“Are we done?” Louis asked, as he shut the door behind a shifty looking guy who’d smelt slightly like cabbage.
“Nope,” said Niall. “One more. Should be here any minute.”
Louis just groaned. They’d been doing flat viewings all day, it felt like, and Louis was over it. Cabbage man was the latest in a never-ending procession of people traipsing through their lovely flat and looking askance at the décor (in particular the giant poster of shirtless Channing Tatum above the toilet that Louis had got Liam for his birthday and then reappropriated for the communal good), asking difficult questions about the heating in winter (minimal) and completely failing Louis’s patented flatmate test (favourite Rory Gilmore love interest? A very revealing question, Louis thought, but everybody so far had just looked at him blankly and gone back to asking how busy the bathroom was in the mornings, or worse, they’d said Dean).
“The girl this morning, the second one, she was alright,” said Liam.
“The really quiet one? She looked at Niall like she was going to cut off bits of his hair while he was sleeping,” Louis said, outraged.
“Yeah, uh, I wasn’t sure about her,” said Niall.
“What about that guy who was training to be a chef? I bet he’d be great, cook us all sorts of meals,” Liam suggested, obstinately positive.
“He said Jess was his favourite one of Rory Gilmore’s boyfriends,” Louis said.
“You like Jess,” Liam said.
“The absolute last thing we need is another chain-smoking, leather-jacket-wearing book-reading twat,” Louis said, disgusted.
“Right,” said Liam. “I didn’t know we were anti-books now.”
“Doesn’t matter, he didn’t want to live here anyway,” Niall said.
“Oh,” Liam said, disappointed. “I thought he seemed keen.”
“Yeah, but you didn’t see the way he was looking at the mould on the bathroom ceiling,” Niall said darkly. The mould on the bathroom ceiling was a sore spot, because Niall hated it, but his dodgy knee prohibited him from scaling the bathroom counter to clean it off, and everyone else was too lazy to do it.
“Face it, Liam,” said Louis, with a dramatic sigh. “Nobody decent wants to live with us.”
“I’m sure that’s not true.”
The doorbell went. Louis went to get it. “You just want to believe that so you don’t have to feel mad at Zayn for leaving,” he said. He opened the door.
Harry Styles was on the doorstep.
“Hi,” said Harry Styles. “I’m Harry. I’ve come about the room?”
Louis slammed the door shut.
“Was that?” Liam said.
“Yes,” said Louis.
“Shit,” said Niall. “I didn’t know Lou, I swear. Set up the viewing over text.”
“Uhuh,” said Louis. He was still just standing in front of the closed door, staring.
“Is he still there?” asked Niall.
Liam gently pushed Louis to the side and looked through the peephole. “Yes,” he said. “He looks a bit confused.”
“Can’t just leave him out there,” Niall said. “It’s not very nice.”
“Well, you can’t show him around,” Louis said, panicked.
There was a tentative knock on the door.
“Just a minute!” Liam called out.
“Come on, Lou,” said Niall. “We’ll just quickly show him the flat. You don’t have to help.”
“It’s not like we’re going to offer him the room,” said Liam. Niall looked slightly wistful, like he wished they really could give Harry the room.
Louis looked from Liam to Niall and back again. They were both giving him pleading looks. “Fine,” he said. “But don’t expect me to stick around and make small talk.” He left, making for the sanctuary of Zayn’s bedroom.
Louis still thought of it as Zayn’s room, even though Louis had been living in it for weeks. He’d moved from his old room after Zayn had left, because it was smaller and the rent was less and Louis didn’t need the big room any more. It still had a bunch of Zayn’s stuff scattered through it, mixed in with Louis’s own mess of discarded clothes and dirty dishes.
Liam’s voice drifted down the hall as he let Harry into the flat. “Sorry about that, Louis’s feeling a bit unwell today,” he was saying.
Louis shut the door on Liam’s piss-poor excuses and threw himself onto the unmade bed. What the fuck. Why was Harry here?
For a room, apparently. Christ.
Louis took a deep breath and pulled out his phone. What the fuck is your brother doing at my flat viewing? he texted.
He got a call within seconds. It was Gemma.
“What do you mean, Harry’s at your flat?” she asked, sounding excited. “Does he remember?”
“Nope,” said Louis. “He turned up to look at our empty room. I thought maybe you sent him.”
“Oh,” she said, disappointed. “No. I didn’t even know he was looking for a flat. That little shit. I bet Mum doesn’t know either.”
“Hmm,” said Louis, picking at his fingernails.
“But it must mean something, him showing up like that.”
“I think it just means he saw our ad,” Louis said.
“No,” said Gemma. “I think it’s his subconscious. He must sort of remember even if he doesn’t really remember.”
“Like, something brought him there.”
“Yes,” said Louis, impatiently. “Probably the picture of the giant fucking wardrobe for hanging up his man blouses.”
“No,” said Gemma, obstinate. “This is a good sign.”
“If you say so,” said Louis. He was suddenly so tired.
“You should let him live with you,” said Gemma.
“What?” said Louis. He must have misheard.
“Like, you should let him take the room.”
“In what world would THAT be a good idea?” Louis said, horrified.
“Just hear me out, Louis —”
“We broke up, Gemma. We broke up and he moved out and then he went and got his head cracked open and now he doesn’t even remember we were ever together. How would him moving back in be a good idea?”
“You would have got back together,” said Gemma, and Louis had heard this hundreds of times, thousands of times, it felt like, and it didn’t get any easier to take.
“But we didn’t,” Louis said. “And now we can’t.”
“The doctor said he might remember,” Gemma said. “If he was around familiar things. Mum thinks that means he needs to stay with her forever, spend all day looking at old baby pictures and school photos. But he remembers all that perfectly. It’s living with you and your weird gang of lost boys that he doesn’t remember.”
“And you think the best way to jog his memory is some weird kind of full-emersion re-enactment?”
“It might be,” said Gemma. “It can’t hurt to try.”
Louis didn’t say anything to that, because it could. It could hurt a lot.
“Do you remember that weekend you guys came down to London? And we got really drunk and went wading in that fountain on the way back to my flat? And then Harry fell in?”
“Yes,” said Louis. He remembers everything. It doesn’t seem fair.
“All Harry’s memories of me now are like, kid stuff. Fighting in the backseat of the car and the time I broke his Gandalf figurine. Not, like, being adults and actually enjoying each other’s company.”
“You still fight in the backseat.”
There was a silence. Louis chewed on a hangnail and stared at the Bob Marley poster Zayn had left behind.
“Don’t you want him to remember?” Gemma said finally.
“Of course I do,” said Louis. He was mostly sure that was true. “I just don’t think I can help.”
“Right,” said Gemma, sadly. “That’s fair enough, I guess.” She hung up then, leaving Louis alone to lie on Zayn’s bed, staring at the ceiling and doing his best to tune out the sounds of Niall and Liam showing Harry around.
He didn’t have much luck. He could hear the low rumble of Harry’s voice appreciating Channing in the bathroom. Of course Harry would, Harry had helped Louis pick the poster out. Harry had fucking hung the poster, while Louis had sat on the edge of the bathtub and unhelpfully pointed it out it was crooked.
He heard Niall move the tour onto to the empty room, cheerily pointing out all its best features just like he had to everyone else that day, and Louis suddenly couldn’t bear to be hiding here in his room anymore. He pulled himself up off the bed and slipped into the other room.
“Nice big wardrobe,” Harry was saying, as Louis crossed the threshold.
Louis hadn’t really been in here in months. Even before Zayn had left he’d mostly been bunking in with one of the others, overwhelmed by how empty the room had seemed without Harry, how filled with ghosts it was.
Harry didn’t look, now, like he was having any such difficulties. He was looking around the room, appraising it, so Louis looked too. Gemma had come in and packed up most of the stuff that was definitely Harry’s and taken it away, but the detritus of a shared life together still lingered. Harry’s eyes were sliding off it all, like he’d never seen it before. Like the armchair in the corner wasn’t something he’d rescued off the side of the road and made Louis help carry home. Like most of the pictures on the walls weren’t his. Like it was just another room in another shitty flat, not the home he‘d built with Louis.
“There’s still a bunch of Louis’s crap, obviously,” said Liam. “But he’ll clear it out before anyone moves in. The bed and the other furniture can stay though, if you need it.”
“Yeah, that could work,” said Harry. “I’ve been living at home, I don’t have any of that stuff.”
Nobody seemed to have noticed Louis’s presence, propped up in the doorway. He cleared his throat. “You told your mother you’re moving out yet, Styles?”
Harry turned sharply to look at him. “Not yet,” he said slowly, looking confused, and a little wary. “I’m sorry, do I know you?”
“You could say that,” said Louis, his tone biting. Behind Harry, Niall was worrying his lip and Liam was doing his ‘behave, Louis’ face. Louis ignored them.
Because Harry Styles had left him, and then Harry Styles had forgotten him, and Louis was pretty furious about it, actually.
“I’m sorry,” said Harry. “I was in an accident, a few months back. I don’t remember lots of things.”
“I know,” said Louis. “We all fucking know.”
“You know?” said Harry, looking around the room.
“Well, yeah,” said Niall.
“It’s good to see you looking so well, Harry,” said Liam. “You were a bit banged up last time we saw you.”
Harry looked confused. “What?” he said.
“Christ,” said Louis. “Fuck this.” He turned and walked out, unable to spend another moment standing here like this was a normal flat viewing.
He starfished out on Zayn’s bed – his bed – and stared at the Bob Marley picture. He wished he had darts or something to throw at it. It wasn’t Bob’s fault, but Louis was itching to destroy something. Maybe Zayn had left behind something very valuable and important that Louis could tear to shreds. None of this would be happening if he hadn’t left.
There was a knock on the door. Louis knew it was Harry without even looking, knew his fucking knock.
“Sorry to bother you,” Harry said, and then paused like he was waiting for an invitation. He didn’t get one. Louis refused to break eye contact with Bob Marley.
“It’s just,” Harry continued awkwardly. “You seem mad at me? So I’m guessing I did something I don’t remember. And I thought maybe I could try apologising? For whatever it is?”
“You can try all you like mate,” Louis said. To Bob.
“Right,” said Harry slowly. “Uh, I’m very sorry that I’ve done something to upset you and I’m very sorry I don’t remember what it is. Um. Sorry, what was your name?”
Louis turned his head then, stopped looking at the wall to fix Harry with his most intimidating stare. “Louis,” he said, eyes unblinking.
Harry stared back at him, transfixed, and for a second it was like back then, when Harry hadn’t had eyes for anybody else. But then Harry blinked. “Jesus,” he said with a laugh. “You’re terrifying, you know that? I deeply regret whatever it was that I did to upset you, Louis.”
Louis was unimpressed. “Easy for you to say, now.”
Harry was chewing on his lip. “Hard to do a sincere apology for something you don’t remember. Wanna tell me about it?”
And well, Louis didn’t even know where to start with that one, so he started at the very beginning. “You asked me out,” he said. “And then you stood me up.”
It’s not the whole story, obviously. He’d left out the bit where Harry had had to rush off to see his sick grandma and been so worried he’d clean forgotten about his date with Louis. He’d left out the flowers Harry’d brought over when he remembered, and his painfully earnest apology. He’d left out their second date, where Harry had showed up, and all the ones after that. Two years of them. But Harry was frowning now, clearly upset at the idea he’d do something like that, and right now Louis wasn’t mature enough to think anything other than ‘ha! I made you feel bad’. Louis knew Harry had come in here thinking he could just charm away Louis’s anger, and Louis wanted him to know it wasn’t going to be that easy.
“Shit,” said Harry, voice wavering slightly. “I’m– god, I’m really sorry.” He sounded like he meant it now.
Louis just shrugged in response.
“Right,” said Harry. “The slamming the door in my face was totally justified. I better leave you alone.”
“See ya,” Louis said, doing his best to sound bored.
“Bye, Louis. Sorry again, about the thing. You have a lovely flat.” And then Harry was gone again, and Louis was taking deep breaths and trying his hardest not to cry.
Everyone was fucking subdued that evening, and Louis couldn’t bear it. It was X Factor night. X Factor night was sacred. They used to watch it together, the five of them, all crowded onto their couch. It wasn’t the same now, obviously, just the three of them, but the first episode last night had been fine. Nice even.
Tonight though, there was a weird tension in the air. Liam, who normally couldn’t sit still he got so excited, was as quiet as a mouse. Niall, too, was far from his usual cheery self, and spent the whole show fidgeting uncomfortably. Louis tried his best lighten the mood but nobody laughed when he complained again about the useless lot of potential flatmates they’d had in. Louis gave up, feeling surly and unappreciated.
He had a text from his mum. That girl’s got some pipes, it said. Good crop on this week. How’d the flat viewings go?
Hopeless, Louis replied. One guy smelt real bad. He didn’t tell her about Harry turning up.
“What’s wrong with you lot?” said Louis, when the X Factor was finished and the others had still barely said a word. “Anyone would think we’d had a visit from a ghost, not a curly haired twat with terrible fashion sense and a habit of walking out.”
“For fuck’s sake, Louis,” Niall said, sounding pissed off. “Can you not? He’s my friend and I actually fucking miss him. A lot.” He got up off the couch and stomped off.
There’d been a time, not that long ago, when Louis would have said that getting Niall mad enough to throw a strop was a feat beyond even him. These days Louis seemed to be capable of it semi-regularly.
Louis thought about going after him, but he wouldn’t know what to say. Instead he sunk deeper into the couch and let Liam gently pet his hair.
“You’re the only one left who can stand me,” he said.
“That’s not true,” said Liam. “Niall’s just a bit upset, is all. A bit shook up, I think.”
“What about you?” Louis asked. “How do you feel about all this?”
“Well,” Liam said, hesitant. “It was kind of nice, seeing Harry again.”
Louis tensed slightly, because no, it wasn’t, but Liam’s hand kept combing through his hair, calming him.
“Gemma wants us to let him move back in,” Louis said quietly.
The hand in his hair stilled. “Oh?”
“Yeah, thinks it will help him remember.”
“What do you think?” asked Liam.
“I think he’s not my problem any more.”
“That’s fair,” Liam said, but he was biting his lip.
“No it’s not,” said Louis. “None of this is fair.” He closed his eyes and tried not to think about it, any of it, but it didn’t work. “You miss him, don’t you?” he said.
“Yeah,” said Liam. His voice was soft, and sad, but he’d never ask Louis for this.
Louis stared at the ceiling and thought about what it had been like earlier, to watch Harry stand there, right in the rubble of their relationship and not even notice.
He thought about Niall, sunny, happy-go-lucky Niall who Louis loved like a brother. Niall had been so happy to see Harry, and so sad to see him go again. Louis thought anyone who made Niall sad was the scum of the earth. Louis was the scum of the earth, apparently.
And then there was Liam, sweet gentle Liam who’d been there for Louis when it had all fallen apart, who’d tried his best to help put Louis back together, even if it hadn’t worked quite as well as he’d liked. He’d never said anything about missing Harry, but of course he had. They’d been mates after all. Good ones, even.
Louis wasn’t the only one Harry forgot. Maybe he’d been a tiny bit selfish.
Louis sighed. Fucking hell. “Niall,” he shouted. “Call Harry and tell him he can have the room.”
“What?” said Niall, appearing in the doorway. “Really?” He sounded hesitant, like he couldn’t quite believe it. Like it was too good to be true.
“Yeah,” said Louis, “Go on.” Louis didn’t think he owed Harry anything, but Niall and Liam, on the other hand. He owed them a great deal.
Still. “It’s not going to work,” he muttered to Liam, as Niall scuttled off to make the call. “But we can give it a go.”
“You don’t have to do this,” Liam said carefully. “Like you said, he’s not your problem. You don’t have to move back in with your ex-boyfriend just on the off chance it helps him remember me and Niall.”
“Looks like I’m doing it anyway,” Louis said. “Another excellent decision that I definitely won’t regret.”
Everybody was always acting like Harry and Louis had been some epic love story, but the truth was things had been pretty shit for a while before Harry left. They’d just sort of drifted apart, was the problem. Harry’d started going on juice cleanses and he’d stopped thinking everything Louis did was hilarious and he’d made a bunch of new friends Louis couldn’t keep up with. When he’d first started hanging out with them he’d brought Louis along, but Louis couldn’t get through an evening with Nick fucking Grimshaw without making some kind of snarky comment that would piss Harry off. So he’d mostly started declining Harry’s invitations in favour of staying home to play fifa with Liam in his underwear. Only it turned out that pissed Harry off as well, and it was getting to a point where they hardly ever saw each other and when they did they were mad at each other. Harry hated conflict so he kept pretending things were all right, which Louis hated because things weren’t all right and he wanted to yell about it, but Harry hated yelling and when Louis did he’d just sort of shut down and stare off into the distance. It was a disaster, really. Finally they’d had the row to end all rows and Harry had packed his bag and buggered off home to his mum.
A week later Louis had got the call from Anne saying Harry had been in a car accident.
Louis hadn’t even hesitated; he’d immediately demanded Liam drive him down where Harry was, some hospital in the middle of fucking nowhere, Cheshire. They were broken up, sure, but Louis figured these were extenuating circumstances. If he were in a coma he’d want Harry there when he woke up. So Louis stayed by Harry’s hospital bed for three days, ignoring Liam’s attempts to check him into a motel room and get him to sleep or shower. But then Harry did wake up, and he didn’t have a fucking clue who Louis was.
Gemma and Anne had tried to get him to stay because they were good people who somehow didn’t resent him for the slow and painful unravelling of his relationship with Harry. They seemed to think perhaps everything could work out somehow. But as much as Louis might have wished that were so, it’s difficult to work out your relationship issues with someone who doesn’t remember you ever had a relationship. He let Liam take him back to Manchester.
Not long after that Zayn had left, got some artist fellowship thing in LA that he hadn’t even told Louis he was applying for, leaving just the three of them left in a home they’d built for five. Everything had disintegrated so quickly. Louis had been a mess, and now, months later, he was only just starting to feel like he could hold his head above water again.
Or he had been, at least, until Harry turned up on the bloody doorstep.
Louis got a concerned call from Harry’s mum two days later.
“I hear Harry’s moving back in with you,” she said carefully.
“Apparently,” said Louis.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“Don’t worry Anne, Liam still lives here. He’ll look after him.”
“I’m not exactly thrilled about Harry moving out again,” Anne said. “But he assures me he’s ready. It’s you I’m the most worried about in this arrangement, actually.”
“I’ll be fine,” said Louis, with an airy nonchalance that he did not feel.
“Louis, love,” Anne started, but Louis couldn’t deal with her motherly concern right now. If he wanted that he would’ve called his own mum, and he hadn’t, because he was sure she’d figure out in five seconds flat exactly how not fine he was about the whole thing.
“Honestly, Anne, it’s all right,” he said, before she could go any further. “Gemma said this might help and it’s the least I can do, really.”
“Well,” said Anne. She didn’t sound entirely convinced.
“Besides,” said Louis quickly. “Niall’s missed him.”
Anne sighed. “If you want to go along with this absurd scheme I guess I can’t stop you,” she said. “But, Louis… look after yourself, ok?”
“I’ll try,” said Louis, but it felt like an empty promise. He went to hang up, but then he remembered there was something he should probably double check. “Anne?” he asked, slightly hesitant. “Did you, um. Have you told him about me?”
“No.” said Anne. “No we haven’t. We didn’t really know what to say that wouldn’t have led to more questions we can’t answer.”
“Oh,” said Louis, relieved. “That’s, yeah, that’s good.” Liam had slipped into the room at some point and now was staring at him from across the room, eyebrows raised. Louis ignored him. “And he doesn’t remember me from the hospital?” Louis asked. He had been there when Harry woke up, after all, but Harry hadn’t shown any signs of recognition the other day.
“No,” said Anne gently, her voice still carrying an unbearable hint of motherly concern. “He was pretty out of it, love. He doesn’t remember much about just after he woke up, as far as I can tell.”
“Okay,” said Louis, letting out a deep breath. This was good, he told himself. This was all good news.
He finished his conversation with Anne and hung up. Liam was still looking at him from across the room, expectant.
“Are you really not going to tell him about you two?” he asked.
“No,” said Louis. “And you better not either.”
“Nope. You can tell him whatever the fuck you want about your own Harry Styles origin story but leave me out of it. If this ridiculous plan works and he remembers me then, whatever, but otherwise I see no reason why he needs to know.”
“No,” said Louis. He couldn’t begin to explain the stomach-turning dread he felt at the idea of someone sitting Harry down and trying to explain his history with Louis. “He doesn’t remember me. I am nothing to him, understand?”
Liam frowned, but he nodded.
Louis let out a deep breath. “Good.” He just– he couldn’t bear the idea of Harry becoming another person who knew but didn’t really get it, or Harry feeling any sense of obligation to feel things for Louis that weren’t there, that probably wouldn’t be there even if he did remember, because they fucking broke up.
The next thing Louis knew it was a week later and Liam and Niall were helping Harry lug his boxes up the stairs. Louis did not help. He hid in his room, desperate to avoid encountering Harry with a box of apparently-not-cherished-enough memories.
He managed to stay hiding for pretty much the entire week.
It was peaceful, alone in his room. Or that’s what Louis told himself. The reality was that Zayn’s room was tiny and pokey and got very little sunlight, which had suited Zayn fine but made Louis feel like he was turning into some kind of cave dweller. He spent most of his non-working hours buried in his duvet watching tv shows he’d seen hundreds of times before, subsisting almost entirely on pringles and cups of tea made after everyone else was in bed. He was climbing the fucking walls, but he’d managed to avoid Harry almost entirely.
Apparently that could only last so long, however, because on Friday evening Harry came looking for him.
“Hi,” he said, nervously peering around Louis’s bedroom door.
"Hi," said Louis, pausing his episode of The Office and directing his best what-the-fuck-do-you-want face at Harry.
“I bought beer and pizza,” Harry said. “To say thank you to you guys for letting me move in. It’s in the living room if you want some.”
"Beer?” said Louis. Harry hated beer.
“Yeah,” said Harry. “As far as I remember I hate beer, but I’m hoping I grew out of that. It’s what university’s for, isn’t it? Acquiring a taste for all the cheapest forms of alcohol?”
“I wouldn’t know, mate,” said Louis. “Never went.”
“Well, anyway. I thought it would be nice, the four of us. Pizza and beer, proper laddy,” Harry said, with a dimpled grin that was clearly supposed to be charming.
“Pass, thanks,” said Louis, turning back to his laptop and his crisps. He’d already blown his pringles budget for the week, so tonight he was slumming it with a tube of ‘mr potato potato snacks’, but everything was ok. Everything was ok. If he told himself it was true maybe it would be.
“Come on, Lou,” Harry said.
Louis’s head snapped back up. He stared at Harry for a beat, watching with satisfaction as discomfort grew visibly on Harry’s face. "Look, Harry," Louis said, once Harry’s winning smile had faded to something more hesitant. "You don't know me, but I know you and I know what you're doing."
Harry frowned. "What am I doing?"
"You're trying to charm me into liking you. It's not going to work."
Harry just raised his eyebrows. “You seem to know me quite well from a date I didn’t turn up to.”
Louis didn’t know how to answer that, so he just didn’t. There was a silent pause, while Harry continued to hover awkwardly in the doorway.
“Please, Louis,” he said, instead of just bloody leaving. “I know you don’t like me very much and you have good reasons, but if you keep hiding in here soon Niall and Liam are going to hate me too. Every time you come home and just disappear in here Liam does this face like a wounded puppy.”
Louis frowned. “I know the one,” he said, in order to stop Harry’s attempt at replicating it, which was disastrous.
“Niall cooked us all steak the other night, I’m pretty sure just to try and tempt you out of here and when you skipped dinner he was all, I don’t know. It was like the sun had gone away.”
Louis did feel bad about that one. He usually made a point of never missing Niall’s steak nights.
“Come on, Louis,” Harry wheedled. “Just one beer. If we’re going to be living together we’re going to have to learn to get along.”
“I disagree,” Louis said. “Not getting along with people is something at which I happen to excel.”
“I don’t doubt that,” said Harry.
Louis shot him an unimpressed look that was undermined by his stomach rumbling loudly. He sighed. “You’re lucky I’m fucking starving, Styles. Fine, take me to the pizza.”
“Yes!” said Harry, bounding out of his room and down the hall.
Louis crawled out of his duvet cocoon and reluctantly followed him, making a beeline for the box of beer on the kitchen counter as soon as he got to the living room.
“Louis!” said Liam in an isn’t-this-a-pleasant-surprise kind of voice. Louis glared at him. Then he grabbed a piece of pizza and stuffed about half of it into his mouth in one bite before throwing himself down on the couch next to Niall. He tried to glare at Niall too, but Niall didn’t look any less pleased to see him, just gave Louis a welcoming clap on the back and took his own piece of pizza.
Louis decided to change tack. “So Styles,” he said airily, as if he wasn’t at all bothered about being out here, eating dinner with his ex-boyfriend-slash-flatmate. “What brings you back to Manchester?”
Harry looked mildly taken aback at Louis addressing him so directly, but he chewed his pizza thoughtfully. “It’s a good question,” he said, causing Louis to groan internally. He’d thought it was a simple question, not one worthy of a Harry rumination. “I don’t really know?” Harry continued. “I just– I needed to get out of Holmes Chapel, really. I’m twenty-one years old and that town’s all I can remember at the moment, and I just thought I needed to experience something different, you know? Something new?”
“Makes sense,” said Liam.
Harry smiled at him. “Yeah,” he said. “I figured Manchester was as good a place as any, right? Close enough that my mum wouldn’t worry too much, and if I’d already lived here once I could probably do it again, even if I’ve forgotten my first go around. And it’s turned out great so far, I mean look! I’ve already stumbled on old friends!” He beamed at Liam and Niall, and tried to turn it on Louis, but Louis just looked blankly back at him, unimpressed.
Louis didn’t know exactly what Niall and Liam had told Harry, in the end. That they were his friends, obviously, but Louis didn’t think they’d told him quite how close they’d been. He didn’t care, as long as they kept him out of it.
Louis zoned out of the conversation for a while, staring dully at Harry but carefully tuning out his earnest babbling and Liam and Niall’s friendly encouragement. They’d had to shave his hair at the hospital, Louis remembered, and in the time since then it had grown to just about the length it had been when Louis first met him, short and curly. It was unnerving how much younger it made him look, so much more like that Harry. The Harry Louis had first fallen in love with.
Louis blinked. He shifted his attention to Liam, who was in the midst of telling Harry about his job as a car mechanic. “It’s not glamorous or exciting, but it’s good honest work and I like it,” he was saying.
“What about you, Louis?” Harry said. “What do you do?”
Louis finished chewing the pizza in his mouth and swallowed. “I run an after school care program for kids,” he said.
“You run it?” said Harry, sounding impressed.
“Yeah,” said Louis. “It’s not that hard, you just gotta make sure they don’t kill each other or themselves. I mostly just play football all afternoon.” Louis downplayed it, but he was pretty proud of managing to turn the neverending babysitting of his youth into an actual business. He even had staff. Two teenagers who he paid under the table to help make sandwiches and supervise arts and crafts, and to be honest, he didn’t make much more than them himself, but the kids loved him and his holiday program was always booked out. It was something he was actually good at.
“It’s super impressive,” said Liam proudly. “Louis’s so good with kids, he’s like supernanny or something.”
“I am not like supernanny,” said Louis. “I let the kids have fun, I don’t stick them on the naughty step all day.”
“Not one for discipline then, Louis?” said Harry. He sounded flirty. Louis ignored it.
“What about you, then?” he said. “Do you have a job or is ‘finding yourself’ a full-time occupation?”
Harry’s grin snapped away.
“You must be going back to uni, right?” said Niall.
“Er,” said Harry. “It’s complicated? Apparently I have two-thirds of a degree in religious studies, but I don’t remember any of it. If I want to finish it I’ve got to wait and see if any of it comes back to me or start over, so. I dunno, I’ve got a job in a bakery in town for the moment. I’ll figure it out eventually. Last I remember I was going to study Law, maybe I’ll do that.”
There was snort from Niall and a chuckle from Liam. Harry looked at them confused.
“Sorry mate,” said Liam. “It’s just. You hated law school.”
“You barely lasted the first semester,” said Niall. “Switched degrees first chance you got.”
Harry frowned. He looked at Louis, as if he was hoping Louis would disagree.
“Sorry love,” Louis said. The ‘love’ just slipped out. He decided to ignore it. “You hated it. But that’s a good thing, baby lawyers are awful.”
“Oh,” said Harry, clearly slightly confused. He gave a tiny shake of his head and smoothed away his frown. “Well, anyway, the main thing is I’ve spent the last few months in Holmes Chapel just waiting for my memories to come back and I’m over it. Time to make some new ones.”
“Well, we’re here to help,” said Niall, raising his beer bottle. “Cheers.”
“I’ll drink to that,” said Liam, tipping his own bottle to clink it against Niall’s.
“Cheers, guys,” said Harry grinning, raising his own bottle.
Liam gave Louis a pointed look. Louis rolled his eyes, but he reached in to clink his bottle against the other three. “Cheers,” he said. “To new memories and shit.” They all took a swig.
Harry pulled a face. “Nope,” he said, shaking his head. “Still hate beer.”
Louis gave up hiding in his room after that. It still wasn’t easy, being around Harry, and Louis didn’t exactly seek out his company. He still avoided being alone with him, but if Liam or Niall were there Louis forced himself not to run away.
It did mean that Louis was there to witness Liam and Niall rekindle their own friendships with Harry. That was what he’d signed up for, one of the main reasons he’d agreed to this whole thing, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt, watching it all play out in front of him up close and in high definition.
Niall threw himself into it with gusto, treating Harry exactly the same as he always had. If Harry seemed confused by Niall’s familiarity he didn’t show it, but then the difference between how Niall treated total strangers and his oldest friends was generally imperceptible anyway. It seemed to Louis like he was constantly walking in on the two of them giggling about something, falling over each other thanks to one of Harry’s terrible puns or making plans to go golfing on the weekend.
Liam was more hesitant, easing back into his friendship with Harry more slowly, with the occasional apprehensive glance in Louis’s direction. But Louis caught him smiling fondly at Harry when he thought Louis wasn’t looking, and Harry hadn’t been there two weeks before he was back to gently teasing Liam while Liam just grinned back at him, good natured and delighted.
Louis tried his best to bear it all with good grace, but it wasn’t easy. The way Harry seemed to instinctively snap back into old patterns with Liam and Niall even though he couldn’t remember them was unnerving. But he mostly seemed to have given up any hope of friendship with Louis, approaching him instead with wary confusion.
It was fine. It was to be expected really, after Louis had so determinedly repelled all Harry’s initial attempts to make nice. And Louis didn’t want to be friends with Harry, had never been the kind of guy who was good at being friends with an ex. So Louis did his best to hide his bitterness and bite back the worst of his snarky comments, smiled politely while Harry joked with Liam and Niall, but never let Harry get too close. It was fine.
Or it was, until Louis went to watch the X Factor on Saturday night and found Harry alone on the couch, Liam and Niall nowhere to be seen.
“Oh,” said Louis, frozen in the doorway. He’d forgotten Harry used to watch X-Factor. He’d mostly lost interest by the time they’d broken up.
“Hey,” said Harry. “Do you watch it too?” he said, nodding at the tv which was already playing the opening promos.
“Of course,” said Louis. “Best show there is.” He hesitated for a second before marching over and plonking himself down on the couch next to Harry. He could always watch it later on his laptop, but he’d told his mum he was watching it live and he already had three texts from her about it. Besides, he refused to let Harry scare him out of his own living room and spoil his evening.
They watched almost in complete silence. It was uncomfortably tense. The couch wasn’t big. Louis normally liked to spread himself out as much as possible, including over any other occupants, but tonight he shrank himself down and huddled into the arm to avoid any chance of accidentally brushing up against Harry. He had his phone clutched tightly in his hand and when it buzzed with a text Louis almost jumped in relief, desperate for something to distract him from the uncomfortable atmosphere in his living room.
He sent his mum at least twice as many texts as he normally would over the course of the episode. She didn’t question it, which Louis was thankful for, because he still hadn’t told her about Harry’s return. She just texted him back just as eagerly, which made Louis feel slightly guilty. He hadn’t been home in months.
Harry was pretending to be wholly focused on the tv screen, but he was chewing on his lip, and he kept flicking his eyes towards Louis nervously. It was weird, how easily Louis could still read him. Or not still, actually, because reading Harry had become near impossible towards the end of their relationship. How easily Louis could read Harry again, now; an unwanted return to form.
“Boyfriend?” asked Harry eventually, when Louis’s phone went off for the fifth time in as many minutes.
“Nah, my mum,” said Louis. “We used to watch together, when I lived at home. Now she just texts me the whole way through.”
“Oh,” said Harry, sounding surprised. “That’s really sweet.”
Louis just scowled at him. Harry had always teased him about being a mummy’s boy, like he fucking wasn’t one himself. Louis focused on the girl singing on the screen in front of them. She was good, Louis thought. Nervous clearly, but she had a beautiful voice.
“So who are your mum’s top picks so far?” asked Harry.
“She liked the middle-aged woman who sang Adele and the young bloke who did Rihanna,” said Louis, slightly distractedly. “No, you twat!” he yelled at the tv, where the girl had already got two nos and it looked like Simon Cowell was about to give her a third. “She was great!”
“You take this pretty seriously huh?” said Harry, blinking at Louis.
Louis looked up from where he was texting what a fucking outrage ! to his mum. “Mate,” he said. “This is only the beginning.”
Harry grinned slowly. “Well,” he said. “I look forward to the rest of it then.”
Louis looked at him, taken aback. He hadn’t thought about the possibility that this would become a regular thing. At least Liam and Niall would be here the rest of the time.
They better be. Louis wasn’t doing this twice a week, it was too stressful.
Louis breathed a sigh of relief when he found that Liam and Niall were indeed around for the next episode. He quickly claimed the best spot on the couch, sprawling imperiously across it and leaving only a silver of room for Niall and his gammy knee. Liam rolled his eyes good-naturedly and sat on the floor. Harry joined him, ending up almost directly in front of Louis, so close Louis could have reached out and run his hands through Harry’s curls if he’d wanted. He didn’t.
Luckily, it wasn’t possible for there to be any awkward silences this time round because Liam provided an endless, enthusiastic commentary for every single audition, same as he always did. Niall and Louis were used to it, so Niall just responded with the occasional “right you are, Payno,” while Louis disagreed with half of what Liam said, just on principle. Harry seemed slightly startled at first, clearly not expecting this excited, eager version of Liam who just would not fucking shut up, but he took it in his stride.
Harry kept shooting sly looks at Louis, seeming to think that their hour alone together the night before meant they’d turned a corner in their relationship. Louis carefully ignored it, choosing instead to focus on explaining to his mum why she was wrong about the guy she hadn’t thought should make it through, and occasionally kicking Liam, because Liam was there and he could. Liam kept letting out a little huff every time Louis did it, but he’d yet to actually ask Louis to stop. It was reassuringly normal, to the point where Louis found himself actually relaxing for the first time since Harry had moved back in.
Look at me, he thought, I’m coping. Like a grown up. The he kicked Liam again.
Everything was fine.
A week later though, Liam and Niall were nowhere to be seen and Louis was once again faced with the prospect of watching his favourite show alone with Harry.
Where are you? He texted them both. It’s X Factor.
I’m watching at Soph’s said Liam. Ugh, thought Louis. Sophia was lovely and Louis was glad Liam was happy, but he’d found himself rather unimpressed with other people’s relationships lately. Funny that.
Pub quiz with the lads!! said Niall. Louis groaned. He’d forgotten Niall had signed up for that stupid pub quiz tournament with his gaggle of Irish friends. He’d tried to talk Louis into joining too but Louis had better things to do then pay money to get the names of 80s sitcom characters wrong.
Like watch the X Factor with his ex-boyfriend, apparently.
Louis stomped into the living room, where, sure enough, Harry was already on the sofa. Louis sat down next to him, this time refusing to hunch into the arm or perch delicately on the edge. He didn’t sprawl the way he normally would, still leaving ample room between them, but he refused to be uncomfortable.
“Hey,” said Harry, friendly.
Louis just grunted irritably in response. He’d been in a bad mood even before he’d realised that Liam and Niall had abandoned him again on X-Factor night. But Louis loved this show for a reason, and as the first audition started he felt his bad mood start to lift slightly, despite the uneasy silence between himself and Harry.
When the first ad break came he jumped up and headed for the fridge. “Beer?” he asked Harry over his shoulder. Alcohol was definitely the way through this.
“Uh,” said Harry, pulling a face.
Louis looked at him, eyebrows raised. “You know, hardly anyone likes beer the first time they try it,” he said. “You just gotta get used to it and next thing you know you’ll be crying out for one at the end of a hard day.”
“Like blue cheese,” said Harry, nodding.
It was such a ridiculous Harry non sequitur that it startled a laugh out of Louis. “No, Harry, not like blue cheese,” he said. “That shit is always gross.” He peered into the fridge. “What do you drink then, if you don’t drink beer? God, you’ve probably regressed to the vodka and lemonade stage haven’t you?”
“The last thing I remember drinking before the accident is a box of smirnoff ice that a friend’s older brother bought us,” said Harry. “So yeah, pretty much.”
“That is exactly why you learn to like beer,” said Louis. “To be saved the indignity of drinking smirnoff ice.” He rummaged in the kitchen cupboard that acted as the flat liquor cabinet. “I’ve got gin,” he said doubtfully, “but nothing to mix it with.” The gin was probably Harry’s, come to think of it. Louis couldn’t imagine anyone else buying it.
“Mother’s ruin,” said Harry. Yup, Louis thought, rolling his eyes. Definitely Harry’s.
“Tequila? Probably a bit much for a night in watching X-Factor though.” Also the last time Louis had drunk his tequila Niall had been pretty pissed off. “Or… I think this is crème de menthe?” he said, swishing a mysterious green liquid in a jam jar.
“Absinthe,” suggested Harry, looking over at it. “No, midori. Liam seems like the type.”
“Midori is delicious,” said Louis, defending Liam’s honour.
“Just get me a beer,” said Harry. “It’s probably time I became a man.”
Louis looked at him, surprised. Harry really hated beer. Harry was clearly trying to impress him. Louis should probably just get him some juice or something. But it had been such a long time since Harry had cared about impressing him. Louis grinned. “Good lad,” he said, and he grabbed a second beer.
He sat back on the couch and handed it over. The X Factor came back on and they slipped back into silence. It was awkward again, suddenly. Louis tried to concentrate on the tv in front of him and the messages on his phone, but it was hard. Out of the corner of his eye could see Harry fidgeting, trying not to wince with each sip of his drink.
Christ. Louis wasn’t prepared to sit through this excruciating tension every time his favourite show came on. He nudged Harry gently with his foot. “Oi,” he said.
Harry looked at him, startled.
“Who’s your favourite so far then?”
“Oh,” said Harry. “Um. I like those girls? The group. With the sequins? And that guy. You know. With the hair?” Harry gestured to his head vaguely.
“Right,” said Louis. “Can see you’ve really worked on your communication skills.”
“Nothing,” said Louis. “Don’t worry. My mum liked those girls too. Hair guy looked like a bit of a twat though if you ask me.”
“He had a really nice voice,” Harry pouted.
“Whatever,” Louis said, dismissively. “That woman who did ‘If I were a Boy’s the best tonight, I reckon.”
“Can’t go wrong with Beyoncé,” Harry said, smiling at him.
“You can,” Louis said, because being overambitious on your audition piece was a dangerous game, and a mediocre Beyoncé performance was one of the worst sins you could commit, but he gave Harry a half smile in return, and this time when they slipped back into silence it was nowhere near as awkward.
It happened again, a week later. This time Louis didn’t have the energy to get worked up about it, just sighed and dropped down next to Harry.
“Budge up, lad,” he said, wriggling until there was ample room for his arse.
Harry dutifully moved down the sofa. “Hey,” he said. “Bootcamp today, right?”
“Yep,” said Louis. “I hope they make them dance again, I love it when they have to dance.”
They settled in. Disappointingly it didn’t look like there was going to be any dancing. How dull, Louis thought.
“Well, this is rubbish,” he said, when the ads came on. “They spend the whole competition singing, why can’t they dance for a bit? Give them a real challenge.”
“You just want to watch them suffer,” Harry said.
“Yeah,” said Louis. “It’s reality tv, it’s the whole point innit?” He got up and wandered over to the kitchen to stick the kettle on. “Cuppa?” he asked Harry.
“Yes please,” said Harry. “I bought some herbal stuff the other day? It should be in the cupboard.”
“Gross,” said Louis, but he found the box and pulled it out. “Peppermint and nettle? Why on earth would you want that?”
“I don’t actually know,” Harry admitted. “I was in the supermarket and I saw it and I just... wanted it? I dunno. I don’t remember ever having it before but it was calling to me, so I thought I’d get it and try it.”
“It was calling to you?” Louis said.
“Yeah,” said Harry, sounding defensive. “It’s happened a couple of times, actually, biscuits I haven’t tried before, new crisp flavours, exotic fruits. They’ve all been delicious. Gemma said the biscuits were definitely ones I liked before the accident, so I think that’s what it is, like a weird memory thing.”
“What, like, all the food you developed a taste for in the time you can’t remember you’re just magically drawn to?” The kettle clicked off and Louis reached for it.
“Basically,” said Harry. “It’s like, my subconscious or something.”
“Oh,” said Louis, pouring water into the pair of mugs he’d already got lined up on the counter. “What’s it like?” he asked, setting the kettle down and giving in to his curiosity, against his better judgement. “Having amnesia?”
Harry shrugged. “I dunno,” he said. “It doesn’t actually bother me as much as it bothers other people, I think. Like, it’s weird that there’s this bit of my life just kinda missing from my brain, but like. You can’t miss what you don’t remember having, right?”
Louis nodded. His mouth felt weirdly dry.
Harry continued. “But like, it definitely makes my sister sad, because apparently there are all these cool things we did together, and I don’t remember them at all. I think Niall and Liam feel the same sometimes. My mum, well, she’s just worried about me in general, I think. I’m pretty sure she’s actually relieved I can’t remember how to drive, to be honest. I almost died, apparently, and she’s still a bit shook up about it.”
Louis shuddered. He didn’t need any reminding of that particular fact. If there was anything he could erase from his own memory it would probably be the terror of thinking Harry might die. He concentrated on carefully checking the best before date on the milk. “Fair enough,” he said flatly.
“Yeah,” said Harry. “I mean that part’s probably the worst of it right? But I was unconscious obviously. Didn’t wake up until they’d already decided I was going to be ok.”
“But the forgetting,” Louis said, changing the subject away anything to do with hospital rooms, the smell of antiseptic and the slow, endless beeping of Harry’s monitors. “You’re ok with it?”
“Mostly, yeah,” said Harry, accepting the mug Louis handed him and turning back to the tv. Louis settled down beside him with his own cup and wondered if that was true, or if this Harry was more guarded than Louis thought. Admittedly Louis hadn’t done a lot, over the last couple of weeks, to earn Harry’s confidence.
They watched in silence for a bit, sipping their tea.
After a while Harry said, “I mean, it is kind of weird.”
“Yeah?” said Louis, trying not to sound too interested.
“There are like, all these things I don’t really know about myself,” Harry said.
“Like what?” asked Louis.
Harry shrugged, gesturing towards himself. “All these tattoos, for one. They’re all right, you know, I like them, but I have no idea why I got them. I don’t know what they mean.”
“I’m pretty sure most of them don’t mean anything, mate,” Louis said, looking meaningfully at the doodles littering Harry’s bare arms.
“Yeah, but,” Harry said, pulling the bottom of his tshirt up to expose his bare midriff. “I have a giant butterfly on my stomach and I don’t know why.”
“Put it away Styles,” said Louis, rolling his eyes. “That one’s easy. Butterflies in your tummy. It’s a pun.”
Harry’s eyes widened. “I’m a genius,” he said, awed.
“You’re really not,” said Louis.
“There’s the law school thing too,” said Harry. “I’ve wanted to study law ever since I saw Legally Blonde at my sister’s twelfth birthday sleepover. But it turns out I hated it? And like, Niall and Liam are great but it’s weird having someone you don’t know that well, or at least you don’t think you know that well, tell you’re wrong about you think how you feel about something. Even you knew I didn’t like it somehow, and I’m just some guy that stood you up.” Harry looked over at Louis. “That’s another thing too. I never thought I was the kind of person who would stand a date up.”
“Harry,” said Louis, feeling guilty, but Harry was still going.
“My mother even had to tell me I’m gay,” he said mournfully.
“Well not exactly,” said Harry. “She was just showing me a bunch of pictures from school. And it’s not like I didn’t know I thought Dan Lowry was good looking, I just hadn’t quite realised that meant I wanted to take him to prom.”
Louis couldn’t help it; he laughed. “Oh Harry,” he said.
Harry was pouting. “It’s not funny. Dan’s well fit, I wish I remembered prom. I even ran into him in the pub in Holmes Chapel a couple of months ago and dragged him off to the loos to see if it brought back any memories but,” he shrugged, “nothing.”
“Of course you did,” said Louis.
“He did tell me that it was ‘under the sea’ themed and I spent the whole time making fish puns, which rings true.”
“Well that’s why you didn’t spark any memories. Doubt you got to spend much time in the loos at prom if you didn’t stop making fish puns.”
“Maybe,” said Harry, with a laugh. “It was hot, though. What we did in the loos. Any lingering doubts about the gay thing disappeared.”
“Did you have doubts?” Louis asked, curious. The Harry he knew had always been very secure in his sexuality. He hadn’t defined himself as strictly gay either, but Louis figured that was something best left for Harry to sort out on his own.
“Not really. I saw the pictures of prom and thought, you know, ‘that makes sense’. It might have been nice to have figured it out for myself though. Be the one to tell my mum instead of the other way round. I don’t even remember my own coming out, isn’t that supposed to be a crucial character building moment in a gay man’s life?”
“Nah, coming out’s overrated,” said Louis. “I was too scared to do it properly, I just let my mum catch me snogging a boy on the sofa.”
“Really?” asked Harry.
“Yeah,” said Louis. “’Course I didn’t intend for every single one of my sisters to be with her at the time, that got a bit dicey. Got the I Love You No Matter What talk and the Always Use a Condom talk but also the Appropriate Behaviour in Communal Areas lecture, which was fun.”
Harry laughed, seemingly delighted by young Louis’s indiscretion, and Louis found himself preening slightly. It felt nice to make Harry laugh again.
But it wasn’t real, Louis reminded himself. If Harry seemed to like him now, it was only because he didn’t know.
It became a routine. Somehow, Liam and Niall were almost always out on X Factor nights. Louis would suspect a conspiracy but he knew from experience that the two of them were both terrible at subterfuge, so he was forced to conclude it was probably just coincidence. Either way, Harry and Louis were left alone to watch the X Factor at least once, if not twice a week.
It got easier. By Judge’s Houses the awkwardness between them was almost completely gone, the gap between them on the sofa had shrunk to mere inches, and Louis’s resentment at Harry’s presence had all but evaporated. It was hard to be angry at someone who didn’t remember what they’d done, and, Louis realised, it was easier to get along with someone who’d forgotten their private catalogue of Louis’s many flaws. This Harry was open in his admiration of Louis and unsubtle in his desire for Louis’s approval in a way he hadn’t been in a very long time, and it was hard to hate him for it.
It was a bit odd, though, that Harry was content to just sit on the couch and watch tv with Louis instead of going out so many weekends in a row.
“In on a Saturday again, Harry?” Louis asked, finally, the forth or fifth week he found Harry on the couch at X Factor time.
“Couldn’t miss X Factor. Besides,” said Harry, sounding slightly sheepish. “I don’t really have any other place to be?”
Louis tucked himself into the other side of the couch and frowned at him, confused. He’d never know Harry to not have an offer on a Saturday night; that was just the kind of guy he was.
“I don’t really have many friends,” admitted Harry, in a rush, face slightly pink. “Like, all the people I remember as my friends have moved on, like, literally, they’re at university or whatever all over the country. Apparently I’d made new ones but obviously I don’t remember them and they haven’t exactly been turning up on my doorstep with get well cards.”
“You’ve got Liam and Niall,” said Louis.
“Yeah,” said Harry, “but only because I stumbled on them by accident.” He didn’t sound bitter, because Harry didn’t really do bitter, but he did sound sad.
Louis didn’t really know what to say to that. He didn’t know exactly why Liam and Niall hadn’t seen Harry since the accident, and he hadn’t asked, in case it had something to do with him. It probably wasn’t about him, or at least not entirely, the whole thing was a complicated mess, but Louis had known he couldn’t ask Liam and Niall to not see Harry but he didn’t really want them too either, not without him. It had seemed easier to just not get involved.
“It’s some complicated shit, man,” is what he settled on. “Like, it must be weird to have your friend just completely forget you exist, right?” he said, like it was just something he’d thought about and not something he’d experienced in torturous first hand. “They were probably confused, and they didn’t want to confuse you.”
“I guess,” said Harry, chewing his lip.
“I know they were bloody psyched when you showed up here,” said Louis. “Should’ve seen the grin on Niall, could’ve powered half of Manchester I reckon.”
It earned him a weak smile from Harry. They watched the first segment in companionable silence.
“Louis,” said Harry after a while, sounding ponderous. “How did me and you meet?”
“Oh,” said Louis. An involuntary smile crept onto his face. “You came to one of my footie matches. Me and Liam and Niall were on a team, just a friendly after work league. You came to watch Niall play and spent the whole time ogling my thighs.”
“That doesn’t sound like me,” said Harry, but he was smirking.
“Oh you did,” Louis said. “Shameless it was. So when the game ended I came up to you and said ‘Are you going to ask me out then?’ and you blushed bright pink and said, ‘All right.’”
Harry laughed, a loud guffaw. Louis smiled at him. It was a nice memory, that, whatever came after.
“We can have a party if you want,” Louis said in the next ad break. “Niall knows most of your old mates.” He didn’t add that he knew even more, and that most of them probably didn’t think much of Louis these days. “We can invite them round, let you to get them to know them again. We can make everyone who comes bring a fun fact about you to help you on your quest for self-discovery.”
“That sounds nice,” said Harry.
Louis gave him a grin and got a genuine smile in return. It shouldn’t feel as good as it did. “Right,” he said, turning back to the telly. “Sorted. Now, how rubbish is this guy?”
Liam and Niall thought a party was a great idea.
“We should throw a proper rager,” said Liam. “Get ruckus. Like you used to all the time. Recreate all the parties he doesn’t remember.”
“What, like, play terrible dubstep and spill beer everywhere and get some poor sod to vom on his shoes?” said Louis.
“No vomit!” said Niall. “But we could have beer pong.”
“Yes!” said Liam. “Good one, Niall.”
“You can’t throw a rager without being at least prepared for the possibility of vomit Niall,” said Louis.
“My friends can hold their booze, Louis,” said Niall.
“Poor Stan, he’s never going to live that down,” Louis said, shaking his head.
“I’ll get some sausages too,” Niall said, thoughtfully. “Get the barbeque out.”
“That sounds nice,” said Harry.
“It’s supposed to rain every day next week,” Louis said.
Louis was definitely having second thoughts. It was true he used quite enjoy throwing big parties for all his friends, revelling in his role as lord of misrule. Now, though, the whole thing seemed vaguely exhausting, and he’d realised that maybe a hoard of people plus booze was not a good recipe for keeping the history of his own relationship with Harry quiet.
But it was too late now. The others were too excited, and once Liam had set his heart on something it was very hard to dissuade him without feeling like a complete arsehole. The best Louis could do was to send every guest an intimidating message to make sure they didn’t say anything to Harry. Then he got them a keg, because if they were going to do this they were going to do it right.
Which is how the next Saturday night Louis found himself not watching X Factor, but clearing the flat for a party. The day had turned out grey and overcast, but not actually raining, so Niall had fired up the barbeque. They’d rearranged all the furniture and hid the breakables (Niall and Harry’s weird assortment of knick-knacks mostly, but also Liam’s boxing trophy and Louis’s favourite mug) in the hall cupboard. Dedicated as they apparently were to recreating every student party cliché Harry might conceivably have missed, Niall had made jello shots, slapping Louis’s hand away every time Louis tried to subtly add more vodka to the mix – “you know the jelly won’t set if you put too much in Louis, you always do this” – and Liam had set up a table for beer pong.
Now it was almost time for people to start turning up, and Niall was in the kitchen marinating something, while Liam was setting out bowls of crisps. Louis was lounging, bored. Harry was dicking about on his computer, trying to make a party playlist.
“How about,” he said, in that slow, considered way he had, “we just play songs from five years ago? I honestly don’t know half the shit I’ve go on here.”
“Nope,” said Louis, barging over and grabbing the computer. “This is a ‘Harry catches up’ party. We’re only playing songs from the last five years.” He opened up spotify and found a ‘hits of 2012’ playlist. He pressed play and the sound of Carly Rae Jepsen perving on her neighbour filled the room. Louis grinned at Harry and turned it right up.
I threw a wish in the well, don’t look to me I’ll never tell…
Harry just looked puzzled, so Louis started to dance.
…pennies and dimes for a kiss…
He did a few of his best Danny Zuko moves, jumping about, hips swaying wildly.
…ripped jeans, skin was showing…
He shimmied over to Niall in the kitchen. “Hey, I just met you,” he crooned in Niall’s ear, sidling up behind him, “and this is crazy, but here’s my number –”
“So call me maybe!” Niall sung, stepping back from the kitchen counter, laughing, to dance with Louis.
“It’s hard to look right, at you baby,” Liam joined in from the other side of the room, belting the chorus and aggressively pumping his fist in the air. The three of them all started to dance closer to Harry – all the other boys try to chase me – till they were surrounding him on the couch.
“Before you came into my life I missed you so bad, I missed you so bad,” Liam sung, reaching out a dramatic hand in Harry’s direction.
Harry just looked at them like they were nuts. “I don’t understand what’s happening,” he said.
“Not triggering any memories?” Liam asked, still dancing. Harry shook his head.
“You sure?” said Louis. “No major life events happened to this song? This wasn’t the music you lost your virginity to in the back seat of your boyfriend’s car?” He added a couple of hip thrusts to his dance routine. Everything was still terrible, mostly, but right then Louis felt as light as air.
…I missed you so so bad…
“I hope not,” said Harry. “I’ve got a bad back, I shouldn’t be having sex in a car.” His eyes were tracking the movement of Louis’s body closely. Louis felt himself flush slightly. It shouldn’t really be a surprise that Harry was attracted to Louis, but he’d forgotten how unsubtle Harry used to be about it.
“What about the song you dance naked in the rain to?” said Niall with a shimmy. “Could it be that?”
“Why am I dancing naked in the rain?” said Harry. “And where is the music coming from in this scenario? Is my boyfriend there, playing it from his car?”
“He’s got a boombox,” suggested Louis, “and a lawn mower.”
“I’m not missing memories from 1989,” said Harry.
Carly Rae Jepsen faded out with one last call me maybe and was replaced by Frank Ocean. Louis hummed along. “Come on,” he said. “People will be here soon, let’s do a shot.”
They crowded round the kitchen counter and Louis poured them all a shot of vodka.
“To making new memories,” said Liam, and this time Louis was too happy to roll his eyes. They cheersed, and downed their shots, each pulling a slightly disgusted face. Then the doorbell rang, just as the music switched to ‘212’.
“Right,” said Louis. “Let’s do this.”
It wasn’t long before their flat was filled with people, all their shared friends plus a weird assortment whichever of Harry’s forgotten mates they’d been able to get in touch with. Louis had felt a bit awkward about reaching out to people who only knew him as Harry’s boyfriend, so he’d mostly left the guest list to Liam and Niall. They’d done an impressive job, and the party was a mass of people Harry had loved, people Louis was certain he’d quickly learn to love again.
There was a small, unpleasant part of Louis that wanted to kick them all out and shut the doors, so that he could keep this version of Harry – the version that somehow liked Louis best – all to himself for a little bit longer. It was an ugly part of him, Louis knew, the part that wanted to blame Harry for moving on and replacing him. But Louis wasn’t actually a complete dickhead, and he knew that, in reality, the forces that drove them apart in the end were more complicated than that, so he did his best to tamp it down and enjoy the party.
And he was doing a pretty good job until Nick Grimshaw showed up. When he spotted him Louis narrowed his eyes and immediately strode over to where Nick was chatting to James near the door.
“Oh, hello,” said Nick. “Is there a reason you’re playing Adele from three years ago? I mean I love it, obviously, but it’s an odd party pick, I would’ve thought.”
“Who the fuck invited you?” Louis demanded, ignoring the fact that, unfortunately, his randomly selected spotify playlist had indeed switched to an Adele song that was somewhat bringing the mood down.
“Uh, Liam?” said Nick, nonplussed.
Louis grabbed Nick and dragged him through to his bedroom.
“Oof, calm down mate, if you wanted to get me alone you only needed to ask,” Nick said, with a waggle of his eyebrows.
Louis immediately dropped Nick’s arm where he had it clutched with both hands. “Never in a million years,” he said.
“Ouch,” said Nick. “What do you want with me then?”
“I don’t know what Liam said to you,” said Louis, “but I need to make absolutely clear that you’re not going to say anything to Harry about me and him.”
“Relax, tiger,” said Nick. “Liam told me all about your little charade. I can’t believe you’re just pretending you never met. You were together for years.”
“I’m not pretending we never met. I told him about our first date,” Louis said, arms crossed.
“The one where he didn’t show because his nan was dying? Christ, he felt terrible about that at the time, you know he did! You’re letting Harry Styles think he’s the kind of person who stands people up? You’re gonna give him such a complex.”
Louis glared at Nick, because Nick was right and he hated it when Nick was right. Louis had been mad when he’d told Harry that story and he’d long since regretted it, but it was too late now.
“What are you going to do if he does remember?” Nick continued. “Isn’t that the whole point of this thing? He’ll be pretty mad once he figures out you lied to him. Or don’t you care, seeing as he’s already dumped you?”
Louis flinched. He was used to exchanging a few pointed barbs with Nick, but that one stung more than a little bit.
“Shit,” Nick said, expression softening. “Sorry, that was mean. Shit, I’m really sorry. I haven’t seen him since you know…” He waved his hands around. “The accident. I’m bricking it, to be honest. But it’s no excuse for being a dick.”
Louis stared hard at Nick, but Nick did genuinely seem to be quite agitated. “It’s fine,” he muttered.
“It’s not,” said Nick, still looking contrite. “I didn’t mean it. I was pretty sure he was going to get back together with you anyway.”
“You thought that?” said Louis, surprised. A lot of people had said that, but Louis never expected Nick to be one of them. “I thought you’d be glad to see the back of me, shite boyfriend that I was.”
“Oh love,” said Nick. He was looking pitying, so Louis glared at him. The last thing he wanted was Nick’s pity. Nick hastily corrected his expression. “You weren’t a shit boyfriend, believe me,” he said. “I know all about being a shit boyfriend. One time I literally forgot I had a boyfriend and went to Majorca for a week without telling him.”
“I did, so if you want to claim the shitty boyfriend title you’ll have to get in line. You loved him and he loved you and you always told each other when you were leaving town, so. You’re good.”
“Doesn’t really matter now,” said Louis.
“Guess not,” said Nick. He ran a hand through his ridiculous pile of hair. “What’s he like?” he asked, sounding nervous.
Louis shrugged. “He’s Harry,” he said. “He’s just a bit jumbled up. Like someone’s pulled him apart and put him back together in the wrong order.”
“That doesn’t sound great,” said Nick.
“I dunno,” said Louis. “It’s weird. He’s about a hundred times more open about stuff then’s he’s been in years. To me, anyway.” Harry probably never stopped telling Nick things. He’d probably been going round all the time to tell Nick everything Louis was fucking up. Louis quickly stopped that train of thought, and continued. “He laughs at my jokes. He eats cheap pizza and a bunch of other stuff he’d normally turn his nose up at. But it’s not like, 13 Going on 30 or something. He’s not a sixteen year old in a twenty-one year old’s body. There’s definitely stuff floating around in there. The other day I heard him tell Niall a knock knock joke I know he learnt from my little sister. He can still cook the best full English, which is something I know he hadn’t perfected in high school. I ask him where he gets this stuff and he’s just like, ‘I don’t remember’, it’s just there. He bought my favourite cereal the other day, didn’t know it was my favourite, just said he felt drawn to it. He has hour-long baths with candles and shit, which was normal while we were together but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t when he was actually sixteen. It’s fucking annoying actually, because it’s no longer socially acceptable for me to just go in there and pee.”
“You used to pee while he was having a relaxing bubble bath?”
“Yes,” said Louis, defensively. “It’s not like he’d never seen my cock, is it?”
“Yeah, but,” said Nick, wrinkling his nose, “it sort of spoils the mood, doesn’t it? Someone right there next to you, pissing.”
“Harry didn’t mind.” Louis hadn’t thought he had anyway. Maybe he had, maybe that was their problem, Louis not respecting the sanctity of Harry’s bath time. Except Louis hadn’t just gone in there to pee. Sometimes he’d gone in to take Harry a glass of wine and then ended up perched on the bathroom counter chatting about his day while Harry soaked. It had been nice. Harry had liked it, he was fairly certain.
“Sure he didn’t,” said Nick. “We should probably join the party, before they start to think you’ve murdered me.”
“Yeah,” said Louis, but he didn’t make to leave. “You don’t have to be nervous, Nick,” he said, after a minute. “It’s just Harry.”
“I know,” said Nick, with a shaky breath. “I’m just terrible at this kind of thing. I always say the wrong thing. It’s why I didn’t go visit him in hospital. And now it’s been months.”
“You do talk some shit,” said Louis. “But I reckon Harry likes that in his friends.”
“You think?” said Nick.
“Well, yeah. He keeps Liam around, doesn’t he?”
Nick snorted, and Louis almost thought, maybe Nick Grimshaw’s not so bad, before remembering that was absurd. Nick was the absolute worst.
“Anyway,” said Louis, “I didn’t know you were coming, so I haven’t had a chance to turn him against you yet. So you’re probably all right.”
“Small mercies,” said Nick, and they rejoined the party.
Nick’s reunion with Harry went without a hitch, just like Louis knew it would. He watched from across the room as Harry’s face lit up at whatever ridiculous story Nick had brought as his fun Harry fact, and tried to ignore the slight tug of jealousy he felt in his chest. It seemed unfair that Nick could just pick up where he left off with Harry, no baggage.
Of course, Louis hadn’t had anything to pick up with Harry, when they left off, except maybe mutual resentment and a neverending row.
Louis turned away from Nick and Harry and went to find himself a drink.
He was waylaid by a more than a little tipsy Liam, who demanded that Louis come help him beat Niall at beer pong. “He keeps winning and he’s so fucking smug, Lou, I need you,” Liam said, both hands on Louis’s shoulders and a pleading look in his eye.
“Fine, Liam,” Louis said, putting his hands up in defeat. “I’ll come save your arse. You should know better than to take on Niall though, has it ever gone well for you?”
“Yeah,” said Liam, with one of those goofy grins that made his eyes twinkle. “When you were on my side.”
Louis laughed and let himself be pulled along to where Niall was waiting.
“Tommo,” said Niall, greeting him with a nod. “You reckon you’ve got what it takes to defeat the unbeaten beer pong champion?”
“Unbeaten by who? Liam?” said Louis, with a derisive snort. “He’s useless. Get ready to drink, you’re about to get your arse kicked.”
Louis let himself be lulled back into a party spirit by the familiar rhythms of trash talk and beer, eventually emerging triumphant. He was still crowing about it when Harry wandered over. “Oooh,” he said. “Can I play?”
“Of course,” said Niall. “You can help me beat Louis.”
Louis cackled. “Good luck, mate,” he said.
“Liam, you can be on Louis’s team,” Niall said sweetly.
Louis’s mouth snapped shut. “Fine,” he said. “Come on Liam, and remember the point is to get the ball in the cups.”
“Don’t be mean,” said Harry seriously. He was quite drunk.
“Liam doesn’t mind,” said Louis, ruffling Liam’s hair. Liam just smiled happily. “See?”
Louis won again, because of course he did, he’s fantastic.
“We are the champions, my friend,” he sung gleefully, slinging an arm around Liam’s shoulder. “And we’ll keep on fighting till the end.”
“Cheat!” yelled Harry.
“How’ve I cheated?” said Louis.
“I dunno,” said Harry, confused. “But you have.”
“You’re pissed, mate,” said Louis, with a smug shake of his head.
Harry wandered off again to chat with a gaggle of girls in the corner. Liam watched him go with a fond smile. “I think he’s having a good time.”
“Yeah,” said Niall. “This was such a good idea Lou, haven’t had this much fun in ages.”
“I think it’s really neat that you can put everything behind you like this,” said Liam.
“Hmm,” said Louis. He’d been having a good time too, until they’d gone and reminded him why he shouldn’t be. He squared his shoulders and grinned at Niall. “Best out of three?”
Louis didn’t see Harry again till much later, once the party had begun to wind down. Harry came into the kitchen where Louis was chatting with Ollie.
“Louis!” said Harry, throwing his arm around him. He had a cold, half-eaten sausage in his hand that was now uncomfortably close to Louis’s neck. Ollie gave Louis a look, and left them to it.
“How’s it going, drunky?” said Louis, smiling at Harry while also carefully readjusting the position of his arm and removing the sausage. “Good party? Learnt anything new about yourself?”
“Jeff said I’m a deeply spiritual being,” said Harry. “And Cara said I’m very good with my hands.” He leered slightly at that, and then stumbled.
“Sounds like you’re getting rave reviews,” Louis said, steadying him.
“Yeah,” murmured Harry. He sounded sleepy now, tucking his head into the curve of Louis’s neck.
“How have you got even drunker since I last saw you?” Louis said, impressed. He hadn’t seen Harry this drunk in years.
“Did a few shots with Nick. Grimmy? He’s nice. Thought I might be less of a lightweight now I’m grown.”
“Nick’s awful,” Louis corrected. “And you’ll always be a lightweight.”
“But I’m tall,” Harry insisted, with all the unjustifiable conviction of a drunk man. “It’s science.”
Louis propped Harry up against the kitchen cupboards and got him a big glass of water. “Drink this,” he said. “And then we’ll get you to bed, I think.”
Harry drank half the water and then pulled a face. “Finish it,” said Louis. “You’ll thank me in the morning. Grown Harry is gonna have a very grown hangover.”
“I don’t remember ever having a hangover,” said Harry, sounding curious.
“Of course you don’t,” said Louis. “Sixteen year olds don’t get hangovers. They have nice fresh livers and they only need two Smirnoff ices to get drunk in the first place.” He took the now empty water glass off Harry and refilled it. “Come on,” he said. “Bedtime.”
He steered Harry down the hall, past the few remaining guests and into their old room. He put the glass of water down beside the bed while Harry struggled out of his shirt and jeans and collapsed on the bed in his pants. Louis moved Harry’s bin so it was next to the bed, just in case, and fished around in Harry’s bedside table for some panadol to put next to the water for the morning.
“Thanks Lou,” said Harry, snuggling into his duvet.
Louis looked down at him. Drunk, half-asleep Harry was soft and familiar in a way that was almost too much. “Night, Harry,” he said, retreating to the doorway and turning off the light. “Sleep tight.”
Nick was still there when he returned to the living room, lurking in the corner chatting to one of Harry’s university friends. When Louis came back in he looked up. “How’s Harry doing?” he asked.
“All right,” said Louis. “Thanks for getting him completely hammered by the way. Much appreciated.”
“Whoops,” said Nick.
“And thanks, I guess, for not telling him anything.”
Nick smiled at him. “No problem.”
Louis rolled his eyes. “But if he throws up I’m calling you back round in the morning to clean it up. Niall had a strict no vomit rule.”
“Aw,” said Nick. “I thought we were helping him great new memories. You gotta have a good vomit story on hand. I’m guessing he doesn’t remember the time he puked all down the M6.”
“I wonder if Gemma’s shown him the photos she took,” Louis said, with a grin.
“God, she’s a gift isn’t she? Made my day when she sent those through, him all looking sad and hungover on the side of the motorway.”
“I printed one out and stuck it on the fridge for a bit, till Niall took it down because it was putting him off his food.”
They both grinned at each other, until Louis realised he was having a friendly conversation with Nick Grimshaw. “You better sod off then,” he said. “You’re keeping me from my beauty sleep.”
“Yeah, all right,” Nick said. “A pleasure as ever, Louis.”
He left, along with the last of the party stragglers, leaving Louis, Liam and Niall alone in their only slightly trashed flat.
“Good night,” Louis said, looking at the others.
“Great night,” agreed Liam, smiling at him.
“The best,” said Niall, tugging them both in for a hug. Louis went willingly, happy and still slightly tipsy. They stood there wrapped up in each other for a moment, then Niall clapped them both on the back and said, “Right, lads, bedtime I think. Deal with this mess in the morning.”
He stumbled off towards his bedroom. Liam gave Louis a final pat on the back and headed for his own. Louis stood for a minute, alone in the wreckage of their living room, left with a weird mix of emotions he couldn’t describe. Then he went to bed.
Harry didn’t emerge from his room until after noon the next day.
“I think I’m dying,” he announced, standing in the doorway to the living room with his duvet wrapped around him like a cape.
Louis looked up from where he was lounging on the couch with a bowl of cereal. He’d been helping clean up but he’d gotten bored. “You’re just hungover,” he said, unimpressed.
“Yes,” said Harry. “It’s awful. Why does anyone over the age of twenty drink ever?” He limped towards the couch, the end of his duvet slithering behind him. He stared at Louis mournfully until Louis made room for him to sit down. “Are those coco pops?” he said, resting his head on Louis’s shoulder.
“Yes,” said Louis. “They’re mine. Now, tell the truth, did you puke? Me and Niall have a bet going.”
“Niall,” said Harry, pouting. “I thought you were the nice one.”
“I am, Harry,” Niall said, from where he was sweeping the kitchen floor. “I bet you wouldn’t vom.”
“Oh,” said Harry. “Well your faith was misplaced. I did, unfortunately, vomit.”
“When?” said Niall, indignant. Louis cackled. Liam, hunched over a sink full of soapy water in the kitchen, looked concerned.
“At about seven this morning. It was very unpleasant, Niall, do you really need me to go into detail?”
“I do,” said Louis. “You did so many of those jello shots, I wanna know what colour it was.”
“I’m not going to answer that,” Harry said.
Louis laughed, but he took pity on Harry and reached out to give him a soothing head scratch. Harry hummed appreciatively.
“I’m sorry you feel awful,” Louis said. “Did you have a good time at least?”
“Yeah,” said Harry. “It was great. I mean, I’m never drinking again, but it was great. Nuts to think all those people knew me.”
“You’re a very popular lad,” Louis said. “They have any good stories to share? Any tales of your bad habits and past debauchery?”
“Well,” Harry said, scrunching up his face. “A couple. But I stopped asking people after a while. Felt like cheating, somehow.”
“Wanted to figure some of it out for yourself?”
“Yeah,” said Harry. “Exactly. I made some good new memories though. So thanks, Louis.”
“No problem,” Louis said, smiling down at Harry. He had the beginnings of an idea starting to percolate in his brain.
Then he looked up and saw Liam staring at them, curious, from his position by the kitchen sink. Louis hastily removed his hand from Harry’s hair. “Oi, Liam,” he said. “Stick the kettle on! Harry’s feeling poorly.”
They spent most of the day curled up on sofa, Louis desperately trying to drown out the voice in his head that was telling him this was only temporary, a terrible endless beat of this can’t last this can’t last this can’t last.
“So what’s the deal with you and Harry?” Liam asked two days later, while he and Louis were playing fifa. “Are you two a thing again?”
“What?” said Louis, so taken off-guard his player lost control of the ball. He paused the game and took a furtive look around the room. “What are you talking about?” he hissed.
“Don’t worry, he’s out,” Liam said. “I just wanted to know what’s going on between you, if you’re getting back together. You seem so cosy lately.”
“Of course we’re not getting back together,” Louis said, impatient. “You can’t get back together with someone who doesn’t remember you ever were together in the first place.” He unpaused the game and reclaimed the ball, only to give it a vicious kick down the other end of the pitch.
“I suppose,” said Liam, sending one of his players running after the ball. “You could tell him about it or something though.”
“What, just sit him down and say, ‘Harry, you don’t know about this but me and you dated for two years and even though we broke up there’s a slight possibility you’re the love of my life, let’s get back together’?”
“I didn’t know you thought he was the love of your life. You should definitely say something, then.”
“I said slight possibility,” Louis said, dodging one of Liam’s players and making a shot at goal. “And I can’t do that.”
“Why not?” Liam said, as his goalie deftly blocked Louis’s shot.
“Because, Liam,” Louis said, frustratedly hammering the X button. “Right now Harry likes me all right, but he can’t remember dating me, he can’t remember how fucking sick of me he was by the end.”
“So, Liam, you can’t fucking fix something with someone who has no idea how broken it is.”
“But you could explain, like.”
Louis gritted his teeth. “I could explain, yeah. I could explain how fucking pissed off at him I was. I could give him a long list of thing he did towards the end of our relationship that I thought were annoying or unnecessary or just plain fucking hurtful. But I can’t tell him the reasons he walked out, Liam.”
“If you say so,” said Liam. He had the ball, but was just passing it lazily from one defender to another.
“I do,” said Louis, nabbing the ball off him and sending his player gunning down the field.
“You do what, mate?” said Niall, wandering in. “Oooh, get in,” he said, as Louis neatly tapped the ball in between the goalposts and threw down his controller.
“Louis’s just been telling me there’s nothing going on between him and Harry,” said Liam.
“Rubbish,” said Niall, grabbing Louis’s discarded controller and settling in on the couch between them.
“There isn’t!” said Louis. “Of course there isn’t. Why would you think there is?”
“Uh, because you’re all over each other?” Niall said.
“You’re like you were when you first got together,” put in Liam. “All flirty. Staring at each other all the time.”
“No, we’re not,” Louis said, grabbing the other controller from Liam’s hand and setting up a new game for him and Niall. “We’ve been friendly lately, that’s all.”
Niall and Liam exchanged a meaningful look. Louis glared at them both.
“For one,” he said, emphatically ramming buttons on his controller. “Me and Harry broke up for a reason and I have no interest in repeating the past–”
Niall raised his eyebrows.
“And two,” Louis continued, ignoring him. “Even if I did want something to happen between us – which I don’t – I couldn’t… go there, not while he’s still got no idea how badly we managed to fuck it up last time.”
Liam was looking slightly abashed now, but Niall didn’t look at all impressed by Louis’s earnest refutations.
“Honestly, lads,” said Louis. “I know you want a happy ending for me and Harry, but you’ve got to accept that it’s not going to happen.”
“Ok, Lou,” said Niall. “Maybe, then, you should be careful? Like, he’s Harry, and I don’t think there’s any version of Harry who doesn’t wanna bone you, but right now he seems particularly into it, so if it’s gonna be just friends maybe stop looking at him like you’re going to eat him. Think you’re sending off some mixed signals, mate.”
“I don’t look at him like I’m going to eat him,” Louis spluttered, indignant, but he was prevented from further defending himself by the sound of a key in the lock.
Harry wandered in. “Fifa again?” he said, wrinkling his nose disdainfully.
“Yes,” said Louis, glaring at him. Platonically, of course.
Niall just chortled, and skipped off with Harry to do whatever weird things he and Harry did without Liam and Louis – discuss which scented candles provided the best mood for golf watching, probably – leaving Louis alone with Liam again.
Liam was looking warily at Louis. ““Louis,” he said. “About you and Harry–”
“There is no me and Harry,” interrupted Louis.
“Ok,” said Liam. “But in that case Niall might be right? You should be careful.”
“I’m not going to hurt him,” said Louis. “You and Niall can stand down from your guard dog act, all right? Christ. He’s not a delicate flower.”
“I know you’re not going to hurt him,” Liam said, sounding shocked. “I’m worried about you.”
“Oh,” said Louis. “Well, don’t. I’ll be fine.”
“Ok,” said Liam, not sounding convinced. “As long as you know what you’re doing.”
Louis knew Liam and Niall meant well, but they didn’t know what they were talking about. He decided to ignore them.
On the next Thursday morning Harry had off from the bakery, Louis crept into his room and woke him up.
“Come on Harry, time to get up!” Louis said, shaking his shoulder.
“What?” said Harry, still mostly asleep. “No, it’s sleeping time.” He burrowed deeper into his duvet.
“Up!” said Louis, tugging at it. “Come on, we’re going on a voyage of self-discovery.”
“Noooo,” said Harry, as his duvet began to slide off his bed, leaving him exposed to the cold autumn morning.
“Harry!” Louis said, scandalised. “Put some bloody clothes on.”
“I didn’t know you were going to come in here in steal my duvet, did I?” Harry said. He rolled onto his belly so the worst of it was no longer exposed, but he didn’t seem particularly embarrassed that Louis had just caught an eyeful of his junk. Smug, more like.
Louis rolled his eyes. “Get dressed,” he said. “We’re going on an adventure. Don’t want to miss the bus.”
After a lot of chivvying they made it onto the bus, Harry technically dressed but missing enough buttons on his shirt that Louis felt it was debatable whether he was really fully clothed. He’d been doing that more and more the last few weeks, Louis noticed.
“Where are we going?” Harry asked, as he followed Louis to a seat near the back.
“Not telling,” Louis said. “It’s a voyage of self-discovery, innit? No spoilers.”
“Fine,” said Harry. He appeared to seriously study the series of dicks lovingly rendered in sharpie on the back of the seat in front of them. “Are we going to play footie?”
“In that get up?” said Louis, nodding at Harry’s skin-tight jeans. “No.”
“Nope,” said Louis, but he couldn’t stop Harry spending the whole bus ride guessing places they might be going.
“No, Harry, we’re not going to the Zoo,” Louis said twenty minutes later. “Although I’m sure you could learn a lot about yourself from a face to face encounter with a giraffe.”
“Their tongues are blue so they don’t get sunburnt,” Harry said, absurdly pleased with himself. Then his face fell. “I don’t know how I know that,” he said, frowning.
“You probably learnt it at school. Come on, this is our stop,” Louis said, standing up.
They got off the bus right outside the main entrance to the university.
“What are we doing here?” Harry asked, confused.
“You’ll find out soon enough,” Louis said. “Follow me.” He led them through the campus, occasionally checking a map on his phone, until they were standing in front of a pair of double doors labelled ‘LT204’. A steady trickle of students were already making their way inside. “Here we go,” Louis said, and followed them in.
“Louis,” Harry hissed, running to catch him up. “What are you doing?”
“Attending a lecture,” Louis said. “I’ve not done it before, so it’s an adventure for the both of us. I’m glad we’re not late.” He slid into the back row of seats. Down at the front the lecturer was standing by the podium, waiting patiently for students to finish filing in. Behind him were two large screens, onto which the words ‘LAWS101: INTRO TO THE LEGAL SYSTEM’ were being projected.
Harry was still hovering in the aisle. “Louis,” he said. “We can’t be here!”
“Course we can,” Louis said. “Sit down, you idiot. There’s like, two hundred students in here, you think that guy’s going to notice a couple extra?”
Apprehensive, Harry pulled down the seat next to Louis, flushing bright pink when it squeaked loudly. Louis just laughed.
“What are we doing?” Harry asked, once he was finally sat down.
“Well,” said Louis. “You said you’d rather figure some things out for yourself. So here we are. Experiencing law school.”
“Oh,” said Harry. “That’s uh… that’s really sweet actually.”
“Sssh,” Louis said. “It’s starting, look.”
If Louis had held any doubt about his own desire to attend law school it quickly evaporated. He was pretty sure it was the most bored he’d ever been in his life, and he’d attended all his sisters’ ballet recitals.
Next to him though, Harry was concentrating intently. He had that little furrow in his brow and he was clearly soaking up every word the lecturer said.
“Enjoying yourself?” Louis whispered.
“Mmmm,” said Harry. “Why does he keep just picking on people and making them answer the question? It seems mean.”
“It’s just what they do in law school, innit?” Louis said, shrugging. “It’s got a fancy name I can’t remember.”
“The Socratic method,” hissed the girl next them. “Will you shut up? I’m trying to learn.”
“All right,” said Louis. “Calm your tits.” He went back to studying the graffiti on the desk. Someone called Emma was a slag, apparently, but Josh <3 Tina 4vr.
After what seemed like an age the lecture finally came to an end, with the clamour of hundreds of fold-down seats flipping up at once. Louis and Harry joined the throng of students leaving and made their way out into the quad.
“So what do you reckon?” Louis asked, once they were outside. “Gonna enrol next semester?”
“That was terrifying,” said Harry, shaking his head. “Terrifying and yet absurdly boring.”
“What, thought you were going to be solving a murder in a bunny suit on your first day?” said Louis.
“No,” said Harry. “But I didn’t understand a word he was saying and I was so worried he was going to call on me. I don’t even know what a tort is.”
“Nah, he wouldn’t have done. Didn’t have your name on his little list did he?” Louis said.
Harry looked outraged. “You could have said that in there!” he said, whacking Louis on the chest. “I was shitting myself.”
“Ok, well, if you were actually a student you would have been on the list. I was just making it a more authentic experience.”
Harry just glared at him.
“I did consider getting you one of those fluffy pens, you know like she has in the movie? So you could take notes. WH Smith was woefully lacking in the novelty pen department though.”
“Are you going to let the Legally Blonde thing slide, ever?”
“Nope,” said Louis. “I never knew that’s what inspired you to go to law school and it’s hilarious.”
Harry looked at him funny. “Yeah, well, it’s not a fact I normally share before a first date, to be honest,” he said.
Louis coughed. “Well anyway,” he said. “I’m sorry our voyage of self-discovery turned out to be so traumatic for you.”
“It wouldn’t be an adventure without some adversity, now would it?” Harry said. His face softened. “No, Louis, this was… I still can’t believe you brought me here. It was really… just nice. Dream crushing, obviously,” he laughs, “but so nice of you.” He was gazing at Louis intently, a warm smile on his face.
Louis ducked his head to avoid meeting Harry’s eye. “Even though it turned out to be shit?” he said.
“Yeah,” said Harry. “It’s good to know how I really felt about it, even if Liam and Niall turned out to be right.”
“Well,” said Louis. “Anything else you’d like to try out for yourself? We could go to the student union, try and pull a girl,” he suggested. “It’s been a while, but I could give it a shot.”
“Nah,” said Harry, with a smirk. “I think I’m pretty sure where I stand on that one.” He was still staring.
Louis smirked back. Then he remembered his conversation with Liam and Niall. “Fuck,” he said.
“What?” said Harry.
“Liam was right. I hate it when Liam’s right,” Louis said. “That was flirting. We can’t be flirting.”
Harry looked at him, smile replaced with a frown. “Is it because of the time I stood you up?”
Louis paused. “Yes,” he said. “Yeah, that’s it exactly.”
“Oh,” said Harry. He looked disappointed.
“Look Harry,” Louis said. “You’re a great bloke, a real stand up guy.”
“Thanks, Louis.” Harry only sounded slightly sarcastic.
“But alas, I can never get back the time I spent waiting in vain for you to show up at the Arndale Nandos, and as such–”
“I did not ask you out on a date to Nandos in a shopping centre food court and then stand you up,” Harry said. “I refuse to believe that. I have class. I know how to woo a lad.”
“No you don’t,” said Louis.
“I didn’t,” said Harry. He looked like he was starting to doubt himself slightly, a hint of panic in his eyes.
Louis cracked a grin. “Nah, it was actually the pub Niall was working in at the time and when you didn’t show up he gave me free pity chips,” he said.
Harry looked visibly relieved. “Thank god,” he said.
“Still,” said Louis. “You get why we can’t go there, right? Weird… history.” He waved an arm vaguely about to illustrate his point.
“I guess,” said Harry. “But, Louis,” he said, with that painful earnestness Louis had almost forgotten he was capable of. “You know I’m really sorry about that right? Like if I could undo it I would. You’re great and I can’t believe I passed up an opportunity like that. I mean –” he gestured at the university buildings around them, “ you brought me here, and sat through a whole law lecture, just for me. You’re amazing.”
Louis coughed. “Right, um, thanks,” he said, feeling deeply uncomfortable.
“But friends is good,” Harry said. “Friends is great.”
“Yes!” said Louis, relieved, slinging an arm over Harry’s shoulder. “Best mates. Now, what do you want to do with the rest of your day? There’s a photography exhibition on at the art gallery that looks interesting.”
He spent the day taking Harry to all his favourite places, like the art gallery, and Harry’s favourite record shop, and the juice bar that did Harry’s favourite banana berry smoothie. Half of them were places Louis actively hated – art galleries made his feet hurt and he thought vinyl was unnecessary and pretentious and he’d much rather a chocolate milkshake any day – but it was worth it to see Harry enjoy himself. He remained faithful to the day’s goal of letting Harry figure things out for himself, never hinting at Harry’s own history with each place they visited, but Louis figured that after forcing Harry to confront the painful realities of studying law it was only fair to lead him to a few things Louis knew he loved.
And Harry did love them. It was reassuring, in a way, to see that Harry’s brain wasn’t so shaken up that he couldn’t appreciate all his old haunts, even if Louis was forced to confront the existence of wheatgrass in the process. Harry was transfixed by the photography exhibition and he slurped down his smoothie with approval and spent hours flipping through old records, all with a big dumb grin on his face. He spent the whole day smiling and somehow Louis found himself smiling too.
By the time they were ready to head home they were both tired, in the satisfying way you are after a day spent enjoying yourself. They clambered on the bus and fell into a seat together, this time near the front. Harry knocked his knee gently in to Louis’s.
“Thanks,” he said.
“No worries,” said Louis, and he spent the rest of the journey quietly watching the city roll past the window, streets glowing golden in the late afternoon sun.
“Looouis,” said Harry, peering his head around Louis’s bedroom door.
“Harry,” said Louis, from where he was stretched out on his bed, mindlessly trawling the internet. He’d had a hard day. Ashleigh B. had brought her new singing Elsa doll to after-school care and had let Erika and Jayna play with it but not Ashleigh S., which had turned into a big thing that turned out not be about Elsa at all, but about something terrible that had allegedly happened at a sleepover in the weekend. Louis had had to sit them all down and mediate a reconciliation, and there had been tears, and endless replays of something that would vaguely resemble ‘Let it Go’ if Idina Menzel had actually sung it from inside a block of ice, and Louis had been informed that he just ‘didn’t understand’ too many times to count, which, in fairness, was sort of true, before the four girls had skipped off together happily giggling at some dig Jayna had made at Louis’s hair. It was impressive, Louis always thought, how girls managed to embroil themselves in such complicated social politics while boys just mindlessly kicked a football around. He was exhausted, but he had no doubt that Ashleigh B. would be running the country one day, if Jayna didn’t beat her to it.
“Whatcha doing?” said Harry, throwing himself onto the bed next to Louis.
“Just fucking around,” said Louis. “Why, you got a plan?”
“Thought we could watch a movie.”
“Oh yeah,” said Louis. It was Friday night, and Stan was trying to get Louis to come to the pub, but Louis was home now, and he was tired, and he’d already changed into his trackies. “What movie?”
“No listen,” said Harry. “You took me on a voyage of self-discovery yesterday, it’s only fair you let me repay you.”
“I have seen Legally Blonde before,” Louis said.
“Well, you clearly didn’t appreciate it,” said Harry. “You need to watch it again, with me. You will laugh, you will cry, you will have a feminist awakening, you will learn vital haircare secrets.”
“I just spent the afternoon struggling to keep up with the complex social machinations of a group of eight year old girls, I don’t need a movie to remind me how dumb boys are,” said Louis. “But they were mean about my hair.”
“There you go,” said Harry. “Essential viewing.”
“Ah-huh,” Louis said, sceptical. “Well, Liam’s in the living room playing call of duty. Looked pretty intense last I checked.”
“It’s ok, we can watch it in my room,” Harry said. “I’ve got it on my laptop anyway.”
“Oh,” said Louis. “Um, ok.”
Which is how Louis ended up in his old room, in his old bed, with his old boyfriend and a bowl of microwave popcorn, watching Reese Witherspoon get dramatically dumped.
It was weird, how normal it felt. Louis had been here before. He’d probably watched this movie here before. Harry was next to him, radiating heat like he always did, and on the screen Elle was cramming for the LSATs, and Louis felt like he was stuck in some kind of endless time loop, a fucked up version of groundhog day that wasn’t a day at all but an entire relationship he couldn’t seem to escape.
Louis didn’t want to think about whether he would stop it all, if he could. The point was that he couldn’t, he was powerless to do anything but lie here and try to keep it together. So he settled for kicking Harry under the covers.
“You’re a furnace,” he said.
“Sorry,” said Harry, pushing the duvet off his legs. He snuggled in closer to Louis at the same time, negating any cooling benefits less blankets might achieve.
Louis, powerless as he was, just smiled.
“So Harry,” he said. “When you were a little boy, dreaming of becoming a lawyer just like Elle Woods –”
“–Did you also practise the bend and snap?”
“Maybe,” said Harry, with a grin.
By the time Legally Blonde finished they were both too comfortable to move, so Harry put on Sweet Home Alabama. It wasn’t as good as Legally Blonde, and something about it hit a little close to home. Louis closed his eyes.
Harry kept repeating random bits of dialogue in his best approximation of a southern accent, which wasn’t particularly approximate.
Louis just murmured sleepily in response. “Mmhmm,” he said, tucking his head into the crook of Harry’s elbow.
He woke up hours later, after dreaming that Harry had turned up his doorstep, long-haired again and wearing his fanciest shirt, and demanded a divorce. He slowly blinked awake, feeling sleepy and confused but also warm and snug, only to discover that morning light was creeping in Harry’s windows, and Louis had somehow ended up with his head pillowed on Harry, Harry’s arms wrapped around him. Harry was snoring softly, a gentle rumble Louis could feel in Harry’s chest beneath him.
Right, Louis thought, once he’d processed the situation. This was fine. This was totally totally fine. At least Harry had clothes on this morning. He squirmed slightly, trying to carefully wriggle out of Harry’s grip. Harry stirred.
“Morning babe,” he murmured.
Louis stilled. Babe?
Then Harry kissed him.
Louis was still half-asleep himself. Otherwise he definitely would have pushed Harry away immediately. Probably.
Instead, he found himself kissing back. It wasn’t a deeply passionate kiss. It was more of a lazy good morning kiss, the kind he and Harry used to share nearly everyday, back when they still liked each other. Warm, and familiar.
Then Louis realised what he was doing and jolted away.
Harry stared at him, confused. Then his eyes widened. “Shit,” he said.
“Harry,” said Louis. He didn’t know what to say. Why was Harry kissing him? Did he remember? He sat up, widening the gap between himself and Harry.
“Shit,” said Harry, again. “I’m so sorry. That was an accident.”
“I can explain,” said Harry, sounding slightly panicked.
“Go on,” said Louis.
“Oh god,” Harry said, hiding his face under the duvet. “This is proper embarrassing.”
Louis waited. It didn’t seem like Harry remembered.
“Well,” said Harry, peaking out from behind the duvet. “I’ve been having these dreams?”
“Dreams?” said Louis.
“Yeah,” Harry said. “Sorry, this is kind of weird. You’re in them? You’re like, my… boyfriend, I guess. And I know we said just mates and I’m totally ok with that, I’m not like, secretly lusting over you, they’re not sex dreams, just –”
“You have dreams where I’m your boyfriend,” Louis said slowly. “Reoccurring ones?”
“Yeah,” said Harry. “I was in the middle of one when I woke up, and I was still half asleep and still like, in the dream… headspace, or whatever, and you were there and it was just… instinctive? Like I woke up and you were there and it just seemed natural to kiss you. I’m so sorry, obviously it’s not natural and you already told me you don’t want to go there and oh god, I’m really sorry.”
“What happens in these dreams?” Louis asked, ignoring Harry’s rambled apology.
“Uh,” said Harry. “Not much. In that one I was making breakfast and you kept trying to steal the bacon out of the pan. I had one the other night where it was Christmastime and you and I both had babies. Like a baby each. I don’t think they were ours, it was weird. There was a woman there, I think she was your mum?”
“Right,” said Louis, speechless. “Christmas, that’s –”
“Sometimes Niall and Liam are there too? In a couple you’ve been wearing bright red trousers, I’m not sure what that’s about, but it’s quite a sight.”
“Bright red trousers,” repeated Louis. “Ok, um. I’ve really got to pee,” he said, and practically ran from the room.
“Fuck,” he said, once he’d shut himself safely in the bathroom. He looked up at Channing Tatum brooding above the toilet. “Help me, Channing Tatum,” he said.
Channing Tatum continued to gaze impassively over Louis’s left shoulder, which is probably what Louis should have expected him to do. He sat down on the bathroom floor, leaning his back against the side of the bathtub.
“Fuck,” he said, again, letting out a shaky breath.
He’d woken up feeling warm and comfortable and safe. There wasn’t any other way of putting it, much as it made his insides squirm to admit it. He’d slept better last night than he had in months. And then Harry had kissed him and Louis had got so caught up in the familiarity of it all that he hadn’t stopped him. And he’d genuinely thought, once his brain had caught up, that maybe Harry remembered everything.
And he had, sort of. Harry was remembered Louis, he just thought he’d dreamed the whole thing up.
Because all those dreams Harry described were memories. The twins’ first Christmas. And, oh god, the red trousers. Louis buried his head in his hands. He wondered what else Harry was dreaming about. Were they all warm and fluffy? Or did Harry dream about the bad times too? Did he sometimes have dreams where Louis called him a pretentious fuckwit and refused to go to Nick Grimshaw’s party? Did he dream about their break up, about walking out and never coming back?
The bathroom floor was cold underneath Louis. He stared intently at the ugly grey lino. There was a giant dust ball over by the toilet, and about five finished toilet rolls scattered about.
They hadn’t really talked properly in over a week, when it happened. They were always just missing each other, somehow, and then they were finally alone, supposed to be figuring out where they wanted to go for dinner but Harry was just, on his fucking phone, probably texting Nick or whoever his new best friend was that month, and Louis was sick of it, so he’d tried to goad Harry into a fight, because then at least he’d have his attention for once. And Harry had snapped, but instead of biting back with some retort about how maybe Louis should just get kfc with Liam, he’d said, “Christ, Louis, I don’t know if I can do this anymore.”
“Well,” Louis had said, ignoring the feeling of panic rising somewhere inside him, “if you’ve lost interest in this relationship Harry, you know where the door is.”
“Is that what you want?” Harry had said, staring at Louis.
Louis had just stared coolly back. “Doesn’t bother me,” he’d said, refusing to be the one to break. Because how dare Harry act like Louis was exhausting, like their relationship was something that had to be endured?
So Harry had got his coat and his keys and he’d headed for the door. And then he’d paused, and turned to look at Louis, and Louis had said, “If you’re waiting for me to ask you to stay you’ll be waiting a long time.” And Harry had nodded, defeated, and walked out. And that was that.
There was a knock on the bathroom door, making Louis jump.
“Louis,” yelled Liam. “Hurry up in there, I wanna shower.”
“Just a minute,” Louis yelled back, relieved it wasn’t Harry checking up on him.
“You all right? You sound weird. And you’ve been in there for ages.”
“I’m fine,” Louis said.
“No you’re not.” The bathroom door opened a crack. “Louis?” said Liam. He poked his head through and saw Louis sitting on the floor. “Oh, Lou,” he said gently. “What’s up?”
“You can’t just barge into the bathroom when it’s occupied, Liam.” Louis said, but he couldn’t summon the energy to sound indignant.
Liam brought the rest of his body into the bathroom and came to sit down opposite Louis, his back against the cupboard under the sink. He had clearly just got back from a run, headphones dangling from his sweat-stained tshirt.
“Whatcha doing down here?” he asked, gently knocking his knee into Louis’s.
Louis just wrinkled his nose. “You smell,” he said.
“Yeah, well I got back from my run and someone had barricaded himself in the bathroom.”
“Pretty shit barricade,” Louis said. “The lock doesn’t even work. Liam, Harry’s remembering things.”
“Really?” Liam said, clearly caught between concern and excitement.
“Yeah. Except he thinks they’re dreams.”
“He’s been having dreams where I’m his boyfriend and we eat breakfast together and I wear red trousers.”
“But that all happened,” said Liam, dumbly.
“I know that. He doesn’t.”
“What did you tell him?”
“Not much,” said Louis. “That’s when I came in here.”
“Louis,” chided Liam. “You gotta tell him. If he’s remembering things that are real you can’t lie and tell them they’re not.”
“He hasn’t remembered properly though, has he? He’s like, halfway there. It’s better if he gets there on his own, that’s what the doctor said.” Louis thought that was what the doctor said; he’d only got a sort of confused second-hand version from Gemma, but it sounded vaguely right.
Liam looked unconvinced. “I don’t understand why you can’t just tell him.”
“I can’t, Liam,” said Louis. He sounded desperate, he knew, voice going shrill, panic clawing at his throat. “I can’t tell him. If I tell him he’s going to want to know what happened, and I– I can’t explain.”
“You just tell him,” said Liam. “You just tell him you were together and now you’re not.”
“You make it sound so simple,” said Louis.
“Isn’t it?” said Liam.
“The Harry in there, he likes me. God knows why. If I tell him we were actually together and we broke up, he’s going to want to know why. And I can’t tell him. I can’t explain that.”
Louis couldn’t tell Harry that he hadn’t even tried to stop him. He couldn’t tell the Harry he had now, the one who somehow thought the best of Louis, that they’d ended because Louis had been too full of pride and spite and cowardice to ask him to stay.
“Oh Lou,” said Liam. He put a hand on Louis’s knee and gave it a comforting rub.
“Can’t we just wait a little bit longer?” Louis said, looking up at him. “Find out a bit more about these dreams and see what happens. Give him a chance to figure it out on his own.”
“Yeah, Lou,” said Liam. “We can wait a bit longer. But at some point you’re going to have to tell him.”
“Yeah,” said Louis heavily. “Just… not yet.”
“Okay,” said Liam softly. Then he clapped Louis on the knee and stood up. “Come on,” he said. “Get out of here. I need to shower, and I think Harry’s making you breakfast.”
Louis slowly got to his feet. “Thanks, Liam,” he said.
He took a deep breath, readying himself to leave the bathroom and face Harry. Then he opened the door.
Harry was in the kitchen, dancing around to Fleetwood Mac and making what looked like pancakes.
“Nice moves, Styles,” said Louis.
“Oh, hey,” said Harry, startled. He bit his lip. “Everything ok?”
“Yep,” said Louis breezily. He hopped up onto one of the breakfast bar stools. “What are you making for breakfast, then?”
“Pancakes,” said Harry. “There’s bacon too.”
“I can see that,” said Louis. “Smells delicious.”
Harry smiled nervously at him. Then he said, “Are you sure you’re not weirded out? About the dream thing?”
“Of course not,” said Louis. “Dreaming of being my boyfriend isn’t weird, it’s a perfectly natural response to all my charm and charisma.”
Harry’s smile immediately grew more genuine. “Yeah,” he said, beaming. “Only to be expected, right?”
“Exactly, Harry,” said Louis. “So tell me, are you going to flip these pancakes? How good is your pancake tossing?”
“Well,” said Harry. “I don’t like to brag, but I’m pretty good.”
“Show me,” demanded Louis. “Do a double flip. Do a triple flip. Don’t worry, we can feed the ones that land on the floor to Liam when he gets out of the shower.”
Harry laughed. “All right,” he said. “I’ve never done a triple before, but I’ll try my best.”
Louis let out a whoop of approval as Harry successfully tossed his pancake in the air and caught it again neatly in the pan. He spent the next ten minutes enthusiastically cheering all Harry’s valiant attempts at a triple flip, until they both had a plate full of expertly cooked pancakes, and Louis was confident he’d convinced Harry there was no need to feel awkward. It was only then that he brought the dreams up again.
“So tell me more about these dreams,” Louis said, drowning his pancake stack in maple syrup. “How long have you been having them?”
“Ever since I moved in,” Harry said. “They’ve been getting more frequent though.”
“Ok,” said Louis nodding. “And what happens, exactly, in this dream world? We’re a couple?”
“Yeah, it’s just like, an alternate universe where you’re my boyfriend. Nothing much is different. We still live here. I just know, you know, in that way that you do in dreams? I just know you’re my boyfriend.”
“So it’s not like we’re doing anything particularly coupley?” Louis fished. “No snogging? No fights about the future of our relationship?”
“Well, ah, I mean, there’s the occasional snog.” Harry was looking slightly pink. Louis wondered if he’d been lying earlier, when he’d said they weren’t ever sex dreams.
He decided it was best to just breeze past it. “And Liam and Niall are in them too, you said?”
“Yeah. I had one last week where it was Liam’s birthday and he broke his arm, I can’t remember how though,”
“Trying to breakdance,” Louis said.
“Yes! That was it,” said Harry. He narrowed his eyes. “Wait, how did you know?”
“Lucky guess. Anyone else show up in these dreams?”
“A few of the people who were at the party,” Harry said. “I’ve had a couple with Nick in them. But it’s mostly just… you.”
“Oh,” said Louis. He resolved not to dwell on what that meant.
“There is this guy sometimes. Dark haired, very good looking. Lots of tattoos,” Harry said, and Louis felt his stomach swoop. “I don’t know who he is but in the dreams I definitely know him. I think he lives here too? He’s handsome but mysterious.”
“More like vain and moody,” muttered Louis.
“Nothing,” said Louis. “Eat your breakfast.” His eyes instinctively went to the fridge, where there’d once been a photo of the five of them from their flatwarming. But of course, Louis had taken it down months ago, along with any other evidence that anyone other than he, Liam and Niall had ever lived there.
Louis knew now what he had to do, and he didn’t like it one bit.
Later that afternoon, after Harry had gone to work, Louis lay on his bed staring at his phone, his thumb hovered over the very last entry in his contacts.
The thing was, Louis hadn’t really talked to Zayn since he left. Liam had, he knew. He wasn’t sure about Niall. But Louis hadn’t. He’d read his tweets and seen his moody instagram selfies and even opened the occasional snapchat. But he hadn’t talked to him.
He didn’t have any good excuses, not really. Louis had been upset when Zayn left, still reeling from Harry walking out, and getting hurt, and forgetting him. He’d channelled it all into anger at Zayn, even though he’d known, deep down, that his move to LA wasn’t really about Louis. It was about Zayn, and what was best for him, but it hadn’t felt like that at the time. It had felt a lot like Zayn was just another person leaving him behind.
So Zayn had left, and Louis had slammed the door behind him, and neither of them had tried to open it since. Each day they didn’t talk it seemed harder to reach out.
But Harry was dreaming about Zayn. Harry had to remember, so Louis could move the fuck on, and maybe Zayn was the answer.
He summoned all the guts he had and pushed the call button. It rang and rang, but just when Louis thought it was going to go to voicemail there was a crackle and a sleepy “Hello?”
“Hey Zayn,” he said. He thought it came out only slightly shaky.
There was a pause. “Lou?” said Zayn. “What the fuck, it’s like 7am.”
“Oh,” said Louis. Whoops. “To be fair, I didn’t actually check the time difference before I made this call, so it could have been worse. I could have accidentally called at like, 4 or something.”
“I was awake at 4.”
“Zaynie,” Louis said gently. “Have you gone proper nocturnal again? You should have told us, we would have helped! I’ll get Niall to record a lullaby for you and Liam would probably do his wake Zayn up routine on the phone every morning if you asked–”
“What the fuck do you want, Louis?” Zayn said, cutting off Louis’s nervous rambling.
“Do I need a reason to call you?” Louis said, aiming for slightly hurt.
“No,” said Zayn. “But you haven’t.”
“Are you coming home for Christmas?” Louis asked, cutting right to the chase.
“No,” said Zayn.
“I need you to come home.”
“Well, I can’t.”
“Jesus Lou, you think I don’t want to come home?” Zayn said.
Louis had no idea what Zayn wanted these days. He didn’t answer. There was a quiet moment of tension, and Louis thought maybe this was a mistake. Then Zayn sighed.
“I miss my family,” he said. “I miss my friends, I even miss you, you insufferable twat. But I can’t come home, Lou. I wish I could but I looked into it, flights are well over a grand.”
“An American grand or an English grand?” Louis asked.
“That’s nothing. I’ll lend it to you.”
Zayn just snorted.
“I’ll get Liam or Niall to lend it to you.”
“Don’t you dare,” said Zayn. “They would. Christ, that flat must be like a little Louis dictatorship without me or Harry there to tell you to no occasionally.”
“About that,” said Louis.
“Louis,” said Zayn suspiciously. “What did you do?”
“Liam didn’t tell you?”
“Liam doesn’t actually call me every week with an update on the latest stupid thing you’ve done.”
“Ah, well. You’re clearly not in on his email chain with my mum.”
“What did you do, Louis?”
“Before I tell you I want it on record that the whole thing was not my idea and I only did it because Niall was sad.”
“People have killed for less,” said Zayn. Louis was pretty sure he was just taking the piss.
“Liam is just as much to blame for this as I am.”
“Doubt it. What did you do?”
“I let Harry move into the spare room,” Louis finally let out, in a rush.
There was silence on the line. Then Zayn said, slowly, “You mean, his room. The room he used to live in with you.”
“You let your ex-boyfriend move back into the flat you used to share together and that you still live in.”
“Your ex-boyfriend with amnesia, that is. The one who was in a car accident and forgot he ever met you. Or has he remembered everything?”
“No. I mean, sort of.”
“He’s been having these dreams,” Louis said. “You’re in them. They’re all memories, but he doesn’t know.”
“He’s been dreaming about me?” Zayn sounded surprised.
“Well,” said Louis. “Me mostly. But you make occasional appearances, from what I’ve gathered.”
“Right,” said Zayn. “So your amnesiac ex-boyfriend has moved back into your flat and is having dreams about your past together even though he has no idea you actually have a past together. Is that everything?”
“Yeah, that’s about the gist of it. Although. In the interests of full disclosure…”
“This morning I was there when he woke up and he was confused and kissed me.”
There was another pause, during which Louis could feel the full force of Zayn’s disbelief, even from thousands of miles away. Then Zayn laughed. “You’re fucked,” he said.
“Gee, thanks Zayn, so glad I called.”
Zayn was still laughing. “Oh I’ve missed you Lou,” he said. “Only you could get yourself into a mess like this.”
Louis ground his teeth.
Zayn finished laughing. “So what are you going to do?” he asked.
“Well, Liam thinks I should tell him the truth. About everything. Tell him we used to date and his dreams are actually based off real events.”
“Liam’s pretty sensible.”
“It’s his worst quality,” agreed Louis. “No, but it’s better if Harry remembers on his own, right?”
“I guess,” said Zayn, sounding dubious.
“It is,” said Louis. “And he’s almost there. So we just need to find the thing that will finally trigger, like, total recall.”
“You going, ‘hey we actually used to date’ could be the thing.”
“It could,” said Louis. “Or it could be you.”
“Well you’re in his dreams, even though he hasn’t seen you since the accident, right? Seems pretty significant.”
Louis ignored him. “So that’s why I need you to come home, don’t you see? You come home and he sees you, he might remember properly.”
“Louis,” said Zayn. He sounded exasperated. “I’m not coming home.”
“He doesn’t remember you Zayn! He needs you to come home! There’s just a mysterious man brooding attractively in the corner of all his dreams.”
“I don’t brood.”
“Zayn. Come on.”
“You don’t know me anymore man, here in LA I’m all sunny smiles, I’m practically Niall.”
“Zayn, love, I still follow you on instagram.”
“Whatever,” Zayn said. His tone was light and teasing, like he’d forgotten all about the fact that he and Louis hadn’t been talking for months, but the ‘you don’t know me anymore’ was still ricocheting around Louis’s brain. There was a quiet pause.
“I’m sorry,” said Louis.
“Hmmm?” said Zayn, still slightly sleepy.
“I’m sorry I haven’t called or messaged or emailed or skyped or facetimed or whatever newfangled social app I could have used to contact you. Viber? Snapchat. Actual, like, letters or something. God I’m using an actual phone for this call, it must be costing a fortune, I’m going to run out of credit any minute.”
“Run out of credit? You own a business, get a fucking phone plan.”
“I’m trying to apologise, don’t interrupt.”
“Well hurry up then, if we’re on a time limit.”
Louis sighed. “I’m sorry, Zayn, I really am. I was a shitty mess of a person when you left–”
“You’re always a shitty mess of a person.”
“And I took you leaving personally when really I knew it was about you and your art or whatever. I’ve been sulking and I’m sorry,” Louis finished.
There was silence on the line. “Look,” Zayn said. “I’m not going to apologise for leaving. I’m happy here and it was the right thing to do. But I’ve probably been sulking too. You were going through a rough patch, and I should have called you and told you to cut the crap, instead of letting you shut me out like that.”
Louis took a deep breath. Everything was ok, he told himself, and for once it felt almost true. “Did you mean it?” he said. “When you said you missed me?”
“Yeah, of course. But I still can’t come home.”
“Zayn,” Louis whined.
“Christ, Lou, I can’t just drop everything and panic-fly back to England like Adam Sandler in some rom-com.”
“Adam Sandler,” Louis said, with disbelief. “You have all the romantic leads in the history of time to go from and you chose Adam Sandler.”
“Sorry,” said Zayn. “Harry would make a great Drew Barrymore though.”
“That’s true. Why is Drew Barrymore in so many Adam Sandler movies? Is she the only actress in Hollywood that can stomach him?”
“I dunno,” said Zayn. “Is that what this is?”
“Fifty First Dates. He forgets you and you try and make him fall in love with you all over again?”
“No,” said Louis. Then he sighed. “I don’t know, everything’s fucked up. The problem with that movie is that Adam Sandler never tells Drew about the bad stuff. It’s all, ‘I love you, here’s our baby’, never ‘we had a massive fight yesterday and before you went to bed last night and forgot everything you weren’t talking to me.’”
“All right,” said Zayn. “Ryan Gosling then, he tells that chick everything doesn’t he? The good and the bad.”
“In The Notebook?” Louis said, with a laugh. “Yeah, but their story ends with them kissing in the rain or some shit like that. Our story ends with him saying ‘I’m leaving’ and me saying ‘good riddance.’”
“Nobody’s story actually ends with kissing in the rain,” said Zayn. “And you don’t know your story was over.”
“God, you sound just like everybody else. Everyone keeps telling me we would have got back together and I don’t understand what makes them so sure. We were done, you know? I was done. It was exhausting. I don’t think we even liked each other any more.”
“Hmmm,” said Zayn.
“We were so young,” Louis said. “It’s not like it was going to last forever.”
“You’re still young. Not everything has to be about forever. What about right now?”
And Louis doesn’t know. Because right now feels like before and after all at once somehow, and there’s no untangling it. He’s living in the aftermath but Harry’s grinning up at him like they’ve never torn each other apart.
“I love him,” he said, because it’s the truth. “I do. But I’m just waiting for him to turn back into the guy who hates me.”
“He didn’t hate you,” Zayn said. “He was mad, yeah, but he didn’t hate you.”
“Felt like he did. Can’t figure any of this out until he remembers. Liam wants me to just tell him everything but it’s too big, you know? There’s no way I could explain it in a way that he’d understand. That’s why I need you to come home.”
“I can’t, Lou.”
“Yeah, I get it,” Louis said. It had been a bit of a long shot.
“Can’t you just show him a picture of me?” Zayn said. “Or did you burn them all in a fit of rage?”
“I wasn’t that mad,” Louis said. “I did draw a dick on your Bob Marley poster though, sorry.”
“You left it behind.”
“You suck,” said Zayn, but it didn’t sound like he meant it. “Louis, you can show him a picture of me or I can talk to him on the phone or whatever you want, if you think it will help. But like… do you really think I’m the missing link here?”
“You could be,” said Louis. “Gemma said the doctor said he needed to be around familiar things, that's why she suggested he move in. And now he’s here and the only familiar thing that’s not is you.”
“You said he was mostly dreaming about you, though, right?”
“Well, I don’t think you should read too much into the dreams of a man with a head injury,” said Zayn. “But it makes more sense that if anything’s going to set him off it’s going to be you, Lou, not me. Maybe he just needs more time.”
Louis hummed, unsatisfied. “I guess,” he said.
When Harry got home, Louis was lounging on the couch, watching a Simpsons rerun and idly flicking through old pictures on his phone. He still hadn’t decided exactly what he was going to do, but there were some nice ones, he had to admit. He scrolled past one of the five of them, crowded into the frame, Louis in the middle with Zayn’s arm hanging off his shoulder and Harry’s head in his lap and all of them beaming at the camera. He paused on one of just him and Harry on Harry’s birthday, the two of them all dressed up for dinner and looking at each other like they were deeply in love. They were then, Louis supposed.
He clicked his phone shut and put it away as he heard Harry’s footsteps coming down the hall towards him.
“Evening, Haz. How was your day?” Louis said. “You sell those buns?”
“What?” Harry said, sounding distracted. “Oh yeah, um lots of buns… sold.”
“You all right Harry?” Louis said, turning off the tv.
“Yeah,” Harry said, perching himself on the arm of the couch. He still sounded weird. “Just a funny day. Or afternoon really.”
“Well. One of my doctors called.”
“Doctors?” Louis said, alarmed, thinking of all the possible things a doctor could say that would put Harry in such a strange mood.
“Yeah,” Harry said. “But like, I missed it? So he left a message. And not many people do that these days, do they? So I haven’t checked my voicemail since the accident and I couldn’t remember my code. Took me ages to figure it out.”
“Harry,” Louis said, trying not to panic. “What did he say?”
“Oh,” Harry said. “Just that my last scan looked good. Something something positive brain activity et cetera.”
Louis let out a sigh of relief. “Shit, mate, you had me worried for a second. Thought it was going to be bad news.” He glanced over at Harry and realized that Harry was still looking weirdly agitated. “What’s got you so upset then, if the scan was good?” he said.
“Well,” said Harry, anxiously twisting the ring on his middle finger round and round until it popped over the knuckle and he pushed it back down. “There was another message. An old one.”
“Oh,” said Louis, confused.
“Um, hang on,” Harry said, fishing in his pocket for his phone. He pulled it out and tapped at it, frowning. Louis could faintly hear the voicemail menu. Harry put it on speaker and then placed the phone on the coffee table between them.
“First saved message. Message received Saturday, second of May at three-oh-five am,” the voicemail lady said in her robotic voice, and suddenly Louis knew exactly what was coming.
There was a beep, and then a rustling noise. “Shit,” came Louis’s voice. “Shit, I’m not supposed to be calling you. Sorry. It’s all Zayn’s fault, he’s not here to stop me. He was supposed to be here but he never came home. You’re gone, and Zayn’s never here and I think Niall’s not talking to me. Liam won’t stop making me cups of tea, like that will fix everything. I’m going to drown in tea, probably. God, I miss you, Haz.”
There was a pause, and the sound of Louis exhaling.
“Shit. I wasn’t supposed to say that. I wasn’t supposed to say anything really, but it’s too late now, I guess. Might as well keep going. I miss you, Haz. I miss you and I love you and I wish I’d stopped you from walking out the door.”
There was a click, and a beep, and then the robot lady said, “You have no more saved messages.”
“Shit,” said Louis, the real Louis, the Louis in the here and now.
“You said that already,” said Harry, but he wasn’t smiling. “I don’t understand what this means, Louis. That was you, right? But the second of May, that’s the day of the crash.”
“Yeah,” said Louis. His head was racing. “Was that – had that been played already? When you listened to it?”
“I think so,” said Harry. “It wasn’t a new message.”
“Right.” Just as Louis thought, then. Harry had heard it, back then, before he forgot. And he hadn’t called Louis back. His response to hearing Louis still loved him was to go out and get himself a head injury.
“Louis,” said Harry. “I don’t understand. You said you loved me. Why? What does it mean?”
“Fuck, Harry. What do you think it means?” Louis said, exasperated. “I loved you, you loved me. We were in love. Until we weren’t.” Louis knew he sounded bitter, and harsh, and it wasn’t fair on Harry, but everything good from the last few months was about to come tumbling down. He could feel it.
“What?” said Harry.
“Come on, Harry. You remember. You’ve been dreaming about it for months.”
“No,” Harry said, sounding confused, and upset. “Those were just dreams.”
Louis shook his head. “Nope,” he said. “Everything you told me about was stuff that happened, ages ago.”
Harry stared at him, shocked. Then he frowned. “So you’ve been lying to me. All this time.”
Louis shrugged. “Pretty much.”
“None of this makes any sense,” said Harry. “Why did we break up? Why are would you lie about it? Why would you let me live here again?”
“Because I’m an idiot!” Louis yelled. “Because your sister asked me to. Because Niall asked me to, and Liam.”
“What?” Harry said, again.
“Gemma thought you might get some of your memories back if you lived here again, because it was familiar. And I went along with it because, I don’t know, because Niall and Liam were so happy to see you when you showed up on the doorstep and they were so sad when you left again, and it wasn’t fair that you just… forgot them.”
“What about you?” Harry asked, his voice small. “Didn’t you want me here? Didn’t you want me to remember?”
Louis huffed out a humourless laugh. “Not really.”
“Oh,” said Harry. He stood up quickly. “That’s, um… I’ll just go, then.” He looked blankly around the room and then grabbed his keys and his phone off the coffee table. “Get out of your hair,” he muttered.
And then, suddenly, Harry was walking out the door yet again, and yet again, Louis didn’t stop him.
Louis sat on the couch for a minute, just staring into space. He’d known things couldn’t last the way they were, but he still found himself reeling from just how fast they’d fallen apart.
His knee started jiggling of its own accord, and suddenly Louis knew he couldn’t stay here. He couldn’t sit and wait for Liam and Niall to come home so he could explain how badly he’d fucked it up this time. He couldn’t sit and wait on the off chance Harry came back again.
He jumped up off the couch and ran into his room, haphazardly throwing things into a bag. Less than hour later he was on the train to Doncaster.
When he arrived at his mum’s house he let himself in with the key under the stone hedgehog by the front door. She was alone in the kitchen doing the dishes, Corrie on in the background, and she didn’t notice Louis come in.
“Hey Mum,” he said, dropping his duffle on the floor.
His mum looked up. “Louis!” she yelped. “What are you doing here?” She wiped her hands on a tea towel and wrapped him in a hug, squeezing him tight. He clung on to her, desperately taking in the familiar smells of home.
“Oh, you know,” he said. “Just felt like coming home for a bit.”
Jay looked at him shrewdly. “The girls are all in bed,” she said. “How about I put the kettle on and you can tell me all about it, huh?”
She filled the kettle and got out a mug for them each, for her a worn floral affair and for Louis his old favourite, a Man U mug with David Beckham on the side, his face faded from too many times through the dishwasher.
Louis sat himself down at the kitchen table and watched her quietly. The kitchen was peaceful in a way it never was during the day, the only noise the kettle rumbling in the background, and when that boiled, just the slow tick of the clock above the sink.
Louis loved his sisters, but there was something special about this, the quiet calm of just him and his mum. Growing up he’d always savoured the hour between Lottie’s bedtime and his own, the only time of day he could have his mum to himself. It was different now, of course. Lottie wasn’t in bed, she was hundreds of miles south, at university in Brighton, and the others probably weren’t asleep, just hiding in their rooms, teenagers who took their mum for granted.
Jay handed him his cup of tea and took the seat opposite, a half-eaten packet of chocolate hobnobs on the table between them.
“Here you go, love,” she said. “Now what’s this all about?”
Louis stared at the tendrils of steam swirling above his mug. He took a hobnob.
“I fucked up,” he said.
“All right,” said his mum. “Tell me about it.”
So he did. He told her about Harry turning up on the doorstep, and how pleased Niall had been to see him. He told her about how he agreed to let Harry move back in, and how Louis somehow kept finding himself alone with him. He told her about rediscovering a person and a love he’d thought was gone for good. He told her about Harry’s dreams, and the voicemail.
She didn’t say anything, not even rebuking him for not telling her until now about Harry moving back in. She just sipped her tea and listened, until Louis got to the bit where Harry left again, and his voice started to crack.
“Oh darling,” she said then, pulling him into her arms. “You have been in the wars, haven’t you?” she said, just like when a kid and he came home with a bloody knee.
Louis just nodded wordlessly, squeezing his eyes shut tight so he didn’t cry.
She rubbed circles on his back, and he let himself be wrapped up in her comforting presence, her warmth bleeding into him in a haze of love and reassurance.
“He’s gone, Mum,” he said.
“I know, love,” she said in a soothing tone. She pulled back and looked at him, eyes searching. “You could always call him.”
“I could,” said Louis, wiping his eyes. “I don’t know if I should, though. There’s a point where you have to call time, right? Accept it’s over, and let it go.” He took a sip of his now lukewarm tea, knee jiggling under the table.
Louis figured his mum would understand this better than most. She’d ended relationships far bigger than Louis and Harry, relationships with children involved, shared property and rings. Relationships that were supposed to be forever. Louis had never asked her what that was like, because she was his mum, and close as they were there are some things you just don’t talk about with your parents, but she probably knew about finishing things you might’ve wished you could keep going.
“There is,” said Jay, in an even, measured tone.
“How’re you supposed to know when that is?” said Louis helplessly. “When does fighting for it become forcing it? When does letting go become the right thing to do?”
“I don’t know, love,” she said. “I know you shouldn’t stay in a relationship just because you were happy once, if you’re not happy any more. But it can be a hard line to find, sometimes.”
She gave him another hug, and sent him off to bed. Louis’s room had long been taken over, first by Lottie, and now by the babies, so he was on the futon in the den, but he didn’t really mind. It was home, discarded Barbie limbs and all.
He was discovered there the next morning by Daisy, who let out a shriek of delight and immediately jumped on top of him. He spent the next few days loosing himself in the chaos of his family, his sisters squabbling around him and Doris and Ernie, toddlers now, getting into everything. He changed nappies and braided hair and snuck Fizz a tenner so she could go see a film with her mates, and held down the fort for a night so his mum and his stepdad could go out for a nice meal, just the two of them. Every time he found himself thinking about Harry there would be a shriek, and something would be broken, or spilt, or someone would come tug on his hand and demand that he help them build a fort, or beat a level on a video game, or read them a story.
On the third day he woke up to a text from Liam. Come home, it said. We miss u.
Anyone else and Louis would be sure they were lying, but Liam never lied to Louis, and he always seemed to want Louis around, even when everyone else thought Louis was being an utter cunt.
Louis felt slightly guilty when he remembered that he’d left without telling anyone where or why he was going. Liam appeared to have figured it out, though, and Louis didn’t feel guilty enough to go back yet.
He stayed another two days, and then his mum sent him home.
“I think it’s time for you to head back to Manchester,” she said. “You’ve got a burgeoning business empire to look after, after all.”
Louis rolled his eyes at that. “Mum, it’s glorified babysitting,” he said. “Are you kicking me out?”
“Yes,” she said. “Liam’ll be missing you. Niall too, I imagine. You’ll be back in a couple of weeks for Christmas anyway.”
“Fine,” said Louis with a pout.
His mum just laughed. “You’ll be all right, Lou,” she said, giving him a hug. “Whatever happens, just remember that I love you and I’m proud of you.”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Louis, but he hugged her back.
Liam was pleased to see him when he got home, his big brown eyes lighting up with relief and delight. Even Niall clapped him on the back with a ‘good to see you again, Tommo”, although Louis wasn’t entirely sure how sincere it was.
There was no sign of Harry. His stuff was still there, however. Liam caught Louis eying it up. “We haven’t heard from him,” he said. “But he hasn’t stopped paying rent.”
“Right,” said Louis.
It was fine. They slipped back into the routine they’d had before Harry had shown up, just three mates living together, ignoring the thrum of tension undercutting everything, the empty spaces in the flat and the big, heavy clouds of things they weren’t discussing.
The X Factor final aired, and they watched it together, in a weird subdued silence. Harry’s favourite won, and Louis thought about texting him, but didn’t.
Christmas came and went, and with it Louis’s birthday. He spent it back in Doncaster, surrounded by his family. It was nice, genuinely nice, a warm spot at the end of a pretty shitty year.
Then came New Year’s, which wasn’t really. Louis agreed to go with Liam and Niall to some party thrown by one of Niall’s friends, but he felt overwhelmed and awkward, too morose to enter into the festive spirit. He slipped out early and rang in the New Year on the floor of his old bedroom, hidden amongst Harry’s scattered possessions, drunk and alone, the only light the glow of the streetlight outside reflecting dully off the floorboards.
It was a low point.
On New Year’s day Louis stumbled, hungover, into the kitchen for his morning up of tea to find Niall on the phone.
“That’s great news!” he was saying, a big smile on his face. He waggled his eyebrows gleefully at Louis.
Louis just scrunched up his nose and reached past Niall to get a mug out of the cupboard.
“I’m really glad to hear that, Anne,” Niall said. Louis froze. “Keep us updated, yeah?” He rang off.
Louis stared at him.
“That was Anne,” Niall said.
“I figured,” said Louis.
“She said Harry’s starting to remember things.”
“That's great,” Louis said. It was half-hearted. His head hurt, and he still hadn't heard a word from Harry. It was hard to be excited about the idea of him remembering exactly how much of a prick he thought Louis was.
“Aw, don't be like that,” Niall said. “Maybe now you two can work things out huh?”
“Seems unlikely. I mean, if he couldn’t even be bothered to tell us himself.”
Niall’s smiled snapped away. “Don't be a dickhead, Louis.”
“Don't think that's possible. It's ingrained in my personality, haven't you heard? Ask Harry.”
“He loves you,” Niall gritted out.
Louis scoffed. “No he doesn't. Not anymore. Especially not if he's remembering things.”
“Louis,” Niall said, frustrated. He was about to snap, Louis could feel it, he was about to snap and storm off again. Louis had yet again done the unthinkable, and made Niall angry.
Except Niall didn’t storm out. Instead, he strode over to where Louis was standing and wrapped him up in a hug.
“Hey,” Niall said, gently. “It’s all right. Lou. It’s ok.”
Louis took a deep breath, only to find, to his horror, that it quickly turned into a sob.
“I… I don’t…” he said, helplessly.
“Sssh,” Niall said, rubbing his back. “It’s ok. It’s been hard, I know, but it’s ok.”
“I’m sorry,” said Louis, with an embarrassing hiccup.
“What are ya sorry for?” said Niall.
“Everything. For driving Harry away.”
“Listen, Lou,” Niall said, thumb gently stroking the back of Louis’s neck. “I know you thought I took Harry's side, back then, when he left the first time.”
“Well yeah,” said Louis. “You were pretty mad. I was just waiting for you to leave too, to be honest.”
“What, leave Liam alone to deal with your mopey arse?” Niall laughed. “I wouldn’t do that. You can barely make your share of the rent as it is, I'd like to see you try and pay for half this place.”
“But you thought it was all my fault. You were so pissed at me.”
“Not at you,” Niall said. “Or, like, not just at you. I was mad at everything for a bit there. Zayn leaving. Harry getting hurt. And you, I guess. I don’t know what happened between you two, just that you fucked it up somehow, both of you, and then it fucked us all up. It’s like… I loved it so much, when it was the five of us, you know?”
“Yeah, Ni,” Louis said softly. “I know.” Because nobody who knew Niall could doubt that, the love he had for all of them.
“And everything just started falling apart, you know? Or I suppose you do, don’t you, more than any of us. So, yeah, I was a little bit mad at everyone there for a little bit. But I’d never leave. Why would I leave when all I wanted was for everyone to stay?”
“Not Liam,” Louis said. “You weren’t mad at Liam.”
“I was,” said Niall. “That fucker’s tall enough that he could probably clean the mould off the bathroom ceiling without even having to climb the bathroom counter and he still won’t do it.”
“Jesus, Niall,” Louis laughed, sniffing away his tears. “You’re going to have to let that one go, I think.”
“Never,” said Niall. “It’s gross. So are you, you’re all snotty.” He chucked Louis the paper towels off the kitchen counter to blow his nose with.
Louis did so, making a loud undignified honking noise in the process. “Look at me,” he said. “I’m a mess.”
“Nah,” said Niall. “You’re alright.”
“He hasn’t called, Niall,” Louis said, after another loud blow. “I don’t think he’s going to.”
“He probably just needs some time to sort himself out. Especially if he’s starting to remember things. Must be pretty confusing.”
“Maybe,” said Louis, but he didn’t really believe it.
Louis wallowed for another two days, and then he decided enough was enough. Harry wasn’t coming back, and Louis needed to pull himself together. He got a new tattoo and another one, and dragged Liam off to go mountain biking. He signed up for a friendly football league in the hope that a few laps around the pitch would mean he was too tired to lie awake at night. He went out, got drunk and danced with strangers and got off in a club bathroom. He even started planning a lads’ holiday for the three of them in the spring.
It was exhausting, he realised, pretending to be over Harry. Less than a fortnight into it and he was a wreck.
It was a cold and rainy January afternoon, and Louis was just considering a nap on the sofa, when the doorbell rang.
Louis ignored it. He figured whoever it was was trying to sell something or they wanted to talk about Jesus, and either way they’d have better luck with Liam.
The doorbell rang again, and Louis remembered that Liam was out, and so was Niall. He was just contemplating whether he could be bothered getting up to tell whoever it was to go away when they rang the doorbell again, this time pushing the button repeatedly.
Bloody hell, Louis thought, pulling himself reluctantly off the couch and down the hall. Calm down.
He opened the door.
Harry Styles was on his doorstep.
Louis considered slamming it in his face again, but Harry was too quick and he had his foot in the jamb almost straight away.
“Don’t do it,” Harry said. “You’ll hurt my foot.”
“Wasn’t gonna,” lied Louis. “Niall says you technically still live here.”
“Oh good,” said Harry, voice sunny. “Wanna let me in then?”
“Not particularly,” Louis said, but he turned and walked down the hall, leaving the entranceway clear. Harry followed him, shutting the front door behind him.
Louis stopped when he got to the kitchen. He ignored Harry in favour of perusing the pantry and the fridge for snacks. He contemplated making a cup of tea, but decided against it, opting instead for a swig of milk straight from the bottle. Harry just stood in the corner watching him, silent.
Eventually Louis decided he’d had long enough. “So Styles,” he said, closing the fridge and leaning against the kitchen counter. “You gonna tell me what you’re doing here?”
Harry shrugged. “I live here, apparently.”
Louis just raised his eyebrows, unimpressed.
“I remember everything,” Harry said. “I mean, I’m pretty sure I do. It’s hard to be certain of these things, you know, because you don’t know what you’ve forgotten. That’s kind of how forgetting things works. But I think I remember everything. It all makes sense now, there aren’t any gaps and, you know, I’m just… fairly certain I’ve got every thing, now.”
“Was that was supposed be a big dramatic reveal? Cos you kind of bumbled it,” Louis said, ignoring the way his heart had sped up.
“Get to the fucking point.”
“Ok. Well. I remember everything,” said Harry. “And I love you.”
Louis spluttered. “No you don’t.”
“Yes I do,” said Harry.
“Both those things can’t be true,” said Louis.
“Well, they are.”
“Since when do I remember or since when do I love you?” said Harry.
“It’s complicated,” said Harry, thinking. “It’s not like, instant recall, you know? My memory came back in bits and pieces. I reckon it was that voicemail that set me off, really.”
“That was over a month ago.”
“Yeah, like I said. It took time. I listened to it over and over, trying to figure it all out. And things started to come back. Slowly at first. About two weeks ago I thought I had enough remembered that I told my mum. But I wanted to make sure I had it all properly sorted before I came to talk to you.”
“Right,” said Louis.
“And as to loving you,” Harry said. “I don’t think I ever stopped.”
“Bollocks,” said Louis.
“You don’t get to tell me how I feel, Louis,” said Harry, sounding frustrated. “And I’ve got a message on my phone that says you love me back, or you did then, at least–”
“All right,” interrupted Louis. He still didn’t really believe it, but he couldn’t see the point in arguing about it. “You love me, I love you–” Harry let out the smallest twitch of a smile “–but that doesn’t mean anything, in the end, does it? It’s not enough.”
“I think it does, I think it is,” Harry said. “Why shouldn’t it be enough?”
“Because,” said Louis. “Because we’re fucking broken, Harry. Because we tore each other to shreds. The only time I’ve been more miserable is when I thought you were going to die.”
“Mum said you were there,” Harry said. “At the hospital.”
“Well,” said Louis helplessly. “I – you would have done the same, if it was me.”
“Yeah,” said Harry. “I would’ve.”
Louis stared at him. Harry stared back. His hair was longer now, not quite as long as it had been before the accident, but long enough that it was clearly growing down, not out, the tips just starting to curl into his collar. He was looking at Louis with a determined frown, like if he stared intensely enough Louis would just fall in line with whatever Harry’s grand plan was for their future.
“What did you think was going to happen today, Harry?” said Louis. “You turn up on my doorstep–”
“You turn up and say ‘I love you’ and I just fall into your arms?”
“No,” said Harry, looking uncomfortable. “I just thought you might want to try.”
“Try talking,” said Harry.
“About what, exactly?”
“I don’t see why I’m the one who needs to prove they believe in this relationship, Harry,” said Louis, voice icy. “You’re the one who keeps leaving. I get in a strop and you’d rather walk out than risk getting worked up.”
Harry looked like he’d been slapped. “You want me to get worked up?” he demanded. “Fuck, Louis. I’m worked up,” he said, and Louis realised he was crying. Not in a pretty way either, but angry tears that were starting to cover his face in ugly red blotches.
Louis couldn’t remember the last time Harry had cried in front of him. He used to do it all the time; he’d been a real weeper when they first got together, crying in movies and at sad ads on tv and once, memorably, over a bad mark for an essay. He’d stopped, though, somewhere along the line, and Louis hadn’t seen him this obviously upset in ages.
“Shit,” said Louis. He moved closer to Harry without really thinking about it, one minute the whole kitchen was between them and the next there was no space at all, and Louis was reaching out a hand to Harry’s cup face. “Hey,” he said. “It’s all right.”
Harry flinched. “It’s not.”
Louis dropped his hand. “Yeah, ok,” he said. “It’s not.” He tugged on his hair, frustrated. “How about I make us a cup of tea, and we start over?”
“I don’t know Louis,” said Harry dourly. “I just spent an awful lot of time trying to remember everything.”
“Not like that, you pillock,” said Louis. “Start the conversation again.”
Harry looked at him, his red-rimmed eyes blinking. “Yeah, ok,” he said.
They stood in silence while they waited for the kettle to boil. Louis couldn’t stop fidgeting. When the kettle switched off he snatched it up immediately, pouring hot water over teabags and fumbling for the milk.
They took their mugs over to the kitchen table and sat down opposite each other.
“Right,” said Louis, blowing on his tea. “So you reckon you remember everything and you love me.”
“Yes,” said Harry, hands curled protectively around his own mug.
“Ok,” said Louis, doubtfully. “You remember the time you took me to Nick Grimshaw’s for dinner and I was rude to him and all his friends?”
“That happened at least three times.”
“Yeah, and each time you got super pissy at me,” Louis said.
Harry shrugged. “Yep.”
“What about the scrabble argument?”
Harry winced. “I remember.” The scrabble argument had been their first major argument as a couple. It had involved, obviously, a scrabble game, the misspelling of the word ‘copious’ (Louis), unbearable smugness (Harry) and a triple word score (still disputed). They’d only got over it by agreeing to never play scrabble again, which, honestly, suited Louis just fine.
Louis drew his breath and brought out the big guns. “Easter,” he said. “When you wanted us to go visit your mum together and I refused.”
“I remember,” said Harry.
“You were furious,” said Louis. “You didn’t understand why I wouldn’t go. You barely talked to me for days.” They hadn’t ever really got over that one; their break up had come only a few weeks later.
“I still don’t understand,” Harry said. “It’s not like you were doing anything important, you spent most of the weekend playing fifa with Liam–” He stopped himself, and took a deep breath. “I still don’t understand, Louis, but it doesn’t matter. I love you.”
“Stop saying that,” Louis said. “Stop saying that like it means something, like it makes all the bad stuff go away. It doesn’t. That fight, about going home to your mum’s, that did matter. It mattered to you, then, and you’re still mad about it, aren’t you?”
Harry bit his lip. “Ok,” he said, slowly. “Explain it to me then. Why didn’t you want to go?”
Louis stared at him. “I didn’t want to go because I was pretty sure we were going to break up,” he said, because he didn’t really have much to lose by being honest now. “And I thought your mum would know somehow and hate me.”
Harry frowned. “Why didn’t you just tell me that then?”
“What would you have said, Harry?”
“I don’t know,” said Harry. “That I didn’t want us to break up, probably. At least I would have known that it wasn’t because you didn’t care about me or my family.”
Louis stared at him. “That time you tried to encourage me to quit smoking,” he said, digging for something else. “And I just said ‘I’m not a quitter’.” Harry had thought it was unbearably callous, which it was, but also Louis wasn’t going to quit smoking just because Harry told him to, even if he might have wanted to.
“I remember,” said Harry. He sounds impatient now. “You’re focusing on all the bad parts,” he said. “But I’ve got all these memories swirling around my head now and they’re not bad, most of them. Most of them are so fucking good, and that’s… that’s what I want.”
“Harry…” said Louis. He didn’t know what to say. There’d been good, yeah, but the bad had overwhelmed them in the end.
“You remember when I left? And you called me, and told me you missed me? You wanted to try and fix things then, didn’t you?”
“I don’t know,” said Louis. “Didn’t do much good, did it? I don’t remember you calling back.”
“Only because I was so eager to get here I crashed my car on the way,” said Harry, flippantly.
Louis felt the floor drop from under him. “What?” he said, panicked, chest constricting. “No – they said – they said it was the other driver’s fault.”
“Shit,” said Harry. “No, Lou, that’s not what I meant. It was the other driver’s fault.” He grabbed Louis’s hand. “I didn’t mean it was your fault that I crashed. Of course it wasn’t your fault that I crashed. I just meant I was so relieved when you called that I drove straight here to try and sort things out. The accident was just bad luck.”
Louis concentrated on slowing his breathing. “You were coming home?”
“Yeah,” said Harry. “I thought you knew that already.”
Louis shook his head. He’d never put much thought into where exactly Harry had been heading that day. The fact that it was to him just made him wonder if they were cursed somehow, if it was a sign they weren’t meant to be.
“These last few months,” Harry said. “They’ve been good, haven’t they?”
“The last one hasn’t,” said Louis. “The last one’s been pretty shit, actually.”
“Yeah,” said Harry. “I know. I’m sorry. I needed some time to get my head on straight. But before that. These last couple of months have been so nice. I’d forgotten how fun you and I were once, how easy.”
“We were,” said Louis, because it’s true. “What happened?”
“I don’t know,” said Harry. “You… hardened, somehow.”
“So did you,” said Louis.
“You stopped looking at me like I was special, and started rolling your eyes instead.”
“Well, you stopped looking at all,” said Louis, crossing his arms.
“You’ve been so nice to me, though. All those lovely things you did.”
Louis didn’t know what to say. That he’d been nice to Harry because Harry had seemed to want it, to appreciate it, for the first time in years. That he’d felt like Harry actually needed him again. That’s not… that’s a bit fucked up, isn’t it? To need someone to need you like that?
“You can’t really think we can have another go at it,” said Louis. “We’re too messed up.”
“What if we just… try to be better?” said Harry, chewing his lip.
“That simple? We just try to be better?”
“Yeah,” said Harry. “I’ll try to be more open about things, to tell you what’s pissing me off.”
“That sounds good,” said Louis.
“But you have to listen when I do, and not just start a row.”
Louis opened his mouth to defend himself, and then thought about what Harry said, and shut it. “I can try,” he said instead.
“Maybe that’s enough,” said Harry.
“What if it’s not?” said Louis. “How do you know we’re not just beating a dead horse?”
Harry shrugged. “Then we end it. But you’ve been trying these last few months Lou, I know you have, I saw you having a conversation with Grimmy last time he came round and it was perfectly pleasant.”
“I called him a twat,” said Louis. “Twice. And then he called me a spoiled brat with a napoleon complex.”
“Yeah,” said Harry, meaningfully. “And then you laughed.”
Louis pursed his lips. “So what, this relationship’s got a future as long as I laugh at Nick Grimshaw’s jokes?”
“Maybe,” said Harry. “Don’t you want to try?”
Louis looked across the table at him and didn’t say anything. Because the thing was, Louis did want to try. He just didn’t know if he should. He took a sip of his tea, thinking.
“You’ve just told me last time you tried to come back here to sort things out you ended up in hospital,” he said. “You almost died. What if it’s like, divine intervention?”
“You don’t believe in divine intervention, Louis,” Harry said. “And even if you did, last time I tried to come back here I crashed my car and ended up in hospital and almost died and forgot all about you and I still made it back here, in the end.”
“Oh,” said Louis. “I guess that’s true.”
He mulled it over. Harry was right about the last few months. They had been good. They’d been nice, and easy, and fun. They’d been like Harry and Louis had been at the start, the way Louis had thought they’d always be, the way he’d thought they never could be again.
Harry was just watching him, waiting.
Louis thought about all those nights spent watching the X Factor together, when he’d thought it was impossible for them to find common ground again. He thought about the day he’d spent doing things he hated, getting sore feet and seeds in his teeth and glares from smarmy law students, and how it’d been worth it for the smile on Harry’s face. He thought about falling asleep, Harry beside him, Reese Witherspoon’s voice murmuring in the darkness. About waking up in Harry’s arms, and how right that had felt.
Louis thought about watching Harry leave, twice over. If he said no, Harry would leave again, and he wouldn’t come back. This was Louis’s last chance to stop him.
“Yes,” he said. “Yes, I want to try.”
A smile broke across Harry’s face. “Yeah?”
“Yeah, all right,” said Louis. “Why not?”
He reached out a shaking hand to take another sip of his tea, but before he could he was bowled over by Harry, who knocked him to the ground and started kissing him furiously.
Louis laughed, Harry’s lips tickling as they passed over his jaw and cheek and throat. “Calm down, mate,” he said.
“Nah,” said Harry. “I’ve got about nine months to make up for.” He kissed Louis again, on the lips this time.
Louis rolled his eyes and kissed him back.
They were still lazily making out on the kitchen floor when Liam and Niall got home.
“Oh,” said Liam, looking pink.
“Fucking finally,” said Niall, stepping over them to get a snack from the fridge.
Harry turned onto the street and walked halfway down before pausing. He checked his phone. Louis had texted him, having a drink w the lads, come join us ! and an address. This address. Harry had expected to find a pub, not a swanky cocktail bar.
He shrugged, and pushed the door open, only to immediately jump ten feet in the air when everyone he knew jumped out from god knows where and yelled, “Surprise!”
“Holy shit,” he said, hand on his chest.
“Happy birthday, Haz!” said Niall. He was standing with Liam, both of them holding the end of a banner that said “Happy Birthday,” in big sparkly writing. Everyone was wearing cardboard cone birthday hats, the kind you get at kids’ parties.
“My birthday was two weeks ago,” said Harry.
“Well yeah,” said Louis, appearing out of nowhere and putting a hat on Harry’s head. “But we were down at your mum’s then, weren’t we? And I needed some time to get everything sorted.”
“You did this?” said Harry, incredulous, adjusting the elastic under his chin.
“I had some help,” said Louis, looking slightly pink. “Nick chose the venue. And talked them into doing a special on those fancy cocktails you like.”
Harry spotted Nick in the corner. “You two planned a party together? For me?”
“Yeah,” said Louis, pulling a face that Harry knew was supposed to mean ‘it’s not that big of a deal Harry, god’.
“Your boy’s a terror,” Nick said. “He wanted to serve sausage rolls and saveloys.”
“What?” said Louis. “Harry likes a good sausage.”
Nick gave an audible sigh. Harry grinned.
It was a great party. The cocktails were delicious, and everyone Harry knew and loved was here to celebrate with him. Most of them were people Harry had last seen at the party at their flat, back when he didn’t remember who they were. The thought that he might have forgotten them all forever was terrifying, but even more overwhelming was the fact that Louis hadn’t let him, just like he hadn’t let Harry forget his favourite juice bar. He’d made sure Harry had all the things that were most important to him when Harry couldn’t keep track of them himself. Harry didn’t think he could never thank Louis enough for that, so he concentrated on enjoying himself, loosing himself in a mass of people he was so glad to have around again, laughing and dancing and drinking.
It wasn’t until much later that he managed to get Louis alone, pulling him down into his lap in a quiet booth in the corner.
“I can’t believe you did this,” said Harry. “This is amazing. Best birthday ever.”
“Well, like I said,” said Louis. “I had some help. Liam blew up all the balloons. And Niall found the stupid hats. And Nick, well – Nick did a lot. It was a collaborative effort really.”
“I can’t believe you ‘collaborated’ with Nick.”
“The things I do for love,” said Louis, sighing heavily. “Nah, he’s not so bad, as it happens. And he knows about the things you like that I don’t always understand. I figured if we put our heads together we’d come up with something you loved.”
Harry kissed him.
A year ago Louis wouldn’t have ever admitted that there were things about Harry that Nick understood better. He used to treat everything Harry liked that he didn’t as an evil force driving them apart, and here he was asking Nick for help to make sure Harry got all those things and more for his birthday.
“I do love it,” said Harry. “Thank you.”
“I love you,” said Louis, grinning at him. Things still weren’t perfect between them. They still had a lot to sort out, and maybe they never would be perfect. But they were better, and they were better because they were both prepared to make an effort to make them better.
Harry grinned back. The music changed, a familiar strum of synth strings building into a song they both knew, Carly Rae Jepson asking you to call her, maybe. Harry laughed.
“It’s our song!” he said, pulling Louis up. “Come on, let’s dance. I remember how it goes now.”
Louis laughed, and let himself be pulled onto the dance floor. Niall and Liam were there already, waving their arms in the air and belting out the lyrics. Harry and Louis joined them, dancing with unbridled joy.
“I missed you so bad, I missed you so so bad,” Harry sung, twirling Louis into his arms, drunk and happy.
Everything was good.