“Well I bet that you look good on the dance floor. I don't know if you're looking for romance, or, I don't know what you're looking for.”
-The Arctic Monkeys
Whenever he woke up to that deep-rooted surge of panic, that smothering anxiety that breathed down the skin of his neck through the cloudy darkness, Louis never remembered what caused it. He just wrapped himself more tightly around Joshua's sleeping frame, clenching his eyes through pinched tears until the fear releases its hold on his lungs.
The nightmares had been the same for Louis' entire life. They never imprinted on his memory, but his fright upon waking had reduced a younger Louis to a trembling mess of tears and shrieks. Most children eventually outgrow night terrors, but Louis' nightmares had remained a steady presence into adulthood, popping up especially during times of stress or worry. That period just after he moved to LA was plagued with nightmares, but more recently, he hadn't had a single one in months
Until now, apparently.
It became obvious the next morning that Joshua was completely unaware of Louis' midnight panic attack. He wasn't surprised, since the younger man was a notoriously deep sleeper. Louis decided it wasn't worth bringing up; no need to worry him over what was probably nothing.
Someone might have pinched Louis' bum, but he couldn't particularly blame them. His arse was looking especially fantastic beneath his black skinny jeans. He finally made it across the dance floor, weaving through a swarm of sweat-laced bodies as they gyrated to Rihanna, and slid into the booth beside Liam. Zayn and Niall perked up at his arrival, their eyes glowing beneath the pulsating lights. Both of their faces sunk in disappointment as they noticed Louis' empty hands.
“There are quite literally seven thousand people at the bar.” Louis shouted above the roaring music. “I don't think anything short of sacrificial suicide will get the bartender's attention.”
Niall moaned belligerently, sinking further into his seat and glaring to the heavens above as if some divine presence was personally punishing him.
“I'm so sober I'm going to die!” Niall moaned, apparently unaware of the small army of empty shot glasses peppering his section of the table. Louis and Niall had actually been drinking non-stop since their private car had picked them up. They'd sat in the backseat, popping champagne and letting the bubbly drink swill through their fuzzy thoughts before they'd even merged onto the freeway.
Joshua had asked Louis not to drink too much tonight.
Yeah, that was a fucking pipe dream.
As if he were listening in on Louis' thoughts, Niall spun the conversation around to Joshua's rather obvious absence.
“Time to play a game!” He announced jovially. “It's called, 'guess why Joshua isn't here this time.'”
“Oh, oh, oh! Because there was a re-run of the Vampire Diaries on?” Liam guessed, jumping at the chance to roast Joshua.
“Or did he not get his third nap in today?” Laughed Niall.
“Wait no! Was it because he was on one side of the house, but his shoes were on the other?” Liam guffawed, earning a look of understated disappointment from Zayn. Louis cleared his throat and sat up, ready to deliver his well-rehearsed excuse.
“Joshua isn't here because he wasn't feeling up to going out twice in a row, and we have an important movie premiere tomorrow.” He explained.
“A movie premiere that's more important than spending time with me?” Niall gaped.
“Hard to believe, I know, but yes. It's rather important.” Louis continued. “It's our first public appearance together as a couple.”
He was met by a chorus of patronizing Aw!'s that stained his cheeks red and caused him to shout, “Shut the fuck up, Horan!” The version of the story he'd just told was mostly truthful, apart from the fact that Joshua had sprung the ultimatum on Louis just before he was ready to leave. Louis had spent the entire evening in the bathroom, blasting Lady Gaga and trying on every outfit combination he owned. He had forgotten the thrill of dressing up for a night out and was giddily eager to show Joshua his hairstyle, until he found that his boyfriend and alleged “date” for the evening was lying in bed, clad in baggy sweats, flipping through twitter on his phone. He told Louis that he didn't want to go out twice, so it was up to Louis to decide which night was more important.
And of course, of course the movie premiere was more important. Getting to stand on a red carpet with cameras flashing against their glossy tuxedos with his boyfriend's hand held firmly in his own; it meant more to Louis than he would ever willingly admit. But disappointment had been pricking at the back of his thoughts since he'd traipsed across Niall's lawn without Joshua by his side.
So no boyfriend for lad's night. Oh well. At least Louis' bum was looking rather pinchable.
Louis surfaced from his reverie as Niall pulled out his phone, the screen illuminating his features in the dark booth. Niall was typically glued to his phone, constantly snapchatting and sending out inane tweets, but this was the first time he'd taken it out all evening.
“Harry might stop by. His plane just touched down a few hours ago.” Niall explained, sliding the phone back into his jeans.
Louis' eyes nearly melted from their sockets as the words replayed through his head. Harry might stop by . Niall had mentioned the possibility of the Harry Styles showing up for lad's night earlier in the week, but it was only now that the idea seemed to flesh itself out to Louis. Harry might stop by . Those words had just latched themselves to Louis' insides and had begun to suck the life from him. What's breath? How do you do that again? Do you need to do that to survive? Oh no, breathe. Breathe.
Why was he freaking out like this? Louis had met celebrities before. Hell, he was a celebrity. There was no need for his stomach to begin digesting itself in a star-struck panic. Harry was just some bloke from some band. Sure, Status Solo had been one of his favorite bands for years, and Harry Styles was beyond fit with his waxed abs and pouting lips, and well, yeah, his lyrics had always really spoken to Louis on a deep emotional level like no other music ever had and oh no, oh no, oh no. Harry might stop by.
“ Louis?” Zayn asked gently, apparently noticing his inner crisis.
“Did you just die, Tommo?” Niall inquired.
“But we're seriously going to meet Harry Styles?” Louis rasped, a long dormant inner fangirl awakening within him and clawing her way up his throat.
“Oh, I totally forgot to tell you!” Niall said, ignoring Louis' query. “Harry's a big fan of yours.”
“Of me?” Louis squeaked, losing all semblance of dignity.
“He's really into the whole Metal Heart thing.”
“But the movie isn't even out yet.”
“No, like, he's really into it. Like he has signed copies of the books locked away in a safe and he follows all of these blogs with Metal Heart conspiracy theories and the like. He keeps going on and on about how you were cast perfectly.” By the time Niall had stopped talking, Louis had both of his hands pressed into his face, attempting to smother himself out of existence.
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no.” He groaned pathetically as a wave of alcohol-infused nerves spread through his limbs. This simply did not compute. Harry Styles was a fan of Louis'? How could something like that be true without space and time being torn to shreds? What even was life?
Louis was remotely aware of Liam cackling beside him as he continued to issue a steady stream of “no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no,” until the music changed. Louis took a sharp intake of breath as Beyonce began to demand that they, “smack it, smack it, in the air.” At last, something that made sense.
“It's dance time.” He proclaimed, jumping to his feet and tugging Liam up after him. His sense of balance dipped precariously upon standing, a result of the last round of shots, but he still found himself propelled to the dance floor with Zayn and Liam in tow.
He turned to his friends and began moving to the music, suddenly realizing how long it had been since he'd gone out dancing. Seeing Zayn beside him, whirling with a graceful cadence that left all those nearby in complete awe, Louis was almost transported back to those early days of no money and no connections, just frivolous nights at gay bars and unadulterated fun. And now here they were, six years later, in an exclusively posh night club, buying drinks on a guitar player's tab, and about to meet Harry Styles.
Oh no. Louis was thinking about Harry Styles again. Oh no. Oh no. Oh no no no no no. Distraction, distraction, he needed a distraction. Ah, getting Zayn and Liam to dance together. What a worthy distraction.
Liam looked like a total buffoon, moving his body without inhibition with a giant smile plastered across his face. It was only too easy for Louis to lure him into Zayn's personal space. He began by dancing between them, waiting for the prime moment to slide away and sandwich the two together. Louis admired his work from nearby, particularly enjoying the uncharacteristically impish grin that was gracing Zayn's typically stoic features. Several songs pulsed by, Louis getting lost in his own head-space as he danced his little heart out until the crowd suddenly thinned.
The three men looked around, noticing the desolate dance floor and vacant bar. A crowd had begun to form near the entrance, churning with screaming girls and camera flashes. It was as if someone very important had just arrived.
Distraction. Distraction. Distraction.
“Bar's empty!” Louis noted, hearing the frantic tone in his own voice. “How about those pitchers?”
“I'll go check in with Niall.” Zayn purred, walking slowly back in the direction of their booth.
“Perfect, because I have some words for you, Payno.” Louis informed him as he launched himself onto Liam for a piggy-back ride. Liam huffed as he scrambled to lock his arms under Louis' legs.
“Bloody hell, Lou!”
“To the alcohol!” Louis roared, pointing ahead of them. Liam began to begrudgingly move forward.
“I'm not just here for you to climb all over.”
“Jury's still out on that one, babe.” Louis slid off Liam's back as they arrived at the bar. He quickly ordered three pitchers of beer (on Niall's tab, obviously) before turning his attention back to Liam. “So you know how I'm an impartial third party to your life?”
“That's a hilarious lie.”
“But Liiiiam, there were actual fireworks shooting out of Zayn's eyes when he was looking at you. That's a fire hazard, that. Think of everyone's safety!”
“I'm just trying to enjoy myself.” Liam said bashfully, looking down at his own hands.
“Just ask him out already.” Louis begged. “He'll say yes. I so, absolutely promise.”
“No, I just-.” Liam stammered as their pitchers arrived. Louis scooped two of them up, one in each hand, leaving Liam to carry the last one. They began to walk back to the booth. “I just can't. Not right now.”
Louis immediately spun around to face Liam.
“Look at me, I'm Liam! I'm cute and tiny and shy!” Louis mock-sang, now walking backwards with no regard for his own safety.
“I'm going to die alone with my cat and my mum because I'm shy-!” Louis' pitchers sloshed the amber liquid to the ground as he collided with someone behind him.
“Oops!” The someone yelped, turning on the spot. Louis twisted around to apologize, only to feel his soul leave his body.
Tall. Curly hair. Green eyes.
“Hi.” Louis breathed.