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And So Far So Good

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The Guardian - posted 2 hours ago
LOUIS TOMLINSON IN CRITICAL CONDITION AFTER GUNMAN OPENS FIRE AT CHICAGO CONCERT
29 AUG 2014-- One Direction's Louis Tomlinson, 22, is in critical condition after the band's first of two sold out concerts in Chicago, where a venue security guard purportedly drew a concealed handgun and shot Tomlinson twice in the abdomen. He was rushed to Mercy Hospital & Medical Center for emergency surgery. No other victims have been reported, and there has been no word from One Direction's spokespeople.

One Direction are currently on their Where We Are tour following the release of their third album Midnight Memories.

 


The San Francisco Chronicle - posted 11 minutes ago
LOUIS TOMLINSON OF ONE DIRECTION OUT OF ICU
September 9, 2014 -- Louis Tomlinson, one-fifth of global pop sensation One Direction, is in stable condition at Mercy Hospital & Medical Center. Eleven days ago during the first of two Chicago concerts on their worldwide Where We Are tour, Tomlinson was rushed to the ER after a venue security guard shot him two times in the abdomen. This morning, the band's spokespeople released the following statement:
"We are thrilled to announce that Louis's condition has stabilised and he has been moved out of the Intensive Care Unit. We ask that you please respect the privacy of Louis and his loved ones at this time."

The request thus far seems to have been widely ignored, as hundreds of One Direction fans have gathered outside the hospital. Fellow bandmates Liam Payne and Niall Horan took to Twitter in the hopes of helping reign in the resulting chaos:

Liam Payne @Real_Liam_Payne · 4h
thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers for our brother Louis. We love you all so much and im not trying to be rude but
Liam Payne @Real_Liam_Payne · 4h
the noise isnt fair to the other patients and we're not able to come out so please stay back!
Niall Horan @NiallOfficial · 3h
You guys are amazing and we know you're almost as happy and relieved as we are but Louis needs his rest ! Please stop screaming outside !

Payne and Horan have been the only members of One Direction to make any public statement via social media or otherwise, and none of the band has been seen since the widely circulated photographs of the Chicago concert.
Inset: photograph of Harry Styles and Niall Horan being carried off stage in Chicago by security after shooting, both struggling to free themselves
Inset: photograph of Zayn Malik cradling a bleeding Louis Tomlinson in his arms on the stage in Chicago
Inset: photograph of Liam Payne, Niall Horan, Harry Styles and Zayn Malik arriving at Mercy Hospital & Medical Center in Chicago, IL.

 

The Chicago Tribune - posted 12 hours ago
LOUIS TOMLINSON GOES HOME
December 19, 2014 -- On August 29 of this year, British boyband One Direction took the stage at Soldier Field in Chicago to a sold out crowd. The band, on their Where We Are tour, performed 22 songs to the throng of screaming fans - mostly teenage girls - who had waited nearly a year since tickets went on sale to see the band live. At 9:53 PM, during the final song of the encore, break out single Best Song Ever, the screams of the audience took a terrifying turn as the sound of gunfire rang through the stadium. Several people were injured in the ensuing panic as over 60,000 people tried to flee.

The shooter was forty-three year old Major Leland Thomson, a native of Chicago and veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq. Thomson, father of 3, was honorably discharged from the Marines in 2012 following an injury sustained in combat. He had been an employee of Soldier Field stadium for a year as an event security guard the night One Direction performed. Thomson was stationed directly in front of the left side of the stage, and according to witnesses in the front row was spent much of the concert handing out water to dehydrated fans and joking around with the band members whenever they drifted near.

"Louis [Tomlinson, 22] was trying to get his attention," says Katie Shanks, 20, who had first row seats with two friends. "Someone threw a stuffed animal onstage and Louis was trying to hand it to him, like a joke."

"They'd been talking a lot, laughing together," adds Katie's friend Becca. "But the security guard started to look a little strange after the pyrotechnic stuff, and when Louis tapped his shoulder he nearly jumped out of his skin. I didn't even see where the gun came from. It was all the sudden pointed at Louis. It sounded like a car backfiring."

Thomson, suffering a temporary mental break due to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, drew a gun and shot Louis Tomlinson twice in the abdomen. Major Thomson was in possession of a license allowing him to carry a concealed firearm, but as the venue restricted all weapons, his employment has since been terminated, and he's admitted himself to a private psychiatric hospital. He has been unavailable for comment, but his wife, Sarah, released a brief statement on his behalf.

"Leland has suffered from PTSD since he returned from Afghanistan last year. Though he attends regular counseling sessions and hasn't had an episode in nearly a year, it's impossible to predict what might trigger one. In Leland's mind, he wasn't at a concert in his hometown watching cool pyrotechnics, he was in an active war zone and had just seen an explosion.

My husband is a good man, the best man I've ever known. What happened was a terrible tragedy that Leland will have to live with for the rest of his life. Our hearts and prayers go out to Louis Tomlinson and his loved ones."

A One Direction spokesperson stated in October that neither One Direction nor Louis Tomlinson will be pressing charges.

Tomlinson, the eldest member of One Direction, spent 11 days in ICU at Mercy Hospital & Medical Center before his condition stabilized and he was moved to a private room. After eight weeks, he was transferred to a hospital in his native UK, and yesterday he Tweeted for the first time since the incident.

Louis Tomlinson @Louis_Tomlinson · 21h
Good to be home in time for Christmas :)

 

 

And So Far So Good

Louis's nose starts bleeding during sound check in Tucson. Next to Harry, Niall's answering a question about his favorite scent on a girl while they're all sat on the edge of the stage and Louis's at the opposite end. Liam says, "Oh, mate," not quite far enough away from his mic, and by the time Harry looks round to see what's going on Louis's already got a hand up and his fingers are red.

It smears over his upper lip and down his chin. Harry watches him turn toward the back of the stage, swinging one of his legs back up onto the platform and ball up one of the sleeves of the raggedy jumper he's wearing to dab at his nose.

"Oh, dear," says Liam, smiling at the crowd. "Tommo here just loves to be the center of attention."

"Fuck off," says Louis with a little laugh. He's able to clear most of the blood off, but it leaves streaks over his cheek when he wipes it away and next to Harry, Zayn's face blanches of color and he tenses up all over. Harry wraps an arm around him as Louis gets to his feet and wanders backstage, where someone's already waiting with a wet flannel.

"Too much excitement," Harry says into his mic, and the crowd laughs. "Anyone have another question for us?"

Backstage, Liam nudges Louis's shoulder. "Have you got the consumption?"

Louis's all cleaned up, tugging his jumper over his head and mussing his hair. He gives Liam a look. "Not coughing blood, Leemo."

Liam frowns, tilting his head thoughtfully. "There were probably nosebleeds, too."

"Not in Moulin Rouge there wasn't," says Louis, like that settles the matter. Harry shares a grin with Zayn, who rolls his eyes. Louis shakes his head like a dog to fix his hair. "It's just dry as shit here. My sinuses are fucked up from it."

"Dry shits are the worst," Niall agrees.

"Har har har," says Louis, throwing his wadded up jumper at him. Niall catches it out of the air and drapes it neatly over the sofa.

Harry doesn't understand that impulse. Liam would've done the same, and Zayn probably would've kicked it out of the way. Harry would've held on for a bit, until the heat from Louis's skin was gone from it. Louis's distracted, but when Niall straightens it a bit where it's crinkles, the rest of them seem to catch sight of the blood on the sleeve at the same time. Niall forces a laugh and kicks Louis lightly in the leg. "You shouldn't just toss this stuff around, you know. I could sell it on the internet for a million pounds."

Louis snorts. "Doubt it, mate. Maybe if it was Harry's." He turns his head to wiggle his eyebrows at Harry, whose ears start to burn red. He makes a face, lifts one of his hands from where they're folded neatly behind his back to scratch at his chin.

"I dunno about that," he says. His voice feels funny in his mouth, slower than normal. Tucson in September is a million and eleven degrees and the heat is making Harry feel stupid. Louis's bent over to dig around in his rucksack, the knobs of his spine sticking out. Harry coughs into his fist once to clear his throat. "We're not like, that famous."

"Not all of us, Starshine. Just you," Louis says, standing up again and pulling on a blue t-shirt that has a palm tree on it. Harry shakes his head. He's not any more famous than the others, really; he just goes outside more. Louis's still grinning. "Your blood would go for almost as much as your jizz."

"Don't sell your blood on the internet," Zayn says sagely from his spot on the sofa, where he's drawing something on his iPad. "Or your jizz."

"Thanks, bro. Good advice," says Louis.

"Welcome," says Zayn.

Louis flicks him on the forehead. "I'm starved. I'm going to find food."

He doesn't invite any of them along, but Liam and Niall follow him out. Harry'd feel weird tagging along, though he doesn't really know why, so when Zayn excuses himself to go call Perrie, Harry collapses onto the sofa and rings Nick, who's happy to hear from him even if it is his bedtime.

The concert is fantastic, even in the sweltering heat, and Harry comes off stage exhausted with an oddly hollow, homesick feeling in his chest. He has vague plans with Lou to watch a film on the second bus, but he begs off with claims of a headache and climbs up the steps into Bus 1 instead. He's immediately bowled over by the stench of weed and unwashed boy coming from the back, and he coughs, wrinkling his nose.

"Harry!" says Liam from the kitchenette where he's making toast with marmalade. He sounds surprised, but snorts at the look on Harry's face. "I know, right? Bloody awful. What're you doin' here?"

"Going to bed," answers Harry, frowning. "Is that okay? That I'm here? Does Josh need my bunk?"

"'Course it's okay, idiot. We've got extra bunks," Liam says. He rinses his hands and flicks the water at Harry, who blinks and lifts an unimpressed eyebrow. Liam grins. "Thought you and Lou had plans is all."

"Spying on us again?" Harry asks him. "You need a better way to get your rocks off, mate."

"Look, what I do in my free time is between me and God. Besides, you deserve spying on, don't you?" He puts the marmalade back into the fridge and ushers Harry into the lounge proper. Harry trips over a pair of Louis's shoes lying in the middle of the floor and then his own feet, but manages to keep standing, and ignores Liam laughing at him.

"Why do I deserve spying on?" he asks. He toes off his shoes and pops the button on his jeans. The bus door is closed; there's no reason to still be in trousers.

Liam sits down on the sofa with his snack. "Because everyone knows you're going solo. I've been reading it on the internet for years."

"So it must be true," says Harry, shimmying out of his jeans. He uses his foot to pick them up off the floor, grinning smugly when it works and then frowning when Liam's too busy licking crumbs off his fingers to notice.

"Don't be sarcastic, Harry. Everything on the internet is true. In fact, you're not even here right now. You're actually bollocks deep in four hundred and eleven girls all at the same time."

"Four hundred and eleven?"

"Four hundred and eleven." Liam takes a bite of his toast in a very haughty manner, sniffing, pinky lifted. Harry pinches his bottom lip to hide his smile, bundled jeans in the crook of his other arm.

"Four hundred and thirteen, mate," he points out. "You forgot about your sisters."

"Oi!" says Liam, and lobs a throw pillow. Harry lets it hit him in the chest and fall to the floor. "Flip the telly on, would you?"

Harry does, and says goodnight before heading to the bunks. It's quieter here, even though he can hear the others through the wall in the back lounge and the smell of weed is even stronger. He doesn't stay on this bus often, forgot how much shit he'd piled into his bunk that he has to clear out now. He tosses his jeans into the corner and strips his shirt off and is just about to climb in and wade through the mess when he hears a cough, so unexpected and close that it makes him jump. Louis's bunk is above and across the aisle from his own is dark, but the curtains are drawn and they rustle a bit, so he must be in there. It's hardly eleven, early for him to be in bed. There's another cough and a lot of moving about, and then the curtain pulls back and Louis pokes his head out. His hair is all smushed on one side.

"Hey," Harry says.

"Hey." Louis's voice is hoarse. He squints at Harry. "How long've you been there?"

"Just a few seconds."

"Throat hurts," Louis tells him, like it's Harry's fault.

"Sorry. D'you want tea?"

"No," says Louis. He sniffles hard and wipes the back of his hand over his nose, regards Harry with a tilted head. "You all right?"

Harry gives him a small, perplexed smile. "Um. Yeah, mate, I'm good.

"Mm," says Louis. He stares for another few seconds, and then disappears back into his bunk. Harry has no idea if he was even really awake. He listens to Louis's muffled coughing until he's quiet again, and then climbs into bed.

At their next show two days later, Louis's nose starts up again. He's clear across the stage from Harry, but he's wearing a white t-shirt and when the blood hits the collar it's obvious. Niall is singing his solo in Over Again and instead of Louis hand-motioning like a polo he's trying to stem the flow. He turns his head and Harry can make out his face past Niall's hair. Harry's heart is pounding in his chest and he stares at Louis while he sings his solo. Niall's handed him a towel; he's mopping himself up. There's no lyric change on showers that are British because Liam sings it.

Backstage at the intermission, Louis stumbles like he's having trouble walking. Lou looks concerned as she wipes his face and the way Louis holds her delicate wrists in a loose grip while she does it makes him look young. Before they're due to go back on, Harry gets him by the elbow and Louis's eyes go wide, and then narrow, speculative. There's color back in his cheeks. He stands up straighter.

"You okay?" Harry asks him. His heart is pounding and there's a metallic taste in his mouth.

"I'm fine," says Louis.

Harry nods, but he's reluctant to let him go. Louis shakes his hand out, flexes his fingers a few times. The countdown 'til their cue starts and Harry hurries to his spot on the other side of the stage and when he looks over his shoulder Louis's watching him with a startled look on his face, an arm around his middle, shoulders hunched in.

His sore throat never develops into a cold and he doesn't get another nosebleed, and Harry tells himself it's been a year. It's been a year, and Louis's fine. But he wakes up shaking and sweat-soaked from dreams of Louis's bloody face for weeks.

 

 

They spend an afternoon on a yacht off St. Lucia after filming a video during a three day break in tour. When they get back to the hotel Harry drops like a rock, sleeps for five hours and wakes up freezing cold with his throat aching from the air conditioning at three in the morning. He rolls onto his back and coughs into his hand, feeling more wrung out than he did before, and he doesn't know what woke him up but he knows he won't be able to get back to sleep now, feels jittery and wired. So he pushes back the duvet and tugs on the pants he discarded earlier, pulls on a loose vest and socks and trainers. He pushes his hair back off his face with a headband, grabs his room key and mobile, and heads downstairs to the hotel gym.

It's empty, which is disappointing. He's never really been the type to ever want some time to himself, and it feels a bit like he might be doing something he's not supposed to, like trespassing. He eyes the benches for a second, considering, but the last time he lifted weights without anyone spotting him he got distracted and dropped the bar on his chest, had a wicked bruise and had to deal with the other lads taking the piss out of him for days about being delicate. He doesn't much fancy a replay, so he hops up onto a treadmill and starts to run.

Liam's the one who got him started exercising for real. When Liam and Danielle broke up the first time though, Liam started working out obsessively. It was some kind of catharsis for him, and though he was clinging to Louis like a limpet around then, even his big brown puppy dog eyes couldn't get Louis into a gym, so Harry took up the mantel.

He's glad he did, has become a bit addicted to it himself. He's been taking boxing lessons for almost two years, and he meets with a trainer at least four times a week to work on building himself up. He's tired of looking like a boy at twenty-one, and he likes the way the fans and the media and his friends and people he meets when he's out at clubs look at him now. He likes the way his shoulders keep getting broader and his legs are filling out. He likes being able to actually wrestle around with Liam on stage and win sometimes, and he likes the way his t-shirts stretch over his biceps and he likes being noticed.

He doesn't mind putting in the work, but he still has to amp himself up for straight cardio. Liam loves it, says it clears his head and his mind and makes him feel calmer. It just makes Harry achy and bored. It's tedious to the point that he gets lost in his own head, and these days that's never a good thing.

He's been running for about twenty minutes, sweating profusely and breathing hard, when the door to the gym opens. He tenses up, because fans have been known to do much more than stalk them into hotel gyms, but it's Zayn who walks in. Harry gives him a sincere grin. He looks sleepy, yawning hugely, hair in a stupid-looking tuft and no top on. Harry slows down to a jog, and then turns the machine off and walks it through shutting down as Zayn approaches. Zayn's carrying a bottle of water, something Harry didn't bother to bring. He catches it gratefully when Zayn tosses it to him, drinks down more than half of it.

"'s four in the morning, man," Zayn says, frowning at him. He steps up onto the front of the treadmill and rests his elbow on the control panel, propping his chin in his hand. He'd probably fall asleep just like that.

"You're here too," Harry points out. He feels good, invigorated, lungs burning, happier now with company. Zayn makes a face.

"Perrie had a thing today back home," he says. "Told her to call me 'fore she went so I could wish her luck. Couldn't fall back asleep."

Harry pats his cheek. "You're the world's best boyfriend, y'know that?"

"Yup," says Zayn, yawning. His mouth pulls into a tired smile when Harry laughs and he nudges the toe of his left trainer against Harry's right. "What about you? Bad dreams?"

Harry shakes his head. "Nah, mate, just awake. Fell asleep too early, I think." Zayn stares at him thoughtfully. It's a bit unnerving, since they're standing so close. Harry frowns at him. "Stop looking at my like that. I'm feeling judged."

"Judged you a long time ago," Zayn deadpans. He straightens and claps Harry on the shoulder. "Come spot me, yeah?"

Harry finishes Zayn's water and steps off the treadmill. He puts his phone on shuffle and cracks a grin when 5 Seconds of Summer starts to blare through the tinny speaker.

"Christ," says Zayn.

"Shut up," says Harry. He shoves Zayn toward the closest row of benches and then shakes the empty water bottle in his hand. "I'm gonna go fill this up. You can get started. You don't have to wait on me."

Zayn sits down on the edge of one of the benches and resolutely doesn't meet Harry's eyes. Harry feels a manic grin press his dimples into his cheeks.

"Get it? Zayn? You don't have to wait on me." Zayn says nothing, so Harry clears his throat loudly and goes on. "Like, 'cause you're lifting weights."

"I got it, arsehole."

"You're not laughing," Harry points out.

"You're right," Zayn says, "I'm not."

Harry showers again after the gym, as the sun is coming up and his hotel room is lit in soft light. He stands under the pound of the spray on his back and leans his head against cool tile, sore all over.

Sometimes, when he's alone, he'll catch the scent of Tom Ford cologne where it doesn't exist. Doesn't matter where, or if Louis's ever even set foot there; Harry will breathe in the ghost of him and pretend not to notice the goosebumps that break out across his skin.

There's this place in his head, a raw, scabbed over piece of himself that he pokes at sometimes because even though it hurts, it feels good in ways other things can't. He remembers expensive sheets around his legs, the hitch in his breath, the pounding of his heart and the way Louis had looked and felt underneath him. He remembers knowing even before they fell into bed that night that it was going to be the last one they'd spend together.

They didn't talk about it. There wasn't anything to say. They stumbled into bed and fucked for hours, and when it was over Harry tucked his face into Louis's neck and cried. Louis'd held him, stroked his back and his hair, touched him tenderly like a bruise. And when Harry was on the cusp of sleep, Louis climbed out of the bed they'd been sharing in their London flat and he'd gotten dressed and he'd walked out, and he'd never come back.

Somewhere along the line, the connection that had sparked so fast and hot and alive between them the moment they met, had started to erode under the elements, had started to burn. Neither of them knew how to talk about it. They'd ignored it until they couldn't anymore, and once it was over all that was left, for so long, was day after day of trying so hard and failing not to make it worse. At some point, arguing became the only way they knew how to talk to each other, and all their sharp, painful, ugly parts had been exposed in the worst ways.

Harry likes to think it's settled, now. They've calmed down. The pain has faded. Harry has a home in Los Angeles and a part of his life there that Louis's never touched. Louis has a football team and most of the writing credit on their albums. Harry's recovered enough to have got his heart broken by someone else. Louis's almost died. And on the rare occasion when one or both of them is drunk or over-tired and they wind up somewhere private pressed together knees to mouth, it almost doesn't even hurt. They've grown up. They've grown apart.

And it's fine. They've learned to be mates again, good ones, even. Ninety-nine percent of the time Harry's happy with the way things are. It's just that sometimes he thinks he'd appreciate a little closure, so that he can stop choking on all these ghosts he breathing.

Mostly, Harry tries to not be alone.

 

 

They go clubbing after a concert in Texas, where it's mid-October and chilly out, misty with rain.

Harry hasn't been laid in a few weeks and he's been in a horny sort of mood since he stepped on stage. He dances with everyone he can, drinks and flirts and snogs a pretty blond girl in a dark corner for a bit. It's fun and hot and gets him riled up, and he's about to suggest that they meet up in Harry's hotel room when a very drunk Niall slams into his back, laughing, and Harry gets distracted doing tequila shots with him and Zayn and Sandy instead.

When Paul rounds them up a little after three in the morning, they're all three sheets to the wind and probably a lot more trouble than they're worth. Harry takes the stairs with Preston, because he wants to, and when he stumbles into his suite some twenty minutes later, the adjoining door between his room and the one next door is open and Louis is on his bed. He's on all fours, rifling through Harry's luggage, wearing an oversized t-shirt that's seen better days and a pair of grey boxer-briefs that stretch tight over his thighs and round bum.

"Hey," says Harry, pleasantly surprised. Louis looks round at him and his face breaks into a happy smile, expression so reminiscent of a Louis from years past that it makes Harry's stomach flutter.

"Good morning, Starshine," he sings boozily.

"The earth says hello," Harry finishes, grinning. Everything's fuzzy and bright around the edges, the lamp from the bedside table making everything glow in the shadows. Louis's unfolding all of Harry's stuff, carelessly tossing it everywhere to get at whatever he's looking for. Harry should be proper angry with him. Instead he toes off his shoes and strips down until he's naked, feels his blood thrum hot in his veins from the way Louis's looking at him, frozen where he sits and too blitzed to school his features into the casual disinterest he usually sports whenever he looks at Harry. Harry wets his lips and crosses clumsily over to the bed, the room spinning. "'cha doin'?"

He pulls the duvet down and slips under it, jarring the open suitcase in the middle of the mattress. He reclines against the pillows and folds his arms under his head, regarding Louis with growing interest. His dick is half-hard in his pants, and Louis's swallowed up in the t-shirt he's wearing, collarbones on display. Louis doesn't usually wear a top to bed. He just knows what Harry likes. This is a setup and not even a well done one but Harry doesn't care, wants it so bad he can taste it.

"Had ice cream," Louis answers eventually. Harry has to fight through the fog to remember the question he asked just a second ago, and Louis's already explaining by the time he catches up. "Hurt, 'cause it was cold. You used to pack some of that, like, that numbing stuff for me. For my tooth. Was lookin' for it."

"I don't pack it anymore," says Harry, which is a bald faced lie. His packing routine hasn't changed since the X Factor tour, and Louis's always had a love for sweets, an oversensitive molar and a complete inability to be sensible and go to Boots and buy some of the ointment himself. He wonders if Louis still carries around an inhaler like he used to in case Harry's anxiety gets the better of him. They've always been good at taking care of each other, always a bit shit at taking care of themselves.

Louis must decide to give up on his bullshit story, because he shoves Harry's clothes messily back into the suitcase, zips it up and shoves it onto the floor. It hits the carpet with a heavy whump.

"Hey," Harry says, vowels drawn out so long he makes himself laugh. Louis crawls up the bed to sit on his knees at Harry's side, facing him. His eyes are dilated, cheeks red, his expression thoughtful.

"I saw you with that girl," he says. His voice is way too casual. He's jealous as shit and that shouldn't make want coil up hot in Harry's belly, but it does. "She was hot. She was, like, really hot."

Harry nods, feeling slow and kind of stupid. He rubs his cheek against his arm and curls the fingers of one hand into his own hair, tugs a little just to feel the pull. Louis's watching him and Harry likes it. "Yeah," he murmurs. "Yeah, she was really sweet, too. I wanted to..."

He trails off, embarrassed, but Louis shuffles a little closer and Harry has to spread his legs just a bit to relieve some of the pressure between them. Louis's tongue swipes over his bottom lip and his hands clench at his knees. Harry's seen that look on him so many times, knows exactly how turned on Louis is, maybe just from Harry's voice alone.

"It's okay," says Louis. "You can tell me. Did you just, like. You were hidden really well. Did you just kiss her?"

There were too many people, and they weren't nearly as hidden as Louis seems to think. Harry nods. "Yeah, but I wanted to, like. I almost. I almost brought her back here. If she wanted. I almost asked."

Louis leans forward, as though he can't hear well enough and needs to get closer. One of his hands finds Harry's leg over the duvet and stays there, fingers curling in. Harry loops his own around Louis's wrist, strokes his thumb over the inside and presses down to feel his pulse race. It's been months since he's had Louis this close.

"What would you've done?" Louis asks. "If she wanted to. If you brought her here."

Harry's heart is pounding, the room still spinning slowly around him, Louis still and pretty and so close, heating Harry up from the inside out. His mouth feels dry and he wets his throat before he answers. "D'you see what she was wearin'?" he asks Louis, who nods.

"Dress. Tight dress. Made her tits look really good."

"God, I wanted to get my mouth on 'em," Harry mumbles, grip tightening on Louis's wrist. He unfolds his other arm from behind his head and palms over his crotch above the duvet, adjusting himself, rubbing just a bit. He's hard and the memory of the girl, of her smooth skin and wet mouth and pretty laugh, is getting him hot. Louis watching him is getting him hotter. "They were bloody gorgeous, y'now? Wanted to see 'em. Would've pulled the strap of her dress down. She wasn't wearing a bra an' I could feel her nipples and I just wanted to taste 'em."

Louis groans, weakly, and Harry opens eyes he doesn't remember closing to see him shifting, restless, his fat dick tenting up his briefs. He's so fucking hot, has always been so hot. Harry tugs on his arm, half-dreading Louis's reaction, but Louis doesn't pull away, doesn't laugh at Harry like this was all a joke. Instead, he tugs his t-shirt off and pulls the duvet down so Harry's cock is bared, hard and red against his belly, and straddles Harry's lap. Louis lines their groins up and Harry arches his back and grips at Louis's hips. Louis's breathing is slow and heavy. He rests his hands on Harry's shoulders, massaging where Harry's muscles tend to knot up around the base of his neck.

"What else?" he asks, voice higher than it was, rougher. He tilts his head to the side and Harry has an almost desperate urge to sit up, sink his teeth into Louis's neck hard enough to leave a bruise because he knows Louis loves it. Instead he slides his hands up Louis's flank, thumbs over his little nipples and rocks his hips up when Louis gasps for him.

"Wanted to get my hand under her dress," Harry tells him. "Push her knickers out of the way, get my fingers in her."

"God, she'd've loved that," Louis says. He sits up properly in Harry's lap, rests his hands on Harry's chest and rolls his hips in circles, sloppy, thoughtless, like he's not aware he's doing it. There's a small wet stain on his pants where the head of his dick is. "Got such long fingers. Bet she would've been tight. Bet it'd been a while since she'd had anything inside her."

Harry shudders in pleasure, toes curling. He grips Louis's full arse in both hands and grinds up against him, cock shoving into Louis's balls through cotton. Louis's so fucked up and Harry doesn't know why, has never understood what it is inside him that makes him find it so much easier to project himself on a girl Harry met in a club instead of just admitting what he wants. What it says about Harry that he's so willing to play along if it means he gets this.

"So tight," he pants. It's hard to breathe, air so thick and hot between them. He spreads his legs a bit more so Louis's in the cradle of his thighs and Harry's prick is rubbing over his arse. Louis's cheeks are so flushed and his bottom lip pink and swollen from worrying it between his teeth. Harry cups the back of his neck and pulls him down, kisses him slow and wet on the mouth and whispers in his ear, "Would feel so good, yeah? Fingers up inside her, make her come like that, get my hand wet."

"Then you'd fuck her," Louis says. His breath catches in his throat. He's trying so hard to keep quiet but he lets out a broken sound when Harry's hand slips into the back of his briefs. His voice is husky soft and hot. "You'd bring her back here and fuck her, right? Make her come on your big dick."

"Fuck her with my tongue first. Eat her out 'til she comes all over my face," Harry says. He touches the pad of his forefinger to the tight rim of Louis's hole and Louis sobs out a breath, squirming away and then pressing back into it. The spot on the front of his pants is getting bigger. He takes one hand off Harry's chest to start rubbing at himself through his underwear and Harry nearly loses it just like that. "Then I'd - oh, oh fuck, Louis."

"Shut up, shut up," Louis moans. Louis's sweating, hair damp and skin shining in the lamp light. His thighs are clenching on either side of Harry's hips. Harry rubs his fingertips over Louis's rim again, pulls to feel his hole stretch a bit. Louis goes tense all over and his mouth goes slack when he comes, cock jerking in his pants, so much jizz that the grey cotton is nearly transparent by the time he's done.

"Fuckin' beautiful," Harry breathes, flushing red as soon as it's out. He pulls his hand out of Louis's briefs and pulls them down, out of the way, and grabs his hips again, fucks up against the swell of Louis's bare arse as hard as he can in jerky rough thrusts. "Fuck, Lou, you're so fuckin' beautiful, I can't--"

His orgasm knocks the breath out of him, good feeling so intense his head is spinning as he creams all over Louis's bum. His fingers get wet with it and find Louis's hole again, press against his rim and then inside when Louis doesn't tell him to stop. Louis's lets out a little whimper when Harry pushes his come in, so hot it sends Harry into aftershocks. He hasn't come this hard in years. In the daze that follows he doesn't remember falling asleep.

When he wakes up the next morning he's clean, tucked securely under the duvet, and the only evidence that Louis was ever there at all is the the rumpled t-shirt on the floor.

 

 

Louis's taken to magic tricks lately. It's his new on tour hobby, perfecting his sleight of hand. He's shit at it, but none of the boys have the heart to break it to him, so they all spend a fair amount of time having coins and rubber bounce balls and other small trinkets pulled out from behind their ears.

"It's really stuck this time," Louis explains knowledgeably to the group of fans currently in front of the table at a meet and greet in Indianapolis mime-tugging a light up One Direction pen ostensibly stuck in Niall's ear. He's got a line of black permanent marker along the side of his hand and his eye crinkles up at the corner when he winks at Niall next to him. Niall holds very still and affects a worried expression, and when Louis gives one last tug Niall gamely jerks a bit in the opposite direction, like it's knocked him off balance. The fans laugh (and cry, a little bit, some of them). Louis makes a show of wiping the pen off on his jumper. "Very waxy ears, this one. Should see to that, Neil."

"Cheers," says Niall.

Harry returns his attention to the small girl standing in front of him, holding a CD tight to her chest and looking at him with huge brown eyes. He smiles at her. "Hey there, love. I like your sparkly shirt!"

She smiles shakily back at him, and with her mother's encouragement hands her CD over to be signed. Her name is Mira and she has a glittery cat on her shirt. Harry asks her how her day is going, and what her favorite song off the album is, and she answers in a little voice that he can't really hear very well, but he smiles and nods along anyway. He passes the CD along to Niall once he's signed it, and does a bit of a double take when he notices the huge greeting card shaped like a plaster that Louis's holding on Niall's other side. It's purple with hearts and glitter and Louis's name is in big block letters. Harry can't see what it says inside, as Louis's just closed it.

"This is wonderful," Louis tells the girls who gave it to him, smiling. "Thank you."

"We're so glad you're all right," says one of them.

Harry turns away, suddenly light-headed. He forces a smile when Zayn pats him comfortingly on the back

During the first few days that Louis was in intensive care, and Harry and the lads were spending nearly every moment in awful silence hunkered down in a private waiting room, Zayn's clothes had still been absolutely drenched in Louis's blood. But it was the way the red had soaked into the white top Louis'd been wearing on stage that Harry hadn't been able to get out of his head.

When Harry was six, his mum went through an art phase, and he and his sister spent a lot of time on the kitchen floor finger painting. He'd loved the mess of it, his palms green and purple and muddy, bright streaks of color on a big sheet of white paper in front of him. Gemma had been a perfectionist, took it so seriously the way she did most things, and one time when Harry had drawn sloppy hearts in muddy purple around Gemma's blue handprint she'd angrily shoved his arms away. "No, Harry, that's mine." They'd got into a huge fight, and his mum had to rip the big square of paper in two so they each had their own.

Back when he and Louis were living together and still fooling around, they once picked up flavoured body paint at a sex shop and Harry's canvas was Louis, spread out for him and laughing, cheeks flushed and hands above his head and his legs open. It was a lot easier to draw on Louis's skin and make it beautiful, and when Harry curled a bright pink handprint inside the sharp wing of Louis's hipbone, Louis didn't shove him away like Gemma did.

To this day whenever Harry thinks about what happened, it starts with finger painting, and the handprint he left on Louis's belly, and gory red blooms on Louis's t-shirt while sixty thousand people screamed. It's always the start of the spiral of things Harry would give his soul to not have to remember: the way Louis had stumbled back, the confused expression on his face, the wrenching, hurt sound he'd made into his mic before he dropped it.

Harry looks back round to see Louis taking a picture with the girls, card held out in front of him. His smile is sharper than it used to be, doesn't make Harry weak at the knees the way it once did, but it still takes his breath away for all the same reasons. And for a few new ones, too.

 

 

Their mandatory psychologist, called Eric, is a very nice guy that Harry reckons is probably in his mid-forties. He's very laid back and has an intensely soothing voice. He's tall and a bit round and wears square black glasses. He has a pointed nose and ruddy cheeks and a well-kept beard. He's excellent at FIFA, addicted to Coke Zero and can drink even Niall under the table.

This time last year, all four of them were seeing him separately for an hour and a half at least once a week and together every Thursday. When Louis was out of the hospital, he started up too. Harry isn't very good at talking about his feelings but Eric, he discovered, is very good at his job. Most of Harry's sessions were spent talking about everything else, until Harry's heart was so open already that it was easy to quietly delve into the parts that hurt. He didn't make it out of a single one of them without a shedding a few years.

Before the Chicago show, Eric is flown in to meet with them. They've got a one day break, but they're spending it at the hotel, and Paul escorts each of them to their semi-formal appointment to make sure they go. Eric's room looks the exact same as Harry's, but instead of the pool it has a view of the busy street outside where a crowd of fans has lined up.

They're sat on the floor, playing Double Solitaire. The cards are brand new from the hotel gift shop and they smell intensely of plastic. They've been making small talk, but after about half an hour, Eric says, "So, Soldier Field tomorrow."

Harry nods. "Yup."

"Pardon the cliché," says Eric, putting a four of spades on top of a five of hearts, "but how are you feeling about that?"

Harry pulls a silly face and smiles a bit when Eric smacks him gently in the forehead with one of the cards. He tries to think of the best answer to the question. He slept really well last night on the bus but he feels exhausted just being here. Honestly he'd be happy to never set foot in this city again, let alone play the same stadium. Honestly, he's been afraid all week that every time he opens his mouth what's going to come out is a scream.

"I dunno. A bit shit, I guess." He shrugs, puts a two of hearts on a three of clubs and closes their sixth chain before he catches Eric's eyes, frowning apologetically. "I'm sorry. That wasn't very helpful."

Eric shrugs. "I get paid whether you talk or not."

Harry grins again. He's been scratching at his arm under the elbow compulsively the last few days. The skin is red and raw but he can't seem to make himself stop. If Eric notices he doesn't say anything. "It's just. I don't really know what to say."

"You can say anything. I'll make millions of pounds selling the story to the tabloids no matter what."

Harry snorts. "I think the tabloids have had plenty on us lately."

Eric grins at that, and closes another chain of cards between them. "True enough."

Harry's quiet for a while, the tick of the clock on the wall very loud. "I'm worried about the other lads," he admits quietly after a bit. They're almost finished with the game, just three cards left between them. Harry puts the second four of diamonds down, and Eric the second three of Clubs, and Harry the second two of Hearts. The chain is facing Eric, so he slides them all up into a neat stack next to the others. Harry automatically grabs one of them to start sorting the two decks. "And me, too. I'm worried about all of us."

"Do you see my shocked face?" says Eric. It's a trick. His face isn't shocked at all. If nothing else Harry is a grade A worrier. "Any reason in particular that I don't already know about, or is this just a blanket concern?"

"Both, I reckon. We're all a little nuts lately. Most of us, I mean," he amends. "Louis seems fine."

Eric hums, sorting cards out now too. He's not looking at Harry. "Is that worrying you? That he seems fine?"

Harry shrugs again, shoulders hunching inward and staying that way. "I dunno. A bit, yeah."

"Well, let's think about that for a minute."

"I love thinking," says Harry, offering a cheeky grin.

"Don't be a little arsewipe, Styles," says Eric, and Harry laughs. "Why's that bothering you?"

Harry shakes his head, frowning. "It doesn't bother me, really, it's just. I don't know. I used to be able to read him so well, y'know? And right now he seems totally fine, but I just I have this feeling. I don't know."

Eric does this thing where he sort of whistles using his teeth. The cards are all packed away, boxes neatly stacked. Harry has the strangest desire to pick them up and hurl them at the wall.

"Well," says Eric. "I for one am completely unsurprised that Louis is less messed up about this than the rest of you. If it had happened to you, rather than him, I imagine he'd be much less stable." He pauses. "On the other hand he spent forty-eight minutes this morning taping his wrist to his ankle and trying to walk around like that. I suppose 'stable' is a relative term."

A grin curls Harry's mouth, something white hot and fiercely tender in his chest when he thinks of Louis. "He's ready for it to be over. I think he's frustrated with all of us. We've been a bit suffocating the last week or so. I think he understands, or at least he's trying, but he doesn't—he can't, really. He won't ever be able to."

He pinches his bottom lip and meets Eric's eyes again. Eric is watching him closely without being unnerving. Harry almost asks him how long it took for him to learn to do that.

"When someone dies we do them up right, yeah?" says Eric abruptly, and Harry blinks, caught off guard. Eric goes on before he can think of any sort of response. "Big gathering and funeral and eulogies and whatnot. But it's not really them we do it for. It's for the people left behind. A closure, a very necessary closure, for the people left behind"

"Uh, yeah. I guess, yeah," Harry says, nodding, hat threatening to fall off his head.

Eric waves a dismissive hand lethargically. "What I'm saying is that the four of you were--and are--just as affected by what happened in this city the last time you were here as he is. Prince Louis can suck it up and deal with it."

Harry laughs, but it feels tight in his throat. He wishes he had something to do with his hands other than pull at his necklaces. It's quiet for a while, though not awkward. Harry looks down at his hands to find them trembling. "I still dream about it. A lot. And me and Louis are so, like." He really doesn't have the words for that one. "I have to stop myself from breaking into his room to check on him in the middle of the night sometimes. I'm afraid he's not all right."

"That's not in your control," Eric points out. "I know it's a weird concept to understand, but you aren't responsible for anyone's feelings but your own, even in situations that you're directly involved in. Who are you to take over ownership of his emotions?"

"I don't mean it like that," Harry says unhappily.

"I know you don't, but that's what you're doing. And hey, it's human nature to put everything in the perspective of you. But keep in mind that your particular brand of worries and fears and feelings aren't necessarily the same as Louis's, and that's okay. You're not doing anything wrong, even though it feels like it. The best thing you can do for him is to just be there, as cliche as it sounds. Be there if he wants to talk, or if he wants to yell, or if he wants to sit quietly and tape his hand to his ankle. And the very best thing you can do for everyone is to make sure you take care of yourself."

Harry's quiet for a long time, staring out the window at the sky. "I'm. I don't think that I would handle it very well. If I lost him."

"Let's be grateful that you didn't, then," says Eric.

Harry supposes he can do that much.

 

 

Taking the stage at Soldier Field hurts in ways Harry hadn't even dreamed possible.

He has no recollection of traveling back to the hotel, or walking to his room, but he barely makes it to the toilet before he throws up until he's dry heaving, stomach cramping painfully. When he's done he feels weighed down and gross and numb to his bone marrow. He takes a shower that's as close to scalding as he can get it, scrubs until his skin is bright pink, accidentally washes his hair twice. He dries off and cleans his teeth, turns the lights off and climbs into bed. He feels like he's going to spontaneously combust, or maybe shrivel up into nothing but bone, like there's too much inside him and he can't get out, too lost to find his way, digging through an avalanche. And then the air conditioner clicks on and like it was a sign from God, Harry loses what precarious control he had over himself.

The tears come so fast that he can't breathe, chokes on sobs already ripping out of his chest. He covers his mouth with his hand and pulls his knees in, half turns to shove his face into the pillow to muffle the noise. He cries harder than he ever has, even when Louis was in the hospital, even when they were sure he wasn't going to survive. He feels broken and hurt and relieved and terrified, feels like he's coming undone at the seams and is helpless to do anything about it. He knows he's being loud but he can't control it, finds himself screaming into the pillow over and over until his throat feels like it's on fire.

At some point, the door opens and then closes but he doesn't lift his head, couldn't even if he wanted to, wracked with sobs and weak from the strain. There's new weight on the bed and warm hands touch his back, and then his shoulder and the side of his neck.

"Harry. Oh, sweetheart," Louis murmurs, and the sound of his voice just makes Harry cry harder, until he feels like he's going to be sick. Louis curls around his back, forcing an arm between Harry and the mattress to wrap around him properly, Harry's back tight to his chest. He kisses the back of Harry's shoulders and the nape of his neck while Harry clutches Louis's hand against his chest, trying to breathe, trying to think, trying to say something - anything - but he can't stop crying like the world is ending long enough to get a word out. When he finds the strength, seconds or minutes or hours later, he turns in the circle of Louis's arms and tucks his face into his neck, trembling so hard the bed is shaking too.

"Hey, hey, I'm not going anywhere," Louis says. His heart is beating a little too fast and he's warm like a furnace and Harry can't seem to pull any air into his lungs. "I'm not going anywhere. You're all right. Breathe, Hazza, yeah? Just breathe, Starshine, there we are."

Harry cries until he physically can't anymore, until his head aches and his throat feels scabbed over and his nose is all stopped up. He has no idea how much time has passed. The chest of Louis's t-shirt is soaked with tears and snot and drool. Harry doesn't have the willpower to even lift his head, but he pushes the cotton he'd been biting down on out of his mouth with his tongue and says, "Sorry."

His voice sounds stupid and thick. It hurts to keep his eyes open, so he lets them close.

"Not exactly a stranger to your bodily fluids, mate," Louis tells him. He's stroking Harry's hair with just the right amount of pressure on his scalp to soothe the throb in Harry's head. Harry feels like he's a million miles from earth.

"How'd you know?" he asks. It's not what he meant to say, but once it's out he realizes he's curious. These aren't thin walls, and Louis's room is across the hall.

Louis's lets out a breathy laugh. "You were crying on stage."

"Oh." Harry frowns. He doesn't remember that at all. "Really?"

"All fucking four of you, like giant arseholes. We had to skip the encore."

"I don't remember," Harry murmurs. With monumental effort he uses his fingers to push Louis's t-shirt up a bit and curls his palm over the wide patch of scar tissue on his belly. He remembers finger painting with Gemma. No, Harry, that's mine. "Are the other lads okay?"

"How would I know?" Louis answers. "I'm here with you, aren't I? Go to sleep."

"Louis," Harry croaks. His eyes are prickling again.

Louis's pinches his side. "Go to sleep, you big baby."

Harry's going to laugh, but he falls asleep instead.

When he wakes up, his eyelashes are stuck together and tacky and he feels like he's been run over, but for the first time in years Louis is still in bed with him in the morning. He looks good in the sunlight, propped up on the pillows, lines on his face from the sheets and his hair tousled. The t-shirt and pyjama bottoms he was wearing last night are on the floor. He's got circles under his eyes like he hasn't slept much, but the smile that quirks his mouth when he sees that Harry's awake is honest.

"Finally back in the land of the living are we, squinty?" he says. Harry's eyes must be swollen, he can't open them all the way. He must look a mess.

"Sorry," Harry says.

"You say that a lot," Louis tells him. Harry snorts, sits up gingerly. He's sore, and a bit uncertain. When he apologizes again it's a weak joke and Louis makes an exasperated sound and kicks him in the leg. Harry catches his foot, rings his thumb and forefinger around Louis's ankle. There's a lump in his throat when he ducks his head and presses a kiss to the inside of Louis's calf.

"Haz," Louis says, but he doesn't go on and Harry lets Louis's foot drop back onto the bed, lifts his gaze to meet to Louis's exhausted eyes and feels his heart expand impossibly in his chest. I've never loved anything the way I loved you, he thinks. I'll never love anyone the way I could love you again, if you wanted.

"I didn't get to say goodbye," is what he says out loud. He stares at the textured ceiling and tries to keep his chin from trembling. "That's all I could think about. I was so. I was so jealous of Zayn, those first few days. Fucking selfish, right? D'you know he still has nightmares? Wakes up and has to shower like he's still covered in--""

"I know," Louis cuts him off quietly. Harry doesn't know whether he should be surprised or not. Wonders if Zayn's confided in him or if Louis's just been awake to hear on the nights it happens. Louis clears his throat. "I don't think it was selfish. Being jealous of Zayn. Maybe it's not like, rational, but not selfish. You still have nightmares too. Not really a competition."

Harry rubs his hand over his face, pushes his tangled hair back. "I didn't get to say goodbye. There was so, like. So many things we never...All of this shit I wanted to say, and you were going to die in the middle of bloody America, and I didn't even get to say goodbye."

Louis kicks him. "I'm right here."

"I know," Harry says with a wet laugh, lying down again. His hands are still shaking, but he feels like he exorcised a demon last night, lighter than he's felt in a long time. He gives Louis a helpless smile. "I'm just really glad you're alive."

"You idiot," Louis says, kicking him again. He doesn't like to talk about it in reference to himself. To him it's like a huge joke, something to laugh off. He lies down next to Harry again, shoves him so he can fit into the spot he wants on the bed, and closes his eyes. "Me too, though."

Harry threads their fingers together and goes back to sleep.

 

 

Tour ends in New York City a week before Christmas, and Harry takes a direct flight to LA the same night. His family is due to arrive on the 26th, so he spends the week decorating his house for the holiday. On Christmas Eve, Jeff comes over to help him trim the tree. It's a huge Douglas fir, so big that it takes up a full quarter of his living room and nearly touches the vaulted ceiling, three times as wide around as Harry is. Harry loves it.

Jeff takes one look at it and groans. "I thought you were fucking with me."

"I sent you a picture," Harry points out.

"You send a lot a pictures, I only look at half of them. Jesus, man. Overcompensating much?"

Harry gives him an affronted look, cupping himself delicately. "Hey, no, I've got nothing to overcompensate for. D'you want to see? I'll show it to you."

He starts to undo his jeans but Jeff smacks his hands and shoves him, laughing. "Shut up. Did you buy ornaments?"

"Dude," says Harry. "Yeah."

By the time they finish it's nearly seven, and they're both of them covered in tinsel and glitter. The tree is covered almost solid in multi-coloured ornaments and the star at the top is bent forward to fit.

"This is the biggest eyesore I've ever seen," says Jeff. "Stand in front of it, this is going on Instagram."

Jeff leaves around eight to meet up with his girlfriend for dinner, and once he's gone Harry surveys the living room with big plans and zero motivation to tidy. Just as he's about to get started there's a knock on the door. Harry grins fondly, and lopes back through the living room and into the foyer, pulls open the door—"What'd you forget?"—and freezes. It's not Jeff. It's Louis.

It's Louis, wearing a red and grey jumper and a blue beanie, chewing on his thumbnail. He's got a duffel bag on his shoulder and he's in jeans, not just loose trackies like he usually travels in, and white Vans that haven't been drawn on at all. His socks are blue with yellow fish on them. It's seven o'clock on Christmas Eve in LA and Louis is on his front step. Harry's mouth is open, gaping like the fish on Louis's socks.

"Hi," Louis says, and then rolls his eyes at himself. "Christ."

"Hi," Harry says, just as stupidly.

Louis holds his phone up. "I got your text."

"Right," says Harry. He sent Louis a Happy Birthday! this morning. Louis hadn't responded. Harry reckons he knows why now.

Louis shifts his weight from one foot to the other, rubs the back of his neck. He looks tense and wary, utterly exhausted, bruised inside, and just, honestly, really fucking lovely. He puts his phone into his front pocket. "Your security code is my birthday."

Harry nods. His gate code for his house in London is too. So is his debit card pin number. "Today is your birthday, too."

Louis offers a nervous grin. "Yeah, they've got that in common."

For the love of..."Louis, what. What're you doing here, man?"

Louis's face falls, wilts like a flower. He looks down at his hands and Harry feels guilty. He didn't mean to make Louis feel small. Forgets he has that ability, most of the time. Louis turns his head to cough into his shoulder and takes a deep breath. When he looks at Harry again the expression on his face is fragile. "You told me I could. You said any time I wanted to visit, I could."

Harry makes a pained sound in his throat. "'Course. 'Course you can, I just, like. I wasn't expecting you to."

Louis winces. "I'm sorry I didn't ring you first."

"It's okay," Harry tells him.

Harry's still blocking the doorway and Louis hasn't made a move to step closer, and the silence that stretches is suffocating before Louis breaks it. He looks to the side, out over Harry's front yard, his car and motorcycle in the driveway. "I really love Christmas, y'know? It's my favorite holiday. Has been since I was a kid."

"Yeah, mate," Harry says. "I know. S'your time of year, innit?"

Louis gives a tight smile, adjusting his beanie to push his fringe out of his face. He tugs on his earlobe, shifts his weight again, all these ticks as familiar to Harry as breathing. "I get to see my family, and it's my birthday, and no one is snapping pictures unless I ask them to, and almost everyone I love is around."

"Sure, yeah," Harry agrees, bemused. "Christmas is great."

Louis nods. The circles under his eyes have got darker since tour, since the show in Chicago. He looks worn down. "I was at mum's, and everyone was there and there was more food than anyone could ever eat - you remember the way my mum cooks for the holidays."

"I remember."

Louis resituates the strap of his bag on his shoulder. The sleeve of his jumper is too long, covers most of his hand. He shakes it back. "D and Ernie are talking more. They can say my name, now. The first time they did it I turned around to tell you, 'cos of course you'd be there, right? It's Christmas time. I just forgot, for a second. That happens sometimes." He doesn't give Harry a chance to respond before he hurries on. "I was gonna just record it and send it to you. Them saying my name, I mean."

Harry has no idea where this is going and it's making him anxious. "Why didn't you?" he asks cautiously.

Louis shrugs, and then lets out a quiet laugh, and looks up at Harry with an even more quiet smile. "I just, like. I started thinking that I've spent too many Christmases without you already, y'know? I was thinking that if I have to again the whole…" he pauses, blows out a breath. "That the whole world might end."

It's the last thing Harry expects to hear, and the shock turns to disbelief turns to not a little anger in the space of a breath. "But you never. Lou, you never had to before. That was your choice. You never had to."

Louis's makes a face like he's swallowing something sharp and painful. He looks at his hands. "We were kids. We were just boys, and I couldn't. I wasn't..." He trails off with a frustrated sound. "Fuck."

Harry feels like he's on some sort of precipice, leaning over a three thousand meter drop, the air too thin and his heart a little too broken. Louis's eyes are wet, welling up. It hurts like a bitch to watch. "Louis."

"I keep getting fucked up. I keep, like. I'll see something out of the corner of my eye, or someone will come up behind me too fast and or I'll see a cop here carrying a gun and I just. Shit." Harry grips the door jamb so hard his knuckles are white, and Louis forces another weak laugh. "Eric says I have post-traumatic stress disorder. Like the security guy. Ironic, right?"

"Yeah," Harry murmurs.

Louis wipes his eyes. He looks brittle, more than he ever has, even when they lost X Factor, or when his dad left his mum, or when he was lying in hospital unable to breathe for himself. "I wish they hadn't told me I died on the table. Can't seem to move past that. I think I'd be fine if they hadn't told me that."

Harry opens his mouth, closes it again and frowns. He wants to tread carefully but he can't keep himself quiet. "You don't have to be fine. You're allowed to - You can be not okay."

Louis doesn't reply, just looks at Harry like he's some kind of puzzle, searching Harry's face and Harry doesn't know what he's looking for.

"You mean everything to me," he says abruptly. Harry stops breathing like the wind's been knocked out of him and Louis wets his chapped lips, fingers twitching at his side the way they do when he wants a cigarette and can't have one. "I never told you that."

"No, you didn't," Harry agrees, voice soft, almost lost in the breeze.

"It's true, though. Has been for so...since the day we met, practically. It's a lot of pressure to put on a sixteen year old, y'know? Or a seventeen year old. It's a lot of pressure to put on anyone, but especially a kid. The last thing I ever wanted to do was hurt you, and I was doing it anyway, all the time, and I didn't know how, or what was wrong. I needed, like. I needed time. We needed to grow up. I needed to grow up, and I thought..."

He trails off, shaking his head, pulling in a breath before he meets Harry's eyes again, and his expression is soft, his mouth pulled into a quiet, half wondering half self-deprecating smile. "But we're not...We're not kids anymore. it's been years, hasn't it? Years. And you're still the first thought in my head when I wake up and the last one before I fall asleep. And one of us – or both of us, any of us, anyone, whatever. We could die at any moment, y'know? Just, anything could happen, and we could die. And I can't let it happen without you knowing that I don't ever - ever - want to spend another Christmas without you."

It's not the sweetest or least selfish thing Harry's ever had someone say to him, not even close. It's not even the nicest thing Louis has ever said to him. But it means more to him than anything else ever has. He looks at Louis for a very long time, until Louis's squirming, eyes on his shoes, shoulders hunching inward like he's resigning himself to rejection. It's a fucking ridiculous notion; Harry's been waiting for Louis to show up on his doorstep for four bloody years.

He shakes his head, smiling helplessly, takes a step back and holds the door open properly. "Come on, then," he says. "If it's. If I'm--if you're sure this is what you want, you can come inside."

Louis lifts his head and he's bright-eyed and nervous and afraid and hopeful and everything Harry's ever wanted. "Yeah?"

Harry doesn't hesitate. "Yeah."

When Louis drops his bag and steps over the threshold and into Harry's arms, Harry tucks Louis into his chest and holds him as tightly as he can, closes his eyes and breathes in the scent of Tom Ford cologne. It's closure. There're no more ghosts left between them.

 

'I don't really miss you when the sky is below me
I don't need to love you if I don't need to breathe'

 

the end.