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Time Bomb

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Louis was fairly surprised when the first words to come from the interviewer's mouth weren't, “So you're gay, then?”

This was probably for the best, because after that bold of an opener, Louis would have had no other choice than to whip his hair theatrically with a flourish of jazz hands and say, “What clued you in?” At these words, he assumed a chorus line covered in glittery rainbow leotards would burst into the room with a resounding rendition of It's Raining Men. Sure, the whole display would be playing into stereotypes, but at least it would be a good show for all involved.

But alas, no chorus line. Instead, Louis was left facing this mousy haired interviewer who peered up at him over her thick glasses and began to speak.

“Since it was announced last year that you had been cast in the upcoming film adaptation of the Metal Heart series, there has been considerable speculation about your private life. Most notably there have been sizable rumors about your sexuality, a topic that you have remained silent about. Is there anything you'd like to say now in regards to the rumors?” She asked. What a completely rational question. How boring.

Louis inhaled a shallow breath that clipped against the back of his throat. He knew exactly what he was supposed to say next; his management had worked him through every imaginable talking point over the last week. He'd spent at least a full thirty hours in that cramped office, being grilled by middle-aged men about what words he should use.

“Stay away from anything that might be construed as a gay pun. 'Setting the record straight' for example. Or 'I'm just going to come out and say it'.”

“So I probably shouldn't work the term 'Captain Blowjob' into the conversation?”

Louis was pretty sure he was hilarious. His management team wasn't convinced.

It was still a complete fever dream to just use the words “management team”. There was a whole team of people who handled his career. What poor souls.

It was already six years since Louis had arrived in LA at the idyllic age of eighteen. Eighteen-year-old Louis had survived on peanut butter sandwiches and corn chips. Twenty-four year old Louis had a management team. Back then, he'd shared a tiny flat with Zayn in a dodgy neighborhood overrun by feral cats. Zayn would zip across town on the city bus back and forth between modeling go-sees while Louis tried to squeeze auditions between his shifts at Red Robin's.

At the end of the day they would both tangle up on the couch together, splitting a pot of Kraft mac and cheese, to watch whatever two line role Louis had landed on a daytime soap that week. Weekends were spent sneaking into every gay club in a twenty-mile radius with their fake ID's and conning every man in the building into buying them a drink. Louis would bring just about anyone with a penis and a pulse back to their flat until one of his random hookups fled in the middle night with the stereo tucked under his arm. Fear of burglary had put a serious damper on his libido.

Like clockwork every Sunday morning he would wake up to a call from his mother, calling in a panic that he had been shot or had died in a meth lab explosion. He'd assure her that he'd actually have to enter a meth lab before he could possibly die in an explosion, and he was much too cute to get shot. She'd remind him that there was always room for him at home in Doncaster, but she knew it was in vain. Louis was where he had to be. Sure, LA meant washing his clothes at the grungiest laundromat in existence, meant listening to men scream at each other on the street below through his bedroom window, meant smiling at casting directors through homophobic jokes and still not getting the role. Never getting the role. But Louis wasn't ready to give up yet. He owed himself more than that.

It wasn't until his twenty-first birthday that he met Liam. Louis had just finished his fourth birthday shot at his favorite gay bar when Liam slung one muscular arm around Louis' shoulders and began reciting his entire life story to him. Somewhere between drunk, garbled exclamations of, “You're amazing, man, you should be my best friend, man,” Liam had explained that he was just starting out as a talent agent. Louis had responded by telling him that his current agent was much more focused on selling crack cocaine than getting Louis any auditions. Liam had offered to represent Louis immediately.

“Tell you what!” Louis had shouted, grabbing Liam by the shoulders and looking directly into his eyes, “You make me famous, then I'll make you rich. Then we'll be best friends forever and ever and ever.”

Louis completely forgot about this exchange in the midst of the severe hangover that followed, until two days later when Liam called him with an audition for a local commercial. In a completely unprecedented turn of events, Louis landed the job. Within a month he had snagged two guest spots on TV shows. Within a year he had his first supporting role in an indie film.

Liam had a natural talent for the job. He was earnest and likable, and people just wanted to please him enough to see that puppy dog smile of his. Running into Liam at a shady gay bar was the best business decision Louis had ever made.

That was also the year that Louis met Joshua.

Zayn and his entourage of unspeakably beautiful model friends had dragged Louis to a party with a bunch of underage college kids. Louis was about to find an excuse to slip away and go to an actual bar when he spotted Joshua, a raven-haired UCLA freshman struggling to twist the top off of his beer bottle. Louis had respectfully informed him that it wasn't a twist off. When he handed him the bottle opener on his keys, the bashful smile that Joshua had flashed him in response had momentarily stalled Louis' heart.

In the months that followed, nights spent doing body shots at the club turned into nights spent in with Joshua, helping him with his sociology flash cards while a Wes Anderson film played in the background. Joshua would cook Louis dinner and Louis would try to distract him. It was as good a match as any.

Louis had just woken Joshua up with a good morning kiss a year and a half later when he got the call that he'd landed the role in Squad, a low budget buddy comedy about three college students trying to throw a massive party. The premise didn't sound particularly original, but Louis thought the script was comedic genius. The shoot wrapped in less than two months, but Louis had loved every second of it. The other actors had assured him that they were being practically robbed with the less than impressive size of their paychecks, but it was more money than Louis had seen in his entire career thus far. He even bought a new suit to attend the small premiere.

Squad had a limited release and no one had expected much from it. That was until it became the highest grossing sleeper hit of the summer. Louis experienced an overnight reversal of his entire life. Random strangers would recognize him at Starbucks and demanded pictures of him for their instagrams, his friends would send him links to interviews he had never actually given, and his twitter followers had suddenly flown through the roof. But the gravity of everything didn't hit him until that late night call from Liam. He was practically screaming into the receiver when he announced, “I got you the audition for the Metal Heart movie!”

Louis had quite nearly shit a brick.

Metal Heart, an international bestseller about teenage superheroes, being adapted into a major motion picture, and they were interested in Louis. Mega famous Hollywood starlet Eleanor Calder was already attached to the project, and oh my god they were interested in Louis.

A year had passed since that phone call. If there was any confusion about whether or not Louis landed the role, the fact that he now answered to a management team and had the chiseled body than can only be the product of being in a superhero movie are the major clues that yeah, he landed the motherfucking role.

Filming had wrapped a couple of months earlier, and somewhere in the surreal acid trip that had become Louis' life, the subject of his sexuality had become a media firestorm. He mostly took the blame for that himself, considering it was his own offhand comment that had given life to the rumors.

“Is it true that you're dating Eleanor Calder?”

“No, no, no. Lovely girl, but not really my type. What, with the uterus and everything.”

He considered tweeting that, of course, he had meant that he was only attracted to women who've had hysterectomies, but the damage was done. Louis would never admit it to anyone besides Liam and Zayn, but he'd spent the next week as a panic-stricken wreck. He'd locked himself in his flat with Joshua trying to dry more than one bought of irrational tears. His career had only just begun, and in one fell, homosexual swoop, it was going to end.

But that wasn't quite how the publicity team for the film saw it. Press for Metal Heart was just beginning and what better way to drum up attention than for one of the main actors to come out of the closet? Their very own gay superhero; how twenty-first century.

And now here he was, knuckles gone white where they gripped the wooden armrests of his chair, with this interviewer patiently peering at him over her glasses. (But seriously, why even wear the glasses if you're not going to look through them?) He licked his lips, noticing that they had gone very dry, and cleared his throat.

Might as well just get it over with, yeah?

“Yes, I appreciate this opportunity to be honest about this subject.” He said, shifting in his chair and meeting the interviewer's eyes. “I do identify as gay.”

Chapter Text

PART ONE

 

 

“You and I, we’re a time bomb.”

-Tove Lo

Louis thoroughly abhorred the new green carpet. He could hardly stand to even look at it, much less allow it to touch his actual feet. It would just be too cruel to allow something as innocent and naked as his bare feet to be caressed by something so tastelessly chartreuse as the new carpet. But it wasn't even the carpet itself that had Louis so churning with inner turmoil; it was the fact that he had signed away all of his rights to complain about it.

Louis William Tomlinson exists to complain. While most biological organisms stay alive by ingesting food and converting the calories into energy, Louis literally keeps his internal organs pumping by complaining at least three times a day. He could probably live without food or water for weeks on end, as long as there was someone nearby to listen to him gripe about how hungry he was.

But the circumstances that had lead to the great carpet debacle had been well out of his control. The day after the release of his, “Guess what guys? I'm gay!” article (it was actually titled something slightly more tasteful, but that was just beyond boring) his management had advised that he stay away from social media for a few days. Luckily for Louis, his ever-so-helpful boyfriend had just grabbed onto that idea and fucking ran with it.

Joshua had immediately installed a parental control app on Louis' phone that blocked him from the internet, then had changed the passcodes on every internet-enabled device in the house. Louis was graciously allowed to still watch whatever he wanted on the telly and glean whatever information he could from it, but this proved futile at best. If he watched entertainment news for a good three hours, he might be privileged with a few mentions of his name, but this practice soon led to Louis standing on the couch, remote thrust in the air like a sword, screaming, “I cannot be expected to rely on this antiquated picture box for information! I will not stand for this barbarism!”

Joshua would respond with an icy, “Please don't stand on the couch.”

After two weeks of existing in an internet-free hell dimension, Louis knew that some sort of compromise was going to have to be made. He decided to wrap his devious plan into the good news he'd been hiding from Joshua for weeks.

“I've made a bid on a new house.” He blurted, not fussing with any sort of preamble. Joshua froze, looking up from the dishwasher he had just opened.

“You're buying a new house?” He clarified, void of any telling emotion.

“Well, actually, we're buying a new house.” Louis said, hopping off of the counter top he'd been perched on. “I mean, I'm still paying for it and everything. But I want to think of it as our house.” Joshua stayed silent, looking down as a grin began playing at the corners of his mouth.

“You want me to move in with you?” He repeated, still trying to hide his smile. Louis stepped forward and slipped his arms around Joshua's waist.

“I want your name on the lease.” Louis said, low and intimate, pressing a quick kiss to his lips. “And I can't wait to hear what your mum says when we're officially living in sin.”

“Lou!” Joshua laughed, pushing him away.

“And it's double sin, too, what with all the sodomy.” Louis continued.

“Ugh, stop. That's such a gross word.”

“But in all honesty,” Louis said, tone shifting, “things have been going so well lately, I think it's time we started to spoil ourselves.”

“I whole-heartedly agree.”

And I want you to pick out all of the floors and counter tops.” Louis continued, garnering an enthusiastic smile from Joshua. “But on one, teeny, tiny condition.” Joshua's smile fell as Louis handed him his phone, open to the parental control app.

That was the devilish deal that had landed him with the green carpet in the master bedroom. How he was expected to hold an erection in that room while something so wretched was glaring up at him from the floor was completely beyond him. Louis could practically feel the stress ulcers simmering in his stomach.

It was only the second week in the new house, and everything was finally unpacked enough to start feeling like home. Sure, the place was a sprawling abomination of guest bedrooms and multi-story windows with a pool in the backyard and a security gate out front, but they were trying to make it cozy. It was by no means an awe-inspiring celebrity mansion, but as Louis traipsed down the modern, spiral staircase towards the back veranda, he had to admit that this Hollywood thing was treating him pretty well.

Joshua was already seated at a small table, a pinkening sunset outlining his soft features. A bottle of white wine was open with a glass beside it, waiting for Louis to sit down and imbibe. Joshua preferred to sip from a glass of sparkling water with a wedge of lemon, ignoring the alcohol with haughty derision. The beer bottle that he had been struggling with over three years earlier when he met Louis had been the first and last vice he'd ever touched. Joshua's sexual orientation was so far the only exception he had made from his strict religious upbringing, his mother's acceptance of this fact still pending.

Louis sat beside him and continued on with what had become their favorite evening hobby. From their veranda, the two could see clearly into their neighbor's backyard, which had offered endless entertainment. They'd yet to figure out who was inhabiting the large house next door, but a never ending line of drunk popstars seemed to frequent his pool.

“Oh my god, that's definitely Katy Perry!” Louis exclaimed, pointing at a distant figure as she made a cannonball.

“No way. Doesn't she have blue hair right now?” Joshua countered.

“Pretty sure the blue hair's a wig, babe.” Louis said distractedly as the black haired woman in question surfaced from the water with a yelp. “Did you hear that sound she just made? It was like that part in Firework where she's like, 'AH, AH, AH!'”

“Shhh, they'll hear you!” Joshua laughed as Louis snaked his arm around his boyfriend's shoulders and began to sing to him.

“DO YOU EVER FEEL, LIKE A PASTIC BAG?"

“Shhhhh!”

“BLOWING IN THE WIND, SOMETHING, SOMETHING FIREWORK, SOMETHING!”

“Oi!” came a cry from the yard over. Both of their heads snapped toward the source of the noise to see a blonde man looking over the fence, directly at them.

“We've been discovered. Flee!” Louis cried, grabbing his wine glass and racing into the safety of the house, Joshua quick on his heels.

They were both standing in the kitchen, Louis trying to convince a rattled Joshua that it's not a federal offense to watch your neighbor from the backyard, when a buzz echoed through the house. The sound took a moment to register to Louis as it wasn't quite familiar yet, but then he realized someone was trying to buzz in from the security gate. Joshua's eyes grew to about three times their actual size in fear as Louis scuttled to the intercom at the front door.

“Erm, hello?” Louis said, pressing the intercom's red button.

“Hello! It's your neighbor. Open the motherfucking gate so I can get a motherfucking look at you!" a voice crackled through. Louis snorted while Joshua stood nearby, clearly scandalized by the crude language.

“Come on in!” Louis said, pressing the button to unlock the gate.

You're letting him in ?” Joshua asked in an unnecessary whisper.

“Did he sound Irish?” Louis asked, ignoring Joshua's worry as he opened the front door. The blonde man from before was ambling up the walkway, clutching onto a small box and a half empty bottle of tequila. His smile was so large that it hardly looked like it should be allowed to exist on Earth. He shook Louis' hand enthusiastically as he reached the front door.

“No fucking way, you're that bloke from that movie!” The man exclaimed as he stepped into the house without invitation.

“Yes, that's my official title, but you can call me Louis.”

“Wait, you're English?” The man asked, eyebrows shooting up his forehead.

“Afraid I am.” Louis responded, very used to this particular question. His American accent had become rather impeccable after six years of getting cast in American productions.

“Well thank fuck. I'm Niall Horan.” He announced, shaking Louis' hand again vigorously, apparently forgetting that he had done the same exact thing less than two minutes earlier. The smell of alcohol cascaded from Niall in a wave.

“This is my boyfriend, Joshua.” Louis said, gesturing behind Niall. Joshua was rigid with disapproval, which made Louis chuckle. Joshua was kind of cute when he got cranky, which was lucky, since getting cranky was pretty much his factory setting.

“Welcome to the neighborhood.” Niall said merrily, handing the small box and bottle to Joshua. He turned the box over to reveal it was a package of unmade jello, which elicited another snort from Louis. “These fucking Americans.” Niall continued. “They'll come over and drink me out of house and home for any 49er's game, but the second you try to get them to watch an actual footie match they're suddenly 'too busy'.”

“That's why you have to make British friends. We've got a couple of mates coming over tomorrow for the Manchester United match.” Louis remarked.

“Perfect, I'll be here at three.” Niall announced, once again without invitation. Louis smirked, not bothered.

“What do you do for a living, Niall?” Joshua asked, judgment heavy in his voice. He was looking from the bottle to his phone, and Louis knew from experience that he was looking up how expensive the bottle was.

“Guitar.” Niall answered, as if this were a common profession.

“You in a band or something?” Louis questioned.

“Oh yeah, you ever listen to Status Solo?” He asked. If Louis had been drinking something at the moment, he would have taken a spectacular spit-take. Of course, of fucking course he had listened to Status Solo.

“You're joking, right? I have all of your CD's. Like actual physical copies that I bought from the store.” Louis gaped.

“Aw, thanks for not downloading them illegally. How sweet.”

“Didn't your lead singer just insult the Pope or something?” Joshua asked, earning a venomous glare from Louis.

“And the queen.” Niall added. “Harry feels very entitled to his opinion. Especially when he's drunk. Speaking of which, you're both welcome to come next door. You've probably noticed we're having a small party.”

“Well, we're having a quiet night in.” Joshua responded a little too quickly. Louis was usually happy to stay in with Joshua for the night, but his heart sunk heavily at this. The lead guitarist of Status Solo was inviting them over to his house. Their poster had hung on Louis' wall in his first flat, for fuck's sake. This fact made Louis feel slightly guilty that he hadn't recognized Niall, but honestly, who could be expected to notice anyone else on a poster that featured a shirtless Harry Styles? No one, that's who.

“Fair enough.” Niall conceded, heading back out the door. “Manchester United tomorrow!” he called over his shoulder, disappearing down the walkway.

“I like him.” Louis commented as he closed the door.

“This is a five hundred dollar bottle of tequila.” Joshua said, aghast.

“Actually, it's two fifty since half of it's gone.” Louis pointed out cheekily. Joshua smirked as he set the bottle down and began to slink towards the hallway.

“Come to bed?” He asked.

It was still early, and the distant thrum of bass from Niall's house gave Louis the sneaking suspicion that neither of them were going to get any sleep that night. But Louis found that he couldn't really be annoyed with his new neighbor if it meant he might get an autograph from Harry Styles.

Chapter Text

“We live in an age where, everything is staged, all we do is fake our feelings.”

-James Bellion

Louis' mother had been mostly supportive when he'd decided to move to LA six years earlier. She had a general “You do you, honey” attitude towards most of Louis' aspirations, but she had still been slightly concerned that her precious son might be corrupted by the god-forsaken valley of sin that she believed California to be. To placate her fears, Louis had sworn he would never touch anything harder than marijuana or alcohol. He'd been able to stay true to this promise since he was eighteen, but with friends like Zayn and his pill-popping model posse, Louis had been hard pressed for entertainment that wouldn't break his vow. And thus, the addiction to crap telly had begun.

He had very real opinions about the strengths and weaknesses of the Maury show versus Jerry Springer, he'd followed every plot line on General Hospital for years, and his DVR was completely bloated with old episodes of TMZ that he just wasn't ready to part with yet. Currently, he was sprawled across the couch watching a vaguely interesting E! News segment about Jennifer Lawrence's cat when Niall's face flashed onto the screen.

He was joined by four other men with sultry expressions and rebelliously black clothing, and Louis immediately recognized it as a press photo of Status Solo. The picture was soon accompanied by the female anchor's commanding voiceover.

“More Harry Styles drama is coming out of London tonight, as the Status Solo lead singer was recorded giving a bizarre interview to a reporter on the street.” The anchor explained as the image switched to an unsteady iPhone video. “The sexy singer was bombarded by press after rumors surfaced this week about tension with his longtime girlfriend, Arrienne Brant.”

Harry pushed a pale hand through his hair, the dark brown tresses tumbling in loose curls toward his shoulders. He stepped toward a reporter, his features briefly illuminated by each camera flash, his vividly green eyes flicking to the source of the iPhone video briefly. The small crowd continued to shout his name, but his attention settled on one off-screen reporter.

“Why weren't you at Arrienne's birthday party in Paris last week?” The reporter asked, thrusting a skinny microphone towards Harry's particularly pink-tinged lips.

“You know what I want? A boat.” Harry responded, ignoring the question in a low, musky voice. “Do you want to get a boat with me? The two of us, just us, on a boat.” The reporter stammered out an unintelligible response to the proposition before Harry continued. “Don't tell Arrienne, though. She can be quite mean.”

He pouted theatrically for a moment before walking away, a chorus of questions being shouted at his retreating back. The screen switched back to the anchor, standing in the E! News studio.

“All this, only a week after Harry tweeted out that he is the love-child of Pope Benedict and the Queen of England, and reportedly got completely naked at a London night club. With Status Solo's most recent album set to be certified platinum in the US and the UK by the end of the month, we have to wonder if the success is starting to get to the curly haired front-man’s head. Is Arrienne finally tired of his behavior? Tweet us what you think.”

The show faded to a commercial break as the security gate buzzed throughout the house. Louis already knew that it was Liam, who always arrives fashionably early to any and all social events. The football match started in about an hour, so this was right on time for Liam. He'd yet to see the new house, so Louis gave him a quick tour before showing him the back veranda.

“I've got news for you.” Liam said, donning his adult voice. Louis could tell that Liam had been wanting to talk business since he'd stepped inside. “They're committing to next October for Metal Heart 2 . Four weeks in LA, Four in Chicago.” It had been almost three months since filming wrapped for the first Metal Heart movie, and Liam had been negotiating his schedule for the sequel for the last few weeks.

“So I've got a year, then.” Louis remarked. He'd been told that pre-production for the next movie would be granting him a lengthy break, but he hadn't expected to have an entire year off before the franchise continued.

Which means,” Liam segued with big, imploring eyes. “You've got homework to do.” Louis groaned. “I'm having a messenger bring over about ten screenplays for you to look at.”

“Ten?”

“I sifted through about two hundred, so I'll have no complaining from you.” He chided. “Pick something you like. Not everyone gets to pick what projects they work on.”

Louis pursed his lips belligerently at the thought of doing real work when Liam's phone pinged.

“Is that your Tinder Boy?” Louis asked precociously, alluding to the blonde haired longboarder that Liam had met on the dating app.

“S' Zayn. He'll be here in a few minutes.”

And how is your Tinder Boy?”

“I wouldn't know. He ended things.” Liam responded, not looking up from his phone as he thumbed a response.

“Oh Liiiiiiiiiam.”

Liam finally looked up to see Louis' arms outstretched towards him. Louis stepped forward, grabbing both sides of his face.

“Louis, don't. It's fine.” Liam warned.

“Shhhhh, baby. Let it out. Let it out.” Louis now had Liam's head pressed to his chest and was beginning to slide down to the ground so he could cradle the burly man's head in his lap.

“Louis! Stop! I don't want to be on the ground!” Despite his protests, Liam knew his attempts were futile. He surrendered to Louis' embrace.

“Just tell me all about it. Don't worry about crying.”

“There's nothing to tell.”

“Tell me. Tell Boo Bear.”

“Don't call yourself that.”

“I just want to mend your heartbreak.”

“I'm not heartbroken. We just didn't get on.” Liam said, sighing and settling further into Louis' lap. “He's getting back with his ex.”

“Oh, fuck him.”

“It's whatever.”

“Well, at least you can ask Zayn out now.”

“Lou, don't.” Liam protested, just as the back door opened and Joshua and Zayn poked their heads out.

“Why are you on the ground?” Zayn asked.

“Liam had his heart broken.” Louis answered matter-of-factly.

“Oh, Li.” Zayn cooed.

“I did not have my heart broken.” Liam argued, disentangling himself from Louis and rising to his feet. Louis also stood up, smirking as he noticed Zayn leave a lingering hand on Liam's shoulder as they stepped back into the house.

As with any typical footie match, Joshua pretended to pay attention for about five minutes before inexplicably disappearing into some unseen part of the house. Zayn always remained demure, watching the game silently with little to no physical movement. Liam sat rigid at the end of the couch, eyes wide as he issued a series of grunts in reaction to the game.

Niall's addition to the afternoon, however, added a new twist to the dynamic. He arrived with a bottle of whiskey under his arm that he guzzled like blue gatorade. Much like Louis, Niall's typical reaction to anything that happened during the game was to jump onto the couch and scream obscenities to everyone within shouting distance.

They were, of course, fueled off of each other's enthusiasm to the point that Louis nearly lost his balance while standing on the back of the couch, only to be saved when Niall grabbed his shirt and wrenched him forward, sending him crashing into the coffee table and swiftly crushing it.

Yes, Louis quite liked Niall.

Once furniture was being destroyed, Joshua had brought an end to lad's night, but Niall nonetheless became a steady fixture at the house over the next couple of weeks. His energy never waned, which made him endlessly entertaining. Joshua found him tiresome, but Louis had quickly begun to think of Niall as an integral part of his home life.

He'd almost completely forget that Niall was a rockstar until he'd say something like, “So one time I went to get a cheeseburger with Adam Levine,” or, “Kanye's really good at picking out birthday presents.” His celebrity exploits were juicier than anything Louis was prepared to fathom, but he was finding himself continually disappointed by how mundane Niall's mentions of his own bandmates were. The same day that the celebrity news outlets were claiming that Harry Styles had tried to bring a tiger on an airplane, Niall's only mention of him had been that Harry preferred regular cream cheese to flavored cream cheese.

It was one night while playing his third round of FIFA with Niall that Louis finally worked up the courage to inquire further about the eccentric lead singer. Niall was answering text messages between games when he suddenly turned the screen towards Louis.

“Look, Harry made a smiley face in his cereal.” Niall said, voice dripping with fondness. Louis' eyes focused on the screen to see that, indeed, there was a smiley face amongst the sodden cheerios. The accompanying text merely said, “Food!”

For a picture of breakfast food, it was strangely adorable.

“Speaking of Harry,” Louis said slyly. “Is he, like, erm. Does he-”

“Is he as batshit as everyone thinks he is?” Niall interrupted. Louis felt his face grow warm.

“I didn't mean that, I was just wondering about, erm, well, with everything they say about him on the telly-”

“No, he didn't try to get a tiger on a plane. He's afraid of large mammals.” Niall answered. Louis analyzed Niall's face, trying to sense whether he had overstepped with the direction of the conversation. “He's honestly a really sweet guy. I've known 'm since primary.”

“Really?”

“Oh yeah. We learned to play instruments together when we were kids, and then suddenly we were eighteen and getting signed to a major label. The fame's kind of hit him harder than the rest of us, but he's still...” Niall faded out for a second, looking down. “He's still Harry.”

It was then that Joshua strutted out from the kitchen, a magazine in one hand and some sort of green, homemade smoothie in the other.

“Oi, Josh, you shitface!” Said Niall, his boisterous demeanor erasing any evidence of the moment that had just occurred. Louis blinked hard at Niall's use of the name “Josh.” So much for trying to get Joshua to like Niall. “Come take a turn at FIFA.” Niall demanded, gesturing with his controller. Joshua's face soured.

“No thank you.” He said mock-sweetly as he left the room.

“Lou, when are you going to get your boyfriend to start having some fun?

“He's kind of a homebody.” Louis admitted with a shrug.

“How old are you, Tommo?"

“Twenty four.”

“Twenty four years old and you spend every night of the week watching Netflix with your boyfriend?”

“Well, yeah. He's cute.”

“You're the star of a multi-million dollar franchise, for fuck's sake!” Niall threw his controller onto the brand new coffee table to punctuate his point. Louis began to focus on his own fingers as they picked at the seam of the couch.

“I wouldn't mind maybe going out a little more.” He said quietly, almost afraid Joshua would overhear them.

“Good. It's decided. Bring the lads. We're going out on Saturday. And do that gay thing where you make yourself look much fitter than a straight man ever could.”

“That's right offensive.” Louis said with a laugh as he scooped his controller back up, already wondering how he was going to get Joshua to go along with this.

“Oh, and speaking of Harry,” Niall added “He might be back in town by then. Interested in meeting him?”

Louis froze as he realized that yes, he would very much like to meet Harry Styles.

Chapter Text

“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.

“Lou-!”

“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.

Harry Styles.

“Hi.” Louis breathed.

Chapter Text

“I didn't know I was lonely till I saw your face.”

-The Bleachers

Harry’s eyes were a striking, honeydew green framed by smudged eyeliner as black as his pupils, which had grown to about three times their original size since landing on Louis. Both of his hands were clasped over his gaping mouth, a collection of rings sparkling from his slender fingers. He looked at Louis with an expression somewhere between excitement and complete terror. Altogether, it was a pretty accurate reenactment of how Louis had been panicking earlier in the evening.

“You’re-!" Harry stammered. “You’re you!” His shock sounded unnatural through the timbre of his deep voice. Before Louis couldn't even consider collecting himself enough to respond, Harry turned to Niall, who was absentmindedly guzzling beer straight from a pitcher from his seat at the booth. “You didn’t tell me he was going to be here!”

“Course I did.” Niall responded.

“No, no you did not. I would definitely have remembered that.”

“Oh. Whoops.” Niall shrugged, turning his attention back to his beer.

Harry slowly turned back to Louis, his eyes somehow impossibly wider and a whisper of a dimples beginning to poke through on both cheeks.

“I’m Harry.” He said on an exhale, extending his hand.

“Oh, I’m very, very aware of who you are.” Louis responded, trying to convey just how star-struck he was.

He shook his hand, and it was in that moment that Louis finally took in the person that was standing before him. At this proximity, Harry was all jawline and hazelnut curls, a flourish of full-blown, boyish dimples with the tease of inked skin poking out from under his shirt, full pink lips, remarkably skinny jeans, and this aura of charm that tangibly radiated from his glistening skin. His billowy, loose-fitting black shirt was unbuttoned to a precariously low degree, revealing a butterfly splayed across his taut muscles.

But it was Harry’s eyes that Louis couldn’t look away from. There was something so enrapturing, so gripping in his gaze that Louis found himself locked there, staring back at this smiling man.

“Um, hi! Sorry! Could we get a picture with you?” There was a woman by Harry’s side, phone in hand, a hopeful look in her eyes.

Harry and Louis broke their stare, suddenly realizing that they had been standing there wordlessly, hands clasped together under the guise of a handshake for what might have been several minutes. Harry blinked as if surfacing from a daydream and turned to the fan.

“Yes, but only if the picture is artistic in a post-modern sense.” He said as the fan whisked him away.

Louis collapsed into his seat, panting as if he had just run a marathon. He’d done it. He’d just survived meeting Harry Styles. Or had he? Was he dead? Is this what purgatory looks like? At least there seemed to be alcohol in purgatory.

Up until that point, he hadn’t been aware that there was wait-staff at the club. But since their booth had been graced by Harry’s A-list credentials, the group had been receiving regular attention from a waitress. The alcohol consumption had increased ten-fold.

Harry would engage himself whole-heartedly with everyone at the table, demanding snippets of their life stories and reveling in whatever he coaxed them into revealing. According to Harry, Zayn’s preference for jelly donuts was “esoterically beautiful,” the fact that Liam had minored in sport’s medicine at Uni made him a “well-rounded citizen of the world,” and the fact that Niall had made his own BLT for lunch was “an achievement worthy of acclaim and renown.”

Between these conversations Harry would flit around the club. That was really the only word to describe it: Harry would flit. He would disappear at his own volition, seemingly following whatever direction his thoughts would send him in. Occasionally he would bring one of them along, dragging Niall or Zayn away to “observe an anomaly” or meet someone “utterly life-changing.” He even whisked Liam away on a little field trip at one point, which Liam had returned from by himself about ten minutes later.

“So Harry’s taking Molly in the bathroom.” Liam recounted matter-of-factly, sliding back into his spot beside Zayn.

“How do you know?” Zayn asked.

“Because I took some with him.”

“Li.” Zayn sighed, eyes fixed on Liam beside him. This reaction was a far cry from the Zayn Louis had known when they first began rooming together. Young Zayn had considered recreational drugs exactly that: recreational. But after two of his model friends had died of overdoses in the last year, his opinion on pill-popping had soured. Liam smiled at him obliviously, causing Zayn to slink a protective arm around his shoulders.

By the time Harry returned to them, there was an entire menagerie of alcoholic beverages waiting for him at the table. Free drinks had been piling up for him all night and despite his best efforts, Harry had scarcely made a dent in them. Apparently giving up on trying to consume the beverages, Harry began to mix and pour them into each other like a wide-eyed child with a chemistry set.

As the night continued, Louis became more and more certain of one thing: Harry was ignoring him. The conversation had progressed to a point that Harry was now quizzing Liam about his first childhood pet, but he’d yet to say anything to Louis since their initial greeting. Anytime Louis added his commentary to the topic at hand, Harry would giggle sheepishly and look down to his drink, waiting several minutes before he spoke again.

Despite this, Louis couldn’t even begin to count the number of times he had looked up to find Harry watching him. Their eyes would lock yet again, just as they had when they first met, and the two would spend an inordinate amount of time staring at each other until someone said one of their names.

“And Harry’s just a spoiled git who couldn’t be arsed to fly in any earlier, so he got to skip a whole week of meetings.” Niall complained, tearing Harry away from another moment of watching Louis. Harry quickly recovered from the mental lapse, turning his attention back to his drink-mixing experiment.

 “Mmmm, meetings. No.” Harry grumbled, concentrating as he poured his drink into one of the pitchers, along with a flurry of other fizzy, brightly colored cocktails.

“Because picking the next single from the album apparently isn’t worth your attention.” Niall bit back.

 “What’d you pick?” Louis asked Niall.

“Erm, Paradise Red.”

“That’s my favorite one off the new album!” Louis said excitedly. “I used to listen to it on repeat between takes on Metal Heart. It just kind of mellowed me out. Got me in the right headspace.”

“It’s my favorite, too.” Harry said, causing Louis to whip his head around to face him. Harry’s smile was subdued, but was brimming with delight. There was something profoundly different in his eyes, as if a dam had just come crashing down. Louis could think of no other response but to smile back at him.

“The fuck have you done, Hazza?” Niall exclaimed in disgust, noting the concoction of Harry’s creation which had now muddled into a dark purple. Harry held the pitcher out to Niall, an innocent cadence to his offering. Niall considered the proposition for all of two seconds before heartily snatching the pitcher from him and immediately tossing it back, emptying it halfway with only a couple of gulps.

“Horan you twat! Spare a fucking thought for your poor liver!” Louis yelled, causing Harry to bark out a laugh that was more adolescent boy than grown man. “Think of those less fortunate, like ickle Liam with his one kidney.”

“You only have one kidney?” Niall asked, wiping a trail of purple sludge from his chin.

“Two now. One’s bionic.” Liam explained, making an inexplicable pointing gesture with his fingers. Any form of MDMA has always had an interesting effect on Liam.

“I have four nipples.” Harry announced proudly.

“You’re lying!” Louis countered, scandalized.

“He’s actually not.” Niall laughed through a hiccup. “Count’em four.”

“How are you not in the Smithsonian?” Louis ogled. “You’re a fucking work of art.” Harry began to laugh bashfully, a little too enamored by the compliment. He was all dimples and curls as another round of shots arrived at their table.

The new surge of alcohol propelled them to the dancefloor, all of their inhibitions having long since faded into a vodka infused haze. They began to grind and dance to the music and it was clear in his eyes that Liam had mentally left the picture. Zayn plastered himself to his front, attempting to ground him as they swayed together. Louis struggled to keep himself a free agent, peeling girls off of his front and sides and sending them in Niall’s direction.

The music thrummed deep in his chest, a numb sense of euphoria beginning to seep down his spine. Every time he opened his eyes there was something that sent a new swell of ecstasy through his limbs. There was Niall with a smile that could envelop the entire room, a bottle of expensive champagne in his hand. There were Zayn and Liam, so hopelessly gone for each other but so unwilling to admit it.

And then there was Harry, twisting and gyrating without a single care. The crowd would pulse and split open like a curtain, and Harry was there every time, dancing like some hipster Mick Jagger. He somehow managed to make it look stunning.

The music changed and the beat picked up, eliciting a cheer from the crowd as the first line echoed through the room:

 

Oh don’t you dare look back

Just keep your eyes on me

I said, ‘You’re holding back’

She said, ‘Shut up and dance with me’

 

And Harry was definitely looking at him now, parting the crowd with a hand extended toward Louis. Does this boy honestly think he’s Leonardo Di Caprio, standing on the grand staircase of the RMS Titanic, holding a hand out to Rose before he takes her on the adventure that changes the course of her life?

Of course Louis took his hand.

Louis’ world lurched as Harry pulled them together with a spin. They begin twirling and moving like uncoordinated school children, throwing their heads back and grasping onto each other for some semblance of balance. Between the two of them they somehow managed to stay upright, even as they bounced in unison and screamed the lyric:

Shut up and dance with me!

Harry was a contradiction beneath Louis’ fingertips, somehow loose and whirly while also warm and sturdy. It was then that Louis felt utterly liberated, every nerve and every cell in his body on fire with how much he was enjoying being alive. He was floating somewhere, a whirlwind of green and blue lights undulating around him; there was the sturdy presence of biceps under his hands and green eyes glowing through the brume. Louis felt safe yet free, and yes, it was definitely the alcohol talking, but there was absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Far too soon, the humid heat of the club gave way to a cold slap of fresh air. Louis was suddenly stumbling outside, arm slung around Zayn. Niall was nearby, his phone pressed to his ear as he called for a car.

“How’d you two get here? Oh who fucking cares. Just come with us.” He muttered, listening to his phone ring. Louis felt the trace of Zayn’s fingers on his scalp and Louis rolled his head into the touch. Zayn was so lovely, wasn’t he? Everyone was so lovely. Especially Harry. Where was Harry?

“M’ride’s here.” Harry said as a limo pulled up to the curb. Oh, there’s Harry. And there’s a fucking limousine.

“Subtle, Haz.” Niall commented.

“Here’s the quandary, Nialler.” Harry drawled, trying to stand imperiously in front of the limo despite his level of intoxication and lack of balance. “You could take these fine people home for the night to be boring, or you could come with me to get ice cream.”

Louis threw his head back and screamed, “ICE CREAM!” His words echoed back at them as they reverberated down the street. Liam quickly followed suit, chanting “ICE CREAM” as he pumped his fist. They piled into the back of the limo, joining in the chant like over hyped fraternity boys.

Louis was the last to duck into the limo and scarcely had a chance to survey the sprawling seats before Harry was pulling him down. Before he could form a second thought, Louis was in Harry’s lap, the taller man’s arms wrapped around his waist as a make-shift seat belt.

“Okay, I just have one question.” Harry said, a note of desperation in his voice.

“Alright, but only one.” Louis responded.

“There are a lot of people who think they’re cutting the bridge scene out of the movie.”

“Oh, so you’re just using me to get details about Metal Heart?” Louis chuckled with an overly dramatic roll of his eyes.

“No! No, no, no! I’m not! I’m not! I just-!” Harry’s head fell to Louis’ shoulder despondently. “I just really like that scene and it’s so important to the story because it really signifies the crossroads for all of the characters, plus all of the foreshadowing-!”

“Oh my god, Harry.” Louis said, suddenly realizing that this was the first time all night he had said Harry’s name to his face, and it kind of tingled on his tongue; to actually be saying Harry Styles' name to Harry Styles' face. He realized he could rather get used to the feeling.

Harry’s eyes flicked up to meet his.

“Oh my god, Louis.” He echoed.

“I can’t speak for what’s going to be in the final cut,” Louis said tantalizingly, Harry hanging on his every word. “But we did film the bridge scene.” The relief in Harry’s face was palpable, his massive smile splitting his face. He began to wriggle as he slid his phone from his pocket. “Hey! That’s privileged information!”

“I know. I just want a picture.” Harry said as he held the phone in front of them, smaller versions of themselves displayed on the screen. Harry stretched his face through several different smiles while Louis struggled to look even slightly sober. Harry snapped the picture and smiled affectionately down at it, beginning to click through his apps with one hand and tightening his grip around Louis with the other.

Their driver managed to find a twenty-four hour drive through burger joint with exactly three flavors of soft serve: chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. Zayn, Niall, and Liam all opted for chocolate cones while Louis picked strawberry. Harry somehow managed to charm them into swirling all three flavors, which didn’t seem like it should be technically possible.

They were all contentedly licking from their cones when the driver asked them if they’d like to listen to some music. Harry pointed to Niall dramatically.

“Genre! Go!” Harry commanded.

“Indie electronica!” Niall yelled back.

“Uninspired, no! Liam!” Harry suddenly pointed to Liam, who visibly quaked under the pressure.

“Erm, erm, erm, pop!” He answered.

“Failure! Louis!”

“Late seventies glam rock!” Louis yelped.

Moments later, Harry was wrenching the sky roof open as Queen’s “Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy” blared through the speakers. He finally succeeded in getting it open, the top half of his body disappearing through the roof.

Louis stumbled to his feet, fighting to maintain balance as the limo took a sharp turn, and wriggled himself up beside Harry. The wind snapped in his face, strangely electrifying against the warm numb of his drunken stupor. Harry’s eyes were blissfully closed as he sang along to the music, leaving Louis dumbstruck by the sound. He was mere inches away from this voice that had so often crackled through his ear buds. Even muffled by the whip of the wind, Harry’s voice was resonant and rich, making Louis feel even more intoxicated.

The spell was only broken as Harry thrust his cone up into the air above him, the wind catching it and tearing it from his grasp.

There was something tragically poetic about the way the ice cream arced toward the pavement, Harry’s strangled “Nooooooooo!” harmonizing with Freddie Mercury’s:

Oooooooh love,

Oooooooh, lover boy!

Within seconds, Harry had tumbled back into the limo, frantically demanding that the driver pull over. Startled, the driver pulled onto the shoulder of the highway and Harry quickly darted onto the road, his lanky limbs looking almost cartoonish with his inebriated gait. It was only then that Louis noticed that Harry was wearing glittery, silver boots.

The boys followed after him, actually concerned that the lead singer of an internationally successful band was about to get run over by a car in the middle of the night. Luckily, the road was completely deserted at that hour, stretched out in front of them under a line of sporadically spaced streetlights.

Harry’s lone figure was recognizable, hunched over the mangled remains of his late night dessert. He came to his feet as they approached him, gently holding onto a lone shard of sugar cone. There was something reminiscent of actual anguish apparent on his features.

“Can we bury her?” Harry asked, his voice soft. Niall took several steps toward him, clapping a hand on his shoulder.

“Course we can, mate.” He said.

The ceremony was brief and tasteful. They stood amongst the sagebrush on the side of the road, their heads bowed under the faint orange glow of the nearest streetlight. Harry sprinkled dirt over the piece of cone as Niall garbled through a version of “Greensleeves,” his Irish accent adding a poignant note to the tune. They took a moment of heavy silence before racing back to the limo, Harry trying to steal licks from everyone else’s cones.

The original plan was to drop Niall and Louis off first, but that was until Louis mentioned that he’d only been living in the new house for a month now. This, of course, begged the question from Harry about whether or not Louis had spent any time on the roof yet. The only natural progression was for all five men to trip their way through the dark house, attempting to be as quiet as possible, so they could grapple their way from a high window onto the roof.

The view was as breathtaking as Louis had expected it to be. The neighborhood was suddenly visible as an expanse of twinkling lights and glimmering swimming pools. It was under this aura that Liam and Zayn slipped away to another corner of the roof, out of earshot of the others.

Louis was just feeling the first pangs of sobriety when Niall doubled over and began vomiting over the roof tiles.

“Oh. My. God.” Louis breathed, only now remembering that his boyfriend was asleep somewhere beneath their feet as their neighbor was spilling his guts all over their roof.

“Don’t look at me! I’m hideous!” Niall yelled melodramatically before succumbing to another bout of nausea. Harry put a heavy hand on Louis’ elbow, leading him away.

“Let’s give him a moment to himself.” Harry mumbled as Niall’s retching faded behind them.  “Don’t worry about the mess. Happens at my place all the time. I’ll give you the number for the people who always clean my roof.”

“You have people who clean sick off of your roof?”

“And my pool.”

Right. Hollywood. Right.

Louis took a deep breath as they both sat down, dangling their feet over the edge of the roof. Louis watched Harry’s sparkle boots swing back and forth, his pool a glittering blue backdrop through the haze beneath them. Louis hadn’t even been swimming in the pool yet. He pays someone to clean it, sure, but does he ever even use it? No.

Harry leaned back, relaxing further while staring at the starless sky. Louis looked up as well, wondering what Harry might be thinking about.

And wait. He’s relaxing on his roof with Harry Styles. When did that happen? And he promised Joshua that he wasn’t going to drink a lot tonight. Fuck.

“So Zayn and Liam.” Harry mused, breaking the silence. “From what I’ve gathered, they’re both totally smitten with each other, but they’re too shy to ever admit it?”

“You already figured that out?”

“Well yeah. And that’s what I told them earlier.”

“You told them!?” Louis gaped, physically turning to look at Harry, who was grinning devilishly. The final result was definitely something more cherubic than demonic, however.

“I’m glad I got to meet you. I’ve been…” Harry said, his grin fading into something more sincere.  “That interview, erm, was really brave. When you came out. It was brave of you, and I’m glad you did it.”

“Thank you.” Louis said quietly, not expecting this shift in conversation.

“Was it hard?”

“Yes. And no. And yes.” Louis said honestly. “I mean, there are always going to assholes saying things on twitter and whatever, but people have been accepting for the most part. It was just scary to do, more than anything else.”

“Are you in love, Louis?” Harry asked dreamily. Louis breathed for a moment.

“Yes.”

“Does he make everything worth it?”

Louis turned away from him, biting his lip as he mentally prepared his answer.

“Honestly, I think I did it for myself more than anything.” He admitted.

“Hm.” Harry hummed, thinking over the answer. “Good.”

“Are you in love, Harry?” Louis asked playfully, images of Harry’s supermodel girlfriend, Arrienne Brant coming to mind.

Harry pursed his lips, his smile looking self-deprecating before he shook his head with a dark chuckle. Louis’ face fell. Harry wasn’t looking at him, his eyes fixed ahead of him as if he was watching something that wasn’t actually there. The moment hung heavily over them until the silence was sullied by Niall’s distant cries.

“Harry! I’m ready to go home now!” He croaked.

They both giggled before pushing themselves up onto their feet. Louis’ balance dipped again, sending him careening towards the edge of the rooftop.

Harry’s arms were there instantly, clenching to his sides to steady him. Louis grabbed onto Harry’s forearms until the world began to feel steady and Harry’s eyes came into focus.

“Whoops.” Louis breathed.

“Falling’s never a good idea, but if you ever do, I’ll try to catch you.” Harry told him.

“I’ll count on that.”

Chapter Text

“I know when you're around because I know the sound, the sound of your heart.”

-The 1975

Louis awoke to a throat like sandpaper and a post-it note stuck to his forehead. A swell of nausea greeted him, causing him to curl into his own churning stomach. The movement almost flung him to the ground as he realized he was actually on the living room couch, rather than the spacious bed he normally woke up in. With a strained groan he finally plucked the post-it note from his forehead and turned it over to see a familiar scrawl.

Call me when you wake up. -Joshua

His stomach grew increasingly sour. The memories flooded back to him with a twinge of guilt: Joshua standing in the hallway when he'd finally headed to bed, angry words being thrown at him as he struggled to stand upright under the torrent of alcohol, his door being resolutely slammed in his face.

And thus, Louis had spent the night on the couch. His head ached in dull protest as he lurched into a sitting position and found his phone lying forgotten on the coffee table. There was a remarkable seven percent battery life remaining, despite the fact that Louis had a pile of messages and notifications waiting for him. As he scrolled through the messages it became quickly apparent that it wasn't so much a pile as a mountain. There were inordinate amounts of notifications from Twitter and his email, as well as a heap of missed calls and voicemails from what appeared to be the entire publicity team from Metal Heart.

As interesting as this strange turn of events was, Louis still found himself completely intent on hearing Joshua's voice. The phone began to ring as he stumbled to his feet, ignoring the painful outcry of every muscle in his body as he padded toward the kitchen. Joshua picked up on the third ring.

“Did you just wake up?”

“Where are you?” Louis demanded, purposefully avoiding looking at the clock on the stove as he got a kettle going.

“I'm at my mom's.” Joshua said. Louis had long considered those exact words to be his personal kryptonite. He looked to the ceiling and attempted to keep any frustration from dripping into his voice.

“And when are you planning on coming back?” He asked as evenly as he could. Joshua didn't offer any sort of response and Louis knew exactly what that meant. “Baby, we have a movie premiere tonight. There are people expecting us.”

“I'm not going.”

“Oh. You're not going. Isn't that just lovely?” Louis scoffed.

“Don't do that.”

“Tonight is important to me, Joshua. Could you perhaps just take a moment to consider what that means?”

“You dragged a group of drunk men through our house and onto our roof at four in the morning.” He countered. “What if someone fell off and got hurt? What were you thinking?”

“We were sobering up.” Louis said unconvincingly.

“And then I got to wake up to a picture of my boyfriend, drunk on another man's lap, trending worldwide.” Joshua snapped.

Oh dear god. The picture. The picture from last night. The one where, oh no, he was sitting on Harry's lap and, oh no, Harry's hand was around his waist. The flurry of messages on his phone was suddenly starting to make sense.

“Baby, I swear to you. Nothing happened. Harry's not even gay. We didn't do anything I haven't done with Liam or Zayn a thousand times.”

“That's not why I'm mad, Louis. I trust you. You know I trust you. I just-” He paused for a moment, voice sounding more desperate. “You were drunk, Louis. And now the whole world is looking at a picture of my boyfriend while you were completely drunk.”

Louis pulled the phone away from his ear as he fish-mouthed and resisted the urge to smash it on the counter top.

He knew there was virtually no point in arguing any further. Drinking had been the primary source of conflict in their relationship from the very beginning. They'd repeated this song and dance over and over again, each time pushing the restraints of the compromise they'd agreed on in their first year of dating. The aforementioned compromise had done it's job back then, working as a bandage on what was at the time a disintegrating relationship of four months.

Louis was quick to blame the entire situation on Joshua's lovely mother, Marion. By lovely, he of course meant nauseatingly overbearing and conservatively religious. Being an only child, Joshua grew up being spoiled by Marion as if he were the son of God himself. The fact that he had no siblings was probably the only reason why his parents didn't completely disown him when he came out of the closet. They were predictably horrified, but they both found it impossible to turn their backs on their only son. They still accepted the version of Joshua they had constructed in their heads after years of child-rearing, choosing to ignore any mention of his sexuality.

Joshua, on the other hand, had promptly gone through what could probably be considered a “rebellious phase.” It mostly consisted of trying beer for the first time, a rather short lived eyebrow piercing, and his first real boyfriend, i.e. Louis Tomlinson.

Louis' realization that he was in a serious relationship for the first time coincided with Joshua's religious relapse. It wasn't as if he was a crazed, bible-thumping virgin-until-marriage who was baptizing people in the backyard; there were just some little conservative tendencies that had started popping up here and there. He never swore, he grimaced at foul humor, and he absolutely hated it whenever Louis drank.

What started as snide comments and passive aggressive jabs eventually escalated to full-blown shouting matches any time Louis had a glass of wine with dinner. At his wit's end, Louis had begged Joshua to just be honest with him, because for the first time he was actually terrified of a relationship coming to an angry end. That was when it finally became clear to both of them that Joshua was overwhelmed by how different his life had become, and clinging to his “morals” made him feel like he wasn't losing sight of himself.

Louis agreed to respect that part of Joshua while Joshua agreed to keep his mouth shut if Louis had a drink with dinner. The precedent was set, and suddenly they were in an adult relationship. Sure, Louis fucked up from time to time and would succumb to his need to be young and irresponsible with copious amounts of alcohol and weed. These nights ended in a uniform pattern: with Louis sleeping on the couch.

But, sometimes their conflict-resolution process wasn't so simple. A year earlier, Louis had flown Joshua twelve hours to spend two weeks in the UK, ending with a week in Doncaster to meet his family. The first half of the trip was spent zipping through the countryside like elated tourists. They were giddy and blissful as they got on the last train to Donny and immediately bonded with a pair of Swedish students who were sitting across from them.

They snapped pictures of each other and traded travel stories until the pair had challenged Louis to a beer drinking competition. Louis indulged them, assuring Joshua that he was only going to have one beer. This was an absolute lie.

By the time they arrived on the train platform, Louis was a bumbling, word slurring-bundle of bliss and affection. He was petting at Joshua and pulling at his hair until he finally swatted Louis' hand away.

“Could you get your hands off of me for five seconds?” He had snapped fiercely, causing Louis to take a step back in shock. This, of course, was the exact moment that Louis' mum had found them.

So much for a good first impression.

Johanna had made an honest effort to keep her mind open about Joshua, but she had an unlucky penchant of overhearing every snarky remark Joshua sent her son's way. Her opinion of Louis' first longterm boyfriend was unfortunately tarnished beyond repair. She made a point to avoid talking about him during their weekly phone calls, not wanting to upset Louis with her distaste for his choice in partner.

Joshua's mother, however, put Johanna to shame. Louis had met Marion on exactly three occasions, each in passing. Marion had completely refused to make eye contact with him each time.

So yes, the mothers were a work in progress.

“When are you coming home?” Louis asked, finally bringing the phone back to his ear.

“Tomorrow. After church.”

They both grew silent for several seconds. Louis only ended the call when it became obvious that neither of them had anything else to say to each other. He leaned against the counter and stretched his calves behind him as the kettle began to whistle. He moved it from the burner and watched as notifications continued to pile up on his phone.

Picture of him and Harry Styles trending worldwide. Right. He should probably deal with that now.

~

Louis stepped from the car to a shower of camera flashes and straightened his suit jacket as the reporters called his name. He tried not to linger on how badly he was yearning for someone's hand to hold as he plastered on his best red carpet smile and walked forward.

The movie was a young adult rom-com starring one of Louis' costars from Squad, and his publicist had deemed it a perfect opportunity to take his relationship with Joshua public. Louis was anxious for the press to officially know that he was off the market after a slew of tabloids had been connecting him to every other gay man in LA over the last month. He'd thought that the rumors of him and the happily married Neil Patrick Harris were the most far-fetched, but that was until he'd been pictured together with Harry Styles.

The instagram post itself was actually pretty cute in Louis' humble opinion. Harry's smile was blinding and charming next to Louis' trademark smirk. Harry had somehow been lucid enough to type out a caption mentioning Louis' Metal Heart character:

Plot twist! Furia falls in love with a clumsy, British rocker who can shoot laser frisbees out of his eyeballs. They all die. End of spoilers. #metalheart #icecreeeeeeeeeam

The post had elicited a genuine chuckle from Louis but had caused the internet to literally lose it's shit. Rumors that Harry was secretly gay were swirling across every social media platform. The Metal Heart publicity team was actually rather pleased with it, reveling in the free press. But after several lengthy phone calls from Harry's management, Louis had been given a very specific set of instructions for the night.

“Try to be casual about it. You were just two guys having fun. Harry is going to be at the event tonight with his girlfriend, Arrienne, so just try to stay clear of him if you can. Work Joshua into any questions you get from reporters. We'll issue a press release after the event that confirms that you two have been dating for three years.”

Louis stopped to pose for a few pictures before reluctantly approaching a reporter. She was beckoning him with a voice that was several octaves more shrill than anyone else in the vicinity and Louis was willing to do anything to make the sound stop. He paused in front of her and realized that this whole thing would look a lot more convincing if he had an actual, living, breathing boyfriend on his arm.

“Louis! You're looking fantastic tonight!” The reporter chirped, flashing her insanely white teeth that gleamed against her slightly orange skin and holding a round microphone out toward Louis.

“You are as well, love.” Louis responded congenially.

“Oh, thank you! You're so sweet!” She giggled. “So let's just get to it. Is there any truth to the rumors of a romance between you and Harry Styles?”

She was going to be blunt, then. Louis could deal with that.

“And where did you hear that?” He laughed as he tried to appear natural. “No, no, no. I'm afraid Harry's rather committed to that beautiful girlfriend of his. Nice lad though. He is rather smashing up close.” He realized that last bit might have been a little too much and was about to bring up Joshua when he was silenced by a cry from nearby.

“LOOOOUEH!”

There was someone suddenly behind him, encircling two arms around his front and hoisting him into the air with a spin. He landed back on his feet a couple of yards from the line of reporters as Harry's mess of curls came into focus.

“Give me your phone.” Harry demanded with an impatient hand gesture. Louis glanced around them, searching for some form of help or guidance. They were supposed to be avoiding each other, weren't they? Harry grew tired of waiting and slipped his hand into Louis' front pocket, swiping his phone and immediately dialing a number into it.

“We're having a party at Niall's tonight and you're coming.” Harry explained as he pressed the phone to his ear. He pulled his own phone from his pocket with his other hand and Louis saw that Harry had called himself with Louis' phone. Louis also took that moment to take note of Harry's outfit, which consisted of a tightly tailored black blazer and another dark shirt unbuttoned to an obscenely low level. Louis no longer regretted the 'smashing up close' comment.

Harry put both phones to his ears with a cheeky grin. “Got your number. Ooooh, echo!”

Louis knew that he should say something and at least try to be the adult in the situation. Wasn't there someone in charge of this boy? Wasn't there a teacher nearby that saw that Harry was breaking the rules? Harry handed Louis' phone back as he he ducked behind him with wide eyes.

“I have to run, but I'll see you tonight.” He said before darting away, weaving through the sea of celebrities like a child on a playground.

Louis watched him disappear and struggled to process the last sixty seconds. He actually felt physically winded by the encounter. A furtive glance to his left confirmed what Louis had feared, which was that the entire moment had been within full view of the army of reporters.

Common sense would argue that he should definitely stay far, far away from Niall's party.

~

Harry slung Louis, kicking and screaming, over his shoulder and plunged into the pool with a pirouette. Louis crashed back to the surface, sputtering and clawing at the water dramatically. Harry's snicker proved that he found the display very amusing as he surfaced and whipped his hair from his face. He watched Louis with an impish grin and lustrous eyes.

“Harry Styles, do I look like a sack of potatoes?”

“No.”

“Then why do you insist on treating me like one?” Louis asked as he smacked a spray of water at Harry. Harry reciprocated with his own splash which quickly descended into a violent water fight that annoyed everyone within a ten foot radius.

Soon Niall had jumped in beside them to explain the rules of the game “chicken.” It consisted of two-person teams with one member sitting on the others shoulders above the water. The team member on bottom would steer while the one on top would try to knock everyone else over by using any and all brutal means they could manage.

Louis quickly found himself lofted into the air on Harry's shoulders as he stared down their adversaries. Niall now had a woman on his shoulders, and Louis was fairly certain that if she wasn’t a playmate then she was seriously wasting her rather buxom endowments.

“She looks nice. Let's not go too hard on them.” Harry remarked from below.

“That's sheer weakness, Harry.” Louis snapped authoritatively. He was becoming more and more aware of the margarita he had thrown back about twenty minutes earlier. “She's our enemy. We have to destroy her. Do not disappoint me.”

Harry snickered again as he tightened his grip around Louis' ankles and charged forward. What resulted was a clumsy and embarrassing squabble that lasted much longer than it should have, given the simple task at hand. After much biting and clawing, Harry and Louis found themselves careening toward the water in defeat. Despite their loss, Louis promptly declared them a dream team with a high five.

He hoisted himself out of the pool and approached a nearby lawn chair just outside of the splash zone that he had claimed earlier. He untangled his phone from his bundle of dry clothes and unlocked it. Yes, Louis was at a party with a lot of famous celebrities wearing nothing but his wet boxer briefs. But really, who was keeping score?

His phone greeted him with the news that he had another missed call from Liam. This now brought the grand total to eight missed calls since that morning. Apparently, Liam had decided to send a text to accompany his missed call.

LOUIS PICK UP YOUR PHONE THIS ISN'T AS FUNNY AS YOU THINK IT IS

Louis laughed because yes, it was definitely as funny as he thought it was. He quickly thumbed a response.

booooooooooo Liam go away. xxxxx jk I would never kiss you go away

Tommo! How does it feel to lose to a girl?” Niall called as Louis began to slip back into his clothes. Niall now had his arm wrapped around his teammate.

“Not nearly as embarrassing as it feels to lose to an Irishman.” Louis responded.

“Up for a rematch?”

“Yes, but only if it's about ninety percent more dangerous.” Louis propositioned. Niall's eyes lit up.

“Have I shown you my katana collection?”

~

The dining table groaned under their weight as they both took their positions. Louis held his sword aloft, squinting at Niall with a murderous concentration. A small crowd had gathered around the table in anticipation of the ensuing battle. Among them was Harry, now completely stricken with panic.

“This is dangerous. This is very dangerous. Please be careful. Oh, my god. Please be careful.” He pled pathetically, both hands on the sides of his face in a stunning rendition of the original poster for Home Alone.

In direct opposition to Harry's warnings, Niall stepped forward with an unwieldy swing of his sword. Louis parried with a metallic clank and a gasp from the spectators. They smashed their sabers together, stumbling without any regard for safety or strategy. Louis only cared about destroying Niall and maybe looking like Aragorn from Lord of the Rings while he did it.

Niall floundered after taking a misplaced step, giving Louis the perfect opportunity to reach forward and snatch his sword away from him. It might be considered cheating by most international fencing standards, but Louis saw this as a very clear win.

“A hit! A palpable hit!” He cried as Niall regained his bearings. Louis brandished both the swords above his head as he let Niall drink in his humiliating defeat. In a blatant display of poor sportsmanship, Niall surged forward and gruffly shoved Louis off the table. The crowd scuttled away as the swords clattered to the floor and Louis tumbled through the air. Luckily, he landed safely in Harry's embrace, bridal style.

Louis exhaled, a swell of icy adrenaline fluxing through his veins in response to the split second of free fall. Niall was yelling some sort of apology from the table above, but Louis' attention was now squarely directed at the man holding him.

“Are you okay?” Harry asked, adorably worried.

“Remember that thing you said about catching me yesterday?” Louis remembered playfully, reaching up to tug at one of Harry's curls, causing his look of concern to fade into a boyish grin. Louis' hand moved to the side of Harry's face as he poked at one of his crater-like dimples. “I really want to take a shot out of your dimple.” Louis admitted before his mind could filter out his thoughts.

Within minutes Harry was lying on his side on Niall's counter, a stripe of salt on his neck and a wedge of lime poking out from between his lips. Louis was positioning the top of the tequila bottle over Harry's cheek, trying to judge the ideal trajectory for maximum success. This task was proving difficult, however, as his target was quivering with each of Harry's giggles.

“Stop laughing!” Louis chided through a chortle of his own. He sloshed an unmeasured amount of tequila over Harry's face as he licked the line of salt.

Harry laughed even harder at the contact as Louis' mouth latched to the side of his face, trying to suck any alcohol that had managed to get caught in his dimple. It was an embarrassing failure of lip smacking and laughter, leaving them both short of breath and sticky with tequila.

“Lime! Lime!” Louis begged, plucking the lime from Harry's lips and shoving it into his own mouth. Harry's eyes were glossy with delighted tears as he sat up, choking on more giggles. Louis stepped forward to wipe some of the glistening alcohol from his cheek and Harry leaned in, letting his forehead rest against Louis'.

“Oi! Harry!” Niall called, poking his head into the kitchen. Louis saw that he had his phone pressed to his ear.

“Yeah?” Harry asked, pulling away from Louis.

“Where's your phone?”

“Dunno. Think I dropped it somewhere outside.”

“Magee's been trying to ring you.” Niall explained, handing his phone to Harry.

Something dark washed over Harry's eyes as he took the phone and slid off the counter.

“Hello?” He said, low and throaty, as he rushed out of the kitchen. Niall had somehow already disappeared, leaving Louis deserted. He made this realization just as his eyelids began to feel heavy, his lack of sleep suddenly washing over him. He somehow propelled himself forward, maneuvering through several party filled rooms. His first thought was to find someone who looked interesting enough to strike up a conversation with, but his sleep addled brain sent him towards the first open couch with a thump.

He stretched out on his back, blinking through the quickly onset bout of sleepiness, before pulling out his phone and flicking through twitter. The text blurred in and out and his vision waned until Zayn's name filled the screen. Louis smiled as he answered it.

“Zayner!” He cooed.

“So you'll answer for Zayn, but you won't answer for me?”

“Mmmmm. Liam.”

“What's going on with you today? Why wasn't Joshua at the premiere? What's going on with Harry? I'm getting all of these calls about you and I can't answer them because you won't answer your bloody phone!”

“So wait, you're with Zayn right now?” Louis grumbled.

“Yes. I'm with Zayn right now.”

“Have you been with him since last night?”

“You're avoiding my questions.”

“Well, you asked like, seventy, so you can't possibly expect little old me to answer them all.” Louis reasoned.

“Where are you?”

“A party.”

“Where?”

“Niall's.”

“Is Harry there?”

“Yeah.”

“And Joshua?”

“No.”

“Where's Joshua?”

“His mum's.” Louis said through a yawn.

“Did, wait-” Liam stammered. “Did something actually happen between you and Harry last night?”

“Liam! What? No! No, no, no! Joshua's mad that we were drinking. Plus all of the roof shenanigans.” Louis exclaimed, kicking his feet into the air above him. “No there's nothing - there's nothing going on - Harry's straight! You were there last night! You know there's nothing going on.” He let his feet fall back to the couch with a huff, waiting patiently for Liam to respond.

“Lou?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you having fun?”

“Yeah.”

“Forget Joshua. Keep having fun.”

“Okay, love you. Don't suck Zayn's dick too hard.” Louis hung up and let his eyes drift shut. He fully intended to get back into the action of the party, he just needed a brief moment to rest his eyes.

He woke up when Niall landed on his chest.

“You sleeping, Tommo?” He asked. Louis reached up to grab both sides of the blonde's face.

“I want to smush you.” Louis responded.

“You seen Harry?”

“Nope.”

“Let's go find'm.” Niall wrenched Louis from the couch and dragged him through the house. His lids were heavy and his limbs heavier as the sea of party guests waded by on the edges of his vision. His thoughts were groggy and lilted, but one idea seemed to be cropping up clearly in his mind: Sleep. Sleep. Find Sleep. Bed. Sleep.

They came to a stop and Louis' eyes fluttered open to see Harry leaning against a wall, chatting with two girls Louis didn't recognize.

Harry. Perfect timing. Sleep. Bed. Harry.

Louis stepped into Harry's space without preamble, drawing his conversation with the girls to a swift close. He wrapped his arms around Harry's middle and nuzzled into his chest.

“Can I sleep here, Harry?” Louis mumbled behind closed eyes.

“Of course you can.” Harry said brightly, wrapping his own arms around Louis and holding him tight. Louis smiled into Harry's chest.

Harry was perfect. Soft but sturdy. Warm but strong. Perfect.

Louis caught snippets of Harry's conversation with Niall, but his own thoughts had grown too warm and fuzzy to put anything to memory.

“What did Magee want?” Niall asked.

“Erm,” Harry began, something uncharacteristically serious in his tone. “He wants another picture with Arrienne. She's on her way over.”

“Over here?”

“I'm sorry. It's - it's because of me. Because of the premiere. But, erm, we probably shouldn't be, erm, talking about this...” Harry's thought faded off, causing Louis to open his eyes and look up at him.

“Harry.” he said.

“Huh?”

“You sound sad. Stop.”

“Alright.” Harry said warmly. Content with this response, Louis closed his eyes and snuggled in further, feeling the gentle vibration of Harry's voice as they slowly swayed. If Louis actually managed to doze off like that, standing upright wrapped in Harry's arms, it was definitely no one else's business but his own. He had no idea how much time had passed, but he only found his attention returning when Harry's soft grasp suddenly turned hard and stony.

“Isn't that him?” Came a posh voice. Louis' eyes snapped open and he instantly recognized her, all porcelain skin and dazzling red hair. The last time he'd seen her was on the cover of Vogue from the magazine rack, and now, somehow, Arrienne Brant was standing only a few feet away, glaring him down.

Weren't Harry and Niall just talking about her? What were they saying? Louis' short term memory processed like thick mud as Arrienne scrutinized him with her piercing blue stare. Oh right, he was currently snuggled into her boyfriend. That was probably a no-no. Harry, however, still clung to Louis.

“Did you come alone, or-?” Harry asked.

“I brought some friends, but no. No management.” She said off offhandedly, her eyes falling back to Louis. “You're honestly dragging him around everywhere with you? That's stupid even by your standards, Harry.”

“Let's just,” Harry stammered, letting go of Louis with a soft brush down his back. Louis leaned back into the wall, sagging into Niall for support. “I don't have my phone.”

“What did you do to your phone?” She asked exasperatedly.

“I don't have it.” He said, his answer clipped and stilted. He stepped toward her and placed a familiar hand on the small of her back as she held the phone out in front of them. She posed with a stoic purse to her lips and Harry smiled from behind her shoulder as she snapped the picture and began judging it. From what Louis had seen, Harry's dimples hadn't even been showing, so he couldn't imagine that it had been a good picture. Harry was looking anywhere but at the screen when a girl in a bright pink halter top timidly approached them.

“Um, hi, Arrienne! Sorry to bother you. Could you maybe sign my phone case? I'm a really big fan!” The girl said.

“Do you have a pen?” Arrienne asked.

The girl nodded, handing her phone to Arrienne with a permanent marker. Arrienne began scribbling across the back of it with a bored expression on her face.

“Thank you so much! I think you two are so cute!” The girl said, smiling at Harry.

“Oh yeah! So cute!” Arrienne said sarcastically as she handed the phone and pen back. “And honey, you're going to want to cover your cleavage a little more, unless you're actually trying to get someone to pay you for sex.”

"Hey, come on." Harry groaned, sounding disappointed but not surprised, turning to the girl who's face was quickly devolving into shock. "You look lovely."

"Such a hero you are." She said with a pop of her tongue. "And how lovely is she, exactly. Would you fuck her, Harry? Huh?"

Harry's face fell at her words and he was immediately darting from the room without a look behind him. Louis blinked with shock at the sudden departure. He traipsed after him, spotting a head of curls racing out the front door.

Louis found himself outside, following a line of cars littered along the egregiously long driveway. Harry was several cars ahead with his back to him, both hands on his hips and head angled toward the ground.

“Harry?” Louis asked, surprised by the exhausted crackle of his own voice. Harry's head snapped up as he turned back toward Louis.

“Hi, Louis.” Harry said with a somber smile.

“What're you doing?”

“I was going to call a car, but my phone...” He trailed off again, making a useless gesture with his hands and scratching the back of his head. Louis stepped toward him, and although he'd only known him for maybe thirty hours, this man in front of him was so strikingly not Harry Styles. His face was drooping and melancholy, like some sort of puppy that lost its owner. What exactly was driving Louis at that moment was definitely a mystery to him, but he knew he couldn’t let that frown linger on Harry's face.

“Well, I'm tired, so I'm going to go watch Love, Actually at my house.” Louis said resolutely. “You're welcome to just live in Niall's driveway for the rest of forever, or you could come try to stay awake until the part when Liam Neeson cries.”

“The first time or the second time?”

“First. As I mentioned before, I'm very tired.” Louis said.

There was still a twinge of sadness to Harry's features, but at least his dimples were making a reappearance.

~

With a sniff, Louis knew there were pancakes in the vicinity. The last thing he remembered was Harry singing along to Jump for my Love during the scene with Hugh Grant before Louis had drifted off and spent his second night in a row on the couch. The armchair that Harry had been perched in last night was now vacated, Harry probably having returned to Niall's at some point.

Realization sunk into Louis as another flood of pancake aroma wafted over him. Either Joshua was back early, or Louis had managed to sleep well into the afternoon again. Either way, Louis had never been less excited to be greeted by the smell of brekkie.

He ambled into the kitchen, bracing himself for the impending argument, only to find Harry juggling a pitcher of orange juice and a tall stack of pancakes.

“Come on, we're eating outside.” Harry said upon seeing him, heading out to the veranda. Louis paused, mulling over this latest development. He followed Harry and leaned against the sliding glass door, watching as he applied the finishing touches to the table setting. There were bowls of fresh fruit and whipped cream, bottles of syrup, a tower of pancakes, and what appeared to be freshly squeezed orange juice. The display was almost as overwhelming as the fact that Harry Styles was here, in his house, making him breakfast.

“Did you squeeze orange juice?” Louis asked.

“I found a juicer on top of your fridge.” Harry explained, beginning to load his plate. “I don't know if you knew it was there. It was still in the box.”

Louis sighed. Buying an expensive juicer and then never taking it out of the box sounded exactly like something Joshua would do.

Why exactly are you here?” Louis asked, feigning annoyance and failing pathetically at it.

My publicist told me I can't go anywhere near you.” Harry said, eyes still smudged with last night's eye liner. “That makes you my favorite person in the world.”

Huh. Alright then.

A niggling concern in the back of Louis' head told him that he should be ushering Harry away, telling him that spending time with Louis was a horrible idea for his career. He should be doing everything in his power to avoid Louis. Harry already had enough scandal following him around without the added pressure of gay rumors.

Instead of voicing any of these thoughts, Louis sat down and started to slather some pancakes with syrup.

“So I have a question about some of the lyrics in Paradise Red.” Louis said, deciding it was his turn for some inside information. “You wrote it, didn't you?

“Most of it. Depends on the part.”

Louis went on to detail his theories about the song, noting the themes and some allusions to greek tragedy and Shakespeare. This lead him into describing every conspiracy he'd developed around every Status Solo song, which turned out to be a long conversation. Harry indulged his fangirling, confirming some of his suspicions while saying that others were, “intrinsically profound. I wish I'd thought of that.”

He meandered back over to Nialls' after breakfast, leaving Louis to watch daytime telly as he waited for Joshua's return. He jumped to his feet as he heard the swing of the security gate, rushing to clean up the mess from breakfast that he had been ignoring.

Louis was just rinsing off the last of the dishes when Joshua appear behind him, hooking his chin on Louis' shoulder. Louis froze as they both stood quietly, just breathing for several silent moments.

“At least you managed to feed yourself.” Joshua remarked. When Louis didn't say anything in response, Joshua threaded their fingers together and began to lead Louis back to their bedroom with a coy grin.

Apparently they weren't going to talk about the fight. Louis wasn't surprised at all.

Chapter Text

“My youth, my youth is yours, trippin on skies sipping waterfalls. My youth, my youth is yours, runaway now and forevermore.”

-Troye Sivan

I found a flower that looks like you. xx -H

Louis smirked down at the accompanying picture of a bundle of bright blue Hydrangeas. It was just after ten in the morning, which Louis now knew as the time when Harry woke up and began to text him pictures of everything he encountered. He could see blooms of other flowers in the background, which made his smile deepen. Louis was only on his first cup of tea and Harry was already out in the world somewhere, prancing through a flower shop. Louis was absolutely sure about the prancing.

And how exactly does that flower look like me, a human?

He shot the text off as a scuttle of footsteps made his head snap towards the hallway.

“Baby?” Louis called over his shoulder. Joshua quickly appeared in the entry to the dining room, smiling to Louis when he noticed him sitting at the table, a tower of screenplays sitting in front of him. A backpack was slung over his shoulder and one ear bud was hanging from his ear.

“Yeah?”

“Are you leaving yet?”

“In like, twenty minutes.”

Louis looked down as his phone vibrated in his hand.

Blue :)

He snorted before gesturing to Joshua.

“I want to talk to you about something.” Louis said, looking to the foreboding stack of screenplays, topped with that same periwinkle title page that read Kids from Yesterday . It was now wrinkled and dog-eared from the three different times Louis had read it. Joshua slipped into the seat beside him, plucking the earbud from his ear.

“Did you pick something yet?” He asked pleasantly, taking Kids from Yesterday from the pile.

“Erm, maybe.” Louis said tentatively, watching as Joshua skimmed the pages, his eyes flitting back and forth unseeingly. “Eleanor called me this morning.” He continued, watching Joshua's posture perk up at the mention of his Metal Heart costar. Eleanor had the rare distinction of being one of Louis' friends that Joshua actually liked to be around. Liam particularly resented it every time Louis mentioned this. “She just got offered a role in that new Kurt Cobain biopic. She's going to be Courtney Love.”

“Really?” Joshua asked excitedly, obviously trying to picture the sweet, flawless Eleanor as the salacious Courtney Love.

“Which has made me realize that I really need to get off my fat arse and get back to work.” Louis said. Joshua frowned at the mention of Louis' ample backside. He'd always found Louis' remarks about it to be self-degrading, which was completely preposterous to Louis. His arse was a work of motherfucking art. “I need to pick a new project soon, before it conflicts with the next Metal Heart .” He explained as his eyes fell to the screenplay in Joshua's hands.

“This one?” He asked, following Louis' line of sight. Louis took the screenplay back and opened it, the familiar character names looingk up at him from the black ink.

“Maybe.” He said carefully, almost afraid to convey just how thoroughly he'd fallen in love with the pages beneath his fingers. “It's erm, about this girl. She's male to female transgender. And it's the eighties. And she's half black, and she got thrown out of her house.” Louis swallowed, very aware of how segmented his sentences were. “But erm, really – really it's about this niche LBGT community in London during the height of the AIDS epidemic. But it's like, it's more than that? It's about race, and sexuality, and gender, and prejudice, and love, and family, and just being young and feeling different.” He took a pause from his rambling to look at Joshua, his heart dropping when he saw his stony expression.

“Who would you play?” He asked evenly.

“One of the supporting characters. His name's Alex and he finds out he has AIDS halfway through, so I'd have to start going on a diet like, right now.” Louis laughed meekly, watching as his attempt to lighten the mood fell flat.

“Supporting.” Joshua murmured. It hung in the air like a dirty word. “How big is the budget?”

“The budget?” Louis parroted, taken aback. “When has that ever mattered?”

“So it's low-budget.”

“Well yeah, it's an indie film, but, we've never worried about that before. Not even back when we didn't have money.” He reasoned. Joshua didn't look convinced. “Why are you suddenly fixated on money?”

“It's filming in London?” He asked, avoiding the question.

“Manchester.”

“So you'd be a twelve hour flight away.” Joshua pointed out. Louis began tapping his fingers against the table in frustration. Just then, his phone vibrated again with another text from Harry.

How is Mr. Tomlinson occupying himself today? xx -H

Louis left the phone on the table without responding to the text.

“We've done the long distance thing before, and we're going to have to do it about a thousand more times if I keep making movies. But it starts filming in December, so you could come stay with me for a few weeks during your semester break.”

“You want me to go live somewhere on the other side of the world?” Joshua questioned, no excitement in his voice.

“Just for a few weeks until you come back for the next semester.”

“I don't know if I want do another semester.” Joshua grumbled, looking down at the table. Louis' eyebrows shot up.

“And what did you just say with your mouth?”

“Let's talk about this later.” Joshua slung his bag over his shoulder and stood up hurriedly, his chair screeching against the hardwood floor.

“Better idea, let's talk about this now.” Louis retorted. Joshua raced toward the front door, Louis quick on his heels.

“I have class, Lou.”

“Why are you acting like this?” Louis asked, coming to a stop as Joshua wrenched open the front door. “You do know that I'm not your parents, and therefore have no right to punish you for being bad? In case the sex hasn't clued you in, I'm actually your boyfriend.”

“Later, okay?” He asked softly, his eyes beseeching.

“Okay.” Louis relented. Joshua smiled in relief before pecking Louis on the lips and heading out to his car. Louis spun around and padded back into the house, picking his phone up from the table to text Harry back.

Just been abandoned by that kid who calls himself my boyfriend. Was thinking about stewing in inner turmoil into the late afternoon

He sent the text before his eyes fell onto that periwinkle title page. He dropped it back onto the pile, vaguely aware that it had been a “no” from Joshua. But you know, that's just perfectly fine. Sure it meant that Louis was going to have to read another twenty screenplays, but still, it was completely fine .

Harry's response came almost immediately.

Brunch?

~

Louis realized that he'd been naïve to assume he'd be spending the afternoon eating artisan scrambled eggs and sipping pomegranate mimosas. To Harry, brunch obviously meant wandering through a sun-soaked farmers market, nibbling on whatever treats caught their eye.

In a rather pathetic attempt to obscure his identity, Harry had adorned himself with a recklessly floppy hat that he'd bought at an earlier booth. It was most definitely a woman's hat, but Harry couldn't be bothered with such annoying details as gender boundaries. His actual reaction to it had been, “It's so breezy, so whimsical. It's as if someone actually wove a mid-spring afternoon into a hat.” Louis had to agree with the sentiment, even though it was currently mid-October. LA, however, made no distinction between the two seasons, so Harry could enjoy his floppy hat in warm-weathered comfort.

Louis was holding an open jar of Merlot jelly (Harry's reaction: “Merlot jelly? How innovative! How exquisite!”) while Harry tore off pieces from a whole grain baguette (Harry's reaction: “Can you think of anything more romantic than a baguette? Maybe actual, living fairies or Ryan Gosling, but then it's definitely baguettes.”). Harry dipped the pieces of bread into the jelly and took turns dropping the sticky morsels into both of their mouths. Louis licked the sweet goo from his lips before continuing with the conversation, which had now settled on the topic of teenage embarrassments.

“I had this pair of red trousers.” Louis reminisced fondly. “And the braces to match. Bright, ghastly red, mind you.” Harry snickered through his bite of baguette. “Oh, and I assume you've just been wearing Yves Saint Laurent since primary?”

“My favorite hoody for three years was actually my sister's. I stole it.”

“That's not nearly as embarrassing as red braces.”

“Well, it was pink and fluffy.” He added with a grin. Louis melted into a hysterical fit of laughter, imaging the man beside him in a tiny, pink sweatshirt.

His ruminations were cut short, however, as they were approached by two starstruck teenagers looking to take a picture with Harry. They had apparently recognized him, floppy hat be damned. Louis quickly offered to take the picture, knowing that if he didn't, Harry would demand that Louis join them. He did this every time they had left the house together over the last couple of weeks, and when the pictures surfaced on the internet it always ended with an angry call from Harry's people to Louis' people.

Louis had already done three different phone interviews to LA radio stations in which he gushed about Joshua, but this had done little to placate the rumors swirling around Harry's sexuality. Why Harry was letting this happen to his public image was a mystery to Louis, but honestly, so was everything else going on under that floppy hat and mess of curls.

After the picture had been snapped and the teenagers were content, Harry and Louis continued their ambling through the maze of booths and stands. They had just been offered a free sample of organic mango juice when Harry spotted it. At the end of the row was a short, rectangular fence made out of plywood with a single word spray painted across its surface: KITTENS.

In the span of one human heart beat, Harry was already upon them, pulling several kittens into his arms with a string of squeals. Louis approached him slowly, attempting to mask his beguilement with a sardonic expression. This was perhaps futile as he watched Harry press his nose to one of the kitten's whiskers. What was probably a thousand dollar jacket was now actually swimming with baby cats as they squirmed and wriggled in his arms. They pawed and mewed at the doe-eyed rockstar.

“Her name is Veronica, and her name is Mary Paw-kins.” Harry said, drawing the last word out with a shit-eating grin.

“I don't think you're actually allowed to name them unless you plan to take them home.” Louis explained. The look on Harry's face at these words sent Louis into responsibility mode. “Do you have any pets, Harry?” Harry shook his head. “They're kind of a lot of work, so maybe you shouldn't adopt one on a whim?”

Harry chewed his lip as the child-like glint disappeared from his eye. Louis kind of hated himself for making that happen as Harry let the kittens leap from his arms back down to the ground.

“You're probably right.” He admitted sadly, leaning against the low fence. He was resembling a grown adult again as he passively watched the kittens tussle with each other, until a starkly white one pattered towards him. It only took the kitten one upward glance at Harry before Louis knew that any attempt to argue was useless.

That's how Louis had found himself behind the wheel of Harry's vintage, 1960's Mercedes-Benz while Harry coddled his new pet in the passenger seat.

“Her name is Countess Glitter Von Harpsichord Amarinthine Styles.” Harry decided, stroking a finger down her back.

“And what's wrong with the name Louis Tomlinson?” Louis shot back.

“Fine. Countess Glitter Von Harpsichord Amarinthine Louis Tomlinson Styles.” He said with a knit in his brow.

They pulled up to Harry's house and Harry reached forward to push a button on his keys, causing the security gate to swing open. This was the first time Louis had ever been to Harry's house and he wasn't sure what exactly he'd been expecting, but what sprawled out before him left him almost breathless. It was quite nearly a small palace. There were stories stacked on top of stories embellished with blossoming vines and red brick. Giant windows glimmered back at them, reflecting the immense front yard and ornate water fountain.

Louis noticed that the luxuriant french doors were about twice his height as they stepped through them into the vast, open concept house. The floor was a reflective hardwood that clicked as they walked, echoing against the tall ceilings and glass walls. The furniture and décor were indescribably lavish, everything simultaneously modern and classic. Art prints covered the walls, most of them of musicians ranging from Jim Morrison and Elton John to Britney Spears and Beyonce. There was even a massive painting of Niall done in an Andy Warhol style over the fireplace.

There were two different pianos on opposite sides of the room, both topped with sheet music and half empty glasses. While Louis wouldn't describe the space as completely trashed, it was obvious that it hadn't been cleaned since a party. Every surface was littered with food plates, beer bottles, cigarette butts, and what appeared to be a forgotten banjo.

“Sorry, the cleaning staff is usually done by now.” Harry apologized, clearly embarrassed by the mess. “I had some friends over last night. But come see the rest of my house! I'm an excellent tour guide, aren't I Glitter?”

Harry whisked the kitten away and up a flight of winding stairs, leaving Louis to chase after him. He caught a glimpse of the coffee table before ascending the steps, recognizing what were the remains of several lines of white powder.

Rock and roll lifestyle. Right.

He followed Harry on an enthusiastic tour that seemed as equal parts to his benefit as the kitten's, before eventually arriving in Harry's bedroom. His bed was tall and expansive, bright white sheets and a deep plum duvet tangled together like a swirl of ice cream. A broad window offered a view into the backyard, which Louis saw consisted of a circular swimming pool lined with shimmering white tiles, a blooming garden that could have been torn straight from a Jane Austen novel, and a burgeoning apple tree that looked older than the two of them combined.

A sunken living room was attached to the bedroom, divided only by a glass partition. Louis stepped into it, noting the presence of yet another piano (he'd seen about five at this point), and he dropped onto one of the plush couches. Within seconds, he was convinced that Harry had somehow obtained the most comfortable couch ever made by man's hands.

“It's completely sound-proof, even with the window.” Harry explained as he knocked on the window, illiciting a dull, plastic thud in response.

“Is your bedroom behavior really so boisterous that you need to sound-proof?” Louis inquired with an eyebrow waggle. Harry snorted.

“No, it's more to keep the sound out.” He said. “If it gets to be too much out there, too many people or something, then I can just come in here.” Harry gestured to the couches. Louis watched him for a moment, trying not to linger on the image of Harry plunking on the piano, alone, as a party raged on outside his bedroom door. Harry set Glitter down on the floor gingerly before the silence dragged on too long.

“Explore, my pet! This is your home now!” He declared with a wild flail of his arms. Glitter looked about with trepidation before anticlimactically licking the floor.

Louis jumped to his feet and scooped the kitten up, heading towards the kitchen in search of a water dish.

“This cat is so lucky I'm here.” He grumbled as Harry followed.

The rest of the afternoon was spent on what was now officially dubbed the, “best fucking couch ever assembled." They flipped through Harry's iPad as Louis educated Harry on what supplies and skills were necessary to keep another creature alive.

Louis felt actual, physical strife at having to leave for dinner, knowing exactly what was waiting for him at home. I don't know if I want to do another semester . Goddamn, was that going to be a long conversation.

It turned out the be the exact opposite, however, as Joshua skirted the topic with a murmured, “I haven't made any decisions yet. I'm just thinking about it.” Louis didn't push him, hoping that an adult conversation would occur naturally at some point. This was complete folly. Over the next couple of weeks, Louis only caught snippets of Joshua's thought process, never graced with any lengthy explanations as to what his boyfriend's plans for the future were. While this was not atypical for Joshua, (he had changed his major twice and had avoided talking about it in much the same way) Louis at least usually had Zayn and Liam to complain to. Louis loved to complain. See: green carpet debacle. But his two closest friends had completely fallen off the face of the earth since that night on the roof. The infrequent phone conversations usually went along these lines:

“Sorry Lou, I've got plans today.”

“Are you with Liam?”

“Erm, yeah, I might meet up with Liam later.”

“You filthy bastard.”

“Got to go, I'll text you.”

“Filthy, filthy bastard.”

Their absence would have been completely maddening if not for the new, curly haired presence in Louis' life. Status Solo was on break until the tour started in December, so Harry had made it his personal mission to keep them both entertained on the arduous October afternoons. Their playdates were constant, and it became clear to Louis that there was no “typical afternoon” with Mr. Harry Styles.

Sometimes they would spend the day under snapbacks and sunglasses, trying to get into a movie theatre without being recognized, only to yell at the screen and pour popcorn down the back of each other's shirts.

A “hike” with Harry actually meant finding a tree to climb with branches sturdy enough for them to sit for hours, talking about the fifth season of Friends and what it would be like to breathe underwater.

A “day at Niall's house” actually meant buying a canoe and paddling it back and forth across his pool while Harry recited “Oh Captain, My Captain,” only to be interrupted when Louis was finally successful in capsizing them.

An “afternoon at the beach” actually meant a trip out to a wilderness sanctuary where they let you swim with the dolphins. Harry became completely enamored with the animals, giving each of them a new name and giggling as he tried to communicate with them telepathically.

“Do you think my pool's big enough...?” He'd wondered as Louis had driven them home.

“No. No, Harry. Dolphins don't belong in pools. They should be free.” Louis explained. Harry agreed, but that didn't stop him from buying twenty inflatable dolphin pool toys before they got back to his house.

But, surprisingly enough, when Harry suggested they, “sit under his apple tree in the backyard,” he meant exactly that. Louis would lean against the bark as he flipped through yet another screenplay, Glitter slinking around by his toes. Harry would relax nearby on the grass with a harmonica to his lips as it warbled a mixture of original melodies and old, folksy tunes that Louis didn't completely recognize. He was pretty convinced, however, that he'd heard him play the chorus of “Wrecking Ball” on more than one occasion.

Harry would always invite Louis to whatever social engagement he had lined up for the night, but he knew full-well that Louis would have to decline on account of his crabby boyfriend. He would trudge home for yet another night of watching telly with Joshua, getting a constant stream of texts from Niall from posh night clubs and parties at celebrity mansions.

Joshua and Harry didn't actually meet until the morning of Halloween. Louis awoke to the buzz of the security gate, causing him to groan and stretch his sleepy bones. His attention perked when he recognized the mess of voices wafting in from the front door.

“Morning Josh! Happy Halloween!” said Niall jovially.

“Niall.” Joshua responded, not completely unkindly, but certainly unamused with the nickname.

“Hello! I'm Harry! I made you a gift basket.” came Harry's excited voice. Louis laughed at the image of Harry handing Joshua a basket of festive, homemade treats.

“Where's Tommo?” asked Niall.

“He's still in bed.”

“LOOOUEHH!” Harry called, barreling down the hallway into the bedroom and launching himself into the bed beside Louis. “I made you a gift basket but your boyfriend is hogging it. He seems lovely by the way.”

Louis smiled as he pulled the covers back, allowing Harry to slip in beside him and snuggle into his side, resting his head on Louis' shoulder. To most, this would seem like altogether inappropriate behavior in the bed he shared with his long-term boyfriend, but it was completely normal for Louis. He had been tactile since birth and had certainly been caught in more compromising positions with Zayn and Liam than the innocent cuddling he was currently engaging in. It was all platonic, of course, and Joshua fully understood that. One of the reasons why their relationship had lasted this long was that Joshua wasn't usually prone to jealous impulses, despite certain past circumstances that gave him every right to be.

Despite this, Harry sat bolt upright when Joshua walked into the room with Niall.

“And why aren't you coming to Harry's party tonight?” Niall asked Louis, sitting on the corner of the bed. “Do you hate Harry?” Louis glared at Niall, who knew exactly why he wasn't coming.

“We are handing out candy to neighborhood kids.” Joshua said.

“And what about after that, Joshy?” Niall quipped. Something visibly darkened in Joshua's stare.

“My name is Joshua. Josh-u-a.” He snapped, spinning on his heel and walking away. Louis instantly jumped out of the bed, rounding on Joshua once he caught up with him in the hallway.

“What was that?” He asked, keeping his voice low enough that Harry and Niall couldn't hear.

“You know I hate that.”

“That doesn't give you an excuse to be fucking rude.” Louis said. Joshua rolled his eyes and walked away without another word.

Louis apologized to Niall as they left, but Niall assured him everything was okay with a hearty wink. The afternoon mulled by with icy tension between Louis and Joshua until the first wave of trick-or-treaters appeared at their door. They'd left the security gate wide open for the night, allowing the droves of kids to come and go as they pleased. With each little girl dressed up as Elsa, Joshua became increasingly less rigid. Eventually, he became downright giddy.

The kids thinned out a bit after nine, giving Joshua the chance to sink into Louis' side on the couch with a content sigh.

“You're in a good mood.” Louis remarked fondly, drawing circles into Joshua's shoulder with his thumb.

“Can you imagine what it would be like to have our own little trick-or-treater? Helping her get all dressed up like a little pumpkin, or something.” Joshua mused, an enchanted tone to his voice. Louis tensed.

Louis loved kids. He loved kids. He really hadn't had much of a choice after having six younger siblings. Louis had been known to waste entire hours dreamily talking about what it would be like to have kids one day.

As long as the emphasis was on the phrase one day .

Suddenly, this image of a “little trick-or-treater” was melding with “I don't know if I want to do another semester” in a way that terrified Louis.

As soon as Joshua finally snuck off to bed, Louis was in a cab, relaying Harry's address to the driver.

~

Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles, Liam decided to show his face at Harry's party. Louis had spent the first twenty minutes after arriving weaving through a drunk, costumed crowd without recognizing a soul until he spotted Harry. His hair was even wilder than usually, curled and teased into a giant, feathery mane atop a face covered in makeup. Louis was about to approach him when he watched Harry bend down to a snort a line of cocaine off of a piano.

Needless to say, Louis had practically pounced at Liam when he found him leaning against a wall. He was dressed as a footballer in some reference to his minor in Sport's Medicine that everyone was sick of hearing him talk about.

“You massive, beardy, inconsiderate twat!” Louis yelped, smacking Liam relentlessly as he recoiled.

“Louis, stop!”

“I could have been dead, rotting in the boot of someone's car and you haven't even tried to call me to find out!”

“Who's boot are you rotting in?”

“Well you wouldn't know, because you're too busy falling in love with Zayn to give a flying fuck about poor, old Louis.” He'd begun flicking Liam's face, but stopped when he saw Liam visibly melt into fluffy, lovesick goo at the mention of Zayn's name. Louis' hands slid down to the sides of Liam's face. “Oh Liam, you've been swept away by love's tender embrace!” Liam pulled away with a grimace, but a smile was still threatening to split his face.

They tracked down a bottle of whiskey and Louis made them toast to the “never ending sex parade known as a new relationship.” Liam rolled his eyes but clinked their glasses together all the same. They threw back several successive shots that were going to completely wreck Louis in the morning before he inquired about Zayn's absence.

“Where's the Bogie to your Bacall?”

“He's running late. And I'm the Bogie.” Liam said, causing Louis to preen at his first quantifiable reference to dating Zayn. Liam noticed his smugness and started to look anywhere besides directly at Louis until his eyes landed on something behind him. “Harry's having an interesting night.”

Louis spun around to see Harry stumbling up his staircase. He tripped dramatically and slumped against the wall before righting himself and bounding up the stairs, three steps at a time.

Louis followed him, of course. Why wouldn't he? They were friends. Harry was his friend. He had every right to follow him around the dark corridors of his house. He found himself at the door to Harry's room, which was wide open, spilling light into the dark hallway.

“Harry?” Louis called to the seemingly empty room.

“Don't let Glitter out!” came Harry's voice from the open door of the attached bathroom. Louis stepped in and closed the door behind him, the sounds from the party muting with a click. He took note of Glitter lounging languidly on Harry's bed before walking over to the bathroom. Harry was sitting crossed legged on the counter, smearing hot pink lipstick on his lips. There were kiss marks littering the surface of his mirror, each one a different color.

“What are you doing, Haz?” Louis asked with a laugh of disbelief. About twenty different tubes of lipstick were scattered across the otherwise immaculate countertop.

“My last shade wasn't thrilling enough.” He said with a flourish that made his eyes widen. Louis could clearly see that Harry's pupils were very, very dilated. There had probably been more than a few lines of cocaine that night.

“So you're just sitting in here, kissing the mirror?

“Mhmm.” He nodded proudly.

“Well, I guess I have no choice but to help you.” Louis decided as he joined him on the counter top and opened a tube. Harry watched him excitedly as he carefully traced it across his lips. “Is your girlfriend in town?” He asked.

“She's in Milan.” He answered, still fixated gleefully on Louis' lips. He smacked them in the mirror, rather impressed with his own skill. He waited a moment to see if Harry was going to mention anything else about Arrienne, but he wasn't particularly surprised when the topic dropped. Harry never talked about his mysterious, supermodel girlfriend, only referencing her when someone else brought her up.

“Why do you own so much lipstick?” Louis asked.

“It's Halloween.” Harry answered as if it should be completely obvious. “Why aren't you wearing a costume?”

“Didn't have time, love. And what exactly are you supposed to be?” Louis finally took stock of Harry's costume: red leather pants and a tight vest that did nothing to hide his v-line.

“I'm 1980's big hair rock and roll.” He answered bluntly.

“You're just an entire genre of music?” Louis asked skeptically. Harry chose not to answer, instead surging forward and planting a lengthy kiss to Louis' forehead. He eventually released him, leaving a bright pink kiss stain behind. Harry giggled at his accomplishment, flashing that charming smile that Louis had to begrudgingly admit he was becoming very fond of. It was the Harry Smile . All the same, Harry Smile aside, Louis was not one to let this kind of injustice stand, so he returned the favor by leaving a purple pucker on Harry's cheekbone. Within minutes, both of their faces were covered in a rainbow of lip prints.

“Let's go back to the party.” Harry said as he stood up, offering a hand to Louis.

“Harry, we've got to wash all of this stuff off.”

“But we worked so hard!”

“How is it going to look for you if someone gets a picture of us like this?” Louis asked. Harry took a step toward him, hand still extended.

“Louis, I honestly don't care if people think we're in love with each other. I don't see how that's supposed to be an insult.” Even though his eyes were glossed with a drug-induced haze, his complete sincerity was shining through. Louis nodded and took his hand, letting Harry lead him back down to the party.

Harry was whisked away almost immediately, but Louis didn't find himself too bothered when he noticed that Zayn had joined Liam. He threw himself into the brooding model's arms, Zayn poking at the collection of kisses on his face, and Louis demanded every detail of their budding romance. While Liam was known to huff and give clipped, non-committal answers regarding his love-life, Zayn was prone to completely gush. Liam disappeared in embarrassment as Zayn described everything about their first proper date, particularly focusing on Liam's “cute little bow-tie that was the same color as his eyes.” They spent an hour like that, chirping back and forth like gossiping teenagers. Liam would reappear occasionally to check the flow of conversation. Once he realized they were still talking about him, he would promptly flee again.

“So are you two officially a couple? Boyfriends? Soulmates destined to search the world for each other every time you're reborn?” Louis inquired. Zayn grinned subtly.

“We haven't put a label on it.” He said slowly, looking down at his drink. “But we've decided not to date other people. Be exclusive.” Louis was about to swoon at the influx of feels when the violent screech of an electric guitar ripped through the house. A large group of the partygoers, Zayn and Louis included, followed the noise to the backyard.

What they found was Harry on the roof, floundering with a neon green guitar. It was connected through a tangle of wires to an immense amp peeking out of a nearby window. It was obvious that Harry didn't know how to play the instrument, so he opted to swing it over his shoulder and smash it against the roof with a crazed burst of energy. The crowd below cheered madly, but everything about the situation made Louis prickle with worry.

Harry was completely ignorant of the cheering crowd as his eyes landed on the pool below him. He stared at it with focus, as if calculating distance. As a direct confirmation to Louis' fears, Harry bolted off the edge of the roof and leaped into the air. The crowd gasped and shrieked as Harry tumbled for two stories and crashed into the water, only a few feet shy of the lip of the pool.

Louis didn't realize that he wasn't breathing until Harry resurfaced from the water, flailing his arms and cheering. His celebration was short lived as Niall was already kneeling over him from the side of pool, dragging him by his wrist out of the water.

“I think it's time for bed, Haz.” Niall said. Harry hefted himself onto dry ground clumsily and threw an arm around Niall's shoulders, dropping his weight onto him. Niall caught Louis' eye. “Some help, Tommo?”

Louis zipped to Harry's other side, splitting the burden of his weight as they maneuvered him back into the house. Once they were safely in the warm silence of Harry's bedroom, Niall helped him change out of his wet clothes and Louis gave his hair a quick tousle with a blow drier.

They helped him slip under his sheets, all the while Harry was muttering wistful endearments to the two of them, eyes rolling about as if his thoughts were swimming through his head.

“Sleep tight, mate.” Niall said as they both began to walk away, but they were stopped as Harry grabbed Louis' hand.

“You're both so beautiful.” Harry mumbled. “I love you both so much. You're my best friends. Both of you. I love you like supernovas. Like twelve supernovas.”

“We love you too, Harry.” Niall assured him with a chuckle. Harry's eyes darted up to meet Louis' gaze.

“Louis.” He said, tightening his grip on his hand.

“Harry.” Louis responded.

“Best friends?”

“Yes.”

“Best friends?”

“Best friends.”

“BEST friends.”

“Hazza,” Louis said, now also laughing. He cupped Harry's hand between both of his, running his thumb over Harry's knuckles. “We'll see you tomorrow. Sweet dreams.” Harry nodded groggily, but didn't break his gaze with Louis.

“You're so beautiful, Louis.” He finally said, letting his hand fall to his side and closing his eyes. Even in his sleep, he was wearing the Harry Smile.

~

It took an hour before Louis managed to get a cab to pick him up, and scrubbing the lipstick off of his face proved to be a lengthy task. He was properly knackered as he slumped into the living room, falling face first on the couch. He'd resigned himself to his couch fate the second he'd left the house. He fell asleep immediately, ebbing in and out of deep, swirling dreams. He probably would have slept through the night without interruption, but a jolt of terror several hours before dawn lurched him awake with pained, haggard breaths.

His muscles seized with the familiar, inexplicable fear and a flush of tears pricked at the corners of his eyes as they flashed open. There was no one there beside him, only a cold, suffocating expanse of darkness breathing down on him as the crushing anxiety seeped down his spine. He stammered against his leaden vocal chords, struggling to choke out the one word that might rescue him from this vice.

“Joshua!” He finally cried out weakly, his voice cracking with the cadence of a horrified child. The sound itself pained Louis, reminding him that he was no stronger than that little boy in Doncaster with night terrors who wept and choked until his mum saved him. But his mum wasn’t coming for him, and based on the deafening silence that surrounded him, neither was Joshua. He couldn't even yell loud enough to ask for help, and that's when he descended into a fit of sobs, biting painfully at the inside of his cheeks as his entire body shook. The night stretched on like that, and eventually Louis' sobs faded back into even breaths.

~

He awoke as the couch dipped, his face slightly raw from the night's tears. Joshua was sitting beside him, holding out his phone.

“This is who you've been spending time with?” Joshua asked as Louis took the phone, willing his eyes to focus on the image on the screen.

It was an instagram selfie of Arrienne Brent wearing an emotionless stare. An angry, purple bruise was glaring from her cheek, joined by a smattering of pink abrasions up and down her neck. Her caption consisted of only one letter.

-H

Louis' insides turned to ice.

The first call from his publicist came about an hour later. He didn't answer it.

Harry's phone was off, but that didn't stop Louis from calling it every half hour. Niall was being equally unresponsive, each of Louis' calls being deferred to his voicemail. Joshua's only class for the day had been canceled, so he was free to sit quietly beside Louis as he ranted about how this must be some sort of misunderstanding. Arrienne was in Milan, thousands of miles away from her boyfriend. Harry wasn't even capable of something like this. He was Harry. He was giggles and kittens and dimples, not nasty, violent bruises.

He was Harry.

Louis left the entertainment channel on all day, blinking to attention every time they circulated the story again.

“...mysteriously captioning the image -H, leaving many to speculate that the injuries are the result of her current boyfriend, Status Solo frontman Harry Styles. Fans are already drawing connections between Styles and singer Chris Brown...”

Louis refreshed his news page obsessively, reading every article on the topic as they appeared. Some were questioning the validity of the image, saying that the bruises looked too perfect to be real. Others were already staging boycotts of Status Solo and branding Harry as a woman abuser. Every time that word was mentioned in proximity to Harry's name Louis cringed, feeling the air being squeezed from his lungs.

The sun was already setting before Louis finally decided to answer his phone, this time when Liam rang him. He stood in his dining room, running a hand over the back of one of the dining chairs.

“Hey Lou.” Liam said with an exhausted sigh.

“Have my publicists been harassing you all day?” Louis asked darkly.

“They, erm, want a statement.”

“But Harry-” Louis paused as his breath caught on Harry's name. “But Harry's people haven't even said anything yet. Shouldn't we wait until we get their side of the story?”

“Yeah, Lou, definitely. There's no rush or anything. It's just,” Liam's tone shifted. “They just want you to start to think about what you might say. Your friendship with Harry is really public, and this might be bad for the movie. They just want you to think about what your position is going to be if you need to distance yourself from Harry.”

Louis leaned against the chair and chewed at his cheek, still tender from his episode that night.

“Yeah, alright. I'll think about it.” He said heavily before hanging up. He dropped his phone onto the table and began spinning it dejectedly, listening as Joshua walked up behind him. He slipped his arms around him from behind and pressed a kiss to Louis' neck.

“I'm sorry about your friend.” Joshua said.

“Me, too.” Louis responded.

The screen of his phone lit up, flashing the name Harry Styles . Joshua stepped back as Louis snatched the phone and answered it.

“Harry?” He asked. Harry didn't say anything, his only response being a pained series of breaths. “Are you okay? I've been trying to talk to you all day.”

“I'm at your, erm, I'm at your gate. Could I come in?” He asked, his voice thick as if on the precipice of tears. Louis was already heading to the security controls by the front door. He hung up as Harry came to the door and ushered him inside. His eyes were puffy and tinged a devastated red, and the smell of alcohol was rolling off of him. His arms were crossed tightly across his front as if he were afraid that he was about to fall apart. Louis placed his hands on Harry's shoulders, trying to physically hold him together.

“I'm so sorry. I'm sorry. I shouldn't be bothering you.” Harry stammered. Joshua was in the room now, silently watching the exchange.

“Did you drive here?” Louis asked. Harry shook his head.

“I was at Niall's. I should have answered my phone. I'm sorry.” He continued. Louis looked to Joshua.

“Could you give us a second?” Louis asked. Joshua gave him a loaded look before disappearing from the room. He tightened his grip on Harry's shoulders as he turned back to face him. “Harry, please, just tell me what's going on. You didn't – you didn't hurt her, did you?” Louis asked cautiously, not breathing as he waited for Harry's response. Harry's eyes welled up, a fresh flood of tears threatening to fall down his face as he violently shook his head.

“No! Of course not. I couldn't – I couldn't ever -” His voice hitched. “Everyone thinks I hurt her. They're saying these things about me and I wouldn't -” The first few tears escaped from his eyes, rolling down his cheeks and drawing a line across the spot where his dimples show when he wore a Harry Smile. “No one is going to believe me.” He said, his panic rising.

“I believe you. Look at me. I believe you, Harry.” He said firmly, trying to get Harry to look at him, but his eyes fell to the ground. “Is that picture fake?”

“It was makeup.” He said with an aimless gesture towards his face. “For her Halloween costume. She says that that's what the H meant.” Louis' eyes narrowed as an influx of anger swelled inside of him, replacing the fear and doubt that had been festering in his stomach all night.

“You're serious? It meant Halloween? Why couldn't she just say Halloween? Can she not spell? Does she not have enough fingers to type out full words?”

“She did it on purpose.” Harry sputtered, wiping at his eyes as they overflowed.

“On purpose?”

“She does this stuff all the time.” Harry's face was now glistening with tears. It made Louis remember that night he had tried to drink tequila out of Harry's dimple. He had looked back at him, face shiny with tequila, eyes glimmering and smile spreading. This was not the Harry he was looking at now. The anger he'd felt a moment earlier paled in the comparison the rage now thrumming in his bones.

She did it on purpose? ” Louis clarified venomously. Harry sniffled, the stream of tears strengthening. “Harry, you can't – that's emotional abuse . She can't do that to you. You can't be with some like that!”

“I'm not with her.” He murmured.

“What do you mean?”

“She's not my girlfriend.”

“You broke up with her?”

“She's never been my girlfriend, Lou!” Harry said with desperate exhaustion.

“What are you saying?”

“Have you really not figured it out?” Harry asked, eyes finally meeting Louis'. When Louis continued to stare back in confusion, the stream of tears turned into full-blown, body shaking sobs. “You're going to hate me.” He cried, his voice raw. Louis couldn't wrap his arms around Harry quickly enough. He held his body close, feeling him tremble with every sob. Harry's arms were still crossed tightly against his front, but he let his head fall to Louis' shoulder, dampening the fabric there.

“How could I possibly hate you?” Louis asked.

“I've been lying to you.”

“Just tell me what's going on.” Louis said warmly. Harry inhaled deeply, choking on the intake of air. His entire body was still for a moment.

“I'm gay.” He whispered, shuddering with a pained whimper.

Louis clung to him, eyes wide and unblinking, as everything began to make sense.

Chapter Text

“Sensitive heart, you're doomed from the start. Meant to play the penitent part. Inquisitive mind, you're destined to find, tempted fate and knowledge divine.”

-Tennis

The first bout of histrionics had passed, and Louis found himself sitting atop his roof, watching Harry's shoulders rise and fall with every heavy breath. His back was to Louis, several feet away from him, his limbs tucked tightly into himself as his tumult of emotions began to settle. The night sky blanketed them from above, which was the only clue that Louis had towards the hour. It felt like time had stretched on an on after Harry had arrived, every minute that Louis couldn't bring Harry any sense of peace feeling like a painful eon. His cheeks were practically raw where Louis had been pointlessly rubbing tears away before he'd formulated the desperate idea of bringing Harry up to the roof. If there was one thing he'd learned so far, it was that Harry loved himself a good roof.

The fresh air had an immediate effect on him, slowing his breathing and allowing him to sit and collect himself. He'd pulled away from Louis' touch at this point, which Louis had been disappointed by, but he continued to watch Harry's cooldown from several feet away. All the while, his words kept swilling through his thoughts.

I'm gay.

It was both so shocking and yet so obvious. This news was like some key, some final piece to the riddle that was Harry Styles, that ultimately explained everything that just hadn't made sense. But it wasn't the revelation itself that was sending Louis into a mental tailspin, it was the raw, undiluted pain that had shook through those two words; a biting anguish that was so contrary to everything Harry was.

I'm gay.

Louis was interrupted from his reflections as Harry looked back at him, a touch of broken innocence on his tear-stained face. He looked at Louis expectantly, not sure of what to say.

“Alright there, love?” Louis asked warmly, leaning forward. Harry swallowed hard.

“I'm sorry.” He said thickly.

“Harry, if you say 'sorry' one more time, I will have to respectfully smack you across the face.” Louis said matter-of-factly.

“I lied to you.” He explained.

“Sometimes it's necessary to lie. It doesn't make you a bad person.” Louis assured him. “I was in the closet for years , Hazza.” Harry gave him a watery smile and a nod before shuffling back and taking his usual spot on Louis' side. He snuggled into Louis' shoulder, while Louis immediately reciprocated the contact by hooking his arm around Harry's shoulders and angling his elbow up so he could run his fingers through his curly locks. Harry made a low hum at the feeling and closed his eyes. Louis' fingers slowed as his thoughts turned a corner. “Harry?”

“Hmm?”

“What's your astrological sign?”

“Erm – Aquarius.” Harry answered, confusion clear in his voice.

“Huh. Is that significant to you?”

“Not really.”

“Mm. Okay, interesting. You have a sister, right?”

“Yeah?”

“What's her name again?”

“Gemma.”

Gemma .” Louis repeated, feeling the syllables out with his mouth. “Pretty name.”

“Why?” Harry finally asked, looking up to Louis.

“I just get the feeling that you're not really allowed to talk about yourself to anyone.” Louis said. Harry's weight became heavier on Louis' side and his eyes snapped back down. He shook his head slowly.

“No. Not really.” He admitted. There was a gravity in the air, making it thick in Louis' lungs as he waited in vain for Harry to continue.

“Harry, if I asked you to tell me the whole story, would you?” Louis asked, but Harry still took his time to respond.

“I – erm, – I'm not very good at telling stories. I kind of ramble, and I talk slow.”

“I happen to like my stories slow and rambling, and I don't appreciate you belittling my taste.” Louis joked lightly. “But honestly, Harry, if it would make you feel better, I'd like to hear your story.”

Harry pulled away, making Louis momentarily frightened that he'd gone too far, but it was quickly clear that Harry was just readjusting their positions. He gently nudged Louis back until he realized that Harry wanted him to lie down. Once he was flat against the rooftiles, Harry rested his head into the space where Louis' shoulder met his chest and slung his arm over him. Louis returned his grip around his shoulders and pulled him close as Harry let out a loud sigh and opened his mouth to speak.

“I never – I never had to come out, you know? I've always been so close with my mum and my sister so they just, they just always knew. It was never a thing.” He began. “Even when I was like, twelve; Niall got his hands on this Playboy somehow. We were at this bus stop and he was showing it to me, trying to be all secretive so this old lady next to us wouldn't see it.

'And I didn't know what to do, so I just said something about her breasts, or whatever. Just, the first teenage boy thing I could think to say. Honestly, I was a lot more interested in how the color temperature of the lighting reflected the mood of the photographs.”

“Oh course you were.” Louis murmured.

“But anyways, I said she had a nice rack, or something. Then Niall just closed it and looked at me with this ridiculous look on his face, and he was like, 'Aren't you gay?'”

Louis barked a laugh, half because of how earnest Niall was and half at Harry's impeccable impression.

“So yeah. Niall always knew, and it was never a thing.” Harry continued. “We didn't really do a lot of stuff with other people in school. No parties or drinking, or whatever. We started the band when I was fifteen, and that was it. That was everything. My mum would get so mad because she thought I was skipping class to go shoot up or something, but really, we were just spending all day in the garage writing music.

'And no one else in the band really cared about my sexuality. It never really came up, because I wasn't that into dating. There were guys here and there, every once in a while, but like, I just wanted to make music. That's all I wanted to do.

'We were rubbish, though, obviously. We were, like, embarrassingly out of tune and would play for these tiny, tiny gigs. And we couldn't keep a drummer to save our lives. It's humiliating to think about now.” Harry laughed fondly at the memory. “But we kept working and working, and then, suddenly, people were singing our lyrics back to us. Then they were buying our little CD's and merchandise we'd bring to the gigs.

'I was just getting ready to tell my mum that I wanted to take a year off with the band before Uni when we got signed.”

“You were eighteen, right?”

“Mhmm. And it wasn't a big label, or anything, but it – it just...” Harry tapered off for a moment. “Not everything about working in the music industry is what you think it's going to be, but that first album was so perfect. It was probably the best time of my life. We were still just these clueless kids, but now we were in a recording studio with actual equipment and it just – it was everything we'd been working for.

'And we had so much freedom on that album so we just poured our hearts into it. We were so proud of every song on there. I kind of hate it now, though.”

“I still own that album.” Louis pointed out.

“That's embarrassing, Lou.” Harry chuckled, receiving a squeeze around his shoulders. “And then we went on tour in this shitty little white van. Niall and I can't sleep sitting up, so we'd take turns sleeping on each other's laps. He drools in his sleep, though, so it wasn't really a fair deal. And then we'd go play these gigs and there would be more fans every time. We were so poor we could barely afford toothpaste, but still, there were girls wearing our t-shirts and asking for our autographs. We felt like total rockstars.

'And then the single took off.” Harry said, his voice sounding thick again, hinting that his eyes were welling back up. “And it was almost this overnight thing. Major labels were coming at us from left and right, trying to get us for the second album. Then we got signed and got these big, fat signing bonuses and we were doing performances on Late Night shows. I got to sit in first class for the first time and I remember asking for like, three hot towels because I didn't know what to do with them.

'But my sexuality had never been any part of it. It never came up, because why should it? I was busy working and everything. But, like, I remember the exact moment I realized that I had – erm – I guess, that I had a problem. This girl was trying to give me her number after a show, and normally I would just tell her I was gay like it was nothing, but I didn't. I don't know why, but I didn't. I felt ashamed of it for the first time.

'And then it was just months of meetings. I would sit in this gray little room with all of these men in suits, and they would coach me on how to talk and how to act. What to say in interviews if they asked me who I was dating. They came up with all of these plans and publicity stunts and I would just sit there, nodding, because it's what I thought I had to do.

'We were still so new, and I was so young that I couldn't even really think for myself. They made – they made think...” He took a sharp intake of breath. “They made me think that I was going to ruin everything. That there was something wrong with me, and I was going to ruin this for my band. I believed them. I was scared and I was ashamed, so I signed it when they gave it to me.”

“Gave what to you?” Louis asked, resolute to keep his voice even despite the anger pooling in his stomach.

“It's basically a non-disclosure agreement, but a lot more encompassing. Most of my personal history doesn't legally belong to me basically.” Harry explained. Louis' grip tightened on Harry's shoulder. “But I wasn't seeing anyone at the time, so it didn't seem like that much of a sacrifice to me. Either my band or my nonexistent love-life, so it wasn't a hard decision. It's not like I had something like you and Joshua have.”

“Oh, Joshua and I aren't that impressive, I promise.” Louis sighed.

“But then I met Nick.”

“Nick?”

“Grimshaw.”

“Isn't he the guy on Radio One?”

“He's the only man I've ever loved.” Harry said without emotion. Louis felt an unidentifiable tug at the base of his spine at these words, but ignored it as Harry continued speaking. “We did an interview with him, and we just – like – we clicked kind of, you know? Things were easy with him. Everything was so new and overwhelming to me, but Nick was older and stable. He kind of, like, took care of me.

'And things just progressed from there. We were sort of together for like a year, but we never defined anything. We just had fun with each other. And then I obviously had to go and fall in love with him.” Harry said, causing another tug at Louis' spine. “But I was so scared that he didn't feel the same way, so I didn't say anything until Cardiff. We were playing one of our first big performances and he flew out in the middle of the night to meet me at my hotel room. I thought it meant something, and, erm, I told him how I felt.

'Then he, like – he just laughed at me. Then he left. And it was just two in the morning in a hotel room in Cardiff and he left, and that was how that ended.” Harry said, pausing momentarily.

“How old were you?” Louis asked quietly, fearful of the answer.

“Nineteen, almost twenty.” Harry said, causing Louis to swallow painfully. When Louis had been nineteen, he'd been bopping around the LA gay club scene with Zayn and a pair of fake ID's, giving blow jobs in the bathrooms and wearing tight jeans to try and get free drinks. He definitely hadn't been left alone in a two am hotel room, having his heart broken under a non-disclosure agreement. The implication brought a prickling to the corners of Louis' own eyes, just as he felt something wet fall onto his shoulder. Harry quickly smeared a clumsy hand over his eye before continuing. “And that was just, that was it. I didn't really want to try anymore with dating. I just haven't seen the point, I guess. So when my management came to me about this whole thing with Arrienne, I couldn't really think of a reason not to. I tried to think of it as helping each other out. I thought maybe we would be friends, since we both have to deal with all of this stuff.”

“Arrienne's gay, too?” Louis asked.

“She has a girlfriend, yeah. They want to get married, actually. I think maybe that's why it's different for her than it is for me. She's just always seen me as her enemy and things have just gotten worse and worse. And now – now this happened.” He breathed, a fresh flood of tears dropping to the fabric of Louis' shirt as Harry remembered the day's happenings.

“You can't let her do this kind of stuff to you.” Louis said darkly.

“But she's a victim in this, too. Just like me.” Harry reasoned. Louis' head whipped to meet Harry's gaze.

“Harry, do you realize what she's done? Even beyond how she's hurt you? Once it gets out that this is fake, do you realize how it's going to look for people who are actual victims of abuse? They're going to be afraid to come forward and get help because one time that supermodel Arrienne Brant faked an injury, and people might not believe them. She's going to make it look like women do this for attention, which couldn't be further from the truth.” Louis said angrily, but his speech was cut short when he saw the thick layer of agony in Harry's eyes. Louis' face softened before he opened his mouth again. “She's done a horrible thing that is going to hurt a lot of people, and I happen to really like one of those people.” Louis gave Harry another squeeze around the shoulders, which caused Harry to rest his head back on Louis' chest.

“I really like you, too.” He murmured quietly as his eyes drifted shut.

Louis watched him, trying to remain calm as the full gravity of Harry's story began to solidify in his brain.

It just didn't compute, was the thing. This was a man who could be distracted from an adult conversation if a ladybug fluttered by. This was a man who once claimed his favorite color was Neapolitan ice cream. This was a man that could not say a single negative thing about anyone in his life, let alone commit any of the hate that others had committed against him.

Harry's breathing had evened out, and Louis was fairly certain that he'd fallen asleep. Though it was definitely ill-advised to sleep on the roof all night, Louis decided to give him a few more minutes before jostling him awake.

He blinked up at the black-washed sky, devoid of stars from the light pollution of the nearby city. Harry's warm presence hung heavily on his side, and Louis knew in that moment that he had to do everything he could to protect him.

~

Whoops :) xx

Louis let his head fall back onto his pillow as he clicked the link at the bottom of Harry's incoming text message. He was sent to a Buzzfeed article titled, “Top Ten Times Larry Stylinson Had the Cutest Bromance in History”. He made a noise that was somewhere between a groan and a laugh as he began to scroll down the page.

He was met by a collection of gifs and pictures that did a pretty accurate job of summarizing his social media presence over the last couple of weeks. His scrolling thumb lingered as a few of his favorites passed by:

#9: When they took a selfie with a horse as if it were the most amazing creature they'd ever seen, when actually, it was a pretty normal horse.

The accompanying picture was from their foray into horseback riding the previous weekend. Louis' horse, a white mare that might as well have been a Unicorn devoid of it's horn, had been kind enough to join them in a self-indulgent snapshot. They'd both posed with slack-jaws, gazing at the horse between them with over-dramatized wonder. The horse, however, had stared into the camera languidly without any opinion of its current situation.

#8: When Louis used Twitter to make Harry into his personal chef.

Below were screenshots of two tweets between his and Harry's accounts. The first was of Louis asking Harry to: “Please come to my house and make me that one cheese thing with the bread. ” Harry had responded: “I am already in your house, making that one cheese thing with the bread.”

#3 When Louis was too drunk so he made Harry carry him home.

Beneath the text was a gif that Louis had already watched several hundred times from a night out a couple of weeks earlier. After a boisterous lad's night at several clubs, they'd been papped just as Louis had decided that walking was far too strenuous a task for his tiny body. He'd jumped onto Harry's back, who had gladly supported him and carried him past the waves of reporters with a dimpled smile. All the while, Niall could be heard cackling in the background.

#1: And at last, the vine that speaks for itself.

Louis pressed the play icon on the accompanying vine, already anticipating the video that would follow. Harry was lying flat on his back on the world's most comfortable couch while Glitter lounged across his face. Harry's one eye that wasn't buried beneath fur was darting back and forth between the cat on his face and Louis behind the phone, a knowing smile creeping across his face.

A tentative straw appeared at the edge of the frame as Louis poked Glitter repeatedly, trying to inspire some act of savagery from the beast. Glitter gave him no reaction apart from a haughty glare.

“She's not going to scratch me. She loves me.” Harry mumbled.

“All living things can be coerced into violence, Haz.”

The vine ended and Louis watched it again several times, never seeming to grow tired of it. The rest of the article was filled with their various selfies and tweets, along with video from the night when Harry had swung Louis in a circle on the red carpet. He could still remember that feeling of dread after Harry had put him down as he realized they'd been caught on camera. Now, almost two months later, Louis took every available opportunity to smother all of his followers with pictures and videos of Harry. The fact that this Buzzfeed article existed was proof that his plan was working.

It had been just over two weeks since Harry had come out to Louis. After they'd finally climbed down off the roof, Harry had traipsed over to Niall's for the night, promising he would text and check in with him the next morning.

What Louis had received the next day was a very worn looking Niall at his front door just after sunrise, asking if they could talk in private.

“I didn't know you could physically wake up this early.” Louis commented as he shut them both into the spare bedroom.

“I'm a man of many wonders.” Niall replied.

“I don't think I've ever seen you in this house without a bottle of alcohol in your hand.”

“Thought'd be better to have this conversation sober.” Niall said, hopping up onto a desk in the corner as Louis sat on the edge of the bed. “So, obviously, Harry told you some stuff last night.”

“Mhmm.” Louis nodded, his nerves beginning to prick at him.

“I've been thinking about what I want to say to you all morning. I've, like, been preparing and everything. I started to write it down, actually, but then I got bored of that so I just decided to wing it.”

“Naturally.”

“The thing is, with Harry,” Niall began, blinking through his own thoughts. “he's everyone's friend, right? Everyone loves having him as a friend and he loves being everyone's friend. But he doesn't let anyone be his friend. D'you get what I'm saying?”

“Yeah, I think so.” Louis said, absently picking at the sleeve of his shirt.

“So he told you about Nick Grimshaw?” Niall asked and Louis nodded. “But I'll bet he didn't even scratch the surface about how bad Nick fucked him up. Like, Harry was really, incredibly in love that asshole.” Niall exhaled and met Louis' eyes, unaware of the niggling tug that was once again at the base of Louis' spine. “He wrote him all of these beautiful songs and totally worshiped the ground he walked on. None of the rest of us really got it, because Nick isn't that impressive. But he made Harry so happy and giddy, so we weren't going to say anything against it.

'It went on that entire year, but then Harry told him he loved him, and Nick, in his infinite wisdom, figured that'd be a perfect time to tell Harry that he'd never thought of them as exclusive. He'd been fucking other blokes the entire time. Then he just fucked off and left Harry behind like he didn't even care.”

“Harry didn't, erm,” Louis coughed briefly, realizing his mouth had gone completely dry. “Harry didn't tell me about any of that. The details, I mean.”

“And that's just the beginning.” Niall said as he raised his eyebrows. Louis' eyes grew wide, unsure if he'd be able to handle anymore of this story. “Harry was a right mess after that. He went on this nonstop bender. I don't remember seeing him sober even once for two months, and I was with him all day everyday. He'd just drink, and drink, and drink, then he'd take anything anyone offered him at a club or at one of our shows. He'd get so hyped up that it would actually scare the rest of us, and we do some pretty dodgy shit. Like what you've seen, with Harry on the roof with the guitar? Nothing compared to what he was doing back then.

'And every night would end with him finally breaking down and crying, so we'd get him back to his hotel room and try to get him to sleep. Then he would wake up the next morning and start the whole thing over again. I was just watching my best mate deteriorate in front of my eyes. He lost all this weight and his skin was always pale and sunken. And that's when his reputation for all of this 'eccentric' stuff started. He would do things like drop acid before an interview on Ellen, or try to take all of his clothes off on stage.

'But things started to change after this one night. It was the weekend after his twentieth birthday and we were celebrating at this pub, and Harry was just totally losing it. Trying to get on the table, accidentally breaking glasses, falling all over the place kind of stuff. And then the sobbing started, so I pulled him into the loo to try and calm him down. But these two guys followed us in to try and get a picture, and in the time it took for me to get rid of 'em, Harry was already sunk down on the ground on the corner, calling Nick.

'All I heard Harry say to him was, 'I miss you,' and the fucker hung up on him. He hung up on Harry, as he called him, crying, from the floor of a pub bathroom. As far as I know, that's the last time they talked to each other.”

Niall looked taken aback by his own recollection of the memory while Louis' entire body thrummed with anger. Niall leaned forward and rubbed his hands over his face, allowing a sense of calm to seep back into him before he continued addressing Louis.

“But yeah, things kinda changed after that.” Niall explained. “Harry cooled down a bit, well, a lot, on the drinking and partying. He still does a lot, but it's nowhere near what he was doing. Which is good, because we'd all started talking about staging an intervention. But he started to write music again, and he put some weight and muscle back on so everyone was really proud of him and happy about it, but no one else besides me has really noticed that he's become this totally different person.

'He's been sorta closed off ever since. He's not completely there anymore. Like he's terrified of someone getting in and seeing who he really is.

'And I don't just think it's the whole Nick thing. I think it's that the poor guy had his heart broken, then he had to put on a pretty face for all of these random people who only know a fake version of him. He'd have to sing every night for this crowd of people who had no idea that he was hurting. People who he thought would turn on him if they knew why he was in pain. He couldn't even feel properly sad about his own break up because there were all of the executives in our lives telling him that he should be ashamed of himself for his sexuality, and I think he's internalized all of that and kind of built this mental shield up around himself.

'I know I'm unloading a lot on you, but it's just been me for years. Harry hasn't really let anyone else into his life, until now.”

Louis perked up as he felt something strange surge through his abdomen, almost like a wave of adrenaline or nerves. He thought over Niall's last sentence, weighing every word individually before deciding how to respond. Niall, however, beat him to the punch.

“I just want you to know,” Niall said. “Being close to Harry is a lot of work, but it's worth every second.”

“You – yeah – I mean.” Louis sputtered. “I'll do anything for Harry. Anything I can. He's become one of my best mates, and, yeah. I'll do anything for him.” He hoped his words were making some sense, despite his fragmented use of the English language. Niall gave him an appreciative nod before sliding off the desk.

He hadn't said anything else, instead just giving Louis a clap on the shoulder and showing himself out.

And that is how Louis' instagram had become a personal shrine to his and Harry's “bromance,” which had been affectionately nicknamed, “Larry Stylinson” by their fans. If there was one message that Louis was trying to get across to the media, it was that Harry was a great person and Louis supported him one hundred percent, no matter what effect it would have on his image. He'd even told his management to blacklist Harry's people, not accepting any of their calls or emails. In Louis' opinion, the only person who had any say in Harry's public image was Harry himself.

Public opinion was just starting to shift on the entire Arrienne debacle. She'd released a public statement about the “mix up” saying that she loved her boyfriend very much and Harry isn't capable of something like that . Evidence had also surfaced about the fact that Harry was in LA and Arrienne was in Milan during the entire affair.

But not everyone was completely convinced of this version of events. Some were accusing Arrienne of faking everything for attention, while others were still convinced of Harry's role in the alleged abuse. Unfortunately for Louis, he was pretty sure that his boyfriend belonged to the latter group.

The thing was, Louis and Joshua sometimes went through periods where they just didn't get along; they had conflicting personalities and they tried to embrace this rather than deny it. It just meant that, from time to time, Louis' sarcastic comments became a bit more biting, and Joshua spent a lot of time at the shooting range, blasting clay pigeons as he pretended that they were Louis' face.

This cycle of fighting had always been a part of their relationship, so Louis knew that it shouldn't worry him, and yet a stitch of dread had worked its way permanently into the back of his mind whenever his thoughts fell onto the state of their relationship. Yes, all couples fight, but a standoff that lasted this long didn't seem completely healthy.

That's why Louis had about jumped out of his skin with relief when Joshua had suggested that they invite all of the boys over for dinner that weekend. He offered to do a spaghetti feast, and even commented that it might be a good chance for him to get to know Harry a little better. Louis had been so grateful he'd grabbed Joshua by both sides of his face and planted a sloppy kiss to his lips, which grew into something more slow, which quickened into something more sensual and desperate, which then turned into absolutely nothing, with both parties leaving the room on opposite sides.

This was perhaps the most troubling part of the divide that had grown between the two of them. No matter how ugly their fighting had ever been, they'd never withheld intimacy from each other. The fact that they hadn't been together in weeks was completely unprecedented, and apparently, no, it wasn't up for discussion.

The actual spaghetti dinner had begun with a rocky start. Joshua and Louis spent much of the first part of the evening bickering in the kitchen as Liam and Zayn stood awkwardly nearby, pretending they couldn't hear them. Joshua had slapped Louis' hand away from the pasta sauce a little too aggressively for Louis' taste, and the snide remarks had flowed freely from that point onward.

They were only interrupted when Niall and Harry arrived with a bottle of wine that Harry held forth as proudly as if he'd won it at an Olympic event. Louis took a dark joy in the fact that it appeared very expensive, and he knew that Joshua wouldn't be enjoying any of it that night.

They'd all loaded their plates to their own liking, each meeting various nutritional needs with their choices. Harry and Louis had ended up on opposite ends of this spectrum, with Harry's pasta featuring an array of bright, plump vegetables while Louis' was truly just a pile of meatballs with a few noodles on the side for dessert.

The conversation flowed as freely as the wine, and soon Louis was sporting a stomach full of warm fuzzies and general affection. He was listening idly to another one of Liam's stories about how to correctly administer CPR (everyone gets it, Liam, you minored in Sport's Medicine at Uni) as he watched Harry chew his food. To Louis' utter delight, his dimples would appear briefly between each swallow, so Louis naturally felt the need to flick him directly in the cheek.

“Ow.” Harry said, furrowing his brows.

“Maybe next time you shouldn't have crater-like holes in your face.” Louis pointed out. Harry speared a broccoli floret on his fork and held it toward Louis.

“Open up.” He ordered.

“No. It's green.”

“But Lou, you have to eat vegetables. If you don't eat any, you're going to die.” Harry implored. Louis sniggered at the fact that he'd once watched Harry snort a line of cocaine off a waitresses' shoulder, and now he was lecturing Louis about his health.

“Um, Harry. Some girls were talking about you in my Transmedia class the other day.” Joshua said casually, causing every head at the table to snap over to him. “They were saying that they believed you, about the domestic abuse thing. They don't think you did it.”

Everyone watched him awkwardly, momentarily forgetting how to breathe now that the topic everyone had been skirting for weeks was out in the open. Harry's only response was to offer him a stiff smile.

“Well good.” Louis said, breaking the silence. “Because he didn't do it.”

“They were saying that they think Arrienne did it for publicity. You wouldn't believe the things people do for publicity stunts.” Joshua continued. Louis rolled his eyes, because, yes, Harry probably had a very good idea of what people did for publicity stunts.

“Yeah, but I wish people wouldn't blame Arrienne.” Harry said, his voice low. “I don't like how quick people are in the media to just blame women. Like how so many people turned on Rihanna when those Chris Brown pictures came out.”

“What do you mean?” Liam asked.

“How people thought she was worse than him, because she let the abuse happen.” Zayn clarified.

“Right.” Harry agreed. “Which isn't true. It's just victim blaming, and it just let him get off the hook for what he did. I don't want Arrienne and I to become the next chapter in that narrative.”

“Huh.” Joshua said. Everyone turned to him once again, waiting for him to finish his thought.

“Have something to say, babe?” Louis asked.

“I'm just, I'm surprised.” He said, directing his attention at Harry. “I didn't expect you to be capable of being articulate about that kind of thing. Good for you, I guess.”

“I think it's time to open something a bit stronger!” Louis blurted, gesturing toward the empty wine bottles and trying to forget the way Harry's face fell at Joshua's comment.

He jumped from his seat as Niall called, “Here, here!” and moved toward the living room to open the liquor cabinet. Louis wasn't even remotely surprised when he heard Joshua's faint footsteps approach him.

“I'm going to bring out the coffee cake.” Joshua said curtly.

“That's your right.” Louis said, clasping his hand around a new bottle of scotch and turning to face Joshua, who's eyes fell on the bottle with a sour expression.

“Don't you think you've had enough to drink?”

“There was a way to say that to Harry without being a complete arse. He made a good point and then you were rude.” Louis snapped.

“So you're going to get drunk to piss me off?”

“No, I'm going to get drunk to hopefully forget what your face looks like.” He said, pushing past Joshua back towards the dining room.

By the time the table was clear and the coffee cake had been served, Louis was in a much more bubbly frame of mind. His eyes kept falling to Liam and Zayn, who were trying their very best to pretend they were completely neutral towards each other. This was proven absolutely incorrect, however, about every ten minutes when they would catch each other's gaze and the mutual fondness would literally pour from them.

With the physical reminder of his own disintegrating relationship sitting angrily beside him, Louis needed a new outlet for his attention besides his blissfully in love best friends. His newest distraction came in the form of Harry Style's outfit.

“That's a nice shirt.” Louis commented brightly, smoothing down the blue fabric across his shoulder blade. Harry preened at the compliment.

“Thank you. Niall got it for me.” Harry said.

“That I did. I know how to take care of my boy.” Niall announced cheerily.

“Especially since it was your fault my other one got ruined.” Harry pointed out, which made Niall guffaw.

“We did this show for Spring Break in Miami last April, and we'd been at this party for like, probably thirty hours straight. This drunk fan wanted Harry's shirt really bad, so I gave it to her.” Niall explained.

“But rather than just politely asking me, Niall decided to jump me and rip it off my body.” Harry said fondly.

“The point of the story is, I bought him a new shirt, and doesn't everyone think it looks lovely?” Niall asked with an expectant look, causing everyone to nod and laugh.

“A thirty hour party?” Louis asked.

“It was on business, though.” Harry said defensively.

“Business.” Niall echoed.

“On business, yeah? What an entrepreneur you must be.” Louis jibed. He squeaked as Harry's fingers made contact between his ribs.

“Don't be jealous, Lou. People will be tearing your shirt off left and right once Metal Heart comes out.” Harry said, tickling him again, causing Louis to attempt to tickle him back.

“Is that a promise?”

“It is.” Harry deflected another attempt to tickle him with a chuckle, before reaching forward to affectionately straighten a piece of Louis' hair that had gone astray.

Everyone froze as there was a clatter of silverware hitting Joshua's plate.

“Get your hands off my boyfriend.” Joshua snapped, his eyes zeroing in on Harry, who immediately snatched his hand back in fear.

“I - er - I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.” Harry muttered, entire body stricken by panic. Louis shook his head angrily.

“No. No, no, no. You have nothing to be sorry about.” He said to Harry before he turned to Joshua. “And what exactly is your problem?”

“My problem is that my boyfriend is trying to make me mad because he's drunk.” He snapped.

“No, love. I'm trying to make you mad because I haven't gotten laid in three weeks.” Louis said brightly, taking another swig from his drink. Joshua's eyes flared, looking as if venom was actually coursing through his veins. He abruptly threw his napkin on the table before stomping away, leaving a room of shocked guests in his wake. Louis shrugged flippantly, taking a last bite from his coffee cake.

“Louis.” Zayn chided in his low, dulcet tone. Louis immediately began to shake his head.

“No, Zayn.”

“Go after him.”

“I can't. I'm entertaining guests.”

“Louis.” Zayn said even more imploringly, causing Louis to make begrudging eye contact with him. He had the distinct feeling of a child being forced to go apologize by his mother. “Go after him. Talk to him.”

“We'll clean everything up. Don't worry about it.” Liam offered, standing up from his chair. Louis looked over to Harry, who was already busying himself by picking up the clutter of plates and glasses, avoiding Louis' gaze.

“Fine.” Louis relented with a sigh, beginning a slow walk towards his bedroom.

Joshua was perched on the end of their bed, his head in his hands. He was outlined by a single lamp on their bedside table. The sight crashed over Louis with a wash of guilt. He gently closed the door behind him.

“You've never been jealous before.” Louis pointed out.

“That's not true. I was jealous that night after New Years.” Joshua said, eliciting an icy sigh from Louis.

“You always wait to bring that up until we're fighting.” Louis bit back. Joshua just shrugged. “I'm sorry.” He said quietly, causing Joshua to look up at him.

“Why are we being so awful to each other?” He asked back, a broken quality to his voice. Louis fell into a sitting cross-legged position on the floor, looking up at his beleaguered boyfriend.

“I don't know.” He admitted honestly, noting a hint of hopelessness reflected in his voice as well.

“Are you really this mad about the sex thing? Is that all our relationship is worth to you?”

“No, Joshua, it's not the sex. It's...” Louis brushed a frantic hand through his hair as he tried to meld his feelings into words. “It's that this has never been a problem for us before. We've never withheld sex from each other because we were mad. And it just scares me that there is something really, really wrong between us. And I'm trying so hard to just get you to talk to me, but you won't. You just won't, and now I'm terrified because I'm starting to think this isn't something we can fix.”

Joshua's head snapped up.

“Don't say that, Louis.”

“But it's true, baby. And denying it doesn't solve anything.” Louis leaned in closer as Joshua closed his eyes and began shaking his head.

“No. Lou, don't say that.” He implored.

“Then for fuck's sake, just tell me what is going on in your head. Why are you thinking about dropping out?” Louis' eyes bored into Joshua's dark tousle of hair, willing him to look up. Several moments passed in intense silence until Joshua slowly raised his head, causing relief to flux through Louis.

“Okay, so it's kind of a lot of reasons.” Joshua began.

Louis leaned back, making himself comfortable, ready to listen to his boyfriend's side of the story and offer whatever supportive advice he could muster. But as Joshua continued to spin his recollection of events, Louis was left increasingly shell-shocked.

What Joshua offered to Louis was a meandering, hour-long diatribe of child-like paranoia. He complained that his professors didn't appreciate his talents, over-analyzing their most minute interactions as attempts to sabotage him. He detailed the intricate web of drama amongst his friends, branding everyone as either a morally corrupt sex-fiend or mentally inept imbeciles who were ruining his life. He even devoted twenty minutes to the fact that his assignments were a useless waste of his efforts and were beneath him.

Louis watched wordlessly as the story came to a close, and a single thought had been lingering in the forefront of his mind since Joshua had begun speaking. When had this happened? When had Joshua stopped growing up? When had Louis left Joshua behind, becoming a semi-functioning adult while Joshua retained the maturity of a high schooler? How had Louis not noticed?

Joshua watched Louis patiently, waiting for his response. Louis opened his mouth slowly, feeling his thoughts churn angrily inside his head. He wasn't sure if he'd do more damage by backing down or being honest.

“Joshua,” He began, “when you first hinted that you were unhappy with school, I thought maybe it was getting too stressful for you and you needed some time off. Or maybe you weren't sure what you want to do with your life, so you wanted to take a break to figure things out. And I would have supported that, but-”

“But what?”

“I wouldn't say something this harsh to you if it weren't completely true, but you sound like a spoiled brat who needs to stop blaming everyone else for your problems.”

It took only a split second for Joshua to transform. Eyes that had been open and pleading narrowed into spiteful slits as he glared down at Louis.

“You wanted me to open up to you.”

“But how did you expect me to react to that? 'Sure honey, go ahead and throw your future away because your professor only gave you two extra credit points. He's obviously out to get you. Here, have a new house while we're at it.'”

“I did not ask you to buy this house.” Joshua spat.

“But all you do is sit around in it and read magazines all day. What happened to all those ambitions you use to have? You wanted to be a social researcher when we first met. I used to love just sitting and listening to you talk about it.”

“Get out.” He demanded.

“You're kicking me out of my own bedroom?”

“It's our bedroom.”

“Right, so that's why I spend most of my nights sleeping on the couch.” Louis snapped as he got to his feet and walked towards the door. His hand fell to the door knob before he stopped and glanced over his shoulder back at Joshua. “And what does any of this have to do with Harry? Are you actually jealous?”

“For the thousandth time, Louis, I'm not jealous.”

“Then why are you always so rude to him?”

“Because you two are so annoying together.” Joshua griped, kneading his temples. “He's totally obsessed with you, and you just let him fawn all over everything you do. You like the attention; it's obvious. And it's obnoxious to have to watch.”

Louis felt as if every vessel in his brain had burst. His thoughts were swept into a tempest of twisted emotion and disconnected words that didn't make sense.

“That's not even slightly true.”

“He's obsessed with you. You like the attention. It's disgusting, and you're using him.” Joshua stated bluntly.

“No.”

“Either that, or you two actually have feelings for each other, in which case, we should be having a very different conversation.”

Those couldn't be the only two possibilities. They couldn't be. His feelings toward Harry were platonic; completely innocent. Brotherly, even. And of course he wasn't using Harry. Harry was one of his best friends, and he would do anything he could to protect him. He'd never do anything to bring him any harm.

And he wouldn't do this to Joshua, either. He wouldn't cheat. Because that's what Joshua was accusing him of: emotional cheating. They wouldn't survive going down that road again. Louis couldn't do that again.

A latent memory from last New Years teemed through his thoughts, the associated images snapping into focus across his vision. The ghosts of Joshua's fractured shriek's and Louis' raw, shattered apologies echoed from somewhere in the past, met with a dull, concentrated pain in Louis' cheek that rippled down his entire body.

He blinked back into the reality of the present, suppressing the painful memory back to where he locked it away in the loneliest corner of his mind. That night hurt. It was painful. He would never go back to something like that again.

So only one option made sense: Joshua was lying. He was wrong. He was so, so wrong.

“Harry is my friend, and he isn't going anywhere.” Louis stated, his voice inexplicably hoarse. “He's a good person, and it would mean a lot to me if you could learn to accept that.” He opened the door and stepped into the dark hallway, allowing the full gravity of their fight to seep into him.

The house was silent, which proved that their dinner guests had already left for the night. Louis walked slowly toward the kitchen, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkness rather than switching on any lights. He was about to get a water glass from the cabinet to ease his throat when he noticed a warm glow emanating from the living room.

He entered the room slowly to immediately recognize a mop of brown curls poking up from behind the back of the couch. The prickling tension that had seized up Louis' entire body melted away as he rounded the couch and Harry looked up at him. His back was leaning against the armrest with his feet up on the middle cushion, a familiar ream of paper topped with a periwinkle cover resting open against his thighs. He noticed Louis with surprise, as if he were a child discovered out past bedtime.

“S-sorry.” He stammered, closing the screenplay and throwing it onto the coffee table, the title Kids From Yesterday looking back up at him. Louis sat down on the opposite end of the couch, pulling Harry's legs across his lap.

“Been snooping have you?”

“I was just going to wait for a couple of minutes, because I had something to tell you, and I just kind of started reading it. Sorry, I lost track of time.”

“You liked it?”

“Yes, it was just, it was just wow.” Harry said, staring at the cover. “It's so beautiful, Louis. It's gorgeous, and deep yet subtle, but so meaningful and poignant and so – it's so, so much, Louis.”

“So that's a yes?” Louis asked with a playful smile.

“Yes. I liked it. I loved it. I couldn't put it down.” He admitted. “You're going to be in it, right?”

“Probably not.” Louis said awkwardly, looking down to his fingernails.

“You don't like it?”

“No, I love it. It's exactly the kind of film I've been wanting to make since I came out.”

“Then what's the problem?” Harry inquired. Louis' heavy silence made the reason very clear, and Harry's eyes briefly flicked in the direction of the hallway leading to their bedroom. Harry leaned forward, causing Louis to look him in the eye. “You don't have to listen to anything I say, obviously, but Lou, I didn't even get to the ending and I can already tell it's such an important movie. It's going to mean so much to so many people, and I think it would be really, really incredible for you to get to be a part of something like that.”

Louis stared at Harry wordlessly, letting his options turn over in his head.

“Yeah, it would be amazing.” Louis said softly. Harry's eyes dropped away, overcome by something new. Louis recognized the shift in his demeanor. “You alright?”

“I just – just feel like...” He said slowly, his voice getting heavier with every word. “This is the kind of thing I should be doing, instead of hiding in the closet. I should be trying to help people.”

Louis' hand clasped around Harry's knee, squeezing gently.

“None of that, Harry.” He said. “Coming out is a huge step, and it's extremely personal. No one can pressure you to come out before you're ready.”

Harry gave him a weak smile, breathing through Louis' words.

“If you end up getting the role, does that mean that you'll, maybe, volunteer at teen shelters or something? For research?”

“I guess so, yeah.”

“Could I maybe come with you?” Harry asked meekly. Louis' face split into a grin, dumbfounded by the sincerity of the man sitting in front of him.

“Of course, Haz.” He promised, which finally caused Harry to mirror his smile. “You wanted to tell me something earlier?”

“Erm, yeah. Actually. So, Radio One is doing this weekend in LA thing, so they're sending a bunch of their RJ's and reporters out to interview people and do live video podcasts. My management kind of thinks that this might be a good time for me to do my first interview since everything with Arrienne.”

“Do you feel ready?”

“Mostly, I guess. The tour's only a few weeks away, so I need to start showing my face again eventually.” Harry reasoned.

“Are they going to ask you about the Arrienne thing?”

“They're not supposed to. But, erm, I kind of want to tell him to, so I can set a few things straight, you know. But, maybe not. I don't know. S'probably a bad idea.”

“What? No, Harry. If you have something to say, then you should say it.” Louis insisted.

“There's something else, though. The interview is, erm, it's with Nick.” Harry said uncomfortably, watching Louis to gauge his reaction.

“Grimshaw?” Louis asked, keeping his voice as neutral as he could manage. Harry nodded. “Are you absolutely sure you want to do that?” The image of Harry sobbing in the corner of a restroom as Nick Grimshaw hung up on him was still fresh in Louis' thoughts.

“Yeah, it'll be fine. It's been years, really. I just think that it'd be easier for me if I knew you were watching.”

“Well, yeah, duh. Of course I'll be watching. You'll have to turn your phone off all day because I'll be calling and texting you constantly. I'm very needy, if you haven't noticed.” Louis joked. Contentment washed over Harry.

“Okay. Good. I should probably head out. Night Lou.” Harry said, standing up from the couch. He began walking to the door before Louis jumped to his feet.

“Oi! And what kind of goodbye is that supposed to be?” Louis questioned, walking over to Harry. “Can we just make a solemn vow that we won't say goodbye to each other without at least one, really good hug?” Louis pouted at Harry in what he hoped was a good impression of a puppy. Harry laughed and stepped forward, wrapping his warm arms around Louis.

He stepped further into the embrace, circling his arms tightly around Harry's middle and turning his face into his neck. His skin swept across Louis' nose, emitting a fresh scent that Louis had come to recognize as the HarryHarryHarry smell. He took a deep inhale and filled his lungs with the sweet aroma and swayed calmly in the strong fold of Harry's arms.

Harry was the first to move out of the hug, but he promptly put his hands on both sides of Louis' face and placed a sweet kiss to the crown of his head. The brief brush of lips against his hair sent another jolt of emotion through Louis' abdomen, surging powerfully through the bottom of his stomach. Surprise seemed to wash over Harry at the same moment, as he stepped back and broke the contact hastily.

They watched each other silently for a moment before Harry coughed and turned toward the door. He opened it with one last look over his shoulder.

“I think you should do the movie.” He said with a cheeky grin as he stepped out into the night and closed the door behind him.

Louis watched the closed door as something foreign and unfamiliar clamped down on his lungs, still imagining the silhouette of where Harry had stood a few seconds earlier.

Chapter Text

“You wear your shades at night, you cannot see how hard I fall. I clench my fist so tight, try to burst through your brick walls.”

-Everywhere

“Thanks Louis, we'll be in touch again before the end of the week.” A voice crackled through the speaker of Louis' phone.

“No problem. Looking forward to it.” Louis responded, picking his phone up from the table and ending the call. Liam took the incentive of handing a pen to Louis as he flipped open a thick folder, setting it to his left. He nudged it forward, standing behind Louis' chair in the sun-soaked dining room.

“Initial here, here, and here,” Liam instructed as he flipped through several pages, “then sign and date here.”

“Should I be signing this without reading it?” Louis questioned, clicking the pen and scribing LT down onto the first page.

“Don't you trust that I've read it several times?”

“I trust that you've read it about forty times.” Louis admitted, continuing to initial. “So no weird clauses anywhere in here?”

“What constitutes a weird clause?”

“Like, if I can only eat almonds for two months, or I have to take over for Tim Allen as the new Santa Claus, or there are mandatory orgies every Wednesday but everyone tells me that it's a Furry when really it's not, so I get all dressed up and show up looking stupid in a raccoon costume, then everyone laughs and throws shit at me. Then we all have sex.”

“No – Louis, no. There's nothing like that in there.” Liam sighed. “How does your mind even go to places like that?”

“I'm a colorful boy. I can't help it.”

“What're you doing?” Joshua asked as he stepped into the dining room. His brow furrowed as his dark eyes swept over the legal documents littering the table. Louis perked up at this appearance.

“Well, I just got off of a conference call with the director of Kids From Yesterday in which I officially accepted the role of Alex. Now I'm signing my life away to a small production company in Manchester from the dates of December tenth through February fifteenth. And what have you been up to this morning?” Louis said, sarcasm dripping from every word.

“You signed that without even talking to me?” Joshua clarified.

“Correct.” Louis nodded, turning his attention to the bottom of the final page and scribbling his signature with a grandiose flourish. “And now, if you don't mind, sweetheart, I'm treating my brilliant agent and his gorgeous boyfriend to a celebratory lunch.” Louis clapped Liam on the shoulder as he got to his feet. Liam tried to hide his smug grin as he gathered all of the now legally binding paperwork.

Louis.” Joshua hissed.

“Have fun at school, honey.” Louis said as he slid past him, Liam quick on his heels.

 

~

 

“I definitely want something spicy, but I also kind of want something buttery. To hell with it! Bring me the largest slice of cheesecake you can legally sell!” Louis proclaimed, handing his menu over to the waiter.

Liam rolled his eyes and Zayn ordered a very fancy sounding salad, which only served to remind Louis of all the heinous vegetables he was going to have to eat for the next couple of months. Signing on to play a character afflicted with AIDS meant that he was facing a very strict diet and exercise regimen, which was all starting at six am the next morning.

Once the waiter had bustled away, Zayn raised his glass, his eyes sparkling with doting pride at Louis.

“I'd like to make a toast to my very best friend in the world.” He said. “This time next year, Louis, you'll be getting ready for awards season.”

“Cheers!” Liam said merrily, clanking his glass against Zayn's.

“That's embarrassingly presumptuous.” Louis responded, half-heartedly clanking his glass. “But I would also like to make a toast to the fact that my two best friends have fallen in love and still refuse to openly acknowledge it in front of me. Cheers!” They toasted their glasses again, Liam notably less enthusiastic this time. As Louis lifted his glass to meet Liam's, he noticed that he was toasting with his left hand, which seemed wholly odd, just like giving a handshake with the wrong hand. Suddenly, it clicked. “Oh my god. Are you two actually holding hands under the table?” Liam and Zayn gave each other a knowing glance. “You are. You are holding hands under the table.”

“Now that we've established that, can we move on?” Liam suggested uncomfortably.

“Oh, no. Definitely not, because this is completely unfair. I'm done with this whole mysterious 'we're kind of dating' thing. I am your mutual best friend; you should have been giving me daily updates on every single detail of your relationship so far.”

“Sorry Lou.” Zayn said. “Liam made me promise we'd keep things just to ourselves for a little while. Until we knew if this was going to last or not.”

“But why ?”

“Because I knew that you'd make a huge deal about it, then probably scream, then cry, then make us adopt you.” Liam said snidely.

“But I created you!” Louis exclaimed.

“Actually, Harry was the one who finally got through to us.” Liam pointed out, much to Louis' frustration.

“So you listened to Harry, even though you'd only met him a couple of hours earlier, but you wouldn't listen to me when I begged you to start dating for years?”

We like Harry.” Liam said. “Unlike you, he doesn't sound like a yappy dog every time he opens his mouth.”

“Rude.” Louis stated. “And after I scored you such a nice commission today. So what's the deal? Are you officially boyfriends, or what?” This garnered a very egregious eye roll from Liam, but Zayn remained amused.

“Yes. We are boyfriends.” Zayn said, struggling to form words past his unyielding smile. Louis' hands shot to the sides of his face dramatically, which was contorted with excitement.

“You two have somehow made me happy, nauseated, and jealous all at once.” Louis said.

“Jealous?” Zayn queried, eyes flicking over to Louis. “How are things with Joshua?”

“Overall, or just this morning?” Louis countered with a dark humor.

“Did something happen this morning? Is he not happy you took the role?”

“Louis thought that it would be a good idea to put his sassy pants on this morning.” Liam explained, raising his water glass to his lips with a smirk.

“Louis.” Zayn admonished.

“It's the only way to get through to that kid.” Louis defended himself.

“You know what would also really get through to him? Breaking up with him.” Liam pointed out, delighted that it was now his turn to harass Louis rather than the other way around.

“That's not funny, Liam.”

“Never said it was funny. Logical? Maybe. Unavoidable? Perhaps.”

“I know that you've never liked Joshua,” Louis said diplomatically. “But it doesn't really matter if you like him. It matters if I like him. Which I do. Quite a bit.”

“You know who else you like quite a bit? Harry. He's a good lad, don't you think?” Liam asked brightly.

“The fuck are you on about?” Louis asked, his eyebrows knitting together.

“Nothing.” Zayn said quickly, shooting a warning glance to Liam.

“Wait.” Louis protested, his attention turning to Zayn. “Have you two been talking about me?”

“The middle of a nice restaurant probably isn't the best place to talk about this.” Zayn said.

“Oh my god. You've actually been talking about me.” Louis repeated, blown away that Zayn and Liam had been conspiring against him. Liam was historically very critical of Joshua, but Zayn had always come to Louis' aid whenever the conversation about Joshua turned bitter. “And what exactly have you two been saying about me?”

“We just – we don't like seeing you fight with him so much.” Liam said. “It's making you unhappy, and I don't think you even see it.”

“He's my boyfriend, Liam. I love him.” Louis bit back.

Just then, Zayn's phone started vibrating against the white table cloth. He snatched it up, looking pleadingly from the screen back to Louis, as if struck with a dilemma.

“Go ahead.” Louis advised.

“Sorry. It's the photographer from my shoot yesterday. I'll honestly be, like, twenty seconds. Sorry.” Zayn continued to apologize as he answered the phone and moved toward the front of the restaurant.

A heavy silence fell over the table at Zayn's disappearance. Louis glared unblinkingly at Liam for several icy moments, while Liam stared at the table and fiddled absently with his fork. The moment stretched on and on until Louis thought he couldn't handle another second of it.

“Well, Zayn's gone. Feel free to tear into me.” Louis said acrimoniously.

“That's not what I'm trying to do.”

“And what exactly do you and Zayn say about me? Is all of your pillow talk devoted to scrutinizing how pitiful poor Louis and Joshua are?”

“Louis. No. That's not how it is.” Liam assured.

“Then tell me. Secrets don't make friends, Payno.” Louis said. Liam huffed sardonically.

“That's rich.”

“What do you mean?” Louis inquired. Liam looked toward the entrance to see Zayn already heading back to the table. He leaned forward, focusing his eyes squarely onto Louis.

“We all know that something happened on New Years.” Liam said bluntly. “And we know it was bad. You don't want us to know, but we do, and I can't figure out what he could have done to you that you'd be afraid to tell us about.”

When Zayn sat back down, he was prattling on about something to do with reshoots, but Louis didn't catch a word of it. His energies were focused on getting some form of oxygen into his body, because his chest suddenly weighed about forty pounds. Liam's words had lodged physically between Louis' ribcage and lungs, constricting any attempts to breath. The rest of his body quickly followed suit, with his shoulders and spine growing so rigid that the tiniest movement might shatter his bones to dust. A swell of panic was rising through his throat, causing his mouth to grow dry and his eyes to water while Zayn continued chatting obliviously.

“I don't know, I'm tired of it, I guess. It's all just unprofessional.” Zayn said.

“It wasn't him.” Louis said weakly. “It was m-” His voice faded as he met Liam's eyes, which were currently boring through Louis like battering rams.

“What?” Zayn asked, but Louis looked to the ceiling with a rasped exhale.

“Nothing.” He breathed, clutching the table until his knuckles turned white.

His cheesecake couldn't get there soon enough.

 

~

 

Six am interval training turned out to be just as much of a nightmare as Louis had expected. Only a few days in, and he was already convinced that his muscles had detached from his bones in protest. At least he had a greasy, carb-loaded breakfast to look forward to, right?

Wrong.

His green, morning breakfast sludge was waiting for him in a foreboding pitcher in the fridge, whispering Louis' name from it's frothy, mossy depths. He opted to take a shower before facing that particular evil.

It was the morning before Harry's interview with Radio 1 (and subsequently, public nuisance #1: Nick Grimshaw) so Louis shot him a friendly text before stepping into the warm spray of the shower to find out if he was nervous.

 

And how is our Mr. Styles doing this morning?

 

By the time Louis stepped back out and checked his phone, a pile of messages were waiting for him from Harry.

 

fine .x

 

yeah, everything's good so far. :)

 

great actually

 

I can't find matching socks. I think I have to go sock shopping.

 

I could just not wear socks. Is that weird? will anyone be able to notice?

 

I should definitely go sock shopping

 

no wait, I found some :) :) :) :) :)

 

can't decide on breakfast

 

it's ok, I found some bagels

 

Did you know that bagels are actually Jewish? they originated in Poland

 

there are two popular styles of bagels in North America. New York style and Montreal style.

 

I don't know what the difference is

 

but I still like bagels

 

sorry. I shouldn't be texting you this much

 

sorry

 

sorry Looooo .x

 

Louis smiled at his screen fondly before responding.

 

Harry, I'll grab the lads and we'll watch a movie before you have to leave for the interview

 

Harry responded immediately.

 

Thanks Bloooooooo .xx

 

 

~

 

“This is an outrage!” Niall declared as he entered the kitchen to see Harry chopping carrots. “What are those? Where's the nachos?”

“Louis has to eat healthy for his movie role.” Harry explained. Louis smiled cheekily from the other side of the kitchen.

“Yes, but I'm not Louis. Where are the nachos?” Niall repeated. Harry laughed and ignored him, carving a smiley face into a piece of carrot.

“Look, it's happy.” Harry said proudly, holding it out to Louis so he could see. Louis approached him and snatched the carrot away before tossing it into his mouth. Harry looked as if he had just been mugged. “Oi!” He protested. “That was my happy carrot. You ate my happy carrot.”

“Food is for eating, Curly, not for playing.” Louis pointed out, but Harry's eyes lit up at the mention of playing with food.

“Try to catch one in your mouth.” He ordered excitedly, positioning himself to toss another bit of carrot. Louis took several steps back and angled himself strategically, his mouth wide open in anticipation.

Harry lofted the orange snack into a graceful arc, landing it squarely in Louis' mouth. They simultaneously threw their arms in the air and cheered in victory.

“Dream team.” Louis declared resolutely with a high five before the three of them joined Zayn and Liam in the living room.

The happy couple was squished into an armchair together, impatiently waiting to press play on the DVD menu for the original Robocop. Interestingly enough, it was the only film all five could agree on. No one was very open to Harry's suggestions of obscure, black and white Italian Neo-Realist films and Niall's many suggestions of The Spongebob Movie fell on deaf ears.

Louis sat between Harry and Niall on the couch, munching disdainfully on his nutritionally approved movie snack. He'd pop one of the offensive morsels into his mouth about every five minutes, always telling himself that it couldn't be nearly as bad as the last piece. The implosion of earthy, organic taste that washed across his taste buds always proved him wrong, though, and he continually responded with a pained groan that was directed at Harry. About halfway through the film and approximately ten snap-pea induced groans in, Harry leaned forward to grab a piece of cauliflower and hand it to Louis.

“Just pretend it's an M&M.” He suggested.

“It tastes nothing like an M&M.” Louis countered.

“Well, yeah, I know. That's why you have to pretend.” Harry said, as if this were obvious. Louis took the white floret and chewed on it open-mouthed in defiance. “That's very attractive.”

“I know it is. It's how I pick up chicks.”

“Oh, and how's that going for you?”

“Excellent.” Louis said, swallowing. “Wow. That tasted just like an M&M.” He deadpanned, but Harry beamed at him.

“There are actually some of us here who are rather invested in the dialogue of this movie.” Liam snapped. Louis rolled his head at Liam's protest, before swooning melodramatically and throwing himself across Harry and Niall's laps. Niall squawked in surprise at the feet that were suddenly kicked into his space.

“I can't exist under these conditions.” Louis claimed breathily.

“I completely understand. Your life is very hard.” Harry attempted to say with a straight face, but a giggle betrayed him. Louis turned onto his back to watch him, admiring the fact that a full-grown man could still giggle with such ease, until Harry spoke again. “You've got cauliflower on your face.”

Harry's hand came to Louis' cheek easily to brush the vegetable away, but once he made contact, the soft pads of his fingers lingered against his skin. His fingers felt warm, hot even, where they idled on Louis' cheek, and Louis' breath caught sharply in his throat. Harry's eyes were a radiant green as they stared down at Louis, which was a dazzling contrast to the full pinkness of his lips. His fingers began to stray, leaving a trail of sparked nerves in their wake as they traced Louis' jawline. His strong thumb came to rest on Louis' cheekbone, and honestly, could Harry's lips be any more pink right now? They looked like they could inspire a shade of Valentine's candy or a Shakespearean sonnet.

Without realizing he had sent any commands to his limbs, Louis' hand was on Harry's wrist, rubbing a slow circle into the back of his hand. Harry's eyes flickered to the movement, before locking with Louis' gaze yet again. But Louis' eyes were slowly drifting shut, an unexplainable gravity compelling him to move without any semblance of thought. His body had only made a minute shift forward when Niall jumped to his feet.

“Haz! Hey! Erm, nachos? Yeah? Help me with the oven? Please? Okay? Now?” Niall asked haphazardly. They both stared at Niall for a moment, suddenly remembering where they were. Louis leaned forward without protest, allowing Harry to get to his feet and follow Niall to the kitchen. He leaned back against the armrest and repositioned himself as their footsteps died away, until he finally noticed that Zayn and Liam's attention had fallen solely on him.

“What?” He questioned, looking back and forth between their concerned expressions.

“You just almost kissed Harry.” Liam stated, pointing an accusatory finger toward Louis. Louis sat bolt up right, paranoid eyes turning to the kitchen.

“What are you even talking about? No, I didn't!” He whispered harshly, waiting for the knowing look on Liam's face to relent, but it held strong. “I just had some shit on my face and we looked at each other. That hardly – that's not even – Zayn?”

“It's fine, Louis.” Zayn said. “Nothing happened.”

“Damn right.” Louis said darkly, but at that very moment, Joshua's voice rippled through his thoughts.

You're using him.

Louis stumbled to his feet. “I - erm - I need to get home. Work on lines, and everything.”

“Okay, look, I'm sorry.” Liam said. “I didn't mean to freak you out. Sit back down.”

But Louis was already lacing up his trainers and picking his keys up from the table. The resulting jingle of metal made Harry reappear in the entrance to the living room.

“You're leaving?” He asked.

“Yeah, I've got some work to do. But I'll be watching the interview.” Louis explained, heading for the exit.

“Lou?” Harry said lightly, causing Louis to stop in his tracks.

“Yeah?”

“Goodbye hug?”

Louis' shoulders slumped as his resolution to get out the door as quickly as possible waned. He nodded with a heavy swallow and moved towards Harry, allowing himself to be enveloped in his lanky limbs. Louis made a pointed effort to ignore how Zayn and Liam were staring at them as he gripped into the soft fabric of Harry's shirt. He melted into the contact briefly, before stepping back and avoiding Harry's gaze.

“Good luck tonight.” He said quickly, then raced from the room with everyone's eyes trained on his retreating back.

Once in the safety of his own car, he blasted the radio at full volume, smothering away the toxic thoughts that were already brewing in that lonely corner of his mind where he kept everything locked away.

 

~

 

Louis had defeated his fingernail biting habit several years earlier, but somehow, his thumbnail was currently being ripped to shreds between his canines.

Harry's glowing face was filling the telly in Louis' living room, and to all who were watching, he appeared completely affable and at ease. But Louis could see that strange glitter to his eyes, that latent panic that he was trying so hard to disguise behind a wide smile as he chatted congenially with Nick Grimshaw. In truth, Grimshaw was doing most of the talking, with Harry giving slow, drawn out answers intermittently about the upcoming tour.

Louis sent off what was probably his fiftieth text of the evening.

 

Your curls are especially curly. Trick of the light?

 

He'd been in contact with Harry for the last few hours, texting him throughout hair, makeup, and sound check. Even after Harry had told him he was about to go on and couldn't respond, Louis had only doubled his efforts to comment on every inane thing that came to mind.

On the screen, Grimshaw had become especially excited about one of Harry's answers, causing him to lean forward and touch Harry's shoulder as he asked another question. Louis' focus zeroed in on the touch, over analyzing every aspect of it. Had Harry just stiffened up? Did he seem upset by it? Could Grimshaw tell? Asshole. He can't even tell when Harry is upset. Harry's obviously upset. Maybe not that upset, maybe he's fine. Or maybe he's just really good at hiding it.

He was so engrossed in his analysis that he missed the next couple of questions, only surfacing at the mention of Arrienne's name.

“And how long have you and your girlfriend, Arrienne Brant, been together now?” Grimshaw asked.

“Couple of years.” Harry nodded, not quite meeting Grimshaw's eyes, which was definitely for the best, since a subtle snarkiness had settled onto his face. Asshole.

“So, the two of you were the subject of a lot of media attention a few weeks ago, right?”

“Right. She - erm - she posted this picture of her face covered with bruises, and there was a lot of talk about how that had come about.”

“But it was makeup?” Grimshaw clarified.

“It was makeup, yeah. It was Halloween, and she was going as someone from The Evil Dead, or something. I'm not completely sure. She was in Milan for a show, and I've been in LA for the last couple of months.”

“But there's been a lot of drama following you two around since then.”

“I don't know if that's quite the word I would use.” Harry chuckled.

“Snafu, if you will?”

“Yeah, it was all a misunderstanding, obviously, but erm, it's put a lot of attention on a really serious issue.”

“Domestic abuse.”

“Right.” Harry said. “And Arrienne and I just want to make it very, very clear that domestic abuse is not a joke. We kind of accidentally thrust it into the spotlight, so it's not that surprising that people are, like, joking about it on Twitter, or on late night shows, or whatever. But honestly, it's not joke. None of this is funny. It's a really widespread problem that hurts a lot of people.”

“I couldn't agree more.” Grimshaw commented. “Is there any way that this whole thing could be spun into a positive?”

“Maybe, I hope so. But I think it's just really important that people understand that this is something anyone can try to prevent. If you know someone who is being abused, tell them it's not okay. You might be the first person who's told them that, or you might be the thousandth, but eventually someone is going to get through to them and they're going to get the help they need. We unfortunately live in a society where it's more acceptable to make light of partner violence than it is to have a serious discussion, and that's not going to change until people individually realize that this is not okay, and that they want to make a difference.”

“And on those wise words, we are going to take a commercial break. When we come back, Harry is going to be joined by the rest of Status Solo to perform their new single, 'Paradise Red,' so stick around.” Grimshaw gave a hearty smile to the camera before he turned to Harry to talk to him animatedly, their microphones already muted.

Louis sunk further into his seat as the feed faded to commercials. If that interview wasn't a trending topic by morning, he was going to denounce society on moral grounds. His fingers hovered over the screen of his phone, unable to find words that accurately summed up how incredible every word that had just come out of Harry's mouth had been. The only sequence of letters he found himself capable of typing was:

 

Harrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyyyyyyyy :):):):) xxxxxx

 

He switched over to Twitter and swiped through all of Harry's mentions, anxiously waiting for the internet to catch up with the fervor growing in his head. Status Solo performed in the background as he delved through the internet, smiling like a parent at their child's graduation every time he saw something positive about Harry.

Every feeling of fear or trepidation seeped out of Louis, replaced by a warm swell of pride. How had Harry done so well? He was facing the man who'd broken his heart a few years ago, who was questioning him about the biggest disgrace of his career, and somehow, he'd managed to make that speech come out of his mouth. How had he done that?

He hadn't even noticed that the interview had ended until Harry's incoming call was filling his screen.

“Harry!” He breathed as he answered.

“Did you watch it?” Harry asked excitedly, and Louis could hear the relief in his voice.

“I did, and it was beautiful, Harry. I'm so proud of you. You did so well.”

“I was just being brave like you.” Harry said sheepishly, which silenced Louis as he struggled to try and choke out a response.

“No, Haz. This was all you. I'm so proud of you.” He said slowly, and he could practically sense Harry letting the words sink in.

“Everyone's heading over to my place.”

“Who's everyone?”

“The band, Nick, and a couple of Nick's friends.”

Something sour slithered through Louis.

“Nick's going over to your house?”

“Yeah, we're getting on really well. It's great. Like, erm, closure, or something. I'm so glad I did this.” Harry said, the smile evident in his voice. “You should come too, Louis. I really want to see you.”

Louis' first thought was to agree immediately, but something stony sunk into his stomach as his eyes glanced over to his open laptop on the coffee table.

“I wish I could, but I'm actually waiting for Joshua to come home so we can talk about something.”

“Is everything okay?”

“We'll see.” Louis said.

“Yikes, sorry. But you'll call me tomorrow?”

“Definitely. Night, Haz. I'm proud of you.”

“Night, Lou.” Harry said happily as the call ended.

Louis set his phone down gently and pulled his computer onto his lap, the levity of Harry's conversation drowned by his open credit card statement. His phone illuminated from beside him with a text from Joshua.

 

hey babe. be home soon. bringing study group. that ok? they're excited to meet a movie star ;)

 

Louis powered his phone off without responding, trying to diminish the temptation to rip into his boyfriend. He didn't even think that the electronic apathy that was typically lent to text messages would disguise the fury brewing in his veins.

It had started the moment Louis arrived home from Harry's. Between Liam's accusations and the fact that his early morning workouts had turned his muscles into blocks of painful lead, he'd been dead set on taking a long bath. He'd already started the water and was just casually checking his email on his phone when he saw the message. Apparently, there was suspicious activity on one of his credit cards. After checking his wallet to find that the card in question was missing, he realized that there would be no bathtime for Louis William Tomlinson. After his recent success and influx of income, his financials were now mostly in the hands of professionals. This card, however, was an old one; one that he'd barely used in the last couple of years. All the same, he felt compelled to get to the bottom of it.

Sore muscles still shouting their protests at the lack of sudsie water, Louis called the fraudulent activity line and looked through his statement as a representative slowly ticked off each purchase over the last couple of weeks, confirming whether or not he had made it. No, he hadn't spent twenty eight dollars at Starbucks on November second. No, he hadn't gotten a three hundred dollar massage on November fifth.

He impatiently flicked ahead of where the woman was reciting purchases to spot the most recent one, which was what had apparently triggered the suspicious activity warning. Whoever had stolen his card had just spent two thousand dollars at a firearm emporium.

“Erm, they bought a gun today.” He blurted, interrupting the woman.

“I'm sorry?”

“They bought a gun. They spent two thousand dollars on a gun. Do we have to call the police, or something?”

“Sir, there's no indication that the purchase was illegal, apart from the source of the funds. Are you looking at your statement now?”

“Yeah, I've got it on my computer.”

“In the interest of saving time, could you possibly look back and find the last purchase you made personally?”

Louis scrolled up the page, eyes barely registering the Amazon orders and trips to Whole Foods that certainly weren't made by him. But his whole body stiffened with an icy jolt as he recognized one of the purchases. It was the fancy, electric fruit juicer that Harry had found unopened that morning he had made breakfast. Which meant one thing.

Joshua.

And click, there it was. Reality set in. Massage, Starbucks, endless Kindle books. That was a pretty accurate bio of Joshua's interests. And the gun, goddammit the gun.

Having grown up in a country with extremely restrictive firearm laws, Louis had never touched a gun in his life. This might be difficult to believe, considering the rather large gun locker that was currently residing in his garage, but that monstrosity was courtesy of Joshua. Louis understood that Americans had a much different relationship with firearms than those in the UK, so that's why he tried not to think much about the fact that Joshua was practically raised on a shooting range. Shooting had been the primary bonding activity between Joshua and his father since he could walk.

The thing is, Louis would have paid for any of the expenditures on his statement. Joshua was a student; Louis understood that. He was happy to help out financially because they were partners, but a two thousand dollar gun? And why did Joshua feel the need to sneak around like this, toting his boyfriend's credit card like a valley girl at the mall?

And so Louis sat in silence, kneading his sore bicep, until Joshua arrived home. He spilled into the living room with several overhyped University students, all bustling around and chirping excitedly as they introduced themselves to Louis. Louis shook each of their hands, keeping his face calm until he followed Joshua into the kitchen.

“How was your day?” Joshua asked brightly as he threw a bag of popcorn into the microwave. Louis plucked a water glass from a cabinet and filled it up without answering, his throat suddenly very dry. “Louis?” Joshua inquired, looking at him as Louis swilled water from his glass. He shifted his aching muscles uncomfortably as he made eye contact with his oblivious boyfriend.

“Well, apparently, I had a fantastic day at the shooting range with that new gun I spent two grand on.” He said sarcastically. Joshua's shift in demeanor was slight, but it didn't go unnoticed by Louis.

“It was a birthday present for my dad.” Joshua said darkly.

“The dad who won't speak to me for being a grade-A poof? Really glad I could bank roll that for him.”

“You'll just find anything to yell at me about, won't you?”

“How did they even sell that to you? That wasn't even your name on the card. Don't they do background checks or something?” Louis questioned.

“The owner knows me. He's a friend of the family.” Joshua said. Louis rolled his eyes.

“Just give the card back.” Louis demanded, holding his empty hand out. Joshua pulled his wallet out and began rifling through it.

“Whatever you say, mom.” He snapped, handing the card over.

“No, don't – don't fucking do that! Don't make me feel like you're my child. I fucking hate that.” Louis winced as his shoulder cramped again. He massaged it as he drank the last drops from his water glass. Joshua's eyebrows raised as he noticed Louis' discomfort.

“What hurts, Lou?” Joshua bit out maliciously. “Did Harry get tired of beating his girlfriend and move on to you?”

Without any form of rational thought, Louis slammed his glass to the floor, shattering it into jagged fragments that glimmered as they skirted across the tiles. The harsh clatter silenced the voices from the other room.

Scarcely a second had passed before regret rose within Louis. He opened his mouth to plead for forgiveness, but was stopped short as Joshua turned and wrenched open a cabinet. He snatched two wine glasses from a shelf and sent them to the ground with a spray of glass shards.

“Is this what we're doing now, Louis!? Is this how we talk to each other!?” Joshua screamed, sending two more glasses to the floor. Louis shirked away as more shards went flying in his direction. “Is this how we resolve our problems!? Because that's completely fine with me!”

Louis jumped back as a stack of bowls met their violent end on the tiles, which prompted him to flee to the living room to grab his keys and phone from the table. The terrified eyes of Joshua's study group followed his flight, but his focus was squarely on getting away from the tirade that was happening in the kitchen.

His hand was on the front door handle as the crashing of dinnerware silenced and Joshua's voice rang out behind him.

“Where are you going?” He demanded.

“Where do you think?” Louis shot back angrily, slamming the door behind him.

A sickly adrenaline surged through him as he walked down the driveway, unlocking his car as he powered his phone back up. He slid into the driver's seat as he punched in his phone's passcode with the intention of calling Harry, but his notifications lit up with a slew of missed calls from Niall. Confused, he clicked Niall's name and pressed the phone to his ear as he started the ignition.

“Tommo?” came Niall's flustered voice after only one ring.

“What's up?” Louis asked, craning his neck over his shoulder as he started to back up.

“Little bit of an emergency.” He said hesitantly. “We kind of lost Harry.”

Louis slammed on his breaks a few inches from the end of his driveway.

“What do you mean?

“Things were going really great, honestly! We were drinking and having fun and everything. But then he was talking to Nick, and I think Nick might have said something kind of triggering, or something? Next thing, Harry's off his ass and we're trying to control him. I think he took something, or twenty somethings. Then he was just – he was just gone.”

“Are any of his cars gone?”

“No, so we've been searching the house and the backyard for an hour but we haven't found anything.”

“You've been searching the backyard for an hour?”

“It's a big backyard, Louis!” Niall said with exasperation.

“I'll be there as fast as I can. Text me if you hear from him.” Louis said, hanging up and stomping on the gas pedal. His engine hummed aggressively as he whizzed down the dark street.

He had never broken so many traffic laws within one commute before. He raced through every yellow light with alarming disregard for his acceleration, wove in and out of lanes between other cars, and only regarded stop signs with a brief tap to his breaks. He did much of this one-handed, as he was calling Harry's phone every few minutes, listening to it ring before going to voicemail.

Niall was waiting in the front doorway when Louis pulled around Harry's long driveway. He parked hurriedly before skipping up the steps toward the house.

“Find anything?” Louis asked breathlessly as they moved inside.

“No, but we're pretty sure he isn't in the backyard.”

“Yeah, no shit, Horan. So what do we do? Call the police?”

“No, no, no. He's on some pretty heavy shit. No police.”

They entered the main living room to find a gaggle of others, all talking amongst themselves with worried expressions on the other side of the room. Louis recognized the gangly profile of Nick Grimshaw, complete with a tall quiff atop his head and stylish boots on his feet. Grimshaw turned at their entrance, raising his eyebrows with recognition, which made bile rise in Louis' throat.

“Grimshaw needs to leave.” Louis said quietly.

“He's trying to help.”

“Harry's going to be completely humiliated if he's still hanging around when we find him. Can't we try to give him a break?”

Niall pursed his lips before nodding. He walked over to the others, offering a half-hearted excuse about how there was nothing to worry about, and he and Louis had it under control. Louis ran his hands through his hair, feeling the shaggy strands frizzing beneath his touch, and looked up just in time to see Grimshaw approaching him.

“Louis Tomlinson.” He stated, coming to a stop in front of Louis.

“Yes?” Louis responded, feeling suddenly defensive.

“You actually ran out here in the middle of the night?”

“What's your point, mate?”

“I thought it was just media hype, but is there actually something to this whole 'Larry Stylinson' thing?” He smiled condescendingly.

“I think you were just leaving.” Louis said mock-sweetly, moving to walk past him until his phone started ringing. Louis couldn't answer it fast enough. “Harry?” Niall spun around to face Louis.

“Loooooooou, heyyyyyyy.” Harry's low voice drawled.

“Is that him?” Niall asked. Louis nodded, trying to focus on Harry's voice, rather than the fact that everyone in the room was now watching him.

“That's Harry? He's seriously calling you?” Grimshaw asked incredulously. Louis should have ignored him and tried to get information from Harry, but there was something vile dripping from every part of this man that just made Louis snap.

“Yes he's calling me, because I don't have a history of hanging up on him when he needs me.” He snapped, making a hand signal to Niall, urging him to usher everyone away. Niall complied, leading everyone to the door. Nick lingered, obviously deciding how to respond, but Niall's hand was quickly on his elbow, leading him away. Louis put the phone back to his ear.

“Harry, what's wrong? Are you okay?”

“Mmmm, dunno.” Harry chuckled, his voice sounding muffled as if his mouth was pressed into the sleeve of his coat.

“Where are you?”

“At a table.” Harry's words were overlapping groggily. The sound made Louis' skin crawl.

“Tell me where you are and I can come pick you up.”

Harry laughed again as a stern, female voice sounded in the background.

“Oh nooooo.” Harry whispered

“Who is that? Who's talking to you?”

“She's mad. She's gonna call the popo, po, po.” Harry giggled again, only interrupted by his own jagged intake of breath. “M'in trouble.”

“Harry, love, you're going to be fine. Just please hand the phone to the woman talking to you. Can you do that for me please?”

“But I wanna talk t'you.”

“I'll be there in a few minutes, I just need to talk to her first.” Louis implored. He waited breathlessly as Harry grumbled on the other end before noisily handing the phone away with a muttered explanation. After the handful of seconds dragged on like years, a female voice began speaking.

“He needs to leave. Now.” She said harshly.

“Yes, I know. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm his friend and I can come get him right now if you please, please don't involve the police. I am actually begging you right now.” Louis pled, waiting for her response.

“He's from that band, isn't he?”

Louis shut his mouth, afraid of the precipice he was teetering on. Was she about to ask for a bribe? Or was she already snapping pictures of him, ready to sell them to the press?

“He's just – he's just a regular guy, and he needs someone to help him out. Please understand.” He said. She mulled over her options momentarily. Finally, she relayed the address to the twenty four hour diner she worked at. Louis thanked her profusely before hanging up and heading out to his car.

The diner wasn't far away, but Louis still drove as recklessly as he could manage without damaging city property. He pulled into the diner's parking lot, the white light from the kitschy, fifties themed dining area spilling onto the mostly deserted parking spaces. He raced inside and scanned the area, spotting an old man reading a newspaper in the corner and a very perturbed middle aged waitress quickly approaching him.

“You're the one from the phone?” She clarified disapprovingly.

“Is he still here?” Louis asked. She responded by pointing one manicured fingernail behind him. He turned to spot a crumpled mass of a man slumped over in a red checkered booth, his face flat on the table and buried beneath his arms. His lofty curls were disheveled as they fell to his shoulders, frayed and tangled. His shoulders lifted heavily with every breath. “Thank you, honestly, thank you so much.” Louis said to the waitress as he turned his attention back to her. He pulled his wallet out. “Let me pay you, or something.”

“No, just take care of him.” She said resolutely.

“Thank you. And, sorry, again.” Louis began to step away, but stopped short. “Actually, could I possibly get some coffee?”

She didn't seem amused by the request, but she strutted away all the same, in search of a coffee pot. Louis finally turned his attention to Harry, noticing that his hands were now erratically toiling through his own hair. He sat down gently beside him, alerting him as the seat dipped. Harry sat up with a lurch, recognizing Louis with an excitement that was glazed over by many layers of intoxication.

“Louis' here.” He moaned happily, his eyes fluttering around listlessly. Despite the debilitating inebriation, Harry was still able to muster up a boyish excitement at seeing Louis, which made the corners of Louis' eyes prickle painfully. He wrapped an arm around his broad shoulders, pulling Harry against him. His head sagged against Louis heavily as he struggled over his own breaths. The waitress reappeared at the table, setting down a white, nondescript coffee cup.

“I'll just take the check now, please.” Louis told her, as she poured the steaming, brown liquid into his cup. She bustled away, her eyes lingering on Harry. He pushed a mass of brown curls out of Harry's face as she disappeared. “How's it going, Haz?” He asked quietly.

“Fucked up.” Harry whispered. “I fucked up s'bad.”

“Do you remember how you got here?”

“Mmm, there were people – was with 'em – but lost 'em. Left. Then I walked.”

The waitress returned with a black folio housing the check, which Louis slotted his debit card into and handed back to her. She rolled her eyes at the fact that he was using his card for a $1.79 cup of coffee as she walked away again.

“Are you okay? Does anything hurt?” Louis asked.

“Everything hurts.” He responded throatily. “Take me home. Take my – my home?”

“Soon, love.” Louis' fingers flexed across Harry's skin, feeling the goose pimples that were sprouting up on his arms. “Take my jacket, Harry.”

“No, Louis, m'not gonna – not gonna steal your jack – jacket.” Harry protested dazedly, but Louis had already wiggled out of his hoodie and was struggling to get Harry's limp arms to cooperate long enough to get into the sleeves. The fabric was stretched taut over his much larger frame, but Harry pulled the hood up contentedly before his head lolled back onto Louis' shoulder.

The receipt arrived with Louis' card, and he left a two hundred dollar tip for the untouched cup of coffee with a scribbled thank you next to his signature. He gripped Harry's hand and gently pulled him from the booth, leading him stumbling out the doors and into the parking lot.

“S'lovely. You're all lovely.” He called over his shoulder as the doors closed behind them. Louis opened the passenger door for Harry, helping him settle clumsily into the seat and fastened his seat belt. “Steering wheel's on the wrong side.”

“We're in America, Haz.” Louis closed the door slowly, and by the time he'd rounded the car and slid into the driver's seat, Harry had slumped low and kicked his feet up onto the dashboard. “You okay?”

“No.” Harry murmured as Louis set the car in reverse. “I did the worst.”

“There are much worse things you could have done.”

“I'm a ruiner. I ruin things.”

“You haven't ruined a single thing.”

“I ruin every – everything. And I did – and I with Nick, and -” Harry laughed suddenly, the muscles in his neck straining. “I ruined it.”

“What did that asshole say to you?” Louis asked angrily, turning to Harry, who shook his head. “Harry, tell me. Did he flirt with you? Or say something shitty? Because it's not fucking true, whatever he said.”

“Is though.”

“I promise you it isn't.”

“Asked me about you.” Harry said, inexplicably flaring his fingers. “Surprise.”

“Me?”

“He thought we're together, so he kept – kept asking bout you. Bout Lou. And I's like, n-no, not Louis. Not me and Louis.”

“Then, well, it's obvious that he's just been stalking you on the internet lately. You didn't ruin anything, he just knows he fucked up and now he's jealous.”

“S'not it.”

“What do you mean?” Louis questioned.

“Nick's right. Can't hide from him. He's always – always right. Now everyone’s gonna hate me.”

“Harry, stop. No one is going to hate you.” Louis said forcefully.

“You're going t'hate me.”

“I will not. How could I ever hate you?”

“M'lying to you again.” Harry buried his face into the glass of the car window, his breath fogging it's shining surface.

“What are you lying about?”

“Gonna hate me.”

“I'm not.”

“Yes you are.”

“Just tell me, Harry.”

“Can't.”

“Why not?”

“Gonna hate me.”

“Just tell me.”

“Gonna hate me.”

“I am not going to hate you, just tell me Harry!”

“I have a crush on you.”

Louis' senses awoke with another surge through his stomach. His gaze snapped over to Harry, who was wearing a manic, tear-strewn smile and staring at the roof of the car.

“What?” Louis stammered.

“Ha! I ru - I ruined it. Again. I ruined it cause you just – just wanna be my mate and take care of me and be nice, but I had to get crushed on you and because I'm a ruiner who ruins good things.”

“Harry-”

“Louis, I don't feel good.” Harry bolted upright, his skin glazed with a thin layer of sweat. Louis whipped the car onto the side of the road as Harry tore off his seatbelt and shoved his door open. He doubled over as he retched into the dry cheat grass along the highway, a sympathetic pain shooting through Louis' chest with every agonized gag.

Louis turned to dig around in the backseat, fishing out his water bottle from the gym earlier, which was still half full. He placed it in Harry's lap, who swilled the lukewarm water in his mouth and spat it out onto the side of the road. He sunk back into his seat, his entire body shaking with each breath and his entire face flushed. Louis opened the glove box and procured a package of gum, handing one to Harry.

He put the gum in his mouth, chewing on it gratefully as he clamped his eyes shut and rested his head back against the seat.

“Can we go home, please?” Harry asked, sounding much more sober than he had before.

“Harry, I don't want you to be upset about this.” Louis said tentatively, still watching Harry.

“I just want to go home.” He responded, eyes still shut and unflinching. Louis reached over to close the car door and merged back onto the highway. Gently, he crept his hand over to meet Harry's, which was resting on his leg. Harry twined their fingers together tightly at Louis' touch. Louis gave a slight squeeze, and it sent a tingle down his spine when Harry squeezed back.

He didn't release the hold, opting to drive home one-handed rather than endure a ten minute car ride without Harry's hand in his.

Niall was still at Harry's when they arrived, his worry alleviated when he saw Harry in one piece. They both helped him into bed, the entire scene very reminiscent of the night after he'd jumped off the roof into the pool. Harry's murmurs were fairly muted, however, and he cuddled into his pillows when his body hit the bed.

“I'm gonna stay the night.” Niall said. “Gonna grab a shower first, though”

Louis nodded and waited for Niall to disappear through the bedroom door before he perched on the side of the bed beside Harry's curled body.

“You still awake?” He asked quietly.

“M'sorry.” Harry muttered, his eyes still shut.

“Please don't be.”

“Shouldn't have said any of that. I'm a bad friend.” Harry's heavy lids waxed open, his pupils massive as they looked up at Louis.

Louis looked back at him, trying to weave together some heartfelt speech that would make Harry understand what a treasure he was, once and for all.

Instead, the only words he could think to say were, “That's so untrue. That's so thoroughly untrue, and I just wish you could see that.” Harry's eyes fluttered closed once again.

“S'Joshua?” he breathed.

“Huh?”

“Did you get to talk to Joshua, like you said – said on the phone?”

“Yeah. We had a really bad fight. Not our worst, but probably the second worst.”

“No, Louis.”

“Unfortunately, yes.” Louis sighed, absently running his fingers through a lock of Harry's hair.

“You have to go talk to him.”

“I was thinking about kipping here for the night.”

“No.” Harry shook his head. “Gotta go be with him.” Louis took a moment to breathe, reminding himself that Harry was safely in bed before he could make any sort of argument to head back home.

“Night, Haz.” He said softly, but Harry's quiet stillness made him realize that he had already drifted off.

He pushed himself up from the bed, his muscles once again panging from the day's exploits. He treaded slowly through the dark room, sliding his phone from his pocket and unlocking it. Waiting for him in angry black font was a text from Joshua, reading:

 

don't come home tonight

 

Well, that was that.

The fact that the world's most comfortable couch was within his eyesight gave Louis a very convincing argument to acquiesce to Joshua's demand. He collapsed into the plush upholstery, fully clothed, and let the sleepiness curdling above his eyelids drag them down, surrendering to exhaustion.

 

~

 

Something was clenched around Louis' lungs, wringing violently with icy claws. He couldn't breathe through the thick panic coursing down his bones, bright lights exploding behind his eyelids as he clamped them shut painfully. He was choking on darkness; it was slithering down his throat and enveloping his entire body, leaving him helpless as his nails dug into his own arms.

He wanted to scream, to call for help, but nothing escaped him except wretched whimpers; half-shrieks that were smothered by a palpable terror. His body was wracked by a series of terse shivers as he released a sob. Hot tears were streaking across his face, but his rigid bones wouldn't even allow him to wipe them away.

He was suffocating, blindly, painfully. No air could sneak it's way into his lungs, and his consciousness felt as if it was shriveling away. He was suffocating, and he couldn't save himself.

Louis? What's wrong? Wake up!”

A hand was on his shoulder, shaking him gently. The hold on his lungs didn't relent as he let go of another sob.

Please, open your eyes. Everything's okay.”

The hand was on his face now, softly wiping away tears and stroking his taut skin. His eyelids rolled open heavily to see Harry's worried face only a few inches away.

H-har,” he sputtered, confused.

I'm right here. I won't let anything hurt you.” He said, and Louis realized that he had never seen such honesty in someone's eyes before.

It was melting, all of it. The icy clench, the contracted muscles, the stiff bones. Everything was fading into warm molasses, the haze over his vision dissolving into clarity. And there was Harry, staring back at him with a warmness that radiated from his every fiber. Louis finally remembered where he was, sleeping on the couch in Harry's bedroom.

You okay?” He asked, seeing the change in Louis.

Louis didn't say anything in return, instead tugging at Harry's hand beseechingly. Harry watched him without understanding until Louis scooted back further into the couch and pulled Harry by his elbow.

The tall man clambered onto the couch with Louis, their bodies aligned and breaths mingling as they faced each other in the darkness. Louis nuzzled into Harry's chest, weaving his arms tightly around his middle. Harry reciprocated by curling himself around Louis, enveloping him in nothing but warmth and soft skin. He hooked his chin over the top of Louis' head and threaded his fingers through the back of his hair protectively.

I'm not going to let anything hurt you.” Harry said.

Louis closed his eyes, an unprecedented peace fluxing through him.

I know.”

 

Chapter Text

“In all chaos there is calculation. Droppin glasses just to hear them break.”

-Lorde

“Shit!”

This exclamation was followed by a thud and a cold spot on Louis' shoulders where Harry's arms had previously been. Harry clamored clumsily to his feet, following the warble of his cell phone from the bedside table across the room. Louis' eye lid begrudgingly cracked open to watch Harry's hunched form through the darkness, the November sun apparently still obscured by the horizon.

“Hello?” Harry answered quietly, his voice husky and sleep-bitten, as he made a beeline for the bathroom and shut the door behind him.

Preceded by a soft pitter patter across the floor, Glitter hopped onto the sofa and curled into the warm stretch of cushion left in Harry's absence.

“No, cat. That's Harry's spot.” Louis grumbled, placing one finger on Glitter's pink nose. “Harry's sitting there. Don't you like him? Don't you respect him as your lord and master?”

Glitter blinked at him apathetically before rolling onto her back, as if proving her dominance over her surroundings. Louis was left idly scratching behind her ears as he watched the yellow crack of light beneath the bathroom door, listening to the low hum of Harry's voice on the phone. When his barely audible murmurs were replaced by the spray of shower water against a tiled floor, Louis' eyelids finally fell shut once again.

He came back to attention, practically convinced that he hadn't even fallen asleep, as the bathroom door swung open. Harry's figure was silhouetted in the bathroom's light, haphazardly buttoning a shirt and blinking painfully.

“Did I wake you up?” He asked, taking notice of Louis' open eyes before he shut off the bathroom light.

“Initially, yes.” Louis responded as Harry ambled over to the couch. “But I would have gone back to sleep if your cat hadn't jumped up here and started yammering on about tuna fish and middle eastern politics.” Harry grinned weakly as he sat on the edge of the couch, running a hand down Glitter's back. “Are you going somewhere?”

“Er, yeah.” He muttered. “That was my lawyer. I have to go talk to my management.”

“Your lawyer? Is everything okay?”

“Yeah. S'fine.”

“But it's so early. What time is it?”

“Don't worry about it. Go back to sleep.” Harry insisted.

“But is everything okay?”

“Yes. Everything is okay, Louis.” He answered. “Did Niall stay the night, too?”

“I think he grabbed a guest room.”

“Go back to sleep, Lou. I'll be back before you wake up.” Harry rose slowly to his feet, but was impeded by Louis tugging at his pant leg.

“Harry?”

“Yeah?”

“Goodbye hug?”

Harry's responding grin was dripping with warmth as he lowered his top half down to hug Louis. They were forced into an awkward angle in an attempt to not squish the slumbering cat between them, but Louis was still content by the end of the embrace.

“Go back to sleep.” Harry repeated as he slipped away, forgetting to close his bedroom door as he disappeared into the hallway. Louis could faintly hear him rapping at a door and whispering, “Nialler?” before he closed his eyes yet again.

 

~

 

The sun had finally decided to show its face by the time Louis awoke. For several serene seconds, he stretched against the plush comfort of the couch, inhaling the crisp air and taking in the gentle cadence of morning sunlight.

But like a pinprick to an inflated balloon, the memories from the night before burst forward in a single swell.

Credit card. Broken glasses. Nick Grimshaw. Nightmare. Harry's lawyer.

I have a crush on you.

And by some poetic twist of fate, each of these had occurred within the same twenty-four hour period. In his infinite wisdom and maturity, Louis decided that the best course of action was to not dwell on any of it. Instead, he got to his feet in search of breakfast.

He found Niall in the kitchen, his face as bright-eyed and energetic as it probably had been the day he was born, as he snarfed down a piece of gooey, meat-covered pizza.

“Didn't realize you were still here, Tommo.” He commented, procuring another slice from the grease-stained delivery box on the counter. Louis sat at one of the bar stools on the other side of the counter, resting his chin on his crossed arms.

“How did you find someone to deliver pizza this early?” Louis inquired.

“I've lived in LA for two years. I know where to get pizza at any time from any part of southern California.” He answered simply, angling his slice into his mouth with practiced skill. “Want some?”

“Considering the fact that I accidentally missed my gym session this morning, pizza for breakfast is probably a bad career move.”

Niall shrugged as he shoved the entire crust of his slice into his mouth in one bite.

“So, about last night?” Niall questioned. “Should we talk about everything?” Louis groaned and buried his face in his arms.

“Second thought, I will have a piece of pizza.”

“No you will not!” Came a scandalized roar from deeper inside the house. They both turned to find that Harry had arrived home and was currently walking briskly toward the kitchen as if he were about to rescue Louis from a swift death. “You are not having pizza for breakfast. You need nutrition.” He wrenched open the fridge door without looking at either of them. Niall raised his eyebrows to Louis as they both drank in Harry's appearance. He was dressed with uncharacteristic formality, each of his buttons actually fastened together up his chest. But his apparel was in stark contrast to his bloodshot eyes, sallow skin, and tangled hair that looked like the casualty of a nervous hand raking through it one too many times.

Harry distractedly threw his suit jacket onto the tiled floor as he gathered an array of brightly colored fruits and vegetables onto the counter from the fridge.

“How'd it go?” Niall asked.

“Alright.” Harry said expressionlessly, brandishing a large knife and beginning to slice through the green flesh of a bell pepper. Niall nodded awkwardly, leaving the snick of Harry's knife as the only continuing sound in the kitchen.

Louis had the distinct impression that they were both tiptoeing around a tender subject, and the polite thing to do would be to change the topic of conversation and not pry into Harry's personal matters.

Except fuck that.

“Okay, what was so important that you had to haul yourself out of this house at the ass-crack of dawn this morning?” Louis asked. Harry froze momentarily, mid-vegetable slice.

“Someone got a picture of me last night.” He said, his back still to Louis. “Had to pay him off.”

“Someone got a picture of you? It wasn't that waitress, was it?”

“No, it was before that.”

“But it's taken care of?”

“Mhmm.”

“And that had to be taken care of before the sun came up?” Louis continued to question.

“They probably thought if they got him that early, they wouldn't be able to get ahold of Sophia.” Niall pointed out.

“She answered on the second ring.” Harry remarked.

“Good girl.”

“Who's Sophia?” Louis asked.

“Harry's attorney.”

“And yeah, why did you need your lawyer? I'm very confused by all of this.” Said Louis. Niall leaned against the counter, trying to catch Harry's gaze as if asking for his permission to keep talking. Harry nodded tersely before plunging into the task of tearing apart kale leaves.

“Harry's the face of the band, so he's a lot more wrapped up in legal stuff than the rest of us.” Niall explained. “Like, he's had to sign agreements and contracts all over the fucking place when he started to get recognizable. Plus all of the nondisclosure bullshit. And like, the last couple of years, they've been using all of it to take advantage of him. Like, they twist everything around so they can control his every move. They've always done this thing where they pull Harry into a room all alone and guilt him into whatever they want, and they always get away with it because,” Niall looked back at Harry to gauge how well he was following their conversation, leaving several unspoken words hanging above them. But Louis was confident that he knew what Niall was going to say. They took advantage of Harry because he's Harry. Because he's so nice, he would probably get up from his own death bed if there weren't enough chairs to go around. “So about a year ago, me and the rest of the band told management that it was going to be a real problem if Harry didn't have legal representation at each of their meetings. Scared the shit out of 'em. They haven't been able to get away with anything since Harry hired Sophia.”

“She's smart?” Louis asked.

“And terrifying. Perfect for our young Harold.”

The conversation was cut short by the angry whir of a blender as Harry's best impersonation of a green sludge breakfast smoothie materialized. Once liquefied, he poured the thick green drink into a tall glass and topped it with an ironically cheerful pink straw.

With a glass clink, he dropped it onto the counter in front of Louis and looked at him expectantly, making eye contact with him for the first time that morning. Harry's eyes were an all-too-familiar stain of red against green as he stared resolutely at Louis. The shadow of the previous night crept over them both in that moment, curdling in Louis' chest and stifling any attempts of congruent thought or full breaths.

“M'gonna take my breakfast poolside.” Niall decided, noticing that the air in the room had for some reason become as thick as syrup. Slice in mouth and box in hand, he raced from the kitchen in a blur of blonde highlights. Harry picked absently at the counter top as Louis took a long drag from his smoothie in a futile attempt to ignore the tension.

“Mmm.” He hummed with surprise. “This is actually pretty good.”

“I think we need to talk about last night.” Harry stated bluntly, making Louis' pulse falter.

“Oh?” He asked in faux-nonchalance. “What about?”

“It's just a crush, Louis.”

Louis' mouth clamped shut, any semblance of wit smothered away.

“Haz,”

“It's just a crush.” Harry repeated. “It's not anything – like – it's just a little crush. I'll get over it. It's easier for me to just get over it than for-” He stopped short, obviously flustered with himself. “I just really don't want this to change anything between us.”

Louis was frowning down at his hands, watching his knuckles turn white from where they were clenched around his green drink.

Harry's words were so present . So unavoidably present. There was no distraction to protect Louis from what he was saying. They were alone, unimpeded, standing with only a few feet of intangible air between them, and Harry had said the words that Louis had been so afraid he would say. Wouldn't it have just been easier to ignore what had happened? Wouldn't that have been preferable to pouring everything out on the table in the full light of day, Harry's confession brought to life between them?

And wow.

Harry had a crush on Louis.

Wow.

Of all the beautiful, interesting, worldly men that had surely sashayed in and out of Harry's life, he had somehow found something in Louis to be crush-worthy?

Louis' store of air had somehow been trapped at the base of his stomach, swirling mockingly as he struggled to breathe. An electrifying pang swooped down the entire length of his body, crowned by a deafening fuzziness in his brain.

He only grasped onto clarity as Joshua's words echoed in the recesses of his mind.

You're using him.

And it was suddenly clear that every prior notion of human anatomy was incorrect, since there was very obviously a thick bone that ran through the center of everyone's brain. Louis was completely sure of this, since he'd just felt his own snap in half.

It splintered into off-cast shrapnel, severing cords of thought and extinguishing any sparks of ideas. His stiff neck managed to look up, even as Louis felt his brain being grated into ribbons.

And yet, despite everything, there was Harry. Impossibly, Harry was still there, curls and whimsy, smiles and perfection. But in this moment, every complexity that had breathed life into Harry was irrelevant. The man before Louis was reduced to frightened green eyes and a worried quiver of pink lips.

It's just a crush .

That's what Harry had said.

It's just a little crush.

Louis needed so desperately for those words to be true. He yearned for it. There was no other option that would be even partially acceptable. This had to be okay. It needed to be okay. It couldn't be this massive revelation, beating and squirming like an exposed artery on the counter between them. It needed to be simple. Resolved.

It need to be okay.

“It's okay, Harry.” Louis breathed, as if passing judgment.

And with that, it was. It was okay. Because those words had to be true. Just as everything Harry had said was true, so was this statement. Louis said it, so it had to be true. It needed to be true.

The relief felt forced, manufactured even, but it made much more sense than the alternative. Everything was fine. They were good. It was just a little crush. People get little crushes all the time, and then they get over them. It was just a tiny, inconsequential little crush. Nothing to worry about.

And really, how was it even possible for someone like Harry to develop a crush on someone like Louis? This was Harry Styles for fuck's sake. He could probably part the red sea just by smiling at it. And he had somehow convinced himself that he had feelings for Louis? Louis, who had recently spent an entire day in his briefs and socks, eating cornflakes and playing a bubble shooter game on his phone? He hadn't even been able to beat the bubble shooter game!

Somehow, he'd had the unbelievable good fortune of getting close to Harry, but somewhere in there, Harry had become confused. He'd fallen for some idea of Louis; some caricature that didn't actually exist. Eventually, Harry would find the right person for himself, and this mistake would become clear. It would become an embarrassing little mistake he would look back on and think, 'What was I even thinking?' And when that day arrived, Louis would still be there by his side, supporting him like the friend he'd promised to always be.

That was the truth in the situation. That was the absolute, undeniable truth.

All of this was going to work out. It was going to be okay.

“Nothing's going to change.” Louis remarked, his confidence slowly returning. “You're going to have to try a lot harder than that to get rid of me.”

Harry exhaled with a smile, giving Louis the impression that he hadn't taken a breath for several minutes.

“What're you up to today?” Harry asked, relieved by the turn in conversation.

“I'm still waiting for the prodigal boyfriend to invite me back to the house, so I was hoping you'd let me follow you around all day like a stray animal and watch what you do.”

“Well, today I'm planning you a party to celebrate your new movie role, so I guess you can tag along.” Harry smirked mischievously. Louis rolled his eyes.

“Oi, I'm not some kind of Cinderella for you to just endlessly throw parties for.” Louis complained.

“Of course not.” Harry retorted, turning back to the fridge. “I want to be Cinderella.”

“Sorry curly, but you're a brunette. You'll have to settle for Belle.”

“And you'll have to settle for the beast.”

“He's hairy, mean, and never has to cook his own food. Sounds pretty apt.” Louis admitted, suddenly realizing that he was now shipping himself and Harry together as a Disney couple. That's probably a no-no when it comes to platonic guy friends who don't have crushes on each other.

Harry turned from the fridge with a white package in hand. He placed it on the counter and pulled back the white paper, revealing the fresh sheen of a pink, shining salmon.

“You're not making me a smoothie from that, are you?” Louis gawked.

“It's for Glitter's breakfast.” Harry explained, already focused on slicing the fish into thin strips.

“Harrrrrry.”

“What?”

“She's a cat.”

“Cat's have to eat, too.”

“Yeah, but like, cat food. From a can.”

“But I love her. I want her to have everything from life.”

He grinned at Harry, unsure if he had just felt an actual twinge of jealousy about a cat.

 

~

 

The sun had already set, and Louis was still lying across the plush rug on Harry's floor, struggling with a rubik's cube he'd found in Harry's junk drawer. Despite having no prior knowledge of how to solve the square shaped puzzle, he was intent that sheer force of will would eventually make him it's master.

Harry was nearby, also sitting on the floor as he rolled himself a joint from a bohemian-hipster weed box. Still deep in concentration, Louis could only offer a mumbled, “No thank you” when Harry offered him a drag. He was still waiting for Joshua to invite him back home, and he knew that the conversation would go much more smoothly if he wasn't high for it.

Harry's arm shot back after Louis' refusal.

“Oh erm - yeah - sorry. No. I'll - erm - sorry.” Harry stammered, moving to snuff it out against the top of the weed box from whence it came. Louis' eyes darted up from the object of his concentration to watch Harry.

“You can go ahead. I don't mind.” Louis said.

“Don't want to be rude.” Harry muttered feebly.

“It's not rude, Haz. It's your house.”

“You just always – always seem like...” Harry's thoughts wandered. “You never touch drugs or anything, so I didn't-”

“Oh, no! I'm not like, prude or anything.” Louis said. “I just don't want to be high if Joshua calls, and I made my mum this promise when I moved here that I wouldn't try anything harder than marijuana. So yeah, that's the only reason I don't like, partake, or anything. Can't break a promise to my mum.”

“That's sweet, Lou.” Harry grinned.

“Well, she's still pretty convinced that I'm going to be a tragic member of the 27 club, dead before thirty like Jim Morrison and Amy Winehouse.”

“You're 24. There's still time.”

“25 next month.”

“Next month? Your birthday's coming up?”

“Christmas eve.”

Christmas eve?Harry blanched.

“I'm honestly used to it.”

Christmas eve?

“Yeah, I mean, it sucked growing up, but it's not such a big deal anymore.” Louis admitted. “Harry, you still look upset.”

Christmas eve?

“Harry!”

“Well does everyone at least do something special for you?”

“Sometimes. Depends on the year.”

“Well it shouldn't. Your birthday should be perfect every year.” Harry stated with that simplistic idealism that came so easily to him. Louis was endlessly endeared by this part of Harry, the part that refused to believe in anything that wasn't exactly how it should be. “What did you do last year? Did Joshua do something amazing and special?”

“The holidays have always been kind of difficult for Joshua and me.” Louis admitted, the words bridging his thoughts to the memory from lunch with Liam the other day. Liam's words had unknowingly bit Louis in that tender spot that he thought had long since healed. It was like a wound festering around a knife; it didn't hurt until someone tampered with the blade.

Somehow, without Louis being at all aware, Liam and Zayn had already known that something had happened last year. His best friends had always known about it, making his secret shame larger than it was before. It wasn't just the slinking shadow in the back of his thoughts that he guarded from the light of prying eyes; it was out there for others to see. It was real, glaring him in the face, making his scalp burn hot behind his ears.

Harry, do you remember when-” Louis paused to swallow, “when I said last night, how Joshua and I had our second worst fight yesterday?”

“Yeah, I remember you saying that.”

“Can I tell you something I've never told anyone?” Louis asked in a voice that sounded hollow and unfamiliar to him. Harry paused, caught off guard by the meek request. His timid fingers met the fabric over Louis' shoulder before his words met his ears.

“Yeah, of course.”

Louis nodded at the ceiling, a gesture he realized was meaningless, but had felt necessary in the moment. He swallowed against the hardness that had formed in his throat as he sat up and shifted to face Harry. They looked at each other, both cross-legged, their knees joined by the most minute brush of fabric as they breathed in and out.

Harry was nothing if not a human incarnation of sincerity, so thoroughly ready to listen to Louis' story; to play the confidant. It was this unwavering earnestness that made Louis feel like this might not be a mistake.

Harry was going to understand, right? Zayn and Liam wouldn't, but they weren't Harry. Harry would see it as Louis saw it, give him the confirmation he'd been pining for almost a year.

Then maybe he could finally move on from it.

The rubik's cube was still beneath his fingers as he mustered up enough bravery to speak.

“So, erm, Joshua is like, really close with his parents, but I've never properly met them. They think I'm like this, gay virus that's been poisoning their son for years. And yeah, it sucks. It makes me mad, but I love Joshua, homophobic parents and all. But it tends to make things difficult around Christmas.

'He always wants to spend it with his family, but I've never been invited to spend it with them. Even when I was still too poor to get back over to Doncaster to see my family. So yeah, basically, it makes me feel like shit every year, so we fight about it. We're very good at fighting about things, but not so good at finding ways to fix our problems. It's kind of just an endless cycle of getting mad and then getting over it.

'But last year, we'd just started working on Metal Heart , and I'd just come off of working on Squad , so I had some real money for the first time in my life. And I wanted to spoil everyone for Christmas, so I ended up treating the whole family to a week in New York City for Christmas and New Years. So, you know, we could go ice skating and watch the ball drop, and my mum and siblings would see how I'm obviously the best.”

“Obviously.”

“And I wanted my boyfriend there, too, which is a pretty normal reaction, I think. At first, he was so excited to go shopping and sight-seeing and everything. But Marion, his mum, got to him and somehow talked him out of it a couple of days before the trip. And yeah, I was really pissed, because he's never gotten on with my family, and I thought maybe for once everyone would be civil and happy because it was Christmas in New York.

'So yeah, I basically said fuck off to Joshua and met up with my family for my birthday. And we all just pretended that Joshua didn't exist, and we honestly had this great time. It was like, by far the best family vacation we've ever had. It was just, like, so magical for the kids and we loved watching everything through their eyes. And a bunch of my coworkers from the movie were in town, so the girls got to go shopping at Saks and Tiffany's with Eleanor. Everything was going so well, and the whole time I could just tell that my mum was proud of me because I had made it happen.
'And then Joshua called. Now that Christmas was over, he said he missed me and wanted me to fly him into the city for the rest of the trip. And so yeah, I bought him a last minute plane ticket and flew him to New York City for New Years, because I just fucking wanted my boyfriend to spend time with my family. That's
all I fucking wanted.

'But he was there for like, five minutes before he was convinced that my mum was conspiring against him, so that just snowballed out of control immediately. And everything else was wrong by his standards. Like, the hotel was too expensive, but none of the restaurants we went to were nice enough. Nothing could please him, and I just didn't get what his issue was.

'And I probably got angrier than I should have, but he was bickering with my mum and my sisters and it just made me so mad. The trip was supposed to be special. I worked so hard to make it special, you know? Like, the person I was in love with couldn't see how important it all was to me. Does that make sense?”

“Yeah, Lou.” Harry said. “You did something great for you family. You had every right to feel proud of yourself.”

“But then, erm, the night before New Year's Eve, we got invited to this party. It was this guy, Greg, who was one of the costumers on the movie. It was just this little party in his loft with all of my other friends from the movie, so I was so excited to parade Joshua around like, 'Yeah, this is the boyfriend I told you all about.'

'My step dad took everyone else to a show that night, so it was just Joshua and me, but we were still pretty pissed at each other. So, naturally, we did what we always do instead of talking out our issues: he got snippy and I drank way too much.

'He was totally avoiding me all night, which I thought was pretty shitty, considering I had just flown him into New York City then brought him as my arm candy to a party full of movie stars. Like, there was honestly this moment when we were both standing on Greg's balcony, looking at this million dollar view of Manhattan, and all Joshua could focus on was the drink in my hand.

'And then he just went off on me. He accused my mum of trying to break us up, then he said I was turning into this vapid, materialistic Hollywood sellout like my friends. We were completely screaming at each other, and all of my friends were right inside, watching me fight with the boyfriend I had told them all about.

'Then he took off, like he always does, and I was just so furious and embarrassed. I don't know what it was about that particular fight, but I'd never been that angry with him before. I was so fucking pissed off at him.”

“And that was the worst fight you ever had?” Harry asked.

“No.” Louis answered slowly, his shoulders sinking on a deep exhale. “That was what – that was what started everything.” He swallowed painfully. “I was so, so mad Harry. I was like, blind with it. I just wanted to hurt him, make him feel like shit, which I've never wanted to do before, but I was just so mad.

'But, erm, my friend Greg? The costumer from the movie? We'd had this, like, kind of harmless flirtation going on on set. Just jokingly, of course. He knew I had a boyfriend and everything, but I could kind of tell that he'd be interested if I ever-” Louis swallowed again, which did nothing to ease the chalky grain of his throat. “I slept with Greg that night.” Louis whispered, kneading his forehead and purposely avoiding Harry's eyes. “And I just felt like human shit the next morning. I've never hated myself as much as I did the next day. Because, like, I'd loved it so much when it was happening. I loved knowing how much it would hurt Joshua. Then I got one look at Joshua the next morning, and I couldn't stop throwing up. Like, I was just wracked with guilt.

'Then I spent the entire day hunched over the hotel toilet, crying into my own sick every time Joshua came to the door to check on me and see if I still wanted to watch the ball drop that night.

'The next thing I remember, I was standing in the hotel room, all dressed up to go, and I was listening to Joshua yammer on about something random. I was like, drowning in my own sweat and the guilt was making me so dizzy and thirsty I thought I was going to pass out.

'And then I just said it. I told him what I'd done. That I'd cheated on him. And I looked up and he was staring at me, but there was just so much hurt, so much hate in his eyes. I'd never seen anyone look like that before, and it scared the shit out of me. Then he was screaming and I was crying because every part of him was terrifying me, and I was begging him to calm down but he was just getting worse and worse.

'And then - he – erm, he hit me.” Louis' hands spread over his knees, the dull memory of ache in his cheekbone ebbing through his face. “He hit me on the side of the face, and I fell over, and that kind of brought him back. Like, it woke him up, and he was so sorry. We were both so sorry. But we couldn't go out with my family that night because of my face, and it just got darker the next day, the bruise, so we took off on the first flight out. And we hid it from Liam and Zayn until it faded, but I guess they always knew that something happened. I've just – I've just always been afraid to tell them because I know they'll take it the wrong way. Like, Liam was picking at me about it the other day, but he just doesn't get-”

Louis' story faltered to a clumsy halt as he looked up to face Harry. Now Louis realized how foolish he'd been to think Harry would understand; that he would just nod and congratulate Louis for finally getting that off his chest. It was clear that Harry didn't feel this way at all.

He was rigid as his eyes teemed with an unbridled fury, the veins in his neck sticking out beneath his clenched jaw.

“He hit you?” Harry asked in a strangled voice. Louis paused, knowing that the only way he was going to survive this was to tread lightly. He had to choose his words carefully, or this situation was going to quickly spin out of control. He needed to think over what to say before he said it, not just blurt the first thing that came to mind.

Despite his best intentions, Louis' frantic ramblings spewed from him all at once in a wave of excuses, “It was almost a year ago, Harry! And he's never done anything, anything like that since then. It was a one-time thing!”

“He hit you and he left a mark.”

“Yes, but Harry, it was just once and it was my fault-!”

“It was not your fault!” Harry was on his feet, his voice now throttled with near-hysteria, his eyes already swimming. Louis also stood as Harry paced back and forth, hands combing frantically through his own hair.

“Harry, Harry!” Louis plead. “It isn't even an issue anymore. It was so long ago and nothing has happened since then.”

“He hurt you.” Harry rounded on him. “He hurt you Louis! And I can't-!” Harry was suffocating under his own frenetic panic, so Louis pressed his hands to both sides of Harry's face in an attempt to ease some of the strain away.

“I promise, everything is fine.”

“None of this is fine, Louis!” Harry said resolutely.

They both turned at the sound of a door opening in the foyer a room over, and an unfamiliar face poked out from around the archway.

“Hello?” The face, attached to a young man with gauges and a well-groomed fringe, called into the room. He seemed to notice the tension in the scene before him as he stepped closer. Harry recognized him with surprise, blinking through the pools that had formed on his lower eyelids.

“Hey, erm, I forgot you were coming by today.” Harry said, leveling his voice and wiping his eyes on the back of his sleeve. The man came even closer, revealing a large black bag slung over his shoulder. Louis didn't remember the security gate alerting them of anyone's arrival, which meant that whoever this man was, he had the code to get past the gate. Louis felt himself irked by the fact that this man was apparently so close to Harry, but Louis had somehow never seen him before.

“I could come back in a couple of days if that's better.” The man offered, noticing the pink tint to Harry's eyes and nose. “I've got another client a few blocks over.”

Ah. It suddenly clicked for Louis.

This was Harry's dealer.

“It's fine. Go ahead. I can wait” Louis insisted.

“No, we're – I can -” Harry stammered.

“Haz, it's good. Don't make the poor lad drive out to the valley for nothing.”

Harry's eyes were still unbelievably heavy, and they didn't leave Louis' face as he motioned for the man to follow him into the next room over. Harry stalled in the archway to address Louis.

“I'll just be a second, yeah?” He asked.

“Yeah. Take your time.”

Louis hoped against hope that they'd take several years to finish up, because he needed more than a few seconds to collect himself. He unlocked his phone and noticed that he'd missed a call from Joshua about ten minutes earlier.

Well, speak of the devil, and he shall break a day-long cold shoulder treatment.

“Louis?” Joshua breathed as Louis called him back, the relief clear in his voice.

“Hey.” Louis answered, not knowing exactly what to say, or even how he fully felt.

“Are you at Harry's?”

“Yeah.”

“That's not far from my parent's place, right?”

“Not really.”

“Could you come pick me up, maybe? We could talk in the car?” Joshua's tone was light and hopeful, reminiscent of the boy that Louis had first fallen for, not the one who stole credit cards and shattered half the house's dinnerware during an argument.

“I'll be there in fifteen minutes.” Louis said, hanging up. He approached the archway tentatively, spotting Harry's form across the room. “Hey, Harry? I've got to go pick Joshua up.”

Harry spun around, tearing his attention back to Louis.

“No, Louis, can we just...?” Harry was still at a loss for words as he walked up to Louis and dropped his voice.

“I shouldn't have told you any of that.” Louis conceded. “I'm not in any present danger, or anything.”

But Louis was cut short as he was heaved into Harry's chest, wrapped in a strong albeit shaky embrace. Harry's breath puffed against the tender skin of Louis' ear as he spoke.

“Please, don't ever be afraid to tell me something. You can tell me anything.” Harry whispered, but his trembling shook Louis down to his marrow as he nodded into his shoulder. Harry stepped back, pulling away from where Louis had reflexively gripped into his shirt, and held him at arm's length. His hand rested defensively on his shoulder. “Call me soon, okay? Not a text. A call.”

“Yeah, Harry. Of course.”

And they were embracing again, though Louis couldn't remember how it happened. It just seemed like their default setting in that moment, to be encased in each other's arms.

It was shockingly cold when Louis finally stepped out of Harry's house, and the calming thrum of his car engine combed calmly through his mind, disentangling rational thoughts from haywire emotions as he drove away.

One thing was very clear to him: he shouldn't have told Harry. He absolutely should not have told Harry. That thought continued mindlessly on repeat until he pulled into the hydrangea lined driveway of Joshua's parent's house. Louis was very familiar with this view of the house, despite having no idea what existed past the front door.

No sooner had his headlights flashed across the expansive front window did the front door fly open, Joshua scurrying down the walkway. But to Louis' surprise, Marion was lolling along behind him, standing beneath the house number as she watched her son get into the car. Louis had the feeling one gets when in the presence of a wild animal, knowing that any false move might spook it and cause it to take flight, but he still decided to look up and make eye contact with Marion.

She gave him a stilted wave before crossing her arms yet again.

Louis blinked, half convinced that he had just hallucinated. Marion continued to watch them with an unreadable expression as Louis put the car in reverse and backed out into the street. Though his plan had been to immediately address the fight while he had Joshua captive in the car, the bewildering experience of having Marion acknowledge his existence took precedence.

“Your mum just waved at me. As if we were both actual humans exchanging pleasantries.” Louis gaped.

“Yeah.” Joshua said knowingly. “We had a long talk.”

Louis' grip tightened on the steering wheel as his insides twisted in anticipation. “What about?”

“I made her realize that you're the most important person in my life, and I need her to be nicer to you.” Joshua said, but suddenly he was clutching his seat belt as the car veered distractedly. Louis straightened back into the lane, his mental lapse subsiding.

“Seriously?”

“Yup. And you're invited to Thanksgiving on Thursday with the whole family.” Joshua said proudly.

Louis kept his eyes firmly on the road this time, knowing how easily this news could send the entire car careening into a street light from sheer shock. Thanksgiving wasn't an especially important holiday to Louis, given that he was British, but he'd always secretly wanted to be invited along to Joshua's family gatherings. After almost four years of waiting, he wasn't even sure how to begin processing this information.

“Joshua...” Was all he could manage, looking directly ahead of himself to hide any evidence of affection that was probably written across his face.

“And, um, my parents know about us and everything, but there's going to be a lot of my conservative, extended family there, and I'm just not sure if Thanksgiving is the right platform for me to announce that I'm gay.”

“No, yeah. Right.” Louis nodded. “We'll just tell everyone I'm your friend. Baby steps.” It was disappointing, but still an amazing advancement in their relationship.

“I'm really sorry.” Joshua whispered. He was staring down at his own shaking fingers, which only stilled once Louis took them in his own hand.

“This is honestly a really huge deal, baby.” Louis said, tightening his grip. “And it means a lot to me. I hope you know that.”

The edges of Joshua's mouth quirked up in a hesitant smile.

 

~

 

The news of the Thanksgiving development sent shockwaves through Louis' inner circle. Zayn and Louis' mother both reacted with genuine surprise, followed by slightly apprehensive support, while Liam clammed up and responded with a stony, “Huh” in what he obviously saw as a defeat.

And then, of course, there was Harry, who's opinion always seemed to be in a different category. A category all his own.

Louis did end up calling him like he promised, but there was something foreign and distant in their conversation that made Louis' insides curl. He called under the pretense of inquiring about this alleged, “celebratory party in his honor,” only to learn, to his own horror, that Harry had it planned for that Saturday and it was going to be a luxurious affair.

Realizing he could only delay the inevitable for so long, Louis finally told Harry about Thanksgiving, and how Joshua was making an unprecedented effort to include Louis in his family. He clung anxiously to his phone as he waited for what felt like a decade for Harry's response, which came as a clipped and brief show of support.

“That's great, Lou.” He said, his voice heavy. “I guess I'll see you this weekend.”

With a click, Harry hung up and cemented the burgeoning emotional distance between them.

And just why the fuck had Louis told Harry any of that? It was clearly hurting Harry much more than it should be, considering it wasn't even an issue anymore.

But Louis couldn't dwell on it, not while he was walking up Joshua's parent's driveway with a green bean casserole in his arms. Not when he was being introduced every aging great aunt and toothless child in Joshua' extended family. Not when Marion herself had asked Louis to lead the table in prayer before the dinner commenced.

While very honored by the request, he ultimately passed the task over to Joshua, fearing he might be liable to utter an incriminating Freudian slip such as, “And I'm thankful to Joshua for the many, many hours of shower blowjobs – I mean, several years of brotherly, platonic friendship in the name of the son, the father, and the holy ghost, amen.”

He was seated near the end of the table, surrounded by Joshua, his parents, his petite grandmother Helen, and Dexter, the youngest and most socially inept of Joshua's many cousins. Even though Louis usually spared twelve years olds from his scrutinizing judgment, he found Dexter to be insufferable and patronizing after the third tale of how he had decimated his puny schoolmates in the regional spelling bee.

Helen, however, proved to be a delight. Joshua and his parents sat quietly, watching the exchange between Louis and the elderly woman with amusement. Helen wasn't quite sure which part of Louis was more fascinating; the fact that he was in movies or the fact that he was foreign. It became abundantly clear that she had no concept of what it was like to be either famous nor English as she relentlessly quizzed him on both topics.

“And do you get to kiss all of those pretty ladies in those films of yours?” She asked with a saucy flutter of eyelashes.

“Only if they take me out to dinner first.” Louis responded, causing a guffaw from Helen and snicker from Joshua. Even Marion smirked. Cheesy, heteronormative humor apparently got you points in this family.

“What's your next film? Is it one of those musical ones? Or, no, I know! Is it a sweeping romance?” Helen asked.

“Uh no, actually. It's about the-” Before the words 'AIDS crisis' could leave Louis' mouth, Joshua's hand was clamped down painfully on Louis' leg, cutting him off.

“Lou.” He said in a low warning.

Okay, so he apparently had to lie about this as well. That kind of sucked, but hey, Thanksgiving! Family! Bonding time! Yeah, the lies and shame were kind of starting to pile up sickeningly in the back of Louis' throat, but cranberry sauce! Mashed potatoes! Pumpkin pie! Thanksgiving!

“It's erm, kind of a romance, yeah.” Louis backpedaled. “Little indie film.”

“Oh, one of those art films?”

“Quite.” Louis agreed.

Granted, Louis couldn't have chosen a gayer movie to be working on and he shouldn't have been surprised by Joshua's reluctance to bring it up, but it still sat wrong with him. It just served as a reminder that none of this was real. He was lying to all of these people who were being so kind and welcoming. This affable woman sitting across from him, clucking pleasantly at his every jibe, would be completely disgusted if she knew the real reason why he was there. The realization fell like a brick onto Louis' lungs.

“Have you ever worked with one of those trained animals? Like a tiny monkey?” Helen asked excitedly.

“Not yet.”

“What about the Queen?”

“No, the Queen isn't a tiny, trained monkey.”

“No sweetheart, I mean have you ever worked with the Queen?” She chortled.

“Surprisingly, she doesn't really act much. It's a tragic waste, though. She's really got the legs for it. Much like you Helen. I've been sneaking a few glances under this table now and then.” Helen cackled at that one, and Louis didn't even care how egregiously he was hamming it up. He was resolute to make Helen fall in love with him by the end of dinner.

“I heard that you all love your Queen so much. Do you keep a portrait of her in your home?” Helen asked.

“Not since Joshua moved in. She gives him the creeps.”

“Joshua lives with you?” Helen asked, perking up.

“Louis.” Joshua huffed.

Shit. They're supposed to be good mates, not live-in boyfriends. Shit, shit, shit. Louis' mind raced and he realized the only people besides Joshua's parents who had heard him were an elderly woman and a middle schooler, who could probably both be duped.

“Did we not mention that earlier?” Louis questioned. “We've been roommates for awhile. Rent in this part of the valley is murder. Became impossible for us to live alone, so we decided to help each other out since we've been friends for so long.”

“Oh, don't I know. The money you kids have to pay for things, it's horrendous.” Helen said. “When I was your age, a dollar could buy-”

“You two are living together?” Snapped Marion, commanding the attention of everyone on their end of the table. Joshua buried his face in his hands.

“Yeah. As roommates.” Louis repeated, unsure of what the problem was. Couldn't she see that everyone was buying the excuse? Why not let it drop and move on while no one suspected anything?

Unless...

“Since when?” She demanded, glaring at her son.

Oh my god. Marion didn't know they were living together.

Fucking. Goddamn. Shit.

“Okay, wait.” Said Louis, repositioning himself to face Marion as his thoughts whirred. “But I picked him up from here this weekend. He didn't have a car here, which means you must have driven him here.”

“Yes, and?” Marion asked, her voice hinging with the first traces of anger.

“Then you must have seen our house when you picked him up. How could you possibly think he could afford that place on his own?”

“What house?”

Our house. The one we've been living in for months.”

“I didn't pick him up from any house. He's still at his apartment on 18th.”

You still have the apartment?” Louis hissed, turning his full attention to Joshua. The rest of the table had quieted at this point, sensing the argument that was developing.

Joshua looked down at his plate, ignoring the accusation. In one stifling avalanche, everything fell onto Louis as he glared at his boyfriend's belligerent profile.

Secret apartment. Stolen credit card. Broken wine glasses. Screaming. Pleading. Crying. Harry with tears in his eyes as he listened to Louis' story.

And wait, what? No. Why was Harry's pained expression so present in Louis' vision at a moment like this?

“I can't do this.” Louis stated, throwing his napkin onto the table and standing up. “I can't do this anymore.”

He wasn't sure what carried him to the door in that moment as he felt utterly disembodied, but soon he was struggling at the coat rack as he tied his scarf around his neck with trembling fingers. Joshua was upon him immediately, standing between Louis and the door.

“Where are you going?” Joshua demanded.

“This is how ashamed you are of me?” Louis asked. “You're actually making your parents pay for that shithole flat because you're too ashamed to tell them we're living together?”

“I'm not ashamed of you!”

“Then fucking prove it! Nothing you do makes me believe that. Like, I honestly can't comprehend you right now. One second you're scaring me shitless by talking about kids and settling down, and the next, you're keeping a secret flat and stealing money from me!”

Marion appeared, clutching Joshua by the elbow protectively.

“Please keep your voices down.” She implored. “We have guests!”

“Oh yes, because that's the major issue at the moment. Your guests.” Louis bit. Marion's face wrinkled with frustration.

“You people always have to make a scene, don't you? Have to turn everything into an issue.” She snarled, causing Louis to turn to Joshua in awe.

“You're going to let her say that to me?” He asked, but Joshua didn't respond. Of course he didn't respond. He'd never stuck up for Louis before, why should now be any different? He turned his attention back to Marion, staring at her squarely. “Do you know how long your son and I have been together? Do you have any concept of how long we've been dating?”

She floundered at the direct question, her eyes fluttering as she scrambled for any sense of decorum.

“I'm not – I'm not quite sure how long you and Joshua have been – how long you've been...”

“In a committed relationship. That's the term you're looking for.” Louis cut in. “We've been in a committed relationship for three years. Almost four. Our anniversary is coming up, actually.” He noted with dark humor. “Not that it really matters. Doesn't look like we'll be making it to our anniversary this year.”

He tightened his scarf aggressively and threw the door open, plunging himself into the obscurity of darkness outside. Joshua was calling his name as Louis traipsed across the front lawn towards the street, in search of his car. He could hear Joshua's wet footsteps behind him, but he didn't slow or turn to look at him. His foot made contact with the sturdy sidewalk as Joshua caught up with him, grabbing him by the wrist and wrenching him around to face him.

“Louis!” He choked.

“What part of 'I can't do this anymore' don't you get?” Louis spat angrily.

“It's just a little fight. We can get through this, we always do.” Joshua implored.

“It's not just a little fight, Joshua! It's all of the little fights. It's all of the secrets and the bickering and I just can't – I just can't do this anymore!”

The tears erupted en masse, gushing down Joshua's face in a deluge of heartbreak as he sunk to his knees on the damp sidewalk, Louis' hand still clasped in his. In their nearly four years, Louis had never seen Joshua so gutted, so pitiful, as he whimpered from the ground.

“Please don't. Please, please don't.” He wept, anxiously kneading the flesh of Louis' fingers as if this might be the last time he'd ever get to touch him. “I'm trying, baby! I'm trying so hard. This is – this is so, so hard for me and I can't lose you. I can't lose you, Louis.”

Louis swallowed, looking up from the groveling mess at his feet because the image was cleaving his heart in half.

“I'm not happy, Joshua.” He admitted weakly, his voice raw and exposed. It was a sentiment that he hadn't even let himself flesh out in his thoughts, much less mutter aloud for Joshua to hear. It was exactly what Zayn and Liam had been pressing him about, but he'd denied it with every shred of dignity he had. But now the truth was there, committed to words. It was real. It was true.

“I love you so much. Please!” Joshua sobbed into Louis' knuckles, devastation throttling his entire body.

And fuck, it hurt. It hurt that every moment of the last few years had come to this, to Joshua pleading at Louis' feet, drowning under the weight of his own tears. It was too much all once, so Louis threaded his fingers with Joshua's and gently pulled him to his feet.

“Get in the car.” Louis murmured. Joshua sniffled and quickly acquiesced, circling around the car to the passenger side.

They both sunk into their seats in a stormy silence, Louis cataloging each of Joshua's anguished breaths before he started the car. They didn't exchange any words for the entire ride, and it only took a few minutes before Louis broke down under the weight of the thick turmoil.

He melted into a fit of delirium, sobbing convulsively onto his jumper as he drove. The tears burnt as they swept down his face, leaving his skin tender and sore. Every previous notion he had held about being a grown adult who did not cry was completely shattered as he was gripped by a body shaking hysteria.

Somehow they made it home, both sitting on their sides of the bed, not looking at each other, as they fully surrendered to their own histrionics. Louis was weeping like a child and he didn't even fully understand why. What had been so awful, so triggering that he should be reduced to a blubbering pile of tears? But that just made him cry harder; the confusion only thickening inside him and tormenting him further.

He was so exposed, so wounded, that he couldn't even deny who he wanted in that moment. With quivering fingers, he managed to get control over his phone and type out a text from behind his tear-blurred eyes.

 

Harry?

 

He could still hear Joshua's cries from behind him as he sunk beneath the duvet. He wanted literally anyone else to be there with him besides the sobbing mess that was sharing his bed. Niall, Liam, Zayn, or even his mother to just rub his back and promise that everything was going to be okay.

But was it going to be okay? The first levy had collapsed, and now Louis could see what everyone had been telling him for so long. The person he loved was making him completely, undeniably miserable.

And Louis realized with a gut-wrenching sob that he couldn't really call that love.

Exhaustion was biting at him, but he was too terrified to close his eyes, sensing the night of panic attacks and terrors that awaited him; that were going to grab him by the throat the moment he closed his eyes.

But the last image he saw before falling asleep was the shining screen of his phone, illuminated by a message from Harry.

 

Hey Lou. Everything okay? xx

 

He didn't have the energy to respond, but those few words swilled through his chest with an amber warmth, finally coaxing his heavy eyelids shut.

The night wasn't interrupted by a single nightmare.

Chapter Text

“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.”

 

 

Chapter Text

“You'll have to watch me struggle from several rooms away, but tonight, I need you to stay. Tonight, I need you to stay.”

-Twenty One Pilots

Louis flexed the muscles of his arm against his sling, his seat belt snapping back with a metallic click. He sat in the passenger’s seat of Liam’s car, watching the unmoving front door of his own house from the driveway. Niall, Zayn, and Liam had just disappeared inside on a reconnaissance mission to see if any hostile entities (Joshua or his mother) were inside.

It was the first of December, Louis realized with a hollow smirk. There wasn’t anything especially significant about the date; it just was. It was December. This was the month that he was going to turn 25. This was the month when he was going to see his family again. This was the first month that he was going to spend every morning rolling over to face an empty bed.

“Do you have any Nutella inside?” Harry chirped, hooking his chin over the shoulder of Louis’ seat from his spot in the back of the car. He had thus far been sitting quietly behind Louis after he’d elected to keep him company, and his thoughts had apparently become too distracted to handle the silence any longer.

“I’m not sure.” Louis said, craning his neck to get a glance at Harry’s face.

“I think you do. You did last time I was here, and it was still pretty full.”

“And what are you going to do with it if I have some?”

“Eat it.” Harry said with a shrug, confused as to how Louis had been unsure about his Nutella intentions. Louis chuckled as he moved his head back to stare straight ahead, and Harry blew against the back of Louis’ ear with an aggressive puff in response.

“Oi!” Louis snapped. “And who exactly gave you permission to do that?”

“The divine dualistic polarity of the Moon Goddess and Horned God.”

“Ah, so you’ve apparently had time to spout off some pagan prayers back there, and they gave you permission to blow on my ear?” Louis asked. Harry responded with a smug nod, equal parts frightened and excited to see what Louis was going to do in retaliation. “I’ve had enough of your lip, Styles.” Employing the dexterity of his good arm, Louis opened his side of the car and slid out, quickly throwing Harry’s car door open and plopping down into his lap.

“What are you doing?” Harry laughed.

“Punishing you.”

“How is this punishing me?”

“My arse is massive. You’ll surely suffocate at any moment.” Louis said flatly, closing the car door behind him and readjusting himself in Harry’s lap. The larger man laughed as he hooked his arms snugly around Louis’ waist. His head lolled back onto Harry’s shoulder as the giggling gave way to a complacent silence.

He listened to the deep lilt of Harry’s breath as they both turned their attention back to the front door, waiting to find out if the coast was clear.

“Well yeah, Louis. I don’t really see how you can keep putting up with Josh now that Harry’s in the picture.”

That’s what Louis’ mum had said during their chat on the phone from the floor of Zayn’s bathroom that morning.

“Mummmm.” Louis groaned.

“What?”

“This isn’t about…” Louis kneaded the flesh of his forehead as an excuse to take a second and prepare his response in a way that didn’t sound like a middle schooler denying a crush. “I don’t have those kinds of feelings for Harry. I wouldn’t cheat on Joshua like that.” The word “again” hung on the edge of his lips.

“Well that’s not necessarily cheating, Lou.”

“It’s emotional cheating, mum. I wouldn’t do that while I’m with someone else.”

“Okay, fine. But even if it isn’t romantic, I stand by what I said.” She continued. “Because from everything you’ve told me, you’re formed a real companionship with Harry. You have a really strong, supportive bond, and I just think that your relationship with Josh doesn’t seem strong by comparison. He doesn’t support you the way he should.”

Louis chewed on the fleshy part of his lip for the next several minutes as his mother’s well-formed opinion of Joshua’s transgressions unfurled. It was only fair, really, as Louis had monopolized the better part of an hour retelling every detail of the last few months without letting her get a single word in. He then realized, with a twinge of embarrassment, that about half of his words had been devoted to talking about Harry.

The conversation had ended when he heard the first murmurings of his awakening friends, and he hung up with that special, golden calm that only comes from a good talk with the woman who raised you.

The reason it had gone so well, unfortunately, was because Louis had left out a certain, integral detail about Joshua forcibly sending Louis in the direction of a set of stairs. He omitted this merely in the interest of preserving civilian lives, knowing that the moment Jay found out, the resulting conflagration would wipe out half of the UK.

Louis’ front door burst open without preamble, Liam spilling out and motioning for Louis and Harry to come inside. Apparently, after a lengthy search, they had determined that the house was void of any bitter ex-boyfriends.

Ex-boyfriend.

That was the term that still felt like charcoal on Louis’ tongue. Once inside, Louis felt as if his house had about doubled in size since he had last stepped foot in it. Everything was expansive, empty space. It was all too big, too liable to echo back at him anytime he made a noise. The others lingered near him awkwardly like a throng of planets in orbit.

Louis wanted to start making decisions, to take control of the situation that was now lain out before him, but too many thoughts were clawing at the corners of his mind. If he allowed one to enter, he felt that the rest would come crashing in all at once and drown him.

“You guys don’t,” Louis stammered, leaning against a nearby end table. “You don’t have to stay. I’m not going to like, choke on my own tongue, or anything.”

“Louis,” Liam chided.

“You all have jobs, and lives, and whatever. You don’t have to drop everything for me.”

Louis.

“What, Liam?”

“We’re here. We’re not going anywhere.” Liam said resolutely. “Put us to use.”

That idea clicked. He could put them to use. He could start to get things under control, and not even notice the fact that Joshua had left his shoes by the door, or that his iPad was charging on the end table next to Louis’ keys. The cogs in his brain were finally whirring again, and he knew that he needed it all gone. Every trace of Joshua needed to be gone.

“Okay, right.” He said, snapping into alertness. “We need boxes. There are some in the garage from the move, but we’ll need more.”

“Home Depot it is.” Niall declared, already heading for the door. “You wanna drive, Payno?”

“Yeah. Definitely.” Liam responded, following him to the door.

“We’ll be back. Go team go!”

Niall sprinted out of the house as if starting the first leg of a marathon, Liam waving over his shoulder as he followed.

“So we’re moving Joshua out?” Zayn clarified, his imploring eyes falling onto Louis.

“We need to call some movers.” Louis said, not directly answering the question. “And a locksmith.”

“On it.” Zayn said as he pulled out his phone and headed into another room.

“Tell them I’ll pay double if they can get out here today.” Louis called after him, already heading to the garage. Harry was right behind him, careening forward to hold the door open as Louis spouted off a list of chores. “He didn’t bring a lot with him from his old place. Donated most of it. And now I’m realizing that he probably just left everything at his old flat. Goddamnit,” He muttered, the full scope of Joshua’s deception slowly materializing. Louis struggled to balance several boxes with one hand until Harry stepped in and took control of the task. Louis decided not to argue, knowing that Harry would rather carry the entire contents of the house on his back than let Louis exert himself while he’s injured. “But he’s got his clothes, and his bathroom shit and books, plus anything that looks unopened and expensive is probably his. Even though I probably paid for it. And fuck.” He swore, coming face to face with the object of his enmity. “I don’t even know what to do with all of his stupid fucking guns, but I want them gone. I want them all gone.”

“We’ll take care of it, don’t even worry about it.” Harry said, urging Louis to move past the gun cabinet that he was locked in a glaring match with.

Everything was a whir of movement from that moment on; cupboards and drawers being thrown open, their contents spilled out into a pile in every room unceremoniously. Zayn would zip in and out sporadically, asking Louis to clarify details of the move, all the while a niggling fear that Joshua might appear at any moment pricked at the back of his thoughts. He ignored it as the piles grew taller, a testament to the person he’d spent almost four years of his life with, reduced to a few stacks of belongings. Louis clung to the frenetic energy of the moment, distracting himself enough to stamp out any burgeoning feelings of catharsis.

There wasn’t a moment of stand still until all three found themselves in the bedroom, raking through the contents of the closet. Harry dropped an overflowing armful of clothes onto the bed as Louis watched on, listening as the fabric fell onto the duvet with a huff. The pastel v-necks and Old Navy button-ups pouted up at him, pathetically wrinkled from their rough handling.

Harry and Zayn both froze as they heard Louis’ breath hitch.

“You okay?” Zayn asked carefully.

“No, I’m not.” Louis answered, another furor rising through his tired bones. They both made timid moves to comfort him, but he stepped back in avoidance. “I’m not okay because he’s had that same, stupid pair of jeans since I met him.” Louis said, pointing an accusatory finger at the faded denim atop the pile. “And he never wears them. He insists on keeping them because who fucking knows why, but what’s he going to do with them now? Is he still going to keep them? Or is he finally going to get rid of them because they’re too small, and they have holes, and I’ve been telling him to just throw them away for years? But I’m not going to know what he does with them. I don’t have a say in it anymore. I don’t have a say in anything he does because we’re not in each other’s lives anymore.” Louis paused as his chest tightened.

“Yeah, but Louis-“ Zayn started.

“And it’s not even just that! It’s not just that we won’t eat breakfast together anymore, or watch movies, or fight or whatever. It’s not just that. It’s because everything is changing.” He admitted, his voice sounding like it was crumbling. “I’m leaving the country, and Harry and Niall are going on tour, and just – everything’s just changing all at once.”

Zayn stared at him, gaping under the weight of feeling useless. He fish-mouthed, struggling for some sort of words to pour from him, but he couldn’t seem to piece anything together.

But Harry was already wrapping his fingers around Louis’ good shoulder, spinning him so they were facing each other directly.

“Yeah, Louis, things are changing.” Harry agreed. “But that’s not a bad thing. You’re going to go make this incredible movie, and you’re going to pour everything you have into it. All of your pain and your fear is going to go into this role, and you’re going to give this amazing performance that everyone in the world is going to freak out over. I mean, you’re going to be so good, Louis. And the movie’s going to become this moving, enduring piece of art that means so much to so many people, and you’re not even going to have time to think about missing anyone. Plus, you’re going to go see your mum and all your siblings for the holidays, and before you know it, you’ll be back here with Zayn and Liam completely spoiling you.”

Louis grinned weakly, feeling his heart rate slow to a more comfortable pace. Harry’s words had tapped at every one of his fears, assuaging them and giving him something to grip onto. But he’d glossed over one detail, which was that Status Solo would be on tour until March, long after Louis would be getting back from filming.

“But, what about you?” He asked, avoiding eye contact as he idly hooked a finger through one of Harry’s belt loops.

“Well, obviously, we’ll be texting and calling each other constantly. And I’m going to skype you at minimum three times a day. You’ll get sick of me, honestly. I’m embarrassingly clingy.”

Louis smiled at the irony of the sentiment, as it was Louis who was quite literally clinging to Harry in that moment. He released his hold from Harry’s belt loop and began to tug at the hem of his shirt, as if the entire purpose of Harry putting on clothes that morning was to provide Louis with something to nonchalantly toy with as he thought.

He was nodding, he noticed, and the swell of anxiety seemed to be fading away. Harry sensed this and gently pulled Louis against his chest, sinking his face into the shock of Louis’ honey brown hair. Louis embedded himself into the curves of Harry’s front, molding himself into his supportive frame. Several leaden moments pulsed by until Louis lifted his head and spotted Zayn, still slack-jawed and unmoving from his spot beside the bed.

“Zayn, I need you to do something for me.” Louis said evenly, his mental capacities regaining strength.

“Yeah, anything.” Zayn replied, practically jumping at the chance to help. “What do you need?”

“I have to call Joshua and,” Louis swallowed. “and I have to tell him not to come back here.”

“You need me to call him?” Zayn offered, but Louis was already shaking his head from where it was pressed to Harry’s chin.

“No, he should hear it from me. But I need you to…” He trailed off on an exhale, preparing himself. “I need you to tell me what makes you love Liam.” He said bluntly. Zayn’s eyes quivered in surprise, lines of shock rippling across his features.

“No, erm, Liam and I haven’t said ‘I love you’ to each other yet.” Zayn sputtered.

“Zayn.” Louis said knowingly. “I’ve seen you two in the same room before. Don’t be embarrassed. I just need you to tell me what you love about him.” He watched as Zayn fumbled with his hands, still unsure of what he should say. “Zayn, I just really need to remember. I need you to remind me.”

Zayn looked up at him, realization finally slotting into place. His eyes were tremulous with some abstract affection and his arms crossed tightly around his chest.

“I, erm, I guess he makes me feel safe? Like, supported.” He mused, his gaze wafting around the room and never falling on anything concrete. “I can trust him with anything because he’ll always support me. He’s just so concerned about everyone, and he always has to find a way to help out. And he just knows how to take charge when there’s a problem because he wants to protect everyone.

‘And his smile. Like how he can just seem really high strung and tense one second, then he suddenly lets go of it all and his whole face lights up. And it’s always this special smile that he saves for the people he cares about. Like, it’s this little secret we share, that underneath the concern and all of the take charge, ‘minored in Sport’s Medicine at University’ Liam, there’s just this giggly, sensitive, tender man. He just makes me happy, I guess. And I’m always excited to wake up in the morning and see him, or hear whatever he’s going to say next, or see him open his eyes, or… Okay, sorry, that’s a lot.”

“No, it was perfect.” Louis said, surfacing from the lull he’d fallen into listening to Zayn’s words. Harry was still under their spell, obliviously swaying in the midst of his embrace with Louis, wearing a dopish smile topped with two twinkling eyes. He probably had some dreamy, poetic thought sitting on the tip of his tongue; Louis could feel it in the way his arms were draped around him. It was the same way one would hold a teddy bear: more for your benefit than for whoever you’re holding.

There was a moment of guilt as Louis had to separate himself from Harry’s hold, slipping his phone from his pocket. Every one of Zayn’s words had settled into Louis, reminding him of what he had to do. It wasn’t that his endearments for Liam had drudged up something weary and romantic in Louis, it was that the words were so unfamiliar and distant. They didn’t resonate as Joshua’s image waded through his thoughts. It was time to end it.

He exited the room without explanation, selecting Joshua’s number from his favorite’s list. His house flashed by underfoot as he put the phone to his ear, stepping into the bright sunlight drenching the back veranda. The phone rang mechanically against his ear and he was already standing at the lip of the pool by the time Joshua answered.

“Louis! Baby! Oh my god!” He gasped on the other end, sounding winded by the mere fact that Louis was calling him. “Are you okay? I’ve been trying to call you and no one will tell me if you’re at a hospital or if you’re hurt, or what’s even going on. God, baby, are you okay?”’

“I’m-“ Louis cut himself off before he could say ‘fine.’ Joshua wasn’t privy to that information anymore. He didn’t have to answer him. “Are you at your mum’s?” he asked, his voice guarded. He dipped his toes into the water, nudging the pool cover to the side.

“Um, yeah. I can head over right now, though. Are you okay? Are you hurt? I can leave right now-“

“Would you rather have your stuff sent to your mum’s place or to your flat?”

“My stuff? What? What are you talking about? I’ll seriously be there as fast as I can.”

“I’ll just send it to your mum’s.” Louis decided out loud, kicking the corner of the pool cover until it folded onto itself, revealing a few square feet of glimmering blue water.

“What are you talking about, Lou?”

“You’re not welcome here anymore.” He said. The line fell silent, presumably as Joshua gaped at the turn in conversation. Once the moment had passed, he bit back venomously.

“Louis. We need to talk about this first.”

“We don’t.”

“Just listen to me, alright? I’m coming over right now and we’ll talk this out.”

“You don’t live here. If you show up on my property I will report you for trespassing.”

“Trespassing? Trespassing? I can’t trespass at my own house! Stop talking and just listen to what I’m trying to say!”

“I can’t do that, Joshua.”

“Do not hang up. We’re not done talking. I am your boyfriend, Louis!”

“You aren’t though.” Louis breathed, his words ironically feather-light as they passed through him. “You aren’t my boyfriend.” He pulled the phone away from his ear and stared at the screen, listening to Joshua’s frustrated warbles but not being able to catch what he was saying. He stared at the name illuminated on the screen, watching as it slipped through his fingers and fell into the pool with a plunk.

It sunk to the speckled pool floor, the screen flickering with its last electronic breath before it came to a sputtering end. It stared up at him, black and lifeless as the water warped and distorted it’s reflection.

He snuck his foot over the water and coaxed the cover back into its original position, condemning his last conversation with Joshua to a chlorinated grave.

His attention was ripped away by the sound of his French doors swinging open from the house. He turned to see Zayn on the veranda, the same pair of Joshua’s tattered jeans clutched in his hand.

“Hey, Louis! We’re going to burn these jeans.” Zayn announced triumphantly. Louis found himself nodding in response.

“Yes. We are definitely going to burn those jeans.”

 

~

 

The last denim remains smoldered from the waste bin, the boys all serving as an audience as they leaned back and watched it from the comfort of the living room. A string of movers marched in and out of the house behind them, eradicating any trace of Joshua, box by box.

Louis looked up as one of the movers approached him, handing him a thick clipboard topped with a stack of papers and a pen. Louis flipped through the papers as the mover took note of the sizzling waste bin.

“Break up?” The mover asked as he pieced the clues together.

“Get a lot of those?” Louis asked as he jotted his signature over the bottom of several documents.

“You wouldn’t even believe.” He remarked with a smirk, taking the clipboard back.

“If you get any trouble when you drop the boxes off, you have my full consent to just dump everything. Bill me for any inconvenience.” Louis said as he recapped the pen and handed it to him.

Bad break up, I see.” The mover chuckled. He walked away as Zayn’s phone began to ring, diverting everyone’s attention to his chirping pocket.

“It’s your mum.” Zayn said as he looked at the screen and answered. Louis’ eyebrows twitched in confusion, since he’d talked to his mum for an hour that morning and he had no idea why she would need to talk to him again so quickly. He nudged closer to Harry from his spot on the couch as Zayn answered. “Hi, Jay. Yeah, I’m with him. He dropped his phone in the pool. Yeah, he … oh … erm, no, we hadn’t heard about … erm-“ Each time Zayn paused, everyone  in the vicinity could hear a distressed screeching through the phone. Zayn dropped it to his shoulder to address Louis. “Erm, apparently it’s all over the internet that Joshua pushed Louis down the stairs.”

Louis’ stomach sunk.

Bullocks. Fuck. Shit.

The phone was already being passed along the couch toward him, his mother making high pitched demands as it landed in Harry’s hands. Louis shirked away from it as Harry tried to hand it over, shaking his head uncontrollably as the memories from the night before rose inside of him like bile. He’d never intended for his mum to find out about any of this, and now apparently people all over the world were reading about a moment that Louis could barely relive in his own head. He was supposed to be moving past this, supposed to never have to think about it again. What was the symbolic point of burning Joshua’s trousers if he wasn’t putting the memories behind him?

The anxiety was baking him from the inside, making his skin burn. Reflexively, he pushed the outstretched phone against Harry’s ear, struggling to communicate with only his eyes.

“Erm, hello?” Harry stammered in surprise. “Mrs….”

“Poulsten.” Louis murmured through the fabric of Harry’s shirt as he sunk his head into his shoulder.

“Poulsten? Yeah, no. This is Harry.” He said. That was met by an upbeat exclamation from the phone. “Oh, hi, Jay. Er, it’s kind of hard for Louis to talk about everything right now. Is it okay if I filled you in? … Okay, yeah. … So we were at this party last night. … Yeah, I was hosting it.” Harry untangled himself from the couch, throwing a look of apology at Louis as he broke the contact between them and headed back towards the veranda as he spoke to Louis’ mum.

Louis was left with only one thought.

Thank fuck for Harry Styles.

“Someone blabbed to the press?” Niall cut in, following Harry’s exit.

“That’s what she said.” Zayn verified. Louis quickly noticed the guilty way that Liam was inspecting his nails.

“You already knew, didn’t you?” He accused.

“I just – I didn’t want you to worry about it.” Liam defended himself.  “I let all of your publicists know that you were going to need a couple of days before you could deal with any work stuff, but I didn’t think a scandal was going to pop up today.”

“What should I do?” He asked.

“You don’t have to worry about it right now.”

“Liam, I don’t want the world talking about Joshua pushing me down the…” he came to a shaky halt before finishing his thought. “I want to take care of this as soon as possible. It’s just going to bug me if we don’t deal with it. What would you do if you were me?”

Liam mulled the proposition over, clearly still believing that Louis shouldn’t put his focus on anything besides relaxing and taking care of his shoulder. But, at last, he sighed and sat forward. The look on his face gave the appearance that he had already thought this plan over several times.

“Come out on top of it.” He said. “Make a direct statement that it was an accident. You were drunk, or trying to show off, or both. Make a joke or something so it sounds realistic, you know? So it sounds like something you’d actually say if you were telling the truth. Then we’ll say that you sustained some injuries, but nothing too serious, and you’re in good spirits as you’re preparing to go film Kids From Yesterday. Then the whole thing will just look like a publicity stunt, and some people won’t even think twice about questioning it.”

“What about the break up?” Louis asked. “Didn’t we have to release all that stuff about me being in a relationship when I first started hanging out with Harry?”

“Yes, but we never said his name, and he never made any public appearances with you. As far as the media is concerned, Joshua doesn’t even exist.” Liam explained. Niall was also leaning forward at this point, completely fascinated as he watched Liam spin the story. “In a few months, when publicity for Metal Heart really picks up, we can plant some articles about how, ‘newly single Louis Tomlinson was seen out at a club with so-and-so.’ It’ll never mention any break up, just the fact that you’re newly single. People will get so caught up in the relationship speculation that they’re not even going to connect the break up to what happened last night. Public interest has a very short memory. Honestly, your friendship with Harry is more well-known than the fact that you were with Joshua.”

“Ever thought of going into management, Payno?” Niall asked. Liam smiled at the compliment, but Louis’ thoughts had turned back to Harry, who had been trapped in a conversation with his mother for the last few minutes. He excused himself from the living room as Niall began to ask Liam some hypotheticals about his own thinly veiled scandals (“Say I had a friend who’s been seeing this girl, but he just found out that she runs a dominatrix agency that illegally used the Disney logo?” “Get out of that, Niall. Disney is extremely litigious.”)

Harry was still on the phone as Louis shut the door behind him. His eyes lit up in greeting and Louis joined him against the railing, listening to Harry’s side of the conversation.

“Mhmm. They’re changing the locks tomorrow.” Harry said into the phone. “Louis’ actually here now, did you want to talk to him? … Yeah. Definitely. We’re not going to let Joshua get anywhere near him. It was lovely talking to you. … Yeah, here he is.”

He passed the phone off to Louis, who pressed it to his ear with trepidation.

“Hello?”

“Lou, I’ve already checked flight schedules. I can be in LA by dinner tomorrow.” She said fervently.

“No, mum.”

“I’ve still got that travel pillow, you know, the nice one that you can heat up in the microwave? So I can just sleep on the plane.”

“There will be no sleeping on any planes with your microwave pillow, because you are going to stay exactly where you are.” Louis insisted. “I’m going to see you in less than a month, mum.”

“Yes, but Josh isn’t coming with you, which makes it rather difficult for me to pummel him to death.” She pointed out.

“Let’s not have you committing any acts of murder this close to the holidays.”

“Lou, I just honestly can’t believe any of this.” She said, her voice a near-whisper. “He always got on my nerves, but this?

“Yeah.” Louis muttered, unsure of what to say.

“Are you okay, baby? I should just fly out-“

“Mummmmm.” He groaned. “I have four grown men watching my every move. I’m feeling sufficiently coddled.”

“Did they give you the good stuff at the hospital?”

“Yup, and plenty of it.”

“That’s what I like to hear.”

“Could I call you back sometime when there’s a bit less going on? There are still, like, ten sweaty men moving boxes around my house.”

“Sure, baby. Love you.”

“Love you, too.” He moved to hang up, but was stopped as he heard her pipe up once again.

“Oh! And I really like Harry. Okay, bye!” She rushed, finally ending the call. Louis smiled down at the phone and leaned into Harry, pressing their sides together.

“She likes you.” Louis relayed.

“I like her, too.” Said Harry.

“I guess it’s mutual, then.” He remarked, rolling his head languidly to the side to admire Harry’s profile. “What do we do now?”

“Keep existing, I suppose.”

“I’m keeping you from work, aren’t I? You should be doing press for the tour, but you’re stuck here packing boxes with me.”

“No, Louis, I’m not stuck here. I want to be here. I’m dreading every appearance I have to make this week, because I’d much rather be here with you, even if that means I’m packing boxes.”

“Because you’re leaving and I’m never going to see you again.” Louis grumbled, and Harry laughed.

“I already comped you some tickets for our London show at the end of the month.” He admitted. “That’s only a few weeks apart, so you can quit your whining.”

Louis tried to keep his face impassive, despite the powerful smile that was struggling to break through. His attempts were thwarted as he failed to keep the edges of his mouth under control.

“You’re stupid.” Louis commented.

“Such a charmer.” Harry responded, leaning over to blow at Louis’ hair.

“That is a horrible habit you’ve picked up.” Louis complained as he fixed his hair.

“Thank you.”

“I’m assuming you’ve planned all sorts of ridiculous activities for this week, haven’t you?” Louis asked, turning just in time to catch the smirk on Harry’s face.

                                                                               

~

               

The crown-jewel of Harry and Niall’s last week in LA was, naturally, a massive party being held at Niall’s house that weekend. But before that could happen, Harry informed Louis that he was holding him to his “promise.” This alleged promise was actually more of an abstract agreement that had occurred the night Harry had stuck around and read Louis’ copy of the Kids From Yesterday script. After Harry had effectively talked Louis into taking the part, he’d asked if he’d be interested in visiting a homeless LGBT youth center for research purposes. When he’d never mentioned it again, Louis had assumed that Harry had forgotten.

This could not have been further from the truth.

It was day four of the break up, meaning he’d spent four days watching his friends rotate through his house and check up on him as their schedules would allow. The trip to the youth center served as Louis’ first effort to put on actual clothes and leave the house. On the day of the visit, their arrival time kept getting pushed further and further back as Harry’s security tried to keep their whereabouts under wraps. It wasn’t until the late afternoon that they were successfully snuck into the Southern California LGBT Shelter, and Louis was completely unprepared for what he might find inside.

Harry had known that Louis was wary about the visit all week, and he’d offered to call the whole thing off about fifty times. But Louis could see how desperately Harry wanted to go, and he knew that, had his heart not been ripped in half earlier that week, he would probably be feeling the same way. Harry was protective of him, all the same, keeping a warm hand on him at all times and constantly checking in to see how Louis was doing.

But Louis couldn’t quite convey what he was feeling as they moved through the youth shelter. There were about thirty residents averaging at eighteen years of age, all running the gamut in appearance and personal identity. What they did have in common, however, was a surprising amount of optimism and friendly personalities. Ms. Catskill, the woman who ran the shelter, told Louis that this was a common misconception about homeless youth. Most people expected them to be jaded and toughened, but most were upbeat and genuinely friendly.

Louis found himself talking with Ms. Catskill for most of the visit. She was ready to feed him with facts about LGBT youth that he found startling, such as the statistic that over fifty percent of transgender youth will attempt suicide by their twentieth birthday, and nearly forty percent of homeless youth in the United States identify as LGBT. These numbers, coupled with the bright, uplifting young men and women he met throughout the day troubled him. He’d spent the week in his massive house watching TV in his pajamas after a break up, and yet these kids were so genuinely happy to see him, despite the hardships they had already faced.

The thing was, he knew that they’d all lose themselves over Harry. In their many public outings together, Louis had seen more than one fan go berserk upon recognizing him. Louis had fans, too, but nothing compared to the fervent idolatry that followed rockstars wherever they went. So Louis wasn’t surprised when the girls squealed at Harry’s every word and struggled to catch their breath when he shook their hands. What was surprising, however, was how everyone reacted to Louis.

Mostly, they kept saying thank you. They’d all read Louis’ coming out article, and some of them had even gotten their hands on copies for him to sign. They thanked him for what he’d done for the community and for being brave enough to go public with his sexuality.

He nodded along and signed whatever they handed to him, but all he wanted to tell them was that they had nothing to thank him for. He hadn’t done anything that helped them. He was the kind of person that had dropped his brand new iPhone in his pool because he knew how easy it would be to replace it. He lived a spoiled, comfortable life, and it made him feel sick as the hours continued on at the shelter.

But Harry was a natural. While Louis was stiff and guarded, Harry talked to everyone as if they were instant friends. It only took a few minutes before they felt comfortable enough to tell him their life stories. And of course he listened with genuine interest, giving advice where he saw fit or just saying something supportive.

By the time the sun had gone down, Louis found himself searching for Harry after getting a tour from Ms. Catskill. He found him sitting on the floor of one of the sleeping rooms. There were a few of them, each were much too small for the number of bunks that had been forced into them. The one Harry was now sitting in seemed to have attracted every resident of the shelter, who were now lounging across the bunks and mattresses in a circle around Harry.

“Lou!” Harry called, making a grabby hand toward him when he caught his eye from the hallway. Louis stepped carefully through the throng of bodies until he fell into the empty spot at Harry’s side. “Okay, I think I’ve got everyone’s names this time.” Harry said excitedly. “That’s Shanice, Benjamin, Connor…” he continued to point at each teenager one by one, pointing to their faces as he relayed their names. He would always say something ridiculous when he obviously couldn’t remember one of them (Goddess of the hunt Athena, Academy Award Winner Tom Hanks) but each teenager still watched him endearingly. He ended on Cassidy, a glowering girl painted with dark make up and an impressive collection of piercings that Louis had met earlier. She didn’t seem nearly as impressed with Harry as the others in the group.  “Did I get them all?”

“Almost.” The group laughed. Louis got the impression that every room Harry walked into somehow ended up feeling like a slumber party in his honor. Louis leaned further into his side as he listened to their conversation, the kids discussing various bands that they liked, the more doe-eyed among them listing off things that they thought might impress Harry.

“I like old music. Like the Beatles.” Said one of the younger ones.

“The Beatles suck.” Cassidy said bluntly.

“They’re like, one of the best bands in history.” One boy objected.

“Every neo-intellectual teenage hipster thinks they love the Beatles because they haven’t listened to anyone else from the sixties.” She pointed out icily. “No one ever talks about James Brown, or Frank Zappa, or the Doors. But, oh, you all really love the Beatles.”

Louis decided that he liked Cassidy quite a bit.

“I like newer music.” One pointed out. “Like Maroon 5.”

“Maroon 5 sucks.” Cassidy bit out, turning to a mousy girl who was about to open her mouth. “And so does Taylor Swift, Heather, so don’t even go there.”

“My favorite band is Status Solo.” One girl said brightly.

“Fancy that, me too.” Louis responded, grinning through his brown-nosery at Harry. He waited for whatever protestation Cassidy had ready to fire, but none came as she looked down sheepishly.

“What, Cassidy? Nothing to say about Status Solo?” Louis asked cheekily.

“Aren’t you supposed to be studying us or something?” She asked harshly. “Making yourself feel better about yourself and your fancy life because you came down here and listened to our sob stories?”

One of the shelter’s volunteers appeared in the doorway before Louis could respond, announcing that lights out was in five minutes and everyone needed to get back to their assigned bunks. There was a murmur of disappointment as everyone got to their feet, but Harry lingered to sign a few last autographs and personally say goodbye to everyone. Louis managed to slip out as he followed a mop of angry, black hair down the hallway. Cassidy was traipsing down the corridor towards the room with her own bunk as Louis hurried to catch up with her.

“Cassidy!” He called out as he approached her. She stopped with visible shock before reworking her glower.

“Want to lecture me or something?” She asked sourly.

“Nah, I was just wondering why you’re so afraid to tell Harry that you like his music.”

“What makes you think I like his music?”

“The fact that you, rather uncharacteristically, didn’t say that it sucks.”

“Maybe I just didn’t want to hurt his feelings.” She pointed out.

“No, I don’t think you care about hurting other people’s feelings. I think your care more about keeping your own feelings intact.” He surmised. “You see, I’m a sarcastic asshole. I speak the same language as you.”

“Whatever.” She said defensively, but Louis could see she was considering everything he had just said. Her eyes widened slightly as she spotted something behind Louis, and he turned to see that Harry was heading in their direction.

“Just saying, it would probably mean a lot to both of you if you were honest with him.” Louis said, turning back to her. She sneered, and a gentle hand on his hip alerted him to Harry’s arrival.

“Getting tired?” Harry asked him.

“A bit. Ready to head out?”

“Yeah, let’s go. Lovely meeting you.” Harry said to Cassidy as he slowly led Louis away. They made it about four steps before Cassidy was calling after them.

“Um, Harry?” She asked, causing Harry to stop in his tracks.

“Yeah?” He responded, turning around. Louis tried to hide his smugness.

“I saw you in concert a couple of years ago.” She blurted out, her rough exterior fading. “My mom was a really big fan. And yeah, I know middle aged women aren’t really your demographic, or whatever. But um, yeah she loved you guys. The concert was actually the last thing we did together. She – um – she died a few weeks later. Car crash. Totally stupid and random. But, um, it was a really good show and she loved it. She bought us matching concert t-shirts and everything. I still wear mine sometimes when I can’t get to sleep. But yeah, I just wanted to let you know that, and everything. And I guess, um, thank you.”

She crossed her arms tightly across her front and avoided looking at the two of them as her speech came to an end, but Harry was already approaching her.

“That was really brave of you to say, thank you.” He said warmly, coaxing her eyes up to meet his. “It sounds like your mum really loved you.”

“Yeah.” She said quietly, her cheek hollowing as she chewed on it.

“I’d love to hear about her, if that’s alright with you.” Harry said.

Louis was ready to intervene, thinking that the topic seemed a little too sensitive at the moment for Cassidy, but it was proven, once again, that Harry was much better at reading people. Despite the fact that curfew had long since passed, Harry easily charmed Ms. Catskill into letting them monopolize Cassidy’s attention in the dining area. The three were currently pouring over a shoebox full of mementos of Cassidy’s mother, Dana.

Harry inspected each glossy picture, concert ticket, and Christmas card with a boyish smile, remarking on any physical similarities he noticed between the mother and daughter.

“How old are you, Cassidy?” Louis asked, looking at a picture from Halloween 2003.

“Just turned 18.” She responded.

“Ever thought of going to college?”

“I never finished high school.” She remarked offhandedly, watching Harry look over a handwritten birthday card. “See that?” She asked, pointing to a section of handwriting at the bottom that read love you til forever and back, mom. “Someday, when I get some real money, I’m gonna get that tattooed on my arm. Always have a piece of her with me.” She drifted off for a moment while she stared at the words, as if deciding how much she wanted to share. “She wasn’t alive when I came out, but I think she would have been happy about it. Like, proud, you know? Not just how people say it doesn’t bother them, or they’re fine with it, or whatever. Like, she would have been proud.”

They all stared wordlessly at the card, understanding all too well what she meant. That’s exactly what Louis’ mum had said when he first came out in sixth-form. She said she was fine with it. That it didn’t matter to her what his sexuality was. It took years for him to explain to her that it’s not enough to just say that you’re fine with it. It’s such a huge part of his identity, and he needed her to be proud of him.

Harry pulled Louis from his reverie as he suddenly stood up.

“Come on, Louis. I’m gonna need your help to talk Ms. Catskill into letting us borrow Cassidy for a couple more hours.”

“And where exactly are we taking her?” Louis asked suspiciously.

Harry turned to Cassidy, extending a hand to help her to her feet.

“We’re taking her to get that tattoo.”

 

~

 

The car was pleasantly quiet as they made their way home, Louis already planning to make a sizable donation to the shelter once he managed to find his checkbook. He smiled contentedly out the window, sated by that warm feeling you usually get after a holiday meal or a surprise birthday party. Somewhere, Cassidy was cleaning the freshly inked skin of her arm before getting into bed. But perhaps more importantly, Harry was only a few feet away, sitting quietly with Louis in the back of the private car.

“Arrienne’s going to be at Niall’s party this weekend.” Harry suddenly said, turning to face Louis. The abruptness caught him momentarily off guard.

“Is this the first time you guys have seen each other?”

“Since the Halloween thing? Yeah. Management wants us to get some pictures together.” Harry swallowed. “You’ll be there, right?”

“Course I will.” Louis assured him, eliciting a shy grin from Harry. Louis both loved and hated that frail smile. He hated that just the mention of Arrienne could subdue him so thoroughly, but he loved that the smile was for him. It was for Louis. “I’ve got a deal for you, Haz. You don’t go on tour, and I won’t make this movie. Then we can both just stay home and eat pie.”

“Don’t tempt me, Lou.” He said affectionately.

The dull roar of the freeway purred on, a reticent soundtrack to their locked gazes.

 

~

 

“Oh my god. Louis!” Zayn groaned, tearing the duvet from Louis’ bed.

“Oi!” he squeaked, twisting himself further into his sheets.

“We’ve got two hours until the party, and you’re still in bed.” Zayn griped.

“I haven’t decided if I’m going.” Louis responded moodily, pressing his face into his pillow. The countdown had already started in his head: only twelve hours until Harry and Niall would be on a plane to Scotland, leaving Louis behind to mope in his pajamas and drink his green smoothies.

“You’re definitely going.” Zayn decided, leaping heavily onto the bed beside him. “I’ll admit, sulking is a legitimate response to a break up. But so is getting way too drunk and having fun with your friends.”

“What is this ‘fun’ you speak of?”

“Come on, Lou.” Zayn moaned, sitting up. “It’s just you and me right now. We can get ready like we used to when we lived together and you always wore those really tight trousers. We’ll make you look so good, every penis in a ten-mile radius will spontaneously explode.”

“I’m in a sling, Zayn.”

“But your arse isn’t, and if you haven’t noticed, it’s your best asset.”

Arset.”

“Yes! Exactly. Come on, it’ll be fun. Just like when we were young and stupid.”

Louis’ eyebrow arched up in interest.

“Which means we start drinking now?”

“That’s exactly what it means. Now get out of bed!”

 

~

 

Even by southern California standards, it was a rather balmy December. Niall had so far refused to cover his pool for the winter based on this fact, and he’d decided to go a step further for his grand, last day before the tour starts party. The slight curve of his back lawn was now blanketed by expansive tarps, each being kept slick by a smattering of sprinklers. What resulted was the most impressive slip and slide in the western world.

Drunk celebrities of every profession hurtled down it, some using only their bodies for propulsion, others smushing themselves into inner tubes and pool toys.  Niall had even provided himself with a long surfboard which he used as a sled, rocketing down the hill with a shrill cry.

Louis watched all of this with jealousy from Niall’s deck after he had received specific instruction to do nothing that might reinjure his shoulder. He sipped at his drink sulkily, putting it down only to take several long drags from the joint between his fingers, cajoling his senses into crossfaded bliss.

He was wholly unprepared, then, when the fiery mane attached to Arrienne Brant parked herself beside Louis.

“Interested in sharing?” She asked. Her voice was authoritative enough that Louis passed the joint without a second thought. “Still part of his posse?” She questioned, coughing out a puff of smoke.

“In a manner of speaking.”

“He’s fucking ridiculous. Don’t know how you guys deal with it.” She remarked, taking another hit. “You fucking him, or what?”

“We’re friends.” Louis snapped, motioning for her to pass the joint back.

“But you want to be fucking him.”

His usual response (no, actually, I have a boyfriend) was suddenly invalid, so Louis could think of nothing better to say than the first thing that came to mind.

“I don’t like you.” He stated.

“Yeah, I don’t like me either.” She mumbled, eyes falling to his sling as he handed the joint back. “Took a tumble?”

“Yes, actually. This is what a real injury looks like. I’m surprised you recognized it.”

“Hmm, sassy.” She laughed, adjusting herself in her seat. The slight upward turn to her lips fell as something dark spread over her face. “Yeah, that might have been a mistake.” She commented absently, eyes running along the surface of the deck. “At least Harry managed to get some good out of it.” She dropped the joint onto the deck and stamped it out beneath her Jimmy Choo pumps. She winked at him before floating away with a flawless gait, leaving Louis slack-jawed in her wake.

Louis rose to his feet in search of Niall and his surfboard. After witnessing Arrienne say something somewhat nice about Harry, he was confident that he could make another miracle occur. His shoulder would probably be fine.

In an attempt to protect him from further injury, Niall and Harry insisted that Louis sit sandwiched between them on the board. They took off as quickly as they could, fearing that Liam might appear and put an end to their downward flight at any moment.

Despite the fact that this was probably Niall’s tenth run down the hill, he still shrieked in absolute terror as the board picked up speed. The board slicked across the wet surface without a trace of impeding friction, propelling them into a horrifying velocity. Harry was screaming as well, digging his fingers into Louis’ hips.

Louis was rather impressed that he seemed to be the only one keeping a level head, but on further inspection, he realized that he was screaming just as desperately as his surfboard companions. Their wails only intensified as the board flew past the edge of the tarp, skidding over the pavement surrounding Niall’s pool on a fast track toward the water.

They took flight over the rippling blue momentarily, various bikini clad models running for cover, until the nose of the board sunk beneath the water and sent all three of them flying. Louis was engulfed by a deafening crash of chilly water, his sight consumed by a violet swirl of bubbles against blue. He broke through the surface, gasping and laughing as his shoulder panged an aching discontent at his behavior.

“Louis! You have movie in two weeks! You cannot reinjure yourself!” Liam was yelling from somewhere nearby, but Louis couldn’t hear him over his fixation on Harry.

He was wide-eyed and wild with the adrenaline from their brush with near-death, and Louis was completely offended that no one was trying to splash water into his gaping mouth. He floated on his back and kicked aggressively, sending a spray of white and blue into Harry’s face.

You signed a contract, Louis!” Liam continued from dry land.

Liam eventually won out, forcing each of them to sit on the cold, tiled floor of Niall’s laundry room in nothing but their pants as their wet clothes tumbled in the dryer. Zayn sat amongst them, each clutching onto their own bottles of vodka as Liam clucked like a mother hen above them.

“We had to read this case story about this bloke who just kept injuring himself until he got this nasty, mangled wrist.” He continued.

“Interesting. Was this at University?” Louis asked through a shit-eating grin.

“Well, yeah.” Liam responded. Everyone giggled as they each took a long pull from their bottles. Liam opened the dryer and fished out everyone’s clothes, tossing them haphazardly in their directions. “They’re still kind of damp, but it’s not cold enough to get hypothermia, or anything.”

“Pray tell Liam, where did you learn about that? Was it University?” Niall asked cockily as they struggled back into their trousers.

“Yes, actually.” Liam said. There was another round of giggles as they threw their drinks back. Louis wrestled with the task of tying his sling and holding onto his bottle of Bacardi Limon, a blunder that Liam noticed immediately. “There’s a specific way to do that, Lou. You’re not just supposed to tie it however you want.” He reached forward and fiddled with the sling.

“Oh really? Where did you learn about that? Uni, perhaps?” Louis asked coyly as everyone lifted their bottles to their lips in anticipation. Liam’s arms fell to his sides.

“Are you guys playing a drinking game, or something?” He asked, immediately met by an overcompensating chorus of “No! Of course not! No, no, no!” from his friends. They watched Liam tentatively, fearing the lecture they were about to receive.

With a manic fury, Liam snatched Louis’ bottle away and pressed it to his lips, guzzling it and surfacing with a grimace. They watched with shocked amusement as he messily wiped his mouth.

“You lads had better run.” He warned in a low growl. Without another word, they were each shrieking like children and tearing from the room, sprinting through the house as they fled from Liam. Louis wove deftly through the throng of guests, but Liam was quickly upon him, catching him around the middle as they both cackled.

“You’re it!” He proclaimed giddily, racing away.

So they were apparently playing tag. That was totally fine, though. Louis was more than drunk enough for it.

He sprinted through the mass of bodies and just caught the image of Harry running for his life into the kitchen. Louis made chase, closing the distance between them easily. Harry’s lanky limbs did nothing to protect him from Louis’ sheer speed. He squawked with laughter as Louis pounced on him, pressing him up against a wall.

His face was ablaze with delight, shining so impossibly bright that Louis felt powerless except to press a quick peck of lips against his left cheek.

“You’re it.” He announced. Harry’s smile widened as Louis made no attempt to move from his current position. He kissed Louis on the forehead in response.

“Now you’re it.”

“No tag backs.” Louis pointed out.

“Let’s go say hi to Glitter.” Harry decided, his thoughts branching off in a random direction. He pulled Louis by the hand down a hallway towards the guest bedrooms.

“Glitter, your cat?” Louis questioned as Harry opened a door and dragged him inside. He saw that the guest room had become Glitter's inner sanctum for the night, complete with toys, food, and a luxurious kitty condo. She had apparently chosen to ignore all of these comforts of home as Harry scooped her up from her place on the bed. “Harry. You brought your cat to a party?”

“I’m sad when she’s not around.” He answered simply, lifting her into the air above his face. Louis wobbled drunkenly toward the bed, immediately drawn to the idea of something plush and comfortable enveloping him. He fell into it heavily, pulling the duvet over his jellified legs.

“Turn the lights off. It’s nap time.” Louis ordered.

“But Louis. The party.” Harry pointed out helplessly.

“Harrrrry. Naaaaaap time.” He groaned, rolling around in the sheets. This was all it took for Harry to set Glitter down on the floor and flick the lights off. He flung himself playfully onto the bed beside Louis.

“Gonna get in trouble.” Harry grumbled as Louis rolled over to face him. Louis pressed his forefinger against Harry’s nose.

“Are you telling me that Harry James Potter is afraid of getting in trouble?” Louis asked.

“Wrong Harry.”

“My deepest apologies. Harry Edward Potter.”

“Still wrong Harry.”

“Well then who even are you?” Louis groaned, rolling onto his back. His mind folded pleasantly under the weight of the alcohol and weed.

“You,” Harry said, now taking his turn to poke Louis in the nose. “are Bluey.”

“I’m what?”

“You’re Bluey Meowcat Fondlinson.” He announced happily.

“Ugh, you just ruined everything I like about myself.”

A ribbon of light fell across the floor as the door creaked open.

Hey guys!” Niall’s head poked in. “What going on in here, huh?” His voice was heavy with mock-innocence.

“Close the fucking door, Horan! I’m trying to nap!” Louis barked.

“Just wanted to make sure no one’s doing anything they’re going to regret in the morning.” He said, once again with the cadence of a camp counselor who just caught his campers trying to hide a pack of cigarettes.

“You are ruining our nap!” Louis exclaimed, throwing a pillow at the door.

“Ruining it!” Harry agreed, lofting another pillow in the same direction. Niall frowned as he saw that Harry had been fully corrupted by Louis’ belligerence.

“Just remember to make good decisions.” Niall said, closing the door.

“Trying to take a NAP!” Louis yelped dramatically as the door clicked shut, once again plunging them into darkness. They listened quietly as his steps faded down the hallway. “I’m too awake for a nap.” Louis admitted mischievously, throwing himself onto Harry. He sat up, straddling Harry’s hips, his one functional hand pressed against Harry’s chest as he held himself up. Harry laughed in startled surprise. “I have many complaints I need to take up with you, young Harold.”

“Hm?”

“Firstly, your face is just too damn nice.” He complained. “I need you to rectify this issue at once.”

“M’kay.” Harry agreed, contorting his face and sticking his tongue out.

“Perfect. Next, your personality is too nice. I need that to stop right now.”

“Alright. Working on it.”

“Good, because you’re too perfect. Even your evil fake girlfriend is starting to like you.”

“Wait, what?” Harry asked, the frivolity of the moment washing away from his face. His fingers curled around Louis’ wrist.

“Er, yeah. She kind of talked to me for a bit.” He admitted, his attention focused on the spot where Harry’s finger tips were stroking over his wrist. “She, like, said that she was happy you spun everything into something positive. With the like, bruise picture and everything.”

It was subtle, but Louis had now become so attune to the minute shifts in Harry’s expression that he saw the softness that sprung up. He looked relieved, a pale, pink smile laced over his face that Louis had trouble describing in any masculine terms. He was beautiful, was what he was. Undeniably, unequivocally beautiful.

But none of this was news to Louis. Every inch of Harry was beautiful. He’d memorized every line of his face from that poster on his wall years earlier, and he’d always described him differently. He’d been fit, sexy, smoldering hot. And while this was still true of the Harry in real life, there was more to it. He was radiant, dazzling, lovely in every way imaginable.

“Hey Harry?” He whispered, his voice as thick as syrup.

“Yeah?”

“Thank you.”

“For what?” Harry asked, propping himself up on his elbows.

“For being you.” Louis admitted with a defeated sigh. Yes, he’d just said something that sappy, but the flux of inebriation wasn’t about to let him regret it just yet. “For being there for me.”

Harry blinked, all remnant of humor abating. Louis shifted himself as Harry sat up, guiding Louis to sit in his lap and wrap his legs around Harry’s hips.

“You don’t have to thank me.” Harry said, his breath puffing against Louis’ face with every word. They both twined their arms around each other’s waists. “Do you know how many times I’ve, quite literally, cried on your shoulder?”

They chuckled, low and intimate, the tenderness of the moment beguiling them both into letting their foreheads rest against each other, until Louis’ head fell back with an embarrassed groan.

“What?” Harry asked.

“I’ve just had a very embarrassing thought.”

“Tell me.”

“I can’t.”

“Please?”

“It’s too embarrassing.”

Please, Louis!” Harry pled, his bottom lip plumping up into a pout. Louis’ eyes lingered there before flicking up to meet his eyes, two wells of green glistening through the brume.

“I was just thinking about that night when we met. At that club with Niall? And I –" He stammered on an embarrassed laugh. “I’m just really happy that you danced into my life.”

Harry beamed at the cheesiness of the sentiment, his cheeks ruptured by his dimples. The image knocked the breath from Louis, depriving his brain of usable oxygen and smothering out any trace of rational thought. All that remained was a molten desire coursing through every inch of him, uninhibited by any sort of intelligent reason as he cupped the jawline of the man in front of him. Harry’s eyes were fluttering back and forth between Louis’ eyes and mouth, his breath caught on the tension of their stare.

Louis surged forward and connected their lips.

There was a moment of white-hot shock, but Louis couldn’t linger on it as Harry responded with zeal, limbs tightening around Louis as he succumbed to the kiss.

It was frenzied from the onset, the billowy pads of Harry’s lips moving against Louis’, biting at each other as if struggling for air. Harry’s hands gripped into Louis’ back, burning where they made contact as Louis’ fingers slipped into Harry’s curls.

They separated with a smack, both panting heavily, and Harry planted a line of pecks down his neck. He lingered at the curve of his collarbone, causing Louis’ entire body to convulse with a shiver. He grabbed Harry by the cheek and smashed their lips together again, knowing that he wouldn’t last another two seconds without connecting their mouths. They melted back into each other, lips smacking noisily with drunk desperation. Harry writhed beneath him as he tightened his grip on Louis, clinging to him like an anchor.

He nipped at Louis’ bottom lip until his mouth finally opened, Harry’s tongue lathing into the heat of Louis’ mouth with a flourish.

And just sweet holy fuck he could taste Harry. He could feel Harry’s tongue moving against his own. Harry’s entire body was pressed against him, laced with sweat and pulsing beneath his touch. Every one of Louis’ cells was beating, thrumming; his blood was starting to simmer.

And Harry was whimpering into Louis’ mouth, his sweet little moans emanating from within his chest and tingling against Louis’ lips. Each sound made Louis’ heart falter, his stomach surging in that way it only did around Harry. Louis felt his own face curving, his eyebrows arcing upside down in desperation as he deepened the kiss.

“Louis,” Harry stuttered, his voice airy and high-pitched as Louis’ hand found its way to the buttons of Harry’s shirt.

He just needed more. He needed so much more of Harry; far more than he could manage by grappling one handed with his shirt buttons.

Louis was just seething with it, this insatiable need that was somewhere beyond words. And how was it even possible that a kiss could make him feel like this? He was pulsing with ecstasy, his eyes damp with the feeling of HarryHarryHarry and it was so unlike anything he’d ever experienced before. How was any of this possible? And, more importantly, how had he not spent every moment of every day kissing Harry Styles?

The last button came undone with a pop, the inked expanse of Harry’s chest suddenly beneath Louis’ fingertips. He traced over the contours of his muscles, causing Harry to reflexively grind up into him.

Louis plunged even more fiercely into Harry’s mouth, just wanting to be impossibly deeper. He wanted to be enveloped by the man clinging to him; by the beautiful boy moaning against his lips.

“Harry.” Louis whined, the heat rising in his muscles. “Harry.”

You’re using him.

Louis’ head snapped back, their lips popping wetly as he watched Harry’s kiss-bitten lips. Harry’s eyes opened in confusion. Pure, undiluted panic surged down Louis’ spine as Joshua echoed in his ears.

He’s obsessed with you. You like the attention. It’s disgusting, and you’re using him.

In some suffocating, apparitional form, Joshua was somehow there. His presence glowered over them, watching their every movement. He could see every peck, hear every moan, feel every pang of desperation Louis felt for Harry. He was there. He was watching them, whispering in Louis’ ear.

I cheated on you, Joshua.

The phantom pain erupted in his cheek, Joshua’s strike cracking against the bones of his face. It was so vivid that Louis felt as if he had been transported back to that hotel room on New Year’s Eve. He cheated. He cheated.

He tumbled from the bed, his veins frozen solid and his breath clasped in his throat as he was met by a flush of pain from his shoulder.

“Louis!?”

There were fingers on him, but he tugged away, grappling to his feet. His shoulder pulsed an angry crimson and his vision tunneled, but he needed to escape. Something was going to hurt him, grab him by the throat and throttle him until he forgot the taste of air.

He was choking loudly against his coarse, sandpaper throat as he stumbled blindly through the room, his face already wet and burnt raw with plummeting tears. There was a door knob beneath his grip, the cold sensation of brass almost unrecognizable at his numb, bloated touch.

Louis spilled into the hallway, the cacophony of the party worming down his ear canals and jolting his senses. He gasped into the hot air, still unable to take a breath. The air snapped against the back of his throat uselessly, taunting him as nothing reached his lungs.

There was a hand around his wrist, but Louis tore himself away, the momentum throwing him into a wall.

I cheated on you, Joshua.

His shoulder met the wall and he shrieked. The hands were on him again as he screamed desperately against the coarse grain of his throat.

“Go away!” He pled, clinging to a basic instinct to survive.

He was barreling through a swarm of dancing bodies without any regard for how he might appear to them. Everything was just exposed skin and alcohol, clouds of smoke and lustful eyes. None of it was going to protect him. None of it was going to help him breathe. His concept of where he was and what he was doing was ebbing away with each heartbeat.

His brain was splintering from the heat when he realized that the knees of his trousers were wet. The grass was damp beneath the palm of his hand, his fingers digging into the loam as he sobbed into the unforgiving darkness.

“Louis! Louis! I need you to breathe with me!”

Louis recoiled, but the hands held firmly to the sides of his face. He tried to scream for help, but all that escaped him as a pained cough.

“It’s me! It’s Liam! I need you to breathe with me, okay? It’s going to be okay, Louis. You just need to breathe.”

Louis’ hand wrapped around Liam’s forearm, gripping into the taut muscles.

“I can’t breathe, Liam.”

“Yes, yes you can. You’re safe and you just have to breathe in time with me. The danger’s just in your head, okay? Breathe in. Yeah, good. Breathe out. Perfect, Louis. You’re doing great.”

Louis panted in time to Liam’s breaths frantically.

“Can’t – can’t breathe.”

“You’re doing so well, Lou. Just keep doing what you’re doing.”

His haggard breaths tumbled forward as the heat faded. The darkness was waning, the first slivers of light materializing before him. The façade of Niall’s house came into focus behind them, tall columns of amber light falling from its windows across the lawn. Snaking along in the distance was the brick wall that separated their properties, fading in and out of obscurity as it fell beneath the light from the house.

He shuddered violently as the shuffling of feet made him aware that Zayn was at his side, hunching over him protectively. Louis grappled with his tongue, wanting to tell Zayn that he didn’t need to worry. Everything was fine.

But then his eyes fell onto the figure behind Liam. Harry was shaking, his curls trembling atop his head and his eyes swimming with intense worry.

“H-Har-“ Louis sputtered.

Their eyes locked, Harry’s pleading for some sign that Louis was okay as he wrung his pale hands.

You’re using him.

It was like a shot to the gut, and Louis’ face was pressed to the grass as the sobs wracked his body. He only caught snippets of the conversation over the thunderous hum in his ears.

“-get him home-"

“-need to get up-"

I’m sorry, Louis!”

Harry’s cries split through the din, his apologies fading against the sounds of their wet footsteps. Liam and Zayn were on either side guiding him, leading him away from the party. Away from Harry.

“I hurt – I hurt Harry.” Louis realized.

“It’s okay, you’re both going to be fine.”

“I hurt him! I hurt Harry!” He cried, his voice cracking under the strain. “How could – how could I -?” But his voice gave out, no words able to describe the depth of what he’d just done.

The soft grass gave way to something solid that clacked underfoot, and Louis let them lead him along, pulse racing as he thought about what hell they were dragging him into.

 

~

 

Harry stared at the clock on the wall, his eyes following the second hand as it clicked along and officially announced the arrival of three o’clock. He had to be on a plane at eight am, only five hours from now, but sleep seemed agonizingly unattainable. And so, he just watched the clock, deciding to wait and see how he felt at four am.

Niall was pacing, griping and pointing his finger angrily to punctuate his points, but Harry wasn’t catching any of it. He just tightened his hold around his legs in the fetal position he had been in for the last several hours, his cheek pressed to the armrest of the couch.

He couldn’t attempt to listen to any of Niall’s words. If he did, it was all going to become real, and that would probably tear Harry in half.

But what the knotted pit in his stomach already knew was that it was his own fault. He’d been enjoying it too much; Louis depending on him for the last week. Louis had needed him, and Harry loved it too much that he’d been able to help and support him. It had all gone too well.

Nothing goes well for Harry. He should have known that something would go horribly wrong.

But did it have to be this? He would have preferred a lifetime of pining after Louis to this. He’d given Louis a panic attack. He was supposed to be there to protect Louis, and he had given him a panic attack. He’d lost control of himself, pushing Louis too hard when he should have been keeping a level head.

Louis didn’t want that from Harry. He was just drunk and vulnerable, and Harry had taken advantage of him. He had just looked so devastated; so completely destroyed. That might have been the worst panic attack of Louis’ life, and Harry had caused it.

Harry was disgusted with himself.

Niall’s pacing stopped as Liam stepped into the room, and Harry sat up.

“Hey,” Liam said carefully as he stepped toward them. “You sent everyone away?”

“Well yeah.” Niall snapped. “My best mate just had his heart broken because Louis wanted a rebound. Course I sent everyone away."

“Niall.” Harry groaned. That wasn’t anywhere close to the truth.

“I just thought I’d come do some damage control.” Liam offered.

“This isn’t some PR scandal, Liam.” Niall bit out.

“Niall, please.” Harry pled.

“What? You actually want to talk to him?”

“Just for a second.” Harry reasoned. “Please.” He saw the trepidation in Niall, so he tried to muster enough strength to make him believe he wouldn’t fall apart in the next five minutes. Niall nodded gravely, giving Liam a glare as he left the room.

“How’re you doing, Harry?” Liam asked, sitting down. Harry didn’t answer, not wanting to lie to him. “We, erm, we just got Louis to fall asleep next door.”

“Is he okay?”

“Yeah. He’ll be fine.” He assured. “I’m worried about you mostly.”

“No, honestly, I’m fine.” Harry said, shaking his head and avoiding his gaze.

“I’m not sure I believe you.” Liam said. “I know that we’ve never explicitly talked about your situation with Arrienne, or anything, but I mean, I have eyes. It’ll be easier to talk about this is if we just move past that. Is that okay?”

Harry nodded, blinking.

“The thing is Harry, Zayn and I were noticing a lot of weird stuff at the end of Louis and Joshua’s relationship.” Liam explained. “Louis used to tease him a lot more, back before you met him. He never really put up with his crap before. But things just suddenly changed over the last year. He’s been really, really defensive about their relationship. Just, uncharacteristically loyal to him. And we thought for a while that maybe they were just getting to a new place in their relationship, you know? Like he was just trying to support him more.

‘But then he would get really mad about it sometimes, and it was always just weird. And then, I guess, at your party last week he totally blew up on Zayn, saying all this stuff about being loyal to his boyfriend and everything. And then he looked just as surprised by it as Zayn was. And just, I noticed that there was something off between you and Louis that last week before the party. I know I don’t seem that perceptive because of the whole situation with Zayn, but I kind of got the impression that you told Louis you had feelings for him?”

Harry choked and looked down at his fingers, pulling his legs into himself. That was the last thing he had been expecting to come from Liam’s mouth. He’d relied so heavily up until this point on the fact that no one had directly confronted him about how he felt about Louis. He knew he wouldn’t get Liam to believe him if he didn’t tell the truth.

“It doesn’t matter.” Harry said, his voice thick. “Because it’s unrequited.”

“But that’s just it, Harry!” Liam exclaimed, sitting forward. “I don’t think it’s unrequited! I left you guys alone in the driveway for barely five minutes the other day, and when I came back he was already sitting in your lap. Like, you just don’t see the way he looks at you, do you? He looks at you in a way I’ve never seen him look at anyone else. Like you hung the stars, or something. And when you guys hug, it’s not just a hug, you know? It’s an embrace. Like there’s something there that’s more than friendship. And whenever you’re not around, he’s always just texting you, or repeating something you said to him, or whining about how much he misses you. And I’m not the only one who sees it.

‘So, no Harry, I don’t think it’s unrequited. I think it’s a lot more complicated than that.” Liam admitted. Harry’s chest clenched, unable to believe anything Liam was saying. He had to be wrong, right? Louis just wanted to be mates. He didn’t want anything more than that. It was Harry that kept ruining everything. It was Harry who made him panic. “I’ve had a feeling for a while that he told you what happened on New Year’s Eve, even though he won’t tell any of the rest of us.” Liam continued. “Joshua hurt him, didn’t he?”

“I can’t tell you that.” Harry responded.

“Which means yes. Goddamnit.” Liam sighed. “Joshua’s been emotionally abusive for years, and I’ve just had to sit here and watch it happen. And now we’re finally rid of him, but he’s left Louis so fucked in the head he can’t even kiss someone else without having a complete breakdown.” Liam noticed Harry recoil at his words, so he back tracked. “Sorry! Yeah, sorry. I just assumed you guys, erm. Yeah. Sorry. But I really hope you’re not blaming yourself for any of this.”

Harry bit the sides of the mouth before responding quietly. “How can I not? It’s my fault.”

“No, no it is not! This is all Joshua. Louis is just really confused right now because he has these feelings for you, but he still feels like he belongs to Joshua. But this is not your fault. We’re going help Louis and try to get things sorted out, but erm … It might be best if, er…”

“If I stay away from him?” Harry asked, the corners of his eyes prickling with new tears. Liam nodded sadly.

“Just for a little while. Until he can get things figured out. I just think his feelings for you are a little too intense for him to deal with right now. For both of you to deal with.” Liam explained. Harry nodded, wiping at his eyes. “Are you okay, Harry? Can I get you something?”

“Erm, no. Could I just – is it okay if I could be alone for a little while?” He asked quietly.

“Yeah, yeah of course. I guess I won’t see you again before your plane leaves in a few hours.”

“Good luck.” Harry said. “With you and Zayn, I mean.”

“Thanks.” Liam watched Harry heavily. “I really do think you and Louis are going to end up together. I’ve thought that since I first saw you together.”

Harry laughed wetly at the absurdity of it, not looking up as Liam finally excused himself from the room. He couldn’t believe any part of what Liam had just said. He’d just been trying to spare his feelings while letting him know that he shouldn’t contact Louis anymore. It was kind of him, but he’d seen through it.

It didn’t make it feel any less like his bones were cracking in half.

“Y’okay, Haz?” Niall asked, walking back into the room. Harry didn’t answer, his attention stolen away by his phone chirping from his pocket. He unlocked it, the text blurring behind the pools of water forming along his lids. “What did he say?”

But Harry’s brain had just shut down. It was a text from Louis. It was garbled and mistyped from exhaustion and alcohol, but it was from Louis.

harry im so sorry im so so sorry/ pls dont giv up on me. i care about u so much. u r so important nd  beautful to me.pls dont give up on us

“Harry? Harry! What’s wrong?” Niall was at his side, rubbing a hand up and down his back as he tried to understand what was causing his best friend’s crippling sobs.

But Harry was beyond comfort. No matter what he’d come to believe in the last couple of hours, Louis was somehow awake and he was thinking of Harry. He was letting Harry know how much he cared about him. His tears fell freely from behind his closed eyelids.

He clutched the phone to his chest, hanging onto the words and trying not to think about how much he loved the person who had sent them.

Chapter Text

“I'm coming apart at the seams, pitching myself for leads in other people's dreams. So buzz, buzz, buzz, doc there's a hole where something was. Doc, there's a hole where something was.”

-Fall Out Boy

Louis had been chewing on the same bite of apple for five minutes, grinding it absentmindedly to pulp as he glared at the gray sky. Two socked feet poked out from under the heavy blanket that he'd brought out with him to the veranda. He'd already spotted Zayn and Liam when he'd trudged through the house, wrapped up together in the guest room. Louis had watched them with subdued derision. What a novelty it must be to have someone to hold onto while you're sleeping. He'd moved on without waking them up, grabbing a blanket and an apple, and planting himself in one of the loungers on the veranda without making any plans to move from it anytime soon.

It had been his first thought upon waking up: go find Harry. Go find him and apologize. Tell him you're sorry. Explain to him that he means everything to you. Grab him and hold him and don't let him go until he understands.

But it was thirty nine minutes past eight. That meant that Harry was already gone, whisked away on some transcontinental flight through the same gray sky that Louis was currently glaring at.

“Lou?”

Louis didn't turn around at the sound of Liam's voice.

“Yeah?”

“How are you feeling?”

“Fine.”

“You want something to eat?”

Louis held his apple up defiantly, still refusing to turn and look at Liam. There was a hushed murmuring and a shuffling of feet, and Louis wasn't at all surprised when the door closed and it was Zayn who appeared in a chair at his side.

“Hey Louis.” He said. Louis gave a grumble in response. “You doing okay?”

Louis rolled his head to face Zayn with a snarky glare.

“Okay, I can't tiptoe around this anymore.” Zayn said, setting his tea down with a porcelain clink to punctuate his point. “We've been trying to be understanding and give you the space you the you've needed for the last year, but this hold Joshua has on you is ruinning your life.”

Jesus.” Louis mumbled, pinching the bridge of his nose and clamping his eyes shut. “That's a tad dramatic.”

Is it?” Zayn questioned, leaning in, refusing to let Louis shut him out. “Then tell me, honestly, how you're feeling today.”

Louis leaned back in his chair and his hand fell to the armrest, his fingers drumming anxiously against the cold wood grain. “I feel like if I never cry again for the rest of my life, it will still be too soon.”

Please just tell me what happened last night.” Zayn implored, but Louis was already shaking his head. “Louis, please.”

And which part would you like to hear about? The part where I sobbed into the dirt in front of Niall's house? Or maybe the part where I sobbed into the wall during that cold shower? Or a bit later, when I stayed up all night, sobbing? Which part would you like me to explain in more detail?” Louis looked to him expectantly, his eyebrows raised, but Zayn remained unphased.

Tell me what happened with Harry last night.” He said evenly.

That's my personal business, isn't it?”

Louis.” Zayn sighed. “I'm not your enemy in this. I want to help you. Don't take this out on me.”

Louis looked down, because fuck Zayn for being right. Fuck Zayn for always being right. Louis could deny his inner turmoil with childish petulance until the end of the Earth, but it didn't stop Zayn from being right.

We talked.” Louis admitted. “We were talking for awhile, and just, we were being stupid. I was stupid. Then we kissed. I kissed him.” He clarified. “And then he kissed me back, so I kissed him even more.”

It hit you when you were kissing him?”

Are you planning on making a point, Zayn?”

I will, if you're honest with me.”

I am being honest with you.”

No, you're giving me vague, detached answers, which means you're skipping over something important.” Zayn pointed out. Louis was shaking his head again, and he realize that he wasn't completely in control of the gesture anymore.

I never knew that kissing someone could make me feel that alive.” He whispered. “And then suddenly, all I wanted to do was die.”

But what made that happen? What changed? What triggered it?”

If you're trying to say that Harry did something-”

I'm not. I'm really not. I think I already know the answer, I just think you need to say it.” He explained calmly, his brown eyes waxed over with a familiar warmth that Louis was always helpless to resist.

I heard Joshua's voice.” Louis watched his thumb trace over the blushed skin of his apple. “I felt like he was there, breathing down my neck, watching me. Screaming at me.”

What did he say?”

That I'm using Harry.” Louis looked up suddenly at Zayn, already wishing he could swallow his confession back up.

How could you possibly think you're using Harry?”

It's just – it was a conversation, a fight, really, that we had. Me and Joshua. That night when you guys came over for dinner, remember? He thought that I only let Harry hang around because I like the attention. That I used him for the attention.”

But you have to know that that isn't true. Like, none of this would hurt as bad as it does if you didn't genuinely care about Harry. You're not using him, Louis.”

That's the problem.” Louis murmured, his breath quickening. “The only alternative is that – is that I've had feelings for Harry. That I've had them all along.”

What's wrong with that? That's a good thing! He feels-”

I have a boyfriend, Zayn!” Louis snapped reflexively, something stony clamping inside of him. Zayn gaped at him, his breath extinguished. They stared at each other, both rendered speechless by the outburst.

Louis, you don't have a boyfriend.” Zayn said slowly, as if he were walking through a minefield. Louis didn't know if he should nod or shake his head. What was the correct answer? Where had that even come from? “Lou.” He said, reaching out to lay a light hand on Louis' wrist. “Joshua isn't your boyfriend anymore, but you can't keep denying that he has a really unhealthy hold on you.”

Zayn's words didn't seem at all necessary, because how was it possible to deny any of this? He'd heard the outburst, just the same as Zayn. He was capable of seeing the patterns in front of him, but that didn't make it any easier to inwardly face.

I cheated on him.” Louis finally said.

It's not cheating, Louis. You guys broke up.”

Not last night. It was last year, on New Years.” Louis explained slowly, watching the way that Zayn's eyes shifted, his pupils narrowing in. “I slept with someone else when we were in New York. I told him the the truth, and we got in a fight.” He swallowed over the coarseness of his dry throat. “That's the great mystery you guys have been trying to figure out. Ta-da.” He added darkly.

Louis.” Zayn whispered, the thick lump in his throat evident in his voice. Louis snapped to attention with a swell of panic.

It was a mistake. It was a giant mistake.” He said. “You're judging me, aren't you?”
“I'm not-!”

This is why I didn't want to tell you. I didn't want you to know about that part of me. It was a mistake.”

I don't think any different of you, Louis. This just – it just all makes sense now.” Zayn realized, leaning back as if a massive weight had been dropped in his lap. His face was awash with emotion, both terrified and relieved. “I'm going to keep saying this until it makes sense to you. It is impossible for you cheat on Joshua again. You aren't with him anymore. He has no claim on you, and he can't hurt you. Kissing Harry was not cheating on him, and it's none of his business. If it made you happy, that's all that matters. It's not cheating.”

But it was.” Louis rasped, putting words to his strife for the first time.

It wasn't!”

It was, because if last night was real, if that kiss was how I really feel, then I've been emotionally cheating on Joshua for months. And I can't – I just fucking can't -” He bit his lip harshly. “Oh God, Harry.”

About Harry,” Something in Zayn's tone made Louis' stomach sour.

What? What's wrong?”

We think it might be a good idea if you two took a little break from each other, you know?” Zayn explained, but his voice faltered as he saw what must have been actual fire in Louis' eyes.

No, I – I can't just ignore him! I have – I have to apologize, and someone has to tell him that this isn't his fault. That I'm sorry, and none of this is his fault!”

Liam talked to him last night.”

Liam talked to him.? What did he even fucking say? He doesn't know what's going on! I have to talk to Harry! It has to be me.”

Louis, calm-”

No, Zayn! I can't calm down, or hear you out, or do whatever you were going to say.” Louis fumed. “Because you didn't see it. You didn't see the fucking despair in his eyes when I picked him up from that diner. You didn't see it.”

When you did what?”

This already happened to him.” Louis said, his body starting to shake. “I was supposed to protect him, but I didn't. I abandoned him. I just – I just fucked everything up.”

As the last words melted into the air between them, Louis felt a a cool breathe of calm nestle into his chest. It almost felt like a form of Stockholm Syndrome; a complacency lent by his complete hopelessness. He felt almost thankful towards the realization that he was utterly trapped, because with those words he suddenly knew that he could gripe and yell at his best friend all he wanted, but there was nothing he could do to fix anything. The situation was entirely ruined beyond repair. Louis' head was a quagmire of confusion and complication, and with every passing second, Harry was flying further and further away from him, closer and closer to safety.

He was better without Louis.

And with that, the first tendrils of numbness seeped into him, gripping into his bones as every vestige of feeling faded away.

It's nothing that can't be fixed.” Zayn insisted. “It's just going to take some time.”

Louis reached out blindly for Zayn's hand and squeezed it as he stared ahead of himself, uncaring and unfocused. Zayn could say whatever he thought would ease Louis' tension, but it didn't mean anything. It was over.

Could we talk about something else for a while?” He asked lightly. “Run lines, maybe?”

Yeah. Definitely.” Zayn stood up and walked back towards the house in search of the binder Louis kept his copy of the script in.

Louis kept watching the sky, knowing that once he looked away, he'd have no reason to think about Harry again.

 

~

 

I was not expecting you to have that nice of an ass.”

Louis spun around in surprise, his neck craning against his oversized headphones from his seat in his terminal in LaGuardia. She dropped into the seat beside him, a flourish of plump eyelashes and flawless winged eyeliner. She crossed her glossy, black pumps over her high waisted jeans and crop top as she looked him up and down. She was in every way timely and timeless, sleek yet casual. Effortless yet effervescent.

Nona.” She said brightly, extending a manicured hand as her she popped on mint chewing gum, her pail pink nail polish glistening against her dark, cocoa skin. “You more of a hugger, or a handshaker?”

Hugger, definitely.”

Oh good.” She said, leaning forward and pulling him in by the shoulders. His returned wince was only barely noticeable, as he was still getting used to not wearing the sling. “I've been wanting to get my hands on that tight little body of your since Danny told me you got the role.” She finally ended the embrace, even though it was the exact kind of hug Louis preferred; tight and committed. No half-assery when it comes to hugs. “Yeah, yeah, I know, you're gay and all that. Doesn't mean I can't appreciate a well put together package, does it? And how was the weather in LA this morning? I'm dying to know.” She leaned back, her silver earrings swaying into her dark, shoulder length hair as she poised herself to listen to Louis.

Louis had done a thorough job of internet stalking his costar, Neanette “Nona” James, over the last few weeks. She had a couple of small film and TV roles under her belt, but her career had blossomed on Broadway in New York. Most recently, she'd played Lavinia in an all black, all female restaging of Titus Andronicus to rave reviews. She was the first transgender woman of color to be nominated for Tony, and she was a well-known advocate for transgender rights. Basically, she was a perfect human.

The director of Kids From Yesterday , Daniel, was a close friend of hers from NYU and had written the lead character especially for her. Even though Louis had only been speaking to her for about three minutes, just the warmth and charisma of her presence made Louis fully understand why someone would write an entire screenplay for her.

When it had become clear that Louis' flight would have to connect in New York, the studio had suggested that they fly the last leg together and get to know each other. There was a small, rented home in Manchester that they would be rooming in together for the duration of filming, so a lot was banking on the hope that they would hit it off.

Luckily, Louis was already finding himself quite fond. She'd called him a “well put together package”, which had scored her an early ten points. They settled into their first class seats together, Nona chirping on about the Skymall magazine she'd already unearthed from the seat in front of her.

Can I get you anything to drink?” The stewardess asked as she stopped by.

Tonic water, please.” Louis tried to respond, but he was cut off as Nona leaned across him to address the stewardess.

Two whiskeys.” She said. “Lulu and I are getting snoshed.”

And well, it would be impolite to deny a drink so early in their relationship, right? He nodded, and by the time the plane was over the ocean, they were splitting a pair of ear buds and singing along to Destiny Child's greatest hits.

When no one is around you, say baby I love you.” They sang, dancing as animatedly as their seats would allow. “Say my name, say my name. You actin' kinda shady. Ain't callin' me baby. Betta say my name.”

Wait, Lulu!” Nona whispered, giggling. “That kid's filming us.”

Lo and behold, a roughly twelve year old boy was taking a video of them on his oversized iPhone from a few rows up.

Oi! Child! What exactly do you think you're doing?” Louis called over the seats. The rest of first class glowered back at him, but Nona choked as she tried to control her continued giggling. He thought that the outburst would be enough to scare the kid into putting his phone away, but apparently rich kids were too gutsy to be intimated by the likes of drunk Louis.

You're Louis Tomlinson.” The kid pointed out, watching Louis' image on his screen.

And?” Louis responded in what he thought was a witty retort.

Lulu!” Nona laughed, pulling at his sleeve.

That going on Youtube?” Louis asked, and the kid only tightened his grip on his phone in response. “Well can't say I really care. No more nagging boyfriend to worry about.”

Nona sputtered, but Louis was already dancing and singing as the chorus came back around.

Say my name, say my name!”

 

~

 

The problem with day drinking, however, was that Louis always found himself exhausted as he inevitably sobered up. He couldn't even give a thought to his jet lag by the time they touched down in Manchester. They got picked up by a production assistant, Stan, who seemed to run on nervous energy the way a train ran on coal. He drove them to their house and Louis watched through the rain streaked windows as Manchester rolled past, a dim part of his mind recognizing his homeland through the fatigue. His thoughts muddled in his brain, but he was increasingly aware that some snot-nosed middle schooler was uploading a video of him drunkenly saying he didn't have a boyfriend anymore.

Oops.

Stan was very prepared to take them both on a tour of the home when they arrived, but Louis barreled up the stairs and threw himself into the first bedroom, sinking into a freshly made bed as sleep overtook him.

 

~

 

It scratched at his ribcage like a beast desperate to escape. It's brassy claws carved at his bones, sending jolts through his chest. He sputtered and choked as the icy fear dredged through him, alighting his senses with fiery pinpricks and wetting his eyes. He was whimpering, struggling over pathetic little rasps into the merciless silence.

He dug into the empty space in his sheets, hoping against hope that someone would just be there. That somehow he wasn't alone.

But no one was there. There was just a cold, gaping well of darkness glaring back at him and suffocating him down to the base of his spine.

Hey, you okay?”

There was a hand clamped around his own, tethering him back to the Earth. He gripped into it, focusing his attention to this one anchor in reality. He felt like a wind-ravaged sail, snapping and writhing against a tempest, but ultimately as safe as the bonds that secured it to the ship.

I've got you, Lulu.” Nona whispered, settling cross legged on the floor beside the bed.
He wasn't going anywhere. The storm wasn't going to take him away.

 

~

 

Louis rolled over to find Nona in the bed beside him, her face smushed hilariously into her pillow as she snored lightly. She jolted awake as he pulled at an unkempt lock of her hair.

Morning, dearest.” Louis said, his voice crackling.

Oh hey.” She responded, yawning dramatically. “I would start with 'so, about last night,' but that's a little too reminiscent of every bad one night stand I've ever hand.”

Louis chuckled, all too familiar. “Sorry you had to see me like that.”

My old roommate in college used to get panic attacks all the time.” She explained. “She liked it when I would just stick them out with her.”

I wouldn't say that they're panic attacks.” Louis defended, sick of how often his life had been described by that particular term lately. “They're just, like, night terrors, or something.”

You get them a lot?” She asked, watching him with her big, hazelnut eyes.

Sometimes. Lately, yeah.” He admitted. Their frequency had certainly increased since things with Joshua had reached a boiling point, but at least he used to only be a text away from that one person who made him feel safe. That wasn't the case anymore, so of course Joshua had used the opportunity to make a reappearance. “My ex boyfriend texted me right before I fell asleep last night.” Louis said, somehow finding it easy to unfurl this on Nona as he handed her his phone, still open to Joshua's text from the night before.

How ex are we talking?” She asked, reading Joshua's 'hey lou, could we talk later?'

It's only been a couple of weeks.”

Ouch. That sucks, Lulu.”

Yes. Very ouch.” Louis agreed, taking his phone back. “And it was kind of this big, fiery, double break up disaster thing.”

What do you mean 'double break up?'” She questioned. Louis sighed heavily, feeling the numbness oozing back into him.

I want breakfast.” He announced, changing the subject.

Me too.” She agreed excitedly. “Pancakes, I'm thinking.”

I have no idea what it takes to make pancakes.”

It's not that hard, right? What do we need? Like, flour?”

Eggs?”

Milk?”

Chocolate milk.”

Excellent idea, Lulu.”

And it was in the resulting charred, syrup doused chocolate milk pancakes that their bond was cemented. They were glued together from that moment onwards, especially after trudging through the December slush on a Tesco run in their joggers.

His life was suddenly a complete distraction, his demanding schedule keeping his mind from wandering anywhere too dark. After his extended vacation, he was grateful when his life was kicked suddenly into high gear. Louis was immediately swept into a dizzying regimen of meetings and rehearsals the second he touched down on European soil.

They met the rest of the cast and crew on their second night after being invited to a dinner at the producer's house that doubled as an informal table read. It was a rowdy group and Louis felt right at home in the middle of their boisterous conversations. Louis was finally able to meet Daniel, the director, in person. He was a young, subdued man, but his eyes glittered with an enchanted passion as he talked about the project they were about to undergo.

But all shop talk was shut down when the evening descended into a debaucherous game of Cards Against Humanity. Nona was the breakout star of the game as each of her unapologetic selections made the entire group simultaneously guffaw and cringe. Her particular moment of genius was matching “How did I lose my virginity?” to “winking at old people.” Eventually, Louis gave up and just curled into her side, giggling as he watched her look through her cards.

It was during one of the many conversations that night that Stan's fate was sealed for the rest of the film. Nona and Louis realized that neither of them could cook, so they had nonchalantly mentioned something about living on takeaway. Daniel's eyes had grown to about three times their size at this idea. Louis' cheeks had just started to hollow out from his diet and exercise, and Daniel knew it would only take a couple weeks of Pad Thai and curry for him to fill back out.

Louis had watched Stan's soul deflate when Daniel had suddenly turned to him and asked, “You like cooking, don't you?” While his title was still officially a production assistant, it probably would have been more accurate to call him the designated human in charge of keeping Nona and Louis alive.

The first week of production was devoted to rehearsal and some rather hands on, unorthodox acting workshops that Daniel claimed were necessary for his method of character development. Having skipped Uni himself, Louis was quite enjoying the acting classes. It was almost like being at a very intense theatre camp.

He and Nona shared a trailer on set and would eat lunch there together when their schedules overlapped. Nona was obsessed with arts and crafts and would subject Louis to whatever glitter filled project she was working on that day. She claimed that it was therapeutic, and Louis found himself mostly agreeing with her. One afternoon between scenes, they both became transfixed by a pair of adult coloring books as Louis delved deeper into the topic of Joshua.

I don't miss him as much as I thought I would.” Louis admitted as he shaded in a lotus flower design. “But I still hear his voice in my head, you know? Critiquing the things I do.”

But isn't that just proof that the relationship was toxic? He's changed the way you think about yourself. No one has the right to have that kind of power over you.”

You're right.” Louis conceded quietly. His first instinct would normally be to argue, to deny anything that didn't place the blame directly on himself, but this was always impossible with Nona. She just always made sense and there was no use fighting with her. She always said what a deep, hidden part of him already knew, he just needed to hear someone else say it. “It's not fair because it feels like he never really left. I haven't spoken to him in weeks, but it still feels like he's always around.”

When do you hear his voice the most? Is it just typical, day to day stuff?”

No. It's mostly about a specific person.”

Who?”

Someone I kind of had feelings for when Joshua and I were still together.” He said, his colored pencil denting the page under the force of his stroke. He said it calmly, as if it were an accepted fact that he'd already discussed with someone else in his life, but this was far from the truth. It wasn't just that it was the first time he'd said it, it was that it was the first time he'd even allowed himself to think it. The only reason he'd been able to say it was the fact that he knew it wouldn't hurt. Nothing hurt anymore. Everything was just numb from the moment that he woke up to the moment that he went to bed.

This is what his talks with Nona had become: opportunities to finally admit things that had plagued him back before the numbness set it, back when his mind was a tangled briar patch of lies he'd tried desperately to maintain to himself. But that was the thing about lying to yourself. Once you figure out that that's what you're doing, it becomes impossible to keep it going.

It had just been easy for him to lay it all out for her during their brief lunch conversations. This had a lot to do with the fact that she was completely removed from the situation and didn't know any of the principle characters involved. She didn't already hate Joshua for something he'd done to her personally, and she didn't have Zayn or Liam twisting her opinion. All she knew was what Louis told her, and she was simple to talk to. Behind her flawless, Barbie Doll looks, she turned out to be a well of wisdom wrapped up in a pencil skirt and tangerine lip gloss.

How he'd been so fortunate to find a veritable soul mate in his co star, Louis would never know. This was especially convenient, since between time differences and his hectic schedule, he'd scarcely spoken to Zayn or Liam since arriving in Manchester. This had left Liam particularly peeved, as it made it very easy for Louis to ignore his frustrations from the airplane video. Louis was content to just pretend that the video of him denouncing Joshua had never actually happened, so why should he worry about it? Worrying caused wrinkles, so really, he was just acting in the best interest of his dermatological longevity, Liam.

Daniel joined them in their trailer soon after, as he often did, to go over notes with Nona. That day, however, he was much more interested in talking to Louis. He wasn't completely surprised, since the first rehearsal for the scene was scheduled for the next day. It was Louis' big moment, when his character revealed to Nona's character that he thinks that he's contracted HIV and that his partner left him in response. It included a lengthy monologue from Louis and served as one of the major emotional beats of the entire movie. Basically, it was really fucking important that Louis got it right.

Daniel tried to be subtle, but it was clear that the pressure was on. He expected a lot from Louis, and Louis was ready to deliver. To make sure the complexities of the scene were fully fleshed out, two rehearsals had been scheduled: one for Friday night and another on Saturday morning. This left a big, gaping hole in both Louis and Nona's schedules for Friday morning, which was extremely rare.

They knew that they needed to get as much out of their free morning together as they could, so they decided to tick off one of the items of Nona's British Bucket List: driving on the “wrong” side of the road. The roads were slick from the December weather and Nona really struggled to get the hang of staying on the left side, which left Stan in the back seat of the car, praying as if he were about to face his own death.

Louis was calm, however, as he gave her instructions around the city and laughed at each mistake she made or when the tires skidded over the frostbitten pavement.

We're going to die.” Stan breathed.

At least we'll die amongst friends.” Nona smiled as she turned up the radio. She was dancing along to the song “West End Kids” by New Politics excitedly. “Isn't this song about us? I mean, about our characters? It's totally about us, right?”

Not really.” Louis said.

Where's the West End? Would our characters hang out there?”

It's like Manhattan.”

Oh maybe not, then. It's still our song though.” She claimed as she continued to sing along and came to a sliding halt at a traffic light.

Cheers.” Louis agreed as his phone began chirping from his pocket and he struggled to slip it out. “Well hello, my dearest Liam.”

You're doing a phone interview with Radio 1 in ten minutes.” Liam stated.

I'm doing what now? When?”

I tried to give you a heads up, but you've been screening my calls. Again.” He explained with agitation.

I'm a busy boy, Payno.” Louis explained. “You always call when I'm eating. What do you expect me to do? Stop eating?

Well you can explain that to Nick Grimshaw in,” he heard Liam shuffle as he checked his watch. “eight minutes.”

Um, spit take Liam. What? Nick Grimshaw?”

Didn't really have a lot of options, since you won't answer your bleeding phone. Breakup rumors are getting out of control over here and I'm getting a lot of pressure to do some damage control. Luckily, it helps that you haven't be seen with you-know-who.”

Yes, wouldn't want anyone to find out about my ongoing sexual marathon with Lord Voldemort.”

Louis, I'm not joking.” Liam sighed.

I know. I just don't want to talk about him, Liam.” Louis said, suddenly serious. Liam paused, and Louis could feel Nona's eyes creep over to him.

Right, yeah. You won't have to. We've already talked to Nick. He's not going to ask any direct questions about whether or not you're going through a break up. You're just going to say that you were joking around, putting on a show for that kid on the plane. Then he'll ask you if there's any relationship drama going on, and you'll say no.” Liam explained, and Louis nodded despite the fact that they couldn't see each other over the ocean that was separating them. “They're gonna call any second now, so I'm going to hang up.”

Alright.”

And Louis?”

Yeah?”

I miss you.”

I miss you too, you beardy, Nick Grimshaw loving twat.” Louis responded. “Got to go, Voldy's asking for a reach around.”

Liam laughed as Louis hung up, and only a few minutes had passed before he was on the phone with Nick Grimshaw, acutely aware that millions of people were now listening to a preplanned conversation between him and one of his least favorite people. Nona pulled over as she and Stan listened in on their side.

I have to say, Louis,” Nick began, “I've watched that video at least a hundred times. You were dancing along to, what song was it?”

Say my name. Destiny's Child.” Louis answered, winking at Nona.

A classic.”

In educated circles, at least.”

I had no idea you were such a dancer.”

I did my best, despite being drunk on an airplane.”

Don't sell yourself short. You were quiet fetching.” Nick chuckled.

Flirting with me, Grimmy?” Louis asked.

Well I guess that depends.” Nick said. “You did mention a little something about your boyfriend in the video? I believe the exact quote was 'Well can't say I really care. No more nagging boyfriend to worry about.'”

Of course Grimshaw would have the exact quote ready to go.

Yeah, well,” Louis began, steeling himself. “I'm afraid that that was a bit of an ill-humored joke. Sorry to say it's nothing to get excited over.”

So no relationship drama then?”

Not today, unfortunately.” Louis tried not to laugh as he realized that his life had been nothing besides relationship drama for the last few months.

Disappointing for single men everywhere.” Grimshaw commented. “Well, I've been wanting to get your side of all this stuff going on with your mate, Harry Styles.”

And Louis' entire body felt like it had just liquified. He could feel the cold sweat already beading against his skin as his stomach sunk lower.

I'll need you to be a bit more specific.” Louis said slowly, trying to hide the fact that his lungs were caving in on themselves from the massive audience that was listening to him live.

That whole fiasco in Dublin the other night?” Grimshaw said, as if this were obvious. Louis' throat went dry.

Afraid I haven't hear anything about that.” He admitted weakly.

Really? I thought you two were regular chums.”

Been filming a new movie. Kind of cut myself off from everyone for the time being.” Louis said, knowing that Nick would surely move onto a new topic after this. There was no way that this still seemed like an interesting interview to his listeners. No one would want to hear this, right?

Well here's what happened.” Nick continued, obviously relishing in Louis' apparent ignorance of Harry's life. “He walked off stage in the middle of that new single of there’s, Paradise Red. Just totally gave up, and it took him twenty minutes before they could get him back onstage.”

Huh.” Louis said, staring intently at the dashboard of the car as he struggled to keep himself from dissolving into a hysterical mess.

So what do you think that's about?” Nick asked, the satisfaction clear in his voice at the fact that Louis and Harry hadn't been talking. It stung like a prick to his heart. Nick Grimshaw was actually taunting him over live radio. They were bickering over Harry like jealous boyfriends in a dick fight, and it ignited something in Louis that he struggled to smother. He was absolutely not going to get into a jealous squabble with Nick Grimshaw over the air with millions of people listening.

Except fuck Nick Grimshaw.

He's got a good group of people around him, so I just hope everyone's taking good care of him.” He began, sitting up as a full wave of sass fluxed through him. “Harry's always so fixated on taking care of everyone else around him, and sometimes he forgets to take care of himself. Like, a few weeks ago when I injured my shoulder, he really took it upon himself to take care of me. He was at my house everyday, cooking me food or helping me clean up. Or sometimes he would just spend the night watching Netflix in bed with me so I wouldn't feel lonely. He basically moved into my house for a week, really. It was lovely of him.”

Check mate, Grimshaw.

Louis listened with a smirk as Nick wrapped up the interview, the jealousy in his voice quite distinguishable as he said his goodbyes. The resulting text from Liam took only seconds to arrive.

 

Louisssssssss

 

Louis didn't respond as he pocketed his phone and turned the radio back on.

 

~

 

Maybe we should run it again?”

No, I think we've got everything we're going to get tonight.”

Daniel and one of the producers were murmuring to each other, but Louis was too absorbed in glaring at his own hands, shocked at everything about himself.

He'd been terrible.

Scene after scene, try after try, his performance had gotten worse and worse. He felt it as it happened, cringing inwardly with every poor line delivery, every contrived choice he made. He had urged himself to just tap into something but had been left with an empty, paper-thin performance each time. Louis knew it, Nona knew it, and now his director was glowering at him from the corner in disappointment. It was almost midnight, everyone was exhausted, and Daniel apparently couldn't stomach another second of watching Louis muddle through a half-hearted performance.

Nona gave him a gentle smile as she slipped into her coat, but Louis couldn't meet her eyes as he felt Daniel approaching them.

Louis, could I talk to you for a second?” Daniel asked, and Nona stepped toward Louis protectively.

Yeah, sure.” Louis nodded. “I'll catch up with you, Nona.”

She seemed reluctant to leave him, but was ultimately left with no other option than to walk away as they both waited for her departure.

I need more.” Daniel said bluntly once she was out of ear shot. “This just isn't enough.”

I know.” Louis agreed.

This scene could make or break the entire movie. Everyone is counting on you.”

I know. I don't-” Louis shook his head tiredly. “You're right. I have to do better.”

Get some rest. We'll run it again tomorrow.” Daniel said, clapping Louis on the shoulder. It panged dully, giving Louis a solemn reminder of what was left for him if he didn't have this movie: the same life where his boyfriend of three years had pushed him down the stairs at a star studded party. Principal photography hadn't started yet, which meant that they could still easily replace Louis.

He caught up with Nona as she got into a car with Stan, waiting to take them home. He got into the back seat silently, the weight of his disappointment solidifying within him. He might fail and they might send him home. Then what? What did he have if he didn't have this movie? He clenched into his phone, denying the urge to call the one person who would make him feel safe again.

No one had attempted to say anything to Louis until he and Nona were alone in the house. Louis was already heading to his bedroom before she spoke up.

Hey Lulu?” she asked, leaning against the wall in the hallway as he turned around.

Yeah?”

Do you wanna run through the scene again before bed?” she asked kindly. Louis ran an exhausted hand through his hair.

I'm a little sick of it, to be honest.”

Let's just workshop it, just you and me. No one else is here to watch. I really think you'll feel better about it if we work on it a bit.” She reasoned, her big, brown eyes blinking at him. Louis sighed, knowing she was right yet again. At this point, he would probably toss and turn all night. He might as well try to make the scene a bit better.

Alright, yeah.” He conceded, following her into the lounge. He sat on the floor in front of one of the sofas as Nona made tea, wrapping his arms around a cushion until she sat down across from him. She had her copy of the screenplay in hand and flicked open the soft pink binder as she set down her hot drink.

You know the patronus charm from Harry Potter?” She asked bluntly.

Erm, jog my memory.”

It's to get rid of Dementors. You have to think of a really powerful, positive memory to get it to work.” She explained as she turned the pages of the script. Louis saw words she'd scribbled across the pages, catching pissed, grateful, and good morning as she flicked through. “That's kind of my method of acting. I pick an emotion or an idea that sums up every scene, and then I try to channel a powerful memory that fits it. You know what word I picked for the scene we were working today?” She turned a few more pages, the words fucked up, warm, and bored passing by before she landed on the page she was looking for. She turned it around so Louis could read the word scribed across the white page.

Heartbreak.” he murmured.

Do you want to hear the memory I use?” she asked, closing the script and holding it to her chest. Louis only then realized how often Nona listened to his every problem, but never offered up any of her own experiences.

Yeah.” he answered, a little too quickly. “I mean, yeah, if you're okay with sharing it.”

I completed my gender reassignment surgery when I was just eighteen.” she said. “And before that, I was on hormone blockers, and before that, I always had long hair and dressed how I wanted to dress. I've always been Neanette.” Her fingers flexed against the pink binder. “And that's all because of my parents. They've always believed that I know who I am, and I'm a girl. I'm Neanette. And as long as I've known that I'm a girl, I've also known that I wanted to be an actress. They've both been successful on the Broadway scene for a long time, mom's a producer and dad's a playwright, so they knew how important it was for me to pass for a woman if I was going to pursue acting. So they did everything they could to make sure I feel like who I really am. Like, I'm a transgender woman of color, so things have never been easy for me, but I fit in, which is really incredible for someone like me. I've been really, really lucky, and I took that for granted for a long time.

'But then, when I was sixteen, my parents made me join this support group for other transgender kids from around the area, and I met Jacklyn. We had the same taste in music and fashion and movies. And boys, too. We always liked funny little pretty boys with nice hair. You know, like straight versions of you.”

Naturally.” Louis laughed.

Naturally, yes. So we became best friends pretty instantly. She was always at my house because she didn't have a great home life. My parents were always really warm and accepting, but Jackie's parents were different. They thought that they had a son, and they weren't willing to change their minds. And I could just see how badly Jackie wanted to be like me and like other girls. She wanted to wear cute little shoes, and be able to go shopping for prom dresses. Like, she just wanted to feel pretty, but she still had to shave every morning and watch as she got taller and broader. And it killed me to watch it happen, because I didn't know what to do.

'And then we started to apply to schools, and I basically had an easy in at NYU because of my parents. Jackie wanted to be a lawyer, and she had all of these great schools that she wanted to go to, but she didn't get in to any good ones. And she was smart , so it was so, so stupidly obvious why she couldn't get in. I mean, it's the twenty first century, and most of my transgender friends still couldn't get into any good schools.

'Then the bullying got worse. She was getting teased and picked on all the time at her school, and no one was doing anything about it. Her parents just thought that she should toughen up, but she was scared. She was scared for her safety. I didn't know what to do, though. I mean, I was seventeen years old. What did I know about anything?

'And suddenly, she was just gone.” Nona licked her lips and looked down. “She ran away. Didn't even leave a note. I kept hoping that she would just walk in one day, and she'd somehow come to school with me and we would figure something out for her. She didn't need her parents, you know? She had me. But she never showed back up.

'It was three years of that. I didn't see or hear from her for three years. Then one night, she suddenly called me and said she was in New York, and she needed my help. She showed up at my apartment, and she was just a complete mess. Like, she looked like she was falling apart.

'And that's – that's the conversation I thought about when we were working on that scene.” she trailed off, and Louis was already crawling across the floor to sit beside her, leaning his warmth into her side. “She'd been trying to go to school, but her parents cut her off. No one would give her a job, and she'd done everything she could do to just keep going, but she couldn't support herself. She ended up – she ended up doing porn.” Nona ran her hands over her jeans, scratching at the denim. Louis grabbed one her hands, halting her ministrations. He remembered one of the conversation's he'd had with Ms. Catskill at the homeless youth shelter about transgender women. Women of color in particular were often forced into sex work as a means of survival when everyone else turned their backs on them, all because they were just born in the wrong body. “It was killing her. She said the things they made her do, it made her feel like she was dying. And we just cried together all night. It's the most heartbroken I've even been in my entire life.”

What happened after that? Is she okay?”
“Yeah, yeah. Things are a lot better now.” Nona explained. “My parents pulled some strings and got her a job at a theatre company as a receptionist. She's a bookkeeper for them now, and she's working herself through school.”

That's great.” Louis said, his voice surprisingly thick. Nona rested her head on his shoulder.

It's okay, Lulu. It's not a fresh wound anymore. But I think yours still is.”

Louis closed his eyes now that the focus of the conversation had shifted in his direction. He breathed deeply, gauging how ready he was to open this particular Pandora's box.

Last year, I slept with someone who wasn't my boyfriend. Then, when I told him what had happened, he punched me.” Louis said quickly before he could talk himself out of it. Nona lifted her head in shock, her whole body stiffening. He stared straight ahead, knowing that he couldn't get lost in the details yet. He had more to say. “Then, a few weeks ago, he was mad at me and shoved me. He didn't realize that we were right next to this set of stairs, and I ended up falling. That's how I dislocated my shoulder.”

Louis,”

And somewhere in the in middle of all that, Joshua made me think that it was all my fault.” he breathed. “That I deserved it, and it made me terrified that if I was anything but loyal, it would happen again. But it wasn't my fault. And that's what everyone's been trying to make me to understand.”

Is that the first time you've been able to admit that?” she asked quietly, and Louis nodded. She nestled her head back onto his shoulder. His chest was swelling as the lead in his lungs was melting into something warm and light. The weight was washing away.

And it made me really blind to the fact that we just didn't work as a couple.” he continued. “But I couldn't see it because I was – I was afraid of betraying him. Which made things complicated when someone else came into the picture.”

It's Harry Styles, isn't it?” she asked excitedly. Louis shirked her off her shoulder, scandalized.

How did you know?”

Well duh, I internet stalked the shit out of you before we met.” she admitted. “And all I found was this whole mess of Larry Stylinson stuff, but I just figured you were good friends and nothing more. But then I noticed that you talk about your other friends all the time, even that guitar player in his band, but you never even mention Harry's name. Then you started to mention that there was this other guy in the whole relationship equation and I started to suspect something. And then when you got all jealous boyfriend over him on that call with Grimmy, it just clinched it for me and I was like, oh my god, no way. I'm right, aren't I?”

You can't tell anyone.”

Yes!”

It' not my secret to tell.”

I was totally right! That's so cute. Why don't you ever talk about him?” Her excited vanished as she watched the color drain from Louis' face. The air was suddenly thick between them, the lighthearted interlude fading away.

Because I broke his heart.” Louis said, the silence falling heavily around them as Nona was lost for words. She stared at him as he flipped her script open and looked at the note she had left on the scene. “I'm ready to go through the scene again.”

 

~

 

 

Nona's face was blurred behind the swell of tears plumping against Louis' eyelids, only coming into focus as the pools burst and fell down his cheeks. Their haggard breathing filled the space as the onlookers watched, enraptured and speechless.

Right, yeah. Cut. That's good.” Daniel said suddenly, as if waking from a dream. “That was even better than the last two.”

One more time?” A producer asked.

No, I don't want to over work it. Let's not mess with it. That's enough for today.” Daniel decided as Louis patted his tear streaked faced with the sleeves of his jacket. Nona was trying to hide her smile as they were surrounded by a flurry of movement.

Everyone was coming at him from different directions with warm words, Daniel especially singing his praises. He nodded politely, all the while his eyes were straying desperately towards the exit.

Someone was asking about lunch and Louis was only slightly aware of himself declining and excusing himself from the room. He could feel eyes on him as he made his flight out the door and raced across the lot, throwing himself into the sanctity of his trailer. He locked the door behind him and fell onto the sofa, his tears hitting the fabric before his body did.

He buried his face into a pillow in an attempt to mute his own cries to minimal success. His whimpers were too loud, too pained to be quieted as his weeping intensified and the reality fell harder and harder onto him.

He was in love with Harry.

How could he have ignored it for so long? Because this wasn't a crush. This wasn't just feelings . Only love could hurt like this, and this really, really fucking hurt.

He hadn't even managed any control over his own breathing before he was dialing Zayn's number.

What's up, babe?” Zayn's voice rattled through the speaker.

You're right! You're both right. I fucked up so bad.” Louis cried.

Whoa, wait, what's going on?”

I'm supposed to be with Harry! The fuck am I even doing?” The phone slipped from his hand, and he couldn't muster the strength to go after it. Zayn's warbling emanated from the floor, indiscernible over Louis' cries.

Realization after realization was crashing down, and the last great wave was looming over him, ready to wipe out everything in his path. The ultimate truth was that this life changing revelation had come too late. There was damage that he just couldn't undo.

A part of him mused over what could have happened if things had went differently. If he hadn't run screaming from that room, abandoning Harry. They would have kept kissing, uninterrupted, no one else in the world besides the two of them. And maybe they would have gone even further than that, eventually wrapping into each other in happy exhaustion and trying to sleep through the noise of the party. But it would have been too loud, so they would have left the room together, hand in hand maybe, and rejoined their friends. They would have been warm and affectionate, excited about what was in store for the two of them.

But that's not what had happened.

Harry's devastated face was flashing through his thoughts from that last night that they had seen each other. A sick part of him already knew that it had been the exact same face he had probably made that night that Nick had left him.

Because that is what Louis had done. He'd left him. He couldn't even keep that one little promise to protect Harry. He'd broken him, and now it was over. No matter how intense his feelings were, no matter how undeniably it felt like his heart was splintering, no matter how sure Louis was that this was pure, unabiding love, they just couldn't be together. Louis had ruined everything that night.

They could never be together.

 

~

 

Can we watch Squad?”

No.” said Louis, his mum, and his stepdad in perfect unison. Daisy crossed her arms in contempt at the quick shutdown. The entire family had somehow folded themselves into a complex knot around Louis on the sofa, a slew of recently opened birthday presently peppering the floor and a Christmas tree twinkling in the corner. It was his first birthday back in Doncaster since he was eighteen years old, and despite the considerable changes since then (a new stepdad and two new siblings) it still left him feeling like there was no place like home for the holidays. This was especially true as his mother had been chasing him around the house with every baked good imaginable, unhappy with the gaunt appearance he had taken on for the movie.

Why not?” Daisy asked.

It's an adult movie.” Louis explained.

When are you going to make a movie that I can watch?”

Why's the responsibility on me? Why can't you just work on being older?” Louis joked, and Daisy promptly stuck her tongue out at him. “How very dare-” He was cut off as his phone began to ring, and Ernie murmured from his place in Louis' lap as he procured it from his back pocket. He looked at the screen for only a moment before he turned it over for his mum to see from the other sofa. Her eyebrows rose as she read Joshua's name.

He flipped the phone back to face himself, his thumb hovering over the reject button. Joshua had called about thirty times over what had almost been an entire month since they'd last seen each other, and Louis had always been quick to ignore him. But in a move that he didn't quite understand, he pressed accept.

Hello?” He said, handing Ernie off and untangling himself from the sofa. He trotted up the stairs in search of an empty bedroom to close himself in.

Oh my god, Louis!” Joshua exclaimed as Louis closed the door behind him and settled onto his sister's bed.

Yeah?”

I can't believe you picked up. I just wanted to say happy birthday.”

Thanks.”

How's the movie going? How's your arm?”

I'm not going to tell you about any of that.” Louis said resolutely.

Come on,”

Nothing's changed. We're still not getting back together.”

Baby, we just need to talk. We haven't even tried to talk about this.” Joshua plead.

Don't call me baby.” Louis snapped.

Louis, please.”

You hurt me, Joshua.” Louis stated, his throat tightening.

But I'm so sorry. You haven't even let me apologize. It was an accident, baby. I didn't even see the stairs. I'm sorry.”

Louis sighed, bracing himself.

I don't forgive you.”

He hung up and fell back against the bed, his body prickly with anxiety. He gritted his teeth and breathed through it, feeling it flux and wash away.

He'd done it. He'd somehow facde the beast and survived.

Louis?” Came a voice as the door cracked open.

Yeah?” he responded, sitting up quickly and readying himself for an onslaught of siblings. Thankfully, it was just his mum that stuck her head in, a wrapped package under her arm.

How'd it go?” she asked, closing the door and taking a seat beside Louis on the bed.

Good, actually.” he admitted with surprise. “He tried to apologize, or at least, he thinks he did. But I told him that nothing changed and I hung up.”

I'm proud of you.” she said, squeezing his knee, but Louis' attention had already shifted away.

Do my eyes deceive me, or is that another present?” he asked as he grabbed for it. She smiled as she handed him the square package. He tore into it immediately.

It showed up a few days ago with very specific instructions that it's a birthday present, not a Christmas present.” she explained as he held the newly unwrapped gift in his hands. It was a photo album, it's bindings brown and leather. He opened the cover to find a sheet of paper tucked inside.

 

A place for all of the memories we can't remember. -H

 

His eyes lingered on the H, warmth spreading through him from every corner of his body. He set down the paper and finally looked at the first page, sputtering with laughter at the first picture. It was of Louis about two inches away from the camera, the flash blowing out any details in his face apart from his glossed over eyes. One thing was very clear: Louis was sloppy drunk in the picture.

He turned the page and immediately recognized a theme amongst the photos. They were from tons of different parties or outings, some even just from nights spent in drinking at Harry's house. Their faces smiled up at him as he looked over them; Louis and Harry making puckers at the camera on Halloween, their faces covered in kiss marks; Harry, Louis, and Niall lying in the middle of the street with their feet in the air like synchronized swimmers outside a bar; Harry and Louis kissing Liam's cheeks as he glared at the camera during a party at Harry's. Louis smiled as more pictures flicked by and realized he didn't remember a single one of them being taken.

I think I know what it is.” he said through an affectionate smirk. “You know how sometimes, after you've been out drinking, you wake up with pictures you don't remember taking?”

Nope.” she answered.

Well, it happens. That's what this is.” he said, holding the album up. She leaned in to look over the pictures as he kept turning the pages. She giggled as he stopped on a picture from a club in which Louis was biting a lock of Harry's hair. He only just kept himself from running his fingers over Harry's face, which was crinkled into a dimple inducing smile.

What's this one?” she asked, pointing to a picture of Louis sleeping at home on his own couch.

Oh, weird.” he commented, realizing he remembered that night. “Harry was on a lot of medication, so maybe he doesn't remember taking it.”

It had been back in November during a Manchester United game that had graciously occurred at three am on the west coast due to the time difference, and all of the lads had come over to Louis' to watch. Even Joshua had joined them for awhile, pretending that he was interested in what was happening.

But Louis' attention had been squarely focused on Harry, who had been in and out of a medicated haze all night. Even though Harry had people who's entire job was just to make sure he was taken care of, he still always managed to let his allergy medication run out. He wouldn't even think about getting it refilled until several weeks later when his sinuses had fully rebelled, leaving him miserable and near death. By the time he got back on his meds, he always had to muddle through a few days of murky, sniffly, drug-induced misery before his meds took effect.

This particular night, Harry had been in and out of the conversation as he kept drifting off, his face soft and sleepy. He curled into the armrest of the sofa, his legs pressed to his chest as he struggled to get comfortable. Joshua gave up on pretending to care about the game about halfway through and headed back to the bedroom, the movement causing Harry to wake up with an inhale of breath.

Alright there, Haz?” Niall asked.

What's the game?” Harry grumbled, his eyes fluttering open.

The game?”

Score – what's the score?” he corrected.

Two one.” Liam answered, stuffing a handful of popcorn into his mouth. Harry nodded as he pressed himself further into the armrest, crossing his arms tightly over his front. He closed his eyes again, but was immediately interrupted by a string of sneezes. Louis watched Harry's bare arms, suddenly very aware of the blanket and pillow he and Joshua had been sharing.

Harry, c'mere.” Louis said as he slid onto the couch beside Harry and put the pillow in his lap. Harry blinked at him in confusion, his face bearing a striking resemblance to Glitter after one of her cat naps. Louis tugged at his shirt, guiding Harry's head onto the pillow on his lap and draping the blanket over his middle. Harry snuggled into the warmth happily and closed his eyes. “Not feeling good?”

M'fine.” he mumbled back, sighing in the back of his throat as Louis' fingers traced through his curls.

Just take a nap, love. You'll feel better in the morning.” Louis said tenderly, watching the smile spread across Harry's lax features.

His lips moved as if to say something, but the only word Louis caught was the mention of his own name. Eventually Louis and the others had fallen asleep themselves, and apparently Harry had woken up and taken a picture of Louis from his spot in his lap.

I really, really screwed up, mum.” Louis whispered, rising from his reverie.

I still don't believe that.” she countered. “You're always too hard on yourself.”

Harry's only been in love once, and the guy left him.” Louis explained. “I'm the first person since Niall that he's started to trust again, and I did the exact same thing to him. I left him.”

You had a panic attack. You didn't leave him. I'm sure he understands that.”

You didn't see his face, mum.” he said quietly, eyes falling back onto the page. Jay scooted closer to him.

Even if that's true, even if he does believe you took off without him, are you really going to let him go on believing that?” she questioned. “Are you going to let him believe that you don't care about him? Or are you going to fight for him?”

I don't know.”

Lou, would Harry ever give up on you?” she asked bluntly, causing Louis to finally look up at her.

No, he wouldn't.”

Then why are you giving up on him?” She pointed out. Louis opened his mouth, but no sound came out. She smiled at him, standing up. “Win him back.”

She slipped out the door without another word, leaving Louis alone with a newly ignited fire in his mind.

He unlocked his phone and opened his conversation with Harry, his thumbs firing rapidly over the keys as every thought he'd harbored over the last few weeks came pouring out. After about twenty minutes of typing and realizing he was penning a short novel, he switched over to a Facebook message, which continued to plump up in size.

It only took another few minutes of that before he deleted the message entirely, knowing that he had too much to say for a Facebook message. He pulled out his phone and listened as it rang.

Yeah Lulu?” Nona asked as she picked up.

What are you doing the night of the twenty eighth?” Louis asked.

Sleeping, since we have to get back to work the next day.”

How would you feel about driving out to London for a Status Solo show?”

Chapter Text

"Baby I'm coming. Baby I'm coming. Say the words, baby I'll come running."

-Shawn Hook

“Music. More. Louder. Something. Please.” Louis plead, fidgeting beneath his seat belt in the passenger seat. Nona darted forward from the back seat and plugged her phone into the car's auxiliary output.

“This trip is going to be a lot more painful if you don't learn to calm down.” She pointed out. “Everything is going to be fine.”

“You don't know that. You have no proof of anything. Your words are empty lies that you spit out from behind your forked tongue.” Louis vented, repeatedly crossing and uncrossing his legs as he drummed his fingers.

“It is so going to be okay. Right, Stanley?” She asked. Stan didn't look up from where his eyes were glued to the road as he drove their rental car.

Just a reminder that you have to be on set at seven am tomorrow. We are leaving by two at the very, very latest.” He said.

“Okay, Stan, thanks for being a bummer.” Nona snapped. “How can you be worried about curfews right now? Louis' about to go win his man back.”

“Ughhhh.” Louis groaned, burying his eyes beneath the heels of his hands. “Music! Please!”

“My Status Solo playlist?”

“No. Oh my god. No.”

“You do realize that you're going to have to listen to them a bit tonight, right? Considering we're going to their concert and everything.” She said. Louis finally pulled his hands away from his face, considering his plight.

“I need a drink.” He decided.

“Nope. No drinking for you tonight.” Nona decided.

“Nona!”

“Uh-uh, Lulu.” She put on the mid nineties pop playlist that she knew Louis particularly vibed to. “No alcohol. Now calm down or you're going to get all sweaty and splotchy, which is not cute. You still need to impress that man of yours, after all.”

Louis' groan of protest was nearly unintelligible as he sunk lower into his seat.

 

~

 

It was the most out-of-body Louis had ever felt while entirely sober. The procession into the O2 Arena was a hazy blur, Louis' consciousness having fled somewhere far, far away from his own body.

Their seats were embarrassingly good, on the floor right up near the front. The full gravity of Status Solo's magnitude spilled out before them in the form of an expansive, pyro-technic imbued stage that stretched the length of the arena and was somehow a mere few feet away from them, the only separation being a flimsy, metal barricade. The whole thing was monolithic, almost hulking in it's enormity as it swelled around him.

This is what the world thought Harry worthy of. Harry, who made specialized breakfasts for his cat so that she knew she was special, was worthy of this cathedral in his name.

Louis was so, so fucked.

People payed thousands of dollars to stand where they were, and yet, the three of them had managed to weasel in for free. Niall had insisted on this when Louis had called him several days earlier, breaking their nearly month-long silence.

 

Louis?” Niall answered, his tone unreadable. Louis paused, working to bring his voice up from more than just a terrified squeak.

Hey, Nialler.” He said slowly, fear plummeting down his spine at the possibility of a verbal beratement from Harry's best friend.

What's going on?” He asked, his tone cutting through the awkward tension. Louis exhaled,suddenly realizing that he'd forgotten to breathe since Niall had picked up.

I'm sorry. God. I'm so sorry, Niall.” Louis said, the words spilling from him like a faucet. “I fucked up so bad and I was stupid, but I just needed time away from everyone to clear my head and I'm kind of thinking straight now and I just need to make things right and-”

Lou, stop.” Niall said, interrupting Louis' word vomit. “I'm not the one that you should be talking to about this.”

Yeah, I know.” Louis admitted. “That's why I'm calling. I need to talk to Harry.”

Niall's end went silent, keeping Louis at the edge of his sanity as he waited for his response. When he began speaking again, his voice more resembled the happy, drunk neighbor that Louis had become instant friends with back during the summer.

Yeah. Okay. Yeah.” Niall said.

Really?”

Really.”

Great! Perfect! Erm...” Louis thought, not having prepared himself for complete understanding from Niall. “So – like – I could come into town while you're in London for the show, and maybe you could ask him if he'd be okay meeting me? And we could talk some things out. I don't want to bombard him by just showing up.”

Boring. No. How about,” Niall plotted. “we don't tell Harry you're coming and it's a total surprise when you're there at the concert.”

That's the exact definition of bombarding him.”

Look, I know Harry. If he knows you're coming, he's just going to get all freaked out and anxious, then he'll over think everything and become this uncontrollable nervous wreck. Remember the night after his interview with Grimshaw?”

Louis swallowed painfully. “Okay, so what's your idea of a plan?”

Well, first of all, I comp you tickets for the front row.”

Niall!”

What?”

What if he sees me?”

Why does this all have to be about you and Harry? I work hard. Maybe I just want you to be able to see me in my rock god persona.”

Niall!”

Louis, trust me. Okay?”

Louis chewed on his bottom lip, struggling with his conflicting feelings about placing his trust in Niall. This was a man who had once believed a random drunk girl when she told him that she was Hillary Clinton, causing him to spend the rest of the night asking her to marry him so that he could redecorate the White House if she became president. But at the same time, this was the sole person who had watched out for Harry for years, which made Louis feel ceaselessly indebted to him.

Yeah, alright. Let's do it.”

 

The scheme also consisted of Louis and his friends tagging along to the subsequent after party back in Niall's hotel room, which would finally put Harry and Louis back in the same room. Until then, they were forced to remain in the front row of the O2 arena, maintaining a nauseating closeness to one of the most prolific rock acts in the world.

Louis offered a flimsy excuse to Nona and Stan about needing to run to the washroom before bushwhacking his way through the crowd of crazed Status Solo fans. He found the men's room eventually and made a beeline for the tap once inside. He hovered in front of the mirror, staring motionlessly at his own reflection as the same thought burned inside of him.

What am I even doing?

He wasn't given more than a few seconds to stew over this quandary as Nona suddenly appeared at his side in the mirror.

I gave you express instructions against freaking out.” she chided, ignoring the flurry of protests and hurried zipping from the direction of the urinals. “Oh get over yourselves.” she hushed them, clearly unimpressed.

Nona, what if I had been indisposed?” he asked.

Oh, I'm so sorry your majesty. I didn't realized that I was talking to the queen of England.” she mocked in a posh British accent. Louis begrudgingly chuckled as she took a step closer to him. “I wanted to say something to you while it's just the two of us.”

What's that?” Louis asked, amused by how oblivious she was of everyone else in the room.

I want you to remember that this is about you and Harry.” she said firmly. “This has nothing to do with Joshua. Harry always makes you feel safe, so nothing can hurt you when you're with him. He'll protect you and you'll protect him. Now go get your boy.”

Louis, overcome with affection by this incredible woman who had someone become his friend, gave her a tight hug.

But can I just get one beer?” he asked.

Just one.”

Luckily his one allotted beer bubbled directly up into his head, giving his senses a slight buffer from the horror of his situation. He was almost able to forget the mission that had landed them in London as he swayed along to the opening act. His mates were pressed into his sides and his ears were already numb from the roar of the speakers, making it feel like he was just out to have a fun night, no grand romantic gestures planned for the impending evening.

The lights fell, plummeting the arena into heart fluttering darkness. The shrieks of the crowd were frenzied as they cascaded down onto the dark stage and the potential energy filling the room was nearly suffocating.

A thrum of bass boomed across the arena, rattling the bones of everyone in the crowd as the excitement intensified, until the screech of an electric guitar ripped through the air. Several spotlights popped into focus, landing on Niall and the three other instrument-playing members of the band. They were all familiar to Louis, having met them on several occasions at parties or nights out. Tonight was completely different, however, as each of them pounded on their instruments in full concert garb.

Louis' insides swilled with fanboy fervor.

Niall tore across the strings of his guitar, already leaping energetically onto an amp and rousing the crowd as the opening bars of their first hit single burst out around them. The crowd was erupting at the sight of them, but there was still one piece of the ensemble that was clearly missing.

The crowd began to positively wail as one, lone figure traipsed across the stage, still shrouded in darkness as his bandmates played beneath their respective spotlights. The figure took his place at the microphone, dwarfed beneath the immensity of the crowd, and there was suddenly a jackhammer where Louis' heart should have been.

The lights blazed as two columns of fire erupted, Harry's voice reverberating across the arena over a cacophony of screams. His black jeans clung desperately to his calves and thighs, spilling into a pair of shimmering gold boots. With absolutely no regard for the welfare of the palpating hearts of everyone in the audience, Harry had opted to wear only a tight black blazer with no shirt underneath, his tattoo dappled abs contracting with every note he sang.

He was wrapped salaciously around the microphone stand, the pole brushing against his inner thigh and the mic only a few inches from his full, pink lips. He simmered behind it with a devilish smirk, his hair swept back in a mane and his eyes smeared with black eyeliner.

It was obscenely inhuman, is what it was.

If there had ever been a moment that Louis was fully aware of how small he was in comparison to the rest of the universe, it was right then and there, clinging to his own jean jacket and watching Harry Styles grind into the microphone stand as thousands of fans screamed for him.

And. Just. Fuckkkkkkkkk.

The thing was, Louis had straddled those hips. He had tangled his hands in that hair, had pushed his way into the warmth of that mouth. He'd held onto those shoulders, had wiped tears from those eyes, had caressed that cheek and watched over him as Harry had drifted off to sleep.

Reality only snapped back when Nona clamped their hands together, forcing him to realize that he'd been staring motionlessly at Harry. He looked to her instead, seeing the bright smile cross her face and the lights reflected in her big, brown eyes. The room was dripping with enthusiasm and it was immediately clear to Louis that there was only one way he was going to survive this concert: he was going to let his inner Status Solo fan take the wheel.

He turned back to the stage with a cheer, the adrenaline hitting him instantly. He lost himself in the high as he sung along to the songs he knew every word to. He used to scream along to them in his banged up old car when he was twenty, pouring out his burning frustration after a bad audition. Then, years later, he'd hum mildly along to the same songs spilling through his ear buds, sitting in his trailer between takes and wanting nothing more than to jump around and sing at the top of his lungs.

It was no mystery to Louis how these boys had become one of the biggest bands in the world as he watched them play. One moment, Harry would be electrifying everyone with his molten stage presence as he smoldered over the mic, the next, he'd be chasing Niall with a boyish grin after the Irishman had dumped a water bottle down his back. And then, somehow, he could still silence an entire arena as he purred through a love ballad, thousands of cellphone screens twinkling from the stands like a sheet of stars.

It all ended (far too quickly) in a flourish of silver fireworks, the band members fading away into the smoke as the crowd begged for an encore. Louis' ears were ringing as the cries of the audience pelted him from above.

The band emerged to another cheer, but Harry easily silenced them with a wave of his hand as he took his place back at the microphone.

Alright, fine. We've got a couple more for you.” he smiled, receiving thunderous applause. “Actually got something brand new for you. We've only played it lived a couple of times, so sorry if we screw up. You okay with that?” The crowd rumbled. “That sound good to you?” The rumbling escalated. Harry shushed them once again. “Just curious, how many of you are here with your special someone? Your special person? Any of you? Wave your arms in the air if you're here with your special somebody.”

Louis stiffened as arms all around him were thrust into the air, a flurry of whoops echoing around him.

You're my special somebody, Harry.

“Okay, I want everyone to hold your special somebody's hand during this next one.” Harry continued. “Or hug them. Or snog the life out of them if that feels right to you. Doesn't bother me. This one's called Over Again.”

Harry wrapped his hands around the microphone as if steadying himself as Niall plucked through the introduction on an acoustic guitar. A silence swept the crowd, enchanted by the first few chords. Harry inhaled before he fell into the lyrics, his voice low and intimate as he kept his gaze down.

 

Said I'd never leave her,

Cause her hands fit like my t-shirt,

Tongue tied over three words, cursed

Running over thoughts that make my feet hurt

Bodies intertwined with her lips

 

Harry's eyes flicked up to stare into the audience and Louis' breath hitched. Despite the use of the pronoun “she,” he had a dizzying feeling that he was rather familiar with the inspiration for this song.

But what even was this song? It wasn't – it couldn't – but was it, though?

Several lines had already floated by before Louis' attention returned, Harry's voice trilling as the song rose towards the chorus.

 

And it's no joke to me,

So can we do it all over again?

If you're pretending from the start

Like this, with a tight grip,

Then my kiss

Can mend your broken heart,

I might miss

Everything you said to me.

And I can lend you broken parts

That might fit,

Like this,

and I will give you all my heart,

So we could start it all over again

 

It felt like someone had just punched a hole through Louis' head.

Because – just – oh god, Harry. He looked wrecked, utterly raw and exposed as he sang, the devastation clear in his face and his trembling notes. He was still that same version of himself from the last night they had see each other; that tear-streaked, emotionally trampled boy who cried out Louis' name.

The tempo picked up, the audience engrossed by the growing anguish in Harry's voice.

 

You'll never know,

How to make it on your own,

And you'll never show weakness for letting go.

I guess you're still hurt if this over

But do you really want to be alone?

 

His voice broke on the last word, taking a trembling breath before entering back into the song. He sounded like he'd been torn limb from limb, beaten and bloodied by the very words he had written.

And what truly crushed Louis was that he been the one to do it to him.

Harry trilled through the words as the tempo eased and the song faded in on itself.

 

And I will give you all my heart

So we can start it all over again.

 

A bewitched silence followed before giving way to an eruption of applause. Harry took a step back from the microphone, collecting himself. Louis was close enough to see the glossy sheen on his eyes, the pools of water blinked away as he blew several kisses to the crowd. He was scanning the arena, his eyes drawing precariously close to where Louis and the others were standing.

And if there was any wish that Louis yearned to come true, it was for Harry to not see him in that moment. Just please, please, please, if there was any order in the universe, don't let Harry see the object of his devastation, Louis, for the first time in weeks after singing a song about their mutual heartbreak.

But of course, the fates still needed to prove how funny they thought Louis' misfortune was.

Harry froze as their eyes locked. Shock rippled through his features, settling into an image of terrified panic. Louis tried to speak through his eyes, tried to say 'Please, please love. Don't be afraid. There's nothing to be afraid of.'

Luckily, Niall was fully aware of the moment transpiring between his lead singer and the one particular audience member he had forced to stand in the front row. He leapt to Harry's side and relief flooded Louis. Niall whispered something in Harry's ear, and Louis waited for some gesture that everything was resolved. Maybe a little smile from Harry, or a quick thumbs up even.

But neither happened. Instead, Harry nodded and turned back to the mic, brushing the moment with Louis away as if it had never occurred. He leapt into the next song, attention fully returning to the rest of the audience.

And ouch. That really, really hurt. It completely sliced through Louis, leaving him trapped in his own head as the concert barreled through the last song.

Suddenly, Louis realized that the music had stopped. Nona was screaming into his ear, and the crowd was churning out of control as the members of the band reached into the sea of hands clawing after them.

“Louis!” Nona continued to scream.

“What?”

She pointed ahead of him over the metal barrier, where Louis came face to face with Niall's beaming mug. He was framed by two burly security guards who were keeping the surrounding fans at bay as Niall leaned in towards Louis.

“Which ones are here with you!?” Niall yelled over the clamor as a desperate hand reached out and clutched at his shirt.

“These two!” Louis responded, still shocked by Niall's abrupt appearance. Niall gestured to the guards, and one of them promptly started to help Nona climb over the barrier while the other one batted away the fans who tried to follow after. Niall disappeared as he turned to sign autographs, and Louis made his way over the barrier after Stan, still dumbfounded by the situation.

They were lead up onto the stage by the guards, which was now empty of rock stars but teeming with stage hands. The full landscape of the crowd unfurled before them, temporarily stalling Louis' heart at it's surrealism. Nona took a quick selfie before they were ushered into the wings offstage.

Practically stumbling into Mark, the drummer, the group was abandoned by the security guards and left to fend for themselves. Mark recognized Louis and was surprised to see him, and Nona gushed over the concert until Niall finally found them.

“Oi! Tommo!” he called out from behind Louis, his performance adrenaline clearly still racing through him. They separated and a throng of men and women dressed in black swooped in, disentangling wires from his shirt, wiping his forehead, and thrusting water into his hand in a well practiced routine.

Everything was moving very quickly and efficiently, but Niall didn't even seem to notice the flurry of movement as he waited patiently for them to release him so that he could sweep Louis into a hug that lifted him off the ground.

“You okay?” Niall asked as he set him down.

“I just really expected you to hate me.” Louis admitted. Niall's face softened.

“Mate. I can't hate you. You're here. You're doing it.” he said. “Who're your friends?”

“Erm, yeah.” Louis sputtered, turning to his friends. “Guys, this is Niall, my neighbor. And this is Stan and Nona. Nona's my costar and Stan is our mother for the rest of the shoot.”

“Oh my god, you guys fucking killed it. I think my head is still exploding.” Nona exclaimed.

“Cheers.” Niall responded. His eyebrows raised briefly as he took in Nona's appearance, and it did not go unnoticed by Louis. He felt the immediate need to put a hand between them, forcing them to maintain several feet of distance from each other at all times.

Sure, Louis loved Niall and everything, but he loved Nona as well. Niall's dating history was long, expansive, and comically disastrous. He was not about to let Nona get anywhere near any piece of that.

Niall's attention turned to Nona, and Louis was about to leap between them and insist that they leave room for Jesus, but the crowd mulling to his right thinned and revealed a tight knot of stage hands fussing over a mop of curly brown hair.

Harry stepped away from them as he checked his phone, oblivious that every step he was taking was drawing him closer to Louis until he finally looked up. He went rigid immediately, the conversation hushing as everyone noticed his appearance. His gaze volleyed between Louis and Niall, unsure of what to do as his arms crossed tightly across his chest. Louis knew that movement well: Harry only did it when he wanted to hide.

Niall clapped Louis on the back, the momentum being the only thing that made it possible to start moving. He approached Harry, his group of friends fading away behind him as his world centered on the man standing in front of him. The burning, sexual ferocity of Stage Harry had already vanished, leaving behind the soft, lovely Harry that Louis knew. He was even more beautiful than Louis remembered, but fear was marring his features as he stayed completely still. He looked closed off, as if he'd locked himself up and thrown the key away.

“Hi.” Louis breathed as he came to a stop, the distance between them both too wide and too short.

“Hey, Lou.” Harry said softly. To Louis' relief, it wasn't dark or unkind, just mingled with raw sadness. Louis wanted nothing more than to take Harry in his arms, stroking his hair until he coaxed the fear away and replaced it with that smile he saved only for Louis.

But he couldn't reach out and touch Harry, and it just felt so alien to him. He'd never been afraid of anything with Harry. He'd always been free to just reach out and grab him, to hold him as tightly as he felt necessary. But not anymore. That line couldn't be crossed yet, and it was awkward and unbearable. Louis hated it.

“How's your shoulder?” Harry suddenly asked.

“Oh, erm, good. Yeah, it's been good.” Louis responded, reaching to his shoulder reflexively. Harry nodded and chewed at his lips. “I'm here to talk to you, Harry.”

“That's what Niall said.” Harry responded. “And yeah. Definitely. We'll talk. You're coming back to the hotel?”

“Yeah.”

“Good. We'll talk.” Harry assured him, turning away and being swept up once again by technicians and stage hands. He disappeared into a mass of bodies, leaving Louis feeling utterly deflated. He wasn't sure what he'd been expecting, but a distracted dismissal hadn't been it.

He turned back to the others, relieved to see that Niall had also moved onto other business and hadn't seen Louis get his heart trounced on. He trudged over to them, falling immediately into Nona's arms.

“It's okay, Lulu.” she said, holding him tight. “He's just super busy right now. We'll see him back at the hotel and he'll give you his full attention and everything will be perfect.”

Louis nodded despondently into her shoulder, stopping himself from telling her that everything was hopeless and none of this was going to end up perfect.

It took what felt like an entire lifetime to get to the hotel due to the mass exodus around the arena. They arrived over an hour later, dropping off the car with a valet as Stan squawked about how late it was getting and Nona promptly silenced him.

They were escorted up to a penthouse suite and entered to find a room of rented opulence draped in drunk groupies. They were leaping off couches with hundred dollar bottles of champagne, accidentally dropping glasses with a crash and a giggle, and rubbing against each other sloppily to the droning music. It was much like any other party Louis had ever attended, except this one had a much heftier price tag attached.

Nona took the party in stride, gracing everyone with her natural charisma and striking up conversations left and right. Louis followed in her wake, his typical chipperness buried beneath a layer of anxiety. Despite his relative silence, it only took a few seconds before most of the party goers recognized him. The conversation usually went along the same lines every time, and Louis was already well-rehearsed with it.

“You were in Squad, weren't you?”

“Yes, I was.”

“Whoa, you're British? I had no idea!”

It was during one of these exchanges that Louis looked up and found Harry floating by, fighting off a smirk at the familiar response to hearing his real accent. His smile faded when their eyes met and Harry took flight to the other side of the party. Louis pined after his retreating back, watching intently as a stout, fedora topped man somehow secured Harry's attention. His arm krept to Harry's elbow as the two talked, their mutual smiles completely unpalatable to Louis.

And no. Who the fuck was that?

“Hey! You're here!” Niall called as he joined their conversation. “Got a thousand people for you to meet, Lou.”

Louis only faintly heard him, as he was too engrossed in glaring sharply at the Fedoraman as he opened a beer for Harry. Confused, Niall followed Lous' line of sight and spotted Harry as he took a swig.

“One second.” Niall said, trotting through the crowd. He didn't say anything to Harry once he reached them, instead snatching the beer from his hand and shaking his head before rejoining Louis. He pulled him along, doing a sweep of the penthouse as he met all of Niall's friends who were virtually crammed into every room. This was no easy feat, as the penthouse could have easily passed for a large, expensive flat, complete with a kitchen and balcony.

Throughout their mingling they would occasionally spot Harry, who would stay a few paces ahead of them at all times. Whenever Louis got close, Harry would retreat before he could make any attempt to reach out to him. To Louis' irritation, this was often into the clutches of Fedoraman, who had long since given up on any subtlety as he drooled over Harry.

Louis' heart was physically aching at this point. It panged from deep within, surging with sharp jolts of pain with every heartbeat. All he could think to do was to claw his way through the crowd and crawl into Harry' arms, but the distance between them only grew as the night ticked by. With each shaky breath, a pit of truth sunk further into Louis: Harry had moved on. He didn't want to see him. Louis was too late.

His eyes might have begun to mist over and every muscle in his body might have been trembling, but he focused on keeping himself together for the benefit of everyone surrounding him. To Louis' left, a large group was hanging onto Nona's every word as she told a joke, and to Louis' right, Stan was griping about how close it was getting to two AM.

Somewhere across the room, Niall was plucking drink after drink out of Harry's hand as Fedoraman eased himself further and further into his personal space. All the while, Louis' heart was growing sicker and sicker.

“Hey! Squad's on pay-per-view!” Niall called from where he stood beside the massive telly. Being only capable of short, weak sentences, Louis' protestations were easily drowned out by the cheers of the other party goers. They crowded around the screen as Louis' face flashed onto it, causing everyone to cheer and pat him on the back.

He peaked over his shoulder to survey the group, eyes immediately drawn to where Harry lingered on the perimeter. He was staring intently at the screen as he chewed his fingernails, not even pausing to blink. Louis has confused by Harry's intensity until he looked back to the telly and realization hit him.

Not this scene .

Louis' character, described in the script summary as a fussy partyboy with a heart of gold, was filling a line of shot glasses as a gorgeous, bikini clad woman walked into the kitchen. The movie was overall pretty ridiculous, so her appearance only marginally made sense in the context of the scene. The actress herself had been pretty sweet, but she was a disproportionately bad kisser.

This scene was the reason that Louis knew that fact.

Put it in the refrigerator.” Louis' character told her as they spoke.

Refrigeratorrrrrr.” Everyone laughed at his overly American pronunciation. He managed a small smile before his character inexplicably tore off his shirt, illiciting a round of catcalls from the party. The whistles and cheers only escalated as the two characters stepped in and began to violently snog.

Harry tore away from the crowd, disappearing into another room within seconds. Louis stumbled after him without a second thought, not even sure of where Harry had run away to. He walked into the kitchen, his panic rising as he found it completely deserted.

He was intensely aware that he was only a few seconds away from having another complete breakdown in the middle of a party, so he scrounged through the cabinets until he found a glass and filled it at the tap.

The water swilled down his throat slowly, easing his senses and calming his mind. But his moment of mental recollection was cut short by Nona and Stan's sudden appearance.

Lulu, Stan keeps complaining that we need to leave in twenty minutes, but you haven't even talked to Harry yet and-”

It's fine. We can leave now.” Louis cut her off.

But-”

I just want to go.”

You're leaving?” Niall burst into kitchen, making Louis feel as if they were in the middle of a scene in a sitcom. “But you guys haven't even talked yet.”

He doesn't want to talk to me, Niall.” Louis said, feeling his resolve cracking.

So you're just going to take off?”

I'm too late.”

You're not too late, Louis!” Niall promised, slipping past Stan and Nona to round on him.

He's been avoiding me all night. He won't even look at me.”

Because he's scared!” Niall exclaimed. “He's scared that you've had your time to think about everything, and now you're here to come let him down easy.”

What?” Louis gaped. “How could he possibly think that?”

Because no one's ever come back for him.” Niall explained, the simplicity of the statement completely heartbreaking. “Nobody's even fought to be with him.”

I – I've..” Louis trailed off as he rubbed his hands over his face in exhaustion.

If you were talking to him right now, what would you say?” Niall demanded.

Niall.” Louis moaned, still burying his face in his hands.

I'm serious.”

I don't know.”

You drove all this way and you had no idea what you want to say to him?”

I don't know!

Come on!” Niall urged, but he was forced to jump back as Louis' head flicked up and he faced them with a manic intensity.

I'd tell him that he means everything to me. Literally everything.” Louis said, his blood seething. “That I've missed him so much that I just want to pull my hair out all the time. That all I ever want to do is text him. Fuck that, I want to call him and hear his voice. And I want to hold him and kiss him again because he is all I ever think about. And it's not true that no one has ever fought for him because this is me, right now, standing here and fighting for him. I want to keep fighting for him as long as I'm alive because he deserves it and he is everything to me.” Louis was panting, adrenaline coursing through him at what might have been the most honest words he had ever spoken in his life. He looked up, prepared for the shocked faces of his friends, but instead found a sly grin on Niall's lips, his eyes falling on someone behind Louis.

And ah, if that wasn't just a beautiful cliché.

Louis wasn't at all surprised to find Harry behind him, his eyes foggy and his lips quirked up in a disbelieving grin.

God, he was lovely.

Quite the puppet master, Horan.” Louis quipped as Niall's smile grew.

We'll just leave you to settle things.” Niall said contentedly, putting his arms around Nona and Stan as they exited together.

Seventeen minutes!” Stan called over his shoulder.

Once again, Louis' life had suddenly become a sitcom.

Is it too predictable for me to ask how much of that you heard?” Louis asked as he stepped towards Harry.

Unless you prefaced everything with 'I hate Harry and everything I'm about to say is a lie,' then I think I got the gist.” he answered cheekily, taking his own step forward.

We should talk.”

We should.”

And with that, they both crossed the remaining distance and melted into each other's bodies. Louis buried his head in Harry's neck and took a deep breath, inhaling Harry's deeply missed scent. His whole body relaxed as he felt the familiar surge in his stomach at being close to Harry.

I missed the fuck out of you.” Louis muttered.

Ditto.” Harry responded, causing Louis to chuckle. They separated slowly, eyes lingering in locked gazes as they relearned every contour of each other's faces. They were nearly frozen until Harry's lips began to move. “I have a fountain to show you.” he said excitedly, pulling Louis along by the hand towards the door. Louis was unabashed by how giddily he was laughing at the reemergence of this particular Harry; the boy who would whisk him away to see a fountain during an emotional reunion.

They wove through the party towards the door, and Harry had just opened it when, lo and behold, Fedoraman materialized.

You're leaving, Harry?” he asked, pretending to ignore Harry and Louis' intertwined fingers.

Yeah, for a bit.” Harry responded. “I'll catch up with you later, okay?”

Louis didn't like the sound of that, but he was rather fond of Fedoraman's grimace as they slipped into the hallway. They were both smiling wildly as they raced toward the elevators.

So, was that a friend of yours?” Louis asked, feigning casual curiosity.

Friend of a friend. Been hanging around for the last couple of concerts.” They came to a stop as Harry pressed the down button, the doors splitting open soon afterward.

Does he know you're gay, or something?” Louis asked as they stepped inside. Harry paused momentarily as he reached to press the lobby button, a smirk on his face.

Sometimes the groupies figure it out for themselves.” he explained.

Huh.” Louis responded, leaning into Harry's side and resting his cheek possessively on his shoulder as the floors whirred past.

Louis, I know what you're wondering.” Harry said. “And I haven't been with anyone in a long time. I haven't really wanted to be with anyone. I mean, with anyone else.”

The doors burst open as Louis' heart glowed. They stepped into the empty lobby, the rippling water of the towering fountain at it's center echoing off the marble walls. Harry traipsed toward it as if on a mission, stepping up onto the rim with his same golden boots from the concert. He took a moment to balance with his collection of gangly limbs before he held a hand out to Louis, inviting him to join him. Louis stepped up beside him, their hands falling limply to their sides as they watched each other, the fountain bubbling behind them.

So, talk?” Louis asked weakly.

Talk.” Harry nodded, but his face snapped back to an image of fear, his brows furrowed as he spun away from Louis and started walking along the lip of the fountain, counter clockwise. Louis watched as Harry set a slow, ambling pace.

So,” Harry began, not looking over his shoulder. “How have you been?”

Louis stuffed his hands into his pockets before he started walking the rim himself in the opposite direction of Harry so that they were mirrored.

Miserable.” he answered honestly. Harry looked over at him through the jets of water.

Things are going to get better, I promise. It's just going to take some time to get past Joshua.” he said.

Joshua? What?” Louis gaped, picking up his pace. “Harry, I don't care about Joshua.” They stopped as they closed the distance between them, standing only a foot apart from each other. “Yes, I loved him once, but he betrayed that love. Our relationship was this dead, stagnant thing that I couldn't find my way out of until I met you. Because you made me strong enough to leave him. It's over now, and I'm moving on. Honestly, I am.” He promised. “And I know that I should be taking more time before jumping into anything else, but I can't, because you're the person I can't seem to get past right now.”

Harry looked at him with a timid, watery smile as his hands landed on the sides of Louis' arms. He swayed into the touch expectantly, but was left unsettled as Harry slid past him and continued his trek around the fountain.

Oh my god, Harry.

“What – erm – what happened that night?” Harry asked meekly, his arms crossed defensively once again. Louis continued around the fountain as well, exhaling slowly. He reminded himself that everything was okay; he could talk about this. He was with Harry. No one could hurt him as long as Harry was here. Ultimately, he decided to just lay out the truth as it came to him.

“It's, it's mostly -” he stammered, steadying himself. “I couldn't cheat on Joshua. That's what it came down to. I was deathly afraid of being unfaithful to him again. And then, when I kissed you, it was so stupidly clear that I've had these for you all along, just like everyone was saying. And that, kind of, made me have a breakdown. Zayn and Liam thought I needed time away from both of you to get some perspective, and I fucking hated them for saying that, but they were right. I can finally see everything now. I still have issues with Joshua, but they have nothing to do with you, Harry. He has nothing to do with the way I feel about you.”

Harry yelped as his boot slipped from the ledge, his flailing body landing with a splash in the aquamarine ripples.

“Harry!” Louis yelled, jumping into the water himself. Harry made no attempt to get to his feet, instead looking pathetically up at Louis as the trickling water drenched his unruly curls. The sight endeared Louis beyond words.

He knelt down between Harry's sprawled legs and cupped his face, water now spilling down his own back.

“Haz. You fell into the fountain.” he said warmly.

“And?”

“It's a tad embarrassing.”

“Not as embarrassing as jumping in after me willingly.” he pointed out, and Louis couldn't argue with that logic. Harry's hands encased Louis', pulling them down into his lap. “This is my fault.” he whispered.

“Hey, Harry. No.” Louis said, settling down in front of him, their legs tangling together beneath the ribbons of cascading water. “None of this is your fault.”

“I knew what was going to happen, and I did it anyways.”

“Did what?”

“Met you.” Harry began fiddling with Louis' fingers in his lap. “I have a confession.”

“What?”

“I had a fan crush on you for, like, a thousand years before I met you.” he admitted. “Like, I fancied you from the second I saw you in Squad. Then you came out, and you were just so funny and warm and charming in that article. It's stupid, and embarrassing, but I totally fell for you.”

“Harry, I've thought you were the fittest person on the planet since your first album dropped. The fan crush was mutual.” Louis said, running a thumb over Harry's hand.

But Harry was already shaking his head. “And then Niall told me that he was living next to you, and I had this one, glimmering second before he told me about your boyfriend. And that just totally crashed down on me. Harder than a fan crush should have. So I knew that I shouldn't ever meet you, because there was no I way I could just act normally around you. And I knew that there was no way you could possibly live up to this image I had of you in my head, so I just never wanted to cross your path.

'Then, twenty minutes into being back in LA, Niall forgot to tell me you were going to be at that club with us, and there you were. And you were just – you were better than I thought you'd be. You were cleverer, and cuter, and smarter, and just – you were you. And I couldn't keep myself away from you because you were you. So I made myself swear that I'd only have the best intentions around you. There was no reason why I couldn't just be your good mate.” Harry tightened his grip on Louis' hands, his eyes glistening as much as the water falling around them. “But I wasn't a good mate to you, Louis. A good mate wouldn't hold my phone open to our text conversations so that I could sleep at night. And if I was a good mate, I wouldn't forget my own name sometimes when I looked at you. And I wouldn't want to hold you whenever I saw you frown, or want to fall asleep next to you when I had a bad day, or want to die every time I watched you kiss your boyfriend.” His voice cracked as his own tears mingled with the fountain spray on his cheeks.

“Oh, Harry.” Louis choked, his own eyes brimming with tears.

He leaned in, powerless but to stop Harry's mouth with his own until he'd kissed his frown away.

Louis.” Harry whimpered against his lips, his voice wrecked as Louis pulled him to his feet and pressed their lips together once again. He wrapped his armed around Harry's neck, plunging himself into the kiss with every shred of energy he had. Harry's arms tightened around him as if trying to prove that this was really happening, holding Louis in the familiar warmth that sent his senses aflame. It was intoxicating as it fluxed through him, the feeling of Harry's soft kisses as their lips moved slowly against each other, deep yet gentle. Everything clicked into place as he brushed his fingers over the slopes of Harry's cheeks.

The kiss was struggling to maintain it's dignity as their lips spread into gaping smiles, Louis giggling his love sickness into Harry's dimple.

They both jumped as Louis' phone tittered to life in his pocket, having completely forgotten that anything else existed. The ringtone suddenly reminded Louis of the fundamental laws of nature that claimed that phones and water don't quite get along. He pulled it from his pocket with relief as he saw Nona's name flashing across the screen. Luckily it was merely damp, not destroyed. It was okay the first time he'd sacrificed his phone to the water gods, but two phones drowned in one month? That's bordering on diva behaviour.

“Is your phone..?” Louis questioned, looking to Harry.

“Upstairs.” he answered. Louis nodded as he put his phone to his ear.

“Yes darling?”

“Sorry to bother what is hopefully a blissful ride into the sunset, but Stan is in full Terminator mode right now. Where are you?” she asked.

“In the lobby. Everything's good.” he smiled at Harry, hoping his blush wasn't too evident. “We can head out.”

“We'll be right down.” she said, her satisfaction clear as she hung up.

“We might want to get out of the fountain.” Louis reasoned, leaning into Harry's chest and slipping a hand around his waist. Harry reciprocated the contact immediately. “We're a little bit of a bad romance novel right now.”

Ra, ra, ah-ah-ah.” Harry hummed, pressing his cheek against Louis'. “You and me could write a bad romance.

Nerd.” Louis laughed, smitten out of his mind. They waded back over to the relative dry land of the lobby, hands clasped together.

Can I see your phone?” Harry asked.

Sure.” Louis handed it over. “What for?”

I'm calling my assistant to bring some of my dry clothes down for you.”

Harry.”

Hi, yeah, could you run into my room?”

Harry, nothing you own is going to fit me.” Louis reasoned. Harry pulled the phone away from his face.

I don't want you to be cold on the ride back.”

I'm slightly damp and we can turn the heaters on. I'll be fine.” he said, but Harry looked unconvinced.

At least borrow a coat.” he bargained. Louis was ready to argue some more, but the idea of walking out of the hotel in Harry's coat was already starting to warm him up. He nodded and Harry smiled as he talked into the phone again. “Yeah, could you grab my Shearling jacket? I think it's on the back of a chair, or something. Yeah. Thanks. Down in the lobby. Thanks again.”

Harrrrrry.” Louis whined again, nuzzling into his chest.

What?”

That jacket's like, thousands of dollars.”

I don't want you to be cold.” Harry repeated, not aware of how ridiculously expensive his gesture seemed to Louis.

Louis looked up at him tenderly, pressing a kiss to his lips just because he could. Harry seemed to feel the same way, connecting their lips yet again.

Look what you are interrupting, Stanley. Dear heavens.” Came Nona's voice as they heard the ping of the elevator doors. They broke the kiss with a smile, turning to greet Nona and Stan as they approached them. Nona's smile was threatening to overtake the entire lobby. “Took a swim, did we?”

Harry, this is Nona and Stan.” Louis introduced them. Harry stepped forward, enthusiastically shaking both of their hands.

I actually saw you in Titus Andronicus when I was in New York a few years ago.” Harry said excitedly to Nona.

Really?”

Yes. It was fantastic. Lurid. Magnificent.” He gushed.

Okay, stop him now before he recites entire dictionary's worth of adjectives.” Louis asked as he snaked his hand back into Harry's, slightly jealous that a whole twenty seconds had passed since they'd last touched. Stan looked to Louis sternly, obviously wanting to tap his watch as a reminder. The elevator doors opened once again, revealing Harry's Saint Laurent jacket drape over the shoulder of one of his assistants. “Could you guys go get the valet to bring the car around? I'll catch up.”

Yes. Absolutely.” Nona said, pulling Stan away before he could protest. Harry thanked his assistant and she hurried away as he draped it over Louis shoulders. It smelled dizzyingly like Harry, and Louis thought he might swoon. Harry's hands lingered around the collar as they found themselves alone yet again.

I don't want you to go.” Harry said softly.

Neither do I.” They leaned in, pressing another light kiss to each other's lips until Harry suddenly tore away.

What are you doing for New Years?” He asked.

Erm, we're going to go watch fireworks from some hill with the rest of the crew.” He said. “What are you doing?”

I have five free hours.”

Oh wow. A whole five.” Louis laughed.

I could fly in and be with you at midnight.” Harry said, stepping even closer to him as if this were a secret. Louis' heart doubled it's pace at the idea that he could see Harry again in only a few days, but reason settled in.

Haz, we should probably take things kind of slow, you know?” He said, avoiding Harry's eyes so he wouldn't have to see the disappointment. “Like, things are still kind of fragile, you know? Maybe we shouldn't do any crazy, romantic gestures until we're more established.”

Harry nodded, understanding. Louis kissed him once more, stepping away slowly in the direction of the doors. His footsteps felt like lead, practically dragging behind him as he felt Harry watching his receding figure.

Suddenly, he spun back around and threw himself back towards Harry.

Okay, you know what? Fuck it.” Louis said, grabbing Harry by his hips. "I want to be with you on New Years, so let's do it, okay? Let's just do what we want to do. That's the new rule. We do what we want.”

Yes. I like that rule.”

Good. I like it too.”

He crashed their lips together, this time desperately and forcefully. He squeaked as Harry tightened his arms and dipped him, once again adding to their status as a bad romance.

Not to sound needy, but please don't hang out with Fedoraman tonight.” Louis said as Harry leveled him again. “He's the worst and he likes you, which I can't blame him for, but it does make me want to destroy him.”

Think I'm just going to go to sleep and wait until I can start texting you again.” Harry admitted.

Good plan.”

Lou?”

Yeah?”

I can't believe this is happening.”

Ditto, love.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Let's take it back to the start when we collided like shooting stars. In our skies, in our eyes.”

-Passport to Stockholm

 Niall landed with an “oomph!” as he lofted himself onto the bed. Harry rolled over grumpily, blinking through the darkness as his blonde friend nestled into the duvet.

“Too good for our party, hmm?” He asked as he rolled to face Harry.

“M'tired.” Harry mumbled back, rubbing his heavy eyes.

“Louis' not in this bed somewhere, is he?” Niall asked, suddenly looking at the sheets in horror. Harry gave a sleepy chuckle as he shook his head.

“We didn't get to talk very long. He has work in a few hours.” Harry explained. Niall's eyebrows arched.

“So the fact that you talked to Louis, then immediately locked yourself away in your dark room by yourself means...?”

“That I'm sleeping to make the time go faster until I can text him again.” Harry answered warmly. Niall's face quickly lit up.

“So things are good?”

“Really good.”

“Ravish each other in a closet like animals good?” Niall asked with a wink, still able to spot Harry's embarrassed blush through the darkness.

“I fell in a fountain and then cried.” Harry recounted. “Not super sexy of me.”

“Ah, Haz. You cried?” Niall asked, apparently unfazed by the part about the fountain.

“Happy tears, mostly.”

“Happy tears. That's okay, I guess.” Niall said slowly, as if weighing Harry's words in his head. “I don't remember any happy tears during the whole Nick affair.”

“Nope. No happy tears.”

Niall's face was overcome with an affectionate grin at these words, and Harry bit back the giddiness that was threatening to spill out of his every pore.

“Well, I'm glad, Harry. I'm happy for you.” Niall said. They both fell silent for a moment as the turn in events sunk in between the two of them. Never before had Niall been able to say those words so sincerely to Harry, and the implication made his entire body feel like it was blossoming. Harry grabbed one of his pillows and held it tightly to his chest, burying his smile into it.

“Are you still mad at Louis?” Harry asked, his voice muffled by the pillow.

“Eh, not really.” He admitted. “I mean, I was really fucking pissed after that party, and everything. But I guess I can see his side of it. And it doesn't even really matter. All that shit happened, but it's over now. What really matters is what he just did. I mean, he came back for you. Can't really hate him if he's trying this hard to make everything right.” Harry held the pillow even more tightly as his smile grew, but Niall's face stiffened. “Harry, you know this isn't going to be easy, right?”

“I've done it before.”

“Once management finds out, they're going to do everything they can to drive a wedge between you two.”

“Yeah, I know. I've done this before.” Harry repeated in frustration.

“I know Harry, but like-” Niall stammered, struggling to find the words to describe his thoughts. “I know that you were really crazy about Nick-”

“I loved him.”

“Yeah, I know, but you were nineteen, Haz.” He pointed out. “This time it isn't young, puppy love. I think this thing with you and Louis goes way deeper than that, you know? Louis' not just anyone; there's something really special there.”

“I know.” Harry mumbled.

“The stakes are a lot higher. Like, you can't lose him, Harry. And you two aren't very subtle when you're around each other.”

“I know.”

“He could barely keep his hands off of you, even when he had a boyfriend.”

“I know.”

“Like, remember that time we were drunk at McDonald's and he kept trying to squeeze into your shirt with you?”

I know, Niall.”

“Do you, though?” Niall asked, extinguishing Harry's protest before it could even cross his lips. Harry looked up at him, their eyes connecting with a heavy understanding. “You can't just go into this blind, mate. You've got to talk with him about all of this stuff, cuz I don't know if he's really thought about what he's getting into.”

“I don't...” Harry began, cut off as he clamped his own mouth shut and rolled over. Niall was very used to this specific avoidance technique of Harry's, so he promptly grabbed Harry by the shoulder and rolled him back onto his side and flicked him on the forehead. Harry winced and grinned as he grappled to flick Niall back, but Niall easily subdued Harry's tangle of limbs.

“Use your words, Harry.” Niall chided as Harry gave up on getting his revenge.

“I don't want to scare him off.”

“Mate, if you were going to scare him off, it would have happened way back when you jumped off your roof into the pool.” Niall laughed. “He's going to understand. You have nothing to be afraid of.”

 

~

 

It was the day that Louis had officially dubbed as “the most cruel and merciless middle day” of his separation from Harry. It had been a day since they'd seen each other at the London show, and it would be another full day before they saw each other again for New Years.

The middle. What a heinous place.

They'd worked out the details, and it seemed that the unrelenting world of rock and roll was only willing to give Harry up for a few hours on New Years Eve. The only way they could work it out was for Harry to fly in at about ten, then have to fly out again at three in the morning. At this revelation, Louis had been ready to schedule another time to see him, but Harry was intent on visiting him, even if it just meant watching some fireworks on a remote hilltop with the cast and crew of Louis' movie.

The lull in conversation between Harry and Louis over the last month had fallen like the Berlin Wall after their fountain kiss in London. He was practically inundated with a constant feed of updates on Harry's life, ranging from breakfast selfies to spare lines of poetry that ended win puns that made no sense out of context. Basically, typical musings from the mind of Harry Styles.

Their conversations were almost back to how they had been before the events of early December, except that there was a slightly different feeling behind the words they were trading. Their was a degree of sentiment behind everything now; an urgency to convey how important the other was at all times.

And, of course, there was the added romanticism of the Spotify playlist they were now sharing. That alone had Louis' heart doing cartwheels in his chest every fifteen minutes. It had been Harry's idea, for the two of them to share whatever music came to mind to each other. But Louis only agreed because he planned to sit back and let Harry's musical genius curate a perfect playlist for him. Harry filled it to the brim with gems that Louis had never heard, but always became irrevocably stuck in his head.

Louis was currently submitted to a fetal position on the couch of his trailer. He'd planned to rehearse his scene on his own a few more times during his break, but that was before Harry's text:

 

Just added a few more songs to the playlist :)))

 

So, of course, Louis had fallen limply onto the sofa so that he could surrender his entire break to whatever songs Harry had chosen for him. He was still wrapped up in Harry's Shearling jacket that he'd borrowed, scarcely having taken it off since they'd parted ways. It's resemblance to Harry was uncanny: it was warm, soft, and so big that it completely dwarfed Louis. Naturally, Louis' affection for the coat was inevitable.

He burrowed further into it's warmth as he tapped the screen of his phone, listening to the newest songs that were waiting for him.

The quiver of a few fluttering plucks of an acoustic guitar drifted through his headphones, joined by the light twinkles of piano keys.

The song was Romeo and Juliet by the Killers, and the lilting chords had lulled Louis into warm bliss as Brandon Flower's voice joined the music.

 

A love struck Romeo,

sang the streets a serenade

Laying everybody low

with the love song that he made”

 

His blood felt as if it were coursing with sugary syrup as the lyrics wafted by, growing heavy as they climbed up to the chorus.

Each word struck him one by one as this retelling of Romeo and Juliet's tale wove itself through the gentle plinks of the piano keys. At the center of it, the lyrics were a plea from Romeo to his love about their past. Things hadn't worked out before, but Romeo implored that it wasn't worth giving up on.

The song finally dwindled into silence, leaving Louis with the the sneaking suspicion that Harry had picked this song especially for the two of them. This particular song was meant to say something to Louis that Harry hadn't been able to say himself.

He opened their text conversation and saw that it had only been five minutes since they'd last corresponded before he typed out the lyrics that was still twirling through his mind:

 

And there's a place for us, you know the movie song. When you gonna realize, it was just that the time was wrong? Juliet.....

 

He sent the text and eagerly watched the screen, confident that Harry wouldn't think of it as an insult that Louis had just referred to him as Juliet. The tiny words beneath the text switched from “delivered” to “read” and Louis dropped the phone to his chest, his heart beating against it as he anxiously waited for Harry's response, the same lyric circling again and again through his mind.

 

It was just that the time was wrong.”

 

That's what was so true about the last few months. It had taken buckets of tears and hours of confused screaming but it had finally become clear to Louis: had the timing been different, he would have thrown everything he had into making Harry his from the moment that they'd first met. The circumstances had just been so remarkably against them so far. It had been such a tumult that, even now that they'd finally been honest with each other, everything was still very fragile. Louis was still immobilized by the need to proceed with caution at every turn.

And it was that exact insecurity that was starting to prickle at the back of his thoughts as each minute passed and Harry didn't text him back. Time stretch on and on until it had been nearly a half hour since Harry had read the text. Louis' stomach was beginning to sour in anticipation.

That was what Harry had meant, right? That line had surely stuck out to him as much as it had stuck out to Louis. Why else would he have sent it? Unless he had honestly just kind of liked the song, no ulterior motive included.

And oh Jesus, what if that was it? What if Harry had just thought, “This is a nice song, maybe Louis will like it.” And now, Louis had responded with the most lovesick, desperate thing any human had ever said via text message. All that, and they'd only been kind of “together” for two days.

And oh fucking dear god, he'd just likened them to the most tragically romantic characters in English literature, even though they'd only kissed, like, three times and why was Louis just a walking pile of embarrassment?

Louis' whole body jolted as his phone pinged on his chest. He snatch it up and his eyes shot across Harry's text:

 

I'm going to call in a second, but don't pick up. I want to leave a voicemail

 

Okay. Alright.

But what did that even mean?

Louis didn't have time to ponder any of this as Harry's call came in a few seconds later. He stared at it unblinkingly until Harry's name was surely burnt into his retinas, the entire time wanting nothing more than to answer and hear Harry's deep voice on the other end.

His resolve luckily held, and he made it until the call went to voicemail without picking up. He waited for the notification that Harry had left a message for him impatiently. This, however, did not happen in a timely manner, which caused Louis to scrunch himself into a ball and mutter grumpily to himself. With nothing to distract him, his thoughts ambled once again down the path of paranoia.

Why exactly did Harry want to leave a voicemail? Did that mean that he didn't want to talk to Louis directly? What could he possibly have to say that he couldn't say in an actual conversation? Nothing good, that was certain,

PING.

There was one new voicemail waiting for him. It waited there for him, the screen blinking patiently as his finger hovered over it. In a swift movement, he tapped the screen and pulled the phone to his ear, his heart beat pulsing1 in every part of his body.

 

Hey Lou, erm...” Harry said sheepishly, stopping to clear his throat and laugh. “Sorry this took so long. I just wanted to get it perfect.”

 

He exhaled loudly before falling silent. After several tense seconds, Louis checked his phone to make sure the voicemail hadn't abruptly ended without him noticing.

And that's when Harry started playing the piano.

 

A lovestruck Romeo, sang the streets a serenade. Laying everybody low with the love song that he made.”

 

Harry's voice swept the air from Louis' lungs. He clenched the phone as tight as he could to his ear as Harry trilled through the words.

 

Finds a streetlight, steps out of the shade and says something like, 'You and me babe, how bout it?'”

 

Louis had to physically press his hand to his chest for fear that it might rupture from the force of his beating heart.

Harry was singing the song to him. He'd taken the time to learn it so that he could sing it to Louis.

Had Louis at some point slipped into a coma only to be tormented by nonsensical fever dreams of a perfect boy who was too good for words? Because no part of this seemed remotely possible. People didn't actually do things like this, especially not for Louis.

 

Juliet says, 'Hey it's Romeo. You nearly gave me a heart attack.' He's underneath the window, sing 'Hey la, my boyfriend's back.'”

 

The simple act of hearing Harry say the word “boyfriend” in reference to Louis sent a tingle down his entire body as his thoughts exploded over the idea.

Yes. That. Very much that.

There weren't any reflective surfaces nearby, which worked very much in Louis' favor as he would have been humiliated to see his own pulsating heart eyes as he listened to the song the first time, then the second time, quickly followed by the third time. His affections had started to soften by the fourth repeat, but unexpectedly rocketed back up to pure gleefulness on the fifth, sixth, and seventh replays.

He was only interrupted when his phone gave way to a call from the actual Harry Styles.

“I'm not, like, trying to be needy, but you haven't said anything about the song yet and I know you saw my text before I sent it and I totally went too far, didn't I? I did. Shit. I did. I went too far. Shit.” Harry apologized, his words spilling out over the phone in one breath.

“Harry.” Louis said calmly. “I haven't called you back yet because I've been listening to it over and over.”

“Oh?” Harry responded, his voice shaken by disbelief.

“I'd still be listening to it for the next few days if you hadn't called.”

“So you liked it?”

“I think it's probably the sweetest thing anyone's ever done for me.” Louis admitted.

“There's no way that that's true.”

“It is, though.” Louis rolled over so he could dangle his arm off the sofa and run his fingers through the carpet on the floor. “We still have a lot of stuff we need to work out, don't we?” He asked lightly.

“Yeah. We do. But it's all going to be worth it.”

“Very worth it. We'll have hours to just talk when you get here. And there won't be any of those troublesome fountains to interrupt us.”

“But Louis,” Harry sighed. “That fountain just came out of nowhere.

“I know, I know, baby.”

Their laughs were cut short suddenly as they both lingered over Louis' use of that particular term of endearment. Louis used pet names all the time as a joke with all of his friends, but “baby” had always been reserved for Joshua. He realized that this was the first time he'd used it with anyone else, and it had just come out so naturally.

“Haz?”

“Yeah?”

“Could you play the song for me again?”

“But you have a voicemail of it.”

“Yes, but I want to hear it again, but I don't want to hang up. Please? Please? Please?”

There was a rustling of movement and a groan, followed by a flourish of piano keys.

 

~

 

The first thing that struck Louis was the fact that Harry's face was marred by fright again. It wasn't as dramatic as the concert, but it was still there: a subtle presence of insecurity and anxiety.

They were at a terminal that had been made private specifically for Harry's arrival at the Manchester Airport, the small gate now overrun with Harry's security as he stepped off the plane. His hair was rumpled and his chest was once again refusing to be contained beneath something so pedestrian as shirt buttons.

Louis was embarrassingly aware of his resemblance to a puppy in that moment, the way he'd perked up as he'd locked eyes with Harry. He'd run this moment over and over in his mind about fifty times that day, but now that he was faced with Harry in the flesh, he felt absolutely bowled over.

Louis' pulse was racing, his sweat cold, his mouth dry.

And Harry looked scared again.

It clicked in Louis' head right then and there, that this could not become a habit. Harry absolutely could not be this afraid every time he saw Louis. He made a solemn vow in that moment that he would never give Harry a reason to look like that again.

With several confident strides, Louis closed the distance between them and pulled Harry into a tight embrace.

“I'm so glad you're here.” He whispered into his ear, pouring every ounce of sincerity he had into the words. He felt Harry melt in his arms, slowly becoming calm and pliant.

Louis let go, his hands sliding onto Harry's shoulders as he took a moment to look into his face. Harry rested his hands tentatively on Louis' waist, his eyes indecisively darting down to Louis' lips. It was obvious that this was still uncharted territory for the two of them, both still unsure about how the rules had changed. Do they hug? Do they kiss? Do they call each other baby and get matching tattoos?

Never a fan of fumbling through moments of uncertainty, Louis leaned forward to seal the moment with a soft kiss. Harry's body surged with surprise for a fleeting second before he smiled into it, kissing him back deep and slow as he pulled their bodies together.

The press of Harry's lips was still so new, it made Louis feel like a tulip field was blooming in his stomach.

They pulled away slowly, their faces still hovering close together as they grinned at each other. There was a stir of movement around them as Harry's security urged them to move on from the terminal, so Louis twined their fingers together as Harry lead them away.

There was a black van with tinted windows waiting for them, and it took a lot of protesting from Harry to convince his security that he'd be fine just going in Louis' car. Harry doled out his usual wave of charm as he negotiated with them, and Louis was actually impressed by how long it took for them to give in to him. They'd built up quite a resistance to him, but as with everyone else who'd ever crossed paths with Harry, they eventually crumbled beneath his dimpled grin.

Soon enough, they were seat belted into Louis' rental car and pulling out the airport, finally having the two things they'd been needing since they both left LA: privacy and time together.

Manchester whirred past them as Louis followed Nona's directions to the park where everyone was gathering. Harry was sitting practically sideways in his seat as he scrutinized Louis' very apparent weight loss for the movie. This process apparently required several pokes in the cheek from Harry as Louis tried to concentrate on driving.

“When can you start putting on weight again?” Harry asked as he pressed against Louis' jawbone as if taking scientific measurements.

“At the end of the shoot in February.”

“Can I cook for you?”

“You're still going to be on tour.” Louis pointed out.

“Doesn't mean I can't cook for you.”

“Are you planning to send me meals over the ocean by drone three times a day?” Louis joked.

“Or just bring you on tour with me.” Harry reasoned as he sat back properly in his seat. Louis tried to retain a neutral expression at the idea, but this proved a difficult task as he lips quivered into a smile.

“That is an option that we can discuss.” He said politically, causing Harry to smirk contentedly. “Harry, we've got, like, things to talk about.”

“Things.” Harry echoed playfully.

“Things with feelings and stuff.”

“And stuff.”

“Weird, complicated, messed up feelings.”

“And stuff.” Harry said, causing them both to smile before Louis steeled himself for his next question. Harry must had noticed, because his demeanor also stiffened.

“This is the part where I awkwardly ask you how you've been.” Louis said, eyes fixed to the road.

“I've been fine.”

“Harry-”

“No, really.” Harry insisted. “I haven't been great, or anything remotely close to that. But I've held up fine. Been spending most of my time writing songs, so that's been kind of therapeutic.”

Louis nodded slowly, his chest unclenching in relief. “So what happened during that concert when you walked off stage for awhile?” He asked, remembering back to his conversation with Nick Grimshaw on Radio 1. Harry exhaled heavily, and Louis could see him shrinking into himself out of the corner of his eye. Louis' hand reflexively darted over to latch onto Harry's. Harry's fingers wrapped gratefully around Louis', his thumb lightly stroking over Louis' skin.

“It was the first night that we were going to sing Over Again. Do you remember that one from your concert?” Harry asked. Louis nodded tersely. “So did you figure out that it was about us?” Louis nodded once again, his neck even more rigid than before. “I knew that there was a chance that it was going to be, like, hard for me to keep it together when we performed it. So I really focused on getting through it without sniveling onstage, or something like that. And I managed to do it, but I'd spent so much time mentally preparing for it that Paradise Red kind of blind sided me.

'I just started thinking about all of those times you told me how much you loved it, or went on all of those rants about your conspiracy theories about it. And I suddenly realized that I might not have one of those conversations with you ever again.” Harry looked down and Louis tightened his grip on his hand.

“I'm sorry.” Louis breathed, but Harry was already shaking his head.

“It was just a tiny second of weakness.” He explained. “That's why we do Over Again at the end of the show now. But I've honestly been okay, for the most part. There was always this little part of me that kind of knew things were going to work out.”

“Yeah?”

“The last time I talked to Liam, he – erm – he said...” Harry trailed off, a blush rising in his cheeks. “He kind of eased my mind.”

“Harry, you can tell me what he said. You don't have to be embarrassed of anything around me. Except for the fountain thing. You should be embarrassed about that for the rest of your life.”

Harry chuckled before he continued. “He said that you really cared about me, and that he thought we'd eventually end up together. Like, we were meant to end up together. Which, yeah, I know, is st-”

“Do not say it's stupid, because it's not.” Louis scolded.

“But I didn't really believe him at first. I actually still don't fully believe any of this, to be honest. But then you sent me that text. It was this super garbled, stream-of-drunk-consciousness, but it proved that you were thinking about me. You were supposed to be asleep, but instead you were texting me about how much you care about me. I guess that just gave me hope.” He admitted, causing the car to fall into a warm silence. “That, plus your Radio 1 interview.” He added snarkily.

“And what exactly does that mean?” Louis asked, appalled.

“You know.”

“I have absolutely no idea what you could be possibly talking about. I certainly did not get into a jealous spat on national radio with your ex boyfriend as I defended your honor.” He looked over to watch Harry giggle. “Yeah, I'm sorry about that. He just really gets under my skin. Something kind of similar happened that night when he was at your house.”

“You mean big, dark, nasty explosion night?” Harry asked.

“You're going to have to define 'big, dark, nasty explosion night.'”

“That night when all of those dramatic things kept happening. Like the diner. And every embarrassing thing after that.”

“Ah.” Louis said. “Which should probably be next on our itinerary of things we need to talk about before we foray into any sort of courtship.” Louis flared his fingers to punctuate his sentence, once again pausing to watch Harry giggle. “Haz, I need you to know that you can be totally honest with me. It's okay if there's still something there.”

“Something where?”

“If you still feel something for Grimshaw.”

“Louis, no-”

“It's honestly okay. He was you first love, and sometimes those feelings don't just go away. It's not something you can control.”

“There's not – no – there isn't any – no, Louis.” Harry stammered. “I don't have any, like, lingering feelings for Nick. I haven't for a really long time. What made you think that?”

“The part where he said something to you, then you got so cross faded that I had to hunt you down at that diner.” Louis said bluntly.

“No, that wasn't – it wasn't like that. It wasn't because of feelings I had for him, it was because of how I felt about you.”

“Me?”

“I don't mean it was your fault, or anything.” Harry hurried to explain. “Niall had just mentioned something about you not being there, and Nick started joking about the Larry Stylinson thing. I guess something in the way I reacted gave me away, and it only took Nick about twenty seconds to figure the situation out.”

“What do you mean?”

“That I was hopelessly gone for you, but you had a boyfriend.” Harry said. “He just kept rubbing it in because he's Nick, and he's always liked to tease me. It finally just really got to me, and I couldn't take it anymore.”

“Harry,” Louis hissed through clenched teeth. “if I had been there, I would have strangled him with his own quiff.”

“That's rather violent.”

“I would have been there if it wasn't for fucking Joshua.”

“You guys fought that night, right?”

Louis nodded as he spotted the parking lot. He pulled into a parking space, his headlights illuminating the trail that snaked up the dark hill.

“And it was a bad fight.” Harry continued, watching Louis as he turned the engine off, but made no move to leave the car.

“He smashed half of the glassware in our house and screamed at me in front of a group of his friends.” Louis said quietly. Harry visibly cringed in his seat, letting go of Louis' hand and turning to face him directly.

“Louis, I have something I have to say to you. And it's important.” He said seriously as Louis locked eyes with him. “I will never, ever raise a hand to you, or be forceful with you, or use any kind of violence to scare you like Joshua did. I will never use guilt to control you, or put you down to get power over you, and I will always respect you as my equal, my partner, and it's extremely important to me that you understand that.”

Harry's eyes bore into Louis' with earnest intensity, and Louis had to clench his jaw to retain any semblance of control over his facial muscles. All he could think to do was to crawl across the car and sink into this man beside him until they didn't exist as separate entities anymore, but Harry wasn't done with his promises yet.

“And that's why I really, really wanted to be here tonight.” Harry continued. “I know what New Years Eve represents to you, and I just want to be able to rewrite all of that hurt together. I don't want this holiday to forever be a marker of the time that Joshua betrayed you. I want us to be able to look back on it as the first time we got to kiss at midnight, and the first time we smiled about it because we aren't sad; we're excited about what's next for us. And for the first time, I can hold your hand, and play with your hair, and tell you what you really mean to me, because you're everything, Louis. You're everything.” His breath caught and he looked away, caught off guard by the words that had come out of his own mouth. “If that's okay with you.” He muttered as an afterthought.

Louis didn't give Harry the chance to revert to his frightened grimace as he leaned forward and cupped his face, coaxing him to look Louis in the eyes.

“Yes, Harry. All of that. I want all of that with you.” He said, his thumb tracing gently over Harry's cheekbone. “Tonight isn't a year since everything that happened with Joshua; it's my first day with you. It's our day one.”

Harry's eyes grew tender and glassy as he wrapped his hand around Louis' wrist, pulling it away from his cheek so he could softly kiss it.

“And I have something important to say to you, too.” Louis stated as Harry began kneading his hand idly. “I promise you, Harry James Edward Potter Styles,” he paused as Harry snorted. “that I am never going to abandon you. I'm always going to be here to support you, and you never have to be afraid to tell me anything. I'm going to fight to prove to you that you can trust me with anything, because you're everything, too.”

Their eyes were shimmering as they watched each other, each choking on short little laughs as they just experienced the moment together.

And as it was apt to do, Louis' phone of course interrupted them. He grumbled as he pulled it from his pocket and saw a text waiting for him.

“S'Zayn.” He said as he opened the text.

 

almost new years over there right? what're u up to?

 

Louis had nearly forgotten that anyone else existed, and suddenly remembered that he'd sent Zayn and Liam exactly zero updates about the Harry situation in the last week. He hadn't even told them about his plan to go to the show in London.

“C'mere, Haz.” Louis ordered, sneaking an arm around Harry's shoulder with a mischievous grin. They leaned into each other as Louis took a picture of the two of them, their foreheads touching as they looked at the camera with cheesy smiles.

He sent the picture off, and it had scarcely been a few seconds before Zayn responded:

 

!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Louis snickered as a text from Liam immediately followed it:

 

What!?! How!?! WHAT IS EVEN GOING ON IN MANCHESTER!?!?!!?

 

“You haven't told them anything yet?” Harry asked, laughing as he read their responses.

“Not since my loud, sobbing phone call last week when I realized that I'm completely bananas for you.” Louis said offhandedly, silencing his phone as Liam continued to send him an onslaught of texts. He looked up only as he realized how quiet Harry had become. “What?”

“I banana you, too.” He responded dreamily. Louis snorted as he opened his car door, trying to deny how smitten he was.

“Come on, banana boy.” He said affectionately as they slammed their doors shut. The icy air bit at his cheeks as they wandered onto the darkened path together, their hands immediately finding each other. Their shoulders bumped against each other as they walked, and Louis tried to memorize their height difference with every brush of fabric. Their joined hands seemed like they should be such a trivial detail after the weight of the conversation they'd just had, but everything was still so golden and new to Louis. No matter how small a gesture it was to just hold Harry's hand, it just further proved the remarkable shift that had occurred between them so suddenly.

They were a couple. They held hands.

Only a few days earlier, Louis' insides had been boiling under the belief that he'd never have Harry in his life ever again; that Louis had ruined everything beyond any hope of repair. Yet here they were, hand in hand and smiling like lovesick children. And now, as the pathway crunched underfoot, Louis could fully see how absurd his worries had been. Of course Harry was going to take him back. Harry was the one person who had never let him down.

The hill wasn't especially tall, but it did look over a small amount of the glittering city. A smattering of cast and crew were already there, bundled in scarves and sipping at steaming travel mugs that were probably more alcohol than coffee.

Harry pulled his hand away suddenly as they approached, and Louis looked to him in concern.

“What's up?” Louis asked.

“Is it a problem if they know about us?” Harry asked.

“They work in entertainment. They'd never get another job if they had a penchant for selling celebrity secrets.” Louis explained, taking Harry's hand in his again. They stopped short as Louis recognized a squeal from the other side of the hilltop.

Nona was upon them immediately, engulfing them in an ecstatic frenzy as she announced to the rest of the group that, “Oh my god! Harry Styles is finally here!” She gave him an overzealous hug before playing with tufts of his hair and straightening his jacket. “Sorry honey. Didn't get the chance to admire the artwork last time I saw you.” She explained as she squeezed one of his biceps with an impressed nod. “So tell me everything. What's the deal? What's going on with you two?”

“Well, this is Harry.” Louis answered, earning an unamused glare from Nona. Before she could demand further details of their relationship, Harry stepped forward and struck up a conversation with her.

“So I keep thinking about how visceral and realistic the gore in your version of Titus Andronicus was, and I was wondering why your director chose to go that route instead of something more stylized.” He said, piquing Nona's interest.

“We didn't want to glorify the violence as something artistic, like other productions do.” Nona explained. “Our director really wanted the gore to be hard to look at so everyone would fully understand the gravity of what had happened to Lavinia.”

“So it was more of a social statement than an aesthetic choice.” Harry clarified.

“Yes. Exactly.”

Louis leaned into Harry's side as they kept talking about the intricacies of Shakespearean tragedy, wrapping his arms heavily around his middle and sinking into him when Harry pulled him in closer. The phrases “poetic verisimilitude” and “esoteric license” were being passed back and forth as if they were totally normal things for people to say, but Louis let them waft past him. He was too spellbound by the way Harry's voice vibrated from where his chest brushed against Louis' cheek, or the way that Harry was rubbing a circle into Louis' hip where he was holding him.

There was a brief lull in the conversation as Nona took a long swig from her mug, and Louis took the opportunity to bounce onto his tip toes and smack a short kiss to Harry's cheek.

“What was that for?” Harry asked with delighted surprise.

“Just wanted to.” Louis shrugged, smiling when this earned him a returned peck on the lips.

“Okay, you are both too much. It's too cute. I can't do it.” Nona whined dramatically. She spun to face the rest of the group spread out over the hilltop, who Louis now noticed were lurking nearby, stealing glances of the rockstar in their midst. “Oh my god, guys. Stop being awkward. Come say hi to Harry.”

They came in a wave, everyone fawning over Harry as they introduced themselves and avowed something along the lines of, “No, I'm your biggest fan.” Harry of course insisted on hearing every single person's life story. Louis would have been jealous about having to split his limited time with Harry with so many other people, had it not been for the constant presence of Harry's hand on his back, seemingly experimenting with how many different ways he could hold onto him. Plus, watching all of his coworkers melt into puddles of goo at Harry's feet was more than a little amusing.

As Louis had predicted, none of the crew commented on the rather glaring elephant in the room: an internationally known rockstar in a rather infamous heterosexual relationship was now on a hilltop in Manchester, holding hands and making heart eyes with one of their lead actors.

Louis realized with a self indulgent smirk that he and Harry were a bit of a juicy scandal.

And as Harry planted a lingering kiss to Louis' hair for no reason in particular, Louis knew that no one would say a thing. No one would betray the larger-than-life public image of Harry as an out of control, unpredictable enigma with a super model girlfriend. They wouldn't say anything, even as they learned that Harry was, in actuality, this sweet, sincere man with an artistic mind and the cheer of a young child who did things like forcibly tie his own scarf around Louis' neck, whining, “But Lou! You're so tiny and I don't want you to get a cold and die!”

“I will destroy you, Harold.” Louis snapped at the mention of being tiny.

“Don't destroy me.” Harry pouted as he finished tying the scarf, his hands falling to Louis' shoulders.

“Only if you say please.”

“Pleeeeeeeeease.”

“Alright. You can stick around.” Louis allowed, his hands bunching in the front of Harry's jacket. They were only reminded that they had an audience as one of Louis' female costars was betrayed by an enamored sigh.

“So are you two...?” She asked coyly.

“Human? Yes. Indeed we are.” Louis answered, trying to glaze over that loaded question.

“Okay, Louis' never going to give me a straight answer about this.” Harry interjected. “How is he doing in the movie so far?”

Louis groaned and rolled his head back as everyone in the vicinity started to sing his praises.

“You should have seen that part with him and Nona last week.” One on the crew members gushed. “Completely heartbreaking.”
“I don't even have heart strings anymore.” His costar added.

“Okay, that's very interesting and everything.” Louis interrupted, looking down at the time on his phone and trying to ignore the way that Harry was beaming at him. “But we've got about forty seconds until midnight.”

There were squawks of elated surprise as everyone realized he was right, scattering over the hilltop as everyone clung to their designated midnight kisses. Louis lead Harry gingerly away, wrapping his arms around him as soon as they were removed from the rest of the group.

“Everyone said that you've been brilliant.” Harry said proudly, dipping his face in close to Louis'.

“Well, everyone's drunk.” Louis countered, his gaze softening as he watched the way Harry's pupils waxed and waned. Everyone was counting in unison as Harry started to slowly sway. “Thank you for being here.” Louis whispered.

“Of course, Louis.” Harry breathed, his voice low and intimate, the countdown droning on behind them.

 

18! 17! 16!

 

“This year's going to be about us, okay?” Louis assured him. “No Nick. No Joshua. Just us.”

“Just us.” Harry agreed.

 

13! 12! 11!

 

“No more drama because we finally did it. We're finally together and nothing's going to get in between us.” Louis continued, but Harry's face became stony. “What's wrong?

 

9! 8! 7!

 

“It's not going to be easy, Lou.” He said lightly, his voice barely intelligible. Louis' hand came up to Harry's face.

“It's been previously established that I banana you.” Louis said resolutely. “That's not something you just walk away from.:

 

3! 2! 1!

 

A massive smiled was still plastered to Harry's face as he leaned in to kiss Louis, exclamations of “Happy New Year!” echoing around them.

A spray of fireworks roared to life behind them, the light twinkling behind Louis' closed eyes as he pressed further into Harry. His arms circled around his neck and his lips parted as he submitted fully to the moment, lost in the bliss of starting the New Year wrapped up in every part of Harry.

 

~

 

They'd nearly skipped down the glistening streets hand in hand, searching for somewhere to get something to eat. Harry only had a little over and hour left before he needed to be back at the airport by the time they found an open restaurant. It had those delightful kinds of laminated menus with pictures of the food and tiny, fake candles in the middle of the booth tables.

“Please eat something with vegetables.” Harry begged as they perused the menus.

“Vegetables are for nerds.” Louis maintained, even though he knew that his only option was going to be a light salad until the movie was done filming. “Do you think they'd just bring me an entire cow if I asked nicely?”

“Probably not.”

“What if I showed them my arse?”

“That might be worth a try.” Harry admitted with a grin.

Louis ultimately decided to keep his private areas to himself when the waitress finally took their orders, ignoring Harry's triumphant look when he ordered a Caesar salad with light dressing.

“So,” Louis said, preparing himself to steer the conversation back in a serious direction. “Would you like to elaborate on the 'it's not going to be easy' comment from earlier?”

Harry pursed his lips without looking up at Louis, picking nervously at his fingernails. Louis hooked his leg around Harry's under the table, which had an instant calming effect on him.

“You know how I have a contract about my sexuality, right?” Harry asked, causing Louis' stomach to sink. “So, legally, I can't present a public image where I'm dating anyone else besides Arrienne.”

“But they can't stop us from dating.” Louis said defensively.

“No, they can't stop us. But they're going to try.” Harry said. “When I was with Nick, they would always schedule me like crazy so that I could barely ever see him, then they would always make him jump through all these hoops to just get a security clearance to visit me. And there would suddenly be all this bad press about him from 'private sources' and I knew it was because of them. Or they'd call and say that Nick and I couldn't go to whatever restaurant or club we were heading to because it was swarmed with photographers and I just knew that they were the ones who tipped them off. They did everything they could to make it as difficult as possible for us.”

“That's all stuff we can work around.” Louis assured him.

“But it's even worse for us, because there wasn't even anything linking me to Nick.” Harry continued. “Now there's all this speculation about you and me, and we can't even be seen out together without people accusing us of dating.”

“I hear everything you're saying, Harry, but it honestly doesn't matter. Your management isn't going to scare me off.”

“They're going to do everything they can to get between us.”

“Then let them. They can try to do anything they want, but I'm never going to let go of you.” Louis said, further proving his point by grabbing Harry's hand on top of the table.

“I just want you to understand that this is going to be hard.” Harry said gravely, watching their joined fingers as he once again ran his thumb over the back of Louis' hand.

“You're worth it to me.” Louis stated, the honesty in his voice causing Harry's eyes to flick up and meet his.

They separated as the waitress suddenly materialized at their booth, dropping their food in front of them and hurrying away.

“We do have one thing going for us, though.” Harry pointed out as he dug into his risotto.

“What's that?”

“My management has no idea we're together.”

“Hmm.” Louis hummed with a cocky smile. “Which means we're in a secret, little, romantic bubble right now?”

“For as long as we can be discreet, yeah. But I guess that kind of depends on what we do next.”

“I figure it's my turn to come visit you after this.” Louis said. “I could fly into whatever city you're in next time we both have time off. I'm hoping it's Barcelona.”

“So we'll have a secret affair across the continent of Europe?” Harry clarified.

“A tryst, if you will. It sounds very us, in my opinion. Secret tryst.

“You can tell Liam and Zayn, though. I already told Niall.”

“Are you actually joking?” Louis gaped. “After they took practically twenty years to tell me that they were dating? No. They can stew in ignorance for a while.”

Harry smiled around his fork, rubbing his foot along Louis' ankle. The thought suddenly reminded Louis of the texts from Liam he had ignored from earlier. He dug through his phone, reading some of the best snippets aloud to Harry:

 

(10:39 pm) is that picture photoshopped? Are you lying about this? Is this something you would lie about?

 

(11:02pm) LOUIS!

 

(11:09pm) This is not funny. I don't know why you think this is funny because no one else thinks it is.

 

(11:43pm) LOUIS ANSWER ME COME ON SERIOUSLY!!!

 

(12:01am) Happy new year motherfucker please tell me what's going on

 

(12:07am) I'm going to call your mom

 

(12:20am) LOUISSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

(12:21am) but really. fuck you

 

 

~

 

The last kiss before Harry disappeared past the airport gate was tinged with desperation, and Louis was fairly certain that it would have lead to something much more intimate had they not been surrounded by several burly men in all black.

They separated as Harry whispered, “You're everything” once more.

Harry had already asked one of his assistants to find the first day that Louis could visit, and it turned out to be in two weeks in Stockholm. Those fourteen days seemed like an unbearable punishment as he watched Harry's retreating back, already missing the feeling of kissing him. His only solace was that he'd forgotten to return his Shearling jacket and could fall asleep in it that night.

He could already feel how this was going to be difficult, but he knew that he could do it. They could get through this together.

At least, he was pretty sure that they could.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

PART TWO

 

“If you took my pulse right now, it would feel just like a sledgehammer.”

-Fifth Harmony

 

Stockholm, Sweden: January 8

The overwhelming nerves had been lying dormant, waiting for this exact moment before launching their full scale assault against Louis’ brain. Throughout the trip to the airport, the plane ride, and even the private car to Harry’s hotel he had managed to maintain an unwavering sense of excitement, knowing that the boy with curly hair and dimples was waiting for him in this city.

But something seemed to switch the moment he stepped into the lobby of the hotel. His stomach plummeted and his anxiety tingled as he was received by Harry’s security and labeled “Mr. Styles’ special guest.” That’s the exact moment that everything went from a fun visit with his boy to a scheduled rendezvous with an international superstar. Every part of his body was prickling uncomfortably as he whizzed upwards in the elevator, the full gravity of his role as “Mr. Styles’ Special Guest” settling in heavier and heavier.

Yeah, this was probably where he and Harry were going to have sex together for the first time, and everyone around him knew it.

In theory, this shouldn’t be at all concerning to Louis. In fact, he should probably be commended for that fact that he wasn’t hard in his pants just from the thought. The facts were quite simple: Louis hadn’t shagged anyone in months, Harry hadn’t shagged anyone in months, Harry was fit as fuck, and Louis had just flown to Stockholm to spend the night with him. They were both consenting adults, and even thought Louis hadn’t admitted it to anyone yet, there was a definite possibility that he was already halfway in love with a man he’d never slept with. In summary, he very much wanted every part of Harry he could get his hands on.

But that’s how he felt about Harry, not Mr. Styles.

An image of Harry from that Status Solo poster Louis had coveted years earlier was looming over his thoughts, those smudged eyes glowering at him through layers of molten sex appeal and black leather. No matter how desperately he tried to calm his thoughts, they all came at him in a whirlwind; a barrage of images of Harry simmering in his otherworldly levels of attractiveness as the world bowed at his feet. Cold sweat beaded on his skin at the memories of Harry grinding and thrusting his way through the London concert, the entire stadium mesmerized by his gyrations. His palms itched as the revelations continued to crash in, Louis thinking of how many magazine covers had featured Harry’s sultry features or his chiseled body; about how many images of Harry lined the walls of lustful teenagers all of the world, craving him as the sex-imbued Adonis they thought him to be.

And somehow, Louis, who had spent the last few years growing lazy and unadventurous in a passionless relationship, had become his booty call. His feet carried him out of the elevator, following after a member of Harry’s security toward a toweringly ominous hotel room door. In a matter seconds, that door was going to swing open to reveal Mr. Styles, and what exactly was he going to expect of Louis?

He suddenly wished that he’d had the good sense to wear something besides a pair of baggy joggers.

His stomach clenched as the door swung open, the last whisper of breath stolen from his body as the familiar visage came into focus.

Harry’s eyes were glassy and drooping under the weight of two dark bags. His v-neck was hanging from his frame and the edges of his nose were agitated and bright red as he sniffled through a smile. 

He opened his mouth to say something to Louis, but was stopped by a sudden, overpowering sneeze. He opted to just step to the side and let Louis in as he gave his thanks to the security guard, his voice strangled by a pinch in his nose. Louis stood back, watching affectionately as Harry continued with his overzealous thank you, pausing for a moment as he was overtaken by another sneeze. 

Every trace of apprehension from the elevator now seemed embarrassingly baseless. Harry turned to Louis with an enchanted smile, every part of him soft and warm as he opened his arms.

Louis stepped into them, laughing at how ridiculous he’d been and sinking his face into Harry’s neck. His fingers traced down the ridges of Harry’s back lightly, the moment hanging in suspended sentiment as they held each other.

In a flash of movement, Harry tore himself away and started gathering his things around the hotel room.

“We have so much stuff to do.” Harry said, his voice still pathetically nasally as he sniffled again. “We have a boat ride, and then lunch, then I need to take you shopping because you have to-“ He was cut short by another debilitating series of sneezes, doubling over as they wracked his body. Louis’ grin was still soft as he stepped forward, pulling the miserable, sneezing boy into his arms.

“Love, did you forget to take your allergy medication again?” Louis asked, brushing some wayward tufts of frayed hair out of his face.

“M’fine.” Harry muttered petulantly, his nose now a bright, cherry red. “I planned so much stuff for us to do, and we barely have any time so we have to head out super soon.” He explained. Louis traced his hand slowly over Harry’s face, trying to calm the torrent of words spilling from his mouth, but Harry was too distracted by his fervent need to entertain Louis. “I just want to do all this special stuff with you while you’re here because we never get to be together and this needs to be special and romantic and-"

With no other means to quiet him, Louis stopped his mouth with a kiss, immediately stoppering his diatribe. Harry mumbled against his lips before pressing further into it, kissing Louis’ smile and feeling the last week of separation melting away.

He tore away once again, but this time at the mercy of yet another string of sneezes.

“Harry.” Louis scolded. “Allergy meds?”

“I got back on them a couple of days ago.” Harry explained, his eyes red and glistening as he went in search of a tissue box. “Should be fine by the concert this weekend. And I’m fine now. Really.”

But the look on his face as he turned back to Louis said anything but “fine.” He laughed as he approached him again.

“Okay. Clothes off. Back in bed.” Louis ordered.

“Louis!”

“You’re sick, Harry. You need rest, and soup, and someone to play with your hair while you watch movies. I’m going to make sure all three of those things happen.” He grabbed Harry gently by the shoulders, trying to coax him toward the bed.

“But, Louis, no.” Harry whined. “You came all this way to see Stockholm and-"

“I didn’t come to see Stockholm, I came to see you.” Louis corrected him, his hand sliding down Harry’s arm and finding his hand. “And you’re a sickly little thing, so please don’t try to interrupt me while I take care of my boy.”

“I just…” Harry trailed off, rubbing his eye sleepily. “I wanted this to be special for us.” 

“It is special, baby.” Louis said softly. “I’m here with you. That makes everything special to me.”

And it was the pet name that seemed to do it, mollifying Harry’s stubbornness as he leaned forward into Louis and nodded. Louis pressed another kiss to his lips before heading toward the phone.

“You get in your pyjamas, I’ll call room service to bring up some soup.” Louis said, watching Harry loaf over to his suitcase.

“Can I have ice cream instead of soup?”

“Course you can, baby.” Louis said with a wink, picking up the phone. He realized that he couldn’t yet explain the way it made him feel to watch Harry smile after he called him baby, but he knew he liked it.

The boat ride, lunch date, and shopping trip were all forced to go on without them as they spent the day curled together on the couch, marathoning everything on the pay-per-view. Harry flitted in and out of consciousness from where he was nestled into Louis’ chest, occasionally waking up to look at Louis with big, soft eyes and kiss him on the cheek. Louis held up his end of the bargain, endlessly running his fingers through Harry’s hair and holding him tight as he slept.

It wasn’t exactly what Louis had anticipated for the first leg of their European love story, but he felt perfectly at bliss as he helped his sleepy boy into bed later that night. For the first time since they’d met, he could curl up around Harry and hold him to his chest, listening to the steady rhythm of his breathes like waves breaking against the sea. He could feel Harry’s warmth on every inch of his skin, and it was somehow seeping down into the rest of his body like a thrumming, blossoming warmth. He was helpless but to press his smiling lips against the back of Harry’s neck.

“Lou?” Harry whispered, pulling Louis’ arms tighter around himself.

“Yeah, love?”

“Thank you. And sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize. I’m just sorry you feel so miserable.”

“I don’t feel miserable.” Harry murmured. “I feel happy.”

And with his heart tingling in a way that shouldn’t be physically possible, Louis had to admit that he was happy, too.

 

~

 

 

Louis awoke as the full brunt of Harry’s weight rolled onto his chest. He gasped in momentary shock as Harry buried his head into the pillow beside Louis and grumbled into it.

“Oh my god, Louis, please wake up. I’m so bored.”

Louis laughed as he wrapped his arms around Harry’s bare shoulders, inviting the larger man to burrow deeper into the crook of his neck as he exhaled belligerently against his skin.

“Good morning, darling.” Louis chirped. “You feeling better?”

He nodded, his chin perched against Louis’ shoulder as he watched him. “I ruined everything.”

“I will honestly fall dead if you ever mention yourself ruining anything every again.” Louis promised, running his thumb over Harry’s cheek. “I would totally be fine just sitting somewhere and watching you sleep, if that’s the only way I got to spend time with you.”

“But that’s literally what happened.”

“Yes, but you’re very cute when you sleep, so the novelty hasn’t worn off yet.” Louis pointed out, staring at him as his mind wandered.

“What?” Harry asked, noticing the way Louis’ smile had fallen away. Louis chewed his lip as he decided how honest he should be.

“I just - I got so nervous right before I got here, and it seems so stupid now.” Louis admitted.

“You were nervous?”

“Well, like … Yeah.”

“About what?” Harry asked, repositioning himself so that their faces were even closer and his green eyes were even more difficult to withstand.

“About us - I guess - being together. For the first time.” Louis muttered. “It’s just kind of weird. Backwards, you know? Like, all of the feelings and everything were already there before we’d even kissed. Just wasn’t sure what to expect.”

Harry nodded slowly, rolling off of Louis and leaning on his side. “Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about that, actually.”

“Yeah?” Louis rolled as well, so they were both facing each other on their sides.

“It’s like, well - before when I was … when I was with - before when I, like -" Harry’s stammering was cut short as Louis’ hand curled around his bicep under the blanket.

“I know you’re trying to talk about Nick without talking about Nick.” Louis said. “And this is all going to be a lot more difficult if we’re afraid to talk about people from our pasts. So could we just agree to not care? Like, we should never be afraid to mention Nick or Joshua to each other.”

“Okay. Yeah.” Harry agreed, avoiding his gaze.

“Don’t be afraid to tell me anything.” Louis added in a low whisper, his fingers tracing lightly up and down Harry’s arm. Harry’s eyes finally looked up to meet Louis’.

“Nick was the first person I had actual sex with.” Harry said bluntly, as if he were trying to get the words out before they betrayed him. Louis tried to swallow back the gut-wrench that burst to the surface at these words, knowing that he had promised to be supportive only twenty seconds earlier.

“Yeah?” He squeaked out, his own voice betraying him.

“Yeah, which is stupid because I trusted him enough for that, then he obviously took off and everything.” Harry explained. “But, like, he’s the only person that I’ve been with that I really cared about. You know, like, made love to.” Harry’s cheeks blushed at these words, which endeared Louis really more than it should have. There were literally droves of people on this Earth who fantasized about having sex with this boy, yet he was embarrassed to say the words make love. Louis scooted slightly closer, prompting him to continue. “Then he left me, which really, really hurt. So everything after that has just been random hookups for me. If I even had the slightest hint of actual feelings for someone, I just totally ended it. I guess I’m just - I’m just too afraid to let something bad happen again. And then you happened.” Harry looked up at Louis with a playful scowl.

“I am so very sorry.” Louis joked, coming even closer until their foreheads brushed together.

“But, yeah, I’m just kind of nervous.” Harry admitted, making unrelenting eye contact. “Would it be okay if we, just like, took things slow? Maybe?”

Louis was afraid that he might strain a muscle by the way that his face was constricting, completely beguiled by the boy only inches away from him; by the veritable sex god who was sweet with morning sleepiness and asking if they could take things slowly. 

He leaned forward to press a deep, lingering kiss to Harry’s forehead, holding the back of his head tightly with his hand. They separated, Harry still watching Louis with trepidation.

“Of course we can, Harry.” He said. “Anything that makes this comfortable for you.”

Harry’s face was split by an uncontrollable grin before he surged forward to kiss Louis on the lips, his smile unyielding. Louis leaned into it as Harry pecked him with his closed mouth.

“I’m a tiny bit conflicted, though.” Harry muttered against his lips. “Because you’re really fit, and you’re in my bed.”

“And I’m a bit of a slag.” Louis added, pecking him once more on the lips.

“When do you have to leave?” Harry asked. Louis groaned as he pulled away and rolled over, checking his phone.

“About three hours.” 

Harry groaned as Louis rolled back towards him, pulling him into his arms while Louis flicked through the notifications on his phone.

“Could you just quit your job, maybe?” Harry implored.

“Yeah sure. You just go ahead and call my boss and tell him that I’m too busy rolling around between the sheets with you to finish the movie.” 

“Okay.” Harry said brightly, plucking the phone from Louis’ hand.

“Harry!”

“What’s his name again? Daniel?” Harry asked as he scrolled through Louis’ contacts, holding it just out of reach of his gesticulating limbs.

“Harry, don’t get me fired!”

“I’m not getting you fired. You’re quitting, remember?” Harry pointed out cheekily, smiling at Louis. His eyes snapped back up to the phone as it suddenly started to ring with an incoming call, and he held it down to Louis to see the name on the screen.

Joshua.

“That is insane timing.” Louis pointed out, the typical swell of anxiety at any mention of Joshua somehow absent as his hand brushed over Harry’s chest.

“How often does he call?”

“Almost every day.” Louis admitted. “I pretty much never answer.”

Harry’s brow furrowed at this new information. With a look of determination, he answered the phone, eliciting a terrified squawk from Louis.

“Hello?” Harry answered animatedly. “No. This isn’t Louis … It’s Harry … Yup. Harry … Louis is a little preoccupied right now; he’s engaged himself in a rousing match of polo.” Louis plastered himself across Harry’s chest, muffling his laughs against his skin. Harry traced his fingers through Louis’ hair as he continued.”No. I’m not joking. I would never joke about an equestrian sport … Alright, I’ll let him know. Ta.”

“Oh my god.” Louis groaned as Harry hung up, smiling at him with obvious pride. “I can’t believe you just did that.”

“I think he was drunk.” Harry remarked.

“No way.” Louis said, looking up suddenly.

“Isn’t it, like, one in the morning over there?”

“He doesn’t drink.”

“He sounded wasted.” 

“He hates alcohol. He doesn’t drink.” Louis repeated.

“His words were slurring all over the place. You should have heard him.”

“I don’t want to hear him.” Louis said pointedly, resting his head once again on Harry’s chest with a huff. Harry’s fingers continued their ministrations through his hair, his other arm curling slightly tighter around Louis as they breathed in silence for a moment.

“He really calls you that much?” Harry asked as the seconds wore on.

“Yeah.” Louis responded, causing Harry’s movements to stop altogether. “What?”

“I just don’t like that. I don’t like him.”

“Jealous?” Louis asked playfully, but he was met by solemnity from Harry.

“It’s not that - well it is a little bit that. But mostly I just don’t trust him. He’s dangerous.”

Louis was about to protest, saying that there was no way Joshua was dangerous, but he remembered the turn of events last time he made that same promise. He decided to let Harry have his moment of melodrama before he changed the subject.

“Well Joshua is on the other side of the world where he can’t get us, and I plan on keeping it that way for awhile.”

“Let me fly you out again.” Harry urged, the somberness of the previous conversation leaving his eyes.

“Gladly. But seriously, let me pay for it this time, okay? I’m not a high scale prostitute.”

“Louis-"

“How about we take turns? Because I plan on making this quite the European love tryst.” Louis explained. “And you should come visit me on set sometime.”

“I’d love that.” Harry said softly, causing Louis to lift his head and look up at him. He was immediately met by the press of Harry’s lips, smiling as he pulled the smaller man on top of him.

 

~

 

Copenhagen, Denmark: January 13

Mounds of snow were whizzing past the windows in the otherwise nondescript winter landscape. He was currently rubbing both of Harry’s hands between his own, as the big idiot was absolutely refusing to admit that he was freezing cold as they chatted with Harry’s elusive bodyguard, Paul.

“Harry doesn’t want anyone following him around in LA, the obnoxious git.” Paul joked from the passenger seat.

“I don’t want you to have to waste your time taking care of me when nothing ever happens in LA.” Harry corrected him. “He already moved his whole family to be near me.”

“Really?” Louis asked, puffing a hot breath onto Harry’s hands.

“Yup. M’always just a couple of minutes away in case there’s a problem.” Paul continued. “And he lets me actually do my job when he’s on tour, ever since the toothbrush incident.”

“Somebody did something to your toothbrush?” Louis asked.

“It was more that she wanted to do something to me with her toothbrush.” Harry muttered, grimacing at his own recollection, which only made Louis laugh.

“I have seen you before, though.” Paul said to Louis. “I’ve tagged along just out of sight on a couple of your dates.”

“Those weren’t dates.” Louis pointed out. “We’ve actually never been on a date before.”

“Eh? Why not?”

“Because I was very, very stupid until rather recently.” Louis said, twining his fingers possessively with Harry’s.

“So is this your first date then?”

“I guess so.” Louis admitted, though he was still unsure of where exactly they were headed. Currently, he felt as if he were being smuggled into some snow ravaged kingdom from the mind of George R. R. Martin.

Despite traveling into what must have been some of the most remote forested regions of Denmark, they eventually turned onto a road with orange lights glistening against the sweeping landscape of snow. The road was littered with man made igloos, each with a sparkling glass roof. Louis was pretty sure he’d seen this exact location on a buzzfeed list of place to visit before you die at some point, but he couldn’t remember why the roofs were made of glass.

All the same, the view of the celestial heavens above them was unparalleled; unsullied by the lights of any cities or nearby towns. The igloo itself was very posh on the inside, featuring a sprawling bed to lie on under the stars and table topped with a steaming dinner. 

They ate quickly and Harry demonstrated one of Louis’ favorite quirks about him: his penchant for learning ridiculous amounts of knowledge about really niche subjects and then fervidly explaining every detail about them. Tonight, he was telling Louis all about a film he’d recently seen about the groundbreaking Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein and his alleged gay affair with his guide while filming in Mexico.

This topic continued through dinner until the two were lounging across the bed, Harry’s eyes lighting up every time Louis would ask him another thoughtful question, letting Harry mentally leap down another avenue of thought. Louis wasn’t sure how aware Harry was of that fact that his musings about Russian history were very similar to his own personal narrative. He kept telling the story, the similarities becoming more and more striking to Harrys’ own existence in a locked closet. 

They were both lying on their sides, facing each other and lacing their fingers together as Harry spoke excitedly. Louis knew he should feel a tad embarrassed by whatever face he was surely making right now, but he was too intoxicated by the passion of this boy lying in bed with him.

“Okay, I’ve been talking too much.” Harry admitted.

“I love listening to you talk.” Louis countered.

“You can’t just let me prattle on all the time.” 

“Fine. I won’t.” Louis decided, leaning forward and sealing their lips together. 

They moved against each other languidly, Harry wrapping his arms gingerly around Louis until he suddenly rolled and pulled the smaller man on top of him. They molded together as Louis deepened the contact, kissing Harry slow and deep.

There was heat rising in his every limb as Louis dug his knees into the bed, straddling Harry for more leverage. He licked into Harry’s mouth easily, his chest beneath Louis rising with a deep breath. Their tongues entwined, moving against each other with a silky warmth that was doing nothing to bring Louis’ internal body temperature down to a reasonable level.

He tore away to press his mouth against Harry’ neck, nipping gently at his Adam’s apple. He continued up his neck, feeling Harry’s hands clutching into his jumper, until he left a wet kiss just behind Harry’s ear.

“Nnnf.” Harry moaned quietly, the sound almost completely muffled by his closed lips. Louis looked up suddenly, realizing that he’d never heard Harry make a noise like that before.

And wasn’t that interesting?

Louis swooped back in, running his tongue along the seam behind Harry’s ear and breathing hotly on the damp skin. He sucked and nipped until Harry was outright groaning, eventually wrenching Louis back to sear their lips together yet again. There was a hot desperation to their kiss, both of their bodies rutting into each other without any semblance of control.

With a choked moan of protest, Harry ripped himself away suddenly, separating their mouths and looking toward the other side of the room. Louis gaped in surprise, realization hitting him like a slap in the face.

They’d promised to take things slow. Rubbing against each other like animals in heat was not taking it slow.

“God, I’m sorry.” Louis muttered, his face falling onto Harry’s chest as they both panted.

“No. It’s fine. S’fine.” Harry responded, his hands finding Louis’ hair and tracing through it weakly as his breath evened.

Louis splayed his fingers across the side of Harry’s chest, stroking gently in what he hoped was a comforting way until Harry’s grip around him tightened.

“Lou! Look! Finally!” Harry yelped, pointing up toward the ceiling. Louis rolled off to follow the direction of his finger, and he finally remembered why he’d seen this place in an article before.

Waves of lilac and emerald lights were dancing across the star strewn sky, twinkling and rolling like an incandescent mist. The greens and purples spilled together, glowing on the edges as it swilled overhead.

Louis was speechless, turning to watch the northern lights’ glinting reflection in Harry’s eyes. Their hands found each other, and they lay their side by side, silently watching the luminous sky.

 

~

 

Prague, The Czech Republic: January 18

The restaurant wore a heavy darkness that partially shrouded everyone’s faces as they sat on the edges of the polished dance floor. The staccato tappings of shoes against it’s surface ticked in the background as several couples twirled to the velvety piano music.

Harry had used one word over and over as he’d described this place: discretion. The establishment had prided itself for years for it’s ability to maintain the privacy of it’s important patrons, letting them dine in peace. They didn’t have to worry about lacing their fingers together over the table as the waiter brought them wine, and they didn’t have to worry about who might overhear their overflowing of affection as they talked.

The atmosphere was thick and scarlet like the wine they were drinking, and Louis couldn’t help but watch the elderly couple that was dancing slowly in the middle of the dance floor. They separated and clapped as the pianist took his exit, Frank Sinatra spilling over the speakers in his stead.

Louis’ attention was pulled back to the table as Harry hooked their ankles together. He looked at him with a goofy grin, holding a single noodle from his plate on his fork.

“Think we could lady and the tramp this?” He asked with a wiggle of his eyebrows.

“Do I think we can lady and tramp a single piece of penne pasta?” Louis clarified with a chuckle, looking at the roughly inch long noodle before leaning in over the table. “Yeah, I think we got this.”

Harry brought the noodle to his mouth, letting it protrude from his lips just enough so that Louis could get a grip on it as he leaned over the table. In a single move, Louis sucked the noodle away from Harry and kissed him.

“Hey.” Harry complained, even though he was smiling.

“Hello lads!” Niall said cheerily, pulling a chair up beside them and falling into it as if he had just run a mile. Harry’s head darted around, as if wondering what portal Niall had just fallen from. “How’s the date? Amazing. Sounds fantastic.”

“What are you doing here?” Harry asked, scandalized by his impromptu appearance. At this point, Louis was covering his face in a vain attempt to quell his giggling.

“Just thought I’d pop in. Say hi to Tommo. Hey Tommo.”

“Hi Niall.” Louis laughed, positively enamored by how upset Harry looked.

“You can’t be here.”

“I’ve got an idea.” Niall announced, ignoring Harry and pulling his phone out. “S’going to solve all your problems. I mean all of them.”

“What’s that?” Louis asked, amused. Harry sat back defiantly, a stitch of frustration appearing between his eyebrows as Niall leaned toward Louis. He held his phone out in front of them and pulled Louis in for a close picture.

“We’re going to get the internet to believe that we’re the ones that are dating.” Niall explained. Louis turned to him in surprise, only to be met by Niall’s lips in a loud, smacking kiss. His eyes were wide open in shock as the camera flashed and Niall pulled away to look at the picture.

Louis was about to fall out of his seat from laughing, but he snapped back to attention as Harry hurled a cloth napkin at Niall’s face in retaliation.

“No!” Harry protested, trying to keep his voice down as other patrons were starting to take notice. 

“What?”

“You can’t just kiss my - my Louis.” Harry complained, the omitted word boyfriend hanging heavily in the air. He avoided Louis’ gaze as he continued his rant. “You can’t just do that. I have rights!”

“I’m just trying to do you a favor, Haz.” Niall muttered, looking down to his phone. “I promise, this will be trending worldwide within fifteen minutes.”

“You didn’t.”

“Afraid I did. Now everyone will forget about you two, and all the scrutiny will be on me and Louis. Nouis, if you will. Now you two can do whatever you want and no one will think you’re together.”

“Yes, Niall. That’s foolproof. Thank you for that.” Harry dead-panned. Louis was still snickering as he pulled out his phone and checked his Twitter alerts.

Several heads turned as Louis guffawed at the picture. His eye was ridiculously wide open in surprise, but Niall looked passionate and locked into the kiss. Beneath it he’d captioned, “When bae wears that little blue thing that gets your blood boiling. #Nouis4lyfe”

He showed the picture to Harry, which just served to further furrow his brow. 

“M’gonna make that the background on my phone.” Niall announced.

“Don’t.” Harry said, reaching toward the phone. Niall deflected him easily and got up from his seat, turning his phone to face them.

“Too late. Have a lovely date, darling.” Niall said, grabbing Harry by the sides of the face and planting a similarly dramatic kiss to his lips.

“Oi!” Louis complained, but Niall was already walking away. He turned and gave them a shrug of his shoulders before completely disappearing. 

“At least we’re even now.” Harry pointed out, wiping his mouth.

“What actually just happened?”

Harry didn’t get a chance to answer as the first notes of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” wafted through the restaurant. He jumped to his feet, completely forgetting any prior anger towards Niall, and pulled Louis toward the dance floor.

He turned to Louis with a flourish, his hands falling slowly to his sides. Louis laughed for what must have been the thousandth time that evening and slipped his arms around Harry’s neck, pulling him in close. Harry ducked his lips beside Louis’ ear as he sang quietly along to the lyrics.

No I won’t, be afraid. No I won’t be afraid. Just as long as you stand, stand by me.” He sang, the grain of his voice barely above a whisper.

Louis pulled back to kiss him again, this time a deep, lingering press of warm lips.

“Sorry about Nouis.” He whispered once they separated. Their faces hovered only an inch apart as they swayed to the lilting tempo.

“It’s okay. I should have known it would happen eventually.”

Louis pressed his smile into the fabric of Harry’s dress shirt, pulling himself in even tighter as Harry continued to sing

So darling, darling stand by me. Oh, stand by me.”

 

~

Rome, Italy: January 23

Their driver had disappeared about twenty minutes earlier, and, admittedly, should have been back already. He’d probably gotten a bit sick of Louis and Harry’s love-drunk conversation in the back seat, and was currently chain smoking behind a bush somewhere.

This was fine by Louis, as their car was perched over a seaside cliff, watching the Italian sunset over the shimmering orange sea from the back seat, both holding wine bottles in hand. They were giggling and talking about nothing in particular, roving each other’s mouths here and there and tasting the sheen of red wine.

Harrys’ head fell to Louis’ shoulder with a contented sigh as he watched the sunset, taking another drag from the wine bottle.

“Do you ever just think about taking off?” Harry asked, listlessly wine drunk.

“What do you mean?”

“Like, if I just started driving, how long do you think I’d get away with that? With just disappearing?”

“Depends where you went.” Louis said.

“Maybe if I went to Mexico. Just disappeared off the map.”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Knowing the whole world was looking for you while you were just wearing sunhats and sipping on margaritas.” Louis cooed, stroking Harry’s arm affectionately.

“Sounds fun.” Harry admitted.

“Don’t just disappear off the map, please.” Louis said, leaning forward to peck him on top of the head. “That’s my formal request.”

“Alright, Bluey.” Harry muttered sleepily, kissing lazily up Louis’ neck before joining their mouths. “You taste like Merlot. That makes me feel like a poet.” Harry sighed, his eyes closing and his forehead falling to rest on Louis’ shoulder. Louis turned so they were facing each other, hooking an arm around Harry’s middle to steady him as his head lolled back suddenly. “Louis, I have a question.”

“I have an answer.”

“Are you my boyfriend?” He asked bluntly, his eyes blinking wide. Louis’ fingers curled more tightly around Harry, his voice getting trapped somewhere in his throat.

“I’d like to be.” He admitted weakly, his eyes boring into Harry’s.

“So am I your boyfriend?”

“That’s what this feels like to me.”

Harry didn’t respond, instead he just gave a dopey smile and burrowed into Louis’ support again.

“I’m drunnnnk.” He moaned, and Louis laughed as he petted Harry’s hair.

“That’s perfectly alright love. I’ll take care of you.”

Harry pulled away again to take out his phone.

“What’re you doing?”

“Telling Niall that you’re my boyfriend and he’s not allowed to kiss you anymore.”

 

~

 

 

Manchester, England: January 29

Harry’s birthday was only a few days away, and it couldn’t be occurring at a more inconvenient time. There were less than three weeks of production left on the film, and Louis’ freetime had all but disappeared.

This was the last time that they’d be able to see each other before production ended in mid February, and they’d only managed to make it work by flying Harry into Manchester to spend a day on set. Louis had suggested they celebrate Harry’s birthday during his stay, since it was only a few days early. But Harry was, unsurprisingly, a birthday purist, and believed it to be a sin to celebrate early. He was much more inclined to postpone his birthday by two weeks so that Louis could join them for the celebration. Louis tried to point out this was completely absurd (waiting an extra two weeks for presents? ludicrous!) but Harry couldn’t be swayed.

Birthday or not, Louis was intent on entertaining Harry while he was in drizzly Manchester. He’d organized a large dinner of the cast and crew at one of the best restaurants in the area so everyone could meet Harry, but they were already running late by the time he picked him up from the airport. 

And to top everything off, something was definitely amiss with Harry. He wasn’t talking much, even avoiding eye contact with Louis as they drove to the house. No matter how much he tried to ease whatever was bothering him, Harry only responded by getting more rigid and less talkative.

Louis rushed through the house once they arrived, racing up the stairs with Harry’s bag clanking behind him as Nona loudly reminded him that they had a reservation in twenty minutes.

“I know!” Louis called belligerently over the railing as he tore into his room.

“Hello darling. You look amazing.” He heard Nona praising Harry from below. 

A cursory glance over his room forced him to hurriedly snatch several wayward items of clothing off the floor, tossing them into the hamper just as Harry waded into the room, closing the door behind him.

“Do you need anything before we go? We’re running kind of late. Let me check my phone.” Louis relayed quickly, shoving a few pairs of shoes into the closet. “Shit. Stan’s already there. Are you ready to go?” Louis froze as he looked at Harry, who’s arms were folded tightly across his front and his face stony in concentration. “Okay, babe. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Harry answered too quickly, as if expecting the question.

“Harry. Come on. You can tell me anything.” He took a step forward, but stopped short when Harry took an anticipatory step back.

“Okay?” Louis relented, realizing this was worse than he’d thought. “Do you not want to go to dinner? Do you just want to talk about something?”

“It’s not that.” Harry said, his arms finally falling to his sides as he met Louis’ eyes. “It’s just-" He turned away suddenly, raking his hands through his hair in frustration.

“Baby.” Louis took another step forward, just as Harry spun around and pointed an accusatory finger at Louis’ legs.

“It’s those jeans!” He exclaimed, causing Louis to freeze in shock.

“My jeans?”

“Are they new? What’s with them? Why are they -? Louis! Do you even know what those look like on you?” Harry complained, his voice strained. 

“I know they’re too small. I need to do laundry. Do they look weird?”

“No Louis! Your arse!” Harry cried, his voice almost cracking. Louis stared at him before suddenly laughing and doubling over. “Don’t laugh.”

“Is this what’s bothering you?” Louis asked, turning around and putting his hands on his hips to frame his ample backside.

“Stop! Don’t!” Harry sputtered, making a bee line for Louis’ closet. “Where are your trousers? You need to wear something else.”

“You’re ridiculous.” Louis laughed, heading toward his hamper. “There might be something clean in here.”

Before he could dig into it’s contents, Harry was upon him, spinning him around and plastering himself to Louis’ front.

“Kiss me. Please.” Harry groaned, kissing Louis feverishly and running his massive hands down Louis’ body. Louis arched into the contact, kissing Harry heatedly and sneaking his fingertips below the edges of his shirt. It had only been a few seconds, but it was already hot and desperate as Harry continued to moan. “Louis, kiss me. Please, kiss me.”

“I am, love.” Louis said between kisses, plunging in deeper and circling his arms around Harry’s neck. With the added support, Louis jumped onto Harry, wrapping his legs around his middle. The pitch of Harry’s moaning heightened in response, and he clenched into Louis’ hips as they careened toward the bed.

They fell onto he unmade sheets, Louis’ legs still wrapped tightly around Harry’s writhing body. Harry ground down into him, licking into his mouth like he was trying to sate an unquenchable thirst. Louis’ thoughts were growing fuzzy as the lack of oxygen set it, but he still couldn’t be bothered to separate himself from the tempest of Harry’s kiss.

He could feel every inch of Harry’s taut chest sliding against his own, teasing at the feeling of skin on skin contact. Louis’ own skin was prickling with beads of cold sweat as his body struggled to remain functional at this hormonal onslaught. Harry, a muscled creature of pure beauty and sex appeal, was clawing at Louis with unbridled desperation, and Louis thought that he might actually die of it. Harry’s knee dug into the bed between Louis’ legs, rubbing against his groin and quickening both of their urgent movements.

He gasped loudly when Harry finally tore his mouth away, sitting up and at last giving Louis a moment to breathe and attempt to gather his thoughts. Dinner was the first word that broke through the fog in his brain, quickly followed by reservation in twenty minutes. Right, they had dinner with the crew tonight. They were running late. Time to get back to that, just as soon as the bright lights stopped flashing on the edges of Louis’ vision.

He was so focused on his own thoughts that he completely forgot about Harry. That is, until he felt Harry’s fingers busying themselves with the zipper of Louis’ jeans.

“Haz!” He squeaked, feeling a rush of blood thrumming towards his groin at just the idea of Harry’s fingers unfastening his jeans. “Are you -" He stammered. “Are you sure?”

Harry leaned down and quieted his doubt with a heavy kiss, separating as he started to pull Louis’ jeans down.

“I want you all the time, Louis.” He whispered, his voice already thick and syrupy. “All the fucking time. I know what I said about taking it slow, and it’s probably still a good idea, and everything, but I want you all the fucking time.

Every one of Harry’s words sent a twitch to Louis’ cock, which was already plumping in anticipation.

“Haz.” He whined.

“You’re all I ever think about.” Harry continued, his voice continuing to deepen into a silky rumble. “Back before we were together, I had to try so hard not to think about you like this, because it just wasn’t right, you know? But now that - now that we’re together, Jesus this all I think about. Just being with you, and touching you, and making you feel good. I just want to make you feel good, Louis.”

It might have been a little embarrassing how quickly Louis was getting hard, but he didn't think anyone in the world could hold it against him, given the situation. Harry’s fingers curled around the elastic of Louis’ briefs, his movements freezing as he suddenly looked up at him.

“This is okay, right?” He asked, the sheepish version of Harry making a sudden appearance as he looked up at Louis.

“Why are you stopping?” Louis snapped, and Harry gave him a devilish grin as he pulled against the fabric, wiggling it over the swell of Louis’ arse. Louis covered his eyes with his own arms, not excited to see how completely desperate he already was for this. His cock sprung out, hardening and so embarrassingly ready for whatever Harry had in mind.

This turned out to be, however, a moment of Harry gaping open mouthed at the immensity of what was happening.

“God, Lou.” He stuttered, his voice breathy. “Oh my god.”

“It’s not a museum, you know.” Louis grumbled, waving blindly with one of his hands. “You can interact with the exhibit.”

“Dirty.” Harry laughed. Louis opened his mouth to retort, but all that escaped was a cut off whimper as Harry’s mouth wrapped around the head of Louis’ dick without preamble. Only too aware that Nona was somewhere in the house, Louis grabbed a pillow and stuffed it into his own face, muffling the string of cries that spilled out of him as Harry’s tongue swept in a circle around him.

And god, Louis was whimpering for it as Harry’s warm mouth sunk down to his base, bobbing up and down with wet pops. He clenched into the pillow as he struggled not to grind into Harry’s mouth, his cries still whimpering out of his control.

Maybe his reaction was a bit much; he was certainly past the point of retaining any ounce of dignity. But god, it had been so long since anyone had touched him like this. And really, had anyone ever touched him like this? Had anyone ever moved with such a perfect tempo up and down his length, or licked his cock like they were playing scales on a harmonica? It was dizzying, and the picture he was imagining of Harry was making his spine burn white hot. He held onto the pillow even tighter, knowing that a single glimpse of Harry would send him over the edge.

They both froze as there was a knock at the door.

“Lulu? Everyone’s already at the restaurant!” 

Louis tore the pillow away, looking at the closed door in fear. 

“Nona - I can’t. I can’t even right now.” He said, his voice obviously raw.

“Oh. Oh! Okay. Yeah. We’ll meet you there, yeah?” She said hurriedly, her heels clicking quickly down the hallway as the situation became clear to her.

Louis looked to Harry to share a look of relief, but what he saw knocked the last traces of common sense from his body.

Harry was leering up at him, glassy eyed and wild haired, smiling before he puckered his lips and kissed Louis’ tip. Louis’ breath caught just as Harry suddenly took him into his mouth, his cheeks hallowing as he swallowed around him.

He groaned again, arching off the bed in a complete loss of bodily control.

“Sit up, come on, baby.” Harry said, his voice warm. Louis was all too obedient, sitting up immediately. Harry sidled up to him on his knees, pulling Louis up into the same position by the hips. He fixated himself with the fastenings of his own trousers as Louis started undoing each of Harry’s shirt buttons.

He attached his mouth to Harry’s neck, biting down lightly as each button popped open. He only looked up as he heard Harry pulling his pants down, and gasped at the massive secret Harry had somehow managed to hide in those skinny jeans.

“Jesus, Harry. Are you serious?” Louis gaped.

But Harry was too distracted to answer Louis, taking both of their cocks in one hand, using his own spit and the burgeoning precome on both of their tips as he pumped up and down with a swivel of his wrist. Louis’ head fell languidly to Harry’s sweat strewn shoulder, moaning at the smooth rub of Harry’s palm against his sensitive skin. He felt like a ghost almost, having completely lost contact with his own senses.

“I’ve waited so long for this Louis.” Harry muttered. “Wanted this for so long, baby. Wanted you so bad.”

Louis breathed heavily, Harry’s words awakening him deep in the back of his own mind. This was a monumental moment for Harry, to trust Louis with this, and he was not about to make Harry do all the work. He remembered back to his discovery that night in the igloo, having waited for a moment to use it again since then. With a gentle tug to Harry’s curls, he cocked Harry’s head to the side and licked the tender skin behind his ear.

Harry went almost limp at it, clutching into Louis as his body trembled. Louis held him tighter, using the leverage to lick harder, pulling Harry’s earlobe into his mouth and nibbling on it. Harry cried out, his knees almost buckling beneath him.

He was just pliant enough as Louis flipped them over, landing on top of Harry and locking their lips together. Harry’s strength was sapped as he weakly stroked down Louis’ back, his nails trailing softly against his goose-pimpled skin.

Louis sat up and struggled to pull his tight jeans the rest of the way off of his legs one handed, his other arm supporting him against the bed. Harry’s fingers traced up and down his arm as he watched him, doing Louis the favor of not commenting on how much he struggled to get out of his own clothes. Once able to move freely, he positioned himself between Harry’s legs.

“Louis,” Harry choked the second Louis wrapped his hands around his erection.

“Yes, baby?”

He didn’t answer, instead clenching his eyes shut, his fingers tracing through Louis’ hair as he lowered down and took him into his mouth. Harry groaned without inhibition, causing Louis to hope that Nona had already made her exit. He was pretty sure the neighbors would be able to hear Harry at this point, and that left him strangely excited.

He pumped his own cock furiously, bobbing up and down on Harry until his fingers were curling in his hair.

“Louis, I’m close. I’m gonna-"

But Louis didn’t slow down, instead deep throating him until he felt his eyes water. With a choked groan, Harry tensed and came into Louis’ mouth, come shooting down the back of his throat.

Harry’s tortured whimpers were all Louis had left in him, sitting up and crying out as he came over Harry’s stomach. He watched as his own come spurted across Harry’s contracting abs, both men panting desperately.

“Wow.” Louis sighed, finally falling onto Harry.

They both laughed in exhaustion, Harry’s clumsy arms wrapping around Louis.

“Think we might be late for dinner.” Harry commented.

“Yeah. That’s fine.” Louis admitted, feeling the come pressed between their bodies. He looked up to Harry, pushing a lock of hair out of his face. “How are you feeling?”

“I can’t believe I got to do that with you.” Harry said, his smile radiant and his eyes shining. Louis felt his own stomach flip at this, leaning in to kiss Harry contentedly.

“And I would never do anything like that with Niall.” Louis pointed out cheekily. Harry flicked him hard in the shoulder.

“Why would you ruin this like that?” Harry chuckled, rolling onto Louis and pressing him down into the bed.

“I just don’t want to let the love triangle die!” Louis squealed, squirming as Harry attacked him with wet kisses all over his face.

 

~

 

Louis had vastly overestimated his ability to stay still in his make up chair with a distraction like Harry in the room. Harry was sitting in the swivel chair beside Louis, playing some sort of game with Nona who was sitting behind both of them. From what Louis could see, the game consisted of them just kicking each other at weird angles, but they both maintained that there were actual rules and scoring involved. Louis suspected that this was a lie.

He was also having a hard time keeping his eyes open, as he and Harry hadn’t caught much sleep the night before. They’d gone to dinner with everyone, blaming their tardiness on Harry’s late flight. They’d both been friendly and affable, but the moment they were back at the house, they were already snogging frantically and ripping off each other’s clothes.

The floodgates had certainly been opened.

They’d gotten off in every combination of alternating hand jobs and blow jobs imaginable, even just rutting against each other like crazed teenagers once or twice. There would be brief intermissions of talking about nonsense, whispering little affections in each other’s ears until they were ready to dive back in. Their lost time had been most certainly caught up on, leaving Louis’ sheets disgusting and giving Nona a reason to glower at them the next morning. Thank god for industrial strength ear plugs.

It felt different now, Louis realized, to have been with Harry in that way; to have seen him at his most vulnerable and lust-ridden. To have been the one to push him over the edge, then still be there to trace patterns over his trembling back until he lulled him back to reality. And now the idea of having real sex with Harry was even more tantalizing. Not just in a wanton, lustful sense, but in knowing how close it make them feel to each other. They’d barely begun to be with each other, but Louis was already aware that sex had never made him feel this way before. Not even with Joshua.

“He’s really going to focus on fiber and protein. Avocados, chicken, almonds, brown rice.” Harry listed off, detailing the diet he’d already started planning to help Louis bulk back up once filming ended.

“Then chocolate cake and beer?” Nona asked.

“Nuh uh. He needs healthy fat. No sugar.”

“You’re single handedly ruining my life, Harry.” Louis muttered, causing his make up artist to glower at his movement.

“It’s your birthday next week, right?” Nona asked Harry.

“Yup.” He answered. “And it’s mine and Louis’ one month.”

His make up artist huffed with frustration as Louis’ eyebrows rose, taking in what Harry had just said. His mind wandered back to New Years and their promises of it being their “day one.” So that meant it was almost an entire month that they’d been together. An entire month since the nightmare had finally ended. 

An entire month of being with Harry.

Before she could begin working on his face again, he turned to shoot an affectionate grin at him.

“What do you want for your birthday? Something extravagant?” Nona asked.

“Nope. Just him.” Harry said, gesturing with his head toward Louis, who was trying to control the muscles of his face and fight off the smile.

“You two are just too much.” She groaned. “How have you not just gotten married yet?”

“You’re all good, Boo.” The make up artist said, patting Louis on the shoulder.

“Thanks love.” Louis said, getting up so Nona could take her turn. He gave her a kiss to the top of her head as she sat down in their customary goodbye before leading Harry into the hallway. Harry rounded on him as he closed the door, running his fingers over Louis’ face.

“It looks really real.” He murmured, his eyes roving over the dark bags and deep contours that had just been painted onto his cheeks. They were filming one of that last scenes of the film, which meant that Louis had to look completely emaciated. “I kind of hate it.”

“It’s just make up.” Louis promised him. “Just make believe. I get to wash it off tonight.”

“I still don’t like it.” Harry complained, wrapping his arms around Louis’ waist. “But you know what I do like?”

“What’s that?”

“She called you Boo.”

“Enough, Mr. Styles.” Louis laughed, pushing Harry away and walking down the hallway. Harry laced their hands together as he caught up.

Boo Bear.”

“Enough!”

 

~

 

Manchester, England: February 15

Daniel was standing on a table, glass of champagne in hand as he wove a beautiful, moving speech to summarize the last few months together. Louis didn’t hear a word he was saying, however, because Nona was sobbing into his shoulder and squeezing him so hard he thought he might snap in half.

“I’m going to miss you so much!” She cried, squeezing him even harder. He clenched his jaw, intent on not breaking down himself. This proved impossible, however, as Nona looked up at him with watery eyes, waiting for response.

“I’m going to miss you, too!” Louis’ voice cracked, throwing himself into the embrace.

“Okay, they’re - they’re having a moment over there.” Daniel said, everyone’s attention turning to their wailing. “You guys okay? Everything alright?”

Louis looked up to see everyone at the wrap party watching them with sad, warm eyes. It was no secret on set that Nona and Louis had been instant soulmates since production began, and everyone had been wondering how they were going to handle the movie’s end. They’d both ignored the impending separation for the last couple of weeks, staying chipper and happy as shooting had finished. While everyone else had been getting sentimental about the last shot of the film, they’d both been happily demanding everyone pop champagne.

But now, at the wrap party, something had finally clicked and Louis couldn’t imagine living somewhere without Nona in the other room.

“We’ll take it outside. Sorry, Daniel.” Louis apologized, leading Nona away. 

They sat out on the deck outside the house, bundled in their jackets and holding hands as they sat in chairs beside each other.

“You should just move to New York.” Nona said, sniffling. “And we could live together and have a reality show. I’d watch that. Especially if Harry just showed up every once in a while in his tiny underwear.”

“And what tiny underwear do you speak of?” Louis asked, his eyebrow cocked suspiciously.

“He came downstairs when he was staying with us. You were still sleeping. We had a conversation for, like, thirty minutes in his briefs and he was just totally not bothered by it.”

“That sounds like him.” Louis admitted fondly. “But really, if we’re going to do this reality show, it makes more sense for you to come to LA. Both Harry and I already live there.”

“That’s just absurd, Louis.” She said on a dramatic exhale. “I could never go west. LA’s just full of barbie doll blondes that are forty feet tall and weigh thirty pounds. I wouldn’t last a day. Seriously, even your boys are bleach blonde. They’re just not my people.”

“You know, one of my good friends is a bleach blonde, and he’s very,” Louis trailed off, searching for a complimentary way to describe Niall, “drunk. And disruptive. That sounds exactly like your kind of people.”

“I’m going to send you a good morning selfie every day.” Nona decided. “And you need to give me every update about Harry. Seriously, every update. Good or bad. I made you two happen.”

“You didn’t-" Louis objected, suddenly realizing she wasn’t lying. He never would have confronted his feelings about Harry had it not been for Nona’s sudden impact on his life. His gaze soften, and he lifted Nona’s hand in his so he could kiss it softly. “Thank you, Nona.”

“You’re welcome, Lulu.” She said tenderly.

They both turned as the sliding door opened and Daniel stuck his head out.

“You two going to survive?” He asked.

“No. Absolutely not.” Nona announced.

“If it makes you feel any better, I’ve started writing again. I could have a couple of parts waiting for you on the next one.” He said enticingly, taking a sip from his glass. Nona sat forward excitedly.

“Can we have a sex scene this time? I want to see Louis’ thighs!”

“And I want her to have the chance to see them.” Louis added brightly. “We’re counting on you, Daniel.”

 

~

 

Paris, France: February 16

It was irrational, he knew, but Louis was nervous again. 

He looked immaculate, fuckable, even, as the private car carried him through Paris towards Harry’s belated birthday bash. Paul sat in the front seat, apparently after Harry had insisted someone familiar be there to pick Louis up. All of Harry’s friends had gathered at an exclusive club, waiting for Harry to get out of the interviews he’d been scheduled to give all day. They hadn’t talked yet that day, and trepidation was itching at the back of Louis’ thoughts as he got closer to the club.

It had been one thing when Louis was whisking Harry around across set in front of his friends and coworkers, but these were Harry’s friends. Many of them didn’t know Louis, and he had no idea what Harry had told them about the two of them. He didn’t even know if he was going to be there in the capacity of Harry’s boyfriend, rather than just another friend. It was completely possible that he was going to just spend the night in the throng of people oscillating around Harry, not knowing anyone else and pretending that nothing was going on between him and the birthday boy.

Did anyone else even know he was coming? How would he introduce himself to them? The thing was, ever since that drunk conversation in Italy, the word boyfriend hadn’t come up again. There really hadn’t been any reason for it to. Everyone in Manchester had already met Harry when he came to New Years, so there hadn’t been a reason to introduce him to anyone. And he still hadn’t told Zayn or Liam anything (which was driving them both particularly insane) so it just hadn’t come up.

He formed the word boyfriend with his mouth soundlessy in the back of the car, knowing that he should get used to saying it. They’d had this conversation, alcoholic influence or not, and he should learn to say it like it was the truth. He decided to find an excuse to use the word sometime soon, just to practice.

As his phone started to ring again, he knew it was his perfect opportunity.

This was the fourth time Joshua had called that day, his calls having grown in frequency ever since Harry had answered the phone back in Stockholm. They came around the same time everyday, even though Louis never answered.

He decided it was finally time to put and end to it.

“Yes?” He answered, his voice impatient.

“Louis! Hi. I’ve been - I’ve wanted to hear your voice for so long.”

“I only answered to tell you that you need to stop calling.” Louis said resolutely. “This is the last time I’m going to answer.”

“That’s fine, Louis, that’s fine. I just want you to hear me out. You’re coming back to LA soon, aren’t you?”

Louis’ blood ran slightly cold as he thought about being in the same city as Joshua again. For so long, they’d had an entire ocean between them. Even though Harry had never been close by, at least he was much closer than Joshua. 

He took a deep breath, readying himself to drop the bomb on his ex-boyfriend.

“Joshua, I’m with Harry now. I’m dating Harry.” Louis said, hearing the line go silent. Joshua’s stuttering met his ears long before his words.

“What - what do you mean?”

“He’s my boyfriend, Joshua.” The line fell quiet again, and Louis could almost feel the anger emanating from the silence. “You need to move on. We’re over. We’ve been over for months. Harry is my boyfriend now, and he’s the one I need to think about.”

“Louis, no. He’s so wrong for you.”

“He doesn’t like that you call me so much, and honestly, I don’t like it either. This has to stop.”

“Look what he’s doing, Lou. This was his plan the entire time!”

“I’m going to block your number, Joshua.”

“No, baby, no!”

“I really hope things get better for you.” Louis pulled the phone away, hearing Joshua’s protests as he hung up. He sighed heavily, looking up with heavy lids at Paul, who was watching him through the rearview mirror. “Do you know how to block someone on an iPhone?”

Paul smiled at him before gesturing for him to hand the phone over. Louis acquiesced and sat back, reminding himself of what really mattered.

They were celebrating Harry’s birthday. His boyfriend’s birthday. He got two blissful days here in Paris with his boyfriend before he had to jet back to LA, and he was going to make the most of it.

Metal Heart  was coming out in just over a month, so press was hitting high gear the moment he got back. His job was going to be to publicize the movie full time for the next few weeks, so that meant that this was the end of his and Harry’s European love tryst. They weren’t even going to get to see each other again until the Oscars at the end of the month, and even then, Harry would be there with Arrienne.

He was going to make the most of this. He was.

The club was lined with photographers outside, so Louis was snuck in the back as per Harry’s specific instructions. At least three different men in suits said the phrase, “This way please, Mr. Tomlinson” as he made his entrance, which made Louis feel like either a secret agent or the leader of a world-wide drug cartel. Kind of polar opposites, but both had similar perks when it came to being snuck into nightclubs.

He was escorted up by an elevator, watching several floors of the club whiz by through the spotless glass doors until they reached the top level. The dance floor was packed with people dancing in glistening evening wear as they flowed in and out onto the balcony that overlooked the city. A guard walked him past the shining, expansive bar toward the VIP section, which he was immediately admitted into.

He entered a dimly lit, square room packed with slightly familiar people, all holding drinks and being waited on by a private staff of waiters and bar tenders. Louis wasn’t surprised to see several lines of white powder snaking across a table, but didn’t get a chance to look any longer as Niall discovered him.

He made quick work of introducing Louis to his and Harry’s entourage, ushering him around the VIP section and making sure everyone shook his hand. Everyone seemed to recognize him by his name, insinuating that Louis’ reputation preceded him. What exactly his reputation was was still a mystery.

He was chatting with Status Solo’s drummer and his girlfriend as a dull roar of cheers erupted from the rest of the club. Everyone turned to the entrance as Harry’s silhouette came into focus, a round a greetings erupting as everyone hugged him and wished him a happy birthday. Louis stayed at the edge of the room, admiring from afar as Harry smiled and embraced everyone who approached him.

He made his way further into the throng, giving genuine thanks to everyone as they wished him a happy late birthday, but he looked distracted as his eyes roved the group.

As if snapping into place, his eyes landed on Louis and his face immediately lit up. He bounded toward him, picking him up and spinning him effortlessly as if they were a couple in a 1950s movie musical. Once his feet were firmly back on the ground, Harry smacked a heavy kiss against his lips, nonplussed by the eyes watching them around the room.

“Happy birthday, love.” Louis whispered once they separated, watching Harry’s glistening eyes as he looked on in fondness.

“I’m so happy.” He murmured, pulling Louis into another hug.

Even though Louis had already met everyone in the room, Harry found it necessary to re introduce him to everyone in the context of being his boyfriend, dropping the term as if he were getting paid to do it. He was being handed birthday shot after birthday shot, his lips glistening with clear alcohol and his hair growing increasingly unkempt despite Louis’ best efforts to smooth it down.

Even though Harry was holding Louis’ hand in a death grip, he would suddenly disappear at random intervals, twirling into the crowd and out of sight as Louis looked on in confusion. He would flit back over moments later, plastering himself to Louis with zeal, as if his enthusiasm would make Louis forget that he’d even disappeared. Harry obviously thought he was being sneaky, but it was very clear to Louis what he was running off to do. His widely dilated pupils and constant need to sniff loudly made his activities very apparent.

Making another grandiose reappearance, Harry suddenly grabbed Louis by the hips and spun him out of the conversation he was in the middle of. Holding Louis against the wall, he pressed a line of messy and frantic pecks down his throat, nibbling at the base of his neck.

“Haz.” Louis sighed, his hands gripping into Harry’s shoulder blades. “Baby, is it really okay for this many people to know we’re together?”

“Mhmm.” He mumbled, moving back up Louis’ neck. “I trust these people.”

“Yeah, but I feel like you trust everyone.”

“Nope. Don’t trust easily.” Harry said, the words spilling out quickly and feverishly. “Except you. I trust you, Louis.”

Louis held him tighter. “I’m glad. I’m glad you trust me.”

“I’m so fucking happy.” He continued, meeting Louis’ mouth and kissing him with hot intensity for several beats, then suddenly pulling away. “So fucking happy.”

With that, he disappeared again, leaving Louis feeling ruffled. He smiled at Harry’s retreating back and made his way to one of the sleek couches along the walls. 

He’d only sat down for a few seconds before Niall appeared beside him, handing him a shot glass. They clinked them together and threw them back, grimacing at the bitter taste.

“So how’re things going with Haz?” Niall asked, invigorated by the vodka and gesturing for the waiter to bring them two more.

“Altogether or in the last five minutes?”

“Both.” Niall said, accepting two more shots from the waiter.

“Like, too good, honestly. Things are too good.” He admitted, sighing as he watched his boy laughing animatedly with one of his friends. “He’s high out his mind right now, though.”

“He’s not out of his mind right now.” Niall pointed out. “This level’s still manageable. If we keep him distracted from here on, he’ll be fine.”

“I could probably handle distracting him.” Louis decided, throwing his shot back. “Just need to get a bit closer to his level.”

“Cheers to that, mate.”

He wasn’t quite stumbling drunk yet, but rational thought had long since disappeared and been replaced by an innate, desperate need to press himself against every part of Harry’s body. 

Harry’s disappearing acts ended abruptly as Louis grabbed him by the waist authoritatively and kissed him until they were both seeing stars. The rest of their company was just as blissed out as they were, so that fact that the two were snogging on every available surface went largely unnoticed.

Louis’ sense of adventure soon felt suppressed by the confines of their private room, so he eventually found himself dragging Harry onto the dance floor at a barreling speed. Harry’s security stumbled out after them, but weren’t able to catch them as they giggled and enveloped themselves among the knot of dancing bodies.

They grinned at each other devilishly, the lights of the club swirling across their faces and illuminating their eyes a bright purple and blue. It was immediately reminiscent of the first night they’d met each other, when they’d danced wildly like high-spirited children who didn’t care who was watching them.

But as the sultry opening chords to Ne-Yo’s “She Knows” reverberated through the haze, the atmosphere immediately melted into something luridly provocative. Louis spun around slowly and pressed himself against Harry’s hard chest, grinding his arse into his crotch seductively.

Harry’s hands gripped possessively into Louis’ hips, guiding him in a sensuous rhythm to the pulsating beat. The air was hot and wet against Louis’ face, and his back curved as his head fell back onto Harry’s shoulder. Harry’s lips met the exposed skin of Louis’ neck, sucking just hard enough to leave a mark and sending Louis’ mind in a dizzy downward spiral.

His thoughts were sizzling and twisting, only aware of the deafening music and the lush pulse of Harry’s body against his; the carnal need to have Harry against every part of him. He twisted around, his palms sliding down Harry’s chest until he was tracing the contours of his abs through his shirt.

Harry watched him, mesmerized, as Louis closed his eyes and leaned in closer. They hovered, only the length of their eyelashes separating their mouths, and smoldering under the feeling of their colliding breaths. They panted into each other’s mouths, heavy and torrid, before they crashed together with a flourish of tongues and the clack of teeth.

The alcohol and Harry's presence melted together to make Louis so bewilderingly intoxicated that he couldn’t even distinguish between the moments that his and Harry’s mouths were connected or apart. He only felt a rush of reality as they stepped out onto the balcony, the overwhelming music of the club quieting as the cold air encircled them.

Harry was skipping ahead of him toward the railing, his eyes aglint as he turned and waited for Louis to catch up. Louis boxed him in against the railing, leaning into his body and meeting his lips with a strangely chaste kiss. They separated as Louis dug his hand into Harry’s hair, admiring the boy he’d somehow held onto for the last month and a half.

“You’re so beautiful, Harry.” He admitted, his body feeling weak.

“Love it when you call me that.”

“Fine. Then I’ll keep doing it. You’re beautiful. You’re beautiful. You’re beautiful.” He said cheekily, squeaking as Harry suddenly covered his mouth.

“S’not gonna be as special if you keep saying it!” Harry complained, unfazed as Louis licked the palm of his hand. He pulled away to kiss him again, leaning back over the railing as Louis pressed into him.

Louis’ eyes flew open as he saw the flash of lights behind his eyelids. He leaned past Harry, looking down to the road below.

“Think they wanna take our picture.” Louis said, pointing to a group of figures on the street three stories below, each with cameras in hand. “Love getting my picture taken.”

“Fix your hair first, sweetheart.” Harry joked dazedly, running his hands through Louis’ fringe. He laughed as the sudden movement caused Louis’ eyes to swivel about, trying to refocus on Harry’s face.

“Good now?”

“Excellent.”

“Oi! Up here!’ Louis called down below, waving with one hand and holding Harry with the other as the larger man burrowed into his shoulder, laughing with embarrassment. “Want a picture? Here! Have a fucking picture!”

He flipped them his middle finger before Harry squawked in chagrin and pulled him away.

“Not your style, Mr. Styles?” Louis asked, stumbling after him.

“S’go home. Go home with me?” Harry asked, his eyes drooping over his warm smile.

“Always, love.”

 

~

 

While their behavior on the dance floor seemed like a promise to carry on the lurid affair in Harry’s hotel room, the two men found themselves so exhausted they couldn’t do much more than kiss lazily across the bed.

“We were so smutty, weren’t we?” Louis asked, his senses slowly returning.

“Comes with the territory.” Harry answered sleepily, pulling away and letting his head fall onto his pillow, facing Louis.

“What territory is that?”

“Your arse.”

“Ah. An expansive one, that.”

Harry smiled at him, struggling with his last remains of strength to pull himself over Louis’ chest and snuggle in.

His efforts were pointless, however, as Louis suddenly rolled off the bed.

“We can’t sleep yet!” He exclaimed, hopping over to his open suitcase.

“Mmmm, Louis.” Harry groaned, face down on the bed. Louis dug through his disorganized clothes, finally procuring the sloppily wrapped package he’d hidden at the bottom. He jumped back onto the bed triumphantly, sitting up as he handed Harry the present.

“Happy birthday.” He said proudly, watching as Harry begrudgingly sat up. He rubbed his eyes and slowly tore into the paper, his brow furrowing in confusion as he pulled the bound book from the paper.

He eyed Louis suspiciously, immediately recognizing the similarities between this book and the photo album he’d given Louis for his birthday. Louis sat close-lipped, flicking on the lamp on the bedside table as Harry flipped it open.

A picture of Niall smiled up from the corner of the first page, wrapped by an entire page of text. Harry blinked his eyes into focus as he started to read it.

Dear Harry,” Harry began, his voice spent. “First of all, sorry for kissing your Louis. But I really hope you’re calling him your boyfriend by the time you read this. It would be embarrassing if you weren’t. Especially since he’s putting so much work into your birthday present. I would never do something like this for you. Expect a gift card from me.” Harry looked up to Louis. “What is this?”

“Keep reading.” Louis insisted, edging closer so their shoulders were pressing together.

Anyways, what do I even say, mate? You’ve been my best friend since forever, even when I was an annoying prat that no one else could stand. Hell, I’m still an annoying prat that no one can stand. But you’ve always been right there for me. You’re always waiting there when I embarrass myself in front of another girl, or make some dumb mistake and I think my life’s totally ruined. No matter what crazy fiasco I get myself into, you always talk me down and keep things in perspective.

‘But yeah, you’re always there. And you always know what to say. How are you not fucking sick of me yet? I’d be sick of me. I’m not sick of you, though. I love you actually. In a brotherly way. Fuck it, it could probably be a romantic if I really tried. You’re a fit bloke.

‘Not to sound overly cheesy and all that, but thank you for everything you’ve been through with me. We’ve literally been through everything together, and I know you’re still going to be there with me to go through the rest of this shit until we both finally die. You’re such a good person, Haz, and I’m so lucky to have you in my life. I’m proud to call you my best friend, and I’ll always be here to make sure you’re getting treated the way you deserve. Honestly, you deserve the world, and I really hope you believe me when I say that. Love you, mate. -Niall.”

Harry continued to stare at the page, blinking heavily and obviously trying to hide the impact Niall’s words had had on him from Louis. To distract himself, he started to flip through the rest of the book, seeing other faces whiz by with letters beside them. 

“You had everyone write letters to me?” Harry asked.

“Mhmm.”

“But, Lou, there are so many people in here. Like, everyone I care about. How did you do this?”

“Niall helped me narrow the list down.” He explained, leaning his cheek against Harry’s shoulder. “And it was fun. Kind of felt like I got a chance to meet everyone in your life.”

“Louis, this is - this is so much.” He said, grinning widely as the pages fluttered by.

“Hey, now, you’re going to spoil the ending.” Louis scolded as Harry flipped to the last page, growing still as he saw the last face.

It was a picture of Cassidy, the girl they’d met at the homeless youth shelter, smiling as she held a framed copy of her GED diploma. His hand rand down the page slowly.

“Why didn’t you tell me that you’re paying for her to go college?” Louis murmured, his head bobbing as Harry shrugged.

“Never came up.” He gave as a flimsy excuse, his mind clearly already focused on the words Cassidy had written for him. Louis waited patiently, knowing Harry had come to the end when he released a shallow, watery sigh. Louis slowly leaned up to kiss him on the cheek.

“Read the rest in the morning, yeah? We should actually get some sleep.” He said, sliding under the covers. Harry nodded slowly, putting the book on the table as if it were the last thing he wanted to do.

He slid closer to Louis as he turned the light off, waiting until Louis was facing him before he slid a soft arm around his middle.

“Thank you.” He said quietly. “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me.”

“Good.” Louis answered, rolling onto his back and waiting for Harry to taken his usual spot across his chest. “Guess we're even, now.”

 

~

 

Louis’ eyes fluttered open to see a gentle, white morning light slanted across the room. He wasn’t completely sure what had woken him up, until he heard another loud sniffle from beside him. His eyes flicked up to see Harry already awake, the book of letters perched on his knees and his hand wiping something from under his eye.

“Haz?” Louis asked.

“I’m not a weeper!” Harry exclaimed, suddenly leaping from the bed and racing into the bathroom without even looking at Louis.

“You are though.” Louis groaned.

“I am not! I am a man, and I do not cry.” Harry protested, blowing his nose. Louis chuckled as he stretched, looking over to his long-dead phone on the bedside table.

“Can I use your phone charger?” Louis asked.

“Yeah. It’s already plugged in on my side.” Harry called from the bathroom. Louis crawled across the bed, fishing around beside the bed until he found the cord in question and plugged it into his phone. With another stretch, he rolled out of the bed to bother Harry while he waited for it to power up.

“I feel like a celebratory brunch.” Louis announced as he rounded the bathroom door and  leaned against the doorframe.

“What are we celebrating?” Harry asked, squeezing toothpaste onto his toothbrush.

“The fact that I can eat whatever I want now.” He answered, throwing his arms into the air half-heartedly.

“And that you have the self-control to eat something healthy.”

“Except mimosas.”

“No.” Harry said resolutely, his voice garbled as he spoke around his toothbrush.

“Mimosas!” Louis groaned loudly, sinking his weight into the doorframe. He heard his phone buzz from the other room as it started up.

“One mimosa.” Harry said.

“Seven.”

“One.”

“Two and a quiche.”

Harry spit into the sink as Louis’ phone pinged repeatedly from the other room, his missed texts and notifications piling up.

“Fine. Two and quiche.” Harry relented, closing the space between himself and Louis. “Only because I’m excited for you to get back to your original weight. Your mum’s excited too.”

Ping! Ping! Louis’ phone continued.

“How do you know my mum’s excited?”

“She told me.” Harry answered.

Ping! 

“What do mean she told you?”

Ping!

“She texted me on my birthday. We talked for awhile.”

Ping!

“About what?”

Ping!

“About how skinny you had to get for the movie. Makes us both nervous.”

Ping!

“Glad you and my mum have something to bond over.” Louis said flatly. 

Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping!

Louis turned back toward the room, watching his illuminated screen from the bedside table as it continued to chirp at them. Harry had suddenly grown suspicious, too.

“That seems like a lot of messages.” He said.

“Yeah. It is.” Louis agreed, worried.

“Everything’s okay, right?”

Louis walked slowly into the room, his mind racing through everything that had happened in the last day, assuring himself that they hadn’t done anything wrong.

He stopped short as realization smacked him across the face.

“Last night.” he remembered, turning back towards Harry. “When we were on the balcony at the club together.”

“Yeah?”

“There were people taking pictures on the street, weren’t there?”

Louis could see the moment that Harry’s blood ran cold.

Chapter Text

“I know that your heart is still beating, beating darling. I believe that you fell so you can land next to me.”

-Christina Perri

The conversation stopped suddenly as Louis dragged his chair across the floor, closing the two foot gap between himself and Harry with a wooden screech that echoed through the room. He laced his and Harry’s fingers together before looking back up with an expression of mock-innocence.

“So sorry. Do go on.” He urged, pulling their intertwined hands into his lap. Green Tie Man (whom Louis had dubbed thusly after having no interest in learning his actual name) gave the most subtle of eye rolls before he continued whatever list of inane contract details he’d been detailing before Louis’ interruption.

This incident had been labeled a “code blue”, because apparently Harry’s antics were so closely monitored, a color coded system was necessary to make everyone’s lives easier. Luckily, a code blue wasn’t as dire as a code red or code black, but it was enough that several high ranking members of Harry’s management team had taken overnight flights to their Paris offices so that they could confront Harry directly.

The picture that had plastered the front page of the internet that morning showed a blurry image of Louis, uproariously drunk and flipping off the cameras below as Harry leaned into his side. At least, this was how Louis was prepared to describe it, stripping out the fact that the picture showed Louis’ hand wrapped tightly around Harry’s waist and Harry’s forehead pressed against Louis’ cheek as he tried to hide his giddy embarrassment. The problem was, it didn’t look like two mates who were just being drunk and affectionate. There was inherent intimacy in the dark, grainy photo.

Granted, had the picture been taken twenty seconds earlier, they would have been caught in the middle of an exuberant snog session. That, Louis assumed, would have been a code black.

Once their phones had been charged up that morning, they’d been hit with the full brunt of the Larry Stylinson shit-storm that had been brewing overnight. Rumors were unfurling left and right and a full course of damage control was already bleeding into the news outlets. Some Harry/Arrienne articles that were being kept on reserve my management were already popping up across the internet in an attempt to drown out the noise. Louis had nearly gagged as a glanced over a couple of their titles: “10 Times Harry Styles and Arrienne Brant Were the Most Adorbs Couple Ever,” or “Is Harry Styles Going to Propose? His Friends Think So.”

As nauseating as the fake fluff pieces were, they already seemed to be doing the trick. There were still those that were suspicious in the comments about the picture, but the vast majority of people seemed to believe whatever garbage they were told. That bullet had mostly been dodged, but another problem was now looming over the two of them.

Harry’s management now knew that they were officially dating.

An early meeting had been called, and the change in Harry’s attitude was instantaneous. He had been so dreamy eyed and love drunk that morning until his management had phoned him. Louis watched Harry as he listened to the phone, his skin going pale, his eyes brimming wide, and his trembling hands stuffed against his sides as he crossed his arms as tightly as he could. He looked completely horrified, which made Louis feel like every inch of his skin was prickling.

He decided immediately that no matter who protested, Louis was not going to leave Harry’s side as long as he was still in Paris. Even when Harry himself had repeatedly told Louis that he didn’t have to go to the meeting, Louis wouldn’t hear any of it. He swaggered into the conference room, taking a cursory glance of the well dressed men and women glowering at them like a death panel as they waited for Harry.

He and Harry hadn’t said anything so far, just watching as his management argued with Sophia over Skype. Whatever they were saying had been just glossing by Louis so far as indiscernible legal jargon, as he’d been far too fixated on monitoring Harry’s emotional status. The second he’d noticed Harry’s leg start jumping nervously, Louis had decided it was a massive mistake that their chairs had been placed so far apart.

Harry didn’t look up at him as Louis took his hand, his eyes still locked down on the carpet as if he were trying to pretend he were somewhere else. But he did lean slightly into Louis’ side, letting him know how much he appreciated knowing that he was right there. The loud interruption aside, Harry’s management continued bickering with Sophia.

“You okay?” Louis murmured into Harry’s ear, barely above a whisper. Harry nodded curtly as if he were a student trying not to get caught talking in class. This, naturally, was not enough for Louis, who squeezed his hand slightly tighter until Harry looked up. “Uh huh?” Louis questioned again.

“Yeah.” Harry breathed, his face softening as their eyes met.

As yet another reminder that Louis should be very, very concerned about how quickly he was falling for this ridiculous, doe-eyed boy, the conversation around them faded into white noise. Louis was all too focused on Harry’s lips to remember that they were both in a meeting that was so official that it warranted button up shirts and ties. His hand had just started to twitch with the impulse to reach up and cup Harry’s cheek when Louis’ attention was ripped away by the mention of his own name.

“…but Mr. Tomlinson has made it extremely difficult to work with his management.” Said Pencil Skirt Lady (another aptly assigned nickname from Louis).

“What was that?” Louis asked, feeling a familiar wave of sass fluxing through his veins.

“Your management hasn’t returned any of our calls for the last few months.” Pencil Skirt Woman continued, her taut face focusing on Louis as if rearing up for a battle.

And oh, a battle she was about to have.

“And what exactly did you expect from me?” Louis asked.

“Louis.” Harry whispered, leaning further into his side for support.

“No, honestly.” Louis continued, leaning forward. “You thought I’d just play along with whatever heterosexual farce you’d come up with after I found out how you’d been treating Harry for the last five years?”

Everyone in the room seemed to falter, readjusting themselves with unease at the bluntness of Louis’ statement. He watched as they squirmed, waiting for whatever retaliation they had prepared.

“Status Solo represents a multi-million dollar brand, and Harry alone as a client is difficult to estimate-"

“Okay, yes, sure.” Louis interrupted suddenly. “But Harry is not a client to me. He is my boyfriend. He is one of the most important people in my entire life. Does that make sense to you?” They watched him with tight lips. “I don’t really care how much money he’s worth, or what contracts he’s signed. What matters to me is that he’s happy and taken care of. Do you see how our ideals don’t mesh?”

“We are very interested in keeping Harry-"

“No, but really, you aren’t.”

“Louis.” Harry groaned, re-crossing his legs nervously.

“And yes, I get it.” Louis continued, his tirade now beyond control. “Gay wasn’t okay a few years ago and all that, but things are changing. Things have changed. You're not going to make me believe that your precious ‘brand’ is going to plummet because your lead singer happens to like other boys. Take it from someone who has actually come out to the public and dealt with this: nobody is going to care. And even if they do, I can’t begin to comprehend how much money you’ve made off of the fact that Harry is a flawless human, so I can’t really make myself feel bad for your bottom line if it’s affected by the fact that he finally gets to be himself.

‘In case it’s not clear what I’m insinuating, I’ll just go ahead and say it: a coming out narrative had better be in the works. This whole charade has been going on long enough. You’ve been making your client miserable for years, and he’s obviously too nice to say anything about it.

‘I, unfortunately for you, am anything but nice. I honestly don’t care what you fucking throw at me to try and get me to leave; I’m sticking around. Harry is going to come out, and when he does, it will be as my boyfriend. Understood?” Louis finished, his eyebrows cocked in what he knew was his sassiest expression.

“That is a rather complicated subject.” Massive Mole Man (clearly name for the gigantic, festering mole on his cheek) said diplomatically, his jaw clenching uncomfortably.

“Right, so you’ll need to get to work on that immediately.” Louis pointed out. “I’ll take you off the blacklist with my management once we get out of here, and I’ll cooperate with whatever you need so that you can keep up Harry’s public image. But this is only a temporary situation. I’m not going anywhere, so you’re going to have to get used to me being a particularly prickly thorn in your side.”

Louis finished his diatribe with a smug smirk, leaving the room speechless until Sophia picked up the slack and continued the discussion, clearly pleased with Louis’ outburst. Everyone’s eyes moved reluctantly from Louis to her image on the open laptop on the desk, still wary of what consequences he was promising them.

Harry didn’t look at him and Louis could feel his body stiffen where their shoulders were pressed together. Despite this, Harry pulled their hands into his own lap, his free palm encasing them nervously and his head angling a hair closer to Louis.

They both listened for another agonizing hour as the specifics of what was expected of Louis were detailed to him. There were clearly defined rules that someone, somewhere had apparently spent a lot of time thinking about, and there was no shortage of them. It was almost formulaic the way they described everything, but Sophia maintained that no regulations could be set on Louis until an agreement was made with his management. Though not technically his manager, Louis already had plans to sick Liam on them.

Louis’ resolve still managed to remain intact when they were finally released and escorted down to a private car. Harry immediately hunched over in his seat and buried his face in his hands as they drove away, leaving Louis to rest his hand idly on Harry’s back as he turned his phone back on. His inbox was overflowing, but he sifted through the mess in search of one specific response.

Liam had been disconcertingly silent since everything had been unleashed that morning. Normally, Louis could expect at least thirteen phone calls from him by now, but when nothing had surfaced by the time the meeting started, Louis texted him:

 

Have I actually killed you over this one?

 

With a sigh of relief, Louis saw that he’d finally texted back while they were in the meeting.

 

I don’t want you to worry about any of this. We’ll take care of it when you get back in a couple of days. Say hi to Harry for me and let him know everything is going to be okay.

 

“Liam says hi and that everything’s going to be okay.” Louis said, flicking through the rest of his inbox as his insides relaxed slightly. Liam would take care of things; he was practically a superhero.

“It’s not.” Harry mumbled. Louis’ head snapped up, surprised by the anguished grain of Harry’s voice.

“It is though, baby.” Louis said, rubbing his hand up and down Harry’s back soothingly and waiting to feel him grow pliant under his touch.

Harry shirked away, letting Louis’ hand fall onto the seat. Louis’ stomach sunk.

Okay, that was definitely strange.

“It’s not going to be fine or okay or any of that and everything’s just going to end up fucked because I couldn’t keep my stupid hands off of you for twenty seconds.” Harry grumbled, his face still buried in his hands. Louis felt completely rigid as he watched Harry.

“None of this is fucked, Harry.” Louis said. “What makes you think that?”

“Because I’ve done this before.” Harry said, finally lifting his raw, red face to look at Louis. He looked utterly lost. “I’ve seen what they do, and they’re going to do everything they can to make you leave me and I just got you Louis.

Louis’ heart physically clenched, a shallow sigh being the only thing that managed to escape through his lips. He readjusted himself, as if getting his bearings, and steadied his voice.

“That’s not going to happen.” He said plainly.

“How do you know?”

“Because you’re not thinking straight.”

“Yes, I am, Louis!”

“No, Harry, you’re not.” Louis pressed, his hands tightening uncomfortably at what he was about to say. “You’re coming off of a lot of cocaine from last night.”

“What?” Harry snapped, an angry confusion playing across his features that Louis had never seen before. “What’s that have to do with anything?”

“This is what cocaine does the next day.” Louis explained, avoiding Harry’s searing gaze. “It makes you depressed and temperamental; it makes people irrational.”

Louis looked up slowly, hoping to see a gentle understanding wash over Harry, but he found himself utterly shocked at the person he was looking at. Harry’s glare was venomous, the typical stitch in his furrowed brow now icy in frustration.

“What’s that face?” Louis asked, completely bewildered.

“So you just look up side effects of drug use when I’m not looking?” Harry bit spitefully, looking out the window and scrunching his body against the door, away from Louis.

Louis watched him, gaping, having never seen a side of Harry this petty and argumentative. He took another breath, schooling his temper to a manageable level.

“I didn’t google it behind your back.” He said slowly. “I just learned a lot from taking care of Zayn.”

Harry looked over suddenly, his face still stony but obviously surprised.

“Zayn doesn’t do drugs.” Harry countered.

“He doesn’t do them anymore.” Louis corrected. “A couple of his friends died almost two years ago, within a month of each other. Overdoses.” He watched as Harry’s eyes dropped to the empty seat between them, his posture easing slightly. “So he had to get off of it. He wasn’t a complete addict, or anything, but it was hard from him to keep himself out of situations where it was social. That’s actually when he and Liam started getting close.”

“I thought you’d all been best friends since Liam became your agent.”

“I was good friends with them both separately, but they were only casual friends. Except Liam totally fell for Zayn the moment he saw him. But Zayn had just started getting pretty successful, so he was really wrapped up in that culture of drugs and parties. He was a little oblivious about how great Liam was.

‘So then, when he had to get clean suddenly, he had to cut off a bunch of his friends and it was clear that he really needed someone there to support him. I tried to be that friend, but I totally sucked at it. Like, I would accidentally sleep through my phone ringing when he needed to talk, or say the wrong thing all the time. So Liam totally stepped up, and suddenly he was the one that Zayn would call in the middle of the night when he needed to get talked down, or go on long walks with when he needed a distraction.

‘And that’s when Zayn started to look at Liam differently, but neither of them could admit it until a few months ago.” Louis finished, watching as Harry played with one of his rings.

“I didn’t know any of that.” Harry admitted quietly, the uncharacteristic hostility having disappeared.

“Yeah, you just came in and took the credit for getting them together.” Louis pointed out jokingly, which caused Harry to finally smile. He still wasn’t looking at Louis, but his gaze melted into something softer as he watched the silver band of his ring rotate over his pale finger. “What are you thinking about?” Louis asked, a soft breath spilling out of him when Harry finally looked up at him with his familiar warmth.

“I guess, hearing that story.” Harry mumbled. “It made me think about when I knew I was falling for you.”

The last remnants of icy anxiety were whipped away as Louis beamed at Harry.

“Yeah?”

“It was kind of early, but I think it was that night at Niall’s party. When we’d only barely met, remember?” He asked. Louis nodded. “So I knew that Arrienne was supposed to show up at any second, and I was just dreading it so much, but my thoughts kept falling back to you. I just wanted to go find you and see what you were doing, but I knew that I had to stay there and wait for Arrienne. Then I saw someone walking up to me, and my heart just totally dropped because I thought it was her, but then I looked up, and it was you. I can’t even explain how happy I was to see you, even though I barely even knew you. Then you just charged up to me and grabbed me, and I wasn’t afraid anymore. I just held onto you and I swear you actually fell asleep on me, standing up.”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I did.” Louis agreed as he remembered.

“That’s when I knew I was on a slippery slope with you.” Harry continued. “It wasn’t just a fan crush. It was becoming more.”

“In retrospect, that night was probably it for me, too.” Louis realized, making Harry’s smile grow even warmer. “Remember how the night before, I’d almost fallen off my roof, but you grabbed me? And then you promised me that if I ever fell, you’d be there to catch me? Then, less than a day later, I managed to fall off that table while I was sword fighting Niall. But you were right there, just like you’d promised. I think that’s when you kind of became a fairytale prince to me.” Louis laughed, but he grew quiet as he saw that the smile had faded from Harry’s face.

“I haven’t always been there to catch you.” He said lowly, and Louis’ body went cold at the phantom memory of a flight of towering stairs.

“Harry,” he rasped out over a dry throat, “no, you didn’t physically catch me, but you were still right there for me the second I woke up. And you were there every second after that to make sure I was okay and I was taken care of. I have a confession about that actually.” His thoughts wandered back to that week after he’d hurt his shoulder, when everyone was taking turns staying at his house to watch over him. Harry had been there every other day, always falling asleep under the covers next to Louis. “You’re the only one who slept in my bed with me after I got hurt.”

“You told me Zayn and Liam always shared a bed with you when they took their turn.” Harry pointed out, turning to Louis in surprise.

“Yeah, I lied.” Louis admitted. “I just wanted an excuse to sneakily hold your hand while you were sleeping. In a completely platonic, brotherly way, of course.”

Harry laughed, his curls falling messily around his grin. He unclipped his seatbelt and slid over to Louis’ side, hunkering over to rest his head against Louis’ shoulder.

“What do you want to do tonight?” Harry asked, grabbing one of Louis’ hands and playing with his fingers.

“It’s your birthday, love. I’m up for whatever you want to do.”

“Could we just stay in tonight?”

“Course we can.” Louis answered, resting the side of his face against the top of Harry’s head.

“I don’t want you to go tomorrow.” Harry said weakly.

“I’m ready to go home.” Louis admitted. “But I don’t think it’s sunk in for me yet that I’m not bringing you back with me.”

Harry exhaled loudly at that and pulled his legs under him on the seat, his gangly limbs struggling in the scrunched car. Louis did everything he could to keep from laughing at this much larger man who was trying to make himself small enough to cuddle with Louis. It was almost impossible to believe that this was the same person who had become so angry a few minutes earlier.

Harry’s head lifted from Louis’ shoulder to kiss him lightly on the neck.

“You’re everything, Louis.” He said softly.

“You’re everything too, Harry.”

 

~

 

LA’s arid landscape broke through the clouds in one deft swoop, a wash of familiar yellow and brown that marked his arrival back home. His fingers continued to tighten around his armrest in the white knuckled death grip he had maintained since they’d left European air space.

He felt knocked back and forth between two poles, both overwhelmingly excited to finally be back home, and yet desperately thinking back to his goodbye with Harry. They’d become so used to the airport goodbyes that it had become routine; a few longing hugs and slow kisses, followed by the kind of simmering eye contact that surely made the rest of Harry’s security uncomfortable.

It had almost become comforting to Louis in a way, to finally have something routine with Harry. Their relationship had blossomed so suddenly that Louis still found himself blindsided at every turn, so finally there was at least one thing that felt familiar between the two of them.

But the last goodbye had been markedly different. Harry, of course, didn’t say anything that he thought might upset Louis, but his eyes had spoken volumes. He wanted so desperately for Louis to stay.

He had those quivering, frightened eyes that Louis had promised he’d never force onto Harry’s face again. But this time, Louis hadn’t been the cause. There were other forces that were frightening Harry, and this time, he just wanted to keep Louis by his side.

But even though it felt like his insides were actually clawing their way out of his body in an attempt to stay with Harry and never say goodbye again, Louis had no other choice but to get on that plane. Press for Metal Heart was kicking into high gear, so the next two months of Louis’ life were going to be spent giving interviews and making appearances full time.

Despite exhaustion and utter boredom, Louis couldn’t get himself to nod off once on the seven hour flight, watching his own leg bob up and down anxiously as he ticked away how many hours were now separating him and his boyfriend. It was obsessive, yes, but Harry was worth the obsession.

He was more than slightly aware that a few people on the plane had recognized him and were cataloging his every move, but he still couldn’t be bothered to do anything besides stare at the tray table in front of him. These few fellow passengers turned into a small group after they’d touched down, looming behind him and taking what they thought to be furtive photos as he made his way to the baggage claim.

It had now been nearly nine hours since he’d seen Harry, so his insides were completely worn from the tugging match between his conflicting emotions. Because of this, he was entirely incapable of retaining his dignity once he spotted Zayn and Liam.

Admittedly, in this post 9/11 world, you should refrain from making any sudden movements inside an airport, even if you’re already off the plane. This, however, did not stop Louis from barreling towards the two of them in a full sprint and launching himself onto Zayn with a spine snapping hug.

Zayn laughed through the crushing embrace until Louis finally let him go, turning to Liam and pulling him in with a murmured, “Get over here, you slab of beef.”

As much as Louis had taken a sadistic pleasure in keeping the two of them in the dark about his and Harry’s affair, now that his two best friends in the world were within arm’s reach, he felt himself completely melting into sentimental goo.

A well played puppy dog pout convinced Liam to deal with Louis’ luggage so the trio headed out to Liam’s car with Zayn glued to Louis’ side and asking nearly a thousand questions per minute. Louis stopped his interrogation short as they reached to car so he could do the one thing he’d been itching to do since he’d left: call Harry.

“Louis?” Harry answered, his voice jubilant.

“Just calling to let you know that the plane did in fact crash and I died. Sorry about that.” Louis said, leaning against the side of the car and watching Liam stuff his bags into the boot without even considering offering any assistance.

“Don’t joke about that.” Harry said, though he was laughing. “I’d be very sad if you crashed and died.”

“Oh really? How sad?”

“I wouldn’t be able to stop crying for at least a day.” Harry said.

“Ah, honey, an entire day? That’s so sweet.”

“I said at least an entire day. Who knows. I might even cry up to two days.” He said snarkily. “You with Zayn and Liam?”

“Yeah. I should probably start paying attention to them now.”

“Probably a good idea.”

“You’ll call me before you fall asleep?”

“Of course.” Harry said. “I miss you already.”

“Miss you too.” Louis responded, but he bit down suddenly on his lip as another three word phrase almost spilled out of him. He hung up in a panic, his eyes growing wide and his pulse quickening as the words shot through his thoughts.

Louis had almost said, “I love you.” He’d only been with Harry for a month and a half, most of which had been long-distance, and for some reason during a short call to just check in and let him know his plane had landed, Louis had almost said, “I love you” as a nonchalant goodbye. And yes, from what he’d seen in his friend’s other relationships, this wasn’t particularly premature. There was just one resounding fact that was making Louis panic, which was that he’d only ever said those words to one other person before, and it had taken him six months.

Feeling the urge to say it already was blindsiding him.

“Was that Harry?” Asked Zayn, interrupting Louis from his intense staring match with his phone. Louis looked up to see both of their knowing smiles before he opened the car door.

“No. That was Niall. We’re having an affair.” He answered as everyone sat down and Liam started the car.

“Yeah. I saw something about that.” Zayn added. “You two looked very happy together.”

They joked for the rest of the car ride, catching up on the last couple of months of the movie shoot and each other’s lives. Louis tried to ever-so-subtly gauge where Zayn and Liam’s romance had progressed to, but Liam shut him down with a steely glare every time the conversation turned that direction. This was fine with Louis, because he knew that all he needed was to put a drink in Zayn’s hand to get all of the details.

Walking into his house for the first time in months was a tumult of mixed emotions. Of course he was happy to be home, but this had been the home he’d shared with Joshua. When Louis left for Manchester, he’d been only a couple of weeks out of a horrifying break up with a dislocated shoulder to show for it. He’d been completely miserable, desperately trying to convince himself that he could live without Harry even though something deep inside knew that he had just ruined the best thing that had ever happened to him.

Now, two months later, his problems were completely different. Harry was his boyfriend, and just the mention of his name made Louis’ heart seize up with a golden glow. But scarcely a day earlier, a panel of men in suits had crashed their little romantic bubble down on top of them.

And this realization made Louis finally stop skirting the issue.

“So, let’s address the elephant in the room, shall we?” Louis suggested as he fell onto one of his sofas. Liam nodded but avoided Louis’ gaze as he sat down. Zayn sat on the armrest beside him and let his hand linger on Liam’s shoulder as if for emotional support. This made Louis gulp audibly.

“I got a call yesterday from Harry’s management about your relationship, but I had to tell them that I honestly didn’t know any of the details of what’s going on.” Liam said slowly. “Could you kind of walk me through the timeline?”

“Erm,” Louis began. “We’ve been together since New Years. We’ve been visiting each other back and forth since then, and I was visiting him for a late birthday party when they got the picture of us.”

“Okay.” Liam said, nodding as if pieces of a puzzle were slotting into place. “So you and Harry are officially a couple?”

“Yup.” Louis responded, not missing Zayn’s fleeting grin.

“So Harry’s people are pretty terrifying.” Liam admitted. “Like, I was afraid if I said the wrong thing, it would end in a lawsuit. So there’s no fucking way I’m just going to let them yank you and Harry around. I’ve been talking to the publicity team for Metal Heart all day and I’m basically in a task force with a couple of them to just handle yours and Harry’s relationship. The big goal right now is to drum up a bunch of publicity around you that distracts from you and Harry, but also brings attention over to the movie.”

“And I had a really great idea, but Liam doesn’t like it.” Zayn pointed out.

“It’s not that I don’t like it, I just feel like things could go really wrong.” Liam defended himself. Louis got the immediate impression that they’d had this conversation many times.

“What’s the idea?” Louis asked.

“Well Harry has a fake girlfriend, right?” Zayn asked, and Louis already knew where he was going.

“You want me to find a fake boyfriend?”

“I just think that if we sent out some pictures of you with another guy, such as, maybe, your gay model best friend, the tabloids would be able to draw their own conclusions.” Zayn explained.

You want to be my fake boyfriend?”

“Wouldn’t you rather it was me than some random guy?” Zayn asked. “We could just act how we normally do, and it would take a lot of the heat off of you and Harry. The four of us could probably even go out publicly, because then it would just look like we’re there as a couple and we brought along some of friends.”

Louis sat back in thought and mulled over the idea, realizing that it was very appealing. But there was one glaring problem that he couldn’t get past. “I couldn’t do that to Liam if he isn’t comfortable with it.”

“Li, come on.” complained Zayn.

“It’s not that I’m uncomfortable with it.” Liam clarified. “Like, I’m not that possessive, or anything. I know you guys are just friends. But what if something crazy happens, like me and Zayn get papped somewhere, then Zayn gets torn apart on the news for being a cheater?”

“I’m willing to take that risk for Louis.” Zayn said. “We’ll be careful.”

“But what about Harry? We don’t even know how he’d feel about it.”

“I can ask him.” Louis said quietly, still thinking everything over. He had to admit how much it made sense. All it would take was one picture holding hands with Zayn, then suddenly everything pinning him to Harry would look like conspiratorial speculation.

They put the conversation on hold for the time being and helped Louis unpack and make dinner. After a lengthy phone conversation with Nona following their few days of separation, Harry finally called to describe his entire day in vivid detail, down to the color of napkin he had at lunch and how it complemented his mood.

“So, serious question.” Louis said calmly, halting Harry’s words.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Well, nothing new. Same problem as the other day.” Louis said, and he could hear Harry’s sharp intake of breath.

“Yeah?”

“Liam and Zayn have a little idea. I don’t know if you’re going to like it, but at least think about it before you respond.”

“Okay?”

“We kind of, maybe, thought it would be a good idea if Zayn and I, like, went out together and got some pictures in front of the paps. You know? Because Zayn’s pretty well known in the modeling industry and he already came out a few years ago.”

“So people will think you’re together.”

“Yeah, but, we don’t have to confirm it, or anything. We don’t have to keep up a lie all the time. It’s just a temporary little fix. A few pictures. That’s it.” Louis held his breath as he waited for Harry to respond.
“Hmm.” He hummed, causing Louis to prickle with anxiety. “Well, I guess, like, I can’t really complain. Since I have Arrienne, and everything.”

“But if you’re not okay with it, then I won’t do it.”

“I mean, I don’t really like it, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. I want people to know we’re together, because I want everyone to know how lucky I am, but we can’t do that. And I see how this would really help.”

“I don’t have to do it. Not if you don’t like it.”

“No, Louis. You should do it.” Harry said resolutely.

“Are you sure?”

“No. But you still should.”

And all Louis wanted to do was to wrap himself around Harry and let him know how fantastic he was, but an ocean and two continents divided them. Instead, Louis could only tighten his grip around his phone.

 

~

 

There were already cameras flashing, which shouldn’t have come as any surprise. They’d been planted there especially to document Louis and Zayn, so it was time to put on a show for them. They were at the bar in a courtyard restaurant in the middle of a resort hotel, giving the photographers a vantage point on a balcony above them. Apparently, Louis’ publicity team had decided that a hotel bar seemed the most likely place for him and Zayn to get a couple of drinks if they were an actual couple.

They both leaned against the bar, facing each other, as they finished off their first drinks. The first layer of alcohol was settling into a bubbly bliss, so Louis scooted closer to Zayn.

“Well Zayn Malik, I think it’s time we decided to fall in love.” Louis said dramatically.

“I agree.” Zayn said as their drinks were replaced. “Let’s laugh while we make eye contact. People who are in love do that, right?”

“Oh, probably.” Louis said, laughing theatrically at Zayn in a gesture for the cameras.

“That was terrible, Louis. I thought you were an actor.” Zayn chided.

“Here, new idea. I’m going to put a hand on your waist while you tell me what it’s like to have sex with Liam.”

Zayn sputtered over his drink as he laughed, sinking into Louis as he wrapped his arms around him.

“Mmm, no. Can’t tell you that.” Zayn said. “You’re his friend. Conflict of interest.”

“But, oh my god, please.” Louis begged, knowing that their close proximity was probably making the photographers go wild. “He’s like a total animal, right? Roaring and tearing out his chest hair?”

“No.” Zayn continued to laugh. “There’s no roaring. He’s not very noisy. He gets really focused, actually. Like, fixated on the task at hand.”

“You’re joking!” Louis guffawed. “Is he like, ‘Lie back Zayn. I learned this during a sports medicine seminar at Uni’?”

“No! Stop!” Zayn chuckled. “So what’s Harry like, then?”

“Wouldn’t know. We haven’t had sex yet.” Louis answered, the words spilling out through his tipsy fog before he could shut his own mouth.
Seriously?”

“I should not have said that.” Louis gaped, blown away by his own stupidity.

“Ah, come on. It’s me. You can tell me anything.” Zayn reasoned, sipping from his drink coyly in the hopes that Louis would elaborate. Louis clenched his jaw tightly in an attempt to keep his thoughts to himself, but the last two months of hiding his relationship with Harry had created a burgeoning volcano inside him. All he wanted to do was just talk about his boyfriend with his best friend, and the double margarita he’d just downed was making it hard to resist the urge to explode.

“We’ve done plenty of stuff together, but we haven’t had actual sex yet.” Louis explained.

“Why?”

“Trusting people is kind of hard for Harry.” Louis admitted, looking at the sweat beading around his glass. “He’s only been in love once, and he had his heart broken, so we’re taking things kind of slow.”

“That’s sweet.” Zayn cooed. “I want to point out that just now, when you were talking about Harry, you had this look on your face that I’ve never seen on you before.”

Louis felt his face split with a grin. “Yeah. I’m really happy.”

“So things are going good, right? You only leave me in the dark when things are good, since you have nothing to complain about.”

“Yeah, everything’s really good. Perfect, kind of.” Louis said, his voice trailing off as he looked down.

“Except?”

“It’s not a big thing. Compared to how great he is about everything else, it’s really not a big thing. It shouldn’t even bother me.”

“But?”

“The other day, back in France, I saw him freak out a bit. And I’ve seen him upset before, but this was different.” Louis said, remembering his conversation with Harry in the car after they’d talked to his management. “He was just so convinced that everything was going to fall apart and that I was going to leave him. And there was just something in the way he looked at me, and I could tell he wasn’t just being neurotic. He actually thought everything was going to go to shit. He wasn’t himself, you know? He wasn’t Harry. Niall’s told me some stories about how his emotions can hit him really hard. So just, knowing that plus actually seeing a little bit of it, it kind of scares me.”

“What about it scares you?”

“He just - I’m afraid he doesn’t see it. How great he is. He doesn’t believe in himself at all, and it scares me.”

“But Louis, that’s what you’re there for.” Zayn reasoned, scooting closer and looking Louis directly in the eye. “You’re there to tell him he’s great and prove that you’re not going to leave him. He’ll learn that someday.” Louis nodded. “And, I mean, it wasn’t a big fight, was it?”

“No, not at all. It was honestly only a couple of minutes. I’d just never seen him like that before, so it kind of bugged me. It’s probably nothing, really.”

“It’ll be nothing once he gets back here.” Zayn said. “When do you see him next?”

“Oscars, then he has three more weeks of the tour, then he’s back for good.”

“I’ll toast to that.” Announced Zayn, holding his drink up.

“M’gonna bite your ear, okay?” Louis asked, pushing his uneasiness back. “Good picture for the internet, and all that.”

“It’s your show, darling.”

 

~

 

“So what can you tell us about your friend Zayn Malik?”

“That he is indeed a friend. A rather gorgeous friend, admittedly, but I’m sure anyone with functioning eyes is aware of that.”

The reporter licked her lips and cocked an eyebrow, clearly not impressed with his answer. The constant flash of photos was starting to become a dull background distraction to Louis now that he was nearly halfway down the red carpet, and he was mostly successful in ignoring the headache that had started blossoming from his last photo op with Eleanor.

He’d anticipated a glowing moment of grandeur from walking the red carpet at his first Academy Awards. All day, he’d been in and of hair and make up and interview prep, but now that the actual moment had come, he was surprisingly underwhelmed. Actually, annoyed might be a more accurate term for it.

The photos were ceaseless, and he continually had to wade through several questions about his alleged romance with Zayn before anyone actually asked anything about Metal Heart. By the time they finally asked something about the movie, it tended to be another banal, repetitive question which he would try to answer in an original way before his keeper ushered him further down the carpet.

He rotated these excuses continually through his head in an attempt to convince himself that there were many reasons why he wasn’t enjoying one of the most magical nights in Hollywood. But, in truth, there was only one reason he felt grumpy: Harry was here with Arrienne.

“So are you excited for your new film, Metal Heart to finally come out? I feel like people have been excited for it for forever.” The reporter continued.

“Yes, it’s definitely been a long ride and I can’t tell you how excited we are for people to finally see it.” Louis answered.

“Do you think you’ll it’ll be sending you back here next year?” She asked jokingly.

“Oh yes, definitely. As you know, superhero movies always get nominated for prestigious awards.”

The reporter started to speak again, but Louis’ head whipped around as he heard a familiar voice behind him.

“Lulu!” Nona called, but Louis was already closing the distance between them to wrap her in a spinning hug. Her glittering floor length gown unfurled as they spun. “You look lovely, sweetheart.” She said, petting his hair.

“So do you. Obviously.”

“Have you seen Curly yet?” She asked, using the nickname they’d agreed on during one of their many late night phone calls in which he caught her up to date on the covert relationship situation.

“Fleetingly.” He answered, looking furtively to the side to make sure there was enough room between the two of them and the line of reporters to speak freely. “Managed to see him plant a contractually obligated kiss on the red monster.” He grumbled.

“I’ll talk shit about her in the bathroom, if you’d like.” Nona offered.

“Nothing in the world would make me happier.”

This proved to be an untrue statement, however, as Louis neared the end of the procession and caught sight of Harry once again. He was posing with Arrienne, his hand around her waist and his smile wooden. Louis had seen the two of them together before, but this was the first time he’d had to watch Harry touch her since they’d become an official couple.

He hadn’t anticipated the way that his spine seized and snarled.

Harry saw him where Louis was lingering about thirty yards away, excusing himself from Arrienne’s side and trying to walk over to Louis in a way that didn’t look like a direct bee-line. Management had given them permission to talk once during the red carpet to keep up the appearance that they were good friends, knowing it would look suspicious if they completely ignored each other. They were not allowed, however, to make any physical contact that could be caught on camera.

It looked like Harry had chosen this moment for them, and Louis soon realized this made him much happier than any trash-talking Nona might be capable of.

As always, Harry was radiant from the top of his head to soles of his boots. And no, apparently, not even an event as elegant as the Oscars could convince Harry to button his shirt all the way. But honestly, Louis wouldn’t have had it any other way.

He stopped a foot short of Louis, watching him with an understated grin and stuffing his hands into his pockets as if this were the only way he could keep from touching him.

“Hi.” Harry said happily.

“Hi.” Louis echoed.

“I can’t even explain how badly I want to kiss you right now.” Harry mumbled.

“Believe me, I totally understand.”

“You look upset.”

“Well, yeah, I am.” Louis said, as if this were obvious. “Aren’t you?”

“Nope.” Harry said brightly.

“Why not?”

“Because I just keep telling myself about how great this is going to be next year.” He pointed out. “You’ll be here as a nominee, and I’ll be here as your date.”

Louis had to look down to hide the fact that he’d nearly choked and the three words had reappeared in his head.

I love you.

“I can’t wait.” He managed to get out, trying to retain some of his dignity. He was failing at this though, if Harry’s knowing smile was an indicator. “Are we allowed to talk at the Vanity Fair party, at all?”

“Was thinking about skipping it, actually.”

“I thought your management made a big deal about getting pictures there with Arrienne.” Louis pointed out.

“Yeah, but I think we could sneak away. I’d really rather go back to your place.”

“Back to my place?” Louis gaped. “Back to my house, rather than going to one of the most glamorous parties of the year?”
“Do you not want that?”

“No. I mean, I want that very, very much. You have no idea.” Louis backtracked. “But, Harry, you just flew in a few hours ago. Don’t you want to go home before you go to my house?”

Harry shook his head. “You feel like home to me.”

And, well, that was definitely settled.

Yes, the Vanity Fair party would give him the chance to get drunk with some of the legends that made him chose to be an actor, but it was all too easy for him to trade that for a night with his boy.

 

~

 

Louis had only opened his car door a fraction of an inch before Harry’s hand shot across his chest.

“Wait! No! Don’t get out yet!” Harry objected as he closed Louis’ door, then turned and disappeared out his own door without explanation. Louis gave the driver a fleeting glance to see if he was as annoyed with their antics as most of their drivers usually were.

He was.

Harry circled the car quickly before coming to a sudden halt outside Louis’ door, taking a moment to adjust his posture and straighten his jacket before opening it. Louis was biting rather harshly into the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing as he started to step out, but this apparently wasn’t the plan. Harry ducked down suddenly and slid one arm behind Louis’ back and the other under his legs. In one swoop, he lifted Louis in his arms bridal style.

“Harry!” Louis squeaked as he squirmed.

“Thank you for the ride! Your driving was lovely.” Harry said to the driver as he struggled to close the door with his foot. He adjusted his hold on Louis before making his trek up to the front door.

“Why exactly is this necessary?” Louis asked as he hooked his arms around Harry’s neck, submitting himself to the fancies of this ridiculous man. Harry turned to him with a sly smirk.

“I need you to open the door.” Harry responded without answering Louis’ question. Louis dug around in the pocket of his slacks until he found his keys and made to open the door.

“Angle me down a bit.” He said, chuckling as Harry swooped down so Louis could get at the lock. He struggled to open it one handed, but once he turned the knob Harry burst through, spinning as he carried Louis inside. “Am I your bride or something? You had to carry me over the threshold?”

“Maaaaaybe.” Harry said, elongating the word playfully. He was practically skipping across the hardwood floors, despite the load in his arms.

“If either of us is a bride in this situation, it’s you Harold.”

“Why me?”

“Because you’re literally a Disney princess.” Louis pointed out. Harry opened his mouth to protest, but ended up shrugging as he realized Louis’ logic was sound. Louis was about to elaborate on this point, but his words melted into a content sigh as he watched the familiar walls of his house pass by behind Harry’s profile, realizing that it finally felt like home again.

“Bedroom?” Harry asked.

“Bedroom.” Louis agreed, tightening his grip on Harry’s neck with a squeak as he spun again without warning. They spilled into the bedroom with Harry halting at the foot of the bed. “Harry Styles, don’t you dare throw me onto that bed like a rag doll.”

“I hadn’t actually considered that.” Harry confessed, taking a moment to consider his options.

“Harry-“

But Louis was already being tossed through the air, falling onto the duvet in a pile of laughter and gesticulating limbs. Harry hopped up beside him happily, almost feline in the way he sat. Louis rolled over to face him.

“I have an idea and I think it’s a good one.” Louis announced.

“What’s that?”

“So just hear me out.” Louis said, sitting up and gesturing towards Harry. “You. Less clothes. Now.”

“Hmm, that is a good idea.” Harry admitted with a devilish smirk. He hopped from the bed and turned to face Louis, letting his blazer drop dramatically from his shoulders to his elbows. His eyes fell on Louis as his mouth hung open, just as the blazer fell to the floor. Louis squawked out a laugh before he could stop himself. “What?”

“Is this supposed to be a strip tease?” Louis asked.

“Obviously.”

“Well, it’s very theatrical.” Louis joked. Harry mock-pouted as he undid the last few buttons of his shirt.

“You can make fun of me all you want, but I got voted the seventh sexiest man in the world in Glamour Magazine last year.” Harry argued as his shirt joined his blazer on the floor. Louis’ hand tightened where it was gripping the duvet as he looked at Harry’s chest, now unencumbered by fabric. Harry sauntered over to the bed and crawled onto the edge in front of Louis, kneeling over him.

“Are you serious? Aren’t there like a hundred people on that list?” Louis asked as he drew himself closer to Harry, now eve level with his stomach. His fingers curled around Harry’s waist and he gently kissed the taut skin under his belly button. “Do you still have the article? Can we frame it?”

“That’s a little vain, don’t you think?”

“Not if it’s for me.” Louis argued, letting his words reverberate against Harry’s skin. “We could keep it on my side of the bed.” Harry’s fingers traced slowly through Louis’ hair.

“Does that mean that there’s a side of the bed that’s mine?”

“Yup. That one.” Louis responded, opening his mouth to lick a stripe slowly up Harry’s faint happy trail. Harry’s eyes fluttered.

“Fine, but only if I can keep a framed picture of you in your Metal Heart costume on my side.” Harry countered, his voice already thickening.

“Is that a fantasy of yours?”

“Would you think differently of me if I said yes?”

Louis licked up Harry’s abs by means of a response, leaving Harry’s skin goose-pimpled.  Harry’s fingers moved gingerly through Louis’ hair, his grip loose as his finger tips left an electrified trail across his scalp. This was how it always was with Harry, soft and loving when he could easily be rough and demanding. Louis kissed up Harry’s chest, rising up onto his own knees so their mouths could meet.

Their lips brushed together with what was now a practiced familiarity as Louis looped his arms around Harry’s waist and pulled him in tight. Harry’s hand fell from Louis’ hair, stroking down the side of his face with a soft reverence as his fingers cupped the curves of Louis’ cheek. Louis broke away suddenly as he swooped in towards the tender spot behind Harry’s ear, knowing that the larger man would immediately dissolve into putty. With a hitched breath, Harry’s arms went numb and hooked around Louis neck for support. He leaned into Louis, his head falling onto his shoulder and giving him more access to the side of his neck. Louis nipped at him, his tongue lathing across Harry’s skin with a growing sense of urgency.

“Louis.” Harry whispered, his voice already quivering and weak.

“Hmm?”

“I want - I have a -“ Harry stammered. “I want to-“

Louis pulled his plumping lips away from Harry’s neck and ran his thumb over the slowly darkening mark he’d left behind. Only a moment earlier, Harry had been cocky and playful; now he was already shuddering and spent as he hung onto Louis’ frame. Luckily, Louis had already learned a few secrets to Harry’s on and off switch. If his ear was what wrecked him, it was also what got him going again.

He leaned in close and puffed a hot breath against Harry’s ear before whispering, “What is it, baby?”

Harry’s hands were suddenly on both sides of Louis’ face, coaxing him into looking at him. Louis froze for a moment in surprise before Harry seared their lips together, tonguing into Louis’ mouth feverishly. He pushed him onto his back, draping his body over Louis and running a frantic hand down his chest. He kissed Louis with almost a manic intensity, writhing down into him until they both had to pull away and to let air into their lungs. Their lips brushed together with only the ghost of a touch as Harry’s eyes bore into Louis’.

“I want you, Louis.” He breathed.

“You have me, Harry.” Louis assured him, wrapping Harry in his arms and pulling him tighter.

“No, I mean - I know that - but, I mean,” Harry continued to murmur, dropping down to rest his forehead against Louis’. Louis ran a firm hand down Harry’s naked back, noticing the sweat that was already beading there.

“What’s wrong, love?” Louis asked quietly, watching as Harry’s big, green eyes flicked back up to meet his.

“I want you, Louis.” Harry repeated, his head sinking down until his chin was hooked over Louis’ shoulder. “I want all of you. Inside me. I want you.”

And those words shot below Louis’ waistline with a red, pulsating heat that rattled him until he was speechless. Coherent speech had long since left the realm of possibility, so Louis could only think to pull Harry against his chest even tighter. The weight of Harry against Louis’ body was suddenly so present and intoxicating, every inch of contact feeling like it was sizzling with fireworks. But that sensation was nothing compared to the surge of yearning weaving it’s way through Louis’ chest.

And at the same time, yearning didn’t even begin to define what Louis was feeling. It didn’t come from a place of lust for the gorgeous man who was half naked and pressed against him; it stemmed from the fact that he completely cherished and treasured this beautiful boy trembling in his arms. He gripped at Harry desperately, squeezing him until he hoped he understood how desperately he never wanted to let go.

“Lou, are you okay?” Harry asked, pulling back to look Louis in the eye again. Louis stared back at him, sinking into Harry’s eyes and cataloguing their every detail. They were just so excruciatingly green around his lust blown pupils. Louis had seen those gaping, black wells in the center of Harry’s irises before, but he could still tell that Harry was sober; he was still there behind his eyes. It wasn’t a combination of drugs and alcohol that had caused Harry’s pupils to grow past their normal size, it was Louis.

“Yes, Harry. Oh my god, yes.” Louis breathed, pulling Harry into another frantic kiss and tasting the lush warmth of his mouth before begrudgingly separating. “But are you sure? You’re absolutely so sure?”

“I’m sure, Louis.” Harry promised him. “You’re all I’ve ever wanted.”

And the impassioned sheen glazing Harry’s eyes struck Louis like a lightning bolt, somehow managing to spark a a trace of wetness at the corners of his eyes as three words seared his thoughts.

I love you.

“God, Harry.” Louis murmured against Harry’s lips, meeting him with an equal amount of desperation as he writhed underneath his commanding frame. Harry guided Louis’ hand to cup the swell of his arse as their lips smacked and the fabric of their trousers grew warm from friction. Harry then pulled away as he kissed a trail of eager kisses down Louis’ neck and his fingers unsnapped the buttons over his chest. Louis sank back against the bed, feeling completely powerless in the wake of his own emotions.

I love you so much.

His shirt was finally ripped open, and Harry’s roving hand brushed over Louis’ skin, dipping into each curve of his hips and stomach. He tried with every fiber of his being to just lie back and take in the sensations, but he was starting to feel trapped in his remaining clothing. With a quick peck, he separated himself from Harry and struggled the rest of the way out of his shirt and suit jacket. Catching on quickly, Harry took to the button of his own trousers and quickly stripped them off.

Louis sat back and watched him as he crawled slowly back up the bed, his lips a plump and virulent, kiss bitten red. The fact that Louis had been what made them that color sent another wave down to his groin, which made him even more eager to shed his trousers.

Harry’s lips latched down onto Louis’ chest, sucking tenderly as he undid Louis’ belt. With each second, his hot mouth drifted lower, and Louis laid back against the bed as he submitted himself to the soft flitting of Harry’s tongue. It was almost as if his consciousness was drifting in and out, because suddenly, his engorged cock was in Harry’s hand, all semblance of clothing shed on the other side of the room.

I love you so fucking much.

He almost opened his mouth to say it, but he was cut short as Harry dropped back onto him, rutting their hard ons against each other and hooking his arms underneath Louis. Louis bit down into Harry’s shoulder as some form of an anchor, gripping tighter into him as Harry gasped. He joined the rhythmic press of their hips, his groin enflamed in a fiery warmth that was causing his breath to catch and his pulse to pound out of control. Harry’s cock was solid on top of him as it slid up Louis’ stomach in a quickening tempo, and every cell of Louis’ body was boiling.

Without a second thought he found his hand darting out toward the bed side table in search of lube, but his arm fell limp as he made an unfortunate realization. Louis’ movements stopped suddenly as his head fell back onto the pillow in down-trodden defeat.

Harry noticed immediately and his head snapped back to look at Louis.

“What’s wrong?” Harry asked, his hand creeping up to cradle the side of Louis’ face. Louis, however, did not react, still internally berating himself behind closed eyelids.

“I’ve made an embarrassing oversight.”

“What?” Harry asked timidly before pulling away. Louis’s eyes burst open and he pulled Harry back down, intent on making sure Harry knew he wasn’t at fault. Harry sunk back into him with trepidation as Louis pressed his forehead against Harry’s shoulder.

“I didn’t know we were going to do this tonight, and I was in a relationship for three years, so…” Louis trailed off, his arms encircling Harry’s back in embarrassment.

“So?” Harry questioned, his voice tremulous.

“So I might not have any condoms in house.” Louis said quickly, expelling the truth before be could chicken out of it. Harry stiffened for a fraction of a second before his entire body shook with laughter.

“That’s what you’re upset about?” Harry asked, rolling off of Louis and onto his side. Louis rolled over as well so that they were facing each other, only a few inches separating them. Harry’s face was alight with a relieved smile. “I thought you were going to say that you weren’t ready for this, or you were having second thoughts about me, or something.”

“Jesus, no Harry.” Louis said, rubbing his own flushed face. “How could you possibly think that? You’ve barely got me out of my pants and I don’t even feel like I’m on Earth anymore.”

“As for condoms, I’d like to point out that we should have thought about that before the thousandth time you gave me blow job.” Harry said.

“I know, I just-“ Louis tried to explain. “I didn’t want to presume, or anything. You know?” Louis inched closer to Harry as Harry’s hand found Louis’ hip.

“I’m clean.” Harry said, his eyes warm. “They make us get check ups at the beginning of the tour, and I always get an STD test. Wasn’t that surprising, though, since it’s been forever since I’ve been with someone.”

Another pulse shot through Louis as he remembered Harry mentioning that he hadn’t been interested in anyone else since they’d met. Louis could almost say the same of himself, considering that he and Joshua hadn’t had sex for nearly two months when they broke up.

“I’m clean, too.” Louis said. “I had to go to the doctor once every couple of weeks during the movie so he could monitor my weight loss. I got checked right after we started talking again. I just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to hurt you, or anything.” Harry’s brow furrowed as his fingers cupped the curve of Louis’ neck.

“You were worried about that?” He asked. “You thought Joshua might have cheated on you, or something?”

“I don’t know.” Louis admitted, knowing that his cheeks were growing red in embarrassment. “I don’t trust him, so who knows what he did?”

“I don’t think he would have cheated on you.”

“Nope, I guess the cheating was just for me.” Louis said with a dark laugh, the mock-humor sparking something in Harry.

“Lou, that’s not what I meant.” Harry clarified, sidling up even closer to Louis so that he couldn’t avoid making eye contact. “I just - I meant that he was totally obsessed with you. He still is. And I understand that, because you’re you.

Louis didn’t know how to respond except to bring his hand to trace down Harry’s jaw line and press a soft peck to his lips.

“So no condoms?” Louis clarified, watching as Harry bit his lip in anticipation and nodded. Louis dipped in for another kiss and shifted his weight onto Harry as he pointed to the bedside table. “Lube.” He mumbled against Harry’s mouth.

Harry flung a hand behind him blindly as he grappled with the drawer handle, never once breaking the deepening kiss he and Louis were locked into. Their breaths were growing haggard and every sinew of Louis’ body was filling with heat again as he crawled onto Harry’s chest, snatching the small bottle away from him and opening the top with a pop.

He lathered up his fingers as Harry’s legs parted, falling open in front of Louis as he languidly stroked his cock. The sight practically pummeled Louis, ensuring that he was achingly hard and very ready for this. They fell back into a fast pace with Louis pressing a few feverish kisses to the inside of Harry’s thigh before he grabbed his leg and yanked it up onto his shoulder.

Leaning in, Louis finally pressed his slippery fingers to Harry’s hole, swirling around the tight muscles before pushing slowly inside. Harry was already struggling through a light, breathy moan that sharpened in pitch as Louis stopped at his knuckle. He pulsed there and waited for a cue from Harry, who was already bucking his hips slightly with impatience.

“Lou, c’mon.” Harry groaned, his voice reaching a higher octave that Louis had never heard him use outside of the bedroom.

Louis didn’t need to be told twice, so without wasting another breath waiting he pressed further into Harry, pulling in and out quickly as he ran his other hand up and down his thigh. Harry was already gone for it, clenching his eyes shut and moving his hips into the friction.

“This okay?” Louis asked, watching as Harry worked through a round of shallow breaths.

“More. Please. More.” Harry stammered, moaning softly as Louis inserted another finger. He thrust into Harry harder and deeper, meeting the quickening momentum of Harry’s hips as he pushed back against Louis’ fingers eagerly. His hand pumped up and down his cock and swirled over the leaking precome on his tip, still muttering his delicate little cries. “Yes, Louis. C’mon. More.”

Louis could feel the sweat surfacing on his forehead as his fingers thrust further into Harry, causing Harry’s whole body to contract and squirm. He was just so deliciously eager for it, which was turning Louis on much more than he’d thought previously possible. His cock was throbbing at this point, nearly white-hot until Harry suddenly froze.

“Fuck, m’not gonna last.” Harry mumbled, pulling his hand away from his own length. “Need you. Now. Right now. God, Louis, I need you.”

Louis pulled his fingers out immediately, already searching the bed for the lube again. “You sure? You’re good? You’re ready?”

“I’m so ready I might explode.” Harry murmured as Louis slicked up his own dick, talking aimlessly as he waited. “Wanted you for so long. Wanted nobody but you. Can’t believe this. You’re so perfect, Louis. Need you so bad.”

“I need you too, baby.” Louis reassured him, crawling up Harry and falling onto his chest to give him one last kiss.

“How do you want me?” Harry asked.

“Like this is good. On your back.”

“On my back?” Harry questioned, the tremor of worry in his voice giving Louis pause.

“Yeah. I want to see you. Is that not what you want?” Louis asked

“Not it’s - it’s just not - it’s not what I usually do.”

“Why not?”

“I make stupid faces.” Harry confessed, his shimmering eyes looking up to Louis’ in embarrassment.

“What?” Louis gaped, the desperation from the moment before waning as he let more of his weight fall onto Harry’s chest. “Of course you don’t. There’s nothing stupid about you.” Louis gave him a comforting peck to his forehead, then his nose, then his cheek, continuing down his face and neck with featherlight kisses. “You’re beautiful, and amazing.” Louis continued, his lips moving down Harry’s chest and lingering on his sternum. “I love everything about you.”

Every muscle in Louis’ body suddenly froze at what he had just said. It wasn’t the exact phrase that had been plaguing him all night, but it had been close enough. That little word had just slipped out, and he looked up in fear to gauge how Harry was going to respond to it.

And what Louis saw looking back at him was Harry’s face, drowning in complete adoration and warmth. His eyes glistened with affection as he watched Louis, his fingers moving slowly to caress the tuft of hair behind his ear.

“Louis.” He said slowly, his voice barely above a fleeting rasp.

They watched each other with wide, watery eyes as the moment coiled in on itself; steeped in sentiment and coursing with a burgeoning passion that left Louis overwhelmed. He pulled himself back up Harry’s chest to deliver one more kiss, their lips waxing against each other so slow and deep that the hair stood up on the back of Louis’ neck.

With a last delicate peck to Harry’s lips, Louis sat back and adjusted himself between Harry’s legs. Harry stretched and scooted closer in anticipation, sighing deeply as Louis’ left hand fell heavily onto one of the laurel tattoos on his v line.

“Beautiful.” Louis murmured as his fingers swept over the inked leaves. Harry’s body relaxed at the sound of Louis’ voice, and Louis watched the way his hand moved up and down on Harry’s stomach as he breathed.

Using his free hand, Louis finally lined himself up at Harry’s entrance, feeling himself tense as his tip pressed against his hole. His fingers fanned against Harry’s hip as he pressed forward, stretching Harry open with a languorous slowness. Harry’s tight heat encompassed Louis, their bare skin dragging against each other as Louis sunk deeper and deeper.

“Mmmmmfff,” Harry groaned, his hips nudging up ever so slightly.

Louis could feel his entire body sparking with sensation as Harry took him further and further in. With a heavy gasp, Louis bottomed out, realizing that he had been holding his breath the entire time.

Harry flexed as he adjusted to Louis flush against him, his thighs squeezing against Louis’ slender hips and his hand wrapping around his own cock. Louis pulled back until only his tip remained inside Harry, then dug back in with a ramming speed. Harry released another shrill whimper as Louis filled him back up, pumping himself to the same plodding rhythm as Louis’ heavy thrusts.

Louis sunk in and out, his senses overcome by every part of the man beneath him. His mind was bouncing back and forth between frenetic thoughts, memories of Harry sweltering over his actual image beneath Louis, glimmering with a faint, sweat-laced luster.

He saw Harry from months earlier, hopping up and down to the drone of music on that night they’d first met. His eyes had been just as evergreen that night as they were now, but back then they weren’t the familiar beacons that Louis could find himself falling into for hours. Back then, Louis hadn’t memorized every slight fleck of brown in those eyes, or the way he blinked when he was trying to hide the fact that he was sleepy, or how they somehow seemed to become even more round and perfect when he was swept up with happiness.

Back then, Louis had no idea that the wild haired rockstar with the pretty mouth and glittering eyes would end up here, moaning beneath him through their throes of passion. That this massive celebrity would be scheduled to make post-Oscar appearances with his supermodel girlfriend, only to sneak away to gasp and whimper in Louis’ bed. That in just a few short months, everything Louis knew about his life would be completely flipped around, and one of the most famous musicians in the world would be naked against Louis’ skin, melded together are their hips rolled against each other.

And Louis had no idea that he’d be inescapably in love with him.

Lou!” Harry cried sharply, his back arching as Louis hit his prostate. He bucked back against each of Louis’ thrusts and tightened around him, sending a simmering surge rippling through Louis’ stomach as he continued to whine. “Fuck - it’s so - nnnngg - fuck - baby-”

“Harry. Oh my god.” Louis moaned, his spine boiling at Harry’s coarse, desperate whimpering. He fell onto Harry’s chest and into the larger man’s embrace, continuing to slam into him as Harry’s breaths hitched. They rocked into each other until Louis felt nearly delirious, only the tug of Harry’s fingers clawing into his back holding him in reality.

Theirs mouths collided and Harry’s tongue surged past Louis’, licking and exploring every corner voraciously. It was like he was trying to consume him; like he couldn’t get enough of Louis. And Louis felt exactly the same, desperately trying to somehow get deeper, to embed himself further into Harry until they’d never be able to separate. Harry’s legs squeezed Louis tighter as he circled them around his waist and pulled back to nip at his bottom lip.

Not one to be outdone, Louis careened forward, licking up the silky seem behind Harry’s  ear. Harry clenched around him suddenly as his cry shuddered out of him, cracked and frail.

“F-fuck.”

“So gorgeous Harry.” Louis whispered, pausing to nibble his earlobe. “So perfect, baby. So perfect for me.”

“Louis I’m - I can’t - I’m gonna-!” Harry rasped, his grip becoming impossibly tighter around Louis’ shoulders as his muscles tensed.

With one last spent, hollow cry, Louis felt Harry’s warm come spurt between their chests. He sighed heavily as he relaxed into the bed, his fingers caressing the length of Louis’ shoulder blades until he was cupping his biceps.

“C’mon baby.” Harry growled, raw and low, into Louis ear. “Come for me. Come for me, Louis.”

Louis gasped through a thick breath, his pulse pounding in his head as he kept bucking into Harry. Tiny whimpers of his own desperation were escaping him until Harry quieted him with a plush kiss. All sensation in Louis’ body was coursing down his back toward his groin, building towards a scorching heat. Louis’ hand dug into the pillow behind Harry’s head, clutching the fabric.

Harry’s hand uncurled from around Louis’ arm to slip under his hand, relaxing his grip into the pillow as their fingers laced together. Harry closed his fist around Louis’ fingers, anchoring him as he swept him into one more kiss.

With a near-sob, Louis reached his peak and came into Harry, pressing into him as hard as he could manage as he rode the shockwaves out. Louis’ entire body went limp as Harry enveloped him again, both panting against each other’s sweat-glazed necks.

And of all the post-orgasm thoughts to be swirling through Louis’ head, for some reason, he was thinking about Liam.

He was thinking about how he’d somehow ended up with the kind of agent who inserted himself into all aspects of Louis’ career, just to make sure he was being treated well. How he’d ended up with the kind of agent and friend that would chase him out of a house party to bring him down from a panic attack, then spend the rest of the night at his bedside.

And he also thought about how he’d snagged a best friend like Zayn, who had been at his side at his most poor and pathetic moments. Who’d supported and encouraged him as his career derailed at times, and was comfortable enough with him that he could just reach over and hold his hand or stroke his hair when he felt like Louis needed it.

Or how he had the kind of mother who almost flew across an ocean just because he was going through a break up.

But the reason all of these people were revolving through Louis’ head in that moment was that, between all of these incredible people who cared about him so much, and even when he added the almost four years he’d spent with his life devoted to Joshua, Louis had not once felt as close to another person as he did right then, riding Harry’s chest as his breathing evened out.

They stayed tangled like that in tender silence until Louis reclaimed his senses, finally pulling out of Harry and traipsing toward the ensuite in search of a something to clean themselves up with. Harry watched his departure with a needy pout, waiting until Louis returned with a wet flannel and to gently wipe the mess from Harry’s chest and between his legs. He threw the flannel to the side unceremoniously as Harry scooted further into bed, leaving room for Louis to climb in beside him.

Louis settled in as Harry pulled the duvet over them and turned his back to Louis chest, releasing a contented sigh as Louis spooned him. Louis’ thumb grazed over Harry’s skin softly, feeling the way his entire body was subtly shaking.

“You okay?” Louis asked.

“Mhmm.” Harry hummed.

“You’re shivering, love.” Louis pointed out. Harry spun around in his arms to look at him, his face soft with a smile.

“M’just really happy.” He said lightly, pushing Louis’ hair out of his face. “Can’t believe this is real.”

“I can’t either.” Louis admitted affectionately, watching the way Harry’s dimples were poking through his cheeks.

“I don’t think I can sleep right now. What about you?” Harry asked. Louis shook his head, though he knew that he could probably pass out from exhaustion if he just made the mistake of closing his eyes for more than a second. Sleep could wait, however, since Harry was heading back for three more weeks of touring the next afternoon. Louis didn’t want to miss a single second of watching Harry’s dimples if he could help it.

“You probably still don’t have any food in the house, do you?” Harry grumbled.

“I have peanut butter, beer, and canned chili.” Louis said.

“Post sex chili?”

“Only if you make it for me.”

They found themselves on Louis’ sofa within ten minutes, arguing over what to watch on TV as they blew on their steaming hot bowls. Louis sat in the corner of the couch with his legs up on the ottoman, a pillow already poised across his lap for when he knew Harry would fall asleep.

He barely managed to get through his entire bowl before he nestled into Louis’ lap, his hand curled around the fabric of Louis’ sweatpants over his knee. Harry had absolutely refused to put any of his clothes back on, so Louis had tucked a thick blanket around him and was drawing nonsensical patterns into his shoulder as he watched the mindless late night reruns on the telly.

With a tiny murmur, Harry rolled over in Louis’ lap, curling into his chest until Louis was practically cradling him. His fingers gripped lightly into Louis’ shirt as he let out a deep breath.

“Harry?” Louis asked softly. Harry hummed in response without opening his eyes. “Who told you that you make stupid faces during sex?”

“No one.” Harry muttered sleepily, burrowing further into Louis.

“Was it Nick?”

“Dunno.”

“Was it?” Louis repeated, watching as Harry gave a short nod. “I think I might have to pulverize him.”

“S’not very nice.”

“He couldn’t be more wrong, by the way.” Louis said, running a hand down Harry’s arm. “You’re perfect. You’re everything.”

Harry made a soft noise of contentment, drifting back to sleep with a smile on his face. Louis held him tighter, deciding to ignore the telly in favor of watching the way Harry’s face relaxed as he slept.

Even in the darkness, he could see how lovely and beautiful everything about Harry was, and it became even more undeniable how much he was in love with him. He was completely, thoroughly in love with Harry Styles.

And he couldn’t understand why it was so impossible for him to say it.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Been in the dark for weeks, and I've realized you're all I need, and I hope that I'm not too late. Hope that I'm not too late.”

-James Bay

Harry’s eyes cracked open once again to a pale blur of teal. He pulled back slightly to look up at Louis, the ghostly reflection of the telly playing across his sleeping face. Harry had woken up from his spot on Louis’ lap nearly every half hour when something loud would happen on the all night marathon of The Golden Girls that was playing, but he’d always been too lazy to just turn it off.

Moving with a deliberate slowness so as not to wake Louis, Harry and rolled back and stretched behind him toward the remote, blackening the screen with a click. He snuggled back into the warm spot he’d made for himself in Louis’ lap, noticing his boyfriend’s head lolling to the side as he snored quietly.

Harry used to have trouble falling asleep, but it hadn’t been difficult for him to nod off over the last month, since he’d constructed his own version of counting sheep that had always seemed to do the trick. His go-to method was continuing to build the fantasy he’d been constructing of walking down a red carpet someday, hand in hand with Louis.

They’d wear suits that weren’t quiet matching, but were certainly complimentary as the cameras flashed in their wake and captured every tiny show of affection between the two. The photographers would yell their names after them, and they would turn with shared smiles as they stopped to pose like every other couple on the carpet. And when Harry bent down to give the photographers a picture of a kiss, it wouldn’t be Arrienne’s tensed lips that he met. It would be Louis’ soft mouth, and it would be Louis’ blue eyes looking back at him, and it would be Louis’ actual smile beaming as everyone watched them.

It wasn’t a very far-fetch’d fantasy, given Harry’s social standing and the number of times he’d walked down a red carpet. But still, his ribcage gave a familiar clench as the dread seeped back into him, that quiet little voice convincing him that it would never happen.

Even if his management let him come out sometime soon, was it even possible that Louis would stick by his side that long?

He clenched his teeth at the familiar struggle now tensing in his chest.

Louis isn’t going to leave you. He said he isn’t going to leave you.

True, but people say things all the time.

He promised.

But things change. Would he have made the same promise if he’d known what he was getting into?

Harry burrowed further into Louis' chest, attempting to quiet the voices in his head. No matter what was on the horizon for the two of them, it didn’t change the fact that right at that moment, he was in Louis’ house, cradled in his arms, still pleasantly sore from their lovemaking hours earlier.

He looked up at Louis’ face one more time, finding it difficult to resist staying awake all night and to just stare at him. It physically ached inside Harry when he thought about leaving Louis here all alone. Yes, he had Zayn and Liam here to watch after him, but that also meant that Joshua was lurking around in the background.

Down to Harry’s very marrow, he did not trust Joshua.

Because Louis was strong. Louis was brave. Louis was everything that Harry wished he could be, but whenever Joshua showed up, Louis crumbled in on himself. Just the idea of leaving Louis on this continent with Joshua made a cold shiver snake through his bones.

Louis muttered lightly as he nudged his shoulders further into the cushion, his neck craning awkwardly to the side to find some support. Harry sat up and ran a gentle hand down the exposed skin of Louis’ neck.

“Lou?”

“Mmm?” Louis muttered, not opening his eyes but sinking further into the cushions. Harry smiled as he sat back and made room for Louis to readjust himself so that he was lying down on the couch. Harry turned over and pulled Louis’ arm taut around his stomach so that he was spooning him, releasing a contented sigh.

He felt Louis press one last, sleepy kiss to the back of his neck before drifting back off to sleep, but Harry was already on a different plane, holding Louis’ hand at a movie premiere as everyone took their picture.

 

~

 

Louis jumped to the side as Zayn whirled into the house, a pile of bags and boxes lurching precariously in his arms.

“Yes, I know. It looks like a lot. But just hear me out for a second.” Zayn said as he tore past Louis, heading toward the dining room table to drop the load he was carrying. Louis smirked after him as he closed the door, listening as Zayn continued to prattle on from the other room.

He’d just gotten back from a shoot in New York, and, as was his custom, he’d nearly bought out an entire boutique in an attempt to reinvigorate Louis’ wardrobe. Louis fell back into the couch as Zayn rounded the corner with a pile of shirts across his arms.

“And you’ve told me a thousand times that you don’t like paisley, but you haven’t seen-“ Zayn suddenly stopped dead in his tracks as he saw Louis sitting there, his eyes narrowing in suspiciously.

“What?” Louis asked as the silence dragged on. Zayn didn’t respond, his eyes somehow growing even narrower. “What!?”

“You slept with Harry last night, didn’t you?”

“How could you possibly know that?”

“You did!” Zayn said excitedly, throwing the shirts to the side distractedly and jumping onto the couch beside Louis. “And?”

“And what?”

“Is he still here?”

“No. I just dropped him at the airport a couple of hours ago.” Louis answered, the thought reminding him to check his phone in case Harry had miraculously landed in Spain three hours early.

“When’s he back?”

“Three weeks.”

“But you made love last night.” Zayn pressed, causing Louis to grimace at his word choice.

“Yes. We slept together for the first time last night.” Louis corrected him with a defeated sigh. “And then we did it again a couple times this morning, but that’s neither here nor there.”

“So how’d it go?”

“Nope. Nuh uh, Zayn.” Louis bit out. “You never tell me anything about Liam, so you don’t get to hear anything about Harry.” Zayn glared at him, weighing his options.

“Fine. We can trade.”

“Yes, finally.” Louis groaned, questions flying through his head at a rampant speed. “Jesus, I don’t even know what to ask first.”

“I do. How’d it go?” Zayn asked as he leaned against the back of the couch, repeating his earlier question.

“It went…well.” Louis answered simply.

“Lou, come on.” Zayn groaned. “Gonna need a few more details. Was it better than-“ Zayn stopped short, his common sense catching up with how ill-advised his next question was about to be. He bit his lip nervously, knowing that Louis had already caught on to his line of questioning.

“That’s complicated.” Louis admitted, reflecting on his own personal ruminations over the same topic.

Had it been better than when he was with Joshua?

And once again, it was complicated.

Despite everything, Louis still felt somewhat protective over his and Joshua’s sexual experiences. The thing was, when they’d gotten together, Louis was coming off what could best be described as a three year fuck bender and which made him feel rather experienced. Joshua, however, didn’t. Louis was Joshua’s first, and the moment had been understandably monumental for both of them. It was the first time Louis had ever been withs someone that he cared about that intensely, so Joshua’s sexual skill level hadn’t really mattered.

But as they had grown closer, Joshua had been more open about his insecurities with their sex life. It often wavered back and forth, which Joshua sometimes feeling inadequate with his lack of experience, then at other times he’d grow resentful of Louis’ apparent promiscuity when he was younger. They didn’t like to talk about it, and Louis became so focused on making sure Joshua never felt self-conscience about sex that even now it was difficult for him to think critically about their relationship.

But in that one night with Harry, that feeling of being with someone he loved in such an intimate way had blown anything Louis had ever experienced completely out of the water. Harry made Louis feel like his heart would explode if it started beating even a hair faster. And Harry had more than proven his sexual aptitude, especially during that surprise in the shower that morning, but that wasn’t even the beginning of why it was the best sex Louis had ever had. It was because Louis could laugh with Harry; he could joke and say ridiculous things, then suddenly say something so soppily sentimental that he’d be embarrassed in any other situation, but not with Harry. Not when one second he felt like laughing, yet somehow also felt like crying and like growling the dirtiest thing he could think of into Harry’s ear.

It wasn’t until he’d been joined to Harry in that way that he realized what the difference was, and it was finally becoming clear what had been missing between Louis and Joshua for the last year: trust. He trusted Harry wholly and deeply, which made him face the fact that he was in love with him all the more.

And that was the other issue.

“I have a problem, actually.” Louis admitted.

“What?” Zayn asked. Louis sighed, forcing himself to say the words before he could think of an excuse to change the subject.

“I’m in love with Harry.”

“Well, yeah, Lou.”

“And it’s like - I have been. For awhile. I don’t even know how long.”

“None of this is news to anyone.”

“But I can’t say it.” Louis said suddenly. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, because I think about it all the time. And I know it would mean so much to him if I could just fucking open my mouth and tell him the truth, but I just can’t fucking say it.”

Zayn hummed quietly as he mulled over Louis’ predicament. “Well, didn’t it take you a long time before you told Joshua you loved him?”

“Yeah. A little over six months.”

“So this isn’t abnormal for you, Louis.”

“But when I told Joshua I loved him, it was the first time I’d wanted to, so I’d just said it. I wasn’t grappling with it after a few weeks of dating and terrified to say it.”

“Look, you just came out of a fucked up relationship with the only person you’ve ever loved.” Zayn explained slowly. “And he betrayed you, Louis. He completely betrayed you. So it’s not that weird that you’d be hesitant to jump into something so quickly afterwards. I think you just need to take some time, and eventually it will feel right to say it. And maybe Harry will just say it first, and then it will feel right.”

“I don’t think he’ll say it first.”

“You don’t?”

“No, I don’t think he’d put himself out there like that.” Louis admitted, realizing how frustrating it was that they both had hang ups like this. “I just want him to come home.” Louis sighed, throwing his legs over Zayn’s lap and leaning into the sofa cushions.

“I know. And he’ll be back soon, and all of this shit will be over.” Zayn said as he smiled warmly. “And at least you’re home, because I really missed you.”

“I missed you too.” Louis said lightly before something clicked in his brain. “Hey! Wait! I’ve just unleashed a barrel full of stuff about Harry and you’ve said nothing about Liam!”

“In my defense, I only asked one question and you didn’t even answer it.”

“Short answer: yes, being with Harry was better than being with Joshua.” Louis answered, garnering a smirk from Zayn. “My turn. How long did it take for you and Liam to bone?”

“We don’t use the word bone.”

“Fine. How long did it take before you made sweet passionate man love?”

“Honestly?” Zayn asked, his face crumpling in embarrassment. “It took, like, maybe twenty minutes.”

“Seriously?”

“Well, I mean, we kissed for the first time on your roof after Harry kind of set us up. And from then until we hooked up, yeah, it was probably only twenty minutes.”

“Ugggh, no! It wasn’t in my house, was it?”

“No. We went to his place because it was closer. He pretty much sped the whole way.”

“No! Gross! Stop!” Louis whined. “Thinking of horny Liam destroys my worldview.”

“You asked! And you were the one that thought he ripped his chest hair out in bed.”

“Yes, because it’s funny when I say it. Liam having sex in reality is just scary and intimidating.”

“I’m afraid I can’t agree.” Zayn countered with a sly grin.

“You’re gross and I don’t like you anymore.”

“When did you and Harry first kiss?”

“Oh, have I not told you the fountain story yet?” Louis asked with a delight. “Basically, Harry was standing near a fountain, then he got on top of the fountain, then he fell into it.”

“And you kissed him?”

“I did.”

“That’s very romantic.”

“It’s hilarious, is what it is.”

“That’s it, I’m making you dinner.” Zayn announced, jumping off the couch. “I need to hear every detail of the fountain kiss story.”

“No, Harry already…” Louis began before trailing off. Zayn turned toward him with one eyebrows cocked.

“Harry already what?”

“Let me explain before you accuse us of being too obsessed with each other.”

“Oh, I can’t wait to hear this.” Zayn muttered.

“So, remember how I can’t cook?”

“Vividly.”

“Harry wanted to help me out while I’m getting back up to my weight before the movie, so he kind of has my meals, like, sent to me three times a day.” Louis looked up in trepidation, watching Zayn’s stony face.

Zayn doubled over with laughter. “He has meals sent to you? Are you a princess? Or a baby? Are you a princess baby?”

“If he wasn’t watching out for me, I’d probably just have slurpees and hot dogs everyday.”

“I’m sorry, this is just hard for me to wrap my head around.” Zayn laughed as he sank back onto the couch. “So is it all just delivery from different restaurants, or something?”

Louis nodded. “This week’s theme is southern Asia.” Zayn sputtered with laughter again. “Don’t make fun. He’s really proud of himself for this. I think he took a couple of weeks mapping everything out, then he sent me this color coded spreadsheet about the nutritional benefits of everything. He was so excited, I didn’t have the heart to talk him out of it.”

“Harry’s a little too good for this world, isn’t he?” Zayn mused.

Louis smiled before his mind started racing about what overly personal questions he could ask about Liam next, though his thoughts were still lingering on Harry’s adorable efforts to keep his diet on track.

The day after he’d sent over the spreadsheet, Louis had awoken to what Louis was now calling one Harry’s “freakout” phone calls.

 

“I’m being overly controlling aren’t I? Aren’t I, Louis?”

“No, Harry. It’s fine.”

“I’m bullying you. I’m forcing you. Just tell me to stop and I’ll stop.”

“I’m not going to tell you to stop because I don’t want you to stop. I want to eat your spreadsheet food.”

“Are you just saying that?”

“No.”

“You are, aren’t you?”

“Harry, I can’t even with this right now.”

 

These freak out phone calls happened a little more frequently than Louis would have liked, but he was quickly learning how to talk Harry down. A few choice words aimed to gloss over his insecurities typically did the trick, but Louis wasn’t fully prepared for the fit of hysteria that was waiting on the line for him when Harry called a few hours later.

Zayn had just left and Louis was lounging in bed, idly looking over a schedule Liam had sent over while he waited for Harry to call.

“Hey babe, how was your flight?” Louis asked cheerily, his nerves tensing as he heard Harry’s shaky sigh on the other end. “What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I don’t know. No? I’m fine, but we’re - fuck.” Harry stammered. Louis sat up straight as his full attention fell to talking Harry down.

“What happened?”

“Management.”

Like pavlov’s dogs, Louis had quickly been trained to feel a cold shudder down his spine at that word. “What about management?”

“They’re pissed at me. About skipping the party. God, I was so fucking stupid.”

“No, you weren’t.”

“I was, though. That was our first test to see if we could handle this. I couldn’t do it. That was such a stupid decision.” Harry’s voice was already grainy and quivering as Louis sat up in bed.

“Harry, I need you to listen to me.” Louis said suddenly. “Last night was one of the best nights of my life. If you try to tarnish that for even a second by saying it was stupid, then you’re ruining something that was extremely special to me, and hopefully to you, too.”

“But they’re saying-“

“Harry.” Louis interrupted. “What was last night to you?”

Harry sighed heavily. “It was everything I’ve ever wanted.”

“So who fucking cares if management is mad? It was worth it. I wouldn’t trade a second of last night for anything. I wouldn’t trade a second with you for anything. Do you get me?”

“I think they’re going to run some bad publicity about you.” Harry said quietly.

“Let them. You’re more important to me than that, because…” Louis felt his breath stolen from him as those words hung on his lips again.

Because I love you. I don’t care what happens to me because I love you and nothing else matters to me. I love you. I love you, Harry.

And why the fucking hell couldn’t he just say that? It would mean everything to Harry. It would quiet all of his insecurities immediately. It’s exactly what he needed to hear, so just fucking say it, Louis.

“…because you’re everything, Harry.” Louis muttered, ashamed of his own cop-out. He listened to Harry’s breath evening out at the familiar mantra. “You still there, love?”

“Yeah, I’m just tired. But could you stay on the phone for a while? Just talk about something?”

“Oh absolutely. Let me lull you to sleep with some of the many fun facts I learned about Zayn and Liam’s love life today.” Louis said excitedly, listening to Harry half groan and half laugh in response as he sunk into his bed.

 

~

 

He already knew something big had happened as he watched the screen of his phone light up again. It was sitting on the make up table as a stylist smothered him in hair spray.

“Do you need to get that?” She asked.

“No. It’s fine.” Louis answered through clenched teeth, waiting as the name of one of his publicists faded away and the phone went dark again. He had yet another photoshoot with Eleanor that day and had been up since six for hair and make up. Needless to say, he wasn’t in any particular mood for whatever full-blown catastrophe had finally started to unfold. It had been a few days of anxiety waiting for Harry’s management to counter attack, which meant Louis had to talk Harry down until he could fall asleep every night. He realized that it should concern him that, despite the eight hour time difference, Harry still seemed to go to sleep the same time as Louis. Admittedly, Louis had been going to sleep very early so he’d be ready for his crack of dawn call times, but it seemed like Harry wasn’t getting very much sleep on his end.

He stared at his own reflection resolutely, ignoring every call and text that came in, until the one person he’d made a life long promise to never ignore was calling.

“Could I take a second? It’s my mum.” He asked the stylist. She nodded and moved away, checking her own phone as Louis answered. “Hey, what’s going on?”

What met Louis’ ear was a frantic barrage of shrieks and squawks that sounded faintly like human English, but in nearly a minute of it, Louis had only managed to pick up one word: anorexia.

“Wait, what? What are you saying?”

“There are pictures of you, and you’re so skinny, Louis!”

“Whoa, mum, stop. Who has pictures? What are you reading?”

“I don’t know, love. It’s on the internet. They say you have an eating disorder and I just can’t-“

“I don’t have an eating disorder. You know I don’t.”

“But Louis, you look so skinny!”

“Being skinny isn’t the same as having an eating disorder. It was just for the movie, mum. Remember all the doctors visits I had to go to during filming? It was just for the movie. I’ve already started putting weight back on.”

“But why would they say this about you, Lou?” she asked.

“Because they just want something to print. These things happen.” He answered, swallowing down the truth. “I really promise everything’s okay. Harry’s got me on this healthy diet and I’m eating plenty of food.”

“Harry’s taking care of you?”

“He is.”

“I like him, Louis.” She said warmly.

“Me too.”

“I’m going to text him about this.” She decided.

“Wait, don’t. This is going to really stress him out.” Louis explained. “Or maybe, if you text him, just say something nice? Something that will make him feel good about himself?”

“How about I just thank him for taking care of my baby, and ask him how long he’s planning on growing his hair?”

“That’s perfect. Thanks mum.” He said, sitting back. “I’m actually in the middle of hair, so I have to go. Love you.”

“Love you too, Boo.”

Louis sunk back in the chair and moved to toss his phone to the side, but paused. Knowing he shouldn’t be engaging with the beast, he still unlocked his phone guiltily and googled his own name until he was met with a slew of “Is Louis Tomlinson Hiding an Eating Disorder?” headlines. He sighed heavily as the pictures whizzed past, recognizing some public outings he’d gone in with Nona during filming.

There they were, dressed casually with giant sunglasses on a day of shopping with Starbucks in hand. Of course, the photographers had managed to capture a moment when Louis was looking down and the light caught his jawbones just right and made him look practically emaciated, especially when it was put side by side with a picture from around the time that he was filming Squad.

But it honestly wasn’t the accusations and articles that were bothering him, though he knew that they should be. Above all, he was worried about how Harry was going to react when he found out.

He decided to face the issue head on and send a text to Harry, regardless of whether he knew about it or not:

 

Love, if this is honestly the best they can do, I can’t say that I’m worried about them driving a wedge between us anytime soon. Everything’s fine over here, and I can’t wait to talk to you later. xx

 

The illusion of calm that he attempted to craft through his words wasn’t exactly honest, as his heart began thumping in his chest the second he sent off the text in anticipation of Harry’s response. He spent the rest of hair and make up guiltily looking through articles, wincing at the completely off-base facts that were quoted over and over again in every story.

A source close to Louis says . . . struggling with body image issues . . . pressure on the set of Metal Heart . . . worried about his health . . . stewing in his own dark turmoil…

It was probably that last bit that irked Louis the most: stewing in his own dark turmoil. Apparently these talentless gossip cogs now fancied themselves poets. He kept repeating the contrived phrase over and over in his head during the photo shoot, having sworn he’d read the same comment somewhere else recently. As if the world really needed journalists who were throwing around the phrase, “dark turmoil” without consequence.

He got through the photoshoot, his pulse jumping every time he checked his phone and saw a missed call, only to brew in a steadily tightening anxiety when he saw the call wasn’t from Harry. Liam had already planned a meeting with the rest of Louis’ publicity team by the end of that day, but Louis hadn’t taken any calls in fear of missing one from Harry.

Finally, he had to give in when an almost equally important call came in.

“I’ve never seen such assholery, Lulu.” Nona snapped, and Louis could tell that she was pacing in high heels wherever she was. “This fucking industry tears apart anyone who doesn’t have a fake, paper thin body, but the second someone’s a little too skinny, they’re suddenly anorexic? It’s ridiculous. Do people realize that not everyone who has an eating disorder is skeletal? Eating disorders happen to people in every shape size but no one cares unless they can see your bones! And some people are just naturally skinny! These people are the ones that make teenagers skip meals and throw up so that they can live up to the unrealistic images they’re seeing in magazines, then they shame them for it!” Nona stopped to take a breath in the middle of her rant.

“Could you just be everyone in the world’s older sister? I feel like humanity would really benefit from that.” Louis mused.

“You’re an actor. Actors have to change their physicality sometimes; this isn’t a new concept. Christian Bale did it, Matthew McConaughey did it, and Jared Leto and Jake Gyllenhaal. No one accused them of having eating disorders! Oh my god, it’s because you’re gay! They wouldn’t say this shit about you if you were straight!”

Louis couldn’t even respond through his sigh as he kneaded the flesh of his forehead. He’d been so wrapped up in how this was going to affect Harry that he hadn’t even thought of his own personal ramifications.

“Can I basically just quote you in every interview I’m going to have to do about this?” Louis asked.

“Yes. Of course. I’ll figure out your talking points.” She said authoritatively before launching into another rant. As she spoke, he found himself lapsing into a warm smirk at her familiar fervor, before he continually remembered his situation.

His publicists told him to stay off the internet for the night if he was interested in maintaining his sanity, and they promised that it would take only some minimal damage control to spin the situation. Over and over they repeated the words, “This doesn’t really hurt you. Things could be much worse.”

And he tried to remember that as he fell into bed that night, but all of the injustices that Nona had pointed out were now swilling through his thoughts and keeping sleep at arm’s length. He couldn’t help but to feel that she was right, and that this wouldn’t even be a story if he was straight. Actors gain or lose weight for roles all the time, and yet they were only accused of having an eating disorder if they had one particular trait: femininity. Being a woman was not something Louis had ever felt familiar with, but now he knew that he was getting a glimpse into the industry that his female costars had to struggle through.

He didn’t know which part he should be angrier about first: the fact that he was somehow less of a man for being gay, or the fact that women in the industry were under this kind of scrutiny all the time.

Louis was already envisioning that picture of himself on the front of some listicle saying, “Top 10 Celebs who are Scary Skinny.” The thought made him more than a little nauseous.

His first impulse was to roll over onto his pillows and just not think about it, which proved to be an easy task when there was a much large issue looming over him.

Harry hadn’t called yet. On top of that, he hadn’t even texted back. It had been hours and Louis had had no word from Harry, which was making the hairs on the back of his neck stand up with worry.

About a dozen times now he’d picked up his phone to text him again and then put it down, afraid of why Harry wasn’t responding. It was nearly three in the morning in Spain, giving Louis the brief glimmer of hope that Harry had gone to bed early and was just dreaming happily. But as Louis found himself further incapable of achieving this for himself, he finally decided to call Harry.

It rang twice before going to voicemail.

Louis was officially panicking. Without a second thought, he found Niall’s contact and called him.

“Tommo?” Niall said groggily from the other end.

“Sorry. Did I wake you up?”

“Only a tiny bit. What’s up?”

“Please don’t judge be for sounding like a clingy boyfriend.” Louis prefaced.

“Withholding judgement starting now.”

“Is Harry okay?” Louis asked, noticing Niall’s elongated silence on the other end. “Niall?”

“I think so. Why? Is something wrong?”

“There might be, but he’s not answering me.”

“He was a little off earlier. One second.” Louis’s fist dug into his duvet in anticipation as he listened to Niall walk away from the phone, and he could faintly hear a door open in the background. A couple of pulse quickening minutes passed before Niall returned. “He’s out with some of our friends. I’m gonna go track him down.”

“You don’t have to do that. You were sleeping.” Louis protested, even though he was hoping against hope that Niall would ignore him and set off looking for Harry.

“It’s good. I’m awake. I’ll go find him and I’ll let you know, okay?”

“Okay. Thanks Niall.” Louis said, struggling to keep his voice even. He hung up and let his arms fall over his face in defeat, willing himself not to cry.

Harry was out with his friends, probably drinking and snorting cocaine, and he wasn’t answering Louis’ calls. What could that possibly mean? Was he mad at Louis? Was he mad at himself? Was he driving a wedge between the two of them before his management could do it?

These thoughts must have stretched on for at least a half hour, because before Louis knew it, he was getting a text from Niall:

 

don’t worry. found him and taking him home. he says he’ll call in the morning

 

Louis breathed a sigh of relief that felt like it had been festering in his stomach all day. Why he’d been ignoring Louis was still up in the air, but the knowledge that he was at least in Niall’s hands was enough to get Louis to finally wade off to sleep.

 

~

 

Louis’ hand hit the bedside table with a smack as he reached for his ringing phone.

“Harry?”

“Hi, Lou.”

“Harry, oh my god.” Louis exhaled, falling back onto his pillows in relief. “What time is it?”

“Sorry. I called you too early.”

“No, Harry, it’s okay. I’ve just wanted to hear from you.” Louis admitted, listening as Harry didn’t respond. “What’s wrong?”

“Like…” Harry began, trailing off.

“Harry.” Louis urged.

“It’s this. It’s exactly this.” Harry said, frustrated.

“Are you - are you mad at me?”

“No! No, Louis! It’s just that - like - you got accused of being anorexic to the entire world yesterday, and all you could think about was whether or not I’d be able to handle it.”

“But I’m okay with that. I can’t help it that I worry-“

“I know. I know you can’t help it, because I make this too hard for you. You have to babysit me because I can’t handle anything, and that’s not fair to you.”

“Haz-“

“And once I realized that, guess what I did? I avoided you. Then I felt guilty so I went out and got high.” He said with a humorless laugh. “I’m such a fuck up.”

“You’re not a fuck up.” Louis said resolutely, reaching out into the air in front of him as if he could grab Harry and hold him close, but all he gripped was empty air. “You’re anything but a fuck up. Please don’t say that.”

And please don’t say what I think you’re about to say.

Louis’ pulse was racing as he waited for what Harry was going to say next.

Please don’t end this. Please, please don’t end this.

“I need to do better by you, Louis.” Harry finally said, relief pooling through Louis.

“Harry, you’re…” Louis trailed off, not even knowing what to say.

“We shouldn’t even be talking about me right now.” Harry snapped. “What are you thinking right now? How are you handling this?”

“It’s not that bad.” Louis said weakly.

“Lou.” Harry chided, hearing the avoidance in Louis’ voice. “Please just tell me how you’re doing. This has to be completely shitty for you.”

“Well, it’s just-“ Louis huffed, falling back onto his pillow. “I’m not that pissed about the accusation, or anything. It’s more - like - the reason why. I just feel like they never point out body image stuff about straight guys. This feels like people are buying it because I’m gay.”

“I never thought of that.” Harry admitted, his voicing growing dark.

“I didn’t until I talked to Nona.” Louis said, listening as Harry gave a hum of understanding.

Louis went on to tell him everything that Nona had said, then every single of his mother’s overreactions from the day before, which they both laughed over. Louis chattered on about how work was wearing him out and about what foods he’d been enjoying the most.

And through all of this, Harry listened. Every once in a while he would say something simple, or chuckle at something Louis had said, but mostly he just listened.

By the time Louis had to say goodbye and think about getting to work, all of his previous anxieties had melted into relief.

“Call me before you go to bed?” Louis asked.

“Mhmm.” Harry responded. “Only a couple more weeks.”

Louis smiled, thinking of how soon these daily calls would be replaced by waking up with an armful of Harry.

“Bye, love.”

“Bye, Lou.”

Louis hung up and immediately buried his face in his hands, releasing a body shaking sigh as the words passed through his thoughts once again.

I love you. I love you. I love you.

On with the day, then.

 

~

 

“Have you ever lied to a friend so that you didn’t hurt their feelings?”

“Well yeah! Of course! What kind of rubbish questions are these?” Louis snapped, turning to Eleanor as she doubled over laughing. “Of course I’ve lied before. Who hasn’t?”

Eleanor sat up as she retained some of her decorum, looking to Louis excitedly as she turned the paddle in her hand so that the bright red side was facing the interviewer.

No?” Louis gaped, reading the bold print on the paddle. Eleanor fell into another fit of giggles, this time joined by their interviewer. “That’s a lie right there! You’re lying right now!”

“Yes or no, Louis?” Asked the interviewer through a smirk. Louis turned his paddle to the red side with a smug look.

“Nope. Never lied in my life. Just like Eleanor. Next question?”

The interviewer laughed again before looking down at his notes. Louis and Eleanor had spent the last few days being shuffled from press junket to press junket, set up in two chairs in front of a Metal Heart poster as dozens of interviewers came through and asked them the same set of questions over and over again.

This interviewer however, had livened things up slightly. He’d given them both paddles that said “yes” on one side and “no” on the other. Louis was pretty sure he’d seen the same thing on Ellen, but at least it was something different front the norm, which consisted of about three banal questions:

What was it like adapting such a popular book series?

What’s your favorite scene in the movie?

How do you think the fans are going to react to the finished movie?

At the onset of the interviews, Louis had tried to give interesting, unique answers to these questions, but by day three, his answers mostly consisted of:

It was fine.

I like the end credits. The font’s rather nice.

Either the fans will love it, or they’ll hate it, or they’ll kind of like it, or they’ll kind of hate it. Or maybe there will be parts that they really like but other parts that they’re not so into. Or maybe they’ll just feel kind of bummed about the whole thing. Dunno. Depends on individual taste, I guess.

Louis got the distinct impression that most of the interviewers didn’t find his glib comments as amusing as he and Eleanor did. But, honestly, how could anyone blame him for being a bit of sarcastic prick when this was what he was being subjected to? If they weren’t trudging through the same questions about the movie, then they were either talking about Louis coming out of the closet, the rumors about his relationship with Zayn, or the eating disorder debacle.

In truth, Louis kind enjoyed when they asked him about the last one. His rants were becoming increasingly passionate and fine tuned, and he loved seeing the interviewer’s shocked face when he or she got a diatribe from Louis that they  weren’t expecting.

This paddle thing, however, was proving to be at least slightly interesting.

“So, have either of you ever been in the mile high club?” The interviewer asked with a grin.

“My god, are you serious? That’s what you consider a hard-hitting question?” Louis asked. Through her laughs, Eleanor turned her paddle the green yes side. “Eleanor!” He exclaimed, aghast.

“Well, Louis?” she asked, raising her eyebrows and looking at his paddle.

“No. I have not. You happy now? Is this the scoop you wanted?” Louis joked, looking back to the interviewer, who was trying to hold it together.

“Have you ever been in love?” The interviewer asked.

Louis opened his mouth before snapping it shut tightly. Eleanor looked to him, expectant. He bit into his cheek to try and tame his smile before turning the paddle to the green yes, just as Eleanor followed suit.

“Anything to say about that, Louis?” Eleanor asked.

“Nope.”

“You don’t have a single thing to say? You can’t thinking of anything to say?” She teased.

“Afraid I can’t.” He said, crossing his legs and smiling smugly as he put the paddle back down. “Next question, sir?”

“Are either of you in love right now?”

Louis’ eyes snapped down to his paddle, his smile finally too strong for him to deny as he held the paddle up to the yes side. He looked over to Eleanor, who was smiling cockily at him.

“And you, Miss Calder?” Louis asked. Eleanor bit her lip and grimaced, as if prepping for some sort of impact. Slowly, she turned her paddle to the red no side. Louis’ eyebrows shot up his forehead as he dramatically mouthed, “Oh my god!

Eleanor’s highly publicized romance with her costar Thad Dylan had only hit the media circuit a couple of months earlier, but Louis knew that they’d been together for nearly six months. Or, it seemed, they had been together for nearly six months.

“That’s all of the questions I’ve got, so thank you both for sitting down and talking to me.” the interviewer said, almost giddy with the exclusive scoop he’d just landed. Louis knew that break up rumors were going to begin swirling the second this guy cleared the lobby.

“Don’t mention it, mate.” Louis said as the man behind the camera motioned that he’d stopped recording and left to take a brief smoke break. The interviewer thanked them again and shook both of their hands before leaving. Louis waited anxiously for him to disappear behind the heavy exit door before he turned on Eleanor, knowing they had roughly five minutes before the next interview would start. “Okay, so, what did that mean?”

“I don’t know. I panicked. I didn’t want to lie to him.” Eleanor shrugged. “But I wasn’t supposed to say anything, yet.”

“Did you guys break up?” Louis asked. Eleanor’s cheeks hallowed as she nodded. “And we’ve somehow made it through three days of interviews and you haven’t told me about it?”

“It’s not that big of a deal.” She admitted with a shrug. “I just, kind of, had this slow realization about him.”

“What about him?”

“That he’s a tool.” She said bluntly, eliciting a guffaw from Louis. “He was always really, really sweet to me, but he could be really rude to everyone around us. Like, we’d be at dinner and he’d be complimenting me about something, then suddenly he was snapping his fingers and yelling to try and get the waiter’s attention.”

“Yeah, I can see that.” Louis admitted, looking down as his phone buzzed in his pocket. He unlocked it to see a texted from Harry.

 

I’m tiiiirrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeedddddddddd :(:(

 

Louis grinned as he texted him back.

 

then go to sleep, sweetheart xx

 

“What do you mean?” Eleanor asked.

“Well, when we were at Harry’s party, I ran into him in the toilet.” Louis explained. “Harry and I were kind of having a difficult conversation, and he just waltzed in and was a total dick. And then he didn’t wash his hands.”

“Ew.” Eleanor grimaced as Louis’ phone buzzed again.

 

Come take a nap with me?

 

Louis shook his head and chuckled.

 

sure. i’ll be there in 5 minutes

 

“And I was a little afraid that he was kind of homophobic.” Eleanor said, causing Louis to look up.

“Really?”

“And a bit racist. And sexist. Just, as I got to know him more, he kind of let little comments slip here and there. I don’t think he was the kind of person who would vote against gay marriage, or anything like that, but he’d probably be grossed out at a gay bar.”

“So, in your words, he’s a tool.”

“Yup.”

Louis’ phone buzzed yet again, this time with a picture of Harry. He was sitting on the ground in what looked like a backstage area, snuggled into a corner with a melodramatically miserable expression on his face. Louis guessed that they were in the middle of a late night rehearsal and were taking a short break.

“Is that Harry?” Eleanor asked, leaning over.

“Yeah. He’s trying to make me feel sorry for him.” Louis explained, showing Eleanor the picture. Eleanor was one of the few in Louis’ inner circle that knew that he and Harry were together. She had literally yelped when Louis told her that they were dating.

“Aw, he looks so tired.” Eleanor cooed.

“He’s just being whiny.” Louis said affectionately, staring at Harry’s soft, sleepy features in the picture.

 

you poooooor baby

 

Louis texted back, hoping that his sarcasm was coming through. Despite the sardonic response, he set the picture as the background on his phone.

“You sap.” Eleanor commented as a production assistant came into the room, telling them that the next interviewer was on her way.

“We’re going to get drinks after this, okay?” Louis asked, pocketing his phone. “And you are going to spill everything about Thad Dylan.”

“Sounds perf.”

 

~

 

Harry had been disappointed when Louis asked him to cancel whatever dinner he’d planned for him that night, but the disappointment faded away when Louis explained that Liam and Zayn were coming over for a late dinner and movie night. Things between Louis and Liam had been all business lately while they were handling the eating disorder media, and while Louis was always grateful for Liam at the end of the day, most of their conversations lately had ended in frustration and snappy comments. At least, Louis’ side of the conversation always ended in snappy comments.

So they thought it was a good idea to remind themselves that they were actually friends underneath all of the business stress. Liam and Zayn were coming from a fashion show and weren’t going to show up until around ten with some takeaway, which seemed a little late to make dinner plans with a friend, but Louis knew it was because Liam always felt massively uncomfortable around all of Zayn’s model friends and would do anything to just have a beer with someone familiar afterwards.

They’d called to say that they were running a bit late, which caused Louis to mutter, “fucking liars” when they buzzed in from the security gate barely five minutes later.

“What happened to running late?” Louis asked as he pressed the intercom.

“Louis, it’s me.” Came the voice from the end, and Louis’ entire body turned to ice.

It was Joshua.

Louis took several leaden steps backward, his mind racing and yet devoid of thought.

“Louis, I just want to talk to you. Let me in so we can talk.”

His breath was snagged in his throat and all of the heat in his body was shooting towards his head. Every inch of his skin was rigid and unable to move as Joshua’s voice continued to crackle through the intercom.

“I’m not going to hurt you, or anything, Louis! You just won’t let me explain myself!” He said as Louis’ eyes narrowed, glaring at the intercom. “After how much of my life I shared with you? I love you, Louis, and you just dropped me like I’m nothing! Please, just say something to me!”

The anger swelling in Louis’ chest was sobering, giving clarity to his thoughts and loosening his muscles as his breathing reconvened. He stepped back up to the intercom.

“You need to leave.” He said authoritatively.

“I'm not leaving until you talk to me.”

“I’m talking to you right now, and I'm telling you that you need to leave.”

“Goddamnit, Louis! Let open the door!”

Louis’ breath hitched, having never heard Joshua swear like that before. His fingers were trembling again as he pressed the button.

“You need to go.” He said weakly, his voice faltering. He waited several seconds, but Joshua said nothing back. “Joshua?”

There was no response; in it’s place Louis was met by a slowly deepening silence that coiled around his neck and cut off the flow of blood to his head. His breaths were deafeningly loud, blasting against his ears as he spun around and looked at the empty house, half expecting Joshua to be standing there in front of him. He tumbled forward clumsily and clutched his chest, the panic pulsating through him in a way he hadn’t felt in months.

With a shaking hand he struggled to get his phone out of his pocket and fumbled over the keys, pressing the call button on Harry’s name.

“Please pick up. Please. Please, please, please.” He muttered desperately as the phone rang.

“Mm-hello?” Harry said, obviously half-asleep.

“Joshua’s here.” Louis rasped.

“Who’s there?” Harry asked, his voice dropping immediately.

“Joshua. He’s at the gate and - I - I told him to go away and he disappeared and I don’t - he was yelling at me, Harry! He kept telling me to let him in!” Louis said, starting to pace frenetically.

“Louis, baby, listen to me, okay? Louis?” Harry already sounded fully alert.

“Yeah?”

“I need you to breathe, okay? I need you to breathe for me. Everything’s going to be okay, but I just really need you to breathe.”

“Harry, I can’t.” Louis whimpered, clenching a fistful of his own hair.

“You can, Lou. Because you’re stronger than this and you know that Joshua can’t hurt you. I know that he can’t hurt you because you’re the bravest, strongest person I know and he’s just a petty coward. That means that he can’t hurt you.”

“Keep - keep talking.” Louis muttered, already feeling his breath evening as he slid down the wall and sat on the floor. He clutched the phone as tightly as he could as Harry’s voice cooed in his ear.

“You are an amazing person, Louis, and that’s why he can’t handle any of this. He can’t handle that he lost you, but that doesn’t mean you have to be afraid of him.” Harry continued. “You’re so much better than him and I can’t believe how lucky I am to have you in my life, baby. You’re so funny, and talented, and sweet, and beautiful. You mean so, so much to me Louis. The second I see you again, I’m just going to sweep you up in a huge hug and kiss and I’m never letting you out of my sight again, because you’re just perfect, Lou.”

Harry.” Louis stammered, watery and warm. His pulse had settled down and he felt in control of his body once again, but his eyes were swimming with tears. “I don’t get why he freaks me out so much.”

“It’s fine, baby, but are you okay enough to get up and lock the doors and windows?”

“Yeah, I’m good.” Louis muttered as he got to his feet and scampered to the back door and locked it. He hurried from door to door and window to window as Harry continued talking in his ear.

“You have to call the police.”

“No, I’m not doing that.”

Louis.”

“If he shows up at the back door, or something, I’ll call the police.” Louis decided, and Harry could tell that there was no point in arguing. “And Zayn and Liam are supposed to be here any second.”

“Can you call them, then, and tell them to hurry?”

“Yeah. I can do that.”

“But call me back right afterwards, yeah?”

“I will. I’ll call you right back.”

“And Louis I - erm - I…” Harry trailed off, and Louis’ heart started beating at a frantic pace as he waited to hear what he was going to say. “I - just - just stay safe? Okay? I’ll talk to you in a second.”

“Yeah. Talk to you soon.” Louis hung up and let his arm fall to his side, trying to convince himself that this was not the moment to obsess over the fact that Harry had almost just said “I love you.”

 

~

 

“Harry’s right. You should have called the cops.” Liam said. Louis let out a noise of derision rather than actually respond, closing his eyes as Zayn played with is hair. Zayn and Liam were sitting on opposite sides of the bed with Louis sprawled out between them as they talked through what had happened.

Of course, they’d only found themselves in this position after Liam had done a thorough check of the perimeter of Louis’ house, searching for any sign of Joshua. Despite what Joshua had said about not leaving until Louis let him in, he seemed to have taken off long before Liam and Zayn showed up.

“That just makes things more complicated.” Louis mumbled. “He’s not dangerous; he’s just annoying.”

“If he’s showing up at your door and giving you panic attacks, then something needs to change.” Liam said.

“I don’t think he’ll do it again. I think he got the message this time.” Louis said, sitting up and leaning back against his pillows. Zayn and Liam followed suit, leaning into Louis’ sides as they listened to him. “And, honestly, a lot of it is just that I’m not used to living alone, and I miss Harry, and things are just kind of shitty right now. It’ll be better when Harry gets here.”

“And when’s that, again?”

“A week and a half.”

“If Joshua shows up again, we’re doing something about it.” Liam decided.

“He won’t show up again.”

“But if he does?”

“He won’t.”

“Maybe Liam and I should stay over for the night.” Zayn interjected, knowing that Louis and Liam could go back and forth like that for hours. “And again next weekend.”

“You want to babysit me?”

“No, it’s just, you said you’re not used to being alone.” Zayn reasoned, and Louis weighed the offer.
“I suppose I would be alright with that.” Louis said flatly, rolling onto his side and closing his eyes. “But no sex while you’re here. Especially that thing you do with the headboard and the-“

Louis squeaked as Zayn clamped a hand over his mouth. He looked up to see that Liam’s eyes had gone wide as he stared at Zayn.

You told him about that?” Liam gaped.

“I had to!” Zayn plead, letting go of Louis’ mouth as Louis started laughing. “That’s how I found out all that stuff about him and Harry.”

“Wait!” Louis cried, turning over. “You told him about that stuff I told you?”

“I - erm - no?” Zayn responded, terror written across his face.

“Don’t worry, Lou. He didn’t tell me anything.” Liam said calmly. “Especially not the part when you thought Harry was upset about something, but it turned out that he just couldn’t handle the way your ass looked in tight pants.”

Zayn recoiled from Louis in anticipation of his reaction, but Louis calmly folded his arms over his middle and looked straight ahead.

“You know, I’m pretty confident that we’ll never be able to swap sex stories after this.” he said slowly. “Because by the time I’m done with the two of you, it will be impossible for you to have sex ever again.”

Both Liam and Zayn leapt from the bed with a shriek and flew out the door, Louis quick on their tails.

 

~

 

A week had passed without another sign of Joshua, but Zayn and Liam had followed up on their promise stay over at Louis’ place the following weekend. He blinked his eyes groggily as their voices wafted toward his room.

It was his day off, so he’d planned to sleep most of the day away, but apparently his friends were helping themselves to breakfast in the dining room. With an exaggerated eye roll, he hopped out of bed and in the direction of everyone’s voices. His frustration, however, was steadily decreasing as he drew closer and closer to the distinctive smell of syrup and buttermilk.

“Mmmm, pancakes?” He muttered, rubbing his eyes and turning into the dining room. His sleep-blurred vision immediately registered Liam standing over Zayn as he removed his plate from the table, both already dressed and ready for their days.

But what gave Louis pause was the third figure sitting at the table; a curly haired brunette who was supposed to be on the other side of the Atlantic for four more days, now looking up at Louis with smug nonchalance. Zayn and Liam both became silent as they watched Louis in anticipation.

How very dare you.” Louis growled before launching himself at Harry, straddling him in his seat and throwing his arms around his neck. Harry squeezed him back tightly, not managing to say anything as he laughed. “Which one of you idiots thought this was a good idea?” Louis demanded, pulling himself away to glare at Zayn and Liam.

“That idiot.” Liam said, pointing at Harry. Louis’ head snapped back to face him.

“I hate you.” Louis decided, punctuating his point with a hard kiss.

“Don’t joke about that.” Harry said, each word squeezed between a peck to his lips. “That would make me very sad.”

“Just to get things straight, this is how you two are?” Liam asked, carrying his dishes toward the kitchen with Zayn quick on his heels. He continued to call to them from the other room. “I’m just checking, because we’ve never seen you two together since you’ve been dating, so this is what we should expect? Constant snogging and flirting?”

“Somebody has to make up for you two.” Louis responded, looking back down at Harry and running a hand over his cheek. It hadn’t fully sunk in yet that Harry was here, under his fingertips, and not thousands of miles away.

“Hi.” Harry whispered, as if in response to Louis’ thoughts.

“Hi.” Louis whispered back, kissing his smiling boy once again.

“Louis! You’re out of milk! What am I supposed to drink on the road?” Liam whined from the kitchen.

“Who drinks milk on the road? Get out of my house!” Louis bellowed, listening to Zayn chortle as they made their way to the front door.

“Nice seeing you, Harry.” Liam called back.

“We’ll catch up later!” Zayn promised, closing the door behind them.

The silence had only stood for less than a second before Louis was on his feet.

“So where will be having sex this time?” Louis asked, matter-of-factly.

“Oh gee, thanks, Lou. That’s very romantic. So glad I skipped out on work and flew across an ocean to be charmed like this.”

“I just - I mean - we have to christen the house!” Louis defended himself, gesturing wildly. “It’s the age of Harry and Louis now, and we need to make sure every room of this house knows it!” Louis pouted at him, and the corners of Harry’s mouth quivered slightly as he resisted the urge to smile. He remained rigid, however, as he glared up at Louis. “What?”

“I want to be wooed.” He said simply.

“Harold. Dearest.” Louis said, kneeling down by Harry’s side. “How would you feel about being wooed in the kitchen?”

Harry nodded sharply before getting to his feet and dragging Louis with him. They spun into the kitchen as Harry enveloped him in a kiss, wrapping him in strong arms that Louis had thoroughly missed.

There was a healthy stack of pancakes on the counter beside them, but Louis couldn’t give it a second thought. Not now that his boy was here, in his house, with nothing to get in their way besides the smell of pancakes and Louis’ growling stomach.

Chapter Text

“Hey la, day la, my boyfriend's back.”

-The Angels

Louis had been awake for a full eleven minutes without disturbing Harry, which he considered to be a rather impressive feat. Harry was still grappling through the groggy throes of jet lag, and Louis had promised to let his beleaguered boyfriend sleep in as late as he wished. He’d woken with his good intentions still intact, carefully extricating himself from the knot of limbs they’d tangled themselves into and tip-toeing soundlessly across his bedroom.

He lingered for a moment in the door frame, watching as Harry rolled over onto his stomach, snoring face first into the pillow as the morning sunlight fell across his naked back. Moving with a painstaking slowness, Louis crept down the hallway and towards the kitchen, planning to make himself a cuppa like a self-sufficient, fully functioning adult.

Tea brewed and in hand, Louis gave himself a mental pat on the back for how successful his quiet morning of not bothering Harry was progressing. He breathed in the spiced, scented aroma wafting of the top of his tea with a permeating feeling of warm contentment. He was completely capable of entertaining himself without interrupting his slumbering boyfriend, leaning against his counter as he enjoyed the dappled, sun-soaked morning. He could breathe easer by just knowing that Harry was in the same house, not even need him to be awake.

Everything was quiet and warm, and Louis was peace.

This lasted another thirty seconds before Louis felt utterly throttled by boredom.

“HAAAARRRRREEEEEEHHHHHHH!” He bellowed, sprinting across the house with loud, booming steps.

He tore into the bedroom as he shrieked, launching himself at full velocity toward the bed and onto Harry’s back. He woke with a a shocked, “Ooomph!”, grumbling in confusion as Louis straddled hips and began drumming the on his back.

“Brekkie! Now! Brekkie!” Louis chanted in time with his drumming.

Once the initial shock of being suddenly attacked had washed over Harry, he groaned loudly and shoved his pillow over his head, muttering something along the lines of, “Please go away!

“Come along, darling. It’s brekkie time.” Louis announced brightly. He jumped off the bed and grabbed Harry by the leg, yanking him away from his pillows.

“Oi!” Harry snapped, just as another forceful tug from Louis had him tumbling in a flailing mess down to the floor. Louis readjusted his grip around Harry’s ankle and attempted to drag him from the room, but Harry was done being man-handled. He spun onto his back suddenly, jerking his leg back and pulled Louis onto the floor beside him. Harry rolled onto Louis and smothered him in an embrace, attempting to subdue him. “Shhhh, Louis. It’s sleep time.”

“Harry! No! Food!” Louis cried, wriggling furiously to get out of Harry’s grip. He managed to escape, only to engage Harry in a disjointed, clumsy wrestling match on the floor as they both struggled for dominance. With an unbridled fervor, Louis forced them into unimaginable shapes and knots as if they were stuck in an intense final round of Twister.

“You’re being annoying!” Harry groaned as Louis clutched around Harry’s middle from behind.

“Oh yeah? Who’s annoying now?” Louis asked, biting into Harry’s shoulder.

“Still you!”

Finally leveraging his size to his advantage, Harry squirmed away and snatched Louis up in his arms before he could retaliate. He sat in Harry’s cross-legged lap, unclear of how the tables had just turned. Louis gave an indignant sigh before lacing his arms around Harry’s neck.

“Lou, I’m tired.” Harry wined, making sad puppy eyes at Louis.

“Yes, that’s quite fine, but I’m hungry.” Louis countered. As if on cue, Louis stomach grumbled audibly between the two of them in protest.

“Do you want me to make you something?” Harry asked, accepting his defeat.

“No, I have an elaborate fantasy I was hoping to live out, actually.” Louis explained cheerily. “I want to go out and have an expensive brunch at a restaurant with a patio with my smoking hot boyfriend, and I want you to dress so nice that everyone thinks I’m you’re sugar daddy.”

Harry smiled weakly and pressed a soft kiss to Louis’ cheek. “You really want to go out?” He complained, but there was already a hint of resigned acceptance in his voice.

“I just don’t think it’s very fair that you toted me all over Europe like I was an expensive escort, and I never get to pretend you’re my sugar baby. It’s not fair, Harry. Please? Please, please, please?” Louis begged, but Harry still looked hesitant. “And the second we’re done eating, we can go back to your place to nap for the rest of the day.”

“My house is empty without Glitter.” Harry said in all seriousness. His beloved feline life partner had been staying with his sister, Gemma, in London while the band was on tour. Since Harry had made the last minute decision to skip out on a week of meetings and come home early, Glitter wasn’t en route back to the states yet. He’d been dramatically complaining about this at every available moment, especially resenting Louis’ comments about his cat being “fedexed back from London.”

“Fine. Then we can just come back here and sleep for at least a week. Please, Harry?” Louis strengthened his argument by leaning forward to kiss slowly up Harry’s neck, lingering at the base of his jaw. He could feel the rumble of Harry’s vocal chords before his defeated sigh left his lips.

“I’ll have to take a shower first.” He said, nudging Louis to the side so that he could stand up.

“Yeah, me too.” Louis responded, getting to his feet as well as Harry stopped in the ensuite door.

“You know what might conserve water? Showering together.” Harry pointed out.

“Right behind you, Sugar.” Louis agreed, lightly smacking Harry’s bottom as he walked into the ensuite.

 

~

 

There was only one rule: no kissing.

They could be seen together, dance together, even say each other’s names out loud, but the second that the lips of Harry Edward Styles touched those of Louis William Tomlinson, the wrath of Harry’s entire management army would crash down atop them.

With this rule lingering in his thoughts, Louis puckered his lips cheekily in Harry’s direction after catching his eye through the throng of their dancing friends. Harry smiled back with a grin that was somehow simultaneously meek and dirty (an accomplishment only Harry seemed capable of) before he jumped back into the conversation he was having with a pair of guys from another band.

A few weeks had passed and, after taking his dear, sweet time, Niall had finally decided to grace LA with his return. The subsequent party was being held at Harry’s house and, naturally, it was still thriving into the early hours of the morning. The house was completely packed with friends and strangers, so Louis and Harry had felt it necessary to check in with management and find out how much they were allowed to interact. This was becoming second nature to them, as nearly everyday began with the two of them asking permission to merely exist as a couple.

Luckily, Harry’s management had been loosening their grip recently. This was in large part due to how well Harry and Louis were navigating the secret-relationship minefield. Having already decided that they needed to be prepared to do this in the long term, they’d become extremely competitive about maintaining public discretion. They almost treated it like an Olympic sport, rewarding themselves when they could do something like go pick up milk at the store without being spotted. By frequenting restaurants with back entrances, obscure romantic destinations, and wearing large sunglasses wherever they went, they’d so far managed to flaunt their romance in general anonymity.

On top of this, Zayn’s master plan was already paying off exactly how he’d foreseen. Anytime their group wanted to travel somewhere together, the paps always assumed that Louis and Zayn were the ones in the relationship. Any shots of the group entering a bar or a club tended to focus on how Zayn and Louis were interacting, keeping any mention of Harry as a separate part of the story.

After Louis had promised to stick by Zayn’s side at Niall’s welcome home party, management had felt generous enough to lift most of the restrictions on the boys for the night. This even included their recent obsession with forcing Arrienne to make an appearance at any social gathering Harry was spotted at.

This was very fortunate, as her presence had been having a steadily worsening effect on Harry. She’d usually only show up to be snapped in a couple of photos, then she’d either unceremoniously leave or populate a different corner of the club with her friends. Even though their interaction was minimal, there was a noticeable difference in Harry when he knew she was in the vicinity. He’d just be generally glum, the corners of his mouth sagging down when he thought no one was looking at him.

Just knowing that Arrienne was nowhere near the party made the air feel considerably lighter as it entered Louis’ lungs, which was especially helpful on this night, since they were entertaining another monster from Harry’s past.

Apparently, the universe felt that there was an imbalance in their relationship since Louis was the only one having to deal with evil ex-boyfriend reappearances. Consequently, public enemy number one, Nick Grimshaw, was making the rounds at the party.

As Harry told it, Nick had reached out to him a couple of weeks earlier to tell him he was going to be in LA, and wouldn’t mind catching up again. Ever since then, the two had been texting.

Disgusting as this development was to Louis, it was important to Harry to make peace with Nick. Louis could somewhat understand that, since he had a fairly intimate understanding of the way Harry’s mind worked. This was someone who made instant friends with nearly everyone he met, and yet he wasn’t even on speaking terms with someone who had been a huge part of his life. So Louis just smiled and swallowed down the burgeoning bile in his throat that always appeared at any mention of Grimshaw’s name.

Louis had caught a few glimpses of Grimshaw sauntering in and out of the party, surrounded by a group of friends who looked adequately self-obsessed to qualify as a part of his squad. Louis was doing everything he could to ignore him, still frustrated at how long it had taken him to convince Harry that, despite what Grimshaw had told him, he did not actually make weird faces during sex.

Harry was blissfully unaware that any tension might be brewing on the undercurrents of the party, instead hopping from person to person, blowing glitter bombs into their unsuspecting faces. The thing was, this party wasn’t only to celebrate Niall’s return. The prodigal cat had also found her way home, and Harry thought it best to celebrate by dousing everyone in layers and layers of glitter. The poor creature was currently locked away somewhere upstairs where the general clamor of the party wouldn’t bother her, but Harry was doing everything he could to make sure her presence was felt. One moment, he’d be having a casual conversation with someone, the next, they were drowning in glitter, watching Harry’s retreating back as he raced away to avoid consequences.

Louis had just watched him nail two of his friends in their faces before spinning away onto the dance floor for cover. The sight had Louis glowing with an embarrassing amount of affection. In an attempt to hide his unabashed giggling, Louis made his way towards the kitchen, where he was fairly certain her could hear Niall screaming, “LIAM!” over and over again.

This turned out to be completely correct. Liam and Niall were locked into one of the most intense staring matches he’d ever encountered. Their faces were scarcely two inches apart, unblinking, as Niall continued to bellow Liam’s name, as if Liam somehow couldn’t hear or understand him.

With a stony face of concentration and determination, Liam was trying to use reason to take control of the situation. Their repartee went along these lines:

“Niall, get that out of my face.”

“LIAM!”

“I swear, Niall,”

“LIAM!”

“Get that thing-“

“LIAM!”

“Out of my face.”

LIAM!”

It was probably an important detail that the only item closing the distance between their faces was a shot glass that Niall was holding. Another important detail was that this shot glass was on fire. The top layer of alcohol was sizzling and popping with a dancing blue flame, which was reflecting off of Liam’s annoyed features.

Zayn was perched on a the counter nearby, rolling back and forth between fits of laughter and genuine concern that his boyfriend’s beard was about to catch aflame. Louis skirted the fray to watch the show with Zayn.

“Hop on up, babe.” Zayn said, patting the counter beside him.

“Do explain the socio-political tensions that have lead us to this.” Louis requested as he jumped up.

“Niall says that he took a bartending class, but I’m pretty sure that he just watched a youtube video about how to make a flaming shot.”

“Niall, I am not going to tell you again!” Liam shouted, his voice finally rising.

Fortunately for Liam, the shot was plucked away by the sudden appearance of someone who had Louis’ stomach rolling.

“You need a straw, genius.” Nick Grimshaw said, straw already in hand. He set the shot down on the counter and promptly plunged the straw into it, sucking it up in seconds and extinguishing the flame. He stood back and gestured to it proudly. “Only way to keep from burning yourself.”

“Straws. Right.” Niall said, pointing to Nick like he was a genius and skipping out of the kitchen.

“Nice to see you again, Louis.” Nick said imperiously. Louis gave him a curt nod as he shook Liam’s hand. “Nick Grimshaw.”

“We’ve talked on phone.” Liam explained. “I’m Louis’ agent.”

“Ah! Yes! I definitely remember you. Yes. And you’re Zayn?”

“Nice to meet you.” Zayn responded, his cool exterior muffling out his distaste for Nick. Niall came spilling back into the kitchen, a bundle of straws clamped in his hand, as he busied himself pouring another shot.

“You two have become quite an item, haven’t you?” Nick asked, looking back and forth between Zayn and Louis with a wink.

“Oh, absolutely.” Louis said, making no effort to move any closer to Zayn to keep up their charade of a relationship. “Just can’t keep my hands off this one.”

“Such a sweet couple, aren’t they? Hashtag relationship goals.” Niall commented, laughing so garishly that Louis was sure Nick was catching onto the joke. Louis’ gaze flicked over to Liam, who’s jaw was tightly clenched as he looked down at his drink.

“Why do you ask, Grimmy? Still looking for a shag?” Louis asked.

“Always.” Nick said with a smile.

“Afraid this isn’t the kitchen to be looking for a hook up. Even Liam over here’s taken.” Louis pointed out, trying to get Liam’s attention. “Heard he got this really fit bloke to fall completely in love with him, the poor guy.” Liam’s face softened slightly, knowing full well what Louis was trying to do. “So I guess the only one in here who’s boyfriendless is Niall.”

“Nah, my boyfriend’s right there.” Niall announced, looking over as Harry ambled into the kitchen, obviously trying to figure out where they’d all gone.

“Who’s your boyfriend?” Harry asked, giving Nick a smile as he walked past him. The sight sent an unpleasant shock through Louis’ chest.

“You are.” Niall clarified.

“Oh. Right. I’m fine with that.” Harry decided.  “Did you guys all meet Nick?”

“Yes, they’ve been regaling me with the intricacies of their web of romances.” Nick said, and Louis saw the way he leaned toward Harry as he spoke. “Nice party by the way, Harry.”

But Harry wasn’t listening to Nick anymore. He’d walked straight up to Louis and looked him squarely in the face, a hint of mischief twinkling in his eye. Louis watched him in amusement, wondering what was about to happen to him.

“Close your eyes.” Harry ordered, his dimples shining through in the dim lighting.

Harry.” Louis protested with a laugh.

“Close your eyes.” He repeated.

“We have one rule.”

“Close your eyes.”

Begrudgingly, Louis did as he was told, hoping that Harry wasn't about to kiss him in front of Nick Grimshaw.

Instead, Louis found himself wincing in surprise as a wave of glitter erupted in his face. Everyone was laughing as Louis slowly opened his eyes, zeroing in on Harry’s look of delight.

“Oh, fuck you, Styles.” Louis growled as he wiped glitter out of his eyes.

“But it looks so nice on you.”

“Why are you running away?”

“You’re not going to hurt me.” Harry said matter-of-factly.

“You wanna bet?”

“Yup.” Harry’s eyes flicked down to Louis’ lips, and Louis knew that he was actually thinking about kissing him this time. They shared a knowing glance that lingered perhaps a second too long to be played off as something platonic before Harry turned and slouched against the counter. Harry was leaning into Louis more than he probably should have been, but it technically wasn’t breaking any rules, so Louis wasn’t about to make him stop.

“Show me how to drink that shot without burning myself.” Niall suddenly said to Nick, lighting his shot and holding it in front of himself.

“You just have to commit. But be fast. The straw melts if you take more than a couple of seconds.”

Niall lifted the glass of blue flame tentatively, holding his straw as if about to stab it, but his eyes were wide with trepidation.

“Nah, I can’t.” He said with defeat, putting the shot down.

“Disappointing, Horan.” Nick chided him.

“I’ll do it.” Louis offered, jumping off the counter to take the shot from where it was sitting next to Niall. Once it was in Louis’ hand, Harry lurched toward it protectively and made an abrupt noise in protest, before suddenly stopping and taking a step back. “Harry, it’s not going to burn me.”

Harry’s long fingers were picking fixedly at his bottom lip as he watched Louis, grappling with whether or not he wanted to meddle. “Just be-“ He stammered, reaching out again for a split second before swallowing his words.

Louis couldn’t help but chuckle at Harry’s concern as he put the shot down and readied his straw. He knew that he shouldn’t belittle Harry like that, but he just got undeniably adorable when he was worried. He sized up the shot before plunging his straw into it, suckling up the hot liquid as quickly as he could. Once he reached the bottom, he jumped back, laughing and sputtering.

“That’s right, Tomlinson! Good show!” Nick exclaimed. Niall was cheering over animatedly as he started to immediately pour another one.

“I’ll do that one.” Harry decided, reaching forward. And now, it was Louis’ turn to get overly concerned about his boyfriend eating fire. He was about to pull Harry’s hand away when Nick spoke up.

“Don’t think that’s a great idea for you, Haz.” Nick said.

“He’s a grown man. He can drink fire if he so chooses.” Louis countered, Nick’s word shifting his opinion like a surge of electricity. Louis helped Niall pass the simmering shot over, watching cautiously as Harry put it on the counter.

He pounced on it immediately, downing the liquid in one gulp before he yelped and leapt back, holding his bottom lip in pain. Everyone staggered forward in response, but Louis was already upon Harry, holding both sides of his head and trying to asses the damage.

“Are you okay? Did it burn you? Where did it burn you? Let me see!” Louis continued to spew his concern, but Harry’s face was melting into a shit eating grin beneath his hands. Louis took a step back in angry astonishment. “You tit. You faked that, did you?”

Now I think I’ll run away.” Harry decided through a a huge smile, racing away.

“C’mon boys. Time to dance.” Niall decided, taking one last swig from his rum bottle before leading the brigade out of the kitchen. Nick lingered behind as Niall, Liam, and Zayn passed, his gaze resting on Louis, who stuck behind as well.

“You alright there, Grimmy?” Louis asked once everyone was out of earshot, noticing the way that Nick was sizing him up.

“Makes a lot more sense now. Very clever.” He said dryly.

“Haven’t the dizziest what you’re talking about.” Louis responded. Nick’s face darkened and he took a glowering step toward Louis.

“Do you think I’m stupid?”

“No. But I think you’re probably jealous.” Louis snapped, giving him one last searing glare before following in the steps of his friends’ exit.

What was formerly Harry’s massive dining room was was now a knot of dancing bodies, sweating a grinding to the pounding music under a flourish of spinning lights. The throng was dense and practically moved as one pulsating unit, but Louis still was able to quickly spot Zayn and Liam amongst the mass. To Louis’ disbelieving delight, Liam had dropped any pretense of decorum and was all over Zayn. Apparently, having to stand by while his boyfriend claimed to be dating someone else had brought out something primordially possessive in Liam, and he was proving this with a passionate snog session in the middle of the dance floor. They were standing flush against each other and giving only faint interest to the rhythm of the music as their lips moved against each other.

A niggling voice in Louis’ head reminded him that anyone who was paying an ounce of attention would know that Zayn was supposed to be with Louis, and their cover could quickly be blown if someone pulled out their phone and took a picture. But making this revelation and actually caring enough to do something about it were completely different tasks, and Louis let them continue on, undisturbed. The fact that Liam’s elusive libido was actually making an appearance was equal parts mesmerizing and nauseating to Louis, so he focused his attention elsewhere.

Louis needed only to turn his head slightly before he found himself spellbound once again, this time by the ever ridiculous antics of the man he called his boyfriend. Harry and Niall were dancing together, apparently trying to add some credence to the rumor they’d told Nick about dating each other. Despite the mismatched height difference, Harry had his back to Niall and was grinding into him mock-seductively. Niall was holding on for the ride, laughing obscenely as he held onto Harry’s gyrating hips.

“Tommo! Get your arse in here!” Niall called, noticing Niall watching from the fringes of the dance floor. With a defeated laugh, Louis made his way over to Harry who was motioning to him enthusiastically. He stepped in close to Harry, who was now sandwiched in-between the two of them.

Harry took his new task of entertaining the two of them with fervor, dropping down suddenly then slowly dragging himself up the front of Louis’ body. Louis bit his lip as Harry’s face hovered close to his own, watching the boyish mischief glimmering in Harry’s eyes as he lifted his hands above his head and swayed his hips provocatively.

Niall’s presence behind Harry gave them good cover, since anyone looking over would think the three of them were just messing around as friends. This was especially plausible given the way Harry was dancing. It was as if he was appropriating every dance move he’d seen from Beyonce music videos, and was now failing miserably in the execution. He was laughing, though, as he snaked his arms around Louis’ neck and pressed their hips together.

Louis had to admit that he was laughing, too. The buzz from his flaming shot had bubbled up to his head and left his mind a flurry of nothing besides thoughts of how impossible Harry’s existence was. He was gorgeous yet adorable yet sexy yet hilarious - the list could presumably continue on until Louis had exhausted every adjective in his vocabulary. But what Louis could hardly wrap his mind around was that Harry was his. Louis was the one who got to dance with him, got to kiss him, got to hold his hand under the table and got to share a bed with him at night.

That last thought about sharing a bed was becoming particularly enticing as Louis noticed that Niall had made his exit. Somewhere in the midst of their dancing, their laughter had faded away, and now they were moving against each other slowly, their foreheads pressed together as they breathed hot air into each other’s mouths. Louis’ hand had snuck up under the hem of Harry’s shirt, and his fingers were now splayed across his abs, tracing along the naked skin of his hip bones.

Their lips were so close at this point that moving even a hair forward would end in a suffocating kiss. Louis gripped tighter into Harry as he rolled his hips forward, becoming suddenly aware of how hard Harry was. The realization brought Louis’ blood to a boil.

“We can’t kiss.” Harry whispered, more as a statement to himself than anything else.

“Nope.” Louis breathed, his hand dragging down Harry’s front before nudging his fingers slightly under the waistband of his trousers. They hung their, locked into the ghost of a simmering kiss as their skin grew hot and started to crawl.

“Upstairs. Five minutes. Yeah?” Harry asked suddenly, stepping back.

“Make it two minutes.”

Harry nodded furiously before swallowing hard. He bounded past Louis in what he knew was the direction of the stairs. Louis stared unmoving at the ceiling above him, waiting impatiently as he counted the slowly passing seconds. He made it only as far as twenty seven before he was barreling toward the staircase as well.

Louis lunged into Harry’s dark bedroom and spun around as he tried to spot the man he was chasing after, only to be swept into a sweltering kiss. Clothes were being torn off left and right as Harry licked needily into Louis’ mouth, whispering his name and enveloping his waist in his arms.

“D’you wanna - close - the door?” Louis panted between kisses, but Harry shook his head.

“Want the music.” He muttered, tearing away from Louis’ mouth to suck at the base of his neck. His fingers moved deftly as he worked at Louis’ belt.

“Someone might catch us.” Louis pointed out, Harry tearing his belt from it’s loops with a snap.

“More fun that way.” He said devilishly.

Louis responded by spinning Harry around and pushing him back onto the bed. Harry gasped lightly in surprise as Louis pounced on top of him, tearing open his fly and taking Harry into his palm within seconds. He gave him only a few strokes before bringing his mouth down onto his length, feeling Harry’s entire body constrict and coil beneath him as he groaned loudly.

He sunk down as deep as he could manage, encouraging Harry’s cries into the dark room. If he managed to get Harry loud enough, at least that would serve as a warning to anyone that might be wandering towards their open door. The pounding music of The Weeknd was drifting into the room, vibrating the walls and feeling as it if were seeping into Louis’ skin.

Everything was a blur of darkness and sweat-laced skin, and soon Louis was already working Harry open, finger by finger. Harry was crying out louder and louder as each second passed and the temperature rose around them.

Their mutual impatience quickly won out, with Harry flipping Louis onto his back and straddling his hips. With a low moan, he sank down onto his engorged cock, bouncing in beat to the sweltering bass. Harry’s hand was on Louis’ chest, his fingers curling when each of his bobs were met by one of the Louis’ upward thrusts.

Harry was so lost in his own realm of concentration that he was caught completely off-guard when Louis wrapped his fingers around his cock, pumping up and down furiously. Harry tightened around him, causing Louis to arch back into the mattress with a choked cry. Their tempo quickened as they melded together, all the while whispering affections into the torrid darkness.

God, Harry. Fuck.”

“So good, Louis.”

“You look so fit right now. Can’t believe - ungghhh - this is real.”

“Mmmm, Lou. Baby - I - I can’t!”

Harry’s whimpers heightened until his voice was cracking, their hips grinding into each other with more and more desperation until Harry reached his peak. Louis followed soon after, coming into Harry and collapsing back against the bed to catch his breath through the euphoria.

Louis didn’t realize that Harry had lowered himself down next to his side until he felt the faint press of lips against his shoulder. Louis reached a heavy hand over to pet a lock of Harry’s unruly hair out of his face, watching Harry’s eyes sink shut at the contact.

“You’re beautiful.” Louis whispered, in what had now become a post-sex ritual of his. Harry sighed against the palm of Louis’ hand before reaching behind himself blindly. He clumsily grabbed a handful of tissues from the bedside table and handed a few to Louis. “Thanks, love.” He did a cursory job of cleaning himself up, too exhausted from his steadily sobering state to particularly care. Once Harry was finished with himself, Louis plucked the tissues away and rolled turgidly out of the bed.

“Mmm, Lou. Just throw them to the side.” Harry protested as Louis got to his feet.

“We are not cavemen, Harold. We throw our come-rags in the trash like gentlemen.” Louis leaned into the ensuite to toss them into the waste bin before moving toward the door. “And I’m closing this door, by the way.”

“Oh, right.” Harry chuckled. “Can you imagine if someone had walked in? Oh god, what if Nick had walked in?” The door closed with a click, muffling out the noise from the party downstairs. Louis turned back to Harry, trying to subdue a grin. “Oh, you’d like that, would you?” Harry joked, holding his arms open as Louis crawled back onto the bed and fell onto his chest.

“Do you want to know my honest opinion about Nick Grimshaw?” Louis asked, perching his chin on Harry’s sternum to look up at him.

“Sure.”

“Nick Grimshaw can go fuck himself.”

Louis.” Harry whined. “But we’ve been getting along okay, and he’s actually trying to be nice.”

“To your face, maybe.”

“Did you say something sassy to him earlier?”

“Of course I did.”

Louis!

“I completely understand that you want to make peace with him.” Louis reasoned. “But I could never get myself to like him; not after the way he’s treated you.” He lifted himself up so he could slip under the sheets with Harry and rolled onto his side. Harry rolled over as well, sighing and looking at Louis with warm eyes. “Anyone who doesn’t constantly tell you that you’re perfect can go fuck themselves.”

Harry smiled at him before reaching forward and gripping the back of Louis’ head. He pulled him into a deep kiss that lingered before they separated.

“Means a lot to me when you say that.” Harry muttered, his fingers stroking through the hair on back of Louis’ head. It took a lot for Louis to keep from repeating the same phrase back to Harry. Honestly, it meant everything to Louis when Harry could admit he appreciated being complimented. He had been so thoroughly conditioned to reject anything nice that anyone said to him, that Louis felt like it was a victory every time a compliment landed.

“Do you know what I’d give to go back in time and meet you back when we were younger?” Louis mused. “I just don’t understand how he had the privilege of meeting you first, but he gave you up. I never would have let you go. Nick and I have a fundamental difference of opinion.”

“Really? You’d skip all your years with Joshua if it meant we could have been together earlier?”

“Obviously. Joshua was terrible.”

“Yeah, but, still.” Harry continued. “You don’t think that your time with him made you who you are today? Even though it got pretty bad, you don’t think it had an effect on who you’ve become?” He watched Louis with earnest curiosity as Louis thought it over, not exactly sure if he knew the answer.

“I don’t think so.” Louis admitted quietly. “I don’t think he had a good effect on me. Like, I don’t think I’m better for it.” Harry’s eyes grew a little in size, seemingly getting rounder with sadness. “What about you, Curly?”

Harry exhaled loudly, and Louis realized he’d been hoping Louis wasn’t about to ask him that. “I think I would have been better if I never met him.” Harry whispered. “I think things would be easier for me if I never met him. If I met you instead.”

Louis leaned in to give Harry another kiss, this one more watery than the one before. He brushed Harry’s cheek lightly and admired the softness to his features. Harry was clearly only a few seconds from falling asleep.

“Let’s sleep, love.” Louis said warmly, to which Harry nodded and rolled over. Louis spooned him tightly, kissing him on the back of his neck before letting his own eyes close.

 

~

 

I hate waking up.

Louis sat up and looked into the blistering sunlight pouring through Harry’s floor length windows, taunting him with the fact that the day had somehow managed to start without him. The party from the night before had nestled in as a dull headache at the base of Louis’ skull, and he thoroughly hoped that everyone had found their way home by now. The last thing he needed was to walk downstairs to a group of Harry’s friends still hanging around, ready to mentally capture the image of Louis in his hungover glory.

Harry was still snoring by Louis’ side, somehow managing to sleep through the light that was drenching the room. Louis sat up and ran a sleepy hand through his messy hair, taking in the state of the room around him. For the most part, Harry typically stayed over at Louis’ house unless he had to get to work early and they decided to just stay at their own respective houses. This was the first time that Louis had woken up in Harry’s room, tangled in the sheets of Harry’s bed, feeling the warmth of Harry’s skin against his arm.

He was already wearing an embarrassing smile at this thought as he took his phone from the bedside table, turning on his selfie camera to get an idea of how hideous he looked, just in case there were people lurking in the rest of the house. He had to bite his lip to keep from barking out a laugh, having completely forgotten that the majority of his face was still caked in glitter.

Harry had somehow managed not mention this during either their lovemaking or the intense conversation afterwards. Apparently, Harry was nonplussed by the presence of glitter on the face of the man who was inside of him. Interesting fun fact, that was.

Louis was still watching himself on the screen of his phone, deciding to put on an overdramatic pout and snap a picture of the damage. He posted it to Instagram immediately, since he’d been more or less ordered to be highly active on social media during these last few days before the Metal Heart premiere. He captioned it: When you really, really have to ask yourself what you did last night.

Harry mumbled in his sleep just as Louis posted the picture, causing him to look down at Harry’s soft, sleepy face affectionately. No matter what position the two of them managed to fall asleep in, Harry always ended up flat on his stomach, grumbling into his pillow by the time morning came. Louis ran a thumb over Harry’s hand, which was clenching and unclenching into his pillow beside his face.

“Oh really, Harry, is that so?” Louis whispered, chuckling quietly as Harry’s eyes fluttered under their lids.

He wanted nothing more than to just shake him awake so that he could keep him company, but Louis was starting to feel bad by how often he interrupted Harry’s sleep for selfish reasons. He sighed heavily and leaned back, deciding to see if Instagram was already reacting to his photo. He opened to app and pulled up the picture once again, but his stomach clenched painfully as his eyes were immediately drawn to something in it’s corner.

Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. SHIT.

There were Harry’s fingers, clearly there, clenched into his pillow at the border of the picture.

With trembling hands, Louis quickly deleted the picture and buried his face in his hands, knowing that it was already too late. People had definitely seen it, and if only one person had screen shotted it, Louis was royally fucked.

Louis’ internal string of, “shit, shit, shit, shit,” eventually became an audible whimpering, and Harry started to stir awake.

“Lou?” He asked groggily, sitting up. “What’s up? What’s wrong?”

“I fucked up. Again. I fucked up again.” Louis whined, his face still covered by his hands.

“What’re you talking about? What happened?” Harry asked, wrapping his arm around Louis’ shoulder and pulling his unwilling frame into his embrace. Louis immediately melted from his rigid posture and circled his arms around Harry’s middle.

“I posted a selfie and I was stupid and I didn’t see your hand was in it.” Louis said, the words spilling out of him almost faster than he could form them.

“My hand? So what? How’s anyone going to know it’s mine?”

“I fucked up so bad, Harry! We were doing so good and now I fucked everything up!”

“It’s going to be okay, Louis. It could be anyone’s hand. We’ll figure this out.” Harry cooed, starting to rock back and forth as he held Louis.

“Liam’s going to kill me.” Louis muttered.

“Everything will be okay, baby. I promise.” Harry petted his hair, the light having left his own eyes as he considered their prospects. They had been doing so well, and he could already anticipate the way his management was going react to this.

 

~

 

The fact that one of his stylists was lingering near his arse meant that her last check of his suit was nearly done. Numerous jokes about his own ample backside were already coming to Louis, but alas, the sheer tension electrifying the room had resulted in his jaw clenched tightly shut.

If there was only one piece of good luck the day, it was that the premiere for Metal Heart was being held in LA. He couldn’t imagine dealing with the stress of the last few days on top of a trip across the ocean. Then again, the idea of hiding away with Harry at his mum’s house and ignoring the rest of the world was rather tempting.

Harry wasn’t anywhere nearby at the the moment, however. He was holed up in a hotel room in Hollywood somewhere, making sure his suit complimented whatever dress Arrienne would be wearing tonight. She was probably annoyed at being called in to attend the premiere with such late notice, and was most definitely taking her frustrations out on Harry.

Harry had committed to his appearance at the premiere months in advance, naturally, since he was only barely capable of hiding the Metal Heart superfan that was brewing just under his surface. Given their good behavior since returning to LA, his management had intended to let Harry attend the event stag. He was even given permission to interact with Louis as much as he wanted, as long as they didn’t touch each other in any way that could be construed as “couple” behavior. Since Louis was planning to go alone himself, it would almost have been like they were going together.

And that prospect had been flushed down the drain with the ill-fated glitter selfie.

Louis’ publicists were already on standby for something along these lines. They had a few shots of Louis and Zayn leaving a store hand in hand, and chose to release them just as the news of some stranger’s hand in his bed hit the news circuit. This way, the story was immediately spun into a gossip scoop about Louis and his new boyfriend, rather than a hunt to figure out who the hand belonged to.

Officially to the press, Louis and Zayn were now in a relationship. There was even a press kit making the rounds with quotes from a “source close to the couple” saying, “They really just wanted to keep it to themselves for a awhile, so they could get to know each other. But they’re so in love. Louis really thinks that Zayn is the one, and Zayn’s been spending every second he can with them. They’re really making it work.”

Louis hoped that Liam hadn’t been the one to write this particular lie, otherwise, he was thoroughly unimpressed with his ability to write realistic human dialogue. Now Zayn was expected to walk the red carpet with Louis to further cement their celebrity couple status.

Deciding that this wasn’t enough, Harry’s side had decided to up the ante. They were now requiring Arrienne to join Harry, and they were expecting a photo perfect kiss for the cameras. This was a big request, since they rarely ever asked them to kiss in public. Their fake relationship had still been in it’s fledgling phases when they realized how much the two of them hated to lock lips, so now it was only reserved for emergency situations.

Apparently, that’s what this was.

Harry had done everything he could to hide his churning emotions from Louis, but it was clear that the situation was grating at him. He’d been resigned to slack-faced stoicism, saying less and less each day they got closer to the premiere. That very morning, Louis had woken up to find Harry hunched over and sitting oddly still at the end of the bed, staring at his phone as he texted quickly.

“What’s up, love?” Louis asked, his voice still gravelly as he sat up. Harry looked over in surprise before he rubbed his face tiredly and looked back at his phone. Louis already knew what Harry was thinking about, and decided to forego any coyness. “You know it doesn’t bother me, right?”

“It doesn’t bother you?” Harry repeated, as if this were difficult to believe.

“Well - I mean - yes. It bugs me. But I’m not mad at you for kissing someone else. It’s my fault, anyways.”

“It’s not your fault.” Harry mumbled, this being perhaps the hundredth time he’d told Louis this. He ran his fingers idly over the black screen of his phone. “It’s not a big deal.” He said quietly, trying to convince himself.

“It’s only a big deal if we let it be.”

“You have to kiss people all the time.” He pointed out, still mostly to himself. Louis nodded, deciding not to point out what had happened the last time Harry watched Louis kiss someone else for work. It had been that night after Louis had shown up at the concert and everyone was watching Squad back in the hotel room. When Louis’ kiss scene had come on, Harry had handled it by sprinting out of the room. “I just don’t want to do it.”

“I know.”

“I don’t want to kiss her. I don’t even want to touch her. It feels - it feels wrong.” Harry’s face fell into his hands as he released a body shaking sigh. These moments of unsolicited truth about Harry’s feelings were so rare, Louis was suddenly all but catapulting himself to Harry’s side. He pulled Harry’s hands away from his face, taking one of them in his own.

“It’s just make believe, sweetheart. None of it’s real.” Louis promised him.

“But I don’t want to do it anymore.” Harry maintained, shaking his head and closing his eyes. “I’m sick of it. I shouldn’t be kissing her, I should be kissing you.”

Louis could think of nothing else but to pull Harry against him and kiss his curls, running  a warm hand down his back in the silence. His distaste for Arrienne was important, because Louis had seen first hand how difficult it was for Harry to hate anyone. The fact that Nick Grimshaw had been taking flaming shots with them in the kitchen only a few days earlier was proof of this. So the fact that he was so afraid to be around Arrienne was pivotal. The list of people that Harry genuinely didn’t care for was short and he kept it very close to his chest, but Arrienne was securely on it.

Granted, she was on Louis’ shit list as well after the way he’d seen her treat Harry. Her public accusations of domestic abuse aside, she was relentless in the way she teased and patronized him whenever they spent time together. In all honesty, it was bullying, and Harry was unusually susceptible to it when she seemed to voice his own insecurities about himself. He struggled to say it aloud, but Louis could tell that Harry always felt exposed around her; always felt unsafe.

The fact that Louis couldn’t do anything to help Harry made him feel more useless than he ever had before. And so, with nothing but a quick kiss and a few warm words, Louis had sent his boyfriend into the lion’s den that afternoon to get ready for the premiere.

But he hadn’t even had a chance to stew in this turmoil because the second major fissure in his social circle had arrived soon after. In an unprecedented turn of a events, Liam and Zayn seemed furious with each other.

Louis had the impression that they’d been on the brink of a major fight all day, and could do nothing more than squabble whenever they tried to communicate. What was also clear was the reason why they weren’t getting along, which seemed to be the root of every problem that day: Louis had been stupid enough to post that picture, and now nobody could be with the ones they loved that night.

They’d been short with each other all day as Louis and Zayn were getting groomed, but things had hit a boiling point earlier when Zayn had finally asked Liam if they could talk in private. They’d been in another room for several minutes, and Louis was trying to convince himself that he was imagining the sound of distant shouting.

They erupted from the room moments later and Liam walked purposefully out the back door and onto the veranda, shutting the door loudly behind him. Zayn plastered on a game face and approached Louis. He pulled out his phone and angled his face down at it, trying to obscure the watery sheen to his eyes.

“So how long do you want to stay out tonight, Lou?” He asked, his frail voice trying to sound light and casual as it wavered through his constricting vocal chords.

“We don’t have to hang around too long.” Louis promised him. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah. Liam’s just stressed.” Zayn said, giving him a weak smile.

Immediately the situation became clear. Louis was extremely adept at analyzing Zayn’s conflicts, and this situation was no different. When they’d lived together, countless nights had been spent with Zayn detailing whatever argument he’d gotten into with whoever had pissed him off that week.

He’d go on and on, elaborating endlessly about every aspect of why whoever it was had deserved the verbal lashing they’d received, but Louis knew every word of it was for Zayn’s benefit. Deep down, he already knew that he was at fault, and he was just trying to convince himself otherwise. Louis always ended the conversation with, “Go apologize,” and Zayn always begrudgingly agreed.

But notice, this is not what Zayn had just done. A clipped, short answer meant that Zayn wasn’t the one at fault, and he was trying to cover for whoever had just yelled at him.

Which meant that Liam needed a swift kick to the teeth.

Zayn was still smiling at Louis as he breathed deeply and said, “Let’s have fun tonight. Okay?”

“Anything you want. Just have to take care of something first.” Louis traipsed directly to the back door, picking up the first thing he could find along the way. This happened to be a pack of gum that he’d left on the dining room table, which he swiftly lobbed at Liam’s head once he stepped outside.

“Oi!” Louis shouted as Liam winced.

“What the hell, Louis?”

“I’m going to give you one, basic rule for dating my best friend.” Louis said as he shut the door behind him. “Never, under any circumstances, are you allowed to get mad at him when you’re actually mad at me.”

“It’s not any of your business.”

“Keep telling yourself that, Li.” Louis said, sinking his hands into his pockets and strolling over to where Liam was leaning against the railing. “Look, I don’t say this nearly as often as I should, but thank you.”

“Louis-“

“No, seriously. I have to say this. You and Zayn do so much for me, and I just keep fucking up, but you’re still always there to help me out. So thank you. But please, please don’t get pissy over this. Over something as pointless as this.”

“That’s…” Liam’s words drifted without saying anything, and his gaze slipped down to his feet.

“Zayn loves you, you stupid git.” Louis said bluntly. “And for that matter, so do I. So don’t make Zayn go to this premiere thinking that he did something wrong to make you mad at him, okay?”

Liam finally looked back up at Louis, and he was biting his cheek to try and suppress a smile. He rolled his eyes at Louis’ smug face before walking past him and back into the house, hopefully in search of Zayn to apologize.

Louis took a deep, bone shaking breath and leaned against the railing, hoping that he’d mended at least one relationship for the night. Now his mind was focused fully on how his own boyfriend would be faring after the premiere.

He checked his phone again, finding no texts from Harry. He hadn’t heard from him all night, and he wasn’t sure if this was a good or bad thing. He thought about texting something himself, but couldn't think of what to say.

Well, he could, but he didn’t think the he should say I love you for the first time over a text message.

 

~

 

Zayn had to forcibly yank Louis back into the limo with every ounce of his strength he still harbored in his drunk limbs. Moment earlier, the radio had come to the chorus of Louis’ favorite Taylor Swift song, so he’d naturally stuck his head out the window to belt along to it.

“SAY YOU’LL REMEMBER ME! STANDING IN A NICE DRESS, STARING AT THE SUNSET, BABE!” He screeched, yelping as he landed with a giggling thud back onto Zayn. “I have - I have to sing, Zayn. I have to do it.”

“You’re going to wake up the entire western hemisphere!” Zayn argued, also laughing wildly as he wrestled with Louis.

In all honesty, the two men weren’t fully drunk anymore. They were still tipsy, but what was fueling their ridiculousness was the buzz they were both riding from the fantastic evening. Though he knew that his opinion was anything but unbiased, but he’d been completely in love with the film. Judging from how atwitter everyone else had been, this was the general consensus among those at the premiere.

After the movie, everyone’s enthusiasm had increased ten fold as Louis and Zayn bopped around from after party to after party. Everywhere he turned he was being given congratulations or sharing a hug of triumph with someone who’d worked on the film with him. He hadn’t seen most of the cast and crew since filming had wrapped, so the jubilation had intensified with every old friend he ran into. There were bottles of expensive champagne popping on all sides and people constantly pulling him aside to get a look at his gorgeous new boyfriend.

But that’s when the wound would rip open anew, because for a split second he’d always think that he was about to introduce them to Harry. Instead, he’d swallow back his disappointment as he remembered his situation and curl an arm around Zayn, smiling as he introduced him to everyone. But it still felt like something had completely deflated in his chest, because it should have been Harry there on his arm. Harry, who’d set an alarm on his phone for the exact moment when the movie would come out, starting four months earlier. He’d been looking forward to this perhaps more than Louis had, and now he was forced to spend the night anchored to a real life succubus.

Harry should have been there, woven to his side as he toted him around to all of his friends, but management had made it abundantly clear that they couldn’t be spotted at the same after parties together. Now faced with following an intricate route of party hopping in order to avoid each other, Louis breathed a sigh of relief when he got the following text from Harry just after the movie ended:

 

hey baby, I’m gonna head back to my place with a couple of friends and call it an early night. don’t worry about staying out late. It’s your night. see you tomorrow, and can’t wait to make you listen to all of my thoughts about the movie ;)

 

Since this text had arrived well after Louis’ first drink of the night, he responded with an inscrutable string of x’s and o’s before stuffing his phone away. Harry was safely home and away from the shebeast, so Louis could enjoy his night without another worry.

It was nearing four in the morning by the time Zayn managed to get Louis in the car and headed home. Even though Louis knew that Harry would probably already be asleep, he’d told the driver to take him to Harry’s house before he dropped Zayn off. He just couldn’t fathom sleeping in a cold, empty bed on a night as glorious as this. He had to see his man, even if it just meant crawling soundlessly into bed beside him and passing out. Harry had made the ill-fated decision a week earlier to give Louis a remote control to his front gate, so Louis decided this was as good a time as any to show up unannounced.

“This is mine and Harry’s song.” Louis decided dazedly, leaning into Zayn’s shoulder as “Wildest Dreams” continued.

“Oh is it?”

He’s so tall and handsome as hell. That part’s about Harry.”

“And the part about wearing a white dress and lipstick? That about you, then?” Zayn questioned with amusement.

“Of fucking course it is. Who else would it be about?” Louis asked, aghast. The limo had just rounded in front of Harry’s house, the gate flying open as the car pulled up.

“Can I come in and pee before he takes me home?”

“Well of course, Zayner. But I’m not going to watch, or anything like that.”

“Why would you watch?” Zayn asked in astonishment, following Louis as he clumsily stumbled out of the car.

“I’m just saying I’m not going to watch you pee, Zayn.”

“I wasn’t offering!”

“I’m just saying!” Louis bounded up the steps to the front door and pulled it open, stepping inside.

“Please don’t watch me pee.”

“I’m not. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!” Louis bellowed. He turned a corner into Harry’s lounge and felt his laughter fade.

Five strangers, probably all around twenty years old, were jumping on and off of every available surface. The stereo was pounding out deafening music as they all danced with their listless, blissed out limbs. They didn’t notice Louis and Zayn’s entrance until Louis had his hand on the power button of the stereo, plunging the room into a tense silence. They looked up with hazy confusion, and Louis saw that not only were they all strangers, but none of them were Harry.

“Um, hey.” One of the girls said in a gravelly drawl, stumbling back a step and catching herself on the armrest of a sofa. Her eyes fluttered as she tried to focus on Louis’ face, and the situation became abundantly clear. Louis felt his inebriation sizzle into sudden clarity.

“Awesome. You’re all going home.” Louis decided smugly. “Zayn, do you mind if I call you another car? I have different intentions for the one outside.”

“No problem. I’ll just see if Liam’s still awake.” Zayn said, taking the initiative of ushering everyone to their feet. One of the girls stumbled into him, tripping over her garishly tall heels.

“You’re cute.” She commented, giggling loudly.

“Where’s Harry?” Zayn asked, turning back towards Louis.

“Probably in bed.”

“You check on him. I’ll get them out of here.”

“Pleasant dreams, kiddos!” Louis called over his shoulder as he moved further through the house.

He worked to quell his frustrations that his boyfriend’s house was crawling with kids straight out of a rave at four in the morning, swallowing his complaints as he left the lounge. He knew that tonight had been difficult for Harry, so he certainly didn’t need a lecture from Louis at the moment, but it didn’t make the situation any less annoying. Louis resolved to just slip in beside Harry and wrap his arms around him, maybe shushing him back to sleep if he woke up. He’d bring it up in the morning, but would struggle with his every fiber to joke and keep it light. He rounded a corner toward the staircase, stopping as a column of light from the adjacent kitchen fell across the floor in front of him.

Twinkling in the dim fluorescent light were the jagged remains of a broken bottle, it’s glistening shards laced with a thin layer of dark, red blood. Louis’ stomach clenched so painfully, it was completely possible that he’d ruptured something.

He took a shuddering step forward as his breath hitched in his throat, the bottle coming into clearer view. It was a whiskey bottle, and judging by the small puddle of brown liquid surrounding it, it had been nearly empty when it broke. The trace amounts of blood were splattered across the floor in thin spiderwebs, pressed flat in places beneath a footprint leading to the kitchen.

Louis followed it, his heart beating deafeningly in his chest as Harry’s shivering figure came into view. He was splayed across the floor, his face pressed to the tiles and his hand caked in drying blood. He didn’t even notice Louis as his eyes lolled about dazedly.

“Harry!” Louis shrieked, lunging forward and falling to Harry’s side. “Harry? Can you hear me?” Harry’s wide, heavily dilated eyes floated up to see Louis, surprised by his sudden appearance. His lips quivered as if to start saying Louis’ name, but his face clenched with pain. “Zayn! Help! Please!”

“Lou…” Harry muttered, releasing a half sob with a sharp intake of breath. Louis took Harry’s bloody hand into his own for inspection, wincing as a spotted a tiny shard still embedded in his palm. He slowly pulled it out, struggling to keep his composure as Harry whimpered and coiled into more of a fetal position.

“Baby? What happened? What happened to your hand?” Louis asked, straining to reach up to the counter and grab a spare rag. He held it to Harry’s palm, stoppering the bleeding. His head whipped around as he heard the front door open and close. “Zayn! I need help!”

“I fell.” Harry said, his eyes open again and looking up to Louis apologetically. But Louis was close to laughing with relief at Harry’s ability to say something coherent. “Wanna sit up.” He was already on the move, struggling to lift himself up into a sitting position. Louis leaned in quickly to help him