Actions

Work Header

For As Long As I Can Remember (It's Been December)

Chapter Text

 

“How do you feel about Thai?”

Louis rolled over onto his back, stretching his legs out. He’d been almost asleep when his phone had started ringing. As usual, Niall got straight to the point. “Their fried chicken is some cheap KFC.”

Niall laughed. “That’s why I got you noodles.”

“I like those.” Louis sat up. He muted his TV. “Why exactly did you get me dinner?”

“Because I need a place to crash tonight and I’m on my way to yours.”

The usual. “Fighting with--” Louis tried to remember her name. “Susan?”

“Cindy,” Niall corrected him. “She kicked me out.”

“My guest room is yours.”

“I’ll be there in five.” Niall sounded chipper for a bloke who had just been kicked out of his flat by his girlfriend. Then again, nothing really wore Niall down.

Louis put his mobile on the sofa table and got up to go to the kitchen. He was still in his suit from work, the tie hanging loosely from the collar of his dress shirt, the first three buttons opened. Louis caught a glimpse of his own reflection in the dark floor-to-ceiling window that overlooked the night lights of London.

Sometimes he had to do a double take; just to make sure it was really him being reflected there. Expensive suits, a spacious loft in London with fancy designer furniture, and a position as the youngest ever junior partner at Cowell Law LLP. That was who Louis had become in the past five years.

He’d become what people called successful. He studied the blurry reflection of his face, wondering if that was all it was. Turning away, he took off the tie and left it hanging from one of the chairs in the kitchen. While taking two beers out the fridge, he pushed the gloomy thought aside.

Of course he was successful, and of course he was happy. He had worked hard for this. For three years now, Louis had been able to help out his family financially, and make sure all of them had a secure future. He had savings accounts for all of his siblings to make sure they’d get to go to college or uni someday. The mortgage for his mother’s house was almost paid off, and Louis himself was able to afford this fancy flat, as well as a posh lifestyle.

Hard work had got him here. Hard work that he had needed to put all of his energy into after his life had turned upside down five years ago. That he had needed to distract himself from the empty throbbing inside his chest every morning when he woke up.

He had just put the bottles onto the sofa table and unmuted the TV when the doorbell rang. It cut his thoughts short, the memory of a night long ago, torn skin and bloody hands vanishing from his vision.

“I’m telling you, we’ll have snow for Christmas this year,” Niall told him as he came inside. He had his arms full with several grocery bags and his guitar case slung over one shoulder.

“Did you buy me food for the rest of the week, too?” Louis asked, closing the door.

“Just stopped by Tesco’s and bought the necessities.” Niall put down the bags on Louis’ kitchen table. “‘Cause your fridge’s always empty.”

Louis peered into the bags. “I just like eating out.”

Niall moved around the kitchen as if it was his own. He got plates and cutlery and opened a few boxes with Thai food in it that he shovelled onto the plates. “You tend to eat at work. It’s unhealthy, I’m telling you.”

Louis raised a brow. “Is greasy Thai food and beer in front of the telly healthy, though?”

“Not working twenty four-seven is healthy, mate.” Niall washed his hands and then handed Louis one of the plates. “Go sit on the sofa and relax.”

“It’s what I did before you called.” Louis went ahead to the living room.

Niall plopped down onto an armchair. “Too lazy to have dinner, though.”

“Are you my mum or summat?” Louis asked with a full mouth.

Shrugging, Niall focused on the programme on TV. He was quiet for a moment, and Louis noticed that his clothes looked wrinkled. His jeans were dirty, too.

“Why do you look like you’ve slept under a bridge?” Louis asked, frowning a little.

“Now you sound like my mum.” Niall rolled his eyes.

Louis noticed the way Niall’s cheeks turned pink, the way he squirmed a little. “Did you spend last night outside?”

“I didn’t die, did I?” Nial focused on his food.

“You should’ve come here.” Louis put down his plate. “Why didn’t you come here?”

“I gave in soon enough, didn’t I?” Niall asked, still not looking at Louis. “I can’t come to your place every time I get thrown out by another girl.”

“That’s it.” Louis took Niall’s plate from him, setting it down on the couch table. “I’m gonna find you a flat.”

“Stop it, Tommo.” Niall pressed his lips together. “You know I can’t afford a flat in London.”

He wasn’t wrong. As a singer-songwriter who wasn’t signed to any label, he couldn’t make ends meet in a city like London. “Then you’ll stay with me.”

Niall shook his head. “We’re friends, Lou. I don’t wanna use you like that.”

“You’re not using me,” Louis protested.

“I’d be living off you.” There was a stubborn tilt to Niall’s mouth. “I can’t afford to pay you even a tenth of the rent this place is.”

Louis waited a moment, going over the thoughts in his head. “You brought food tonight. I’d be perfectly fine with you doing that every once in a while as your way to pay your rent.”

Niall looked at him, smiling ruefully. “Of course you’d be. I can’t do that, though, Lou.”

“I get it.” And he did. It was Niall’s pride that was in the way of him moving into Louis’ guest room permanently. He wanted to make it on his own, carve his own way, and not rely on anyone. Louis wouldn’t have been any different.

Louis hadn’t been any different.

“But at least let me help you find a place, okay?” Louis put his hand over Niall’s knee. “I can’t bear the thought of you spending the night outside.”

“I’ll just--”

Louis lifted a hand to stop Niall from talking. “You’ll be my guest here for two weeks. Within those two weeks, I’ll get you a flat.”

“You know that’s impossible, Lou.” Niall tilted his head, a sad smile on his lips. “I can’t afford a flat with the part-time jobs I do.”

“Leave that to me. I’ll find you something.” Louis knew that the chances weren’t high, but he had connections. And he was stubborn.

“If I let you do that,” Niall said, pointing a finger at Louis, “I get to do something for you in return.”

“You brought me dinner.” Louis smiled, getting back to his noodles. “We’re even.”

“No, seriously, Lou.” In one motion, Niall unwinded his legs and sat straight. “You’ll have to change something about your lifestyle, too.”

Louis raised a brow. “Do I?”

“You’ll go on a date with that bloke you told me about last week.”

Making a face, Louis shook his head. He thought about Nathan. He had hit on Louis several times, asking him out two times already. Louis had turned him down both times. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Why the bloody hell not?” Niall shook his head. “You’ve been single since we met, and never went on a date in that time. That’s more than three years now, Lou.”

Louis shrugged, looking to the ground. He hummed quietly.

“It’s just a date. You can tell me it doesn’t work out after you’ve spent an evening with him.” Niall reached out to touch Louis’ leg. “Just give yourself a chance at it.”

“I told you. With my job, I don’t have time for a relationship anyway.”

Niall pinched his knee. “Who says it’ll have to get that far? Just go on a date. Have fun. Get shagged.”

Louis laughed drily. “I’m not really looking for--”

“Shut up, Tommo.” Niall rolled his eyes. “If you want me to change my way of living, you gotta change yours, too.”

Sighing, Louis stared at Niall, trying to figure out how to tell him that Louis had gone through hell and back for a man before. He couldn’t imagine anyone else by his side than that man. Niall had no idea about Louis’ past.

“Deal?” Niall asked, tilting his head.

Louis sighed. He’d just play along until he’d found Niall a flat. He nodded. “Deal.”

+++

Going over files, Louis found himself biting on his pen. It was one of his bad habits. He had tried to lose it, but it always came back.

This case was particularly tough. He’d let one of the firm’s best paralegals look through every single file, but they couldn’t have found anything on Sam Laughlan. Yet, Louis was sure that there had to be some dirt on him.

He stumbled upon a transcript that made him falter. Marking a few words, Louis hummed when a knock at the door to his office dragged him out of it. Looking up, pen still resting on top of those lines, Louis rubbed his forehead.

“Come in.”

Cecilia, his fairly new secretary came in. “Excuse me, Mr Tomlinson.”

She had started at the firm about a month ago, and had replaced Irma, Louis’ actual secretary. Irma was on maternity leave, and Louis had never known how valuable she’d really been until she’d left.

Well, what was that saying? You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

“What can I do for you, love?” Louis asked. He knew it should be the other way around, and honestly, Cecilia should know what she could do for him without even asking. Yet, she was still so young, and Louis knew that she was still learning her way around the firm.

She touched a strand of blonde hair falling over her shoulder. “There’s a man who keeps calling for you. I threw him out of the line five times, but he keeps calling.”

Louis frowned. He leaned back in his chair. “What’s his name?”

“Bennett,” Cecilia answered. “He insists on talking to you.”

“I told him not to call the office.” Louis rolled his eyes. “Thanks, Cecilia. You’ve done everything correctly. When he calls again, put him through to me. It’s okay.”

“I will.” She nodded, turning to leave his office again.

“Cecilia.” Louis called her back, motioning for her to come over. “Can you do me a favour?”

She stopped next to Louis’ desk, tilting her head. “What can I do?”

“Can you read these two sentences out loud for me? I just wanna make sure I’m not reading them wrong.” Louis pointed at the passages he had marked in the transcript.

Looking a little confused, Cecilia nodded. Louis could smell her perfume when she leaned in to read. “It reads, I called Mr Richards that evening because I knew he’d be back from France. He didn’t pick up, though.”

“Perfect.” Louis beamed at her. “Thanks. That kinda saves our client.”

Cecilia blinked at him. “I have no idea how, but I’m happy if I could help.”

“You did,” Louis assured her.

She was about to leave when her gaze fell onto the photos Louis had placed on his desk. “Is that your family?” she asked.

He nodded. “Yeah, my mum and my siblings.”

“I didn’t know you had so many.”

Louis kept his eyes on the picture as he spoke. It showed them a few years ago. Dan, his mother’s new boyfriend at that time, had taken a family picture for them. Doris and Ernest were still babies in the picture, and Louis was sure it was around that time that he’d last seen Daisy and Phoebe without makeup on their faces. “Five sisters and one brother.”

“Must have been a loud home.” Cecilia’s eye caught the other picture and she grinned at Louis. “And that’s your boyfriend?”

Louis let his gaze wander to the second picture. He remembered that day so clearly. It’d been spring, and Harry’s hair had been just long enough to put it in a bun. Not all of it had stayed put up, but Louis had loved the single curls falling free around Harry’s face. They’d been working outside in Anne’s garden, helping her plant new flowers. Louis had dirt on one cheek and the collar of Harry’s shirt was sweaty. They had rolled around in the grass, mock-fighting over who got to eat the last of Anne’s sandwiches.

When Louis closed his eyes, he could still smell the grass, Harry’s sweat, the cucumbers on that sandwich. The flowers and the sun. It’d been such a good day.

“Yeah,” Louis said. “That’s him.”

“He’s--” Cecilia stopped when the telephone outside rang. “Excuse me.” With that, she dashed out of the office.

Louis sighed, throwing one last glance at the picture before he turned back to his work. He knew he shouldn’t have put it up in this office; shouldn't even have brought the picture with him to London. It was all he had left of Harry, though. Warm and fond memories.

With a bitter smile, Louis tried focus on the papers. It wasn’t like Harry would ever find out that Louis had a picture of him displayed here.

His phone rang and Louis picked it up, shoving the thoughts aside. “Yes?”

“Mr Bennett,” Cecilia announced. “On line two.”

“Thanks, love.” Louis switched lines, clearing his throat. “Mr Bennett. I’m delighted to hear from you so soon.”

“I make the impossible possible, Mr Tomlinson,” Bennett greeted him. He didn’t seem to lose any time. “I found four flats in your required parameters. However, three of them may be a little too far outside the radius you gave.”

Louis hummed. “What about the fourth?”

“All boxes ticked.”

“When can I have a look at it?”

+++

“Harry, we’ve got another four of the fish. Can you--”

Harry turned around to grab two more pots. “I’m on it. Leave it to me.”

With that, he got together the ingredients he needed, mind set on finishing the dish he was working on first. It shouldn’t take much longer than another two minutes. He added a few more spices, mixed in a dash of lemon juice, and then draped the pasta nicely on a plate. Sprinkling basil on top, he hit the small bell, and immediately a waiter appeared to pick up the dish and take it out to the guest in the dining hall.

Harry didn’t know all of the staff yet, since he’d only worked at this place for about two weeks. He knew this one, though. Zayn winked at him and Harry winked back.

With no time to lose, Harry started to prepare four dishes of tonight’s fish special. A creation Robert had come up with. They’d all been excited and impressed by the recipe, and Harry loved getting to cook in a setting like that.

The restaurant, Pierre’s, was a posh place. Only rich and famous people came to dine there, and for every working class person, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Some people came for proposals, if they had the money to splash out, in order to make the event something really special.

That’s why Harry put his best into every dish he created. It had been his dream to get to work in a restaurant like this for years. His way here had been long, and interrupted by unforeseeable events, but Harry had made it nonetheless. The least he could do to acknowledge how lucky he really was, was to put a bit of his heart into everything he did,

One day, he’d own a restaurant like this himself. It was easier working with an aim.

He rang the bell again when he had draped the last golden potatos on top of a lemongrass mousse. Zayn appeared again, taking three of the plates. Harry watched him disappear into the dining room, then come back to pick up the fourth plate.

“That’s it for tonight,” Zayn said. “I’m gonna have a beer at the pub later. You in?”

Harry grinned. “I’m in.”

“Can’t believe he didn’t even bother to ask me, too.”

Turning around, Harry saw Barbara standing next to him, arms crossed in front of her chest. He smiled, shrugging lightly. “He was in a hurry to get the plates out.”

“I’m coming with you.” She stretched, rolling her head a little to loosen up the muscles. “Tonight was quite the night.”

Harry hummed. “We had a full house tonight, didn’t we?”

Barbara nodded. “It’s unusual for a Wednesday.”

She’d been working at Pierre’s for over two years already. Harry new that it was quite a long time to stay at one restaurant, if said restaurant wasn’t your own. Chefs were generally advised to change jobs every year to gather as much experience as possible. Harry didn’t know what it was that made Barbara stay here for so long, but he was glad she did. She was certainly the nicest and kindest of his co-workers in the kitchen, and had helped Harry a great deal on his first few days.

“Okay, let’s get this place cleaned up.” Harry gathered some dirty knives and plates. “I can’t wait for that pint.”

+++

There weren’t many people in the pub. Music was playing, and it smelled of chips and grease. They sat in a booth, the leather of the benches ripped in several places, and the table had ominous spots and scratches.

Over the past month, Harry had become a regular there. The Anchor’s Rope wasn’t too far from his flat, the beer was cheap, and it was never too crowded.

Zayn came back from the bar with three pints, setting them down on the table before he sat. “Seriously, why do I have to be the one buying rounds every time?”

“You get more tips than we do,” Barbara argued.

“It’s because of your looks.” Harry gestured at Zayn’s face. “All these women throw their money at you.”

Zayn rolled his eyes. “They do not.”

“I wouldn’t throw money at you,” Barbara pointed out. “Only though, because I don’t have any.”

Zayn laughed. “Sorry, love, not interested.”

“In what?” Barbara frowned. “Me or my money?”

“Both.” Zayn drank from his pint, crossing his legs. “You’re missing essential … parts.”

Harry grinned at him. “Essential parts, huh?” He turned to Barbara. “Could be anything, really. Another hair colour, a lower voice, different clothes---”

“Just say cock when you mean cock,” Barbara said and rolled her eyes. “You know, you keep saying you’re gay, but I’ve never actually seen you with another man.”

“You see me with our friend Harry here.” Zayn slung an arm around Harry’s shoulders. “Never got suspicious?”

Barbara snorted. “You two have zero chemistry.”

Harry patted Zayn’s chest. “We better put the wedding off, then.”

“I’m bummed,” Zayn groaned. “I thought you wanted to date me.”

“Dream on, Zee.” Harry laughed. “I’m married to my job.”  

“As if you even dated before, Bambi,” Barbara teased him.

Harry kicked her shin under the table. Gently. “I have.”

“Up in Manchester?” Zayn asked.

Harry hummed, frowning slightly. He wondered if there had been any flings, any short affairs that he didn’t remember. “I had a boyfriend in high school.”

“Not during your training to become a chef?” Barbara moved her glass between her palms. “Have you been alone ever since?”

For a moment, Harry considered lying about it, but the decided there was no reason to keep his past a secret. “I had to start over my training actually, so I didn’t have much time for dates and such.”

For a moment, Zayn and Barbara didn’t say anything, then Zayn asked, “Why did you have to start over?”

Harry took another gulp of his beer, then lowered his gaze to the table. “I had a pretty bad accident when I was twenty-one.”

“Pretty bad?” Barbara repeated.

“Yeah, really bad.” He took a deep breath. “A car accident. A lorry had lost control and crashed right into the side of my car. I had severe injuries.” He tipped a finger against his temple. “Messed my head up.”

Zayn frowned. “How?”

“I forgot parts of---” Harry shrugged, trying to explain it right. “I’ve got amnesia. I forgot everything between eighteen and twenty-one.”

The silence was back and Harry glanced up at Barbara, trying to gauge her reaction. She looked a little shocked -- just like most people Harry had told his story to.

“Like in the film?” she asked then, blinking. “You know. With Channing Tatum.”

Harry laughed dryly. “Yeah, I’m Rachel McAdams. Except, there’s no husband trying to win me over again.”

“And everything else?” Zayn asked, leaning forwards, arms crossed on the table and eyes fixed on Harry. “Did you become different from the person you were before the accident?”

“I wouldn’t know.” Harry shrugged again. He had asked himself that question a million times. “My family says I’m not much different. I still wanted to be a chef, and I still like the same things, apparently.”

“There’s really nothing you remember?” Barbara shook her head. “It’s all gone?”

“Well, it’s complex.” Harry drank some more of his pint. “I don’t remember events and people I met in that period, but my body remembers certain things. Like what I’ve learned in training. I knew how to cut or to trim meat. My hands remember what my brain doesn’t.”

“That’s fascinating,” Barbara murmured.

Harry smiled, shaking his head a little. “It was quite difficult for me to work through. Still is, sometimes.”

“It’s pretty brave of you to come here, then,” Zayn said. “I mean, living in a strange city all by yourself.”

“I felt like I needed that. All of my family and friends were against it.” Harry frowned at his glass. “But I felt like I needed to start fresh. Do something new, you know?”

“Take a risk,” Barbara provided.

Get away from a life that he had outgrown, Harry thought. He had never dared saying that out loud. Of course, he loved his mum and sister, and they had been there for him when he’d woken up and hadn’t known what was happening to him. They had helped him with finding back into his life. That life had stopped feeling like his, though. It was the life of a man that Harry didn’t know -- who he had been, but couldn’t recall.

There was nothing from his old life here in London.

“Should we get another round?” he asked, pointing at Zayn’s empty glass.

“My turn,” Barbara offered and got up to go to the bar and order.

“I mean it, you know,” Zayn said, not looking at Harry but tracing a scratch on the table with one finger. “I think it’s quite brave.”

“Not braver than any other person who comes here to change their luck.” Harry followed the movement of Zayn’s finger.

Zayn hummed, not saying any more.

It hadn’t been a brave act, Harry thought. He had really just run away. It wasn’t like he was ashamed of that. Sometimes, running away didn’t mean you were scared and incapable of handling a situation. Sometimes, running away was just a form of moving on. Of accepting that there was nothing to be done, and that a fresh start was what you needed.

“So, Zayn,” Barbara said when she came back. “Since things with Harry won’t work out for you, tell me what your type is. I think we should get you a boyfriend.”

“Why should you get me a boyfriend?” Zayn crossed his arms.

“To stop all those elderly women coming to the restaurant lusting after you,” Harry explained. “It’s a tragedy to watch.”

“We gotta figure out your type.” Barbara drew Zayn’s attention back to her. “Tell me one celebrity you think is fit.”

Zayn seemed to think about it for a moment, then he played along. “Becks.”

Barbara grinned. “That’s something we can work with.”

+++

“I can’t believe you found this flat.” Niall turned slowly, looking around the room.

It was a small one. A one-room flat of barely twenty square metres, but it had its own bathroom. The room was just big enough for the bed and a cupboard next to the small kitchenette.

“I told you I would.” Louis leaned against the doorframe.

“Money makes everything possible, doesn’t it?” Niall asked when he turned to look at Louis.

He wasn't wrong. They said money couldn’t buy happiness, but to a certain extent, it really could. Money could buy you food, and clothes and a certain lifestyle to be secure and carefree.

“It’s actually affordable for you,” Louis pointed out. “If you keep playing in pubs and keep your side job, you’ll be able to pay the rent.”

“I hate the concept of paying rent,” Niall muttered, looking around the room.

“You need a place to stay, though.”

Humming, Niall went over to the window that overlooked the street in front of the building. “It’s just an additional burden. A responsibility I’ve never asked to have.”

“Then sleep in my guest room,” Louis suggested, furrowing his brows.

“I wish it was just me and my guitar,” Niall mused, sighing a little. “Getting on a train and going wherever life takes me.”

Louis could understand him so well. He had tied himself to a job, had tied himself to this city. It was easier, a good distraction from what he really wanted. “If you leave, who’s gonna keep me company then?”

Niall pointed a finger at him. “The guy you’ll go on a date with tomorrow.”

“What?” Louis blinked.

“I haven’t forgotten about our arrangement, Tommo.” Niall crossed his arms, standing in the middle of the small room. “I get a flat. You get a boyfriend.”

“A date!” Louis shook his head. “We talked about going on a date.”

Niall shrugged. “Well, a date. Which will hopefully lead to something more.”

“That’s nothing I want or need,” Louis argued.

“I don’t want or need a flat, but look, here I am.” Niall gestured around. “I’ll sign it. I’ll take this flat.”

“Yeah, okay.” Louis knew that it was dangerous to argue with Niall. He was a man of his word and didn’t fuck around. If Niall said he’d do something, he’d do it. “I’ll go on a date.”

“With Nathan.”

Louis rolled his eyes. “Can’t it be someone else?”

“He’s been hitting on you for ages.” Niall sighed. “You gotta give him a chance, at least.”

“Nathan it is, then.” Louis took out the papers the landlord had given him when Louis had negotiated the contract with him. “You just gotta sign this, and the flat is yours.”

“Call him,” Niall said.

“Who?” Louis looked up from where he had opened the page for Niall to sign. “The landlord? Why? What’s wrong?”

Niall shook his head. “No. I mean Nathan. Call him.”

It took Louis all of his self-restraint not to pull a face. Just the thought of Nathan was somehow repelling. They got along just fine, and Nathan was somewhat kind, but definitely not the kind of person Louis wanted to date.

Still, he nodded. “Yes, I will.”

Snorting, Niall crossed his arms again. “I’m not stupid, Louis. You’re a master of getting out of a tight spot. As soon as I’ve signed this, you’ll be finding some bullshit reason not to go on that date.”

Well, Niall wasn’t wrong. That had been Louis’ exact plan. “Of course I won’t.”

“Yeah, sure.” Niall remained unwavering. “You call him right now and ask for a date or I won’t sign this thing.”

“Oh fuck you,” Louis mumbled. He took out his phone anyway. “What’s it to you anyway? You’ve got your own love life, don’t you?”

“What’s my flat to you?” Niall countered. “You’ve got your own flat, don’t you?”

Louis shot him an unimpressed look. “You’re not clever.”

“I am. Now call the guy.”

Sighing, Louis looked up Nathan in his contacts. Shaking his head, he dialled the number and raised the phone to his ear. It started ringing, and Louis felt a little sick.

“Louis,” Nathan answered. He sounded a little confused.

“Hi, Nathan.” Louis tried to make his voice sound neutral, not give away how he felt. “You have a moment?”

“Of course.” Nathan’s voice gave away exactly how he felt. He sounded excited. “What do you need?”

For you to stop hitting on me, Louis thought. He glanced at Niall, a plea in his eyes, but Niall just gestured of him to go on. “I was wondering…” Louis swallowed. “Are you free tomorrow night?”

Nathan was quiet for a moment. “I am.”

“Great,” Louis bit out. “How do you feel about dinner with me?”

“Seriously?” Nathan let out a breathy laugh. “You mean, like a date?”

Louis’ eyes stared daggers at Niall. He just smirked. “Yes. A date.”

“I’d love to.” Nathan sounded excited. “Shall I pick you up from your office?”

“That’d be great,” Louis answered as sweetly as he could.

“Great. I’ll be there at seven.”

“Perfect.” Louis rolled his eyes. “See you tomorrow at seven.”

Hanging up before Nathan could say anything else, Louis groaned. “There. I have a date with him. Now sign this bloody thing.”

Without protest, Niall took the contract and a pen from Louis and went over to the window. On the windowsill, Niall signed in all the places Louis had marked for him. Louis stood behind him, checking over Niall’s shoulder to make sure.

“There we go,” Niall said and turned around, handing the papers back. “Guess I’ve got my own flat now.”

“And I’ve got a date,” Louis mumbled, somehow feeling defeated.

“Always a pleasure doing business with you.” Niall grinned, nudging Louis’ shoulder.

Shaking his head, Louis walked back to the door. “Make yourself at home. I expect to be invited to a housewarming party sometime soon.”

“Guess we can do that.” Niall waved at Louis. “You can get me a second duvet as a housewarming gift.”

Louis frowned at him, tilting his head.

“Now I can let girls sleep over and kick them out when I’ve got enough of them,” Niall explained.

Rolling his eyes, Louis took the door handle. “You’re so petty.”

“Gotta make the best of having a flat now,” Niall just said.

“You could just say thanks,” Louis suggested.

“Thanks,” Niall said softly. He smiled at Louis. “Text me about that date.”

Louis laughed dryly. “You won’t hear the end of it.”

+++

Harry whistled when he came back home. He’d worked an early shift, so he actually had a bit of the day left to get some of the things done he hadn’t got to in the past days. When he worked late shifts, he usually just slept until noon and then rushed over to work. That meant that his flat wasn’t cleaned during those days and that he usually just dropped everything he brought home on his kitchen table. That included groceries, take-outs, his mail as well as his mobile phone. Harry hadn’t replied to text messages in days.

He’d had a pretty good day at work, so he was in high spirits to get shit done today. They had added one of his creations to the menu. Well, okay, the dish had been on the menu before. Yet, Harry had suggested some changes to it and the restaurant’s owner, a pretty strict and humourless woman in her forties named Margaret, had tasted it today. She had been impressed by what Harry had made of the Beef Bourguignon they used to serve.

It was just another step to making a name for himself and getting to be one of the most well-known, prestigious chefs in the country someday. Someday.

He stopped when he noticed that the door to the flat next to his own was open. Music was playing and Harry recognised that it wasn’t coming from some record. Someone was playing the guitar. He curiously stepped closer and peeked into the flat.

There was a young man with brown hair sitting on the window sill, staring outside and lazily playing a soft tune on his guitar. He had a strong jaw, pale skin and skilled fingers. Harry leaned against the frame, keeping his eyes on those fingers. He wished he had his camera with him. It was a nice picture.

The boy turned his head as if he felt that he was being watched. He stopped playing instantly.

“Sorry,” Harry said immediately and took a step back.

He kept watching Harry as if he needed to decide what to make of Harry’s presence. After a moment, he hopped from the window sill and set his guitar aside.

“I take it you’re my neighbour?” he asked with a smile, holding out his hand.

Harry shook it, nodding his head. “I live right next door. Harry.”

“Niall. You good with the music?” the man asked, gesturing at his guitar.

“Love it,” Harry replied. “Are you a musician?”

Niall nodded. “Better get my signature now. It'll be worth millions in a few years.”

“Maybe you could sign my guitar,” Harry suggested.

“You’re a musician, too?” Niall’s face lit up, and Harry decided that he liked the guy. From the dialect, Harry could tell that he was Irish, which was just another giveaway that he had to be nice. Harry had never met an Irish person who hadn’t been lovely.

“No, not at all.” Harry laughed. “Just playing for fun.”

“Cool. You could play me some songs, now that we’re neighbours.” Niall gestured to the wall and back.

Harry smiled. “I’d love to. So, you’re officially moved in?”

“Yup.” Rocking back on his heels, Niall looked around the room. “I got my friend a date in exchange for it, so I guess it was worth it.”

“What?” Harry tilted his head, frowning slightly. “You got a flat because your friend goes on a date?”

Laughing, Niall gestured to the small table in the kitchenette area. “Want a cup?”

For a moment, Harry hesitated. This was strange. He had known this man for a bare three minutes, but for some odd reason, he felt completely comfortable around him. Not in the sense that sometimes you met people and you felt like you’ve known each other for a lifetime. More like the kind of person you meet and instantly hit off with.

“Why not?” He looked around. “Do you even have tea?”

“Oh.” Niall frowned. “True. I haven’t really moved in, have I?” He checked the cupboards in the kitchen. “I do, however, have cups.”

Gesturing at the door, Harry shrugged. “How about we have tea at my place? I was about to make dinner. Care to join?”

“Really?” Niall dashed out of his flat. “I’d never say no to a free meal.”

Grinning, Harry followed him, letting Niall into his own flat.

+++

Half an hour later, Harry knew that Niall was, indeed, Irish; from a small place not too far from Dublin, actually. He was twenty-seven, so just about the same age as Harry, and had dropped out of uni when he had realised that music science had actually only very little to do with actual music playing.

The flat next door was actually Niall’s first flat, since he’d lived with the women he slept with until now. He’d made it a point to Harry that they hadn’t been girlfriends. He apparently didn’t like to tie himself to anything.

Except for friends. He kept mentioning friends.

“So, I knew he had a point,” Niall said now while Harry was putting a plate of spaghetti in front of him. “But I couldn’t just agree with him, could I?”

Harry shrugged. “I guess not.”

“Well, it’s only fair he’s making changes to his life, too.” Niall closed his eyes after taking the first bite. “First warm meal in days.”

“You don’t cook for yourself?”

Niall shook his head. “Sometimes. I just don’t get it right, you know? So, I’ll rather have takeout or ready meals instead.”

Harry crossed his hands in front of his chest. “No ready meals.”

Laughing, Niall kept eating. “Anyway, to get back to my story. So, I told my friend that he’s gotta change something about his life, too. I’ve known him for almost four years, and he’s never went on a date even once during that time.”

Harry hummed. “Well, maybe he’s not interested in dating.”

“As if.” Niall rolled his eyes. “I suspect there’s an ex he can’t get over. He never told me, but there’s something there.”

That was certainly something Harry couldn’t relate to. He’d never had to get over anyone, and if he had, he couldn’t even remember it. “If you say you’ve known him for years, then it may be time to move on, yeah.”

“Exactly. It’s what I thought.” Niall was almost finished with his plate, so Harry got the pot from the cooker to place it on the table. His flat wasn’t any different from Niall’s. With the salary he got at the restaurant, it was just enough to afford this tiny space. Harry wondered how Niall even made ends meet. “I told him I’d only sign the contract if he called up this guy and asked him on a date.”

“And?” Harry asked.

“They’re going on a date tomorrow.” With a smirk, Niall got a second portion of the spaghetti.

Grinning, Harry shook his head. “Well played.”

“I’m certainly the winner in this whole deal,” Niall agreed. “I got my own flat and I got my best friend to go on a date. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be best man at their wedding.”

“I’ll take care of the catering.” Harry laughed.  

Niall’s eyes landed on something on the other side of the room. His features lit up. “That your guitar?”

Harry turned and nodded. “Yeah. Had it for ages. You wanna give it a go?”

“Absolutely.”

It was both funny and endearing, the way Niall completely forgot about his food and focused on the instrument instead. He grabbed it and sat down on Harry’s bed without asking, fingers immediately strumming the strings.

Harry smiled, watching him from the kitchen table. Niall was a little like a whirlwind, just barging in and taking everything with him. It was a nice feeling, and Harry hoped that a friendship could form from this.

“Mate, this pearl is quite out of tune,” Niall told him and got up, carefully placing the guitar on the bed. “Let me get my stuff. I’ll fix that for you.”

“You don’t have to.” Harry bit his lip.

Shaking his head, Niall made for the door. “I do. It’s my way of paying back for the meal, okay?”

Harry took a deep breath, the smile coming back to his lips. “Yeah, okay.”

He watched as Niall disappeared into his own flat before he started clearing the table. He washed the dishes and they spent the next twenty minutes without exchanging a word, as Niall carefully tuned Harry’s guitar.

There was something familiar about it that Harry couldn’t quite grasp, but didn’t want to let go.

+++

Louis couldn’t believe he was nervous.

For one, it wasn’t really a date. He was just doing this so Niall would finally stop bothering him about it. Once Louis had been on this date, he could tell Niall that he was even more sure now that Nathan wasn’t really what he was looking for. Niall would understand and Louis could move on with his life as he had before.

Second, Louis wasn’t ever nervous before dates. If this were a date.

Fuck , he thought and ran a hand over his face.

The thing was, Louis wasn’t very experienced in this whole dating business. He’d gone on dates before, but the ones when he was sixteen hadn’t counted and after that, all the dates he had gone on had been so easy.

His eyes instantly fell onto the picture of Harry he had on his desk. Harry had made the dating ordeal pretty easy. He had been sweet and responsive and so, so easy to court. Louis grinned a little at the memory of Harry actually giggling when Louis had brought him a flower for their first date.

They had been so young. And so stupidly in love. Louis had been crazy about Harry from the first minute, from the get-go. There had never been a single doubt for him that Harry had been his one. It. Forever. Whatever people called it these days.

Sighing, Louis tore his gaze from Harry’s beaming face. He had changed since those days. They both had.

Louis knew from all of Liam’s social media. He was aware it was a bad idea, but since Liam had been Harry’s best friend since childhood, he was still in Harry’s life. Sometimes, Liam would post the occasional picture of himself with friends from home, which always included Harry.

His hair was shorter, had never grown out as long again as he had worn it at twenty-one. He was thinner, much thinner. Louis remembered love handles and a baby face. All that had turned into lanky limbs and a sharp jaw.

He looked handsome in those pictures.

Cecilia came into his office, looking a little taken aback. “Mr Tomlinson, there’s a Mr Cornell. He says he’s here to pick you up for dinner.”

Louis got up from his chair, closing the file he had opened on his desk. “Thanks, Cecilia.” She frowned a little, and Louis remembered the photo. What he had told her. Shit. “He’s a friend.”

Nodding, she followed him outside his office. “Should I send you a reminder for your meeting tomorrow at eight?”

“That’d be lovely.” He spotted Nathan, forcing himself to smile as he approached. He looked handsome in the dark navy suit, his blond hair combed back neatly. “Thanks, Cecilia. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Have a good night, Mr Tomlinson.” She smiled, waving them off.

Nathan put a hand on the small of Louis’ back, leading him to the lift. “Nice suit.”

“Thanks,” Louis said, focusing on breathing evenly as he stepped into the lift, away from Nathan’s hand. “Thanks for picking me up.”

“Of course.” Nathan pressed the button for the ground floor. “I hope you’re hungry.”

“I am,” Louis confirmed. “Haven’t eaten since breakfast.”

“Busy day?”

He nodded. “Yeah, we’ve got trouble with an overseas client. It’s complicated with the different time zones.”

“Where are they?” Nathan asked when they left the lift.

Louis pressed his lips together, throwing Nathan an apologising glance. “Sorry, can’t say. Confidential.”

Nathan laughed. “I should’ve known.”

Louis knew that as the owner of one of the biggest trading firms in Great Britain, Nathan had some idea of legal issues. He was actually quite good at it, and Louis had been pleasantly surprised about his knowledge when they had started working for Nathan’s business.

He was intelligent, charming, rich -- and just a little too slick for Louis’ taste.

“I reserved a table at Pierre’s,” Nathan said when they were in the car. A black Porsche, of course. “I hope that’s okay with you.”

“Yeah, absolutely.” Louis watched the houses slowly drifting by. He preferred taking the tube, because London streets were always packed. “It’s one of my favourite places, actually.”

Nathan grinned at him. His clear blue eyes were sparkling in the pale winter sun. “I knew you had good taste.”

Louis smiled weakly. It was a widely known fact that the Pierre’s had the best chefs. “Guess we’ve got that in common.”

They arrived at the restaurant and were immediately shown to a table at the window, a little isolated from the hectic dining room. Louis’ gaze was caught by a waiter on the other side of the room. He had dark hair and cheekbones like a greek god, capturing Louis’ attention for a moment. He was gone when Louis blinked once.

Their waiter, however, was a pretty average-looking guy with brown hair and pale skin. He was well-trained, though; Louis noticed that all of his steps and motions were routined and skilled.

“We’ll have your best red,” Nathan ordered, “and the Beef Bourguignon for both of us. Thank you.”

The waiter excused himself, and Louis had to hold himself back from rolling his eyes. He didn’t appreciate other people making choices for him. For the sake of Niall leaving him alone about this, though, he decided to not say anything and just play along.

“It’s their best dish,” Nathan said. “And I wouldn’t want you to have any less than the best.”

Forcing himself to smile, Louis avoided making eye contact. “I think the hake is pretty good, too.”

“Should I change the order?” Nathan already raised his hand.

“No,” Louis stopped him, waving a hand. “The beef is just as good. I like it, too.”

“Great.” Nathan touched his tie.

Giving himself a push, Louis laced his fingers on the table. “So, how was your day?”

Nathan started talking, and Louis got distracted again when he saw the pretty waiter coming back out of the kitchen. He had two plates, serving a table. His smile was friendly, but reserved, definitely not genuine. For some odd reason, that person seemed completely misplaced in the restaurant.

“... so I had to fire him, obviously.”

Louis zoned back in on Nathan. He had no idea what he was on about. “Obviously.”

“I mean, what else could I do? Not that I’m asking legal advice or something.” Nathan raised his wine glass, leaning closer to Louis over the table. “That’s not what we’re here for tonight.”

Louis swallowed, taking his own glass to cheer to Nathan. “Absolutely.”

Nathan kept talking, and Louis kept watching the interesting waiter. In his head, Louis made up stories of what had happened that the man had stranded at this job. He had an interesting face, and certainly, he had worked as a model before. There was no way he hadn’t.

“Excuse me.”

Louis was distracted from him when their waiter placed the plate in front of him. Louis noticed that the dish looked different from usual. He thanked the waiter with a smile and glanced at Nathan before he picked up his cutlery.

“It’s different,” Nathan said after the first bite, looking displeased.

Louis frowned after taking a bite. It did taste different from how it usually did at this place. His stomach turned a little, throat going tight, as he recognised it. That taste, it was almost like--

“Waiter,” Nathan called out, and Louis snapped out of his thoughts. “Waiter!”

Their waiter hurried over, expression stricken. “Sir?”

Nathan pointed at his plate. “This doesn’t taste as usual.”

“Sir,” the waiter started, looking uncomfortable. “We’ve changed the recipe lately.”

“Why would you ruin a perfectly fine dish? I want an explanation.” Nathan shoved the plate away from himself.

The poor waiter glanced at Louis, and they briefly bonded over how much they both hated  Nathan right now. “I’m afraid I’m not familiar with---”

Nathan sighed. “Well, that’s your job. II demand to see the chef, then.”

“Of course, sir.” The waiter nodded, bowing his head, and then made for the kitchen in long strides.

“Nathan,” Louis whispered, trying to ignore that everyone else in the restaurant was staring at them. Even the pretty waiter. “I don’t think that’s necessary. It’s different, but it’s good.”

“It’s not. It’s absolutely disgusting.” Nathan threw his napkin on top of the dish. “I refuse to eat that.”

The waiter came back with a chef in tow. Louis lowered his gaze, trying to pretend he wasn’t there; wasn’t part of this.

“A new chef, I see,” Nathan snarled. “Didn’t they teach you their recipes? This dish is a disaster.”

“I’m sorry. The dish will be prepared by a different chef immediately, of course.”

Louis blinked when he heard that voice, heart skipping a beat. When he raised his head slowly, eyes falling onto the chef standing at their table, time felt like it was moving in slow-motion. He couldn’t breathe for a moment, taking in the man in front of him: pale skin, big hands, a white kitchen uniform, the hurt and shame in his green eyes. Short hair, the curls only a hint in the wavy strands.

Louis stared at him, and it all came crashing back.

+++

“Lou, hurry up,” Harry yelled from downstairs. “We’ll be late.”

Louis ran a hand through his hair, glancing at the mirror one more time. Grabbing the car keys, he left the room and dashed down the stairs.

“How did you wanna leave without these?” he asked, dangling the keys in front of Harry.

Grinning, Harry snatched them from him, leaning in for a kiss. “As if I’d leave without you.”

Louis followed him outside, listening to Harry musing about Liam’s new boyfriend. He’d been Harry’s best friend since primary school, and tonight was the first time that Liam decided to introduce a boyfriend to him. To them. To anyone of his family and friends, really.

It was Liam’s birthday, and he was throwing a big birthday bash. The weather was good, so they could have a BBQ in the garden at Liam’s parents’ place. Harry and Louis had helped setting everything up earlier this morning.

“Did you think of the fajitas?” Louis asked as he got in the passenger seat.

Harry quickly glanced at him, grinning. He steered the car onto the street. “Took care of that while you tried on your third outfit.”

It wasn’t like Louis hadn’t seen the look on Harry’s face when he had come down the stairs earlier. “But, man, do I look good today.”

“You do.” Harry reached out to put a hand over Louis’ knee. “Gotta have to fend off all the boys tonight. Make sure they know you’re mine.”

Louis snorted. “Maybe I don’t want them to know and watch them trying.”

“Maybe they’ll try hit on me, instead.” Harry tucked a curl behind his ear. “They fall for the curls. Always.”

“Keep telling yourself that,” Louis said, smiling to himself. He had fallen for those curls; so fast, and so hard.

Harry turned right at an intersection. “I’ll remind you next time you---”

Louis’ heart skipped when he noticed the lorry on their side of the street. “Harry, watch--”

It happened all too quickly. Harry turned around the wheel, the car spinning around left, and the next thing Louis felt was his body being jerked around, a deafening sound, Harry screaming something.

A second later, everything was quiet.

Louis couldn’t see. Everything in his vision was black, and in his ears, a white noise overlay the silence. He couldn’t breathe, and his legs hurt, the seatbelt was cutting into his stomach too tightly.

Slowly, he blinked his eyes open, realising that everything had been black because his eyes had been closed. He saw a tree a few metres away, a pavement, and realised their car had come to stand in the middle of the street, facing sideways.

“Haz,” he tried to say, but only a gurgling sound came out.

There was a man coming up in front of the car, one hand on his face, the other holding a mobile phone to his ear. He was talking, looking at Louis, coming closer. Turning his head, Louis watched him come to the window, his lips moving, but Louis couldn’t hear a word.

Instead, he turned away from the strange face to ask Harry what the fuck was going on.

He stared at the picture in front of him for a moment, not realising what he actually saw . There was blood, so much blood. Harry’s curls were drenched in it. His head was lowered, his lips slightly opened, a cut on his bottom lip bleeding. He was still, completely still, and his eyes were closed.

Panic spread through Louis’ chest. He blinked, looking past Harry and seeing the car window was broken, the door damaged completely. From the front of a lorry that had crashed right through it.

Into Harry.

Louis’ breathing started to get out of rhythm, making it hard to suck air into his lungs. He reached out one hand, touching Harry’s arm.

“Baby,” Louis said, voice broken, throat hurting. “Babe, look at me.”

Harry didn’t move.

Tears welled up behind Louis’ eyes. His fingers dug into Harry’s arm. He almost lost his grip, his fingers slippery with blood. “Harry. Cut the crap. Come on.”

A drop of blood dripped from Harry’s chin. Louis’ own blood ran cold.

“Can you hear me?” Louis’ attention was turned from Harry, another man having opened the car’s door on his side. “Can you understand me?”

“Harry,” Louis said to him. “Harry.”

“Is that your name?” he started touching Louis, hands wandering everywhere. “Are you Harry?”

“No, I’m---” Louis looked back at Harry, his heart dropping to his stomach when he realised the picture in front of him was real. Harry wasn’t conscious, blood dripping from his chin. “He’s not--- He’s---”

“You have to calm down.” The man somehow moved Louis, dragging him out of the car. Louis screamed at the pain in his hip and legs. “Can you tell me your name?”

“No.” Louis reached out for Harry. “I gotta--- Harry!”

“You need to let go. We’ll take care of Harry.” The man dragged Louis away, his body hitting a soft surface, and immediately, more hands were on him. It hurt, the pain burning and ripping through Louis’ body, making the tears spill from his eyes.

Louis tried slapping them away, but he felt his arms getting heavy, his strength leaving him. Yet, he fought back with everything he had. He had to get back to Harry, had to make sure he was okay, was just messing with Louis. Was alive.

“Stop it! Harry! Harry!” Louis yelled, his chest tight, his throat hurting, his vision blurry from tears and lack of oxygen.

Harry’s small frame, hunched over in the driver’s seat, hand fallen off his lap into the passenger seat where Louis had been just a moment ago -- it was the last thing Louis saw, before everything around him went black.

+++

Louis’ surroundings came back into focus, and he noticed that everyone was staring at him. Nathan frowned, the waiter looked curious and Harry-- Harry was looking at him with worry in his expression, clear and distant.

“Are you okay?” Nathan asked, reaching out for Louis’ hand on the tabletop.

Louis pulled it away, eyes fixed on Harry. He couldn’t have another man touch him in front of Harry . Skin prickling, fingers itching to reach out, Louis couldn’t tear his eyes away, not even when Harry tilted his head, throwing a glance at the waiter, as if he was looking for help.

“I gotta--” Louis swallowed the words, voice shaky. His knees were wobbly when he stood up abruptly, pulling out his wallet. He threw a few twenty pounds notes onto the table. “Leave.”

Nathan said something, but Louis didn’t hear it. Instead, he made his legs move, tearing his eyes from Harry’s face. He had his head tilted, frowning slightly at Louis.

He stumbled through an aisle between tables to make it to the door. When he reached it, the pretty waiter from earlier was there. He looked at Louis curiously, but opened the door for him, saying something that Louis didn't even hear.

Outside, the cold December air hit him and Louis tried to breathe, get some of it into his lungs that felt like they were stuffed. He yelped a little, running towards the taxi stand at the end of the road.

His mobile rang when he got into one of the taxis, telling the driver his address. Checking it Louis saw Nathan's name flashing on the screen. He declined the call and leaned back, staring at the ceiling of the car.

His heart wouldn't calm down. Louis was afraid it was going to beat out of his chest. He closed his eyes and immediately saw Harry again; soft, green eyes looking at him in a way they never had before. Distant. Without attachment.

Blood running down Harry's cheek, dripping down his curls flashed through Louis’ vision, and he opened his eyes, holding back a whimper.

“Sir, are you all right?” the driver asked, glancing at Louis through the rear-view mirror.

“I'm afraid I'm not.” Louis took a deep breath. “Just need to get home.”

“I'll take the fastest route,” the other man promised.

Louis managed a weak smile. “Thanks.”

As the London lights flashed by, Louis was grateful that he didn't live far away from the restaurant. At this time of night, the traffic wasn't as busy either, so he'd be home soon.

His mobile rang again, and once again, Louis declined Nathan's call. Instead, he pulled up a different number. He paid the taxi driver, giving him a generous tip, and called that number when he left the car and walked towards the door of his apartment building.  

It rang twice before someone picked up.

“A bit of a heads up would have been nice, you know,” he said.

“Lou,” Liam answered, sounding confused. “What do you--- oh no.”

“Oh yes,” Louis replied, laughing bitterly.  

“There’s like a million trillion people living in that city.” Liam sounded offended - as if he had anything to be offended about. “How did you even manage to run into him?”

Upstairs, Louis unlocked his door, throwing the keys onto the shoe dresser when he walked in. He switched on the lights. “Are you trying to make me feel guilty for that?”

Liam sighed. “No. Sorry. Of course not.”

“Good, because I just had a bloody meltdown in a restaurant while being on an actual date.”

“You’re dating again?” Louis could almost see the surprise and happiness on Liam’s face just from his voice alone.

“Thought I should give it a try.” Louis swallowed thickly when he thought of Harry’s face. Actual Harry standing in front of him. His knees got a little weak and he sat down. “Look how that turned out.”

Louis had no idea how he had ended up in this mess. He had decided to go on a date for the first time since he had given up on Harry. Even if Louis hadn’t really wanted that date, it still had to mean something that Harry had showed up at that moment; in this night of all possible nights. It was like Harry didn’t want him to be with anyone else. As if fate had decided that they belonged together and that there was no one other in the world for Louis than Harry.

Not that Louis wanted anyone else but Harry.

The whole thing was just a little more complicated than that.

“I’m sorry, Lou.” Liam said quietly. “I should’ve told you. Gemma and I discussed it when he decided to go to London, but then…” He sighed, obviously searching for the right words. “We thought, it’d be best for you not to know.”

“You thought I’d go looking for him.”

Liam didn’t have to answer to confirm it.

Louis felt anger well up inside of him. “I think I made it clear I’d stick to the agreement when I left his city, didn’t I?”

“You left, but you never truly gave up hope, Lou. Which no one blames you for,” Liam was quick to add.

For a moment, Louis stayed quiet. He looked around his flat, blinking his eyes tiredly. It seemed cold, with the city lights streaming into the half-lit living room. “I guess it’s time to give up hope.”

Liam didn’t say anything; probably not knowing what to say.

“He looked at me, Li,” Louis whispered, closing his eyes again. “He just stood there, looked at me and apologised like I was a stranger.”

To him, you are. Neither of them said it out loud.

“How did you meet him?” Liam asked instead.

Louis rehashed the whole story to him, from his deal with Niall, to how Nathan had kept hitting on him, to how he just knew when he tasted the meat. “It was his speciality when he started training,” Louis said, remembering how proud Harry had been of his creation and the reactions it had received. “He had perfected it. I don’t know how many times I had to eat it.”

Liam laughed a little. “So, to find out if it’s really him, you asked to see the chef?”

“No. Nathan was displeased with it.” Louis shook his head to himself. “He wanted to complain.”

“Ouch.” Liam hissed on the other line. “Poor Harry.”

“Yeah, please feel bad for him. He’s had a rough night.” Louis kept his tone dry.

“You know what I mean.” The pout was evident in Liam’s voice. “As if you didn’t feel sorry for him.”

“I did.” Louis relived the moment for the millionth time since he’d left the restaurant. “Until he stood there and didn’t recognise me.”

Liam was quiet again. “You always knew he wouldn’t.”

He had. Louis bit his lip, taking in a shaky breath. Of course he had known. He had been a coward, a lame excuse for a boyfriend when he had decided without facing Harry. Properly, at least.

“I know,” he replied, trying to get his voice under control. “I just never expected us to meet again like this.”

In his head, there were countless scenarios of how their reunion was supposed to go. In one, Harry showed up on his doorstep in the middle of a stormy night, out of breath, cheeks flushed, having travelled across the country to see Louis, because he finally, finally remembered. In another one, Louis was in a park, and when he turned his head along to a soft spring breeze, his eyes locked on Harry’s. Time stopped for a moment, and recognition bloomed on Harry’s face before he strode over to Louis to wrap him up in a tight hug, tears falling from both their faces.

“Lou,” Liam said calmly. “You were not supposed to meet again at all.”

The bubble burst again, and suddenly, Louis was back in his dimly lit living room. “Yes, I know. It’s what I meant.”

“It’s not.” Liam’s voice was full of sympathy.

“I hadn’t given up,” Louis repeated Liam’s words from earlier. “I had hoped.”

He heard Liam swallow and taking a deep breath. “There’s none left. His last tests showed he’s not going to recover, Lou. The doctors said his memory won’t ever come back. It’s been too long.”

There was a hollow in Louis’ chest that somehow widened with those words. A space that’d been empty and dark for years and now threatened to take over. Tears burned behind his lids and Louis forced himself to hold them back.

He had known it all along. He had been prepared for this.

“You decided he should live without you,” Liam reminded him. “You left, Lou.”

He knew Liam wasn’t trying to make him feel guilty. It was the truth. “I know.”

“Don’t mess it up now.”

“I won’t,” Louis replied.

“Just avoid that restaurant, okay?” Liam asked.

Louis nodded, then he remembered that Liam couldn’t see it. “I will.”

“Louis.” Liam was quiet again, his voice still so full of sympathy. “I’m sorry that happened.”

“I just--” Louis blinked his eyes open, watching the lights outside. “I just miss him so much.”

“I know you do.”

“And it doesn’t stop.” Louis inhaled. “I just can’t get over him.”

Liam was quiet again, and Louis fell quiet, too. They stayed on the line, and Louis felt comforted just from knowing Liam was there; that he understood.

+++

“That was wild,” Zayn commented when they dashed back into the kitchen.

“What was?” Barbara asked, stirring carrots in a pan.

“Poor Andrew just had to serve the craziest guests,” Zayn explained.

Andrew shook his head. “Guest, actually. His date was so embarrassed for him.”

“He was,” Harry agreed. “He just upped and left.”

Barbara gasped. “A real drama scene?”

“Pure drama.” Zayn put a hand over his heart. “Like, his date didn’t wanna be there to begin with, if you’d ask me. He was checking me out from the moment they entered.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Everyone’s checking you out.”

“True,” Andrew agreed. He turned back to Barbara. “That prick didn’t even let his date order. He just ordered for both of them. I should’ve known then that it wasn’t gonna go well.” He made a dramatic pause. “So I serve them, and a second later, he calls me over, demanding to speak to the chef.”

“What did they have?” Barbara asked.

“The beef,” Harry supplied. “I made it myself, so no doubt it was on point.”

Barbara rolled her eyes at him. Harry bit back a comment about how no one else in the kitchen could make the dish quite like him yet.

“I go and get Harry, and he complains about how it doesn’t taste as usual,” Andrew went on, gesturing wildly, “and Harry tries to explain, but in that moment, the prick’s date goes all pale, breathing heavily.”

“He was so embarrassed.” Zayn laughed. “Like, out of his mind embarrassed.”

Harry frowned at him. “For a second there, I thought he had a panic attack.”

“Then he just gets up, throws money on the table and runs off.” Andrew was holding his stomach, falling into Zayn’s laughter.

“Guess he won’t go on a second date,” Barbara supplied. “Shame I missed that.”

Harry hummed, turning back to his own spot in the kitchen. He grabbed one of the orders from the counter to get started on it. For some odd reason, he just couldn’t find it all that amusing and laughable as Zayn and Andrew did.

The poor sod had looked so out of it; Harry had felt so sorry for him. He had looked right on the edge of breaking down right then and there, and when he had spoken up, his voice had been all kinds of broken and stricken and Harry had felt like all he needed was someone to hug him and tell him he’d be okay.

He knew that it was quite a strong reaction to an embarrassing situation; that the bloke had just overreacted. Yet, Harry couldn’t help but feel for him. He’d always take the victim’s side, and in this case, it was clear who the victim had been.

Harry just hoped he’d be okay eventually. Maybe next time he’d come back with a much nicer guy to date.

“Harry, we have another four,” Andrew said from the door. “Gotta step up your game a little.”

Nodding, Harry shoved all of his thoughts aside and got into his mindset for work.

+++

Louis knew he was awake, even though he couldn't open his eyes. His eyelids were just so heavy. Distantly, he heard someone call his name, and he wanted to reply, but it felt like his brain was just so slow to make his lips move in time.

There were hands on him, touching his chest and arms, and some strange noises added to the voice talking to him. His mum, Louis realised. That voice was his mum’s.

He concentrated on it, following it, and a moment later, he managed to open his eyes. He blinked against the shrill lights, squinting his eyes.

“Lou,” his mum said again and again, close to his face. Louis looked at her, taking in her greasy hair and pale face. Tears. “Baby, are you there?”

There were more people, the ones touching his body. They pressed buttons on monitors around Louis and wore green scrubs. One of them filled an injection up, checking its function. Louis’ eyes turned back to his mother when he realised that he wasn’t home.

He was in a hospital.

The sounds around him suddenly intensified and got louder when he remembered. The lorry, Harry hunched over in the driver’s seat, the airbag deflating, blood dripping from that stray curl over Harry’s face. So much blood.

“Mum,” he croaked out while strange hands pressed him down onto the bed. He couldn’t say more, didn’t get out any more.

“Shhh,” she hushed, gently stroking his face and hair. “You need to stay calm.”

Louis blinked at her, trying to do as she said. He looked around the room again, trying to find Harry. He was alone in the room, though. There was no second patient. Tears welled up behind his eyes as he realised what it meant. There had been so much blood on Harry’s face.

“Mum,” he whispered again, locking eyes with her. “Is he…?”

She immediately shook her head, and Louis felt relief wash over him. “You’ll both be fine.”

Louis let the tears fall as he closed his eyes. His mum took his hand and Louis squeezed it, linking their fingers together. He tried to control his breathing, but it came in rasps, short little hiccups.

He felt his body go weak with it, losing grip on his mother’s hand. She kept whispering reassurances; soft encouragement for Louis.

When Louis woke up a second time, his head felt a little clearer. He was confused again, but the room around him was quieter and it only took him a short moment to remember. When he turned his head, he saw that his mother was still there. She was on her phone with one hand, the other loosely resting on Louis’ hand. He moved his to signal her he was awake.

“Baby,” she said, dropping her phone. With a relieved sigh, she scooted closer, taking his hand between hers. “How are you feeling?”

“Banged up,” Louis admitted, blinking several times.

“You are pretty banged up,” she said.

He noticed the window, the sun setting down or rising; Louis wasn’t sure. “How long was I out?”

“Almost two days.” Jay’s voice broke a little. “Forty-two hours.”

Louis wanted to stretch, but it was like every one of his muscles was sore. That was when he realised he couldn’t move his legs. His stomach dropped and his heart took its place.

“Mum,” he started, staring at the duvet covering him from the waist down. “Mum. Am I paralysed?”

She sighed again, lifting the duvet for him. “Fortunately not.”

Louis looked at his legs, both wrapped in casts. His head started swimming a little.

“You’ve broken nearly every bone possible in your right leg. Your left’s got a broken calf and dislodged kneecap.” She lowered the duvet again.

Louis swallowed. “What else?”

“A splenic rupture, but they fixed it.” She squeezed his hand again. “You were lucky.”

It’s her tone that made him fear what was to come. His voice was shaky, but he still asked. “I need to know, Mum.”

She hesitated, and it was the worst because Louis knew what it meant. “They put him in an induced coma. His head..” She bit her lip and looked at their hands. “His right leg and arm are broken. Dislodged shoulder. Ruptured lungs.”

Louis felt tears coming again. He needed to see Harry; right fucking now . “I need to see him.”

Jay shook her head. “I know, love, but you can’t leave the bed.”

“There has to be a way.” He looked around again, trying to come up with ideas. “He needs me.”

“He’s in a coma, Louis.” Jay held his hand, lifting it to her mouth to kiss it. “It’s--” She stopped again, shaking her head.

That’s when Louis realised that she hadn’t told him everything. That she had withheld something from Louis. “What, Mum? What is going on?”

“His head, Lou,” she whispered, eyes gleaming with tears when she looked at him.

Louis remembered the blood dripping from Harry’s face. His throat went tight.

“It’s severe,” she went on, still not looking at him. “There are swellings they need to get under control, or else--” She didn’t finish the sentence.

Or else , Louis thought, staring at the duvet. He could hear his heart beating in his ears, feel it in his veins, but something about it felt odd; not right. There was that odd feeling it wasn’t even his own.

“How good are his chances?” Louis asked, trying to focus.

Louis took the hesitation as a bad sign. “They need to get it under control within the next eighteen hours to avoid any permanent damage.”

It looked bad, Louis decided, glaring at his legs. Harry was somewhere close, in the same building, fighting for his life and Louis couldn’t even be with him. It tore him apart, and he was too weak, unable to hold it in when the tears finally fell.

Jay kept his hand between hers, comforting him, but there really was no comfort for what Louis was feeling.

+++

It had felt like the worst news of his life. Louis had never felt as helpless and useless as in that very moment. He still wanted to scream just thinking of it now; thinking of how powerless he had been in all of it.

There had been banter, a secret smile shared between them -- and in the next moment, everything had been destroyed and Harry’s blood had been on Louis’ hands. It had been just a second, just a moment of distraction, and their lives had been turned upside down.

Louis stared out of the window, watching as lights turned on and off in the buildings around. Most of them were dark at this hour. Everyone was sleeping, except for the taxis, the clubs and a few offices that were lit because someone had to meet a deadline and couldn’t afford the luxury of sleep.

And then there was Louis. Awake because he had met a ghost from his past today. Awake because he was stuck in the past. Awake because he had been thrown back into memories he had tried so hard to forget.

Waking up in a hospital, unable to move, drugged and wired had been one part of it. Getting through the next eighteen hours praying that Harry would make it had been the other.

He had thought he’d been going through the most acid test of his life.

Louis had not had a single clue then that it had been about to get even worse.

+++

Harry paused the video playing on his laptop when his mobile vibrated next to him. He munched on his sandwich, swallowing quickly to pick up as he saw his mother’s name flash on the screen.

“Hi, Mum,” he greeted with his mouth still a little full.

“Hi, my love.” Anne’s voice was a little hushed. “I haven’t heard from you in a while.”

Harry rolled his eyes a little. He knew it was love that made his mum call to check up on him. She had been a little overprotective ever since the accident five years ago. It wasn’t like he was annoyed by it -- Harry wouldn’t say it like that. Yet, she had only just stopped calling him every day about a week ago. Instead, they had moved on to texting.

It’d been nice to live without the constant reminder for a little while.

“Been busy at work,” Harry explained. “How are you? How’d the meeting at work go today?”

Anne laughed a little. “A complete mess. You know Deb. She just can’t have a civil conversation.”

“I can imagine.” Harry glanced at the screen, at the paused scene. He wasn’t really in the mood to talk, just wanted to spend his off day watching Netflix and stuffing his face with unhealthy food, as well as catching up on all the sleep he’d lost over the past week.

It was rare that Harry got the weekend off. Not that he really had the weekend off, but not working on Friday and Saturday was nice.

“So…” Anne started, and Harry dreaded the worry in her voice. “Is everything good?”

“What wouldn’t be good?” Harry asked. “I’m busy, but fine.”

Anne hummed. “Nothing out of line happened?”

Harry frowned. “What’s that about?”

“Just wondering.” Anne laughed a little, but even through the phone Harry could tell that it wasn’t genuine. “I’m just worried, you know.”

“Everything’s normal, mum,” Harry assured her. “No accidents, no further memory loss, no regaining of any memory either. Everything’s normal.”

For a moment, she was quiet. “Good. Okay.”

A knock on his door made Harry turn around on his bed. “Mum, I gotta run. Text you later, okay?”

“Text me,” she said, and then added, “love you.”

“Love you, too.” Harry hung up on his way to the door.

“Good morning,” Niall greeted as Harry opened the door. He leaned against the frame, checking Harry from head to toe. “Day off?”

Harry nodded. “Morning. And yes.” He gestured to his bed, unmade, laptop open and still on pause. “I’ve got today and tomorrow off.”

“Perfect, because I decided to have a housewarming party tonight, and everyone who’s got time is invited.” Niall beamed.

That actually did sound nice. Harry had to leave his flat at some point to socialise. Also, he hadn’t made many friends outside of work, and that would be a nice opportunity to get to know people. He was sure Niall knew a lot of interesting people. “Yeah, I’d love to. When should I come over?”

“Right now.” Niall’s grin widened.

Harry blinked at him. “Now?”

“Help me prepare?” Niall attempted a puppy face. If he knew Harry had grown up with a certain Liam Payne, he’d have known that there was only one person in the world who had perfected the puppy look. Details Niall couldn’t know yet.

“Doesn’t work on me,” Harry informed him. “I only respond to one person’s puppy look in this world.”

Niall tilted his head, pouting his lips. “I thought you were single?”

Laughing, Harry went over to his bed to turn off his laptop. “I am. My best friend perfected the puppy face, though. I’m completely immune.”

“Okay, but still.” Niall crossed his arms. “How can I bribe you into helping me?”

Harry threw on a jumper. “No need to. I’m a nice person, so I help without being bribed.”

Beaming, Niall held the door for Harry. “That was easy.”

“Sometimes, life’s just easy like that,” Harry agreed.

+++

Louis was grumpy when he made his way over to Niall’s. He had a long day, and Niall’s invitation had come out of the blue at noon. Insisting that Louis had to come by all means, Niall had texted and called non-stop until Louis had picked up and promised he’d be there.

“Don’t forget my duvet,” Niall had reminded him before hanging up.

So, after a busy day at work, Louis had rushed to one of the home interior shops on his way over here to buy Niall a second duvet. Seriously, Niall owed him. Not to mention that Niall had no idea what he had actually initiated when he had set Louis up on that date with Nathan.

All Louis had told him had been that it hadn’t gone well and that Nathan had seriously embarrassed Louis with that stunt he’d pulled in the restaurant. Niall had agreed it’d been a dick move, so Nathan was off the table.

Yet, Niall didn’t know about Harry. Louis was aware that Niall suspected that Louis’d been in a relationship that had ended so bad he now carried a heavy weight and an even bigger and heavier fear of commitment with him. What Niall didn’t know was that Louis had watched Harry almost die, and that he had made the decision to leave without even properly facing the mess he’d been in.

It wasn’t like Niall needed to know. It was a part of his life that Louis had left behind. Mostly.

Except for how he had thought and dreamt of Harry all bloody week. He couldn’t stop thinking about Harry, now that he had seen him again. Louis was sure it’d take another year again. Just that one minute of seeing Harry standing right in front of Louis, actual Harry in the flesh. The realisation that Harry hadn’t recognised him. The awareness that for Harry, Louis was just another stranger.

The confirmation that, despite everything that had happened in the past five years, Louis wasn’t over Harry a single bit. His heart was still aching, and definitely still bleeding love for Harry.

Which was -- to put it nicely -- unfortunate.

Louis walked up the stairs to Niall’s and frowned when he saw Niall coming out of the neighbouring flat. He carried a plate with cheese and berries on it.

“Did you switch flats?” Louis asked in lieu of a greeting.

Niall saw him and his face lit up. “Tommo! You’re first!”

Louis lifted the bag with the duvet inside. “Like promised.”

“You’re the best.” Niall set the plate down in his kitchen and came out of the flat again before Louis could follow inside. He threw his arms around Louis’ neck and jumped a little. “And no, as you can see, this is still my flat. My neighbour helped preparing.”

“That’s nice,” Louis hugged him back. “It’s good to see you’ve settled in.”

“Where have I never not settled in easily?” Niall asked, and Louis knew it was rhetorical.

“A duvet? That’s pretty straight-forward.”

Louis almost jumped. The comment came from behind him, but he didn’t have to turn around to know who’d said it. He’d recognise that voice in every world, every universe, every situation ever possible.

How even was this possible?

Niall chuckled. “I actually asked for it as a housewarming gift.”

Louis slowly turned around, eyes landing on Harry standing in front of him. He wore tight blue jeans and a grey jumper. He still had dimples when he smiled, was the first thing Louis noticed. His hair was a lot curlier than last week. Just as curly as it had been when he’d been nineteen and Louis had managed to convince him to grow his hair out.

“Harry’s my neighbour,” Niall explained.

“You’re Louis, aren’t you?” Harry asked, and the dimple deepened when he smiled cheekily.

Louis’ heart threatened to beat out of his chest. Harry knew his name. How did Harry remember his name? “I’m-- How do you know my name?”

The grin turned a little bashful when Harry seemed to realise that Louis didn’t recognise him in return. How the hell did Harry recognise him?

“Sorry,” Harry said, moving the plate he held from one hand to the other. “I thought you’d know me, too.”

“I--” Louis started, about to drop to his knees. Harry knew him. Harry knew him and remembered , apparently. Louis’ head started swimming, his vision going a little blurry and his breathing became heavy.

“Niall’s talked a lot about you, of course,” Harry explained, without waiting for what Louis was about to say. “And, um. Liam Payne? You went to uni together. I’m friends with him. Saw you in some photos. He talks about you when he goes to London sometimes.”

Louis’ heart dropped. Of course. It had been one thing to disappear from Harry’s life, but another to disappear from Liam’s. So, to Harry, they had agreed that Louis was nothing more than a friend of Liam’s from uni who he sometimes met up with when he went to London.

“He’s got pictures of you on his fridge,” Harry added, as if he had to explain himself any further.

“Harry,” Louis said, trying to make it sound casual and not give anything away. God, how was he supposed to handle this? “You’re Liam’s friend from home. Right?”

Now, Harry beamed again. “Exactly!”

Louis wondered if Harry had recognised him in the restaurant last week as well. Since Harry didn’t bring it up, Louis decided not to, either. He smiled instead, trying to ignore how his heart tried to beat out of his chest. “There are pictures of you on his instagram.”

“Yeah, a few.” Harry shrugged. “We’ve been friends since primary school.”

“That’s so cool.” Louis almost jumped again when Niall spoke. He had completely forgotten he and Harry weren’t alone. “What are the chances of you two meeting like this?”

What were the chances, indeed. Louis wondered about it, too. What had he done to deserve any of this? Hadn’t fate been cruel enough to take Harry from him in the worst possible way? Hadn’t life been hard enough to him when he had to learn to go on and live without Harry?

As if to spite him further, Harry hadn’t even turned into an obnoxious asshole Louis could only be happy not to be affiliated with. Of course he looked beautiful, worked hard and treated people with the same kindness he’d always had.

Louis watched Harry, his heart still racing. He handed Niall the plate, following inside the flat, probably telling Niall about Liam.

Everything had changed, and yet, Harry seemed to be who he’d always been. He looked like a completely different person, but he was still warm, charming, cheeky. A little flirty.

It made Louis’ heart ache.

He stayed outside the flat, debating whether he should just turn around and run. In some ways, this felt like a bad dream and if he tried hard enough, he would wake up any minute. In other ways, it felt like this was some kind of chance, some kind of sign.

Louis shouldn’t engage. He knew he shouldn’t. This was Harry, and he had been warned about what he could do to him if he stayed in Harry’s life. There was a risk of Harry losing it, of Harry being unable to process finding out about Louis. Louis hadn’t just been any person in Harry’s life. He had been the most important person in Harry’s life. No one could possibly tell Harry as much about those years he’d lost as Louis could.

There were so many memories only Louis could give him back.

And yet, Harry wasn’t supposed to ever have them back.

“Are you coming?” Niall asked, appearing back at the door. He frowned at Louis.

“Yeah, sorry. Of course.” Louis followed him inside.

The only way to get through this was to pretend. Louis would feign tiredness tonight and excuse himself early. After that, he’d be careful not to meet Harry again. Now that he knew, Louis could come up with ways to avoid Harry.

He had managed that before.

+++

So that was Louis.

Harry watched him as he talked to some girl he apparently already knew. Harry didn’t know anyone besides Niall. And Louis.

Well, he didn’t really know Louis. That wasn’t quite right. But Harry felt like he did. Probably because his was the only face among Niall’s guests that wasn’t completely strange to Harry. He had seen Louis’ face before, even if it had only been in pictures.

Liam loved him. That much Harry knew about Louis. Whenever Liam had gone down to London for business or holidays, he’d always told Harry about meeting Louis. They had met in university, and apparently, they had hit it off straight away. Harry still wasn’t sure how they had met exactly with Louis in law school and Liam in economics, but he figured they’d just run in the same circles.

Louis laughed at something the girl said and lifted the bottle in his hand to his mouth. Harry wondered why exactly he felt attracted to that. He couldn’t remember ever being attracted by that gesture with any other man.

Another thing he wondered about was whether he should tell Louis that today wasn’t the first time they met. It had taken a second, but Harry had recognised Louis as the bloke from last week who had been on that terrible date in their restaurant. He hadn’t recognised Louis then, mostly because of the suit. He looked a lot more like in the photos tonight. Dark jeans, a thin jumper with a nonsense print at the front and old Vans.

Somehow, Louis’ reaction from earlier told Harry he probably shouldn’t. He had looked like a deer caught in headlights when Harry had said he knew him. It wasn’t that much of a deal anyway.

“Hey, who’s made these snacks?” the girl Louis was talking to asked, looking around.

There were probably ten or twelve people crammed into the small flat, all paying attention to her. Harry immediately made himself small, not sure if she had good or bad things to say.

“That’d be Harry here,” Niall said, throwing an arm around Harry’s shoulders. “He’s the most amazing chef in the neighbourhood.”

The girl hummed. “This is the best thing I’ve eaten in my life. What is it?”

Harry shrugged. “Pretty simple, actually. Puff pastry filled with curry, ham and dried tomato cream cheese.”

“Very simple,” the girl repeated flatly. “Will you marry me?”

“You should probably go on a date first,” Niall commented.

Louis laughed drily. “Dates are completely overrated.”

“You would know.” Niall dragged Harry along as he joined Louis and the girl whose name Harry still didn’t know. “Tell you what. Louis’s been on the worst date of dating history last week.”

Harry glanced at Louis, seeing him blush. Niall wasn’t wrong.

“Is that so?” the girl asked. She had long, blond hair and a nose ring. “What happened?”

“I have to admit it was partly my fault.” Nudging Louis, Niall finally let go of Harry. “I set him up with the guy. Turns out, he’s a complete prick. They went to a fancy restaurant and all, you know, proper posh. The bloke doesn’t let Louis order his own choice, and when the food comes, he demands to speak to the chef to complain. Proper mess.”

Harry knew he had to do something. Louis would figure it some other way and then it’d only get even more embarrassing.

“That was you?” Harry asked, voice an octave higher than usual. Just for good measure.

Niall, the girl and Louis all stared at him.

Then, something in Louis’ expression changed. “That was you?” he asked back; just as incredulous.

“Wait.” Niall looked between the two of them. “You mean Harry was that chef?”

“Unless stories like that happened in a lot of very posh restaurants around London last week, I’d say Louis was that prick’s poor date last week at the restaurant I work at.” Harry shrugged, hoping no one would notice.

“What did he complain about?” the girl asked.

“The Beef Bourguignon usually isn’t marinated with apples. They’ve changed the recipe.” Louis said it as if it was clear as day.  

Harry frowned. “You actually tasted that?”

Again, Louis looked caught. “Um, yeah. I mean. I had the dish before. At Pierre’s, I mean.”

“Whatever,” the girl interrupted. “What did you do?”

Louis shrugged. “I got up and left. Texted him next day that I didn’t wanna have anything to do with him anymore. Everyone was staring at us. It was so embarrassing.”

“For me, too,” Harry mumbled. Louis’ gaze lingered on him for a second before he quickly looked away, taking a gulp from his beer again. Harry watched his adam apple bob as he swallowed.

That really shouldn’t make his blood run warmer.

“I’m gonna get some more of those snacks,” he said as the girl started telling one of her own embarrassing dating stories. “Niall, could you help me?”

At that moment, someone knocked at the door and Niall glanced at Louis. “Can you help Harry? Gotta say hello to these guys.”

Louis seemed hesitant, but nevertheless smiled and nodded. “Sure.”

He followed as Harry went over to his own flat. “I think I’ve made too much again,” Harry said to keep up a conversation.

Louis looked around the flat as if he wanted to swallow up every detail of it. “You tend to,” he murmured, eyes stuck on something across the room.

Harry turned to him, tilting his head. “How would you know?”

Blinking, Louis looked at him, cheeks going red once again. “I mean. In general. You know. People tend to make too much food for parties.”

“Oh, yeah.” Harry opened the fridge, not sure why Louis was so jumpy around him. “Never been to a party where there wasn’t enough food.” He put two plates on the table and got the other two. With his hip, he closed the fridge again and swirled around.

He found himself almost chest to chest with Louis, only a breath of air between them. Louis looked up and their eyes locked. For a moment, everything went still, completely still and Harry’s breath got caught in his throat.

The moment was broken when Louis leaned sideways to take the second plate from the table. He turned around and went ahead back to Niall’s flat.

Harry wondered if he had felt any of the tension, the sparks between them, too. Louis had stared back for a moment; those pale blue eyes going just a little bit wider, his brows knitting that tiny bit together. It had been there. For a split of a second.

Maybe it was just all in Harry’s head.

+++

He couldn’t do it. Louis had lost count on how many times he’d slipped up in the past hour. He didn’t even dare have anything more to drink than the one beer he’d been nursing since he’d arrived. If he lost just one tiny bit of control, he was sure he’d end up making a huge mistake.

Like pouring his heart out to Harry. Or just reaching out to hold. Because all Louis wanted to do when Harry had turned from the bloody fridge and had suddenly been so close, was reach out and hold him and touch every part of him, just to make sure Harry was whole and in one piece and safe and--

Fuck. Louis tore his eyes from Harry sitting all by himself at the other side of the room and released his breath.

There had been photos on Harry’s wall. A bunch of photos covering a huge part of the wall behind Harry’s bed. Louis had wanted to know what was in them. They probably showed Gemma and Anne, Liam, maybe Matt and Aiden. People Harry had had in his life since forever.

Not like Louis, who had only had him for some measly two years. Only to be forgotten.

God, he really needed a drink right now. A proper drink. One that would make him forget, just for once. Yet, Louis had been there, tried that. He knew it wouldn’t change a single thing in the long run.

He tried to focus on the conversation going on around him, but had lost track completely. Instead, his gaze landed on Harry again. He was still on his own, isolated on a chair with a bottle of beer in his hand, eyes fixed on the ground.

It wasn’t like Harry. He’d always been the centre of attention. Whenever he came into a room, people just got fascinated by him. When he talked, everyone was hanging on his lips. Louis couldn’t imagine that that had changed. Harry was one of those charismatic people, radiant with energy, magnetic in the way he moved and talked.

Sighing, Louis got up and approached Harry.

“You want another beer?” he asked, gesturing for Harry’s empty bottle.

Harry seemed to contemplate that. “Not really.”

Suddenly, Louis felt an unexplainable tension. This wasn’t his Harry; the one that wanted Louis’ company at all time. This Harry didn’t know Louis and probably just wanted to be left alone. It was a rather sobering feeling to realise and be hit by the truth over and over again.

“Sorry,” Louis mumbled. He should just go. He’d extended his stay for far too long, anyway.

“Did you just apologise for being nice?” Harry smiled at him. He got up from his chair, suddenly being so close to Louis again. Louis could smell some kind of soap or maybe cologne on him. He wasn’t sure. He wanted to know. “I’d like to go out for a minute, though. Get some fresh air.”

Louis nodded dumbly. He couldn’t think of anything else than how close Harry stood, how he had leaned in a little, so Louis could understand him. “All right.”

“Join me?” Harry asked, his lips a delicious shade of pink.

“All right,” Louis said again, feeling even dumber. God, he had to get a hold of himself.

Harry grinned a little, the dimple denting his cheek again. Apparently, He didn’t mind Louis being dumb. On the contrary, he seemed to like it a little. He squeezed past Louis to the door and held it for him to step outside first. In silence, they walked down the stairs and Louis let his eyes roam over Harry’s back.

The line of his neck was something Louis hadn’t admired and appreciated enough when he’d still had it. Louis had been so in love with Harry’s long hair that he had never noticed what a delicate neck Harry had. He should have paid more attention to it.

“Thanks,” Harry said when they got outside into the crisp December air. “For keeping me company.”

“You don’t like gatherings like that?” Louis asked.

Harry shrugged and tugged his sleeves over his hands to warm them. Louis wanted to take them into his, kiss them warm. “I do, usually. It’s my first gathering like that since I’ve moved here. Maybe I’m a little nervous.”

Louis smiled, pretending he didn’t have a clue when they started walking. “You haven’t been in London for long?”

“Just about a month,” Harry said, watching the ground. “I’ve started working at Pierre’s the beginning of December.”

Fate hadn’t wasted any time in letting them meet again, Louis thought. “You gonna get time off for Christmas?” he asked instead, keeping the conversation light.

Shaking his head, Harry briefly glanced at Louis. “Don’t think so.”

“Won’t you be homesick?” Louis asked before he could think better of it.

“Probably.” Harry shrugged. “But it’s all part of the experience.”

Louis frowned, not quite sure what Harry meant.

He seemed a little hesitant, pressing his lips together in thought. “Has Liam talked about me sometimes, maybe?”

Louis looked away, watching his shoes. The air was misty from the last time it had been raining. This was about the amnesia. Louis wouldn’t have thought Harry took talking about it so lightly. To Harry, Louis was a stranger after all.

“A little,” Louis lied. Harry was everything they ever talked about when they’d met over the past five years. “Just that you’ve been friends since childhood. A few of your escapades when you were young. Stuff like that.”

Harry had told him about those. Dozens of times, again and again. Fond memories that he had wanted Louis to be a part of. Even though Louis had acted it back then, he’d never got tired of Harry telling him about those times. He had wanted to know every little detail about Harry, every little thing that’d made him him . All of it had made him Louis’.

“Oh, okay.” Harry was silent again. “Well, let’s say it this way. I’ve been living quite sheltered. I’ve wanted to break out of that, take a few risks. Live my own life for a while.”

Louis didn’t dare look up at Harry. Wasn’t it ironic that Harry’s attempt to escape his past had led him right to Louis -- the one thing from his past he couldn’t remember?

“That’s good, isn’t it?” he said, not sure what else to say.

“It was about time.” Harry sighed a little. “Anyway. That’s how I ended up here. But. Can I tell you something?”

Louis swallowed thickly. “Of course,” he said.

“Don’t tell Liam, okay?” Harry smiled a little when he glanced at Louis. “It felt really good to see a familiar face today.”

Louis felt the words go straight to his heart.

“I know we don’t really know each other. But your face is the first in a month that isn’t a completely new one.” Harry looked a little sheepish when he lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug. “It’s comforting, in a way.”

He knew. Louis knew that Harry didn’t mean it like that. Yet, he couldn’t help feeling like a weight was added onto his heart, making it even heavier than it had already been. He forced himself to smile.

“Glad I could be of help.”

Harry smiled back, the sparkle in his eyes genuine. “So. How about you, Louis? Will you get time off for the holidays?”

Keep it light , Louis reminded himself. He should’ve gone home an hour ago, saving himself from this experience. “Yeah, I’ll head home to visit my family.”

“Where is home?” Harry asked. “I mean, I know you’ve studied in Manchester, too. I have no clue where you’re actually from, though.”

“Doncaster.” Louis thought of his family home. Of how he had brought Harry back there for the first time. “Not very fancy.”

“I’ve never been.” Harry frowned slightly to himself. “I think.”

With any other person, Louis would tease them about it. You think ? With Harry, it only made his throat go tight. Of course Harry couldn’t remember. Louis knew that, and yet, it felt like a stab to his heart all the same.

When Harry stopped, he stopped, too, finding they stood in front of the building again. “We should go up again.”

Louis watched Harry take out his key to open the door. “I think I’m gonna head home.”

“Oh.” Harry turned to him on the threshold. “Already?”

“I’ve got an early meeting in the morning.” It wasn’t even a lie. When did he ever not have early meetings? “And my flat’s all the way across town.”

“I can walk you to the tube,” Harry offered, already turning back around.

“No need to.” Louis gestured for Harry to go back inside. “It’s cold. You should go inside.”

“You sure?” Harry frowned a little. Harry knew that cease on his forehead. It always appeared when Harry was unsure of something.

“‘Course.” Louis waved at him and turned. “Tell Niall to bring my coat next time he comes to visit.”

“I will.” Harry hesitated before going in. “Hey, Louis.”

Louis looked over his shoulder, seeing him still holding the door. He wondered if this would be the last time he’d ever see Harry. He should commit the picture firmly to his memory. The wild curls, the snuggly jumper, pale lips. A soft smile.

“It was nice meeting you,” Harry said and went inside.

Louis stood for a moment longer, staring at the closed door. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard Harry say that.

+++

“Can you believe they’re blocking that table when it’s only two of them?”

Louis followed Luke’s gaze to the table he was talking about. There were two blokes sitting and chatting, their glasses almost empty. They’d been almost empty for the past twenty minutes.

“That table is big enough to fit at least six more people.” Louis took a gulp from his own pint.

“They’re clearly not waiting for more people.” Luke snorted. “Rude.”

“Why don’t we just ask them if we can join their table?” Chris suggested. He was leaning against the bar counter, foot tapping along to the music playing.

That was an option. Louis considered it. He liked having his own table, and standing at the bar all night definitely definitely sounded less attractive.

“You ask,” Luke said, pushing Louis forwards.

The perks of being the newbie. Louis sighed and went over to the table.

He was in his first semester at law school. Luke and Chris were in their third, so they helped Louis out a lot. They also let him know he was their junior any chance given. It wasn’t like Louis minded it, though. It was all in good fun.

“Um, hey guys,” he said, approaching the two blokes. “You got a sec?”

They both turned to him, and Louis’ attention got stuck on the younger one. He was around Louis’ age, had a cute face and dark curls around his ears. A dimple appeared on his cheek when he smiled at Louis.

“Yeah?”

His voice was deep. Louis licked his lips, trying to ignore the instant pull towards the boy.

“You’re occupying quite the big table here. My friends and I,” he said gesturing to Luke and Chris at the bar, “were wondering if you’d mind if we sat here.”

“Not a problem, mate,” the other man said. He looked slightly older, had short dark hair and huge hands as Louis noticed when he gripped his pint. “There’s enough space here.”

“I would definitely not mind,” the boy said, gesturing for Louis to sit in the chair next to him.

Louis signalled Luke and Chris to come over and took the invitation to sit down.

“Much better. Well done, Louis.” Luke grinned when he sat down. He lifted his glass to the two other men. “Cheers.”

“I’m gonna get us a new round,” the older man decided and got up to go to the bar.

“So, as I was saying,” Chris picked up their conversation from earlier. “Higgins is gonna kill me if I don’t hand in that paper by Friday.”

“You have to call work and tell them. Uni should be your priority.” Luke’s tone made it clear that there was nothing to discuss.

“But I’ve already---”

Louis lost track of what Chris was saying when the boy next to him cleared his throat quietly. He turned to look at him, and found that he was already being watched.

“You okay?” Louis asked.

“My throat is a little dry,” he answered, touching his chest.

Louis smirked. “A drink could help.”

“Mine’s empty.” The boy gestured at his glass, a cute pout on his lips.

“Good thing your … friend just went to get you a new one.” Louis took a sip from his own pint.

“His name’s Nick,” the boy clarified.

Louis hummed, moving his glass between his palms. “But he’s your friend.”

Their eyes met and Louis noticed the boy had a light eye colour. He wanted to get closer to see which colour exactly it was. The boy smiled bashfully.

“Just a friend, yeah.” He gestured for Louis’ pint. “What are you drinking?”

“Cider.”

“Let me have some.”

Louis tilted his head. “Why would I do that?”

“Because I’m thirsty and Nick is flirting with some bloke at the bar and won’t be back in ages.” The boy smirked slightly, bringing out the dimple again. He talked kinda slow. “Also, I’m cute.”

“I may be willing to share my cider with you.” Louis leaned a little closer. “One condition.”

The boy looked interested, leaning closer as well. “That is?”

“Your name,” Louis said. “I want to know at least who it is I’m sharing my drink with.”

“How about you guess?” the boy asked, now full on grinning.

Louis drank from his pint again. “I’ll have this finished before I get it right.”

“Great. You can buy me a drink when you get the next one.”

Louis laughed, briefly glancing at Chris and Luke who were still deep in one of their arguments. They bickered like an old married couple sometimes. “Okay. How about this. You buy the next rounds if I get your name right.”

The boy pursed his lips. Pretty lips, Louis had to admit. “I get to drink from your pint first.”

Louis gently pushed the glass over. “Sharing is caring.”

“And charity starts at home,” the boy added before he drank. He smirked when he handed the glass back over to Louis. “Okay, take your guess, Louis .”

For a moment, Louis was confused. Then he remembered that Luke had used his name earlier. They exchanged a quick look, a brief lock of their eyes, in which they communicated without even speaking. It was a good excuse to look at the boy more closely. Louis leaned in even closer. His eyes were green. He let his gaze roam over the boy’s face, then to his chest. He wore an old Rolling Stones t-shirt and dark jeans, as well as faded red chucks. Or maybe, they were pink. Louis couldn’t tell in the dim light of the pub.

He looked the boy in the eye again and said the first name that came to his mind. “Harry.”

Grinning, the boy took another drink from Louis’ glass. “How many guesses do you even have? The magical three?”

“Of course,” Louis replied. He pursed his lips, as he studied the boy’s face. “Ed.”

A shake of the head and another drink from Louis’ pint. “Do I look ginger to you?”

“Shut up.” Louis took the glass to drink a bit of what was still left himself. “Voldemort.”

The boy barked out a loud laugh. He covered his mouth quickly, but his eyes were still sparkling with joy and amusement when he looked at Louis. “Looks like drinks are on you.”

“Looks like it.” Louis wanted to get up when the boy’s friend suddenly came back.

“No time for another drink,” he said gripping his jacket from the chair next to Luke. “We gotta hurry if we wanna catch the last bus, Harry.”

“Your name is Harry ?!” Louis asked incredulously at the same moment the boy said, “is it that late already?”

He jumped out of his chair as he checked his watch, putting on his jacket.

“Hey.” Louis couldn’t follow. He didn’t want to just let the boy go. He needed to know more about him. See him again. “You owe me a drink, you cheater.”

Harry grinned, checking if his mate was waiting with a glance over his shoulder. “Meet me here? Tomorrow at seven? Drinks are on me.”

“They better be.” Louis watched him hurry out of the door and shook his head to himself with a fond smile tugging on his lips.

When he turned away from the door, Luke and Chris both grinned at him. Louis was fully aware of what would come now. It had been worth it, though. Definitely worth it.

“Hey, Louis!” He turned around again, just to see Harry back in the door frame, hair dishevelled, cheeks rosy. “It was nice meeting you.”

Louis smiled, winking at him. “Ditto, Harry. See you tomorrow.”

Harry’s grin was instant and wide. The door slammed shut behind him when he dashed off again.

+++

Louis looked up to the window that he knew was the one in Harry’s flat. There was no light, no sign of movement. In Niall’s flat, on the other hand, was a lot of commotion. Louis imagined it, the people mingling together in the room, someone catching Harry’s eye, getting to talk to him.

Someone being as fascinated by Harry as Louis had been the first time they’d met.

It felt like lifetimes ago. As if Louis was stuck in some weird afterlife, where every event in his life was determined by only one factor. Before and after Harry.

Sighing, he turned away to get to the tube station. A slight drizzle picked up again and Louis lifted his shoulders, hunched down a little to protect himself from it. The station wasn’t busy, but there were a few people waiting on the platform with him, having escaped from the rain outside.

A couple stood closely together, lost in themselves, eyes locked and secretive smiles playing around their lips as they whispered words to each other. Louis watched them for a little while, jealous of what they had without even knowing what it was they had.

He couldn’t see Harry again.

It wasn’t even a question. He had made the decision to stay out of Harry’s life five years ago, and he had to stick to it. Harry had a lot on his plate without having to feel bad about not remembering Louis. Without having another person demanding him to remember what he could’t in his life.

Louis would treasure this meeting, though. For one last time, he’d got to see Harry with his own eyes again, got to see how well Harry got on with his life without Louis. It was a good thing to move on from.

Louis didn’t have to wonder anymore if Harry really was doing as well as Liam always told him, or if he really wouldn’t recognise Louis if he saw him. The doubt had always lingered beneath -- the doubt that Louis had made the wrong decision and that maybe, probably, spending time with Louis would get Harry’s memories back.

That obviously wasn’t the case. Harry hadn’t recognised Louis as anyone otherthan Liam’s uni friend.

He had to face it. Afterlife had taken him over, and Louis had to embrace it and move on and forget what had happened five years ago. Just like Harry had forgot everything that happened, Louis had to find a way to do the same.

He had to forget Harry.

+++

“How were your days off?”

Harry lifted his head when Zayn came into the kitchen. They still had an hour until they opened, but the kitchen staff was already busy preparing for the night. Waiters started a little later than they did, because setting the tables never took as long as preparing meat, soups and sides.

“Pretty good,” Harry replied as he added red wine into a pan. “I binge watched all of Jane The Virgin.”

Zayn leaned against the counter and crossed his arms. “I take it you liked it?”

“Team Michael forever.” Harry grinned at him briefly before starting to cut a carrot.

“I wanna binge watch shitty shows on my days off, too.” Zayn whined a little.

Harry lifted a brow. “What keeps you from that?”

“Gotta earn some extra cash.” Without paying much attention, Zayn threw the cut carrots into the pan for Harry. “So, you know. Working.”

“What kind of side job do you have?” Harry kept an eye on Zayn’s hands. “I didn’t know you had one.”

“Well…” Zayn stirred in the pan lightly. “Just. You know.”

Harry turned to him fully, putting his knife down. “I don’t, no.”

“I work as a model sometimes.” Zayn rushed the words out, so they sounded slung together.

“I knew it!” Harry pointed at him. “I knew you made money off that face.”

Zayn rolled his eyes. “Don’t judge.”

“What’s there to judge?” Harry resumed cutting his vegetables. “You’d be stupid not to.”

Instead on saying any more about the matter, Zayn simply watched on for a while as Harry prepared the gravy.

“I was at a party on Friday,” Harry said then. He wasn’t sure why he’d mentioned it, but somehow he felt like Zayn was the right person to talk to about that.

Zayn looked genuinely surprised. “How did you end up at a party?”

“I’ve got a new neighbour.” Harry kept his hands busy. It helped him keep up the pretense of being nonchalant about this. “He had a housewarming party.”

“That’s nice,” Zayn said. “So, you get along with him?”

“He’s cool. A musician.” Not sure why exactly he was talking about Niall when he really wanted to talk about something else, Harry stuck to it for the time being. “He’s very easy going. A nice chap. You should meet him sometime.”

Zayn was quiet for a moment. “Anything interesting happened at that party?”

There it was. Anything interesting? Harry wasn’t yet sure about that. He hadn’t made up his mind what to make of that night.

“Somehow, yes,” he settled on.

“Any one interesting?” Zayn specified his question.

Anyone, yes. Harry kept cutting, thinking about what to say. He hadn’t even been as far as admitting it to himself, so he wasn’t sure he should admit it out loud in front of Zayn. Louis had definitely left an impression. There was something about him that had kept him on Harry’s mind ever since Friday.

“Kinda,” Harry replied. “It’s complicated.”

“How?” Zayn asked. “Now you’ve got me curious.”

“You remember the disaster date we had in last week?” Harry asked, prodding the topic slowly.

“Not that easy to forget.”

“So, the prick’s date. He was there?”

Zayn lifted a brow, looking genuinely surprised. “Doesn’t seem like his neighbourhood. I mean, if he goes on dates here.” He gestured around as if to make a point.

“I know. He’s friends with Niall. My neighbour,” Harry added as clarification.

“Did he recognise you, too?”

Harry set his spoon aside and turned back to Zayn. “He’s not exactly a stranger. We haven’t met before, but we have a friend in common, so we kinda know each other. From pictures and social media.”

“I see.” Zayn tapped the countertop with his fingers. “He’s familiar.”

“There certainly was something familiar about him.” Harry wished he could express it a little more clearly. He couldn’t find the words for it, though.

“And you don’t know if that’s the only reason you felt attracted to him.” Zayn stole a slice of the tomato Harry had cut.

Harry released his breath. “Yeah.”

“There’s only one thing you can do.” Zayn took another one and Harry decided to let him. He could take the whole tomato if he kept sharing his wisdom with Harry. “You need to see him again.”

Harry sighed. That was how far he had come himself. What he was stuck at. “You know. I’m not really experienced with that.” He tugged his bottom lip with his fingers. “How do I do that?”

Zayn wiped his hands on one of the towels. “Your neighbour’s friends with him, you said.”

“I can’t just go to Niall and ask him to set me up on a date with him.” Harry felt horrified just from the thought.

“Of course not.” Zayn smirked a little. “But I’m sure he’ll come over to visit your neighbour again. He’s a musician, you said? Go to one of his gigs. It’s likely that his friends show up there.”

That was… not a bad idea. Harry let go of his lip. “I could try that.”

“Having the same friends definitely helps,” Zayn pointed out. “I mean, it’s more likely that you guys will have some things in common. More importantly, though…”

Harry tilted his head, waiting for Zayn to continue.

Zayn shrugged. “Is he hot? Or are you just looking for a friend?”

“I wouldn’t do this if I was just looking for a friend.” Harry crossed his arms. “There’s something about him that makes me want to see him again.”

“Oh, love at first sight.” Zayn grinned and sang the words ridiculously out of tune.

“I shouldn’t have said anything.” Harry rolled his eyes and got back to work.

Zayn nudged his shoulder with his fist, then he went back to the door leading to the dining room. “Being infatuated with someone from the first minute is always a good sign, Haz.”

Harry glanced up at him. “It’s what I thought.”

Zayn smiled and left to get his own work done. Harry looked at the door for a moment longer, pursing his lips in thought. The busy atmosphere around him hadn’t changed, but he had managed to tune it out for the conversation with Zayn.

He really hoped he wasn’t wrong about it. There had been something there between him and Louis; an instant pull, something clicking into place. That familiarity. It was something too rare to just let it go and pretend it hadn’t meant anything.

Harry just knew that it did. And he was almost sure that he wasn’t alone in this. Louis had felt it, too. He’d been on the same page as Harry when they had walked outside. There had been those little signs.

Louis had fisted his hands, as if to hold himself back when Harry had tried to warm his own hands with the sleeves of his sweater. He had always glanced for just a second too long at Harry, as if he’d been unable to tear his gaze away.

He had left his jacket. Harry blinked, looking up from his work, staring at nothing in particular- Louis had left his jacket, and he had asked Harry to make sure he’d get it back.

Had that been some kind of code? Had that been Louis’ way to subtly give them a reason to meet again?

Biting his lip to hold back a smile, Harry got back to his potatoes. Maybe Louis really had done that on purpose. Maybe Niall was going to take Harry along when he’d bring that coat back. Maybe they’d go to a pub and meet Louis there.

However way it would happen, Harry got excited with only the prospect of it happening.

He was going to see Louis again.

===

Chapter Text

“Seriously,” Zayn said as they walked inside the pub, “why did I have to come with you again?”

“Because you like good music.” Harry looked around, trying to make out a familiar face. “I’d have taken Babs, but she was busy.”

“And you can’t go alone because…?”

Harry turned to Zayn, frowning. “I need moral support. A wingman.”

Zayn raised a brow. “Do you really expect me to convince someone else that you’re a great catch?”

“Just act as though you like me.” Harry sat down at a table. “That’d be plenty help.”

Not answering, Zayn went to the bar to get them drinks. Harry took the time to have a closer look at the people in the pub. He saw the equipment on the small stage, a waiter clearing the tables of glasses and plates, but Niall was nowhere to be seen.

As was Louis.

Zayn placed a pint in front of him and Harry nodded his thanks, still looking around.

“He’s not even here,” Zayn said.

Harry shrugged. “He’s probably in some backroom, warming up.”

“I didn’t mean Niall.”

“This whole thing was your idea, just to remind you.” Harry kept his eyes on the door.

“My idea was you going, not dragging me along.” Zayn kicked Harry’s shin under the table. “You’re not even looking at me.”

“What? This is not a date,” Harry argued.

Zayn snorted. “If it was, I wouldn’t be paying for your drink.”

“Excuse you, Zee, but if this were a date---”

“Harry!”

Turning his head around, Harry saw Niall approaching, with Louis right behind him.

“I’m so happy you could make it,” Niall said, leaning in to hug Harry. He held his hand out for Zayn after. “And you even brought a friend. Hi, I’m Niall.”

“Zayn,” he replied, shaking Niall’s hand. “Nice to meet you.”

Louis followed Niall, holding out his hand for Zayn, too. “Louis.”

Louis seemed flustered, Harry thought, keeping his eyes on him as the three men chatted. The realisation hit him that bringing Zayn had probably been a mistake because every single person in this world was flustered when meeting Zayn and fell in love with his handsome face; even if it was just a little.

“That turned out great,” Niall said. “Now Louis’s got some company. I’m gonna head up on that stage. Have fun, okay?”

Harry watched Niall leave before he focused back on Louis. He was standing next to the table, still looking out of it. Or maybe like he wanted to run away. Harry couldn’t tell.

“C’mon, Louis,” he said, scooting over on the bench and gesturing to the free spot next to himself. “Sit down.”

“I’m gonna--” Louis pointed at the bar. “Just gonna grab a drink first.”

Harry kept his gaze on Louis’ retreating form, noticing that he had a really nice behind. He wore wide jogging pants, but it did nothing to hide the nice shape of his bum. His t-shirt pooled around his hips, showing off his slim waist. Harry hadn’t really paid attention to it last time they’d met, but he had to admit that the realisation only made Louis more attractive to him.

“He’s got horrible fashion sense,” Zayn commented.

Harry turned to him, blinking. “What?”

“Not a fan of that style.” Zayn shrugged. “He looked better in the tailored suit.”

“Everyone looks better in a tailored suit.” Harry glanced at Louis again, finding him stood at the bar, waiting for his drink. “He can pull off both.”

Zayn laughed dryly. “Keep telling yourself that.”

When Louis came back, he had already gulped down half of the drink he had just ordered. He sat down next to Harry, placing his glass on the table. “Nice of you to come support Niall.”

“Of course,” Harry replied. “I had the night off anyway.”

Zayn shot him one of the looks, obviously suppressing a snarky comment. Harry had practically begged Magnus to change shifts with him. He hadn’t even known if Louis was going to show up, but he’d hoped. Apparently, that had been enough because Louis was here now and Harry got the chance to find out what it was behind that magica pull towards Louis.

If there was more to it.

“I assume Harry brought you along?” Louis asked Zayn. He hadn’t even looked at Harry.

“He did,” Zayn replied. “Harry says he’s got talent.”

“He does.” Louis smiled. “You won’t be disappointed.”

Zayn nodded briefly. “Are you doing music, too?”

Laughing, Louis leaned back a little and Harry watched his profile, the crinkles around his eyes. “No, definitely not. I only sing in the shower.”

“Fair enough.” Zayn crossed his arms on the tabletop. “And what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a lawyer.” Louis shrugged. “Not very fancy.”

“Well, fancier than what I do, I guess.” Zayn looked at Harry when Louis turned his head to the stage. “Why am I doing all the talking?” he mouthed.

Harry couldn’t do more than give a helpless shrug.

“You’re doing something beside the waiter job at Pierre’s?” Louis asked, looking back at Zayn.

Zayn looked genuinely surprised. “You remember me?”

“And I’m sure you remember me.” Louis lowered his head bashfully. “Guess you don’t have scenes like that every day at a restaurant like that.”

“True.” Zayn was quiet for a moment. “That bloke acted like a prick.”

Louis and Zayn shared a small smile, like an intimate moment between them. Harry was confused by the heavy feeling in his chest; this pull at his heartstrings that suspiciously felt like jealousy.

“You’re better off without him,” he said quietly, trying to get Louis’ attention.

It worked, but the way Louis looked at him when he turned his face to Harry gave away that he had obviously forgotten about Harry’s presence altogether. “Um, yeah. I guess.”

At that moment, a sound from the small stage made Louis and Zayn turn their heads. Niall came on stage and Harry forced himself to tear his eyes from Louis and focus on him.

Niall introduced himself, made a few jokes and then started to sing. Louis seemed to enjoy it, singing along to most songs, which told Harry that it wasn’t the first time he’d come to one of Niall’s gigs.

“You go to to all of Niall’s gigs?” he asked, leaning close to Louis.

He could feel the hesitation, could sense Louis pulling back slightly, his fingers curling into fists on his thighs. “Yeah, whenever I can.”

Harry hummed, bringing his lips closer to Louis’ ear to make himself heard. “How did you meet?”

Louis turned his head, facing Harry and suddenly they were really close. Louis kept his eyes on Harry’s, and Harry had to force himself to not let his gaze flicker to Louis’ lips. He didn’t know what it was that made him feel this ridiculous attraction to Louis, this inevitable pull.

“Like this, actually,” Louis said, blinking before he shifted a bit to bring more space between them. “I saw him perform in a pub and talked to him afterwards. We just got along really well from the first moment.”

“I feel like he gets along with everyone,” Harry said.

“He does.” Louis smiled into his glass as he took another swig of his pint. “And he’s got a talent for picking his friends.”

Harry frowned slightly. “What do you mean?”

“Well, he may be getting along with everyone,” Louis explained as he glanced at Harry, “but he’s not actually friends with a lot of people.”

Humming, Harry watched Niall for a moment. “He told me he’s stayed with you for a while.”

Louis shrugged. “Got a big flat and lots of space to spare. I wouldn’t have minded him staying longer.”

“Where are you living?” Harry asked, curious to find out more.

“Primrose Hill.”

Raising a brow, Harry scooted a little closer again, erasing the space between them. “What kind of lawyer are you?”

“For the rich and famous.” Louis smiled a little, his aura much warmer than when he had sat down. “They pay us well for making their problems go away.”

Harry had known that Louis’ income was probably significant, after all he was part of a society that could afford going to Pierre’s for a casual dinner. He just didn’t act like it. He was wearing worn out sports clothes for a night out with friends in a shabby pub on the other side of the city, drank cheap beer and had eyed the fish and chips on the menu several times now so that Harry was seconds away from going to the counter to order it for him.

“You don’t act like it,” Harry said out loud. He gestured around. “You seem to fit here just as well as you did at Pierre’s the other night.”

“I actually prefer this,” Louis replied, taking the menu now to inspect it. “It’s how I grew up.”

Harry smiled, moving his glass so Louis could inspect the menu. “In Doncaster.”

For a moment, Louis’ froze. He cleared his throat. “Doncaster, yes.”

“Are you guys gonna get food?” Zayn asked, leaning over the table to get their attention.

“I haven’t yet decided what to get for Niall,” Louis replied. “He’s usually hungry when he comes off stage.”

“I’ll have a cheeseburger,” Harry decided. He glanced up at Zayn. “What about you?”

Zayn narrowed his eyes at the menu. “Just chips for me.”

“Okay, I’ll go order.” Louis got up, putting the menu back in the box he’d taken it from.

“I’ll come with you.” Harry followed him and looked back at Zayn who gave him a thumbs-up.

At the bar, Louis quickly got the bartender’s attention, leaning over the counter. He got onto his toes for that, stretching his legs and Harry was momentarily distracted by the view.

“We’ll have one fish and chips, extra chips, and two cheeseburgers please,” Louis said over the music. “One cheeseburger without onions.”

“Which table?” the bartender asked and looked over to Zayn where Louis pointed.

“You don’t have to pay ours,” Harry protested when Louis took out his debit card.

“It’s all right.” Louis smiled briefly. “My drinks are on you.”

Harry grinned, nodding. He took it as a win that Louis wanted to pay -- it meant that Louis liked him. “Don’t you eat onions?” he asked to keep the conversation going.

Louis blinked at him, looking confused for a moment.

“You’ve ordered that one cheeseburger without onions,” Harry added to explain as they slid back into their seats.

“Um,” Louis started, obviously flustered. Harry wondered if he’d hit some nerve. He thought it’d been an innocuous question. “I do usually. Not feeling like it tonight.”

Harry smiled. “I didn’t eat onions until…” He glanced at Zayn and decided not to breach the topic. “Well, I hated raw onions when I was younger.”

Louis just nodded, suddenly very interested in his glass.

“Pretty inconvenient for a chef to dislike onions,” Zayn commented.

“I really don’t know why I disliked them so much.” Harry shrugged. “Now, there’s rarely anything I don’t like.”

Louis glanced at him. “That’s a lie. Everyone has some kind of food they hate.”

“Which kind of food do you hate?” Harry asked.

“I hate baked beans.” Louis turned his head to Harry, looking at him as though he was waiting for a reaction. “They’re disgusting.”

Harry put a hand over his heart. “You’ve never had a proper full English?”

“I’ve had,” Louis replied. “And I liked it much better without the beans.”

“What is wrong with you?” Zayn chimed in. “You’re obligated by law to like baked beans as a Brit.”

Snorting, Louis shook his head. “They’re just being poured out of a can and heated up. There’s nothing traditional or---”

“If that’s your version of baked beans, no wonder you hate them.” Harry put a hand on Louis’ arm. “Homemade baked beans, Louis. You’re missing out.”

“Did you just offer to cook for me?” Louis grinned.

“Breakfast at mine. Sunday morning.” Harry turned to Zayn. “What do you think?”

“Don’t you have work?” Louis asked.

Harry shook his head. “I start at four on Sunday. So I’m off all morning to convince you of homemade baked beans.”

“I’m in,” Zayn said. “Not gonna turn down a free meal.”

“Niall won’t either.” Louis glanced over to where Niall had just finished his set.

“So it’s set.” Inwardly, Harry cheered at how easily he had tricked Louis into meeting him again. It still happened under the disguise of friends meeting up. That was the best way to let things develop naturally between them, after all. Outwardly, Harry played it cool. “How does nine in the morning sound?”

“What’s at nine in the morning?” Niall asked as he came over with a pint in his hand, sitting down next to Zayn.

“Sunday,” Harry explained. “I’m gonna make breakfast for you guys at mine.”

“I’ve always wanted a friend like that.” Niall cheered to Harry. “Someone who knows how to cook and who is kind enough to share his talents.”

Harry laughed, knowing how to take that comment. Niall tended to be honest, and Harry appreciated that. “I’m happy to be of use.”

“Isn’t your flat a bit small to have all of us over for breakfast, though?” Zayn mused.

Harry shrugged. He hadn’t thought of that. He could fit three people at his table at most. “I’ll think of something.”

“We could just meet up at Tommo’s,” Niall suggested. “His kitchen is huge and he never uses it anyway.”

“That’s not true.” Louis pouted a little.

Niall smirked at him. “Yes, okay. He uses it sometimes to heat up leftovers.”

Groaning, Louis leaned back to finish his pint. “You’re the worst.”

“So,” Harry said, watching Louis’ adam apple bob as he drank. “Should we meet up at yours then?”

“We can play FIFA, too,” Niall answered instead of Louis. “And it’s actually just around the corner from Pierre’s. So.”

“Sounds perfect.” Zayn looked at Harry, his thoughts more than clear. For some reason he saw it as some kind of upgrade from Harry’s original plan.

“Doesn’t it?” Louis set his empty glass down. “Guess we’re having breakfast at mine then.”

Niall beamed. “It’s a date.”

“I need another drink.” Louis got up, not even looking at them.

“I’ll help,” Harry murmured and followed Louis again. “Hey, Louis,” he said, catching up and gripping Louis’ arm to make him stop.

Louis held still, looking at Harry’s fingers curled around his biceps. “Yeah?”

“We don’t have to do it at your flat.” Harry watched Louis’ face, trying to find out what it was that upset him so much. “If you don’t want us there, we can do it at my place.”

For a moment, Louis was quiet, then he shook his head and looked up at Harry. “It’s fine. Of course we can do it at my place.”

“You sure?” Harry asked, still not convinced.

Louis just nodded, eyes still fixed on Harry’s face.

“I’m gonna get drinks.” Harry let go of Louis’ arm.

Frowning, Louis opened his mouth, but Harry cut him short.

“You payed our food. It’s my turn to pay our drinks.” Harry smiled as they reached the bar. “You can help me carry them over, though.”

“Guess I can do that,” Louis agreed.

Harry smiled, feeling a little more assured that he could win Louis over. He was sure his cooking could do the trick. He wasn’t a trained chef for nothing, after all.

+++

He had clearly lost his mind.

Louis was on his first cup of coffee on a Sunday morning, half past eight. It was raining outside, typical grey January weather in London. Inside, Louis had put on a fire in the fireplace and taken a hot shower to calm down his nerves.

Now, he stood in front of the portrait of his mother he had hung over the fireplace, a towel loosely draped over his shoulders, his hair still wet and his chest still bare. Louis blew over the steam coming from his coffee mug, staring at her face smiling down on him.

If she knew what kind of cock-up he’d got himself into, she’d probably raise a brow and tell him just how foolish he was. And that he wasn’t thinking clearly. That he should use his head and had to stop giving in to childish desires. That he had to stop hoping.

No one had told him, though, so here Louis was. On a Sunday morning, barely a week after Harry had crashed back into his life; about to see Harry again. About to have Harry in his own flat.

He wasn’t prepared. No matter how Louis looked at it, he wasn’t prepared for any of it. Harry was blissfully oblivious to the whole situation -- of course he was. He was simply his usual wonderful self, trying to win people over with that ridiculous charm of his.

How could anyone in the world expect Louis to be immune to that?

“Tommo, I told ya not tot leave the door unlocked,” he heard Niall yell and jumped slightly, almost spilling his coffee.

Rolling his eyes, Louis made his way over to the sitting room, seeing not only Niall, but Harry right behind him. Suddenly, Louis felt exposed, wearing nothing but his boxer shorts.

“You’re not even dressed yet,” Niall oh-so-helpfully stated.

Louis glanced at Harry, finding him already looking down, cheeks flushed. “You said you’d be here at nine.”

“We’ve said we’ll have breakfast at nine.” Niall shut the door behind Harry and lifted one of the grocery bags. “Gotta prepare that breakfast before that.”

Louis cleared his throat. “You do that. Why don’t you show Harry the kitchen and I…” He gestured at his chest.

“Yeah, no one wants to see that.” Niall turned, making his way to the kitchen.

Harry didn’t turn instantly, instead stared at Louis with that murderer look that Louis knew all too well. It was the kind of look Harry got when he wanted something or when he focused intensely on one single thing. At first, Louis had often confused it for Harry being angry or upset. It hadn’t taken long to learn to read Harry, though.

Which only meant that Harry liked what he was seeing right now.

Louis didn’t know what to do with that information or how to react. He wanted to close the gap and pull Harry in, seal their lips together and let Harry have what he wanted. Louis rarely ever got what he’d wanted, though.

“I---” Harry pointed to the general direction Niall had disappeared to. “I’m gonna…”

“You do that,” Louis agreed, taking a step backwards. “I’m gonna get dressed.”

He turned around and fled to his bedroom, not looking back once. He didn’t have to to know that Harry was staring after him, probably ogling his arse. He always did. Or, he’d always done.

The lines got a little blurred between past and present for Louis when Harry looked at him like he just had.

When he came back to the kitchen, dressed in jogging bottoms and a soft jumper, Harry and Niall had already started making breakfast.

“Your kitchen is amazing,” Harry said as he noticed Louis. “It’s like a professional’s.”

Louis shrugged, watching Harry’s hands as he cracked eggs into a bowl. “It came with the flat.”

Harry barked out a laugh. “That’s why everything is so clean.”

“Unused,” Niall corrected as he cut tomatoes into halves.

Instead of helping them, Louis decided to sit down at the table and watch. Harry didn’t like help in the kitchen, and the way he glanced over at Niall’s hands with a frown between his brows told Louis that had definitely not changed. “I’m supporting local businesses by taking up the uncountable offers of take aways in the area.”

“That’s very noble of you.” Harry opened a few cupboards before he found a pot. “We’re grateful.”

“Not all of us can afford eating at Pierre’s every day.”

Grinning, Harry took out a glass container from one of the bags they had brought. “It gets pretty boring after a while. Especially if you’re the one cooking the dishes.”

“So Harry needs a partner who will do the cooking for him.” Niall snickered.

Harry frowned a little, snatching the plate with tomatoes from Niall. “Actually, I don’t really like sharing the kitchen.”

“He hates when other people cook,” Louis supplied, watching on fondly.

“Exactly,” Harry agreed, adding a pan to the cooker.

Niall looked at Louis, raising a brow. “Did you two plan this?”

When he realised what exactly was going on, Louis felt caught. It was just so easy to forget that this Harry wasn’t his Harry. “I just assumed.”

“You assumed right.” Harry didn’t seem to find it odd that Louis had figured him out so quickly. “I hate to watch other people in the kitchen. I also taste everything that’s not right with the dishes.”

“Do you ever go to a restaurant then?” Niall asked, putting on the kettle.

“Of course.” Harry stirred the baked beans in the pot. “That’s different. That’s trained people cooking for me.”

Niall gaped. “So you’re saying what Louis and I cook isn’t good enough because we’re not trained chefs?”

“That’s why there are trained chefs.” Harry rolled his eyes at Niall. “They’re trained, so they cook better than an untrained person.”

“That’s arrogant of you to assume.” Niall crossed his arms as he waited for the water in the kettle to boil. “My grilled chicken is better than any chef’s.”

Louis snorted. “You don’t even season your chicken before you grill it.”

“You look like the kind of person who wouldn’t season their food,” Harry agreed.

“At least,” Niall spat out, pointing at Louis, “I can make more than one limpy dish.”

“Excuse you.” Louis crossed his arms. “It’s a family favourite in our household.”

“What?” Niall frowned at him. “I thought you’ve only ever cooked it for your boyfriend?”

“You have a boyfriend?” Harry asked the same moment Louis hissed, “Fuck off, Niall.”

For a second, all three of them were quiet, staring at each other.

“I don’t,” Louis said then, looking down.

“He had one ages ago,” Niall supplied instead. He took out three mugs and filled them with hot water. “Only talks about him when he’s drunk or high, though.”

Harry hummed and Louis didn’t dare look up to meet his gaze. “No one really likes talking about their exes, right?”

“Right,” Louis agreed. He got up to take one of the mugs filled with tea. He certainly wouldn’t breach the topic when Harry was around. “Where’s Zayn anyway?”

“He said he’d come straight from his place.” Harry stared at Louis for a little too long before he turned back to the pan.

“He should be here any minute,” Niall added.  

“I'm gonna go set the table while you finish up here.” Louis fled the kitchen, hands tight around his mug.

In the sitting room, he placed his coffee on the mantelpiece, staring into the red flames for a moment. He tried to breathe evenly to compose himself and calm down. There was no way he could freak out now.

Somehow, Louis had to find a way to deal with this situation. He had tried to avoid it, had tried to walk away from it, but Harry was here now. Harry was right here in his flat, unaware of everything that had ever happened between them, and Louis had to learn to act as though they were strangers. Acquaintances, at most.

Fate really was a bitch.

“Do you need any help?”

He turned around, seeing Harry approach him. The last thing Louis needed was being alone with Harry. He didn’t think he could do it right now; not when he hadn’t had a chance to properly compose himself.

Would he ever be composed around Harry?

“Wow,” Harry said when he saw the portrait of Louis’ mother above the fireplace. “That’s an impressive photograph.”

Louis had contemplated taking it down for Harry’s visit. Niall would’ve asked questions, though, and Louis wasn’t sure he could come up with any believable explanation for taking it down. His heart beat wildly in his chest while Harry stared at the picture, eyes roaming over the face.

“It looks like a snapshot,” Harry murmured, tilting his head. “But it’s actually been carefully shot. Waited for.”

Louis wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. Harry hadn’t lost his photography skills. He’d lost his memory of Jay, though. There was no memory of him sitting in Anne’s garden, camera pointed towards their mums, waiting for the perfect moment to captivate on film. Of all the pictures he had taken that day.

Louis nodded stiffly.

“Who is she?” Harry asked, turning his head to Louis.

For a moment, Louis waited, and his heart ached with the expectation of Harry coming to it and telling Louis that he, of course, remembered. That he’d never forget about Jay.

“My mum,” Louis replied, hands nervously fidgeting with the sleeves of his jumper. “I don’t wanna forget her face.”

“A boy who loves his mum. I like that.” Harry grinned at him, and Louis’ stomach dropped when he realised that Harry had no idea. He had known; of course he had known it. But he hadn’t believed it until this moment. “She’s beautiful.”

Louis angled his chin up, looking at the portrait. “She was.”

A piece of wood broke in the fireplace; sparks flew up and vanished like fireflies in a late summer night.

“I’m sorry.” Harry’s voice was quiet. “I didn’t know.”

Of course he didn’t. That was the whole issue at hand. Louis kept his gaze on his mother’s face, and tried to ban the memories from two years ago from his mind. The small church packed with people, his sisters holding each other’s hands, and the sea of faces staring at him when Louis had talked. The empty chair next to his.

He had tried to convince Liam, had begged Anne, but all of them had given him the same answer. Harry hadn’t known, and he wouldn’t have remembered. It hadn’t been a good idea. Louis had been convinced that it was the wrong decision; that Harry had belonged there on that chair right next to him. That Harry had deserved a chance to say goodbye, too.

“You couldn’t have known,” he said quietly, realising that they had been right.

Harry had no idea who Jay was; and he would never get the chance to meet her again. He couldn’t mourn a loss when he never knew he’d lost it.

“Can I ask what happened?” Harry’s voice was small, tentative.

“An aggressive form of blood cancer.” Louis cleared his throat. “She didn’t have a chance.”

Slowly, Harry’s hand came to rest on Louis’ arm. “That must have been tough.”

“It was.” In his chest, Louis’ heart beat a little faster at the touch. He’d been starved off it for so long. All he wanted to do was turn to Harry and fall into his arms, let Harry do what he did so well -- comfort. Harry had that special talent of making people feel comforted and safe.

Stepping away, Louis smiled a little. “I don’t really like to talk about it.”

“I’m sorry,” Harry said immediately, hand falling back to his side. “I didn’t mean to make you sad.”

Louis tried to smile, and shook his head. He wasn’t sure what he tried to convey with that, but he was sure that they needed to drop the topic right now. He couldn’t put up with this much longer.

Niall saved him from any further embarrassment when he called for Harry from the kitchen. “Harry! You said you’d be back in a minute. What about the beans now?”

Harry hesitated a moment, then he mumbled something Louis couldn’t understand and went back to the kitchen. Louis stared after him for a moment, his skin feeling like it had been ripped open and every single nerve had been laid bare.

The doorbell rang and Niall called out, “I’m going!”

Shaking his head, Louis went over a chest of drawers and got out plates. He focused on the task, trying to keep his mind blank. He just had to shut it out. The memories, the pain. That stupid hope.

+++

They had moved over to the living room after breakfast. The kitchen was still a mess and none of them had bothered with cleaning it so far. Niall was spread out on the big rug in front of the sofa, Zayn curled into one of the armchairs and Harry and Louis had ended up on opposite ends of the sofa. A film was playing but no one was really watching. Rain poured down from the a grey sky, making the view from Louis’ impressive windows blurry.

Harry cast a glance at him, his gaze coming to rest at the sliver of skin that was visible where Louis’ jumper had rode up his stomach. There was another tattoo, but Harry couldn’t make out what it was.

Louis’ torso was littered in tattoos. Harry had been able to catch a glimpse of them when they had arrived earlier. Across Louis’ collarbones, he had the words It Is What It Is inked. Harry wondered what it meant.

What had surprised him most was how attractive he had found the ink on Louis’ skin. He had never been turned on by tattoos before, but Louis’ had triggered a reaction in Harry.

He himself had a tattoo, as well. Only the memory of getting it was gone, and Harry had never decided to get more after his accident.

“I’m never gonna leave this flat again,” Zayn said, hugging a cushion.

Louis laughed. “Now that Niall doesn’t need my guest room anymore, it’s free for you to stay in.”

“I might as well take you you up on that offer.”

Harry frowned slightly at the wording. He instinctively traced a finger over his own hipbone where the words Might as well... were tattooed onto his skin. He had no idea why he had put them there.

When he looked up again, he found Louis staring at where Harry had absentmindedly touched his hip. Their gazes hooked together for a moment, before Louis quickly turned away.

“So, which food are you gonna try to convince me of next?” he asked, kicking out his foot to gently nudge Niall’s arm.

“If you let yourself be convinced,” Niall answered, rolling onto his back. “Did you even give Harry’s baked beans a chance?”

“I ate them, didn’t I?” Louis looked offended.

Harry snorted. “You sound like it was the biggest hardship.”

“Well.” A grin spread over Louis’ face. “They made my toast soggy.”

“Soggy,” Niall repeated. “But also tastier.”

“Best baked beans I’ve ever had,” Zayn agreed.

“See.” Harry directed a pout at Louis. “Those two know how to properly thank me for making them breakfast.”

Louis crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Make me eggs on toast for breakfast next time and I’ll show you properly .”

Butterflies flared up in Harry’s stomach. Was Louis flirting with him? “Properly how ?”

Louis raised a brow as if to mock him, but before he could say anything, Niall cut in.

“Did you just invite Harry to stay the night?”

“Did you just offer Harry sex in exchange for food?” Zayn immediately added.

Louis looked like he had been slapped before his cheeks turned red. “Of course not.”

“You totally did,” Harry protested.

Getting up from the sofa, Louis looked everywhere but at Harry. “It’s almost noon. Didn’t you say you gotta leave?”

“Shit.” Zayn checked his watch. “We gotta get to the restaurant, Harry.”

Harry watched Louis pick up the mugs and heading to the kitchen. “Yeah. I’ll just...” He looked at Zayn. “Give me a minute, okay?”

Even though he was rolling his eyes, Zayn apparently couldn’t suppress a smile. “Fine.”

“Do I have to be worried for Lou?” Niall asked.

Harry shook his head. “I’m just gonna apologise.”

Niall gestured for him to go ahead and Harry gave a thumbs-up before he followed Louis into the kitchen.

He found Louis at the sink, hands gripping the edges tightly, his head lowered. He looked small and vulnerable and Harry frowned slightly, wondering what made Louis act like this when flirting had seemed to come so naturally. Maybe it was the thought of flirting with Harry that was so deviant to him.

“Hey,” Harry said quietly, coming closer.

Louis turned around, looking a little caught before he put on a smile. It didn’t reach his eyes. “Sorry. I’ll see you guys out.”

Harry shook his head. “I’m sorry if we made you uncomfortable in there.”

“It’s not---” Louis bit his lip, crossing his arms again. “I wasn’t.”

“But something’s wrong.” Harry took another step closer, his gaze holding Louis’ firmly.

With a shallow breath, Louis’ chest rose slightly as he stared at Harry. Although his lips opened slightly, he didn’t reply.

Harry decided to take a risk, and put his hands onto the sink on both sides of Louis’ hips, loosely cageing him in. “Just to be clear, Louis,” he said, bringing his lips close to Louis’ ear. “I wouldn’t mind making you breakfast again. Whichever way you like.”

For a moment, time stood still. Harry’s heart beat wildly in his chest, his whole body tense in anticipation of Louis’ reaction. Louis smelled of herb shampoo and washing powder, and his skin looked especially soft where his neck and shoulder met.

It was just a second, just the whisper of a moment when Louis brought up a hand and put it on Harry’s chest. Harry was sure that Louis was leaning in, bringing them just that little bit closer. He briefly brushed Harry’s abs in the process, fingers resting right between Harry’s pecs. He could feel the warmth of Louis’ fingers through the thin cotton of his t-shirt.

Then, Louis applied pressure. “Okay, there. Slow down, Speed Racer.”

Harry stepped back, taking his hands off the sink. His gaze searched Louis’ face, and found him already looking back. His cheeks were red, flushed with what Harry hoped was arousal. “I meant it.”

“I know you did,” Louis replied. He let his hand linger for another moment, then took it away. “And I mean it when I say you’re moving too fast.”

That didn’t mean Louis wasn’t interested. Did it? “Okay. Can I ask Liam for your number?”

“I’d rather you don’t do that.” Louis shook his head.

Harry felt his heart sink a little. “Niall?”

Louis laughed quietly, stepping around Harry. “And what are you planning to do with it?”

“Text you,” Harry replied, following Louis. “Get to know you better. Ask you on a date properly.”

“You can try.” Louis stopped at the kitchen door, fingers around the handle. “Ask Niall.”

Harry couldn’t help the grin.

Louis hesitated. He looked at Harry for a second too long for it to mean nothing. Then, he turned and left the kitchen and Harry followed, over the moon that he hadn’t read the signs wrong. Louis was interested in him, and that pull towards Louis that Harry had felt from the first moment they had met was mutual.

If all Louis wanted was to move slow, Harry could do that. Moving slow was no problem.

Niall and Zayn were already in their coats and boots when Harry and Louis came to the front door.

“Thanks again for having us over,” Zayn said to Louis.

“Anytime.” Louis opened the door for them while Harry hurried to put his shoes on. “Stop by for some GTA.”

“Will do,” Zayn promised.

Niall hugged Louis. “See you Wednesday?”

“Wednesday,” Louis agreed.

They went outside and it was only Harry left, standing in the doorway.  “I’ll text you.”

Louis nodded. “I guess you will.”

Harry had no idea what to make of that answer. “Text me back, okay?”

Again, Louis nodded. If Harry didn’t know any better, he’d think that Louis looked at him like he didn’t want Harry to go.

“Good thing the restaurant is basically around the corner from here,” Zayn commented.

“Have fun at work,” Louis said, leaning against the door and crossing his arms.

Harry followed Zayn and Niall to the lift. When he looked back, the door to Louis’ flat was already shut.

“So.” Zayn got into the lift first. “He gave you his number?”

Shrugging, Harry pressed the button for ground floor. “He gave me permission to get his number from Niall.”

“I can’t believe it.” Niall shook his head and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “He’s never shown interest in anyone since I’ve met him. Harry comes along and, bam! Louis gives out his number.”

“Well, at least it’s mutual.” Zayn was the first to leave the lift, too. “I wasn’t so sure of it after the other night.”

They said goodbye to Niall in front of the building, going in different directions. Zayn didn’t talk much on their way, and Harry didn’t mind. He thought about Louis, and about Niall’s words. Whatever had happened in Louis’ past had made him wary around people.

Maybe someone had broken his heart, or maybe he had been the one who had broken some hearts. Maybe, no hearts had been broken, but instead, Louis had had to part from a lover due to some dramatic twist of fate and wasn’t yet over it.

Whatever it was, Harry wanted to hope that he stood a chance.

+++

There were noises around him. Harry frowned slightly before he blinked his eyes open. The ceiling was white, and the room was way too dark to be his bedroom. He never closed the curtains when he went sleeping.

“Harry. Baby, Hazza.” That was his mother’s voice. “Someone?” she said loudly. “He’s awake. He opened his eyes.”

Confused, Harry tried to move his head, but he couldn’t. His neck was in some kind of cast. He frowned again and his heart sank when he realised he was in a hospital. He moved his hand, trying to find something to hold onto. His mother’s hand was there in an instant, gripping him tightly.

“Baby,” she said, leaning over him. “Are you there?”

Harry opened his mouth, but nothing came out when he tried to speak. His throat hurt. He nodded instead, as well as he could with the thing around his neck.

There were steps and suddenly, there were people in the room, a lot of noises around Harry. And he just wanted to know what the bloody hell was going on.

“Harry,” someone said and a strange man came into his vision. “I’m gonna take this off, okay?”

The cast around Harry’s neck was removed a moment later and Harry let his head fall to the side. His neck still felt stiff, but a lot better when his head hit a soft pillow. His mother was next to his bed and Gemma stood right behind her. When he let his eyes wander, he found Liam by the door, a young blond woman standing next to him. Everyone else was dressed in scrubs.

“What--?” he couldn’t get out more.

“I’m Dr. Bennett, Harry,” the man said, drawing Harry’s attention back to him. “You had a car accident.”

Harry frowned. He couldn’t even remember taking his mum’s car.

“You suffered severe injuries to your head.” The doctor looked at the papers in his hands briefly. “And were in a coma for almost five days.“

Looking at his mother, he decided that the man probably wasn’t lying. She looked exhausted; hair greasy, skin pale and her eyes had dark circles. She looked older.

A nurse came to Harry’s side and put a hand under his head to help him drink some water. Harry gulped it up gratefully, his throat feeling much better afterwards.

“What happened?” he asked when he lay his head back down.

“A crash with a lorry. You turned around the car and got hit by the front of the lorry.” The doctor put the papers down, focusing on Harry again. “You broke your right arm and leg.”

Harry only then noticed the cast around his arm, frowning down at it.

“Your shoulder was dislodged,” the doctor went on. “And your lungs ruptured.”

He could breathe. Harry stared at his mother in disbelief. How had that happened to his body and he didn’t even feel a thing?

Dr. Bennett cleared his throat. “We had to do some head surgery. You had a severe injury of the skull.”

Freeing his left hand from his mother’s, Harry lifted it to his head automatically. He gasped when he found gauze meeting bare skin.

“It’ll grow back out,” Gemma said, tone stricken.

“Harry,” the doctor asked calmly. “Do you remember anything. From accident?”

Harry frowned, trying to recall the last memory before waking up right here. “No.”

“What is the last thing you remember?”

Concentrating, Harry tried to single out one thing. “I’m not sure.”

“Start with the first thing that comes to your mind,” Anne encouraged him.

“I made lunch. Fajitas.” Harry remembered mixing the ingredients together.

“Do you remember who you’ve made it for?” the doctor asked.

“Myself.” Harry blinked slowly. His eyelids felt so heavy. “In my new flat.”

“Something’s not right.” Harry looked over to Liam. He had come closer, standing at the foot of Harry’s bed. A frown was etched between his brows, his forehead wrinkled with worry.

“What new flat, Harry?” Gemma asked. Harry noticed that her hair was much blonder than it had been last week. “You’ve been living in that flat for about a year now.”

Harry frowned at her, shaking his head a little. It still hurt. “No? I’ve only moved to Manchester a few weeks ago. What are you on about?”

It was quiet for a long moment, and Harry looked from his sister to the doctor.

“What is going on here?”

“Harry, how old are you?” the doctor asked him slowly.

“Eighteen.” Turning his gaze to his mother, Harry felt some kind of panic coming up his chest. Something was wrong. Everyone was acting so strangely. “You said it was only five days. What is going on?”

“Harry,” Anne said calmly. “You’re eighteen and you’ve just moved to Manchester?”

Harry nodded. “Just came back from a year in France. Gourmet school? Chef’s training?”

“Oh shit,” Liam said out loud.

“What is going on?” Harry tried to sit up, but his body didn’t listen. He gripped his mother’s hand more tightly. His body was so tired, but fear was keeping him from giving into it. “What is wrong?”

“Haz,” Anne said quietly. She exchanged a quick look with the doctor, and when he nodded, she continued. “You’re twenty-one.”

Harry’s stomach sank to his knees, and his head started to hurt with the force of staying awake. “You said it was five days!”

“Calm down,” Dr. Bennett touched his shoulder. “We’ll find out what’s going on.”

“Did he lose his memory?” Gemma asked, sounding scared.

“It may be temporary.” The doctor took his papers again, taking out a pen. “We’ll have to run tests.”

Liam moved, and Harry watched him go back to the door where the young woman was still looking on. They talked quietly, and Harry tried to focus on her face but his vision got blurry. He blinked, just for a second, but when he opened his eyes again, she was gone and Liam was back by his side.

“I’m sorry,” Harry said, his eyelids falling closed. “I’m so tired.”

“Go back to sleep, baby,” Anne told him, rubbing his hand between hers. “It’s okay.”

“It may be back when he wakes up again,” was the last thing Harry heard Dr. Bennett say, then he was taken by sleep.

+++

Liam had won tickets to a football match of some local team. He had taken a picture of Harry in the crowd, a beer in hand, long hair tied back with a scarf. In the picture, Harry looked a little annoyed, but a fond smile was tugging at his lips.

Harry didn’t remember that day.

He lay in bed, eyes wandering over the wall of pictures he had hung around it. Each and every one of the pictures showed memories that had vanished from Harry’s brain. They were from days of Harry’s life that had shaped him, had helped him become the man he was today. Days that were gone, and wouldn’t come back.

Harry kept looking at them, trying to find details, hints, anything that would spark a memory. They’d never come back. Instead, he saw the life of a stranger, like foreign dreams of another person, when he looked at those pictures.

Sighing, Harry sat up and got out of bed. He took his mobile from the bedside table and opened up his chat with Liam.

Haven’t heard from you in a bit. You good, mate?, he texted.

He contemplated what to send Louis while he put on the kettle to make some tea. Niall had sent Harry the number last night, without any further comment. To Harry’s amusement, Niall had saved Louis’ number under “Tommo The Tease”, and Harry really wondered what that was supposed to mean.  

Tommo The Tease? Sounds like a stripper name.

He settled on keeping it light for the moment. Something about Louis was odd, just so unreadable for Harry. He always looked at Harry when he thought Harry didn’t notice; he openly flirted back a few times. There was definitely an interest there. Yet, there was that firm wall Louis had built around himself. Sometimes, Louis forgot about it, but when he remembered it, it was unbreakable.

Harry wondered why he’d built it in the first place. He thought of how vulnerable Louis had looked when he had talked about his mum. Of course, Harry could not have known about it, but bringing himself into a situation like that was just so typically him. Just his luck. He had wanted to get closer to Louis, get to know him a little better, and instead, he had made Louis sad.

He couldn’t say that it was going smooth. Not at all. And yet, Harry felt that he needed to try. There was something about Louis that pulled him in, and that told him not to give up.

Did you think I make all that money being a measly lawyer? Louis had texted back when Harry checked his phone again.

Harry grinned, moving his fingers over the the display quickly. Should’ve known you make money off that body.

Louis was online for a moment. Then, he wasn’t. A second later, he came online again and started typing. Stopped typing. Harry frowned slightly, wondering what made Louis hesitate.

It’s hard work , he replied eventually, adding an emoji of the dollar sign.

Harry went with the first thing that came to his mind. I can imagine it’s very hard.

This time, Louis stayed offline.

Small steps, Harry reminded himself. Louis had asked him to go slow, and Harry could do that. He absolutely could.

+++

“He woke up!”

Louis turned his head when Lottie came into his room. Her cheeks were red from excitement and she was slightly out of breath. “He’s awake.”

Sitting up, Louis tried to read her expression. “Is he okay?”

Lottie nodded and sat down on his bed. “He’s talked.”

“Did you tell him I’ll come see him?” Louis cursed a little when he tried to move. He wouldn’t be able to go anywhere soon with both his legs in casts.

“Well...” She took a deep breath. “He’s awake, Lou. He could move whatever wasn’t broken in his body. That’s a good sign.”

So there were bad signs, too. “But?”

Before she could say anything, another group of people piled into his room. Liam was first, followed by Gemma, and then Anne with Dr. Bennett who was Harry’s doctor. Louis had talked to him before.

Louis decided to keep his eyes on him.

“It’s mainly good news,” the doctor said to Anne. “No one could anticipate the damage to his brain.”

“What is going on?” Louis asked, eyes glued to the man’s face. “Is something wrong?”

“We don’t know yet,” Dr. Bennett replied.

“Something is wrong,” Liam interrupted. “I knew something was wrong the second he grasped the situation and didn’t ask about Lou.”

Louis’ heart beat a little faster. “He didn’t ask for me?”

Dr. Bennett lifted a hand to make Liam stop talking. “He hasn’t yet.”

That was impossible. “But I was right there next to him. There’s no way he would just forget that.”

“Especially,” Liam added, “since he risked his life to protect Lou.”

It was quiet for a moment, and Louis could feel his heartbeat in his fingertips. “What do you mean?”

“Liam,” Gemma hissed. “Stop it.”

“Sorry,” Liam murmured. “I’m just--- I didn’t---”

“What do you mean?” Louis interrupted him. “What does he mean?” he asked louder, looking at the doctor.

He sighed, stepping a little closer to Louis. “Well, you see, it’s a basic human instinct to turn away from danger. Usually, in an accident like the one you had, drivers turn the car right to protect themselves. Harry did the exact opposite by turning left. The only explanation we have is that he instinctively wanted to protect you.”

Louis stared at him. His lips felt numb and his stomach was cramping. It felt as though someone was pulling a sling around his throat. It got tighter and tighter with every second ticking by.

“Louis.” Lottie gripped his hand. “Don’t panic.”

“He’s like this because he…” Louis’ voice broke. “It’s my fault?”

“It’s not,” Dr. Bennett assured him. “It was his action, Louis.”

“Then why is he not asking for me?” Louis couldn’t make any sense of it. If Harry had been ready to risk his life for Louis, why wasn’t he caring now?

“He can’t remember.” Anne came over and hugged him, pulling his head against her chest. “It may be something temporary. An after effect of his injuries, you know?”

“The accident?” Louis nuzzled against her. “He can’t remember the accident?”

“None of it,” Anne replied, a hand running through his hair. “He was convinced he was eighteen and had just moved to Manchester.”

Louis blinked, trying to understand. That had been just a few weeks before he had met Harry for the first time. “Does that mean…” He tried to form a coherent thought. “He doesn’t remember me?”

“It’s temporary,” Anne said again. Louis saw Dr. Bennett bite his lip and look to the ground. “He’ll remember when he’s fully recovered.”

Something in the doctor’s expression told Louis that that may not be as easy. “What if he doesn’t?” he asked, voice just above a whisper.

“He will,” Anne assured him.

Lottie squeezed his hand. “He will.”

Louis closed his eyes and buried his face against Anne’s shoulder. But what if he wouldn’t? What if Harry’s memories never came back?

“There’s no way he’d just forget you, Lou,” Liam said. “You know that.”

Louis had to believe it.

+++

“Louis?”

Lifting his gaze from the photo of himself and Harry, Louis looked up to his office door. Martin stood in the door frame, looking a little worried.

“Martin,” Louis greeted guys colleague. “Any problem?”

“Just wanted to know if you wanted to have lunch together?” Martin pointed at the plastic bag in his hand.

Checking his watch, Louis realised that it was already past noon. “I didn't bring any. I'll have to go out and get something.”

“Okay.” Martin waved lightly. “I'll be in the lunch room, if you wanna join me later.”

“Thanks.” Louis watched him leave and then got up to grab his coat. He informed Cecilia at her desk that he'd be out for lunch and then took the lift downstairs.

Outside, it was raining, so Louis decided to go to one of the restaurants nearby. He crossed the street and went into one of the restaurants he frequented for his lunch breaks.

Louis enjoyed going out for lunch every other day. It helped him clear his head and take his mind of especially hard cases. These days, his cases weren't as hard, but his mind still needed some ease.

Harry kept occupying it.  

He was led to a table and sat down while ordering something to drink. The waiter handed him a menu and Louis opened it to find the familiar selection of dishes.

When he was served his drink and had ordered a dish, his gaze fell onto a table at the back of the room. Frowning, Louis tilted his head and leaned forwards. He made out dark, short curls, a small and straight nose and plush pink lips.

Fate, he thought for a second, but then doubted that out was that easy. Taking his glass with him, Louis went over to where Harry was sitting and reading on his mobile.

“I take it this is not a coincidence.”

Harry looked up from his phone as Louis sat down across from him and his eyes widened in surprise. He looked genuinely shocked. “Louis!”

Louis narrowed his eyes. “Don't act like you didn't expect to meet me here.“

“I didn't!” Harry put down his mobile and looked around. “What are you doing here?”

“I go to this place for lunch. My work is just across the street.” Louis lifted a brow. “But you already know that, don't you?”

“You work around here?” Narrowing his eyes, Harry checked out Louis’ suit. “Looks like it.”

Louis snorted. “Come on, Harry. Did Niall tell you about this place?”

Harry shook his head. “No, actually.” He looked down at his hands, blushing a little. “I swear I didn't follow you here or something. I wanted to test this place.”

“What?” Louis’ brows shot up.

“When I work evening shifts, I go to some of the restaurants with excellent reputations to test them.”

Louis couldn’t help laughing a little. “You go have lunch by yourself in some posh restaurant?”

Harry shrugged, glancing up at Louis. “I don't know many people here yet. And the ones I know don't seem to like to spend that kind of money on food.”

For a moment, Louis simply watched Harry. He knew that Harry wasn't lying. The person Louis had fallen in love with couldn't lie to save his life. He could put on a good act, but he couldn't lie.

“Would you mind then if I joined you for lunch today?” Louis asked before he could think better of it.

Harry's face lit up, and although Louis knew that every bit of contact with Harry was a mistake, he couldn't make himself regret offering. He'd do anything to be the person making Harry light up like that.

“I'd love that,” Harry replied. “I've wanted to ask you out on a date for a while now.”

Shaking his head, Louis folded his arms on the table.  “This is my lunch break, not a date.”

“We're sitting in a posh restaurant, across from each other, a candle is lit between us and I'm gonna steal food from your plate to try it.” Harry grinned. “Sounds very much like a date to me.”

“It's a date if you pick me up at home and bring me nice flowers.” Louis gestured for Harry's glass. “And if there's good wine with our food.”

“So it's a bit of an awkward first date. Not perfect,” Harry added, leaning forwards. “That means we'll need a second date to improve that.”

Louis laughed. “You're getting ahead of yourself again, Speed Racer.”

“Well, it's not that easy to get a hold of you.”

“I have no idea where that obsession with me comes from,” Louis mused. The next sentence was hard to say, but he had to say it to keep himself grounded and in reality. It was too easy to give into this false feeling of familiarity around Harry. “You don't even know me.”

“I brother in infatuation from first sight.” Harry took a sip of his water. “I know when it's worth being persistent.”

Louis ignored the way his heart twisted. It sounded like Harry had pursued quite a few people over the last years. Instead, he put on a smirk to play it cool. “Sounds like you've got quite a bit of experience with that.”

“Actually, I don't.” Harry smiled bashfully. “I hope you don't mind.”

Louis swallowed thickly with how endlessly endearing Harry was in his honesty. “I don't,” he got out, sounding a little choked up.  

The waiter came back with their food and Louis kept his eyes on Harry's face as he thanked the waiter and smiled at him. Apparently, it was still important to Harry that he looked at people when he interacted with them. He always had a smile on his lips.

So far, Louis hadn’t found anything major that had changed about Harry. Except for the onions Harry now ate in raw form, everything was still exactly the way he had been when they had first met.

How was Louis supposed to let him slip away again? He knew well enough that he shouldn't be here right now; that he shouldn't keep in contact with Harry. Yet, there had been a void in his life ever since he'd lost Harry and nothing and no one could fill that void except for Harry.  

“Are you all right?” Harry asked.

Louis looked up from his food with a smile. “Just a tough case that I'm working on right now,” he lied.

Harry cut his meat.  “What is it about?”

“Can't really tell you.” Louis shrugged. “But it involves ruthless people and a lot of money.”

“Do you have many cases like that?”

“Too many, yeah.” Louis tried the first bite of his fish. “The salmon is good.”

“Let me be the judge of that.” Harry took a piece of bread and drank a bit of water before he cut a bit of salmon and moved it onto his plate.

Louis lifted a brow. “It's not like I don't know what a good salmon should taste like.”

“Who taught you?” Harry asked as he had swallowed.

You , Louis thought and looked down at his plate. “You just learn after living in these circles for a while.”

Harry hummed. “I can imagine.”

For a moment, they ate in silence. Louis glanced at Harry every now and then, wondering how really every memory of them sitting together like this, eating and discussing food could have vanished from Harry's mind altogether.

Wasn't there anything triggering at least the tiniest memory?

The fourth time Louis glanced at him, Harry lifted his head at the same moment and their eyes met. Harry looked caught, grinning like a teenager.

Like the teenager he'd still been when they had met for the first time.  

“What's your verdict?” Louis asked to distract from how fidgety he got himself.  

“I knew this place was good the moment you said you went here frequently.” Harry smiled a little. “The chef's good.”

“Not better than you.”

Harry laughed. “The only thing I've ever made for you was breakfast and you hated the baked beans.”

Louis cursed himself inwardly. He needed to control his brain-to-mouth filter better. “I had your Beef Sauvignon.”

“Your boyfriend complained about that for you,” Harry countered.

“First, that prick’s not my boyfriend.” Louis put his cutlery down when he finished, unfolding his napkin. “And second, I didn't want to complain about it. It's all on him.”

“So you liked it?” Harry bit his lip as he looked at Louis.

Still fishing for compliments. Louis had to smile, when he realised that Harry hadn't changed. He still craved compliments and confirmation. “Best I ever had.”

Harry bit his lip harder to hold back a full-on grin. “Why did Niall choose someone that horrible for you to date?”

“In Niall’s defence, he's never met the guy.”

“Has he met your ex-boyfriend?” Harry asked out of the blue.

Louis sputtered a little, breaking their eye contact. “No.”

For a moment, Harry was quiet. “Was he as horrible?”

“No.” Louis focused on folding his napkin bank in shape. “No. He was lovely.”

Harry hummed quietly. “Did he break up with you?”

Louis couldn't believe that he was talking about this with Harry. He wasn't supposed to be talking about this. Harry was supposed to just finally snap out of it and remember him.

He swallowed thickly. “Not really.”

Harry seemed to grasp that Louis didn't want to talk about it. He nodded stiffly.

Desperation made Louis go on. Maybe the right words would bring Harry back. “I think I'm still in love with him.”

Harry's eyes widened and his jaw went slack. Louis could only guess that at this moment, he probably regretted being so curious.  

“Sorry,” Louis mumbled. He'd gone too far. This was not the kind of thing to say to a person that was an acquaintance at best. To Harry, he was nothing more than that. There was no history between them for Harry.

Maybe he'd even driven Harry away with that comment. If so, Louis had to see it as a positive development.

“Don't be,” Harry assured him. His tone was gentle. “At least I know what I'm competing against.”

“Harry…”

“Don't tell me to give up.” Harry kept his eyes on Louis’, not looking away. “I know what I'm getting myself into.”

“You have no idea,” Louis murmured. It was the first time it occured to Louis that at this point Harry would be so, so mad at him for not saying anything. Louis knew him well enough that even though Louis had given in to everyone around him advising him not to tell Harry about them, Harry would have wanted to know. Harry would feel betrayed. And he’d feel even more betrayed if Louis did this; if Louis didn’t tell him to stop and let Harry pursue him.

Harry really had no idea what he got himself into with this.

“You asked me to go slow,” Harry said. “But I think you don't want me to stop. So I'm gonna see where this leads.”

Louis didn’t know how to argue with that. Of course Harry had noticed that Louis felt the attraction, too. Louis had practically melted away that moment in his kitchen when Harry had been so bold. He'd had to physically keep himself from jumping Harry then and there.

“So, instead of asking you on another date now, I'm gonna invite you to a gathering with friends,” Harry went on when Louis didn't say anything. “How's that sound?”

“This is not a date,” Louis protested.

Harry chuckled. “If it were, I wouldn't have talked about your ex.” His eyes sparked with mischief and Louis wanted to lean in and kiss him. “But it was a nice test run for what a date could be like.”

“We're not gonna go on a date.” Louis knew that he didn't sound very convincing.

Harry just smiled in that way that Louis knew he did when he was sure he'd already won. He probably had. “How about my invitation?”

“What kind of gathering?” Louis asked.

“Just a few friends. I'll cook, we'll probably go for a few drinks at the pub.”

“It’s your birthday,” Louis realised. Again, he inwardly cursed himself for speaking before thinking.

Harry nodded. “Dunno how you do that all the time, but, yes, it's my birthday next week. Niall will be there and Zayn’s coming, too.”

The waiter interrupted them when he came to collect their plates. “Would you like anything else?”

Louis smiled at him. “Just the bill.”

“Would you like me to split the bill?”

“All together. Thank you.”

The waiter left and Harry crossed his arms on the table. “So it's a date after all?”

Louis tried to calm down his rabbiting heart. “Just a test run.”

“You don't have to pay for me, Louis.” Harry sounded sincere.

There had been times when they had quarrelled over who was going to pay the bill. So many times. ”I know. But I'm grateful for the company for lunch today. So it's on me.”

The waiter came with their bill and Louis handed him his credit card.

Harry nodded briefly, and Louis saw that he wanted to argue but held himself back. “It's my turn next time.”

“We'll see,” Louis decided to say. There was just no way he could agree to a date with Harry. It’d only lead to more chaos.

Louis had already caused enough chaos by letting Harry back into his life like this.

When the waiter returned with his credit card, Louis got up from his seat. He left a five pounds note on the table and straightened his suit. Upon looking up, he found Harry staring at him.

“You look so different in a suit,” Harry said, following Louis to the door.

Harry had used to laugh at him when Louis had started wearing suits during his first work placement. He’d found it ridiculous, saying that they didn’t fit Louis at all. Yet, he had always appreciated how Louis’ bum looked in those trousers. It was either laughing or wanting to rip it off Louis. There had been no inbetween for Harry.

“I know, I know,” Louis said. “It looks ridiculous.”

Harry stood way too close when Louis turned back around to him outside on the street. Louis stumbled a little with the sudden proximity.

“Not at all,” he said, hand coming up to Louis’ elbow to steady him. “You look gorgeous.”

Feeling himself blush, Louis freed his elbow and took a step back. So today, it was making Harry horny instead of laughing. “Shut up.”

Chuckling, Harry let his hands slip into the pockets of his coat. “So. Will you come to my birthday? Next Friday. Dinner’s at eight.”

If there were other people, it’d be okay, wouldn’t it? Louis knew it wasn't. He knew he should refuse and tell Harry that he couldn’t be there. “Yeah, I’ll be there,” he said instead, once again losing to his burning desire to keep Harry close.

Harry beamed at him again. “Great. I’ll see you there.”

Without a warning, Harry leaned in and pressed a kiss to Louis’ cheek. His lips felt warm and familiar. They gently brushed Louis’ skin and Louis’ heart twisted at the memory of those lips kissing every inch of skin on his body. This was way too short, way too hasty, and way too platonic.

“Have fun at work,” Harry said as he pulled back and turned around.

Louis just stood frozen, staring after Harry. He cursed himself again, this time loudly, when Harry looked over his shoulder and caught him staring.

Harry just grinned.

+++

“Wait, wait, wait,” Harry mumbled to himself as his mobile started ringing. He had just put the chicken in the oven and hurried over to where his mobile phone lay on his bedside table.

“Hi,” he answered when he saw Liam’s name flashing on the display.

“Harry, mate,” Liam said cheerfully. “Happy birthday!”

“Thanks, Lee.” Harry sat down on his bed, wiping a hand on his trousers. He still had to change. “I’m happy you called.”

“I’m sorry I haven’t called you sooner. It’s been crazy busy at work those past few weeks.” Liam sounded a little upset. “How are you?”

“Good.” Sitting back, Harry crossed his legs. “Really good. I’m happy I went through with this after all.”

Liam hummed. “I’m happy for you.Your mum’s not calling every day?”

“Not anymore.” Harry giggled. “She did at the beginning, but now she’s texting every other day.”

“And you’re not feeling lonely?”

Harry hesitated for a second. “No, I don’t. It’s scary sometimes, but overall, it’s good. I met a few people.”

“Are you going out with them tonight?” Liam sounded a little distracted now. He was probably still in his office.

“Maybe later.” Harry looked over to the small kitchenette. “They’re coming over in a bit for dinner.”

“I wish I could celebrate with you, too.”

“Me, too.” Harry bit his lip, contemplating his next sentence. “Actually, um…” He cleared his throat. “You wouldn’t believe how small this city can be. I met Louis.”

There was a noise on the other end of the line that Harry couldn’t quite identify. “Did you?” Liam asked.

“Yeah. He came to eat at the restaurant I work at.” Getting up, Harry hit his toe and cursed lightly. “I didn’t even realise but then I met him again. He’s friends with my neighbour.”

“Is he?” There was a tilt to Liam’s voice that Harry couldn’t interpret, but made him frown. Liam definitely wasn’t too thrilled with that news. “That’s a coincidence.”

“He’s nice,” Harry added.

“He’s a good bloke, yeah.”

“I saw him on some of the pictures on your fridge, but…” Harry smirked to himself, knowing that Liam would understand. “I knew he was fit, but he’s really fit in person.”

Liam groaned. “Harry, no.”

“Too late,” Harry replied, grinning wider. “I think he’s interested, too. So, I just wanted to give you the heads-up, you know. Being fair about it and all, since you guys are friends.”

“Louis’s not good for you, Haz.” Liam sounded way too serious. “Don’t do that.”

Frowning, Harry checked on the potatoes boiling on the cooker. “Yeah, okay, he seems to have a few trust issues. He just hasn’t met the right one yet, Liam.”

Liam was quiet for a moment. “I’m serious, Harry. Don’t start anything with Louis. It won’t go well.”

“Why do you---” He was cut off by his doorbell ringing. “Sorry, my guests are here. I gotta go.”

“Harry, listen---”

“I’ll call again, Lee,” Harry promised and hung up. He tried to shove what Liam had said aside for the moment and hurried to the door to open it.

“Happy birthday!” Barbara and Zayn yelled in unison.

Harry hugged them both before he let them in. “Thanks for coming.”

Niall had brought over his two chairs earlier so that all of his guests could sit at the table tonight. It was a bit cramped, but Harry had went all out on the decorations.

“Sit down. Have something to drink. I’ll go and change.” He hurried over to the bathroom, grabbing the change of clothes he had laid out earlier on his way.

In the bathroom, Harry made quick process of changing is clothes. He washed his face again and brushed his hair, trying to tuck a loose curl behind his ear. It wasn’t quite long enough, so it kept falling on his forehead. It was probably best to ignore it.

When he came back out, Niall and Louis were both there. Niall was mixing drinks for everyone and Louis stood close to Harry’s bed, staring at the wall of photos. He hadn’t noticed Harry yet.

“Birthday boy!” Niall yelled, abandoning the bottle in his hand to go for Harry. “Let me hug you!”

Harry opened his arms for Niall to embrace him and laughed when Niall tried to lift him off his feet.

“I’m mixing some special drinks for your birthday,” he declared, pointing back at the kitchenette. “That’s my present. Plus my two chairs.”

“You didn’t need to get me anything else.” Harry followed Niall to the table. “Lending me your chairs is enough.”

“That’s true. Guess that makes you pretty special.” Niall winked and went back to mixing the drinks. “So, what did the others get you?”

Barbara stood up and held out two pots for Harry. One was a thyme plant, the other basil. “That’s from us. Fresh herbs for the new flat.”

“Lovely.” Harry smelled the basil. “I’m gonna put them close to the window.”

Zayn just nodded, a soft smile on his lips when Harry thanked him, too.

He turned and saw Louis still standing on the other side of the room. He had his arms behind his back and looked at Harry with a strange expression.

“Thanks for coming, Louis,” Harry said, not sure how to approach him.

“Thanks for the invitation.” Louis briefly looked at the wall of photos again before he came closer and held out his hand for Harry. “Happy Bbirthday.”

When Harry looked down at Louis’ hand, he noticed the two tickets. Curiously, he took them from Louis. He gasped. “How did you get these?”

Louis shrugged. “A friend owed me a favour.”

“I tried getting tickets myself.” Harry stared down at the solid paper in his hand and remembered how devastated he’d been when he hadn’t got any tickets in the presale. Not that he could’ve even afforded them. He would have made ends meet somehow if he’d been lucky enough, though.

“What are they for?” Zayn asked, not getting up from his chair while Niall and Barbara both rushed over.

“Fleetwood Mac”, Barbara read out, gasping.

“That’s too much,” Harry protested, staring at Louis. “I can’t accept these.”

“Of course you can. It’s your birthday.” Louis smiled bashfully.

“Seriously.” Niall came over and handed them glasses. “Don’t worry about it, H. He’s loaded; he can spend that kind of money.”

Harry frowned at him. “Doesn’t mean you have to spend it on me.”

“I decide what I spend my money on.” Louis shrugged and took a glass from Niall.

“How did you even know?” Harry still couldn’t grasp it that he held the tickets in his hands. “Are you some kind of mind reader or something?”

Louis put both hands around his glass, looking clearly uncomfortable with that question. “Um. No. I just thought… I mean. Who wouldn’t like to go?”

“I definitely would,” Niall announced, shoving a glass into Harry’s hand. “So I’m applying as your plus one.”

Harry smiled at him, carefully setting his glass down at the table. “Sorry, but I’m already taking Louis.”

“What?” Niall and Louis asked in unison.

“Can I pitch in my name?” Zayn asked from behind Harry. “I would love to go, too.”

“See,” Louis said, pointing at Zayn. “You should take one of your friends.”

“But you got me the tickets.” Harry shook his head. “So I’m taking you.”

Sitting down, Niall said, “If Louis doesn’t wanna go, you should take me instead.”

Harry decided to let it go for now. He’d find a way to convince Louis. Somehow. “I’ve still got a bit of time to make up my mind.”

“I think I was promised food,” Zayn said, grinning at Harry. “Or what is it that smells so fantastic?”

“Okay, sit down.” Harry turned to Barbara and Louis, gesturing to the table. “I’m gonna plate everything now.”

+++

“That is a crime.” Harry put a hand on his chest. “We can’t be friends if you haven’t watched Notting Hill.”

Niall took another swig of his beer. “It sounds kinda boring.”

Barbara had left a while ago, excusing herself because she’d had a long week and taken on an early shift for the next morning. She would probably be on Harry and Louis’ side right now.

“It’s one of the most epic love stories of our times,” Louis argued. He shook his head at Niall, not sure they had been friends for years and Louis hadn’t known about this.

“I haven’t seen it either.” Zayn had already moved to Harry’s bed, sitting comfortably on the throw-on Harry had put over his duvet. “Dunno what’s so good about love stories.”

“They’re safe,” Harry and Louis replied at the same time.

Harry blinked at him and Louis bit his tongue, physically. They had discovered their love for romantic comedies together, had spent so many nights watching silly films together, giggling and distracting each other with kisses that had turned into heated snogging.

Louis found himself staring at Harry’s lips and quickly looked away, shrugging. “Great minds think alike.”

“How about we watch it now?” Harry asked. “With how it’s pouring outside, we’re probably not gonna go out anyway.”

“You want me to watch Notting Hill now?” Niall made a face.

“I don’t wanna go out.” Zayn was already moving to the foot of the bed, making space for them. “Watching a film sounds much better.”

“Guess I don’t have a choice, then.” Niall sighed. “Fair warning, though. I’m probably gonna fall asleep.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time you won’t make it back to your own flat.” Harry winked as he got up from his chair and took their empty plates to the sink.

Niall snickered. “I haven’t figured out why, but your bed’s much more comfy than mine.”

“Spare us the details,” Louis muttered, trying to act casual. Just the thought of Harry sharing his bed with someone else made him rage with jealousy. He had to learn to control it. He knew that Niall was as straight as a guitar string, so there wasn’t even a reason to be jealous.

“Jealous?” Niall asked, wiggling his brows.

Louis glared at him, but then remembered that he had no claim over Harry and cleared his throat. “Just happy you’re not occupying my bed anymore.”

“As if you’ve ever let me into your bed.” Niall snorted and took the space next to Zayn, tugging his feet under his legs.

Harry placed his laptop on his bedside table and opened Netflix. “Otherwise I’d been jealous.”

Louis shook his head when Harry winked at him. He bit back a grin, clearing his throat again to not let on what those words did to him. Being the centre of Harry’s attention had always been the nicest feeling. Harry was a social butterfly, giving people his full attention when he talked to them. Being the person to not only receive that attention but also his affections was the most flattering and satisfying feeling Louis had ever known.

“Not surprised to hear that.” Niall turned a little around, looking up. “That wall gets bigger every time I come here.”

Louis followed his gaze and stared at the wall of photos above Harry’s bed that he had tried to ignore for the best part of the evening.

“It’s finished now,” Harry said, joining them on the bed.

“Is that your prevention for homesickness?” Zayn asked, checking the pictures out as well.

Niall tapped one of the pictures. “The long hair looks good on you. When was that?”

Harry was quiet for a moment, and Louis knew what was coming. He felt glued to his chair, staring at Harry’s face, trying to will him into silence. He didn’t want to hear it.

“I’m twenty in that picture,” Harry said slowly. “And on a trip to Cornwall, apparently.”

Louis had passed his biggest exams at that time, and as a reward, Harry had taken him to Cornwall for a weekend to do some sightseeing. They hadn’t seen much, but had spent most of that weekend in bed instead. Louis remembered taking that picture of Harry after he had fucked Louis nearly into oblivion.

It was such an intimate picture to Louis, but no one else knew. No one knew that Harry had cleaned himself off with a towel before, and that he had only put on a t-shirt because he had opened the window wide for fresh air. His mum had given him that picture, probably thinking it’d been an innocent snapshot of Harry in the morning. No one knew that at the moment Louis had taken that picture, Harry had had his feet tangled with Louis’ and his lips were so swollen and pink from sucking Louis off.

Just the thought of it made Louis want to moan. He missed that physical connection to Harry so much. Craved it.

“Oh.” Zayn turned around to look at Harry. “Are all of them…?”

Harry nodded, glancing at Louis. His gaze held Louis’ for a moment, and a slight frown wrinkled his forehead. Louis felt it go straight to his gut, making him want to gag. He didn’t want Harry to say it.

“What’s with those pictures?” Niall asked, sounding curious.

Harry turned away from Louis, looking at Niall instead. “They’re from a time in my life that I don’t remember.”

“You don’t remember?”

“I’ve got amnesia.” Harry shrugged, as if he had no idea what he was talking about. Maybe he didn’t. “I had an accident and my head got pretty messed up. I forgot everything between eighteen and twenty-one.”

Louis couldn’t bear looking at Harry any longer. He lowered his gaze, staring at his hands in his lap.

“Wow.” Niall’s voice was lower than usual.

“I won’t ever remember those years.” Harry sighed quietly. “Nothing that happened, or what I did or who I met. So I’ve asked my family and friends for every single picture they had from that time.”

“You kinda keep the memories you lost,” Zayn said.

“Yeah.” Harry cleared his throat. “It sounds a lot more dramatic than it really is. I’ve learned to accept that I‘ve lost those years.”

Louis couldn’t help the dry laugh escaping his mouth. This was why he had left. To make it easier on Harry to come to terms with what had happened to him. But, God, did it hurt to hear Harry say it out loud. Louis hadn’t accepted shit.

“Louis?” Harry asked quietly, sounding confused.

“Sorry,” Louis choked out, forcing himself to look at Harry. He was beautiful, and all Louis wanted to do was straddle his lap and kiss him until Harry would open his eyes and finally see what he couldn’t see.

“You had that accident when you were twenty-one?” Niall asked. When Harry nodded, he went on, “And you forgot everything? What about the people you met? How did you handle that?”

Harry shrugged and it tore Louis apart to see him so casual about it. “It’s not like you see it in movies. I didn’t ask them Who are you when I saw them after the accident. I just got to meet them again.”

Zayn leaned forwards to look at Harry over Niall’s knees. “Was it really that easy? I mean… it can’t be, right?”

For a moment, Harry was quiet. “It wasn’t that easy, no. It got awkward with most people. I only really managed to stay in touch with one person from that time. Everyone else I never met again or only met once after the accident.”

“Do you wish you knew them?” Louis asked before he could think better of it. “Those people you didn’t meet again?”

“It’s not only on me.” Harry shrugged, glancing at one of his photos again. “If they didn’t reach out to me, that says a lot, too, doesn’t it?”

Louis’ heart raced in his chest. “What if they couldn’t handle it? If they just didn’t know how to approach you?”

Harry was quiet again, then he looked at Louis with piercing eyes. “Well, I can only hope that they knew me well enough to know that I would do anything to catch up on what I forgot. If they fought for it, I’d do, too.”

For a moment, Louis felt as though Harry knew. His heart threatened to beat out of his chest as he stared at Harry, trying to read his expression.

“As I said, though,” Harry added after a second, “it wasn’t dramatic or anything. I just met those people and they told me who they were and how we knew each other. It wasn’t easy, but apparently, we weren’t so close to begin with.”

“They should make a movie out of your life.” Niall rolled his bottle between his hands. “Add a lover, of course, to make it Hollywood worthy.”

Zayn rolled his eyes. “There’s a film like that already.”

Niall gasped. “There is?”

Laughing, Harry patted the space next to himself and looked at Louis. “Which reminds me. We’ve wanted to watch Notting Hill.”

Louis stared at the empty space there, right next to Harry and in the corner of Harry’s walls covered in photos of their past. There was one of the day they had gone to the Oasis concert, and one of a day that they had gone shopping for Louis’ first suit, and another one of Harry cooking in their old flat.

It choked Louis up.

“C’mon, Tommo,” Niall urged him on. “It’s starting.”

Louis forced himself to get up and swallowed thickly as he sat down next to Harry. He could smell Harry’s soap and aftershave from so close. It was different from how he had smelled back then. They had shared an aftershave; Louis’ type. They had shared soap and shampoo, too.

“Hey,” Harry whispered ad leaned closer. “Is it a problem for you?”

Louis blinked at him, not sure what Harry was on about. He had too many problems going on here right now. “What?” he whispered back.

Harry brought his lips a little closer to Louis’ ear. “Me. My amnesia. You look upset about it.”

Oh God, no. Louis didn’t want Harry to think that anything like that would ever be deal breaker for a relationship. Harry shouldn’t think and fear that any man would reject him because of that. Louis didn’t want to be the man to cause that anxiety.

“No,” Louis replied, lifting his gaze to find Harry’s. “Just upset that you had to go through that.”

Harry smiled slightly, his eyes crinkling a little. He didn’t reply, just leaned in a little closer, so their shoulders touched.

After a moment, they both turned back to the laptop, and Louis tried to calm down his pulse. If Harry had looked like that at him for a second longer, he’d have leaned in to kiss him. Every single fibre in his body screamed for it, was begging for Harry’s touch. He had to get a grip.

It didn’t help that while watching, Harry let his hand rest on his thigh and every so often, he ran his thumb over Louis’ hip or down his thigh. It drove Louis crazy when Harry lazily tapped his fingers against the rough fabric of Louis’ jeans. They were pressed together from shoulder to knee and Harry was shamelessly flirting.

Niall had fallen asleep, just like he had promised, and next to him, Zayn was sleeping, too. He had a pillow hugged to his chest and his lashes fanned out darkly over his cheeks. Niall didn’t look as graceful, which made Louis smile.

“They don’t know how to appreciate a good rom com,” Harry whispered, bringing his face close to Louis’ again.

Louis kept his eyes on Niall, trying to ignore how close Harry was. “They can’t see the true genius behind it.”

Harry hummed, and time stood still for a moment, because Louis knew what was coming, and yet, he shivered all the same when Harry leaned in even closer and nipped at his jaw. Louis sat like frozen, unable to move or even breathe.

Harry’s hand came to lay on his thigh, his fingertips grazing the inside of it while Harry tilted his head and started kissing down Louis’ neck slowly. He nipped and nibbled, lingering beneath Louis’ ear, before he darted out his tongue.

Louis’ breathing set back in and he let out an exhale, suppressing a moan. He had to stop this. He had to tell Harry to take his hand off his thigh, to stop caressing him like that, to stop kissing his neck like that.

Instead, Louis rolled his head to the side, exposing his neck for Harry.

Harry shifted slightly, using his free arm to sit up and lean over Louis. He got bolder, grazing is teeth over Louis’ skin, sucking lightly. His hand moved up Louis’ thigh, coming dangerously close to his groin.

He was lost. Louis knew he was lost and that he wouldn't be able to stop any of it. Not when his body was starving and Harry’s touch was the only thing that made him feel sated. Not when Harry’s touch was this good.

Louis turned his head and blinked open his eyes. Harry was right there, lips slightly parted, eyes already fixed on Louis’ face. He had that look again, and it almost made Louis smile. He looked like he was out to murder, an intense stare with furrowed brows and piercing eyes. Louis knew that it was Harry’s expression of concentrating on one thing only. When there was only one single thing in his vision.

When he wanted Louis.

He leaned in and Harry closed his eyes, slightly tilting his head to meet Louis’ lips.

A loud noise startled them apart, made Louis bump his shoulder on the wall. Across the room, Harry’s mobile rang loudly, playing an old Justin Timberlake song.

“I--” Harry started.

“You should get that.” Louis pulled his hand away from where he had put it on Harry’s arm.

Harry looked torn for a moment. When he took his hand from Louis’ thigh, the spot felt cold. He licked his lips and got up from the bed.

Zayn and Niall had startled awake, too; both of them oblivious to what had just happened. Niall watched the film, probably trying to catch up on what he’d missed and Zayn watched Harry pick up the phone.

“Hey, Liam.”

Of course it was Liam. Louis suppressed a dry laugh. If anyone would interrupt a moment like that with Harry, it was Liam. That man had the best timing. It was like he had some kind of sixth sense for this sort of thing.

It was probably better this way. Louis had just been about to snog with harry like a mad teenager when there’d been two other people in the room. That wasn’t very mature, as well as a bit too desperate.

It also made him aware of just how serious the situation really was. His mind was weak, and Harry’s touch too persuasive. Louis didn’t stand a chance, and wouldn’t stand a chance in the future.

If he met Harry again, he was going to make a big mistake, and Louis knew that he couldn’t afford a mistake like that. Not after everyone had told him to stay away from Harry. Not after he had managed to stay away from Harry for this long.

On the screen, Julia Roberts confessed her love to Hugh Grant and Louis hated how all he could think about was Harry knowing those words by heart, citing them to Louis at the most random moments.

“Why do you wanna talk to him?” Harry asked, turning around with the mobile on his ear. “I feel like you’ll say something I won’t like.” For a moment, he was quiet. “Okay. Yeah. All right.”

Harry came over and Niall and Zayn looked confused when he handed his mobile to Louis.

“It’s Liam. He says he wants to talk to you for a second.”

Louis looked at the mobile, trying to come up with a reasonable excuse not to take it. He knew he wouldn’t get out of this, though. Taking the mobile, he sighed. “Hi, Liam.”

“What the fuck?” Liam hissed. “Get the fuck out of there.”

“It’s nice to hear from you, too,” Louis replied dryly.

“Lou, you’re stirring up serious shit.” Liam didn’t lose the affronted tone. “You made a decision, remember.”

Louis looked at Zayn and Niall who were both watching him curiously. Harry pretended he didn’t listen as he cleaned the kitchen, but Louis knew that he was focused on every word. “Yeah, I’ll think of it.”

“Is he still in the room?”

“The flat’s nice,” Louis replied to keep it innocent and not let anything on. “A one room flat with a small kitchenette.”

Across the room, Harry rolled his eyes.

“Listen. If Anne gets wind of this, she’ll make a fuss.” Liam was quiet for a moment. “You know how she gets. She’s scared he could develop some kind of mental breakdown.”

“I mean…” Louis looked up to meet Harry’s gaze. “He’s been handling it well, hasn’t he?”

Harry’s expression changed. He dropped the cutlery into the sink and came over, a tea towel in his hands. Without a warning, he took the mobile from Louis. “Stop meddling, Liam. I know what I’m doing and I don’t need your approval.”

He hung up and threw the mobile next to Louis onto the bed, glaring at it. Louis hadn’t often seen Harry angry. Upset, but not truly angry. Apparently, Harry was a little more short-tempered than he’d been before the accident.

“I’m sorry,” he said, clearing his throat.

“Who’s Liam?” Zayn asked.

“My best friend from home.” Harry got back to his dishes.

“And my mate from uni,” Louis added as Zayn frowned at him. “He’s just worried for Harry being here all by himself.”

Harry shook his head. “They’ve all been a bit overprotective since that accident. They were against me moving here. My mum’s always worried.”

Zayn nodded. “You mentioned that before.”

“Kinda understandable,” Niall said. He shrugged a little. “I mean, it’s weird for them as well, isn’t it?”

Harry was quiet for a moment. “I guess.”

“They’re probably scared of you suddenly remembering things they didn’t tell you about.”

Louis knew Niall was joking, but that one really drove it home. It was what had all of them on the edge because Harry wouldn’t ever forgive them for not telling him about Louis. Anne was most likely gonna freak out when she’d find out about Louis being back in Harry’s life.

What was Louis’ greatest hope was Anne’s greatest fear.

“My mum wouldn’t keep anything from me.” Harry rolled his eyes.

Zayn raised a finger. “Wouldn’t she keep from you that you were a convicted criminal to prevent you from doing it again?”

Laughing, Harry dried his hands off and came back to sit between Niall and Louis. Louis’ skin prickled with goosebumps when their arms touched. “If I’d been convicted, I’d probably have heard about it.”

“But what if you’d been married?” Niall raised a brow, tilting his head slightly. “And your mum’s always hated her anyway, so she’s keeping you from the girl now.”

Harry barked out a laugh and Louis’ heart sank. It was a little too close to the truth. “First of all, if I ever marry someone, it’ll be someone my mum loves, too. Secondly, if I ever marry someone, it won’t be a woman. And also,” Harry added as he shifted a little closer to Louis. It was probably unconsciously. “If there had been a spouse, he’d not just have left. That’s completely unrealistic.”

Louis stared at Harry’s profile, letting those words sink in. His voice was raspy when he used it. “Why?”

Harry turned to him and he looked unaffected, even a little amused. “Well, you don’t just give up the person you love, do you?”

“As if it’d been that easy,” Louis said, frowning.

“You’ve got some experience with that?” Zayn asked.

Blinking, Louis focused on him. He realised where he was and what he’d just said. “Um, no. I mean. In general.” Clearing his throat, he looked everywhere but at Harry. “Life’s not a Hollywood film. It’s not always just about love.”

“You don’t truly love someone if you give up when it gets hard, though, do you?” Harry was talking quietly. It sounded as though he hadn’t thought about it for the first time today.

For a moment, there was silence before Niall broke it. “Now the film’s over, and I haven’t really watched half of it.”

“We’ll watch it again,” Harry promised.

“I should be on my way, anyway.” Zayn got up from the bed, stretching a little. “See you tomorrow, Harry?”

“I’ll start at five. You?”

“Six,” Zayn replied, putting on his coat.

Louis was still not over the conversation. The words Harry had said were bouncing off the walls of his skull over and over again, running through his head in double speed. It had never before occurred to him that Harry had even thought about the people he had been with during those three years. Of course he had a clear position, and he had made it clear today.

If he’d ever found out about Louis, Harry wouldn’t forgive him. Harry wouldn’t understand why Louis had left, or that he had truly loved Harry.

“I’ll probably just sleep here.” Niall sprawled out on Harry’s bed as Louis had got up, too.

“Your way home is the shortest,” Louis muttered. His knees felt a little wobbly.

Niall just grinned and snuggled deeper into Harry’s pillow. He exaggerated it a little when he sighed contently. Glaring at him, Louis put on his shoes.

“I’ll send him home in a minute,” Harry said, touching Louis’ shoulder.

“I don’t really care.” Louis pulled away and put on his coat. He couldn’t even look at Harry right now.

Zayn snorted. “Sure you don’t.”

Louis glared at him, too, because that was the only reaction he was capable of, apparently.

“Hey, Louis,” Harry said as they left the flat. “Wait a second.”

Zayn went ahead and Louis wanted to tell him to stay, just so he wouldn’t have to be alone with Harry. He turned around and looked at his shoes, waiting for what Harry had to say.

Gently, Harry touched his elbow, before his fingers slid down to Louis’ hand. “I’d like to continue where we’ve left off.”

“It shouldn’t even have come that far,” Louis said, his hand limp in Harry’s.

Harry was quiet for a moment. “It wasn’t my imagination, was it?”

“No.” Louis glanced up at Harry’s face. He couldn’t bear that look on his face. “Doesn’t change that I shouldn’t have let it happen.”

“Why?” Harry ran his thumb over the back of Louis’ hand.

“I think we’ve heard enough stories from the past for tonight.” Pulling his hand away, Louis took a step back. “It’s just not a good idea, okay?”

Harry shook his head. “It’s not okay.”

“Louis?” Zayn yelled from downstairs. “Are you coming? Or are you staying with Harry tonight?”

“Coming,” Louis yelled back.

“If you wanted to stay, you could, you know,” Harry offered.

“That’s an even worse idea.” Louis laughed dryly.

“Why?” Harry came closer again and he radiated a familiar warmth. “Because you’d kiss me?”

Louis lifted his gaze, staring at Harry’s face.

“Because you couldn’t keep your hands to yourself?” Harry went on. “Because you’d let me in on what it is that makes you pull away every time you really want to come closer?”

He had known when Harry had made that move on him in Louis’ kitchen, but this really drove the message home. Harry had become a lot bolder, a lot more forward. Louis had no idea how to handle that. The only thing it did to him was make him hot.

Harry was hot like this.

“I--” Louis swallowed thickly, eyes still glued to Harry’s. He had to force himself to step back and keep his cool. “Don’t overestimate yourself, Speed Racer.”

Harry just smiled, looking quite sure of himself. “You better start to catch up, Louis.”

Before he could let Harry lure him in again, Louis turned around and walked down the stairs. He forced himself to not turn and look over his shoulder to find Harry staring after him. He knew that he’d turn around and take Harry up on every offer he’d made so far.

Downstairs, Zayn was waiting with a cigarette lit. He raised a brow at Louis and they started walking in silence. Louis got out his own cigarettes and lit one.

“You quite like him, don’t you?” Zayn asked after a while.

“Well.” Louis thought his answer over. “So do you, or else you wouldn’t be friends.”

Zayn hummed. “Fair enough.”

They were quiet again. The rain had stopped a while ago, but the air was humid and cold. Louis pulled his coat a little closer around himself.

“Fleetwood Mac tickets, though,” Zayn said suddenly. “For a sold-out concert. That’s quite the gift for someone you’ve only known for a bit.”

Louis shrugged.

“Just saying, mate.” Zayn flipped his cigarette to the ground. “That’s not how to convince him you’re not interested.”

Of course, Zayn was right. Louis knew that, but he had also wanted to make Harry smile. He had known that Harry wanted to go. Especially since they’d never managed to go before. Tickets had always been either too rare or too expensive. As it was now, a ticket had been expensive, too, but Louis was in a place where he could afford buying expensive tickets for a sold-out concert. He knew the right people to get them in.

When he had found the right words to justify his action, Zayn stopped.

“I gotta go this way.” Zayn pointed at the street behind them. “See you around.”

Louis opened his mouth, then closed it. He didn’t have to justify anything. Zayn had seen through him already. “Yeah, see you.”

They parted ways and Louis got a taxi at the next bus stop. He didn’t feel like taking the tube tonight.

+++

“Lou,” Jay said, sighing for the fifth time in two minutes. “Don’t be so impossible.”

“I’m not being impossible.” Louis kept his gaze on his hands. “I’m being rational.”

Liam sighed, as well. “If you were rational, you’d stop being so stubborn about this.”

Tired of the discussion, Louis ran a hand over his face. “You’ve heard what the doctor said.”

“They aren’t sure.” Jay touched the cast around Louis’ leg. “It’s just a possibility.”

It was a possibility Louis didn’t want to consider for even a minute. The doctor had sat down for a long talk with them this morning. He had actually wanted to to talk about it with Anne and Gemma, but because of Louis’ inability to move, they had decided to have the talk in his room.

The doctors had run several tests on Harry to find out what was wrong during the past five weeks. What they had found out was that they didn’t have a clue what was actually wrong with him. They had explained to them that every case of amnesia was individual and that the human brain wasn’t explored and researched enough to understand. Superficially, Harry’s brain functions were completely normal.

That was the reason they had only little hope to be able to predict anything. There was no guarantee that Harry would get his memories back, or that he wouldn't. All they could say was that the whole situation left an incredibly stressful strain on Harry’s psyche and mind. It was likely that being put under pressure to remember certain events or people, Harry would break down and suffer severe mental damage.

“I’m not gonna risk that,” Louis said. “If it’s easier for him to deal with the whole situation, I’ll stay away.”

“You’re an essential part of his life, Louis,” Liam reminded him. “It’s not fair to keep that from him.”

“He doesn’t know, does he?” Louis hated how bitter he sounded when he said it. Harry was not to blame; for none of it. “He can’t miss what he doesn’t remember.”

“What if he remembers tomorrow?” Liam seemed determined to convince Louis. “Put yourself in his shoes. Wouldn’t you be mad at him for not being by your side?”

“It’s not like I had a choice.” Louis dared look up at Liam. He looked much calmer than he sounded. “I can’t just stand up and go downstairs to see him.”

“The doctor’s said they could make it it possible.” Jay patted the cast over Louis’ shin. “I know that you wanna see him.”

Louis did. What he dreaded, though, was the look on Harry’s face -- he’d look at Louis like he was a stranger, and Louis was sure he wouldn’t be able to take that. He wasn’t sure if afterwards, it would be him having a mental breakdown.

The scenes from the accident were still fresh on his mind. Louis hadn’t even recovered from those yet, so he wasn’t sure he could take another emotional strain on top of that. It’d break him apart, and without Harry there to pick him up, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to piece himself together again.

“It’s too much of a risk,” he decided, shaking his head. “I don’t want to put more pressure on him than he already has to endure.”

Liam stepped closer to his bed. “Lou…”

“No.” Louis shook his head again. “I don’t wanna be the reason he breaks down. As it is now, he won’t remember me, and he will feel miserable for it. I don’t wanna do that to him.”

“You don’t know--” Jay started, but Louis cut her short.

“I do know. I know him better than anyone else, mum.” Louis looked at her, locking their gazes together to make sure she saw how serious he was. “He’d feel bad, and he’d start to force himself to remember. It wouldn’t be good for him.”

For a second, Jay was quiet. “It’s your decision.”

Louis nodded. “It is. I’ll stay away.”

“How will you do that once you are both discharged from hospital?” Liam wanted to know.

“We’ll see.” Louis swallowed thickly, a lump blocking his throat. “We’ll see once we get there.”

+++

Harry took a deep breath before he rang the bell. Getting past the security of the building had been easier than he had thought. The hard part was going to come now.

The door opened and Louis came into sight, wearing a faded grey t-shirt and jogging bottoms. His feet were bare. He looked tired, even as his eyes widened in shock.

“Harry!” he yelped, giving him a onceover. “What are you doing here?”

“Hi, Louis.” Harry held out the flowers he had brought. “I’m here to pick you up.”

Louis frowned. “Did we…” When he realised, he raised a brow. “The concert.”

“Please don’t say no.” Harry bit his lip. He had no idea why Louis was making him so nervous, but the thought of being turned down sat deep within his bones.

“Harry…” Louis ran a hand over his face as he lowered his head a little. He still held the door handle with his other hand. “You should take someone else.”

Harry thought that he had to look a little ridiculous with the flowers still held out to Louis. He pulled them back to his chest. “It’s my birthday gift and I get to decide who I wanna take.”

Louis looked up at him, and it seemed that he took pity on Harry. He stepped aside and gestured for Harry to come into his flat. “Come in.”

Harry did as he was told, feeling a little lost as Louis closed the door and went ahead into the kitchen. He wasn’t sure if he should follow.

“You’re actually lucky I’m home tonight.” Louis looked over his shoulder. “I could still have been at work.”

“You’re not, though.” Harry followed him and watched on as Louis opened one of the cupboards. “It’s a sign. Fate wants you to go to the concert with me.”

“Fate…” Louis laughed dryly and filled a vase with water. “Guess I don’t have a choice, do I?”

Harry tried to keep in the grin that threatened to spread on his face. “I guess.”

Putting the vase down on the counter in front of Harry, Louis met his eye. “Do the flowers mean this is a date?”

“It definitely is a date.” Harry put them into the vase.

For a moment, they simply stared at each other over the counter, the bouquet of spring flowers between them. Harry didn’t even dare blink as Louis mustered him. He looked so serious, like he often did when he looked at Harry.

“I’ll decide if it is,” Louis said then, unblinking as well. “At the end of the night.”

Harry nodded. “It’ll be the best date of your life.”

Louis laughed, a sudden cut in the tense air between them. He nodded with a foolish smile on his lips. “I’m gonna go change.”

“You’ve got ten minutes.” Harry watched him walk out of the kitchen, eyes landing on Louis’ bum.

“Stop staring at my bum,” Louis said without turning. “You don’t do that on a first date.”

Harry frowned, wondering how exactly Louis had known. “I wasn’t.”

Louis disappeared into his bedroom, and Harry went over to the sitting room to wait there. His eyes fell onto the portrait of Louis’ mother again and he couldn’t help the shiver running down his back. He had felt like that the first time he had seen it, too. There was something familiar about her face and smile. It was like she was smiling at him directly, laughing about something he had said.

Sitting down, Harry tore his gaze away and focused on some files that were lying on the table. They had different numbers at the front, and each had a seal of the law firm Louis worked at. Harry suspected they were confidential, so he left them closed, even though his curiosity killed him to open them and find out what they were about.

On the chest of drawers next to the sofa were pictures and Harry got up to look at them. They showed little girls playing together, as well as one of Louis as a kid with a blond girl in his lap. There was a more recent one of Louis with two toddlers by his side on a sofa. They were cute, both all over him with lollipops in their hands and beaming at the camera.

When he looked up again, Louis stood in the doorframe, hands in the pockets of his jeans. He wore a wide t-shirt that made him look dainty and his feet were still bare.

“Whose kids are they?” Harry asked.

Louis’s eyes roamed over Harry’s face. “My siblings.”

Harry blinked, looking at the pictures again and then at Louis. “All of them?”

“All of them.” Louis smiled slightly. “We’re seven. I’m the oldest.”

“Are they all back in Doncaster?”

Louis nodded. “I visit whenever I can.”

Harry straightened. He had another look at the photos, then approached Louis. “Are we good to go?”

“Just need my shoes.” Louis turned and went ahead to the front door.

“You look nice.” Harry smiled as Louis put on his Vans without bothering for socks. He didn’t comment on it.

Louis couldn’t hide the blush creeping up his cheeks. “Thanks.”

“Picking you up from home, bringing you flowers, complimenting your looks…” Harry helped Louis into his jeans jacket that was lined with fur. “Does it feel like a date yet?”

Laughing, Louis shook his head as he opened the door and waited for Harry to go ahead. “It’s not that easy, Speed Racer.”

“I can step up my game.” Harry waited until Louis had locked the door. “You’ll be blown away.”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” Louis reminded him. He smirked a little as he went past Harry.

They got on the tube a few streets from Louis’ flat and Harry made sure to sit close to Louis when they got on one of the trains.

“I’m not gonna run off, you know,” Louis commented.

“I just don’t want other people to get the wrong idea.” Harry put a hand over Louis’ thigh.

Watching his hand, Louis raised a brow. “That we’re on a date?”

“That we’re just friends,” Harry corrected.

Louis laughed and turned his body to Harry. “And that would be bad why?”

Harry frowned at the question, but liked how Louis hadn’t pushed his hand away yet. “I wouldn’t want anyone else to hit on you.”

“Love, contrary to your beliefs, I’m not walking this world being hit on by every person crossing my way.” Louis grinned fondly and shook his head.

“That’s a crime,” Harry said. He leaned in a little closer.

Louis’ grin faded into a soft smile as he kept his eyes on Harry’s. “Your cloddy flirting is a crime.”

“You like it.” Harry wished he didn’t sound so surprised. “You like being courted.”

“Who are you? Jane Austen?” Louis rolled his eyes and drew away. The way he blushed told Harry that he was right, though.

They made it to the venue just in time. Harry showed the tickets at the entrance and then Louis guided Harry to the stairs that led to the balcony. He kept his hand on the small of Harry’s back, his fingers gently grazing over the knobs of Harry’s spine under his thin shirt.

Harry had spent ages deciding on an outfit to wear. He didn’t even know himself to be like that. He usually wore what he liked, not giving other people’s opinions a lot of thought. With Louis, he was desperate to impress, though. He had chosen tight jeans and a sheer, grey shirt in the end. The shirt was unbuttoned to his navel.

So far, Louis hadn’t even so much as glanced at it.

“I can’t believe you got me VIP tickets, by the way,” Harry said as they made it to the box. “How did you get a hold of those?”

“I know a few people.” Louis took off his jacket and his eyes lingered on Harry’s chest for a moment when Harry did the same. “And those were the only ones still available, to be honest.”

Harry hummed as he looked around the arena. “Quite the gift to get for someone who’s just a friend.”

“I had a feeling you like hipster music.”

Sitting down on one of the five seats in the box, Harry crossed his legs. “You’re not a fan?”

For a moment, Louis hesitated, then he sat down next to Harry. “They have a nostalgic value for me.”

“How?” Harry tilted his head, curious for what Louis meant.

“Their music reminds me of someone.” Louis shrugged, as if what he said wasn’t important.

There he was again - the mysterious ex-boyfriend that Harry had to compete with. Whatever had happened between him and Louis had left Louis vulnerable and broken. He had said he was still in love with the guy, and Harry had to admit the thought was scary. He had no idea what it felt like to love someone so intensely, and with so much passion that he couldn’t get over them, even after so many years.

He had promised Louis not to talk about that ex-boyfriend on their dates, though. This was about them, and Harry would make sure that Louis had a new memory to connect to Fleetwood Mac. One that didn’t make him sad.

The lights went out and they remained seated for the opening act. They introduced themselves as a young band from California and played a few original songs as well as covers. Harry ordered beer when a waiter came into their box and Louis ordered water.

“Long day tomorrow,” Louis commented when Harry raised a brow.

When the opening act left the stage again, Harry turned back to Louis in his seat. “Be honest.”

Louis looked a little caught, as if he was expecting the worst.

Harry smiled to soothe him. “Did you buy all five tickets, so we could be alone?”

With a quiet laugh, Louis shook his head, looking relieved. “If I had bought all five tickets, I’d have brought Niall along.”

“In that case, fate is meddling again,” Harry decided and cheered to Louis. He took it as a win when Louis shook his head and smiled fondly.

The lights were dimmed again and this time they got up from their chairs to stand at the railing of the box. The band opened with The Chain and Harry put a hand over his heart, looking at Louis.

“Thank you,” he mouthed and Louis’ answering smile said everything. He looked pleased.

Within minutes, the temperature in the building rose, and Harry already regretted his outfit choice. He couldn’t dance like this. While only thinking about how to impress Louis, he had forgotten that he’d look like a moron moving in those jeans.

“I love this one,” Harry gasped when they started playing Rhiannon .

“Is there even one song that you don’t love?” Louis asked, leaning closer. “I have a feeling you love all of them.”

Harry grinned at him and shrugged. “They’re my favourite band.”

It only took him a bit of convincing to get Louis to dance, too. To Go Your Own Way , he had Louis bounce along to the rhythm and Harry couldn’t keep his eyes off him. Louis was even prettier when he let loose like that and Harry wanted to get his hands on him and feel that laugh on his own lips.

After a few more songs, the band started a set of quiet songs. Harry forgot everything around him when they performed Landslide , until Louis quietly sang along next to him. He turned his head and found Louis staring at the stage, singing along to the song.

“You like that one?” Harry asked.

Louis nodded. “Who doesn’t? It’s probably one of their most popular songs.”

“Which one’s your favourite, then?” Harry wanted to know.

“They don’t often play that one live.” Louis shrugged it off.

Frowning, Harry stepped closer. “Tell me.”

Crystal, ” Louis replied, glancing at Harry briefly. “My favourite is Crystal .”

That piece of information was a little underwhelming. Of course Harry knew the song. It just wasn’t one of the songs that he had paid much attention to before. It had never stuck with him before.

Songbird was next and Harry leaned close enough to Louis that their shoulders touched. “It’s the most romantic song.”

It took Louis a moment to reply. “ Crystal is more romantic.”

“You’re pretty serious about that one, aren’t you?” Harry smiled to himself and turned back to look at the stage. They both started singing along this time, and Harry liked how the sound of their voices mixed together.

He was about to comment on it when the next song started. It took his breath away for a moment, and he noticed Louis reacting with a gasp, too. He stood like frozen next to Harry, eyes unmoving, hands clutching the railing.

Harry only hesitated for a second. He put his arms around Louis from behind and gently swayed him along to the music. “You can’t deny that this is fate,” he gently said as he brought his lips close to Louis’ ear.

For a moment, Louis was stiff in his arms. Then, he closed his eyes and leaned back against Harry. It was the first time Harry had torn down that wall enough for Louis to give in to what he wanted. Harry could feel how Louis’s body molded against his, perfectly fitting against Harry. Louis’ hands came up to grip Harry’s arms and they swayed together, letting the melody dictate their bodies’ moves.

After a few moments, Louis laced his fingers with Harry’s, and Harry wasn’t sure if Louis had even noticed what he was doing. He watched Louis’ profile, smiling when Louis absentmindedly brought their laced fingers up to his mouth to press a gentle kiss to them.

He had suspected that Louis was a romantic, but having him react like that to a love song made it more than clear. Louis was much more romantic than he let on. It made him even lovelier in Harry’s eyes.

The song ended, and Harry leaned his head forwards, pressing a gentle kiss right beneath Louis’ ear. He could feel Louis inhale deeply, his back expanding against Harry’s chest.

“Is it a date yet?” Harry whispered when the next song started playing.

Louis didn’t reply, just nuzzled closer into Harry’s embrace. They stayed exactly the same for the rest of the concert.

+++

Harry insisted on taking him home.

After tonight‘s events, Louis was sure that is wasn‘t a good idea, but he couldn’t deny that he didn’t want to part ways yet, either. Harry had been sweet and sexy and incredibly lovely tonight.

When they had started playing Crystal , Louis had lost every bit of defence, and he had to admit that he hadn’t even cared. All he had wanted was to to be held by Harry while their song had been playing. If only Harry had known that it was their song, too.

It’d been nice to pretend for a few minutes.

“That was the best concert I’ve ever been to,” Harry said as they walked along the pavement to the next tube station.

Louis smiled at him. “I’m glad you liked it.”

“Thanks again.” Harry let his hand brush against Louis’. “For making it possible.”

The way Harry looked at him made Louis’ breath catch in his throat. “Anytime,” he managed to say, voice raspy.

“I think it was so special because you were there with me.” Harry stopped and looked at Louis, reaching out for his wrist.

Swallowing thickly, Louis licked his lips. “I know exactly what you’re up to, Speed Racer.”

Harry grinned weakly. “I had hoped you’d finally catch up.”

There was no way around it. Every fibre in Louis screamed at him to lean in and give Harry what he wanted. Take what he wanted. He wouldn’t be able to turn around this time, not after Harry had held him like that; not after everything he’d ever wanted was right in front of Louis and his to take.

Harry leaned in, thumb gently stroking over Louis’ pulse point.

At that moment, lights hit them and Louis turned around and raised a hand when the taxi passed them. The driver stopped and Louis opened the passenger door, telling him to wait a minute. When he turned back around, Harry had a pout on his lips, looking clearly disappointed in the turn of events.

“I can’t let you take me home,” Louis said, feeling a little out of breath. His heart was beating high in his throat.

“But---” Harry started.

“I wouldn’t like knowing you have to travel all the way back to your place by yourself.” Louis shook his head. “You’ll take a taxi.”

Harry sighed, apparently giving up on fighting Louis. “I can take the tube.”

“I can’t let you take me home, Harry,” Louis repeated. He stepped a little closer and when Harry frowned, he managed a weak smile. “I wouldn’t be able to let you go again.”

With that, Louis leaned in and sealed Harry’s lips with his. Harry gasped in surprise, then his hands came to rest over Louis’ waist, pulling him closer. He tilted his head and opened his lips, granting Louis’ probing tongue access.

He still kissed the same. Louis felt the shiver run through his body when he realised that Harry still kissed the same way he had when he’d been eighteen and they had kissed for the first time. His kisses had changed, had got a lot more bolder and finessed within the years of practice with Louis.

Getting on his toes, Louis wound his arms around Harry’s neck, running one hand into his hair. It was too short for Louis to wind it around his fingers as he usually had, but Harry still reacted the same. He moaned quietly, his hand wandering lower to rest over the swell of Louis’ bum.

The kiss spun out to little licks and nips and then Harry rested his forehead against Louis’. When Louis blinked his eyes open, Harry was already staring at him. His lips were swollen and a delicious shade of pink. Louis licked his own, shuddering at the realisation that he had kissed Harry for the first time in over five years and that, despite everything, nothing had changed between them.

“Let me take you home,” Harry whispered.

Louis inhaled a shuddering breath. “Not tonight, baby.” The endearment slipped out of his mouth before Louis could even think about it.

Harry whined quietly and closed his eyes before he nipped on Louis’ lips again. Louis came easily, meeting his mouth halfway. Neither of them closed his eyes, and Louis felt it go straight to his gut, the way Harry stared at him.

“Get in the taxi.” Louis turned and opened the door again without letting go of Harry. His hand was firm on Harry’s nape. “Text me when you’re home.”

Harry used his hand on the small of Louis’ back to pull him against his body again. “What’s the verdict?”

Louis looked at him, frowning slightly. “Verdict?”

“Was this a date?” Harry asked, thumb pressing against Louis’ spine.

Louis licked his lips, nodding. He was unable to take his eyes off Harry’s.

Harry’s smile was brilliant. “Let me take you on another one.”

A laugh bubbled out of Louis’ chest and he finally took a step back. He took out his wallet and handed some money to the driver. “It’s my turn to take you on a date next,” he said when he turned back around to Harry.

“I’d like that.” Harry had one foot in the car already when he reached out for Louis again.

Louis let himself be lured in easily, meeting Harry’s lips in one more chaste kiss. Harry’s mouth was warm over his, his hand gentle on Louis’ cheek.

“Good night, Lou,” he said against Louis’ lips.

“Good night,” Louis replied, finally drawing away.

He watched Harry get in the car and close the door. He talked to the driver briefly and then the car took off. Louis stared after it until he couldn’t see it anymore.

He knew he was making a mistake, of course he did. But he had also known he’d end up right here when Harry had shown up in Niall’s flat a month ago. There hadn’t been a way around it, even if Louis had tried to make himself believe there had been.

Sighing, Louis turned and made his way to the tube station. He needed a bit of time to clear his head. His lips still tingled, his skin still shivered with the reminder of Harry’s skin on his, and his heart still threatened to burst from excitement. For tonight, he decided to ignore the alarm sirens in his head and focus on his heart. It had truly been a magical night.

Maybe Harry had been right, and fate had a hand in this.

===

Chapter Text

“You’re making great progress,” Dr Bennett commented as Louis hopped down the aisle on one leg.

He’d been hospitalised for over two months now, and tomorrow, he was supposed to be discharged. Dr Bennett was making some last tests before giving his OK. Louis’ left leg hurt, but he could cover short distances with the crutches. His arm muscles had grown immensely over the past weeks.

“Is your flat barrier free?” the doctor asked as Louis sat down on a bench.

“I’m staying with my mum for the time being.” Louis thought of the flat he had shared with Harry. He’d have to convince Liam to help him move all of his things out of it before Harry was discharged.

Dr Bennett sat down next to him. “How about your flat?”

Louis knew what he was really asking. “I’m not gonna return to that one. I’ve looked up law programs at several London universities. I’ll try to get into one of those to finish my degree.”

“So you wanna go through with that?” Dr Bennett hummed. “You won’t even try?”

Louis lifted his gaze to the doctor’s. “Do you think there’s even a slight possibility for him to remember when he sees me?”

Dr Bennett shrugged, but his expression said it all. “We can’t predict anything---”

“Be honest with me,” Louis demanded. “I can take it.”

For a moment, the doctor was quiet. “I think,” he started slowly, keeping his eyes on Louis’ face, “he won’t remember. He hasn’t shown any signs of recovery yet. Also…”

Louis held his gaze, urging him on. “Also?”

“It’s been two months, Louis.” Dr Bennett shrugged. “If you’d have wanted to tell him, you should have done it in the first few days. It’d only cause more harm now.”

Those words twisted Louis’ heart. He hadn’t been sure it’d been beating properly since the accident, but now he was sure that it wasn’t. It was only keeping him alive - everything else was gone.

“Is he getting better?” Louis asked, voice just above a whisper.

Dr Bennett put a hand on Louis’ arm. “He’s making good progress. He’s a little impatient with the physical part, but he’s very good on the mental one. The psychological treatment has shown good effects.”

Louis nodded, swallowing around the lump in his throat. “So he’ll be okay?”

“He’s gonna recover completely.” Dr Bennett seemed to realise that his choice of words wasn’t the best as he tilted his head slightly. “Except for those memories. It seems highly unlikely they’ll come back.”

It wasn’t the first time he’d been told this. It wasn’t the first time that Louis had realised what exactly that meant. It was the first time, however, it really sunk in and felt real. Harry wouldn’t remember him. There was nothing he could do to change that, and it drenched out every single little rest of life that had been left in Louis’ heart. It wasn’t beating for love like it had before.

Not in the same way, at least.

“I’m doing the right thing,” Louis said. He didn’t phrase it as a question, but he really wanted someone to tell him what to do. He needed someone to confirm that the path he had chosen was the only one possible.

“I think you are,” Dr Bennett said, leaning back against the wall. “And you’re handling it really well, Louis.”

If only he knew. Louis stared at the scar on his elbow, still fresh after the cast had been taken off only a few weeks ago. Everything was still fresh, still showing just how badly the accident had beaten him up.

It would show for the rest of his life.

+++

That night, Louis couldn’t sleep.

He lay in his bed, staring at the ceiling and wondering where his life was gonna go from here. Tomorrow, his mum and Lottie would pick him up and take him home. He’d need at least another two months to recover completely before he’d get to pick up his studies and finish his degree.

In London, he’d be even farther away from Harry.

He knew that it was the idea behind moving there, but just the thought made him want to die. He didn’t want to be away from Harry. Even if it was the responsible thing to do, and even if he knew that it was best for Harry. Louis didn’t want to be without him.

He inhaled deeply, realising that he had no idea if Harry was okay. It didn’t matter how many people had told him that Harry was recovering -- Louis hadn’t seen it himself. The last image of Harry in his head was the one in the car. The last image of Harry in his memory was one of him unconscious and drenched in blood.

Louis’ stomach turned and he sat up, eyes wide.

What if Harry wasn’t okay? What if everyone had lied to him?

His heart stuttered in his chest and Louis struggled to get out of the bed. He grabbed the crutches and needed a moment to balance himself, then he slowly made his way to the door. The corridor was dark, and the only room with a light on was the nurses’ room. He quietly made his way to the door on the other side of the floor, leaving the station to get to the lifts.

One glance would be enough. He couldn’t live the rest of his life wondering if Harry really had survived. Louis needed to see him with his own eyes; at least once. He wanted his last image of Harry to be one of him being okay.

If he couldn’t have one of Harry looking at him with that stare of his, or him murmuring I love you ’s into Louis’ lips, then at least it should be one of Harry being okay.

When he reached Harry’s room, Louis felt exhausted. His left leg hurt and his arm muscles were straining, and his chest tightened with fear. He shouldn’t be here. He had promised himself not to do this.

Torn between his desire to see Harry and his fear of what he was actually going to see, he quietly pushed the door open. There was a light on in the room. It threw shadows over Harry’s face. He looked thinner than Louis remembered, his cheeks hollowed a little. His hair was shaved off, but already growing back out. He didn’t look like Louis’ Harry.

Looking up from a book, Harry noticed Louis in the doorway. His eyes settled on Louis’ body and he tilted his head slightly, then a smile appeared on his lips.

A heavy weight dropped off Louis’ chest when he saw that smile. He smiled back tentatively. It was his Harry after all. He was smiling at Louis, gently and kind -- the way Harry had always smiled at him.

“Can I help you?” Harry asked, voice a little hushed. “Are you looking for someone?”

Louis’ heart sank and the smile on his face died.

A frown appeared on Harry’s face. Louis wanted to soothe it out with his thumb. Kiss the crease between Harry’s eyebrows until it was smooth and he smiled again. “Do you need a nurse?”

“I’m-- I’m sorry,” Louis choked out. “Wrong room.”

He glanced at Harry’s confused face once more before he turned around and let the door fall closed. His leg was shaking and Louis wished he could just sink to the ground right there.

He had known how it would go. He had known that it’d happen exactly like this. Harry didn’t know who he was, and he never would again. He had lost all his memories of Louis and what they had built together.

With a last bit of strength Louis managed to get back to his room and collapse onto his bed. He buried his face in the pillow, hands clutching the fabric tightly. For the first time since he had decided to to stay away from Harry, he allowed himself to cry. His tears spilled over before he could even think about it.

This was it. Reality had finally caught up with him.

He’d have to live the rest of his life without Harry in it.

+++

Louis ran his thumb over his bottom lip, staring outside the window. It wasn’t raining for the first time in weeks, the sun feeling warm on his skin. Spring was just around the corner now and that was exactly like Louis felt, too.

For the first time in five years, Louis felt something close to happiness. Harry was back in his life, and despite everything he was falling for Louis a second time. What were the odds? How likely was it for Harry to find Louis and fall for him again?

Louis was lucky; the luckiest man on earth.

He jumped slightly when his mobile rang. Turning around with his chair, he picked it up from his desk. Upon seeing Liam’s number, he felt a stroke of guilt. He hesitated for a second, then declined the call.

It was the fourth time Liam had called today. He’d been trying since early morning. What had woken Louis up today hadn’t been his alarm but a call from Liam.

Of course, Louis knew exactly why Liam was calling. And Louis didn’t want to talk about it.

He checked his watch, realising that he had only a few more minutes until his next meeting. His office phone rang and Louis picked it up immediately.

“Thanks, Cecilia. I’m ready for my meeting.” He got up from his chair, closing the button of his suit jacket.

“Mr Tomlinson,” she said, sounding unsure. “There’s a Mr Payne on line two who insists on talking to you. He’s been calling non-stop.”

Louis pinched the back of his nose. “Tell him I’ll call him back.”

“I’ve already said that.” She sighed. “He said it can’t wait.”

“Well, I have a meeting in ten minutes, so he’ll have to wait.” Louis looked out of the window again. “I’ll call him as soon as I can.”

“Okay.” Cecilia hung up.

With a groan, Louis leaned against the wall next to him. Liam could be extremely persistent if he wanted to, and Louis already knew that Cecilia wouldn’t stand a chance. He should have been prepared that Liam would use dirty tricks to get to Louis.

Shaking his head, Louis collected the files he needed and opened the top one to get acquainted with the issue once more. He had just read over the first page when his office door was slammed open.

“Sir, you really can’t--” Cecilia shrieked when Liam dashed into the office.

“As you see, I can,” Liam spat at her. He turned to Louis, crossing his arms. “We need to talk.”

“Liam,” Louis said calmly, putting his files back onto his desk. He looked past Liam at Cecilia. “Could you please inform Ms Barry that I’ll be five minutes late?”

“I’m sorry, Mr Tomlinson. I tried-- he just -- and I--”

Louis cut her short. “Don’t worry, love. My friend here can be quite harsh.”

She apologised again before she left the room and closed the door.

“You could have texted,” Louis suggested. “A trip to London wouldn’t have been necessary.”

“Do you think so?” Liam asked. He wore dark jeans and a chequered shirt under a pretty smart-looking coat. “Because I deemed it quite necessary after Harry’s call last night.”

Louis couldn’t stop the bitter smile on his face as he rubbed his chin. “It’s none of your business, Liam.”

“I think it is my goddamn business.” Liam took a step closer to Louis. “I thought we had this sorted? I thought you’d been aware of how much you’d risk?”

Of course he’d been aware. Louis knew exactly what it was he was risking. Squaring his jaw, he shrugged.

“Why, the bloody hell, is Harry telling me about a date with you, Louis?” Liam threw his hands in the air. “I knew something was wrong when he didn’t react all pissy because I called.” He started pacing the room, gesturing wildly. “He was too busy gushing about you and how great you are and how grateful he is that he got to meet you through me, indirectly.”

Louis looked up at him. “He said that?”

“Don’t,” Liam spat, pointing a finger at Louis, “act so happy about it.”

Louis bit his lip, looking down again.

“He’s finally recovered, Louis.” Liam stayed where he was, finger still pointed at him. “He’d finally got over the whole thing. And now that he starts over, you pop up again?”

“I didn’t plan to--”

“You didn’t plan to when you got him concert tickets for his favourite band for his birthday?” Liam raised a brow. “Doesn’t sound like someone who wants to stay away.”

Louis leaned against his desk, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “Now you sound like Zayn.”

“Who is Zayn?”

“One of Harry’s friends.” Louis realised that hadn’t been very clever the moment it was out.

“Of course you know his friends, too.” Liam groaned, running a hand over his face. “That needs to stop.”

“Does it?” Louis thought back to the other night; to their kiss.

Liam met his eye. “What’s gotten into you? You were the one who didn’t want part in this.”

“I’ve changed my mind.” Louis felt like a stubborn toddler the way he was arguing.

“You can’t just change your mind like that, Lou.” Liam’s tone was quieter now, gentler. “You did it because it was best for him, didn’t you?”

Louis shrugged. “He doesn’t remember. He’ll never have to know.”

Sighing, Liam stepped closer, putting a hand on Louis’ shoulder. “Mate, he’s falling in love with you.”

Louis’ heart lurched in his chest. “Is he?” He hated how hopeful his voice sounded.

“Don’t do that to him, Lou.” Liam shook his head. “You know it’ll mess him up, should he find out. And he will. There’s just no way you could start a relationship with him and he’d never find out about your past.”

“He’s been chasing me,” Louis said, just to clarify it.

“I know.” Liam shuffled, leaning against the desk next to Louis. “He’s told me all about it.”

Watching his hands, Louis pressed his lips together. “You came all the way from Manchester because of that?”

“He’s head over heels, Lou.” Liam turned his face to Louis. “He’s completely taken by you.”

“Of course he is.” Louis forced himself to look at Liam. “Did you ever doubt that? We’re meant to be.”

Liam shook his head. “That’s why I’m here. I know you can’t do this alone.”

“Don’t make me,” Louis murmured. “He found me again. It must be a sign.”

“Lou…” Liam was quiet for a moment. “I wish it was that easy. You know what the doctors said.”

Louis nodded, pressing his lips together again. “Harry thinks I should have fought for him.”

Going pale around the nose, Liam’s mouth dropped open. “You told him?”

“I didn’t.” Louis shrugged. “He told me and some of his friends about the amnesia on his birthday. Niall joked about a forgotten wife.” He shrugged, remembering Harry’s face when he had talked about. How serious, how sure he had looked. “He said if there had been someone, they wouldn’t have given up on him if they had truly loved him.”

Liam put his hand over Louis’. “He doesn’t know what it’s like. You did the right thing.”

“Did I?” Louis asked, frowning to himself. “I’m not so sure anymore.”

“It’s too late to change your mind about it.” Liam sounded as sad about it as Louis felt. “You made a decision, Louis. And you know you have to go through with it. You wanted to do what’s best for him.”

“Am I not what’s best for him?” It was out before Louis could think about it.

It was probably the question that had been on his mind ever since Harry had set foot in his life again. He had walked away from Harry because he had wanted to make it easier for Harry, had wanted the best for him. Yet, Harry had practically fallen in love with him a second time, and it just had to hold a meaning. It had to.

Maybe Louis was what was best for Harry, after all. And instinctively, Harry knew.

“You are,” Liam agreed. “I’ve seen you two together. There isn’t anyone in this world better for him than you, Louis.” He inhaled deeply. “As it is now, you’re what’s worst for him, too.”

For a moment, Louis tried to find a counterargument. He was the one who had gotten himself into this situation. He had made the decision back then, and he had to deal with the consequences now. “I know.”

“He’s accepted that he’s lost those years,” Liam went on, as if Louis hadn’t understood it yet. “If he finds out about you, he’ll start digging again. He’s gonna rack his brain until it’ll make him sick again.”

“I know,” Louis repeated.

“I’ll stay for a while.” Liam squeezed his arm. “I’ll stay and help you, okay?”

Louis nodded, not sure he really wanted that. He knew that Liam was right, though. Of course Liam was right. It had been too easy to ignore the voices in the back of his head and go for what had looked so promising. It had been easy to fall back into old habits, back into Harry’s arms. Back into that love that had never stopped for Louis.

Louis knew that he wouldn’t be able to stop it on his own.

“I gotta meet a client,” he said instead of reacting to Liam’s words. It was what he did best. It had helped him survive the last five years. If he focused on his work, he couldn’t think about his problems. “She’s waiting for me.”

“You do that.” Liam straightened as Louis did.

“Do you still have a key to my flat?” Louis asked, picking up his files again. “You can stay in my guest room.”

“Thanks.” Liam nodded, looking a little indecisive for a moment. He grabbed Louis’ wrist and pulled him against his chest, engulfing Louis in a tight hug. “I’m not gonna leave you alone, okay?”

Louis bit his lip and buried his face against Liam’s shoulder. “I can’t do it again.”

“I know,” Liam mumbled. “That’s why I’m here.”

Nodding, Louis held on for another moment. He had no idea how he was going to get out of this, but Liam had somehow made it possible last time. He would make it possible this time, too.

All Louis had to do was survive it.

+++

“She really did?”

Harry rolled his eyes, putting a plate of apple slices on the table before sitting down. “She did.”

“My first groupie.” Niall whispered the words as though he had said something holy.

“Don’t call her that.” Zayn pulled a face.

“Well, let me repeat what you’ve just told me.” Niall took one of the apple slices. “She thinks I’m cute. She thinks I’m sexy when I’m playing music. She likes my music. She wants to see me play live.”

“If you put it like that---” Harry started, but Niall cut him short.

“She’s on her way to become my first groupie.”

“I think,” Zayn said, shaking his head. “She just wants to get to know you better.”

That was putting it mildly. After Harry’s birthday, Barbara had asked after Niall every day. At least once every day. She had wanted to know when he was playing his next gig at a pub, had asked when Harry would invite her over again, and if Niall would be there, too.

Niall couldn’t know that, though. It’d only boost his already too big ego.

“She’s a groupie,” Niall said. “It is what it is.”

Harry remembered those words tattooed in bold letters on Louis’ chest. A shiver ran down his spine as he thought of Louis and how he had kissed Harry a few nights ago.

“You’re so full of yourself.” Zayn snorted.

“Most rock stars are.” Niall shrugged it off. “Speaking of rock stars, how was the Fleetwood Mac concert, Harry?”

“Oh no, don’t let him start talking about it.” Zayn groaned and gave Harry a warning look.

Grinning, Harry rested his elbows on the table. “It was magical.”

“Best band in the world, aren’t they?” Niall mirrored his pose. “Which songs did they play?”

“All the classics, basically.” Harry remembered how Louis’ body had melted against his; how they had swayed together. “Crystal.”

Niall frowned. “That’s not really one of their classics, is it?”

“It’s Louis’ favourite,” Zayn supplied. “And they felt each other up to that song.”

Harry threw him an indignant stare. “Zayn!”

Gasping, Niall slammed his hands onto the table. “You snogged Louis?”

“After the concert!” Harry bit his lip to hold back a grin. “And, technically, he snogged me.”

My Louis?” The tone of disbelief was prominent in Niall’s voice.

“I think he’s Harry’s Louis now.” Zayn munched on one of the apple slices.

Harry liked the sound of that. He really couldn’t explain what it was, but since he had kissed Louis, he’d felt a lot more whole than he had in a long time. It was like he had woken up from a long sleep -- as sappy as it sounded.

With kissing Louis, something had fallen into place and Harry had rediscovered something he had thought had gone lost with his memories after the accident. He hadn’t exactly been sexually active in the past five years. He had tried a few times, but hadn’t really got back into the whole sex thing.

After his date with Louis, he had come home with a desire he hadn’t ever felt before. For three days straight, Harry had wanked in the shower to the thought of Louis’ lips, and Louis’ hands and what it would be like to take what they had to the next level.

Harry couldn’t wait to see Louis again.

“Are you two like…” Niall gestured at Harry. “A couple now?”

Harry shrugged, not sure about where they stood at all. “I haven’t seen him since.”

“Did he text you yet?” Zayn asked.

Shaking his head, Harry touched his lips. “Not yet.”

Niall frowned. “Did you text him since?”

“Earlier today, but he hasn’t replied.”

“Hm.” Niall huffed as he sat back in his chair. “Sounds just like Louis.”

“What do you mean?” An uneasy feeling arose in Harry’s chest.

“He’s just not the type to commit.” Sighing, Niall crossed his arms. “I wouldn’t read too much into that kiss.”

“Does he do things like that often?” Zayn’s voice was quiet.

“No, that’s not it.” Niall shook his head. “He’s just not the type to commit easily. As I’ve said. He hasn’t dated anyone since I’ve got to know him.”

Harry picked on a loose thread on the sleeve of his jumper. “So you think he doesn’t text me back, because it doesn’t mean anything to him?”

“Only one way to find out, isn’t there?” Niall got up from his chair, grabbing the jacket he had worn when he had arrived at Harry’s. “Let’s go see him.”

Harry blinked. “You just wanna go there now?”

“What?” Niall threw Zayn his coat. “I do it all the time. He should be home by now.”

Zayn got up, too, putting on his coat. “I wouldn’t mind playing a bit of GTA.”

“We can’t just---”

Niall pushed Harry’s jacket at him. “Of course we can. He’s alone all the time.”

That sounded a lot sadder than Niall had probably intended. Harry hated the thought of Louis being at his flat, all by himself, feeling lonely. He wanted to be there. Of course, Harry wanted to see Louis after what had happened between them the other night. And of course he wanted to make sure what he had felt between them was not just one-sided.

Sighing in defeat, Harry got up and put on his jacket.

+++

When they arrived at Louis’, Niall greeted the security guard at the entrance of the building. They chatted away for a few minutes before they took the lift to Louis’ floor. Niall opened the door with the same ease he had opened it the last time Harry had come here with him.

It was like Niall was home in this flat.

“Tommo,” Niall yelled upon entering the flat. “How often do I have to tell you, you shouldn’t leave your door unlocked?”

“If I didn’t, you wouldn’t barge in here whenever you want, would you?” Louis replied, his voice coming from another room.

Harry walked in last, closing the door behind himself. He took off his shoes and his coat, suddenly feeling nervous. His heart was beating high in his chest with the prospect of seeing Louis again. He hadn’t realised just how much he had craved it until now.

“You haven’t--” Louis stopped when he came into the sitting room and spotted them.

“We were at Harry’s,” Niall explained as he flopped down onto the sofa. “And thought you’d probably like some company.”

Louis didn’t even look at Niall. His eyes were glued to Harry. He opened his mouth, but then closed it again.

“You didn’t tell me you were expecting guests,” Liam said as he came into the room.

Harry blinked twice, wondering if he’d seen a ghost. Each time he opened his eyes again, Liam was still there, though. “Lee?”

The smile on Liam’s face came a bit delayed, but he approached Harry with open arms. “Haz!” he engulfed Harry in a warm hug. “What are you doing here?”

“We wanted to visit Louis,” Harry replied, resting his hands on Liam’s back. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m staying with Louis for the time I’m in town.” Liam drew back, squeezing Harry’s shoulders. “Business.”

Harry frowned and glanced at Louis, who was staring at the ground. “You didn’t tell me anything about coming to London.”

Shrugging, Liam drew back. “It’s a spontaneous thing. You know how it is with my clients.”

“Yeah,” Harry replied, still not feeling convinced. Something in the way Louis wouldn’t meet his eye told him that there was something else to this visit.

“You must be Niall,” Liam said as he held out a hand for Niall. “Louis’s told me a lot about you. I’m Liam.”

“Nice to finally meet you.” Niall shook his hand. “I’ve heard a lot about you, too.”

“This is Zayn,” Harry said as Liam looked at Zayn. “He’s a friend from work.”

Zayn simply nodded, and Liam nodded back, looking a little apprehensive.

“Should we go down to a pub?” Louis asked. He still wore his suit from work. “I don’t have much here.”

“Great,” Niall agreed. “I could eat something, too.”

“I think I’m gonna go change real quick.” Louis pointed at his bedroom. “Give me five.”

Harry watched him leave, contemplating how to get Louis alone for a second. Zayn, Niall and Liam were busy putting on their coats at the front door.

“Um,” Harry started. “I’ll use the toilet before we go.”

Liam looked at him with a little frown, while Niall got on one knee to put on his shoes and mumbled, “Don’t get started on your hair in there.”

Harry ignored Liam’s wary stare and made his way to the other end of the corridor where he opened and closed the bathroom door loudly, then he looked over his shoulder and slid into the room across.

Louis turned around from a drawer, wearing nothing but tight briefs and his unbuttoned shirt. Harry felt the image go straight to his cock, and he didn’t even think when he moved forward. Louis yelped quietly, hands coming up when Harry pressed against him and closed his lips over Louis’.

For a second, Louis protested with his hands pushing against Harry’s shoulders, then his fingers dug into the flesh and his mouth opened with a sigh. Harry wound an arm around Louis’ waist and cupped his jaw with one hand. The room was completely quiet, except for the wet sound of their kisses and the occasional moan escaping one of them.

“Sorry,” Harry mumbled when he finally drew back.

Louis licked his lips, breathing heavily. “What the fuck?”

Grinning, Harry used the leg trapped between Louis’ thighs to apply a bit of pressure against his crotch. “I lost my mind when I saw you like this.”

“You shouldn’t even be in here,” Louis hissed.

“I’d say you’re quite happy to see me.” Harry tilted his head forwards and closed his lips over Louis’ neck.

Louis’ head lolled to the side and for a moment, he let Harry’s mouth explore. Harry brought up a hand and gently swiped a thumb over Louis’ nipple. When Louis breathily moaned, Harry moved his leg again, slowly rutting against Louis.

“Harry,” Louis groaned, falling into Harry’s pace. He brought a hand up into Harry’s hair, scraping his nails over Harry’s scalp. “Baby.”

Harry detached his lips from Louis’ collarbones and just when he wanted to bring them back up to Louis’ mouth, Louis pulled his hand from Harry’s hair like he had burned himself. He pressed his other hand against Harry’s chest and brought some space between them.

“Okay, Speed Racer,” Louis breathed out, looking pale although he had been so heated up just a second ago. “You’re moving too fast again.”

Harry grinned again, drawing a finger up and down Louis’ chest. “I think we’re moving at the same pace here.”

“You shouldn’t even be in here.” Louis drew away completely, bringing some space between them. “How do we explain this to Liam?”

Harry frowned, burying his hands in his pockets to keep from reaching out to Louis again. “What’s there to explain? I think he knows how these things go.”

“I mean…” Louis ran a hand over his face. “Forget it.”

A knock on the door made both of them turn around.

“Tommo?” Niall asked from outside. “Can I borrow a t-shirt?”

Before Louis could reply, the door opened and Niall came in. He stopped in the door frame and then grinned when he grasped the situation.

“Oops,” Niall cooed, looking smug. “Did I interrupt something?”

Louis hurried to pull the shirt together over his chest.

Harry rolled his eyes. “Shut up.”

“I’ll be out of your hair in a second,” Niall promised. “Just want a t-shirt.”

“Your own clothes aren’t good enough for the pub?” Louis asked.

“It’s too warm in a jumper.” Niall tugged at the sleeves of the jumper he wore and pulled it off. “Since when am I not allowed to wear your clothes? Is that some official boyfriend thing between the two of you now?”

Harry’s heart jumped a little with the implication. He realised that he wouldn’t mind being Louis’ boyfriend. That was something he hadn’t really thought of before and the realisation made him lose his breath a little.

Louis turned around and got a t-shirt out of a drawer to throw it at Niall. “Fuck off.”

“I’ll take Harry with me,” Niall said, grabbing Harry’s wrist. “Or else we’ll never leave this flat tonight.”

Niall probably wasn’t wrong about that. Harry threw one last glance at Louis over his shoulder. He bit his lip when he found Louis staring back at him.

Whatever it was that made Louis hold back, Harry had managed to break through to him. He had made that wall crumble, and Harry was sure that he would be able to tear it down completely. Louis wanted this; he wanted Harry in the same way that Harry wanted him.

Liam looked upset when Niall came back with Harry in tow. Zayn grinned at him smugly, shaking his head a little. It was probably obvious what Harry had done, and going by the feeling on his lips, they probably still looked raw and swollen from kissing Louis.

“Okay, let’s go,” Louis said when he joined them, ready to leave. He wore a jean jacket lined with fur over a t-shirt, as well as loose jogging bottoms. He still looked pale, but his lips were red and full from kissing Harry.

Harry waited for their friends to go ahead so he could trail behind with Louis, but that plan didn’t work out when Liam plastered himself to Harry’s side. All the way to the pub, he remained next to Harry while Louis caught up to Zayn and Niall. Harry knew he shouldn’t feel upset about it. This was Liam, after all, and they hadn’t seen each other in months. Of course, Liam wanted to know everything about what had happened in Harry’s life since.

When they reached the pub, Liam and Louis went to the bar to get them drinks. Harry joined Zayn and Niall at one of the tables, sitting across from them.

Zayn leaned in immediately, glancing at the bar briefly before he spoke. “Who would’ve thought you’d get this horny?”

Harry kicked him under the table. “I’m not.”

“You  guys looked like you had fucked when I interrupted you earlier,” Niall commented.

“We were both dressed.” Harry rolled his eyes.

Niall grinned. “Louis more or less, yeah.”

“What’s Liam’s problem?” Zayn wanted to know.

Harry looked at him and Louis standing at the bar. They were obviously arguing; both keeping it tame, but the look on Liam’s face said it all. “I have no idea.”

“He seems a bit overprotective.” Niall looked over to the bar, as well.

“It’s because I had that accident.” Harry sighed. “He thinks I don’t know my own mind.”

Liam and Louis came back with their drinks and Liam sat down next to Harry. “We’ve ordered Tacos and chips,” he said as he placed the glasses in front of Harry and Niall.

“I love when I’m being invited,” Niall commented.

Louis poked him in the ribs. “When are you ever not invited?”

Niall grinned. “That only shows I’m on my way to become a proper rock star.”

Zayn rolled his eyes, but the expression on his face gave him away. He was fond of Niall. Harry wondered if anyone in the world wasn’t. “So, Liam,” Zayn said instead of reacting to Niall. “What are you doing in London?”

Liam leaned back in his chair, exchanging a quick glance with Louis. “I’m an interior designer,” he replied. “I’m meeting a client tomorrow.”

“Nice,” Niall commented. “What kind of interior design?”

“Mainly for hotels these days.” Liam moved his glass between his hands. “It’s fun.”

“That’s cool.” Zayn leaned a little closer over the table.

“Are you a chef, too?” Liam asked him.

Zayn shook his head. “No, I’m a waiter.”

“And a model,” Harry, Niall and Louis added at the same time.

Grinning, Zayn looked down at the table top. “Occasionally.”

“I’m not surprised.” Liam lowered his gaze as well. “With a face like yours.”

“I’m not the one looking like David Beckham.”

Harry frowned slightly and exchanged a look with Louis. Were Zayn and Liam flirting? Louis just shrugged, and at that moment it hit Harry. Liam did look like Becks, and Zayn had said many times before that Becks was his type.

Their food arrived and Harry tuned back into the conversation.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a while.” Liam munched away on a chip, brows furrowed. “But I’d have to take a lot into consideration.”

“I think you’re ready to take the step,” Louis said, smiling at Liam. “London is the better location for your business.”

“I’m established now,” Liam agreed. “I could afford it.”

Harry blinked at Liam’s profile. It was the first time he’d heard of these plans. “How long have you been thinking about it?”

Liam lifted one shoulder in a vague gesture. “A few months. I’ve only really talked about it with my parents.”

“I mean, it’s like my music,” Niall supplied. “London has the bigger audience, doesn’t it?”

“I think so, too,” Liam agreed. “But I’d kinda start completely fresh, too.”

“I’m gonna ask around for good locations.” Louis set down his glass after drinking. “We’ll find you a good place to rent out for your business.”

“Is there anything you can’t help with?” Niall laughed. “You find me a flat, you find Liam a business location, you get Harry tickets to a sold out concert. Money gets you places, I guess.”

Louis didn’t look too happy about that. “I just know people who owe me.”

“I hope I’ll never have to owe you,” Zayn commented.

Louis got out a pack of cigarettes. “Smoke?” he offered Zayn.

Zayn nodded and Niall decided to join them, as well. Harry and Liam stayed back and Harry noticed the look Louis gave Liam -- it was meaningful, as if to tell him, now is your chance !

“If you wanna tell me to stay away from Louis, save it,” Harry said before Liam could even get a word out.

Sighing, Liam turned in his chair a little, resting his elbow on the back of it. “Listen, Harry…”

“Do you think I didn’t notice how you tried your best to keep us apart in the past hour?” Harry frowned, gulping down a huge part of his pint. “I don’t know what your problem is.”

“I want you to be happy, Haz,” Liam said, and Harry felt like exploding.

“Then stop meddling.” His voice got a little louder than he had intended. “I’ve got it sorted, okay? I don’t need anyone looking after me, or trying to protect me. I’m capable of making my own choices.”

“I know that.” Liam gestured with his hand for Harry to calm down. “I’m just saying that Louis is probably not the right person, okay?”

It was not okay. “So, anyone but Louis?”

Liam bit his lip. “Yeah.”

Raising a brow, Harry crossed his arms in front of his chest. “And what’s the reason?”

“You just have to believe me.” Liam reached out to touch Harry’s arm. “You trust me, right?”

“That hasn’t got anything to do with this.” Harry pulled his arm away. “You either explain it to me or you’ll stay out of this.”

“It’s hard to explain…” Liam bit his lip.

In that moment it dawned on Harry, and he realised it with a jolt. How could he have been so blind? How could he not have read it straight away? It had been right there in front of him all the time.

“It’s because I don’t remember, right?”

Liam looked up, staring at Harry’s face. “What?”

“I don’t remember, that’s why you don’t wanna tell me.” Harry threw his hands up before gripping his glass and emptying it. “It’s one of those things I should know, but don’t because it got lost with my memories.”

“Harry…” Liam started.

“You always told me he was your friend.” Harry kept his eyes on Liam. “Why didn’t you tell me who he really is?”

“I’m---” Liam gaped at him, looking caught.

“I mean, I get it.” Harry smiled a little, feeling sorry for Liam. “He’s just really funny, and lovely, and way too fit.”

Liam swallowed, nodding slowly.

“Why are you flirting with Zayn like that, then?” Harry asked, frowning at him.

“What’s Zayn to do with that?” Liam frowned back.

“Well, if you’re in love with Louis, you shouldn’t be flirting with other blokes in front of him.”

Liam’s mouth fell open again. “What?”

“C’mon, Lee,” Harry sighed and rolled his eyes. “I’m not stupid. You’ve been acting strange, and even if I can’t remember how you two have actually met each other, it’s obvious that you’re in love with him.”

“I’m---?” Liam coughed. “With Louis ?”

“Why else would you be so keen on me staying away from him?” It finally made sense to him. “If you don’t want him for yourself?”

“You think I’m in love with Louis?” Liam ran a hand over his face.

“Does he know?” Harry asked. “Have you told him? Is that why he’s been so hesitant around me?”

“No, that’s not--”

The next realisation hit Harry even harder. “Are you two together?”

“What? Stop it.” Liam slammed a hand on the table. “Cut the crap, Harry.”

Blinking, Harry fell silent.

“I’m not with Louis. And I’ve never been with Louis.” Liam inhaled deeply. “There’s never been anything going on between us, okay? He’s one of my best friends. End of story.”

“Then you should stop acting like a jealous boyfriend.” Harry shook his head. “It’s the only way to explain your behaviour.”

“You don’t get it,” Liam started, but fell silent when Louis, Zayn and Niall came back.

“Guys, we gotta catch up.” Niall gestured at Harry’s empty glass as he sat down again. “Harry’s ahead of us.”

Harry touched his empty glass. “Next round’s on you.”

“I won’t have a second round,” Louis said, cheering to Niall with his glass. “Gotta be in my office at six tomorrow.”

“Always working.” Niall rolled his eyes.

Harry watched Louis laugh at that. He needed to get Louis alone for a moment -- and this time without being distracted. Liam didn’t leave them much room, but Harry was sure there’d be an opening for him. He didn’t believe Liam one bit, and the only way to find out what was really going on was to confront Louis.

It only took a bit for that opening to come. When Louis excused himself to use the toilet, Harry leaned in to Zayn. Liam was in a heated discussion with Niall about The Eagles and didn’t hear them.

“Distract Liam for a bit, okay?” Harry whispered.

Zayn raised a brow. “I guess I can do that.”

Harry winked at him, then he got up and followed Louis to the restrooms.

The loud music that was playing in the dining area was only a faded noise as the door fell closed behind Harry. He saw Louis at the sink and leaned against the doorframe. Louis sorted out his hair afterwards, carefully draping his fringe over his forehead.

Louis’ eyes widened when he turned and spotted Harry.

“I’m gonna keep my distance this time,” Harry said, crossing his arms behind his back. “Or else we’ll never get to talk.”

“Where is Liam?” Louis asked, looking insecure.

Sighing, Harry remembered how Louis had asked how to explain what was going on between them to Liam earlier. He really should have realised it sooner. “Of course you would ask that.”

Louis blinked. “What?”

“I figured it out, Louis.” Harry kept his eyes on Louis’ face to not miss a single emotion.

“You have?” Louis asked, looking stressed.

“It wasn’t so hard.” Harry shrugged. “Liam can deny it all he wants. It’s pretty obvious what’s going on here.”

Louis tore his eyes from Harry’s face, lowering his gaze to the ground.

“So what exactly is going on with you two?” Harry wanted to know. “Are you still together? Or were you just together once?”

For a moment, Louis froze. When he lifted his head, he was laughing. Bringing a hand up to his face, Louis broke into actual laughter.

Harry raised a brow. “So that’s funny to you?”

“Sorry, love.” Louis shook his head, still giggling. “I get why you’d think that.”

“I mean. You guys are acting strange.” Harry took a step closer to Louis. “Really strange.”

Louis watched him, obviously contemplating his answer. “Liam and I are just friends. Good friends.”

“Then why---”

“Even if that’s not what’s going on here, he’s right, Harry.” Louis licked his lips, taking a step away from Harry. “We can’t do this.”

That hurt. “Have I done something wrong?”

“No, of course not.” Louis shook his head, gazing at Harry softly. “It’s not about you. It’s me.”

“Seriously?” Harry raised both eyebrows, shaking his head. “You’re giving the It’s not you, it’s me talk at this stage?”

A sad smile tugged on Louis’ lips. “It’s all I have to offer.”

“You didn’t seem to be hesitant about it after the concert.”

“That was a spur of the moment thing.” Louis lifted a shoulder in a helpless gesture. “I shouldn’t have kissed you. I shouldn’t have let you hope.”

It felt like a dagger was twisted through Harry’s heart when Louis said those words. “It wasn’t just that kiss. You got me the tickets. You almost kissed me on my birthday, too.” he shook his head. “It wasn’t a one time thing.”

Louis bit his lip as he watched Harry. “You kinda make me weak.”

“And you can’t be weak and give in exactly why?”

“I wouldn’t do either of us a favour.” Louis shrugged, trying to look nonchalant, but Harry could see right through the act. “Listen, Harry. I’m sorry, okay? I’m really sorry, but this can’t go on.”

Harry pressed his lips together for a moment. “So you’re dropping me like a hot potato and can’t even give me an explanation for it.”

The way in which Louis avoided looking at Harry’s face told him that it wasn’t as easy as that, but he was tired of fighting. Instead of waiting for Louis’ answer, Harry turned.

“I get it.”

“Harry--” Louis started, but didn’t continue when Harry stopped for a second.

“Thought so,” Harry mumbled and left the bathroom.

At the table, he grabbed his jacket. “Thanks for the pint, Lee.”

Niall, Zayn and Liam fell silent and stared at him.

“What’s going on?” Niall asked.

“I’m going home.” Harry put on his jacket without looking directly at any of them. “I’ve had enough.”

“I’m gonna--”

Harry cut Liam short by raising one hand. “No, thanks. You’re actually not on my list of people I’d like to see right now.”

“I’ll go,” Niall mumbled and stood up.

Harry didn’t bother waiting for him. He dashed outside instead and briskly walked down the road. A few minutes later, Niall caught up to him.

“What’s wrong?” Niall asked, out of breath.

“Louis Tomlinson being an absolute arse, that is wrong.” Harry buried his hands in the pockets of his jacket. “And Liam supporting him in it.”

“Okay, okay.” Niall fell into step with him. “A few hours ago you were still head over heels for Louis. You snogged in his bedroom, remember?”

God, that seemed so distant now. Harry tried to ban the memory from his mind. “Turns out, he’s not interested.”

Niall gaped at him. “What?”

“He’s had a taste and decided it’s not for him.” Harry yelped a little as soon as the words were out. He realised that it pretty much summarised what Louis had just told him and that it hurt all the more spoken out loud.

“Okay, you gotta fill me in here.” Niall put a hand on Harry’s back. “What exactly happened?”

Harry inhaled deeply, and then started at the beginning. He told Niall everything, rehashing what had happened between him and Louis tonight.

“Hm,” Niall said when Harry was finished, considering his words apparently. “I’ve known him for years, but never saw him act this strange.”

“I don’t know what his problem is.” Harry kicked a pebble out of the way. “He’s constantly hot and cold with me. I’m tired of it.”

“I get that,” Niall told him, hands buried in his pockets. “He shouldn’t get away with that.”

“Well, he won’t,” Harry said. “I’m done with him.”

For a second, Niall was quiet. “You know,” he said then, sounding a little unsure. “I can tell you one thing, though. He’s definitely into you. I’ve never seen him look at anyone the way he looks at you.”

Harry closed his eyes, pinching the back of his nose. “Not helping, Niall.”

“Just saying,” Niall murmured and threw an arm over Harry’s shoulder. It was slightly awkward with how he was a little bit smaller than Harry. “It’s probably not because he’s not interested or doesn’t care about you. Whatever it is, he’s into you the same way you’re into him.”

It really wasn’t helping. If Louis really was into Harry, why couldn’t he just act on it? Why couldn’t he focus on that instead of running away from what was developing between them? Why couldn’t he just act on his feelings?

As tired as Harry was of it, he knew that he wouldn’t be able to let it go that easily. Not until Louis would finally give in to what they both were feeling.

+++

“You think you’ll be okay?” Liam asked for the fifth time.

“I said I’m okay, didn’t I?” Louis snapped at him as he opened the door to the pub.

Liam pressed his lips together, looking wary. He didn’t believe Louis, and Louis couldn’t blame him. He didn’t believe himself, either.

Three weeks had gone by. It was almost April, and Liam had spent a lot of time in London lately. He was looking for his own flat, as well as an appropriate business location. Louis hadn’t seen him much during those weeks. He had worked twenty-four seven, trying to bury whatever he was feeling -- or not feeling -- in the cases.

He’d been miserable.

Niall had called him the day before, complaining how he hadn’t seen Louis in ages and that he expected him to show up tonight. Louis had tried to make excuses, but Niall hadn’t let any of them count. He had ordered Louis to show up or he’d make Louis’ life hell.

So, here Louis was. In a pub in North London, supporting one of his best friends on a night that was crucial to him being finally spotted by some A&R people. Louis knew how important it was, especially since Niall had never accepted help from Louis to find him connections. Niall had always wanted to do it on his own. He had finally come that far.

Louis wanted to be supportive of that. He was supportive of that. The only problem was that he’d have to run into Harry tonight, and Louis had done everything he could to prevent that from happening over the past three weeks.

Harry hadn’t even texted Louis. It had felt a bit like a slap when Harry hadn’t even tried to fight him on the decision Louis had made. Then again, Harry had his pride, too, and of course he didn’t have to stand for that. He could have anyone he wanted, he didn’t have to chase an idiot who didn’t have the guts to take a risk for Harry.

That really was the worst part about all of it. He had had Harry back in his life for a brief moment. When Harry had looked at him with so much want in his eyes, had kissed him raw and urgently, Louis had almost lost his mind. He had forgot every single thing Liam had said to him, and had only wanted to take. Until touching the scar beneath Harry’s hair had pulled him back into reality. A harsh reminder of why exactly Louis couldn’t have what he wanted. Yet, Harry’s hands on his bare skin had brought back memories of what they had once had, and of what Louis had been dreaming of for three days straight after their date. He had almost wanked himself into oblivion with the thought of having Harry back in his bed.

What he had to do now was remind himself that he had done the right thing. Harry had come way too close to discovering what was really going on. He hadn’t connected the dots right, but when he had talked of figuring things out, Louis’ heart had almost stopped. It had given him a wake-up call for what it would be like if he let the game continue.

Harry would get hurt, and he’d despise Louis for letting anything happen between them despite their past. A past that Harry didn’t know of. A past that no one had ever told him about. A past that Louis should’ve told him about the moment Harry had woken up.

Well, there was no good in dwelling on past mistakes, was there? Louis had to learn to deal with the mess he had created for himself. And once again, he had to deal with that without Harry getting hurt. That was the highest priority.

Niall’s gig had already ended, but Louis had promised that he’d make it for the after party at least. He’d been in Liverpool all day, present at an opening of a construction site for one of the companies he was representing at the firm. Niall had let that one slip as a good enough excuse that he wouldn’t make it in time for the actual gig.

“Niall’s over there,” Liam pointed out as they weaved their way through the crowd.

Niall spotted them and grinned brilliantly, which was already saying all. Louis’ heart leaped in his chest, true happiness for Niall spreading through him.

Louis opened his arms and hugged him tight. “I’m so proud of you, lad.”

“I gave my demo to three agents tonight, Tommo!” Niall screamed in his ear. He was pleasantly drunk, and Louis granted him every bit of it.

“This is your time.” Louis squeezed him once more, then let Niall stagger on to Liam.

“It’s been a while.”

Louis turned to see Zayn approach them. He lifted his glass, silently toasting to Louis. Barbara was by his side, smiling kindly. They both smiled, but the look on their faces told Louis that they weren’t too happy to see him here.

“Lots of work,” Louis said lamely, lifting a shoulder.

“Thought so,” Zayn replied. He mustered Louis intensely, unblinking, which made Louis squirm a little.

“Zayn,” Liam said, reaching out to touch his arm. “Hi.”

The smile on Zayn’s lips was genuine this time. Okay, so they were only not happy with seeing Louis. “You’re back in London.”

“For a few days.” Liam somehow managed to get even closer to Zayn.

“I’m gonna get us drinks,” Louis said, knowing when he wasn’t needed.

He made his way to the bar and ordered pints for himself and Liam. Upon waiting the barkeeper to get them ready, he spotted Harry on the other side of the bar. Louis’ heart skipped a beat before it started racing.

Harry’s curls fell loosely over his ears, he was wearing tight jeans and a maroon shirt that was unbuttoned to the navel. His boots were heeled, just a few centimetres, but made his legs look that bit longer than they already were. He was laughing, tilting his head back, his cheeks dimpled by the force of his smile.

It pierced Louis’ heart when he noticed the man across from Harry. He was shorter than him, looking smug with how he had made Harry laugh. He reminded Louis of a cheap version of Chris Pine. Or himself.

Scratching that thought, Louis paid for the beer and turned away to find Liam. He had found a table in a corner where he was busy chatting up Zayn. Of course he was. Those two had been dancing around each other each time Liam had come down to London. Louis was quite sure that Liam would pull tonight.

He placed the glass in front of Liam and slid onto a chair across from them. He clinked his glass to Zayn’s, then to Liam’s and took a big gulp. When he lowered his head, he noticed that he had a splendid view of the bar from his seat.

Cheap Chris had made some progress, one hand on Harry’s waist. Harry looked comfortable with that, eyes fixed on Cheap Chris’ face. Whatever he was telling Harry seemed to be fascinating enough that Harry’s attention on him didn’t even falter for a second.

“For someone who decided he didn’t want Harry, you look plenty jealous,” Zayn commented and made Louis snap out of his glaring.

He hadn’t even realised he had been glaring. Blushing, Louis turned to them, shrugging. “Just evaluating the bloke he’s with. Not particularly attractive.”

Zayn smirked and Liam threw him a warning look. Of course, Liam would. He’d been the one who had picked Louis off the ground after having to leave Harry cold. He hadn’t taken it well, but Liam had kept reminding him that he had done the right thing and that he couldn’t get weak again.

If Louis showed any sign of jealousy in front of Harry now, all his efforts would be in vain. He couldn’t risk that. Especially since there was no way Louis could ever do that to Harry again. Hurting Harry was probably the one thing in his life that Louis couldn’t ever forgive himself for.

“Well, I guess Harry has his methods to get over it, too.” Zayn took a sip from his beer.

Louis decided not to ask what that meant or comment on it in any way. It was probably clever to drop the topic altogether. He was just about to breach a new one when Harry showed up on their table. Of course with Cheap Chris in tow.

“Lee.” He pulled Liam into a hug. “You’re back. Could you find a flat?”

“I did, yeah. Moving in next month.” Liam held out his hand for Cheap Chris and smiled friendly. “Nice to meet you. I’m Liam.”

“I’m Oliver,” Cheap Chris replied and shook Liam’s hand. He had apparently met Zayn before, since he turned to Louis and greeted him next.

It left a bitter taste in Louis’ mouth that he wasn’t just a random flirt Harry had picked up tonight, but that they had met before. That Harry had probably invited him here tonight.

“Hi,” Louis said, forcing a smile. “I’m Louis.”

His gaze briefly locked with Harry’s when he shook Oliver’s hand, but Harry didn’t show a single reaction or emotion.

“I’m gonna get us another drink,” Harry said and gestured for Oliver to take a seat. Of course he took the one next to Louis. “Be back in a minute.”

Louis watched him go, trying to keep his gaze indifferent. Fate, the world, God -- whoever was behind this -- really put his nerves to the test tonight. Especially since Liam was so fucking nice to that bloke. Louis knew that it was childish, and that it wasn’t Liam’s fault, but it hurt to think of how he had told Louis that he couldn’t be with Harry in contrast to how he treated Oliver now.

Liam was supportive of Harry moving on and finding someone else, and it wasn’t fair. Not when Louis felt that Harry shouldn’t be with anyone but him. Not when there was no one else for Louis.

Harry came back and handed Oliver a pint before he sat down next to Liam. For himself, he had a WKD. Louis stared at it, blinking once, then twice. He caught Liam’s expression and they were probably both thinking the same.

Harry had started ordering WKD when he had been together with Louis, declaring that he liked the thought of getting drunk on the colour of Louis’ eyes. He’d never got drunk on the sugary drink, but Louis had loved the idea behind it.

“Don’t expect me to start drinking peppermint schnapps, though,” Louis had warned him jokingly back then. It felt like a lifetime ago.

Afterlife, Louis thought, holding back a defeated sigh, had once again caught up to him.

“What’s that?” Liam asked, a nervous smile on his lips.

Harry glanced at Louis, so quick that Louis wasn’t sure it had even happened. “Just felt like it.”

“It’s really just sugar water, isn’t it?” Oliver ask, his tone amused.

Shrugging, Harry sipped from the bottle. Louis watched his lips close around the neck of it and cursed himself inwardly for looking in the first place.

“Where is the new flat?” Harry asked Liam when he put the bottle down.

“West Kensington,” Liam replied.

“That’s just around where you live, isn’t it?” Louis looked at Zayn.

“It’s a nice neighbourhood.” It sounded like a deflection of the question, but neither of them dug any deeper.

For a moment, they all fell quiet and Louis sneaked a glance at Harry, finding him grinning into his drink. Frowning, Louis checked on Oliver and found Harry’s grin mirrored on his face. It didn’t take much to figure they were playing footsie under the table. Harry looked up and his eyes immediately fell onto Louis, the smile freezing on his face. Louis didn’t even bother to hide the disgust he felt.

Niall was the one to break the silence at their table when he came over with Barbara in tow. “We wanna go to a club,” he announced. “Are you coming with?”

“Definitely,” Louis said, getting up from his chair and leaving the table. He downed most of his pint, leaving the glass on the counter of the bar.

“Mate,” Liam said from behind him. “Don’t make it so obvious.”

“Sorry for being upset to see my boyfriend mingle with another bloke.” Louis hissed the words, making sure no one else would hear.

“Lou.” Making a face, Liam shook his head. “He’s not--”

“Shut up, Liam.” Louis dashed past him to follow Niall outside.

He couldn’t help it. That was what it felt like to Louis. Despite everything he’d tried, and all the time that had passed. He could tell himself over and over again, and even if his head was on board, his heart just wasn’t; in his heart, Harry would always be his.

The club was just a few streets down from the pub. Niall looked worried when Louis caught up to him, slowing his steps a little, so they were walking behind Niall’s other friends who had tagged along.

“What’s bitten you?” Niall asked.

“Nothing,” Louis replied, trying to act casual. “Just had a long day.”

Niall raised a brow. “So this has nothing to do with Harry feeling it out with that bloke?”

Squaring his jaw, Louis tried to ban the images from his head. “Nope.”

Niall just hummed, and Louis didn’t even try to convince him further. Instead, he bought Niall a drink as soon as they were inside. He downed his own in one go and ordered the next straight away.

“Make that two,” he told the bartender when he spotted Liam and Zayn enter the club with Harry and his Cheap Chris right behind them.

“You’re such an idiot,” Niall commented before he turned away and followed Barbara to the dance floor.

“Tell me something new,” Louis mumbled to himself and emptied the second glass.

Liam’s gaze found him in the crowd. He knew better than to try and bring Louis to his senses, though. As soon as Louis had snapped, there was no reasoning with him anymore. They both knew that this night could only end one way for Louis. He’d get drunk, then he’d go home, feel sorry for himself and call Liam the next day to apologise and make him listen to Louis whine about how unfair life was.

He jumped a little when Oliver suddenly stood next to him.  Louis looked around, but Harry was nowhere to be seen.

“Two vodka and coke,” Oliver ordered.

Louis held up a hand for the bartender, gesturing for him to wait a minute. “Harry doesn’t drink that.”

Oliver frowned. “What?”

“He doesn’t like that.” Louis rolled his eyes. “Did you even ask him what he wants?”

“Oh, and you know?” Oliver raised a brow. “I can’t remember him asking you.”

Ignoring that, Louis turned to the bartender. “He’ll have a margarita.”

The bartender looked at Oliver for validation and Louis snorted when Oliver nodded.

Harry returned in that moment, squeezing between Oliver and Louis. “Did you order yet?”

“I did,” Oliver replied. “But you can still change your mind, if you want.”

“I want a margarita,” Harry said, turning around to the bartender.

Louis took his own glass, grinning into his drink. He downed it, finally feeling the alcohol kick into his system. “You’re welcome.” He toasted with his empty glass to Oliver before putting it onto the counter.

Harry finally looked at him, and his expression was a confused one. The bartender placed their drinks in front of them and Harry kept his eyes on Louis as he took his glass. “Is there a reason you’re meddling?”

With a huff, Louis gestured for the bartender to mix him another drink. “Should have just let you sip on some ugly vodka and coke all night.”

“What are you on about?” Harry didn’t look amused.

“Forget it.” Louis slid the bartender his money, took his drink and stumbled away from the bar.

He found a relatively quiet corner where he could sip his drink and hide from all the questions he was bombarded with tonight. He had no idea why he was still here in the first place. Maybe he was masochistic and liked the pain he felt when watching Harry with another man.

It didn’t really feel like he liked it, but there had to be a reason Louis hadn’t just gone home already. Instead, his eyes searched for Harry in the crowd. What he found was something he definitely didn’t like. Harry had his drink in one hand and the other loosely placed on Oliver’s waist as they were dancing close.

Harry didn’t even like close dancing. He liked flailing his limbs and throwing ridiculous shapes to upbeat and rock music. Whenever he and Louis had attempted slow dancing, they had tripped each other, almost falling over each other’s feet.

Why did he look so graceful and sure of what he was doing when dancing with another man?

Harry turned in Oliver’s arms and pressed his back against Oliver’s front. Louis’ stomach turned at the sight and he thought for a moment that his glass was going to slide from his hand. He clenched it between both of his hands, watching on as Harry tilted his head back and swayed his hips to the rhythm.

When Harry opened his eyes, they immediately landed on Louis. For a moment, he stared at Louis intently, as if to challenge him, and Louis knew that he was looking daggers at the way Oliver’s hand settled high on Harry’s thigh.

Throwing all caution overboard, Louis downed his third drink as well, knowing he’d regret that in just a few minutes and left the empty glass on one of the boxes. He weaved his way through the crowd, trying not to look at Harry again and searched for Liam.

When he found Liam, he had Zayn straddling his lap and shoving his tongue down Liam’s throat. That had been a long way coming and Louis couldn’t say he was surprised by that development. They had danced around each other each time Liam had been in town, after all.

That made at least one of them happy tonight, and Louis decided to take it as a what it was. He’d go home by himself, and he probably wouldn’t call Liam tomorrow morning to whine about his miserable life. Liam deserved to delve in the happiness he had found for a while without Louis unloading all of his shitty emotions on him.

Outside the club, Louis hired a taxi. He told the driver his address and then got out his mobile to text both Niall and Liam that he had gone home. He added to Niall’s text how happy he was for him with an emoji of a microphone and a musical note. To Liam’s text, he added how happy he was for him with an emoji of an eggplant and fire.

The alcohol started to work, but all it did was make Louis sleepy. He couldn’t close his eyes, though, because each time he did, he either saw Harry bent over in the driver’s seat with blood dripping from his curls and chin, or Harry pressed against Oliver, letting those filthy hands run over his body.

Louis would probably never sleep again, not with those images haunting him.

In his flat, he slid out of his vans and left them on the floor of the sitting room. He didn’t even bother to switch on the lights, but instead just flopped onto the sofa and sighed.

His life was a mess.

It had been a mess for the past five years, and he had known it with every second passing. Now, however, it had turned into a proper mess. He had lost all control over the situation. Five years ago, he had decided that his life should become a mess, so that Harry wouldn’t have to have to deal with it. As it was now, his mess had become Harry’s and with that, his mess had just become even worse.

Louis was at the end of his wit. He had done everything he could to stop the disaster from unfolding, but it had unfolded anyway. He had riled Harry up to a point of no return, and because Harry had no idea what was actually going on, he searched an outlet by picking up meaningless one-night stands.

It hurt to see Harry do that, but Louis also knew that he had no right to interfere. No matter how much the knowledge of Harry going home with someone else hurt, it wasn’t his place anymore to keep Harry from doing so. Maybe Harry had become that kind of man after the accident. Maybe he wasn’t a relationship kind of guy anymore and prefered loose, no-strings-attached arrangements now.

He jolted when his entrance door was slammed open, sitting up immediately.

“What the bloody hell is wrong with you?” Harry stomped inside the flat, slamming the door closed as loudly as he had opened it.

Louis could only stare at him, pressed to the backrest of the sofa. Niall was probably right. He shouldn’t always leave his door unlocked.

“If you’re so fucking jealous, then do something about it.” Harry pointed a finger at him, coming closer. “And don’t just run away.”

“What---” Louis shook his head once, then twice, not sure he was dreaming.

“I can’t believe you’d have let me go home with him.” Harry threw his hands up in the air. “You’d really just watch on as I let another guy touch me like that in front of you.”

Louis’ heart threatened to beat out of his chest when Harry crossed the remaining distance and put one knee next to Louis’ hip on the sofa and one hand on the backrest, caging Louis in that way. He stared intently at Louis, cheeks rosy with anger and his eyes boring right into Louis’.

“I saw that look on your face, Louis.” He bit the words out, apparently straining to hold himself back. “I saw how much you hated every second of it. I saw how much you wanted to drag him away from me.”

Louis had to force himself to stay still and keep his mind clear to be able to speak. “You tried to make me jealous?”

Harry huffed out a dry laugh. “I didn’t try. I made you jealous, Louis.”

There probably wasn’t any use in denying that. “You let that prick touch you just so I would get angry?”

“I let that prick touch me,” Harry corrected him, leaning closer. “Just so you would finally get out of your bloody head and touch me.”

Louis held Harry’s gaze, swallowing thickly. “Well, I guess that plan didn’t work out then.”

For a moment, Harry just watched him, his lips a thin line. He tilted his head and brought one hand up to cup Louis’ jaw. “So,” he started slowly, lips coming close to Louis’ ear. “You don’t want me to drop to my knees right now? You don’t want my lips on your cock? You don’t want to fuck my mouth until my voice is raw from it?”

Louis felt all of his blood rush down to his cock. He bit his lip to hold back a moan, knowing that as soon as he’d show any reaction, he’d lose this. He couldn’t afford to lose.

Harry’s hand dipped from his jaw to his chest, slowly coming to rest over Louis’ sternum. “And you don’t want to take me to your bed and open me up until I beg for it? You don’t want to fuck me deep and hard and slow, until I’ve forgot anything but your name, screaming it with each of your thrusts?”

Fuck, fuck, fuck . Louis had to stay calm. How was he supposed to stay calm? Harry could probably feel Louis’ heart rabbiting under his palm. Other than that, Louis remained completely still. If he only moved as much as a finger, he’d be done.

Upon his lack of reaction, Harry drew back. The blush had crept from his cheeks down to his chest and his lips were bitten red. Louis couldn’t bear looking at him any longer.

“Well,” Harry said, crossing his arms over his chest. “Guess I’m gonna go get it from Oliver, then.”

That was too much. Louis growled and next thing he knew was his hand reaching out and pulling Harry in. His lips crashed against Harry’s in a bruising kiss that was more teeth and tongue than any finesse. He felt Harry breathily moan a little “Yes!” against his mouth and swallowed the word as he dipped his tongue past Harry’s lips, shutting him up that way.

Louis flipped them over, trapping Harry beneath his body. They were both still dressed in full gear and Louis wanted it all off right fucking now. There were too many layers between them. He needed Harry’s skin on his and he needed it before he was going change his mind about it.

“He’s not gonna lay another finger on you,” Louis growled, sick with the image of Harry doing this with anyone but Louis.

Harry just hummed, already pulling on Louis’ jacket. Louis grabbed Harry’s wrists and pressed them down onto the cushions of the sofa to claim Harry’s mouth again. He slid a thigh between Harry’s legs and slowly started rutting, feeling Harry’s cock grow harder against him.

Louis wished he could blame it on the alcohol, but he knew that the only thing he was drunk on right now was Harry’s mouth beneath his. Harry’s eyes went glassy and he licked lazily into Louis’ mouth. Quiet moans escaped him and Louis wanted to die with how familiar it felt. Louis let go of Harry’s wrists and shoved the coat off of Harry’s shoulders while he attached his lips to Harry’s collarbones. Harry arched up against him, his hands immediately gripping onto Louis’ arms to pull the jacket off of him.

Louis took his time to unbutton Harry’s shirt. There weren’t many buttons left to undo, and he made sure to let his fingers graze against Harry’s skin, feeling the shiver running through Harry each time he did. Their rutting had become bolder, faster and Louis felt Harry getting a little frantic beneath him.

He slid his hand down between them and popped the button of Harry’s jeans open. Harry gasped when Louis’ fingers found their way into his underwear, curling around Harry’s hard cock. He was pulsing in Louis’ hand, as heavy as Louis remembered him to be. Licking his lips, Louis looked up from Harry’s chest and ran his thumb over the sensitive head of Harry’s cock. He gathered some of the precome to ease the slide of his fingers.

Louis wasn’t prepared when Harry’s hips stuttered. He stared into Louis’ eyes one moment and shut them, face scrunching up the next. Harry’s lips fell open and a guttural moan escaped his throat when Louis felt him pulse hot streaks over Louis’ hand.

Gaping, Louis tried to grasp what had just happened, blinking at Harry’s relaxing form. They hadn’t even got started and Harry had already---

“Shit,” Harry breathed out, trying to catch his breath. “Louis, shit, I---” He let go of Louis to cover his face with his hands. “Oh my God.”

Louis couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled out of him. He rested his forehead against Harry’s chest and muffled his laugh against the skin there. With one motion, he removed his hand from Harry’s cock, wiping it against his own jeans.

“I’m sorry, Lou,” Harry mumbled, voice still muffled by his hands covering his face. “I didn’t--- I don’t---” He couldn’t even find the words.

Louis crawled up on top of Harry and pulled Harry’s hands from his face. “You’re always going too fast, Speed Racer.”

Harry’s face was beet red and he didn’t meet Louis’ eye. “That’s not funny.”

Giggling quietly, Louis started kissing along Harry’s jaw. God, he had missed Harry so much. He had missed this. He never wanted Harry to feel uncomfortable about sex or his body or about anything that happened between them. Louis knew that if he didn’t react to this in the right way now, Harry wouldn’t ever get over a moment like this.

Harry was the kind of person to get worked up over embarrassing himself during sex. Louis had to be very careful now.

“Babe,” he mumbled, gently nibbling Harry’s earlobe. “Calm down.”

Harry whined. “I should leave.”

Louis rested his elbows on either side of Harry’s head to look at him. Harry still avoided his eyes. “I think we established that I can’t let you go anywhere tonight.”

“You don’t have to---” Harry started, but Louis shut him up with another kiss.

“It only makes me want you more,” Louis whispered into Harry’s mouth. “To know that you’ve been so needy for my touch. So needy to come in my arms.”

Finally, Harry met his eyes. “I’ve been thinking about you touching me non-stop, Lou,” he murmured. “It drove me crazy.”

Louis gently stroke a curl from Harry’s forehead. “Okay, so we’ve taken the edge off a bit.” He felt Harry shiver beneath him. “You wanna do more?”

“Want everything.” Harry’s voice was quiet and Louis felt relief wash over him when Harry brought his hands back up to Louis’ back. Harry should know there were no mistakes or anything going wrong when having sex with someone he could trust.

Smiling, Louis captured his lips in another kiss, loosening Harry up, making him relax under Louis’ touch. “What do you want first, baby?”

Harry chased his lips, sinking into another kiss, as if he couldn’t get enough of Louis. “Wanna make you come.”

“That shouldn’t be too difficult.” Louis slid Harry’s shirt from his shoulders and helped him strip it off of his body.

Harry took initiative and sat up, pushing Louis back against the backrest of the sofa while they hurried to get Louis’ t-shirt off of his body. He climbed off the sofa and crouched down in front of Louis between his legs. Louis lolled his head back at the sight, the way Harry licked his lips in anticipation made his cock twitch in his jeans.

Making quick work of pulling the jeans down to Louis’s calves, Harry nuzzled against the bare flesh of one thigh, darting his tongue out briefly. Louis brought a hand up into the wild mess of curls, his belly jumping a little when he brushed over the scar. It didn’t drive him away this time -- not when he knew that pulling away would leave Harry insecure and embarrassed about himself.

“Your back, baby,” Louis mumbled when Harry lowered his head. “You okay?”

Harry blinked up at him, looking slightly confused, but he was too out of it already. Louis pressed his lips together, shutting himself up to not say anymore of the things that came to his mind automatically when being with Harry like this.

Louis’ cock sprang free from its restraints when Harry pulled down his briefs, standing angry and red against the pale skin of Louis’ stomach. Louis instantly forgot every single thought on his mind. Harry circled the base with his fingers and Louis threw his head back, moaning from finally being touched.

With his hand steady on the nape of Harry’s neck, Louis closed his eyes as Harry started to work over his cock. He did so well, was as eager to please as he had always been. His tongue pressed against the underside of Louis’ cock, and he swallowed around Louis when the tip hit the back of Harry’s throat. He hummed when Louis hissed, encouraging him to fuck into Harry’s mouth.

Harry obviously hadn’t forgot how to suck cock.

Louis let his head fall forwards to watch Harry. His lips were stretched and red around Louis’ cock, the blush on his cheeks rosy and his eyebrows knit together in concentration. He responded to Louis pulling his hair and drew back slightly, loosening his jaw to let Louis fuck his mouth.

“God, Harry,” Louis breathed as he watched the length of his cock slide in and out of Harry’s mouth. “Baby.”

Harry opened his eyes and stared at Louis, obviously struggling with holding still, but he did so well, only let his tongue swipe against the tip of Louis’ cock everytime Louis pulled back.

Louis’ thrusts got messier with every second passing and he lifted his arm, clutching the backrest of the sofa to anchor himself. “Haz, I’m-- I’m gonna--”

Harry blinked once, sinking his mouth deeper onto Louis’ cock, and it was all the permission Louis needed to come. He pulled Harry’s hair harder, and stilled with his cock deep in Harry’s mouth, unloading what felt like the first real orgasm in five years.

Harry swallowed around him, breathing heavily through his nose and Louis groaned with the relief it gave him. He loosened his grip on Harry’s hair and Harry immediately started bobbing his head again, milking Louis of every last drop.

“Fuck,” Louis hissed when Harry let his cock slide out of his mouth. He slumped and rested his head against Louis’ thigh, breathing heavily. “God, Harry.”

Harry pressed a gentle kiss against Louis’ thigh, smiling up at him with lips sinfully red from being stretched and used for so long. It drove Louis mad how much more he wanted Harry than he had just a few minutes ago.

“Did you finally catch up?” Harry’s voice was wrecked . Completely wrecked.

Louis didn’t even bother try and pull Harry up to him on the sofa. Instead, he slid down to the ground, next to Harry and pulled him in for a kiss. He tasted of come, filthy and salty and so, so much like Harry. Louis wanted to cry with how familiar it all felt, with how fulfilling it was to have Harry’s skin on his, heated and glowing and sweaty.

Harry didn’t protest when Louis pressed him to the floor, saying everything he couldn’t say by kissing Harry breathless. Harry responded as if he understood, but Louis knew that he didn’t. He couldn’t. There was no way he could understand what it meant to Louis to have Harry here with him like this. Even if he only got this one night; if nothing more would come of this.

Louis hadn’t felt this whole in a long, long time.

+++

The clock next to Louis’ bed read 3:37 am. Harry registered it in the back of his mind, body rocking back and forth on Louis’ fingers. They had finally made it to the bedroom a while ago, after Louis had sucked Harry off on the floor in his sitting room. They had spent ages snogging there afterwards, hands and mouths exploring each other languidly.

Harry threw his head back with a moan when Louis slightly spread his fingers apart, shoving them even deeper and hitting a sweet spot. He attached his lips to Harry’s neck, sucking on the already bruised skin there. Harry’s cock twitched with the streak of pleasure it sent through his body.

“Louis,” he mumbled, panting when he got a hold of Louis’ free hand and tangled their fingers. “God, please, just---” He moaned again when Louis managed to find the spot once more. “I need--- please.”

“Could make you come like this.” Louis’ voice was low and raspy. “Just from my fingers.”

“No, please.” Harry arched off the mattress into Louis’ body. “Want your cock.”

Louis took his sweet time, teasing Harry a little longer, his fingers firm and sure of what they were doing, but just not enough anymore. Harry squirmed, yelping at the sudden emptiness when Louis withdrew them.

He was too tired, too out of it to lift his head when he heard Louis rip open the condom paper. His chest was heaving with how heavily he breathed in and out, his limbs spread from his body.

“Are you still with me?” Louis asked, his hand gliding over his own cock, spreading lube over the condom.

Harry hummed, squeezing Louis’ thigh. “Fuck me.”

Louis kissed him again, bringing Harry’s hand up to his cock and Harry felt just how hard Louis was for him. How much Louis wanted him. He bit Louis’ lip, pulling it between his teeth softly before licking over it. Louis pushed his cock into Harry’s hand, momentarily getting lost in it.

After a moment, he detached his lips from Harry’s and grabbed Harry’s wrist, pressing a chaste kiss against Harry’s pulse point. He turned Harry on his stomach and straddled his hips. Harry whined when Louis pulled his cheeks apart with one hand and the tip of his cock sank against his hole. He shut his eyes, adjusting to the pressure as Louis started to rock, push in deeper and deeper.

“Okay?” Louis asked, voice strained.

Harry wiggled back, his fingers crumpling the sheets underneath him from how hard he was gripping them. “More, Lou.”

Louis complied and bottomed out, his cock filling Harry up completely. It wasn’t uncomfortable for a second, and Harry wondered how his body could adjust to the feeling so quickly. He hadn’t had sex like that in a while, but with Louis, it seemed so effortless, so easy.

“Fuck, baby.” Louis leaned forwards, hands coming up to grip Harry’s. He buried himself deeper in Harry, making his hips twitch and Harry pushed back lightly to get a little more of that friction.

“Lou,” he whined. “Fuck me.”

Louis didn’t have to be told twice. He started out slow, pulling out until only the tip of his cock was still inside Harry before slamming back in. He made Harry yelp with every thrust, his nerves raw and sensitive. Louis kissed every inch of Harry he could reach, lips and tongue sloppy.

When his thrusts became more frantic, he detached himself from Harry’s back and gripped his hips, thrusting into Harry at a shallow and fast pace. Harry’s erection rubbed against the sheets, but Louis grabbed around him, curling his fingers around Harry’s cock and stroking in time with his thrusts.

Harry didn’t think it was even possible, but he shot another load onto the dark sheets beneath them, crying out Louis’ name as he came. Louis followed a second later, slamming into Harry and stilling, burying himself as deep as possible.

Afterwards, they collapsed onto the mattress and Louis’ cock slid out of Harry. Harry sighed, turning around to nuzzle against Louis’ chest. Louis’ arm immediately came around his waist, pulling him closer, while his lips roamed over Harry’s face, gently whispering praise into Harry’s skin.

“So, so gorgeous,” Louis mumbled, lips finding Harry’s in a warm kiss. “Can’t believe I get to do this.”

Harry smiled lazily, running one hand up into Louis’ hair. “You definitely did everything you could to miss out on it.”

Louis buried his face in Harry’s hair, still breathing heavily. “Are you okay? Was it too harsh?”

Giggling, Harry shook his head. “Could have been a little more rough,” he replied, biting Louis’ shoulder to get his point across.

Louis pinched his arse, then let his hand slide lower, so he could dip a finger into Harry’s still stretched hole. Hissing, Harry let Louis push his finger in and out, soothing the sore skin, helping his muscles relax.

“Next time, I guess,” Louis mumbled into Harry’s hair.

They remained like that for a while, hands running along their filthy, sweaty skin in the dim darkness of Louis’ bedroom. They traded slow kisses and whispered words until Harry felt exhaustion taking over him.

Louis’ fingers stopped over some of his scars every now and then, and he had circled a finger over the one above Harry’s ribs, just beneath his arm, where they had cut him open to get a tube in and drain the blood from his lungs. It was probably his messiest scar since it hadn’t been cut with precaution, but only with the intention to save his life.

Louis hadn’t asked about a single one. He was feeling them out, fingers returning to the calloused skin over Harry’s ribs, over Harry’s knee, underneath Harry’s hair. He had kissed the one over Harry’s collarbone particularly often. But he hadn’t asked.

Harry ran his hand down to Louis’ knee where he had one of his own scars. A long vertical line above his kneecap. It hadn’t healed very nicely, probably due to Louis not properly taking care of it.

“Where’d you get this one?” Harry asked, brushing his thumb over the scar.

Louis was quiet for a moment, fingers gently brushing over Harry’s back. “I played footie,” he replied eventually. “Got injured every now and then.”

Harry hummed, brushing the scar on Louis’ hip. “Looks like it.”

Louis turned him over and curled around Harry’s back, a hand coming to rest over Harry’s stomach. “We should get some sleep, babe.”

Harry frowned to himself. He had assumed that since he was slightly taller and broader than Louis, he was going to be the big spoon. Yet, the way Louis held him and fit his body against Harry’s was just perfect, felt like they were slotting together like two puzzle pieces.

Closing his eyes, Harry snuggled into Louis’ arms, smiling when Louis kissed along the hairline on his nape. Something about Louis’ presence made him feel warm, and safe and like he belonged. It was probably crazy, but the way Louis held him felt familiar.

“It’s easy with you” Harry mumbled sleepily.

“What,” Louis whispered back, sounding a little amused.

“It’s like I’ve known you forever,” Harry clarified for him, lacing their fingers together. “It never felt like that with anyone before.”

Louis was quiet, his fingers limp between Harry’s, and his breath warm against Harry’s neck. With a content sigh, Harry let sleep take him.

+++

He knew he should get up. It was five in the morning and Louis hadn’t slept for a single minute. Instead, he had watched Harry sleep, the slow and steady rise of his chest, his slightly opened lips. His hand reached out for Louis every now and then and he sighed sweetly when Louis took it in his own.

Harry knew.

It had been a bit of a shock at first when Harry had said it. Of course he didn’t remember, but Harry’s body obviously knew. His body remembered those things that his mind didn’t. It remembered how to fit against Louis, and it remembered how to touch Louis. He even remembered how to please Louis.

In return, Louis hadn’t forgot a single thing about Harry’s body. He still knew all the sensitive spots and where Harry liked to be touched most. He had been wary with the scars, as each and every one of them had reminded him that Harry’s body was much more fragile than Louis had ever been aware of.

Louis brushed his lips against the scar over Harry’s collarbone, getting used to the feeling of it under his mouth. That was the other reasons he’d been wary with the scars. They hadn’t been there the last time Louis had touched Harry.

He hadn’t touched Harry in way too long.

Closing his eyes, Louis gently brushed Harry’s hair from his face, careful not to wake him. He watched Harry’s sleeping form, heart swelling with the realisation that he was okay. It hadn’t been anything conscious on his mind, nothing had ever realised before, but his heart had never truly believed Harry was okay until Louis had had him like this.

He hadn’t had touched Harry after the accident, and he had never realised how crucial that had been to ease his mind. After last night, he knew that Harry was whole and healed, and that he didn’t hurt from any injury he had from the accident anymore.

It had lifted a weight off of Louis that he hadn’t even known had been there.

Kissing Harry’s shoulder once more, Louis finally slid out of bed. Harry sighed sleepily and shifted closer to the warm spot Louis had left, nuzzling deeper into the sheets. There were white streaks on the dark linen, and Louis bit his lip upon the memory how they had got there.

He rushed into the bathroom to shower quickly, washing the remains of last night away. Being as quiet as possible, he got dressed afterwards, glancing at Harry repeatedly who was still sound asleep. It was still dark outside but the dim light of the sunset fell through the windows and upon Harry’s naked back. His skin glowed, looking soft and warm.

“What am I gonna do with you?” Louis wondered, sighing. He knew that Harry would hate waking up all by himself. He was the kind of person that liked being woken up with kisses and giggles and soft touches.

Louis could send him a text. He could text Harry a thank you for the amazing night and let him know that he had to leave for work. He could text him that Harry could stay as long as he wanted and could take whatever he wanted.

A text would be enough.

“Fuck it,” Louis muttered to himself. Harry deserved more than a meaningless text.

The mattress dipped when he sat down next to Harry, brushing his hand over Harry’s bare back. He leaned in and kissed Harry’s cheek, lips carefully brushing over Harry’s cheekbone.

“Hey,” he murmured. “Love.”

Harry blinked open his eyes, and he was beautiful to watch as he woke up slowly. His eyes came into focus and he smiled softly, hand sliding over to touch Louis’ thigh.

“Gotta leave for work,” Louis whispered.

“Already?” Harry whispered back.

“You can stay as long as you want.” Louis kissed his temple again. “Get some more sleep.”

Harry hummed, fingers tracing over Louis’ thigh. “Call me?”

“Will do,” Louis promised and made to get up.

Harry held him back by his hand. He sat up and the duvet pooled around his waist. “No, Louis,” he said, pulling Louis back down. He still looked sleepy, but there was a stubborn tilt to his mouth. “I’m serious.”

Louis leaned in, giving Harry a closed-mouthed kiss. He looked into Harry’s eyes, brushing a thumb over his jaw. “I’ll call you, baby.”

“All right,” Harry whispered again, pecking Louis’ lips once more.

Louis got up, and before he left the bedroom, he looked back over his shoulder to find Harry’s head was back on the pillow, but his eyes were still open. He smiled at Louis, and Louis blew him a kiss.

When he left his flat, he wondered how exactly this was going to end.

+++

Harry woke up when he heard the door being opened. He checked the clock on the nightstand, realising that it was almost noon. His stomach dropped as he realised that he had less than an hour to get to work.

He heard some shuffling around in the kitchen; the fridge being opened and closed, cutlery rustling. Grinning, Harry got up and winced briefly, remembering the pleasant ache in his bones and muscles. He picked up his clothes from where Louis had apparently collected them for him from the floor this morning and had put them on a chair next to the wardrobe.

His jeans were crusty in the crotch area and Harry remembered his embarrassing moment, still going red with the memory. He was lucky it hadn’t been a turn off for Louis. It only spoke for Harry’s good taste in men, though, that Louis had reacted the way he had. He’d been lovely about it, hadn’t let it get to Harry’s head.

Dropping his jeans, Harry decided that he should ask the man himself to lend him a few clothes. Louis probably didn’t expect Harry to still be here, but he was sure he wouldn’t mind making good use of that lunch break at home.

“You didn’t say anything about---” Harry shrieked when he came into the kitchen and saw Liam instead of Louis.

Liam spit out his noodle salad, staring at Harry. “What the fuck?”

“Fuck,” Harry said, fleeing the kitchen to get back to Louis’ bedroom. “Bloody fuck.”

“Harry,” Liam yelled, right on his heels.

Harry pulled one of the jogging bottoms that were draped over the chair by Louis’ bed over his legs. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Liam asked in return.

Feeling less exposed with some pants on, Harry rested his hands on his hips. “Well, I’m not breaking into other people’s flats naked. So I guess it’s rather obvious what I’m doing here.”

Liam gaped at him. “He didn’t.”

“No.” Harry tried not to blush. “We did, actually.”

“Oh God,” Liam groaned and ran a hand over his face.

Raising a brow, Harry finally took Liam’s appearance in. He was wearing last night’s clothes, and he looked tired. He had been eating when Harry had found him in the kitchen, stuffing himself with a ready meal, which was very unlike him. He hadn’t come home last night.

“Guess you did, too.” Harry smirked as Liam looked up. “With Zayn.”

Liam’s cheeks turned pink and he turned around, stomping back to the kitchen. “That’s none of your business, Harry.”

“It’s none of your business what I did last night, either,” Harry reminded him.

Liam mumbled something under his breath, but Harry decided to ignore it. He went to the wardrobe instead and picked out some decent clothes for his shift at work instead. Liam was still in the kitchen, stuffing himself with noodle salad when Harry came from the bathroom, hair still damp and Louis’ pair of jeans a little tight over his hips.

“What about that Oliver bloke?” Liam asked when Harry opened the fridge to get a bottle of water.

Harry uncapped the bottle and took a long gulp. “He wasn’t really what I was looking for.”

Liam hummed, concentrating on scraping every bit of noodle salad from the almost empty box. “Louis texted me when he went home. He went alone.”

“He did.” Harry took an apple from the bowl on the table.

“You followed him.”

It wasn’t a question, but Harry nodded nonetheless.

For a moment, Liam was quiet, finishing his salad. When he put the empty box down on the table, he looked up at Harry. “I guess you know what you’re doing.”

Smiling, Harry went over to ruffle Liam’s hair. “I do. And don’t you dare tell Louis again to keep his hands off me.”

Liam frowned at him.

“I don’t want him to,” Harry said, grinning cheekily. “I like his hands on me.”

Rolling his eyes, Liam got up from his chair. “I figured as much.”

“Gotta leave for work.” Harry bit into the apple, scrunching his nose at how mealy and stale it tasted. He wondered how long it had lain there in that bowl. “How long will you be in London for?”

“Another two days.” Liam started stripping from his clothes.

“See you before you leave again?” Harry asked as he found his coat and shoes. He pulled his mobile from the pocket, seeing that he didn’t have any new notifications.

“See you,” Liam said on his way to the bathroom.

Grinning, Harry left the flat, finishing his apple.

+++

When he checked his mobile during his break, the only message he had was from his mother. Harry didn’t even open it, not feeling quite in the mood to text her right now.

He checked once more after his shift, when it was almost midnight. His stomach felt like it was in knots when there wasn’t any notification for a missed call.

+++

Louis had a headache.

He’d spent at least an hour listening to Liam’s conspiracy theories. That’s what Louis had come to label them, because Liam had come up with every single scenario of how what had happened the night before could’ve gone wrong.

Louis couldn’t say that he hadn’t been going through them himself, that he hadn’t thought of how it could muck up everything he had sacrificed the past five years. And he had sacrificed a lot.

One night with Harry put all of it in shambles, and Louis knew that he had headed into it not thinking with his brain, but with his cock. And maybe his heart, but that was something he couldn’t even begin to explain to Liam.

He hadn’t called Harry.

He had promised he would, but in the end, he’d been a coward about it. He had known that if he had called Harry, they’d have spent last night together as well. And tonight, too. And maybe every night following.

“The more I think about it, the more anxious I get,” Liam said as he finally sat down. He’d been pacing Louis’ living room for the past thirty minutes.

They both had been busy. Last night, Louis had come home way too drained and exhausted from his night with Harry and a day at court to keep his eyes open for longer than two minutes of listening to Liam freak out on him.

In the morning, Liam had had to leave early for a business meeting, and now that Louis was back from work, he had taken the opportunity to pin Louis down and question his motives.

Louis hadn’t had anything better in store than, “I couldn’t reject him, Liam. Can you even imagine the boy you love telling you he’s gonna go let some other guy fuck him if you don’t do it?”

Liam had looked affronted for a moment, but then he had sighed. “No. And I don’t even want to imagine what that’s been like for you.”

It didn’t change the fact that sleeping with Harry had made things worse. Not just considering the circumstances Louis had brought himself into, but also for his heart. He longed to have Harry close now more than he had before, and every time he closed his eyes, he could feel the ghost touch of Harry’s hands on his skin.

That one night hadn’t been nearly enough to make up for all the lost time. Louis wanted more.

“Tommo!” he was pulled out from his thoughts when Niall appeared in the doorframe to his living room.

He looked like an angry Christmas elf, Louis thought and almost smiled, if it hadn’t been for the way Niall glared at him. He was truly upset.

Niall pointed at him. “You fucking cunt did it again!”

“Now, this---” Liam started, but Niall threw him a dark glare.

“Stay out of it,” Niall warned him. “You’re not innocent in this, either.”

Louis got up from his sofa, gesturing for Niall to calm down. “Niall.”

“Why didn’t you just fucking call him?” Niall raised his voice, pushing Louis’ hands away. “Why can’t you be a decent bloke once? All you wanted was a fuck out of him, didn’t you?”

Liam gasped audibly, and Louis could relate. He would have gasped, too, at that accusation if it didn’t hurt so badly coming from someone like Niall. One of his best friends.

“That’s not what it’s like, Niall.”

“Funny, because while you have a laugh about it with your watchdog here, Harry’s been crying his eyes out.” Niall crossed his arms in front of his chest.

“He cried?” Louis could almost hear it when his heart cracked.

“Well,” Niall amended. “He’s upset. And complaining.”

“I didn’t mean---”

Niall cut him short. “You totally did. You knew exactly what you were doing. You’ve been playing hot and cold with him from the first minute, and you need to cut the crap, Louis.”

He was right. Louis knew that Niall was right, but how was he supposed to explain himself? Niall should know him better than to think that Louis would willingly hurt Harry like that. But Niall couldn’t know because, despite being one of Louis’ best friends, Louis had never clued him in on his past.

“You don’t know what it’s like.” Louis knew that it was a lame comeback.

Niall knew it, too, apparently. “I have two working eyes, mate.”

Louis threw a glance at Liam, then he inhaled to prepare himself. He’d never said any of it out loud to someone who hadn’t been involved back then. “He forgot me, Niall.”

“Um, no?” Niall sounded confused, and looked it even more when Louis lifted his gaze to him. “He certainly didn’t, as he’s at his flat right now, being massively upset over you acting like a twat.”

“Louis,” Liam hissed. “Don’t.”

“He needs to know, Liam.” Louis looked back at Niall, bracing himself. “He’s one of my best friends.”

The confusion on Niall’s face slowly changed into fright. “What the fuck is going on?”

“You joked about it when Harry told you about his amnesia.” Louis wrenched his hands together. “That he forgot his wife after the accident.”

“Oh fuck,” Niall choked out, already realising.

“Turns out it wasn’t a wife.” Louis swallowed thickly, his voice raw with how desperate he felt. “But a boyfriend who was right there with him in that car and almost lost him that day.”

“Fuck, Louis.” Niall covered his mouth with his hand. “He forgot you?”

Louis shrugged, trying to play it down. “The last thing he remembers is from two weeks before he met me.”

Niall turned to Liam, staring at him with big eyes, as if he was expecting him to tell Niall that it was all a sick joke. Liam pressed his lips together, nodding slightly.

“That’s why…” Nial gestured between Louis and Liam. “And why you tried to stop it.”

“I decided back then that it was better for his mental health to stay away. He had enough on his plate as it was.” Louis remembered the look on Harry’s face when he had went down to see him that last night at the hospital. “He shouldn’t have to deal with having to remember a boyfriend on top of it. It’d have broken him trying to remember me. He’d have felt guilty. I didn’t want that for him.”

“Still don’t,” Liam corrected. “That’s why he tried to stay away from Harry.”

“That’s so fucked up.” Niall sat down on the armrest of the armchair.

Louis buried his hands in his pockets, trying to muster up a smile. “I guess you could say that.”

“You could have just stayed away from him,” Niall said, obviously just blurting out what was going through his head. “I mean. Really stayed away instead of going to his birthday thing, and taking him to concerts. You know?”

“I tried,” Louis replied. “I really did. Turns out Harry can be really persistent when he wants something.”

Niall hummed. “And he wants you.”

Louis nodded. “And he has no idea how much of me he really has. I’m his in every sense. Have been for the past five years.”

It was quiet for a moment, and Louis only realised how loaded those words were when they were out. They were true, though, and there was no use in denying it. It felt good to finally say it out loud.

“You gotta tell him, mate.” Niall got up again, approaching Louis. “He needs to know.”

“I can’t, Ni.” Louis shook his head. “The doctors advised against it.”

“Five years ago,” Niall argued. “At a time when he didn’t even know about you. This is different now, Louis. You’re in his life and you’ve slept with him. You’re on the way to become his boyfriend.”

Louis gulped, his heart sinking to his stomach. “What?”

“Lou.” Niall’s voice was firm. “You don’t think this is a game for him, do you? He’s doing all of this because he wants to sack you. He’s head over heels and he wants the real deal. He’s not after some fun no strings attached arrangement. He wants to be your boyfriend.”

Gaping, Louis turned to Liam. “Did he say that?”

“He doesn’t have to,” Liam said softly. “It’s clear from how he behaves, Lou.”

Louis plopped down onto the sofa. “Fuck.”

“You didn’t know?” Niall sounded a little unbelieving.

Of course he had known. Louis knew that Harry wasn’t the kind of person who wanted a loose arrangement. He had wanted to be with Louis for the rest of his life at the age of nineteen, and not even a mean blow to his head could have changed that. Why should Harry want anything different now? Why shouldn’t he be after true love now when it was something he had always believed in? He had lost his memories, but not his heart.

“I’m in such a mess,” Louis groaned, running a hand over his face.

“There’s only one way to solve this, Tommo.” Niall put a hand on his shoulder. “You gotta tell him.”

“He’s gonna hate me,” Louis whispered. “He’s gonna hate me for going on a date with him, and for kissing him and for shagging him when I knew all along and he didn’t.”

“He’ll be angry,” Liam agreed. He sat down next to Louis. “But he’ll understand.”

Louis turned to him, eyes wide. “You think I should tell him?”

Liam shrugged. “Niall is right. It’s the only way to get out of the mess.”

Letting that sink in, Louis ran his hands through his hair, breathing out harshly. “How am I gonna tell him?”

“Start at the beginning,” Niall suggested.

Louis groaned, shaking his head. “I can’t do this.”

“You can.” Liam patted his thigh. “Come on. We’ll gonna go through it together before you go see him.”

The thought of telling Harry had always been scary. It was even scarier now that it wasn’t just a hypothetical thing in Louis’ head. He was going to tell Harry, after five long years of doing everything so that Harry would never find out.

“I’m scared,” he told Liam.

Niall sat down on the floor before Louis’ feet. “Tommo, it’s Harry we’re talking about.”

“No,” Louis said, shaking his head. “What if he’s gonna break down?”

Liam contemplated it for a minute, brows knit tightly together. “You know,” he said then. “This is different from before. You didn’t maneuver the two of you into this.”

Louis blinked at him, tilting his head. “What do you mean?”

“It was him, Louis.” Liam sighed, rubbing his hand over Louis’s thigh. “He chose this path. He’s chosen you. He could have stayed oblivious for the rest of his life. And of course, he has no idea that he’s oblivious, but he’s been chasing you, Louis. He wants you in his life. That he’s finding out about it now is not really your decision. It’s your reaction to what he’s chosen for himself.”

“Wow.” Niall gaped at Liam and took out his mobile. “Excellent argument. We’ll jot that down.”

Louis let out a wet chuckle at that. His heart was a little lighter, though.

Liam was right. He had done everything he could to protect Harry, and he would keep on doing that. With how things had developed, though, and with the path Harry had chosen, keeping their past a secret from Harry wasn’t the right way to protect him anymore.

Harry needed to know, and he had to find it out from Louis.

+++

“I hate him,” Harry mumbled under his breath as he crashed the meat tenderiser down onto the chicken breasts in front of him. “I hate him. I hate him. I hate him.”

“All right, mate.” Zayn grabbed his arm. “That chicken’s already dead.”

Harry scoffed, putting the tool away. “Sorry.”

Zayn leaned against the work counter, crossing his arms. “What did Louis do?”

“Who says this is about Louis?” Harry sprinkled pepper and salt onto the meat.

“Well,” Zayn mused, watching him work. “Last time I saw you you were trying to rile him up by hooking up with some bland kid.”

Harry threw him an unimpressed look.

“And that either didn’t work out at all,” Zayn went on, “or it didn’t work out the way you wanted it to.”

“Didn’t work out the way I wanted,” Harry mumbled as he put the prepared meat back into the fridge.

“What did he do?” Zayn repeated.

Harry sighed and took off the rubber gloves to throw them away. “He didn’t call.”

“A crime.” Zayn sounded amused and Harry glared at him. This wasn’t funny.

“He slept with me and then didn’t call,” Harry tried again, to make Zayn see the whole picture and how unfunny it really was.

Zayn was still smiling. “So, have you tried calling him?”

“He said he’d call me. ” Harry took off his apron and the net covering his hair.

“Babe.” Zayn put a hand on his arm, making Harry look at him directly. “That’s childish. Does it really matter who calls who?”

Of course it didn’t. Not if this were a different person. With Louis, though, it was important that he called Harry first.

“When I say he has to call me, I don’t mean I’m waiting for his call.” Harry had expected the confused look on Zayn’s face. “When he left that morning, I told him to call me. He said he would, so I stopped him and told him again that I expected him to call me. And he knew what I really meant was that I wouldn’t allow him to go ghost on me again.”

Zayn’s brows shot up and he nodded. “So, he has to call you because it’s important that he takes that first step.”

Harry nodded. “Exactly. I made it clear what it is I want. I kept chasing him. It’s his turn now.”

“I don’t know.” Zayn shrugged. “You didn’t tell him when to call you, did you?”

“It’s been two days, Zayn.” Harry ran a hand through his hair. “He’s back-pedalling again.”

Zayn hummed. “Or,” he said, “he’s just not sure what to do or say.”

“After that night, he should be.”

“Okay, okay.” Shrugging, Zayn folded one of the tea towels. “I’m just not sure it’s the right thing to wait for his next move and assume the worst in the meantime. Maybe he’s just busy at work and wants to have enough time when finally calling you. Or he’s gearing up to some grand love declaration. It doesn’t always have to be something negative.”

Harry narrowed his eyes at him. “You’re only saying that because Liam probably called you ten minutes after he left your flat Tuesday morning.”

“Three,” Zayn corrected him. “He’s called me after three minutes.”

“Disgusting,” Harry mumbled and turned away to get changed in the staff room.

Zayn didn’t follow him, so Harry closed the door behind himself and leaned against it for a moment, his thoughts already running miles in his head. Maybe Zayn was right and it didn’t matter if Louis was calling him. Maybe it didn’t mean anything that he hadn’t called yet.

Louis had been nothing but sincere and sweet when they had been together a few nights ago. Harry didn’t have a lot of experience with sex, but something about being with Louis had been different from the other times. Somehow, Louis had touched him in just the right ways, and somehow Harry had just known how to move with Louis. It had been like his body had been moving of its own accord.

It had been like getting connected to a powerhouse and all this energy was flowing through Harry now, wanting to be released. And the only release he could think of was Louis. It didn’t really matter if Louis called or didn’t call -- what Harry really wanted was to see him. He needed to see Louis again, touch him, and hear his voice and let Louis kiss him in that way that made Harry’s vision go blurry and his heart race in his chest.

Whatever was going on that kept Louis from reaching out to Harry, couldn’t be as strong as what Harry felt for Louis. And he was sure Louis felt the same way. He wouldn’t have reacted so strongly to Oliver, and he wouldn’t have held Harry the way he had after they had fucked. He had treated Harry like he was made of porcelain, lips gentle over Harry’s scars and his hands careful when he had woken Harry up.

Louis definitely wasn’t indifferent to him.

After he had changed, Harry checked his mobile, finding that Louis had, after all, tried to call him. His heart jumped in his chest when he opened the notification. It had been two hours ago and Louis hadn’t tried again or texted him, but he had called Harry.

Grinning, Harry put the phone away and left the staff room.

“Did he call?” Zayn asked when he spotted Harry.

Harry nodded. “Yeah, during my shift.”

“Told you he’d call.” Zayn played with one of the notepads. “He’s probably just had some trouble convincing Liam to stay out of it.”

Raising a brow, Harry filled a glass with water. “ Did Liam say anything?”

Zayn lifted his hands in an innocent gesture. “Not to me, no. But he did have an interest in keeping you away from Louis, didn’t he?”

“Yeah, he did.” Harry frowned to himself. “Maybe that’s what was going on.”

“So what are you gonna do now?” Zayn wanted to know.

“I’m not gonna call him back.” Harry drank his water and put the glass in one of the dishwashers.

“You’re gonna go see him,” Zayn predicted.

Grinning, Harry nodded. “I’ll drop by his office and see if I can distract him with some snogging.”

“I’m sure he’s gonna be up for it.” Zayn gestured for him to leave, an amused smile on his lips.

Harry winked and then took the backdoor to leave the restaurant. He was lucky and caught a relatively empty train at the tube station. All the way to the stop, he was giddy with excitement. Just this morning, he had still been angry with Louis for not calling him, but now he had called and he wanted to see Harry. Whatever Harry had been so worried about had probably only been in his head.

When he reached the firm Louis worked at, he needed a moment to orientate himself, reading the signs for the different floors. He took one of the lifts and hoped he was on the correct floor when he got off.

A young woman sat across from the lifts, giving him a bright smile. “Welcome to Cowell Law LLP. How can I help you?”

“Hi.” Harry looked around and feeling slightly intimidated by the sleek interior. “I wanted to see Mr Tomlinson?”

She pointed to her left. “He’s at the end of the corridor. Please consult with his secretary.”

Harry thanked her and walked down the corridor. He passed several offices, some of them empty, others filled with people looking busy. When he reached the end, he saw another young woman typing away on a computer.

“Excuse me,” Harry said, stopping in front of her table.

She looked a little irritated at first, then a smile appeared on her face. “Oh, hi!” She stood up and held out a hand for him. “I’m Cecilia. It’s so nice to meet you.”

Harry shook her hand, slightly confused by her reaction. “I’m Harry.”

“Mr Tomlinson isn’t back from court yet, I’m afraid,” she informed him. “He should be here any minute.”

“Okay.” Harry pointed at the sofa next to the office door. “Is it okay for me to just wait here for him then?”

She huffed out a laugh and winked at Harry. “I’m sure he doesn’t mind if you’re waiting in his office, love.” Rounding her table, she opened the door for him. “It’s not like you’re one of his clients, after all.”

Harry walked inside the office, thanking her. He wasn’t sure how she knew that he wasn’t a client. Either she had visionary powers or she confused Harry for someone else. He didn’t really care how it had come to be either way, so he waited until she had closed the door again and then took in the room.

Louis’ office desk stood in front of a massive window that was overlooking the city. He was in one of the highest floors of the building, which gave him a view of several rooftop terraces. There was art on the walls, modern paintings in dark colours. Behind the desk was a black leather chair, looking used but comfortable.

Harry rounded the table and sat down, imagining Louis sitting here every day. How would he react if he saw Harry sitting in it, waiting for Louis as soon as he’d come back in here?

Harry grinned when he pictured it, his stomach fluttering in anticipation.  

Maybe he would lock the door and tell Cecilia that he wouldn’t take any calls or clients for the next thirty minutes. Maybe he’d straddle Harry’s lap and they’d take the snogging up a notch to a quick--

The grin on his face faltered when his eyes landed on the set of photos lined up on the desk.

+++

“Cecilia, I gotta leave a little early today,” Louis said when he came down the corridor. “You gotta inform Brooks and Smith that our telephone conference has to be cancelled. Schedule them in for tomorrow.”

“Of course, Mr Tomlinson.” She started typing away on her computer, but kept her eyes on him. She had a strange kind of smile on her face. “I thought you would want to leave early today.”

Louis frowned. “You did?”

She made a mysterious little shrug and went back to typing.

Not quite sure what it meant, Louis looked through the letters that had come and that Cecilia had left for him on the edge of her desk. He wasn’t really paying attention, though, only checked if there was any really important name within them.

His mind was already somewhere else. Harry hadn’t called him back. He had to have seen Louis had called him by now. Yet, there hadn’t been any reaction from Harry. Louis had contemplated what to do for the whole night, and he had thought calling Harry and asking to meet him would be the best option.

Now, he knew that the best option was leaving work as early as possible and going over to Harry’s to see him. He had postponed it for long enough and Harry was probably furious by now that Louis hadn’t reached out to him sooner.

He put the letters back down and went to his office to get rid of the files before leaving. He stopped in his tracks when he spotted Harry sitting in the leather chair behind his desk. His heart jumped in excitement and every bone in him wanted to move to pull Harry against him.

It crashed him, almost suffocated him; the realisation just how much he had missed Harry those past few days.

“Baby--” he started, but then noticed the cold stare in Harry’s eyes.

Harry ran a finger over one of the framed photos on his desk, not taking his eyes off Louis for a second. Louis’ stomach dropped and he felt all the blood rushing from his head to his feet, making him feel dizzy.

“Harry,” he started again, but Harry beat him to it.

“How come,” he said, a shaky voice betraying his cold stare, “that there’s a picture of us together from when I was nineteen, Louis?”

===

Chapter Text

The files slipped from Louis’ hands, hitting the ground with a dull noise.

Harry was still staring at him, his words echoing between them. Or maybe they were just echoing off the walls of Louis’ skull because his mind was completely blank except for Harry’s upset expression and those words.

For a moment, Louis thought he would just drop to the floor, too, with a dull noise. It’d be too easy, though. That wouldn’t fit his usual luck of having to take on every challenge that presented itself in his life. He had to face Harry instead.

“You’re twenty,” Louis heard himself say, as if it wasn’t his voice. “You’re twenty in that picture.”

Harry’s gaze dropped to the photo again and he withdrew his hand from it. “It’s in my mum’s garden.”

Louis nodded. He had no idea what to say. Or what Harry expected him to say. Every word he could say could make this worse. He had planned to slowly prepare Harry for this. Now both of them had been thrown at the deep end, and Louis didn’t know how to save them.

He probably couldn’t save this.

“Louis.” Harry looked at him again, eyes still intent. “Why is there a picture of us in my mum’s garden?”

“Because,” Louis choked out, hoping that Harry wouldn’t run away from him. “Because I was there, Harry. And I remember all of it.”

Harry frowned slightly. “All of what?”

Swallowing thickly, Louis ran a hand through his hair. “The three years,” he replied. “Those three years you don’t remember. The accident. The hospital. I remember all of it.”

Shaking his head, Harry finally stood up. “That’s not true. I was alone.”

“You were not.” Louis took a step closer to him. “You were with me.”

It didn’t even take a second for Harry’s mood to revert. Louis could see the change on his face; could pinpoint the moment denial kicked in. He looked angry, his jaw stubbornly set. “I was alone in that car.”

“You don’t know that, do you? You can’t remember any of it.” Louis knew he had fucked up the moment it was out of his mouth. That had come out completely wrong and he wanted to take it back, say something else instead. Something that wouldn’t make Harry hate him even more than he probably did right now.

Harry looked shocked for second, then his brows knit together in anger and his lips formed a thin line. He dashed past Louis without another word.

“Harry, wait.” Louis followed him, catching Harry’s wrist when he reached the door. “Baby--”

“Don’t you dare call me that again.” Harry pulled away from him. “I don’t believe a single thing you’re saying.”

Louis’ heart sank with the realisation that he was losing Harry. He had to do something, had to somehow make Harry stay and listen to him. “Come on, love, you need to calm down.”

“I don’t want to calm down.” Harry turned on his heels, stomping out of the office. “I don’t ever want to see you again.”

Louis couldn’t stop the whimper escaping him. He watched Harry dash down the corridor and disappear around a corner. His heart weighed heavily in his chest, and Louis wasn’t sure it was beating at all. Maybe it was, but with even less purpose than before.

He slammed his fist against the doorframe and Cecilia shrieked quietly. She quickly lowered her gaze when he looked at her, pretending to be busy with something else. Louis ran a hand over his face, feeling his body go numb. His breathing got ragged and he felt dizzy.

“Mr Tomlinson?” Cecilia asked, her chair rattling as she shot up from it.

“I’m good.” Louis wasn’t, but what was the point? He’d never be good again. He had hurt Harry. The one thing he had promised himself he’d never do in life. The one thing he had tried to prevent from happening in the past five years. “Go back to work.”

She didn’t move, and Louis turned, dragging himself back into the office. He shut the door and swayed a little, staring without focus.

What was he supposed to do now?

For a minute, he remained like that, his whole body being flooded with panic. He wondered if this was what a true panic attack felt like. Maybe he’d collapse any second now, and maybe he’d just never wake up again. Maybe he’d wake up and got to be lucky enough to just forget everything that had happened. Maybe he’d just forget ever meeting Harry, and losing him. Losing him again.

Groaning, Louis buried his face in his hands, trying to get a grip. Being oblivious sounded like heaven, but he knew that he couldn’t ever turn a blind eye to Harry. He had to take care of this. He had to take care of Harry. The worst was the knowledge of being the one to have hurt Harry.

He exhaled on a shuddering breath and pulled out his mobile. It rang once, twice, three times on the other end, until Liam picked up.

“Liam,” Louis choked out before he could say anything. “I need your help.”

“Lou.” Liam sounded alarmed. “What is wrong? Are you okay?”

“I’m not okay. I’m--” Louis tried to control his breathing, swallowing the tears that were crawling up his throat. “I fucked up.”

“Is Harry okay?” Liam asked immediately.

“No, he’s---” Louis started pacing the room, gripping his own hair. “He found out, Liam. And he didn’t listen to me. I couldn’t explain.”

“Where is he now?” Something on Liam’s end was rustling.

“I don’t know. He just ran away and he---” Louis didn’t think he could repeat the words Harry had said to him. “He was so angry with me. He shouldn’t be alone, Liam. Don’t let him be alone now.”

“I’m gonna find him.” Liam sounded a little strained, moving around. “I’ll take care of him.”

“I’m sorry,” Louis whispered as he stopped. “Liam, I’m so sorry.”

“Louis, calm down.” Liam grunted, probably doing three things at once right now. “We’ll fix this.”

“He hates me,” Louis breathed out, hit by the realisation.

“He could never.” The noises in the background stopped. “Louis. It’s gonna be okay.”

Louis didn’t reply. He didn’t see how this could be fixed; not with how Harry had looked at him. Not with what Harry had spat at him.

Liam said a few more things, but Louis didn’t really register them. They hung up after a moment and Louis blinked, trying to focus. He slumped down into his chair -- the one Harry had sat in just a while ago.

Mockingly, the photo of them stared up at him, showing their happy faces. Louis watched his own face, only his profile, lips stretched in a smile, pressed against Harry’s jaw. Harry’s grin was so wide, it threatened to break his face.

Louis’ heart ached in a way it had never before when he looked at it now.

He turned the frame over, flipping it onto the table, face down.

+++

Harry ignored his phone when it rang for the fifth time. He knew it was Liam without even checking. It couldn’t be Louis because Louis wouldn’t have the guts to call now. He was pretty certain, though, that Louis had most likely called Liam to send him to Harry.

For the past thirty minutes, Harry had been walking aimlessly between Liverpool Street and Spitalfield Market. There had been a brief shower of rain that had drenched Harry to the bones, and he was considering going home. In his flat, however, he’d be welcomed by a million reminders of how his life had just broken into a million pieces today. There’d be Niall, too, and he’d ask questions that Harry had no idea how to answer.

His mobile rang again, and with an annoyed groan, Harry pulled it out of his pocket. “How could you?” he answered, voice growling like thunder.

“Harry,” Liam breathed out, sounding relieved. “Where are you?”

“None of your business.” Harry pulled his sleeve over his free hand to warm it up. “You lied to me.”

Liam was quiet for a moment. “I’m sorry.”

“That’s not enough, Liam.”

“I know.” Liam inhaled. “Let me talk to you.”

Harry considered that. “I picked up the phone, didn’t I?”

“Properly,” Liam argued. “Not like this.”

“Well, Liam, this is your chance now to say whatever you have to say.” Harry shivered when the wind picked up a little.

For a moment, Liam seemed to hesitate, but then he agreed to Harry’s conditions. “Louis didn’t do this to hurt you, Harry. No one meant to hurt you. We’ve done what we thought was best for you.”

“When has lying ever been the best for anyone?” Harry asked.

“We didn’t lie.” Liam seemed to think better of that. “Okay, maybe we did. We amended things. It was best for you.”

Harry thought of the day he had woken up with his memories erased. “It’s been five years since then, Liam.”

“And we stuck to the decision we made five years ago,” Liam replied. “The doctors said it was too risky to tell you after a while. It wasn’t easy for Louis, you know? He shouldn’t have ever had to make a decision like that.”

Harry thought of the picture on Louis’ desk. Louis had looked younger, less stubble on his face, but the same crinkles around his eyes. He had had his arms wound around Harry’s middle, and his smile had looked so satisfied and content. It hurt even more to think of how Harry had looked in the picture. His hair had been longer than it was now, tied up in a bun with some stray curls framing his face. His arm had rested over Louis’ shoulders, his fingers loosely twisted in Louis’ hair, his other hand firm on Louis’ arm. He had positively beamed at the camera. There had been pure happiness radiating off that picture and Harry’s breath still stuttered when he thought of it now.

“Who is he?” Harry asked quietly.

Liam huffed in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“Louis,” Harry explained. “Who was he to me?”

“Haz,” Liam started, apparently apprehensive about answering that. “Saying he was your boyfriend doesn’t seem to truly cover it.”

“Why?” Harry stopped walking in front of the tube station, frowning down at his boots.

“Because everyone knew that you guys would stay together for the rest of your lives.”

Harry inhaled sharply.

“Or,” Liam added, “at least you were supposed to.”

For a moment, Harry needed to let that sink in. He blinked to clear his vision. “Was he really with me when the accident happened?”

“You were driving,” Liam confirmed. “He was in the passenger seat.”

“Was he hurt?”

It took Liam a moment to reply. He probably considered lying to Harry, and that was another stab to Harry’s heart. “Yeah,” he finally answered, sounding truthful. “You took more, Harry, but he was pretty banged up, too.”

Harry swallowed thickly. “I was driving.”

“You weren’t at fault, though, Harry.” Liam spoke firmly. “The lorry driver was the one who didn’t pay attention. He caused the accident.”

Maybe that was a lie, too. Maybe it was a lie they had told Harry so that he wouldn’t feel guilty. There was no way for him to know what really was the case; not as long as he didn’t get to talk to his mother again.

God, his mother. She had been in on that lie, as well. The black hole that had formed in Harry’s chest just started to gape open wider and wider, swallowing everything Harry felt in dark anger.

“Why didn’t he at least try?” he wondered out loud. “Why didn’t he want to at least see if I would remember him? How could he just give up like that?”

Liam was quiet again. “Harry,” he said then, calmly. “You don’t really want those answers from me, do you?”

He didn’t. He needed those answers from Louis. Harry had no idea if he ever wanted to see Louis again, though. Right now, the thought of Louis made him nothing but angry, upset -- and it hurt. It hurt to know what had happened between them, and that Louis had known all along while Harry had been blissfully oblivious.

“No,” he said eventually. “I don’t know if I want those answers at all.”

“You need to talk to him,” Liam protested. “At least give him a chance to explain it to you.”

Just the thought of seeing Louis’ face again made Harry’s stomach turn at the moment. He shook his head, and the remembered that Liam couldn’t see it. “I need some time.”

“I get that, Harry. If you want to--”

“I don’t wanna see any of you right now, actually,” Harry cut him short.

“Harry,” Liam tried to reason, but Harry interrupted him again.

“I’ll call when I’m ready to talk.” He lowered his phone and ended the call.

Twenty minutes later, he stood in front of a flat he’d only been to once before. The door was dark green, paint coming off on a few spots, revealing dull grey underneath. Harry had been staring at it for a few minutes, contemplating knocking.

When he finally did, Zayn opened the door a few seconds later, looking surprised. “Harry,” he said, tilting his head. “Didn’t you wanna go see Louis?”

Harry clenched his teeth. “Did Liam call you?”

“No.” Zayn frowned. He stepped aside and gestured for Harry to step in. “Is something wrong?”

With a bitter laugh, Harry walked inside. He shivered when the warmth of the of the flat hit his skin. “Where do I even start?”

“Probably with why you’re soaked.” Zayn shook his head in disdain. “I’m gonna get you something to change into.”

Harry watched Zayn disappear into the bedroom and coming back with a towel and fresh clothes. He put a hand on Harry’s back and led him to the bathroom.

“Get changed,” Zayn told him. “I’ll make you some tea. Then we talk.”

Sighing, Harry followed the order and stripped out of his clothes as soon as Zayn had closed the door. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. He looked awful with his curls sticking in every direction, his skin pale and his brows knit together is worry.

Harry wasn’t really sure he recognised himself at all.

When he came back out, Zayn was sitting on the sofa, a pot and two cups placed in front of him on the table. Harry sat down next to him and watched Zayn fill the cups. Steam floated over the surface, slowly dissolving into the air.

“I needed to talk to someone who’s not involved,” Harry said before he could think.

Zayn raised a brow, as he added a dash of milk for both of them. “I made you go see him, didn’t I? I think I’m quite involved.”

“Not like that. Not in what I---” Harry inhaled. “Not involved in my past.”

It only proved that Harry had been right when choosing Zayn to talk to when he didn’t push Harry to explain himself. “I’m not involved in that, no.”

“I went to see Louis at his office.” Now the words bubbled out of Harry, and he couldn’t stop them. “I should have been suspicious the moment his secretary acted like she knew me. She told me I could wait for Louis in his office because I wasn’t a client, after all.”

Zayn was quiet, letting Harry unload everything he had on his chest.

“I should have known something was up.” Harry ran a hand through his hair, keeping his eyes trained on the tea. “And I was so stupid because I wanted that thing with Louis to be more than it was. I thought I was mad at him, but after I had talked to you, I couldn’t be mad anymore. I didn’t really want to be mad, you know? I knew I should be, so I acted mad, but I wasn’t. I wanted to see him again, and I wanted to feel what only he made me feel.”

Nodding, Zayn leaned his arms on his knees, tangling his fingers together between his legs.

“I pictured how he’d react if he saw me there in his office, and I got all excited about seeing him again and then--” Harry shook his head, swallowing back the lump in his throat. “There was that photo on his desk. Of us, Zayn.”

“That’s kinda sweet,” Zayn commented. “Maybe a bit soon, but--”

“No,” Harry interrupted him. “From seven years ago.”

Zayn’s eyes widened. He apparently needed a moment to do the maths, but he finally caught up. “From the time you…”

Harry nodded when Zayn didn’t continue. “From when I was twenty,” he confirmed. “From a day that I can’t remember.”

“Fuck,” Zayn mumbled. It was the first time that Harry saw him actually being shocked. Zayn wasn’t usually thrown easily. “Holy fuck.”

“I guess,” Harry agreed.

“What kind of photo?” Zayn asked then, composing himself.

“A telling one.” Harry remembered it without having to close his eyes. It was engraved to his brain. “He had his arms around me, kissing my cheek and I...” Harry shrugged. “It’s in my mum’s garden. We looked happy.”

“A couple,” Zayn noted. “You two used to be a couple?”

“Apparently,” Harry said.

“For how long?” Zayn asked.

Harry shook his head. “I don’t know.”

“How did you meet?”

That was something Harry would have liked to know, too. “I… I don’t know.”

“God, Harry.” Zayn gestured at him. “Don’t tell me you just ran away without finding out about at least something.”

“Louis came back just a minute later,” Harry defended himself. “I didn’t even have time to grasp it when he suddenly stood in front of me.”

“So what did you do?”

Harry briefly met Zayn’s gaze. “I asked him why there was a picture of us.”

“And?” Zayn urged him on when Harry didn’t continue.

“He said that it was from when I was twenty.” Closing his eyes, Harry relived the moment in his head. “And then he said that he’d been there. When the accident happened.”

Zayn gasped. “You were in that accident together?”

“I didn’t want to believe it at first. Louis said that he was telling the truth and that I--” He fisted his hands, relaxing them again. “He said that I couldn’t know because I don’t remember.”

“He probably didn’t mean to hurt you,” Zayn said quietly.

“It did hurt, though. What a low-blow.” Harry shook his head. “So I kinda bolted and told him to fuck off and leave me alone.”

“Kinda understandable,” Zayn provided. “But not a solution for the long run.”

“I guess not.” Pressing his lips together, Harry tried to ban the image of Louis from his mind. He had looked scared, insecure. Broken.

For a while, they sat in silence, and Harry couldn’t say he minded it. Zayn probably needed a moment to process what he had been told, and Harry could need a moment to sort his thoughts. He took a cup, blowing the steam away before he sipped.

“That’s why Liam tried to keep you away from Louis,” Zayn realised after a while. “That’s why he kept telling you to date anyone but Louis.”

Harry nodded. “They all knew. Liam, my mum, my sister. Probably even my doctors.”

“And now?” Zayn leaned back on the sofa. “What are you gonna do now?”

“I have no clue.” Harry rubbed his hands over his face. “I don’t know. I should talk to my mum, but just the thought makes me sick.”

Zayn put a hand on his back.

“I talked to Liam on the phone before I came here and I was so mean.” Harry groaned. “I was mean to Louis, too. I’m just so angry.”

“Confused,” Zayn supplied, rubbing his back. “I’d say you’re confused and agitated.”

“Can anyone blame me?” Harry asked.

“I don’t think anyone’s blaming you, babe.” Zayn stopped the motion. “Louis’s probably blaming himself for all of this right now.”

Harry withdrew his hands from his face, turning it to look at Zayn. “Do you think so?”

Shrugging, Zayn resumed the patting. “It all makes a bit more sense now, doesn’t it? Why he didn’t want to go on a date with you even though he was obviously interested. And why he kissed you and then didn’t call. Why he got so jealous when he saw you with that Oliver bloke. He wanted to stay away, obviously, but you really didn’t make it easy for him.”

Harry groaned, burying his face in his hands again. “I have no idea how to feel about all of that.”

“You don’t have to figure that out tonight,” Zayn reassured him. “But you’ll have to figure it eventually. There aren’t many options, are there?”

Harry sat up straight, blinking at him. “What are my options?”

Zayn smiled at him. “Well, for one, you could decide that it’s in the past and that what they have done to you is unforgivable and burn all bridges.”

The thought made Harry’s heart sink. He couldn’t even imagine doing that to his mother, or his sister and Liam. As angry as he was right now, the thought of having to be without them for the rest of his life was unbearable.

It seemed that Zayn read his expression when he went on. “Then you could let them explain. As it is now, you don’t even know half of the story. You don’t know their motives. Let them explain and then decide what you think is best for you.” He refilled Harry’s cup with tea. “When you know the full story, you could either go on from where you left off before you found out and distance yourself from Louis or keep him right where you guys were headed.”

Harry frowned at that, feeling repulsive to both versions of that option.

“Or,” Zayn added before Harry could say anything, “you could let them explain everything and listen to their story of events and then start from zero.”

“Start from zero?” Harry asked, the frown still etched between his brows.

“Start fresh.” Zayn handed him the tea. “Like a blank paper. Relearn what you’ve forgot. Including Louis.”

Humming, Harry went through those options in his head, trying to see if there was another one to handle this. His mind drew completely blank, though, and in the back of his head a persistent pounding had started to throb.

“You don’t have to decide anything on the spot, Harry,” Zayn reminded him and got up. He took the pot and his own cup. “You wanna stay the night?”

Harry thought of his flat and the wall with all those memories he had collected. He didn’t think he could bear looking at them, knowing that they were nothing but lies. Anger welled up in him again and he clenched his teeth. “Yes, please.”

Zayn didn’t say anything else, just returned with an extra duvet and pillow a few minutes later. “How about we order pizza and you can choose a film on Netflix?”

“Thanks,” Harry mumbled when Zayn put the bed down on the sofa and sat next to Harry again. He reached out to touch Zayn’s arm. “Really. Thanks.”

Zayn slung an arm around his neck and pulled him close. “That’s what friends are for.”

Harry snuggled closer into the embrace, closing his eyes for a moment.

“Hey, babe,” Zayn said then, sounding a little apprehensive.

“Hm?” Harry murmured.

“Would it be okay if I called Liam to let him know you’re here?” Zayn asked, squeezing Harry’s shoulder. “I know he’s gonna be worried sick when you don’t go home tonight.”

Harry laughed wetly, resting his head on Zayn’s shoulder. “That’s okay. I don’t want him to be worried.”

They both knew that Liam was going to be worried either way, but neither of them commented on that. Instead, Zayn switched on the telly and let Harry stay snuggled against him while they searched for a film to watch.

Harry wondered if Louis was worried about him, too.

+++

Louis was so worried, he hadn’t slept all night.

He had lain on his sofa for a few hours, just as he had the nights before. Since he had had Harry in his bed, Louis couldn’t have slept in there anymore, much less look at it. Each time he did, he saw Harry there, sprawled out on the dark sheets, the duvet pushed down to his hips, skin soft and warm.

Harry. Harry who had told Louis to stay away from him and that he never wanted to see Louis again.

Rubbing a hand over his face, Louis stared at the wall of his living room, trying to make sense of it all. There was no sense in it, though -- nothing that made sense to Louis at least. Losing Harry a second time, losing him like this, was something Louis didn’t think he could overcome.

He had overcome a lot in the past five years. Sometimes, Louis didn’t even understand how he had made it through them. He had lost his Harry, had lost his life as he had known it, had worked his arse off to get to the top that the path there was nothing but a blur to Louis. He had lost his mother.

There was really no explanation to Louis how he had survived that time. It was the only feeling he could compare to how he felt now; a massive emptiness filling his chest and a gaping hole in his heart. He already knew that it wouldn’t ever be filled again. It would just exist right there within him. Next to the hole his mother had left when she had died.

However, Anne had made sure to fill it up as best as she could ever since. She’d been calling and texting him to check up on Louis. She hadn’t left him behind when Harry had, but had only clung to him more vehemently than before.

That’s why Louis had called her this morning. He hadn’t wanted her to hear it from Liam; not even from Harry. He knew that he had to be the one telling her about last night’s disaster.

Contrary to what he had feared, Anne had been pretty calm about it. Of course she had been worried, and she wanted Harry home with her, out of the mess that they had crashed into here. She wanted him safe.

“How are you holding up?” she had asked eventually.

“I’m good,” Louis had said. “I’m not the one who had to find out they’ve been lied to for years.”

“Louis.” Anne’s voice had been scolding. “Don’t lie to me. How are you holding up?”

Biting his lip and closing his eyes, Louis had tried to control himself. Having a breakdown would benefit noone. “Not so well…”

“Did you eat something?” she had asked.

“No.”

“Did you get some sleep?”

Louis had released a wet laugh. “I couldn’t.”

“You should take the day off, sweetheart.” Anne had sighed. “Call in sick.”

“I can’t.” Louis had already dressed up for the meeting that morning. “I’ve got an important appointment.”

She had offered to come down to London and look after both of them. It had melted Louis’ heart with gratitude, and he had told her such.

“But Harry needs you more now,” he had finally said. “He needs some time away from here.”

“He shouldn’t have ever gone down to London,” Anne had sighed. “I shouldn’t have let him leave.”

Louis didn’t argue. Anne had been against Harry’s decision from the beginning. Had Louis known about it, he had probably supported her in it. Yet, that things would have ended up like they had now had been beyond any of their wildest imagination.

When he had ended the call with Anne, Liam had come into the room to silently hug Louis. He was probably the only one who really understood how bad Louis really felt. He had tried so hard to stay out of Harry’s life and make it easier for him, but in the end, all of the decisions he had ever made had backfired badly.

Even though Liam had tried to protect both Louis and Harry, he could only have watched on as Harry had deflected every effort they had made. In his own way, Liam was probably hurting, too.

“I’m gonna have to go back to Manchester tonight,” Liam had told him. “Maybe Niall could stay with you?”

As if Louis needed a babysitter. Liam had acted as though Louis would fling himself out of window. As though Louis wouldn’t survive this if he was left alone.

Louis managed a bitter laugh that echoed from the walls of his living room.

He had almost drifted into sleep when a loud knock on his door made him jump. He rubbed his eyes, wondering for a moment if he had just imagined it. Then it knocked again. Groaning, Louis got up from the sofa, taking off the tie he had only loosened when getting home earlier.

Liam had apparently called Niall after all. At least Niall hadn’t just barged in like usual to find Louis half-dying on the sofa. This way, Louis had at least a moment to compose himself and prepare to act.

He wasn’t prepared for what he saw when he opened the door.

Harry wore a beanie to hide his curls. He wore dark jeans and a loose, blue jumper that made him look small. His skin was paler than usual and he had dark circles under his eyes.

Louis wanted to cry. More than ever before, he just wanted to curl up and cry right now. He wished Liam hadn’t left already. If he hadn’t, he’d probably put a stop to this and save Louis from breaking down in front of Harry.

“We need to talk,” Harry said, his tone freezing cold.

That sentence never led to anything good, but Louis still stepped aside to let Harry in. His heart made a bit of a leap in his chest when Harry walked past him. His fingertips tingled with the need to reach out.

Fisting his hands by his sides, Louis followed Harry. He stepped into the sitting room first, but Louis could see the way Harry’s eyes roamed over the sofa, the hurt of being reminded of their night together written all over his face. With a bit of a falter in his step, Harry turned to the kitchen and sat down on one of the chairs there.

Louis stayed at the door, leaning against the frame. He wasn’t sure if he needed to bolt at some point. He also wasn’t sure he would keep his hands off Harry should he get closer to him.

“I’m gonna go to Manchester with Liam tonight,” Harry said, not looking at Louis.

Louis cleared his throat. “He’s not here anymore.”

“I know.” Harry nodded stiffly. “I’m gonna meet him back at Zayn’s, after--- When I’m ready.”

“Mhm.” Louis nodded. He wasn’t sure if he was supposed to say anything at all.

“You talked to my mum,” Harry stated.

Louis nodded again.

Now, Harry looked up at him, but his eyes didn’t quite meet Louis’. Louis avoided it, too. “Were you in contact all this time?”

Honesty was the only way to do this. Louis was aware of it, had talked it through with Liam in detail before everything had blown up. It wasn’t easy, though. Telling Harry about everything they had kept from him for so long.

“Yeah,” Louis said finally. “I was in contact with her, quite regularly. With your sister, too.”

Harry blinked his eyes slowly. “They like you.”

Louis didn’t know how to reply to that. “We’ve grown quite close over the time, I--- when we--” He gave up on phrasing words that didn’t want to leave his mouth.

For a while, Harry was quiet. He seemed to consider what Louis had said, or what to ask next. “How long were we together?”

“A little over two years.” The two best years of Louis’ life.

“How did we meet?”

Louis crossed his arms over his chest, his shirt rustling with the motion. “In a pub. You had just moved to Manchester a few weeks before.”

“The last thing I remember is from a few days after I moved there,” Harry pointed out.

“I know.” It was almost not audible the way Louis could barely get the words out. “What made the whole thing even worse for me.”

Harry frowned down at his hands. “Why were you with me during the accident?”

Louis’ stomach turned. Harry was getting to the serious question pretty fast. “Because we were always together.” Louis bit his lips. “We lived together.”

“I was driving.”

“You were,” Louis replied, not sure where Harry was going with that.

Harry looked up at him again, an unspeakable pain in his eyes. “You were injured.”

Affection flooded Louis’ chest when he realised what Harry’s issue was. “Ba--” Louis stopped himself, swallowing the word. It was incredibly hard to comfort Harry without touching him or giving him any of the affection Louis craved to give. “It wasn’t your fault, Harry.”

“It was different when I thought I was alone in the car.” Harry shook his head. “If I had paid more attention, or if I had just--- I could have got you killed.”

For how long had Louis wished that had just happened? That Harry had turned the other way, so Louis would have been hit by the lorry? He wasn’t sure telling Harry that he had risked his own life to protect Louis’ would make any of this better, though.

“You didn’t,” Louis assured him, forcing his feet to stay still. “My injuries were only half as bad as yours.”

Harry seemed to need a moment, then he exhaled shakily. “The scars… Are those scars from the accident?”

The reminder of Harry’s fingers running over Louis’ skin was like a slap in the face. Louis cleared his throat. “They are.”

“Did it take long for you to recover?”

“I was discharged a long time before you were.” Louis licked his lips, his throat feeling dry. “I was fully recovered in time for my birthday.”

Harry nodded, but then he frowned. “When is your birthday?”

Ignoring the stab to his heart, Louis said calmly, “Christmas Eve.”

Again, Harry seemed to consider it. His own recovery had taken much longer. He had only been back on his feet and resuming his life in March of the following year. Anne and Liam had kept Louis updated on the progress.

“When we had lunch that time,” Harry pulled him from his thoughts eventually, “I asked about your ex-boyfriend.”

And Louis had said that he was still in love with that ex-boyfriend. His heart stumbled, beating faster afterwards.

“I thought I had to compete with someone you couldn’t forget; some faceless stranger.” Touching his lip, Harry frowned at him. “Was that me? Did you talk about me?”

As if that even was a question. For Harry, however, everything was questionable right now.

“Yeah,” Louis replied. “I-- I had hoped you’d probably remember if I told you. It was stupid.”

Harry intently stared at him, eyes roaming over Louis’ body. “I didn’t remember.”

It was another hit to hear Harry say it out loud. “You didn’t.”

“I kinda did, though,” Harry argued, sounding upset. As if he wasn’t satisfied with Louis’ answer. “I probably didn’t remember what happened, but I remembered you .”

Louis’ heart was going to burst out of his chest, it was beating that fast. He took a tentative step closer to Harry. “Did you--”

“I was so drawn to you,” Harry explained, shaking his head and leaning away. “I couldn’t even understand it, but everything in me wanted to be with you from the first moment on.”

Louis buried his hands in his pockets. Harry’s body language spoke clearly. He didn’t want Louis close right now.

“There was something about the way I felt when you touched me.” Harry frowned to himself. “Not when we---” He bit his lip, glancing at Louis. “I meant in the beginning. Each time you as much as brushed your hand against mine, I felt something I couldn’t explain to myself.”

Their gazes locked for the first time, properly. This time, Harry didn’t look away, and Louis didn’t dare to, either.

“I’ve tried having sex after the accident, but I never truly enjoyed it.” Harry swallowed, and Louis thought he’d have to drop dead on the spot if Harry kept talking about sleeping with other men. “I felt awkward, because my body knew things that I couldn’t remember learning.” He furrowed his brows. “I didn’t feel like that with you. There was that instant intimacy with you. I felt connected to you.”

“Because you’ve learned those things with me,” Louis choked out before his voice wouldn’t work anymore. “You hadn’t slept with anyone but me in those two years.”

Harry hummed, finally breaking their eye contact. “I figured.”

“Harry.” Louis ignored the look on Harry’s face and approached him, stopping right in front of Harry. “I know I shouldn’t have slept with you.”

A dry laugh fell from Harry’s lips. “You shouldn’t have done quite a few things.”

That hurt, and Louis instantly lashed out, too. “I tried to stay away, didn’t I? You practically forced yourself onto me.”

Harry gasped, eyes wide. “Everything that happened between us was consensual. You can’t pretend like---”

“You fucking threatened to sleep with another man if I didn’t do it,” Louis reminded him. “How could I let you do that?”

“I was free to sleep with whomever I wanted,” Harry shot back, “because you decided to give up on me.”

Shocked into silence, Louis could only stare at Harry.

“Wasn’t it like that?” Harry asked, anger in his voice. “You decided that I wasn’t worth fighting for, so you ran away instead. Having to go through that kind of hardship had been too much for you, so you took the easy way out.”

Louis tried to bite back the tears, but it didn’t quite work. He could feel them burn in his eyes. “Do you really think that?”

“I don’t know, Louis.” Harry finally stood up, gesturing in agitation. “What am I supposed to believe? No one’s told me anything. Instead, everyone just lied to me.”

The truth, Louis remembered. He had promised to be honest before anything else. Taking a deep breath, he waited for Harry to look at him again. “I didn’t leave to make it easier on me, Harry. I thought it would make it easier on you.”

“You didn’t even try,” Harry argued. “You just gave up that easily.”

“I didn’t.” Louis shook his head. “But, at first, I couldn’t even get to you. We were in the same hospital, but on different floors. They couldn’t put me in a wheelchair because of my hip.”

“But they could have told me about you!”

“You weren’t doing well.” Louis saw Harry’s composure crumble with every word. “You didn’t handle the amnesia part very well. And so they didn’t say anything until you showed some signs of working through it.”

Harry frowned, his lips a thin line.

“When I was stable enough to go see you, more than a month had passed, Harry.” Louis swallowed thickly, forcing the next words out. “And yes, I was scared. I was so, so scared of going down to your room and seeing you. I didn’t want you to look at me like I was a stranger. And I didn’t want to be the reason all of the progress you’ve made would be in vain.”

“You couldn’t know that,” Harry said, crossing his arms.

Louis nodded. “I couldn’t. But I knew you, baby.” It slipped out before Louis could think better of it. “If I had come to see you and if I had told you everything, I would have been a sobbing mess at your bedside. I would have begged you to remember me. And you would have felt guilty for not remembering.”

“Maybe I would have remembered,” Harry kept on pushing his point.

“You slept with me and haven’t remembered,” Louis murmured. “You have no idea how often in the past few months since meeting you again I have hoped you’d just suddenly turn around and remember everything. You didn’t. Not even when I kissed you, not when I fucked you. Not when we’ve watched our song being played live.”

Harry blinked at him briefly, but he didn’t ask. “Maybe I would have remembered back then. It’s been five years now. But back then--”

Louis interrupted him with a shake of his head. “I went to see you once.”

“Really?” Harry breathed it out, unbelieving.

“The night before I got discharged. I just---” Louis shrugged, running a hand through his hair. “I needed to see you. So bad. So I went to your room and you--- you just--”

“Didn’t recognise you,” Harry supplied quietly.

“You asked me if I was looking for someone.” Louis swallowed a choked-up sigh. “You were smiling at me, kind as ever, asking if you could help.”

Harry was quiet, watching Louis carefully.

“And I didn’t know what to say, so I just left again.” With a hand over his mouth, Louis searched for Harry’s gaze. “It broke me, okay? I wasn’t coping well with the situation. Having you look at me like that, after the last image of you I had was--” he stopped himself, shutting his mouth quickly.

Narrowing his eyes, Harry stepped a little closer. “I wanna know. What is it?”

Louis just shook his head. He couldn’t possibly tell Harry about his biggest trauma.

“Louis.” Harry reached out to touch his arm.

When he did, Louis’ whole body jumped and before he could get a grip, he pushed forwards and slammed into Harry, his face buried against Harry’s chest. Harry was probably just as shocked by the reaction, his body completely frozen.

“I was conscious,” Louis whispered. “During all of it, Harry. The last thing I said to you was some shit about taking someone else home that night, and I’ve regretted that every single day since. I should have told you how much I loved you or how lucky I was to have you, but instead I joked about not being ridiculously gone for you.”

Harry was still standing frozen, hands in the air, while Louis couldn’t bring himself to pull away. Harry’s jumper was soft, and he smelled so familiar that it helped calm Louis’ nerves down a little. If he had to tell Harry about this, at least he could have some kind of comfort while doing so.

“And then suddenly, everything was upside down, and it hurt and you screamed, and---” Louis shut his eyes closed, trying to ban it all from his head. It bubbled out of him without any control. “There was this man talking to me, but I couldn’t understand a word. When I turned to you-- You were-- There was blood. Mine, yours. And I was so scared. I thought you were dead. You didn’t react, and there was just so much blood .”

Harry inhaled sharply, and then his arms came around Louis, holding him tightly. Louis whined with it, nuzzling closer into the embrace.

“I’m sorry,” Louis mumbled against Harry’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be telling you this.”

“I asked for it,” Harry said. His own voice was raspy and raw with emotion.

“You weren’t supposed to ever know.” Louis tok his hands off Harry’s waist, pulling away. He knew that he had crossed a line by touching Harry like this. “The doctors advised against it.”

Harry pulled his hands back soon, but Louis noticed how he let them linger for just a second too long. Harry had always been kind and commiserate with people. Seeing Louis break down like this probably hadn’t been easy for him to just ignore. Harry wasn’t the kind of person to ignore other people’s misery. He was the kind of person to give comfort.

“Well,” he finally said when there was some space between them. “That didn’t work out, did it?”

Louis shook his head. “I never wanted you to find out, Harry. But you kept chasing me, and you just didn’t give up. I’ve never really been good at denying you anything.” He gave a helpless shrug. “And what I’ve wanted even less was to disappoint or hurt you.”

Harry was quiet again, and Louis chanced a glance at him. He wasn’t looking at Louis, though, but had his gaze fixed on the ground. “So you gave in.”

“I really tried not to,” Louis murmured. “Didn’t I?”

“But you couldn’t,” Harry said, and there was something strange in his voice, a tilt to his tone, that Louis couldn’t identify. Until he continued. “Because you love me.”

Louis’ heart stuttered, and he thought that it had to show on his face what those words did to him. He nodded slowly. “Because I love you.”

Harry turned away, looking as conflicted as Louis felt. He started pacing the room, and Louis decided that he had probably unloaded enough of his feelings on Harry for one night. He stayed quiet, waiting for what Harry had to say.

“I’ve been thinking about that a lot,” Harry said. “All night and all day, actually. It kept me awake because that was the only explanation for why you’d done what you had done.”

Louis nodded, but still kept quiet.

“And--” Harry stopped pacing, looking at Louis directly. “I think nothing that happened between us until now was anything real, you know?” Before Louis could even react, he went on, “Because everything I felt wasn’t me , but this part of me that’s locked somewhere inside me. That I can’t remember, but I know that I act on when I’m cooking and just know how to handle the tools, and sometimes when there’s music playing and I just know the words. And when it comes to you.”

Harry put a hand over his chest. “It wasn’t me who wanted you. It was that part that’s still attached to you.”

Louis tried to ignore his heart breaking when Harry said those words. “I guess that makes sense,” he admitted. It did, in a way. Even if it wasn’t what Louis wanted to hear.

“Maybe it’s the same for you,” Harry suggested, and reached out to tap his finger against Louis’ chest. “Maybe what you love isn’t me, but that memory.”

“Harry--” Louis started, but Harry stopped him.

“I want what I didn’t get five years ago.” He looked determined. “I want a chance to get to know everything that I can’t remember. That includes you.”

“You already know me,” Louis argued, not quite sure he liked where Harry’s mind was going with this. “You’ve got to know me over the past few months, didn’t you?”

Harry considered him for a moment. “I tried to get you to sleep with me.”

Louis’ stomach turned a little. Harry was right. He had done everything he could to get Louis to sleep with him. Harry had even played dirty to get what he’d wanted. “You did.”

“I have no idea if any of what I thought I was feeling for you was even real.” Harry buried his hands in the pockets of his jeans. “I gotta figure that out.”

“What do you expect me to do?” Louis asked. He didn’t think he could be around Harry and just wait for his verdict on whether he liked Louis or not. “What if you decide you don’t like me?”

Harry furrowed his brows again. “Then I hope it’s mutual,” he said slowly. “Because you need to do the same, Louis. You need to figure out who I am, and if it wasn’t just a memory that you were chasing.”

“God.” Louis buried his face in his hands, shaking his head. Harry couldn’t seriously think that Louis didn’t know his own heart. “Don’t do this to me.”

“I didn’t get to decide on what would happen with us five years ago, Louis,” Harry reminded him. This time, he didn’t reach out, and his voice sounded firm. “Now it’s my turn to make a decision. We had it your way, now we’re having it mine.”

Louis inhaled through his nose, hand still covering his mouth. He closed his eyes and tried to figure out what to do. His thoughts were running wild in his head, and Louis couldn’t pin down a single one to clear it up and find the right words.

“Louis?” Harry asked. “If you don’t--”

“No,” Louis said, looking up at Harry. “If that’s what you want, then I’ll do it.”

Harry nodded slowly. “Good.”

Lous would probably do anything Harry asked of him, as long as it meant he wouldn’t leave Louis’ life again. In this scenario, every wrong word, and every wrong step could drive Harry away from him, though. Just thinking about it made Louis a nervous wreck.

“You’ll have some time to think about it and adjust to the idea,” Harry reassured him. “I’m gonna stay with my mum for a few days. There’s a lot--- Well. I still have a lot of questions.”

Louis nodded. “I can imagine.”

For a moment, they were both quiet, just looking at each other. Harry had a frown on his face, as if he still didn’t know what to make of the situation and of Louis.

“I guess I…” Harry gestured to the door.

“Yeah, um…” Louis stepped aside to let Harry pass. “Liam’s probably waiting.”

Harry went to the front door and Louis trailed behind him. He watched Harry hesitate as he had opened the door and he turned around to Louis once more.

“Thanks for telling me,” Harry said, sounding earnest. “It helps giving all of this a bit of perspective.”

Louis just nodded, tangling his fingers to keep himself from reaching out for Harry. Watching him leave was the hardest thing to do, especially with everything being so uncertain between them.

“See you?” Harry asked quietly.

“I’ll be here,” Louis answered, stepping into the doorframe when Harry left the flat. “If you need anything.”

Harry briefly smiled at him, but it didn’t reach his eyes. Louis knew that his answering smile was just as bland. Without another word, Harry turned and disappeared in one of the lifts. Before the doors closed, their eyes met once more, and Louis tried to ignore the uncertainty he could see in Harry’s.

He also tried to ignore his own feeling that this whole thing was doomed.

+++

Being home was as comforting as it was disturbing for Harry.

He had thought going home would isolate him from his life in London, would somehow cut him loose of what had happened in those past two days. He had wanted to wrap himself in the comforting cocoon of home, where time had stopped and everything was exactly the way it had been when he’d been still eighteen.

Yet, this time around, coming home felt different. It was still comforting, but Harry had also come to realise that time had never stopped; not even here. Everyone had just kept up the pretense for him. Now that the curtains were lifted, Harry couldn’t even look at his own home in the same way as before anymore.

His mother was even more of a sitting hen than she’d been after the accident. She was making a fuss everytime Harry so much as moved, asking if he needed anything. What Harry needed were answers, but she couldn’t really give those. She had told him about the accident, and about his living situation, but not about Louis. Everytime, Harry tried to ask something about his time with Louis, she managed to sidestep the topic. Harry had almost given up on asking at all.

“So,” Gemma said when they were in front of the telly later at night. She had come home as well, upon hearing the news of Harry discovering their lies. “Did you talk to Louis at all?”

Harry kept his eyes on the screen. “I did.”

“What did he say?” Anne wanted to know.

Lifting a brow, Harry turned to her. “Didn’t you have time to match your stories?”

“Harry,” Gemma mumbled, taking the remote to turn off the telly. “Don’t do that.”

“What?” Harry crossed his arms. “You did that before, too, didn’t you? You made up all these lies together with him.”

Anne bit her lip. “We were only trying to make it easier on you, love.”

“Actually,” Gemma added, “Louis didn’t come up with any lies. It was all us.”

Harry frowned at her. Obviously, Louis had been in on it -- he had told Harry about it last night.

“He wasn’t there to tell any lies, was he?” Gemma’s shrug was hesitant, the look on her face a little uncertain.

That hit, and Harry swallowed thickly. She was right, in a way. The only lie Louis had told had been through his absence. Everything else, his family and friends had made up.

“I can rephrase my question,” Gemma offered after a moment of silence. “What did he not tell you that you want to know?”

Harry pressed his lips together. He’d like to know about a few things, but he had a feeling those could only be answered by Louis. So he started with one that he still didn’t quite believe, no matter what Liam and Louis had said.

“Was the accident my fault?”

“No,” Anne said immediately. “It was the lorry driver. Harry, we didn’t lie about that.”

Releasing a breath, he looked at Gemma, and only when she nodded at him, did he feel that weigh fall off his shoulders. He had blindly believed them when he had woken up in the hospital, and he had never questioned it. Knowing that there had been someone else in the car made it a completely different story, though. Harry never wanted to be responsible for someone to be injured like they had been.

Anne got up and sat down next to him, taking his hand. Harry watched her tangle their fingers. “What do you plan to do? If you want to leave London, that’s--”

“I’m not gonna leave London.” Harry vehemently shook his head.

“But Louis is there,” his mother argued.

“He is, yeah. As as well as my job, and my flat, and my friends.”

“Maybe it’d be good for you to stay here for a while,” Anne suggested. “Until you’ve learned to deal with the situation.”

“I’ve talked to Louis about it.” Harry looked at the rip in his jeans over his knee, fidgeting the loose threads with his fingers. “We agreed that I’d stay in London and get a chance to properly deal with this. With him. I want to know about my past, and about the role he played in it.”

Gemma nodded slowly. “I get that, Harry, but…” She seemed to sort her thoughts for a moment. “Do you really want to know everything now? It may hurt you because there’s nothing you can change about it anymore.”

Harry knew that she was right. Digging in a past that he couldn’t remember was a recipe for getting himself into emotional distress and mental breakdown. His doctors had told him more than once.

“I would prefer if you didn’t see Louis again.” Anne was quiet, her tone apprehensive.

That made Harry’s stomach knot together. He didn’t know why, but the idea of never seeing Louis again didn’t sit well with him. He was still angry, of course he was, and Louis still owed him quite a few apologies and explanations, but after the first anger had subdued, Harry had realised that he couldn’t go back to pretending he didn’t know Louis.

He looked up at his mother, frowning. “He said you’ve been in contact the whole time.”

Anne nodded. “We were.”

“I thought you liked him.” Right now, it didn’t seem like that to Harry.

“I love him,” Anne replied immediately. “I love him a lot, Harry. I just don’t think it’s good for you to have him back in your life.”

“That was his decision,” Harry said, repeating what he’d said to Louis as well. “He decided that’s what’s best for me, and all of you agreed. I get it. You wanted what’s best for me, and I’m trying not to be mad about it.”

“But?” Gemma asked.

Harry turned to her. “I didn’t have a say in it. And now it happened that I met Louis, and that I found out about my past. I want to be the one in charge now. I want to make my own decisions. And I decide that I want to know everything. That includes Louis, too. I have to know about him and what I’ve lost with him.”

“But what if--” Anne started and Harry cut her short.

“Then we’ll see about it, should that happen.” He inhaled deeply. “I want it this way and you can either support me in my decision or you have to stay out of it completely.”

He knew that his mum thought of him as a defiant teenager right now, and that she thought she knew better than him what was really good for him. Harry wouldn’t let her pressure him into anything this time, though. He was finally in a position where he could make decisions for himself and where he could take full control of his life. She only meant well, but Harry was tired of being protected and watched over.

That night, Harry texted Liam that he wanted to go back to London with him the next morning. He had been supposed to stay the whole weekend and had taken the days off at the restaurant. As it was now, though, Harry couldn’t imagine staying another two days. He felt like he had to be in London if he wanted to move on.

Already?, Liam texted back.

Mum’s suffocating me. I’m going crazy if I stay here.

Liam typed, then stopped, and went back to typing. I’m moving most of my stuff tomorrow. Taking my dad’s van. All the lads will be down to help me…, was what came finally through.

All the lads , Harry thought, probably meant that Louis was going to be there, too. He bit his lip, considering his reply.

I can help, too xx

Liam didn’t reply for a moment. Then, when his reply came, it made Harry laugh dryly.

when I say all the lads I mean louis too

I figured , Harry typed back. I’m gonna help.

Fine. pick u up at 8 tomorrow xx

Harry put his mobile away and rolled onto his back. His childhood room was still the same as he remembered it from when he had been eighteen. His mother hadn’t changed a single thing about it. Previously, when Harry had been home, coming into this room had always felt like a relief. Like feeling whole after he hadn’t been able to feel whole anywhere else.

That had been replaced with the feeling of being in Louis’ arms. Harry hadn’t quite realised up until he had set foot in his room at home, that the only time he had ever felt more complete than he did here was when Louis had curled around him, holding Harry close to his chest.

It had probably been a reaction to what Harry had once known; to those feelings his heart hadn’t forgot. He hadn’t dared talk of it like that in front of Louis, but that part that still knew Louis -- it was definitely in his heart.

Apparently, he had once loved Louis quite a lot.

He thought back to how Liam had said that they’d always known Harry and Louis would stay together for the rest of their lives. It made Harry wonder if he had known it, too. If they had ever talked about that, too.

He curled up under his duvet, closing his eyes. There were still so many questions on his mind, so many things he had to know before he could understand even just a fraction of it all. And there was no one else who held the answers than Louis.

Not his mum, not his sister, not Liam.

If Harry wanted to know, he’d have to ask Louis. That much he had found out today.

+++

When they arrived in London the next day, Harry felt nervous. He had made up his mind, but that didn’t make seeing Louis again easier in any way. He could see him sit on the steps to Liam’s flat, chatting with Niall. They hadn’t noticed Liam parking the van a few hundred metres down the street yet, so Harry had enough time to make out every single emotion on Louis’ face.

During the ride down to London, Liam had apologised.

“I know I didn’t make things better for you, and I acted like a prick,” he had said, eyes on the road. “I didn’t know what to do.”

Harry had nodded. “I get it now.”

“I’m sorry, Haz,” Liam had said. “Maybe it wouldn’t have come this far if I hadn’t tried to keep you away from Louis.”

It would have. Harry would have pursued Louis anyway. He had told Liam as much, and with that, this whole thing had felt settled between him and Liam, at least. It had been a relief, actually, to feel some of the anger that had built up inside of Harry dissolve into thin air.

They left the car and Harry took one smaller box with him before Liam shut the car. He was carrying a bigger box than Harry, but Harry wanted to be able to concentrate on Louis when they approached.

He could tell the exact moment Louis noticed him. He smiled when he saw Liam, getting up from the stairs. The smile faltered when his eyes fell onto Harry, and instead, he looked like a bird in a cage, desperately checking for escape routes.

“Thanks for coming to help,” Liam said when they reached Louis and Niall.

“Sure, mate.” Niall helped Liam set the box down before he hugged him briefly. Then, he turned to Harry. “Weren’t you supposed to stay with your family over the weekend?”

Harry shrugged and accepted Niall’s hug. “I changed my mind.”

For a moment, there was an awkward silence when Liam had greeted Louis, too. They stood across from each other and while Niall and Liam looked from Louis to Harry and back, Harry stared at Louis.

“Hi,” he said tentatively, trying for a smile.

Louis smiled back shily, not meeting Harry’s eye. “Hi.”

The silence stretched uncomfortably, and Harry wondered who of them would run off first, but then Niall spoke up. “Zayn’s late. Let’s get started without him.”

Liam had got himself a flat that wasn’t ready-furnished. As an interior designer it was important to him to decorate the flat himself. He had bought a lot of things, but had also brought down a lot of stuff from his previous flat.

They started bringing everything inside first, and Harry realised that they’d need the whole weekend to set everything up. There was no way they’d get this done today. He was sure of that when he returned to the van to find they only unloaded half of the boxes in there.

On his way back to the flat, he couldn’t see the steps leading to the entrance and promptly tripped over the last one. With a squeal, he tried to find his balance and not drop the box, when firm hands grabbed his waist from behind to steady him. Harry instinctively leaned into the touch, adjusting the box in his arms.

“You okay?” Louis asked quietly. “Should I take it?”

Harry felt himself blush and shook his head without turning to Louis. “I’m good. Thank you.”

Louis pulled his hands away and Harry rushed inside. He set the box down with a groan and sat down on the floor.

“What is all that stuff? You’ll never be able to store all of it away in this tiny flat.”

Liam laughed. “It’s actually not a lot. You’ll see it’ll fit in here.”

When they were almost finished unloading the van, Zayn finally showed up.

“Oh, now you show up,” Louis snarled.

“The rest of the boxes are for you to carry inside,” Niall told him.

“Don’t you dare play the boyfriend card,” Harry warned.

Zayn just grinned and pulled Liam closer by the collar of his chequered shirt to kiss him. “You’re all sweaty,” he noticed when he pulled away.

Liam shrugged, having the decency to look apologetic about it. “Been lifting heavy weights.”

“That’s kinda hot,” Zayn replied, resting a hand over Liam’s chest.

Louis, Niall and Harry groaned in annoyance.

After they had finally all of the boxes and furniture inside, Liam closed the door. Harry was in charge of all boxes labelled kitchen , so he opened them and started sorting everything into the cupboards. The kitchen and the bathroom were the only two rooms in Liam’s flat that had come furnished, so Harry considered himself lucky.

Niall and Louis were busy putting up a wardrobe in the bedroom while Zayn and Liam put together furniture in the living room. Harry kept checking on those two every now and then to make sure they were really working and not snogging instead. They were actually working quite well together, as Harry could observe, while everything he heard from the bedroom were loud noises that culminated in Louis yelling “For God’s sake, Niall!”.

“I’m starving,” Niall announced once it was dark outside and they had put up all of the furniture Liam had brought.

“Let’s order pizza,” Liam suggested, taking out his phone. “What do you want?”

They ended up ordering pizza, Chinese, as well as Indian food, and Zayn and Louis offered to run down to Tescos to get them beer. Harry watched them leave together, chatting about some film they had recently seen in the theatre.

“You okay?” Liam asked when Zayn and Louis had left the flat.

“Yeah.” Harry quickly turned away, getting back to the kitchen. “Of course.”

Liam and Niall followed him.

“So, I’ve put plates in this cupboard,” Harry explained for Liam, opening a door. “And cups and glasses in this one. Then, I thought it’d be most practical---”

“Harry,” Liam interrupted him softly.

Taking out five plates, Harry refused to turn to him.

Liam was persistent, though. “Can you handle it?”

Sighing, Harry took out cutlery. “Of course I can.”

“You’ve been looking at him like a beat-up puppy all day, mate,” Niall pointed out as he sat down on one of the chairs.

“I have not.” Harry felt the pout form on his lips. He was aware that Niall was probably right.

Liam hummed. “He’s been looking at you the same way, if that makes it any better for you.”

When there was nothing else to prepare, Harry finally turned around to them, gripping the work counter tightly. “We have to get used to this first.”

Niall lifted a brow. He rested his elbows on the table to support his chin. “Get used to what?”

What exactly? Harry didn’t know either. He made a vague gesture. “You know-- Having a past.”

“Having a past,” Liam repeated dumbly. “That’s putting it very mildly.”

Harry just shrugged.

“Louis wouldn’t talk about it,” Niall then said. “He said he didn’t know if you were okay with us knowing.”

“That’s very considerate of him,” Harry said. Somehow, it didn’t surprise him that Louis hadn’t said anything.

“Harry,” Liam groaned, rolling his eyes. “What did you guys agree on? We need to know if you want us to not mess it up for you.”

Harry crossed his arms in front of his chest. “I told him that I want the whole truth. I want to know everything, and I want to try and relearn all the things I forgot. Which would include him.”

“As in a relationship?” Niall asked, stunned.

“No,” Harry retorted immediately. “As in, I want to get to know him. I don’t think I’ve been acting with a clear mind when I got to meet him. I wanna know if that’s just something my body remembers, or if I’m really attracted to him.”

Liam and Niall stared at him for a bit, not saying a word.

“Oh God,” Liam breathed out then.

“That’s gonna kill him,” Niall added.

“What?” Harry’s jaw dropped. “That’s the only fair thing to do for both of us!”

“For you, Harry, because you can actually start from zero.” Liam plopped down onto the chair next to Niall. “Louis can’t just do that.”

“Well, he could do that well enough up until Thursday, couldn’t he?” Harry asked. “Or what was it he was doing when he pretended he had never met me before?”

“That was different, Haz.” Niall shook his head. “A completely different situation.”

“Well.” Harry knew he was stubborn, but he needed to be exactly like that right now, or else he wouldn’t ever come to understand a single thing that was going on in his life. “Maybe I’m not even the person who he thinks he’s in love with anymore.”

Niall seemed to consider it seriously, but Liam snorted out a laugh.

“What?” Harry asked, not sure he really wanted to know.

“You probably really have to get to really know Louis first,” Liam just said, a fond smile on his lips. “Or else you would never say anything like that.”

“What’s that supposed to---” Harry started to ask, but shut his mouth when the front door opened and Zayn and Louis came back in.

Harry watched Louis as he put several cans of beer in the fridge, then he pulled a bottle of WKD out of the bag. He turned to Harry, holding it out for him.

“I saw you drink that one at the bar the other night.”

Harry took the bottle, the glass cold and wet against his palms. “I did.”

“There’s more than enough beer, though, if you’d rather like one,” Louis immediately offered with a sheepish shrug.

“This is fine for starters,” Harry said, shaking his head. “Thanks.”

Louis nodded briefly, turning away again. “Sure.”

Harry stayed, staring at the bottle in his hands when Louis, Niall and Zayn disappeared to the living room. He heard the telly being switched on, and with a frown, he opened the bottle.

“Only the Indian is still missing,” Liam said when he came back in. He put the bags on the work counter and then lifted a brow when he noticed the bottle in Harry’s hand. “Are you sure you don’t remember a thing?”

Harry looked up, blinking at him. “Why?”

Liam pointed at the bottle WKD. “You got one at the bar, too. I haven’t seen you drinking that in ages.”

“I don’t even like it very much,” Harry said.

“Then why did you get it?” Liam tilted his head.

Harry frowned harder, trying to make sense of it. “At the bar, I just… it just came to my mind?”

“Did Louis buy you this one?” Liam smiled.

“Yeah,” Harry replied. “Is there any significance to it?”

“Well, there is, actually.” When Harry looked at him with wide eyes, Liam got a beer for himself. “You used to buy that stuff because you said it reminded you of the colour of Louis’ eyes.”

Harry looked down at the bottle in his hand, blinking. “I don’t remember that.”

Liam hummed, opening the food cartons. “You gave both of us a bit of a scare on Tuesday when you ordered it.”

“Do you think---” Harry looked up at Liam, but he didn’t dare say the words out loud.

“That you remember?” Liam shrugged. “In a way, Harry. The way you remembered that you want Louis and didn’t give up until you had him. Yeah.”

Letting that sink in, he followed Liam to the living room.

Zayn and Louis sat next to each other on the floor, fighting over the remote. Niall was on his mobile, typing something. Harry sat down next to Liam and helped him fill the plates with food.

They finally settled on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and their pizzas had almost turned cold. The Indian food arrived and Harry went to the door to get it.

“I’ll just stick to pizza,” Louis announced when Harry opened the food boxes.

“Don’t you like Indian food?” Harry asked while filling up Zayn’s plate.

Louis spoke with his mouth full. “Not very much, no.”

“There’s this really authentic Indian restaurant not too far from Green Park, actually.” Harry didn’t bother adding the rest of the food to his plate, but ate straight from the box. “Oh, and then there’s one near Piccadilly. That may be a bit far for your lunch, but maybe, we could---”

Stopping himself, he looked up and found all four stare at him.

“I mean. All of us,” he gestured at them, not meeting Louis’ eye. “We could go there some time.”

Niall snickered, and Harry concentrated on his food, trying to ignore the burn in his cheeks.

He had fallen into old patterns. For a moment, he had actually forgot what had happened, and that Louis wasn’t the boy he wanted to get in bed anymore. He had got Louis laid already. Suppressing a moan, Harry banned the thoughts from his mind.

They fell into easy conversations and light banter. Niall teased Louis for not being able to eat spicy food, and Zayn teased Niall for calling the fake Indian food they had spicy . Liam laughed at everything, while one of his hands rested on Zayn’s thigh, and he looked content to be exactly where he was.

And Louis. Harry kept his eyes on Louis for a moment. He got all defensive when being called out, and he always had a comeback. When he caught Harry staring at him, he blushed and quickly looked away.

“When are we gonna have to be here tomorrow to finish this up?” Niall asked, yawning.

“Not too late, so we get done sometime before midnight,” Louis mumbled, looking tired, as well. Harry noticed the dark circles beneath his eyes and wondered if Louis had had trouble sleeping. He couldn’t stop the feeling of guilt rising in him.

“I don’t have to go, right?” Zayn asked, shifting closer to Liam. “I don’t wanna go all the way home.”

Liam shook his head and kissed Zayn’s jaw.

“Your way home is the shortest,” Harry complained.

“Can’t we just all stay here?” Niall sprawled out on the floor, whining.

“Actually,” Liam said, apparently considering Niall’s plea in earnest, “We haven’t put up the beds, so we could take both mattresses from my bed and the one for my guest room and sleep on them here in the living room.”

“Really?” Niall looked thrilled. “Can we do that, please?”

He followed Liam to the bedroom and they got started on setting everything up. Zayn was collecting blankets from the boxes, as Harry sat by, worrying his lip between thumb and forefinger.

“Hey.” Louis was in his space all of a sudden, looking serious. “I can take you home, if you want.”

Harry blinked up at him, trying to ignore the way his skin prickled. “Are you staying?”

Smiling sadly, Louis shrugged. “I can leave, so you can stay.”

“No.” Harry rushed out the word. Louis had completely misunderstood him. “That’s not what I meant. If you’re all staying, then I wanna stay, too.”

Nodding, Louis got up from the floor. “Guess we’re all staying then.”

Harry followed him suit and helped pushing boxes to the wall to make space. Niall and Liam brought in both mattresses and Zayn covered them with blankets before he flopped down onto one.

“I’m gonna sleep here,” he announced, patting the space next to him. “Farthest away from the door.”

“Are you scared?” Louis teased.

Zayn poked out his tongue. “When a killer comes in tonight, he’ll kill you first.”

Shaking his head, Harry picked up the dishes and brought them into the kitchen. When he came back, Niall was already dressed down to his boxers and Liam and Zayn were gone. Louis had taken off his t-shirt and Harry tried to look anywhere but at him.

His fingertips tingled with the ache to touch Louis’ skin again. The ink of his tattoos had felt rough under Harry’s hands, and his skin had been smooth and warm, and his body solid and soft against Harry’s when Louis had held him close.

“I hope you didn’t do anything inappropriate in there,” Niall said when Liam and Zayn came back from the bathroom.

Liam rolled his eyes, but didn’t reply.

Eventually, Harry was last to use the bathroom, and when he came back, the others were already lying down, blankets spread over them. For a moment, Harry hesitated as he took the arrangement in. Zayn was closest to the wall with Liam next to him. There was some space between Niall and Liam, as well as next to Louis who lay closest to the door.

Harry’s heart jumped slightly when his gaze met Louis’. For a second, time was suspended, and it was only them and the memory of the last time they had spent a night together. Louis looked like he wanted to say something, but Harry beat him to it.

“Budge over, Niall,” he said, gesturing for Niall to move closer to Louis. “I wanna sleep in the middle.”

Niall shifted and made enough space for Harry to fit in between Niall and Liam. His heart was still racing, as if it was hoping for Louis to protest and insist on Harry sleeping in his arms.

“No funny business over there,” Louis warned instead, not commenting on Harry’s decision.

“As if I’d get it up with you in the room,” Liam shot back.

They switched off the lights, and Harry listened to Niall’s breathing evening out. On his other side, Liam had curled around Zayn, his back to Harry. Louis was tossing a little, obviously having trouble getting comfortable.

Biting his lip, Harry stared at the ceiling in the darkness. An occasional light from outside lit up the room every now and then, but no one else seemed to be disturbed by it.

When Niall started snoring, Harry shut his eyes and forced sleep to come.

+++

Dim morning light was falling through the windows, hitting Louis in the face. He blinked slowly, deciding that his eyes couldn’t adjust, so he buried his face in Harry’s curls. Inhaling, he snuggled closer, pulling Harry closer to his chest with the arm slung around Harry’s waist. Harry moved the hand that was sprawled out over Louis’ stomach up to his chest.

Louis’ eyes flew open and he had to suppress a squeak. He looked down on himself in shock. While he was on his back, Harry lay half on top of him, a leg between Louis’, his head on Louis’ shoulder and one hand over Louis’ heart. He was still peacefully sleeping.

“Oh fuck,” Louis breathed, frozen in place. He didn’t dare move in case that would wake Harry up.

“It was all him, if that’s any consolation to you.”

Looking up, Louis saw that Zayn was awake, too. He had sat up and was on his mobile. Liam was sleeping next to him, one arm thrown over Zayn’s lap, his face squished against Zayn’s hip. Niall was in the middle, laying on his stomach and still sleeping soundly.

“He obviously took advantage of you there,” Zayn commented and gestured at Harry. “Whichever way he did it.”

Louis hummed, not sure what to do with his hands. Zayn chuckled, but kept his eyes on his mobile phone. That didn't help Louis at all because he had no idea if he should gently push Harry away or if he should slip out of bed, or if it would be best to just stay where he was.

Harry sighed in his sleep and nuzzled closer, nosing at Louis neck. Louis closed his eyes, willing his heartbeat to slow down. His skin was burning with Harry's touch and his stomach fluttered each time Harry exhaled softly against his skin.

Liam was next to wake up. He sat up and stretched, dropping a kiss onto Zayn’s shoulder. When he turned his head, he looked unimpressed upon seeing Harry snuggled against Louis.

“You guys are unbelievable,” he commented, voice low as not to wake Harry and Niall.

“I didn't do anything,” Louis protested.

“You’re not sad about it either.” Liam winked, which made his accusation playful.

Not that Louis could deny that.

Liam got up from their makeshift bed and startled Niall awake in the process. He groaned and rolled onto his back, sprawling out a bit. After a moment, he looked over at Louis and Harry and laughed dryly.

“That little fucker,” he rasped out. “You just go for a wee and he takes your spot.”

Zayn snorted. “Why? Did you wanna cuddle up to Louis?”

“Maybe I did,” Niall said, poking out his tongue. “I swear I was only gone for two minutes, but he immediately glued himself to Tommo.”

Louis felt himself blush. “I should get up before he wakes up.”

“Or you could enjoy this for a bit longer.” Zayn shrugged. “He's had a tough week and could use some sleep.”

“I'm not innocent he's had it rough,” Louis murmured.

Niall snorted. “Sorry, that was kinda ambiguous.”

Rolling his eyes, Louis brought one hand up into Harry's hair, gently playing with the curls. “You're an idiot.”

“Are you saying?” Niall wiggled his eyebrows.

Louis was about to reply when Harry stirred. He inhaled deeply and snuggled even closer, his hand slowly sliding down Louis’ torso. His lashes tickled Louis’ skin when Harry blinked open his eyes.

There was a moment of blissful morning glory when Harry rested his hand on Louis’ stomach and rubbed his nose against Louis’ neck, but it was gone the next second. Harry gasped and pulled away, jolting back as if he had burned himself.

Louis let go of him, holding his hands up in defence and they stared at each other for a moment.

“What the hell are you--"

“Good morning to you, too, Hazza,” Niall said, interrupting Harry that way.

Harry turned to him with big eyes and flushed cheeks. “I---"

“You stole my place tonight when I went for a wee.” Niall smacked him on the arm. “Couldn't wait for an opening, could you?”

Harry frowned at him, then glanced at Louis. “I don’t remember that.”

“That one gets a bit old,” Zayn commented and Niall chuckled.

Harry gasped and Louis was about to tell them off for their terrible timing. The wound was still too fresh to make fun of it. However, Harry fell into Niall’s chuckling after a moment and Louis relaxed.

“That's not funny,”  Harry complained.

“It kinda is,” Liam said from the door. He had a box of cereal under one arm, bowls and milk in his hands. “Anyone hungry?”

While Niall and Zayn got up to help Liam set up the table in front of the TV, Harry turned back to Louis. He held Louis back with a hand on his arm, eyes looking sincere.

“I'm sorry,” he mumbled. “I didn't-- I couldn't-- it just kinda happened.”

Louis swallowed around the lump in his throat. “It's fine, Harry. No harm done.”

Nothing was fine . Louis’ body already ached with how much he wanted to pull Harry back against his side. He knew he couldn't. He knew he wasn't allowed.

Harry watched him intently, a little frown between his eyebrows, but then nodded softly. He got up eventually, joining the others. Louis needed a moment longer, composing himself.

When he eventually joined them, he sat next to Zayn and furthest away from Harry.  

+++

“Harry!” Someone yelled, and Harry couldn’t even tell where it was coming from. He just grunted to signal that he listened and kept his eyes on the pan where he was preparing a pasta dish.

The weekend had been odd. Harry still wasn’t sure how he felt about it. Granted, the night at Liam’s flat had been the only night he had slept decently -- and he was well aware why. Niall hadn’t let him live it down for a moment. He had teased Harry for the rest of the day, up until they had made it back home.

That’s where Harry had started to become restless.

With everything that had happened over the past week, he felt emotionally and physically drained. He couldn’t sleep, and his mind was constantly occupied with questions and images that he imagined to be memories.

Harry knew well enough that they weren’t. Yet, being in his flat and looking at the pictures he had hung from the years he had lost, he couldn’t stop himself from making up scenarios of what had really happened in those pictures. Maybe he had been with Louis in some of them. Maybe Louis had even taken some of those pictures.

That didn’t make looking at those pictures any easier, though. Ever since finding out, looking at them made the anger in Harry’s chest well up again. He had always thought he’d brought that part of his life back as best as he could. It wasn’t easy to accept that everything he had believed to be true had been nothing but lies.

He wondered how much of what he had been told was even true.

“Harry!” his name was repeated, and Harry jumped a little.

Looking up, he found his boss, Margaret, standing right in front of his niche. Andrew was next to her, giving Harry a look that was a clear warning to prepare himself.

“Sorry,” Harry said, cleaning his hands on a towel. “I was-- well, working.”

“Come with me,” Margaret simply said and went outside into the dining room.

“Babs?” Harry simply asked as he followed her and gestured at his pans and pots.

She nodded. “I’ll take over.”

“What’s going on?” Harry whispered to Andrew before he went out of the kitchen.

“There’s a critic,” he whispered back. “Undercover.”

Harry bit his lip and quickly went after his boss. He saw her go into one of the offices at the back and followed. Inside, a man was sitting in front of Margaret’s desk, scribbling into a notebook.

“Sorry to make you wait,” Margaret said as she sat down across from him.

Harry closed the door and stayed where he was.

“That’s the chef who was cooking tonight?” the man asked without even looking at Harry.

“We have several chefs in the kitchen, but it appears that Mr Styles here was the one preparing your dish, yes.” Margaret glanced at Harry briefly, her gaze stone cold.

“How long’s he been working here?”

“Harry’s still quite new.” Margaret gestured at him. “Three or four months.”

Harry nodded.

“You’re not per se bad,” the man said, turning to Harry now. “Tonight’s dish wasn’t excellent, I have to say.”

Harry clenched his teeth, lowering his head. He nodded again. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re still quite young, too. Maybe a training abroad could help you.”

“I had a year of training in France,” Harry replied.

“Oh.” The man lifted a brow. “You had?”

“When I was seventeen, after I had left school.”

The man hummed. “I see. That’s a while ago. Where did you work before?”

Harry bit his lip. “I learned in a restaurant in Manchester.”

“Ten years?” The man asked.

“This is my first proper job, yes,” Harry deflected the question.

Turning back around to Margaret, the man hummed. “So he’s your least experienced and trained chef?”

“He is,” Margaret confirmed. “He’s been showing good potential so far.”

“Good potential is not enough.” The man got up and shook Margaret’s hand. “We need people who are on point. Someone ambitious.”

Harry opened his mouth, but didn’t get a word in.

“Sorry, kid, but someone who took that long for training?” The man shook his Harry’s hand, too. “Already says enough.”

With that, he left the room and Harry stared after him, not sure what exactly had just happened.

“They’re looking for a young chef to build a new brand,” Margaret explained when she suddenly appeared next to him. “And today of all days you have a bad day.”

“I’m sorry,” Harry said because he had no idea what else to say.

“Don’t tell me that,” Margaret told him, patting his shoulder. “It’s not my chance wasted. It’s yours, Harry.”

Harry stared at her for a moment, and she gave him a sympathetic smile before she sent him off. He frowned and left the office, wondering what had just happened to him. Had there been someone interested in having Harry as the sole chef for one of their restaurants? And had Harry mucked it all up by being a miserable sod for the last week?

He hadn’t put all of his energy and heart and focus into his job. His mind had been occupied with his private tragedies and his heart had been occupied by Louis.

Harry stopped, frowning to himself.

He couldn’t do what he loved because he wasn’t sure anymore what it was that he loved. He had always thought he knew his heart, but now it was betraying him. It wasn’t just his body that longed for Louis. His heart did, too, and it had from the second Harry had met Louis.

“Mate,” Zayn said as he approached Harry. “Are you all right?”

Harry blinked at him, realising that he had stopped in the middle of the dining room. He nodded his head. “I gotta get back to work.”

Zayn didn’t look convinced, but Harry quickly walked back to the kitchen. He couldn’t allow himself to think about what had just happened. He just couldn’t .

There was time to think later. Right now, Harry had to work.

+++

On his way home, Harry had missed his stop. He had been lost in his thoughts, lost in self-doubt and pity. He had mucked up a great opportunity for his career, and maybe a chance like that wouldn’t present itself that soon again. Maybe he’d be stuck at Pierre’s forever.

Maybe his dream of becoming a star chef in his own restaurant wouldn’t ever come true.

He had walked that one stop back home and when he finally arrived, Niall was already meeting him in the floor.

“Harry.” He looked bewildered. “Mate, did you lose your phone?”

Harry raised his brows and shook his head. “No. Why?”

“I’ve been trying to call you for over an hour.” Niall grabbed Harry’s wrist and pulled him along. “You’re in trouble, man.”

Upon approaching their flats, Harry saw that the door to his flat was open. Niall’s was open, too, but a man came out of Harry’s, talking on the phone.

“What is going on?” Harry asked, suddenly alarmed.

“There’s a leak in the flat above yours.” Niall stopped in the door frame to Harry’s flat. “This looks bad, mate.”

It did. The first thing harry noticed was that there were pictures coming off his wall. They were drained in water. It was running down from the ceiling, pooling around Harry’s bed. The furniture and sheets were completely soaked.

“I called the landlord,” Niall told him, touching Harry’s arm. “He’s already on it. They’re gonna fix this.”

“How,” was the only thing Harry managed to croak out. “My stuff.”

“I hope you don’t mind, but I couldn’t reach you and--” Niall shrugged. He pointed at his flat with his thumb. “I just took whatever I could and brought it over to mine.”

Harry blinked at him. “What?”

“Your laptop and most of your shoes.” Niall bit his lip. “Everything that could be ruined. Like your clothes?”

Niall’s voice sounded more insecure with every word. Harry dove in to hug him, pulling Niall close against himself. “Thanks, Niall.”

“Okay.” Niall patted his back. “You can stay at mine, of course. You need a place to sleep, right?”

Harry sniffed, trying to accept that this day had just turned even worse, and that Niall was the only ray of light he had seen today. What would Harry do without him?

“Mr Styles?” someone said, and Harry let go of Niall to turn around and face the man he had met when he had rented the flat. “I’m sorry for the inconveniences. A plumber was here just a few moments ago, and they’re working on solving the issue.”

“Will I have to move out?” Harry asked the first thing that came to his mind.

His landlord shook his head. “I hope it won’t take too long to fix. The flat above yours will have to be fixed, too. It may take some time.”

“He can stay at mine,” Niall immediately said. “If you don’t have any options for him.”

The landlord made a bit of a face. “It’s not ideal, but, to be honest, I don’t have any other option. If you can’t stay with family or friends for the time being, I wouldn’t know how to solve this. Of course you won’t have to pay rent for the time the flat isn’t usable.”

Harry nodded, trying to process any of it. He just wanted to lay down and sleep. Forget all of this. “Okay.”

“I’ll call you as soon as I have an update from the plumber.”

Niall touched Harry’s arm as the landlord went back upstairs. “See. He’s not too bad. He’s pretty fair about this.”

Harry’s head already hurt from the nodding. “Yeah. Um. I just--- Fuck. I really don’t need this right now.”

“Who’s ever in need of their flat being flooded?” Niall asked, making Harry smile a little.

“Come on,” Niall urged Harry to turn around and follow him. “I’ll make you some tea.”

Harry shuffled his feet behind Niall, running a hand over his face.

He had no idea what he had done to deserve this. He understood even less now how he was supposed to get things back to normal. Within a week everything had gone downhill so fast, and today had been the absolute icing on the cake.

Everything was going wrong, and Harry had no idea how to fix any of it.

+++

Blinking slowly, Louis tried to concentrate on the file in front of him. He took a yellow textmarker and underlined the call he’d been looking for. He’d only have to find the same number in seven more files and then, he could probably use those to build a case.

The ten files he had taken home he could have done in the office, too. Cecilia had practically forced Louis to go home, though. It had been pure luck she’d been distracted for a minute so Louis could have grabbed those files before leaving.

He really couldn’t stand the way she looked at him these days anymore. It made him feel like he was about to die, and she knew, and thus, she sighed each time she saw him, stunned by her own powerlessness.

Yes, he was suffering, but Louis thought he really was holding up well. He kept his glum moods for lonely nights like this, when he was all alone and no one saw how much he was really hurting.

Harry hadn’t shown himself since the weekend. Even though he had said he wanted to keep Louis in his life, Louis knew that he couldn’t keep that up. It wasn’t easy for Harry, especially because it was so clear how confused he felt around Louis. It was probably scary for Harry, and Louis couldn’t blame him for running away from that.

It didn’t matter that this was the worst that could have happened to Louis. He had had Harry back in his life, for just a brief second, for a blissful fraction of eternity. It was like a drug that Louis had never managed to get clean from, a drug where only a single drop could make Louis addicted again.

And he’d had so much more than a drop. He’d had way too much, and going without it again was the hardest obstacle to overcome.

Louis had learned it once. He would learn it again.

The numbers on the papers in file number six were blurring together and Louis sighed, rubbing his eyes. He should probably turn on more than one small light. Or he should really take Cecilia’s advice and go to bed.

The doorbell made him jump, and Louis stared at the kitchen door for a second, perplex and wondering if he had dreamt that. He sat like that for several seconds, maybe even a minute, then the bell rang again.

Getting up from his sofa, Louis went to open the front door. He had stripped out of his suit and had put on shorts and a t-shirt in the wise foresight that he might fall asleep while working.

When he saw Harry on the other side of the door, his heart sank to his stomach.

“I’m sorry,” Harry said immediately. He was pale, and looked tired, and his hair was an absolute mess. He was fidgeting with his jacket. “I’m sorry for showing up like this.”

Louis just stood frozen, staring at him.

“I just--” Harry ran a hand over his face, looking small with his shoulders hunched. “I had the worst day, and I just wanted to go home, but I have no idea anymore where home even is and the only place I could think of was you.” He glanced up, looking awfully sincere. “I just wanted to see you.”

“Haz,” Louis breathed out, and the next thing he knew was that Harry was in his space, wrapping himself around Louis.

Harry buried his face against Louis’ neck and breathed in deeply, sighing as he breathed out. “I’m sorry,” he repeated quietly. “Just give me a second, and I’ll be gone again.”

As if Louis could let him go. Immediately, Louis wound his arms around Harry’s shoulders and held him close, lips pressing against Harry’s temple. “It’s okay.”

“I know I shouldn’t be here,” Harry went on as if Louis hadn’t said a thing.

“Harry.” Louis reached out to close the door. “Come on. You should sit down.”

Harry nodded, but he didn’t let go of Louis when they walked over to the living room. He kept his arm slung around Louis’ waist and only let go when they reached the sofa. Louis hesitated for a moment, but then sat down next to Harry. He turned his body towards Harry and took some time to have a closer look.

Harry didn't just look tired. He looked like he was about to cry, and Louis had a vague idea what this was. It had come down to what Louis had tried to prevent. All of this had been too much for Harry.

“Tell me about it.”

Harry glanced up at him and folded his hands in his lap. “I think I may be having a breakdown after all.”

“Maybe it’d be best for you to go home. To your mum’s,” Louis clarified.

Harry shook his head. “No. That didn’t feel right. I felt more out of place there than here. It--- that place isn’t the same anymore, you know?”

Louis nodded, just because. He actually had no idea what Harry meant.

“It’s always been the only place where nothing had changed,” Harry explained, moving his hands around. “But that wasn’t true. Everything had changed around there, too. I just didn’t know. No one told me.”

Biting his lip, Louis lowered his gaze. “I’m sorry.”

Harry groaned, burying his face in his hands. “God, my life’s such a mess.”

“And it’s my fault,” Louis tagged on.

For a moment, Harry was quiet. Then he reached out to touch Louis’ leg. “I don’t know about that. Right now, the only thing that doesn’t feel completely wrong and alien to me is you.”

Louis’ breath hitched, and he fisted his hands to keep from reaching out. “Don’t say that.”

Harry shifted closer, up into Louis’ space until their chests were touching. “I had the worst day, and I thought a cuppa at Niall’s would make it better, but before I could even think about it or understand what it was, I was on my way here. I want you to make me feel better.”

It was like invisible strings on Louis’ arms pulled him towards Harry, and Louis did everything he could to work against them. “Harry…”

“Come on, Lou.” Harry leaned in, lips brushing over Louis’ jaw. “Make me feel better.”

The touch made Louis’ defence crumble down. He tilted his head and his lips found Harry’s in a languid, warm kiss. He slowly opened up Harry’s mouth, so their tongues met and felt each other out. Harry sighed and let his hand slide higher up Louis’ thigh. He deepened the kiss even more, and pushed Louis back to crawl on top of him.

“Wait,” Louis croaked out in a flash of consciousness. “Harry, wait.”

Harry pulled back, licking his lips, his eyes glued to Louis’.

“Baby, we gotta slow this down.” Louis ran a hand into Harry’s hair, gently running his hand over the scar hidden there to keep his mind focused on what this was about. “Speed Racer,” he added with a smile.

Harry huffed out a small laugh, but seemed to react to that. “I don’t wanna think.”

Louis nodded, shifting around, until they were both lying comfortably on the sofa. Harry lay on top of Louis, their legs tangled and Harry’s head bedded on Louis’ shoulder while Louis played with his hair.

“I know, baby,” Louis mumbled. “But this is not really what you want.”

“It is,” Harry protested.

“For the moment,” Louis allowed. He cleared his throat and kept soothing Harry by playing with his hair. “What if I told you that playing with your hair has always worked to make you comply to what I want?”

Harry tensed a little. “I’d think you use your knowledge about me to get what you want.”

“Right.” Louis inhaled, slinging his other arm around Harry’s middle. “That’s still a thing, Harry. I know you better than you know me, and that’s not fair to you.”

Staying mum, Harry snuggled a little closer.

“Tell me about your bad day,” Louis murmured. “Why was it so bad?”

“I haven't slept,” Harry started. “At least not very well. Since-- you know. Saturday night.”

Louis hummed. “Me neither.”

“There was a scout or critic at the restaurant today.” Sighing, Harry gently tapped his fingers against Louis’ sides. “I haven't figured. He said my cooking wasn't good enough. I wasn't good enough.”

“For what?” Louis wanted to know.

Harry shrugged. “I don't know. My boss said that bloke was looking for a chef for a new franchise.”

“And what was wrong with your cooking?”

“The problem is what I’ve done so far.” Harry stopped the tapping. “That I didn’t finish my training in time. He said it shows that I’m not ambitious enough.”

Louis wasn’t sure what it meant, but after a moment, he realised what Harry was on about. “That wasn’t your fault, though.”

“Does it even matter?” Harry asked. “People will read my vitae and think I needed that long for my training. That I couldn’t do it, and needed extra time to get through.”

“Or they could just ask,” Louis supplied. “It’s stupid to make a decision based on that alone. He didn’t even take the time to get to know you, or let you explain.”

Harry was quiet, and after a few minutes, Louis thought he had probably fallen asleep. His breathing had evened out and his fingers had slid from Louis’ sides. After a while, though, Harry sighed. “Would you hire someone who has a vitae like that? Wouldn’t you think there’s trouble in store?”

Pressing his lips together, Louis shrugged lightly. “I can’t say I wouldn’t see it as a negative sign. I would take the time to find out what it’s about, though.” He framed Harry’s face and forced him to look at Louis. “Your case is special, Harry. What you’ve done was brave. You could have given up, but you had the courage to start again and relearn what you’ve lost.”

Harry bit his lip, blushing. “Thank you.”

Humming, Louis leaned in to kiss his forehead. “You’ll be fine, baby.”

With a nudge, Harry managed to bring his chin up, so his lips slid across Louis’ chin. Both of them stilled for a moment, ther mouths just inches apart. Harry’s gaze flickered up to Louis’ for a second.

“Sorry,” Louis managed to breathe out, ignoring his heart racing in his chest. “I shouldn’t call you that.”

“Did you always call me baby?” Harry spoke quietly, as if they were sharing a secret. Maybe they were.

“I did,” Louis replied, brushing a curl from Harry’s temple.

“Lou.” Harry kept his eyes on Louis’, using his forearms to lift himself up a little. “Tell me about that time. Tell me about the person I was.”

Louis’ heart ached from hearing those words. Harry asked impossible things of him. He’d need a lifetime to tell Harry about every shared moment -- he couldn’t leave out a single one. There was nothing that had happened between them that seemed insignificant.

“You stole my drink when we met the first time,” Louis started, feeling a smile tug at his lips. “You made me guess your name. I guessed Harry, then Ed. Which--” Louis laughed quietly. “I should have played the lottery that day.”

Harry smiled, too, apparently content with the story. “Did Liam try to set us up?”

Louis’ smile died. “Um-- no. I actually met Liam through you.”

“I thought that’d probably been a lie.” Harry hummed and shook his head when Louis opened his mouth to apologise. “Who asked for the first date?”

“Me,” Louis answered. “Kinda. You owed me a drink. I won the name guessing, but you had to catch your bus, so we met again the next night.”

“Did we fall in love as fast as we did this time around?” Harry wanted to know.

Louis’ heart dropped down to his knees. His hands stopped running along Harry’s sides.

“Just answer the question,” Harry demanded, in a soft voice. “Keep telling me about us.”

“I was in love with you from the first minute,” Louis said, blinking slowly as he held Harry’s gaze. “And I knew I wanted you to be my boyfriend when you cooked for me the first time.”

Harry frowned sightly. “Was it hard to convince me of that?”

Louis shook his head. “Not at all. We’ve been on the same page all the way.”

“Did we--” Harry bit his lip, his cheeks turning a little red. “I wasn’t very experienced.”

“I wasn’t either,” Louis said, feeling his cheeks burning a little, too. “We were never actually shy around each other, though. We were good at communicating what we wanted. We were comfortable with each other.”

“We,” Harry repeated slowly, as if he was testing out the word. “We tried a lot, didn’t we?”

Louis shrugged. Having Harry on top of him while discussing the issue really wasn’t helping. “Everything we were comfortable with.”

“Was there anything we weren’t comfortable with?” Harry’s voice had dropped to a breathy whisper.

“Not really.” Louis’s throat felt like he was being strangled.

Harry was staring again, and Louis started to squirm under his gaze. His blood ran like warm honey through his veins, slow and slick.

“I didn’t wanna come here,” Harry said after a moment. “I didn’t wanna give in.”

Louis nodded, even though he wasn’t sure what Harry meant.

“Being with you is the only thing that feels right, though.” Sighing, Harry rested his head back on Louis’ chest. “Even though you’re the cause for the mess I’m in.”

“I know,” Louis mumbled.

Harry hummed. “I wanted to keep my distance, but it’s so hard to do.”

Huffing out a dry laugh, Louis shifted underneath Harry. “Tell me about it.”

“Sorry for making this weird,” Harry immediately said. “I know that I’m making it harder on you by coming here.”

“It’s harder to not have you at all.” The words were out before Louis could have thought about them. “I mean--”

“No,” Harry cut in, running his lips over Louis’ neck. “I can only imagine what it must be like to you.”

Louis closed his eyes. “You have no idea what you’re doing to me.”

Harry stilled. He pulled back slowly, then sat up, so he was straddling Louis. Licking his lips, he ran his hands down Louis’ chest. “I think I do.”

“Fuck,” Louis breathed out when he opened his eyes and saw Harry looming above him like a vision. His eyes were cloudy and his lips were bitten pink.

“Will you let me stay the night?” Harry asked.

Louis whined. “You want me dead.”

Harry smiled and leaned in enough to brush his lips over Louis’. “No funny business, I promise. But Niall’s floor is uncomfortable.”

Louis frowned at him. “Niall’s floor?”

“There was a pipe break in the flat above mine. I can’t stay in my flat tonight.” Harry shrugged helplessly. “My bed’s flooded.”

Sitting up, Louis rested his hands on Harry’s thighs to slide out from underneath him. “And you plan on staying with Niall until they’ve sorted it out?”

Harry nodded. “He offered.”

For a second, Louis considered what he was about to say. It probably wasn’t helping their case. “I have a guest room.”

“What?” Harry didn’t seem to follow immediately, but then his eyes widened and he lifted his hands in a defensive gesture. “No, Lou, that’s not what I had in mind when I came here.”

“Calm down.” Louis patted Harry’s knee. “I know you hadn’t. It still stands. You need a place to stay, and I have a guest room. Also, my place is quite close to Pierre’s.”

Harry pressed his lips together. “I’m not sure we’ll be able to handle that.” He gestured between them. “How likely is it that we’ll end up like tonight again?”

Louis still felt the arousal from having Harry in his arms again. “If you’re uncomfortable with it, you can stay with Niall. I’d prefer you stay with Liam, though. He’s got a sofa, at least.”

“Uncomfortable,” Harry repeated. “You said we’ve never been uncomfortable with each other.”

“We haven’t,” Louis said, trying to shut out the sadness he felt at the thought. “That was another time, though.”

“I need to know more.” Harry frowned when he looked at Louis directly. “I need to know more about you. More about us.”

“I mean, we’ve got the awkward part about our sex life behind us.” Joking was the only way Louis knew how to handle this. “It can only get easier from here.”

Harry laughed. “I may have a few more questions about that.”

“Please, no,” Louis groaned.

“But seriously,” Harry went on then. “If I stay, I could learn a bit more about you. About us.”

Louis just nodded. He wasn’t sure he could give Harry what he wanted, or answer his questions to the extend Harry imagined. Louis could at least try, though.

“Okay,” Harry said, nodding firmly. “I’ll stay.”

Swallowing thickly, Louis got up to keep his hands and mind busy. Just the thought of Harry staying here, in his flat, made his knees wobbly. “You should let Niall know.”

When Harry took out his mobile, Louis went out of the living room to get sheets for the guest room. He was halfway done making the bed when Harry came in.

“I can drop by Niall’s to pick up some of my stuff tomorrow.” He leaned against the doorframe to watch Louis. “My landlord calls me again when they know how long the repair works will take.”

“You can stay as long as you want,” Louis said without looking at Harry. “It’s not like I need the space for someone else.”

That hang between them for a second and Louis cursed himself inwardly. Whatever they had was pretty fragile, and could flip around from being this aching desire to be close to each other to spiteful accusations and anger in the next.

“Louis,” Harry spoke up after a few moments. “Can I stay with you on the sofa for a little longer tonight?”

Louis turned and put the pillow down. He took in Harry’s frame, and remembered why Harry had shown up here in the first place.

“Of course,” Louis replied, approaching him. “I gotta finish up going through some files. You can watch telly. Have you eaten at all?”

Harry smiled slightly. “I’m not hungry. Some telly sounds nice, though.”

It only took Harry ten minutes to fall asleep after they had settled back on the sofa. He had curled up next to Louis, his head resting against Louis’ hip and he was breathing evenly, like a child. Louis patted Harry’s hair, trying to focus on his work.

It was odd, but hearing Harry breathe steadily like that had a soothing effect on Louis. He had never paid attention to it before; not when they had been together. Now, however, hearing Harry breathe evenly in his sleep made Louis feel relaxed, too. Harry was right there next to him. Sleeping, safe and sound. Alive.

After a while, Louis gave up on trying to work, switched off the TV and instead lay next to Harry. He wasn’t surprised when Harry nuzzled closer and buried his face against Louis’ neck. Harry had come here because he had needed someone to hold him, after all.

Not someone. Louis closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. Louis; Harry had needed Louis.

With that thought occupying his mind, Louis fell asleep, too.

+++

“I’m not really convinced,” Liam repeated as he helped Harry carrying his bags outside.

Harry had asked him to help, mostly because Liam had a car and Harry didn’t want to come back to his flat several times to pick up what he needed. Like this, he had packed up everything to take back to Louis’ flat. It was only four small bags -- mostly clothes.

“You mentioned that.” Harry put the bags he was carrying onto the backseat of Liam’s car.

Liam did the same. “That just begs for drama, Harry.”

Of course it did. Harry was aware of it.

He had woken up in the morning on Louis’ sofa. All Louis had left, had been a note and a key. Harry had had a phantom feeling of being held, and he was almost sure that Louis had spent the night next to Harry, curling around his back. Judging from how well Harry had slept, it was rather likely.

Harry had gone to work and had come to his flat afterwards, so he hadn’t seen Louis since last night. It was probably better like that, because seeing Louis just messed with Harry’s head.

He knew that he’d been a mess of conflicting feelings last night. He had wanted to be as close as possible to Louis, and at the same time, he had wanted to keep his distance. He had wanted to sleep with Louis - his body had been aching with it. Yet, he knew that Louis was right when he said that they weren’t equals, and that he knew things about Harry that Harry probably didn’t even know about himself.

Which gave Harry one more reason to stay with Louis. He had a feeling that it would help him finding out more about himself, too.

His biggest reason, however, was to get to know Louis better. Harry couldn’t handle feeling that strongly towards a person he hardly knew. It had been different when he had thought Louis was a stranger. Now that he knew that he had known Louis before, every feeling held so much more meaning. It wasn’t just blind attraction. What he felt was from another time, had been inside of him for years.

Harry needed to understand those feelings, and where they were coming from. How Louis had brought them to life.

“I need to get to know him better,” Harry settled on saying when he slid into the passenger seat.

“You could do that without staying at his flat.” Liam started the car.

“It’s just---” Harry shrugged. “Last night, I couldn’t think of anywhere else to go. I needed him, and no one else. I only started to feel better when I was with him.”

Liam threw a short glance at him. “Are you telling me you’re in love with him?”

“No,” Harry answered immediately. He frowned. “Or…”

“What?” Liam wanted to know.

“Maybe yes.” Harry touched his lip, capturing the bottom between forefinger and thumb. “But it’s not me, you know? It’s that other part of me. That I don’t know. I think I am in love with him, but I don’t know why .”

Liam kept his eyes on the road. “Did you tell Louis that?”

Harry shook his head. “No.”

“You better keep it that way,” Liam adviced. “He won’t hear any of what you’re saying after that part of being in love with him.”

“I don’t know.” Harry let go of his lip. “He seems pretty rational about this whole thing.”

Liam laughed dryly. “You have no idea, Haz. He’s good at pretending.”

Harry blinked at him.

“You’ll learn that, too.” Liam briefly smiled at him.

When they arrived, Liam helped carrying the bags upstairs. Louis wasn’t home yet, even though it was after ten already. Harry told Liam not to worry and send him home, staying back by himself in Louis’s flat.

Only after Liam had been gone for a few minutes, did Harry start to feel uncomfortable. What was he supposed to do? Should he stay in his room? Should he make dinner for Louis? Should he just wait in the living room? Was there any place he wasn’t allowed to go?

Harry glanced at the door to Louis’ bedroom. Of course that one was off limits. Even though Harry had been in there before.

He bit his lip, turning away to go to the living room. He decided to keep himself busy by connecting his mobile to Louis’ WiFi and watch some videos until Louis came home.

When he finally did, Harry sat up straight. The front door was falling close and Harry sat there, suspended for several minutes that Louis didn’t show himself. After a bit, he came into the living room, looking as smart as ever in a grey suit.

“Hi,” he said with a warm smile. “Did you make yourself at home?”

Harry nodded, getting up from the sofa. “I got your WiFi. Is that okay?”

“‘Course,” Louis replied, loosening his tie. Harry tried not to look too closely at the way he strained his neck while doing so. “I’m pretty knackered, so I think I’ll just head to bed.”

“Yeah, of course.” Harry didn’t know what to do with his hands, so he just buried them in the pockets of his jeans. “Should I--- I mean. Um. Is there anything I should know? Like, you know? House rules?”

Louis finally looked at him directly, and his eyes wrinkled when he laughed. “There are no house rules. You can do as you please.”

Harry nodded. “All right.”

“Hey,” Louis said, his smile turning soft. “You don’t have to worry, okay? I’ll keep my distance.”

Watching Louis leave the room, Harry frowned to himself. He wanted to tell Louis that he wasn’t concerned about that; that it wasn’t an issue. Harry trusted him.

What Harry wasn’t so sure of yet was if he even wanted Louis to keep a distance. After last night, Harry wasn’t sure that he could keep his distance. Yet, he knew that Louis was right and they had to be rational about this.

It wouldn’t work if they didn’t approach this thing clear-headed and sober-minded.

It didn’t help that all Harry wanted right now was to follow Louis and fall right into his arms.

===

 

Chapter Text

“I didn’t think that through.”

“I’m not surprised by that.” Niall kept his eyes on the strings of his guitar, tuning it while they were talking.

Louis felt bad for whining to Niall when this night was supposed to be about him. He had his first gig at a club. It was different from the gigs he had played at pubs before. This was not about playing some background music to the busy chatter of a Friday night. This was a gig where people paid actual attention to the artist on stage.

Liam leaned against one of the boxes on stage, shaking his head. “I’m not surprised either. It was a stupid idea to begin with.”

“I couldn’t let him sleep on Niall’s floor, could I?” Louis pouted, knowing that it didn’t suit him.

“You didn’t have to offer him to move in with you, though.” Niall put his guitar away and wiped his hands on his jeans.

Of course he hadn’t. Yet, if he hadn’t offered Harry a place to stay, who knew where he would’ve gone instead. Just the thought of Harry being with anyone else was making Louis queasy. He had this urge, this drive to keep Harry as close as possible. Whenever they were in a room together, Louis was so focused on Harry that he forgot what was going on around him.

“I wasn’t like that back then,” Louis sighed. “I wasn’t the kind of guy who couldn’t keep his hands off his boy. I could be in a room with him without feeling the urge to touch him and be as close as possible. How did I suddenly become that guy?”

Liam rolled his eyes. “You weren’t like that because you didn’t need to be reassured then. You were sure of what you had and what Harry felt for you. It’s just how people are when they’re in love with someone, but not yet together.”

“Not yet,” Louis repeated. He glanced around the bar to see if Zayn and Harry had arrived at last. They were coming straight from work. “Not sure that’s where this is leading.”

“He’s moved in with you,” Niall reminded him. “He wouldn’t have if he didn’t like you.”

Louis bit his lip. Just the thought made his heart flutter with excitement, but he didn’t dare give in to it. The risk of being hurt again, of ending up with empty hands and a broken heart once more, was too serious. He had been burned hoping before.

Niall was called to the back of the stage by one of the people working at the bar. Louis watched Niall hurry over, looking nervous. He nodded his head at everything the bloke said and pointed at.

“Lou,” Liam said after a moment, touching his shoulder. “Let’s go sit down. Niall’s about to start.”

“It’s his night,” Louis mumbled, following Liam off the stage. “I’m the worst friend in the history of bad friends.”

Laughing, Liam patted Louis’ back. “You’re not. You’re here, aren’t you? Niall knows you’re supporting him.”

Liam was probably right, but it didn’t stop Louis from feeling like a prick. He was so focused on himself, and on Harry, and on everything that happened between them that he didn’t properly pay attention at work, and didn’t give his friends the attention they deserved.

It had never been like that before. Even if Harry had been the centre of Louis’ life, Louis had never let his life revolve solely around Harry. That had only started after Louis had lost him. It was intensified now that Harry was back in his life.

It wasn’t healthy. Louis knew it wasn’t; neither for him nor for Harry. That’s why he had to learn to control it and to keep a distance between them. He had to leave Harry enough space, or else Louis was going to suffocate him by trying to take care of Harry.

“There you are,” Liam suddenly said and turned around.

Louis turned, too, and found Zayn and Harry approaching them. Zayn immediately went in to kiss Liam briefly and handed him a bottle of beer. Harry stopped behind Louis and held out a bottle for him.

“Thanks.” Louis accepted the bottle, taking it between both hands to keep himself from reaching out for Harry.

“Glad we made it,” Zayn said as he craned his neck to get a good view of the stage. “Tonight was busy.”

“Niall should be on any minute now.” Liam left an arm around Zayn’s middle and pointed at the front with the bottle in his hand. “Should we stand a little closer?”

“First row,” Harry suggested. “Like a fan club.”

“Niall’s gonna like that,” Louis commented.

They made their way through the crowd and Louis let Harry go ahead. He didn’t even notice that he had placed a hand on Harry’s waist to securely lead him and not lose him in the sea of people until they reached the front.

Harry didn’t step away when they stood in front of the stage, but he didn’t look at Louis, either. Instead, he took a drink from his beer, eyes fixed on Niall preparing on stage.

Louis slowly pulled his hand away and crossed his arms in front of his chest.

“How was your day?” Harry asked and stepped a little closer.

“Quiet,” Louis replied. “I took a new case. Lots of talking today.”

Harry nodded. He still didn’t look at Louis.

Louis was about to say more, anything, just something to keep Harry engaged in a conversation when Niall’s voice resonated through the room.

“Hi,” he said into the microphone. “I’m Niall Horan. Thanks for coming tonight.”

Louis whooped when the people that had gathered behind them clapped. Liam joined him with some loud whistling. Niall grinned at them, and Louis felt a rush of pride run through his veins. He realised that Niall fit up there on stage -- lights pointed at him, every person in the room attentive to his words. Niall had the perfect stage persona.

After he had introduced the first song, Niall started playing. Louis noticed that Harry could sing along and was nodding his head to the rhythm. It made Louis smile, as he sang along himself.

When Niall had finished the second song, Louis pointed at his empty beer bottle and Liam and Harry nodded their heads while Zayn shook his. Louis made his way to the bar with the three empty bottles to get them new drinks. It was quieter there and the bartender noticed Louis straight away, leaning over to him.

“What can I get you, love?”

Louis put the empty bottles on the counter. “Three again.”

The bartender lifted a brow. “Three? You sure you can drink all of them?”

“Only one’s for me.” Louis laughed.

“You’re here with friends?”

Nodding, Louis watched the bartender open the bottles. “Yeah. I’m a friend of the bloke on stage.”

“Nice.” The bartender handed Louis the bottles. “I hope he’ll play here more often. ‘D like to see your face again.”

Louis bit his lip, feeling his cheeks flush. It was a nice feeling. Even though he wasn’t even remotely interested in the bloke, flirting gave him a nice feeling, knowing that someone found him attractive.

“Maybe I’ll come around again.” He pulled some money from the back pocket of his jeans and slid it over to the bartender.

“I’ll be keeping an eye out,” he said with a wink.

Louis turned around, still grinning to himself. It faltered completely when he almost bumped into Harry.

“What can I get you?” the bartender asked.

“Nothing,” Harry replied, resting a hand over the small of Louis’ back and taking one of the bottles from him. “I’m with this one.”

“Harry.” Louis rushed out the word as they took a few steps away from the bar. “What are you doing here?”

“Thought you could use some help carrying the bottles.” Harry shrugged, not looking directly at Louis.

“I didn’t--” Louis glanced back at the bar. “I wasn’t--”

“It’s fine, Lou,” Harry interrupted him, a stubborn tilt to his mouth. “You can flirt as much as you want, with whomever you want. You don’t owe me an explanation.”

Louis shook his head, winding his fingers around the necks of the two bottles, so he could reach out his other hand to touch Harry’s arm. He had to explain himself. There was no way he could leave Harry thinking Louis was looking for anyone else.

He didn’t get to it, though, when Niall spoke up again.

“The next song is kinda inspired by two of my friends. They have a bit of a complicated past, those two.” Niall laughed quietly -- and of course he did because that was probably the understatement of the century. “I’m rooting for them, though. So, this is for them. It’s called Flicker .”

Louis blinked at the stage, not sure he had heard correctly. The song was slow, quiet, tugging at Louis’ heartstrings from the first tone. Niall had written a song about him and Harry? And he was singing about it to all of these people?

When you feel your love's been taken

When you know there's something missing

In the dark, we're barely hangin' on

Then you rest your head upon my chest

And you feel like there ain't nothing left

I’m afraid that what we had is gone.

That hit home, and Louis almost dropped the bottles. He couldn’t tear his eyes off Niall, feeling as though Niall had taken every thought and every fear that Louis had been holding inside of him and had put it in a song.

Harry was completely still next to Louis, frozen in place and staring at the stage as well.

Still a flicker of hope that you first gave to me

That I wanna keep

Please don’t leave.

Harry gasped a little, and Louis turned his head, finding that Harry was already looking at him. His eyes were unreadable, and only the blush on his cheeks was giving away that Niall’s song had an effect on him, too.

“Is he--” Louis choked out, swallowing thickly.

There was no reaction from Harry. He didn’t pull away, either, just stood where he was and stared ahead. He had a frown on his face and seemed to be taking in every single word Niall sang.

And I tell you things you’ve never heard before

Asking questions to the ceiling

Never knowing what you’re thinking

Louis’ hand gripped Harry’s arm tighter, his fingers digging into the warm skin. Harry shifted a little closer and Louis noticed how warm he was. While Louis wore a jumper, Harry was in a thin t-shirt, the sleeves rolled up to his shoulders.

Harry had always been the one warming Louis up. He hadn’t even minded when Louis had snuck his cold feet beneath Harry’s legs in bed, making Harry warm them up. He wasn’t sure if Harry was ever cold, at all. Back then, he’d never been.

It seemed like that hadn’t changed.

The song ended, leaving a lingering pain behind. Louis’ heart was throbbing with it. Niall looked up briefly, gaze scanning the crowd, but not settling. The audience was clapping, and Louis thought that most people were quiet because they were touched.

He hadn’t known that Niall could take something painful and bitter and make it so beautiful. The real thing was anything but, yet Niall had managed to give it such a bittersweet tone.

When the next song started -- something more uptempo -- Harry cleared his throat.

“We should get back,” he said.

Louis blinked up at him, still not ready to process what had just happened. How could Harry be so indifferent? Niall had written a song about them. About their own little tragedy.

“Harry,” Louis started, but Harry shook his head.

“I know,” Harry murmured, placing his hand over Louis’ on his arm.

“That hit a little too close to home,” Louis admitted.

“He said it’s just loosely inspired,” Harry reminded him.

Biting his lip, Louis managed a nod.

Harry let go of Louis’ hand and carefully moved away. “We shouldn’t read too much into it.”

“Yeah,” Louis agreed, feeling foolish. He lowered his head and followed Harry back to their spots.

Louis was an idiot for reacting so intensely to Niall’s song. Of course Harry wouldn’t read too much into it. Of course it wouldn’t hit close to home for Harry. He wasn’t the one who still had that flicker of hope in his heart. He wasn’t the one dreading that what they had had was gone.

Liam and Zayn didn’t comment on it when Louis handed Liam his beer. Liam gave a small toast with the new bottle to Louis, winking and then focusing back on the stage. Zayn was filming the whole thing for Niall, and Harry was back to singing along.

Maybe Louis had read too much into it, after all.

+++

“Are you completely bonkers?” Harry tried to keep his voice as low as possible as he slid into the seat next to Niall.

Niall blinked at him, putting his glass down on the table. “What?”

Harry glanced over his shoulder, making sure that Louis was busy a few feet away talking to the friend he met. Harry was pretty certain that Louis wasn’t into girls, so he wasn’t too bothered by the attractive blond girl occupying his attention at the moment.

“That song?” Harry prompted. “Did you lose your mind?”

“Didn’t you like it?” Niall’s expression turned sad.

“It’s a beautiful song,” Harry hurried to explain. “But. Niall. Come on.”

“I’m sorry,” Niall said with a shrug. “Inspiration hit and I couldn’t stop myself.”

“You almost gave me a heart attack.” Harry put a hand over his chest. “And I had to pretend like I wasn’t bothered.”

Niall frowned. “Why?”

“I couldn’t possibly tell Louis that your song captured my feelings for him to a tee.” Harry shook his head. “We’re trying to live together, Niall. That won’t exactly help the situation.”

“Not like anyone’s forced you to live together.” Niall shrugged. “That was your decision.”

Sighing, Harry nodded. “I know.”

“But I’m sorry if the song crossed a line.”

“I think I’d just like to pretend that we’re not on very thin ice.” Harry pursed his lips. “It’s terrifying to be reminded of how thin the ice actually is.”

Niall smiled, moving his glass around on the table. “As I said, Harry. I’m rooting for you guys.”

Harry wasn’t sure how much sense it made, but he nodded. “Thanks.”

He wondered what it was Niall could root for. For him and Louis to overcome what had happened five years ago? For them to make a fresh start? For them to come to terms with their past?

For them to be lovers?

Harry glanced over to Louis again. He looked especially beautiful tonight. Harry loved the suits he wore for work, but nothing beat Louis in tight jeans and a snuggly jumper. The sleeves were slightly too long for his arms and the collar was swooping low, exposing a part of his tattoo on the collarbones. His hair was carefully styled in a sideways fringe, slightly messy from him touching it all the time.

Harry wanted to kiss the spot where his neck and shoulder met. It was exposed right now, and Harry wished he could claim it, right here in this bar where everyone could see, and everyone would know that Louis was his.

Only that Louis wasn’t. At least not in that sense.

“You’ve got that look again,” Niall commented dryly.

Harry snapped out of his staring, focusing back on Niall. “What?”

“That look,” Niall explained. “Like you’d jump him any second. Why don’t you just go over and find out who the girl is that’s stealing his attention.”

“He can talk to other people,” Harry said. “It’s not like I’m jealous.”

“Sure.” Niall toasted to Harry, making him realise his own drink was empty. “Because it’s a girl.”

Harry huffed and turned away to go back to the bar and get another drink. He waited a bit to get through to the counter and when he did, he noticed that there was a different bartender. The one from before wasn’t in sight. It took a while for Harry to finally get the guy’s attention. He leaned as close as possible, getting his arm wet and sticky on the dirty counter, and ordered a beer for himself and one for Louis.

When he made his way back, he saw that Liam and Zayn had returned to their table. They had probably taken just as long to get a drink before Harry had gone to the bar. Louis was still standing where he had stood before, but the girl was gone. The bartender who had flirted with Louis earlier on apparently hadn’t gone home after his shift, but liked to mingle with the crowd afterwards.

Harry pressed his lips together, considering what to do. The sensible thing to do would be to join Liam, Niall and Zayn at the table and wait for Louis to finish his conversation. Even while thinking about that, Harry’s feet had already moved on their own accord to stop next to Louis.

“I got you another drink,” he said quietly, holding the bottle out for Louis.

Louis took the bottle and pressed his lips together, looking uncertain for a second. Then, he slung one arm around Harry’s waist and pressed his side against Harry’s. “Thanks, baby.”

Harry’s heart stumbled and he rested one hand over Louis’ hip, nodding dumbly.

The bartender frowned at them, looking from Harry to Louis. “You’re not together.”

“What?” Louis lifted a brow.

“I watched you earlier,” the bloke explained. “When he came with you to the bar. I thought he was your boyfriend, but he’s not. You didn’t act it when I watched you.”

“Just because we’re not all over each other.” Harry pulled Louis a little closer. “That’s nothing to go by.”

“Guess that’s my bad, then.” The guy shrugged and took a step back. He looked at Harry directly. “Better watch your boy a bit more closely, though, or someone else is gonna snatch him away pretty soon.”

Louis opened his mouth, but the guy turned around and left without another word. “As if I couldn’t make decisions for myself,” Louis mumbled.

Harry bit his lip, keeping himself from pressing a kiss against Louis’ temple. They were in the perfect position for that right now, with Louis leaning against Harry’s side and Harry’s arm resting over Louis’ waist.

The urge was tugging at Harry’s skin, and he had to bite his lip to stop himself. It was irrational and childish, and maybe even a little ridiculous, but Harry felt like he had to mark his territory to show that guy that no one was going to snatch Louis away.

“Louis,” Harry started, turning his body around a little to face him.

“Sorry.” Louis untangled himself from Harry, stepping away. “Thanks for jumping in. He just wouldn’t get lost, no matter what I’ve said.”

Harry shook his head. “It’s fine. I--” He pressed his lips together, pondering his next words. “I didn’t just do it to help you.”

Louis lowered his gaze, burying his free hand in the pocket of his jeans. “I know.”

“Because you know what I act like when I’m jealous,” Harry realised, frowning as he figured it out.

“Yeah.” Louis laughed a little, shaking his head. “You were keeping it pretty tame, though. You’re much bolder when you’re jealous. I mean. Were. Before.”

Harry watched Louis bite his lip, still not looking at Harry. “When I had a right to be jealous?”

Looking up at him, Louis blinked slowly. “Isn’t it obvious that---”

He was cut short by a loud noise. To their right, a group of men were stumbling around and a glass fell to the floor, shattering. Two men yelled at each other, then one of them attacked the other. Suddenly, a whole group of people got into it, pushing and hitting each other.

Harry couldn’t catch up with what was going on, but then Louis was on him, gripping his hand tightly. He dragged Harry against his body, keeping them away from the fight. Harry stumbled slightly, falling against Louis, but Louis caught him, helping Harry find his balance.

“We should get out of here,” Harry said, tangling his fingers with Louis’, so he wouldn’t lose him. He turned around to check for the others and to give them a sign to leave.

The moment he spotted them, another body crashed right into him and Harry lost his balance again, going down with the bloke. His head hit something hard, a stinging, sudden pain flooding his senses when he hit the ground, making his vision go blurry.

His hand slipped from Louis’ and Harry hissed, bringing it up to touch his head. “Ow.”

“Baby.” Louis was by his side in an instant, shielding him from the commotion behind them. “Baby. Baby. Look at me.”

Harry tried to blink the pain away, checking behind him to see where he had hit his head. There was a table that was currently unoccupied.

“Harry,” Louis’ fingers ran over Harry’s body, obviously checking for injuries. He touched Harry’s back over and over, pressing his fingers to the knobs of Harry’s spine. “Baby? Can you look at me?”

Harry frowned and touched his head that was still pounding with an awful pain. He blinked his eyes, trying to focus onto Louis, but his ears were ringing and his eyes hurting. His fingers didn’t touch anything wet, but Harry felt like his skull had been split open.

“Baby.” Louis’ voice was shaky, trembling. He came closer and framed Harry’s face, making him look Louis in the eye. Their noses were almost touching when Louis came even closer. “Look at me.”

“Fuck, that hurt,” Harry croaked out. “It hurts, Lou.”

There was a moment of Louis’ expression changing into something soft before he drew his brows together.Louis ran a hand into Harry’s hair, checking for any broken skin. He was careful, but his fingers didn’t miss a single inch.  “Are you dizzy?”

Harry hissed when Louis’ fingers brushed over the spot he had hit on the table. “No. Not anymore.”

“Harry!” Liam fought his way through the riot going on around them. He knelt down on Harry’s other side. “Fuck. Your head.”

“I’m gonna take him to the emergency,” Louis said to Liam, keeping a hand on Harry’s neck.

“I’m good,” Harry protested.

“No,” Liam argued, shaking his head. Zayn and Niall appeared behind him. “You gotta see a doctor, Harry. That’s too risky.”

“But--” Harry fell silent when Louis took his hand and kissed the knuckles.

“Baby.” Louis’ voice was serious. “Don’t be difficult now.”

Harry wanted to argue. The way all colour was drained from Louis’ face told him that he wouldn’t shut up about it until Harry gave in, though. He’d never seen Louis look that scared. At least not that he could remember.

Keeping his eyes on Louis, Harry sighed and nodded.

“I’m gonna get a taxi,” Niall announced. “Meet you outside.”

Liam and Louis helped Harry up and Louis kept his arm around Harry’s waist. He held out his other arm to push away anyone who was in their way. Liam and Zayn followed them, keeping their backs clear. The commotion still hadn’t cleared up.

Outside, Harry inhaled deeply and let Louis lead him over to where Niall was waiting next to a taxi. He held open the door and Harry got in first, settling into the backseat. Harry wasn’t prepared for the way Louis plastered himself to Harry’s side. He took Harry’s hand back in his, resting their entwined fingers on his thigh.

Niall and Zayn joined them in the back, while Liam took the front and told the driver where to go. Every thirty seconds one of them asked for Harry’s state, and Harry told them each time that he was doing fine and going to the hospital was completely unnecessary.

Louis kept watching Harry with intent eyes, thumb gently stroking over the back of Harry’s hand. His other hand rested on Harry’s arm, squeezing every now and then. Yet, Louis didn’t say a single thing during the whole ride.

“It’s nothing, Lou,” Harry said nonetheless. It was like he could read Louis’ mind, knowing that what was going through Louis’ head right now were painful memories of their accident five years ago.

“Better safe than sorry,” Louis replied.

“There’s no such thing as being overcautious in a case like yours,” Zayn commented.

He was probably right with that, Harry thought, resting his head on Louis’ shoulder.

With a past like his, hitting his head wasn’t something he would ever be able to brush off.

+++

Louis unlocked the door to his flat, holding it open for Harry to go in first.

It was almost four in the morning morning and Louis felt dead on his feet. A look at Harry’s face confirmed that Harry probably felt the same.

“I gotta come up with something for Niall,” Harry mumbled, rubbing his eyes. “I completely ruined his night. It was supposed to be all about him.”

Louis followed Harry to the kitchen. He opened the fridge to get them some water. “He understands, Haz.”

They had spent almost three hours at the hospital. Harry hadn’t been categorised as an urgent case, so they had waited more than two hours. Louis had discussed and argued, but that had been in vain. He had gone as far as considering taking Harry up to Manchester to see Dr Bennett. They were familiar with Harry’s case and would understand how serious tonight’s accident had been.

Well, at least they would have treated it as something serious there.

As the scans and tests had shown, there was no damage to Harry’s head from the blow he had taken tonight. He would have a small bruise on the back of his head that would fade within a week, but other than that, Harry’s head was fine.

Louis couldn’t say that gave him any peace of mind. In his head, he was replaying the scene over and over again, trying to pinpoint the exact moment he had failed to protect Harry. He shouldn’t have let it come as far as for Harry to be in a setting where he could get hurt.

Harry suddenly crowded him against the fridge when Louis took out two water bottles. He rested his hands on Louis’ waist and leaned in to put his chin over Louis’ shoulder. “Stop worrying, Lou.”

Louis closed his eyes and gave in, winding his arms around Harry’s shoulders. “You gave me a bit of a scare there.”

“I didn’t mean to,” Harry murmured. “I promise I’m fine.”

“I wouldn’t forgive myself if you’d got seriously hurt.” Louis whispered the words against Harry’s hair. He couldn’t even begin to explain it to Harry. The moment Harry had gone down, Louis had been ready to grab the prick that had caused it and punch his face to make him suffer for hurting Louis’ boy.

He had also known that more than hitting the lowlife that had caused Harry’s pain, Harry had needed Louis to take care of him.

Harry let his body sink against Louis’, so that they were touching from knees to shoulders. “I’m sorry I worried you.”

Louis wasn’t proud of it, but his biggest fear had been that Harry wouldn’t recognise him again. When Harry’s face had scrunched up in pain and he had held his head, eyes going unfocused, Louis had thought for a moment that Harry would look at him like a stranger again. The fear of having Harry forget him once more had overshadowed every other fear and thought Louis had had that very second.

The moment Harry had said his name had been the first wave of relief for Louis. He didn’t think he’d be able to ever go through losing Harry like that again.

“I'm just glad you're okay.” Louis pulled back enough to smile at Harry and hold out the bottle for him. “You should get some sleep now. When does your shift start today?”

Harry checked his watch. “Noon. I should really go to bed.”

“I may be gone when you get up.” Louis carefully stepped aside, making sure he didn't touch Harry again. He knew that as soon as he held on too long, he wouldn't be able to let go again. And he had held on to Harry for too long tonight.

“It's Saturday.” Harry frowned at him. “Aren't you off work?”

“Technically, yes,” Louis replied. “But I'm on a tricky case and I need to get a few things done before Monday.”

Harry just hummed and nodded, his brows still knitted together.

“I'm gonna…” Louis pointed in the direction of the bedroom. “If you don't need me.”

For a second, Harry looked like he was going to protest. Then, he shook his head. “Good night.”

Louis took the water bottle with him, leaving the kitchen to get to his bedroom. He didn't even dare look over his shoulder because he knew he'd turn around and pull Harry back into his arms.

He went through his bathroom routine and changed into boxer shorts and a t-shirt before he slid into his bed. Even though he was trying to keep himself busy on his mobile phone, he listened to every sound that came from outside his bedroom.

When the door to his guest room clicked shut, the flat fell quiet and Louis stared at the door, biting his lip.

He had taken too much tonight. There hadn't been any way to avoid it, but he had got to act like Harry's boyfriend. He had held Harry's hand, and Harry had leaned on him, and Louis had been allowed to fuss over Harry's injury.

It had felt too real.

So real, that lying here in bed without Harry felt so wrong that every bone in Louis’ body was begging him to move and get his boy to where he belonged.

Sighing, Louis forced himself to stay put. He turned off the light and lay down, pulling his duvet up to his shoulders. Closing his eyes, he tried to make himself think about anything but Harry in the other room.

He had almost managed to distract his mind when his bedroom door was quietly opened. Sitting up, Louis watched Harry tiptoe into the room, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth. Louis’ heart rate picked up speed.

“I think I do need you,” Harry said, hand still resting on the door handle.

Louis was frozen where he was, staring at Harry. “What?”

“You said you’d go to bed if I don’t need you.” Harry shrugged. “I think I do.”

Louis let go of the breath he hadn’t been aware of holding in. “Baby.”

“Can I stay with you?” Harry asked, still not moving away from the door.

Louis shifted on the mattress, gesturing for Harry to come over.

Harry closed the door and carefully made his way to the bed in the dark. “I just wanna sleep here,” he whispered when he lay down next to Louis.

“That’s okay,” Louis replied, trying not to think of the last time he had Harry right here in his bed. “Anything you need.”

It took a moment, but then Harry turned over to cuddle up to Louis. “I think both of us need this.”

Louis rested his hand over Harry’s waist. He didn’t reply, but he knew he didn’t need to. They both knew that Harry was right.

“Sleep in with me, okay?” Harry asked then, voice already sounding sleepy. “You need some proper rest, too. I’ll make you breakfast, and you can work in the afternoon. You deserve a lazy morning.”

Louis wanted to protest. The more time he spent with Harry, the more he’d get used to it, and the more Louis was going to want to make it permanent. He wouldn’t be able to keep up the pretense, to stay strong for Harry.

“Okay,” he heard himself say nonetheless. “That sounds nice.”

“Good,” Harry mumbled, turning over. He pulled Louis’ arm around his middle and sighed sleepily.

Louis fit himself against Harry’s back and closed his eyes. Sleep took him within seconds.

+++

“Okay,” Gemma said, closing the door behind herself and adjusting the box on her arm. “That’s it.”

Harry used his key to lock the door. “I hope it won’t take the full six weeks to renovate the flat.”

“Already tired of Tommo?” Niall asked and picked up a bag to carry it downstairs as he followed Gemma.

That was the problem. Harry adjusted the box he was carrying in his arms after he had put away his key and thought about this morning. He had slept the night in Louis’ bed again, and just like the morning before, they had woken up tangled with each other. While it had been a bit awkward the first morning, today had been soft. Harry had been awake first and he had rested his head over Louis’s chest, listening to him breathing.

He was aware that they were acting like a couple in almost every moment they were alone. They were acting like a couple in every aspect of their lives, except for the fact that they weren’t kissing and sleeping with each other.

Harry was making them breakfast in the morning and Louis texted him throughout the day, asking what he should bring when he went grocery shopping after work. They talked about their days while having dinner together, and after watching telly and laughing about the silliness of some shows, they went to bed together.

Harry hadn’t even asked last night. He had just gone straight to Louis’ bed after he’d been in the bathroom, and Louis hadn’t commented on it. He’d even left space for Harry already, probably expecting that Harry would lie with him.

Since Harry was off today, he had made breakfast again while Louis had got ready to go to the office. Harry had tried to argue that it was Sunday and Louis should stay home, but apparently the case Louis was on was too important. So Harry had made him a packed lunch, telling Louis to be back before evening. Louis had looked a bit taken aback, confused even, but his cheeks had turned a bit pink when he had nodded and promised Harry he’d be back for dinner.

“I’m not,” Harry said when they were downstairs. “I just don’t wanna be an inconvenience for him for that long of a time.”

“I’m pretty sure he doesn’t mind.” Niall set the bag down next to Gemma’s car.

Gemma frowned when she put the box in the back of the car. “Did he suggest that it’s inconvenient for him to have you over?”

Shaking his head, Harry dropped his box off next. “No, not at all.”

“He probably wouldn’t mind you staying forever.” Niall handed Harry the bag and buried his hands in the pockets of his jeans. “I mean. All things considered.”

It wasn’t even surprising or scary when Harry’s first thought was that he’d like that, too. Frowning, he shrugged and opened the door to the passenger seat. “It hasn’t even been a week, Niall.”

Grinning, Niall waved. “Probably true. See you around?”

“At Liam’s on Tuesday night?”

“Right.” Niall waved at Gemma. “Nice meeting you.”

“And you.” She got into the driver’s seat and started the car.

After Harry had told her about the incident at the bar, Gemma had decided to come down and check on her brother herself. They had agreed on not telling Anne about it, since Harry hadn’t had any serious injuries and the hit to his head had not been critical.

“It’s only been a few days for you, Haz,” she said when she got on the road. “It’s different for Louis.”

Harry turned to her, considering that.

“I mean,” Gemma went on, “for him it’s not a new situation. Living with you. For Louis, it most likely feels quite familiar.”

“And it’s gonna break his heart when I leave again.” Harry frowned upon that realisation. Gemma was right. To Harry, this was new territory, but the situation probably woke memories in Louis of how his life used to be.

A life that Harry would never remember.

Gemma nodded. “He loves you, Haz. Always has. I don’t think living with you is easy on him. The way I know Lou, he’s fighting with himself to keep it casual, and not make it more than it is to you.”

Harry looked down at his lap and pulled three photos from the pocket of his jacket. Those were the only three pictures that hadn’t been ruined by the water. One was of him and his mother at home, the other was one he had taken with Liam at a party, and one was of Harry in a bed, in front of an unfamiliar window, taken in the morning when he had looked barely awake and his hair had still been mussed up from sleeping.

His mother had said it was from a holiday with her and Gemma for a weekend somewhere in Cornwall, but now Harry wondered who had really taken it. And where it had really been taken.

Maybe it wasn’t so bad those pictures were destroyed and gone for good. Each of them had been attached to a lie, anyway. Harry wouldn’t have been able to look at them the same way anymore.

“I think he hasn’t been coping well,” Harry said out loud before he could think that over.

“Well, who would?” Gemma turned left at an intersection. “This is not something he could have predicted, is it?”

Harry shook his head. “I don’t mean now. He’s handling that really well. Too well, actually. I mean those five years.” Harry put the photo away again and turned his face back to Gemma. “He’s been putting on a strong face and he did everything to protect me. He’s forgot to protect himself, too.”

Gemma was quiet, nodding briefly.

“He’s always at work, and he doesn’t eat or sleep properly.” Harry watched Gemma’s face closely for a reaction. “He’s only slowing down when I tell him to.”

“Doesn’t surprise me,” Gemma mumbled, focused on the traffic.

Which didn’t surprise Harry. He’d had a feeling that Louis had lived like that for the past five years. He was going to kill himself that way. Either that, or he’d end up a complete wreck before he even turned thirty. The thought alone made Harry anxious. Louis had to learn to look after himself properly, and Harry couldn’t fight the urge in himself to be the one who would help Louis with that.

He wanted to take care of Louis.

“I’ve been sleeping with him,” Harry said quietly.

Gemma’s head snapped around to him, then she quickly looked back at the road. “You’ve been doing what ?”

Blushing, Harry realised his wording had been ambiguous. “Not like that. I mean---” He thought of the night he had slept with Louis and it made his heart jump a bit. “The past two nights. We didn’t have sex, but I slept in his bed. I couldn’t…” Looking for the right words, Harry touched his lips. “I just feel calmer when I’m next to him. And I think he sleeps better, too.”

“Of course he does.” Gemma glanced at him briefly. “Try to put yourself in his shoes for a second. He was conscious during that accident, Harry. He watched you almost die. He’s getting back that small part of you now, and he’s had to watch you injure your head again a few nights ago. Of course he sleeps better when he knows you’re right there next to him, where he can see you’re safe.”

Suppressing a shiver, Harry tugged his bottom lip between thumb and forefinger. “Did he see someone after the accident? For psychological treatment?”

Gemma nodded. “Yeah, for quite a while.”

“Good.” Harry inhaled, letting go of his lip. “That’s good. Although, I think he never really got over it.”

“That’s nothing you ever really get over,” Gemma replied when she stopped the car. “It’s just like mum and I will always be worried now when you’re involved in some kind of accident.”

Nodding, Harry got out of the car. “I guess.”

Somehow that wasn’t quite satisfactory as an answer, though. Harry had a strange feeling that it was different for Louis. Of course it all came down to Louis being worried, but Harry also felt that Louis had never accepted that what had happened five years ago was something he could not have controlled. That he had been powerless and that nothing he had or hadn’t done back then would have changed the outcome.

Harry had a feeling that Louis wasn’t over it, and that he had never had the chance to be weak and let someone comfort him through the pain he had gone through. And if there had been someone, they hadn’t done a proper job of it.

If there had been someone… Harry waited for Gemma to take one of the boxes and follow him. The thought of Louis with anyone else was irrationally unsettling. It made Harry’s stomach knot up to think of some faceless man next to Louis, holding and kissing him.

This whole jealousy thing was something Harry had to figure out, too. He had never known to be this possessive over another person. With Louis, however, Harry had felt the jealousy burn inside him when Louis had simply talked to that bartender the other night. Harry had to learn to keep his cool -- especially since he and Louis weren’t even together.

“Harry,” Rob, who was on security at the gate tonight, greeted him. Harry had come to know all three security guards for the building by now and Rob was his favourite. “Got more stuff from your flat?”

Harry nodded, stopping next to Rob when he held the door for Harry and Gemma. “All that’s left, yeah. Most of my stuff is ruined.”

“So sorry to hear that, mate.” Rob sighed and went ahead to call the lift for them. “Anything irreplaceable, too?”

Harry thought of the photos that had all been drained in water, their colours faded out, some of them ripped through. “No,” he replied, shaking is head. “Nothing that can’t be fixed.”

“Glad to hear that.” Rob held the lift for them and greeted Gemma before he pressed the button for Louis’ floor and left the lift.

“Cheers, mate.” Harry waved at him the best he could with the box in his arms and the bag slung over his shoulder.

Gemma unlocked the door to Louis’ flat when they arrived at his floor and whistled when she stepped in. “Living the posh life, Tomlinson.”

Harry frowned at how dark it was inside the flat. “Lou?” he called out.

There was no reply. Harry set down the box and the bag and wandered off to the kitchen to turn on the light there. The kettle was cold, and it didn’t look like anyone had been in there since Harry had cleaned up after himself before leaving the house this afternoon.

“Has he gone out?” Gemma asked as she followed Harry.

“Don’t think he’s been home yet.” Harry put on the kettle.

“Maybe he’s gone out for drinks with colleagues after work.”

Nodding, Harry washed his hands over the sink. “Probably.”

He wanted to text Louis and know why he wasn’t home. If he had gone out for drinks, that was completely fine, but Harry had a feeling that it wasn’t that. Instead, Harry was rather sure that Louis was still at the office, working late on a Sunday night.

When he had promised Harry to be back at a reasonable time.

Shaking his head, Harry got started on making dinner for Gemma. She was going to leave again tonight, and he wanted her to have a proper meal before getting on the road again.

Technically, Harry knew that he had no right to be upset over Louis’ behaviour. Louis didn’t owe him any explanation for when he’d go out, what he was doing or why he wasn’t coming home. They weren’t actually living together and they were not a couple.

Yet, Harry was upset. He was trying to take care of Louis, but Louis really made that a difficult thing to do. It was as though Louis did everything to avoid being taken care of, when he so obviously needed to sometimes be looked after, too.

“What’s wrong?” Gemma asked when she came back into the kitchen.

“Nothing,” Harry lied, taking out two pots.

“Can I help?” Gemma pointed at the vegetables they had bought earlier.

Nodding, Harry got to work, ignoring the nagging feeling inside.

+++

Louis rubbed his hands together when he entered the building. Tonight was especially cold for a late April’s evening. Rob looked up from his magazine and beamed upon seeing him and Louis waved at him when he approached the lift.

He could smell that Harry was cooking as soon as he got out of the lift. It was nice to come home to someone waiting, to some company. It was even nicer knowing that someone was Harry. He’d greet Louis with a smile, and it’d take every bit of stress and trouble Louis had had today away in an instant.

Entering the flat, Louis noticed the pair of women’s shoes and frowned. Music came from the kitchen, as well as Harry’s low voice singing along to the song. Getting out of his shoes and jacket, Louis listened for any other voice, but couldn’t make out anything over Harry’s singing and the kitchen noises.

When he came into the kitchen, he saw Harry on the cooker and Gemma sitting at the table that was already set for three people.

“Louis!” Gemma noticed him and got up to go in for a hug.

Louis instinctively hugged her back, taking in her familiar shape against him. He patted her back. “Gems, love. What are you doing here?”

“Hazza told me about his accident, and I had to see he’s still whole with my own eyes.” She pulled back and looked at his face. “Look at you. You look dead on your feet.”

“Always so charming,” Louis said around a laugh.

“Come on, sit down.” Gemma gestured at the table, and Louis followed her, letting his eyes fall onto Harry.

He was watching on with a frown, still standing at the cooker. “You’re just in time for dinner.”

“Thanks for making something,” Louis said, smiling at Harry. “Otherwise, I probably wouldn't have eaten.”

Harry didn’t smile back. His lips formed a thin line and he turned around again, his back facing Louis. Blinking, Louis watched him for a moment longer, not sure why Harry was so cold, but then Gemma distracted him.

“Have you been out with friends?” she asked, sitting down across from Louis.

“Um, actually, I’ve been working,” Louis told her, glancing at Harry again. “Haz, should I help?”

Harry didn’t even turn to him. “I’m good. Almost done.” His voice sounded indifferent.

“On a Sunday?” Gemma blinked. “Aren’t you off weekends?”

Nodding, Louis played with the cutlery. He wondered why Harry was mad. Harry was clearly mad. “I have an important hearing in court on Wednesday. Pretty big case, and it doesn’t look good for my client. I’m trying to figure out a way to win this.”

“As far as I’ve heard you’re winning all your cases.” Gemma leaned back when Harry placed a plate in front of her. “So I’m convinced you’ll find a way.”

Louis smiled at her, appreciating the words, although he really wasn’t sure he’d get it done this time around. “Thanks, love.”

Harry sat down after he had brought a plate for Louis and himself and Louis turned to him, smiling softly. “I’m sorry, Haz.”

The surprise was clear on Harry’s expression when he turned to Louis.

“You’re spending all day in a kitchen cooking,” Louis explained, gesturing at the plate in front of him. “And now you have to do it in your off time, too.”

Harry stared at him for a moment, then he picked up his fork and shrugged. “Gemma needs to eat dinner before getting back on the road.”

So that wasn’t the reason Harry was angry. Louis wanted to reach out and rest his hand over Harry’s thigh and rub circles into his skin until Harry would calm down and tell him what was making him so angry. That was what he would have done five years ago. It wasn’t really something he could do now. Especially with Gemma here.

“You can stay the night,” Louis offered immediately. “You can have my bed, and I’ll stay on the sofa.”

Gemma smiled at him. “You stay on the sofa ,” she repeated, making air quotes with her fingers. “Sure.”

Louis blushed, glancing at Harry who was quietly eating next to him. “I mean--”

“I told her,” Harry said, not looking up from his food.

“Not like I’m surprised by it,” Gemma commented. “You’ve always been a walking cliché as a couple, sleeping better next to each other than alone.”

Harry looked up, blinking at her. “Really?”

Gemma nodded. “Absolutely. You’ve been whining that one Christmas how you couldn’t sleep without Louis next to you.”

Louis remembered them staying on the phone until late night and him falling asleep at his mother’s house with his phone pressed to his ear, listening to Harry rambling on about the neighbour’s cat.

“I didn’t spend your birthday with you?” Harry asked.

Looking up, Louis met Harry’s eye. “The first year, yeah. It wasn’t easy combining family duties and spending my birthday together. So we gave our families priority.”

Harry nodded slowly, getting back to his food. “And the second year?”

Louis glanced at Gemma and she nodded at him, smiling slightly. Clearing his throat, Louis poked at his food. “We got our families together.”

If he expected Harry to say something to that, Louis was waiting in vain. Harry remained eating, looking lost in his thoughts. Louis looked at Gemma again, trying to communicate with his eyes, but she just shrugged.

They picked up easier topics again, and finished their food. Harry excused himself after they had cleared the table and Louis used the moment with Gemma alone to confront her.

“What’s wrong with him?”

Gemma shrugged, sorting the plates into the dishwasher. “No idea. He’s been acting strange ever since we came back.”

“I have no idea what I’ve done,” Louis whined, making them new tea.

Chuckling, Gemma closed the dishwasher. “You guys are back to how you used to be. Harry’s angry at you and is leaving it to you to figure out what you’ve done.”

“I hated it back then, and I hate it now.” Louis rolled his eyes. “Can’t he just say what his problem is?”

“You’ll figure it out, babe.” Gemma patted his shoulder. “You always have.”

Not so sure about that, Louis shrugged. He knew what Harry was like when he got angry, but Louis had been bad at dealing with it five years ago, and he could only predict that he would be worse at it now. Harry was the kind of person that expected others to know what they’d done wrong, and it was absolutely impossible to meet Harry’s expectations when he was like that.

“Hey, Lou,” Gemma pulled him from his thoughts and Louis focused back on her. “Whatever it is, it’s nothing serious, okay?” She folded her arms in front of her chest and kept her eyes on Louis. “I gotta admit I was worried when he told us he met you, and when he told us that he had found out about his past. But now…” She smiled softly. “I think it’s a good thing. There’s no one else in the world for my little brother but you.”

At a loss for words, Louis stared at her, finding it hard to breathe. “I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing,” he confessed then.

The smile on Gemma’s face grew a bit bigger. “You always knew exactly what you were doing with him. Stop thinking so much, Lou. You’re the only one standing in your way.”

When Louis didn’t reply, she closed the gap between them and hugged him. “I’m glad you two found each other again.”

Louis buried his face against her shoulder and nodded, breathing her in. He knew that this was his second chance, his second shot at happiness. It made everything so much scarier, because that thing between him and Harry seemed so fragile.

Louis was afraid it was going to break and he would end up where he was before. Worse; he would end up at rock bottom, and this time, Louis would never be able to pick himself up again. His strength was used up. He had suffered enough blows for a lifetime.

“Um.” Harry cleared his throat and Louis looked up to see him stand in the doorway to the kitchen.

“I’ve got the card that you wanted,” Harry said, holding up a members card for some shop and handed it to Gemma.

She let go of Louis and took it. “Thanks, Haz. I think I should leave now.”

“Don’t you wanna stay?” Louis asked, following her out of the kitchen. “It’s so late already.”

“I’m good. The streets are gonna be empty this late.” Gemma put on her shoes and went in to hug both of them again. “I’ll text you guys when I get home.”

“Don’t forget to,” Harry replied when he let go of her. “And tell mum I said hello.”

“Will do.” She blew them another kiss, and then she was out of the flat, leaving Harry and Louis standing in silence.

“I’m gonna finish cleaning the kitchen,” Harry said and turned around.

Louis stared after him for a moment, but then followed with a sigh. “I can do that. You’ve done the cooking already.”

“I don’t mind.” Harry turned on the water to fill the sink.

Watching him, Louis remained where he was, staying quiet. Harry started washing the pots, not acknowledging Louis in any way.

“Are you gonna tell me why you’re angry with me or will I have to guess?” Louis asked after a while.

Harry let out an unamused snort. “You should really know why I’m angry with you.”

Even though Harry had his back to him, Louis didn’t even dare rolling his eyes. “I guess I’m at a loss here, love.”

“Of course you are.” Harry turned around, crossing his arms. “You don’t even see anything wrong with what you’re doing.”

Louis heart sank to his stomach, and he forced himself to keep his eyes on Harry. “I’m sorry. I just can’t help myself sometimes. Having you like this-- I mean, living with you like we do now. I sometimes forget that it’s not as it used to be and I act--”

“Louis,” Harry interrupted him, holding up a hand. “I’m not mad that you’re in love with me and sometimes forget that we’re not actually a couple.”

The words hit and Louis clenched his jaw, trying to keep himself from letting it get to him.

“Fuck,” Harry mumbled and ran a hand over his face. Louis’ expression must have given him away because Harry stepped closer and reached out for Louis’ hands. “I’m sorry. That came out wrong.”

“It’s the truth,” Louis managed to croak out.

“It’s not.” Harry laced their fingers and waited, not going on. Louis lifted his gaze up to Harry’s and was met with an intense stare. “You know it’s not. There’s something more there, and I wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t.”

Louis’ throat felt like strangled and he only managed to shake his head.

“It’s because I care about you, Louis,” Harry explained. “I’m angry because I care, and you won’t let me do anything about it.”

Not sure what Harry meant, Louis drew his brows together, frowning at him.

“You promised me this morning that you wouldn’t work late,” Harry reminded him, voice quiet. “And then I come home to find you’re working late again. I can’t watch you do that to yourself, Louis. You need to take better care of your health. You don’t sleep enough, and you don’t eat properly. And when I try to take care of you, you tell me it makes you feel guilty. That’s not how it works. You need to let me take care of you.”

Louis stared at him, heart pounding loudly in his ears. “Why?”

Harry broke their eye contact, bashfully looking down. He pulled his hands away, too. “Because you took care of me, and you keep taking care of me. I want to give back, too. But you’re so bloody difficult about letting others be in charge.”

“You have no idea how much you’re taking care of me by just being here, Harry.” Louis swallowed thickly, trying to figure out how much he could say without putting any pressure on Harry. He knew that the worst thing he could do was put expectations on Harry after everything he had gone through. “I think I’ve never slept better than the past two nights.”

“Maybe you haven’t been sleeping well because you spent that time working instead.” Harry didn’t seem calmed down by Louis’ words at all.

“Well, yeah.” Louis shrugged. “Sometimes my cases keep me up at night.”

“You gotta step back a bit, Louis.” Harry leaned against the work counter, the look on his face intent. “You work too much. You let it dictate your life, and that’s not good. You spent your weekend working and you don’t even see anything wrong with it.”

“You work weekends, too,” Louis reminded him, getting upset himself now. “It just comes with the job.”

“That’s different,” Harry argued. “Me working weekends comes with the job description. If I work weekends, I get another day of the week off. And I don’t spend my day off going to the restaurant working, do I?”

“You can’t compare that.” Louis gestured at Harry. “That’s a completely different job. I don’t have fixed times for when I’m working. It’s not a nine to five job, Harry. If a case requires the time, I’ll have to take that time or else I’ll do a bad job.”

“You can’t let your job be the only fulfillment in your life, though.” Harry shook his head, holding Louis’ gaze. “You can’t let your job be more important to you than your---”

He shut his mouth, looking caught and Louis had to dig his nails into his arms to keep himself from reaching out. Boyfriend . Louis was certain that Harry had wanted to say boyfriend .

“Harry,” he said slowly and dared taking a step closer. “There’s nothing and no one more important to me than you.”

Harry bit his lip and looked down at his shoes. “I meant it in general. It’s not healthy, the way you live. You put your job over anything else.”

Louis inhaled shallowly. “It was the only thing I had for a long time.”

When Harry didn’t reply, Louis closed the gap and took one of Harry’s hands. “I’m gonna take better care. I promise. I see everything you’re doing for me, Harry. And I appreciate it.”

“I don’t want you to appreciate it,” Harry mumbled, but didn’t pull away. “I want you to accept it. To not see it as me sacrificing or forcing myself.”

“That’s not how I see it,” Louis replied. “Not at all.”

Harry shrugged, obviously not convinced. But he tangled his fingers with Louis’ again and pulled him a little closer. “I care too much to watch you live like that, Louis.”

“Okay.” Louis nodded, using his free hand to brush a curl from Harry’s face. Harry cared. That was something that could probably be used as a base for something more. One day. “I’m gonna take better care.”

Squeezing Louis’ fingers, Harry nodded and finally looked up at Louis. Their eyes met and Louis felt the invisible strings pull at him again to lean in and kiss Harry. They stared at each other, and Louis wondered if Harry would take the first step -- hoped that Harry would take it.

Then, Harry licked his lips, eyes briefly flickering to Louis’ mouth before he took a step back.

“Gogglebox should be on tonight.” He gestured to the living room. “Should we watch that?”

Nodding, Louis forced his pulse to slow down again. “Sure.”

Harry went ahead and Louis followed, wondering how long Harry could keep up the pretense that this was easy. There was so much tension between them, and Louis’ heart and body begged for some release.

The way Harry had reacted told Louis that he felt it, too. Harry certainly had feelings for Louis. There had to be a reason why he wasn’t acting on them, though. Something was holding him back.

And Louis knew that if they did this, they were doing it at Harry’s pace.

+++

It took Harry almost four days before he finally got around to unpack what he had brought over from his flat. He had left the boxes into Louis’ guest room, but other than when he was getting dressed, Harry didn’t spend much time in there.

He needed new underwear, though, so it was about time to finally unpack.

Living with Louis was uncomplicated. They never got in each other’s way with how they barely were home at the same time. Louis started working early and came home late. Harry started working late and came home even later than Louis most nights. He sometimes brought food from the restaurant and they had dinner together in front of the telly.

Other nights, Harry would get ready for bed and slip in next to Louis quietly, so as not to wake him. There hadn’t been a single night that Harry had slept in the guest room since that night at the bar.

When Louis’ alarm went off in the morning, Harry always woke up tangled with Louis in some way. It was the only way they were touching at all. They slept holding each other, and when they woke up, Louis would kiss Harry’s head or shoulder before slipping out of bed and going about his business.

Harry wondered if it’d be like that if they were actually living together and an actual couple, too. He’d imagine that it wouldn’t work that way, and that they’d both had to change some of their routine to make space and time for each other.

Frowning to himself, Harry hung a few jackets on coat hangers. He kept thinking that way lately. If they were together… when they’d get real… Those thoughts snuck into his head, establishing the idea that this wasn’t anything temporary.

There was no question about what Louis wanted. Harry could see the way he looked at Harry sometimes. When they were out with friends and joking around, Louis often forgot himself and his hand would come to rest on Harry’s thigh, or he would make a comment about something being typical for Harry before being pulled back to reality. When they were watching telly at night, Louis usually fell asleep first and his body instinctively curled against Harry’s.

It showed that Louis was dependent on Harry; more than he would ever admit out loud.

Harry liked the feeling of being needed. He liked knowing that Louis needed him as much as he needed Louis. Louis trusted him.

He was about to turn around when something slipped out of the pocket of the jacket he had just hung up. Harry crouched down and picked up the three photos.

He had almost forgot about them. They were the only three pictures that hadn’t been ruined by the water, and Harry had wanted to give them some special place. Instead, they had been forgot in some pocket of one of his jackets. There had been so more important things going on in Harry’s mind.

He frowned at the one that showed him alone, and tried to make out anything that would give him a hint at a memory, but his mind drew blank. With a sigh, he turned around to leave the guest room and find Louis.

As most nights, Louis was in the living room, the telly quietly playing in the background while he was on his laptop, brows drawn together.

“You should really call it a day now,” Harry said as he sat down next to Louis. “Give yourself a break, Lou.”

Louis looked up at him and blinked, looking sleepy. “I’m knackered.”

“You look it.” Harry made himself comfortable on the sofa and pursed his lips. “Will you have a busy day tomorrow?”

Louis shook his head. “No, don’t think so. It’s a bank holiday in France, so the company I’m working with right now won’t be in for business.”

“So you could leave a bit earlier?”

“Maybe around noon?” Louis closed the laptop and stretched his arms over his head. Harry watched his t-shirt slide up with the motion, revealing some skin.

Tearing his eyes away, Harry focused back on Louis’ face. “I’ve wanted to test a Japanese-style restaurant around Liverpool Street. We could meet up for lunch.”

“Sushi?” Louis wrinkled his nose, shaking his head.

Harry smiled. He somehow wasn’t surprised Louis didn’t like sushi. “Donburi.”

“Whatever that is.” Louis reached out to trace a finger over Harry’s knee. “Sounds nice.”

“My treat.” Harry caught Louis’ hand in his and laced their fingers. “I’d like to spend some proper time with you. It’s fallen a bit short this week.”

Louis stared at him, and the expression on his face told Harry that it wasn’t like he didn’t know what to reply. Louis didn’t dare say the words he wanted to say.

“Can I ask something?” Harry wanted to know.

Louis nodded. “Anything.”

Pulling the photo from his back pocket, Harry held it out to Louis. “Can you tell me about this?”

A strange noise escaped Louis, and his cheeks turned red. He glanced from the picture to Harry and back. “That was on your wall.”

“They were all ruined.” Harry shrugged, trying not to show how much that really got to him. “It’s one of the few that’s survived. I think the story I was told about it may not be true.”

“We were in Cornwall for a weekend,” Louis mumbled, eyes glued to the photo. “I had passed a big exam and had felt that our relationship got a raw deal, so you had the idea to go away for a weekend.”

Harry let is gaze fall from Louis’ face back to the photo. “Was it taken in a hotel room?”

“A B&B, yeah.” Louis pressed his lips together, rubbing is palms over his thighs.

“What is it that you’re not telling me?” Harry prodded.

Louis glanced at him briefly, cheeks turning a shade darker.

“Louis,” Harry urged him on.

“We didn’t leave that room much,” Louis finally said. “Only to get meals, really. Other than that, we caught up on-- well.”

“We went away for a weekend, and did nothing other than have sex?” Harry asked, raising a brow.

Shrugging, Louis averted his gaze from the picture. “Kinda.”

“Wait,” Harry mumbled, feeling his heart sink a little. “Does my mum know when that picture was taken? Why did she have that picture in the first place?”

“It was mine,” Louis replied, running a hand through his hair. “I took it that morning after you literally took me apart, and it felt like the most intimate moment, so I took a picture. I had it in our flat, next to my side of our bed. I didn’t take it with me when I moved out.”

Harry wasn’t quite sure what to do with that piece of information. It wasn’t what he had expected, but that had certainly not been it. Yet, it felt nice to finally get to know the truth behind a photo he had looked at for five years and never known the true story behind.

“I wish the other photos weren’t gone,” he said, looking at the one in his hand. “I’d have liked to know every story behind those, too.”

“Maybe it’s better if you don’t,” Louis murmured and played with Harry’s fingers.

“Why?” Harry frowned at him.

Shrugging, Louis laced their fingers again, watching them slide together easily. “Because the doctors said it may not be good for you to have them. It may pressure you to remember.”

Harry hummed. “I’m starting to think that the doctors probably had no idea what was good for me.”

Louis looked up, surprise colouring his face.

“So far, none of what they’ve predicted has come true, has it?” Harry brushed his thumb over Louis’. “They’ve been off on all accounts.”

Louis withdrew his hands and nodded. He threw Harry a long look, then wordlessly got up from the sofa. Harry turned his head, watching Louis leave the room. He wasn’t sure what he had said that made Louis flee, but apparently, he had said something wrong.

Harry hadn’t meant to upset Louis; that hadn’t been his intention.

When he got up to follow Louis and apologise to him, Louis came back into the room with a pink box in his arms. It looked like it had been for shoes once, but the colour was faded and the edges slightly torn.

“What is that?” Harry asked as he watched Louis set it down on the coffee table.

“They are not the ones you had, but…” Louis shrugged. “Maybe they’re good enough as a replacement.”

Opening the box, Harry saw the framed picture that had originally been on Louis’ office desk. It lay on top of a bunch of other pictures, as well as some folded papers.

“That’s the picture you had in your office,” Harry said as he took it out.

Louis shrugged and sat down next to Harry again. “It didn’t feel right to leave it there after you---” He pressed his lips together. “I couldn’t look at it in the same way anymore.”

Harry stared at it, taking in his bright smile and Louis’ content face. There was something light and sunny about the picture; about the way they both looked.

“It’s a good picture,” Harry commented, looking up at Louis. “It shouldn’t be hidden away in some box.”

“It’s always been one of my favourites,” Louis murmured. “It was such a good day, too.”

Harry put the photo onto the coffee table. “Which ones are your other favourites?”

There was a moment of hesitation. Louis stared at the box, then he reached in and pulled one from the side and held it out to Harry. “This is my favourite. Not one you would display on your office desk, though.”

Heat ran through Harry’s veins upon seeing the photograph. They sat closely together on a sofa -- Liam’s old one. Harry recognised the living room of Liam’s old flat. Harry had his face tilted and Louis’ lips were just a breath away from his. They were staring into each other’s eyes, and they looked young. Harry’s hand was resting on Louis’ thigh and Louis had one hand on Harry’s chest, the other in Harry’s hair.

The intimacy of that photo was making Harry’s heart jump. He had never known such intimacy, and yet, he had definitely experienced it in his life.

“From when is it?” Harry asked, not taking his eyes off the photo.

“Around March, after we’d met.” Louis cleared his throat. “We’d been official for a week or so.”

Harry smiled. “And in a honeymoon phase, obviously.”

Louis nodded. “You had just turned nineteen.”

“Did I have a party? Did we see each other on my birthday?” Harry asked, a wave of questions rolling through his mind. “Were we together then?”

“We weren’t together yet,” Louis replied quietly. “But I actually did see you for your birthday. You didn’t have a party because it was a weekday, and frankly, you didn’t know many people then.”

“But you came to see me?”

Shrugging, Louis looked up from the photo to Harry’s face. “I bought you flowers, yeah. A cheap excuse to have a reason to knock on your door.”

Harry tilted his head, not sure what Louis meant.

“We had our first kiss that night.” Louis held Harry’s gaze. “And I stayed the night.”

Gasping, Harry put a hand over his heart. “I kissed you and slept with you on our first date?”

Louis laughed and shook his head. “It wasn’t even a date. And we did have dates before. Also,” he added, “we didn’t have sex that night. Just some proper snogging.”

“Did it take long for us to make it official after that?” Harry asked.

“Not even a month,” Louis said. “You asked me to be your boyfriend on February twenty-eighth.”

Harry looked at the picture again. “Our anniversary.”

Louis stayed quiet, and Harry filed that information away in the back of his head. Another picture captured his attention and he pulled it out of the stack of photos in the box. It showed Louis with a young, blond girl.

“I know that girl,” Harry said, frowning down at the photo. He couldn’t quite grasp the memory, but the face was familiar.

Louis scooted closer. “Are you sure?”

Harry nodded, narrowing his eyes. “I’ve seen her before. Her face is familiar.”

“That’s impossible.” Louis rested his hand over Harry’s. “Haz, if you remember her--”

“She was there when I woke up.” Harry raised his gaze to Louis. “She was there with Liam.”

Disappointment settled on Louis’ face. “Yeah. She was. That’s true.”

“Who is she?” Harry asked.

“My sister. Charlotte. Lottie.” Louis took his hand off Harry’s. “She kept me updated on your condition.”

Harry put the photo aside and took another one that showed him with Gemma and Lottie. “Was that on Christmas?”

Louis nodded. “Yeah. We had a huge get-together in Doncaster. You were making Christmas dinner.” He pulled another picture from the box and held it out for Harry. “And made me your kitchen slave.”

Harry grinned at the photo of him standing behind Louis. He had his front pressed against Louis’ back and they were both wearing cozy-looking Christmas jumpers. Louis had flour smeared over his cheek and Harry had his hands rested on Louis’ on the rolling pin.

“Did you really not know how to use a rolling pin?”

Louis rolled his eyes. “Of course I did. You were just a perfectionist slave driver and couldn’t let me do it my way.”

Harry poked out his tongue at him. “I bet your way was just not efficient.”

Unimpressed, Louis shook his head. “You haven’t changed a bit, have you?”

“Maybe I haven’t.” Harry grinned and put the photo down. He would sneak that one to his room later and put it in his bag. Before Louis would even notice it was gone, Harry would have made a copy and put it back in the box.

Another picture drew Harry’s attention and he slowly pulled it out of the box. He stared at himself, bent over a woman that was seated on a chair. He had his arms around her shoulders from behind, and she was touching his hand. Both of them were smiling at the camera.

Lifting his gaze to the portrait above Louis’ fireplace, Hary realised that the picture showed him with Louis’ mother.

“She loved you,” Louis said quietly, which made Harry turn to him. His expression was calm when their gazes met. “She adored you more than me, actually. You got along from the word go.”

Harry swallowed thickly. “What was she like?”

“Gentle, kind, funny.” Louis’ voice broke. “Brave. Very brave.”

“She looks beautiful.” Harry turned his gaze back to the portrait on the wall.

Louis didn’t reply and when Harry looked at him, he was staring at the picture in Harry’s hand.

“I’m not gonna get to relearn anything about her,” Harry realised. It flooded his chest with an unspeakable sadness. He didn’t know the person in the picture, but he still felt devastated to have lost her. “I won’t get any of that back.”

Louis pressed his lips together for a moment, as if he was thinking. “It was the one and only time I was on the verge of telling you everything. I wanted you to be there.”

Harry kept his eyes on Louis’ face. “Be there for you?”

A bitter laugh escaped Louis’ lips. He shook his head. “No. For her. You both deserved to say goodbye.”

Swallowing thickly, Harry put the picture on top of the one of him and Louis baking. “Did my mum and Gemma go the funeral?”

Louis nodded. “They came to visit at the hospital, too. When she was at the end, she got confused sometimes, and then she started talking about you. Asking me where you were, and if you were gonna help me with the little ones. Why you never came to visit.”

Harry felt tears sting in his eyes. “I’m sorry, Lou.”

“Everyone else was against it,” Louis said, his calm expression unwavering. “So I gave up on trying to convince them.”

“I should’ve been there,” Harry murmured.

Louis watched him for a moment, and his features finally softened. “I left the seat next to mine empty. At her funeral.”

Harry bit back the tears. He should have been there. He should have been there to hold Louis’ hand and support him through it. Louis had suffered quietly, and no one had held him at night to dry his tears.

“Maybe we could go and visit her grave?” Harry asked, putting the box back onto the coffee table. He scooted closer to Louis and took his hands. “Would that be okay?”

Louis’s eyes shimmered wetly and he nodded. “If you want to.”

“Lou,” Harry crawled closer into his space. Even now, Louis was putting on a straight face, and a strong mask. It was painful to watch for Harry. He just wanted Louis to let go and let himself be taken care of. “What is it that you want? What do you need me to do?”

Squeezing Harry’s hands, Louis got up from the sofa and closed the box of pictures. “I’m gonna head to bed, I think.”

Harry sighed and turned around to catch Louis’ hand. “Louis--”

“It’s fine, Haz.” Louis smiled at him, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “It’s so long ago. It doesn’t matter anymore.”

Harry watched Louis leave the room, and sighed. It didn’t matter anymore? It was always going to matter. Harry hadn’t been there for Louis through the most difficult time of his life. Louis had needed him, and Harry hadn’t even known who he was back then.

The least Harry could do right now was to give Louis some comfort to get over the painful memories. However, Harry had no idea where to start. Louis seemed so unapproachable, so closed off, and Harry hadn’t figured out how to tear down his walls. No matter what Harry did, he wasn’t able to break through to Louis.

Instead, all he managed to do was drive Louis away from him.

When he followed Louis to the bedroom, he found Louis already in bed, his back to the door. Harry watched him for a moment, trying to understand what it was that he was doing wrong. He had to change his approach to find a way to Louis. There had to be some way to make Louis drop the act and open himself up to Harry.

He had apparently known how to do that once. Even more than ever before, Harry wished he could remember the life he had. If he did, he’d also understand what it was that Louis was hiding from him.

Later, when Harry joined Louis, it was the first night since Harry had started sleeping in Louis’ bed that they fell asleep without holding each other.

+++

“What do you mean?” Harry asked, frowning at Niall. “No?”

Niall shielded his plate from Harry. “That means, eat your own pizza.”

Harry pouted and turned to Louis. “I thought we’d share all pizzas amongst us five?”

Smiling, Louis held out his plate for Harry to take a piece.

They were back to normal. Whatever normal really meant for them, but at least they had overcome that awkward stage of last week. They had met up for lunch the next day and everything had slowly fallen back in place after that.

After living with Harry for two and a half weeks, Louis could positively say that he couldn’t imagine ever being without him again. Just having Harry for company was nice, even if they’d stay platonic for the rest of their lives. Louis didn’t need more than this; knowing that Harry was well and happy and within reach.

Of course Louis was aware that it wouldn’t be like that forever. At some point, Harry was going to get tired of him and he’d find someone better than Louis. He’d find someone who could be with Harry in every sense, and who wouldn’t have to be careful of every word and action around Harry.

Someone who was new to Harry’s life, and didn’t have any connection to Harry’s past.

“You’re not often being told no, are you?” Zayn asked as he selected a film on Netflix.

Harry seemed to actually ponder that question.

“Louis never says no to him, that’s for sure,” Liam commented, putting his feet up on the coffee table.

“You gotta keep him in check, Lou,” Zayn suggested. “He’s acting spoiled.”

“I’m not a child,” Harry reminded them.

Frowning, Louis took a bite from his pizza. His mouth was full when he replied. “And I’m not his father, what the fuck?”

Niall smirked, immediately jumping on the pun. “Are you his daddy?”

Harry almost choked on his pizza. “Excuse you?” he coughed out.

“Maybe Harry’s daddy,” Zayn mused, smirking, too. “With how Louis bosses people around all day, he might like to reverse the roles in the bedroom.”

“How did this turn in a kinky discussion of my sex life?” Louis asked, raising a brow. He tried to ignore implication that he and Harry were having any kind of sex. He knew that it was down a rabbit hole if he just so much as thought about it.

Liam whistled. “So it’s true?”

“Didn’t say that,” Louis replied.

“Okay, I actually don’t wanna know.” Niall made gagging sounds. “That joke turned too real too quick.”

Laughing, Louis kicked out his foot to poke Niall’s thigh. “So you don’t wanna know about the call boy I had over last week that I paid to tie me to my bed and make me beg for it?”

“Gross,” Niall and Liam retorted in unison.

“You started it,” Louis reminded them.

“Wow, calm down there, Harry,” Zayn warned, gesturing at Harry.

Louis turned his head just in time to catch Harry stare at him intently with a frown etched between his brows. Then, he looked caught and blushed, quickly averting his gaze. Louis’ pulse picked up and he kept his eyes on Harry.

They hadn’t touched much throughout the past week. Ever since Louis had rejected Harry’s attempt at getting closer after talking about Jay, Harry had withdrawn from him. He seemed guarded around Louis, unsure of every move.

It hadn’t been what Louis had intended, but maybe it was better that way, too. Harry really didn’t need to know how badly Louis was craving for his touch.

“Harry looked like he was out for murder just now.” Niall sounded surprised.

“Well, the idea of Louis and that call boy was probably a little repelling for him.” Liam turned up the volume on the film. “That’s his place, after all.”

“Can we cut it out now?” Harry pouted again, his cheeks rosy. “Let’s just watch the film.”

“I’m gonna go for a smoke,” Louis said, getting up. He handed Harry his plate to finish his pizza.

“You haven’t eaten much,” Harry pointed out as he took the plate.

“I’m full.” Louis smiled and took out a pack of cigarettes, holding it out for Zayn. “You wanna join?”

Zayn followed him outside, and Louis closed the door behind them. He breathed in, and his nerves calmed down a little. A moment longer, and he would have pulled Harry against his side, making sure that Harry had nothing and no one to be jealous of.

“What the heck is going on with you two?” Zayn asked as he had lit his cigarette. “I mean. I get it. It’s complicated. But seriously, mate. You two are way off.”

Louis took a drag from his own cigarette and stared at the ground. “It’s just difficult to keep my distance sometimes.”

Zayn leaned against the wall. “I don’t mean to pry, but I thought you two weren’t keeping any distance anymore.”

“Of course we are.” Louis pulled the sleeves of his jumper over his hands to keep them warm. “Anything else would make this whole thing even more complicated.”

“So…” Zayn fell silent for a second. “You two live together, and you’re both in love with each other. Yet, you don’t have sex.”

“We have a past,” Louis corrected. “And I love him, yes. He’s trying to figure out how he feels about that. That’s why I’m keeping my distance.”

“Just a wild guess, but I’d say Harry doesn’t want you to keep your distance.”

Rolling his eyes, Louis took another drag. “He wouldn’t forgive me for taking advantage, though. Not in the long run.”

Shrugging, Zayn fell quiet.

The thought kept nagging at Louis. It was obvious that Harry felt more. Of course he did. He had said so himself that one night when Gemma had been there and they had fought. Harry had said that he felt something for Louis.

He had also taken the first step by asking to sleep next to Louis. They fell asleep next to each other every night, and often enough they woke up holding each other in one way or another. At first, Louis had waited for Harry to take the next step, too. When he hadn’t, it had become clear to Louis that it had never been Harry’s intention.

He had never asked to sleep next to Louis because he wanted it to be more. Harry simply needed the physical intimacy, and Louis wouldn’t deny him that. If Louis thought that them sharing a bed was going to lead to them having sex, that was his problem alone.

“He hasn't shown interest in sleeping with me since moving in,” Louis heard himself say.

If Zayn saw through Louis’ insecurities, he didn’t let that on. “That looked different to me in there.”

“It did,” Louis agreed. Which threw him off. There were those moments every now and then, that made him think Harry wanted this thing between them to be more, wanted to explore, wanted to take a step further. Then again, Harry never insisted on it, and Louis didn’t want to push him.

He wanted it to be Harry’s decision if anything happened between them.

“You need to stop overthinking this whole thing, Louis.” Zayn stabbed out his cigarette. “Just act on it.”

Following Zayn inside, Louis pondered that advice. His eyes fell onto Harry, curled up on the sofa, a pillow in his arms. He looked up when they came back into the room and his eyes met Louis’ immediately.

Louis sat down next to him while Zayn took his place next to Liam, snuggling against his chest. They had dimmed the lights and taken the leftovers to the kitchen. Louis sat a little closer to Harry than before as Harry turned back to the telly, focusing on the film.

The characters were arguing, and the cold light of the TV reflected on Harry’s face. Louis licked his lips and shifted a little, moving is arms closer to Harry. He bit his lip and moved his hand over the cushion of the sofa, closer to Harry’s, until their fingertips were almost touching.

At that moment, Harry’s mobile started ringing and it made all of them jump. Louis quickly pulled his hand away.

“Sorry,” Harry mumbled and moved forwards and away from Louis to grab it from the coffee table. “Hello?”

Louis’s heart rate slowed down again. He rested his hands in his lap and watched Harry talk on the phone.

“No, it’s fine.” Harry touched his chin, listening for a moment. “Already?” he asked then, frowning. “No, no, that’s great. I just thought it’d take more time.” He worried his bottom lip between forefinger and thumb, the way he always did when he got nervous. “Sunday, yes. Perfect.”

When he hung up, he turned to them with a frown on his face. He glanced at Louis and there was something in his eyes that made Louis think that there were bad news coming.

“Was that our landlord?” Niall asked before Harry could speak.

“Yes,” Harry answered. “They’re finished renovating. Apparently, it wasn’t as bad as it initially seemed.”

Louis’ hands turned cold, and his fingers felt numb as he realised what that meant. “So you can move back in on Sunday?”

Harry nodded, not looking at Louis directly. “Which only leaves me one day to pack my stuff.”

“That’s great they could get it done so fast,” Liam said. “I can come help you move your stuff back on Sunday.”

“That’d be great.” Harry smiled, but something about it seemed off. “I didn’t take much in the first place, but with your car we could get all of it back to my flat in one go.”

“Sure thing.” Liam turned the volume on the film up again, leaning back against the sofa.

For a moment, Louis just stared at the screen blankly, trying to get his emotions under control. He had thought Harry was going to stay with him for at least another two weeks.

He wasn’t prepared to let Harry go.

“Well,” Harry mumbled next to him, turning to Louis briefly. “Looks like I’ll be out of your hair, then.”

Louis forced himself to sound light and not let on what those words really did to him. “Looks like it.”

+++

Louis had hoped his heart would feel a little lighter upon waking up, but when he did on Sunday morning, his heart was weighing just as heavily in his chest as it had the night before. He blinked his eyes open and the first thought on his mind was that he didn’t want Harry to leave.

It didn’t help that Harry was sleeping in his arms, his face pressed against Louis’ chest. He was breathing evenly, and his fingers were curled into the thin fabric of Louis’ t-shirt. Their legs were tangled, and when Louis shifted slightly, he noticed that Harry was half-hard against his thigh.

Closing his eyes, Louis willed himself not to react to it.

It wasn’t the first time one of them woke up with an erection. Each time it had happened, they had politely ignored the fact and had pretended they didn’t know that the other one was taking care of it in the bathroom.

Lous wanted to be the one to take care of Harry’s erection in the morning. Be it here in bed, be it in the shower -- anything was better than the knowledge that Harry was making quick, unsatisfying business of it on his own.

The alarm went off and pulled Louis from his headspace. His thoughts had made his cock fill up, too, and he bit his lip when Harry moved and brushed his thigh against Louis’ cock. Harry froze again, obviously catching up on their situation, and his fingers gripped Louis’ shirt a little harder.

The alarm on Harry’s mobile was still playing while they lay like that; tangled with each other. Louis’ heart suddenly beat a little faster and he wondered what would happen if he just followed his instincts. What if he let his hand slide a little lower, down to Harry’s bum? What if he angled his leg just that bit? Enough to press it firmer against Harry’s cock, give him some friction? What if he let his lips close over the warm and soft skin on Harry’s neck? What if---

The thought dissolved when Harry detached himself from Louis, pulling away abruptly.

“Liam’s gonna be here in an hour,” Harry mumbled. “I’m gonna…” He gestured to the bathroom, but his voice died when he looked at Louis.

They stared at each other for a moment, and Louis held his breath.

Biting his lip, Harry’s eyes roamed over Louis’ body, and his cheeks flushed red. He made a strangled noise as he turned around abruptly and fled the room. Louis was left staring after him, heart beating high up in his throat.

He dropped back onto his pillow, groaning quietly. In the bathroom, he heard the shower being switched on, and closed his eyes. The images flooding his mind didn’t help his situation at all, so Louis forced himself to get up and leave the bed. Anything else would end in him wanking and Harry probably walking in on that.

He grabbed a pair of loosely fitting jogging bottoms and pulled them on before he went into the kitchen to make tea. He put on the coffee machine for Harry and put his hands on the edge of the sink, staring out of the window. He remembered how Harry had crowded him against this very sink, caging Louis in and telling him that he’d like to make breakfast for Louis again.

It felt like ages ago. So many things had changed since then, and Louis couldn’t even begin to count them in his head. He and Harry had become so much closer since then, and at the same time, they had drifted apart further than ever before.

He hadn’t thought he could ever lose Harry again, but today felt like that. Even though Louis knew that it wasn’t like five years ago, not even remotely the same, he couldn’t stop dreading it. Fearing it.

When he noticed the sudden silence, he turned to the kettle to make his tea. He saw Harry stand in the kitchen doorframe, dressed in tight, dark jeans and a simple white t-shirt. His hair was wet and curling over his ears.

“I’m gonna make breakfast,” he announced as he came in.

“All right.” Louis left his tea to cool down. “I’ll have a shower.”

They passed each other and Louis crossed his arms in front of his chest to keep himself from reaching out. Harry smelled of Louis’ shampoo and soap, fresh and light. The moment was gone a second later when Harry opened a cupboard and Louis was out of the room.

Later, when he was dressed himself, he found the kitchen table set for three people. Harry was still at the cooker, frying something up in a pan. Before Louis could go over, his doorbell rang and he went to let Liam in.

“Morning!” Liam’s tone was chipper.

He was followed by Zayn who looked like he was about to rob a bank. He just grunted something, the sound muffled by his scarf and the hood of his black jacket pulled over is head.

“Morning,” Louis said, blinking at them.

“It’s a little early for Zayn,” Liam said. “But he needs to be at the restaurant for lunch, and since your flat is so close by…”

“Yeah, makes sense.” Louis let them in and led the way to the kitchen.

While they greeted Harry, Louis set the table for another person and made another tea for Zayn and coffee for Liam. Harry filled scrambled eggs in a bowl and added some spring onions on top before he sat it next to the bacon on the table.

“Thanks for breakfast.” Liam sat down and pulled on Zayn’s hoodie. “Come on, babe. Get that off.”

Zayn pulled it off his head and pulled a face. “I hate early mornings.”

Louis snorted. “It’s after ten, Zayn.”

“But I’ve been up since eight.”

Shaking his head, Harry took the seat next to Louis. “You had more than two hours to properly wake up.”

Zayn didn’t say anything to that. Instead, he took the bowl from Liam and put scrambled eggs on his plate.

They fell into an easy conversation during breakfast. Louis had put on some quiet music in the background, and soft rain was hitting the windows, falling into rhythm. It fit Louis’ mood.

He realised that this was the last time Harry would make him breakfast for a long time. With Harry moving back into his own flat, Louis would go back to getting coffee on his way to work. He’d probably have eggs on toast for the weekend, or he’d go back to cereal.

Harry had banned the cereal from his kitchen. He had told Louis that it wasn’t a proper meal -- no matter what the ad said about nutritions and wheat. He had probably been right, but contrary to Harry, Louis didn’t really enjoy spending a lot of time in the kitchen.

“I should get going,” Zayn said a while after they had finished breakfast. They were still sitting around the table, chatting and drinking tea. “Gotta be there a bit earlier to catch Babs.”

“Take care.” Liam leaned in to lightly kiss Zayn.

Louis found Harry glancing at him briefly. Their eyes locked for a moment before Louis looked away.

“Should we get your stuff and carry it to the car?” Liam asked as he got up from the table, too.

“I’ve got everything in the guestroom.” Harry took the plates and brought them over to the sink.

Louis put a hand on top of Harry’s when he reached for the bowls. “You go take care of your things with Liam. I’ll clean up here.”

For a moment, Harry didn’t move. Then he let go of the bowl and stepped back from the table. “All right. Thanks.”

Shaking his head, Louis took the bowls and started clearing the table. Harry left the room without another word, and as soon as Louis was alone, he let go of his breath. He dropped the bowls in the sink and closed his eyes.

He couldn’t let Harry see how much it hurt to let him leave. Louis just had to keep up the act for a little while longer and then he would be allowed to drop it and let himself suffer. As long as Harry was still here, he couldn’t let on to his true feelings.

He’d put pressure on Harry, and he was not supposed to do that.

While Harry and Liam carried boxes and bags downstairs, he cleaned the kitchen, trying to distract his mind. He knew that Harry hadn’t brought much, so there hadn’t been much to pack, and there wasn’t much to carry out of Louis’ flat now.

Last night, Louis had watched Harry collect the few things he had brought. He had taken all of his toiletries from the bathroom, and he had gathered his clothes from where he had left them in Louis’ bedroom and living room. There had been a few kitchen utensils, too.

Other than that, Harry had been finished packing up within an hour. In that hour, however, Louis’ heart had been broken several times. With each object wandering into a box or a bag, Louis had been painfully reminded that Harry was going to leave him again.

“We’ve got everything.”

Louis turned to Liam, nodding briefly.

“Will you be okay?” Liam came into the kitchen, his expression worried. He had a duffel bag slung over his shoulder.

“What kind of question is that?” Louis laughed a little, drying his hands on a tea towel. “When have I ever not been okay?”

Liam pressed his lips together. “Lou…”

“Don’t worry, Lee.” Louis patted his arm as he passed him. “I’m fine.”

“You keep saying that.” Liam followed him. “But you never really look it.”

Staying mum, Louis put on his shoes. He knew that he wasn’t coping well, but he didn’t have any other choice. It was better than not to cope with it at all. Just when he was about to follow Liam outside, he remembered what he had planned to do, so he turned around again.

“I’ll be there in a sec,” he told Liam and rushed back to the bedroom where he picked up the pink box.

Downstairs, Harry was waiting next to Liam’s car. He had his hands in the pockets of his jeans and his eyes landed on the shoe box in Louis’ hands immediately.

Liam put the bag in the boot of the car, and Louis stopped in front of Harry.

“I can’t take those, Lou,” Harry murmured.

“You have much more use of them than I have.” Louis held the box out for Harry to take. “I want you to have them.”

“They’re your memories,” Harry protested. He frowned slightly, looking upset.

Ours , Louis thought. They are our memories . He didn’t say it out loud, though. “They’re just getting dusty in my wardrobe. You can put them up on your wall again.”

Harry shook his head. “Lou…”

“Take them, okay?” Louis shoved the box at Harry’s chest. “I’d feel better knowing you have them.”

Sighing, Harry gave in. He pulled his hands out of his pockets and took the box. “Thanks.”

Smiling, Louis let go of the box and stepped back.

“Thanks for letting me stay with you, Louis.” Harry held on to the box, keeping his eyes on Louis.

“Anytime.” Louis crossed his arms in front of his chest. “I’d do that for all my friends.”

Harry lowered his gaze, smiling. “I know.”

“If that happens again, though, you’ll have to sue that bloke.” Louis watched Liam get in the driver’s seat. “It shouldn’t happen again.”

“I’m sure it won’t.” Harry glanced at the car, and then back at Louis. “It’s fixed now.”

Nodding, Louis took another step back to give Harry space to open the door to the passenger seat. “Take care.”

“You, too.” Harry got in the car, putting the pink box on his lap. “I’ll see you around?”

Louis dug his nails into his skin, forcing himself to stay put. He wanted to pull Harry out of the car and tell him that there was no need for him to move back into that small flat across town. He wanted to tell Harry that his place was here, and that they could work this out, and that Louis needed him.

God, Louis needed him so bad.

“See you around,” he managed to reply. His voice sounded foreign to himself.

Harry closed the door and Liam started the engine. Watching the car drive off, Louis bit his bottom lip, feeling is heart sink. He swallowed thickly and turned back around, letting himself into the building.

He stared at his own reflection in the lift, wondering what he was supposed to do now. He couldn’t possibly go back to normal. He couldn’t even pretend that anything was normal.

The flat was quiet when he came back. It was still faintly smelling of bacon, and the music was still playing in the kitchen. Louis went to turn it off.

Harry had cleaned up yesterday, not letting himself be argued out of it. It had felt a little like he had tried to remove all traces he had left. Yet, there were some that couldn’t be erased. Louis stepped into his bedroom and watched his unmade bed. The duvet was pushed to the foot of the bed, the pillows were pushed to the headboard and it was obvious that two people had slept in there.

Louis stayed leaned against the doorframe for a moment, watching it.

Maybe he should cut himself off the feeling harshly and pull the sheets off the bed. He’d wash them and put on new ones, so tonight when he’d go to sleep, there wouldn’t be anything left of Harry except for the memory of how is body had felt against Louis’.

Sighing, Louis pushed himself to go through with that. He lifted the duvet, but before he could strip it off its sheets, something fell to the ground. Letting go of the duvet, Louis bent down to pick it up.

It was Harry’s jumper. He had worn it last night. A lilac, woollen jumper. Closing his eyes, Louis allowed himself to hug it to his chest and bury his face in the fabric. It still smelled of Harry and it was just as soft as Louis had imagined it to be.

Pastel, soft, comforting. Just like Harry.

Louis sat down on the bed, face still buried in the jumper. He closed his eyes and tried to keep it in, but he was powerless to the wave of desperation flooding over him. It drowned and pulled him under and his heart sank into a dark, dark sea of despair.

At that point, Louis was at a loss. He had always managed to pick himself up, and he had always found a way to keep going. Now, however, he had no idea what to do. He just wanted Harry, and he was just there, within reach, and yet, Louis couldn’t have him.

It was too much, and not enough, all at once.

It was the first time in his life that Louis gave up. He didn’t have any strength left, so he let himself fall onto his bed and clung to a useless piece of clothing for dear life.

It was the only thing he had left of Harry now.

+++

“That’s the last one,” Liam said as he set down one more box next to Harry’s bed.

It was a new one, still smelling of the plastic wrapping it had probably been in until yesterday. Harry already hated that it would smell like that for the next few weeks to come.

He hated even more that he had to sleep alone in it.

“Your flat looks much nicer than mine now,” Niall commented as he ran a hand over he new wallpaper.

“We could switch,” Harry suggested.

Niall made a dismissive gesture. “Nah. I’ll move into a bigger flat soon, anyway.”

“What?” Liam and Harry asked in unison.

Shrugging, Niall sat down on one of the kitchen chairs. “I’ve signed with a label. I’ll be able to afford something bigger soon. And when I’m a proper rockstar, Tommo’s flat will look shabby in comparison.”

Liam laughed, and Harry forced himself to join him. Just the thought of Louis made his stomach clench.

“Haz,” Liam said, tilting his head with a gentle smile on his face. “What’s going on?”

Harry shook his head. “Nothing.”

“You haven’t even commented on the renovation works once.” Niall raised his brows. “Your mind is somewhere else.”

With Louis stood unsaid.

“I think I shouldn’t have left him,” Harry finally croaked out. “I feel like something’s not right.”

“It’s never right for two people in love to part ways,” Niall commented. “It’s not like you’ll never see him again, though, Harry.”

Harry’s heart beat high in his throat and he looked from Niall to Liam. “I’m in love with him.”

Liam was quiet, but Niall snorted.

“That’s not really a surprise to anyone right now, Haz,” he said.

“It’s---” Harry looked at the pink box he had set on the table. “Not like that. I love him now .”

“Of course you do.” Liam closed the gap between them and made Harry sit down on the bed with him. “Harry, why is that so earth shattering for you?”

The bed wasn’t even comfortable. “I always thought what I felt for him was a shadow of our past. Something inside me that remembered.”

“That’s pretty likely.” Niall leaned forwards and put his arms on his knees. “And most likely part of what made you fall in love with him again.”

Liam nodded and took Harry’s hand in his. “Listen, Haz. There’s something you should know.”

Harry blinked at him, trying to catch on with the thoughts speeding through his mind. He loved Louis, and it wasn’t just some muscle memory. It was because Louis was caring, and the strongest person he knew. He was funny and he was so bloody sexy, and had the kindest heart Harry had ever got to see.

He always put everyone else before himself, and he’d been through hell and back, but he was still gentle and kind with everyone he met. Louis loved with all his heart, and all his heart belonged to Harry.

“Something I should know?” Harry asked when he caught up to Liam’s words. “Is there any more you’ve been keeping from me?”

“Louis would never tell you,” Liam explained. “You know how he gets. He’s always afraid of you getting hurt.”

Harry’s blood run cold and then hot, making him feel a little dizzy. “What is going on?”

“The accident, Harry. There’s a reason your injuries were worse than Louis’.” Liam ran a hand through his hair. “You were driving, so the doctors were sure that it was a somewhat conscious decision you made.”

“What?” Harry’s thoughts were running a million miles a second, going all different ways.

“It’s basic human instinct to turn away from danger. You didn’t do that, Harry.” Liam held his gaze, as if to make sure Harry listened closely. “You turned the car left and brought yourself in line with the lorry. There is only one logical explanation for why you did that.”

Harry stared at Liam, and suddenly his mind drew completely blank. There was a white noise in his ears and his blood rushed from his face, pumping in his fingers when he realised what that meant.

“To protect Louis.” Niall’s voice was just above a whisper. “You tried to protect Louis.”

Harry’s breath got caught in his throat and he opened his mouth, but no sound came out.

“I knew something was wrong the moment you woke up from your coma and didn’t ask for Louis right away.” Liam sighed, rubbing Harry’s hand between his. “You don’t risk your life to protect the one you love and then don’t ask for them.”

“Does he know?” Harry asked, trying to imagine what it must have been like for Louis to be told that kind of thing.

“He does.” Liam nodded. “The doctors told him.”

Harry pulled his hand from Liam’s and got up, starting to pace the room.

“You had to fall in love with him again,” Liam said quietly. “What you had, Harry… It’s nothing that just goes away.”

Running a hand through his hair, Harry stopped and stared at Liam. “It didn’t go away.”

Liam frowned at him, looking like he couldn’t quite follow Harry.

It hadn’t gone away. It didn’t matter. Even if part of what he felt for Louis was nothing other than muscle memory, he had also come to relearn so many things about Louis. He had fallen in love with Louis again, because there was probably no life that Harry could lead where he wouldn’t fall in love with Louis.

They were made for each other, and they belonged together.

“I gotta see him,” Harry mumbled, turning around. “I shouldn’t have fucking left.”

“Harry,” Niall yelled, but Harry didn’t stop.

“I’ll give you a ride.” Liam was right on his heels.

Harry stopped and turned, throwing his arms around Liam’s neck and sending them both stumbling across the floor. “Thanks, Lee. I’m gonna take the tube. That’s quicker.”

Liam squeezed him tightly before he let go. “Take care of him, Haz. He needs you more than you know.”

Pulling back, Harry dashed out of the flat. He could only guess how much Louis really needed him. He had put on a strong mask for years, and he had never once lost his composure. Harry had been a fool to wait for Louis to give in and admit that he needed to be weak. He should have realised so much sooner that all Louis needed was a push.

All Louis needed was a person that he allowed himself to be weak in front of.

And Harry was the only one who could take that place.

When he finally arrived back at Louis’ flat, he was out of breath and his t-shirt clung to his chest. The tube had been packed, and Harry’s nerves had drawn blank at every delay he had encountered.

He greeted Ripley, today’s security guard, with a brief wave of his hand and then got into the lift. His nerves really started to kick in when he arrived on Louis’ floor, and finally stood in front of the door.

He knew that it was unlocked. Louis never locked the door, and Harry had taken advantage of it before. This time, he wanted to play fair, and let Louis decide if he actually wanted Harry in his flat. Harry was mostly positive that Louis wouldn’t reject him, but it’d feel more significant if they did it this way.

Harry rang the bell.

He was kept waiting for a minute and frowned. He rang again, but there wasn’t any sign of movement behind the door. Hary knocked loudly, then he rang again. When he still didn’t get a reaction, he rang once more.

Just as he was about to open the door and just barge into the flat, the door swung open and revealed an angry-looking Louis. His brows were drawn together and the corners of his mouth turned downwards. His expression changed to surprise when he saw Harry.

He wore Harry’s jumper, and he was swimming in it.

“That’s my jumper,” Harry managed to say.

Louis’ expression turned angry again. “If you came to get it, you can leave again. I’m not giving it back.”

Harry blinked at him. “What?”

“I don’t care what you want,” Louis spit out, obviously mad at Harry. “I’m gonna keep it, and you’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands if you want it back. You got to take everything else with you, and I didn’t protest, did I?”

“Lou,” Harry started, but was cut short again.

“It’s just a jumper. Can’t you let me have that at least?” Louis threw his hands up in the air in an agitated gesture. “Do you always have to argue?”

Harry raised his voice. “I didn’t come to take the bloody jumper, Lou.”

Louis’ hands slowly fell back to his sides. “What? Why are you here, then?”

“To take you,” Harry replied and pulled Louis in and against his chest.

Louis squeaked quietly, but it turned into a moan when their lips met. Harry pushed Louis back into the flat, kicking the door shut. He framed Louis’ face and angled his chin, so he could kiss Louis deeper. Louis literally melted against him and Harry slowed down, turning the kiss into something softer.

“I’m here to make you be weak,” Harry murmured against Louis’ lips.

Louis didn’t even open his eyes. “You what?”

“I’m here to watch you cry,” Harry added, kissing Louis’ forehead.

Louis pulled back slightly. “What?”

Harry brushed his thumb over Louis’ lips. “I’ll make you spill your guts and then I’ll hold you when you break down.”

“What the fuck?” Louis sounded affronted. “I’m not gonna---”

“You will,” Harry interrupted him. “This will only work if you finally say what you have to say. And I don’t care if you’re weak, or if you cry, or if you’re a complete mess, Louis.”

“Haz,” Louis whispered, shaking his head. “Baby…”

“No.” Harry shook his head. “The truth. Every last thought on your mind. And I want all of it.” He tilted Louis’ head back slightly and firmly looked into Louis’ eyes. “ Baby.

Louis’ face fell, and he gripped onto Harry’s t-shirt tightly.

Harry closed the gap and kissed Louis again. He cupped Louis’ jaw and slowly opened up his mouth with gentle nips and licks. Louis went lax against Harry, following every move of Harry’s lips. His fingers lost grip of Harry’s t-shirt and his hands moved up Harry’s chest.

With one smooth motion, Harry picked Louis up. He kept his hands around Louis’ waist, starting to move. When Louis wound his legs around Harry’s hips, Harry moved his hands to the back of his thighs, hoisting him up a little further. The kiss broke and Louis sighed as he he put his arms around Harry’s neck and buried his face in Harry’s hair.

Kissing Louis’ shoulder, Harry carried him over to the bedroom. He sat Louis down carefully and gently pushed him back, crawling in between Louis’ legs. Louis grabbed the necklace that was dangling from Harry’ chest, moving the pendant between his fingers as they looked at each other.

“Give in, Lou,” Harry murmured when he let his fingers travel from Louis’ waist to his chest. Louis’ breath hitched. “Let me be in charge, baby.”

Louis stared at him for a moment longer, then he let go of the pendant and dropped his hands, resting them above his head. He closed his eyes and tilted his face slightly to the right.

Harry’s heart jumped at the sight of Louis giving himself up to Harry completely. He was a vision: long lashes fanning against high cheek bones, red lips swollen from their kiss, slightly parted in anticipation, his hands resting above his head and his legs spread apart for Harry. The jumper had ridden up his waist, revealing some skin underneath.

Harry left one hand on Louis’ waist and moved the other up to wind his fingers around Louis’ wrists. They were small and delicate beneath Harry’s skin, and Louis didn’t put up a single bit of resistance. Harry attached his lips to Louis’ neck, scattering gentle kisses down to his collar bones, before he got a little rougher and sucked at the skin.

Louis moaned quietly, arching off the mattress, but stayed still otherwise. Harry used the hand on Louis’ chest to push him back down and finished the love bite. When he pulled back, the skin was dark red, beginning to look purple and Harry decided he’d done a good job of it. Louis was staring at the ceiling, his eyes glassy.

Still holding Louis’ wrists in one hand, Harry started to unbutton Louis’ jeans. “Can I take that jumper off or will you claw my eyes out if I try?”

Louis’ eyes focused on him, and he blinked slowly. “Can I keep it afterwards?”

“You can keep whatever you want,” Harry replied and leaned in for another kiss. He couldn’t get enough of Louis’ lips, of the lazy drag, the slow slide of their tongues.

Harry broke the kiss long enough to let go of Louis’ wrists and pull the jumper over his head. He dropped it to the floor and kept a hand on Louis’ bare back to steady him. Louis stared at Harry’s lips, eyes hooded, like he was drunk.

“What do you want, baby?” Harry asked, pulling Louis forwards, so he could straddle Harry. “What do you like?”

Louis blinked, bringing a hand up to Harry’s face, brushing his thumb over Harry’s cheek. “You.”

Smiling, Harry pulled him closer and kissed Louis again, just briefly, before he let his lips wander lower. He kissed down Louis’ neck to his chest and licked over one of his nipples, taking it between his lips until it was puffy and red. He proceeded to the other one, repeating the motions. Louis buried his hands in Harry’s hair, tilting his head back.

Satisfied with his work, Harry kissed his way back up while his hands slid lower. He pushed one hand into Louis’ jeans, squeezing his bum. “You’re so gorgeous, Lou.”

Shaking his head, Louis leaned forwards. He bit his lip.

“You should’ve been told every single day.” Harry framed his face, brushing their lips together. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there to remind you.”

Louis inhaled deeply, staring into Harry’s eyes.

“I’m gonna show you,” Harry whispered. “You won’t have to go without it again.”

With that, Harry leaned forwards to let Louis sink back onto his back. He tugged at Louis’ jeans until they slid down his legs, leaving Louis completely naked. Harry hummed at the sight, running a finger over the letters tattooed onto Louis’ skin.

He settled next to Louis, propping his head up on his arm and ran his free hand down Louis’ stomach to curl his fingers around Louis’ cock. Louis hissed and his eyes fluttered closed. Harry kept his eyes on Louis’ face as he stroked him into full hardness, Louis’ cock becoming a pleasant weight in his palm. Louis turned his head, his breath picking up speed, and Harry leaned in to give him a breathless kiss.

When Louis started to moan into Harry’s mouth, he moved down on Louis’ body and replaced his hand with his mouth. Louis angled one leg, and cried out when Harry gripped the base of his cock and licked the head. He tasted salty, and Harry closed his eyes, slowly sinking lower.

For a moment, he thought about making Louis come like that. Louis deserved more than a simple blow job, though, so Harry bobbed his head a few times, pressing his tongue against the vein and swallowing around Louis to drive him a little closer to the edge.

When Louis started hissing and throwing his head from one side to the other, Harry pulled off his cock with a slurping sound. Spit had gathered on his chin, mixed with precome and Harry licked his lips and swallowed the taste. Louis had his eyes closed, and his chest was flushed while he was breathing heavily.

“You’re doing so well,” Harry whispered, his voice gravelly. He laced his fingers with Louis’ and moved up his body to kiss Louis again. He came easily, tongue first. Harry’s clothes felt rough against his skin and he could only imagine how they had to feel against Louis’ heated, sensitive one.

Harry ignored his own state and rested a hand on Louis’ waist, squeezing gently before he pushed Louis over, onto his stomach. His skin was glistening in the pale afternoon sun and a his bum curved perfectly against Harry’s thigh.

Kneading a perfectly rounded cheek, Harry kissed his way along Louis’s spine to the crack, dipping his tongue in briefly. Louis whined, pushing back slightly. Adjusting himself, Harry crouched between Louis’ legs and grabbed one of the pillows to prop Louis up.

“Harry,” Louis whispered, fingers curling into the sheets. “Haz.”

“I’ve got you, baby.” Harry spread his cheeks, kissing Louis’ thigh. “Just let go.”

Louis did. His body relaxed and he let Harry have his way with him. Harry blew over his hole, watching it flutter, then he licked boldly, getting Louis wet. He got himself messy in the progress, but he didn’t even spare a thought, just kept going deeper. His jaw ached, and even though Harry couldn’t remember doing that to anyone else, he knew exactly what he was doing.

He’d done this before, and he had done it with Louis.

Closing his eyes, Harry worked his tongue in and out of Louis, trying to push as deep as he could. Louis whined and moaned, completely yielding beneath Harry’s hand that rested on his spine.

It didn’t come as a surprise when Louis tensed up, crying out. He pulled the sheets, rutting against the pillow beneath his hips and buried his face in the mattress. Harry worked him through the orgasm, tongue steadily pushing in and out of him.

When Louis went lax beneath him, Harry pulled back, trying to catch his breath. He kissed the bottom of Louis’ spine, hands holding Louis’ hips. Louis lay completely still, trying to catch his breath. Using the moment, Harry got rid of his own clothes and opened the drawer of the bedside table. He got out lube and a condom before he gave his own cock a few pulls, releasing some of the tension.

With one slick motion, he rolled Louis onto his back again and found him flushed from his hair to his navel, eyes hazy and lips bitten red. He was still breathing heavily, and his hair was a mess.

“God, look at you,” Harry marvelled, licking his own lips.

Louis smiled lazily, running a hand up his chest, smearing come up to his sternum. Harry followed the motion with his eyes, bending down to kiss along the path Louis’ hand took. He uncapped the lube and coated his fingers in a generous amount. While circling Louis’ nipple with his tongue, his fingers prodded at Louis’ sensitive hole. Louis hissed, but his legs fell open, giving Harry access. He rocked back against the finger Harry slowly pushed in, making sweet, desperate noises.

“Take it so well,” Harry muttered against Louis’ ear as he fucked his finger into Louis in a steady rhythm. “You’re being so good, baby.”

Louis tilted his head enough to find Harry’s lips in a breathy kiss. They moaned into it, tongues sliding together. Louis wound one arm around Harry’s neck and gripped his hair when Harry added a second finger. They broke the kiss and stared into each other’s eyes when Harry worked his fingers in, slightly spreading them.

When Harry had a third finger in, he fumbled for the condom with his free hand. Louis had his head tilted back, rocking himself back and forth on Harry’s fingers in a slow rhythm. His cock had filled up again, curving up to his stomach and smearing precome where the head touched his abdomen.

Harry’s own erection weighed heavy between his legs, begging for attention. He pulled his fingers out of Louis’ hole and used the lube-coated hand to give himself some long and hard strokes. He ripped the condom wrapper open with his teeth and made quick progress of pulling it over his cock.

When he finally positioned himself, pushing slowly into Louis, something inside him clicked. It felt like some piece of him that had been askew all along had finally fallen into place.

Louis cried out when Harry bottomed out and Harry leaned forwards, gripping Louis’ hands. He stretched his arms above Louis’ head and laced their fingers before he started thrusting his hips. Louis wound his legs around Harry’s hips and let himself be fucked.

“God, Lou,” Harry groaned, biting Louis’ shoulder. “Fuck, you’re so tight.”

His hips started to move on their own accord, chasing his orgasm, and Harry slammed into Louis with hard thrusts, deep and bold. He let go of one of Louis’ hands and reached down to pull Louis off in time with his thrusts, making him come before Harry would find release.

Louis threw his head back, and the next moment, he came again, white streaks painting his stomach. Harry groaned and followed, feeling his load spill into the condom as he stilled inside of Louis. He dropped his head to Louis’ neck, nibbling the skin and shallowly thrusting to ride out his orgasm. Louis was completely still beneath him, chest rising with every breath he took.

Harry let go of Louis’ cock and put his sticky hand over Louis’ hip, keeping up the connection for a moment longer. Louis’ grip on Harry’s hair loosened and he inhaled shakily, letting his legs slip from Harry’s waist. It made Harry lose his grip, so he sat up and pulled out of Louis, removing the condom.

When he dropped back down onto the mattress, Louis was on him in an instant, curling against Harry’s side. Harry pulled him closer and kissed his temple, brushing his hand over Louis’ back in soothing circles.

“I didn’t let anyone fuck me in the past five years,” Louis murmured, voice muffled against Harry’s chest. “The last time was two days before the accident.”

Harry closed his eyes, getting ready to have his heart ripped out. He’d have to hear it all from Louis once, though. They’d both feel better afterwards.

“It’s not something you’d do with just anyone,” he settled on as a reply.

“No,” Louis agreed. “I’ve always wanted it to be you.”

Harry stayed quiet, keeping up the slow up and down motions of his hand brushing Louis’ back.

“I’m not supposed to say this because the doctors said it’d put too much pressure on you, but…” One hand came to rest over Harry’s chest as Louis shifted even closer, feeling small and fragile in Harry’s arms. “I’m not gonna survive letting you go again.”

“I’m not leaving,” Harry said, resting his hand over Louis’ on his chest.

“Don’t say that,” Louis whispered. “It’s a promise you can’t keep.”

“Lou--”

“It’s okay, you know?” Louis shook his head a little. “If you decide that there’s someone else you love, and that you want to be with them. That’s different. I could deal with that.”

He wouldn’t be able to deal with it. Harry knew that Louis would pretend he was coping, but he’d end up just like he had in the past five years. He’d not take proper care of himself, working himself too hard, not showing anyone his true feelings.

“When you hit your head at that bar,” Louis inhaled shakily. “I actually panicked afraid you could look at me like a stranger again. For a moment there, I thought everything would be gone again, and I got so scared. I was so scared, Harry.”

Harry’s heart broke for him. He couldn’t even begin to imagine what Louis had been through. “I’m sorry I did that to you, baby.”

“I’ve had all kinds of phases,” Louis admitted with a wet laugh. “I was ready to beg you to remember me when I was discharged from the hospital and had to go back to my old life. It only hit me then, that I couldn’t live that life without you. I wanted to see you and try everything to make you remember.”

Harry had to swallow thickly before he replied. “You shouldn’t have listened to the doctors.”

“I had to,” Louis protested. “I was so scared of doing the wrong thing, of hurting you even more. I just wanted to know you were well. After---” He stopped, and his voice broke. “All I’ve seen for five years when closing my eyes were you, next to me, so still. All that blood.”

Harry suddenly felt cold, so he grabbed the duvet and spread it over their bodies, turning over a little to hold Louis even tighter against his chest.

Louis’ fingers brushed the scar over Harry’s ribs. “So I got really angry at you. I hated you for doing that to me. For leaving me behind. For just forgetting me. You couldn’t have loved me all that much if you had just forgot about me like that.”

“Lou…” Harry kissed his forehead. His heart ached for the pain he had caused for Louis.

“And I wanted to see you again, just so I could yell and scream, and tell you all the awful things I had inside me then.” Louis kissed Harry’s collarbone, finding the scar there. “And then mum got sick, and that’s when it really hit me how much I needed you.”

“I’m here,” Harry choked out, feeling desperate to make up for all the times Louis had needed him and Harry had been oblivious to it.

“You weren’t then,” Louis said, and Harry could hear the tears in is voice before he could feel them against his skin. “You weren’t there when I came back from the hospital, scared to death that I could lose my mum. And you weren’t there when I had to tell the little ones. You weren’t there when I had to be strong for them, for my mum, for everyone around me. I just wanted you to be there and hold me. I needed you to hold me.”

Harry tightened his arms around Louis, feeling like he was going to break Louis if he held on any tighter. He peppered Louis’ face with kisses, lips brushing over the tears. “I’m sorry.” He kissed the words into Louis’ skin. “I’m so sorry, baby. I should have been there. You should’ve never have to go through any of it.”

Louis caught Harry’s lips in a chaste, gentle kiss. His own were swollen and puffy from his tears. “I’m so tired of being strong.”

“You’re the strongest person I know, Lou,” Harry whispered against his mouth. “I wouldn’t have survived what you survived. I just want to make it better. I wish I could make up for all the pain I’ve caused you.”

“It’s not your fault,” Louis reminded him, brushing a curl from Harry’s face. He sniffled a little, and his eyes were red. “I came to understand that, too.”

For a moment, Harry just looked at him. Their faces were so close that Harry could see individual lashes and the freckles on Louis’ nose. “It kinda is, tough,” he said after a moment. “Liam told me how exactly the accident happened. How I got injured.”

Louis bit his lip, eyes locking on Harry’s. “I was really angry about that, too, for a while.”

“I wish I could make it all undone, Lou.” Harry used his thumb to dry Louis’ tears. “I wish I could have woken up up, asking for you first thing. And I wish I would’ve seen you, demanding that they moved your bed next to mine, so I could’ve held your hand while we were both recovering from our injuries.” He swallowed thickly when more tears spilled from Louis’ eyes. “And I wish I could’ve been there when you got home, sleeping next to you, and reassuring you that we’d be all right. I wish I had been there when your mum got sick,” he added quietly, his words securely tucked away against Louis’ lips. “I wish I had been there to support you, and to give you a shoulder to cry on. I wish I could have been on that chair next to yours at her funeral.”

Louis’ face crumbled again, and he shook his head, diving in to hide it against Harry’s neck.

Harry held Louis through it, let him cry and sob, all while soothing im with gentle words and soft touches. Louis started shaking in Harry’s arms, every last bit of composure gone. He clung to Harry as if his life depended on it, and Harry realised that maybe, it did.

Pulling Louis with him, Harry sat up to rest his back against the headboard of the bed. He helped Louis straddle Harry’s lap and then bedded Louis’ head on his shoulder. Rocking him gently, Harry let Louis cry, just holding him through it.

It took a while before Louis calmed down. He was completely limp in Harry’s arms, and wiped a hand over his face. Harry kissed his forehead, framing Louis’ face to make him look at Harry.

“It’s the one thing I wouldn’t change,” Harry said when he felt that Louis could listen to him again. “I wish I could change everything else, but I’d do that one again. Louis.”

Louis smiled sadly. "Slow down, Speed Racer." He sniffed a little. "That's quite the thing to say." 

Harry's thumbs brushed over Louis’ cheeks, and he made sure Louis looked at him properly. “I may not be there right now, but I'm sure I'm on the way, Lou. I'd do it again. Any time.”

Louis’ bottom lip started to tremble again. “Please don’t.”

Harry smiled and leaned in to kiss the tremble away. Louis tasted salty of tears, and his lips and mouth were heated. “You already know it, don’t you? You knew it all along.”

Nodding, Louis chased after Harry’s lips, sinking into another kiss. “You insisted that it’s just muscle memory.”

“It is,” Harry pointed out, pulling Louis’ hair a little to make him look at Harry again. “Some of it is definitely muscle memory. Not all of it, though. I got to know you again, Louis, and it made me realise that I’d risk my life for you again.”

“Stop saying that,” Louis begged him, hands gripping tighter onto Harry’s arms. “I don’t even wanna think about that.”

Smiling, Harry loosened his grip on Louis’ hair and cupped his jaw instead. “I’m in love with you, Louis.”

For a moment, Harry thought, there were going to be more tears, but Louis crashed against him instead, taking Harry’s lips in a bruising kiss. The force behind it was biting, and Harry met Louis with the same passion, moaning when Louis started to rock his hips and put some delicious friction onto Harry’s cock.

Louis’ cock grew harder against Harry’s stomach, and he reached out for the lube Harry had discarded on one of the pillows earlier.

“Say it again,” Louis breathed against Harry’s lips, but not leaving him any room to get a word out when he slid his tongue inside Harry’s mouth.

Harry let his hands wander down to Louis’ arse, kneading and spreading the cheeks, fitting his cock between them and thrusting up. Louis whined against his mouth, slipping away as he fell into rhythm with Harry.

“I love you,” Harry said against Louis’ ear, dipping a finger into his hole. He was still open, still a little wet. “Love you so much, baby.”

Louis reached behind himself and Harry hissed when his cold, wet hand gripped Harry’s cock. He coated him in lube, stroking in an awkward angle, but managed to brush the head just so that Harry’s hips stuttered and he bit down on Louis’ shoulder.

Without warning, Louis lifted his hips and sank down on Harry’s cock. He bottomed out in one easy slide, and Harry stilled, eyes rolling to the back of his head. It had to hurt for Louis, burn to be stretched open like that without proper preparation, but Harry didn’t get a word in before Louis started rocking back and forth.

It was such a stark contrast to the sex they had earlierbefore. There was nothing slow, or gentle or careful about it. It was Louis taking, taking, taking. He took what he needed and Harry tried to give as best as he could. He thrust up to get deeper inside Louis, and was rewarded with a low moan against his lips. Louis kept the angle up, and Harry tried to hit that spot again.

His hand reached down between them, and he wrapped his fingers around Louis’ cock. Louis gripped the headboard, forehead resting against Harry’s and rode Harry in earnest, tongue darting out every now and then for an open-mouthed kiss.

Harry felt the orgasm built up in his groin, and he wasted a thought on pulling out, but it was too late. He came hard, and almost came again from the feeling of coming bare inside Louis. He kicked out his feet and realised Louis followed immediately, panting into Harry’s mouth. He spilled over Harry’s hand, stilling completely. It took a moment, but then he brought up his hands and framed Harry’s face to kiss him again, slow and deep, taking his time to explore every inch of Harry’s mouth.

Harry slipped out of him eventually, keeping Louis in his lap. Come was leaking out of him, hitting Harry’s thigh. “Are you sore, baby?” he whispered, kissing along Louis’ jaw.

“Sore,” Louis confirmed. “And so, so knackered.”

“We should shower,” Harry suggested, brushing his lips over the bruise he had sucked into Louis’ skin earlier. “You must feel filthy.”

Louis was quiet for a moment. “I feel like I’m yours.”

Harry’s heart jumped and he lifted his head to look at Louis. “You are.”

“You’re mine, too,” Louis mumbled, lips close to Harry’s again.

Would he ever tire of kissing Louis? Probably not. He had so many kisses to catch up on. All the kisses he had missed.

“I wanna sleep,” Louis whispered when he pulled away. “For days.”

Smiling, Harry kicked the duvet off his legs. “Come on, we gotta shower first.”

“I wanna sleep,” Louis protested and forced Harry to lie down. “I wanna sleep, and I want you to hold me.”

Harry curled around Louis, ignoring how sticky his stomach felt and how dirty the sheets were. He kissed Louis’ forehead and wound his arms around him. Louis sighed sleepily, and Harry couldn’t remember ever feeling this content. He was pleasantly fucked out, held the man he loved in his arms, and was going to wake up to Louis being finally his. Again.

He closed his eyes, feeling Louis drift into sleep. “Whatever you need.”

+++

Louis woke up to an empty bed. He was still reeking of sweat and come, and his throat was dry. There was music coming from the kitchen and Louis smiled, thinking about Harry probably making them something to eat. If Harry kept it up, Louis would get fat soon.

There was a pleasant ache in his bones and muscles when Louis rolled out of bed, and he stretched before he put on nothing else but the lilac jumper. Harry had apparently picked it up and had draped it over a chair.

In the kitchen, Louis watched Harry bop his head along to the beat of the song. His hips were swaying slightly, and he was wearing nothing but his boxer shorts and an apron. He looked ridiculous, and Louis’ heart swelled with how much he loved him.

Harry turned around to grab a plate and he spotted Louis in the doorframe. With a slight frown, he tilted his head. “Hi,” he said in a friendly tone. “Are you looking for someone?”

Louis’ stomach tied up in knots and his heart dropped to his knees. “Harry?”

“Can I help you?” Harry asked, still smiling that distant smile.

“Baby.” Louis took a step forwards, reaching out, but Harry pulled his arm away. “Harry, it’s me.”

“I don’t think I know you.” Harry looked confused, shaking his head. “Who are you?”

“Harry,” Louis muttered, reaching out again, but suddenly, Harry was gone. “Harry? Haz? Baby?”

“Louis,” Harry’s voice rang through to him, and his shoulders were gripped tightly. Someone shook him gently. “Louis. Lou. Wake up.”

Louis’ eyes flew open and he blinked, staring at Harry looming above him. Harry’s eyes were wild, coloured in concern and worriedness. He held Louis’ shoulders, fingers digging into the skin there.

“Baby,” Harry breathed out. “Are you there?”

A dream, Louis realised while he blinked up at Harry. It had only been a dream.

“Lou,” Harry tried again, kissing his forehead. “Talk to me.”

“Sorry,” Louis croaked out, his voice still raspy from sleep. “I had a bad dream.”

“You were calling my name,” Harry mumbled, hands coming up to caress Louis’ cheeks. “Did you dream of the accident?”

“Sometimes,” Louis answered. The pictures were already starting to fade from his memory. “Variations of it.”

“Does that happen often?” Harry asked, resting back down next to Louis.

“It hasn’t happened since you’ve started sleeping here,” Louis admitted. “I don’t know why it’s happening now.”

Harry was quiet for a moment. “I’m not gonna go anywhere, Lou.” He kissed the words against Louis’ temple, a soft drag of his lips against Louis’ skin. “You don’t have to be scared of that.”

Louis closed his eyes, allowing relief to wash over him. “I’ll always be scared of that.”

Humming, Harry kept brushing his lips ovr Louis’ temple. “I don’t know how to take that fear away.”

“It’s nothing that can be eased,” Louis explained. “I’ll be ninety and wake up, scared that I could lose you again.”

“You can’t spend your life being scared of ifs and maybes, Lou.” Harry sat up, frowning down at Louis.

“I know,” Louis replied, running a hand through his hair. “It’s nothing conscious. It’s not that I’m thinking about it when I’m with you. It’s just there, subconsciously.”

Harry nodded, but something seemed to still bother him. He was still frowning, and he brought up his hand to his mouth, ass he always did when he was thinking. “We should go out.”

Louis’ brows shot up. “What?”

“We need to leave this flat.” Harry got out of bed, moving through the room naked. “We should get dinner somewhere.”

“Now?” Louis asked, not quite sure where that thought was coming from.

Harry bent down to pick up his clothes and Louis couldn’t help but look at his bum. “We’ve been hiding away in this flat for too long. Come on, Lou. Get up.”

Louis did as he was told, still not sure what was going on in Harry’s head. “Why have we been hiding? I don’t think we’ve been hiding.”

“I think there’s a reason this doesn’t feel real to you, or why your head is playing tricks on you.” Harry pulled Louis along to the bathroom. “You never even touched me outside this flat, did you?”

Louis blinked, trying to come up with an instant to debunk that theory. There were a few, but they had all been before Harry had found out about their past. He couldn’t think of anything after that, though. Whenever he and Harry had kissed or touched or even just had intimate conversations, it had been behind closed doors.

“We can have dinner at that Italian place around the corner.” Harry dropped a kiss to Louis’ shoulder before he guided him into the shower. “Can’t go like this, though.”

Louis turned and watched Harry place a towel on the sink, so Louis could reach it later. “Aren’t you taking a shower with me?”

Harry looked him up and down, biting his lip. “We wanna leave the flat, Lou. If I take a shower with you, we’ll be in there for hours, and then another one in bed.”

Louis smirked. “That definitely sounds better than going out.”

For a moment, Harry looked torn, his gaze settling somewhere on Louis’ lower body parts. Then, he shook his head, turning back to the door. “No. We’re going out.”

Sighing, Louis turned on the shower, washing off the traces of their afternoon activities.

When he came back to the bedroom later, Harry had changed the sheets on the bed. It was freshly made and the lilac jumper was placed on the duvet while all of Louis’ clothes that had been scattered across the floor were gone.

Louis got dressed in a fresh pair of jeans and put on a t-shirt, before he pulled the lilac jumper over it. Watching himself in the mirror, he rolled up the sleeves and grinned to himself.

He finished getting ready, and when Harry came from the bathroom, he was as good as ready to go. Harry watched him, wearing nothing but a towel around his hips. Their eyes met through the mirror Louis stood in front of, and Harry smirked. He went for Louis, winding his arms around Louis’ waist.

“You wanna go out in that jumper?” Harry asked.

Louis leaned back against him, bringing a hand up to touch Harry’s face. “Any problem with that?”

Harry shook his head. “Not at all.”

He kissed along Louis’ neck, and Louis watched them in the mirror, while his fingers slid into Harry’s hair. Louis tilted his head, pulling Harry’s hair gently to make him lift his face up, so he could slot their lips together.

It was a calm kiss. There was no heat behind it, and no desperation like there had still been a few hours ago. It was a reassuring kiss, a slow drag of lips and lazy slide of tongues.

“Later,” Harry murmured anyways, the promise of more lingering in the kiss.

Nodding, Louis drew back and let Harry get dressed. He watched on, sitting on his bed and checking his mobile. He hadn’t looked at it since morning, and there were a few messages he had to get back to.

Liam had sent a simple Are u guys good earlier, too, and Louis smiled. He glanced up at Harry pulling on one of Louis’ t-shirts.

More than good , Louis replied.

They left the flat when the sun was starting to set outside. In the lift downstairs, Harry held out his hand for Louis, and they exchanged a quick smile before Louis laced their fingers. Harry dropped a kiss to the back of Louis’ hand when the doors of the lift slid open and they stepped outside.

Ripley looked up at them, and his eyes landed on their hands immediately. He looked curious, but greeted them with a friendly smile.

“Ripley didn’t see it coming,” Harry said when they were outside. “I tell you, Rob won’t be surprised.”

Louis lifted a brow. “Why? Did you talk to them about your plans of pursuing me?”

Laughing, Harry swung their entwined hands between them. “I did talk to Rob about you before. I think he’s figured out how smitten I am with you.”

“You weren’t acting smitten with me,” Louis protested.

“I was!” Harry pouted. “I cooked for you, Lou. I only cook for people when they mean something to me.”

Louis tilted his head. “Cooking for people is your job, Harry.”

Nodding, Harry held the door to the restaurant for Louis. “Exactly. That’s why I don’t really like cooking at home. If I do it anyways, it’s nothing but a true act of love.”

“That’s why you’re taking me out for dinner now, yeah?” Louis snorted.

Harry grinned and leaned in for a brief kiss. “I’ll make you breakfast tomorrow.”

They were seated at a table for two in a corner of the room and the waiter immediately brought them the menu and water.

“Seriously, though,” Louis said when they were alone again. “I don’t expect you to do that for me, Harry. I’m fine with this, or some ready meals, or take away.”

Harry smiled and opened his menu. “I want to, Lou. It feels like that’s one of the few ways you actually let me take care of you.”

“Not anymore.” Louis dropped his voice, a rush of excitement going through him as he realised he was able to do this. With Harry. In public. “I’ll take sex over food any time.”

Harry barked out a laugh, kicking out his foot under the table to rub it against Louis’ shin. “I noticed. That’s why I gotta make sure you maintain a healthy balance there.”

They ordered food, then Harry leaned over the table and reached out a hand to put it onto Louis’. Moving his fingers, Louis let them slide between Harry’s.

This was nice. When they had been seated, Louis had noticed a woman on the other table looking over at them, checking Harry out. She was looking again now, and it gave Louis some kind of adrenaline rush to brush his thumb over Harry’s and tangle their feet beneath the table.

Anyone looking at them right now would recognise them as a couple.

“What are you grinning about?” Harry asked, eyes on Louis’ face.

“Just…” Louis shrugged. “I guess I’m just happy.”

Harry grinned, too, leaning across the table to kiss Louis. Just a tame peck of the lips, but it made Louis’ heart jump all the same. “It’s what this is all about.”

Their drinks were served, so Harry leaned back again. Louis didn’t let go of Harry’s hand as he tested the wine and nodded for the waiter to fill their glasses.

When the waiter was gone, Harry pointed at Louis’ chest. “What is that tattoo about?”

Instinctively, Louis touched his collarbones under the jumper. “Um.. Well.” He thought about lying, but he guessed Harry had already figured out that there had to be a connection to their past. “It’s about this whole thing, really. I got it after my mum’s death to remind myself that I don’t have control over those kinds of things. Losing you, losing her, moving forwards somehow. I couldn’t do anything about it but watch it happen and learn to deal with it.”

“It is what it is,” Harry said, as if he was trying out the words. He nodded slowly, brows drawn together. “Did it hurt?”

Louis shrugged. “Kinda. In a good way, though.”

Harry looked down at their hands. “I’ve got a tattoo, as well.”

Louis bit his lip, trying to approach that one as calmly a possible. “I know.”

Harry studied his face. “You know what it means.”

Slowly, Louis nodded.

“It was still rather fresh when I woke up after the accident. Which means I got it shortly before that.” Harry seemed nervous about the topic. “And I was actually pretty shocked to find it there. I never thought about getting a tattoo before.”

“You wanted to get more after that first one,” Louis told him. “Getting tattoos was your idea, actually. I didn’t want to.”

“So I got it alone?” Harry asked.

“You wanted matching ones, but I chickened out. Another thing I regretted afterwards.” Louis squeezed Harry’s hand in his. “I went with you to the parlour, though, and held your hand through it.”

“Lou,” Harry said quietly. “What does it mean?”

“It wasn’t anything official, so don’t freak out on me now, okay?” Louis took a deep breath, trying to figure out how to approach it. He had known Harry was going to ask about it sooner or later. “We talked about marriage.”

Harry’s face fell, and his mouth gaped open.

“There was no asking, and no official engagement,” Louis hurried to tag on. “But some late night deep thoughts talk on our sofa. And we just agreed that we were some kind of forever thing. I had my head in your lap and when you said you could imagine still being with me in a few years, I replied something along the lines of, might as well spend the rest of my life with you .” His voice almost died upon repeating the words. “So you got it tattooed on your hip where I had placed a kiss after I had said that.”

Of course Harry freaked out about it. “We were engaged ?” he repeated, trying to stay as quiet as he could.

“No, I told you.” Louis put his other hand on top of Harry’s. “Just some talk about that we eventually wanted to get engaged.”

“You said you wanted to spend the rest of your life with me and I got a tattoo for it on my body,” Harry summed it up, eyes big. “That’s pretty much an engagement.”

“Harry.” Louis shook his head, waiting for Harry to focus on him. “It’s not. It’s not an engagement until I drop down on one knee with a ring in my hand, asking the proper question, okay?”

Harry stared at him, looking a little pale. “Have you thought about that? Since-- I mean. In the past couple months?”

“No?” Louis was aware that Harry knew the true answer to that already, so there was no use in lying. “I mean. Maybe.”

Harry’s jaw dropped again. “What?”

“Harry.” Louis took a deep breath. “I didn’t plan our wedding in my head, okay? I know where we stand, and I know what this is. It doesn’t change the fact that you’ve always been and will always be the love of my life.”

“I don’t think I’m ready for that kind of commitment yet,” Harry replied, voice just above a whisper.

“I know that, baby.” Louis felt like he was walking a tightrope. “I’m aware. And I have no expectations whatsoever that this is more to you.”

Harry’s brows knitted together and he shook his head. “I am in love with you,” he said firmly. “That’s not a question, Lou. But it’s one thing to be in love and another to get engaged.”

“That’s why no one’s talked about engagement yet, Harry,” Louis reminded him. “We need to figure out if we can even make this work before making any life-changing decisions.”

“But are we really on the same page here?” Harry wanted to know, still frowning.

Louis looked around the restaurant, wondering how the people around them could laugh and chatter so carelessly when his whole world had just been tilted to sink any minute now. He swallowed thickly and focused back on Harry.

“Probably not right now,” Louis admitted. “I mean. Not as long as that past we had is still a mystery to you.”

Harry bit his lip, and he was about to answer when the waiter came with their plates. Louis thanked him and looked down on his food. He didn’t feel like eating anymore.

“I won’t get those memories back, Louis.” Harry said it quietly, but it rang loud in Louis ears. “I won’t remember that time.”

Swallowing thickly, Louis nodded. “I know.”

“That doesn’t mean that this can’t work.” Harry ignored his food, too, squeezing Louis’ hand. “I want this to work.”

“Mee, too,” Louis replied without missing a beat. “But it’s true that I’ll always be ahead of you. We’re not on the same page right now.”

“We can’t possibly be, can we?” Harry reached out to touch Louis’ cheek. “Not at this point. Give it some time. We’ll make new memories. Together. We’ll relearn each other’s ins and outs and rediscover what it is we really love about each other.”

Louis’ heart clenched with the prospect of getting to fall in love with Harry again. Even though he already loved Harry, he knew that Harry wasn’t the boy from five years ago anymore. There were new things to discover about him, and new sides of him to fall in love with.

“Then, in a few years from now,” Harry added, lifting Louis’ hand to his mouth, placing a gentle kiss above his ring finger, “we’ll have been on the same page for so long, knowing each other in a way only couples do. And then I might as well be the one dropping down on one knee and popping the question.”

Louis chuckled wetly, feeling exhausted from all the emotions he’d gone through today. “Will I have to get a tattoo on my finger now?”

Harry grinned and let go of Louis’ hand before his features turned serious. “It’s not the thought of a forever with you that scares me, Louis. Not at all, okay?”

“It should scare you,” Louis pointed out. “Today was just the tip of the iceberg. We’re only at the beginning.”

“But we’re doing it together.” Harry picked up his cutlery. “That’s the important part. It’s gonna be hard work sometimes, but I’m all in if you are.”

Louis followed suit. “You know that I am.”

Harry exhaled loudly, catching Louis’ calf between his feet. “Now eat, before it gets cold. I’m starving.”

Feeling much lighter than only minutes ago, Louis started eating. They remained silent, and it wasn’t uncomfortable or straining. On the contrary, Louis enjoyed the kind of silence they shared. The restaurant was busy around them, laughter and chatter filling the room, while they were tucked into that small corner, exchanging silent smiles and sharing food.

Later, when they walked back home, it had turned dark and cold. Louis pulled the sleeves of the jumper over his fingers and Harry wound an arm around his shoulders, pulling him close as they walked.

“Louis?” someone said, and Louis stopped.

When he turned around, he saw Martin, who he sometimes had lunch with at the firm. He was in a group of people and held hands with a woman.

“Hi, Martin,” Louis replied, smiling.

“Do you live around here?” Martin asked as he stepped closer. “I didn’t know.”

Louis nodded. “Just around the corner, yeah.”

“Hi, I’m Martin. I work with Louis.” He held out a hand for Harry.

Harry shook his hand, leaving his other arm around Louis’ shoulders. “I’m Harry.” He took a second, but then tagged on, “Louis’ boyfriend.”

“You never told me you had a boyfriend,” Martin exclaimed. “You little shit.”

Louis managed a laugh, trying to ignore his heart performing acrobatics in his chest. Harry had called himself Louis’ boyfriend . In front of someone else. “It never came up.” He looked past Martin at the woman who was waiting for him. “Which means you must be Sharon.”

She nodded, joining them and wrapping her hands around Martin’s arm. “Glad to hear you didn’t keep me a secret.”

“Hey, we’re off to the pub,” Martin said as he took his girlfriend’s hand again. “You guys wanna join us?”

Louis exchanged a brief look with Harry. “We’ve had a long day, actually. Next time.”

“Cool.” Martin raised his hand in a wave. “I’ll see you for Simon’s meeting tomorrow. Nice meeting you, Harry.”

“And you,” Harry replied as they walked off.

Louis waited until they were out of sight, then he gripped the collar of Harry’s t-shirt and pulled him into a kiss. “Boyfriend,” he mumbled against Harry’s lips, feeling light.

Harry’s mouth formed into a smile against Louis’ before he deepened the kiss. “Was that okay?”

“Okay?” Louis asked, shaking his head. “We said I love you before labelling what we are. And, just for the record, when I tell you I love you, that means I want you to be my boyfriend.”

“I assumed,” Harry admitted, swaying them lightly. “I’ve wanted you to be my boyfriend since the night I met you at Niall’s party.”

“You did everything in your power to make that happen.” Louis smiled, lazily draping his arms around Harry’s neck. “I didn’t stand a chance.”

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve been looking for this one thing that was missing.” Harry’s expression got serious again, and he leaned his forehead against Louis’. “I knew that something was missing, but I didn’t know what it was.”

“I know the feeling, yeah.” Louis ran his fingers into Harry’s hair. The scar on the side of his head felt familiar beneath Louis’ fingertips. “Know it so well.”

Harry kissed him, light and soft. That felt familiar, too, and Louis couldn’t say when it had come to be familiar. Five years ago? A months ago? Today? Louis sank into it, getting on his toes to get better access.

It didn’t matter when it had happened. What mattered was the fact that Louis was the only person who got to kiss Harry. He was the only person who knew all the ways Harry could use his lips.

“I’ve stopped looking when I found you,” Harry murmured into Louis’ mouth. “I found you, baby.”

Louis didn’t open his eyes, just rested his head against Harry’s shoulder, swaying with him. The night was cold, and Harry was only wearing a t-shirt. There were stars out, but they got drowned out by the lights of the city around them.

It didn’t matter to Louis. They could’ve been in the middle of Oxford Street and he’d still feel like they were the only people in the world right now.

“I’d find you again.” The words were quiet; only for Louis to hear. Harry kissed his temple and put his hands on Louis’ waist. “We’re meant to find each other.”

They were. Louis lifted his gaze to Harry’s and nodded. They stared at each other for a moment, and there were a lot of unspoken promises between them. They didn’t have to be said out loud.

It was crystal to Louis.

As they kept walking, Harry took his hand, and they laced their fingers. Whatever was coming their way, and whichever obstacles they’d have to overcome, they’d get through it together.

They had found each other.

===fin.===

 

Chapter Text

 

“Louis, no.”

Grinning, Louis spun around to Harry, holding up three ready meals. “Louis, yes.”

Harry shook his head. “That’s disgusting. The lasagna is all soggy.”

“Who cares?” Louis threw all three boxes into the cart. “I’m hungry.”

“I’ll make you proper lasagna when we get home.”

“And when will we eat? Midnight?” Louis proceeded on down the aisle. “I’ll be starved until then.”

Harry caught up, reaching into the cart to put the ready meals back onto the shelf. “I’ll make you something.”

Pouting, Louis watched him. “Can we stop by McD’s on our way home?”

“Lou.” Harry crowded his space, putting his hands on Louis’ hips and pulling him close. A safe bet to get Louis’ full attention. “Let me cook for you.”

Louis stared up at Harry’s face, blinking slowly. His lips parted slightly and a quiet sigh escaped. “You don’t have to.”

Humming, Harry leaned in to capture Louis’ lips in a kiss. They easily opened up for him and Louis tilted his head back, bringing his hands up to Harry’s face.

There was something soothing, warm, just so normal about standing in the ready meal isle in a Waitrose, kissing each other. Harry pulled Louis a little closer and kissed his forehead.

“I missed you.”

Louis hummed quietly, leaving his arms around Harry's neck. “It's been a busy week.”

“Maybe we can get takeout,” Harry amended his earlier statement. “The sooner we eat, the sooner we'll get into bed.”

“Bed,” Louis sighed. “Sounds perfect.”

Harry let go of Louis, pushing the cart along. “I'll make you breakfast in the morning.”

“It's okay, baby.” Louis grabbed another ready meal and Harry decided it wasn't worth arguing about. “You're cooking all day. We can have toast for breakfast.”

“Technically, I'm not.” Harry threw a box of pasta into the cart. “I'm picking out colours and furniture and argue about fonts with Liam.”

Louis crossed his arms. “Don't let Liam win. You're picking the fonts.”

Laughing, Harry pushed the cart into the next isle. “I just want it to fit the name.”

“Do I get a word in that?” Louis asked. “We could team up against Liam.”

They were a good team. So good that after two years of being a couple, Louis had taken a step that had committed them to each other much more than marriage.

Louis had invested in Harry's business.

A year ago, Harry and Liam had come up with the idea to open a restaurant. A place that combined Liam's interior design skills and Harry's cooking to create a new concept of a restaurant. Modern, fresh, a little quirky -- everything that represented Harry.

Harry had been against the idea of Louis investing, but Louis hadn't listened to him, and Liam had argued against Harry, too. In the end, Louis had got his way and Harry had learned that Louis didn't expect anything in return. There hadn’t been any second thoughts, or conditions. Louis had simply proven once more that he thought the world of Harry and that he trusted Harry unconditionally.

“I believe in what you're doing,” Louis had declared back then. “I know that your plan will work out, and even if it won't. I won't regret this, Harry. You deserve the chance.”

In between moving in together at the beginning of the year, Louis being promoted at work and Harry opening his restaurant, their time together had become sparse over the past few months. Harry couldn't even remember when they had last managed to spend a weekend together.

They had tonight, at least. Harry was going to spend most of the weekend at the restaurant, painting walls with Liam and Zayn. Louis would try to make it, too, but couldn't promise anything. He'd go to Berlin for a conference early the next morning.

Maybe they'd get some quality time on Sunday.

“Liam’s probably tired of us teaming up against him all the time.”

Louis shrugged as they reached the register. “It's what he gets for doing business with us.”

Harry smiled, putting a hand over the small of Louis’ back. Louis always thought of them as one, a unity. Inseparable. They were doing this together, as a team. Harry’s heart swelled every time.

He leaned down to kiss Louis’ cheek. “I love you.”

Louis glanced at him, looking a bit confused. He still smiled and briefly touched Harry's hand. “Love you, too.”

Harry paid and let Louis take the bag with their groceries. When he turned, he saw Louis wait for him by the exit, checking his mobile. A woman passed him and turned her head, checking Louis out. Harry couldn’t blame her. Louis looked especially good in his navy blue suit. It was just on the right side of snug around his thighs.

“You look so good in that suit,” Harry commented when he approached Louis.

Looking up from his mobile, Louis smiled. “You chose it.”

“And I’d choose it again.” Harry went ahead, looking over his shoulder when Louis followed him.

“Well,” Louis said, catching up to Harry. He fell into step easily. “You can help me out of it when we get home. Can’t wait for something comfortable to wear.”

Grinning, Harry laced his fingers with Louis’. “I don’t think you’ll get to wear anything after I’ve peeled you out of it.”

Louis winked at him and they fell into comfortable silence for a while. Harry swung their hands between them, leading Louis while he typed something on his phone. He had given up on lecturing Louis about it long ago. It was Louis’ way of not taking any work back home. He’d answer any texts and emails on his way home, to have a proper time off. Sometimes, he’d even turn off his phone over the weekend to make sure he wouldn’t get distracted.

“You know,” Harry said when they reached the tube station. “I haven’t had a reason to dress up in a while.”

Louis looked up from his phone when they went down the stairs. “You dress up every day, babe.”

“Not like that.” Harry frowned at him.

He did like fancy clothes, so his wardrobe consisted of a lot of designer pieces he had bought on sales or flea markets or in charity shops. Over the past two years, Harry had developed a rather unique fashion style.

“I meant dressing up for an occasion.” Harry shrugged, going first when the doors to the train opened. “I wanna wear a suit, too.”

“I’m telling you,” Louis said, sitting down next to Harry. “Wearing suits every day is actually a pain in the ass.”

Smiling, Harry shook his head. “It wouldn’t be for me.”

“You’re the only person in the world who would like it.”

“You’re the only lawyer in the world who would turn up to court in a tracksuit.” Harry nudged Louis’ shoulder with his.

“God, I’d love that.” Louis put a hand over his heart.

When they finally got home, Harry went to the kitchen to put away the groceries and make them something to eat while Louis went to their bedroom to change.

Since they had moved in only a few months ago, and Harry was picky in selecting furniture and decorations, the flat wasn’t completely furnished yet. They had taken some things from Louis’ old flat, as well as all of Harry's kitchen supplies, but both of their previous flats had been ready-furnished. They wanted to pick out everything together, but their busy schedules made that almost impossible.

“Thought you wanted to help me out of the suit,” Louis said when he came into the kitchen. He was wearing boxer shorts and one of Harry's jumpers.

“Thought you wanted to eat before midnight.” Harry got out a pan to grill their sandwiches.

Louis stole some of the lettuce Harry had cut. “You win. I'm starving.”

“How about you pick something to watch? I'll be done in a few minutes.”

Louis nodded, but instead of leaving the kitchen, he crowded into Harry's space and got on his toes to kiss Harry's cheek. Harry bent down a little, smiling.

“Thanks, baby.” Louis lingered for a moment, then detached himself and went to the living room.

Still smiling, Harry put the sandwiches into the pan, watching them sizzle in the oil. The feeling of Louis’ lips lingered on his cheek, and Harry touched it, wondering how it could still feel this magical. Over the past two years, Louis had become his home. There were so many familiar things about him, even if Harry had had to relearn a lot, too.

Some things had been hard to relearn, such as sharing his space. Harry had grown used to being single, and having his alone time reduced that much had been hard at first. By now, he was so used to having Louis around every day that going a day without him felt out of place.

The most difficult thing to relearn had been Louis, though. Even if Harry had felt like he'd known Louis for forever since the day they first met, he had come to understand that there was a lot he didn't know about Louis. Like the fact that Louis tended to shut other people out of his problems, that he always felt he was a burden to others, and that he was immensely scared of losing Harry again.

Harry understood where it came from and why Louis was the way he was. Yet, it needed a lot of work to make Louis understand that a relationship did not work that way. He had to open up and let himself be vulnerable. He still had problems with that, but Harry managed to get him out of his head every once in a while.

It was a good feeling to know that Harry was the only one Louis showed that side to. It felt intimate, and private. It felt like love.

He finished up the sandwiches before he followed Louis into the living room. He set down the plates on the coffee table and fell onto the sofa, stretching out. Louis had curled up in the armchair, jumper pulled over his knees, which he had drawn to his chest.

An episode of Friends was on, but Harry knew that he wouldn’t even be able to concentrate on it, so he grabbed his sandwich and ate while lying down.

“Do you have a shift tomorrow?” Louis asked, mouth full.

“Evening, yeah.” Harry turned his head to look at him. “I’m meeting Liam at eight to paint the toilets. I hope we’ll get that done before I have to leave.”

Louis tilted his head. “Is Zayn gonna help you guys?”

“No, he’s working tomorrow. He’ll help Sunday morning.” Harry yawned, putting his plate with the sandwich unfinished back onto the table. “When are you gonna be back from Berlin?”

“The conference thing ends late Saturday.” Louis put his plate onto the table as well and slung his arms around his knees. “Cecilia booked a flight early Sunday morning.”

“So we’ve got Sunday afternoon?” Harry asked.

“Depends on how busy you guys are at the restaurant.”

Harry shrugged. “I’m sure Liam and Zayn won’t be opposed to a Sunday afternoon off. You’ll probably want the morning to yourself, but we could meet up for lunch.”

“I can pick you up,” Louis offered. “I haven’t checked on the progress in ages.”

“The kitchen’s almost finished. It’s really just the front that needs to be done now.”

“So a grand opening for your birthday is likely?” Louis rested his cheek against his knees, smiling.

“That’s the goal.” Harry smiled back, turning onto his side.

They fell silent for a moment, and Harry felt his eyelids getting heavier with every passing second. Monica and Chandler were fighting on the screen, a monotone noise in his ears, and Louis was watching him with a slight frown between his eyebrows.

“What?” Harry asked, blinking slowly.

“Nothing,” Lous murmured.

That was a lie, and Harry knew it. Louis looked that way when he craved affection. He hadn’t received enough of it over the past weeks, Harry had to admit that. Their time together had fallen so short that they barely had enough time to fall asleep next to each other. Having sex was reduced to quick hand or blow jobs under the shower or before getting up in the morning.

Harry held out his hand. “Come here?”

Without hesitation, Louis got up and took Harry’s hand. Harry slid further against the backrest of the sofa and pulled Louis against himself. Louis slid a leg between Harry’s and buried his nose against Harry’s neck.

“You’re cold, baby,” Harry murmured, running a hand up and down Louis’ back.

“Sorry,” Louis mumbled.

Laughing quietly, Harry turned over a little, so that he could pull Louis on top of himself. That was typically Louis. Apologising for something that wasn’t even in his control. Harry was supposed to keep him warm after all. It wasn’t like Harry didn’t know that Louis got cold easily.

“Did you pack yet?” Harry asked while keeping up the movement of his hand.

“Will do in the morning,” Louis replied. “Too tired.”

Harry closed his eyes. “Bed?”

“I feel like we shouldn’t.” Louis ran his lips over Harry’s neck. “We haven’t had time for each other all week. I wanna be awake with you.”

“Yeah,” Harry breathed and kissed Louis’ forehead. “I’m so knackered, though.”

“Me, too,” Louis admitted.

Smiling, Harry squeezed Louis closer. “We’re good, baby. We don’t have much time for each other right now, but it’s enough for me to know you’re there.”

“Yeah.” Louis sighed and heaved himself up on one elbow to look at Harry’s face. “This can’t go on forever, though. I need more of you.”

Harry brought a hand up to Louis’ face, brushing his hair back. It had been too long since Louis had last been to the hairdresser. “What would you like to have more of? My beautiful face?” He winked at Louis before he slid his hand down and let it rest of the swell of Louis’ bum, squeezing. “My skillful hands?”

Giggling, Louis leaned in for a kiss. “Your smart mouth.”

Harry tangled his fingers in Louis’ hair, leaning up a little. “Come and get your dose.”

They sank into the kiss and Louis slipped his hand beneath Harry’s jumper, caressing the skin. Harry hummed into the kiss, opening his mouth to give Louis more access. The flame behind the kiss was tame, though, burning bright and steady, but also calm.

“Come on.” Harry let his mouth wander to Louis’ jaw and neck. “Let’s go to bed.”

They untangled, and Harry noticed that Louis’ hand was much warmer than before. He laced their fingers as he let Louis pull him along to the bedroom.

Despite everything, he was the one keeping Louis warm, and Harry took great pride in that.

+++

Louis was sure that it wasn’t true that London was the capital of rain. Each time he went to Berlin, it was rainy there. That had either something to do with him or it simply rained more in Berlin than it did in London.

When he got out of the taxi, the sky was cloudy, but it wasn’t raining. It had been pouring on his way to the airport in Berlin this morning. Here in London, it was dry, but Louis had to admit that it was a lot more chilly, too.

The thought of having Harry warm him up in a moment was enough to endure it, though.

He took his suitcase from the driver and paid him, looking up at the building in front of him. Old Spitalfields Market made a good place for start-up restaurants these days, and Harry’s concept fit into this place perfectly. The building was old, telling its own history, but had received a nice makeover recently. Liam had agreed to Harry’s dream of blue and green colours combined. The door looked old, and Louis noticed that they had cut out the upper part to replace it was glass. That one was new for Louis.

He hadn’t been here in too long.

Opening the door, Louis was greeted by loud music and the smell of fresh paint. He spotted Liam and Zayn, both in shabby clothes, covered in stains. They had their backs to him and were both holding brushes, working side by side.

Louis closed the door and looked around, wondering where Harry was.

“Hey.” He raised his voice above the music. “Need any help?”

They both turned around at the same time and Louis grinned. He put his suitcase next to the door and when he looked up again, Zayn was in his space hugging him.

“I haven’t seen your mug in ages.” He drew back to look at Louis.

Louis gestured around. “Guess I’ve been pretty busy with my job and this in addition.”

Liam came over to hug him, too. He was careful to not get any paint on Louis. “Too much work, as always.”  

“How have guys been doing?” Louis asked in return.

“Good,” Zayn said, brushing his hair away from his face.

Liam winked. “Quite busy, too.”

Snorting, Louis turned his head in the direction of the kitchen. “Is he…?”

“Making us breakfast, yeah.” Zayn put a hand over his stomach. “I’m starving.”

“I won’t keep him too long,” Louis promised and went over, quietly stepping through the open door to the kitchen.

Harry was frying eggs and bacon, quietly singing along to the music that drifted over from the dining area. He nodded his head to the rhythm and was completely focused on his work. Louis crossed his arms and smiled as Harry turned around to grab the mushrooms. His hand stopped midway and he stared at Louis, blinking once, twice.

“Lou,” he said, letting go of the pan, still looking completely baffled.

“Turns out the first flight was six am.” Louis walked over to greet Harry.

He leaned in for a kiss, but Harry turned his face, so Louis’ lips landed on his cheek.

Harry briefly squeezed Louis’ hip before stepping away to tend to his cooking again.

Now it was Louis’ turn to blink in confusion. They’d been fine when he had left. They’d had breakfast together and Harry had got dressed while Louis had packed his suitcase. They had parted at the door with a sweet kiss.

“What’s going on?” Louis asked, crossing his arms in front of his chest.

Harry glanced at him as he added mushrooms and tomatoes to the pan. “Thought you’d only be back in the afternoon.”

“You’re upset I’m back sooner than expected?” Louis managed to laugh at that. “What? Will you have to call off your sex date with your secret affair now?”

“Not funny,” Harry commented dryly.

Of course that wasn’t. Running a hand over his face, Louis braced for what he knew would be tiresome to press out of Harry.

“Babe,” he said calmly. “Why is me being back early upsetting you?”

“That’s not upsetting.” Harry took out four plates. “It would have been nice to know, but I’m never upset to get more time with you.”

Tilting his head, Louis watched Harry butter toast slices. “You don’t seem very happy to have me here right now.”

Harry glanced at him, getting out a second pan. “You have no idea, do you?”

“It’s not your birthday, none of our anniversaries.” Louis checked them off on his fingers. “We didn’t make plans for last night. I have no idea, yeah.”

Shaking his head, Harry let go of an unimpressed snort and put the toast into the pan. “Okay.”

“Harry.” Louis frowned at him, feeling anger well up inside his chest. “Listen. We haven’t had time for each other all week. And from tomorrow, hell’s gonna break loose again. Don’t do this. Don’t make us fight on the one day we have together.”

Harry pouted at that, and Louis knew exactly that it got through to him. “Is it really important to you?”

Sighing, Louis stepped in, turning off all knobs. He grabbed Harry’s arms and waited until he was looking at Louis. “Cut the crap, Harry. Tell me what this is about right now, so I can fix this and finally kiss you.”

Without a warning, Harry leaned in and pressed his lips against Louis’. The kiss was rough and over in a second. Harry still pouted when he drew back. “You didn’t text.”

Louis blinked at him, lips tingling from the kiss. “What?”

“I told you to text me and you didn’t.” Harry averted his gaze from Louis’ face.

“I--” Louis wanted to protest. He had thought about texting Harry when he had gone to bed last night, but he had forgot.

“You said you’d text me when you get to the hotel, and when you go to bed.” Harry blushed a little. “And I know it’s stupid, but I-- I worry about you, okay?”

Sighing, Louis leaned in. “It’s not stupid,” he said as he rested his head on Harry’s shoulder. “You have every right to be worried when I travel.”

“Don’t you think of me?” Harry asked, arms coming around Louis waist. “I thought of you when I went to bed last night.”

“I’m always thinking about you, baby.” Louis pressed a kiss to Harry’s neck. “Of course I do.”

Harry sighed. “I don’t wanna be that guy. I don’t want to cage you in or be clingy---”

“I actually like when you’re clingy,” Louis interrupted him.

“No, seriously.” Harry rested his cheek against Louis’ temple. “Wasn’t there a minute to spare to send me a text?”

“There was,” Louis admitted. “I’m sorry I didn’t, baby. It was such a brief trip, it just didn’t seem that necessary to me. I knew I’d see you this morning.”

“But, Lou.” Harry drew back so he could look at Louis’ face. “When I ask you to text me, text me.”

Smiling, Louis got up on his toes to kiss Harry. “I will.”

“And text me when I’m not asking.” Harry whispered the words against Louis’ lips.

“I wouldn’t get anything done but texting you all day.” Louis ran his fingers through Harry’s hair, deepening the kiss. Harry sighed contently and leaned against the work surface, spreading his legs so Louis could step between them.

“I knew you guys were snogging instead of making breakfast.”

Louis drew away from Harry, but left his arms around Harry’s neck. He spotted Zayn and grinned. “I’ll be out of his hair now.”

“I quite like you in my hair.” Harry’s voice was low, his lips brushing Louis’ ear.

“Come on, Lou.” Zayn gestured for Louis to leave the kitchen. “You can help us out here.”

With one last peck to Harry’s lips Louis stepped back, looking down on himself. “Do you have another change of clothes here?”

“In my office.” Harry let go of him and turned to his pans again.

At the door, Louis stopped, turning to Harry once more. “Hey, baby?”

Harry looked at him, a small smile around his lips.

“We’re good?” Louis asked.

“We’ll see when you travel next time,” Harry said, but his grin was enough of an answer for Louis.

+++

“Will we get to see you on the big runways soon?” Louis asked when they had finally finished their work.

Zayn laughed. “Should I ever make it to New York, I'll have you guys sit front row.”

“I'd like that.” Harry pulled his t- shirt over his head. “Would love to see New York during holiday season.”

“We should go next year,” Louis suggested. He was still in Harry's clothes and had no intention of changing out of them. “I wanna see it, too.”

“A kiss in front of the biggest Christmas tree,” Harry mused, the dimples appearing in his cheeks. He took Louis suitcase. “Ice skating.”

“It's not like you can't do these things in London,” Liam commented. He checked the heaters again before he made for the door.

Louis took Harry's free hand as they followed him. “But there's real snow over there.”

Zayn held the door for them. “True.”

“What do you have planned for this year?” Liam asked.

“We're with Louis' family for Christmas Eve.” Harry locked up the door. “And my family will join us on Christmas Day.”

“You?” Louis asked when Liam handed Zayn his scarf.

“Staying at mine, actually.” Zayn smiled at Liam, biting his lips. “Just us.”

Harry cooed. “Romantic.”

Shrugging, Liam laced his fingers with Zayn’s. “It kinda is.”

“Come on, baby.” Louis tugged at Harry's hand. “We'll leave the two love birds at it.”

Zayn raised a brow. “You're one to talk. You two are the biggest saps in the world.”

“And we're taking that title with pride.” Harry grinned.

They said goodbye, hugging each other briefly before they parted ways.  

Louis kept his eyes on Harry's face as they walked away from the restaurant. When he noticed, he smiled and tilted his head.

“What's up?”

Louis shrugged, putting his hand over Harry's arm to get closer. Harry immediately wound it around Louis' waist, so they were walking closely.

“Just wondering if you'd rather spend Christmas alone, too?”

Harry looked down at his shoes, still smiling. “Why would I wanna be alone?”

Louis rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean. Just the two of us.”

Humming, Harry squeezed Louis’ waist. “I mean, it'd be nice. But Christmas is for family, and I… you know?”

“I know?” Louis wasn't sure what Harry wanted to say. Was he just saying that because he knew that Louis wanted to be with his family?

“I wanna have all of my family with me on Christmas. I wouldn't want to choose between them and you.” Harry bit his lip, still not looking at Louis.

Unsure what got Harry so flustered, he frowned. He was about to say something, when he realised what Harry was on about. Harry didn't want to choose between his families. He viewed Louis as his family.

“You're my family, too, Harry.” Louis rested his head against Harry's shoulder. “I mean, it may not be anything official yet, but you know that no one is more important to me than you.”

Clearing his throat, Harry took a moment to reply. “We don't need anything official.”

Feeling content, Louis snuggled even closer, as best as he could while walking, and stole some of Harry's warmth.

“Which reminds me,” he said then, letting go when they reached the tube station. “I got an invitation to the annual House of Representatives Christmas Ball. What do you think? Could that be your occasion to proper dress up?”

“That sounds like a posh thing.” Louis didn't miss the gleam in Harry's eyes, though. Posh events were just right down his alley. “Are you sure it's okay to bring me?”

Louis lifted a brow. “You're the poshest person I know.”

Rolling his eyes, Harry let Louis get onto the train first. “You know what I mean.”

The carriage was packed with people. Harry held on to the rail above him, winding his other arm around Louis’ middle. Louis leaned against him, holding his suitcase with one hand to keep it from rolling away. Not that it would have got anywhere. He pressed a little closer to Harry when a few more people entered.

“I know what you mean, yes.” Louis brushed a gentle kiss against Harry's neck. “And everyone's bringing their wives and husbands. Partners.”

“So you wanna bring yours.” Harry rested his chin on Louis’ head as the train started moving. “And show off.”

Louis grinned. “I have a lot to show off, after all.”

“When is that ball?” Swaying, Harry moved with the bumps and turns the train took.

“That's the problem.” Louis pulled back so that Harry could hear him better. “It's the night before I leave for Boston and you for Paris.”

Harry hummed. “My flight’s at midday.”

“Mine's early in the morning, but I can sleep on the flight.”

“So we're going?” Harry asked.

Louis nodded. “We're going.”

“Can I pick your outfit?”

Laughing, Louis tilted his head back to look at Harry's face. “Only if I get to pick yours, too.”

+++

Harry stepped out of the lift, straightening out his jacket. He greeted the woman at the front desk with a smile and a wave of his hand, as she was on the phone. She smiled back and gave him a thumbs-up.

When he reached the end of the corridor, he found that the door to Louis’ office was closed.

“Harry,” Cecilia greeted him from behind her desk. “You look smart!”

Harry grinned and looked down on himself. The black shirt was opened over his chest and his blue silk suit reflected the light. “Thanks.”

“Louis's still in a telephone conference. Would you like to wait in his office?”

“Yeah,” Harry replied and opened the door. He turned around again. “Don't tell him I'm here yet, okay?”

Cecilia winked. “Wouldn't want to ruin that surprise for him.”

Inside the office, Harry closed the door and went to the desk to turn on a light. The room was illuminated in a dim light, and Harry saw his own reflection in the window front behind the desk. Behind it, the city lights brightened up the cold night outside.

Harry sat down in Louis’ chair and crossed his legs. As always, the desk was littered with papers and folders, lots of letters and little notes Louis had scribbled. One lay on top of a pile of folders and read Christmas Ball with H , a small heart drawn beneath. Harry smiled as he traced a finger over it.

His eyes moved to the row of photos Louis had put up on his desk. There was one of his family; all of them so much younger. It was from a time that Harry didn't remember. Louis sat next to his mother and she was positively beaming, holding one of his hands, her other laced with Felicite's on her shoulder.

The one next to it had been here for years, it was the one Harry had discovered two years ago; the photo that had turned his whole life upside down. Louis had put it in that pink box he had given to Harry. After they'd been together for a few months, Harry had brought it here to put it back. Louis hadn't commented on it, but he had never taken it from that spot again either.

Instead, he had added a new one. Harry hadn't seen that one before. It was rather new and he smiled when he leaned in closer to look at it properly.

It was from Harry's birthday last year. They had celebrated it in Niall’s new house in London. Harry wondered if he had taken the picture, too. Harry was staring straight at the camera, a bright smile on his face. Louis had his face turned to Harry, eyes fixed on Harry's features, the softest smile playing around his lips.

It made Harry's heart swell with how visible Louis’ love for him was in this picture.

He looked up from it when the door opened and Louis came in. His eyes immediately settled on Harry and his features softened.

“You're early.”

Harry got up from the chair. “Thought it'd be nice to pick you up. Since it'll be our last evening together for a bit.”

Louis didn't reply, just stared at Harry.

“What's wrong?” Harry asked, frowning.

“You,” Louis replied, blinking slowly. He gestured vaguely at Harry. “You look fit.”

Harry couldn't bite back the grin. “You say that as though it’s something rare.”

Shaking his head, Louis stepped closer. “You're always fit. But tonight? Out of this world.”

“Well, you'd better get changed.” Harry buried his hands in his pockets. “So you won't look too bland next to me tonight.”

Louis lifted one hand and placed it over the skin revealed by Harry's open shirt. “Everyone's gonna look bland next to you.”

“Will you kiss me,” Harry asked, leaning forwards slightly, “or keep talking nonsense?”

“You have no idea.” Louis got to his toes and kissed Harry. His lips were warm and soft, lazily dragging over Harry's, his tongue slowly pushing forward for access. He left his hand on Harry's chest, sprawling his fingers while his other hand came to grab Harry's hair.

Harry put his hands on Louis’ hips and he slowly led them towards the desk. When the back of his thighs hit the dark wood, Harry sank against it and pulled Louis between his legs.

“God,” Louis groaned into Harry's mouth. “It's been too long since we've had sex.”

It had been. Harry fumbled with Louis’ belt, his lips not leaving Louis’ for a second. “Want you, Lou.”

Louis pushed Harry back and his own hips forward, providing them some friction. He pulled Harry's hair and slowly broke their kiss. “Haven't fucked you in too long, baby.”

Harry nodded, his eyelids feeling heavy, and his lips swollen and wet. “Almost two weeks.”

“Been counting the days?” Louis asked, smiling slightly.

“Always.” Harry licked his lips.

“Tonight.” Louis kept his eyes on Harry's. “I don't wanna make it something quick here, right now. I want to take my time and properly take you apart.”

Harry's heart beat faster. “Promise?”

“Promise.” Louis kissed him once more, this time calmer, softer. With more patience.

Resting his forehead against Louis’, Harry loosely put his hands over Louis’ hips. “You should get changed.”

Humming, Louis nipped Harry's lips again. “I hope we can leave the ball early.”

“Get changed,” Harry repeated, squeezing Louis’ hips. He didn't want to let go of Louis, but the sooner they'd get going, the sooner they'd get home.

Louis pecked Harry's lips one more time before he went over to the door where his suit was on a coat hanger. He pressed a button and the blinds on the windows rolled down.

Harry watched him, still leaning against the desk, eyes following every of Louis’ moves. His fingers were itching with the urge to touch, but he knew that if he touched Louis now, they'd never get out of this office.

Harry's flight to Paris was only around noon the next day, but Louis’ flight was leaving at six in the morning. Louis had scheduled a business trip to Boston for the time Harry was in Paris; that way they reduced their time away from each other by a week.

Louis would still have to stay alone at their flat for three days before Harry was going to be back, but it was the best they could do. They'd finally get to be with each other for Christmas. Louis had taken the week before Christmas off work, and Harry and Liam had agreed that they'd only resume work at the restaurant in January.

Harry couldn't wait to sleep in, have lazy morning sex, share his meals with Louis. He needed a break, and he needed some proper time with his boyfriend.

Louis turned around to him, fumbling with the buttons of his white dress shirt. Harry stepped in, taking over for him. “Green looks so good on you.”

Squeezing Harry’s hand, Louis winked at him before he put on the blazer of his dark green suit. “I know.”

They left the room together after Louis had turned off the lights.

Cecilia looked up at them from her laptop, smiling. “Have fun tonight.”

“Thanks, love.” Louis took a black coat from a hanger. “See you in a week.”

“I’ve checked in your flight,” Cecilia said. “And will send your schedule to your phone in the morning.”

Louis put on his coat and then tangled his fingers with Harry’s, pulling him to his side. “Perfect. Have a good weekend.”

Harry waved at her and she gave him a brilliant smile.

“Don’t you have a coat, babe?” Louis asked when they made their way to the elevator.

“I’m fine.” Harry pressed the button. “It’s not like we’ll spend a lot of time outside.”

“It’s December,” Louis reminded him. “You’ll freeze your balls off.”

Smirking, Harry let Louis get in the lift first. “Well, I’m sure you’ll find a way to warm them up again.”

Louis snorted and shook his head. “You’re impossible.”

+++

The hall was packed with people when they arrived. There was an orchestra playing quiet music while London's high society mingled.

Harry only then realised that he had never been to any work related event with Louis before. Somehow, Louis had always kept those things separate.

After two years, out was about time Harry got a little more insight to Louis’ job and this part of his life than only what he saw at the firm and in Louis’ office. Especially since Louis was so tightly involved with Harry's business.

“I didn't think it'd be this posh,” Harry commented as they were led to a table by a staff member.  

The ceilings of the renaissance-style hall were high, and huge crystal chandeliers were illuminating it. The balconies of the second floor were all decorated with fir, gold and red Christmas balls shining from it. The tables were laid in deep red table cloths, set with gold dishes and crystal wine glasses.

Louis squeezed his hand before he let go to sit down. “I would have been fine with a pub dinner.”

“Sure, “ Harry agreed, looking around. “Love a roast at the pub. This seems kinda special, though.”

Smiling, Louis winked at him. “Only the best for my boy. We can have pub dinners every day of the week. This happens only once a year.”

Harry leaned in to kiss Louis. “Thanks, baby.”

Louis let his lips linger for a second. “Just doing this because I'm hoping you'll pick me as your plus one for that grand opening of a restaurant you plan to go to in February.”

“Well, you've got good chances.” Harry chucked. He drew back and let his gaze flicker to the four empty seats around the table. “Do you know who will keep us company tonight?”

“No idea,” Louis admitted. “I just hope it's people I like.”

“You know a lot of people in the business, don't you?”

Louis nodded and leaned back when a waiter came to pour them wine. Harry noticed that every table had its own waiter. “There's not many people I don't know, yeah.”  

“I didn't realise that my boyfriend is kinda famous.” Harry lifted his glass in toast to Louis.

Louis toasted back. “I'm no Elton John.”

Harry laughed before he drank. “You're missing some glamour, yeah.”

“Just wait for when I had the third glass,” Louis said with a grin. “I'll get out the speckle socks after that.”

Laughing more, Harry set his glass down. He was about to inform Louis that he was pretty certain those were in the laundry, when they were interrupted.

“Louis,” a man said as he was shown to their table by the waiter. “What a nice surprise!”

Louis got up and hugged the tall man. “Hey, Greg! Haven't seen you in a while.”

“You haven't been in court in months,” Greg said. “That's why.”

“I've moved on to paperwork.” Louis looked past him and held out his hand. “You must be Bella. So nice to finally meet you.”

She took his hand and smiled brightly. “Nice to meet you.”

Greg turned to Harry, so Harry quickly raised from his chair. “Who do we have here?”

“I'm Harry,” he said, shaking Greg's hand. “Nice to meet you.” He held out his hand for Bella next.

Greg gestured between him and Louis. “Are you Louis’ plus one tonight?”

A little confused, Harry glanced at Louis. “Um, yes.”

“Wait.” Greg narrowed his eyes. “Is this just a date or are you like-- together?”

Louis rolled his eyes, laughing. “Harry's my boyfriend.”

Greg gasped. “Since when do you have a boyfriend?”

“Two years,” Louis replied, blushing a little.

“How have I not known that?” Greg asked and let Bella sit down first before he sat down, too.

“You probably didn't listen.” Louis shrugged. He gestured at Bella’s hand. “And I've never heard of this marriage.”

Greg beamed, throwing an arm around Bella. “Still fresh. We've only got married last month.”

“Congrats,” Harry and Louis said at the same time. Louis reached out to put his hand over Harry's thigh.

They fell into an easy conversation afterwards, and Harry watched Louis. It had stung a bit to have someone Louis obviously liked a lot not even know about Harry. Then again, Louis had said that Greg had probably not listened, which insinuated that Louis had talked about Harry.

Harry rested his hand over Louis’, running his thumb over the back of Louis’ hand.

The last couple to join them at their table arrived a few moments later. Again, Louis looked thrilled to meet them. The woman was a bit taller than him, her long blond hair tied back in a tail.

“Louis, darling.” She kissed his cheek. “You didn't tell me you were coming here when we met Monday.”

Louis shrugged, holding her elbows in an intimate manner. “It just didn't come up.”

She greeted Greg and his wife, her partner following suit. When she reached Harry, she tilted her head.

“Who do we have here? An unfamiliar face.” She held out a hand. “I'm Lou Teasdale. Teasdale and Watson.”

“I'm Harry,” he replied and shook her hand, pretty sure that she thought he was an invited lawyer, too. “Louis’ boyfriend.”

Lou raised a brow, turning to Louis. “Is that so?”

Shrugging, Louis sat down again. “That's what it is.”

She didn't say anymore about it and sat down. Harry greeted her partner, who introduced himself as Tom.

Frowning, Harry listened to Louis ask Lou about her daughter, and Lou asking about Lottie in return. For some reason she knew Lottie, but she had never heard of Harry before.

Irritation spread through Harry's chest, infiltrating his whole body.

“What are you doing for a living?” Greg asked him when the first course was served.

“I'm a chef,” Harry replied. “I'm opening my own restaurant in a few months.”

“Is that the one you've invested in?” Lou asked, recognition settling in her expression.

“Exactly.” Louis took a piece of bread. “No doubt it'll pay off,” he added with a smile directed at Harry.

Harry smiled back, but it felt forced.

So Louis had told them that he had invested in a startup restaurant, but not that the restaurant was his boyfriend's? Why hadn't Louis ever mentioned Harry to anyone he was involved with at work?

When the others got distracted with their own conversions, Louis leaned a little closer to Harry. “All good? Don’t you like the food?”

Shaking his head, Harry took another bite of the melon and feta on a walnut salad. “The food’s perfect.”

Louis smiled and leaned in to kiss Harry's cheek. The irritation Harry felt reached his head, making him feel a little dizzy.

The conversion around him kept going, and Harry managed to concentrate enough on it to exchange polite small talk with Lou and Bella. He put on a smile, spreading the urge to take Louis’ hand and drag him to a quiet corner to confront him about what the hell was going on.

Louis obviously didn't shy away from displaying his affection for Harry. He reached out for Harry's hand, he stole some of Harry's food and he leaned in every now and then to kiss Harry.

Why had he never told any of these people about Harry? Why did he know all about their partners and lives, but had never mentioned his own boyfriend of two years?

“Baby?”

Harry looked up, blinking at Louis.

“Where are you at?” Louis asked, tilting his head.

Harry glanced at the other people at the table. “Sorry. I was just-- thinking.”

“I'll go greet a few people with Greg.” Louis gestured to a table on the other side of the room. “I'll be back in a minute.”

Nodding, Harry took his napkin. “All right.”

Louis got up, and Harry watched on as Greg helped Bella up, taking her hand. It took him a moment to realise that Greg wanted to introduce her to the people he was about to greet. Harry looked at Louis’ retreating back, wondering if Louis even realised the difference between his own behaviour and Greg’s.

Why wasn’t Louis talking about Harry with these people? Why did he keep Harry out of this completely? Why had he taken Harry to this ball in the first place?

He tore his eyes off Louis, who was greeting a woman with a warm hug and one of his blinding smiles.

“Harry?”

Turning his head, Harry noticed that the table was empty by now. A man took Louis’ seat and Harry studied his face, not recognising him.

“Harry, right?” the man asked, putting down his pint glass. “Don’t tell me you’ve become a lawyer.”

Blinking, Harry shook his head. “I’m sorry, I---”

The man gasped. He had dark hair, was tall and lean. His face was attractive and the suit he wore was perfectly tailored to his shape. “You don’t remember me?”

Harry shook his head.

“How many people did you make a scene in a pub?” The man laughed. “You’d think a scene like that would stay on your mind. Aiden,” he added then. “From Manchester?”

Harry’s expression seemed to give him away.

“Louis’ ex,” Aiden cleared up. “The boy you dated at the time.”

That’s why. Harry put together the pieces. He couldn’t possibly remember the bloke. “You see---”

“Well, I guess all bad blood’s gone now. It’s been-- what? Ten years?” Aiden winked at Harry. “And now Louis’s an ex for both of us.”

Harry raised a brow. “Have you met him recently?”

Aiden shrugged, his grin not giving away anything. “I mean. Recently, yeah.”

The irritation was back, and Harry frowned, couldn’t help it. “And…?”

“Look at that.” Aiden shook his head in amusement. “Are you still jealous? Shouldn’t have broken it up with him, then.”

“Did he tell you that?” The ache came suddenly, replacing all irritation. “That I broke up with him?”

Aiden wiggled his brows. “Briefly, yeah. You know. There wasn’t that much talking. His mouth was occupied otherwise. He’s always been good at that, but I don’t need to tell you that, do I?”

Harry’s stomach turned, and his gaze rushed through the room, but he couldn’t make out Louis anywhere.

“I heard he’s here tonight,” Aiden commented, oblivious to what he had just done to Harry. “Maybe he’s up for another relapse.”

“I gotta---” Harry got up from his chair, almost knocking his own glass over. “Excuse me.”

Aiden said something, but Harry didn’t hear any of it. He made his way to the big doors and into the entrance hall where he took a deep breath. He felt as though he had reached the surface of a deep lake after almost drowning in it.

For a moment, Harry stood there, looking through the room, noticing a few people standing in groups, talking. No one took notice of him. He inhaled again and pulled his mobile phone from his pocket.

Taking a taxi. Enjoy yourself, I guess , he texted to Louis, before he made his way outside.

+++

Louis nodded along, trying not to let it show that he wasn't actually listening.

They had moved on to the next table, and after that, they had moved to the next. Greg had taken Bella along in a wise foresight, while Louis had been so stupid to leave Harry behind.

Louis just wanted to go back and fetch him and have Harry sit here with him, his hand warm back on Louis’ thigh.

When he saw an opening, he got up from his chair and excused himself. He had a bit of trouble finding their table again, and when he finally found his way back, he noticed that Harry was gone.

Frowning, Louis looked around, trying to spot Harry in the crowd. Instead, he spotted Lou and approached her.

“Lou, have you seen Harry?”

She turned to him, shaking her head. “He's left the table a while ago.”

Louis thanked her briefly and took off to the washrooms. He entered the men's room, calling out Harry's name, but didn't get a response. When he turned around, he almost bumped into someone.

“Sorry,” he mumbled, balancing himself.

“Louis!” the person touched his arm. “I heard you'd be here, too.”

Aiden, Louis thought, staring at him and trying to remember when they had last met. It had been years -- and Louis had had an especially bad day, so he had ended up sleeping with Aiden that night.

It was one of his less fond memories of his time without Harry.

“Aiden.” Louis cleared his throat. “Haven't seen you in a while.”

“You wouldn't believe who else is here,” Aiden said. “I met Harry. Think he's here with someone. Seems like he's got a type. Or appreciates a well-off partner.”

Louis swallowed thickly. “You talked to him?”

“He didn't take it well that we… you know.” Aiden winked in that obnoxious way he’d always had. “Hook up sometimes.”

Fuck. Louis needed to find Harry right now.

“Aiden,” he said slowly. “We hooked up once four years ago.”

Aiden didn't seem to be taken aback by that. “I'm free tonight, love.”

“And I need to find my boyfriend.” Louis turned around and dashed to the entrance hall. At the desk, he handed over the chip and a minute later, the girl came back with his coat. Louis fumbled his mobile out of the pocket.

He cursed under his breath when he saw Harry's message. Without a look back, he dashed outside and jumped into the first taxi he saw.

Harry's message was from more than ten minutes ago, so he had quite the head start, not just in distance but also in thoughts. He had probably come up with the worst kind of explanations for what Aiden had told him, and Louis could only imagine how mad Harry had to be right now.

He paid the taxi driver when he reached their flat and noticed the second taxi waiting. Harry was handing over his suitcase to the driver.

“Harry!” Louis closed the distance and grabbed Harry's arm. “Baby, listen.”

“I've heard enough, Louis.” Harry rounded the taxi to open the back door.

“Harry.” Louis pushed himself between the door and Harry. “He's been a twat ever since I first met him. He's talking bullshit.”

Harry didn't even meet his eye. “And yet you slept with him.”

“Four years ago, baby. When I didn't have you, and I was sloshed that night.” Louis dared putting his hand over Harry's chest. “I didn't cheat.”

Harry ran a hand over his face. “Don't you think I know that?”

Frowning, Louis tried to read Harry's expression. “What? Why are you so mad at me, then?”

“He pissed me off massively.” Harry finally met Louis’ eye, and Louis wanted to kiss the sad tilt to his mouth away. “But not as much as you pissed me off.”

Louis bit his lip. “I didn't think it'd take that long to say hello to these people. I'm sorry for leaving you--”

“And as always, you don't even know what you've done.” Harry shook his head, his expression closing off. He grabbed Louis’ arm to drag him out of Harry's way. “I've had enough.”

“Harry. Haz.” Louis fought back, holding onto Harry. “Don't just leave. Where are you staying anyway? You can't just leave in the middle of the night.”

Harry managed to squeeze past Louis. “I called Nick. Gonna stay with him tonight. Have a good flight tomorrow, Louis.”

“You can't just leave like that.” Louis held the door, trying to keep Harry from closing it. “Don't pull that kind of act on me now.”

“What kind of act ?” Harry crossed his arms.

“Where you make me guess what's going on. I'm so sick of it.” Louis pointed at Harry. “Just spit out your fucking problem instead of acting like I should know every bloody thought on your mind.”

Harry laughed dryly. “Yeah, because understanding my mind is too much to ask of my boyfriend of two years.”

Louis threw up his hands. “Oh fuck off. You're such a diva.”

“Sorry for taking it to heart that you're kinda ashamed of me.” Harry sounded hurt, and it made Louis stop and actually listen to him.

Where was that coming from? His anger grew. He couldn't remember a day that he hadn't worshipped the bloody ground Harry was walking on.

“How do you even come up with such bullshit?” Louis’ brows knitted up as Harry’s expression closed off even more.

“Ask yourself that, Louis.” Harry took hold of the door again. “Why didn't any of these people know who I was? How did you know all about their partners, but they hadn't even heard you have a boyfriend?”

Louis laughed dryly. “Are you fucking serious?”

“Spare me, really. I've heard everything I need to already.” Harry caught him in a weak moment and managed to slam the door shut.

The car started, and Louis slammed his first against the window before he was left standing on the street like a idiot. He stared after the taxi, breathing heavily.

Had Harry lost his mind?

Louis had been nothing but sweet with him all night. He had taken him to this ridiculously posh charade, and he had held Harry's hand, had introduced him to everyone who had come their way. They had kissed and held hands -- Louis really had no idea how much more PDA Harry had expected from him.

His reaction was completely out of line. Just because Louis had taken a little longer to say hello to a few people, Harry had no right to make a scene like that. Especially since he had admitted that he had seen through Aiden in an instant, too.

Packing his things and leaving was completely uncalled for.

Leaving, it echoed in Louis head, and he swallowed thickly. For ten days. They wouldn't see each other for ten days. They'd be separated for this long, with this fight standing between them.

Louis’ anger welled up again. Harry knew exactly how anxious Louis became about these things. He knew that Louis hated to separate in anger, always scared of having seen Harry for the last time.

Ever since the accident, Louis had sworn to himself that should anything ever happen to them, he wouldn't wake up regretting the last words he had said to Harry again.

It was just so typically Harry to punish Louis like that; to use Louis’ fear against him.

Kicking a pebble, Louis turned on his heels and went inside the flat. He checked his watch and decided that he wouldn't get any sleep tonight. He had to be at the airport in three hours anyway.

Instead, he concentrated on packing and tried not to glance at the bed, thinking of what he had promised Harry earlier that night.

Harry had successfully ruined that for both of them.

Throwing clothes into his suitcase, Louis’ expression darkened and his blood ran a little hotter with anger.

This was not how this night had been supposed to go.

+++

Paris greeted them with sunshine.

Harry blinked against the bright sunlight as they walked out of the airport and to a taxi stand. Nick was walking ahead, leading the way.

It had been a pure coincidence, but somehow, Nick had managed to crash right back into Harry's life last year. He was one of the few people Harry hadn't lost from his past, but only last year, after Nick had moved to London, too, their friendship had truly picked up again.

Nick had opened his own place, and it was going well. He had received an invitation to this special training, which had made the decision for Harry easier to take up the offer. It was comforting to have someone Harry knew tag along.

“Seriously, mate,” Nick said when he handed his suitcase to the driver. “Just call him.”

Harry shook his head.

“You can't keep this up for ten bloody days, Harry.” Nick got into the seat behind the driver as Harry took the other side. “And I certainly can't deal with you being like this for that long, either.”

“He's the one who's fucked up. So he can call me, too.” Harry took out his mobile and switched it on.

Of course his fingers were itching to dial Louis number and talk to him, make peace and make up. He also knew that it wouldn't solve the issue.

Louis needed to figure out for once what he had done to make Harry mad. Even if Harry knew that he tended to get upset and moody instead of talking about his issues, he definitely wasn't in the wrong this time.

Louis had to come to his own conclusions. And Harry hoped that Louis would see that he would be hurt, too, if Harry had kept him a secret from everyone in his life, too. He couldn't even imagine that Louis being cool about it if he met all of the people Harry knew through his business and they'd never heard a word of Louis.

Then again, Harry also knew that Louis was probably worried sick right now. Harry had been so mad at him last night that he had just needed to get away, and he hadn't even thought about the fact that they had parted for ten days without a proper goodbye.

Louis was still sensitive about that matter. In a quiet moment last Christmas, he had told Harry that it was something that would haunt him for the rest of his life. They couldn't know what the future held, and Louis’ greatest fear was to lose Harry again in a way that he had no control over. He had said that he at least didn't want to regret having said the wrong thing as his last words to Harry.

The last thing Harry had said last night had been vile and mean spirited.

He bit his lip when there wasn't a message waiting when he unlocked his mobile. He wouldn't call Louis, no, but he also knew that Louis would need that bit of reassurance. And while Harry was still mad at him, he still loved Louis more than anyone, too.

Landed in Paris , he typed out, not adding the usual string of emojis or unnecessary text about the flight, the weather, the city. How much he wished they'd be there together.

“Feeling better?” Nick asked quietly.

Harry blinked at him. “Why?”

“You've texted him just now, didn't you?” Nick winked.

Harry blushed. “Just to let him know we've arrived.”

Nick hummed. “He worries too much.”

“I get it, though.” Harry shrugged. “It’s nothing he'll ever overcome.”

“No, it isn't.” Nick nodded briefly. “Did you ever consider selling your story? Would probably make a great film.”

Harry laughed. “Not a film, but music. Niall’s been really inspired by our misery.”

“Speaking of.” Nick held up his mobile to film out of the car window. “How is he doing?”

“Well, he's a pop star now, so we don't hear from him as often, but he's good.” Harry smiled thinking about his last phone call with Niall. “We'll spend New Year's at his in L.A.”

“Fancy,” Nick commented. “Living the life.”

“He's gonna brag to Lou for hours. In his last call, he took us on a video tour through his house, and in every room he added, about twice the size of yours, Louis .”

Laughing, Nick typed something on his phone. “Petty.”

“Good thing Louis is not competitive in that sense.” A fond feeling spread through him at the memory of Louis congratulating Niall on his posh L.A. mansion. He had even taken Niall on a video tour around their new flat in return, telling him about all the downgrades he had taken in comparison to his old flat. “He's just proud of Niall.”

“Aren't you in love?” Nick grinned, wiggling his eyebrows. “Everything he does is perfect to you, isn't it?”

Harry's bubble burst and he knitted his brows together. “Well, no. He didn't tell his colleagues that he's with me. That's not perfect, no.”

“There you go again.” Nick groaned. “I told you. There must be a reason. A good reason. That man worships you, so I'm sure he's got a good explanation. If you only listened to him.”

“That really better be a very good explanation.” Harry looked out of the window when the car spotted in front of a building. He recognised the hotel Harry had booked online. “And he better prepares a grand gesture to tell me, too.”

Sighing, Nick opened his door. “I'm so glad I don't have to be your boyfriend.”

Harry made a face at him as he paid the taxi driver, sticking out his tongue.

Even when they were fighting, and Louis had fucked up big time, Harry didn't want any other boyfriend than him anyway.

+++

Landed in Paris .  

Louis stared at the message, heaving a sigh. At least Harry didn't leave him worried sick for ten days. He knew Louis too well, after all.

Louis knew Harry well enough, too. He remembered the last time her had travelled and hadn't texted Harry at all. He remembered Harry's stubborn pout and the way his fingers had dug a little too tightly into Louis hips when Harry had held him.

Landed in Boston , he texted back.

Immediately, Harry came online and Louis waited with bated breath if he was gonna type. It took a moment of them both being online, then Harry was offline again. Without any reply.

With a sigh, Louis turned his mobile over and stared out of the taxi window. It had snowed in Boston and all the Christmas lights were reflecting on it. A beautiful sight, but somehow Louis couldn't fully appreciate it.

The taxi arrived at the hotel and Louis paid the driver. He took his suitcase and went inside the reception lobby, where he received his key card for his room.

Upstairs, he left his suitcase next to the bed and went for a quick shower. He felt dead on his feet. The plan had been to sleep on the plane, but his mind had run a million miles a second, thinking of Harry, bring angry at Harry, feeling guilty because of Harry.

Instead of sleeping, Louis had been awake the whole flight. It was probably better that way, since the jetlag would have kept Louis awake through the night. Like this, he would be dead on his feet after tonight's dinner.

Just when he had put on the black dress shirt, his mobile rang and Louis literally jumped into the bed to take it. He rolled into his back with a frustrated sigh when it wasn't Harry's but Lottie’s name on the screen.

“Lottie,” he said. “I'm in Boston.”

“What?” She gasped. “What are you doing in Boston?”

“Harry's in Paris for some cooking school thing.” He say up again, holding the phone between his shoulder and cheek to button up his shirt. “So I scheduled this business trip, you know. Because Harry's not home anyway…”

“And you don't wanna be alone.” There was a bit of humour in her tone. “When are you back?”

“Next Sunday. Harry's only back by Wednesday night.” Louis frowned, realising that Lottie hadn't asked for that.

Lottie hummed. “You wanna come home Sunday, then? That way, you won't have to be alone in the flat.”

“I…” Louis closed his eyes for a brief moment. “Guess I'd better wait up for Harry.”

“So I'll see you guys on Thursday next week?” Lottie asked. “I was booked for an event that Friday, and was wondering if you guys could watch Doris and Ernie?”

“Of course.” Louis hoped at least that it wouldn't be a problem. Despite everything he was sure Harry wouldn't cancel Christmas. They'd somehow get their shit together before that. “No problem.”

“Great. Thanks, Lou.” Lottie sounded chipper. “Can't wait to see you.”

Louis smiled. “Same.”

They ended the phone call and Louis stared at his mobile phone screen for a moment. He opened instagram, seeing that the top post on his dash was a selfie of Phoebe. He smiled and double tapped.

Harry did have an Instagram, but he rarely posted. If he did, he posted black and white pictures of quirky things with even quirkier captions. Just as Louis had expected, there was no new post from Harry. He never used the story function, so Louis wasn't surprised there was nothing from Harry, either.

Nick, however, had uploaded something to his story. Louis tapped it and watched Nick film his food on the plane. The back of Harry's head was in the frame briefly. The next one was inside the taxi, showing a silhouette of Paris houses rushing by.

The last one had Louis frown. It showed a table full of people in a restaurant. With his finger, Louis held the screen to have a closer look and found Harry a few seats away from Nick, not looking at the camera. He was talking to the person across from him, who had leaned a little across the table, fingers delicately holding a wine glass. The bloke was definitely smiling at Harry, looking coy.

Louis let go of the screen and the picture disappeared, a video of Beckham cooking something with his son popping up next. Louis closed it and put the mobile aside.

It was just a snapshot of a moment, and of course Harry was allowed to talk to other people. Harry was kind and communicative; it was only natural that he'd get along with the people he got to meet in Paris.

Sighing, Louis got up from the bed and finished getting dressed. The fact that him and Harry were still fighting didn't make it any easier to ignore the way that bloke had looked at Harry.

On any good day, Louis would have frowned at that picture, sending Harry some sarcastic text about it. But today wasn't a good day.

Today was as far as it got from a good day.

+++

“Should I call her?”

“Mate, you'd just give it all away if you call her now.” Harry shook his head. “An no one wants a proposal over the phone.”

Jeff sighed. “I just don't like this standing between us.”

“I know what you mean, yeah.” Harry looked at his mobile, the screen blank except for the time.

“Did Louis call?” Jeff asked, lifting his glass.

Harry shook his head. “He won't.”

Of course Louis wouldn't. Harry had completely overreacted when he had run away like that. It had taken him a bit of time to calm down, but when he had, Harry had seen that running away without solving a conflict before being separated for ten days had probably been a stupid idea. And completely over the top.

He just wanted to talk to Louis and find out what was behind all of it. Of course Louis loved him, and of course Louis wasn't ashamed of being with Harry. That was completely and utterly ridiculous, so there had to be another explanation for why Louis hadn't mentioned Harry to any of his business partners.

If Harry hadn't lost his temper like that, he'd already know, and they wouldn't have parted in anger.

“Maybe I should call him,” Harry mused, rolling the napkin on the table.

“That's not the same, though, is it?” Jeff watched the group of people on the dance floor. “Talking on the phone. This kind of thing requires a face to face conversation.”

That was true. Harry nodded slowly, putting his mobile away. If he drank any more, he'd get tempted to drunk call Louis, and that really wasn't the solution they needed. Especially not if Louis was in some kind of meeting and didn't even have proper time to listen to Harry.

Nick came over with his phone pointed at them. “Say cheese, you mopey lot!”

Jeff threw his warm around Harry's shoulders and lifted his glass. Harry mustered up a smile for the camera.

Their group was quite small. Just ten people who had been invited to join a special training in Paris for ten days. Harry had been honoured to get an invitation, especially this close to opening his own restaurant. It was probably the last time that he could take an opportunity like this.

In the coming years, he'd be too busy to even go on holiday -- something he hadn't yet discussed with Louis, either. It'd be a hard job to get the restaurant up and running.

Coming here was his very last getaway before the opening. Harry enjoyed the cooking as well as the teaming up with the people participating, too.

He had hit it off with Jeff from the first evening. It had all been due to the fact that Jeff had been just as withdrawn as him. While everyone else had gone out and partied, the two of them hadn't been in the mood for that. Talking to Jeff had revealed that he was in a pretty similar situation to Harry's.

He had fought with his girlfriend before coming here, and they had parted in bad spirits, too. On top of that, Jeff had actually planned to propose to her when coming home, but that seemed quite unlikely as it was now.

“We should buy presents tomorrow.” Harry said when Nick turned back to the dance floor. “Maybe something romantic to go with the proposal?”

“Yeah. Maybe.” Jeff didn't seem convinced.

Harry patted his back and sighed. “Another drink?”

“Another drink,” Jeff agreed and emptied his glass.

+++

“Cecilia,” Louis said as soon as his secretary had picked up her phone. “I need you to reschedule my flight back.”

She didn't seem to hesitate for a second. “Which day?”

“The earliest you can find on Saturday.”

“Louis,” she said slowly, sounding confused. “I've booked you onto the earliest flight Saturday morning. I always do.”

Louis ran a hand over his face. “I know.” He couldn't think clearly. “Not to London, though. I need the first one you can get me on to Paris.”

“Paris?” Louis could hear Cecilia lifting a brow through her tone. “What business do you have in Paris?”

“Well…” Louis thought about coming up with a lie. In the past years he had learnt not to lie to Cecilia, though. She had turned out to be a fierce and clever woman, and Louis wouldn't want to be on her bad side. “I'd like to surprise Harry.”

She cooed immediately. “Ah, yes. He's in Paris for that special training, isn't he?”

Louis hummed. “Until Wednesday, yes. I thought I'd surprise him and spend the last three days with him.”

“He'll love that.” She was quiet for a moment. “I can book you onto a flight leaving Saturday early morning and arriving late night in Paris. Should I book a hotel, too?”

“That'd be lovely.” Louis bit his lip. “I'll text you the address of that cooking school. Something close to that. For two? And on my private account, of course.”

“Well, Cowell wouldn't want to pay for your romantic getaway with your boyfriend, I guess.” Cecilia giggled. “I'm on it, boss.”

“Thanks, love. I'll drop by on Thursday.”

“Bring Harry,” she told him. “I'd like to hear about Paris and you never tell me anything.”

Laughing, Louis ended the phone call and turned back around to get into the conference room. They had finally taken a break after four hours, and even more than a cigarette, Louis had needed to make that call.

He couldn't even remember what had been discussed or said in the meeting so far. His mind had been so distracted by Harry and this mysterious bloke.

Throughout the week, Louis had watched on Nick's instagram how Harry had got closer to the bloke every day. When everyone else was in action, it was always those two that seemed to be in their own little bubble.

The last picture Nick had posted had topped it all off. He had shared videos of himself dancing in a club, having fun with the other seven people Louis had constantly seen on Nick's instagram. The other seven people Harry was never pictured with. Instead, he was always somewhere in the back, talking to that bloke, just looking at the guy, laughing with him.

In the last picture, the guy had had his arm around Harry while they had drinks together -- all by themselves -- and Harry had looked positively tipsy.

Louis couldn't help but think that they had an Oliver situation here. Harry was obviously trying to rile Louis even more up. He had to know that Louis saw those stories Nick shared, and he had to be aware that Louis would lose to his jealousy.

“Louis,” Greg said as he joined Louis outside. “Smoke?”

Louis accepted the cigarette, holding out his lighter for Greg.

“What's got you so grumpy?” Greg asked when he leaned back, taking the first drag of his cigarette. “Don't tell me you're one of those Christmas Grinches?”

Snorting, Louis lit his own cigarette. “Far from it. I love Christmas.”

“Then, what's the matter?”

Louis shrugged, trying to keep it nonchalant. “Nothing. Guess I'm just tired of this after five days.”

“Mate, you've been brooding since the first day.” Greg tilted his head. “What's up with you?”

For a moment, Louis considered coming up with something else, deflecting the topic somehow. He could do that, and he'd be good at it. This was Greg, though, and just like Louis, he knew how to deflect. He'd look straight through it.

“Harry and I fought,” he admitted, stubbing out his cigarette. “And I haven't heard of him since.”

“Since you've come here?” Greg asked, frowning. “Wait. That was the Christmas Ball. You left right after, didn't you?”

Louis nodded. “Yeah. I came here, he went to Paris.”

“What are you fighting about?”

“He was mad because…” Louis shrugged, burying his hands in the pockets of his dress trousers. “Well, I shouldn't have left him alone at the table.”

Greg hummed. “You know, I found it strange that you had a boyfriend of two years and never told anyone about it.”

Louis bit his lip. “I just don't talk about it at work. I like to keep my private life separated from this business.”

“I get that, Lou.” Greg flipped his cigarette away. “But I've known you for more than six years now. I've told you all about Bella. Don't you think it's strange you never even mentioned Harry to me?”

“I--” Louis sighed and avoided Greg's gaze. Of course he knew it was strange. Of course he knew why Harry had been hurt. “It's difficult.”

“Whatever it is, Harry doesn't seem to know about it.” Greg crossed his arms in front of his chest. “I mean. He looked like a kicked puppy.”

“Fuck.” Louis ran a hand over his face. “Don't say that.”

“If you've been together for two years already, it has to be serious,” Greg went on as if Louis hadn't said a thing. “He'll understand.”

If it wasn't for their limited time, Louis would consider telling Greg the whole story. Like this, he saw everyone going back to their seats inside the conference room, and knew that they had to get back inside, too.

“It's a long story,” Louis said, meeting Greg's eye. “How about I tell you about it over dinner tonight?”

Greg grinned, holding the door open for Louis. “I'd love to finally hear all about Harry.”

+++

“Run, run, run!”

Harry dashed down the street, holding a plastic bag above his head in a feeble attempt to protect it from the pouring rain. He was soaked through to his bones, his shoes making a strange gurgling sound with every step he took.

Their lesson had run late today. It had been almost nine when they had finally left the kitchen. Him and Jeff had decided to go to a few shops, looking for a good souvenir for Glenn, but most shops had already been closed.

Of course, a heavy downpour had surprised them when there had been nowhere to find shelter around.

Harry's hotel was closer, so that was where they were headed, trying to escape the unforgiving rain.

Out of breath and with dripping curls, Harry made it into the lobby of the hotel, looking at Jeff who was just as soaked. They both started laughing, taking the lift to Harry's room.

“Of course that would happen.” Harry opened the door, letting Jeff in first. “Come on, we'd better towel off.”

“There's no single dry spot left on me. I feel like I've taken a swim in the Seine. Fully clothed.” Jeff accepted the towel from Harry and started drying his hair.

“I'm gonna lend you some clothes.” Harry went to his suitcase and took his jumper and the t-shirt beneath before toeing off his shoes and socks.

“Great.” Jeff let out a bitter laugh. “Always wanted to copy your grandad style.”

Harry flipped him the finger. “Fuck off.”

A knock on the door startled them both and Harry frowned. He handed Jeff a pair of jeans before he got up from the floor and slung the towel around his shoulders.

He expected Nick when he opened the door, so he was completely unprepared when he was met with the sight of a soaked Louis instead.

For a moment, time was suspended and Harry blinked once, then twice, but Louis was still there, standing in front of the door. He looked a little apprehensive, and tired. Harry immediately reached out to touch him; to pull him in and against Harry's chest.

“Please tell me we have an Oliver situation here,” Louis said before Harry's hand could reach him, though. His voice was raspy and carried the same tiredness that Harry could see on his face.

Harry wasn't sure what Louis was even on about, so he took a step closer. “Baby--”

“Harry, is it okay if I borrow this jumper?” Jeff asked, appearing behind him and putting on one of Harry's jumpers.

It was a grey one, made of soft and warm wool -- one of Louis’ favourites.

The way Louis’ eyes comically widened told Harry everything. He was getting this completely wrong. Harry knew exactly what it had to look like to Louis, and the fact that they hadn't talked in a week wasn't working in Harry's favour here.

Harry grabbed Louis’ wrist, trying to pull his attention to Harry, but Louis just stared at Jeff, who was quiet now. “This is not what it looks like.”

Louis’ gaze snapped to Harry and the hurt was written all over his face. “That's what they say when it's exactly what it looks like.”

Pulling his wrist from Harry's grip, Louis took a step back. He looked between Harry and Jeff once more before he suddenly turned around and dashed off.

“Oh fuck,” Jeff whispered. “Was that Louis?”

Harry didn't even get a word out. He glanced at Jeff briefly, then he took off in a sprint after Louis. His heart beat wildly in his chest, and his throat felt tight.

The corridor in front of the lift was empty and Harry ran his hands through his hair, cursing under his breath. He turned to the staircase and took two steps at once, flying down the stairs. He couldn't spot Louis in the lobby, so he ran outside and immediately saw Louis striding down the pavement.

“Louis!” Harry yelled, going after him.

Louis didn't turn, but he sped up his steps. Harry caught up to him a few moments later and curled his fingers around Louis’ biceps, turning him around. Louis bumped into him and Harry wound his other arm around him, pressing Louis against his chest.

Louis struggled to pull away and when he finally did, his face was red with anger. “You fucking prick!”

Harry took hold of his wrists, stopping Louis from running away again. “Lou. Louis. Listen to me.”

“I'm such an idiot.” Louis stopped fighting him, and his shoulders sacked. His hair was matted to his head, raindrops clumping his lashes together. “I thought you were trying to make me jealous, but you were actually really--”

The words died in his throat and Harry pulled Louis closer by his wrists, waiting for him to meet Harry's gaze.

“You know that's not what happened, baby.” Harry kept his voice quiet, his tone soothing. “You know that's bullshit. You're just angry and hurt, so you lash out. But you know I'd never do that.”

The stubborn pout on Louis lips didn't disappear. “Why are you undressed? Why are you all alone with him in your room this late? Why did you let him wear my bloody jumper?”

“The lessons ran late,” Harry replied, shivering when the wind picked up and the rain lashed against his skin even harder. “We were surprised by the rain when we went out to buy something for his girlfriend, and my hotel was closer. I told him I'd lend him some clothes and that's when you showed up.”

Louis didn't seem to be satisfied with that answer. “So you're saying you didn't try to make me jealous all week? You didn't make it seem like there was something going on with you and that bloke, so I would lose it and come here to crawl at your feet?”

Harry frowned. “We didn't talk all week, Lou. How would I have made you jealous?”

“Oh, come on.” Louis shook his head a little, blinking the water from his eyes. “You knew I'd see you separating from the rest of the group on Nick's instagram.”

“I…” Harry lifted a brow and suppressed another shiver. “I didn't, Lou.”

“This is not an Oliver situation?” Louis asked, voice small.

Harry smiled, letting go of Louis’ wrists to cup Louis’ jaw with his hands. “You came to Paris because you thought I was trying to make you jealous?”

“Wouldn't be the first time.” Louis shivered, and his hand came to rest over Harry's bare chest. “Baby, you'll freeze to death.”

“Warm me up, then.” Harry leaned in, capturing Louis' lips in a kiss.

Louis got to his toes and slid his arms up to wind them around Harry's neck. Their lips slowly dragged against each other, exchanging sweet nips and licks before Louis let his tongue prod deeper. Harry opened up willingly, deepening the kiss and pulling Louis even closer.

“Come back in, baby.” Harry murmured the words against Louis’ lips. “Let's go in and talk. Take a hot shower. Get it over with this stupid fight.”

“I don't wanna meet him.” Louis took another kiss, as if he'd been starved off Harry's lips. “I don't wanna see him wear my jumper.”

“It's nothing, Lou. I promise he's harmless.” Harry stroked the wet stands from Louis’ face. “He's gonna collect his things and I'll give him an umbrella and he'll be on his way. He's gonna be excited to meet you after I've talked about nothing else but you all week.”

Louis didn't look convinced, but he nodded anyway. “We should get you out of this rain.”

Harry took Louis’ hand and walked back towards the hotel. He noticed people passing giving him strange looks. He had to look like an idiot, dressed in nothing but his jeans. Even his feet were bare.

Inside the lobby, the receptionist looked appalled when he saw them, and Harry tried to ignore it. He called for the lift and let Louis go in first. As soon as the doors were closed, Louis let his hands rest over Harry's slippery skin. Harry started to tremble, feeling the cold in his bones.

“Why didn't you put something on?” He tried to rub Harry's arms. Harry decided not to tell him that his fingers were even colder than Harry's. “Who goes outside without anything on in this rain?”

“I wouldn't have if you hadn't run away,” Harry reminded him.

Louis hesitated for a second. “I didn't ask you to run after me.”

Snorting, Harry got out of the lift first, tangling his fingers with Louis’. “You knew I would.”

Since Louis didn't argue, Harry assumed he had won. Of course he had. Louis would have run after Harry just the same had the roles been reversed.

Harry knocked on the door to his room and it immediately opened, revealing a stressed out Jeff.

“Oh, thank God, you made him come back.” Jeff stepped aside to let them in.

Harry noticed Louis getting closer to him, his hand gripping Harry's tighter. Pushing the wet hair from his face, Harry turned his body a bit to Louis’.

“Jeff, this is Louis.” He gestured to Jeff. “And Lou, this is Jeff. He's part of the group I'm here with.”

“Hi.” Louis’ tone was even colder than his skin.

Jeff seemed to get the message. “Um, yeah. Nice to finally meet you. Heard a lot about you.”  He cleared his throat and grabbed his coat. “Guess I'll be on my way.”

“Take my umbrella.” Harry gestured to the item next to the door. “Sorry to just… I'll see you tomorrow?”

“No worries, mate.” Jeff took the umbrella and opened the door. “Happy you two get to talk. I guess you have a lot to talk about. I'll just…”

He closed the door behind himself and Harry let go of his breath. When he turned to Louis he had his eyes narrowed at Harry.

“Why does he know we need to talk?”

Harry opened Louis’ jacket, trying to stay calm. “Because we talked about it. He fought with his girlfriend before coming here. We kept each other company in our miseries.”

Louis hummed, watching Harry closely. He didn't do anything to stop Harry from undressing him, though. “That's it? That's all there is to it?”

“Yeah.” Harry pushed Louis in the direction of the bathroom. “Well. That, and him planning to propose to her. I kinda helped him with that.”

Louis was quiet, finally helping Harry in taking his clothes off. He started to shiver, and it instantly set Harry off, too. His teeth clattered with his trembling and Louis leaned in, his hands gentle when he framed Harry's face. He kissed Harry slowly, seductively, and Harry inhaled his scent, winding his arms around Louis' middle.

“Come on,” Louis mumbled. “Need to warm you up.”

Harry hummed and they climbed into the small shower cabin, staying pressed against each other. Louis turned on the water and gasped at the initial cold spray. It got warmer a moment later and Harry sighed at the warm sensation on his skin.

“Can't believe you're here,” he murmured against the skin of Louis’ neck. “I missed you so much.”

“Yeah,” Louis breathed out. “Worst week of the year.”

“I shouldn't have left like that.” Harry crowded Louis against the wall. “That was stupid.”

“Later.” Louis pushed a thigh between Harry's legs, his fingers tangling in Harry's hair. “Baby, let me--”

Harry bit Louis’ shoulder, rutting against him. Louis cock twitched, filling up and he made those little whiney noises, gasping against Harry's cheek. He reached out and poured some shower gel into his hand before spreading it over Harry's back and down to his bum.

Harry did the same for Louis, slicking his fingers up before wrapping them around Louis' cock.

“Yes,” Louis moaned, rocking up and biting his bottom lip in pleasure. His fingers dug into Harry's flesh, his nails leaving indents. “Please, Harry. I need-- gotta come.”

Harry shut him up with a kiss, twisting his wrist to draw another moan from Louis. It didn't take long for Louis' hips to stutter and his gasps to turn needy. He came over Harry's hand with a whine, and buried his face against Harry's neck.

“That was quick,” Harry commented, running his hands up and down Louis’ side. “Speed Racer.”

Louis pulled back, narrowing his eyes at Harry. “You don't get to call me that.”

“I just did, didn't I?” Harry grinned and kissed Louis again, his erection poking against Louis’ tummy.

“You won't last a minute if I drop to my knees right now.” Louis ran a finger along Harry's cock.

Harry licked his lips. “Better put that theory to the test.”

Slowly, Louis slid down the wall and put his hands on Harry's hips. It was pure luck that Harry didn't come from the way Louis glanced up at him through his lashes.

When Louis wrapped his lips around the head, Harry leaned one hand against the tiles, and buried the other in Louis' hair. He watched Louis move his head, eyes closed, cheeks hollowed and Harry gripped his hair tighter, rocked his hips a little, pushing deeper. Louis pressed his tongue to the underside of Harry's cock, lazily blinking up at Harry.

He probably lasted longer than a minute, but not much longer. Louis swallowed around him, humming when Harry spilled down his throat and kept sucking and licking until Harry hissed from oversensibility.

Louis slumped down, letting go of Harry's hips. “I can't get back up.”

Harry briefly contemplated joining Louis, but decided that it wasn't the best idea. He caught his breath and held out a hand for Louis. “Come on, baby.”

Switching off the water, Harry gave Louis another moment before he pulled him up. Louis immediately nuzzled against Harry and for a second, they stayed like that, just holding each other.

Louis reached out for a towel and helped Harry dry off before he dried off himself. Harry went to his suitcase and handed Louis one of his boxer shorts and pulled out some for himself, too. Louis ignored the t-shirt Harry held out for him and grabbed a jumper that was draped over a chair. Harry had worn it the day before.

“We should hang the clothes to dry.” Louis put his jeans on the heater before draping Harry's next to it. “And why don't these French hotels have tea on the rooms?”

Harry smiled, laying out Louis' and his jumpers on the table to dry. “There's water in the mini bar.”

Louis sat down on the bed. “Not ready yet for a cold drink.”

“We could go out for tea?” Harry offered and sat down next to Louis.

“I'm not gonna leave this room again before that downpour stops.” Louis looked out of the window before he looked over his shoulder. “And this bed is tiny.”

Harry couldn't help the smile. “Well, it is a single room, after all. I wasn't expecting company.”

“I booked a room with a bigger bed that has tea. And room service.” Louis scooted closer. “Got my luggage there, too.”

Harry lifted a brow. “You booked a room?”

“Closer to the restaurant you're working at, yeah.” Shrugging, Louis pulled the sleeves of the jumper over his palms. “A proper suite. For us.”

“So you're staying until Wednesday?”

Louis glanced at him, looking insecure. “If you want me to?”

Harry shook his head, leaning in to pull Louis against himself. “What kind of question is that?”

“You were really angry at me.” Louis climbed on top of Harry, straddling his lap. “And I acted like a dick.”

Harry leaned against the headboard, resting his hands on Louis' hips. It was nice to have Louis this close after going without it for so long; a pleasant weight on his lap. “I shouldn't have left like that. I knew what I was doing to you.”

“And I knew what it would look like to you when none of those people knew about you.” Louis licked his lips and sat back, his hands resting on Harry's stomach. “But I tried telling myself that it was no big deal.”

Harry hummed. “So what's behind all that?”

“I told Greg all about you last night.” Louis smiled slightly, glancing up at Harry. “The whole story.”

“He seems like a nice guy.” Harry squeezed Louis' hips. “You didn't have to tell him everything, though. That's not what I was upset about, Lou.”

Louis squirmed a little and shook his head. “I know. I just wanted to make him understand why I couldn't tell him about you.”

“So why?” Harry kept his eyes on Louis’ face. “Why didn't you tell anyone about me, baby?”

For a moment, Louis was quiet. “It was the worst part, you know.”

Harry frowned. “What was? Talking about me?”

“No, I mean…” Louis swallowed and finally lifted his head to look at Harry. “After the accident. After you-- forgot. There were so many people we knew and since you never came back to Manchester, I had to tell them.”

Realisation dawned on Harry and he let go of a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding. “Lou…”

“Everyone said it'd be easiest to tell them we had broken up.” Louis shrugged, his expression giving away just how much it had really hurt him. “But it was so hard to do. I had to explain to these people that you had left me, and each time I told that story, I started to believe it, too.”

“So you thought if you didn't tell anyone about me, you wouldn't have to explain my absence when I'm gone again.” Harry let go of Louis’ hips and sat up to get closer to him.

“I'm sorry.” Louis pressed his lips together, staring at Harry's face. “I didn't mean to hurt you. I promise it's not because I don't--”

Harry cut him short with a kiss, pulling Louis against him. “How often do I have to tell you that it won't happen again?”

“You can't promise that.” Louis put his hand over Harry's chest. “Neither of us can.”

“Lou. Louis.” Harry inhaled, his eyes staring straight into Louis'. “Should that ever happen again, we won't end up separated.”

Louis’ face scrunched up. “But--”

“Would you decide to give up on me again?” Harry asked.

Shaking his head, Louis blinked rapidly. “Of course not.”

“And what would I do? What did I do, Louis?” Harry kept staring into Louis' eyes.

“You find me,” Louis whispered.

“Exactly.” Harry closed the gap to kiss Louis again. “Whatever happens, I'll find you. I did last time, and I'd do it again. You're not getting rid of me, baby.”

“I know.” Louis snuggled closer, head resting against Harry's shoulder. “I think that was instinct taking over.”

“That was what hurt most, to be honest.” Harry closed his eyes. “When that bloke said he'd slept with you, I knew that it had happened before I found you. But when he said you had told him I had broken up with you? That stung.”

“He wasn't worth knowing the real story.” Louis sounded guilty. “And I shouldn't have slept with him.”

“He seemed like a dubious choice, I admit.” Harry ran his hands up and down Louis’ back. “We all make mistakes sometimes.”

Louis was quiet for a moment. “I made it twice.”

“Aiden said he was your ex,” Harry remembered.

“We dated for a few months before I met you,” Louis said and shifted enough to lay down, still pressed to Harry's side. “You hated his guts.”

Harry frowned. “Hate is a strong word.”

“I know, and usually you get along with everyone.” Louis drew patterns over Harry's chest. “But believe me. You hated him.”

After meeting Aiden last week, it wasn't like Harry couldn't imagine that being true.”He said something about a scene I made at a pub?”

Louis laughed. “Yeah. We've been together for a few months and he tried to get in my pants that night. You poured your drink over him, pulled me onto your lap, and told him to stay away from me.”

“I had serious jealousy issues,” Harry stated, but he smiled.

“Still have.” Louis propped his head up on his arm and looked at Harry's face. “You’re still the jealous type.”

Harry lifted a brow. “You're one to talk.”

Biting his lip, Louis settled his hand low on Harry's stomach. “That prick stole my jumper.”

A loud laugh escaped Harry. “He'll give it back tomorrow.”

“I don't want it back.” Louis scoffed, patting Harry's stomach. “You can burn it.”

Shaking his head, Harry leaned in, bringing his arm around Louis' waist. “Come here.”

Louis giggled and met Harry's lips in a warm kiss.

+++

Harry sneezed loudly, making Lottie lift her brows. She tilted her torso back to peer over to the living room from where she stood in the kitchen.

“Seriously, Harry, what did you do to catch such a bad cold?” She asked while decorating the cake Harry had baked in the morning.

“No idea,” Harry mumbled. He kicked out a foot against Louis' shin, though.

Grinning, Louis looked over at him, shrugging innocently. Harry poked out his tongue. What he received in return was a wink and Harry dropped back down onto his back, groaning.

“Should I get you some more tea?” Louis asked as he got up from the armchair he had curled up in. “Something to eat, maybe?”

Harry turned his head to him, and Louis had to admit that he looked pale. “A cuddle?”

Smiling, Louis leaned in to touch Harry's face. “I'll get you some tea first.”

Harry nodded, kissing Louis' palm. “Thanks, babe.”

“Is it bad?” Lottie asked when Louis came into the kitchen. “He's unusually quiet.”

Louis hummed, filling the kettle. “Guess he's really coming down with something.”

“Over Christmas,” Lottie said and put the cake back into the fridge. “That's such a pity.”

“It is,” Louis agreed.

He couldn't help feeling guilty about it. It was his fault that Harry had caught this cold. He had been the reason Harry had gone out onto the cold December rain with barely anything on. No wonder he had got sick.

Lottie left the kitchen to check on the kids upstairs and Louis carried the pot over to the living room, setting it down on the table. He filled two cups, leaving them to cool down for a while.

“I'm sorry, baby,” Louis mumbled when he joined Harry on the sofa. “It's my fault you're feeling poorly.”

Harry nuzzled into Louis' embrace. “Never poorly when I'm with you.”

Louis smiled and kissed the top of Harry's head. He turned down the volume on the T.V. “Your stuffy nose tells another story.”

“Don't comment on it,” Harry murmured. “It's kinda disgusting. I'm ruining your birthday.”

Louis put a finger under Harry's chin and angled his face just right to press a kiss against Harry's lips. They were hot under Louis’, and he wondered if Harry was coming down with a fever. “Don't say that. I've got all I need.”

Harry pressed his lips together, but kept looking at Louis with a little frown etched between his brows. “I'm gonna get you sick, too.”

“Well, you know what it's like.” Louis gently cradled his fingers through Harry's hair. “In sickness and in health.”

Harry's expression changed, and he bit his lip, his cheeks flushing with some colour. He rested his head back on Louis’ chest and made a noncommittal noise.

Louis bit his lip and kept up scraping Harry's scalp, trying not to let Harry notice how unsettled he felt. He hoped that Harry hadn't noticed Louis’ heartbeat picking up speed.

So talking about marriage was probably a bit too early. Louis had wondered about it for a bit. They'd been together for two years now, and for him, there was no doubt that him and Harry were forever.

Then again, for Louis, there was a much longer past between them than for Harry. There were much deeper feelings involved, too. It wasn't like he doubted that Harry loved him. Yet, he was aware that Louis' feelings were probably of another kind than Harry's.

Louis felt Harry falling asleep, his breath fanning out against Louis' neck, evenly and shallow. Louis kept touching him, gently pressing kisses everywhere he could reach.

Felicite joined them and took the armchair Louis had occupied before. She threw them a glance, smirking.

“Is he asleep?”

“He's coming down with something,” Louis explained.

“Well, that's a happy birthday to you.” She giggled.

Louis shook his head. “It's not like we'd have done anything special. This is just fine for me. Having my family around.”

Felicite smiled, looking more amused than she should by the fact that Harry was feeling poorly. “I bet.”

Taking the blanket she held out for him, Louis spread it over Harry, careful not to wake him. Harry sighed sleepily and nuzzled closer.

Louis rested his head against the backrest of the sofa. Outside, rain was drizzling down and their tea was steaming in their cups on the table. Louis was holding his boy, talking to his sister in hushed voices, warm and cosy.

It was quite good the way it was and Louis couldn't complain. Definitely a happy birthday.

+++

“I'm telling you,” Harry lowered his voice, glancing over to the stairs to make sure Louis wasn't around. “He either knows or he's planning something.”

Lottie shook her head. “He's not. He would have told us, Harry.”

“You should have seen his face.” Harry thought about the intense look on Louis' face the day before when he had held Harry in his arms. “And his pulse was racing.”

Gemma frowned at him. “He was probably just testing the waters, Haz.”

In sickness and in health , it echoed in Harry's head; bounced off the walls of his skull. He hadn't been able to forget about it all evening and night. His head had been dizzy from that bloody cold anyway, so it had just added to Harry feeling unwell.

“What does it matter anyway?” Felicite asked and handed Harry a scarf. “He'd have to do it right now to get ahead of you. And as Lottie said. He would have told us if he'd planned to propose.”

Harry had planned this for too long to let Louis get in his way now. He needed to be the one to purpose -- he had discussed it in detail with Gemma. With Lottie and Felicite. With his mum. They had all agreed that Louis would probably not take the step first, afraid to move too quick for Harry; afraid that Harry wasn't ready.

That was just Louis. He always over thought his relationship with Harry. He couldn't lose his anxiety of Harry disappearing again and what would happen if he ever lost Harry. It wasn't anything Harry could ever hold against him -- or even stop -- but it also made Harry understand his role in their relationship.

Louis had suffered a lot, and he had kept that to himself for so long. He had always put Harry first, and it was up to Harry to remind him that for Harry, Louis always came first, too. It was up to him to remind Louis every day that Harry loved him and would take care of him. Louis sometimes forgot that he wasn't fighting his demons on his own anymore.

“Okay.” Harry took a deep breath. “You're right. It's gonna go as planned.”

Gemma squeezed his arm gently. “We'll be waiting with drinks.”

“Baby?” Louis came down the stairs, his jacket open over his chest, a red basecap covering his hair. “Have you seen my scarf?”

“It's here,” Lottie said, pulling it from the wardrobe next to the door.

Harry lifted his hands. “Do you have your gloves?”

Louis pulled then from his pocket, showing them to Harry. “‘Course I do.”

They had been Harry's alibi gift this morning. He had figured that Louis would get suspicious of him if Harry didn't have anything for him in the morning. Receiving a pair of gloves had left Louis plenty confused, though. It had been written all over his face that he had expected something more meaningful.

His real, meaningful gift was just about to be delivered. Harry's nerves were strained already with how nervous he was about it.

“What kind of meeting is this?” Louis asked as he joined them and took the scarf.

“We kept Harry company while he was waiting for you.” Felicite winked at Harry when Louis didn't look.

“You sure you wanna go, Harry?” Louis touched his cheek, looking worried. “You're still quite warm. The fever hasn't gone down, has it?”

Harry smiled at him, closing Louis' jacket. Not even a fever could stop his plans. “It's fine. I could need some fresh air.”

“We won't be long,” Louis told his sisters. “Back in time for tea.”

Harry took his hand as they walked outside. He laced their fingers and looked back over his shoulder once, finding Gemma, Lottie and Felicite all giving him thumbs-ups. The black satin box weighed heavy in the pocket of his coat.

“It's not like you really get to rest with this lot, do you?” Louis said as they walked down the street. The air was foggy and humid. “We can still cancel L.A.”

“I'm good, Lou.” Harry smiled at him. “I can't wait to see Niall, and the weather will be good for me to recover.”

Louis hummed. “The flight will be a torture, though.”

“I'll get some medicine to help with that.”

For a moment, they walked in silence, their hands swinging between them, their steps in synch.

“You don't have to worry, you know.” Harry kept looking ahead, adjusting the bouquet of flowers he carried in his other hand. “This really is the greatest medicine. Spending Christmas with the family. My whole family.”

Louis was quiet, but his steps faltered a little. “So you didn't mind getting up at five this morning to unwrap presents with my siblings?”

Harry laughed. “Loved it. Couldn't wait to find out what was in that big present you got me.”

“You didn't see that one coming, did you?” Louis wriggled his brows at Harry.

“Absolutely not,” Harry agreed.

The morning had been a rush of excitement, loud voices and a huge portion of love. The kids had woken them around five, too eager to find out what was in their presents. Although getting out of bed had been hard, Harry had loved every minute of it.

Louis had got him a framed artwork for their living room, one that Harry had had an eye on for a while. He hadn't even known that Louis had noticed.

After their early morning exchange of Christmas gifts, Harry had made breakfast together with the twins and they had eaten pancakes in front of the telly, all cuddled up under blankets, watching a Christmas film.

Harry's family had arrived just before lunch and that had brought another round of gifts, lots of hugs and another huge portion of love. Harry had felt dead on his feet after lunch. It was like the day was going on forever.

“Did you see Daisy’s face when she unwrapped that dress?” Harry sighed at the memory. “I'm telling you, we got the right one. She loved it.”

Louis rolled his eyes at him. “They will swap them as soon as we leave town.”

Harry gasped. “They won't!”

“They will.” Louis laughed a little. “But that's fine. They still love you for getting those dresses in the first place.”

Harry pouted, following Louis when he walked through the big, iron gate leading to the graveyard. He held onto Louis' hand a little tighter.

It wasn't his imagination that Louis held on tighter, too.

+++

Coming back always had something bittersweet about it. For a long time, it had only been bitter, but in the past years, it had become something sweet, too.

Even in their home Louis didn't feel as close to his mother as he did in this place.

Harry had laid down the flowers, and stood next to Louis, his fingers still intertwined with Louis'. He was quiet; hadn't said a word since they had arrived.

Harry never did. They had come here together for the first time two years ago. He had held Louis' hand, too, and had simply listened to the stories Louis had to tell.

The words had long died on Louis tongue and he just stared at the stone. He wondered if any of what he had said had reached her, too.

Harry shivered next to him and Louis turned his head, eyes roaming over Harry's face. He was still pale, his nose red and dark shadows circled his eyes.

“Let's go home, baby.”

Harry turned to Louis, smiling softly. “We can stay a bit longer.”

“We're both cold,” Louis argued. “And there's hot tea waiting for us at home.”

Harry studied his face for a moment, then he nodded. “Usually, it's me who keeps you warm.”

Louis wound his arms around Harry's middle. “You're burning up, Harry.”

“Really?” Harry shrugged lightly. He rested his hands on Louis' hips, still trembling. “I'm freezing.”

Louis threw another glance back over his shoulder as they walked away. He kissed Harry's hand and held the door of the iron gate for Harry.

“I'll get you back into bed the minute we get home,” Louis said. “I'd offer to cook up some soup, but I'm not sure you'd survive that.”

Harry laughed, shaking his head. “Better leave that to my mum.”

“She does a better job of taking care of you than I do, hm?” Louis mumbled.

Harry stopped, taking Louis' other hand, too. “You're the best at taking care of me.”

“I try,” Louis said, lifting a shoulder.

For a moment, Harry studied his face, and Louis wasn't sure why he looked so serious all of a sudden.

“In sickness and in health, right?” Harry murmured.

Louis' heart rate picked up speed. “What?”

“I like the way you take care of me, Louis.” Harry looked at their hands. “I don't need you to cook for me. To be honest, I would hate it if you'd like to cook, too.”

“Well, aren't you lucky, then?” Louis tried for a laugh, but Harry just smiled, his eyes still looking serious.  

“I really am.” Harry pressed his lips together. “You know, baby, I take care of you, too.”

“You don't even know how much you do,” Louis agreed.

Harry nodded. “You had forgot to take care of yourself. Who knows where you'd be right now if I hadn't come along.”

“Guess we make a good team.” Louis leaned in to kiss Harry's lips briefly.

Harry met him halfway. He let go of one of Louis' hands, but held him back when Louis wanted to resume walking.

“You tend to forget that sometimes.” Harry held Louis' gaze. “Like last week. You keep expecting that I leave you in some way.”

Louis felt his heart sink. “Harry, I told you it's only because---”  

“I don't think I'll ever fully understand.” With a light shrug off his shoulders, Harry took a step closer. Their chests were almost touching. “But I hate when you get like that, Louis.”

“I know. I'm sorry--”

“I don't want you to apologize,” Harry cut him short. “I want you to listen.”

Louis shut his mouth and nodded. He wasn't sure where Harry was going with this.

“We didn't have much time for each other lately,” Harry explained. Louis realised that he didn't look serious but nervous. “And we've been at that point before. We need to make more time for each other.”

Not sure if he was allowed to speak yet, Louis nodded.

“We both lost sight of each other.” Harry bit his lip. “And that's why that fight could even happen. It's because we neglected our relationship.”

“Baby…” Louis wanted to reassure Harry. He was right, but that didn't mean they had a serious problem at hand here. They hadn't lost sight of the important things.

“I don't want that to happen again.” Harry inhaled through his mouth, and Louis smiled because they were still standing in the cold when they had wanted to go home to get Harry back into bed. “You're the most important person in my life. I love you.”

“I love you, too, baby.” Louis lifted his free hand to Harry's face, stroking his cheek. It was warm under his touch. “And I promise, you'll always come first for me, too.”

“Good,” Harry breathed out. “Because I want you to tell everyone about me. As your partner. Your husband.”

Louis’ eyes fell from Harry's face to the black box he held up between them. There was a plain silver ring in there, reflecting the light of the nearest street lamp.

His heart stopped for a moment and his hand slid from Harry's face.

“Will you marry me, Louis?” Harry still looked nervous, but there was a gleam of hope in his eyes.

Louis’ eyes darted back and forth between Harry's face and the ring. “No way,” he managed to choke out.

Harry's face fell. “You're saying no ?”

“No,” Louis immediately rushed to say. “I mean. You were planning to propose?”

The disappointment was written all over Harry's face. “Is that so unbelievable to you?”

“I just didn't think that was something you were thinking about.” Louis had no idea what he was even talking about. He was supposed to say yes and kiss Harry. Instead, he was babbling stupid nonsense.

“I didn't think you weren't thinking about it,” Harry replied, eyes cast downward, his voice quiet. Hurt. “Or that this is a surprise to you.”

“Fuck, I'm completely mucking this up.” Louis touched Harry's face again. “I am surprised. But only by the time you chose. Not by the fact that you want to marry me.”

“Would you please stop leaving me hanging like this, then?” Harry pouted. “You're the worst.”  

“You love me.” Louis looked at the ring again. “And I love you. I promise I'm not gonna lose sight again. And I promise I'll always make time for you. You'll always come first.”

A smile bloomed on Harry's face and he let go of Louis' other hand, too. He took the ring out of the box and slid it onto Louis' finger.

“I can't believe you fucked up my proposal like that.” Harry squeezed Louis' waist. “You're insufferable.”

Louis still couldn't take his eyes off the ring on his finger. “Should have seen it coming when all you got me for Christmas were those gloves.”

Harry grinned. “Hey, the gloves are great.”

“The ring is better.” Louis lifted his gaze to Harry's, grinning back.

Harry leaned in for a kiss, giggling into it. He buried his face in Louis' neck afterwards, swaying them gently. Louis wound his arms around Harry, closing his eyes.

“When's the wedding?” He asked

“June,” Harry replied. “Gives us enough time to plan.”

Louis hummed. “You'll make a beautiful June bride.”

Harry laughed and pulled back. It turned into a coughing fit, though, so Louis slung his arm around his waist and moved them forward.

“Let's get you home, baby.”

Harry nodded. “By the way,” he said, lifting Louis' hand, his thumb brushing over the ring. “Don't you dare take that ring off at work. You'll explain to every single person who asks.”

Louis smiled. He knew what Harry really meant. This wasn't about the world knowing that Harry was Louis' partner. This was about reassuring Louis.

“I will,” he promised. “I'm even gonna tell the people who won't ask.”

Harry smiled and pressed a kiss against Louis' knuckles.  

It was fully dark outside when they finally made it back home, and Louis smiled when he noticed his sisters behind the window, expecting their return.

Harry grinned at him, and Louis lifted his hand, showing off the ring. He didn't think they could see it, but the gesture said it all. His sisters erupted into jumping and hugging each other. Their screams and laugher could be heard through the walls and Harry started laughing, too.

Louis kissed him again in front of the door. He couldn't remember ever feeling as calm and settled as he did in that moment. The ring was a comfortable weight on his finger, Harry a familiar warmth against his chest, and the happiness bubbling inside him solid and real.

“Merry Christmas, baby.” Louis shaped the words against Harry's lips. “You're my favourite gift.”

Smiling against Louis' lips, Harry whispered “Merry Christmas” back before the door was opened and every last illusion of quiet and calm was gone.

===