Harry's outside his house when Louis pulls up at 7:48 am.
"Sorry," Louis says, leaning over to the passenger seat and throwing shit into the back. "Car wouldn't bloody start and Lottie needed a ride, blah blah, get in, can't be late!"
Harry's laughing as he slides into the seat. He immediately reaches over to the radio and ejects whatever mix cd is in the stereo, pushing in a new one. "Made this for you last night."
"Cheers," Louis says and peels off Harry's street. His window is down and his tie is flapping into his face. He bites at it and Harry laughs again, reaching over to tuck it in the pocket of his blazer.
"You're a mess, Lou," Harry says as he pulls down the visor to examine his hair in the mirror.
"Yeah, yeah," Louis mutters. "Can't all be beauty queens like you, can we?"
Harry hums in agreement, pouting ridiculously. Louis rolls his eyes and punches Harry in the thigh. "You're gorgeous, love, just stop."
Louis takes a sharp right and Harry grabs onto the oh-shit bar as they screech into the staff car park. "You do realise this is going to be locked, right?"
"Whatever," Louis says, grabbing his bookbag and hastily tucking his shirt in. "We gotta dash, mate. You have everything?"
Harry nods and pulls his coat tighter around him. "I hear there's a pop quiz in maths."
Louis rolls his eyes. "You would hear that, you swot."
"I'm just warning you!" Harry protests as he pulls the door open. The halls are swarming and there are two minutes to the bell. Louis makes a face and runs a hand through his hair.
"How do I look?" he asks Harry.
Harry snorts. "A mess."
Sticking out his tongue, Louis ducks into his English class. "Cheers. See you at break?"
Harry waves and nods, walking on down the hall to the biology classrooms. Louis watches him for a second, up until Sarah grabs onto Harry's arm and whispers something in his ear that makes him laugh. Louis tightens his lips and walks back to his seat.
Niall's already there, eyes closed with huge headphones on. Louis knocks one ear off as he plops down. "Hey."
Cracking an eye, Niall grins. "Hey, Lou. You look a mess."
"Ugh," Louis says. "You're all the worst."
Niall laughs. "Hey, so, have you started thinking about your birthday yet?"
"I'm always thinking about my birthday. Why?" Louis digs around in his bag for his notebook.
"I was talking to Harry," Niall says, "and his parents said we could have the bungalow for a party? If you're feeling that."
Louis jerks his head up. "Really? Harry didn't mention that."
"Oh." Niall's face falls. "Shit. Maybe it was meant to be a surprise? Fuck. Shit. Don't tell him I told you. Shit."
"Horan! Language!" Mr. Simmons booms from the whiteboard at the front of the class. "And Tomlinson, please excuse yourself to the bathroom and get yourself looking more presentable. You are representing your school whilst in your uniform, I'd thank you to remember."
Louis sighs but gets up and trudges out the door. Once he gets into the hallway, he lets a small smile out. It's not unusually for Harry to plan something for his birthday – they both have a tradition of doing something each year, but throwing a party at his parents' bungalow is a Big Deal. Usually they just pay for dinner and a case of beer or something.
He gets to the bathroom and looks in the mirror. Grimacing, he starts running the water to try to get his hair in order. Half of it is sticking straight up and the other half is pressed forward into his face. He is probably a mess.
After five minutes of trying to sort himself out, he loses all desire to go back to class. He pulls out his phone and sends a text to Niall: grab my shit after class would you? dont think im makin it back xo and then another to Zayn: meet me behind the shed in the back field in five.
Before leaving the bathroom, Louis glances down the hall to make sure it's deserted and dashes to the back entrance. He gets down to the field and sees Zayn leaving the science block.
"Oi!" he yells.
Zayn jumps and looks around rapidly before seeing Louis. He visibly relaxes and half jogs over to him. "Keep your bloody voice down, you vagrant."
Louis grins. "Hi."
Rolling his eyes, Zayn says, "Hey. I assume you need to get through the morning?"
Louis links his arm through Zayn's and leads them across the field behind the equipment shed, out of view from the school. "You're a saviour. I got kicked out of class for bedhead? I ask you, honestly, what kind of fascist state we live in."
Zayn hums and pulls a rollie from his pocket. "Spliff okay?"
"Yeah, I've got some of Lottie's smelly shit in my car," Louis says, watching Zayn light it. He takes a deep drag and passes it over to Louis.
"Heard about your birthday," Zayn says through a mouthful of smoke.
Louis arches his eyebrows. "Yeah?"
"Yeah, at the bungalow? Should be wicked. Think Perrie'll come?"
Louis laughs around his own mouthful of smoke. "Mate, if you'd just stop being a pussy and asked her out, you'd have a bloody girlfriend. She likes you."
"Yeah, whatever, Louis," Zayn says, looking pissed off. "We don't all have built-in girlfriends."
Louis squints over at him and passes the spliff back. "Come again?"
Zayn snorts. "Little miss Styles?"
"Oh, fuck off," Louis says. "If we're playing that game, I could bring up you and Niall and your little weird dance."
"Yeah, yeah, good try," Zayn says, taking another hit. "But seriously, when are you two gonna give it up?"
Louis shakes his head and laughs. "Sorry to ruin your little fantasy, mate, but I'm pretty sure Harry's talking to Leigh Anne."
Zayn hums. "Sure, sure."
"Oh, piss off. Actually, what do you think of Jade? She's fit, right?" Louis asks, plucking the roach of the spliff out of Zayn's fingers, taking one last desperate hit.
Zayn leans against the shed and is quiet for a moment, looking at Louis. "Yeah, she's fit..."
"But?" Louis prompts.
Shaking his head, Zayn says, "Nah, nothing. Just, you know. Do you like her?"
Louis crosses his arms. "What do you mean, you know? I like her just fine. And that'd be cute, right? We could set Niall up with Jesy. It'd be like the Pink Ladies and the T-Birds."
"Christ, Louis," Zayn says, snorting out a laugh. "Niall's after Cher, firstly, and secondly, you don't, like, need to have a girlfriend, you know?"
Louis feels his gaze harden and his jaw clench. "Say what you wanna say, if you're gonna say it, Zayn."
Zayn sighs. "Nah, Lou, nothing. Sorry."
"Yeah," Louis says quietly. "Don't, Zayn."
"Yeah. I'm sorry," Zayn says back just as quietly. They're quiet for a moment, staring into the trees on the edge of the track. Then, Zayn says, "Can I ask something, though?"
Louis sighs and rubs his hand over his face. "Christ, Zayn, stop pushing. I'm not gonna give you the answer you think you're looking for."
"Okay," Zayn whispers. "Yeah. No, mate, that's cool, I'm sorry. But, like, does Harry know?"
"Fuck," Louis spits. "There's nothing to fucking know, Zayn, and you're being really shitty right now." Louis shoves his hands in his pockets and starts cutting across the field to his car.
"Louis," Zayn whisper-yells after him.
Louis sighs again and tugs on his blazer, wrapping it around him. "Give me a few minutes," he says back.
It's like, he can't really be mad at Zayn, because Zayn would never be anything but quietly understanding, and he can definitely keep a secret, but. It's something Louis never touches. Something about himself he can't bring himself to poke at. Something about the way Harry's hands curl around pencils, or the way Zayn's lips curl around cigarettes, or the way Liam's thighs flex when he's running his bloody marathons – all the little things Louis notices and immediately forces out of his mind.
He's not particularly surprised Zayn's noticed, because Zayn's that way. He notices everything. And Zayn would never bring it up around anyone; he'd never embarrass Louis or humiliate him that way. But it's just too close, too much. It's one of those things Louis sort of hopes will go away, but he knows that's ridiculous. He's heard too many stories about shitty politicians and glory holes and public embarrassment and his mum always folds up the paper sadly and says, "It's so sad people feel the need to deny themselves that way," and Louis just stares down at the dinner table.
And there's no fear, either. He's not afraid of telling his best mates or his mum. It's just. He can't even think the word, much less say it to anyone else.
When he reaches his car, he pulls open the perpetually unlocked door and sinks into the driver's seat, resting his forehead on the steering wheel. He digs around in his pocket for the key and shoves it in, waiting for Harry's new cd to start up. As some old Death Cab song pours out of the speakers, Louis allows himself a small smile and a soft laugh. Harry's such a fucking sap.
He breathes in and out, calming himself down, and after two minutes of that, a tentative knock raps on the passenger window. Zayn's biting his lip, looking in the car and Louis leans over and opens the door for him.
"Hey," Louis says. "Sorry."
"No, mate, look," Zayn says in a rush. "I'm really sorry. You're right. I was being so shitty and totally invasive and pushy and there's no excuse. I'm like. So sorry."
Louis shrugs and takes a deep breath. "It's okay. Just. I mean. Yeah, you know? Yeah. But like. Fuck, Zayn."
Zayn's expression immediately softens. "Lou."
A new curl of panic sweeps into Louis's stomach. "Zayn, please. I can't, like. Do this. Just. Shut up. And. No. Harry doesn't know. Just. Can we not?"
"Yeah, fuck. Of course, Lou. I'd never, ever say anything, you know? I'd never do that to you. I'm so sorry I pushed. I never should have done that and you don't owe anybody anything, you know? I just. I guess I just suspected and I wanted you to know you could talk to me?" Zayn's fingers are twitching nervously against his thighs and Louis just wants to reach over and still them, but now it'd be weird.
He wants to throw up. Of course it'd be weird. Zayn would probably try to fucking let him down easy or something.
Oh, fuck. Zayn knows. Zayn knows and now every single interaction with him, with any of the boys is going to be tainted with that. Zayn's going to be watching him. Louis swallows harshly.
"Zayn," he says and his voice fucking breaks. Fuck.
"Lou, god, Lou, no, come on, it's okay," Zayn says in a rush, leaning over the center consul and pulling him into a hug. Louis buries his face in Zayn's neck and tries not to breathe him in. He's fucking stoned and having a breakdown about his sexuality in the staff parking lot during first fucking period. Louis has probably never felt lower than this.
Louis tries to laugh and it comes out weak, watery. "I promise I won't ever, like. You know. Try anything. I won't be weird. I promise I won't be weird."
Zayn pulls back and looks stricken. Louis immediately curls into himself and closes his eyes, resting his head on the headrest of his seat. Fuck. It's already weird.
"Sorry," Louis whispers.
Zayn's hand reaches out and winds his fingers into Louis's. "Come on, Louis, you know me better than that. I wouldn't think that, and even if you did, shit, Lou, you're fit as fuck. You know that."
Louis finally turns to look at him, letting out a surprised bark of laughter. "You little shit," he says, blinking fast.
Zayn smiles and shakes his head. "We'd all be swooning from your attention, love."
"Oh, fuck off," Louis says, relaxing minutely. "Let's not be late to second period." He pulls out Lottie's weird little bottle of body spray and gives his clothes a cursory spurt. He holds it out the Zayn. "It'll smell like we got laid, at least."
Zayn wrinkles his nose. "That's a weird thing to say about your little sister's perfume."
Louis freezes. "You're fucking disgusting, mate." He gets out of the car and spins around into the crisp early December air to get some of the smells off him.
Zayn gets out too and leans against the car, staring up at the grey sky. "Hey, Lou?"
"Yeah?" Louis says, taking a few steps toward the school and looking back.
"I love you, you know."
Louis gives Zayn a small smile. "I love you too. Stop being a huge fucking sap and get your arse to class, Malik."
Zayn grins over at him. "You look a right mess, mate."
Louis rolls his eyes. "I've fucking heard, cheers."
The rest of the day goes by so slowly for Louis. He stares at the clock and tries to ignore the panic building in his gut, his clammy hands, his restlessness. At the end of maths, the end of the day, Liam eventually kicks him under the table. Louis is blankly staring out the window, but he jerks back and quirks an eyebrow at Liam.
"Yes?" he says.
"You okay, mate?" Liam asks. "You've been out of it all day."
Louis shrugs and tries to turn his attention to his problem set, but it's useless. He can't make himself care on the best of days, and this is decidedly not the best of days. "I dunno. Smoked a bit, you know. Bit out of it in general."
Liam looks concerned, because of course Liam looks fucking concerned. "Things at home okay? Do you wanna talk about it?"
Rolling his eyes, Louis shakes his head. He's talked out. "I'm good, thanks, mate. We should all do something after school. Get some food, drive out to the quarry or something. I dunno."
Liam nods. "Yeah, sounds good. I think Zayn and I were gonna hang out anyway, so we should get Niall and Harry."
Louis bites on the end of his pen. "Yeah," he mutters.
What happened with Zayn this morning is still slowly hitting him. The thought that Zayn's going to be watching him circles through his head. Zayn's going to be examining his interactions with the boys, even moreso now. Louis clenches his teeth and tries to breathe normally.
The bell finally, finally, finally goes and Louis breathes out. "Meet me at the car in a few, yeah?" he says to Liam as he shoves his papers in his bag and dashes out the door, leaving Liam to pack up everything slowly, meticulously.
Harry's already leaning against the car when Louis bursts out of the building. "How the fuck did you get here so fast?" Louis asks him as he reaches the car.
Shrugging, Harry says, "I don't have a million teachers trying to have a word with me about my lack of attendance, Lou. Things tend to run smoother when, you know, you aren't fighting the man, or whatever."
Louis snorts. "Okay, princess, whatever you say. Hey, I was talking to Liam and I think we're all gonna grab something to eat and hang out. You in?"
Harry bites his lip. "I'm meeting up with Leigh Anne later to study. You think I could be back at my house by six?"
"Yeah," Louis says, biting down hard on his lip. "No worries. Leigh Anne, huh?"
"Don't start," Harry says, pointing at Louis, his cheeks turning pink.
Louis widens his eyes innocently. "I didn't say anything! You should ask her about Perrie, though," he says, scanning the crowd for Zayn's quiff, standing inches taller than anyone else's hair.
He finally spots Zayn with Liam and Niall and waves at them. "Hurry up, fuckers," he yells.
Niall bounds over to the car and pulls Louis into a quick hug. "Simmons was furious when you didn't come back to class, Lou. He told me to tell you that he needs a word with you next time you deign to show up."
Harry laughs. "You're such an idiot, Lou," he says fondly.
Louis huffs out a breath. "You'd think he'd be glad I didn't come back. It's not like I'm a particularly helpful influence in class."
Niall snorts. "For real. I tend to retain more when you bunk off. Anyway! Fish and chips?" He claps his hands together and looks around at the group. Zayn and Liam nod immediately, but Harry hesitates.
Louis notices. "Haz?" he says.
"I just told Leigh Anne we'd get dinner," Harry says, shrugging.
"Oh," Louis says. "Okay, well. You'll just be the trophy wife or whatever. I'm starved. Let's go." He slides into the car and Harry follows. Harry's had shotgun claimed since Louis bought this shitty car; there are no arguments anymore.
Louis glances back in the mirror to make sure everyone's in and catches Zayn's eye accidentally. They're big and wide and sympathetic. Louis just shifts the car into gear and screeches out of the car park. This day is so fucked up.
Harry's the last one Louis drops off and it's a quiet ride. Louis is lost in his head. Zayn was totally normal, totally himself. He didn't flinch when Louis brought up Jade, didn't flinch when Harry said he'd drop a good word with Leigh Anne. Didn't even look up from his chips.
But it's weird, now. Now that Louis knows Zayn knows. Now that Louis put this into the universe, everything is so much more real. Now everything feels so much more like a lie and it's making Louis feel ill. Now that Zayn knows, now that the reality of the situation is cemented in Louis's brain, now there's someone who could potentially call him out, expose him, there's so much more guilt and anxiety.
Louis's knuckles are white on the steering wheel.
"Lou?" Harry says softly. "Everything okay?"
Louis chokes out a laugh. "Yeah, you know."
Harry's eyebrows come together. "Are you sure? You've been quiet all afternoon."
"I'm fine." He smiles at Harry. "Have fun on your little date, yeah? Let me know how it goes," he says, waggling his eyebrows.
Harry shakes his head and laughs. "You're such a twat. Want me to come over later?"
"Nah, don't worry about it. Have a good night, really." Louis's leg is jiggling. Harry knows something's up and knows he'll needle it, knows Harry worries about him unreasonably.
"Okay," Harry says slowly. "If I come over anyway, will you kick me out?"
Louis snorts. "Yeah. I'll scream till someone calls the police."
Harry smiles. "See you later, Lou. I'll ask Leigh Anne about Jade."
"Yeah," Louis says tightly. "And Perrie. Don't forget. My goal is to get Zayn to stop being a baby about it."
Harry laughs and get out, waving at Louis as he walks up the stairs to his house. Louis lets out a long breath and pulls back into the street.
Louis's mum is in the kitchen when Louis walks through the door. "Hey, babe," she says. "How was your day?"
And, shit. Louis totally thought he was doing fine. He totally thought he was keeping it together. He totally thought it wasn't a big deal, it wasn't gonna be a Thing. He thought maybe he'd feel better, once the enormity of it hit. He thought maybe by now he'd be calm, relieved, even. But now it's all just falling on top of him, because he didn't just come out to Zayn, really. It's bigger than that. It's the first time he's ever really allowed himself to acknowledge that it's something real, something that is permanent. Something that's going to define him, in some way, for the rest of his life.
His hands are shaking and all he can say is, "Mum," and he closes his eyes and tries, tries, tries so hard not to cry.
His mum has her arms around him in less than a second and she's stroking his back and his hair and tucking him into her. "Shh, Lou, baby, what is it? Is everything okay?"
"Mum," he chokes out again and yeah, fuck, he's crying now. "Mum."
"Lou," she says, pulling back a little to wipe her thumbs under his eyes. "Lou, honey, what is this? Talk to me."
Louis shakes his head and pulls back more, grasping her hands and squeezing once, before sinking into a chair around the table and burying his face in his arms. He hears the screech of another chair being pulled out and feels his mum's fingers back in his hair, carding through it softly.
"Lou," she whispers, "you don't have to tell me anything, but please tell me you're okay. Or that you will be."
Louis takes a deep, shuddering breath and raises his head to look into her soft eyes. "I... yeah. I'm okay. I'm okay."
His mum bites her lip and nods slowly, eyes dark with concern. "You can tell me anything, Lou, you know. I'd never judge you or be disappointed with you or. Anything. You could tell me you committed murder and I'd still think you were the best boy in the world."
"Mum," Louis says, laughing despite himself. "That's a bit worrisome."
She smiles at him briefly, before letting her mouth fall back into a tight line of worry. "Seriously, Louis. Anything. Nothing you could say would make me love you any less."
Louis looks at her for a moment, studies her expression, the look in her eyes, and his lip starts shaking again. His hands do too. "Fuck," he whispers, and she folds his hands into hers. There's a scary edge of understanding that's come over her face and Louis thinks his throat is closing up.
"You know, don't you," he whispers, dropping his eyes to the floor. There's a vaguely pink stain from Lottie's miscellaneous art adventures. There's a deep scratch in the linoleum from the time Louis tried to show his mum his new skateboarding trick.
She squeezes his hands tighter. "Louis," she breathes. "I don't know anything that you haven't told me, honey."
Louis leans back in his chair, dropping his shoulders and licking his lips. He looks at her again. "Please don't make me say it," he whispers.
Her expression crumbles and she pulls him back into her arms, kissing his temple, his hair. "I'm so proud of you, honey. I'm so proud. I love you so much. I hope you know how absolutely much I love you. You're my whole world," she's saying into his ear, the words running together.
He draws in a shaky breath, the familiar smell of her hair flooding into his nose. "I'm scared," he says, and then laughs at himself. "That's so stupid. I'm so stupid. God." He pulls back and wipes at his face again. "God."
"Louis, no. No." His mum is blinking back her own tears and Louis feels the fish and chips clawing back up his throat.
"I'm so sorry," he says, because he doesn't know what else to say.
"No," she says firmly. "No. Never, ever apologise for who you are, Louis. If I can ever teach you anything, I want it to be that."
Swallowing, Louis nods shortly. "Yeah," he says. He needs to get away from this, from this whole thing. From his life. He needs to get into his bed and sleep this whole shitty day off.
His mum is still looking at him with soft worry. "Did something happen today, Lou?" she asks, hesitant.
Louis licks his lips and looks away. "Do I have to talk about it?"
"Of course not, love," she says quickly, "but, Louis, if you ever want to or need to, I can promise you I will always have time for it. Always."
Louis nods shakily.
"Now," she says, standing up and brushing her hands on her jeans, before leaning over and dropping a kiss onto his hair. "Do you want something to eat?"
"No," Louis says, standing too. "I think I might, like, nap or something. I don't know. Harry might come over later."
"Ah," she says, smiling a little. "He's so lovely."
Louis rolls his eyes. "Yes, mum. I've heard that you feel that way. Every day, actually."
She just shakes her head fondly. "Let him know he always has an adoption offer if he needs it."
"You're so weird," Louis says. "I love you."
"I love you so much, baby. You go get some rest." She kisses him on the cheek again and cups his face in her hands. "I'm so proud of you."
Louis nods a little and walks out of the room, stomach in knots. He wonders when the relief will come.
There's weird rhythmic tapping on the edge of Louis's subconscious and Louis frowns, rolling over in his bed and blinking awake. The tapping continues. Louis smacks his lips together, pulling a face at the stale sleep in his mouth. The clock is telling him 12:00 over and over again and he sighs, unsure why he even has the damn thing plugged in because he never remembers to reset it when someone blowdries their hair for too long and blows a fuse.
He gropes around for his phone with one hand and turns on his lamp with the other. There's a missed call and three texts from Harry. The last one just says, let me in douche. Oh, well then. He looks out his window and Harry's standing on the grass at the side of the house with a handful of gravel from the driveway. He mouths a blatant finally when he sees Louis look out.
Rolling his eyes, Louis points toward the back door and Harry nods, disappearing. Thirty seconds later, his bedroom door is pushed open and Harry stands there, eyebrows raised. "I take it you napped?"
"Blarhrhg," Louis says. "I feel like death." He falls back onto his bed and scoots over so Harry has room.
The bed sinks down a little under Harry's weight and he rolls over to throw his arm around Louis's waist. "Hi," he says quietly.
"Hey," Louis says back. "How was your night?"
Harry shrugs, jostling Louis. "Fine, I don't know. I think she likes me."
Louis rolls his eyes at the ceiling. "No shit," he deadpans.
Scoffing, Harry rolls back over to lay on his back. "Whatever."
"And you?" Louis asks. "Do you like her?"
Harry shrugs again. "I dunno? I definitely like her as a mate, you know? It's weird. Girls, man."
Louis laughs into his pillow. "Who knows, really."
"But I did ask her about both Jade and Perrie! I think she thinks I was just using her for information. Whoops."
Louis snorts. "Smooth. And?"
"And Perrie is definitely into Zayn. Like, no question. I couldn't really get an answer about Jade? She was vague, saying something about some uni guy. Or something. I don't really know? But I'm sure if you turned on the ol' Tomlinson Charm, y'know, you'd be in."
"I'm sure," Louis says, snorting. "Nah, I dunno, I'm not into her. Just had a weird moment today where I thought it'd be cute if us three dated those three. But I'll just hang out with Niall and encourage his ridiculous and hopeless crush on Cher."
Harry laughs, soft. "Cher-slash-Zayn, you mean?"
"You think?" Louis asks, turning to face Harry.
Harry shrugs. "Wouldn't surprise me."
Louis bites his lip. "Is that weird, do you think?"
Harry props himself up on his elbow, looking down at Louis. "What do you mean? Weird like how?"
"I dunno." Louis plays with a thread on his quilt. "Just, I mean. Would that be weird if Niall had a crush on Zayn?"
"Do you think it'd be weird?" Harry asks, brow furrowed. "I mean, is this about Niall specifically, or...?"
"No, I mean, like." Louis stops and takes a deep breath. He absolutely does not want to do this three times in one day. "Nah, never mind. I think it'd be cute, like."
"Yeah," Harry says, settling back down. "Me too. But, like, y'know. Zayn's pretty into Perrie."
They're quiet for a moment, until Harry takes a deep breath to break the silence and Louis knows what he's gonna ask. He tenses.
"You were off today, Lou," Harry says. "Wanna talk?"
"No," Louis says quietly. "Not tonight."
Harry lets out a breath and his hand finds Louis's. "But you're okay?"
Louis nods and pokes Harry in the side with their joined fingers. "Yeah. We'll talk later, okay? I'm drained."
"Okay," Harry says, grinning at him. "Can I sleep here?"
Harry reaches over and turns off the light and Louis sets his alarm twenty minutes earlier so they can stop off at Harry's for his uniform.
"Love you, Lou," Harry says into the darkness. Louis feels him smile against his hair.
"Love you, Haz, you great big sop."
Louis doesn't fall asleep for a long time. He listens to Harry breathe in and out, steady, and feels the heat of his body bleed into the comforter, the mattress. It's too close to the fantasy, Louis thinks. It's too much, too close. The five of them have always joked that he and Harry would end up together someday, because the teasing about soulmates has gone on for too many years.
But now Louis is worried, because he's worried that at some point, he started taking the jokes a little more seriously. He can't imagine marrying a girl, and he never really could, and even now, even on this terrifying fucking day of self-actualisation, he can't even put a faceless man in his future. It's always Harry, Harry, Harry. Harry, who's always been there since Louis's mum married his stepdad and they moved to this neighbourhood, and a silly boy with big green eyes and big wild hair biked two streets over to see the new neighbours. Harry, who knows everything – almost everything, now – about him.
Louis takes a deep breath and tries to forcibly slow his heartbeat. He needs to tell Harry, because after his mum, there's no one more important than Harry. There's no fear of, like, abandonment or ridicule, or, like, disgust. Harry would never do that. He's more worried Harry will start second-guessing their closeness. He's worried Harry will start pulling away, unnoticeably at first, until their friendship is in name only. Louis can deal with rejection, he thinks – not that he'd ever tell Harry, like, hey, by the way, I think we might get married – but he doesn't know if he'll be able to swallow a slow freeze out.
The week goes by easily. Harry doesn't push anything, except to give Louis a few thoughtful glances, and Zayn sneaks out with him more often for clandestine smokes.
"How're you doing?" Zayn asks one afternoon as they cut their afternoon class – biology for Louis, maths for Zayn.
Louis shrugs. "Fine. Better. You know."
Zayn hums around his cigarette. Louis isn't even smoking today, he just needed a break. He's been needing a lot of breaks lately. He doesn't think about it too closely.
"I told my mum," he adds.
Zayn raises his eyebrows. "Yeah? How'd it go?"
"Fine, you know." Louis smiles a little. "She's wonderful.
"She is," Zayn says. "You gonna tell H?"
Sighing, Louis nods, leaning back against the shed. "I need to. He knows something's up."
"Yeah, he's asked me."
Louis looks over at him. "Yeah? What'd you say?"
"Eh." Zayn shrugs. "I said I didn't know."
"Thanks," Louis says quietly.
"Course. Wouldn't look good for me to know first, I think," Zayn says.
Louis nods. "You're an angel, mate."
"Tell him soon, though. He's worried, like. You know how he gets."
Louis sighs. "Just... you know. Waiting for a moment, I guess."
The moment inevitably comes, because Harry is the champion of creating moments. He slides into Louis's car at the end of the day and slips in a new cd. Looking at Louis, he says, "Let's go to the river."
Louis nods and pulls into the street, smirking when the Cure starts playing. "Cliche, Haz. You made a soundtrack for our talk. I loathe you."
Harry laughs. "Lies."
They get to the river too soon for Louis's taste and he pulls up onto the bank, putting his shitty little car in park and taking a deep breath.
Harry's staring at him intently and Louis cringes away from it. "Stop that."
"Okay," Harry says, and deliberately turns to face the windscreen. "Is it family stuff? Is your mum okay? Is there anything I can do?"
"Ugh, no, she's fine. That's all fine. This is so stupid and awkward, like, I don't know. Very One Tree Hill, if you will." Louis makes a face.
Harry laughs. "Perfect for you, then. What's up, Lou? Is it terminal? Have I got to write a eulogy?" Harry nudges at Louis's arm. "C'mon."
Louis's leg starts jiggling again. "I don't know how I'm supposed to do this."
Harry gets serious again. "You can tell me anything, Louis."
The frequency of that fucking statement is starting to grate, honestly. Louis takes a deep breath. "You know how I asked if it'd be weird if Niall liked Zayn?"
Harry freezes. "Yeah..." he says slowly.
"I... that wasn't really about Niall, you know?" Louis taps out a frantic rhythm on the dashboard, unable to stop moving.
Shifting back into the seat, Harry pulls his leg under him and turns his earnest, big eyes on Louis. "D-do you have a crush on Zayn?" he asks, hesitant.
Louis licks his lips. "No. But. It wouldn't be out of the question?" he says, finally peeking over at Harry.
Harry's face is wide open, all serious and genuine care. "You mean, like, you could like Zayn as well as, like, I dunno, Jade? Or you could like Zayn, like, exclusively?"
Louis huffs out an almost-laugh and reaches up to tug at his stupid fringe. "Um. These are really stupid examples, but I'll go with it. I think, like. I think I could only like Zayn. Um. Exclusively."
There's a brief silence and Louis's internal organs have somehow learnt the fucking jitterbug. He says, too loud, "But I do want to clarify that I don't like Zayn."
Harry laughs a little, but Louis can't look over at him again. He's at a complete and total loss for what to do. He keeps moving, tapping his fingers and jiggling his feet and licking his lips and darting his eyes out the window, following the ripples of the river.
"Lou," Harry says, finally. "Louis, look at me."
"No," Louis says in a quiet voice.
"You arsehole," Harry says, fond. "Look at me, god."
Louis glances over at Harry from the corner of his eye, but doesn't turn his head.
"Oh my god," Harry says, and leans over to grab Louis's face. He holds his cheeks in his big hands and turns Louis's head to meet Harry's eyes. "Louis Tomlinson. I think you're the greatest boy in the world, yeah? You're the best friend I could ever conceivably have. Calm the fuck down."
Louis huffs out a short laugh. "Sorry, mate. Sorry. It's just. You know. Big. For me. Sorry. I'm being stupid."
"Hey," Harry says, expression going serious again. He doesn't let go of Louis's face. "Hey, no, none of that. It's very big and it's scary and you're amazing, yeah? It's not stupid; you're not stupid. Shut up with that."
Louis smiles a little, wrinkling his nose. "You sound like my mum."
Harry leans back into his seat, letting go of Louis. He grins, proud. "Your mum is the best lady on earth, after my own mum, of course. I'm honoured by the comparison."
Louis rolls his eyes. "She wants to adopt you, you know."
"I know," Harry says, laughing. "She's told me about twenty times."
"Ugh. She likes you more than me." Louis is still shaky, but he feels like he's sliding back into himself.
"Well, most people do, Lou," Harry says. "Most people do."
Shaking his head, Louis says, "Twat," and it comes out fond.
The drive back to their neighbourhood is quiet in a different way than it has been lately. It's calm and understanding, settled. Louis thinks he's maybe feeling that so-called sense of relief, finally.
When he pulls up to Harry's house, Harry turns to him and says, "I love you, Lou. Everything's fine, you know. With us, and all."
Louis quirks a little smile and nods. "Good."
"Yeah," Harry agrees. "And, hey, don't make plans for the weekend of your birthday, got it? Can't say anything more, but just hold onto it for me, okay?"
Louis winks. "Got it, Columbo."
Harry laughs and taps his nose. "See you later."
The weekend of his birthday comes quicker than Louis expected. The end of term flies by, mostly because Louis isn't too fussed with exams. Harry, though, gets in the car every morning with dark circles under his eyes, messy hair, and bitten nails.
He says, every morning, "You should really try to care, Louis."
Louis just sighs. "Harry, darling, you're the breadwinner of this relationship. I'm just here for the comic relief."
Harry always shakes his head, but laughs a little. "You underestimate yourself."
"No, mate," Louis says back. "You misunderestimate me."
Everything is the same.
It's Friday, the 23rd, when they sit their last exam. Louis flies through the math test, doodling in the margins when he comes to questions he doesn't quite understand, and sloppily scribbling masses of numbers to get points for trying.
When time is finally called, he falls into Liam's arms, yelling, "Freedom, free at last, viva la revolucion!"
Liam glances around the classroom, mouthing apologies at all the annoyed glares Louis is immune to.
"C'mon, Li," Louis yells, tugging on Liam's jacket. "We need to get out of here, we have big plans, come on!"
He dashes down the hallway, grabbing Niall away from Cher and pulling Zayn away from Perrie. "We have plans, lads!"
Harry's already by the car, something Louis's gotten used to. "Harry!" Louis cries, tackling him into a hug. "We're done! We're done for two whole weeks!"
Harry laughs and hugs him back. "We're done until your mum gets your results and grounds you till you're dead, yeah, mate."
Louis sticks out his tongue. "Hello, raincloud, wow, are you quite finished?"
"Yeah, yeah," Harry says. "Take us to the bungalow, chauffeur!"
Widening his eyes into his best shocked expression, Louis says, "The bungalow? Whatever for?"
Zayn and Niall roll their eyes. "He knows I let it slip, Lou," Niall says.
"Oh." Louis pouts. "Party poopers. Literally."
Harry shakes his head. "Everyone's coming around 8 or so, which gives us a few hours of steady drinking time to prepare. And we have to give you our presents, duh."
"Pressies!" Louis yells. He yanks open the door and jumps behind the wheel. "Get in, losers!"
The bungalow has a rather pathetic looking HAPPY BIRTHDAY LOUIS sign hanging over the front door and some hastily blown-up balloons scattered over the floor. "Lads," Louis says fondly.
Harry ducks his head. "Couldn't find a helium machine, sorry."
Louis throws his arm around Harry's shoulders and messes up his hair. "I love you guys."
Niall laughs. "You're in a good mood."
Louis bounds over to him. "It's my birthday!" he yells and squeezes Niall into a tight hug. "Where is the beer!? Bring me beer, slavey-boys!"
"Okay," Harry says. "We have a keg for the party. I was thinking like two pounds a cup? And then I have some cases of Stella for us."
"Perfect!" Louis says and settles onto the couch. He holds out his hand expectantly.
Zayn shakes his head. "You're insufferable even when it's not your birthday, Lou."
"Please," Louis scoffs. "I'm a treasure."
Harry comes back into the living room, clutching five beers in his massive hands. Louis smiles up at him and opens his mouth.
"I'm not going to feed you beer, Lou," Harry says, settling down next to him and passing him one. "But I will open it for you."
"Cheers," Louis says, grinning. "Now, I believe I heard a rumour about presents?"
By 11pm, Louis is trashed. Louis is shitfaced. He walks through the house, bumping into people whilst simultaneously marveling at the sheer number of people who showed up.
"It's my birthday," he slurs to a girl he vaguely recognises from English.
"It's my birthday," he slurs to a boy on the second string football team.
He manages to find Zayn, finally, and leans into him. "It's my birthday," he slurs into Zayn's ear. There's heavy music pounding through the house and every corner is filled with people, spilling out onto the back patio and the front lawn. "It's my birthday."
"I know, mate," Zayn yells back, steadying Louis with hands on his waist. "I know! Are you having a good time?"
Louis nods, enthusiastic. "The best. You guys are the best. The best friends for li'l ol' me. The very, very best."
Zayn smiles at him and glances over Louis's shoulder before pushing him gently into someone else's grasp. "I'm gonna grab something to drink, okay, Lou?"
Louis nods, and turns around to the person who's holding him up from behind. It's Harry. Of course it's Harry. He grins up at him and pushes his stupid curls out of his eyes.
"Hazza!" he says. "You're my very best mate, and I love you very, very, veryvery much."
Harry laughs. "I love you too, Lou! How're you doing? Need any water?"
Louis shakes his head, but has to stop. "I'm dizzy, Haz," he says, tipping his head to the join of Harry's shoulders and neck. It smells nice there. Louis bites down a little.
"Okay," Harry says, chuckling. "Let's take a bit of a breather, hey." He keeps his hands tight on Louis's waist and starts walking them to the front door, pulling Louis closer to squeeze through all the people.
The cold December air hits Louis, jolting him a little more awake. "'s chilly," he says, tucking closer to Harry.
"I know, babe," Harry responds, letting Louis burrow in a little bit more. "You doing good?"
Louis nods. "We should... sit," he suggests. Harry leads them over to the garden wall, out of view from the house, and pulls Louis to sit down next to him.
Louis curls back into Harry's warmth as soon as he's done squirming around on the wall, getting comfortable. "You're the very best," he mutters into Harry's neck. "Dunno where I'd be without you, y'know?"
Harry's hand is stroking up and down his back, soothing. "Likewise, Lou. I'm glad you're having a good time."
Louis hums and tilts his head back to stare up at the clear sky. "Harry," he says.
"Yeah?" Harry answers, quietly.
"Harry, Harry, Harry," Louis sings, tasting the word in his mouth. "Harry, do you ever think about the future?"
Harry goes quiet for a moment, thoughtful. "Yeah. Sometimes, I guess. Why?"
"I dunno." Louis shrugs. "I do. A lot. It freaks me out."
Chuckling, Harry leans over slightly to rest his head on top of Louis's. "Why's it freak you out?"
"I dunno." Louis's head is spinning. The world is spinning really fast. "'s weird, I guess. I keep thinking we're gonna get married." Louis laughs. He waits for Harry to start laughing.
Louis stops laughing.
Harry's gone tense beside him and Louis's world is still spinning, but now it's like a tilt-a-whirl, off-axis and terrifying.
"You do?" Harry asks quietly.
Louis furrows his brow and tries to remember what he said. He knows it was big. "Wait," he says, reaching out to steady himself. His fingers dig into the warmth of Harry's thigh. "Wait," he says again. "I don't remember what I just said. Did I just tell you I'm in love with you?" He laughs. "Fuck. Oh, fuck." He tries to climb off the wall, but Harry holds him in place.
"Lou, hold it, Lou, just sit down." Harry's keeping him close and Louis blinks rapidly, trying to slow his world down.
"Spinning," Louis says.
Harry sighs. "I know, love. Do you need a lie-down?"
"No!" Louis says. "It's my birthday. Lovely Harry threw me a lovely birthday party. Lovely lovely." He finds Harry's face with his hand and strokes down his cheek. His thumb catches on Harry's bottom lip and it stays there for a moment, pressing in.
Harry's eyes close, briefly. "Lou," he whispers.
"Sorry," Louis whispers back, staring at Harry's lips. "Sorry, sorry sorry sorrysorry. It's my birthday," he says, and he leans in, catching Harry's bottom lip between his own lips. His eyes flutter closed and he presses against Harry, his hands dropping to Harry's sides, holding him close.
He keeps kissing Harry until reality finds him, finally, and he realises Harry's not kissing him back. "Oh," he says, pulling back. "Oh, god. Oh, god, I'm so sorry." He shrinks back from Harry's warmth. "Oh my god."
"Louis, wait," Harry says, but Louis drops off the wall, suddenly much more sober.
He needs to throw up. He needs to throw up, like, now.
"I'll... see you inside, Harry. Oh god. I'm sorry." Louis sees a wheelie bin tucked by the garage and focuses on it, uses it as a point of reference for his feet. He concentrates on one foot in front of the other and maybe he's not walking in a straight line, but he gets to the bin eventually and fumbles it open. He retches until there's nothing left in his stomach.
By the time he's feeling human enough to go back inside, he glances back to the garden wall, just to see.
As soon as Louis opens his eyes in the morning, he's greeted to a rendition of STOMP in his brain and the taste of cat-vomit in his mouth. He's starfished on the huge couch in the living room of the bungalow, half on top of Niall. The horrible, bright winter sun is pouring through the open blinds and the entire room smells of beer.
Louis's stomach lurches as he sits up. He steadies himself tentatively. It takes him three tries to stand up. He finally makes it into the bathroom and he groans at his reflection. Digging around for an unused toothbrush, he tries to piss and brush at the same time, before realising that multitasking is absolutely out of the question this morning. He groans again when he rinses his mouth and gags when a whiff of beer floats up from his shirt.
Fumbling around with the shower, he eventually turns it all the way to hot and sits down on the floor, letting the water pound down over him. He leans his head on the cool tile.
"I think I'm dying," he says into the echo chamber of the shower.
Last night comes back to him in bits and pieces. Perrie and Zayn making out against the fridge. A kegstand – god, really? Louis is a champion. A few bowls of weed being passed around. Everyone in their year – and a few not in their year – crammed into Harry's bungalow.
Harry. Oh. Louis remembers stumbling outside with Harry. He said some things, he's sure he did. Oh. Oh, no. Louis kissing Harry. Harry not kissing Louis.
It's hazy. It's vague enough Louis can definitely pretend he doesn't remember. Can definitely say he blacked out before any of that. He's not responsible.
Louis can definitely say it never happened. Can definitely laugh it off.
Now, though, he pulls his knees up to his chest and closes his eyes, resting his forehead on his kneecaps. Fuck.
Eventually, he pulls himself out of the shower and wraps himself in a towel, kicking his dirty clothes to the side. He tiptoes through the silent house to Harry's room. No one's in the bed, and Louis drops his towel and digs through the dresser for some jimjams and a jumper.
Just as he's pulling the jumper over his head, the door creaks open behind him. He jumps a kilometre into the air and squeezes his eyes shut against the wave of nausea.
"Oh, sorry," comes Harry's raspy whisper. "Hi, love. How are you feeling?"
Louis swallows before turning around. "I've been better," he says, forcing a half smile. He can't quite meet Harry's eyes.
Harry nods. "Um. I've made some toast?" he says, holding it out. "Have a piece. You should eat something."
"I think I'd maybe rather die?" Louis offers back.
"Yeah," Harry says, and tries to chuckle. "Hey, um. Can we talk?"
Louis rubs his hand over his face. "We really don't have to."
Harry sucks his bottom lip into his mouth. "I'd like to, though? If that's okay? I started up a fire outside on the patio. Let's go out there."
"Yeah, okay," Louis says, resigned. He trudges after Harry and tucks himself into a big lawnchair, scooting it close to the fire. He pulls his legs up so he can wrap his arms around himself. "What's up, Haz?"
Harry's sitting on the chair closest to Louis and Louis can feel his eyes, his gaze, examining him.
Louis closes his eyes against it.
"I wanted to maybe talk about last night? Um. If you remember?"
And here it is. Louis opens his mouth to deny, deny, deny, but in the end, he realises, it's all futile. Harry's gonna know, regardless of whether or not Louis remembers. Harry will remember everything, and that's too much for Louis to live with.
"Yeah, Harry," Louis says quietly.
Harry lets out a breath, and Louis thinks he's maybe surprised by Louis's admission.
Louis jumps in before Harry can say anything, "Harry, look. I don't need to be, like, let down easy, you know? It's not, like, a big deal or anything. I was never meant to tell you that stuff. And I shouldn't have done. I never wanted to put you in that position. This position. It was really shitty of drunk-me and I'm sorry. I don't want you to feel, like, guilty."
Harry's quiet for a moment. "Lou," he says. Louis just stares into the fire.
"I'd really appreciate it if you'd let it lie, Harry."
"Louis," Harry says firmly. "Listen. You were drunk. You were borderline blackout. I couldn't, like. God, come on. You told me you wanted to marry me. You told me you're in love with me. You kissed me."
Louis screws his eyes closed and digs his fingernails into his palms. "Harry, please," he whispers. He's so fucking humiliated.
"No, Lou, just. You've always been it for me. And I couldn't take that – I couldn't accept that from you when you were trashed. I couldn't deal with getting everything with the chance you'd laugh it off in the morning. You know?" Harry's voice is breaking, desperate.
Louis is holding his breath so hard there are stars behind his eyes. "What?"
Harry lets out a rough laugh and runs his fingers through his hair. "I just. When you told me that you, y'know, liked boys or whatever, all I wanted to do was scream me too me too me too and hold your hand and kiss you all over, but I couldn't steal your thunder. I know how hard that was for you, you know? And I didn't wanna trivialise that by being all, like, hey, I could like Zayn too or whatever. But, god, Louis."
Louis swallows. "What," he barely gets out in a whisper.
"Since I was ten, Lou," Harry says. He slides off the chair and sits on the concrete in front of Louis, hands coming up to wrap around Louis's.
Louis blinks down at him, hard; once, twice, three times. "Harry."
Harry gently loosens Louis's hands from where they're twisted together and wraps them up in his own, his huge hands covering all of Louis's, overlapping. "Can I kiss you for real?" he asks, all wide green eyes.
Louis is not sure he's breathing, but somehow he lets out a shaky sigh. He nods, unable to think of a single word to express how much that would mean to him.
Harry smiles at him, but it's small, scared. Louis can't bear that. He tightens his hands into Harry's, tugging him up to sit on the chair with him. "Haz," he whispers.
Harry's smile becomes a little more sure. "Lou," he says back, and leans in, brushing his lips against Louis's. Louis opens his mouth slightly and frees his hands to slide one into Harry's hair, guiding their lips together firmly.
Harry's hands flit all over, cupping Louis's cheeks, down to his neck, thumbing at Louis's collarbones, then over his shoulders, feeling him out. Eventually one combs through Louis's hair and the other covers the small of his back, and Harry gently guides him down to lay back into the chair, and drapes his own long body half on top of Louis's.
Letting out a soft sigh, Louis lets himself relax, lets Harry smile against his lips, and lets himself smile back.
When Harry pulls back for a breath, Louis pushes Harry's fringe out of his face and grins up at him. "Does this mean you wanna get married?" he asks, teasing.
Harry laughs, quiet and intimate. "I could probably do the Tomlinson name proud," he says back.
Louis tucks his smile into Harry's neck. "I think so, yeah."
The sound of the sliding glass door scratches through their little bubble and they both jerk up, looking back at the house. Zayn stands there, shirtless, scratching at his belly, an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips.
"Fuckin' finally," he rasps.