Louis is careful not to wake him as he climbs out of bed. Harry doesn’t really deserve to sleep in, he thinks, as he shuffles barefoot across chilly wood floors toward the toilet. It’s 1st October, and Harry was last there on 1st September: the day before the start of White Eskimo’s first-ever tour that spanned further than London.
He’d banged in at half 3 with no other explanation besides, “I’m exhausted,” and Louis welcomed him into bed without a second question. The surprise turned into elation, and he clung to Harry beneath the duvet, smiling into his chest as he fell asleep, allowing himself that moment, if nothing else: that moment of pure joy, the moment of he’s actually here.
Waking up with Harry in bed beside him felt normal despite that it isn’t normal anymore; it hasn’t been normal for a month, and even then, there was never any helpful or healthy discussion about what it meant that Harry showed up at Louis’ flat every night and accidentally referred to it as ours on more than one occasion.
The faucet squeaks as he twists it to hot and then steps into scalding water, shuts his eyes against the stream and breathes deep.
There’s a Harry in his bed. He’s supposed to be in Glasgow. Louis almost doesn’t want to know the reason why he’s in London because the next question is, inevitably, when are you leaving, and Louis knows that it’ll be too soon.
He doesn’t prepare himself for these types of visits because he’s not exactly owed them, and Harry never dropped a single hint that he might be showing up. It’s impossible not to feel the marked difference between when he’s there and when he’s not, though. Seeing him curled on his side in the normally unused half of Louis’ bed is like seeing the entire puzzle put together, and that’s not fair, nor is it accurate. There’s no puzzle.
Louis slams a few drawers with the towel hanging low around his waist, hoping to startle Harry awake while dripping wet all around his bedroom. He considers turning on the radio to do the job for him, but it’s Harry, and he’s still asleep, or pretending to be. Louis pulls on a pair of briefs, tosses his towel over the door, and sits down on the edge of the bed.
“Harry,” he singsongs, no louder than a whisper. Harry looks so peaceful and like he’s maybe a couple of days too late on a much-needed shower; weeks late on a much-needed haircut. Louis can’t imagine how tired he must be.
“Harry,” he says again, stern this time, and Harry raises an eyebrow but keeps his eyes closed.
“Sleeping,” he slurs, yanks the blanket up around his shoulders and buries his face into the pillow. “Get back in bed.”
“Missed you, too, pal.” Louis flicks him on the cheek, and then gives up, crawls into the narrow space just between Harry and the edge of the mattress. Harry reaches out to grab him and draws him against his chest as he rearranges the blanket over Louis’ shoulders, and in seconds they are cozy, snuggled together with treacherous ease.
“Hair’s all wet,” Harry whines, peeking one eye open and, yes, there it is. His eyes are unbelievably pale in the morning and he’s gorgeous even with blanket marks on his cheek and cracked dry lips. Louis isn’t even put off by his morning breath when Harry looks at him like that, because even that detail is part of the memory he’s been trying to recreate for a month, and it’s suddenly vivid and real and overwhelming and, worst of all, fleeting.
“You can’t be that tired,” he reasons, though he knows it’s not true. He’s stolen half of the pillow, now, but Harry doesn’t budge.
“Six hour drive from Glasgow to London.”
“Didn’t have to come.”
“I did,” Harry says automatically, and opens one eye again. “Just missed this bed, you know?”
Louis bites the inside of his cheek. Admitting to missing the bed is about as close as they’ll get to admitting that it’s each other they miss, that Louis hasn’t stopped thinking about Harry for more than five minutes since he’s gone, that the White Eskimo Instagram is shit for not showing more of his face. He won’t bring up those bizarre, auto-corrected text messages he receives at four in the morning on Saturday nights and Harry won’t, either. There’s not really enough time for them to talk about that.
If he had any self-preservation instincts, Louis would ask him to leave. He wouldn’t nudge his leg between Harry’s thighs and he would push Harry’s hand away when he slips it beneath the waistband at the back of Louis’ briefs to palm his ass in one hand like it’s resuming its rightful position, like it belongs there.
“Plans today?” Louis wriggles closer and Harry opens his eyes again, squeezing the meatiest part of Louis’ ass. There’s a look in his eye that Louis swears he has reserved for him, but he’ll never admit it; not when countless girls in the audience think the same thing, probably, when he hits impossible notes and makes eye contact with them, rocking their world so effortlessly.
Harry shakes his head once. “Just this.”
It’s enough to make Louis question everything about the last thirty days, because doing this feels so easy and he wonders, not for the first time, if the only thing keeping he and Harry from becoming something that can be defined is the fact that his tour lasts another two months.
“You just assumed I didn’t have any plans?” Louis scoffs. He has no plans. He doesn’t work until ten that night, where he’ll collect cover money at a venue until two in the morning.
Harry smirks and kisses the inside of Louis’ wrist, the closest thing to his mouth. “Do you?”
“Not the point,” Louis mutters, but there’s no reason to continue when Harry leans in to kiss him, dragging Louis closer with his hand on his ass, and Louis is already hard, jerking his hips toward Harry until he feels his cock through his briefs.
It’s what they should’ve been doing everyday. This shouldn’t have to feel like once-in-a-lifetime, like Harry is going off to war, or something, and Louis is just trying to squeeze in what he can. He’s imagined this plenty of times, and usually there’s some kind of heavy, emotional admission that comes before, but Louis finds that what he really wants is for Harry to just use his body so that he can use Harry’s, too, and they can figure each other out without needing to talk about it. This is what they do best, though, this combination of laughing and kissing and chasing each other’s lips at every turn. These moments before things escalate are when he can’t imagine it ever being quite as good with anyone else, not when this is what it’s liked to be known and wanted. There doesn’t seem to be much else after that, does there?
Harry taps Louis on the hip and Louis rolls onto his back when he gives him a gentle nudge, lifting his arms over his head and shivering when his hair trails a cold drip down the back of his neck. It could be that or it could be Harry’s hands framing Louis’ body that make him shiver, his nipples hard as goosebumps scatter over his chest and make every muscle tighten.
When Harry presses up to plank over Louis’ body, Louis gets his first good look at him in the filtered sunlight, at the soft definition of the muscles in his shoulders, the tattoos he has memorized and the way he looks when all of his attention is focused on Louis. He wishes he could bottle the way it makes him feel.
“That’s new,” Harry nods to the ‘78’ on Louis’ chest, and Louis touches over it instinctively, nodding. “Looks good,” Harry adds, his voice rough when he dips down to kiss over it twice, like he’s sealing it into place.
The attention just feels so good that he would take this, just Harry’s lips mapping the skin on Louis’ chest until he’s red and bruised, but his body so clearly wants more; he grinds up against Harry’s thigh, which is pressing down over his cock, and Harry gets the hint and kisses Louis again. It’s so hungry, all of it, and Louis ignores his wet hair and the stream of morning sunlight beamed right at his eye from a crack in the curtain, and he ignores logic and sense and the sense of loss he’ll feel when this is all over. He just lets Harry kiss him, and he twists his fingers into his too-long hair and holds him in place while they grind wildly against each other.
“You’ve just had a shower,” Harry mumbles, and Louis can feel his grin as he goes in for another kiss.
“You’re gonna come, aren’t you?”
It’s the way he says it that makes Louis that much closer, and in the same moment Harry drops all of his weight down onto Louis and loses himself, stops laughing so he can gasp into the side of Louis’ neck.
“After you,” Louis whispers, finding the upper hand as Harry sinks his teeth into the base of Louis’ throat. He doesn’t know where he’s been. He doesn’t know who he’s done this with, if anyone, but for some reason the thought of him driving eight hours – eight hours – in the middle of the night just to sleep in the same bed with him is so fucking endearing, so attractive to Louis, makes him feel like he owns some special part of Harry that will remain untouchable. Even if it’s nothing more than a delusion, it’s that line of thought that brings him to the edge, that and Harry muffling a cry by kissing Louis’ adam’s apple when he comes and then crumples, and the way he falls apart only for Louis is so hot, and it’s so fucking intense for so early in the morning, but there’s nothing like it, nothing quite as gorgeous—
“Shit—“ Louis gasps, lifting his hips up, and Harry follows, weighing him down and anchoring himself so Louis can finish, his eyes rolling back in his head when he comes hard, soaking his clean pair of pants and his own lower belly. Harry kisses him through it, littering Louis’ face with kisses down his jaw and across his cheeks, finally finding his lips with a surprising tenderness that makes an inexplicable lump swell in Louis’ throat.
The kiss turns lazy and then somewhat self-conscious, like they’ve started to build their guards again after letting them down; it took courage to do that, but Louis feels less brave and more vulnerable, now.
Harry pulls back first, presses up over him and looks down at Louis’ body like he might not be finished. Louis thinks, I could go again, but instead Harry asks, “D’you want tea?” and Louis nods automatically, watching Harry’s long muscles and his long back and his long legs climb out of bed. He pulls off his pants and he’s naked and gorgeous walking toward the kitchen.
Rockstar, Louis thinks. That’s what he is now. He’ll be on NME’s Cool List next year and he’ll be touted as a ladies’ man, and he might fuck whoever he wants when he leaves here, but this, he thinks, this Harry is mine.
That’s not the best train of thought, it turns out. It inspires a false sense of certainty, and it inspires Louis to do things like laugh at Harry’s worst jokes as they eat toast and tea in bed. It makes Louis stupidly affectionate when they turn on awful telly and ignore it in favor of the kinds of lazy touches Louis took for granted when Harry wasn’t on tour. They’re the sorts of touches that read trouble all over them, the kind that are too intimate to do them any good.
Louis thinks about his everyday, about what he’d be doing if Harry weren’t there. It must mean so little to him to hear about, he thinks; it must sound so dull, because he’s waking up in the same bed everyday and he’s seeing the same crowd. He watches football on Saturday. He works at night. These details all add up to nothing much more than a basic, not bad, way to live. The most interesting thing about him, he wants to say, is that the idiot he loves is smashing it on tour, but he trains that thought to slip out of his mind before it can grow roots.
He doesn’t want to elaborate on his day-to-day, but Harry is staring at him doe-eyed and curious, like he genuinely wants to know, and Louis doesn’t want to reveal that he’s embarrassed and slightly ashamed. He hasn’t even asked about tour because he’s too fucking scared to hear about how great it is, and then he’ll be jealous, and he can’t tack resentment onto the list of feelings that fall under the Harry category.
“Not too busy…” He trails off and scratches his cheek. “Still working at the club. We just have a laugh most nights. Doesn’t feel like work, really.” He stops and looks up at Harry, who pauses peeling his orange to nod at Louis, urging him to keep going. Louis coughs. “That’s it, really.”
Louis laughs, because Harry knows the answer. “Zayn. I mean, he’s Zayn. Have you talked to him since you’ve been back?”
“Hm.” Harry shakes his head and looks back down at his orange, digging his thumb beneath the skin in a way Louis finds endearing, which is fucking pathetic. “Came to see you.”
In their group of friends, for the last five years, they’re the people that seem to have a thing, the two people in a room who others ask about the second they walk in, even if they’re having an off day, even if they haven’t so much as kissed in months. There’s an expectation between them that makes Louis feel like he’s constantly about to play a footy match, the biggest of his life, every single time he and Harry so much as sit beside each other. It’s exhilarating, being the two of them.
He just doesn’t trust them to last while Harry’s on the road. It’s a hunch he has, is what he said to Harry on the day before he left.
The last day of August is when Harry had asked him, semi-officially, to be his boyfriend. He hadn’t said the word; he’d said “my—you know,” and Louis had written him off then.
“Is that how you’ll describe me to whoever wants to fuck you tomorrow night?” Louis had laughed. “Your ‘you know?’”
That was the end of that conversation.
It was the worst way to end it, the worst thing to say before Harry left for four months, which is why him coming back to Louis in the middle of the night is even more surprising than it would’ve been even if he hadn’t explicitly denied Harry the chance at an exclusive relationship.
He wished there was a simple explanation for saying no to him. It was maybe rooted in Louis’ desire to be more than just the guy he had at home; a sure thing on nights when Harry felt lonely or fucked up or needed someone to call. They both know he would do that, anyway, even without a title.
But Louis needed to be more than the stay-at-home boyfriend of the successful young frontman. It wasn’t exactly a secret that Louis sort of wanted to play that role himself, and it tore him apart that he could feel jealousy and even bitterness over someone that he only ever wanted to support.
And he does support him; hell, he’s his biggest fan.
“Heard the new stuff,” Louis says after a moment. “On Youtube.”
Harry raises his eyebrows, but he looks almost scared to ask, “Yeah? What’d you think?” His voice is at an even deeper rasp from weeks of singing his heart out every night, and he forms the words around the orange segment that Louis wants to taste on his lips.
“Really good,” Louis nods. It’s an understatement; it’s the kind of music that will win them awards, if the production is right. “Really, really good.”
Harry beams. “It’s been doing really well. People singing along already, you know?”
He knows. They haven’t even got a single out and there are people queuing up for their shows and at the back of the venues, waiting for a glimpse, and Harry’s Instagram is getting uncomfortably popular. Louis thinks back to all of the photos Harry had taken of him over the summer, of trips to the park and of Louis bouncing a football on his knee, moments Harry caught that weren’t particularly special but which were now gaining likes by the second. It didn’t mean anything, those people double-tapping just for the sake of hoping Harry might notice them, but it was still strange to witness. Louis felt like he was in on everything and still so spectacularly distant from what was really happening, and every night Harry spent away from home, he convinced himself that someday soon Harry would be too far ahead for him to catch up.
Harry throws his peel into the bin and sucks orange juice off of his thumb, meeting Louis’ eyes as he walks back toward the bed.
“Should we do something else today?” Louis speaks as though Harry isn’t crawling up the bed toward him, as though they’re not about to settle into their wrinkled sheets again.
“Like,” Louis huffs, and arches his back as Harry slips his arm around his lower back and rests his head onto Louis’ belly. “I don’t know. Go for pints, or something. Ring Zayn. Or, like…Liam.”
“Can’t drink.” Harry presses a kiss to the swell of Louis’ rib, then drops his head back down onto it, his curls tickling Louis’ skin and sending shivers down his spine.
“Since I’ve got to drive back in a few hours.”
That boneless, floating quality, the one that had Louis feeling like he might melt into the bed from relaxation – that’s gone rather abruptly. Harry lifts his head to meet Louis’ eyes, and Louis refuses to appear sad. This visit was a gift, or something like it. The worst kind of gift, because the loss of it will hurt worse than all 30 days without him combined, but he can’t make Harry feel like it wasn’t enough, or as though Louis is owed more than this.
“Tonight,” Louis repeats. “Cool. Okay.”
“We’ve got a radio interview tomorrow morning.”
“Yeah?” He chuckles, though nothing is funny. “D’you have people to make your tea that early?”
Harry looks at him, and he’s not smiling. For a second, Louis thinks he might address it, the fact that Louis is redirecting their conversation from the fact that Harry is leaving. But then: “No,” he drawls, sounding fake-sad and keeping a straight face. “Have to do it all by myself.”
Louis wrinkles his nose. “That’s rubbish.”
They stare at each other for a second, Louis biting the inside of his cheek and Harry calmly anticipating whatever off-topic anecdote will come next. There’s something loud on telly behind him and Louis doesn’t want this moment to be his most vivid recent memory of Harry, but he knows it will be. This is what he’ll have when he thinks about him on some dingy, sticky stage, night after night, giving bits of himself away to every person he connects with in the audience.
“I dunno,” Harry says, after a moment. It’s generous of him to drop it, just like that. He places his hands flat on the bed and aligns his body with Louis’, placing his forehead down onto his and shutting his eyes. “It’s alright.”
He curls his forearm around the back of Harry’s shoulders and holds him close. They’re not talking about Harry’s lack of assistance with early morning tea, and they’re not talking about anything when Harry drops his head down to nuzzle his nose down into the sensitive crook of Louis’ neck. It’s all he wants to do; to let Harry sleep on him for hours, to weigh his body down and make his limbs fall asleep until Louis wakes him up when it’s dark outside. He wants to let him shower and rid him of the stink of the road, to ask him all the best and worst parts about being away from home, but those questions will only make him more acutely aware of just what he’s missing. He’s awful for not asking. He’s selfish, he knows.
But he also does them both a favor when he pushes Harry lightly off of him and then gets to his feet.
“Let’s get something to eat,” he says, holding out his hand to pull Harry to his feet. “We can’t do this all day.”
Harry frowns, and he rubs at his eyes with the heels of his palms, pouting and making a case for his lips to be kissed when he pushes them out that way. “Why not?”
Louis turns around to find his jeans. The elaborate answer would destroy all the work he’s done to get over it while Harry was away, but it would be the truth. Still: he doesn’t think he can bring himself to tell it, so he gives him the gist. “I can’t say goodbye to you here.”
He throws Harry’s t-shirt toward him and then gets dressed in semi-clean clothes he picks from the pile on the floor near the bedroom door. Harry waits in the hall for him, hunched over with his back against the wall as he scrolls through his phone. He doesn’t even have anything with him, besides that; he came with nothing besides his clothes and his wallet. He came in spite of knowing he’d have to leave again, and it makes Louis’ heart clench when he thinks about it, about what it took for him to use that night off to drive for hours just to get a good night’s sleep in Louis’ bed. It feels special and cinematic and genuine in a way that only Harry can pull off, but Louis hasn’t yet decided whether or not his visit will wind up being helpful or a setback.
“Kind of fancy a milkshake,” Harry says, moving aside to let Louis lock the door behind them when they leave. “Banana. Banana chocolate.”
It’s nice of him to pretend that getting a milkshake at 4 in the afternoon has ever been a thing that they do together. Louis throws him a long-suffering look that makes Harry laugh loud.
Harry follows him down the narrow staircase, and even after a year the stale stench of cigarettes in the hallway carpet makes his nose wrinkle before he opens the door to fresh air and bright white light and familiar street sounds. Outside, Harry looks worse off than he did in Louis’ bed; his posture is terrible as he shoves his hands into his jean pockets and looks between the ground and Louis’ face.
“I think I might—“ Harry starts, and Louis feels his heart jump to his throat because here it comes, he thinks, the excuse he needs to leave.
“Yeah,” Louis cuts him off. “Might be better if you just go now.”
“That’s not,” Harry says quietly, shaking his head. “Not what I was going to say, but.” He clears his throat. “Yeah, maybe I should.”
Louis clenches his jaw and looks down at his feet. He’s a fucking idiot.
“Okay.” It’s not how he wanted to say goodbye, but now it’s too late for him to take it back, too late for them to awkwardly suck down a milkshake neither of them wants while they count down the minutes before Harry needs to leave again.
“I’ll text you,” Harry says, and reaches out to brush his fingers down Louis’ shoulder, and then he’s walking with purpose toward his car, knocking his sunglasses down over his eyes and looking, somehow, like he’s back into his touring-musician shoes, his posture and stance so different than it had been when he stood next to Louis.
There’s no point in watching him drive off, so Louis turns the corner and just walks, walks until he finds a pub, stays out until he’s had enough drinks to muster up the courage to go back to his empty flat.
Louis spends the next week thinking Harry might pop in at any second. Even just that one time is enough to put the thought into Louis’ head. He wishes he’d never considered it as a possibility because every night he goes to sleep with this anticipatory want in his gut and every morning he feels foolish and angry that he ever bothered to think the word maybe.
The cycle continues no matter how much Louis changes his routine. It doesn’t bring him down, because he’s generally happy; his job is fun and different every night and he meets fit girls and boys and has drinks bought for him when his shift is over. He stays out late and sleeps late and that sort of schedule makes him feel like his life is far more fast-paced and intense than it actually is.
He works himself hard, picking up extra shifts and going out after they’re over. On his days off from work, he doesn’t spend more than a couple of hours without company, and even during his showers he carries in his laptop to rest it on the toilet so he can listen to music through the tinny speakers.
The routine is so different than his lazy nights and mornings he used to spend waiting around for Harry to finish band practice during the day or a gig during the weekend, where they’d wake up together and make fun of each other until their cheeks and bellies hurt from laughing and Louis’ tea had gone cold on the nightstand. There was never anything guaranteed then, either, but at least they were together, even when they weren’t; going out to the same bar always meant they’d wind up leaving with each other no matter who kissed who in the hallway by the toilets. There would reach a point in the night when Harry would just find him, and he’d say nothing and Louis would pretend to need a smoke and they’d take their time walking home, taking up the whole sidewalk with their half-drunk zigzag walks.
“Sometimes I fucking hate White Eskimo, man,” Harry said one night, months ago, just a Tuesday night in June where they’d gotten too fucked too quickly.
Louis had shoved him on the shoulder, and Harry stumbled and turned around to grin crookedly at him. “What?”
“They’re your band,” Louis said. “Don’t think you hate them.”
“No, it’s just,” Harry shrugged and stopped walking so that he could match his pace to Louis’. “We’ve been together for nine years, y’know?” His voice slurred, and Louis realized he was less drunk than Harry only because he noticed.
Harry often got deep and contemplative when he was drunk, and it was always at the end of a night like that one, where they’d been sitting in a bar getting progressively tipsier while staring at each others’ faces like there was no one else around. They could’ve done that at Louis’ flat, surely, but it was better in public; they liked to flaunt it, to make people wonder, to make them stare hard only so that they could ignore them.
But in this instance, Harry was wrong, and Louis was too weak to resist the urge to prove that to him. “That’s why it’s so cool that you’re, like. You’re really doing it now. You’ve worked hard, right?”
“Yeah, I just wish that we could…” He’d trailed off then, his words fading as a fire truck drove by with its horn wailing.
“Don’t you ever wish we were in it together?”
Louis had rolled his eyes and walked faster, too sensitive to Harry’s penchant to pity him for being nothing more than a would-be musician when he was on the verge of taking off. He was so embarrassed by the thought that Harry would ever consider his feelings when he considered his own success; the thought made him cringe, and he wanted to drop it. “C’mon,” he’d said, dragging Harry into a convenience store still open past midnight. “I’m starving.”
They’d talked about it before, but never with such a fine point. When they met five years ago, Harry was in a band called White Eskimo and Louis didn’t know him without it, so no, he never wished that he wasn’t involved in something that really defined who he was.
That was before the tour was announced, though. Now it’s different. Now he does kind of hate White Eskimo, just a little.
Liam is the friend that Louis seeks when he’s at his worst, and Liam doesn’t seem to mind. They see each other on good nights, too, but Louis’ recent history involves traveling long distances – well, long cab rides – to see Liam on nights when he wants to get fucked up at weird clubs with a group of people he’s not particularly close with.
It’s the middle of October when he calls him, two weeks since Harry popped in for a visit and fourteen nights that Louis has gone to sleep with that aching, empty hope in his gut. Liam says of course, tells him to come over, tells him they can have a few at his before they head out.
He neglects to tell him that he’s in the middle of some kind of proper adult dinner party, one like Louis his mum having; he would watch his sisters in the nursery while she entertained a surprisingly loud group of adults.
There are eight of people sitting around a table full of empty plates and five empty wine bottles, and they all kind of give a hoot when Louis walks in, feeling very sober and a little confused.
“You remember Louis, right, guys?” Liam asks, his eyes crinkling when he grins. “Alright, mate?”
“Did I crash a dinner party?”
“No, no, no! We’re going out soon. Sit down, have some wine. Don’t think we’ve got any more glasses, though, let me go—“
Liam hurries to the kitchen and Louis sits down at the table, wedging himself beside two girls who are so deep in conversation that Louis is reminded, for a second, of how it must feel for anyone sitting beside him and Harry after they’ve had a few.
He really needs to catch up; it’s unacceptable that he’s not the loudest person in the room. Without a glass, Louis just goes right for the bottle, holding it by the neck to tip some into his mouth.
They’re a good group to watch. He doesn’t even realize he’s doing it at first, that he’s listening to everyone else’s conversations while he notices who’s staring at whom above the rim of their pint glass and who’s playing footsie beneath the table. A minute goes by before he feels something wet on his elbow and finds he’s dipped it into someone’s dinner spill.
He’s in the process of searching for a flannel on the tabletop when—
“—White Eskimo—“ he hears, and freezes. The girls next to him are suddenly much more interesting than they were just a minute ago. Louis leans closer.
“—really wanted to go this weekend, but I’m working tomorrow. I hear they’re so good live.”
Louis clears his throat and then takes another drink. There’s nothing complicated about his and Harry’s friendship, about the way he is genuinely so proud of Harry’s talent, his success, no matter how it’s plagued with Louis’ insecurities and jealousy. Pride wins out. The pleasure of seeing his best friend succeed is unmatched.
Liam sits down before Louis can really start to brag. It’s easy to get Liam going if you ask a couple of questions, and soon Louis is halfway through his bottle of wine and he’s only prompted him a few times, and then his phone is vibrating on his lap.
“Uh huh,” he says, letting Liam think he’s still listening when he unlocks it to see a text from Harry.
Thought I just saw you, it says.
He stares at the screen until it dims automatically, and then he taps his thumb over it again, just staring down at the words as if they might change. The last text before that was from a week before Harry had come to visit; it was just the turd emoji, of all things.
When he looks up, Liam’s given up on him, but the music is louder and it’s looking more and more like the club might be put off until sometime after midnight.
You didn’t, Louis replies. It isn’t nice, but he’s so frustrated that he answered without making him wait at all that he doesn’t want to give him more than that or let on that his heart is slamming in his chest every time his name pops up on his screen.
He thinks to ask what city he’s in, but that’ll just have him calculating the distance in his mind, painting too vivid a picture when it’s probably best to keep Harry somewhere foggy, somewhere he can’t quite imagine.
The next text from Harry comes through: Can you talk?
Too loud, Louis writes. That’s one excuse; Harry doesn’t need to know the others. He doesn’t need to know that Louis could, yes, he could very well go outside and talk to him that very second, but he doesn’t want to because it’s unfair and he can’t always do this, he can’t always just cave when it’s on Harry’s terms.
Just dropped a whole kinder bar in the toilet, Harry writes next, with a few sobbing emojis. Louis puts his phone in his pocket without answering.
Harry enjoys being teased too much, and it’s a trap. Louis will wind up cornering himself in a room full of people and texting Harry until his phone dies, so even when he feels it vibrate a few more times, he still waits until he has to use the toilet so that he can check it in the privacy and silence of the closet-sized room with the door locked.
Very sad, the first text reads, and then:
I’ve just seen stan after the gig…he says hi
Thanks a lot for telling me he was engaged to someone else it was only a little awkward when I asked about Lara
Battery might die but talk to you really soon…miss you xx
I’ll be up if you want to try to talk later xxx
It’s a lot at once. Louis slides to the floor and leans his back up against the door, too immersed in reading and rereading to realize that his body has given up on him. He’s frantic as he scrolls, wanting more and yet hating that Harry has given him so much to think about after days of nothing.
He types out, why? And then erases it immediately, but he does want to know; the reason he said no to him in the first place when he’d asked if he would be his you-know was because he didn’t want to do this to himself, but this is happening even without a title. Louis might have made it worse.
Louis might have been wrong. That’s never an easy fact to accept.
They never end up at a club that night, but Louis does finish off a bottle of wine and the party grows and he has fun. He feels lifted for the first time in days – in fourteen days – but it’s easy to blame that on a half bottle of wine and a room full of people laughing at his jokes. He can’t help thinking of the way his heart clenched when he read that Harry missed him, and he can only attribute this sudden ardor to that knowledge. And wine, he reminds himself, but Harry’s always been a better replacement for getting drunk. Being the object of his affection is intoxicating.
Waking up on the floor is fine if you remember how you got there, but Louis can’t string together the previous night past a certain point. There are three people asleep on the sofa to his left, one of them sitting straight up with a beer bottle tucked between his thighs. The other two are the girls he remembers talking about White Eskimo the night before, draped over one another in positions that look like a literal pain in the neck.
But Louis has his own pain to worry about – directly between his eyes and on his shoulders, which feel so sore he’s pretty sure they’re bruised. There’s still something comforting about waking up in a room that smells of dried alcohol spills and the way the cold wood floors creak when he gets to his feet and tip toes through the wreckage to the toilet.
He’s surprised to find his phone sitting face up on the sink. It’s at 15% battery which, yeah, seems pretty accurate considering he’s pretty sure he prank called just about everyone in his contacts list last night, a memory that filters in slowly and makes him grin when he remembers the details. The texts from Harry are there, too, amidst a few new Snapchats from him, too; interestingly, all of those small messages kind of fortify Louis rather than make him regretful or forlorn.
He spends the cab ride home rereading them with a kind of fuck it attitude. This is Harry’s first tour, and he’ll probably be gone a lot more in the coming year, and he doesn’t imagine that their relationship will become any less complicated if he spends the next twenty four hours pretending Harry hadn’t sent him a string of slightly desperate text messages the night before.
At home, he drags his laptop out from beneath his pillow and curls up under his duvet, set on going back to sleep after he checks Facebook and his email and lulls himself into a drowsy haze with the mindlessness of his internet routine.
There’s a message from Niall on Facebook when he opens it. “lol,” is all it says. Louis sends back a few question marks, and then Niall sends a link to a news site. “our boy’s famous!!!!” he writes next, and Louis yawns, thinking it could be about anyone, thinking it’s probably just an inside joke. That’s how deeply he’s in denial; he barely recognizes Harry as something newsworthy.
It all takes a minute to register when he scrolls from top to bottom and then back up again to read the headline and then look at the photo taking up most of the screen. There’s Harry. There’s a girl. The two things don’t really compute until he reads the headline.
“Harry Styles’ Secret Meeting with Sexy Model,” it reads. “White Eskimo frontman and model Georgie Cole spend hours together after she traveled to Cardiff for their sold-out gig.”
His first instinct is, for some reason, to return to Niall’s chat window and to give him a cold, “thanks for that.” It’s not at all Niall’s fault that Harry’s face is going to be on the front of every tabloid for the next three days, but the tension that’s overtaken him seems to want to direct itself toward someone, anyone. Louis feels guilty for it immediately – it’s like kicking a puppy to be curt with Niall – but he closes Facebook instead of apologizing, perversely drawn to read the thing that’s making him tense in the first place.
The article isn’t wordy at all; it’s just five flashy photos of Harry and this model, Georgie. The last one shows Harry pigeon-toed on a street corner with his phone in his hand, the screen lighting up the wrist of his black coat. He’s not looking at it, though; he’s turned toward Georgie, who has her arm looped through his. They’re smiling at each other; she seems happy, he seems amused, but they look close. It’s a moment.
That’s me, Louis thinks, staring at the phone. It seems so backwards now that he can see exactly what he was doing when he sent those texts to him – miss you, he’d said. What he was really doing in that moment is the total opposite of what Louis had imagined, which was something akin to heartsick clichés from those romantic comedies Harry loved so much.
What the fuck, then? Louis is in the uncomfortable position of being exhausted and hungover and now dealing with this, which is inadvertently his problem, too. He wishes Niall had never told him, but that’s not fair. He wishes Harry hadn’t lifted his spirits so high the night before only to send them crashing the next morning.
Chewing on his thumb, Louis scrolls up and down again, doing his best to read anything other than contentment on Harry’s face. He hates him. If he thinks it enough, he might start to believe it.
After spending five minutes dissecting them all, like scratching at a scab he knows will bleed, Louis is fucked up and tired. His hangover triples now that it’s cocktailed with humiliation and disappointment, and Louis feels sick to his stomach and out of his head with questions he’s too proud to ask. Like: why did he ever let himself feel like he was special when Harry met hundreds of people a week who were trying their hardest to convince him that they were special, too? Their history together doesn’t mean anything in the face of everything new and exciting happening to Harry every single day, and he feels so foolish that he could let himself ever believe otherwise.
The worst thought he can muster is the one that prods and pokes at his brain, saying I should have known better. This is why he’d said no to him, he reminds himself, though that’s hardly a comfort considering a half hour ago he was rereading texts he’d thought held meaning.
He turns on the telly and then rolls over with the remote clutched to his chest, exhausted and shaking. Self-pity is all he has, and he shrouds himself in it until the feeling dulls enough to let him sleep.
Four hours later, his phone is vibrating and ringing beneath his pillow so persistently that he’s too startled to look at the screen before he answers. He presses it against his ear, and then grunts.
He sighs. "What do you want?”
“Were you asleep?” Harry has the nerve to laugh, and Louis sits up straighter.
“What do you want?” he asks again, clearer this time. “I wasn’t asleep.”
“Have you…what've you been doing all day?”
Louis clears his throat and feels it coming; his inability to wait it out, to make Harry bring up the topic. “Uh. Just some light reading.”
He pauses. “Reading what?”
Louis rolls his eyes. It’s no secret that even if Niall hadn’t shown him, Louis is the proud friend, the proud best friend. He gets Google alerts emailed to him twice a day of articles that mention his name or White Eskimo. Even without Niall’s tip, he would’ve found them sooner rather than later. Harry knows that, and he knows Louis. “You probably know that already.”
“Right,” Harry says. “Right, Louis, look—“
“Nah,” Louis cuts him off, dragging a hand back through his hair. “No, whatever you’re about to say—“
“No, just – I wanted to tell you that, like. It’s not true.”
Louis pauses. Surely there’s more than that; surely Harry knows he’ll need a bit of an explanation, but it dawns on him that he’s not owed it in the first place. There’s no way it can’t be not true, though. There are pictures that prove she was there with him, leaning in close while he texted Louis.
“If you care,” Harry adds, breaking Louis’ heart. “I mean, if you saw it and you cared, or wondered why I was…you know, texting you, and stuff.”
“Uh, yeah,” Louis says, keeping his voice light, trying to make it sound as though it was an offhand, careless jibe and not a thing that had sent him into some kind of hangover coma for four hours after he’d read it. “It’s just one of those things, I guess.”
“Okay.” He sounds hesitant.
And Louis really does mean to leave it there, but he can’t quite let that be the last they talk of it. “Right, but actually, can you just answer something for me?”
“Yes,” Harry says, eager, “Anything.”
“That was me, right? You were texting in those pictures, that was me on the screen?”
“The one where you said you missed me, I mean. That was when you were getting papped with a model.” Louis doesn’t know how to make his voice sound less icy. If anyone knows how to deal with it, it’s Harry.
“I do miss you,” Harry says carefully, and even that – yeah, it still breaks through to Louis, the way he says it. “I wouldn’t just say that, like. If I didn’t mean it.”
And Louis wants to argue that, but Harry’s right; he may be eager to please, but he’s not a liar. He’s a terrible liar, actually, which is why Louis feels so deceived. He doesn’t know what to say, and nothing that comes to mind seems at all rational – how could you is what he’s thinking, but in all circumstances, the finger points back at himself.
Harry speaks up again. “You’re coming next week? To the gig?”
He’d been planning to. He took off work that night. He has a photo of his schedule on his phone that he was going to send to Harry, a kind of surprise confirmation that he could, in fact, be there. Right now it feels like a cop-out to his own anger, though, so he doesn’t mention it. “Haven’t got a ticket.”
“Just, I’ll put you on the guest list,” Harry says in a way that implies the ticket isn’t at all the issue here. “I’d really like it if you came.”
Louis wonders what his life would be like if he actually said no to Harry when he planned to and didn’t just settle on a firm, “Alright,” instead, which is not nearly as satisfying, nor is it what Louis thinks he needs. It’s just more proof that he’s more hurt than angry and that he’s enough of a sucker to think that going to Harry’s gig might give Harry the chance to make up for this or for something.
“Good,” Harry says, breathing out with a huff as though he’d been holding his breath until Louis answered. “Good, then I’ll put you on the, uh. Yeah. The list.”
“I’ve gotta go,” Louis says, already regretting having agreed to it. Harry says goodbye, but Louis just stuffs his phone underneath his pillow and then rolls onto his back and covers his eyes with his palms, pressing hard until he sees stars, pushing until it hurts. “Fuck,” he whispers, and his eyes sting; he’s stupid, he thinks. He’s a fucking idiot. There’s no feeling worse than the gutting disappointment of proving himself right on something he’d only ever half-believed as a self-preservation instinct. Saying to himself that Harry would fuck him over had only ever been a mechanism to protect himself from being hurt if it ever happened, but this, the confirmation that he’s been right all along – that’s far worse.
The inside of the venue is almost identical to all the others they’ve seen so far on the tour, but Harry still tricks himself into thinking it feels slightly more like home.
He’s on the couch in the green room, folded in half with a cup of lukewarm tea resting on his belly as he stares at his fingertips and waits for his phone to vibrate. He agreed to a phoner, but they’re already ten minutes late if they’re going to call at all, and Harry isn’t hopeful.
There’s a feeling he’s wearing that he wants to take off like a coat; it’s kind of self-important, a delusion that this hometown show is more meaningful than others because this is where they played their first gigs, their first big gigs, and Harry knows the anticipation is high. There are people scalping tickets outside, crowds waiting by the back entrance for a glimpse of him or one of the boys, and it’s going to his head.
He rolls his head to the side and muffles a yawn against his arm. Tired doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Harry doesn’t feel the wear of the road as much as the other boys do. He very badly wants to just be home sometimes, yes, but home for him is always more of a changeable concept than once distinct place. He feels at home on the road, some nights, when the right song comes on through his headphones and the sun’s hitting the trees in a way that makes his heart soar. He feels at home at his mum’s, sure. He feels at home in Louis’ flat, in every messy room of it, barefoot in the kitchen on a Saturday morning and in the middle of the night when he wakes up to make sure Louis’ shoulder is covered with the duvet.
Maybe he’s just become more romantic on the road, though. He has a habit of doing that.
He’ll be there tonight. Louis will be there tonight, and he’ll make the entire building feel like home. Harry smiles and his phone vibrates in his palm, and he’s still smiling when he answers.
Harry spends the first four songs searching for him in the crowd. The stagehands bring out fresh pints after the fifth. Harry holds out both arms during his unrehearsed speech to the shrieking crowd, tipsy enough to feel as though the gesture will get him closer to everyone there, like he’s waiting for them to hug him back.
The crowd stays quiet enough only until he says the word London and then they’re so loud that Harry can’t help grinning wide and proud. He holds his hand over his heart, turns around to nod at Will, who counts off the beginning of their next song.
Out of breath and sweating during the encore, Harry catches the flannel thrown at him and leans against a brick wall. He hasn’t seen Louis. They’d agreed via text last week to meet up afterward. He’d put his name on the guest list to a sold-out gig, and Louis had said he was excited, but in the room full of people, Harry is sure he’d be able to pick Louis out of any of them, and he’s not there.
Their manager, Ben, holds out a bottle of whiskey. “Got two more in you?”
The crowd is begging for it in their loudest voices. Harry takes one big gulp and holds his head down as he emerges from behind the speaker to deafening screams. They’re going to play their best song, now; it’s their biggest hit, the one people showed up for, and Harry sings his hardest until he’s hoarse, until he can’t think about anything else.
“That was fun,” Will says through a grin. Harry’s decent at pretending, so he nods and laughs quietly, and bumps Will in the arm when he takes off his sweat-soaked shirt.
“The best yet, by far.” Harry isn’t wrong, either, and they can all feel it, the buzz trapped inside of them that won’t seem to fade as minutes pass. He’s definitely drunk, but it takes a minute for him to realize it; he thought it was just the post-show adrenaline making him feel a bit dizzy, but that final shot of whiskey has made him light on his feet and slow to react.
“Coming out?” Will has his coat on and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, his hair still sweaty. Harry knows what he looks like when he’s been given a sure thing, and judging by the way he keeps failing to remain straight-faced when he looks at his phone, Harry’s pretty sure he knows what’s going on. Good for him.
“I’ll meet you,” Harry says, perhaps a little too emphatic for it to sound like the truth. “Gonna shower, and stuff.”
Will just shrugs. “Cool,” he nods. He digs into his pockets for a lighter, uses his shoulder to push the door open, and lets it swing shut behind him.
The cab ride is unexpectedly painful. It makes his bones ache to see so many familiar places, just strange streetcorners and shops he used to haunt before their band’s abrupt success. There’s a chippy that might as well have Louis’ name in neon lights above it, and a park where he runs in the mornings. He imagines Louis going everywhere by himself, doing all of these things alone or with someone else, and he bites his bottom lip hard, glancing down at his phone to check the time for the third time in as many minutes.
His key still works, at least. He sways up the narrow staircase and holds onto the rail as he bangs on the door once and then twice, a bit louder. The beam of light beneath it is reason enough to believe Louis is home. The knock is just a courtesy; the keys in his hand could have him inside in a second, but he waits.
Louis’ eyes are so arresting when he opens the door and looks right at him, his stare hard enough to knock him flat. He’s fully dressed, even wearing shoes, like he was just ready to leave – or like he’s been sitting there, fixed up, trying to decide whether or not to.
“Hey,” Harry says, leaning his body up against the doorframe. There’s something terrible about the way Louis looks at him, like not again, and it contradicts everything Harry wants right then – the list is long, and every item on it starts with gathering Louis up in his arms and reminding him what he’s missed.
“What are you doing?”
“Why didn’t you come?”
Louis bristles. “You could’ve texted me that question.”
“Right, but I haven’t seen you in a month, so I thought I might do it in person.” Harry stands up straighter and tries to take a step forward, but Louis doesn’t move to let Harry inside.
“You can’t just, like,” Louis stops to tug hard at his hair. His frustration is so palpable that it makes Harry uncomfortable, itchy in his own skin after a night as the center of attention. No one can cut him down like Louis, but there was a time when he never did. “Show up here,” Louis continues, a bit lamely. “Every time you’re in London.”
“Got it,” Harry says, brushing past Louis’ comment because there’s no way he’s getting away with ignoring Harry’s question. “Why didn’t you come?”
“I didn’t have to come,” he says, sounding defensive.
“What?” Harry huffs out a humorless laugh, but his face is scrunched up, brows knit together as he studies Louis’ face like he’s lost his mind. “That isn’t even an excuse. You told me you’d be there. I have text messages from you, from like, yesterday, you said you were going—“
“What does it even matter? It’s not like you could’ve seen me over in the middle of a whole crowd of screaming 16 year olds, or something.”
Fuck. Harry’s head spins as blood rushes to it and anger gets the best of him when he raises his voice and throws his arms out to the side, eyes wide in disbelief at the bullshit Louis is spouting off at him. “Are you serious? I wanted you there for like…fucking, I don’t know, moral support?”
Louis shakes his head, and Harry starts to ask what but he’s cut off by Louis’ voice raising, carrying over his own. “No, you want more than that. You want to, you know, fucking text me how much you miss me, how much you want me, whatever—“
“It clearly, doesn’t mean anything, so—“ Louis turns and heads back into his flat, and Harry follows behind him, slamming the door shut behind him. He can’t even think before he speaks; it’s all happened so quickly, and he’s more than a little bit drunk, running on the adrenaline of the best show of the tour that’s fast turning into the worst night of it.
“I don’t understand why that is what you’re latching onto here,” Harry says, unbuttoning his coat. He’s hot at the neck, still warm from performing, and Louis seems to have gotten the heating fixed in his flat.
Louis looks at him again, eyes blazing. “You lied to me? I mean, you just forgot to tell me that like, yeah, by the way, the girl of my dreams is hanging off me arm and you might see some pictures of it.”
Over the phone it was difficult to discern just how upset Louis was the day that it happened, and maybe Harry was naïve for it, but he’d assumed since then that his explanation had done a decent job at explaining and patching up something that Harry didn’t have any control over. It was stunning, then, to hear the opposite from Louis, and worse to hear that he’s clearly been stewing over this, that it’s not just a passing irritation.
“It didn’t even seem worth it to tell you,” Harry starts, feeling beyond exasperated, like he doesn’t even know where to begin. They had kissed, yes; a drunken goodbye kiss that easily could have turned into more if Harry had allowed it. “It just – it was one night. That’s it. I haven’t even, like…we don’t talk now, or anything.”
Louis folds his arms over his chest, his jaw set and clenching as he stares beyond Harry’s shoulder to a spot on the wall, clearly ready to say something before Harry cuts him off.
“And also,” he continues, waits for Louis to look back at him, but he doesn’t. “Louis.”
“What?” Louis snaps, finally looking back.
Harry holds out hands, palms up, and shrugs. Louis won’t like what he’s about to say. “You fucking said no to me.”
Louis just looks back for a long moment, and then looks away. “Said no to what?”
Someday, Harry thinks, Louis is going to kill him. He drags both hands through his own hair and lets out a frustrated groan. He’s beyond trying to remain cool in the face of Louis, which has never worked in the past and doesn’t seem to be doing him any favors this time around, either.
“Hey,” Harry calls after Louis when he starts to walk into the kitchen. Even the casual way his hips swing when he walks reeks of arrogance, and that’s even more frustrating, that he can play at being calm when Harry’s half-drunk and wound up tight.
He stops and turns around in the doorframe of the kitchen, folds his arms over his chest, and wears that guarded look that Harry’s normally so willing to break down. “Yeah?”
“How about actually responding to me?” Harry holds his arm out to his side, pointing in the direction of the spot where they’ve been standing, as if to remind him that a minute ago he’d denied ever having said no to something that Harry replays in his head several times a day.
“I don’t know why you even care, though?” Louis huffs out an empty laugh and looks to his left, at his feet, anywhere but at Harry. “You’re all…out there, doing your thing. Moving on.”
“Moving on? I’m not – I wouldn’t call kissing someone else moving on,” he spits, and something about the tone of his voice must get Louis’ attention, because Harry’s met with a stare more intense than he’d anticipated.
“I’m sure that’s all it was,” Louis says, nodding once. “A kiss. That was it, right?”
That was all it was, yes. Harry makes a frustrated sound; he doesn’t even want to justify that question with an answer. “You’re driving me fucking mad,” he says instead, walking past Louis to lean up against the counter. He’s practically dead on his feet and he wanted so much more than this for tonight; he wanted a homecoming of sorts, he wanted to have a laugh, but the expectation was so high in his head for the last three weeks that he ought to have known better than to think this night could live up to that. He knew he wanted it, but he didn’t realize how much he needed it.
Even if Georgie hadn’t come to the gig and even if those photos were never released, he and Louis were hardly in a place to have an uncomplicated night together – but Harry could dream.
Louis is still in his coat with hunched shoulders and the side of his thumb between his teeth, looking like he’s ready to leave at any minute even though he’s in his own flat. Even the thought that he would’ve come tugs at Harry’s heart, and he feels oddly sorry for him that he clearly struggled with the idea so much that he sat in indecision in his flat until it was over.
“I just don’t understand,” Harry says, “why you care so much about the Georgie thing, like, I didn’t think you even would.”
Louis makes a face and scoffs. “Why do you just assume I wouldn’t care?”
Harry’s wants to scream. He doesn’t mean to raise his voice as much as he does, but this frustration is so pent up that he can’t stop. “Because you don’t want to be with me, Louis. Fucking hell, I didn’t think I would need to keep reminding you that you said no—“
“You couldn’t even say the word,” Louis counters, his eyes flashing now that Harry has dragged this reaction out of him. At least he’s being honest, even if this has turned into something more than a quiet argument. “How was I supposed to take that seriously?”
“It wasn’t about the word.” Harry rolls his eyes; Louis is so transparent sometimes that he wonders if he even realizes how well Harry can read him, how easy it is for him to see what Louis manages to hide from everyone else. “It’s just an excuse. And that fucking sucks,” Harry finishes, chucking his phone across the kitchen counter. The sound is loud and satisfying, but he doesn’t feel any less exasperated. It never feels good to throw in Louis’ face what he can’t even admit to himself.
The sound of the zipper draws Harry’s attention, the only noise in the silence that follows. Louis hangs his jacket onto the back of a chair and Harry tries not to stare as he fixes the hem of his t-shirt around his hips. He doesn’t realize he’s biting so hard on his lip until it starts to sting.
“I don’t just want to be, like, the person you come home to when you’ve had a rough time of it.” Louis sounds on edge, defensive rather than offering the explanation as an apology. “What would you do, if you were me? Would you have said yeah, okay, let’s be together while you’re off every night making people, I dunno, fucking fall in love with you—“
That’s easy. “Yeah,” Harry cuts him off, shrugging and turning to face him. “Of course I would’ve said yes, I mean, how is that something you can ask me when I clearly am willing to give up my apparent crazy life of random sex with models—“
“For sex every two months with me? Is that really what you want?”
Harry walks toward him before he thinks about it, closing several feet of distance between them. “Louis, just—shut up,” he says, brows furrowed. “Are you trying to make me prove it, or something?”
Louis tilts his head, his expression challenging. “How would you do that?”
For the first time since Harry arrived, they aren’t kicking their toes to the floor and looking away; they’re zeroing in on each while something inexplicable and rare and familiar courses between them, so strong that it’s almost palpable. It occurs with a clench in his gut that Louis’ expression is strange in the context of their argument because it’s the face he makes when he wants to be kissed and even that, somehow, is annoying him. That’s not why he came here, and it’s just a reminder of what they might have had on a better night.
“Dunno,” Harry says, “but it doesn’t really matter, does it? You don’t really care, so.”
Louis doesn’t say anything, and after such a heavy accusation, Harry was expecting something.
“Right,” Harry says, clapping his hands down onto his thighs and backing up against the counter. He reaches for his phone and puts it into his back pocket, making sure it hasn’t slipped through the growing hole there. “Guess I’ll be going.”
“Ugh,” Louis grunts as he walks past him toward the door, and Harry snaps his head around. “I knew it.
Harry narrows his eyebrows. “Excuse me?”
“You just give up so easily,” Louis says, looking him up and down before he opens up the fridge and pulls out a beer like he hasn’t just accused Harry of being anything other than on the verge of desperate. “Something goes wrong and you’re out.” He pops the tab on the beer can and licks the spray off of his thumb, takes a sip.
“You’re fucking unbelievable,” Harry says, far beyond annoyed now, and Louis puts down his beer beside the kitchen sink and does a convincing job of keeping his face neutral.
“Whatever,” he sighs, “I mean, stay or go, it’s whatever. It’s not like I’m surprised.”
“Oh my god,” Harry says, walking away from the door and back toward the kitchen, back toward Louis, inexplicably drawn to him even more now that he’s being impossible. If it were anyone else he would just leave, he would get in a cab and not look back, but he can’t just leave this. “You’re not surprised that what? That I’m leaving after you didn’t come to my gig?”
“So you’re not leaving.” Louis’ voice is a rasp, and for the first time all night he seems to lose just a small amount of his composure.
“No, I’m not,” Harry says, stepping closer to him but turning his face away as he drags his hand down the front of it. Louis’ eyes are on him, which, whatever. Harry doesn’t think he can look back right now.
“What are you doing, then?”
“I don’t know,” Harry answers immediately, and when he looks back Louis is right there, up on his toes so that can breathe heavily into the kiss he presses to Harry’s lips. It turns into a bite rather quickly, sharp teeth sinking in and pinning Harry’s bottom lip down until he gasps and grips Louis tight around the waist as he does the same to him. He pinches Louis’ t-shirt so hard around his hips he knows that it must sting, but anything less than the tightest hold isn’t enough. Louis walks into him with two hands against his chest like he’s shoving him back and keeping him close at the same time, and Harry hates that, that even now he can’t decide whether he wants him to stay or go.
Harry gets a hand in his hair and gives it a sharp tug so their kiss is broken and Louis’ neck is exposed for him to bite and kiss while they tangle their legs until it works, until they click together with Louis’ thigh shoved between Harry’s and one of Harry’s calves hooked around Louis’ leg to make sure he can’t move. Louis smells like a freshly showered dream, like every single thing he misses about home when he’s gone – a hint of beer and soap and the way Louis’ t-shirts smell when they’ve sat in his drawers for a few days, somewhat stale but still clean. Harry breathes in licks and bites over one spot he’s taken a liking to, bites until Louis balls his fists in Harry’s t-shirt, and even then he takes his time retreating.
Their eyes lock on the way into another kiss, but Harry stops Louis with a hand curled to the side of his neck. “This won’t solve anything,” he mumbles, but it’s already too late.
Louis makes a quiet noise of assent, a wordless sound that has the ring of I don’t care, and kisses Harry again with his fingers in his hair. Harry’s eyes roll back in his head at how good it feels to be touched by him, who, he can admit even when he’s halfway between hating and loving him, has an instinct for Harry’s body unlike anyone else he’s ever met. Louis touches Harry like every inch of him is just an extension of his own.
They yank at each others’ clothes, stretching and pulling thin cotton t-shirts until they break apart long enough to get them off and onto the floor around them. Louis starts to back up to take off his jeans, but Harry hooks an arm across his chest from behind and walks them into the bedroom with his mouth breathing hot against the back of Louis’ neck the whole way there, and he doesn’t stop touching down his chest and over the fly of his jeans, making it impossible for Louis to walk straight.
At the foot of the bed, Louis turns around and Harry pushes him back, crawls over him and avoids his eyes while he tugs down Louis’ jeans down to his thighs.
Now would be the time they’d laugh their way through undressing each other, and Harry would tell Louis exactly how fucking fit he looked, and Louis would blow off the compliment with a scoff. Instead they kiss each other while Harry unbuttons his jeans and Louis attacks his neck like a vampire. Harry’s pain threshold is quite high in that he actually likes it, and Louis knows it’s a fast way to break him down, but Harry’s not exactly willing to give up just yet. Once his jeans are down to his hips, he presses his palm flat against Louis’ chest and falls back to his heels so he can take Louis’ cock in his hand and watch Louis’ face as he gets his dick played with, forcing him to hold their eye contact until his eyes roll back in his head and he can’t take it anymore.
The first indication is a small noise that comes from Louis’ throat, something high pitched and desperate, a hint of what’s to come. Harry squeezes his cock until it comes out again, slightly louder this time and with a buck of his hips that leaves a trail of precome over Harry’s thumb when he brushes the head. He bucks up into Harry’s fist, which is right when Harry stops and gets off the bed to peel his jeans off the rest of the way. Louis’ face is annoyed and shocked and, he would hate to find out, desperate for more.
Harry takes his time with his jeans and his pants, turning round from Louis to let him get a good look at his back muscles as he flexes his arms over his head in a rather unnecessary stretch. He finally turns around and climbs over top of Louis, who looks amazing, which is slightly problematic only because Harry really wants to tell him so; but he also resents him for everything, for tonight, for the nights he’s spent awake wondering whether or not Louis will answer him and never being able to predict the why or how of when he does.
They kiss, because that’s easier than talking, and it never gets slow or intimate or anything other than filthy and sharp and heavy. Harry stops when Louis rocks up into him, pulling his face back when he comes up for another kiss.
“Harry,” Louis warns. His cock is leaking on them both and Harry’s mouth waters, but he doesn’t move.
“C’mon,” Louis whispers. “Just—“
“Yeah,” he says, moving his hand up to Louis’ mouth, then pushes his middle and ring fingers past his lips and presses down onto his tongue. It takes Louis a spluttering second to recover before he opens wider and sucks them down, like he’s trying to get Harry off just by lapping on his fingers. Harry has to circle his hips down against Louis’ thigh, needs some kind of friction to get him through this if he wants it to last. Before he even draws his hand away from Louis’ mouth, Louis lets his legs fall open, anticipating what’s coming.
Harry skims his fingers across the head of Louis’ cock and gathers what’s there onto his wet fingers and makes Louis whine when he slides it all against his hole, just barely pressing in, just getting him wet. Louis’ vice grip in Harry’s hair is enough to signal that he’s ready for more even if he’s not really, even if Harry knows the sting will leave him aching through the next day.
Louis has his head tossed back against the pillow with his eyes screwed shut tight, and Harry watches him as he fucks into him, bites his chin when he wants Louis to look back but he only gives him a split second of eye contact before he watches his hand where it disappears between Louis’ thighs.
“You like that?” he asks, and to himself he sounds like something straight out of bad porn, but Louis nods, biting his bottom lip. Harry crooks his fingers and rocks Louis up off the bed. “Tell me, then.”
Louis won’t say anything, he knows, but at the very least Harry can see the effect his words have on him; he’s rocking down onto Harry’s fingers and playing with his own cock, the vein in his neck about to burst because he isn’t breathing. He looks pretty, Harry thinks, and then Louis comes with a gasp like he’s just narrowly missed drowning. Harry stops pumping his fingers, just leaves them twisted high inside of Louis so he can feel the way he clenches around him, so he can focus on watching the way his body scatters with goosebumps and goes slack after he rides it through.
He half-heartedly wriggles away from Harry’s hand, but he keeps it close, pressing over his stretched-out hole just to make Louis shake, which he does, beautifully. He doesn’t stop until Louis reaches up to rake his nails hard down the center of Harry’s chest, and even then it’s only because the pain blooms over him and he goes weak from it, wants more immediately. He pulls out his fingers and sits back on his heels to touch his own cock, finally, stroking idly while he looks down at Louis’ belly covered with come, at the flush up his chest and shoulders.
“Turn over,” he says, still touching himself. It’s probably a little too satisfying, the way Louis just does it, gets onto his elbows and his knees in front of Harry and waits. Harry leans over him to get to the table beside the bed, tugging open the drawer with one arm propped up beside Louis. “Still have condoms in here?”
Louis scoffs. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“Dunno,” Harry says, grabbing one and sitting back on his heels to get it unwrapped. He hasn’t even thought about whether or not Louis has seen anyone else; those sorts of thoughts are the kind that could send him in a tailspin, and tour life is too hectic without having a jealous breakdown in another country over something he can’t change. He’s feeling riled, though, has enough pent up anger to try to make Louis take the bait when he says, “Maybe that’s why you said no to me.”
“Fuck off,” Louis mutters, looking at him from over his shoulder.
Harry shrugs as he rolls the condom down, presses Louis by the back of the neck into the pillow and holds the base of his own cock. He presses the head of it against Louis’ hole, asks, “So you wouldn’t?”
Louis gasps when he feels him; his knuckles go white around the fist full of pillow he’s clutching. “Wouldn’t what?”
“Use them,” Harry whispers, tightens his hold around the back of Louis’ neck as he presses in, slow, just so the head pushes past the rim. “With anyone else.”
“Can you just—fuck me, and—“ Louis manages, back arching as he tries to adjust to Harry’s cock, but he’s clenching and writhing around him, making it impossible to get a smooth slide in, so Harry brings his hand to the side of Louis’ hip and taps him lightly, a gentle smack in hopes it’ll give him something else to focus on. He’s glad to have the upper hand, now; feels like he needs it after tonight, after missing him so much only to be rewarded with disappointment. “Relax, Louis.”
It works, because Louis lets go of the pillow and presses his forehead into it, and Harry pushes in completely as they both whisper a series of breathy fucks. It would still be this earth-shatteringly good if he’d fucked him this morning, he thinks; it’s not the time apart that makes it so satisfying. Harry could search for replacements but he’ll never get over this, the way Louis feels and looks when he rocks back onto him, his ass and the noises Harry fucks out of him, his hair spiraling into a cowlick and damp at the back of his neck.
Harry has to taste it, so he does; he leans over to cover Louis’ entire body with his own, nuzzling the nape of his neck and breathing hot there. Louis is almost lying flat and he somehow feels even tighter from this angle, harder to push into when he’s clenching so hard around him. Harry slows down to let Louis feel every inch of him dragging out and then back inside, and Louis just grunts, impatient.
“No?” Harry whispers, drops his mouth to the side of Louis’ neck, mouthing there. “Harder?”
“God—fuck—“ Louis whispers, and Harry prompts him again with a sound that’s posed as a question. “Harry, you’re gonna—I’m—“
“Tell me—“ Harry breathes, desperate for him to say it, to say something, but Louis just says, “Please—“ and Harry knows he’s close again, can feel his hips lifted up high enough from the bed to know Louis is touching himself. “Come again for me,” Harry says, squeezing Louis’ ass hard in his palm. Everything is too hot, too fast, his body moving instinctively and with such force that every one of his muscles is burning and protesting but he can’t stop, even when he feels like he might collapse, he doesn’t stop—
It’s so hot, the idea that he can muster a second orgasm from Louis, that Harry presses a wet kiss to the hinge of his jaw as Louis finally emits a broken sound that makes Harry come hard, too, with a groan that’s hoarse and loud, one hand braced on the headboard as he gasps and pushes hard into Louis once and twice and a third time that borders on too much, burying himself deep, worn out and dizzy.
For a moment he just remains there, crushing Louis down with his forehead resting between his shoulder blades. He’s shaking when he draws out and rolls onto his side, trying to breathe. Harry allows himself that, a moment of panting bliss wherein he doesn’t think to the past or future, he just breathes with a levity in his chest that almost makes him smile.
But it doesn’t last, can’t last longer than a few seconds when he hears Louis get up from the bed and watches him walk to the bathroom. The bed feels unfamiliar without Louis in it and Harry doesn’t think he’s meant to lie there and relax while Louis uses the toilet. He gets to his feet so he can tie off the condom, but it takes him a second to navigate the shakes in his hands that grow more steady with every second that passes. He ought to feel looser, more relaxed than he has since the last time he’s had Louis begging him for more, but it’s not that way. There’s still such a tightly wound knot in his belly that only gets worse when Louis comes back into the bedroom wearing a fresh pair of briefs and an unreadable expression.
Harry licks his lips. He hates that Louis didn’t give him a chance to kiss him down from it like he normally would have, and he hates that he they don’t have more than just tonight to figure it out. It’s not enough time. There’s never enough fucking time.
He wants Louis to want him there, anyway. He wants to feel like he’s not the only one who would stay up all night to figure it out, if they could, but the risk of asking him to do that is too great, and Harry’s tired of putting himself out there for Louis to potentially cut down.
“Guess I’ll get going,” he mumbles, and there it is: Louis’ chance. Harry can practically hear the clock ticking in his head – seconds go by as he puts on his shirt and tucks his wallet back into the pocket of his jeans, and even when he’s fully dressed and standing at his full height in front of him, Louis still hasn’t said anything.
“You’re serious?” Harry asks, defeated. Louis is still pink on his cheeks and coupled with his obstinate expression, he’s unbelievably endearing and difficult and prickly and in that moment, Harry hates him and loves him in equal measure. “Nothing?”
Louis tightens his arms across his chest. His pride is exhausting at times. “What?”
“Nothing. I’ll get a cab.” Harry pats his front pocket to check his phone is still there. His chest feels tight when he looks over his shoulder to see Louis there beside him, then feels his hand covering his on the doorknob, and then he’s crowding up in front of him on his tiptoes and kissing Harry slowly, deliberately, something earnest in every flick of his tongue behind Harry’s teeth.
Louis pulls back first and then takes a small step away. There’s no invitation to stay in the way he says, “See you,” and then he lets Harry leave.
Harry walks into an icy 2 am drizzle outside of Louis’ flat and slips his hands into the pockets of his coat. Cabs drive by without stopping for his raised arm, and his eyes turn up to the lit window of Louis’ flat. He doesn’t believe that Louis doesn’t care that he left. Harry isn’t running, so he can’t ask to be chased. He doesn’t know he could have possibly make himself more available than he already has unless he wasn’t on tour which, yeah, that’s the problem.
The horn makes him jump; he didn’t even hear the cab come to a stop. He climbs inside and slams the door hard. He hopes Louis can hear it from his bedroom.
At first it’s easy to direct everything negative about his life at anyone and anything else. It’s his job, he thinks, his stupid fucking job stamping peoples’ hands until two in the morning, and it’s his too-small flat and the creaking wood floors, and it’s the guitar in the corner of his living room that he doesn’t even look at anymore. It’s the crack on his iPhone screen. It’s that Zayn has a girlfriend now and is even harder to reach than usual. It’s the weather, and the fact it gets dark at half 3 in the afternoon.
The excuses are flimsy after three weeks, though, and that’s when Louis gives up trying to place blame elsewhere and comes clean: he does Harry to be successful despite his jealousy, and he also wants Harry.
“I can’t tell you what to do.”
“’m not asking you what I should do. I was just telling you about it, Zayn. There’s a difference.”
“I mean, I could tell you what I would do, like, and I think that’s what you want to hear.” Zayn exhales a puff of smoke toward the cracked window in his bedroom.
“Well.” Louis frowns. “What would you do?”
Zayn laughs, exhaling faster than he meant to, and waves his hand in front of his mouth so he can see Louis through the cloud of smoke. “I wouldn’t have let her leave. Him. I mean, whoever, I wouldn’t have just been like, yeah, see you later, you know?”
“But how can you say that? You don’t—“
“This is why I didn’t want to tell you what I’d do, mate!” Zayn laughs again, but it’s not unkind. He needs to stop being right all the time; it makes Louis feel irrational. “It’s not going to help you. Doesn’t matter what I’d do, does it?”
Louis falls onto his side and snatches one of the pillows from the head of Zayn’s bed. It smells like his cologne. He wishes he could sleep, but the last two weeks haven’t been easy.
The night he skipped going to Harry’s gig in favor of sitting in front of his doorway for three hours is, easily, one of the worst of his life. He’s so mortified by his own cowardice that he hasn’t even told Zayn that part of the story, only the second part, where Harry came over unannounced and told him about himself and made Louis realize what he was missing.
But he had to leave. Leaving is all Harry could do, and if he didn’t do it that night then he would’ve done it the next morning.
It got worse after that. Louis thought texting Harry the next day would elicit some response from him, but Harry seems to have washed his hands free of Louis because he didn’t answer him the day after that, or the day after that, or a week after that.
And his phone is definitely working. There are Instagram pictures of him sticking his tongue out front of the Eiffel Tower.
Zayn claps him on the shoulder. “You’re welcome to sleep here, bro.”
“No,” Louis sighs, clambering up from Zayn’s bed. He and Perrie have a dinner date for their one month anniversary, a thing Louis was unaware anyone celebrated. He might tease him if they weren’t so into each other. He tries to keep his bitterness directed at himself, not at his best mates. “I’ve got to work in a couple of hours, anyway.”
Before he can leave, Zayn pulls him into a hug that’s so genuine Louis feels embarrassed by it. “Alright, alright, I’ll be fine.”
“Just give us a call if you need something, yeah?”
“Like you’ll answer,” Louis grins at him from the doorway and Zayn waves him off. At least he’s got him, if nothing else.
Five weeks is a long time to go without talking to your best friend. It’s enough time for Louis to start new routines now that he’s not threatened by Harry’s shadow.
There are better days now that he doesn’t expect to hear from Harry at all. The anticipation, that twisted gut feeling he used to get waking up every morning before he checked his phone – that’s gone. There’s nothing to replace it, either, except for Louis himself, living his own life.
The guitar in the corner of his bedroom is dusty. He’ll clean it, he thinks. He’ll just brush it down, but he doesn’t have to play it. Simply acknowledging its existence is an embarrassingly big step.
It’s such a silly thing, he realizes now, basing his happiness on the same gauge as Harry’s. Their lives are two completely different paths that happened to intersect, and though Louis believes there’s a reason for that, it’s becoming clearer to him that replacing his affection with bitter jealousy toward the way Harry’s life differs from his own is forcing them to take steps backward.
The 1st of December is a Sunday. Louis has off that night after working until 2 the night before and then staying out until 4. He had a laugh with Niall and can’t remember much about climbing into bed, but it’s a good thing to wake up that way, with the kind of hangover that only needs a bacon sandwich to cure it.
His phone rings right as he’s about to get out of bed, his bare feet just touched down on the cold wood floor. The number is one he doesn’t recognize.
“Louis?” A woman asks; he thinks she sounds familiar.
“Yeah, hi, who’s this?”
“It’s Anne,” she says, and Louis’ throat is suddenly very dry. “How are you, darling?”
“Oh, hi!” He tries to sound alive and excited to hear from her and not hungover. They’ve only met a handful of times, but Louis used to ask Harry if he could talk to her when she called, just for a laugh. “I’m alright, yeah. Everything okay?”
“Well,” she starts, and Louis’ stomach twists. “Have you spoken to Harry today?”
It hurts for a few different reasons, but he manages to not correct her and tell her he’s been over a month since he’s talked to Harry. He places his had on his belly, worried already. “No, I haven’t. Why?”
“There’s something on the news here,” she says, sounding more worried now that Louis wasn’t able to comfort her. “It says White Eskimo – their tour van in Sweden was stolen, only it doesn’t say anything about the band, and I just thought maybe you knew something—“
“The entire van?” Louis asks, getting to his feet and holding his hair back from his forehead. It’s a lot to process because, fuck, everything, thousands of pounds worth of equipment and who knows what else, and then Harry’s not answering his own mum, and Louis needs to take a breath before he starts to worry, but he already feels sick. “Fuck—god, sorry for that but, no, I just had no idea, I’ve only just woke up.”
“Well, listen, sweetheart, I’m sure it’s fine,” Anne reasons, and Louis must sound really fucked up if she’s trying to make him feel better. He reaches for the remote and turns on the telly, standing inches away from it while he waits for something to appear on the screen. “I’ll tell you if I hear from him, alright?”
“Yeah, I’ll do the same,” Louis answers, attempting to sound calmer now. “He’s probably safe, I think it’s just—his mobile was probably in the van—“
“Oh, I have a call coming in now, let me—“
“Yeah,” Louis nods, frantic, “Yeah, go on.”
The line cuts off and Louis turns to the news on screen, which is the weather delivered by a beautiful woman, smiling in a way that seems spiteful. He turns it off and then double taps Harry’s name in his phone, frozen as he waits for an answer, but all he hears is one ring and a voice mailbox being offered to him. He doesn’t know if it’s a good or bad sign that his mobile is either dead or turned off entirely.
Surely there would be widespread news of a kidnapping if that had actually happened, but Louis’ mind still goes to dark places in the five minutes it takes for Anne to ring him back. He thinks about the last time that they saw each other, about the last thing he said to him in a text message that went unanswered, how simple and stupid it seems now.
He always thought he was the one to remain calm and levelheaded in the face of a something potentially life-altering. Making others feel better was where he excelled, but Anne called him and asked him one question and Louis practically fell to pieces at the first mention. The reaction he had to even the small, unlikely possibility that something could have happened to Harry is jarring even to himself. He doesn’t get this way.
The most heartbreaking, persistent thought is the idea of their future together being nonexistent, and it occurs to Louis for the first time that his own future has always, no matter what, involved Harry. There just can’t be any universe in which Harry can be anything else besides Louis’, and he’s not sure why those excruciating three minutes are what it took to remind him of that, to make him really see.
His heart races when his phone vibrates in his hand, and he answers before it’s even finished ringing.
“He’s fine,” Anne says, but Louis doesn’t hear what comes next over the sound of his audible sigh of relief and the sheets brushing against the earpiece of the phone as he falls onto the bed and rolls his head into the mattress, breathing hard. “—manager’s mobile,” she finishes, “They’re on the next flight home to London. They can’t finish the tour without everything they lost.”
“God, that—that’s horrible,” Louis breathes. He thinks about Harry, knowing he’s probably trying not to cry while he attempts to make everyone else feel better. “Let me know when he’s home, alright?”
Anne laughs. “I’m sure he’ll contact you first thing.”
“Right,” Louis clears his throat. “Of course, yeah. Speak to you soon.”
They hang up. Louis is shaking—with relief, frustration, latent fear. He feels helpless. It’s the kind of thing he wishes he was there for, that he could’ve experienced beside Harry rather than secondhand. It’s not an incident that he envies, but there’s something about his relationship with Harry that’s always made him protective to an extent that is usually reserved for family members and friends he’s known his entire life. And the lads in White Eskimo are fine, they’re kind, and they’re Harry’s friends, but Louis doesn’t trust anyone else to take care of Harry like he could, to read him and make sure he’s alright even when his face says otherwise.
He calls Niall and they talk over it for a while, mostly variations of I can’t fucking believe it and When do you think they’ll be home? and Did you see anything else on the news? It’s nice to talk about it with someone that’s not Harry’s mum, with someone who knows Harry in a similar context as Louis does.
The conversation is winding down when Niall says, “Bet you really wish you were there, huh?”
“What?” Louis asks immediately, because his instinct upon learning that someone has made a correct assumption about him is to act surprised and defensive. “Why d’you say that?”
“Just, like, you’re kind of like his brother, you know? I mean, not really,” Niall laughs, a serious of loud guffaws that make Louis roll his eyes until he starts talking again. “Nah, but you’ve always been like that. Don’t like people feeling bad when you can’t do anything about it.”
“Well,” Louis says, speechless at having been coined so accurately by Niall, who he loves, but who does not often hone in on Louis’ more in-depth personality traits, if ever. “I. Yeah. I suppose it’s—“
“Alright, bro,” Niall laughs again, letting Louis off the hook rather than insisting he agree or disagree. “We’ll chat later. Let me know if you hear from him.”
Niall makes it sound so easy, he thinks. There’s nothing easy about missing Harry and loving Harry and now feeling worried for him in addition to the first two, which already took up so much of his daily life. But his own emotions, the things between them seem so false and palty in comparison to what’s happened to White Eskimo, and to their tour, their tour that’s been Harry’s dream and that Louis has been attempting to sabotage without even realizing he was doing it.
He has to do something, he thinks. He can’t just sit there and worry and look up every piece of news on the topic, and he can’t sit around and wait for the call that’ll never come, the one he sort of hopes he’ll get from whatever phone Harry used to call his mum.
But that’s his mum. He has no reason to hate her.
Pulling his t-shirt over his head on the way to the bathroom renders him momentarily blind, which is how he ends up walking directly into something hip-height and hard. “Motherfucker,” he hisses, and the wooden clunk that it makes when it falls over is the closest thing to a sign Louis is going to get.
His dusty guitar, untouched for months, the most expensive thing he owns. He has it. He’s not using it.
It’s not everything, but it’s something. It’s a start.
“It’s your night off.”
“Hello to you too, Paul,” Louis says, barging past him and into the small employee room. It looks like shit with the lights on. It looks like shit in the dark, too, but at least then the graffiti on the walls and the suspicious stain on the tile are disguised by a blacklight.
“What’re you doing here, then?” Paul folds his arms over his chest and shrugs, glancing at his watch in the most obvious way.
“Don’t look like that. I know you’re not busy.”
It’s just that there’s such a huge chance of Paul saying no that he needs to figure out the perfect way to say it. “You know the band White Eskimo?”
“No,” Paul sighs, looking toward the door. “Do I need to?”
“How do you own a club and not know these things?” Louis scoots up in his chair and leans over, unlocking his phone to bring up the article. He hands it to Paul, then sits back. “Look, my mate is the singer, and they’re like…they’re quite big, actually, and their tour van was stolen with everything inside of it somewhere in Sweden. Right before a gig.”
He made that part up. He doesn’t know if they have a gig tonight; he doesn’t know anything about what led to their van getting stolen.
“That’s too bad,” Paul says, handing back his mobile. “Not my problem.”
“I was thinking,” Louis talks over him, his voice more animated now that he’s pulling out the big idea. “We could hold a gig here. Like, to raise money. People love them, Paul, they’re playing arenas on their next tour.” Also a lie. “But they have nothing to lose, so they can play here, and all the money will go to them, but like, it’ll let people know we exist.”
Paul says nothing. He’s unreadable to most, but Louis knows him well enough to recognize the twitch of his eyebrow means “maybe.”
“Yeah?” Louis raises his eyebrows. “Is that a yes?”
“When do you—like, did you even talk to them about this?” Paul acts like he’s more agitated now than before, but it’s only because he’s been convinced of something he wanted to say no to. For Louis’ part, he goes a bit overboard, brushing aside every concern like it can all be fixed rather simply.
“Alright, alright.” Paul holds out his hands, cutting Louis off mid-explanation. “Why d’you care about them, anyway?”
“They’re good lads.” Louis shrugs, his confidence faltering for a moment. It’s not a lie, either. Harry is, yeah, the reason he cares in the first place, but it’s the entire band he wants to help. This isn’t about winning Harry’s affection, or anything. It’s just what a friend would do, and it’s with that intention that he wants to plan this, not as some grand gesture to change Harry’s mind. That probably won’t happen.
“It’s just rubbish that it happened, isn’t it? I’d do it for you, Paul,” he adds, loud again, clapping him on the shoulder and then wrenching him into a hug. Paul slaps him on the back once and then pushes him off, fighting a laugh with a grumble as he bangs out of the room.
“If this fails, you’re in trouble,” he calls to him from the hallway. “Don’t fuck it up.”
Louis huffs out a breath, relieved that Paul took to his idea so easily. There’s nothing to fuck up, at least. He’s already lost what’s most important.
It’s actually Ben, their manager, that Louis speaks to first. He sent him an email on a slim hope that the one on White Eskimo’s website under “Bookings” was still in use. He didn’t expect to hear back so quickly, considering the last 48 hours have been something of a nightmare for Ben and rest of the lads, and he’s still not heard from Harry, either, although knowing he’s back in London is enough to change the way Louis walks down the street, even, expecting him to jump out from any shop he passes, or to show up at Louis’ flat unannounced again. Louis wouldn’t send him away this time.
Ben calls him only ten minutes after Louis sent him an email with a short outline of the idea and his mobile number. The only question he asks is, “How soon can we do it?”
“Well,” Louis splutters, looking desperately around the street as though Paul might be there to answer that question for him. “I think—probably soon, like, this week, actually.”
“Oh, brilliant.” Ben sounds relieved and, all things considered, much happier than Louis expected. “This is really something, Louis, we can’t thank you enough.”
“Did you tell the boys? Like, did you—did you mention it to them, yet, or?” It’d be great if Louis could maybe sound slightly less desperate for an answer to that question.
“No, actually, I was just going to email them after I spoke to you. All their stuff was stolen, you know, their phones and all that—“
“But I know they’ll be thrilled, mate. Really can’t thank you enough. You’ll probably see Harry before I manage to tell him, actually.”
“What?” Louis stops as he’s crossing the street, so distracted it takes a car nearly banging into his hip to recover. “Why would I see him before?”
“He just left, actually. He’s staying at mine, I’ve given him free reign of the attic—“
“Just left to come see me? Are you sure?”
“That’s what he said,” Ben says, slower this time.
“Yeah,” Louis says, practically sprinting back in the direction of his flat now, “Right, okay—email me,” he finishes, and hangs up without waiting for a response.
He pounds the pavement and dodges bodies on his way back, his mind racing, not thinking at all other than Harry’s name over and over in his head. He swears he can feel when he’s around, and he knew he shouldn’t have left, knew he’d forgotten something.
And even having been warned, he still falters when he rounds the corner and sees Harry waiting outside of the door to his flat, both hands in his pockets, his shoulders pressed to the brick façade of the building. Louis slows to a fast walk, but he’s still out of breath.
“Hey,” he calls, and Harry turns to him, looks him in the eye for the first time in over a month.
“How’d you know I was here?” Harry asks, and shit, Louis forgot how piercing he is when he just stares, how he has to puff himself up to keep from crumpling under that gaze.
“Had a hunch,” Louis smiles crookedly, then shakes his head. “No, just spoke to Ben, actually.”
His eyebrows furrow in confusion. He doesn’t know, then. “About what?”
It feels like bragging when he thinks about explaining the benefit gig to him, so Louis turns the topic. “Are you alright?”
Harry looks down, his bottom lip tucked between his teeth. “Yeah,” he says, shrugging as he looks up and over Louis’ shoulder. “Not really,” Harry huffs out, an attempt at a laugh. “Just wanted you to know I was alive.”
Louis offers a half-smile. He can’t talk about every terrible scenario he’d imagined the other night. Not now, anyway. “I knew you were.”
“I guess you spoke to my mum.”
“Right after it was on the news, yeah,” Louis nods. “She was—I was terrified. Think I embarrassed myself a little bit.”
“It’s fine,” Harry mumbles, looks away again. His jaw clenches and he is not at all fine. It’s completely unacceptable that Louis hasn’t hugged him yet, and he’s a coward for being this afraid.
“Did you want to come up?”
“Think I should go, actually. I need to go sort out the mobile thing.” Harry swallows hard, and Louis is on the verge of begging him not to walk away again. He can only nod.
“Right, definitely, definitely,” Louis says, hardly making sense. “Um, I just need,” he stops, walking toward Harry and gripping him in a hug before he can think about it. He hooks his forearm around the back of Harry’s neck, clutching him so tight it’s hard to breathe. He relaxes when he feels Harry hug him back, hunching over to accommodate the difference in their height, but it feels a bit like he’s physically worn down, too, like he can only just hold up his own posture. “I’m glad you’re okay,” Louis says next to his ear. He can feel Harry nod beside his face, and they let go at the same time. Louis is hot around his neck and closer to crying than he’s been in ages.
Harry takes a few steps back and stuffs a hand through his hair. “I’ll be here. In London, I mean, for a while.”
It’s as close to an invitation as Louis is going to get. Harry starts to walk away, and Louis calls after him. “Good.”
If Ben ever does tell Harry that Louis was the one who arranged the gig, Harry doesn’t mention it to him in the four days between their meeting outside of his flat and the night of the show itself. They don’t speak to each other at all, actually, but Louis is so busy that the days rush by in a haze of adrenaline sourced from the mere notion that Harry is back at home.
The club is hardly a venue for actual bands so much as DJs, but they do make it work despite being crammed on stage. During soundcheck they all appear to be in good spirits, satisfied with their borrowed instruments. Louis hangs around near the back of the room, hidden behind a speaker while the other lads tune their guitars and Harry tells his worst jokes into the mic to check it. He acts appalled when everyone groans, then delighted by the attention, and Louis is stupid, grinning in the dark just happy to watch Harry be Harry.
He’s hesitant to show his face lest it change the mood of the room, but he’s got to ask Ben a question. Louis taps him on the shoulder and is very conscious not to search for Harry’s eyes on stage.
“Ben,” he says, “Just a question—“
“Hey, mate,” Ben grins, and slings an arm over Louis’ shoulder, keeping him locked in tight next to him as he flings out the other arm. “Boys, did we all thank Louis? We did, right?”
All at once the entirety of the band hops down from the stage amidst a whoop of weyheyyyy and shouts of his name, and he’s buried in hugs and arms and laughs, a tornado that leaves him rumpled and breathless. He tugs down his shirt to his hips again and looks up to see Harry right in front of him with an expression still more guarded than it had been when he was telling knock-knocks into the mic, but there’s still something there, something close to a look Louis once believed was his alone.
“What was it you wanted?” Ben asks, and Louis has to tear his eyes from Harry’s, from that look that silenced everything in his head for the three seconds it lasted.
“D’you think we’ll still be ready for nine? That’s what Paul’s telling everyone.”
“I think so,” Ben says. “And what’s the cover, again?”
“Only 5,” Louis shrugs. “But I’ll have a bucket for donations at the door, so hopefully that’ll double everything. Right,” he says, looking at the time on his phone. Only two hours til it starts, and he feels like he’s going to explode, there’s so much to do, and the frantic energy he gets around Harry isn’t helping. He knows people can notice, too, because people say that to them all the time; how they orbit one another in every room, how they change the mood of it just by existing together in the same place. They’ve never been able to turn that off or explain it away. It’s only made more uncomfortable now that he and Harry are so different around each other to the way they’d been before.
“Thanks again,” Ben says, pointing to him as Louis walks out. “Buying you a thousand pints tonight.”
Louis tosses his hand up to say goodbye and grins wide on his way out. It’s good he was able to help. It’s good, he thinks, to see Harry and to be able to clench his fists around the persistent itch he feels every time he’s around. He can learn to quell that, he thinks, if it means being able to remain his friend. If this is how they need to be for Harry to stay in Louis’ future, then he’ll have to try, but it will be worth it. Louis owes him a lot after being so selfish for so long. Jealousy turned him into the kind of friend he never wanted to be, and offering his help is, so far, the only thing he can to do remedy that.
He goes to the gig this time. At first he’s on the stage, stood behind an unused keyboard off to the side where no one in the (sold-out) audience can see him, just watching Harry’s shoulders as he hunches them up to cup his fingers around the mic while he sings. He’s so naturally great at this.
Midway through the set, Louis ventures into the crowd and barrels his way toward the front ro where girls have their elbows leaning onto the stage, necks craned back to stare up. He just wants to see for a minute what it feels to be surrounded by this kind of energy, and it’s worth the dirty looks he receives when he manages to stand against the stage.
Louis is just proud – of Harry and the rest of the lads for doing this and sounding so good despite their own gear being gone. He’s proud of himself, too, in a small way. He made this happen.
After every song, Harry thanks the audience again and again, each time to cheers and whoops and some loud guy in the back screaming, “We love you!”
“This is our last song,” he says, standing right in front of Louis and looking out at the crowd. He pushes his toe out a little, and even though he’s not looking at him, Louis holds onto his ankle, and Harry smiles through his words. “We want to say thanks again for coming tonight, and if you donated, thanks you. We’ll do something really nice for you.”
He finally looks down at Louis before they launch into their last song. He doesn’t look away until the chorus.
Louis finds Harry at the bar with one beer in his hand and another sweating condensation on the bar next to him. He nudges it toward Louis when he sees him, and Louis picks it up, taps it against the neck of Harry’s bottle, and then takes a long drink from it. It’s been an hour since the show ended, but no one seems to have left once it finished, and the dance floor is packed full of people. Harry is serene, the most attractive person in the room without even trying. Louis sighs and opens his mouth to make a comment about the gig, but Harry talks over him—
“Let me take you out.”
Louis holds the bottle in mid-air to pause the sip he was about to take. It’s difficult to hear properly over the sound of the Disclosure record banging through the speakers, so he leans in. “What?”
“I want to take you out,” Harry says again, more clearly this time, and takes the bottle out of Louis’ hand to place it on the sticky bar top next to them. Up this close, Louis expects his eyes to be swimming from the drinks he’d had on stage, but they’re focused, looking right at Louis with a concentration that makes the back of his neck feel cold and hot at once. “I want to try.”
Louis picks up the bottle again and finishes the sip. There’s such a large margin for him to fuck up if he asks too many questions here, but what Harry’s offering to him seems like it ought to have a catch. He doesn’t want to assume a single thing. “Try what?”
“Dunno. Everything,” Harry says, taking the bottle again and placing it down, again, with a loud clunk on the bar this time. He poorly disguises a smile as he closes the distance between them, walking close enough now until their hips are the only parts that touch. “Properly.”
“You don’t even—“ Louis shakes his head, his lips pinched into a rueful smile as he stares down at their feet, then flits his eyes back to Harry’s. “I promise you don’t even need to try, Harry.”
“But it’s my fault that I missed you so much.” He shrugs his shoulder and leans his arm against the bar. It takes a second before Louis realizes Harry’s finger is hooked into his belt loop, holding him in place. “I can’t do that anymore.”
Louis swallows hard. He didn’t expect this tonight; he didn’t expect this at all, and he ought to just accept Harry’s offer without seeking out terms and conditions, but it feels important to talk about details where there weren’t any before.
“It wasn’t really your fault, first of all, but I just don’t want,” Louis starts, but he pauses, distracted by Harry’s mouth this close, which has always made him inattentive and foolish to try to talk about anything else. He forces himself to meet Harry’s eyes, which aren’t much better. “I don’t want you to think I helped plan a gig to get you to do this.” He goes hot at the admission, tucks his bottom lip between his teeth and shrugs. “It wasn’t about that.”
Harry steps closer and brings both hands down alongside Louis’ face, his fingers nestled into the hair near his temples. “I didn’t think it was.”
“Well,” Louis frowns. “Okay.”
The look they share is so private they might as well be alone and not nestled between hundreds of bodies in a too-hot room. Harry grins, his face too close now for Louis’ eyes to register anything else about it. “I’m just trying to kiss you.”
And then Louis kisses him first, just an easy pressure that they both lean into without breaking or moving or parting their lips. It’s like an intimate hello, one they’ve held off on until now. Louis doesn’t know what to make of it when he draws away to flick his eyes from Harry’s lips and up to his eyes.
“Do it again,” Harry says, and Louis does, using his hands this time to circle Harry’s hips and squeeze tight. He’s nearly bowled over by Harry’s body weight pressing into him, leaning so hard into the kiss that Louis has to take a step back to steady himself against an unoccupied stool behind him. It all falls away, the bass thudding in his chest and the people who scoff beside them when they realize they’re snogging rather messily right up against the bar. Louis feels like he’s being pieced together every time Harry pulls him closer, like he can’t get enough, like he needs him just as badly as Louis does. The only thing that would keep Louis away is indifference from Harry, but the way he touches him is the very opposite of that.
He blinks slow when Harry breaks off, then shuts his eyes against the pressure of his lips right below Louis’ eye and then again on his jaw. “I have to ask you something,” Harry mumbles, and it’s only because he’s so close that Louis can hear him above the din of the music.
“What is it?” Louis looks at Harry, trying to gauge whether or not this question will be positive or negative, or if it’s even important, which if it’s not he’d like him to spit it out so he can start kissing him again. His lips are still tingling from their last touch. “Ask me.”
“Did Ben talk to you about—did he talk to you?”
Louis ignores the distraction of someone leaning between them to put down their pint glass on the bar, and shakes his head at Harry, never losing focus. “About what?”
“I think he wants you to…like, to help,” Harry says, bringing both hands up to Louis’ neck and then clasping his fingers around the back of it, watching him expectantly. “Help us.”
“Like…” Louis has to encourage him sometimes because Harry is, actually, the world’s most morbidly slow speaker. “Plan another gig like this?”
“Like come with us on tour.”
Louis frowns. “Ben said that?” This doesn’t add up, because nothing so convenient and good had ever happened to them outside of meeting each other in the first place, and everything since then had been fate playing games with them, testing their limits to see just how far they could stretch from each other without breaking entirely. And it felt that way, often; it felt like Harry was on another planet when he was only in different countries. Their distance seemed neverending, and the things they said to each other during their worst times were stuck in Louis’ brain, threatening to crowd out the best parts of them. But if this was real, if Ben wanted to hire him on as an assistant, or something, then it would be the beginning of something else, both for his career and for his relationship with Harry, which he no longer wanted to pretend wasn’t something he held at top priority. He meant too much to him to trick himself into that mindset again.
“It was his idea,” Harry says, sounding just as surprised as Louis feels. “What d’you think?”
Louis huffs out a laugh, spluttering, lost for words and opening his mouth only to close it a second after. “I just,” he starts, shaking his head and leaning forward to press his forehead into Harry’s chest. He’s so relieved for such a countless reasons; the odds have worked against them for the last six months and something has changed now, something big enough to turn them in a direction that allows their lives to run parallel again. He lifts his head to look back up at Harry, the most genuine smile he’s worn in weeks spread wide across his face. “You think it’ll be alright?”
And Louis doesn’t know why, but the question makes Harry sigh and gather him close with his long arms around Louis’ torso, making him feel tiny in his clutch. “It’s all I want,” Harry says, close to his ear, his words partially lost in the music but still enough to send chills down the back of Louis’ neck.
“But if it doesn’t happen,” Louis says over the noise, his cheek pressed alongside Harry’s. He’s overcome with an insistent need to make this clear to him. “I still really want to try. And you don’t have to take me out for a date, or whatever, but I think we should—yeah, we should try. Even if you’re going away.” Louis clears his throat and lets the aftershocks from that bout of bravery wash over him. “That’s what I want.”
Someone knocks into them, then, with their arms thrust out to place down three empty pint glasses on the bar they’re leaning on, but Harry never takes his eyes from Louis’. It’s too loud, so he mouths, me too, and Louis bites his lip around a smile.
The person putting their drink down knows Harry, apparently, so Louis is stuck behind her for a couple of minutes while they catch up. The dance floor is still packed, but it’s nearly 1 in the morning and Louis has been awake since 6 and he doesn’t want to be here much longer, he decides.
He’s buried in the glow of his iPhone screen when Harry taps him on the shoulder, holds up his empty beer bottle, and then leans in to look right at Louis when he asks, “D’you want to leave with me?”
Louis’ grin changes his face like someone’s flipped a switch. “Back to mine?”
“Please,” Harry says, smiling his most innocent smile, and sticks out his hand behind him for Louis to hold as he starts to guide them through the thick crowd and toward the glowing exit sign at the opposite end of the hall. Louis could fly home, he thinks, with the pure force of the way his stomach floats when Harry looks behind him to check that he’s alright.
“What time is it?”
Louis looks at the clock on the microwave and then goes back to stirring the milk into his tea. It’s 1:47. “Nearly two,” he yells back, and looks over his shoulder when he hears Harry walk in, belatedly realizing that he needn’t have shouted quite so loud. “Oh, hi.”
Harry’s dressed, finally, after a morning spent procrastinating packing together, which consisted of sleeping in and getting each other off before they’d even gotten out of bed, and then again after breakfast, just in case they wouldn’t get any time alone in the next ten days. He’s wearing a high-collared black coat that makes him look taller, somehow, and his bag is slung over one shoulder, Louis’ on the other. Eventually it’ll wear off, Louis thinks. He can’t always lose his breath the second Harry walks in a room.
White Eskimo’s tour is picking up where it left off in Sweden, and though there are only five shows left to play over the course of nine days before they’re back for Christmas, Louis still packed up the majority of his belongings and wrecked his entire flat in the process. It doesn’t feel like home if it isn’t a mess, he thinks. It’d be weird to come back from tour to a spotless flat.
“Think we have everything?” Louis asks for the fifth time, mostly so he can avoid blame if anything important is missing.
“Mhmm,” Harry confirms, takes Louis’ mug out of his hand places it a few feet away on the counter, then walks into Louis until he’s leaning up against it, a drawer handle pressing hard against his ass. “We’ve got twelve minutes, don’t we?”
“You’ve learnt to tell time,” Louis coos, tilting his head to the side and reaching up to stroke Harry’s face in the most condescending manner. “So happy for you, Harry, we were all wondering—“
Harry cuts him off with his fingers pressed to his mouth, which Louis licks and bites until Harry wrinkles his nose and pulls them back, wiping the spit onto Louis’ arm before he can squirm away. “Are you excited?”
“Yes, as it will be my first time on a plane,” Louis deadpans, and Harry laughs generously. “I dunno, it’ll be…”
They’ve not really discussed what Louis’ role will be aside from “helping Ben with stuff,” and there’s nothing wrong about that in his mind; he gets to travel and gain experience, and he gets Harry.
“Still can’t believe you’re coming,” Harry says, stealing a glance down at Louis’ lips. When their eyes meet again Louis sighs and Harry laughs, because they haven’t talked about this, either; how it’ll be when they literally can’t keep their hands off of each other and when a single look, like Harry’s quick scan of Louis’ mouth, can put too many thoughts in their head and then they’re doing the thing again, the Harry and Louis thing that drives people mad.
“Believe it,” Louis mumbles, pressing up onto the balls of his feet to kiss Harry, just once. “You might regret it by the time we’re back.”
“Can’t regret it more than leaving you,” Harry says in that way he has that Louis envies, where he can say that difficult stuff without second thought. It makes Louis feel lucky, and inspired, even; he needs to be more like that, to just say even if it’s risky.
“Love you,” he says, which is another risk. It’s not the first time they’ve said it, but the first time in a while, and Harry says it back, emphasizing the you when he squeezes Louis tight, and then he says it again, right against Louis’ skin, just below his ear where he kisses him.
It used to hurt to hear it. I love you was once used as a bandage to soothe the ache of a goodbye, and now it’s a badge of honor they’ve earned, and Louis isn’t afraid anymore.