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Ace 2.0

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It’s 5 A.M.

The sun will begin to rise soon and Harry hasn’t had a wink of sleep. Not that that’s a problem—it’s sort of a requirement that comes along with starring on Britain’s most popular ghost hunting show—but they haven’t had any usable film yet. And they’ve been here all night. No creaking stairs or swinging doors. No cold spots. No orbs or apparitions. Not even any EVP activity.

It’s going to be a bust of an episode if something doesn’t happen soon. Either that, or Harry will have to extend his trip, possibly missing opening night for Louis’ first West End show.

Which Harry really doesn’t like the sound of.

“How long do you think we’ve been staring at this door?” Clyde asks.

Harry grunts in lieu of an answer, not in the mood to respond. Clyde, the new network hire, has been getting on his nerves literally all night. He’s too impatient, not respectful enough of the dead, and it doesn’t feel like he fits in to Harry’s crew. Which is bad.

He loves his crew. They make the show what it is. Without them, the show would be nothing. But there’s a certain coherence, a mutual trust, that’s necessary to work well together, and Harry doesn’t feel it with him. At all. He doesn’t trust Clyde. He hasn’t trusted Clyde since he shook his hand at the beginning of his very first episode, at an investigation in a small Irish town in the countryside. His eyes are too calculating, too shrewd and impure—but beyond that, Harry just has a bad feeling. And in Harry’s experience, those are rarely wrong.

“Think I’m gonna take a bathroom break,” Clyde groans. “This spirit is bloody boring.”

Harry bites his tongue and brings his hand into a fist, willing himself not to retort. But once he’s out of the room, he feels his body relax a bit.

The crew seems to sense that he’s not in the mood, keeping their gazes to the non-moving door. They stay silent for a few moments, the quiet only broken by a faint creak from upstairs that Harry curses them for missing, until—

“Harry, mate. You okay?” Craig asks. Craig, the only other original crew member still on the show, is probably the only person Harry cares to talk to at the moment. He’s looking at Harry like he’s concerned, eyebrows a deep valley of unease.

“Yeah, just. Exhausted. And frustrated. Louis’ show opens in five days and we don’t have nearly enough footage to close the episode. I don’t want to extend our stay but we might have to.”

Craig grimaces in solidarity. “Yeah, that would be terrible. Let’s just hope we can make some progress before the sun rises.”

Rhonda, their show’s comic relief, cuts in. “Looks to me like Harry’s itching to get back to Louis to get laid, not to be there for the show. You look more wound up than a yo-yo.”

The silence quickly turns static and uncomfortable when nobody laughs. Harry tries to remind himself that she’s still new—definitely not as new as not-clued-in Clyde, but still new. She knows, she definitely knows. But it was just a joke. It’s fine. It’s fine. She didn’t mean anything. She’s here for comic relief for a reason. Comedians have a history of being distasteful.

He lets it simmer for a few moments, but then he realises it’s definitely not fine with him. He’s learned enough in life to know that drawing lines is important. And he’s about ready to explode, anyway. It will feel nice to take it out on someone.

“If you ever make another virgin joke about Louis not wanting to have sex, I can have you fired in two minutes.”

The blood from Rhonda’s face drains. If it were any other circumstance, he’d say she just saw a ghost, but right now it just proves to him that he made his point. Her mouth drops open but she isn’t able to form words for a few moments.

“I—I’m sorry. I forgot. I was just—it really was just a joke,” she stammers. “You just looked so. I—yeah, sorry.”

Harry feels some of the anger leave him at the look of actual regret on her face. “It’s fine, just. I won’t put up with someone using something Louis’s already insecure about as a joke. He knows I talk to you guys about our personal life, but he has to deal with so many people who are unsupportive about it already. I can’t have one of my team members using our sex life—or lack of—as a joke. Especially when he doesn’t even know you.”

Rhonda apologises again and sinks back into the background. The tense silence returns. Equilibrium has been reached.

But a few moments later, Harry feels eyes on his neck. They feel different from the many spirits he’s felt watching him, more alive and vindictive and malicious.

Clyde is staring, leaned against the door frame.

Harry’s not exactly sure when he walked in.

 

~ Louis ~

 

I don’t like Jesy’s boyfriend

Louis bites his lip and hides his phone from view, not wanting to be reprimanded for lack of focus. It’s so soon, so soon, but Louis couldn’t stand the thought of not being connected to Harry before such a big moment. He reasons that it’s okay because it’s a Big night and phones are practically extensions of a person at this point in time. His phone is him. He is one with his phone.

It’s fine.

Why? What did he do? Find out about the butterfly tattoo? I’ll fight him ʕ ง•ᴥ•ʔ

He welcomes the distraction. His heart feels like it’s beating so loudly the entire audience must be able to hear, even from so far away. Microphones can pick up on anything, honestly. It’s fine, though.

“Five minutes,” rings out throughout the back room. It reverberates through Louis’ ears and then he’s spiralling even deeper. He’s no stranger to the onslaught of stage fright, but he’s never experienced it to such a degree. It’s fine, though.

At 23, two years after finishing school, two years after seemingly endless supporting roles in lower-tier productions and wavering hope, two years of sharp-eyed rejection and consolation of it’ll happen soon, it’s just not the right time now, Louis is finally five minutes from the opening night of his first West End Production. Everything is fine. Perfectly fine. Better than fine.

“Thank you, five!”

Ironically enough, he’s starring as Melchior in Spring Awakening. His Wendla, Jesy, is beside him, shaking with adrenaline as she murmurs her pre-performance ritual to herself. He knows not to interrupt her, that if he were even to touch her right now he could throw her whole evening off, but she’s been acting almost odd, too stiff and formal around him. Louis wants to hug her and tell her she’ll be amazing, for her to tell him the same back and give him one of her signature huge smiles, but the day feels… off.

The entire cast and crew has felt strangely stiff around him today. Not necessarily unfriendly, but different. He’s mostly positive it’s just his nerves, that he’s looking much too deeply into things and he should just focus on getting into the right mind-set (after all, Louis is not one for superstition. His only true ritual is refraining from drinking the night prior to a performance), but his heart skips a beat and he knows he needs something.

Something doesn’t feel fine.

Harry, the more spiritual of the both of them, has been on him lately about trusting his intuition, about how ignoring something that feels right is a disservice to himself. He takes a final peek at Jesy’s eyes attached to her feet, the same place they’ve been since call, and he feels like his throat closes up.

Something definitely isn’t fine.

He pulls his phone back out, prepared to send Harry a kissy emoji and tell him he’ll see him after the show to distract himself and maybe give him a quick boost of confidence, but he sees that he already has three texts from him.

He came at me about how she won’t blow him during performance week and then invited me to a seedy strip club later once,as he said, “the ball and chain are sleeping”

Like honestly who even talks like that though?

I told him no thanks obv but Jesy seemed so nice when I met her :( think she deserves someone better. But you’ll kill it tonight, love you baby can’t wait to give you a standing ovation xxx

Louis’ jaw tenses, an even stronger sense of panic bubbling inside of him.

Not fine. Not fine, not fine, not fine.

Ball and chain. Strip club. Not putting out.

Louis can read context clues. He can make connections. He isn’t oblivious.

Something happened. Someone talked about him, whether directly or indirectly, and Louis is too instantly overwhelmed to attempt to figure who or why or when or how. Louis prides himself on keeping his private life Very Private and Harry only discusses his personal life with his trusted crew, family, and occasionally one of their shared friends who already knows, but it’s been two years since Harry shot to fame overnight, so why is it happening now? Why five minutes before opening? Why coming from someone he hardly even knows?

This is weird and this is not good and everything is definitely not fine.

Jesy… knows. She knows. Jesy knows and her boyfriend knows and Jesy’s five minutes from getting onstage and asking how babies are made and oh God, they have a dubious sex scene and he’s going to have to look her in the eyes knowing she knows before he can figure out whether she’s made her own assumptions and thinks he’s a weird emotionally stunted thirteen year old or a plant. And he doesn’t know who else knows or who’s going to spread it or the source of the rumour or what happened to start this or whether he’s even right in his assumption but.

But he’s probably going to have to explain things to her and assure her that he’s very much okay and he’s been like this since before he learned what ace even meant to him and… and this is too much before his performance. Oh no.

Jesy takes the stage without looking back and Louis loosens his collar.

He turns his phone off and closes his eyes, beginning what could be the start of his own pre-show ritual. His hesitant words are reminiscent of a bathroom, of cold weather and closed curtains and haunting words and a time period when everything felt like nothing and too much, a beginning and an end and light filtering through dark trees in the early morning after spending years lost in the dark.

“You belong here just as much as anyone else… You’re significant, you’re important…”

~

Louis has grown up loads since the days when his performance would be heavily affected by his personal life. He sucks it up, does his breathing exercises, files everything away for later, and opening night is magical. He hits all of the right notes, never strays from character, and Jesy’s weirdness is replaced with her own focus and character control.

They receive the standing ovation Harry promised. Louis’ hand is clammy against Jesy’s as they take a final bow and he looks into the crowd, eyes searching for Harry’s or his mum’s or even Zayn’s, but the lights are so bright he can’t really find them. He guesses they were probably moved to a more secluded top section, Harry’s well-known presence too ostentatious in the front row, but.

He thinks it’s okay. It’s fine. They’ve all been instrumental to him finding his place in the world, to getting here in the first place, but tonight is about a new start. And exciting start. It’s about the beginning of his real, professional life as an actor. A real actor. A version of who he’s wanted to be since before he can remember grasping the concept of want.

He feels a few tears slip from his eyes as he takes everything in. He’s made it. Louis made it.

He pretends the hug Jesy gives him before the curtain closes doesn’t feel stunted.

~

By the time he makes it back to his dressing room, he’s met with a hug and a kiss to the forehead from his mum.

“You were so good,” she cries, wiping a tear as her nails dig into his shoulder. “I can’t believe my baby’s in the West End. And you were so good!

“Thanks, mum,” Louis tries not to cry himself.

“You were really good,” Lottie agrees, sliding into Louis’ side to give him a one-armed hug. “Was kind of awkward watching my brother pretending to have sex, especially with a girl, but mum made sure to keep her hands over my eyes.”

At 17, Lottie was the only one Jay would allow at the performance because of the adult content, but Lottie’s comment still makes him crinkle his nose.

“Ew,” he shudders. “I hope someone was covering your eyes, too,” he sends his mum’s way.

“It’s only natural, sweetheart,” she laughs, moving to allow Dan to pull Louis into a gruff hug. “You’re 23 and live with your boyfriend. Don’t think I don’t know what goes on.”

She gives him a fake-stern look. This is definitely not a conversation Louis wants to have.

“Zayn!” Louis breaks away from his family to embrace his friend, happy that he could make it to the showing despite his terrible, overbearing boss. “I’m so glad you could make it.”

Zayn rubs at his back before pulling away, looking him up and down. “The show was great, Lou. And I’m digging the whole suspenders look. Feels like we’re teenagers again.”

“Knock it,” Louis laughs, cringing over the memories of his loud red pants and stripes days.

And then Harry’s there, a bouquet behind his back as he grins down at Louis like he’s never seen something quite like him. Louis’ heart quiets as Harry’s arms come to wrap around his waist, his cheek brushing against Harry’s while he holds him close. Even years later, Harry’s presence is still as calming to him as an hour-long massage. He breathes in his shampoo and feels his weight sag against Harry, the leftover tension from his stressful day flooding from him.

“You were perfect,” Harry tells him, his voice low and soothing. “The best. Honestly. I’ve never seen you more on top of a performance. I’m so proud.”

That means a lot, considering Harry hasn’t missed more than a few of his performances since Louis was a teenager.

“Thank you,” Louis whispers before pressing a kiss to Harry’s cheek.

He almost doesn’t cry.

~

Later, once Zayn and Louis’ family have left their flat after dessert, Louis sits in bed hugging a pillow while Harry finishes in the bathroom. It’s late and Louis is so tired, his eyes drooping, the adrenaline from his performance having worn off hours ago.

But he’s not ready to get to sleep. He still feels the uncomfortable tug in his stomach, the intuition that something is wrong even though he’s not entirely sure. Jesy and her boyfriend both left without saying goodbye, and though that isn’t completely unheard of, it honestly makes no sense on opening night.

He can sense it. That the universe is off-balance and something is coming and something is wrong.

Harry’s out of the bathroom minutes later, hair dripping and pants sitting low on his hips. He takes in Louis’ upright form, his unsettled eyes and his rigid posture, and he must know.

“What’s wrong?” he asks. He climbs in beside Louis and curls up into a ball, his cheek squished into Louis’ thigh once he moves the pillow. Louis’ fingers come to comb through his wet hair without conscious thought. Even though he’s almost positive everyone knows, that someone has betrayed his trust and gossiped about what a prude he is, he feels almost calm knowing there’s virtually nothing he can do about it.

“Everyone knows.”

Harry’s eyes slip shut. “Knows what?”

“You know what they know.”

Harry sits up, his palm settling on the other side of Louis’ thigh so he’s half boxed in, their faces close. “Why do you say that?”

Louis feels the calm façade break as his lower lip trembles.

This level of insecurity, of borderline shame and self-loathing, is a feeling he thought he’d forgotten in university. He’s not embarrassed anymore. He’s not. He doesn’t feel entirely out of place anymore and he knows he’s not a ghost of a person. He knows he’s a lively, vibrant person and he has so much to offer the world. He’s here. He’s here, and he’s doing big things that people only dream of. He knows Harry not only feels lucky to have the life he and Louis have built in London, but he is lucky.

Louis is not the self-doubting, vulnerable boy he was in sixth form anymore. Louis is not the insecure young adult he was in university.

Louis is a man with a serious, recently established professional career. He’s a man with an engagement ring sitting hidden in an untouched encyclopaedia for his long-term boyfriend. He’s a man that’s been interviewed by important people. He’s a man who’s had people ask for his autograph while he walked through the street. He’s a man who’s already accomplished so much of what he wanted. And he’s only 23.

But that doesn’t change the fact that this, this fact about himself that he’s learned to keep very quiet, though not outright hidden, still has the power to move mountains within him. It still has the power to make it hard to look his boyfriend in the eyes without feeling like a trembling child. It still has the power to make his eyes tear up with the thought of the wrong person knowing too much and to make his stomach feel like it’s being punched.

“Louis, look at me,” Harry mumbles, finger to his chin.

Louis does, but he closes his eyes as soon as the first tear rolls. “It’s like. It’s dumb. I don’t really care who knows. I’m not ashamed or anything. But everyone is such a gossip in this industry. And I swear everyone already knows. And that’s okay but… they treated me differently today. I can tell.”

Harry thumbs away a tear and pulls him close. “Different in a bad way?”

Louis shakes his head. “No. Not really bad. Just, like, they didn’t know what to say. Almost… awkward. And I didn’t realise why until your text. But if Jesy’s boyfriend knew, everyone knows. I just don’t know how. Or from who. And that’s kind of something that scares me too. I’m not—”

“This might be my fault,” Harry leans back, his face pale and terrified before he digs the palms of his hands into his eyes, avoiding his gaze. “Oh God. I’m actually almost positive this is my fault.”

Louis’ breath catches. Harry has always been careful, so careful, never freely talking to even his closest friends about their private life without Louis’ nod of approval.

“I’m so sorry. Fuck. There’s this new guy in our crew. He was a network hire. And he left—he went to the bathroom and Rhonda made a joke. And you know we talk about our personal lives, like, it’s hard not to when we’re staring at the same door for six hours, hoping it will just move or creak or do something. But I—I kind of snapped at her and told her why sex jokes were off the table. We’re all just close—and I thought he was in the bathroom but then he was there just, like, behind me staring at me. I don’t know for sure, but…”

Louis bites on his lip, understanding. Understanding but not entirely comprehending. “I know you wouldn’t just… I don’t know. Tell people you don’t trust.”

“I was so tired. And stressed. And it made me careless. I know he heard—” Harry confirms, a panic in his voice. His hands are balled into fists on top of the bed and his eyes shine with unshed tears, his voice wavering with regret.

Louis runs his fingertip over Harry’s knuckles, nodding. He really shouldn’t be surprised. After all, Harry’s a Big Deal. A much bigger deal than him, even after tonight. His face is part of an actual global meme that pops up every few months whenever something mysterious or spooky happens. That big.

Louis pulls him to his chest, wrapping him close in his arms as he begins to cry, whimpering out apologies. Louis cards his fingers through his hair, lips pressed to his temple as Harry’s nails dig into his back. He recognises that under normal circumstances, Louis would be the one to need this—to be held and reassured because he’s the one who’s might have become an overnight joke. But Harry has such a big heart, such an obvious sense of loyalty and love for Louis that he can sense he’s possibly never going to forgive himself.

He settles more comfortably into the bed, letting Harry’s head come to rest on his shoulder as he gets his breathing under control. It’s just, he should have expected this, honestly. Tabloids want dirt on Harry. They’ve wanted dirt on him since he was 19 and happened to go on a ghost tour at the same moment as Grant Wilson, spurring his completely unexpected and miraculous career as an actual fucking ghost hunter.

He supposes it’s fitting that the first juicy bit they got is about Louis rather than Harry. Though Harry is great, it’s very much what you see is what you get. His personality shines on screen, so much so that Louis will even resort to watching it late at night while Harry’s overseas because he misses his boyfriend so much. And it’s almost as good as Harry holding his hand beside him. He’s an open book and has the strongest sense of self of anyone his age Louis has ever seen, which is partially what Louis thinks draws everyone to him.

The world is almost as in love with his boyfriend as he is, but there’s next to nothing shocking or gasp-worthy about him. He’s not a scandal waiting to happen. He’s not perfect by any means, but he’s a good person that pays his taxes, gets clingy when he drinks, and whose honest to God biggest goal in life is to help ghosts reach the other side.

He’s not controversial or shocking or a mystery. He’s Harry. And he’s great. But he’s not the drama or the secrets or the shocking revelation people want to read about.

Louis, though.

Louis has never been very good at laying all of his cards down on the table, never been as quick to give up information about himself. He is an actor, after all. Louis likes who he is, of course, but there’s a reason he spends a good chunk of his life getting into the mind-set of someone else, someone completely different from himself.

Louis doesn’t feel like a side character in life anymore and hasn’t for years, but sometimes he still feels a bit malleable. A bit impressionable. He’s not set in stone. He has a strong sense of self, yes, but he’s not as transparent as Harry. He’s not as cemented in who he is. And once in a while, when being himself feels like it’s too much, it’s nice for him to be someone else. It feels good to try out something new.

Deep down, he’s a patchwork quilt of accumulated characters, of their flaws and their ticks and their quirks. He’s a collected manifestation of everyone he’s imitated.

Louis is a lot at once, sometimes so much that it can be difficult to differentiate between who he truly is and isn’t at the end of the day. Harry’s always there, a grounding presence to remind him what’s important and what he truly stands for, a weight to keep him steady when he’s a balloon flying through the air of daydreams and long days of character study, but Louis is definitely not straight forward.

The layers of his mind and facets of his personality are so intricate and conflicting that he can’t even figure out who he really is half the time, and while that can be nice when he’s acting, make it easy to snap into a different character or a new mind-set, it makes it hard to pinpoint exactly who he is in the way Harry can.

It scares Louis to think of how big of a mystery he still is to himself. It scares him even more to think about other people trying to figure him out before he has a chance. So with something so deep and personal like this, with blood out in the open for hungry sharks of journalists, to think of other poking their heads into his business and asking him questions that he still might not be comfortable giving answers to, it scares him. It scares him to think that someone else might be able to define him before he defines himself.

“I’m so sorry, Lou. I’ll get him fired. I don’t ever want to see his face again, anyway. And he wasn’t good for the vibe of the show,” Harry’s tearful rambling breaks him from his approaching panic.

“I’m not sure what that’ll do now that everyone knows, though,” Louis hints.

Harry shakes his head, pulling back to face Louis head-on. “No. Not everyone knows. They can’t. He wouldn’t. He hardly even knows me. But I think I have his number. I can call him up and—and do something. Threaten him that if he ever tells anyone anything about my personal life, especially if it affects my boyfriend, too, that he’ll be out of the job as soon—”

Louis doesn’t want it to be real, doesn’t want to think about it anymore. It’s too much all at once. It’s an upheaval that he wasn’t prepared for, an American football game with no helmet and no practice, being thrust into a high stakes game with only a very small team behind him that knows the game plan. He knows that all he can do is run for the end zone himself or to pray the buzzer dings, signalling the end of the game before the opposing team can attack.

That has never been his sport, though. He kisses Harry to shut him up. Everything will be fine in the morning.

Hopefully.

~

So the thing is, nothing is fine in the morning. Louis is so obscure that he can and he’s obviously vain enough that he does have Google alerts for his name set in his phone, and nothing is fine.

The story is there, with a huge click-bait title blasting Harry Styles a Virgin? Boyfriend Louis Tomlinson Doesn’t Put Out! In huge, obnoxious red letters.

It’s not fine. He’s gained over 2,000 Twitter followers and is getting a mix of Tweets ranging from the mostly harmless Harry can have me if you don’t want him to IM GONNA KILL U HARRY CAN SHOVE A PUMPKIN UP MY ASSHOLE AND ID LIKE IT YOU UNGRATEFUL BITCH

Louis doesn’t mean to wake Harry up, but it’s quite a lot to take in before Louis has even had his morning tea.

“Babe,” Louis shakes him awake. Harry grumbles and buries his face into Louis’ chest, but Louis doesn’t give up.

“Look what they wrote,” Louis mumbles, sighing as he sinks deeper into the comforter.

He’s not as afraid as he thought he’d be, though he thinks it’s also a bit to do with the shock. The article is ridiculous, as he expected, but now that it’s out there, it’s out. He can’t really do much to stop the gossip. It’s out there for the world to see and Louis feels ripped open in a way he hasn’t in a long, long time, but now that the wound is gaping, he can’t do much more than bleed. Let it bleed. Either let it bleed out or get out a Band-Aid and let someone hold his hand through the pain. It will be fine.

Eventually.

But he’s definitely not fine right now.

Louis passes his phone, watching as Harry’s eyes gloss over the more painful sections of the article, jaw tightening as he goes.

A source close to Harry reveals that his boyfriend has an impenetrable fear of intimacy.

The two have been together for five years, but they’ve never slept together.

The West End actor reportedly has his own bedroom in their London home, for fear of Harry losing control while he’s sleeping.

Styles, a good-looking man at 21, is done waiting. He’s given Tomlinson an ultimatum—put out or I’m out.

Our source reveals that Louis, 23, is a virgin—yes, you read that correctly. A virgin.

Tomlinson has never even let Styles see him naked. If he’s in the same room, he forces him to wear an eye mask when he comes out of the shower so he can change in peace.

A rep for Styles refused to confirm or deny.

Harry looks like he’s at a loss of what to say. His lips are quivering, his eyes red with anger. He immediately pulls his phone from the bedside table and clicks to a message.

“Fuck.” He runs a hand through his hair as he angles the phone to Louis, a message from Debbie, his PR rep, glowing bright on the screen.

someone’s sold a story to a tab about Louis having a separate bedroom and not putting out? random but I didn’t deny yet since you’re the most boring client I have. will deny the separation rumours once chatter has died down. don’t directly respond on Twitter yet but you can stir the pot if you’re feeling creative

Harry turns to him. “What…what should we do?”

Louis feels frozen, like a deer caught in the headlines. His secrets. His biggest insecurities spread out in the pages of a magazine like it’s just something to scoff at, like it’s a joke. Like it’s not something that actually affects him or that’s even an actual possibility for a person.

“I don’t know.”

Harry bites his lip, throwing both of their phones to the side as he pulls Louis down so they’re nose to nose, both cuddled under their covers. Louis leans his forehead against Harry’s, gripping tight at his arm so he doesn’t hyperventilate.

“What do you want to do?” Harry asks.

And that’s what breaks Louis. Because that’s the question to end all questions, isn’t it? It’s in his hands now, up to him, whether to play along with the norm and laugh at the accusation or own up to it. Whether to do the thing that’s expected or to stick a pole in the middle of untouched ice, breaking it.

He knows which option is easiest. And he knows Harry would agree in a heartbeat, especially since this whole mess is probably his fault. He knows it’s understandable, that he’s under no obligation to say anything about his personal life, especially about something as personal as this. But something about that option makes him feel meek and passive, like a tree that moves its roots for others, rather than tree that wraps around what it’s given, resilient and strong.

He doesn’t want to be water, he wants to be concrete.

But if the article is anything to go by, it’s going to be… he doesn’t even know. He’s not sure something like this has ever really been discussed or explained in the context of someone huge like Harry.

“I want to sleep all day,” Louis finally says.

But that’s not an option. He needs to get up, get dressed, get in character, and perform.

“I’ll do whatever you want. When it comes to this. Always. And I’m so—Louis, I’m so sorry,” Harry tells him again. For maybe the seventieth time.

And it’s not a perfect moment. Harry’s mouth smells like seven hours of sleep and Louis’ life and worldwide reputation are on the line, but with Harry’s support it feels a little bit more bearable.

~

Second night is, perhaps, even more awkward than the first. Jesy rushes into a story about her boyfriend and her mum getting into a heated argument the night prior, which leaves Louis with little to contribute because she’s so fired up, but everyone else looks at him like they’re not sure whether they’re allowed to ask.

He knows they know. They know, they know, they know. Everyone reads trashy articles in their industry, especially if it’s about someone they know. Everyone is nosy.

Everyone knows. They know but they’re pretending not to know even though they all know that everyone knows what’s going on.

It’s almost infuriating, but Louis would much rather focus on his performance than worry about his real life problems. He can worry about falling down that terrifying metal bar and nailing his tricky harmonies, rather than whether his very existence has turned him into a creature to be mocked and the target of future aggressive, pointedly deliberate come-ons, as well as the subject to even more rude words thrown at him when he's out holding Harry's hand.

Lovely.

The show goes off without a hitch because he works in the West End now and they’re all real professionals, supposedly. Jesy hugs him after the claps have quieted and the curtain closes and it feels okay. It feels fine. Conflict averted. He’s shallow water, but it’s fine. Everything is fine.

“Hey, Louis, did you see what they said about you and your famous boyfriend in the paper?” Leo, the stage manager, finally asks as they make their way to the green room. He claps him on the back as he passes, a laugh on his face as he looks at Louis with his eyebrows raised like they’re in on the same joke.

Louis is not a part of this joke. He doesn’t want to be a part of this joke. But he is. He laughs. A short, high bark of a laugh that doesn’t translate well into a joke. It’s like a half response. He closes his mouth and sucks his bottom lip between his teeth, dropping his eyes to the floor.

Jesy and someone from the costume department are both stopped, listening in, unsure how to respond.

Louis scratches behind his neck and makes a joke about needing to get somewhere five minutes ago.

~

Louis has always known the world views people like him in a certain way—a bad way. A fake way. An invisible way. Louis is a ghost to the world, an attention seeker who feels like a special snowflake and simply needs to be fixed of his problem to become normal.

Louis has stopped reading the comments at the bottom of articles. Louis has learned to easily circumnavigate conversations purely about sex. During uni, he’d always find an excuse to leave the room whenever his friends would play that infuriating game disguised as getting to know others while really trying to figure out who’s secretly the kinkiest.

It’s fine. Louis has adapted. The world is not crafted to accept or understand people like him, but it’s chill. In turn, he creates his own world. His world is home, a bubble of safety with him and Harry in the middle of it. His world expands, of course, but the heart of it is always there. Waiting for him to come back.

Louis remembers his teen years vividly; he remembers how lost he felt, how disconnected, how skeptical he was that there wasn’t something fundamentally wrong with him. And days where he feels that way are much less now. A rarity. A nagging feeling triggered by a certain comment or scene on television. Discussions with coworkers backstage that he can’t wiggle his way out of and leave him lying by omission. He can normally sleep them off or find some way to distract himself but.

Not today.

Today, Louis is feeling masochistic. Today, Louis wants to feel the pain. It’s a convenient time—Harry’s out to lunch with the owner of a haunted hotel and Louis is still in bed with nothing to do for hours. Harry’s laptop is sitting out in the open, green light shining to signal that it’s done charging, so Louis grabs it. It’s the perfect opportunity.

It’s a weird thing, Louis thinks. Being alone can bring out the worst and the honest in people. With Harry beside him, he’s been able to hold off well. Pretend the article doesn’t bother him as much as it does. Pretend he doesn’t care what people are saying about him. He’s been able to laugh off his Twitter mentions and avoid searching out what the people in the Harry Styles fan club are saying about him, but there comes a time when curiosity becomes too much.

Harry’s absence breaks Louis’ good streak. He falls traitor to the morbid curiosity, the need to prove to himself that his feelings as a teen were valid concerns. It’s a bad Ace Day, a day where he lets all of his insecurities and feelings of inadequacy come tumbling down, at least for a few minutes.

And if he’s alone, did it ever really happen anyway?

The Article is still the top hit when Louis searches Harry’s name.

Louis scrolls through the heaps of comments. He can feel his fingers curling, his blood boiling as he gets deeper and deeper into the lengthy discussion. He knew exactly what he was getting into. But the tone—

The tone.

The tone is the worst part. The condescending I know better tone. The you can’t honestly be serious tone. The you are mentally disturbed and I am concerned tone. The shut the fuck up who cares tone. The this is just a phase tone. The you are not marginalized enough so stop crying tone. The I’m frustrated for you because sex is the #best tone. The let me get it one time tone. The I honestly don’t get it like it just doesn’t make sense tone.

The tones. So many tones. Louis acts for a living—he knows tones.

The comment thread goes in waves—from short one-liners to long thought out paragraphs to a surprisingly accurate thread of maybe he’s ace?

Which leads to the comment Men can’t be asexual anyway so…

Which, obviously, leads to Louis commenting back under a quick pseudonym, Um yes they can so…

And then Louis also loses his cool at the comment unfortunate tbh… they’re both so HOT!

So he ends up responding Someone not having sex isn’t a loss for anyone no matter how hot they are

But then Louis figures fuck it, he’s on a roll, so he responds to Sounds like Louis needs some therapy to me… avoidance problems much? by firing out He’s been dating Harry since he was 17 though

And now Louis is just fuming, frustrated by everyone’s ignorance, ready to tear everyone on this godforsaken article’s comment section in two. This was a bad idea. He shouldn’t have looked. But now he can’t just leave.

Everyone goes through periods of no sex… Harry’s probably on the couch for something is met with For a whole relationship?

Louis sounds mentally ill to me gets a creative You don’t know him?

And Get him an a little blue pill in the same room with me and he’ll be fine ;) gets Louis’ eloquent fuck you dick

And Louis would continue to meet every comment after that with informative responses. Happy affirmations to the people timidly approaching the ace subject. Small smiles to the people who say they don’t really understand but if it works for them it works for them. Middle fingers to the people praying Harry leaves him. A long, drawn out sigh for the people laughing that there’s no way two gay men have gone longer than one week without fucking.

It’s so frustrating—to see what’s happening, yes. But also to be able to watch it happening and being only able to spectate. To hold no source of authority over the affairs of his own reputation. To read the comments in the maybe he’s ace thread and be unable to tell them that yes, what you’re seeing is right. To be unable to tell the person in the thread commenting about having a similar situation who's being bombarded with people laughing and telling them that they need to shut up that they’re okay. That they’re fine. That he understands and it can work and there are Harrys in the world who understand and compromise and won’t hold it against them.

It’s frustrating that he can’t tell the person saying Harry doesn’t deserve to date someone who won’t please him at least twice a day that they’re rude. It’s frustrating that he can’t tell the person asking what’s wrong with Louis that there’s nothing wrong with him in absolute terms.

Louis would continue to meet every comment with a response of his own, but moments after his fuck you dick comment, he’s the one kicked out of the comments for his vulgarity.

~

Debbie works for Harry. Louis is not important enough to need a PR professional, with only 7,000 Twitter followers compared to Harry’s 352,000. Debbie didn’t need to help Louis with anything, but Debbie was actually a lovely person once Harry explained the situation to her over the phone, albeit a bit confused.

However, as a media professional, she saw the potential for controversy, for their relationship to make it to the press and for Harry’s ad revenue on his website to shoot through the ceiling and for the potential for a new important client. A celebrity couple. A dream.

Debbie was the one who got them to Ellen. Ellen.

~

Louis would never leave his mum in the dark. He calls her the night before their flight.

“Hello?” she answers, her voice faraway and flippant. The background is bustling, live with activity. He can hear Daisy chatting away and Ernie’s tell-tale cry that means he’s either hungry or fallen down, and it sounds like home even though he hasn’t really been back since Uni. Somewhere he belongs but hasn’t been in too long. He wishes he was doing this face to face, but Debbie is quick.

“Hi, mum,” he says, his voice thick. She seems to notice something is off because a buzzing stops. He can hear her footsteps and the creak of a door and then it’s silent.

“What’s wrong, darling?”

Louis swallows, sniffles. Stalls. He picks at a string fraying at the edge of their comforter. He moves the phone to his other ear and leans back, pulling a pillow into his lap.

“Um. How’re things at home?”

She answers hesitantly, voice slow and purposeful. “Good. Really good. I met Lottie’s new boyfriend last night and he seems very polite. Doris has a bit of a cough but her temperature’s normal. But what about for you? Everything okay with Harry?”

Louis nods, glancing to the door. Harry’s in the kitchen whipping up a surprise dinner in preparation for their long, impending flight to LA.

“Everything’s great with Harry, yeah.”

Harry had offered to be in the room with him as he did this, to hold his hand or take over if her questions turned too invasive since it’s his fault, but Louis declined. He wanted to do this himself, feels like he has to. He’d feel like a wimp for needing his boyfriend to hold his hand at 23 as he tells his mum what to expect from an interview.

“You’re scaring me,” she whispers. Her voice breaks on the last syllable, and that’s when it confirms to Louis that he’s making much too big of a deal out of this.

He rubs the palm of his free hand up his thigh. “Sorry, mum. It’s just. I’m not sure if you saw that, uh, article about mine and Harry’s relationship, but we’re going to be interviewed by Ellen. We’re flying to LA tomorrow and I just don’t want you to be surprised or anything.”

The raise of her eyebrows is almost audible. “DeGeneres? You? You are? Not just Harry?”

“Yes, mother. Me too. Not just Harry.” Louis tries to keep the annoyance out of his tone. He’s big too. He’s important too.

“My baby’s going to be on Ellen,” she repeats, apparently star struck. Louis appreciates the support, but the conversation is straying from where he needs it.

“Yeah. It’s going to be aired sometime next week. On a Thursday, I think? But there’s just. The article talked about mine and Harry’s personal life. Our—our sex life.”

And this is so much more uncomfortable than Louis thought it would be. Sex and mothers do not go well together.

“I did see that! I had a good laugh about it with a few of my girlfriends too. I guess this means you’re making it big now, right? Ridiculous rumours and all.”

Louis licks his lips, his throat tight. “That’s not. They’re not—”

There’s a charged pause, both of them waiting for the other to speak. He can almost hear the confusion through the phone, the miles between them doing nothing to make it easier.

“Uh… what?” she finally says, her voice a sceptical smile.

Louis breathes. In-out. “I mean. They are rumours. Some of them. But some of it has some… like, truth to it. And I just wanted to. I don’t know. You don’t really deserve to learn this over a public interview that’s—”

Louis’ breath hitches, the realization that millions of people are going to know something like this about him finally setting in. And he can’t even tell his own mother without choking up.

“Oh my God. Mum, I’m so afraid,” he cracks. His fingers dig into the pillow as he curls into a ball, not crying but close.

“Louis, what… What are you talking about? What are you afraid of? What can I do?”

“You can listen to me. And not interrupt. And keep an open mind,” Louis murmurs.

“Of course. You can tell me anything, Louis. Always. You’re my baby boy, always,” she rushes out.

Louis’ eyes squeeze shut. “I’m going to come out as ace on Ellen and there’s going to be people all over the globe making fun of me and I’m going to be the butt of jokes and people are going to yell rude things at me in the—”

“Darling. Darling, I’m sorry but. Ace? I’m not following.”

She doesn’t sound sceptical. Just confused.

“Oh my God,” Louis squeezes his eyes shut. “Ace is short for asexual. Which is, uh. Me.”

The following silence is even more unnerving than the previous one.

“I—I’m still not following? Harry’s still your boyfriend, right? I thought you were thinking of proposing! What does that mean?” she asks, still lost.

Louis looks to the ceiling, the frustration over having to explain his coming out after it took so much just to say the words closing in on him. His words come out practiced, parroting the clinical definition he’s said to everyone he’s ever had to come out to before, even if the list is small. “It means I don’t feel sexual attraction. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel romantic attraction, even though there are some aces who don’t. I still love Harry and he loves me. We just don’t have sex like most people.”

And there. It’s out. Louis feels a trickle of relief.

“I—What?” she asks. Dumfounded. Apprehensive. Unsure.

“It’s just. I’ve never wanted to have sex. Even with him,” Louis explains. And it’s weird; he’s always been close to his mum, but sex, especially in relation to him, is something he’s never wanted to discuss with her. Ever.

“Baby,” she says, and Louis bites at the pillow when he can hear that she has tears in her eyes. She doesn’t speak for another few moments, but her voice comes out soft and disturbed, defeated, when she finally does. “What did I do wrong?”

Louis blinks. “What?”

She lets out a long breath. “What did I do to make you this way?”

Louis’ mouth is stuck half-open. “Uh, nothing?”

“I should have sent you to therapy when I began to see Mark. It must have been—”

“I—wait, what?” Louis shrieks, everything clicking into place. “This isn’t about you! Nothing you did—this wasn’t because of something you did! This is just me.”

She sniffles. “Oh, baby. Baby. No it isn’t.”

“I assure you, it is,” Louis says, stomach tight. Lungs tight. Throat tight.

“This is all my fault. I’m… I’m a failure of a mother. I’ve failed you. How else could you explain not being able to have an intimate relationship by 23? I’m so… so sorry.”

Not for the first time in his life, Louis is speechless. However, this speechlessness reaches down deep to his core, silencing his heart and his throat and his thoughts other than what the fuck in a way no other speechlessness has penetrated him.

“I did something wrong. I made you this way. I’m so sorry baby.”

“You didn’t—” Louis doesn’t know any other words. She didn’t. She didn’t, she didn’t, she didn’t. Louis is not collateral damage. Louis is not a sad product of a mother’s failure.

She’s crying harder now. “I love you so much. I just want what’s best for you. People don’t just have these types of intimacy problems, Louis. Not without their mother having royally fucked up somewhere along the line. You’re 23. 23 going on 24! 23 and you honestly don’t see how there’s an issue with never having sex? You’ve been with Harry since you were 17! Is he—is he the same way? His mum remarried, too. Oh my God.”

“Mum—”

“Have you looked into therapy? They can help you work through it, probably. Figure out what’s been causing you this problem and fix it—”

“I—I just. Mum, this sounds like you’re trying to send me to conversion therapy. Do you hear yourself? It’s not, like, a problem to be sorted through. I’m fine without sex. I’m fine the way I am—”

She lets out a sound like a dying hyena, bordering on hysterical. “That’s because you’re afraid of the intimacy, Louis. You don’t want it because it scares you! Of course you’re fine without it. It scares you too much that you’ve convinced yourself that this is what you want, but this isn’t how life is meant to be lived! By anyone. It’s not natural! That’s not a full life.”

Louis has been through bad coming-outs. Zayn sucked. Harry was supportive but painful. Harry’s friend Jonny still looks at him like he’s an enigma to be cracked. Calvin had been such a dick Louis hasn’t talked to him since.

But this. This one hurts because it’s his mum. It’s his mum, the person who knew him before he knew himself. The one who loves him more unconditionally than anyone and the person Louis owes everything. The person with his best interests at heart and the one person Louis could never hate. Because her love is pure, so pure.

“Mum, I’m not. I don’t feel like someone who needs to be saved. I don’t feel broken anymore. I did for a while. A long time. But I’m exactly where I want to be in life. I don’t feel, like, unfulfilled or like I’m missing something that I’m secretly longing for but afraid to get. I love Harry. And I’m so comfortable with him. We’ve—I’ve done things for him before. Because I know he wants them. He needs them in a way I don’t and—shit, this is awkward, but I don’t mind helping him out when he needs it, you know? It’s not a fear thing. It’s an orientation. It’s me.”

She waits almost a full thirty seconds before responding, her voice meek and watery. “Oh, darling. It isn’t. It really isn’t.”

And that right there. Louis feels the end of the conversation punch him right in the chest. That’s the great divide.

He hangs up.

This isn’t a conversation they can have while they’re on completely different levels of understanding. Until she realises that this isn’t a passing fad, something he should attempt to “cure” or fix, they will never understand the other’s point of view.

Louis sits there for long enough that the sun has set by the time his eyes dry. He sits there sniffling, eyes wet and throat closing up, until enough time has passed that the thoughts should be able to pass through his system. But they never really do. They dig into his skin, pinching him and pulling at his hairs until he’s crying silently, the defeated type of tears that remind him of secluded alleyways after failed auditions and fights with Harry that ended with him staying at Niall’s for an entire weekend and the terrifying night in the hospital after his mum fell down a flight of stairs.

They’re hopeless tears, the tears that come out when he feels like there’s nothing he can do. The tears that come out when the ball is in someone else’s hands and he has to accept the pain that comes along with it because he can’t change the circumstances himself. The tears that are inevitable and fall thick and even, without the wracking sobs because there’s nothing left for him to give. The tears that are without passion, a passive physical display of hurt because he’s shot himself with a dose of Novocain, unable to feel the full extent of pain and desperateness.

It’s odd, Louis thinks. How at peace with himself he’s been since coming to terms with himself, but how quickly that can all tumble into ruins at his mum’s broken voice. Her words are sketched into the back of his mind, dripping with sincerity and concern and possibility. What if she’s right and he is afraid—

No.

Louis throws his soaked pillow across the room. He refuses to go back into that place—the secluded dark forest of self-doubt. A place where he felt like a ghost floating through trees, attempting to find a way out that didn’t and still doesn’t exist for him. A place where he was alone and unable to understand himself, void of a connection bridging him to the rest of the world. A place where he felt like an observer to a life he thought he had to live.

He refuses to go back.

He wipes below his eyes and sends his mum a link to his favourite blog along with a read this.

And it feels like that’s really all he can do at the moment.

~

Louis emerges from the room once the tears have subsided, still in shock. He plasters on a smile, wrapping his arms around Harry as he stirs at sauce in a saucepan.

“How’d it go?” Harry asks. He turns in Louis’ arms and takes in his face, eyebrows furrowing as his smile falters. “You okay?

Louis nods and leans his forehead on Harry’s shoulder. “Yeah. It went fine. Great. It was just a lot, you know? This smells good, though. I’m starving.”

Harry rubs at Louis’ back, unsure of his mood. Louis supposes he’s unsurprised; acting always has been his specialty.

Louis pours them a glass of wine as Harry plates the meal. Harry’s even lit a candle in the centre of the table, adding to the atmosphere and calming Louis’ nerves a little.

When they sit, Louis twirls the pasta through his fork as he asks about Harry’s day. They’re in pre-production for a haunted castle in Wales, so Harry’s explaining the back story of the royal family to him when Louis loses it.

“Yeah, so the mum, she was like, a total bitch,” Harry tells him as he grabs for his wine. “She locked one of her kids in the dungeon and let the others do whatever the hell they wanted, which is like, two really compelling parallels and opposites you know? So the producers were like—wait, Louis, what’s wrong?”

Louis squeezes his eyes shut, willing himself to keep it together. But Harry sees through it—of course he sees through it—and he’s by his side a moment later.

“What did she say?” Harry asks, perceptive and always right when it comes to Louis. Always right. “Something bad?”

Louis nods, chest heaving as he wraps his arms around Harry’s shoulders. “She said—she said she failed. As a mum.”

“Louis,” Harry squeezes him tight. “No. Never.”

“She’s not proud of me. She thinks I‘m fucked up as a result of her fucking up. She wants to fix me. She wants me to change who I am and she doesn’t know it’s hurting me because she thinks it’s for the better. She doesn’t even realise it’s an issue—she thinks she’s helping me by telling me to go to therapy to become normal. She isn’t—she’s not proud of me as I am now. She wants me to change. She thinks I need to change.”

Harry’s arms tighten around him. “You know you’re perfect the way you are.”

“She doesn’t,” Louis cries. “She thinks I’m broken. That it’s because of her ruining me.”

“You aren’t,” Harry tells him. “You know you aren’t. This is just the emotion talking.”

“I made her cry,” Louis finally breaks in half. She didn't cry the first time he came out.

He feels sad and guilty. Guilty for Harry making a perfectly good dinner that will undoubtedly turn cold before it’s eaten, guilty for not giving Harry enough orgasms as his boyfriend, guilty for making his mum think she was anything less than the absolute best.

“She thinks she was a bad mum,” Louis sniffles, heart stuttering as it sinks in. “Because of how I turned out.”

Louis can’t show his face, refuses to at the moment.

“Because of who I grew up to be.”

~

They have a property in LA but Harry uses it a lot more than Louis. Though the United States™ is much younger than Britain, Louis supposes there are just as many ghosts because there’s double the hostility.

It’s still light out by the time they get home even though it feels like it should be past midnight. Louis drops his bag to the floor and immediately rushes to close the curtains, headache pounding from the flight.

Harry watches him as he does, lip between his teeth.

“Are you sure you still want to do this?” he asks. Louis sighs and pulls at Harry’s hand, leading him into the living room. He plops down on the couch and drags Harry down with him.

“I don’t want to not do it,” Louis explains. Harry nods, his nose pressed to Louis’ neck, urging him on. “We’re here and I don’t want to just ignore that fucking article. I don’t want to, like, deny something that’s true. I want to say something.”

Harry pushes closer, knees to his chest as he curls into a ball at Louis’ side. “What do you want me to say tomorrow? Do you want me to help explain or just be there as moral support? This is my fault—I’ll do whatever—”

Louis interrupts him, Harry’s residual guilt bordering on tiring. “If she asks you, then obviously answer. But I think… I also think this is something I want to be able to do myself? Not in a I don’t want you there way, but in a this is something I need to face myself way. You know?”

“Of course,” Harry says. He presses a kiss to Louis’ neck and lies back. “I can be your rock. Your bulldog that barks at anyone who gets too close. Whatever you want me to be."

He stretches as he yawns, fists and arms raised above his head. "But first I think I could definitely do with a snooze.”

Louis can feel how exhausted he is, how much he needs to sleep, but he knows his headache and his nerves are going to be keeping him up.

“Why don’t you go take a nap and I can make us something to eat? I’ll wake you up when it’s ready,” Louis suggests.

Harry pops one eye open, his face doing that revelation thing that always makes Louis’ cheeks pink. “You’re absolutely perfect. What did I do in a past life to deserve to find you?”

Louis tries not to blush, pressing his lips together so he doesn’t laugh. He stands to grab Harry a blanket from the linens cabinet, ruffling his hair as he goes. More often, it feels like he’s the lucky one.

When he comes back, Harry’s stripped down to his pants, on his side with his face squished into the side of the couch. Louis makes sure to tuck him in tightly, the air growing colder as autumn truly sets in. He kisses Harry’s forehead and ambles to the kitchen, putting the kettle on for tea.

The cabinets aren’t well stocked but after a bit of digging, Louis finds Harry’s secret dinosaur chicken nuggets tucked into the back of the freezer. He turns the dial for the oven and lays them out on a sheet, waiting for the preheated beep.

His tea is still warm by the time he pops them into the oven. He sits at the table, both hands clutching his mug, and stares out he window into the backyard. There’s a hummingbird fluttering beside a bush, flickering from left to right. There’s a cloud inching closer and closer to blocking the sun, the breeze soft but prominent enough to sway the trees. The closest neighbour is definitely visible but they’re far enough away that Louis doesn’t feel trapped.

Louis’s felt like he’s been in a fog since the conversation with his mum. He’s been in a limbo of denial and devastating sadness, of ignoring her words and obsessing over the implications. But in this moment, staring through the window as the hummingbird flies onto the next bush, everything comes into focus as he realises that this is his life.

This is his life and it’s good. It’s great.

Even though the article was terrible and he’s nervous for the interview and his mum thinks she fundamentally fucked up his life, he’d never want to be anywhere else. And more than that, he’d never want to be with anyone else but his boyfriend snoring in the living room.

It makes Louis want to cry, sometimes, how lucky he got. He’s big on online forums since they’re the only place he can really casually (and anonymously) meet people who are like him, but he’s heard so many stories that hurt him.

Stories of partners who say they’re okay with the limits his friends have set, only to turn around and say they thought it was only temporary. Stories of friends who are afraid to date people they haven’t met online because they don’t think anyone could want them back. Stories of partners getting frustrated or leaving when they crossed a line and were stopped.

Harry said he did something right in a past life, but Louis must have been a Saint.

Harry never pushes, never pulls, has understood exactly what to expect and not expect since before they even truly discussed what Louis was and wasn’t okay with.

And it can be difficult at times, of course. Harry’s said before that it’s hard to get off when Louis looks like he’d rather be anywhere but there, that it makes him feel like he’s coercing Louis into something he doesn’t want, but sometimes Louis just can’t remain enthusiastic about having a cock in his mouth. On the occasional morning when Louis wakes up with an erection and he decides to let Harry pull him to orgasm, Louis can feel the heat of Harry’s gaze. He can feel that past the obvious arousal and excitement, there’s a longing that he downplays, that he doesn’t want Louis to see because he feels immorally guilty for wanting to be able to do more with his boyfriend.

But beyond the few issues, Harry has never once, in all the years they’ve been together, held anything against him. He’s kept his promise he made in a bathroom so many years ago, about Louis not owing him anything just because they’re together. He’s never used it as a weapon when they were fighting, has never held it above Louis’ head, even jokingly.

Louis is one of the lucky ones. Most people don’t get what he has.

The timer eventually dings him out of his thoughts. He plates the nuggets and hurries back to the living room, back to Harry.

“Good morning darling,” Louis shakes him awake. He sets the nuggets on the table and pulls the blanket aside, allowing him to climb in beside Harry.

Harry blinks his eyes open, his arms coming to wrap around Louis, pulling him closer.

“Mmm. Morning,” Harry purrs, voice low. He yawns and closes his eyes again, cheek indented with lines from the couch.

“I brought you dinosaur chicken nuggets,” Louis laughs. He presses a kiss to Harry’s nose and continues to his cheeks, his jaw, his lips. Harry responds enthusiastically, though a bit sleepily, mouth opening for Louis when he asks. He tries to communicate to Harry how much he means to him with the kiss, how much he adores and appreciates and loves him through his lips and his wandering hands and mumblings.

Harry seems to catch on to how much Louis needs this, how in need he is of love and attention from Harry. He flips them over, caging Louis within the brackets of his elbows as he kisses him slow and deep, knowing exactly how Louis likes to kiss, without the rush and hurry, without a lot of tongue because he doesn’t like it too sloppy.

And then Louis feels like it’s natural, necessary for how he feels at the moment. A thank you. A way to let Harry know how much he appreciates him for being the way he is. Louis wants to give Harry something he knows he craves more than he pretends to, that only Louis can really do for him. He reaches down, down down down until he’s cupping Harry through his pants.

He gasps against Louis’ lips, eyes drooping as his hands curl into fists. Louis pushes at his shoulder and watches as Harry lies back with his erection straining the cotton of his pants.

“Love you,” Harry mumbles. He reaches for Louis and pulls him in close for a kiss before Louis sinks down. He kisses down his neck and chest, trails his tongue down Harry’s happy trail until he reaches fabric.

After a quick tug, Harry’s naked, his cock hard and full in front of Louis’ face. Louis looks up at Harry from under his eyelashes as he breathes onto it, smiling in happiness at the pleasure at Harry’s face, overwhelmed and obviously turned on, showing that he likes it.

Louis’s gotten pretty good at this over the years. He knows exactly what Harry likes and what makes him come fastest. He doesn’t mind the burn in his jaw anymore or the way his throat feels sore the day after going deep. It’s simple and almost methodical now.

The only real rule they have with blowjobs is mostly unspoken—to check in with their eyes. Harry likes to see that Louis isn’t uncomfortable, that he’s good and not just doing it solely out of necessity or guilt. Louis likes to make sure Harry is enjoying it, that he sees that Louis is doing this for him. That it isn’t (often) just about getting Harry off as quickly as he can. Even though Louis is 100% ace, he can see the appeal of and the unique type of connection this can add to their relationship.

Louis looks up, eyes softening when he sees that Harry’s already watching him, his eyes glazed over with his thumb stroking behind Louis’ ear. Harry licks his lips and smiles back, eyes rolling up to the ceiling when Louis pushes past his throat.

Harry doesn’t take long. He never does, always too overeager and easily riled up.

Louis swallows and crawls up into Harry’s arms, kicking the forgotten blanket to the floor as he goes. Harry’s chest is still heaving and there’s sweat sticking to his forehead as Louis kisses his cheek.

“Thank you,” Harry says simply, eyes hooded in satisfaction. Louis doesn't like him to make a big deal of it after. They're both quiet, breathing together as Harry's thumb rubs into Louis’ back through the fabric of his shirt, light and appreciative as his head tilts to the side, contemplative.

“You really want this, right?” Harry finally asks. His words are slow and slurred, honest. “Like, you’re not just doing this because you feel like you have to? That you were trapped into it? Debbie can be very persuasive when she tries. I just. I’m nervous for you. This is—it’s big. It’s a big thing.”

Louis sags, eyes closed, exhaustion hitting him even harder now that he’s in Harry’s arms. He thinks it over, lets the alternative options and the weight in his chest as his mum told him that’s not a real thing wash over him.

“I think—I think I need this to be a big thing.”

They fall asleep, nuggets forgotten, Louis’ mind mostly stuck on Harry rather than the interview.

~

Louis’ eyes are shut, foot tapping as he’s given rose eye shadow to prepare for the show.

“Alright,” Debbie begins. She takes a bite of a bagel, an iced coffee beside her from the makeup chair beside him. “Last night I gave Ellen’s team the list of what not to ask. It probably won’t stray too far from rehearsal but if it goes somewhere you don’t want it, just tell Ellen her hair looks fabulous.”

Louis grimaces, nodding as the makeup artist smears concealer below his eyes in an attempt to make him look less exhausted.

“Are you still okay with the prank after the interview?” Debbie laughs. Louis nods, unsure how best to tell her she has a bit of cream cheese between her teeth.

“Good. I can’t wait to see it. Love the goober, but he’s too damn pretentious about his ghost hunting shit.”

Louis narrows his eyes, prepared to retaliate, but Harry chooses that moment to join them.

“Love of my life!” Harry practically shouts. “Are you ready? Are you nervous?”

Louis forces his foot to stop tapping, eyes to Harry’s beaming face. He gets like this before taped interviews, whenever he knows the camera will be on him with no ghost hunting involved. His personality grows, expands, until he’s almost larger than life, too big.

It always makes Louis laugh a little bit. He’s always admired Harry for so many things—his optimism, his understanding, his kind and caring nature—but this is one area Louis will always come out on top. Harry is no good at acting.

“Can you calm down for me, love?” Louis asks. He stands and thanks his makeup artist, then walks to Harry’s side.

“You’re on in a few,” a wide-eyed production assistant squeaks as she passes them.

“Focus on breathing, okay? Ellen loves you. She’s not going to throw us under the bus. Chill.”

Harry nods, pursing his lips as he exaggeratedly breathes out.

“Good,” Louis soothes him with a hand to his waist. “A lot of actors have a pre-performance ritual they do to stay calm. Some have mantras, some have breathing exercises. I learned some pretty killer ones during Uni. Do you want to do them together?”

“Is that what you do before you go onstage?” Harry asks.

“Nah,” Louis laughs. “I’m not superstitious and I’m pretty good at keeping my nerves under control. It’s just been the past few shows I’ve needed to talk myself into being able to perform.”

“You say things to yourself? Like what?” Harry asks, his shoulders less tense.

Louis can feel himself blush as he remembers that he tells himself things Harry once said to him. But he doubts he’d remember anyway. He’s not sure why it makes him feel like a crushing teenager. “It’s not important.”

“Of course it is,” Harry says.

Louis juggles the options but ultimately decides fuck it. It’s fine. Louis is still a crushing teenager.

“I’ve been telling myself that I belong on stage just as much as everyone else. That I’m significant, that I’m important…”

Harry stares, eyes blinking rapidly as he thinks it over. “Is that—Did I say that to you once?”

Louis nods, grinning as Harry pulls him in for a kiss.

~

Louis’ heart is absolutely pounding in his chest. Harry’s banter piece is over and now it’s his turn. Eyes are on him. Behind them, the definition of asexual flashes on screen. Harry’s arm tightens around Louis’ shoulders as the audience reads. Louis’ throat dries.

“You know,” Ellen leans forward. “When I heard you wanted to come out as asexual on my show, I was picturing something much less safe for work.”

The audience laughs, easing Louis into a reluctant laugh along with them. “I’m very much safe for work.”

“Ah,” Ellen gives him a look. “That’s not what I’ve heard.”

Behind them, a suggestive video clip of Louis during I Believe plays.

“Oh my God,” Louis covers his face.

“For anyone who didn’t know, Louis is in the play Spring Awakening, which will be playing in London until the end of next year. Congrats on your first West End show,” Ellen smiles.

The audience cheers, prompting Louis to peek from between his fingers.

“Thank you,” he says. “It’s kind of been a dream of mine since I was a kid. So it’s been a really great few weeks.”

“I can only imagine,” Ellen says. “Okay, so, can we talk about this?”

Behind them, a blown up version of The Article appears on screen. Harry’s nails dig into his shoulder, his anger palpable.

“Um, yeah,” Louis begins. “We’ve always been kind of private about our private life, obviously, especially since Harry’s show shot up in ratings. But sometimes people can prove to be untrustworthy. It was definitely a blow when we saw that someone we’d trusted had talked to the press in such a malicious way, but it’s something we knew was a possibility once people started taking an interest in Harry’s life.”

“Wow. It’s so scary to know how hard it is to find people you can truly trust sometimes. I had someone out me to their mom before I was even out to mine when I was a teenager. Do you want to know what I did to them?”

“What.” Harry asks.

“I’ll tell you after the show,” Ellen deadpans. “So, there were a lot of claims made in this article. Is there anything you want to deny or confirm specifically?”

“Yeah,” Louis leans forward. “Just about the more offensive parts. I don’t have my own bedroom because I trust Harry completely. That was, in my opinion, the most offensive claim. That I was afraid of him or worried he’d do something while we were asleep. And Harry hasn’t given me any type of ultimatum. We’re completely fine.”

Ellen nods. “Nothing else?”

“Nothing else I think needs to be addressed publicly.”

“Alright,” Ellen agrees. “So this is a—you’re not asexual, right Harry?”

Harry shakes his head.

“So how does that—I mean, does that make things hard? That one of you wants to have sex and the other doesn’t?”

Louis glances at Harry form the corner of his eye. “If you’re ace, it means you don’t experience sexual attraction. Not necessarily that you can’t want to have sex. That kind of depends and differs depending on that person. And I can’t really speak for Harry but, for me, it’s not really an issue. We’ve talked about things. Like, what we’re both okay with and not okay with. And other than the sexual part of our relationship, nothing is different from any other relationship I’ve seen.”

“Yeah,” Harry agrees. “And it’s—well, not really something I think either of us would want to really discuss on television. But I can say that I’m very happy with all aspects of our relationship.”

Louis laughs. “Yeah, we’re a bit private.”

“Okay,” Ellen leans forward again like she’s ready to ask a deep cutting question. “So if you like to keep your private life private, why did you decide to speak out about this now? Other than the article?”

“I mean, other than the article, I think it’s because I was tired of pret—”

Louis’ sentence cuts short and the room seems to freeze. Because in a burst of clarity, Louis realises this really isn’t about him. He was perfectly content with not having to talk to his mum about his sex life. He was perfectly content with keeping his private life completely private. He was perfectly content with living the way he was, without people knowing his sexual orientation and staying a spectator whenever his friends would go on about problems in their sex life or their best one night stands.

He didn’t often feel like he was truly hiding or lying by default. Most people don’t go announcing things about their sex lives to random strangers. He’s been out to most of the people it’s mattered to and he feels comfortable discussing his personal life with for years. He doesn’t feel like he needs to yell to the world that he’s ace as fuck and proud, even though he is.

He realises he’s doing this for the 15 year olds who are in the same boat as he was. He’s doing it for the teenagers who are still stuck deep in that forest, unsure and alone and suffocating in the darkness. The ones who can hear no sound, who feel lost and scared and without sunlight.

He’s doing it for the 17 year olds who are coming to terms with the fact that they’re different. The ones who can see a sliver of sunlight throughout the trees but still feel trapped. The ones who are doing their best to make it out, that might need someone to help them along.

He’s doing it for the 23 year olds who are still told they’re wrong.

He’s doing it to bulldoze the forest down.

“Actually, it’s something I’ve wanted to do for years,” Louis says, his voice more brave than he feels. “During puberty, when everyone else was, uh, getting frisky, I was stuck wondering why it didn’t feel right to me. I’d never heard of or met someone else that had the same types of feelings towards sex that I did. And that was really, really isolating.”

Ellen nods, face open and interested in the way people so rarely are when it comes to Louis explaining things. It spurs him on.

“I think, at least for me, if there had been some type of more public figure that was open about how they identified and their experiences, coming to terms with myself would have been so much easier. Someone to look at and say hey, that’s me. That would have been nice.”

Ellen points. “And now that’s you?”

“And now that’s me!” Louis finds himself smiling. “Yeah, it’s. It’s kind of tricky. Because it’s not really something people talk about without being on a certain relationship level with the other person. But since nobody is talking about it, it can seem like it’s not even there. Without someone saying hey, I’m here and I’m ace like you and you’re fine, it can seem a lot like you aren’t. And I think that for me, someone who’s dating this famous guy—“ Louis moves one hand to Harry’s chest, making him grin.

“Who, me?” Harry asks.

Louis laughs, “and also as someone who’s lucky to even have a few fans myself, to talk openly about this and say that yes, this is how I identify and this is what it is and it’s a real thing and you’re fine, it will help some people. They can point to me when people say they’re making things up. They can read whatever rude articles they’re typing up about me now and they’ll go out and Google asexuality themselves and maybe discover something they didn’t know before. That’s really all I want. To help someone out who’s where I was at 17.”

Ellen looks almost teary-eyed. “You know, that’s exactly why I came out on my show. And why we kept talking about it even though it made ratings plummet. Because I would get these—these really heartfelt letters talking about how much it meant to see someone like them on television. And so unashamed about it.”

Louis nods and it feels like they share a moment.

“So. So, have your friends and family been supportive of you? The ones who you’ve talked to?”

Louis feels his throat close up. “Um, yeah. Yeah, for the most part. There are always some people who don’t really get it but I think they’ll come around soon. Once it’s a more recognised and… and…”

“Yeah, once it’s more popularised orientation. They’ll come around,” Harry fills in for him. He squeezes his shoulder and sends him a small smile.

“Alright, well, I think it’s time for a commercial break. But, hey, Harry, do you think after the break you could help out? There’s a room in the back of the studio that’s supposed to be haunted. And who better to take a look at it, right?”

Harry looks taken off guard. “I mean. I guess? Of course I could take a look at it.”

Ellen smiles sweetly. “Thanks Harry.”

The cameras shut off and Louis sags into the couch.

“That was really great,” Ellen tells them. “You two are great together, too, really.”

“Thanks,” Harry glows, but his expression quickly turns suspicious. “But I’ve seen your show before. You’re going to prank me. There’s no haunted room.”

Louis’ eyes widen but Ellen takes it all in stride. “No, there really is. I’ve been bugging Debbie about getting you on the show to do a séance for the past year.”

Harry squints his eyes. “I don’t believe you.”

“Ask Mike! Hey, Mike!” Ellen calls, beckoning over a chubby man in his early thirties.

“Mike, tell Harry about what you felt in the haunted room.”

Louis thinks Ellen probably has a clause in the contract she makes her employees sign that reads learn the rules of improv—always go along with what I say because Mike doesn’t even blink.

“It’s terrifying. Never been more afraid. Chills. Sounds. It’s very eerie,” Mike says, throwing in a shiver for a convincing addition.

“But if you’ve been trying to get me to come on for a year why did Debbie never tell me?” Harry continues on, suspicious.

“You haven’t had time! She says your show is your first priority. Blame her, not me,” Ellen continues her charade.

“But you didn’t tell me you had a haunted room! I didn’t bring any of my equipment,” Harry looks genuinely distressed at the thought of not being able to fully help.

“You won’t need any!” Ellen tells him.

Harry’s eyebrows furrow. “I—I’m not sure how familiar you are with my show, but sometimes it can take a whole day of surveillance before we can really catch anything.”

“Our room is very active,” Ellen says.

Louis bites his lip, endeared by how into it Harry’s become when he knows what’s going to happen.

A few minutes later, they’re inside the “haunted” room, two cameras rolling.

“So, Harry, tell us what you’re sensing. My script supervisor refuses to even come in to this room,” Ellen turns to send Louis a private laugh. Louis grabs at Harry’s wrist, feeling guilty.

“Um,” Harry pulls at his lip with his free hand, looking doubtful. “Honestly, this doesn’t feel out of the ordinary to me. I’m not feeling any cold spots. I don’t really feel watched. What have people been reporting?”

“Oh, a lot,” Ellen exaggerates. “Doors slamming when they’re alone. Apparitions! And it’s always the same shape.”

Harry nods, seemingly more convinced. “Okay. That’s pretty common. Has someone ever died in this building? Maybe even not someone while you’ve been here, but in the past? A construction worker, perhaps? What was built here before the—?”

The lights flicker, stopping Harry short. “Um. Okay. So, normally if there’s a disturbance when you’re talking about a spirit, it means they’re angry or want to be heard. Would it be okay if I asked the spirit to make themselves known?”

Ellen shakes her head. “By all means!”

“Okay,” Harry scratches behind his neck. “I mean, normally I’d use a device instead of just asking them to do something physical, but I guess we don’t really have that here. Uh.”

Harry clears his throat. “Hi, my name is Harry. We’re not here to cause you any harm. We want to help you. If there’s a presence here, could you please make yourself known?”

His eyes fall to the table, an unlit candle on top of it. “You could move the candle?”

Louis feels himself biting down on his lip as they wait, wanting to call this entire charade off. Harry is so cute when he’s doing his best, in his element. He feels guilty for the prank.

Instead of the candle moving, the entire table jolts.

“Shit!” Harry yells, taking a step forward and putting his hands up in front of him. “We mean no harm! We just want to help!”

The table stops moving. A low moan rings from the corner.

Harry stops short. “That’s not—that’s not really normal—”

The moan turns into a scream and the table flips over. Harry steps backwards with it, eyes wide.

He curses and pulls Louis and Ellen to the door, then throws it open and pushes them both through before following them out.

And he’s met with a blanket of laughter.

“What—what?” he asks, face still white as a ghost, his fingers still digging into Louis’ skin.

“Oh my God. No. No!” Harry shouts, both hands moving to cover his face. “I knew it! But you tricked me!”

Ellen hugs him and smiles into the waiting camera. “I got Harry!”

Harry mumbles something unintelligible about disrespecting the dead.

“I’m very impressed, though,” she tells him. “I would have been gone at that first table flip.”

Harry peeks out from his fingers. “I guess resilience comes with the job.”

“I’m guessing Harry’s the one who goes to check on things when they go creak in the night?” Ellen asks Louis.

“Probably not after this,” Louis shakes his head. “I think I’m going to be banished to the couch for a whole week.”

“Aw,” Ellen frowns. “I promise he wasn’t a part of the planning. He didn’t know until today. If anyone, you should blame Debbie! She was the one who suggested this.”

Harry grumbles something unintelligible again.

“Are you mad at me?” Louis asks from Harry’s side, the one not occupied by Ellen.

Harry sends him a look. Frustrated, but not angry.

“You know what I think Harry needs?” Ellen asks aloud. “A kiss. He was very brave in the face of danger.”

Louis laughs. “Is that what you want?”

Harry acts like he doesn’t want it, but he gives in at last moment, closing the episode perfectly.

~

The episode airs a week later. Louis watches it from curled in Harry’s lap, laptop to the table, both of them quiet as they monitor Twitter and receive updates from Debbie.

All in all, the response is positive. Louis runs a live tweeting question and answer hash tag session, as suggested by Debbie to help raise the number of live viewers in the United States.

Once it’s over, Louis feels a bit drained. His Twitter is a mess of thanks for the support! and so glad I could help you explain things to your parents! and technical jargon that he honestly had to quickly Google before he made any definitive statements. It’s hard being a mouthpiece for an entire group.

“I think it turned out really well,” Harry says into his hair. “Other than the end when I made a complete fool of myself. It looked really great.”

“Thanks babe,” Louis smiles, turning his head for a quick kiss.

They sit there, exhausted, letting the blank screen run for a few minutes before Louis’ ring tone starts.

“It’s my mum,” he says, emotionless as he reads the screen.

“You gonna answer?” Harry asks.

Louis thinks about ignoring her but he can’t. He’s glowing with pride, with the high of a (mostly) positive response to the episode. He presses the phone to his ear.

“Hello?”

“Hey, love,” she says.

“Hi, mum,” he answers.

“So, I watched a live stream,” she states.

“Did you?” he asks. He guesses he isn’t surprised. She did seem excited before, after all.

“I did.”

“And?” he asks.

“I just. I still don’t think this is natural. It’s not something that I can’t wonder that I’ve caused somehow,” she says, obviously teary-eyed.

“You didn’t. There are so many other people like me, mum. Check Twitter. This was a good thing,” Louis leans his head back on Harry’s shoulder, sighing, too exhausted and relieved to feel much more than vaguely upset with her.

“That doesn’t mean it’s something you should want. Louis, with therapy I’m sure you could—”

“Stop,” Louis squeezes his eyes shut. “I don’t want to change. I like who I am. I’m happy. Harry’s happy. I don’t see why you’re so concerned about this.”

“I guess—fine. I guess this is just something we’ll have to agree to disagree on?” she finally asks.

Louis is about to agree, but something in him nags at him to say no. That it isn’t okay.

“No, mum. This isn’t something we can agree to disagree on. This is me. It’s not something like a friend of mine you dislike or a flavour of cake we disagree on. This isn’t something you can have an opinion like this about. You have to accept me for who I am. I’m your son. I don’t want any more passive aggressive you need to go to therapy or asking me how things are with Harry with your sad puppy eyes. Harry and I are fine. We’ll be fine. You’re the only one who’s not fine with this. And I really need you to be.”

“Darling, it isn’t like that—” she argues.

“I need you to make a decision. You or me. What makes me happy or the version of me you want me to be,” Louis states. Simple.

“Louis—”

“Who do you choose?” he asks.

“I’ve always chosen you. You know that. But this isn’t about you or me. It’s about—”

“It is!” Louis is ready to cry in frustration. “You know I love you and value your opinion, but this isn’t somewhere where I need your opinion. I’m fine. I’m happy. Happier than I was before when I was trying to do the whole I’m into this thing. And I need you to trust me on this.”

She sniffles, doesn’t answer. Until finally, “I trust you.”

Louis melts in relief. One simple sentence feels like the first snow melt of spring. “Thanks mum.”

“You promise you’re happy?” she asks.

Louis feels ironic tears leak as he answers, “The happiest I’ve ever been.”

“And Harry? He’s happy too?” she asks again.

“He tells me at least twice a day,” Louis reassures her.

Silence. Until.

“Okay.”

Louis cries more tears of relief as she spews out her own explanation for reacting the way she did. About loving him unconditionally and only wanting what’s best for him. About her only goal in life which is to have happy children. About how Louis is her baby and thinking that she somehow failed him killed her.

She ends the call weakly promising not to argue with him over this. To never even bring it up again because she has no say (and doesn’t even want to have a say) over her son’s sex life.

“But I’m proud of you, baby. I saw the response. You’re pretty important, yeah? My baby was on Ellen.”

“Oh my God,” Louis rolls his eyes. “Hardly. But a lot of the things people have said has made me feel pretty good about going on.”

“Love you, Louis. And when are you and Harry coming to visit next?” she asks. “Phoebe misses you. She wants you to introduce her to Jesy. One of her classmates is apparently obsessed with her so she’s been bragging about how close they are.”

“I’ll check the schedule. But Harry and I are both important,” Louis jokes. “Lots to do and people to see.”

Once they hang up, Harry kisses his cheek and squeezes him around his waist. “So that went okay?”

“Perfectly,” Louis sniffles.

Harry alternates between kissing Louis’ cheek and whispering sugary sweet words into his ear, only pausing when Louis’ phone lights up with a Tweet from his mum.

So happy for my baby @Louis_Tomlinson. A mother couldn’t be prouder :) xxx

Louis favourites the Tweet and send sends her back a full 140 kisses, sniffling as he goes.

And maybe here, in Harry’s arms and with so many people’s support behind him, he really does feel important.

Significant and important.

 

~ Fin ~