It was a perfect day; the sky above a soft shade of blue, completely clear of clouds. The sun was shining, making the otherwise cold April morning look almost like summer. It illuminated the little park somewhere in the south of England, which was filled with families; small children and drooling dogs.
Harry could see it all from his place at the kitchen window in his flat. In their flat. He could hear the children laughing, he could feel the sun on his face. Yet he was everything but calm and happy.
“What if he leaves me?”
Gemma laughed at his question, her voice soft when she answered.
“He’s not going to leave you.”
Harry turned away from the window to look at her. She had her hair blown out today, the long locks draping over her shoulders, safe one strand tucked behind her ear. The dress she was wearing was way too optimistic for this time of year; she would freeze on her way home.
He frowned at her enthusiasm. “You can’t know that. What if he comes home and he sees all of this-“
Harry threw his arms out at the small space of their combined kitchen-living room. There were unlit candles everywhere, his boyfriends’ favorite CD in the stereo, tons of almost-finished food in the kitchen, even rose pedals strewn about.
“-and he panics. Shit, Gem, this is such a huge step… “
Harry sunk down on the couch, but quickly stood up again when a small velvet box dug its way into his thigh from its place in his back pocket. Maybe he should put on a suit… No, that would be silly. Or would it?
He didn’t realize he was pacing nervously until Gemma stepped in front of him and grabbed his shoulders.
“Breathe, Harry,” she said, the smile still on her face. “Louis loves you. And you’ve been together for… Is it more than four years now?”
“Four years today.”
She grinned wider. “You’re such a romantic. Worse than me, even. Louis is going to melt, I promise.”
Harry ran a hand through his hair, closing his eyes so he wouldn’t have to look at his sister. He didn’t understand how she could be so sure of this, so confident in him when he was anything but. In fact, he couldn’t remember ever being this nervous about anything in his entire life.
“It’s just-. If he says no-,” Harry sighed heavily. “It’ll kill me, Gem.”
“He won’t! I know it, and Niall and Zayn agree with me. Do you really think all three of us are wrong?”
“What you should be worried about,” she continued. “Is Louis getting upset because you beat him to it. I bet he’s been itching to buy you a ring himself.”
Harry couldn’t help but smile. “As if. Do you really think Louis would be one to thrown himself down on one knee? He could get his trousers dirty, you know.”
“I don’t think there’s a thing Louis wouldn’t do when it comes to you,” Gemma insisted. “I’ve got to go now, but you can handle the rest of this, right?”
“Yeah. Yeah, it’s fine.”
“Great. I’m not wishing you good luck, you don’t need it. But when he does say yes, I’m the first person you call.”
Harry gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, hiding his nervous smile. “I promise. Thanks, Gem.”
She threw her coat on, but turned abruptly in the doorway. “Are you really that sure he doesn’t expect this? It’s your anniversary, after all.”
“I told you already, Gem, he’s a bit confused about which day it is. Or, I may have lied to him.”
“I know.” She bit her lip. “But it’s Louis. I just can’t believe you’ve actually managed to hide this from him. Whatever, I’m just mad I’ll miss the look on his face when he gets home to all this.” She looked him up and down. “And put on a shirt, for Christ’s sake.”
Harry rolled his eyes at her. “I will. Bye.”
The door slammed shut behind her, leaving him painfully alone with his thoughts. Wanting a distraction, Harry went for the kitchen and finished up the food. When he was done he ran and changed, checking the clock as he went.
Shit. Louis would be home in fifteen minutes. Harry came a halt in the middle of the kitchen, his eyes roaming the room in search of something he’d forgotten. Luckily, it was all there; everything ready. And for the first time, Harry felt ready too.
Yes, he was shaking with nerves and stress, and he was still deathly terrified. But at the same time he felt a sense of calm alongside it. He’d been preparing this for weeks, and now he was finally going to do what he’d wanted to do for years. Practically ever since he’d met the guy, to be honest. Not that he’d ever admit to that.
They should probably have talked about this properly, discussed the possibility of marriage like any sane, modern couple. Harry had been close to bringing it up several times, but then again he didn’t want the kind of marriage that started with a “Hey, we should probably tie the knot,” over the kitchen table Monday night. Louis deserved better than that.
Unfortunately for Louis, though, Harry was a total wimp. And so Harry waited. He waited, through anniversaries and valentine-dates and Louis’ graduation and moving in together. But somewhere along the line in between it all, the waiting became worse than the fear of doing something about it. He wanted Louis to be his, goddammit, properly his with a ring on his finger and a shared last name (Harry would be happy to take his) and maybe even the thought of Louis introducing him as ‘My husband’.
And so he decided that four years was long enough, went ring-shopping with Niall (which turned out to be a poor decision, the guy couldn’t have picked something pretty in a jewelry shop to save his life) and later Zayn, who strolled through the door and saved their asses, and eventually Harry ended up here, in his own living room on their anniversary, freaking the fuck out.
Afraid he’d end up on the floor in fetal position if he didn’t do something with himself, Harry went over to the stereo and pressed play. The soft notes of Louis’ favorite song filled the room, and Harry couldn’t help but smile at how fitting the first lines where.
If I don’t say this now
I will surely break…
This wasn’t just Louis’ song, it was their song. The song to which they’d had their first dance, and later that same night their first kiss. Harry closed his eyes as the memory came floating back.
“Dance with me.”
“What?” Harry looked up to catch Louis smiling at him.
“I said dance with me, Haz.”
“Because this is my favorite song, and you’re my favorite person. It’s a perfect fit.”
Harry’s phone buzzed in his pocket and dragged him back to the present. He turned off the music and put the cell to his ear without even checking who it was. He didn’t have to; Louis had made himself an exclusive ringtone.
“Hazza! Listen, I know I said I’d be home by six, but something came up and I’m running late. You’re making dinner tonight, right?”
“You don’t have to wait for me. Eat if you’re hungry.”
“It’s fine Lou, I’ll wait. Do you know when you’re going to be home?”
Harry could almost hear Louis smile on the other end.
“You’re always the same, love. Fine, wait for me if you’d like, but don’t go hungry because I’m an ass. I’ll be home by eight.”
There was the sound of papers being showed around.
“I’m just going to finish reading through this contract,” Louis said. “And then I’ll literally run screaming out of this fucking building. I’m so glad it’s Friday.”
“Me too. Just relax, I’ll be here with food when you come home, and then we can collapse on the couch and do nothing but watch shitty television and cuddle.”
Well, after the whole ‘Will you be my husband’-thing, that is.
Louis groaned. “You have no idea how great that sounds right now. I’ll see you in two hours tops, yeah? I love you.”
“I love you too,” Harry smiled. “Hurry home.”
When the clock turned eight, there was no sign of Louis. Harry was shaking with nerves, so he did the only thing he could think of; he called up his best mate/colleague/accomplice/pre-proposal-mental-support.
Niall answered after the first ring with a loud: “Congratulations on your engagement, you prick!”
“He’s not home yet,” Harry sighed.
“Oh. Sorry. I just figured he would’ve been home hours ago, and that you’d-“
Harry cut him off quickly. “I know.”
“Don’t get snappy with me, Curly.” Nialls voice turned soft. “Are you still nervous?”
“Nervous? I’m shaking. Considering just putting it all off, actually. I can just do it some other time.”
“Listen to me, Harry,” Niall said, his voice stern all of a sudden. “You’re not putting it off.”
“Says I. Literally, I’ll beat the shit out of you, and Gem will probably help me.”
Harry pulled the little box out of his pocket and sat down for the first time in hours. “She will. I’m just-”
“Don’t be. We’ve been over this a hundred times already. You love Louis, he loves you. It’s rather sickeningly sweet at times, actually. You’ll be fine. Is he coming soon, or do you want me to stop by?”
Harry shook his head, forgetting for a moment that Niall couldn’t see him.
“No, it’s fine. He’ll be here any second.”
“In that case I’m going to hang up on you now. Enjoy your night of glorious engagement sex. I have to go to the bar with Zayn and watch him hit on bald guys.”
“Bald guys? Since when?”
“Since Zayn hooked up with some doctor with a buzz cut and can’t get him out of his head. So he swears it was the hair, instead of admitting to anyone that he might have some human emotions buried under his dark exterior. Fucking pathetic.”
Harry laughed. “Sounds like Zayn. Have fun.”
“Whatever. Go propose to your boyfriend.”
The line went dead, and Harry felt lighter than he had all day. Maybe things were going to be fine.
But when the clock turned nine and there was still no sign of Louis, his palms were sweaty again. Harry was having that feeling in his gut, that feeling you get when you know something is wrong, but you can’t tell what it is.
He’d tried to call Louis several times, but his phone went straight to voicemail. The list of possible worst case scenarios was endless in Harry’s head.
What if someone had told Louis about the proposal, and he’d ran away? What if Louis was banging some stuck up guy from work, who did in fact wear a suit, and not skinny jeans and ragged band t-shirts like Harry? Maybe he was having the time of his life right now, bent over with some other-.
No. Louis would never do that to him. But where was he then?
The sound of his phone going off lit a hope in him for about a second, before he realized it wasn’t Louis’ tune. The number was not one Harry recognized. He hesitated for a moment before putting the phone to his ear.
“Good evening. Is this Mr. Styles I’m talking to?” It was a woman’s voice, Harry realized, but not one he could remember ever hearing before.
“Yes. Yes, this is him.”
The woman’s voice was soft when she spoke again. “Sir, I’m calling from the hospital. We have you listed as an emergency contact for Louis Tomlinson.”
Harry was so cold, all of a sudden, the white wall behind him painfully frozen when he slid down against it. Only when he hit the floor did he manage to find his voice. “What’s happened?”
“I’m sorry to inform you that Mr. Tomlinson has been involved in an accident.”
The words weren’t coming, Harry had to breathe instead of talk and there was certainly no way anyone could do both those things at the same time when the world was suddenly crashing and all Harry wanted was off. But he had to know, so he held his breath and chocked. “And?”
The woman’s voice was even softer now. “I’m sorry, sir, I cannot give you any more information by phone. You will have to come down here.”
Harry was running, running so hard his lungs felt like they would burst out of his chest at any second, and yet time seemed to pass impossibly slow. The automatic doors at the hospital entrance shut him out on purpose when he stood waiting, and he could have sworn the elevator took an hour to climb two floors.
Finally, with heaving breath and tears brimming in his eyes, he found the right information desk. The woman who looked up at him from behind it seemed to understand at once.
“Who are you looking for, darling?”
“Louis,” Harry gasped, his voice broken from running and breathing and crying and everything all at once. “Louis Tom-, Tomlinson.”
The woman glanced down at her computer for a second before returning her attention to him.
“He’s just being brought back from surgery, he’ll-“
“Surgery?” Harry didn’t recognize his own voice as it left him. “Can anyone tell me what fucking happened?!”
The look he received from the woman could only be described as pity, and it made Harry’s insides turn. He didn’t need anyone to pity him, or call him darling, or look at him like he was going insane. He just needed someone to tell him where Louis was.
“I’ll go fetch his doctor for you.” The woman disappeared and Harry sank down on the floor with his back against the counter.
The room was almost completely empty, but he still hid his face in his hands. Tears were streaming down his face now, and he didn’t need anyone to see him like this. It would be like admitting something was wrong, and he wouldn’t do that.
Louis would probably hop around the corner at any second with a broken arm or something, and then they could go home. They do surgery on broken bones sometimes, right? Harry was almost completely sure they did. There was really no reason to assume the worst right away. Except-
The deep, masculine voice caught Harry’s attention, and he looked up. A man was standing in front of him in a white coat, one arm extended to help him off the ground.
Harry took it hesitantly and stood. The guy, he couldn’t possibly be much older than Louis, did not smile at him apologetically. Harry loved him for it.
“I’m Liam Payne,” the man introduced himself. “Louis’ doctor. You’re his friend? Brother?”
“Boyfriend,” Harry choked.
“I see. And you just got here now?”
“Yeah. I don’t know anything, I don’t understand…“
The doctor furrowed his brows. “Why don’t we sit down?”
“I don’t want to sit down!” Harry hissed. “I want you to tell me what happened, and where he is, and when I get to speak to him!”
“It’s not that easy, I’m afraid.”
“Why?” Harry was shouting now. “He’s not dead!”
And then realization hit him like a wrecking ball. He could be. Louis could be dead. It would explain everything that had happened; The soft voice on the telephone, the pitiful woman at the desk and-
“Tell me he’s not dead?!”
The doctor took a deep breath before answering. “No. He’s not dead.”
The relief lasted for about two seconds before new questions arose in Harry’s mind.
“Then what is it? Why can’t I see him?”
Dr. Payne took his time answering, running a hand over his barely-there-hair as if that would help him find a way to explain things.
“Mr. Styles, Louis was in a car accident almost two hours ago. His vehicle was found about fifteen yards from the road near his workplace. The road at the scene was extremely slippery from rain, and from the looks of it he lost control of the car. It is possible that he was speeding, but we can’t know that for sure yet. There were no other vehicles involved.
We operated on him as soon as he was brought in, but the damage to his head and spine is severe, along with multiple other injuries.”
He continued talking, but Harry wasn’t listening anymore. He didn’t want to hear about Louis’ broken wrist, or Louis leg wound. He couldn’t.
All he could process was the sound of his own voice, his own plea to Louis again and again in his head.
“How bad is it?” Harry asked abruptly, interrupting whatever the doctor was telling him. “Tell me truth.”
The doctor’s hand felt heavy on his shoulder. “Right now we had to put him in an induced coma to reduce the swelling in his brain. His spine will probably heal, as well as the other injuries, but…”
“When will he wake up?”
“We don’t know.”
Dr. Payne shook his shoulder gently, helping him snap out of it.
“I need to know if there is anyone else we should contact. Does he have any siblings? Parents?”
Harry shook his head without thinking.
“No. His family lives in Doncaster. He’s barely in touch with them.”
“I understand. Listen, I know that you want to see him, I would too if I was in your shoes. But right now he’s being moved, and I’m not allowed to let anyone into his room while his bed is being set up to the machines.”
Harry nodded weakly and sunk into the nearest chair.
“Would you be able to go through his forms with me?” The doctor asked. “Verify the information we have and supply what we are missing about him.”
Again, Harry just nodded. If there was anything he could do to help the people helping Louis, he would. Of course he would.
The doctor went over to the counter and exchanged words with the receptionist before returning with a clip board holding several forms. He sat down right beside Harry with a gentle smile.
“Alright. So his full name is Louis William Tomlinson, born Louis Troy Austin, and he’s twenty-six years old. I assume that is correct?”
“Yeah,” Harry said, wiping at the tears while trying to pull himself together.
The doctor rattled off Louis’ telephone number, and Harry nodded. They did the same with his NHS-number and several other bits of information. Everything was up to date, until the doctor rattled off an address and Harry shook his head for once.
“No, that’s his old place. He moved in with me about two years ago.”
Harry gave him the new address, and the doctor wrote before looking up at him again.
“The two of you aren’t married or in a partnership?”
There was complete silence in the room for about a second before Harry’s choked sob broke it. The tears he’d just managed to force back were spilling again, his chest heaving as he gasped for air. He threw himself forwards and buried his head in between his knees.
There was a hand on his shoulder, and Harry couldn’t find the energy to shake it off.
What If Louis didn’t wake up? This was all his fault, him and his stupid ring and stupid engagement. Who cares about rings and wows and weddings? Louis had been his all along, and now he was in a coma in the hospital instead of curled up on the couch like any other Friday.
“Do you want me to call someone for you?” Liam asked.
Just then Harry’s phone went off in his pocket. He pulled it out and hit answer, but when he put it to his ear he couldn’t speak.
“Hey mate, you never called.” Niall’s familiar voice did little to comfort him. “I’m just on my way out the door and I thought-. Harry, are you there?”
Harry tried to respond, he really did. But his throat seemed to be completely stuck.
“Harry? Hello? Am I calling at a bad time?”
Out of the corner of his eye, Harry could see Liam holding out his hand. Without really thinking much of it, he handed over the phone. Harry’s eyes were locked on the floor as Liam introduced himself and proceeded to explain the situation to Niall. After a few minutes, Liam handed him his phone back.
“Your friends will be here soon.”
Harry tried to smile at him, but ended up pulling a face.
Zayn found him first, about ten minutes later. He came running around the corner with his quiff all messed up, gasping for air. Harry looked at him from his place on the chair, and not a word was said as he stood up and let Zayn throw his arms around him. They stood like that for a long time, Harry’s face on Zayn’s shoulder, breathing in the familiar smell in a weak attempt to keep himself grounded. Eventually, he pulled back, but not before letting Zayn wipe the tears from his face.
“Niall’s parking the car, and Gemma’s on her way,” he said, concern coloring his voice. “How are you doing?”
Harry sniffed a few times before finally speaking. “They won’t let me see him.”
“But he’s recovering from an operation, right? That’s what they told Niall.”
“Yeah,” Harry leaned into Zayn again, and the other man embraced him at once. “They-, they say-, he hurt his head, and-. Zayn, they don’t know when he’ll wake up. If he wakes up.”
Harry’s voice drowned in his tears once again. Zayn pulled him closer, patting his back.
“It’ll be okay,” he promised. “Louis is strong. He’s not going to let a car accident break him.”
But Zayn’s eyes were wet, too.
The next half an hour was hell. Niall and Gemma arrived shortly after Zayn, but none of them were themselves. Gemma yelled at the lady at the counter, desperately requesting to see Louis’ doctor. Liam had left Harry after talking to Niall on the phone, and the receptionist insisted he was busy working on Louis. That didn’t stop Gemma from demanding information, and after a while her screaming got so loud that Zayn had to physically remove her from the counter while whispering soothing words in her ear.
Niall was her complete opposite. After giving Harry a tight, silent hug, he sat down in the chair furthest from them in the waiting room without a word. No matter how loud Gemma screamed, or how violently Harry sobbed, or how desperate Zayn became when trying to help everyone: Niall didn’t move an inch. He sat frozen by himself in the corner, staring at the empty wall in front of him.
After what felt like forever, the door from across the room opened. A tall, blonde woman in a coat that matched Liam’s entered. She had her hair in a pixie cut, and wore an expression of professional concern as she studied the bunch of them. They were the only ones left in the room by now.
“You’re all here for Louis Tomlinson?” she asked.
Gemma opened her mouth to snap at her, but Zayn cut her off with a quick, “Yes. Are you his doctor?”
The woman nodded. “I’m Dr. Jones. I’ve been assisting the previous doctor you spoke with, Dr. Payne, during Mr. Tomlinson’s surgery.”
“And?” Gemma demanded. “Are you actually going to tell us something valuable, or are you just here to serve my brother another mouthful of unhelpful bullshit?”
Dr. Jones smiled half a smile. “I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have to the best of my ability. But firstly, which one of you is Mr. Styles?”
Harry gripped Zayn’s hand tighter. “I am. Has something happened? Is he ok?”
“Mr. Tomlinson’s situation remains the same, I’m afraid. But he’s stable now. Dr. Payne wanted me to tell you that you can go see him, if you’d like.”
Before Harry could process her words, Niall was up from his seat and standing beside her.
“Where is he?” he asked, body tense. It was the first time he’d spoken since he entered the hospital.
The woman turned to him. “I can’t let all of you in right now, I’m afraid. Unless any of you are in Mr. Tomlinson’s immediate family, Mr. Styles is the only one I can allow entrance.”
Niall fisted his hair and groaned loudly before returning to his place in the corner, mumbling about ‘useless fucking doctors.’
“Mr. Styles?” The woman asked again, and Harry stood up.
“Can I-, can I just go in, or?”
The look she gave him was probably meant as reassurance. “He’s in room 406. Through that door and then turn left twice. Dr. Payne is in there with him.”
He strode past her without giving anyone a second glance, but stopped when she put a hand on his arm.
“Mr. Tomlinson is just out of surgery,” she explained. “So he’s going to look pretty beat up. Try to ignore the tubes and bandages.”
Harry nodded sharply, and then he was through the door, running.
The door to room 406 looked just like any other hospital door; plain, shiny and grey. On the spot where you’d expect to find a window, there was nothing but bold, black letters, confirming that this was in fact the room he was looking for.
Harry came to a halt outside the door, his chest heaving from having sprinted through the halls. He took a deep breath and put his hand on the doorknob, twisting.
The door remained closed. Not because it was locked, but because Harry couldn’t find it in himself to push it open. He knew that no matter how much better or worse than expected the situation was, Louis was hurt.
Louis was hurt. It didn’t matter how hard Harry had cried, or how sick he’d been feeling: The fact that Louis was actually severely injured had yet to sink completely in. Harry knew that when he opened the door, every last bit of hope he had would be crushed. He also knew that if he didn’t, Louis would remain alone amongst doctors and nurses and god knows what.
The thought made Harry’s anger flare, and before he knew it he’d ripped the door open and was standing inside the room.
The walls could have been pink, there could have been a dragon sleeping in a corner and Liam could have been wearing nothing but a thong; Harry still wouldn’t have noticed anything but Louis.
It looked almost as if he was sleeping. Louis was cradled in the metallic hospital bed, a huge white duvet wrapped around him. His hair was gone, replaced with a bandage that covered half his scull. He had little cuts all over his face, and his body looked somehow twisted, his position seeming uncomfortable even though he was just lying on his back. He was shirtless, his right arm covered in a white cast, and one of his feet poked out from the covers in something similar.
He looked more fragile and vulnerable than Harry had ever seen him.
“Can I-“ he tried, his voice raw and broken again. “Could I-“
Harry was well aware that he was blabbering, but Liam seemed to understand nonetheless. He nodded his head in the direction of a chair at Louis’ bedside.
“Sit with him. His left hand is fine, you can comfort him if you want. But leave the rest of him be.”
In a blink Harry was sitting, cradling Louis’ hand in both of his.
“Lou…,” he whispered, burying his head in the covers beside their hands. “I’m sorry. So fucking sorry. And I love you. I love you more than anything, and I’m right here, okay? Everything will be alright, I’m right here beside you.”
The room was silent for a long time except for the occasional sob from Harry. Liam didn’t leave them, but continued to work quietly, checking Louis’ monitors and reading different journals. After a while, Harry suspected he was just putting on a show as an excuse to stay.
“Can he hear me?” he asked Liam after what felt like years. “If I talk to him.”
Liam seemed relieved that Harry was finally speaking. He pulled out a chair and sat on the opposite side of the bed.
“I don’t know for certain,” he answered. “There really is no way of knowing. But comatose patients sometimes have a greater chance of recovery if they are conversed with, even if it’s not something they remember when they wake up.”
Harry nodded weakly, but he must have looked as lost as he felt, because Liam spoke up again.
“In my personal opinion, you should talk to him whenever you want. Or you could read to him, play him music, sing…. It can’t hurt, right?”
“But he might never wake up,” Harry stated.
Liam sighed. “That is true. There is a possibility, however slight, that he may not gain consciousness again.”
“What happens then? Are you just going to pull the plug on him?”
“Harry, I understand that this is difficult for you. But Louis’ is still fighting, he’s still alive. And that in itself is a miracle. People have recovered from way worse.
Right now he needs you to fight this with him. He needs you to be here for him.”
Harry tightened his grip on Louis’ hand.
“I will. Of course I will. I’m just trying to understand… You said he hurt his head. If he does wake up, is he still going to be Louis? Is he going to be able to remember me? To remember himself?”
Liam was silent for a moment before answering.
“Louis hit his head and neck pretty hard in the crash. As you can see, he’s got other injuries as well. His arm, his face, his leg; Those will all heal just fine. It looks overwhelming, I know, but they’re all fixable.
What we’re worried about is his head and spine. So far we’ve had to operate on his skull, that’s why he’s all bandaged up-”
“He’s going to hate you for shaving his head,” Harry interrupted. He had no idea why he’d said it, it was completely inappropriate, but it was what Louis would have said if he was awake.
Liam smiled. “It won’t be the first time. Anyway, the operation was as successful as we could have hoped for. His slight neck injury will have to be treated with physiotherapy, and as far as his spine goes, we’ll have to take that when he wakes up.”
Harry was about to interrupt again, but Liam didn’t let him.
“Harry, the chances of him not waking up are slim. He’s most likely going to open his eyes in a few hours.”
“Really. But that’s when the hard part begins. It’s not possible to know what the trauma has done to his memory. He may not remember much of the accident, or even of the people he knows.”
Harry swallowed hard. “Is that-, If he doesn’t remember, is that permanent?”
“We don’t know yet.”
“Right,” Harry mumbled. “I guess that’d be too much to ask, wouldn’t it?”
His tone of voice was harsher than he’d meant it to be, but he didn’t apologize when Liam got up, indicating that their conversation was over.
“The nurses are going to be coming by a couple of times an hour,” he explained while picking up the journals Harry had seen him with earlier. “If they try to make you leave, just tell them you’re here by my wish. If there’s anything you need, or if your boyfriend shows any sign of movement, pull that little string over there, and I will be right here. Dr. Jones is talking to the rest of your family, they’ll be in here soon. Is that alright?”
“Yeah,” Harry squeaked. “And I get to stay with him?”
“For as long as you’d like. But the rest will have to leave when the nurses tell them to.”
Harry nodded, and then Liam was gone.
His absence made the room completely silent, the only sound left was the slow beeping of a monitor showing Louis’ heartbeat. It was driving Harry insane. Maybe talking wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
“They shaved your head, Lou,” he started. “But don’t worry about it. You still look breathtaking. I’m sure you would call me a liar for saying that, but it’s true. Even with all these tubes and bandages, you’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen.”
Harry hated this. He hated talking to Louis as if nothing was wrong, as if the love of his life wasn’t lying unconscious in a hospital bed on what Harry had hoped would be the happiest day of his life. It was like childs play, like he was fooling himself to believe Louis was still there when he clearly wasn’t. But as soon as Harry stopped talking to take a breath, it felt as if the quiet of the room turned into an ice-cold wall pressing at him from every possible angle, and he simply couldn’t take it.
“I’m so sorry for all of this,” he rambled on, desperate to fill the emptiness creeping in. “It should be me in that bed instead of you. If I could take your place in this I’d do it in a heartbeat. You’re too precious to end up like this. I know I asked you to hurry home, this is all my fault. You have every right to hate me, you really do. But I still have this little hope that you’ll forgive me. Silly, isn’t it?
The others are all here, all worried about you. They’re coming in to see you in in a bit, but don’t be alarmed if Gemma shouts. She does that sometimes, when she’s extremely worried about something. It’s only because she loves you, please don’t be mad at her for it.
Niall’s got it bad, he barely talks, and Zayn’s a sobbing mess just like me. You would have rolled your eyes at the bunch of us, crying and screaming at your bedside. But it’s because we love you.
I don’t know if you can hear me, Lou, but if you can: I love you. I love you like I’ve never loved anyone before, and I’m not going anywhere. Just take your time recovering from this, and I’ll be here when you wake up. Everything is going to be okay, I promise.”
Harry withdrew one of his hands from Louis’ to wipe at his face.
“Shit, here I go again. I can’t stop crying, how pathetic is that? I bet you would have been so strong if the roles were reversed, but I can’t. I can’t be strong without you, Lou. And apparently I can’t stop sobbing either. I’m sorry that you have to listen to this. But I have to do something, say something. The silence is killing me.
I listened to your favorite song today. Don’t ask me why I went through your CD collection, that’s a secret. It reminded me of that night four years ago, the song. Do you remember? The night you became my boyfriend. It’s the happiest memory I have.”
“Why are you blushing?” Louis asked. “Am I making you uncomfortable?”
“No.” Harry smiled. “Never uncomfortable, just-, overwhelmed.”
They were curled up on the couch in Louis’ stinky apartment, bodies intertwined beneath a blanket to keep the cold out. Either one of them could easily stand up and adjust the heater, but Harry kind of liked being close to Louis this way. And for some reason, the other man let him wrap his arms around him without question.
“Overwhelmed? Do elaborate.”
Harry chuckled. “I think you know what I mean. We used to be best mates, and now we’re, I don’t know, different. But I kind of like different.”
“I like different too. A lot.”
Harry tried to pull Louis closer, but instead of letting him, Louis turned on the couch so that they were facing.
“Do you regret kissing me, Haz?” he asked.
And that was it. The moment of truth. The point of no return.
“No. I would have done it again.”
Louis lit up. “Really? Because I want you to do it again. And again. And again, and again-“
Harry put a finger on the older man’s lips, silencing him. “You do?”
Louis bit teasingly at Harry’s finger. “I do. I want you in every way possible.”
His lips were on Harry’s, then, kissing him as if he’d been waiting forever. Harry certainly had been. He smiled against Louis’ lips before pulling back.
“Does this mean I’m your boyfriend?” Harry asked.
“You can be whatever you want to be,” Louis insisted. “But boyfriend, huh? I like the sound of that.”
The sound of Zayn’s voice pulled him back to the present. Harry opened his eyes and saw his friend’s head poking in the doorway.
“Can we come in?”
Harry nodded silently, and before he knew it they were all there, the three of them crowded around Louis’ bed just like he’d known they would. Instead of joining them, Harry stood up and made his way to the small bathroom door in the corner of Louis’ room.
He shut the door behind himself and looked in the mirror, only to find a completely worn version of himself glaring back. God, how he wished it was him in that bed instead of Louis. He’d gladly take all the pain in the world to avoid feeling this helpless.
He was careful not to make a sound as he leaned on the wall and slowly slid down until he was sitting on the floor, legs curled up. His breath hadn’t been working properly for hours and he’d really thought this would help; getting some distance from Louis when he knew the others were taking care of him. But he’d been wrong, incredibly so, because being away from Louis only made it worse, made him feel like a failure for running away like that. This was the time for him to be brave, right? Louis needed him to be strong, and yet he’d never felt weaker.
He went back into the room after a while (It could have been a minute or an hour, Harry had no idea) and found Zayn throwing a bag at him.
“Figured you wouldn’t want to leave him, so I brought you food.”
“Thanks.” Harry sat down beside Louis again, thankful that none of them had taken his seat.
“Harry,” Zayn warned. “You’re eating that shit, and you’re eating it now. A nurse came by a few minutes ago, they won’t let any of us stay here but you. So please, take care of yourself, alright?”
Slowly, Harry picked up the bag and found an apple to chew on.
“He’s going to be alright, Harry,” Gemma said. She looked so much calmer already. “Don’t worry. He’s stronger than all of us.”
They all headed for the door and then hesitated as Zayn spoke again. “I’ll come by first thing tomorrow. And Niall too. If there’s anything, no matter when, you call me, alright?”
With one last stern look, Zayn was gone. Gemma kissed Harry’s head and left too, leaving Niall alone in the doorway.
“I love you,” he said simply, looking at Harry. “Both of you. Take care of him.”
“I can sing for you,” Harry whispered to Louis, hours later. “If you want.”
The sky outside the hospital windows had grown black, and the ticking clock on the wall told Harry that it was already tomorrow. Yet he was not tired in the slightest, only worried. Maybe there’s only so many emotions a person can take before there’s no longer room for sleepiness.
Harry cleared his throat and let the familiar words pour out of him. It didn’t sound at all like when Louis sang, velvety and soft. Instead, Harry’s voice was unpolished and hoarse, even worse today than normally.
“There now, steady love
So few come and don’t go
Will you, won’t you
Be the one I’ll always know?
When I’m losing my control
The city spins around
You’re the only one who knows
You slow it down.”
Slowly, carefully, Harry leaned forwards and pressed his lips against Louis’ forehead.
“Be my baby
I’ll look after you.”
He leaned back again, careful not to touch any of the medical equipment as he laid his head next to their joined hands.
“I’ll stay with you,” Harry promised. “As long as you want me, I’m right here beside you.”
And to that thought he fell asleep.
Louis didn’t wake up the next morning. Harry told himself that these sort of things take time, and reluctantly ate again when Zayn came around during visiting hours.
Louis didn’t wake up the next afternoon, even after Harry had cried at Niall when he came bearing Louis’ favorite music and books. Harry told himself that everything was going to be fine, and then he cracked open a random book and started reading out loud.
And so the weekend came and went. Harry sang and read and talked, Louis remained still. Harry told stories and cried and yelled, Louis stayed silent.
Monday night he called up Niall and asked the blond to come down. He was there after what felt like mere seconds.
“I need you to hire someone for me,” Harry said simply while Niall sat down.
“What’re you on about?”
“I said I need you to hire someone,” he repeated. “For the shop. You can’t run it by yourself, it’s too much work.”
“Harry,” Niall protested softly. “I’m fine with working extra hours. Besides, we’ve been thinking that you should take a break from the hospital. Why don’t you let Gemma stay here tomorrow, and you can come to work if you want?”
“No,” Harry protested immediately. “I’m not leaving him. I need to be here when he wakes up.”
“Are you sure you don’t-“
“Louis is going to wake up any minute now,” Harry said with the outmost conviction. “And when he does, he’s going to need me to be here for him. I’m sorry, Niall, but Louis is more important than our shop will ever be.”
“I know that! Of course he is!” Niall looked upset for a split second before his expression turned back to concern. “That’s not what I’m saying here, Harry. As if I would ever put a silly record-shop before my best friend. I was just suggesting that you take a break. It could be good for you to get out of here.”
“You’re wrong,” Harry said, and his words felt too loud for the small room. “I’m perfectly good right here. So, please, just hire someone to help you with everything down there. You’ll have to take on the responsibilities I usually have, and then he or she can monitor the counter. Raise your pay if you want, and then give them whatever you earned when I first employed you.”
“Fine,” Niall sighed, defeat visible on his face. “I’ll hire someone. But only temporarily, until you’re back. Do you have any specific wishes when it comes to employees?”
Harry shrugged. “Just make sure it’s someone who actually understands music. I don’t want some fifteen year old with a Taylor Swift obsession.”
Niall smiled. “Got it. I went by your flat yesterday with Gemma, so there are clothes for you in that bag over there. And food, too. Zayn’ll be by tomorrow.”
Harry didn’t open the bag until the next day, and when he did it was only to change his shirt before Zayn came.
The days at the hospital passed impossibly slow, and yet Harry was still shocked when Liam popped by one day and mentioned that an entire week had gone by. Harry hadn’t dared to keep track of time; every minute that passed was another minute of Louis’ not waking up. Every second was a second too long spent in hell, not knowing, not being able to help.
“I hired someone,” Niall said the day after Liam’s announcement. Harry wondered if that made today Saturday. It really didn’t matter. “His name is Josh.”
“Josh,” Harry repeated monotonically. “I knew you’d hire a guy.”
“Out of the twenty people I interviewed, there was one girl,” Niall told him sourly. “She came bearing a giant cup of Starbucks, and then spent more time drinking it than actually answering my questions. I think I got a total of four sentences out of her. And she kept touching her hair. It was weird.”
Harry smiled for the first time in over a week. It felt oddly unfamiliar. “So Josh, huh? Tell me about him.”
“He’s about my age, I think, a bit older than you. Nice bloke, seems sane enough. He’s got some wicked tattoos, too.”
“And he’s got a decent taste in music?”
Niall rolled his eyes. “I’m not completely thick. He’s a drummer, actually. Plays in a band.”
Harry was about to make a snide comment when the growling of his stomach interrupted their conversation. Niall’s head snapped up.
“When was the last time you ate something?” he demanded.
Harry shook his head. “I don’t know... Yesterday, maybe.”
With a sigh Niall was on his feet. “I’m getting you food. What do you want?”
“Well, there goes your chance. You better fucking eat whatever I bring back with me.”
Harry nodded and watched him leave.
“Niall worries too much,” he told Louis. “They all do. It’s stupid. You’re the one they should be worried about, not me.
I would read to you, but we’re all out of books. Remember that we finished the last one yesterday? I’ve asked Gemma to bring us some more, she’s coming by tomorrow. Maybe she’ll bring more music, too.”
Harry let his fingers trace the knuckles on Louis’ left hand as he studied the man in the bed. Louis looked better now, he supposed. The cast on his leg was gone, replaced by a small bandage. The cuts on his face had healed, too, and yesterday Liam had agreed with the nurses to remove some of the tubes and machines.
“God, I miss you,” Harry whispered. “I miss you so much it hurts. I miss your smile, your laughter, lying in bed with you on lazy mornings. I miss holding your hand when we’re out and you want so show everyone that I’m yours.”
Harry gripped Louis hand tightly. “Can you even feel that? I’m holding your hand right now. Just like we always used to. Except you’re not here anymore. You’re not squeezing back, you’re not-SHIT!”
Harry jumped in his chair and loosened his grip on Louis’ hand. He could have sworn he just felt something.
“Did you just-“
There it was again. Louis was moving his fingers, Harry was sure of it. He shot out of his chair and pulled the string beside the headboard before returning to Louis just as fast.
“Louis, you’re moving!” He yelled, tears spilling for the hundredth time that week. “You’re moving! I’m holding your hand, can you feel that? I’m stroking your fingers. Move them again for me, love. Can you do that?”
Louis squeezed, harder this time, and Harry started sobbing.
“I love you so much, Louis, and I’m right here. I-“
Then Liam was there, his face twisted in concern. “What is it?” he asked. “What happened?”
Harry laughed through his tears. “He squeezed my hand! Three times! Look!”
Liam looked, but Louis didn’t move his fingers again.
“Come on, Lou,” Harry begged. “Show Dr. Payne what you just did! Squeeze my hand, you can do it! You can-“
And then he was being interrupted. Not by Liam, but by a familiar voice that Harry had wondered if he’d ever get to hear again.
“You know,” Louis said sourly. “I’m not a dog.”
“Louis!” Harry cried, and then he couldn’t say more, because he was sobbing too hard, choking on tears and laughter.
“Welcome back, Mr. Tomlinson,” Liam smiled.
Louis shifted uncomfortably in the bed, but kept Harry’s hand in his. “Thanks, I guess? May I ask who you are?”
Liam nodded. “My name is Liam Payne, and I’m your doctor.”
“Doctor?” Louis questioned, his eyes sweeping the room. “I’m in the hospital? What the fuck happened? How long was I out?”
“You’ve been unconscious for a little more than a week,” Liam explained. “You were in a car accident. Hit your head pretty hard, too. Can you remember any of it?”
Louis frowned. “I remember water. Loads and loads of water, everything was wet. Does that make any sense?”
“It does. Don’t worry about the details, temporary memory loss is very common. Maybe you can remember other things? Try to tell me a little about yourself.”
“Alright,” Louis nodded, very serious all of a sudden. “My name’s Louis Tomlinson, I’m twenty-six years old and I’m from Doncaster. I work as a lawyer, and my best friends are named Niall and Zayn. I never wear socks, and I’m pretty sure I’m damn gay. Is that correct?”
Liam chuckled. “Every little piece of it, from what I know. Can you tell me anything about the man sitting next to you?”
Louis looked down at Harry with a confused expression.
“The guy who’s holding my hand?” He asked Liam, and Liam’s smile fell.
Harry felt like throwing up, but before he could do anything about it, Louis was laughing.
“This is Harry,” he told Liam. “He’s twenty-three years old and owns the record shop down the street from our flat. He’s got a strange obsession with beanies, and he steals my shirts when I’m not home.”
Louis broke Liam’s gaze to look down at Harry.
“He’s my boyfriend,” he murmured. “And if I know him correctly, he’s been sitting by this bed since you brought me in.”
“Always,” Harry insisted. “I’ll always stay with you.”
Louis put his good hand against Harry’s cheek, wiping at the tears there. “Please don’t cry, Haz. I’m right here.”
Harry tried to pull himself together, but it was all too overwhelming. Instinctively, Louis turned towards him, but then winched in pain and fell back against the pillows, breathing heavily.
“Lou?” Harry asked, not daring to touch anything but Louis’ hand.
Liam was by his side in an instant, his fingers tracing Louis’ injuries. “Mr. Tomlinson? Can you tell me where the pain is coming from?”
“I’m fine,” Louis hissed through clenched teeth.
Liam stepped back as Louis caught his breath. For the first time since he awoke, Louis seemed to acknowledge his injuries. His hands went to the bandages around his head, and Harry watched as Louis’ eyes widened.
“I don’t have hair?” he whispered. “You shaved my head?!”
Liam nodded quietly, but Louis cut off his response. “Harry, is that Niall’s coat on the hanger?”
Confused, Harry turned around to look at the denim jacket. “I-, uhm, yeah. He’s down in the cafeteria, actually. Him, Zayn and Gem have been by every day to check on you, he’s going to be so happy that you’re-“
“Can you go find him, maybe?” Louis begged. “Please? I really want to see him.”
Harry stayed put. “I don’t want to leave you. He’ll be here soon enough.”
“Hazza…” Louis whined. “Please? You need to get out of this room, we both know it. And Dr. Payne is going to be here with me until you get back. I’ve got loads of questions to ask him.”
“Are you sure?” Harry asked.
He really, really didn’t want to leave Louis, but what could he possibly argue with?
“Yes,” Louis insisted. “Now go.”
“Alright.” Harry gave Louis’ hand one last squeeze. “I love you.”
“Love you too.”
On his way out the door Harry pulled out his phone and shot the same message to both Zayn and Gemma, the only words he could sacrifice the time to write being ‘He’s awake’.
Finding Niall turned out to be more difficult than Harry had assumed. Maybe it had to do with the fact that he’d never actually been to any part of the hospital but the inside of Louis’ room. Nevertheless, it took him three wrong turns and two lectures from very angry nurses about running in the hospital corridors until he finally found the cafeteria. Niall was just finished paying for a massive tray of food - all of Harry’s favorites, to be exact - when Harry found him.
“Harry, what are you doing here? Did something happen, is Louis-“
“He’s awake!” Harry yelled, throwing his arms around the small blond. “He’s awake, and he’s talking, and he remembers me! And you! And Zayn, and Gem and beanies and socks!”
Niall dropped his tray in surprise. “Really?!”
“Yes!” Harry insisted, causing a bright smile to erupt on Niall’s face. “Really!”
And then they were running, the both of them stumbling up the stairs - because, honestly, fucking hospital elevators- and into Louis’ room.
He was sitting more upright now, a water bottle in his hand and some color in his cheeks at last. Liam was standing beside him, the two of them apparently in deep conversation which ended as soon as Niall appeared by Louis’ bedside. Louis looked up as they entered, his eyes barely swiping past Harry before they landed on Niall.
“Niall,” Louis smiled, his voice hoarse and gentle. “Hey, mate.”
Niall broke. That’s the only word Harry could think of that came close to describing Niall at that moment. One second he was just standing there, gaping at Louis, and then he collapsed on the bed beside him, crying like a child.
Louis had his good hand around him before Harry could do anything but close his mouth.
“Nialler, love,” he cooed. “What’re you crying for? I’m alright, I promise.”
“Thought-“ Niall gasped through his tears, and Harry realized this was the first time his friend had shown any real emotion since the night of the accident. “Thought-, you weren’t gonna-. I’m sor-sorry. And Harry- and – love you, and-“
His voice turned into a slur after that, his face buried in Louis’ bed sheets, making them wet. Louis kissed his head and kept his arm around Niall’s shaking frame, but before any of them could help him further the door was ripped open once more.
“Louis!” Gemma shouted, slamming the door behind her as she entered. “You won’t believe how much trouble this accident of yours has caused! The fucking doctors of this place, they won’t tell us anything! I swear to god, Zayn was practically on fire in the car right now, shouting about how he hadn’t even gotten a chance to meet your proper doctor and how Harry had to be here alone every day-“
She reached his bedside, then, and shut up only to dive over him and pepper him with kisses.
“I was so worried about you, you knobhead,” she whispered. “I love you to pieces. And so does my brother, you won’t believe what a mess he’s been, and – Niall? What are you doing?”
She pulled at Niall’s collar until he caved and turned to look at her, his eyes red with tears.
“Oh, baby,” Gemma sighed. She pulled him off the bed and into her arms, for the first time taking the seat that Harry had been living in the last week. Strangely, he didn’t mind. He just wished Louis would look at him.
“Is Zayn coming too?” Louis asked hesitantly, and just as Gemma was about to reply another familiar voice beat her to it.
“Of course I am,” Zayn said from the doorframe. “Fucking Gem ran from the car and left me to park it, is all.”
The two of them shared a moment of silent looks before Zayn asked, “So, you’re feeling okay, then?”
“Yeah,” Louis nodded. “I’m good.”
And that was that. Zayn exhaled, shook his head, and then went to sit at Louis’ bedside just as he would on a normal day.
“I can’t believe you left me with these fucking nutheads,” he complained. “You and me are the only sane ones, I swear. Gemma’s been shouting all week, Niall’s a fucking soulless robot and Harry-“
Zayn turned to wave his hand in Harry’s direction, but froze suddenly, his arm half outstretched. Harry followed his eyes and realized Zayn was only just noticing-
“Liam,” Zayn exclaimed, his voice unreadable.
Liam’s head, which had been buried deep in some medical journal, jerked up at the sound of his own name. His eyes nearly popped out of his head for a second, but as quickly as the surprise had shown on his face it disappeared and was replaced with a look that was somehow both defensive and adoring.
Harry could see the change in Zayn’s features as Liam studied him- he was panicking. No one said a word as Zayn got up from the bed, crossed the floor in three steps and disappeared out the door. The silence lasted even after that, everyone seemingly shocked at this turn of events until suddenly, Niall started laughing.
He looked ridiculous, curled up on Gemma’s lap with teary eyes, laughing into her shoulder so hard that he could barely breathe.
“Niall, what was that?” Gemma asked, but Niall only shook his head at the question and turned to Liam.
“You’re Zayn’s Liam?” he roared. “This is too fucking good, I swear.”
Liam looked down. “I’m not Zayn’s anything,” he insisted.
“Oh, but you are,” Niall argued, and then he kissed Gemma sloppily on the cheek and got up. “I’ve got to go after him. Don’t worry, Lou, we’ll be back in a moment.”
And with that, Niall rushed out the door too, leaving nothing but confusion behind.
“Liam-,” Harry started, but Liam cut him off.
“We will be starting Mr. Tomlinson’s physical therapy as soon as possible-“
“Mr. Tomlinson,” Louis repeated. “Would very much like to know what all that fuzz was about.”
Liam opened his mouth to protest, but shut it again as three pairs of eyes stared him down.
“That fuzz,“ Liam’s voice was low. “Was completely inappropriate and unprofessional. I do apologize.”
“As you should,” Gemma agreed easily, even though Liam had done nothing wrong. “I recon if you explain what it was all about, we’ll be happy to accept your apology.”
Liam shook his head weakly. Unfortunately for him, Harry hadn’t spent a week around him for nothing. When it came to knowing what buttons to push, Liam was an easy read.
“You see,” Harry finished. “Zayn didn’t look so well, and I don’t think I can handle any more worrying for my loved ones right now. Would you please tell us, so that I have a chance to help him?”
Liam’s defeated sigh was heavy in the expectant air. “There is nothing to be worried about. Zayn and I have met once before, as you probably realize, and we happened to read the situation differently. Nothing out of the extraordinary.”
Zayn’s voice startled them all when he slugged back into the room, Niall right behind him.
“’Read the situation differently’,” he mocked. “Is that what you call it when you tell guys that they’re special, and then bail on them as soon as they fall asleep?”
“I didn’t-“ Liam flushed Christmas red. “I didn’t bail on you! I had an early morning shift, I told you that from the beginning!”
Zayn rolled his eyes. “Yeah, and you also told me you wanted to meet up again. But apparently leaving a number behind is too much a complicated task for a fucking med-school graduate.”
“But I did!” Liam protested, taking one step closer to Zayn. “Typed my number into your iPhone before I left, sent you a message and everything! And then you never replied.”
Zayn looked about ready to smack him, at this point. “That’s the best lie you can come up with? I don’t even have a fucking iPhone.”
That shut Liam up, for a bit. “What?”
“I said I don’t have a fucking iPhone, you dick.”
“Yes you do,” Liam protested, wonder on his face. “A white one, with a really ironic Justin Bieber-case and-“
Zayn realized it just as everyone else did, yet he was the first one to open his mouth and turn to the only person in that room with a white iPhone.
“Niall, what the fuck?!”
In Niall’s defense, he looked about as shocked as Zayn as he held his hands up in surrender.
“Must have left it at your place! But I never got a- Oh! Oh, fuck, ew.”His face twisted as he turned to Liam. “Please tell me you didn’t save yourself as ‘Li’?”
Liam didn’t take his eyes off the floor as he nodded.
Niall made a gagging noise. “Mate, that message was filthy! How the fuck am I supposed to know that ‘Li’ means ‘Liam’ and not some random girl I couldn’t remember? Are you even aware of how much paranoia that text caused me?”
“I’m sorr-“ Liam started, but Zayn cut him off.
“Niall, give me your phone.”
Niall did as told, half jumping towards Zayn whilst hauling his phone out of his back pocket. Zayn’s fingers tapped impatiently against his thigh as Niall typed in his password and quickly scrolled through his text.
“Here you go.”
Zayn snapped the phone from him, his eyes scanning the screen almost as fast as his face erupted in bright red.
“Liam?” he then asked, eyes still on the screen.
“How’s the policy on kissing doctors on call?”
Zayn didn’t let Liam finish his stuttering answer. In two steps he was in front of him, his hand softly cupping Liam’s cheek before pressing their lips together in what was probably the filthiest kiss that hospital room had ever seen.
When Zayn finally pulled back, Liam’s lips were swollen red and his eyes slightly out of focus.
“Kissing is fucking ho- I mean allowed. Yes. Definitely.”
Zayn chuckled at that. He was so lost in Liam it took a while for him to realize that the room had gone quiet, all eyes on them.
“Leave,” Louis demanded, breaking the silence. “Both of you. I just woke up from a fucking coma, I can’t deal with your chick-flick moments right now. Just go shag in a cupboard or whatever. Come back when you’re not oozing sexual tension.”
It was a completely normal thing for Louis to say. He even smiled a bit as Liam and Zayn shuffled out of the room awkwardly. Still, there was something cold in his voice that didn’t go unnoticed by Harry. That, and the fact that Louis still hadn’t spared him a glance since he entered the room.
The conversation halted on from there, Louis’ mood worsening by the minute as Harry sat back in silence and watched Gemma and Niall joke around as if nothing was wrong. The looks they gave each other when Louis’ didn’t pay attention told Harry that they were noticing it too, though.
Louis cracked, finally, like they all knew he would.
“Gem, Niall – Do you guys think I could get a moment with Harry, please?”
They were up and out in seconds, mumbling excuses and discussing lunch options in the cafeteria. The sound of the door closing behind them echoed in the suddenly quiet space.
Harry sat beside Louis, perched on the chair that shouldn’t feel like home. (It still did.) Louis’ hands were nipping at the edge of his sheet, his eyes focused on the white material.
“Will you look at me?”
Harry hadn’t intended his voice to sound that strained.
“I’m moving out.”
Harry chuckled, suddenly relieved. So that was what this was about.
“Lou, babe, we’ve talked about this. Don’t try and guilt-trip me into selling my place, I’ve already promised we’ll get something closer to your job when-“
“No,” Louis interrupted him. There must have been some highly interesting patterns on the bed sheets. “You misunderstood. I’m moving out. By myself.”
Far at the back of his mind, a part of Harry told him that he should probably react quite strongly to this.
“Why?” he wondered mechanically.
“Because I can’t do this anymore!” And there it was, the fierceness only Louis could manage with such a fragile voice. His hands fell flat on each side of the bed.
Harry nodded, up and down, up and down.
“That’s understandable. I’ll pack up your stuff by the time you get out of here.”
Louis looked at him then, his eyes frozen blue. “What?”
“You want to move out from my flat,” Harry repeated monotonically. “I suppose you’ll need your stuff.”
“It’s as easy as that, is it?“
If it wasn’t for the cold in Louis’ eyes, Harry could have sworn he was on the wedge of tears.
“Harry, I don’t love you anymore. I’m breaking up with you.”
He said the words as a plea, though Harry couldn’t understand why.
“You made that clear, Lou.” He didn’t recognize his own voice as it left him. The nickname rolled off his tongue unintended, but it made Louis cringe.
“I’m sor-“ Louis started, and that did it for Harry.
He got up to leave, shooting out of his chair and forcing his eyes to focus on anything but the body in the bed. He wasn’t even halfway to the door before he turned back.
“Can you explain it to me, though?” Harry demanded. “Why you suddenly can’t do this? I mean, you seemed pretty happy ten minutes ago.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Louis looking at him. He kept his eyes firmly on the curtains shielding the room from the cloudy sky outside.
Louis swallowed heavily. “I almost died. Liam sat me down real gently while you were gone, told me it was a matter of inches. I don’t know how to explain it to you, but hearing that sort of thing makes you re-evaluate stuff. Take a look at your own life choices.”
Louis was crying. Harry could tell only by the slight shiver in his tone, and he hated himself for knowing that. For knowing Louis.
“You’re not the person I want to grow old with, Harry.”
Harry was still standing up. The ground tempted to drag him down, make him cave, let him fall and share the burden that felt like a mountain on his shoulders. Harry was still standing up as Louis spoke again.
“You’re wonderful, you truly are. But- I’m getting older, I’m not studying anymore; I’m in a totally different place now than when we met. I need to start thinking about who’s still going to want commitment thirty years from now. We’re in a dead end, me and you. This – us- isn’t going anywhere. I wish it was, but it’s not.”
Harry didn’t look back as he left the room.
It wasn’t until he was alone, locked up in his bedroom, that he allowed himself to think. It hit him like a tsunami, the hurt rocking his body until he surrendered to the floor beneath him. He did not get back up.
“Harry, I am going to kill you!”
The pounding on his bedroom door intensified along with the obnoxiously loud Irish drawl spewing curses through the wood. Harry pulled his duvet over his head.
“It’s been five days, you fucking shit! I know your bed is cozy and all but you might remember that your boyfriend is in the fucking hospital? Or me telling you earlier today, or the day before that, or the day before that that he’s a fucking mess right now and doesn’t talk to any of us?”
Yes, Harry does remember. Remembers them all coming in shifts, banging on his door and shouting at him. Well, Niall and Gemma that is. Zayn had spent his time sliding food under the door, his voice cracking as he begged Harry to help him fix Louis.
Harry preferred the shouting.
“I’ll kick the door in, I’m not even kidding. This is me warning you. We can do this the easy way or the hard way.”
Harry had known for years that living in a dilapidated flat would some day come back and bite him in the arse. Turns out, karma came in the form of Niall actually breaking the fucking door lock and pressing into his room. He didn’t waste any time apologizing.
“Explain,” he demanded instead. “And this better be good or I’ll fuck you up.”
It took Harry three full breaths before he could build up his voice to be heard through the duvet.
“We broke up.”
Turns out three little words can cut deeper than any knife ever will.
Niall laughed, loud and mocking.
“Nice try, now get some clothes on and let’s go.”
Harry did not respond.
“Mate, I’m not messing about. Get your fucking arse out of bed.”
Harry gripped the duvet a little tighter.
“Yes you can,” Niall scolded. “Look, I’ll help you.”
And with that he ripped the duvet from the bed, taking all of Harry’s dignity with it. Harry cringed as the cold rush of air hit his body, caressing his skin and the clothes he still hadn’t bothered to change.
“Holy shit,” Niall murmured. “What happened to you?”
Harry buried his head in the nearest pillow.
“It’s over. Louis doesn’t want me anymore.”
“But-“ Niall pulled both his hands through his hair. “That doesn’t make any sense. I mean, he’s been crying ever since you left! He won’t eat, or do his physiotherapy, most of all talk to anyone. He’s completely ruined, why would he have-“
“I bet he’s having a really hard time, I do,” Harry spat. He couldn’t help it. “It can be really emotionally draining to dump your boyfriend of four years. I imagine it takes its toll.”
Slowly, Niall got down on the bed, cradling Harry with his body and pulling the duvet up over them both.
“He really broke up with you?”
“No, Niall, I’m having a five day holiday in my bed just for fun.”
“But Louis worships the ground you walk on! Are you sure you didn’t misunderstand? I mean, I’m sure they must have put him on a shitload of pain meds?”
“If you know any other possible meaning behind the words ‘I don’t love you anymore’ and ‘you’re not the guy I want to grow old with’, then please let me know.”
A soft string of curses left Niall’s mouth as he gripped Harry twice as tight.
“It’s gonna be ok, mate. I’m shit with words, you know that, but I’ll be here. You’ll be alright. I love you.”
Harry must have fallen asleep at some point, because when he opened his eyes later, Niall wasn’t there anymore. Harry was just thinking he’d left when Niall’s hushed voice drifted through the door from the living room.
“I know! It makes shit sense, but I’m telling you, Harry’s just as bad as Lou. He proper did it, mate, Harry would never fuck around about something like that.”
There was nothing but the sound of Niall’s footsteps for a while.
“I don’t know if we can. Look, I know how much you love Lou, but Harry’s my brother. I’m not going to make him do anything but eat and shower right now-“ A pause. “Yeah, I know! But Harrys staying here, I’m not dragging him to the hospital. Zayn, talk to him, and then call me back. No, get Gem to stay there with you guys, I don’t need more people here right now. I’ll talk to you later.”
Somehow, Harry stood up shakily and wandered out into the living room.
“Hey champ,” Niall smiled weakly. “Want some banana pancakes? I made tons.”
Harry didn’t have the heart to disappoint him, and after all, his stomach was lusting for the sweet smell of fruit drifting from the kitchen.
“Sure. Cheers. Can I shower quickly, though?”
Niall nodded encouragingly and made his way to the oven, humming softly.
Harry didn’t make it to the shower, though. Because even though someone (Niall and/or Gemma, he presumed) had made very sure that there were no candles or rose petals or any other trace left in the flat from that fateful night, there was one very obvious detail Harry should have remembered. Pausing, he stared at the little velvet box sitting accusingly at the living room table.
“Changed my mind. I’m going to the hospital.”
“Harry, are you sure this is a good idea?” Niall fidgeted nervously with the button of the car’s stereo, never actually turning it on. “I don’t want you to make any rash decisions that you’ll regret.”
Harry glanced at him from his place at the steering wheel. “I’m just going to talk to him. Explain a few things, clear the air. Not as if I did a lot of talking last time.”
Niall didn’t protest after that, but Harry could still see the concern in his eyes. He would have turned around, should have turned around, but the little velvet box was burning in his pocket and Harry felt on fire as well.
Niall must have secretly texted the others, because when Harry made his way through the hospital he did not see his friends anywhere. He paused at the door leading to room 406, fidgeting with the box in his pocket one last time before knocking rapidly.
For a moment, there was no response. Harry knocked again, and this time he heard a soft “Come in.” That was all he needed to pull the door wide open.
Louis was alone in the cold room, but all Harry could see of him when he entered was the top of his scull at the head of the bed. When Louis made no attempt to move or look at the newcomer in the room, Harry cleared his throat.
“Friday, the week before last, the day of your accident, do you have any idea what date that was?”
Louis head shot out of the covers faster than possibly comfortable, and the eyes that stared Harry down were pools of hope in a dead man’s face. His features were twisted in confusion, but Harry did not allow room for questions before continuing.
“Friday the week before last was our four year anniversary. Four years since you kissed me the second time and told me I could be anything I wanted to be. I knew then, just as well as I did Friday the week before last, as I did probably two weeks after we met, that you were a person I wanted to keep in my life forever. Hell, I didn’t even care if you were gay at that point, didn’t think of anything but the fact that your jokes made me happy and that your smile was contagious.”
Louis opened his mouth to say something, but Harry kept going, talking until Louis’ mouth shut once again.
“The Wednesday before your accident I went down to Julia’s on the corner and bought you five dozen roses. The week before that, I went through our music collection in desperate search of your old The Fray cd, and the day of your accident I took a day off work. I went with Gemma to the store, bough all the food I could possibly think of and cooked it all at home while Gemma helped me pick the petals of about thirty roses and spread them everywhere. But not red roses, mind you, because ‘Haz, don’t ever buy me red roses. It is the tackiest thing I know.’ No, Lou, I made sure they were white. And, oh, three months before the night of your accident I popped out with Niall and Zayn and got you this.”
Louis’ eyes were tracking Harrys every motion as he pulled the velvet box from his pocket, and Harry watched him carefully, got to see the exact moment that Louis understood.
“I was only nineteen when we got together, Louis, but loving you is the most sincere and important thing I have ever done in my life. You don’t get to sit there and tell me that I’m not committed, that I’m not good enough to grow old with.”
Louis shuffled violently around in the bed, trying to sit up. “Harry-“
Harry chucked the ring at him, hard, without even opening the box. He didn’t want to look at it.
“Here you go. You might as well take it, since it’s your size and all. I imagine you can make a fair amount off it if you stick it on eBay.”
Only then, when he was sat up so the light could hit his face, did Harry notice how awful Louis really looked; his skin pale grey, the lifelessness of his face only hidden by an unshaved chin.
“I didn’t come here for apologies, Louis. People break up, it happens. But at least now one of us is being honest about this whole fucking thing. You know where I stand. Is there even anything at all that catalyzed this or have you just been putting up with me through the years for fun? ‘Harry’s so young, he can be a great source of entertainment until someone serious comes along?’”
“No!” Louis’ voice almost shook the room. “Harry, I would never-“
“Then why, Lou? Why was I suddenly not good enough for you?”
Louis did not respond.
“You know what? I’d rather you take that ring and stick it so far up your arse you can taste the metal. At least that would be a better use than marrying someone who throws away four years of love in a matter of seconds.”
This time, when Harry left, he knew it was for good.
Niall was stood waiting for him in the reception, and when Harry rushed by without saying a word, he turned
on the spot and followed.
“Are we going home?” Niall asked. His voice implied nothing, a carefully soulless sound.
Harry could only nod.
“I’m driving, then,” Niall insisted. “Not up for discussion.”
Niall did not cave.
“No, Harry, I’m not leaving.”
“You’ve been at my house for twelve hours, mate, I want to go to sleep.”
Technically, since they were both curled up in Harry’s bed, he could easily drift off now. Only Harry didn’t want to sleep, not really. Not if it came with turning off all the lights and laying in silence with his thoughts. Nope, not an option.
Niall slapped him continuously on the arse. “Sleepover, then! It’s been ages.”
“I don’t need you to babysit me, Niall.”
Niall stopped his borderline-sexual banter. “Ok, fine. I’ll go if-“
“IF,” he started again. “You tell me what you said to him.”
Harry curled into himself, away from Niall’s touch. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Zayn’s been calling me constantly, he said-“
“I don’t care.”
“Please shut up.”
There was silence for a long time as Harry heard Niall shuffle about in the bed, probably gathering his thoughts.
“You know I’m with you no matter what happens, right? I’m your guy, or your person or whatever it was they called it on that doctor series they aired in the hospital all the fucking time, I man how morbidly ironic was that?” Niall laughed to himself. “I love you, man, and I’m not saying it’s your situation to fix, but right now I don’t see any other possibility. Pray to God you’ll forgive me for this.”
And with that Niall was on him, pinning him down with a surprising force considering his wiry shape. Harrys surprise left him defenseless, and after mere seconds Niall managed to pin both his hands on his back.
“What the fuck?”
Niall leaned down so that his lips were brushing Harry’s ear. “We’re going for a ride.”
“We better not be going to the hospital,” Harry demanded as soon as Niall brought the engine to life and Harry could feel him pulling out of the driveway. To humor Niall, but mainly because he had been half-sitting on Harrys jewels at the time of his request, Harry had let Niall tie one of his headscarves around his forehead, effectively cutting off Harry’s ability to see.
“I told you, it’s a surprise.” Niall turned on the radio, tuning it to their shared favorite station and lowering the sound.
“I can’t see him again, Niall, I can’t.”
Because I can still see his face when he realized what the ring was.
“Harry, you’ll be fine.”
“Tell me we’re not going to the hospital.”
Tell me I won’t have to walk in there and face the fact that he doesn’t love me.
Niall cleared his throat. “No, we’re not going to the hospital. Just breathe and keep your blindfold on, yeah?”
Harry might have grabbed his hand. Maybe. “Swear on your life?”
“Swear on the whole damn Republic of Ireland.”
Sometimes friends know what’s best for you. Sometimes friends are giant liars who should burn in hells eternal flames.
After being led down hallways, through doors and up stairs for a good ten minutes, the blindfold was ripped from him suddenly, the bright light blinding him for a second before he blinked rapidly and got used to it. As soon as he did, Harry wished to God he hadn’t. They were in the hospital again, of course they fucking were. He recognized the white empty walls and the machines and the linoleum squelching under his feet and he sure as hell recognized the man sitting in the bed in front of him.
Harry needed to leave, needed to get out before he choked, but there were arms around him, holding him tight. He pulled and pushed and even screamed, but the arms wouldn’t let go, wouldn’t let him escape-. And then there were lips against his ear, breathing heavily, whispering,
“I’ve known you for ten years, Harry, and I’ve never been more serious than I am right now; hear him out.”
Niall’s voice sounded twisted, like he was shouting through a pipe from somewhere far away, barely audible over the rushing in Harry’s ears. The arms disappeared and Harry was glued to the spot – He knew if he tried to move, he’d fall over, so he stayed. He closed his eyes and he stayed, counting the seconds until he could get out, get away, breathe again.
Louis didn’t talk until Niall closed the door behind himself, and even when they were all alone he hesitated before letting the soft sound of his voice pull Harry even deeper into hell then he ever thought possible.
“You can leave, if you want.” It was barely a whisper. “I won’t blame you.”
Harry squeezed his eyes tighter, counted fifty seconds now, fifty-one, fifty-two.
“You’re terrifying,” Louis begun. “Ever since we met, I’ve been deathly afraid. I’ve woken up in cold-sweat at night, I’ve ruined at least five of Zayn’s shirts with my tears and I’ve been living the last four years of my life preparing for the moment when my world to stops spinning. You scare the shit out of me, Harry, because it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense for you to love me.”
Harry was looking now, his eyes opening only to see that Louis’ were full of tears.
“So I counted the days.” Louis looked away. “I counted the weeks, and the months and the years, finally, clinging to everything because I knew it was going to end. I knew from the start that we weren’t going to last. You were so young, Haz, when we met. Young and happy and full of hope and plans and dreams- I’d already settled for ordinary when you came along and swept me into insanity.
You’ve always been shining too bright for the rest of the world to keep up, and I’m no exception; there was only so much time I had before you realized that. Except you didn’t. And then this happened.”
Louis slammed his fist against the hospital bed, a single huff of laughter escaping him.
“And you stayed with me through all of it because that’s what you do, Harry, that’s who you are. It was stupid of me; thinking that my accident was going to be the thing that brought us down. You let it bring us closer, even, neglecting your job and your life, just to sit in here with me so that we could rot together. It’s not right, Haz. It’s not right for a twenty-three year old with his whole future ahead of him to be tied down like this- I realized that even before I talked to Liam.”
Louis took a deep breath. Harry felt like he hadn’t been breathing for years.
“I can’t walk.” The confession was dragged from Louis like he was choking. “I can’t walk, and I’m not going to get well from it. Not for years, or maybe ever. When Liam told me, that was the final straw. I knew I had to let you go, I had to get you out because you would have stayed, wouldn’t you? You would have stayed and taken care of me and wheeled me around the grocery store and lifted me to bed at night. And that’s not- I’m not going to have you end up like that.”
Louis was shaking with tears now, his body helpless at the weight of his emotions, and Harry was burning. He needed to comfort him but he couldn’t- he didn’t know where this was going and if he let himself go now he’d be fucked for eternity. He couldn’t take another fall, wouldn’t survive it.
“I told you this accident opened my eyes, and it did. That was the only truthful thing I said that day. I went from waiting on you to leave me to realizing that I was going to have to let you go. We were in too deep, Harry, I’d let it go too far. I wasn’t going to – will never – be able to forgive myself for keeping you that way.
I thought I did a selfless thing, the right thing. You would go home, cry over me for a while, and then get back up and go live the life you deserve. I was going to make you happy. And then you came back with a ring.”
Harry stumbled across the flat surface, his feet catching on nothing as his eyes grew wet and he started shaking his head because no, this was all wrong, nonono.
“You came back with a ring and you were angry, Haz, so angry. And you should be. You’ve spent the last four years of your life with an idiot who didn’t understand that you loved him until he broke up with you.”
Louis’ sobs mixed with the soft beeps from his heartbeat monitor.
“You broke my heart,” Harry heard himself say. “Shattered it into a million pieces.”
Louis only sobbed harder. “I know! But-“
“And you did it so easily, you just-“
Louis went to wipe at his eye, and the flash of silver that came with the movement was unmistakable.
“You’re wearing it,” Harry said.
Louis looked down at his hand before quickly showing it under his duvet.
“Yeah,” he admitted. “I had to look at it, didn’t I, and it was so pretty. I’m gonna take it off at-“
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Harry interrupted. “You went and put on the ring? Just like that?”
“Take it off,” Harry interrupted again.
Louis did as told, shakily pulling the silver band off his finger and holding it out towards him as if he didn’t know what to do with it.
“You absolute shithead, Lou. I had a speech planned. There were roses, and food, and The Fray and I even had a shirt on and all of that is useless now. But you’re not gonna take away my speech, it’s the one thing I have.”
Louis’ gasp was loud in the silence as Harry took the ring from his fingertips and kneeled down on one knee beside the bed.
“Louis William Tomlinson, it’s been five years, two months and eleven days since I realized I’m in love with you. It was the day of Niall’s beach party, we were both tipsy off red wine and the smell of the ocean and you sat me down on the beach and talked for two straight hours about Shakespeare’s effect on modern theatre. I realized after fifty minutes that there is not a thing in the world I wouldn’t hear you talk about just to enjoy the soft caress of your voice as it dances with enthusiasm. It was all downhill from there.
Louis, I don’t care if you can’t walk the same way I don’t care that you never empty the dishwasher. Slightly inconvenient, sure, but nothing I’m not willing to work around if it means I get to spend my life with you. And I really, really want to. You’re the guy I could ever only dream of meeting, except one day you were standing there in front of me in the flesh and there is not a day that passes without me wondering why I get to have you.
But if you’ll have me, still, I would very much like you to be my husband. Today, and thirty years from now, and when we’re nothing but a set of matching gravestones wuthering away together. I cannot imagine spending eternity with anyone but you. Louis, will you marry me?”
“Yes!” The tears streaming down Louis’ face didn’t keep him from erupting in a smile as bright as the sun. “Yes, Haz, I’ll marry you.”
Harry stood up slowly, and without a word he reached for Louis’ hand, sliding the ring down his finger. And then, before Harry could lean down to kiss him, the low beeping sound that had been filling the room since the night on the accident was replaced by a long continuous beep. As the line on the heart monitor went flat, Louis closed his eyes with his hand still in Harry’s.
The church was cold, huge and unforgiving. Harry was nauseous, stressed and pretty sure he was going to drop dead any second. For the third time in his life he was wearing a suit, and the stiff unknown fabric didn’t help to ease the rock hard lump of ice in his stomach as he paced the floor at the front of the holy room. His mum was crying already, despite the fact that priest hadn’t even arrived. Harry debated going over to her, but decided better of it. He would just end up in tears too.
Despite the obvious lack of Louis’ biological family, the church was packed with people. Harry’s family and friends made up a fair amount, but the crowd of people from Louis’ life was overwhelming. Harry felt a twinge of pride in his otherwise fried mind. They’re all here for him.
Still glancing at the crowd of people, Harry spotted Liam on the second row, sitting by himself. Where Zayn had sat beside him when Harry walked in there was nothing but an empty spot. Tasting the panic all the way up his throat again, Harry turned to Niall and yanked him away from his current conversation. The blond gave him one long look before enveloping Harry in a tight hug.
“It’ll be alright, mate,” he promised. “I know it feels weird as shit, but people do these things all the time. Just take deep breaths.”
“Zayn’s gone,” Harry exclaimed, pulling back. “Do you know where he is? We can’t start without him, Niall, I-“
The priest entered then, and Harry could hear the church bells chime. The crowd fell silent as Niall’s voice turned to a whisper.
“It’ll be fine Haz, I’m right here with you.”
“But Zayn’s not here!” Harry’s voice carried further than he’d thought it to. “He’s the most important person in Louis’ life, he has to be here!”
“You’re the most important person in Louis’ life,” Niall protested. “Now come here.”
Niall proceeded to yank him up to the front of the church, carefully placing Harry where he was supposed to stand before lining up right beside him.
“Breathe, mate,” Niall teased again, and then the church doors opened.
Harry saw Theo first, stumbling down the aisle in a tux identical to the one Niall was wearing. White miniature sneakers peeked out from the bottom of his trousers, and the little velvet bag of rings was clutched tightly in his fist. Okay, so maybe Niall had been right about the little guy doing a good job. Harry didn’t have time to tell him that, though.
The silhouette of two men appeared in the doorway, linked by the elbows, and it wasn’t until their bodies reached the shadow of the churches inside that Harry realized who they were.
Louis was walking. One arm tightly linked with Zayn, he was slowly making his way up the altar, smile wide as Christmas. And then it all made sense. How Louis had insisted on going to physiotherapy alone for the past six months, how Niall wasn’t worried about Zayn not turning up and how Louis had been so insistent on Harry being the one waiting at the altar.
What still didn't make sense was that Louis was able to walk merely a year after his accident and the complications that followed. (Including Louis's heart actually physically giving in as Harry proposed, but then again he was always one for drama.)
Louis’ walk towards him felt everlong and over in a flash, the pair of them smiling stupidly. Suddenly, Zayn was placing Louis’ hand in Harry's, blue eyes looking up at him as if they held the world.
“Surprise!” Louis whispered, biting his lip. “I might not be your virgin in white, but at least I’m giving myself to you, right?”
Harry wiped at his eyes, trying to come up with something, anything, that would convey how he felt right this instant.
“You’re crying already?” Louis rolled his eyes. “Pathetic. Now come on, let’s get married.”
Harry couldn't help but smile. "Yes, Mr Styles."
"Tomlinson-Styles!" Louis hissed.
The harsh smell of sweat was heavy in the air as Harry opened the door to the schools locker-room. Hesitantly, he made his way in, scanning the group of half-naked bodies in hope of seeing a familiar chest.
“Harry!” he heard Niall shout, a hand waving at him from one of the corners. “Come over here, I want you to meet one of my teammates.”
Only halfway there did Niall’s words kick in, but by then it was too late to turn around. Slowly, the boy beside Niall lifted his head, sky blue eyes peeking out under the sun-bleached fringe.
“Hi,” the boy said, and his voice was like honey. “I’m Louis.”