until the curtain falls, the show must go on
"I love you so much," Louis pleaded helplessly as Harry stuffed the last of his shirts into the suitcase. He could feel the tears as they made their way down his cheeks, creating salty paths, cooling on his skin as they started drying.
"I love you too," he choked out as he zipped the suitcase closed, before looking up and meeting Louis' eyes. "You're the love of my life, Lou. It’s not going to change, but… but I can't hide anymore, Lou. I can't."
He straightened up, suitcase in one hand as he waited, waited for Louis to change his mind, to say something, anything, to tell him not to go.
He got nothing but silence.
Eventually he left.
It's a surprise when it happens.
It's the kind of surprise that hits you like a fist to the stomach, knocking out all the air in your lungs, making you gasp for breath as you blindly grab for the nearest thing to hold on to; to steady yourself on. It blindsides him completely, comes out of nowhere and leaves him shell-shocked and angry.
Just three tweets and he's seeing red. Three tweets, and he's angry, he's hurt, he's so, so sad.
He doesn't understand anything. He doesn't understand why Louis would tweet those words, when clearly they're untrue, doesn't understand how the other man doesn't see how offensive it is, how harmful it is.
He supposes Modest! could be the culprits; they were with the bullshit tweet, after all, but that was back when they were still together. That was back before too much strain and not enough time to themselves made it harder and harder to keep them together, until their ultimate desire for different things tore them apart. That was before Louis backed out of their plan to come out, saying he wasn't ready, saying he wasn't sure he was going to be ready for a long time.
So much has changed. Just so, so much.
And now this. If it was management, and oh god, Harry hopes it was, then why didn't Louis fight them? There are some things that are just crossing the line and this is so clearly one of them. He could've said no. If he'd fought hard enough, he could fight against them, just like Harry had when they'd wanted him to make a statement shooting down recent rumours about his sexuality. There's a difference between him and Louis though, because in the end Louis doesn't want people to think he's gay while Harry wants nothing more. Maybe Louis didn't fight back because he was sick of the speculation and just wanted people to stop? But also too scared to address it in person during the livestream. Perhaps he was too afraid of Harry's live reaction, or the dozens of masterposts that would undoubtedly dissect his body language afterwards. Maybe he was just scared.
In the end it doesn't really matter though, because whoever tweeted this, it's not okay. It's not okay, especially not when Harry's been on his way out of the closet, when there has been so much LGBT-support in the fandom this past week, when even the fans who were most adamant about their heterosexuality were starting to come around, were starting to consider other options. How dare Louis do this to all the fans struggling with themselves? How dare he insinuate that there is something wrong with being gay? How dare he do this to Harry?
God, he doesn't want to be selfish, but it hurts. It just hurts how carelessly Louis' tweets have ruined everything good Harry's been striving towards this week, what he’s been fighting tooth and nail for for actual years. It hurts how this might affect Harry's coming out, and it's... it's just fucking awful, for the lack of better terms.
He feels nauseous. He literally feels sick to his stomach. He wants nothing more than to throw up and curl into a ball on his bed. He wants to hide away for a really long time. He's sad. Just so, so sad.
But he doesn't want to be sad, damn it. He doesn't want to make himself out as a victim, because no matter how hurt he is, this isn't just about him. This is so much bigger. So, so much bigger. He doesn't even want to begin to think about all the people who are hurting over this now, all the people who are feeling lost and attacked and like they're not okay, when in reality they're exactly like Louis.
God, what a fucking unbelievable mess.
It only takes one more look at Louis' twitter feed, still open on his phone, for the sadness to turn to anger once more.
'Fucking ridiculous I even have to tweet that shit !'
Fucking ridiculous, indeed.
Before he knows it, he's on his feet, striding forcefully towards the front door, pausing only to grab his car keys and shrug on a random coat.
His mind is oddly blank as he shuts the door behind himself, stepping into the cool autumn night. It's windy, golden leaves being whirled around, illuminated gently by the lights in his driveway. It's almost ominous; the darkness, the howling wind, and the way the leaves crunch beneath his boots as he walks briskly to the car.
He doesn't think much as he drives, focuses only on the mostly empty roads leading him to Louis' house.
It's a familiar route; it used to be his home too, after all. He hasn't been there since he packed up his belongings and moved them into his decoy house in Hampstead in the death of a random winter night, careful that no fans saw him do it. It's a big part of why he's spent so much time in LA these past few months, London no longer feeling like home now that he doesn't have one here anymore. It's still difficult, staying in the white house. He doesn't think it will ever feel like home, not truly. Had you asked him earlier today, he'd have said that there probably wasn't any place that would feel properly like home when Louis wasn't there. Now it feels like everything has changed, like somehow Louis’ very person has changed. Harry’s not sure he knows how to manoeuvre a world without the Louis Tomlinson he’s come to know and love. Even this time they’ve been apart, both physically and relationship-wise, it’s been a sort of odd comfort to know that he was still there, was still largely the same at core. Now, it seems, not so much.
It's difficult ending a relationship not because the love isn't there, but because it's the only thing that's still left. It's difficult spending so much time with the one person whom you miss more than anything. It's surreal, missing someone who's literally right in front of you, whom you could just reach outs and touch if you so desired, but it's like there's an invisible barrier preventing you from doing so.
Even after all this time apart, emotionally if not physically, even now after these tweets, it's so painfully clear that there is probably nothing that will ever make him stop being hopelessly in love with Louis. It doesn't mean that he can't be disappointed, though, because he is. Disappointed and angry, just so, so much.
He wants to turn back time, he wants to go back to lying naked in bed with Louis, bodies pressed together under the sheets as they spend hours imagining how it would be to be out, to be able to hold hands in public, kiss and go on dates... just be.
Together, just be together.
Harry's not sure when that wish changed for Louis. Harry's not sure when the other man went from dreaming about a future spent publicly with Harry, to dreading it. It hurts though, that their relationship could ever be something Louis would be so ashamed of, that Harry could be someone to be ashamed of. It seems like he's somehow been in a constant state of hurting for months and months now, ever since that day. It seems like there is always a dull ache settled in his chest, sometimes growing sharper and sharper until he needs to curl up in his bed and try to remind himself that his happiness isn't contingent on Louis Tomlinson. It might feel like it sometimes, but it isn't.
It's just difficult to get used to the fact that the life you'd imagine you'd have since you we're sixteen isn't a possibility anymore. It's a complete re-wiring of his brain that’s needed, and it's further complicated by the fact that he can't get away from Louis, that he's surrounded by him twenty-four seven, whether it be actually physically or just because literally everything in the world reminds him of Louis.
He pulls up in front of the gates, leaning over to punch in the code to open them. He's not sure how Louis will react if he presses the buzzer and waits for Louis to let him in, and anyway Harry's not particularly interested in that option. He wants to give Louis a piece of his mind, and Harry knows there's a bigger chance of that happening if he's got the element of surprise on his side. Besides, if he's going to keep his momentum going, his anger going, there's no time to stop, no time to ask Louis to let him in and risk rejection. It's strike hard and strike fast.
He pushes in the code to open the gate, watching as the light turns green and the gates slowly open.
Louis hasn't changed the code then, and it's a bigger surprise to Harry than he'd expected it to be. Part of him had thought that Louis would do so the second Harry left the premises that day he officially moved out, not wanting any reminder of Harry at all. He hasn't though, and Harry still had to push in his own birthday to enter the grounds, just like he had every day since they purchased the house and Louis had been put in charge of getting the gates under control.
Back then he'd reasoned his choice with the fact that it was the day he was most grateful existed, because he was nothing if not a romantic, sappy shit back then.
Harry doubts that's still what Louis feels when he pushes in the, by now familiar, zero-one-zero-two.
It doesn't matter anyhow. He's not here to ponder Louis' decisions to not change the code to the gates, when truth is he probably just couldn't be bothered. There's hardly a hidden message there. No, Harry's here to give Louis a piece of his mind, here to let him know that there's a line and Louis didn't just cross it, he flew over it with the speed of lightening.
He parks in front of the house carelessly, just pulling up in front of the front door and putting the car in park. He doesn't allow himself any moment to prepare in the car, no amount of seconds to mentally get ready, to steel himself, just unbuckles his seatbelt and exits the car.
He strides purposely towards the door, only faltering slightly when he reaches it and suddenly realises he's not quite sure what to do. He hasn't got a key anymore, so should he ring the bell?
He reaches up and does just that, the chiming noise odd and misplaced in the silent night, somehow too jovial for what's happening, what’s about to take place.
There's no answer, no one comes to open the door.
He might have left then, taken that to mean that Louis isn't home, if it wasn't for Louis' car being accounted for, parked neatly in the driveway, and the soft hue of light he could see come through the gap in the curtains in the window of one of the guest rooms.
Someone is clearly home, and it doesn't make any sense for it not to be Louis. Clearly he doesn't want to let anyone in, doesn't want company, but quite frankly at this particular moment Harry doesn't exactly care.
He rings the bell again, and then puts his fist to the wooden door, knocking loudly, but it's all to no avail. There's no answer, no one to let him in.
He's not built up this rage, the nerve to say something to Louis face, just to turn around once Louis wouldn't let him in though.
He bends down, lifting the potted plant standing next to the door to retrieve the spare key he knows should be there. It's fucking ridiculous; he's tried telling Louis a million of times about the risk of having a spare key just lying around in such an obvious place. They're multimillionaires, celebrities, if someone somehow made it in through or over the gates, they might as well have handed them the keys to their place. Fuck, Louis’ place.
Louis had never listened to Harry about the key back when they were together, though, so it's hardly a surprise to find it there now that they're not. He chooses not to dwell on it too much as he pushes open the doors, stepping into the hall while making as little noise as possible as he closes the door behind him and drops the keys in the bowl already holding Louis'.
The house is dark as far as he can see, so he wastes no time going through the lower floor, knowing that Louis must be in the room Harry'd seen the lights in from the outside.
His phone buzzes in his jeans pocket as he makes it up the stairs, but he ignores it. It's not really the time nor the place for whoever's trying to reach him, no matter what they want to say. He's got a priority right now, and sticking to it isn't all that hard, really.
He makes it up the stairs, and is immediately met with the sight of the soft lightening coming through the open space of the half closed door.
He pauses for a moment at the top of the stairs, breathing in and out deeply, trying to collect himself. The anger forcing him over here seems to have ebbed somewhat, and now he kind of feels like turning around more than anything. He's never been very good with confrontations, particularly not with Louis.
This is important though, and not just for him, but for the thousands upon thousands of fans hurt over the tweets, for the millions of young, impressionable girls who’re going to see them and think that being assumed gay is something to be ashamed of. By not saying anything, he’d basically be condoning what’s happened, and he will not do that. Just… just no.
He draws in a last big breath, before forcing his legs to move again. He’s nearly there, feet moving soundlessly against the hardwood floors, when he hears it.
It’s heart breaking, is what it is, and he can’t believe that he hadn’t been able to hear it before, but somehow the door must be holding in most of the noise. It’s undoubtedly Louis though, Harry’s heard him cry enough times to be able to pick it out in a crowd of hundreds. It’s almost like his body is programmed to answer to the sound, like it’s practically a Pavlovian response for him to want to go comfort him. It’s probably not something he’ll ever get over.
He takes the last four strides in twice the tempo of before, pushing the door open with a little more force than is probably strictly necessary. Upon entering, he gets three whole seconds of an undisturbed view of Louis, before the other man registers his presence and tries to school his features into something a little less resembling someone whose world has come crashing down.
He fails miserably, of course, but then again it’s not exactly like it’s easy to look unaffected on a three seconds warning when you’re curled into a ball on the floor, half lying down and half leaning against the bed, when you’ve got tears streaming down your cheeks, covering the quickly drying tracks already there.
In the end, he looks more like a deer caught in headlights. His eyes are wide and shocked, clearly neither having heard nor expected Harry’s presence. He must see something in Harry’s face though, whether it is pity or anger, Harry doesn’t even know, but next thing he registers is Louis’ entire face crumbling. Louis lets out a sob, pulling his knees closer to his chest to bury his face in the fabric of his trackies, and he ignores Harry, as though he hopes that by doing so Harry will just magically disappear.
It takes a few moments before Harry registers that the other man is saying something, repeating the same sentence over and over again. His words are muffled by the fabric they’re murmured into, though, making it nearly unintelligible for Harry. He moves closer out of instinct, anger pushed aside momentarily, because whatever went down it clearly wasn’t with Louis’ complete approval. He can only assume that this reaction must be to the tweets, can’t imagine what else it could possibly be. Harry, along with so many others, has seen the pap pics from earlier in the day, seen how happy Louis looked there, and he has a hard time imagining anything besides the tweets could have set off this kind of reaction in the relatively short amount of time that’s passed between then and now.
He kneels in front of Louis, and the words tumbling out of Louis’ mouth registers at the same time as his hand tentatively makes contact with Louis’ upper arm.
“I didn’t know,” Louis sobs into his knees, breathing erratic and desperate, “I didn’t know. I didn’t know. I didn’t know.” It’s like a mantra he’s got going, like he can’t stop, like it’s necessary for his further survival that he keeps chanting the same sentence over and over again.
“Shhh,” Harry finds himself whispering, trying to soothe Louis while he attempts to wrap his mind around everything. Louis didn’t know? He didn’t know. Fuck, does that mean that management went behind Louis’ back, tweeting those awful tweets from his account without even informing him? Did Louis log onto twitter innocently to check people’s response to Where Do Broken Hearts Go just like Harry had, only to see those three tweets on top of his feed?
His arms sneak around Louis, pulling him closer until the other man is crying into Harry’s shoulder, wetting the fabric of his grey t-shirt.
He shrugs off his coat with some difficulty, careful to keep at least one arm around Louis, clutching him tightly against him all the time.
Harry can’t believe it, is legitimately having trouble wrapping his head around the fact that management did this apparently without even informing Louis. Did they call him up when it was done? Did they send an email? Or did he really just discover it on his own? Every one of those options is worse than the next, but none of them are good. They didn’t even give him a say in it, didn’t even give Louis a chance to protest, they just went straight ahead causing nearly irreparable damage to Louis’ reputation and harming so many innocent people in the process.
Harry feels ashamed suddenly, so ashamed that he could ever, even in the hazy heat of the moment, think that Louis might have condoned those tweets, that he wouldn’t have fought tooth and nail to prevent them from getting out there. No matter how much Louis wishes to remain in the closet, he’d never want it to be like this, he’d never want people to think this is the kind of person he is. Harry can’t believe he even ever thought that.
He’s a terrible person. A terrible friend, a terrible former lover. He’s supposed to know Louis better than anyone, but time and distance had him doubt everything he’d ever discovered to the point where he couldn’t even seem to grasp the unchangeable core of Louis’ being anymore.
He’s gonna make it up to him somehow, he vows that. They might not be together anymore, but this affects both of them, and Harry’ll help him find a way to fight back against Modest! for this even if it’s the last thing he does. He owes Louis that. Hell, he owes himself that and every single person who’s read those tweets by now.
He presses his lips against Louis’ skull, kissing over his hair again and again as his hand rubs soothing circles into Louis’ back. He revels in the contact, has missed Louis just so, so much. Hasn’t gotten to hold him in his arms for months and months, and this, now, despite circumstances and the fact that nothing has changed between them, is still the most amazing thing he’s experienced in such a depressingly long time.
If only they were apart because they weren’t in love with each other anymore, it would be so much easier.
He lets Louis cry, and does nothing but hold him close and whisper nonsense soothingly into Louis’ soft, unstyled hair.
Eventually Louis’ sobs die down, his hiccups come to an end, and his breathing evens. Every now and then he lets out a sniffle, and he keeps his head tucked into Harry’s chest, buried there as though he’s hiding from the rest of the world.
“Why are you here?” Louis whispers finally, drawing back far enough for Harry to be able to see Louis’ face, their eyes locking.
“I was…” Harry trails off, swallowing I attempt to moisten his dry mouth. “I was really fucking pissed at you to be honest,” He admits with a shrug. “I wanted to give you a piece of my mind—“
“Okay,” Louis interrupts him, guards visibly coming up almost like he’s steeling himself for Harry’s coming words. “Let me have it then.”
“What?” Harry says, face morphing into a frown, forehead wrinkling. He’s confused for a couple of seconds until he realises that Louis expects Harry to still be angry with him, which just… no, what even? “No,” he shakes his head vehemently, trying to clear the misunderstanding. “God, you didn’t know, Lou. I’m not angry anymore. I thought you knew, I thought that somehow you were okay with it—“
“How could you ever believe I’d be okay with something like that?” Louis asks, tone higher than normal, almost slightly hysterical. His hands fist in Harry’s shirt, as though he wants nothing more than to shake some sense into Harry.
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” Harry babbles, covering Louis’ hands with his own. “I wasn’t thinking clearly, I wasn’t—I didn’t... I was just hurt and angry, and—I’m sorry.” He shakes his head, drawing in a stuttering breath, hands tightening over Louis as he wants desperately for him to understand. “I’m so sorry. I just—I know you don’t want to be out, and all this speculation, I just—“
“I did wear the shirt in support of him,” Louis interrupts him, admission quiet, nearly unintelligible, even in the silent room. “I’m not stupid, I knew perfectly well how people would interpret it. It’s just… I’m so scared. Like… coming out scares the shit out of me, but… you’re practically all out, Harry, and you’re not… I’m not…” he breaks their eye contact, looking down at their hands instead and all Harry can do is sit with bated breath, staring at the top of Louis’ head and wait for his next words. “You’re doing it without me, and I… I’m so scared, but I miss you so much, and I just… I’m so scared of coming out, but I don’t want you to come out without me either, I don’t—I miss you so much, Haz. Just, literally all the time, I miss you so much. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, that I’m ready, I didn’t think they’d do this…”
“Lou,” Harry breathes, unsure of how he’s supposed to take Louis’ words, how he’s supposed to understand them. “Louis, are you saying—“
“I miss you,” Louis says desperately, finally meeting Harry’s eyes with a slightly deranged look. “You know I still love you, you know I never stopped. You know I never will stop. And I miss you. I’m ready, please, I want it, I promise I do, I’m not scared anymore, I—“
“Louis,” Harry interrupts him, voice slightly choked as he moves his hands to cup Louis’ cheeks, wiping away a tear Harry suspects Louis’ hadn’t even noticed he’d let slip. “Lou…”
“I’m scared,” Louis admits then, nuzzling his head against Harry’s palm. “I’m really scared. But I want to, Harry, I do. If you’ll have me, I want to. As long as you’re by my side, I want to. As long as we do it together.”
Harry swallows past the lump in his throat, too scared to open his mouth out of the fear that he just might start crying properly.
They say actions speak louder than words anyway, right?
He pulls Louis closer and meets him halfway, sealing their lips together for the first time in more months than he wants to think about. It only takes a fraction of a second before Louis’ hands find their way to Harry’s face, nails digging into Harry’s skin in a desperation that’s a stark contrast to the softness of their kiss. Harry gets it though, the slightly surreal feeling this is labelled with, almost as though it could just slip through their fingers so easily if they don’t keep a tight grip of each other.
He pulls back slightly, just enough to lean his forehead against Louis’, and it’s not until he closes his eyes, trying to digest everything that’s just happened, that he realises that he’s got tears slipping down his cheeks.
He doesn’t wipe them away, hands much too busy with running through Louis’ hair, down his neck and chest, gripping his shoulders and biceps, touching every piece of him they can get a hold of. He tilts his head slightly, kissing the corner of Louis’ mouth and then higher and higher up his cheek, eventually leaning his own cheek against Louis’.
Finally he pulls back enough to be able to see Louis’ face, but only after having placed a last, lingering kiss on his mouth.
“You’re the love of my life,” he admits quietly, seriously, like Louis doesn’t already know, hasn’t already known for years. He supposes a reminder probably isn’t the worst of ideas, though.
Louis smiles tentatively in response, like he isn’t quite sure he can allow himself to be completely happy yet, like he’s still waiting for the other shoe to drop. Silly, overtly cautious boy. Like Harry would ever snog him just to mess around with him.
“I love you so much, Louis,” he whispers, almost as though the words are too big and too important to be uttered too loudly, though he’s said them to Louis an uncountable amount of times throughout the last four years already. It might just be the phrase he’s said the most in all his life, to be honest. His hands move to cup Louis’ neck, thumb stroking over his pulse point. “And I’ve missed you too, like I’ve never missed anything in my life before, but I’m not going to force you out of the closet, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, okay? We’ll figure it out, we can figure it out, I promise—“
“I don’t want the world to think that’s the kind of person I am,” Louis says quietly, voice one hundred percent serious as he stares unblinkingly into Harry’s eyes. “I’m not ashamed.” He states. “I love you, and I’m not ashamed of you or of who I am. I’m ready. I want the world to know who I am, I want them to know that person on twitter isn’t me. I want them to know that you’re mine, that I’m yours, I… I want you back, Harry. I don’t want to spend another second without you, please.”
Harry doesn’t even know what to say, how to reply, too overcome with emotions. It seems that every single sentence, every string of words he could possibly come up with is much too inadequate a reply. The magnitude of what he’s feeling can’t be cooked down to a simple sentence, can’t be expressed in a few well-chosen words, is just this all-encompassing feeling, larger than life and… and the very best thing he’s ever felt.
He feels like with some time and distance from it, he could write songs, sonnets, entire novels about this feeling, this moment, but for now words fail him, and he settles for pulling Louis close, burying his face in Louis’ neck.
Their height difference means that he doesn’t get to do this often, but here while they’re sitting on the floor, he’s not risking a kink in the neck, and for a few moments it’s almost like being back in the X Factor house, before everything changed and when Louis still had a few inches on Harry.
He breathes in Louis’ unique scent, suddenly conscious of how much he’s missed it, his very favourite smell in the entire world, beating even that of freshly made waffles and frangipanis.
Louis clutches him back just as tightly, like he’s afraid Harry will evaporate into thin air if he lets him go. Pulling him just a little bit closer, impossibly closer, so close that it almost borderlines on uncomfortable, Harry breathes the words into Louis’ neck.
“I’m here, I’m here, I’m not going anywhere.”
Later that night, when Louis has finally fallen asleep in Harry’s arms, head pillowed on Harry’s bare chest, hand resting on his abdomen with just one thumb wedged under the elastic of Harry’s pants, Harry turns to his phone.
He’s got a couple of messages from various people, but it’s the one from Jeff that he focuses on first.
‘Former lover boy has gone wild on twitter, I see. Don’t let it get to you, H, it’s not your fault he’s a dick.’
Harry quickly types out a reply, feeling a bit sick that Jeff had arrived at the same conclusion as Harry himself had; that Louis must somehow have something to do with it all. How many others will be unable to see if for what it is: Modest!’s vile work? He can’t really blame Jeff though, not in the same way as he can blame himself, because his friend has never actually met Louis, doesn’t know him at all, doesn’t have any chance to judge what Louis would or wouldn’t do.
‘He didn’t know,’ Harry’s fingers fly over the keyboard with unprecedented speed, autocorrect saving him from unintelligibility several times over. ‘I’m with him now. He knew nothing, management went behind his back. Please tell me we can do something?!’
The reply arrives only a minute or two later, and had it been any other time or under any other circumstances, Harry might have spared a second to be impressed with technology. As it is, he just reads the message, a stone falling from his heart as he does so.
‘I’ll talk to my dad.’
With a quick ‘Thank you! Xx’, Harry finally feels himself relaxing, trusting that somehow they’ll work it all out. No matter how, though, it will be with Louis and himself as a united front, and that matters more than anything. If all goes as he hopes, soon those tweets will be inconsequential because they will be so blatantly be untrue, and everyone will know. The sooner the better, really, and Harry drifts off to sleep with Louis in his arms, and the hope that he’ll wake up to a potential plan of procedure cooked up by one of the most influential people in the industry tomorrow morning.
They’ll be alright.
They’ll be together, so that’s really much, much better than alright.