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Before You Came Into My Life (I missed you so bad)

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The thing is, Louis is smart enough to know he was making a dumb decision, but somehow not quite smart enough not to make it. It was something of a theme in his life. So it was no surprise really that he’d let Zayn talk him into getting high on his hotel balcony at one in the morning even though they both had an interview they needed to be up for at 5am.

Well, it wouldn’t be the first time they’d done an interview while intoxicated in some way or other. That was also, admittedly, a bit of a theme in Louis’ life - though it was one he’d been trying to change lately. A change that Zayn had been seemingly onboard with up till this point, but apparently Zayn’s PA had gone through a lot of trouble to acquire this particular stash of pot, and it would have been “really just rude” of them not to smoke it.

It’s good stuff, actually. Louis suspects that Zayn’s PA did in fact go through a great deal of trouble to procure it for them on such short notice. Which makes it all the more annoying that Louis hasn’t been able to bring himself to have more than a couple puffs of it.  He’s been feeling jittery and too big for his own skin all day and he’s a bit worried that pot will just make it worse. So instead of partaking in some ill-advised relaxation, he’s stuck staring moodily at the overcast night sky while Zayn smokes contentedly in the chair beside him.

Louis’ just transferred his moody stare from the sky to his lap when Zayn startles him by saying, “You should call it.”

Louis’ fingers tighten their grip, crinkling the small strip of paper in his hand before he forces himself to relax. He turns his head so he can look at Zayn.

“Are you crazy?” Louis asks, raising an eyebrow. Zayn just shrugs, taking another puff from his joint.

“You’ve been looking at that piece of paper all night,” he says, smoke seeping out of his mouth. “Just call the number already.”

Louis reaches over and takes the joint from Zayn when he holds it out to him. “Yeah so they can record it and post a video on youtube. “My phone call with totally high Louis Tomlinson.” TMZ will have a field day,” Louis snarks, taking a hit then blowing out the stream of smoke towards Zayn.

Zayn laughs, rolling onto his side and propping his head on one fist so he can grin over at Louis. “You really think they’d recognize just your voice? Pretty sure you’re not quite that famous, mate.”

“Oi!” Louis huffs, indignant, and stretches his arm out to slap at Zayn, who just snickers and bats his hand away. “Remind me again who was number three on People Magazine’s 25 Hottest under 25 last month.”

“How could I forget?” Zayn asks, rolling his eyes. “Half of your interview with Ellen last week was her trying to convince you that you could have been number one if you’d just start taking your shirt off more often.”

“Which is obviously untrue,” Louis says. “Since you take your shirt off all the fucking time and you were only number 12.”

Zayn laughs as he accepts the joint back from Louis. “So just text them,” he suggests, flopping down onto his back again. “No way for them to recognize you then.”

Louis absently smoothes the wrinkles out of the slip of paper, staring down at it. There’s nothing particularly special about it, just a strip of faded notebook paper with 11 digits written in neat, slightly loopy handwriting followed by a cheerful little smiley face. No name, nothing to indicate who the number belonged to. He’d found it tucked between the pages of a book of poetry when he’d wandered into a library that afternoon in a baseball cap and an oversized jumper; hiding away from the fans and paps for a couple of hours before he got called back to do another interview. There had been no reason to keep it, and honestly he hadn’t even realized that he had until he’d gone digging through his pockets in search of a lighter and found the piece of paper instead.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Louis replies after a moment. He slips the paper back into his pocket before standing up. “I’m going to bed,” he tells Zayn, heading for the sliding door.

“Alright, see you in the morning, Tommo,” Zayn mumbles, waving at him dismissively, clearly too mellowed out to care that he’s getting ditched.

Louis snorts and doesn’t tell him that it’s technically already morning, just mutters a quick good night before heading back inside and making his way to his own hotel room.

He kicks his shoes off once he closes the door behind him and heads into the bedroom. He crawls into bed, telling himself that he’ll get up and shower in just a moment. Instead of doing that, though, he flicks on the bedside lamp and pulls out the piece of paper again.

Zayn’s right, there really wouldn’t be a way for whoever the number belonged to to recognize him if he texted them. Even the phone number his agent occasionally gave out was for his American cell, not the British one he kept for his semi-frequent trips back home and has been using while he’s staying in London. The only people with this number were family and close friends – the chances of the number being recognized and connected to him by a complete stranger were practically nil.

That didn’t really make texting the number any less of a ridiculous idea, though. Already been reckless tonight, Louis thinks as he pulls out his phone and opens a new text message. Might as well stick to the pattern.

To: 07700 900332

do you often sign things with just a smiley face?

He had already hit send when he glances at the time and realizes it was now two in the morning and long past most sane people’s bed times. With a sigh he starts to put the phone on the bedside table when suddenly it dings, a new message popping up on the screen.

From: 07700 900332

How do you know that’s not actually my name?

Louis snorts.

To: 07700 900332

your name is :) ??

 

From: 07700 900332

Yeah, like Prince you know. when he changed his name to that symbol thing

 

To: 07700 900332

are you suggesting that you legally changed your name to :) or that your parents named you that in the first place? either way I gotta say the choice feels a bit uninspired

 

From: 07700 900332

ha! Well I thought about going with a pic of a banana instead but that seemed like it’d be a bit difficult to sign for things with. I’m not much of an artist

 

To: 07700 900332

hmm probably for the best then. tho bananaman would be a much cooler name. or is it bananawoman? Bananaofindiscriminategender?

 

From: 07700 900332

It’s Mr. Banana actually. Or Harry. But only my friends and random strangers who text me at 2 in the morning get to call me that.

 

To: 07700 900332

that’s Mr. Random Stranger to you

To: 07700 900332

or you could just call me louis i suppose

 

From: 07700 900332

Well Louis do you often text strange numbers in the middle of the night?

 

To: 07700 900332

only the ones signed with a smiley face

 

From: 07700 900332

Clearly that legal name change was well worth the effort then

 

~*~

 

Louis continued to text Harry every chance he got for the next couple of weeks while he and Zayn finished up the UK leg of their promo tour. Zayn caught him at it about two days in, but other than a “Mr. Harry Banana? Are you sure you found that number in a library?” didn’t give him too much grief over it. Not that Louis let that lure him into a false sense of security – he knew that Zayn was as evil as he was handsome and that he horded all blackmail material until the moment of maximum embarrassment potential.

Zayn wasn’t the only one who noticed that Louis was more attached to his phone than usual. Louis was pretty sure their team thought he was just talking to his family, though, and he knew most of the interviewers were getting fed the story that it was Eleanor. He actually felt a twinge of guilt the first time he overheard an interviewer being told that Louis was obviously missing his “girlfriend”, realizing that it had been nearly a month since he’d last talked to El. They’d become pretty good friends while filming Story of My Life together, but after months of having to act in love on and off set thanks to their PR teams’ insistence on the “co-stars who’ve fallen in love” narrative it had been a relief when they’d had to part ways – Louis to do press for his and Zayn’s latest comedy: Midnight Memories and Eleanor to start work on a new HBO show.

Mostly Louis was just glad no one seemed to have figured out who he was really texting. Especially since even Louis wasn’t sure why he was still talking to Harry Last-Name-Probably-Not-Banana (it was actually Styles he found out about a week into their correspondence, which had Louis in hysterics for a good five minutes. Of course Harry’s real name was almost as ridiculous as his fake one), a 21 year old finishing up the third year of his business degree at Manchester University (Harry had been at a loss when Louis asked him how his phone number had found its way to a random London library; he just joked that “it must have been fate I guess”) who was, other than his terrible pun of a name and almost disturbing obsession with bananas, very much just a normal bloke.

Except that was exactly why Louis was still talking to him. Louis couldn’t think of a single point in his life when he could have considered himself as anything close to normal. He’d been acting his entire life – ever since he’d won some cutest baby contest and his mother had decided being on the big screen was clearly his destiny. And while most of the time Louis loved his job and he wasn’t unhappy with his life per se, he wasn’t sure he could say that he was entirely happy with it either.

So in a lot of ways this strange friendship with Harry was an escape – a chance to just be Louis for once instead of Louis Tomlinson: World Famous Actor. And then there was the fact that talking to Harry was just nice. Harry was sweet and surprisingly funny and sometimes Louis forgot that he hadn’t known Harry for years instead of just a few weeks.

Which is a large part of the reason why, roughly a month later, Louis finds himself having a breakdown in Liam Payne’s LA apartment at one in the morning.

“I don’t know,” Liam is telling Zayn over his cell’s speakerphone, while simultaneously trying to rub Louis’ back soothingly and coach him through some sort of calming breathing exercise, “he keeps insisting it’s a disaster, but he won’t tell me why it is.”

Liam would not have been Louis’ first choice when it came to a shoulder to cry on – or, in this case, a body to curl up next to on the couch while he whined pathetically about his life’s problems, but Zayn was still in New York with his wife and beggars can’t be choosers. And anyways, Liam was the one who’d let Louis come in when he’s shown up without explanation or warning, so clearly Liam didn’t mind too much. Still, Louis wasn’t sure if he was relieved or annoyed that Liam had just ended up calling Zayn himself after barely ten minutes of listening to Louis explain why fate was cruel and the whole world was against his happiness, telling Louis as he dialed, “Well I don’t understand what’s going on, so maybe he can make some sense of it.”

“Wait, let me get this straight, this is about that Harry Banana guy?” Zayn asks.

“I thought his name was Hair Style?” Liam interjects, face scrunched up in confusion.

“It’s Harry Styles,” Louis grumbles. He curls up tighter and wishes the couch would just swallow him already and take him away from this awful conversation.

“Alright,” Zayn says. “So this Harry Styles guy wants to Skype you and this is…a disaster?”

Yes,” Louis hisses. Liam makes hushing sounds at him and rubs his back a little harder. Louis would tell him to fuck off but it feels too nice and he needs all the comfort he can get right now.

Zayn’s sigh sounds like a burst of static over the phone. “Okay, Louis, since Liam and I seem to be a little slow on the uptake, mind telling us why this is a disaster?”

“Because he doesn’t know who I am,” Louis admits miserably.

There’s dead silence for a moment.

“What,” Zayn says.

“He doesn’t even know I’m an actor, much less that I’m Louis Tomlinson.”

“You’ve been talking to this guy nearly non-stop for two months.” Zayn is clearly trying to keep his voice free from judgment, which Louis would really appreciate if it weren’t for the vast amounts of judgment leaking through anyways. “You basically know this guy’s life story. How have you not even told him your last name?”

“I do not know his life story!” Louis snaps. Except Zayn might have a point. Because Louis knows about Harry’s family and friends, where he grew up, and all his childhood pets. He knows that Harry has absolutely no clue what he’s going to do once he graduates. Hell, Louis even knows that Harry’s crazy Irish roommate is studying something to do with music and wants to be a producer someday. Harry has told Louis an insane amount about himself and Louis, because he’s a paranoid dick, has carefully avoided doing the same. And now Harry is going to find out just how much Louis has been holding back.

 “I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Liam tells him. “He’ll understand why you had to keep it a secret.”

“What if he doesn’t?” Louis asks. “What if he just thinks I’m a big fat liar and he hates me?”

I hate you,” Zayn grumbles. “Do you have any idea what time it is where I am?”

“Sorry,” Liam says, contrite. Zayn just sighs again.

“Look Louis, you are seriously freaking out over nothing right now. He’s not gonna hate you. I doubt he’ll even be angry, but if he is just man up and apologize. But come on, as far as he knows you’re some random weirdo who texts strangers for no reason. Finding out that you’re actually a secretly famous weirdo can really only improve his opinion of you at this point.”

And that right there is Louis’ problem. He doesn’t really think Harry is going to hate him either. But things with Harry will change once Harry knows the truth, Louis just doesn’t know how, and that’s what really scares him.

Still, Louis tells himself sternly, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Louis takes a deep breath and shakes Liam off. “Alright,” Louis says, sitting up and rubbing a hand over his face. “I guess I’ll text him and tell him I’ll do it.”

“Great!” Liam cheers, clapping him on the shoulder.

“Thank god, now can I go back to sleep? Perrie and I have a flight in four hours,” Zayn asks through a yawn.

“Yeah, yeah,” Louis tells him, already pulling his phone out.

To: Hair Style

sure let’s do it! want to do it after you get out of class? i’m in la at the mo so we’ll have to work out the time dif

“Let me know how it goes,” Zayn says. “Love ya, ya idiot. Talk to you guys later.”

“Night Zayn,” Liam and Louis chime back before Zayn hangs up.

“Do you want to do it here?” Liam asks him after a moment and Louis is hit by a sudden, vivid flashback of Liam, age 10, chubby and sweet with his big smile and even bigger heart, that he’d worked with on some ridiculous sitcom all those years ago when they were both just starting off. And right then Louis is incredibly grateful that he and Liam have managed to stay friends all this time despite their wildly disparate career paths. Liam is in fact being so incredibly nice about all this that Louis almost feels bad for how much he had mocked the stupid haircut Liam had gotten a couple months ago on twitter.

But only almost – that haircut had been an absolute tragedy.

Louis shakes his head, already standing up. “Thanks Li, but no. This isn’t really something I want an audience for to be honest.”

They hug and Louis leaves. The drive back to his house is quick, traffic unusually light. He parks in the driveway and just spends a moment staring up at his big, empty house. He could have afforded much larger, but even this place feels like too much space for just him. He remembers when he was younger and he dreamed of one day getting married and buying a big house out in the country to fill up with pets and children. He wonders when he stopped believing that dream would eventually become a reality.

Probably around the same time he realized it wasn’t a wife that he wanted to build that family with.

There’s a text message waiting for him when he finally goes inside and checks his phone.

From: Hair Style

We could do it now if you’re still awake?

Louis checks the timestamp and sees that he only got the message ten minutes ago. He types back a quick sure, just give me a minute and races up the stairs to his bedroom. Harry had given him his Skype username earlier so it just takes Louis a moment to add him. He goes to press call, then stops and goes to the bathroom to make sure his hair looks alright first. Ten minutes and one wardrobe change later, he’s sitting on his bed with his laptop trying to convince himself to just click the call button already.

Which, of course, is when his finger slips and he manages to hit call completely by accident.

Harry answers almost immediately so Louis doesn’t really have a chance to work himself up into a proper panic. Not that it matters, because Louis’ first thought upon seeing Harry is oh fuck he’s gorgeous and his second is just a mess of oh shit he’s not saying anything, I’ve really fucked this up, goddammit.

“Holy shit,” Harry gasps staring at him wide-eyed.

“Um,” Louis says hesitantly. He gives an awkward little wave and immediately wants to slap himself. “Surprise?”

Harry still looks like he’s having some trouble processing the situation. “You’re Louis Tomlinson!”

 “Yes,” Louis agrees, nodding. “Yes I am.”

“You’re on my tv!”

Louis starts to nod again. “Yes, yes I…wait what?”

Without a word Harry turns his screen so it’s facing towards a tv on which Louis sees one of his movies is in fact playing on mute. It takes him a moment to recognize it as Take Me Home, which had been his first R rated film, and he watches in fascinated horror as the Louis on the tv climbs out of a bed, flashing his bare arse at the screen. Harry yelps and quickly turns his computer back towards himself.

“I’m just going to turn that off I think,” he says, grabbing a remote and, Louis assumes, doing exactly that.

They stare at each other in silence for a long moment before Louis bursts into laughter.

“Were you really going to have that playing in the background while you were talking to me?” he asks when he manages to pause for breath.

“It’s not like I knew who you were!” Harry defends himself, face flushed with embarrassment.

“That just makes it worse, mate,” Louis tells him, still grinning. After a moment Harry smiles hesitantly back at him.

“I kind of forgot about that scene,” Harry says sheepishly.

“That is a filthy lie, Harry. The pure perfection of my bare arse is unforgettable.”

Harry lets out a loud bark of laughter then claps a hand over his mouth, looking startled. Louis can’t seem to stop smiling. He should probably be more worried about what an absolute trainwreck this conversation already is, but Harry’s reactions are just too delightful for him to care.

“Well,” Harry says dryly, “this is even more awkward than I thought it might be.”

Louis snorts. “Honestly it’s going a lot better than I expected.”

Harry grins at him, displaying a pair of dimples, and Louis actually stops breathing for a moment. Thankfully, Harry’s expression sobers before Louis manages to get more than a little light-headed.

“Is this why you wouldn’t tell me what your job was?” Harry asks. “I noticed you were kind of evasive about it but I didn’t want to push.”

“I, yeah.” Louis looks down at his lap for a moment before forcing himself to meet Harry’s gaze again. He doesn’t look angry, or even upset, just curious. Louis lets out a breath of relief. “Yeah sorry. I know I should have told you sooner.”

“No, it’s alright,” Harry says. His eyes are just unfairly large and very, very green. It’s very hard for Louis to stop from squirming in his seat when Harry is looking at him like that. “I’m just glad that you’ve told me now.”

Louis smiles. “Yeah, me too.”

There’s a pause, both of them waiting for the other to speak.

“So, um, how was your day?” Louis finally asks. “Or, actually it’s still morning for you isn’t it?”

Harry nods a little more enthusiastically than the question really called for. “Yeah. I’ve actually only got about half an hour before I should head off to class.”

“Econ right?” Harry smiles, clearly pleased that Louis had remembered and nods again. “Is that one kid still bringing his cat to class?”

Harry laughs. “Yes! Last class he spent the whole time having to fake coughing fits to cover the sound of it meowing. The professor almost sent him to see the nurse.”

“Yeah still not sure I believe you about that one.”

Harry makes a face at him. “It’s true, I swear! I’ll try to get a picture this time for proof.”

“Sorry, but I will settle for nothing less than you knocking the guy’s bag over, setting the cat free, and taking a video of the ensuing chaos. You could post it on youtube and link it on twitter – make the cat famous.” Louis pauses, considering it. “Or I could link it on mine if you don’t have one. Do you have a twitter?”

“Of course. I’m one of your followers actually,” Harry admits.

“Really?” Louis asks, probably more pleased than he should be. “For how long?”

“Since the whole shirtless superboy thing actually.”

“No way!” Louis crows, delighted.

Liam had gotten cast as Superboy in a new CW show last year which, given the amount of times he’d come out pro Batman whenever they’d have some sort of Batman vs. Superman debate, was pretty hilarious all by itself. And it had only gotten funnier after some evil genius in the CW studios had decided to have Liam shoot a bunch of promo pics wearing a pair of blue and red boxer-briefs, a cape, and nothing else. After those had come out Louis had made it his mission in life to take a picture of himself posing ridiculously with every poster, billboard, and cardboard cutout he could find. He’d even gotten #shirtlesssuperboy to trend worldwide on twitter for three days straight.

Harry grins. “Yeah. Niall, my roommate, I’ve told you about him right? Anyways he’s followed you as long as you’ve had a twitter I think. He’s the one who clued me in on that whole thing in the first place.”

“Man, hashtag shirtless superboy is going to be my legacy. It’s been almost a year and people are still talking about it.”

“It was really funny.”

“It was hilarious,” Louis agrees. He shakes his head, chuckling. “That’s so crazy. I was literally just at Payno’s house. I’ll have to go tell him later that his ridiculous half-naked photoshoot is still winning me fans left and right.”

An odd look passes over Harry’s face.

“What?” Louis asks him.

“Oh, um, it’s just I realized the other day that even though we talk all the time, I didn’t really know all that much about you? Except I guess maybe I do. I mean, I just saw an article in the Sun yesterday about you.”

“Jesus,” Louis groans, wincing a little. “You should just ignore that crap, it’s almost never true.” He pauses then grudgingly admits. “Except the weed stories. Admittedly, at least 90% of the “Tommo and Malik caught smoking it up again” stories are completely true.” Harry snorts and Louis smiles wryly in acknowledgement. “Yeah there’s a reason we keep doing stoner comedy movies. It’s very easy for us to get into character.”

Harry laughs and Louis ducks his head, hoping to hide the flush he can feel spreading across his cheeks.

“And like, you’re dating Eleanor Calder, who’s basically my sister’s favorite actress,” Harry says.

“I’m not,” Louis blurts out. Harry blinks at him, head tilted slightly in confusion. Louis takes a deep breath and keeping his voice carefully neutral, tells him, “I’m not dating Eleanor. That’s just a story our teams spread around as a bit of a PR stunt.”

“So you’re…pretend-dating her?” Harry asks.

“Yeah,” Louis says, shrugging. “It makes for a good story, you know. Two people falling in love while filming a romantic movie together. Plus my team just likes to keep my name attached to some girl or other as much as possible. It helps keep down the rumors.”

“Rumors?”

Louis shrugs. “Oh you know,” he says lightly. “The rumors about how maybe I don’t even like girls. That maybe I like boys instead.”

Harry's eyes widen. “Oh.” He blinks, biting his lip gently before asking hesitantly, “Do you?” He immediately ducks his head, blushing. “Sorry, sorry. That was really rude. I shouldn’t have asked you that.”

Louis feels his smile grow a little more sincere. “It’s alright,” he tells him. “And yeah. I’m gay, Harry.”

Harry raises his head and smiles back at him shyly. “Oh. Well, me too, by the way.”

“Huh,” Louis says. “I’m a bit surprised I didn’t know that about you already, actually.” So much for knowing his life story, he thinks, amused.

“It didn’t come up?” Harry says with a shrug. “It’s not really something I hide though.” His eyes go wide. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!” he rushes to add. “You should always do what makes you feel safest and happiest and no one has the right to judge you for that.”

Louis suspects the look on his face at the moment is entirely too fond. He tries to force his expression into something a little less obviously besotted, but he’s not entirely certain he succeeds. “Thanks Harry.”

“No, thank you. For telling me. I promise your secret is safe with me,” Harry tells him earnestly.

“I know,” Louis says. “I trust you.”

Harry flushes and looks down. He apparently catches sight of the time in the bottom corner of the screen because he shouts, “Shit! I’ve got to go. Um, but we should do this again, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Louis agrees. “Definitely. I’ll text you later ok?”

“Yeah,” Harry smiles at him again. A big one that turns his dimples into twin craters in his cheeks. Louis’ heart absolutely doesn’t stutter at the sight of it. “And I still have to send you that video of the cat.”

Louis laughs. “I’ll believe it when I see it. Now go, you’ll be late.”

Harry waves goodbye and signs off. Louis spends longer than he’d care to admit just sitting on his bed smiling like an idiot before finally closing Skype and opening twitter to see if he can find Harry.

 

~*~

 

Later that day Harry posts a link to his twitter of a youtube video. Louis clicks on it and watches gleefully as a small orange tabby darts through rows of students while an elderly professor shouts for order. He retweets the link then texts Harry: alright i guess i believe you now.

 

~*~

 

The sequence of events that led to Louis standing outside Harry’s flat, suitcases in hand, were such a ridiculous comedy of errors that they’ll probably end up in the script for his and Zayn’s next movie. In the space of two days Louis had managed to, among other things: miss his first flight because he got caught up helping a neighbor rescue their toy poodle from a particularly vicious cat, be detained by airport security because they thought he was not the real Louis Tomlinson, have his second flight delayed while the actual Louis Tomlinson imposter was caught and dealt with, and finally arrive in Manchester only to discover that not only had the hotel where the rest of the cast was staying accidentally cancelled his reservation, but that they didn’t have any rooms available for the night at all.

Obviously Louis could have just found another hotel to stay at, but somehow it had just seemed easier to call up Harry and ask if Louis could crash on his couch instead. And so here he is.

“Well howdy, partner.”

“Hello, Niall,” Louis replies, amused. He grins when Niall proceeds to bow elaborately while gesturing for him to come in. “Any particular reason you’re talking like a bad western character?”

Niall just shrugs, gabbing one of Louis’ suitcases before leading him inside. “Heard you’ve had a rough day. Thought you might like a little reminder of home, ya know, for comfort’s sake.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “One: I resent the implication that America is in fact my home, and two: you do realize I live in LA, right?”

Niall snickers. “Right, my bad. I guess it should have been somethin’ more like,” he pauses and pretends to flip his hair dramatically. “I’m soooo sure, like gag me with a spoon,” he says in a perfect Valley Girl accent.

Louis laughs so hard he drops his suitcase. He’s still trying to catch his breath when he spots Harry standing in the doorway of what appears to be the kitchen, watching the two of them with a soft smile on his face.  Months of Skype sessions haven’t prepared Louis for seeing Harry in the flesh. Somehow, impossibly, his hair seems curlier, his eyes greener, and his mouth even more obscene now that Louis’ actually looking at him face to face instead of through a computer screen.

“Hey,” Louis greets him.

Harry’s smile widens. “Hi.”

He steps forward and pulls Louis into a hug. He’s nearly a head taller than Louis which is a surprise, as well as incredibly fit - which probably should be a surprise but isn’t. Harry has a habit of Skyping shirtless and Louis has snuck enough looks at his chest to have expected the firm little body he finds under his hands now. Harry also smells amazing. Louis hugs him back tightly and tries not to be obvious about the fact that he’s sniffing Harry’s curls.

Niall claps his hands together, startling them both. “Right, I’ll just get these settled away then,” he says, grabbing both of Louis’ suitcases. “You just kick back, relax. Make yourself at home. Mi casa es su casa. That’s something they say in LA, right?”

“Mostly they just say: “Get off my lawn you fucking paparazzi scum”,” Louis replies dryly, letting go of Harry reluctantly as he turns to look at Niall.

Niall cackles as he drags the suitcases down the hall, disappearing around a corner.

Louis shakes his head in amusement, glad to see that Niall is just as much of a joy in person as he had been over text and Skype. He had been a little over-awed the first time he’d stumbled across one of Louis and Harry’s Skype calls – Harry had mentioned that he was a fan, but Louis had quickly realized that fan didn’t even begin to cover Niall’s level of obsession with his work. Louis was just glad that it had been him on the other end of the call and not Zayn, on whom Niall claimed to have a “mancrush”, that Louis suspected strayed closer to an actual crush (not that Louis was judging. Niall was hardly the first otherwise straight man to fall victim to Zayn’s soulful eyes and perfect cheekbones), otherwise Niall might have actually hyperventilated his way to a trip to the hospital. He’d calmed down pretty quickly though, and after a couple more conversations had seemed to decide that Louis was just one of the lads and proceeded to treat him like one. He still tended to laugh rather loud and hard at all of Louis’ jokes, but Louis liked to think that was because he really was just that funny. If nothing else, talking to Niall was always good for his ego.

“Wait,” Louis says, realizing that Niall had just taken his suitcases out of the living room. “Where’s he taking my stuff?”

“My room,” Harry replies. His smile is a little sheepish. “Our couch isn’t actually that comfortable to sleep on so I figured you’d be better off with my bed.”

“Where are you going to sleep then?” Louis asks him, confused.

Harry shrugs. “It’s a pretty big bed. We could just share? Or if you don’t want to I can just bunk with Niall.”

Louis shakes his head. “No, we can share, that’s…fine?” It should be fine. It’s not like it’s his first time sharing a bed with a friend. He’s fallen asleep curled up next to Zayn more times than he can count. There had even been one memorable occasion when he’d woken up to find himself sandwiched in between Zayn and Perrie after a particularly late night of partying, none of them wearing much in the way of clothing. Sharing a bed with Harry shouldn’t even faze him. Except for how just being in the same room as Harry for the first time is a bit overwhelming and Louis suspects that sleeping next to him will likely be torturous.

But it’s not like he’s going to tell Harry that. So he puts on an easy smile and tells him, “Yeah, no, I don’t mind sharing.”

Harry beams at him again. Louis idly wonders when the sight of Harry’s dimples will stop giving him heart palpitations. Given the fact that he’s already had nearly three months of exposure to them he fears that the answer is probably never.

“Good,” Harry says. “Are you hungry? Niall and I made fajitas.”

“I love fajitas,” Louis says.

“I know,” Harry tells him. “That’s why we made them.” He grabs hold of Louis’ wrist, his frankly massive hand wrapping around it completely, and starts to lead him towards the kitchen.

Asking to stay here was almost definitely a mistake, but Louis can’t say he regrets it.

 

~*~

 

Dinner is fantastic. Louis has Niall and Harry in hysterics as he recounts the story of his journey while they eat. Afterwards, his offer to help clean up is thoroughly rebuffed, so instead he explores the flat. It turns out to consist of a kitchen, a living room, two bedrooms, a shared bathroom, and a linen closet. The entire place is small but neat – neither shabby nor new; just a nice, homey little flat.

He’s in Harry’s room, looking through a stack of papers he found on the desk when Harry joins him.

“Niall’s got an exam pretty early in the morning so he says he’s just gonna turn in now,” Harry says, coming to a stop behind him. “What are you looking at?”

“You didn’t tell me you wrote music,” Louis says. He tilts the papers up so Harry can see. “These are yours right?”

“Oh.” Louis turns to look at Harry and sees that he’s blushing, eyes downcast. “I, yeah. Not sure they’re very good. It’s just something I do for fun sometimes. Ed’s the one who got me started on it.”

“Right,” Louis says dryly. “Ed as in Ed Sheeran right? I keep forgetting I’m not your only famous friend.”

Harry chuckles. “To be fair, I knew Ed before he was really famous.” Which is true. Harry had told him about how he had met Ed mostly by accident after a night spent crashing on a friend’s couch back when Harry had been only sixteen and Ed had just been starting to break into the music scene.

“Ooh, what a proper hipster you are,” Louis teases. ““Oh I knew Ed Sheeran before he was cool.””

Harry pokes him in the side, pretending to scowl at him. Louis laughs as he twists away.

“Don’t be jealous Lewis. Of all my famous friends, you’re definitely my favorite.”

“Well I would certainly hope so,” Louis sniffs. He puts the papers back on the desk, tapping at the sheet on top for a moment. “Will you play one for me sometime?”

Harry blinks at him, clearly surprised. “Sure, if you’d like.”

“I would,” Louis assures him with a smile. He steps away from the desk and flops down onto Harry’s bed, kicking off his shoes as he settles in. “I like your room.”

And he means it, even though the room is even more cramped than the rest of the flat. Harry hadn’t been joking about how big his bed is – Louis’ not entirely certain how they got in the room in the first place since it seems to be wider than the bedroom door is tall. There’s only barely room for the desk crammed into the corner, on which are stacks of papers and textbooks, and a small clear space in front of the closet where Louis’ suitcases are currently sitting. The walls are covered in an eclectic collage of posters and photographs, but instead of feeling claustrophobic, the room just feels warm and close, like being wrapped in an old, comfortable blanket.

“Yeah?” Harry asks softly.

“Yeah,” Louis replies. He holds out a hand. “Come here.”

Harry steps closer and lets Louis pull him down onto the bed. They both turn onto their sides, facing each other. Louis reaches out tentatively and runs his fingers through Harry’s curls.

“Sorry,” he whispers. “Just wanted to know if they really were as soft as they always looked.”

Harry smiles and presses his head into Louis’ hand, practically purring. “It’s alright, I don’t mind.”

Louis takes that for the obvious permission it is and digs his fingers in deeper.

“You’re eyes are bluer in person,” Harry says after a moment. “Wait, sorry, was that a weird thing to say?”

“Nah,” Louis tells him, still idly toying with Harry’s curls. “Get that all the time actually.”

“What time do you need to be up in the morning?” Harry asks softly.

Louis yawns. “Not till nine, thank god.”

“Okay,” Harry whispers. “I’ll set you an alarm if you’d like. I don’t have any classes tomorrow till the afternoon.” Louis just nods, feeling his eyes already starting to slip shut.

He really should get up and change, maybe even take a shower to wash away the lingering stink of airplane travel. But he’s warm and comfortable and it’s really just terribly nice having Harry close like this, breathing slow and even right beside him instead of thousands of miles away. So he decides he can worry about everything else in the morning and just curls closer, falling asleep between one breath and the next.

 

~*~

 

The next month passes in an ecstatic blur. Louis’ working on basically the movie of his dreams – a serious drama about Manchester United set during the Busby years. He gets to spend most of his days playing football, sometimes even on the pitch in Old Trafford, and then come home to Harry making dinner, Niall usually nearby waiting to tell him a funny story or show him some hilarious new youtube video. Louis stops insisting that he’s going to get a hotel room about two days in and neither Harry nor Niall say anything about it. They fall easily into a routine – Harry and Niall going to classes each day while Louis goes off to work, spending evenings and the odd day off hanging out together. Louis even brings the two of them to set with him one day. Niall manages to start up an impromptu game of footie with some of the cast, including Daniel Craig who continues to defy all expectations by being fairly terrible at football, while Harry hangs around charming the production crew. Overall it’s one of the best filming experiences of his life, and definitely the first time he’s found himself genuinely wishing it would never end even after the days have turned to weeks and all his lines and scenes have started to blur together.

Production moves to Germany for a week and it’s startling how much returning to Manchester afterwards feels like a homecoming. Louis feels a twinge of unease at the realization that he’s become so accustomed to living with Harry after only a month and a half.

“Have you seen it yet?!” is how Niall greets Louis when he walks through the door. He’s sitting on the couch with his laptop, nearly vibrating with excitement.

Thoroughly distracted from his impending emotional crisis, Louis drops his suitcase in the entryway and makes his way over to him. “Seen what?”

“Titans just released their new promo pics,” Niall tells him. He shifts over so can Louis can sit down beside him.

“Oh no, don’t tell me they’ve got Payno posing half-naked again. Is he in just a speedo this time?”

Louis leans over to look at Niall’s screen and freezes, eyes going wide.

“Oh my god,” he gasps. “Please tell me this is real,” he demands.

“It’s on the official CW site,” Niall tells him, sounding just as gleeful as Louis feels.

Louis stares at the picture, just letting it soak in for a moment. Liam is not half-naked, sadly, though he is wearing a shirt so tight it might as well not be there at all. He is, however, clutching his Robin-playing co-star to his chest with one arm while the other one is raised as though he’s about to take off into flight. Robin has one arm slung around Superboy’s neck, aiming a grappling gun just to the left of the camera with the other. He even has one leg slightly raised, knee bent and ankle just barely hooked behind Liam’s calf – thus completing the almost stereotypical “superhero holding his love interest” pose.

“Niall, I’m going to need to borrow your laptop for a moment. This needs to start trending on twitter immediately.”

Niall hands over the laptop and watches over Louis’ shoulder as he quickly signs onto twitter. He tweets the link to the picture and adds: thank you @cw_titans and @real_liam_payne for providing me with the perfect cover art for my latest erotic robin/superboy fanfic.

He gets a text from Harry about five minutes later saying:  I take it you mocking Liam on twitter again is probably a good sign that you got home alright.

Louis texts back: are you texting me during class??! naughty! but yeah i did. hey want me to make dinner for us tonite?

by which i mean have niall make us dinner, he adds.

Haha, sure. Tell him I want bangers and mash, Harry replies.

Niall is working on mashing the potatoes when Louis receives a notification on his phone that Liam’s tweeted him.

@louis_tomlinson please tell me you haven’t actually written any robin/superboy fanfic

Louis laughs and shows the tweet to Niall. He quickly tweets back: @real_liam_payne of course I have. Me and @zaynmalik work on them together between projects – keeps the creative juices flowing.

Roughly ten minutes later Zayn proves that he is still the best friend Louis could ever hope for by tweeting: @louis_tomlinson Speaking of which the next line should be: “You may be a superboy now,” Robin purrs. “But tonight you’ll become a superMAN.”

Niall nearly laughs himself sick when Louis shows him that one.

 

~*~

 

Louis and Harry both have the next day off, while Niall has a full day of classes, so Louis ends up spending most of the morning and part of the afternoon lying on the couch, head on Harry’s lap, tweeting increasingly ridiculous lines of “fanfic” back and forth with Zayn. He has #robinandsuperboy and #timkon4eva trending by noon and both @cw_network and @cw_titans have tweeted him saying they’re glad that they continue to be a source of inspiration for him.

“You know,” Harry says, amused, after Louis tweets a particularly raunchy innuendo involving kryptonite and batarangs. He puts down the textbook he’s been studying. “One of these days Liam may just snap and actually try to murder you. And absolutely no one is going to be surprised.”

Louis scoffs, dropping his phone to his chest and looking up at Harry. “Please, Liam loves me. I am the light of his life.”

Harry smiles down at him. “Yeah, of course you are,” he says, the fond look on his face at odds with his teasing tone. Louis just stares back at him, chest tight.

It had been so much easier to tell himself that Harry was off-limits when they were an ocean apart. It’s a lot harder to remember that starting something with him would be a really, really bad idea when Louis’ spending nearly every day in close contact with him like this – not to mention falling asleep beside him every night. They’ve become almost dangerously domestic and the desire to just kiss Harry already is starting to become overwhelming.

Apparently oblivious to Louis’ sudden turmoil, Harry casually asks him, “So how’s filming going? Did you guys get everything you needed in Germany?”

Louis clears his throat and sits up, suddenly desperately in need of a little space between them. Harry twists to face him as Louis settles himself further down the couch.

“Yeah, Germany was good. Actually the director told us the other day that he thinks we should be able to finish filming the last few scenes here within the next couple of weeks. So if all goes well I might be getting out of your hair even sooner than expected.”

Harry frowns at him. “You know that Niall and I don’t mind having you here right?” he asks, sounding honestly concerned. “We’re happy to have you here as long as you want.”

“I know, Harry,” Louis reassures him. He can’t resist scooting closer and reaching out to touch Harry, anything to chase away that sad look on his face.

“And I hope you know that I really, truly appreciate you and Niall letting me stay here,” Louis continues. “I doubt I would have had even half as much fun these past few weeks if I’d actually stayed in a hotel like I planned.”

Harry beams at him and Louis smiles back despite the panic he can feel trying to claw its way out of his chest.

A couple minutes later his phone dings to notify him that he has a text message from Liam. U hav a PROBLEM, it reads.

Mate, Louis thinks, you don’t even know the half of it.

 

~*~

 

It takes Louis a long time to fall asleep that night. He lies there in the gloom, staring at the back of Harry’s head, trying not to think about what it’s going to be like when he doesn’t have this anymore.

 

~*~

 

Exactly two weeks later Louis stumbles up the stairs to Harry and Niall’s flat. He might be slightly tipsy. Or perhaps more than slightly. The wrap party had gotten a little wild there at the end.

He’s trying to get the key to just fit in the damn lock already, when the door swings open to reveal a slightly bemused looking Harry.

“Alright there Lou?” he asks.

“Yep!” Louis tells him brightly, squeezing past him and making his way to the kitchen. He pours himself a glass of water and glances around. “Where’s Nialler?” he asks when Harry appears, flipping on the light before leaning against the doorway and watching him with barely concealed amusement.

“He went out with some friends. He told you about it this morning, remember?” Harry reminds him.

“Right,” Louis agrees after a moment. Right, Niall was out with friends that were not Harry or Louis because he in fact had those. He actually has an entire social life that Louis isn’t any part of. So does Harry for that matter, Louis’ pretty sure. Though obviously it’s been pretty severely neglected these past few weeks. Louis probably shouldn’t be as pleased about that as he is.

“You feeling alright?” Harry asks, still smiling at him. “You want some paracetamol?”

Louis shakes his head and drinks the rest of his water. “Nah,” he says after the last swallow. “I didn’t really drink that much. I’m just bit buzzed, honest.”

Harry shrugs and walks over to him. He takes Louis’ glass and puts it down on the counter behind him. “If you’re sure.”

Louis resists the urge to gulp. Harry is standing entirely too close to him and it’s practically a miracle that Louis manages to force out a mostly steady sounding, “I’m sure.”

Louis honestly doesn’t have an explanation for what happens next. One moment he’s blinking stupidly at Harry while the faucet drips obnoxiously in the background and the next his hands are on Harry’s hips and he’s kissing him like his life depends on it.

“Are you sure you’re not drunk?” Harry asks, sounding dazed when they finally come up for air. His cheeks are flushed and his lips are even redder and puffier than usual. Louis wonders if this is what going mad feels like.

“You make me drunk,” he says, which is idiotic and almost certainly not helping his case, but Harry just nods and lets Louis pull him in for another kiss, so it’s not like it really matters.

Louis’ not sure how long they stay there making-out; at one point Harry gets his hands under Louis’ bum and lifts him up onto the countertop, pushing in close between Louis’ spread legs, and what little brain function Louis had left disappears into the ether. All he knows is that by the time they finally break apart Harry’s curls are wild mess from Louis’ hands running through them and Louis’ jaw is starting to ache from kissing for so long.

“Louis,” Harry pants, his forehead resting against Louis’ collarbones while Louis gasps for air against his hair. “Please, Louis, I want you so bad.”

“Yeah,” Louis groans. “Yeah, me too. You have no idea.”

“I want to fuck you,” Harry says, voice like gravel. “God, Lou, please tell me I can.”

Louis shivers. He pulls Harrry’s face back up for another kiss, biting his bottom lip and shivering again when Harry moans loudly in response.

“Yeah,” Louis breathes out. “Yeah you can fuck me.”

Harry seems to relax at that. His hands find their way back underneath Louis’ bum and with a huff he picks Louis up.

“Come on then,” Harry says softly, and Louis winds his legs and arms around him and lets himself be carried to the bedroom.

Harry lays him on the bed gently before crawling carefully on top of him and kissing him slowly. Louis feels a bit like he has whiplash from the sudden change of pace, but it’s not exactly a bad thing. It makes it easier to admit, “I’ve never, not with a man.”

Harry gazes down at him, green eyes strangely luminous in the dim glow seeping through the sheer curtains that cover his bedroom window. “Never anything?” he asks quietly.

“No. I mean, I’ve done handjobs. A few blowjobs.” Anything that could be quickly and quietly accomplished in seedy nightclub bathrooms or momentarily empty rooms at someone’s house party.

“But you’ve never fucked a man,” Harry clarifies, expression unreadable.

“Or been fucked by one,” Louis agrees.

Harry leans down and kisses him, slow and possessive. “That’s okay,” he whispers against Louis’ lips. “I’ll take care of you, I promise.”

And he does. Harry opens him up with almost excruciating care, fingering him until he’s nearly sobbing with need. Harry enters him slowly, kissing his face and reminding him to breathe as Louis shudders beneath him. He starts off gentle, but after Louis bites down hard on his neck and digs his fingers into Harry’s side to urge him on, Harry fucks him in earnest.

Louis comes with a cry shortly after that, fingers tangled with Harry’s around his cock, and Harry follows him over just a moment later. They lay there for awhile, catching their breath, before Harry levers himself up and gently pulls out. Louis grunts, letting the hand gripping Harry’s hip fall down onto the bed as Harry rolls off of him.

Harry crawls out of bed and leaves the room. He comes back soon enough holding a wet flannel that he uses to wipe over Louis’ inner thighs and down between his cheeks before dropping it onto the floor. He crawls back into bed beside Louis and pulls the blankets up over them both.

He kisses Louis and Louis tries to kiss back even though he can’t quite feel his own face at the moment. He feels a bit like he’s floating, his body not quite under his control.

“Good night, Lou,” Harry whispers.

“Mmm,” Louis mumbles back. He shifts over until he’s more firmly cuddled against Harry’s chest.

Louis falls asleep listening to beat of Harry’s heart, Harry’s fingers tracing idle patterns against his back.

 

~*~

 

Harry’s not in bed with him when Louis wakes up the next morning feeling sore but otherwise fine. He can hear Harry and Niall laughing in the kitchen though, so he’s not too worried. He finds some clothes – realizes only after he’s pulled it on that he’s grabbed one of Harry’s shirts then decides he doesn’t care and leaves it – and heads over to the bathroom. He uses the toilet then goes to the sink to wash his hands and rinse out his mouth before trying to get his hair into some sort of order. By the time he makes his way into the kitchen he can smell bacon frying and he hears Harry singing softly while he cooks.

Niall glances up when Louis walks in, waving in greeting before turning back to his laptop.

“Good morning,” Louis says.

Harry startles, almost dropping his spatula. “Um, hi,” he says, not quite meeting Louis’ eyes.

Niall glances back and forth between them. “Okay,” he says hesitantly. He shuts his laptop and stands up. “You know what, I think I’m gonna go to my room. Or actually, I think I’ll just go out. I’ll uh, text Josh and see if he wants to grab coffee before class. See you two later.”

With that he grabs his laptop and beats a hasty retreat. Louis watches him leave, feeling somewhat reluctantly amused.

Louis turns and finds that Harry’s watching him now, expression uncertain.

“You’re wearing my shirt,” Harry says softly.

Louis nods and moves closer, coming to a stop just within arms’ reach of Harry. “Yeah,” he says. “Is that alright?”

“Sure,” Harry murmurs. He shrugs a little awkwardly. “Course it is.”

Louis studies him for a moment, then shifts just a little bit closer.

“Louis,” Harry starts to say, but Louis goes up on tip toes, brushing their lips together and cutting him off.

He pulls away and smiles softly up at Harry’s wide-eyed expression of shock. “You making me breakfast, babe?”

And just like that all the tension seeps out of Harry. He beams at Louis. “Yeah. Er, I wasn’t sure what you’d want so I just started with the bacon. I could cook some eggs too if you want? Or make some toast.”

“Mmm,” Louis hums. “No that’s alright.” He reaches up and brushes two fingers over a bright red mark on Harry’s neck. Harry shudders, biting his lip. “Sorry,” Louis tells him softly. “Guess I got a little overzealous.”

“No, it’s alright. I, um, I like it,” Harry says, voice a little thready.

Louis glances back up, meeting Harry’s gaze. “Yeah?” He presses against the bruise and smiles when Harry shudders again.

“Did I leave any other marks?” Louis asks.

“Yeah,” Harry says. “On my, um, hip.”

Louis slides his hand down, trailing over Harry’s side until he reaches the hem of Harry’s shirt. He slowly pulls it up to expose a line of skin above Harry’s low-slung sweats. As he raises the shirt higher he spots five little marks where his fingers had dug in just a touch too hard. He lets go of the shirt and puts his hand on Harry’s skin instead, fingers perfectly lined up over the bruises. He squeezes and Harry actually gasps aloud, pupils blowing wide.

“Wow,” Louis breathes. “You really do like it.”

Harry blinks then seems to shake himself out of his daze. “The bacon’s gonna burn,” he says, voice even deeper than usual.

Louis raises an eyebrow. He reaches over and shuts down the burner. “I don’t think I’m actually that hungry now that I think about it. How about you?”

Harry shakes his head, already reaching for Louis.

They stumble their way back to Harry’s room, losing clothing as they go. Louis spares a moment to hope that Niall had actually left as Harry slams him up against his bedroom door. Then he bites down on that same spot on Harry’s neck, making Harry keen loudly, and all thoughts of Niall or anything else that isn’t the feel of Harry’s skin against his own disappear.

 

~*~

 

Later they lie together in the wreckage of Harry’s sheets and Louis slowly traces over the collection of bite marks he’s left all down Harry’s chest.

“What were you so afraid of earlier?” Louis asks him. “That I was going to tell you that I actually was drunk last night? Or that I was going to just ignore the whole thing and pretend none of it had ever happened?”

Harry shrugs. “Both? Either? I mostly just thought you’d blow me off then leave.”

Louis smiles at him a little self-deprecatingly. “Thanks kid, it’s been fun, but I’ve gotta go now, see you again never?”

Harry nods, giving him a sad little smile in return.

Louis looks back down at Harry’s chest. “Yeah that’s what I thought I would do, too. That’s mostly the reason why I didn’t try to start something with you before – I couldn’t stomach the thought of being so cruel to you and I was pretty certain that’s exactly what I’d end up doing.”

Harry hooks his fingers beneath Louis’ chin and tips his head back up so he can look Louis in the eye. “Why didn’t you, then?” he asks, tone surprisingly free of judgment.

Harry is the most genuinely sweet person Louis has ever met and it terrifies him knowing that Harry’s let him get so close, that he’s given Louis so much power to hurt him. Especially since Louis’ pretty sure he is going to end up hurting Harry someday.

“I want you, Harry,” Louis admits, even though the words feel like a surrender. “And I’m sick and tired of denying myself what I really want.”

 

~*~

 

Louis isn’t sure where Niall is spending his free time, but as far he can tell, the man doesn’t come home once for the entire week following that morning. Harry apparently takes his roommate’s extended absence as permission to have sex with Louis in every room in the flat, including Niall’s – though only once and Harry had washed the sheets immediately afterwards, looking contrite.

Louis doesn’t book a return flight. He even emails his agent and the rest of his team to let them know that Louis is officially on a break. Then he calls Zayn and tells him that Louis wouldn’t be coming to visit him and Perrie like they'd planned after all. After he admits why, Zayn spends a good twenty minutes teasing him mercilessly.

“So when do you want me to come over there and meet this guy?” Zayn eventually asks.

Louis is tempted to tell him never because he’s not sure he’ll survive whatever humiliation Zayn has in store for him, but then he pictures Niall actually coming face to face with his “mancrush” and reconsiders.

“I’ll let you know,” Louis says.

Niall finally returns, showing up at the door a couple days after classes have let out for the summer with an expression on his face like a man going to the gallows.

“I hope you two know that the walls are paper thin in this place. So please, for the love of god, will ya two at least try to keep it down while I’m here?” he begs.

Luckily, it ends up not being an issue since Niall starts a summer internship at a local radio station, giving Harry and Louis plenty of time to themselves while he’s off working.

He feels a bit guilty about it afterwards, but it honestly doesn’t occur to Louis to ask if Harry had had any summer plans until nearly a week later. Which is when Harry tells him that he usually spends his summers on tour with Ed Sheeran.

“I mean, I don’t really do anything for him, he just sort of flies me out to where ever he is and then I travel around with him for a month or two. We hang out and sometimes we work on songs together,” Harry explains.

Sometimes Louis wonders how he ever thought Harry was just a normal bloke. “You just spend your summers traveling the world with Ed Sheeran, right, okay. Nothing unusual about that.”

Harry shrugs. “Just for a month or two. Then I usually go visit my mum and sister until it’s time for Uni to start up again.”

“And you’re not doing that this summer because…?” Louis asks.

Harry gives him a confused look. “Because I’d rather spend the summer with you,” he says as though it’s obvious. Which maybe it is, but it still makes Louis feel warm to hear Harry actually say it.

“Well where is he touring at the moment? We could at least go visit, maybe see one of his concerts,” Louis offers.

Harry lights up. “Yeah?”

“Of course,” Louis says.

So Harry messages Ed and two days later Louis and Harry fly out to Vancouver. Louis spends the morning showing Harry around – he’d ended up telling Harry stories during the flight over about when he used to live in the area part-time back when he was still doing tv and Harry had insisted on being shown some of his old haunts. He even drives Harry out to his old house, which he’s a little surprised to find looking exactly the same since the last time he saw it over a decade ago.

There doesn’t seem to be anyone at home, so Louis parks out front for a moment while Harry studies the house with obvious curiosity.

“Liam and I both lived here for a couple years,” Louis tells him. Harry looks away from the house, focusing his curious gaze on Louis instead. “Back when we were filming Up All Night together. We were kind of in the same boat, you know? Both of us young Brits just recently come to Hollywood. The show felt like our big break. I was so, so nervous when I first started filming and, like, it was actually really nice having Li around - if for nothing else, just the fact that it meant I wasn’t the only one who had to work with the vocal coach on my American accent.”

“And all these years later you two are still friends,” Harry says, smiling softly.

Louis shrugs. “Well yeah. Not sure how that happened really. We mostly became friends because we’d have killed each other otherwise. It was just me, him, and his mum living here most of the time. Not sure if I had a choice but to get along with him.”

Harry snorts. “And what’s your excuse for staying friends with him now?”

“He’s fun to mock on twitter,” Louis tells him, deadpan.

He doesn’t tell Harry that it's less to do with Louis staying friends with Liam and more to do with Liam staying friends with him. Louis’d had a lot of friends when he was younger, or at least a lot of people he’d thought were his friends. But somehow over the years they’d simply lost touch, or worse, had grown by turns jealous or greedy as Louis’ career had really begun to take off. Liam had been the only outlier - the only one to keep stubbornly in touch without any ulterior motive for doing so.

It’s starting to grow late, so they make their way to the Rogers Arena where they find Ed in the middle of final sound checks.

“Jesus,” Ed says when he sees them. “You really are Louis Tomlinson.”

Harry pretends to pout at him. “Would I really make something like that up?”

Ed raises his eyebrows. “What, knowing the Louis Tomlinson? Yeah, sorry Haz but I gotta say, I had my doubts.”

“Hey now,” Louis interjects. “We follow each other’s twitters. If that’s not a sign of genuine, real life friendship then I don’t know what is.” He smirks when Ed laughs then holds out a hand. “Hey, pleasure to meet you. I’m a big fan.”

Ed takes his hand, shaking it firmly. “Yeah, me too. Loved Midnight Memories. You can just ask the crew. I made them go see it with me at least three times when it first came out. Right, Sam?”

A man wearing a headset and carrying a crate full of multi-colored power cords pauses while walking past. “Yeah he’s not kidding. He even talked us into going to see it when we were in Japan even though it wasn’t even playing in English there and none of us knows Japanese.” He inclines his head at Harry in greeting and Harry waves back, chirping out a bright, “Hey, Sam!”

Sam smiles and tells Louis, “Nice to meet you, man,” before heading off again.

If Louis had any doubts that Harry really was a regular presence on Ed’s tours, they quickly disappear as Harry spends close to an hour introducing Louis to absolutely everyone in Ed’s crew while the singer is in his dressing room finishing getting ready for the show. Ed’s manager even comes out at one point to talk to Harry about “the latest batch of songs.” Louis is struck with a sneaking suspicion that if he were to look up the writing credits for all of Ed’s songs he’d find Harry’s name in there at least once or twice.

The show itself is amazing. Ed really is a fantastic singer and getting to watch him from just offstage is amazing. But the best part is having Harry standing next to him, hand clasped tightly in Louis’, happily singing along to each and every song.

After the show’s over, Ed and Harry hug for a long time. “You sure you have to go?” Ed asks. “I’m heading to Seattle next. We could go see the space needle. You could even go shopping and stock up on this year’s supply of plaid button downs and hole-y jeans.”

Harry laughs and sticks his tongue out at him, but the smile he gives him is a little sad when he jokes, “Sorry Ed, but you’re gonna have to survive without me this year. I know it’s hard, but you’ll just have to stay strong.”

Ed scoffs and rubs a hand through Harry’s curls, thoroughly mussing them. He glances at Louis before saying, “Alright. I guess I’ll see you next summer then.”

 

~*~

 

Louis follows Ed on twitter while waiting at the airport the next day. He posts a photo Harry had taken of Louis and Ed, arms around each other’s shoulders and both of them making faces at the camera.

Met @edsheeran last night. Man is an absolute legend, he tweets.

Ed follows him back then sends him a DM saying, I’m so glad we’re following each other now. I’m told it’s a sign of genuine, real life friendship, which makes Louis actually laugh aloud when he reads it.

After a moment Louis receives another one.

Hey, take care of him, yeah?

Louis glances at Harry curled up in the seat beside him, headphones on and softly playing music while he reads something on Louis’ ipad.

yeah, Louis sends back. I promise.

 

~*~

 

Niall meeting Zayn is everything Louis could have hoped for and more.

Louis finally gives Zayn permission to come visit a couple weeks after he and Harry get back from Vancouver. His flight ends up getting in when Harry and Niall are both out of the flat, so Louis just lets him in and they hang around for a bit, catching up.

Niall actually shrieks in surprise when he comes home to find Zayn sitting on his couch and then spends the rest of the evening bright red and stuttering every time Zayn so much as breathes in his direction. Zayn clearly finds the whole thing hilarious, but because he is a (slightly) kinder person than Louis, he doesn’t make a big deal of it. (Louis’ not sure if the incident that occurs later that evening where Zayn comes up behind Niall while he’s cooking and leans over his shoulder to ask what he’s making – causing Niall to startle so theatrically that he nearly stabs himself with a steak knife – is on purpose or not. But the little smirk on Zayn’s face afterward is definitely suspicious.)

Harry and Zayn love each other. Louis is in fact a little annoyed by how much the two clearly like each other. Louis had mostly gotten used to how close Harry is with his friends – he and Niall seem to have no concept of personal space when it comes to each other (which had made Louis almost insanely jealous until he’d started using it as justification to cuddle up ridiculously with Harry at every available opportunity himself), and Louis knows that Harry and Ed are the ridiculous kind of best friends that actually have matching tattoos. Harry is extremely friendly and very open with his affections, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Harry takes to Zayn so quickly. And it isn’t, not really. What is a surprise is how quickly Zayn, who tended to take a while to warm up to any and all new people (though admittedly not as long as he’d used to, back when he’d been the shy seventeen year old Louis had met at some stupid networking event and then proceeded to strong-arm into being his lifelong friend), takes to Harry.

Then again, maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise either considering Louis had managed to basically fall in love with Harry after just one idiotic text message conversation. Harry is basically impossible not to like, Louis understands that. He just wishes his best friend and his sort-of-boyfriend (Louis is still trying to work up the courage to ask if they are in fact boyfriends) would stop touching each other so much.

“Alright, alright, break it up,” Louis growls when he comes out of the kitchen with popcorn and finds Zayn stroking Harry’s curls, Harry practically in his lap, again. He forces his way in between them, making sure to viciously elbow Zayn as he settles into his seat. Zayn lets out a pained grunt, but he still looks more amused than anything when Louis turns to glare at him.

Niall wanders in after him, beer in hand, and starts to head towards Harry’s end of the couch to sit down, but quickly changes his mind when he sees the murderous look on Louis’ face. He starts to head towards Zayn’s side instead, seems to realize that would mean sitting next to Zayn and freezes, expression slightly panicked. Having apparently exhausted all other options, Niall drops down onto the floor in front of the couch, settling in with his back brushing against Harry and Louis’ legs.

“What are we watching?” he asks after a moment, gesturing with his beer at where Harry’s laptop is hooked up to the tv.

Titans season two premiere got leaked early,” Harry answers.  “Josh sent us a link. We’re just waiting for the stream to start.”

“Sweet,” Niall says, taking a drink.

“Do you think we should do some sort of drinking game for this?” Zayn asks. “Like every time Robin uses the word justice we take a shot.”

“We’d die,” Louis says, amused.

“If Robin and Superboy actually hookup we all should take a shot, game or not,” Harry muses.

“If Robin and Superboy actually hookup and Liam didn’t tell me about it I am going to fly to his house and duct tape spoons to his hands in his sleep,” Louis tells him.

Niall tilts his head back, giving him a confused look.

“Liam’s got some weird spoon phobia,” Zayn explains. “We don’t really get it either.”

“Oh,” Niall replies, then immediately goes bright red and quickly snaps his head back down to look at the screen again. Louis glances at Zayn, only barely holding back laughter, and receives a wink in return. Yeah, that thing in the kitchen earlier had definitely been on purpose.

Zayn had booked a hotel room for his stay (Louis had been tempted to jokingly ask Niall if Zayn could just bunk with him, but ultimately decided that he didn’t actually want to give the lad a heart attack), so Louis calls him a cab after Titans is over.

“I like your boy,” Zayn says, hugging Louis goodnight while the cab driver loads his suitcase into the boot.

“Yeah?” Louis asks, striving to keep his tone light. “Think I should keep him?”

Zayn smiles at him, soft and sincere. “I do.”

Louis waves until the cab is out of sight then heads back inside.

“You wanker!” Niall shouts when Louis walks into the living room. Louis sprawls onto the couch and turns his head to look at him, raising an eyebrow in question. “You couldn’t have warned me that Zayn fuckin’ Malik was coming for a visit?”

Louis laughs. “In my defense, I did tell Harry when I first invited Zayn to come visit.”

Niall turns his indignant look on his roommate. Harry shrugs sheepishly.

“I thought if you had advanced notice you might psych yourself out and freak out even more?” he tries.

“I hate you both,” Niall informs them.

“Love you too, Nialler,” Louis replies. Harry just laughs and hugs Niall tightly until he’s giggling too much to scowl at them anymore.

 

~*~

 

That night Harry sucks Louis off while Louis bites his own fist to keep from making too much noise. He pulls Harry’s hair hard when he comes which makes Harry whimper and come himself after only a few quick strokes. Afterwards, Harry slides back up the bed till they’re lying side by side. He nuzzles Louis’ neck for a moment before starting to suck a mark on the hinge of his jaw.

“Harry,” Louis whispers. “We’re boyfriends, right?”

Harry pulls back. Louis turns his head to look at him. He can just barely make out the shape of Harry’s face in the darkness of the room, but he can’t quite make out his expression.

“Yeah,” Harry whispers back. “I mean, as long as that’s what you want us to be.”

“What do you want?” Louis asks.

Harry’s hand finds Louis’ and he entwines their fingers, squeezing gently. “I want whatever you’re willing to give me,” he answers.

“I want to be your boyfriend,” Louis whispers. “And I want you to be mine.”

Harry smiles, a brief flash of brightness in the gloom. “Okay,” he whispers.

Louis can’t fall asleep after that. He waits until Harry’s drifted off and slips carefully out of bed. He pulls on a pair of sweats and a jumper, grabbing a key and his phone before heading out the front door.

Niall had shown him how to get to the roof when he’d first started staying at the flat. Louis hadn’t been up there since, had had no reason to, but he heads up there now. It’s not anything impressive, just a flat expanse of grey concrete surrounded by a low wall. It’s flanked on three sides by taller buildings, so there’s not much of a view. But it’s quiet and empty which is exactly what Louis needs at the moment. He pulls out his phone and hits number two on his speed dial.

“You do know you’re going to see me in the morning,” Zayn says groggily when he picks up.

“I’m in love with him,” Louis chokes out.

“Okay.” Louis hears sheets rustling and then Zayn continues, “That’s good? We’re talking about Harry, right? He seems like a really great guy. I’m happy for you.”

“Yeah, but it’s bullshit, isn’t it, asking him to be with me, be my boyfriend, when we’re both going to have to keep it a secret.”

Zayn hums thoughtfully. “Well, it’s not great. I know that’s why you haven’t bothered with the whole dating thing before now, at least not with guys, but I figured you’d decided that this thing with Harry was worth the bullshit?” He pauses. “Or is this…do you want to come out?”

“It’s just. I’m 24 years old,” Louis says, “and I’m only just starting my first real relationship. Doesn’t that seem a little ridiculous?”

“Not really, man. Plenty of normal people don’t start dating until they’re in their twenties or even older. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“Says the man who got married at the ripe old age of 22,” Louis grumbles. “But I mean, what if things don’t work out? I got really lucky with this thing with Harry. What if I’m never lucky like this again? And, hell, what if it does work out? How’s this relationship ever going to progress if I’m having to fucking hide it from everyone all the time?”

“I don’t know,” Zayn admits, voice soft. “But no matter what, you’ve got my support, okay.”

“Even if I come out and all the studios decide they no longer want anything to do with me?”

“Fuck ‘em,” Zayn replies, emphatic. “We’ll make our own movies. You and me, we’ll create our own studio and we’ll produce whatever the hell we want. You can be the star of every damn movie we make if you want.”

Louis laughs, wipes at his eyes before whispering, “Thanks man.”

“I’ve got your back,” Zayn promises.

Louis smiles. “Yeah, partners in crime.”

He can hear the smile in Zayn’s voice when he replies, “Always.”

Louis just stands there staring up at the scattering of stars overhead, listening to the sound of Zayn breathing on the other end of the line.

“Have you talked to your mum about any of this?” Zayn finally asks, voice tentative.

It’s hard to swallow past the lump that appears in Louis’ throat at the mention of his mother. Zayn knows – is in fact the only person that knows because he’s the only person Louis has ever told – about what had happened when Louis had come out to his mother when he was 15. How she had looked at him, face stricken, when he finally managed to choke out, “I’m gay, mum,” and said, “oh honey no, you can’t. Think of what you’ll do to your career.”

“No,” Louis tells him. “I haven’t.”

“That’s alright,” Zayn says gently. “Anyways,” he adds after a moment, “You don’t have to decide anything yet. Maybe you should try just making some changes first. You could tell your team you won’t do any more of that pretend dating shit. Hell, I think the media still believes you’re dating Eleanor. You should maybe start with putting an end to that.”

“Yeah. Especially since we have to start doing press together soon.” Louis sighs, pinching the sides of his nose. “Okay, I’ll call her and we’ll talk to our teams together, present a united front and all that.”

“Good,” Zayn says. “Just don’t rush into anything okay? Whatever you want to do, we’ll figure it out and make sure it happens in the best way possible for you.”

“Okay,” Louis agrees, wiping at his eyes again. “Thanks Zayn.”

“Love ya, ya idiot,” Zayn says. “Now go get some sleep.”

“Yeah, you too,” Louis replies, already straightening up and turning to open the door. He starts to head back down the stairs.

Zayn snorts. “I’ll get right on that. See you in the morning.”

Louis slips back into his and Harry’s bed as carefully as he’d left it. Harry is lying on his side, facing away from Louis and Louis carefully spoons up against his back, sliding an arm around Harry’s waist. Harry murmurs something quietly and shifts a little, curling into Louis’ hold.

“I want whatever you’re willing to give me, too,” Louis whispers before letting Harry’s even breaths lull him to sleep.

 

~*~

 

Zayn can only stay for a couple of days and when he leaves they’re all sad to see him go. Niall actually gets genuinely choked up, which would be a lot funnier if Zayn didn’t seem more upset than amused by the Irish lad’s distress. The two of them hug for far longer than Louis thinks a goodbye after a couple days of being awkward acquaintances really calls for. He snaps a covert picture of the embrace and sends it to Perrie, asking:what are your thoughts on having an open marriage cuz im pretty sure niall here wants in on this ??

Perrie texts back almost immediately: it’s alright zayn always shares ;)  which has Louis staring at his phone in horror until he’s distracted by finally getting his own turn to hug Zayn goodbye.

Niall and Louis both mope around for a few days after Zayn’s gone, but before long things settle back into their usual routine. Niall keeps spending his days working at the radio station and most of his nights out with friends, and more and more Harry starts going out as well. Apparently his and Niall’s friends had noticed Harry’s prolonged absence from their usual outings when Louis had first started staying with him, and after Niall had casually mentioned one night that the guys were starting to wonder where Harry was Louis had sternly insisted that Harry go spend time with his friends already; he didn’t need to keep Louis company all the time. He firmly quashes the small, selfish part of him that wishes he didn’t ever have to share Harry with anyone else.

The upshot of that is, of course, that Louis winds up having a lot of time to himself. Mostly he splits his time lazing about the flat – catching up on tv shows and even reading a few books he’d always sworn he’d get to once he had the time – and wandering around Manchester wearing Niall’s snapbacks and cheap sunglasses and practically swimming in Harry’s borrowed clothes. Louis’ grown out a bit of beard (partially for disguise purposes and partially because Harry turns out to fucking love getting beard burn. Louis has given more blowjobs in the last couple of weeks than he has in his life and Harry’s inner thighs are at least slightly red and irritated more often than not these days) and between the new facial hair and the clothes, Louis manages to remain undetected by either fans or paps. He spends his days in coffee shops and parks texting Zayn and snapchatting his sisters, who are currently vacationing in Morocco along with his mother and the rest of their family, and even goes to the movie theater a couple times when they have a special showing of some of the old Monty Python movies.

He can only hide away from real life for so long though, and a few weeks later it’s him that Niall and Harry are tearfully hugging goodbye. He has to fly to New York to start doing press for Story of My Life and as he kisses Harry one last time before heading downstairs to the waiting cab he tries not to think about the uncertainty of his and Harry’s future. They’d talked it over and decided they definitely weren’t breaking up even though Louis had no idea when he’d be able to see Harry again. They promise to keep in touch as much as they can for the time being and Louis has a feeling that he’s going to be just as attached to his phone during this press tour as he had been during his last one.

Eleanor smiles when they meet up at a hotel a couple of days later.

“Well if it isn’t my favorite ex,” she greets him. “I was sorry to hear that our break up was so rough on you that you’ve been hiding away while you cried into your pillow every night for the last month and a half.”

Louis snorts. “Funny, I heard that I spent the last few weeks fucking my way through a string of Swedish swimsuit models.”

Eleanor gives him a sly grin. “Well I suppose we all express our grief in different ways.”

It’s nice hanging out with El, but overall doing press for Story of My Life is boring and repetitive. Things pick up a little, however, once Louis’ agent calls him to let him know that even though it hasn’t even finished post-production, Strong has started to get some possible Oscar buzz.

“We want you to start doing more single interviews,” she tells him. “That way you can do a little bit of press for Strong as well as Story of My Life.”

Louis skypes Harry to tell him the news.

“And they’re already sure it’s gonna be nominated for quite a few Golden Globes as well. And there’s a good chance I’m gonna get nominated for a BAFTA,” Louis tells him excitedly.

“That’s amazing,” Harry says, grinning happily at him.

“I mean, the biggest award I’ve ever won is a People’s Choice Award,” Louis says. “And now a movie I’m in could be winning an Oscar.”

“A movie you’re the star of,” Harry reminds him, gently teasing.

Louis groans, feeling overwhelmed all over again. “God, Haz. This could be huge for me. I got lucky with Strong. The producers were willing to take a chance with me and I’m so, so grateful for that no matter what happens during awards season. But if Strong really does as well as everyone seems to think it will then it might mean I can keep making movies like that. Actually be considered a serious actor for once instead of just one half of the “Louis & Zayn comedy power duo” or that bloke that’s in all those romcoms.”

“You will,” Harry says firmly. “You will get to make more serious movies Louis. You’re an amazing actor, that’s why those producers picked you to be their star, because they saw that. And Strong’s going to win all sorts of awards and a lot of that’s going to be thanks to you and just how amazing you are.”

Louis laughs a little shakily. “You haven’t even seen the movie yet,” he reminds him.

“I don’t need to. I know how talented you are. And now the world’s gonna know as well.”

 Louis feels like his heart could burst with all the love he feels for this boy. It’s not even a conscious decision, telling him then, “I love you.”

It isn’t until he sees Harry’s eyes go wide that he realizes that was the first time he’s said those words to him.

“I love you, too,” Harry responds, and for a moment Louis aches with the desire to be back in Manchester with him instead of sitting on the bed of yet another anonymous hotel room in yet another city, thousands of miles and an entire ocean between them.

“You want to know why I really want Strong to win an Oscar?” Louis whispers. At Harry’s nod, he tells him, “Filming it helped bring us together, it’s our movie, and now it might get recognized as an important part of cinematic history.”

“I love you,” Harry says again, eyes bright and suspiciously damp.

Louis smiles softly, blinking back a few tears of his own. “If I win even a single award, it’s going to be thanks to you.”

 

~*~

 

Harry and Louis don’t actually see each other in person until the end of December, just over a month after Strong finally comes out. They spend the Christmas holiday with their respective families, but afterwards Louis is finally able to get away for a while and he and Harry hole up in the Manchester flat for nearly a week. He spends New Year’s Eve curled up on the couch with Harry, drinking tea while they watch old Dr. Who reruns.

“You got any resolutions?” Harry asks him as the clock ticks down towards midnight.

Louis just looks at him for a long moment. “I guess, just: Be happier,” he says finally. He leans over and kisses Harry. “Think I’m already off to a good start on that one,” he adds with a smile.

 

~*~

 

After he leaves  a few days later, Louis doesn’t have a spare moment to breathe, much less try to visit Harry. Since its release, it’s become clear that not only is Strong very likely to win quite a few Oscars, but a couple weeks into January Louis wakes up to the news that he’s been nominated for Best Actor. It shouldn’t be a surprise, considering his Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations, but somehow it’s still a shock. it doesn’t seem quite real - the fact that Louis could soon be an Oscar winner.

As the date of the Academy Awards draws closer it starts to feel as though all Louis does is go from one talk show to the next, talking about the preparation he’d had to do for the role, including the special camp he and a number of the other cast members had attended so they could at least pretend to play footie like proper athletes, and the same handful of amusing anecdotes about life on set over and over again.

Sometimes it feels like Harry is the only thing keeping his head above water. Louis starts calling him at odd hours just to hear him tell long, rambling stories about nothing at all. Harry watches his interviews and texts him silly comments about the interviewer’s hair or teases Louis that he needs to get some new material – that story about Daniel Craig and him getting on the wrong train and nearly ending up in a different country on their last day of filming in Germany is starting to get old now that Louis’ told it twenty times.

There had been a part of Louis that had honestly expected this thing with Harry to end once he’d left Manchester. He knew they could and probably would stay friends no matter the distance – they’d already proven they were capable of that.

But this thing they have, this relationship, had felt so delicate, so uncertain. Surely it wouldn’t last under the strain of so much time apart or the wear of so many miles between them. And yet it had.

Because Louis still wants Harry more than he’s ever wanted anyone. Wants to kiss him. Wants to hold him down and leave bite marks across his hip bones and then fuck him till he’s a sobbing mess. Wants to hold his hand and listen to him talk about his day. Wants to fall asleep beside him every night and wake up next to him every morning.

This thing they have doesn’t feel uncertain anymore. It feels like the most certain thing Louis has.

 

~*~

 

Louis spends the day of the Academy Awards feeling strangely removed from it all. He’s so nervous he’s passed right over into numb. He puts on the Tom Ford suit that he’d chosen after Harry had told him it makes his eyes seem almost uncannily blue, and then lets his stylist slick back his hair and dab some concealer over the dark circles under his eyes.

He doesn’t bother to look at himself in a mirror – he knows his stylist wouldn’t have left him looking anything less than the perfect Hollywood movie star for tonight. He just concentrates on not messing with his tie or fussing with his cufflinks. He resists the urge to scuff at his shoes even though they’re far too shiny and new looking.

The limo ride over to the Dolby Theater is quiet since he’s not bringing a date and both Strong’s media team and his own had forbidden him from riding in with Zayn and Perrie. He wonders if now that he’s told his team point blank that he won’t be set up with any more fake relationships he should be expecting a lot more lonely limo rides in his future.

He pulls out his phone as the limo joins the queue for the red carpet. His stylist had insisted on him keeping it in the inner pocket of his jacket so it wouldn’t ruin the line of his suit, so it’s a little awkward to take out. When he checks it there’s a text message waiting for him from Harry.

You’re gonna do great babe. No matter what I’m so proud of you.

Reading it puts a genuine smile on his face. It helps make the endless red carpet interviews a little bit easier to get through.

The actual ceremony passes by in a haze. He has an aisle seat – which he takes as a good sign – and on his other side is Terence Davies, Strong’s director. The rest of the cast and crew are scattered around nearby, except for Craig who’s down in the second row with the other Hollywood elite. The whole section is quiet, all of them waiting nervously for the awards to start being announced.

By the time they reach Louis’ category Strong has already won the Oscars for Best Score, Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography. As Jennifer Lawrence, the presenter for Best Actor, walks onto the stage, Terence shifts a little in his seat, clearing his throat nervously. Suddenly Louis is struck by the thought that it should be Harry sitting next to him. That Harry should have been there beside him as he walked down the red carpet and Harry should be sitting next to him now, holding his hand as they wait for the winner to be announced.

As discretely as he can, he pulls out his phone and quickly types out:

To: Harry <3

things might get kinda crazy in a mo here u and n might wanna find somewher to hide out for a few days. sorry. love u

He manages to slip the phone away just as his name is read out from the list of nominees, the cameras immediately panning to him.

Somehow he’s not surprised when the envelope is opened and it’s his name being called out. He barely notices all the people slapping him on the back and cheering for him as he stands up and walks down the aisle. He walks up the stairs to the stage and lets Jennifer pull him into a hug before taking the little gold statue being held out to him.

He’d had a whole speech prepared, but as he steps up to the microphone his head is full of nothing but white noise.

“Wow,” he says after a moment. “I gotta say, I’ve been doing this acting thing for a while now but I didn’t really think I’d ever get to here. They don’t exactly hand out a lot of Oscars for well told fart jokes.”

The audience laughs obligingly and Louis feels himself relax a little.

“This is just such an honor. I’d like to thank the academy and I’d also like to thank the entire cast and crew of Strong, but especially our director, Terence Davies, for his incredible vision and all the hard work he put into making Strong such an amazing movie, and my fellow star, Daniel Craig, for taking me under his wing. Without your support and guidance my performance would not have been even half of what it was. And of course, a great deal of thanks goes out to my family and friends for all their love and support. I never would have gotten here without you guys.”

He pauses and takes a deep breath before continuing, “And finally I’d like to thank my boyfriend, Harry, for being my home away from home. You make me strong, babe, and I appreciate everything you’ve done for me from the bottom of my heart.” He nods at the audience, holding up his Oscar. “Thank you.”

There’s silence when he finishes his speech. But as he turns and walks off the stage, he’s followed by the sound of thunderous applause.