For Louis, it all comes to a head after the Brits.
It's been three months since he's seen Harry, and it's not like he'd forgotten him or anything, but it is a bit of an overload to go from zero to Harry so suddenly. The five of them are all getting ready in the same hotel room, Caroline wandering around adjusting their clothes and Lou taking turns attacking them with a hair dryer. It's like - it's like before. It shouldn't throw Louis off as much as it does, to go back to a routine he's known for years, but it does.
The thing is, nothing is really different. Harry isn't acting any different, still sauntering around the room clumsily, munching on food from catering through a silly grin, asking questions and listening intently to the answers. Right now, he's talking to Liam about the trip Liam had taken to some exotic island with Sophia a few weeks ago, and Louis can't stop staring at him.
Because Louis doesn't feel any different, either. So much has changed, but they're both the same people, so it feels so inexplicable, the way they just fell out of each others lives without warning. There was no big fallout, no fight, just a slow, calm freeze-out. There isn't much to say to someone after you've spent a solid year in his back pocket. Louis hasn't talked to Niall in ages, either, but it doesn't feel the same.
"D'you reckon I should button it up all the way, or leave a few open?"
Harry's fidgeting with the Alexander McQueen shirt picked out for him for the event. It's a fucking ridiculous shirt - it's got skulls or some shit all over it, but of course on Harry it looks like it belongs on a runway.
He asked the room at large, but most of them are distracted, so only Caroline and Louis answer.
"Unbutton it," Caroline says at the same time Louis says, "Button it all the way up."
Harry buttons it all the way up.
So it's not like they're fighting. Harry grins a small thanks at him, and Louis shrugs back, takes some stupid picture for an assistant who's no doubt going to put it on Instagram in a second. It's no big deal.
Everything goes smoothly for the rest of the night. There's nothing earth-shatteringly different about it, nothing epiphany-inducing, except. Except when they're announced for their first award, and they all climb up on stage, and Harry's not there. Louis feels so turned around and frantic about it, searching for him everywhere, so obvious about it everyone must be able to tell. He'd felt like he was watching Harry all night, so it doesn't make sense that he could just walk away.
When he finally does emerge - his "sorry, I was having a wee" speech charming millions across the globe, no doubt - Louis is so relieved that he can't even process that Harry's looked at him and asked, "What did we win?"
He doesn't doubt the bathroom story until James Corden cracks a joke about it on stage. It's always grated on him a little, the way Harry's portrayed as such a ladies man when he's never been that way for as long as Louis' known him, but this time, he feels like his heart goes into overdrive. Because what if Harry really was having a quickie in the loo? How the fuck would Louis know? They haven't exchanged so much as a text message in two months, haven't been in the same room for longer, so it's entirely possible that Harry's just received a handjob during a commercial break. Harry's not some seventeen-year-old kid anymore - he's twenty, he's hot, he might be dating a Kardashian. Louis doesn't know him anymore.
They don't speak directly to each other for the rest of the night. All of the boys wander around, and Harry and Louis end up talking to Katy Perry together, but when the awards show ends, Harry goes to an after party with Liam and Niall and Louis goes to Zayn's to smoke a bowl.
"D'you think, like - d'you think Haz's changed?" Louis asks, once he's reached that place where his tongue feels heavy in his mouth and he can't be arsed to censor himself. He knows Zayn isn't going to judge him, has probably been expecting this talk for ages.
"Dunno," Zayn says slowly, taking a drag from his joint. "Do you?"
He's giving Louis his classic, scarily perceptive look, eyes wide and earnest. For a moment, Louis is sure he can read his mind.
"I don't mean, like," Louis starts, coughing a bit, "I don't think he's become a diva or summat. I'm not trying to start shit. But like - he's different, yeah? Or am I different?"
"Maybe neither of you are different," Zayn suggests. "Maybe just, like, your relationship has changed."
That much is obvious, but the way Zayn says it makes it sound profound.
"Tour's gonna be weird as fuck," Louis says with a laugh that's a lot lighter than how he feels.
Louis calls Harry two days later. He's already drunk, it's only three in the afternoon, and he's alone in a house that's too goddamned big for him. Usually Eleanor would stay with him, or he'd have friends over to quell the loneliness, but Eleanor has exams and he's not sure what friends to even call. In his vodka-driven state, he thinks, I'll have Harry over.
It rings two times before Harry answers, a deep, sleepy, scratchy, "Lou?" that makes Louis feel a bit odd.
"Have I woken you?" Louis asks incredulously. "Shit, Haz, it's like three o'clock."
There's silence on the other line for a long time. It makes sense, considering Louis can't remember the last time he called Harry, doesn't know if he ever has, really. They were always either together or about to be together; they never had to call.
"It's seven in the morning here," Harry says.
"Oh," Louis says, and it comes out embarrassingly squeaky. "Where - um - where are you, then?"
"L.A.," Harry replies softly.
And Louis feels it, feels the distance of an entire fucking ocean between them, of three months, of no texts, of this fucking standoff they've somehow gotten themselves into. Tears spring to his eyes and he feels so, so unbelievably stupid. It must be an entire minute that he's quiet, not wanting to speak if it's going to come out shaky.
"You alright, Lou?" Harry asks carefully.
Louis barks out a laugh. "Yeah, shit, yeah," he says quickly. His brain kicks into overdrive, trying to make up ground. "Sorry to bother you, mate. I'll let you go back to sleep."
"Wait, but - "
Louis hangs up before Harry has a chance to ask, because he really doesn't know what he'd say back.
Tour rehearsals start in the middle of March. Eleanor breaks up with him at the end of February, the day after his first football game with the Rovers.
If he's honest, he should have seen it coming. They've been drifting for ages now, Eleanor about to graduate and looking into her own career, Louis wrapped up in his own thing. When he came back to London after the Take Me Home tour ended, he and Eleanor had seen each other nearly everyday, him making the trip to Manchester to hang out in her apartment during the week and her taking a train to London on the weekends. But, like everything in Louis' life, their relationship had gone from good to up-in-the-air without him even noticing. They stopped texting as frequently, at first because Eleanor wanted to focus on her studies and then just because. Eleanor stopped coming down on the weekends, and Louis found himself making bullshit excuses to stay in London during the weeks.
It was a nice breakup, as far as breakups go.
"You know I'll always love you, Lou," Eleanor had said. "It's just - it doesn't feel as secure as it used to, you know? You've changed, and so have I. And I don't think I can do a world tour again."
He hardly blames her. The Take Me Home tour had been hard enough on their relationship, and the upcoming tour is even longer and farther away. It's easy to see why she would prefer a boyfriend who can actually take her out to dinner twice a week to one that she has to Skype at two in the morning when he's in Argentina. That doesn't make it any easier.
"If you need anything," she'd said before she'd left, kissing his cheek. "If you need to, like, talk or something, you know that I'm always here. Even if it means waking me up in the middle of the night."
He tries not to lean into the comforting scent of her perfume too obviously, but he can't help it. It's been two years.
"Yeah," he says, voice cracking. "Yeah, I'll. Yeah."
After Eleanor leaves, Louis spends a lot of time on his couch.
He doesn't have a girlfriend, and he doesn't need to train for a football match, and he doesn't really feel like seeing anyone. Liam comes over a few times, tries to cheer him up with Fifa and pints, but it's useless. Louis isn't depressed; he's lost.
So he smokes a lot of weed, gets drunk almost every day, only leaves the house to go visit his mum and sisters (and brother, he has to keep reminding himself) for a week at the beginning of March, knowing it'll be ages before he can get out of rehearsals and touring to visit them again.
One thing he does not do is google Harry Styles.
His mother is worried about him. Even Lottie, older now and more observant than ever, pulls him aside one afternoon just to ask if he's alright.
"I've spoken to Eleanor," she tells him in a hushed, important tone. "She's worried about you."
"Nothing to worry about, is there?" Louis says, ruffling her hair and making her squeal indignantly. "Just fucking boring between tours, innit?"
"Like I'd know," Lottie scoffs, but she does drop it, bless her heart.
There are babies, now, so at least that provides a proper distraction. Louis has always loved babies, and he's a natural with them. He takes pride in the way they can be hollering their little lungs off in Fizzy's arms and then immediately quiet in his. He's proper smug about it.
Maybe his entire life is in shambles, but let it never be said that Louis Tomlinson can't make a baby smile.
Tour rehearsals are one of Louis' least favorite parts of being in a band.
They go on for weeks, and they start at ungodly hours, everyone stressed out and trying to organize the best show possible. That's what Louis loves - the show, the performing, the instant gratification of thousands of fans shouting back at them - and it's hard to get in the zone when it's just the five of them and a couple of choreographers shouting instructions at them while sound technicians keep needing them to sing a couple of verses into a mic for a sound check.
That Harry is tan and freshly tattooed only makes it that much harder.
Harry doesn't bring up his mysterious phone call and Louis doesn't ask Harry how L.A. was. He hears Harry talking to Zayn, about the secluded place he'd purchased in Malibu, how nice it is to be that close to the beach, how he's started doing early morning yoga and is finding his "zen" or some shit. Zayn does a fine job of not making fun of Harry for it, and Louis has to bite his tongue against it - he doesn't know where the line is, if he's even allowed to make fun of Harry anymore.
Harry doesn't bring up Kendall, and no one asks.
"I don't know why we go through all this when we're just going to do what we always do, anyway," Liam groans one day. They're all gathered around eating McDonald's they'd goaded Paul into picking up on the ground of a huge warehouse they're using to rehearse because of its massive size. Everything they're saying seems to echo eerily throughout the whole place.
"Stadiums are a lot bigger than arenas," Harry replies wisely. "Whole show's gonna be different, really."
"Man, a fuckin' stadium tour, can ya believe it," Niall says suddenly. He's been saying the exact same thing every hour or so since they started rehearsals, and it's become a joke between the five of them now, adding it into conversations when there's nothing else to say. Louis likes that they can still have inside jokes, just the five of them, feels like it must mean that they haven't drifted as far as it feels like they have.
Except there are times when it feels undeniable that they have drifted, all of their lives going off in opposite directions. They get along as well as ever, still joke around and play dumb pranks, but they've grown up. Zayn's planning a wedding, going home to a fiancée every night, while Louis goes home to his empty bachelor pad and tries not to drink himself blind. Harry's out every night, practically, in the papers with Grimshaw and his hipster crew more often than not. Louis doesn't go looking for gossip, but lately it seems like he can't even go online without seeing some headline featuring Harry Styles that he's hopeless against clicking on. He sees more of this Harry than he does of the actual one, now; sees him out partying with socialites and old men and all he can think is, Who are you?
It doesn't feel right to place any of the blame on Harry, though. Because as much as Harry has become the most famous person in all of England, he's still remarkably humble about it all. He still treats everyone with respect, still handles it better than any of them.
It grates on Louis' nerves for reasons he can't articulate.
Before the boys go on tour officially, their management packed about a hundred different interviews into the schedule. At least one of them is on TV almost every other night, they're on the radio every morning - it's madness. Louis is sure that the whole of the UK will be relieved when they finally embark on their world tour, if only because it means they won't have to hear about them anymore.
Two days before they leave for South America, where the tour officially begins, all five of them are set to give an interview for the Breakfast Show. Besides waking up at the arse crack of dawn, Louis isn't looking forward to the interview for a number of reasons.
He doesn't hate Nick Grimshaw nearly as much as the papers say he does, but. Almost everything about the Nick pushes Louis' buttons - it doesn't help that the start of Harry's friendship with Nick almost directly coincided with the disintegration of Harry's friendship with Louis. Louis isn't narcissistic enough to think that Harry and Nick actually sat around and gossiped about him until Harry realized he wasn't a very good friend, after all, but. He does wonder about it sometimes, when it's very late or he's very drunk.
Nick is nice, though, polite and an engaging interviewer, not one to press questions that make his guests uncomfortable. After an expected first minute of banter with Harry, Nick starts questioning the other boys about the tour: what they're most excited about for this tour, what they'll miss most about the UK.
Harry and Liam take the lead on most of the questions, Louis barely interjecting a word except to agree with something they've said. It's odd, and the fans will no doubt notice, and attribute it to the ongoing, fictional Tomlinson vs. Grimshaw battle for Harry Styles' affections.
If that's an actual thing, Louis realizes halfway through the interview, then Nick's already won, hasn't he?
After they leave the studio, each heading out to their own cars in the private car park, Harry is noticeably quiet and subdued. Louis' walking right next to him, so he asks, "Something wrong?"
Harry looks at him, his expression totally unreadable. "You don't have to, like...be so rude to Nick all the time. He hasn't ever done anything to you."
Louis takes a step back like he's been slapped. His eyes widen, so unused to Harry being confrontational like this. "I wasn't," he says. Harry just raises his eyebrows and shrugs moodily, so he goes on, "I wasn't! Or, well, I didn't mean to be."
"I get that you hate me and all my friends now," Harry says, quickly, like he's trying to get it all out before he loses his nerve. "But can't we at least put it behind us for this tour? It's exhausting."
Louis' jaw drops, and he's dumbstruck enough that he actually freezes in the carpark. Harry doesn't, though, keeps walking to his Range Rover and doesn't even say goodbye.
Louis doesn't go home and cry about it. He doesn't.
Tour starts, and it's fucking fantastic. Everything about it is completely next-level, from the venues themselves to the crew working with them to the fans. It's a proper stadium tour, and maybe that hadn't really hit Louis until the first night at the first stadium in Colombia, over 30,000 people showing up just for them.
And Harry's not speaking to him.
Louis tries not to let it get to him, so obviously it's all he can think about. He's on a world stadium tour with his best friends, making millions of dollars that he'll be able to use to support himself and his family for several lifetimes, and the only thing he can think about is how Harry won't even look at him. Everybody can sense it, too, but nobody says anything about it. The boys all know that something's been up between them for ages, and most of the crew have been around for long enough to know not to question it.
Harry's more distracted than ever, too. When they're not rehearsing or interviewing or meeting fans or performing, he's basically glued to his phone, and Louis doesn't feel like he has the privilege to ask who he's texting anymore. Sometimes, he'll catch Harry glancing at him covertly, but whenever they make eye contact, he goes right back to his phone. Louis attempts to get information off of Niall a few times, but he's so oblivious to it that Louis gives up.
It gets so bad that their management calls a meeting.
They've got new people traveling with them this tour - Corey and Vanessa, Louis vaguely recalls. They don't interact with the boys much, but always seem to be hovering behind the scenes making phone calls and taking pictures to be released on the official Instagram. Every couple of days, they'll ask one of the boys for a quote to give some magazine, and then the quote will end up completely botched a few days later.
The meeting is over brunch in Rio de Janeiro, the afternoon before their ninth performance. They're staying at a fancy, overpriced hotel by the water, and Corey and Vanessa rent out one of the conference rooms and call in Harry and Louis specifically.
It's - strange. They haven't had meetings with management since the end of the Up All Night tour, and it makes Louis feel like a kid again. Back then, it had been all, We need you to stop playing up this flirting thing so much, people are talking. Louis remembers barking out a laugh, because he hadn't thought he was playing up anything. Harry had been quiet.
Harry's quiet now, too. He's got a cup of black coffee that he's staring moodily into and he keeps playing with the rings on his fingers. He wears so many rings now.
"The fans have noticed that the two of you aren't interacting," Vanessa tells them, cutting right to the chase. "They think you've had a falling out."
"Well," Louis says.
"So first you want us to stop interacting, and now you want us to play it up for the cameras again?" Harry demands furiously. Furiously. Louis hadn't known he was capable of sounding so pissed off.
Vanessa purses her lips, so Corey continues.
"Look," he says. "It's better to have some gay rumors than to have band break-up rumors, you know?"
Harry walks out of the meeting.
It's the end of May, in Manchester, when Harry tells the boys.
"I'm gay," he says, right in the middle of their pre-show huddle. There's three minutes to stage-time. It's bloody dramatic.
No one says anything, too full of shock and adrenaline to really process what he's just told them. Liam laughs nervously, and Niall's grin doesn't slip from his face, but Zayn, oddly, is frowning.
Louis' not sure what he's doing, because he's gone numb all over.
Before any of them have time to recover, they're being shuffled to the platform under the stage. Louis looks at Harry the whole time, trying to gauge his emotions, but Harry's all closed-off now, already slipping into the zone for the concert.
The show must go on, so it does.
Afterward, when they've done their encore and sprinted off the stage, Niall tackles Harry in a hug that they all join in on, one by one. It's sweaty and gross, and Harry looks like he's proper suffocating in the middle of it all, but it's one of those heartwarming moments that makes Louis feel like his stomach is lighter.
"Next time you have big news you'd like to share, maybe take us out to dinner instead," Zayn suggests lightly. He's not frowning anymore, but he still looks a little odd, and he keeps looking at Louis in a way that makes him squeamish.
It's later that night, when Louis is lying alone in bed in his hotel room, that he realizes what he's feeling is relief, though he can't pinpoint why. The womanizing rumors had always bothered him, of course, but not so much that he thought he'd prefer Harry to swear off women entirely.
Except - maybe it had. Because whenever he'd seen some article about Harry and a mysterious brunette or a gorgeous blonde, he'd had to swallow against a wave of nausea. He'd always just chalked it up to the fact that he hated Harry being portrayed that way, but. He thinks about how he'd feel if the papers started writing articles about Harry and a mysterious bloke or a dashing lad, and it just makes him feel worse.
He's always been so, so selfish with Harry's attention. Right from the start, he'd known that Harry hero-worshipped him, and he'd reveled in that single-minded adoration. His and Harry's relationship had always been so blessedly uncomplicated, and they'd fallen into each other without a second thought. Louis never felt more comfortable or loved around someone than he did with Harry. He didn't have to try to act cool or funny, because it was never a question that Harry would always find him the coolest and funniest person in any room.
Maybe when that had stopped being the case, Louis had started cutting the strings.
He feels sick. He's been a shit friend.
It's two in the morning, but none of them can ever get to sleep after such a big gig. The tour's been scheduled such that they can have a day to rest between performances, and they've all taken it advantage of it to sleep in as often as they can. Louis knows Harry will still be awake, might even be lying alone in bed himself, worrying himself over coming out to the lads. He knows Harry, he does, even if it's been months and months since they've talked, and that's what prompts him to dash down the hall and knock on the door he knows is Harry's, since they all got ready there just this morning.
It's a while before Harry answers, and Louis begins to worry that he's out somewhere, maybe off with someone.
But then Harry's there, in nothing but a pair of black briefs, his fringe down like it hasn't been in public for ages. He looks tired and young, more like a Harry that Louis knows than he has in months, so Louis attacks him with one of his biggest, tightest hugs. He's not sure if it's the force of his hug or Harry's surprise that causes them both to stumble back into the room, but they do, almost completely losing their balance before Harry straightens.
"Christ," he mumbles, pulling back from the hug a bit too soon for Louis' liking. "What're you doing here?"
Normally the question would send Louis into a fit of nerves, but he's got enough adrenaline running through him that he just shrugs a little hysterically. He's shaking all over, feels cold and exhilarated, not unlike how he feels just before a big performance. He clicks Harry's door shut and just sort of stands there.
"I'm proud of you," Louis blurts out after a while. It's so awkward he lets his eyes gently close and he puts a hand to his forehead. When he tentatively opens them again, Harry has a small, reluctant grin on his face.
"For what? Coming out in the most dramatic way possible?" Harry asks.
"It was dramatic," Louis agrees, grinning right back, easy as anything. "I wouldn't say the most dramatic way possible, but definitely the most dramatic timing possible. No contest. Big up on that."
"Could've done it on stage," Harry suggests. "Can't get more dramatic than that."
"We'll do that next show," Louis says. "Big firework display, except then the smoke will turn into rainbow colours, and we'll release a sign that announces it. And there can be confetti."
"Very subtle. Classy. I like it," Harry says.
They're just standing there by the door, neither one making a move to sit down. It's obvious neither of them can really believe that this is happening, that after a solid half-year of virtually no contact they're acting like best friends. Louis' never had a best friend like Harry, so he thinks maybe that's how this works. Maybe this kind of thing never goes away, just has brief intermissions.
"I thought you'd be with Eleanor," Harry admits after a brief silence.
Louis' eyebrows shoot straight up at that. He realizes he'd never directly told Harry about the breakup; but then, he hadn't exactly had an opportunity, what with the unwavering cold shoulder he's been receiving lately. He'd just assumed someone would have told him - the boys or Lou or even Louis' mother, who still keeps in close contact with Anne after all this time.
"Well, that'd be a bit tense, considering we broke up three months ago," Louis says casually, wringing his hands.
Harry's eyes go comically wide at that before he schools his face into a neutral expression.
"Would you maybe - I dunno - " Harry pauses, takes a deep breath. "Would you wanna get plastered tonight?"
"More than anything," Louis says.
After that night, everything gets strange.
It'd be a lie to say things go back to the way they were, because Louis doesn't ever remember second guessing his every move every time Harry's in the room, but he starts to. He doesn't remember going out of his way to include Harry in every conversation, to being hyperaware of him every time they're together, but he is.
They're in some weird, friendly sort of limbo - they're certainly not as tactile as they were before, not because Louis is averse to a cuddle, but because Harry seems to be purposefully avoiding any kind of touchy-feely contact, not just with Louis, but with the whole band. It's such a noticeable change from his koala-clinging ways that Niall brings it up one day.
"Y'know, just because you like dick doesn't mean I'm afraid to give you a hug now, mate," he says casually while he's getting his hair blow-dried. They're all lounging around Zayn's room, Harry on the windowsill by himself while Louis, Zayn, and Liam are all taking turns playing Flappy Bird on the bed.
"Oi," Lou says, gently knocking Niall's head with the hair-dryer. "Language, you piece of shit."
"Hey!" Niall retaliates, but then they all glance at Harry, and Harry looks like he might cry. He runs over to Niall and gives him a hug so big it knocks him out of his chair, and Louis breaks his fifty-six streak on Flappy Bird.
If he's upset about it, it's all about the dumb game, obviously.
On the fourth of June, they're back in London, and Louis barely sees Harry at all. It only makes sense for all of the boys to spend the seven days they have in London with their family and friends and at their respective flats, so they do. All of Harry's hip friends come to the shows, and hang around backstage afterwards, until Harry's changed, and then they go out on the town.
Louis is happy that Harry's happy. He really is. It's easy to see that he's found a group of people who truly understand and appreciate him, and he'd never begrudge Harry that, even if it does make him feel possessive. He hasn't got any right to be possessive of Harry anymore, anyway. They're better than where they were, but they're certainly not back to HarryandLouis, and maybe they never will be.
Louis will take what he can get, at this point.
On the second London date, Nick Grimshaw comes, along with his posse, whose names Louis reluctantly knows from the papers.
It doesn't faze Louis until he realizes that Grimshaw's come with Harry's family, too - that Anne and Robin and Gemma are seated in a luxury box along with him, that they're all talking and laughing like they've been friends for years. Which, Louis supposes, they have been.
It shouldn't make Louis want to sob in a toilet stall as much as it does.
His family is there, too, the girls having taken a couple of days off school to visit the city. Normally, he prefers it when his family isn't in attendance, if he's honest - it adds to the nerves tenfold. But he's glad they're here now, glad he has people to deflect his attention to backstage after the show, while Gemma and Grimmy keep up a commentary that seems to have caused Harry to double over in laughter.
The babies are there, too, and everyone dotes on them while Louis puffs out his chest like the proud brother he is. It's been a while since he's seen them off Skype, and they're reaching the stage of babyhood where they're actually, legitimately cute. He's tickling Ernest's belly, sufficiently distracted, when Harry comes up behind him to watch. It's not surprising, since babies have always, always been a Harry-magnet, but it's still a bit jarring.
"Hello, Ernest," Harry says, leaning over Louis to tickle at the baby's toes. "Hello, big guy," he coos.
Louis looks at Harry, wonders how he even knows the babies names, and why Louis is shocked that he does.
"He's so cute," Harry says without looking at Louis. "Looks like you."
He gives Ernest's toes one more squeeze before walking over to where Zayn and Perrie are playing with Doris before Louis has a chance to reply, which is a bit of a blessing, actually.
"What," Louis says to Ernest, just for the sake of saying something. Ernest looks up at him with big blue eyes and is entirely useless.
"This is a new look for you, Tomlinson," a sharp, laughing voice says from behind him. "Doting on babies instead of making grown men cry. Watch out, or you'll give poor Hazza whiplash."
Louis quirks a brow and tries to look as intimidating as he can, which is not very, considering there's a baby drooling all over his shirt.
"Hullo Grimmy," he says tonelessly. He does offer a smile, though, because he's not a dick.
Nick smiles right back, and it turns into a full-on grin when he gets a closer look at Ernest. "That's a proper cute baby," Nick says. "Not 'I'll-pretend-I-find-him-cute-when-I-comment-on-your-Facebook-picture' cute, but proper cute."
"Well, he is related to me," Louis says, feeling like he has the freedom to act like a bit of a prat, since surely Nick already thinks he is one.
Nick laughs like he finds Louis genuinely funny, which is a first. Louis has always thought there'd been something condescending about the way Nick laughed at him, but now he's left to wonder if he made it all up in his head.
After he stops laughing and his smile has faded a bit, Nick pats Louis' shoulder in a serious way and angles his body a bit so that no one near them would be able to hear what he's saying.
"Honestly, though, Tomlinson," Nick begins. "I thought it was very good of you, talking to Hazza the way you did, after what he told you. It made him really happy."
It's then that Louis realizes that maybe Harry and Nick are, like, actually a couple. It would make sense - they're both gay, they get along tremendously, they have all the same friends, and they're on close terms with each other's families. Despite how nice Nick is being, it makes Louis ill that he's speaking on behalf of Harry, like he has that elusive right that Louis lost so long ago.
"Um," Louis says. "Yeah, of course. He's my friend, so."
"I know that," Nick insists. "But Harry didn't there, for a while. So it was good of you."
He walks away after that, leaving Louis more lost than ever.
"What," he says to Ernest again.
Again, he offers no help.
It's not until they're in Stockholm a week later that Louis brings it up with Harry. It feels safer here, farther away from Nick and the countless paparazzi pictures that he'd have to look at differently if he knew it was for real.
"So, is it Grimshaw, then?" he asks over breakfast. It's just he and Harry at the hotel's private buffet on the thirty-second floor, overlooking what looks like the entire city. There's not a cloud in the sky. It's a beautiful day that's about to get ruined, Louis thinks wistfully.
"Who? Aiden?" Harry asks cockily, popping a strawberry into his mouth.
Louis flicks a piece of cantaloupe at him. "Shut it," he says. "I'm trying to be serious here. I can be supportive."
"Okay, then," Harry agrees easily. "Is what Grimmy? You're going to have to clarify."
Louis was hoping he wouldn't ask that, because the words feel like acid coming out of his throat. "I mean that," he begins slowly, "are you, you know, seeing him? Like, for real? Are you in a real, adult relationship with him? Are you going to have his babies?" He tacks on the last bit for good measure, not wanting the wavering in his voice to make it sound like he was too torn up about this.
Harry actually laughs, which Louis thinks is a bit rude, considering how hard he's trying to put himself out there in the name of being a good friend.
"'M not seeing Nick," Harry says through a bite of toast. "Believe it or not, just because two guys are gay doesn't mean they're together."
Louis feels something unwind in his chest, but he tries not to focus on that.
"I don't think that!" he insists. "It's more the fact that you two practically live out of each other's back pocket that had me thinking that."
"Well, Nick's seeing someone else," Harry says carefully. "And, besides, we used to live out of each other's back pocket, and that didn't mean anything, right?"
"Right," Louis agrees quickly, spearing a piece of watermelon with a fork a bit violently.
They get three days off in Paris before they have another performance, and it gets Louis nostalgic. He's feeling a bit under the weather anyway, so when the boys tell him they're going out with security to explore the city, he tells them he's going to sit this one out. He's been to all of the Paris hotspots before, with the boys, with Eleanor, even with his mum, when he'd taken her on one of his weeks off.
They always stay at nice hotels, now, but this one is especially extravagant, with gold walls and red silk sheets that make him feel like royalty. He treats himself a bit - orders chocolate-covered strawberries and a milkshake from room service and buries himself under the duvet with his laptop. He's taken a couple of cold pills that have him feeling comfortably drowsy, even as his nose is draining unattractively into the pile of tissues he's accumulated.
He's not sure exactly why he does it. Maybe because he's lonely, maybe because he's sick, maybe because it's Paris. He's obviously feeling nostalgic for simpler times, when his relationship with his best friend didn't leave him feeling so despondent, but he's always feeling that way lately.
Whatever the reason, he does it. Googles "One Direction" for what feels like the first time in years. He remembers when they'd all gather around at the X-Factor House, sitting on a creaky twin size bed and using Louis' phone to look up their public reception, giggly and strung-out on the feeling of being important.
"It's obvious Harry is the favourite," Louis would always croon, placing a dramatic, showy kiss on the youngest boys' cheek. He hadn't ever felt jealous of how much attention Harry had received; he'd mostly felt proud, and like Harry deserved it, because he'd always been the best boy in the world, as far as Louis was concerned.
The results are varied - some articles reviewing the tour, some linking to magazine interviews, and the occasional mention of Niall's fling with Selena Gomez. It's not what Louis' looking for at all, so he clicks over to Youtube, searches the name, and starts obsessively watching video after video.
He doesn't go in any sort of chronological order, alternating between Video Diaries and their most recent appearance on Alan Carr and a string of random interviews from different cities. He's never done this before, sat around and watched himself, always figured it wasn't healthy. And it can't be, because the more he watches, the more fidgety and anxious he gets.
They're all the same, is the thing. It's different cities, different couches, different interviewers, and Louis realizes the only thing he remembers about each of the interviews is Harry.
When he clicks on one video in which Harry is wearing a red checked shirt, he knows that Harry is going to spread a hand over his knee dramatically. He remembers. And when he watches a video where Harry's wearing a dark grey jumper, he remembers how he'd leaned over Niall's head to crack a joke about German food to Louis, and had seemed so beautifully delighted when Louis laughed.
It's not blatantly obvious just by watching the videos that Louis is focused so intensely on Harry. He thinks past-him had done a good job of distributing his attention, maybe focusing a little too heavily on Harry during the earlier years, back when they were still so dazzled by each other. It's just that he knows himself, and he knows it must mean something that for every countless interview they've done, he can't remember anything aside from what Harry had worn and what he'd done. He's not a total idiot.
Ironically enough, it's the Paris interview that does it.
Louis can't place the exact date, but he knows it was sometime during early 2012. Near Valentine's Day, maybe on it. It had been one of the only solo interviews he'd ever done with Harry, and they'd both been exhausted, having stayed up way too late the night before watching romantic comedies and prank calling room service in their shared hotel room. They both look tired and cozy and unbearably young. They were already so famous, but Louis knows that if he could time-travel back and tell that Louis that in two years he'd be on a worldwide stadium tour, he'd laugh in his face.
And he knows that if he told that Louis that in two years, his relationship with Harry would be what it is, he'd never believe him.
Past-Louis and Past-Harry are flirting, and they're not being subtle about it, either. It makes Louis' cheeks heat up, because god, he doesn't recall this part of it, doesn't remember it ever being this obvious.
For the first time, he wonders if it's possible to have been in love with someone and never known.
The second the thought enters his mind, he slams the laptop closed, thoroughly spooked by his own train of thought. He hadn't been - surely he'd know if the strange feelings he'd always had for Harry was love. He's a bit daft, but he's not completely useless at this stuff. He knows what it's like to love people. He's not emotionally stunted.
To be sure, he calls the first person he can think of.
It's only a one-hour time difference, so he doesn't wake her up in the middle of the night, even though he'd been given express permission to do so.
"Hello?" Eleanor answers after a few rings. Her voice is the same as ever, and for a moment, Louis just lets himself be comforted by it.
"Lou?" she continues, sounding a little worried now. "You okay?"
"Hey, El," he says quietly. He's forgotten that he's actually ill; his voice is more of a croak than a murmur.
"What's up, Lou?" she asks, gently, like she knows he wouldn't call just to check in. She's right, but it makes Louis feel a little guilty.
"I just - um - I needed to, like, ask you something," Louis says. "And I need you not to judge me, or think any differently of me, or worry about me, or - "
"Jesus, Lou, alright," she laughs. "Hit me with it."
"Did you ever think I was in love with Harry?"
The line goes very, very quiet. Louis isn't breathing. Finally, there's a rustling on the other end, like Eleanor is gathering her hair up to prepare herself for this conversation.
"Yes," she says flatly. "I did think that, sometimes."
He'd been expecting that answer, probably wouldn't have called her if he wasn't, but he still has to ask. "Why?"
"I don't know," she replies. "I mean...I didn't always think so. Just, sometimes, when you would talk to him, or even talk about him, you'd get so focused. You're like the most scatterbrained, restless person I've ever known, but with him, you're...calm. Sometimes, when you'd talk to him, you'd seem like you could do nothing else for hours. But when you talked to me, I always got the feeling you were thinking of a hundred things at once."
"I'm sorry," Louis tells her, honestly. "Shit, El. I'm sorry you felt that way. I'm sorry I made you feel like that."
She laughs, and he can picture her waving a hand around like it's no big deal. "It's not your fault, Lou," she tells him. "If he really does make you feel that way, then you can't let that go. That's some seriously heavy stuff."
Louis laughs, too. "You'd really want me to be with him? Even though everyone would accuse you of having been a beard?"
"Love, they already think that," Eleanor says ruefully. "I just want you to be happy."
After they hang up, Louis burrows his head in his pillow, trying to keep it from exploding.
By nine o'clock that night, he's angry.
It's been four years - four years - and no one had seen it fit to inform him of this shit. These guys are supposed to be his best friends, and no one had bothered to give him a little push in the right direction, a little, "Hey, you're pretty attracted to Harry, aren't you?"
He texts Zayn to ask where they're at, and gets a reply that they're just leaving dinner. Louis gets Harry's key off Lou after an appropriate amount of begging, and he sits down on the carefully-made bed, nearly chewing off his fingernails. There's no doubt in his mind that he's going to do this tonight - it's been four years, but he feels like he can't wait another day to know for sure.
Harry comes wandering in around ten, sighing and immediately kicking off his boots upon entering the room before noticing Louis and letting out a squeak. He's just about to speak, but Louis doesn't give him the chance to, sees the opportunity to bombard him while he's weak, and takes it.
"Was I in love with you?" he asks, point-blank, like ripping off a plaster.
Harry's mouth falls open, and he looks rather dumb, if Louis' being honest.
"Were you in love with me?" Louis asks, a little louder and more forceful this time, because he's tired of this. He's so, so tired.
"Lou, I - " Harry's voice cracks as he gets the words out, and if Louis were a little less exasperated and pissed off, he might take pity on him.
He doesn't. He finally crosses the room, to where Harry's still hovering by the door, and makes himself as tall as he can. He looks straight into Harry's eyes, daring the younger boy to look away. Neither of them do.
"Were we in love?" he demands, taking a step forward and shoving at Harry's shoulders. He's gentle about it, not aiming to actually hurt Harry, but Harry stumbles back like he's totally upset his balance.
Finally, in lieu of a reply, Harry reaches out to grip the back of Louis' head and crushes his lips to his own. It's a bruising, punishing type of kiss, nothing sweet about it. There's more lips and teeth than tongue, and Harry appears to be trying to mold his mouth onto Louis' permanently. And then it changes, Harry's grip on Louis' skull loosening, his pillowy lips softening. Louis has always thought that Harry would be an excellent kisser, got lips made for it, and he's happy to note that he wasn't wrong. Harry opens Louis' mouth up with his tongue gently, nibbling on his bottom lip and letting out a tiny moan.
They both pull back at the same time, needing air, but Harry just rests his forehead on Louis', having to lean down to do so. His eyes are closed, and he looks thoroughly overwhelmed.
"Fuck you," he mutters, the words blowing hot air across Louis' face. "Fuck you, Lou, you broke my fucking heart."
In another circumstance, Louis' sure he would have quipped with a, Thanks Haz, quite romantic, you are. He's always been better at sarcasm than sensitivity, but right now, he's got the feeling Harry needs him to listen.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Louis prompts.
Harry's eyes pop open at that, and his eyebrows knit together. "What was I supposed to say? You were with El, you were happy, you kept - you kept making a joke of it all."
Louis doesn't have to think very hard to know what he's getting at. "I didn't think - I didn't know - "
"Yeah, well," Harry says. "It didn't give me much hope."
"So you just - stopped talking to me? Like that would be easier?" Louis asks. He knows he's been an idiot, but Harry isn't exactly an innocent party in any of this, either.
"I fucking moved to L.A. to get away from you," Harry says. "The whole last tour, I was going out of my head. I had to get away from you. I couldn't stay - near you. It was too hard."
That hurts more than anything, the idea that Louis drove Harry out of a country where all of his friends and family were. He hadn't meant to do any of that - he's always wanted Harry closer, never farther.
"Was it..." Louis spreads his hands out in front of him helplessly, as if it represents all of the shit between them. "I mean, Christ, was it the whole time?"
"For me, it was," Harry says. He's either gained a late onset bout of confidence, or he's just decided to fuck it all and finally say what he's clearly been wanting to say for ages. "It was the whole time."
Louis looks at him then, really looks at him for the first time in what feels like four years. He's always known Harry was beautiful in the abstract, the way people just tacitly understand that the Grand Canyon is beautiful. But Harry isn't the fucking Grand Canyon, he's a boy, and he's standing right in front of him. Up this close, he's flawed in a way only a privileged few get to see - his hair is a mess, coming out of a headscarf at odd angles; his skin is flushed and oily, from a humid summer day; and he's almost chewing his lip off. And Louis thinks, Oh.
He was in love with him. That whole time, maybe.
There's nothing about this entire, life-changing experience that he hasn't gone through with Harry, and that's the way he's always wanted it. There's never been a day that Louis wished Harry wasn't right beside him. And it's all as simple as that, isn't it?
"Why didn't anyone tell me?" he asks, reeling from his discovery and needing answers.
"I thought you knew," Harry says, running a hand through his hair. It's up in a floral headscarf, and Louis used to find the headscarves a little stupid, but he feels like he could be persuaded otherwise. "Everyone knew. The boys knew, Grimmy knew, my mum knew."
"Nobody tells me anything," Louis grumbles.
Harry barks out a laugh, then looks like he's surprised at himself for letting it out. He covers his mouth with one hand before mumbling, "You're so fucking cute," into his palm, like he can't help it.
After the moment of unprecedented flirting, Harry gets serious again. "I thought you hated me," he admits. "I thought, like, you were getting tired of what people were saying about us, and you didn't want me around anymore."
"That's literally the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," Louis says. "I thought you decided you wanted new, cooler friends. That I wasn't good enough for you."
"That's crazy," Harry says, and it sounds like he means it. "You're the coolest person I know."
"We really suck at communicating," Louis says dryly, realising exactly how true it is as the words leave his mouth.
Harry nods his agreement, eyes never leaving Louis'. He looks small and nervous all of a sudden, rubbing the back of his neck and glancing down at his pigeon-toed feet.
"When you said, before, about how you felt? Did you mean - is that all past-tense, now?" he asks, darting a cautious glance at Louis.
"No," Louis says immediately. "No, I - it's present tense, and future tense, and. Y'know."
Harry's beaming like he's a little terrified. Louis knows the feeling.
The moment he says it, he gets that feeling he gets right as he's about to fall off a skateboard, unsure of what angle he's going to hit the ground at. It's not a pleasant sensation when he's skateboarding, but here, with Harry looking at him with fucking stars in his eyes, it feels safe. He realises whichever way he lands, he's still going to be crazy for this boy, and it's a nice thought.
"Can I kiss you again?" Harry asks tentatively.
"Yes," Louis agrees immediately. "Though, fair warning, I might get snot all over you." He's started crying now; he doesn't remember when that happened.
"I have never cared less," Harry says, wrapping his arms around Louis' waist and bringing him up so they're chest-to-chest.
It's an odd admission of love, but "I have never cared less" sort of does it for Louis, as it turns out.