(don’t forget) where you belong
The thing about waking up in the morning is that there’s always that disconcerting moment where you don’t know where you are, can’t remember anything but the last waves of your dream, and everything is warmth and joy for a few seconds before reality catches up to you. They say ignorance is bliss, after all.
Harry will wake up in the morning and roll over to the right, stretch out an arm to set it over Louis so he can pull him closer and curl around him, and then his arm will fall flat on the bed, confusing him for a moment before his memory comes crashing down, making his heart constrict in his chest and his blood freeze.
It’s been twelve days since the incident, and with every minute that passes Harry thinks he’s getting closer to losing his mind.
He’s resorted to not going to bed at night the past few days, because it’s easier waking up at the kitchen table with his head on his laptop than in the bed he’s shared with Louis for the past four years. It makes the realization less abrupt every time he remembers where he is and what’s happened. It’s easier to give in to exhaustion whilst sitting on a chair and just let his eyelids droop than to will himself to sleep with the constant reminder that Louis isn’t next to him anymore.
He wakes up with a jolt this time, confused and heavy-headed, and looks around to find that he’s on the kitchen table, his cheek sore from laying on a hard surface for so long. It’s dark out, which throws him off, because he’s been falling asleep in the late hours of the night, waking up a few hours later with the sun peeking through the window. It’s after he remembers that Louis is gone and the invisible hand squeezing his heart sets in that he bothers to get his phone out of his pocket and check the time.
It’s 3:20, which means he’s been asleep for an hour and a half. It’s the longest he’s slept without waking up in the past two weeks without being aided by the pills the doctor prescribed him. He tries to avoid them—they make him groggy and give him a stomach-ache, and it always takes him a beat longer to understand where he is when he wakes up, which makes it a lot harder when the realization hits once again.
He drags his feet to the bathroom, stumbling over a pair of sneakers on the way. He mumbles a curse, makes a mental note to tell Louis, yet again, not to leave his Vans all over the place, before it hits him that he can’t do that, and he has to grip the marble counter to keep himself from sagging onto the floor.
The splash of cold water mixes with the tears that are pricking at the corners of his eyes, and he manages to hold off his breakdown, his breathing uneven but under control as he runs his wet hands down his face a couple of times.
Harry has been using the guest bathroom since he came home the first night. It’s not—he can’t avoid Louis’ marks all around the house, the hoodies draped over chairs and the receipts crumpled into balls that he always leaves over every surface, or the forgotten half-drank cups of tea, but it helps to walk into a bathroom with embroidered towels that Louis has never used, to reach for a toothbrush and find a generic one standing alone in a cup, instead of the stupid matching Christmas ones he had bought as a joke on their last trip.
He’s been avoiding their bedroom like the plague, keeping a suitcase with clothes next to the sofa where he’s been sleeping most of the time (on the odd days where he does sleep) and keeping the hallway door that leads there closed, resolutely ignoring that wing of the house. The first night he’d been back, without Louis, when Jay had forced Liam to take him home after he’d spent forty eight hours awake, he had fallen asleep in the car and Liam had tucked him in his bed and left. Harry had woken up in the middle of the night, alone in his room and panicked so badly when he remembered what happened he couldn’t breathe properly for over an hour. He’s been able to keep the attacks at bay since then, ignoring anything that could set one off.
Tonight, though, drowsy with sleep and his mind still somewhat of a blur because of the pills he took earlier, he makes his way to their bedroom without even thinking. There’s a soft, off-white jumper hanging off a chair next to the door, and Harry snatches it as he walks past. He shivers as he puts it on, the smell of Louis’ cologne slightly overwhelming, and climbs into bed, holding a pillow to his chest and closing his eyes.
The sun is starting to come out when a loud ringing wakes him up again, and it takes him a few seconds of deep breathes to calm his rushing heart before he can process that his phone is ringing.
“Harry, he’s up. He’s awake.”
Harry sits up, his phone flying out of his hand. He scrambles around the bed, fishing it out of the sheets and bringing it back to his ear. “What? When?”
“Not too long ago, about an hour or so,” Jay explains. “They’re still running tests. I’ve only just got here.”
“Have you seen him yet?”
“Just for a few moments, they still had to run some tests.”
“He’s okay, seems okay. Niall was with him when he--”
“Okay. Okay, I’m leaving now.”
Harry’s hands start shaking right after he hangs up, and he has the overwhelming urge to cry, but his eyes are painfully dry. The heavy feeling that’s settled on his chest since the night of the premiere doesn’t lighten, and he can’t shake off the feeling that something’s still wrong.
The drive to the hospital takes longer than normal, despite the time. Traffic in Los Angeles is always hectic, even in the early hours of the morning, and Harry thought he would never mind, was always alright with sitting in traffic for long periods before, but he’s ready to get out of the car and run the rest of the way today.
There’s still paparazzi by the entrance when he drives past it. They recognize his car by now, the flashes going off even with the sun already out, and he’s about to flip them off, his patience running out, when the valet approaches him to take his keys.
Jay’s nowhere to be seen. Liam and Niall are both outside the room, along with Lottie. Harry slouches against them as soon as they put their arms around him, his eyes stinging as the tears he couldn’t find before start coming out.
“He’s okay, Haz, it’s okay,” Liam murmurs as he pats his back.
“Have you talked to him?” is the first thing Harry asks when they break apart, as he moves to hug Lottie.
“I haven’t,” she says, her voice strained as she hugs him back.
“Ni did, for a bit, before the doctors went in to make sure he was, you know, actually okay. “
“Mum got to see him for a bit, she says he’s alright, just a tad confused.”
Harry looks around, looking for Jay once again.
“Where is she?”
“Went to get something from the car, they’re not letting us go in until visiting hours start,” Lottie explains. “The doctor said he’d come talk to us later, explain some things, but I think he wanted to wait until you were here too.”
The nurse that comes to talk to them is in her late fifties and has a friendly face, but she takes long pauses between sentences and gets off track more often than not. Harry wishes he could pay attention to what she’s saying because it’s clearly important, but she’s taking forever and all Harry cares about is Louis, Louis who is awake after two fucking weeks and Harry needs to see him now.
Harry storms into the room the moment she says they’re allowed in, even though she clearly isn’t done talking to them, Niall and Liam rushing behind him.
He’s been to see Louis enough during the past two weeks that he should be used to it by now: to the dark circles under his eyes, the hollowed cheeks and bruised forehead; the shaved side of Louis’ head where twenty two stitches stick out now; the waxy, pale tone his skin has acquired from being inside for too long. Harry has been to the hospital every single day since the incident, and yet every single time, the sight of Louis makes his stomach churn.
The second he walks into the room, his heart stops. Louis looks as wrecked as he did twelve hours before, when Harry had left the hospital after visiting hours ended, leaving Niall to take the night shift, but Louis’ eyes are open, soft and crinkly at the edges as they settle on Harry and Liam.
It takes less than two seconds before Harry all but throws himself at Louis, who still has an IV hooked to his arm and looks more fragile than a newborn. He doesn’t realize he’s crying until Louis’ left arm circles around him to pat him in the back.
“Fuck, love, you scared me so much,” he murmurs against Louis’ neck, “I missed you.”
“Um, hi—Harry, was it?”
Harry can’t help but laugh, tears wetting his cheeks as he pulls back a little to look at Louis’ face, expecting a teasing smile. Instead, he is met with Louis’ confused gaze. His heart drops in his chest as he realizes that Louis isn’t messing with him.
“It seems,” Niall says, “that Lou is having a bit of trouble remembering certain things about his life.”
“Certain things,” Harry repeats, his tone flat, as he removes himself from Louis’ side.
Louis is eyeing him curiously, his eyes wide and confused, and he looks a little worried, like he wasn’t expecting Harry to react like this—like he wasn’t expecting Harry at all.
“We haven’t told him anything,” Jay explains. Harry hadn’t even noticed her walking into the room. “The doctors said it was better to give him some time to see if everything comes back.”
“What does he remember, then?”
“You know, I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t talk about me like I’m not here.”
Harry turns back to Louis, ignores the painful twist in his chest as Louis’ eyes set on him and there’s nothing but confusion there.
“I’m sorry,” he says, and has to swallow back the ‘love’ that’s at the tip of his tongue. “What do you remember, Lou?”
“We’re in a band, yeah? Or, we were, Liam, and Ni, and Zayn, and well, you too? I think? But you left, didn’t you?”
Harry feels like he’s been slapped.
“I did not—I never left. We took a break, all of us, but I never left. Zayn quit the band, a couple years ago—“
“Zayn? No way, he was there when we went to South America—“
“That was almost four years ago, Lou,” Harry says patiently, trying not to let the pain show in his voice. “We were all there at the time.”
“But you weren’t—you weren’t there.”
“I was—we even—“ He sees Jay shake her head, and changes the course of what he’s saying. “I was there too, I promise, we all flew together, we even got food poisoning at the same time.”
“You weren’t!” Louis insists. “It was just me and the lads, and we went to Peru, and Brazil, and to Argentina, where those fans climbed over our hotel walls. I remember it, and you weren’t there!”
Harry recoils as if hit, has to turn around and dry the tears that have once again started streaking his face. Liam walks over and puts an arm around him, and Harry can’t help sagging against him, throwing both arms around him as he cries silently.
“Why—why is he so upset?” Harry hears Louis ask, but no one answers him.
“I think maybe we should let Louis rest a little bit more,” Jay suggests, “and then we can all come back later and talk to him in private, if he’s up for that? Things might be a little less confusing once he gets some sleep.”
“He’s been sleeping for two—“ Niall starts, but something must shut him up. “Okay, yeah, I guess we’ll catch you later, Lou.”
“I’m not tired,” Louis protests. “I’d appreciate a little bit more insight on everything that’s going on, thanks.”
“I’ll stay with Lou,” Jay says. “You boys go for a walk, clear your heads, yeah?” The words are clearly aimed at Harry, who’s managed to stop the tears but hasn’t moved his head from where it’s hidden in Liam’s chest.
“Okay, yeah,” Liam agrees, putting an arm over Harry’s shoulders and guiding him out of the room.
Harry keeps his eyes on the floor, purposely avoiding looking at anyone (but especially Louis) until he’s left the room. He breaks from Liam’s embrace and walks away from them, kicking one of the chairs in the hall.
“Why didn’t anyone tell me?” he asks. “You knew he didn’t bloody remember me, and yet you still—“
“I wasn’t—I wasn’t sure, I’m sorry,” Niall says, walking over to him.
“We didn’t know—I thought he was humouring us, to be honest, and I thought everything would clear up once he saw you—“
“Why doesn’t he remember me? Why me?”
The fact that Louis remembers Zayn, who he spent two years hating bitterly and only recently managed to get back in touch with, and not Harry, his partner of seven years, is making his blood boil. He knows it’s not Zayn’s fault, but Harry can’t help but feel relieved that Zayn is currently in Australia and not in Los Angeles with them. He doesn’t think he could handle seeing Louis with Zayn sitting by his bed instead of him.
“Harry, he’s just woken up. You have to give him some time.”
He knows. Harry knows that it could be just a matter of time. It’d make sense, for Louis to slowly regain his memory. It’s not that—he’s not worried about the future, not now, but no one seems to understand how hard this is for him.
He’s spent the past thirteen days in absolute misery, worrying himself sick about Louis: whether he’d wake up; whether he’d be okay. He spent two weeks not knowing if the love of his life would ever open his eyes again, only to have him wake up and not know who Harry is.
He’s relieved; he is impossibly relieved that Louis is awake, that his life is not on the line, that he’s okay. He can’t begin to explain how immensely happy he is that Louis is alive and well, that he’s only a wall away from him, that Harry can talk to him once again.
The thing is, he can’t really handle not having Louis, his Louis, right now. Not after he just went through the hardest two weeks of his life. He needs his partner, the love of his life, to hold him and reassure him and tell him that he loves him and that everything is going to work out. He doesn’t have the strength to keep waiting.
He walks away from them, the heels of his boots clicking against the linoleum floor as he makes his way to the bathroom.
There’s a young boy washing his hands when Harry walks in with tears already rolling down his cheeks. He’s startled to a stop, and his breathing is choked, his body trembling slightly, but he can’t let himself break down in front of this kid, who can’t be older than twelve.
He feels something close to stage fright, some sort of performance anxiety, and suddenly he can’t move, can’t talk, and the tears are still falling but his body is frozen. There’s a sharp pain in his chest, his muscles protesting the lack of movement, and he’s ready to drop to the floor and let the sobs take over him, but the boy is still there and he doesn’t seem to have noticed Harry and for some God forsaken reason Harry cannot move.
He’s stood there for the full minute that it takes the boy to finish washing his hands and turn the tap off, and then he turns around, his large blue eyes widening as they lock with Harry’s.
It’s funny, because Harry hadn’t even thought about the boy recognizing him, especially with his hair up and the dark circles he’s sporting under his eyes, and the old grey hoodie he’s been wearing for two days. It never crossed his mind that this boy could see him and know who he is, yet here they are, and he’s staring into Harry’s eyes like he’s just seen a ghost. Harry opens his mouth to say something, anything, but all that comes out is a sob.
He closes his eyes, reaching an arm to rest on the wall next to him to keep him from dropping to his knees. He stays there, with his eyes closed, until he hears footsteps coming towards him. There’s a moment when he thinks the boy is going to hug him before he hears him stop moving right in front of him, but when he opens his eyes the boy is just staring at him with a confused expression.
“I heard the nurses say that he’s okay, your bandmate,” he says, frowning. “Why are you crying if he is okay?”
Harry wipes his tears with the sleeve of the hoodie, which smells of Louis, even after Harry’s been wearing it for two days.
“It’s complicated,” he says, sniffling.
“I don’t see how,” the boy insists. “Illness is complicated, cancer is complicated, because they’re okay one day and then they’re not, and you can never know for sure what’s going to happen next.”
“He doesn’t—he doesn’t remember me,” Harry doesn’t know why he’s telling a stranger about it, but it feels oddly good. “He doesn’t even know who I am.”
“Does that really matter? He’s alive, and he’s okay. You should be happy about it.” He shakes his head, soft blonde curls bouncing against his face, and leaves the bathroom.
Harry drops to his knees and lets the sobs take over him once again.
It’s almost noon by the time that Harry makes his way to Louis’ room again.
When he’d come back from the bathroom, Niall was talking to Louis, but once he’d come out, Harry hadn’t been ready to go in, so he’d sent Liam instead.
Liam had been in there for a while, longer than expected, and then the nurses had to do the rounds again. By the time they were done, Dr. Moseby had gone in to talk to him, first by himself and later joined by Jay, and they’d been talking for a while. Visiting hours were technically over once they came out, but whether by Jay’s influence or Harry’s deathly expression, he’s granted a few minutes to talk to Louis before he had his lunch.
“So,” Louis says when Harry walks in, “I hear we’re dating?”
“I think we stopped calling it dating about two years in,” Harry replies, starting off bitterly but softening as his eyes set on Louis, who looks smaller than he did earlier, and a lot less confident. “But, um, we’re together, yeah.”
“Well—it’s complicated, really, we, um. We’ve had our ups and downs and things weren’t always easy but. Pretty much since we met, yeah.”
Louis stays quiet, not meeting Harry’s eyes. Harry keeps looking at him, waiting for some sort of reaction, but it never comes.
“How are you feeling?”
“Like shit,” Louis says. “Like a train ran me over repeatedly, mostly. Which, no one has told me exactly what happened, so maybe that was it.”
Harry can’t help laughing at Louis’ frown. If things were different, he would crawl in bed and kiss it off his face, but he has to hold back, so he shoves his hands in his pockets to calm down the itch to hold Louis, and smiles at him. “I think they want to see if you can remember on your own but—if you still don’t remember, um, later? I can tell you what happened if you want.”
“You were there?”
“Yeah,” Harry whispers, looking away as his eyes start watering. He’s been trying to block out the memories from that night since it happened, but he can’t help the images of Louis bleeding out on the ground from flashing behind his eyelids.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Louis says, frowning again.
“That I don’t remember you. I just, I don’t understand. Why do I remember everyone but you?”
“I wish I knew,” Harry breathes out, and the words are choked.
Louis looks upset, and he’s trying to hide it, his lips pursed and his eyes focused on the wall behind Harry, and Harry knows him well enough to know it’s time to change the subject.
“Did the doctor tell you when they’re letting you out?”
“I think it—depends on me mum, really. As my next of kin, she has to sign that she’ll take me home with her and take care of me until my memory comes back, I think, but I’m not sure she has the time, not with the twins, so I don’t know.”
“She’s not—“ Harry starts, but then stops on his tracks as he realizes what he’s saying.
“She’s not what?”
“Um. Your next of kin. That’s—it’s been me, for the past four or five years.”
“I would—you know, I can take care of you, if you wanted to come home.”
“Home? We—we live together?”
“Lou, I know this all seems impossible to you, but we’ve been together over seven years. We’ve lived together since pretty much the day we met.”
Louis stays silent for a few moments, his expression darkening suddenly before he speaks again. “I can’t.”
“I can’t go home with you. I don’t—I barely even know you. I can’t remember anything about you since we left the X-Factor.”
Harry tries to hide the way Louis words feel like a punch in the gut, though he can tell by Louis’ face that he’s unsuccessful. He takes a deep breath, every fibre of his being focused on not letting himself break down.
“Okay,” is all he manages.
“I’m sorry, Harry, I’m sure this is hard on you but. You and everyone keep saying all these things and it just—none of it makes sense in my head.”
“Okay,” Harry says again, his eyes burning. “I think—I need some air, yeah? I’m just, I’m gonna—“
He exits the room without sparing a second glance at Louis. He barely makes it three steps before his whole body shakes as the first sob hits him. He collapses against someone, a pair of arms curling around him, and he closes his eyes and lets whoever is holding him drag him away.
When he opens his eyes again he’s standing in a terrace outside the dining area, Nick’s arms still wrapped tightly around him.
“It’ll be okay,” Nick whispers into his hair.
“How?” he whimpers, feeling his cheeks wet against Nick’s coat. “How can it ever be okay?”
“He’ll remember, H, give him time.”
Harry breaks their embrace and moves away from Nick towards the edge of the terrace. He takes a deep breath and looks down, spotting the row of paparazzi waiting around the entrance to the hospital. “What if he doesn’t?”
“It’s not time to think about that,” Nick says, shaking his head. “We don’t even know why he doesn’t remember, but he will most likely get his memory back. You have to keep a positive outlook, H, or it’s going to be impossible for you.”
“That’s bullshit,” Harry spits. Nick widens his eyes. “How am I supposed to keep a positive outlook when the fucking love of my life barely even remembers who I am?”
“Harry, you’re the most important person in his life, he will remember you. I know it’s hard right now, but you’ve got to be strong, love, because you have to be there for him. He needs you.”
“Since when are you good at giving advice?”
“I have always given remarkable advice, young Harold, you’re just terrible at listening.” Harry lets Nick put his arms around him once again, and they stay in the terrace for as long as they can, until Niall comes to find them to tell them the doctor wants to talk to him.
“It seems Louis is experiencing his own, custom type of dissociative amnesia,” the doctor explains, “which is not uncommon after a traumatic event.”
Harry looks around to find Jay nodding and Niall and Liam both staring back at him, confused frowns on their faces.
“What—what does that mean, exactly?” he asks.
“The textbook version,” the doctor explains, “is when a person forgets or blocks a specific or series of traumatic events that have happened to them. It is quite common for victims of sexual abuse, war survivors, and witnesses of violent crime. It varies from person to person, there is not one way that people experience it.”
“But Louis doesn’t—“
“Louis seems to have no recollection of his attack. He doesn’t remember the event in which it happened. It seems that, as you were there with him that day, Harry, Louis has blocked you out as well.“
“So that’s it? He’s traumatized because of what happened to him so he can’t remember me?”
Harry hates how angry he sounds, how awful his words must seem to Jay, as if he can’t understand the traumatic experience that her son went through, like he can only think about himself.
The thing is that this Louis, the one that woke up, it is not his Louis, the way Harry needs him to be. He’s okay, he’s alive, but Harry can’t touch him, can’t kiss him, can’t even talk to him the way he normally would because Louis barely even knows who he is. The nightmare is over for Jay, and Niall and Liam, Lottie and the girls. They all got their Louis back, but Harry hasn’t gotten his.
“We can’t rule out head trauma as one of the reasons, because he did suffer a big injury, but so far the way his memory loss has manifested is leading us to think it is due to stress following his traumatic attack. Once we run an EEG we will be more certain. It is not uncommon for someone who has been receiving such large doses of medication to suffer from confusion or different kinds of memory loss. Now that we’ve lowered his dose it should help him remember some.”
Harry takes a step back, bringing a hand to his face and pinching his nose right between his eyes.
“Does that mean he can—is he going to get his memory back?”
“Amnesia, in most cases, is a temporary response to trauma, be it physical or emotional, and with proper treatment and, in some cases, therapy, it can be reversed. We can’t give a proper diagnosis until we have run all our tests, but it is very likely that, with time, Mr. Tomlinson will regain most, if not all, of his memories.”
Harry sags against Liam, who is quick to put his arm around his waist. Harry rests his head on Liam’s shoulder, grinning into his neck.
“See, H?” Niall whispers from his other side. “You big worrier, it’s going to be okay.”
Right before visiting hours are over, Harry goes into Louis’ room again.
“Hey,” he whispers as he walks in, Louis’ eyes focused on the small TV perched in front of the bed.
“Hi,” Louis croaks back, his voice rough. “I didn’t think you’d be back today.”
“Sorry about that, I—I needed some time.”
“I understand that. I’m sure—I’m sure it hasn’t been easy, these past few weeks.”
Harry shrugs. He can’t talk about that right now. “Why were you crying before I walked in?”
“I wasn’t—I’m not—“ Louis is quick to bring a hand to his eyes, as if he’s trying to check for tears.
“Lou, I get that for some reason you don’t remember anything about me, but I’ve been your partner for seven years. I’ve seen you cry countless times, and I’ve also seen you try to hide that you’ve cried. You may not know me, or you don’t remember what you know about me, but I know you. I know you better than anyone.” He pauses and glances over his shoulder, whispering, “Please don’t tell Jay I said that.”
Louis laughs, his glassy eyes softening before he replies. “It’s stupid.”
“The first time you saw me cry we had known each other for less than twenty four hours and it was over a Youtube video of a soldier dressed as Santa Claus surprising his daughter after being deployed for months.”
“I cannot believe I have spent seven years of my life with someone who cries watching Youtube videos,” Louis deadpans.
“Heeey.” Harry frowns, but it quickly turns into a smile. “So, are you going to tell me what it was?”
“I just. Niall was telling me about the new album, the one we’re starting to promote? And he played me a bit that he had in his phone, some low quality recording he got of us rehearsing, I guess.”
“That’s why everything always leaks—“ Harry huffs.
“And I just—apparently I wrote that song? And it’s like, clearly a song about sex, yeah? But there’s this sense of like, intimacy, and it almost felt like a love song, I guess. And I don’t—not only I don’t remember writing that, but I can’t remember the feeling behind it, you know?”
Harry looks down, unsure of how to answer. His heart still feels like someone has it in their fist and keeps squeezing it harder and harder with every passing second, and any moment it’ll be too much and it will burst inside his ribcage.
“Oh, oh shit. Fuck. I didn’t even—I’m sorry. That song is about you, isn’t it?”
“I mean. Not to be like, presumptuous or anything but. Most songs that you’ve written are about me—about us.”
Louis offers him a weak smile, and it makes Harry’s shoulders sag, how fake it is. “Did you ever write songs about me?”
There’s a momentary pause before Harry wheezes out a laugh, his hand flying to his mouth. He shakes his head, his body shaking slightly with laughter, and has to wait ten full seconds before he can reply. “Oh boy, you have no idea.”
“Are we one of those cheesy couples who are all cutesy and sweet all the time and makes everyone around them want to put a bullet through their heads?”
“I mean—I wouldn’t say—we’ve been together long enough that I don’t think we’re suicide-inducing anymore but. We’re—we’re pretty cute, if I may say so myself.”
“You seem like a corny fucker, so I’m not surprised.”
“Hey,” Harry complains, frowning. “You are too. You like to pretend you’re all tough and cold and like, unbreakable. But you’re the softest, sweetest person I know.”
Louis makes a gagging sound, but his lips quirk slightly upwards.
“So what else did everyone tell you?”
“I had an accident fifteen days ago and was in an induced coma for a week, then it took me another week to wake up. I’m in a world famous band with you, Liam and Ni, though I already knew that. I have two cats, Ezra and Kale, and according to everyone I am arse over teakettle in love with you.”
Harry can’t help the smile that tugs at his lips. “I named Kale,” he says, giggling softly. “The fans seem to be obsessed with me eating kale, which is hilarious because I don’t even eat salad very often, but the fans—they ate it up. You even posted a picture with him once and they went crazy.”
“The fans—do they not know? About us?”
“It’s—it’s complicated. Might be best to save that conversation for some other day, when we’ve got more time.”
Louis frowns slightly, but nods. “Did Zayn really leave the band?”
“Yeah.“ Harry nods, trying to stifle a giggle. “You didn’t—you weren’t very happy about it.”
“In my memories, in my head, Z and I are best friends, he was like, my partner in crime. Did that—did that stop?”
“Well, I mean. You didn’t take it very well, him leaving the bad. It was very sudden, and you really took it to heart…”
Harry shakes his head and shrugs. “Zayn was your best friend, Lou. It was a lot harder on you than it was for me. I was angry for your sake, because it just happened one night, out of nowhere, even if we knew that Zayn was feeling weird—it just happened, and you were really upset, so I was too. I think you felt guilty, that you didn’t really see it coming, so you couldn’t do anything to stop it.”
“Why did he do it, leave?”
“He just wasn’t happy.” Harry shrugs. “Things haven’t been easy for any of us, and we were kept on a very short leash for quite a long time and he never—he never really liked the music, or the lack of control, or the way they kept milking us for more even when we had nothing else to give.”
“I thought he loved being in One Direction,” Louis says, his eyebrows drawn together. “All my memories of him are happy, of us having a laugh together.”
Harry moves closer, taking the chair that’s next to the window and dragging it towards Louis’ bed, taking a seat in front of him. “You did, we all did. Him not enjoying being in the band doesn’t really mean he didn’t enjoy the time we spent together, Lou.”
Louis doesn’t look very convinced, but his expression softens. “Are we still friends?”
“We are now. Him and Li kept talking after Zayn left, and I guess Niall too, after a while. You know how casual he is about friendships, he doesn’t really hold a grudge. You and I—we didn’t really talk to Zayn for a while. You were really mad, and we were quite busy so it was—but it’s better now, we’re all okay.”
Louis nods, and they’re both silent for a moment. In the seven years (and three months) that they’ve been together, there have been countless silences between them, yet Harry can’t recall one time when he’s felt half as awkward as he does now. Even when they were arguing, or during the period of time when they kept breaking up and getting back together and everyone was scared of spending time with them because it was impossible to know whether things were or weren’t okay between them—even then, things were never this uncomfortable.
“Would you mind—“ Louis starts, and Harry lets go of a breath he didn’t even know he was holding. “—explaining to me why Nick Grimshaw is here? Doesn’t he live in London?”
“He was presenting at an event,” Harry explains, tries his best to control his face, because Louis doesn’t know what happened yet, “and he decided to stick around for a bit, until you got better.”
“Why the hell would he do that?”
“Well, I mean, he is our friend, so—“
“Don’t we—I thought—but he hates me, doesn’t he? I certainly hate him.”
It takes all of Harry’s self-control to hold his grin back, and he doesn’t last more than three seconds before he splutters out a laugh.
Harry tries to reply, but his chest keeps shaking with laughter. Louis glares at him, which only fuels Harry’s laughter, and he only stops when Louis throws the napkin he’s been toying with at him. Even then, it takes him a few moments to calm down enough to be able to form words. “Lou, you fucking love Nick.”
“No fucking way.”
“You do, you guys are like, proper friends now. I think he likes you more than he likes me.”
“Well, obviously, I mean, why wouldn’t he?” It’s such a Louis response that it takes Harry off guard, and he gapes at him, for a moment, before he realizes that this is still Louis. Even without their memories together, even if he has no recollection of his relationship with Harry, this person in front of him is the same person he fell in love with seven years ago in the X-factor house, with his overconfident retorts and witty, unapologetic answers.
“What’s the last thing you remember?” he asks, a sudden urge to know everything taking over him.
“I remember—we were. I was with Liam, we went to a party I think? Some charity event, I think, in New York City, maybe Niall was there too?”
“The UNICEF black and white ball, I’m pretty sure. We all went together last year, maybe that’s what you’re talking about.”
“Yeah, I think so? Maybe. There was this giant—“
“The horse statue, you thought it was—“
“—fucking stupid, that’s what it was.”
Harry grins so hard he thinks his face might split.
“So you were there too, then?”
“I was, yeah. We didn’t spent that much time together, though. You spent half the night talking to Seth Rogen, who kept making jokes about—“
“—Being the American Zayn, yeah. Which was really fucking stupid, like we haven’t heard that one before.”
“You thought he was hilarious, though. I think you guys might have shared a joint at some point, too.”
“Sounds like something I’d do.” Louis smiles softly, and Harry can’t help beaming back at him.
“So you don’t—you don’t remember everything perfectly, then?” Harry asks eventually, once the silence between them is starting to become uncomfortable again. “What do you—what do you remember?”
“It’s like I have a vague feeling about everything that happened, and if someone tells me something like, it kind of like, clicks, and it’s easier to remember. Like I’m kind of pulling thoughts out of a box; they’re there, somewhere in the back of my head, but it’s dark and kind of hazy and it gets confusing.” Louis offers him a lopsided smile. “It’s different with you, though.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s like—I know who you are, yeah? I know who you are in my life but there’s—I can’t pull out any memories about it. And I know that I know you, I can tell, like, you feel familiar, but even with you and the boys and my mum telling me things, it’s like you don’t exist in my head.”
There’s something bittersweet about Louis’ words. Knowing that Louis can feel something, can tell that he knows Harry despite the lack of memories, is enough to warm up his heart; and yet the raw honesty, the fact that Louis can’t recall even one memory of their shared life feels like a knife to the gut.
“What’s your last memory of me?” he pushes, because clearly he’s a masochist.
“It’s weird, because knowing that you were with me in certain situations like, it doesn’t make me remember it, but I can kind of. I kind of feel it, you know? Like I don’t remember you at the ball, but I get this weird feeling when I try to recall the night, like I was being filmed or something, there’s an extra presence I just can’t put a face on. I’m guessing that’s you, yeah’”
“I guess, that’d make sense.”
“And like, if I think about tour, I don’t—I don’t remember you, per se, but I can see it, kind of, like, it makes sense to my brain that there should be an extra person, and I think that’s you. But it’s all too vague, too hazy, almost like I’m looking at someone else’s memories, through a foggy, dirty-arse window.”
“Do you have any memories of me that are not—do you remember anything at all about me that isn’t—that isn’t foggy?”
“I remember the X-factor house, or some of it, at least. Your hair was a lot shorter than now.” Louis reaches a hand to touch a loose strand that’s fallen from Harry’s bun. “And you were always laughing at everything that I said, yeah?”
“You were pretty funny back then.”
“I’m still hilarious, Harold, thank you very much,” Louis muses, and Harry’s heart jumps in his chest.
It’s not really, anymore—Harry can’t remember the last time that Louis called him Harold, probably months ago. It was always mostly for the fans, because they used to thrive on it, and him and Louis always loved giving the fans those little things that had them freaking out for days. These days, in private, it’s always H, or love, or darling, sometimes Hazza, if Louis is feeling particularly cuddly, but before, back in the day, Harold used to be Louis’ thing.
It was one of those unspoken things: no one was allowed to call Harry that except for Louis. It used to bother Harry, especially at first, back at the X-Factor house, when Louis refused to call Harry anything but Harold, and ignored Harry whenever he complained because, hey, that’s not his name. It seemed to be a thing for Louis, embarrassing him, so Harry learned to love it, because Louis always seemed so pleased with himself, and time taught Harry that very few things made him as happy as seeing Louis happy did, so. It became a thing.
Harry distinctly remembers how annoyed Louis was, at first, when other people started using it, too. He used to always pull Lou’s hair whenever she called Harry Harold in front of him, and something tells Harry that Louis only ever disliked Nick because he’d started calling Harry Harold without even asking Louis first, and then the rest of his friends had picked it up.
“There’s this other time—I’m not sure when it was, I can’t remember,” Louis chuckles, “but your hair was longer, so it must have been after that. I don’t know—I’m not sure where we were, but we—it was a private event, I think—it was back in Donny, I think. My family was there, and it was formal, I guess, because I was wearing a suit. I don’t think you were, but I can’t be sure—“
“It was your mum’s wedding,” Harry says, a smile creeping up his face. “We went together, like, for the first time. Most of your family didn’t—they didn’t know before that.”
“I remember—we went in together? It doesn’t make much sense in my head, feels a bit like a dream, I suppose, because it doesn’t really—it doesn’t match with the rest of my memories but. We were holding hands, weren’t we?”
“Yeah, we were. We even got our picture taken, and then your mum went around and introduced me to everyone as your boyfriend, which was quite confusing to your aunts, because Eleanor was there too…”
“Was Eleanor—was she your girlfriend?”
The laughter comes to Harry so violently he almost falls of his chair. “Eleanor was your girlfriend, Lou.”
Louis frowns, “But we—“
“Not your real girlfriend. She was a friend of a friend, and it seemed like a good idea, at the time, because our agents kept saying we needed to look more…heterosexual, I guess. We were too obvious, they said. So they got you a girlfriend.”
“Is she still my girlfriend?” Louis asks, making air quotes with his fingers.
“No, that’s done with. We haven’t done any of those stunts in quite a while. We managed to get a better deal by the time we signed our third contract.”
“But we still aren’t out though, are we?”
Harry shakes his head, smiling sadly. “We’re working on that, I guess. We’ve been about to do it for years now, but something always happens, and the timing is never right. We don’t hide much, anymore, so it’s not like—it wouldn’t be a shock, by now. But we’re still—”
The door opens suddenly, and Lottie walks in.
“Sorry to interrupt, boys, but we’re leaving and I wanted to say bye. Mum would like to talk to you Harry, if you don’t mind. They’re gonna come run some tests on Lou, now, anyway.”
“Of course.” He nods, standing up. He’s about to lean down to kiss Louis, but has to stop himself. There’s a moment where they both just stare at each other, Harry frozen in the spot, not knowing how to act. Louis offers him the tiniest smile, and it takes all of Harry’s self-control not to throw himself over him. “I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah?” he says quietly, reaching over to gently squeeze Louis’ hand.
Louis nods, but doesn’t offer anything else, and Harry has to leave the room before the tears start pricking at his eyes.
Jay puts her arms around him the second she sees him, pulling him close to her chest. “Are things any better?”
“The same, really.” Harry shrugs. “I guess he wants to know about us, which is good, I just—I wish he’d remember.”
There’s silence as they pull away. Harry looks around to see that Niall and Liam are both gone, the waiting room void of anyone but them.
“Have you thought about what’s going to happen when he gets dismissed?”
“Well I—I tried to talk to him about it but he said he—he said he couldn’t come home with me.”
“Harry, darling, we need to figure out what’s best for him to get better, and that probably means going with you. Even if he doesn’t remember it, that’s his home.”
“But he doesn’t want to—“
“It doesn’t bloody matter what he wants or doesn’t want. He can’t vouch for himself right now, and he’s going to need a lot of care for a while. He needs someone who loves him and wants to help him. That’s you, love.”
Harry nods, already feeling his throat constricting and his eyes getting itchy.
“Wouldn’t it be better if he had like, his family around? Maybe if he went home with you—“
Jay pulls him towards her again, hugging him even tighter. “Don’t worry your little head so much, yeah?” she whispers. “He’ll remember. Just give him time. You are his family and you are his home.”
The drive home feels like the longest of his life. He curses the highway, curses the palm trees, screams his heart out at every driver on the I-10 and hopes that someone recognizes him behind the tinted glass and sells it to some tabloid.
By the time he gets home, the emotional toll that the hospital took on him has doubled, and he can barely make it to the shower without dropping to his knees and breaking down in the middle of the hallway.
It isn’t until after he’s under the soft spray that he realizes it’s the first time since the night before the accident that he’s used this bathroom. Louis’ shampoo is resting on the shelf right next to his own (“What the fuck even is an organic plant based wash, Harold? Who needs their shampoo to be organic?”).
He wonders if this new Louis, the one without all the memories of their time together, likes the same things his Louis did, if he finds the same things funny. He wonders if he’d complain about Harry’s coconut toothpaste and buy his own (strawberry flavoured) just to be difficult.
It’s been less than a day, and Harry is already sorting him into old Louis and new Louis (because labelling him his Louis inevitably forces him to admit that new Louis, current Louis, is not his, and he’s not quite ready to accept that.) He knows that if Niall or Liam were there they would try to talk him out of it, tell him how damaging this way of thinking is. Nick would be offended, would question his attitude and tell him off for focusing his energy on the wrong things, and yet Harry can’t help the way his brain automatically creates the distinction.
He’s more than aware of how bad it is, and he feels endlessly guilty about it, but Harry can’t stop himself from resenting Louis, this new Louis, for being different, for not being the Louis that Harry knows and loves—or worse, for not being the Louis that knows and loves Harry. It’s illogical and unhelpful, and Harry knows that thinking like this can only make things worse for himself, but he can’t help being angry at new Louis for not remembering him.
He stays under the spray of the shower until the water starts getting cold. He doesn’t stop to analyse whether he uses Louis’ shampoo to feel closer to him, or if it’s a test to see if Louis will notice it the next day; he doesn’t stop to consider whether it’s therapeutic or masochistic, just reaches for the bottle and lathers his hair, rinsing it with lukewarm water and trying not to focus on the fact that this is the smell he fell asleep next to for years.
Despite the exhaustion, it takes him hours to fall asleep. Having spent the night before in this bed, and now knowing that Louis is okay (or at least not in critical condition) it’s harder to force himself to go to the couch instead. He’d figured sleeping on their bed would be easier now that Louis is awake, but it’s harder, somehow.
His thoughts wander and he can’t help picturing Louis getting back every other memory except for Harry, or Louis remembering him but not loving him anymore. He imagines scenario after scenario in which he always ends up with a broken heart, until, finally, the emotional fatigue takes over and he falls into deep sleep.
“I want to see Zayn,” is the first thing Louis announces when Harry and Lottie walk through the door the following morning.
Harry does his best to hide the disappointment in his face, but if Lottie’s saddened expression is anything to go by, he doesn’t succeed.
“I think he’s still in Australia,” Lottie says. “But once he gets back—“
“He’s in New York, I checked his Twitter, and I’d like to see him.”
“Well, I don’t think we can force him to come see you, but--” Lottie starts, presumably to give Harry some slack.
“He’s my best friend. Of course he wants to see me.”
Harry sees Lottie open her mouth to argue, but she stops herself at the last second. Harry wonders if Louis’ forgotten everything they talked about the day before, or if he’s just in denial. Maybe Louis doesn’t trust him, doesn’t believe anything Harry told him the night before.
“I’m sure we can call him,” he offers, at last. “He’s bound to come back to L.A. eventually. I reckon his tour is almost over.”
He asks Liam to make the phone call, because he can’t. He doesn’t even know how much Zayn knows, if anyone has kept him informed. He had only talked to Harry once, the day after Louis was hospitalized, because Liam had told him about what happened.
Harry had been pretty out of it, still groggy from all the medication they had forced on him, and Zayn had kept it short, saying he was there for him, asking if he needed anything. Standard grieving messages, really. Harry wonders if it was as impersonal as he remembers it, or if the drugs changed his perspective. Back in the day, he never would have doubted Zayn’s intentions, but he’s grown more paranoid, and after years of distance between them, he doesn’t know how much of Zayn’s loyalty lies with them.
“Nick Grimshaw came to see me,” Louis announces later that day, when Harry goes in to tell him about Zayn.
“Yeah, he’s been here a lot, actually. Like, before you woke up. He came a bunch of times to just sit with you, whenever it got too—“ whenever it was too much for me, “—whenever I couldn’t be here.”
“Well, thanks for that,” Louis says, glaring at him. “I was about to tell you he’s a twat, but I guess I can’t now that I know that.”
Harry chuckles, smiling fondly at Louis, who’s pouting. “You always call him a twat, ‘s fine.”
“He’s quite funny, I guess,” Louis adds, shrugging, “for a twat.”
“Can you say that again?” Harry asks, still laughing. “I need to send him a video of it. I’m positive this is the first time you’ve ever admitted to finding him funny. He’ll never let you live it down.”
Louis flips him off, but the smile doesn’t wear off his face. “How did we become friends, Nick and I?” he asks after a moment. “I got this feeling like—I can tell that I like him, even if we bickered the entire time he was here it’s just. It was just banter, yeah?” Harry nods. “But I still got this weird vibe, like, I distinctly remember hating him, you know? How did we go from that to, like, being friends?”
“Well—it’s complicated, I guess. You did used to get along awfully. It was a nightmare, whenever I had to put up with both of you at the same time. You hated him right off the bat, couldn’t stand his ‘attitude’ or something, and I guess he…he wasn’t the nicest to you either.”
Louis nods, like the words resonate with him. “I don’t—I don’t remember ever talking to him, to be honest, but I can…I can recall feeling really angry at him.”
“He made some nasty comments, though it was all a joke to you. I don’t think it ever really bothered you that much. I think what bothered you most was that he and I got really close, at one point, and you and I weren’t and you just—“
“What do you mean you and I weren’t close?”
“Well, we just. Um. There was this time, like. We kinda broke up? I guess. Not for too long, and it was ages ago, really. But it was a pretty tough time, and we never got to see each other, and I guess I was hanging out with Nick a lot and we—we took a break?”
“Taking a break is like literally the stupidest shit someone in a relationship can do.”
“That is exactly what you said back then.” Harry smiles. “But we did. Only for like, a few weeks. But I saw a lot of Nick during that time, and he took me to some gay pubs, to like, cheer me up?”
Louis huffs, clearly annoyed, and Harry would swear he mutters something along the lines of “cheer you up my arse,” and he can’t help the way his lips quirk upwards.
“And tabloids were speculating a lot about us, and I think that pissed you off even more, so by the time we got back together, Nick wasn’t exactly your favourite person.”
“Yeah, no kidding,” Louis says, his shoulders still hunched defensively. “This doesn’t answer how we became friends, though.”
“It was—I suppose you both slowly got closer as time went on. And then you were both on X-Factor around the same time and neither of you would shut up about it.”
“That’s it? We just got something in common so we became friends?”
“Well. Grimmy also got a boyfriend, and he was really into football, so I think he came up to you for like, advice? Or tips? We played a game once.”
“But you’re the worst footie player ever.”
“Yeah, I am.” Harry grins, trying to ignore the way his heart flutters in his chest because Louis remembers.
“Is Grimshaw, like, your best friend?”
“I mean, well. I’m really close to Niall, too, and there’s Gems, though I suppose she doesn’t count. I guess Nick would be one of my closest friends, yeah, but I’ve always thought of you as my best friend.”
“Oh, Styles, you big old sap.” Louis makes a disgusted face, then fakes gagging sounds. “I can’t be your best friend if I’m your boyfriend, that’s the whole point!”
“I think it’s the opposite, actually,” Harry replies with a soft smile. “I think you have to be my best friend, or otherwise we would never work out. And, I mean, it’s been seven years, so I guess you are.”
“Do I say you’re my best friend?”
“Nah, Stan’s your best friend. And Z was, for a while. I guess Liam would be offended if I didn’t say he’s your best friend, but. I like to think it’s me, still.”
“You think you’re so important, Styles.”
“Well—I mean. You do have me tattooed on your skin over and over, so,” Harry says, rejoicing.
“How on earth you got me to do something like that is beyond me.”
Harry offers him his widest, goofiest smile, closing his eyes, and when he opens them he finds Louis smiling back.
The next time Harry sees Louis, that day, right before he goes home, things go to shit. Lottie had warned him after she’d been with Louis for a while that he was in a proper mood, but it never occurred to Harry that it’d be something he couldn’t handle. He’s been dealing with Louis’ mood swings for years. He can do this.
“And what the fuck do you want, now?” is the first thing that Louis says when Harry steps into the room. “You here with more cheesy stories to brainwash me into loving you?”
Harry cringes at the words, but takes a deep breath and walks towards Louis’ bed. It’s just the meds talking; the doctors told them it could happen. Changing dosage can affect the patient’s temper. It’s just the meds.
“How are you feeling?” he asks, pulling a chair so he can sit next to Louis.
“Like shit. What about you? Still walking around like a kicked puppy telling everyone your boyfriend doesn’t remember you?”
Shaking his head, Harry shows Louis his journal, the one he’s been writing in all day. “I’ve just been writing, y’know.”
“About me?” Louis asks, his tone softer.
“About life, about me, about what’s happening. I guess some of it has to do with you, yeah.”
“Gonna turn me into as song, then? Have your next solo hit be about your ex-boyfriend’s near death experience?”
“What are you even on about?”
Louis doesn’t meet his eyes, but he points towards the little table opposite to him that the nurses use to give him breakfast. Resting next to a plate of uneaten biscuits is the latest issue of The Sun, a picture of Harry standing out in the middle. He doesn’t even need to pick it up to know the headline is bullshit, but Louis is still avoiding his eyes, so he grabs it and reads the title out loud.
“Exclusive: Harry Styles’ solo career is on! Sources report he was spotted signing album deal while mate Louis Tomlinson recovers from his accident.” He looks at Louis, expecting him to say something, but all Louis does is cross his arms over his chest. “So?”
“So? Do you need to read that headline again?”
“Are you really trying to pick a fight with me over a tabloid rumour? One that’s not even true?” Harry asks, almost amused.
“Well, I wouldn’t know that, would I?” Louis spits. “It’s not like you haven’t gone behind my back before.”
“I haven’t!” Harry explodes. “I have no idea where this is coming from Louis, but I’ve never gone behind your back. I’ve been your partner for seven years, and I’ve done nothing but support you the entire time.”
“Then why do I—?” Louis starts, his voice straining, but stops abruptly.
“Why do you what?”
“Why do I feel like you’re lying to me? I want to believe you, I do, but you say something and no matter how much I want to believe that it’s true, it’s like my head refuses to believe it. Like I can’t trust you.”
“I’m sorry,” Harry says, looking down so Louis won’t see the tears forming at the corner of his eyes, “but it’s—I’m not—It breaks my heart that you feel like you can’t trust me, Lou. But I’ve—I don’t think I have ever done anything you break your trust. Your head is playing games with you. I wouldn’t—I’d never lie to you.”
“I wish I could believe that,” Louis says, but the vulnerability in his voice is gone, back to nothing but cold.
“Here, I brought you this,” Harry says after a few moments, fishing a phone out of his pocket. “Figured you might want it. It might help clear your thoughts a bit.”
Louis accepts the phone, his eyes softening as he turns it on and a picture of him and Harry appears as the lock screen.
“The password is—“
“2809,” Louis finishes.
“Yeah,” Harry replies, looking away, ignoring the way his heart is trying to beat out of his chest. “I’ll see you tomorrow Lou, have a good night.”
Louis nods, not looking up from the screen, his eyes still locked on the picture of himself and Harry. It’s not even the most obvious one, doesn’t really tell much about the nature of their relationship, and Harry doesn’t even like it that much, but Louis has had it as either his lock screen or wallpaper for years now.
It’s from one of the last nights of their last tour, and they look tired, the endless touring having taken a toll on them. Harry doesn’t remember exactly where it was taken; backstage in London, or maybe Sheffield. He can’t remember if Lottie took it, or maybe Niall, but Harry and Louis had been messing about on the couch, Louis daring Harry to drink whatever nasty concoction of liquor he had mixed into a cup, and Harry had caught someone out of the corner of his eyes and looked up just as the flash went off. Louis hadn’t caught on, so instead of looking at the camera, his eyes are still fixed on Harry in the picture, soft and amused and impossibly fond, and Harry sometimes can’t quite believe that this boy has loved him so much for so long.
Harry has to leave the room before the memory has him tearing up again.
Zayn arrives in Los Angeles the next afternoon, and Harry is the one to pick him up. He doesn’t know exactly why he offers to do it. Maybe it’s partly because Louis is still being a brat and his mood changes getting on Harry’s nerves, but mostly he thinks it’s because he can’t shake off that surge of jealousy that took over him the first day, when Louis remembered Zayn and not him. He needs to see Zayn, needs to reconcile his bitterness and mixed feelings with the fact that Zayn is, in fact, one of his closest friends, despite the distance between them.
The security guy that goes with him is new, goes by Roy, and Harry wishes he wasn’t so engaged in his own thoughts that he bring himself to start some sort of conversation with the man. He wonders if it’ll make any headlines, how rude he’s been the past few weeks, if the shitty tabloids that love to smear his name with incriminating headlines are having a field day now that he’s stopped being the sweet, charming boy they used to love.
He’s purposely avoided any sort of news engine since the incident happened. Liam and his mum both promised they would let him know if something significant came up, and he knows his publicist wouldn’t hesitate to call him if there was anything vaguely worrying to be published. He can imagine the speculation about him and Louis is through the roof by now, and any other time he’d be happy about it, but it’s infuriating that it had to happen like this, that it took Louis almost losing his life for the media to start rooting for them. He can’t imagine there being bad press about it when it was public knowledge that Louis was in a coma for two weeks.
It’s almost funny, how much of a joke the subject of him and Louis together became with time, that now that they were purposely trying to fuel the rumours and generate more talk about them to lead to an easier coming out, people wouldn’t take it seriously. He assumes six years of denials, fights, stunts and speculation were enough to convince people that there’s no way that Larry could ever actually be real.
Roy taps his shoulder when they get to the entrance, the driver stopping the car behind a bus on the off chance that there are paparazzi around. Harry doubts anyone from his team would hire paps on him with everything that’s going on, but they’ve surprised him in the past, so he assumes it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Zayn’s plane has already landed by the time they reach his gate, and only when he spots a fan taking a picture with him does it occur to Harry that it was probably not the best idea to get out of the car. Roy keeps his distance, letting Harry approach and wrap his arms around Zayn’s tiny frame, Zayn automatically hugging him back.
“You know, I could have called a driver myself,” Zayn says when they pull apart. “I doubt an airport outing is what you need right now.”
“Yeah, well. I needed the air.”
Two girls around their age approach them then, looking a cross between nervous and ecstatic. “Hi, um, we were wondering if we could take a picture with you guys?” one of them asks.
Harry winces, but starts getting into position.
“It’s um. It’s okay if you don’t want to be in it,” the other girl tells Harry, “We—we understand.”
Harry sighs in relief, taking the phone from the girl to take the picture instead. Some people have stopped walking and are gathering around them, probably trying to figure out who they are, but he ignores them, tapping the screen to get as many pictures as he can before Zayn pulls away.
As he’s giving the phone back to the girl, she opens her arms and raises an eyebrow in a silent question. He nods, and lets the girl hug him tightly, losing himself for a moment in the warmth of the embrace and forgetting that he doesn’t actually know this girl.
“Tell Lou that we hope he’s doing well,” she whispers before pulling back, “and I hope you’re okay, too. Must be hard.”
Harry’s taken aback by her words, and it takes him a moment, but eventually he nods, and offers her a small smile. She smiles back before they hurry away, thanking Zayn for the picture over and over until they’re out of hearing range.
“Would have been a better idea to just let me drive alone.” Zayn smiles. “Could have avoided that.”
“It’s alright,” Harry shrugs, trying to shake off the stunned expression off his face. “Security at the hospital is really tight right now, it’s better if we show up together, it’ll make things faster.”
Zayn looks unconvinced, but he nods. Roy takes the front seat, letting Harry and Zayn get comfortable together in the back.
“So, how’s he doing?” Zayn asks eventually, as the car gets going. “Liam didn’t say much.”
“He doesn’t remember me,” Harry spits out, before he can stop himself. “He—um. His memories are all, they’re not all right, he’s pretty confused about most things.“
“What do you mean he doesn’t remember you?”
“He, um. Well he knows who I am, but he thinks I—he thinks I quit the band, ages ago, and he doesn’t—he doesn’t remember us ever being together. He doesn’t remember we—he doesn’t remember loving me, at all.
“Shit, Haz.“ Zayn puts an arm on his shoulder, squeezing it softly. “Fuck, that’s—that fucking sucks.”
“How’re you holding up?”
“Not too great, actually.”
“Do they know? Like, have the doctors figured out why he doesn’t remember things?” The way Zayn says things makes it too obvious that he’s trying not to say you, and it makes Harry want to pull away, because he doesn’t need Zayn’s pity.
“It’s because of the traumatic experience, they say. They ran some tests and there’s no—there’s no tissue trauma or anything , so it’s not physiological. It’s the stress from what happened that caused him to like, block it.”
“Is it supposed to be—is it permanent or is he—?“
“His doctor said she’s never had a patient who doesn’t get their memories back after a while, not when the cause is PTSD and not like, brain damage.” Harry winces at the words. “But it can—it can take a lot of time.”
“But he’s going to get his memories back eventually,” Zayn says. “Cheer up, Haz, it’ll be okay.”
“The thing is,“ Harry begins, and this is what he hasn’t told anyone yet, what only him and Louis’ doctor have discussed in private, “he’s not, his memory is not going to be suddenly replaced, you know? He’s just going to be the same as he is now, just with the memories that he had before the accident.”
“What do you mean?”
“It means that he might—he might not want to be with me, even after the memories come back.”
“Harry, mate, I love you, but you’re being bloody obtuse here,” Zayn says, shaking his head. “Louis has wanted to be with you since the day we were fucking put together in the same band, probably even before that. He’s chosen you time and time again, no matter what obstacle life threw at you, no matter how hard it got. You two are meant to be together, and not even this can change that.
Harry nods, not wanting to argue with Zayn because it makes sense, the way Zayn says it, but Harry knows better. Louis’ physician and therapist had both talked to him about it, wanting to prepare him from what can happen when Louis gets his memory back, which could be any time.
“I’ve seen it happen,” Dr. Osmond had said, “and it’s not—it’s not easy. I saw a husband leave his wife and kids when he got his memory back, after months of not remembering them, because even with his memories back, it was too hard for him to go back.”
They had listed story after story, of people who, even after remembering everything, were too changed by whatever experience had affected them that they just couldn’t return to the life they’d had before. One particularly painful case involved a woman who had fallen in love with her doctor, as her boyfriend was working to pay her medical bills and couldn’t spend time with her anymore, and once she had gotten her memory back, she remembered having loved him, but she simply didn’t anymore.
And that’s Harry’s biggest fear, the possibility of Louis taking too long to get his memory back, and by then him having newer, better memories and not wanting to go back.
“I know you don’t believe what I said, H, and I can understand your concern,” Zayn says after they’ve both been silent for a while, “but you and Lou, you’re not together just because you met in this band and fell in love. If we hadn’t met in the X-Factor, you would have somehow made your way too each other. Louis would have found you, wherever you were.”
Harry hums, noncommittal.
“There’s a reason our fans used to be so obsessed with it, you know, you two being soulmates. You two have the kind of love that could make it through anything, H. I know, because you’ve done it, and I’ve seen it. I’ve been in love before, I’ve thought I had found my soulmate at one point, too.” A foul expression crosses Zayn’s face, but he shakes it off, smiling at Harry. “And it was never—it was never like you two.”
“That’s because you date girls, Zaynie dear,” Harry jokes, “of course it’s going to be different.”
“Will you shut the fuck up?” Zayn smiles. “You know what I mean. Back in the day, I really thought I was going to marry Pez. And after that, with Gig, I really thought that was it, but with time, it lost the appeal, the excitement. The last time I saw you and Lou, at Li’s party, you guys were so bloody happy to just be out together, you could barely keep it in your pants, and kept looking at each other like the sun shone out of the other’s arse. You’ve been looking at each other like that since you met, and it’s been years, H. That’s not—that’s not normal love.”
“That could still change, you know? Like, I get what you mean, I’m—I used to think so, too, that we were invincible.” Fireproof, he thinks idly. “But that doesn’t mean that come the day that Louis gets his memory back, he might not want to be with me anymore.”
“Alright, so it could happen, yeah? But it won’t.”
“You don’t know that, Z.”
“Yeah, I do.” Zayn’s got a knowing smile on, and as unconvinced as Harry is, he can’t stop himself from falling a bit for Zany’s fantasy. Even if he knows better, it’s easier to believe that everything will work out, that Louis will wake up and remember everything and still want him, that they’ll live happily ever after.
Louis’ eyes light up the second he sees Zayn come through the door. Harry’s heart expands in his chest because it might be the happiest he’s seen Louis since he woke up, but he also can’t help the pang of jealousy he feels when Louis puts his arms around Zayn and pulls him close.
“Lou, bro, how’re you feeling man?” Zayn asks as he pulls away from the hug. “I gotta say, you look like shit.”
“Well, you should try taking a bat to the head. See how you look afterwards.”
“I’d rather not, mate, but thanks for the suggestion.”
Louis shrugs, scooting over on the bed so that Zayn can sit next to him. Harry has to force his breathing to stay even, feeling the urge to throw himself in between them but fighting it down. He knows it’s unfair, to wish for Louis to remember his history with Zayn, especially when it was him who pestered Louis to get his head out of his ass and finally set things right with him. It took them long enough to get back on something vaguely resembling of their old friendship, and it’s incredibly selfish and plain wrong of Harry to wish that Louis would remember that Zayn and him aren’t the best friends forever they used to be for him before he left.
He zones out, his gaze focused on where Louis’ hand is resting on Zayn’s leg, vaguely registering when Liam and Niall walk into the room. His brain is stuck on how wrong it feels to be witnessing Louis being so open and carefree and happy around Zayn, how it should be Harry sitting on his bed instead. He can’t help the bitter taste on his mouth, and the need to ask Zayn why it is that he only showed up after they asked him to, when his tour was conveniently over. Why he didn’t call during the long two weeks when Louis wasn’t waking up and Harry was losing his mind?
“Do you remember it, then? How it happened?” Zayn is asking when Harry focuses back on the conversation.
“Not even a bit. It’s mostly just stories I’ve gathered from everyone else. I know the lad’s name was Gary, which is kinda funny, don’t you think? Bashed on the head by some Gary. The doctor said that he hit me straight to the head, four times. One or two more hits and my skull might have cracked open.”
Harry takes a deep breath, his hands getting clammy, but forces himself to swallow the lump in his throat down. Niall shoots him a concerned glance, but he looks down, avoiding his eyes.
“And then he kept on kicking me, apparently— over and over in the stomach, is how I got these bruises—“ Louis goes on, lifting up his shirt.
“He kept on kicking me, over and over and over, as I lay there, bleeding out.”
Harry stumbles backwards, but Louis doesn’t seem to notice.
“There was blood all over his shoes and yet he kept—“
“Enough, Louis,” Liam says, loud enough that it startles Louis.
It takes a moment for Louis to understand what’s going on, and then his eyes shift from Liam to Harry, and Harry knows he should look away, shouldn’t let Louis see him this vulnerable, but he can’t move. He can tell even without a mirror that he must be white as a ghost, his hand over his mouth as if he’s going to be sick—which, he might. He can’t really rule that one out yet.
“I’m—I’m sorry. I didn’t realize—“
“It’s fine,” Harry snaps.
“I didn’t mean to upset you.”
You never do, Harry thinks bitterly, but shakes his head. “It’s fine, it’s just. I know you don’t remember, I get that, but. I can’t. I can’t seem to make myself forget.”
“I’m sorry,” Louis says pointedly again, but he looks confused, still.
“It’s alright.” Harry shakes his head. “I’m gonna go get some coffee, let you guys have some privacy.
Louis opens his mouth to say something, but Harry turns on his heel and rushes out the door before he can hear whatever guilt-ridden apology he has to offer.
He doesn’t get coffee. He’s too tired and is worried the caffeine rush will make it even harder for him to fall asleep that night. Instead he asks for a smoothie—he can’t remember the last time he ate anything that wasn’t hospital food force fed to him by Jay or Liam—and walks around the block four times before heading back inside.
He’s vaguely aware of the paparazzi snapping pictures as he walks, his hair up messily in a half bun and wearing one of Louis’ coats with the collar popped, face hidden as much as possible, but they all keep their distance and stay relatively quiet, so Harry can ignore them easily and make his way back to Louis’ room.
Zayn, Liam and Niall are back out of the room, chatting quietly with Lottie and looking considerably less upset than Harry feels. They inform him that Louis had just received some medicine and would most likely sleep the rest of the afternoon, but Harry ignores them and walks into his room anyway.
He stops by Louis’ side. He still has his eyes open, though droopy and looking considerably out of it.
Harry can’t stop himself and he leans in, brushing his lips to Louis’ forehead and staying there for a moment, breathing him in.
He sits on the far left of the room, in the little one person sofa, looking out the window until his own eyes start closing and he gives in to the exhaustion.
Harry stirs on the sofa, stilling when he hears the hushed voices near him.
“—don’t understand the toll it took on him. You don’t know, it’s. It changed him.”
“But what? Why?” Louis’ voice is slightly higher pitched, the way it turns when he’s upset, and Harry hates himself for enjoying that Louis is upset on his behalf.
“Lou, you almost died in his arms. I know you don’t remember what happened, and I guess that’s—it’s got its good and its bad parts but Harry—he was there too, love,” Jay says. “He saw it happen in front of him, and he couldn’t do anything to stop it.”
“Does he like, blame himself?”
Yes, Harry thinks, digging his nails into his palms to stop himself from speaking out. He doesn’t really, not rationally, or when he talks it out with someone else. But there’s always that little voice in the back of his head, nagging at him, reminding him that he was there, he could have done something, but he didn’t. That he wasn’t enough to protect what matters the most to him.
“I don’t know if I…I wouldn’t really put it like that, I just think that, as it’s had repercussions on you, it has on him. And he’s focusing all of his strength in helping you, but he needs taken care of, too.”
“And I haven’t—I haven’t been helping.”
“Well, you could be a little bit more… considerate,” offers Liam. “He’s putting your recovery first and that’s very noble of him and all, but if you keep being, well—“
“—so difficult,” Liam says pointedly, “it’s only going to make it harder for him. And I don’t know how much he can take before he can’t do it anymore.”
“It hasn’t been exactly easy on him,” says Niall. “You need to understand, Lou, you’ve been together forever, and you not remembering, it’s hurting him more than he’s letting on.”
Harry feels a wave of affection for his friends, an intense urge to get up and throw his arms around them and never let go, but instead he stays put, controlling his breathing so no one will notice he’s awake, and listens to what Louis has to say.
“I just don’t know—“ Louis says, sighing. “I don’t really know how to act around him, I guess. And it’s like—there’s all this new information that you’re all giving me but it doesn’t—it doesn’t really make sense to me.”
“We’re not blaming you, Lou,” Zayn says, speaking for the first time since Harry woke up, “but you should try to be a little easier on him. He’s here for you, yeah? Keep that in mind.”
“I know it doesn’t seem like it, but I’m trying, yeah?”
Harry doesn’t need to look out to know the conversation has affected Louis. He’s about to say something, make it known that he’s awake so he can defend Louis and tell everyone they’re being too hard on him, that Harry’s fine, anyway, and it’s not Louis’ fault that things are happening the way they’re happening, but the nurse comes in to say she needs to do the hygiene round, so everyone but Harry, who is presumed asleep, is ushered outside.
“I know that you’re awake, you know,” Louis says, once the nurse has closed the door behind her, “You can stop faking now.”
Harry stirs in his seat, turning towards Louis, his joints cracking in complaint at being bent at weird angles for so long. When he sets his eyes on Louis, he finds him looking straight at him, his mouth set in a thin line, the corners slightly curved up.
“It’s fine,” Louis shrugs, “Did you hear everything?”
“Just the last bit,“ Harry says with a lopsided smile, “and it’s not—they’re overreacting—it really isn’t that—“
“Stop, okay? They’re right. I was being a brat.”
“Can you shut up and let me apologize?” Louis snaps. “I’m sorry I haven’t been the nicest to you. I wasn’t really considering your feelings about this whole thing.”
Louis sighs, but nods once, acknowledging Harry’s words. “And thank you,” he adds, looking down, “for bringing me that phone. It’s been—it’s been really helpful going through the pictures.”
“I’m glad I could help.”
Louis smiles, and he doesn’t meet his eyes, but a soft blush spreads on his cheeks, so Harry counts it as a win.
“Have you thought about what you want to do? Like, you’ll be able to go home pretty soon, I think. Have you been considering your options? And what you might want to do?”
“You know, you don’t need to skirt around the subject. I know. My mum already told me that I’m going to your house when I get out of here.”
“Our house,” Harry corrects him automatically.
“Right. That.”Louis bites his bottom lip, looking down, and Harry immediatelly wants to curl into himself. Being around Louis and not being the way he is around Louis has got to be the hardest thing he has ever done.
“Is that—is that what you want, though?” he asks eventually. “Because if you think that—if it’d be easier, or more enjoyable, for you to be somewhere else like. We can arrange something.”
“Jesus, Harold, can you not be a martyr for five fucking seconds? I told you I’m going. It’s fine. My mum can’t, and I know you’ll take proper care of me, okay? I’m not going against my will. I accepted.”
“I just wanted to make sure—“
“I want to go home, okay?” Louis cuts him off. “And we’ve been living there for years, apparently, so it must be my home, innit?”
Harry bites back the words itching to leave his mouth, to quote back the thousand times Louis told him it’s not the house that makes a home. He wonders, for a moment, if Louis has actually stopped to listen to the songs he wrote over the years, if he has any idea what the word home used to mean to both of them.
“And you’re sure that it’s what you want?
“Didn’t I just say so?” Louis sighs. “If you’re trying to like, persuade me not to go with you, I can still figure out something else, you know.”
“No, no, that’s not—“Harry offers him an apologetic smile. “I would really like it if you came home with me.” He hopes Louis doesn’t hear the hurt in his voice.
Zayn and Louis spend most of the following day together holed up in Louis’ room, which is…a lot, for Harry to take. He gets to see Louis briefly in the morning, right before he has to go downtown for a meeting.
Louis is staring at his phone when Harry walks in, scrolling down who knows what. For a moment, Harry lets himself believe he’s looking at a picture of them, or maybe reading one of their old emails, of when they were on different continents and the distance became unbearable sometimes. He shakes the thoughts away, though, and forces himself to focus on Louis, who has dark bags under his red-rimmed eyes again, despite his smile.
“Hey,” he says after a moment, when it becomes clear that Louis hasn’t heard him walk in.
“Oh, hi.” Louis offers him a smile. “I didn’t know you were coming today.”
He knows that it shouldn’t, but that rubs Harry the wrong way. He’s been here every day, at least twice a day, ever since Louis woke up.
“I thought you had a meeting,” he adds, and Harry can’t help beaming at him for remembering.
“Yeah, I’m going after this, just wanted to check how you’re doing.”
“You know, same old. Hospital life at its finest.” Louis shrugs.
Harry smiles at him, a sudden wave of affection hitting him like storm.
“Won’t be long ‘til you get to go home,” he offers.
“Yeah.” Louis smiles. “A big bed, a private bathroom, not having to worry about whether or not the nurses took a picture of my willy whilst I was in a coma. Life’s greatest pleasures.”
Laughter erupts from Harry’s chest with such a force he has to grip the railing of Louis’ bed to stand straight. “I’m sure if they had a picture of your willy they would have sold it to TMZ already.”
“Maybe they’re holding out, waiting for a better offer. Or maybe it’s just so precious to them they just can’t share it with the rest of the world, you know. It’s art, it’s sublime. Can’t just let anyone see it, Harold, they’re not worthy.”
“Of course. Absolutely. I should have considered that.”
“Obviously.” Louis cracks a smile at him, and Harry barely manages to attempt to smile back before they both burst into laughter.
“I’ll come by after my meeting, yeah?” Harry says once they’ve both stopped, getting up from the chair next to Louis, and grabbing his bag. “I can bring you lunch if you want. I’m gonna be by that bistro you like.”
“Yeah, that’d be ace. Tuna salad?”
“And garlic bread, yeah,” Harry says, relishing in Louis’ smile before closing the door behind him.
His meeting ends up running a bit late, because Jeff’s new intern is still getting the hang of things. Harry feels weird pushing him to hurry up, and it’s not like they ever set a time limit, anyway, so he can’t just stand up and leave. It’s about two in the afternoon when he manages to get out and heads to the shop, and by the time he’s back at the hospital it’s a bit past three.
Zayn and Louis are together in the room when he gets there, and there’s no one in the waiting room, so Harry has no choice but to approach one of the nurses—Natalie, the oldest of the bunch—to see what the plan for the day is.
“Mrs. Deakin said she’ll be back this evening, and Mr. Malik vowed to stay until her return.”
“Has he been there long?”
“He brought Louis lunch earlier today and has been there since.”
Harry nods, trying not to let it get to him. He offers the bag he’s carrying to her, smiling as sweetly as he can manage. “I’m afraid I can’t stay longer today,” he lies, “but would you mind giving Louis this? Maybe he’ll want it for supper, since he’s already had lunch.”
“Of course,” she says, smiling knowingly and taking the bag, and Harry nods and mutters his thanks before rushing out of the room.
Louis is discharged the following morning. Jay leaves in the afternoon, after making sure that Louis is settled and comfortable and that he’s not going to break if she’s not within ten metres of him at all times.
“I just,” Jay tells Harry in the hospital that day, as they’re waiting to sign the paperwork, “I was away from him before, and look what happened.”
“I was there,” Harry says, trying to remain composed, “and it still happened.”
Jay takes one look at him before she takes him into her arms, squeezing him tightly.
“You are the best thing that’s ever happened to Lou,” she whispers, “and I’m so grateful for you. We’re so lucky to have you in our lives.” Harry lets himself be hugged, and they don’t break apart until the nurse arrives to tell them that Louis is ready to go.
They settle him in the guest bed, next to Harry’s (their) room, after quite a heated argument about it. Harry had insisted Louis should be the one to take the master, that he was fine sleeping wherever, that it didn’t matter. Louis had started out courteous, insisting Harry should get his room, and had ended up snapping and saying he didn’t want to be in a room surrounded by memories that weren’t his anymore. It had taken all of Harry’s strength not to fall apart.
That’s how they’ve ended up where they are now: Louis in the sitting room, watching some old football match, and Harry in the kitchen, staring at his phone and pointedly not looking over to check on Louis every five seconds.
They haven’t exchanged more than five words since Jay left. Louis had insisted he wasn’t hungry when Harry offered to make lunch, and accepted the glass of water that Harry handed him with his meds before he focused back on the TV.
It doesn’t have to mean anything; it’s not like they were constantly talking, before. Harry can be quiet occasionally, needs his time alone to write or read or just be. Louis gets overwhelmed by company at times, too, and retreats to a spot away from everything to smoke or talk to his mum. It hasn’t even been that long. They’ve been home for less than six hours—two of those still accompanied by Jay—and it hasn’t been more than three since Louis’ “Cheers, mate,” when Harry had handed him the glass of water.
It’s not a big deal, that they’re not talking. And yet.
With every passing second Harry wonders how much it’ll take before it all becomes too much.
If Harry was expecting things to get better the following day, that changes as soon as he sets his eyes on Louis that morning. Everything about him is off, from the shirt he’s wearing to the frown he’s sporting to the way he’s staring at the cup of tea he’s presumably made for himself.
“This tea’s shit,” he says without looking up, but Harry assumes it’s directed at him.
“Your tea is in the bottom cupboard. The one on the top was gifted to us by your mum’s friend. You hate it, always complained if I drink it.”
“Yeah, well, you have shite taste in tea.”
“Yeah, probably.” Harry shrugs, knowing it’s best not to engage with Louis, and moves past him to get the juice out of the fridge.
He sits at the counter, just a few feet from where Louis is standing, giving him space so he can decide whether to sit or not, and pours himself a drink.
“What the hell is Good Belly?”
“It’s a probiotic drink,” Harry supplies. “’S like juice, but it’s supposed to be good for you.”
“That sounds retarded.”
Harry frowns, looking up from where he’s sitting to meet Louis’ eyes.
“I’d really prefer it if you didn’t use that word?”
“You’re going to tell me what I can and can’t say, now?” Louis asks, taking a step forward.
“Whatever, Lou,” Harry says, standing up and grabbing his glass. He leaves the kitchen before he can hear whatever Louis has to answer.
The next couple of days go by in a blur. Harry stays out of the house as much as he can to avoid Louis’ mood, which seems to go sour whenever Harry’s around.
Zayn stops by on Thursday to say goodbye to Louis, and they stay in the back yard and play around with a football and Louis laughs so hard Harry can hear him all the way from his room. It’s not the easiest day for Harry.
He has a short chat with Zayn before he has to leave, and he doesn’t say anything about Louis, or how much harder it gets with every second to be there for Louis when Louis can’t seem to stand to be near him. Zayn doesn’t offer much, but he looks at Harry with his deep, knowing eyes, and smiles at him.
“Give him time, yeah?” is all he says. “I promise things aren’t as bad as you think.”
And with that, Zayn leaves. It makes Harry want to scream after him because he can’t just drop a cryptic line and take off and leave Harry to overthink everything the way he always does.
Louis is a little softer with him that night; he sits down for dinner and makes a little conversation, even offers to do the washing up once they’re done. It’s not much, but it’s enough to warm Harry’s heart and let him go to bed with a smile for the first time since the incident.
The next day, Louis doesn’t say a single word to him.
“Did I—did I tell you I was gay, when I met you?”
The question comes out of nowhere, and they’re the first words Louis has spoken to him in over twenty four hours, so Harry’s properly startled and has to take a moment to make sure he heard him correctly.
“You had a girlfriend when I met you, Lou, so no.”
“Yeah,” Harry sighs. “You’d been together for a while, you know, so I didn’t question it.”
Louis raises an eyebrow. “But you thought?”
Harry shakes his hair out of his face, offering Louis a soft smile. “It wasn’t—I’ve never cared about that, not really.”
“So I am gay, then?” Louis asks, frowning like Harry’s not being very helpful.
“You don’t know?”
“I don’t—I don’t remember—it’s like. That side of me, all those memories are gone. I don’t—I don’t remember being gay.”
“Well—you didn’t identify as gay for a long time. We struggled a lot with it, at first, you know? Because we—what we had. You were still with Hannah and things kept getting bigger and bigger and neither of us really knew what we were doing or what our feelings were.”
Louis looks at him like he’s speaking in a foreign tongue, like nothing Harry is saying makes any sense to him. “It’s weird,” he says after a moment, his tone cold, “because I don’t…“
“You don’t what?”
“I don’t think I’m attracted to you,” Louis says, his tone a mix of spite and regret.
Harry wishes he could be more objective, could know that Louis is, for some reason, trying to hurt him. Rationally, Harry can come up with a few reasons why he might be acting like this, why Louis would be trying to purposely upset him. It’s a very Louis thing to do, anyway, to panic when he feels threatened, to fight back instead of fighting to fix things.
“Did you?” Louis asks, snapping Harry out of it.
“Did I what?”
“Did you identify as gay all along?”
“Well—not. Not really. Not publicly, obviously, and not even to our friends but. I think yeah, I knew all along. It was quite scary at first, when we—when we started.”
“Was it—were we in love from the start?”
“It was hard, I think, because it took us a long time to work out that what was going on between us wasn’t—that we weren’t just friends. I don’t know about you but I think—I think I knew from the first moment I met you that I was going to love you for the rest of my life.”
“And you loved me ever since?”
“Yeah, of course.” Harry smiles. “Always.”
Louis smiles at him, softly, barely there, but he’s been frowning for so long that the change is obvious to Harry. It only lasts a moment, though, before his face darkens again, and everything in him shifts, his shoulders tensing and his arms crossing over his chest. “How nice of you,” he snaps, standing up and leaving the room.
Harry just stands there, wondering what the hell happened, and when things with Louis became so impossible.
Two days later, Harry comes back home to find Louis standing in the kitchen talking to some man. It’s around noon, which means it’s been half an hour since Louis finished his physical therapy session, and that leads Harry to assume that this is his physical therapist.
Harry can’t see his face, only the back of his head and right ear, and the hint of two very strong arms, judging by the way the fabric of his henley is stretched around his biceps. It’s not exactly out of the ordinary, getting home to find Louis talking to one of his doctors, but there’s definitely something different about this scene and the ones that have taken place the past week.
The moment he sets eyes on Louis, Harry feels his insides constrict.
He’s propped on the kitchen counter, a hand on his hips, which are angled to the right, making the rest of his body lean to the left. His eyes are glowing, and he keeps licking his lips, which are slightly pursed.
Harry knows this look. He’s been on the receiving end of it for almost eight years, and has also witnessed Louis use it to his advantage when they were in foreign countries and competing to see who could get more drinks for free. He used to get off on it, too, sometimes, whenever things were unusually quiet during tour, seeing Louis flirt with other boys, a weird mix of want and jealousy that always ended with him dragging Louis to the closest bathroom and blowing him.
Louis is flirting. Shamelessly flirting with his physical therapist in the fucking kitchen of the house he’s shared with Harry for four years.
The grocery bag that he’s holding slips from his hand without him even noticing. The splash of the milk carton breaking open against the tile floor makes both Louis and his doctor turn around.
Louis looks like a deer caught in the headlights, mouth gaping open, eyes wide, his body frozen on the spot. The physical therapist—Jacob, Harry remembers finally—smiles at Harry, as if Harry hadn’t just caught him flirting with his boyf—with Louis.
“You must be Harry,” Jacob says, smiling, and Harry wants to snort, because of course Jacob fucking knows who he is.
“Nice to meet you,” Harry replies, the words rolling easily off his tongue as he smiles, sidestepping the puddle of milk and walking over to shake his hand. “Jacob, right?”
Jacob smiles and takes his hand in a strong grip. Harry’s been doing this long enough that he knows how to conceal his emotions almost perfectly, and manages to keep a poker face as he greets him.
His face falls when his eyes flick to Louis, who’s watching him warily, shock still clear in his eyes. Like he got caught doing something he shouldn’t.
Harry can’t help the way his lips purse, or how the next breath he takes is shaky—so much for concealing his emotions—so he turns his back to Louis and goes straight to one of the cupboards, pulling out a rag to clean to the mess he made.
He doesn’t look up from the floor as he wipes the milk away, trying his best to ignore Jacob’s warm goodbye to Louis and Louis’ awkward response. Jacob yells an amused goodbye to Harry from the door, but Harry pretends to be too enthralled by his cleaning to notice.
He goes over to the kitchen sink to rinse the rag, walking by Louis twice, but doesn’t spare him one look. He goes back to the spot where he dropped the bag and starts gathering all the cans that had rolled away with the fall.
When he’s done picking up the rest of the groceries, Harry finally dares looking back at Louis, who has been sitting silently at the kitchen counter with a foul expression. He knows that Louis knows he’s upset, and he knows Louis well enough that he can anticipate his next move before it even happens. He knows Louis is going to get defensive, knows he’ll make some snide comment, try to hurt Harry to get off without owning up to what he did. Harry’s been here a hundred times before.
He sees Louis open his mouth to talk, looking ready to fight, but Harry shakes his head and Louis promptly shuts it.
“I know, Lou,” he whispers, and walks away from the kitchen. He’s barely closed the door of his (their) bedroom when the tears come.
And it’s not—it’s not Louis flirting with bloody Jacob that has him like this. Or maybe it is, because just the thought of Louis setting his hands on anybody that isn’t him feels like a thousand needles stabbing into his heart. But these tears, right now, they’re not about that.
The problem is, Harry can’t do this.
It wasn’t really his idea from the get-go, even though there was nothing he wanted more than for Louis to go home to him. Even since Jay insisted it was the right thing, the best thing to do, Harry had had his doubts. He never thought it would take so little to break him, though.
It’s infuriating, knowing that he’s so weak. That he can’t handle this one little thing for Louis’ sake. That he can’t put himself second and let Louis’ recovery be the priority. He knows, objectively, that he’s being selfish, that his feelings being hurt is unimportant in the great scheme of things, that one little problem should not set him off like this. He knows there’s a reason Louis is acting the way he is, and he should know better than to let it get to him.
And yet, as he stands in their room and the tears won’t stop and all he can think about is Louis, Louis everywhere and nowhere close enough, Harry makes a decision.
“I think I’m gonna go to London for a bit,” he says, later that afternoon, and Louis’ face drops.
They’re waiting for the food that Harry had ordered, after he’d finished packing a bag, and Louis seems more relaxed, less prone to snapping at him, but he’s yet to smile at Harry since he walked into the room. Harry can’t take it.
“I’m—I don’t think I can handle this right now. I don’t. I know it’s selfish of me but Lou, it’s killing me. I can’t even imagine how hard it is for you, I’m not going to pretend I understand what it’s like to be in your position, but Louis, you’re breaking my heart every single day that you don’t remember us.”
“It’s not my fucking fault I took a bat to the head, Harry,” Louis barks back.
“I know. I don’t. I don’t blame you. But I need some space. I need to think. This is all too much for me right now.”
“And what the hell am I supposed to do here by myself?”
“Liam said he’ll come stay with you, and you can call me if you like, if you need anything, or don’t remember where we keep the towels or something.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
Harry shakes his head. “Lou, you can’t stand me. You’ve done nothing but snap at me since we came back from hospital. You’re always mad when you’re around me. You don’t want me around—“
“You don’t know that,” Louis retorts, “but you don’t care, obviously. You don’t give a fuck that I need you here.”
Before, whenever they got into arguments, Louis would always do this: he’d get worked up and start throwing words like knives at Harry, and all of a sudden drop a bomb, spit out something in an attempt to hurt Harry that revealed something deeper, something bigger. It was the easiest way for him to talk about his feelings without feeling too vulnerable. Harry would always crack at that.
Even a few days ago, Harry would have eaten it up, would have dropped whatever he was planning to do and rushed to Louis’ side. A few days ago, he would have killed to hear those words, but when they reach his ears now, Harry doesn’t believe them.
“Even if you did want me,” Harry says, sighing and trying to keep his voice low, “I can’t do this. It’s ruining me, Lou. And I’m no help like this. I need to do this for me.”
The first two days in London are hard. Harry stays holed up at the flat and doesn’t even go out to get food. He writes about thirteen shit songs and one that might actually be okay.
On the third day he goes out, does his groceries, and, on a whim, gets a haircut.
He doesn’t know what inspires it. He’s walking around South London with no particular aim, a Burberry bag in one hand and his phone in the other when he sees his reflection on a window and feels a surge of rage.
He doesn’t bother calling his usual barber, or even looking up a good shop on his phone, just goes into the first place he finds, a small, hole-in-the-wall shop that’s run by an old lady named Aggy, and he’s sold as soon as she smiles at him.
He knows the moment he hears the first snap of the scissors that a small part of him is going to end up regretting it. However, as the strands of hair fall around him, he feels himself relax, the tension in his shoulders slowly washing away. He closes his eyes, the constant sound of the scissors snapping around his head and the soft jazz playing in the background lulling him almost to sleep.
“All done, love,” Aggy says after a while, removing the cape from his shoulder and moving his chair so he can get a closer look.
It’s weird, being able to see his face so openly after three years of always having something to hide behind. Not that it was the reason he ever grew his hair, but. It made things easier, having it long.
He looks younger, he thinks, properly shaved and with his hair back the way it was when he was sixteen, even with the passage of time clear under his eyes and around his mouth. This is the Harry Louis first fell in love with, he thinks idly as he gets off the chair, the thought automatically followed by a sharp pang in the centre of his chest.
He checks with Aggy to make sure the hair she cut from him will be donated, earning a teary eyed smile from her as she assures him it’ll be done.
When Harry walks out of the shop, he feels lighter, like maybe this was the change he needed for things to start looking up.
He’s not expecting the call when it comes, especially because it’s eight hours earlier in Los Angeles than in London, so he’s properly startled when his phone starts ringing while he’s having breakfast.
“I found my engagement ring,” Louis says accusingly, and Harry doesn’t know what to say. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I don’t really know what you want me to tell you.”
“Why didn’t you tell me we were engaged?”
“Harold! This is not the kind of information you keep from someone.”
“We’re not—I mean, we’ve talked about it plenty and all. We both always wanted a big wedding, but we’re not. We never actually got engaged.”
“What do you mean we’re not engaged? Why the hell would I have an engagement ring in my safe if we’re—“
Louis is quiet for a moment, and when he speaks again his voice is quieter, almost like he’s afraid. “Was I going to propose to you?”
“That’s something you’d know, Lou, not me.”
“Well obviously I wouldn’t know in this situation,” Louis says, indignant, and Harry can’t help the laughter that erupts.
“I’m sorry I can’t be of more help,” Harry says, still amused.
“How’s London?” Louis asks, startling him.
“Cold. And grey. And lovely.”
“How eloquent,” Louis says, a hint of a smile in his voice. “Are you—is it. Is it helping you, being away?”
Harry doesn’t know what to say, if he should tell Louis that the distance is breaking him apart but not as much as seeing him every day.
“A bit, I think,” he says, finally. “I don’t know yet.”
“Well. I’m glad.”
It seems impossible, to be having this conversation with Louis right now. The same Louis that was ready to chew his head off a mere three days ago.
Louis huffs out a breath, and Harry can’t help laughing at that, reminded of all the times Louis was left alone in Los Angeles whilst Harry had to travel, and how Louis loved to complain about it, even though they both knew that he secretly loved L.A.
“Liam keeps treating me like he’s my babysitter. He shows up every morning and afternoon, asks if I’ve done my exercises and taken my medicine and if I’m writing down my feelings in that stupid journal that the doctor gave me—“
“Well, are you?”
Louis snorts. “Not you too, Harold!”Harry can’t help but smile into the phone. “And yes, I am.”
“Good,” Harry says automatically, sounding awfully patronizing. “I mean. Um. It’s good for you.”
Louis laughs in reply. “I’m glad London is helping you with—whatever it is you need.”
“I’m glad you haven’t killed Liam yet.”
“Yet,” Louis repeats, laughing again. “I’ll talk to you soon, Harold, yeah?”
Louis calls again the next morning, while Harry’s writing a song for some new artist that Jeff is representing. It’s surprising, but at the same time it isn’t, like Harry knew all along that it was going to happen.
“I’m sorry I was such a shithead,” he says as soon as Harry picks up. “I promise I didn’t—I didn’t really mean to be such an arse.”
“I know, Lou. It’s alright.”
“Not really, ‘s not,” Louis all but whispers, “or you wouldn’t have left.”
It’s not like Harry can argue with that, because Louis is right. He pushed all of Harry’s buttons and drove him to the point where running away was the only option he had left. He can’t help thinking, though, as he remembers what happened, that it was a cowardly move, to leave when things got hard.
He thought he was stronger than that, is all.
“The thing is,” Louis starts again, and only then Harry realizes that maybe he was expecting Harry to say something, “it’s not easy for me.”
“Please don’t say you know. I know you don’t expect me to like, be perfect, to suddenly recover from one second to the next.”
He does, though, Harry thinks. He knows better, knows it’s not going to happen, at least not in the easy, seamless way Harry would love for it to, but he can’t help waiting for that moment. Maybe that was the problem all along: that Harry was always waiting for something impossible.
“The thing is,” Louis says pointedly, “I have all these memories in my head, yeah? And they’re all mixed and matched and they don’t make a lot of sense, but they’re mine. Even if they don’t match what I’m told. Even if they don’t all exist in the same reality where I exist now, they’re there. For the most part it’s okay. Because there’s me mum, there’s Lotts, there’s Liam, and they’re a little different, but for the most part they fit whatever memories I have of them. I think about them and it’s alright.
“And then there’s you. And you’re this wild, beautiful thing, and you make no sense at all. Because there’s no—you’re a blank page, yeah? I can’t put you next to my memories, attach you to a sound or a smell or any of the stories that are floating around in my head. It’s like you don’t exist, not in my head, but my body keeps betraying everything my brain tells it. Because I see you, and suddenly I need to get closer, yeah?”
Harry doesn’t know if Louis is expecting an answer, but he can’t possibly give one. He nods his head, stupidly, even though Louis can’t see him, and does his best to take a breath because he’s pretty sure he hasn’t since Louis started speaking.
“There’s these fleeting thoughts that I get, these little urges, whenever you’re around. And they’re ridiculous! I see you and I find myself ready to lean in and kiss you. And it makes no fucking sense, does it?” Louis rushes the words out, like he’s nervous, and Harry can imagine him pacing around the room as he speaks, waving his hands around, trying to explain himself.
“I know that like, in reality, it does, yeah. But in my head, to my brain, that’s terrifying. It doesn’t make any sense! Why would I kiss you when I have no memory of you?”
The words aren’t meant to hurt him, he’s sure, but Harry’s chest constricts around his heart at the sharp honesty.
“I felt like I was going crazy, when you were here,” Louis whispers, and he sounds broken, “because I had this urges to do things, and they made no sense to me, and I felt like I was going mad. So I’m sorry, and I know it’s not like, an excuse or anything but. That’s why—that’s why I was an arse.”
“Lou,” Harry breathes out, his voice breaking slightly, “I’m—I’m sorry you were going through that and I—I’m sorry I couldn’t help. Or that I made things worse. I’m sorry that me trying to help you made everything worse.”
“It’s better now, I think. My doctor thinks my thoughts are slowly falling into place, because I’m not—I don’t get so scared, anymore. It’s starting to make sense, whenever I get those feelings.”
“I’m—I’m glad it’s getting better.”
Being alone in London gets easier after that. Harry wakes up, goes for a walk or to a coffee shop to read a book, and, almost always, Louis calls him. They develop a little routine. It’s always around nine or ten in the morning, and Louis says that he can’t sleep, even if he sounds downright exhausted sometimes. Harry wonders, on the fifth morning call in a row, during which Louis falls asleep twice whilst Harry’s telling him about dinner with his mum and Robin the night before, if Louis is using the ‘can’t sleep’ line as an excuse, if he maybe just wants to talk to Harry but waits until it’s late in Los Angeles and he can just pretend he’s bored and sleepless and just needs someone to talk to. It’s something Louis would have done, before. Whatever the reason, Harry is always happy to indulge.
“Can you tell me—can you tell me how it happened?” Louis asks over the phone two days later, after a short conversation where he told Harry that he can now kick a football at the goal and the ball won’t actually go the opposite direction.
“You mean…“ Harry was dreading this moment. He knew, from the instant Louis looked at him for the first time since he woke up, that there would come a time when Louis would want to know what had happened to him, and Harry would have to do it. His breaths start speeding up just thinking about it.
“Well, I mean, I kind of know, you know, what happened. I just—everyone who’s told me about that night has been so… impersonal about it. Like they’re telling a story, not something that happened to me, you know. No one really knows the details but you.”
“Um—I mean. If that’s what you want, then like. I guess I can tell you.” He takes a deep breath, closing his eyes, and lets the memories come back to him.
There’s a flash of a shadow on light concrete, the sound of steps running towards him, the feeling of someone trying to trap him, and suddenly, Harry can’t breathe.
“I can’t—“ he chokes out. “’M sorry—I can’t—I can’t.”
“Harry—“ Louis sounds confused, and Harry catches a hint of concern in his voice.
Harry shakes his head, even though Louis can’t see him, the words coming out in a rush. “I have to go. Sorry. ‘M Sorry.”
Harry has the first nightmare that same night.
He was waiting for it to happen, because he’s always been prone to bad dreams, ever since he was a kid, and the doctor had told him it was a very common consequence of a traumatic event, that it’d be surprising if it didn’t happen.
It doesn’t drag too long. There’s flashing images of a hooded figure, and Louis covered in blood, and the sound of bones cracking and a manic laughter and the feeling of an elephant sitting on his chest.
Harry wakes up drenched in sweat, and he can’t breathe. He reaches with a hand to push off whatever’s pressing on his chest, but there’s nothing there. He sits up, trying to take a deep breath, but it feels like his lungs have shut off, a sharp pain in the middle of his ribcage.
For a fleeting moment, he thinks it’s a heart attack, and he’s going to die, but a clap of thunder outside startles him and he starts to recognize the room around him, his hands clutching at the sheets, and he forces himself to count as he tries to take a breath and fails one, two, three, four times. The fifth breath fills his lungs painfully, and the panic subsides, if only slightly.
He stays there, breathing and counting, as all the muscles in his body relax, leaving him exhausted. It’s only about four in the morning, but he can’t let himself go back to sleep, so he gets out of bed, grabs his guitar and sits in the balcony, the rain wetting his toes, and plays until the sun comes out.
He can tell Louis notices something’s up the next day when he calls, even though he doesn’t outright say anything. He doesn’t mean to be dismissive, or rude, but it’s ten in the morning and he’s been up for seven hours and he’s drained, his body sore and his mind too tired. He can barely stand up, let alone form coherent sentences to answer Louis’ questions.
But it’s Louis, and Harry can’t pass up a chance at talking to Louis, especially not now that things are starting to look up for them.
“Los Angeles kind of sucks, you know” Louis says, and Harry hums in reply. “Without you, I mean.”
That’s the closest thing to an I miss you that he’s going to get. Harry knows Louis, even if this Louis isn’t exactly the same as the one that Harry’s been spending his life with, and he knows what those words mean. His chest aches so much for him Harry wishes he had never left his side.
“I’ll be back soon, yeah? And then you’ll wish I’d never gone back,” he jokes, because the only other option is blurting out iloveyouiloveyouiloveyou and he doesn’t think that’s the right thing to say. Not yet.
“Doubtful, but we’ll see.”
When they hang up, Harry falls asleep .He dreams of Brazil and waking up to the sound of the ocean and a warm body wrapped around his back.
They’ve kept up their routine of morning phone calls for a week and a half now, and Harry tries to tell himself it doesn’t mean anything, but it’s the best part of his day.
He tries not to be disappointed when the call doesn’t come that Tuesday. Louis might have actually managed to fall asleep without talking to Harry. His “I can’t sleep without you,” from two nights ago, fresh in Harry’s memory, is kind of contradictory, but he still forces himself to try to be logical. He might have made plans; maybe he’s hanging out with Liam, or Ed, or James. His phone might have died, or he might have lost track of time playing video games and forgotten to call Harry.
There are endless possible reasons why Louis doesn’t call Harry that morning, but Harry doesn’t really believe any of them.
He spends the rest of the day on edge, double checking his phone under the table during lunch with Gemma, and then when he hangs out with Matt in the afternoon. Everyone around him asks him why he’s being so jumpy, if something happened with Louis, but Harry can’t really talk about it without delving into a much deeper conversation he’s not ready to have with Louis, let alone anyone else.
When it finally gets too much, he shoots Liam a text to ask if everything is alright with Louis, and Liam replies casually that yeah, everything’s cool, he stopped by the house earlier but Louis was taking a nap.
He’s been so tense and anxious all day that when the phone call finally comes the next morning, after a night of tossing and turning, Harry is so surprised he has to do a double take when he sees the name on the screen.
“I need to tell you something,” is the first thing Louis says through the speaker, his voice rushed.
“Lou, are you okay?”
“I need to tell you something but you’re not allowed to get angry at me, okay?”
“I just—Lou, tell me, is everything okay?”
“Yes,” Louis whispers, “No, I don’t know? I just have to tell you this. And you need to listen, but you can’t get mad, because I didn’t do anything wrong. It’s not—I don’t owe anyone anything, not even you, and I didn’t—what I did wasn’t wrong.”
“Lou, whatever you did, if you know it wasn’t wrong, then it’s fine. Why are you so worried about it?”
“Because it feels wrong.”
Harry has to take a deep breath; it’s hard for him to deal with Louis when he’s being evasive on a normal day, but right now and over the phone, it’s making him so anxious he wants to crawl through the phone and force Louis to tell him everything. “Okay, just tell me what happened and we’ll—“
“I kissed Nick.”
And that, Harry was not expecting.
It explains why Nick didn’t answer his phone when Harry called him the night before hoping to get dinner together. Harry had had no idea that Nick was still in L.A.., no idea that while he was away, Nick was with Louis, spending time at his house.
It makes no sense at all, and yet it feels like it was a long time coming. Like Harry knew all along that it was a matter of time before it happened. Not Nick, per se, but someone, anyone. The fact that it was one of Harry’s best friends just makes it harder to stomach.
He breathes in, and breathes out, and it’s okay. He’s okay. And then he hits the top of his laptop so hard it cracks the surface.
“I think,“ he says after a minute where all he could hear was Louis’ rushed breathing, “I think I need you not to—not to call me for a bit, yeah?”
“I’m not angry at you.” Harry sighs. “I’m just. I need some space. I need time to think.”
For a moment, Harry expects Louis to fight him on this.
“I am sorry,” Louis says in a whisper.
“I know,” Harry all but whispers back, and hangs up the phone.
Harry doesn’t really know what he’s doing, what he’s looking for, when he calls Nick. As much as he knows he needs to detach himself from the situation, take a step away from everything involving Louis—especially this—he finds himself fishing for his phone and dialling Grimmy’s number.
Nick picks up on the second ring, and Harry realizes he doesn’t really know what to say, how to approach the situation.
“Styles, what a surprise,” Nick says casually.
“Hey Grim,” Harry grits out, hoping that it’s not obvious through the phone that his blood is boiling. “What’s up?”
“Just left brunch, you know how it is. ‘M a busy man.”
“Of course, yeah. Lots of celebrities to befriend.”
“Always,” Nick laughs. “How have you been? Haven’t heard from you in quite a few days.”
Liar, Harry thinks, but forces the words down. “Not much. I’m still in town, so I was wondering if you wanted to get dinner later.”
Nick is silent for a few moments, and Harry wonders if he knows that Harry knows, if he was there when Louis called him—hell, what if he’s there with Louis now?
“I’m actually quite busy today, made plans with—“
“So you’re not going to tell me,” Harry snaps. “You had no intention of telling me that you’re in L.A. That you were with Louis yesterday when I called you and you didn’t answer.”
“You weren’t going to tell me that you fucking kissed him.” Harry winces when his words echo back at him, realising how much he’s raised his voice.
“I didn’t—he kissed me, Haz, it wasn’t like—“
“So now you’re telling me? Why where you playing dumb before, not even mentioning that you’re not in fucking London when I ask you to get dinner with me.”
“I didn’t—I didn’t know if he had told you yet,” Nick explains, his voice calm but with a hint of guilt. “I didn’t want you to hear it from me.”
“Harry, I know you, I can already imagine what’s going through your head—it wasn’t anything like that. I promise, it’s not as big of a deal as you’re making it out to be.”
“Right, so my boyfriend of seven years, who doesn’t bloody remember ever being with me, kisses you, who he only remembers hating, who he actually did hate for years, even though he won’t even let me hug him, but I’m making a big deal out of it?”
“Talk to Louis, Harry. I promise it’s not as bad as you think.”
Harry doesn’t call Louis. He doesn’t even call his mum, which is, for Harry, a big deal. He goes to the gym, and works out harder than he has in ages. Liam had been pushing for them to work out together the entire time that Louis was in hospital, insisting it was a good way to unwind, but every time that he’d tried, he’d ended up breaking down on the treadmill, too upset to be able to work his feelings into energy.
Today, he’s not upset, he’s angry. And anger he can work with.
He’s never been too into the actual work out; he’s never been like Liam, who enjoys every second of exercising, the exhausting runs and the muscle strain and the gym talks about protein shakes and how many stone he and his gym buddies can deadlift.
Harry doesn’t love the moment he steps onto the treadmill, and he spends the ten kilometres he runs dreading the weights that are waiting for him when he’s done. He doesn’t love the way his thighs burn as he squats or the tremble in his biceps.
He does love, however, the way his anger intensifies the harder he goes; how it feels like he’s channelling all of it into running faster, lasting longer, pushing farther. He loves the thrill, feeling the anger flowing through his body, working it into something else. He also loves the pain afterwards, the sore muscles as he walks up the stairs, and the way his thighs shake in complaint when he leans down to reach something he dropped. He’s always had a thing for faint, reminiscent pain, the kind that anchors him, that reminds him of what he’s done or why he’s done it.
It’s kind of why he’s gotten so many tattoos. He’s always loved the pain, the throbbing of his skin as the needle goes in an out relentlessly, but mostly he likes it once it’s done, the way his skin radiates heat and thumps painfully under the bandages, the way he can’t help hissing when he has to wash it off. He loves the way it’ll start hurting all of a sudden, hours later, reminding him that it’s there, that there’s a new addition to his body, demanding to be recognized.
His legs are sore as he walks back to his car after the workout, and he relishes in the pain.
Gemma is waiting for him when he walks into his flat, sitting at the table with an open bottle of wine next to her.
“Hey baby bro.” She smiles. “I heard you needed some pampering.”
“And exactly who told you that?”
“I’m not sure you want to hear his name right now.“
“Louis called you?”
Gemma shrugs, and Harry can’t help the smile that creeps onto his face as his eyes fill with tears. He lets Gemma pull him into a hug, wrapping his arms tightly around her.
“Ew, disgusting,” she says, trying to pull away. “You stink.”
He can’t help the way he whimpers against her, the tears that were pricking at his eyes now flowing evenly, and he smiles against her neck and pulls her closer. Gemma sighs, letting herself be hugged.
“Did he tell you what happened?” he asks when they break apart.
“No, because that’s between you two. He just told me something happened, and that you probably needed someone to keep you company so you didn’t drive yourself crazy being alone with your own thoughts.”
Harry can’t help his surprise at the fact that this Louis, who doesn’t even remember him, still knows him so well.
“Yeah, well. I don’t want to talk about Louis.”
“Are you sure? Because you look like you do.”
He shakes his head, sits down where Gemma was previously, and drinks the remains of her glass of wine in one gulp. And then he tells her everything.
“I know it’s not his fault, Gem, but I feel so betrayed.”
Gemma hums, but doesn’t say anything, just refills Harry’s glass and lets him drink away.
“I’m not even mad at him, you know? I’m just. Mad. At everything. Everyone.”
“Is it the kiss that makes you mad, though?”
Harry stops for a moment to contemplate it, then shakes his head.
“Then maybe stop focusing on that, and start thinking about what it is that’s making you mad.”
Harry nods, reaching for his glass of wine and downing half of its contents in one go. “The problem is,” he says, “I thought—I always thought that love, our love, was deeper than this, you know?”
“I haven’t been the luckiest in the subject, so I’m not sure I do.”
“I just—I figured that, even if something like this happened, our love wouldn’t just disappear, you know? Like, even if Lou can’t remember me, us, he’s still—he’d still have to feel it. I assumed he’d look at me and just know, even if his head was messing with him. I thought we were forever, no matter what.”
“Harry, him losing his memory doesn’t have anything to do with your relationship being lasting or not.”
“That’s not—that’s not really what I mean, Gem. I just.“ He has to pause and take a deep breath. “I thought love was bigger than the memories that we had together. That it was something that beat all rationality. I always thought that love was something that you feel, so that even if your brain is messing up, you’d still be able to feel it.”
Gemma looks like she wants to shake her head at Harry, but she doesn’t. Instead she puts her hand on his shoulder. “Haz, I think you’re taking your expectations of something as abstract and incomprehensible as love, and basing your relationship with Lou on them. I know you’re a hopeless romantic, love, but you can’t take what you think love should be like and apply it to a situation as specific, and like, fucked up as this one.”
Harry opens his mouth to reply, but Gemma shushes him.
“What happened to Louis is a tragedy in itself, and the effect it’s had on your relationship is awful, but you can’t just sit and sulk wishing things had gone differently. Louis is a real person, and this happened to him, and whatever consequences come from it, you have to deal with them. You can’t be upset because Louis didn’t react according to your personal ideas of what love is or should be.”
“I’m not done, Harry Edward, so shush your mouth,” Gemma says, lifting a hand to his lips. “Louis loves you. He’s loved you for as long as he’s known you, and you know that. Him not remembering it right now doesn’t cancel out your seven years together, or the fact that he’s loved you and made you happy for that long.”
“I just can’t help that it hurts.”
“Love, of course it’s going to hurt. You feel like you’ve lost your other half. But he’s still here. You just gotta give him time.”
“Why are you so sure that time is the solution?”
Gemma shakes her head, and Harry is a little drunk, so it’s harder for him to read her, but he thinks she looks like she wants to slap some sense into him.
“Because I’ve been around you two from the start, and I know Louis, maybe not as well as you do, but I think I know him pretty well. And I know that whatever is going on inside his head, the bits of him that remember are fighting for you.”
Harry smiles at her, hoping it will end the conversation. He wants with all his being for her to be right, wants to believe what she says the same way he wanted to believe Zayn when he spewed that speech about Harry and Louis being soulmates, but there’s that dull ache in his chest that’s a constant reminder that no matter what people tell him, the bottom line is that Louis doesn’t remember him. And Louis not remembering him, right now, regardless of what Gemma thinks, equals Louis not loving him.
They don’t talk about it for the rest of the night. Gemma convinces Harry to watch a horror movie—probably because it’s the least likely genre to have romantic scenes, and Gemma knows him well enough to know what that’d do to him—and Harry drifts in and out. He manages to catch glimpses of the ocean and dead children but falls asleep sometime before the mom figures out that it was her who killed her son all along.
The call comes at four in the morning, startling Harry awake. He jolts to a sitting position, his heart jumping in his chest and his breathing rapid. He reaches for his phone, which is sitting on the bedside table, and answers with a shaky voice and trembling hands.
“Am I speaking to Mr. Harry Edward Styles?” a woman asks.
“This is he.”
“I’m calling from Cedars Sinai. Please excuse the time, I have been told you’re on a different time zone at the moment.”
“’S alright,” Harry murmurs.
“I’m calling because we’ve had a patient admitted recently and you are listed as his emergency contact.”
Harry had known, the moment the phone rang, that it’d have something to do with Louis, but to hear it confirmed feels like a bucket of cold water has been dumped over his head.
“Is he okay? Did something happen?” he asks, despite already knowing that something must have happened or he wouldn’t be getting this call.
“Mr. Tomlinson suffered from an episode and was brought in a state of panic. He has since then been treated and is now asleep, under the effect of some sedatives. However, given his condition, and since you are legally his next of kin, we cannot dismiss him without your signature, as it is protocol. It has been advised to Mr. Tomlinson that he stays at the hospital for a period of observation, but he has explicitly stated he does not wish to do so, and kept asking for you.”
Harry’s breath hitches, but he emits no sound.
“If you are unable to come, we can initiate a legal transfer so you allow someone else to sign in your place. Perhaps Mr. Tomlinson’s closest blood relative.”
“No, it’s—it’s alright, I’ll be there.”
He calls Jeff the moment he gets off the phone. He keeps it short, not bothering with details, and in ten minutes he’s done with the phone call and already shoving whatever clothes he can find into his suitcase.
It’s the first time since he’s been at this level of fame that Harry doesn’t find it obnoxious that it only takes an hour to set up a private plane to Los Angeles. Most of the time he hates flying private, despite its comforts, because it raises his carbon footprint through the roof, and both Nick and Louis love to mock him about it whenever he nags them about recycling.
He’s on his way to the airport a little before six, not wasting time to even take a shower, which is obvious from the state of his hair, but he has no time, so he throws the first hat he finds lying around and hops in the car.
By seven, he’s on his way back to Los Angeles.
It’s around ten in the morning in L.A. by the time he makes it to the hospital. He walks in with his suitcase in tow, as he doesn’t trust his driver enough to take his stuff back to the house. It’s been years, but he still misses Preston.
Lottie is sat by Louis’ bed, looking at her phone, when he walks into the room.. Next to her, Louis seems peacefully asleep.
“I thought the doctors were kidding when they said you were coming,” she says, getting off her chair and throwing herself at Harry, wrapping her arms around his neck. “Weren’t you all the way home?”
“Was in London, yeah, but they told me I should come back.“
“He kept asking for you, so you did good.”
Harry tries not to let the smile that’s creeping on his face show. “What happened?”
“I’m not sure—I haven’t. I haven’t talked to him, really. He’s been pretty out of it since I got here. I think they gave him too high a dose.” She shudders. “They brought him straight from the airport, apparently.”
“He’d purchased a ticket to London and seemed pretty determined to get on that plane. No one knew about it, so it think it was rather on impulse.”
Harry closes his eyes, remembering their conversation the night before.
“What happened? Why didn’t he—“
“I don’t know the details but apparently he freaked out? It was before they had even boarded the plane, and I think he had a panic attack. They said it was pretty bad—I guess he went from panicky to like, hysteric, and they had to drug him to bring him over because he couldn’t—“
“You know, it’s quite impolite to talk about someone while they’re asleep,” a voice says behind them, and Harry turns around to find Louis glaring at him.
“Hey Lou,” he says in an almost-whisper.
“Well, Harold, would you mind telling me what the fuck are you doing here?”
Harry’s taken aback by Louis’ words, and Louis seems to notice how harsh he sounds, because he’s quick to add, “Aren’t you supposed to be in London?”
“Well, I was, yeah. And then I got a phone call saying that I was, um. Needed? Here. So I came. So I’m here now. And not, um. Not in London.”
“Well that’s embarrassing,” Louis spits, but he sounds more annoyed than embarrassed. “Did they really call you?”
“Well. Yeah. I’m your emergency contact. And I’m pretty sure everyone in this hospital knows I’m your—“ He stops himself. “—was your. You know. Whatever.”
“Not whatever,” Louis mumbles, hiding his face against the pillow for a moment before looking back at Harry. “How long was I out?”
“’M not sure, about twelve hours maybe? I’m not sure how long passed since you were admitted and that nurse called me so maybe a bit more.“
“So you came—you came straight here?”
“Yeah, of course.”
He takes Louis home that afternoon, after all his tests come back normal and he signs a lot of paperwork that essentially states that whatever happens to Louis from now on is on Harry.
As if it wasn’t always.
The first thing Harry notices is how different Louis is from the last time he saw him over a week ago, how much softer he looks. His face looks rounder, his cheekbones less sharp, and, as exhausted as he looks, the dark bags under his eyes are gone. More importantly, he looks gentler, happier, like whatever thoughts were haunting him have gone away.
“Why did—why did you come back?” Louis asks, once they’re in the car and Lottie has gone her way.
Harry’s taken aback by the question, and almost feels the need to grab Louis’ face with both hands and kiss him until he understands.
“Because it’s you,” he says instead, because it’s the simplest answer.
Louis nods. His eyes are fixed on his own hands, resting over his knees.
“Why did you try to go to London?” Harry asks after a moment.
“I’ll—“Louis starts. “I’ll tell you later, yeah?”
Harry takes a deep breath, forcing himself not to push it, and nods. They don’t talk for the rest of the trip. Louis stares out the window and Harry stares at Louis and tries, to no avail, to figure out what’s changed, what it is about Louis that feels so much different now.
Once at the house, Harry goes straight to the master, forcing himself not to call it their bedroom in his head, and stops dead in his tracks when he walks in.
Louis’ things are there.
There’s Louis’ laptop lying on the bed. His Rovers slippers, kicked off a few feet from it. His white, fuzzy robe that Harry stole for him from a hotel in Morocco, crumpled on the floor by the bathroom door.
“It got lonely without you,” a voice says from behind him, “so I just—you know. It felt nicer. Sleeping here.”
Harry turns to face Louis, who’s leaning against the doorframe and looking more vulnerable than Harry has seen him since he woke up in the hospital.
“I thought—I thought you didn’t want to sleep here with all the—“ He waves a hand around. “—all the stuff that you don’t remember.”
“Yeah, well.” Louis looks away. “That’s—changed.”
Harry walks to the bed, setting his suitcase down and sitting down, nodding at Louis to join him. It’s a few seconds before he agrees, but then he nods and moves to sit right next to Harry, the space between them non-existent. Harry can barely breathe, his heart beating so hard it might punch a hole through his chest.
“I’m sorry about the Nick thing,” Louis says, after a few moments of silence.
“You don’t have to—“
“Harry,” Louis says firmly, “I’m sorry. I’m not apologizing because I—because I think I owe it to you. Or because it’s the right thing to do. I’m apologizing because I feel bad about it, I feel guilty. I’m saying I’m sorry because I’m sorry it happened. I wish I hadn’t done that.”
Harry’s pretty sure his heart has ceased beating. “But why?”
Louis places a hand on Harry’s leg, and Harry looks up for the first time since they’ve been sat together to find Louis staring straight at him, his eyes wide and scared.
“I’ve been. It’s not…It’s not like it’s all back, but. I remember some things, yeah? Not all the time but. Sometimes I get like fleeting things. Images. Sensations. The feel of a hand on my neck, or a word whispered late at night. They’re not big things and they don’t—they don’t really make anything clearer but. It keeps happening.”
Harry has to force himself to take a breath, unable to talk.
“When the thing with Nick happened I—I didn’t mean for it to happen, I just. We were drunk, and we got talking, and I was asking him some stuff.” Louis stops, blushing. “And I remembered our conversation about me—about me being gay. And I thought it was weird that I just—that I couldn’t remember ever realizing that.”
He pauses, and Harry wants to snap at Louis because the suspense is really not helping the way his heart feels like it might break into pieces any second.
“So I just. I went for it, figured it’d clear things up. Which it wouldn’t have, anyway, because Nick isn’t even hot.” He laughs, and Harry almost wants to punch him. “But the moment our lips touched I—something happened.”
He looks back into Harry’s eyes, smiling softly. “You know when you’re just walking around, and something just hits you? Like, you’ll remember something, and it’s not like you’d forgotten, but it’s like the memory is pushing its way to the front of your head, trying to be noticed. And it’s not like in the movies, you don’t really see the images in your head, not really. But you can almost feel like you’re back in that situation, over again. There’s the smell, or the sound, or you just feel the way you did, back then. You know what I’m talking about?”
Yes. “I—I think so.”
“It was like I was back in Donny, at Stan’s party, all those years ago. I could even smell those disgusting drinks he made us all drink—“
For what feels like the tenth time since the conversation started, Harry’s heart stops, then starts beating at a million times per second, because Harry thinks he can tell where this is going.
“I could almost see you, drunk and teary eyed and hiding from everyone behind Stan’s dad’s shed because—“
“Because you’d been talking to Hannah,” he finishes, closing his eyes at the memory of being sixteen and scared and so in love he thought he might break from it.
“I remember finding you there and you were so embarrassed. You didn’t want me to know why you were so upset, kept wiping at your eyes, but I had it all figured out already.”
Harry feels a hand reaching for his and opens his eyes, finding Louis’s piercing stare mere inches away.
“I think the moment you first pressed your lips to mine I was convinced I was going to die, the way my heart started beating out of control,” Louis says, smiling, and Harry cannot believe this is the same Louis that two weeks ago could barely stand to look at him.
“You remember our first kiss,” he whispers.
“Well, duh. I just told you the story,” he says, pushing Harry softly. “But that—that whole thing came rushing back to me. When the, um, thing with Nick happened. And I just felt so wrong. I just knew that—it wouldn’t feel right to kiss anyone else but you.”
Harry smiles, and Louis smiles back, and everything around them stops. Harry’s sure, for a moment, that Louis is going to close the distance between them and kiss him, his eyes half lidded already, but just when he’s about to lean in, Louis pulls away, his smile dimming slightly, and stands up.
“I think you should take this room again,” he says, rubbing his palms against his jeans. “I wouldn’t feel right making you sleep in the guest room so just. Yeah. You stay here and I’ll just. Yeah.”
He rushes out of the room without sparing Harry a look, and it’s at least ten minutes before Harry forces himself to stand up, still completely dumbfounded.
Harry makes dinner that night, because he needs something to keep him occupied, to stop his thoughts from going back to the conversation in their room. Cooking has always been a nice escape for him.
Louis steers clear of him for the rest of the day and doesn’t come down when Harry calls him for dinner. Harry expected as much, but he’s still disappointed.
He goes to bed early, partly because he’s jetlagged and partly because that way he can pretend it’s not Louis that’s ignoring him.
He wakes up to the bed dipping behind him, someone pressing against him. It takes a moment for his sleep-fogged mind to understand what’s happening and his body stills, going into panic mode, until he smells Louis’ cologne and feels his small hand tentatively placed on his hip.
“Please, not right now, just let me—we can talk tomorrow, yeah? I just need—please let me have this right now.”
There are tears pricking at his eyes, but he has no choice but to swallow down the lump in his throat. He stills when Louis scoots closer, has to press his face down on the pillow to stifle a choked cry as Louis’ body presses against his back, enveloping him.
He doesn’t say anything else, even though he’s dying to. Louis’ breathing evens and slows down after a few minutes, but Harry’s own heart is racing and he can’t even force himself to close his eyes, Louis’ proximity too overwhelming. Despite his exhaustion, it’s hours until sleep finally comes for him.
Louis isn’t in bed when Harry wakes up the following morning, and once again, disappointment settles heavily in his stomach.
He debates whether to stay and give Louis some space, but in the end, he goes to the kitchen, because the schoolboy with a crush that lives inside him can’t really handle being in the same house as Louis and not seeing him.
He walks in nonchalant, pretends he doesn’t notice Louis’ deer -in-headlights face when he spots him, just walks towards the coffee maker and makes himself a cup.
“Did you sleep okay?” he asks as he sits down and Louis resolutely avoids looking at him. Harry debates outright asking him why he got into his bed last night, but decides against it, going for a completely different approach.
“We’re actually technically married, did you know?” he offers casually, sipping his coffee.
Louis spits out his drink. “What?”
“We—it wasn’t a big thing. No one really knows, except for the boys and our mums. I don’t even think we ever even told Zayn, but yeah. We got—we got married in South America, a very spur of the moment thing.”
“Why would we get married in South America?”
“Well. We did it because we wanted to buy a house down in Argentina, and they wouldn’t let us put it under both of our names, and we were stuck in the hotel both nights after the concert, because fans down there were wild.
“I guess we were a little riled up, and you really had your heart set on this house, and you know how you get when someone tells you you can’t do something. One of the workers of the hotel mentioned a chapel really close from there and you just. You called a car, and we just went for it. We didn’t even tell the boys until a year later.”
“This was, what, four years ago?”
“It was May 4th, 2014, so yeah, about that time.”
“So we’re married,” Louis deadpans. “You’re telling me we have been married for four years.”
“Yeah, I guess. We never got the papers legalized in the U.K., so I’m not sure we’re legally married anywhere outside Argentina, but yeah.”
“I’m your husband. You’re my husband. I could tell people ‘This is Harry Styles, my husband.”
Harry has to force the smile off his face. “You don’t—you don’t actually like the word husband, I don’t think. You always tell everyone I’m your boy.”
The smile that breaks on Louis’ face sends warmth through Harry’s veins, but it breaks his heart a little, too. “Do you call me your husband?”
“I like spouse. It’s a funny word.” He shrugs.
“Like a spider and a mouse,” Louis whispers, and that’s all it takes for Harry to crumble. He turns from Louis just before the tears come, has to grip the counter to stop himself from dropping to the floor, his knees weak.
“Are you okay?” Louis asks, tentatively, after a few minutes of silence.
“’M sorry—it’s. It’s fine. Just got a little overwhelmed there, that’s all.”
Louis hums in acknowledgement but doesn’t say anything else, and Harry hears his steps as he walks away.
“If we’re married—why was I going to propose to you, then?” Louis asks with no preamble, walking into the kitchen about half an hour later.
Harry’s so startled he almost drops his plate in the sink. “Well—we had this. Little fight? I guess? Back when Eleanor was still around, I kinda—proposed to you. And you did not like it one bit. Said it was supposed to be you, and then threw the ring over my head. I suppose you were pretty drunk, so maybe the timing was wrong, but I had planned the whole thing and then you showed up drunk after going to a match with Stan and I wasn’t just—I wasn’t going to cancel everything because you were drunk, I put a lot of effort in planning that.”
Louis’ face breaks into a grin, which turns into uncontrollable laughter. “I threw the ring at your face?”
“You were really offended that I had pulled a ring on you then, because you couldn’t even wear it because of Eleanor, so, yeah. You did that.”
“I can’t believe I did that.”
“You’re a funny drunk.”
“Of course I am.” Louis smirks. They stay silent for almost a full minute, staring at each other, and then Louis smiles nervously before he speaks, barely whispering. “I wanted to ask you something,” he says, his eyes on the floor, “because Zayn said something when I was still in hospital, when I said that I—I told him that I didn’t care if I wanted to come out before, yeah? It doesn’t really matter but. He said it was funny I was saying that at the hospital, after what happened with Maggie.”
Harry’s blood freezes, and he stops dead in his tracks, wondering if he should reply or not. “You know we—we met a lot of fans, through the years. But a lot of them, we met through Make a Wish, the gift giving foundation for kids—“
“With terminal illnesses.”
“Yeah. I mean, they’re not all terminal. Some of them do survive, but—a lot of them, yeah. You’ve always been really involved in that. With your charities and your donations, it was always. It was your thing, you know, the one difference that you’ve always wanted to make.”
“I think…I remember some of that.”
“There was this one time. We were supposed to meet this girl, Maggie, backstage but she—she was too weak, I guess. She was in her last days, quite literally.
“We met her at the hospital because it was—it was her last wish, you know, how could we not? Zayn and Liam came, I think Niall had a doctor’s appointment. But we had to—we had to split up, yeah? Because she couldn’t see that many people at the same time. And you and me, we went in together.
“She broke down when she saw us. She was crying on your shoulder and you were quite visibly upset and we couldn’t get her to calm down, or figure out what was happening. And then she stopped, and she looked at you straight in the eye and asked if you and I were friends, still. If all the magazines had lied about us not getting along anymore or if we really hated each other.
“She couldn’t have been more than ten, I don’t think, it was understandable that she would buy into the stories that the media fed her, but. You kept making it a point about how close we were, how magazines like to print lies. You were so angry, then, because it was obvious our friendship was important to her, and probably many others. And I’m not saying it was all this girl had, because her family was wonderful, and she had her friends and all but. It meant a lot to her, and all the lies. They had really broke her down, yeah?”
“She died a couple of days after we met her,” Harry whispers, seeing the shift in Louis’ expression as he hears the words, “and you were so—you were so angry. It was probably the most upset I’ve ever seen you, I think. And you swore, you’d never let our management lie about us again. That you’d do whatever you could to make sure everyone knew.”
Louis nods, and opens his mouth to say something, but no words come out. Harry waits, gives him some time to figure out what he has to say, but eventually, Louis stands up and walks out of the room.
“Why don’t you want to tell me about the day I was attacked?” Louis asks later that day, apparently having decided dramatic entrances are his new thing.
Harry has to force himself to turn around, because the moment the words reach him, his eyes fill with tears, and he doesn’t want Louis to see him like this. “I understand that it’s so—so impersonal for you, that you’re detached from the situation like it—“
“Like it happened to someone else,” Louis surmises.
“Yeah, I get it. I get that it was somehow wiped from your memory and you don’t have to re-live it, but Lou. I was there. I know it’s easy for you to joke about it because you just don’t remember it but I—
“I had to watch you go limp after he hit you.” Harry shudders. “You were bleeding all over me and you wouldn’t wake up and you looked so pale and so small, and there was blood everywhere, so much of it, and it just kept coming out and you weren’t moving, you weren’t even breathing, and I couldn’t even take out my phone because my hands were covered in your blood and I kept screaming but no one was coming and the blood—“
“Harry.” Louis moves behind him, his arms resting against Harry’s. “Stop, darling, and breathe. Come on, focus on your breathing.”
As soon as Louis says it, Harry realizes that he’s gasping for air, and he’s shaking slightly against Louis, who’s tightened his embrace. “You’re okay, love, just breath, in an out, you can do this,” he whispers, his lips ticking Harry’s ear.
One of Louis’ hand moves from where it’s holding his chest to move his hair out of his face, angling his face up so it’s easier for him to take a deep breath.
“Stay with me, babe, you can do this, just breathe.”
The room slowly comes back into focus, the piercing pain in his chest dissipating gradually. His head is throbbing, his limbs sagging against Louis as his breathing slows down and he comes to.
Louis coaxes him into a sitting position against the kitchen cupboards. He startles for a moment, when he stops feeling the warmth of Louis’ body against his, but it’s gone only for a second and then it’s back, a gentle hand on the back of his head as he brings a glass of water to Harry’s mouth.
The cold water feels both like a breath of fresh air and a million needles digging into his chest. His body automatically curls inward, the sudden sharp pain making him double over. Louis wastes no time setting the glass down and pulling Harry so that he’s resting halfway on his lap. His arms go around Harry to pull him closer.
Harry lets his head drop on Louis shoulder, the familiar smell making his heart flutter in his chest. “’M sorry,” he mumbles against Louis’ neck.
“Shut up,” Louis hushes him, and waits a moment before he adds, “I think you should drink more water, can you do that for me?”
Louis doesn’t wait for a reply, just brings the glass of water back to Harry’s mouth, his hand placed gently on Harry’s jaw to help him drink. He has no choice but to take the water, despite his body’s protests, drinking it in small sips until the glass is almost empty and Louis puts it down, his arms circling around Harry again.
“Is it—is this the first time this has happened to you?” Louis asks after a few minutes, once Harry’s breathing is even and he’s pliant and soft In Louis’ lap. “I mean, since—“
“It used to happen more often, I guess.” Harry shrugs, keeping his eyes closed. “Before—before you woke up. I couldn’t get rid of the idea that you were just gonna—that you weren’t going to wake up, and that would be the last time I got to hold you—“
He starts getting worked up again, his breathing agitated, but Louis tightens his hold against him, brushing his lips to his cheek before murmuring into his ear. “Shh, it’s okay. I’m here now, yeah?”
“But you’re not—not really,” Harry argues, teary already. “I hate to say this, because I sound so selfish but I—it’s not. You’re you, but we’re not us, and it’s—I’m so happy that you’re okay, Lou, you have no idea, but. You don’t remember us, and it’s not. It’s not the same for me, to not be loved by you.”
“Haz, baby,” Louis whispers against his temple, “if I didn’t feel anything, I wouldn’t be here. I know it’s not much, I know it doesn’t give you that much hope but I—I can feel it, yeah? Even if I don’t remember it, I don’t—I can’t be without you, I don’t want to be without you. Even with all my memories mixed and smudged and not making any sense, the one thing I do know is that even without any memory of us, you’re the place where I want to be.”
They’re holding hands, and Louis won’t stop laughing, presumably at him, which is making it much harder for Harry to tug him towards the car.
Louis is off his face, drunk on champagne and fruity drinks and a little bit on happiness, too. Harry had stopped drinking about an hour ago, knowing one of them would have to drive, and whilst any other night he’d be annoyed by Louis’ obnoxious drunk self, tonight he’s nothing but endeared.
He tugs Louis’ arm again, trying to get him to move faster, but Louis just smiles sweetly at him and pulls in the opposite direction. Harry sighs, moving closer, lifting his other arm to grab Louis, and Louis ducks under Harry’s arm, fucking twirling on the spot to avoid the embrace. He turns around to face Harry, breaking into a grin at Harry’s stunned face.
Harry pouts, for a moment, to see if Louis will take pity on him and willingly walk to the car instead of having Harry drag him, but Louis just stares at him for a moment before pulling his hand out of Harry’s and running away from him.
Of course, the thing is, as fast as Louis is, with all his footie training and all, Harry has longer legs than him, and has been running weekly with Liam for the past year or so. And there’s the fact that Louis is too drunk to keep a straight line as he runs away, so it doesn’t take too long for Harry to get to him, cornering him between two black Suburbans. Louis smiles at him, his eyes crinkling, showing almost too much teeth, and he offers a hand for Harry to take.
Harry smiles back before grabbing his hand and pulling him close enough that their chests are touching, and Louis smirks.
“What now?” he asks smugly.
With a swift movement, Harry’s hand goes to Louis’ waist and he moves the both of them until they’re flush together, Louis’ back pressed to the car. Harry smirks at Louis’ dumbfounded expression, and leans down to kiss him.
Louis stills, just for a moment, before he tangles a hand in Harry’s hair and kisses him back, arching his back slightly. Harry pushes his hips forward, feeling Louis smile into the kiss, and drops his hand from Louis’ waist to grab at his arse.
The sound of the garage door closing startles them apart. Louis’ smile doesn’t wear off his face.
“Let’s go home, yeah?”
Harry gives him a soft pat on the bum as Louis walks in front of him, leading the way to the car, and has to mentally congratulate himself for getting Louis to go exactly where he wanted without even having to say it.
He fishes the keys out of his pocket, and when he looks up Louis is already at the car, leaning against the door and smiling widely at him, with one hand toying with the knot of his tie and the other one propped on his hip, one eyebrow raised. Harry hastens his pace, only vaguely aware the sound of a second person walking echoing in the garage.
He’s almost at the car when he realizes the steps are getting closer, and faster, and he catches a flash of something out of the corner of his eye before he can realize what’s going on.
It happens in a blink of an eye; he sees the figure approach Louis at a fast pace, and he opens his mouth to warn Louis, who’s still got his eyes fixed on Harry, smiling flirtatiously, but he can barely get a word out before the bat is colliding to the side of Louis’ head, sending him straight to the floor.
There’s a blood-curdling scream, and Harry’s head goes blank for a moment before the sound of the bat hitting something snaps him out of it and he runs toward the man, throws himself on him to get the bat out of his hands.
He’s pushed back with such force that he falls backwards, landing roughly on the cement floor, the bat falling beside him with a clanking sound, and then he jumps on his feet again, rushing to Louis’ side.
The man is grunting as he kicks relentlessly at Louis, and Harry has to use all of his strength to push him away. He kneels on the floor to see his boy, and only then notices the pool of blood forming next to him.
Louis’ eyes are closed, and there’s a small trail of blood coming out of his mouth, but if it weren’t for that, Harry could probably think he’s just sleeping. His hair is matted with blood, and Harry can’t tell for sure, but it looks like his head is dented inwards, right above his ear.
He cradles him carefully, one arm on the back of his head to support it, and presses a kiss to his temple, the smell of blood making him nauseous. He calls Louis’ name, shaking him gently to wake him, but Louis’ eyes stay closed, and he doesn’t move, and it’s only when he feels wetness on his arm and chest that he realizes he’s drenched in Louis’ blood.
He doesn’t know how long it goes on. He screams and screams, pulling Louis to his chest and rocking slightly, and from time to time his voice breaks, or he runs out of air, and the garage is eerily quiet until he starts again.
Eventually, someone coaxes Louis out of his arms, and he feels a blanket thrown over his shoulders, and voices around him are asking what happened, trying to move him somewhere, but Harry can do nothing but scream.
There’s something different about Louis after Harry tells him about the night of the attack. It takes a while for Harry to go through the full story, having to stop at two different points because it got to be too much. Once he’s done, they sit in silence for what feels like an eternity, before Louis reaches his arm out, grabs Harry’s hand, squeezes, and gets up from the sofa.
He doesn’t talk for the rest of the day, but Harry catches Louis watching him warily when he thinks Harry is distracted, and as soon as they make eye contact, he looks away. At least he’s not ignoring me, Harry thinks idly as he scrolls through Instagram on his phone. Louis is watching the Food Network next to him and hasn’t stopped sneaking glances since they sat there two hours ago. Harry needs to distract himself, or else next time he catches Louis’ eyes on him he’s going to snap.
“I can’t believe you cut your hair,” Louis bursts out suddenly, pausing the TV, where Jamie Oliver is explaining how to make proper Italian meringue, and turns to look at Harry.
“Um,” is all Harry can say, because they’ve been living together for days, and why is Louis only bringing this up now?
“Why the fuck would you cut your hair?” presses Louis.
“I thought you hadn’t—I didn’t think you’d notice?” Harry whispers, his eyes fixed on the door.
“Are you kidding me?” Louis asks, affronted, before his voice softens and he adds, “You know I fucking love your long hair.”
There’s a beat before Harry understands what Louis just said; he looks up and finds Louis looking cautiously at him, a tentative smile on his lips. Harry opens his mouth, trying to say something, but Louis’ eyes widen, like he’s scared whatever Harry says will ruin it, and then he nods, twice, and places a hand on Harry’s knee.
Harry follows the movement, the rush of blood making him dizzy as his heart pounds in his ears, and when he moves his eyes back to Louis’ face he finds it only inches away from his own.
Everything stops the moment Louis’ lips touch his. It feels like a wave washing over him, and a little bit like drowning, but also like the first breath as he resurfaces, like waking up in his own bed after being away for too long. Louis kisses him, and it feels like coming home.
He responds almost automatically, his hands burying in Louis’ hair and pulling him closer. They kiss slowly, savouring the moment and breathing each other in, and then, all of a sudden, it turns fervent, and Harry can’t get enough, licking at Louis’ mouth like he wants to memorize it.
“I love you,” he whispers against Louis’ lips, unable to hold it back. “I missed you so—“
“Fuck,” Louis says, and pushes Harry off of him,.“Fuck. Fuck.”His eyes are wide, and he looks terrified, his flushed cheeks a striking contrast to his pale complexion.
“What’s—“Harry asks, stretching his arm to put a hand on Louis’ shoulder.
“You can’t—you can’t do that,” Louis snaps, batting it away.
Harry feels his heart sink in his chest; he breaths in shakily, closing his eyes for a moment before looking back at Louis, who looks like he’s just been struck by lightning.
“Do what?” he asks .
“You can’t say that. Fuck,” Louis snaps. “Fuck. I have to go.”
He jumps off the bed as if he’s been burned, and Harry wants to follow him, wants to grab his arm and force him down, but there’s something stopping him from moving, and he’s frozen in place. “Louis, wait,” is all he manages to say.
Louis turns to him, and the sad look in his eyes makes Harry’s insides feel like they’re bursting open. “Harry—I’m. I need to go.”
Harry has been sitting on the bed on the same spot since Louis left him. It’s been about an hour, give or take, and he hasn’t been able to move.
His eyes have been fixed on the floor since Louis left, and he’s been replaying the kiss over and over in his head, trying to figure out why Louis reacted the way he did—but more importantly, why he kissed him in the first place.
He’s beginning to wrap his head around the possibility that telling Louis he loves him in the middle of a kiss might not have been the best idea. It’s just…He got caught up in the moment; he couldn’t help it, really. He didn’t stop to think that Louis kissing him didn’t necessarily equate to Louis getting all of his memories back, and is now realizing that jumping straight to that conclusion wasn’t exactly the smartest thing.
The thing is, if Louis hadn’t kissed him because he remembered that he loves Harry, why the hell did he kiss him?
“Do you remember—“a voice says, snapping Harry out of his haze, and his head snaps up to find Louis standing against the door frame, “—the first time you told me you loved me?”
“When What Makes You Beautiful went number one.”
“You had the stupidest look on your face,” Louis says, smiling. “Smug and terrified at the same time, but you said it like it was nothing, like it was the easiest thing in the world, even though I was holding your hand and I could tell you were sweating heaps, you were so nervous. Do you remember what I did when you told me?”
“You ran away,” Harry says, smiling as he realizes where Louis is going.
“It’s something I do, you see, run away when I get a little scared. I mean, you know.” Louis smiles. “But I just remembered that as I was coming to talk to you, and it seemed kinda fitting, yeah.”
“Is that—is that all you remember, now?”
Louis shakes his head, his voice barely audible when he whispers out a no.
“I’m sorry—” Louis’ face crumples, tears wetting his cheeks, “Love, I’m so sorry—“
Harry wastes no time closing the distance between them, wrapping his arms around him. Louis’ arms automatically cling to him, and he buries his face in Harry’s chest.
“I love you,” he whispers against Harry’s shoulder. “I love you so fucking much. Fuck—I missed you.”
Harry thinks it’s kind of ridiculous that Louis has missed him when he’s been there all along. It was him that missed out, who had to spend the past month without his other half, who was left roaming around with a missing piece. He doesn’t tell Louis, but he thinks Louis knows.
“I think—I knew, the entire time. Deep down, my body knew who you were. I could never forget, I don’t think. But it was too terrifying, like I couldn’t even consider the possibility of you without everything like, shutting down.”
It’s not something Harry can understand, so he doesn’t try to. The thought that Louis maybe knew, to some degree, is in some sense a relief, but the words still curl around his heart, stinging as they settle deep in his chest.
He’ll have to live with it, is the thing. Loving Louis was never an easy-peasy, walk in the park kind of thing. It takes work; it always has. Harry will always remember the month when Louis forgot about him, when he shut Harry out. It’s something that will always be there, and he knows, already, that when things get hard he’s going to want to bring it up, hold it against Louis. He can’t do that, though, no matter how tempting it is.
“I’m sorry,” Louis whispers against his lips before kissing him once again, as if he’d just read Harry’s mind. “I’ll never stop being sorry.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Harry states simply, because it’s the truth, “and we survived it. I got you back; we got us back.”
“Still,” Louis insists, and Harry kisses him.
“I love you,” he says. “That’s all that matters, yeah?”
“I need you to hear this, though,” Louis insists, “or maybe I just need to say it. Maybe it’s more for me than it is for you, but I’m gonna say it, so you better listen, alright?”
“The past two weeks were probably the worst two weeks of my life,” he starts. “I know think that it was easy for me, not being with you. I didn’t just—it wasn’t that I didn’t remember you, exactly. I wish it had been like that.”
Harry swallows, the words hitting him harder than he assumes Louis intends them to.
“There was always this thing, inside me, larger than everything else, and I couldn’t make sense of it. Imagine feeling something so big, so strong; feeling this—” Louis places a hand on Harry’s chest. “—and not being able to understand it. Not being able to figure why you feel this way. Who you feel it for. Even if I knew, to some extent, that it had to have something to do with you, the idea that this thing that I felt could be about you was just. Mind-blowing. And not necessarily in the best way.”
“It sounds confusing.”
“It was, but most of all it was terrifying. And it drove me a bit mad, I think. Trying to make sense of what I felt and what it meant. I was losing my mind. I don’t think even began to comprehend it until you went to London.”
Guilt spreads through Harry’s chest, and he has to look away, ashamed. “I’m so sorry that I left you. I didn’t know what to do.”
Louis doesn’t reply, but he reaches for Harry’s hand and intertwines their fingers, bringing them to his lips and pressing a soft kiss to Harry’s wrist.
“I was so scared,” Harry says, at last. “I thought you—I thought I’d lost you.”
“I thought I’d lost me, too,” Louis whispers. “I was so scared, H, that I would never get me back, and that in turn I’d lose you.”
“You’d never,” Harry says sternly. “No matter what happens, I’ll be here. I’ve told you, as long as you want me, I’ll be by your side.”
“Forever, then.” Louis smiles. “We’re forever.”
Waking up next to Louis the next day feels like winning the lottery. Harry wakes up overheated, confused for a moment before he’s able to identify the source of eminent warmth. Louis’ eyes are still closed, but he’s smiling, and his arms tighten around Harry’s waist when he feels Harry move against him. It’s a simple thing, but warmth spreads all over Harry’s body, and he wonders if he’s ever felt this happy.
“Good morning, love,” he says, placing a kiss by Louis’ collarbone. “You don’t know how lovely you look right now.”
“Shush, Harold, don’t be a sap,” Louis replies. “’m trying to sleep here.”
“You’re already awake,” Harry says, grinning, “so you might as well kiss me back, and then you can go back to sleep.”
Louis groans before popping one eye open. His face automatically softens as he spots Harry, and he leans in with a smile, meeting him halfway for a kiss.
The angle is wrong, and Harry can’t kiss him properly, not the way he wants to, but it’s still the most wonderful feeling in the world. Galaxy. Universe. Harry almost feels bad for all the people that will miss out on kissing Louis, because it’s marvellous experience. He can’t help the surge of pride he feels when he thinks that he most likely will be the only person Louis kisses for the rest of his life. His head goes fuzzy just thinking about it.
“I can’t believe I kissed Grimshaw,” Louis says bitterly when they break apart.
“Is that the first thing that pops into your head after you kiss me?” Harry asks, feigning offense, but he’s unable to hide the amusement in his voice.
“Well, I was just thinking how he doesn’t compare to you, if you must know.” Louis leans in, kissing him again. “But don’t let it get to your head.”
“I fucking hope he doesn’t compare,” Harry laughs. “I don’t think I could handle you leaving me for my best friend.”
“I thought I was your best friend,” Louis exclaims, affronted. “How dare you?”
There’s nothing Harry can do but close the distance between their lips and kiss him once again, only pulling back to whisper, “God, I missed kissing you.”
Louis smiles against him, lets their lips meet again, lingering for a moment, just breathing against Harry, before pulling away.
“You know,” he says, “you’re taking the Nick thing better than I thought you would.”
Harry feels his shoulders slump, and he sighs, sitting up on the bed and grabbing Louis’ hand in his. “I’m not—I’m not really that bothered by it anymore, I don’t think.”
Louis raises an eyebrow at him. “Really.”
“I mean, the idea of you kissing anyone in the world that isn’t me makes my blood boil, don’t get me wrong.”
A soft smile creeps on Louis’ face, and he props himself on one arm to stretch his head and peck Harry on the lips, “Don’t worry, love, you’re the only one I want to kiss.”
There’s nothing Harry can do except close the distance between them and kiss him once again.
“It did get to me when it happened, but, “ he says, letting out a sigh before continuing, “please don’t take this the wrong way—I just. I don’t really think of it as you kissing Nick.”
“What do you mean?” Louis asks, frowning.
Harry huffs in frustration, because he doesn’t know how to explain it without sounding like an arse.
“It’s not like. Of course it was you, the past two weeks, you know? Like, even without your memories you were still stubborn and obnoxious and loud and—“
“Can you cut to the chase, Harold?”
Harry kisses him again. “The thing is, even though it was essentially you, I just—I didn’t think of you as you. You weren’t—I mean, you were Louis, yeah? But you weren’t my Louis. My Louis never would have kissed Nick, is the thing.”
“You sure about that?”
“Hey.” Harry frowns. “Don’t joke about it.”
“It’s a very funny, weird thing,” Louis says, “the way your brain works. But you’re right, in a way, and I’m glad it’s not—not something that’s going to be a problem for us.”
Harry smiles, letting his head fall to rest on Louis’ shoulder. “We’ve been through worse, don’t you think? We can get through anything,” he says, a soft twinge of guilt in his stomach, because a week ago he was arguing with everyone that kept telling him just that.
“Of course.” Louis smiles.
Harry scoots closer, resting his back against Louis’ chest and letting Louis wrap his arms around him. “It’s good to have you back.”
“I’m back where I belong,” Louis replies, and Harry beams.
They stay quiet for a while. Louis presses his lips to Harry’s shoulder and all the way to the back of his ear.
“Do you think he’s had more sex than us?” Harry asks after a moment, shifting to look at Louis.
“What?” Louis laughs. “Who?”
“Nick. Do you think he’s had more sex than you and me?”
“Harold, literally what the fuck are you on about?”
“I was just, you know, wondering, since he’s like. Older, and probably more experienced. Do you think he’s had more sex than us? Or like, kinkier sex?”
“Jesus, H, I don’t want to fucking think about Nick Grimshaw’s kinks.” Louis shakes his head, smiling. “Especially not whilst I’m in bed with you.”
“What if he’s better at it than we are?”
“Do you want to call him and find out?” Louis asks, amused.
Harry purses his lips and hums, thoughtful, before breaking into a grin and shrugging. “Nah, I’ve got better things to do right now.”
He leans forward and presses his lips against Louis’, soft but with intent, and Louis hums pleasantly against them, wrapping his arms around Harry’s neck and leaning back on the bed. Harry shifts his position to hover over Louis, aligning their bodies, and thrusts his hips slightly to rub against Louis’.
“Come ‘ere,” Louis murmurs, burying his hand in Harry’s hair and pulling, making Harry moan, and spreading his legs, wrapping them around Harry to give him more space.
“Love of my fucking life,” Harry says, thrusting his hips forward at the time that he leans down to kiss Louis’ neck.
“I love you,” Louis says back, but it sounds strained.
Harry doesn’t let himself dwell on it. He shakes the worry off his head and instead focuses on kissing Louis, on the way his hands are creeping under the fabric of Harry’s t-shirt.
He pulls back to shrug it off, smiling as Louis’ eyes trail hungrily over his torso, his hands roaming after them. Louis’ fingers close around one of his nipples, twisting and tugging in a way that has Harry gasping and grinding his hips against Louis’.
“I missed you,” he whispers to Louis, mouthing at his earlobe before trailing kisses down his throat and to his collarbone, unbuttoning his pyjama shirt as he moves further south.
He spends rather a long time on Louis’ chest, focusing mainly on his nipples, and then moves to his tummy, sucking love bite after love bite and marking every inch of skin that he possibly can, whispering mine between kisses.
His hand scurries under Louis’ fleece pyjama bottoms and into his pants, circling around Louis’ hardening cock. Louis’ breath hitches, and Harry pulls his pants down, moving his lips to kiss at the V of his hips, tugging lazily at his length.
He kisses around his pelvis, burying his nose in his soft pubic hair, and then moves further down, placing his hand at the base of Louis’ cock and mouthing at his length. Louis stills at the touch, and his rapid breathing stops suddenly as Harry moves to close his mouth around the head.
“Harry, I—, stop. Stop, stop.” Louis pushes him off, struggling to breathe. “I can’t, I can’t. I’m sorry, I—“
Harry looks up to find Louis staring at him with panicked eyes, and his heart sinks. He places a hand gently on Louis’ thighs and tries to move so they’re face to face, but Louis recoils as if hit.
He pulls Harry fully off of him and jumps off the bed, makes it three steps before his legs give in and he falls on his knees. Harry rushes to his side automatically, and is about to put his arms around him when he remembers the way Louis flinched away from him. “Lou, love, I’m here. Can I hold you?”
It’s a moment before Louis nods, and then Harry is sitting on the floor besides him and pulling him onto his lap, wrapping his arms loosely around him.
“Babe, breathe for me, I need you to take a deep breath for me, okay?” Harry finds Louis’ hand and links their fingers, squeezing slightly to get Louis to focus on him. “It’s okay, babe, whatever scared you just now, it’s not here, and you’re okay.”
Louis’ body is shaking slightly, but his eyes aren’t foggy, and he’s taking mostly regular breaths, so Harry relaxes against him, dropping his head on Louis’ shoulder and pressing his lips there. Louis tense for a moment before his body sags in Harry’s arms, and he starts crying, hiding his face in the crook of Harry’s neck.
“Oh, love, I’m so sorry,” Harry says, “but you’re okay. Everything’s okay.”
Harry knows, as he’s saying it, that it’s probably not very wise for him to say these words. The thing is, he doesn’t know how to react, how to talk to Louis about this. He’d never, Harry realizes now, stopped to think about all the other consequences the attack might have had on Louis.
“I’m sorry,” Louis mumbles against his shoulder. “I don’t know what—“
“You don’t have to apologize, love,” Harry says, tightening his grip around him. “I love you, and I’ve got you, and I promise you’re safe with me.”
He has to ignore the guilt settling in his stomach as he says those words, the bitter taste in his mouth because as much as he wants to believe what he says, it’s not true. Louis was with Harry when he was attacked, and Harry couldn’t keep him safe. He feels his own hands begin to shake, catches the glimpse of a shadow moving towards Louis, feels the echo of a scream that’s too distorted to tell if it’s Louis or him, and he feels himself start drift away.
Louis’ hand closes around his, squeezing a little harder than necessary, but it grounds Harry, helps him move away from the overwhelming voices in his head and focus on the boy sitting on his lap, who clearly needs his undivided attention right now. He takes a deep breath, resting his face against Louis’ hair and breathing him in, and feels his own tense back relax as Louis draws circles on his wrist.
“We’ll be okay,” he whispers, unsure whether he’s talking to Louis’ or to himself. “Together, we’ll find a way to make this okay.”
“I’d like to take you somewhere, if you don’t mind,” Harry says one morning, as he walks into their room carrying a tray with two steaming mugs of tea.
It’s been three days since Louis freaked out, and things have been good. They’ve been better. Harry has been resolutely avoiding any situations that might become heated and cause Louis to panic again, and it’s been working, mostly. There are still times when they’ll just be cuddling on the couch and Louis will suddenly jump away from Harry like he’s been burned, and it takes him a few moments to realize where he is and go back to Harry’s side. Other times Louis will be sitting at the kitchen table, or watching TV in the sitting room and Harry will walk by and drop a kiss to his shoulder or press a hand to his lower back and Louis will still in his spot, or worse, will flinch away from the touch, his breath coming out rushed and uneven. Harry’s learnt to whisper an it’s me and I love you and you’re alright and walk away, no matter how much he wants to fuss over Louis and wrap his arms around him and never let go, because he knows it’s not what Louis needs.
It hasn’t been easy, but they’re working on it.
“Is it outside?” Louis asks, making grabby hands at Harry so he’ll hand him his tea.
Harry huffs out a laugh, shaking his head. “Lou, come on, you have to go out some time.”
They’ve been hiding inside their house since Harry flew back from London and it’s been nice, it’s been good, but Harry knows himself and he knows Louis and he knows that if they stay in much longer they’re going to start losing their minds. Louis’ therapist had been adamant about it the day before, after his session with Louis, and Harry had promised he was going to try.
“I tried to go out last week and ended up in hospital. I don’t think so”
“That’s because you tried to get on a fucking plane, by yourself, in the busiest airport on all the bloody West Coast,” Harry says accusingly, but still smiles fondly at Louis.
“Still. Nope. I’m not going.”
Harry sighs, sitting on the bed next to Louis. “I really think it’d be good for you. I think you’d like it.”
Louis offers him his biggest, most ironic smile, the one he uses for bad interviewers and stalker fans, and shakes his head. “Nope. Not happening.”
“Fine.” Harry pouts, looking away from Louis and crossing his arms over his chest.
“Get your bloody keys, let’s go.”
Harry’s pretty sure the grin that he shoots Louis is borderline creepy, but he doesn’t care. Louis huffs as he gets off the bed, shrugging off his shirt and stepping out of his trackies to change into a pair of black shorts and a grey loose tank. Harry forces himself to look away, because as much as he knows that giving Louis space is important, it’s getting harder for him to keep his distance.
It takes them less time than Harry had anticipated to be up and ready to go, and in fifteen minutes they’re both sat in the car, Louis sneaking amused glances at Harry, who’s bouncing with excitement.
“What convinced you?” Harry asks, turning the key in the ignition.
“Well—I mean, you looked like a fucking kicked puppy so.” Louis shrugs, and Harry beams at him. “Don’t gloat, okay. I just didn’t like you looking so sad. Whatever. We better be back in time for my show.”
“His show” is actually a re-run of Seinfeld. Louis has seen it a million times, and they’ve got all the seasons on DVD anyway, but Harry doesn’t tell him that. He nods, still smiling, and steps on the gas, his heart doing a backflip in his chest when Louis places a hand on top of his on the gear stick.
Harry doesn’t tell Louis where he’s going, but it probably doesn’t take him too long to figure it out once they turn left on the PCH. It’s been years since they’ve been there, but Harry sees the way Louis lights up when he realizes where they’re going and knows that it was the right choice.
Malibu has always been some sort of safe haven for them; the laid back Topanga lifestyle was easy to fall into, and as much as Louis used to claim to hate Los Angeles, he always seemed to feel at home there.
Harry remembers taking Louis to Escondido Canyon for the first time, all those years ago, and Louis jumping into the water despite being told he wasn’t allowed. When he’d come back out, his smile had been dazzling, and he had shaken his wet hair all over Harry before shrugging and saying, “Alright, yeah, we should get a house here.”
The house they’d originally bought in L.A. wasn’t the one that they own now, because Harry had gotten really into real estate shortly after and they’d bought three houses in the span of a year and a half, but it was the first house they bought together, the first step they’d taken towards building a life together.
The hike to the falls is a lengthy one, but they walk hand in hand and it passes in an instant. Louis sings under his breath and Harry points at all the birds, trying—and failing—to figure out their species and they both giggle until they reach the waterfalls.
They don’t jump in the water this time, but they sit on a rock by the edge and take advantage of the fact that there’s no one around. They sing stupid Disney songs to each other and Louis kicks off his Vans and soaks his feet, kicking Harry every once in a while to mess up his singing.
They don’t talk much, but Louis never lets go of his hand, and at one point during the walk back, when it’s been a few minutes since they last saw another hiker, he pushes Harry against a tree and kisses the air out of him. Everything’s good.
Louis complains that he’s hungry on the drive home so Harry pulls over at the Ranch Market, because it’s on the way and Louis likes their pickle sandwiches.
Harry doesn’t reach for Louis’ hand when they get out of the car and pretends he doesn’t notice that Louis steps away and walks a little farther from him than necessary. They still haven’t talked about it and even if Louis was the main pusher of the coming out before, it doesn’t mean he’s still on the same page now. It’s okay, Harry tells himself. They’re okay.
He doesn’t realize right away that it was a mistake, even though Louis is noticeably tense as they make their way inside the shop, and keeps glancing to his sides like he’s expecting something to jump at him. Harry should anticipate what’s coming, but he doesn’t.
Malibu is relatively pap free, which is one of the reasons Harry’s enjoyed spending time there so much, but there’s always the odd fan or shop clerk that recognizes him and asks for a picture. He doesn’t mind, most of the time, and neither did Louis, before.
They’re waiting for an order when it happens. Harry can’t blame really the girl, because she must be no older than fifteen, and he understands how easy it is to get carried away at that age, but she shrieks, barely three feet away from where they’re standing, and Louis jumps at the sound, looking panicked.
“Oh my god, Louis,” she exclaims, setting a hand on Louis’ arm, “I can’t believe it’s—“
Louis flinches, stepping away from her so fast that it startles her. Harry sees the terrified expression on Louis’ face and the way his shoulders hunch. “Get away from me,” he cries out as she stumbles forward, crowding him.
Harry steps in automatically, shooting the girl an apologetic smile and putting an arm around Louis’ shoulders to usher him out of the shop.
“Don’t touch me,” Louis says, shrugging Harry’s arm off of him. “Don’t fucking touch me.” He pushes his way out of the deli, stumbling against the small crowd that’s gathered around him. Harry hurries behind him, itching to pull Louis into a hug but knowing better than to touch him.
“Lou,” he says once they’re outside. “Louis, talk to me.”
Louis is leaning against a wooden railing, his left hand gripping the wood so hard his knuckles are white. His breath is rushed and shallow, and he’s got his other hand pressed to his chest, like he’s trying to check his own heartbeat.
“Lou, love, I’m going to move closer to you now, is that alright?”
Harry starts moving before Louis responds, but Louis nods as he approaches him, and Harry takes it as a cue to put an arm around Louis’ waist.
“Try to take slower breaths, love,” he whispers, aware of the crowd that’s forming around them. “Count them with me, come on, you’re alright.”
Someone taps on Harry’s shoulder, and he turns around to find the girl from the shop, who loos absolutely mortified, handing him an unopened water bottle. He mouths a thank you as he takes it, and he thinks she might whisper an apology but he’s too busy opening the bottle and handing it over to Louis to notice.
Louis’ breathing evens out and he manages to drink the water without choking, and it takes a few minutes of him just sagging against Harry’s body, but eventually he stops shaking. He’s got his eyes closed, which Harry thinks is a good thing, because the crowd that formed around them still hasn’t dissipated, and it’s likely that it could trigger another scare.
They’re starting to walk towards the car, Louis tucked against Harry’s side, when Harry spots a girl holding a phone at them.
“—and the two gay ones from One Direction are walking past us,” she’s narrating, “after the faggy one made a scene at the deli, you know how dramatic—“
“Shut your fucking mouth,” Louis snaps, attempting to charge towards her, but Harry tightens his grip around him and holds him in place.
Her eyes widen with surprise, and she quickly tucks her phone in the pocket of her coat, trying to look
“Delete that now, please,” Harry says politely, but his tone is firm.
“I was just—“
Harry shakes his head, “I don’t care. Delete it.”
Louis is shooting daggers at her with his eyes but he doesn’t say anything. Harry is half expecting him to push him away, to put on a wall between them and shut Harry out, but Louis just scoots closer, his hand tightening around Harry’s hip.
“I’m sorry,” the girl says at last, after showing Harry that she’s deleted the video.
“Don’t say those things, ever,” is all Harry says before walking away.
They don’t talk the entire drive back, but Louis presses a hand to Harry’s cheek and doesn’t pull it away when Harry grabs it and brings it to his lips. He turns his body so he’s facing Harry as he drives, and despite the circles under his eyes and his exhausted expression, he still smiles at Harry whenever Harry turns to look at him.
Louis walks to the kitchen the moment they get to the house, going straight to the refrigerator and pulling out a beer. He uncaps it and brings it to his lips, and Harry is about to open his mouth when Louis yells out a “Fuck,” and throws the untouched bottle in the bin.
“Lou, do you want to talk about—“
Harry sighs, closing the distance between them and grabbing Louis’ hand to tug him towards the sofa. Louis shakes his arm to get out of his grip, stepping away.
“I said no, Harry.”
“’m sorry,” Harry mumbles. “It’s just. It can’t—it’s not good for you to bottle up your feelings. I think it’d be good if we talked?”
“Talk about what? The fact that I told you that I didn’t want to go out and you made me and the result was exactly what I told you would happen?”
Harry shakes his head. “Lou—“
“Or do you want to talk about the fact that some arsehole bashed me in the fucking head and now I’m some fucked up attempt of a man who can’t even go outside without feeling like he’s losing his mind?” There’s an edge to Louis’ words, the anger shining through them.
“Lou, love, you’re not fucked up, you—”
“Really? Then what do you call someone who can’t step outside his house without having a bloody panic attack? Who can’t even get a handjob from his boyfriend without freaking out?”
“I’d say it’s someone who’s recovering, someone who went through an extremely traumatic attack and is still dealing with the consequences.”
“Well, I call that fucked up,” Louis spits out, turning on his heel and walking away.
Harry follows him, because he knows Louis and knows that no matter how stubborn Louis is and how much he tries to cling to his anger, the more he does it, the worse he feels.
“Love, listen to me,” Harry pleads, sitting on the chair across from the sofa where Louis’ sat down. “Your reaction today was normal; it’s natural for you to act like this after what happened to you. If anything, it’s my fault for pressuring you into going out when you weren’t—”
“It’s not—“ Louis interrupts him, “It’s not your fucking fault, Harold, okay? Stop blaming yourself for everything. It’s not helping.”
“Stop apologizing, God!” Louis buries his head in his hands. “Why do you make it so hard for me to stay mad at you?”
Harry cracks a smile at him. “Um, probably because it’s not me who you’re mad at.”
Louis glares at him, but Harry can tell that he agrees with him. He takes Louis’ hand in his.
“I know today was too much for you, and it is partially my fault, so I’m going to acknowledge it,” he says. “But you need to know that what happened today was not, in any way, your fault, yeah?”
Louis huffs, annoyed, but tugs on Harry’s hand until he’s standing from his chair and stumbling into the spot next to Louis on the sofa.
“This is not—” Louis starts. “I didn’t want it to be like this, like today. And I don’t want to be scared.”
“What happened today was horrible, and that girl was absolutely out of line with what she said, yeah? But it won’t always be like that, not all people are like that. You don’t have to be scared all the time, but even if you are, I’ll be here for you, and we’ll get through it, together.”
Louis squeezes Harry’s hand in his and scoots closer, resting his head on Harry’s shoulder. “This is not how things were supposed to go,” he mumbles. “I wanted to—I was so ready to do this with you. I wanted us to be free.”
Harry nods, because he remembers. “That night, when you asked me to be your date to the award, do you remember how free we felt?”
The look that Louis gives him tells him that yes, he remembers.
“I think we were happier, more in love than ever. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so close to you,” Louis whispers. “I want to feel that close to you again. I just—I don’t know if I can, anymore.”
“It’s okay,” Harry says, but he knows Louis knows it’s not. “We’ll figure it out.”
Louis buries his head in Harry’s jumper and stays silent, but Harry feels the wet spot forming on his chest. He pulls Louis into his lap and wraps his arms around him as Louis curls into himself.
“Thank you for being you,” Louis mumbles after a while, “and for loving me even though I’m all fucked up.”
“You’re not,” Harry says, dropping a kiss to the top of his head. “You’re perfect.”
Louis is already out of the bed when Harry wakes up the next morning, the sheets cold and rumpled next to him. His phone is still on the bedside table, so Harry doesn’t worry too much—it’s not like Louis would go anywhere, anyway—but an uneasy feeling settles in the pit of his stomach.
He spots him outside, kicking balls around the backyard, when he walks to the window to grab a jumper from the armchair next to it. He debates going outside right away, sitting on the deck and watching him let the steam off, but he decides against it, heading to the kitchen instead.
It’s not that he’s hungry, but Harry’s always been a stress cook. It’s easier for him to focus everything on bacon and eggs and the homemade biscuits he knows Louis loves than to think about their relationship and how the hell he’s going to fix this.
He puts the kettle on and sets the table and makes sure there’s nothing missing for a proper fry up, the ones that Louis always begged him to make on their days off, and then he sits and waits for Louis to come inside.
In the end, once he’s figured out Louis is clearly not going to be done any time soon, he piles up as much food as he can onto a plate and makes a strong cup of tea, heading to the backyard.
Louis is still kicking balls, shooting at the goal relentlessly. Harry can’t see his face, but his back is drenched in sweat, and even though Harry doesn’t know how long Louis has been out here, he knows he must be exhausted.
He sits on the deck and waits, sipping his own—green—tea, until Louis finally throws his arms up in the air and walks back to him. He seems startled when he notices Harry there, and Harry worries, because Louis looks positively cross, but the moment his eyes set on the plate sitting next to Harry, he lights up, the crinkles by his eyes deepening as he smiles.
“Is that for me?”
Harry nods, tapping at the spot next to him so Louis joins him on the deck.
“Thanks, love,” Louis says, dropping a kiss to Harry’s jaw as he sits down and takes a sip of his tea.
“Anything for you,” Harry says jokingly, batting his eyelashes, but they both know the statement is true.
“It’s been a while since you made me one of these,” Louis says around a mouthful of bacon, and Harry pushes him gently, scolding him for talking with his mouth full. “Why didn’t you cook for me more? Before I, you know, before I remembered?”
“I just,” Harry sighs. “I guess it was easier for me to keep it separate. The Louis that I shared a life with from the Louis that didn’t remember. It was a bit selfish, I guess, but it was the one thing keeping my sane.”
Louis frowns at that. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, thinking of you as, you know, not you, made it a little easier. It meant I didn’t have to face a you that didn’t love me.”
“I did love you, though,” Louis says sternly. “Even if I didn’t remember you, or us, my love for you was still there. It’s permanent, yeah?”
Harry tilts his head so he can press his lips to Louis’. He means for it to be short, but Louis parts his lips and sucks on Harry’s, setting the plate on the floor next to him, wrapping one arm around Harry and moving his other one to bury a hand in Harry’s hair.
“I can’t believe your hair is so short,” Louis murmurs, tugging at one of the curls at the nape of his neck. “You look so fucking young, like you’re sixteen all over again.”
He doesn’t know why, but the words make him hot all over, and he groans against Louis mouth and shifting his hips so he can pull him on his lap. Louis pulls away, panting, and starts trailing kisses down Harry’s neck, all the way to his shoulder.
“Can’t believe it’s been so long and you’re still this fucking hot,” he says, biting down on Harry’s collarbone. “Since you were fucking sixteen you’ve always been so bloody—“
Harry cuts him off by holding him by the waist and lifting him up. He walks them to the door, attempting to get them inside, but Louis keeps biting at his neck and grinding his hips against his, so Harry presses Louis against the wall, sliding his hands up to cup his arse.
Louis takes it as encouragement and wraps his legs around Harry’s waist, increasing the friction between them, kissing him even more enthusiastically than before. He scurries one hand between their bodies and under Harry’s shirt, palming at his abs.
“You’re so wonderful,” Harry whispers in Louis’ ear, biting at his earlobe. “The most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me.”
“Look who’s talking,” Louis pants, and his hand moves further down, trying to undo the buckle of Harry’s belt with little success. “Why do you have to wear these stupid things?”
“Not all of us can look as hot as you do in trackies,” Harry replies, his hand squeezing Louis’ arse for emphasis.
“God, I want you so fucking much,” Louis says, but the moment the words are out, his hand stops fumbling with Harry’s jeans and he sags against him. Harry doesn’t waste a minute, moving his hands away from Louis’ arse and gently setting him down. He’s expecting Louis to pull away.
“Fuck,” Louis groans against his neck, “I don’t understand why I fucking—“
“Hey,” Harry says, stepping away and cupping Louis’ cheek in his hand, looking him in the eye. “It’s okay. We don’t have to.”
Louis shakes his head. “I do want to, though, it’s not—I don’t know what’s happening, why I feel such a block whenever we—“
Harry pulls him closer again, Louis’ cheek pressed against his chest, “You’ll be ready when you’re ready, okay? It doesn’t matter how long it takes.”
“What if I’m never ready?” he asks, his voice barely a whisper.
Harry hesitates, and even though he can’t see him, he can feel the way Louis’ face falls.
“It doesn’t matter,” Harry says, “That doesn’t matter.”
“Yes, it does, H. We both know it does,” Louis says, and Harry wishes he’d be angry, but instead he just sounds broken.
Harry gives Louis space after that. He goes inside and watches Louis pacing around the backyard, and as much as he wants to go out and put his arms around Louis and talk until he convinces him that no matter what, Harry is not going to leave him, he forces himself to stay put.
He goes to their bedroom instead, which looks like it’s theirs once again, like Louis had never left. He sits on the chair by the window, pulling out his journal from the crease and starting to scribble away all the words that have been eating at him for days.
“I remember you screaming my name. You never mentioned that part.”
He’s so focused on his writing that Louis’ voice startles him and he drops his journal. Harry feels his neck crack as he snaps his head up, and he finds Louis standing by the door with a wary smile on his face.
“Well, I must have forgotten,” he replies, a tightness settling in his chest.
Louis locks his eyes with Harry’s, waiting a moment, presumably to see if he’s unwelcome, before entering the room and making his way to Harry.
“I don’t—I’m not sure how I remember that, because everything else is still so—whatever. But I distinctly remember your voice, right before the ringing in my ears started, and everything else went dark.”
“I don’t think I even realized I said anything. I thought I hadn’t been able.” Harry has to force himself to take a deep breath. “I don’t remember. Calling your name.”
“Well, good thing one of us does,” Louis says, closing the distance between them and placing his hands on Harry’s shoulders.
The moment Louis’ lips touch his, everything around him stops. It takes him a moment to kiss back, overwhelmed by the intent of Louis’ kiss, which is slow and deep and just how Harry likes to be kissed.
He pulls back, cupping Louis’ face in his hands and staring into his eyes. His pupils are blown, and he’s staring into Harry’s own with such intensity Harry feels like he’s baring his soul to him.
Louis lips are wet and raw from kissing, and Harry has to lean in one more time, press their mouths together again, marvelling in the way his stomach twists in anticipation, even after seven years.
“Yeah,” Louis whispers, closing his lips on Harry’s. “I want us back.”
Harry pulls back, reaching for the hem of Louis’ shirt and pulling it off of him, his hands roaming over his chest. “You’re so beautiful,” he says, before leaning down and sinking his teeth in Louis’ neck.
Louis throws his head back as Harry makes his way down his chest, kissing down his abs, which are more noticeable with all the weight Louis lost in hospital.
Louis jerks him back up, pulling him into a kiss while he fumbles with the buttons of his shirt. It falls on the floor, and Louis’ hands go to Harry’s belt, taking it off in one swift move.
“These fucking jeans,” he mumbles as he manages to yank them down, and Harry laughs because Louis always says that. “God, I missed this so much,” he adds, before dropping to his knees and taking Harry’s cock in his mouth with no preamble.
Harry hisses, stumbling backwards as Louis twists his tongue around the head and sucks hard, and Louis has to set a hand to his hip to steady him.
“Stay still, Styles,” Louis says firmly. “Don’t be rude.”
His lips quirk into a smile, and Harry attempts to reply but words die in his throat as Louis sets one hand at the base of his cock and swallows him whole.
“Fucking—“ he stutters out eventually. “Fuck. Lou, God, I forgot how good you are at this.”
Louis pulls off. “Well, now it’s my turn to make you remember.” He smirks before getting back to business.
It’s not that Harry had forgotten, per se, that Louis is a stellar cocksucker, but after so long of not getting blown by him on a daily basis, he feels like Louis is trying to suck his brains out through his cock. And, if Harry is being honest, he’s succeeding.
Louis trails a hand to cup at Harry’s balls, touching them playfully, and Harry inevitably bucks his hips, feeling himself close to the edge far too soon.
“Come ‘ere,” he chokes out as Louis pulls off of him, licking at the underside.
Before he complies, Louis drops a soft kiss to the tip of Harry’s cock, then he goes back in and sucks the head into his mouth once more, tonguing at the slit and making Harry see stars behind his eyelids.
He gets on his feet, but he doesn’t go straight to kissing Harry, like Harry was expecting. Instead, he grabs Harry’s hand and directs him to the bed.
Louis sits down first, staring up at Harry expectantly, his expression a mix of hope and fear, and Harry follows suit, grabbing Louis’ face between his hands and kissing him with intent.
He pulls back, looks into Louis’ eyes. The air feels thick around them, and suddenly, this moment between, somewhere they’ve been a thousand times before, feels decisive. Life-changing.
Louis closes his eyes and leans in to whisper in Harry’s ear, “I want you inside me.”
Harry captures Louis lips in his once again. “Okay.”
“But,” Louis says, looking uncertain, “be gentle, please.”
“Always,” Harry whispers, placing his hands on Louis’ shoulders, “I’m gonna take care of you, love.”
He places Louis on the bed, laying on his stomach, and positions himself over him, leaning down to kiss his cheek, and then his neck, whisper an, “I love you with everything that I am.”
Harry kisses down his back, licking and sucking and never lifting his lips from Louis’ skin, until he reaches the base of his spine. He kneads fleshy part of Louis’ arse with the heels of his hands, pressing one last kiss to the base of Louis’ spine before he spreads his cheeks apart and licks a long stripe all the way to Louis’ balls.
Louis gasps, lifting his hips to push up against Harry’s mouth, and Harry sets his hand on Louis hips and pushes him down against the mattress. “Patience, love,” he whispers, before spreading his cheeks again and going in.
He doesn’t waste his time with preambles. He’s been without this long enough that he doesn’t bother teasing, tonguing around Louis’ rim to make him loosen up, pushing in ever so lightly with the tip of his tongue to test the resistance.
He presses his tongue flat against Louis’ rim, then licks at it a couple times before pulling away, murmuring “I’ll never get tired of this,” and sinking his teeth on Louis’ left cheek.
After that he sets straight to business, licking devotedly at Louis’ arsehole until he feels him loosen enough, then pointing his tongue and pressing in with intent, fucking into him. Louis is already gasping against the mattress, begging for more, and if it were any other day, Harry would torture him, would eat him out until he cried, but his cock is throbbing and he feels like he might die if he doesn’t get inside Louis soon, so he has to leave those plans for another day.
He pushes in one finger along with his tongue and feels Louis shudder against him. It doesn’t take long before Harry’s got three fingers in him and is pressing sloppy kisses to Louis’ arse cheeks while holding a hand to the base of his own cock to keep himself from coming just from this.
It feels like the air has been punched out of his lungs when he positions himself over Louis to press in, his chest flush against Louis’ back, and Louis whispers a soft thank you, turning his face to the side so he can kiss Harry as he pushes inside him.
Neither of them lasts long, but Harry holds Louis’ hand in his as he thrusts into him and presses kisses all over his shoulders and back, and Louis doesn’t stop saying I love you until he comes messily all over the mattress, Harry following suit shortly after.
He drops one last kiss to Louis’ cheek before he carefully pulls out and lies down on the bed next to Louis.
“Thank you,” Louis says again, grabbing Harry’s hand and bringing it to his lips, kissing his knuckles.
“Anything for you, love.”
The next morning, Harry wakes up to a cold, wet finger playing around his rim and it takes less than a second for him to process what’s going on and begin rocking his hips back against Louis’ finger.
“Good morning, love of my life,” Louis says, before pushing the finger all the way to the first knuckle and making Harry gasp in surprise.
Louis fingers him for what feels like hours, until Harry’s got tears in his eyes and come that’s beginning to dry against his lower belly and his cock is painfully hard once again. Then he turns him over and he fucks him face to face, and this time both of them have got tears in their eyes, but Harry isn’t exactly sure he can blame it on the sex.
Later, after they’ve both showered—together—and eaten and gotten dressed, and Louis is sitting by the window in Harry’s office playing around with a guitar while Harry answers some work emails that he’s been putting off for weeks, Louis gets off his seat all of a sudden and walks over to Harry, closing his laptop and looking at him demandingly. “How are we supposed to come out if I can’t even go outside with you?”
They’d been talking about some work meetings they’re supposed to attend, and Harry kept insisting that Louis didn’t have to go if he didn’t want to, which in turn made Louis more and more frustrated. They’d decided not to talk about it any more for the day, because Louis kept insisting that he had to go, but he didn’t want to go, and Harry had run out of ways of telling him that his words didn’t make much fucking sense.
Harry sighs, taking Louis’ hand in his. “I told you, Lou, I’m not going to push you to come out if you’re not comfortable—“
“It’s not that,” Louis cuts him off. “It’s not about me being comfortable. You know I want to be out, I’ve wanted it for ages.”
Harry nods, because he does know. They’ve been waiting for this forever.
“I just don’t know how I’ll ever get there if I keep freaking out every time I’m in public.”
“Love, I don’t know what you want me to tell you here. You know that the longer you stay hidden in here the harder it’s going to be for you when you finally go out, but I don’t want you to feel pressured to go out, either. If you’re not ready, you’re not ready, and that’s—“
“If you say that it’s alright one more fucking time I’m going to chop your dick off, Styles,” Louis snaps. “I know I don’t have to rush into anything, okay? I just hate…“
He trails off, blushing, and Harry pulls him by the arm until he’s sitting on his lap.
“I just hate feeling like I’m getting stuck. We’ve got an album to release and meetings to attend and I hate feeling like I’m being left behind. Even if I know I’m not!” he rushes as an afterthought, when Harry opens his mouth to refute him. “I know no one expects me to.”
“Let’s do it. Lets go out,” Louis says, and it doesn’t sound manic, the way it does sometimes when he makes a split-second decision over something that’s been stressing him for long. He sounds so sure of himself that Harry finds himself nodding and smiling along with him.
“Alright, let’s do it.”
“You can take me to one of those hip gay bars in West Hollywood your friends are always raving about,” he says, and then, “And yes, Harold, I am sure.”
Harry spends over half an hour deciding what to wear. It’s not that he doesn’t always put effort into his outfits, because he likes clothes and he likes looking good and more than anything he likes dressing up for Louis to show him off, but this time it’s not just that. It feels different, more significant, and Harry feels like he needs to make an effort.
Eventually, he settles on a white Gucci two piece set that Louis got for him years ago, because it had a butterfly and an anchor and the long sleeve with short shorts screamed Harold, according to him. It’s definitely out there, and a far cry from the more conservative clothes he’s been wearing since Louis went to hospital, but he thinks the occasion calls for it. They’re going to West Hollywood, anyway.
Louis’ outfit is less flashy, as usual, but he looks striking in a floral blazer over a loose white shirt and black tailored shorts, and Harry has to resist the urge to ravage him the moment he sets eyes on him.
“Looking good, Styles,” Louis leers as Harry walks past him to greet their driver.
“Well, I’ve got a hot date tonight, you know.”
Laughter erupts from Louis chest, and he pushes Harry against the door of the black Suburban, kissing him a little too passionately, considering their driver is standing right there. They pull away when he coughs awkwardly, and Harry smiles at him in apology , making a mental note to tip him generously as he climbs behind Louis into the backseat.
Louis is clearly nervous, tapping a finger on Harry’s knee the entire drive, but he cuts Harry off when he tries to talk about it, kissing him to shut him up and mumbling an, “I’m fine,” against his lips.
They’re almost at The Office when Harry has an idea. He isn’t sure if it’s the right thing to do, if he might be pushing Louis farther than he’s ready, but he makes the decision in a split second and goes for it without stopping to think.
He steps out of the car as soon as they’ve stopped, and walks to the sidewalk, checking over his shoulder to make sure that Louis is getting out too but not stopping to wait for him.
It’s not too crowded yet; it’s not late enough for Santa Monica Boulevard to be heaped with people, but it’s a Thursday, and it’s getting dark, and there are enough people around that it could be too much for Louis. But it won’t be. Harry has faith.
“Come on, love,” he whispers, though it’s mostly to himself, because Louis can’t possibly hear him in the multitude of people.
Louis is about twenty feet away when he makes eye contact with Harry; he nods, smiling a little weakly, and Harry knows that he understands what Harry’s doing. He stumbles twice, as he walks towards Harry, flinching ever so slightly when someone walks too close to him, but he doesn’t stop and he doesn’t take his eyes off of Harry. It’s a miracle they haven’t been recognized, Harry thinks, but the anonymity seems to be giving Louis confidence, and he sways through the crowd looking a mix of confident and terrified. Harry’s heart feels like it’s about to burst, and despite the urge to run over to coddle Louis every time he flinches, he feels a renewed wave of pride every time Louis takes a step closer.
It takes a little longer than it should, maybe, but Harry isn’t counting, and Louis reaches him eventually. He ignores Harry trying to pull him into a hug, standing on his toes and kissing Harry full on the mouth instead.
“Will you marry me, Harry Styles?” he whispers against Harry’s lips, and Harry’s doesn’t have time to respond before Louis pulls him in for another kiss.
He thinks he hears someone cheering around them, and even with his eyes closed he catches the flash of a camera, but it doesn’t matter, because Louis’ lips stay on his and he’s smiling into the kiss and everything feels like it’s finally fallen into place.
“Already did, love,” he whispers back as they break apart, taking Louis’ hand in his and walking into the bar.