bitter exes.” 

“Sure,” said his mother. 

“Right,” said Harry. Now all he had to do was stop himself from thinking certain inappropriate things, and then everything would be golden. 

-

Chapter Text

September 2017

When Louis received the text message, he was still groggy and disoriented from his unintentionally long nap. He had been checking for a message from Calvin about the Donny Rovers only to see a notification for a text from an unknown number. He had first assumed it was from some company only to click and see: Hi Louis, this is Harry. I was…

He had been shocked, and it took him a total of five minutes to work up the courage to open the messages app and tap the chat to see the full message.

Hi Louis, this is Harry. I was wondering if you wanted to meet up to have lunch this week? It’ll be nice to catch up. 

Louis has stared at the message in disbelief, more willing to believe this was a prank rather than accept the truth: Harry sent him a message. He invited him- Louis, his EX boyfriend, to lunch. Because he wanted to catch up… with Louis… his ex-boyfriend whom he hated. What the hell? 

Not to mention the number itself. Louis was embarrassed to admit that he still had Harry’s number saved on his phone under Haz <3 , even after all these years- had in fact stared at it for humiliating amounts of time when drunk or sad or both, wondering if he’d ever be desperate or pathetic enough to dial. Harry must’ve gotten a new number, which meant there was no way Harry had Lou ☀️💕 still programmed on his phone. 

Except, Louis thought bitterly, that he had actually blocked Harry’s number after they broke up- unable to resist the temptations whenever he called or texted- something that happened frequently for the first month. He didn’t trust his own ability to ignore the attempts at communication. 

He wondered who Harry had gotten his number from, since there was no way Harry still had it memorized all these years later. 

Or maybe he was just stalling, heart racing whenever he opened his phone to see the message again. He knew he had to reply soon, not wanting Harry to think he left him on read from spite or as a dismissal. He took a deep breath before meticulously typing out his message, going over it an unnecessary amount of times. 

hi harry, lunch sounds good! i’m free anytime. 

He scowled and erased the sentence- the exclamation point made him sound so needy and desperate, his “free anytime” didn’t do anything to help either. He also second guessed his lowercase letter aesthetic for the first time ever- did it look too unprofessional? Why did it matter anyway? Harry didn’t give a shit about how he typed- or maybe he did? 

Hi Harry, lunch sounds like a good idea. I’m free Wednesday, does that work? 

He stared at the waiting message, biting his lip. It looked normal, yet Louis couldn’t fight the feeling that it felt too forced and awkward. Well of course it’s forced and awkward- this whole thing is forced and awkward. 

Thinking about it pushed his mind to dangerous places. What if Harry was only asking because he noticed that Louis was still in love with him? Had he not been subtle enough with his yearning eyes and desperate faces? Why else would he want to meet up other than to shut down Louis’ most likely uncomfortable pining. 

Now that he thought about, had Liam and Niall noticed too? Had they seen the tension between the two of them and cringed at Louis’ obvious unrequited love? Did they talk about a lot? A vision of Harry, Liam, and Niall all sitting down at the kitchen table in their flat and making fun of Louis’ pining came into his head and he dropped his phone onto the couch, heart stuttering. 

If he were being reasonable, he’d realize that Niall would never ever make fun of Louis like that especially after their heart to heart- and neither would Liam for that matter. Harry on the other hand, already did hate him. The talk Louis overheard with Malcolm confirmed it and as much as he had tried to ignore that cursed day and pretend it never happened- it did happen and Harry hated his guts. Not only that, but he thought Louis was a vile human being. A rat. He cringed again, pulling his knees to his chest.

The lump in his throat was all too familiar and so was the shaky feeling in his hands. And for the first time in two months, Louis felt it. 

An urge. 

An inexplicable desire to get up and tear through their flat in search of wherever Zayn had hidden all sharp tools. Tear through the flat, scream, and cry and get rid of the pain the only way he knew how. 

Replacing it with more pain. A different pain. A distracting pain. One that would bury the mental pain with physical pain and provide him temporary relief and retribution- a punishment for being pathetic and weak. 

He wanted to cut again. Fuck. 

Tears came to his eyes as he clenched his fists. He was angry with himself. Angry that he had only lasted this long. He had promised- he had promised not to do it anymore. He said he was going to get better, but here was, still weak and pathetic. 

No, you haven’t done anything yet. 

The reassurance brought him brief peace. He blinked rapidly, eyesight blurry with tears. And then he channeled all of the breathing techniques he had learned over the past decade of dealing with anxiety and just inhaled. 

Exhaled. 

In and out. In and out. Until his breathing returned to normal and his heartbeat had steadied. Then he picked up his phone and dialed Zayn. 

“Hey Lou,” said Zayn immediately, picking up on the first ring. “Everything okay?”

Louis’ throat felt dry and closed off, but he persevered. “I,” he started, before pausing to clear his throat and take another deep breath. “I want to cut…” He opened his eyes, not even realizing he had squeezed them shut. “I wanted to cut,” he amended. “But I didn’t, because I know it won’t fix anything. So I called you instead.”

Explaining it took a giant weight off his chest and he suddenly felt a lot freer- exhausted but free. 

“That’s… I’m proud of you babe,” said Zayn, and it sounded genuine. That brought a smile to his face. “Let’s talk about it.”

“Okay.”

-

Later on, after a lunch at Sally’s and a much needed Netflix binge with Dani and Zayn, Louis finally sent his reply: 

hi harry, lunch sounds good. i’m free wednesday, does that work for you? 

He didn’t look at it after typing it out, just hit send like Zayn had advised. Zayn had also reassured him that he wouldn’t judge if Louis just faked changing his number to ignore Harry’s invite, always the supportive best friend. 

Louis had no idea how this was going to go down, but he was too curious not to try- not to take advantage of this olive branch. Well, it felt like an olive branch at least. And if it also ignited a once dormant flicker of hope within him, a flicker that couldn’t be tamped down by any of Louis’ self-deprecation or logic, then that was nobody’s business. 

-

Harry was not freaking out. He definitely wasn’t. 

He was sitting at a table at Florence’s, menu open in front of him and chair across from him empty. It was nearly 12 am, which is when they had eventually agreed to meet. Wednesday. September. Lunch. 

With Louis. 

He didn’t know what he was thinking when he had asked Liam for Louis’ number and texted him that day. 

Well actually he did. 

He had been under the influence and kept thinking about how much he wanted to reach out and try to be friends with Louis again, because the thing was, Harry really missed him. It had been two and a half years and he still missed Louis. Not even dating him- just being around him, around his lovely personality and aura. 

So he sent the text, thankfully sober enough to draft a comprehensible invite. And then he called Gemma. 

“I can’t believe this,” said Gemma immediately upon answering. 

Harry rolled his eyes, “Hey Gems, nice to see you too.”

“Shut the fuck up, I’m distraught asshole,” scolded Gemma. There was a pause and then, “I can’t believe it happened and we had no idea…”

An uncomfortable feeling ignited inside him. So Anne told Gemma. “I know,” he said quietly, suddenly feeling very sober and very sad. “Can we not talk about regrets right now?”

“Fine, sorry, sorry. What is it little brother?” she asked curiously. 

“Well,” started Harry, wincing because he knew how his sister was going to react. “I just asked Louis to lunch.”

Silence.

“Gems?” 

“You what? ” 

Harry’s eyes widened as he realized how it sounded, “No, no! Not a date! Just to catch up, jesus.”

“For fuck’s sake H, be more clear next time,” said Gemma. “I think that’s a good idea.”

Harry blinked. Wait, what? “You do?” He couldn’t keep the disbelief out of his tone. 

“Yes idiot,” said Gemma, exasperated. She continued gentler, “I know you miss him and don’t hate him like you try to convince everyone.”

Harry huffed, “Well okay jeez, I guess I’m not subtle.”

“You really aren’t.”

“It’s not like… I don’t forgive him for what he did or anything,” said Harry defensively. “He still broke my heart and I’m going to keep that in consideration, but I can’t just ignore him… I tried that and it’s not working. I need to be friends with him- especially…”

“Yeah,” finished Gemma, glumly.

“Yeah,” echoed Harry. “I hope it goes well.”

“It will,” said Gemma confidently. “Tell him hi for me. And Mum. You know she’s upset.” Harry knew. Anne always saw Louis as a second son- the breakup was almost as difficult for her than it was for Harry (not that he’d ever admit that). Harry knew she was probably cursing herself about how things went so wrong even though it wasn’t her fault. Anne probably wanted to reach out to Louis as much as Harry did too- offer herself as a comforting maternal figure. In another universe, Anne was already that maternal comfort for Louis- another universe where everything never went so wrong. 

“I will,” promised Harry. 

“Good,” said Gemma. “I was… I was actually thinking of reaching out to Lottie again.”  

Harry raised an eyebrow, but he couldn’t say he was particularly surprised. Gemma and Lottie had once been really close, except when their brothers broke up, so did their friendship. Harry felt an unexpected guilt weigh on him. He hadn’t meant to, but he felt like he had somehow encouraged Gemma to choose a side after the disaster. And she did, she picked Harry of course, but she sacrificed a strong friendship for it. 

“I think that’s a good idea,” he said empathetically, hoping his sister could detect the apology in his words. “Let me know how it goes.”

“I will,” said Gemma. “I have to go love, call me later yeah?”

“Of course,” said Harry immediately. “Bye Gems, love you.”

“Love you too little brother,” was Gemma’s reply before hanging up. 

He put his phone on the couch, pointedly avoiding checking for any new messages, and sighed. He decided he needed to go to the gym. Or take a nap. Or both. 

And now here he was three days later. It was Wednesday and- he checked his phone- now officially 12 am. He put his phone down and sighed, trying to calm his racing heart. You signed up for this... This was your idea. He clenched his fists. It's just lunch. 

Someone cleared their throat. Harry looked up. 

Louis. 

-

February 2013

“You’re off, love,” said Barbara, slipping in behind the counter and reaching for an apron. “See you tomorrow H.”

“Thanks Barb,” said Harry, grinning. He shrugged off his apron and hung it up neatly, before swinging back to kiss Barbara’s cheek. “See you tomorrow, bye.”

Barbara smiled at him and then he was off. 

He took the tube back to campus. He had originally planned on going to the gym or to a coffee shop to maybe finish one of his current essays, but all he wanted to do was take a nap after a long shift at Haven. It didn’t help that he had pulled an all-nighter the night before to finish a different essay, and instead of sleeping that morning, he went to the movies with Louis. 

Because doing anything with Louis now officially trumped sleeping. Easily. 

The second he entered his dorm room, he immediately collapsed onto his bed and sighed loudly. He closed his eyes, not bothering to take off his shoes or jacket. 

Someone cleared their throat and Harry groaned. “Please not now Niall, I’m exhausted.”

“Not Niall, you’d think after 19 years you’d recognize your own sister,” said a familiar voice. Harry sat up in surprise. 

“Gems?” 

It was Gemma, looking beautiful and smirking at him from Niall’s bed. “Your Irish roommate let me two hours ago but he went to his class.”

“What the fuck are you doing here?” asked Harry eloquently. “I mean, I’m glad you’re here but aren’t you supposed to be in school right now?”

Gemma rolled her eyes, “Can’t a girl skip a class to see her favorite brother.”

“I’m your only brother,” said Harry, narrowing his eyes in suspicion. “And you’d never skip class for me, so fess up.”

“My prof cancelled today’s class and I wanted to come up to London anyway and I thought, might as well annoy my obnoxious younger brother,” said Gemma shrugging. “Revenge for when you did the same last semester.” 

Harry rolled his eyes but grudgingly hugged his sister. “It’s good to see you.”

“You too baby brother,” said Gemma. “Now tell me about your boyfriend.”

Harry froze. “Huh?”

“Your boyfriend,” said Gemma. “Tell me about him.”

Harry forced a confused smile, “I don’t know what you’re talking about Gems. I’m not seeing anyone.” 

“You are too,” said Gemma, glaring at him. “I follow you on twitter moron, I’ve seen your latest tweets.” 

Latest tweets which may or may not have been him quoting romantic lyrics and poems, that may or may not reference blue eyes… He gulped. 

“I’m not seeing anyone,” he repeated, trying to keep his tone neutral. “I just like them s’all. You know how much of a hopeless romantic I am.” 

Gemma blinked, unimpressed. “Bullshit,” she stated.

“No,” said Harry. “I’m not dating anyone. I don’t have a boyfriend.”

“So it’s a he,” said Gemma smirking. Shit. 

“No, I was just…” he started, only to be cut off by Gemma again. 

“Quit the bullshit Styles, I can tell when you’re lying. You’re not subtle at all, thank god you aren’t majoring in acting.”

Harry pouted. “I’m a great actor,” he defended, mostly stalling. 

“Stop stalling,” retorted Gemma, which, unfair. “Tell me tell me tell me tell me.” 

Harry groaned, "There's no one, seriously."

"You can't lie to me," sang Gemma. She nudged his foot incessantly with her foot. "C'mon..." 

“Gems-”

“I swear to god Harry, I will stay here in this dorm until you tell me,” threatened Gemma. Harry was pretty sure Gemma would die before she missed too many classes, but he also really wanted to talk about Louis to someone, so he gave in

“Ugh fine,” said Harry, ignoring Gemma’s smug look. “Don’t look all chuffed, you twat. I'm going to tell Niall not to let you in ever again.”

“You don't have the balls, now tell me!” said Gemma again, this time punctuating the statement by shaking him slightly. Harry glared at her until she let go. “Sorry. Now spill the beans, what’s his name? What does he look like?”

“His name’s Louis,” said Harry, and he couldn’t control the fondness in his voice nor the way he immediately softened, smiling while thinking of the charming boy. 

“Louis,” repeated Gemma. “Cute. I like it. D’you call him Lou?”

Harry blushed and nodded. 

“Cute cute,” said Gemma, grinning. She scooted back until she was leaning against the wall of Niall’s bed and Harry followed suit. “What does he look like?”

“He’s the prettiest person I’ve ever seen,” said Harry honestly. Gemma scoffed. “No seriously, he’s beautiful. Angelic. He has the most gorgeous blue eyes-”

“Of course he does,” said Gemma. Harry shot her a look for interrupting. “Continue.”

“He has light brown, soft hair, it almost looks feathery?” he said. Trying to articulate Louis’ beauty was almost impossible. “And he’s got the most delicate, precious features Gems. Like a fairy or some shit. His cheekbones, ugh.”

Gemma was giving him a weird look but he continued nonetheless. “His face is delicate and his wrists, even his fucking ankles. And he has these little freckles on his face that you can’t see unless you’re really close and they’re so pretty. Everything about him is pretty.” 

“Damn,” said Gemma. “You’re in love with him.”

Harry blushed deep red, “What? I’m not- It’s not.. I’m not.” 

Gemma just raised an eyebrow, “Whatever you say. What’s he like?”

“He’s amazing,” said Harry, pulling his knees to his chest. He was staring at the ceiling with a goofy smile on his face and he knew he looked ridiculous or like a love-sick fool but he couldn’t help it. “He’s so kind and good and genuine. He loves kids and he's got a bunch of little siblings. He’s witty and clever and smart too. He always makes me laugh so loudly and we have fun when we're together. Conversation flows so easily and it just feels so natural with him. He's majoring in teaching- wants to be a drama teacher and he's so passionate about it too. He’s such a sweetheart Gemma, you’d love him, you guys would get along so well. Mum would adore him too.” She would. Harry couldn't wait to introduce Anne to Louis because he knew Anne would be as smitten as he was. 

“He sounds great,” said Gemma seriously and Harry turned to see that she looked completely honest and genuine. “And if he makes you happy, than he makes me happy. How long have you been seeing him?”

“Like two and a half weeks,” confessed Harry shyly. The way Gemma’s jaw dropped made him rush to explain. “I know it sounds like I’m head over heels, but Gems, he’s worth it. He’s… I see us lasting a really really long time.” 

“And you know this after a couple of weeks?” asked Gemma, incredulously. 

“Yes,” said Harry, firmly. Because he did. He felt it. Louis was perfect for him and they were so good together already. He knew Louis was special, that he was worth all of Harry’s admittedly quickly-given affection and loyalty. Knew that their... well whatever they had, it was good and it was long term. He knew it. “You’ll see when you meet him, I swear it.”

“Okay,” said Gemma after a moment, looking a little less skeptical but skeptical nonetheless. “If you say so.”

“I know what I’m doing,” said Harry. “This is special. He's special. I can feel it.”

“I trust your instincts H,” said Gemma. “If he’s as into you as you are to him, then I have no doubt your relationship will go well.”

“He is. It will,” said Harry confidently. “But thanks sis.” 

Gemma smiled and squeezed his shoulder right as the door flew open and Niall entered the room. He stopped dead, staring at the two of them. “Um, what’re you guys doing on my bed?” 

Harry looked down at what was indeed Niall’s bed. “Oh, oops.”

“We’re talking about Harry’s boyfriend,” said Gemma slyly. 

Harry blushed. Before he could inform Gemma that they technically weren’t boyfriends yet, Niall gasped dramatically. Harry looked over to where Niall was staring at him in betrayal, eyes wide and hand over his chest. 

“Boyfriend!?” he yelled. “What the fuck Harry!?”

"Surprise?" he said weakly. 

Gemma cackled and Harry punched her in the shoulder. 

-

Chapter Text

September 2017

“Hi,” said Louis shyly. 

Harry blinked at him before he seemed to snap out of whatever daze he had been in. “Hi Louis, please sit down.” 

Louis obliged, picking up his menu to scan. He chanced a glimpse at Harry, admiring his silky white shirt and black skinnies. He noticed the sleek black polish on his nails too. He looked really good. Of course he did. He’s Harry, Harry always looked good. 

Louis himself had spent way too long- a few hours at the least- worrying over what to wear for this lunch. Zayn had eventually taken pity on him and picked out an outfit. A red Adidas shirt (one that hung all too loose over his thinner frame- now that he was aware of how much weight he had lost in so little time, he couldn’t help but notice it every time) and another pair of black skinnies (that were also, not as skin-tight on his legs as they used to be. He had his trusty scuffed up vans on his feet and was wearing a denim jacket over everything because… scars. 

“Have you been here before?” asked Harry, making Louis jump slightly. 

“Oh, um, no I don’t think so,” he said, looking around. It was a cafe, meant to be casual, but it was clear based on the decor and atmosphere that it was a fancy cafe. Not somewhere he and Zayn would dine usually, that was for sure. He felt a little self-conscious in his casual clothes even though it was a casual lunch. Harry didn’t seem to mind. 

Or maybe he did. 

“They have really good food,” said Harry after a beat. Louis met his eyes, bright green orbs staring into him and causing a shiver to run up his spine. 

“Good to know,” he said quietly. He felt tense and winded up. Like any little thing could set him off and he’d fall apart. It had only been a few minutes, fuck. Why did he accept the invite? 

No one spoke as they went over the menu. Even though he knew he had to eat more, he knew if he ate anything too heavy he’d probably throw up and that would be mortifying. So he figured a Caesar salad would be his best bet, with chicken because Zayn kept telling him to watch his protein. 

A waiter came by and Harry ordered first, “I’ll get the fajitas, thanks.”

“I’ll get the medium Caesar salad with chicken please,” he said, smiling slightly at the waiter. 

“I’ll be right out with your food,” said the waiter before leaving. When Louis looked over, Harry was giving him a weird look.

“What?” he asked, self-conscious. 

“Nothing… It’s just, you like salads now?” he asked. 

Louis flinched. “Yeah… I do.” He couldn’t help the defensive tone that came across in his reply. Why would Harry say something like that anyway? What happened to forgetting the past? 

“I didn’t mean.. Never mind,” said Harry. This was already off to a rocky start. “So how have things been… um…”

Louis blinked. 

“Things? Just... How are you?” finished Harry lamely. 

“Good,” said Louis. “And you?” This was fucking awkward. It was almost ridiculous. Anyone who passed by would never be able to guess that once there was never a moment of silence between the two of them. 

“I’m good, great,” said Harry. “Busy. In the studio.”

“Studio? Oh,” said Louis, eyes widening as he realized. “Album coming out soon?”

“Yeah, that’s the plan,” said Harry, sounding uncomfortable. “If I don’t push back the release date again… There are some… difficulties with writing and inspiration.” He gave an awkward, sheepish smile. 

Louis nodded, understanding. This was sort of a dangerous topic, but they seemed to be staying away from the triggering parts. “Is this your debut album?”

Harry nodded, “It’s been a long time coming. But with changing labels and agents and other life stuff, it just hasn’t happened yet.”

Wait. What? “You changed labels?” he blurted. “And James?” He froze. James Cartier was veering too far into “dangerous” territory, for sure. 

Harry paused, looking even more uncomfortable. When he finally spoke, his words sounded strained, “Yeah… We had some… disagreements with how I was meant to do things.” 

Louis fidgeted in his seat, wondering if those disagreements included having to keep a certain, “available” image to appease an audience. He wondered, but didn’t say anything. “And your new agent and label? It’s better?”

“Much,” said Harry hastily. “My agent’s name is Donna. She’s amazing.”

“That’s good,” said Louis, trying a small smile. It felt stiff. This whole conversation was stiff. “I hope it goes well.”

“Thanks,” said Harry, after another pause. Fuck, this was so awkward. “So, what about you? I know you’re not currently working, but you’re teaching, yeah? Still drama?”

“Still drama,” confirmed Louis. Not as exciting as you. 

“Cool,” said Harry. Another pause. “This is really awkward, isn’t it?”

Louis nodded empathetically. “Very.”

Harry frowned, taking a sip of his water. “Well… How’s your family.” His eyes widened, “Shit. Wait, I’m sorry. I didn’t-”

“It’s okay,” said Louis quickly. “You don’t have to avoid talking about my family because of my mum. Do you want the short answer or the longer one?”

Harry grinned, “Longer one. How are the girls? And Ernie?”

Louis’s heart fluttered at Harry remembering and asking about Ernie and his sisters. “They’re all pretty good. Lottie’s working on her brand.”

“Brand?” interrupted Harry, curious. “Sorry, continue.”

“Yeah, remember when-” He stopped immediately, ducking his head to hide his blush. Idiot. When he looked up, Harry was a mixture of confused and curious. 

“Remember?” he prompted. 

“Remember how Lottie used to talk about starting a tanning line?” he asked, quietly. Harry nodded a second later, recognition shining in his eyes. “Well, she’s currently working on it: Tanologist. And she’s working on a few other things, like a clothing line etcetera.”

“That’s great,” said Harry, honestly. “I know how much she wanted to do that.”

Louis nodded, clearing his throat. “Yeah well, Fizzy’s doing great too. Newly 17, which is crazy. The twins, the older twins, are doing good too. The younger twins are… young and happy? I haven’t seen them in a while to be honest. Kind of a bummer but that’s what happens. They’re all doing good though.” Awkward. Stupid. Idiot-

“That’s good,” said Harry, smiling. 

“How’s Gemma?” asked Louis, half because he needed to keep the conversation going and half because he genuinely wanted to know. He missed the girl. She and Louis got along really well, matching each other in wit and banter and bonding over teasing Harry as much as possible. 

“Gemma’s good too,” said Harry. “She’s still blogging, doing other influencer stuff.” He shrugged, “I don’t see her as much as I’d like either but we talk all the time.” 

“That’s good,” said Louis. “How’s Anne?”

Harry smiled, “She’s good. Uh, she actually. She wanted me to say… She’s sorry.” Harry must’ve noticed the way Louis’ face froze. “It’s not pity or anything. She just… It’s just…”

“No, it’s fine,” said Louis, ending Harry’s rambles for the second time. “I appreciate it especially from her.” 

“She misses you,” said Harry and Louis’s mouth fell open. “Shit, sorry. That was shitty. Ignore that,” said Harry blushing. “I mean, she does miss you, but that’s not something I can say... Sorry.” 

“Um…” said Louis, heart racing. He missed Anne like crazy too, but he felt that saying that would just make things worse. “Right. So, how’d you and Niall meet Liam?”
Harry visibly relaxed, “Geez, well I met him at the gym actually. We became friends and when he mentioned that he was looking for flatmates, I offered because we had a spare room in our new flat. He moved in last November and we all just got along well.” Louis nodded. “What about you and Zayn?”

“I met Zayn two year ago,” said Louis, awkwardly. A few months after we broke up, haha. “Y’know Perrie? They were dating and she brought him when we went out and we just… got along. Perrie and him broke up but stayed friends so it was easy for us to become friends. I moved in with him late last year too but we’ve been talking about it for ages.” 

“You guys seem really close,” commented Harry. 

Louis hunched his shoulders and nodded shly. “He’s… my best friend. He’s really special to me, and he’s done so much for me too.” He thought about the years he had known Zayn- the ways he had changed Louis’ life and brought happiness to him in the midst of total darkness. Zayn was one of his most favorite people in the world. 

When he looked up, Harry was giving him a weird look. “So… you care a lot about him?”

“I mean, yeah…” said Louis, confused. “Of course I do. He’s amazing. He’s always there for me, why wouldn’t I care about him?”

Harry frowned but quickly smoothed out his face. “And what do you think about Liam and Zayn?”

Louis fidgeted, unsure where Harry was going with this. “I mean, they’re great together? Liam makes Zayn really happy and that’s all that matters.” He thought of Liam and Zayn. They had been getting progressively more and more serious, especially after Zayn had accompanied Liam back home to celebrate his birthday with his family. Zayn had called Louis post-party, completely giddy and joyful after Liam had told Zayn he loved him. Zayn and Liam loved each other and they were good together, so Louis was very confused to why Harry was acting so odd. Did he know?  

“Right,” said Harry eventually, still giving him that weird look. 

“Right,” repeated Louis, slightly defensive. Why was Harry acting like that!? “What about you? Do you like their relationship?”

“Yes,” said Harry simply. “I do.”

There was an awkward pause. “Okay?” said Louis, very confused. He didn’t understand why Harry was looking at him like that. He reached for his glass to take a sip of water.

“What about your boyfriend?” asked Harry. Louis choked on his sip of water, coughing loudly and cheeks turning red. “Are you okay?” 

Louis turned even more red, so fucking embarrased. What the fuck! Harry looked concerned but he was probably thinking what a weirdo Louis was on the inside. Definitely too weird to be dating someone. What the fuck! “I don’t have a boyfriend,” he said after a moment. “I mean- I’m okay.” The blush was definitely not going away soon. Before Harry could open his mouth, he adds, slightly irritated, “That’s kind of an inappropriate question to ask your ex.” 

Harry blinked, “You’re right, I’m sorry…” He hesitated. “I’m not dating anyone either. There, now we’re even.”

Louis pursed his lips, “I don’t think that’s how it works Harry.” Inside his heart was pounding. Harry was single. He knew Louis was single. He asked if Louis had a boyfriend !

“How’d you even get that idea anyway?” he asked before he could second-guess himself or melt into a puddle of shame. “That I was dating someone?”

Harry shrugged, looking proper ashamed, “I just overheard something about you and some bloke named Danny.”

“Danny?” he said, confused. He didn’t know anyone named Danny. The realization struck him after a moment, eyes widening. “Ohhh Dani, Danielle! She’s my friend, and we are definitely not dating.” 

“Oh,” said Harry, frowning. “That makes sense.” He was still frowning a minute later when the waiter finally returned with their food. Louis didn’t understand what the fuck was going on in Harry’s brain. He wanted to ask why he looked upset and why he invited Louis to lunch in the first place- to “catch up” was a flimsy excuse. 

But instead, they fell into another silence as they began eating. 

-

Harry was internally freaking out. He was eating and so was Louis, both opting to be silent while eating instead of making more awkward conversation. 

Not that it could get any more awkward now that Harry had ruined things by asking if Louis had a boyfriend. You see, he was a tad bit confused. 

The way Louis was talking about Zayn, looking fond and defensive, made him think the man may or may not have feelings for his friend, unreciprocated and hidden feelings. The thought shocked (and maybe irritated) him. But then he remembered the elusive “Danny” and before he could calm down, he had blurted the inappropriate, off-limits question that no one should ask their ex… like ever.

He was embarrassed, of course he was. 

Also maybe a little relieved. 

He really didn’t want to analyze why though- he figured the result would scare him. 

Danny was really Dani, as in Danielle- a woman. Which meant Louis would never be attracted to her. 

But there was still the case of Zayn. 

“Harry?” 

Harry snapped out of his worried thoughts, blinking in bewilderment. “Sorry, what?”

“I said you were right,” said Louis. Harry raised an eyebrow, lost. “About the food being good,” explained Louis, except Harry nearly missed it because his eyes caught on Louis’ delicate fingers playing with the tablecloth. 

“Hmm,” he said, because it was a safe response. 

“Are you almost done?”

Harry looked at his nearly empty plate, “I suppose so.”

Louis nodded, “We’re splitting the check?”

Harry opened his mouth to protest, but realized that arguments about splitting the check were not something he could have with Louis- this was a casual lunch with friends, splitting the check was a given for these sorts of things. He nodded instead. 

Harry waved over their waiter and they split the check. 

“Thanks for inviting me Harry, I had a nice time,” said Louis quietly. 

Did you really? “Me too,” said Harry, smiling. “We should do this again sometime.” He hesitated, glancing down at the table for a moment before continuing, “I know I said we don’t have to be friends but… That was me being stupid. I would like to be friends Louis.”

Louis blinked, looking surprised and then pleased. “I’d like to be friends too.” 

Something settled inside him once Louis accepted his olive branch. Peace. Warmth. 

Hope. 

“Great,” said Harry. He smiled. “Good.”

“Good,” repeated Louis, smirking. 

Harry just blinked at him, losing himself at the little spark of mischief he saw in Louis’ lovely eyes. His heart ached. Shit. 

“What is it?” asked Louis, looking a little flustered due to Harry’s staring. A light pink flush rose on his cheeks. He looked so pretty, fuck. 

Harry shook his head, “Nothing. I zoned out there for a bit.”

“Happens,” said Louis, shrugging. He stood up. “Well, until next time Harold?” Louis flinched. Harry flinched. “Sorry, is that-”

“No!” exclaimed Harry, probably a little too loud. He lowered his voice and said gruffly, “Nicknames are a friend thing. Call me whatever you want.” “ Call me whatever you want”, jesus. Get a grip Styles!

Louis nodded, eyes still a little wide. He messed with his fringe and Harry tore his gaze away, opting to stand up as well. They made an unspoken decision to walk to the front. The cool air of September weather greeted Harry, ruffling his hair which he automatically smoothed back. “Well, I’ll see you… soon I’m sure. Niall’s birthday is next week.”

“Yeah, we’re coming- wouldn’t want to miss Neil’s birthday,” confirmed Louis, smiling fondly. “Thanks Harry again. See you then.” He smiled but Harry didn’t notice. His eyes had wandered to Louis’ forearms where the sleeves of his jacket were riding up on his skin. A flash of those delicate wrists left his heart beating. And then- 

He barely managed to stop the gasp that rose in his throat from escaping and shattering the tentative peace that had developed between them. The shock currently raging through his system made it difficult. 

“Bye Louis,” he said, words tasting like sandpaper. His heart was pounding and he suddenly felt very, very cold. 

Louis smiled again, before turning and walking off, leaving Harry standing there, features still stiff in disbelief. 

His brain couldn’t process what had just happened- what he had just seen. 

He stumbled to a nearby bench, sitting down in a daze. What the fuck. 

Part of him wanted to believe that what he had seen was a mistake. Accepting that it was the truth made bile rise in his throat- it couldn’t be possible. He had to have imagined it. Except it didn’t make much sense, since Harry had seen it with his own eyes, in clear daylight. The image burning in his brain from first glimpse. 

What the fuck.

Not to mention he would never ever in a million dreams be capable of making up such a horrible thing. It was… unthinkable. That he could have conjured up the angry red lines that had marred the soft skin of Louis’ arm. 

Which meant they were real. 

Cuts. 

Cuts on Louis’ arm. Cuts on Louis. 

Cuts that couldn’t have come from anything but a blade- cuts so intentional and deliberate they couldn’t have come from anyone but Louis himself. 

The sick feeling was getting worse. Harry felt like he was going to throw up. He wanted to pinch himself until he woke up from what should be a nightmare. There’s no way Louis could intentionally-  

No. 

He buried his head in his hands, letting out a choked cry. He wanted to run after Louis and plead with him to explain- to make Harry understand why. Why he would do something like that to himself. 

How long had this been going on? The thoughts wouldn’t stop racing around his head. Did Zayn know? Did anyone know? 

Why? Why? Why would he do such a thing? 

Now that he knew, he couldn’t help but reanalyze all encounters with the man over the past month- the bandage he had been wearing when they first reunited. The jackets and sweaters he was always wrapped in and Harry always assuming it was because he just got cold easily, never guessing they were meant to hide anything. 

Fuck. 

He gripped the edge of the bench, cool metal digging into his palms as he clung to it. How could Louis ever hurt himself? Was it because he was depressed? 

Or worse, did he think he deserved it? 

The possibilities were making him nauseous. 

How was he supposed to face Louis after this? Interact with him and pretend everything was fine when clearly nothing was fine. He’d probably burst into tears. 

The prediction proved not to be far off when Harry felt the wetness growing in his eyes. A single tear trailed down his cheek and he shuddered. 

What did he do now? 

-

June 2008

“What are those?” asked Calvin for the second time, voice deathly calm. His posture was rigid against the open doorway. There was an indescribable layer to his voice, something akin to horror or disbelief if he had to put a name to it.  

Louis sniffled, frozen in place. 

“Louis, what is that?” repeated Calvin, calm exterior cracking slightly to show the despair creeping in. “What is that?”

He ripped his gaze away, wincing at the pain in his arm. The blood was still dripping, showing no signs of stopping for a while. For a few minutes it was utterly silent in the room save for the little sniffles he was letting out, unable to suppress them. 

He flinched as Calvin staggered to him, dropping suddenly to his knees, face tight with horror and helplessness. “Why?”

He shrugged, focusing his gaze to the stained red razor that would forever bear evidence for what he had just done. He closed his eyes, still weeping. 

A hand gripped his shoulder, tight. “Louis, why?”. Calvin punctuated the question by squeezing his shoulder. It would have hurt had Louis been able to feel anything at this point. 

The first thing he saw when he opened his eyes was the blood staining his white sheets. He’d have to throw them out now, before his mum could see. All of this mess was because he was too impatient to wait until Fizzy was done with the shared bathroom so he could lock himself inside to do the deed. He hadn’t wanted to wait- too desperate to get rid of the war inside his brain. It was all too much for him. So he cut in his room, without locking his door, making it perfectly easy for Calvin to burst into the room, trying to get Louis to come out and play footie with the other lads. 

Terrible timing. 

“I don’t understand,” said Calvin after a while. “Why would you do this? Is this about the divorce? Or Luke?”

Louis winced. The truth was that it was a mixture of both- the pain and misery watching his parents grow farther and farther apart and the humiliation and worthlessness he felt after Luke, his longtime crush and friend, rejected him in front of everyone. But it wasn’t just that as he would come to terms with later. It was years of feeling insecure and lost. Years of struggling to accept his sexuality and identity. Years of pretending to be someone he wasn’t. Years of anxiety that he ignored and pushed down even though he knew that it was a monster that wouldn’t go away no matter how many times he ran from it. 

He was full-on sobbing when Calvin pulled him to his chest, seemingly indifferent to the blood smearing across his Oasis shirt. “Lou… Lou, it’s okay.”

“I’m sorry,” Louis whispered, head pressed into Calvin’s shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re okay,” said Calvin, rubbing his back. “You’re going to be okay.”

“I don’t… I don’t know what to do…”

“We’ll figure it out,” said Calvin firmly. “I love you so much Louis. You’re my best friend. I care about you. Your mum and dad care about you and that’s never going to change- even when they split.” Louis choked on a sob, hunching in Calvin’s grip. “They love you so much. And Luke’s an asshole.”

Louis whined.

“He is,” insisted Calvin. “You deserve better anyway.”

Louis wondered how many other people would agree. Luke was everything and Louis was hardly anything. A nobody at their school. His only friends were Calvin, Stan, and maybe Oli- the new guy at school who Stan had taken under his wing. He couldn’t help but wonder sometimes why they hung out with him when he was such a mess. 

“Lou,” said Calvin, cupping his face and meeting Louis’ tear filled eyes. “Promise me you’ll never do this again, okay? I know it’s hard and this may seem like it makes things better, but it’s only for a little while. And the whole time it’s just slowly tearing you apart, and one day there might be nothing left afterwards. And then we’ll all be devastated. So promise me Louis, don’t do something you’ll regret later.”

Louis sniffled, before nodding slowly. “This is only the second time I’ve done it,” he admitted, trying to decrease the damage. “I… I don’t even want to do it again. Fuck, Cal it hurts . But everything hurts. I’m so messed up.”

“You’re not messed up. We’ll fix it,” said Calvin. And he sounded so confident that Louis almost believed him.

Later on after Calvin had helped him bandage up his arms and Louis had wiped away his tears, feeling a load off his back for the first time in months. “I’ll help you talk to your mum if you want,” Calvin said. 

Louis immediately started shaking his head, panic spreading inside him, “We can’t tell my mum!” 

“We have to,” said Calvin, frowning. “She’ll help you Lou.”

“I know,” said Louis. “But I don’t want to freak her out. She’s already so stressed with the divorce and so is Dad. She’ll be devastated Calvin, you were right. I can’t do this to her. She’ll blame herself.”

Calvin was still frowning, “What are you going to tell her about your ‘injuries’?”

“I’ll tell her I slipped playing footie, no biggie,” said Louis. “Promise me you won’t tell.”

Calvin looked very unsure, but he eventually nodded. “I promise… as long as you promise to talk to me whenever you start sinking like this again. Promise?”

“I promise,” said Louis. It didn’t end up being a difficult decision. Louis had never liked being alone especially when it was struggling alone, and he trusted Calvin with his life. “Thank you, really. Thank you. You’re right, I’m going to regret this one day.”

“Anytime Lou, and I mean it,” said Calvin, pulling Louis into another hug. He paused before, “One of my old friends used to cut herself too… I wasn’t able to help her.”

Louis squeezed his eyes shut, “Cal… I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay,” said Calvin. “It was a long time ago. But I’m not going to let that happen ever again, especially not to you.”

“I’m never going to do it again,” said Louis firmly. 

And back in Louis’ small bedroom on that hot summer afternoon, they both believed it. 

-

 

Chapter Text

September 13th 2017

“Tommo!” exclaimed Niall as they approached the roped off table area. Louis grinned at him. Zayn cleared his throat. “Oh, hey Zayn.”

Niall smiled right after though, showing he was only joking. Zayn huffed good-naturedly before rolling his eyes with a smile, “Happy Birthday Niall.”

“Happy Birthday,” echoed Louis, opting to lean in for a hug. Niall squeezes him back. 

“Thanks mates!” said Niall. He looked bright and content, even happier than usual and Niall was a pretty happy lad. He pointed to the bag in Louis’ hand, “You didn’t have to get me anything y’know?” 

“We know,” said Louis. Niall had assured him and Zayn multiple times but they still went out and got a giftcard to Nando’s and Louis purchased a pack of these personalized golf balls. He had to dig through a lot of old photos to find fitting pictures of Niall to choose for the balls. He had a feeling Niall would pretend to hate them and secretly adore them. He was also proud he was able to pick such a good gift despite the time that had passed since their friendship. Niall raised an eyebrow, gesturing to Zayn, “Is that beer I see?” 

Zayn held up the crate to confirm it and Niall whooped. “I’m getting drunk for the next week straight!” 

Louis thought that was a very bad idea but Niall could handle a good amount of alcohol so maybe he’d be alright. They were at a new club that Louis had never heard of- not that he was anywhere near an expert on the clubs in London, especially over the past year. But it looked like a good place- people dancing and mingling and no one getting too aggressive or crazy. 

Zayn immediately heads out to find Liam, leaving Louis alone with Niall. “Thank you guys for the gifts,” he said. “You didn’t have to.”

Louis shrugged, “We wanted to.” 

“Well all the beer is on me today,” said Niall boastingly. “Just tell the bartender you’re with Horan.” 

“I will abuse that as much as possible,” promised Louis. He wasn’t even kidding. He had decided that he would be drinking today. Zayn had been okay with him drinking for a while now but Louis had just finally began believing he deserved it. So he was going to let loose and have some fun for the first time in a long time. He deserved it. He knew he did. James would call it significant progress, and he probably will call it that when Louis informs him at his next session, wanting to proudly break the news to see his reaction. 

Niall cleared his throat, “So you and Harry went out for lunch?”

Louis blinked, surprised by the change in conversation, “Yeah, last Wednesday.”

Niall was giving him an indecipherable look and it made him feel strangely guilty. “How’d that go? Harry wouldn’t tell me anything.”

Louis hesitated, “It went pretty good.”

Niall looked doubtful, “Are you sure?” 

“Yeah…” said Louis. “Or at least I think it did.” He immediately winced, not meaning the second part to come out. 

Niall looks sympathetic, “Look, I know we’re not supposed to talk about it, but I understand this is weird as fuck for you and Harry. You don’t have to pretend for everyone’s sakes you know.”

“I know,” said Louis instantly, except he didn’t really. “Thanks Niall, I appreciate that, but it really did go okay. It was actually pretty nice.”

Niall smiled, “Nice? How so?” Louis recognized the look in his eyes for the trouble it meant. He narrowed his eyes at Niall. 

“Pleasant,” he stated firmly. “Nothing more, nothing less.”

Niall nods, “Okay, but remember that’s it’s, like, okay if it you’re uncomfortable. It’s completely understandable actually.”

“Thanks Niall.”

“No problem,” Niall immediately grinned again. “You remember Barbara.”

Louis grinned, “Hmm, I think I might.”

Niall pulled him over to where the familiar figure of Barbara Palvin stands chatting with another woman who Louis didn’t know. Niall slid an arm around her waist and kissed her cheek, “Babe, it’s Lou.”

Barbara turned, half-startled and half-intrigued. She stopped abruptly when her eyes met Louis. He gave a hopeful smile and was relieved when she shrieked and attacked him a hug. “Louis Tomlinson! I haven’t seen you in years !”

Louis chuckled, clutching helplessly at her very fashionable (because some things never changed) velvet dress. “It’s been a while,” he agreed. He pulled away but she kept a grip on his shoulders, meeting his eyes. 

“How are you?” she asked. 

Louis immediately guessed she knew about his mum which made him falter. He brushed it off and forced a smile, “Doing alright. Doing better.”

She smiled and hugged him again, “I’m glad you’re here.”

“Thank you,” said Louis, feeling all-a-sudden very emotional and very grateful. Niall and Barbara and even Harry all had the right to be cold and hostile to him, yet he had been met by nothing but kindness and open arms from all of them- well Niall and Barbara at least. Harry was nice to him in person but he hadn’t forgotten his true feelings. 

“Okay, let him go woman,” joked Niall, tugging at her sleeve. Barbara stepped back and retracted her arms, still beaming at Louis. “I need to introduce Louis to everyone else.”

“Oh boy,” said Louis and Barbara laughed. 

Niall rolled his eyes and took him by the arm, “This is Selena.” The woman- Selena- smiles at Louis and offers him a hand which he shakes, putting on his own smile. 

“Nice to meet you,” she said. 

“You too, I’m Louis,” he said. 

“Selena and I work similar shifts at the hospital,” explained Niall. “In fact, I have a few work colleagues around here: Shawn- he’s over there standing by the bar with Liam and Zayn.” Louis glanced over, nodding. “And Lewis, who’s probably causing trouble on the dancefloor.”

Louis smiled. 

“I also invited a few of my music friends,” said Niall. “Some of them work with Harry but I’m close with all of them.”

Louis nodded, internally freezing. Harry’s friends. What if it was someone he knew? What if it was someone he knew whom he didn’t like- or worse, who didn’t like him. 

“Here comes Taylor,” said Niall and their little group turned. Taylor, like… 

“Louis?” exclaimed Taylor as in Taylor Swift. Louis gasped before going in for a hug. “Oh my god, it is you!”

“Hey love,” greeted Louis, beaming at the blonde. 

“You two know each other?” asked Niall. 

“Yeah I’ve known Louis for two years,” said Taylor. “I didn’t know you guys knew each other.”

“This is a great surprise,” said Louis honestly. He felt much more relaxed now that he knew more than just Niall and Barbara to talk to since they’d be making the rounds and Zayn and Liam would be busy with themselves. 

As if reading his mind, Taylor linked arms with him, “C’mon let’s get you a drink.”

He followed happily. “I listened to your new single a few weeks ago.” He paused to raise an eyebrow, “Very edgy stuff. But I loved it.”

She beamed, “Thanks Lou, it’s definitely a change but it needed to be done.”

He nodded, sympathetic. “Zayn told me about all the shit you’ve been going through, I’m so sorry love.”

She waved him off, “It sucks, but I’m not going to let them win. Not ever.”

“That’s the spirit!” replied Louis, squeezing her arm. 

They get some beers and sat on the stools, still chatting about what’s been going on since they had last seen each other. 

He hadn’t seen Taylor since mid-November of last year due to… what had happened. Even then, Gigi and Zayn had broken up in October which put a strain on the group friendship even though it was a mutual breakup that ended on good terms (both Zayn and Gigi deciding to still be friends and continue to be partners at their art classes, etc). So meetups grew more sparse, but still frequent. However, after the events of December, meetups pretty much stopped, at least for Zayn and Louis- Gigi, Taylor, Cara, Sara, and their other friends obviously all met up still. He suddenly felt guilty. He had pretty much avoided all of his friends except for Zayn and occasionally Calvin after everything, abandoning his other friendships and choosing to isolate and pity himself even in recovery. He felt the full regret envelop him now. 

“Hey listen,” he said, wanting to address it because he was sure Taylor was avoiding the topic just to be nice. Taylor looked at him, curious. “I know we haven’t seen each other in a really long time, any of you guys actually, and I just want to say it’s completely my fault. And I’m so sorry. I was dealing with… personal issues. Not that it’s justification. I neglected so many of my friendships and probably left all of you very confused and maybe hurt,” he paused to take a weight breath. “I understand if you don’t want-”

“Nonsense,” interrupted Taylor. Her eyes widened, “Sorry! I just don’t want you to think that at all- none of us are mad Louis, we know and we understand.”

“You… know?” asked Louis. 

She nodded, looking a little ashamed, “Not everything obviously. But Zayn told Gigi you were dealing with some tough shit and we all completely understand. I’m glad you’re doing better though, it means we can go back to hanging out more.”

Louis nodded. He wondered if he should feel annoyed that Zayn, and even Niall, were just telling everyone about his struggles but he couldn’t find it in himself to be mad- in fact, he was even relieved. Zayn salvaged his friendship with a lot of people he cared about after all. And Niall just told Barbara, and despite the two and a half year gap since they had seen each other, he still trusted her with his life. “Thanks Taylor, really.”

“Of course,” said Taylor. “Just remember that if you ignore me again I’ll write a song about it,” she joked, rolling her eyes. 

Louis grimaced in solidarity. He had seen some of the stuff the media said about Taylor, all complete bullshit. And her management just lets it happen. In fact, sometimes they even push the agenda. He took a large gulp of beer, and yelled angrily, “The music industry is shit!”

“It’s trash!” yelled Taylor, eyes wide and head tilted back. “Sexist, corrupt bullshit!”

They took shots and continued cursing out the music industry through their drunken giggles. Louis hadn’t felt this free in a long time. Which is why when Taylor yelled at him to come and dance, he agreed, following her out into the dancefloor. 

They joined Niall and Barbara who were swaying together in the middle of the floor, ignoring the fast paced music in favor of slow dancing and lovingly looking into each other’s eyes. Niall had a paper crown sitting crookedly on his head and Barbara was smiling into his shoulder. Of course, Louis and Taylor had to dance absolutely ridiculously around them, resulting in both of the lovebirds to pull apart in hysterics. 

Louis felt young again, like he was 21 again, or even 24, back when life was simple and he was happier and could bear to see himself in the mirror. 

Before he knew it, he was slipping into that hazy state, alcohol making his brain fuzzy and his movements more languid and smooth. Louis had always been a good dancer, he knew that for sure. He knew how to move his body and even though it had been ages since he had last danced, in a club no less, the instincts were returning to him and he was dancing like nothing had ever happened. He let his eyes fall shut and just let go. 

A few minutes later he felt a heavy gaze on him. He opened his eyes and turned, freezing when he made eye contact with Harry who was standing near the booths, watching the crowd with a beer poised to his lips. Their eye contact burned and Louis snapped his gaze away, a blush rising in his cheeks. His heart was racing and he suddenly felt very self-conscious. 

He knew he’d have to see him eventually and probably even talk to him, yet no amount of anticipation could ever prepare him for Harry Styles. It was a fact that he was just going to have to accept. Even worse, he looked so fucking sexy with his sheer black shirt and long legs clad in tight black jeans. It was a very Harry club outfit, one he had seen many variations of when they were dating. If they were still together then right now Louis would probably be dancing with Harry, chests close and hands roaming, sweat coating his skin. Or maybe he’d be grinding on him, Harry’s big hands on his hips, head leaning over his shoulder to bite at his skin and whisper praises into his ear that never failed to make Louis blush. Dirty, dirty dancing that led to them making quick escapes back to their flat for lots and lots of sex. 

Fuck. 

“Oh, it’s Harry,” said Taylor, who had followed Louis’ gaze. She was completely oblivious to the sudden rigidness in his movements. “Haven’t seen him in a little while. Hot, isn’t he? I should introduce you guys, he’s exactly your type.”

Louis laughed awkwardly. If only she knew. 

“Still not dating?” asked Taylor. “You know Sara and I could get you laid in a second.” Oh, Louis knew, he definitely knew, having witnessed their skills many times in the past. 

“Thanks but no thanks, not now,” said Louis. Not ever. 

The thought came into his mind. He had long ago accepted that he would never find love again, deciding to just give up. However, the idea was beginning to bother him more and more. Louis was definitely not the one to be alone, he needed companionship and love from people. Having a significant other has been what he’s dreamed about since he was little- someone who loved and cherished him, who took care of him, who was always there for him. 

He wasn’t so sure he wanted to give that up anymore. 

Character development, as Zayn would say. 

Not that he was ready for Taylor and Sara to get him laid or anything. He wasn’t even ready to go on a date yet… But maybe one day he would be. 

His mind went back to Harry. 

If Harry could move on, maybe one day Louis could too. 

-

Harry was drunk. 

Not drunk to the point where he couldn’t speak coherently or walk in a straight line, but definitely limb-loosening, mind-fogging, filter-erasing drunk. 

He had been making the rounds, stopping to chat with Liam and Zayn, and then Shawn, Lewis, Selena, and all of Niall’s other friends. The entire time, he couldn’t stop himself from scanning the crowd, eyes always inevitably falling on Louis. 

He kept thinking of the scars. The cuts. The fact that Louis had deliberately hurt himself- it fucking broke his heart. He wanted to scream at him, probably would scream at him if he wasn’t clinging to his last bits of sober self-control. 

Mostly, he was avoiding him. 

He knew the moment Louis and him were a few feet away from each other, he’d just blurt it out. And that would be disastrous in such a busy club. Which meant he needed to talk to Louis alone. 

Getting that to happen however, would be difficult. He watched as Louis and Taylor, who he was surprised to see look so comfortable together (he wondered how long they’d known each other) headed to the dance floor. 

“Hey,” said an unfamiliar sultry voice. He turned to see an admittedly very attractive guy who was not subtle about looking him up and down, eyes lingering somewhere near his groin. “You look lonely standing here all by yourself, wanna dance?”

“No thanks,” said Harry, smiling politely. 

The man ran a hand up his arm, caressing his skin and squeezing his bicep, “Are you sure? I’ll show you a good time, promise.”

“I’m sure you would, but not today, sorry,” apologized Harry, gently taking a step back. The man pouted, but thankfully walked off. Harry sighed. Normally he’d accept such an offer, however the idea of dancing with someone right now made him vaguely nauseous. He didn’t want to analyze the reason for this. 

Instead, his gaze once again wandered to Louis, eyes latching onto his delicate frame like a magnet. He was now dancing and fuck. Embarrassment overwhelmed him as his pants suddenly felt a lot tighter than before, mind skimming through many memories of raunchy dancing and grinding… 

Jesus Christ. 

He took a deep breath, exhaling right as Louis turned and met his gaze. Harry couldn’t move his eyes away, hypnotized by the sweaty glow Louis was radiating beautifully, the brightness of his eyes, the way his fringe stuck to his forehead. He was so fucking gorgeous, it wasn’t fair. 

Louis turned away but not before Harry caught the blush on his face. His heart was pounding. He needed some air. 

He watched Louis for a little while longer, maybe admiring his arse for a second, before taking another sip of his beer and turning away. He froze, eyes immediately meeting Zayn. 

Time was at a standstill as Zayn stared at Harry, lips pursed in a frown and expression otherwise unreadable. Guilt rose in him, though he wasn’t sure why. Harry was drunk and Louis was pretty pretty pretty, it wasn’t like he wasn’t going to notice. He nodded to Zayn, deciding to pretend as if he hadn’t just been caught checking out Zayn’s best friend’s hot bod- who also happened to be Harry’s ex-boyfriend, yikes. 

He awkwardly walked away, feeling too overwhelmed with everything. 

Once again, he ended up at the bar where he talked to Barbara and her friend Jayda for a little bit before everyone gathered around the booth table to sing Happy Birthday to Niall and eat the cake Harry helped Barbara make. 

“Holy shit,” said Niall when he saw the three layer cake decorated like the flag of Ireland. “Uh babe, when I said I would eat Ireland, I was making a metaphor,” he joked. 

Barbara shoved him but he kissed her right after, thanking her heartfully. 

Harry watched out of the corner of his eye as Louis and Taylor arrive at the table. Louis is leaning mostly on Taylor, head on her shoulder. This is how Harry knew he was drunk- Louis was a very clingy drunk which Harry used to love. “Zayn, darling!” exclaimed Taylor, reaching out to hug him. Louis pouted cutely when Taylor moved away from him, crossing his arms adorably. 

“Hey love,” said Zayn, smiling. 

“I was just telling Lou that I better see you guys back at Gigi’s for girl’s night in two weeks,” she said sternly. 

“Girl’s night?” said Liam, eyebrows raised. His mouth twitched like he was trying to hold in a smile. “Like mani-pedis, facials, and chick flicks?”

“Be sarcastic, I dare you Payno ,” said Louis sassily. He had moved over to lean onto Zayn who slid an arm around him to keep him upright. Harry’s eyes were fixed at their point of contact, mind flitting back to the possibility that Louis may be in love with Zayn. “You’ll be sorry when you get wrinkles at 30.” 

“And chick flicks are the holy grail,” added Zayn, hand sliding to grip at Louis' hip. Harry frowned. “We’ll be there Tay, I’ll let Gigi know.”

“Great,” exclaimed Taylor happily. 

“Lovely people, are you ready?” asked Niall once everyone else had arrived. They all hummed their responses. “Okay now sing about me!”

Barbara rolled her eyes and shoved him away again, but she started singing right after. Random people around them joined in the singing despite not knowing any of them and when they got to the part where you clarify who’s birthday it was, a chorus of different things ranging from “Niall,” “Nialler,” “Neil,”, “Asshole,” (that was Barbara), or “Stranger,” (that was some random dude who was half-drunk and hanging out on the fringes of their gathering). 

They all cheered and Niall was accosted with hugs, grinning like a madman. 

Eventually they all dispersed again. Harry noticed Louis mention something to Taylor before heading off in the direction of the bar. Before he knew what he was doing, he was following, dodging a group of very enthusiastic but tipsy college girls and nearly stepping on some poor soul who passed out. 

Louis was leaning up against the counter, looking like a vision in black jeans and a white shirt, rattling off his order to the bartender. Harry realized he was still holding a drink that was still half full which would be suspicious, so he quickly downed it- figuring things couldn’t get worse than they already were going to be. “Make that two,” he interrupted. The bartender nodded before moving away. He slid up next to Louis in a way that felt all too familiar. Trying his best to quell rapid pounding of his heart, he turned to Louis. “Hey.”

Louis glanced at him, smiling which was a good sign, “Harold.”

Harry grinned at the nickname, feeling something flutter inside him. He ignored it and instead turned completely so he was facing Louis and leaning against the counter on his side. “I didn’t know you knew Taylor.”

Louis nodded, “For a couple of years now. She’s friends with Zayn’s ex and we all used to hang out regularly.” 

“Cool,” said Harry after a beat. His eyes wandered to Louis’ covered arms. He was wearing a denim jacket but it didn’t do anything to quell Harry’s frantic thoughts. Glimpses of the red scares he had seen flashed through his head. He wondered if Louis had cut again recently. If Zayn had any idea. Should he bring it up?

“Did she tell you about it?” asked Louis. Harry blinked, suddenly realizing Louis said something else that he had missed because he was distracted. 

“Sorry, what?” 

Louis smirked at him, amused. “I said, ‘Lottie told me that she and Gemma went out to lunch a few days ago, caught me by surprise. She said she wanted to catch up and I was wondering if you knew about this?”

Harry raised an eyebrow, genuinely surprised. Gemma had mentioned her plans for reconnecting with Lottie but he didn’t realize she was going to dive straight into it, “No I did not.” He waited a beat before adding, “I’m glad.”

Louis smiled softly, “Me too. I feel like they sacrificed their friendship for our sakes and that makes me sad.”

He nodded in agreement. “Since we’re friends now, they can go back to being the trouble twins.” He cursed himself silently, wondering if referencing that inside joke was a step too far but Louis just chuckled. 

“She didn’t tell me much but I have a feeling you’re right.”

Harry grinned at Louis, forgetting whatever he was going to respond with. Louis looked so soft and content, all smiles and crinkly eyes, buzzing from the alcohol. Happy. Which is what he should always be. Harry found himself catching his breath, mesmerized by Louis’ effortless beauty and presence. Enchanted by the look of pure contentedness and freedom radiating from this beautiful boy. His eyes wandered to his face, his delicate features. Harry remembered thinking Louis was almost like a fairy when he first saw him. Sharp cheekbones, soft golden skin, constellations of light freckles that dotted his skin. Everything about him was pretty. 

It took him a second to realize he was leaning in, drawn to Louis’ aura like he always had been. There were mere inches between their faces. Louis was looking at him with barely concealed surprise… but there was also a hint of what looked like longing. Longing Harry felt mirrored in himself. Harry met Louis’ eyes, wide, bright and blue. The sky, the sea, all of it had nothing on the blue of Louis Tomlinson’s eyes. 

Eyes that were fluttering closed, long eyelashes brushing against the darkness of his under eyes. He was an angel. A literal angel. Harry reached out, fingers brushing the line of his jaw. Louis gasped- a quiet little inhale that sent tingles down Harry’s spines. He felt fearless, emboldened with liquid courage and almost blinded by his desire and aching to touch, to feel. 

Louis licked his lips, drawing Harry’s eager attention to his soft, pink lips. “Lou,” he whispered, so quietly it weaved almost completely in with the background hum of the club around them. The club that faded to a blur around them. Louis’ lips parted, leaning closer. Harry followed, an invisible magnet pulling him closer and closer. There was a quiet nagging in his head, telling him this was a very bad idea, but he ignored it. He couldn’t deny himself anymore. He couldn’t deny the feelings that had risen up every since that July afternoon. He was still a fool for this boy, even after all this time. Was he doing this? Yes, yes he was. He leaned in, ducking his head and reaching forward. 

The loud clatter of drinks being set on the counter in front of them snapped them apart. Harry winced as his ribs made contact with the hardwood surface. He glared at the oblivious bartender who immediately left to assist another customer. Louis stood up abruptly, “I have to go.” 

He watched helplessly as his angel flew away. 

-

September 27th 2013

“Lou?” 

Louis sat up abruptly, entire body shaking. He cried out into the silent room. Tears were streaming down his face. It was completely dark. A hand gripped his shoulder and he shrieked, thrashing in the sheets. 

Sheets. 

Bed. 

“Lou, love, wake up,” said the voice. Harry. He immediately slumped, his breathing still erratic and heart racing. He easily sunk into Harry’s arms when he reached for him, falling pliant. “Baby what happened?”

He closed his eyes, shaking his head and whimpering. 

“Louis,” said Harry gently, concern dripping from his voice. His hold on Louis tightened and Louis buried his head in Harry’s neck, trying to calm down. He felt the gentle press of Harry’s lips against his temple.

“I-” he croaked, voice cracking. He sniffled. 

Harry didn’t press, just gently rubbed his back, resting his head on Louis’. “Shhh, it’s okay darling, I’m here.”

Louis squeezed his eyes shut, more tears falling at Harry’s steady promise. He opened his mouth to speak, but couldn’t get the words out. He exhaled against Harry’s bare collarbone. 

“I’m going to turn on the lights,” warned Harry. Louis nodded, keeping his eyes shut to protect his vision as one warm hand momentarily left the nape of his neck to flick the switch. Louis winced as the light bled through his closed eyelids. But he already felt calmer. 

“I just,” he tried, frustrated with his closed up throat. “Bad dream.”

“D’ya wanna talk about it?” he asked quietly. “Or we can talk about it tomorrow.”

“No,” whispered Louis. “It’s just. It’s stupid really.”

“It’s not stupid. It can’t be if it’s making you this upset,” said Harry sadly. “You can tell me anything.”

Louis hesitated before nodding. He opened his eyes, blinking at the dim light. Harry was looking at him with so much concern and worry that Louis felt ashamed, “I’m sorry for waking you.”

“Hey, no,” said Harry, frowning. He cupped Louis’ face, staring into his eyes with his intense gaze. “Waking up to you is never a chore, no matter what time of day, or night, it is.” Louis somehow blushed, despite his previous distress. Harry’s blunt affection would always make him shy. 

He cleared his throat, “It was about my ex. The dream.” He glanced up Harry, desperate to see his reaction. Afraid of what he may find.

Harry was looking at him with so much patience and encouragement. He nodded at Louis, “Take your time angel.”

Louis hesitated again before shyly grabbing for Harry’s hands. Harry intertwined their fingers and squeezed gently, keeping his full attention on Louis. He felt very naked all of a sudden. Both he and Harry slept half-naked anyways, but he didn’t mean that type of naked. He meant the vulnerable type. Like he was exposed. 

“Um, I don’t- I haven’t really talked about it, but our relationship did not… end well,” he said quietly. He squirmed slightly before continuing, “He, uh, cheated on me.”

Harry’s little gasp made Louis wince. 

“I caught him with one of our friends,” admitted Louis. He looked down at his lap. “I almost forgave him.”

Harry was completely silent. 

“This is the part where you tell me I was being stupid,” said Louis self-deprecatingly. 

“Lou, no,” said Harry, kissing his forehead. “You’re not stupid. That guy is a fucking asshole, but you should never apologize for forgiveness, even if it isn’t deserved.” 

Louis sniffled, “It’s not that I even wanted to stay with him after that, it’s just…” His eyes welled up again and he let go of Harry’s hands to cover his face, crying again. 

Harry pulled him into his lap, wrapping him in warmth and kissing the top of his head. “It’s okay Lou, you don’t have to finish right now.”

“No,” breathed Louis. “I have to. I want to.”

Harry nodded, “Whenever you’re ready.”

He took a deep breath before continuing, voice much quieter and more reserved. “I guess looking back, our relationship was kind of toxic. I never really realized until after, how badly he treated me.”

Harry stiffened. 

“He didn’t like abuse me,” said Louis quickly. “Well, physically.”

“Lou…”

“It’s okay Hazza,” he assured him, “I promise. It’s like... he would make these comments. These hurtful comments which he played off as jokes when I got upset, or worse, just acted like I was overreacting or being too sensitive.” He paused, shuddering at the memories. “We dated for eight months and Perrie was telling me after we broke up, she was telling me that over those eight months I changed so much. I stopped talking a lot. I stopped making jokes because Aidan- that’s his name- told me I wasn’t that funny. I, um, had a lot of insecurities too that he made me feel bad about.” His volume dipped even further, Harry having to lean in close to here. “He used to… make fun of how I never went to the gym.” He stopped abruptly, rubbing his eyes. 

Harry traced circles on his hand, jaw tensed but face completely concentrated on Louis. He took another deep breath. It’s Harry, just here. He ducked his head, “He made me feel insecure about certain parts of my body… like my tummy.” He blushed because he was still embarrassed about it. It was pudgy and no matter what he’s tried in the past, it never goes away. 

“I love your tummy,” said Harry, frowning. In fact he looked very indignant about all of it, lips pursed like he was holding back from cursing out Louis’ ex. 

Louis blushed harder because he sounded genuine. 

“I just… He made me feel small,” admitted Louis. “And like I wasn’t good enough. He made me feel like dating me was a burden.

This was the key part. Harry knew it too. He had listened to Louis confess how his worst fear was being a burden- to his mum and family, to friends, to Harry. He had reassured Louis many times that he would never be a burden, that people were lucky to have him in their lives. He did the same now. “You’re not a burden baby,” he said firmly. He kissed his forehead again, “Never. You're such a beacon of light to everyone around you Lou, I can't even explain it. You always brighten my day and all of our friends' day. You put your all in every single relationship- people feel heard when you talk to them." He was speaking so earnestly, like he was desperate to make Louis understand. "You’re everything .” 

Louis let out a choked sound, “Harry… Thank you.”

“For what?”

“Just being you,” said Louis lamely. Harry smiled at him nonetheless, dimples winking at him. He felt much lighter. “I guess Aidan kind of fucked me up. When he cheated, he tried to manipulate me into thinking it was my fault.” Harry glared at that. “That I drove him to do it because… I wasn’t enough.” His voice cracked at the end. You just aren’t enough for me anymore. 

“Baby…” said Harry softly. “You are enough. You’re incredible, absolutely incredible.”

Louis smiled weakly before admitting shyly, “When you say stuff like that Haz, I believe you.”

Harry grinned at him, “I’m glad, since all of it is true.”

“I don’t feel like that anymore,” he said after a long lapse of silence in which they just sat in mutual contentment. Louis no longer felt sad or heavy. He felt relieved. Harry looked at him inquisitively. Louis looked at his lap, still so shy. “Like I’m not enough. Like I don’t deserve love. I know I do. I remember having this epiphany. He had just made this stupid comment about my outfit that really hurt and instead of ignoring it like I usually did, I just... kind of lost it. I broke up with him. I felt really empowered in the moment but then I went to Perrie's and cried myself to sleep. She assured me I made the right decision and I came to realize it myself a short time after. That was ages ago, but sometimes it just comes back to me. Sometimes I just fall back into that toxic mindset where I second-guess everything. Or I remember his words and I feel worthless again.”

Harry squeezed him gently. 

“You always make me feel better though,” said Louis quietly. When he looked up, Harry was looking at him with so much fondness and affection, maybe even love. It didn’t seem so outrageous. Louis already knew he loved Harry. They had been dating for eight months now but Louis was already certain. He loved Harry. Their relationship was unconventional in a lot of ways. Harry was practically moved in at this point. He still slept at his dorm most of the times on weekdays (staying with Louis completely on weekends) but the amount of times he’s broken that routine has been increasing with every week. 

They were so domestic it was quite honestly sickening, but Louis loved it. Loved him. 

“Hey listen, are you busy tomorrow?” asked Harry suddenly, eyes glinting with excitement. 

Louis furrowed his brows, “No? I don’t think so.”

Harry pulled Louis down until they were laying down again. He held Louis to his chest with an arm around his waist. “I want to spend the day with you.”

“We do that all the time,” said Louis, smiling in confusion. His fingers found their way into Harry’s curls, Harry’s eyes shutting in pure bliss the way they always did when Louis played with his hair. 

Harry shook his head, “Not like this. I’m planning everything, you’ll just come with me.”

“For what?” asked Louis, narrowing his eyes. 

“To celebrate what a great person you are,” said Harry seriously. “And to show you how much you mean to me.”

Louis’ heart fluttered, “Harry-”

He shook his head again, “Nope. I’m going to take care of everything, just you wait Lou, it’s going to be amazing.”

“I’m sure it is,” said Louis seriously. Because if Harry was behind it, Louis had no doubts it would be amazing. “If this is what you want.”

“It is,” said Harry. He brushed Louis’ fringe out his eyes, “All I want is for you to see yourself the way I see you.”

Louis flushed, feeling very shy. He nodded. “I’ll try.” 

Harry looked happy with that answer, temporarily detaching himself from Louis to turn off the light. He snuggled closer to Louis again, and Louis fit his head into the crook between his neck and shoulder, the place he felt the safest, and sighed. I love you he thought. He was going to tell him soon. 

“Goodnight love,” whispered Louis. 

“Sweet dreams angel,” whispered Harry right back. 

-