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“Yeah then I saw love disfigure me, into something I'm not recognizing.”

-Phosphorescent

Louis' eyes were still swollen and tender the next morning as he struggled to open then. He awoke to the image of a tall glass of green sludge on his nightstand, glaring down at him with it's organic frothiness.

How lovely.

He groaned as he sat up, feeling as if every bone in his body were snapping back into place after being thoroughly disassembled. The other half of the bed was empty, the covers tangled after the remains of what was probably a restless night. Louis picked up the glass, recognizing it as what Joshua probably thought was a gesture of goodwill. He took a long gulp, hoping the thick nectar might ease the pain in his inflamed throat.

Expecting the vile, earthy nuances that he'd come to associate with the offensive breakfast drink, he was surprised as his lips were coated with the taste of citrus zest and crisp apples. He'd had a green smoothie like this once before, and the realization made him whip his head around the room in surprise, half expecting to find Harry sitting sagely in a chair, watching over Louis like Gandalf watched over Frodo in the Fellowship of the Ring. He was going to stroke his lengthy beard and inform Louis that he'd survived his encounter of Weathertop, pissed off Witch King of Angmar be damned.

Despite any sudden delusions of Tolkien grandeur, Louis saw that he was completely alone in his bedroom. Lifting himself onto his feet, Louis ambled through the house, only stopping once he spotted Joshua in the living room.

Joshua perked up at his appearance, looking simultaneously relieved and anxious to see him. Louis was suddenly thankful for the smoothie in his hand as he sat on the armchair of the sofa, using it as an excuse to avoid talking about the night before.

“Is Harry here, or something?” Louis asked, pointing to the green drink.

“He came by earlier.” Joshua said. “Was worried because you didn't text him back, or something.”

Louis nodded, realizing that the orphaned “Harry?” text that he'd sent the night before might have set off some warning bells for Harry, considering the story Louis had dumped in his lap earlier that week. He felt a twinge of guilt at how anxious Harry must have been to drive all the way out here so early in the morning, just to make him a breakfast smoothie.

Louis really was just a piece of shit, wasn't he?

“Lou, I've got to confess something.” Joshua stated, ripping Louis out of his ruminations. With those few words, the feeble facade of morning pleasantries was torn down, and Louis' stomach muscles tightened in panic. What could Joshua possibly have to confess now? What other secrets had he been hiding this entire time?

“What?” Louis asked, fingers clenching nervously around his glass.

“I've hated Harry basically the entire time you guys have been friends.”

An anvil landed with a thud in Louis' stomach, and by god did it hurt.

And just, what?

How could those words hurt so much? How could something so intangible and ethereal as spoken words hurt like a blow to the stomach? How could they seep through Louis' skin, heavy, and toxic, and suffocating?

Granted, Joshua didn't like anyone in Louis' life; he'd never really bonded with Zayn, Liam could hardly stand to be in the same room with him, and the rivalry between him and Louis' mum was an ever-unfurling chronicle of passive-aggression. How was Joshua not liking Harry any different?

Simple: because no one hated Harry. Louis had only encountered only a handful of specimens who harbored any ill feelings toward Harry and they could easily be described as the devil incarnate. There was only one way that somebody could resist being charmed by Harry, and that was by rising from the murky depths of hell itself in order to spread a plague of anguish and torment across the Earth. See: Arrienne Brant and Nick Grimshaw.

How could Louis' own boyfriend fall into this category?

Louis had intended to voice these thoughts as eloquently as they had been pieced together in his head, but all that came out of his mouth was, “How can you-? What does – how can you even-? Why would you even -?”

“Louis, could you let me finish?” Joshua asked exasperatedly, causing Louis' mouth to snap shut as he waited for an explanation. “You've always been really loyal to the people you care about, and I'm not stupid; I know how much you stand up for me to your friends. And I think about this all the time, about how we work together because we're both such independent people, you know? We don't have to be together every second of every day. You can go shoot a movie, or run around with Zayn and Liam all the time, and it doesn't hurt us. We still work.”

“Okay?” Louis murmured, nodding tentatively. He was more than slightly dumbfounded by Joshua's speech so far.

“But then, Harry came into the picture, and suddenly everything has been, 'I don't want to go see that movie, I already saw it with Harry,' or 'sorry I missed dinner, I went out to eat with Harry.'

'And usually those kinds of things wouldn't be a big deal, but for some reason, all we do is fight about it. He's been at the crux of every argument we've had ever since he showed up. And it's because – he's just the exact kind of person I can't stand. He parties too much and has all of these public freakouts for the press, and I hate it. I hate all of it, and it's what I'm so afraid you're going to turn into. Like, I'm afraid you're going to have to be a drunk idiot for the paparazzi just to stay in the news like he has to.”

“Joshua's, that's not what's going on.”

“Yes, it is Louis! And it's already happening! Every time I can't get you out of bed in the morning because you're, 'not feeling well,' I just google your name, and there's always some article about you being stupid and getting drunk with Harry. It terrifies me, Louis, because I feel like I'm losing you and there's nothing I can do.”

Louis' breath was shaky as it finally whispered past his lips, a coil of guilt wrapping around his middle and wringing him dry. “Joshua-”

“But then he came by this morning.” Joshua interrupted, looking down at his fingernails. “And we talked for a bit. I guess we never – we never got a chance to really talk before, and he was different than I thought he was going to be.” Joshua's eyes snapped back up to meet Louis'. “And I think I get it.”

“Get what?”

“I get why you're all so crazy about him.” He admitted. “He's just...I don't know. He's just nice. Genuine, I guess, is a better word. And he was so worried about you and – and I get it. I understand why you reacted the way you did when I said that thing about him hurting you. I shouldn't have said that.” His gaze dropped yet again, but this time under a cloud of shame.

Louis slid slowly onto the plush cushions of the couch and took one of Joshua's hands in his own. Relief was flushing through him like warm saline, but the feeling was fleeting as Harry's drunken confession from the previous weekend came to the front of his mind. This rare moment of understanding would have been quickly extinguished if Joshua knew the truth of Harry's feelings for Louis.

“He told me about your party tomorrow.” Joshua murmured lightly, interrupting what had been a solid minute of silence. “I'd really like to go with you, if you want me there.”

Louis leaned forward to wrap his huddled frame in a tight embrace. “Of course I want you there.” He whispered softly, which wasn't a complete lie. There was some truth wrapped in there, but underneath it all, Louis felt something unidentifiably complicated brewing underneath his skin.

There was still so much that needed to be sorted out: the secrets, the stealing, the ceaseless fighting. But this moment couldn't be ignored. As tenuous as it was, at least one conflict had been resolved. Finally, there was something for Louis to grab onto.

 

~

 

“Okay, but the thing is, you two can never get married.” Louis pointed out. Zayn's hands fell petulantly from where they were styling Louis' quiff as he gave him a puzzled look through the mirror.

“And why not?” Liam questioned from his perch on the bathroom counter.

“Because I couldn't possibly be the best man for both of you. It would never work.” Louis explained. He batted his eyelashes over his words, the taste of champagne still sweet on his tongue. Zayn smirked affectionately before continuing his work on Louis' hair.

They were each dressed impeccably, as per the instructions of Harry's invitation. The party had been officially titled, “An Autumnal Soiree that isMost Definitely Not in Celebration of Louis Tomlinson (Though Secretly it Actually is, but be Super Casual About It).” It was being held in the rather extravagantly titled North Byzantine Garden and Arboretum of a very chic country club, and the dress code called for white tie. It was all a tad posh for something of Harry's design, so Louis had prepared himself for some sort of subterfuge or shenanigans upon their arrival.

“We do have other friends.” Liam pointed out, in response to Louis' earlier comment.

“How very dare you.” Louis hissed.

“How did Thanksgiving go?” Zayn asked lightly as his fingers swept through Louis' hair, but he dropped his hands yet again as he felt Louis become rigid. “Louis?”

“I don't really think I'm ready to talk about it yet.” He admitted with a humorless laugh. Liam nodded gravely.

“It went that well, huh?”

“I might have, like, realized a few things that make everything difficult.” He responded slowly, wading through his own turgid thoughts. “Yeah, I don't – I don't really know. I don't know what I'm doing.”

“Is everything okay?” Zayn asked.

“Let's just try to get through tonight.” Louis decided, shutting the lid on his bubbling stew of emotions. “We'll all get along, have fun, and be good guests for Harry. No drama. Then tomorrow, I'll reassess the situation.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Liam said supportively. Louis gave him a subdued smile, appreciating the fact that he wasn't picking at the stitches from his argument with Joshua.

It was just one night. Only a few hours, really, and everyone was on Louis' side. They'd all make it through without anything significant happening, and then he'd talk to Liam and Zayn tomorrow. He'd tell them everything about the fight, and they would tell him what to do.

Everything was under control.

Joshua joined them once the car arrived, which was a black van with tinted windows and several rows of seats. Joshua was several degrees more timid than usual, but pleasantly trying to go along with the conversation. Niall also hitched a ride with them with a curvaceous, blonde date attached to his side. He popped open another bottle of champagne as soon as he was seat-belted in. He handed it to Louis first in a friendly gesture, but Louis made to decline as he looked to Joshua in the seat beside him.

“It's fine Lou. Go ahead.” He said tersely, which garnered a loaded look from Liam. Louis could see that he clearly understood the situation. Yes, their fight had been so bad that Joshua was this desperate to please Louis.

They arrived at the dazzling, painstakingly decadent country club and were quickly ushered to the gardens to behold the opulence that Harry clearly thought worthy of Louis. They were lead to a sleek, mahogany terrace overlooking the property. It swept into a cascading set of steep stairs that poured into a courtyard below. The sight could have been very easily transplanted from a particularly bewitching interpretation of A Midsummer Night's Dream, laced and draped in delicate strings of white lights and dappled with lush flower bushes. The resplendent faces of the very attractive guest list were illuminated as they sipped their drinks and swayed pleasantly to the music.

And ah. There it was. The proof that Harry had in fact planned this party.

The song currently wafting over the sumptuous, lavish scene was Britney Spears' Baby One More Time. It all clashed so beautifully; the kitschy warbling of pop classics against the opulence of the guests.

And then he noticed the second anomaly. Each of the guests, while also garbed in their finest attire, had been apparently bedazzled with an array of cheap, costume accessories. He noticed several pairs of shutter shades, foam fingers, and Mardi Gras beads adorning the sea of models, musicians, and miscellaneous celebrities below.

“Welcome to Harry Styles' autumnal soiree that most definitely is not in celebration of Louis Tomlinson, can we offer you some icing?” A chipper employee of the country club asked them atop the terrace, motioning to a display of costume accessories behind her. Louis was completely sure that Harry had made her say that.

“Jerry beads!” Niall squawked, tearing open his shirt and flashing his nipples to everyone within the vicinity and grabbing needily at the Mardi Gras beads.

“It's a Jerry Springer thing.” Louis explained to Joshua, who's brow was furrowed in confusion as they both watched Niall stop his date just in time before she followed suit. “What's Mr. Styles wearing?” Louis asked of the employee.

“I believe I've seen him in a pink feather boa.”

“Ah, naturally.” He commented. “I'll have a blue one, then.”

The group descended the perilously steep staircase, and Louis had already spotted Eleanor's slim silhouette amongst the crowd before they'd reached the bottom step. She approached them, wearing a smile almost as dazzling as the sequin covered half-mask strapped to her face. Within seconds of reaching Louis, she was grunting painfully from beneath a bone-crushing hug.

“I didn't know you were even in town!” Louis gaped as he released her.

“We flew in yesterday. Surprise!” She said, her eyes twinkling charismatically.

“What the bloody hell are you drinking?” He asked, noticing the pink confection swirling in the hurricane glass from between her fingers.

“I think it's called a 'rim job in a spaceship' or something. M'pretty sure Harry stole the drink menu from a Sorority girl's blog.” Yeah. That sounded completely possible. “They've got jello shooters. I know how much you love those.” She teased enticingly, hooking her arm through his and tugging him away. “You don't mind if I steal him for a bit? Need to catch up.” She said offhandedly to the others, not waiting to hear their response as they wove their way to the bar.

It was swank and elegant, just like every other feature of the courtyard, but featured a menu with signature drinks like Pink Banana-rama Orgasma and Oh My God Becky, Look at Her Butt. Eleanor ordered them a round of jello shots before leaning her back against the bar and sidling up to Louis, which he immediately recognized as her “preparing for a gossip session” stance. He was preparing himself for whatever was about to spill out of her mouth, but just then, the crowd parted and he caught a glimpse of Harry from the other side of the courtyard. The sighting was fleeting, but it was enough to see the black sheen of his tailored suit and the cherubic smile he was wearing beneath the twinkle lights. Louis found himself speaking before his thoughts could betray him.

“I can't believe you flew in for this. You do know it's not my birthday or anything, right?” Louis asked. “Harry just likes to find any excuse for a party.”

“He really cares about you, Louis.” She said dreamily. “I've been following your entire 'Larry Stylinson Bromance' online.”

“That stuff will rot your brain.” Louis joked.

“Okay, so I might have had my psychic do a star chart for both of you – wait! Louis! Just hear me out!”

Louis was already mid-eye roll as she plead. After their time working together on Metal Heart, he'd become very familiar with Eleanor's cursory lifestyle fads. Based on the texts and emails he'd received from her over the last month, her obsession with her psychic would last maybe a few more weeks before her next craze took precedence.

“And what did these star charts say?” Louis asked with amusement. He'd forgotten how much he loved to watch how serious Eleanor got about these things.

“Well, it's not completely accurate because I didn't have your times of birth, but it said that you two are soulmates.”

“Soulmates, huh?”

“I know he has a girlfriend and everything, and my psychic said it could also be in a platonic, brotherly way, but Louis look at him! He's so gorgeous.” She whined. As if by fate, the crowd split once again, revealing Harry as he spoke to a group of models.

“We're just friends.” Louis remarked. “And have you forgotten that I have a boyfriend?”

“Two more jello shots, please.” She said to the bartender, ignoring Louis.

“I still can't believe you flew in to see me.” He said.

“Well, Thad's a huge fan of Harry's, so he kind of jumped – wait, no!”

“Ha!”

“I didn't mean to -!”

“And yet you did!”

“This wasn't how I was going to tell you. I had it all planned out.” She griped, which caused Louis to chuckle as he bottomed another jello shot.

“Thad Dylan, huh?” He asked with a waggle of his eyebrows. He'd been sending Eleanor a string of harassing texts over the last few weeks about Thad. Media speculation had been revolving around her and Thad Dylan, one of her co-stars from the Kurt Cobain biopic she was starring in. “Traveling together? Sounds serious.”

“It's still pretty early.” She said sheepishly. “He's sweet. You'll like him.”

“Who's he playing in your movie?”

“Dave Grohl. Which means he'll be your competition when you sweep awards season next year.” She said teasingly.

“Stop.” Louis groaned.

“And you're both going to be fighting for that Oscar.”

“Louis doesn't have to fight for an Oscar. It's his if he wants it.” Harry said simply, appearing out of motherfucking nowhere at Louis' side, which made his insides spasm. He was not prepared for Harry to just show up in an unannounced whirlwind of curls and tight, black pants.

“Lovely party, Mr. Styles.” Eleanor said amiably.

“Only because of the lovely guests, Miss Calder.” Harry said back, causing Eleanor to nearly swoon under the sheer brunt of his charm.

She opened her mouth to offer what probably would have been a clever compliment in retort, but Louis had completely checked out of the conversation. It came heavily like a siege, the weight of everything he wanted to tell Harry. So much had happened since they'd last seen each other face to face, and his reservations about sharing any of it had just faded into the air. Harry's appearance hit him like a train, making his pulse spur and his breath hitch, leaving him powerless except to throw himself into the fabric of Harry's tux.

A brief second passed in confusion before Harry clutched him back with equal fervor, waiting patiently until Louis' rabbit-heart calmed to a normal rate. Harry looked down at him as they separated, completely having forgotten the party pulsating around him. The question was clear on Harry's features, not needing to say it out loud to communicate.

Are you okay?

Louis nodded because, yes. Yes, he was okay. Whatever it was that had just swelled up from inside and rattled him by the bones had ebbed away.

They were interrupted in the usual way: by a fan tapping on Harry's shoulder.

“Harry, my sister's been dying to meet you!” Exclaimed a woman at his side as she pulled at his elbow.

“Could I join you in just a moment?” Harry asked the woman.

“Go ahead, Harry. I'll track you down later.” Louis said, surprised by how thick his voice had gotten in the few seconds since he'd last spoken. Harry's hesitant gaze lingered on Louis, even as he was being dragged away.

Soulmates.” Eleanor whispered into his ear. Louis spun around to face the bartender.

“I'm going to need, like, four more jello shots.” He demanded.

Louis and Harry were in a bit of a distant waltz all night, continually glancing in each other's direction as they slowly skirted the edges of the party, swept up by an endless stream of guests every time they attempted to cross each other's paths.

Louis eventually rejoined the group he'd arrived with, finding them standing around a tall, bar table. It looked as if Liam and Zayn were actually falling victim to the romance of their surroundings as Liam wrapped a tight arm around Zayn's waist. Both of their eyes were scrunched up over their adoring smiles, their faces only inches apart. To their side, Niall and his date were similarly tangled together, leaving Joshua looking like quite the fifth wheel.

Putting a gentle hand to the small of his back, Louis hoped to rectify the situation, but Joshua nudged away from the contact. This, of course, was nothing new. Usually Louis psycho-analyzed every one of these moments, as Joshua's aversion to PDA had stifled their relationship from the very beginning. Louis always tried not to take it personally, but part of him knew that it stemmed from that same place of shame that lead Joshua to hide Louis from his parents. But they were at a party, Harry's party no less, and they'd made a promise for no drama. That apparently meant no grudges over denied PDA.

Despite his reluctance to show any affection, Joshua's face was split by a wide grin.

“I met Katy Perry.” He said excitedly and without preamble. “And yeah, that was her that night at Niall's pool. I asked her.”

“Well, I'm glad that Katy Perry knows we stalked her that one time.” Louis remarked. Joshua giggled, the tenderness of his features sending an intoxicating fondness through Louis.

“How much longer are we going to stay?” Joshua asked, and just like that, the spell was broken. That moment of time travel, that brief glimpse of what they had once been, had already flitted away, stamped out by reality. Joshua was still Joshua, which meant that any socializing past ten pm was a burden.

Louis' gaze wandered, attempting to ignore Joshua's question. He knew that he'd consumed enough alcohol that he wouldn't be able to answer while keeping the flurry of conflict seething between them under control.

Several tables over, a head of curls streaked by as it headed towards the bathrooms.

“Be right back.” Louis murmured, pushing himself away from the table. Behind him, Liam was laughing at something Zayn had just whispered in his ear, Niall was raising his glass in a toast to the night, and Joshua was watching Louis' retreating back with brimming frustration.

None of this mattered, however, when Louis entered the bathroom to find Harry, it's sole occupant, leaned over the tap.

“Louis.” He breathed warmly as he noticed his arrival. Louis strutted over to him, hopping onto a dry stretch of counter top.

“That's a very striking shade of pink on you.” He remarked, picking at Harry's feather boa.

“Do you like it?”

“I do. You look very pretty, Harry.” Louis said, causing Harry to beam. Harry returned the favor by moving between Louis' legs so he could have a proper angle to readjust his blue boa.

“You got a matching one.” Harry noticed.

“Matchy, matchy, motherfucker.” Louis said, watching fondly as Harry fluffed Louis' boa to his own liking. “I don't know what you did, but you totally won Joshua over.”

Harry stiffened for a moment before finishing with the boa. He leaned against the counter, boxing Louis in but avoiding his gaze.

“Huh.” He said noncommittally.

“You okay?”

“Mhmm” Harry answered, but Louis wasn't even slightly convinced.

“Is this how it's going to be every time I mention Joshua?”

“Well what do you expect Louis? What am I even – what am I supposed to do?” Harry asked, stepping back and running a frantic hand through his hair.

“How many times do I have to tell you? It isn't a big deal!

“Your safety isn't a big deal? Is that what you're trying to say?”

“No, that's not-”

“Because it's a big deal to me. It's a huge deal.”

“It only happened that one time.” Louis urged.

“That doesn't matter! It shouldn't have happened even once!” Harry's eyes were wide and desperate as he leaned toward Louis again. “People don't do that to people they love, Louis! I would never -!” The words stuck in Harry's throat and he looked down, his fists grinding into the surface of the counter. His head hung beside Louis as he struggled over a series of breaths.

“When you came over to my house yesterday?” Louis asked quietly. “Was it because you were, like, afraid he'd done something to me?”

Harry nodded heavily as he sniffled. Louis tugged at his ear, coaxing his eyes back up to meet his.

“I'm just so scared all the time.” Harry admitted. “It's only been a week since you told me and I – I can't stop worrying about you. It's all I ever do.”

“Please don't get this upset, Haz. Don't get this upset over me.” Louis plead.

“I can't help it. If Liam and Zayn knew they'd be freaking out just as much as me.”

“I don't know how to make you understand that this isn't a problem! He's not dangerous, or anything. You're getting yourself worked up over nothing.”

“But what if it isn't nothing!?” Harry cried. “I can't just stand here and do nothing!”

Harry's voice clipped just as the bathroom door swung open. He stepped back reflexively, sniffling as they both recovered their decorum.

With a head topped by a man bun and a face blanketed in heavy five o'clock shadow, Thad Dylan stood before them.

“Oh my god, finally! I've been trying to meet you all night.” He said excitedly, locking Harry in a hearty handshake. “Huge fan. HUGE fan.” He repeated in amazement as he drunkenly stumbled toward the urinals. “Hope you don't mind'f I take a leak. But man, your music. Seriously, man. S'awesome.”

“Thank you.” Harry said.

“Had a band in high school myself. Was sick. Got pussy all over the place. Y'know all bout that, dontcha, man?” He cackled, zipping up and heading to the exit. “See ya later, man! Sweet party!”

The door closed behind Thad's back, and normally Louis would be spending the next several minutes cataloging each of his grievances against Eleanor's new boyfriend's behavior, (his use of the word pussy, the fact that he'd completely ignored Louis, and, perhaps most grievous of all, he hadn't even thought about washing his hands after peeing) but Louis didn't feel at all himself in that moment. He was still paper thin, locked in what was his first ever argument with Harry.

“Please don't make me choose.” Louis whispered, his own eyes starting to brim with tears.

“What, Lou?” Harry asked, leaning back in.

“Please don't make me choose between you and Joshua.” He clarified. “I can't make that decision. Don't make me do that.”

“Because you'd pick him.” Harry said heavily, but Louis clutched painfully to the counter.

“No.” He whimpered, feeling his words forming in his chest and expanding, threatening to crack his ribcage in half. “Because I might pick you.”

And the words hung there, raw and weak, between the two of them. Louis could feel his eyes prickling with the impending tears, his chest splintering with the weight of his admission.

“Louis.” Harry whispered so low that nobody should have been able to hear it.

And Louis could see his lips, tinged a lovelorn red after sipping at some fruity cocktail all night. He probably tasted like cherries and roses, or maybe like pomegranates and bubblegum.

And now Louis' hands were on either side of his face, cupping his glistening cheeks and stroking idly over his cheekbones as Harry's skin trembled at his touch. They shivered each time their breaths collided, both sets of eyes fluttering shut. Harry's hands were clenched in the fabric of Louis' suit jacket, and his face was so close that Louis could feel the heat of it against his lips.

But that was the exact moment that they both broke away, panting as Harry jumped backward and let Louis slide off the counter.

“Need to, erm, get some air.” Louis coughed, heading for the exit. Harry choked out some sound of agreement as Louis pushed himself through the door.

The party flashed past him as he fled, ascending the stairs two at a time. By the time he reached the top he could tell that someone was following him, but he didn't slow down to find out who exactly was on his tail. There were just too many people in the garden, and he needed to breathe.

He swept through the deserted halls of the country club, images of Harry flashing across his vision.

His eyes. His skin. His lips.

But then there was Joshua, smashing a line of wine glasses across the kitchen floor. Struggling to open a beer bottle at a college party. Groveling at Louis' feet after Thanksgiving. Giggling about Katy Perry. Telling Louis that he's using Harry.

You're using him .

Louis' pace quickened into a run across the empty lobby.

What's wrong, Louis? Did Harry get tired of beating his girlfriend and move onto you?

His footsteps clacked across the marble floor.

I feel like I'm losing you and there's nothing I can do to stop it.

The doors were within his sight, but the echoes switched to his own voice.

No, I'm going to drink this until I can't remember what you look like.

The door handle was in his grasp.

What part of 'I can't do this anymore' do you not get?

He wrenched the door open.

Joshua, I cheated on you last night.

SMACK.

The blunt cry of fist against flesh rang out, and Louis clutched his burning, throbbing cheek as he stumbled out onto the sidewalk. A second pair of footsteps came to a stuttering halt behind him, and Louis turned, expecting to see an incensed Joshua, standing in the middle of that hotel room on New Year's eve.

But no. It was November. He was outside a country club, clutching onto an injury that had faded almost a year ago.

Zayn stepped toward him, concern written across his face.

“Lou? What's going on?” He asked, winded.

“We've kissed before.” Louis stated suddenly, catching Zayn off-guard. “You and I. We've kissed.”

“Erm, well, yeah. I guess.”

“We used to kiss all the time, and it didn't even matter.” Louis continued. “We were still friends. It wasn't a big deal, just two friends kissing. Friends do that sometimes. It doesn't mean anything.”

“Oh.” Zayn's eyebrows rose as he realized what Louis was trying to convince himself of. “Yeah, Louis, but that was when we were, like, eighteen years old and drunk. And neither of us were in relationships.”

Louis glared at him, despising the truth of his statement before he began to angrily pace the length of the pavement. They were standing just outside the glass doors of the club with a group of valets who were standing in a huddle a few yards over.

“I need a cigarette.” Louis stated.

“Water would probably be a better idea.”

“No. I need a cigarette and I need one now.” He demanded, stopping in the middle of his pacing. Zayn sighed and turned to the valets.

“Could we bum a cigarette off any of you?' Zayn asked. They looked at him sheepishly, and it became clear that most of them were about sixteen years old trying to survive their first job.

Despite this, it took only a few minutes before one of them was lighting a cigarette between Louis' lips. He took an angry drag and let it exhale through his nostrils.

What's going on?” asked Zayn.

Nothing.” Louis grumbled.

That's obviously a lie.”

Isn't.”

Are you and Joshua breaking up or something?

Oh yes, because you'd all love that, wouldn't you? Love to prove how right you two were about my stupid relationship.” Louis bit angrily.

That is not fair, Louis!” Zayn snapped. “I have always stood up for Joshua. For the two of you. I've always been on your side. Don't turn on me because you want someone to yell at.”

Louis scratched at his eyebrow and breathed deeply. Zayn was right, as usual. That shouldn't ever come as a surprise.

Honestly, Zayn,” Louis said weakly, “What's your honest opinion about Joshua?” He looked at him intensely as Zayn folded his arms.

I think he used to be really good for you. I really liked him at first. He helped you kind of settle down, and I used to be really thankful to him for that.”

Used to.”

Zayn nodded.

But then he – now it's like – I hate the way he talks to you. I hate the way he judges everything you do or how he thinks he's in charge of you. He's just so hard on you and I can't stand watching it.”

He's trying, though, Zayn.”

I know, but is he trying hard enough? It's like you can't even leave your house without him saying something shitty to you, and you don't deserve any of that. You deserve someone who makes you feel good about yourself. Someone who can see how amazing you are.”

Stop.” Louis said, his defenses beginning to rise.

You deserve someone better.”

Stop, Zayn.”

You asked me my opinion Louis, and I'm giving it to you.”

Stop!” His veins were starting to surge.

You're with the wrong person, Louis!”

Stop it Zayn! Shut the fuck up!” Louis' hand was on his cheek again, the year-old pain lighting anew like a burst of blood vessels as the word cheater undulated in the back of his mind. “I am with my boyfriend. I am faithful to my boyfriend. There isn't anyone else because I'm with Joshua and you all just need to fucking get over it!”

His cries echoed against the building, the valets shushed by his outburst. Zayn watched him, Louis' breaths heaving through his entire frame, before stepping tentatively forward.

Louis?” He asked gently. Louis buried his face in his hands and shook his head uncontrollably, saying 'no' to something, but not being sure of what it was. Zayn pulled him into an embrace as his apologies rolled out of him. “I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.”

It's okay.” Louis mumbled into Zayn's shoulder, feeling a sense of peace returning to him.

I shouldn't have pushed you like that.”

No, I don't know...” Louis trailed off. In truth, he didn't know where that outburst had come from. Why had he felt it necessary to scream at Zayn, of all people? The inexplicable surge of violent loyalty to Joshua was slowly subsiding as he leaned into Zayn.

Do you want to go home? What do you want to do?” Zayn asked.

I just want to go find Joshua.” Louis said honestly. His whole chest felt carved out and it ached for some contact with Joshua. He'd just fought with two of the people he cared most about in the world over Joshua's honor, and now he just wanted proof that he'd done the right thing.

Sure. Let's go find him. Then maybe we'll call it an early night?” Zayn offered as he ushered him back into the club.

So much for no drama.” Louis pointed out.

Hey, we all get a little hysterical after jello shots. It happens to everyone.” Zayn promised with a laugh.

They made their way back to the party and spotted Joshua right away. He was standing on the terrace right next to the flight of stairs, talking to a group of people who appeared to be some sort of hipster indie band that Louis probably had never heard of. Louis and Zayn approached them, and Zayn entered into the conversation amicably, trying to mask any hint of the shouting match they'd just had outside the club. Louis paid moderate attention to the conversation, catching sentences here and there that didn't really make sense out of context, as he leaned heavily into Joshua's side.

Tired?” Joshua asked quietly as he turned to Louis.

“Mmm. Could we leave soon?”

“Yeah, just a few more minutes.” Joshua said.

Louis chuckled over the strange role-reversal: for once, Louis was the one who wanted to go home and go to bed and Joshua was the one who wanted to stay out and party. He hooked his arm around Joshua's waist for more support, but predictably, Joshua pushed him away.

Normally Louis would take the hint: Joshua didn't want people to see that they were together. But at that moment, Louis was just too drunk and tired to care. Under the layers and layers of emotional turmoil that had built up over the last week, more than anything, he just wanted someone to hold him and make him think everything was going to be okay.

Louis nuzzled back into Joshua's side.

“Stop it, Lou.” Joshua grumbled, pulling away.

“Please, baby, I'm tired.” Louis beseeched, fingers curling around the fabric of Joshua's sleeve.

“No, Louis!”

Joshua's hand was thrust into Louis' chest, knocking him backward and tearing his grip from Joshua's sleeve.

Zayn yelled something unintelligible, maybe it was Joshua's name, maybe it was Louis', but Louis had no idea because there was nothing beneath his foot as he stepped down. The shock of adrenaline was icy as it shot up his spine, his hands grasping desperately through the intangible air for something to hang onto, but it was futile. He was falling, knocking against each stair with a lung crushing slam as he tumbled on, his shoulder surging with white hot pain.

 

~

 

It was dark, and his stomach was coiled in tight knots as shock muddled through his numb limbs. When exactly he'd fallen asleep, he couldn't quite remember, but pain was springing up from every inch of his body in a deft swoop.

Something was rumbling; the walls, or the bushes, or something less definable. Wait, no, they were voices. He was surrounded by them; the clipped exclamations and cries of a shocked crowd. They were on all sides, surrounding him with their indiscernible squawks and shouts.

His eyes snapped open to make sense of it, but his vision popped with bright bursts that burgeoned around the darkness. He only had a pinhole of sight, and all he could see was that the ceiling was a blanket of stars, swirling around like glitter in a kaleidoscope.

But wait. Someone had said his name. Just now, someone was saying his name. They were screaming it in his ear.

Louis!”

He flexed the muscles of his neck, willing them to edge his perception to his right. The darkness was ebbing away, and then there were faces. A wall of faces, all wading and floating with the same look of worry and shock.

Who were these people? Where was he? What were they all doing?

But wait, Liam.

That one was Liam. He was kneeling at Louis' side, and Louis was only now aware that he was flat on his back, his spine crying out as a wave of ache jolted through his muscles. Liam's mouth was moving, his deep voice murmuring something, but it wasn't his name. Someone else was saying his name.

Louis!”

Who was fucking doing that?

“Can you hear me? Can you hear what I'm saying?”

That was Liam, that wasn't who was saying his name. The faces that hung in his peripheral were strangers, each muttering their own jumbled mess of worry, but none were saying his name.

But no, there was Zayn.

Zayn was standing behind Liam, hunched over as his hand tightened around Liam's shoulder. His dark eyes were wet with fear, but his lips were clenched shut.

Louis!”

Who the fuck was saying his name ? !

His neck snapped to his left, sending another jerk of pain down his spine, but the pain was short-lived.

There was Harry.

Louis!” He exclaimed, relief melting over him in a wash of tears.

Harry.” Louis rasped feebly, moving to raise his hand and reach out for the tear-streaked face hanging over him.

But his action was stilled by a bone-crushing, breath smothering sting of pain from his left shoulder. His head jerked back and smashed against the stone of the courtyard in reflex, his eyes clamped shut.

Oh my god.” He heard Harry cry out over the gasp of the crowd.

Hey, hey, I need you to look at me.” Came Liam's voice, confident and unwavering. Louis' eyes eased open only to be assaulted by the white glare of a cellphone flashlight.

Fuck, Liam.” Louis choked as Liam pulled the phone away.

Your eyes aren't dilated.”

Dilated? Why would his eyes be dilated?

His body teemed with ache and a sea of people were rising around him like high-tide, and he still didn't know what was going on. He blinked through the glare of the white lights until the glowering figure of a set of steep stairs came into view, looking down on him from above, and the memory came back to him.

He fell.

He fell down the stairs.

Joshua pushed him and he fell down the stairs, and now every part of his body was on fire.

He's awake!” Liam was calling behind him, and all Louis wanted was to reach out to Harry, to hold some part of him, but Liam was filling his eyesight again. “What's your name?” He asked resolutely.

You know my name.” Louis groaned.

What's your name?” Liam repeated.

Louis.”

Full name.”

Louis William Tomlinson.”

Who's the current prime minister of England?

“David Cameron.”

“What are your sibling's names?”

“For fuck's sake, Liam.” Louis groaned.

“Louis.”

“There's so many of them.”

“I need to make sure you don't have a concussion!” Liam pressed. Louis rolled his eyes with what little strength he could muster.

“Lottie, Fizzy, Daisy, Phoebe, Ernie, and Doris.”

Liam prompted Louis to recite the alphabet as he frisked down both of his legs, searching for any injuries, until Joshua's voice broke through the surrounding clamor. He was calling Louis' name, his voice wrecked by desperation, and Louis could visualize him trying to claw through the crowd.

Harry's reaction was instantaneous as he rose to his feet, his face steeped in enmity. He stomped away, out of Louis' limited line of sight, but his voice cut through the commotion as his shouts collided with Joshua's. Louis' eyes clenched shut again at the sound of the two of them fighting. Their shrieks were intensifying to a level that Louis had never heard before, especially from Harry, and it felt like someone was stripping every inch of skin from Louis' bones piece by piece. When it became unbearable, Louis sat bolt upright.

“Whoa, Louis.” Liam warned at his sudden movement.

“Don't want to hear – don't want to hear Joshua.” He stammered.

“Josh, mate, come on.” Said Niall from Louis' side, entering the argument as the only voice of reason.

“Too many people.” Louis stated as he tried to push himself up from the ground, but a debilitating pain caused him to double over and yelp.

“Your shoulder's dislocated.” Liam said, gentle fingers probing his left shoulder. Louis opened his eyes yet again, this time spotting Niall, Joshua, and Harry at the lip of the crowd. Niall was between Joshua and Harry, trying to separate them as Joshua yelled and snarled like a feral dog. Harry's attention had been locked on Louis since his cry of pain with a face contorted in fear, but he turned back to Joshua as he tried to shove his way past Niall.

“Too many people, Liam” Louis repeated, begging.

“Yeah, okay. Do you think you can stand up?” He asked gently. Louis nodded. Nearby, an unfamiliar voice was urging people to clear out of the way. Liam supported most of his weight once he was on his feet. “Are you okay? Can you walk? Does anything hurt in your legs?”

“No. I just want to – want to get out of here.”

Liam nodded and helped Louis up the stairs, Zayn and a small assemblage of club employees in tow. His consciousness was still wavering as they entered the front lobby, the employees fluttering about, crazed by the fear of an impending lawsuit.

Any trace of intoxication had been washed away by adrenaline, and now every fiber of Louis was running on overdrive. Everything was too loud and too bright; his thoughts couldn't keep up with the pace that everyone else was moving at.

“Shut up, please.” Louis grumbled over the frantic chirps of one of the employees.

“We need to call an ambulance.” He claimed. “It's club policy.” Louis groaned at the idea of spending the night in a grungy emergency room.

“If you do that then I will actually sue this place.” He said grumpily, eliciting a look of panic from the employees, but he couldn't be arsed to care. All he wanted was to get out of this place with the lights and the crowds and the screaming. He just wanted to go somewhere familiar with Zayn by his side. And Liam. And Niall. And Harry.

But where was Harry?

He'd been vaguely aware of Liam's fingers brushing over his shoulder during his train of thought, but he hadn't thought much of it until his shoulder quite literally exploded with pain and a stomach-turning POP! Louis lurched forward with a shriek as Zayn reached instinctively for him.

“Oh, fuck you, Payne.” Louis growled.

“It's easier to relocate if you don't know it's coming” Liam explained.

“Yes, yes, I've seen movies. I know.” He snapped angrily. “And we all get it! You minored in sports medicine at Uni! No need to break my arm to prove it!” The initial surge of pain was relenting into a throbbing burn, and Zayn's tentative hands were wrapped around his waist, helping him stand up. “Where's Harry?'

“He's trying to deal with Joshua.” Zayn said.

“Joshua.” Louis echoed, his boyfriend's name thrumming through his body with a fresh rush of sickening pain. “I don't want to be here. I want to go.”

“Okay, Louis, here's the deal.” Liam said. “You don't have any signs of a concussion or internal bleeding, so I think you can get away with skipping a hospital trip tonight. But you absolutely have to go to the doctor as soon as possible tomorrow, and if I notice anything off about you tonight, I'm calling an ambulance.”

“Okay, Dr. Payno.” Louis said.

“Do you want to go home now?”

“Not my house.” Louis said, shaking his head.

“Where do you want to go?” Zayn asked soothingly.

“Can we go to your place?” Louis asked, twisting in Zayn's arms to face him. Zayn's flat was practically a second home to Louis.

“Yeah. Of course. We can go right now.”

“Wait, sir, we have to have someone talk to our manager before you leave.” One of the employees spoke up, breaking their terrified silence. “Someone has to talk to the police and everything.”

“What? No. No police.” Louis groaned, letting more of his weight fall onto Zayn.

“Li?” Zayn urged, and there was something in his tone that reminded Louis of two parents deciding how best to defend their child.

“I'll be right back, okay?” Liam said. “I'll take care of everything.”

Liam's footsteps clacked away leaving Zayn and Louis alone with a young, female employee.

“Is there anything I can get you, sir?” She asked timidly.

“You can go somewhere else and stop staring at my misery.” Louis griped.

“Water would be great.” Zayn added. The employee nodded before disappearing out of the lobby.

“What about Niall and Harry? I want Harry.”

“I'll text them.” Zayn promised, holding Louis tighter. The minutes passed by in silence as Zayn typed on his phone, and Liam returned surprisingly quickly with a set of keys in hand.

“Harry said we can take his car.” Liam said, motioning for them to follow after him. They were moving quickly, much more quickly than Louis' shock addled mind could comprehend.

“But where's Harry?”

“He's dealing with management. Trying to keep them from calling the police.” Liam explained, and suddenly Louis was already in the cool backseat of Harry's car. Zayn slid in beside him as Liam started the engine.

Louis' breathing was haggard and his mouth tasted of blood, but at least Zayn was there at his side, holding him tight but being careful of his shoulder. His phone was buzzing angrily in his pocket so he fished it out awkwardly with the arm that wasn't immobilized by pain.

His thumb hit the reject button as he saw Joshua's name across the screen and he let the phone fall limply into his lap, too tired to attempt getting it back into his pocket.

“What the fuck just happened?” Louis sighed.

“Are you serious?” Liam piped up, looking at him attentively through the rear-view mirror. “Do you really not remember what just happened?”

“I meant it as a general musing, Liam.” Louis complained.

“Who's the current president of the United States?”

“Barack Obama! Jesus Christ, Liam! I'm not concussed!”

His phone buzzed once again with Joshua's name, and he promptly rejected it again. He sunk his head into Zayn's shoulder, feeling Zayn's chin press into his forehead.

“I can't fucking believe this.” Zayn muttered, snaking a hand through Louis' hair. “I can't fucking believe he'd do this.”

“S'not his fault.” Louis whispered. “Was an accident.”

“He pushed you, Louis.” Liam stated angrily.

“But he didn't...Stairs.”

His phone began buzzing for the third time, but Zayn snatched it up before Louis could make a move towards it.

“Joshua, honestly-” he began with his trademark coolness, but he was cut off by a furious warbling through the phone's speaker. He listened to Joshua yell for several seconds until his typically stoic features melted into a vision of anger. “Stop talking, just – just how hard is it not to throw your boyfriend down the stairs? How fucking hard is that, Joshua? Don't call again. We're not letting you anywhere near him.” He hung up and powered it down, an enraged breath siphoning through his nostrils. He nuzzled further into Louis as Liam watched him proudly from the driver's seat. “Just fuck him.” He whispered.

Zayn's fuming throbbed beside him with each pained breath, and Louis clenched his good hand onto Zayn's leg as a few unwelcome tears dotted his eyes.

“Where's Harry?” He asked, and the dejected, defeated grain of his voice surprised everyone in the car, including himself.

“He's on his way, love.” Zayn cooed, his fingers running through Louis' hair protectively. “You know how much we love you, right?” His throat sounded as if it had been rubbed raw with gravel.

Louis didn't answer because he honestly wasn't sure of anything at the moment.

They arrived at Zayn's flat finally, entering the fittingly artsy, sprawling, open-concept studio with exposed brick walls and thick, contemporary art-covered columns. Liam spent at least ten minutes fussing over Louis once they were safely inside, but Louis refused to budge from his spot in the entrance.

“Someone needs to clean you up.” Liam begged, but Louis shook his head obstinately. “You are bleeding, Louis. There is a gash on your face and it is bleeding.”

“No.” Louis abstained.

“Louis! Fucking Christ, you're an actor! You can't have a scar on your face! Please let me clean you up!”

“No. Harry.” He murmured, causing Liam to huff in exasperation, but luckily, that was the exact moment that Harry and Niall arrived at the door with a flurry of desperate knocks. Zayn opened the door and the flat reverberated with Niall's voice as he pushed his way inside.

“That fucking wanker Joshua tells us we have no right to take Louis with us!” Niall bellowed at about ninety miles a minute. “We have no right! Starts spouting all this shit about being kidnappers, then we're just trying to keep management from calling the police, and the piece of shit tries to throw a punch at Harry! How's Tommo? You okay? You're bleeding. See that Liam, his face is bleeding.”

“I'm perfectly aware, but Louis won't let me clean it up.” Liam groused.

“I want Harry to do it.” Louis said firmly, turning towards the doorway.

And there he was, still clad in his formal white tie and pink feather boa, eyes red and sunken from the exhaustion that comes only from emotional upheaval. But right then they were soft, smoothing over Louis with a tender glance.

“Erm, yeah, I'll do it.” Harry stammered, stepping into the flat. “If you show me what to...” He flourished his fingers as he grappled for words, but Liam was already leading them to Zayn's bathroom. Louis sat on the counter obediently as Liam walked Harry through each of his steps as Louis' appointed nurse before leaving them alone. No one had pointed out yet how much more sense it would have made for Liam to be taking care of Louis, because this moment seemed as obvious to everyone else as it did to the two of them.

Harry wordlessly washed the blood from Louis' proliferation of wounds, bandaging them up just as Liam had instructed. His fingers traced over Louis' skin with each movement, and Louis' head sunk further as each brush of contact steadied the rhythm of his pulse. Once properly taken care of, Harry leaned forward against the counter into Louis, in much the same position as the previous bathroom conversation they'd had that night. Harry's breaths were growing increasingly hollow and shaky until Louis sat back up.

“I know you've been trying to prove to me that you're not a weeper, but I think tonight can be an exception.” Louis said with a sad smile. Harry stepped back with a stifled cry, his eyes swimming.

“I promised I wouldn't let anyone hurt you.” He said, broken.

“Haz-”

“And there was this moment – this moment when I was yelling your name and you weren't answering. You weren't opening your eyes and Liam was trying to get your pulse, but he wasn't saying anything.” Harry choked over a deep breath. “And it was only for a second and it was so, so stupid of me, but I thought-” another deep breath. “I thought he'd killed you.”

The agony completely broke as Harry's face twisted under a sheet of tears, his shoulders hunching under the weight of it. He looked shattered. Dismantled. Wrecked. And Louis in turn felt his own pieces dismantling; his body being demolished by the fact that he had caused even one of the tears falling down Harry's cheek. Louis was shaking convulsively, his throat smoldering with a raw, incensed burn.

“It was an accident.” He croaked, giving his last, frail attempt to convince himself of Joshua's innocence. That maybe there was a chance things were going to go back to normal after this.

“No, Louis.” Harry shook his head, stepping back into Louis' space. “It would be one thing if he had like, spun around and accidentally knocked you over, but I watched it happen. He shoved you. He didn't mean for you to fall down the stairs, but you fell because he was being aggressive towards you. He was trying to hurt you, and you got really, really hurt. He hurt you again, Louis.” His voice broke at the end of his speech, and everything was finally stripped away. Louis struggled to collect his voice from wherever it had fled to.

“We've been together for three years.” He said quietly, but they both knew it wasn't an excuse. It was a realization. It shook through Louis with a deep sob, and then Harry was clinging to him, causing a sharp pain to ripple through his shoulder. Harry jumped back as Louis yelped.

“Sorry, sorry!” He exclaimed.

But Louis didn't have time for his apologies. He just needed Harry's body wrapped around his. He needed to feel Harry clutch onto him like Louis might be stolen away at any second. He needed him to hold him like they were the last two people in the world and everything was going to be okay.

They stayed that way, rocking, sobbing, and holding each other. Louis was succumbing to the tempest of heartache that had been brewing for days, and of course, Harry was there to catch him. Their tears fell into each other's hair, both trembling in time with each other and letting go without inhibition. Neither of them cared how pathetic they might look, knowing that the other wouldn't judge them. That the other was feeling the exact same. That they had each other, and for just that moment, nothing could hurt them.

Louis wasn't sure if he'd ever felt a pain like this. It was all coming together, festering into one hot, exposed wound of the last few years. Every moment that Joshua had upset him, had made him feel sad, angry, embarrassed, or unsafe, it was all right there, beating in his chest.

And so he wept onto Harry like a child as each wave of hysteria grew lighter and lighter. With every wax and wane of tears, he became more and more aware of where he was. He was with Harry. Harry wasn't going anywhere. He was safe.

No one seemed surprised by the raw, tear-strewn faces that emerged from the bathroom almost a half-hour later. Liam was squabbling with Niall over some sort of project he was undertaking in the living area as Zayn watched with amusement from nearby. The floor was now littered with a complex arrangement of blankets and pillows.

“It's your nest!” Niall proclaimed. “It's what everyone needs when they're feeling low.”

“Okay, I'm not denying that.” Liam explained. “But Louis is in a lot of a pain and probably wants to sleep in a bed.”

“No, I want that.” Louis said, pointing at the mess of comfort and warmth. Niall fist pumped in victory.

“You're not going to get the back support you need.” Liam argued.

“I want the nest.” Louis said bluntly.

“I knew Tommo would be a nest man. A common nester.” Niall mused.

“And I – erm – I want...” Louis voiced.

“Yeah babe? What else do you want?” asked Zayn, jumping up from the chair he'd been witnessing the nest construction from.

“No, nevermind.”

“What, Louis?” Zayn pressed.

“You guys probably have work, and stuff tomorrow.”

“Do you want us to stay the night?” Harry asked, stepping toward him. Louis swallowed.

“Please?”

“Alright, Zayn.” said Niall. “We're going to need popcorn and something chocolate. Plus some pajam-jams. None of us are really dressed for sleep.”

There was a brief chuckle as they looked at each other, all dressed in formal tuxedos and bow ties. Zayn's stash of sweatpants and t-shirts came through, appropriately clothing each of them in something comfy enough for the nest as they cuddled together and watched Grease. Louis was too exhausted to make any mention of the fact that Liam already had several pairs of pajamas at Zayn's flat to choose from, but he planned to store away the information for a later date.

Niall conked out almost immediately, snoring quietly from where he was lying face down in the blankets. Zayn drifted away with a little more dignity, his eyes slipping shut under a fan of eyelashes. Louis only noticed that he'd fallen asleep when his fingers stilled from where they were carding through his hair. He was pressed into Zayn with his good shoulder and could feel him jolt back awake every time Liam sat up and checked on Louis in a panic.

Harry was on Louis' right side, entirely silent as he watched the brightly costumed high schoolers dancing across the screen. They'd made it to “You're the One that I Want” without any outbursts from Liam for at least twenty minutes, so Louis concluded that he and Harry were the only two still awake.

Despite the stiffness settling into his aggrieved arm, Louis nudged the side of Harry's leg weakly, and Harry responded without even having to look at Louis. He took his hand in his, stroking over the back of Louis' hand with his thumb before finally letting his eyes fall shut.

Louis repositioned himself, tightening his grip on Harry's hand, adamant about keeping his eyes open until the very last Chang chang changitty chang shoobop.”

 

~

 

Liam might have had a point about sleeping somewhere with more back support. Louis stretched painfully against the full onslaught of sore muscles and raw abrasions that littered his body as he woke up.

Yup, last night had definitely happened.

He carefully untangled himself from the mess of bodies and blankets, slowly sliding his hand from where it had been encased in Harry's grasp all night. Tip-toeing over the slumbering men, Louis finally procured himself from the throng and looked back at where he had spent the night. The first waves of pale sunlight were waxing across the flat, illuminating each of their sleeping faces.

And here were Louis' friends. Four men in their mid twenties, cuddled together in a nest on the floor so that Louis wouldn't feel alone.

These were his friends.

And among them was Harry, his massive eyelashes quivering as his eyes spun about under his lids. There was such a peacefulness to his features that Louis was pretty sure he'd never seen while he was awake. Part of him wanted to crawl back into the blankets, this time curling into Harry's warmth, but someone else's attention was beckoning him.

He took his phone into the bathroom, as it was the only place in Zayn's studio with a door. He locked it behind him, sinking down onto the floor and staring at the number he was about the call. He stared at the name for several breaths, preparing himself for the groveling that was about to take place, before he hit call and pressed the phone to his ear. It rang once, then twice.

“Louis?”

“Hey, mum.”

“You sound weird, baby. Everything okay?”

“Not really.” He admitted, his voice watery.

“What's going on?”

Louis took a steadying breath, tired of crying.

“Joshua and I are breaking up.”