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When the news break, Louis is sitting alone in his hotel room, toying with the waistband of his trackies and debating whether wanking a second time would be excessive. He’s got his phone on the other hand and he’s scrolling through his Instagram feed, not quite paying attention. Zayn’s message startles him, partly because they haven’t been texting as much as they used to, not outside their group chat, but mostly because there’s no context, and while it doesn’t really make sense, the words make Louis stomach twist painfully. Bro, what the hell, did you know he was doing this?

He bolts upright. There aren’t a lot of people the text can be about, and he knows, he can feel it in his guts even before the notification pops up and a second message comes through, just a link. His hands are shaking slightly when he opens it dreadfully, though he can imagine the headline before the page even starts loading.

“Harry Styles comes out as gay; One Direction star comes clean about his sexuality and spills about touring and boys.”

There’s a moment when he thinks he’s going to be sick. His hand flies to his mouth but he fights the wave of nausea that nearly knocks him over and closes the window. He opens Zayn’s iMessage and sends back a No, though it’s not completely true. He didn’t know, wasn’t even expecting it, not now, but a part of him has always been anxiously waiting  for it to happen, for the bomb to drop and his world to be shattered. He never thought it would happen now, not when things were supposed to get better, to change. The thing is, it wasn’t supposed to go like this.

It takes a few minutes for his mind to stop racing and the tremors in his hands to go away. Only when he manages to take a deep breath without it getting caught in his chest does he dare going back to the article.

He skips the first part, where the writer laments her heartbreak at officially not being able to have Harry’s babies. He snorts as he scrolls straight to Harry addressing the subject. It’s mostly just quotes, not a question and answer type of article, so Louis assumes Harry sent in what he wanted to be said and the writer just filled in the rest, waxing poetic about Harry looking happier and freer now that he’s honest, that his smile shines brighter than ever.

Louis snorts again, can’t help cringing at the cheesy words, but alas, he supposes it is true. Harry must be in the fucking clouds right now, finally out after five years of lies.  He wishes he could be happy for him but.

His breath catches when the writer mentions Harry’s significant other. He knows it’s not about him, because Harry would never do that to him, even if things aren’t great between them right now, but somehow, that makes it even worse. The fact that Harry is coming out and there might be someone else’s name on headlines that isn’t Louis’ makes things much, much worse than he was expecting (even though he wasn’t expecting any of this.) and the thought is enough to bring the nausea back, making him trip over his feet as he rushes to the bathroom.

The cold water on his face does next to nothing to calm him down, but at least he can stand without the room spinning around him, so he counts it as a win. A part of him wants to ring Harry and yell at him, curse him in every language for dropping something like this on him, like he doesn’t have enough on his plate right now. He would, if he thought he’d get something out of it, (even if he knows it’s unfair of him and that he can’t hold something like this against Harry,) but he can imagine what Harry’s reply would be, “What is it to you?” and he doesn’t think he could handle something like that right now.

He knows it’s irrational, the mental claim he has over Harry, but he can’t help it (and God, has he tried) so most days he tries to push the feelings to the back of his head, tells himself that he’s okay with getting only a piece of Harry, to only being partially in his life, but today isn’t most days.

He’s on the verge of panicking when his phone rings. He only double-checks to make sure it’s not Harry (and why would it be Harry, when they haven’t properly talked in months?) and picks up with a shaky breath.

“Did you know?”

“That Harry was gay? No, Payno, I literally just found out today, and not all those times I had his cock up my—“

“That he was doing this!” Liam cuts him off, “Did he run it by you?”

“Why would he? It’s not like it’s my business,” he spits, hoping Liam won’t notice the bitterness in his tone. When did he become such a shit friend?

“He’s like your best friend, he doesn’t even button his shirt all the way before asking what you think about it.”

“Yeah well,” suddenly Louis needs the conversation to be over, “He did this time?”

“I thought maybe you guys had discussed it, seems like a good way to steer all the questions about the pregnancy, I figured that’s why he did it.”

Louis heart drops to his stomach. He doesn’t know if Liam goes silent or if he just zones him out, but all sounds are drowned by a soft buzzing in his head and an incessant what if Harry did this for me.

Harry wouldn’t, is the thing. Maybe he would have five years ago, when things between them were easier and the line between friendship and more wasn’t as blurry as it is now. Maybe he would have over the course of the past four years, when things were confusing but still okay, when even through all the intensity and the secrets and the lies, their friendship was still the most important thing. But not now. Even being the most selfless person in the world (which he is) Louis knows Harry wouldn’t do that for him now.

Liam seems to understand that Louis isn’t going to continue the conversation, so he quietly says his goodbyes and hangs up, though Louis barely registers it. It’s kind of funny that Liam called him, he thinks, because Liam has no idea, has been clueless for four years, since Louis started dating Eleanor and everyone assumed he and Harry weren’t hooking up anymore. Louis has felt weird around Liam ever since the Attitude spread came out, feeling awkward and a little upset at Liam’s wording and accusations towards the fans, but most of all feeling guilty about Liam defending him and Harry and being all matter-of-fact about it when he couldn’t be more wrong.

He figures things would be a lot easier right now if his entire life weren’t based off secrets and lies.

He calls Zayn, because he needs someone who knows, and Zayn was the only one besides Simon who ever figured it out (and he’s not about to call Simon Cowell and ask him for advice about boys.)

“Fuck,” he says, because he can’t think of anything else.

“Have you talked to him yet?”

“What am I supposed to say? Congratulations H, thanks for heads up, my broken heart and I will leave you alone now?”

“Can you drop the drama for a second and think, Louis?”

“What am I supposed to think about?”

“What do you want? Do you even know that? Have you stopped for a moment to think about what this means for you?”

Louis stays silent. He almost wants to snap at Zayn for making so much sense, because Louis doesn’t need reasoning right now, he needs and ally who will be on his side and will hate Harry with him because he’s not ready to move past this petty stage just yet.

“Just talk to him, you’ll feel better.”

“I don’t know what I would even say. We haven’t even talked in weeks. I haven’t even seen him in months.”

“You had a concert two days ago.”

“You know what I mean.”

Zayn takes a moment before he replies.

“You mean that you haven’t slept together in months?” Zayn sounds incredulous; Louis stays silent, “Fuck, Lou, you need to get your shit together. I thought you and Haz were going to stop that.”

“We have now,” he says despite himself, the words dragging painfully out of his mouth, “so it doesn’t really matter, does it? It’s done with.”

“If it’s done with, why did you call me? Why do you care?”

“Fuck you.”

Zayn has the audacity to laugh at him. Louis contemplates hanging up and deleting his number and then maybe also tweeting something bitchy at him, just to be a brat. The fans already think they hate each other, so why not?

“Lou, I love you, you know I do, ok? But you need to take a step back and think about this. Figure out what the hell you want from Harry.”

“I have figured that out, do you think I’m that daft? I’ve had four months to think about it. Hell, I’ve had five fucking years to think about it. It’s not about what I want. It’s about what Harry wants.”

“Lou, just call Harry. Pay him a visit. Break into his house. Stop wallowing in your own misery and man up.”

He supposes he could go see him. Flying from New York certainly doesn’t seem as dramatic as flying from London, he can probably pull it off as a business thing. Or a PR thing, since everyone seems to be waiting for him to pay Briana a visit and hold up his part of the deal. (But fuck, if he flies to Los Angeles, Harry will think it’s about the baby. Fuck, he hasn’t even gotten to explain that to him yet.)

“Things are shit. Fucking Harry,” Louis mutters, and he can almost see Zayn

“Things are shit because of you, too. Don’t put all the blame on Harry, it’s not just him that ruined it.”

He’s is pretty sure Zayn is just being generous for the sake of Louis’ feelings, because Harry has minimal blame in this whole thing. Even the few shitty moves he’s pulled could be looked over, considering the shitstorm that Louis has generated in the past half a year. He’s not stupid, he knows it’s his fault, he knows he ruined things, but he didn’t mean to. He was trying to fix things for them. It really, really wasn’t supposed to go like this.

“I fucking know, okay. I know.”

“Talk to Harry, Lou. Figure things out.”

It’s not like Louis was expecting any different from Zayn; he’d always been the voice of reason behind most of Louis’ actions, but when he hangs up he still feels disappointed, like he was hoping Zayn would miraculously come up with a third option that’s not talk to Harry or let him be, and that it would solve all of Louis’ problems.

He’s perfectly aware that he’s being obtuse, that a phone call or even a visit to Harry would make Louis feel better, even if it didn’t fix things. Problem is, he’s terrified. He feels unsteady, like the moment he opened the link to the article the ground shifted beneath him, and he can’t find where’s safe to stand.

It does feel like a bad joke, like a stab to his back while he’s still getting on his feet, that this would happen now, when he was trying to fix this. He had a fucking plan, is the thing. He was going fix things. He had run it through PR and thought about it relentlessly until it felt fool proof, and it was supposed to fix things. When he broke up with Eleanor months ago, it was supposed to be the first step and things were supposed to start looking up. He wasn’t expecting Harry to pull a “we’re just friends” when he was about to tell him about it. That’s probably when everything started to fall apart.

Throughout his five years of friendship-slash-whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-this-thing with Harry, regardless of how tight or patchy things were between them, there was not one moment where it didn’t feel definite for Louis. Even when they weren’t talking and when Harry was hooking up with Nick fucking Grimshaw behind Louis’ back, there was not one second that Louis doubted that in the end, he and Harry were it. That no matter what the world threw at them, in the end, they’d come out of it together, hand in hand. Even when he had snuck into Harry’s room the night after he cleared the Eleanor issue with PR and Harry had told him that maybe it was best that Louis didn’t sleep in his bed anymore, Louis still believed firmly that somehow, things would work themselves out.

And that’s the problem now. For the first time since he’s known Harry, Louis doesn’t feel like everything will be okay. He feels like he’s standing on a thousand foot tall trampoline and someone forgot to put a safety net underneath him. For the first time ever, he feels like Harry has slipped away, and every second that passes the gap between them is wider and he can’t do anything to stop it. For the first time since the first day in the X Factor, he feels like he’s losing.

He knows that Zayn is right, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to get off his ass and do something. He switches his phone off after the phone call, goes to the balcony, gets his pipe from the floor where he left it the night before and lets his thought go hazy, his arms and legs tingling as the smoke fills his lungs.

Truth is, he kind of hates smoking alone, but he’s at a time where he hates being alone and sober even more, and as paranoid and uneasy as weed may make him feel, he’d rather be jumpy but dazed than let the thought of Harry break him all the way down. He smokes and smokes and smokes, goes from high to stoned out of his mind in less than half an hour, and when he’s almost forgotten about anything outside his hotel room, he smokes some more, until he passes out in his balcony chair, Harry the last thing in his mind.

He wakes up around ten at night, with a jolt. The TV is on back inside the room, an old Seinfeld rerun casting a faint blue-ish light over everything, the laugh-track the only sound recognizable from where he’s sitting. He looks down the balcony, the New York City lights staring back at him, the air thick and too warm for his liking, and suddenly Louis can’t remember a single reason why he’s here.

He’s always been impulsive, so it shouldn’t be a surprise when he opens his laptop and buys the first plane ticket to Los Angeles that he can find. He’s done things like this before, jump on the first flight to wherever his mum or Stan or Harry were, depending on what was going on. He likes to think of himself as a tough person, but he tends to flee, is the thing, whenever things get hard.

This time, though, he’s flying to the problem, he’s confronting all his fears, and he almost wants to pat himself in the back for doing the grown-up thing to do and facing his problems instead of running away. He can almost imagine Zayn’s proud smile, and that thought alone is enough to get him in motion and not let him freak out the moment he gets the confirmation email with all his flight info, which is less than two hours away.

He throws whatever he finds around his bed in the suitcase he never bothered to unpack and zips it closed, not even taking a second to double check that he’s not forgotten anything. It takes him less than fifteen minutes from the moment he shuts the computer to get out the door, wearing joggers and a beanie and a week’s worth scruff.

There’s a moment in the taxi, halfway through the drive to LaGuardia, when he lets himself panic, and he takes his phone out and calls Zayn while trying to get his breathing to even and his vision to focus on something. He doesn’t pick up, and Louis leaves him a colourful voicemail where he barely even mentions going to the airport to see Harry, but he figures Zayn will understand.

He almost wishes he had called Liam, because Liam always picks up, always alert, but then Louis would have had a lot of explaining to do, and he’s just not up for that yet. (Liam is not exactly his favourite person right now, either, so that’s probably not the best idea.) Still, by the time he finishes cursing and hangs up the phone, he’s calmer, the blurriness in his eyes gone and his breathing almost back to normal.

Getting through security is more of a hassle than he remembered. He’s been flying private for so long that he’d forgotten how draining airports can be. He taps his foot against the floor while the man in front of him slowly unbuttons his coat to go through the sensors, but he’s secretly thankful, glad that time is dragging and he’s getting a chance to think about what the fuck he’s going to say. Not that it’ll change anything, as things with Harry never seem to go as he plans.

He puts in his earbuds as soon as he boards the plane, letting his thoughts drift at the first song, and trying to imagine a conversation starter that will somehow develop into him explaining everything to Harry and Harry understanding and forgiving everything. He doesn’t know if he’s being optimistic or delusional anymore. 

Louis can’t help but wonder how Harry will receive him when he knocks on his door at three in the morning. He’s never been anything but nice to Louis, even those times when they were cross at each other and Louis kept pushing all of Harry’s buttons, trying to get him to snap. Louis’ has a tendency of trying to pick up a fight, and Harry has always been amazing at ignoring him.

He wonders if Harry will pretend everything’s fine, ignore the elephant in the room, and Louis can already see himself getting worked up by that, snapping at Harry’s false calm. “How dare you come out without me?” is all he wants to say, and maybe also “I’m more proud of you than I have ever been.” I love you so much that it hurts my head, he hears, and Louis turns his phone off automatically, because he can’t, can’t, can’t handle that right now.

He somehow passes out, eventually, and manages not to dream about Harry, for the first time in what feels like forever.

 

***

The taxi that takes him to Harry’s house is too cold, and Louis keeps shivering. It’s about two in the morning in Los Angeles, and seeing the city lights from the 405 warms up his heart; he’s done this trip countless times, Harry normally dozing off on his shoulder. There’s a painful jab at his heart when he thinks about how long it’s been since he’s been here with Harry (January?) but he focuses on the road and lets the driver tell him about the crazy bikers on the PCH that he almost run over earlier, trying his best not to think about anything.

Harry’s car isn’t in the driveway, which is a surprise. Or maybe it isn’t, because it’s a Thursday, and if there’s one thing Louis remembers about L.A. is that Thursdays are the night to be out.

It’s amazing that he still has a key, and that Harry hasn’t changed his alarm code. For a brief moment he wonders what he would have done if the alarm had gone off, if the police had shown up and he’d had to explain to them that no, he’s actually not a burglar. Imagine the cheesy, gossip headlines “Louis Tomlinson arrested trying to break into Harry Styles’ home.” They probably would have made something up about him being angry about the coming out; they always managed to make him sound like a homophobic asshole, after all.

He drops his bag by the door, not really daring to go up and claim one of the guests rooms; he’s never slept anywhere other than Harry’s room (sometimes slipping and calling it our room,) but optimistic as he likes to be, it seems unlikely that he’ll end up there, this time.

It’s dark inside, most of the lights off or dimmed to the point where it’s pointless to even have them on (they used to argue about that, Before, because Harry always refused to turn the lights all the way off,) and Louis knows his way around quite well by now, but he hasn’t been over in long enough to feel confident enough to wander about blindly.

He digs his phone out of his pocket to use the flashlight, surprised by the stream of notifications; he’s had his mentions notifications turned off for quite a while, but there’s an astounding number of incoming DMs. Most of it doesn’t make sense—fans that he followed on a whim to fill the quota of fan interactions—, all caps and full of typos, complicated enough that Louis doesn’t bother with it. The same link seems to have been sent to him over again, so he clicks on it without much thought.

“Boybander Harry Styles spotted leaving West Hollywood joined hand in hand with new beau, Xander Ritz”

His heart drops in his chest as he scrolls down, ignoring the short irrelevant article and looking desperately for a picture. Sure enough, there’s pap shots of Harry and Xander, walking hand in hand, looking drunk and cheerful and together.

And that’s—that’s really not what Louis was expecting at all.

His eyes are still fixed on the screen as he goes into the room, failing to see the steps leading into the sitting area and missing them completely, all of his weight falling onto his right ankle which gives out with a noticeable pop.

“Bloody motherfucking shit,” he curses, struggling to get up while balancing on just one foot, a throbbing pain spreading from his ankle to mid-thigh.

He manages to hop-crawl to the nearest sofa, seeing stars behind his eyelids as he straightens his leg. There’re tears prickling at his eyes, and Louis’ almost grateful for the pain, glad he can focus all his strength on trying not to throw up, leaving near to no room for thinking about Harry and Xander.

And fuck, fuck, fuck this is not how things were supposed to go. He wonders whoever he must have pissed off so royally in his past life to deserve things going so spectacularly to shit now. He can already imagine it; Harry and Xander walking through the doors and finding him laid on the sofa, heartbroken and bonebroken and with his life shattered beyond repair.

He lets himself cry, because what else is he supposed to do about it? Things are officially over. Everything that he hoped for, everything he tried so hard to fix is hopeless now, done with. He’s going to have to find a way to quit the band, knowing by now that there’s no way he’ll be able to go back to performing next to Harry, have people pay to watch him as he cuts himself wide open every night, as spill his guts on stage. There’s no way he can continue a tour with Xander following Harry around the way he has for the entire U.S. leg. And fuck, it makes so much sense now.

Louis’ exhausted, his eyes are puffy and itchy from crying, and the pain has spread all over his body, his muscles gone from tense to sore in a matter of minutes. He’s pretty sure he’s never felt or looked more like shit in his entire life. And of course, because everything in his life is a joke, that’s the exact moment that he hears the clinking of keys and the door cracking open.

He closes his eyes, thinking maybe if he plays asleep Harry and Xander will ignore him and go on their way and he’ll be able to sneak out, maybe even go to the hospital after they do.

“Louis?” Harry asks after a moment, and Louis opens his eyes to find the lights on, and Harry standing by the door, coat still on and keys in his hand. Alone.

He almost lets out a cry of happiness. Wants to ask Harry how he’s doing, how he feels about being out, wants him to sit next to Louis and tell him all about these past months when they haven’t been talking. He wants to beg him for some ice and a painkiller and maybe for Harry to play with his hair until he falls asleep because he is so, so tired he could cry.

“So you and Xander?” He spit instead , and almost wants to slap himself, because despite how angry and betrayed he feels right now, he’s the one out of place here.    

“Um,” is all Harry says, and he’s still frozen by the door.

“After all the times I asked you if there was something going on with Xander? I can’t believe this is how you chose to break the news to me. Why didn’t you even tell me you were gonna come out?”

Harry takes a step closer, then stops. He looks taken aback, like he wasn’t expecting Louis to be here.

“Xander and I are just friends.”

“Funny how you’d hold your friend’s hand on the street yet you wouldn’t even hug me for a meet and greet picture.”

“That’s not—you know that was never my—you can’t compare those two things.”

“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming out?”

Harry takes a deep breath, drops his coat on the chair next to the door and takes another step towards Louis, “When was I supposed to tell you? We’ve barely even talked since the start of the tour. Why would I, Louis, when you clearly tell me nothing?”

“I’m your best friend,” Louis says, “I tell you everything, I—“

“You’re not my best friend, Lou. We’re not friends,” Harry says softly, and everything inside Louis’ breaks.

He can’t tell if what he’s feeling is hurt or rage or both, but he jumps to  his feet, ready to have a go at Harry. He’s momentarily forgettotenabout his ankle, which takes all of two seconds to give out.

“Fucking hell,” he says from the floor.

Harry rushes over, his hands flying to Louis’ sides, and he picks him up and gently places him on the sofa, sitting down next to him (but not close enough, Louis thinks idly, his thoughts clouded by the pain.)

“What’s wrong? What happened?”

“My ankle fucking—the lights were off—“

Harry carefully places Louis’ foot on his knees (Louis almost cries out at the pain shooting up  his leg) and lifts up the hem of his joggers.

“Shit, Lou, you need to see a doctor,” he whispers, his hands soft on the large swollen lump sticking out on Louis’ leg.

“Yeah,” Louis breathes out, the hairs on his leg sticking out at Harry’s touch; he begs that Harry will believe it’s just the pain.

“I’m gonna get you some painkillers and then we’re going, alright?” Harry says, cautiously taking Louis’ leg off his and getting up, placing a kiss to the top of Louis head and making him shiver, “You’ll be okay.”

Harry is being gentle and nice and everything that Louis loves about him is shining through, but all Louis can hear is we’re not friends ringing over and over and over in his head. And it’s funny, how Louis thought he was heartbroken before, but clearly he had no idea. He wonders if there’s a way of letting Harry know that there’s no way he’ll be okay again, broken ankle or not.

He’s left alone in the sitting room for less than two minutes, but by the time Harry comes back, Louis has gone from hurt and hazy to angry and feisty. He accepts the pills and water that Harry offers him but keeps his mouth set in a thin line, staring Harry and hoping he looks at least half as frosty as the pack of ice Harry’s wrapping around Louis’ ankle.

 “Do you want to wait until it stops hurting a bit before we go?”

“Just call me a car, yeah? Go to bed and I’ll be out of your hair in a few.”

“What?” Harry seems taken aback for a moment before he understands what’s going on, “Louis—don’t do this right now, please. I’m gonna take you to the hospital so you can get your ankle checked.”

“Why do even you care? You said yourself I’m not your friend. Just let me go and you won’t have to deal with me anymore.”

Harry sighs, then looks sadly at Louis, “Lou, love, of course I care. Let me take you to the hospital and we can talk when we get back yeah? Just—please let me do this.”

Louis tries his best not to get stuck on the ‘love’ that slipped into Harry’s words, tries to keep a cold façade even though he can already feel himself warming up to Harry. The pain in his leg is killing him, too, so he knows it’s not a fight he’s going to win.  He nods, once, before spitting out a “Fine” and letting Harry pick him up.

The drive to the hospital is quiet. Harry keeps his right hand on Louis’ leg as he drives, and Louis would try to shake it off of him just to be difficult, but the pain is enough to keep him still. Harry turns the music low enough that Louis wonders if he’s expecting to have a conversation in the car, but neither says anything and by the time they reach the hospital, Louis is half asleep.

It’s nearly two hours before they leave the building; Louis’ foot in a plastic brace that he’s supposed to take off the next day and Harry’s arm around his waist, keeping him still. It’s not broken, but it is sprained quite badly, and he’s  bedrest for 72hs, the doctor strongly advising him not to walk unless he absolutely has to.

Harry holds him the entire way to the car, and Louis is high enough on painkillers that he lets him, not even making a snide comment about it. He falls asleep on the way back, barely notices when Harry picks him up again, and happily lets his head rest on Harry’s shoulder until they’re in Harry’s room and he’s being placed gently on the bed. 

This is me in his room.

He’s drugged up enough that he only vaguely registers Harry’s lips pressing against his temple. It takes a few moments for Harry to move away, and when he does it’s with a whisper that makes Louis’ heart still in his chest.

“I’m gonna take care of you now, babe.”

***

When he comes to, the sun is filtering through the window far enough into the room that Louis guesses it must be close to midday. The other side of the bed is empty, but the sheets are rumpled, which suggests that Harry did sleep next to him, even if he’s not there right now. It shouldn’t be surprising, Harry sleeping in the same bed as him, but it is. He tells himself it doesn’t mean anything; it’s Harry’s room and Harry’s bed and it’s logical that he slept there.

But still, there’s the incessant drumming in his head, this is me in his room; this is me in his bed.

His foot is still throbbing, and of course, because the universe hates him, he desperately needs to wee. He considers getting up and hopping to the bathroom, but the moment he tries to move his legs to sit up on the bed, a sharp pain shoots up his calf, stilling him. He can’t decide whether wetting himself or calling Harry to help him would be more embarrassing.

The words Harry whispered to him last night are still fresh in his head, an endless loop that has him buzzing with anxiety, dying to crowd Harry against the wall and demand explanations.

God, there’s so much they need to talk about.

He’s about to get his phone out and call him, the pressure in his bladder starting to become painful, when he hears steps coming down the hallway and the door to Harry’s room creaks open.

“Hey,” Harry’s voice is soft, “How’reyou feeling?”

Louis glares at him, but his eyes soften quickly when he gets a good look at Harry, whose hair is still damp from a shower, and he’s wearing a loose white t-shirt and joggers, like he doesn’t intend to leave the house today. Louis tries not to think about what that means.

“I really fucking need to wee.”

Harry laughs softly and walks towards the bed, throwing the covers off of Louis and leaning down to pick him up. Louis tries not to think about how easy it is to throw his arms around Harry’s neck and let him do all the work, setting his good foot on the floor as Harry places a hand on the dip of his waist to steady him.

Harry keeps one hand on his side and one around his shoulders as Louis hops towards the toilet and pushes his waistband down so he can wee—and it’s only once he’s going that it crosses his mind that he doesn’t remember ever taking his trousers off.

“Why did you come to my house last night?” Harry asks out of nowhere, and Louis is so startled he almost misses.

“Are you fucking serious right now, Styles? I’m bloody weeing.”

Harry has the nerve to laugh, and tightens his grip on Louis’ waist, “You’re right, ‘M sorry.”

Louis glares at him through the mirror as he washes his hands, and Harry offers him a little smile (his ‘Louis’ smile) and it’s really hard for Louis not to just turn slightly and drop a kiss to Harry’s shoulder, or cock his hips to the side so they’re touching Harry’s too. Muscle memory, he thinks, doesn’t just vanish after a few months without contact, and Louis is itching to touch Harry the way he’s used to doing, the way that’s right.

Harry is silent as they walk back into the bedroom and he deposits Louis back onto the bed. He looks at Louis for a few moments before taking a step back, and Louis doesn’t want him to leave, needs them to try to work things out at least to a comfortable friendship, needs to alleviate some of the pressure in his chest that makes him feel like he can’t breathe.

“So are you and Xander really just friends?” he asks softly, because it’s the only think he can think to say right now, the only thing in his head since he saw the pictures last night, and he hates the way his voice breaks, the way jealousy is so obvious in his voice.

Harry sighs, and doesn’t answer, but he takes two steps towards the bed and plops down at the end of it, right next to where Louis’ legs are resting. He takes a pillow and gestures for Louis to put his bad ankle on it.

“Is that really what you want to talk about right now?” he doesn’t seem angry, his tone almost understanding, and Louis wants to hate him for always being the sensible one.

He stays silent for a few moments, unsure of his answer.

“When did you get to L.A.?” Harry asks, giving him an out, which he takes.

“Around two a.m. last night.”

“You flew—and you came straight here?”

“Yeah,” Louis whispers and looks away, unable to handle Harry’s eyes boring into his right now.

Harry keeps quiet after that. Louis wishes he could use the silence to explain him what he’s doing here, to talk about how nothing went according to plan and everything got fucked up and how things were never supposed to be like this, but he can’t. Words are caught in his throat and he doesn’t even know where to start.

“Did you take your painkillers yet?” Harry asks after a little bit, and Louis sighs, defeated, and shakes his head.

“I’ll go get you those, alright? You should try to sleep after that, you kept squirming all night, I doubt you got much rest.”

Louis pulse speeds up at the mention of last night, goose bumps on his arms as he pictures Harry watching him sleep. He nods, but doesn’t say anything, and Harry doesn’t even look at him before exiting the room.

**

Harry seems to have been right about Louis needing to rest, because when he comes to again, the sun is starting to set, and the clock on the bedside table marks 7pm. He scoots back on the bed, trying to sit up, and notices his ankle doesn’t hurt half as much as it did in the morning.

He can see Harry out on the balcony writing something in his journal, squinting in the low light, the sky tinted pink behind him. He doesn’t know what it is, but he can’t help getting off the bed and hopping his way to the open door to join him.

Louis stands there for a few moments, and he can tell Harry knows that he’s there, but he doesn’t lift his head up to look at Louis. He keeps his eyes focussed in his journal, his eyebrows furrowed, and finishes whatever he’s working on.

“You really shouldn’t be getting out of bed yet,” Harry says without looking up, but his voice is soft, and Louis can see his lips twisting up in a smile, “Does it hurt?”

“Not as much as before,” Louis shrugs, and Harry lifts his head and they lock eyes.

“Glad you’re feeling better,” he smiles, “Are you hungry? I made some pizza earlier if you want. Painkillers are gonna fuck up your stomach if you don’t eat.”

“Pretty sure years of cereal and red bull for dinner did that already, Harold,” the nickname rolls out of Louis’ tongue with such easiness that it’s weird to think it’s been over half a year since he’s called him that.

Harry laughs, but doesn’t say anything, just sets his notebook down and gets off his seat, “I’ll go get you some, yeah? We could eat out here if you want.”

Louis sits on the chair opposite where Harry was, eyes fixed on Harry’s back garden so he doesn’t stare at Harry walking away. It feels so weird, being here, sharing a space and being friendly when there’s so much unsaid between them. He’s pretty sure Harry is angry at him, and Louis is so, so pissed and hurt and betrayed that he doesn’t even know how he hasn’t snapped at Harry yet.

It’s only a few minutes before Harry comes back with a tray in one hand and two bottles of beer in another.

“I’m not sure you should be drinking while on those painkillers but—“

“Might as well,” Louis shrugs, taking the bottle Harry’s offering him.

Harry sits down next to him this time, passing a plate over to him and diving straight into his pizza. Louis takes a bite of his, which is unsurprisingly great, as everything that Harry cooks, and goes back to staring out the balcony.

“You know, I think I’m starting to see what you like about Los Angeles,” he offers after a little bit, making Harry chuckle.

“Lou, you fucking hate L.A.”

“I don’t hate it, I just—it’s complicated,” Louis shakes his head, looking back at Harry, who’s staring.

Harry just takes a sip of his beer, arching his eyebrows.

“I just never liked the way it felt, being here. Things were always awfully complicated for us here and I just—I don’t know. Never felt fully welcome, I guess.”

He takes his beer and closes his eyes as he downs half in one go, just to have an excuse to look away from Harry.

“You know you’re always welcome here, regardless of—you know, whatever is going on with us.”

“I’ve noticed, since you’ve basically taken me hostage here, taking advantage of my poor health,” he jokes, because he can’t handle entering the subject of them right now; his mind is still a little hazy from painkillers and sleep, and the beer isn’t helping.

“As weird as it may be sometimes, I really do love having you here,” Harry whispers, then looks away from Louis, as if that’s the end of the conversation.

Louis is positive Harry is messing with his head right now. There’s no reason for him to say these things, not with the way things are between them, and he must know how much they affect Louis and still—he wonders if it’s payback from everything they’ve been through (and honestly, Harry has done some capital S Shit to him as well in the past to get a free pass at fucking with Louis right now,) if Harry is purposely trying to drive him mad.

They finish their pizza in silence, and then Harry goes inside and brings back a bottle of water and two white pills that he hands over to Louis. It’s kind of funny, now that he thinks about it, that Louis actually has no idea what the treatment for his ankle is, how long he’s meant to be resting and how often to take his painkillers. He doesn’t bother asking, though, just swallows the pills, offering Harry a soft smile and trying not to think about how fucked up everything is between them.

“I’m gonna go round James’ house for a while tonight, okay? I’d tell you to come but you really shouldn’t be walking, I feel guilty about you being out of bed already.”

“Go on, Styles, I’ll be fine. I’ve been here by myself a million times.”

And apparently, that’s the wrong thing to say, because Harry’s smile disappears from his face and he just nods.

“I should be back in a few hours, please don’t do anything reckless.”

“You know me, mate, I never do,” Louis smiles innocently, hoping Harry will smile back, but he just nods at the words and exits the balcony.

Louis stays in the same spot until the sun’s gone down completely and it gets more than a little chilly, mosquitoes starting to circle around his head. It’s harder than he’d thought to get back inside after sitting for so long, his leg muscles stiff and his good foot cramping as all of Louis’ weight falls back on it.

It takes him a while to get to the bathroom, but once he’s there he’s able to hold on to the railing on the side of Harry’s insanely big shower to turn the water on. It’s a struggle to take his pants off while hopping on one foot, but he manages eventually, letting out a pleased moan as the hot water hits his lower back.

Last time Louis took a shower here was the night before they flew back to England, due to start rehearsals for the Asian leg of the tour. It’d been cold, but Harry and he had gone to Malibu. Harry had him with surfing, having even paid someone off to clear a side of Topanga so it’d be just the two of them. It was a shitty swell, anyway, so there weren’t loads of people around, but Louis had had a blast.

They’d been shivering by the time they got back to the house, and Louis had wasted no time shrugging his clothes off and hurrying to the hot shower, Harry surprising him there five minutes later by silently walking into the bathroom and pressing himself to Louis’ back, his lips trailing from his shoulder to the back of his ear. Harry had eaten Louis’ out for what felt like hours, and then fucked him against the tile wall, Louis too gone to do anything more than whimper as Harry rammed into him.

They’d fallen onto the bed with droopy eyes and soft smiles, and Louis curled around Harry and held him close, kissing the back of his neck until they’d fallen asleep.

His chest tightens as he realizes it was one of the last times he and Harry slept together, things starting to fall apart somewhere in Manila, and going to hell officially by the time they reached Cape Town. He feels tears prickling at his eyes and he wants to kick himself for somehow managing to fuck up the most important thing he’s ever had.

Still, regardless of the wave of sadness that washes over him as he remembers that night, Louis can’t help getting hard at the memory. He contemplates waiting it out, letting his boner go down due to lack of attention, but he has next to no willpower. It’s a matter of seconds before he’s sliding a hand between his legs and tugging rapidly at himself, hoping to get off as quickly as possible, before his brain betrays him and starts recalling older memories of him with Harry.

He quickens his pace as he gets closer, holding on to the shower door for support, and is just about to come when he feels his foot slip, his stomach dropping in fear as he loses his balance and falls to the floor.

If Louis thought things couldn’t get any worse, he was clearly wrong. He’s sprawled in an awkward angle, his hips twisted and his good leg stuck under the other one, making it impossible for him to get up. He squirms, trying to worm his way up the side of the tub, but barely manages to move away from the spray of the shower. At least he won’t drown before Harry gets home.

“Fuck.”

It feels like hours that he’s just lying there, the water going cold and making him shiver, the pain in his ankle becoming a faint bother as he gets used to it. Eventually, after who knows how long, he hears the door of the bedroom creak open, and Harry’s steps as he walks around the room.

“Lou, are you—“ Harry’s voices cuts out suddenly as he steps into the bathroom, his eyes locking on Louis, who is beyond feeling anything at this point.

He should be embarrassed, but he can’t be arsed to care anymore. This is his life, and it’s only going to get worse and worse and there’s nothing Louis can do but accept it.

“Lou, fuck, are you alright?” Harry asks, hurrying to his side and helping him sit up, the pain coming back with a jolt as he moves.

He groans in pain, and he can see Harry’s brows burrowing with worry, “What happened?”

“I slipped?”

Harry shakes his head, but grabs a towel from the hanger and wraps it around Louis’ shoulders, who by now has gone from shivering to shaking forcefully. He rubs his hands up and down Louis’ arms before placing his hands on Louis’ waist and picking him up, cradling him like a little boy.

He sets him in bed and lies down next to him, throwing the duvet over both of them. He’s still shaking quite badly, and Harry presses himself closer, still rubbing Louis’ arm and back with one hand.

“I’m sorry I took so long,” He whispers after a few moments, and it’s his breath tickling Louis’ ear that makes Louis realize how close he is.

“It’s alright,” he whispers, but his voice is strained and his breath hitches as he keeps shivering.

Harry shuffles closer, and Louis can feel the heat radiating from him, his hand burning where it’s stopped moving and is laying on Louis’ hip.

“S’not,” Harry whispers, and moves even closer, his chest pressed tightly against Louis’ back.

Louis stills when he feels Harry move again, and his stomach clenches painfully as Harry’s lips press to his neck once, twice, three times.

He lets out a shuddery breath, and for a moment neither of them move, but he can’t help shifting back slightly, and that seems to be enough invitation for Harry, because he pushes the towel down and presses his lips to Louis’ back, kissing everywhere from his neck to his shoulder, his hand tightening his grip on Louis’ hip.

Louis moans softly, and Harry groans, his kisses getting wetter, teeth dragging against Louis’ skin with just the right pressure to set him off. Fuck it, he is so, so hard again.

Harry pushes the towel out of the way and takes his hand from where it’s resting on Louis’ hip to slide between his cheeks and start rubbing circles against him. Louis hips buckle, and Harry bites his shoulder hard enough that it might draw blood, but Louis doesn’t care; God, he’s missed this.

He cranes his neck back and his lips crash into Harry’s, all teeth, and it should hurt but instead it just feels like he’s finally able to breathe again. Harry keeps rubbing softly at Louis’ hole, his other hand snaking underneath him and curling around his cock to jerkihim lazily.   

Harry shifts his body so that he’s hovering over Louis, his right arm in a weird angle around him, and they kiss again, properly this time, and all Louis can think about is how he managed to go without this for so long; how he’s going to survive without it ever again.

It’s been too long since Louis has gotten off with another person and even longer since he’s gotten off with Harry. He is starting to lose himself in Harry’s touch, the heat spreading in his lower belly taking over any other thought in his head. He barely notices Harry’s hand leaving him for a moment, but then it’s back, rubbing gently before pushing in slightly, burning as it makes its way inside him.

Harry’s lips go back to his neck, kissing him hard enough to leave a mark, dragging his teeth down Louis’ pulse and making him shudder. His body stills when Harry’s cock slips between his thighs, thrusting slowly, his finger leaving him as his hand flies to Louis’ hip to steady him as he builds a rhythm, the other one still jerking Louis slowly. His vision gets blurry for a moment, overwhelmed by the feel of Harry everywhere around him, and everything’s still shit and Louis knows that this doesn’t fix anything for them, but if he died right now, he would die a happy man.

Harry’s lips feel like they’ve been glued to his skin, head buried in Louis’ neck and licking anywhere he can reach as he fucks in between Louis’ thighs. He’s gripping Louis’ hips hard enough to bruise, his knuckles going white, and he starts speeding up, grunting against Louis’ skin. It’s only a few more thrusts that drive Harry over the edge, his lips moving to kiss Louis’ temple and then biting at his earlobe, his hand on Louis’ cock moving faster and the other moving down to cup at his balls, and then back to his hole, pushing in again.

 “God, I’ve missed this,” Harry pants, and that’s all it takes for Louis to come all over his fingers.

Louis is expecting Harry to withdraw the second that it’s over, braces himself for the disappointment of Harry pushing him away after he pulls out of Louis, but is surprised as he feels the mattress dip behind him and Harry pressing against him once again. He turns over, still unsure, and Harry grabs him by the waist and pulls him closer, his lips finding Louis’.

 They kiss lazily, Louis’ hands buried deep in Harry’s curls and Harry’s hands caressing up and down his back until they start getting hard again. Harry laughs when his own half hard cock drags against Louis’ thigh, and Louis can’t help the giggle that escapes his lips. They laugh as they keep kissing, and it feels so much like before that Louis thinks that maybe, just maybe, this is the beginning of a new stage for them. Maybe they can work things out after all.

Harry presses a last kiss to Louis’ lips, lingering there for a moment before turning around, grabbing Louis’ hand and pulling him towards him so he’s curled around Harry’s back. Louis is still half hard, pressed to Harry’s lower back, but he doesn’t remember feeling happier than he does right now, so he lets his eyes close, burying his face in Harry’s hair and breathing him in.

**

Louis wakes up to a phone ringing, confused for a few moments about the ease in his heart, until he feels Harry stir next to him and all the memories of last night come rushing back to him. He doesn’t open his eyes, but moves a little closer to Harry, his stomach flipping painfully as the younger boy stills at the touch, and moves away.

He has no choice but to open his eyes, and he finds a very serious Harry looking at him with a frown, his phone in his hand. Dread takes over Louis, but he refuses to let himself think the worse yet, telling himself it’s not possible, not after last night, not after things were starting to look up for them.

 And then Harry speaks, and Louis’ world stops.

“I can’t do this.”

He jolts to a sitting position, his back cracking painfully in complaint to the sudden movement, “What?”

“I’m sorry—last night wasn’t fair of me, I should have thought of the implications just—I don’t know how to be around you and not be—us.”

“Harry—“

“I’m going to Santa Barbara for the day, I’ll try to be back before you’re asleep.”

As if I’d be able to sleep after this, Louis thinks bitterly. As if his day, week, month, life hasn’t just been completely fucked over. He wonders when Harry became so cold, when the sweet boy that used to share his bunk became this heartless person who dismisses other people’s feelings like they’re nothing.

“Are you really gonna take off just like that, like nothing happened?”

“Lou, I’m sorry—I need to go. I didn’t mean for things to get messy like this—“

“Is it because of Xander?” he asks sharply, and the drop of Harry’s eyes to the floor feels like a rusty knife cutting him open, “Is this some sort of revenge? Payback for me fucking things up?”

Harry shakes his head rapidly, but his eyes still won’t meet Louis’s.

“I didn’t—I never planned for any of this to happen. I thought I’d be stronger around you, just—it’s hard to hold back when you’re so close.”

“Then don’t. Why are you even holding back?” Louis’ voice breaks and he curses himself for appearing so vulnerable in front of Harry, who’s colder than Louis has ever seen him.

“I’m sorry Lou, I’ve got to go— I’ll be back tonight, yeah?“

“Are we gonna talk then? Or are you gonna fuck me and fuck off again?” He hates how needy he sounds, hates that this is what he’s been reduced to.

Harry seems unsure, but he nods, “I promise.”

“You know—“ his breath catches, and he can’t believe the strength it’s taking not to burst into tears right now, “I know I’ve fucked up before Harry, but I don’t deserve this from you.”

Harry hums, like he doesn’t fully agree, but he nods, “I’m sorry. We’ll talk tonight.”

And like that, he’s off.

It’s almost funny, how every time Louis thinks he can’t sink any lower, something like this happens. It feels like someone is playing a bad prank, seeing how much they can push him before he breaks. And truly, Louis doesn’t think he can stand much more.

He lets his mind loose, going over every option of where Harry is going, of what he’s doing in Santa Barbara that made him leave in such a hurry. He lets himself contemplate the possibility of Harry coming back, dropping to his knees in front of Louis and begging for forgiveness, before he forces himself to be rational and accept that his biggest fear has come true, and Harry doesn’t want him anymore.

He takes the painkillers sitting by his bedside table, not remembering whether he’s supposed to have one or two, downing three just in case, and lays staring at the ceiling and willing himself not to cry until sleep finally comes for him.

He comes to around noon, head foggy and body sore, the heaviness in his chest even stronger than before. He wonders how much sadder he can possibly get before it gets too much, if he’s hit rock bottom already or he should be preparing himself for another hit. He doesn’t remember ever feeling this bad, feels like he’s been repeating that in his head for months, and yet every day it somehow gets worse.

He checks his phone for the first time in days, needing a distraction from his own thoughts, and is surprised to find headlines with his name. Apparently their visit to the hospital hadn’t gone unnoticed like he thought—he was too out of it to notice the paparazzi—but there are tons of candids of Harry carrying him inside, and of them walking out and to Harry’s car, Louis head lying on Harry’s shoulder, Harry’s hand tight on his waist.

“Lovers reunited: Larry Stylinson’s hospital visit fuels speculation about the true nature of the bandmates relationship.”

He reads article after article, feeling like air has been punched out of his lungs as his eyes scan the optimistic words rambling on about his and Harry’s wonderful love life. Everyone’s acting like he’s out already, assuming that his and Harry’s rekindling must mean that all the rumours were true. And well, he can’t really blame them, can he? They’ve been right about most of it all along.

He goes on Twitter, masochistic as ever, and checks his mentions, bracing himself for the worst. Sure enough, there’s some nasty comments, slurs and death threats and people promising to never buy anything with his name on it again. He shrugs it off, ignoring the tightness in his chest as he scrolls past them, and he’s about to start feeling better about it by reading the positive reactions when he accidentally refreshes and comes across a new set of tweets that make turn his blood to ice.

There’s pictures of Harry and Xander walking around some beach, and of them having lunch together, Louis guesses somewhere in Santa Barbara, and they’re sitting so close that their legs are touching, Xander leaning forward as Harry whispers something in his ear.

Fuck, he thinks, he’s fucked, because everything’s shit and Harry’s with someone else, and Louis is still, so, so, so deeply in love with him. He can’t tell hurt from anger anymore, doesn’t know whether he wants to punch Harry repeatedly for making him feel like this, or if he’d rather wrap his arms around him and cry until Harry takes pity on him. It’s pathetic, what he’s been reduced to, and the fact that he’s learning about everything through twitter somehow makes it even worse.

He takes a picture of Harry’s balcony and posts it to Instagram out of spite. Harry might be with Xander right now, but Louis is the one in his room, and he knows the fans will recognize Harry’s journal sitting on the table and the white chairs that have showed up time and time again on Harry’s Instagram. Xander may have Harry, but for a little longer, Louis can pretend he has this. If the fans can believe that it means something, maybe Louis can, too.

He ends up texting Zayn, because despite the weird distance between them, he needs someone right now who will not ask him any questions, who he owes no explanations to, someone to be with him and help him forget about his pain for a while. Zayn probably has some good weed, too.

‘Can you come over’

‘I’m in LA bro’ the reply comes almost automatically, and Louis laughs at Zayn’s lack of contact to the outside world. It might be a little conceited of him, thinking that everyone keeps tabs on Louis’ name in tabloids, but he knows that both Niall and Liam know he’s in L.A. even though they haven’t talked all week. Zayn was never very good at staying updated, anyway.

‘me 2. Please come over?’

‘ok ya where r u’

‘harry’s’

The last text takes a while to arrive, and Louis thinks for a moment that Zayn is gonna bail, leave him to be sad on his own, but just when he’s about to give up and get back to bed, his phone beeps next to him. ‘on my way. got sum stuff’

Honestly, Louis is so, so thankful for Zayn.

It takes him about ten minutes to get from Harry’s room to the sitting room downstairs, and by the time he gets there he’s exhausted again. He turns the TV on, just to have something to do, but it’s hard to focus on anything other than the image of Harry and Xander having lunch together, burned to the inside of his eyelids.

Zayn arrives less than twenty minutes later, letting himself in and going straight to the sofa where Louis is sitting and plopping down next to him.

“What the hell happened to you?” he asks.

“Harry broke my heart,” Louis offers with a shrug, apparently going for the self-deprecating thing, “after I kind of broke my foot?”

“Shit, is it really broken?”

“My heart, you mean?” Louis laughs, and Zayn punches his arm.

“Are you high already?”

“Just on painkillers—wouldn’t mind something extra, though.”

Zayn hums, then takes a cigarette pack from his pocket, picking up a well rolled joint from there and lighting it, “Harry’s gonna be pissed that we’re smoking inside.”

“Yeah, good.”

He takes the joint that Zayn offers him and takes a long drag, closing his eyes and begging not to cough as the smoke goes down his throat. He takes a second drag, and a third, and Zayn is looking like he’s expecting Louis to pass the joint back, but Louis just keeps smoking by himself until Zayn snaps and takes it from his hands.

“Okay, what happened, from the start.”

“Well—as you suggested, I got my shit together, or tried to, anyway, because this fucking world hates me and keeps fucking up everything I try to do—but I flew to L.A. and broke into Harry’s house like you said—“

“I didn’t mean the breaking in part, Louis!”

“It’s fine, I actually have a key, you know. But I got here, and he wasn’t here, and then twitter told me that he and Xander are together—which by the way, ew—and I fell and fucked up my leg,” he’s almost surprised at how easy it is to talk about it now.

It’s most likely the weed, but there’s also the fact that he and Zayn haven’t seen each other since the last meeting with Syco, two days after Zayn had walked into the green room and announced that he was officially leaving. Louis was expecting it to be weirder, and maybe it would be if he weren’t so torn up by his own shit to actually worry about it, but he figures that as long as he keeps talking about Harry, Zayn will be there for him and there won’t be any awkwardness.

“Has Harry been taking care of you?” Zayn asks, after Louis pauses long enough that he forgets where he was in his story and can’t keep talking.

“Yeah, I guess? Except for the part where he fucked me and then fucked off.”

Zayn’s brow furrows, and he looks sad, almost pitiful, and Louis has no choice but to hit his chest with his open hand, because the one thing he does not want from his friends right now is pity. He wants an ally, someone who will hate Harry with him and get him high until he stops feeling like he’s drowning.

“Where did he go? When did this happen?”

“Fucking Santa Barbara. And today.”

“Shit, Lou,” Zayn says, and instead of adding anything else he grabs the joint that’s been resting on the coffee table (no ashtray, so hopefully it’ll leave a burn mark) and lights it again, offering it to Louis after one drag.

“He had the nerve to say he missed me,” Louis adds, breathing out the smoke, “and then this morning he fucking changed his mind, said he couldn’t do it and fucked off.”

“What an arse.”

This, exactly, is why Louis asked Zayn to come.

 “How do you feel now?”

“I’m thinking of quitting the band and moving to Australia and changing my name, what do you say?”

Zayn laughs, and Louis can’t help but join in, and maybe it’s the weed, or just the fact that Zayn is his brother, and they haven’t done this in too long, but once they get started it seems like they can’t stop, holding their stomachs and laughing until their cheeks hurt.

“Do you want some food? Should we watch a movie?” Zayn suggests, his breathing uneven.

“I kinda thought maybe we could get plastered today.”

Zayn looks like he’s about to point out that it’s not even four in the afternoon, but he glances over at Louis and shakes his head, chuckling, “Do you think all of Styles’ booze will be organic?”

“Only one way to find out, bro.”

They raid Harry’s liquor cabinet—or more like Zayn raids the cabinet and Louis tells him what to do while smoking the last of the joint from a nearby chair, after they’d realized Zayn is too damn skinny to support Louis’ weight while he goes through Harry’s alcohol.

There actually is some organic vodka in there, which makes Louis double over laughing about, and he’s too close to texting Harry to make fun of him before he remembers that he can’t. He gets some peach schnapps, because the name sounds hilarious to his high brain, and Zayn settles for whisky, because he likes to pretend he’s tough. They sit in the living room and drink, some American football game playing in the background, the volume too low for either of them to be able to keep up.

“We should see if he has any champagne in his freezer, dump whatever we don’t drink down the sink and refill it with like, soda water.”

“Is that your revenge?” Zayn raises his eyebrows at him daringly.

“Well—what do you expect me to do, send him a snapchat of me snogging someone? Like that’s going to help the cause.”

Louis takes a sip from his drink, a peach-y vodka mix that tastes like shit and burns like fuck. Zayn keeps silent for a while, sipping his whisky, before he speaks again.

“Is that what you want though?”

“Is what what I want?”

Louis’ mind is already hazy after only one drink—albeit a strong one—but he assumes he can blame it on the weed and the painkillers and the fact that he’s barely eaten the past few days.

“To ‘help’ the cause? Do you want to fix things with Harry? Or do you want out?”

“You think I can fix things?” He tries (and fails) not to sound too hopeful.

“It’s not about what I think, Louis, it’s about what you want. Do you know what you want?”

For a moment, Louis wonders if Zayn even knows him at all, because if he did he wouldn’t be asking these questions.

“I want Harry, of course I want Harry. I’ve wanted Harry for as long as I’ve known him.”

“Yeah but, he’s out Lou, he’s not gonna be willing to hide anymore, and he shouldn’t, anyway. Are you going to come out for him?”

Louis doesn’t answer, because despite everything that he’s done to get closer to that, he hasn’t told anyone about the plan, and saying it out loud feels too definitive, like there’s no backing out anymore; despite having waited for this moment for so long, Louis is still terrified to his core.  Zayn hums, like he got the answer he was expecting, and it makes Louis’ blood boil, how everyone always assumes that he’s too far in the closet to ever come out. He hates that everyone knows how scared he is.

“What did you think the whole baby thing was for?” he says eventually, because he can’t take the knowing look on Zayn’s face.

“Does Harry know?”

Louis shakes his head, downing the rest of his drink and reaching for schnapps, “Things kinda, went to shit? Before I could tell him so—yeah. He doesn’t. Know, that is.”

Zayn nods, keeps going at his whisky, his eyes focused on the window. Louis finishes his second drink and pours himself a thir, thed bottle wobbling in his hand and crashing loudly against the glass coffee table. Zayn looks at him disapprovingly, but doesn’t say anything. Louis grabs his cup and downs half of it in one go, gagging as he puts it down, the cup spilling all over the table. Zayn shakes his head, wiping the mess.

“I know you don’t really want to hear this Lou but—maybe it’s a good thing to finish things off with Harry for good—“

Louis snaps his head up so fast he hears his neck crack, “What?”

“I just think—look at you, Harry’s got you all messed up. And I think it might be the same for him.”

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“It means that you guys seem to just hurt each other, over and over, like it’s a competition, who can hurt more. You give and take until either of you breaks. It’s been like that for a while.”

Louis has to force himself to take a deep breath before he can answer, and even then, he’s nowhere near as calm as he should. He knows he’s going to say the wrong thing before he even opens his mouth.

 “The fuck do you know, anyway? You left when things started to get hard, you have no fucking idea what’s going on.”

“Okay, Louis.”

There are few things that can drive Louis over the edge, but the thing that pisses him off more than anything is when people don’t engage with him when he’s trying to get into a fight.

“You talk like you know shit, like you’re so wise, when all you did was fuck off as soon as things got a little hard.”

“That’s not what happened, Lou, and you know it,” Zayn is calm, not giving in to Louis’ goading.

“You just fucked off, fucked everything up, like you fuck up everything; you fucked the band, then fucked up your thing with Perrie.”

“Louis—do not talk about what you don’t know—“ Zayn’s tone is warning.

“How could you do that, anyway? You just took off, after almost five fucking years, you just left—?”

Zayn seems to know the exact moment when Louis is going to break, because he rushes from his seat to wrap his arms around Louis right before he crumbles. He doesn’t cry, not really, but his body shakes, his hands curled tightly into fists, and he whimpers slightly against Zayn’s chest.

“Why did he leave like that, Z, What the fuck?” he hiccups, blinking away the tears that are starting to form at the corner of his eyes, “How could he do that?”

It’s less than a minute before Louis almost-sobbing turns into gagging, and Zayn hurries to drag him to the toilet, doing his best to keep Louis’ hurt foot off the ground. He drops him as carefully as he can on the floor, and Louis crawls to the toilet bowl as Zayn takes a step back.

He’s at it for a while, his stomach clenching painfully as it empties itself of its contents, and Louis is almost grateful that he hasn’t eaten in so long. Zayn doesn’t hold him or grab his hair, which Louis wishes he did, but he stays by his side, patting him on the back at one point, and that, somehow, is enough.

He’s too heavy for Zayn to carry back, but together they manage to stumble to the sitting room—Zayn seems to deem it impossible to take Louis upstairs, and Louis is nothing but grateful for that, because he doesn’t think he could handle a night in Harry’s bed alone, after everything that went on.

He stays alone on the sofa while Zayn goes out for a smoke for long enough that Louis gets sleepy, his eyes drooping as he fights to stay awake. When Zayn gets back, he sits at the chair left to him and takes out another joint, raising his eyebrows at Louis, who nods.

They pass the joint back and forth, both silent, until Louis accidentally drops it on the floor and neither of them bothers to pick it up, only making sure it’s not lit anymore and won’t start a fire while they sleep; Louis hopes it ruins the carpet, though.

He has no idea what time it is, but it’s been dark out for a while, so it can’t be too early, and yet Harry is not back. Even as high and relaxed as he is at this point, Louis can’t help the painful tugging at his heart as he remembers Harry’s promise to come back before he fell asleep. It gets even worse when he realizes that the reason that he didn’t come back is most likely that he stayed with Xander.

Neither of them has spoken in a while, and Zayn’s eyes are closed, so Louis can’t figure out if he’s even awake, he’s already drifting off, too, when the words leave his lips as a soft whisper.

“I wouldn’t want to—you know? If I thought he didn’t too. But. You don’t know what it’s like, when it’s just us. The way it feels, when we’re together. If you just knew, Z, the way he looks at me sometimes.”

**

He doesn’t remember falling asleep, but Louis wakes up to some rattling coming from the kitchen, and stirs awake, pain shooting up his leg and sparkling behind his eyelids. So not taking his painkillers and drinking his weight in vodka was a bad idea. Who would have thought.

It takes him a little while to focus, his head still in a daze from the drinking and smoking, and when he does he is able to make out the hushed conversation that’s taking place somewhere else in the same room. He makes a point not to open his eyes, and puts all of his energy into picking out what they’re saying.

“—I do, alright. But Xander has been nothing but good to me, he deserved more from me than just a tabloid article.”

“I get that you had to go, but you should have thought about what it would do to him.”

“What am I supposed to think about? We haven’t talked in fucking months, and he just shows up here out of nowhere right after I—I don’t even know what he’s doing here.”

“You fucking know what he’s doing here.”

“I don’t, actually, Zayn, because he doesn’t tell me shit, and regardless of what everyone thinks, I can’t just read his mind.”

No one talks for a few moments, and Louis panics internally, worrying that they’ve realized he’s not asleep anymore.

“Just talk to him, alright?”

To be honest, Louis is slightly offended that Zayn thinks he has to go and defend his honour, like Louis isn’t old enough to figure his own shit out—and considering tonight, maybe he isn’t—but it feels good, too, that there’s finally someone on his side, that at least Zayn can recognize that he’s not the asshole who fucked Harry up, like everyone else seems to think.

He can’t recognize most of the sounds, but he hears footsteps, and then there’s some more talking, but it’s muffled by the distance and he can’t pick out any words. Eventually, he hears a door open and close, and then the sound of the wood creaking, and he doesn’t even realize that someone is standing next to him until he feels a cold hand pressed to his cheek.

Louis is expecting another confession like the last time Harry thought he was asleep, or even just a cryptic comment, but Harry keeps his mouth shut, just slides a hand under Louis’ waist to pick him up, groaning at the effort. Harry smells like tobacco and his expensive cologne, the faint smell of the beach still noticeable.

(Louis can’t help absentmindedly wondering if Harry bitches at Xander for smoking too, or if he only cares when Louis does it.)

The bed is soft and welcoming when Harry puts him there, and he opens his eyes a little as he shifts to get comfortable, the light surprising him and making him groan in complaint. He was expecting it to still be dark out, and the realization that Harry stayed out all night hits him like a brick.

“Hey, Lou.”

Louis groans in reply, partly because he’s still annoyed by the sun being out, partly because he’s pissed at Harry.

“’m gonna take a shower. You should sleep some more, yeah? Then maybe we could talk—“

He doesn’t offer Harry a reply, but Harry doesn’t look like he’s expecting one, instead patting Louis’ shoulder and walking towards the bathroom.

**

When Louis opens his eyes again, Harry is sat on the balcony again, scribbling on his journal. His hair is up in a bun and he’s wearing a fuzzy robe, and it sends a jolt of nostalgia to Louis’ brain, or his heart, or wherever you’re supposed to feel things, anyway—Louis tends to feel things all over, a pressure on his chest and tingling on his limbs and the ever constant fear that he might burst open because it’s almost like he feels too much, sometimes. Looking at Harry now does that to him, sadness spreading all over, all around him, tainting the air.

Before he can think about it, Louis drags himself out of bed and hops on one foot, ignoring the stabbing pain on the other one, to join Harry on the balcony. He keeps quiet, stumbling a little and cursing under his breath to get into a sitting position, and that’s when Harry looks up, smiling softly at Louis and setting his journal down.

“How are you feeling?”

Louis wonders if he’s asking about his foot, his hangover or his emotional state, but he doesn’t have a positive answer for any of them, so he shrugs, avoiding Harry’s eyes.

“Do you want me to make you some tea?”

“Let’s cut the bullshit, okay Styles? No more excuses or running away. You said we would talk, let’s talk.”

“Let me get your painkillers first, yeah? I promise I won’t be long.”

Harry gets up before Louis gives him an answer, but truthfully he could use some numbing for the pain on his foot, so Louis lets him. It’s not like he could stop him, anyway. He absently picks at the skin by his fingernails, hissing as he draws blood, and waits for the other boy to return, letting his eyes close and trying not to think about what’s about to happen.

A mug is set in front of him, as well as a plate with two white pills and a piece of toast with avocado on it, before Harry plops down on the chair across from him. He looks nervous, shifting in his seat, but he stares pointedly at Louis and then glances at the plate, and Louis takes three quick bites of the toast before downing the two pills with his tea.

“Okay,” he says once he’s done.

“Okay,” Harry repeats, and really, Louis would punch him if he could get up.

His glare must say enough, because after a few moments of silence Harry sighs, shaking his head, “I’m sorry I took off like that—it wasn’t. I know it wasn’t fair on you.”

“No shit.”

“It wasn’t what you think though; Zayn told me about last night, I’m sorry—I’m sorry I caused that. I didn’t think you’d take it so badly—“

“Which part? You taking off after we fucked or you running to Xander’s arms right after you told me you guys were just friends?” his tone is ice cold, and Harry flinches. Good.

“Xander and I are just friends, I didn’t—I didn’t lie about that, you know I don’t lie.”

Louis snorts.

“Have you never had a friend that you just hook up with?” Harry asks, and then seems to realize what he said, because he lets out a bitter laugh, shaking his head, “Fuck.”

They’re both silent for a while before Harry resumes talking, “I wasn’t sleeping with him when I was sleeping with you, just so you know—it was a later development. I didn’t think it’d happen, but I didn’t lie about it. And it doesn’t—didn’t mean anything, really. He really is just a friend.”

 “Okay,” Louis whispers, trying to take a deep breath as his breathing becomes shaky, “Okay.”

Harry stays quiet.

“You can’t bring him on tour,” Louis says after a few moments, when he’s sure his voice won’t betray him, “I can’t do that, okay? I’m sorry but I just—I can’t take that, not knowing that you two—“

“Louis—“

“I know I can’t tell you what to do, alright, but I can’t go on tour if he’s gonna be there and you’re—I need you to do this for me.”

Louis has given up all pretence of looking unaffected, knows by now that Harry probably thinks he’s pathetic, or pities him for being so torn up over this when Harry is clearly doing fine, with his new boyfriend and his new life as an openly gay man, but he still tries to his best not to crumble as he says this, to keep the last bit of dignity he has left (if any, considering he’s hungover, hasn’t showered in days and probably smells like sick) as he waits for Harry to answer.

“He’s not,” Harry whispers, and relief washes over Louis, “I wasn’t going to, we’re not—anymore. Whatever we were doing, I stopped it. That’s why I went to Santa Barbara yesterday.”

A million thoughts rush through Louis’ head. He tries to keep himself in check, to not let the excitement of what this might mean go to his head, but the possibilities are making him dizzy already.

“I know I shouldn’t have left you like that—I didn’t think things through, and I’m sorry. I was just, overwhelmed. And scared I guess,” Harry shrugs, “The other night—it kind of fucked with my head a bit.”

“Harry—“

“I didn’t want Xander looking at tabloids and seeing that we were together and thinking that I was dropping him without a word—I figured he should hear it in person. He’s always been a little defensive when it comes to you.“

Louis smiles, victoriously, because he always knew that Xander disliked him. He maybe wasn’t the warmest person to him, all things considered, but Xander was part of their tour crew and Louis was never intentionally rude to him and yet Xander always seemed annoyed when he was around.

“He has been a really good friend for me, and I didn’t want that to end just because I’m not sleeping with him anymore—I needed him to know that I can’t do that anymore, but I didn’t want it to ruin our friendship.”

There’s a million things that Louis could say to Harry: he could explain his actions, from the start, come clean about all the stupid publicity moves he’s taken in the past year, even tell Harry how he feels. It’s the perfect opportunity, really, after Harry has admitted to be single. Yet he can’t get a word out, suddenly frozen in his seat, crippling fear taking over him.

“What does that mean for us?” He whispers, closing his eyes at the effort it takes to get the words out.

Harry shakes his head, a breathy laugh leaving his lips, and Louis wants to punch himself in the face.

 “Why did you come to L.A., Louis?”

“I wanted to talk to you.”

“I’m right here, Lou, talk to me,” Harry sounds resigned, like he’s not expecting anything from Louis anymore, and Louis has never felt more like a child in his life.

“I don’t know what to say.”

“See, Louis? This is why I can’t do this, because even when I’m standing right in front of you, and there’s nothing standing in the way, you still can’t fucking talk to me about what’s going on with you.”

Louis can almost feel the moment all of his thoughts come to a stop, his mind suddenly blank. He stares at Harry, who’s silently staring back at him, jaw tight and eyes dark

“I’m scared of saying the wrong thing, okay?” The words leave his lips as a soft whisper, barely there, “I’m terrified that anything I say will make me lose you.”

“You’re already losing me, Louis,” the words hit Louis like a wall of bricks, “Every second that you don’t own up to what you feel, you’re losing me.”

Harry jumps to his feet, turning away from Louis and walking to the railing, leaning against it with one arm and rubbing his face with the other.

“It’s been five years, Louis, and you’re still skirting around this.”

When he turns around, he looks older than Louis has ever seen him. He looks exhausted, like he hasn’t slept in months, and there’s something in his eyes that terrifies Louis.

“I came to L.A. because I couldn’t handle that you came out without me, because I wanted to talk to you. I came to L.A.  because I want—“

Harry tilts his head, encouraging Louis to keep going, and there’s not much he can say anymore, and he really has nothing to lose, so he goes for it.

“—I wanted you to know that I want to be with you,” he breathes, “I love you, and I want to be with you.”

He can’t believe this is the first time he’s ever said those words, the first time he’s ever said them to Harry. He was expecting to be relieved, or happy, or to feel fucking something after the biggest confession of his life, but nothing changes.

Harry plops down in his seat again, rests both elbows on the table and lets his head fall between his hands, “Fuck.”

“What?”

“Fuck.”

“I got that part,” Louis mutters, and Harry lifts his head just to glare at him.

Silence reigns again, and Louis chest tightens. He doesn’t know what he expected, or if he expected anything at all, but somehow, everything that’s happening is startling, and he doesn’t know how to act anymore. Having laid his feelings out there feels like he’s set something off, but he can’t figure out what, and everything in the world but him has shifted, and he doesn’t know where he stands anymore.

“What about Briana?” Harry asks eventually.

Louis shifts in his seat, straightening up, and takes a deep breath, preparing himself to start explaining everything to Harry, but the younger boy interrupts him before he’s able to get one word out.

“You want to be with me, yet you have a baby on the way.”

“It’s not my baby.”

“It’s not—“

“It’s not my baby,” Louis states again, for good measure, “They—they went to the press with the story before we knew for sure, and when we found out it wasn’t—I was told I should stick with it—they figured it was a worthy stunt.”

“A worthy stunt?” Harry asks incredulously.

“They said it would be good publicity—raise my profile before the break, help album sales, you know—“

“Raise your image as a straight man,” Harry adds, and his voice is not exactly accusing, but Louis knows him well enough to know what he’s implying.

“We made a deal—it was supposed to pave the road, raise my image so I could—before the break, they said I could maybe come out then.”

“Okay,” Harry nods a few times, like he’s evaluating things, “So it’s not your baby.”

Louis shakes his head.

“But you still slept with her,” Harry states, and it sounds definite.

Of all the things Louis was expecting Harry to get caught on, this was not one of them.

“I don’t see—you’ve been sleeping with Xander who knows for how long, why is me hooking up with some girl, once a problem?” His voice comes out higher than he expected, and he hates that he’s getting defensive, knows Harry will undoubtedly misinterpret it.

“I slept with Xander because I liked him, Louis,” Harry starts, and Louis doesn’t fucking want to hear this, “But you don’t like women, you don’t like Briana.”

Louis almost wants to protest, because he could like girls, hates that people always make the assumption that he’s gay just because of his voice or the way he talks or moves around, but this is Harry, and Harry knows. If Louis liked women at all he wouldn’t have put up with three years of a fake relationship. If Louis liked women, things would have been a lot different from the start.

“I can’t be with you when you’re sleeping with girls because you’re terrified of who you are, Louis. I can’t let you let me down again.”

“I didn’t sleep with Briana because I was scared,” Louis whispers, “I slept with Briana because you broke my fucking heart, and I needed something that wouldn’t fucking remind me of you.”

Harry looks taken aback, yet he stays silent. Louis brain is racing again, flooding him with things he could possibly say to make Harry give him a chance. He’s so lost in his thoughts that he doesn’t realize that Harry has gotten off his seat, doesn’t even register him approaching him, so he’s disconcerted for a moment when he feels Harry’s hands on his cheeks, his heart skipping a beat as Harry’s soft lips close over his.

“I love you,” Harry says when he pulls away, “I’m in love with you, Louis. It’s been killing me for years, but I love you.”

Louis breaths out, leans his head to rest it against Harry’s palm, presses his lips to Harry’s thumb and breathes out a soft, “I love you too.”

“I can’t be with you, though,” he adds, voice gentle as ever, and Louis’ world shatters.

“Is this a fucking joke to you?” Louis snaps, moving away from Harry’s touch, “Are you just playing with me now?”

“Louis—hear me out. I’m not saying never, okay? I just mean I can’t do this now. It’s too messy, we’re too—I haven’t talked to you for real in months, I don’t—I don’t even know how to be around you.”

And as fucking usual, Harry’s right. It hurts Louis’ ego (which has been bruised enough lately) to admit it, but it’s true. Jumping into something now, as happy as it would make Louis, would only screw things up in the end.

“This thing we’ve been doing,” he says, “has always been really fucked up, hasn’t it?”

Harry smiles at him, and regardless of how bad things still are, Louis feels himself relax.

“Yeah—and if we want it to be real this time—” Louis can’t help the way his heart flutters when he hears Harry say the word real, “—then we have a fucking lot to figure out, Lou.”

They smile at each other, and Louis thinks it must be the first time in months that they’re looking at each other so openly.

“You also need to understand Lou—I’m out now. I’m not going to go back to hiding. You have to figure out if you—if coming out is really what you want to do. And when you do—if you do, we can see where we go from there.”

Louis wants to be angry with Harry for giving him an ultimatum like this, disguised as it is, but he knows, deep down, that Harry’s right. It wouldn’t be fair of Louis to drag Harry back into hiding.

“I guess we have a lot to figure out, huh?” Louis smiles, “where do we even start?”

*

Louis is in the bath, the water warm and full of bubbles and some green bougie shit that Harry had added as he drew the bath for him, and it almost feels like he’s bathing in the ocean. It smells strongly of lavender and sage, but behind that there’s something muskier, like wet soil and wood and a little bit like the beach, too.

He’s been soaking there for a while, the boot off his leg, but the water has yet to go too cold for him to need to get out. The warmth feels good on his foot—which Louis notices now that the boot is off, has gone down in size quite substantially—and he’s not sure he wants to get out and face Harry just yet.

He still hasn’t figured out how he feels about the conversation he and Harry had earlier. It’s promising, surely, and he’s definitely more hopeful than he was before they talked, but everything is still too up in the air for Louis to be able to feel at ease. As it is, hiding in the bathroom while Harry gets them food seems like the best thing to do.

There’s still that unsettling feeling in his chest, like it’s wrapped in a wet blanket, and he can’t seem to shake it off. He’s never dealt well with uncertainty, would almost rather have to deal with rejection than have the doubt eating at his sanity. He’s restless, can’t stop thinking and overthinking everything that Harry does, did or may do, his brain racing at all the options that may open up for them starting now. All he can think is that he can’t lose Harry this time.

His fingers and toes are wrinkly and a little gross by the time he decides he should get out, only because it’s starting to get suspicious, and he doesn’t want Harry to come get him.

There’s a pair of (too large) joggers on the bed and a t-shirt wide enough to fit Louis twice, especially now that he’s barely eaten for a few days and then puked his life out. He’d noticed earlier while looking in the mirror how hollowed his cheeks are, bones sticking out too sharply, his skin pale and waxy and so unlike him it was hard to find himself in the reflection. He can’t imagine Harry ever finding him attractive like this, but then again, Louis has never been able to wrap his head around the fact that Harry actually wants him back.

Loves him back, he thinks giddily, and it’s hard not to get hopeful and excited when he remembers that it’s been less than three hours since Harry said those words. Harry loves him, is in love with him the way that he is in love with Harry. They love each other.

The more he thinks about it the hardest it is to contain his smile, and he feels dumb, grinning alone in an empty room and yet—this is Harry’s room. He’s sitting on Harry’s bed, wearing Harry’s clothes, only hours after Harry told him he loves him, has loved him for years.

It feels too good to be true, after the shit-storm that have been the past few days—hell, the past six months—and Louis is terrified that things are not going to be as easy as they feel right now, but then he finishes dressing and looks up and Harry is standing by the door, smiling softly at him, and he can’t help but let the joy of the moment take over him.

“Hey.”

“How’s your foot?”

“’Bit better. I can walk by myself without crying so I guess it’s healing.”

“The food’s here, if you want any,” Harry smiles, and Louis grins back, and for a few moments they’re just standing there, looking at each other.

Louis takes a step closer, not breaking eye contact, figuring that he might as well take his chances, but Harry looks down, his expression unreadable, and moves away from the door. Louis sighs in defeat and walks behind him, limping a bit, and when they reach the stairs Harry extends his arm to help Louis walk down.

 “I got you a burrito,” Harry informs him once they’re in the kitchen, seeming unsure.

“Cool. What did you get?”

“A rice bowl.”

It’s weird, because up until two weeks ago, they were on tour together, they’ve shared hundreds of meals together, even after their thing stopped, and yet Louis feels like he has no idea what Harry likes anymore.

He’s sure Harry can’t have changed his eating habits completely in the six months that they’ve spent out of each other’s bed, so it shouldn’t be a huge difference, but he can’t help feeling awkward about it. He doesn’t know which shows Harry is following right now, if any, or if there are any books that he’s going to bring on tour; he has no idea what music he’s been listening to.

“I have no idea what songs are in your iPod,” he blurts out, after he’s sat down and Harry’s started getting their food out of the bags.

Harry looks at him knowingly and nods before taking a seat across from him and sliding a plate towards him, “That’s what I meant earlier, you know.”

“It’s shit,” is all Louis can say, “I don’t even know how to be around you.”

Harry nods.

“I don’t know how not to kiss you whenever I want to kiss you. I’ve never—I’ve always either been with you or been avoiding you. I don’t think—I don’t know how to be your friend.”

“We’re gonna have to learn, Lou.”

“I don’t want to be your friend, though.”

“We need to be friends first, if we want to be more. I can’t be your boyfriend if I can’t be your friend. We have to—we have to learn to trust each other.”

“I trust you.”

“I don’t think I trust you, anymore. And um, I’m not—I don’t want to dismiss what you said earlier, because it meant the world to me but—how many times have you said things like that before, only to take them back as soon as things got scary?”

“I’ve never told you I love you before,” is all Louis can say, though he knows Harry’s right.

“I know,” Harry says sadly, “and for years I thought that you didn’t, and it killed me. I can’t go back to that again.”

Louis looks down, guilt creeping into his thoughts, and takes a bite of his burrito, which is too heavy and dry on his tongue. He’s suddenly not feeling very hungry, anymore.

“I don’t—I don’t blame you, for the way that things happened. Or I’m trying not to. I know you had your reasons for the way you acted, and we both messed up and we both did things that we probably regret but. In the aftermath, it all really fucked me up, Lou. And I’m not really over all of that, yet.”

“Do you remember the night that you broke up with me?” Louis mimics quotation marks around the words so they won’t sound too serious, doesn’t know if he’s allowed to talk about it like they were ever a real item, “That was—that was the day I got them to let me break the Eleanor thing. That’s why I went to your room. I knew things were going to shit between us, and we couldn’t stop fighting and I’ve always known how much you hated Eleanor.”

“I never hated El, Louis. I didn’t even care too much that you were spending all that time with her; it was just—you chose to do that, Lou. You decided a fake girlfriend was the thing to do right when we were—I just hated that you always chose to hide.”

There’s not a lot that he can do but acknowledge Harry’s words, so he just swallows and nods, his throat too dry, “I didn’t always want to hide, you know. I just didn’t—it didn’t feel safe. I thought too much was at stake, I couldn’t risk—“

He takes a deep breath, shaking his head and forcing himself to focus.

“I was always jealous of you, you know? Of how naturally it all came to you, while there I was, trying desperately to get all these people to love me; I’ve always—I’ve always loved you too much to, like, resent you for it, but I was so jealous of the fact that you could just—parade around town with fucking Nick Grimshaw and go out to gay clubs and yet no one seemed to give a shit. You’ve always been too pretty and too nice and too you for people to care whether you were gay or not.”

Harry doesn’t exactly look surprised, but there’s something about the way he’s looking at Louis, like he wasn’t expecting Louis to admit this to him. He doesn’t say anything, but offers Louis a small, tentative smile, and Louis takes it as his cue to continue.

“Everyone always told me my career was done if anyone knew I was gay, and they were right,” Harry opens his mouth, Louis assumes to protest, so he’s quick to cut him off before he can say anything, “At the time, they were right. And I know it was selfish and I know it wasn’t fair of me but I guess I just—I always thought that no matter what I did, I’d still have you. I just always assumed that whatever happened, you’d still be there.”

Louis coughs, awkwardly, trying to calm his vocal chords, which seem to have forgotten how to work properly, causing his voice to waver and go up an octave every couple of words.

“I suppose I didn’t realize until it was too late. But that night, when I went to your room and you asked me to get out. I was going to tell you that the Eleanor thing was done, and that I was—that I wanted to come out.”

To say that Harry’s jaw drops would be an exaggeration, but Louis can see the gap between his lips for a second before Harry regains his composure, shaking his head slightly.

“You want to come out?”

“It’s not—I can’t. Not yet. And I’m not going to lie, H, I’m not dying to be on the spotlight and have everyone and their mother tell me how they already knew but—I don’t really care for hiding, anymore. And I don’t want you to leave me behind.”

“I don’t want you to just come out for me, you know—especially now that we’re not even—If you come out, I want it to be something that you want, that you’re doing for you.”

“I don’t think that I’ll ever want it one hundred percent—not while we’re still so famous. But I also don’t want to keep double-checking that there are no cameras every time that we’re in the same room. And if—if we were together, I’d want to be able to go out with you in public, you know, hold your hand and all that.”

Harry’s smile widens into a shit-eating grin, “It’d be quite nice to take you out on a date, you know, hold your hand in public.”

“You say that like I’m a sure thing Styles,” Louis jokes, but his heart is beating so hard he can feel it in his throat.

“You’ve always been a sure thing for me.”

*

The thing about them now is that Louis is almost one hundred percent sure that it’s only a matter of time before they’re back together—or, finally together, as their entirely-too-messy past doesn’t exactly constitute a proper, real relationship and yet they can’t help being awkward around each other all the time.

Things had been easy after their conversation, talking about some band that Harry had discovered thanks to Miley Cyrus’ guitarist, and Louis telling him about his business meetings in New York, and then they had finished eating and all of a sudden the awkwardness had settled back between them

Louis had retreated to the sitting room while Harry did the washing up, after the silence had prolonged from comfortable to weird and prickly. Now been hours since and they haven’t said a word. In fact, he hasn’t seen Harry since the boy crossed the room to head outside about an hour after lunch.

He’s lost count of how many reality TV episodes he’s watched by now—he started watching Chopped, absentmindedly thinking that Harry should be on it, but somehow ended up marathoning Dance Moms and getting a little too involved in Kendall’s story.

He barely registers when Harry comes back to the living room and sits down on the armrest of the sofa Louis is laying on.

“American reality television really is top notch, isn’t it?”

“Fuck off,” Louis replies, but takes his eyes off the TV and smiles at Harry.

“You know, we haven’t talked about this but—we’re due back home on Saturday. I just got our schedules.”

“Let me guess—we’re not flying together.”

“We can, if we want to. They haven’t booked anything, so we can do whatever we want.”

“Let’s do it then. Make it commercial, too. The fans will have a field day.”

Harry laughs at the comment, but shakes his head, “I’ll see if we can get a jet to leave tomorrow morning.”

Louis does his best to ignore the painful pang on his chest as he thinks about leaving L.A. and going back to their normal, hectic lives.

“Sounds good. Want anything special for dinner tonight? I’m buying.”

“Well, there’s this nice vegan place I—“

“Fuck no. I am not eating any bougie, healthy shit. I know L.A. turns you into the worst kind of rich hipster, but I need my meat.”

Harry snorts at that, “It’s Café Gratitude, you’ve had it before. You liked it.”

“Is it the one in Larchmont? With the smoothies that taste like dirt?”

“We don’t need to get a smoothie. Their bacon is really good, you liked that one. Come on, you can call it in and I can have someone pick it up.”

“Or,” Louis suggests, hit by a wave of genius, “We could pick it up ourselves and go eat somewhere, like the beach. We could go to Topanga, have some fish tacos.”

“Thought we were going to have vegan food!” Harry protests, but doesn’t comment on Louis’ suggestion.

“You know I’m going to complain about it the entire time we’re there, and will demand you buy me some real food afterwards, so we might as well get fish tacos too.”

Harry hums, “I guess that’d be nice, haven’t been to Topanga in forever.”

Louis holds back from saying I know, because he doesn’t know, can’t tell for sure, but something about the way Harry said that makes him think back to the last time they went there together. He smiles, trying to contort his face into something that won’t give away his feelings, and nods.

Harry calls in to order their food, ignoring Louis’ comments about the shitty hippie names for the food (he literally bursts out laughing when Harry orders an ‘I am Immortal’) while Louis cuffs the bottom of the trackies he’s wearing so they won’t drag too much while he walks.

They drive mostly in silence to the shop, Louis fiddling with Harry’s stereo and complaining that Harry’s sound-system sucks and where the fuck does he keep the chord for his Iphone? It takes a while for him to get it going, eventually settling on Ben Howard, figuring Harry would approve. He doesn’t say anything, but Louis sees the corners of his lips curve upwards ever so slightly, eyes fixed on the road, so he counts it as a win.

Maybe it was peace at last, who knew.

*

It’s about five by the time they make their way to Topanga, hands full with bags of food. Harry leads the way, two smoothie cups in one hand and a bag on the other, with Louis following close behind, barefoot and with a striped blanket on his shoulders. His ankle is starting to bother him, the sand too soft for him to step properly, but he refuses to tell Harry and let it ruin the moment.

They set up behind a rather large rock, mostly hidden from the few families who haven’t left for dinner. Surfer families are probably Louis’ favourite thing about Malibu, one of the things he’s always reconciled with regarding Los Angeles, could even see himself having a family here if it meant heading to the beach in the mornings, the little ones playing in the sand while he surfed. He figured, back in the day when he let himself fantasize about it, that Harry would eventually drag him to Los Angeles, make him officially move into the house in the Palisades, and this imagined future always crept its way to the front of Louis’ mind. Maybe he doesn’t hate L.A. that much after all.

They eat mostly in silence, Louis keeping his eyes on the couple of surfers –an older Japanese man who keeps slaying every wave, and two teenagers who don’t seem to understand the Malibu breaks—and Harry fixed in the horizon, convinced that he’s going to see a whale.

“Just because that dude said he saw one last week, Harold, doesn’t mean that you’re gonna see any now,” Louis says for the fifth time.

“But I might,” Harry replies with a smirk, “And then you’ll have to eat your words.”

“I’ll eat them, I’m sure they taste better than this piece of shit sandwich.”

Harry frowns for a moment before turning to look at him, smiling when he discovers Louis licking his fingers, most of his food gone.

“We can still get you those fish tacos on the way back, if you really hate this food.”

Louis grins at Harry, stretching to lie back on the blanket, “Nah, I’m good.”

He pauses for a moment.

“Why did you tell me to leave, that night?”

“Hm?” Harry leans back on the blanket so he’s closer to Louis’ level.

It doesn’t need explaining, Louis knows that Harry knows exactly what he’s asking, yet Harry is looking at him, big, curious eyes and the most earnest expression, and there must be a reason why he’s making Louis say it, but Louis can’t figure out what.

“In Manila, when you said it was better if we didn’t—sleep together anymore. What was it that made you say that, then?”

Harry sighs, turning away from Louis for a moment.

“It wasn’t—there wasn’t like a big leading up to it, I just. Someone wanted to introduce me to their friend, thought I would like them and I thought I can’t, because we’d been together the night before, you and I, and it felt wrong.”

Harry stops for a moment, looks back at Louis, and as transparent as Harry is all the time, Louis cannot read what’s going through his head right now.

“But then you’d, um, taken off the next morning and we’d had that God-awful argument in Niall’s room. And then I barely saw you for two days, and I just, I realized, I’m holding back, saving myself, for someone who doesn’t want me. Who doesn’t care.”

“I did. I did want you, you know?” Louis all but whispers, “I know my way of showing it was shit, I know I was too passive and dismissive about it but. I did want you. I always wanted you.”

“Why did you never—why did you never say anything? There were so many times when I was sure you were—and then you changed the subject, or you left, or you pretended to be asleep—“

Louis has to clear his throat a couple of times before the words can come out.

“I was terrified, okay? Of being gay, sure, but of you, too. I know you don’t consider us friends but to me—you’re my best friend, H, you’ve always been my person, you know? The one that’s there no matter what. And things kept changing for us in every way, and I needed something solid, someone who remained constant, and you were that for me. I know it’s selfish yeah? I get that it was wrong and all but—at the time, I just needed you there, and I was terrified of things with you changing and everything going to shit.”

“It’s funny, that; because the thing that worried me the most was that we’d stop hooking up and we’d never be able to become friends, and there you were, afraid to be anything more than friends.”

“I guess we’ve found a compromise between both of those now, haven’t we?”

Harry gives him a puzzled look, and it’s funny, how they’re trying so hard to be everything they never were.

“I always thought it’d be harder, you know, being in love with you,” he comments after a few minutes of silence, looking back at the ocean, the surfers long gone.

Harry breathes in sharply, but doesn’t say anything, and doesn’t look at him.

“Back in the day, when we first moved in together and I could barely get my hands off of you, I remember telling myself that I could never fall in love with you, that it would ruin everything, that I better not. And I would go back to my bed after you were asleep and stay up for the longest time, worrying that one day I would look at you and think ‘oh shit, I love him’ and the world would shatter.”

“Is that how it happened?”

Louis laughs, “Nah, not really. There were many ‘oh shit’ moments, for sure, but I don’t think I was ever hit with realization. It just. There was something that always was there, maybe, and it grew until I couldn’t ignore it anymore.”

“So you just, um, you always just knew?”

It’s almost funny how easy it is, to finally talk about all these things.

“It’s like—most days I’d tell myself that it was fine, that you were my best friend and it was normal to feel different, to feel more for you. But it was always there, you know, and sometimes, when we were together, it was almost overwhelming, feeling so much. So I knew, even though I tried—I tried not to, I guess.”

Harry hums, softly, still not looking at Louis, and it makes Louis itch for a reaction, for a response. He can’t for the life of him figure out what Harry is feeling about all of this, if he’s content with Louis’ reply or if it’s making things worse, after all.

“How did, or when, actually, did you know?” Louis asks.

“It’s complicated, I think, because I remember telling my mum I was in love with you on the first night of the X-Factor tour, and she laughed at me, but told me it was great. I think—I think maybe I just sort of assumed that I was in love with you because I had never felt anything strong towards anyone.

Then we moved in together and it just. I made sense, everything I felt. We were living together, working together, sleeping together, and it just. Everything was good, everything clicked. I guess from them on, things just got more and more intense for us, and my feelings did too. It was just—puppy love that eventually turned to more, but I never—I’ve never doubted it, what I feel for you. I always knew it was permanent.”

“And you still think that?”

Harry chuckles, turning to Louis with a fond smile.

“What is this new interest of yours in talking about our feelings, after five years of purposely ignoring it?”

“Well that wasn’t going so well for me, was it? I had to change my strategy.”

They both let out a soft laugh, but Harry keeps looking at him like he’s not satisfied with the answer, so Louis sighs, “Nothing I ever did the past five years seemed to work in my favour, so I just figured—fuck it. What good is it to keep holding things in, anyway? I’ve already told you that I love you, so. I might as well go all out.”

Harry offers him a smile –and it’s Louis’ favorite smile, crinkly eyes and dimples and almost too much teeth.

“Okay, well, in that case, yeah, I still think so.”

They don’t say much after that. Louis gradually moves closer whenever he thinks Harry’s not pay attention, but Harry smirks every time, discouraging him.

 It’s weird, being in this limbo, because logically, the only thing left for them to do would be to kiss and make up, all things said, yet there seems to be an abysm between him and Harry. If Louis is being honest, he has no idea what to do with the knowledge that Harry loves him and wants to be with him if it’s all an abstract concept and not a concrete fact.

He can’t help but wonder how they’re going to try to be friends with the knowledge that they both feel more, want more. A part of him, the most insecure part, can’t truly believe that Harry is actually in love with him, is terrified that Harry is keeping him at bay because he’s hoping their feelings will go away. It doesn’t make sense with everything Harry has said today, or before, or even with any of his actions the past five years (except asking Louis out of his bed, maybe) yet Louis can’t help the random surges of panic that take over him.

“I’m really glad we came here,” Harry whispers after a while, when the sun has slowly started to descend, casting a pinkish light over the ocean.

Louis can’t help the edges of his lips curving upwards, “This has to be my favourite spot here in L.A.”

“I know.”

“I meant it, you know? I don’t hate Los Angeles, not really. Not the way you think, anyway,” he turns his head to focus on the horizon, “I wouldn’t mind living here, if I had a good enough reason.”

 

*

They don’t fly together, after all. By the time they get back together, there’s a commercial ticket for Louis waiting in his email, and a jet has been reserved for Harry, whenever he decides to leave.

“This is bullshit,” Louis complains from the sofa while he towel-dries his hair, watching as Harry goes around the room gathering the few possessions of Louis that ever made it out of his bag, “I thought they said we could do whatever we wanted.”

“Apparently they forgot about the hospital pictures, and they don’t want to fuel those rumours anymore,” Harry offers bitterly.

“Who even cares anymore? You’re already out, why does it matter?”

“Everyone thinks you’re expecting a baby, Louis, of course they don’t want gay rumours stirring up when they’re planning to exploit your fatherhood for the album promo.”

“How the fuck would me having a kid help album sales at all?”

“Dunno; you’re the one who signed up for that, you should know their reasons,” he tries to hide it, but there’s clear spite in Harry’s voice.

Louis tries not to react, knows there’s no point in getting upset about it now, so instead he hops on his feet (his right ankle painless again, courtesy of the pills) and goes over to the closet to get the only jacket he brought with him, already feeling too hot as he puts it on. Hell, Los Angeles needs to figure out a way not to be so hot. His phone beeps, then, the alert for the car that’s taking him to the airport.

“Is Alberto driving you?”

“He’s with Zayn somewhere; Vegas, maybe. They’re sending someone new,” Louis answers as Harry hands him his bag, “What time are you going to leave?”

“Later tonight, I think? Maybe tomorrow morning, dunno yet.”

“I’ll see you the day after tomorrow then? We’ll get an earful for the hospital pictures.”

Harry doesn’t seem too amused by that, and Louis immediately regrets saying it.

“Maybe we can talk—ask them for a bit more freedom, you know? On stage? I’m getting kind of sick of Liam, if I’m honest,” he laughs softly, “I miss being able to talk to you.”

“Yeah,” Harry whispers, smiling, “yeah, that’d be nice.”

They stand looking at each other for a few moments, Louis phone beeping again and breaking their trance.

“I’ll see you in like a day, then,” Louis clears his throat.

“Have a safe flight, yeah?”

There’s two seconds that feel like an eternity where neither of them moves, and then Louis decides fuck it, he’s all in anyway, and he closes the space between the, wrapping his arms around Harry.

“I know it doesn’t fix anything,” he murmurs against Harry’s chest, “But I’m really glad I came here, and I’m really glad we talked.”

“Me too, Lou,” Harry says into his hair, barely audible, and Louis can’t tell if he imagines it or if Harry actually sounds choked up.

They’re both smiling when they break apart, and even after he’s left Harry’s house and is in the car, heading towards LAX, Louis still can’t shake the stupid grin off his face.

 

*

 

The next time he sees Harry, things get weird.

Louis didn’t know exactly what he was expecting after their half a week in Los Angeles, but he did expect something to change. Instead, Harry shows up at the office a little later than the rest of them, mutters an apology and takes a seat next to Liam, instead of the empty one next to Louis, without even looking at him.

It’s not like Louis thought Harry would drop everything and go back to 2011 when they were unabashedly all over each other, but he figured things would get a little more like before, when they called themselves the Dream Team and anyone around them could see they were the bestest friends on Earth.

He keeps leaning on the table, trying to catch Harry’s eyes, but he seems set on avoiding Louis at all costs. He doesn’t understand why Harry’s being like this, especially after being so insistent on them needing to be friends before anything else. He can’t help but panic at the thought that maybe Harry has changed his mind about everything.

The meeting isn’t anything new. There’s talk of royalties, how much Drag Me Down has earned, and discussion of when to release the new single and album. Louis isn’t even pretending to pay attention, humming along whenever there are pauses and nodding whenever Niall does so in the seat next to him. No one mentions Harry and Louis’ pap pictures in Los Angeles, or all the rumours surrounding Louis sexuality.

When they’re done, Liam and Niall rush out, saying something about a tennis match they want to catch, but both Harry and Louis are asked to stay behind. Griffiths escorts Harry out of the room, the boy looking over at Louis for the first time in the day, seeming confused.

Louis mouths ‘wait for me?’ at Harry and Harry nods, right before he leaves the room.

“We need to talk about your plans with Ms. Jungwirth.”

“I have no plans. It’s not my baby, I’m not even friends with her and the sooner we can be done with that, the better.”

“It would be good to stir up some rumours before the new album’s release.”

“I don’t want anything to do with that anymore. Can’t we just deny everything, once and for all?”

“If we deny it, no one will be talking about you by the time the album drops. You’ll fade to the background again.”

“We can give them something else to talk about,” Louis says, challenge in his voice.

“No.”

“Harry came out, what’s more dramatic than two openly gay members in the same band? The media would eat it all up.”

“It doesn’t matter that everyone’s talking about you if they’re not buying the album. This is a great opportunity for you. With Harry out and Liam so serious about Sophia, you’re the new heartthrob of the band.”

Louis snorts at that, “That’s bullshit and everyone here can see it. Don’t feed me lame excuses, I’m not an idiot. Stop trying to make me do things pretending it’s the best for me.”

“You agreed to do this, Louis. No one made you do anything.”

“We agreed to do the baby thing as long as it meant I could come out afterwards. The longer you drag this on the harder it’ll be to deny it afterwards. So just, don’t. I’m not playing along with that anymore.”

“We will issue a statement when the time is convenient.”

“What if I just took matters into my own hands, then? Speed things up.”

“That, would not be advisable, Mr. Tomlinson.”

They go on about clauses in his contract and everyone’s best interest and start talking percentages and offer him some options that sound more like threats than anything else. By the time Richard and Justin have stopped talking, Louis has no idea where they stand on the Briana thing, but he’s not sure he cares.

He leaves the conference with a headache, sees that the door to the next room is open, all the chairs empty. He heads straight to the lobby where he expects Harry to be waiting for him. When he gets there, though, Harry is nowhere to be seen.

*

Being back home feels odd, now, and he’s constantly on edge. It feels like something in him changed during his stay in L.A., and now he doesn’t feel at home in his own house that he’s owned for almost three years.

He sees Harry again that Monday, at rehearsals for Itunes festival, and things are still weird. Or, they’re exactly the same as before, when they weren’t talking and the band was split 3 vs 1 and everyone pretended they didn’t notice that Harry and Louis had had a falling out.

They rehearse for two hours, and Louis fucks up more than he did back in 2011 when he was so insecure about his voice that he would let that get in the way. Of course, he had Harry reassuring him then, and secretly kissing him backstage whenever they had a break.

Now, all he has is the silent treatment that Harry is giving him, a sore ankle and Liam constantly on his back asking him if he’s okay, and all he wants to do is go back home and curl in his bed and stay there for a century or two. Clarissa, their new choreographer, keeps shooting concerned looks over at Louis, and their tour manager looks outright pissed off.

They end up cutting it short, after Louis misses his cue to move and causes Niall to run into his mic, his curse bouncing loudly off the speakers.

“I think we should maybe stop here? Lou’s ankle must be killing him,” Harry suggest, looking over at Louis for the first time that day.

Niall agrees, and Liam looks unsure, but shrugs when he sees Louis nod.

“In that case, I’ll see you lads tomorrow,” he says, patting Louis on the back on his way to the changing rooms.

“Hey, Harry, do you think maybe we could talk?” Louis asks, not meeting Harry’s eyes, hating the way his voice break.

Harry nods, sitting down next to Louis by the stage. Everyone seems to have left.

 “I’m sorry—I’ve been. I’m being a shit, aren’t I?”

“Well, actually, a bit, yeah.”

“I don’t really know how to do this. I got so used to not—to not talking to you, I guess, that it feels almost like it’s forbidden.”

“It is, a bit.”

“Yeah, you should have heard Magee talking about me ruining your image with the hospital pictures.”

Louis bursts out laughing, “That what he said? What a tool.”

“Yeah, apparently they’re worried I’ll ruin your wholesome image,” Harry makes gagging sounds.

“Well, you are a womanizer turned into a cocksucker, after all. You just can’t get enough now, can you, Styles?”

They laugh together, the tension between them slowly dissipating.

“I’m sorry that I’ve been acting like a shit. It almost contradicts what I said about needing us to be friends, doesn’t it?”

Louis nods, his body still shaking slightly with laughter, “Yeah, kinda does.”

“I’m gonna be better, from now on, yeah? We’ll be proper friends again,” there’s something about the way that Harry says again that doesn’t exactly sound convincing, but Louis bites his tongue to keep himself from saying something.

“Are you doing anything tonight? Stan’s coming over, maybe Tony, too. You should come, have a drink.”

“I’m going to this show, you know, it’s fashion week,” Harry says apologetically, and Louis does his best to keep the disappointment off his face, “But I could come over afterwards, if you want?”

“Yeah, that’d be ace.”

*

Louis is wasted, one hundred percent smashed, singing The Weeknd at the top of his lungs, one hand holding a drink, his other arm around Stan’s neck, who is as sloshed as he is.

I’m in a life without a home so this recognition’s not enough, I don’t care about anybody else

 “You know who this song reminds me of? Harry. I should sing this song to Harry sometime.”

It’s probably not the first time he’s drunkenly rambled about Harry, but Stan is one of the few people who know most of their history, so he’s more than aware that things with Harry have been anything but peachy for a while.

“Are you guys…?” Stan slurs.

“Are we what? Who even knows anymore?”

“Together, are you guys together? At last?” Stan says it like it’s an obvious thing, like it was a matter of time until it happened.

Louis sits down on the floor, letting his head rest against the soft cushion on his sofa and closing his eyes for a moment, the world spinning as he does.

“We’re not,” he admits once he opens them again, sadly, his speech a bit run together, “Not yet—he won’t. I’m waiting for him but he fucking won’t.”

“But you’re gonna, eventually,” Stan assures him, “You’re Harry and Louis. Everyone knows you’re going to be together in the end.”

“Liam doesn’t.”

Stan bursts out laughing, “Liam is the most oblivious person in the entire solar system, Lou. Trust me on this one.”

Louis hums in agreement, his head suddenly too heavy, and his eyes fluttering shut. He can feel everything spinning.

“I love him, you know? Like proper in love with him and all that.”

“I kinda figured, Lou, quite a while ago. Didn’t know you still did, mate, but good for you. Harry’s great.”

“Good for me, yeah, Harry’s the best.”

Louis doesn’t remember falling asleep, but he wakes up hours later with a dry throat and his phone digging into his side, his neck stiff from the awkward position.

He gets a glass of water and heads to his own room, walking over a passed out Stan in the hallway. He checks his phone once he’s in bed, surprised to find a couple missed calls from Harry, along with quite a few texts, the last one asking ‘changed your mind about tonight?’ and breaking Louis’ heart a bit as the memories from earlier in the day come crashing back.

“got too sloshed and passed out.  guess we’re both shits after all. sorrysorrysorry sorryyyyyy about tonight, see u tomorrow xxxxxxxxxxxxx”

*

Harry doesn’t reply to his text, nor does he acknowledge the previous night, but he’s different towards Louis when they meet before the show. He’s talking to Liam when Louis shows up, and he pauses the conversation to smile at him, almost making Louis blush.

They change side by side, and Louis doesn’t even pretend to hide the fact that he’s checking Harry out the entire time. Harry notices, if his smirk is anything to go by, but he doesn’t say anything.

When they meet the rest of the boys for hair and make-up, Niall bursts out laughing while pointing at Harry’s pink shirt, asking if he needs a basket to go with his tablecloth.

“Fashion is a form of expression, Niall,” Louis hears himself saying, “Nothing wrong with that.”

Niall gives him a puzzled look, then smirks and walks away, but Louis doesn’t even stop to wonder whether he suspects anything because Harry is grinning at him and that’s—that’s more than enough.

Louis even records Harry for their Snapchat, talking about their next album, and Harry struggles to keep a straight face, and no one will ever know that it was him recording this, but it means so much to Louis, that they can finally do this again.

They don’t smash it. Harry’s voice breaks a few times and Liam keeps singing over all of them, and Louis misses his cue and messes up the lyrics more than once, but he loves every second of it. The crowd is as responsive as it can get considering it’s not just their fans watching them, and they all feed of their energy. Harry engages the most with the audience and makes his usual weird jokes, but it still feels like the four of them as a unit, and it’s amazing. Even the joke about Zayn’s absence doesn’t sting much, and Harry catches the way Louis’ smile falters and gives him a thumbs up, and Louis smiles back even wider, unable to hold back.

When they make it backstage, they’re all buzzing.

“That, lads, was an amazing show.”

“Should we—“Harry starts, and he looks unsure for a moment, like he’s worried they’ll turn him down, “—maybe get wasted tonight?”

Louis’ been a professional musician for long enough that he’s been on four day party benders and back on stage for the fifth, but he still winces at the first sip of whatever weird cocktail Harry just made him, his head pounding slightly in remembrance of his earlier hangover.

“Dark and stormy,” Harry informs him when he asks the name of the cocktail.

“Just like you,” Louis winks, and drinks up, downing most of it in one go and letting Harry top him off.

It’s not necessarily a memorable night, in terms of One Direction partying, or even for Harry and Louis alone, but it’s the first night since Zayn’s departure that they feel like before, when they use to call themselves brothers and talk about being in One Direction forever.

“You know, I don’t say this often,” Niall starts, getting on his feet from the couch where he’s sitting, Louis pushing him and making him spill his drink on Liam’s stage shoes, “but you lads are my bestest mates in the world.”

“Ditto, Niall,” Louis smiles, lifting his glass.

“I think we should drink to that,” Harry says, going around with his bottle of rum and refilling all their cups.

“When did you become an alcoholic, Styles?”

Harry grins at him, then shrugs, “Need to be drunk be able to look at your ugly mug all night.”

Louis laughs, lifting his cup at Harry and Harry lifts his back, and they stare at each other for apparently longer than what’s considered normal, because Niall clears his throat twice, causing them to look away, and Louis catches Liam staring at him funnily when he goes to set his cup down.

The rest of the night passes in a blur. They go to some after party with most of the people who attended the event. Liam disappears somewhere, probably with Sophia—if Sophia even is here, Louis can’t remember, hasn’t exactly paid attention to anything that isn’t Harry tonight, and speaking of Harry, he’s currently involved in what seems like a very lengthy conversation with Perrie, so Louis stays away, even though there’s nothing he wants more than to glue himself to Harry’s side and parade him around the event. He wonders what Richard Griffiths would say if he did just that, and all the reports from the party were about Larry Stylinson. He wonders how much Modest would screw them for the next album if he did just that.

He stays with Niall, who’s apparently having a sangria drinking competition with Olly Murs, downing his own glass in long gulps and looking over at Harry out the corner of his eye. He gets progressively drunker and drunker, hoping that no one notices that all he’s doing is drink fruit and wine and stalk his bandmate.

It feels like the night goes by in ten minutes. By the time he finds Harry again, Liam has gone home and Niall’s shirt is stained dark red all over the chest; Harry looks impeccable, having spent most of his time talking to people, unlike Louis, who doesn’t even remember where he’s been all night, though he vaguely remembers doing shots and a dancing challenge that he thinks he might have won.

“Having fun? What have you been up to?” Harry asks, leaning into his space, curls tickling his ear before he pulls away.

“Just waiting for you,” he replies, and it’d be more romantic if most of the words weren’t slurred, but Harry smiles fondly, pulling him closer.

He orders to more drinks, the fruity, ridiculous kind that Harry likes, and pretends to drink his  while Harry talks to some producer. Instead, he pours it in Harry’s cup whenever Harry is looking away.

“You know, I’m already quite smashed,” Harry whispers into his ear once the man he was talking to walks away, “You don’t need to force feed me more alcohol.”

“Well, maybe if you’re drunk enough I’ll be able to convince you to come back to mine tonight.”

Harry laughs, and he pulls away a bit, much to Louis’ disappointment, but he keeps his hand on the dip of Louis’ back, leading him towards the bar.

“Lets go talk to Ed.”

They end up leaving much later than Louis ever thought they would, Harry leading a very wasted Louis towards a car, Niall trailing closely behind, being ushered by one of their body guards. Most of the memories of the night are fuzzy in his head, but the one thing Louis can’t forget is the feel of Harry’s hand, which had stayed pressed to his back the entire time.

He dozes off in the car, hearing Niall request a stop somewhere for painkillers and a burger, and the next thing he knows he’s in his bed, down to his pants and one sock, and he can’t remember how he got there. He vaguely remembers pressing his lips to Harry’s cheek before getting out of the car, aiming for his mouth, after having pretty much begged Harry to go home with him. A big part of him wishes he could have seen Niall’s face witnessing the exchange, and he wonders whether his bandmates are starting to  catch on to–this thing that’s going on.

*

There’s no way to explain it, how things change after the Apple Music Fest. It’s like someone flicked the switch, and Harry and Louis suddenly remember what it used to be like before, when being with each other was the simplest thing in the whole world.

They spend most of the time backstage together, playing pranks on Liam and hanging out with Lou and Lottie, letting Lux braid Harry’s hair and draw on Louis’ arms. They’re not all over each other on stage, not the way they used to be or the way that Louis has been with Liam the past couple of months, but the difference is clear.

They banter the way they used to, like no time has passed, messing with each other and ignoring the rest of the world to the point where Louis is sure people have noticed. He tells Harry all about meeting Pelé, bragging about his picture with the best footballer in the world to an unfazed Harry, and they spend thirty minutes arguing about it, because Harry doesn’t think Pelé is that great, was always more of a Maradona boy, back in the day.

“And I’d um, I’d say that Messi today is better than either of them, anyway, don’t you think?” Harry offers, and Louis can’t deny him that, because Barcelona is a fucking sick team, so he grins and nods, his heart bursting with the fact that Harry is indulging him like this.

During the show, Louis keeps looking over his shoulder to check where Harry is, smiling at him whenever they lock eyes, and even throwing him a thumbs up when he hits a particularly high note. They soak Liam together with the Nerf guns that Louis always requests to have at the venue, and Louis tells the crowd about Harry’s great aim, girls going wild. They even interact more openly, Louis mocking Harry when he starts rambling about London being their favourite city to play, Harry tripping him in retaliation when he tries to go backstage for a quick wee.

It’s so easy that it’s odd to think that for the past half a year they barely even looked the other’s way on stage. He’s sure they haven’t interacted this heavily since 2013, when the business meetings just the two of them started happening too often and their management’s suggestions turned to threats.

After the opening show at the O2, they all go back to Louis’, opening a champagne in the back of the car like they did after their first show there, all those years ago. They cheer as it spills all over them, giggling like little boys, and Louis feels more at home than he has since he left Doncaster five years ago to go to that audition.

Niall pulls out a joint from his pocket once they’re sat comfortably in Louis’ sitting room, drinking a second bottle of champagne off of coffee mugs because Louis was too lazy to dig up his good glasses, and they all jump on board. Even Liam seems excited at the prospect of getting high, which is a novelty, because the last time Liam got high with all of them was on the boat in Australia about a million years ago, and Louis is still muddling through some weird feelings about Liam but he is so, so happy that they’re doing this right now.

Drake starts playing in the background, courtesy of Liam, of-fucking-course, and they pass the joint around, talking about Infinity and how great the reception was, considering it’s their least favourite song off the album. Louis feels loose and relaxed, his eyes droopy and everything a little hazy around the edges. Harry’s sitting next to him, their legs pressed together on the couch, and the warmth radiating from him is making Louis giddy.

Niall passes out almost instantly, while they’re still deciding whether or not to watch a film, and Louis gives in and lets Liam pick an action packed comedy that he knows none of them are going last through, anyway. Harry doesn’t comment on the choice of movie, just hums noncommittally and cuddles a little closer to Louis, and the truth is they could be watching a documentary on cotton balls and Louis couldn’t give less of a shit, having Harry so warm and close to him.

They get through the first twenty minutes before Louis gets up to pee, reluctantly moving away from Harry’s warmth. When he gets back, he notices Liam has fallen asleep, too, his mouth open and drool slipping out, and laughter rips from his chest.

“Think Liam would mind if we turn his piece of shit movie off, since he’s asleep?” Louis asks, and when he turns around he finds Harry shrugging, a smile on his face and a new joint between his fingers.

“I have no clue what that was about, anyway.”

They mute the TV, because they set up Netflix from Liam’s phone and neither of them feels like getting up to get it, and they sit together, quietly passing the joint back and forth. Louis feels the urge to throw it on the floor and snog the fuck out of Harry more than once, and from the way that Harry’s looking at him, he doesn’t think it’d take too much convincing. Niall is still within an arm’s reach, though, and both he and Liam could wake up any second and anyway, Harry said he wanted them to be friends before they went any further, and despite his impulses whenever he’s intoxicated, Louis wants to honour those wishes.

Harry looks particularly kissable when he’s high, though, all droopy eyes and lazy smiles and looking like an oversized dog trying to fold himself smaller so he can fit into Louis’ side, and all Louis can think about is how much he’d like to ravish him.

“You know, I thought—I thought it’d be weirder, not having Zayn around,” Harry says out of nowhere, and Louis heads snaps to look at him, because it’s the first time since March 25th that Harry has talked about Zayn’s departure, “But it’s not, it’s good, isn’t it? Like, it’s shit, that he’s gone, because you miss him still, I know you do. And we all miss him, too, as a group, yeah? But we’re still—we’re still good, and we’re still us.”

“None of that made any fucking sense, Styles,” he says, but he can’t help burying his head in Harry’s chest, pulling him closer with one arm in his best attempt of a hug.

“I just. For a moment, I thought it’d be the end, you know? Zayn left and then you and me—everything sort of fell apart. And I thought we couldn’t fix it, but we did, and it’s not weird. It’s good. We’re a bloody good band, aren’t we?”

Louis offers him his brightest smile, “That we are.”

“I think—this might be the happiest I’ve been all year,” Harry says, stealing the joint from Louis’ lips, his fingers barely grazing him, and taking a drag.

“Me too, Harold. Me too.”

 

*

The rest of the shows at the O2 go by in a haze. Louis is so caught up in Harry that he barely notices anything else. He is sure that Niall and Liam have caught on that something is going on, and so have their crew members, but he can’t bring himself to hold back at all.

They’re both back to their old selves, all laughs and banter and pranks and making everyone’s job harder because they just won’t be where they’re supposed to, ever. Louis had forgotten how funny Harry is, how easy it is to joke and play around him, his public persona had become such a huge thing that Louis assumed that was just who Harry was now. He’s glad to see that he was wrong, that Harry can still be goofy and mess about with him the way they used to.

He tries to hold back on stage, figures getting on their team’s bad side right before the album drop and the change in management isn’t the best idea—Harry keeps telling him, in those rare times when they manage to be still and quiet, how Irving warned him not to mess with Syco before the new contracts are drawn out and they’re sure they’re getting a clean break.

It’s not like he would do anything crazy like go up to Harry and snog him between songs, and not like Harry would let him, anyway, at least not yet, but he has to stop himself from going over to Harry every two seconds to whisper something in his ear, tries his best to divide his time between all three bandmates so it doesn’t seem too suspicious how he’s suddenly all about Harry.

He knows the fans have noticed; they seem especially louder, and there has definitely been an increase in the Larry Stylinson signs since the Apple Music Fest. Louis hasn’t checked his twitter in a while, but he’s sure that if he did, all he would find would be mentions about him and Harry and all the interactions they’ve had on stage. He tries to keep it cool, even though he knows he’s got fondness written all over his face whenever he looks at Harry, and knows that the entire world must have realized things between him and Harry have changed because they haven’t been this way in over three years.

Nick Grimshaw comes to their third date at the O2, along with Fiona and Colette and some others from their old hipster crew that Louis pretends not to know the names of even though he used to stalk their Instagrams religiously. Louis is particularly touchy-feely with Harry that night, going out of his way to hug Liam and Niall as well to help blend his actions in, but he can’t help the way his body circles towards Harry every couple of minutes, his head snapping to look over where Nick is seated to make sure he sees them.

Rationally, he knows he shouldn’t be jealous. Nick and Harry never had an epic, love story, anyway, was more of a friends-helping-out-friends kind of thing when things between Louis and Harry were starting to get too intense and they needed some time apart. And Nick has been seeing Nicco for quite a while, from what Louis has gathered from Lou, so realistically, there is nothing to worry about.

There’s also the fact that he’s in love with you, idiot, is what he likes to remind himself of, but it hasn’t proven particularly successful.

Still, Louis can’t help the way his blood boils when Nick comes backstage after the show and hugs Harry for way too long for two people who used to sleep together. Harry seems ecstatic to see his friend, a large grin plastered on his face the entire time it takes them to change into clean, dry clothes and go through the drinks in the minibar.

Nick invites them over to his for drinks, and Louis finds himself nodding along, reluctant to give up Harry’s company just yet. He looks pleadingly at Niall, already knowing that Liam is going to Sophia’s for the night, but Niall shrugs apologetically at him and walks away, leaving him to deal with Harry and his hipsters alone.

Naturally, he gets drunk, as seems to be his automatic response to everything. Nick’s friends are actually really nice, and he ends up having a great laugh talking to Annie about people who shop at Waitrose but refuse to acknowledge that they’re posh, cackling at Nick and Harry’s offended faces and their persistent argument that they’re not, in fact, posh.

It’s mostly a great night, until suddenly it isn’t. Of course, the thing that Louis tends to forget about Nick is that he’s gay, out and proud and all that, and unsurprisingly, most of his friends also happen to be gay, and male. And really fucking attractive, to Louis’ extreme discontent. To makes matters worse, they all know that Harry is out, but no one knows about Louis (though the knowing looks Nick keeps throwing his way might say otherwise) and it seems like every single model in London has stopped by Nick’s tonight to try to hit on Harry.

He sits in a corner by himself and sulks, glaring as intensely as he can at every pretty boy that tries to approach Harry and hoping that tonight is the night he masters setting people’s heads on fire by merely thinking about it. At some point, Nick approaches him, taking the lukewarm drink he’s been nursing for a while and replacing it with an ice cold cocktail.

“What’s this for?”

“Drink up and cheer up, popstar,” Nick says with a wink, “You’re alright.”

And walks away.

Louis has no idea what that was about, but alcohol is alcohol, so he downs the drink (but doesn’t cheer up) and stays in his corner, trying to hide his loathing a little better, but not talking his eyes off Harry.

It’s not too long before the crowd around Harry dissipates, and Louis is about to make his way over when the younger boy smiles and starts walking towards him.

“Hiya, Lou, having fun?”

“Sure,” Louis replies, sipping from his cup and refusing to look at Harry.

“Do you want to come outside with me? I need some fresh air.”

He nods without looking at Harry, moving past him and towards the balcony, assuming that Harry will follow. He stands against the railing with his hands in his pockets, looking down at the street, feeling the burn of Harry’s eyes on him.

“Do you want to maybe tell me what’s wrong?”

“You already know what’s wrong, Harry, don’t fucking make me say it.”

“Is this about Nick? Or about me talking to those guys?”

“What do you think?”

Harry has the nerve to look affronted.

“I thought you knew me better than to think I sleep with every single person that I talk to.”

“It’s not—you know I don’t fucking believe that. That has nothing to do with this, I just—“

“Just what, Lou?” Harry takes one step closer, the proximity making Louis shiver.

“I can’t help that I’m—I can’t help how jealous I get, whenever you’re around anyone else,” he admits, still not meeting Harry’s eyes, “I hate that I can’t stop worryingwhenever you’re talking with some boy. I hate how everyone wants you.”

“I’m not seeing anyone now, Lou,” Harry whispers softly, “And I’m not going to, you know—even if it’s not our time just yet, I’m still. I’m still waiting.”

He doesn’t say ‘for you’, but Louis hears it anyway.

“I get so scared, sometimes,” Louis admits, finally looking up, “that you’ll meet someone else before we manage to figure things out.”

“Lou, I know we’ve never been the poster children of healthy relationships but this—if we want to get things right, it can’t be like this.”

Louis opens his mouth to argue, but Harry shakes his head.

“I’m serious, Lou, we’re not even together and you’re already afraid of me leaving you. That’s not—it’s not good for you, and it’s not what I want for us.”

“I don’t know why everything about you makes me so scared.”

“You used to be the most confident person I knew, Lou, what happened?”

Louis shrugs, “Life? I don’t know, I just—I don’t even feel like myself, lately. It’s like everything’s changing and I can’t change fast enough to keep up.”

“I don’t think—I don’t think you need to change, Lou. I think you just need to figure out what you’re comfortable with, and just—do that.”

Louis sighs, not knowing what to say to that, but when he looks up Harry is smiling at him.

“You know, I meant what I said, back in L.A. I do still think that. My feelings for you, they’re permanent.”

Harry holds his hand, if only for a moment, and it’s so intimate that it sends goose bumps up Louis’ arms. When he pulls his hand away, they’re both still smiling, and Louis nods.  

Back inside, Louis heads to the kitchen to get another drink while Harry goes to the loo, finding himself surrounded by a group of (rather attractive) male models.

“Now this is what I like to see,” a voice says to his left, and he turns around to find Nick standing there, “Louis Tomlinson, I have to say, a court of hot models really does suit you.”

Louis snorts, taking a sip from his drink.

“I’m serious, I’m quite looking forward to seeing you at all those fashion shows with young Hazza during your break, bet you two will be a sight for sore eyes.”

“Are you on drugs right now?”

Nick laughs and bats a hand at him, shrugging.

“I was always rooting for you, you know?”

“What are you on about, Grimshaw?”

“Are we keeping up the hostility even now that I’m not kissing your boy anymore, then? Relax, Tomlinson, we both know what I’m talking about. I’m on your side, alright.”

Louis scoffs at that.

“You know, as attractive as you can be sometimes, it does make me wonder what Harry even sees in you, with such an attitude.”

“Don’t you have a boyfriend to go annoy?”

“I do, in fact. But I’d much rather stay and talk to you. Which is what I attempted to do, in a civilized manner, for the record. You just seem to be cross with me, for no apparent reason.”

“Oh, I have my reasons.”

Nick laughs again, and Louis would like nothing more than to punch him right now, but this is his party, his house, his friends, and there really is no possible scenario in which Louis comes out on top. He knows Harry would look down on him for that, too, and that’s just—he needs to play his cards right.

“I understand that things were pretty messy back in the day when Harold and I—had our little thing. I know, okay? I’m not an idiot, I know you hated me for that and I understand and respect that, but for the record, I did not know about the two of you back then.”

Louis lets his anger subside for a moment and considers whether that changes how he feels about Nick at all.

“That’s not to say that I wouldn’t have, because I can’t guarantee that, but. I wouldn’t have been so nasty to you back then if I’d known. I just never understood why you disliked me so much and I don’t actually appreciate when people don’t like me. I need people’s love and appreciation.”

“Yeah, I know, you’re quite the attention whore,” Louis says, but the spite in his voice is gone, and he laughs at the end of it, making sure Nick gets that it’s a joke.

“What I wanted to say is—I know now, and I’m sorry I was a shit to you. And I am. Rooting for you, that is. I think you and young Harold would make some rather cute babies, and I’d like to see that happen.”

“You do know how stupid most of what you say sounds, don’t you?” Louis hates how soft his voice comes out.

Maybe he doesn’t hate Nick Grimshaw as much as he thought.

“I’m aware, darling. I’m making a career off it,” Nick laughs, and if Louis didn’t know better, he would think that there’s fondness there, “But back to you and Harry. I’m serious. Ever since I found out about you two I’ve been hoping for the both of you to get your heads out of your arses and be together. And from what Harry’s told me, looks like you’re getting there. ”

Louis feels his cheeks burn red, but he sticks out his chest, suddenly defensive, looking at Nick defiantly.

“Why do you even care, Grimshaw? Why are you so obsessed with Harry, anyway?”

“God, Louis, will you quit it? I’m just trying to talk to you, I’m being polite, why do you have to be such a pill?” He shakes his head, “I care about Harry, he’s my friend, and I want him to be happy. Apparently, and for a reason that beats me, that’s by your side, so I’m supportive of that.”

“Yeah, well, whatever happens between me and Harry is none of your business. You’re too old to be hanging out with someone like Harry, ‘s weird.”

“Jesus, relax! Can you stop with that? I don’t want Harry. I don’t fancy him, he doesn’t fancy me, we’re just friends. Is that why you’re being so difficult? You’re scared that I’m going to take him from you?” Nick must see something in Louis’ face, because he sighs, and starts talking again, “You know, I always thought you were quite full of yourself, and I’m glad to see that I was wrong. But please, listen to me, you need to stop being so insecure about Harry.”

“I’m not—“

“No, no, listen to me, I know what I’m talking about, I used to be just like you. So afraid of people leaving me that I ended up mucking everything up, all because of my silly insecurities. Harry is crazy about you, you’re crazy about him, so stop being a wanker.”

Louis sighs, meeting Nick eyes for the first time, “I just—“

“I know you seem to think you’re some terrible person who has done nothing right in his life, but you are quite alright. And unlike what you think Harry is not some saint, yeah? He’s got some issues, you both do. Stop playing martyr and go make babies with your bandmate, will you? You’re going to give me grey hair.”

“Fine, I’ll go do that just now, then, can’t have you ruining your hair over this.”

Nick smiles at him, and he finds himself smiling back, and then, behind him, he spots Harry, squished between Annie and Tom, apparently not aware that he’s way too tall try to fit into such a small space. Harry smiles at him fondly, and Louis can feel the way his face goes soft as he smiles back. Nick doesn’t need to look behind him to understand, he just smiles, shaking his head, and gestures Louis to go.

“I—“ Louis starts, feeling weird about leaving without saying anything, yet unsure about what’s the right thing to say, “Thanks.”

“You know, if you ever want to mess with your PR team, give me a call and we’ll do your coming out on the radio.”

Nick looks earnest and for the first time, Louis feels like maybe they could be friends, now, so he nods once, and walks past him to go find Harry, who’s looking up at him with the brightest smile.

 *

Louis calls Zayn right before they go on stage on the last night at the O2, a spur-of-the-moment decision while he’s getting changed. He hasn’t seen Harry since last night, when he stayed to watch him and Niall play table tennis at the Arena until security kicked them off. He had invited both of them over for drinks, but Harry had refused, his expression unreadable, and Louis and Niall had gone back and played FIFA while drinking Stella until they’d passed out.

He’d felt so confident last night, after they’d smashed it on stage and had such a good time after it, Harry and him closer than ever, and now he feels like he’s on shaky ground, all over again. He doesn’t understand his feelings anymore, because nothing has happened to trigger a change in him since the last time he saw Harry, yet he’s quite apprehensive about everything tonight.

He doesn’t know when calling Zayn became therapeutic for him, but he’s locked in his dressing room (and they’ve been sharing so often this tour that he has to be grateful that he got his own this time) and is on his third cigarette when Zayn picks up.

“Hey, Lou.”

“Hi,” he whispers.

“How’s it going? Ready to kill it tonight?”

 “I guess, yeah. What are you up to?”

“Just recording some beats for the album, gonna head to Malibu later, I think. Waliyha wants to try paddle-boarding, see some whales. Watcha doing? Shouldn’t you be getting ready for the show? What time is it?”

“Dunno. Just wanted to talk to you for a bit.”

“Lou, are you alright?”

He takes a big breath, needs a moment to organize his thoughts before he’s able to reply, “I guess so, yeah. I just—it feels weird, tonight. Might never play here again, you know?”

“Are you being dramatic about the break? Relax, Louis, stop thinking about that. Enjoy what’s happening now, don’t worry so much.”

“Why does everyone keep telling me that?”

“How are things with Harry?”

“The same, I guess. We’re just—being friends,” He sighs, “learning how to be friends, according to him.”

“So it’s just a matter of time, yeah?”

“I guess so.”

Zayn has the audacity to laugh at him.

“You’ve always been such shit at waiting, this is great.”

“Fuck you, Malik.”

“You should come to California once the tour’s done, I miss you, you know? Have a great show, tonight, Lou.”

Zayn hangs up before Louis can tell him that he misses him, too, but that’s alright. If things go his way, (which, according to both Nick and Zayn, they will) he figures he will be spending a lot more time in Los Angeles, so maybe him and Zayn will see more of each other then. They still have some stuff to work through; Louis isn’t sure he’s forgiven Zayn for leaving quite yet (Niall keeps telling him there’s nothing to forgive, which makes him mad) and things are still rather awkward between them despite their time spent at Harry’s house, but it’d be good for them, he thinks.

He finds Harry when he goes get his hair done, sitting in the corner letting Lux paint his toenails, his sparkly pink boots set aside. Harry smiles at him, all teeth, and it’s easy for Louis to get lost in that moment and forget that just minutes before he had locked himself in his room, so anxious he wanted to itch his skin off his body.

“’s gonna be a good one tonight, innit?” Harry says, looking at him through the reflection in the mirror while Lou starts massaging some product into his hair.

“Best night ever,” Louis nods, grinning at him.

They don’t speak much after that; Niall joins them after a while and the three of them sit in silence, buzzing with excitement as everyone around them rushes to get everything ready. Niall makes Lou record a video of the three of them sitting, looking at their phones, sends it out on their Snapchat with the caption “lads excited about tonight,” and the fans go crazy about it on Twitter because Harry and Louis are sitting next to each other.

Liam comes by a little later, smudges of lipstick all around his mouth, and Niall doubles over laughing about the way he turns red when Harry points it out and asks if he’s been eating a lot of berries.

They debate whether or not to have a drink before the show (technically, they’re not allowed to, but they’ve performed drunk off their arses before, anyway) but eventually decide against it, but Harry opens a bottle of Perrier, purposely spraying Louis with it, and they toast with it before they head out, grinning like madmen.

It seems like an unspoken rule, how Harry and him stay mostly clear off each other for the entire show. He can imagine it must be disappointing for the fans who thrive off their interactions, especially after the last couple of shows, but something about tonight is different, the air feels charged, and Louis is afraid that he might burst with energy if he gets too close to Harry.

They’re all rather silly on stage, playing up most of their usual acts, the crowd eating everything up and going wild every time Harry makes a bad joke or stops to talk to a random person in the crowd. Louis finds himself unable to look away from Harry, most of the show, and he knows it’s going to be all over the internet tomorrow, but there’s something about the way that Harry moves on stage and engages with the crowd that is just—captivating. He thinks he catches him wiping his eyes during Infinity, but they’re sitting at an angle where he can’t be sure, and he’s felt like he’s about to bawl for most of the night, too, so he can’t judge him.

Niall fucks up his foot while he’s jumping up and down during Act My Age, which surprises no one, but then he and Louis spend a couple minutes telling the crowd about the difficulties of not being able to walk, and Louis cheekily mentions how he has a friend that even had to help him shower the first days after he hurt his; the audience goes wild, and Louis thinks it might be his favourite show they have ever played.

There’s tears in his eyes as they finish Best Song Ever, the fans screaming their loudest when he reaches to wipe them. He doesn’t even think about it before he pulls all the boys in for a hug, putting his arms around Harry first before Niall plasters himself to his left and Liam joins on the right. He’s only hugging Harry, really, and they’re both laughing like maniacs, holding on as tight as they can.

He’s pretty sure he’s full on crying by the time they separate, and then they bow, the four of them, the screams going on for what feels like hours. When they break apart, he notices Niall’s cheeks are rather wet too, and Harry’s eyes are shiny, like he’s about to lose it, as well.

They’re still somewhat holding on to one another as they walk off the stage, the loud chanting of “One Direction” pulsing in their ears, and Louis’ is still crying a bit, but with his arms around his boys, he feels on top of the world tonight.

 

*

 

He doesn’t know how it happens, but they take the same car back from the stadium. Harry has his eyes glued to his phone, doesn’t even look at Louis as he tells the driver to go to his house, doesn’t say anything when Louis doesn’t ask to be dropped at his. They’re both clearly in a weird mood, having just played their last London date for who knows how long. It’s not their last concert, not even the last concert of the tour, but it somehow feels final. The O2 always had something to it that made them feel like home, and Louis can’t even bear to think that they might never play there again.

They stay silent the entire way home, the air thick between them. Louis keeps his gaze out the window, doing his best to ignore the screen on Harry’s phone lighting up every few minutes. He can’t help the constant pangs of jealousy whenever Harry is texting someone, can’t stop his mind from automatically going dark places and expecting the worse, but he knows better than to let those feelings take over. He knows he needn’t worry.

Harry takes forever to open the door, and Louis is right about to snap at him when he hears the click in the keyhole. The tension is more palpable now that they’re officially alone, but they both seem to be doing a great job ignoring it; Louis feels like he could crawl out of his skin, the anticipation making him skittish, and he focuses all of his attention into unbuttoning his coat with trembling fingers.

Harry coughs awkwardly, and it’s two seconds before Louis is crowding him, faces less than an inch apart, eyes fixed on Harry’s lips. They crash together, their teeth clanking as they meet in the middle, and Louis thinks he might taste blood but he doesn’t care, not now. His hand goes up to tangle in Harry’s hair, the other one fisting Harry’s shirt as he pulls him closer, Harry’s hands flying to his waist.

They kiss feverishly, like they’ve been starving for it, panting against each other’s mouths as they break apart to breath before going back in as intensely as before. They stumble out of the entrance and towards the hallway that leads to Harry’s room, knocking a fair share of objects on the way.

Louis feels the bed hit the back of his legs right before he falls backwards, Harry crawling on top of him and leaning down to kiss him again. He snakes his hands under Harry’s shirt, the hot skin pulsing under his touch, and it’s electrifying, sending shivers down his spine. He pulls the fabric up to take it off, ruffling Harry’s hair before throwing the shirt somewhere behind him, dragging his hands up and down Harry’s chest.

Harry goes for his neck, sucking hard and making him shiver, and he can’t help burying his hands deeper in Harry’s curls and pulling hard enough that Harry’s lips lose contact for a moment, and he just stays there, panting against Louis’ neck. 

Louis flips them over on an impulse, kissing Harry hungrily before pulling away and scurrying down his body, his hands going straight for Harry’s belt. Louis has had a lot of practice taking off Harry’s insanely skinny jeans through the years, but he still struggles, cursing a few times and making Harry giggle before he manages to pull them all the way off.

“Turn over,” he orders, hands on Harry’s hips to guide him, not giving him time to question Louis’ command.

Harry does as told, his eyes a little dazed, and Louis goes straight to the waistband of his pants, wastes no time pullinh them down, kneading his hands on the revealed skin a few times, and tracing his them up and down Harry’s thighs before spreading his cheeks apart.

He hasn’t done this in a long time; since their golden days, when he and Harry were sex crazed and could never get enough of each other, always wanting more. It’s not the wanting that ever stopped, at least not for Louis, but things got increasingly tougher on them, and the more they had to hide the harder it was to spend time together, let alone intimately.

 Harry still found the time to eat him out back then, seemed to love doing it; whether they were in a hotel room or in a bathroom backstage in some venue in South America, he always begged Louis to let him get his mouth on him and well—Louis wasn’t about to say no to that. So it was always Harry’s thing, mostly, and eventually it just became standard that it was Harry who got on his knees behind Louis and not the other way around. Louis is going to change that, tonight.

The first press of his lips to Harry’s hole feels unfamiliar, but Harry’s sharp breath intake isn’t, or the way he drops down on his elbows, pushing his ass towards Louis face as Louis dares the first tentative lick; there is nothing in this world that Louis loves more than to have Harry fall apart before him, and he’s on a mission to do exactly that.

He presses his tongue flat against Harry once, licking upwards, before spreading his cheeks even farther apart and burying his face there, his tongue drawing circles around Harry’s hole and feeling him tense up at the touch. He alternates between sucking and licking, getting Harry as wet as he can, proud at the gasps he’s earning.

He pulls his face away and places his thumb between his lips, wetting it before rubbing gently against Harry, biting his cheek as he applies a bit more pressure. Harry’s groan is muffled by the pillow he’s pressed against. There’s something oddly satisfying about the way the tip of his thumb disappears slowly as he pushes inside, and he was never the biggest fan of rimming but he’s salivating just thinking of getting his tongue in Harry, so he does just that, licking around his thumb as he presses deeper, buried to the knuckle in Harry.

Harry whimpers in protest when he removes his thumb, but Louis wastes no time replacing it with his mouth, licking around him a couple of times before tensing his tongue and pushing inside. Harry’s hips buckle, and Louis smacks his cheek to keep him in check, spreading him apart again to get his tongue as deep as he can.

It doesn’t take long for Harry to turn into a mess, struggling to push his ass up against Louis face while still trying to get some friction from the pillow under his hips, since Louis hasn’t spared one touch to his cock all night. Louis doesn’t stop, even when his tongue starts getting sore, instead adds the tip of a finger the next time he buries his tongue in Harry, the boy crying out at the touch.

He somehow manages to get his fingers coated in lube without stopping, which is why Harry seems to be taken by surprise when he removes his mouth and presses the first finger all the way inside him, his other hand snaking around him to grip at his cock. Harry groans, trying to pull away from the touch before pushing back again, seeking more.  Louis gives him some time to accommodate to the first one, moving it around a bit before dragging it out and pushing back in along with a second finger. He changes the rhythm he’d been keeping up with his tongue, going slower this time as he lets Harry get used to the stretch, trying to find the right angle.

He hasn’t done this in a while, but he knows Harry, and he knows his body, and there’s something about knowing someone’s skin as well as your own that doesn’t just go away. It’s muscle memory, he figures, and his body remembers how to touch Harry just the right way to drive him to tears.

Harry protests when Louis removes his fingers, but Louis wastes no time getting ready and rolling Harry over, on his back, hurrying to move on top of him, their hips aligned, chest flushed together.  He pushes in slowly, Harry gripping his head tightly and crushing their lips together, and it feels like the air has been punched out of his lungs. He wonders if it’s possible that he will burst out with emotion, because everything about Harry right now is overwhelming, from the way he’s looking at him to how it feels to be buried deep inside him, and his chest is tight and his skin is burning and he never, never, ever, ever wants to let this go.

They move together for what feels like hours, Louis keeping his thrusts long and deep, and jerking Harry with one hand keeping up the same rhythm, the slow drag driving both of them mad. He comes first, his hips bucking a couple of times before spilling inside him, the force of his orgasm ripping through his body, making his legs shake. He doesn’t pull out right away, changes the pace of his hand on Harry’s cock, pumping hard and fast as the arm that’s keeping him upwards is threatening to give out, and it doesn’t take more than a couple of strokes before Harry comes all over his fingers, his body going limp. Louis collapses on top of him, his cock still buried inside him, and presses a kiss to Harry’s chest. He stays there for a moment, too exhausted to do anything, before he moves up to pull out of Harry, tying the condom and throwing it somewhere behind him and going back to rest his head on Harry’s chest.

“Christ,” he hears Harry say, his speech a little slurred, “I forgot how wild playing at the O2 makes you.”

It takes a moment for his brain to click, but then he remembers. Back in 2013, the first time they played there, how Louis had been antsy the entire time they spent backstage before the show, and then afterwards, almost snapping at their team when they were asked to stay back for pictures and an interview, too high from the show to sit still.

It’d been back when they still lived together, when things were starting to get hard but they were still too caught in each other to care about anything else. Louis had snogged Harry senseless against a wall and someone had gotten a picture, and they had had to sit through a lecture (albeit a short one) while still hard in their pants.

Once at their house, Louis had been wild, still running on adrenaline and fueled by the nasty comments of they had gotten from their team. He remembers, vividly, how he’d dragged Harry to the shower and eaten him out until he was crying, coming untouched all over the tile floor. He had fucked him, then, oversensitive and pliant after his orgasm, until they came together, kissing hungrily under the spray of the shower. It’d been the first time either of them had come untouched, and Louis thinks it might have been the best sex of their lives.

“It’s not just the O2,” he mumbles back, keeping his face hidden, smiling against Harry’s skin.

Harry’s arms circle his waist, holding him impossibly tight, and Louis lets himself get lost in the warmth of his embrace, the drum of Harry’s heartbeat against his ear, his eyes fluttering close as he rapidly falls asleep.

*

Louis awakes to faint music playing in the next room and an empty bed, and his heart drops to his stomach for a moment before he reminds himself that he knew, knew this would happen, because nothing in his life ever seems to ever out and really, he should be used to this by now. He didn’t let himself think about it last night, wanted to enjoy it properly, but he knew, deep down, that he shouldn’t let his guard down, that it was too soon, that he shouldn’t  push things unless he wanted them to break, and yet. He never could stop himself when it comes to Harry, doesn’t think he ever will.

He’s contemplating getting out of bed and smashing Harry’s record player, the song playing too cheesy for his current state, when Harry walks back into the room, two mugs in his hands, and warmth spreads across Louis’ chest.

“Oh shit, I didn’t think you’d wake up before I came back,” Harry says apologetically, sitting at the edge of the bed, “G’morning.”

Harry’s smiling, and there is no awkwardness there, but Louis can’t help but notice the wide gap between them on the bed, and the way Harry’s back is tense, like he’s purposely holding himself back, as far from Louis as he can.

“Yeah,” Louis breathes, “Good morning.”

“I know we need to talk about, you know, last night,” Harry smiles, blushing slightly, “And this is quite shit timing, but I have to go.”

“Bloody hell, Harry, again?”

“It’s not—I completely forgot about it, but I promised I’d go to this thing back home like, ages ago. So I have to go. I really, really wish I didn’t. I want us to talk.”

“You really love to come and go, don’t you?” Louis says bitterly, but still finds himself chuckling at the end of it.

Harry comes closer then, presses his forehead against Louis’ and closes his eyes. Louis wonders if Harry can feel the shiver that goes down his spine.

“I really have to go, I’m sorry, I promise I’m not running away,” Harry whispers, “We’ll talk next time we see each other.”

He drops a kiss to the corner of Louis’ mouth and smiles before exiting the room, and Louis smiles back because for the first time, Harry leaving doesn’t feel like an ending.

*

Of course, they don’t talk.

Harry ends up staying away a day longer, and Louis is late to their rehearsal before Manchester, leaving no time to chat before the show, and then Harry ends up staying an extra day in Cheshire with his mum and Robin during the break before Glasgow.

They’re still the way they were before the last concert in London, which is great, but the uncertainty revolving Harry is driving Louis off the wall. He needs to sit down and have a talk with him or he’s going to go crazy, but he can already imagine what Harry is going to tell him; they have talked about it, after all, and Harry wants them to be friends, first. The thing is, Louis doesn’t know how much longer he can handle the wait.

It’s on the second night in Birmingham that he loses it. He had been hanging out in Niall’s room while Harry and Liam went to the gym, watching a weird cop movie that Louis absolutely despises, when Niall mutes the TV.

“Does Harry have a new boyfriend?”

Louis does his best not to freak out.

“What?”

“I got sent like a million tweets asking me if Harry dumped Xander for some Olly Alexander?”

“The lad from Years & Years?”

“Yeah, apparently.”

“Where did that come from?”

“There’s some pictures of them out for drinks, I guess?”

Louis takes a deep breath. It would make sense, actually. Harry had been to that one Years & Years concert during their break, and Louis wasn’t talking to him, then, but he overheard Harry talking about it to Lou, how the singer was really cool and they’d talked music and how Harry was actually a big fan of Belle and Sebastian and had loved him in whatever that movie is called.

 Louis has never met Olly, but he’d Googled him right away then, trembling with jealousy, and he can actually see why Harry would like him. He’s laid back, has a great style and bright blue eyes; he’s also openly gay, which seems to be a characteristic Harry really likes in men.

Niall shows him the pictures, and they’re blurry, but Harry is standing really close to Olly, leaning in to whisper something in his ear, and Olly is laughing. Then, in another one, they’re posing for some fan, and Harry has his arm around Olly’s waist. He feels sick, thinking about what may have happened between the two.

“Tommo, mate, are you okay?”

“Not really, no.”

Niall looks at him for a moment before he seems to finally put two and two together.

“Are you—did you and Harry start like, like before?”

Louis laughs, “More like never stopped.”

“Whoa.”

“Yeah.”

“So are you two… right now? Is he like, cheating on you?”

“No. We’re not. It’s—it’s complicated.”

“Shit.”

Niall doesn’t say anything else, but goes to the minibar and throws a beer his way, and it helps. They watch the rest of the cop film and then progress to whisky, and Niall never asks for an explanation, or demands that Louis tells him what happened. They sit mostly in silence, and they drink, and by the end of the second film Louis is wasted, so Niall just carries him to his bed and lies down next to him. Louis is too drunk to say anything, but if he wasn’t before, Niall definitely becomes his favourite then.

The following day, he barely even looks at Harry at the hotel; he pretends not to realize that Harry is calling him into his car, and Niall, bless him, seems to catch on to what’s going on and goes with Harry instead, leaving Louis to ride with Liam.

He tries to act cool at the venue, pretends he’s just busy instead of ignoring Harry, faking text conversations and calling his mom three times to talk about nothing, whenever he sees Harry coming over to talk to him. It’s not like he has a right to be angry. Hell, he doesn’t even know if there’s anything going on between Harry and that guy, anyway, and he can hear Harry’s words on repeat in his head, ‘I thought you knew me better than to think that I sleep with every single person that I talk to.’

They do an interview right before the show, the same generic questions about the break up and barely anything about the new album, and Louis tunes out most of it until he hears something that makes his heart jump.

“So, Harry, our social media has been bombarded with questions about you, after some very cosy pictures of you and Olly Alexander, from Years & Years, surfaced last night on twitter. Do you have anything you want to tell the fans about it?”

“Um, uh, no?”

“So are all the rumours about you ditching your boyfriend Xander for Olly, just that, rumours?”

Harry clears his throat, and Louis tenses in his seat, can’t help looking over to find Harry looking back at him.

“Xander and I are just friends, really. And from what I gather, Olly is in a very committed relationship already, so. Yeah.”

“Are you seeing anyone, then? The world seems to be eagerly awaiting the moment you find your other half, anything you can tell us on that front?”

“Well, I’m not really seeing anyone at the moment. So I guess, no news? I’ll be sure to call you and let you know if anything changes,” he jokes, but he glances at Louis and offers him a small smile.

The interview ends soon after that, but Louis doesn’t really pay attention to any of it, can’t stop replaying Harry’s answer in his head. He catches Niall looking at him with a knowing smirk, and he wonders how obvious it is right now, how stupid he is for Harry.

Harry tries to approach him before they’re due on stage, and he’s frowning. Louis stops on his heels to wait for him, suddenly apprehensive about whatever might be wrong, but there’s someone at the stadium that Louis needs to meet, someone’s daughter or nephew or whatever, and he is ushered away from Harry right as he’s opening his mouth to ask what’s wrong.

The show isn’t memorable, as far as shows go, but it isn’t terrible. Louis is too in his own head to really give a good performance, and he’d feel bad about it but he’s too tired, after three consecutive shows and drinking with Niall and also the emotional toll that is being in love with Harry Styles.

By the time the show is down, he feels drained, and he’s ready to go straight to bed the second he steps off stage. He wishes he had enough energy to talk to Harry but he doesn’t think he can even do that, needs a long bath and to go to bed and sleep for ten or maybe fifty hours.

Of course, his plans are ruined the moment he walks out of the green room, after changing out of his stage clothes, and finds Xander standing a few feet away, looking at his phone.

Louis shoulders sag, and for a moment he feels defeated; he considers walking past him, head down, and locking himself in his room, drinking his problems away with tiny bottles from the minibar.

“Hey, so,” he says instead, “I think we need to talk.”

*

They go the hotel bar and ask for one of their private rooms, because this is Louis and this is his life and apparently requesting private rooms at expensive hotel bars is what he does, now.

“Okay, so, like,” he starts, pacing around the room, Xander sitting down by the table, a drink in his hand, “what are you doing here?”

“Are you going to give me a little protective puppy speech about how I’m not allowed to go near Harry?” Xander seems amused, but there’s something in his tone.

“I’m just asking you, straight up, because I’m tired of this whole thing. I know you don’t like me, yeah? And to be quite honest you’re not my favourite person in the world, but I’m exhausted, and hurt, and these past few months have been a nightmare for me, so I just want to talk to you, okay?”

Xander looks unsure, but he nods.

“Are you trying to get Harry back? Like, is that, is that why you came?”

“Not that I owe you an explanation, Louis, but,” Xander starts, and Louis doesn’t understand why everyone else around them seems to love Xander when he’s clearly an asshole, “I came to the U.K. with Jeff, on some business, and we thought we’d stop by and see Harry, seeing as you guys won’t be doing any shows for a while.”

“Is that it?” Louis presses, sighing and sitting down in front of him, “Come on, I just—I’m tired of all of this, okay? I’m not even asking you to like, step aside for me or anything, I just genuinely need to know, because it’s driving me mad. Every second that Harry goes out with Nick Grimshaw or you or fucking Olly Alexander, I’ve got my heart in my throat, and it’s driving me mad, yeah? It’s been eating at me for ages, and I just. I can’t handle it anymore.”

Xander looks at him, shaking his head softly, and Louis hates the pity in his eyes.

“Jesus, Louis, you really need to relax about this whole thing, man.”

“Why does everyone keep saying that like it’s something that I can just like, do, at my will.”

“Okay,” Xander starts, taking a deep breath, and he seems annoyed, “Louis, are you like, not aware of how fucking in love Harry is with you?”

“That’s not what—I mean, I don’t. I don’t know? I just. We’ve never even tried like, properly.”

“When I met Harry, he was in love with someone. Jeff knew, but I didn’t, and I never pressed because it wasn’t my business, and Harry and I weren’t even that close, anyway. Then something happened and when Harry came to L.A. this year, he was different. Not like, his personality or anything, but he was more guarded, and he definitely seemed unhappier. It wasn’t until I joined you guys on tour that I realized what was going on.”

Louis raises an eyebrow at him, “Is there a point to this story?”

Xander laugh, ignoring the question.

“When Harry and I started—whatever it was that we were doing, hanging out—I was so excited because I thought, you know, maybe things would progress to more, now that apparently Harry was available again. And then I realized that he wasn’t. Harry hasn’t been single since he fucking met you, Louis, regardless of what he’s said. Every single attempt he’s made to meet someone has failed because he was always more interested in his bandmate than the person he was trying to date.”

His tone is light, but Louis doesn’t miss the bitterness behind it.

“That’s kind of unfair on him, really, you’re making him sound like an asshole.”

“Harry’s a great person, okay? Like, there’s a reason the entire world is charmed by hiss skinny ass. He’s funny and thoughtful and nice but. He’s been shit to me. He was shit to Nick when they were doing whatever they were doing. I’m sure he didn’t mean to but he just never. He never cared enough about me, and that’s pretty shitty, you know?”

Louis feels offended on Harry’s behalf, almost, even if Xander’s words do seem to have a lot of true to them. He can’t help the urge of wanting to defend Harry, itches to throw a nasty comment at Xander for daring to say anything but amazing things about him. Xander must see it in his face, because he laughs, shaking his head again.

“You don’t even see it, do you? You’re so into this perfect idea of who Harry is that you can’t even recognize that he’s done some awful things to people he supposedly cares about. Including you, Louis. I know Harry’s got a heart of gold and I know everyone from his fans to his mom seem to think he’s a saint. But he’s hurt me, and he’s hurt you, and just because he didn’t mean to do something doesn’t erase the fact that he did it.”

Xander makes a pause, takes a sip from his drink, which has been sitting abandoned on the table since they started talking.

“To answer your question, I do, I do still want Harry, but I didn’t come here so he’d take me back. I wouldn’t take him back, because he used me, and he hurt me, and maybe he never meant to and he didn’t realize that he was doing it, but he did. I don’t know why you would, either, but that’s your business.”

“It’s different,” Louis has to say, because he can’t stand Xander talking about him and Harry like he knows anything, “You don’t understand what we’ve been through, have no idea what it’s like, between us.”

“You and Harry seem to have this thing where you’re constantly fucking each other up and yet you both still come back for more. I don’t blame you, he can be pretty addictive.”

Louis laughs, and the anger that was starting to dissipate is back like a bolt. He’s not that daft, he can recognize that there’s a point to what Xander is saying, he can accept that Harry’s actions have been questionable, but he can’t stand Xander coming and talking about Harry and Louis like he understands anything.

“It’s not like that,” he says, trying to stay calm, because Xander already seems to think that he’s a child, and he doesn’t want to add to that image, “Harry and I, we’re just different. Even if we’re not, together like that, it’s still bigger, more than anything else.”

“Louis, I understand, trust me. I’ve seen you two together. Even when you weren’t even talking, Harry would still be unable to focus on anything else if you were in the room. He seemed almost ashamed, like he was trying not to but couldn’t help that you’re the centre of his fucking world.”

“Yeah, well—”

Louis feels his lips curl upwards, and he feels bad about it, because Xander might be an arsehole but Louis shouldn’t be smug about the fact that Harry wants him more. He feels like the bad guy, now, because all along he was scared of Xander showing off that he got Harry in the end, that he managed to be everything that Louis couldn’t be; he used to imagine hanging out with them, Xander officially Harry’s boyfriend, and having to pretend he was okay with Harry kissing anyone that isn’t him. He always pictured Xander holding Harry’s hand, looking self-righteously at Louis, and it used to make him sick, but here he is, doing almost the same thing.

Xander seems to find it funny, because he shakes his head (and the condescenscion is starting to grind on Louis’ nerves,) and laughs softly.

“I always thought it was a bit funny, how much you seemed to hate me, because it was obvious how jealous you were of me,” Xander says, and Louis scoffs, “And yet you didn’t—you never had anything to be jealous of, because even when Harry was with me, he was still yours.”

“Is this you telling me you’re stepping aside so Harry and I can be together?”

Xander lets out a loud bark of laughter, and it makes Louis feel small, how confident and certain about things Xander seems to be. He’s never let himself pay much attention to Xander, mostly out of pride, but looking at him up close, he can see laugh lines that have set permanently into his skin, his warm eyes decorated by dark, puffy bags; he’s wonders if Xander always looked this old, and this exhausted, or if Harry is the reason of all of it. He wonders how much he’s aged in the past few months, how much of a toll all of this has taken on him, too.

“We’re not in high school, Louis—this is not a love triangle in an afterschool special; I’m not part of an elaborate plot devise r yours and Harry’s relationship to be more meaningful when you finally get together. Harry and I tried something, and it didn’t work out, and it doesn’t matter if you were a factor in us not working out.”

He pauses for a moment, like he expects Louis to make a comment, but Louis doesn’t even know what to say to him anymore, because he seems to react the wrong way to everything Xander says, and he’s sick of Xander making him feel like a kid. Even more so, he’s tired of the truth being preached to him, tired of not being able to figure things out by himself, tired of feeling like he has the emotional understanding of a fourteen year old boy.

“If you and Harry get together, then I hope, for both of your sakes, that this time it works out. I'm not going to lie to you, I wish Harry was over you and things between us hadn’t ended, but they have, and that’s done. My feelings for Harry will fade, eventually; I’m too old to spend my days pining over boys, anyway.”

“So you’d be happy for us?”

“I care about Harry, and I consider him a friend. Believe it or not, I want him to be happy, and apparently, being with you makes him happy, or at least he seems to think so. So if you guys work through all the bullshit and you let go of all your stupid, and honestly, unfounded, insecurities about him, then yes, Louis, I would be happy for you.”

“I thought you hated me.”

For the first time since they’ve been here, Xander smiles at him, and there’s no pity there, and Louis doesn’t feel like he’s being looked down on, so he finds himself smiling back.

“Like I’ve just said, this is not high school, Louis. And maybe I used to consider you my competition, and I’ll admit that whenever you were around it made me feel weird, like I was intruding somewhere I shouldn’t be, and I resented you a little for that, because you and Harry were so effortlessly together and—“

“There’s nothing effortless about me and Harry, really. It’s been a constant battle, almost all along.”

“I’m not saying—I’m aware that it hasn’t been easy on either of you, but I mean. You guys just—you just click together, I guess. And it makes others around you a little uncomfortable, in case you haven’t noticed, because it’s like we can never get to your level. Whenever you were in the room, it was like a loss battle. I’ve never been your biggest fan and, no offense, but I don’t think I’ll ever be, all things considered, but I don’t hate you.”

“I think I can accept that.”

It seems, Louis thinks, that he and Xander have more in common than he thought. He doesn’t know how to feel, because he’s so used to Xander being a monster in his head that it’s hard to reconcile those feelings with the idea that Xander might not be so bad, after all. He appreciates Xander telling him the truth, giving him some perspective, and getting his side of the story definitely does affect the way Louis sees him but. It doesn’t turn back time though, and it doesn’t erase all those times that it hurt Louis and messed with his head.

It seems to be the same way for Xander, and maybe that’s why they’ll never get along, but Louis can’t help thinking that if things had been different, maybe they could have been friends, even. He doesn’t say that; instead, he shrugs, taking a sip from his drink (which is warm and watery by now) and avoiding Xander’s eyes.

“I’m sorry I was so rude to you.”

He holds his drink up, a little apprehensively, and looks at Xander, who in turn lifts his own and clinks it against Louis’, smiling. It might not be the start of a friendship, but Louis figures a truce is as good as they can hope for.

“I appreciate that, Louis.”

 *

On his way back from the bar, he feels suddenly overwhelmed. The exhaustion that seemed to have evaporated from his body during the conversation is back with even more force, and his thoughts are too loud.

He doesn’t even make the conscious decision to go to Harry’s room, just finds himself knocking on his door before he can stop to really consider whether it’s a good idea or not.

Harry greets him in a small pair of tight black pants and a white tank top, his hair tied messily in a bun with a few strands falling out and framing his face. He looks as exhausted as Louis feels, and the circles under his eyes are particularly dark. Behind him, all the lights in the room are off, but he doesn’t look as if he’s been sleeping.

“Hey,” is all Louis can say, before surging forward and wrapping his arms around Harry, burying his head in his chest.

“Lou, are you—is everything okay?”

“I’m just—so tired right now,” he whispers, and it comes out higher and needier than he expected, “and I kind of really need my best friend right now. Can I just--?”

“Yeah.”

They break apart, and Harry steps aside to let him walk into the room, his hand still pressed to Louis’ lower back as he guides him to the bed. Louis doesn’t stop him when Harry’s hands fly to his shoulders and slide his hoodie off, or when they get a hold of the hem of his t-shirt, pulling up to leave him shirtless. He toes his shoes off, trying to keep it casual, but he can’t help the sharp intake of breath as Harry finds his the waistband of his joggers and pulls them down all the way.

He slides under the covers, Harry climbing in behind him, and he doesn’t hesitate before scooting closer, resting his head on Harry’s chest and closing his eyes, Harry’s fingers scratching gently at his scalp.

“I think we need to talk, don’t we?” Louis asks eventually, on the verge of falling asleep.

“I think so, yeah.”

“Not tonight, though, alright? I just—not tonight.”

Harry doesn’t reply, but he moves even closer to Louis, dropping a kiss to the top of his head, and Louis can’t help doing the same, presses his lips to Harry’s skin and feels the faint drumming of his heartbeat, giving in to sleep shortly after.

 

**

Going to his mum’s house is always weird, now; they’ve been in the new house long enough that Louis has visited quite a few times, but it doesn’t feel like home, because he’s never been here. His room here is twice as big as it was in his childhood home, and it’s fancier, tall ceilings with crown mouldings, but none of his footie posters are hanging off the walls, and the new carpet is not as mushy as the one they used to have, and no matter how much Louis tries, his rooms feels too much like a guest room.

The rest of the house looks lived in, but not by him. There are no footballs left around the kitchen or jerseys that he shrugged off and forgot to pick off the sofa. There’s dolls on the floor in the TV room and glittery pens scattered about on almost every table, as well as dummies and baby toys anywhere and everywhere.

The house is cosy and warm and feels loved by the people who live in it, but there’s no trace of Louis here except for his face looking back at him, hanging on the walls, and a couple One Direction albums that have been framed and used as decoration. Louis loves his family and loves their house, but it’s not his, and he doesn’t feel at home. In fact, he doesn’t think he’s felt at home since the day Harry moved out of the house they shared together, years ago, a bag of clothes hanging off his shoulder and biting at his lips like he was trying not to cry.

It’s been four hours and Louis already feels like he’s going out of his mind. Most of his friend are gone, having moved to bigger cities or travelling abroad, and the thing about small cities on Sundays is that there’s never anything to do. There’s that, and also the fact that his car had picked him up an hour earlier than planned (or he wrote the time wrong on his phone, they’ll never know) so he had woken up to a shirtless Harry telling him he had to go. Louis had leaned in, pressed a fleeting kiss to Harry’s cheek and left with a “Talk soon?” running to his room to pick up his luggage.

He doesn’t really plan on doing it, it just happens. His mom is in the kitchen, making peach cobbler or some other sort of baked thing with fruit, and he’s sitting at the table, thumbing at some dumb game on his phone and trying not to think about how much he wishes he had kissed Harry before he left. They’re alone in the house, the girls staying at Mark’s for the weekend and Dan out with the twins somewhere.

There’s no warning, one second he’s sitting there, absolutely silently, and then he’s hit by a wave of nausea, and emotions are suddenly pouring out of him. He lets out a cry, and a “Mum, I’m—“ and then she’s there, holding him, and the word ‘gay’ is almost drowned by his tears, but he knows that she’s heard him.

It’s a few moments before he calms down, but Jay never lets go of him, and then once he’s stopped crying and his breathing is almost down to normal, she kisses his cheek and nods, smiling knowingly, urging him to go on.

The words come out so easy it’s almost hard to remember why he had kept quiet about it for so long. He talks about Harry, of their early times together, and how even being in a world famous band used to fade to the background because nothing was ever as exciting as being with Harry, just the two of them. She tells her about Eleanor, his cheeks pink with shame for having lied about that, and he starts apologizing for it before she shushes him and smiles.

He talks about everything, gets a little choked up when he mentions his trip to L.A. and Harry’s coming out and how messy things had been. He finds himself talking about his talk with Xander with hardly any bitterness in his voice and has to wonder when, in the past twenty-four hours, he managed to let go of his resentment. 

When he’s done talking, his mum makes him a cup of tea, kisses his cheek and then tells him she’s going to go meet Dan at some park. Her eyes are a little wet, and Louis would worry about her being upset if it weren’t for the giant grin on her face. She squeezes his shoulder once before leaving the room, calling out an “I love you” as the door is about to close.

Louis manages to stay at the house all of fifteen minutes before he gives up, running up to his room to get his footie gear ready and jumping in the car.  He drives as far from the city as he can, stopping at a park that’s more of an open field than anything else. He puts his headphones on, picks a random song on his work out playlist and sets off, running until his thighs start burning.

He stops when he feels like his legs are giving out, and then he grabs the ball from the boot and starts kicking it around, Jesse Lacey’s voice loud in his ears, singing about lost friendships and lovers who were never good enough to love him back.

He rings Harry on his way back, drenched in sweat and blaming the AC for how he’s shivering in his seat. They hardly ever spoke on the phone before, let alone now, and half of him is worried that Harry won’t pick up, the other half terrified that he will.

“Hey Lou, how’s Donny?”

“Same as always. What are you doing?”

“Heading to London, now. We just left. You?”

“Not much, was just playing some footie at the park,” he says, shrugging even though Harry can’t see him, “I talked to my mum. Like, I talked to her.”

It’s two seconds before Harry replies, but it feels like an eternity to Louis, who’s already on his toes about this entire phone call.

“I’m—I’m glad you did. Congratulations Lou. I’m proud of you,” he pauses, and Louis wonders if Harry can tell how hard he’s grinning at his phone right now, “What did—what did she say?”

“Not much, really, she sort of just listened. I had a lot to say, I guess.”

“I can imagine.”

Louis can’t tell for sure, but he thinks he hears a smile in Harry’s voice.

“So what are you doing once you get to London?”

“Was gonna see Nick but he’s busy so I dunno, don’t have any plans. Resting, probably. Might go up to see mum and Robin, if they’re not busy.”

“Would you like to, maybe like. Come over? To my mums?”

“Like, today or?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay. Yeah, okay, let me just turn around.”

The moment he gets off the phone, Louis panics. It’s not like he can know what’s going to happen once Harry shows up, but with everything that’s happened between them in the past month it feels like it’s all just been building up, waiting to blow. Louis can feel it in his bones, that this is the moment Harry and him are finally getting it right, and it’s terrifying.

When he gets to the house, his mum and Dan are there with the babies, and Dan doesn’t act any differently, but Louis catches him looking at him, and it feels weird. He’s sure that his mum has told him, Jay has never been great with secrets and even if she had been, he figures she needed to talk about it with someone; he wonders if she called Anne, too. It’s not bad, he’s not bothered by it, not really, but there’s something about the way that Dan looks at him, like he’s suddenly changed, or become more fragile, that doesn’t make him feel bad but. It doesn’t make him feel too good, either.

His mum keeps smiling at him, but there’s something there, too. She doesn’t look upset, but Louis notices the red rim around her eyes, and of course it makes sense that she would cry about it, but it still makes his chest ache to imagine his mother leaving her own house in tears because of what he told her. It’s not—he knows it doesn’t affect how she feels, she has always been his biggest supporter and that won’t change, ever, but he still can’t help the guilt for having lied to her for so long, for making her sad now.

He takes what’s probably the quickest shower of his life. He’s exhausted, really, needs a long bath and a cuddle and then some tea and maybe a nap, but the knowledge that Harry will be there any time is making him jittery and anxious.

There’s something different about waiting this time, because before there was nothing but uncertainty, but now he just knows, can feel what’s going to happen, and while he’s still terrified, there’s something bigger pulling at him, making him excited.

He changes three times before he gives up and just puts on a pair of black skinnies and throws on a light jumper he finds in the closet that is a bit big on him and he can’t remember who it belongs to. By the time he’s ready, he’s sure that Harry will be there any time now, so he sets up in the sitting room so that he can make it to the door before his mum or Dan, a warm mug of tea in his hand and an old episode of Peep Show on the telly; he asked Harry to text when he’s close, so all that’s left to do is wait.

He doesn’t notice that he’s falling asleep, but his eyelids are heavy and the sounds in the room slowly become faint, until he starts hearing voices that he’s sure aren’t coming from the T.V., and the next thing he knows is he’s coming to in a room that’s darker than he remembers it being just seconds ago, and Harry is sitting next to him on the couch, smiling down at him, hair up in a messy bun and a loose black button down that looks big enough to fit both of them.

“Hey, you,” Louis says, voice rough from sleep, “How long’ve you been here?”

“Not too long. Since Jez went for jury duty and got the hots for the defendant,” he lowers his voice, “Your mum opened the door for me; she gave me this weird look, and then the longest hug. It was nice.”

“I kind of forgot to tell her you were coming,” he shrugs.

He sits up on the sofa so he’s at the same level of Harry, noticing that the room is empty except for them, and there are no sounds coming from the kitchen, either. “Where are they now?”

“Putting the babies to bed.”

“Would you,” Louis starts, but is cut off by a yawn, which makes Harry laugh at him, “would you like to go get dinner with me?”

“That’d be ace, yeah.”

*

Louis heart does a little flip in his chest when they walk outside together and he sees Harry’s Range Rover parked behind his, reminding him that Harry actually drove all the way to see him.

“Did you just drop Lou in the middle of the road, then?” he asks as Harry slides into the passenger seat.

“Actually, I dropped her at a car service place and even paid for the ride to London.”

“Had some important things to do up North, did you?” Louis teases, relishing in the way Harry smiles at him, “Did you tell her where you were going?”

“No, but I think she knew—she probably heard your voice and I mean—I think half of the crew knows you slept in my room last night. We’ve not been very secretive about this.”

“I wonder what Liam will say after tonight.”

He realizes after he’s spoke that he’s making assumptions, since they haven’t even spoken, yet, but when he looks over at Harry he finds him still smiling back at him. Maybe they’re finally on the same page.

They go to a small restaurant about twenty minutes away from his house that Louis hasn’t been to since he was a teenager, because as much as he loves all of his usual spots, he knows they’ll be reporting to some media outlet or another that they were there, and Louis kind of wants to keep tonight between the two of them.

“So, how do you feel?” Harry asks him once they’re seated, menus lying unopened in front of them.

“About me mum, you mean? ‘S weird. Everything kind of feels like it’s suspended in the air, you know? ‘m not sure if anything has changed quite yet, or if it will.”

“Are you happy, though?”

“I’m getting there, I think. I’m relieved, that’s for sure,” he looks down, opening his menu so it hides his face, “Mostly, I think I’m excited for what comes next.”

“Do you, um,” Harry grabs his menu, too, “Do you know what you want to do next? Like, are you going to tell the lads?”

“I’ve told Niall, sort of,” Harry breaks into a grin, and Louis has to look away to stop himself from grinning too, “And I guess—I guess I’ll tell Liam, too. I’m not sure how to go about that.”

“He’ll be fine, even if he’s a pain about it at first. It’s Liam, he’s quite in love with you, in a very no homo way.”

Louis’ can’t stop the laugh that erupts from him.

“How did you—how did you get them to let you come out the way you did? Or at all, really?”

Everyone in their team had been reluctant to agree to Louis’ conditions when they decided to go through with the pregnancy stunt.

“Jeff kind of did all the work for me; it wasn’t so much that they let me, Irving found some loophole in our contracts, and I basically told them I was doing it after it was all in the works.”

“Were you scared?”

“I was a bit worried that they’d kick me out of the band, actually,” he shrugs, and Louis almost wants to hit him because that’s the stupidest thing he’s ever said.

“That’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever said. You’re Harry Styles, they wouldn’t kick you off the band even if you announced you’re like, one of those weirdos who beat it to My Little Pony.”

Harry’s laugh is so loud that a few heads from the tables around them turn to stare at him, making both him and Louis blush.

“For the most part, no,” he says once his laughter has died down, “I wasn’t scared. I was worried what the public would say but—I was so sick of it I honestly didn’t even care that much.”

“Well, it turned out quite alright, didn’t it? No one even reacted badly.”

“Yeah, well—actually, I got—“

He’s interrupted by the waitress, who suddenly shows up in front of their table. Louis has been looking at his menu for a while, yet he has no idea what they serve at this restaurant, all of his attention having been on Harry the entire time. Harry seems to catch on to this, so he orders the same thing for both of them (and any other time Louis would give him shit for it, but right now he’s grateful, and finds it kind of sweet, if not hot.)

“What where you saying?”

“I got a call, from Liam. The day the article came out. Probably the weirdest conversation I have ever had with him in my life.”

“How so?”

“He seemed really torn between being happy for me and, like, enraged. He kept bringing up promo and how this affect sales for the new album and whether Griffiths was alright with me doing it or if I’d gone behind their backs. I think he called me bro and mate at least fifty times in the span of ten minutes.”

“Sounds very Liam, all of it.”

“He kept emphasizing how proud he was, though, so I don’t think his conflict there was with me, not really.  Which is why I think it’d be fine, if you told him.”

“When I tell him, you mean.”

“Yeah, that.”

The waitress seems to recognize them when she comes back with their food, her eyes sparkly and her smile a little tight, but she doesn’t say anything other than “enjoy your meal” and even if Louis wonders when he sees her go behind the counter if she’s currently tweeting the world about the two of them being there, he finds that he doesn’t really care if she is.

“I think,” he starts, after he’s taken the first bite off his roast, “we should have that talk now.”

“Alright, yeah, is there anything that you want to tell me?”

“Well, I mean,” Louis blushes, “I love you. I guess that’s the main thing, isn’t it?”

“I love you too,” Harry says, nonchalant, “These potatoes are amazing.”

“Harold, could you focus here?”

“I’m sorry, you’re right, they’re just really good,” he smiles fondly at Louis and thrusts his fork in his direction, “Here, try it.”

Louis indulges, taking a bite from Harry’s fork and pretending that his insides aren’t burning with anticipation.

“What do you think?”

“The potatoes are great, Styles, now would you please stop stalling and talk to me?”

“Yeah, okay, I think we’ve waited long enough, anyway,” he sets his fork down, reaching to rest his hand on top of Louis’, “So maybe we should stop waiting and just go for it, no?”

“What are you even talking about?“

“That was my very casual and cool way of saying that I would like to be with you.”

Louis drops his fork.

“If, I mean,” Harry coughs, “If you think you’re ready for that.”

“Are you aware that the fact that you’ve just asked me this here means I can’t kiss you now?”

Harry bursts out laughing, then shrugs, looking sheepish, “I guess I didn’t really think that through. I’ll have to kiss you when we go back to your house, then.”

“Well—“ Louis feels his cheeks go pink, “I was thinking maybe we could get a hotel room for tonight?”

Harry’s grin is answer enough.

*

They’re giddy on red wine by the time they finish the meal, and Harry trips over his own feet as they walk outside of the restaurant. Louis hands are itching to reach for him, pull him closer, walk side by side, but there’s enough people  that they might be recognized, and it feels like it’s too early to start pushing against their team.

His car is parked in the back of the parking lot, a large van on the spot next to his Mercedes shielding them from the streetlamp, making Louis struggle to find the button on his key to open the doors. He unlocks the boot twice before he gets it right. He’s reaching for the handle when he feels a body pressing against his back, and Harry’s hands go to his hips, guiding him to turn around.

“What are you doing?” Louis asks.

“I didn’t want to wait the entire drive to do this.”

He holds Louis’ chin gently with one hand, tilting it upwards, while the other one snakes around his body and pulls him closer, and then he leans in.

The entire world seems to stop the moment their lips connect, and Louis’ breath catches, his hands flying to fist in Harry’s shirt, pulling him closer as he kisses him back desperately. He forgets where they are, lost in the kiss and the feel of Harry’s hand moving down from his hips, pressing their crotches together.

They break apart when Louis whimpers against Harry’s lips, the crushing realization that they’re both famous boy banders grinding in a dark parking lot ruining the mood, but making them both giggle.

*

They book a room under the name Larry Payne—Harry’s idea—and Louis spends the entire way to the lift snickering like a child about it. It’s hard to keep their hands off each other now that everything’s been said, and Louis keeps having to bat Harry’s hands away as they try to snake their way down his body whilst they’re in a lift with other hotel guests. He doesn’t think anyone recognizes them, and he’s too happy to care if someone did, but an old lady keeps looking disapprovingly at them, like she knows what they’re right about to do. Louis can’t help smirking at her and putting an arm around Harry’s waist to escort him out of the lift.

The moment they’re inside the room, they crash into each other, hands everywhere, pushing and pulling and grabbing and lips so hard against each other that Louis wonders if they’re trying to mould them together. Harry and him have always been rather intense when it comes to sex, but Louis can’t remember being this hot and desperate since he was eighteen and had just discovered sex with boys (more specifically, sex with Harry.)

He shrugs his shirt off, tossing it somewhere behind him, and starts pulling at Harry’s, ripping it off of him when he can’t work the buttons. The sound of plastic clattering as it hits the floor makes him laugh.

 “Hey,” Harry protests, smacking Louis’ arse, “I liked that shirt.”

“I’ll buy you ten more tomorrow, now get naked.”

Harry complies, sliding his jeans off in one slick motion, making Louis’ jaw drop, first because Harry is wearing tiny black briefs with a wet spot on the front and second because those jeans were too damn tight for Harry fucking Styles of all people to take them off so gracefully. He grabs the back of Harry’s head and crashes their lips together once again, kissing him hard and deep while his other hand goes straight for his cock, rubbing it over the fabric.

“I was thinking,” Harry says, panting, as he pulls away, his hands toying with the waistband of Louis’ jeans, “That I would love it if you’d let me eat you out tonight.”

Louis mouth goes dry, “I—yeah, yeah, okay.”

They waste no time getting Louis naked, both of them tugging at his jeans and pants to get them off. Then Harry grabs Louis by the waist and picks him up, Louis’ legs wrapping around him, walking both of them to bed. He lets himself fall on his back, holding Louis tight as he lands on his lap. He locks his eyes with Louis’, searching for something, and Louis nods once before getting on his knees and moving so that he’s positioned directly above Harry’s head.

“I think this is probably the thing I missed the most about sleeping with you,” Harry says, before securing his hands on Louis’ hips and lowering him, spreading his cheeks so he can press his lips to Louis’ hole.

Louis’ head snaps back at the first feel of Harry’s tongue against against him, pushing down to get more contact. Harry hums and pulls him closer, licking enthusiastically at him, his thumbs drawing circles on his cheeks as he spreads them apart even more, burying the tip of his tongue in Louis.

Louis moans, loudly, rubbing back against Harry’s face, elated by the way that Harry groans, too. It’s always been a thing for Harry, doing this, and that’s probably what makes it so good for Louis, to know that Harry’s getting off as much as he is from it. It was hard for him, in the beginning, to let Harry do this even though they both knew how much Louis loved it, just because Louis couldn’t understand what pleasure Harry could get from it. It used to baffle him, how Harry would beg him to let him eat him out, would offer anything in exchange if he was turned on enough. It’s been long enough that Louis no longer is ashamed to admit that he likes a good tongue up his arse, or even that sometimes he enjoys doing that himself, loves the way that Harry falls apart on his tongue alone, but it still surprises him a little, how worked up Harry can get just from doing this to him.

He lowers himself more, grabbing his cheeks to spread them so that Harry can finally get inside him. He feels Harry’s thumbs rubbing around his hole along with his tongue, and then Harry pushes in, fucking into Louis and making him cry out. His thighs start shaking a bit, a mix of the strain of holding him up and the pleasure of Harry’s mouth on him, and he leans back, letting his hand press to Harry’s chest for support, his other hand wrapping around his cock. Harry pulls away, panting a bit, and Louis whines in protest.

“Don’t touch yourself,” Harry commands, “I want you to come just from me.”

Louis nods, even though Harry can’t see him, and moves his hand off his cock to grab Harry’s hair, pulling at the tie to release it from the bun and running his nails against Harry’s scalp, Harry humming appreciatively against his rim, making his hips buckle. He buries his tongue deeper, thumbs still rubbing around it, and Louis loses it, the warmth and wetness driving him desperate, his hips bucking as he rides Harry’s face. His thighs are shaking, and he moves both hands to the headboard to hold himself in place, the muscles in his stomach tightening as he gets closer to the edge.

Harry presses a last kiss to Louis rim before gently pushing Louis off of him and on to his lap, Louis’ cock rubbing against Harry’s stomach, the friction making him gasp. Harry sits up and buries one hand in Louis’ hair, his other hand scurrying behind him before snaking under Louis’ legs to press the tip of a cold, wet finger to his rim.

“Can I fuck you?” he asks in a whisper, his finger pushing in and out, building a slow rhythm.

Louis nods in response, pressing his mouth to Harry’s shoulder and kissing there, and Harry adds a second finger. The cold makes him hiss, and he bites Harry as he moves deeper inside him, twisting them and making Louis’ toes curl.

He works Louis open, adding a third lube-coated finger when Louis starts pushing back against his hand, squirming in his lap. Louis joins their lips together, kissing Harry frantically, trying to get the rhythm of Harry’s hand to match their kiss. Harry removes his fingers and moves his hand to hold Louis against him as he pulls his hips up to push his pants off, his hard cock bumping against Louis’.

There’s a short awkward pause when Harry reaches for a condom, because that was always their thing, until they started sleeping with other people and even though they were careful on their one night stands, it became too messy. It was the subject of many arguments, whenever Harry took out a pack of condoms, because Louis could never keep his mouth shut and more often than not would make an off-hand comment about Harry sleeping around, which always got to Harry. Louis is about to tell him that they don’t need it, that it’s fine, but it’s too soon, and there’s plenty they haven’t talked about—, and as Louis painfully remembers, Harry was still hooking up with Xander weeks ago.

The awkwardness is gone the second that Harry puts both hands on Louis’ hips to steady him and help him lower himself, his eyes fluttering close as he feels the tip pressing against him. Harry kisses him as Louis sinks down on his cock, holding him until he’s buried all the way in him.

“Fuck,” Louis says, at the same time that Harry says,

“I love you.”

 “I love you,” Louis says, eyes closed and forehead resting on Harry’s shoulder as he bounces on his lap, “I love you so fucking much.”

“I love you,” Harry says, snapping his hips up to meet Louis halfway.

He falls back on the bed, and Louis falls forward, his hands landing on Harry’s chest, and he leans down to kiss him as he fucks himself on Harry’s cock. He works himself up on Harry, raking his nails against his stomach, leaving red marks on the skin there as he increases his pace and grows more desperate. Harry grabs one of his hands and brings it to his mouth, kissing at his knuckles before taking two fingers in, licking around them, making Louis moan.

Louis can tell as he starts moving faster on Harry that he’s not going to last long, his cock already leaking pre-come all over Harry’s abs, heat pooling in his lower stomach. By the looks of it, Harry isn’t too far either; his eyes are closed and he’s licking at Louis’ fingers like his life depends on it, moaning around them whenever Louis sinks all the way down. His hand eventually curls around Louis, jerking him off at a fast pace as he gets louder and louder, and he never stops kissing him, not even when Louis’ mouth goes limp against his and he comes all over his stomach, the sudden tightening of his muscles making Harry follow suit.

“Just in case it wasn’t clear,” Harry says after a moment, lifting Louis’ bum off his lap to pull off of him and discard the condom, dragging Louis down to lay on top of him, “I really fucking love you.”

“Ditto,” Louis says, closing his eyes.

They lay in silence for a few moments, Harry’s hands drawing patters on Louis back, their heartbeats slowing as their breathing goes back to normal. Suddenly, Harry props himself up on his elbows, making Louis slide half off his body, “Oh my god, your mum is going to know we had sex when we go back tomorrow.”

“Why on earth are you thinking about my mum after we had sex?” Louis asks, jokingly affronted.

Harry lies back down, positioning Louis so he’s half lying on his chest, “I was just thinking about going back to your house tomorrow, and how it’s going to be.”

Louis hadn’t thought of that. He hadn’t thought about the fact that he hasn’t told anyone but his mom or Dan about this, that his sisters have no idea (he suspects Lottie knows at least some of it, though) that he likes boys, let alone that he likes Harry. He’s paralysed for a moment, when the realization that he’s going to have to come out to every single person in his life hits him, but then he looks at Harry, who’s looking at him with the softest smile in the world, and he figures he doesn’t care, not really, as long as he gets to do it with Harry by his side.

“It’s gonna be weird,” he mumbles, “but kinda funny, I guess. Can you imagine their faces?”

Harry laughs, kissing the top of Louis’ head.

“I love your family, it’s going to be great.”

“The girls are going to eat me raw, just so you know, so I hope you’re ready to jump in my defence, protect my honour and all that.”

“Always.”

Louis shifts his body and cranes his neck so that he’s looking at Harry. He kisses his cheek, blushing, and he looks away twice before he gathers the bravery to talk, locking eyes with him.

“I know we’ve got a long way to go, okay, and I know it’s not gonna be easy for us, and you’ll probably be angry at me more often than not, I know,” he hurries the words out before he loses his confidence, “But this, you; this is everything that I wanted and I’m—I wanted you to know that I’m all in.”

“You sound very sure of yourself,” Harry jokes, but he’s a little choked up.

“Yeah, we’ll, I’m rather positive that you’re the love of my life, so.”

Harry leans in to kiss him, grabbing his sides to pull him on top of him once again, Louis squirming at the touch. He kisses Harry back enthusiastically, both hands going straight to Harry’s jaw, gently holding him as he raids his mouth with his own.

“I could kiss you forever,” Harry says, sliding his lips from Louis’ mouth to press against his temple.

“Okay.”

 

*

Morning comes too soon, and Louis wakes up cranky and tired. He’s about to snap at Harry for not closing the blinds the previous night, but Harry simply smiles at him and pecks him twice on the lips before scurrying down his body and taking his dick in his mouth in one slick move. It’s a nice morning, after that.

Louis was worried about what the morning after would be like: if things would turn awkward all of a sudden, or if they’d realize that they actually hadn’t worked through all of their issues yet. A small part of him was terrified that he’d wake up to find Harry gone, the little voice at the back of his head nagging at him as he was falling asleep in Harry’s arms. He’s hoping with all his heart that the fear will fade with time, because it’s not fair on either of them for him to be constantly terrified of Harry leaving him.

It is anything if not perfect. After the stellar blowjob, courtesy of Harry, they order room service and spend over an hour eating it in bed, being cheesy and disgusting and making a mess all over themselves and the bed. They shower together, and Louis returns the favour and blows Harry under the spray, and then they kiss until the water goes cold and they have no choice but to get out, shivering and giggly and incredibly happy.

“Fuck,” Louis says as they stumble into the room, leaning in to kiss him again, “I love you.”

Harry giggles, trying to dry both of them off while Louis distracts him with his lips. He smacks Louis’ arse as Louis tries to take the towel off his hands, and in turn Louis pinches his nipple, making him gasp.

“I love you too, by the way,” Harry says a moment later, as he’s walking towards the bathroom to hang the towel there, and Louis tries to ignore the way his heart does a flip every time he hears Harry say those words.

By the time make it back to Jay’s house they’ve exchanged another two mutual orgasms and they’re both soft and cuddly and entirely too tired for two people who’ve spent the day in bed.

Jay receives them with long, lingering hugs and dinner on the table, and none of the girls question Harry’s presence (when he hasn’t been by in so long) or raise an eyebrow at how domestic and, frankly, in love they’re acting with each other. Harry chats with Fizzy about school and asks Lottie to teach him how to braid his own hair when they go back on tour, and it feels so much like it used to be that Louis’ heart feels like it’s going to burst open. He doesn’t miss the knowing look that Jay gives him, looking back between Harry—who’s currently talking to Daisy about the time he met Brooklyn Beckham—and him, and Louis can’t do anything other than shrug, because Harry fits like he belongs, like he’s been a part of his family all along, and deep down, Louis thinks he’s always known.

After dinner, Harry excuses himself to make a phone call, and Louis uses the time to gather all his sisters, minus Doris, who’s asleep and also doesn’t even talk yet, and tells them about Harry, and a very short and kid-friendly version of the past five years of his life. Fizzy seems gutted to hear about Eleanor, and Louis feels guilty that he ever let his family get involved in those stunts, but overall they take it rather well. They all hug him once he’s done talking, Fizzy the last to pull away, and Louis eyes get teary when he sees that she’s crying, even though she’s smiling, too.

 He finds Harry in his bedroom, sitting on the bed wearing a pair of Louis’ ridiculous Rovers pajamas from highschool, and Louis bursts out laughing as he walks in, going straight to Harry and planting a kiss on his lips, thinking that it’s the first time since his mom moved that he’s felt at home in the house.

*

Having Harry around the house is great. The girls are in school most of the day, Jay and Dan both at work, so Harry and Louis get to sleep in and spend lazy mornings in bed, enjoying the short break before they go back to the hectic life of touring.

They can’t really go out, not with the internet going mad wondering where both of them are –Harry had to call someone to take his Range Rover back to London as rumours stirred up when some fan that had showed up at the house and reported that she’d seen Harry’s car there—but they spend long afternoons watching films and singing karaoke and letting the twins do their hair while Lottie and Fizzy make snacks, and it’s the best time that Louis has had in forever.

Jay won’t stop smiling, which eases Louis’ guilt about having lied to her for so long, and one afternoon he walks into the kitchen to find her hugging Harry with teary eyes. He leaves as soon as he sees them so they don’t realize he’s there, his heart expanding in his chest.

They leave early on Friday morning, as they’re due in Dublin that afternoon for soundcheck, their bags full of freshly done laundry and boxes of baked goods made by the twins. Lottie comes along, which makes things easier, but Louis still gets sad as he kisses everyone goodbye. The past few days having been too good.

Harry holds his hand on the way to the airport, only letting go right before they get out of the car. They fly private, which Louis appreciates because he gets to curl himself on Harry’s lap for the first half of the journey, but then the turbulence gets bad enough that he has to go to his own seat, and by the time they make it to Ireland he’s grumpy and stiff and wants nothing to do with a stadium full of screaming fans.

The worst part is that now that they’re back to work, he doesn’t get to touch Harry whenever he wants, can’t press a hand to his back while they’re walking or a kiss to his lips just because he feels like it. They can’t even stand too close to each other, because there are cameras everywhere, the venue full of young workers who are either fans or have friends who are fans, and Louis hates having to consciously ignore Harry as they walk around on stage, when all he wants is to hold his hand and kiss him and forget about the rest of the world around them.

Not even backstage, before they go out for the show, can Louis do as he pleases. He’s sitting on a sofa while the rest get ready, having decided to ignore his outfit for tonight and just wear a white tank top and skinny jeans, and Harry’s getting dressed in front of him, putting on a purple patterned shirt that only he can pull of, and he keeps messing up the buttons so Louis steps in, fixing it for him, earning the weirdest stare from Liam, who’s looking at him like he just pulled out his dick and asked Liam to suck it.

Harry has caught on to Louis’ weird temper, keeps offering him little smiles whenever the other boys are looking away, and it’s nice, but Louis’ mood is too foul for a smile to make it better, and the longer he spends at the venue and not in a hotel room wrapped around Harry, the worst it gets.

It’s not that he’s ungrateful; he loves his work and loves his fans and knows that they owe everything in the world to them; that they’re the sole reason their careers are what they are. But he’s just tired, too tired after five years of constant overload, and after having a sneak peak of how good things with Harry can be when they’re not working, it seems particularly hard to get back into work mode. 

The show is fine, he finds a way to go backstage with Harry twice, kissing him quickly before taking a wee the first time, the second time just making out outside the stall until they hear Liam calling for Harry back on stage, and they get back, sheepish and smiley and entirely too obvious.

Afterwards, Louis is jittery and high on post-show adrenaline and wants nothing but to take Harry back to the hotel and eat him whole. They’re all back in the main dressing room, Niall passing some beers around, wearing nothing but his underwear—which, Louis needs to have a talk about it with Niall, because long boxers really are a thing of the past and he can’t have someone in his band that doesn’t wear at least boxer-briefs.

Louis’ mood has lifted enough since going on stage, and he’s feeling good, sipping at his beer while he coyly watches Harry get out of his stage shirt and into a comfy black tee. He’s back in some Adidas joggers and vest, ready to go the moment they get the all clear, when Simon Jones walks into the room, clipboard in his hand and looking too much like the devil’s advocate.

He suggests that they go out, claims the fans are starting to worry about why they haven’t been seen clubbing in so long –and bullshit, Louis thinks, sure that the fans don’t like their built up party boy images.

Liam says yes right away, and Niall shrugs, not seeming too excited by the prospect but agreeing nonetheless. Simon throws a pointed look Louis’ way, and Louis shakes his head, claiming he’s got a headache.

“We can’t have both you and Harry stay back, you know what the fans are going to think,” Simon says, looking disapproving.

Let them think whatever they want, Louis thinks, they’re right, anyway.

“I really don’t feel like going out tonight, man. I don’t even like Irish pubs that much.”

“Hey,” Niall frowns.

“You have to come too, Louis. Even if it’s just for a little bit. Make an appearance, take pictures with some girls, then you can go home.”

The way he says girls is too sharp for Louis not to notice.

“Can Harry come, then? Let’s make it a band night out.”

Liam seems confused by Louis’ sudden refusal to go out; he keeps looking between Harry and Louis like he can’t possibly figure out why Louis could want to stay, and Louis wants to punch him, wants to scream “Sorry, I’m not the laddy lad you thought I was. Sorry I can’t be your straight best friend.”

“I think it’s best if Harry stays back tonight,” Simon says it like it’s definite.

Louis looks back at Harry, who’s got his eyes on the floor and looks like he’s trying to curl into himself.

“Come on lads, the car will be ready for you in fifteen.”

They get dressed in silence. Louis shrugs off his sweats to favour a pair of skinnier—and much less comfortable—dark jeans, muttering bullshit over and over as he looks around for a shirt that isn’t drenched in sweat or clings too much to his body. All he wants is to lie down in comfortable clothes and watch some bad television with Harry.

He keeps trying to avoid Harry’s gaze as he gets dressed, feeling too guilty about the whole thing to be able to look at him in the eye. Liam is already blasting some club music and going through his third beer, undoubtedly in the mood, and Niall is sitting close to him, clearly indulging him, but happily sipping from his drink, too.

 

Harry’s car gets there before theirs, and Louis decides fuck whatever everyone thinks, and walks with Harry towards the back door.

“Lou, it’s alright, you know—it’s not like I’m not used to it. It’s fine.”

“It’s bullshit,” is all Louis says, looking around the hallway to make sure that there’s no one coming before pushing Harry against the wall and kissing him.

“Come to my room when you get back, yeah? I’ll text you the number.”

The club they go to is nice, Louis figures, and he’d probably be able to enjoy it if he weren’t in such a mood. Niall goes straight for the bar, and Louis lets him buy him whatever weird cocktail he feels like, wincing as he downs it. Liam keeps trying to pull him towards the dance floor, and Louis has to try way too hard not to snap at him. He knows it’s technically not Liam’s fault that he has no idea what’s going on, that he doesn’t even know who Louis is.

He ends up getting smashed, taking pictures with a group of girls at the bar who keep challenging him to do shots, celebrating someone’s engagement or last day of a job or birthday or something. Louis wasn’t really paying attention. Liam is on the dance floor, dancing with a group of people who apparently know Niall, and Niall is standing a little ways from them, talking to a really cute girl who reminds Louis of Gemma.

Jones is by the door with their bodyguards, so Louis goes up to him and requests to be taken back to the hotel, not allowing any arguments. Jones seems disappointed, but he agrees, making him go out the main entrance so they can get some pap shots of him.

He’s still buzzed by the time he makes it to Harry’s room, knocking on the door repeatedly until a very sleepy Harry, wearing only the tiniest pair of white pants that Louis has ever seen, opens it for him, grinning.

“Is that what you wear to open the door? What if I’d been a fan? Or like, some paparazzo dude trying to cash in on your nudes.”

Harry laughs and grabs him by his shirt, pulling him in for a kiss. “How was the club?”

“Horrible. Take me to bed please?”

He shrugs off all his clothes with Harry’s help, pushing him down onto the bed and climbing up after him, curling himself around Harry and burying his face in his neck.

“Missed you tonight,” he breathes into his hair.

Harry grabs his hand and wraps his arm around himself, and Louis closes his eyes, finally content.

*

The second night in Dublin is better. Niall’s family and friends are all there, and he has a blast, which sort of rubs off on everyone else, Niall being Niall. Louis doesn’t even mind not being able to be with Harry the way he’d like to whilst they’re backstage, or even after the show. Although that might be due to the fact that they’d spent the entire morning in bed, kissing until their lips were sore, and then exchanged mutual handies in the shower before heading to the venue.

Niall goes out with all his friends, and Liam tags along at the last minute without letting anyone from the team know before he does, so Louis gets to play dumb and go back to the hotel with Harry. They order room service and watch Friends until four in the morning, when Louis decides he wants to ride Harry, so they do that, too.

They fall asleep sweaty and sticky and gross, and Louis smiles, his head on Harry’s chest, not quite able to believe how bad things were merely weeks ago, and how okay they are now.

*

The last night in Dublin things get particularly hard, and that’s when Louis makes a decision.

They’re hanging out at the hotel lobby, waiting to be driven to the stadium, when Louis gets pulled aside by one of their publicists. He’s then face to face with Briana, who’s smiling uncomfortably at him and sporting a small bump.

“What the fuck? What’s she doing here?” He’s vaguely aware as the words leave his mouth that he’s being rude, but he’s so startled he can’t think before he speaks. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

“Rumours about the two of you were a bit scarce, and after the whole hospital thing with Harry, we couldn’t let the pregnancy story die out.”

“Why the fuck didn’t anyone tell me? We agreed that you would run all these things by me first. I should have—“

“The way you ran it by us before you spent a weekend playing house with Harry in L.A.?”

Louis mouth pops open.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Don’t think we don’t know what you do on your off time, Tomlinson. We are very aware of what’s going on between you and Styles, for the record. ”

He wants to argue, wants to deny whatever they think is going on between him and Harry, wants tell them how creepy and invasive and awful it is that they’re keeping tabs on him like that, but he’s at a loss for words, astounded by the fact that they’ve known all along and only decided to tell him now.

“Briana is going to the concert with you guys tonight,” Adelaide says. “She’ll ride the car with you, and the rest of the boys will drive there separately. She’s got a reserved box close to the stage, so that everyone can see her.”

“What even is the point of that? Fans aren’t even buying into this.”

 “Yet they’re talking about it, and people are looking up your name. Ticket sales have gone up since your impending fatherhood became a thing, as fans are scared you’ll drop the band once the baby is born. Don’t question me, Tomlinson, we know what we’re doing.”

“Whatever,” he says, walking away, not sparing a look for Briana.

The look on Harry’s face when he sees her is enough to let Louis’ know that everything’s gone to shit. He doesn’t really say anything, but he looks back between Louis and Briana and the expression in his face is enough. Louis tries to pull him aside to tell him, explain that he had no idea, erase that broken look from his face somehow.

They’re rushed to the cars right after, and Louis is ushered to his own separate ride with Briana trailing behind him, flashes going off in his face as the paparazzi take the shots they’re going to sell to the Sun the following morning. Louis can already imagine the headlines, and he wants to puke.

He texts Harry as soon as he’s in the car, a long string of sad faces along with “im sorry I didn’t know I hate this too” and hopes that the fact that Harry doesn’t text back doesn’t mean anything. Briana keeps looking at him, but she seems to understand that he’s at a place right now where he can’t talk to anyone, let alone her.

The thing is, Briana isn’t even the problem in this whole thing. Louis spent a few weeks pissed at her for going to the tabloids with the pregnancy story, pulling every string she had to get her name out there as the girl that Louis Tomlinson got pregnant, but he’s way past that by now. He hasn’t talked to her about it, but he’s heard from their team that it wasn’t Briana but her family who started this, and she seems to have tried to lie low as much as possible since then, appears to be pretty uncomfortable with all the attention. The thing is, it’s Briana who people are writing vicious things about in the rags, invasively analysing her body to determine whether she’s pregnant or not. Even when things blow over, it’s Briana who’ll be seen as the evil one, the one who’ll experience the backslash when it comes out that Louis isn’t the father of her baby and everyone deems her an attention seeking gold-digger.

Even when they’d hooked up, a drunken one night stand instigated by Oli so he could get on with Briana’s friend, Briana had been nothing but sweet, and she seemed to understand that Louis was not interested, that it meant nothing. They’d stayed in touch, and Louis had even enjoyed her presence the next couple of times they’d hung out, but eventually the pressure from the media and all the bullshit spread by the tabloids had turned Briana into a shadow that followed Louis everywhere he went, and he had simply stopped wanting her around.

He gets to the dressing room after the rest of the boys are there, already in their stage outfits, Harry seated away from where Niall and Liam are playing video games and having a drink, eyes stuck to his phone.

Liam smiles at him when he walks in, gesturing him to take a seat next to him. Louis shakes his head and goes for the hanger with his name, trying to get Harry to look at him so he can assess how bad the damage has been.

“So, Lou, how is Briana doing? Has Dr. Crane figured out a due date yet?”

Harry’s eyes snap up, locking with Louis, and there’s so much hurt there that Louis wants nothing but to curl around Harry and make it all go away.

“No, I don’t know.”

“Gonna have to figure it out with enough time so we can all fly over to Los Angeles.”

“Yeah,” he agrees absentmindedly, and Harry’s eyes keep burning into his, and just can’t do it anymore, “Or maybe not, since it’s not my baby.”

He turns around to find Liam and Niall staring at him with their mouths wide open.

“What?”

“Well—turns out I’m actually gay after all?” Louis says, and he tries to go for casual, but it comes out bitter and cold, “Um, surprise, Harry and I are together.”

“Shit,” Liam says at the same time that Niall screams, “Hell yeah,” and when Louis turns around Harry is still looking at him, his expression completely changed.

“So like, has this, have you always been? Did you lie to us the entire time?” Liam sounds so hurt that Louis feels guilty about it, yet he can’t help being annoyed about the fact that Liam is making it about himself.

“Not really—or, I mean, yeah. I guess I did lie, but Harry and I only very recently figured things out, I mean, you guys knew hooked up.”

“But you stopped.”

“Except we didn’t, actuallly? We just got good at hiding it, I guess.”

“But you and Eleanor,” Liam says, and he looks so confused that it makes Louis sad, “I’ve been on dates with you guys countless times! Was that just—?”

“Yeah, she—agreed to go along with it. But were never—we were just friends, if that.”

Harry gets up then, makes his way to Louis and grabs his head with both hands, planting a kiss on him. Louis goes along with it, because he might as well, since everyone present knows now, and anyway, kissing Harry is always a good idea. When they pull apart, Niall is grinning at them excitedly, and Liam—Liam still looks confused, but his lips are quirked upwards slightly, so things aren’t too bad, after all.

“I love you,” Harry whispers against his lips and Louis can’t help saying it back, kissing him once more.

“Why didn’t you ever tell us, though? All the—all the shit I said, I’ve denied it so many times and all along you guys—why didn’t you ever say anything?”

“It was, um, too complicated, I guess? We never knew what was going on between us, it was always too messy, before, so there wasn’t—there wasn’t anything to say, really,” Harry steps in, his arm circling Louis’s waist.

“Did anyone else know?” Niall asks, still grinning.

“My family knew, always, and Nick and Jeff, too. We just told Lou’s family.”

“You could have said something, though!” Liam interjects, “All those times, I kept defending you—“

“I never asked you to, Li,” Louis says, surprisingly calmly, “And I get that this is a shock to you, but I never asked you to defend my straight honour, mate, that was all you.”

There’s a knock on the door, and Lou’s head pops in just as Harry steps away from Louis, “Are you popstars ready to be beautified?”

The air is tense in the room, and Lou seems to notice right away. Liam looks like he’s just been slapped, and Niall is smiling really uncomfortably.

“Yeah,” Harry says, breaking the silence, “Lou and I can go first.”

He grabs Louis hand and starts walking towards the door, and Louis smiles at him, finds him smiling back, and Lou looks at their joined hands with a raised eyebrow, then breaks into a grin.

“About fucking time, kiddos.”

*

 That night, they leave the arena together, not stopping to talk to Liam after the show –who still looks thrown off his game whenever he sees them standing together, or Harry leaning in to whisper something in his ear. It does ruin Louis’ mood a bit, to see his friend (self-assigned best friend) react so weirdly to it, and while he understands where Liam is coming from, all he can think about is how right now, he finds himself wishing Zayn was still in the band instead of Liam.

They rush to the car together, walking past Jones and company, who are escorting Briana to her own car. Someone yells after Louis, something about him having duties to fulfil and that they’ll ‘have a talk about this tomorrow.’ Louis can’t help but giggle, drunk on freedom and happiness, thinking that whatever consequences come from this can’t be bad enough to dim the joy that holding Harry’s hand in front of everyone brought him.

Harry is on him the second the car doors are closed, lips attaching to his neck and sucking hard while his hands move everywhere from his chest to his legs. Louis lets him, tilting his head back to give him better access and moving both hands up Harry’s thighs until they’re resting on his arse. He spreads his legs, makes enough room for Harry to fit between them, and moans when Harry bites his neck, licking at the sore skin afterwards.

“I love you,” Harry says, panting, pulling away before pressing a kiss to his lips, “I fucking love that you told everyone—“

Louis smiles, kissing Harry again and grinding against him, tugging him down to get more friction, “I love you too, pal, but Imma need you to touch me now.”

Harry fucks Louis twice that night. He swallows him whole and blows him until Louis is trembling beneath him, then fucks him fast and hard, bruising his hips where he’s holding him. After, Harry kisses him everywhere from his neck to the back of his thighs, murmuring ‘mine’ and ‘yours’ as he presses his lips everywhere, fingering him leisurely and careful before pushing inside him again, fucking him slow and deep, the oversensitivity driving Louis desperate. After he comes the second time, Louis is soft and pliant, his hands and limbs shaking as he lets Harry kiss him, too overwhelmed to kiss back.

“I’m so fucking proud of you,” Harry murmurs against his temple, when Louis is starting to come down completely.

“I was thinking,” Louis answers a few minutes later, when he’s got his voice back, “That we could have Irving look at my contract, too? See if there’s any way we can, you know, do it. I don’t want to wait until the break.”

Harry nuzzles into Louis side, curling against him, and grins, “I’ll call him tomorrow.”

*

Louis spends forty five minutes on the phone the next morning, receiving an earful from Bloomfield, who won’t stop going on and on about Louis’ responsibilities and the liabilities in his contract, and Louis wants nothing but to hang up and go back to bed with Harry. He waits until the lecture is over to basically flip Bloomfield off, as politely as he can, and tell him that he refuses to go on with the pregnancy stunt.

“I don’t care if it helps or hurts the sales, I’m not going to go along with it anymore,” he states, and Bloomfield starts talking about the consequences of this but Louis tunes him out, focuses on Harry, who’s currently on the phone as well, lying on the bed in nothing but his pants.

They’ve got the day off before they head to Belfast that night, and once again they spend it in bed together. Louis has a couple of missed calls from Liam but he does not feel up to talking to him just yet, so instead he cuddles Harry and lets him pick the film that they’re watching (some Spanish horror film that makes both of them jump) and ignores the rest of the world for a while.

They ride the bus that night, and Louis gives in to Liam’s puppy eyes and rides with him, kissing Harry by the door before he gets in and relishing the fact that Simon Jones is looking at them, his mouth set in a thin line.

It’s silent for a while, the air thin between them, and Liam looks particularly uncomfortable.

“Look, I’m sorry, okay? I know that I was shit yesterday I just—it’s a bit weird for me.”

“What is?” Louis asks, his tone ice cold, “That Harry and I are together or just the part where I’m actually gay after all?”

“All of it? I’m sorry Lou, I am. I just don’t know how to adjust to all of this, yeah? It’s not about you sleeping with men, I don’t care about that, but you lied to me for years, I don’t even know who you are!”

“I am the exact same person I was two days ago when you had no idea, Liam. Who I like doesn’t change who I am. Why does this affect you so much? You didn’t react like this when Harry came out.”

“Harry isn’t my best friend, Lou,” Liam whispers, looking down, and Louis feels terrible but all he can think is neither am I.

“I’m sorry that I kept you in the dark for so long, okay? I do. I wasn’t happy with the lies, you know? I was miserable. I spent the past six months feeling like shit, it was the worst time in my life and I couldn’t talk about it with anyone.”

“I’m sorry that you didn’t feel like you could trust me.”

“It’s not about that, Liam!” Louis snaps, “I get that I hurt you and I’m sorry about that, but this whole thing, it isn’t about you. It sucks that you got caught in the middle of it, but Harry and me and this whole thing, it is bigger than that. I’m happy for the first time in years; I feel free. I’m slowly winning battles that I’ve been fighting for years, Li, and I don’t have the energy to focus on how all of this affects you.”

“Okay,” is all Liam says, getting up from his seat, his face unreadable, “For the record, I am happy for you two. And I’m glad you can be who you want to be, now.”

Liam goes to the back of the bus, and Louis stays on the front, smoking a cigarette and trying not to let this get to him, and though his breathing gets a little shakier and his eyes burn a bit, he blames it on the smoke. He can’t help feeling bad about it, a mix of guilt and anger because despite the fact that his laddy image was all built up and not really him, he did spend a lot of time with Liam the past year and they did have a great time together, and as annoyed as Louis can be with Liam’s ignorance or him playing the victim card, he still loves Liam like a brother, and it stings that things between them are anything but ok.

When they get to their hotel, he jumps of the bus before Liam has come out from the back, and Patrick escorts him to his room, and won’t tell him where Harry is staying.

“You are aware that I can just call him and ask, aren’t you? Why don’t you just tell me?”

“I’m following orders, Louis, I’m sorry.”

Louis huffs, but lets him guide him to his own room, plopping down on the bed and waiting until Patrick leaves to take out his phone.

“They didn’t want to tell me your room number!” he exclaims, indignant, “Can you believe that?”

“I can, considering Magee just called me himself to ask me to keep my distance from you for the rest of the tour.”

“What the fuck?”

“Yeah—they’re not too happy with you, apparently.”

Louis sneaks into Harry’s room a little under an hour later, once their security is off for the night. He doesn’t think anyone would actively try to stop him from seeing Harry, but his heart still races when he rushes to the other side of the hallway and knocks on Harry’s door, and the feeling of unease doesn’t leave him until he’s back in bed, cuddled in Harry’s arms.

“I think it’s time we do something, don’t you think?”

 

*

They can’t seem to decide whether hiding or parading their relationship is the best way to go. They spend the next day in Belfast walking around the arena holding hands, being obnoxiously couple-y whenever Simon Jones or anyone else from PR is around,

But then Harry is pulled aside and asked to do an interview just him and Liam, and it ends up being extremely invasive and uncomfortable and the interviewer won’t stop implying that Harry is sleeping with all of his male friends, making a really snide comment about Nick that offends even Louis. The fans go wild on twitter, talking about the war between the boys and management, and it’s funny how they’ve thought that this was going on for years but finally, they are right.

They lie low for the next couple of days, saving most touches and kisses for the times they spend alone. Harry is on the phone with Jeff and Irving a lot, running all the options that they have thought by them and trying to figure out a way that Louis can come out without Modest ruining them.

Things with Liam stay awkward, but he keeps trying to make conversation with Louis, clearly working to make things better between them, and it doesn’t really erase what happened and Louis still feels uncomfortable around him more often than not, but it’s a start. By the time they finish the last show in Belfast, Louis is happy enough that he lets Liam pull him into a hug before Niall and Harry join them, and the four of them bow together, their arms still around each other.

*

Anne’s house is warm and welcoming, and she receives Louis with a tight embrace, pulling him into the house by the wrist whilst Harry gets groceries. It’s been well over a year since he’s been over, and he feels weird for a few moments, standing in the sitting room that used to feel like his second home back when the band first started and not really knowing what to do.

Anne seems to notice and offers him a cup of tea, sitting down in the kitchen with him and going on and on about how excited she is about their shows in Sheffield because most of Harry’s extended family will be there, having missed the Manchester show, and how perfect it is that Louis’ family will be there, too.

“I understand why our families stopped getting together the way we did,” she says, smiling at him, “but I can’t tell you how happy I am that those times are over and that I’ll get to have you and your mum and the girls over whenever we want.”

Louis takes her hand in his and squeezes, beaming at her. “Me too, Anne. Me, too.”

That night Harry takes him to Will’s house for drinks, and even though Louis knows everyone there already, Harry introduces him, emphasizing the word boyfriend when he does and swinging their hands back and forth like a little kid, a shit-eating grin on his face. Will congratulates him, Nick smiles at them and says that he doesn’t give a fuck but raises his glass to them before drinking, and Emma approaches Harry and hugs him tight, telling him how proud she is of him.

They get wasted together, playing dumb drinking games with Harry’s friends and letting people take pictures with them and not worrying about anything other than having a good time. It’s when everyone decides to go to a pub that they realize they can’t, that there’s no way to do that without pictures leaking.

They end up leaving Harry’s car there because they’re too drunk to drive, and they walk the twenty blocks back to Harry’s house holding hands, the night dark enough for them not to worry about anyone recognizing them.

Louis tackles Harry to the grass when they make it to Anne’s, laughing at how gracelessly he goes down before hovering over him and kissing him.

“I love you,” he says, nuzzling his nose into Harry’s neck. “I love you so fucking much.”

He blows Harry behind one of the bushes, giggling as Harry tries to pull him off, worried that they’ll get caught by Robin, who always wakes up in the middle of the night for a smoke.

They fall asleep in the wee hours of the morning, smelling like wet grass and dirt, and it’s then that Louis decides that he doesn’t care what happens. He doesn’t want to hide anymore.

*

It takes some planning. Irving calls them on their last day in Holmes Chapel and they spend a couple of hours figuring out the best way to do it. He tells them that there’s no way to guarantee that Modest! won’t fuck them over after that, that even though there’s no clause in their contracts forbidding Louis from coming out, there’s no way for him to do it with no risk of them bringing a lawsuit against him. Still, because of the album coming up, it’s unlikely that they’ll do anything to harm One Direction’s image until the break starts, and while Irving admits that it might be hard to clean things up afterwards and that they might not continue at the same level of success, he supports them doing what they want to do, and MSG Entertainment will do whatever they can to clean up their image once things are done.

It might be because Harry is really close to Jeff or because the Azoffs are like a second family to him, or maybe it’s just that Irving is a decent person who cares about his clients, but he lets Harry and Louis decide the way that they want to do it. He recommends they run it by Modest! before doing any sort of announcement, but Louis is so done with everything that he wants to fuck with them as much as he can, and despite his obvious disapproval, Irving doesn’t argue with him.

It’s Louis’ idea to do it through Nick, and it surprises Harry when he voices it, but Louis feels like he owes Nick after the little heart to heart they’d had in London. After all the shit that Simon Cowell pulled on him, blaming Nick for the bad ratings on X-Factor, Louis figures Nick will enjoy fucking with him a bit. He’d offered, anyway.

Harry gives him what’s probably the best blowjob of his life after they hang up the phone, and they have dinner with Anne and Robin before they have to leave for Sheffield. They tell Anne about their plan and she bursts into tears with a mouthful of pasta and then hugs Louis tight for so long that Harry has to separate them, claiming that he’s getting jealous.

They do it the following day, before they’re due at the venue. Niall invites Harry to some weird golf shop to check something out with him, and Louis rings Nick.

They pre-record it, because Louis doesn’t feel like doing it on air, too scared of saying the wrong thing from the pressure. He feels a little weird for doing this with Nick, considering their past, but Nick is nothing but great about it, making all the right comments and being supportive and sweet and not asking any questions about Harry or connecting the two of them at all, though, Louis knows that the second the interview airs, the fans will go crazy. There’s no way both Harry and him can be out without everyone assuming (quite correctly) that Larry Stylinson is real.

They keep the mentions of publicity stunts or fake girlfriends to a minimum, Nick asking as tastefully as possible what the deal with Briana and the baby is. Louis simply states that he’s not the father and that Briana is a good friend, which is a stretch, but he figures it will help ease the nasty rumours that are bound to surround her after the interview airs, and doesn’t bother with any details.

He’s shaking by the time they’re done. Nick congratulates him while still recording and then allows a few moments of silence for Louis to calm himself down before he speaks again.

“I have to say Tomlinson, you’re a lot braver than I thought, and definitely a lot braver than I am, doing what you just did.”

“Are we still using last names after I just gave you the exclusive on my coming out?”

Nick laughs before he replies. “Congratulations, Louis.”

“Thank you, Grimshaw,” Louis replies, giggling when he hears Nick huff. “And thanks for agreeing to do this with me.”

“Are you joking? We’re going to beat all the records tomorrow when this airs. This exclusive is going to make people stop giving me shit about losing listeners.”

Louis’ ears burn, and he’s glad that Nick can’t see him, because he’s sure he’s turning red, ashamed of the nasty comments he’d made about Nick in the past, and how he’d compared him to Chris Moyles, which he knows is a sensitive thing for Nick.

“Still, you know, thanks.” He doesn’t say for everything, because it’s too cheesy and Nick and him aren’t even friends, anyway, but he hopes it’s implied.

“I’m happy for you, you know. Finally making an honest man out of Harold. You guys are going to be great together.”

He blushes again, thanking Nick one last time before hanging up, worried that if they keep talking he’ll end up apologizing to him for everything, and he can’t lose his dignity like that just yet.

Harry comes back right before they have to leave, and Louis doesn’t say anything, but his face must be enough because Harry crowds him onto the bed, kissing him senseless until their phones start ringing because the cars are waiting for them.

“I’m so proud of you,” Harry breathes against his lips. “And I’m so happy for us.”

Louis kisses him one last time before pushing him off, making him fall on the floor and laughing at his outraged face as he walks towards the door.

“This is it, babe. We’re doing it.”

*

They don’t listen to the interview the next morning, turning their phones off and having slow, lazy sex instead. They’re aware that things are going to be chaos once their team finds out, so they choose to ignore everything and spend some peaceful time just the two of them.

Niall shows up at their room around ten, barging in with a shit-eating grin. He throws himself on the bed and gives Louis the longest hug.

“That was ace, Tommo,” he says. “I’m proud of ya.”

Harry turns his phone on again so Louis can talk to his mum, and then to Mark, and then Anne calls to congratulate him, too. He keeps his own off, not wanting to deal with any of the backlash just yet. He knows that he’s going to be pulled into meetings and will probably have to buy his way out of this.

They don’t see Liam the entire time they spend at the hotel. Zayn texts to congratulate them, even though the interview said nothing about him and Harry, and then Niall treats him to lunch, ordering food from some Greek place that leaves the entire room smelling like garlic.

Simon Jones is there when the cars pick them up, and Louis is expecting to be pulled aside, knows they’re bound to tell him off for doing what he did, but Simon simply shakes his head at him, muttering a, “You’ve really done it this time, Tomlinson,” as Louis walks past him.

There are paparazzi surrounding the hotel as they get into the cars. Harry keeps his distance from Louis, staying behind with Liam, who only just got there. Some of them shout nasty things at him, but Louis ignores it, offering them a smile and getting into the car while Niall flips them all off, calling them “bloody disgusting homophobes” before jumping in behind him.

It’s one of the rare times that they all ride the same car together, and Liam won’t take his eyes off of Louis, glaring at him with his mouth pressed into a thin line.

“Do you have anything you’d like to tell me, Liam?”

“Why did you do that, Louis? Do you ever fucking think about the consequences of your actions?”

It feels like a slap, and Louis recoils, his expression hardening. “Excuse me?”

“You didn’t even warn us! You just went for it, didn’t even run it by our team—did you know that I was on the phone all day trying to fix the mess you created?”

“I didn’t create any mess, Liam, I just told the truth, after years of fucking lying about who I am.”

“And right before the album comes out? Do you know how much this could fuck us over? Screw up sales?”

“Is that all you care about? Sales? You don’t give a fuck about your ‘best friend’s’ happiness?”

“Of course I care, Louis, but you didn’t need to pull something like this. You know it could ruin everything.”

Louis has to take a deep breath, feeling his hands ball into fists. He doesn’t even notice that Harry’s holding him until he tries to move towards Liam and feels the strong grip of Harry’s hands on his biceps.

“Did you even think about the band? What it would do to us?”

And that’s the thing. For years, Louis tried to do what was best for their careers, to keep the band going, thinking that One Direction was the most important thing in the world, and that he had to do anything in his power to protect it. He realizes now that he doesn’t really care anymore. He loves his band and his friends, but he’s tired of putting them before his own happiness. This thing with Harry, it’s bigger than all of them, bigger than One Direction, and given the choice, Louis would pick Harry over anything else.

“We’re going into a break, Liam. We’ve got two shows left and no one even knows what we’re going to do next.”

“You should have told us before you did it,” Liam insists.

“Okay, whatever, sorry that I didn’t tell you. It was just a thing that happened, and it has nothing to do with you, really.”

“It affects me.”

“Well, I’m sorry that you can only think about yourself, Liam, but I’m happy, and I don’t regret what I did.”

The car stops just as Louis finishes talking, and he jumps out, Niall following close behind.

He doesn’t spare a look at Liam whilst they’re getting dressed. Random members of their crew show up to congratulate Louis or just tell him that they’re happy for him, and that only feeds his anger, because it’s bullshit that everyone else in the world can be happy for him except for the person who considers himself Louis’ best friend.

He has to pretend everything is alright once they get on stage, but Niall and Harry both offer enough distractions that Louis doesn’t have to fake interactions with Liam as the night progresses. The fans are particularly loud, the audience bursting with rainbows, and they scream their loudest when he grabs one of the flags thrown on stage, normally Harry’s thing, and skips around to where Niall is standing to wrap it around his shoulders, right before Harry does his little speech about equal love and how One Direction loves everyone.

“And, you know,” he adds, right before the start of You & I, “today is a very special day, and we couldn’t be prouder of our mate Louis for what he did. Congratulations, Louis.”

The fans go wild, and Louis’ eyes fill with tears, and if he spends the next song staring at Harry with hearts in his eyes, he doesn’t think he can be blamed.

*

The morning of the last show is weird. Harry wakes Louis up by grinding against his back, kissing his neck while his hands sneak underneath his t-shirt. He lets Harry fuck him silently, and the air feels tight around them, not easing up even after they’ve both come.

Louis is still weird about the Liam thing. He knows he and Harry had talked after Louis had left the car, but Harry didn’t give him a lot of details when he told him, and Louis was in too much of a mood then to even care about anything that Harry could’ve said in Liam’s defence.

Still, since it’s the last show, they pop open a bottle of champagne before going on stage, and Louis toasts “to my best friends in the world” and doesn’t look away when Liam locks eyes with him in a silent apology. He offers Louis a tentative smile, and Louis finds himself smiling back.

It’s not much, but it’s a start.

They all hug before going on stage, laughing with wet eyes, and Louis only lets go of Harry’s hand right before he crosses the curtain and steps into the spotlight.

It might be their best show ever. All of their families are there, and so is Stan, and Nick, and Louis finds himself going back to their area, cracking jokes and making them appear on the big screen. He thanks Nick in front of everyone for letting him do the interview, and Nick turns so red he matches the sweater he’s wearing. Harry laughs so hard he trips over his own mic and falls on his arse.

He takes over Harry’s part in thanking the fans and gives a little speech right before their last song, thanking everyone for being so supportive, going on about how much it means to him be out, how he hopes that himself and Harry being out can help any of their fans that are in the closet. It’s the first time they’ve addressed the fact that they’re both gay, and even without any mention of them being together the fans go crazy, screaming so loud that the sound starts to saturate.

It doesn’t get particularly deep, because that’s not who Louis is, and anyway, there’s not too many ways to say, “being gay is hard and being closeted is even harder” or, “I never had a gay icon growing up so I’d be delighted to be yours,” and yet Louis realizes he’s crying by the time he’s done talking.

They close with “Best Song Ever,” and they’re all choked up as they finish the last verse, not even waiting for the music to end before falling into a group hug, their bodies mashed together as they hold each other as tightly as they can, their faces wet and their smiles larger than the sun. 

“Thank you so much everyone,” Harry says into the mic as they separate. “Tonight was the best way to end this tour. Thank you so much for coming, we hope you had a great time. We certainly did. It has been amazing. We are One Direction, have a good night.”

And with that they’re done. Niall exists the stage first, closely followed by Liam, Harry trailing a little behind them. Louis is the last one, and he turns around before he exists, blowing a kiss to the crowd and then turning back to Harry, who’s looking at him, and grabs his hand right before going behind the curtain.

They don’t stop to check the fans’ reaction, but the sound of their screams carries all the way backstage, and then they’re met with Liam and Niall, wearing matching grins, and they pull them into a hug once again.

Louis knows that it’s not over, that there will still be battles to fight and that things will be anything but easy. But right here, surrounded by the boys he loves the most, he can’t imagine his life getting any better.